A New Standard

By George Doria

I know that trying to change something in racing is like trying to stop the tides. But if I could, there is one regulation I would like to see the industry impose upon itself:  No horse can stand until he is a five-year old. I think this would have a positive ripple effect throughout the industry and here's how.

Longer campaigns for horses will, in turn, have several positive consequences. First, a horse will have to prove his durability and superiority on the track for more than a season or a season and a half. It will nurture new fans because they will be able to follow and root for a horse for several years. It would also create rivalries, so rare these days outside of the Triple Crown events, thus further nurturing fan interest.

What about a horse that is injured? Implement a standard that makes the horse sit out one year after its mishap before standing. So, for example, a horse that is injured at two would have to wait until its fourth year to stand. I think this would be propitious in that it would forestall the mysterious rash of injuries that would almost definitely occur for most successful three years olds! Certainly it would not benefit anyone to feign injury and sit out a year, therefore taking a chance that the shine may fade from the star. It would also have the further effect of allowing time to impose its propensity to allow clearer vision of value.

To do this would not curtail business one iota. I'm certain bidding for future stallions would be just as heated as ever. However, I think it would have some positive effects, one being somewhat reduced prices paid for a future stallions.  Since buying a colt at three would now carry more risk,  there would be a ripple down effect through the industry. The risks are manifold. The most obvious one is that a colt does not continue to be as dominating a runner as it matures. There is also the risk that a colt from the following year's crop may become the shiny new gem outshining the previous year's model. And, of course, with every start that proves durability comes the risk of disaster. It will also result in something that we rarely see in racing anymore - the best horses from different crops competing against each other to prove superiority. So if the connections of a colt risk racing a horse into his fourth year before selling its rights and it does prove to be dominant, that huge payday will still be there. The difference would be that we could be more certain a horse is worth the price.

This year we would have had an example of how this would play out if Big Brown and Curlin had met in the Classic. If Big Brown won the race he would, in my mind, be absolutely the best horse running. If he lost to Curlin but ran well it would hardly diminish his value. However, next year we would be able to see if BB would maintain his dominance when he ran against the best of the three-year olds at year's end as well as maturing horses of his own crop. We would also get to see if his negative traits would be his undoing or not. This year, such a regulation would also have had the effect of assuring fans that they would get to see BB run again, as his injury is not career ending. In turn, the answers to these questions would truly inform us of his value as a stallion to promote the well-being of the breed. This last point may be the best result of this scenario; it would have a long term positive effect on the durability of the breed. And added durability is something that almost everyone would have to agree is desirable.

There are negatives also. One of  the most obvious is a later start for some horses. There would be less of a need to get horses to the track at two.  I happen to think that is a positive but I know many - especially owners - will see it as a negative. I know we have recently heard from Dr. Bramlage about  the positive effect racing at two has on the  longevity of a horse's career. But I for one don't believe it to be true. And in a letter printed in the October 11 issue of the Blood-Horse, Dr. Mark A. Rothstein (BH4890) points out one of the most obvious reasons:  (paraphrasing) there's usually a good reason a horse doesn't start at two and it's also likely the reason that those that start later don't last as long. In short they were flawed from the beginning.

Another negative might be a lighter schedule for many horses. Again, I would look at this as a positive. I'd sacrifice a few races for being able to see a horse have a longer career. Especially when it would result in the competition between different crops that I have already mentioned. While I'm certain others will have a longer list of negatives, I think the positives are far more plentiful.

This could all be accomplished without anyone ever missing a beat in the industry. It would not cause one problem if the next crop of new stars of the breeding industry had to wait an extra year to start their service. There are enough stars in that universe already.  No void would occur. Somewhere along the line someone is going to have to take a financial hit to straighten things out. This idea limits and possibly eliminates the need for anyone to lose. It may just cause a one year delay.

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