Rick Porter: Wind Knocked From His Sails

Rick Porter is a man of the sea: he likes to take his boat out and feel the wind; hear the waves; taste the salt. But when his latest Kentucky Derby hopeful, Holy Bull Stakes (gr. III) winner Winslow Homer, was discovered this past weekend to have a slab fracture, Porter said of the news, “It takes the wind right out of your sails.”

The Kentucky Derby (gr. I) and its famous trail that leads from all points to Louisville, Ky., for the first Saturday in May have been unkind to Porter.
Rockport Harbor missed the Derby in 2006; Hard Spun finished second in 2007; Eight Belles ran second and broke down in 2008; Friesan Fire finished 18th as the favorite in 2009.

But Porter was back on the Triple Crown trail in 2010, figuring Winslow Homer might just be the one.

Winslow Homer is a son of Unbridled’s Song purchased by Porter as a yearling for $310,000. Since 2003, Porter has purchased and raced 11 offspring of Unbridled’ Song, nine at public auction for a combined $4,215,000 and two privately in a package after they were RNAd. His strike rate is excellent, with five graded stakes winners.

But though many of his offspring show brilliance, it is no secret that Unbridled’s Song’s progeny can raise questions about their soundness. Porter knows first-hand.

“The best explanation as to why we have bought a lot of nice ones by Unbridled’s Song is that he stamps his progeny, and Tom’s eye (agent Tom McGreevey), and John’s eye (John Servis, who formerly trained for Porter), are attracted to them,” Porter said Feb. 3.

“He really stamps his progeny, much like Medaglia d’Oro. That type horse appeals to Tom, and when I see them, they appeal to me, too.

“I don’t think there is any doubt that you have to question their soundness, but it is hard not to take your chances when you are attracted to a horse, and we have had so much early success with them.”

Last year was the first year Porter did not purchase a yearling by Unbridled’s Song, but it was not for a lack of effort; he was outbid on several.

Of course Eight Belles ran second in the Derby but broke down while galloping out and was euthanized. Old Fashioned was unbeaten at 2 and had won four of six races when a slab fracture ended his racing career prior to the Derby. Rockport Harbor’s problem was not soundness. He was a top 2-year-old but was stepped on in the Remsen (gr. II) and the injury plagued him until his retirement.

Porter still owns Old Fashioned, who will stand his first season at stud this year alongside his sire at Taylor Made Stallions. He also owns three breeding rights in Rockport Harbor (and Hard Spun).

And, Porter said, he won’t rule out buying offspring of Unbridled’s Song in the future.

“Maybe I would think twice, but I wouldn’t rule it out,” Porter said, “and I hope Winslow Homer comes back and has a bright future.”

For now, however, Winslow Homer will be shipped to Kentucky to be operated on by Dr. Larry Bramlage. Accompanying him on the trip will be Song of Solomon, by Unbridled’s Song, who has won three of six starts but has an ankle chip Bramlage will remove.

It takes the wind right out of your sails.

Rick Porter’s purchases by Unbridled’s Song:
2003, Rockport Harbor, $470,000 yearling, gr. II winner, 8 starts
2004, Kennebunkport, $460,000 yearling, allowance winner, 14 starts
2005, Pemaquid Light, $150,000 yearling, allowance winner, 18 starts, claimed from Porter, did not finish last start
2005, Honest Man, bought privately, gr. III winner, 15 starts, still in training
2005, Powderhouse Road, bought privately, allowance winner, 13 starts, claimed from Porter
2006, Eight Belles, $375,000 yearling, gr. II winner, 10 starts
2006, Mighty Kennebec, $400,000 yearling, unraced
2007, Old Fashioned, $800,000 yearling, gr. II winner, 6 starts
2007, Song of Solomon, $525,000 yearling, allowance winner, 6 starts, on the shelf
2007, Christina’s World, $725,000 yearling, stakes placed, 5 starts, still in training
2008, Winslow Homer. $310,000 yearling, gr. III winner, 4 starts, on the shelf


Leave a Comment:


I have no doubt Unbridled's Song  stamps his progeny. But why keep breeding to a stallion that clearly has soundness issues? Why keep adding him to the gene pool? So his injured sons can retire to stud to breed more unsound offspring? The logic makes no sense.  

04 Feb 2010 10:43 AM

There like the real pretty girl with a rocky past, its a lot a fun for a while but it never seems to end the way you thought it might. They are fun to sell though because they do have that commercial look and people love to buy them.

04 Feb 2010 2:03 PM

While it may (or may not) be factually true that a greater % of the Unbridled's Songs than the get of other stallions sustain fractures, or break down, it does not necessarily follow that the U. Songs are inherently less sound (or more prone to this)...By the way, Dan- what became of the wonderful "Five Cross Files"?  

04 Feb 2010 5:26 PM

maybe its more than genetics.  Could it be a lack of conditioning? Poor hoof care? The wrong kind of nutrition?? Maybe all of the above?  Maybe perfect conformation does give you a perfect horse? We expect a whole lot out of a 2 year old, and even more out of a 3 year old.  Can some of our bad habits be fixed? or should we keep the same idea's from the dark ages?  

04 Feb 2010 6:24 PM

I have long said that Unbridled's Song offspring don't last. Finally others have come on board. I cannot argue the fact that they are pretty and look the part, and therefore are very commercial. But if anyone thinks they are going to enjoy a long ride with them are sadly mistaken. Fifteen minutes of fame is all you'll get.

05 Feb 2010 9:58 AM

I wish Mr. Porter all the best with his Unbridled Songs. They have so much talent, and while there may be some soundness issues, in this business, isn't it better to have a horse that CAN RUN, with some issues, than a horse that CAN'T RUN, with no issues? Many times the issues can be MANAGED, time and therapy can make a difference. The horse with no talent or desire to run is the perfect horse to try another job other than racing.

05 Feb 2010 11:57 AM

Statistics are a funny thing and need critical interpretation - but it does indeed seem that a disproportional number of Unbridled's Songs suffer major injuries. It's a shame because I, like Rick Porter, have a real soft spot for them. They are very special - but every time I remember my beautiful girl, Eight Belles, and how my elation crumbled in an instant into heartbreak, I find myself fighting hard not to fall in love with the progeny of this stallion. There was Homer and Old Fashioned - and Dunkirk too, another special horse. I know a lot of them do make it and retire sound but it seems so many special ones don't. I don't think it's imagination that the percentages look how they do ...

05 Feb 2010 7:21 PM

Turfqueen, soundness and speed are not mutally exclusive.  A horse can be brilliantly fast and still be sound.  I think one of the issues with the Unbridled's Songs is that they are very big and precocious.  It takes a a very patient and skilled trainer to not break down those really big, fast babies.

06 Feb 2010 6:05 AM

What many see as brittleness in the Unbridled's Songs may be due to several factors, not the least of which are their inherent brilliance (speed), and precosity (relatively early maturing). Those two apparent assets, when combined with another of their assets (in some)-the ability to "stretch" at an early age- would seem to place them at greater risk. The question that should be asked is what are  the diagnostic techniques available to better identify those at greater risk...Speed, precosity, and size (some, but far from all U. Songs tend to be leggy/tall) absent genetic unsoundness, may be enough to put them at more skeletal and soft tissue risk. It would seem that such a group deserves careful monitoring...As I recall, no horse in Eight Belles' Derby competed in more races than did she. I recall also that her race immediately preceeding the Derby was particularly tough and hard-fought. Following that effort, she had several works, all to my recollection were "bullets". Form your own conclusions...Indian Charlie is another stallion that as a racehorse displayed similar talent, and was of similar physique to U. Song. His offspring, like their sire, display similar attributes with the attendant apparant brittleness...This is not to suggest that all with such talents and attributes will succumb to such fate. Dr. Fager, for one, appeared to flourish thoughout his career-but, in retrospect, he may not only have been quite rare in talent, but in "constitution" as well.    

06 Feb 2010 2:35 PM
gary at rough creek


As a breeder, owner and geneticist, I think the point is that there are plenty of fast, classy horses that CAN run.  Why continue to add deleterious genes to the breed?  I'm perfectly fine with letting "the buyer beware", but the larger issue here is that of high profile breakdowns...like Eight Belles.  High profile breakdowns are especially bad for the entire industry, wouldn't you say?

Although I tend to agree with the questionable soundness of the progeny of Unbridled's Song, I would reserve judgment until the training techniques for the ones that broke down were dutifully scrutinized.  

07 Feb 2010 10:11 AM

Thoroughbreds came to be through selective breeding, and as we were/are the "selectors" we are at the controls. We have endeavored to form a breed to our wants (albeit somewhat changing), and have succeeded to some extent. We should be aware of our limitations-that much is still unclear, and our knowledge related to cause-effect is far from complete. So, we should not be so quick to assume that an Unbridled's Song has "deleterious genes" to such a degree as to render him unworthy of thoroughbred stallion status. I wouldn't be surprised to one day learn that his genome was in fact a sounder one than the vast majority of those today... I do concur with most of gary at rough creek's logic, but not with his conclusion about what is "the larger issue". His view is rather endemic- has become almost a given-, and speaks loudly about the ethics of too many in this business and sport. The end game should not be the betterment of the public's perception of the sport, but rather a vast improvement in the safety and well-being of the horses-for their sake, not ours. Yes, as far as selective breeding (as well as many other issues), we should strive to create the soundest horse possible. We cause them to be and, therefore, should always be mindful of this responsibility.        

07 Feb 2010 4:13 PM

I think that the size and precocity is the answer. They LOOK

mature and they RUN like they are mature enough and trainers

treat them the same as any other early maturing Thoroughbred.

Then it's SURPRISE,the brilliant superstar begins sustaining

injuries. Maybe someone ought to hang a sign on them as they

go up for sale saying "Unbridled's Song's offspring are much

more immature than they look or act!"

08 Feb 2010 4:31 AM
gary at rough creek


I value the life of every one of our horses, and all horses in general, be they champions or "plow horses" - we also breed and use the endangered Suffolk Punch Draft horse.

Horses break down and die for all kinds of reasons, be they at the track or at home in their paddocks.  The very first Thoroughbred we ever bred just slipped in the mud, broke a pelvis and passed away at our farm.  

My larger point was that many people who are not tied to the life and death realities of raising animals, or with living in rural areas, will not choose to become racing fans if the stars keeping dying or breaking down in high exposure situations.  I think they grasp the reality that - as living beings - all horses and humans will eventually die.  What they are turned off by are high profile horses - supposedly in their prime and managed with great skill and expense - dying or breaking down on TV on racing's biggest days.

Without fans, and wagering, there will be fewer and fewer horses.  Horses will have no say in the matter - they would not even exist - without the public to some extent.

I understand your point.  I just know that what's good for the game is required for the good of the horses. Either way, stallions which do pass on deleterious genes, and the breeders who use these stallions, are doing a double disservice.  They knowingly, statistically, are breeding "ticking time bombs."  It is horrible for the horse no matter when these deleterious genes explode!  It is bad for everyone who love Thoroughbreds - the horse included - when these deleterious genes explode on big racing days on TV.

Again, I think it is essential to try to isolate the true cause of unsoundness before jumping to any conclusions about a mare or stallion having deleterious genes.  

08 Feb 2010 3:12 PM

To gary at rough creek:

I'd rather not monopolize the blog, but your last post begs yet another response...I earlier tried to avoid enlarging the issue, and know from the past that it's often not well received...I certainly agree that without the sport there would be far fewer thoroughbreds. I often offer to others this exact argument when attempting to justify my continued participation as a breeder, etc. It is, however, not a conclusively winning argument, but one, for now, I hold. That said, you'll agree, I'm sure, that much positive change is required. We cannot simply rest on the notion that since we gave them existence, we can treat them as we like. Most would agree that horses shouldn't be seen as mere objects, but there are many differing views on what should be our level of concern, and what efforts we should undertake for the horses' well-being...Your opening remarks indicate that you value the lives of horses, but you go on to mention mortality (in general), and how horses can die other than at the track. One wonders your motivation in offering this. It is precisely one form of argument employed by those who use it to excuse present (and past) conditions (lets face it, it's all about degree/there are a far greater % of racetrack injuries/fatalities/age). We must also be careful not to have others infer that better genetic screening, no matter how precise, will be the solution. I stepped gingerly this time when remarking about Eight Belles' racing history, but I hope my meaning was understood. If we try to place the majority of blame in the direction of breeders, or genetics, we will be absolving other areas in more need of scrutiny...Lastly, these endless Rick Porter (or Larry Jones) blog topic "love sessions" by Bloodhorse staff are, in my opinion, counterproductive to positive change. They tend to allow many to wipe the problems under the table, rather than to gain insight on how things may be improved.              

08 Feb 2010 6:12 PM

As informative as the article was, what I'm curious about is what's "Not" being said (and never usually is said).   And that is....what kind of "Profit" Mr. Porter made or will still make off of the above list.

I know that the word on the street is that a lot of people in Horse Racing don't actually make "Any" profits at all in the business (which in some cases are true...that I can attest to).   But, I still have a hard time believing that anyone would continue to buy "Unsoundness" unless they we're still somehow successful with it one way or another.   Whether it be by way of Track Earnings, Claim Amounts, Re-Sales, Syndications or even Future Stud Fees as in the case of Old Fashioned at $12,500 in his first season.

Basically...people don't do "Anything" over and over again unless they really are somehow successful with it.

So...no matter how bad the above list may look, I have to believe that Mr. Porter has done quite well for himself and will continue to do so.

08 Feb 2010 10:12 PM
gary at rough creek


A statement of fact is not necessarily intended to absolve one of all responsibility...or any responsibility for that matter.  As you well know, mares die during foaling.  Foals die for all kinds of reasons.  The partner to all of us in this breeding business, in which we bring to life these horses, and our hopes and dreams, is death.  It is inevitable.

The circumstances surrounding each death are not inevitable. They are determined by skill and judgment and management and...and sometimes fate.

I am one who believes that improper training (methods used...possibly drugs), reduced racing schedules, and possibly nutrition are much more important contributors to unsoundness in the modern Thoroughbred than genetics ever could be.  Horses have rather long generation times.  It would be difficult in just a few short decades to "breed out" soundness.  

I make the comment about training techniques because we race too.  After employing 6 different trainers, several of them - although they came with positive references - should not be allowed to be near most horses. Some of these trainers showed little understanding of bone remodeling, or the effects of training and racing frequency on the process.  And they weren't amenable to reading about it, poo pooing us, saying they understood it.  Not surprisingly, our horses encountered slab fractures, bone chips and bucked shins.

In that regard, I can agree with you that much can and should be done...mostly at the rearing and training end of a horse's career. As a breeder, and former molecular biologist, I see little hope in finding single genes, or even single gene clusters, that could be tested for in the future to reduce racing breakdowns.  Nor do I see a future in forcibly removing mares or stallions from the breeding population.  The responsibility of any breeder is to breed physically and mentally sound animals that are fit for their intended purpose.  I for one agree with letting the larger marketplace decide.  How else can we judge soundness for racing?

But here's a larger lesson: when you are breeding right up to the edge - possibly the edge of physical capabilities - there are going to be those animals that go outside of the curve a bit, and they just may be unsound...eventually.  I think this is what's happening with some of the Unbridled's Songs.  They are brilliant, and some can run right at the edge of physical limitation...and sometimes they go beyond it.  At least parts of them do!

That's why - even though I have not and probably will never be able to scrutinize exactly how these horses are trained - I don't buy the Unbridled's Songs. Nor do I breed to Unbridled's Song.  That and the money of course!  Seriously though, before anyone writes in, if I had all the money in the world, I still wouldn't buy his yearlings or breed to him.  

But that's just me.  

09 Feb 2010 10:27 AM
Duke at Vero Beach

Let's look at the family of Unbridled's Song to check out the gene pool.

His grandam raced 69 times and retired sound, Ran at 2 and won at6f. Competed in a 1 3/8 mile Stk, running 2nd. Won on dirt and turf. They don't come any sounder.

His daddy was a sound race horse.

Size plus speed plus precocity is what wins but it leads to problems. Slow horses don't get injured.

I'll take my chances with the fast ones.

01 Sep 2010 5:54 AM

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