Big News - By Evan Hammonds

In the winter of 1997, Joe Hirsch began a column in Daily Racing Form: “Pulpit, Pulpit, Pulpit. That’s all people are talking about.” The legendary Turf writer was musing on the buzz in South Florida surrounding Claiborne Farm’s colt as the son of A.P. Indy worked his way along the Triple Crown trail.

In 2018 racing people were talking a lot about Justify, the colt who didn’t debut until mid-February and, less than four months later, became the 13th winner of the Triple Crown (see page 24).

Thinking of the “big stories” of the year, we were certain Justify’s Triple Crown win was the topper. We checked the analytics of our website,, for confirmation…and found out we were wrong.

While Justify’s brief tenure on the track was hot news—nine stories about him, or his connections, ranked among the top 12—it wasn’t the top story…and it wasn’t even close.’s most-read story of the year, with 403,275 views (through Dec. 11) was sales editor Ron Mitchell’s story “World Record-Priced Colt The Green Monkey Euthanized.” The story was picked up by the national news website and went “viral” as they say.

What’s not to like about a story reflecting on the pre-Great Recession excesses about the world’s most expensive horse—he sold for $16 million as a 2-year-old in 2006—who had a funky name, earned only $10,440, and later sired four stakes winners before dying at a young age due to laminitis?

The online news game is a fickle business. Political name-calling, funny animal videos, and tragic tales get the clicks these days. It’s fascinating what captures the imagination of online readers outside our insular world of the Thoroughbred.

The two other non-Justify items among the top 12 read this year were straight-up news stories of importance to the sport.

The fourth-best-read story was “Giant’s Causeway Dead at 21” by bloodstock editor Eric Mitchell, that chronicled the life and times of Coolmore’s breed-shaping son of Storm Cat. A champion on the track—the “Iron Horse” was Europe’s Horse of the Year in 2000—was the leading sire in North America three times: 2009, 2010, and 2012.

That was followed by online news editor Jeremy Balan’s report

“Espinoza Injured after Bobby Abu Dhabi’s Fatal Incident,” which was published July 22. Jockey Victor Espinoza, who rode American Pharoah to victory through the 2015 Triple Crown, was unseated during a morning work at Del Mar and suffered a fractured vertebra in his neck.

American Pharoah remained in the news as the top first-crop sire of the year (see page 36). Ron Mitchell’s report of “American Pharoah Colt Lights Up Bid Board at $2.2 M” from the opening session of the Keeneland September sale was the 13th-most-read story on

Online news editor Frank Angst’s “Flores Dies from Injuries Suffered in March 19 Spill,” which reported the tragic loss of Parx’ all-time leading jockey Jose Luis Flores March 22 touched a nerve with readers, and it clicked in as the 14th-most-read story.

Top-read news items among the top 30 include the debut of Southern Phantom, the 2-year-old colt with the white face; the return to the saddle for Bob Baffert’s assistant Jimmy Barnes after suffering a pelvic fracture in 2017; China’s moving forward on plans for a racetrack; and the death of Kentucky horseman Olin Gentry at 51.

Through mid-December more than 5,700 items were posted on during the year. That’s a lot of copy—hard news, analysis, press releases, and more.

Among the lighthearted items on the year—perhaps our favorite—was the 15-second video clip that came our way via Racing Post of the horse in Deauville, France, who got loose before bucking her way through a bar. It’s a story that launches a handful of punch lines to the joke, “A horse walks into a bar…”

We’ll walk 2018 to the door and usher it out in good order while looking forward to a prosperous and healthy 2019.

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