There’s little debate that 2019 has been a difficult one for Thoroughbred breeding and racing. The sport has been tested like never before as our very existence has been called into question by many in the general public, some of our elected officials, national media outlets, and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
In trying to wrap the year, we can turn to Queen Elizabeth II, who dubbed 1992 as annus horribilis, saying it was “not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure.”
However, whatever is thrown our way, we are part of an industry built on faith, hope, and resolve. We can—and will—find a better way. We will do this through a heightened sense of urgency and engagement. A groundswell has already begun.
Last week we dispatched online news editor Frank Angst to Las Vegas for the Jockeys’ Guild convention and associate editor Byron King to Tucson, Ariz., for the University of Arizona’s Global Symposium on Racing. Staff writer Christine Oser covered the ground-breaking Kentucky Horse Racing Commission meeting that moves the ball forward with a race-day Lasix policy change. Their reports are in “The Wire.”
What they found was a conviction not seen in years past. Panelists and participants alike thoughtfully approached topics with new vigor, new ideas, and a sharpened sense of what is at stake.
There are many facets to the Thoroughbred game, from breeders and owners to track operators to the betting public. We might not all agree on ways to move forward, but we do have one thing in common: We love the sport to its core, and the welfare of the horse is paramount.
Never, never sell a horseperson short. Our resolve is strong. Despite the naysayers over the last 12 months, there seems to be plenty of juice left in the lemon.
At year’s close, a few loose ends:
• There were several stellar moments on the track in 2019, but the “say wha...?” moment of the year came May 17 at Pimlico as we watched in awe as LNJ Foxwoods’ Covfefe ran six furlongs in 1:07.70 while winning the Adena Springs Miss Preakness Stakes (G3). After a half-mile in :44.43 the bay sophomore filly threw down eighths in :11.58 and :11.69 to win the race by 8 1/2 lengths. The final time was more than a full second off the 1:09 standard set by the swift Northern Wolf 29 years earlier. It was a visually stunning performance as she appeared to be running on a conveyor belt. The Into Mischief filly later showed her class in hard-fought victories in the Longines Test Stakes (G1) and Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1).
• Constantly reminded how prestigious it is to win the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1), it seems odd that in a span of less than two months three Derby winners were reported as being exported. On Oct. 11 it was announced Animal Kingdom (2011) had been sold to Japan. California Chrome, the 2014 winner, was also bound for Japan, it was announced Nov. 20, and on Nov. 27 Super Saver (2010) was reported on his way to Turkey. Add to that the Oct. 17 note that Bodemeister, the 2012 runner-up and sire of 2017 Derby winner Always Dreaming, was also bound for Turkey.
• And finally, we missed publishing an obit on Henry Dominguez, the El Paso-based trainer who passed in late May at 61. From a family of successful horsemen, Dominguez won 1,885 races and more than $37 million in purses. At Sunland Park, the New Mexico track just outside El Paso, Dominguez won 704 races, none bigger than Song of Navarone’s score in the 2007 WinStar Derby.
Dominguez was one of the many branches of the D. Wayne Lukas coaching tree.
“Wayne can just look a horse in the eye and see what’s there,” Dominguez told us. “I learned a lot of things from Wayne.”
Instead of advancing to a larger circuit, Dominguez decided to stay at home. “Wayne…he’ll tell you, ‘I’m the only one that got away from him.’ ”
We met Dominguez on the sunny apron at Sunland Park decades ago and had many conversations throughout the years. The affable horseman was warm, engaging, and possessed with a true Western spirit.
Here’s to a warm and engaging 2020.