Friday, October 30, 2009

There goes Joe Drape again

In today's New York Times story about NYRA's ban of trainer Jeff Mullins, reporter Joe Drape -- whom I took to task recently for his shoddy piece on I Want Revenge and the drug culture in racing -- has gone back to the well with his unattributed claims.

Drape today writes: "The aggressive punishment of Mullins in New York comes at a time when horse racing is under intense scrutiny for its use of illegal drugs, overuse of legal medications and lax oversight, all of which many veterinarians believe are part of the reason the United States has the world's worst mortality rate for Thoroughbreds."

All emphasis, of course, mine.

Attribution, apparently as is frequent for Mr. Drape, entirely absent.

One of the first lessons I was taught as a reporter was to avoid making statements such as the above by Mr. Drape -- i.e., "many veterinarians believe" -- without telling readers who those veterinarians happen to be.

Even when Drape wrote an entire piece on how I Want Revenge supposedly illustrates the claims made above, his attempts at attribution were feeble and insubstantial.

I'm not saying there aren't sources to cite that would back up Drape's claims about drugs in racing. I'm saying that Joe Drape apparently believes he doesn't even need to bother providing such citations; that simply repeating the allegations in the New York Times ad infinitum shall be proof enough that the claims are true.

I'm all for aggressively pursuing and sternly punishing drug-violators on the back side of America's racetracks. I'm 100 percent in favor of reducing American racing's apparent reliance on medications. I would love to see and be a part of a "cleaner," less-pharmaceutical sport.

I would also like to see those who report on that sport at the highest levels follow some basic rules of reporting and attribute their statements rather than repeatedly stating as fact claims for which they rarely if ever provide supporting evidence.

On the subject of less being more ...

The Blood-Horse and Delaware Park say it's so.

Delaware Park reports that despite running 27 fewer dates in 2009, total handle was up 1.9 percent in 2009.

Frankly, handle being up at all in this down economy is impressive. The other numbers -- detailed below -- are no doubt positives for Delaware Park's profitability, but I don't think they say all that much about strengthening the quality or fan base of racing.

For example, Delaware Park's average daily handle on live racing was up 27.1 percent over 2008 -- a huge amount. But with only 1.9 percent in actual handle increase, Delaware Park in effect has focused its (very slightly better) earnings over fewer dates, spiking the average daily handle by what seems an astonishing amount.

That has to be a plus for the track's bottom line. Making the same amount of money while being open on fewer dates -- thus paying everyone from tellers to concessions workers to the gate crew for 27 fewer work days -- is pure profit.

If my newspaper could print four days a week instead of six and still charge the same subscription price and attract the same amount in advertising revenue, we'd make out like bandits, too. Typically for a business, that isn't the case.

The same scenario is true at Delaware Park for racing revenues. The Blood-Horse reports that "year-over-year racing revenue was unchanged" at the track, but by making no-more-money on fewer days of racing, the revenue "per racing day" was up 24.6 percent.

On the track, the average number of starters per race rose from 6.94 to 7.73 and the average number of races per day went up from 8.96 to 9.74. This of course makes perfect sense: Give horsemen fewer dates on which to compete and they have no choice but to show up for the races you do run.

Again, from a track-profitability standpoint, that's probably good business. It can be argued those also become better betting races; and that's a plus.

But I'm still not convinced that reducing the perceived over-scheduling of race-dates would be any significant improvement for the overall image and popularity of horse racing. ... Making the same amount of money for working less notwithstanding.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Zenyatta in the Classic? Horse of the Year?

I'm going to make this one short and sweet.

Trainer John Shirreffs says he's "definitely" leaning toward running champion older female Zenyatta against males -- going 10 furlongs for her first time -- in the Breeders' Cup Classic, rather than defending her title in the Breeders' Cup Used-to-be-Distaff. (Is it obvious enough yet that I think "Ladies Classic" is a lame name?)

She's entered for both, but an anticipated weekend workout should determine, said Shirreffs, whether she's peaking and ready to face the boys.

My question to you: If Zenyatta wins the Classic, can she supplant Rachel Alexandra -- who is the front-runner in the clubhouse with three wins over males -- atop the leader board for Horse of the Year?

Poll at left.

The nominations are in ...

And it's interesting to me that there are as many horses pre-entered for the Breeders' Cup Marathon at 14 furlongs as there are for either the Filly & Mare Sprint and the Breeders' Cup Sprint -- 11 for each race.

Of the races less than a mile, only the turf sprint -- of which there's no comparable race for females, so some fillies and mares are in it -- has more pre-entries, 22. And seven of those horses are cross-entered into other Breeders' Cup races.

It's worth noting that there's no "marathon" specifically for females, as well. But fillies and mares can go 10 furlongs on grass in the Filly & Mare Turf and 9 on the synthetic in the Ladies Please-Call-it-a-Distaff-Again and those races drew only 10 and nine pre-entries.

I look forward to the Marathon and I hope it continues.

Hialeah back on track beginning Nov. 28 ... and what of it?

Long-dormant Hialeah Park in Florida has received approval of dates for a 40-day Quarter Horse meeting beginning Nov. 28.

The races will be the first of any kind run at the track since Cheeky Miss won the last race ever run at the historic racetrack on May 22, 2001.

News of Hialeah's approved dates comes on the same day that word breaks of Mountaineer Park's desire to run the statutory minimum number of dates (210) on an eight-month schedule, instead of year-round, putting the track at odds with horsemen who -- well, duh, I suppose -- would like to have an income during all 12 months of the year.

And that news comes of historic Ellis Park's decision to shut down Nov. 8 and suspend simulcasting operations.

And on the heels of news that the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission has approved reduced dates for all three breeds racing within the state.

And shortly after California changes its laws to allow a much higher takeout on wagers, essentially lifting money right out of the pockets of winning bettors before they've had a chance to win, reducing the incentive to be a horseplayer in the first place.

And only days after news from Florida itself, Hialeah's home state, that Adena Springs is transferring its entire Southern stallion roster out of state, all the way to Canada.

Could Hialeah be reopening at a worse time? Or is the Hialeah resurrection one of only a few signs that there's still a chance for horse racing to rebound?

I realize the markets have been poor. Purses are falling in many jurisdictions. It's a tough time to be in the horse racing business -- although when has there ever been an "easy" time?

But I often do believe that the horse racing industry knee-jerk overreacts to difficult financial times in the same way my own industry, the newspaper business, does.

We in newspapers slash staff, reduce our pages, cut dates of publication -- and somehow hope that customers to continue advertising, reading and spending with us the same way that they always have.

Horse racing slashes dates and purses, state governments treat their own lotteries as fiscal Godsends while scorning horseplayers that really keep an entire job-creating industry alive, and the quality, frequency and visibility of racing as a sport suffers more each day. But we in the business lament the declining lack of interest among the public.

I've heard the arguments for fewer dates as a return to the good ol' days. I'll have a blog entry soon on why I believe there's a big misconception about the supposed over-scheduling of horse racing.

Meanwhile, I'll continue to believe that less is almost never more.

Hialeah, I know you have your rooters and your detractors.

So good luck, Hialeah. You're gonna need it.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Passing a milestone; thanks for reading

At risk of appearing to be a self-absorbed jerk, I wanted to recognize the 10,000th visit to this blog since its inception in the spring of this year.

I'm a little late in the acknowledging, but visitor No. 10,000 logged-on from Old Bethpage, N.Y., at about 12:03 p.m. on Saturday.

From those who read my very first post -- "At What Price, Greatness," my thoughts on the sale of Rachel Alexandra to Jess Jackson and Co., on May 7, 2009 -- through viewers of today's quick-hitter on Indian Blessing's defection being another blow to the '09 Breeders' Cup, I appreciate each and every person who has stopped by to read and enjoy, or argue with, my views on horse racing.

I don't have any intention of making a big deal out of other numeric milestones along the way. But 10,000 seemed an appropriate point at which to stop, take note, and give thanks where it's due -- to the people who actually choose to click a link or follow a bookmark and spend time reading whatever it is that I decided to write.

Every day, every post, every reader, I'm honored that you bothered.

Thank you.

Breeders' Cup loses Indian Blessing

Another major defection has weakened a 2009 Breeders' Cup already bruised by cold shoulders thrown by other major contenders.

The second straight running of the Cup during the Oak Tree meeting at Santa Anita was already suffering from the long-planned absence of likely champion 3-year-old filly and potential Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra. Her principal owner, Jess Jackson, says he doesn't want the filly racing "on plastic" -- that is, Santa Anita's Pro-Ride synthetic main track.

Now trainer Bob Baffert has said his dual-champion 4-year-old filly Indian Blessing would not be pre-entered for the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint. Baffert said the Indian Charlie filly -- who was the 2-year-old champion female of 2007 and champion female sprinter in 2008 -- simply has a distaste for the Pro-Ride.

"I think I'm going to pass," Baffert said. "She just doesn't like the track. What can you do?

"She looks good. It's frustrating. I'm not going to pre-enter because I don't want the temptation to change my mind."

Indian Blessing, who has won 10 of 16 lifetime for $2,995,420, was beaten over the Pro-Ride by Ventura (also a Grade 1 winner on turf) in last year's Filly & Mare Sprint, though she still finished second in that race

Rachel Alexandra and Indian Blessing aren't the only top horses whose connections are ducking the Breeders' Cup's encore performance at Santa Anita. It's official that the very fast (for six furlongs) Fabulous Strike will not appear at Santa Anita, either. The horse is 14-for-21 lifetime on dirt, but was beaten sixth lengths in a fifth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Sprint on Pro-Ride last year. Trainer Todd Beattie is already looking forward to the Breeders' Cup Sprint on real dirt at Churchill Downs.

Changing their minds at the last minute and deciding to ship for the Cup are the connections of Kodiak Kowboy, the horse that has handed two losses to Fabulous Strike this year. Though a stakes winner on synthetic at Woodbine as a juvenile, the colt's four worst lifetime speed figures all have come on synthetic surfaces, and his connections seemed more interested in winning the Cigar Mile at Aqueduct on Nov. 28 to add an exclamation point to his stallion resume by gaining Grade 1 wins at 6, 7 and 8 furlongs.

It's good to see that Kodiak Kowboy, at least, most likely will appear.

I'm a fan of the Breeders' Cup's traveling road-show format. And I think it's no small surprise that the first time the Breeders' Cup decided to leave its tents staked at the same track for two years in a row, troubles commenced. Especially since that track is a synthetic surface.

We almost certainly won't see defections like these from the Cup next year, at Churchill.

And though the sites such as Woodbine and Arlington Park -- past host sites now switched to synthetics -- still are names in the mix for future renewals, I'm wondering how long it will be until the next Breeders' Cup is scheduled over a "plastic" racetrack.

If Breeders' Cup management is wise, I would say it shouldn't be in 2011, either.

Friday, October 23, 2009

If this is a horse racing media outlet, then perhaps I should be paying a little more attention

I really should take this blog more seriously. Because, apparently, other people do.

OK, I'll confess, I do approach this blog earnestly. I have my share of fun with it from time to time, but always with a point to make. And then again, sometimes my thoughts are just downright pedantic. So it would be hard to convince my readers that this is all done on a lark.

But during a week when I was kept both busy and distracted apart from this endeavor and haven't posted to the Fugue since late on a Tuesday, I got a wake-up call in the form of an unsolicited e-mail. From HRTV. Yes, the horse racing television network that isn't TVG.

It was a press release. Because HRTV wants to reach you, through me.

"Attached please find information that you and your readers will find of interest," it read. "Thank you very much, and best wishes for continued success."

Ummmm ... wow.

The release tells of HRTV's launch of the network's new broadband channel at Now, fans of horse racing and HRTV's other original programming can stream HRTV's live TV feed over their computer, 24/7.

And that is pretty cool.

When I have the service switched on -- it's presently dormant -- I subscribe to DirecTV, and the package includes TVG. So I've seen very little from HRTV in the past. Being able to stream HRTV live over my computer is enticing, though the service does come at a cost. (Pricing tiers range from $9.99 a month to $89.99 per year, although the service is on sale through Dec. 31 at 12 months for $49.99.)

I'd really be tempted if I could account-wager from North Carolina.

And actually, HRTV isn't the only racing industry entity to contact me recently as a means of trying to get the word out about a product or service. I haven't fully checked out the site that promotes the Thomas Herding Technique of equine athletic psychology -- but it has a video with Bob Baffert on the front page and a clip featuring John Shirreffs on the inside. So I'll give them a few minutes of my time maybe later this weekend and see what "THT" is all about.

Meanwhile, maybe I need to be thinking harder, writing more, and figuring out how to stop doing this for free.

Although at least at my present prices, nobody can complain that they didn't get what they paid for.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Radical Fringe: Bet him win-place and show a profit

Want one of the safer win-place bets in horse racing? Look no further than Radical Fringe.

I keep an eye on the 4-year-old Van Nistelrooy gelding because his dam, stakes-winning mare Broad Victory (Spartan Victory-Below Broad Street, by Kokand) is a full sister to one of my mares, Bushes Victory. And while the horse is lightly raced, when he does run, he tends to send you to the pay window.

Radical Fringe on Sunday finished second in a $40,000 claiming race at Keeneland, losing by a head to former stakes-winner Power Surge going 6 furlongs on Polytrack in 1:09.60. Thus, from six races, Radical Fringe has three wins, three second-place finishes, and $74,420 earned. And that mark would be better if he hadn't been caught completely flat-footed at the break in his debut at age 3, in which he was last early by double-digit lengths in a big group going only 5 furlongs, and managed to finish a closing fifth.

The horse is fast and consistent. He's won on turf and synthetic, and even when he's second, it ain't by much.

Radical Fringe broke maiden handily on turf in August 2008, missing an Arlington track record by 0.16. He followed that win with a synthetic victory at Arlington, coming even closer to a 5-furlong track mark -- 0.03 ticks (56.54). In his fourth start he was second beaten a half-length in a Keeneland allowance going 6f in a brisk 1:08.86. (By My Best Pal Red, a stakes-placer who finished third Sunday in Radical Fringe's race at Keeneland.) Then, "Rad" finished his 3-year-old campaign with a turf-sprint win at Hawthorne.

That's why I was surprised to see him resurface this year -- after a long layoff -- for a claiming tag of $35,000 at Arlington. He didn't disappoint in the race, finishing a hung-wide second beaten a length by former Woodbine stakes winner Stradivinsky going 5 furlongs on turf in 56.27. And on Sunday he came much closer to a win for a $40K tag, but was not among the two horses that were claimed.

The odds are never long on Radical Fringe; usually around 5-1. But if he places at least second (which he almost always has), you'll make a tiny bit. If he wins, you'll make out nicely.

And as consistently as he performs -- 6-for-7 finishing at least second place; beaten when he does lose only by horses with blacktype back-class -- I wonder how many more times Radical Fringe can run for a tag without getting himself claimed from Hugh Robertson and Wolfe Racing LLC.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Commonwealth Stud: Can Virginia follow European lead to restore its breeding business?

Virginia's thoroughbred breeding business is in sharp decline.

I've noticed. The Washington Post has noticed. Certainly Glenn Petty, executive director of the Virginia Thoroughbred Association, has noticed.

I have an idea for spurring the industry with a stallion stakes series, similar to Maryland Million Day or any number of other states' efforts to promote breeding in their state via premium restricted races. Petty has a different idea.

He thinks Virginia should follow the well-established lead of England and Ireland and establish a "national" stud.

Petty is of the mind that Virginia is so handicapped by Colonial Downs' relatively short meeting, lack of sufficient off-track betting locations, and better incentive programs in nearby states (namely West Virginia and Pennsylvania) that maintaining any significant private commercial breeding interest is impossible.

"Enter the government," Petty told me in an e-mail last August.

Petty said he has "developed a plan for a National Stud" that would couple a commercial stallion operation with "an educational component" at Virginia Tech University, which long has operated the Middleburg Agriculture and Research Center, first for cattle research, but rededicating the facility to equine study in 1992.

Virginia's "national stud" (or "commonwealth stud," perhaps more appropriately) would be "modeled after the national studs in England and Ireland," Petty said. That would suggest that the facility would maintain a respectable roster of stallions, provide boarding and foaling facilities for private mare-owners, and perhaps perform other services such as sales-prep or boarding horses on layup.

"There is no private funding for such an endeavor" due to the aforementioned issues facing Virginia, which limit the profitability of a large stallion operation, Petty said. "But people agree it could work over time if subsidized."

Petty explains that the state of Virginia receives 1.7 percent of every traditional wager on horse racing in the state, and 0.5 percent of each advance-deposit wager. Out of those funds, the Commonwealth of Virginia Racing Commission must operate its "shop," Petty says -- that's pay for its entire staff, licensing process, drug-testing, stewards and so forth. Then the VRC must return a "surplus" $800,000 to the Virginia General Fund.

"Surplus" is an interesting word the commonwealth's General Assembly has co-opted in this case. Truth be told, the government wants $800,000 from the VRC's budget before anything else is paid and regardless how much the VRC collects from the 1.7/0.5 percent shares on wagers.

"Actually, the (General Assembly) requires them to pay the $800,000 up front," said Petty about the VRC, "so they'd better get their budget right!"

Since wagering began in Virginia, Petty said, the industry has returned more than $7 million to the commonwealth's General Fund.

Trouble is, over the course of more than a decade, that really isn't a lot of money for running the entire commonwealth. Petty believes -- rightfully, I would add -- that the funds would be better-spent in the hands of the racing industry, to promote its own growth and development, generating tax revenues for the commonwealth through sales, higher property values and job creation.

"I've got kids in public school, so I'm a fan of the General Fund and the school buses it buys and the roads it paves," Petty wrote. "But imagine what the $7 million could have done if applied to programs like the one you suggest or to a Virginia National Stud?"

Indeed, the $800,000 the Virginia General Assembly siphons-off from wagering each year is a drop in the state's budget bucket, but would more than fully fund the stallion stakes series I recommended or could greatly subsidize Petty's plan for a commonwealth-run stud.

Petty says that support for his ideas has been voiced.

"Everybody sees the logic of my request and the merit of the projects this money could support," he says.

But the roadblocks to reclaiming those funds for industry use have proven impossible, thus far, to clear.

"Nobody is willing to advocate giving this money back," Petty said.

"I have asked the General Assembly for years to give us back all or some of this money. I spent all last summer visiting members in their homes and I have had two high-level meetings with the governor's office about this, plus one with the secretary of commerce and trade (he oversees the VRC) and one with the secretary of agriculture.

"Nothing. Zip."

I just hope Virginia's General Assembly is pleased with its work when those two words are all that's left of the commonwealth's thoroughbred breeding business.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Talk you out of racehorses? I think not.

An e-mail message sent to a horse-breeding and -racing discussion group asked a question in its subject line: "How crazy am I?"

The reason for the question?

The female writer has a couple of mares. A friend has acquired an intact horse who was a decent runner who earned nearly $200,000 and was stakes-placed. And, noting that women are now more accepted on the back side of America's racetracks, the writer has a desire to breed, raise, train and race her own horses. The whole kit and caboodle.

"Give it to me straight as I need to be talked out of this," she wrote.

How crazy is she?

"Insane," I told her.

But then anybody who isn't practically made of money is nuts to get into this business, even in the smallest way, on the breeding and ownership end. Not just in this economy, though especially so. And yet we do it anyway.

Somebody oughta padlock the gates at America's racetracks with guys and gals like me on the inside; fit for straitjackets those of us who really need them; and make rounds to hand out our medications twice a day or as dictated by our psychiatric professionals.

Just please make sure you've left us with the horses.

It makes no sense for me to take in mares that others didn't want (but in which I see potential) and a stallion that had no place else to go (but who can get you a racehorse and deserves a decent home) and try to breed foals for the track. But it's what I'm doing.

Want a racehorse? They're everywhere. People run fairly good ones for claiming tags every day. Hire a trainer, write the first check (and be prepared to write a whole bunch more) and you're in the racing-stable business.

Want to start with an unproven talent so, theoretically, the sky is still the limit? Particularly in this economy, breeders, pinhookers and consigners must feel like they're giving away weanlings and yearlings at the sales. Outside of the sales ring, some of them even are.

But the pedigree side of horse racing has always intrigued me just as much as the races themselves. There's no magic combination that works every time. But can you find affinities between families and individuals that give your youngster a better chance of growing up and becoming a winner than the chances of the average foal?

As a breeder, everything is against you. Beyond the process of just getting a mare pregnant -- often no simple task -- you then have to cross your fingers and pray to the deity of your choice (where applicable) that the pregnancy doesn't slip. And that the foal is born alive. And that he has all his legs. And eyes. And internal organs, fully functional. And that he isn't sickly. Or doesn't get sick when 12 hours ago he seemed like the healthiest foal in the shedrow.

And that as he grows, he stays straight -- or gets even better with age. A real looker at six months can be a rat at 12. And sometimes a near-perfect specimen again (or an ugly one who can run) by the time the 2-year-old sales and races roll around next year.

And you hope he doesn't step in a hole. Get struck by lightning. Get kicked. Bow a tendon early in training. Bow a tendon before he ever gets to training. Isn't a head case that is impossible to train. Isn't one of those who is as fast as you'd ever want a horse to be when working alone, but so afraid of running in company that he'll just back out of the crowd and quit. That he won't freak out schooling in the starting gate and smash his skull, nearly killing himself. (Or that if he does, he recovers to threaten the Triple Crown.)

Insert your own disaster here.

If you think breeding to sell is tough, try breeding to race. You make all the plans, sometimes with a little help from bloodstock and breeding advisers and sometimes on your own. And you take all the financial chances, from cover and conception, to foaling, to the racetrack ... inviting failure at every step along the way. You're almost better off if they show you early on that they aren't a racehorse so you can retrain and rehome them right away, rather than after they're a 4-year-old, 20-race maiden who has cost you a mint and will never earn it back.

I'm not disrespecting those who breed to sell; it's become the bigger segment of the market. And for every one you make money on, there are ones on which you lose. But at least if you've bred a foal of fashionable pedigree, from reasonably good family, and he isn't sick or crooked on sale day, you have a chance. People will eventually stop buying your foals if you build a reputation for nothing but a string of perpetual losers (regardless of looks), but the one you're selling today hasn't won a darned thing to prove himself. And might never. And as a seller you can still come out well ahead.

When you breed to race, in effect the potential sucker who just bought your unproven, potential lifetime loser, is you.

How crazy is it to try and help out a friend's freshman stallion with some business (probably getting free or greatly reduced seasons in return); to breed, raise and race your own foals?

You'd be hard-pressed to come up with a better word than "insane."

So I told it to her straight, and "off-list," so far as the discussion group goes.

If she keeps all that money she would've spent, safely tucked in her pocket, she can't possibly lose.

She also can't possibly win.

Me? Talk somebody out of racehorses? ... I think not.

Just, along the way, try to make the choices that will leave you with the fewest regrets.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

No great surprise: Sea The Stars retired

His connections at one point had said chances were "50-50" that the certain European champion, recent Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe winner Sea The Stars, would run in next month's Breeders' Cup Classic in the United States.

But I'm unsurprised at Tuesday's news that the 3-year-old Cape Cross colt has been retired. In fact, through absolutely no particular genius or prescience, I had predicted it.

I'd have to say that owner Christopher Tsui and trainer John Oxx have made the right choice for the horse. By European standards, there was nothing left for him to do. And American sentiments and standards really weren't relevant since Sea The Stars is almost certain to land at stud next spring in Ireland.

After losing in his debut at age 2 -- fourth under a blanket, in an 18-horse field, to three future graded-stakes horses -- Sea The Stars never lost again in eight more starts. All six of his races at age 3 were Group 1 stakes, and of course he won them. That included an historically unprecedented annexation of the English Derby-Guineas "double" plus the Arc.

While not at all surprised, I cannot say that I take the news of his retirement without disappointment. I wanted to witness Sea The Stars on the track at age 4. Might he have been even better? Of course, beyond the prospect of catastrophic injury, his connections had to consider that the horse might've come back to the field a bit and found a way to lose a few. Having won the very biggest races in England, Ireland and France, it's difficult to imagine that much of any win streak continued into -- or all the way through -- 2010, would have elevated his stud fee significantly.

Under the circumstances, retirement almost certainly is the best business decision for the Mr. Tsui and the best decision in the interests of the horse, if not the ideal outcome for fans.

So if you do desire to watch Sea The Stars perform at age 4, you now must be prepared to hand over a very serious, albeit as yet unannounced, price of admission.

And bring an approved mare.

Facebook ... finally

After 21 days, I'm officially alive and well on Facebook. Finally.

I'm not sure which of my last-ditch moves resulted in my worldly existence being successfully rejoined with the social-networking-account-in-limbo (that "the Facebook team" swore didn't exist). I sent an e-mail Monday morning requesting help, noting my confirmation code and linking to the "ghost" me on Facebook as I had many times before -- but this time from a different e-mail address, in case the first address I'd tried to use had been blacklisted from all the snippy correspondence I'd been sending.

And, I did something I've never done before; I contacted Facebook's Media Relations department to note that I was working on a column about my troubles signing up for Facebook (which would have been an extension of the blog post linked above, only for my newspaper) and said I would just like to ask someone a few questions about their customer service.

By late Monday afternoon I received a personal e-mail from "Justin" -- of the Facebook team -- noting that he'd reset the password and I could now access that account. You know, the one that didn't exist.

Now that I'm active, I have a question.

Why's it easier to make friends on a social networking site? I have 23 already. ... Of course, a significant percentage are relatives, and they're sort of stuck with me.

Anyway, to the rest of you Facebook users ... see ya over there.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Poll: STS over Rachel, 2-1

The votes are in, and my readers, at least, heavily side with Sea The Stars over Rachel Alexandra as the "best horse you won't see" at this year's Breeders' Cup.

Truth be told, Sea The Stars isn't definitely out of the Breeders' Cup. Owner Christopher Tsui says it's 50-50 whether the Irish-bred Cape Cross colt will run for the first time on an all-weather surface in trying to win the Breeders' Cup Classic at Oak Tree at Santa Anita in November.

But I figure he won't be there.

Sea The Stars is riding a seven-race win streak, five of them in Group 1 stakes. It's an historically unprecedented season, as well. He was not only the first horse since Nashwan in 1989 to win the English Derby and Two Thousand Guineas "double," but surpassed that feat by becoming the very first to go on and win the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. He should be hands-down European champion and has little or nothing to prove by winning the Breeders' Cup Classic among a field that is likely to include among its favorites a pair of horses he's beaten several times before: Rip Van Winkle and Mastercraftsman.

Of course, Rachel has had quite the historic 3-year-old campaign of her own. From record-setting romps in the Kentucky Oaks and the Mother Goose Stakes, to beating colts in the Preakness Stakes (first filly to win since Nellie Morse in 1924) and Haskell Invitational, to becoming the first female ever to win the Woodward Stakes against older males, Rachel is easily the Eclipse 3-year-old filly champion on this side of the pond, and the leader in the clubhouse for Horse of the Year.

She's definitely not running in the Breeders' Cup. Principal owner Jess Jackson has made that clear for months, and recently confirmed that her Woodward win would be her last race in 2009.

But at least Jackson says we'll see Rachel on the track in 2010. Sea The Stars is destined for stud duty in Ireland without running at age 4.

Both horses staged historic campaigns. Both were clearly the best of their age and gender -- Rachel perhaps best of both genders -- on their respective continents. And since a majority of my readers are Stateside, I figured a poll between Sea The Stars and Rachel would have relatively close results.

I was wrong. It appears that even American fans are beginning to realize what racing and bloodstock experts have noted for some weeks now -- Sea The Stars is one of the best Europe has seen in ages. He garnered 37 of the 56 votes cast, for 66 percent. Rachel had 18 votes for 32 percent. (One vote was cast for Some Other Horse, namely Caribbean standout Sicotico.)

Of course, the some of the same superlatives used for Sea The Stars can be said of Rachel Alexandra. There have been some great 3-year-old fillies over the past 20 years -- Ashado, Silverbulletday, Go For Wand and others -- but it's hard to ignore that Rachel has done things even the likes of those champions never accomplished.

It will be a bit anticlimactic not to see Rachel and Sea The Stars (presuming he doesn't) running in the Breeders' Cup.

Still, there should be some very good races. And if an American horse manages to rebuff the British Invasion in the Classic, it will be an historic Breeders' Cup weekend in its own right.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

For Yanks, Gitano Hernando's upset in Oak Tree's Goodwood Stakes an upsetting Classic preview

No doubt Gitano Hernando's victory in Saturday's Grade 1 Goodwood Stakes at the Oak Tree meeting at Santa Anita is considered an upset.

But there's also little question that it serves as an unsettling foreshadowing to the Breeders' Cup in November for anyone fielding an American horse in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

The 3-year-old Hernando colt was only Group 3-placed, with a recent conditioned-stakes win on an all-weather track at Wolverhampton to his name, when he departed Italian-born trainer Marco Botti's string at Newmarket in England to be stabled with Paddy Gallagher in California. Then Gitano Hernando at 18/1 upends a field of the West Coast's best in his first U.S. start for owners Team Valor International.

The upstart Brit-bred's victims included 4-year-old multiple Grade 1 winners Colonel John and Tiago, recent Pacific Classic S.-G1 winner Richard's Kid, this year's Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird, dual Grade 2 winner on the Cal circuit Informed, G2 winner and G1-placed Tres Borrachos, and Grade 3 winner and multiple-G1-placed Chocolate Candy.

Only the additions of a Well Armed -- who had surgery in August -- or the likes of Rail Trip and Einstein -- whose connections decided not to prep them again between the Pacific Classic and the Breeders' Cup -- could have made that group any more accomplished. And take note that fourth place in the Goodwood, as it did in the Pacific Classic, went to Parading, a former G2 winner on turf.

If Jess Jackson needed any more supporting evidence for his decision months ago to skip this Breeders' Cup with Rachel Alexandra, he certainly keeps getting it. It's too soon to know whether synthetic tracks everywhere are playing specifically in favor of turf-bred horses -- after all, Gitano Hernando also broke maiden at Wolverhampton and is now 3-for-3 on synthetic and just 1-for-4 on turf; he has not been equally successful on both surfaces. But it certainly seems that California's synthetic tracks can often tilt toward the turfers.

Gitano Hernando isn't nominated to the Breeders' Cup, and Team Valor would have to pay $250,000 to supplement him to the $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic. But his win should have U.S. horses quaking in their Queen's Plates even if he isn't supplemented to racing's "world championships."

That's because Europe is sending much better than him to Santa Anita next month. Whether or not hands-down European champion Sea the Stars races in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

Rip Van Winkle, a Galileo 3-year-old who has won half of his eight starts including two straight British Group 1 races (and who has suffered three of his four losses in races won by Sea the Stars), is likely Breeders' Cup-bound in hopes of escaping Sea the Stars' shadow.

Conditioner Aidan O'Brien has confirmed that European 2-year-old champion of 2008 and four-time Group 1 winner Mastercraftsman -- a recent Group 3 winner in his first try on an all-weather track at Dundalk (in a B.C. Dirt Marathon win-and-you're-in) and also three times a victim of Sea the Stars in his four defeats -- is likewise headed to Santa Anita for the Classic.

Both Rip Van Winkle and Mastercraftsman were clearly superior 3-year-olds to Gitano Hernando in the U.K.

And, apparently the 12-furlong distance of the Breeders' Cup Turf has spooked the connections of Eclipse turf champion-contender Gio Ponti into a run at the Classic instead. Gio Ponti was upset by Interpatation in the mile-and-a-half Joe Hirsch Turf Classic at Belmont his last out, and his camp has decided not to attempt 12 furlongs again at Santa Anita.

Certainly America's best main-track horses will be there for the Classic, including those from the eastern half of the country such as Grade 1 winner Macho Again and three-times G1-winning 3-year-old Summer Bird. But neither has any promising synthetic track form to hang his bridle on. And we've just seen the Best of the West (minus Rail Trip) beaten over the Pro-Ride course by what previously had been an unequivocally second-tier Euro.

So America's hopefuls are stuck with a Breeders' Cup Classic in which the upper crust of likely contenders -- heaven help them if Sea the Stars shows, plus Rip Van Winkle, Mastercraftsman, Gio Ponti, even the aforementioned Einstein -- are all Grade- or Group 1 winners on grass. Which might mean unbeaten Zenyatta, though a synthetic-track monster in her own right, is better off stuck running against mares again in the Please-Change-the-Name-Back-to-Distaff.

And certainly it could be that all the main-track Yanks will be stuck looking forward to 2010 when the Classic gets back onto real, live dirt at Churchill Downs.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Day upon day of 'Revenge'

To start off a Friday, just a short note to thank Steve Byk for the invitation to take part yesterday in his "At the Races" talk show on SiriusXM radio. He was a good and gracious host, and I don't just say that because he apparently agrees with me on Joe Drape's story about I Want Revenge.

Thanks also to Steve for not only mentioning this blog, but for spelling out the URL as a big helper to those who have no clue what its name references.

I'm not completely confident I got across the entirety of my thoughts (and that I didn't occasionally sound like a moron) during the 20 minutes or so that we were on the air, but if I failed in any way, it wouldn't be Steve's fault. I do think I was pretty clear with those thoughts in my critique of Drape's story and in the evolving comments thread taking place thereafter.

It's a bit staggering that my opinion on something an Eclipse-honored New York Times reporter wrote has taken on such a life of its own, with hundreds of hits coming into this little corner of the blogosphere the past few days. Those visitors are largely due to referrals from, and But as my Sitemeter counter allows me to track, a good number of visits also are the result of individual readers believing that my post was worth reading such that they've introduced others to this blog through links in message board and discussion group chats at sites like and Byk-founded

To those readers, I also offer my thanks. While the bustle and the furor of the past few days will likely settle down, some of you will probably continue to visit and read in the future, and I appreciate your readership.

Someone even said they were a "big fan" of mine, which makes them a member of a very exclusive -- that is to say, quite small -- club.

Of course, the next person along in that discussion group questioned my motives for rebutting Drape, calling my critique "way out of whack" and suggesting that "something else is at play." Perhaps, the writer suggests, I'm involved in a "disagreement over drugs or making vet records public."

Is the writer suggesting I'm a surrogate for big pharma? Or just vets and trainers who practice "win-by-needle?" ... Your guess is as good as mine.

But there's nothing like a good conspiracy theory to try and take down an argument that you might find difficult to dismantle on its merits.

Postscript: It merits mentioning that, a few days after this post, the person who wrote the message board post referenced above -- about an argument being "way out of whack," etc. -- has contacted me privately, with her full name (which many Internet-frequenters won't do), and noted that her comments were directed to someone else on the message board and not toward my blog on the subject. I had not read her comments that way (nor had someone else on the board who responded), but it is appropriate at this juncture to add that tidbit of information, although I will not rewrite the original in order to maintain the blog's historical integrity. (In other words, so you won't come back and wonder where the original ending went.)

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

I Want Revenge: Not the story the Times thinks he is

It's undeniable that one of horse racing's most persistent troubles is perception; the belief among many of those in the public who don't like or watch racing (and some who do) that American owners and trainers are drugging, beating and abusing these animals for fun and profit.

It doesn't help when the people who are covering the sport can't get the story straight.

In the Oct. 6 New York Times, writer Joe Drape (a Media Eclipse Award winner) recounts the story of I Want Revenge, the 2009 Kentucky Derby favorite who was scratched on race day. The injury that prompted the scratch has since spurred a lawsuit. IEAH Stables -- which bought a half-interest in the Stephen Got Even colt in a blockbuster deal ($1.75 million plus a 25 percent share in IEAH's 2-year-old champion filly Stardom Bound) from owner David Lanzman only days before I Want Revenge's huge performance in winning the Wood Memorial -- claims the horse's injuries were not disclosed to IEAH leading up to the Derby scratch.

Drape's story is headlined -- and claims to illustrate -- that the "Lawsuit Sheds Light on Use of Legal Medications in Horses."

But after reading it, and some supposedly supporting evidence, I feel like Drape and the Times actually left people in the dark.

Drape's lead paragraph claims that the court case exposes "the fault lines of administering legal drugs to America's thoroughbreds." But from what I can tell -- and certainly from most of what Drape has written -- the lawsuit is much more about honesty and full disclosure in business dealings than the doping of this or any horse. The legal medications administered to I Want Revenge are but bit players in this story.

Drape writes that IEAH alleges that I Want Revenge was "ailing as early as April 7" and that Lanzman failed to disclose the injuries to his co-owners. Lanzman denies the charge. Veterinarians have testified that the colt was treated with substances including hyaluronic acid (a joint treatment) and corticosteroids (anti-inflammatory meds) between the Wood and his Derby scratch. And apparently, IEAH wasn't aware of his medical needs.

Drape's first cringeworthy moment in the story comes early, when he writes that I Want Revenge's ankle "was injected with what amounted to new transmission fluid."

Now, I know the horse was not injected with transmission fluid. Heaven help me, I hope you know the horse wasn't really injected with transmission fluid. But if there's anything an award-winning New York Times reporter should have learned by now, it's that a certain number of his audience are, in short, idiots. I suspect that somebody, somewhere has forwarded this story to animal rights advocates worldwide with a subject header akin to "Horse shot up with transmission fluid to keep him racing!!!!!!"

It's a horrible analogy, not particularly apropos, and needlessly inflammatory. And that's actually what prompted me to dig deeper into Drape's reporting.

What I found is that his story gets worse. That's because Drape claims the lawsuit is evidence of everything except what it really is -- a case of partners allegedly not communicating.

Writes Drape: "Regardless of the outcome of the dispute, the treatments are a striking example of how the use, and overuse, of legal medications have placed America's thoroughbred population at ever greater risk of injury and, in some cases, catastrophic breakdown."

A scathing accusation. So how about some evidence? Drape doesn't really provide it, namely because the sources he cites -- and to which the Times' Web site links directly -- don't particularly say what Drape claims that they do.

Drape writes: "There is a growing concern within the veterinary community that overmedication -- with drugs like corticosteroids, anti-inflammatories that can have dangerous consequences -- and lax oversight are part of the reason the United States has the world's worst mortality rate for thoroughbreds." His cited evidence, a link to this report, called "Putting the Horse First: Veterinary Recommendations for the Safety and Welfare of the Thoroughbred Racehorse."

That report indeed addresses medications and veterinary care, namely the need for consistent standards across jurisdictions and a more thorough and accurate means of monitoring those standards. It also addresses the public's perception of racing and the need for the industry to put horse welfare first in order to maintain a positive image.

But it's a nine-page paper, including three that serve as a cover sheet, a history and mission statement of the American Association of Equine Practitioners (which wrote the report) and a partial page including some of the veterinarians' names associated with the work. And in the roughly five and a half pages of content, the paper also addresses: 2-year-old racing; claiming races; the need for the industry to provide for retired horses; mandated rest periods of at least 10 days for all horses between races; the growing influence of "racinos" that are managed by people who don't understand horses and their needs; the need for continuing education for everyone from jockeys, trainers and stewards to track security officers. ... In other words, it's a catch-all paper that is not primarily nor even largely related to supplying the evidence Drape claims it provides.

In fact, not once in nine pages does that paper mention the mortality rate of U.S. thoroughbreds involved in racing, let alone as compared to other nations, though Drape cites it as supporting documentation for his making that comparison. And not once in the two pages that paper allots to the "veterinarian-owner-trainer relationship" and the subject of medications, including race-day meds, does the document even reference, let alone specifically make the claim, that "overmedication" or "lax oversight" of medication rules "are part of the reason the United States has the world's worst mortality rate for thoroughbreds."

The paper provides virtually no evidence for Drape's statements. And I can't figure out why he would believe or claim that it does.

Yet this is a mistake that Drape makes twice.

Later in the story, Drape writes: "There is a consensus among equine researchers and surgeons that legal medications and cortisone shots, over time, leave a horse vulnerable to a catastrophic breakdown."

He then throws gas on that lighted matchstick by citing the U.S. breakdown rate -- 1.47 per 1,000 starts for synthetic tracks and 2.03 per 1,000 starts on dirt, according to the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission -- which indeed are higher numbers than he cites for England (0.8 to 0.9 per 1,000 starts) and Australia (0.44 per 1,000 starts).

But again, a paper Drape cites doesn't measure up to his claims.

In this case, Drape links to a report submitted to the Subcomittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection, part of the Committee on Energy and Commerce of the U.S. House of Representatives. That report is the testimony of Susan M. Stover, DVM, Ph.D., and professor at the J.D. Wheat Veterinary Orthopedic Research Laboratory at the University of California at Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.

The report is attributed only to Stover. In it, she refers to herself in the first person, singular, when offering her insights.

I don't know about you, but I've never heard of a one-person "consensus." Or perhaps the "consensus" Drape claims is composed only of himself and Susan Stover -- whom he did not apparently contact nor directly quote for his story, only linking to her testimony.

I'm not suggesting Dr. Stover isn't an expert on this issue; undeniably, she is. I'm suggesting that Drape is unduly and improperly using her report as evidence that her thoughts speak for the bulk of equine veterinary practitioners.

Worse, Drape links to Stover's testimony specifically to support his story's claim that "legal medications and cortisone shots, over time, leave a horse vulnerable to a catastrophic breakdown." But while Stover does note that most catastrophic breakdowns are due to musculoskeletal injuries that often worsen over time and with repetition, she barely touches on the possibility that legal medications are intentionally or inadvertently masking injuries that should keep a horse from racing. In 10 pages, Stover writes one, inconclusive sentence on the subject:

"However, the potential for permitted medications to mask mild injury and to contribute to injury development needs to be assessed." (Emphasis mine.)

Stover later -- as part of an eight-point sentence on improving horse welfare that ranges from racing surfaces and workout patterns to hoof angles and toe grabs -- tosses in just five more words about legal medications, advocating for the "reconsideration" of some race-day medications, none of which she lists by name. In fact, the word "cortisone," nor any part thereof, never appears anywhere in Stover's testimony, though Drape cites Stover's testimony as support for his claim that "cortisone shots ... leave a horse vulnerable to a catastrophic breakdown."

These two attempts by Drape to bolster his story with outside sources that don't or that just barely, with a measure of imagination, provide the evidence he claims are, at the very kindest, shabby reporting.

But Drape's effort to tie I Want Revenge to claims that the drug culture of the racetrack is killing horses would fall apart even without these weak links. That's because the story of I Want Revenge is actually the opposite of what Drape claims it to be -- a case that supposedly shows how horses are doped to keep them racing.

Why? ... Because I Want Revenge didn't race.

As noted prior, Drape's story says that IEAH claims I Want Revenge "was ailing as early as April 7." That date is not only after the date that IEAH bought its 50 percent interest in the horse, which was reported on March 30. It was three days after he won the Wood Memorial. So Drape provides no evidence at all that I Want Revenge was kept performing (let alone at so high a level) by using legal medications that permitted him to race right through an injury. Nor does it appear that IEAH is making such a claim.

The story here is that I Want Revenge didn't race when he was hurt. He wasn't fit to go, veterinarians made that determination, and his trainer, Jeff Mullins, scratched the horse from the biggest race in America, the Kentucky Derby, in which I Want Revenge was favored.

Of course, there's no scathing story in "Vet and Trainer Make Right Choice for Horse."

It might be argued that the connections and their vets should've figured out what was wrong with I Want Revenge sometime during the month leading up to his race-morning scratch, but that isn't the case IEAH appears to be making in court. Nor does it seem that IEAH is claiming that the treatments of the horse were improper, detrimental to the horse, or undertaken to keep them from realizing that the horse was hurt. IEAH is simply saying that it bought into a horse -- for a princely sum -- and was not kept informed of the condition and welfare of their living, breathing investment until such point that he was scratched from the Derby and the colt's unsoundness was undeniable. In fact, IEAH claims it asked Lanzman directly about a Derby Eve rumor that the colt would be scratched and that Lanzman was dishonest by denying the rumor, a claim Lanzman denies.

That makes for a good story. Such claims lead one to question the honesty and transparency of the back side at America's racetracks, and whether even the richest owners who have millions invested are really kept up to speed with what's going on with their horses. And actually, the writer does a very good job of detailing the facts and claims that IEAH has presented regarding that aspect of the case.

It just isn't the story Joe Drape told you he was telling.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Best horse you won't see at the Breeders' Cup?

Sea the Stars was the smashing victor of the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe Sunday at Longchamp.

But his connections, including owner Christopher Tsui and trainer John Oxx, are likely less than convinced that he should race in the Breeders' Cup Classic next month at the Oak Tree at Santa Anita meeting in California. Or, perhaps, ever again.

And can you blame them?

The 3-year-old colt by Cape Cross and whose dam, Urban Sea (Miswaki-Allegretta, by Lombard) also won the Arc, has done everything asked of him.

His only loss was as a first-timer -- fourth in an 18-horse field at The Curragh -- in a talented group that included winner Driving Snow (stakes winner, G3-placed), Black Bear Island (G2 winner, full brother to High Chaparral) and Freemantle (G2-placed), all finishing less than a length ahead of him.

The spectacular half-brother to champion Galileo has won eight in a row since, six straight Group 1 races, including the English Derby-Guineas double (a first since Nashwan in 1989) and beating the best older horses Europe has to offer.

"Does he need to achieve anything more? I don't know. It's questionable," said his jockey, Mick Kinane, upon winning the Arc.

No, it isn't questionable. There's nothing more to ask of this horse. At least, certainly not at age 3. And certainly not shipping to California to try and win a Breeders' Cup race on a synthetic surface.

"He's a phenomenal horse," said Kinane. "You'd hate to do anything wrong by him."

I'm not saying that running at Santa Anita would be "wrong." Only needless, particularly in the Classic. I don't see how it raises his stud value one iota to be the best horse in the world on both turf and synthetic. ... Dirt might be a different story, but the Breeders' Cup has seen fit not to give us dirt, two years in a row now.

Europeans, at least, agree.

"They can go to America if they like, but I just hope he never runs again," said four-time Arc-winning rider Pat Eddery. "He's got nothing left to prove."

"I don't know why they would want to go to America," said ex-jockey Geoff Lewis, who won the 1971 Arc aboard Mill Reef. "... He's done enough already."

I disagree with Eddery in that I would like to see this horse run at age 4. From a breeding perspective, I would prefer knowing that a horse had more than nine lifetime races in him before standing him at stud. I realize that doesn't seem to bother a lot of other people, including most of the horse people with considerably more money than I.

So if Sea the Stars doesn't run at Santa Anita -- and I think that he won't -- will he be the best horse not competing in the Breeders' Cup this year? Or does that title go to Rachel Alexandra, who is almost certain to be the Eclipse Horse of the Year without setting foot on a track during Breeders' Cup weekend?

I'm asking that question in the polling space at left, and also giving you a choice of "Some Other Horse." If you vote and choose neither Sea the Stars nor Rachel, do me the favor of posting the non-BC-bound horse you believe is best instead in the comments section for this post.

So I can scoff at you.

No, seriously. If you think it's some other horse, I'd like to know which horse.

And what in the world you might be thinking. Or have been drinking.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Stablemates best B.C. Mile champion Goldikova at Longchamp: Breeders' Cup return 'not definite'

Defending Breeders' Cup Mile champion, the filly Goldikova, was overcome in the shadow of the wire by not one, but two horses Saturday in the French Group 1 Prix de la Foret at Longchamp, a defeat that has her trainer saying that a repeat trip to Santa Anita for the Breeders' Cup in November is "not definite."

The race was won by a short head by 3-year-old colt Varenar and jockey Stephane Pasquier in a last-second lunge past fellow sophomore, the filly Sweet Hearth, who had edged ahead of the front-running, short-priced (2/5), 4-year-old Goldikova and rider Olivier Peslier in the race's waning yards. Both Varenar and Sweet Hearth are conditioned by Alain de Royer-Dupre.

Varenar scored at 19-1 in the 7-furlong test. If you can quickly cobble together some cash, you can buy him tonight, too. Bred and owned by His Highness the Aga Khan, Varenar is consigned to this evening's Arquana Arc Sale.

While Goldikova was tested throughout by other pace-setters, including 10-year-old gelding Welsh Emperor (who finished off the board), her trainer, Freddie Head, isn't certain what kept her from running her best. He also told several sources, including, that he isn't certain about defending her B.C. Mile title at Santa Anita next month.

"I don't really know what happened," said Head, who won the Prix de la Foret five times as a jockey. "They went a good gallop, but I saw coming into the straight she wasn't herself.

"For the moment, the Breeders' Cup is the plan, but it's not definite."

Friday, October 2, 2009

Has the Blood-Horse purchased USA Today?

Perhaps I'm an old fogey and The Blood-Horse is actually cutting-edge.

I poked fun at that horse racing industry standard back in July when it reacted to the scratch of the late Barbaro's brother, Nicanor, from the Virginia Derby by headlining a blog post with the common text-messaging exclamation OMG!

But today, I look like a putz.

Why? Because that bastion of U.S. newspapers, with its roots anchored in the fertile soil of American journalism history as deep as 1982 -- USA Today -- has jumped on board the Blood-Horse train.

McNewspaper's McWebsite posted a news brief about the cancellation of the Kanye West/Lady Gaga "Fame Kills" tour with the headline, "Kanye and Lady Gaga's Tour Canceled ... OMG!"

And, just as before, I'm effing serious.

Now, USA Today has a minor excuse. It was just trying to drive traffic to its Web site in any way it can by co-opting headlines and copy from other sources. This particular "story" is actually an abbreviation of a "17 Buzz" item posted at; half-regurgitated by USA Today, right down to the headline.

Obviously all, including The Blood-Horse, are trying to reach a youthful audience by attempting to speak "their language," rather than realizing that, yes, even 13- to 17-year-old girls can (and probaby will) read actual English, provided the content is interesting.

Today's revelation further proves two truths of journalism as we near the second decade of the 21st Century:

1. There is little or no worthwhile online reporting that could be done well with your own paid staff that isn't better done (that is, cheaper and more profitably) by passing along someone else's work, with a small credit to them and surrounded by your ads.

2. There are few standards of journalistic professionalism that can't be turned into dusty relics by a teenage girl, her two thumbs and a cell phone keyboard.

In remembrance of a great racing matron: Goulash, dam of Ashado

It's been a rough few weeks among the American stallion ranks. Thursday, the matronly side of the breeding business recognized a notable loss when it was announced that Goulash, dam of champion Ashado and four other other blacktype foals, had died on Wednesday.

The 16-year-old mare was euthanized due to founder and will be buried at Kentucky's Taylor Made Farm. She had not been bred in 2008 or 2009 due to her declining health.

Apart from being a great broodmare, Goulash was a fine runner in her own right. The bay daughter of Mari's Book out of the Blushing Groom mare Wise Bride was bred in Florida by Haras Santa Maria de Araras and won half of her 12 lifetime starts, including the Las Ninas Stakes at Fairplex at age 3 for trainer Ted West and co-owner Scott Gunther, who had claimed her from the breeders at a price of $50,000. Goulash was three other times stakes-placed, including the Grade 3 Linda Vista Handicap at Santa Anita and earned $162,975.

Her sons and daughters would achieve far more, and four of them would make the Goulash-Saint Ballado mating one of the more successful repeat-performances in the breeding shed of the last few decades.

Taylor Made both consigned Goulash to the 1998 Keeneland January sale on behalf of West and Gunther, and bought her for $100,000 for Aaron and Marie Jones in the name of Courtesy Bloodstock. According to The Blood-Horse Authoritative Guide to Breeding Thoroughbreds, Goulash had been selected by pedigree guru Les Brinsfield as being especially suited to a stallion at Taylor Made in which the Joneses owned a significant interest: Saint Ballado (Halo-Ballade, by Herbager), a Grade 2 winner, splendid sire, and full brother to Canadian Horse of the Year and four-times champion Glorious Song, and to Eclipse champion 2-year-old Devil's Bag.

"Due to the potential that Les saw in her, we actually bought Goulash for Mr. Jones specifically to breed her to Saint Ballado," said Duncan Taylor, president of the farm.

Said Brinsfield of the mating: "One thing that I look for is the opportunity to breed a stallion back to mares from his own family, and since Saint Ballado had one of the strongest female influences in Almahmoud already in his pedigree, I wanted to be able to double- or triple-up on Almahmoud."

Dam of Cosmah and Natalma (in turn dams of noteworthy runners and sires Halo and Northern Dancer, respectively), Almahmoud is quite prevalent in thoroughbred pedigrees thanks to those prepotent sires. By finding mares carrying different descendants of that taproot mare, Brinsfield sought to obtain additional strains of Almahmoud without inbreeding to Northern Dancer and Halo. In theory, that focuses the influence on Almahmoud herself, not on the grandsons.

"In sending Goulash to Saint Ballado," said Brinsfield, "not only do you triple Almahmoud, but there's no doubling of Northern Dancer and Halo."

The mating does double-up on Cosmah, for she is the dam of Maribeau, dam-sire of Mari's Book, and also tacks on an additional strain of Almahmoud's sire, Mahmoud, through his son Cohoes, sire of Saint Ballado's second dam, Miss Swapsco. Which leaves me to wonder whether it was really the tripling of Almahmoud or the quadrupling of Mahmoud that did the trick, if the linebreeding was the secret at all.

Whatever it was, in a business in which the recipe for breeding success calls for mixing two parts "best" with one part "hope," the resulting foal was never a failure when Saint Ballado and Goulash were paired.

The first on the ground was a 1999 filly dubbed Ballado's Halo. She was three times a winner and modestly stakes-placed twice at Turfway Park, earning a little over $80,000. Her first two foals to race are both winners for their connections.

A year later, the second of three consecutive foals born to the pair was brought into the world -- this one, the first colt. Named Saint Stephen, he would prove talented and versatile, winning seven of his 28 lifetime starts, including the Native Diver H.-G3 on the main track at Hollywood Park and the Henry Clark Stakes at a mile on turf at Pimlico. He was eventually retired in 2007 and went to stud in 2008 at Bar None Ranches Ltd. in Alberta, where he stood for a fee of $3,000 Canadian in 2009.

The third foal, and second filly, was the real standout.

That dark bay filly, born Feb. 4, 2001, would be named Ashado. And when she went to the track at age 2, she was brilliant virtually from the word "go."

Ashado won four of six her juvenile season, including three graded-stakes: The Spinaway-G1, Schuylerville-G2 and Demoiselle-G2. Only Halfbridled -- who relegated her to second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies -- stood between Ashado and the juvenile championship.

Halfbridled would never win another stakes race. Ashado, during her 3-year-old campaign particularly, would rarely lose.

At 3, Ashado won five of eight starts, all Grade 2 stakes or better, earning $2,259,640. She was victorious at the Grade-1 level in the Kentucky Oaks, Coaching Club American Oaks, and Breeders' Cup Distaff, the latter in a Lone Star Park record 1:48 1/5 for 9 furlongs, cementing her as champion 3-year-old filly.

At age 4, despite proving far more beatable, Ashado secured the title of Eclipse champion older mare. She earned another $1 million-plus (retiring with $3,931,440) and all three of her wins from seven starts were Grade 1 stakes; the Beldame, Ogden Phipps Handicap and Go For Wand Handicap. After finishing third to Pleasant Home and Society Selection in the Breeders' Cup Distaff, she was retired for breeding, and was sold by Taylor Made to John Ferguson Bloodstock for a broodmare-prospect record $9 million at the 2005 Keeneland November Breeding Stock sale.

The pairing of Goulash and Saint Ballado was given a break in 2001 after she foaled Ashado, but Goulash herself still had work to do. She was mated to Storm Creek, and with the resulting foal -- a colt named Storm Creek Rising -- Goulash proved she could be a good producer, regardless of sire. Storm Creek Rising would win four of his 13 lifetime starts, place in sprint-stakes at Aqueduct and Belmont, and earn $164,712.

Though the historic significance of the Saint Ballado-Goulash mating was still an unknown when it came time for her to be bred back after foaling Storm Creek Rising in 2002 (Ballado's Halo had not debuted until age 3 that year, Saint Stephen didn't race at 2 and Ashado was just a yearling), Goulash and Saint Ballado were paired again for the foal of 2003. That son -- Sunriver -- would become Goulash's second Grade 1 winner.

Sunriver was a winner from two starts at 2, then finished third in the Grade 1 Florida Derby (behind the ill-fated Barbaro) on the Kentucky Derby trail and collected the winner's share in the venerable Peter Pan S.-G2 at age 3. But he came into his own when switched to the turf and given some serious distance, winning the Hollywood Turf Cup S.-G1 at a mile and a half, annexing Belmont's Bowling Green H.-G2 at 11 furlongs and finishing second behind Doctor Dino in the 12-furlong Man O'War S.-G1, also at at Belmont.

With $816,414 in earnings, Sunriver retired to Empire Stud in New York, where he suffered an untimely death on Aug. 27 this year, victim of an apparent heart attack or anyeurism, at the young age of 6. His first foals are weanlings of 2009, and the farm estimates that his 2009 and 2010 crops will total some 150 sons and daughters.

A few months after siring Sunriver, Saint Ballado died at Taylor Made in October 2002, and Goulash's production had waned since.

Her 2004 colt, a full brother to Storm Creek Rising named Turbulent Storm, went unraced. Her 2005 colt Blind Hero (Unbridled's Song), so-named because he lost his left eye at just three days of age, won two of three starts when he debuted at age 3 last year, but is unplaced from three starts in 2009. A 2006 Forestry filly, Sweet Mariage, is unraced. And, a 2007 Storm Cat named Drover has hit the board once from his two starts this year as a juvenile, earning $11,000.

Goulash's last foal is a 2008 colt by Unbridled's Song, who sold for $925,000 to Demi O'Byrne at this year's recently concluded September Keeneland yearling sale.

Apparently with most of her foals since Sunriver, the connections were trying to tap some of the Storm Cat-line success that was evident in Storm Creek Rising. Commercially, choices like Forestry, Storm Cat and Unbridled's Song make perfect sense.

But I have to think they might have missed the boat on getting a racehorse by overlooking Saint Ballado's full brother Devil's Bag, who was still standing at Claiborne Farm in 2003 and 2004 (dying in February 2005 due to a broken leg in a paddock accident), and since, by ignoring Devil His Due, five-times Grade 1-winning son of Devil's Bag. (Or, for that matter, Saint Ballado's horse-of-the-year son, Saint Liam, in his only year at stud before also dying from a paddock accident.)

While the brilliance of their foals either on the track or in the sales ring cannot compare, Devil's Bag sired more than 40 stakes winners, including G1 millionaires Twilight Agenda and Japanese Horse of the Year Taiki Shuttle, and Devil His Due's results of 78 percent starters and 57 percent winners from all foals actually exceed Storm Cat's lifetime totals of 73 percent runners and 52 percent winners. Devil His Due also has sired "the big horse" at least once -- Dubai World Cup-G1 winner Roses In May, who earned nearly $5.5 million.

In a business known for its fickle fates, few matings have been so consistently successful as Goulash with Saint Ballado.

I'd have gone back to that well -- or the closest watering hole to it -- every chance I got, at least after Ashado's championship 3-year-old season in 2004.

Rent-a-Stud: Kalu

Bonnie Heath Farm is looking for a new, or at least temporary, residence for their homebred Grade 3-winning stallion Kalu, and they're apparently open to offers.

An 11-year-old son of Honor Grades out of the mare Barely Rarely (Rare Performer-Solac, by Gay Lussac), Kalu won three of 11 starts lifetime, including the Hawthorne Derby-G3, and the Forerunner Stakes at Keeneland, both at a mile and an eighth on the lawn. That 3-year-old season was his only year that wasn't apparently troubled; Kalu was unplaced in one start at 2 and three starts at 4, was unraced at age 5, and missed the board in one start at age 6.

Retired to stud in 2005 and moved around a good bit since, including stints in New York and Louisiana before returning to Bonnie Heath in Florida (where he stood this year for $2,000), Kalu has seen relatively little action.

His first crop, 2-year-olds of 2008, constituted just three offspring. Two have raced, a filly named On Wings of Angels, a modest New York-bred winner, and NY-bred filly Wynot Siyue, unplaced from three starts. Kalu also has a placed 2-year-old of 2009, Kalus High Honor, bred in New York by Bonnie Heath. According to Jockey Club records online, Kalu has sired just 18 foals in four crops, 2006-09, including an 0-for-3 stint on impregnating mares in Louisiana in 2008. (His fertility figures were much better during three seasons in New York.)

Kalu comes from excellent female family, with his dam a half-sister of Double Trigger (14 wins including the Ascot Gold Cup-G1 in England, champion 3-year-old in Italy and champion stayer and older male in Europe) and Double Eclipse (Prix Vicomtesse Vigier-G2 in France, etc.), both by Ela-Mana-Mou. She was also the sibling of three other stakes-placers. And, Kalu's second dam was half-sister to Italian champion 2-year-old and 3-year-old and Horse of the Year Sirlad (Bold Lad) and to dual Italian Group 1 winner Sortingo (by Petingo, paternal grandsire of Ela-Mana-Mou).

Now, anyone with an inkling of pedigree knowledge knows what that means -- distance and turf, neither of which are marketable traits for a modestly priced sire on U.S. soil.

And, the more American-oriented side of Kalu's pedigree is through less-fashionable sources.

Honor Grades, a half-brother to A.P. Indy and Summer Squall, was a reasonably accomplished son of Danzig, both on the track (where he was three times G3-placed) and at stud (sire of $2.5 million-earner Magna Graduate and G1 millionaires Adoration and Honor Glide, among numerous blacktype foals). But he wasn't one of the Danzig line's biggest names.

And picking up a dose of Mr. Prospector on the dam's side makes plenty of sense when planning a mating to a Danzig/Northern Dancer-line sire. But getting it through Rare Performer isn't exactly the most commercial conduit.

Of course, when actually breeding racehorses, not sales babies, I'd be one of the first to say "market, be damned."

I've not seen him in the flesh, but from the photos and video, Kalu certainly looks the part. He comes from a family of runners and -- when "right" -- was a pretty good runner himself.

With his spotty record outside of that 3-year-old campaign, I would want to mate him to as much soundness as I could find in a broodmare. She should be a turf performer or from a decidedly grass-oriented family (preferably both), as well. And considering his tail-female line, I should think a return to some Old World family -- that is, not just turf, but European turf -- would suit him nicely.

I wouldn't expect to lease Kalu for duty in the States at any significant price and attract outside business, even in a second- or third-tier racing jurisdiction.

But if I were owner of a farm with a handful of mares, breeding to race in a state where a turf course is open somewhere year-round (like Texas, where Sam Houston runs its share on grass during winter, or right there in Florida where he's presently located), I'd be inclined to find out whether Bonnie Heath Farm might be content to let me feed Kalu for them over at my place during 2010.