Friday, May 7, 2010

So long, Eskendereya; hope you're bred to soundness

For the second straight season, a runaway winner of the Wood Memorial has approached Kentucky Derby Day as the likely favorite in the race, and been scratched before the Run for the Roses due to injury.

And with word of the retirement of this year's stunner of a scratch, it's possible we'll never see either of them race again. (Although last year's defector, I Want Revenge, just this morning posted a published work at Aqueduct; 3f in :38.25.)

Zayat Stables has announced that Eskendereya, victor in a runaway Wood, is through with racing due to the soft-tissue injury that kept him out of the Derby. Owner Ahmed Zayat says he will retain a significant ownership stake in the horse in a partnership with Jess Jackson, billionaire owner of Stonestreet Stables and Horses of the Year Curlin and Rachel Alexandra.

Zayat said that he and Jackson "will work to develop the best progeny for American racing."

Word of advice, Messrs Zayat and Jackson: A program to breed "the best progeny for American racing" really should endeavor to eliminate the trend of the fleet-but-fleeting, six-race superhorse.

In other words, as stallions, 4-for-6 Eskendereya, "not so much;" 11-for-16 Curlin, closer to a "yes," though his own sire raced but eight times and his dam not at all.

I understand that the current market will greet Eskendereya with open arms, just as it has eight-race wonder Empire Maker (who stands for $50,000 this year), sire of Zayat's own 10-race G1 winner Pioneerof The Nile, who didn't race past the Preakness his 3-year-old year. It shouldn't, but it will.

At the very least, I beg of you -- all of you, not just these men of abundant wealth, but anyone who is mating sire to dam in hopes of a racehorse -- give more than passing thought to soundness.

We've apparently spent the last several generations of thoroughbred breeding so focused on horses who'll breeze a 10-flat eighth at a 2-year-old sale to bring top-dollar -- and hopefully win a few graded stakes on their way to a post in one of those 20 starting gates at Churchill on the first day of each May -- such that now many of the fastest aren't even holding together long enough to reach the targeted race, let alone competing at age 4 and beyond.

Empire Maker raced eight times and Pioneerof The Nile's dam, Star of Goshen, only five; her dam just six. It could be argued that Pioneerof The Nile exceeded expectations by reaching double-digits in starts.

Lava Man went to post 47 times. With Slew City Slew (42 starts) and Li'l Miss Leonard (18 races) as his parents, it makes perfect sense. (And while Lava Man's second dam, Pink Native, was unraced, her sire Be a Native, raced 42 times, and her dam, Pink Khal, answered the call to post on 57 occasions.)

So please present Eskendereya nothing but mares from lineages that demonstrated rock-solid soundness. Mares who ran a couple-dozen times themselves, and who have siblings that totaled starts in the 40s or 50s. Or hundreds.

I just checked the stats. Empire Maker from his first three crops has 66 percent starters from all foals (not a particularly high number, but not atrocious). Yet their average number of starts per runner for Empire Maker's 190 foals to race: 6.5. Even accounting for the fact that a third of his runners just turned 3 and have had little chance, that simply isn't good enough. For example, fellow fourth-crop sire Macho Uno has a band of runners who are the same age as Empire Maker's, yet their number of starts average 9.2, a disparity I suspect will widen rather than narrow as these stallions' records develop over the next decade or more.

A fast horse is a thing of wonder.

Fast and fragile is not in the best interest of the horse, nor of racing's future. And there should be no wondering about that.


  1. And yet another soft-tissue injury.

    Those who are prematurely retiring their horses are looking like Mr. Whipple in the eyes of the American public.

    Why not apply a little R & R ?

  2. I remember (vaguely - I was pretty young) Secretariat losing in the Wood Memorial. What I don't remember is him coming up lame after. Obviously, he didn't. Nor did any of the "big" horses of my childhood NOT make it to the TC races to which they were pointed.

    Something has changed. I'm recently returned to racing as a fan and what I see now is that good horses, horses in contention, are breaking down right and left. Thoroughbred race horses have apparently become more fragile over however many generations have been produced since the 70's. Any ideas as to why? Could it really be Lasix? Bad breeding? Overbreeding? Other drugs? Why?

  3. Agree with your point, but I'm not so sure that Empire Maker is a good comparison for Eskendereya.

    Empire Maker not only raced in and beyond the Triple Crown (winning the Belmont and finishing second in the Derby), but his retirement came because owner and trainer wanted to cash in on what was an even more overheated stud market. He wasn't retired due to injury, although it is anybody's guess if Bobby Frankel really meant that "never came within 10 lengths of his potential" bit or if the colt was maybe retired after his Dandy runner-up performance so Frankel could get away with overselling him.
    I might be excused for suspecting the latter, not only because of Frankel's undeniable salesman talents, but also because for a sire in this fee range (started for 100K, i.e. top quality of broodmares) his progeny so far have been less than impressive, with only two of them earning more than 700K LT and only 8 earning more than 250K, which already includes 2 nondescript Japanese runners.

  4. I think you are missing the point.... Yes, Knight hit the nail on the head, that a little R&R and Esky probably could return later down the road. Would he be as dominant as his last two? Who knows.... Bigger picture is Zayat is in the throws of some serious financial woes... from a financial perspective, is it worth taking the risk that Esky will return and be worth more as a stallion prospect than he is at the moment??? That may not have been Mr. Zayat's decision to make as 5/3 bank may have been calling the shots.

    Do I like it? Heck no, but it's what happens when the prominent owners in the sport today are individuals like Zayat who have found themselves overextended at the bank, or IEAH who is in for a quick cash grab, treating horses as mutual funds. Gone are the days of Calumet (well, early Calumet, not JT Lundy Calumet) were breeding a solid race horse was a mission and a passion. It's more about what can a horse do quickly on the track to get others a return in the breeding shed than it is cementing a legacy as a RACE horse.

    Of course, just my two cents... Oz

  5. There's could be more than a kernel of truth to the financial situation playing a role in Eskendereya's early retirement. But honestly, what's his value now that he missed the Derby?

    Had he WON that race, and THEN been retired unsound, you'd have been able to bill him as a scintillating winner of his preps who went on to annex America's biggest race. As it is, he's a promising wanna-be. I can't imagine there's a third the value there now as there was before the Derby scratch. If Zayat were gonna sell him, then was the time, but they probably were well-aware that he wasn't fit to be sold.

    So really, even in a financial pinch -- and provided the injury is recoverable -- I think they'd be better off bringing the horse back and trying to prove he really WAS "that good," by winning a key race later this year, or preferably by racing on at age 4 and maybe being a Breeders' Cup winner.

    I know others won't necessarily be thinking this way. But right now, even if money were no object for me (and it clearly is) I'd not send a mare to Eskendereya unless they were in my mind potentially some sort of spectacular pedigree match AND she went to post almost as often as a harness horse.

  6. Breeding to Eskendereya w/b a huge gamble. What did he "really" do on the racetrack? Yes....a dominate victor in the Wood Memorial, but over a horse who flopped in THE DERBY and is now under going nuclear scans to determine why he is lame. Just how good is/was Awesome Act at his best?
    Keep in mind the jury is still out on sons of Giant Causeway as stallions, and Giant Causeway himself has an AEI of just under 2.00 even though he's been bred to as solid a book of mares as any stallion in North America.
    Can't imagine anyone breeding to this unproved, overhyped stallion at a stud fee over $20K. My guess is he'll be advertised at $30-40K.

  7. Another flash in the pan goes off to stud. No wonder the fillies are carrying this sport right now.


I welcome comments, including criticism and debate. But jerks and the vulgar will not be tolerated.