- Category: Editorials
- Written by Joe Clancy
This month’s column could pretty much be just two words – Save Pimlico – but I’ll finish the sentence because the old girl deserves a proper explanation.
This month’s column could pretty much be just two words – Save Pimlico – but I’ll finish the sentence because the old girl deserves a proper explanation.
Match races, an attempt on England, trophy retirements, historic comparisons . . . they were all in play this spring with the emergence of three major timber horses on the National Steeplechase Association circuit.
The snack-bar at the Timonium sales pavilion would make good material for a comedian, or some sort of social experiment. Where else would a guy buy a $10 lunch on a plastic plate minutes after spending $1.5 million on a horse?
Ronnie Franklin died in March. At 58. Obituaries listed the cause of death as lung cancer, but substance abuse played a role. Franklin lived hard, and fast.
At Delaware Park in 1978, he was just getting started, as part of a colony that included other young hot shots Tommy Kupfer (who won everything) and Chris Baker, plus veterans Bill Passmore, Vince Bracciale Jr. and Herbie Hinojosa.
Franklin rode for powerful trainer Buddy Delp and they were fairly unstoppable. Delp’s barn, perpendicular to the wide horse path that divided that part of the stable area, seemed bigger than others, taller, more important. Delp and Franklin seemed to win every day.
His yellow and black silks no longer show up in winner’s circles around the country, but Virginia owner/breeder Edward P. “Ned” Evans continues to make a major impact on Thoroughbred racing. And, though Evans died in 2010, he added plenty to 2017.
Where are the mares? Last month, the magazine featured an article on the region’s stallions – pointing to at least nine new names – and the excitement of the various farms about the possibilities.
Fourmatt would have outrun the flames, and been at least a half-mile away in 44 seconds.
Owhata Chief would have smelled the smoke a week ahead of time and simply walked out of the barn, by himself, and built a new life.
No Way Tom would have walked circles in his stall – that’s all he ever did –
and probably created some sort of protective vortex.
Rollicking Run would have waited in her stall – calm, polite, patient to a fault. Her neighbor Lovely Duckling would have run through the back wall of her stall and cow-kicked the first person she encountered.
Odd Man would have tunneled out of the barn, then run back in to try to rescue the feed cart.
The fire at San Luis Rey Downs training center in California last month struck with such speed, force and danger that trainers and grooms turned horses loose as a last resort. Like plenty of other people in racing, I saw harrowing video of herds of panicked horses galloping through the stable area, read accounts of missing horses and heard tales of heroic efforts to save horses.
Tractors rumbled, birds chirped and the sun tried to warm a chilly November morning. Next to the historic Laurel Park paddock, 100 or so fans gathered to salute one of Maryland’s grandest Thoroughbreds – the wondrous Ben’s Cat – one more time.
The people wore orange ties, orange jackets, orange sweatshirts and sweaters, orange scarves, orange hats, orange fleeces, even orange lipstick – all for Ben’s Cat, who did more for orange than Tropicana. Flying owner/trainer/breeder King T. Leatherbury’s orange and white silks, the nearly black gelding made 63 starts, won 32, earned $2.6 million, collected four Maryland-bred Horse of the Year titles. Along the way, he won fans, stopped a few hearts with photo-finish wins (and rare losses) and became an equine celebrity. He died in July, less than a month after being retired. Colic got him, after eight seasons of racing didn’t.
November? It’s November? Yes, it’s November. Rake the leaves, start finalizing your stallion bookings, debate your neighbors on who should be Horse of the Year and stay busy following Thoroughbreds from one end of the region to the other. Some observations from September and October to feed the discussion:
Maybe Virginia got it right. This isn’t to say every state should try to build a Thoroughbred program without a racetrack (though the gears of rumor squeak of a potential buyer for Colonial Downs), but Virginia’s Thoroughbred industry got creative and will get a boost from its various ideas to promote state-bred and state-certified racehorses.
Back when Steeplechase Times was a thing, we used to write like this. If the jump game needed a reminder, a prodding, a nudge, an awakening, Steeplechase Times provided it. Sometimes, people agreed. Sometimes, they went crazy. This time. . .
I don’t know, but here goes.
To put it simply, jump racing needs new ideas, new people, new horses, new racing opportunities. Going it alone with little to no revenue from wagering, the National Steeplechase Association, its race meets and host racetracks somehow offer about $6 million in prize money each year.
That’s actually staggering when you think about it – what would flat racing’s purses be without wagering? – but total purses arent’ really the problem. Opportunity is.
You can always train the other guy’s horse. That’s what my father says whenever anyone second-guesses someone else’s handling of a horse, a child, a sports team, a business, pretty much anything.
It’s easy to question decisions from the sidelines, difficult to actually make decisions in the barn or on the field or in the executive chair.
Shortly after the 2016 presidential election, I read a column about a foreigner’s view of American government. In short, the outsider compared our democracy to a football – as in we kick it back and forth from Republican to Democrat, liberal to conservative, world-view diplomat to hard-core nationalist and so on every four years. The conclusion was that maybe the country would be better off if democracy was treated like a Faberge egg – don’t kick it, cradle it like the fragile, delicate, valuable thing it is.
Hot, Delaware Park in August hot. Shedrow raked up, horses resting behind fans powered by more extension cords than aisle 12 at The Home Depot. The work was over for the day, but I had to wait for an owner to come look at the new horse.
Sometimes, the stories just walk right into you. Two years ago, half to get out of the rain and half to follow trainer Bob Baffert as American Pharoah attempted to win the Preakness Stakes, I stood in Pimlico’s paddock – and a story walked right into me.
Do you take care of the horses? Ultimately, that’s all anyone – anyone who gives a darn anyway – wants to know when it comes to racing. People new to the sport ask about the horses, always.
Since we missed New Year’s, here are some February resolutions – which are just as good if we get to work on them – for the region’s Thoroughbred industry and for me too.
In November, I left the 2016 Colonial Cup Races steeplechase meet with one, two-word, thought. Melting Pot. Maybe it was leftover election rhetoric, but I thought about the 62 Thoroughbreds who ran in seven jump races and smiled – during a long drive north – about their heritages and the example they provided.
They’re serious, OK? No, really. They mean it. For years, officials from the Maryland Jockey Club have talked about plans to renovate, improve and reinvigorate Laurel Park. The old track, they said, will become a gem, a destination, a place where old-fashioned racing fans and newcomers will come together to celebrate the Thoroughbred.
Buying, selling, owning, training, riding, betting, whatever, everyone wants to win in Thoroughbred racing. There’s money on the line, after all, and the whole point is to see whose horse is faster on a given day.
Carol Holden and Sam Huff dreamed up the West Virginia Breeders Classics and – although I wish they added an apostrophe – created something wild and wonderful. Now 30 years old, it’s a night to be proud of West Virginia’s Thoroughbred industry.
The million was for us anyway, not him. We wanted him to join McDynamo, Good Night Shirt and Lonesome Glory as the only American-based steeplechasers to reach $1 million in earnings. He really didn’t care.
When it comes to medication reform in Thoroughbred racing, the goals are fairly simple and pretty much the same across all segments of the industry.
Charlie Hadry, who would have a major role in any production calling for a Maryland Thoroughbred trainer, was dying. He’d gone to the barn one last time, checked his last leg, talked to his last jockey, made his last set list, hired his last hotwalker. Hopefully, he thought about Private Terms, Finder’s Choice, Military Look, Light Spirits, maybe even good old St. Brendan and P Day.
Get out the megaphones, head to the rooftops and start shouting. You can breed, raise, sell, buy, train and race a Grade 1 winner in the Mid-Atlantic. You probably knew that, but it sure helps when you’re trying to make the point with someone else.
Ah, May. Remember last year’s Preakness? The build-up, the buzz, the “American Pharoah this” and “American Pharoah that” and all the “When will he get here?” questions leading up to the race. The midnight-gray clouds, wind, the rain, the storm, the thermometer dropping from 86 to 56 (amateur meteorologist) in what felt like three minutes on raceday, the soaked silks, saturated shoes and sopping suits.
All politics is local. That’s the way Associated Press editor and columnist Byron Price put it in 1932. Former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill said the same thing when he first ran for office in 1935, and used it frequently in a long career in Washington, D.C.
We’re all in this together. Don’t forget that. We’re all tied to horses and races, slot machines and political agendas, regulatory decisions and public opinions, foaling dates and stud fees, hay crops and gas prices, handle figures and stock indexes?–?all the things that make the Thoroughbred game what it is.
It’s February. It’s cold. It will be dark soon. It might snow. Ready for some more racing questions? These were on the list last month, but didn’t make the cut.
Happy New Year. Not necessarily by definition, but by the nature of this magazine and this job, this column carries an optimistic tone. It can look forward, keep up with news other areas of the magazine cannot and comment on developments.
And it can also point out areas that need work.
People kept asking me if I’d been to Laurel Park lately. They told me I wouldn’t recognize the place. I laughed.
I go way back with Laurel–back to free Thanksgiving dinner in the track kitchen with Lonnie Fuller and Crazy Sam; back to the Lasix Barn and the new Receiving Barn; back to trying to saddle a horse when Barclay Tagg forgot he was supposed to help; back to talking my way past the guard at the top of the stretch; back to finishing fifth in the 1982 Maryland Juvenile Cham-pionship behind Dixieland Band, Deputed Testamony and Caveat and not realizing what I was seeing; back to working for the notes team at the International Turf Festival.
People keep asking Larry Murray what he’s going to do when he retires from training Thoroughbred racehorses. And Murray keeps telling people he’s going to do more.
Balance. It’s about balance.
I get asked all the time how people in jump racing justify the danger, the potential for equine injury. First I say it’s not as dangerous as it looks. Then I talk about balance.
At some point, a good horse crosses over. You know the drill. He or she starts out belonging to the owner, the trainer, the jockey, the people in the barn. Then everybody gets on board.
And everybody’s all in with American Pharoah.
Take a bow, South Carolina. Be joyous, Delaware. Stand up tall, Maryland. The National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony belongs to you, Mid-Atlantic Region.
Headed toward the track for the 13th race, Richard Migliore looked down, pointed to the tearful boys at my side and said. “They might see one in their lifetimes. But I don’t know if you and I will.”
King T. Leatherbury didn’t hesitate, didn’t take a deep breath and think about it, didn’t even blink for all I know. He’s that quick.
What are you going to do when he dies? The question came up and I don’t know, but upon his retirement we had to do something. And that’s why Not For Love, the best stallion to stand in the region since Northern Dancer (hey, it’s my column) is on the cover.
Making real change in Thorough-bred racing is a little like making a U-turn in an aircraft carrier. It’s slow, steady, potentially dangerous and pretty delicate. It helps if you lean.
Flip back to the cover for a second and get a good look. I’ll wait. Some head shot, isn’t it? Jump Start, the region’s leading sire for 2014, is a beast.
He always was.
Northbound on I-95 past the Chesapeake House on a cold January night, I listened as my 80-year-old father tried to put into words what a horse meant to him. Not a racehorse or a prized broodmare, a 20-year-old foxhunter who died the day before.
January is for lists. So here’s mine. Fifteen things for racing to work on in 2015, not really in any particular order.
Speedy Kiniel died. And dozens of people connected to Maryland racing and steeplechasing and racehorses in general thought about the old days. Maybe they also remembered Lonnie, Shorty, Shaky, Spoon, Crazy Sam, Chubby, Bubba, Monroe, Hume, Jerome, Cornbread and all the other grooms of various eras and locations.
"It’s a dying art and we need to recognize it and do something about it.”
A few days before this magazine went to press, I read an article by associate editor Cindy Deubler and thought about October.
Gary Murray will be on the farm in Maryland, trying to get something done about a horse, a piece of equipment, a fencepost, anything and he’ll see Tom Voss.
“Editorial excellence is not a goal to be sought and one day acquired and then retired to the trophy case. It is instead an ambition which must be pursued each day, never ending, never totally achieved. That striving, that ambition is an essential part of our newspapers, a cornerstone of what we have been, what we are, and what we will be.”
Tom Bowman stood in the Pimlico Race Course winner’s circle and smiled. Well, he laughed really. Because that’s all he could do.
“Is this what the founding fathers intended?”
Somebody asked me that question after the Maryland Hunt Cup went into the books for the 118th time in April. I have no idea what they intended, only that we weren’t talking about Washington, Jefferson and Adams.
The racing issues in Virginia are surely far too complex to solve on a magazine page, but what is going on? Horsemen and ownership can’t agree on a racing schedule and therefore a 2014 without any Thoroughbred racing at Colonial Downs is a very real possibility.
Sometimes the numbers really are overwhelming. Maryland trainer King T. Leatherbury (I pretty much can’t type his name without including the T) has won more than 6,400 races. He’s trained the winners of more than $61 million.
Dear industry: Want a model to ensure Thoroughbred horses find suitable second careers? Quickly, efficiently, intelligently, realistically? Sure you do.
When she called with an update on two mares at Taylor Mountain Farm in West Virginia, Holly Beck was too late to make the lengthy feature inside this magazine where we checked in on a sampling of Mid-Atlantic broodmares.
But she wasn’t too late to make an impact.
The horses can’t possibly know when we need them, but sometimes it sure seems like it.
In 2009, Fasig-Tipton’s New York-bred yearling sale in Saratoga grossed $4.3 million on 107 horses sold. Four years later, thanks mainly to slots-infused purses in the state, the gross reached $14.2 million with 196 horses.
Maryland Million still brings state's racing community together
Waterford Crystal, Northern Dancer, Deputy Minister, Jim McKay. . . they all played a role back in October 1986. In various capacities, they–and dozens of other horses, humans and businesses–were part of the first Maryland Million Day.
Nobody was sure it would work. How could they be? No state had gambled so publicly on its Thoroughbred industry. Led by McKay, who’d seen it succeed at the Breeders’ Cup on a national level, Maryland did. And, man, did it work. Horses were nominated. Sponsors were secured. Owners and trainers were motivated.
Don’t close Bowie. Well… don’t close the idea of Bowie. Dance to Bristol provided the best advertisement for the place with a hard-charging victory in the Grade 2 Honorable Miss Handicap at Saratoga in late July.
Connections make region strong in national climate
Dig deeply enough and you’ll find them. Mid-Atlantic connections to major horses around the country show up with regularity, and that fact shows great strength and depth for the region.
There’s merit to discussing regional circuit
I’ve said it to a few people. Some blanche. Some roll their eyes. Others seem to want to think about it at least. Pretty much all wonder if it could ever really happen.
Region fosters big change in drug rules
T-crossing and i-dotting are all that remain on the biggest development in Mid-Atlantic racing history. It’s been years in the making and some said it would never happen.
Exchange wagering? Huge new bonus scheme for regional-breds? Malibu Moon moving back to Maryland? Racetrack/casino in downtown Baltimore? Breeders’ Cup at Delaware Park? Todd Pletcher shifting his stable to Charles Town?
Sorry, no. While those would be fun, this is actually bigger even if I’m being a bit over the top.
End of an Era, start of another
I wrote the sad column a month ago online, this one must be happy. Cheerful. Positive. Got it?
Steeplechase Times began–mostly on a dare, half on a whim. The newspaper was a part-time endeavor, complementing my career as a sports writer (high schools, semi-pro baseball, all the glamorous assignments) and my brother Sean’s career as a jump jockey and exercise rider (more glamour). The first edition, published in March 1994, was 20 pages and included an advertisement from Gene Weymouth among others. Nineteen years and 220-some newspapers later, Steeplechase Times–as a loyal corps of fans came to know it–is no more.
Paying respects to one of the greats in game
When the calendar clicked over to Jan. 1 and the great steeplechaser Flatterer turned 34, I had to go see him. To say hello, to say thanks, to honor him, to apologize. I took care of all four.
Hello was easy. In response, I got a nice rub from his fuzzy dark bay head. In a field in the back corner of a farm in Unionville, Pa., he lives on with a grace, a warmth, an appreciation few Thoroughbreds get to experience.
Lucky '13 breeds feeling of optimism
Nowhere does it say this space must be optimistic, but more often than not it is and probably should be. Complaints and gripes about the racing industry occur as naturally as weeds in a pasture so the editorial space of a regional Thoroughbred magazine ought to be a respite from the storm?–?sometimes anyway.
As the calendar turns to 2013, I’m optimistic. Hopeful even. Really.
Big picture on big stage at Breeders’ Cup
Despite the best efforts of Animal Kingdom, Not Abroad and the rest, no Mid-Atlantic horses won Breeders’ Cup races this year. No Maryland-breds, no Pennsylvania-breds, no Virginia-breds. Ditto for horses trained by regional horsemen.
But that doesn’t mean the Mid-Atlantic went quietly into the California weekend.
Magazine's loss spurs thoughts on industry
Bankrupt. Thoroughbred Times went bankrupt. In September the venerable racing magazine got out of the publishing business, pulling the plug on employees, advertisers, subscribers, freelance contributors, readers, horses, history.
Though there remained a slim chance the business might emerge in a new form, the news registered with anyone in the Thoroughbred industry, but especially those in the Thoroughbred media. My first reaction: Thoroughbred Times couldn’t make it? What chance do the rest of us have?
New fans could help tracks fly high
During a question-and-answer session with Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred writer Vinnie Perrone (see page 14), entrepreneur, venture capitalist, college professor and racing fan Tom Kuegler said he and his son could have played Frisbee on the track apron at Pimlico without anyone complaining. On a day of live racing.
It’s a great line, one that makes you laugh. Or cry. Depends on how you look at it. Teach a graduate-level course at Loyola in business innovation and you’d smile when you said it. Work in Thoroughbred racing and you might cringe, or at least start polishing up your resume.
In the movie Field of Dreams, Kevin Costner’s character Ray Kinsella hears a voice, “If you build it, he will come” and creates a baseball diamond in an Iowa cornfield. Pure Hollywood and as hokey as a fairytale, the film nevertheless became a testament to chasing an idea that might otherwise seem irrational or unreasonable.
There will be no movie, but Georganne Hale, Stacie Clark-Rogers and the rest of the team behind Pimlico Race Course’s Totally Thoroughbred Horse Show should all take a bow. Just because they thought it might work, they hatched an idea and carved a horse show out of the infield of a racetrack. And boy did they come for the July 14 event.
Maryland racing thrives on attention at Preakness
Trainer D. Wayne Lukas won two stakes on the Preakness Day undercard, but all he wanted to talk about was Pimlico – the track, the people, the service, the atmosphere, the joy he gets when he travels to Maryland with a horse.
And the Hall of Famer wasn’t alone.
Beyond I’ll Have Another’s addition of the second leg of the Triple Crown to his victory in the Kentucky Derby two weeks earlier, the topic of conversation was the Maryland Jockey Club track in Baltimore. Pimlico, supposedly old and outdated and just hanging on, left another mark on the Triple Crown with its attention to detail, its welcoming attitude, its ability to handle a big event and?–?most importantly – its try.
A hearing in Pennsylvania for the horses
Pennsylvania owners/breeders Gretchen Jackson and George Strawbridge spoke of the noble Thoroughbred and its dependence on humans to do the right things. New Jersey trainer turned author Glenn Thompson pointed to a culture of cheating within Thoroughbred racing. Pennsylvania racetrack veterinarian Dr. Kate Papp talked about raceday medication practices. Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens leaned on the very real issue of jockey safety.
Reflections on the Maryland Bred Fund Program
Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred asked our first editor and past MHBA executive director Rich Wilcke to contribute to our coverage of this important program celebrating its 50th year. He shares his reflections with our readers in the April issue's guest editorial.
Here’s your magazine. Maybe you just started reading. Maybe you’ve been reading for decades. Maybe you remember the Maryland Horse from all those years ago.
Regardless, this is your magazine – literally and figuratively. The one in your hand or on your computer screen belongs to you. And so does the magazine. The Maryland Horse magazine started as a four-pager in 1936 as a means to communicate the news of the state’s breeding and racing industry. Since then, the publication has twisted and turned, meandered and moved to its present incarnation – a regional monthly with page counts in the hundreds.
That doesn’t happen without effort, be it performed by original editor Humphrey Finney or the others who skillfully filled the role. Officially, I’m the interim editor (like Vinnie Perrone was for the past few months). In June, the magazine lost Lucy Acton, who joined the staff in 1985 and rose to editor in 2002. Her steady hand guided the writing, editing, producing of a magazine long looked to as a leader in Thoroughbred publishing. She lost a battle with cancer, but not before making sure the disease knew it was in a battle.