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Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Lay Off the Owner

- I think it's time to move on from this specific incident, while of course keeping in mind the safety issues that need to be addressed. Of course, those issues have been a major point of discussion for the last few years, as evidenced by the already ongoing discussions and steps taken (though certainly not enough) regarding medication and, in particular, the impassioned debate over synthetic tracks. You'd think, from reading the columns and articles by writers who only comment on the sport after such disasters, that we all just woke up Sunday morning and went "Oh yeah. We need to deal with this." So I think they should all shut up.

However, I still have a couple things on my mind, specifically regarding Rick Porter. The owner, under siege, defended his decision to run Eight Belles in the Derby, and he defended the sport too.

“There are some ugly parts of it, obviously. There are also some spectacular parts of it. There are ugly parts of every sport. There are people who get paralyzed in football. This is a tragedy that happens in horse racing. It’s hard to put the blame any particular way. It’s part of horse racing.” [NY Times]
Porter has come under fire from some quarters who criticize him for letting his ego drive his decision to run her in the Derby rather than what seemed like a more reasonable spot in the Oaks. Given his near miss with Hard Spun last year, plus the fact that there's no future stallion value involved here, that is undoubtedly true.

However, what do you think this sport would be like without egos like Porter's? If people were in this strictly for the money, how many owners would there be? Do you think the Sheikh is doing what he does in order to be able to provide food for his stable of wives? Given the increasing focus on the fragility of the breed, some might argue that it would be a good thing if he wasn't bidding up the prices of foals from bloodlines with histories of fragility....but don't tell the Kentucky breeders that.

In fact, I'd imagine that "my horse is faster than yours" is at the very root of this sport. I think that some of the greatest moments of racing never would have occurred if not for inflated egos. There probably would have been no great match race between Seabiscuit and War Admiral. And what was there really to gain other than bragging rights by running Personal Ensign on a muddy track in that Breeders' Cup? And how about Ruffian and Foolish Pleasure..... OK, it obviously doesn't always work out. But I really don't understand this line of attack. We're all over owners for being greedy, so give them a break if they do something of a sporting nature....or, just because they want to, or to make a name for themselves. As long as it's not reckless and dangerous of course.

And that brings us to the other charge against Porter that we're hearing - that he should have known he was putting her in danger and therefore should shoulder the blame. A couple of those critics actually earned the right to speak out by issuing warnings beforehand. As much as I hate to admit it, because I've chafed at his particular outspokenness on the matter, Paul Moran wrote on April 30 that it's far more likely is that Eight Belles will be permanently scarred by the experience, and that Porter may very well leave [her] career in the shadows of the twin spires.

And check out what this blogger, a trainer who goes by the name of Rather Rapid, wrote on April 29:
I'm supposing the jock will have the good sense to protect this lightly trained very vulnerable filly with her lengthy front cannons trying to compete against a bunch of colts many of whom have twice as much distance on their work tabs. The Hall of Shame to these connections if anything happens to this filly.
Wow. However, with the highest of due respect to those gentlemen, we don't know for sure what went wrong. The notion that she ran herself to death in her futile effort to catch a superior colt is more romantic than fact-based. It could have happened if she was neck and neck with Proud Spell. And I would make a wild but educated guess that there have been similarly bleak predictions every time a filly has lined up for a Triple Crown race.

And to those who point to Rags to Riches or Genuine Risk as examples of fillies that were never the same after the experience, I give you Afleet Alex and Smarty Jones, and a wealth of promising colts who may indeed have left their careers under the twin spires - Greeley's Galaxy, Sweetnorthernsaint, Bellamy Road - just to name a few from recent years. I haven't heard the kind of criticism we're hearing here leveled at those connections, nor at those of horses who similarly never recovered from their trips to Dubai...a journey, I may add, based strictly on greed.

And besides, with respect to Rick Porter's good name, I submit that the above is really all irrelevant. If a group of vets had sat him down and said 'Look, Mr. Porter, we believe that you are putting the filly's welfare in danger by running her in the Derby,' and he ignored their advice, that would be one thing. But I just can't believe for a second that he would have run her if he thought that was the case. So I think the charges that he was reckless and arrogant, and that he should be held responsible for her death are wrong. We should instead grieve along with him, and hope, very much so, that his ego, and those of other owners, remain intact.

16 Comments:

TripCrown73 said...

Alan,

I wonder how many people out there would, if they owned a horse (filly or colt, doesn't matter) who when faced with an opportunity to run that said horse in the Derby with the belief that the horse had a very probable chance of finishing in the top 5 or possibly winning it, would not take the same opportunity as Mr. Porter. This is what everyone should ask themselves because I believe if the person was honest with themselves, 8 or 9 times out of 10 most people would do the same thing and end up running the horse.

Anonymous said...

I don't blame porter at all. But at this point we all need to seriously consider racing fillies vs colts on the dirt. Rags was never the same after the Belmont. Silverbulletday wasn't the same in '99 after she ran in the Belmont. What did Excellent Meeting do after her fifth in the '99 derby?

Teresa said...

Bravo, Alan! So many excellent points it would take too long to enumerate them.

Thanks for laying it all out so compellingly and so clearly.

Masterful.

Handride said...

Commentor #2, think of all the colts who were also never the same, and think about all the fillies that do run fine after facing colts. In the 2yo race this weekend the 2nd place finisher was a filly, Absolutly Cindy comes to mind as well. Basing it in Male vs Female context is wrong.

alan said...

>>Commentor #2, think of all the colts who were also never the same, and think about all the fillies that do run fine after facing colts.

A couple of examples: Winning Colors surely seemed OK in the Distaff after Derby that year despite her narrow loss....and Life's Magic went on to be a champion at three and four after her Derby "ordeal."

Anonymous said...

Blame Churchill Downs. The antiquated earnings rules allows restricted earnings from filly races to count for Derby entry.

One of the only reasons this has never come up before is because no owner/trainer has ever shown the complete lack of discretion that this combo has, trying colts for the first time while stretching from 1 1/16th to 1 1/4 miles.

Sure she could have run in the Oaks and the same disasterous ending could have happened, but she didn't.

She didn't belong on the track Saturday!

Jen R said...

Silverbulletday won the Monmouth Oaks, the Alabama, and the Gazelle after running in the Belmont. She did tail off in the Breeders' Cup, and didn't do much at 4, but you could say the same of other fillies who didn't run in the Triple Crown. Open Mind springs immediately to mind (no pun intended) and I'm sure we could come up with other names.

Anonymous said...

winning colors may have ran a good race in the BC distaff but besides that her form went south badly. i mean her first win after the derby was a year later in an alw race and her only other win was at turfway park in an ungraded stake, at least genuine risk won a grade 1 two starts after the belmont

Jen R said...

Running in the Triple Crown didn't cause Winning Colors to develop the "roaring" problem she had at 4. And she ran two great races in the fall of 1988 against Personal Ensign.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of Siver Bullet Day.

I believe Baffert chose to run Golden Eagle Farms Excellant Meeting in the Derby because he had SBD in the Oaks.

But unlike this year, I believe EM had run against the boys in the Santa Anita Derby.

Jen R said...

I don't think so; I think you're mixing her up with her stablemate, General Challenge. (Both were by General Meeting.)

Are all the "anonymous" posters on this thread the same person?

Anonymous said...

no, i posted the winning colors comment not the excellent meeting one

DC said...

Ouija Board ran a close third vs. males in the Arc de Triomphe, arguably the toughest and most prestigious horse race in the world. Then she shipped across the Atlantic and won a Breeders Cup race 3 weeks later.

Anonymous said...

Excellant Meeting and General Challenge both ran in the Derby.

Imagine the tactics Baffert used to convince Golden Eagle to run their filly in Derby when they already had a colt in there.

All to keep her away from Pegram's SBD!

No, I'm not the same poster as the other anonymous. Fact is I already have a blogger account but do not recall my password, so postings are under anonymous.

Jim F.

Jen R said...

OK, I was just getting confused. :)

And I was unclear in my last comment; I meant that Excellent Meeting didn't run in the Santa Anita Derby, but General Challenge did.

Anonymous said...

We don't need synthetic surfaces, nor do we need steroids, drugs, and other injury/infirmness masks as the panacea to racing's ills but rather reform of the greedy KY breeding industry which is the root cause of it all. The goal of racing, according to the Jockey Club at least, is "improvement of the breed". Ok, call me elitest but the goal can never change. Obviously we have doing just the opposite for much too long but it's time to take a stand. Racing needs fewer horses, fewer tracks, and more high quality product to survive. Return to improving the breed and racing will finally have a comeback in the sports and entertainment marketplace. /S/Green Mtn Punter