Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Taking a Look At Emerging Blue Hen Mare Mining My Own

In 2009, a 50-1 longshot shocked the world when he won the Kentucky Derby. 

Mine That Bird trails the field in the 2010 Breeders' Cup Mile. (Photo: Melissa Bauer-Herzog)
The gelding, a son of Birdstone out of the mare Mining My Own, was Mine That Bird. He was a underdog to many but was named Champion Juvenile in Canada and went on to finish second in the G1 Preakness Stakes and third in the G1 Belmont Stakes.

That same year, Mine That Bird’s 2-year-old half-brother sold for $485,000. The colt by Yonaguska didn’t live up to his older brother’s success and only attempted a stakes race once in his 22 race career, finishing off the board in that start. The colt, named Brother Bird, was gelded and is currently running in claiming and starter allowances. His record currently stands at eight wins and $174,075 in earnings.

Mining My Own was barren in 2008 but again struck gold with her 2009 colt by Even the Score.

That colt would sell for $250,000 at the Keeneland September Yearling sale and would later be named Dullahan. The chestnut colt’s 2-year-old season would be highlighted by a win in the G1 Dixiana Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland. He would then go to the G1 Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs and finish fourth in one of the most competitive finishes in recent years.

Dullahan’s three-year-old season would see him finishing second on the turf in the G3 Palm Beach Stakes in his 2012 debut before winning another Grade 1 at Keeneland in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes. This time when Dullahan went to Churchill after his Keeneland race, he finished third in the G1 Kentucky Derby. The colt had two off the board finishes in his next two races but most recently won his third Grade One event in the TVG Pacific Classic Stakes against older horses on August 26.

It should be noted that Dullahan only has three wins in his career and all of those come in Grade One races on the synthetic surface.

Dullahan before the 2011 Breeders' Cup Juvenile (Photo: Melissa Bauer-Herzog)
Mining My Own has one other foal of racing age, a two-year-old filly named Mezah by current hot sire Tapit. Mezah is working at Arlington Park where she fired a bullet over three furlongs on the all-weather surface on August 3. Her last work was over five furlongs in 1:03.00 on the same surface, ranking her 27th out of 50.

Mining My Own was again barren in 2011 but foaled out a colt by Giant’s Causeway on April 13, 2012.

While it’s obvious that Mining My Own is quickly becoming a superstar dam, the 2001 mare never made it to the track.

But even with her on track talent never being determined, Mining My Own has a solid family behind her. The mare is by leading sire Smart Strike and out of the Vice Regent mare Aspenelle.

Smart Strike is the sire of Eclipse Champions Curlin, English Channel, and Looking at Lucky among others. He is also the half-brother to Dance Smartly and full brother to Strike Smartly among others. He is also sitting in the No. 10 spot on Thoroughbred Time’s General Sires list as of August 28.

On Mining My Own’s female side, Aspenelle raced four times during her career for earnings of $68,425. It took the mare two starts to break her maiden but when she did, it was an impressive 10 length victory. She went on to win an allowance by 3/4 of a length before finishing her career with a second place finish in the Canadian Oaks, losing to Deputy Jane West by six lengths.

The mare had 10 foals and Mining My Own was her fourth. Her 1997 filly named Golden Sunray by Crafty Prospector would win the 2000 Poinciana Breeders’ Cup Handicap. Hot Maneuver, her 2004 colt by Mt. Livermore made 41 starts in Japan, placing third in the Hyacinth Stakes.

Aspenelle’s dam was the Multiple Stakes Winner Little to Do. Little to Do had five foals with three winners from the four to race. While her only stakes placed horse was Aspenelle, her daughters proved to be producers.

Little to Do’s daughter Joy’s Countess, a winner of nine races, was the dam of Prairie Gold Juvenile Stakes winner Blackjack Boy. She was also the dam to stakes placed Winning Wonder, a 2001 Sword Dance (IRE) mare that would come back to make one start in 2009 after a six year absence from the track where she would finish last. The chart’s only line for the mare was “Refused to break”.

Another Little to Do daughter, Jovial Lass would only win one race in 19 starts but would have much more success in the shed. Her Lite the Fuse daughter Jovial Blast would never finish off the board, winning two races, placing in another, and finishing third in the Algoma Stakes. Jovial Blast would go on to produce two stakes placed foals.

On the final female note, Little to Do’s dam was Tribal to Do. Tribal to Do didn’t do much on the track, only winning two claiming races but she was the dam of sire Crafty, the winner of the 1992 Barretts Juvenile Stakes and the third place finisher of the G3 Balboa Stakes.

While Mining My Own’s family isn’t considered as royal as some other mares in the breeding shed, it’s obvious that the mare's family can produce good horses.

Mining My Own has had two out of three of her Derby-aged horses make the Kentucky Derby with a win and a third. Even many of the best blue hens in the breeding shed can’t claim that sort of record.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

My Perspective on the Retirement of Three-Year-Olds

Another day... another three-year-old retired.

Welcome to 2012 where it seems like almost all of our "top" three-year-old routers have been retired. Overreaction? Probably, but I'm far from the only one thinking this.

When I'll Have Another was retired the day before the Belmont, it stung but I just counted it as one of those things that happens on the Trail.

I had mostly the same reaction with Union Rags, but I was getting a bit more worried.

Now, almost exactly a month after Union Rags' retirement was announced, we've had two retirements of high profile three-year-olds in less than 24 hours. 

Kentucky Derby & Preakness runner-up Bodemeister was almost a given to retire when he headed to Rood & Riddle last week for tests but the surprising news was Hansen's (likely) retirement this morning after a tendon injury.

Like many others, I am extremely frustrated at this news. I was a huge fan of this three-year-old crop at the beginning of the year and now the three biggest horses in the Triple Crown races and last year's two-year-old champion are all retired.

While part of the irritation does come from losing these horses at such a young age, the main part comes from one thing stated by all the connections.... with time off, at least three of them could come back.

I'll Have Another was retired due to the start of an injury but it was also something that could have been fixed with some time off. The same goes for Union Rags and even Bodemeister. 

So why can't they come back?

I understand that there is a LOT of money in breeding. The amount of money a high profile stallion earns in just a season is more than I'll probably see in a lifetime but are any of these horses really going to be so popular that they need to be retired right now?

I will give Hansen a small pass since it sounds like it would be hard to bring him back. Ironically, he is the most likely to make a return to the track as he hasn't been officially retired yet.

In the interest of fairness, let's start with Bodemeister since he is the second most recent to retire. I don't know how bringing him back (if he came back the same) would hurt his stud value at all. I am a huge 'Bode' fan, but the colt only has two (impressive) wins. Sure, he was brilliant even in defeat on the Triple Crown Trail but he still only has two wins.

As for his sire being a hard to find commodity since he is now in Japan... Empire Maker has four sons standing at in the United States. Three of those are in New Mexico and Texas. Only Pioneerof the Nile is in Kentucky and if reports about his foals are correct, POTN has a lot going for him already. Plus, with five wins including four graded stakes wins (two G1s, two G2s), his resume is better than Bode's right now.

Winstar's press release yesterday said that Bodemeister could be fully recovered from his injury in 60 days. Sure, he'd have to skip the rest of his three-year-old season but there are a ton of big races he could run in next year.

The owners of Union Rags straight up said that they retired him to strike while the iron was hot on stud offers. This really doesn't help their case in my mind (but if I was them, I may do the same thing). He was a great two-year-old and showed flashes of greatness that this year but with the current horses that look to be moving forward to their four-year-old seasons, Union Rags could have been a major player in the division next year. 

Union Rags' sire Dixie Union is deceased but there hasn't proven to be a big desire for his sons so far with eight retired right now. The two most expensive sons, High Cotton and Dixie Chatter, both stand for $5,000. Union Rags does have a better record than them but his dam hasn't thrown much of note outside of him in seven foals.

I'll save you the deep analysis on I'll Have Another because that would make this blog post way too long. 

However, even if they were trying to keep his legacy intact by skipping over the Belmont at the smallest sign of an issue like some say (which is unlikely), I feel like he is the one that will hurt racing the most. Even non-racing fans were attached to the colt and his career as a four-year-old not only could have been good for him, but also the sport. 

My main issue isn't with the retirement of young horses, even though I do have a problem with it. My main issue is the fact that three out of these four horses could come back to lead successful racing careers in coming years. 

I do realize that there is more to this than just bringing a horse back to the races. But I also hear the fan side of the sport that doesn't understand why these horses are retired so quickly, especially when they aren't injured. In a sport that is struggling to get the fan base that it once had, horse racing needs a major boost. 

Granted, there are many things that need to change to get racing back to the "good old days" of full tracks, but not retiring a horse at the first sign of injury is a definite step in the right direction.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Doubt Edged Sword of Social Media

For years, sports have been jumping on the social media bandwagon to reap the benefits of interacting with fans in a way that wasn't possible even 10 years ago.

Over the last year, horse racing has finally embraced the social media aspect with open arms and has worked towards creating a more fan friendly sport. Farms use sites such as Twitter and Facebook to keep fans up-to-date on their runners and even some famous retired stock. On the track, jockeys and trainers use it to give updates on not only their barns but also their lives.

But with all the benefits that have come with social media, it also has some negative sides as well.

The most recent example of the "other side" of social media is the saga of three-year-old colt Paynter and his whereabouts.

From his victory in the Haskell until he was “found” by a journalist at the Mid-Atlantic Equine Medical Center, Twitter was abuzz about where the horse had gone.

While trainer Bob Baffert was quiet about the horse on Twitter, only posting that he was doing well after spiking a fever, Justin Zayat, Paynter’s owner’s son responded to tweets saying that Paynter was “healthy and sound”.

After the news broke that Paynter was at the clinic, Zayat posted videos of the horse at the clinic to show that he was, for the most part, fine. Baffert then broke his silence to give an update as to when the horse would be returning to the track, showing that the trip to the clinic wasn’t as serious as it seemed.

When the horse shipped to Belmont on August 10, Zayat posted a picture of the horse in his stall to prove that the horse really was back at the track.

While the Paynter drama seems to be moving into the past, the same connections are dealing with the brewing of a storm over their other three-year-old, Bodemeister.

The second place finisher of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness is undergoing tests at Rood and Riddle this week. However, unlike Paynter, "Bode's" condition has been pretty forthcoming, letting the Zayat's experience the "highs" and "lows" of feedback when providing information on social media.

Another high profile horse went through this same drama earlier in the year when it was leaked that Rachel Alexandra and her colt had been sent to Rood and Riddle for pain management.

The tweet later disappeared and a statement was released by Stonestreet about the issue.

It’s also doubtful any Zenyatta fans can forget the tweet that came at 11:07pm on March 8 announcing the birth of Zenyatta’s foal. But the information didn’t come from the official Zenyatta blog; instead it came from Bill Farish’s daughter Daisy… yet again on social media.

Twitter and Facebook have been amazing tools for the horse racing industry to utilize. The platform has allowed contests have been held, pictures to be sent, and racing personalities to interact with fans.

In addition, it has also allowed the sport to get more exposure when related names and events "trend" on the national stage. Overall, social media has been amazing for the sport.

But it also allows for more chances of news to slip out that isn’t intended for public view right then.

While social media shouldn’t disappear from racing, the sport does need to adapt in order to give the fans “exclusive access” while also keeping private matters private.

The biggest issue with that rule is where to draw the line when it comes to equine information. After all, even if fans (and the media) feel a certain attachment to these animals, the bottom line is that they are privately owned.

This is definitely one of those issues that can take the sport in two different ways. But it is one that needs to be dealt with in order to deal with the privacy of animals and their owners while also keeping the horse from “disappearing” and losing fans after it leaves the track.

It will definitely be interesting to see where that line is drawn and how it will affect horse racing in coming years.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

2013 Breeders' Cup Venue Named

After months of speculation, the location of the 2013 Breeders' Cup has been announced. The two-day event will be staying at Santa Anita next year, the same track the Breeders' Cup will run at this year. Santa Anita was also the host of the 2008 and 2009 runnings of the event.

The two years at Santa Anita follows a two-year stint at Churchill Downs in 2010 and 2011.

It seems that the Breeders' Cup is starting a "two year" trend, but there have also been whispers for the past several years of the possibility of finding the "World Championships" a permanent home.

While those whispers don't seem to be too serious at this time, the event has seemed to make the two recent tracks its home in recent years.

Only four other tracks (Belmont twice, Arlington Park, Lone Star Park, and Monmouth) have been hosts to the Breeders' Cup since 2000. Churchill Downs has hosted the Championships four times since 2000, while this year's running will also be Santa Anita's fourth time hosting the event in this century.

Monmouth was the last track to host the Breeders' Cup outside of the two recent venues, hosting the races in 2007.

While this writer is against the Breeders' Cup staying at one venue full time, the trend of moving between a more east coast-based track and a west coast-based track is something that I could potentially get behind.

Not only would this allow for fans on both sides of the country to have a chance to see the races without traveling long distances, it would also give the horses a shot at not having to ship too far to run at the "Championship" event.

As the Breeders' Cup also calls itself the "World Championships", it also give overseas horses on both sides of our country (Asia/South Pacific and Europe) the chance at an easier ship depending on the year.

It is completely possible that if the Breeders' Cup ever did decided to rotate between the east and west coasts, they would name only two tracks, especially after only getting three serious bids for 2013. 

But I think many people can agree moving between two different tracks on both sides of the country would be a much better compromise than only having a track on one coast ever see Breeders' Cup fans walk through their gate.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Rumor About Ex-Racehorses

This week, I wrote an article for Bleacher Report titled "Ex-Race Horse War Buckaroo Is Canadian Olympic Hero" about an ex-racehorse that has gone on to be at the top of his new sport. But when checking on the article today, I was a bit bothered to read a comment that stated "Great story. Not too many racehorses get a second career other than as a stud." from a reader.

At first I wondered how anyone could get that idea, but then it occurred to me that for those that only watch mainstream racing where most of the horses go off to have a stud career or go to the broodmare pasture when they are retired, this is their reality. For them, horses compete then go on to have the next generation of racehorses (or are disposed of). 

But really, there is a lot that goes on after a racehorse retires to find them a new home.

Many racing and breeding programs have put after-racing life on the front burner over the past few years. One of the most high profile farms in the spotlight on this front is Three Chimneys. Three Chimneys has their post-racing protocol posted on their website and will help any Three Chimneys connected horse find a new home if needed.

Others connected to the industry are also vocalizing that they will help rehome their old racehorses, either for a career after racing or as a pasture pet if needed. From breeding operations to those that only race horses, many are getting involved in making sure their horses find new homes.

In addition to this, there are many private organizations that help rehome racehorses after they retire. They are not connected to most of the horses in any way, they are just willing to spend time helping these amazing animals find their way into a new career. 

Some of the organizations, such as CANTER post racehorses looking for new homes on their website to easily connect buyer and seller (there are also private parties that do this). Others, such as New Vocations and Maker's Mark Secretariat Center keep the horses on their property (or at foster homes) and rehab or retrain them until they are adopted.

Racetracks are also getting involved in the after care world with their own programs. Gulfstream Park's After-Care program is only one of these types of programs with Mr. Frank Stronach matching money currently taken from Gulfstream Purses to ensure Thoroughbreds are given a chance after their racing careers. 

But these aren't the only programs out there. Many programs like the ones above exist to find thoroughbreds a new career when they are done running. All of these programs are easy to find by doing a simple Google search and can point potential buyers in the right direction towards adopting ex-racehorses.

While causal race fans mostly only see those horses that go to the breeding shed when they are done racing, steps are slowly being taken to bring other retired racers into their view as well. Other parts of the industry are slowly being introduced into public view and it's time that Thoroughbred After-Care programs join them in the spotlight.