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.


  1. It's a tricky line to tread. As a breeder myself, and a sentimental one to boot, I couldn't live with myself if I let my injured horse carry on and something awful happened. If I was on the fence about a decision, I'd retire a horse instantly if there was even a remote chance that it could end up injuring itself severely.
    Call me a fatalist, but I think when it comes down to equine injuries, you should err on the side of caution.

    1. Thanks for the comment!

      I do see where you are coming from and I totally understand (I have a mare retired right now due to your point).

      But I also think that when it comes down to it, if there's a timeline like in the Bode case where the vets say "Hey, he could come back in 60 days" it is extremely frustrating to fans that the horse is done so quickly when we know that he can come back. Especially when he won't be running injured at the time.


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