January 9, 2020
Close the book. Turn the page. Wipe clean the slate. Hello, New Year!
On Jan. 1, everyone, everywhere is tied—a temporary dead heat for top owner, trainer and jockey. All horses, too, are unbeaten. Suddenly, a year older, they’re deadlocked—no wins and as many losses between them. Horseplayers also enjoy balanced accounts. All square. No peaks, no valleys, and an ROI (Return on Investment) that’s landed on green zero…neither red, nor black.
Hope abounds in the New Year, buoyed by plans, strategies and resolutions to make this one the best ever. How? Easy. Just follow the blueprint, the treasure map. The truth. The light. The way. All roads lead to a calendar chock-full of health, happiness and a dumpster’s-worth of tax-free cash.
At the beginning of the New Year, we’re all kissing our sisters.
Of course, the condition is temporary. We know it. Been around the block a time or two. Not Pollyannas. The scoreboard may say ‘scoreless tie,’ but we know that magic moment of equality is as fleeting as a bullet train by a hobo. Bottom line, some are just more fortunate than others—equines and humans. Bigger, stronger, smarter, more talented, wealthier, faster…whatever the case. On Jan. 1, we occupy stalls in the same starting gate. However, once the doors open some of us can’t help breaking bad. We spot the field lengths at the start. Right then and there, plans, strategies and resolutions go up in smoke. We’re forced to play catch-up. Then, at the quarter pole, when the real running starts, we’re done. Have no answer to the question.
Amid myriad current negative vibes, Thoroughbred racing and the practice of wagering on its outcomes, maintains a single, fantastic, enduring aspect: Nobody knows nothing.
For all its nicks and crosses and stats and sheets and theories and computer-assisted handicapping and wagering the endeavor possesses a ‘crapshoot’ element. There’s a chance for anyone playing the game to hit it big. Hold the dice for a while. Bask in raucous cheers and hearty pats on the back for a job well done.
Any owner, trainer or jockey can find the ‘Big Horse,’ or be found by the ‘Big Horse.’ It’s happened before, and it can happen again. Lightening strikes. And in racing it seems to arrive more often than it does in other pastimes and occupations. If you’re in the racing game, you’ve got a chance. Breeding, owning, training, riding, gambling. Doesn’t matter. All it takes is one horse. The right horse. Or maybe four of them in the perfect order to complete the superfecta.
The beauty of the thing is that like lightening in the summer night sky, you don’t see it until it appears. Briefly. Powerfully. Beautifully. In that moment, you’re so absorbed that you don’t notice anything else. That new foal, seemingly not much different from the others, may be ‘the one.’ Bred and born in the backyard or hammered home in the sales ring, it doesn’t matter. It can happen. It does happen. Heck, even a claiming horse—one others are willing to sell—can do an ‘about-face’ and deliver unforgettable moments to a new owner, trainer, jockey or horseplayer.
Maximum Security, this year’s probable 3-year-old champ and finalist for Horse of the Year honors, could have been claimed for $16k out of a maiden race at Gulfstream Park in December 2018. Fairing no better and no worse than his current connections, anyone game and/or lucky enough to buy the colt that afternoon by now could have earned roughly $1.8 million and counting!
And don’t even mention his value at stud. Let’s make the math easy and say 60 mares at $100k each. That’s $6 million. This year, next year and the year after that. Maybe. Could be more, could be less. Let’s see what happens. Nobody knows nothing.
Now, a 2-year-old that races first-time out in a $16k maiden claiming race is not supposed to have a million-dollar career. That’s an extremely rare occurrence, not likely to be repeated. And just to make things even more improbable, Math Wizard, winner of the Grade 1, $1 million, Pennsylvania Derby, finished third in the same $16k maiden-claiming heat won by Maximum Security. He’s banked roughly $1.2 million and counting!
Not supposed to happen, right? But it did.
Sure, Bob Baffert’s chances of training another Kentucky Derby winner are way better than anyone else’s, but his horses can’t win every sophomore dirt stakes race. Can they? And Chad Brown can’t possibly train the first three home in every added-money turf event, even though it seems like he already does. No, there’s room at the top for the rest of us. The game’s history is littered with surprising results. In fact, some maintain that the term ‘upset’ earned its definition as ‘an unexpected result or situation, especially in a sports competition’ in 1919, when a horse named Upset defeated Man o’War in the Sanford Stakes at Saratoga. Neat tale, but inaccurate. More likely, on that Spa afternoon Man o’War backers felt the other definition of the word—'a state of being unhappy, disappointed or worried.’
To truncate a popular sentiment, ‘..it happens.’ Sometimes. And ‘..it’ can happen to you, me or the other guy, just like it did with Jay Trotter when the red-hot horseplayer famously asked, ‘Am I having a good day or what?’
When the dust settles on 2020 and we close the book, turn the page and wipe clean the slate, here’s hoping we’ve all experienced some memorable racing moments. We’re sure gonna try.
Happy New Year and beyond!