Saturday, November 23, 2013

Glory Days

The following post appeared first in the November 14 issue of European Bloodstock news as my bi-weekly "Letter from America"

Glory Days, well they’ll pass you by,
Glory Days, in the wink of a young girl’s eye
Glory Days, Glory Days

I suspect Bruce Springsteen has never been quite the icon on your side of the Atlantic that he is in America. His songs embody a particularly, unabashedly American ethos that I doubt resonates as viscerally in other cultures.
Most everybody loves a great rock song, though, just as everyone in the Thoroughbred industry loves high prices, and lord knows, we had plenty of those at our November breeding stock auctions. Glory days indeed.
The Fasig-Tipton November sale began calmly enough, but once Love and Pride, a spectacular physical specimen with a race record and pedigree to match, sold for $4.9-million to Brazilian Goncalo Borges Torrealba, all hell broke loose. And it wasn’t just that there were better horses that followed Love and Pride into the ring than had preceded her. Everyone in the industry knows that a horse like Love and Pride should bring a certain price (in her case $4-to-$5-million), and once they hit the mark, it makes signing other tickets for millions of dollars so much easier. The feel of the marketplace changes from caution to let the good times roll with the crack of the gavel.
At the end of a memorable evening 24 mares had sold for $1-million or more at Newtown Paddocks, and Keeneland sold another 14 in that range over the next two days across town. Those 38 seven figure mares were purchased by 21 different individual buyers. The principal residences of those buyers (as far as we know at this point) are located in Australia, Brazil, France, Germany, Ireland, Japan, Greece, Qatar, and USA. Clearly the resurgent Thoroughbred market is a global phenomenon.
We have been wondering if or when the Qataris would dive into our market as vigorously as they have yours, and Sheikh Joann did not disappoint, purchasing dual Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint winner Mizdirection for $2.7-million. That was, however, the only high-profile Qatari purchase. Sheikh Mohammed’s forces continued to be conspicuous only by their virtual absence, purchasing one Street Cry weanling they co-owned on a foal share for $350,000.
Four years ago when the market was in the dungeon following the global economic meltdown of October 2008, I do not think anyone would have been foolish enough to predict that four years hence we would not need Sheikh Mohammed to enjoy a vibrant market for Thoroughbred bloodstock. That, in fact, has been pretty much unthinkable for more than 30 years now, but it was obviously true at the two bloodstock sales in Lexington last week.
After watching your horses beat everyone but Wise Dan on grass at the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita last week it is obvious that you have better horses than we do right now, so what price glory at Goff’s and Tattersalls over the next month? Even here the top-priced lot was a Galileo three-quarter sister to Yesterday and Quarter Moon purchased by Coolmore for $5.2-million.
After years of wondering whether they would survive the latest bloodstock recession it did the heart good to see smiles on the faces of so many old friends in Lexington last week. True, there are fewer left to smile, but that is the way of the world.

Those that are left understand that the glory days can disappear, indeed as quickly as the wink of a young girl’s eye...or perhaps the wink of an eye of that lovely young mare now residing in their broodmare barn.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Christmas is coming

One of the good things--trust me there were not many--to come out of the Thoroughbred Times bankruptcy was the fact that, through the good offices of TT's founder and editor Mark Simon, I ended up with the remaining unsold boxes of my book Foundation Mares. Published by Thoroughbred Times in 2008, Foundation Mares expanded and elaborated on a series of articles in the weekly print edition of the magazine. The book sold pretty well, but at the time of the bankruptcy there were some boxes of books at the printer's in Wisconsin that were going to be destroyed.

Instead, after considerable angst and no little expense on my part, they are sitting in my basement, and frankly they would make great Christmas gifts for anyone in the horse business.  As always, the wonderful Thoroughbred Times staff did a great job producing a beautiful and useful book and the stories ultimately tell the history of Thoroughbred racing in America, tracing all the way back to the famous unnamed Cub mare who was imported from England in the 1760s.

If you would like to put a smile on a racing enthusiast's face on Christmas morning you can order a signed copy of the book for $65 (including shipping costs) by emailing me at Or if you prefer, you can order the book through, but please scroll down and order through my Amazon seller account at JPS Inc. If you order by either of those two methods, I get paid. If not, I never see a cent of the money.

Such is life after a messy bankruptcy.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Memory Wall

I suppose what follows can serve as my requiem for Thoroughbred Times. It is one of my favorite weekly columns in Thoroughbred Times Today, first published, according to my records, on February 25, 2011. 

American novelist and short story writer Anthony Doerr is obsessed with memory. In his unforgettable novella Memory Wall, future technology allows the memories of an aging victim of Alzheimer's disease to be downloaded to digital cartridges so that she can revisit them as dementia advances.

I'm ready for my memory download. More importantly, Thoroughbred racing is desperately in need of an analog of Doerr's memory cartridges for the American sporting public.

I first became interested in Thoroughbred racing in the mid-1950s after inhaling Walter Farley's Black Stallion series of books. In those post-war boom years, wagering on horse racing was the only legal way to gamble everywhere but Las Vegas, and crowds of 50,000 and more crowded the largest tracks regularly on both coasts.

Newspapers in major cities carried race results on their sports pages, at least on the big weekends. Reading Anthony Doerr and thinking about how memory works somehow sparked a mental visual of a photo that appeared in the Nashville Tennessean in May, 1957 of the finish of the Peter Pan Stakes.

The photo, which I am sure was grainy and could not have been of very high quality on newsprint in any case, showed one of my first racing heroes *Gallant Man beating Promised Land and Nah Hiss. I think one of the reasons that photo—an ordinary three-quarter head-on finish picture—stuck in my mind for more than 50 years was the ominous, mysterious character of the third place finisher's name. Think about it...optimistic, noble names like *Gallant Man and Promised Land followed by....Nah Hiss!

(The Peter Pan was the last of three stakes-placings by Nah Hiss, a colt by Call Over out of Waymark, by Nedayr, who retired after five seasons of racing with seven wins in 73 starts and earnings of $49,817. Yes, they made them tougher in those days.)

Ten-year-olds in rural Tennessee, suburban Des Moines, or the heart of New York City nowadays have virtually zero chance of developing a persistent memory of their own version of Nah Hiss. Racing coverage in non-specialist newspapers, television, or sporting websites is virtually non-existent except for the biggest events of the year. Interests and habits developed in childhood often last a lifetime, but Thoroughbred racing currently has no viable conduit for reaching those kids whose psyches would be susceptible to the addictive charms of our sport.

Where is the Zenyatta/Rachel Alexandra racing video game for Playstation? Where is the Jockey Challenge for the Wii platform? Talk about a workout! Anyone who has ever ridden with short stirrups knows how many calories that would burn.

The Breeders' Cup at least has an iPad and iPhone app that sends racing news to those devices, and the NTRA offers a download of the NTRA Virtual Horse Racing game, but that is not nearly enough. The current generation of ten-year-olds is plugged in to personal computers, cell phones, or gaming devices 24/7, and if we cannot reach them what kind of future do we have when they are the adults with discretionary income?

In Doerr's story, the memory cartridges ultimately benefit those around the aging woman far more than they do her. The memory of the moments just before her fossil-hunter husband's death leads to the discovery of a fossil worth millions that, by somewhat circuitous means, go to her poor caretaker.

In the digital age, a comparable payoff is out there for Thoroughbred racing. All we need is the creativity and the will to find it.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Long time no blog

Regular readers of this blog--should there be any of you left--will be well aware of the long, sad downward spiral into bankruptcy of Thoroughbred Times that finally reached its inevitable conclusion about a year ago. While that certainly is not my only excuse for not blogging for over two years, it certainly had a lot to do with it. 

The eventual fate of Thoroughbred Times was evident long before the final denouement, but denial is a powerful thing. So too is loyalty, if you happen to be afflicted with it. Unfortunately, 16 years of loyalty and devotion to Thoroughbred Times turned out to be a one-way street, vis a vis the corporate ownership. But then corporations, no matter what the Supreme Court says, are not people and loyalty is seldom one of their virtues.

My all time favorite literary quote, though, is from Kurt Vonnegut’s The Sirens of Titan. In fact the purpose of the entire plot of that early Vonnegut novel is to arrange for the hero, Malachi Constant, to say “I was a victim of a series of accidents, as are we all.” Life happens.

I have been the “victim” of a long series of quite happy accidents throughout my life, and one of the happiest occurred about a year before the demise of the Times when a new consulting client came along at the most opportune time imaginable. That more or less coincided with my last previous blog post and, in truth, probably had as much to do with the hiatus as anything else.

The new client created both new demands on my time and a new outlet for the creative energy needed for blogging. The Pedigree Curmudgeon blog faded in importance as the pedigree curmudgeon himself got more, and more enjoyable, work to do.

Not too long after I stopped posting on this blog, I also found another delightful outlet for thoughts that might once have appeared here. My old friend Terence Collier recommended me to his old friend Paddy Finlason of European Bloodstock News to write a biweekly “Letter from America” for EBN. If you’re not familiar with EBN, you should be, and you can become familiar by checking out their website at   and subscribing to the newsletter. You won’t regret it.

My EBN “Letter from America” is designed to be informal, chatty, personal and entertaining, all of the characteristics of a good blog post. In fact, I think my next blog post will be a reprint of one of my favorite contributions to EBN.

Anyway, welcome back to The Pedigree Curmudgeon. Future posts may well be EBN letters, or reposts of my weekly column in Daily Racing Form’s new DRF Breeding newsletter. Or they may be something entirely original.

Who knows what happy accidents are in store?