Wednesday, June 10, 2015

American Pharoah Will Continue to Race, but Why?

Yesterday I wrote that American Pharoah would probably be retired and put out to stud now that he's won the Triple Crown, but I was wrong.  Apparently, he'll continue to race.

The owner of Triple Crown winner American Pharoah says plans are underway for his champion to race again this year.  (ESPN)

Ahmed Zayat, American Pharoah's owner, sold the breeding rights before the Belmont, but they don't kick in until Pharoah actually retires. 

 "They have zero say until he retires,'' Zayat said. "We owe it to the sport to do the right thing. Money plays an important factor in this game. I've already sold the breeding rights, but it is my genuine desire, as a fan, as someone who loves horses, to race him as long as I possibly can.''  (ESPN)

 But what if American Pharoah is injured in a race?
Should anything happen to the colt in future races, Zayat is covered by an insurance policy for which the rates are "incredibly high,'' Baffert said recently. (ESPN)
My first question was, "Why would they take this risk?"   So, I looked it up and, apparently, many other Triple Crown winners have continued to race.
 The first Triple Crown winner in 37 years, American Pharoah is in uncharted territory, with no contemporary peers. The last Triple Crown winner, Affirmed in 1978, raced 13 times after his Belmont Stakes, running a full season as a four-year-old; Seattle Slew, the 1977 Triple Crown winner, ran eight times after the Belmont, through November of 1978. Secretariat raced six times after winning the Belmont and was retired at the end of the year. (The Guardian)

But still, "Why?"

“Purses these days are hefty,” he (Charlie Boden, stallion manager of Darley America, the breeding operation of Dubai’s Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum) pointed out. “He’s got $10 million sitting there next March [in the Dubai World Cup]. That’s $6 million to him [if he wins]. The Breeders’ Cup Classic is $5 million. He stands to make another $10 million before the end of March next year.
 “If he’s going to the breeding shed, he could get 100 horses to breed to him at $100,000, but that’s a year down the road, assuming he’s fertile and if he wants to breed, and those are two big ifs. We know that we can run and beat just about every sumbitch that lines up next to him.” (The Guardian)
Oh, that's why.  Money.  Speaking of which, did you see the Burger King in American Pharoah's box during the Belmont?  So did we.  What the #@?  It turns out, Burger King paid $200,000 for that privilege.  The bright side?  The money is going to charity.  The down side?  It seemed creepy.

If all this is making you a little queasy, here's some good news to balance it.  American Pharoah's jockey, Victor Espinoza, who, by the way, was scared of horses at one point in his life, is donating his $80,000 winnings to City of Hope, a research and treatment center that aims to fight cancer and life-threatening illnesses.  Espinoza has always donated a percentage of his earnings to that same charity.  Kudos to Espinoza!

And, kudos to Bob Baffert (Pharoah's trainer) and Jill, his wife, for donating their winnings to the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund; the California Retirement Management Account, a nonprofit that helps retired California racehorses; and Old Friends Farm, a thoroughbred retirement facility.


Triple Crown history was made, but if you, like me, are unable to rest easy until the hero himself is safe and sound, it appears we'll have to wait a little longer.

Monday, June 8, 2015

American Pharoah: A Triple Crown Champion In a Questionable Industry

I'd rather not write the post I'm about to write.  In fact, I'd rather write an entirely different post that celebrates American Pharoah and the win I thought I'd never see--the Triple Crown.  

I'm a horse lover.  I watch every leg of the Triple Crown to see the horses: Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont.

I watch in awe, and I watch in fear.

I'm in awe of the horses: their strength, beauty, and will to persevere and win (ie, SURVIVE).

I'm in fear of the industry that pushes them to win and what may happen in that pursuit as we sit watching.

Two things to consider about this industry outside of the nefarious gambling associated with it:

1.) As a horse lover, how can I not be heart-broken when I read about the orphaned foals whose mothers are rented out as "nurse mares" to the top bred Thoroughbred foals, their own dams shipped off to be re-bred?  Most people can't imagine this scenario, but for Thoroughbreds, a mare must be "Live Covered", meaning she has to be shipped to the stallion rather than artificially inseminated.  The top-tier-foal she leaves behind on her annual breeding (you have to maximize those breeding years) needs to be nursed.  Thus, the leased "nurse mare" who comes in to do the job.  The nurse mare, in order to have milk, also must produce a foal, but those foals are removed from the mare and sold to Last Chance Corral or, I assume, rescue organizations like them or shipped to slaughter.

2.) As a horse lover, how can I not be heart-broken when a horse is put down from injuries sustained in a race?  On the same day, same Park, as the now legendary American Pharoah Triple Crown win, another horse, a 4-year-old colt from France named Helwan, broke his left front cannon bone during his race and was put down afterward.

Oh, this wasn't an isolated incident. One week earlier, a 5-year-old horse named Soul House collapsed and died shortly after finishing seventh of 10 horses at Belmont Park. One day before that, a 5-year-old horse named Icprideicpower died at Finger Lakes Gaming & Racetrack in upstate New York after a training session. Since January, 43 horses have died in racing or training.
Died in New York, that is.
According to the New York State Gaming Commission, 10 horses have died since Jan. 16 at Belmont Park.
According to the Los Angeles Times, 186 horses died in 2011.
       Died in California, that is. 
So yes, I celebrate American Pharoah.  You bet I do.  What a horse.  If his feet ever hit the ground, I didn't see it.  He was flying!  He is a champion.  He is perfection.

But as he ran, I was less concerned about him winning than staying safe.  I didn't breathe easy until I saw him the next morning on The Today Show with his jockey and trainer.  He was, from what I could tell, healthy and gregarious.  He'll now spend his days breeding mares (Live Cover, of course), about a hundred times per year, for an estimated $100,000 per breeding.  The "Good Life," right?

Maybe not.  If you're curious, read about his sire's life, Pioneerof the Nile, and the challenges getting him to breed mares.

So, I didn't want to write this, but I did.  I didn't want to take anything away from American Pharoah, but I couldn't balance that with my hope that the industry is exposed for what it is at its worst--not just celebrated for what it is at its best.

I've lived to see what I never thought I'd see, a Triple Crown winner.  Maybe now I'll live to see something else I never thought I'd see, a humane Thoroughbred racing industry.

But is that possible?

Friday, May 22, 2015

Sergeant Reckless, The Most Decorated Horse in History

Happy Memorial Weekend!

Here's another reason to love mares, Sergeant Reckless, the most decorated War Horse in history.  She braved live combat to rescue troops and deliver ammunition during the Korean War and continued to do her job even after being wounded.  For that, she won the Purple Heart.  It should be noted, many of her missions were conducted alone, with no handler, she braved open-fire combat to seek, find, and deliver stranded troops.

Not surprisingly, the soldiers loved and respected her:

"She quickly became part of the unit and was allowed to roam freely through camp, entering the marines' tents, where she would sleep on cold nights, and was known for her willingness to eat nearly anything, including scrambled eggs, beer, coca-cola and, once, about $30 worth of poker chips."

It's an amazing story for Memorial Day.  Heroes come in all different types, don't they?  

Here's to Reckless, and other heroes like her.

Wouldn't you love to have a baby from Reckless?

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Riding Through the Scary Tunnels with Buddies

Sometimes, everything in you says "DANGER"!  That's instinct, and it's a good thing to heed.  Like this tunnel, for example: graffiti, the smell of urine, the tincture of heated rail from the train that passes every hour or so above, the sometimes present noise of arrows at the archery range it feeds into....and the darkness.  Scary Danger!

Last year, the only way I could get Cowboy through this tunnel was to back him up until he was partially in, then turn him around and ride the rest of the way through.  Tricky!  We all had a good laugh about that one.  But you do what you have to do, and then reward them on the other side.

As we've all been talking about lately on this blog, fear is a good thing.  It shows a smart horse.  But elevated anxiety in our horses can also be dangerous for us as riders. That said, we decided to spend some time going back and forth through the scary tunnel in various ways.  We let the ones who were nervous (which were all but one) follow, and then, as they became more comfortable, take the lead, as we passed through back and forth as many times as it took to get them all to OK.

That's what you want in trail buddies, because it's what makes the adventure enjoyable for horses and riders and keeps everyone in the group safe.

Many years ago now, I made a bunch of horse friends online and we all met up and became flesh and blood friends.  Our friendship revolves around our shared love of horses. We have the same philosophy, even if we get to it different ways.  Mostly, we have support for each other as horsewomen.

I wouldn't go through the scary tunnels without this group, so I'm not much different than Cowboy. Call me "Smart", because "graffiti, the smell of urine...and darkness" really do point to danger when riding alone.  

We're buddies and our horses are buddies, and we all rely on each other to get through the scary places.

Who are your riding buddies?  What scary tunnels have they helped you pass through?

Friday, May 8, 2015

Princesses and Horses, From Diana to Queen Elizabeth

Charlotte Elizabeth Diana, the new royal princess born to Prince William and Kate. Princess Diana.  Brings back memories, doesn't it?

Yesterday afternoon I was sitting with my horse crazy grand-daughter, Sophie, and my other horse-crazy-in-training grand-daughter, Catherine, talking about the royal birth.  (My "in-training" GD shares the same name as Kate aka Catherine, which made her very happy).

As I explained the three portions of the new baby's name, it occurred to me they had no idea whom Diana was.  None.  So, I started to explain to them about the wonderful Princess Diana that I remember from childhood--she helped the sick, she was a good mom, she was shy, she was beautiful, she was unloved by her husband, and we were all heartbroken when she died at age 36.  I told them about how I woke up early in the morning as a teenager (I was living Maine) to watch her royal marriage to Prince Charles.

My "in-training" GD, Catherine, would like to be a princess and, recently, also a horsewoman, so she asked, "Did she ride horses?"

I told her that I thought she did.  In the back of my mind I could remember seeing a picture of her on a horse.

But I wasn't sure.  When I got home, I looked it up and found the relationship she had with horses was actually complicated.  She had grown up on a country estate with animals and horses, and had a deep love for animals, but in her teens, she experienced a traumatic fall from a horse that left her fearful of riding.

However, she had married into a royal family who were passionate about horses: Queen Elizabeth, Prince Charles, and Princess Anne, and her boys loved riding, as well.  From what I read, Diana decided to take lessons alongside her boys so that she could get over her fear.  In fact, her riding instructor was James Hewitt with whom, and who could blame her, she fell in love.

"He had initially been summoned to instruct William and Harry, but as the relationship ensued, Diana herself gathered the courage to overcome her childhood fear of riding.  The affair started in 1987 and lasted 5 years."

While Diana never looked totally comfortable riding, it was brave of her to start the journey of overcoming her fear.

Speaking of fear, I found a great article about her ex-husband, Prince Charles, and his own original fear of riding.  He credited his sister, Princess Anne, with helping him overcome it.

As for Princess Anne, now there's a horsewoman.  I believe she competed in the 1976 Olympics, as did her daughter, Zara Phillips, later.  Apparently, they inherited Queen Elizabeth II's love of horses.  (Photo below Queen Elizabeth II and Princess Anne.)

(Princess Anne)

(Queen Elizabeth II, then Princess Elizabeth, with her sister, Princess Margaret.)

 (Queen Elizabeth II)

 (Queen Elizabeth II and Ronald Reagan, another of my favorite horsemen.)

(Queen Elizabeth II riding with Princess Anne.)

(Horsewoman, Zara Phillips, daughter of Princess Anne)

(Zara at the 2012 Olympics)

Maybe Elizabeth, Anne, and Zara inherited the horse gene from this famous namesake, Queen Elizabeth I of England.

"Elizabeth loved to horse ride. She would spend many an hour riding fast through the Palace grounds. Her love for the sport terrified her Councilors, who feared that she would seriously injure, or even kill herself, from a fall. But Elizabeth was undaunted, and continued to ride long distances and at great speed until the end of her life. Even in her sixties she could ride a distance of ten miles, which she once proved to a courtier who advised the aging Queen to take the carriage. Elizabeth would tire out her ladies by riding hard, and early in her reign, Robert Dudley, her Master of Horse, had to bring over some new horses from Ireland, as the Queen's own horses were not fast or strong enough for her. Elizabeth and Dudley would ride together often. He was probably the most accomplished horse-man in England, and could match the Queen's speed and vigor. In the summer of 1560, Elizabeth and Dudley rode together almost everyday, while some of her ministers bewailed that the Queen was neglecting matters of state."  (

Do you know of any other famous princesses who loved horses?  I'm making a list for my princess loving, recent horse convert, Catherine, and I could use some help.  Of course, we all feel like princesses when we're in the saddle, don't we?