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The First Synthetic Breeders’ Cup: Results and Observations (Part 2)

Posted October 28, 2008 12:01 AM by SavvyExacta

The Kentucky Derby comes down to about two minutes of excitement keeping you on the edge of your seat (or jumping up and down, if that's your style). Multiply that by 14, and you've got the 25th annual Breeders' Cup World Championships. Run this year for the first time over a synthetic surface, everyone certainly predicted but wondered what the results would be. In Part 1 of this two-part series, we covered the background of this amazing race-day series as well as some of the controversy behind synthetic material on racetracks. Now, let's get down to the good stuff – the results of this year's Breeders' Cup!

How Did This Year's Races Turn Out?

As predicted, the European horses fared exceptionally well, winning five of Saturday's nine races. Historically, they have trumped American horses on the turf, but this year they also beat the U.S. on the dirt. American superstar Curlin (our richest horse) had won on dirt tracks in the U.S. and in the world's richest race in Dubai earlier this year. Curlin (yellow silks in photo), however, suffered his second defeat of the year at Santa Anita (his earlier loss was a second-place finish on grass) when European challenger Raven's Pass (green silks in photo) surged by him in the stretch of the $5-million Breeders' Cup Classic.

Because the synthetic Pro-Ride surface is similar to turf, it's likely that Curlin didn't have a good feel for it. His trainer, Steve Asmussen, said, "It was a turf race. It absolutely was the Pro-Ride surface (that beat him). He ran his heart out and gave it all he had. He's a great horse. He's made over $10 million."

The other European winners were Muhannak (the inaugural Marathon, 1 ½ miles on synthetic dirt), Goldikova (a filly against males, 1 mile on the turf), Donativum (second running, 1 mile on turf), and Conduit (1 ½ miles on turf).

Scorching Temps – But No Injuries

The average air temperature during the 2008 Breeders' Cup was in the mid-to-high nineties during both days of racing, making things quite warm for horses who had been training in cooler temperatures. The temperature of the racing surface was even hotter. One of the ESPN broadcasters had a laser thermometer and was using it to measure the temperature of the Pro-Ride surface the horses were running on (and the gate attendants were standing on). Incredibly, the temperature got up to around 146 degrees Fahrenheit. If you ask me, that's a bit too toasty! I'm not sure if that's normal for that surface – it's something I'll explore in a future blog entry.

The BloodHorse reported that there were no injuries the day after the races – which is good news! (Last year, European Classic contender George Washington was euthanized after slipping in the sloppy conditions at Monmouth Park.) Perhaps the Pro-Ride surface did make things safer. It's just too bad that racing fans can never win. Curlin may have been dethroned as king; many racing bloggers are calling for Zenyatta to come out on top for Horse of the Year honors, thanks to her explosive hand-ride win in Friday's Ladies Classic (formerly the Distaff) and her seven-for-seven record this year.

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#1

Re: The First Synthetic Breeders’ Cup: Results and Observations (Part 2)

10/28/2008 10:39 AM

While I don't know much (ok, anything) about horse racing, I'm glad to hear that the Cup finished without injury. Although I can't believe they made the horses run on a surface of 146 degrees Fahrenheit! I agree with you in that it's a "bit too toasty".

After re-reading this blog post about what makes a synthetic track surface, I really appreciate what these horses (and jockeys) are going through in the transition to the new surfaces. Hopefully Curlin will be ready to reclaim his title next year!

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#5
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Re: The First Synthetic Breeders’ Cup: Results and Observations (Part 2)

10/29/2008 7:54 AM

Sharkles - thanks for the comment! I do hope they look in to what is making the surface so hot and possible fixes. I heard on the coverage they decided not to water it (which may or may not have made it cooler) due to an evaporation issue.

Hopefully as time goes on more and more data is collected about the safety of synthetic surfaces, those in the racing world can make better decisions about its implementation and care. There are a lot of people who are divided for and against since these changes are obviously influencing the sport (imagine if Nascar imposed a new type of pavement that favored only one type of car).

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#2

Re: The First Synthetic Breeders’ Cup: Results and Observations (Part 2)

10/28/2008 5:04 PM

Europeans seem to have all of the best these days - especially accents

Our horses need to 'SADDLE UP' and brace themselves...

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#6
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Re: The First Synthetic Breeders’ Cup: Results and Observations (Part 2)

10/29/2008 7:57 AM

It's true! I'm actively involved in the world of sport horse competition as well (show jumping and dressage) and we're regularly beaten by horses and riders from Europe. In fact, most of the horses at the upper levels in the USA have been imported from Europe! There is a lot of talk about why our homebreds from the USA cannot compete - probably because they are weak like the American Thoroughbred - something we need to work on if we want to show up at the next Olympic games!

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#3

Re: The First Synthetic Breeders’ Cup: Results and Observations (Part 2)

10/29/2008 6:01 AM

How about one race the horse carrys the jockey in that heat. And then one race where the Jockey carrys the horse in that heat. It seems only fair.

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Re: The First Synthetic Breeders’ Cup: Results and Observations (Part 2)

10/29/2008 7:50 AM

Well technically the air temperature was in the 90s - it was the temperature of the ground that was radiating that scorching 146 degrees. They showed some shots where it looked like heat waves rising off pavement!

While your analogy of the jockeys carrying the horses is interesting, I think that weight ratio would make it a bit challenging for a jockey to carry a horse. Most race horses weigh about 1,000 pounds (or more) while the average jockey is 112 pounds or less. Horses can easily carry 20% of their body weight - being asked to carry much less than that over a short distance isn't so bad.

Since horses have little, if any, feeling in their feet, touching hot the surface wasn't my concern - it was just the fact being close to it was making their hard-working bodies even warmer. But nobody dropped dead of heat stroke, so all was good!

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#7

Re: The First Synthetic Breeders’ Cup: Results and Observations (Part 2)

10/29/2008 11:26 AM

Hello again Savvy, Toomuchfun here!

When it comes to racing two and three year old horses, I wear a chip on my shoulder favoring their training but not racing. The European breds are trained on deeply beded grass surfaces, that are so durable that they can stand a lot of abuse and show no wear. For them the poly track provides a little relief from having to pull their hooves out of the softer deeper surface that they train and normally race on. This translated into an advantage for those horses and the Jocky's who regularly run on turf surfaces. The standard surfaces here are much tighter, and when properly conditioned make for faster racing, but unfortunately also contributes to injury, especially in young phillys and colts when subjected to racing conditions. We will likely be stuck with the racing of juvanials, and as the poly track is so expensive, many will be hurt in training at tracks not so well equiped. Too Bad!

I favor poly track at all racing arenas for horses, but I wonder just how it will effect the 1/4 horse tracks. Will we see horses bred for the 1/4 mile tracks moving over to take advantage of the surface less prone to injury.

I wonder too, just what the out come might have been in contests between horses like Alydar and Affirmed, could #2 have been #1 and what about the fast closers like Sea Bisquit, Carry Back and others who come from the rear of the field, will this new surface affect their ability to close the gap from last to first. No doubt, it will change how horses are trained and raced, hopely for the good of the animal, owners and racing overall.

One thing that we can all be sure of is that the use of poly track will help to save some and weed out others that don't adapt to this surface. I believe that this new surface will gravitate through improvments like "Astro Turf" has, and become much better for racing. Today I would rate it as a 6 out of 10 when compared to all current surfaces, but with reservation. This deeper softer surface could lead to different types of injuries, like pulled muscles and tendon problems. I say the "Jury is still out on this one"

Toomuchfun

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#8
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Re: The First Synthetic Breeders’ Cup: Results and Observations (Part 2)

10/29/2008 1:51 PM

Thanks for your thoughts, Toomuchfun. I also agree that two is too young to be racing (being started at one) - perhaps two for training and three for racing would be better. But as long as money talks, that's not going to happen.

In addition to the surfaces that European horses run on, you also have to look at the conditioning programs that differ from ours, the varying shapes of the courses, and also the different breeding considerations. These all impact the Thoroughbred racehorse.

More tracks in the U.S. are beginning the switch to synthetic materials like PolyTrack, but I'd like to wait a few years to see some substantial data before too many drastic changes are made. We also need to realize it's not just the surface the horses are running on, it's other factors that go into the horse and its care, as well. One of my biggest concerns: is creating a "safe" surface promoting an even weaker breed? The American Thoroughbred is going down the tubes; this is not only evidenced in the sport of racing, but also in the equestrian sport horse world as well.

I honestly can't see a "traditional" track like Saratoga switching to a synthetic surface. If it does, I think it'll be a late adopter. There are just too many variables right now - states banning steroids, picking up synthetic surfaces, etc. - how do we know which changes are causing improvements? The industry needs to regroup instead of making rapid-fire changes as a PR move.

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Re: The First Synthetic Breeders’ Cup: Results and Observations (Part 2)

10/29/2008 4:22 PM

Hi Again Savvy,

I hope I am correct on this one! It seems to me that it will require the consideration of a more muscular and robust animal as well as the required speed to be able to go the distance on the softer surface. To get the endurance and speed in the same animal will require the breeders to approach the breeding stall with altered intentions in mind. This may reduce the two year old racing crop and increase the three year old races as the two yr. olds simply may not develop into condition and stamina to handle that much work. You are correct though that the owners will continue to push these youngsters beyond their developmental capubilities, and the trainers, if they expect to continue earning a living will be pushed to make it happen.

I think that the initial corrections will have to begin at the breeding farms. It really doesn't cost much to grass feed a young horse, and hay though, some what costly, really isn't that expensive, compared to grain. We know that horses love their oats and will eat them selves to death if given opportunity, and oats ain't cheep. I believe that crib feeding beginning at about 18 months with a light diet that includes added minerals and lots of coarse ground corn along with the grass and hay, might be a less expensive way to hold the phillys and colts a little longer at the farm, and still support the growth rate needed to bring the animals to sale condition albeit a little later in life. Maybe this would be a grand opportunity for those who have pasturable land to benefit from tax deductions by keeping their land in farming instead of selling out to developers. Another thought, regarding holding back a significant number to the yearlings from the market will likely increase the value of those that will be walked through the sale barn for the first few years of the hold back. And better developed stock is less likely to be lost in training making the risk of injury losses a little more attractive to bidders/buyers.

I know that corn is a high energy food and many horse owners tend to shy away from feeding very much of it, but through personal experience I have brought starved horses back to good condition by increasing the corn to double the amount found in local Florida produced feeds. And if feeding a lesser expensive grain like coarse ground corn will help to keep the youngsters down on the farm a little longer, "I'm all for it"!

And here is a unique thought for the breeding farms. They could offer to sell an interest in the holdover stock to investors who would realize their profit/losses in just one year when the stock is offered for sale. Some of these animals might command first right of refusal consideration while they can watch the animal grow. This would likely help to offset the overal costs of bringing the phillys and colts to the sale barn at a later time. It might bring some of the computer buyers into the investment in the race horse world. Wouldn't it be unique to be able to by a share of a race horse for say $1,000 and have it win the Triple Crown, or several million dollars with you getting to share the profit and brag to your fellow horse lovers that you owned a share in such a animal. Fools invest in riskier business ventures.

Toomuchfun

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#10
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Re: The First Synthetic Breeders’ Cup: Results and Observations (Part 2)

10/30/2008 8:04 AM

Those are certainly some good ideas, but it would take a long time for many of them to catch on! And in today's economy, I think that some just aren't feasible.

I agree that young Thoroughbreds are aggressively over-grained in an effort to bulk them up for sales (especially yearling sales). They're eating grain before they're weaned; 4-6 months old. The amount only increases until the first year and once they are stalled to begin training, the amount becomes astronomical compared to the average riding horse. I also think that they should be turned out eating grass and hay (with appropriate supplementation where necessary) until they grow up, but the sales dictate otherwise, and are income for some (breeders, sales barns, pinhookers, etc.)...

I'm not sure where you're located, but even here in Upstate NY where farmland is abundant, hay is becoming hard to come by (bad summers make bad hay) and is starting to get expensive. We had always done our own hay, but had to buy this year. $4 a bale for basic grass hay this year. You know racehorses aren't eating that! A friend of mine is paying $6 for good timothy and more for an alfalfa mix. Not "cheap" by any means.

Just a note - fats are a good alternative to corn to aid in weight gain or maintenance for a hard keeper. For example, vegetable, flax, and corn oil have about twice the calories per gram as most grain.

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#11
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Re: The First Synthetic Breeders’ Cup: Results and Observations (Part 2)

10/30/2008 11:57 AM

Good Morning Savvy,

I live in the very middle of Florida, that's about 75 miles south from what Floridians call Horse Country, the greater Ocala area.

What is considered horse quality hay locally grown is coastal bermuda, a fine vined hay. If it is furtilized regularly, it is a good feed quality substance. 500/600 lb round bails sell for about $50 per roll except when supply gets short, then the price can creep upwards to $65. It is for the most part weed free and is never used for grazing stock. Then we have cattle quality hay that needs to be supplemented with mollasas, that sells for varying prices, depending on availability and size of rolls from 600 to 900 lbs. This generally starts around $35 to $40 per roll and makes its way up to about $55 per roll depending upon size and availability. Bails of Timothy and Timothy/alfalfa sell for $10/$12 year round locally. Horse feeds are "blended according to local area requirments" "what ever that means", and contains the same ingredients that you get there but the blend is adjusted to the least expensive materials available and then the oils added to bring it up to the protien standards as "advertised on the lable".

We don't have snow issues to deal with here so less inclosed stall area is needed for wintering over. But the grass in florida is known to be of minimal quality, tho filling.

I have no horses at this time tho I do have some cattle, mostly for the purpose of getting tha lowest tax rate. Property that would cost me $300 /$400 per acre is lowered to about $4 for the improved pasture exemption. By the time I pay for the suplimental hay and feed/molasas, I don's save anything, infact it is more costly, but I hate the tax collection process that much so I cheerfully buy the feed and enjoy babying the stock.

As for my idea of public investment in the growing yearlings, this might be a great way for the handicappers to make a little extra cash. They follow the breeding history fairly closely and might be able to make themselves better known by handicapping the chances that a particular yearling will make the grade as a running throughbred, or at least achieve success as a stud or dam, any of which could bring the penny stock investor a nice return on their investment. For certain, it would take the co-oporation of several of the largest breeding farms to pull this off, but the investment capital that comes in small amounts adds up quickly to a tidy sum and would help to off set the costs of holding over the yearlings for another year. It would also temporarily reduce the numbers of stock available at the sale barn, permitting more spirited bidding on the yearlings offered by the smaller breeders. Those buyers that typically buy several yearlings with the intention of culling the slow performers, might find themselves hanging on to the slower developers and get lucky with winners. It really isn't much different of an idea than the PC was. It was expected to only attract thousands of buyers but now even we have them. Likely a small group of enterprizing handicappers could find venture capital and some available small breeders with more pasture than they need to hold over some of these yearlings for the next years market. There wouldn't be a great deal of expense money expended in training these "slow growers", another reduction in costs, and the better developed stock would likely perform better on the softer racing surface. As a matter of fact that would be a good way to promote this investment gamble. Think about it. AND remember me for my unique idea, a little share of the wealth would be greatfully appreciated.

Toomuchfun

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#12
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Re: The First Synthetic Breeders’ Cup: Results and Observations (Part 2)

10/30/2008 12:14 PM

One downside of your idea of turning horses out for an extra year - if you want to keep colts as in-tact stallions (which I'm sure you do for $$ down the line), an extra year of "freedom" without being handled by humans might not be a good thing. They need to learn from a young age to respect a handler, both from the ground and in the saddle. They're not going to get that in the pasture, and nobody's going to pay for someone to play with them if they're not going to see dividends in return for another few years. True, warmbloods and sports horses are started much later than racing Thoroughbreds - but someone is usually laying down groundwork along the way. If not, someone is willing to take the time to do it later. In the racing world, time is always going to be money, and nobody's going to have a six months to a year to devote to that.

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#13
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Re: The First Synthetic Breeders’ Cup: Results and Observations (Part 2)

10/30/2008 1:02 PM

Hi again,

Again you are very correct, but many are gelded just because they are difficult to manage, and philly's can graze comfortably with them. A gelding named FOREGO comes to mind. Those that would be kept as stallions with the potential for reproduction are going to be reserved by the big money folks any way. This could also be a way that folks who dream of becoming recognized among the great trainers, could get a start in the handling and basic training for these beginners. After all not every one can find work as stall muckers and hot walkers at the tracks, and this would be a way for them to get a leg up in the trade. Many might find this sort of work near home, making their entrance into the sport of racing possible. "Who are you going to make this suggestion to as a possible new source of investment income?" HA HA!

I don't live close enough to Ocala to get to know the Southern Breeders, yet!

TMF

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#14
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Re: The First Synthetic Breeders’ Cup: Results and Observations (Part 2)

10/31/2008 7:50 AM

Yes, there have been a lot of great geldings - I had the pleasure of meeting John Henry at the KY Horse Park - gelding didn't do much for his attitude, unfortunately - I'd hate to see what he was like as a stallion! And I bet whoever gelded Funny Cide was kicking his or herself.

Not so sure that geldings and fillies should necessarily be pastured together. My childhood pony was gelded late and at about age 12 he still thought he could get our mare in foal. Most barns I know of, including the one I work out of now, pasture mares and geldings separately for herd dynamics.

It would be nice to get some "new blood" in the sport in terms of people. What scares me, though, are some things that I see in the hunter/jumper show world that I'd hate to see translate over to racing. Today's generation is more about getting results than worrying about how they get there. There's less focus on horsemanship and the horse itself, and more focus on the person doing it. The old days of the true horseman putting the horse first are dying out, and it's sad. (Of course in some ways this has been around in racing for awhile, but I would hate to see it turn that way in terms of care - that's one good thing racehorses have going for them!)

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Re: The First Synthetic Breeders’ Cup: Results and Observations (Part 2)

10/31/2008 11:15 AM

Good morning again Savvy,

I was born in South Carolina and my Family heritage is basically based in the piedmont and sandhill areas. However I am well aware that the sandhills and the foothills areas are poor places to farm. That is unless you are growing pine trees or bermuda grass This area is one of the more poorer/lower economic areas of the south east, but are high enough in elevation not to have a serious problem with pests like misquitos. However; like every where else fly's are abundant. Land values are low and wages are likewise. I would think that some serious enterprise investing folks might do something smart if well advised. Bermuda grass makes a good quality hay. Better if fertilized. I would think that this area would be an affordable area to hold over philly's and colts/geldings for eight months to a year to permit further natural growth and allow it to be accomplished affordably. There is a huge difference between the wage scale at places like Santa Anita, Bellmont, Church Hill Downs and other tracks that are also in or near the great metropolitan areas. Land could likely be leased for very reasonable prices and the Govt. would help with the cost of employment for someone willing to come in and create new jobs for the locals who are in desperate need them. My uncle who lives in Chesterfield S.C. has told me that he believes that as much as 50% of the local county population works for the State. And the state doesn't pay very well, they just offer these folks a bit of health ins. and a meager retirement. An area like this would be a great place to give this idea the possibility of success with out breaking the bank. Just a thought. "John Henry" another great gelding, that would not have had a chance if he broke down as a 2 yr. old.

Toomuchfun

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