When quarterbacks Josh Allen of the Buffalo Bills and Baker Mayfield of the Cleveland Browns led their teams to places in the 2020/2021 National Football League playoffs, it reminded me again about how exceptional athletes, human or equine, are often overlooked early-on by talent evaluators with a reputation for expertise.

Josh Allen in high school sent approximately 1,000 emails to college coaches inquiring about playing for them.  Only the University of Wyoming showed interest. After a year in junior college, Allen transferred to Wyoming and took the Cowboys to a conference championship and two bowl games.  Drafted by the Bills at number seven in the first round of the 2018 NFL draft, Allen developed into a franchise-caliber quarterback.  Similarly, Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield was a walk-on at Texas Tech University before transferring to the University of Oklahoma, where he won many honors including the coveted Heisman Trophy.  He was drafted first overall by the Browns in 2018. 

Many such cases can be readily cited in any sport.  How in the world did Michael Jordan get rejected by his junior high’s basketball coach? Johnny Unitas was one of the greatest NFL quarterbacks of all time, yet he was virtually unwanted by the pros out of college.  Tom Brady, arguably the greatest NFL signal caller ever, was a sixth-round pick of the New England Patriots. The list goes on.

In horse racing, John Henry and Seattle Slew were low-priced yearlings and Sunday Silence and Northern Dancer did not meet modest reserve prices at auction and were returned to their consigners.  The recently retired Maximum Security, who won over $12 million on the track, as a 3-year-old ran in a $16,000 claiming race.  Tiz the Law, also recently retired with earnings of over $2.7 million, was deemed insufficiently qualified for the 2017 Saratoga Fasig-Tipton select sale of yearlings and instead brought $110,000 in the Fasig-Tipton sale of New York breds.

No matter the sport, the potential is always there to find a diamond in the rough.  In horse racing, a seven-figure yearling at auction may temporarily get the publicity.  But two or three years later, a lesser purchase, or a reserved not attained, may get star billing.  This is the hope and challenge of buying a future racehorse.

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