Bob Baffert is factually the most accomplished American trainer of Thoroughbred racehorses in the long history of the sport.  Similarly, Urban Meyer coached three collegiate football teams to national championships, which puts him in the upper echelon of college coaches historically.  John Gruden is not in the “great” category of NFL coaches, but he is certainly “very good” (as shown by his $10 million annual salary) and coached Tampa Bay to a Super Bowl victory.

Yet all three of these exceptional achievers suddenly have tarnished reputations, Baffert for his trainee Medina Spirit testing positive for a prohibited substance after winning the Kentucky Derby, Meyer for depiction in a video that went viral of him up close and personal in his Columbus, Ohio, bar/restaurant with a young woman, and Gruden for sending emails years ago containing derogatory remarks about several NFL participants.

A common thread in these episodes is that self-destructive behavior was amplified by a combination of smart phones, social media, email, texts, and the common carrier internet. High-profile individuals of previous eras did not have to account for these modern marvels.

In the case of Baffert, he went on national television shortly after the 2021 Kentucky Derby, apparently unprepared, and blamed the “cancel culture” for his dilemma.  Then he gave another interview and seemed to imply that some unnamed source was out to get him.  The woe-is-me explanations were pilloried in social media and added fuel to an already raging PR fire.

Meyer had a business reason to be in his own eating and drinking establishment, but he should have known that, as a former Ohio State University football coach, he would be swamped by fans…and recorded on smart phones.  This is precisely what happened when a suggestively-dancing young woman approached him while he appeared to be sitting on a bar stool…and a smart-phone visual promptly went out across the internet.

Gruden would likely have survived and remained coach of the Las Vegas Raiders had he made (deniable) oral comments rather than put them in emails.  The emails proved to be the “smoking gun” that ensured his downfall.

Given human frailties, all people whose jobs put them in the public eye have said and done things they would not want to become widely known.  But the singularity of the current day and age is that smart phones make reporters of us all, social media informs the world with lightning speed, and ratings-hungry news sources are always looking for click bait like Baffert, Meyer, and Gruden provided.

Many prudent leaders of business and non-profit organizations do not use corporate email and personal social media, and don’t put themselves in compromising situations.  That way, words and actions cannot be twisted and misconstrued. And legal and public-relations disasters don’t come about by comments or incidents of the kind that ensnared winners, respectively, of two Triple Crowns, three NCAA football titles, and a Super Bowl.

Copyright © 2021 Horse Racing Business


Sports fans savior an underdog story, where the person or team with little chance pulls off a huge upset or where an athlete ascends from meager beginnings to achieve mightily. Upset the colt administers Man o’ War his only defeat, the USA Hockey team wins the 1980 Olympics, brash Cassius Clay stops supposedly unbeatable Sonny Liston to win boxing’s World Heavyweight Championship, and many more such examples live on.

Two longshot outcomes occurred this past weekend, one in collegiate football and the other in the premier global turf event in horse racing.

The Cincinnati Bearcats football team, known historically as a pedestrian mid-level competitor, went to South Bend, Indiana, and took down the University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish, a famed blueblood program for over a century.  Although Cincinnati had an undefeated record entering the game and was slightly favored, taking on the similarly unbeaten Fighting Irish in their tradition-laden home stadium filled with rabid supporters was a tall order.  But the “underdog wins” aspect of the game pertains to the life story of Desmond Ridder, the Bearcats’ quarterback, who skillfully led his team to victory in a hostile environment.

Ridder is the personification of overcoming adversity, who has vastly surpassed what experts once thought of his athletic ability and potential. The 6’ 4” Ridder was born in Louisville, Kentucky, to a 15-year-old mother. Ridder aspired to play football and indeed he did, first at Holy Family School and then at St. Xavier High School.  However, coming out of high school, he had only two college scholarship offers, from Eastern Kentucky University and the University of Cincinnati, where he blossomed into the NFL-caliber quarterback he is today. In fact, Ridder passed up the chance to enter the NFL draft in order to finish his college career.

Another “longshot prevails” story occurred in Sunday’s Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp outside Paris, when 80-1 Torquator Tasso from Germany won the race.  What The Guardian reported cogently sums up the feat: “There was a stunned silence in the crowd, apart from the ripping up of betting tickets.”

One of the allures of sports is the possibility, however remote, that a monumental upset will occur or that an unheralded athlete will excel beyond all expectations.  Certainly, horse racing is replete with such narratives: Dark Star edging the great Native Dancer in the 1953 Kentucky Derby, John Henry rising from the claiming ranks to become one of the leading racehorses of all time, Mine That Bird winning the Kentucky Derby and many more.

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The Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic on November 6, 2021 at Del Mar is shaping up as a very competitive race.  The two likely favorites, Essential Quality and Knicks Go, have the same trainer, Brad Cox, although have different owners.  Following are the major contenders a little over five weeks from the race.

Essential Quality, owned by Godolphin, has won eight of nine races, with his only blemish coming in the 2021 Kentucky Derby in which he ran fourth after having a wide trip from post position 14.  He has earned $4.2 million.  His most notable wins were the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, the Belmont, Jim Dandy, and Travers in 2021.

Knicks Go, stablemate to Essential Quality, has earned $5.4 million from 22 starts, with eight wins, three seconds, and a third.  Owned by Korean Racing Authority, the 5-year-old won the 2020 Breeders’ Cup (dirt) Mile, the 2021 Whitney, and holds the Keeneland record for 1 1/16 miles on dirt.

Maxfield is a 4-year old owned by Godolphin, with earnings of $1.5 million from nine starts.  His record is seven wins, a place, and a show.  As a 2-year-old, he won a Grade 1 sprint.  Injury kept him out of the 2019 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and the 2020 Kentucky Derby.  Since his return to racing, he has won several Grade 2 and Grade 3 races.

Hot Rod Charlie most recently won the Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby.  In that race, he survived not being disqualified after a bumping incident with Midnight Bourbon.  In August, Hot Rod Charlie was disqualified from his win in the Haskell for an incident that unseated Midnight Bourbon’s jockey. Hot Rod Charlie was second to Essential Quality in the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, third in the 2021 Kentucky Derby, and second in the Belmont.  His record is three wins, two seconds, and a third in eleven starts.  His trainer, Doug O’Neill, said that he will put blinkers on the colt to try to correct his habit of not running in a straight line.

Medina Spirit won the 2021 Kentucky Derby, was third in the Preakness, and second in the Santa Anita Derby.  He tested positive for a banned substance in the Kentucky Derby and, once legal proceedings are finished, will likely be disqualified.  Overall, he has a record of four wins, three seconds, and a third from eight starts, with earnings of $2.4 million (subject to change, depending on the conclusive Kentucky Derby ruling.)  At this writing, the Breeders’ Cup board is determining whether to permit Medina Spirit’s trainer, Bob Baffert, to run horses in the upcoming Breeders’ Cup, so whether Medina Spirit will be entered is presently unknown. (If Baffert is banned, the colt could conceivably be moved to another trainer and run.)

Max Player won the 2021 Jockey Club Gold Cup and the Suburban.  Owned by George Hall, he has a record of four wins, a second, and two thirds from eleven starts and earnings of $1.3 million.

Midnight Bourbon has been very competitive in 2021.  After finishing sixth in the Kentucky Derby, he was second in the Preakness and second in the Travers.  He might have won the Haskell had not his jockey been unseated by clipping heels with Hot Rod Charlie.  Midnight Bourbon has earned $1.1 million from two wins, three seconds, and three thirds in twelve starts.

The Breeders’ Cup Classic winner could come from a long-shot contender like King Fury or a European entrant.  At the moment, however, trainer Brad Cox holds the strongest hand with Essential Quality and Knicks Go.

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