Archives for June 2014


While American horse racing has gone another frustrating year without a Triple Crown champion, a scenario involving America’s favorite horse, California Chrome, might unfold that would be a boon for the sport in general and for the Breeders’ Cup Classic in particular.  The script would have the emotional draw of a Rocky Balboa movie.

Representing the United States in the Breeders’ Cup Classic would be the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner California Chrome, the colt with a modest pedigree, blue-collar owners, and a veteran trainer.  His opponent:  Epsom Derby winner Australia, by a champion and out of a champion, and hailing from Coolmore, a dominant racing and breeding enterprise.

California Chrome’s connections came east for the Triple Crown races with a willingness to take on all comers, led by an outspoken co-owner with a swagger who is not shy about speaking out against the status quo.  Australia’s discreet Coolmore connections also do not back off from challengers and have shown an inclination to run their best turf horses in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.  On a couple of occasions, the sportsmen from County Tipperary, Ireland, came close to beating America’s best dirt horses at their own game.

California Chrome is like the South Philly slugger Rocky Balboa and Australia is the presumptive heavyweight champion.  Australia’s trainer, Aidan O’Brien, said about his charge, “I’ve never had a horse like this.”  This comes from the man who has trained five Epsom Derby winners and conditioned the likes of Giant’s Causeway and Camelot.

California Chrome vs. Australia at Santa Anita in November for the world championship.  The overachieving Kentucky Derby winner vs. the blueblood Epsom Derby winner for all the chips–horse racing’s version of the “Rumble in the Jungle” or the “Thrilla in Manila.”  That’s a storyline for which to hope for.

Copyright 2014 Blood-Horse Publications.  Used with permission.



Negative publicity has plagued prominent companies and individuals involved with horse racing in the weeks leading up to the Triple Crown.  Reaction was swift and intense after Churchill Downs raised its takeout rate on wagering, Keeneland announced its intention to abandon its synthetic racetrack surface, and PETA made allegations about misconduct in a leading trainer’s barn.

Churchill Downs Inc. was also hit with criticism from owners about how they had been treated during Kentucky Derby week.

Every public and private business must determine how transparent to be in dealing with the public, not just in responding to adversity and controversies, but in all matters.

Jack Welch, the legendary former chairman of the General Electric Corporation, recently recommended (in Business Week and on LinkedIn) four rules for achieving a level of transparency that balances the need for forthright public relations with legitimate concerns about strategic privacy.

Welch’s first rule applies to public companies like several racetracks and casinos.  Financial information provided to the media, investors, and analysts, “can’t be transparent enough” in order to build trust.  By contrast, the second rule is that a company “can’t be too secretive” about strategic information that allows it to gain a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

The third rule mandates that employees should be the first to learn of “life-altering events” like the sale of the company or layoffs.  News that takes them by surprise is “just awful leadership,” Welch said.

The fourth rule is the most difficult to follow and one that is routinely violated.  When bad news strikes, the company should react with “full-bore openness” and let the world know that management is energetically “focused on fixing what went wrong,”  Welch said.  This requires people to “do something unnatural, which is to go public when they most want to hide in a cave” and issue “evasive statements.”

In 2014, CNBC named Welch number 12 on its list of “rebels, icons, and leaders” who most impacted business in the past 25 years.

Copyright © 2014 Blood-Horse Publications.  Used with permission.


The last American Triple Crown winner was Affirmed in 1978.  Since then, twelve colts have won both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness but faltered in the Belmont, the latest being California Chrome.  The long absence of a Triple Crown champion has been attributed to causes ranging from genetics and training regimens to the requirement that a horse run three grueling races over a five-week period.

While these may be contributing factors, a more obvious reason is simply that the amount of competition in the Belmont has been much greater since 1978.  The average field size for the eleven Triple Crown winners was 5.4 with a median field size of 5.  Sir Barton in 1919 and Count Fleet in 1943 faced only two rivals.  Citation in 1948 and Seattle Slew in 1974 were in the largest fields, with seven other horses.

In comparison, the average field size for the eleven colts that came up short in the Belmont post 1978 was 9.5 with a median field size also of 9.5 horses.  Charismatic in 1999 had the most competitors, with a 12-horse field, whereas Funny Cide in 2002 was in the smallest field at 6.  Even the formidable duo of Easy Goer and Sunday Silence in 1989 did not scare off many competitors, as the Belmont drew ten entries.

Colts that won the Triple Crown from 1919 through 1978 raced in fields that, on average, were 43.2% smaller than those faced by the twelve colts since 1978 who won the first two legs of the Triple Crown but failed to win the Belmont.

Larger field sizes mean that the winner of the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness must contend with more fresh horses that have not been through the rigors of the first two races.  Poor racing luck also becomes more of a risk as field size increases.

Copyright © 2014 Blood-Horse Publications.  Used with permission.