The Season Of The Gaping Hole

It's a first for all of us

We would have lost over 40 racemeetings by the time we, hopefully, recommence our daily intake of the good stuff at Fairview on 1 May.

The impact of the lockdown will obviously impact across the board, with breeders in the forefront of the firing line and now probably having to wait until October for much needed income from the postponed National sale – cash that would have reached the bank in June in a time of normalcy.

While every stakeholder group has been hit hard, it’s our heavily invested paddock principals that could languish with this hangover for years to come. Logistically and financially, they’re somewhere between a rock and a hard place, with the bank manager now superceding the vet on the Christmas Card list.

And in a time of national guilt and stark reality, there will also be plenty of consideration as to where to pitch stallion service fees for the new season.

A North American breeder recently announced that all his stallions would be free of service fees, while Darley Australia published their fees yesterday with cuts across the board, bar the fabulous Exceed And Excel.

There will be other practical spin-offs of the gaping hole on a season that will be remembered for decades to come.

Frances J. Karon writes on that the shutdown in the USA will continue to place untold financial burdens on owners, trainers, breeders, stud farms, etc. — everyone, at every level, is affected, but the freshman sires stand to get hit pretty hard.

I’ve written before about the first-season sire phenomenon.

It’s this subset of stallions that people get the most excited about every year as the 2yo races start to get rolling.

From the farms that invest a lot of money to secure breeding rights, the first three years’ worth of breeders who commit their mares, the weanling-to-yearling pinhookers, the yearling end-user buyers, to the yearling-to-juvenile pinhookers, a lot of people have a lot riding on these stallions.

By the time a horse’s first 2yos get to the track, three years will have been blindly invested into making him a success, and though the result of a sire’s first 2yo season is not necessarily an accurate gauge, it’s considered a very important litmus test.

In an industry that’s quick to pass judgment, getting early winners in lucrative maiden special weights at the ‘big name’ tracks is everything.

Last April at Keeneland, freshman sires Wicked Strong, Carpe Diem, Fast Anna, and Palace Malice were represented by their first winners, in $60,000 maiden special weight races.

American Pharoah

American Pharoah and Constitution, the leading North American freshmen at the end of the year, both had their first N.A. winners in $100,000 maidens at Aqueduct, American Pharoah on April 19th and Constitution on May 2nd. That was American Pharoah’s second winner, after one in Ireland on April 13th.

Now, with the delayed opening of racing at Churchill Downs — another venue with early 2yo maiden races — there are more missed opportunities for precocious and ready juveniles. Last May 1st, The Big Beast had his first winner there, in a $100,000 race.

The loss of so many races obviously gives freshman sires fewer chances to get winners to impress with impressive year-end totals.

Will racing secretaries at, say, Saratoga, Del Mar, and Monmouth write more maidens to compensate for what was lost this spring at Keeneland, Aqueduct, Belmont, Churchill, and Santa Anita?

Even if racetracks were to card more 2yo maidens, there would still be less of them compared to previous years, and it stands to reason that these races will have fuller, more competitive fields, which may be good for racing but won’t necessarily be ideal for producing lots of individual winners by freshman sires.

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