Racing Needs True Heroes More Than Ever

This column is about the loss of a Thoroughbred and those horses who endure and provide years of enjoyment to so many racing fans. It is also about the emotional aspect of the sport that often goes beyond winning, and about the resilience and competitive spirit of the Thoroughbred. ~ Steve Haskin

Racing Needs True Heroes More Than Ever

By Steve Haskin

Casa Creed  – 2023 Kelso Stakes


I was there when Ruffian broke down. I stood on the track when they loaded Barbaro into the horse ambulance and then had to cover the race. I also had to cover the races in which we lost Eight Belles, Prairie Bayou, and George Washington. And there were others. All were some of the most agonizing days of my life. Each time I screamed under my breath, “Enough, I can’t handle this anymore.” When Go For Wand broke down in such a horrific manner in 1990 I wanted desperately to leave, but I had to stay and cover the Breeders’ Cup Turf, a race that suddenly seemed so insignificant. I’ve witnessed the tears and shed more than a few myself. Haven’t all of us who love this sport? But every time racing finds itself drowning in tears it is the Thoroughbred that rescues it.

The bottom line is, this is the sport I fell in love with, because the beauty and the majesty of the Thoroughbred that lured me in back in 1967 still stirs my emotions and thank goodness it has not let me quit during the rare times of gut-wrenching sadness and despair. I still grieve for all horses we lose and those close to them, but like Maple Leaf Mel’s trainer Melanie Giddings, who has suffered so much anguish in her young life on so many levels, said to the Daily Racing Form’s Dave Grening, “Can’t quit now, right?”

On the Oklahoma training track, just a short distance from Giddings’ barn, life went on as usual Sunday morning. It had to. There are rows and rows of barns filled with horses who want nothing more than to go out there and run their heart out. They know little or nothing of the grief humans can suffer. They just know the undying love and dedication their caretakers have for them. 

Giddings expressed her feelings on Facebook several days later: “Her heart was bigger than the grandstand and if I could tell her it was okay to run last and just come back to me I would, but trust me she wouldn’t. The passion she had to run was incredible. I told the world about her every chance I had because she was special and I will never forget what she gave to me. I will continue to find ways to honor her forever and not a day goes by I will forget her. I lost my best friend that day.”

These horses become our heroes and there are few things more precious to me than my own. I wouldn’t trade the memories of Damascus, Dr. Fager, Arts and Letters, and Gallant Bloom, and so many others after them, for anything. They gave me my life. I owe the Thoroughbred everything and will never desert them because I know what magnificence they bring to the world.

But I admit the sport has changed. With racing’s transient nature of having its top horses passing through quickly and then returning to the world of breeding sheds, pastures, and rolling hills before we got a chance to know them, it is important to occasionally take time out and salute the old warriors who race long after the young studs have departed.

We all have horses that have touched our hearts more than others. This is the story of two such horses that stand out to me, to whom racing fans owe a great deal for providing us with so many memorable moments over so many years. The third horse mentioned shows how one can be rewarded with time and patience.

Casa Creed Building a Strong Fan Base

Whether Cody’s Wish wins or loses the rest of the year he still will be one of the favorites to take home his second straight Secretariat Vox Populi Award as the most popular horse as voted on by the American public. But he will, or should, have some serious competition from one of the great old warriors seen in years, Casa Creed, a complete horse who seems to be running his best races at the age of 7.

While Cody’s Wish’s popularity originates from the heartwarming story of his namesake Cody Dorman, Casa Creed, even though owned by one of the most likeable owners in Lee Einsidler, has gained the affection of fans through his continuing exploits on the racetrack.

But Casa Creed’s growing reputation is not based on his number of victories or even his number of in-the-money performances, as he has lost 24 of his 32 races and been out of the money 14 times. Well, the legendary Kelso finished out of the money 10 times. Native Diver, one of the most popular horses in the history of California racing, finished out of the money 25 times. One of the greatest warriors of all time, Exterminator, finished out of the money 16 times. Seabiscuit, certainly one of the most popular horses in racing history, finished out of the money 28 times, though most of those were early in his career. We can say the same about John Henry.

No one holds Kelso’s defeats against him, or Forego, or Whirlaway. It is the victories and the heart and courage and resilience a horse shows over a long period of time that one remembers. And no horse racing today has shown more heart, courage, and resilience over a long period of time than Casa Creed. He always gives 100 percent, as indicated by the fact that 16 of his defeats were by less than three lengths, with nine of those less than two lengths. In his last 16 races his biggest margin of defeat was 4 1/4 lengths and that was at 5 1/2 furlongs, which didn’t suit his come-from-behind style of running.

Racing on the grass and being dependent on pace, he has been versatile enough to win at six furlongs twice, seven furlongs once, 7 1/2 furlongs once, one mile three times, and seven furlongs on dirt once. He also was second, beaten a head going 6 1/2 furlongs, and was beaten 2 1/4 lengths going 1 1/16 miles.

He has taken Einsidler and partner JEH Stable and trainer Bill Mott to New York, Florida, California, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and as far off as Dubai and Saudi Arabia twice, where he finished second, beaten a neck, in the 2022 Saudi Arabia Turf Sprint and returned in 2023 to finish second, beaten a head. He also was beaten only 2 1/4 lengths in the Al Quoz Sprint in Dubai. This horse has earned almost $2.2 million on guts alone.

“He has meant so much to our life,” Einsidler said. “He’s taken us around the world. When Kenny McPeek bought him for us for $105,000 as a yearling he said he’s the type who should be ready by early Saratoga, and we’ve had so much fun with him. Here he is 7 years old and his last race (a victory in the one-mile Kelso Stakes) was as good as any he’s run in his life. Before the race he had his neck bowed and was dancing on his toes like it was time for business.

“After the Kelso (in which he defeated Todd Pletcher’s top-class Annapolis) I asked Bill if we should pass the Fourstardave and have a fresh horse for the Woodbine Mile. He said, ‘I want to show you something.’ He took me over to look at the horse and said, “He doesn’t even look like he ran. We can run him in the Fourstardave and the Woodbine Mile.’ “

That isn’t something you see often in a 7-year-old horse who has been running hard all over the world. In 2022, after getting beat a neck in Saudi Arabia and 2 1/4 lengths in Dubai, he returned home and won the grade 1 Jaipur Stakes, blazing six furlongs in 1:07 2/5, and came right back to win the grade 1 Fourstardave at Saratoga, going a mile in 1:34 1/5. Despite having won at a mile it was decided to run him in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint going 5 1/2 furlongs. Although he was good enough to win going six furlongs, shortening him up to 5 1/2 furlongs was asking just a little too much of him, having to come from far back in such a big field. Even though he was more than nine lengths back at the top of stretch he still was beaten only 4 1/4 lengths by some of the best grass sprinters in the world.

At a time when most top horses are retired early, here is Bill Mott winning major stakes this year with the 5-year-olds Cody’s Wish and Elite Power, the 6-year-old War Like Goddess, the 7-year-old Casa Creed, and the 9-year-old Channel Maker. If this doesn’t inspire owners to keep their horses racing nothing will. All you have to do is look at how much fun the owners of these horses are having and you are reminded why most owners buy horses in the first place.

And so Casa Creed, who it must be reminded again is not a gelding, keeps rolling along and loving being a racehorse. And for popularity purposes it must be remembered that he first sold as a yearling at the OBS January mixed sale for only $15,000 to someone named Amalio Ruiz-Lozano, who then pinhooked him for a good profit. So when it comes time to vote for the Vox Populi Award I hope people keep this old warrior in mind. He is everything the sport of racing stands for, and he does it just by being himself.

The Channel That Just Keeps on Playing

What we said about Casa Creed can also be said of another warrior, Channel Maker, who at the age of 9 still has that big race in him, and while he has slowed down and those big races are few and far between, when he turns in a performance like the one we saw in the recent grade 2 Bowling Green Stakes at Saratoga it has to stir the emotions, just as it did watching his stablemate Casa Creed win the Kelso.

Both still have that spark and love being a racehorse. But with the big races coming up and the impending European invasion, this actually might be the right time to let the old boy go out in style and have that big grade 2 win sitting atop his past performances. Even with his four grade 1 victories, in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic twice, Man o’War Stakes, and Sword Dancer Stakes, his Eclipse Award as champion Male Turf Horse at age 7, and earning almost $3.9 million, he would always be remembered for winning a grade 2 stakes at Saratoga at age 9 and going out a winner.

But whatever they decide to do it has been a joy to watch him run for so many years and still be a horse to reckon with when things go his way.

“Isn’t it amazing, I don’t know how he does it,” said Dean Reeves, who with his wife Patti bought Channel Maker at the OBS April 2-year-old sale for $185,000 and own the horse in partnership with Gary Barber, Wachtel Stable, and R.A. Hill Stable. “It must be something in them from a mental standpoint to still love what they’re doing at this age. Maybe this will convince owners that many horses don’t even peak until they’re 5 or 6. I know he’s changed my outlook and I’ll keep running these horses longer from now on.”

Reeves should know about longevity. He also owns the New York-bred City Man, who has won or placed in 16 stakes, in state-bred and open company. The son of the Reeves’ foundation horse Mucho Macho Man is still going strong at age 6, coming off a stakes victory at Belmont, blazing 1 1/16 miles in 1:39 2/5. He also set a new course record at Aqueduct last year, going 1 1/8 miles in 1:46 4/5.

As for Channel Maker, he also has won or placed in 16 graded stakes in the United States and Canada, including a third in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at age 7, two grade 1 placings at Del Mar and Santa Anita, and a second in the Turf Cup in Saudi Arabia. You just don’t see resumes like that at such a high level over so long a period of time.

It is so refreshing to see horses like Casa Creed and Channel Maker and feel as if we know them, unlike all the horses that are retired at an early age and with so few starts. These old warriors add so much fun to the sport and remind us old timers of the horses we grew up with. And it is these horses we hold dear to our heart. Kudos to the owners of Casa Creed and Channel Maker and to Bill Mott, who remains an old school trainer who thinks long term and is not obsessed with getting a horse to the Kentucky Derby. If it happens it happens, but only if the horse takes him there. He knows what they are capable of when fully mature at 4 and 5 and in some cases, as you have just seen, older than that.

Racing’s stars today burn brightly for only a short time, so when stars like Casa Creed and Channel Maker come along it is reassuring to know we can gaze upon them and enjoy their brilliance for many years. Isn’t that the essence of what this sport is about?

Speaking of 9-year-olds, we also have to acknowledge another old warrior, Red Knight, who was able to emulate the great John Henry by winning a grade 1 stakes at age 9 this year, taking the prestigious Man o’ War Stakes. The past two years he has won a grade 1, grade 2, and grade 3 stakes in three different states under three different jockeys. So let’s put aside all those quick fix horses who come and go in a flash and salute those tough, resilient old boys who come out punching round after round and do it year after year. They are all true Thoroughbreds.

The Rebirth of High Oak

While on the subject of emotional performances, let’s return to Lee Einsidler and Bill Mott, who are having quite a Saratoga meet so far. How about the story of their 4-year-old colt High Oak? This was a horse meant for great things, but was deprived of fame and glory by an incident that should never have happened, but cost him dearly.

The son of Gormley, who Einsidler picked up for a mere $70,000 at the Keeneland September yearling sale, was a precocious 2-year-old who won first out at Belmont in late June of 2021. Mott thought so highly of the colt he threw him right into the grade 2 Saratoga Special, where he crushed the promising Gunite by 4 1/4 lengths at odds of 10-1.

Sent off at 5-2 in the grade 1 Hopeful Stakes, he banged his leg very hard on the side of the gate at the break. He was in good position early, but tired to finish a well-beaten fourth behind Gunite, the horse he had just easily defeated. After the race, jockey Junior Alvarado told Mott and Einsidler there was something wrong with the horse. It was discovered he had the beginnings of a small fracture and was put away for six months.

The plan was to come back in the seven-furlong Swale Stakes, but High Oak came down with a fever and Mott had no choice but to run him in the 1 1/16-mile Fountain of Youth Stakes. He was making what looked like a winning move nearing the head of the stretch when another horse came in on him forcing him to clip heels and fall heavily to the ground. Fortunately, he was OK physically, but the incident caused emotional scars that would mar his career. It would take him a year to get back to the races, returning in a seven-furlong allowance race at Gulfstream this past March. Although he was bet down to 3-1 he showed no desire to run and was beaten almost 39 lengths. Mott sent him up to Aqueduct and ran him right back 3 1/2 weeks later in another seven-furlong allowance race. Once again, High Oak never ran a lick and was beaten 36 lengths. It seemed apparent that the spill and the trauma had taken the spirit out of him.

Mott then tried the grass, running him the seven-furlong Elusive Quality Stakes hoping that would put some life back in him, and although he did improve he still was beaten almost 11 lengths at odds of 22-1. Mott refused to give up on him and dropped him back to a six-furlong allowance race. Sent off at 33-1, he basically ran around the track and was beaten a little over 10 lengths. It was feared he no longer wanted to be a racehorse and those promising days early in his career when he looked like a sure-fire star were far behind him.

But after the race Alvarado came back and said simply, “Much better.” Mott felt as long as the horse looked good and trained well he wouldn’t give up on him, and High Oak, according to Einsidler, “was in great flesh and looked awesome.”

So Mott brought him up to Saratoga and ran him this past Saturday in a six-furlong allowance race with Katie Davis aboard. Sent off at 19-1, he dropped back to last and still trailed the field at the top of the stretch, some 10 lengths back. It looked like another dud performance that could have finally ended his career as a racehorse. But then something happened. After turning for home he began to show some life for the first time all year. He started picking off horses along the rail, but was still far back at the eighth pole. He kept coming, getting stronger and stronger, and at the finish was second, beaten 1 1/4 lengths. He was closing so fast he surged far ahead of the winner on the gallop-out.

Track announcer Frank Mirahmadi called, “A hard-charging High Oak flew into second.

A thrilled and emotional Lee Einsidler said, “That was the resurrection of Christ for God’s sake. I never felt so good losing.”

No one knows what the future holds for High Oak, but it showed what patience and determination can do and never losing faith in your horse. It also showed that God-given talent isn’t something that burns out. It often just requires time to rekindle the flame. We wish High Oak all the best the rest of the year.

And may we always remember Maple Leaf Mel and all the joy she brought to her trainer and owner Bill Parcells, one of the sport’s great ambassadors. Melanie Giddings will never replace her beloved Mel, but you can bet she will always be looking for another horse to take her on such a magical journey, as brief as it was. For now, memories are all she has, but like with all trainers the future will always look bright.

Photos courtesy of NYRA/Adam Coglianese and Steve Haskin

Racing historian, author, and award-winning retired journalist for the Daily Racing Form and The Blood-Horse, Steve Haskin was inducted into the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame’s Media Roll of Honor in 2016. Known for his racing knowledge and insightful prose, he has been an exclusive contributor to since 2020.



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148 Responses to “Racing Needs True Heroes More Than Ever”

  1. Matthew W says:

    Woman who has been protesting outside Del Mar racetrack for twenty years recently quoted “any horse death, even ONE—is too much, and necessitates the closing of the sport”. ..that is the opposition’s standpoint, it’s why they can never be at the bargaining table, because they WANT the sport to cease existence..

  2. John Goggin says:

    Don’t know what the Beyer number for Prince of Monaco’s win yesterday in the Best Pal Stakes but he did set a stakes record and has the best time for six furlongs this year at Del Mar over The Chosen Vron’s time.
    I know it’s comparing apples with oranges but The Chosen Vron received a 96 Beyer for his win in the Bing Crosby Stakes two weeks ago.

  3. Todd Vaughn says:

    I just read that Nick Zito may soon be getting his hands on some better horses. He also has no intention to retire. It would be great for racing to see him return to prominence. Right now, he reminds me of Hemingway’s title character from ‘ The old man and the sea’ who also was a Yankees fan. Hope Zito gets the big one and avoids the sharks.

  4. Matthew W says:

    Del Mar third race today….is why this sort is king….first time starter….bad break, falls far back…stays wide entire way…..ah….wahh…..HUH?….camera man focused on the winner, the winner….oh wait….

    • Matthew W says:

      …and in the next race is why Prat flew west— to ride Prince of Monaco, the $950 colt vs Muth the $2 million colt—Prince of Monaco 8 lengths back— gets into the bit and dusts him, 1:09 flat for a 2yo—-and he wants longer….

  5. John Goggin says:

    An 86 Beyer for Rhyme Schemes in winning the Saratoga Special? Seems a little low for me….especially after a 94 Beyer in his previous race. Anyway, congrats to the winner who looked dominate.

    • Ms Blacktype says:

      I’m with you, John. Seems like the Beyer folks just look at the last Beyer for the second place horse and work out the math from there. These 2YOs are improving with every race.

    • Matthew W says:

      There was a Slew of next our winners, from his maiden win, making it a key race—same winning margin, perhaps was a stronger field than yesterday’s stakes?…

  6. Lynda King says:

    If anyone follows Summerwind on FB, take a look at her post about the Saratoga Special race today.
    Her farm bred Edified.
    Hope the colt came out of that OK.
    Sorry, not sorry, Irad would NOT ride my horses.

    • Ms Blacktype says:

      Let me guess, Lynda — Irad was involved in that double mugging! Such a shame that it happened to such a nice colt.

  7. Ms Blacktype says:

    Well, Steve, you put your finger on the pulse of racing again. Casa Creed was “all racehorse” as Maggie Wolfendale said, after winning the Fourstardave in a come-from-behind finish, out-gutting Annapolis at the wire. What a performance.

    And we may have seen the 2YO champion of 2023 in Rhyme Schemes, who blew away the field in the Saratoga Special. (He DID mug Edifying, my pick, at the break). Hope that horse comes out of the race fine and has better luck another day.

    • Lynda King says:

      Poor Edified got mugged twice in that race. He is lucky to have come out OK as far as we know at least.

  8. Jerre George says:

    Hi Steve. Casa Creed gave us a very exciting race today in the Fourstardave Handicap. Because of your article i was rooting him on and am now a big fan. The commentators gave him a lot of love. Breeders Cup, here he comes!

  9. Matthew W says:

    Pimlico is thinking about moving The Preakness four weeks after the Derby, but if Belmont remains five weeks after The Derby I think that would make The Preakness even more irrelevant….I know how most purists feel, about changing the TC, but Horse Racing has changed, no doubt about it—- 1969 was the last time they tooled the TC, moving the Belmont from two weeks after the Preakness—to three weeks after….

    • arlingtonfan says:

      A NYRA spokesperson responded, “We have no plans to move the date of the Belmont Stakes.”

      This could get interesting.

      • Ms Blacktype says:

        Or nothing could come of it. That’s my prediction.

      • Steve Haskin says:

        Good for NYRA. If the Preakness and Belmont conflict and there is no Triple Crown the Preakness wont even get the Derby winner.

        • Jiffy says:

          If that happens, there could be no Triple Crown as we know it, but some track would schedule a 1 3/16-mile stakes for three-year-olds on the third Saturday of May and immediately become part of a new Triple Crown. When the Derby was moved to September because of COVID, Oaklawn was quick to move the Arkansas Derby to the first Saturday of May, and something like that could happen in this case. Pimlico would only be hurting itself with such a move. I don’t think they’re going to manage to bully New York on anything.

    • Davids says:

      Matthew, it’s an interesting problematic. Pimlico are right in believing that the Preakness is becoming irrelevant to a certain extent with many trainers simply bypassing the Preakness altogether.

      Hard to determine if the shift would impact the Belmont Stakes field or not but the Preakness would probably get better fields. The obvious problem is, if there is a colt that has won two legs of the Triple Crown, winning the Triple would be quite insurmountable should the Belmont Stakes remain around the same date in early June.

      • Matthew W says:

        Davids I think moving the Preakness and keeping the Belmont where it is. ..would result in a weaker Prekness, and a weaker Preakness weekend altogether….. Belmont has seven gr1s, on Belmont Day, horsemen will simply try for the Derby/Belmont double…..Preakness is losing its MOJO, as has the Big Cap and the Woodward, one time America’s two biggest older horse races.

        • Davids says:

          Matthew, Pimlico may be thinking they have nothing to lose in shifting the date of the Preakness and may in fact get more Kentucky Derby competitors to run in the Preakness than what they are receiving now.

          With the Belmont Stakes you are getting colts that benefit from the extra distance and are somewhat disadvantage but the shorter distance of the Preakness. For colts intending to run in the Peter Pan Stakes but not the Belmont Stakes they would now have the option of running in the Preakness instead of the Peter Pan Stakes.

    • Lynda King says:

      Matthew W, moving the Preakness to 3 or 4 weeks after the Derby, in the long run, will do little to help the Pimlico racetrack.

      Part of the track’s property line in located in a bad section of town (high crime rates). You might even recall a shooting that took place just outside the facility several years ago.

      The infrastructure cannot accommodate the crowds that come for the Preakness and the facility is long overdue for hundreds of millions of dollars in repairs and upgrades.

      The prevailing political climate in Maryland is not supportive of the sport and the funding of renovations.

      The NYRA as Ms B mentioned is adamant about not changing the running of the Belmont Stakes 5 weeks from the Derby.

      Interesting what Stonach will do. He might even sell the property. That would be sad considering the history of Pimlico and horsecracing in Marylsnd.

      Sadder still is the fact that the American Thoroughbred has been reduced to a fragile horse as the result of generation after generation of inbreeding for speed and stud value both of which have severely compromised stamina, durability and longevity.
      If a horse is so wiped out by a race that it cannot come back and race in two weeks then that horse jas no business racing.

      At this rate, pretty soon the Triple Crown will be run on Quarter Horse tracks in Texas and Oklahoma.

      • Todd Vaughn says:

        The horses are not only increasingly fragile, they are slow, particularly over a distance of ground. Flightline was an aberration. There should have been horses to at least challenge him, but they don’t exist anymore. I was looking at a list of winners of the United Nations at Atlantic City, races i saw in person. Casa Creed and Channel Maker are admirable horses, but they could not have competed with the likes of Manila, Sandpit, Lure, and Star of Cozzene, United Nations winners from the 80s and 90s. On turf, there is now little distinction between a grade 3 and grade 1 horse.

        • Deacon says:

          Todd, throw in Dr. Fagers 1968 United Nations incredible win beating Advocator, Fort Marcy & Tobin Bronze. The Doc had never raced on turf before & the track (grass) surface wasn’t firm. Watch the race on You Tube, what a performance!!!

          • Todd Vaughn says:

            Thanks. I have seen the Dr. Fager race. He refused to lose. Which brings up another point. Many of the great old time horses would regularly cross over to turf or dirt, like Kelso, who preferred dirt, or Secretariat, who was equally great on either surface. The only recent horse to come close was Wise Dan, a gelding with no stud values to consider. And of course John Henry, who wanted to beat you on any surface.

  10. Lynda King says:

    The Frankle progeny are gorgeous and they are winners!
    Beautiful conformation, good bone, balanced!

  11. David Cade says:

    Steve – Thanks for this poignant blog. These wonderful historical reflections of thoroughbred achievements are what makes your blogs so unique and special! Dave

  12. Blake says:

    Steve, I read an article a few months ago where they were talking about whether horses should not run at an early age but should wait until they are more developed. But they said that the opposite was true. Horses are better off running early to aid and help their development. I don’t quite remember it exactly or the reasons they gave why they came up with that conclusion. Interesting to hear your thoughts on this.

    • Steve Haskin says:

      I totally agree wit the latter. Horses need to toughen and strenngthen their bones and the fact that so many horses dont run until 3 I believe is one of the reasons they dont stick around very long. They cant andle the rigors of racing. Horses today have weaker bones in the first place. The old timers ran often at 2, had stronger bones and ran two to three week apart regularly their entire career…and carried weight. Different sport altogether now

      • Laura L Lanham says:

        I was wondering Steve how the US compares to GB and Ireland as far as longer racing careers. It would seem to me they do race longer and not as many breakdowns but I have no stats to back that up. The training conditions are somewhat different as well I am guessing. I am enjoying the summer racing clips I have been getting on my cell.

        • Lynda King says:

          Laura, there was an article on Blood Horse in 2019 that the rate in Japan on dirt tracks which are mostly sand is 59% lower than on American tracks.
          We have much we could learn from Japan. They have made horse racing both an art and a science.

          • Laura Lee Lanham says:

            They do have both in GB and Ireland, turf and dirt. The configurations are a bit different as they do more long distance plus jumps over there. I have read that in Japan they spend more time on the horses and was wondering if it was the same in GB and Ireland. More time outside a stall has to be better in the long run for a young horse still developing. Uphill, downhill conditioning, not just sprints.

            • Davids says:

              Laura, you would probably be enthralled watching “Newmarket with Sir Mark Prescott” on YouTube. It provides a visual experience with a tour of horse racing history at Newmarket guided by Sir Mark Prescott. Enjoy.

            • Lynda King says:

              Laura, they do train differently. Watch a video of the Godolphin training center couple of years ago. Long gallops through the country side, varying elevations. Godolphin even has covered tracks.
              Interestingly enough the Japanese ride their stallions. Not sure that the stable where Chrome is does.
              Did see Carrivaggio under saddle. Beautiful mover.
              Seattle Slew worked cattle during R&R. Can you imagine a colt that costs a couple million at auction going to cattle ranch today ??
              And the Japanese trainers use dressage moves as well.

              • Laura Lee Lanham says:

                Yes I will. The entire point I think here is that their horses are sounder and race longer in the long run. The horses from there do win on the turf here on a pretty regular basis. We ship over there with some success but not nearly as much. The sport over here needs to change to reflect that in my opinion.

                The clips I have been watching lately of British/Irish and some French racing just seeing those lovely tracks has been worth it. The weather has been a factor of course with too much rain or not enough but find it much more enjoyable.

  13. Steve, Thanks for this article as it is sort of sit back and reflect type and we can only hope for better days ahead. Be around a small-time track, Turf Paradise, I have seen many horrific breakdowns from the cheapest claimers to the stakes class runners. They all hurt but in the end I have learned to accept it as part of the game, but with the hope that the powers that be will learn from it and try and prevent another one. I feel the use of advanced technology will hopefully prevent more breakdowns in the future. One thing that has always bothered me is the use of heavy tractors to harrow therace track. Their tires making ruts in the track and feel leads to uneveness in the track. There has got to be a better way!!! Maybe the use of tarps to cover “turf” tracks to prevent too much rain from soaking it or a mandatory drying-out period before it can be used again. Although I have been a critic of the Stronach family (promises made but never kept, especially at Santa Anita) thru the years. I do commend Belinda Stronach for calling for a meeting of all the major racetracks to share ideas on improving the safety of the racehorse. Her tracks have made great strides in preventing breakdown, from bringing in high tech scanning machines for use on the horses, calling off races due to inclement weather, To mandatory inspections of horses before workouts and races. I am a firm believer that improved technology can be a savior of horse racing.

    On another note, I was glad to see that Baffert will be the trainer of those 2 show stoppers at the Saratoga sale. Now hopefully both can run. If they can, there is no better trainer than Baffert that can bring the best out of them. That Culin -Beholder colt just looks magnificent !!!

    Have a Great rest of the week, Steve. And the best for everyone else !!!

  14. Davids says:

    Steve, thanks again for another heart warming article. I only read the Casa Creed, Channel Maker, High Oak portion because contemplating over a tragedy in racing results in me forever dwelling over the horror, for years. You can’t remedy the disaster in your mind.

    I’ve also been keeping an eye on the career of High Oak over the years as well. Prior to last Saturday’s race, I thought High Oak would never reach the same heights as he had as a 2 year old. During the race you saw his pink silks dropping back, oh well, bad luck, then, all of a sudden High Oak started rolling with a full head of steam – he’s alive!! Let’s hope the resurrection is full blown with more to come.

    Three Techniques is another ol’ champ I follow as well. He’s had 31 starts thus far and won over $800,000.

  15. Jeff says:

    Thank you!

  16. Deacon says:

    Hello Steve, I want to say that this blog was fantastic. Watching that finish Saturday in the Test Stakes was gut wrenching. Then again Sunday it happened again in the 4th race going around the turn. Not sure I can take much more of this. My wife was in tears watching the Test. As you said so many breakdowns I have seen over the long years, it just tears at my heart. Ruffian, Go for Wand, Barbaro, Eight Belles, Dark Mirage(one of my favorites), Great Communicator, the beautiful Lamb Chop, nd so many more. I believe 7 horses have died at Saratoga since the meet opened in July. My heart goes out to Melanie Giddings & all the connections. What they must be going through! So sad beyond belief.
    You were so elegant in your writing of this piece. Sometimes I ask myself how does he do it.
    You covered some great geldings which was nice to read.
    I remember back in 1983 the Jockey Club Gold Cup (if my memory serves) I watched the post parade of 2 legendary geldings lead the horses out. Kelso and Forego, what a memory.

    Thank you for sharing this masterful piece………

    • Steve haskin says:

      You’re so kind Deacon. I really appreciate it. One thing people forget about little Dark Mirage is that she appeared to have recovered from her injury but developed laminitis several months later and that’s what killed her. That was so sad.

      • Matthew W says:

        I remember watching those amazing Champions, EIGHT HOY awards between them…and Kelso passed away the next day..

  17. Joan Ludlow says:

    Wonderful writing as always. But I do want to point out what I think Old School was talking about. You wrote: “The only horse since Kelso back in the 1960s to be voted Horse of the Year at age 5 and 6 was Cigar, trained by Bill Mott” but Forego and Wise Dan say otherwise.
    Mel’s death was a tragedy and reminded me so much of Go For Wand. My heart goes out to Melanie Giddings and her staff. That was a class act by Brendan Walsh and the Godolphin staff to bring the blanket of flowers to Mel’s stall.

    • Steve Haskin says:

      Right that was my mistake. I dont even know why I wrote that, but I took that sentence out. I think I was tying to say Cigar was the only complete horse to be voted HOY at 5 and 6. Thanks for pointing that out.

      • Joan Ludlow says:

        You’re welcome. You are certainly right Cigar was the only complete horse to do that and what a great horse he was.

    • Matthew W says:

      John Henry, ages six and nine….

  18. Sharon Brock says:

    It took me years to recover from the loss of Ruffian. I honestly don’t know whether I can watch another race this year after Mel’s breakdown. I have been a lover of horses from birth. My first word was horse. My Mom, God bless her, was not happy.

    When the blanket of flowers was delivered to Melanie Giddings, I felt hope. That was the finest example of sportsmanship I have witnessed in years. I have not given up yet but I definitely need time to grieve.

    Thanks Steve for giving me something besides Mel’s tragedy. May they all return safely.

  19. Nelson Maan says:

    The BH people must have read Steve’s exclusive on High Oak … today’s article “High Oak Once Again Showing Promise at Saratoga” seems now outdated … LOL

    BTW Casa Creed looks like the chief competitor in Saturday’s Fourstardave Handicap (G1)… an exciting rivalry seems to be developing between him and Annapolis…

    Steve’s story could be a nice prelude to a thrilling performance at Saratoga this weekend.

  20. Matthew W says:

    You know…Affirmed and Seattle Slew won the Triple Crown and kept racing, Affirmed became an all time great AFTER his 3yo season! Mewonders…..IF—they limit the books to 50—wouldn’t that help to keep horses on the track? The good ones… would lower their values, and therefore lower the insurance premiums, wouldn’t it not?….It seems when the double-seasons of breeding, north and south hemispheres, and the increased books became the norm—is when horses started to be shuffled off to the farm….

    • Davids says:

      Matthew, search for “ Australia and the Shuttle Effect” by Kelsey Riley through Thoroughbred Daily News. The article provides an historical background that impacted the breeding industry worldwide.

      In the US, in 2000, Fusaichi Pegasus was sold to Coolmore Stud for more than US$70 million. Subsequently, shuttling between Coolmore’s Ashford Stud and Coolmore’s Australian breeding operation. Thus initiating a lucrative business of shuttling stallions between the US and Australia which duplicated the practice that commenced in the early 1990s by European stud farms.

      As you’ll read in the article, demand for Northern Dancer blood and later Mr. Prospector blood was desired to upgrade the ‘colonial bloodlines’ in Australia/New Zealand.

      As you’d know, Northern Dancer, Seattle Slew, Mr. Prospector, Alydar in the 80s; Storm Cat, A. P. Indy et al in the 90s had such phenomenal stud fees that they created their on industry while the sons of these sires became valuable assets to acquire at the sales, desired early stakes wins at 2 years and 3 years then off to stud with their own incredible stud fees. The more the merrier.

      Too brief but that’s basically it. From 50 maximum books in the 80s we now have 200+ books to maximize profit.

    • Ms Blacktype says:

      Limiting books was tried a few years ago by the Jockey Club and rejected by the most powerful breeders (a note I just made under Lynda’s post). Very short-sighted.

      • Davids says:

        Ms Blacktype, I haven’t seen the race and have no intention of ever watching the race. I witnessed Go For Wand’s breakdown and the distress/trauma never leaves you. Just reading the horror is all you need to know.

        • Matthew W says:

          Davids HERE’S how I saw the race: I first saw the result….so….watching the replay (it was still up, on TVG) I’m seeing Maple Leaf Mel, two lengths clear and not tiring….inside the 1/16 pole now I KNOW she runs out—I’m getting a nervous, worrisome feeling….in hope that she bolts to the rail, losing her rider, anything but what Im fearing….then she takes an odd step, 50 yards out….takes four more jumps, two lengths clear—and tragedy occurs, 10 feet from the wire, she nearly got there, and she stood up but I turned away, knowing it was catastrophic….

          • Davids says:

            Thanks Matthew. Can you recall, or remember better than I can, if the US style of racing was less frenetic at the ‘start/first bend’ before the arrival of the two champion Quarter Horse trainers impacted on thoroughbred racing? Steve probably remembers better than most.

            • Matthew W says:

              California racing had early speed before those guys came along….Cali racing still has more early speed, on the two turn races….

              • Davids says:

                Thanks Matthew, I thought that was the case but Wayne Lukas had such an influence on thoroughbred racing you start to rethink history.

          • Blake says:

            I only saw a short clip right when she went down. It is interesting that you say that you saw her take an odd step 50 yards out. So are you thinking that is when she hurt it?

            • Matthew W says:

              Well…she suffered the injury at the finish line…but took an odd step before that, maybe a sign she was starring to falter….

  21. Lynda King says:

    Can finally write about Maple Leaf Mel without the tears.

    So many emotions this past weekend, still trying to make sense of all of it. At this point I am not sure if I can ever watch another race or follow the sport. Sometimes there is simply one heartbreak too many. Over the past couple of days many have said much the same and there is a need for time to reflect and to heal among many.

    I have been where Melanie is. It is a physical, mental and emotional journey that will crush you, break you, shatter you and from which you never completely recover. Eventually one is able to put the pieces back together and tuck that horse into a special place in your heart, but it takes time, a long time.

    She will forever be Melanie’s heart horse, her rock, her strength, the horse who helped Melanie overcome her Stage 4 cancer diagnosis. And for that reason, of all the breakdowns I have witnessed, Maple Leaf Mel’s breakdown 10 feet from the wire was the most devastating.

    Maple Leaf Mel was a gorgeous filly with the heart of a champion. A friend posted a brief video of her as she was being led to the track with the caption it was if she owned the world.
    For a brief few moments Mel did indeed own the world and she will be remembered by many for years to come.

    She, as one person commented, was capable of running faster than her legs could carry her. And therein lies the biggest problem in the American Thoroughbred today, speeds that cannot be supported by their skeletal system.

    Someone made much to do about the tracks being the problem. In part, yes they are but if you think about it, the horse evolved from a 5 toed prehistoric equus that barely stood 12 inches high into a one toed animal that adapted to the harsh and rough terrain in the wild.

    I truly hope that Maple Leaf Mel’s untimely demise does not go unnoticed by the breeding end of the sport. May her tragic death be a wake-up call that there has to be an about face to focus on stamina, durability and sustainability in the American Thoroughbred.

    The one silver lining here has been the outreach of caring owners, trainers and fans to Melanie and her team. Godolphin and Mr Walsh bypassing going to the winner’s circle and for photos then taking the flower blanket over the next morning was so kind, thoughtful and considerate. Caring fans filling that empty stall with flowers.

    Melanie has posted on X (Twitter) that if one wishes to send a memorial for Maple to consider a donation to the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance in memory of Maple.

    Mr Parcells purchased another filly, also a grey, a two year old and by Cross Talk. She has been named Mel’s Little Sister and has joined Melanie’s barn (in Maple’s stall).

    Steve your thoughts and comments on Casa Creed, Channel Maker, and High Oak are rays of hope, something that is so desperately needed now. It brings to my mind that old adage that “It is not if you win or lose, but how you play the game”.
    Thankfully there are owners and trainers who do not assign an expiration date of 3, possibly 4 on these horses. They give them time and space to develop to their fullest potential.

    Thank you Steve. You sir are chicken soup for the soul during times like these.

    • Steve Haskin says:

      That was beautiful and eloquent as always, Lynda, and thank you for the kind words.

    • Angela Whyland says:

      Thank you.

    • Ms Blacktype says:

      Lynda, I was waiting to hear your thoughts on Steve’s story. I knew the breakdown had to be devastating for you. I’ve yet to watch the race myself. As Steve said, your post was eloquent and so on the mark.

      As for the breeding industry paying attention, I think it has already done that by swatting down the top limit on books proposed by the Jockey Club a few years ago. It was a modest reduction — to cap at 100 breedings per year or thereabouts, but it was killed by a handful of powerful breeders. They are risking the sport that we all love with (yes I’ll say it too!) their greed.

    • Sharon Brock says:

      Thank you Ms. King for stating what I just don’t have the words to express.

    • Nelson Maan says:

      Beautiful post Lynda.

      The photo picture of Walsh embracing Melanie was that brought me to tears…

      Thanks for the information of the new gray filly by Cross Traffic that Melanie gets to train. I hope the little sister brings strengths and solace …

    • Lynda King says:

      Thank you all for the kind words about my post.

  22. Nelson Maan says:

    Thanks Steve for your soothing column this week.

    “Greatness awaits for you” is an expression we have continuously heard in motivational discourses.

    It is the premise that great old school trainers trusted during the most celebrated years of horse racing. They have proved that patience pays … the problem is that patience looks more like impatience in these modern times.

    Those matchless trainers believed that letting horses develop gradually until they mature would maximize their accomplishments at the track. It is then not surprising that those well-developed racehorses (at 4, 5 and older ages) start winning top races when most of their contemporaries are already retired.

    Steve’s subjects in this column are great examples of this compelling model.

    Yes … kudos are also in order to the owners of older horses like Art Collector, Cody’s Wish, Senor Buscador, Proxy, Last Samurai, Clairiere, Caravel, Goodnight Olive , Candy Man Rocket, Dr. Schivel, Frank’s Rockette and Frosted Grace. They have enriched the afternoons with their grit and quality.

    Some geldings like Defunded, Stilleto Boy, Next, The Chosen Vron, Happy American and Get Smokin are capable of winning big races if they stay happy and healthy.

    The advent of old warriors or iron horses has become improbable in modern racing, but we never cease to look out for them. Spotting the next superstar is one the main incentives of the colorful sport of kings.

    But what does it take for a racehorse to be a hero? A runner whose performances are exceptional or extraordinary. Their strength and courage enliven the life of fans over a memorable span of time and even their imperfections don’t blemish their epic perfection.

    But the past weekend has painfully shown us that the ones who fall in their pursuit of greatness can be considered heroes too… may the wonderful memories of Maple Leaf Mel and Ever Summer comfort us once our aching hearts heal in time.

    • Lynda King says:

      Once again Neleon, a beautifully stated comment and one with which I heartily agree.

      • Nelson Maan says:

        Thanks Lynda… The sad episode of the valiant Mel Maple Leaf is one that I will never forget because my daughter sat with me to watch the race for the first time in her young life.

        She noticed my undivided attention to the broadcast and when Acacia appeared I heard her saying: “Now I know why you watch this channel” while wearing a naughty smile. She also noticed Maggie’s nice tan… “They all are great professionals” I replied referring to the whole cast.

        “Who do you like in this race?” she asked in a bonding manner.

        “I am rooting for number one, Pretty Mischievous, but I am afraid the distance does not suit her. I believe a fast filly will win … I see Maple Leaf Mel or Munnys Gold as the most likely winner” was my reply as I marked the 103 BSF for Maple Leaf Mel’s last race.

        I was surprised my daughter stayed to see the Test Stakes … then the accident happened… in her innocence she could not notice the broken leg and said “Your horse just got tired and stopped”.

        Then I made two mistakes: sprung to see the replay and said “this is very bad… I am afraid they have to put her down”. My daughter felt the gloomy atmosphere from the voice of the broadcast host and said “why they have to kill her? Just let her heal”… I felt awkward trying to explain why those type of injuries are fatal…”they are not letting her suffer”.

        “Why they run?” her question sounded like a revelation stemmed from indignation.

        “They are happy when they run … you see all these dogs in the park in front of our house every day. They run because they are happy, and they are more so when running with other dogs. The faster they run the happier they are… and all the owners are also happy socializing” was my declaration trying to erase any bad imagery from her mind…But …

        Under the shadow of death there is no room for explanations or rationalizations…so

        My daughter vehemently uttered “No me gusta!” and went on to shake off her sadness somewhere else.

        I was left alone in my living room with the memories of all the lost loved ones, my idols and famous people who have left scares in my heart… and consoling myself by recalling that love is immortal.

        • arlingtonfan says:

          Oh, Nelson, this is heartbreaking. I’m so sorry that happened. As you said so beautifully, “Under the shadow of death there is no room for explanations or rationalizations.” I’m still struggling with Mel’s death, and I didn’t even see the race.

        • Todd Vaughn says:

          I sympayhize that your little girl had to see that. Fortunately i was alone as i watched. I shut the tv off as soon as Mel hit the ground and went for a walk. I didn’t know or care who had ‘won’, and i can’t fathom the horror for those at Saratoga. But i am back handicapping and betting horses. They may love to run, to compete, but it is under our rules and for our benefit. We use them. We can rationalize how much we love them, but we use them. I am complicit, and apparently i can live with that. I gave up hunting many years ago. More recently i gave up catch and release fishing. I rarely eat meat. But i doubt i will ever walk away from racing,.

          • Matthew W says:

            The most honest post….

          • Davids says:

            I’ll second Matthews’s comment. Definitely. Unless racehorses enter stud farms or find second careers ‘we’ accept that racehorses are being slaughtered for food for human consumption or pet food or simply euthanized as waste.

            At least in Britain by January 2022, horses trained and entered to race in Britain must be signed out of the human food chain in their passports in a significant change to the Rules of Racing there.

            • Matthew W says:

              Those 14-gelding fields, in the Hong Kong races, they run often and become crowded favorites, All those big fields, nearly all of them geldings—running at Hong Kong….

        • Lynda King says:

          Nelson, I am so sorry that this was your daughter’s first experience with horse racing.
          Her reaction might very well have been mine had I been much younger when I watched in horror as Ruffian broke down.

  23. Old School says:

    Hello Steve,

    I have to defend my Favorite horse of all time The Mighty Forego and remind you he was elected Horse of the year at ages 4,5,and 6!!!

    • Steve Haskin says:

      Defend him from what? The column was about two horses racing now. I mentioned Forego with Kelso and Whirlaway. I’ve been witing columns about Forego for years; the most remarkable horse I’ve ever seen.

  24. Beth Koch says:

    Another lovely article, Steve. Each time something like this happens, I swear to myself “that’s it, no more”, but I love the sport too much. I’ve stopped trying to defend it to others; you either love it or you don’t, you either get it or you don’t.

    I was really touched by the class shown by Brendan Walsh and Godolphin the next morning; I cried all over again.

    As to your thoughts about Casa Creed and the others, and all of the “warriors” of the sport, I heartily agree. Actually, that’s what makes me keep coming back after something like what happened on Saturday. One only has to consider the residents of Old Friends to be reminded of it; there’s quite a few “warriors” there. So I guess I’ll keep coming back.

  25. Derek Manthey says:

    Steve the line that the magnificence they bring into the world say’s it all. The closest statement to that has got to be ” a horse and jockey is greater than the sum of its parts” I tip my hat to any owner that try to keep these “Titans” in the game for as long that the horse still enjoys it. I know we know one thing is that we all miss the OLE Handicap Division. Those owners were true sportsmen!