Popularity of Horses Could Boost Racing’s Image

As racing attempts to restore its image through press statements regarding drug offenses and fatal injuries, along with tighter police work and stiffer penalties for cheaters, perhaps it is time to allow the horses to help by focusing on their popularity and creating the same kind of emotional bond with the public that existed years ago. It will never again reach that level, but hopefully the Secretariat “Vox Populi” Award can become more important each year in bringing out the human interest and feel-good stories and create new equine heroes. ~ Steve Haskin

Popularity of Horses Could Boost Racing’s Image

By Steve Haskin


As racing becomes less popular, in some ways it makes the Secretariat Vox Populi Award more popular. That is because popularity is one of the important elements that will keep the sport alive 20 years from now, as it attempts to encourage new fans and bring back the old fans who have deserted it for a variety of reasons. Right now the sport is attempting to survive under the constant firestorm ignited by the anti-racing activists in the wake of several recent horrific and injuries. By showcasing the positive aspect of racing through its heart and soul it is hoped the Vox Populi Award will continue to grab hold of people’s emotions and strengthen their bond with the horses that has existed for centuries.

We no longer have the iconic heroes of the past who achieve national stardom like Kelso or Seabiscuit or Secretariat or Man o’ War, all of whom possessed the power to lure people to the racetrack in droves. The popular horses we do have today are pretty much seen by the public on TV and computer screens or on their cell phones. They no longer are the powerful live physical entities they once were.

Gone are the days when racing fans packed the grandstand, many of them carrying binoculars to enable them see the horses and their glistening coats and all the action up close. Gone are the days of spending an afternoon at the track in the fresh air with the intoxicating (to me) smell of cigars, mustard, and beer wafting through the grandstand. Gone is the camaraderie between horseplayers as they share their victories and defeats with whoever is in ear shot. There were no Rainbow Pick 6 wagers, not even exactas; just win, place, and show and one daily double on the first and second race to encourage bettors to get to the track early. We not only knew all the stakes horses, but were fans of our favorite allowance horses and claimers as well.

There was something special about waking up on a Saturday morning knowing that Kelso or Buckpasser was running that day or that Damascus and Dr. Fager were about to clash in what promised to be another epic showdown. That was followed by the “Golden Decade” of the ‘70s with its parade of all-time great superstars and Triple Crown winners. Racing was thriving, bringing in new fans looking for new sports heroes to worship.

Then in the 21st century it all changed. You have to remember that racing lost perhaps its most powerful public relations weapon when newspapers as a whole starting becoming obsolete, and those that have survived have pretty much eliminated its coverage of horse racing. The sport no longer had the likes of Red Smith, Jim Murray, Damon Runyon, Edwin Pope, Whitney Tower, Grantland Rice and other nationally known sports journalists to promote racing and its equine stars and bring in new fans.

Those who used to run the sport never had to do much from an innovative aspect to promote it. Racing sold itself and its equine heroes were plentiful. They were known affectionately as Big Red, Kelly, Big Cy, The Biscuit, The Admiral, Mr Longtail, Old Bones, The Chocolate Soldier, and The Gray Ghost, just to name a few. That kind of intimacy between the horses and fans no longer exists. Today, the stars of the sport make far fewer appearances on the stage. With their lack of identity they are unable to attain the popularity of their predecessors.

The sport also had virtually no major obstacles back then. With no competition from other gambling outlets; with no corporate raiders threatening the survival of major racetracks; with no profit-craving companies running the sport; with no speed-seeking owners looking for instant gratification to weaken the breed; and without the powerful lure of dollar signs from stallion-happy stud farms, racing was allowed to go about its business undisturbed by outside forces, and the horses allowed to do what they were born to do, which is race.

Most of them were homebreds, who were born, raised, broken, and trained in one place under the watchful eye of their breeders until it was time to ship to the racetrack. Their childhood was pretty much carefree and they were allowed to mature and grow into their bones, which were much stronger than the horses of today. Stamina was not a dirty word as it is today, and in fact was coveted by breeders looking for classic horses and future stallions. After their racing careers many horses were  returned to their place of birth to stand at stud. It wasn’t until 1967 that a magnificent-looking yearling later to be named Majestic Prince gained headlines as the highest-priced yearling sold at public auction when he was purchased by Frank McMahon for $250,000.

When Majestic Prince won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness it sent buyers dashing off to the sales. But The Prince, who was by the fast but unsound Raise a Native, never made it past the Belmont. It was his arch rival from the Triple Crown, Arts and Letters, a son of the strong-boned and major stamina influence Ribot, who turned the tables in the Belmont and went on to be named Horse of the Year and elected to the Hall of Fame.

From the new popularity of the yearling sales eventually came the growth of the 2-year-olds sales where young horses whose bones were still not fully grown were asked to work an eighth of a mile in under 10 seconds and a quarter-mile in under :21 seconds, which is totally unnatural. The increasing number of 2-year-olds sold at public auction brought increased numbers of pinhookers, who buy and resell hoping for a profit, which meant that more and more young horses would have to go through the sales ring twice and be asked to run much faster as a newly turned 2-year-old than they would ever have to run as a racehorse. With speed now reigning and with the early siren calls from the breeding farms, stamina and longevity became less important.

So, with fewer starts, being overbred to fast unsound stallions, and the increased number of medications being administered, Thoroughbreds as a whole were no longer given the chance to become popular on the scale of those strong-boned, stamina-oriented homebreds of the past.

Enter Penny Chenery, who grew up knowing only sound and sturdy horses bred by her father Christopher Chenery at the family’s Meadow Stud in Virginia. She also knew the power of popularity from her two big stars Riva Ridge and of course the legendary Secretariat, who, aided by the power of television, became arguably the most popular racehorse in history, surpassing even Man o’ War and Seabiscuit, whose popularity outside the racetrack was confined to newspapers and radio and the occasional movie theater newsreel.

Penny was a firm believer that popularity helped fuel the sport and those horses who did reach deep into people’s hearts with their feats of valor earned and deserved a place of honor right up there with the divisional champions who were decided by a group of specified voters. But popularity had to be decided by the people and only the people, giving a voice to the fans, who have always been the engine that drives the sport. And so the Secretariat Vox Populi Award was conceived in 2010 to honor the nation’s and in some cases the world’s most popular horse.

From 2010 until 2021, the award was given to the horse who displayed all the qualities specified by Penny. On one occasion in 2013, it was the trainer, Kathy Ritvo, and her courageous fight for life combined with the gutsy effort of her colt, Mucho Macho Man, in the Breeders’ Cup Classic following an equally game, but losing effort in the previous year’s Classic that earned the horse the award. And in 2020, the award was given to Authentic, a horse who, although a top-class major stakes winner later in the year, won the award mainly due to the thousands of micro partners that comprised his ownership.

But then came 2022. For most of the year Cody’s Wish was known as a vastly improving colt owned by the powerful Godolphin juggernaut who excelled in one-turn races. To most, there was nothing overly popular about the horse. Then late in the year prior to the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, NBC ran the heartwarming story of Cody Dorman. The story was so inspiring and touched so many people that when the horse just got up to win the Dirt Mile it all but assured him the Vox Populi Award over the spectacular Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Flightline, who with only six career starts at 2, 3, and 4, all by huge margins, made him a virtual unknown among racing fans and many held his inactivity against him.

Now we come to 2023 and a possible crossroads for the voters of the Vox Populi Award. Last year there wasn’t much of a choice. But this year the fans will have to decide whether the award is for the most popular horse or the most popular story. When Cody’s Wish easily won the prestigious Met Mile to stretch his winning streak to six, and nine of his last 10, and with the Cody Dorman story being retold and updated, the 5-year-old son of Curlin clearly was again the most popular horse in the country. Yes the story made people aware of the horse, but his exploits on the racetrack gave him a popularity of his own.

Even following his defeat in the Whitney, stretching out to two turns, he still didn’t lose much, if any, of his popularity. He then bounced back with a victory in the Vosburgh Stakes, with NYRA running another feature on Cody Dorman. But when it comes to a horse gaining popularity through the human interest story behind his or her connections he was not alone. When small-time trainer Jena Antonucci won the Belmont Stakes with the lightly raced Arcangelo, becoming the first female in history to win a classic, it launched the trainer and her colt into the national spotlight, with Antonucci now the most sought after interview in the sport and the whole world knowing the Cinderella story behind her success. Arcangelo’s subsequent victory in the Travers Stakes off an 11-week layoff further enhanced the story and his trainer’s reputation, and the colt became the early favorite for the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

That gave us two main contenders for the Vox Populi Award, both through the stories behind their human connections. But could there be more? The 2-year-old colt Carson’s Run, who recently won the Grade 1 Summer Stakes at Woodbine, was named by Terry Finley of West Point Thoroughbreds after Carson Yost, who suffers from the same affliction as Cody Dorman. Finley was a classmate of Yost’s father Wade at West Point and had promised to name horse after his son, but it took a while to find the right one. With two victories in three starts, Carson’s Run could add his name to the list of Vox Populi contenders if he continues his success this year. We would then have three human interest stories for racing fans to consider.

So what is the most important criteria for the Vox Populi Award and what might Penny Chenery have had in mind when she conceived it? According to Penny the award was established to reward the horse “who most resonates with the public and gains recognition for the sport.” As she said, “How can we, as an industry, expect the rest of the world to embrace our sport when we don’t annually honor our most beloved horses internally?

Well, there is another horse who personifies what the Vox Populi Award stands for, and it is based solely on his toughness, courage, longevity, and consistency, performing well at different distances in top-class races and still winning Grade 1 stakes at the age of 7. And he is a complete horse who eventually will head to stud. His name is Casa Creed, a throwback to a different era in racing, and this year he could very well challenge the three aforementioned horses for the award and force the Vox Populi voters to decide on who best “resonates with the public.” Voters will have to come to terms with whether popularity is based on the story or the horse. Penny’s words left that open for each person to search his or her heart for the answer.

Each horse still has a Breeders’ Cup race coming up, and how they perform in front of the nation and how they are presented to the public could be the deciding factors. That is why the Vox Populi Award is so compelling. And who knows what new stories or horses will emerge in the coming weeks.

Because there are few horses these days who maintain a strong fan base throughout the year, we often see stories emerge later in the year like we did with Cody’s Wish. At this writing there are other contenders who can possibly wind up as Vox Populi nominees. Before she even ran, Tamara had a fan following because of her dam Beholder, one of the most popular horses in recent years and a Grade 1 winner at 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6. When Tamara won her debut impressively it brought a great deal of discussion on social media. She now heads to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies where a victory would boost her popularity even more. And we also have to pay attention to the brilliant filly Echo Zulu, who not only is undefeated this year with three dominating performances, she was a nominee for the Vox Populi in 2021 after winning all four of her starts, three of them Grade 1 stakes, by huge margins. So she has already resonated with the public. And how can you overlook the hard-knocking, hard luck 6-year-old mare War Like Goddess, who is always dangerous, against males and females, and would vault into contention with another big effort in the Breeders’ Cup, especially the Turf, in which she finished a solid third last year behind two male European invaders. She has been victimized by a number of sluggish paces, but always puts in a powerful stretch run and she definitely has developed a strong fan following. Will we see a comeback from Kentucky Derby winner Mage, one of the great stories of the year? If he should bounce back in the Classic it would surely re-ignite his fan base and make him a candidate for the Vox Populi Award.

In the past we have had two fillies win the Vox Populi, one (Zenyatta) from the U.S. and one (Winx) from Australia, and both based mainly on long winning streaks and exciting stretch runs. Both fillies became household names around the world. We even had a claimer named Rapid Redux who resonated with the public due to an amazing 22-race winning streak in one year and a tough, courageous turf sprinter named Ben’s Cat who was beloved in Maryland. Voters fell in love with the comeback from near death of Paynter, who was able to perform at a high level in major stakes. They ignored the lack of wins by Hot Rod Charlie and voted for him partly because of his toughness and always giving 100 percent even in several hard-luck defeats, and also because of his group of young and very visible owners who made their presence felt with great passion and excitement. We had the back story and rise from the Cal-bred ranks of California Chrome, the striking chestnut who became so popular his huge fan base called themselves Chromies. And finally there was Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, who had more visitors to his barn and interaction with the public than any 3-year-old in memory.

This kind of diversity is what makes the Vox Populi Award so special, and that it is why it will be interesting to see in which direction the voters go this year.

But looking at the big picture, there is no doubt that racing has an image problem and its popularity could very well dictate its future. We will never again see the days when baseball, boxing, and horse racing ruled the sports world. The one-time Sport of Kings no longer is run by sportsmen who built racing and breeding empires, were closer to their horses, and appreciated the history of the sport. With the coming of the businessmen who strive for profits over all else, racing has spread itself thin and diluted its product, with stallions being bred to hundreds of mares a year and shuttling all over the world, and many top trainers now with hundreds of horses instead of the 40 they used to train. That leaves the smaller trainer with far fewer potent weapons to compete for the big bucks.

Many believe there has not been a male horse considered a true all-time great since Cigar or John Henry. They simply do not remain long enough to accomplish the feats of their predecessors and endear themselves to the public. That makes it more difficult for fans to embrace the stars we do have. It is the more extensive careers of superstar fillies such as Zenyatta, Rachel Alexandra, and Beholder that have moved them up the popularity ladder, surpassing the males. Modern technology is great and like everything in this new world it makes it easier on the public, especially when it comes to wagering. But we must maintain that emotional link to the horse, without whom all else is meaningless.

That is why it is so important to let your voice be heard and participate in the Vox Populi poll to give the old warriors, the budding superstarsor those with great human interest stories an opportunity to be rewarded for their popularity on whatever level the public chooses. The more we keep the public involved, the longer racing will endure.


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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97 Responses to “Popularity of Horses Could Boost Racing’s Image”

  1. Jiffy says:

    I’m sorry I didn’t comment on this column earlier, but Steve, I think it’s one of your best. You eloquently explained the problems with racing today and how they came about. Some are interrelated and some just happened at the same time, but the one I blame most is the practice of breeding to sell instead of to race. When a horse was intended to be a lifetime commitment, there was more incentive to produce stamina and soundness. And when racing was a sport instead of a business, owners seemed to be more considerate of their horses.

    I also mourn the decline of newspapers and their racing coverage. Some New York papers used to print charts every day, and they had columnists assigned to racing. I was a huge fan of Jack Mann and later Ray Kerrison. It was fun to follow the sport with them, but now the newspapers don’t pay much attention to horses.

    On the plus side, though, there’s more TV coverage than I’ve ever seen. I don’t get TVG, but we do get FS2, which has almost all the New York races every day they run. Back in the golden age, we might get to see a Saturday stakes if the Mets game didn’t last too long. We were fortunate to see a lot of Kelso and Buckpasser, but we saw very little of Forego or Ruffian. Even though I have some problems with the Fox coverage, I’m very grateful to them for presenting so many races, and I hope they continue for a long time.

  2. Ms Blacktype says:

    Did anyone else catch BOOTH’s remarkable winning race in the 11th at Keeneland yesterday? I only caught it because I was fast-forwarding to the end of the recording and saw him come with a rush at the end to win. Only a maiden victory, but he ran a few hundreds faster than Yuuguri did in the Grade 2 TCA Stakes two races earlier. She got a 92 Beyer figure, so I would hope he got the same or better.

    I confess I started a Top 12 list for next year’s Derby already. The first 7 or 8 are predictable (including the three winners of yesterday’s stakes for 2YOs), but along with Booth I have recent winners Moonlight, Private Desire, Fierceness (despite his flop in the Champagne), and Normandy Hero.

    • Ms Blacktype says:

      Forgot to mention Booth is a half to Jockey Gold Cup winner Bright Future. He’s also a complete outcross through five generations. You have to go to the sixth generation to get to one cross of Northern Dancer and a single dose of Mr. P.

    • Jiffy says:

      I’m glad you mentioned Fierceness. I really liked his previous race, and I too am not ready to give up on him. I wish him well next time.

    • Davids says:

      Ms Blacktype, the winners of the Champagne Stakes, Breeders’ Futurity, and the American Pharoah/Norfolk Stakes are seldom winners of the Kentucky Derby. The last winner of the Champagne- Kentucky Derby double was Spectacular Bid in 1978; the Breeders’Futurity – Kentucky Derby double was Swale in 1983.

      The American Pharoah/Norfolk Stakes has more frequency in winning the Kentucky Derby with American Pharoah winning in 2014 and Nyquist in 2015 but they are the only two winners of the double since the race’s inception in 1970.

      As you would know, the only Breeders’ Juvenile – Kentucky Derby double winners have been Street Sense and Nyquist since it’s inception in 1984. Which is disappointing. Nonetheless, a good indicator to look elsewhere for the Kentucky Derby winner.

      Good luck though, it’s part of the fun spotting promise early and hoping for vindication next year.

      • Ms Blacktype says:

        Good point, Davids! That’s why I have so many others in my top 12 — and my top two (Prince of Monaco and Rhyme Schemes) did not race this weekend. Rhyme Schemes is out until 2024.

        • Davids says:

          Ha ha I have a ‘shaded’ list at present, in the mind only. At the end of the year I write down a list of 2 year olds that interest me. Stamina in the dam’s pedigree is essential then there are a handful of sires I prefer and go from there. The bonus is when you like a colt that comes from an influential family. Sire prospect.

          This year, nothing has warmed the heart as yet.

          • Ms Blacktype says:

            Watch the replay of Booth’s win. He’s the first one that’s excited me since one-hit wonder Gold Sweep.

            • Davids says:

              I’ve seen Booth’s win beforehand which is impressive but he looks a classy sprinter/miler to me which is not a knock on the horse but 10f might be beyond his best capabilities. Good luck though, he should make some noise in the preps and who knows really?

  3. Matthew W says:

    Quarter Horse Racing has three great horses, Expressum, Apolitical Pence, Scoops Dynasty —all geldings, and they have had some big throwdowns, there was a fourth, Danjer, who passed from an aneurysm, that’s four GREAT horses….all geldings, greatness comes in cycles, maybe not great for older Thorougbreds, but it will cycle through, The Chosen Vron is a gelding, Ceiling Crusher is by Mr Big….Zandon by Upstart….these three will continue racing, as will Practical Move….

    • Matthew W says:

      Oops a friend reminded me of the pending Zandon retirement, but there are some nice horses, and they aren’t ALL retiring, it just seems like it …a great geldings is coming … we’re “due” for that ….

    • Lynda King says:

      Quarter Horee mares are being bred to Into Mischief with AI.

  4. Lynda King says:

    Steve, I read your post twice and am in complete agreement with you.

    You have 100% nailed it at least for those of us who remember the hey day of the sport of horse racing in America.

    I have never been to a racetrack. Colonial Downs was built several years after I moved to Georgia. If I were still living in Virginia you could bet the farm that I would be at Colonial Downs regularly.

    Unfortunately I think there is a lot of truth in your statement below that “people are tired of talking about it”. Guess I am at that point myself. Just a foregone conclusion on my part that what we have today is a”new normal” in horse racing in the United States and we have two choices: take it or leave it.

    Guess you read that the foal crop numbers dropped again this past year and projections by the JC is for another decrease next year. Was wondering what your read is on that situation?

    My take is prices brought at auction, the training, farrier and vet costs not to mention transportation and other fees has made this a sport that only the very wealthy can participate in. And yet it seems that the most successful horses and ones that race past 3 are still coming from the smaller stables and lesser known trainers and if bought at auction, the selling price is a bargain basement buy as compared to the million dollars plus babies.

    The National Thoroughbred League did not quite get off the ground as planned. The NTL was supposed to purchase horses for each of the teams but a decision was made to hold off making those acquisitions until next year. Any horse can now be entered and the jockeys wear the individual team’s silks. I am following the league, out of curiosity than any thing else. There is a waiting list for tickets to the November race. I do hope it succeeds. If successful it will, I think, offer a different racing experience that might well bolster the sport.
    I recall there being some doubt as to whether or not the Pegasus would be successful but the organizers hung in there and it is a highly anticipated race each year now.

    Read an interesting article last evening about Sodashi, the white Thoroughbred mare in Japan. She is retired now but she generated a lot of new racing fans particularly among women and young girls Maybe we need to breed some white Thoroughbreds?

    Duncan Taylor’s comment after the sale of the Curlin-Beholder colt for 4 million to Amr Zedan still turns my stomach. His comment sums up nicely (or not nice depending on one’s viewpoint).

    Paraphrasing his (Duncan Taylor) comment: just a magnificent horse; beautiful horse; Taylor Made has never sold a yearling with so much stallion potential; sire power, Beholder’s half brother Into Mischief and Curlin, you have elite power; if he wins a Grade 1, that is a $75 million dollar syndication right there”.
    I wanted to throw up (literally) when I heard Taylor’s comment after the sale.
    Dare I say speed and greed rules the day now?

    Looking forward to voting for this year’s Vox Populi. You have mentioned several excellent nominees. Might just be a difficult decision for me this year.
    I know if I owned a race horse that was nominated I would be thrilled and if that horse won the VP I would be over the moon. So appreciate Penny creating the award. She always had her finger on the pulse of horse racing and knew how important the fans and the $2 bettors are to the sport.

    One more little comment about we fans. Many of us continue to follow our favorite horses and their progeny. California Chrome for example still has a huge following. Some Chromies have gone so far as to visit him in Japan. For the fans it is not just about winning or losing, it is a love affair with certain horses for as long as the horse lives.

    If I had a magic wand I could wave to turn back time I would certainly do so. Since I do not, I have to content myself with rewatching great races from the past, reading about the trainers and jockeys and the breeders from years gone by.

    I also have to content my self with watching replays of current races after the race is over and I know all had safe trips back to the barn. I do not think I could bear to watch a live race and witness another tragic breakdown.

    Hope Tamara is successful. Zenyatta’s last filly by War Front is stunning. Think Zenyatta and War Front was an excellent match. High hopes that this new filly will be a champion.

    Been reading comments lately that some fans are so disheartened by the retirements of the 3 year old colts that they are following the mares and fillies very closely now.

    Just my opinion but I think War Like a Goddess is deserving of a nomination for an Eclipse for older mare and HOY.

    Getting down to 46 here tonight and Sunday night. Under a fire warning because of gusty winds tonight and the current drought situation here.

    Have a nice Sunday everyone!

    • Steve Haskin says:

      Wow thats a lot to digest. You make some great points as usual. With all thes businessmen partnering up its hard to compete at the sales. Is thre a stakes or maiden race that doesnt have a Repole horse? They are everywhere.

      If I may get personal why have you never been to a racetrack?

      • Lynda King says:

        I am a native Virginian as I think you know. There were no racetracks in Virginia when I was growing up. Colonial Downs was not built until after we moved to Georgia. No racetracks here though Dan and Patti Reeves and others who support horse racing (such as me) tried to get pari-mutual betting passed by the Georgia State Legislature. We could not even get it out of committee for a voter referendum. An absolutely beautiful race track for both dirt and turf was designed. It would have brought hundreds of jobs and it would have been great for Georgia Agriculture (hay farmers etc). We also had the support of the University of Georgia Large Animal School of Veternarian Medicine.
        Makes no sense to me. Georgia has had Lottery for years and they are going to build a casino about 35 miles from me on the Georgia/South Carolina line. Gambling is gambling right???

        It has always been on my bucket list to go to the Derby or Belmont Stakes and Saratoga. Came close to going to Chrome’s Belmont. A good friend who lived here in Georgia and I had plans. She had to back out because of a family emergency.

        I still hope to make it to at least Saratoga before my last trip around the sun. I do not fly well (I have flown several times but I am very claustrophobic. Do not get air sick, really no fear of flying) and have night blindness so I cannot drive great distances.

        However AMTRAK goes all the way to Saratoga if I read their route map correctly. I have traveled many times to Virginia on the train since moving to Georgia and a couple of times to DC for conferences. I love the train, did as a child.
        Have a friend who lives close to Saratoga and goes to the racetrack.

        Ideally though I would like to go to Colonial Downs. They had a really good meet there last month. I could kill two birds with one stone as they say…visit Colonial Williamsburg where I lived for ten years and Colonial Downs!

        • Ms Blacktype says:

          Lynda, if you decide to go to Saratoga next year, let me know. I’m only two hours away and would love to have someone to go with! I imagine it’s hard to get away with all your animals, though.

          • Lynda King says:

            Thank you MsB.
            My husband is not into horse racing so he would take care of the small animals and I have a neighbor who would take care of the horses and donkey.
            I would love to meet you and so enjoy company at the track.

            • Ms Blacktype says:

              My real name is Mary Ellen Polson. You can message me on Facebook.

              • Ms Blacktype says:

                Like yours, my husband doesn’t like horse racing —although I’ve caught him being impressed when a horse really knocks a race out of the park.

                • Lynda King says:

                  My husband was impressed by Arrogate in the Dubai World Cup race. One of those rare occasions he watched a race with me.
                  He also watched Chrome’s Derby and Belmont with and one of Gun Runner’s races.

        • arlingtonfan says:

          Lynda, I can appreciate the geographic challenges you face in getting to a track. Once Golden Gate Fields, an hour away from me, closes down next summer, my options will be limited. Still, I hope that somehow, someway, you get to go. There’s nothing like standing by the paddock rail and looking the horses over from a few feet away or watching them break from the gate right in front of you.

          • Lynda King says:

            Thank you arlingtonfan. A horse race is the only live horse sport competition that I have never attended.

      • I agree with you Steve as Lynda does have a lot to say in her response here. I agree with some her thoughts but in the end in horse racing today it all comes down to the economics of keeping the horse on or at the track. Everybody wants that big payday. Sometimes it happens with a horse like Seattle Slew ( an $18000 purchase ) win a triple crown and then go off to be spectacular success at stud. Or a homebread like Alydar. Or you can get a GREAT race horse like Secretariat or Spectacular Bid but then they go to stud and have so so success. For every success story like Seattle Slew and Alydar there are the failures like … The Green Monkey (OUCH ) !!! Considering all the competition horse racing has today for the consumers expendable $$$ we are lucky it has survived this long. Progress has to continue to be made on preventing breakdowns and that unfortunately going to cost more money in research and updating technology. Again it all comes down to economics !!! We need the Zedan’s , Repole’s and Magnier to have success so they will continue to keep investing in the game. If not they will leave the game with only hope someone else will replace them. Just my thoughts .. Have a Great week !!!

    • Todd Vaughn says:

      Lynda, i have probably spent over a thousand days at racetracks, including Saratoga and Keeneland. If i were to choose a currently existing racetrack, i would probably choose Tampa Bay Downs. I have only spent one day there, but i found it representative of what a nice old fashionedd racetrack should be.

  5. Lynda King says:

    Congratulations War Like a Goddess! What a mare!!!!

  6. Matthew W says:

    Practical Move 1:35 flat, five length canter..

  7. Lynda King says:

    Just read Secret Oath retired. Not specific a to reason but swollen ankle is why.

  8. Matthew W says:

    Mark Paul’s letter to the editor in the Paulick Report deserves reading, I agree with everything he says, especially not wanting synthetic tracks….

  9. Lynda King says:

    Another example of why America is losing the racing game. Another of one of our good race horses,
    Sharp Azteca, (one of my favorites), has been sold to Japan. Here is a horse with good conformation, had 17 starts, $2.4 million in earnings, raced until 4 and an excellent pedigree (includes Halo).

    • Deacon says:

      Hi Lynda: Greed has over taken most of the najor sports industries. It is only going to get worse, IMO.
      The days of horse racing that we remember are long gone, sad to say.

      • Lynda King says:

        Oh Deacon, sadly I have to agree.

        • Lynda and Deacon I don’t know if it is all about greed but more of economics. He was bred to 195 mares his first year at stud. Second year he was bred to 101 mares. 3rd year 37 mares and 4th year down to 36 mares. Apparently the breeders were not to happy with what he was throwing. I agree he has a nice pedigree but something just wasn’t clicking. Maybe with him going to Japan with a little more diverse pedigrees in the mares they might find some that will work. I agree he is a beautiful looking horse.

    • arlingtonfan says:

      Oh, rats. I love that horse! He’s a beauty.

  10. Matthew W says:

    Last Sat they rolled down the dirt at Santa Anita …fast times…Slow Down Andy out for rest of year with a filling….

  11. Alex says:

    Probably has to be Cody’s Wish again this year because I don’t think any other story brought that much attention to racing. Maybe Arcangelo, better case for him if he wins the BCC. Maple Leaf Mel of course could have been a true contender if not for her death.

    “NBC ran the heartwarming story of Cody Dorman, the son of the colt’s owner, for whom Cody’s Wish was named.”
    Am I misinterpreting this bit? It seems to be saying that one of Cody Dornan’s parents owns Cody’s Wish, and that’s definitely not true.

    • Jiffy says:

      I’m glad you mentioned Maple Leaf Mel. I was reluctant to comment on the award because I considered her the elephant in the room that nobody wanted to mention. No horse touched our hearts the way she did. When she was alive, she was an inspiration because of her story and her devotion to her trainer, and when she died, she brought us together in grief. But this is an upbeat, feel-good award, and by definition it probably could never be presented posthumously to anyone. Also, honoring her would call attention to precisely what the award is intended to take attention away from. So she won’t get it. But whoever does, in my mind at least, will win by default.

      Having said that, I plan to vote for Cody’s Wish. I didn’t last year, first because I had a computer glitch that wouldn’t allow me to vote at all and second because I wanted to vote for Flightline. I couldn’t ignore his spectacular performances. This year I don’t find any real competition for Cody’s Wish, and I’ll give him the vote that I didn’t a year ago.

      • Davids says:

        The background story behind the naming of Carson’s Run is very moving. I hope Carson’s Run is nominated.

  12. Matthew W says:

    The Chosen Vron is becoming more and more popular, having won eight straight stakes races, on dirt and turf, vs Cal breds…he has also won three gr3s, and a gr1..will be in the Breeders Cup Sprint—I thought the Turf Sprint would be a better fit, but they are going for the Two Million dollar purse, of the Sprint—tough little chestnut!…

    • Matthew W says:

      The Chosen Vron’s most recent win was the Gr1 Bing Crosby, where he had a big take-up, and fell several lengths back, before rallying, coming between…and in the shadow of the wire he got it done…..

      • Davids says:

        Matthew, do you think/know if they intend to slow the track at Santa Anita for Breeders’ Cup races in lieu of what happened at Saratoga. US racing cannot have that tragedy replicated in the Breeders’ Cup when the whole world will be watching.

        Mind you, Santa Anita seem to have done their work and the track appears totally safe but I only follow the stakes races and 2 year old races so I couldn’t be sure on this but you’d know for sure. Thanks.

        • Matthew W says:

          Well they have had huge piles of sand, in the parking lot, A few years ago it was too sandy, too slow ….times were slow but track was safe—I think they are doing pretty good, I think Saratoga was an anomaly this year, the heavy rains wreaked havoc over the course….I worry about it, too, it looks like there’s going to be some top horses, from overseas!..

          • Davids says:

            Thanks Matthew, fingers crossed everything goes smoothly. Hopefully, the weather plays it part as well. Here in Australia, we’re having bushfires earlier than usual so we’re fearing the worst in summer. If you’re having a bet for the Melbourne Cup, they’re predicting a 95% chance of rain on November 7, here.

            • Matthew W says:

              Yes Davids! And especially The Melbourne Cup, a long expensive ship—but some bad luck in recent runnings….

              • Matthew W says:

                Methinks maybe there was pressure to run ..costly ship….some horses maybe not sound and should not have run….

        • David and Matthew I too am curious what Santa Anita will do to the track on Breeder’s Cup Days. I know it was like overnight they changed the track surface changed from consistent medium to fast track to an extremely slow track. Example the Juvenile Colt race were Dennis Moment was an up and coming superstar who got injured in that race as he almost summersaulted out of the starting gate as the ground broke from underneath him and he never regained his form, and the winner of that race was a one hit wonder whose time was a crawl over the track. I went to the Breeder Cup that year on Classic day and it was almost impossible to play a horse that ran near the front. Matthew keep us posted on those SAND PILES in the parking lot as I am almost paranoid they will deepen that track again and make the races a “Longshot haven” and almost impossible to handicap.

          • Matthew W says:

            Except …in 2016 the track was deep and slow all meet….they didn’t change it, so …opening day this Fall track had speed winners, also the stakes race was won by a filly (kirstenbach) coming from 12 lengths back …as I recall that 2016 BCup juvenile winner wired the field….

            • Matthew W says:

              and we now know Dennis’s Moment was no superstar…..

              • Actually the year was 2019 and Dennis Moment had won all his races except one up until that time (if I remember right I think he lost his first race because the jockey fell off of him at the start) He was either favorite or second favorite for the race next to Eight Rings. Maxfield probably would have been favorite but was injured a few days before the race. The time for that race was ridiculously slow. Because of bad start Dennis Moment had at the start of that race he was never able to get into the race and far back in the beginning. He was never the same horse after that race. Dale Roman said he got hurt and was never the same. Eight Rings ( true front runner was just spinning his wheels most of that race. Storm Court led in that race all the way but he never did much after that. All I remember that track was extremely slow that whole weekend. That was the year Santa Anita had all those fatalities (31 if I remember ) earlier in the year. I will keep watch of times leading up to the the Breeders Cup but Matthew please keep an eye on those sand piles and let us know if they get smaller before the BC.
                I think Turf races have become more popular with the bettors because horses for the most part stay truer to form as management cannot manipulate grass courses like they can with dirt tracks.

                • Davids says:

                  No doubt this Saturday’s races will provide some inclination on how the track will play during the Breeders’ Cup races. Hopefully, it’s a wonderful day of racing. I’m not sure synthetic tracks are the answer in California due to its extreme weather conditions but the introduction of the training track provides valuable insight.

                  It’s so important that Santa Anita remains one of the marquee tracks of the world. Simply beautiful.

                • Matthew W says:

                  yes I meant 2019…that was the year the track was so deep and sandy….

  13. Lynda King says:

    In memory of Secretariat. 34 years ago today, October 04, he was euthanized as euthanized as the result of the dreaded disease, laminitis.

    • Gloria S. says:

      Bless you for remembering. I read William Nack’s epilogue in his book about that day and the one before, and I think I had to put it down a dozen times before I got through it. Secretariat had a charmed life until it wasn’t, and it wasn’t Big Time then.

      Too, too soon.

      May he rest in peaceful splendor.

      • Lynda King says:

        Beautifully said Gloris S.
        I have Mr Nack’ book.
        Just could never bring myself to read the epiloque.
        My farrier took his Pony Club group to Kentucky to visit Secretariat late in the summer (August) that year and visited Secretariat in his paddock at Claiborne.
        While Secretariat still had that look in his eyes and posed as always when he heard the click of the cameras he did his hooves were in sad shape and that he had obvious signs of a bout or two with laminitis.
        Many think that Secretariat developed a metabolic condition that can result in a horse coming down with laminitis.
        At the time of course, veterinarians were not really aware of these conditions other than Cushings.
        He said it was sad to see Secretariat in such condition.
        It is a horrid, painful condition that results in the eventual death of horses across all breeds and has more than one cause.

    • Sarah says:

      I didn’t remember it was that dreadful anniversary. Of course, I’ve read about the laminitis. Ms. Chenery said she later regretted she didn’t stipulate that Claiborne Farm exercise Secretariat (beyond mere turn-out). Man O’ War and Seattle Slew both enjoyed exercise under saddle at stud and WAY outlived Secretariat– Man O’ War to 30, Seattle Slew 28. Secretariat was also a glutton and a huge horse BEFORE gaining too much weight, so he’d become a laminitis victim waiting to happen. Moreover, I read online an archived article of Kentucky Equestrian, 2020, that frost damaged pastures in Kentucky shortly before Secretariat died, making grass toxic to a horse who was already fragile. The last footage of Secretariat eerily shows him grazing in Claiborne’s famous horse cemetery, on grass that was like poison to him.

      • Gloria S says:

        I do think Claiborne had and has the finest nutritionist and veterinarian care imaginable. The staff grew to love him dearly. It is hard to believe Secretariat was pastured in the cemetery because of the landscaping and use of herbicides in maintenance. Maybe some footage shows headstones nearby.(?) With his famous appetite, I’m sure his weight was always a concern. I’ve read pieces that said he became too heavy, but have never seen a picture that showed it. Towards the very end he was thin with illness, of course, and tethered due to his famous desire to run like the wind. Just a couple of days before his death:

        • Lynda King says:

          There is a photo of him a couple of months before his death in which he was overweight. My farrier even mentioned that.
          In this video he is still carrying weight but has slimmed down but not thin by any means.
          This video does show the extreme pain he was in and when he steps onto the pavement, his hooves clearly have the profile of a horse with laminitis.

      • Lynda King says:

        Sarah, you comment is an insult not only to Secretariat and Claiborne Farms but it reeks of a conspiracy theory and shows your ignorance about laminitis.

        • Sarah says:

          Read Kentucky Equestrian, 2020. It’s about Secretariat’s necropsy. At the end it mentions frost-damaged pastures almost certainly made his laminitis much worse. And there’s a famous video, which Gloria S has posted, showing Secretariat grazing among headstones only days before he died. I also don’t feel it’s an insult to Secretariat or Claiborne Farms to mention he gained weight after retirement. (I wish I weighed a little less too!) Much less was known about laminitis then than now. I also read somewhere that Penny Chenery regretted not asking Claiborne Farms to exercise Secretariat under saddle.

          • Lynda King says:

            Sarah, I have watched that video that Gloria posted three times.
            Secretariat WAS NOT grazing in a cemetery or among tombstones.
            How in the heck did you come to that conclusion?
            What I saw was a horse in major pain, suffering from a severe case of recurring laminitis.
            In all probability his pedal bone rotated and that was it for him.

    • Jiffy says:

      Yes, I did think about that. October 4 is the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals. I always found a certain comfort in knowing that Secretariat went to his final reward on that day.

  14. Davids says:

    Sad to read that West Will Power will stand at stud in Korea. According to Ben Glass, West Will Power couldn’t attract a farm in the US to give him a try.

    • Todd Vaughn says:

      Always sad to hear of these situations. Seems like there is always a need to squeeze a few more dollars out of them. Must be distressing for the horse. Hope he stays healthy, and returned home if not “useful.”

  15. Davids says:

    Steve, it’s interesting that you mentioned technology and its impact on wagering. I had just finished reading the Zion Market Research findings that “Global Horse Racing Market Is Expected to Reach USD 793.9 Billion By 2030” which is an increase from USD$402.3 Bn in 2022.

    Online betting platforms will provide growth “The increasing use of technology in horse racing, such as advanced tracking systems and data analytics, is also fueling the market growth” along with the popularity of horse racing as a spectator sport in emerging new markets. “[The] North American region held the largest horse racing market share in 2022 and is further projected to grow remarkably at a dominant CAGR during the forecast period,” which appears positive.

    Mind you, the report also mentions that there is a decline of interest of younger generations who are turning away from the sport thus becoming “challenges that the industry faces.” Obviously, there will come a time when the online betting growth suddenly begins to dip southward unless the younger folks become fans as well.

    How Vox Populi fits into the above scenario is unsure but a massive increase in Kentucky Derby prize money, along with a reduction in the field, as espoused by a few prominent leaders in US racing seems quite prudent.

    Enjoyable read, thanks Steve.

  16. Sharon Brock says:

    Thanks Steve for another superb article with your usual perspective which I very much appreciate.

  17. Beth Koch says:

    Great piece, Steve, and I agree with every word. Unfortunately, it’s a different world we live in. There are too many other things to capture people’s (short) attention span these days. One only has to sit in front of the TV on a Sunday, watching the NFL, and witnessing the millions of dollars spent on those productions – and they are PRODUCTIONS – to see why modern sport coverage has left racing behind. Spending a relaxing day at the track seems to be something people don’t have the time or the inclination for. I live a few hundred miles from the nearest big track (Santa Anita), and going there is an experience that can’t be beat. To get up close to those horses is magic. As to Vox Populi, I’ve voted every year, but so far this year, I’m completely undecided. And it’s interesting that you mentioned Casa Creed, because I’m hoping that he’s one of the finalists.

  18. Fran says:

    Oh gosh! I love this article. I have a few favorites I would like to see capture this award. I will be voting for sure and it will be a tough decision. I look at the horse first when making my decision; hopefully the horse also reflects the story that tags along with him. Go Baby Go!

  19. Deacon says:

    Excellent thought provoking srory Steve. I loved the back story context within the main story, the Vox Populi award.
    Cody’s Wish won the aeard last year so I believe it is only fair that a different horse wins the award this year.
    I believe that it is only fair that a different horse wins the award this year.

    I love the fact that you mentioned the brilliant champion Raise A Native. He sired some great ones, Majestic Prince, Alydar, Exclusive Native, Crowned Prince & Mr. Prospector. Raise A Native sired by the great champion Native Dancer. Grandsire was the remarkable Polynesian. It doesn’t get much better than that.
    Every year I most look forward to the Saratoga meet, although I have never been to Saratoga. The pageantry there, the home town warmth of Saratoga is 2nd to none. But this years meet was gut wrenching. Seeing New York Thunder & Maple Leaf Mel go down just about ruined me on ever going there to visit.
    I would like to argue with myself but I do not see a cure for this slow demise of the horse racing industry. So many great older contributers to these blogs don’t appear here anymore. Their reasons are their own but maybe the sad state of horse racing contributes to it.
    Thank goodness Steve we have you to keep these memories alive.

    • Fran says:

      It is nice to see a different horse get the award….

    • Steve Haskin says:

      Thanks Deacon. Not much discsussion, so I’m not sure how alive I’m keeping them. Perhaps the exodus from the sport is more prevalent than we thought and people are tired of talking about it. I hope I’m wrong..

      • Deacon says:

        Maybe I am wrong but perhaps these recent deaths at Churchill Downs & Saratoga may have driven folks away from horse racing. No one wants to go to a sporting event to watch one of your heroes die. When horses break down it can be & usually is gruesome to watch. It’s not a TV movie it’s real life. Stuff like that can traumatize young folks.
        I don’t know how to fix this. I do know that as long as you write these stories I will always be there to read them.

        • Steve Haskin says:

          Those two breakdowns at Saratoga were so horrific and right in front of everyone it feft people traumatized. Imagiine the number of young people who will not want to return

  20. SJ says:

    As you are aware, or maybe forgot, the sale of Majestic Prince was merely a paper transaction. $250,000 never changed hands, as Frank McMahon merely bought out Leslie Combs & Spendthrift’s share in their partnership. But it made bold headlines, which was its intention. You know where The Prince went to stud.

  21. Ms Blacktype says:

    Great piece on where we are in horse racing today, Steve, and on all of the possible candidates for the Vox Populi award. The horse who resonates for me most this year is Arcangelo — although Cody’s Wish is a close second for his sheer guttyness in his Vosburgh win and good work all year. And Cody’s Wish is FIVE, ancient for a racehorse of his quality.

    When will the candidates be announced, and the dates for voting?

  22. Todd Vaughn says:

    Thanks, Steve for laying out the causes and symptoms of racing’s decline. What remains of our culture has simply left racing behind. Part of the problem is the physical distance from real, live horses. Not many generations ago, most people were physically connected to horses. Now, they are images on a screen and figures on a page. I am guilty of that myself. I could be at Delaware Park in an hour, but it has basically become a casino with horses, and considering traffic and expenses, i’d rather stay home. In the 80s and 90s, the Atlantic City meet was the highlight of any year for me, but that is gone. Racing’s decline was predictable. In 1985, the year of the grand re opening, i worked on the backstretch at Garden State. Opening night, you could not move without brushing against another body; the next night, the place was empty. Now, other than Saratoga, Del Mar, and Keeneland, all tracks are empty. Racing is not alone. Malls killed main street, now Amazon has killed malls. Sad to say, but racing is not coming back as it was. As for Vox Populi, i haven’t really connected with any of the horses. I would probably vote for Arcangelo. Jena has brought some interest to racing, particularly from women, and that little chip on Jena’s shoulder doesn’t bother me.

    • Davids says:

      Todd, I think horse racing has become akin to the cinema. Most people watch movies at home via Netflix et al but, on occasion a big film will draw the fans back for a one night stand at the movies.

      • Todd Vaughn says:

        I guess the saying goes “nothing attracts a crowd like a crowd.” A packed track and you are part of an event. An empty track and you feel like a degenerate. The baseball playoffs yesterday revealed the same. Philly was packed and raucous; Tampa was empty and depressing. Maybe the new, compact Belmont Park will help.

        • Davids says:

          Excellent point, the architecture of a sporting event, cinema, art gallery can play a major part of enhancing a sense import, inclusion, excitement. They shrank the size of cinemas when television, and, more so video, dominated the viewing public so that you felt you were in company.

          The old, often empty Belmont Park could be the loneliest place to be at times. Remember when sporting arenas started alternating the color of seats to give an impression on television that the house was full when in fact there was low attendance. Even at home you don’t want to feel you are the only one watching.

  23. Eliza says:

    This sums it up, sir. We can still find a few horses to really love and follow, but glory will be much harder to find.

    As with so many other things, ‘radix malorum est cupiditas’: ‘the love of money is the root of all evil.’

    Some watchdog ought to be tracking the sale toppers from Keeneland and Fasig-Tipton et al. How many horses who sold for six or seven figures ever accomplish anything much on the track? The breeders, consignors, and the owners whose horse wins one multi-million dollar race make the money. Then retire your horse and breed a stallion to too many mares, or hope your champion mare foals a couple of sale toppers. Sad.

    I guess my current favorite is Arcangelo– five starts, four wins, and a good story including a $35,000 auction price. Will he run next year as a more mature, stronger, faster horse? Probably not, but I’d like to see him win the Classic for his relatively small-time owner and beat the giant racing operations!

  24. Gloria U says:

    Hi Steve,

    I just got done reading your story on Zenyatta (Sept. 23) and like in the good old Blood Horse days, I was teary-eyed (in a good way!) reading about her. She is my favorite of them all. I sometimes forget about this forum. I guess I need to follow it on FB and X, or as I like to call it, Twitter. Anyway, I went to Santa Anita Friday, Saturday and Sunday. No one was there on Friday (they got 4000+ in attendance), Saturday, there were more people than I expected, especially with it raining on and off throughout the day and Sunday, which I was disappointed the Zenyatta Stakes drew ONLY four horses. It’s why I’m trying to go as often as I can make it to Santa Anita. It is a short drive for me and with the cost of gas out here going up, up, up, it’s the only place I can afford to go to have fun. I’m sad about horses like Justify and Flightline who only race a few times before calling it a career. I loved Justify and before you know it, he was gone. Same with Flightline. I guess I can be happy about being able to see these two race in person. For now, I will keep going, taking pictures of these beautiful creatures and having my one-of-a-kind souvenirs. Have a great day, Steve, and keep the stories coming.

    • Matthew W says:

      Gloria, since you live close ….have you attended the early morning works! Arrive in the dark, it’s free to come in walk past the stable entrance and there’s a breakfast kitchen that serves a full breakfast and coffee for less than a restaurant —and your sitting with the horsemen, watching hundreds of working horses….free parking, free admission, cheap and good eats—and those beautiful horses, as the sun comes up over those San Gabriel Mountains….

      • Gloria U says:

        Hi Matthew,

        Oh yes, I’ve been to the morning workouts. Since we have Breeders’ Cup this year, as soon as I see horses training with their BC saddle cloths, I will be going in the mornings. I love it out there in the morning. Watching the sun come up. Crisp, cool air. The mountains. I almost wish they’d run the races in the morning. And I never know which horses I’m going to get pictures of (which is why I wait for the saddle cloths before going out there). Sometimes it’s a surprise if I can’t see the name of the horse as I take the picture. LOL! I’ve come home and uploaded my photos and thought to myself, “Holy cow, I got a picture of so-and-so”.

        • Matthew W says:

          Yes that’s right! I’m pretty sure they have an hour where only Breeders Cup horses can work, so get out your camera! I want to see Zandon, it looks like he has put on some muscle, as a four year old! Also Arcangelo is here, and Steve A has his threesome, of Gunite, Echo Zulu, Clairiere….