Monthly Archives: May 2009


                                                               Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas


It’s become an annual column. The stupidity of racing three-year-old horses three times in five weeks at distances they have never run before and, in the case of the Belmont at a mile-and-a-half, a distance they will never run again, is becoming more evident every year.


Once upon a time, horses, even three-year-olds, raced quite frequently. It wasn’t unusual for a horse to race two or three weeks apart. While even in yesteryear three races in five weeks was a difficult grind, it wasn’t absurd.

But that was then. This is now.


Well, it’s pretty simple. The overwhelming majority of owners and trainers with Triple Crown horses simply don’t race them in all three legs anymore. In fact, the Triple Crown races, whether you like to hear it or not, have become simply a trio of races to shoot for by only one horse – the Kentucky Derby winner. With good horses rarely racing once every four, five or even six weeks, it now seems stupid or even dangerous to race three times in five weeks.


The owners and trainers have spoken loudly by simply walking away from the entry box. Last year, only Derby winner Big Brown and one other horse (Gayego) raced in both the Derby and the Preakness. This year, only Derby winner Mine That Bird and Flying Private are expected to race in all three Triple Crown races. You’d have to count Preakness-winning filly Rachel Alexandra if she decides to go in the Belmont (a foolish mistake if they enter her, it says here) for a grand total of three (the filly won the day before the Derby in the Kentucky Oaks for three-year-old fillies).

The owners and trainers actions (or inactions) speak volumes.


Well, there’s actually a simple solution that will help the horses and help the sport. Virtually everybody knows that the Kentucky Derby is the first Saturday in May. A perfect schedule to keep interest up for eight weeks would be the first Saturday in May (the Derby), the first Saturday in June (the Preakness) and the first Saturday in July (the Belmont). Throw in the Travers at Saratoga in late August and you have a fantastic four-race block for the best three-year-olds on the planet – with a reasonable (for the 21st Century) time frame.


It looks like the problem is tradition. While tradition is to be greatly respected, there has to be a common-sense approach to protect these animals. When Barbaro broke down in the Preakness in 2006, was it because he raced two weeks after the Derby? We’ll never know of course, but he had raced only two times in 13 weeks before the Derby and then two times in 14 days. You get the point.


For decades, baseball pitchers took the ball wih three days of rest. They would start about 40-41 games a year. Today, and for the last 30 years (at least), pitchers take the ball with four days of rest. They now start about 34-35 games a year.


In addition, the complete game in major league baseball is almost extinct. Once upon a time it was virtually common place. The “tradition” or the “toughness” factor has changed drastically in pitching. If a guy comes out for the eighth inning, his start is sometimes deemed heroic – seriously.

To race a horse three times in five weeks in the 21st Century would be like starting a pitcher every fourth day in the 21st Century. To race a horse at these lengthy distances (especially the Belmont) in the 21st Century would be like making a starting pitcher go nine innings every time he starts in the 21st Century – no matter what.


It’s beyond stupid.


Of course, pitchers can talk and horses (other than Mr. Ed) can’t.


Hopefully, the powers-that-be in thoroughbred racing will soon see the obvious – that racing these horses at these distances this frequently long ago became a stupid, dangerous thing. Maybe someone with a brain (and some power) can do something about this glaring problem.


We’ll see.


© Copyright 2008 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.


                               Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas


Many of you remember Calvin Borel’s rail-skimming victory in the 2007 Kentucky Derby with Street Sense. Nicknamed Calvin “Bo-rail,” for his penchant for staying inside to save ground and coming up the inside to win many races, this writer thought that Street Sense was, arguably, the luckiest Derby winner in history. After all, he passed 17 horses on the inside (he passed two horses on the outside), a virtually impossible thing to do in the cavalry charge that is a 20-horse Derby field. But Calvin did it and, while he was commended for his ride (and his guts), he was able to do it with a horse who was always considered to be a top Derby contender.


Flash forward to 2009 (after Big Brown’s 2008 Derby win). Calvin Borel showed up to ride huge longshot Mine That Bird. No “expert” gave Calvin or the horse any shot. He was beyond a longshot, if that’s possible. By now many of you know the story of Mine That Bird ($9,500 yearling, his trainer, Bennie Woolley, Jr. – the guy on crutches – had put the horse in a horse trailer and trucked him 21 hours from New Mexico to Churchill Downs, etc.).


But he at least had a license to be in the Derby, which is limited to the top 20 money-earners who drop in the box. Mine That Bird was a standout two-year-old last year in Canada. His present owners paid $400,000 to buy him over the winter. And he had higher earnings than eight horses in the Derby, which is how you get into the Derby.


In any event, Calvin Borel became Calvin Bo-rail again and he virtually replicated his 2007 Derby-winning ride with Street Sense. Mine That Bird was last for the first three-quarters-of-a-mile in the Derby and then passed 17 horses on the inside to win for fun by almost seven lengths (he passed one horse on the outside). For Borel to come up the inside, especially through that tiny space in the stretch, took more than guts. For him to win the Derby again, this time with a 50-1 shot, will, it says here, change the way the Derby is raced in the future. 




Everybody who knows anything about handicapping is familiar with the “save all the ground you can” theory of race-riding. Clearly, Calvin Borel had mastered that long before he won his first Derby with Street Sense. But it’s one thing to do it with a favorite; it’s quite another to do it with a 50-1 shot.


So, next year, there will be 10 or so horses with no chance on the board, you know, 20-1 or higher. If you’re training one of these longshots, don’t you have a conversation with your rider? If you run into the usual problems that one runs into in a 20-horse race (you know, crowding, bumping, being knocked three, four, five wide around the turns, clipping heels , etc., etc., etc.), why not take a flyer and just tell your jock to hit the rail and hope for the best? After all, it’s now no longer the miracle trip – Calvin Borel has done it twice in the last three years. This, of course, assumes that the inside is a good place to be, not from a ground-saving point of view, but from a track bias point of view (is the inside good? Is the outside good? Do you have to be in the middle of the stretch for the best footing? etc.)




Well, it seemed like for 130 years the inside really wasn’t the place to be in a large field like the Derby (too much traffic inside, you’d have to, by definition in a 20-horse field, check once or twice if you stay inside, if you’ve got a lot of horse you want your horse to avoid traffic problems so you move him outside for clear sailing, etc.). But now, given the two Bo-rail wins in the last three years, that theory has to, at least, be questioned.


Why wouldn’t a jockey, especially one riding a longshot, just take a flyer on the inside? If he gets shut off, as one would certainly have thought Street Sense or Mine That Bird would have been shut off, he finishes tenth but he took a flyer. If he doesn’t get shut off (again, presuming that it’s good on the inside of the track from a footing perspective), he’s got a big chance to be on the board in (or even win) the biggest race of the year.




Of course, if this does come into play (and this should be a factor in next year’s Derby), you have to watch out for the overreaction. That is, maybe six or seven trainers and/or jockeys have the same thought – hit the rail, save ground and hope for the best. If that happens, then what we normally think would happen, especially in a 20-horse field, will happen – that is, there will be no room along the rail and jockeys will be checking their horses in the middle of a race, possibly losing all chance in the process. And never underestimate the guts it takes to do what Calvin Borel does on a regular basis – coming up the inside is not for the faint of heart. It’s potentially a very dangerous thing.




It says here that some will change the way they ride the Derby, influenced by Calvin Borel’s two Derby wins. We won’t know until the race is actually run (hard to believe that any trainer or jockey would admit they’re going to try it in advance). Will it work? Will it cause an accident? Will it make a Derby favorite a loser or a Derby longshot a winner? Those questions will be answered on the first Saturday in May in the next few years.


© Copyright 2008 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.