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 Editorials

Thoughts from our editor, Joe Clancy. For archived editorials click here.

Diving into the new year

Happy New Year. It’s 2024. Got resolutions? This year, I resolve to have a concrete idea for each of these columns – a subject, a point, a declaration, an opinion. 

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Stable tour magic at Breeders' Cup

Over and over, Bill Mott opened a stall screen and made an introduction. “Racehorse, meet this guy Joe,” the Hall of Fame trainer said without opening his mouth or actually saying anything. “Joe, meet this racehorse.” 

Late on a Wednesday morning toward the end of the season at Saratoga Race Course this summer, Mott fulfilled his Fasig-Tipton Stable Tour duties for The Saratoga Special newspaper. I was a last-minute substitute for my brother, stuck in a Saratoga rental while staring at a positive Covid-19 test. Sean was out, I was in. And Mott was on. We think he might prefer to be anywhere else. We also think he enjoys it. 

We visited 33 horses counting stable pony Bugsy, I put together the Stable Tour for the final edition of 2023 – readers love it – and didn’t think much about it from there.

Until Breeders’ Cup Weekend at Santa Anita Park, where tour subjects Cody’s Wish, Elite Power and Just F Y I won. Each might be a champion this year and each prodded a little something from Mott back in late August.

• Just F Y I: The 2-year-old filly won her debut by a head four days earlier, on Travers Day. Her neighbor, Munny Rockette, lost her debut six days before that. Mott tried to make sense of training 2-year-olds. With a nod toward one and then the other, he said, “She won and she didn’t, but if you’d have asked me beforehand who’s better, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you. It’s all what situation it is, who they’re in against, a lot of things. They both ran well. She won and the other one didn’t. She’s got feet like this [hands six inches apart] and you’d think, ‘Well, maybe she’s going to have to have grass’ but she never worked like she did.”

She didn’t. George Krikorian’s homebred daughter of Justify won Aqueduct’s Frizette Stakes-G1 in October and then blitzed 11 rivals in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies-G1.

• Elite Power: Champion male sprinter of 2022 had his eight-race winning streak snapped by Gunite in the Forego Stakes-G1 four days prior, but didn’t seem to care. The chestnut met Mott at the door and filled it with a broad head. “Don’t trust him too much. He’s tough. You go into catch him . . . the grooms bribe him with carrots but if you go in there without them, he can be pretty tough on you. The winner came back quick too out of the same race, but . . . coming back quick . . . slow pace . . . we gave the winner six pounds. You can make some excuses or reasons [for the defeat]. I think the pace probably worked against him.”

Mott pondered next steps for the son of Curlin, then pretty much agreed not to run him until the Breeders’ Cup more than two months in the future. Elite Power stayed at Saratoga, didn’t breeze for a month, cranked back into form with four workouts on the Oklahoma Training Track and ousted Gunite to repeat in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint-G1.

• Cody’s Wish: The horse of the year (lowercase) if not the Horse of the Year in 2023, you know him because of his success and his improbable connection to young Kentuckian and namesake Cody Dorman. Mott cracked half a smile and made an unnecessary introduction. “You know this one? Here, put your hand in here and see what happens.” Cody’s Wish looked at once like a man-eating dragon and a biscuit-begging Labrador, but I didn’t move my hand. Four weeks back, Mott tried to stretch the son of Curlin to 11⁄8 miles in the Whitney Stakes-G1, only to see his winning streak stopped by White Abarrio. Mott considered the decision and what would come next. “We tried something different . . . There were some suspicions that it wasn’t his best distance and it turned out that way. I guess I could have waited for the Forego, but I had the other horse for that. It was just kind of thinking that if he was able to win the Met Mile and the Whitney, that would be pretty special. What else could you expect?” 

In a word, nothing. Unbothered by the defeat (or our visit), Cody’s Wish went back to work at Saratoga, won the Vosburgh Stakes-G2 at Aqueduct Oct. 1 and added a second consecutive Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile-G1 to further extend a magical career that reached far beyond racing. 

In late August, the tour felt like a respite from a stormy year complete with deaths on the racetrack at Saratoga, a confusing launch of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority, a contracting industry with smaller foal crops and all the uncertainty in the Mid-Atlantic. For an hour, I walked the shedrow and listened to a master’s-level class about training. 

Mott found individuality in, and talked about ways to unlock the potential of, each horse whether it was unraced 2-year-old Knightsbridge (a blowout debut winner in November) or 9-year-old turf icon Channel Maker (now part of the herd at Old Friends retirement farm). 

In the moment, I thought I was lucky. I really had no idea.

Racing people press on in face of challenges

Maybe it’s happenstance, but when a Fasig-Tipton Midlantic sale goes well, Boyd Browning gives regional director Paget Bennett the honor of talking to the media afterward. When things don’t go so well, or are a little off for one reason or another, the Kentucky-based president and CEO takes the reins.

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Saratoga 2023 shocks can spur improvement

In shock. That’s probably the best answer to the question of how racing people felt as the 2023 racing season at Saratoga Race Course ended. I’ll assume it wasn’t all that different from how people felt at Churchill Downs in the spring. And I know it’s the same feeling people walked away from the 2023 Preakness Day at Pimlico. 

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Augustus left a racing legacy

I get to interview plenty of people in this job. The sessions can come on the phone or in person; be formal or casual. I’ve asked hard questions, easy questions, dumb questions, too many questions and not enough questions.

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A big life: Maryland breeder Higgins will be missed

Donald Barr and Milton Higgins were born in the same Massachusetts hospital, not that that made them instant friends or even the same age, but it was at least the taproot of a long friendship. It ended in April when Higgins died in Hawaii. He was 85.

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