Race of the Week 2017

HRN Original Blog:
Racing Hearts
Posted Wednesday, November 01, 2017

When serious thoughts occurred to John Gaines, he knew more serious action was required.

In his Lexington farmhouse study, after watching a CBS “60 Minutes” feature in 1980, Gaines realized the perception of his sport. Horse racing was cruel and drug riddled. All trainers were crooked. The sport was un-regulated. And this, he conjectured, came after the roaring ‘70s saw television ratings race alongside the golden track warriors that were Secretariat, Affirmed and Spectacular Bid. Nowadays, the casual cable news watcher knows that a well-placed smear can disrupt even the most glittering of reputations. Kernels of fact can be built into a tsunami of ugliness.

Gaines knew it even then. John Gaines, even as a ‘son of the boss’ of inherited largess, lived in a competitive bloodstock arena where stallion managers had to produce viable racing progeny to survive, much less get these foals to the training track and, beyond that, to a stakes race. Analysis depended on cool-eyed assessments of relative strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats — a SWOT methodology practiced by competitive leaders that want to stay in the race. He understood that the breeding industry survival and its racing product’s viewership depended on consistently solid entertainment value

Competition is visual, and there are few things more exciting than a horse race.
  Yet, the business end of a racehorse, its bloodlines and fostering of same, however, are more oblique to a sports viewer. Gaines also realized that maybe this sport of kings had a elitist champagne image when more of a beer taste was required. What American racing needed, he thought to himself, was a fall racing meet that broadened the racing schedule and continued public interest beyond the Triple Crown series

John Gaines also recognized a gap in the narrative of racing as a sport and a televised competition. What he saw was a need to romance the story of horse racing, by exampling its many storied chapters, from the breeding shed through the training to the track laced with the skills that peopled these champion barns. There had been racehorses throughout recorded history that had lifted the human spirit, sheltered dreams and inspired national pride. Gaines knew that the occasional fan only saw the obvious: the burnished coat of the winner and the smiles of the winning horse’s connections after a fast display of athleticism. The backstories featured on telecasts usually concentrated on the rare few equines that had beaten the odds of risk and reward

The few, the proud, the best of the umpteen thousand foals born in a year could not be expressed in statistical analysis. Then there were the tele-induced tidbits of supposed facts, like that CBS report that betrayed the alchemy and legitimacy of thoroughbred sport and failed to revere how racing, as a contested sport, was as ancient as recorded history would allow. History can be an iterative para-science subjective to interpretation. Gaines, himself, was fascinated with the origins of racing and, moreover, the service that horses had performed for mankind in the development of nations. From the Middle Eastern desert to the bluegrass of Kentucky, the thoroughbred story is woven into the ascendancy of many cultures including the United States. Horses worked the fields, transported families, carried men and munitions into battle and then entertained and lifted our spirits through their athletic agility

This was a significant story hardly ever told to a broadcast public. As Gaines mused, he began to outline a plan…a plan to establish a fall event that would celebrate the best in the world and provide a canvas for telling the story of the bloodlines and the practice of breeding the best of equine talent, or as doctrine has it: breed the best to the best and hope for the best.

Gaines had an idea and envisioned a summit for champions, scheduled for the fall of every year — an idea that became known as the Breeders’ Cup.
  He wanted a Super Bowl for racing.  Crazy? Many sage observers thought so. In hindsight, “crazy” becomes innovative genius. Moreover, crazy ideas cost money. While woodshedding the original concept with Nelson Bunker Hunt and John Galbreath, the question became how to raise the original operating and winning purse cost and, most importantly, how to get the most prominent stallion operations involved with the organization

Banking on his connections within the Kentucky breeding community and some goading from Hunt, a meeting was called, and his plan detailed to the assemblage. From Claiborne, they recruited Seth Hancock, along with Windfield’s Charles Taylor, Will Farish from Lane’s End and Leslie Combs from Spendthrift. John Nerud, Brereton Jones from Airdrie Stud and oilman Nelson Bunker Hunt were also included along with Walmac’s John Jones. During that meeting, the concept was generally accepted, yet there was suspicion of the hidden agenda that included: favoritism on host track location, qualification of equine entries for first two yearly runnings, seed money, and television interest for national broadcast of all of the proposed seven races. As Gaines, himself, was later to reflect, “There is always somebody trying to shoot down a good idea.

The naysayers speculated on the Breeders’ Cup’s potential failures and weaknesses. But the core idea and the group continued to consider the details of launching such an ambitious project. The Breeders Cup, originally franchised as Breeders Incentives, LTD, in ’81, was reincorporated in its present form in ’82. Gaines resigned his leadership position within the group shortly afterward, as he felt that some of the divisiveness centered on him and not on the idea. Yet Gaines continued to promote the Breeders Cup and is remembered as its founder.

In my study of corporate cases that focus on failures of organizational leadership to adjust to events, anticipate risks and/or fail to anticipate and react to competition, status quo maintenance is a dangerous mindset. This thinking renders an organization vulnerable to a takeover, brand dissolution and destruction of consumer trust. I believe Gaines sensed that stagnation in the breeding industry’s marketing of itself, therefore making it vulnerable for an ambitious broadcast producer to take a turn at attacking what was perceived as an elitist operation. How does one sell the word ‘breeder’ much less the concept of pedigree ‘nicking’ to a television audience? The term almost sounds medical.

Ask the powers of CBS and ABC that passed on the original Breeders Cup because they didn’t think that they could sell it. NBC got it as they absorbed the storytelling aspect of the concept. Gaines’ idea concentrated on showing the results of those same careful breedings: racing the best against the best. The Breeders Cup was generated by a visionary who had a concept, the tenacity to persuade a confederacy of doubters and humility to allow the idea to reign.

Dear John Gaines: Thank you for one crazy good idea.

Cartoon by A.E. Sabo at

Posted Tuesday, October 31, 2017
On a recent visit to the retired champ, we found this horse has a way with the ladies.
Posted Monday, October 09, 2017
The racing community gathered Monday at Keeneland to pay their respects to Penny Chenery, "First Lady of Thoroughbred Racing."
Posted Sunday, October 08, 2017
Take a look back in Breeders’ Cup history to the 1986 Distaff and Lady’s Secret.
Posted Wednesday, September 27, 2017
I would propose that jockeys, the outstanding ones, are amongst the best strategic planners on the planet.
Posted Sunday, July 02, 2017
For every lengthening stride that one can view in a major stake, the odds are that Dana Barnes had something to do with that horse’s racing confidence. That is, if the horse comes from the Bob Baffert barn.
Posted Sunday, May 28, 2017
There is a bookshelf on a wall in a tiny library in North Carolina, a pulpit for inspiration, that holds librettos for two champions, California Chrome and Secretariat. Those words continue to inspire their readers to persevere and make hearts race.
Posted Friday, April 28, 2017
There is nothing like a storyline that waves aside the Kentucky Derby prep handicapping myths, formulas and pedigree theories. Good stories give the casual Derby enthusiast access to both the majesty and the operational mechanics of getting a thoroughbred to the starting gate of America’s marquee race. This would be the theme of this Derby blog, no deep thinking handicapping herein nor reverent racing lore. I look for stuff that would interest a K-Mart shopper or a global business investor or even one of my cousins. And this is a tale of a tail that makes me grin and hopefully, the readers as well.
Posted Tuesday, March 21, 2017
America has sent it’s best to Dubai for their premier $30 million race day. To be exact, team USA features speed, diplomatic charm with a touch of comedy in the form of the ever-so-lucky trainer and gifted interviewee, Bob Baffert. Baffert once famously quipped that “Somedays you are the bug and somedays you are the windshield….” His team of top guns, world’s number one, Arrogate, and, the gallant Hoppertunity with smilin’ Mike Smith and the handsome Florent Giroux piloting the colts, is a fairly strong deflector for the challengers.
Posted Friday, January 20, 2017
One last dance for racing's biggest star.
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Meet Kate Richards 

From an early age, Kate liked to watch horses run and get dressed up. And while she has outgrown the patent mary-janes, the sport of horse racing still holds a magical allure for her. 

“It’s the whole look, smell and feel of the track” says Kate. “I like to watch the people in all their craziness, the drama of the actual race and fashion statements during the big days.” Yet it is the whole industry that has her in thrall…the business side of it, from the boutiques selling racewear to the bars shilling specialty beverages, the track backside thick with intrigue and secrets to the colorful track employees it’s the whole magilla that makes the sport have flavor unlike anything else. 

Everyone has an event, a person or a situation that is cathartic. For Kate, it was Barbaro who induced the awareness of rescue and retirement in to her consciousness. One vow that she made from that acknowledgement was to support rescue and retirement facilities, jockey and equine safety. Protecting the athletes is a key issue. “With any sports entity that is ticketed there is the duality of exciting entertainment and risk” says Kate.”Both are needed…the entertainment value to keep the sport worthy of new fans and the risk to remind the industry to be diligent about safety.

Kate grew up in a tiny town called Proctorville in North Carolina, graduated from Stephens College in Missouri and will collect her Doctorate in Organizational Development and Change in 2018 from Colorado Tech if she ever finishes her dissertation, which oddly, is NOT about horse racing. 

Kate claims to be an amateurish handicapper who just gets lucky.

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