Monday, December 19, 2011

Indian Charlie's gone

What's happening with all this cancer in good young horses?

Indian Charlie, one of the best of the Thoroughbred crop of 1995, was euthanized last week because of the rapid progression of hemangiosarcoma, a cancer of the blood vessels. He was 16 (yes, that's young. I recently lost my favorite mare at the age of 36 and she had been eating well and getting around easily until about a month before her death). He was already a successful sire with four North American champions including Uncle Mo. Now he's got a top two-year-old in Liaison, winner this past weekend of the CashCall Futurity.

Hemangiosarcoma is the same disease that struck Easy Goer at the age of eight. Supposedly Easy Goer died of anaphylactic shock with the cancer discovered upon necropsy, but one was almost certainly related to the other.

Just last May the 4-year-old filly Devil May Care, one of the best 3-year-olds of either sex in 2010, died of lymphosarcoma. And a few years ago the champion sprinter Lost in the Fog died of the same cancer, also at four. Cancer in horses is, thankfully, pretty rare, but it's likely to be lymphosarcoma when it strikes. On the other hand, hemangiosarcoma, seen occasionally in dogs, is quite rare in horses. So is there a lot more cancer these days?

Hard to say. Some experts think there always has been more equine cancer than anyone realizes. A horse with internal tumors may be put down due to colic caused by the tumors with no necropsy done and the death attributed to the colic. I'm not sure, though. Valuable horses have always been thoroughly diagnosed and usually necropsied for insurance purposes.

The only thing these four had in common was their exceptional good looks. Indian Charlie was one of the handsomest horses I've ever seen. Lost in the Fog was stunning and Easy Goer was beautiful too. I never saw Devil May Care.

Let's hope there's no more cancer than there has been in the past and that the only growth has been in media attention.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Uncle Mo retired

I'm not surprised to see this morning that Uncle Mo has been retired following his 10th place finish in the Breeders Cup Classic on Saturday. Even allowing for the fact that he might not have been able to get 10 furlongs against really good competition even at his best, he was certainly less than his best for at least a week. I'm usually sad to hear about a young horse retiring, but in this case it's surely the right thing to do.

He looked terrible in his Churchill Downs workout earlier in the week -- not so much slow as sickly -- and he should probably have been scratched. His liver enzymes are apparently up again, which has his people fearing a return of the disease that stopped him in the spring. I hope he recovers fully, since he is a magnificently fast and beautifully conformed horse with good breeding. He should make an outstanding stallion.

As for the Cup series -- they now may have to take applications for Horse of the Year. Nobody stands out and if none of the possible contenders races (and wins) before the balloting closes, the award will probably go to Havre de Grace, in spite of her so-so performance in the Classic.

Personally, I don't have a problem with choosing a horse who most dominated his (or in this case, her) division, rather than the horse most likely to win at 9 or 10 furlongs. If everybody agreed with me, the HOY would probably be either the two-year-old filly My Miss Aurelia or the three-year-old filly Royal Delta, who might even get a few votes from people who don't agree with that approach.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Breeders Cup is here!

It's three and a half hours to the first race in the Breeders Cup 2011 series and that makes a good place to begin this blog. I'm not going to pick winners (I've never been able to adequately separate the horses I think will win from those I'd like to see win, so I tend to hold on to my money).

Mares have taken center stage again this year and people have finally noticed something I've been saying for years: among horses of similar class, there's no automatic superiority of male over female in most racing categories. There's one notable exception. Among pacing Standardbreds, females tend to be a little slower. In trotting, I don't believe there's any difference, and if there weren't any filly and mare races, females would win in similar proportion to the number of entries.

Twenty years ago, when my book The Performence Mare was published, I qualified my opinion as to Thoroughbred racing. I believed that male and female sprinters were pretty much equal, given class equality, as were distance horses (look at all those Arc winners--another one this year). I said, though, that male horses might have a slight advantage in the middle distances.

I may have to take that back. The great French miler Goldikova will be going for her fourth straight Breeders Cup Mile tomorrow. Havre de Grace will be among the two or three favorites for the $5 million Classic, a race won in 2009 by Zenyatta, who then finished second last year in one of the great performances in the history of American racing.

Zenyatta, whose best distance was probably 9 furlongs (although she certainly could get the ten of the Classic) was Horse of the Year last year, following Rachel Alexandra's 2009 title. Rachel could win at 9 1/2 furlongs, but she was probably best at a mile. Havre de Grace will probably be Horse of the Year for 2011 if she wins (although she too is probably best at 9 furlongs).

By the way, the current Australian Horse of the Year is a mare, the magnificent Black Caviar, but she's a sprinter (although I'll bet she could get a mile). Anyway, today is Ladies Day at Churchill Downs with all the filly and mare races scheduled. The two big girls go tomorrow.