Winter 2006

It ain’t gonna happen—not in this country, not now. . .and, most likely, never.

 The week prior to this year’s Breeders’ Cup, Daily Racing Form and Washington Post columnist Andrew Beyer launched a gratuitous missile at the US racing operation of the Maktoum Family in an article where he claiming that they are trying to “buy the game” and that “. . .their domination of U.S racing will harm the sport in an important, if intangible way.”

I’ve known Andrew Beyer a long time, back to the days when we were both young journalists covering racing—in fact, all the way back to the days when he was just plain “Andy”.  He’s a good journalist, one who appeals to the most important segment of the racing public, the betting fans.  And he has even created a system of indexing a horse’s performance in a race, the Beyer Speed figure, which helps poor ignorant schleps like me who have pretty much forgotten how to handicap a race to win the occasional race.

Maybe Beyer was just infected by the xenophobic paranoia with which our esteemed political leaders are trying to inoculate the population, these days, but his fear that the Maktoums will dominate racing in the United States is, to my way of thinking, totally unfounded.  True, they have had an exceptional year what with Invasor and Bernardini having finished one-two in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (I’ll leave off the “Powered by Dodge”, if you don’t mind)—Invasor having previously won the Pimlico Special, the Whitney Stakes and the Suburban Handicap; Bernardini already winning the Preakness, Travers Stakes and the Jockey Club Gold Cup.  On top of that Jazil won the Belmont Stakes and Rashid Maktoum’s Henny Hughes was considered the top sprinter in the country before finishing last in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.

Prior to this year, though, the Maktoums had not really had any significant success racing in America, and one good year does not a dynasty make.  The Maktoums have a long way to go to approach—much less equal—the success of Calumet Farm, which was the country’s leading owner 12 times in the ‘40s and ‘50s, or even that of the Whitney and Phipps Families, when they were the racing powerhouses of the nation and the world.

Racing was different in the days when a single family or a single organization could consistently dominate the sport.  In the ‘50s about a third as many starters ran in about half as many races as we have today.  Furthermore, in England, where Beyer says, “The Maktums [sic] have dominated British racing for two decades so thoroughly that they now yearn for new worlds to conquer,” about 25% as many horses compete, today, for about 20% of the purses in about 16% of the races as you’ll find in the United States.   

If, indeed, it were possible for a single entity to control racing, I have no doubt whatsoever that it would be the Maktoums.  They have literally spent BillionS of dollars (with a capital B and capital S) trying.  And, as horsemen have advised for as long as I can remember, (a) they have bred the best to the best; (b) they have bought the best yearlings; (c) they have invested in top land on which they have constructed wonderful farms, and (d) most importantly, they have hired top-quality horsemen to run their operations.  In short  they have done everything in the book, by the book, in their attempts to become successful in US racing. 

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Having done all of that, I would think the Maktoums truly deserve some success, the kind that no one ever seemed to begrudge people like Bob and Beverly Lewis, John and Betty Mabee or any of the other highly-successful owners of recent times.  Maybe they are foreign, but like the other successful owners, they are motivated to spend all that money by their love of the horse, a love that extends beyond Thoroughbreds to other breeds and other disciplines.  One must admit they are true horsemen. 

They may have more money than almost anyone else in the world; they may be intensely competitive for horses and races, but, as long as there’s a John Henry, a Funny Cide or even a Seattle Slew, no one has been able to buy their way to consistent, continuing domination in Thoroughbred racing. 

‘Never have, never will.