Stars? We don't need no stinkin' starsWell, OK, maybe we need some stars, but their creation should be organic not forced just because of a Grade 1 win or notoriety on the Triple Crown trail.
Granted, the collective departures of Grade 1 winners Bodemeister, Hansen, I'll Have Another, Paynter, and Union Rags in the past three months is not ideal but nor is it likely to have any meaningful impact on the sport.
Exhibit "A" is this year's Travers Stakes, a Grade 1 race in which the only Grade 1-winning entrant (Liaison) was on a seven-race losing streak. As I said in a previous blog post, this field was more like a bunch of also rans playing out the loser's bracket of a tournament already won by the aforementioned retired horses than it was an exercise in determining the best three-year-old.
Indeed, my over/under line on number of Grade 1 wins by the 11 starters going forward is 2.5 for their careers and .5 for this year because the only Grade 1 races remaining for three-year-old males are the Malibu (7 furlongs, dirt), Jamaica (1 1/8 miles, turf), and Hollywood Derby (1 1/4 miles, turf). I.e., I don't give this group much of a chance to beat older in Grade 1 events.
But who cares? Well, racing fans at large certainly don't. Attendance for the motley crew concert was 46,528, up 8.1% from the previous year, and all-sources handle also increased, up 10.8% to $36,597,173.
If I'll Have Another had won the Triple Crown and raced in this year's Travers would that have increased those figures? Of course, but a star of that magnitude is in a different galaxy than the balls of gas that claim Union Rags would have done anything meaningful for racing.
Let's use Royal Delta as an example. Last year's champion three-year-old filly and Breeders' Cup Ladies Classic winner sold for $8.5-million at the Keeneland November breeding stock sale and easily could have been retired, but she returned this year and while her presence in races certainly gives some of them a "headline name", her star power is not so massive that it has its own gravity, as I would have a hard time arguing that her presence has mattered to Dubai, Churchill, Delaware Park, or Saratoga.
Yet had she been retired following that sale, I have no doubt that the din of cries claiming that "racing needs stars" and "the breeding business is the tail wagging the dog" would have been deafening.
Racing does need stars. It needs the Smarty Jones and Zenyatta and Frankel types to show it can be done and to fuel our imagination when the NBT (next big thing) comes around. But we don't need to pretend that Bodemeister was a star of that magnitude. Yes, I was bullish on his talent. I thought he was good enough to win the Breeders' Cup Classic and be Horse of the Year this year, but someone else will accomplish those things, and regardless of what races Bodemeister may have won between the Preakness and Breeders' Cup it's doubtful that he would have done enough to influence the Breeders' Cup's business.
Which brings us back to Frankel, who certainly would affect Breeders' Cup business, as the crush of media would turn the World Championships into a true international phenomenon, and maybe even Bethenny Frankel would get involved on the hype.
He is the type of horse that moves the dial. The others are just interchangeable Grade 1 winners. Fun to watch and certainly capable of providing a thrill a la this year's Travers Stakes but not needed to help the sport grow.