One and Done Again

April 28, 2012

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One and Done Again

We’ve heard a lot lately about the “one and done” theory of recruiting college basketball players.  Most recently it came to the sports headlines when the entire starting team of the University of Kentucky national champion basketball team declared itself for the NBA draft.

Coach John Calapari has been a proponent of that recruiting tactic and, in this “just win” era of sports, that seems to be a very popular process for putting together a good team.  His star player, Anthony Davis, is likely to be the first pick at that draft and it appears that it is a rallying cry for the fan base of the University of Kentucky. Calapari is the highest-paid coach in the college ranks and on a higher level than those who would compete with him for the “blue chip” prospects, since he doesn’t expect any more of them than one season.  Since most of those youngsters have dreams of playing in the NBA, putting in the minimum required with others at their level places them squarely in the spotlight.

For quite a few of those young players it’s especially nice that someone will pay their way for the one semester which is technically required of them and then they can go off in pursuit of big dollars.

“One and done” has a different meaning in the sport of thoroughbred racing.  When a thoroughbred races for one year and is retired to the breeding shed, life does change, but for the fans, that animal is out of sight and, as far as the public is concerned, the horse will no longer impact their lives.  I hope I’m wrong with runners like Rachel Alexandra and Havre de Grace, but the fact is that the overwhelming number of great female runners who have retired have had little success at the breeding shed in producing anything close to their racing accomplishments.  Consider names like Lady’s Secret, Winning Colors and Azeri. Their offspring never carried the quality of performances of their famed dams.

So here we are with Havre de Grace.  Now technically she’s not “One and done” since she did race in both 2009 and 2010.  But she raced very little and only hit the national spotlight in 2011.  Thanks to a series of races in 2010 she had established a bit of a rivalry with champion Blind Luck and racing fans, starved for another really good rivalry like Affirmed-Alydar and Easy Goer-Sunday Silence, were eager for that to develop.

Here at Oaklawn the only local 2011 edition of that rivalry occurred in the Azeri Stakes, when Havre de Grace convincingly established herself with a clear win.  The twosome did match one more time, at Delaware Park in the Delaware Handicap, to some the Race of the Year.  They races side-by-side through the stretch with Blind Luck gaining a narrow decision at the wire.  That was the last they would see of each other as they ducked one another the rest of the way.  Havre de Grace was sent after male rivals, in somewhat the same way that Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta, the two distaffers who preceded her as Horse-of-the-Year, had done and it worked out that Havre de Grace garnered the top honor for her endeavors.

So Havre de Grace is technically not a “One and done”, but for all intents and purposes, to racing fans she joins the ranks of other stars of this decade, Smarty Jones, Afleet Alex, Curlin, Animal Kingdom, Mine That Bird and Rachel Alexandra, who were on the national stage for essentially one year and disappeared.

As we approach the Triple Crown season, we again have our hopes for some great matches which will survive the test of time.  May these horses not just give their best, but also find that some real rivalries can develop which sustain interest in the sport beyond the Triple Crown.

It hurt to see Mamma Kimbo withdrawn from the Kentucky Oaks next Friday.  The Fantasy winners have often gone on to great success, although last year’s winner, Joyful Victory, did not sustain her form and has not reached the level many expected.  Now with Mamma Kimbo out of the race, Oaklawn’s hopes rest on the very talented On Fire Baby, winner of the Honeybee, and Amie’s Dini, who chased both On Fire Baby and Mamma Kimbo in their Oaklawn wins.

A rivalry between On Fire Baby and Mamma Kimbo would have been a joy to follow, but it doesn’t look like that will happen.  Meanwhile Bodemeister continues as the likely favorite for the Kentucky Derby following his dominant victory in the Arkansas Derby, so our fans will have plenty to cheer for on Derby Day.

The big problem racing needs to address is how to keep these horses in action for more than one season.  We’ve seen some real stars in Azeri and Zenyatta continue in action for numerous seasons and the Zenyatta impact has the makings of movie material before long.  How much better it would have been had she not lost the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic by a nose.

For the time being, I’ll be watching not just the winners, but how they come back and what’s in the cards for them over the long haul.  We don’t just need a winner in our sport, we need some horses to separate themselves as elite and compete on that level.  That may be a pipedream, but it’s mine.

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