Thursday, February 19, 2015

Modern Records Broken

As I was walking through the lanes of bloggy nostalgia, I came across a post about my favorite racehorse.
The horse holding this honored position is the unconquerable, invincible, unbeatable Cigar!

Much to my heart's regret, the great Cigar recently became the late, great Cigar. The beloved champion and fan favorite passed away October of 2014.  I was fortunate enough to see the stallion twice at Kentucky Horse Park's Hall of Champions. I know people always anthropomorphise animals-especially race horses-by saying things like "that horse knew he was special". Well, I'm sorry, but Cigar new he was special! There were plenty of other Champions in that presentation that acted like...well...horses. This wasn't disappointing. I love seeing famous horses being horses. Finding pictures of Zenyatta covered in mud or Wise Dan in blanket enjoying a paddock makes me happy. However, Cigar was able to be a horse while still knowing who he was. The stallion simply walked differently. Stood differently. Took in his surroundings differently.   Like Secretariat, he knew where the cameras were. He posed. He knew we were there to see him.

Cigar was also the only horse I have had 'look through me'. I first heard that phrase in the Seabiscuit movie when Tom Smith was getting his first look at Seabiscuit. The narrator lets us know that Smith felt like the horse looked through him. Cigar did that to me. When they brought him around to my side of the pavilion, he had his head up, staring at the distance as I happily clicked away. He ignored me for probably seven shots, and then-without shifting his head-he dropped his gaze to me. I was able to get one photo before I simply froze under his stare. With what I could only describe as horsey satisfaction, he returned his focus to whatever he looked at before. Is it possible that he was simply looking at me and the power of his legend is what caused me to pause? Sure. Does that make as good of a memory? No.
Is that what I actually think?

Back to the title of this post.
In what has become not so recent years, some of Cigar's records were challenged and broken. There was a big fuss made about how these records were finally defeated, but I had to question...were they? If by number, they certainly weren't as impressive.

Now, before you get your hackles up saying I'm just a Cigar follower, both the horses in question are also atop my favorites list: Curlin and Zenyatta.

Curlin beat Cigar's record for most earnings in won in North America. Cigar held that for years before Curlin came along, finally nudging the legend out of the winning position. However, Curlin earned more in fewer races. Cigar had to win more to earn that much. Arguably, he worked harder for it. So, how did Curlin beat him?

Were his connections just more direct with what purses the races they entered held? Curlin's connections sought out fame and fortune, whereas Cigar's did a lot of traveling to share their wonder horse. Because of this, he may have missed out on some bigger winnings.

Have the purses themselves increased? Think about the Breeders' Cup Classic. The purse to the winner has definitely grown there.

So, is that really a fairly broken record? I'm not so sure. This holds true not just for Curlin beating Cigar, but for whomever Cigar beat as well. With more and more money being poured into purses, I think the focus needs to be shifted on how many Graded Stakes did they win. How many were Grade Is? That is where records become impressive.

That thought brings us into my next case: Zenyatta's winning streak. As the mare pounded away at her competition while writing her legend, a lot of hype came about when she was getting ready to challenge Citation and Cigar's win streak. Any horse stringing together his many Graded wins is impressive. Was Zenyatta's triumph over these two boys as impressive? Undecided. While she did extend that streak to 19, she did it over a much longer time span than Citation or Cigar. On one hand, that shows formidable staying power. It is no easy feat to stay at the top of this game for that many years. On the other hand, she was not run nearly as much as her counterparts.

This is simply a different way to view titles and records. So often we place importance on success without looking at the path that got them there. Sometimes, we look at and reward success to a fault. Not allowing the horse to flounder and comeback.  I wonder how many more wins Zenyatta had under her girth after that close loss at Churchill. I wonder how much more money Curlin could have pulled together before the allure of the breeding shed stuck him into retirement. I wonder how many good horses were retired before they could become great simply because they broke a record. Thinking back to a horse named Aggie Engineer. He didn't manage to win until he was 5.  After that, he pulled together some more wins and decent efforts in Graded company. He was a good horse-in his own respect-that managed to sneak into greatness given the time. I wonder how many other horses were denied true greatness in favor of inflated reward? That sounds like another entry for another day. In the meantime...

Stay safe. Stay sound. Stay savvy.

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