Letter To The Editor: John Ed Anthony On The Disappearing 'Throwback Horse' - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report

Letter To The Editor: John Ed Anthony On The Disappearing ‘Throwback Horse’

John Ed Anthony

The Brett Beasley letter of June 9 was so complete in the analysis of the changes in racing since the 1970s-'80s that I must write to say “Amen.” Our Loblolly Stable was active during that era (1972-'95) and enjoyed some success: three Champions and 100-plus stakes wins primarily at home in Arkansas and New York.

However, by the 1990s it was necessary to disperse Loblolly to dissolve a marital partnership. Loblolly disappeared and Shortleaf Stable appeared. (I grow trees for a living­ to afford to race horses.) Both endeavors require patience and long-term commitment.

After a dozen years of Shortleaf racing only a few head, my pedigree analyst son Ed (trained by Bill Oppenheim) encouraged me to get serious again in 2010.

What I quickly recognized was how different the industry had become in the 15 years since Loblolly was dispersed and especially since I entered the sport 50-plus years ago.

The primary difference I noted was how rigid modern trainers have become about insisting on weeks and even months between starts. This is completely contrary to how Hall of Fame trainers operated in the “old days.” We've known and raced against some of the greats: Woody Stephens, Allen Jerkens, LeRoy Jolley, Laz Barrera, Mack Miller, Jack Van Berg, and others.

I recall Conquistador Cielo in 1982 winning the Met Mile on Monday and the Belmont on Saturday for Woody. Indeed, in 1980 our colt Temperence Hill ran three races in 13 days for Joe Cantey; his third was winning the Belmont Stakes. “Lazy SOB,” I recall Joe commenting.

Cox's Ridge at 3 in New York in 1977 from August to November ran nine times, winning eight stakes with races spaced at 15, 12, 16, 14, 14, and 12 days. He was often loaded with 130 pounds in the handicaps. He had 27 starts in two-plus years. But, he was not a Champion. Seattle Slew got in the way, but he was a great sire.

We could go on and on with Champions Vanlandingham, Prairie Bayou, and countless others making noise during that era, all following the same routine. Doc Lavin in Goshen, Ky., was a major factor in our success. Wise man. Good counsel.

One can always conjure aberrations to the norm to make a point, but the patterns of earlier racing are very different from today. However, despite the trainers' new ideas, the horses don't run any faster, stay sound any longer, or show any significant improvement from 50 years ago. Racing fans are missing about half of what they once enjoyed in racing. I've given up trying to change their patterns.

And breeding was very different then. Syndication of stallions was 36 shares. Four breeding rights were reserved for the farm. Then the Breeders' Cup came on. Four more seasons. How will the stallion ever cover them all? Vets learned and equipment improved. Credit to John Gaines for his forward thinking in racing and breeding, which was opposed by virtually all major players. Tradition.

But more than any other change is that the media covers the sales and amplifies their importance far more than racing. Of course, that's where the advertising money is. Breeding to race is passé and only a few do that nowadays, unlike the earlier era when racing was king and the sales were thought to be for the major breeders' discards. Commercial breeding and sales now dictate industry affairs and sales horses are much improved.

I also recall the sales of the 1970s and '80s. Most buyers sought only pedigree and often never looked at the horses on the catalog page. Good for Loblolly. Cantey had us focus on the “splendid individual” with pedigree as a secondary consideration with Doc Lavin advising. Cox's Ridge and Temperence Hill were the results. Soon, conformation and scope became the order of the day and now buyers mostly hone in on the same horses. We now mainly raise our own horses at Stone Farm, a bluegrass establishment in the Hancock tradition, and at McDowell Farm in Arkansas.

I'm still confident that the “throwback horse” will prevail disproportionately to their numbers, but that doesn't mean it is a healthy environment for the industry in the long term.

John E. Anthony, President
Shortleaf Stable, Inc.
Hot Springs, Arkansas


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