Since heeding jockey Gary Stevens ‘revolution’ call, I have been pondering how the heck North American horse racing arrived at this juncture. No doubt there were signposts all along the way, but it appears they were ignored. Back when I was covering horseracing we were blessed with super-stars like Nijinsky and Secretariat and Cigar and Seattle Slew and our articles filled the sports pages. And there were so many amazing writers covering the sport. In Canada we had Jim Coleman, Trent Frayne, Milt Dunnell, Peter Gzowski, Jim Hunt, and on and on. And I wonder what they would be thinking of this situation.
But what I do know, is at this ‘Northern Dancer turning point’, when people went from seeing horses as an expensive hobby, to looking to make vast fortunes from these animals, the landscape changed. ‘Horse racing’ became the ‘horse industry,’ and before long, except for the big glamourous races, disappeared from the sports pages.
Meanwhile back at the piece from Northern Dancer: the legend and his legacy that I wrote over 25 years ago
“… The run on the limited number of Northern Dancer offspring became so outrageous that Northern Dancer’s worth as a stallion eventually far surpassed any possible dollar value.
It was as if humanity’s age-old love affair with the horse had taken a quantum leap into the bizarre. As the passion escalated, Thoroughbred racing shifted from sport to big business. Outcomes of the yearling sales were analyzed and reported in the Wall Street Journal. It must have been confusing for market analysts accustomed to more commonplace commodities: spending millions on Thoroughbred babies made no sense, since the horses could not win back anywhere near their owner’s investment. There was no guarantee that these expensive horses would get to the racetrack, much less win a race.
It didn’t matter. Not only did Northern Dancer sire exceptional racehorses, he passed on his genetic supremacy. Many of his offspring proved to be sires and dams of yet another generation of great champions. Owners may have paid millions for Northern Dancer yearlings, but a number of the colts were syndicated for up to 10 times the original investment. And in the process, the structure and destiny of Thoroughbred racing changed drastically.” …. to be continued