It’s the American racing mania-- speed, speed, and more speed.
“It’s a terrible danger, they’re shortening up and shortening up all the time,” said trainer John Gosden in a phone conversation from Clarehaven Stables in Newmarket, England.
Gosden is a regular visitor to the Keeneland Sales in Kentucky where strings of yearlings are paraded before him in his quest to secure a future champion.
"Everyone there is obessed with speed, but we (the English)) don’t want to go that route,” he said. “If you're not careful that way you'll end up with a whole dimension of middle distance runners disappearing.”
Last fall the British trainer and Cochranville’s George Strawbridge captured the St. Ledgers, England’s oldest, longest and toughest English classic.
In front of an overflow crowd at the Doncaster Racecourse, Strawbridge’s homebred Lucarno changed gears just before the furlong marker and the handsome bay colt charged past the favorite, Mahler, to score a one-length victory in the 231st running of the St Ledgers.
The St. Ledgers is run at a distance of one mile, six furlongs and 132-yards.
“In America a mile and a half is seen as a real long distance,” observed Gosden who first teamed up with the Chester County owner/breeder 27 years ago.
“It’s important to know what you want. In America you’ve got drug-infested, one-turn horses. Over here it’s the other end of the spectrum.”
Wham. That was a swipe at a racing culture that is fueled by anabolic steroids.
Major racing jurisdictions all over Europe, Japan, Dubai and Australia have banned the use of these drugs still commonplace in America.
“England banned steroids in racing more than 30 years ago,” Gosden reported. “It’s the trainers and vets who make the decision to use them, the horse can’t say no.”
Son of “Towser” Gosden, who trained racehorses for more than 35 years, John studied economics at Cambridge University. But a few years later he popped up at the stable yard, saying training racehorses was “in the blood.”
He launched his career in California in 1979 where he conditioned two Eclipse Award winners, Bates Motel and Royal Heroine who won the inaugural Breeders' Cup Mile. He returned to England in 1988.
He has long appreciated the magic of Britain’s middle distance classics. An assistant to legendary Irish trainer Vincent O'Brien, Gosden gave a leg up to jockey Lester Piggott on The Minstrel when he triumphed in the 1977 English Derby that is run at one and half miles.
Gosden achieved every trainer's dream when landing the Epsom Derby (England’s Kentucky Derby) with Benny the Dip in 1997.
“Over here a mile and a half, or even a two mile race is not a marathon,” said Gosden, who’s trained four English classic winners. “Coolmore (the Irish racing and breeding titan) had three runners in the St. Ledgers.”
In the lead up to the running of the St. Ledgers, Strawbridge was advised not to run Lucarno because the Doncaster classic might disqualify the winner as a serious stallion.
“I thought that was complete nonsense,” said Strawbridge who races and breeds under the name Augustin Stable.
“I thought winning the St. Ledger would be indicative of his versatility. Seems to me Nijinsky was a superb stallion despite winning it.”
In Gosden’s eyes it’s critical that middle distance races aren’t relegated to lesser stature just to please the misguided aims of the breeding industry.
“There is an overproduction of sprinter-type horses, plus there is a restriction of the gene pool to produce these horses,” he said. “It’s damaging the thoroughbred breed.
“There is a reason why the St. Ledgers is the third leg of our Triple Crown,” he said. “It enriches the breed and the whole racing experience.”