Tuesday, 19 February 2013

What's age got to do with it?

It's funny how we think of horses as they get older. Everybody loves to see a nice, consistent 8 or 9 year old running regularly and winning races. At the same time, there are tons of horses who start tailing off at 5 or 6 and people will say "I guess he's just getting too old." In a very cliche sense, some horses are like fine wine; they get better with age. On the other hand, some horses are like a loaf of bread in the cupboard; they go bad fairly quickly. Most people will tell you they've had more bad loafs of bread than bottles of old wine.
     Back in November I wrote a post about 2011 All American Derby winner Llano Teller, questioning whether or not he was tailing off after a disappointing 6th place finish in the Zia Park Quarter Horse Championship. He then finished 9th in the Championship at Sunland Park. The once tremendous Llano Teller seems to be another has-been in this racing game. The sad thing? He's only 5. His racing career seemed to be cooling off at the end of his 4 year old campaign. He's a young horse with a long life ahead of him but in the racing game he doesn't seem to have much time left. Now, he can easily rebound and prove that this is just a period of bad form. It happens to many horses, they'll go bad for a while and come back eventually. But is Llano Teller getting old? Is his age starting to get to him? We'll see. There are hundreds of examples I could have used to get this point across.
     Now, I don't know about you but I don't like bad bread. Let's get to the fine wine. On Sunday night, Quarter Horse fans tuned into the Grade I Los Alamitos Winter Championship and were impressed by Rylees Boy's late rally to score the victory. The 8 year old had won the 2012 Bank Of America Challenge Championship and Champion of Champions and showed no signs of slowing down. His victory in the Winter Championship made him the oldest horse to ever win the race.
      I spent some time watching his replays yesterday afternoon, and I was amazed at how much better he's gotten since he was 2 and 3. At the beginning of his career he was a minor player in some Futurities and Derbies in Arizona. He never won a Stakes race at 2 or 3, only a Maiden, a claiming event, and a few Allowances. Then in his 4 year old campaign he took off. He won 5 consecutive races, one of which was a Bank of American Championship Challenge at Turf Paradise. He then finished 3rd in the final at Los Alamitos. The horse that couldn't win some small Futurities at Yavapai Downs was all of a sudden a Graded Stakes winner and Grade I placed. Since February of 2009, he's finished out of the money twice, both times caused by bad racing luck. He's won several of the most major races for older horses at 6, 7 and 8 years old. He keeps getting better.
      So what's age got to do with it? It all depends on the individual. The once wonderful bread that you ran to for your sandwich will eventually go bad. A bottle of wine may not be too great at first, but as it ages, you'll pull it out after a stressful day at the track, have a glass and you'll love it. The horse that you won tons of money on in the Derby will cost you so much later that you'll curse his name. But eventually you'll cash a few tickets on an 8 year old and you'll have a big grin on your face that makes you look like you drank a bit too much of that wine.

Fun Fact: Los Alamitos race-caller Ed Burgart was the race caller in Rylees Boy's Maiden victory at Yavapai Downs in Prescott, Arizona back in 2007.

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