The phrase Monday morning quarterback obviously applies specifically to football, but the meaning behind the saying stretches to all sports, horse racing included.
It is easy to say what is best for a horse after the fact or from thousands of miles away -- even if you have never laid eyes on the creature in question. Fans do it, writers do it, we all do it. Quite frankly, it is part of any sport.
However, this week was a study in contrasts, and a lot of it had to do with the popularity (or lack thereof) of the horses and the connections in question. Updates on several major equine athletes were released, and the reactions ran the gamut.
On the bad news front, champion Main Sequence has been retired due to a tendon injury, and Horse of the Year California Chrome's career is in question due to bone bruising. However, neither of these is a life-threatening issue.
The hardest announcement to take was that undefeated Lady Eli is battling laminitis as the result of a truly freak injury. After winning the Grade 1 Belmont Oaks, she stepped on a nail with her left front foot while walking back to trainer Chad Brown's barn from the test barn.
In general, the reaction to Main Sequence's retirement was "thanks for the memories," and Lady Eli's was "please pull through." And then there was California Chrome.
It is no secret that the flashy chestnut has a passionate fan base called the Chromies, and many of them were not happy he spent most of this year overseas. I have read, heard or been contacted about everything from wanting to know if it is possible to sue majority owner Perry Martin for animal abuse since he had the horse leave the country, to people thinking no one in England has ever cared for a champion racehorse before and that is why Chrome's season has ended in injury.
The short answer to all of this is: "No. Just no. Please stop."
The longer answer is shipping a horse to another country to race is quite common elsewhere, even if it isn't for American horses. There are multiple reasons for this, including the fact that our major stars race on dirt most of the time, and many other places focus on turf. Beyond that, though, it is also important to understand that our race-day medication laws are more lax when compared to other major jurisdictions. As a result, some of our horses could not compete on the medication they need to run well, so they don't leave home.
Secondly, whether you like Chrome's connections or not, owners are not greedy for entering healthy, talented horses in the most respected races in the world any more than a coach is greedy for expecting his star quarterback to play in the big game. Champions should compete against champions, and horse racing is a global sport.
It just so happens running in the best races usually equates to running for the most money. California Chrome has made his connections more than $6.3 million on the track, and almost a third of that came this year alone courtesy of his second-place finish in the $10 million Dubai World Cup. The only North American horse to earn more than he has in 2015 is Triple Crown winner American Pharoah.
Furthermore, sending a Horse of the Year out of the country to race isn't demeaning or a one-way ticket to injury. The last reigning American Horse of the Year to run in the world's richest race was Curlin, who won the World Cup in 2008. Far from being ruined by going to the desert, Curlin returned to win three more Grade 1s that year and ran second in a Grade 1 on turf behind a Breeders' Cup Turf winner.
At the end of that year, Curlin retired as the highest-earning North American horse of all time and was named Horse of the Year again. The very first winner of the World Cup was none other than the mighty Cigar, who also repeated as Horse of the Year the same season he went overseas and is the horse Curlin displaced as the highest-money earner.
While Dubai is a fairly common destination for American horses, aiming Chrome at a top grass race in Europe was out of the ordinary, but it certainly wasn't unheard of. Animal Kingdom, who won the 2011 Kentucky Derby and the 2013 Dubai World Cup, ran the last race of his career at Royal Ascot before entering stud. His retirement was planned, as he was taking up stallion duties in Australia, which breeds on Southern Hemisphere time. Not to mention, the reason Curlin ran in the Man o' War Stakes on the turf is because his connections were considering racing him in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, which is one of the most respected races in the world.
Finally, athletes get hurt. It happens. One doesn't have to look beyond the luckless Lady Eli to see that. She stepped on a nail walking home, not in some faraway land. Meanwhile, another fan favorite, two-time Horse of the Year Wise Dan, has just now returned to full training after fracturing his right front leg, and he also missed training last year after a colic scare. Plus, let's not forget about 2004, when another beloved Derby winner, Smarty Jones, was retired due to bone bruising, and he never even shipped to the West Coast, much less to another country. To date, I haven't been asked about suing any of their connections.
Special horses bring in new fans, and that is great, but I wonder how many of those complaining about California Chrome's 2015 campaign will also complain when American Pharoah is retired after the Breeders' Cup? They race too much, they don't race enough, they should ship more, they should ship less. Do I wish things had turned out better for Chrome? Of course. But I will never complain about a healthy 3-year-old colt being allowed to race on at 4.
In the end, while we all have the right to discuss anything we like, unless we are the ones in the barn every day or the ones signing the checks, we don't really know. Healthy debate is one thing, false accusations and willful ignorance are another.