Day At The Track

The USA $4m (and over) harness racing club

07:34 AM 16 Aug 2013 NZST
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Varenne, harness racing Moni Maker, harness racing Foiled Again, harness racing
Varenne is the richest Standardbed of all time
Lisa Photo
Moni Maker is the richest Standardbred mare of all time
Foiled Again is moving in on becoming richest Standardbred of all time

International column by Jerry Connors

When I heard that my longtime colleague Mr. Wolf was appointed to be the North American representative for www.harnesslink.com, I congratulated him and promised him a “present” of an article I had in mind that would interest harness racing people all over the world, and especially the Down Under wonders which folks in U.S. harness racing do not know enough about.

I have had my statistics more or less in place for a few months – but I got the urgency for this article when I noticed that the four active members of the dozen in the exclusive club about which I am writing are all back in action. So here is my attempt, as an American Yank and a former U.S. Trotting Association employee, to impose some perspective and sense on what can be called

THE US $4,000,000 HARNESS RACING CLUB

(sorry, no Blackie, but Quinnie’s there)

Now I know that I’m not three paragraphs into the thing and that I’ve already made a few enemies in the subhead – “Blackie won over $5 million!” Well, Blackie did win NZ$5,578,119, and Kiwis have absolutely every right to be proud of the horse and his accomplishments, which were awesome.

But what I’m trying to do in this article is to bring the world a little bit close together by examining the champions of Australasia, Europe, and North America, and their racetrack accomplishments and earnings on a common scale. I happened to pick the U.S. dollar because of where I live, and because of my experience with the USTA and their methodology.

I’ve been doing this sort of cross-comparison a long time now – did you know that in figuring the lifetime earnings of Cardigan Bay, harness racing’s first millionaire, you had to figure out the exchange rate of NZ pounds sterling, as Cardy won some of his first purses while paid in that measurement! And I know the arguments of inflation, and you can’t compare horses over generations.

That’s not the purpose here. We’re just looking at horses on the world stage, presently and recently, and see how they stack up in earnings power using a common standard, the U.S. dollar.

So what is this “USTA methodology” I’ve referred to?

The USTA contacts international harness racing associations to get earnings records on star horses, usually those coming to race in North America, and then does the conversion process based on the exchange rate of a firm they have used for years. The exchange rate for a particular year’s earnings holds for the entire year, from the first day to the last. (Doubtless a tiny bit more of accuracy could be obtained by further subdivided calculations – but this example seems likely to repeat -- in processing Ready Cash’s moneycard using 6-month intervals, I found the difference to be less than $10,000 in a $5 million+ career.)

And no, it does not re-evaluate a dollar from year to year in terms of its relative worldwide strength (see the comment above about comparisons across generations.)

It was Ready Cash, two time Prix d’Amerique winner and perhaps the first French trotter to really combine the vaunted European, especially French, “staying power” along with the ability to use a high burst of speed when necessary, who really prompted me to write this article. Because if he hadn’t been boxed in and made a break over this past weekend, he’d be just a little more than $100,000 behind the sport’s all-time leader, Varenne! Nowhere did I see this reported or alluded to.

Then I noticed that the gallant Commander Crowe, still going strong, had moved without fanfare into fifth place in the all-time list of trotters, passing some pretty fancy company in Victory Tilly, Peace Corps, and  Ourasi! Again, I saw no discussion of this feat.

And then on Monday I saw that Themightyquinn (Im Themightyquinn NZ to some) is back at the races, and according to cross-calculations he has moved into third on the all-time pacers list, passing Mister Big, and with his sights dead-set on #2, Gallo Blue Chip.

So how have I calculated these figures?

The dependence on USTA conversion rates has also led me to use their invaluable Trotting and Pacing Guide, a great book for all manner of statistics and facts, obviously mostly North American. (Full disclosure: I was for one year the editor of the Trotting and Pacing Guide, back about when pounds sterling, and papyrus, were being used. And I was interested in foreign currencies and racing then, too; see page 278 of that book if you can find it.)

The T&P Guide annually produces a list of the top all-time moneywinners by gait; in recent years they have included some horses who never raced in America, but for whom translatable money totals could be reckoned. I have started all 12 members of the US $4 Million Dollar Club at the figures listed in the T&P Guide, pages 169-170 of the 2013 version. For the four who are currently racing, I determined their 2013 calendar year earnings as best I could, through international websites and newsstories, and then made the year-beginning conversion of this 2013 bankroll and added it to the T&P Guide listing for money as of the end of the 2012 season.

Oh – I guess I should introduce you to the twelve members of the US $4,000,000 Club (* - active):

TROTTERS                                                                                      PACERS

Varenne                              $5,636,255                                        Foiled Again*                      $5,182,444

Moni Maker                         $5,589,256                                        Gallo Blue Chip                  $4,260,959

Ready Cash*                      $5,428,917                                        Themightyquinn*               $4,085,995

Jag De Bellouet                 $4,976,952                                        Mister Big                             $4,008,257

Commander Crowe*        $4,305,613

Victory Tilly                           $4,187,402

Peace Corps                       $4,137,737

Ourasi                                   $4,010,105

Blacks A Fake’s US$3,561,742 puts him seventh among all-time pacers, with Won The West ($3,939,836) and the mare Eternal Camnation ($3,748,574) in between.

Themightyquinn seems to have come back from his spell in top form, and from the press he has an ambitious, and potentially-lucrative, couple of months ahead of him, one that could certainly have him go past Gallo Blue Chip and be in arrears of only the evergreen nine-year-old Foiled Again, who set a divisional world record of 1:48f for the mile at Pocono in June, just 1/5 off of Bolt The Duer’s all-time standard for 1005.something-meter tracks. Foiled Again has been written off many times in America, but he continues to come back and have the last (horse) laugh; TMQ would probably have to maintain almost two years of top-level form to be in a real challenge for the international pacing #1.

On the trotting side, Ready Cash has stood his annual spring-summer stallion service and is back at the races. He won his return at a smaller French track, then went to Belgium, raced in the pocket, and – apparently frustrated he was not being shown any racing room approaching headstretch – went on an atypical gallop. He was up on the bit throughout, and a good campaign in Europe, perhaps even before the top-level winter meet at Vincennes, could get him past Varenne to the #1 spot.

Two stories about Varenne ascending to the #1 spot, one reflective of some of the issues discussed in this article, and the other perhaps a little long, but if this discussion interests you, you’ll like the story, or write me for your money back – First: Before driving from Harrisburg, in central Pennsylvania, to Montreal (some 800km one-way) to see my hero race, I had carefully checked out what money total the USTA was using for him going into his career swan song, and I learned the Canadian and Euro exchange rates – Euro because Varenne had taken the first four legs of the International Trotting Grand Circuit, and there was a huge bonus waiting for him if he completed the sweep.

So armed with this information, I buy my program at Hippodrome Montreal, and I see – that the money total listed for Varenne had already eclipsed the $5,589,275 the USTA held for Moni Maker! It was listed in the program as something in excess of $5.9 million, as I remember. Which of course was perfectly alright by Canadian standards, as their dollar in those days lagged a bit behind the U.S. – just as it is perfectly alright to say Blacks A Fake has won $5.5M+. But I think it is important to note “Can.$5.9M” or “NZ$5.5M,” so we know whereof we speak.

And as I have said, not having researched the research methods done for any exchanging by other countries (the Canadians obviously had done some translated in getting a number for Varenne), throughout this particular article I have gone measuring by the U.S. dollar, because I know how the research was done, and a consistent method has been done with exchanges to all countries. (I urge anybody to write an article entitled, say, The NZ$5,500,000 Harness Racing Club – if you can develop unfaltering standards to make the measurements IF caring to examine world status, and not just native produce.)

The second story about Varenne in Montreal is that he passed the record while finishing eleventh.

For those of you who have had the fortune of missing my 2012 USTA website article on the 10-year anniversary of my trip to see the only Quebec harness racing I have witnessed (subtitled: “That Border Guard Sure Was Glad To See That Stupid American Pull Away”), a brief recap of the Trot Mondial 2002: A 45-1 French mare named Fan Idole establishes early command, then yields to Quebec speedball McCooeye, with Varenne settling third and Fool’s Goal (who had PP11 in the only 11-wide start I’ve ever seen) fourth.

Coming off the first turn in the 2213m (1 3/8 miles) contest over the 1408m (7/8-mile) track, Jack Moiseyev tried to quickstep with Fool’s Goal, but Gianpaolo Minnucci and Varenne would have none of that, beating them to the frontcharging move. Fool’s Goal, not always the easiest horse to handle, rode outside for aways as Varenne set a sharp pace, then retucked behind him when McCooeye could not stand the heat. Around the final turn, it looked like Varenne and maybe Fool’s Goal, gearing up for a final challenge …

…when all of a sudden that 45-1 mare Fan Idole, who had also been able to get around McCooeye, appears in the picture with a giant burst, forcing Moiseyev to pocketpop with his horse. Undeterred, driver Rene Denechere sent the momentum-laden Fan Idole three-deep … and then it happened.

In trying to fight off his two challengers, Varenne did not keep a straight course, and some pylons were “cut.” The exact meaning of that sentence would have an enormous impact very soon.

Turning for home, it was soon apparent that the 45-1 mare with the jiggling Frenchman would win the day, with Varenne (.30* in American odds) second over the gallant Fool’s Goal (3-1), with a 130-1 shot fourth and a 156-1 shot fifth.

But then the INQUIRY sign was lit, and Varenne’s “8” started to pulsate.

The jubilant Frenchmen ran partway up the track to cheer their conquering heroine; the Italians, heretofore singing and cheering for hours, furled their flags and joined everybody else watching the board.

Then the “8”disappeared. Official order of finish: 2-11-10-5. 45-1, 3-1, 130-1, 156-1. The judges ruling was that in Quebec, the rules allowed for their discretion if a horse went inside one or two pylons, but if he went inside three or more, he was to be disqualified and placed last. Varenne, 2nd placed 11th, a non-purseearner for only the second time in his career (the other was the first, when he was DQd for extended galloping.) His racing career thus ended on that note.

But his earnings career didn’t.

While Varenne didn’t get the 1 million euros for his international sweep, the rules of the contest, which themselves were checked and proven to be a legitimate addition to a horse’s career bankroll, said (at the start of the year – take that, conspiracy fans) that a winner of 4 of 5 legs would get 500,000 euros. Enough to, in U.S. dollars, make him the richest trotter of alltime, the 500,000 euros addition bringing his final U.S. total to the $5,636,255. I think I saw one picture taken of Varenne’s ascendancy to the pinnacle, the big-cheque presentation of symbolic championships, way down the track from the Fan Idole (literal) party.

So that’s a brief history and summary of the earnings of some of our greatest horses of the last couple of decades, along with how they stand in relation to each other in terms of one common measuring unit, the U.S. dollar.

One horse ranking “above” another does not automatically make him or her a better horse – beauty is in the eye of the beholder, de gustibus non est disputandum, and all that. Suffice it to say that, by ANY yardstick/meterstick of measurement, all of the twelve (and include Blackie for the baker’s dozen of lucky 13) were and are great horses, worthy representatives of our great sport of harness racing.

Once we don’t lose sight of that, we can then go out and get individual publicity for each of the next of the amazing feats these champions accomplish on the racetrack – and in their bank accounts.

By Jerry Connors
 

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