Stars of Yesterday: Looking Back at Best Louisiana Derby Winners
*** Editor's note: this column was posted on Jan. 20 prior to Omaha Beach being withdrawn from the Pegasus World Cup on Jan. 23 due to a right hind leg injury ***
Let’s start with a simple question. In January of 2020, name the most heralded and publicized racehorse in training.
My guess is the most popular answer would be Omaha Beach, and I don’t think I could go wrong.
His next start is set for the $3 million Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park this Saturday, Jan. 25. Omaha Beach most likely will be the morning-line favorite to win.
Did you know it will be the last race of his brief career? Now that’s a bummer.
Omaha Beach has always been highly regarded. After he won the Arkansas Derby in only his fourth career start last April many regarded him as the Kentucky Derby favorite.
However, Omaha Beach has been injury prone. But Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella finally has him where he wants him health-wise. And now the horse is going to be retired to stud.
It is really a frustrating part of being a horse racing fan. It’s one reason why pinning our hopes on a superstar horse to grow the sport has never really succeeded. This following not one but two Triple Crown winners in American Pharoah and Justify. Both colts retired after their 3-year-old season, American Pharoah in November and Justify in July.
I would compare it to a sport like baseball. What if young superstar players Bryce Harper and Mike Trout retired in their early 20s. It sounds absurd. But that’s what happens in horse racing every year.
We would feel cheated as sports fans. But that is the bitter pill we horse racing fans swallow when our star horses retire early to the breeding shed.
I don’t know how to keep our best horses on the racetrack through their 4- and 5-year-old seasons. But I do know this much. We have a better chance of keeping our top fillies and mares in training for one simple genetic reason.
In the breeding shed, a stallion can cover scores and scores of mares. Factor in the stud high fees a top stallion can get and they become a real cash cow. With a mare you can have only one offspring a year. Thus the temptation to retire early is not nearly the same.
One strong factor that cannot be underestimated is the cost of insurance. A colt who has accomplished a lot on the racetrack has another great career ahead of him as a stallion. The horse owner typically will buy insurance.
However, due to the fragility of the Thoroughbred racehorse an insurance policy is incredibly expensive. So while most owners would love to keep their superstar horses in training, it’s as if they become a victim of their own success.
It will be an exciting, yet melancholy moment, if Omaha Beach runs the best race of his life in the Pegasus World Cup and wins knowing we won’t ever see him on the racetrack again.
Richard Eng is the author of “Betting on Horse Racing for Dummies”, an introductory book for newcomers to the sport of horse racing. For two decades, he was the turf editor and handicapper for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He still handicaps the Southern California tracks and his picks are for sale at www.racedaylasvegas.com. You can email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @richeng4propick and on Facebook.com.