photo by Leslie Gicewicz
Arabian Finish Line Magazine
12398 SE 173 Lane
Summerfield, Florida 34491
Online Feature - April 2009
Arabian Horse Racing in the USA
written for Araby Quarterly by Longin Blachut, Poland
1. Short historic overview
Horseracing is the most popular spectator sport for horses in America. Arabian horses are the fastest growing breed in racing. It now functions like Thoroughbred or Quarter Horse racing and occupies a prominent position in the sport of racing. The growth in race purses and an increase in the value of Arabian racehorses made Arabian race sport more lucrative. The beginnings were modest and the road to recognition was bumpy with no rest stops. The first official Arabian race in America was held on November 11, 1959, at Laurel Race Course in Maryland during the big Veteran’s Day celebrations. The two-and-a- half mile race was won by a six year old chestnut stallion Ofir, 1953, (Witez II x Tiara by Raysen) with jockey Charels McKee up and trainer Jack Mobberely for the owners Mr and Mrs. William (Trish) Hewitt. The owners of registered Arabian horses formed an organization known as the Arabian Horse Racing Association (AHRA) under the guidance of the Arabian Horse Owners Foundation. AHRA strived to present the Arabians to the American public in the best possible light as a running horse. Soon afterward, Arabian horses were invited to race at tracks in Florida and Chicago. Only 13 Arabian races were held between 1959 and 1961, thereafter numerous races followed in California, Idaho, Nevada and Oregon. With time, new opportunities have arisen for competitive Arabian racehorses as major racetracks in California, Colorado, Delaware, Michigan and Texas accepted the breed on their racecards and they became part of the pari-mutuel betting system. In 1985 the Arabian Jockey Club (AJC) and the Arabian Racing Cup (ARC) appeared. These are a national charted organizations dedicated to the promotion, education and professional management of the Arabian racing industry. In 1987 the Darley Awards were founded to honour the best of the American racehorses, jockeys, owners, trainers, and breeders of the Arabian horse racing community. Since 1995 Arabian horses through outstanding performance on the oval and the performance of their progeny may be inducted into the Arabian Jockey Club Hall of Fame. Breeders and owners that are foremost contributors over years to Arabian racing and breeding have the privilege to be inducted into the Arabian Jockey Club Tent of Honour. In 2005 the first round of cost-to-cost “Triple Crown Races” became a reality, meriting their place of prominence in the history of Arabian racing. Recently, an additional boost came from the USA reinstatement of the registration agreement with WAHO. The cooperation between the AJC and IFAHR (International Federation of Arabian Horse Racing) based in Paris brought further legitimacy and tangible benefits, improving the status of American Arabian racing in the world. At the end of 2008 there were in America a total of 502 Arabian races of which 432 overnight and 70 stakes. About 290 owners with 547 horses gamely competed to win a share of the total of $ 4 292 789 in purses. Trainers and jockeys require a license to operate while owners answer to board of regulatory bodies. On an individual basis each state strictly controls Arabian racing with a formal but simple set of rules. Americans took a liking to Arabian racing for they spent over $ 40 million a year in betting on them.
2. Top race tracks
Arabian racing is held in the USA all year round on 17 tracks around the country. The California race season starts at Los Alamitos near Los Angeles and in Northern California and runs all year round. A recognized breeders’ organization, the Arabian Racing Association of California, runs the promotion programs to popularize Arabian racing. They, too, along with ACJ, organize the first leg of the cost-to-cost Triple Crown series, the famous G 1 Drinkers of the Wind (Derby) and Daughter of the Desert (Oaks). The Triple Crown consists of three races for 4 year olds at different distances and at different tracks. Every year breeders pit their best and luckiest 4 years olds to win the Triple Crown.
In Texas racing also starts in January near Houston at Sam Houston Park where in spring the second leg of the Triple Crown takes place; the G2 Texas Six Shooter and Texas Yellow Rose. Racing continues with two races per week in spring at Retama Park in San Antonio and the season comes to a close at Lone Star near Dallas in the late autumn. The TABA (Texas Arabian Breeder Association) has since 10 years been organizing an Annual April Racehorse Auction which helps boost the number of racing participants not only in Texas but all around the country.
In the summer three races are staged per a week at Arapahoe Park close to Denver, Colorado. The Colorado Racing Association tries very hard to attract new owners to this sport. In the eastern part of the USA, in the state of Michigan at Mount Pleasant, races are held in the summer three times a week.
However, the top USA track with the most vibrant action, best horses, trainers and jockeys and highest purses is Delaware Park. The season there runs from April to November consisting in more than 140 races for over 170 racers and purses of $1.8 million. The third leg of the Triple Crown series with the G1 Bob Magness Derby Open and Cre Run Oaks takes place in May. The season ends with the G1 Delaware Park Classic H Series with a purse of $ 75 000.
3. Shift in breeding philosophy
Possible gains from Arabian breeding and higher purses from racing swayed the USA owners in the last 15 years from the “race to breed” approach to “breed to race”. These are two different methods of Arabian horse selection. Historically, the “race to breed” method proved itself in Poland and Russia in evaluating horses for further breeding based on their beauty, speed, endurance and mental wellbeing. The result was “all in one” mounts with courage, athletic prowess and beauty. The “breed to race” approach guarantees the owner, trainer and jockey better odds in winning. Breeders adhering to “breed to race”, focus primarily on selecting mounts of a certain type of conformation with speed, durability and class, prone to race for long periods of time winning the highest purses. Racing is tough, no quarter is given or asked for; all seek any edge to out-shine opponents.
4. Key breeders
Currently in America there is a group of reputed breeders who specialize in Arabian racehorses. Due to space limitations and the nature of this article, I can only touch on a few States and a limited number of breeders who over time have consistently produced top notch racers. One area is north central Florida around Ocala, often called the Mecca of horse farming. Though Florida till 2005 was an important and vibrant Arabian horse racing state it is so no more. However, Florida’s famous Arabian race horse farms still prevail. Other regions include that located around the Delaware Park race track and those in the states of Texas, California and Colorado.
For a number of years one of the biggest producers of Arabian race horses was His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, with his Darley Stables the backbone of Arabian horseracing in world. Since 1992 the Darley Stables continuously supported Arabian racing in the USA by bringing in a staggering number of new crop each year. The Darley Stables herd has since 2003 been significantly revised and reduced around the world to more manageable numbers. In the USA many of Darley Stables’ standout Arabians were sold to different owners to race on nearly every track in America. Despite this, Darley Stables continues to be a major player in Arabian racing. It aims at producing superior runners to represent the Darley Stables in the USA and Europe before shipping them off to participate in top world races in the Middle East. Darley Stables in the USA have been awarded four times the Darley Breeder of the Year and once the Darley Owner Award. In 2003, for his devotion to horses, leadership and efforts in Arabian breeding and racing, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum has been inducted into the Arabian Jockey Club Tent of Honour.
Town & Country Farms was started in 1985. It is located near McIntosh/Florida and is owned by the family of the late Alec Panos Courtelis. It was Dr Sam Harrison and Alec Courtelis who with benevolence explored every facet on how to put Arabian racing on the USA map. Town & Country Farms were the owners of the most famous racing sire in the world: Wiking. This farm, too, was the place where Monarch AH was bred and born. One would need a lot of time and space to enumerate all the other outstanding race champions Town & Country bred and that continued to race under so many different ownerships. Here are but a few of their sires that continue to imprint USA Arabian racing: Flaming Tigre, Jolly By Golly, Mucho Caliente, Patriot Missle, Tigers Light and Tomanchie. For their sterling efforts Town & Country Farms were honoured with the record six Darley Breeder of the Year Awards and with one Darley Owner of the Year.
RoseBrook Farm in Brooksville/Florida have since a number of years bred and raised some of the best Arabian racers in the USA. Many of them when sold to the Middle East have also proven to be formidable competitors winning against the best. RoseBrook Farm concentrates on French bloodlines. In its stables stands at stud its Triple Crown Winner and Darley Horse of the Year The Richie 2001 of French/Egyptian bloodlines along with two other French stallions. RoseBrook Farm owns an exceptional pure Polish grey broodmare, Fryga 1987(Wielki Raz x Filga by Gokart) out of the Polish Forta family. All of her progeny are stakes winners and her son Fryvolous was the 2007 Darley Horse of the Year. In 1998 Fryga was inducted into Arabian Jockey Club Racing Hall of Fame. RoseBrook Farms horses to-date have won Darley Horse Awards 14 times in different categories. Dianne Waldron the owner of RoseBrook Farm was accredited four Darley Owner of the Year Awards.
Trackside Farm in Williston/Florida as of the 90’s evolved into a top notch breeding and training facility continuously upgrading its breeding sock. It stands at stud several international known stallions, like Kaolino 1998, Virgule al Maury 1989 and Haffir el Rimal 1988. It is headed by the owner, breeder and trainer Loren Nichols, who worked closely with world top owners and breeders like Darley Stud Management, Inc. He has been very successful at organizing Arabian racing partnerships around the country and has trained stars of the track, like Samshiek 1987 and Darley Horses of the Year HT Sarah, 1992 (Mellon x EW Rema) and Sideways 1993 (Wiking x Samboedean). His broodmare Sams Louisa, 1988 (Samtyr x Scimitar Georgia) has been inducted into the Arabian Jockey Club Racing Hall of Fame. In 2006, The Last Dance 2003, Rolly Polly 2003, Tour de France 2002, bred at Trackside Farm, won numerous black-type stakes and were hailed Darley Winners in their categories. Trackside Farm was awarded the distinction of Darley Breeder of the Year 2006.
Reviewing the Darley Award ceremonies of the last 20 years, the name Bill Waldron and Waldron Farms/Brooksville/Florida repeated pops up. There, superior athletes of Arabian race sport were born and trained. If personal success is measured by the number of trainer awards received, then Bill Waldron ranks as one of the top Leading All Time Trainers of Arabian racehorses in the USA. He won the Darley Trainer of the Year Award four times and the Darley Owner of the Year Award three times. A high point in Bill’s career was the induction into the Arabian Jockey Club Racing Hall of Fame of his Egyptian race champion stallion ZT Ali Baba 1981, that sired such Darley Champions and Horses of the Year as Victorias Sercrett and Unchained Melody. ZT Ali Baba is also the backbone of Bill’s small breeding program at Waldron Farms. Bill’s mare BW Ali Catt, 1986, along with the rest of his high powered broodmare band, produced Darley Winners like Mr. Full Service 1992, Dixie Darlen 1994, Dixie Delight 2001, Aim South 2001, Cath 2002, Dixie Dance 2004 and Dixies Valentine 2005.
One of the top USA horseracing and breeding farms is Cre Run Farm owned by Deborah Mihaloff and Alan Kirshner located in Doswell/Virginia. For years Deborah and Alan have supported Arabian horse racing and focused on improving the sport. They have introduced many new people into Arabian racing through racing partnerships. For his notable leadership in Arabian racing, Alan was inducted into the Arabian Jockey Club’s Tent of Honour in 1997. In 2002 Deborah and Alan were honoured with the Darley Breeder of the Year Award. Cre Run Farm has an exceptional longevity and progression of its breeding and racing programs. It’s 180- acre facility houses a prominent herd of close to 100 horses that graze on 60 acres of pastures. The operation has a complete reproductive facility and a race training facility with a 5/8 mile track. A number of Cre Run foundation horses have been inducted into the Arabian Jockey Club’s Racing Hall of Fame (Flaming Tron Ku, Las Hilare, Royal Atheena and Sam Tiki). Cre Run stands an elite rooster of sires: DA Adios 1998, Sam Tiki 1985, Nivour de Cardonne 1995, and represents in the USA one of the world’s greatest living racing Arabians, Dahess 1999, classified by IFAHR as a leading all-time money earner. Many Cre Run horses have joined breeding programs not only in the USA but in Turkey, Morocco, Europe and the Middle East. On the racing side, the Kirshners have received 22 Darley Awards, including Darley Horse of the Year for DA Adios in 2004 & 2002; RW Country Gent in 2003 and Royal Atheena in 1999. DA Adios recently received the World Arabian Horse Organization’s 2008 Horse of The Year Award for his outstanding race performance.
A top breeder from Texas is Mandolynn Hill Farm (MHF), located in horse country in Aubrey near Dallas. The 80 acres facility owned by Michelle and Michael Morgan offers complete breeding and foaling services plus training programs for racing and endurance. It stands a roster of 12 stallions, the majority of them being of Polish sire lines giving a choice to fit various type of mares. MHF was the leading breeder/owner in Texas in the years 2001-2005. Michelle was also Breeder of the Year in California for two consecutive years, 2006 and 2007. Now horses bred at MHF are a force to be reckoned with on the ovals and on endurance trails across the USA. Michelle was nominated to the 2008 Darley Breeder of the Year, top 5 in the USA. Her most recently bred and raced top horses were: Remarkable Man 2004, Auroras Rainbeau 2004, Ofrank 2003, Lulu Gamboo 2003 and Executioner 2003. Remarkable Man was sold as a three year old to Kathy Smoke the President of the AJC. Remarkable Man was awarded Darley Champion 4 year old colt/gelding while Auroras Rainbeau was nominated Darley 4 year old colt/gelding, the best top 5 in America.
One of the long time (over 20 years) breeder and owner of Arabian racehorses from the Western part of the USA is Sam Vasquez from Galveston Texas. He is often considered the “luckiest man in Texas Arabian Racing”. In 2008 his grey filly TM Marie Laveau, 2004, went wire-to-wire and won the Texas Arabian Oaks. The same night his colt Caitlyns Hot, 2004, went wire-to-wire and won the Texas Arabian Derby. At the end of 2008 Sam Vasquez was named Texas Breeder and Owner of the Year. Sam has done his homework in breeding and it is paying off. His horse Caitlyns Hot was named 2008 Texas Horse of the Year. Sam’s bred and owned horses were awarded for last year the following TABA Champion awards: in the 3 year old colt group Golly Brett; in the 4 year old colt group Caitlyns Hot; in the older mare class Jessys Princess, 2003. Sam’s bred and owned horses for some time race and win outside Texas on the key ovals around the country. He became the 2008 Darley Owner of the Year and was nominated for Darley Breeder of the Year, top 5 in the USA. His mare, the aforementioned Jessys Princess (Burning Sand x Noble Princess by Monarch) from the notable Michalow family of Newada 1960 of the Crabbet’s Rodania dam line, was the best nationwise, and accredited the title of 2008 Darley Older Mares Champion. His other horse TM Marie Laveau was a nominee for Darley Champion 4 year old Filly (top 5).
Racehorses are a product of consistent breeding programs and careful planning. Those that proudly parade in the winner’s circle are not simply born. In the USA the Polish and American bloodlines’ trend prevailed from the beginning of racing along with the straight Egyptian lines. Pure French closely inbred bloodlines were insignificant in USA breeding except for that blood contained in Russian imports. Though controversial, in the mid 90’s, French stallions definitely moved in. Consequently more horses went faster but they did not constantly beat records though records were meant to be broken. Currently there are over 20 French race stallions standing at stud in the USA despite the fact that America bred ones are doing well. In the future ACJ plans to increase the race distances and stage more races on the turf. This may bring about a shift in breeding towards better distance lines and change methods of training. A slow shift in bloodline fashion is already occurring. The stallion Burning Sand, closely inbred to a desert bred mare, is America’s leading racing sire for the third consecutive year. He is the leading money earner, with his progeny winning to date over $3.3 million. He has astounding 80% winners out of foals in racing age. The USA market, too, has witnessed the arrival of Dahess a son of desert bred sire Amer. Dahess in his first year at stud has covered worldwide a record number of 120 mares. Racers of desert-bred bloodlines since some time have been appearing in a pronounced way on world tracks winning top stakes. But the newest methods of insemination and embryo transfer plus an aggressive promotion of certain lines might project the USA breeding for racing towards a limited gene pool. In the not so distant future breeders for racing might have to look into the global Arabian world gene pool for unrelated bloodlines and/or a swing “back to the future”. Valuable Polish performance bloodlines tough as teak with excellent work ethics continue to prove themselves on the USA track according to end 2008 stats. Polish bloodline sires like Wiking, Monarch AH, and Samtyr make top broodmare sires. The progeny of the great Polish performance dam lines successfully race at stakes