Master of Hounds, Susan Magnier’s son of Kingmambo, has made the trip from his home in Ireland for the June 11 Belmont Stakes (gr. I) and is settled in to quarantine at Aqueduct. He’ll be released June 9 and ship over to Belmont Park to run in the 11/2-mile “Test of the Champion” against 11 American-based 3-year-olds.
After Master of Hounds ran fifth in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), he returned home to the Emerald Isle the following day. By making the gate, his starting will mark the first horse in a decade to ship from overseas for the Belmont. However, back in the 1990s it was nearly an annual occurrence.
Calumet Farm and Betty Marcus’ Le Voyageur started the trend when he ran a good third behind Easy Goer and Sunday Silence in 1989. The following year, Moyglare Stud’s Go and Go and trainer Dermot Weld stunned the Belmont faithful by winning the race by 81/4 lengths over a field that included eventual 3-year-old champion and Derby winner Unbridled.
For five of the next six years at least one European shipper started in the Belmont:
1991: Moyglare Stud’s Smooth Performance finished 8th
1992: Team Valor’s My Memoirs ran 2nd; Sheikh Mohammed’s Cristofori ran 4th
1993: Sid Craig’s Arinthod failed to finish
1995: Moyglare Stud’s Off’N’Away finished sixth
1996: Lucayan Stud and Virginia Kraft Payson’s South Salem failed to finish
The last to try the Europe-to-Belmont trip was Team Valor’s Dr Greenfield in 2001. He finished last of nine.
What happened to the trend?
“I don’t think the Europeans are that interested in American racing anymore to tell you the truth,” said Barry Irwin, head of Team Valor International. Team Valor International’s homebred Animal Kingdom won this year’s Derby, finished second in the Preakness Stakes (gr. I), and is the morning-line favorite for the Belmont. “Look at the Arlington Million (gr. IT). How many good horses come over for that now? Not many.
“The problem is, when you run your horse here, you send them back and you need some down time. That’s such a critical time; it’s the middle of summer. They’d rather run at Ascot than run here.”
Irwin’s Team Valor purchased horses overseas and brought them to North America to race. Most of the others returned to racing careers in Europe. He notes a different economic model is in place today.
“Our dollar right now is suffering. It’s so expensive to buy those horses right now,” he said. “The (British) pound is a $1.65…it’s tough for guys like me. It’s tough to find those kind of horses for a reasonable figure. The other thing is after you done it, run a horse at a mile and a half, there are not that many opportunities to run at that trip again.”
Irwin has a good point about the distance. There are limited opportunities in the U.S. to run a horse beyond even 1 1/4 miles after the Belmont.
“It’s a long trip to come over here to run a mile and a half over the dirt,” said Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey, who sent out Easy Goer in the 1989 Belmont. “It’s something none of these horses have ever done before. Also, if they think they have a good horse, there are plenty of opportunities over there.”
With the U.S. Triple Crown, there is a big emphasis on the prep races that run throughout the winter and early spring. In Europe, the racing calendar is tilted more toward spring and summer racing.
“It’s a rough time of year,” said legendary trainer Angel Penna Jr., who is also based at Belmont Park. “It depends on the horse and depends on the field (in a given year), but if you have a good 3-year-old, you’re not going to come over here. All of the big races are just in the next two or three months over there.
“The Kentucky Derby is different because the Derby is the Derby,” he said. “Everybody has the dream of winning the Derby, but the Belmont, now, it’s a tough race at a mile and a half and it’s too early in the year for them over there.”
One of the keys is shipping, and apparently Master of Hounds doesn’t mind air travel. Last year he shipped to Churchill Downs and ran sixth, beaten three lengths, in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (gr. IIT). Before the Derby he shipped to Dubai and was beaten a nose in the UAE Derby (UAE-II).
T.J. Comerford, assistant for Master of Hounds’ trainer Aiden O’Brien noted the trip from “stable to stable” from Ireland to Long Island was a scant 12 hours.
Master of Hounds is pegged as the co-fourth choice in the Belmont at 10-1. While the recent trend may be against him, he’s got some fans.
“I think he’s pretty damn good horse, but it’s very ambitious to go back and forth like that,” Irwin said. “But if they pull it off, it will be hell of a feat.”
“I kind of liked Master of Hounds in the Derby,” McGaughey said. “Once he got his feet under him, he ran pretty good. What he’ll do here I don’t know, but if I was a gambling guy, I would use him on my tickets.”