There is a controversy over the $1-million bonus Sportsman's Park offered to a horse sweeping the track's Illinois Derby (gr. II) and one of the Triple Crown races. But no matter into whose account that million bucks goes, there is one place it should not have already gone--into the purse of the Kentucky Derby (gr. I).
Purse money, by definition, is money any horse in the field can earn. That was not the case here. Only War Emblem was eligible to earn this extra million dollars.
The funds Breeders' Cup adds to many stakes races is not purse money either. It is not added or guaranteed money. It is only paid out to horses nominated to the Breeders' Cup program. When a non-nominated horse wins one of those races, that money flows back to the organization.
The purse for the Kentucky Derby is made up of money from the Churchill Downs purse account as well as starting and entry fees from the participants. Had any one of the other 17 horses in this year's Derby won the race, the "official" chart of the race would have shown the purse as $1,175,000.
Yet, when War Emblem won, both the Equibase and Daily Racing Form charts showed the Derby purse as $2,175,000.
That is not right and there is no logical argument for asserting it as right. The $1 million from Sportsman's is a "bonus," not a "purse." It is paid directly by that track to the winning owner, not paid by the horsemen's bookkeeper at Churchill Downs.
The money should absolutely be paid to someone, but it should not be reflected in the various statistical categories reflective of "purse" earnings. Earnings lists for owners, breeders, trainers, jockeys, and stallions should reflect purse earnings only. What if a track decided to offer a "prize" of $50,000 to the leading jockey and trainer of its meeting? Should that be included in statistical lists? Should it be counted as earnings? Of course not.
Obviously if Equibase and Daily Racing Form believe the bonus should be a part of the Derby purse, they would similarly add $5 million to the purse in the chart of the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) should War Emblem win the Triple Crown. Again, one horse and only one horse is eligible to win that money and it is not paid from a track's purse account. It is not purse money.
What if War Emblem had won three races prior to the Derby that each offered a $1-million bonus? Apparently, Equibase and Daily Racing Form would have called the Derby purse $4,175,000. Unless someone else had won; then the purse would have been only $1,175,000.
Another consequence of this action will occur at the end of the Churchill Downs meeting when the track reports its average purses per day and per race. All of a sudden, Churchill will have an extra million dollars in its figures.
Had War Emblem not won the Derby, but won the Preakness (gr. I) or Belmont, suddenly Pimlico or Belmont would find itself with another million in purse payouts.
One of the stories of this Derby is War Emblem's sire, Our Emblem, who moved just this year from Claiborne Farm in Kentucky to Murmur Farm in Maryland. It's a neat story. But Our Emblem should not be credited with $1,875,000 in "earnings" for his son's Derby victory, only the $875,000 in "purse" money. This knowingly skews a list used to make important breeding decisions.
Everything in the Thoroughbred industry is based on statistics, yet there is no standard in the industry for what makes up these important figures. This year, The Blood-Horse requested of Equibase leader lists for weekly publication that include North American races only. Last year we published another list from the company that included the races of the World Racing Series. We realized how inane that was, adding only a small group of races from foreign countries. Why should the Dubai World Cup (UAE-I) count, but not the other races on the card? It shouldn't.
The NTRA Web site contains leader lists as well. The current leading earning horse is World Cup winner Street Cry. If the word "National" in the organization's title refers to these United States, then why does its lists include such racing? It shouldn't.
Give War Emblem's bonus, but don't include it in racing's statistics. The official record keepers of our sport must recognize this error in judgment. It's not too late.Dan Liebman is executive editor of The Blood-Horse.