Friday, May 16, 2008
Jim Squires is the breeder of five graded stakes winners, including Monarchos, winner of the 2001 Kentucky Derby. He is an owner of Two Bucks Farm, Versailles, Kentucky and manager of Two Bucks Stable, which has 8 horses in training. In a previous life as a journalist, he covered the White House, edited the Chicago Tribune, lectured at Harvard University, authored three books and helped Ross Perot run for President in 1992.
Pismo Beach, CA:
Mr. Squires what is your opinion on the issue of start racing at 3 years vs. 2 years old?
Depends on the horse, how it is bred and how it is raised, what kind of surface. As a general rule, I prefer a couple of races late in the 2-yr-old year, on grass or synthetic or one of the few forgiving and well-maintained dirt surfaces. The favored regimen of 2-yr-old training and six races before the Derby is extremely high risk.
It's good to see you here on Talkin' Horses, Jim. I have two very short questions for you today: first, how is your lovely gray colt doing? And second, if I sent my copies of your books, would you mind signing them? Cheers to you and your wife, thanks for the lovely visit last year, and luck and safe trips to all the Two Bucks group.
I have two lovely gray colts by Monarchos: Stones River who broke his maiden in very impressive fashion at Delaware Park last Saturday; and Narbona Pass, a yearling, who is entered in the Fasig-Tipton July sale. And of course, the only thing I do as willingly as show my horses is signing my books.
Most people disagree with me, but I think a 20 horse field in the Derby is way too many and creates an unsafe environment for the horses and jockeys. Do you agree or disagree?
20 might well be too many at Churchill, only because it always causes a crunch in the middle that invariably costs some horse its chance.
Big Brown showed that being outside at 20 is less risky. Sixteen might be a better number. Changing qualification standards to reduce the field might be the answer.
What's the best way to become an owner breeder, start out in racing, and try to buy a winning mare? Or go to some sort of pinhooking venture?
I would start with a shared interest in a couple of well-bred, well-made and well-raised yearling fillies from one of the respected partnerships. If she succeeds on the racetrack, you get return plus a good broodmare. If she fails, you can buy out your partners, usually at a bargain price, and hope she is a better producer than runner, which is often the case.
Thank you for answering our questions. Would you please give us a brief description of Regal Band's conformation?
Regal Band was small for a TB, 15'1, but with a stride of a 16-2 horse, powerful hindquarters, a long sloping shoulder, beautiful head and neck, well-aligned knees, short cannons, axe-handle bones.
How can an average fan best help to remove the drugs from racing? Is there any organization or letter writing campaign to join? I am grateful for your writing.
I believe the Humane Association, PETA and the many groups and individuals inside the industry already committed to this cause are now doing the letter writing work for you. Contributions to the Grayson Foundation's research effort dedicated to safety of animals might be the best tool. The key is balance. Drugs can be as important to the health of the horse as they can be detrimental. Well-funded regulation of uniform standards is essential.
1) Who do you think has the best genes in Kentucky now? 2) Do you have any foals by Monarchos?
I have always believed the best genes are carried and passed on by the dams, so sires from proven sound and productive mothers are the basis for my stallion selections. One of Monarchos' siblings, Resurgence, ran 51 races and was sound when I claimed him and had him retrained as a kid's jumping horse. He was by Black Tie Affair, who I believed inherited soundness from his dam. I have bred to Monarchos every year, this time three mares.
Jim, As an owner and breeder do you think we can breed a sturdier horse in the future? Is there a stallion line that sires horses that break down less frequently?
Again, I believe it is the dams that should get the attention. I have had great luck with the line of Raise a Native that produced Affirmed, Alydar, Maria's Mon and Monarchos. I like the Caro and Forli lined mares and as much Hyperion as I can get.
What are some of the things to look for in picking a broodmare that could produce a horse like Monarchos? I read a breeding book that you said his dam was large and the current owner had trouble producing foals when you purchased her.
What that breeding book should have said is that the small mare Regal Band was asked to carry a first foal by a big sire (Meadowlake) who threw big babies. I usually breed maidens to lesser made stallions like Alphabet Soup, Cozzene, Wild Again, Grindstone. Good broodmares come in all sizes and shapes, but good balance and overall conformation makes stallion selection easier. In my opinion, it's the match that matters.
What do you feel is the reason why we haven't created a zero tolerance plan for our industry, as it pertains to performance enhancing drugs?
Because we can't agree on anything. More help from the veterinarians as a group and trainers who depend on them far more than necessary would be a big step toward common sense and level playing fields.
Hello Mr. Squires; with so many years of experience in the journalistic world, I was just wondering if you could tell us what your most embarrassing mistake in print ever was - if you made any!
Absolutely, but not even a BH computer has room for such a list. Two stand out: When editor of the Orlando Sentinel, the paper published an obituary of a man who had not died--not once, but twice. As editor of the Chicago Tribune, my paper reported as having died in a fire a local politician who was actually standing on the sidewalk watching his house burn.
I recently read your New York Times piece, which listed a number of concerns regarding the current state of the Thoroughbred horse racing industry. Other experts have written similar articles since the Eight Belles tragedy. A common theme across these articles is that the Thoroughbreds racing today are not as sound as they used to be. As a breeder, what breeding strategy can be employed to reverse this trend and bring back to the track sounder horses that can run without the aid of today's medications? Does this strategy have any chance of implementation with today's emphasis on breeding for sales instead of breeding to race?
As long as the market remains dedicated to big, fast and early, there is no chance to turn back. A decline in the use of steroids and growth hormones as a tool in the raising and training of horses that must run sub-12-second furlongs to be worth anything to the seller would help more than anything else.
Does racing have real problems or is it just a public relations issue that will go away with some slick advertising? Also, would a Triple Crown for Big Brown help us move on?
I certainly don't have anything against Kentucky-bred Big Brown, who is lovely and fast. But if a Triple Crown winner with a history of bad feet, slow opponents and from a barn with a history of drug positives can solve this problem, this is an industry not worth saving.
Jim, Thanks for being the 'point person' and 'voice of reason' within the national media on the issues that arose after Eight Belles' death. You balance all sides very well and do not come off as another industry apologist. My question is what kind of feedback have you gotten from within the industry—NTRA, TOBA, Jockey Club, etc.
None. Nor was it expected.
I really enjoyed your book, are you ever going to write another one?
Yes, but only when I am ready to live hidden in a spider hole on Two Bucks and never offer another horse for sale.
As an avid reader and racing fan, I very much enjoyed your book about Monarchos, and appreciate your insightful posts recently on the new NY Times racing blog. We hear the 'racing is a dying game' mantra all the time, but what about the state of horse racing literature? It seems as if there are very few younger writers writing about the sport these days, and most of the recent books (Seabiscuit, Man O War, Ruffian, etc...) cover topics from many years past. Why is there hardly any new literature about contemporary racing topics?
The present is not as transparent as the past. Much of the writing is done by well-intentioned horse lovers without intimate knowledge. But there are talented and watchful chroniclers out there that we will hear from eventually.
Mount Pleasant, SC:
Thank you so much for taking some of your time to answer our questions! 'the dominant mare' gave me a tour of Claiborne when Monarchos was still there, and I fell in love with the farm [and him, of course]. I was wondering how For Dixie was doing? I am friends with everyone at Dogwood, so I have a soft spot for her.
At age 19, For Dixie is still working on her string of Grade stakes winners. A colt full sibling to Cotton Blossom on the ground and she is booked to Bernardini for one more try.
I remember your book with such fondness. One of the best! How do you feel about artificial surfaces? Is this the way to go to prevent more injuries?
Eventually, the value of artificial surfaces will depend on consistency track to track and how well superintendents learn to maintain them. Overall I think they will decrease the number of catastrophic breakdowns of young horses. It might turn out that that we ought to train on synthetic and run on grass and dirt in the interest of records and tradition. Right now, artificial surfaces are playing havoc with the bettors and form readers.
You obviously think and care deeply about our sport. How would you put together a national controlling body for racing? Is the NTRA a vehicle for this process?
This question needs a longer answer. In short, whatever the vehicle, it needs independence, power, industry money and a small, balanced board of overseers willing to risk turning over authority to someone with credibility who might know more than they do about media, politics and horses yet might not be one of them.
How well did you get to know Ross Perot, and do you still keep in touch with him?
Very well. He is a unique and wonderful human being, an anonymous philanthropist of great magnitude with a social and political philosophy very much unlike his media image. When I last visited him in 2007, he was still feisty and sharp.
Having bred stakes winners in the past, has the introduction of artificial surfaces had any impact on your breeding program?
Except for a few instances in which I have bred a mare with the intention of selling her and ended up not doing so, I have always tried to breed a horse that could win the Belmont and Arc, which explains my consistent lack of success commercial and approaching financial ruin.
What do you make of this 'freak' Big Brown and his pedigree?
He looks great, he runs fast, and he has a dam with Nuryev-Forli bloodlines, which are among my favorites. But his Derby-winning time was not fast, no matter what Ragozin says. And I wish he had a Hard Spun, a Curlin or a Rags to Riches to beat out there if he is to win the Triple Crown.
Can you drop a few names of some promising two-year olds you presently have in training?
Everyone's 2-yr-olds are promising. Mine are Iracibull, Monregale, and Rose a Native. But I sold some good ones, too, among them High Tower and Complicity.
Maria's Mon was one of my favorite stallions and I assume one of yours as well. I seem to recall that you wrote Seth Hancock influenced your decision to send Regal Band to that Wavering Monarch stallion. You tried this cross again which resulted in Mon Belle. How is she doing?
Seth Hancock had yet to speak to me when I sent Regal Band to Maria's Mon. It could have been Arthur, though, whose first two Derby winners were from inexpensive outcross stallions. I bred to Maria's Mon solely on his appearance, pedigree and a 2 year old race I saw in New York. Mon Belle won her only race easily in a hand-ride at a mile on Turfway's old dirt track and never raced again due to a torn tendon. She is now an expensive broodmare in someone else's barn.
Your book "Horse of a Different color" was hilarious and one of the best. What ever happened to Snake?
I rode Snake myself for a while, then sent him off with a cowboy who made a rope horse out of him. He is now the fastest cow horse on big Oregon cattle ranch.
In deciding on a mating recommendation - how do you determine the soundness of the sire/dam and the potential soundness of their offspring?
Good conformation and well-made feet is where you start on both sire and dam. I have done well by buying older mares with those qualities that were sound on the track. An example is Little Bold Belle who started 36 times and cost me $5,000. The baby on her side at the time turned out to be Unbridled Belle, graded stakes winner of $1.3 million so far.
Hi Jim, I recently read some retrospectives on the famous obscenity-laced tirade of former Chicago Cubs manager Lee Elia, and saw your name mentioned as editor of the Chicago Tribune at the time. Ever seen anything that compares to that event in horse racing?
I have heard a few exercise riders and jockeys getting what for from trainers, but nothing like old Lee did that day.
Hi Jim, Do you still do any business with Murray Smith, the Ocala agent who is renowned for buying Monarchos from you after picking him out of a field?
No, but I would certainly sell her a horse if she found one of mine she liked.
West Chester, PA:
Hello Jim, With both Storm Cat and Sadler's Wells being pensioned this week, how would you summarize their impact on the breed both good and bad and what stallions do you believe could step up an fill their shoes?
Obviously both are among the most influential stallions of the last 20 years. Having never owned the offspring of either, I have no firsthand experience. Of the two, Sadler's Wells' offspring and their ability to stay a route of ground were more to my liking. Despite all his million dollar colts, I believe Storm Cat will make his greatest contribution as a broodmare sire.
What make stallions: their dam's sire, their sire's sire, or both?
The broodmare sire is most important to me. In 32 years of mating horses in three different breeds, I see more good traits passed on from the dam than the sire and more bad ones from the sire.
I have a 2-year-old by Captain Red and her mom is by Alysheba. Do you think this is a good combination?
Her conformation and temperament are probably more important than her bloodlines. Certainly putting a Mr. Greeley back on another line of Raise a Native (Alydar) is not uncommon. Point Given descended similarly (Gulch/Alydar) so it worked once.
Jim, In your New York Times blog of 4/26 (The Last Winstrol Derby?), you describe Curlin as an example of what the correct regimen of feed, proper exercise and pharmaceuticals can do to an already beautifully conformed natural athlete'. What pharmaceuticals are you referring to?
I have no idea what if anything he had and I said so in the blog. But I cannot imagine that the vet bills on Curlin are any different from the ones I pay on my race horses. All the top trainers follow pretty much the same regimen. And very few horses ever run a race without a least $150 of pre-race medicine of one kind or another. You don't see horses at this level look and perform like they do on hay, oats and water alone.
You wrote a blog entry shortly after the Derby about what's wrong in the game. Which do you think is more important? Changing the breed or improving racing surfaces? Is it even possible to go back to breeding a more durable Thoroughbred when commercial breeding dominates the industry and so strongly favors speed and so much medication/drug use is allowed?
More important than breeding decisions or surfaces is the raising and early training. The market is now driven by huge prices for 2-yr-old horses that look like they are 3 and run 10 second furlongs. If they don't have to look and run that way so early in their life, they will mature naturally and be sounder when they race. Why not eliminate the breeze race at the training sales?
I love Horse of a Different Color—very witty and insightful book. My question is, what are the most important factors when you are choosing a potential mate for one of your mares?
The dam of the sire, the cost of the fee, the size of the stallion's book and the integrity of the farm standing the stallion.
Any problems with MRLS this spring? It seems as though the tent caterpillars are back.
A bigger crop this year. Most since 2002, at least in the trees on the perimeter of my farm. I have no cherry trees now but my neighbor's trees are still a problem.
If everyone agrees that drugs and steroids are ruining the breed, why don't the racing powers-that-be implement real and harsh penalties for trainers that violate them?
There are no powers-that-be. Every state has different laws and regulations. No trainer or vet wants to give up an edge to another. And a lot of owners care more about winning than how they win.
What business has more problems: newspapers or Thoroughbreds? And which is more likely to survive?
Racing will always remain a Sport of Kings. I have no such hope for the survival of newspapers.
Hi, Jim. Thanks for the time. I loved your book "Horse of A Different Color". It's one of the ones that I give away as presents — trying to keep your publishing career going. I was deeply saddened by the death of Maria's Mon this year. I felt he was sitting on another big horse. Your thoughts on him and on Monarchos as a stallion.
I hope Monarchos can carry on the line, because it is a great outcross for the more popular Storm Cat/ Mr. Prospector descendants. Both may ultimately make their greatest contribution as broodmare sires. The family of Monarchos and Dynaformer is too strong to disappear.
Our business sorely lacks capable spokesmen - as evidenced by their disarray after Eight Belles accident. Would you favor forming some kind of new organization to take over work the NTRA was formed to do, but has flubbed entirely; would you be willing to lead it? If not, why not?
I have given up on organizations and am suspect of any that would have me as a member. Fortunately, I long ago came to prefer the company of books and horses to people who strive to lead organizations. But I do believe this industry needs someone with a skill I learned in 30 years of Fortune 500 corporate politics—how to accomplish something and let everyone else who needs to get the credit for it.
St. Louis, MO:
Does traveling on race day affect the horses?
Depends on the horse. Some hate travel so much they sweat, tie-up, colic or leave their race on the van floor. Others thrive on the ride. Some of the greatest race horses in history got right off the truck or the train and ran their opponents into the ground.
LAST UPDATED: 1:18 P.M. (ET)
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