What is the value of a victory in the Kentucky Derby?
The question is, from the viewpoint of a person who loves the race and each day ponders its place in the world, impossible to truly answer.
The race is unquestionably the top prize in American horse racing, and one of a handful of the most prominent races in the world. But to assess what it means to an individual cannot be pinned down, because of the emotional weight it carries, its financial value beyond purse money and the skin one has invested in the game of chasing the Derbyâ€™s roses.
The victory surely was an unexpected prize for Dr. Leonard Blach and Mark Allen, the New Mexico-based owners of Mine That Bird, the 50-1 longshot who captured the 2009 Run for the Roses in the second-biggest upset in the 138-year history of the race. But although the little gelding ran well enough in the remaining races of that yearâ€™s Triple Crown that he arguably could have swept those events with a little racing luck, he never won another race, and had no residual value as a stallion.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum of Dubai has invested many millions in a still-fruitless bid to win Americaâ€™s greatest race, one of the few major racing prizes in the world to elude this international racing powerhouse. If Sheikh Mohammed should win a Kentucky Derby, his assessment of the value of that victory would certainly be a good bit different than the perspective of the Mine That Bird partnership.
The Sheikh is now 0-for-eight with his Kentucky Derby starters, and his best run was a sixth-place effort. Blach and Allen won in their only attempt.
But if you wish to push sentiment aside and discuss the financial value of winning a Kentucky Derby, the recent sale of 2012 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, Iâ€™ll Have Another, is a reasonable place to start.
Owner J. Paul Reddam sold Iâ€™ll Have Another to Japanese breeding interests, shortly after the 3-year-old coltâ€™s bid to become Americaâ€™s first Triple Crown winner in 34 years was derailed, by an injury that revealed itself two days out from the Belmont Stakes, the final jewel of that rare sweep.
Reddam revealed this week that he sold Iâ€™ll Have Another to Japanâ€™s Big Red Farm for $10 million, a bid that narrowly topped another Japanese offer and far exceeded the value of only two written bids he had received from American breeding interests. The revelation came in a Reddam-penned piece that appeared on the â€œHanginâ€™ with Haskinâ€ blog of Steve Haskin, who writes for the trade publication The Blood-Horse (www.BloodHorse.com).
In an earlier blog, Haskin had lamented the departure of Iâ€™ll Have Another to Japan, though he had no argument with Reddamâ€™s decision. Haskin wrote:
â€œThere is no right or wrong. The only truth we are aware of is that a brilliant, classy, handsome, courageous horse with the blood of champions coursing through every vein will race no more and will be leaving his place of birth because no one deemed him worthy to pass on his blood in America.â€
Reddam, in his guest blog, said he sent the colt to Japan because the offer was far superior to the U.S. offers, and because of his belief that his Kentucky Derby winner would have a far better chance to succeed in Japan. He said his U.S. offers included an outright $3 million bid and a $2.5 million bid for half the breeding rights to Iâ€™ll Have Another, plus nine lifetime breeding rights. He placed the value of the latter at about $5 million.
His owner estimated that, with those relatively small financial deals, Iâ€™ll Have Anotherâ€™s stallion fee would rest in the $17,500-$20,000 fee. That level, Reddam concluded, would not guarantee him any dates with top American mares, which would diminish the Derby winnerâ€™s chances for U.S. success.
So now Iâ€™ll Have Another, a son of Grade I winner Flower Alley whose pedigree is rich in distant influences missing in many prominent U.S. sires, has a chance to flourish in Japan. It remains to be seen whether he can rise to the level of Sunday Silence, who became that countryâ€™s top sire after being exported following his memorable rivalry with Easy Goer during a racing career that ended in 1990. Sunday Silence was Japanâ€™s top stallion from 1995-2007, and sons of Sunday Silence held the top rank in 2008 and 2009.
Iâ€™ll Have Another will join Kentucky Derby winners Silver Charm and Charismatic among U.S. exports now standing in Japan, along with recent export, Empire Maker, the sire of this yearâ€™s Derby and Preakness runner-up, Bodemeister, and reigning 3-year-old filly champion, Royal Delta.
Thoroughbred racing is an affair of the heart, but it is also a business. With regard to the latter, it is a business that guarantees more heartache than jubilation, so it is difficult to find fault with the decision by Reddam, whose pure love of the industry and the horse is evident with his every visit to Churchill Downs, or any other U.S. racetrack.
But it is difficult for fans of Thoroughbred racing, who dream daily of what it must feel like to experience the ultimate on the first Saturday in May, to understand how a U.S. racing star could find a new home so quickly after the bittersweet end to his Triple Crown chase and career that, until his injury, was a wonderful work-in-progress.
Reddam wrote that he eventually hopes to purchase some mares in foal to Iâ€™ll Have Another and bring them back to foal in California, and, with luck, race those offspring in the U.S.
As disappointing as the jarring end to the Triple Crown run and the burgeoning career of Iâ€™ll Have Another might have been, the 2012 Kentucky Derby winner does leave one important thing with us as he leaves U.S. shores on his journey to Japan.
Iâ€™ll Have Another was purchased as a 2-year-old for $35,000, and just over a year later collected a string of major victories topped by the Kentucky Derby, the biggest race of them all. As disconcerting as his rapid departure after that remarkable run might be, Iâ€™ll Have Anotherâ€™s run, like the successes of Mine That Bird and other unlikely winners before him, proved that the ultimate dream in American racing â€“ a victory in the Kentucky Derby â€“ remains open to just about anyone.
I would suggest that it is impossible for the horse industry to put a value on that.