By Peter Monaco
His name is Clint Goodrich. Who? Clint Goodrich. Never heard of him you say? That’s what I said too.
Ok, what are his qualifications? How is it, you ask, he knows what to do with the sport of horse racing when nobody else does? Great questions. But to get the answers, you’ll have to read the entire interview, not just the title or the first few paragraphs. His answers are at times blunt, at times nuanced and at all times right down the middle of the plate. He speaks from experience and conviction, he doesn’t hold much back. He told me, “Sometimes the most difficult actions are the only answer to hard questions”.
There is nothing you can ask him about the sport, he can’t answer be it on the inside or the out. When you listen to his answers and the depth with which he speaks, you realize, without a shadow of a doubt, he knows what he’s talking about. Goodrich came around the racing world as a kid in the mid-70’s. He worked his way up from the bottom. He lived it starting out as a hot walker, then groom, exercise rider, apprentice jockey, journeyman jockey, assistant trainer, trainer, owner and even breeder. He’s been in the trenches. He’s purchased yearlings at the Keeneland sales and at two-year old in training sales. He’s purchased with his own nickel and also bought for a very select group of clients among them the legendary Tartan Farms.
My conversation with him a week ago lasted more than 3 hours. What follows is part of what we discussed. His passion won’t fit this page.
Peter Monaco: You’ve seen a pretty serious arc in this sport, give me some perspective.
Clint Goodrich: I like to think I caught the last of the best it. I’m talking about the real world, last glory days of horse racing. My first exposure was just as Secretariat burst on the scene. I was a kid. I knew zip about horses. Within a few weeks and one visit to the races, I knew I wanted to be a jockey. It was a flash point for me. My first racetrack job was at Santa Fe Downs in New Mexico. From there I never really looked back until I walked away. So many people think they know about horses and horse racing, about the problems. What a good horse is. How to buy, how to breed, how to train, how run a racetrack. How to fix this sport. Medication, no medication. I’m here to tell you – they have almost no idea. These people have little actual experience and damn sure have no perspective.
PM: Why’d you walk away?
CG: Burn out. 24/7 basically 365 for 26 years. You get fried. I’d done all I could do in the new arena that was beginning to take shape. I was no longer able to continue in the way I intended to do it. My reason to continue had been pushed aside. I wasn’t willing to compromise my personal philosophies in order to keep going in something I didn’t recognize anymore. I wanted to pursue some new things.
PM: What did you do after you left horse racing?
CG: In the late 90’s I started trading futures and futures options, that overlapped with the last few years I was at the track. The Internet was exploding and electronic trading allowed you to live anywhere. When I finally left racing in the early 2000’s I started trading and managing money full time for a few clients – and then more clients. But I always kept a thumb on the pulse of the racing world.
PM: From what I know, futures and options are risky as hell! How’d you do trading?
CG: Nothing is more risky than the horse racing business, it’ll prepare you for anything! Like any business, there’s a learning curve in trading. It’s no different, there are always rough spots in any business venture. What doesn’t break you, makes you stronger. Overall, we did really well until around 2012-13, the industry went through some major upheaval, several brokerage firms collapsed, the futures markets were extremely volatile. High frequency and algorithm trading pretty much hijacked the markets, nothing made sense anymore. It shook out a lot of people but I hung in there. While I have fewer clients than before, the people I trade for today are much stronger. It’s a very tough business, there can be lots of sleepless nights.
PM: I’ve read most of your blog posts, you have a really deep take on horse racing. Very different from what most people normally have to say. It sounds to me like you’ve got the detailed knowledge to back up your points of view and the battle scars to prove it.
CG: I know where the bodies are buried and I know who buried them. And if I don’t know, I know who does. I’m in the process of writing a new book of short stories based on my experiences. It should be ready later this year.
PM: Before we actually met, I wanted to do some statistical homework on your career. The industry database for all things horse racing, Equibase, has almost no record of your accomplishments. How do you explain this?
CG: I can’t explain it. I can only surmise when Equibase took over from the Daily Racing Form in the late 90’s as the official record keeping source for the industry, they weren’t very well staffed. Apparently a lot of the records didn’t make the shift. In this day of instant stats available online, I’ve had many people who don’t really know me, question my knowledge and expertise when I write a blog post about racing. They immediately point to Equibase and say, “you didn’t do anything you say you did as a jockey or a trainer, blah, blah, blah.” Whatever. I can prove them wrong in less than a minute.
PM: What does that say about the records overall at Equibase?
CG: It says, don’t believe everything you read is accurate. Listen, just because it is – or isn’t online, doesn’t make it accurate or real. I’ve never claimed I was a leading rider or leading trainer because I wasn’t! Neither my riding or training career evolved in that way. Here’s what I was; I was a good horsemen. I knew what I was doing. I was pretty good at it and I cared. All I can tell you is that I have notebooks with over 350 win pictures of horses I either rode or trained and there are many more I lost or never got along the way. There are plenty of jockeys and trainers who won more races than I did. That is never the point. The numbers of winners you have or had does not always tell a complete story. If you’re just looking at numbers, it can be deceiving in either direction.
PM: I’ve seen some of your pictures, Keeneland, Churchill Downs, Gulfstream Park, Arlington Park and lots of places in between. They don’t lie.
CG: I am very comfortable and confident in what I did and my successes. There is always a faster horse, someone who did more, and good for them. I had, as they say in Major League Baseball, a cup of coffee as a jockey at the major tracks. I got to ride against some of the very best riders of my day like Jerry Bailey, Pat Day, Eddie Delahoussaye, Don Brumfield, Randy Romero. I rode more and won more races at the smaller tracks. I had a longer and deeper career as a trainer. I trained against Allen Jerkins, Shug McGaughey, Carl Nafzger, Jonathan Sheppard, Billy Mott, Wayne Lukas and so many more. I had, statistically and monetarily speaking, a more successful training career. I have programs and win pictures to back up everything going back to the late 1970’s all the way into the early 2000’s. And let me tell you something else, I rode with some really good riders and trained against some outstanding horsemen and women who toiled their entire careers at lower and middle level tracks for reasons known only to God.
PM: Do you think Equibase just picks and chooses to be accurate with stats on big names jockeys like Lafitt Pincay or Jerry Bailey and trainers like Allen Jerkins or Todd Pletcher?
CG: No. Not maliciously. But I do think certain records were clearly prioritized, which they should’ve been, but many rank and file horse racing participates have been slighted. They’ve either been over looked, discarded or out right bungled. I have more than a few jockey friends who I know for a fact, rode hundreds of winners over a six, eight, ten year career and Equibase shows them having ridden sporadically for 2 years and winning 33 races. It’s mostly just total bullshit with the presumption of accuracy. Horseplayers and racing fans should know and understand, Equibase is not always correct. Some of the stats they present should be taken with a grain of salt.
PM: Ok, so talk to me about buying horses at the various sales from a trainers perspective.
CG: I always spent a client’s money at the sales like it was my own. When you’re a trainer and you buy horses for a client you know you’re going to have to live with, train and prove, you are in essence putting your money where your mouth is. You buy’em, your credibility lives or dies with your ability to succeed with those purchases. You’re on your own. There are no contracts, no severance packages, no golden parachutes available for a job well done. It’s performance based and it’s not always fair. I’ve been fired after having done a good job more than once.
PM: What if you’re buying for yourself?
CG: The same principles apply but you don’t have to answer to anybody. John Nerud, of Dr. Fager fame and the President of Tartan Farms asked me before he hired me to train a string of horses for Tartan, “How many horses do you own?” I said none. He said, “If you don’t know what it’s like to own a horse and pay a training bill, how can you ask an owner to send you his horses to train?” From that moment on, I always bought, owned and trained a few horses of my own. You really do need to have some perspective when you send out your training statements at the end of the month. It makes a difference. He also told me to “keep buying and selling horses, one day you’ll wake up and be worth a lot of money.”
PM: John Nerud was a pretty big name around New York.
CG: One of the biggest in the game. I’ve always said, the greatest compliment every paid to me in the horses racing world, was when John Nerud ask me to train some horses for Tartan Farms. He was also instrumental in getting the Frances A. Genter Stable to send me horses too. You know, Mrs. Genter, she owned and raced Unbridled, the 1990 Derby winner. If you study the Tartan and Genter bloodlines and pedigrees… They do not make horses like that anymore. They just don’t.
PM: Best horse you ever bought at the sales?
PM: I don’t know, you tell me!
CG: As an owner, breeder, a trainer and a buyer of yearlings, I dealt with a lot of breeders on different levels. Big name breeding establishments as well as small operations with only a handful of mares. Big commercial breeders who breed to sell, want their horses to be handled in a way that furthers sales prospects for their breeding establishment. By contrast, when you train for breeders who breed mostly to race, they want to win races and help prove or strengthen their private bloodlines. They all of course want to make money but it’s two different forks in the same road.
PM: How are the breeding operations and philosophies different from Kentucky as opposed to Florida?
CG: I was involved in both regions either through owning a couple broodmares, shares in stallion syndicates or having outright ownership in stallions that stood in both Kentucky and Florida. Uhhhhhhmmmm…Let’s just say Kentucky and Florida, they are two different tribes.
PM: Ahhhhhh, c’mon what does that mean?
CG: I’ll just leave it at that.
PM: Ok, maybe another day on that one?
PM: How about dealing with breeders from a pure trainers perspective?
CG: Same answer! Ok, ok, as a trainer, if you are a horseman and your barn is not a factory outlet mall, you want to train for the breeders who breed to race or owners who care about the value of their investment and the longevity of their horses. Commercial breeders put tremendous pressure on trainers not only to race their horses as soon as possible but to win, win, win at all costs. That pressure gets transferred directly to the horse whether it’s ready or not. It’s a straight line. So many horses get chewed up and spit out because the commercial breeders or owners who bought them from commercial breeders want the instant gratification they think they deserve. They want immediate results. They have no patience. And you know what, horses don’t care! So many people don’t want to understand, some horses need more time than others. Those kinds of horses get limited time to mature and develop.
PM: Is it always that they just needed more time or is it a combination of time and different handling?
CG: It could be either, sometimes both. I made a career out of being able to know the difference between those you needed to get going quickly and those that needed more time. It’s not an exact science, it’s an art form. I cannot tell you the numbers of horses that came into my barn, off the scrap heap, as 3 or 4 or even 5 year olds…many had developed some nasty bad habits but because I used to get on many of my own horses in the morning, I could really work on straightening them out. The right type of exercise rider for each horse in the morning can not be under estimated. These horses were exceptionally well bred and brimming with talent but had been given up on and basically discarded. Many of them were turned around by giving them some time, backing off of them, boosting their confidence and giving them the individual attention they needed to be the best they could be. It was a pretty long list.
PM: Ok, but an owner pays big loot for a horse, shouldn’t they expect results?
CG: Sure, an owner can expect results but you don’t always get what you want or expect. This is an important point. If you don’t have the money to buy a $500,000 or a $1M yearling you can’t raise your hand at the auction. But if you have that kind of cash, even if it’s disposable cash, for crying out loud, have enough resources, common sense and patience to give the damn horse a chance to develop at his or her own pace. Trust me when I say, the horse has no idea how much you paid for them and they have no concept of time, they just “are”. Lastly, if you have enough confidence in your trainer to send your horses into his or her barn, then you should let that trainer buy your horses, NOT some bloodstock agent who doesn’t have to live with the longer term results. Remember, the more money a buyer spends at the sales, the more money a bloodstock agent makes. The better a horse does at the racetrack – the more money a trainer makes. Which one of these scenarios best serves the owner?
PM: I totally get what you’re saying. Why the hell is that hard for anyone to understand?
CG: It should be commonsense. You tell me. I’ve been asking this question for decades.
PM: Back to the breeding establishment, you know, overall as it relates to the big picture.
CG: Don’t under estimate the degree to which most commercial breeders and breeding farms have also contributed to the demise of this sport. They’ve undercut and weakened the breed significantly while enriching themselves. They’ve pressured the sport to create too many cheap stakes and graded stakes races that only serve to promote shallow breeding practices and pedigrees that look good on sales catalog pages. They profit from this exploitation. They breed for cheap speed and short distances. This’s what the current condition of the game rewards. Not stamina or soundness. These breeders and totally arrogant self absorbed race track management are rapidly killing the sport. Racing offices have dis-incentivized a development system of tiered claiming races and conditioned allowance races that serve to actually sort out horses and find the ones that are truly worthy of being stakes winners. I’ve seen this accelerate over the last 20-25 years. It’s totally cheapened and undercut the sport for short term gain.
PM: Any other examples?
CG: Oh sure. No one is going to tell you this but another way big commercial breeders have diluted the breed is by over booking stallions, especially the best ones. A full book of mares for a stallion used to be 40 mares. Then it went to 50, then 60 and 75. Now they want to have dual breeding seasons by shuttling these horses back and forth between Northern and Southern Hemisphere breeding seasons. They kill the longer term value of these stud horses for the short term stallion fees. They want to breed 140 or 150 mares to these horses. It also shortens their stallion careers and life spans too.
PM: They don’t see it or?
CG: They don’t want to see it. It’s willful ignorance. Greed. They all want the short term money. It’s like a tax increase; you get a short term cash windfall; but a longer term cash downfall. It’s similar to financing long term debt with short term money, it’s easy at first then it gets painful. This is also what the breeders and racetrack managements have done to the Breeders’ Cup series. They’ve taken what made it special and watered it down. Two Breeders’ Cup days of racing instead of one, they lost the prime network coverage they used to have, too many categories, too many races, trying to please everyone, created more quote unquote, Breeders’ Cup winners for the benefit of the sales catalogs. They’ve pretty much killed what made it great. It’s not special anymore. It also dumbs it down for the fans. People get numb, they can only give you so much attention. One big day is a party, try to extend it for two big days, it becomes a hangover. One of the basic fundamentals of economics is that when you create more of something, it’s value drops. Winning a Breeders’ Cup race no longer carries the cache it once had. it’s been been greatly damaged. The real problem lies in the fact there is nobody to tell these people: NO. We aren’t going to do this anymore.
PM: Wow man, I gotta think about this a little bit… You mentioned horsemanship. Explain that a little further.
CG: Oh, horsemanship has suffered enormously. True horsemen have all but vanished or been relegated to training three or four horse stables of very modest talent. They’ve been cast aside because of the pressure from the owners and breeders I’ve just described. Most horses today are so over trained it’s not even funny. They’re over trained and under raced. This era of a horse running four, five or six times a year is total bullshit. Most true horsemen and women are retired, unemployed or dead. The ranks of the true horsemen trainers has evaporated, replaced by the factory outlet barns of the mega-numbers horse trainers. I could name them but I won’t – you know who they are. Horsemanship is no longer rewarded, it’s discounted.
PM: You were a jockey. You said that was your first love and why you entered the sport. How do you view the status of jockeys today?
CG: Oh Pete. Don’t get me started! Jockeys don’t get a pass with me either. The state of the jockey world is nothing short of embarrassing. What’s left of who are considered to be the top jockeys riding today are mostly grandpas in their early or middle 50’s. They ride by appointment only, on the weekends or just ride the races with biggest purses. Hey, that’s a great gig if you can get away with it. I don’t blame them at all but some of these guys are riding way, way, way past their prime. But there are damn few up and comers who can push them off the stage. These guys and gals riding today, even the so called top riders, are a flimsy remnant of what passes for a real race rider. These leading jockeys on both coasts and around the country today are not much more than glorified exercise riders. Most of these jocks, would’ve be marginalized and not gotten mounts twenty years ago. Thirty years ago they would not have been granted a license. There are a few exceptions but not many. It’s nauseating to me and really sad.
PM: I think I might be getting at the core of this entire conversation with this question. Racetrack management?
At this point, Goodrich buried his face in his hands and then shook his head while looking down. I could tell, this was a real nerve and where he was really going to drive it home.
CG: Horse racing has been in a death spiral for the last several decades. The sport’s anemic fan base is still is bleeding out and they are not being replaced. Multiple dozens of tracks all over the country have closed in the last 20-25 years. Interest has wained because no one nursed it. Animal rights activists are running rampant using lies, mis-information, extortion, guilt and shame tactics. They learned to exploit the power vacuums associated with the industry. This is all at the doorstep of racetrack ownership and management. One hundred percent.
PM: Some tracks are doing well with casinos.
CG: Oh yeah, a handful of tracks where casino gaming subsidizes purses for live racing, they’re doing what looks to be ok. But it’s fake. As far as the racing part goes anyway. It’s lip service. It’s mostly a scam until they can figure out a way to kill off the live racing component. And if something doesn’t change they will eventually get it done, that’s their entire plan.
PM: But those tracks have better purses, isn’t that good?
CG: Those purses are still not good enough and it’s only a couple or a few tracks. Those tracks where the purses are better, racing is still not healthy. It’s much more complex than that. There are a lot of short fields. The betting takeout is far too high, gamblers and would-be horse players have other choices, better value choices…oh my God, where do I start and when do I stop. Look at what Keeneland just did. Horseplayers launched a Keeneland boycott this fall. Most of them can bet any track, they don’t really need Keeneland. What you’re seeing from Keeneland this fall is a the classic manner in which they’ve operated forever. Whether you’re a fan, horseplayer or a horseman, Keeneland’s attitude is, we need them, they don’t need us. They have it exactly backwards. They’ve always gotten away with posture, so they’ve never needed to change.
PM: So you’re saying racetrack management doesn’t understand?
CG: I’m saying, I don’t think they want to understand or even address it, Pete. It’s too much work. They don’t want to give up their power. The worst part is, they really don’t care. But let me refocus. The thing is, purse structures around the country are wildly out of balance with the cost of horse ownership and the expense of racing horses. Cut the betting takeout, you get bigger handle. Raise purses across the board, trainers will stop sitting on and just training their horses, they’ll actually start entering. You’ll get bigger fields. Bigger fields generate a bigger betting handle because a horseplayer has more value. It feeds on itself and it would happen almost overnight. You also have to re-develop the system of maiden and allowance races and a robust claiming ladder, a place where horses of all ability levels can race and compete for a purse structure where they have a chance to earn good money. You have to separate these horses out more. Cut racing down to three days a week if you have to. Do whatever it takes to raise purses, otherwise, why does anyone want to own a horse? Every horse can’t be a Arrogate or American Pharoah. The “so called” big horses, can’t live or race in a vacuum.
PM: Sort of like the Kentucky Derby is just one day of racing out of the entire calendar year.
CG: Exactly! The Kentucky Derby can’t exist as a stand alone event. I’m not sure the stuffed, corporate suits at Churchill Downs understand this aspect either. It’s not possible to just pull 20 Thoroughbreds in off the grassy knoll on Derby Day and say, this ladies and gentlemen, this is the field for The Kentucky DERBY! Come on.
PM: As a near lifelong horseplayer, this is scary stuff. I mean, I love this sport!
CG: Yeah well, casino gaming is fine in Las Vegas but for the racetrack, it’s like a heroin I.V. drip, it can keep racing going for awhile but eventually it’ll kill the sport. The casino powers rationalize; why are we putting up with this expense, expanse and the maintenance of this racetrack and these burdensome horses and problematic horsemen? Just look at the differences between what’s going on with Belmont Park and Aqueduct right now. This is what I’m talking about. Horse racing is a means to an end for these people and their business model. Remember, the house lives to make money. They don’t really care how they make it. The expense of running a casino is much less than running a racetrack. When bureaucratic executives and boards of directors cut top line expenses, the bottomline rises. It’s just math or in this case, math and gravity. They only look to serve shareholders, feather their exorbitant compensation packages and justify their positions. To me, these wizards are short sighted and legally blind.
PM: What’s going to happen?
CG: So…. I don’t know, even though I do.. I’ve watched this great sport disintegrate from the heights of prestige down to what amounts to the equivalent of just above Jai Alai. It’s been really painful to witness this decline. The advent of inter-track, off-track and online wagering had great potential to dramatically boost the sport across the country and still does but it’s been squandered by the completely rudderless and zero leadership void that exists within the inner horse racing circles. The entire sport has basically collapsed.
PM: You’re not alone in this assessment but most who agree with you are powerless to know what to do or how to even begin to fix it.
CG: The entire sport, if it’s going to survive to any meaningful degree, needs to be revamped from the bottom up. Not the top down. I will state this flatly: I am the only person who can do it. There is no one out there who has the knowledge, insight, perspective, the first hand experience or the guts to do it except me. I can do it. I know what the game can be. I know how to reinvent the sport. The core problem is complete lack of structure. There is no central umbrella. No one has the authority to make across the board, sweeping changes. Racing is fractured into dozens of individual thiefdoms. Everyone of them working solely for their own self-interests. There is no core strength unlike other major sports which operate under a banner. Everything is archaic from one state to another and track to track. It can be fixed, there’s just no will or courage to do it. Who’s going first? The answer is no one, so nothing will change.
PM: So what is….
CG: Hold on, let me give you another quick illustration of my point. The NFL is the latest example. It didn’t happen overnight, it happened over time. They lost control of their game 15 years ago but it’s just now showing up by not dealing with the thug culture and lack of discipline of their players. The NFL has the absolute right to install standards and practices, work-place rules and establish what is acceptable for the good of their product on any level. The National Football League is now blatantly and embarrassingly suffering from a total lack of leadership and courage.
PM: You’re making my head spin with all this straight talk and commonsense. I’ve never heard anybody talk about the sport of horse racing in these terms. So what is Clint Goodrich’s solution. Give me your solution.
CG: ….I’ll say this. I have no intention of turning the sport around as a collective. It will never happen. Too many egos and too many people who don’t really know anything about racing as sport or an overall industry. They don’t understand what makes it tick and how to make it flourish, plus they’d never willfully cooperate. They only see the short run, not the long. Racetracks that are publicly traded or operated with the corporate mindset are especially guilty in the demise. Just look around, the major tracks on both coasts are owned by conglomerates or publicly traded. Some have been attempted to be run by various state agencies. Many other tracks have shuttered or are at best now marginalized to the point of irrelevancy. In your wildest dream, Pete, did you ever think you’d see Hollywood Park bulldozed?
PM: It never even crossed my mind Hollywood Park would go away, no. But you, you have a plan to turn the sport around? You’re being, I sense, intentionally coy. How would it work?
CG: I am being a little cautious about what I say because I don’t want to put in the public domain just yet. I want to present it to the right person or people. I will say this; I can turn the sport around by example. I have a model by which to completely remake it. Generally speaking my plan revolves around several very key, core components. I would remodel the sport, change what’s ruining it, replace what’s missing and refocus on what made it succeed for a hundred years before it lost it’s way. My model flips the current upside down structure of the pyramid.
PM: You’re killing me here.. My natural question is, so how do you do that!?
CG: Get me the right investor or two or three and I’ll spell it all out in crystal clear detail. I’ll put you on the board, Pete!
PM: I’m not qualified.
CG: You’re totally qualified because you love the sport! I need a racetrack, and no I don’t need to build one from scratch, a shuttered one in the right place will do just fine. Or we can build one, it doesn’t exactly matter. I need an interested party with more money than I have – and a little time. Give me five years, maybe less, I can remodel, reshape and remake the sport of horse racing to the likes of which it’s never been seen. I’ll have the gold standard racetrack business model where everyone, on every level wins. The rest of the sport will follow. Mark my words and you can thank me later.
PM: Clint, I hope you’re right. I appreciate your time.
CG: You are welcome, Pete. Thanks for listening. I look forward to speaking with you again soon.
Clint Goodrich makes a lot of sense in a senseless sport. Based on my conversations with him, he absolutely has a master plan. Here’s the scary thing; I think he could actually pull it off. He says his plan is not even that complicated, in fact, he said it’s really quite simple.
Somehow, I believe him.
Want to talk horse racing? Email Pete at firstname.lastname@example.org
Clint Goodrich is currently writing a new book of short stories about his experiences in horse racing. You can also read his horse racing blog here: wherethepindrops.com