JC / Railbird


Take care, race promoters, Steve Crist has a peeve:

The word “champion” has a very specific meaning in Thoroughbred racing: The winner of a year-end divisional championship. The Breeders’ Cup has done its best to devalue the word by referring to any winner of a Breeders’ Cup race as a “Breeders’ Cup champion” whether or not that horse also wins a championship. Now Monmouth Park is also misusing the word in promoting the principals in the Aug. 2 Haskell as “Preakness Champion Rachel Alexandra” and “Belmont Stakes Champion Summer Bird.”

Rachel Alexandra is 1-to-100 to be the champion 3-year-old filly of 2009, and Summer Bird is a possible contender for the male version of that award, but until the Eclipse Awards are announced next January, neither should be called a champion.

While on the topic of language usage, how about banishing the phrase “taking on the boys” (and its variations, “running against the boys,” “battling the boys,” “facing the boys,” etc.) from turf writing? It was a hoary phrase before the “Year Era of the Chick” began, but with Rachel Alexandra making a habit of stepping outside her division, and a number of other distaffers doing the same recently, its use has tipped from colloquial cutesiness into egregious abuse. I know it can be tough to write about a subject repeatedly without resorting to cliché — how many ways are there, really, to talk about a female horse racing in open company? — but this is one that needs a rest.

Related (if you’re into such things): A bracing excerpt from Kingsley Amis’ “The King’s English.”


It is exceptionally noteworthy that Rachel Alexandra is the only filly competing in the Haskell.

Posted by EJXD2 on July 27, 2009 @ 10:01 am

But is Crist’s premise even correct?

That’s partially an actual question (after all I’m not a native speaker), but I also can’t help noticing frequent different uses of the word.

* The BH published a book called Thoroughbred Champions a few years back, and while it seems save to assume that all of their 20th century Top 100 did win some kind of year-end championship, that clearly was rather incidental to their ranking. The BH used the word as a general synonym for “great racehorse”.

* The Classic Champion Thoroughbreds blog (written by pedigree writer Calvin Carter, who seems to know what he’s talking about), uses the term “Classic Champion” for all winners of Classic races, including horses who didn’t win a year-end Championship. Since it’s illogical that a horse could be a Classic Champion without also being a Champion, we have another use of the word, one that is entirely in-line with Monmouth’s.

Seems to me that if Crist chooses to criticize others for their “wrong” usage of the word, it should be established that his is the traditional one.

Until then, I feel much more comfortable calling Sea The Stars a Champion, rather than, say, Countess Diana, Martie’s Anger or Itsallgreektome.

Posted by Malcer on July 27, 2009 @ 12:32 pm

In female terms and only until they would meet, which is unlikely. The female champion designate is Sariska.

The US penchant for Dirt racing appears from beyond the boundaries of the US to be a huge mistake.

Gelded winners of high class races is a serious problem. So the female lineage in US racing is the line to follow.

Posted by Bill Milburn on July 27, 2009 @ 1:57 pm

I’m pretty sure that Crist is using the word “champion” in the context of an Eclipse Award winner, Bill. The 4:3-0-0 for Sariska against her own sex, without stepping foot in North America, is laughed out of the building by Rachel Alexandra. Not one filly has even come within a sniff of RA in her division this year. Open lengths in Classic races.

Sariska is probably not Zarkava and, as such, will not win an Eclipse Award.

All that said, when it comes to RA I believe that the use of the word ‘champion’ in any context before she actually wins the Eclipse, which Crist says she’s 1/100 to win (more like 1/1000), is minor semantics in this particular case.

Posted by o_crunk on July 27, 2009 @ 5:35 pm

Malcer, “Classic Champions” is a term of Carter’s devising and seems primarily relevant to his work. It is not a standard phrase used in North American thoroughbred racing. As for the Blood-Horse title, surely it was meant to be more evocative then strictly accurate since the book covers a span during which how a horse came to be called “champion” varied. It was only in 1936 that Turf and Sport Digest instituted a nationwide poll for the purpose of naming champions in four divisions; the Eclipse Awards came along years later. Crist is quite right: It is the convention, the tradition, whatever you’d like to call it, to reserve “champion” for reference to division winners, and that can be established by looking to the style of all major racing publications and those North American newspapers that still have copy editors attuned to such language.

Posted by Jessica on July 31, 2009 @ 10:13 am

@Jessica: thanks for the response. I’ll try to heed it, even if it means bestowing the title on horses that wouldn’t fit the implication of such honors while denying others who would.

Posted by Malcer on August 1, 2009 @ 5:33 pm

That’s the trouble with the convention, but it does yield a rich source of debate …

Posted by Jessica on August 1, 2009 @ 5:41 pm