2008 Champions: Bubble Economy

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Seth Klarman always names horses after economic terms – good or bad. His stable has campaigned horses whose names fit better in The Wall Street Journal than the Racing Form: Outperformance, Phantom Income, Subprime Lending, Market Psychology and Bubble Economy to name a few.

A bubble economy is defined as an unstable boom where trade values differ considerably from an item’s intrinsic worth. Prices in an economic bubble can fluctuate erratically and become impossible to predict. Recent examples include Beanie Babies, dot-com stocks and the housing market.

Then there’s Bubble Economy – the horse. Sometimes he trades considerably different than he’s worth. He fluctuates erratically. And yes, he’s unpredictable.

He’s also timber champion for the second time. Owned by Arcadia Stable and trained by Jack Fisher, Bubble Economy has performed as a bubble economy – blue chip one day, penny stock the next – since his jump debut at Shawan Downs in 2002. He won his first timber championship in 2004 with a single win. Bubble Economy picked up a $5,000 bonus because an amateur, Paddy Young, rode him in the Mason Houghland – his timber debut – at Nashville. He eked out $800 more than Maryland Hunt Cup winner Bug River. Call it a championship by default.

The timber championship hinges on purses earned and Bubble Economy must have learned something from his former owner – an investment banker – because he strikes when the money’s right. This year he upset Miles Ahead in the $100,000 Virginia Gold Cup, the richest timber race on the schedule and returned to Great Meadow to snatch the $50,000 International Gold Cup in the fall. The Gold Cups accounted for the two biggest purses he ran for during the year and those wins alone would have clinched his championship.

The 9-year-old Pennsylvania-bred won three races and set a single-season record with $110,250, far above stablemate Monte Bianco’s $67,000. Of course, Bubble Economy lost five times, including a default when he refused at an early fence in the Pennsylvania Hunt Cup for the second year in a row. And for the second year in a row, Fisher wheeled him back in two weeks to win at Camden.

That’s Bubble Economy – two-time timber champion and confirmed underachiever.

Fisher put it bluntly after the gelding won his first title. “He doesn’t deserve it. Horse of the year? Secret Impression or Bug River or Pleasant Parcel. They’re all better than he is. If we voted for it, he wouldn’t get it.”

And this year? “It hasn’t changed,” Fisher said.

Fisher doesn’t pull punches. Inexplicably, Bubble Economy does. All the way back in 2002, he made his jump debut at Shawan Downs and ringed his tail like a propeller while finishing second to Coal Dust in a 3-year-old maiden. In his next 11 starts over hurdles, he broke his maiden at Colonial Downs and won two weak amateur hurdle races. Fisher switched him to timber early and he’s won some of the sport’s best races including the Grand National, Houghland, Ski Roundtop at Shawan and two Gold Cups this year.

“I guess the only better one (this year) was maybe Monte Bianco, but I broke him and I guess off winning two of the Gold Cup races, he deserves it,” Fisher said. “He amuses me now; he used to frustrate me.”

Fisher got so frustrated with Bubble Economy’s effort at My Lady’s Manor this spring, he brought out his tack and rode him in the Grand National the following week. They finished third and two weeks later, he won the Virginia Gold Cup under Chip Miller.

“He’s got as much talent as any of my other timber horses but he doesn’t have the heart like Saluter – and over timber heart has a lot to do with it,” Fisher said. “If he’s got to dig down deep like a Good Night Shirt in the Colonial Cup, it’s not going to happen. He was just born that way. I hate horses that don’t try. I love horses like Mark The Shark, Duke Of Earl; they aren’t that talented but they try every time.”

Good Night Shirt earned his championship by taking each of his five starts in 2008. Bubble Economy tarnished his by stalling out in the Pennsylvania Hunt Cup; champions aren’t meant to throw down their gloves and stomp off the field. Without that blemish, this is about his 7 1/2 miles of perfection in the Gold Cups and about a horse who has been plying his trade over jumps for seven straight seasons. He’s made at least two starts every year since he left Rick Violette’s New York barn in the summer of 2002, running 39 times over jumps. But, alas, he occasionally dons the dunce cap and that’s all anybody can talk about.

“He was a likable big horse, good mover, but you knew you weren’t getting to the bottom of him. There was not a lot of try in him,” Violette said. “You had to demand everything out of him. There was no question, he wasn’t going to make it as a flat horse. He was not fond of the game.”

A $50,000 yearling purchase at Fasig-Tipton Midlantic in 2000, Bubble Economy made seven starts on the flat for Klaravich and Violette. In his second, he finished third in a turf maiden at Gulfstream Park; three starts later he finished fourth over the Belmont Park grass. The rest were pretty dismal. Fisher saw a big, raw project at Saratoga in 2002 and pulled the trigger. Bubble Economy ran at Shawan Downs about a month after joining Fisher’s Maryland barn.

“They said he was a star over fences from the first day but I guess he’s still a character,” Violette said. “He obviously takes care of himself. It’s on his terms and when everything isn’t right, he’s not going to put out. He found his calling but some mornings he doesn’t want to get out of bed. If you make him get out of bed, he’s not going to change his mind and you’ll be sorry.”

Robbie Walsh rode Bubble Economy three times this fall, aboard for a fourth at Middleburg, a Gold Cup win and a refusal in the Pennsylvania Hunt Cup.

“I got both ends of it,” Walsh said. “He never picked up the bridle at Middleburg, then was much sharper at the Gold Cup. He left the paddock bucking and plunging and he carried me everywhere, it was just a matter of timing it right. Then he decided he wanted no part of it at the Hunt Cup. There aren’t many timber horses that can quicken like him but I guess he’s always been a bit of a thinker.”

Despite all his thinking, he’s won 11 races, earned $315,050 and claimed two timber championships.

Meaning you can get rich in a bubble economy.