June 27, 2008


More bad press on the racing front, especially for the conditioners. And we're not talking about small stables at obscure tracks like Emerald Downs, mind you (no offense to the Seattle area track). What I can't figure out is why all these global pharma companies are losing money if most human athletes, and now their equine counterparts, are doping? Perhaps the decline is attributable to cyclists giving up "the juice" now that the Tour de France is enforcing their drug policies. Now there's a novel concept!

Larry Jones, the popular "cowboy trainer" of filly heroine Eight Belles and Hard Spun from last year's Derby trail, was shocked recently by officials at his home base of Delaware Park. Racing stewards informed Jones that Stones River had tested positive for illegal levels of clenbuterol -- a bronchodilator that helps burn fat and promote muscle growth -- after a race at Delaware Park this month. This was the first charge against Jones in 25 years as a trainer. He alleges that he was "targeted" by someone wanting to defame him after his vehement testimony against drugs in the Eight Belles aftermath. This is very plausible considering his clean record and how easy it would be in a low security environment to gain access to a claiming horse's stall.

What's a drug story without Rick Dutrow? Well that may be a tad harsh, but hasn't he asked for that with his skiddish behavior on the Triple Crown trail? Slick Rick is facing a 15-day suspension after one of his horses that raced on Kentucky Oaks day was found in violation of state medication rules. The ruling from the stewards at Churchill Downs came after an excess of clenbuterol was found in the system of Salute the Count following his second-place finish in the May 2 Aegon Turf Sprint. Clenbuterol is used to treat horses with allergies and breathing problems. It is widely used in training but under Kentucky racing guidelines should not be given to horses closer than three days before a race. So this infraction is mild compared to his previous issues in New York and Maryland, the foundation of his regular racing circuit.

And then the final shoe dropped (hopefully) yesterday, when trainer Steve Asmussen was notified that a horse in his care tested positive for the Class 2 substance lidocaine following a May 10th maiden special weight race at Lone Star Park. The Texas native was previously slapped with a six-month suspension from July 10, 2006, to Jan. 10, 2007 after a horse in his care tested positive for the anesthetic mepivicaine in Louisiana (and a similar infraction in New Mexico).

Naturally, his lawyer said Asmussen would "fight the charge." What these trainers need to be fighting is the urge to use the myriad of substances that can give a horse the edge needed to hit the wire first! However, as we have recently seen with another sports failure in MLB that I also hold in high regard, it is clear to me that the league is most guilty of "failure to supervise" or "lack of institutional control", or whatever you want to call it.

Horse racing has admitted their shortcomings and have pledged to swiftly close these proverbial loopholes, while Bud Selig pointed fingers at everyone except himself. So let me get this straight, the Commissioner has the authority to UNILATERALLY ban someone from baseball (Charlie Hustle should be in Cooperstown), but he's "allegedly" powerless to list banned illegal substances from baseball? Gimme a freakin' break...

Go Cubbies!!!

June 25, 2008

The UNluckiest horseshoe on earth???

There have been several significant stories (some largely unnoticed) on the national and international racing scene that are worthy of mentioning.

1) Spike Lee, aka Mars Blackman, coined the famous Nike ad with Michael Jordan, "It's got to be the shoe." The "shoe" now in the limelight is Big Brown's back right shoe, which as photos captured came loose towards the beginning of the Belmont Stakes. Many have authoritatively claimed this as the excuse to why Big Brown ran so poorly, while others discounted the importance of a loose shoe during a race, especially when the horse shows no inflamation in that area following the race. It's too bad for IEAH et al that all of Brown's shoes weren't glued on, like the front hoof getting all the special treatment with the quarter crack. One thing for sure, this shoe saga is now every bit as famous as the safety pin incident with Spectaculat Bid in 1979.

2) Jeremy Rose of Afleet Alex fame (2005 Preakness, Belmont) and Eclipse Award holder as top apprentice jockey has been suspended for six months for "extreme misuse of the whip" in a race yesterday at Delaware Park. Rose struck his mount, Appeal to the City, on the face which resulted in bleeding around the left eye. Certainly not a positive for this sport that is under attack on all fronts (see next point). I have yet to see the replay but I would like to give Jeremy the benefit of the doubt and hope this falls under the "accident" category. Which still leads you to wonder why these wire bound "tools" are permitted if something like this could EVER happen in a race. While I can understand the value of using a whip (keeping horses straight in stretch, telling a horse it's GO TIME), perhaps the nature of the crop should be given a gentile makeover or eliminated altogether (it's a level playing field if no one has one, right??).

3) Thoroughbred industry leaders reported for testimony last week in Washington at the House Energy and Commerce Committee's commerce, trade and consumer protection subcommittee. Congress basically reminded our sport that they gave horse racing the legal right to broadcast races and take bets across state lines, and now the industry needs more regulation. Rep. Ed Whitfield, a Republican from Kentucky's 1st District said that he expects to introduce legislation to ban the use of drugs in racing and require uniform collection and disclosure of medical information and injury and fatality data. He said that given the small amount of time left in this Congress, the legislation was likely to be proposed next year (seems like I've heard that one a few times!). However, this will not address the issues in breeding (or should I say, inbreeding) for SPEED, SPEED, SPEED leading to a more fragile horse running fewer races, all topics discussed by Arthur Hancock, a lifelong horse breeder.

4) A Queen is back in the winner's circle at Royal Ascot for the first time in 9 years. Queen Elizabeth II celebrated her first victory since 1999 at the famous English track when her horse Free Agent won the Chesham Stakes. "The queen was absolutely thrilled, and after they passed the post she said, 'I've done it!' " reported her racing manager, John Warren. And we were led to believe that racing was the Sport of Kings...

June 21, 2008

No Brown Crown... Curlin to the Turf

Now that the Belmont dust has settled, it appears that it simply was a bad day at the track for Big Brown, who's stock has dropped as much as his corporate namesake, UPS. Rick Dutrow is pointing the strapping son of Boundary for a new campaign to include the Haskell Inviational at Monmouth Park in August and perhaps the Travers Stakes at Saratoga. If Brown again has his way with these nominal three year-olds, he will perhaps get the chance to go up against older horses in the 25th rendition of The Breeders' Cup Classic to be held at Santa Anita Park in late October.

One horse that is on quite a different path is Curlin, the recent winner of another Grade I race in the Stephen Foster Handicap, where much was made of the excessive weight assigned to Robby Albarado's saddle (128 pounds including the jock). Although the 10 to 15 pounds Curlin spotted his foes never factored into his four length victory, Steve Asmussen was quick to generate an excuse, if needed. He knows the burden of carrying even a few extra pounds, especially if the race were to unfold unfavorably for Curlin. In Cigar's penultimate performance in 1996, he finished a nose behind Skip Away after falling prey to very soft fractions (1:11 2 and 1:35 4) and being forced wide on the clubhouse turn. Although he nearly made up the difference in positioning and pace, perhaps the five pounds he was spotting the younger and highly talented Skip Away was too much to overcome. Asmussen knows (take note, Dutrow!) that things can -- and often do -- go wrong on the track and that every disadvantage can lead to defeat.

So rather than lobby weight assignments the rest of the year, Steve and majority owner Jess Jackson will pursue a brief turf campaign prior to retiring their champion, hoping to extend Curlin's win streak of five races on the lawn, while increasing his value at stud. For those of you who question or even criticize this decision, we must recall another chestnut horse some decades ago who finished his career with two impressive turf victories after proving dominance over dirt tracks. That horse's name, anyone? Secretariat.

June 10, 2008

Dutrow sweating Big Brown's loss

Dutrow is proving exactly why the pulse of the racing public was against this Triple Crown bid. Missed press conferences, finger pointing and excuses have emerged from "Camp Big Brown", now being led by IEAH co-President, Michael Iavarone. Here's a guy who's lied about a degree and phantom employment at Goldman Sachs, instead working at three penny stock pushing investment firms I've never heard of. He's been fined and censured by the NASD, sued by an Atlantic City casino and the Kenneland Association horse sales for not paying for horses bid at auctions... talk about a scumbag!! Even Big Brown wants nothing to do with this dude -- see picture at left.

For all the sports journalists out there who were on record as saying they didn't want this horse to sweep the Triple Crown, there is a collective sigh of relief. I must admit, on the far turn I was giddy with joy myself as I knew Big Brown was running out of steam, although I didn't care for Kent easing him with two furlongs remaining. Many bettors are demanding a refund (no chance), but more likely what may happen is jockey Kent Desormeaux being fined by the NYRA stewards for "competition infractions" by pulling up a non-injured horse prior to the race order being determined.

"I'm sure he didn't have any idea what the hell was going on going into the first turn the way (Desormeaux) was switching him all over the damn track," Dutrow told the Daily Racing Form. "I don't know what he was doing." He went on to say, "I feel like a loser right now, and I don't know why. Usually when I get beat I can handle it the right way, and I've handled this the right way, but I just feel like something's not right." What world is this guy living in? The only thing I've seen him do "right" is soil a shirt more than Bruce Pearl could on his best day!

So what did happen to Big Brown, people keep asking. Theories abound about the quarter crack, missed training and especially the steroids he didn't take prior to the Belmont. That may be reaching a bit since he hadn't taken his Winstrol (allegedly) dose since mid-April and performed fine in crushing his opponents in The Derby and Preakness. I conclude that a number of factors (3rd race in 5 weeks, scorching heat, apparent rankness fighting Kent's positioning early in race, breaking a step slow) threw Big Brown off his game and resulted in a bad day at the office. These do occasionally happen to all of us, you know?!

Kudos to Nick Zito, the new "giant killer" (with apologies to Allen Jerkens) of the Triple Crown. Nick, of course, conditioned another $70+ horse in Birdstone to knock off Smarty Jones in 2004's Belmont Stakes. But that one already had a Grade 1 win over the track as a two year-old. This Da'Tara came as quite a shock, being eligible for a non-winners of two lifetime race and going off as the longest shot on the board. Dennis of Cork rallied for second behind this soft pace to prove his worth as a sophomore. The Travers at Saratoga may be an interesting race with the top 3 year-olds all pointing for the late August "midsummer's Derby".

For now, the focus in deservedly back on the #1 rated thoroughbred in the world -- Curlin, as he prepares for his U.S. comeback in the Stephen Foster Handicap this Saturday at Churchill Downs. Let's hope this superstar can keep to his winning days.

June 8, 2008

Jim McKay Tribute

Jim McManus died at the age of 86 years young on Saturday just hours prior to the 140th running of the Belmont Stakes. While McManus (McKay was his professional name) is most associated with the man who brought us the unfolding events of the 1972 Olympics hostage crisis, he often said his greatest joy was covering thoroughbred racing and the Triple Crown events. Jim was the host that popularized ABC's Wide World of Sports for nearly four decades and brought the sights and sounds of the Olympics into American homes. During a career that "spanned the globe" for nearly 60 years, McKay was one of the greatest witnesses of 20th-century sports history.

McKay's first television broadcast assignment was a horse race at Pimlico Racecourse in Baltimore. It was the start of a love affair, which he shared with the nation each spring through his introductions to Triple Crown events for ABC Sports until NBC took over recently. It's a pity we now have to endure Bob Costas' linguistical vainglorious after being swayed by McKay's subtle balance.

Track announcer Dave Johnson worked with McKay during many horse racing telecasts.
"How many Saturday afternoons did we spend with Jim McKay?" he said from Belmont Park. "Maybe more than with family members. Never a cross word out of him, such a decent human being."

No more eloquent words can be spoken of Jim that what he once stated himself describing his passion, "There are few things in sport as exciting or beautiful as two strong thoroughbreds, neck and neck, charging toward the finish."

My Belmont wrap will soon follow...