Once again, California officials, the embarrassment of racing, have allowed justice to be delayed. Then when they finally acted it was essentially denied.

Kent Desormeaux was on a familiar hot seat for his ride aboard Take a Leap in the fourth race on Aug. 25. He eased up yards before the wire and Take a Leap was nailed for the place, a costly faux pas for bettors, who had Desormeaux’s mount in vertical gimmicks.

Given Desormeaux’s penchant for such lazy riding, social media erupted. The Del Mar stewards first tried to ride out the storm, then kicked it down the road to the California Racing Board for action.

When the furor didn’t die down, they finally assessed a three-day suspension to be served during the second tier Los Alamitos meeting. This is primarily vacation time for the big names in the Southern California riding colony. Desormeaux didn’t accept a single mount during the last Los Al session.

So what the Del Mar stewards in effect did was the same as suspending an insolent school kid a three-day suspension from school—during July.

Then they wonder why they are considered a joke.

Thomas on the Right Path with Catholic Boy

Catholic Boy's victories in the Penine Ridge and Belmont Derby on grass and the Travers on the main track have ignited speculation on where he might wind up on Breeders' Cup Day--the Dirt Mile, (Turf) Mile, Turf or Classic.

However, unless there is a change of heart by his connections, Catholic Boy is headed toward the Classic, according to his bright young trainer Jonathan Thomas. The deciding factor is the mile and a quarter distance, which Thomas says hits his horse right between the eyes.

Speculation is rampant about the Breeders’ Cup intentions of one of the most versatile horses in years, Catholic Boy. Only Yoshida, surprise winner of last Saturday’s Woodward, can match Catholic Boy’s boast of Grade 1 victories on dirt and turf.

Catholic Boy’s three straight wins along with a second and fourth in five starts this year makes his resume more compelling. Some have even argued that he still could steal Horse of the Year from Justify, although I’d like to take all their action on that.

Catholic Boy’s performances gives his connections a smorgasbord of options for Breeders’ Cup Day—Dirt Mile, (Turf) Mile, Turf and Classic. However, the decision on where he will be headed was all but made before the Travers. His take-no-prisoners romp sealed the deal.

He’ll be going to the Classic. His sharp young trainer Jonathan Thomas was leaning this way before the Midsummer Derby even though Catholic Boy’s most recent dirt start in the Florida Derby was arguably the poorest performance of his career.

Thomas never lost faith in the son of super turf sire More Than Ready “If he were to be effective on the dirt in the Travers,” he said in a phone interview just prior to the race, “my leaning would be more towards the Classic.”

To say Catholic Boy was effective would be one of racing’s understatements of the year.

However, it isn’t the surface that has Thomas thinking Classic. More than anything, he said, the Classic distance would be the deciding factor. “I think the mile and a quarter at this time in his life hits him right between the eyes.” After the Travers, who could argue?

Each of the colt’s other options carries a downside in Thomas’s estimation. “Facing older horses on the turf and backing up to a mile (on dirt) might be a little bit quick for him. Stretching out to a mile and a half against some of those Euros might not be in his best interests.”

So, while there is still uncertainty about the surface and race Catholic Boy will use as his final prep for Nov. 3, unless something goes amiss, he’ll be lining up against Accelerate, Diversity and maybe Yoshida, among others, on the day.

Viva Gulfstream


If at first you do succeed, why not try it again? Gulfstream has adopted this attitude toward the Clasico del Caribe, which will return to Gulfstream for the second year on Dec. 8.

The inaugural staging of the five-race series for horses from eight Caribbean and Latin American nations was a smash hit. The racing was good but it was the atmosphere throughout the grounds that stole the show. Think international soccer but with four-footed stars. National flags waved, chants and cheers erupted.

Much of the crowd clearly had never been to Gulfstream. The crowd was dotted with families of parents and their kids, all pulling enthusiastically for their home nation’s horses.

The Clasico also gives Gulfstream back-to-back early season special events, following the Classic Crown on the prime season’s first Saturday. The timing could not be better, the waning days of the year when many of the familiar stars of the turf are laying up and stakes are a challenge to fill.

Helping the little guys

NYRA is bringing back the under-20 bonus for trainers at its winter meet. The program, instituted to help trainers who don’t often get stakes horses, awards points to horses from barns with 20 or fewer horses based on their performance in claiming races. The inaugural competition was won by Ed Barker, who pocketed an $18,000 bonus, a windfall for a less than big name trainer.

“It was a great, innovative program, particularly for the smaller trainers at NYRA, like myself, who need help making ends meet,” Barker said. “It helped fill the entry box with some extra starters. It was win-win for us and NYRA.”

Other tracks should take note.

I have a suggestion for a similar promotion. Tracks should offer purse bonuses for any horse, who comes back in 21 days or less. Because it would be performance-based, trainers would not be encouraged to enter unfit horses to qualify for a bonus.

Better yet, they should write races for horses coming back this quickly.

The program would pay for itself, since every extra starter adds X-number of dollars to the handle.

It would also be a display piece for trainers, a demonstration that most horses don’t need a month or more between starts, no matter what the sheets guys say.

Cap? What cap?

NYRA announced a crowd of 49,000-plus for this summer’s Travers Day.

This seems odd since attendance has been supposedly capped at 45,000 since Triple Crown champion American Pharoah appeared at the Spa in 2015. With no superstar this year, NYRA was probably ecstatic to get everyone they could, especially at the inflated admission prices.

As best I can find, there has not been a single complaint or issue raised that the crowd was too big, making the day atypically uncomfortable. Anyone who has ever been to the Midsummer Derby expects to be somewhat uncomfortable.

This bolsters my argument that crowd caps for the Travers and Belmont, when a Triple Crown is on the line, are nothing more than an attempt to get money into the till early by creating an artificial shortage.