My first reaction was subdued. I figured, ‘What’s the big deal?’ But then I got to reading the accounts and realized that there isn’t a bigger deal this side of Gordon Gecko.
For Breeders’ Cup weekend I, along with a few choice friends, played the races at Saratoga Gaming and Raceway ... before promptly leaving for our hotel. We looked around and didn’t see a soul — aside from my good buddy Tommy — under 30 years old. I might even say I didn’t see a soul under 50 years old. This is no slight against the elderly, but this is horse racing’s clientele. They will bet no matter what. Yet what happened with the Anti-Scratch is deeply troubling because these folks who don’t bat an eye at the Anti-Scratch will soon be in the great OTB in the sky (trust me, if you think the take out here is bad ... )
The mare cramped up so much that she was stumbling all over the track. She had a fever of 103 degrees and, according to trainer Todd Pletcher, didn’t take to her Lasix. Her blood was tested for elevated levels of bicarbonate, a TCO2 test, to see if she had been “milkshaked,” but seeing as she was tied up tighter than the Gordian Knot, that seemed a foolhardy examination. Any other tests? Noooooo ....
“It’s because the top four horses in every graded stakes, –— of which there were seven Friday,” Kentucky’s Chief State Steward John Veitch told the Louisville-Courier Journal, “must be tested as a condition of being a graded race. That leaves little room in the test barn for other horses, though stewards can at their discretion require any horse to undergo postrace testing.”
What is this? A club? I got news for you Life At Ten, you’re on the list, come on in! Too crowded? There’s a reason that velvet rope unclips.
You know it’s bad when the owner of the mare — a person who put up BIG dollar to enter a horse in this kind of race — clamors for the Scratch Not Heard Around the World.
“There is an unpleasant reality here,” owner Candy DeBartolo announced in a statement, “the betting public was denied a fair shake and racing nurses an ugly black eye. The fact that we would have been reimbursed $60,000 in entry fees had she not walked in that starting gate, simply underscores the irresponsibility that took place. Mr. Veitch has had a distinguished career as a trainer and as a steward, but that doesn’t excuse what took place that night or since.”
Jockey John R. Velazquez was candid when he told an ESPN reporter that Life At Ten wasn’t warming up well. The ESPN producers then went to the stewards to check on the situation.
“Well, you know, she was a little dull…but except for the dullness, it wasn’t apparent to anyone,” Veitch reportedly said according to DeBartolo’s statement. Get her in the gate. There’s too much money bet on her. And what will possibly come of this? We’re not going to allow on-track interviews anymore!
Brilliant! Better to brew distrust, cloak the post parade like a Stealth Bomber, and wait and see the next fatality. What if Life At Ten broke down?
We need a Commissioner, he or she will set it right. Listen, the idea is genuine, but the person who gets the job will be none other than a pawn to preserve the status quo for the 5-percenters who profit from this sport. It’s just like America isn’t it? Five percent own 95 percent of the wealth. I’d wager (but not for long if this keeps up) that the top 5 percent in racing are the ones who own the wealth, feeding off a racing engine fueled by horse players who are getting hosed.
The Commissioner will likely be someone on par with Senator Palpatine from Star Wars. He was pure and genuine on the surface and had the public and the republic’s best interests close to his chest. But he was always in it for power, personal gain, and for the Dark Side of the Force. He pulled the ultimate coup d’etat ... and built the greatest, planet-destroying weapon man has ever seen. It may be form a galaxy far, far away, but it sure feels close.
My good friend John Pricci might have said it best in his Breeders’ Cup Diary, “If only I didn’t love this game, if only I had another means of earning a living, I, like so many others in the last five years, would walk away and never come back. In fact, if you’re not totally immersed in this, or make your living from it, you might consider doing the same.”
I may make some sort of a living off this sport, but frankly, sometimes I’d rather eat mold.
Brendan O'Meara is the author of the forthcoming "Six Weeks in Saratoga: How Three-Year-Old Rachel Alexandra Beat the Boys and Became Horse of the Year. It will be published by SUNY Press in the summer of 2011. Read more about it at The Blog Itself or at The Carryover Classic.