Tuesday, July 15, 2014
L’Affaire Martin: Del Mar Wants It Both Ways
SARATOGA SPRINGS, July 15, 2014—This time, it was the other, silent member of “Dumb Ass Partners,” Perry Martin, who jumped ugly on the subject of dual Classics winner and 2014 Horse of the Year co-favorite, California Chrome.
Yes, this is the same man that blew off the Preakness in a fit of Derby pique and who recently raked Del Mar over the coals for having the temerity to suggest that “America’s Horse” be honored with a parade between races on Pacific Classic day.
The story has been told in different precincts and in disparate versions and there seems to be enough “blame” to go around about a much-ado-about-very-little incident that became front page racing news because Kentucky Derby winners always are.
And that’s especially true this time when the Derby-Preakness winner’s story didn’t end on the sand and loam of Belmont Park but rather on the front page of national and network media after Steve Coburn’s meltdown following Chrome’s crushing Triple Crown defeat.
Finally, with his wife at his side like some politician who got his business caught in some cookie’s jar, Coburn, after doubling down on his post-Belmont rant the following day, made a humbling, tearful apology before a network audience the day after that. It was a case of all's well that ends.
If anything, Coburn’s knee jerk tirade and Martin’s insensitivity indicates that it just might be harder for connections of any good horse to hold their best form for over two months than it is for their equine athletes. Clearly, it was time for a badly needed freshening.
But perspective is needed elsewhere, too, with some regard given for the fact that this was team of big-race neophytes that had been jumping through media hoops since a Santa Anita Derby tour de force made California Chrome a solid Kentucky Derby favorite.
There’s no need to rush to judgment in 44-flat. It’s one thing to say that if you’re “lucky” enough to win America’s most cherished prize, you should give back in every situation, at every opportunity, magnanimously, as if reality actually works that way.
The truth is that one knows for certain how they would react to new, bigger-than-life experiences until they experience events in the moment.
So whether Del Mar leaked a California Chrome appearance to media, hoping to embarrass DAP Racing into an unscheduled, unwanted appearance on the track’s biggest day, or whether Art Sherman said OK prematurely, is speculative and beside the point.
Or whether, after being shunned, Del Mar let it slip that greedy owners demanded a $50,000 appearance fee after failing to make a counter-offer, to cover expenses at minimum, demands that readers of Perry’s press release take him at his word.
Either way, Martin did not cover himself in glory. To say that local mainstream media are in Del Mar’s pocket without evidence is the cheapest of cheap shots, libelous, or both, and the appearance fee on its face seems excessive.
In our view, the more damaging element coming from this is DAP Partners running in a race created by Los Alamitos as an alternative to the “win and you’re in” Awesome Again Stakes if first it agreed to pay Chrome’s supplemental fee into the Classic.
So, first, the track lines up a gateful of equine tomato cans for Chrome to crush then pays California Chrome’s way into the big dance. This is, of course, outrageous thinking. Back East, this is called chutzpah. Out West, the proper term would be huavos or, if one prefers, cojones.
From a distance, DAP rightfully should expect that Del Mar pay for vanning expenses and give what racetrackers call a ‘stake’ to the colt’s stable hands and exercise rider, and maybe a little walking around money for the owners and trainer.
Del Mar has a vested economic interest in Chrome’s appearance but left nothing on the table for those who would bring customers into the building. Not to conclude there is a modicum of risk, and then to expect owners to foot the bill is equally offensive.
The pushback from certain industry types and favor-currying racing media was more predictable than Untapable’s win in the Mother Goose.
The California Chrome story was and is a real life fairytale. To strongly suggest that owners in the game for a proverbial 15 minutes owe the industry at debt is as nervy as asking Los Al to pay Chrome’s Breeders’ Cup entry fee.
Playing a significant role in this game IS a privilege, but the business has claims on no one. This isn’t a retired race horse at the end of a storied career; this is an active equine meteor that at any time can fall to earth if the racing gods deem it so.
It is true that this horse has earned $3.3 million. Considering huge tax obligations and expenses associated with playing the game at its highest level; travel expenses, per diems, feed and vet bills, the standard 10% to Sherman and Victor Espinoza, what remains is a pretty healthy 401K. But it doesn’t punch your ticket to Easy Street for life.
To be called out by a celebrity owner who came into racing with a seven or eight-figure cushion is cheeky and condescending, but even he admitted he would have had a “quiet conversation” with track ownership for this privilege of being “honored.”
And to add that the Dumb Ass Partners “are making us look bad” is really pompous. I can think of one or two issues that embarrass horse racing on a daily basis; institutionalized stupidity and greed being far worse than a couple of neophytes playing the fool.
Del Mar’s hiding behind the “not for profit” banner is disingenuous. The 50K that Martin wants would a deductible cost of maybe putting 5,000 or so added fannies in seats.
There’s something else at work here. Industry practitioners are paid appearance fees all the time. Back in the day, when the Haskell struggled for Travers-like prestige, Monmouth Park paid trainers under the table to run “the big horse” at the shore.
Of course, the Haskell is now a million-dollar Grade 1, but tracks still pay to bring equine stars to their venues. And big time jockeys are paid appearance fees, too, akin to a non-refundable purse advance. If you want a Hall of Famer to ride your horse, it helps to pay up front, especially for a non-favorite in a big spot.
At a critical time for a potential Horse of the Year champion, scheduling with regard to morning workouts, shipping, spacing, etc., parading in a charged atmosphere before a huge crowd is not without a certain amount of downside. The only gain is Del Mar’s, which apparently wants something for nothing.
Martin’s asking price and other suppositions are somewhat embarrassing, even bordering on the boorish. But if the track truly wants to honor the home state hero, perhaps Del Mar and DAP’s critics should admit that the track owes something, too.
Del Mar has been around a long time. There’s no guarantee that California Chrome even will be around long to compete in the 2017* Classic, where the surf will meet the championship turf for the first time in history.
Written by John Pricci