Thursday, August 20, 2015

ARCI’s Martin Spearheading Pushback Campaign to Thwart Meaningful Reform

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, August 20, 2015—With the New York State Gaming Commission set to host a day-long forum on Tuesday to discuss the policies on, and rules pertaining to, the administration of raceday Lasix, a push-back and disinformation campaign by raceday-Lasix proponents has already begun.

It started last week with a story authored by Victor Salazar that appeared in horseracing-related media quoting professional boxer Steve Cunningham to say that random Olympic-style drug testing which was supposed to be administered by the United States Anti-Doping Agency was never performed, implying that USADA had dropped the ball.

It wasn’t until later in the story was it indicated that routine pre- and post-race tests had been conducted by that state’s boxing commission concerning the bout in question. Indeed, all states require pre- and post-bout tests wherever boxing is sanctioned.

Illegal use of steroids are at the heart of doping issues in professional boxing. The violent nature of the sport is the reason why random testing makes should be mandatory. It wasn’t until later in the story when it was learned USADA didn’t conduct the random tests because the bout’s promoters failed to pay for it.

Aside from the curious appearance of this story in horse-racing related media, the bottom line is that despite assurances that the sport of boxing wants to clean up its act, the industry depends on the kindness of promoters to pay the freight.

Calling Don King.

Of greater relevance, of course, is that racing’s anti-USADA pushback has started appearing on racing websites this week thanks in large measure to the protectionists efforts Ed Martin, President of the American Racing Commissioners International.

First to appear was an ARCI release headlined “Attorneys: Racing Prosecutions on Solid Ground,” stating that “racing’s anti-doping rules will continue to withstand legal challenge, according to conclusions reached at a meeting of regulatory attorneys convened by the ARCI.”

In others words, lawyers hired by ARCI found in favor of a position that the organization has long held, dating back to when Martin appeared before a congressional committee at which he testified to that the continued use of clenbuterol was a good and necessary remedy.

Never mind the ethics, never mind the optics and never mind racing’s reputation based on a track record showing it is unable to police itself given a patchwork quilt of regulations knitted together by 38 individual racing jurisdictions in this country.

Never mind, too, that this lack of uniformity, despite some of the progress made, continues to catch horsemen in threshold jackpots as commissions continue to enforce the rules they wish to enforce, against the individuals they wish to punish for whatever reason, not all of which are justified, ethical or legal.

All this is made possible by a system that pays lip service to constitutional rights because judges are loathe to challenge rulings made in administrative hearings by states who appoint the judge, jury and executioners. Rick Dutrow, e.g., is the poster child for such selective adjudication.

Later this week the Thoroughbred Owners of California came out against having USADA, under the auspices of THADA--a Thoroughbred Horseracing Anti-Doping Agency to be formed in cooperation with, and administered by, in part, officials appointed by the industry. The TOC apparently is not interested in having an independent overseer of standard drug-testing and punishment protocols.

Then came the mother of all obstructionist activities with an Arkansas Racing Commissioner press release on ARCI letterhead stating its position with the headline: “Entire Arkansas Horse Racing Industry Opposes Federal Bills,” because that would be a “departure from cooperative efforts that have historically been productive.”

That statement would be laughable if it weren’t so untrue and unethical. The Arkansas Racing Commission has a well-documented history of non-participation with industry-sponsored initiatives such as The Equine Injury Database, the NTRA Safety and Integrity Alliance, and the Jockey Injury Database.

It is no accident that the copy machine inside the ARCI offices is again working overtime to further Martin’s agenda.

It must be recalled once that Martin’s letter to the Kentucky Racing Commission on RCI stationery strongly suggesting that Dutrow be denied a Kentucky license later gave New York’s State Racing & Wagering Board impetus to issue a draconian 10-year sentence, one based on false testimony, planted evidence, illegal search and a false positive finding, among other factors.

But this is about more than Martin’s vendetta and overt cronyism, or the injustice shown and civil rights denied to Dutrow. It’s ultimately about racing’s survival and the rights of all horsemen to be treated equally under justly under uniform rules and regulations.

If horse racing is to survive and prosper, there is only one conclusion that leads to one question: Independent oversight and honest reform is needed now and cronyism and the status quo can no longer be tolerated as acceptable behavior. What are obstructionists trying to hide?

August 21, 2015 – The Coalition for Horse Racing Integrity has released the following statement:

“Yesterday, the California Horse Racing Board failed to pass a proposed amendment requiring the race-day administration of furosemide be administered by independent, third-party veterinarians. California has been debating the proposed rule, one of the four pillars of the industry-endorsed National Uniform Medication Program, for three years.

“California is vital to American racing. The failure to pass a specific, necessary medication reform in a timely fashion underscores the need for uniform regulation and enforcement through the privatized, non-governmental Thoroughbred Horseracing Anti-Doping Authority, to make overdue reforms a reality in all 38 racing states. This latest event truly demonstrates the difficulty of achieving uniformity under the current state by state approach.”

The Coalition members, including the Breeders’ Cup Ltd., the Humane Society of the United States, the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, the Jockey Club, the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association, the Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners & Breeders, and the Water Hay Oats Alliance, support the Thoroughbred Horseracing Integrity Act of 2015 (THIA). To learn more about the coalition and THIA, visit our website here.

Written by John Pricci

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Monday, August 03, 2015

Pharoah: Past, Present and Future

OCEANPORT, NY, August 4, 2015—Sunday was about historical context. Today, it’s all about the future.

From a racing perspective, American Pharoah, barring the unforeseen, has absolutely no excuse for not showing up in the shadow of the elm trees in upstate New York.

In our view, American Pharoah saved his best race for last, Sunday at 5:52 p.m. at Monmouth Park. He was sparkling, bedazzling, description-defying.

There are three possible negatives, from a connections point of view.

The timing: It’s not like the best horse in the world cannot be trained up to the Breeders’ Cup Classic. But in a perfect world, you would like the spacing to be better.
The competition: Much of that depends on the results of Saturday’s Whitney, which will be drawn Tuesday evening. That, of course, is whether older horses are on the dance card prior to the Classic.

From a timing standpoint, the Pennsylvania Derby is a very good fit. And the superstitious Baffert kept to his Haskell tradition, even if he was saddling the likes of American Pharoah later that afternoon: Lunch at world famous Max’s hot dogs with the best of trimmings.

(No word on whether that was followed up with soft ice cream at the Lighthouse, one short block east and 200 yards north of Joline). Either way, the man who saddled Pa. Derby winning Bayern certainly has Bensalem directions in his cell phone memory.

Then there’s pressure for the Haskell King to race in his home state of California. That could mean the Del Mar Derby—even if it’s on turf—or the Awesome Again at Santa Anita, a dry run against elders in which, like the Breeders’ Cup, he would get weight.

Parenthetically, do you think Richard Mandella would consider the Awesome Again with Beholder, or might come east to meet better female competition? I’ll see your weight allowance and raise you one sex allowance.

Our hunch is Mr. Zayat means what he says about taking the highest road possible with his horses, providing continued excellent health and energy retention and that would mean a run in the Travers--but that’s the spacing bug-a-boo all over again.

Meanwhile, in addition to added distance and a more challenging two-turn surface, the competition will be stiffer.

Keen Ice was no clunk-up second in the Haskell. He ran like a man on Sunday, sprinting home to the finish, sharper than we had ever seen here. He’s developing beautifully in the care of Dale Romans, who’s not afraid to lose and uses races to get ready for bigger ones.

Romans has been targeting the Midsummer Derby since late spring for his true 10 furlong race horse. American Pharoah stepped the timer in 1:47.96 despite being eased in the final yards, getting his last eighth-mile in a geared down 13.51 seconds.

Keen Ice kicked his final half-furlong in a tad over :12 1/5 seconds; couldn’t ask for a better Travers prep other than a race over the track.

Speaking of the Jim Dandy, the ultimate Travers prep in our view, the first two finishers ran extremely well considering the bizarre four-horse field, with Texas Red finishing a half-length to the good of Frosted in 1:48.77, off laughable fractions of :24.37 and 48.15.

Red’s win was a little on the clever side, Kent Desormeaux showing supreme confidence despite the ominous presence sitting over his shoulder. To be fair, however, Texas Red got first run, leaving Frosted with a lot more to do.

Like Keen Ice, Frosted will benefit from the added furlong and an imagined livelier pace on August 29. But Texas Red appears a little handier than both and that could be his edge. Personally, I’m not sure whether or not the added distance will help.

I want to see American Pharoah race at one the racking world’s most prestigious venues, but it probably would be a more entertaining puzzle without him.

Warmth at the Shore: And the weather was good, too. But if American Pharoah transported us back to a time when the sport was king, Monmouth Park brought us back to a place where going to the races was a great way to spend a working day.

I had not covered the Haskell in several years and didn’t remember precisely how to get to the press elevator. But from the customer service person who made two phone calls to find the right answer—before the building was open to the public.

A security person later escorted us directly to the lift. Every person on John Heims’ press/marketing staff could not have been more accommodating.

We don’t do PSAs for racetracks here at HRI, but when venues like Monmouth Park, or Gulfstream Park, treat the media even-handedly and professionally, it is noticed, and appreciated by all.

Gulfstream at the Shore: Wildcat Red (yellow bridle) surges to win Teddy Drone Stakes
Photo by Toni Pricci

Written by John Pricci

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Sunday, August 02, 2015

American Pharoah, the Shore Thing

OCEANPORT, NJ, August 2, 2015--I am totally prepared to be called a fool--or worse, and there would be plenty of justification for it.

That's because it took until today, Haskell Sunday, to recognize American Pharoah as a truly great race horse. Yes, history, he is one of the ones.

He made some very nice three-year-olds appear outclassed as he left them in his bounding wake: What I'm saying is how a horse possibly could emerge from the Triple Crown series better than the one that went in. I don't have to see him defeat older horses to prove something to these old set of eyes.

Finally, I have seen enough

Mr. Jordan, who won the Grade 3 prep for the William Hill Haskell Invitational, put pressure on the 2015 Triple Crown champion from the start but meekly gave up the chase midway down the backside. No mas.

Upstart, fresh, the way he wants to be, and training up an Adirondack storm in Saratoga, moved to challenge at the perfect time, just as Mr. Jordan was giving way. But his will to go on with it abandoned him when American Pharoah asserted himself.

Competitive Edge probably will be returned to one-turn racing, but he is fast and genuine on his best day. And he couldn't handle the heat when American Pharoah pressed him in earnest at mid-turn.

And mere strides before the home straight, Pharoah's ears started to rise.

He galloped into the Haskell stretch on a picture perfect summer's day and, quite appropriately, showed the equine world who's boss. The stretch run was reduced to a perfunctory exercise.

By the time he raced by me approaching the furlong pole, American Pharoah was being eased by Victor Espinoza, winning completely geared down.

Stated simply, it was one of the most dominating performances I've ever been privileged to see.

American Pharoah asserts his dominance.

The feeling that swelled within as American Pharoah separated himself from the other animals was, like the Belmont Stakes moment, surreal. It made me mindful of the soliloquy delivered by Robert Redford in the final scene adapted from author Norman Maclean's work [poetic license mine]:

American Pharoah...One of the Ones!

Eventually, all things merge into one...

And a river runs through it.

The river was cut by the world's great flood...

And runs over rocks from the basement of time.

On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops.

Under the rocks are the words...

And some of the words are theirs.

I am haunted by [horses].

Photos by Toni Pricci

Written by John Pricci

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