Sunday, March 08, 2015


Many Super Performances, But Some Real Clunkers, Too


HALLANDALE BEACH, March 8, 2015—With so much going on Saturday, it’s hard to know where to begin. So why not start at the top? And that’s going to be with America’s best dirt horse, Shared Belief.

We understand that it wasn’t the greatest cast ever assembled for the Santa Anita Handicap, but would it have truly mattered? After all, it wasn’t that long ago when he defeated the Horse of the Year 2014 after it appeared that California Chrome would hold him safe.

Yeah, all rivals hold him safe until he lowers that little body of his, drops his head, and goes after them…with a vengeance. With more handicap races in his future, his connections didn’t want to win by too far, Mike Smith said afterward.

And so Smith kept the margin “down” to 4-1/4 lengths, but when you run a mile and a quarter in 2:00.67, even in Southern California, you will cause to separation.

Shared Belief dominated and won geared down. Don’t want to get to hyperbolic here; simply suffice it to say that if he can keep those sore tootsies of his from barking too loudly, it’s impossible to conjure up another horse that might finish ahead of him.

Earlier on the Santa Anita program, Dortmund remained undefeated but he had a lot of help.

As the San Felipe unfolded, it appeared that every major contender in the race was using the 1-1/16 miles as a bridge to the Santa Anita Derby which, of course, is its purpose.

But it would have been nice to see another rival, any rival, make his work for it. Sure, Bolo did on the far turn, but splits of 23.12, 46.98, and 1:11.30? Really? At Santa Anita? So jockey Martin Garcia just sat chilly until challenged.

But by the time Bolo made his presence felt, it was too late. Same for Prospect Park, but at least he made a good late run. But as for Ocho Ocho Ocho, the Seis Seis Seis must have made him run like that.


Trainer Jim Cassidy said he missed a work with him, but to run that badly? Mike Smith didn’t appear all that inspired to test him, either. The colt likely will be a different horse in the Santa Anita Derby. He had better be.

At least Daredevil was a little better in his seasonal debut in the Swale earlier in the day and 3,000 miles to the East, but not by all that much. He finished second but truly never really was into the bridle, ridden hard by Javier Castellano to stay with the talented sprinter Ready for Rye, but he couldn’t cut into the winner's advantage.

Ready for Rye was very good for Tom Albertrani, who broke out of a slump in a big way yesterday. He would have saddled four on the day but Todd Pletcher got his revenge when Chipit made a winning debut to nail Fitzgerald in the shadow of the wire in a maiden allowances an hour later.

image
Trainer Tom Albertrani breaks
out in a big way

Speaking of equine revenge, El Kabeir was vindicated when, finally, the connections took him back off the pace, the colt gaining full momentum into the stretch to sweep by Aqueduct's Gotham field inside the final furlong.

He just had to be better than his disappointing Withers indicated, and he was; education fully complete. Tiz Shea D was a very game second coming up the rail late to nail down the place while coming off a single 5-1/2 furlong maiden win in his Parx debut.

Classy Class figured to improve and did, but he had absolutely no excuses in the place department.

In Northern Florida, meanwhile, Carpe Diem, despite his reluctance to load into the gate, put in an awesome run, ridden out but winning with energy in reserve to win his season’s debut in the Tampa Bay Derby by 5 lengths over Ami’s Flatter, with 1-1/16 miles in 1:43.60, a final sixteenth in 06:38. The time was a few ticks off the stakes record.

Strong second favorite Ocean Knight was bumped at the break, was in perfect position in mid-backstretch, but not only didn’t mount a threat, he needed Irad Ortiz Jr. to take care of him the final three-eighths of a mile left to run. He finished, 63-¾ lengths behind his co-owned mate.

He had a bit of an off day, said Barbara Banke of Stonestreet Stables afterward, which co-owns Carpe Diem with Winstar Farm.

But that would be like saying Shared Belief won the Big ‘Cap in workmanlike fashion.

The formerly undefeated Curlin colt shows up in the next Derby prep, then put a line through his Tampa Derby non-effort. If he doesn’t, there’s certainly more to the story.

File Photo by Toni Pricci

Written by John Pricci

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Sunday, March 01, 2015


Racing’s Mixed-Message Adjudication Process Lacks Appeal


HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., March 1, 2015—There were three official rulings this week that, while punitive, illustrate how much racing at once either shows favoritism to rules violators or punishes others unduly by levying penalties that are inappropriate for the infraction, one way or another.

There is a legal system meant to protect every American’s rights, then there’s racetrack law whereby racing commissions in different states act as judge, jury and executioner. When the sport’s rules adjudicators fail to demonstrate they care about the message they send to bettors and fans, it’s the game that ultimately pays the price.

The first ruling involves the 60-day suspension and $10,000 fine meted out to trainer A. C. Avila as a result of his second-time starter California-bred Masochistic, badly beaten by state-bred peers in his SoCal debut, shipped to Kentucky for a Derby-day open maiden allowances which he won by 14 lengths in 1:08 4/5 as the 2-1 favorite.

To its credit, the California Horse Racing Board rejected the original penalty proposed by a CHRB hearing officer calling for Avila to serve a 30-day suspension and fined $5,000. The eventual ruling doubled the punishment for the Class 3 drug that carries a Category B penalty classification.

The drug involved was acepromazine, a tranquilizer commonly used when horses are shipped from one venue to another. This is standard operating procedure, a commonly accepted, legal and ethical practice throughout the industry.

But Masochistic testing positive for a tranquilizer that tested 40 times over the legal limit? This is nothing short of tampering with a sporting event--across state lines yet. Considering that officials questioned the debut performance of Masochistic's jockey Omar Berrio, Avila is fortunate he is not serving those 60 days in jail.

On March 1, Daily Racing Form New York correspondent David Grening reported that trainer Rudy Rodriguez will begin serving a 25-day suspension on Thursday and fined $2,500 when two horses he trained, which finished first and second, were found to have overages for Flunixin, a.k.a. Banamine, a therapeutic non-steroidal anti-inflammatory.

In the story, Rodriguez’ attorney Karen Murphy said she thought the penalty was excessive given that the New York Racing Commission had suspended trainer David Cannizzo for 45 days when three of his horses tested positive for the illegal narcotic Darvon, which no longer is permitted to be sold in the U.S.

Cannizzo’s brother Jeffrey is Executive Director of the New York Thoroughbred Breeders Assn.

Murphy told the DRF that she accepted the penalty because she said her client was told that if he was going to fight the suspension, “he was going to get hammered.” Murphy was unavailable for comment after a message was left on her cell phone Sunday afternoon.

That would not be dissimilar to the fate suffered by Rodriguez’ former boss, Rick Dutrow, who appealed a 90-day suspension that New York's State Racing and Wagering Board turned into a 10-year license revocation.

In the matter of Richard E. Dutrow before the SRWB on May 31, 2011, Hearing Officer Clemente J. Parente's explanation of how the administrative process works perhaps is what Murphy was intimating. [Beginning on page 10, line 21, of the SRWB report]:

“This is an administrative proceeding. The rules of the State Administrative Procedure Act apply. The board rules apply consistently with the State Administrative Procedure Act. Strict rules of evidence do not govern. Hearsay is permitted…”

Case law, however, would have deemed revocation improper: In the Avery Rechter case, as presented by defense counsel Michael Koenig Esq. [page 15, line 25]:

“If an individual has a right – this is a right to appeal – it must be a meaningful one. And a meaningful right cannot exist if, when exercised, it results in a heightened punishment. A right to appeal is no right at all if when exercised a greater punishment can be sought…”

“That’s not the world I want to live in,” Murphy said in the DRF story relative to the Rodriguez case, “but this is the world we are living in.”

The question is: Is this the world any American wants to live in?

In a non-related--but not insignificant matter--the Gulfstream Park stewards suspended jockey Jose Ortiz for three days, beginning Wednesday, for his ride aboard Upstart in last weekend’s Fountain of Youth Stakes. Upstart was placed second following his apparent victory over Itsaknockout.

On Friday, agent Jimmy Riccio said that the rider would not appeal the suspension that runs through Friday. Since there is no racing at Gulfstream Wednesday to accommodate the Fasig-Tipton 2-year-old sale, the suspension is effectively a two-day ban.

This leaves the connections of Upstart and the bettors who made Upstart the Fountain of Youth’s odds-on favorite as the biggest losers.

Given the last two scenarios, the Rodriguez suspension could have resulted in a lose-lose situation on appeal, whereas Ortiz simply can make a short jaunt to the Bahamas for a little R & R.

Written by John Pricci

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Sunday, February 22, 2015


State of Confusion


Horses movin’ out, horses movin’ in,
Because their runnin’ out’ their skin,
Run, run, run, but you sure can't hide
A lane for a lane, horses bearin’ out
Bet on me and I'll pay the fee
Ride on, brother, ride on.


But more on the Gulfstream stewards later.

How about those Derby preps?

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., February 22, 2015--Fountain of Youth favorite Upstart did everything right except get the money. But, as stated, more on that later.

As the three year olds entered in the short stretch of the mile and a sixteenth Fountain of Youth Stakes, the newly blinkered Frosted created a little separation.

Then, just as quickly and, frankly, disappointingly, he shortened stride and bore out into the hindquarters of Upstart.

At the point Frosted appeared to be on his way, Jose Ortiz was working on Upstart which, at the time, was running in place.

But when Frosted began to shorten stride, Upstart lengthened his and was about to join his rival as Itsaknockout, now in full stride, loomed up and momentarily appeared set to run right on by.

For an instant there were three across the track, then Frosted dropped out and when that happened, the undefeated Todd Pletcher trainee had reached almost even terms and it looked like it was going to be a horse race.

But Upstart would have none of it. He showed his class, asserted himself, bothering Itsaknockout but, by the time it was over, he was 2-3/4 lengths in front at the wire.

When the official chart arrived in the press box, all were incredulous that the margin was that big.

Of course, Rick Violette was extremely disappointed in the eventual outcome, but not in Upstart.

“He’s a good horse, Violette said. “Again he was wide on both turns, the horse ran great.” When he was reminded that he had an experience edge over the eventual winner, he looked the reporter in the eye and simply said: “Six pounds.”

Violette was, of course, correct, as Upstart, beneath 122 pounds, spotted Itsaknockout six pounds.

In finishing second, Itsaknockout ran extremely well. “I feel bad for the connections of the other horse,” said Pletcher.

“But we definitely got impeded and Luis [Saez] had to stop riding for a couple of strides. I don’t know how it would eventually affect the outcome.”

“Bad call,” said Violette. “[The stewards] have to understand that when a horse gets hit behind the girth, the only place the horse can go is to the right.”

Then Violette said: “Don’t know what’s next, but we might have to go to New York.”

As for Frosted, “he just pulled himself up,” trainer Kiaran McLaughlin explained. “We don’t know whether it was from hitting him. I think the blinkers helped, but not the last quarter. We thought we were a winner turning for home.”

The time over a tiring surface was a very ordinary 1:46.28, with a final sixteenth in a very slow 7:30 seconds. The horses were racing into a fairly significant headwind in the stretch.

The Main Man: Given his Eclipse winning record of four consecutive Grade 1s, it’s difficult to accept the idea but the fact is that Turf Champion Main Sequence might just be a better horse in 2015.

What else can you say about a horse that looked beat on the inside into the stretch, allowed surface loving Twilight Eclipse to separate himself from the field nearing the sixteenth pole, then ran the defending Mac Diarmida winner down before drawing off to his largest margin in his undefeated U.S. career, a whopping 3/4s of a length!

Main Sequence ran his final three furlongs in 34 4/5 seconds. “It sure felt like it,” said a very happy Rajiv Maragh.

“He was awesome,” said a liberated/reprieved Graham Motion. “He broke well and for one minute I thought he might be a little close. I think every time this horse has run he has improved, his behavior has improved. He was good as gold today in the paddock, which really impressed me. I think he kind of won for fun, to be honest.”

Motion might have been a little more anxious than Main Sequence has been before his races, feeling the pressure of bringing an undefeated-in-the-U.S. champion to win at not be at tops, saving a little something for the next one.

“It’s a huge relief,” Motion admitted. “I think Rajiv has a pretty good rapport with him. He knows what it takes, and [Main Sequence’s] just got some turn of foot. I think he’s a horse that can overcome whatever. Because he’s got that turn of foot it doesn’t really matter where he is. You don’t have to make excuses for him because he can overcome it.

Clearly this was a big boost for Maragh who recently returned from injury after spending nearly four months on the ground, has gotten off to a slow start at the Gulfstream meet, but got the mount back on his ‘big horse’ yesterday. Johnny Velazquez rode him to victory in the Breeders’ Cup Turf.

“It’s very special. It just goes to show you what kind of people I’m dealing with from the owners, the trainer and John Velazquez. He rode him in the Breeders’ Cup perfectly and won. He compensated me, which shows what an honorable guy he is. He didn’t have to do that. Everybody involved with this horse all deserve this. Special horse, special people.”

“On to Dubai, hopefully. Fingers crossed,” said Motion, obviously referring that he continues to do well before shipping to the Middle East. As for the horse, Motion has it exactly right. With that kind of kick, Main Sequence makes his own luck.

Once Again, Zero Consistency from Racing’s Stewards: In full disclosure, I benefitted monetarily from Upstart’s disqualification in the Fountain of Youth.

But I did say to colleagues before the official was posted that not only had Upstart come out twice, bumping with Itsaknockout, but I thought once was enough to justify the DQ after seeing Luis Saez fight to maintain his balance in the saddle aboard the runner-up.

Now Red Board players will insist that the 2-3/4 length margin proves that the incident didn’t affect the outcome. I agree with Pletcher, making the case before the take-down that Itsaknockout reached near even terms shortly after entering the stretch and it looked like, to me anyway, that it was going to be a horse race.

When the press returned upstairs to write their stories, the conversation began anew. “What is the Florida interpretation of the [infractions] rule, same as California’s, New York’s?"

Good question, but the answer matters little.

Just like medication rules, interpretation of racing's rules vary from state to state and while jockeys might know what they can and cannot get away with, in terms of race riding, the public doesn’t, just as trainers are sometimes fooled by therapeutic medication rules; withdrawal times and the rest.

If the public doesn’t know what’s legal and what’s not, racing suffers, especially incurring the wrath of serious racing fans and bettors who make the whole enterprise possible.

I am not in favor of strict constructionist, “a-foul-is-a-foul” standards. I favor that stewards are not paid by the racetracks but the states, after passing a stewards’ bar exam, as it were. This should not be the purview of political appointees.

But, even if stewards were incompetent, there is no excuse for two things: the process--no matter how many times head-on and pan replays are shown--is still not transparent.

We have been promised video in the stewards’ stand here, just as surveillance cameras on the Santa Anita backstretch. Neither is in place and probably never will be as long as the game is allowed to police itself.

Is any more proof of this really required at this point in time in the sport?

However, the most unforgivable breach of trust with racing’s customers is the inexcusable inconsistency.

In a turf race immediately following the Fountain of Youth, the payoff race for the Rainbow Six, Pick Five and late Pick Four, the winner came out and bumped repeatedly the second finisher, significantly enough to affect the neck margin at the finish.

*If anything, the finale might have been worse because the horses did reach even terms, and after the rider of the inside horse switched the whip to his left hand, he came out twice, indeed knocking the runner-up off stride.

Or was there no change because the bothered horse, ridden by Javier Castellano, was getting a message from the stewards that they allowed him to get away with herding when his mount, House Rules, came in, forcing the runner-up to alter course in the Rampart earlier in the day?

(It highly likely didn’t affect the outcome, but Castellano could be seen tugging on the inside rein at the point of incident).

Or maybe the stewards didn’t want to take down two winners in a row to end the day?

Or maybe they remembered the bad public taste left from the highly controversial incident last season that allowed a huge Rainbow 6 jackpot to be carried over to the next day.

The only reason I raised these questions is that it occurred to me, and two other bettors who texted me late in the day with a mnessage ending with “only in Florida.”

Perhaps only in every racing state in America would have been more appropriate.

*Upon further review, edits was made at 4:06 p,m,, 022215 and 11:36 a.m. 022415

Written by John Pricci

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