Tuesday, June 10, 2014


The Rant That Could Rock Racing’s World


SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, June 10, 2014—Is it safe to write now? Was Steve Coburn on the morning talk-show circuit again this morning, and I missed it somehow? If so, were there any more apologies?

I hope Yogi wasn’t been reading the sports pages these last few days. He’d be really confused after learning that it’s not over even when it IS over.

The entire civilized world has gone on record about what simply has become known as: “The Rant.”

There are several examples regarding the reaction to this issue that are particularly galling, not the least of which concerns the media:

Most national non-racing sports media, the kind that covers Triple Crown events, and just maybe the Breeders’ Cup, don’t know what they’re talking about when it comes to horse racing.

For me, it’s like the old punchline to the old gambling joke: “What do I know about hockey?”

Mike Lupica weighed in, my hero, “Mr. Shooting From the Lip” himself. I don’t hold his disdain for racing against him. It seems his father was rumored to be an inveterate horseplayer when he was a child and he’s hated the sport for its gambling aspects ever since.

And that’s similar to two other sports enthusiasts; Mario and Andrew Cuomo. I wonder what ever became of their love of sports. They seldom, if ever, came to a big horse race in New York, including the Travers, an in-their-own-backyard event.

The current Governor was among the 102,000 in attendance at Belmont Park on Saturday. Then again, 2016 is right around the corner.

On the drive home from Elmont to Saratoga Monday morning, I checked in with Joe Benigno and Evan Roberts co-hosts of WFAN’s midday radio program, always a good listen for me.

But when Roberts said, in relation to The Rant, that it “wasn’t about the horse, it was about the money, the owner’s ego,” I nearly drove off the Cross Island Parkway.

Guess Evan didn’t hear the one about how Coburn and his partner Perry Martin turned down $6 million for a half-interest BEFORE the Kentucky Derby because it meant that Art Sherman no longer would be the colt’s trainer.

I broke for lunch and missed the first hour of the Mike Francesa show, in which he presumably talked about The Rant and The Race. The two to five o’clock hours were devoted to the anemic Mets and what later that night would turn out to be the equally anemic New York Rangers.

Francesa, introduced to the game by noted handicapper and professional horseplayer Paul Cornman, wears his love of horse racing on his sleeve. This comes in particularly handy when you need to secure your own box for big races at Belmont and Saratoga.

This is a man who rightfully deserves his reputation as a people’s champion, asking the tough questions to the biggest names in sports, yet somehow he’s acquired a strong taste for Thoroughbred racing’s particular brand of Kool Aid.

Seldom is heard a discouraging word, or a tough question, for that matter. Every Friday before the Belmont Stakes, he hosts arguably America’s most successful sports talk program from the clubhouse apron at Big Sandy, interviewing the biggest names in the game.

Before this year, that list included Joe Drape of the New York Times, who, with other journalists, has been placed on Thoroughbred racing’s persona non grata list for the tough stance he’s taken regarding medication and training methods, legal and otherwise.

But he wasn’t on the program this year due to what was being called a “scheduling conflict.”

It seems tough questions are OK for other sports, just not for this one.

Obviously, it took more than 24 hours to clear the fog of the Triple Crown wars from Coburn’s brain. Instead of apologizing on Sunday and belatedly tipping a cap to the winners, he doubled down and made his very indelicate basketball analogy.

Better late than never. As we wrote in our Belmont Stakes wrap Saturday evening, the man was exhausted, acting as if he was celebrating prematurely, this after being extremely generous and accommodating with his time for five weeks, notwithstanding another month between the Santa Anita Derby and the one held in Louisville.

One of The Rant’s great ironies is that, in some weirdly, insane fashion, might have kept horse racing above the fold for longer than 24 hours. A disappointing attempt to make history became a backstory to The Rant.

The other vexing aspect of the coverage is how duplicitous it is to celebrate a man for his colorfully brash and candid demeanor one day and destroy him for those same qualities the next.

While Sunday’s references were ignorant and tasteless, it remains an antidote to ultra-correct cliches. Contrarily, Monday’s apology appeared sincerely contrite, especially those to wife Carolyn, the connections of Tonalist, and “the whole horse racing world.”

I would wager that the overwhelming majority of those reading this know more about Thoroughbred racing history than the co-owner of a dual classics winner--on-the-job training in a good way. No disgrace, that.

But as was previously mentioned, there was a message that really needed hearing. Not references to “cheaters” or “cowards,” or Coburn’s confusing Triple Crown athletes with triathlon athletes.

Coburn is right when he says Triple Crown “means three.” Of course, that means three individual events, all worth winning on their merits.

The reality is that some Grade 1s are created more equal than others, especially the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes, in that both are run at classic distances; the American classic distance of a mile and a quarter and the European classic trip of a mile and a half.

But the message that “this [Triple Crown] thing is unfair to the horses” strikes the right note in the age of permissive raceday medication.

Let’s forget for a moment that the Kentucky Derby prep schedule is an arduous playoffs road in which would-be Triple Crown aspirants must succeed or fail to qualify for a starting berth in America’s greatest racing spectacle, the gateway to a crown.

And let’s forget, too, that each of the 11 Triple Crown winners didn’t need to beat more than seven rivals, fresh legs or no fresh legs. In fact, let’s forget that all Triple Crown winners competed without raceday Lasix coursing through their veins. Let’s forget all of that and consider this:

The Hancock family has been breeding racehorses in Kentucky since the Civil War. Arthur Hancock III is one of the founding members of WHOA, the Water, Hay & Oats Alliance and dedicating himself to improving the breed.

Hancock has bred three classics winners; Gato Del Sol, the family’s first Kentucky Derby winner, the dual classics winner and unlucky Triple Crown aspirant, Risen Star, and dual classics winner and Horse of the Year Sunday Silence.

Hancock believes that Lasix has polluted the gene pool, citing that when he was a child in the 1950s Thoroughbreds averaged 45 starts per year. Today that average is 13, less than 29%.

Arthur owns Stone Farm in Paris, KY. with his wife, Staci. The Hancocks believe that these days you can’t know whether you’re breeding to a true champion or to a horse whose reputation was built on the use of raceday Lasix.

In the worthy historical reference “Champions” published by DRF Press in 2000, every divisional championship pre-1990 was won by a horse that raced without the legal diuretic. From 1990 forward, the overwhelming majority have.

Parenthetically, there are 14 Eclipse Award categories including Horse of the Year. In the last quarter-century, all but 31 champions raced on Lasix; six of those were European based and two others were steeplechasers.

There were juvenile champions in this group, but Flanders never raced at 3 and Boston Harbor had one start his Derby season. Female turf horses and female sprinters became segregated categories in 1979 and 2007, respectively.

Absent historical context, Carolyn Coburn believes that "our story has given so much to so many people and I hope 30 seconds doesn't destroy that.”

Americans are a forgiving lot when they believe you, and a man who admits to being “very ashamed” on national television is one without guile, the same man he was during California Chrome’s six-race win streak.

Coburn made the sports and racing world fall in love with a couple of “dumb asses,” their everyman trainer, and a very gifted race horse. They will all be just fine. They’re just in need of a very good freshening.

If only that were the cure for everything.

Written by John Pricci

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Tuesday, June 03, 2014


GUEST EDITIORIAL: Nasal Strips OK Is 15 Years Late


By Susan Kayne

The use of nasal strips for Thoroughbreds in New York State is a controversy that seems a distant memory as California Chrome prepares to chase immortality on Saturday at Belmont Park.

Thing is that the strip flap should have been settled in 1999. Apparently, justice is not the only issue that grinds very slowly.

Prior to reversing his course on nasal strips, Dr. Ted Hill, former New York Racing Association examining veterinarian and now current Jockey Club steward, cited studies showing that equine nasal strips can be performance-enhancing by reducing fatigue and possibly prevent bleeding.

Admittedly, Hill had no plans to become a steward: “It was totally different from my former job,” Hill said in the New York Times three years ago. As a veterinarian you’re familiar with the rules, but your primary responsibility is the welfare and safety of the horses.”

As for the use of nasal strips, former NYRA steward Carmine Donofrio, Hill’s colleague for 14 years, had this take on the subject: “We don’t need ‘em, we have Lasix”.

Philosophically, however, that opinion is at odds with Hill’s thoughts on the diuretic. “Lasix is greatly overused,” said Hill in Bill Heller’s “Run, Baby, Run: What Every Owner, Breeder & Handicapper Should Know About Lasix in Racehorses.”

“The research on Lasix raises more questions than answers,” Hill said, adding later that “Lasix is not totally innocuous even though it’s used in such enormous quantities. Some horses react severely to it.

“Some horses become very quiet, too quiet. Horses can get colic or a spastic gut. It’s not hard for our horses in extensive training and stall environments to get uncomfortable. Some horses run very poorly on Lasix. I’d like to see it not in blanket usage in New York.”

Meanwhile, the nasal strip issue could have been avoided long before California Chrome was a gleam in Lucky Pulpit’s eye. NYRA always classified nasal strips as “equipment,” no different than blinkers, shadow rolls or tongue ties. But those items were allowed long before their “performance enhancing” effects were studied.

A ‘nasal strip’ is a self-adhesive appliance placed over a horse’s nose to stabilize underlying soft tissue. It does not require a diagnosis, prescription, injection, or the services of a veterinarian, yet NYRA invoked a house rule against them even though they were approved by the New York State Racing and Wagering Board in 1999, begging the question: Why?

Prior to the controversy, nasal strips were legal for Thoroughbreds in every racing jurisdiction in the country. Notwithstanding the New York ban, trainers could ask for permission but solely at the discretion of NYRA’s stewards under a state regulation that ”only equipment specifically approved by the stewards shall be worn or carried by a jockey or a horse in a race.”

The most celebrated case was in 2012 when trainer Doug O’Neill requested permission to use the strips on his Triple Crown hopeful I’ll Have Another. He was denied permission by stewards Hill, Donofrio and Braulio Baeza Jr. I'll Have Another subsequently was declared from the race due to injury.

At that time, Hill told Daily Racing Form that “part of the issue had to do with a nasal strip coming off a horse in the paddock or at the gate, citing the possibility of wet weather… To be fair and consistent, we have to regulate its use… that’s always been the issue.”

As most fans know, nasal strips have been permitted in New York harness racing since 1999, which begs another question: Why didn’t Dr. Hill query his colleagues to learn how harness racing officials and standardbred trainers have successfully regulated the use of nasal strips for the past 15 years?

When California Chrome’s trainer Art Sherman indicated that his Derby and Preakness winner might not race in the $1,500,000 Belmont Stakes if the strips were not permitted; an epic media storm arose. During that 72-hour period neither the stewards nor the media put in a call to Dr. James Chiapetta, co-inventor of the Fair Nasal Strips.

“I’ve been dealing with New York since we launched the product in 1999 – I still have the document that says NYSRWB approved nasal strips – that meant thoroughbreds and standardbreds,” he said by phone this week.

Chiapetta called the New York stewards repeatedly over the years but got no response. He received letters from former NYRA President Charlie Hayward promising to look into the matter but nothing happened.

“When the I’ll Have Another issue arose in 2012, we never really got the straight story. I met with [NYSRWB Chairman] John Sabini and with his general counsel and [a second] attorney but they didn’t seem to understand or articulate what the issue was. The matter was referred back to the stewards so we got on the phone with [them].”

Hill told Chiapetta: “I believe in the product, I believe in the data, I don’t see why this should be a problem -- but, given this has gone on for so long we really have to go back to NYRA because they are the ones who implemented the ban.”

In one subsequent conversation, Chiapetta was asked to explain how other jurisdictions regulated nasal strips. “We went through every jurisdiction in America, my people on the ground identified that everybody manages them like a tongue tie.”

Chiapetta was told he needed to leave nasal strips in the paddock “so if a horse comes [in the paddock} without it we could put it on because ‘we can’t scratch horses because fields are too small’.”

Chiapetta sent the Flair nasal strips to Hill but “then the world went silent – we would call, and call, and never heard anything back.”

Chiapetta then reached Donofrio on the phone, “I proposed the opportunity to sit and talk and explain to him the science behind the product. Donofrio said he [didn’t need the science]. [Neither was he interested in its role] in reducing EIPH.”

“Well maybe I’ll talk to you when Lasix is banned,” Chiapetta was told.

In eight peer-reviewed studies nasal strips are scientifically proven to reduce exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhaging [bleeding] by reducing the collapse of the soft nasal tissue during exercise.

Unlike humans, horses breathe only through their nostrils; all horses have a large area of tissue on their nose that gets sucked in when they’re running hard.

The use of nasal strips can reduce bleeding as much as Lasix by increasing the ease of air intake, in turn reducing the negative pressure in the alveoli which, when less stressed, are less likely to break and cause bleeding. http://www.hrtv.com/videos/dr-jim-chiapetta-on-flair-nasal-strips-/ VIDEO: Benefits of Flair Strips http://www.hrtv.com/videos/benefits-of-flair-nasal-strip/?VideoCategoryId=0

“The strips make no more difference in the outcome of a race than do horseshoes, tongue ties, figure eight bridles, or other equipment horsemen are permitted to use," concluded Chiapetta in a statement.

Despite overwhelming evidence of its debilitating effect on horses, Lasix continues to be the drug of choice for thoroughbred trainers for treating EIPH. “The strips, however, are designed to protect horses’ lungs so they can stay healthier,” added Chiapetta.

So NYRA has had this information for 15 years, yet chose to deny Thoroughbreds at their tracks the benefits of a humane, prophylactic measure that would possibly stop horses from choking on their own blood.

And we believe that this industry can police itself?

Equestrian Susan Kayne is a New York-based owner-breeder and host of the television magazine series "Unbridled"


Written by John Pricci

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Sunday, June 01, 2014


GUEST EDITORIAL: The Party’s Over for Raceday Medication


While the sports world is awaiting the possible crowning of California Chrome as thoroughbred racing's 12th Triple Crown champion, the state of the game remains dire. Never before in the sport’s rich and storied history has it been attacked so vociferously by critics on many fronts.

Its fan base is eroding and business trends have continued their protracted slide downward in metrics that measure the sport’s health and popularity.

Resultantly, racing’s future hangs in the balance. It is sincerely hoped that the sport’s critics, those who would happily watch the sport fall by the wayside, don't make their case better than the industry makes its own.


By Bill Casner

Horse racing has been hit hard over the past few months with the undercover PETA video, sports writer Joe Drape’s New York Times articles and, perhaps most damning of all, the “Real Sports” investigative magazine currently cablecast on the influential HBO network.

The harsh reality of the “Real Sports” broadcast is that the entire presentation rings true. As an industry, we have created this with our plethora of "legal medications" with little regulation and oversight.

Viewers had to wonder how can a trainer be allowed to medicate everything in his barn with Thyro-L (thyroxine), a more powerful endocrine hormone than anabolic steroids, one that is the master regulator of metabolism?

Thyro-L is not an illegal medication yet when supplemented on a daily basis over months it causes bone loss and thyroid gland atrophication, which eventually will cause a horse to crash.

It is not administered with any type of diagnostics and its sole purpose is to make young horses more precocious and elevate metabolism, “hyper” is the way Scott Blasi described it in the PETA video.

Multiple joint injections are rampant and standard procedure. “Changing' the oil" is legal, having no limits on how often a horse can be injected and or for what condition.

Butazolidin, a drug no longer used in human medicine because of its association with leukemia, is documented to cause stomach ulceration with as little as two treatments. It is an NSAID that interferes with blood clotting.

And we wonder why we have problems with bleeders.

Omeprazole, aka Gastro Guard, is used to treat stomach ulcers but also contributes to osteoporosis.

Lasix, the holy grail of them all, has a list of side effects longer than the average arm, including weight loss, calcium flushing, bone loss, increase chance of fracture, etc., etc.

There are volumes of science in the human field documenting the detrimental effects of these meds, but proponents, especially veterinarians, will always say that it "hasn't been documented in the equine model."

Primarily, it’s because few valid studies have been done with the horse as subject.

Drugs are stacked on top of each other with a magnification of side effects, including a cumulative derogatory effect on bone.

And we wonder why our horses have soundness issues? Of greater concern is its relationship with sudden equine death syndrome.

We can continue our perpetual state of denial and hope that it all goes away, like we always have. But the writing is clearly on the wall.

Assuredly, the troubling HBO segment will be aired over and over and will live “On Demand” in perpetuity.

Every time that happens, more and more viewers will become repulsed by horse racing. PETA will be emboldened by HBO's influence, and its attacks will continue.

An industry friend told me he watched the program with his 11-year-old daughter and she was horrified.

We lose our relevance one well-meaning person at a time.

Either we recognize that the world has changed and create meaningful oversight and punishment, or we will continue the slide into irrelevance.

We are delusional if we think that we can fix this broken model with 38 autonomous, dysfunctional state jurisdictions.

Our only hope for meaningful reform is through Federal legislation that gives central governance for drug oversight and tough enforcement.

Worried about the Feds getting into our business? How can they screw it up any worse?

We can only hope that it’s not already too late. Very sad, indeed.

Bill Casner is a successful owner-breeder and member of WHOA, the Water, Hay and Oats Alliance

Written by John Pricci

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