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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Monday, May 26, 2014

Somewhere Over the Rainbow Lives the Wisest Wise Guy of Them All

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, May 26, 2014—I can forget about reloading my Xpressbet account today, or worry about those pesky higher base-wagers suggestions, or consulting my Rainbow 6 Player Advantage Chart.

As the late, great John Lennon once put it: The dream is over, what can I say?

That thud you heard crashing down late Sunday was not the Boston Red Sox losing their 10th straight, or the Montreal Canadiens falling to the New York Rangers again--in overtime yet. Rather, it was the sound of handicapping computer programs crashing all over America.

It was the handicapping score heard round the racing world to the chagrin of every horseplayer not named Daniel Borislow.

The chance for the little guy to make that potential life-changing score is gone, as is Gulfstream Park’s dream of a $10 million handle day without costing them a dime—pardon the expression—from their stakes-race purse account.

But no one should feel sorry for Gulfstream today; their Rainbow 6 jackpot has gotten them at least $6,678,939.12 worth of free publicity.

No sooner had the news broken late Sunday afternoon that the wager was hit one day before the entire jackpot pool was to be dispersed that cyber-players began to react:

Rumors of the “Gulfstream conspiracy,” whereby the track itself would have/should have invested about $30,000 of their own to insure that no one would be the lone winner before today by buying the rack, twice.

There was praise for great handicapping on the part of Borislow, but those people were corrected by several others who called him a “skilled player,” not a “skilled handicapper.”

Does it matter? Either way, it’s over, and everyone who had a few dollars and a dream can now return to their drawing boards or go back to buying their billion-to-one lottery tickets, the worst bet ever conceived in the history of gambling mankind.

Horseplayers have been talking intently about today for a week, and probably will continue to do so for another seven days about what might have been.

There will be much chagrining and gnashing of teeth because other deep-pocketed players, and big, small syndicates and individuals alike, will not get a chance to hatch their secret plan to take down as much of a seven-figure pool as possible.

Quoted in a press release, Gulfstream Park president Tim Ritvo congratulated the winner, admitted disappointment in not having a chance to see how high the pool could have gone under the mandatory provision, and how “the Rainbow 6 was designed to be a life-changing wager.”

I guess Borislow now can afford to enjoy that new restaurant that was just opened in his home town of Palm Beach, maybe with a nice Chianti.

I have never met the man, only know him from his name on a track program as the owner of the talented, brilliantly fast, stakes-winning Toccet, so I can’t be happy for him on a personal level.

But I’ll give him this: In a game where everyone who has been around longer than five minutes considers himself a “wise guy,” myself included, Borislow turned out to be the wisest wise guy of them all, jumping the gun while the competition was burning the midnight oil. That part of making a score he figured correctly one-thousand percent.

But as for the part where “I’ve been one of the larger bettors for a period of years…I guess, probably, I’ve gotten good at it…I really liked [the sixth race]…I keyed that race, and it worked out well?”

It surely did. He used two horses in that race--no need for a single in that spot—pressed the ALL button in the other five races and, of the 19 live ducats going into the Gulfstream finale, six were unique tickets, all belonging to the winner since the eighth race was one of Borislow’s five ALL races.

So, in the life-changing, dream-realizing department, the Rainbow 6 failed, as most big-payoff sequential wagers invariably will. This type of bet will be won by the handicappers who can most afford to throw money at a solution.

And the tracks and ADWs love them for their marketing sizzle and bottom-line potential. Welcome to the Thoroughbred commodities market.

For his part, Borislow, who reportedly retired at 38 and subsequently founded the successful magicJack discount phone service, is likely praying right now that his life never changes. By any measure, life is good.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a drawing board to get back to.

Written by John Pricci

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Saturday, May 24, 2014

Short-Breeze Pattern Historical Challenge for California Chrome

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, April 14, 2014—In the lull between waiting for the next shoe to drop and Monday’s potential for biggest Jackpot payoff in the history of Thoroughbred racing , I decided to delve deeply into the Belmont Stakes past performances to see if I might be a witness to history a fortnight from now.

Tried as I might, and I tried hard, I looked for holes in the form of California Chrome. Could he be vulnerable if a rival rider got overly aggressive early, in the manner that Jerry Bailey aboard Eddington a decade ago never allowed Smarty Jones a moment’s peace.

The field was approaching the six furlong marker, Stewart Elliott was attempting to secure a comfortable stalking position from the 3-path sitting off dueling leaders but Bailey moved four wide across the track, forcing Elliott’s hand.

If Smarty Jones and Elliott were to hold their position, they would have to clear the two inside horses, similar to the way Victor Esposito had to step on the gas when Luis Contreras attacked California Chrome from the outside at mid-far turn. “It was the longest [California Chrome] had even been in a drive,” said Art Sherman post-Preakness.

Now committed to the lead, Elliott went on the with it, and Smarty Jones opened a six length lead around the far turn and appeared to the 120,000 screaming fans that he was home free as he entered the stretch. The rest is history as Smarty tired perceptibly in deep stretch and “Birdstone wins the Belmont Stakes.”

All else being equal, California Chrome has the early pace figures to out-foot his rivals, he has the sustaining speed to thwart the mid-race movers, possible kamikaze missions notwithstanding, and the class to and turn out foot to blow races open before the competition knows what hit them. Espinoza usually arrives at the wire with stick down.

But a mile and a half is a different animal entirely. Billy Turner, the only trainer to win the Belmont with an undefeated Triple Crown champion, said at the time that a horse has to be able to make three runs if he wants to get all 12 furlongs and arrive at the finish ahead of the competition. Turner knew what he was talking about and Sherman has pulled every correct strong imaginable.

But there is a variable that Sherman might not be have thought through completely: To my knowledge, nor to anyone else’s I’ve spoken to this week, no Belmont ever has been won with a series of long gallops and a single half-mile breeze in the three weeks between the Preakness and Belmont.

No one knows their horse better than Art and Alan Sherman. And, of course, as this is posted he’s just about the fittest horse in North America: Three races in six weeks, nine furlongs being the shortest in duration, guarantees that.

But this is Big Sandy; this is a mile and a half; this is a quality laden field from top to button with seven top quality rivals by my count among those considered Belmont probables. And if Sherman and Espinoza believe that his rivals ran relays at him in Baltimore, it’s not called New York, New York for no reason. Nothing comes easy here.

As series of long, slow two mile gallops certainly will retain his fitness and hopefully help him to maintain his energy level. So far, so good; but anything unforeseen can happen in the next two weeks.

There’s nothing at all wrong with a half-mile in 49 seconds; keeping your speed edge is certainly important at Belmont Spark no matter how big its circumference. But did we mention that this race is run at a mile and a half?

Isn’t something such as a ‘Chief-like’ mile breeze in something like 1:54, with a final furlong in roughly 13 seconds and low change accomplish what Sherman has in mind while getting him a little closer to the bottom. He’s going to need all the air he can get. It’s not a whimsical exercise by racing historians to refer to the race as ‘Test of the Champion’.

Written by John Pricci

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