Pricci's Saratoga Diary
For the next 40 days of New York racing, Executive Editor John Pricci will provide his insights on all things Saratoga for the 35th consecutive year in his original "Saratoga Diary." It debuted in 1977, the year Seattle Slew won the Triple Crown and Jatski was placed first in the Travers Stakes following the disqualification of Run Dusty Run. So keep up with the cold exactas, hot issues, and build your own stable of live horses, all from John's unique perspective, exclusively at

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Retraction: We Were Wrong; Industry Reactions to Trainers’ Pledge

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, August 2, 2014--The story that two of the 25 trainers who supported a gradual phasing out of Lasix beginning with the juvenile of 2015 and go to a complete ban the following year contradicted themselves, as was reported in Friday's Saratoga Diary, is wrong.

In our haste to put up the story late Friday night, we googled the issue to find out more information and up came a story written by Jerry Bossert of the Daily News with quotes from two of the trainers, Todd Pletcher and Bill Mott, contradicting their support of the Lasix phase out. A phone call to Pletcher Friday night was not returned.

The News piece was originally written in April, 2011. We regret the error, especially one of this magnitude.

We will follow-up on this story today and in the coming days. Our apologies to Mssrs. Bossert, Mott and Pletcher and to you for needlessly confusing this important issue.

Here is a complete list of 25 trainers who support the gradual Lasix phase out as was reported in today's online edition of the Bloodhorse.

Thomas Albertrani
Roger Attfield
Christophe Clement
Jose Corrales
David Donk
Neil D. Drysdale
Jeremiah C. Englehart
Eoin Harty
Neil Howard
Michael E. Hushion
D. Wayne Lukas
Richard E. Mandella
Claude R. McGaughey III
Kiaran P. McLaughlin
Kenneth G. McPeek
H. Graham Motion
William I. Mott
Todd A. Pletcher
Kathy Ritvo
Jonathan E. Sheppard
Albert M. Stall, Jr.
Dallas Stewart
Barclay Tagg
William Van Meter
George Weaver

Under the proposal, no two-year-olds would receive race day medication beginning in 2015, and no horses of any age would receive race day medication starting in 2016. In addition, this group is supportive of the Racing Medication & Testing Consortium's efforts to approve model rules for twenty-six controlled medications by the RCI board of directors.


“The position of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association has not wavered. The science has not changed. The horses have not changed. Most horses suffer from exercise induced pulmonary hemorrhage (EIPH), and Lasix is the only scientifically proven, truly effective treatment we have to protect them.

A Lasix ban does not benefit the horse, the owner or the horseplayer. Forcing trainers to return to using archaic methods to treat bleeders, whether it is the barbaric practice of taking away water for 24 to 48 hours or trying homeopathic remedies with questionable results, is not progress. Absent a researched and reasoned alternative to protect horses from EIPH, NYTHA is vehemently against any ban on Lasix.”

Statement from Breeders’ Cup Chairman Bill Farish and Breeders’ Cup President and CEO Craig Fravel

"On behalf of the Board of Directors of Breeders’ Cup Limited we want to acknowledge and applaud the courage of the trainers who have recently pledged their support for the gradual elimination of the use of authorized medications on race day in the United States. The Breeders’ Cup has long advocated for policies that would bring the US in line with other major international racing jurisdictions and we fully support this group of prominent trainers.

"We believe a broad coalition of tracks and owners also share this view and we are committed to provide support, financial and otherwise, to an effort to implement on a national basis phasing out race-day medications. We look forward to participating in this initiative to create a workable plan with others in the industry, including the forward-looking trainers who are signatory to this statement, all of whom are long-time supporters of the Breeders’ Cup."

Written by John Pricci

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Friday, August 01, 2014

Horsemen Support, er, Don’t Support, Lasix Ban--What’s Happening Here?

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, August 1, 2014—And I thought the big news this weekend was going to be the Grade 1 Whitney, with the Alfred G. Vanderbilt and Test Stakes in support. And what a great card it will be for fans and bettors alike tomorrow at the Spa.

Instead, it was announced in a statement received by Daily Racing Form that, with the support of trainers Wayne Lukas, Todd Pletcher, Bill Mott, Shug McGaughey, Christophe Clement, Graham Motion, Richard Mandella, Kiaran McLaughlin, Neil Drysdale and 16 others, horsemen would support the gradual phase-out of Lasix use on raceday.

The statement indicated that many of the game’s most influential horsemen, who manage the careers of horses belonging to many of the sport’s most prominent owners, would support the gradual phase out of the diuretic starting with next year’s juveniles, with a complete ban by 2016.

However, at the same time Daily Racing Form was carrying this version of the story, it was reported in the Daily News that Pletcher is, in his own words, “pro Lasix,” and that “nothing has changed for me,” he told Jerry Bossert. Mott was also quoted by the News to say “they are taking something away that is available to horses and horsemen for their benefit.”

What’s going on here? The DRF indicates one thing; the Daily News the other. Where is this statement? It wasn’t in my inbox. And was it really necessary for this story to break like bad political news does, late on a Friday afternoon?

The banning of Lasix for juveniles started with the 2012 Breeders’ Cup and lasted for two years, with a complete ban scheduled for the year after that.

But when horsemen balked, most prominently Gary West who threatened to sue Breeders’ Cup if they went through with a total ban, the Breeders’ Cup caved in to the pressure. Now it appears to be the American Graded Stakes Committee that's taking up the gauntlet.

This time, if the DRF is accurate, might be different. August is when the Jockey Club convenes its annual meeting on “matters pertaining to racing” and Chairman Ogden Mills Phipps has been vocal about his organization’s support of the ban, even while his horses continue to race on the diuretic.

But there has been other pressure applied recently that might have had a greater impact, a consortium of the most influential and prominent breeders and owners who have formed an organization known as WHOA, the Water, Hay and Oats Alliance.

On Monday, August 11 at the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, WHOA will host a “Conversation with Travis Tygart,” the CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) which was instrumental in exposing cyclist Lance Armstrong’s use of banned substances.

Up for discussion a week from Monday will be the creation of national uniform rules to protect the integrity of competition via an independent anti-doping program.

Make no mistake. WHOA members live in the real world, too, and are duly and rightfully concerned about the effects that two decades of legal raceday medication has had on the gene pool, and the public perception that Thoroughbred racing is a drug-riddled sport. In the world of gambling, perception is reality.

There is anecdotal evidence to suggest that Thoroughbreds are more fragile than they used to be. What is known is that today’s Thoroughbreds race far less often. Raceday Lasix was not permitted in the 1970s, a decade when three Thoroughbreds withstood the rigors of the Triple Crown and a typical racing career averaged 34 starts. Today that number is less than 13.

“We believe it’s time to take a proactive position regarding the administration of race-day medication,” Lukas told Daily Racing Form. “American racing has always been a global leader and it’s time to restore confidence in our game and in our international standing.”

In addition to the business considerations above and the depressed sales prices of the American bloodstock market, there is the risk that raceday medication unnecessarily makes a dangerous game a serious threat to the health and well-being of both the human and equine athletes.

There will be pushback, of course. Apparently it already has started. Either way, this won’t be a done deal anytime soon. Let the debating begin anew; the more vigorous, the better.

In any event, the momentum may have shifted over to the side of the game’s movers and shakers who appear ready to start repairing the sport’s tattered image and perhaps even save it from itself. Much harm has been done by the inertia but nothing is irreparable.

The executive staff of HorseRaceInsider has tried to reconcile the sport’s differences and sometimes its positions have been misinterpreted. This website’s constituents are horseplayers and fans, many of whom are truly concerned with the long term health of the animals, the athletes, and the game.

Today’s action by the horsemen was on one hand a big win for racing and a needed step in the right direction. Actually, we are taking a moderating position that a complete ban by 2016 should not be a deal breaker. Start with the 2015 two year olds, as advertised.

But three year olds and older in 2015 that have been racing regularly on the medication should continue to be allowed to do so in the interests of the betting public; medication withdrawal uncertainty could have a negative impact on wagering.

That’s a real world issue that must be considered. If bettors lose confidence that current form would not/can not be be maintained by a mandate requiring that older Lasix users go cold turkey, after all this time racing could be undone by too much of a good thing.

But that’s if any of these conflicting accounts represent the truth, which probably lays somewhere in the middle. So, who said what to whom, and when did they say it? Are we dealing with misinformation or disinformation? Stay tuned.

Written by John Pricci

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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Fillies Make News at the Spa; Two Good, One Not

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, July 31, 2014—When women do well in this game, it no longer comes as a surprise--but it is unusual to see two Saratoga stakes swept by the female persuasion, albeit one doing the saddling, and the other doing the riding.

In the case of the former, Tom Voss is somewhere smiling, that’s because Elizabeth, the daughter of the late, great steeplechase horseman—who did some pretty good work on the Spa flat, too--saddled her first graded stakes ever this afternoon.

And she did it while the racing world was watching, saddling Makarri to win the Grade 1 A.P. Smithwick Memorial,although she was quick to deflect any compliments. “We can’t take a lot of credit for this horse, we’ve only had him two weeks,” Voss said after the race.

“My husband picked him out for his owners. [Makari] got off the plane and he seemed pretty straightforward. We took a chance and it worked out.”

Makari gamely survived a head-to-head late-stretch battle with runner-up Demonstrative, the two ding-donging in the straight after both cleared the final fence nicely.

It was a question of a head up or a head down. Demonstrative appeared to hit the finish post first but lost it on the re-bob when his head came up while the winner’s stayed down.

“The last jump always makes me nervous," said Voss. "I thought we got the bob last week and that we missed it this week,” she said. Either way, she’s happy to take this one.

“This is my first graded win and it’s exciting to have it be in Saratoga, a place we love so much.”

“He traveled like a dream the whole way, never missed a beat,” said jockey Jack Doyle, winning not only his first Grade 1 but his first victory in this country.

“I’ve had a couple of good winners at home [Ireland]," said Doyle, but never a Grade 1. It was brilliant to get that.”

Both will have a chance, if all goes well, to win another Grade 1 at the meet. The Smithwick, even at the highest grade, is still regarded as a New York Turf Writers prep, a longer event later this meeting.

In the flat feature, it was Rosie Napravnik doing what she does best, showing patience and timing a late run to be up in time, this time with Sinistra, the 27-1 upsetter of the Evan Shipman for New York breds going nine furlongs.

All Napravnik did was sit third, perched three wide throughout, put pressure on the leaders on the final turn, took a run at them, the bid stalling a bit, but later resurgent and the team wore down dueling leaders, Escapefromreality and Big Business, just before the line.

Alas, it wasn’t all good news on the distaff side. Lavender Road, scratched prior to the running of Wednesday's seventh race at Saratoga Race Course on the advice on the track veterinarian, but unable to get up after falling and delaying the start of the eighth race for a little more than an hour, was euthanized today after it was discovered she suffered a neck fracture.

On site observers yesterday reported that the filly tried to get up repeatedly, did so, but was unable to stay on her feet. Eventually, she was placed on a gurney inside an equine ambulance that carried her to Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital for observation where apparently the fracture was discovered.

This sad story just got curiouser and curiouser as yesterday wore on. It was feared at first that she suffered a cranial fracture when she struck her head on the outside rail when she collapsed to the track.

Yesterday, the media were informed about the possibility of head trauma and that the filly was being treated for heat exhaustion because her internal temperature was abnormally high. Wednesday’s outside temperatures were warm but far from being regarded as oppressive.

Today we were to learn more about the possible cranial fracture. Instead, the news was that she was euthanized because she suffered a neck fracture. Just before the stewards ordered her scratched, jockey Junior Alvarado made the suggestion to the track veterinarian that the filly be scratched because she was making noises in the pre-race warmup.

Written by John Pricci

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