Tuesday, November 09, 2010
Unfortunate Events Book-End Filly Friday
SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, November 9, 2010--We say it every year but only because it’s true. As an event, the Breeders’ Cup never fails to fire.
There’s so much of it, not just the event itself, but the implications it has for the industry. It probably will take the rest of the week to get through it all.
Book-ending a highly entertaining first day were two events that shifted emotion away from the races and the horses focusing instead on the human practitioners, the human athletes and fans.
That’s the great thing about Thoroughbred racing as a sport. Through wagering, its fans become willing participants, not just voyeurs of sport.
Like everyone else, I was taken aback by what was taking place in the winner’s circle after the Marathon. Actually, wasn’t it a bit frightening to peer into the eyes of Calvin Borel?
Descriptions such as livid or furious seem understated compared to the emotion visible on a face the public is used to seeing in tears of joy and appreciation following a Kentucky Derby victory.
It all started at the five-sixteenths pole of the Marathon when Javier Castellano came off the inside carelessly with Prince Will I Am, bumping Romp, causing that horse to clip heels and nearly unseat Martin Garcia.
In turn, Romp bumped into A. U. Miner, making his bid beneath Borel on his outside. It was fortunate that Borel and A. U. Miner were there to keep that team from falling. What happened as a result was seen on national television.
Borel was up in Castellano’s face, wagging a finger under his nose, when Castellano either tried to knock Borel’s hand away or take a poke at Calvin, at which point Borel completely lost it.
It took at least three people to keep Borel from lunging back into battle, holding him on the ground until they could finally escort him back to the jock’s room. Television cameras were barred from entering the room.
“It was probably good for Javier that it happened where it did,” said the retired winner of well over 4,000 races, Richard Migliore, who was in the press box as a member of the HRTV broadcast team.
“I know that Calvin’s very strong. Had this happened in the jocks’ room, they would have let it go on for a few minutes before breaking it up. That’s the way it’s done.”
It’s not that a hockey game need break out every time a rider’s carelessness puts another in harm’s way. But the kind of casual sports audience that racing’s major events attract should know of the dangers jockeys face in every race, every day.
Accidents happen, but their exposure to vulnerability should not be exacerbated by reckless, win-at-all-cost abandon. It’s a rough and tumble enough as it is.
Praise for Garrett Gomez’s ride aboard Classic winner Blame was ubiquitous. Rightfully so. It took courage to push Blame into the breach at 40 mph by getting him to shoulder his way through extremely close quarters.
It was daring, but little more than business as usual.
In situations where danger meets execution, trainers and horseplayers demand that the jockey takes that chance. The pressure to win aboard a horse that’s expected to do just that can bring athletes to a boiling point.
That’s exactly what happened before the first of 14 races could be made official. Castellano’s actions, earning him a six-day suspension and a $2,500 fine, were textbook careless riding, the punishment completely justified.
Meanwhile, the Jockeys Guild announced today that Javier Castellano has been granted a Temporary Injunction and Stay in Franklin County Circuit Court in Frankfort, Kentucky to prevent the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (KHRC) from enforcing his six-day suspension due to the Breeders’ Cup Marathon incident. The stewards handed out the suspension on November 7th and the KHRC refused to grant Castellano a stay pending his appeal of the length of the suspension. Castellano has retained counsel.
For his part Borel overreacted badly, visibly used foul language, failed to heed racing officials or bring himself under control. The tantrum cost him $5,000.
It’s dangerous out there. Even the most sophisticated fans forget that sometimes. No one should ever forget what’s at stake every time the latch is sprung.
It was ugly alright, but there are worse things. Such as what occurred in the minutes leading up to the day‘s centerpiece Ladies Classic.
It’s completely unacceptable how one minute Johnny Velazquez was telling a national television audience that Ladies Classic second favorite Life At Ten was not warming up properly and minutes later wrapped up on the filly immediately after the break. Life At Ten never finished the race.
If politics has taught us anything it’s that the cover-up is always worse than the deed. But while there is no overt evidence of a cover-up, conflicting statements indicate someone’s not telling the whole story.
Life At Ten, quizzically, was not drug tested afterwards. Blood was drawn for TCO2 testing, used to detect “milk shaking” which, ironically, is an illegal remedy for horses that “tie up,” or suffer from severe cramping.
Dick Brown, a spokesman for the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, said trainer Todd Pletcher disclosed Sunday morning that “Life At Ten’s temperature was ‘well above normal’ and that a subsequent blood test showed an ‘elevated white blood cell count’.”
Earlier, however, Pletcher said the filly’s temperature was normal before the race, speculating that Life At Ten may have had a reaction to Lasix, or tied-up prior to the race.
Brown reported that chief steward John Veitch interviewed Pletcher, track veterinarian Dr. Bryce Peckham, the track’s starter and outrider. He had not yet interviewed Velazquez who, according to the KHRC, did not bring the filly’s condition to the attention of three veterinarians positioned near the starting gate.
Pletcher was quoted immediately after the race as saying Velazquez did say something to the vets about Life At Ten.
Additionally, Brown confirmed that ESPN producer Amy Zimmerman called the stewards prior to the start of the race and alerted them to Velazquez’s comments to ESPN analyst Jerry Bailey.
According to Paulick Report, Brown said that “when the stewards watched the feed, the interview with Velasquez was ending, adding, “Velasquez was only heard by the stewards to say she wasn’t warming up well. No mention was made by ESPN to the stewards of any possible issues with the horse.”
Resultantly, then, no consideration was given to scratching Life at Ten because there was “no dialogue with the [three] track veterinarians or the stewards from the outrider, Velasquez, or Pletcher indicating a problem with the horse that would have led to her possibly being scratched.”
The bottom line is that over $7 million was lost by those who wagered on Life At Ten in the straight, exacta, trifecta and superfecta pools. That figure does not reflect Pick Four, Pick Three, late double, and Ladies Classic-Classic double wagers.
Questions abound: For instance, why wasn’t there a Breeders’ Cup official monitoring the ESPN telecast who might have notified the stewards of a potential problem involving a horse?
Jockey and horse safety is paramount, of course. But so is the perception of the industry. The sport could be one nationally televised tragedy away from having all the tracks padlocked.
How could Pletcher say one thing to reporters Saturday night and another Sunday morning? Was the filly simply quiet and listless, or was her temperature and white blood cell count abnormally high?
How could the stewards hear only the end of the Velazquez interview and not inquire further?
How could chief steward Veitch interview the trainer, veterinarian, starter and outrider and not speak with the jockey simultaneously?
Ultimately, when asked by Bailey minutes before the start if the filly were warming up any better and he responded “not really,” why didn’t Velazquez simply refuse to ride the filly, “tough spot” or not?
Without a racing commissioner to rule on such national matters, these issues never will be solved without prejudice. Disparate state rules, politics, and power will always dictate policy and procedure.
A sport that can produce the kind of theater witnessed by millions as Zenyatta was seeking her perfect destiny deserves better than it got 23 hours earlier, a lot better. Not to mention the fans who lost their $7-million.
I hope I’m wrong about this, but considering the industry’s past performances, what will happen is we’ve probably seen the last of the pre-race horseback interview.