Thursday, November 11, 2010
Integrity Left at the Post
SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, November 11, 2010--If only I didn’t love this game, if only I had another means of earning a living, I, like so many others in the last five years, would walk away and never come back. In fact, if you’re not totally immersed in this, or make your living from it, you might consider doing the same.
This game, at least the way it was conducted in Kentucky last weekend, is an insider’s game rigged against you, the horseplayer. It’s not that Kentucky racing officials were not qualified or incompetent. To the contrary. They know better and apparently don’t give a damn about the people who pay the freight for all of us; the horseplayer.
Mainstream media treat us all as if we’re non-entities, as if we don’t matter. Our demographics just don’t skew the right way. We’re only a bunch of degenerate gamblers whose sport is going south anyway. What’s the difference if they get screwed. They deserve it. Open the gates and they will come. What choice do they have?
I don’t play poker online, but maybe taking two touchdowns with the Cowboys and their new coach against the Giants is a way for me to go this weekend. Then I can make my bet offshore, without any guilt, and when I make a deposit into my account, depending on the day of the week, I’ll get a bonus, too. They want me to lose, of course, but they treat me like a valued customer.
Unless Kentucky Racing Commission chief steward John Veitch and Commissioner Lisa Underwood lose their jobs or, at the very least, suspended without pay for, say, 90 days, and fined heavily, then this whole process is a charade, a sham. Life At Ten didn’t need to be scratched from the Ladies Classic? What we really need is a rule prohibiting jockeys from being interviewed on horseback pre-race?
They’re off! Screw you, loser!
Unless the powers that be, whoever they are, do something about this, never, ever tell me again how you have the racing fan’s best interests at heart. This utter and complete travesty of justice and lack of transparency cannot stand, cannot go unpunished. For $7-million-plus fans literally didn’t get a run for their money. So what? They’ve lost bets before; they’ll lose again tomorrow. Who cares?
When Allumeuse was wrongfully disqualified at Saratoga in 1986--an honest mistake--none of those stewards were allowed to keep their jobs. By what standard should Veitch keep his, or the rest of the Kentucky stewards and Commissioner for that matter. Being born into the business doesn’t give you the right to ignore the betting public.
Of course, the game doesn’t have a commissioner, a leader, an organization, or a league office with teeth. But unless those powers, whoever they are, act, and act swiftly, I can only infer that they don’t give a damn about their fan base. If the racing community keeps this up, the government just might get involved and shut the whole thing down. In this context, racing would get exactly what it deserves.
So, please, no more press releases from the Jockey Club or the NTRA bringing me up to speed on the newest member to join the racetrack safety accreditation program, or whatever the hell it’s called. Obviously the safety of the jockeys and Thoroughbreds are paramount. But what about the people in the stands, at the simulcasts, at their computers, betting? Who has their back? Certainly not Veitch or Underwood.
This game is one nationally televised breakdown away from extinction. Does anyone in this industry for the record believe otherwise? Does it really believe that bad news can be spun ad infinitum, that it can keep anti-racing zealots away from its doors forever? Every time the industry stands mute and fails to act, another nail is hammered into that coffin. For blame, try looking in a mirror.
Beyond the Jockey Club, the NTRA, breeders, racetracks--anyone and everyone having a vested interest in the health of the sport--who is it that would speak up on behalf of those bettors that poured more than $7-million into a sinkhole one week ago?
The culprits, ultimately, might not be Veitch and Underwood but a pervasive culture of permissiveness, deception and cover-up that holds no one accountable. In this, there is plenty of blame to spread around.
I love Johnny Velazquez to death and I think he knows that. But he screwed up big time here. Jockeys have the right to request that a horse be scratched if he or she believes that, for whatever reason, it is incapable of performing to the best of its ability. At minimum, he should have taken responsibility and refused to ride the filly. The wrong jockey apologized last weekend.
When asked several minutes before being loaded into the gate if Life At Ten--clearly acting and failing to stride out in a manner suggesting she was ill prepared to give optimum effort--was warming out of her discomfort, Velazquez frankly answered “not really.”
Trainer Todd Pletcher told two different stories: An earlier one about the filly’s being lethargic, perhaps suffering from an adverse reaction to the legal medication Lasix or, as she appeared to all who watched her in pre-race warm-ups, “tied up,” severely cramped. The following morning we were to learn that her temperature was well above normal and she had an elevated white blood cell count.
Velazquez tried to do the right thing by the trainer and the owner. Pletcher tried to do the right thing and protect Velazquez. Did anyone--especially the stewards, who were informed by ESPN that something was amiss with the Ladies Classic second favorite--think about the public, the integrity of the game, racing’s image or, ultimately, the filly herself? The answer is a categorical no.
Arguably, these horsemen were only making business decisions; bad ones, but business decisions nevertheless. The last line of defense, then, must be the racing official. And despite what they were being told by a creditable source, why did they not at least delay the start sufficiently to investigate further?
Dr. Larry Bramlage said the filly was observed by three veterinarians at the gate and again after the race and that “no physical problems were observed.” So then Velazquez simply wraps up immediately after the start and eases his filly to the finish for no reason. In light of what had just occurred, his response was an insult to intelligence and reason.
There was a Hall of Fame jockey and a world class reporter on the ESPN set. Does Jerry Bailey, one of the great race riders of all time, and Randy Moss have no credibility with them? A minute or two after Velazquez made his “not really” observation, ESPN reported that none of the veterinarians were aware of the situation involving the rider and his filly.
Of the people immediately contacted by the stewards when their investigation first began, Velazquez wasn’t one of them. Where was he, in Italy with Frankie Dettori? Life At Ten was not drug tested after the race, though TCO2 testing was performed. Ironic that “milkshakes” are an illegal antidote for severe cramping. So why not err on the side of caution? Where was the concern, the urgency? If actions speak louder than words, there was hardly a whisper. Need we always follow the money?
The media needs to step up here. I have confidence that some members of the mainstream media will do just that and demand a measure of justice for their constituency, the racing fans. But industry media need to take a position on this, too, stating one way or the other where they stand; with industry members who acted so capriciously, or the public. Unless, of course, they decide to make a business decision and stand mute.
The late Joe Hirsch, a founding member of the National Turf Writers’ Association, rarely wrote editorials for Daily Racing Form but whenever he saw rank injustice, he spoke out. Hirsch never would have let this pass without commentary. One of the best friends this industry has ever had, Hirsch’s words meant something. Who will take the lead now?
Or will it be, as the new DRF ownership group clearly has demonstrated, business first?
Further, it’s time for grass roots organizations such as the Horseplayers Association of North America and Thoro-Fan to stand up and demand a better explanation. They should poll membership and send the results to the industry leadership they deem appropriate. If the response they receive is inadequate, then they should forward their findings to the feds.
Richard Hamilton, a retired official, started that phase of his career at the New York Racing Association in 1979, first as a paddock and patrol judge then later as NYRA steward from 1988 to '95, said this in a phone interview Thursday:
“This situation must be resolved. Somebody has to be held responsible for the [horsemen’s] actions and the lack of a reaction [by racing officials]. The public has suffered and someone needs to take responsibility for that.”