With Saratoga Looming, Something Old and Some New Things
HALLANDALE BEACH, July 17, 2016—From Southern California to the Jersey Shore, and from Kentucky and, as of this weekend, Indiana, all roads are lead to Saratoga for the most consequential summit among three-year-olds of both sexes this year.
It begins next weekend when sensational Songbird, a filly that some, myself included, say is reminiscent of Ruffian, gets her first serious challenge when she meets Carina Mia in the Coaching Club American Oaks.
If all goes well for both, a rematch in the storied mile-and-a-quarter Alabama on August 20 is promised.
The week after--if all goes well in the Haskell Invitational and Jim Dandy--a rematch of Triple Crown achievers Nyquist, Exaggerator and Creator would be extraordinary, a few talented new shooters sprinkled in for added interest.
Beyond this, the human races figure to be even more interesting. With Chad Brown having an extraordinary Belmont meeting, you know perennial Saratoga leader Todd Pletcher wants to retain his title.
Interesting here will be the battles between Pletcher’s juveniles vs. Brown’s legion of turf runners. Weather will factor into this, of course. Brown came close last year and with more talented dirt runners in the barn, this could be his year. Both will be going all-in. This rivalry isn’t media-made; it’s real.
With the addition of Florent Geroux and the strong riding of Joel Rosario in New York this year, the jockey battle, always of supreme interest in Saratoga, will be very highly contested.
With Geroux, the country’s leaded graded-stakes rider, joining Rosario, Saratoga titlists Javier Castellano and Johnny Velazquez, the prodigious Ortiz brothers and the emerging Manny Franco, the jockey race will be lively and highly competitive; great for bettors.
Of course, the results will depend on the quality mounts as most trainers have their “go-to” guys and barns can go hot or cold regardless of focus and intent.
Five days and counting but, first, some unfinished business:
“Improvement of the Breed” No Longer Applies to Thoroughbred Racing
Like the author of the following, Dr. Steven A. Roman, creator of the Dosage Index algorithm that measures a sire's pre-potency for passing on his distance racing capability to its offspring, I am not optimistic when it comes to racing's future when measured against real-world materiality.
But what sense does it make to be a horseplayer or, for that matter, the owner of a well-bred two-year-old, if you can't dream a little?
It's in that spirit, in the hope that Roman's long goodbye will resonate with a heretofore unknown guardian angel, one brilliant enough to invent a magic wand so big that it can be waved over 38 horse-racing states and the District of Columbia.
The following remarks are the thoughts of a man who at no time wanted to make racing a profession, but rather it remain an avocation, something to love, see it prosper and endure, enjoyed by a wider audience.
I've written this before but upon leaving the Gulfstream Park walking ring behind the Florida Derby horses this winter as a few thousand fans surveyed the scene, I turned to a track executive and said: "I feel sorry for all the people that don't get it about Thoroughbred racing."
And I still mean that and why I, personally, will not leave the game until someone pulls the remote out of one cold dead hand while I try to bet with the other.
For Roman, his love of the game was enough to apply his science background to pedigree study, and he made a mark. How many others tethered to the horse can say the same with that qualifier?
All in racing who truly love it, and wish it would last forever, please don't raise your hand. Instead, step up and do something crazy; think outside the bottom line, about a long range plan that could work over time.
So. will the racing industry finally act to reverse overall negative perceptions of the game, or is it already too late?
Here, then, Part 2 of Steven Roman's long goodbye to the game...
"Solutions cannot be achieved without difficulty because of the overriding economic interests of those within the industry, but there are things that can be done. The objective, short of eliminating the sport, is to minimize the likelihood of injury and death, accepting that riders have a choice but the horses do not.
"As an industry outsider I have no say in implementing change, but I can have an opinion. An obvious step is the complete elimination of race day medication with severe penalties for violators, up to and including criminal prosecution or a lifetime ban depending on the severity of the infraction. This protects not only the athletes but the interests of the horseplayers as well.
"I've never understood why any transgressions by trainers, owners, riders or veterinarians that could affect the outcome of a race and, consequently, the bankrolls of horseplayers are tolerated at all. Which other gambling outlet permits similar behavior? What would the penalty be if the ownership or staff of a Las Vegas casino was caught cheating? Would it be a slap on the wrist? I doubt it.
"Another even less likely approach is a switch to racing exclusively on grass, a surface well documented to reduce (but unfortunately not eliminate) fatalities and which is the standard racing surface for most of the world. The industry did experiment, generating mixed results, with all-weather synthetic surfaces as a substitute for dirt. In reality, synthetic surfaces are not the same as or even a close approximation to dirt.
"If safety truly was the primary concern a safer surface, turf, already exists. A. F. Carke in American Association Equine Practitioners 55:183-186, 2009 noted that although it appears synthetic surfaces are safer than dirt, when synthetic surfaces replaced turf courses, Fatal Musculoskeletal Injury (FMSI) rates increased, confirming turf as the safest type of surface.
"I personally believe the real motivation behind the introduction of synthetic surfaces was purely economic with increased safety a secondary consideration and good for public relations. The drainage characteristics of synthetic surfaces are supposed to keep them viable under virtually all weather conditions. The desired result? No revenue loss from cancellations due to weather-related problems. And, presumably, although debatable, maintenance costs can be lower as well.
"There may have been marginal improvements in safety with synthetic surfaces, but that may be because they are inherently slower compared to dirt. However, as a trained scientist I found it disturbing that these surfaces were installed and used without any prior long-term studies of their health effects on the horses or the riders.
"Synthetic surfaces are formulated in different ways but generally consist of sand and polymeric materials in fiber form usually modified by the addition of rubber and wax. As the surface particles erode under continual exposure to mechanical effects (e.g., the pounding of horses' hooves, harrowing, etc.) and environmental effects (e.g., heat, sunlight, wind, moisture, etc.) the dust and vapors created are inhaled by horse and rider.
"It's bad enough when the athletes' lungs are exposed to the dust from the breakdown of dirt particles. It's far worse when they are exposed to dust and vapors from eroding synthetic materials and even natural materials that are potentially carcinogenic or may physically damage the respiratory system. Not knowing the long-term effects should be completely unacceptable - but not, apparently, to those who control the game.