Sunday, November 20, 2016


Justice Remains Delayed in Dutrow Case


HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., November 20, 2016—Last weekend, trainer Kellyn Gorder began a 60-day suspension nearly two years after one of the horses he trained tested positive for methamphetamine following a race at Churchill Downs.

The suspension was the result of an agreement negotiated with stewards, one subsequently upheld by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. Gorder was initially suspended for 14 months for the positive test and discovery of a syringe during a related barn search.

Methamphetamine is classified as a Class A violation but the penalty was reduced to a Class B violation after further testing determined that the methamphetamine discovered was an ingredient in a popular over-the-counter medication.

At face value, reason and justice seems to have prevailed in this instance. But when measured against the way many violations have been handled, it points out how uneven justice is meted out in the racing industry.

Come January 7, 2017, Rick Dutrow will begin his fourth year of a 10-year suspension when a barn search and drug test detected the presence of Butorphanol, an analgesic pain killer having yet-to-be-proven performance-altering properties.

Butorphanol is highly controversial because the time-frame of both its efficacy and withdrawal guidelines between administration and raceday is widely disputed. After all this time, why is this trainer still being singled out as the worst transgressor ever?

All this despite expert testimony debunking the findings and statements of state witnesses; documentation from the renowned drug laboratory at University of California-Davis and confirmed by findings from the Journal of Veterinary Pharmacology and Therapeutics published in 2012, the year of Dutrow’s appeal.

Last year, HorseRaceInsider published an investigative series on the Dutrow case based exclusively on the evidence above. The series can be found in the HRI archives but the cliff notes version of the case against Dutrow is as follows:

The positive Butorphanol findings in the horse Fastus Cactus were highly dubious and there was meddling into New York’s administrative process by the president of a national regulatory organization, Ed Martin of National Racing Commissioners International.

The investigation demonstrated how Rick Dutrow Jr. was denied a license in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, which added to a dossier compiled by the New York State Racing & Wagering Board that would suspend him 10 years for exercising his right to appeal.

The HRI investigation established how Dutrow was scapegoated because of his highly controversial and questionable past that had more to do with personal issues rather than racing ones and how the widely reported number of positives he recorded had more to do with legal med overages, or for conduct unbecoming.

Politically motivated, the hearing was about how he embarrassed the sport with admissions of anabolic steroid use, legal at that time, a period when the sport was under heavy scrutiny in the shadow of Barbaro’s 2006 Preakness breakdown, the catastrophic injury of filly Eight Belles in the 2008 Kentucky Derby and ending with Dutrow’s Big Brown failure to complete the course during his Triple Crown quest.

Dutrow’s problems began in the winter of 2010 when got a phone call from a member of the Kentucky Racing Commission asking him to come to a meeting when he arrived in Lexington that spring to run in two Grade 1 races at Keeneland.

After several conversations with commission personnel, Dutrow made arrangements to attend the meeting. Despite continually asking about the reason for the sit-down, he was told it was “only to clear up a few things, make sure everyone’s on the same page.”

At the meeting, Dutrow was asked to look at a series of documents. One was a license application from 2006 in which his New York secretary apparently had checked the wrong box. Based on that and pressure applied by Martin’s interference, his license renewal was denied.

In Administrative Hearings, rules of due process do not apply, hearsay is permitted, and defense attorneys lack the power to subpoena evidence it deems questionable. In this case, questionable practices surfaced during sworn testimony.

State investigator Joel Leveson testified that the syringes on his report and those entered in evidence were different sizes, also admitting later he failed to correct his original which originally indicated the liquid inside the needles were clear but later described as opaque.

It was further established that rules regarding a pristine chain of custody had been violated, discrepancies as to how the barn search came to be, who was present during the search of the barn office, the illegal search of a car belonging to barn personnel.

New York stewards abrogated its responsibility by failing to conduct their own investigation, citing “no licensing power,” but Queens District Attorney Jim Liander’s investigation informed defense counsel that he found issues he deemed “actionable.” That report indicating that the investigator lied under oath is out there if anyone seeking justice takes the time to revisit justice in this case.

Beyond that, as if more were needed, highly respected Dr. Stephen Barker Director of the Equine Medication Surveillance Laboratory in Louisiana and who typically testifies for prosecutors, testified as an expert witness for the defense, debunking the state’s drug findings.

Esteemed equine surgeon Dr. Larry Bramlage testified on Dutrow’s behalf, stating he sent horses to Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital before their problems became insurmountable ones. An alleged “juicer,” Dutrow never a horse break down while racing at NYRA circuit track in 11 years.

Given the conflicting, inconsistent and flat-out false testimony, isn’t anyone after all this time willing to revisit this case in the interests of justice? Should innuendo and political expediency be enough to rob a man of his livelihood?

Written by John Pricci

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Sunday, November 06, 2016


The Incomparable, Invincible, Unbeatable Breeders’ Cup


LAS VEGAS, November 6, 2015—As the horses for the Breeders’ Cup Classic stepped onto the Santa Anita racetrack, TJ turned to me and said:

“We’re as guilty of this as anyone, but you know, when we’re at the track on big days, Florida Derby day, Belmont day, the Travers, we look at those cards and say ‘this is just like the Breeders’ Cup’. But the truth is there’s nothing like the Breeders’ Cup.”

Which is one-thousand percent correct. For years, we’ve called Breeders’ Cup: “The event that never fails to fire.”

All the great racing, the great performances throughout a two-day orgy of 13 races, the centerpiece Distaff and Classic as headliners, all of it remarkable equine theater.

And, by the way, as long as Breeders’ Cup is going to remain a two-day event--judging by Friday’s business it will be a two-day event in perpetuity—the Distaff should have its own day to command center stage: Make America Filly Friday Again.

Racing against males is, in historical context, all well and good. But in this country it’s not mandatory in order for our fillies to be recognized as great. Hell, sometimes you don’t even need to leave your home state to prove that, either.

“The Europeans, many of the world’s best horses against our best, there’s just nothing like it,” reiterated TJ, “the betting, the prices...” Yes, yes, and yes.

While it was considered a Battle of the Big Three, the 2016 Distaff was always Songbird vs. Beholder; the young, undefeated champion vs. a three-time champion race mare dancing one more dance in a brilliant career.

And what a show they put on: Songbird, flaunting her speed with the prodigious Mike Smith standing up in the irons through moderate backstretch fractions as Gary Stevens bided his time on Beholder.

After the G1 Zenyatta Stakes, Stevens told a television audience: “Beholder runs better at other horses. Maybe next time I won’t have to be somebody’s huckleberry, maybe they can be my huckleberry for a change.”

Well, the Distaff leader was quite a huckleberry, an undefeated champion who fought every inch of the way in deep stretch to not allow her rival by—and she didn’t; her rival went and got her in one of the more dramatic photo finish pictures one will ever see.

It truly wasn’t until the final jump—and not even then, as slow-mo, after slow-mo, after slow-mo kept pumping up the high anxiety for both camps and the millions in the audience.

There was no stop in Songbird; Beholder just went and grabbed her right at the line. As it turned out, the Distaff, and the Classic winner on Saturday, both did it the hard way, proving superior despite narrow victory margins; the Distaff’s nose and a Classic half-length.

The hard way? You bet. The winners spotted the runners-up a couple or three-length leads, and a couple or three paths wide, in moderately realistic fractions considering the class level, each winning taking it on the fair and square.

The word in the official Distaff chart to describe Songbird’s performance was right on the money: “Valiant.” California Chrome? “Gamely.”

The second of two ‘Race for the Ages’ contests not only ended dramatically but it began the same way. Arrogate broke a tad out of hand, a bit tardily; Chrome broke sharply, with Victor Espinoza looking over his right shoulder immediately as if to say: “Where the hell is Arrogate?”

Out of sight but not out of range. There sat the roan gray, out there in the 3-1/2 path, Mike Smith--if we can use a harness expression here—jiggling the lines, alternately steadying and motivating, until he was ready to launch his turn rally in earnest.

At headstretch, Espinoza twisted his body right for another look back, only this time he couldn’t have missed Arrogate, getting set to launch with about three-sixteenths of a mile remaining.

What was seen then is something that is not witnessed every day, indeed only rarely: A relatively inexperienced younger horse, out of the speed-game he demonstrated while racing the fastest 10 furlongs in Saratoga history, going after the world’s best dirt horse.

With a sixteenth to go, it appeared that the big chestnut would hold sway--then it happened. Before every discerning horseplayer’s eye, Arrogate reached down and lengthened his tremendous stride, appearing to just get started as he crossed the finish.

“He’s got amazing stamina,” confirmed Smith later. “He could have gone around again, he was literally dancing.”

And there they were, a couple of freeze-frames of note: His standing with the rest of the Classic field in front of the starting gate at post time; unflappable, quietly intense, extreme focused, game face on, confident.

Then coming back, with proud body language, taking it all in tremendous stride.

And there was Smith, winner of an astounding 25 Breeders’ Cup races, getting up there deep in unreachable Joe DiMaggio territory.

And Bob Baffert, whose unprecedented three straight Classics puts him up there in Woody Stephens’ terrain. Remarkable, stunning achievements from Hall of Fame horsemen whose execution matched those of their charges.

So here is Arrogate, with me saying: I’m not comparing his recent achievements to a horse that made singular history. But with all else being equal, and with very much to prove, Arrogate is the most impressive three-year-old I’ve seen since Seattle Slew and that includes last year’s Grand Slam stablemate.

If Arrogate remains healthy—always racing’s biggest word—he will become a horse for the ages, just like the event we witnessed on Championship Saturday.

Written by John Pricci

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Sunday, October 09, 2016


Clip & Save BC Prep Trip Notes from Super Saturday


HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., October 9, 2016—If your intention is to make money on Breeders’ Cup XXXIII and you missed any of the prestigious races run from East to Midwest to West on Saturday, get thee to a replay center and decide for yourself.

The results of Saturday’s graded stakes were as exciting as they were illuminating. It was interesting to see and infer which connections were serious about winning yesterday’s Grade 1 titles at all costs or whether a win would be nice, but more a means to an end.

At Belmont Park, graded stakes action started with ladies first, and juvenile youngsters—all six of them--the small field norm in Saturday’s preps—raced a flat mile in the Frizette. Local runner Libby’s Tail nearly stole the race, and the show.

She made all the pace, most of it pressured, hounded by favorite Nonna Mela, who ultimately was dull, short, or subtly outclassed. Libby’s Tail was in front into the stretch, which forced strong second favorite Yellow Agate to reach down deep.

And win she did, showing extraordinary courage while up in class and distance making her second career start. Few races are wasted these days given rich purses, but this was quite a performance to get up in the final strides under very challenging conditions.

Quite a performance by trainer Christophe Clement, too, building on his reputation for getting horses to repeat following a maiden win, a good one in which she overcame gate from far back in an eye-opening 1:10. Gemologist is a hot sire and grandsire Lemon Drop Kid adds distance to the resume.

Lady Eli can bring a racing fan to tears, watering mine with a gutsy score over talented mate, Sea Calisi, Chad Brown beating Chad Brown. Taking the lead in midstretch, ‘Eli’ showed her noted class taking the G1 Flower Bowl in her second start after battling laminitis for a year.

Just can’t say enough about Lady Eli’s hard fought victory but the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf will be a whole new ballgame. But it seems that miracles are things that are, as racetrackers say, within her scope.

Between these two ladies came older males in the G2 Kelso dirt mile won by Todd Pletcher’s Anchor Down, a driving winner in very fast time after securing a loose backside lead. Will be a BC Dirt Mile factor but will be up against it. He might opt for the Cigar Mile. A different kind of speed game is played out West.

Clement doubled with the remarkably consistent turf sprinter Pure Sensation, a 2015 BC Turf Sprint disappointment. He saved every inch of ground to snatch victory in the final strides from a speedy, very determined Power Alert in the Belmont Turf Sprint. But it’s a Santa Anita ballgame. As they say out West; the hill is the hill is the hill!

Terrific performances from two extremely talented juvenile colts, both remaining an inch away from being undefeated. From a trip handicapping perspective, a case could be made that both Champagne horses. In the end it was a familiar 2016 summer scenario; Chad first, Todd second.

Practical Joke is a very serious racehorse that’s now undefeated in three starts and protem divisional leader by virtue of two Grade 1 wins. On Saturday, no one would have held it against him had the tight, tight photo gone the other way.

Breaking out of hand inside from the pole, he virtually eliminating himself; not. Joel Rosario didn’t rattle, got the Joker closer and settled as Syndergaard and Johnny V. controlled things up front. Practical Joke is a fighter; he proved it in the Hopeful and doubled-down in the Champagne.

Meanwhile, Syndergaard proved he was for real and more than just a mud-lark, a reputation gained when he won the state-bred Funny Cide by 10 laughing lengths. Up in class and distance, he could not have acquitted himself any better. He and the winner doubtlessly will impact the Juvenile.

A polite rant: I love it how many latter-day handicappers refer to New York-breds in a dismissive fashion. NY-Breds might not be quite as prolific in open company as, say, Florida breds (Lexington rules!), but are far from being trivialized as inferior.

Don’t know where the G3 Hill Prince three-year-old fit in the turf picture four weeks from now but expect that the Chadster, if he has the final say, would not start Camelot Kitten, Beach Patrol or Annals of Time--another 1-2-3 turf finish in 2016 for Brown--against feet-rattling Flintshire. The Hollywood Derby is the most likely for any, or all three.

America’s top turf router against vs. some of Europe’s best? One word: Redemption.

New York-bred Effinex had no choice but to keep a soft Jockey Club Gold Cup pace honest and did the dirty work, setting the table for the well-timed last run of Hoppertunity; another New York ship-in winner for Bob Baffert.

The enormous presence of California Chrome and Arrogate notwithstanding, the state-bred’s JCGC is a good effort to build on. A good third in the Big Cap this year, his season’s debut, Effinex always has needed his first start off a break, and he hadn’t run since the Whitney. The problem is that he figures to lose Mike Smith to Arrogate.

At Keeneland, Mongolian Saturday needed to prove he was the same top class turf sprinter after his trip to Dubai and lengthy layup. He did so in a subtly dominant performance that left something in the tank. G3 Woodford Stakes winner will be a formidable presence; runnerup Hogy made a very strong, wide late run but the hill is…

Chad appears ready to defend the Filly & Mare Sprint title, not with Wavell Avenue but Irish Jasper, who has gotten good at the perfect time. She made a strong, sustained perfect-trip run up the fence to take the G2 TCA Sprint. ‘Jasper’ won her Spa prior at 6-1/2 furlongs, a decent transition to seven-eighths next month.

The Toddster was up next Photo Call who got very loose on a very long lead beneath Kent Desormeaux, who has little problem riding 29-1 winners out to the finish. Victory in the $400,000 G1 First Lady should take some “sting” out of that $500 fine.

Perhaps Desormeaux might be gentleman enough to pick up the tab for Gary Stevens.

Let’s say this: Tepin, the #2 ranked race horse in America, recently won two Group 1s; Ascot’s Queen Anne and the Woodbine Mile, both over males. Each victory was hard fought.

Saturday’s placing was her first defeat since August 29, 2015 and if it were not for a head and nose loss at Saratoga in two preceding starts, a victory yesterday would have been her 11th consecutive score. Previously, she had been 3-for-3 at Keeneland.

The question is: Could the great turf mare be over the top? I was among the first on her bandwagon, as the HRI faithful know. Casting no aspersions here but the question is a legitimate one, and a concern four weeks hence.

Classic Empire’s victory in the G1 Breeders’ Futurity took some of steam out of Tepin’s loss for Team Casse. Winning as much the best breaking from post 11, Julien Leparoux saved no ground, stalking 3-to-4 paths wide throughout, winning by a comfortable 3-length margin; a major Juvenile player. Runnerup Lookin at Lee ran on very well for place.

In the G1 Shadwell Turf Mile, filly Miss Temple City--who also beat males in the G1 Makers Mark this spring--got pluperfect handling from Edgar Prado, a great teammate for trainer Graham Motion, who’s won everything of late—and barely lasted over a flying Ironicus.

That stretch-running gray gave Jose Ortiz few options in a tricky two-turn slow-paced mile. The latter was probably best as the race was run, tipping 7-wide and, after gathering himself, pulled a Silky Sullivan down the middle of the course and just missed. The problem is the same course dynamics await at Santa Anita.

Odds-on Lord Nelson, under patient handling from uber talented Flavien Prat, was a perfect trip winner over pacesetting All Run in the Santa Anita Sprint Championship, his third straight Grade 1, setting up a classic showdown with A. P. Indian, a winner of his third straight Grade 1 on opening day at Keeneland. It was the Baffert trainee’s fifth Santa Anita victory. He spotted the runnerup four pounds.

Vyjack got a consecutive, perfectly timed late move beneath partner Prat and won the G2 City of Hope Mile with style, but it was Phil D’Amato uncoupled stablemate Obviously that had the much tougher trip.

After sweeping the first turn wide in a premature move to the lead, he repelled perfect-tripping Om until Vyjack ran them both down. Obviously, tiring late for third, paid the price for his early run. Expect him to be the toughest of the three when they meet next.

Coming Tuesday: Mark Berner's Open Letter to New York's Franchise Oversight Board

Written by John Pricci

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