Friday, March 13, 2015

The Racetrack Is Tough, Reality Much Tougher

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., March 12, 2015—If racetrackers listen carefully, they probably can hear “Wolfie” growling somewhere. Or is that howling, or scowling, snarling or grimacing.

The Wolf, also known a Richard McCarthy, a racetrack lifer, passed away in his sleep last week. I didn’t ask his lady, Louisa, his age, which I learned later was 68.

I only know that he was on the planet for a shorter period of time than I, yet another friend gone way too soon.

Those daggers he threw, like his attitude, were defense mechanisms that hid the sweet, loyal man beneath the gruff exterior: In that fashion, if there were a bellicosity match race, he and Paul Moran would have finished in a dead heat.

Believe it or not, Wolfie left the game in a better state than he found it. At once, happily but unfortunately, his illness separated him from the sport in the last few years, which was just as well given the current state of affairs.

The last time I saw the Wolfman, we were playing horses and swapping lies at the Saratoga harness track simulcasts, and he never wavered; he was just as cynical as ever.

Wolfie was a connoisseur of good food and drink, no surprise given his New Orleans roots. He came over the house one dark racing day and showed me how to make a rue after shopping for the ingredients together after the morning’s workouts.

He introduced me to my first single malt scotch and on winning days it was Macallan 18, not the every winter’s day 12-year-old variety.

He was a movie raconteur, loving nothing more than to find a diamond in the rough; he turned me on to “In Bruges.” He was the first to tell me about the very scary “Malky” Logan character in “Sexy Beast,” and one night we went into town to hear the best Swamp Rock band ever, The New Orleans Radiators.

But he saved his best work for the racetrack.

We met in the early 1980s and he brought two earnest skills to the game, first as a clocker, later rising to the rank of supervisor, and he ended his career as chart caller extraordinaire for Equibase at the New York tracks.

If he saw something he didn’t like, which happened often, at least in his view, you read about it in the chart footnote. When he wrote something like “was ridden out and finished well after the fact” you didn’t need to see a replay to know what he was talking about.

My personal Wolfie fave was “carefully handled to secure the place.” In any case, he raised the level of the chart footnote, a tradition his good friend and protégé, “Danny K,” has continued.

To my knowledge—and that’s neither non-denial denial nor left-handed compliment—he never put a workout in his pocket. I recommended him to the Newsday sports department and they hired him to provide his insights to Long Island readers.

It was heady times for racing in that era. At the time when Newsday made an ill-fated incursion into New York City, we had, in my opinion, the metro area’s biggest and best horse racing staff.

Talents such as Mark Berner, providing bettors with notable gallop-out times; Brad Thomas and Marc Siegelaub, who kept the horse racing pot boiling feverishly on a daily basis.

And the best reporters--Ed Comerford, who followed the prolific, legendary reporter/columnist Bill Nack, then dual Eclipse-winning wordsmith Moran, covering Thoroughbred racing by day--with the best racing-desk-man and NFL-Recap writer ever, Ed McNamara, cleaning up our copy by night.

It was a real privilege to be a part of that team.

But don’t take my word about Wolfie: Ask Andy Beyer about him, ask him about the runner-up in Swale’s 1984 Belmont Stakes, longshot Pine Circle, about who provided the workout info and what the exacta paid. Never mind Imus, it was Wolfie in the Morning.

Richard McCarthy was a horseplayer’s best friend long before that distinction became the fashion.

For all his bluster I never did hear him raise his voice in anger, although I’m sure he did. He was no saint, only a loyal friend to many who will be missed more than he could imagine.

See ya’, Wolf.

Written by John Pricci

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Sunday, March 08, 2015

Many Super Performances, But Some Real Clunkers, Too

HALLANDALE BEACH, March 8, 2015—With so much going on Saturday, it’s hard to know where to begin. So why not start at the top? And that’s going to be with America’s best dirt horse, Shared Belief.

We understand that it wasn’t the greatest cast ever assembled for the Santa Anita Handicap, but would it have truly mattered? After all, it wasn’t that long ago when he defeated the Horse of the Year 2014 after it appeared that California Chrome would hold him safe.

Yeah, all rivals hold him safe until he lowers that little body of his, drops his head, and goes after them…with a vengeance. With more handicap races in his future, his connections didn’t want to win by too far, Mike Smith said afterward.

And so Smith kept the margin “down” to 4-1/4 lengths, but when you run a mile and a quarter in 2:00.67, even in Southern California, you will cause to separation.

Shared Belief dominated and won geared down. Don’t want to get to hyperbolic here; simply suffice it to say that if he can keep those sore tootsies of his from barking too loudly, it’s impossible to conjure up another horse that might finish ahead of him.

Earlier on the Santa Anita program, Dortmund remained undefeated but he had a lot of help.

As the San Felipe unfolded, it appeared that every major contender in the race was using the 1-1/16 miles as a bridge to the Santa Anita Derby which, of course, is its purpose.

But it would have been nice to see another rival, any rival, make his work for it. Sure, Bolo did on the far turn, but splits of 23.12, 46.98, and 1:11.30? Really? At Santa Anita? So jockey Martin Garcia just sat chilly until challenged.

But by the time Bolo made his presence felt, it was too late. Same for Prospect Park, but at least he made a good late run. But as for Ocho Ocho Ocho, the Seis Seis Seis must have made him run like that.

Trainer Jim Cassidy said he missed a work with him, but to run that badly? Mike Smith didn’t appear all that inspired to test him, either. The colt likely will be a different horse in the Santa Anita Derby. He had better be.

At least Daredevil was a little better in his seasonal debut in the Swale earlier in the day and 3,000 miles to the East, but not by all that much. He finished second but truly never really was into the bridle, ridden hard by Javier Castellano to stay with the talented sprinter Ready for Rye, but he couldn’t cut into the winner's advantage.

Ready for Rye was very good for Tom Albertrani, who broke out of a slump in a big way yesterday. He would have saddled four on the day but Todd Pletcher got his revenge when Chipit made a winning debut to nail Fitzgerald in the shadow of the wire in a maiden allowances an hour later.

Trainer Tom Albertrani breaks
out in a big way

Speaking of equine revenge, El Kabeir was vindicated when, finally, the connections took him back off the pace, the colt gaining full momentum into the stretch to sweep by Aqueduct's Gotham field inside the final furlong.

He just had to be better than his disappointing Withers indicated, and he was; education fully complete. Tiz Shea D was a very game second coming up the rail late to nail down the place while coming off a single 5-1/2 furlong maiden win in his Parx debut.

Classy Class figured to improve and did, but he had absolutely no excuses in the place department.

In Northern Florida, meanwhile, Carpe Diem, despite his reluctance to load into the gate, put in an awesome run, ridden out but winning with energy in reserve to win his season’s debut in the Tampa Bay Derby by 5 lengths over Ami’s Flatter, with 1-1/16 miles in 1:43.60, a final sixteenth in 06:38. The time was a few ticks off the stakes record.

Strong second favorite Ocean Knight was bumped at the break, was in perfect position in mid-backstretch, but not only didn’t mount a threat, he needed Irad Ortiz Jr. to take care of him the final three-eighths of a mile left to run. He finished, 63-¾ lengths behind his co-owned mate.

He had a bit of an off day, said Barbara Banke of Stonestreet Stables afterward, which co-owns Carpe Diem with Winstar Farm.

But that would be like saying Shared Belief won the Big ‘Cap in workmanlike fashion.

The formerly undefeated Curlin colt shows up in the next Derby prep, then put a line through his Tampa Derby non-effort. If he doesn’t, there’s certainly more to the story.

File Photo by Toni Pricci

Written by John Pricci

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Sunday, March 01, 2015

Racing’s Mixed-Message Adjudication Process Lacks Appeal

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., March 1, 2015—There were three official rulings this week that, while punitive, illustrate how much racing at once either shows favoritism to rules violators or punishes others unduly by levying penalties that are inappropriate for the infraction, one way or another.

There is a legal system meant to protect every American’s rights, then there’s racetrack law whereby racing commissions in different states act as judge, jury and executioner. When the sport’s rules adjudicators fail to demonstrate they care about the message they send to bettors and fans, it’s the game that ultimately pays the price.

The first ruling involves the 60-day suspension and $10,000 fine meted out to trainer A. C. Avila as a result of his second-time starter California-bred Masochistic, badly beaten by state-bred peers in his SoCal debut, shipped to Kentucky for a Derby-day open maiden allowances which he won by 14 lengths in 1:08 4/5 as the 2-1 favorite.

To its credit, the California Horse Racing Board rejected the original penalty proposed by a CHRB hearing officer calling for Avila to serve a 30-day suspension and fined $5,000. The eventual ruling doubled the punishment for the Class 3 drug that carries a Category B penalty classification.

The drug involved was acepromazine, a tranquilizer commonly used when horses are shipped from one venue to another. This is standard operating procedure, a commonly accepted, legal and ethical practice throughout the industry.

But Masochistic testing positive for a tranquilizer that tested 40 times over the legal limit? This is nothing short of tampering with a sporting event--across state lines yet. Considering that officials questioned the debut performance of Masochistic's jockey Omar Berrio, Avila is fortunate he is not serving those 60 days in jail.

On March 1, Daily Racing Form New York correspondent David Grening reported that trainer Rudy Rodriguez will begin serving a 25-day suspension on Thursday and fined $2,500 when two horses he trained, which finished first and second, were found to have overages for Flunixin, a.k.a. Banamine, a therapeutic non-steroidal anti-inflammatory.

In the story, Rodriguez’ attorney Karen Murphy said she thought the penalty was excessive given that the New York Racing Commission had suspended trainer David Cannizzo for 45 days when three of his horses tested positive for the illegal narcotic Darvon, which no longer is permitted to be sold in the U.S.

Cannizzo’s brother Jeffrey is Executive Director of the New York Thoroughbred Breeders Assn.

Murphy told the DRF that she accepted the penalty because she said her client was told that if he was going to fight the suspension, “he was going to get hammered.” Murphy was unavailable for comment after a message was left on her cell phone Sunday afternoon.

That would not be dissimilar to the fate suffered by Rodriguez’ former boss, Rick Dutrow, who appealed a 90-day suspension that New York's State Racing and Wagering Board turned into a 10-year license revocation.

In the matter of Richard E. Dutrow before the SRWB on May 31, 2011, Hearing Officer Clemente J. Parente's explanation of how the administrative process works perhaps is what Murphy was intimating. [Beginning on page 10, line 21, of the SRWB report]:

“This is an administrative proceeding. The rules of the State Administrative Procedure Act apply. The board rules apply consistently with the State Administrative Procedure Act. Strict rules of evidence do not govern. Hearsay is permitted…”

Case law, however, would have deemed revocation improper: In the Avery Rechter case, as presented by defense counsel Michael Koenig Esq. [page 15, line 25]:

“If an individual has a right – this is a right to appeal – it must be a meaningful one. And a meaningful right cannot exist if, when exercised, it results in a heightened punishment. A right to appeal is no right at all if when exercised a greater punishment can be sought…”

“That’s not the world I want to live in,” Murphy said in the DRF story relative to the Rodriguez case, “but this is the world we are living in.”

The question is: Is this the world any American wants to live in?

In a non-related--but not insignificant matter--the Gulfstream Park stewards suspended jockey Jose Ortiz for three days, beginning Wednesday, for his ride aboard Upstart in last weekend’s Fountain of Youth Stakes. Upstart was placed second following his apparent victory over Itsaknockout.

On Friday, agent Jimmy Riccio said that the rider would not appeal the suspension that runs through Friday. Since there is no racing at Gulfstream Wednesday to accommodate the Fasig-Tipton 2-year-old sale, the suspension is effectively a two-day ban.

This leaves the connections of Upstart and the bettors who made Upstart the Fountain of Youth’s odds-on favorite as the biggest losers.

Given the last two scenarios, the Rodriguez suspension could have resulted in a lose-lose situation on appeal, whereas Ortiz simply can make a short jaunt to the Bahamas for a little R & R.

Written by John Pricci

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