LOS ANGELES--It’s amazing how readily hyperbole can polarize any conversation these days. For every enthusiastic supporter of some allegedly positive aspect of racing or politics, there seems to be a skeptic, contrarian, or conspiracy theorist willing to rebut that position.

In that spirit, I respectfully challenge the following statement by HRI Executive Editor, John Pricci, in his recent "On the Line Blog piece:
”What is ... indisputable is that what Justify achieved over a period of 112 days was the greatest achievement ever in the sport’s long and storied history.”

First, I feel compelled to question whether the level of accomplishment was higher for the trainer than the horse. Second, couldn’t we at least wait until the true mettle of those Justify defeated can be determined in his absence before applying such a superlative?

Despite media exaggeration, those deserving stellar status still shine brightly. Most would agree that Justify, Gun Runner, Arrogate, California Chrome, and American Pharoah deserve their accolades, as do Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra.

Lesser lights have shined brightly, but briefly, streakers such as Snow Bird, Nyquist, and I'll Have Another; firecrackers like Animal Kingdom, Will Take Charge, Game On Dude, Beholder.

Were West Coast and Collected simply one hit wonders?

Taken at face value, the Justify saga is certainly extraordinary: A three-year-old colt wins six straight races over 112 days to go from unraced maiden to undefeated Triple Crown Winner, Divisional champion, and probable Horse of the Year.

In the process, he also won two Derby-qualifying preps, and proved as adept on wet surfaces as on dry ones. Perhaps he could have run faster, but there was never any need to do so. So what’s not to like?

For older fans like me who savored the extended successful careers of Kelso and Forego, and the rivalries of Dr. Fager and Damascus, Affirmed and Alydar, and Sunday Silence and Easy Goer, it feels less like a loss and more like a robbery.

Not to mention the bad aftertaste left by
a) Competition compromised by circumstance
b) Capitalism-centric career contraction
c) Conspiratorial connections
d) Conspicuously un-sportsmanlike conduct permeating a pastime catering to deep-pocketed interests in every corner.

Recently, Haskell winner Good Magic succeeded in getting more out of getting out from under Justify’s dominance than did Curlin Winner, Hofburg, and Jim Dandy winner, Tenfold, in even smaller fields that same weekend.

None of them broke 1:50 for 9 furlongs. Is this an indication of the strength of Justify’s competition or its collective weakness? Why Hofburg didn’t run for $1M and a possible free BC Classic berth, or even the Jim Dandy’s $600K, instead of the Curlin for only $100K, escapes me.

Nyquist was the previous undefeated Derby winner whose career tanked following his subsequent defeat in the Preakness despite his sensational streak culminating in a Juvenile championship. His first outing as a three-year-old was delayed to the point where he ran in a graded sprint instead of a qualifying route.

Though subsequently acquiring eligibility in the Florida Derby, Nyquist may not have had the foundation to win the soggy second leg in Baltimore. His failure to re-ignite in the Haskell led to his uncontested retirement without ever facing eventual division champion, Arrogate.

Unlike these two colts, Justify’s legend will not be compromised by either the calendar or connection missteps.


What Does “T.O.C.” Mean to You?

Prior to my exposure to Thoroughbred racing, I associated the acronym, “TOC,” with “Truth Or Consequences” and “Table Of Contents.”

Later, I associated it with the characterization of the Belmont Stakes as the “Test of Champions.” After moving to California, however, there was no disassociating it from “Thoroughbred Owners of California.”

But since the recent California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) meeting, where both the local organizations representing owners and trainers refused to clearly explain their opposition to out-of-competition testing for illegal medication in racehorses, it is “Trainers Owners Cheaters” that initially springs to mind.

Now I don’t believe all trainers and/or owners are cheaters, but even assuming, as I do, that most aren’t, it’s reasonable to ask why, then, do their official representatives thwart all efforts to identify those who are?

If 80% of purses are going to 20% of the trainers under a system permitting raceday medication with its attending abuses, why don’t the majority stand up for a more level playing field? How does the status quo benefit them?

TOC members no longer dominate the CHRB but some of the most recent political appointees appear to be contributing little to the discussions, and even less to the solutions.

Their relative inexperience may have enabled the descent of these public board meetings into a “Theater Of Confrontation” which reached a new low with the personal attacks on CHRB equine medical director, Dr. Rick Arthur, by representatives of the TOC and CTT (California Thoroughbred Trainers).

Subsequent push-back from friends of Arthur in turn triggered a response from the CTT in the form of a Q&A session with executive director, Alan Balch, by Daniel Ross.

(The article contains links to all relevant components of the controversy and in my opinion clearly demonstrates trainers’ unwillingness to be forthcoming, even in a format of their own choosing).

Rather than simply lay out their various concerns and offer some logical approaches to dealing with and possibly resolving the issue, they prefer to retreat behind closed doors and delay any resolution as long as possible.

The degree of control over racing by local horsemen varies among jurisdictions, as do the rules, but California is a stronghold of recalcitrance. Without a central racing authority to establish and enforce uniform rules of racing and wagering nationwide, nothing will change.

Without modification of the Interstate Horseracing Act to mandate the existence of such an authority and to create a more functional balance of power among racing’s stakeholders, the status quo will remain.

How much of an impact can USADA testing have without uniformly defined overage levels, uniform penalties for abusing those metrics, and consistent enforcement across jurisdictions?

The lack of uniform medication standards was never more apparent than when the spotlight shifted to the Iowa festival of racing at Prairie Meadows on the Thursday and Friday evenings preceding Stars and Stripes Saturday.

I was surprised to find that every starter in every race on both cards ran with Butazolidin (“Bute”). One horse ran without Lasix.

When the spotlight returned to the Midwest a week later in Indiana, Lasix alone predominated as usual, as it does in most major graded stakes jurisdictions.