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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


Anyone with a three-digit IQ understands that life will never be the same again. But with Saturday’s announcements that Belmont Park will open June 4  and Preakness 145 will be held on October 3, for racetrackers and fans, this may not be as good as it gets but it’s a huge step forward.

Given permission by Governor Andrew Cuomo to race spectatorless beginning Monday June 1, the New York Racing Association announced that June 4 is start-up day. Thursdays normally begin a NYRA four-day race week.

This is a missed opportunity to own a Monday when “Belmont opening day” handle might have reached $20 million. Thursday will still do well because . all returning tracks have drawn huge fields. But why compete with other major venues?

It’s too early and unreasonable to expect that a stakes schedule will be immediately forthcoming. Still undecided, even if the Saratoga main and training tracks are permitted to open June 1, is whether there will be racing at the Spa, likely without fans.

Racing Vice-President Martin Panza has quietly told several horsemen that he wants to race at Saratoga but that might not be a unilateral decision. It also could mean that he’s simply trying to keep the horsemen closer.

To spectator or not to spectator, that is the question and a Saratoga deal maker or breaker. The ultimate decision is likely to be determined by the state of the virus, the Saratoga Chamber of Commerce, and the state of the state.

Will the Belmont stakes schedule be downsized owing to a truncated spring/summer meet?  Could some traditionally historic NYRA stakes, moved from Belmont to Saratoga several years ago, return to Long Island? Taking the temperature of horsemen, literally and figuratively, is strongly advised.

The most significant question, however, is when to run Belmont Park’s signature event, and at what distance. Now that the Preakness is set for the first Saturday in October, one month after the Derby, so much for tradition. Or, as Bukowski might say, “asterisks for all my friends.”

But given the physical state of today’s Thoroughbred, vis a vis breeding, training methodology and dehydrating Lasix cocktails, shouldn’t the industry, forced by Mother Nature to adapt, catch up to 21st Century racing reality?

Further, wouldn’t a monthly schedule put into practice the popular politically correct cliché one often hears from horsemen; “doing what’s best for the horse?” If Saratoga runs on schedule, a July 18 Belmont would be seven weeks before the Derby.

The question then becomes do you point for the first classic, or prep for the Derby in the Haskell or Travers on either AUG 1 or AUG 8? Just know that until Breeders’ Cup, scheduling chaos will reign. What if Keeneland gets the Ellis dates and race in July? Add the Blue Grass to the adjusted prep mix.

Since the Belmont will suffer from *2020 Triple Crown timetabling, running it at a mile and a half is impractical. With training and racing schedules seriously altered, classics horses have been forced into a holding pattern, making the distance unattractive for lack of competitive, seasonal conditioning.

Turning back from speed-dulling routes is difficult because of altered pace dynamics and is future-form compromising. Horsemen are highly unlikely to support a 12-furlong classic right out of the box.

We’re not suggesting that Bob Baffert’s posit of running the Belmont at a mile and an eighth Belmont should be taken seriously, but 9-1/2 or 10- furlong Belmont at least maintains some endurance integrity.

Two questions remain: Given that the Belmont will precede the Derby, it would qualify as Derby point qualifiers. Should it be a 100-pointer, or more since it’s a classic? Of greater import, how does it affect the game nationally? The historic Haskell immediately comes to mind.

Like opening up the country to business, there are no easy answers. And one last notion might be most significant and beyond control: What if Covid-19 returns with a vengeance in the fall? No one wants to experience it, but a spectatorless Derby and Preakness cannot be ruled out.

Not an Important Saturday, but a Champion Returns

Monomoy Girl, three-year-filly champion of 2018, made a successful return from a 560-day layup. She didn’t win impressively in the classic sense but she won very well under trying circumstances.

Breaking from the inside in a one-turn mile over a wet Churchill Downs surface, Florent Geroux was in maneuver mood early—don’t get trapped inside or bottled up between horses—and did a great job under the circumstances.

Indeed, she was trapped in behind and between rivals at midturn but Geroux found a seem, tipped her out, she showed her class, and was shown the whip, and she responded, ridden out and won with her ears pricking, a very professional effort and a good effort to build on.

At Gulfstream Park, Green Light Go made a good, albeit losing return, finishing second to upwardly mobile Double Crown. Making his first start with Lasix, he was fresh but not sharp, showing class and heart, re-rallying inside the final furlong after getting ping-ponged, putting his rival to the test. It appeared a good race to build on and is officially out of excuses.

While it was a narrow victory, to beat males in your second lifetime start from well off the pace after having broken maiden on the engine in debut is most unusual and an indication of high class.

And the handling that Big Sweep got from Flavien Prat was masterful and strong, snatching victory from defeat in the final stride to win the Echo Eddie sprint for Cal-breds at Santa Anita Park. All three races are worthy of video review.

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48 Responses

  1. Before we worry about Saratoga,how about letting Belmont open and see what happens.As for the Belmont Stakes for one year run it at a distance determined by whoever makes these decisions. Run it before the Preakness. If done this way the Derby could decide the fake Triple Crown.Only problem with this plan is NYRA would be doing a favor for both the Preakness and the Derby. Considering the way racing has treated NYRA,I am not sure they would want to help other venues.

  2. Right back at you Aaron. Before worrying about how NYRA’s actions will affect the Preakness and Derby folks. make it the best Belmont it can be under the circumstances.
    Fake Triple Crown? That’s cold. Prefer the *Triple Crown.
    And you’re right. I had commented yesterday about concentrating on Belmont first, but it is interesting that the racing office is thinking ahead…

  3. John, *works for me. Let’s get things back to as normal as possible and let the chips fall where they might.
    It sure feels strange to not be able to go to Belmont on a beautiful May day.

    1. In the same boat, A.

      Dying to see some live racing at GP or Tampa, then that’s the problem, yeah, The dying part…

    1. Thanks for the props, Pete. Have no definitive idea about Saratoga, and neither does anyone else.

      It ultimately will come down to the state of the virus, a premature ‘second wave,’ or not, so just don’t know.

      It’s a long time away, these days especially.

  4. I much prefer the Belmont be run at 1 1/4 than 1 1/8, but even if NYRA decided to use the training track to avoid starting the race on the turn, I think the issue would still be that the horses wouldn’t have the proper foundation to run that far, even in late June. Their racing and training schedules have been erratic, so I wonder if trainers would be ok running 1 1/4 as opposed to 1 1/8.

    1. Bets, think 1-3/16s a good compromise, but still would start on the turn. I don’t like that either but the chute, for all intents and purposes, is no more.

      1. I think that would work, John – good compromise. I guess the only issue with the turn is if there’s a big field. I mean, I guess it’s not unsafe since they do run 1 1/4 races at Belmont, so perhaps I’m making a bigger deal of it than it is.

  5. I favor keeping it a mile and a half at the end of June.
    Run the Peter Pan the first Saturday of June ad the prep.
    Let’s see who the best horsemen are to prepare a horse to run a true distance of ground, and which horse can do it.

    1. Won’t argue, Den. Don’t think there are any good answers, mine included. Just think we all want what’s best and have different ways of getting there. I just worry that at 1-1/2 miles, you won’t top enough top class G1 3YOs to compete. Don’t think anyone wants a “less-than” Belmont. A shorter race would attract better horses, IMO.

      1. Yes, I agree. It’s not like trainers have issues with the distance, but this year it’s a fact that the horses’ schedules have been messed with. The trainers care about their charges, and many of the best 3 year olds are extremely lightly raced; they haven’t been through the grueling TC series – haven’t been through the grind of prep season. Barclay Tagg said today he’d prefer they keep the Belmont at a mile and a half, but I think for this year, he’s in the minority. Baffert has already said he wouldn’t come. I’m not sure about John Shirreffs, who did say he’d absolutely come if the race is 1 1/2. Personally I think Honor A.P. is beautifully suited for the track and distance, but even with the SA Derby under his belt, he’ll have had 2 races in 4, close to 5 months. If anyone could get the colt ready for that race, JS could, but I don’t see any way he’d try. Even if Maxfield comes back in great shape, how could he be ready for 1 1/2? There might be a couple of big horses, but I think a mile and a half Belmont would attract mostly lesser lights.

        1. Oops, I meant to say that John Shirreffs said he’d love to go to the Belmont if it’s 1 1/8 …….,

          1. Yes, Bets, that’s what BB said too re mile and an eighth…

  6. John, while it’s absolutely great news to have Belmont Park returning on June 4, it’s critical for NYRA to immediately rough-draft a plan that brings back the fans. Some will say that it’s too early to go down that road. I’d say that it’s getting pretty late in the game, if you’re a racing fan and wish to sit in a NYRA Grandstand this Summer. Maybe we start for the first 2-3 weeks without spectators and monitor what happens. By the end of June – if all goes well – fans need to be allowed in. Belmont is a sprawling facility and social distancing should be easily maintained for all days except for when the rescheduled Belmont Stakes is the featured attraction. A successful return of fans to Belmont gives us hope that we may – in limited numbers – be permitted to attend the Saratoga meet.

    The revised Triple Crown race schedule – Kentucky Derby on September 5 and Preakness on October 3 – is an uncoordinated mess and leaves NYRA with few options for the Belmont. Unless . . . you create your own party. Therefore, I’m in favor of NYRA conducting their own Triple Crown in 2020. I would call it ETC, as in Extraordinary Triple Crown, due to unreal conditions brought on by this pandemic. Offer a bonus for any horse which competes in all three legs (Wood, Belmont and Travers ???) and wins two of them. I would throw one last wrinkle into the pot. Run the Belmont at 1 5/8 Miles for this year only. Expect a full field of 14 and the extra 1/8 of a mile allows room to maneuver for position going into the first turn.

    Still leaves lots of dangling issues but at least it’s a start . . .

    1. Sprawling if they open the Grandstand. Kinda like the NY “Triple Crown” idea. Like the fillies have CCAO, Mother Goose, Acorn. Saw Mom’s Command jog in Coaching Club American Oaks. I swear they took Abby Fuller off and put Angel up as insurance since she was going for the sweep but everybody says I’m wrong. Peter Fuller owned the horse and his daughter was her regular rider.

      1. Thanks, c. Those are some great memories.

        Just imagine the fireworks – literally and figuratively – if New York ran their 3 races on July 4, August 1 and August 29. Yeah, some logistical difficulties would ensue as I would run the Belmont in the middle and they’re already supposed to be at Saratoga. OK, we’ll work around that. Ends with the Travers with – perhaps – fans in attendance ??? Besides giving a swift shove to Churchill (deserved) and angering Derby fans (don’t really wish to get the players too upset), there’s another problem. What if one of the current Derby points leaders – like Tiz The Law – opts for the New York trifecta of races, runs in the Travers and you’ve used him in your Futures bets ???

  7. Richard, Love outside-the-box ideas, something not in large supply inside the industry. The one flaw in your plan, IMHO, is a big one:
    The Derby is the Derby is the Derby; irreplaceable. It cannot be recreated and there will be no support from the horsemen.
    Again, just use the asterisk and run the Belmont first, in mid-July, maybe even July 4. Probably won’t be a lot of traveling for those traditional family visits, or big barbecue parties, as is the past.

    This is a whole, new, and sad ballgame…

  8. John, thanks. You are correct that the Derby is “irreplaceable.” In normal times, irreplaceable applies in 100 out of 100 years. This year is the absolute exception in my book.

    Churchill chose September 5 when that date belonged to Ellis Park. Truly stunning stuff, with the Twin Spires people displaying their cavalier attitude to the fullest. Pimlico finally ambles in to grab October 3, leaving NYRA with no real alternative to run in the usual last of 3 sequence without running head-on with the Breeders’ Cup. Where is the partnership among these partners ??? Did Churchill – even as an after-thought – say: “If we take September 5, what happens to the Travers ???” No, because as their first-thought, they would likely say: “We’ll run our damn big race wherever we damn well please!!!”

    I believe that if NYRA conducted their in-house series of 3 main events – with a potential bonus payout – that enough horsemen would follow along to make this an intriguing, worthwhile venture. Run the Travers, as planned, as the final leg on August 29. Should be quite interesting to see how this all plays out . . .

    1. Richard, it’s been a long time gone since there was anything called “Triple Crown Productions.” Remeber, we’re talking an industry that doesn’t make a true effort–as an industry–to coordinate post times.

  9. Belmont is the Only track that I don’t mind betting from a bar, OTB or my living room. Its history, reputation, nostalgia of our past New York yrs on L. I.and its nearby metro area, highways, beaches is a legacy that Saratoga and its thousands of unknown temporary uppity tourists cannot hold a candle pizza, seafood to.Belmont IS New York racing.. and casino, hockey in a beautiful location, right in the Heart of Everything that many of us Still Love, Miss.

    1. Spoken like a true New Yorker, but I feel you. When a stranger asks where I live, I say “I’m a New Yorker who happens to be living in Florida at the moment.”

  10. John, as a P.S. to my earlier messages on this thread and throughout the website, I would be willing to support any NYRA initiative that gives us some hope that Saratoga will operate with fans in attendance this Summer. Also, my three race New York challenge is intended to show Churchill that even some modest level of cooperation among the Triple Crown partner tracks – in rescheduling their races – would have been appreciated. Wouldn’t be shocked to see CD move the September 5 Derby back, as I’m doubtful they would run the race without a full house on hand.

  11. Don’t think they can move it back further, now that Maryland has committed to OCT 3–and they want live fans, too…

    1. John, I can actually envision a Derby run on October 17. That’s 2 weeks after The Preakness and 3 weeks before the BC at Keeneland. They could argue that you can race the Derby – BC double (or run in all 3) and have a short ship from Louisville to Lexington. CD plays for rough and for keeps – all under the guise that they are enhancing shareholders’ value.

      1. Sorry Richard, but that schedule is totally impractical on so many levels.

        Can’t we just wait and see how things shake out this year whenever the Belmont is scheduled?

        1. Totally agree with your comments, John. My point is that Churchill doesn’t care about those around them – just themselves. The rest of the industry is just expected to follow along behind CD, whether they like it or not. Besides, I’m anxiously awaiting the return of racing in Elmont, NY.

  12. Richard, this what happens when the only motivation is “shareholder value.” It’s why Man Street has little use for Wall Street…

  13. John, you astutely put to rest the suggestions that NYRA go head to head in any way with the Derby.

    There is not a horseman in the world with a worthy horse who would skip the Derby for another race, even the beloved Travers. This includes the proud NYers who own Tiz the Law.

    In classic New York-ese, “Fuhgeddaboutit!!!”

    1. Tom, in roughly 99 out of 100 years no smart racing association dares to challenge the Kentucky Derby. This is the 100th year; all considerations are on the table. OK, I totally get it, the Derby is big and powerful – the race that nearly everyone is waiting for every May. We continue to witness the unilateral, negative actions of Churchill against the best interests of the racing industry with great disdain and do absolutely nothing to ever counter their actions. CD gets to do what they want when they want – and they only wish to conduct racing for two days every year. 2 days out of 365 – amazing – and we’re following their lead ??? This is the year for someone to challenge them – and my Best Bet is NYRA.

  14. Richard,
    My disdain for CD is well documented but as John wrote, the Derby is the Derby. That’s true in 100 of 100 years. There is no exception. I’m not happy to say that but that is the reality.

    1. Allowed in pending approval. Application has been filed says Player’s Club member. Not “official” yet.

  15. With the running of the Kentucky Derby scheduled for Sept. 5 shouldn’t the Preakness go on Sept 19 and the Belmont on Oct.10? If a 3 year old won all 3 this year would the asterisk of additional time between races matter? Was it just too difficult for the 3 tracks to respect the tradition?

    1. That would have required initial conversations between the MJC and NYRA, giving Breeders’ Cup a seat at that table, too. SEP 5 chosen because it was far enough away that fans might be allowed to attend and also start of Labor Day weekend.

  16. NYRA had the opportunity of a lifetime and let it sail by. Here’s what they could have done, with 3 major races, in the year of the (*) asterisk (*):

    1 1/8 Miles on July 4 or July 11 (Wood Memorial)
    1 1/4 Miles on August 1 or August 8 (Travers)
    1 1/2 or 1 5/8 Miles on August 29 or September 5 (Belmont)

    Run in all 3, win 2 of 3 and collect a nice bonus. That’s not a typo up above for September 5. I’m not against placing the Belmont alongside the Kentucky Derby, for once in a lifetime, given these extraordinary circumstances. Even running the Belmont at Saratoga – at 1 5/8 Miles – gives you a rare 3-turn Classic race.

    My only hesitation to this plan is that it impedes on the Haskell at Monmouth on July 18. OK, then use the 7/11, 8/8 and 8/29 sequence of races, add in the Haskell to the bonus feature, run in 3 of 4, win 2 of 3 to collect the bonus.

    Crazy ??? Perhaps. This industry simply lacks imagination. Why run “The Test of the Champion” at 1 1/8 Miles or potentially run the Travers as a prep for the Kentucky Derby ??? This would never, ever happen on my watch.

    What could have been . . . with a little improvisation . . .

    1. Oops, I have to reply to my message to make a correction. My Belmont Stakes at Saratoga would be extended to 14 or 15 Furlongs – for this year only – due to the configuration of the Main Track at The Old Spa.

  17. Quick, quick! What blue blood won the Derby, Preakness, and Belmont last year? Remember Country House ($132.40); ever see the horse race again? If your plodder ran fifth in the Derby did you cash? The owner of Improbable received $90,000! Ever collect that much cash for not winning? Know anyone who did?

    Preakness – War of Will; the owner of the fifth placed blue blood, Laughing Fox, collected $49,500. The Belmont – Sir Winston; the owner of the fifth placed blue blood, Master Fencer, who staggered home collected $60,000.

    Yup, America’s Race awaited with bated breath by people across America; all hoping to win a few bucks, many bettors using dimes. Seems to me it’s a race for breeders, owners, trainers, and jockeys.

    1. The Sport of Kings (breeders, owners, trainers). “And down the stretch they come in the shortened Belmont Stakes.”-Dave Johnson

    2. The pools are so big for these races (Breeder’s Cup, TC, etc.) that many come out to take a swing at the big pots. You do not see pools of this size at mid-Atlantic tracks you seem to prefer. What does Alice say on the matter? The Derby that Giacomo won keyed a super that was in the six digits. Even for a dime that’s pretty good. Back then there was no ten cent super, ‘tho. Not saying I would have had it, mind you., just illustration the value that is to be had on “Derby Day.”

  18. I would like to know just how successful you have been wagering Franklins, Grants, Jacksons, Hamiltons, or dimes on the TC or BC. Geez, why not simply purchase a lotto ticket; that’s taking ‘a swing at a big pot’ which is available twice every week not once a year. BTW, pool size is irrelevant, ya still gotta pick the winner to cash.

    The Kentucky Derby a mere two minutes and a few seconds once a year and people go ga ga over it; involving blue bloods who are over rated and where most will never race again; three-year-olds who, in just about all KD’s, have not even raced on the track before or against each other.

    I prefer to bet on a thoroughbred horse race where the plugs have raced numerous times at the track, have raced against each other already, appear fit, have a good trainer/jockey, and knows where the winner’s circle is.

    Baffert, Pletcher, Asmussen, and a couple other trainers love the TC an BC. Of, I guess, five or six thousand trainers in the country and thousands of races run every year at forty or more racetracks involving thoroughbreds that are brothers and sisters of the blue bloods in the KD, turf writers, coast-to-coast, have elevated to icon status each year thoroughbreds that run a couple of seconds (seconds, Alice!) faster (tick, tock – two seconds!). We (the public) must endure commentary on a handful of stake races each year – none of which are a true horseplayers dream.

    And, the beat goes on ….

  19. The audience for these “big days” is large due in part to their long history. They have become part of our culture. Like the Masters in golf or the Indy 500 in auto racing the KY Derby is an “event.” And form does often show up as many faves have come in the last ten years. Seattle Slew broke out of the gate at CD sideways and still won. Taking a shot with supers in a race that has so many runners is not the worst idea in the world but I applaud you if you can win at lesser known tracks. Me, not so much.

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