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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., April 18, 2021 – This was to be one of those flat-out rants, but after the events of the latter part of the past week, the obligation is to keep horse racing’s scales balanced by lending perspective to disparate events.

I don’t what’s being taught at racing-official schools but either it’s woefully inadequate or the political parameters by which stewards are installed anywhere and everywhere are taking a toll on both horsemen and horseplayers.

It’s as if the judges have no sense of historical tradition, lack perspective or the common sense to resolve issues. Of course, more transparency would help. There often is talk of transparency within the industry but generally not enough is being practiced.

While Joel Rosario, who trails national leader Irad Ortiz Jr. by about 60 winners, he still has won more stakes events this year than any other rider in America. And that doesn’t happen when a rider misjudges the finish line.

But the Oaklawn Park stewards thought that to be the case when Rosario rode out his stakes mount, favored Rushie, another sixteenth past the first wire of what the legendary Terry Wallace used to call “the short stretch of the mile run.”  

The race was the Oaklawn Mile Stakes and apparently Rosario rode to the traditional finish instead of stopping after reaching the sixteenth pole and easing his mount at that juncture.

An important aside: the newly turned four year old was making his season’s debut and, while the $400,000 pot was big, the race was ungraded so it’s logical that the event was meant as a bridge race to something more prestigious.

Rushie had seized the lead off the turn and was seriously challenged by strong-closing By My Standards down the middle of the track, who eventually won by a nose on the bob of a head.  

Rosario did not stop riding at the sixteenth pole. Did he forget where the finish pole of the mile race was. Does it or even should it matter? Indeed, replays indicate Rushie was being vigorously ridden while Gabriel Saez rose in the saddle.

The official Equibase chart notes that Rosario “continued riding well past the finish wire.” Was that the basis of the finding? Was Rosario possibly riding to instructions from Michael McCarthy, trainer of the graded stakes-winning, Grade1-placed charge?

If so, did McCarthy fail to inform the stewards that these tactics were intended to get his mount wound tightly for the target to come? Do these stewards know that this tack was common training strategy back in the day?

It’s not like a $200 fine would represent a hardship for Rosario. If a specific rule re this situation was not broken, then why was Rosario fined? Generally, jockeys are fined for “misjudging” the finish by not riding their mount out to the finish, costing the horse a placing. [See Kent Desormeaux’s race-riding history].

Had the stewards been more transparent, more forthcoming as to their thinking, perhaps this actions would be more palatable. It is highly likely that Rosario is not troubled by this and has moved on. Horsemen, fans, and bettors are owed that much. As for Rushie and McCarthy, Rosario’s “mistake” could prove beneficial as the season lengthens.

First Responders

This was a week I’ll remember when, according to reports, fans learned that horsemen ran towards a fire, through dense smoke, impossible to see your hand in front of your face, or breathe normally, or unaware that a loose horse might trample them down.

Every manner of horsemen–trainers, jockeys, exercise riders and stable-hands ran into a burning Belmont Park barn to save equine lives, not unlike what happened at San Luis Rey Training Center.

It’s too bad that there wasn’t video of the scene to show animal-rights groups or an under-educated public the kind of devotion racetrackers have for the animals in their care.

They don’t all turn out to be champions but all horses are treated with the kind of commitment necessary for their welfare.

And three of the very best of those equine athletes showed up Saturday in the G1 Apple Blossom, producing an instant-classic finish before a photograph of the result could be developed.

The cliché about a race not deserving a loser certainly applied to a race as rich in history and tradition as any championship event for either sex at any racetrack in America.

All Monomoy Girl lost was a photo, one in which Letruska, getting a six-pound spot from the champion, was able to stare her rival down in the final strides.

Irad Ortiz Jr. not only saved a left-handed stick where it would be most effective, but also aware that Monomoy Girl sometimes can display a little hesitation. Competing vigorously and thinking that clearly at once is a sign great athletic talent.

Knowledge of the competition, coupled with talent, heart, and athleticism displayed by both horse and rider, will win a game of inches almost every time, as was the case in Hot Springs this weekend.

Letruska, weight assignments notwithstanding, will finally get her due. She will be a serious divisional player throughout the year.

Our week started with a poor officials’ call. But it ended with uncommon bravery and devotion and all were treated to a horse race for the ages. What was it the artist Meatloaf sang: Two out of three ain’t bad?

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6 Responses

  1. Great post – every word well said. The love these animals are shown – even by trainers and stable hands of other barns – is something we need more of in this county in general.

    That ride on Letruska will be held up as an example of greatness for as long as this game exists. Lost in the stretch heroics will be how badly Albarado got played by Ortiz. As soon as SSD showed speed out of the gate but was not taken to control the pace, Irad trapped her – he had SSD right where he wanted and she was done. And he knew even if SSD did have anything after being discouraged, Monomoy Girl would then be in position to wall her in – which by doing so would require Monomoy to stay close to the inside of the track where Letruska would get to engage face to face.

    If a ride could be considered genius, it would be this one. The day he’s inducted into the hall of fame, this ride will come up. Thought it would be a long time till I saw a ride that approached Rosario’s Belmont Stakes ride aboard Sir Winston, but this one is about as brilliant as they get

    1. Doc, sure the readers may be getting tired of this, but again I agree with every point you made. I too noticed how Irad positioned his filly, just to the outside and just in front of SSD, effectively getting the drop on her, or to counter had Albarado made an aggressive move for command. That never happened which effectively took away SSD’s best weapon.

      I marveled that Irad did not panic when surrounded at headstretch, MG’s momentum enabling her to take a short lead, Irad waiting for the right moment to apply left handed encouragement. He’s ridden Letruska before so he must have gained confidence in the pre-game that she would be there for him when called upon. Great all-time classic horse race.

  2. I agree Irad’s ride was just picture perfect. I watched the replay and did notice that the Jock on MG did not touch his horse with the whip until he realized he was in a fight to the end.

    1. Mark, Florent was also trying to time his move at just the right time and did so. Both did well, the filly ran her race, was just second best–by a nose–on the day… Thanks.

  3. Nice nod to composer, Jim Steinman, who passed on Monday. Meatloaf’s Bat Out Of Hell album was certified platinum 14X and sold 50 million copies worldwide. Steinman wrote the songs for it.

  4. Didn’t realize that C guess, in other lyrics, I’m picking up weird vibrations… Thank you very much for the note on composer Jim Steinman, who gave that legendary album birth. Because of you I was able to edit the column today to reflect a sad reality.
    RIP Mr. Steinman.

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