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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


Hallandale Beach, FL — Later today here, on what will become the next epicenter in the spread of deadly Covid-19, entries will be taken for Saturday’s 69th running of the Florida Derby.

By now, however, everyone knows about the South Florida Sun-Sentinel report that Hallandale Beach Vice Mayor Sabrina Javellena believes that Gulfstream Park may be in violation of Broward County’s order to shutter all non-essential businesses.

The Vice Mayor said Gulfstream Park threatened legal action, a charge that track officials deny. The County thus far has left it up to the city and its police department whether or not to enforce the order. Javellena considers the decision to race a second-degree misdemeanor.

“The Olympics are being postponed.” she said. “The horses can wait.”

Well, perhaps the race can wait but the horses can’t. With or without racing, the animals need to be tended to and fed. Said trainer Todd Pletcher on the national NTRA teleconference Tuesday:

“It’s critical that horses get out and move around. They are high end athletes primed to race, their bodies are on a clock, set to train on a daily basis. Trainers can adjust their schedules, lighten up training programs but [without exercise] they can encounter colic episodes.”

Bad colic episodes can kill.

Pletcher will saddle two horses, high rated Gouverneur Morris and late developing Candy Tycoon in an attempt to win his sixth Florida Derby.

However, Tuesday’s conference had a strange vibe. Pletcher, Tiz The Law owner Jack Knowlton, and Mike Trombetta, trainer of Independence Hall, spoke with certitude relative to Saturday’s race but were lost as what to do post-race, if indeed the race goes as scheduled.

Obviously, the pandemic was uppermost on everyone’s mind of both the participants and media, the elephant straddling the communications lines. Would, for instance, Pletcher remain in Florida after Saturday?

“” he said without equivocation. “Until we have an idea what schedules will look like, we’ll stay here as long as possible.” The majority of Pletcher’s Florida string are stabled at the Palm Beach Downs training center, about 50 miles north of Hallandale, the rest reside on the Gulfstream backstretch.

“We’re adjusting,” said Knowlton who manages the syndicate that owns Florida Derby favorite Tiz the Law, hoping that colt can earn his group a second Kentucky Derby victory. Sackatoga Stable campaigned 2003 Derby winner, Funny Cide.

“We’re hunkered down in Hallandale Beach, it’s very nice, the weather’s beautiful but it’s been an adjustment without racing or an ability to see my horse train. But what’s going on in our home state [New York], that’s trivial given the state of the world.” Knowlton will watch his horse on television.

“Too far out to say what you’re going to do,” Pletcher said earlier. “As long as racing is safe, appropriate measures taken, have staff avoid close contact with each other, racing would be critical to the health of the industry. But there are much larger things going on in the world than horse racing.”

Knowlton was born in Sacket’s Harbor, a small town near Saratoga, and also would love to run his horse in the Travers. “Todd talked about that earlier. NYRA would have to change the schedule. You can’t run the Travers a week before the Kentucky Derby.

“We don’t think anybody has plans but don’t think anyone wants to think about that eventuality [canceling the Saratoga race meet]. It’s a very scary situation. Gov Cuomo is doing a great job. We’re very hopeful but there’s no guarantee at this point.”

When the subject of racing without fans on Saturday was broached with Trombetta, whose Independence Hall is highly strung, the trainer admitted that could be a blessing: “We’re hoping the quiet helps him.” And his recent defeat in Tampa Bay’s Sam F. Davis?

“I thought he ran well. He was a little excited before the race, it was his first start around two turns and he threw a shoe in the race. He’ll run well on Saturday but it’s going to be a very tough race.”

But the Florida Derby is in a race, too: Three days and counting.

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2 Responses

  1. JP–
    As a proud Upstate New Yorker, I would note that Sackets Harbor is indeed a small town, but not particularly close to Saratoga. Sackets Harbor is located on the shores of Lake Ontario and about a 3.5 hour drive from Saratoga Springs–about as close to Saratoga as Boston is to NYC….

    Why am I reminded of that classic New Yorker cover that displayed a Manhattan-centric map of the world?

    Chuck from Saratoga.

  2. Thanks for sharing Chuck, I didn’t consult a posting. I was just following the lead Jack set during the Funny Cide years unless, of course, that was just the ‘fake news’ of the day…

    If you wouldn’t mind, and should you get a chance, could you share with the HRI Faithful what’s going on in my once home town these days?

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