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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


It’s the first Saturday in May and there is no Kentucky Derby. This is not a racing world I want to live in.

The Arkansas Derby–AKA “Beat the Bafferts”–is an OK consolation. Charlatan and Nadal would probably be no worse than the second and third choices if Saturday was the Derby Day we all look forward to for months. But there will be no roses, no fancy hats, no “My Old Kentucky Home” (does the Arkansas Derby even have a song?) in Hot Springs.

This is not a racing world I want to live in.

What is not an OK consolation is the contrived battle of the Triple Crown winners, a computer simulated showdown of Triple Crown winners on NBC Saturday afternoon. This is as dumb as comparing the ’27 Yankees to the Big Red Machine. Different era, different conditions.

What is it they say, “Garbage in, garbage out.” The sad reality is people who know nothing about racing but are starving for any kind of sports on TV might take it seriously.

This is not a racing world in which I want to live.

Equally depressing, it is becoming increasingly likely that there will be no Saratoga this summer. There might be racing in the Adirondacks. NYRA is hellbent on making it happen. But only “essential” personnel, which ” does not include fans, owners and the media will be welcome.

Saratoga isn’t just a place, a series of races. It is a state of mind, racing’s Brigadoon. The most essential personnel at Saratoga are the fans in the backyard and along the rail; the owners in their boxes flaunting their good fortune at having a horse talented enough to compete at the Spa and the visitors and racing people packing nearby bars and restaurants post-racing to relive the day and embellish old horse and drinking tales?

I think it was Joe Hirsch who said, “It’s not the [then] 24 days at Saratoga, it’s the 24 nights.”

Without any of this, Saratoga is just another signal on a bank of TV screens in far-flung locations. This is not a racing world in which I want to live.

There apparently will be a Travers, although nobody at NYRA can figure out when it should be. It is the ultimate insult to classify the Travers as a mere prep for a rescheduled Kentucky Derby, which is not guaranteed to come off on Sept. 5.

If Kentucky governor Andy Beshear really has it in for Churchill Downs, he’ll maintain his edict that racing can resume in the Commonwealth but without spectators. This would take about 50 percent off the 2020 CDI bottom line, the only thing that matters to CDI. 

You have to wonder if the Run for the Roses would come off under these circumstances. Churchill wants Millionaires Row and reserved seats that run into thousands of dollars filled, and the infield packed shoulder to shoulder, social distancing be damned. 

I could see Churchill rescheduling again in the hope that the ban on spectators will be eventually lifted. Churchill does have a late fall meeting that extends past Thanksgiving Day. (If a substantial portion of the restrictions are still in place or reinstituted going into the Christmas shopping season, it’s over for America.) 

Meanwhile, the Maryland Jockey Club and NYRA are in a dither about what to do with the Preakness and Belmont Stakes, not that Churchill cares. So the year without March Madness or Keeneland in the spring, a year that figures to have contrived NBA and NHL playoffs, a Masters in November and who knows what kind of a baseball season might also be a year without a Triple Crown.

This is not a racing world in which I want to live.

If you are beginning to sense a theme, the current racing world is not one in which I want to live. So I will be taking an indefinite break from HRI.

Meaningful racing is going on hiatus after the Arkansas Derby anyway. The openings of Belmont, Churchill, Laurel and Monmouth have become movable feasts. There are target dates but these are no sure things.

The conditions under which Santa Anita might be able to operate seem to be strongly influenced by racing-hating activists. It could start then suddenly be stopped. When Baffert talks about leaving the state, you know the situation is dire.

So there won’t be much important sport to write about for who knows how long. JP can capably handle what’s left without me. One thing I’ve labored mightily to do through hundreds of HRI columns has been never to be superfluous.

I’ll still be around. You’re liable to see my name in the comments section on a regular basis. Maybe when racing returns to as close to the old normal as it ever will, there will be a racing world I’ll be anxious to live in again.

JP has promised that whenever that is, there will be a place for me at HRI. In the meantime, stay safe and stay healthy.

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⚠ Before you comment

Our staff likes nothing better than to engage with the HRI Faithful and provide a forum for interaction on horseracing and sports. In that spirit, please be kind and reasonable; keep the language clean, and the tone civil. Comments from those who cannot comply will be deleted. Thank you.

30 Responses

  1. This should not be, and very likely will not be, a happy day for the HRI Faithful. It certainly isn’t for the executive editor.

    I will share my thoughts on this relationship more seriously at a later date. I knew it was coming, but seeing it in print…

  2. Your “voice” will be missed by me. I alternate between you and JP as “1st Call” when I go to HRI. Enjoy both commentaries. Looking forward to John’s thoughts as promised above in addition to your eventual return.

  3. If I had other interests I could pursue recreationally with what remains of those close to me, I’d probably also leave what’s left of racing to those that have run it into the ground and have no plans for meaningful reform upon its resumption.

    Stay safe, TJ. I’ll miss your entertaining enlightenment.

  4. Sorry for your decision to take a leave. I always enjoyed your perspective on Racing. Refresh and hopefully you will return with even more enthusiasm.

  5. Wish you would continue with your commentary, as you are IMO the ‘King of the One-liners’. If you were a serious gambler, as I am, you would not have confined your interest in Thoroughbred racing, and commenting thereon, to a handful of racetracks, jockeys, and trainers.
    Whether Thoroughbred racing continues within the United States will not affect me, as I, using the My Winners. com ADW platform, find wagering on racing in Australia, Hong Kong, and UK in abundance; and, no worry about drug usage and being enticed with the numerous exotic bets U.S. racetracks throw at their patrons.

  6. I could sense Dire Straits playing in the background when I started reading of your exit TJ. It will be a much tougher and isolated road ahead for John without your contributions, regardless of the obvious political friction you both shared of late. Down deep in your hearts, a sense of love and respect was evident between you both, despite all of your disparate political views.

    I would raise a pint of your your way in appreciation of your columns, but it is only 9:53 AM. I’ll bend an elbow your way later in the day however. Please don’t take offense here, but I downshifted to the “NA” beer to better control my rage during the current political world in which we are all so now divided. With both family and friends divided, MSNBC vs FOX is also not the world I want to live in for sure. I simply want a world where the focus is compromise within all for the betterment of America. I suspect your sentiments towards the thoroughbred world are much the same, as you always voiced the appeal for the betterment of racing in America.

    In closing, I play a Dire Straits’ lyric capturing my emotions for you and John both on this very somber morning. Stay Safe, Six Feet and Well TJ. I’ll look forward to seeing you again in the bleacher seats of the comments section.

    “These mist covered mountains
    Are a home now for me
    But my home is the lowlands
    And always will be
    Someday you’ll return to
    Your valleys and your farms
    And you’ll no longer burn to be
    Brothers in arms”

  7. Just put the recording on and decided to include the entire lyrics.

    Brothers in Arms
    Dire Straits
    These mist covered mountains
    Are a home now for me
    But my home is the lowlands
    And always will be
    Someday you’ll return to
    Your valleys and your farms
    And you’ll no longer burn to be
    Brothers in arms
    Through these fields of destruction
    Baptisms of fire
    I’ve witnessed your suffering
    As the battle raged high
    And though they did hurt me so bad
    In the fear and alarm
    You did not desert me
    My brothers in arms
    There’s so many different worlds
    So many different suns
    And we have just one world
    But we live in different ones
    Now the sun’s gone to hell and
    The moon’s riding high
    Let me bid you farewell
    Every man has to die
    But it’s written in the starlight
    And every line in your palm
    We’re fools to make war
    On our brothers in arms

  8. TJ–
    Your paragraph about Saratoga being a place of mind–racing’s Brigadoon–is one of the most beautiful and moving pieces of prose that I have read in my lifetime. You captured the spirit of Saratoga so beautifully……so please make your well earned sabbatical from HRI a short one, and in the meantime recharge your batteries, stay healthy and enjoy your precious time on earth!
    Best Wishes!
    Chuck from Saratoga

  9. Tom, thank you for your many outstanding contributions here at HRI. I never missed reading one of your wonderful columns. Now I will sorely “miss” reading every one of them. I do hope that you return soon.

    What’s wrong with this world is that there are too many “stinkers” – people that just love to complain – and not enough “thinkers” – ones who can offer constructive ideas, rather than destructive comments. I’ll put on my “thinkers” cap and share a potentially revolutionary thought with everyone this morning.

    I commented earlier this week on John’s “Covid” story about a plan to restart NYRA’s operations. Remain downstate this Summer. Start at Belmont, move to Aqueduct for the traditional Saratoga 40 day meet and then run 24 live days at Saratoga starting on September 4. But wait . . . there’s more !!!

    How about opening Saratoga for simulcasting in July and August while NYRA is running live on Long Island and/or Queens? Saratoga simulcasting days would probably not attract huge crowds but could bring in enough fine folks to help the local Community to adjust in a pandemic-easing time. Some out-of-towners and other curiosity seekers would visit Saratoga Springs. Think of Saratoga Race Course as an incredible, historic County Park this Summer – one with horse race betting options attached to it. Hotels, restaurants, Broadway shops and the entire area would be the beneficiaries. We’ve already had to cancel / postpone enough events because of this pandemic. Who wants to start a new one?

    I would certainly make the 200 mile trip from Central New Jersey up the Thruway and Northway to enjoy the sights and sounds of NYRA simulcasting at The Old Spa this Summer. Bring your lawn chairs, coolers, Daily Racing Forms and masks, but please agree to keep social separation. Let’s meet at The Big Red Spring, Hattie’s Chicken Stand, the former Carousel area, Shake Shack, the Finish Line Bar, the Clubhouse Porch or my personal favorite, the Saranac beer stand, Upper Level of the Grandstand, near the top of the stretch, with our friend, Dominick, pouring the brews . . .

  10. To each of you,
    Your kind words moved me almost to tears. I asked myself, what did I do?

    Once I was able to get my emotions under control, I thought things through. With racing in a hiatus for at least the next two weeks, with only the two Florida tracks in operation, I didn’t know what I would write about for the next month or so.

    JP covered Saturday’s Arkansas Derby thoroughly and with insight. I don’t know that I would have had anything else to say. I knew that would happen. He’s a real pro. But you all know that.

    Beyond that, I feel like many trainers. What do I do now?

    The Saratoga situation really has me bummed and was essentially the final straw. Racing at the Spa without fans is not Saratoga. I don’t know why NYRA would go through all the expense and inconvenience to its people to make the pointless trip north.

    JP is right. Stay downstate this summer. I don’t know about September. John’s a former resident of the Spa, so he’s more tolerant of the quick temperature drops. I remember many nights in late August when we would joke that it’s time to burn the furniture.

    Again, to all of you who commented, thank you, thank you, thank you.

    I won’t say goodbye, merely so long.

  11. Take care Tom.
    Hope to read you again some day and hope to see you at the Spa one of these years.
    God willing.


  12. Kind of like having the Circus perform with no audience, the money will dry up. I have been involved with, and betting horses for 55 years. After the Drugging scandal, I took a step back, and haven’t made a bet since. The Virus is keeping that in the shadows for now. I am still pissed off that it went on for so long, and they stumbled on to it by accident like a blind squirrel finds a nut. Then acted like they captured Bonnie and Clyde through smart detective work. I guess it’s all cleaned up now, ha. Who gets screwed in the end? Bettors and no one cares, until the next scandal. This fake triple crown will fly with the fake news, only Baffert could win a triple crown with a horse that shouldn’t have been allowed to run.

  13. I was with you until the very end.
    As I wrote when it first came up, even if Justify’s positive resulted in a DQ, his owners would have appealed. (As it turned out, they would have won.) This would have allowed the Santa Anita Derby result to stand until after the appeal was heard. This would have been well after the Kentucky Derby, so he would have been eligible with the points earned at Santa Anita.
    As you also might know, I hate appeals. So I’m not making a case either way, just stating what the reality would have been.

    1. Thanks for the reply, what’s your opinion on how this will play out for racing in whole? I think the game is in a Huge decline, for me to be pissed after all these years. I played at the dog track in Fort Myers for the last 15 years, the only time you see anyone under 40 they are heading to the card room. Truth be told I’m heading there too. I’ll leave you guys to deal with the Super Chemist Trainers.

  14. The longer this racing without fans goes on, the more long-lasting damage is being done. Where is the next generation of fans coming from? As you pointed out, not from simulcast sites and certainly not from ADW accounts.
    Millennials want instant gratification. They don’t want to have to open accounts then wait to collect when they win.
    Racing is in a fools paradise. They think the big handles for even off the wall tracks like Fonner Park is indicative of widespread interest.
    Nonsense! Once the other sports come back, with legal betting in a growing number of states, that handle will drop like a rock.

  15. The threat posed by the pandemic is not going away just because some segment of the horseplaying public can’t or won’t accept the reality that live racing WITHOUT spectators is a temporary, but necessary course of action.

    We don’t know the total number of virus contractions and percentage of deaths among racing participants so far, but one extremely likely way to decrease racing’s customer base would appear to be running live racing with spectators PRIOR to vastly lower numbers for new cases and total death rate AND the availability of tools proven to effectively contain and prevent the disease.

    Yes, Saratoga Springs could become another Las Vegas. Nobody wants that, but the economic impact of COVID-19 has already affected communities elsewhere to a far greater extent. Starvation among plenty due to lack of planning and mobilization promises to further complicate our survival.

    I would argue that the reason millennials aren’t embracing racing on-line to the extent they might is not because they are unwilling to open accounts, but because the game is not a fair one; rather it is more often viewed by them as a sucker’s bet.

    Restore integrity and a level playing field before the fans hit the stands, and racing will reach new heights when the fans return on-track.

    On-line action across multiple tracks can easily accommodate the shorter attention span of today’s youth with a few well-conceived improvements.
    For example:
    1) Enable account holder to easily access a list of their actual or intended plays in post time sequence as well as by race within track.
    2) Make post-dragging a non-issue by having ADWs alert their customers that the gate is about to be loaded for any race at any track the account-holder has already bet or identified in advance.
    a. Provide a hot-button to switch video to that track/race and return to the previously active one upon request.
    3) Make will-pays available independently by hot-button for display as an overlay or on a second monitor, rather than waste screen real estate as permanent fixtures always compressing or blocking a view of the horses.
    a. Provide projected will-pay approximations for TRIs and SPRs with selected entries.

    An individual disposed to become a horseplayer can be successfully recruited at almost any age; If not one year at Saratoga, then perhaps the next, or the one after that–provided they’re still around, of course.

    1. I like your train of thought , but trying to get racetracks to co-operate is wishful thinking.

  16. Well Tom its the usual suspects again, Baffert with the lidocaine, oh no not Bob, no wonder they gave him Maximum Security, not only is he a chemist, but also a politician, and more than likely a Lib. So again he will be forgiven. If it comes back that he’s guilty will the owner of Max move him again, maybe to another Super Trainer? He had more horse’s die than Jerry H, but that was all forgiven because of oh no not Bob. I have not made a bet since the Navarro, Servis scandal, and this just pushes me farther away.
    Racing is Pathetic.

  17. If the Charlatan positive sticks, it will be worse for racing than the Servis-Navarro scandal.

    Most people do not know those cheaters but Baffert is a national mainstream personality.

    Reportedly, the drug is Lidocaine, a pain number which is not a performance enhancer unless it is used on a crippled horse who didn’t belong on a racetrack. Baffert wouldn’t risk a valuable animal like Charlatan, who already has a mega-money stud deal. But the general public sees the word positive and assumes Baffert is hopping horses.

    With a minimum of other sports news, this could blow up big.

  18. I think those among the general public that follow racing now understand the difference in severity and intent between a positive for a known “therapeutic” drug whose presence can be tested for, and the use of an undetectable performance enhancer that requires an FBI wiretap to discern.

    Some of them probably still suspect that the seven sudden deaths in Baffert’s barn that were never satisfactorily explained may have somehow been associated with the latter.

    Those who don’t already understand will likely be educated should related ballot measures materialize.

    Have all the legal issues in Justify’s non-DQ for a drug positive in the Santa Anita Derby been resolved yet?

  19. In reverse order, the Justify case is closed. The CHRB decided that the positive was caused by something in the feed. No penalty was assessed.

    Other than you, me and JP, there aren’t a handful of people, especially among the general public, who remember the seven deaths in the Baffert barn. It’s as dead as OJ’s hunt for the real killer of Nicole.

    I disagree on therapeutic vs. performance enhancer. To casual fans they are all drugging horses.

    1. In a different year, I might concur that not as many casual players would make that distinction, but with all the negativity starting in 2019, people are much more informed in 2020.

      We’ll just have to agree to disagree on this one.

    2. In a different year, I might concur that not as many casual players would make that distinction, but with all the negativity regarding racing starting in 2019, people are much more informed in 2020.

      We’ll just have to agree to disagree on this one. LOL

  20. Would love to tell you a story, and a real one about Dave Vance, and Dan Lassiter, when they were setting the racing scene on fire, but not on here.

    1. Well Tom, accidental Baffert strikes again. I haven’t made a bet since the Navarro, Service scandal, and I hear through the grapevine another is on the way from gulfstream, unless they sweep it under the track, ha. Baffert should get a lifetime ban for the stupid story they came up with.

  21. TTT

    After reading the first couple of paragraphs, starting searching for the suicide hotline number. It is Sunday, September 6, 2020, and 2 more days of Saratoga remain. It was bizarre to say the least. Was happy that Tiz the Law lost, so there is no chance of disputes over the Triple Crown due to the changes. The leftists stole my summer and my Saratoga, but they will never steal my soul.

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