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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


LAS VEGAS–Shug McGaughey has never been a fan of West Coast racing. This is true even when the Breeders’ Cup is at Santa Anita or Del Mar. His comments after Code of Honor’s dominant score in the Travers indicates he still feels this way.

Asked about his plans for the Noble Mission colt, McGaughey first mentioned the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont on Sept. 28. Then he added, “If I want to wait longer, you’ve got the Discovery at Aqueduct in November or the Cigar Mile.”

As for that other race in November, the one seemingly everyone else in racing points  toward, it’s an afterthought for Shug. “Obviously we know where the Breeders’ Cup is, so we’ll have to keep that in mind, also.”

Does this sound like a man about to make plane reservations?

What’s more, Code of Honor’s owner, William Farish, indicated if Shug doesn’t want to got to California, it’s fine with him.

It would be unfortunate for Code of Honor and racing if Shug maintains this position. The Breeders’ Cup is supposed to settle championships. If there is any division in flux, it is the 3-year-old colt category. Code of Honor is prominent among a herd of candidates. It would be cheating Code of Honor of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to prove his superiority on the track for geographical prejudices.

It’s difficult to conjure a set of circumstances in which Code of Honor, who was held out of the Preakness and Belmont, as well as the Jim Dandy and Haskell, for no good reason other than racing strategy, would be awarded the title after also bypassing the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

This would be absolutely indisputable if one of Code of Honors rivals were to emerge victorious on Nov. 2 at Santa Anita. Shug made it clear after the Travers that he thinks he has the cream of the crop.

I would file a dissenting opinion. He’s among the best but there is still only one 3-year-old with two Grade 1 wins, Maximum Security, and that doesn’t count the Kentucky Derby, which was taken from him. Moreover, Code of Honor has raced Maximum Security twice, in the Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby, and Maximum Security got to the wire first both times. Code of Honor will have only one more chance to turn the tables, at Santa Anita on Nov. 2.

Shug might not be denying only Code of Honor a shot at a title if he doesn’t go west. He trains a juvenile filly, Mrs. Danvers, who ran what I think was the most impressive race by a member of her generation  at the Spa.

She wasn’t a secret. She was a big favorite in her debut on July 19, a rarity for a McGaughey trained horse because he is known for not pushing his young horses. She raced greenly and checked in third. She showed why everyone was so excited about her in her second start on August 18. She tracked the leaders early then exploded when asked for run in the lane.

It’s a long way from a maiden win sprinting at Saratoga to the two-turn Juvenile Fillies at Santa Anita in November but Mrs. Danvers, by Tapit out of an Awesome Again mare, figures to get better as the distances get longer. If she progresses as expected, it will take quite a filly to outrun her.

Mrs. Danvers could force Shug’s hand. Skipping the Breeder’ Cup with one big horse is one thing. Doing it with two is almost unthinkable.

Bad news keeps coming

Speaking of California racing, as of the end of this week, there has yet to be a racing fatality at Del Mar this season. Nevertheless, there still was more bad news over the weekend.

The inevitable occurred when counter-protesters organized by local horsemen confronted PETA members and sympathizers, who want racing abolished, outside Del Mar. When passions run as high on an issue as they are in California, sooner or later they are going to boil over into an ugly scene. They did Saturday.

Tyler Cerin, son of trainer Vladimir Cerin, was allegedly pushed to the ground by an unidentified woman from the anti-racing contingent, according to the San Diego Union Tribune. Police were summoned and the woman reportedly was taken into custody, cited for misdemeanor battery, then released.

The younger Cerin was treated on the scene by paramedics, per the newspaper.

This was probably a lot to do about nothing but it offered warning signs of what could come to be. Racing doesn’t need to be blamed for an Antifa-Proud Boys mess but given the attitude of the media (the Times-Union is a sister paper of the openly anti-racing L.A. Times) the horse community should strive to maintain its composure in the face of slurs by the PETA crowd.

Indeed, the local newspaper quoted Ellen Ericksen, who has been leading the protests, labeling racing’s side as the instigators. “These people, who are there are loud and aggressive.” I’m sure the newspaper didn’t get the irony of that statement.

As colleague Mark Berner wrote in a recent commentary, PETA is a small group with a loud voice. They crave attention because it helps with their fund-raising, which is what it is all about.  Confrontations such as Saturday’s plays into their greedy hands.

It’s difficult for horsemen and fans to ignore their outrageous claims but this is probably the most prudent strategy.

A more constructive way of countering PETA would be a series of ads and billboards pointing out to potential and current PETA donors how many animals the organization kills every year and how it as opposed to the concept of dogs and cats as pets as they are anti-racing. The little old ladies in Pasadena probably have no idea PETA wants to take away Fido and Fluffy.

Hitting PETA in the pocketbook is where it would hurt the most.

In other negative news the 2020 dates for Southern California racing were set and they continue a trend for less racing with the acknowledgement that the horse population might not be able to support the reduced agenda. The California horse population is down 650 from a year ago when Santa Anita had to resort to some three-day weeks and Del Mar scheduled seven-race weekday cards in order to maintain the traditional five-day regimen.

The day the 2020 dates were released, Del Mar was able to put on only a seven-race card. Three of the races had six starters.  Another had five. This has been closer to the norm than the exception. This at the prime meet in Southern California.

Attendance is down in the range of double figures. Is there any wonder? A day at Del Mar is not inexpensive. Who wants to go deep into their pocket for a seven-race card in which more than half the races feature six or fewer starters.

The tentative dates for 2020 acknowledge this. There will be a couple of 13-days hiatuses, in late June prior to Del Mar and in December in advance of the Santa Anita winter meeting. Both should help the major meetings but Del Mar has already announced at least one week next summer will have only four days of racing. Some weeks at Santa Anita will again have three.

This downward trend feeds upon itself. Fewer cards with fewer races means fewer opportunities for horsemen to make money. This is a recipe for further declines in the horse population and is a disincentive for new blood to fill the void.

Then you have the chaotic political situation.

Santa Anita becomes more valuable every day as a site for things other than horse racing while racing becomes less profitable and more of a headache. How much could you blame The Stronach Group if it threw up its hands and took the hundreds of millions it could get from developers?

People never thought Hollywood Park would go away. Dismissing the idea that it could happen at Santa Anita is foolishly naive.

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12 Responses

  1. “A more constructive way of countering PETA would be a series of ads and billboards pointing out to potential and current PETA donors how many animals the organization kills every year and how it as opposed to the concept of dogs and cats as pets as they are anti-racing.”

    No doubt billboards would drive highway safety advocates to join the picket lines at Santa Anita. LOL

    I would think full-page Ads in the L.A. Times, S.F. Chronicle, and the N.Y. Times would have some impact, but not if they also avoid addressing the fact that a tiny minority of individuals are actually guilty of the “abuse,” “neglect,” and/or “risk increase” charges
    that are being made, and offer proof that effective deterrents are being put in place.

  2. “What’s more, Code of Honor’s owner, William Farish, indicated if Shug doesn’t want to got to California, it’s fine with him.” Fine with me as well, speaking only as a “bleacher seats” fan of the sport. I am more interested in following Shug’s game plan towards Code of Honor’s Four Year Old campaign, and the progression and advancement of Mrs. Danvers towards next year campaign as well than I am in winning a Breeders Cup or HOY recognition. Whatever the course Shug sets for his charges, I would never second guess the decisions of such an esteemed horseman as Shug McGaughey.

    PETA is indeed a small group with a loud voice that I simply choose to ignore. The corrective stewardship of addressing today’s governance against of a slew of threatening issues that face the sport must however be promptly be addressed by the honest overseers of racing remaining. As Mark Berner has sounded to battle cry here at HRI, it is indeed Time to Walk the Talk.

  3. I,

    Love that industry stakeholders at Del Mar are taking to what in this game amounts to a proactive measure with the counter-demonstrations scheduled for Saturday.

    Perhaps there should be a national movement where on one day, horse players could show support for Thoroughbred racing with demonstrations outside racing venues in big media markets. It would have to be coordinated.

    Maybe that’s something the industry organizations such as America’s Best Racing could help coordinate, something that goes beyond slogans and feel-good media shorts that is seen only by the already converted.

  4. I’m for anything that counters PETA but we have to be careful about nasty confrontations because it gives them attention, which is what they crave for their fund-raising.

    This said it is heartening to see horsemen uniting for anything that doesn’t involve Lasix.

  5. Why is the horse racing industry running scared of pets ? It makes no sense. Most of their donors have a clue what their actually against. It’s time the horse racing industry make this known. Let the people know how many dogs and cats peta has killed, or they are against eating turkey on Thanksgiving, or eating a hamburger. Stop hiding from this two faced bunch of hypocrites.

  6. JP,
    They’d have to offer free betting vouchers, admission, and seating on a day people would actually want to attend the races.

    1. …don’t forget $.50 hot dogs. Harry M. Stevens Manhattan (red) clam chowder sorely missed. Used to be $1.75 in 1970’s. Long lines (well, kinda long, Alice). Guy who worked the cafeteria at Roosevelt Raceway would tap stainless steel counter with a quarter to remind you to leave a tip. Price gouging at its apex at U.S. Open. Smaller bottle of Evian: $5.50. Wouldn’t $5.00 flat be sufficient, guys? Take a little off the prize money bonanza. Do anything! My $18.00 sandwich at Pat La Frieda was excellent, ‘tho.

  7. To be fair we have to allow for inflation—but not 10,000 percent inflation.
    The end might not be near but it’s not that far off.

    1. Well said. Have a friend in nearby Flushing who refuses to attend because of pricing. I even offer to “treat” but he says no. That’s taking a stand, ha, ha (then again, maybe he just doesn’t care much about tennis).

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