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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, January 24, 2021 —  Midway through the Pegasus World Cup program, on the huge infield matrix board, flowed several pages that read:

“SAFETY FIRST: Face Masks Mandatory; Wash Your Hands; Social Distance, Use Hand Sanitizers.” This was followed by an in-house video with Todd Pletcher talking about his three Pegasus Turf entrants.

Gulfstream’s leading trainer talked about how it was great to have two major races early in the year, events that were “must see” for fans. Given crowd size, noting costs that ranged for $100 to $1,000 depending on package purchased, 1,500 fans agreed.

To the septuagenarians among us, the crowd skewed much younger, moderately affluent, many sporting their Florida Derby finery, especially the women in attendance.

Security was tight, as it has been at all South Florida sports venues according to colleagues who had covered events at Marlins Park and Hard Rock Stadium. They too stressed safety and employed a full complement of recommended safety measures.

We had to pass through three checkpoints, showing our bar-coded invitations and Media credentials, and noted socially distanced makeshift seating on the apron, four in each cordoned area, seats in each corner, the chained areas at least six feet from one another.

Small temporary stands were erected behind those sectioned areas lined up hard by the outside fence. Horsemen have their own areas; the third-floor Flamingo Room was full, tables spaced appropriately, and all private suites were well populated but limited to allow distancing.

This was my third visit to the Championship Meet, the first with fans in the building. I never realized until yesterday as I peered out over the crowd from a balcony in Press Suite 20 that once again, I would experience racing as it meant to be: Energized.

One hears horsemen talk about missing the fans on TV all the time, but you can’t understand what that means until you feel the people in the building.  It was reminiscent of my early at a “new Big A” after it was reopened in 1959.

While it was indeed exciting to be back at the races on a momentous day, there were constant reminders of the stark realities of life in 2021, an unwelcome “new normal.”

Animal activists carried signs outside the gates on Federal Highway. “Raced To Death,” read one; “Sport of Killers,” read another.

We guesstimated 10 to 15 demonstrators standing across from one another at the two-way entrance as the occupants of a Hallandale Beach police cruiser kept watch. All was peaceful.

After walking through a second checkpoint, we passed the large Tiki Bar area on the northside of the building. We walked in to see maybe 20% of the attendees were unmasked and huddled closer than six feet. We shook our head, mumbled in disgust, and walked away.

I took a paddock-lined seat for the sixth race, on paper and in media releases one of the more hyped and loaded maiden groups we could ever recall. The horses entered the ring.

Pletcher’s million-dollar Shadwell baby, Ghazaaly, was icy on the board at 8-1. Chad Brown’s newcomer, Stage Raider, by the sire of American Pharaoh, from the dam that produced Justify—you know, two Triple Crown winners–was quoted on the tote at a sleepy 3-1.

As three-year-olds going seven furlongs, both shunned Lasix even though newly turned sophomores can use the diuretic after racing without it as juveniles last year. The guess is they are both awaiting longer two-turn tests for which both are bred.

Then neither was Prevalence on Lasix, he a Godolphin homebred by Medaglia d’Oro from Enrichment, a Ghostzapper mare that has produced two stakes winners from three winning offspring.

If yesterday was prologue, Enrichment will be 3-for-4 with stakes winners by season’s end. Prevalence was devastating in a performance that must be to be appreciated. The highly touted Brown and Pletcher trainees finished second and third, respectively.

Despite pressure on the backstretch and turn, Tyler Gaffalione, high in the saddle leaving the five-sixteenths pole, eased his colt in the final eighth of a mile. No runoff-speed type, he came back to Gaffalione soon after the finish, a strong gallop-out superfluous at that point.

The Pletcher interview turned out to be prescient as Colonel Liam and Largent finished one-two in excellent Pegasus Turf performances. Largent was not giving an inch. Colonel Liam showed his class by coming from mid-pack over a dry, speed-biased course.

We left the Press Suite to catch a glimpse of the Pegasus field in the walking ring, viewed from the terrace outside the Flamingo Room before proceeding down to the apron to watch the race with the live crowd.

As was widely reported, Pegasus World Cup favorite Knicks Go never had raced a mile and an eighth. A bit under-reported was the fact that his BC Dirt Mile win was around two turns, which was not insignificant.

Going… going…gone! Gulfstream Photo

If you’ve been to Gulfstream for a minute, you know that if you’re on the best and the fastest horse, your job becomes that much easier. Knicks Go proved to the best horse by far.

While perhaps not as dominating as the Brendan Walsh-trained maiden, Knicks Go’s victory was totally comprehensive. He responded to Joel Rosario’s urging while under a loose rein throughout, Rosario urging him on him only after straightening away.

Under a vigorous hand ride, Knicks Go separated himself from the group then was taken in hand inside the final sixteenth.

Knicks Go clocked his final furlong in 13.07 seconds, stopping the timer in 1:47.89, following a pressured opening gambit in 46.16. He appears ready for bigger game and longer distances; the good news being that his five-year-old season will continue.

The fifth Pegasus World Cup Invitational was renewed without a marquee attraction but emerged with one and, as we repeat so often, good racing is good box office.

Including all horizontal pools, the Pegasus was part of $9,589,661 worth of handled that totaled $40.7 million on a 12-race card but with the vastly reduced Pegasus crowd: 1,500 spectators, horsemen notwithstanding.

Sadly, reality set in again as we left the building. Walking to my car I passed through the final checkpoint area. The younger party people, libations in hand, were huddling in couples and small groups all over the apron.

Uncomfortably, we dodged and weaved our way through about hundred fans on the way out. Not only was the party crowd not socially distanced, but we also saw only two couples with face coverings. But that happens when good health measures become politicized.

I’ll miss the fans next Saturday when I return for the Holy Bull. I can bear witness to the fact that the track’s lockdown procedures work. But it’s dispiriting when selfish, willful ignorance compromises those efforts.

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7 Responses

  1. Glad you enjoyed that live. It bothers me as well when people mess with everyone else’s hard work by not giving a damn. And that includes the idiots “wearing” a mask as a chin strap, or covering only their mouth and not their nose.

    I thought the racing was really great yesterday, and Colonel Liam’s win was the one I will most remember. Irad rode such a good race and the horse showed grit and class. Walsh’s firster was awesome too. I pray that I’ll be able to see races live at Belmont this spring, but only if we have more of a handle on the pandemic by then. Having adults in the white house now who aren’t allergic to work is a good start, but still a long way to go.

  2. Sadly, Doc, you’re right on all counts and I’m afraid not even the adults can make up for complete dereliction of health duties by previous (b)administration. Hope the whole country can catch up to vaccine shortage quickly but that doesn’t look likely at this point.
    Yes, great races yesterday, the Colonel was great and that three-year-old could be special. There are many impressive debut winners–Kelly Breen debuted a filly today that ran just as fast and almost as impressively–but that colt, to flash that kind of speed and turn off so quickly after the finish.
    Talent is great; talent and class much better…

  3. JP–
    Well it seems quite a bit of water has flowed over the dam since I saw you and Toni at last year’s Pegasus–but I am so happy you were able to be there in person to enjoy the 2021 edition!
    It was wonderful to read your first hand account of that memorable day of racing–and what remarkable performances you saw by veterans Knicks Go and Colonel Liam –as well as the impressive debut of Prevalence. I was able to enjoy the day vicariously through your report, and hope that I will be able to share the enjoyment of live racing with you soon–either at Gulfstream or Saratoga!
    PS It was a balmy 4 degrees up here this morning!
    Chuck from Saratoga

  4. Glad you enjoyed the vicarious journey and you were missed. Perhaps they might open up again for Florida Derby but the way this virus is mutating, who knows what the future would bring.

    Saratoga would be nice, but probably would still be a bit to soon to think “normally.” We shall see,

    And, yes, some great racing on Saturday and pretty formful stakes results, too. Such a hard game it does a soul good when it makes sense every once in a while. Take good care and say hello for me. Here’s hoping…

  5. JP,
    Thanks for sharing your Pegasus experience with us.

    Inquiring minds want to know who else made up the “we?” LOL

    The “wisdom” of keeping the race at 9f to attract “milers” paid off again as the second consecutive renewal was won by the BC Dirt Mile winner, but the 2020 winner left the 2019 BC Classic winner in his wake while the 2021 winner will have to hunt down the 2021 BC Classic winner in Saudi Arabia. “Mr. Authentic, I presume?”

    It will be interesting to see how many divisional graded stakes winners are left to contest Saturday’s G2 San Pascal at Santa Anita.

  6. JP,
    Thanks for the correction.

    Imagine a resume that included the KY Derby, BC Classic, Saudi Cup, and Dubai World Cup. I hope Authentic’s retirement wasn’t injury related.

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