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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


Canadian Hall of Famer Mark Casse, a nominee to gain the same status in America’s racing pantheon this August, but not yet old enough to be eligible for Social Security, admitted in Tuesday’s NTRA teleconference that he had given some thought to retirement.  

The 59-year-old Casse will saddle the favorite and a live stablemate in Saturday’s Louisiana Derby and hopes he will have horses good enough to compete in the 146th Kentucky Derby, rescheduled for the first Saturday in November.

When asked why he considered retirement, Casse answered anecdotally: “One of my biggest owners who was considering leaving the game [because of all the cheating] called to ask how his horses were doing. ‘They’ll just get faster and faster’,” he said.

With little else to write about these days, woke mainstream sports media understood the reference, that as a result of a 44-page report brought by the FBI naming 27 racing individuals, Casse, like other horsemen, believe the playing field may be on its way to becoming a level one. He explained:

“I was tired of all the cheating, but a big step was taken the other day when they took out two of the bad guys and there will be more to come, I hope. [That’s why] I started thinking about retiring…

“It’s just so frustrating,” Casse went on. “You work and you work and you work at something I wanted to do all my life, 40 years, and when I see Navarro win and [his horses] do strange things I get a sick feeling in my stomach. I’m about to be 60 and I didn’t want this thing to irritate me…

“Everything I have is because of horse racing and now I want to give back. I wrote a story [about inappropriate uses of legal medication clenbuterol] and I didn’t care if I upset every trainer out there. Look at how many good trainers have gone by the wayside because they decided that integrity is more important than winning at all costs…

“The owner of Los Alamitos did the right thing. He warned horsemen that if they shipped to his track, he was going to pull a hair sample from all of them, and if any tested positive for clenbuterol they couldn’t race at his track…

“Clenbuterol should not exist. It increases bone density. It makes horses bigger, but the horses aren’t [yet] strong enough. And it’s used on young horses for sale. Some tests show that clenbuterol can remain in a horse’s system for six months.”

Elaborating, “it’s not testing that finds the cheaters it’s investigation and common sense. It’s like the saying ‘if it looks too good to be true then it probably is’. You look at this problem using common sense. I blame lots of organizations; they had to know what was going on but didn’t do anything…

“There are so many different rules, it’s frustrating. But things started to change last week and it’s going to get better.”

Things started to change this week, too, earlier today in fact when Churchill Downs announced that the Derby would be run September 5.

And the More Things Change…

Not long after the CDI announcement came the news that the Maryland Jockey Club would in effect be taking a survey as to when it should stage the 145th edition of the Preakness, welcoming input from all stakeholders, including the media.

And on the heels of that pronouncement, the New York Racing Association announced that “NYRA is working closely with all appropriate parties, including media rights holder NBC Sports, to [determine] the timing of the 2020 Belmont Stakes.

“NYRA will deliver an announcement only when that process has concluded to the satisfaction of state and local health departments. The Belmont Stakes is a New York institution with wide-reaching economic impact. We look forward to its 152nd edition in 2020…

“The change wasn’t a surprise given the state of the world. There are things a lot more important than horse racing. It would be terrible if the Derby and the Preakness were run without fans; the fans make those races the big events they are. The Derby in September, that’s OK.”

Before adding that horsemen could prep for the Derby in the Haskell or Travers, believing that NYRA will have to alter its stakes schedule for both Belmont and Saratoga, there was another factor to consider:

Since the Maryland Jockey Club asked for suggestions, here’s one–but an arrangement that would require scheduling to accommodate both the NYRA and Monmouth Park:

There is precedent for the Derby not being run as the Triple Crown’s first leg. Were the Preakness run before the Derby, the 1-3/16 miles would be a good fit for the mile and a quarter Run for the Roses.

It could help both races from a quality perspective, as there is early talk of adding more point races to the Derby qualifying mix because of the four-month delay. It follows that all Preakness horses with qualifying points would run back in the Derby.

There will be plenty of time to figure out all the permutations relating to a rescheduled Kentucky Derby, including a conversation with Breeders’ Cup Ltd., but Casse already knows how he wants to handle that situation: “I want to win them both.”

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7 Responses

  1. Couldn’t agree more on both counts, TP. In a perfect world, the Horseracing Integrity Act gets passed and when Casse finally does retire he’d be a perfect Commissioner if racing is smart enough to adapt one–and with federal oversight, they would have no reason not to.

    Racing would have more clout in Washington if the industry spoke with one voice. That’s why smart racing legislation never has a chance to pass. Casse checks all the right boxes; more than someone who just looks good in a suit…

  2. I don’t like being cynical, but the timing of his retirement does send up a flag. His admitting knowing of the cheaters, and his sick feeling he had felt when thinking of them, doesn’t sit right with me. I think this comes a day late and a dollar short.
    If he would have come out with this revelation much earlier, maybe he could have been a saviout of some sorts. That is asking way too much from a successful fair play trainer who doesn’t want to drain the swamp.

  3. Mark,

    Mark Casse is the only one I know to have said something, blowing the whistle on clenbuterol in an editorial weeks ago. And i’s not the first time he’s try to do the right thing by the game.

    I know him 40 years and I trust his word. Your cynicism is misplaced in my opinion.

    I have no idea what your skepticism is built on and, in fact, don’t know who you are or where you get your information. “Doesn’t want to drain the swamp?” suggests you may be getting your information from FoxNews.

    “Savior of the sport?” How about if the sport tried to save the sport?

    How about until you know something specific to the contrary, thank the man for trying. He can always be pilloried later on if his agenda proves to be dishonest.

    I must say something at the risk of losing your support of HRI. It’s this type of innuendo that makes me question whether I’m wasting my own damn time by trying to do some good…

  4. JP,
    Been a racing fan as long as you have, and I do believe as I stated that Mark Casse is “fair play“ meaning a “clean trainer”. It is just easier, and takes less risk to come out publicly at this time. Yes we are hearing crickets from most trainers and owners as far as I can tell from what I am (not) reading.
    I used “draining the swamp” instead of “getting rid of the cheaters”.
    He and other trainers could have at least tried to do something, but of course it is easier said than done because their livelihoods would have been at risk.

  5. Mark, raceday Lasix is still a thing. Dennis Drazin at Monmouth Park said this week his track supports the Horse Racing Integrity Act but not without Lasix. If that bill gets passed–Congress can’t even work in a non-partisan or non-ideological way to get Covid 19 relief in a timely way no-raceday meds will be a provision.

    New York Thoroughbred Horsemen agreed phase out Lasix this week–good for them! But National HBPA still uses simulcasting rights to put their thumb on medication scale. That power needs tobe taken from them; they can negotiate their best deal but not whether tracks can conduct simulcasting.

    Without simulcasting today, racing would be dead! Small tracks, like small businesses, will disappear before this scourge ends, which is not anytime soon–for those who still get their news only from State TV.

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