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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


BOYNTON BEACH, FL — In this age of the video replay, thanks in large part to online betting and Advance Deposit Wagering companies, not much goes unnoticed.

Once upon a time, “trip horses” were the exclusive province of wiseguys, professionals and amateurs alike, who were willing to do the work.

One still must do the work–just to survive. And what’s worse, all value has been wiped off the face of the mutuel ticket. In fact, it’s now underlay city.

There is a three-year-old that’s not so much a “trip horse” but more like a prospect. We don’t know if Ajaweed is good enough, or fast enough, but we know the Shadwell colt looks like he can run all day.

So we saddled up, me and Andres Asprilla, HRI’s new intern, and made the 30-minute drive north on Florida’s Turnpike to Palm Meadows, Gulfstream’s satellite training center.

Just wanted to see this boy up close and talk with his trainer, Kiaran McLaughlin. “He looks like the right kind,” the trainer said .

Along with his trusty assistants, brother Neal and sister-in-law Trish, McLaughlin watched a few of his runners trot up and back between barns, led by a groom who clearly looked more taxed by the exertion than the horses were.

I took “the right kind” to mean that Ajaweed would be willing to run up the side of a mountain if asked. “He’s a Curlin,” McLaughlin said of the Remsen Stakes runnerup, “and the best thing about him is his mind.”

With that we decided to see for ourselves.

Andres and I walked over to the backside of Barn 23, third stall in, the first stall from the office occupied by graded stakes-winning Lucullan. McLaughlin has horses next door, too, in Barn 33, but we were on a mission.

I’m no horse psychologist but Ajaweed must have a great mind. The muted whispers of two strange visitors didn’t rattle him. Indeed, to the contrary

He nuzzled up to both of us, seeking some attention the way young boys do, playfully nipping at us as we stroked his forehead. And, in fact, he hammed it up a bit, posing left and right, ears flicking away.

Moments like these are the best part of any turf writers’ day, morning’s on the backside, before the parimutuel blood-letting in the afternoon.

Invading Marylander stole the Grade 2 Remsen in broad daylight for trainer Jeremiah O’Dwyer, Luis Saez engineering the front-running theft masterfully, giving Shotski enough rein to get and remain clear, but always with energy in reserve.

After entering the stretch, Shotski gave them the slip and separated himself from the group. At this point, Ajaweed had just begun to roll. Yes, it was too late, but it was exciting.

In that final quarter-mile, Ajaweed went from no-chance, to holy-shit-can-win-this, to dammit, ran out of time and racetrack.

The winner might have been idling some but that would be to miss the larger point.

“We were watching and we all thought the same thing,” McLaughlin agreed.

Ajaweed has begun his training at Palm Meadows but plans for his three-year-old debut have not been firmed up at this posting.

The colt has a total of five Derby qualifying points and it appears he will be taking the two-prep route. Consequently, there will be little time to waste thereafter.

“The points make it a little tricky and I’m a little worried about Gulfstream with his [late] running style. He may make his first start elsewhere… they’ve got that long stretch at the Fair Grounds.

“We’ll know more after he runs again. This is a pretty deep crop, so we’ll see.”

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17 Responses

  1. In the third paragraph above, you wrote ‘all value has been wiped off the face of the mutuel ticket’; I find this comment in need of further explanation by you, as I find value every day betting claiming races at the local joint. You, I believe, are referring to stake races which I abhor.

    If Thoroughbred racing is going to attract newbies, newcomers to racing must be informed where and how to wager; and that wagering solely on stake races will not be profitable, as clearly demonstrated here at HRI over many years.

    There are hundreds of thoroughbred horse trainers training thousands of thoroughbreds; to promote only a handful of trainers tends to narrow the view that newcomers develop, thus diminishing their opportunities to be profitable gambling on the horses.

    1. Wendell,
      It’s good to have you back. Believe it or not, I worried about you when you disappeared for a while. We are all getting to the age when this can have ominous meaning.

      I don’t expect we will agree any more in the future than we have in the past, but I miss your contrarian opinions when I don’t see them for a while.

      1. I wondered where wmcorrow was also. His preference for mid-Atlantic tracks notwithstanding I too enjoy his take. Casino-dole refrain is correct because the higher purses are what could be called, inflated. But, these same mid-Atlantic tracks are major beneficiaries of this “life blood” and would be shuttered without it, IMO. PARX, gone. MTNR, gone (ok, not anywhere near the ocean), Fingerlakes, GONE (near lakes so that counts, right?), etc. Favorite story is horseplayers on Conrail to Bowie on a dark day in NY. Train stops near track due to blizzard conditions. Horseplayers disembark and hike through the storm to make the early DD.

  2. Alas, horse racing is a game of opinion and, like the country, you have your truth and I have mine.

    As we have seen, many times over the years, this discussion has gotten us nowhere…

    Besides, this was a story about a horse!

  3. Mr. Pricci, I still would like your explanation of ‘all value has been wiped off of the mutuel ticket’ that you wrote above; this comment has me scratching me butt. Just what to heck are you trying to convey to your readers?

  4. Liked your comment, “before the parimutuel blood-letting in the afternoon. With advent of simulcasting this continues late into the evening. Hey, you can play Australia A or B tracks and really get crushed. Hong Kong races start after midnight (The Big M stayed open late for a time just to let you play there, too). A real smorgasbord like the buffet at Circus Circus. Remember waiting in accordion line to get in there once. You had to walk through a maze of slots which was smart because they knew you would “pay” more for the slots than the meal. Thanks for the heads up on Curlin offspring. May go “all-in” on the first Saturday in May. Curlin was a monster.

  5. C, my best advice. If Ajaweed makes it to CD in May, he will be plenty of price. Unless you get a monster price at some future book venue, they don’t pay extra by going “all-in” now. Patience, discretion and the unknown; they haven’t even begun the Derby 50-pointers yet…

  6. Mr. Pricci: There are many ‘capping tools available to the serious ‘capper (of which there are very few here at HRI, Alice). For me analyzing prior races of current entrants (trip ‘capping) is one of three tools I find quite relevant. With the now available data of prior races available on the internet, if one doesn’t use this data then he/she deserves to toss tickets on the floor without a profane outburst. The other two being class edge and jockey up.

    If you were referring to trip handicapping as causing a horse to be over bet, then I conclude that of the winners I have selected over the years, I have been screwed as I should have received a larger payoff. But, I believe that most so-called horseplayers are to lazy to put in the effort to actually come up with the winner of a race; thus I don’t agree with your finding that ‘trip’ horses are over bet.

    BTW, anyone seen a geek lately who via his computer program is making last minute bets that drives down the price on one or two plodders while increasing the price on all other entrants? God bless ’em!

  7. Check Las Vegas where the Computer Electronic Show is concluding now. This highly attended annual event should be boon to the casinos, right? Wrong. Was told that the smart people or geeks who attend know the odds are not great and steer clear of the tables. Slots, not a chance. I can’t even navigate AOL so it’s not me. You forgot to throw in trainer angle. HRI has written about that! What about preference for water or off track? I remember Midnight Lute demolishing his competition at Monmouth in slop for Breeder’s Cup. Bob Baffert trainee looked like he had a jet engine attached! Then again, Bob Baffert horses usually show up on the big days. Unbelievable.

  8. Looking forward to Ajaweed’s possible advancement and progression into early May. Anxious to see how his “Heinz Ketchup Anticipation” running style plays out as the Derby Road’s Fifty Pointers open upon us. Compelled to comment that my past admiration of McLaughlin’s barn has been somewhat diminished of late due to the Trainer’s recent skirmish with the New York State Department Labor. Hopefully the oversight of payroll management was all clerical in nature. I remain inspired by McLaughlin personally however, and admire him for picking himself up and battling back against his MS affliction. My prayers are with him, and I’ll be rooting for his latest Derby prospect as well.

    Anxious to see if Ajaweed might be listed in the next Derby Futures offering early next month. At 40-1 or so, I’ll take a flyer wager. Not much homework required, lol, and it only takes a nudge from Broadway to get me off the couch. In hopes of negating any additional slighting comments directed at those of us who may take a more recreational enjoyment in the sport, I’m sure I open myself to criticism for lack of any great effort expended. I promise I will view a replay of the Remsen before investing. (Oh well, it would get pretty boring if all such comments of the like were allocated to the Editor only.)

    Three attributes to have in plenty once again for the HRI faithful: Sunshine, Wisdom, and Generosity. The last mentioned a flat out hunch lead on Ajaweed? “We’ll see…… Adding a fourth attribute to the old Irish mix by the way. Humility. With a little more of it, we just might discover there really is room for all of us at HRI.

  9. Agree that recreational enjoyment is ok because, after all, this is such a difficult game you may as well enjoy it. Went to a horse player’s home once and asked if I could open his fridge. All that was inside was a pitcher of water. How will we know you actually did watch Remsen replay? Just remember that Dennis’s Moment is waiting in the wings to prove BC disaster was meaningless. Big deal, he stumbled at the start. S–t happens, especially in this game. Love this horse!

  10. McD, this game certainly keeps you humble. The ire re the McLaughlin issue, as what happened with Chad, Todd and the rest, should be directed at the government. This is not about non-payment.

    No worker was cheated or tricked, no one quit or was fired. This is about language. When stable-hands take the job, they know about the responsibilities, the hours etc.

    It’s the government that doesn’t understand what the game is about. No one is being taken advantage of. If so, they would have quit.

    When Kiaran has the time and energy, he is going to counter-sue…

    1. C, After viewing the replay, I agree with John’s take. Unlike the guy in charge in D.C. , I’ll even provide evidence of my action.

      Maybe not as flasy as a come from the clouds Carry Back of year’s ago, but I’ll play if a price in early Feb. Rather see three starts over two, but gotta go with the cards dealt. Always felt Point Given’s two left him short for the Roses. Probably cost Johnn a few bucks as well that day as he also gave out Monarchos and Invisible Ink. Prize Fighter Billy Conn years and years back left a famous quote that has stuck with me forever. After he lost to Lewis in round thirteen, after being ahead on every judge’s card, he was asked why he just didn’t stay away. He replied “What’s the sense in being Irish if you can’t be stupid.” I bet only two $12 straight tri’s in that race, $12 PG over Mon, over Ink, and $12 PG over Ink over Mon. My kid sister even cashed an Ex for over $1,200 and I collected Zip. I don’t believe PG lost another race for the balance of the year.

      John, Great name for the next McLaughlin Runner? Defamation of Character?

      1. Big stride on this one. Another name choice, Falsely Accused. Best Roses story Mine That Bird. Vanned into CD behind pickup truck. No jet from Albuquerque. Calvin Bo Rail comes from China to win it all. McLaughlin charge closed into a :50 half, trotter time. Ajaweed looks good.

  11. C, visited with Dennis’ Moment and Dale Romans this week. Very cool horse. Will be writing about it soon.

  12. JP, Your Mamas and the Papas post (CA Dreaming) went away which led me to worry that I went way off course in complaining about The Great Race Place and their “problem.” I won’t do that again as I understand, and appreciate, that HRI is for lovers of the sport, not haters. Sorry ’bout that, if that indeed is why this posting disappeared from view. Listened to a great segment this morning on Steve Byk about Empire Maker. It can be listened to again tomorrow AM at 6:15 until 7:00. Man who delivered this great horse as a baby said he was a real crowd pleaser. Liked to be led around by his tongue and would stick his tongue out to oblige. Said he and another guy had a 2k to win bet at 100-1 early odds to win Derby. Know he did win Belmont. What a horse! A good listen if up early. Maybe HRI can post a photo of him like you’ve done with Forego. A real looker.

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