February 24, 2020–I sincerely hope that the defending dual champion filly, Covfefe, whose retirement was announced early Monday, is in fine health and was not forced into retirement by injury.
Absent that, however, I think the retirement of this brilliant, charismatic champion filly effectively at the conclusion of her three-year-old campaign is disgusting and a huge disservice to the game.
Heretofore I will begin referring to Thoroughbred racing as a game, or the Thoroughbred business, but never a sport. I acknowledge that while this has been the case for some time, this development has taken lowering of the bar to a new level.
It’s not the same thing at all, but to me it’s akin to something we tweeted this week; that while the death of “favorite horses” is always sad, the passing of A. P. Indy at 31 hurt more than most. He was transcendent.
This juxtaposition for us–when measured against the decision to retire Covfefe so that she could be bred to the very hot Constitution this minute–allows me to think why invest passion?
Why fall in love with an equine hero(ine) whose storyline is only going to be ripped from some future headline? In a blink, Covfefe’s gone from the racing scene.
Meanwhile, Midnight Bisou is running against males in the desert on Saturday. Thank you Jeff Bloom et al.
CHRB Gets Something Right
We enthusiastically applaud two measures that recently met with approval from the California Horse Racing Board–whatever the future might hold for stat of racing in California.
Before we can do that, however, we must again acknowledge The Stronach Group for having the guts to clean up racing’s act in the Golden State just to survive the political atmosphere that envelops racing there.
It is hoped that in the long term their improved security and safety measures will allow the Thoroughbred business to survive as a competitive diversion, courtesy of the competition that arises among God’s most beautiful creatures. To wit:
The CHRB has decided it should limit the use of extracorporeal shock wave therapy [ESWT] on racehorses. The procedure may still be used but the treated animal cannot train or race for at least a period of 30 days.
Further, the treatment can be administered only in clearly designated areas and must be carefully documented by practitioners. The rule also applies to horses shipping into CHRB-regulated venues.
There was no language that included a video provision, which would lend context, substance and proof, delivered transparently. The same guidelines also apply to the use of bisphosphonates both within CHRB mandate and to horses treated with ESWT treatment outside California.
In another move that will help eliminate some of the hypocrisy, a 45-day public notice to discuss an amendment prohibiting “program trainers”– essentially an assistant trainer allowed to enter and race horses routinely while the sanctioned barn continues operating without skipping a beat.
On balance, most horseplayers would agree that this is a good thing.
Bye Bye Bast Hello Game Winner
Sad that the Oaks will lose a serious filly such as Bast come the first Friday in May. She was good, then very good, then disappointing then, wow, she’s back and might be a whole new horse.
Now will never know because she has been retired with a soft tissue injury with no deeper explanation. I say that because when I hear soft-tissue, I think synthetic surfaces. Good thing Santa Anita doesn’t have one of those right now, right?
But Game Winner is back and is one of my favorites; picked him to win just about everything at 3 including the Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic, two terrific “winning” efforts that resulted in defeat.
Maybe my expectations were too high, or maybe he’s a bit of an underachiever? I truly don’t know. That’s why I’m anxious to see him as an older horse. In theory, if there was any more maturing left to do, this can be his year if his talent, strength and promise is totally realized. Fun to conjure.
Bob Baffert, who trains both, said that Game Winner was in catch-up mode as a three-year-old, but expects to “have a big summer with him.” Hope that means the Whitney and then comes fall. Horse of the Year potential? Why Not?
Fasig-Tipton and Keeneland Also Get Something Right
In an effort that should be expanded to all industry alphabet organizations that can afford it, or can figure a creative way to raise funding, providing a means of paying for retirement of racehorses at birth is an idea whose time has come.
In this instance, sales companies would charge buyers .05% tax on all purchases, the funding to go to the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance.
This is about the retiring rehoming and retraining if the racehorse. The participation is voluntary. As long as those are the conditions and in the name of transparency, we don’t suppose the sales companies will make a list of voluntary contributors public.
Think of it in terms of a political contribution, or racing’s equivalence of a wealth tax; everyone pays a fair share. Hell, call it socialism if it makes you feel better. But be like Mike—or whoever the candidate is—and just get it done. It’s not the end of a problem, but it might signal the beginning of the end…
In a prepared statement, TAA President John Philips said, “All industry participants have a shared responsibility for the animals that are the foundation of our sport, and these newest procedures ensure consistent and reliable funding for an industry initiative that is of the utmost importance.
“Industry participants must understand that aftercare is not an option. Aftercare is our inarguable responsibility to the horse and our obligation to the sport.
Passing of a Legend
I have recounted the story often here about my first day at a Thoroughbred racetrack: Memorial Day, Aqueduct Racetrack, 1961, the Metropolitan Handicap.
From an impossible five lengths behind at the sixteenth pole, Kelso, carrying 136 pounds and Eddie Arcaro, ran down the speedy All Hands, weighted at 117, to win by a nose; imposts assigned by Aqueduct’s racing secretary.
That’s what handicap racing was about and still should be, bringing horses of disparate talent together at the finish line. Those who could spot lesser rivals significant weight and beat them underscored their measure of greatness.
Of course, no one cares about that defining true greatness anymore; witness Covfefe’s retirement. More than ever, it’s about filling races and making babies, assigning various weights under allowance conditions. It’s OK, mind you, just farther away from delineating greatness.
Weights are assigned by the track’s racing secretary and handicapping official. Thomas E. (Tommy) Trotter was one of them. Like mentor John Blanks Campbell of Maryland, and Frank E. (Jimmy) Kilroe, who preceded him at Aqueduct, belonged in their company, men among racing men.
It’s become a cliché when racetrackers talk about the recently deceased, they invariably invoke he or she was “an even better person.”
In 1960, Kilroe took his talents for Southern California. A year later Trotter assigned Kelso’s weighty Met impost. Kelso’s reward for winning the Met was 133 pounds for the Suburban. Following that win, 136 for the Brooklyn and New York’s equally legendary Handicap Triple Crown was complete.
I met Tommy Trotter professionally a decade after watching Kelso win the Met Mile. He was congenial, affable and a man of generous spirit. In the day, they would, and did, refer to him as a “real gentlemen” He always was happy to see whoever greeted him; if he saw you first, he welcomed you.
I’ll resist the “better person” cliché in favor of another, one that more closely defines this man: The world is a little darker place with his passing. I loved this man. Rest in peace, Mr. Trotter.