JULY 21, 2019–As the HorseRaceInsider Faithful know, the website that has the temerity to bill itself as the “Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing,” HRI does not back down when it comes to criticizing industry organizations or individuals when journalistically compelled to do so for a greater good.
But judging by the reactions we’ve seen on social media and observations made in the comments section of this website and elsewhere, there is no reason why the same critical standards that apply to the industry cannot be applied to the sport’s fans and gamblers.
Anyone tethered to the game knows that the industry has been under severe scrutiny by the general public due to the 30 horse fatalities at Santa Anita this winter. At minimum, the tragedy threatened horse racing’s existence in California, as city, state and federal authorities got involved in a process they know almost nothing about.
Eight racetracks; Belterra, Delaware, Ellis Park, Finger Lakes, Laurel Park, Parx, Penn National and Saratoga canceled their programs to varying degrees this weekend. A ninth, Charles Town, moved its Saturday post times back to 7:30 pm.
At Monmouth Park, as everyone knows, all non-stakes races were canceled after the first two races of the afternoon and an all-stakes program, concluding with the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational, commenced at 6:03 pm following a four-hour, 49 minute delay. The Haskell horses were off at 8:12 pm.
This just in: As many as four people died of heat exposure and 250 older residents were evacuated from a nursing home in Maryland by Saturday afternoon. By state law, horses that pull carriages in New York City were taken off the streets to resume their duties when temps ‘drop’ to 89 degrees. The Heat Index at 1:17 pm in Oceanport on Haskell day was 110. The point? Punishing heat kills.
As for Thoroughbred racing in state of New Jersey, Monmouth Park desperately tried to find a place in the lucrative Saturday betting market at a highly competitive time of year. It moved the date of its premier event program up a week from what normally would have been one week from today.
And they might have accomplished their goal this year if not for the highly unusual atmospherics. The weather gaveth, then the weather tooketh away. The program finally began after the first of two delays, track management gambling on a summer wind that would be blowing in from across the sea. They lost.
It was nice to see that not all horseplayers were unreasonable: “Just returned from the Spa,” tweeted racetrack regular “The Woodman” in mid-afternoon. “Good decision to cancel racing on Saturday, 102 degrees as we approached Long Island.” This sentiment was representative of the horseplaying minority.
The source of ire is what many fans and bettors perceived to be an exorbitant amount of caution; a serious breach of the inconvenience by-laws. Never mind the inordinate amount of intense scrutiny on an industry that may be one high-profile accident away from oblivion.
No racetrack wants their legacy to be “it was the beginning of the end.”
In troubled times, given today’s hyperbolic, penetrating spotlight, how can any track be condemned for second-guessing itself and exercising extreme caution? The inconvenienced will be happy to know that the decision to cancel Monmouth’s Sunday program was made yesterday.
The Gulfstream/South Florida racing argument is disingenuous. It’s one thing to live with this kind of heat as a matter of course; it’s another to have dangerous heat thrust these animals. Horses known to be non-sweaters are routinely shipped out of Florida when temperatures begin to rise.
As an aside, with nine out of 10 racehorses running on Lasix, even if one accepts that the medication helps horses breathe by limiting the effects of exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage, what about the dangers of dehydration caused by Lasix’s diuretic properties? Where is that tipping point exactly?
And what of the health of the human handlers who work with thousand-pound animals in the course of a race day in this kind of environment? And what of the jockeys, the fittest athletes on earth, who closely monitor their weight by sweating off a few pounds? I can’t begin to imagine taking in air that feels like 110 degrees while pushing on a half-ton animal at 40 mph.
Polls indicate that Americans care about animals more than they do their fellow humans. So, in addition to current public and governmental scrutiny, hounding from opportunistic animal rights groups, and with an undereducated mainstream media ready to pounce on the next sensational tragedy, what is the correct and prudent call? When is the right time to call it? Damned if I know.
Perception is a very big deal today; reality some would say. Physical issues can occur at any time for myriad reasons. If a horse suffers irreparable injury, opinions that racing never should have begun in the first place would have been heard from a public that doesn’t know any better. In this era, blame will always trump empathy.
At this point in time, horse racing is through the looking glass. What happens the next time tragedy strikes? Is the need for action-on-demand so intoxicating that caution can be thrown to the wind? Tell me racing fans and horseplayers, are you feeling lucky?
MAXIMUM SECURITY BEATS MUCHO GUSTO AND THE STEWARDS
At the end of a great stretch duel at Monmouth Park Saturday night, I was happy about two things: That Johnny Velazquez and King For A Day survived a dangerous, possibly catastrophic incident on the far turn and that the best horse, Maximum Security, won, bringing some order to a talented, albeit chaotic three-year-old division.
After a backstretch-long tactical game of equestrian cat-and-mouse, three horses; King For A Day, Maximum Security and Mucho Gusto, moved in tandem passed a tiring longshot leader. They hooked up briefly three across the track, King For A Day inside, Mucho Gusto outside and Maximum Security, the meat in an equine sandwich.
But it was only King For A Day on the fence who got the squeeze, as the trio raced in very close quarters at mid-turn. In sports parlance, it was a bang-bang play, no pun intended. Pressure was put on the rail-running horse just as it began to tire.
A hooked-up Maximum Security and Mucho Gusto went on with it, and as they both held their place while trying not to lose any ground, they tightened it up on King For A Day, forcing Johnny to check out. Eventually, the judges made the right call, allowing the result to stand.
But the issue was very much in doubt at headstretch. Mucho Gusto had the momentum and it appeared he would grind down the Derby “winner” through the stretch. But Maximum Security showed high class, winning the eyeball test over an improving “now horse.” It was daylight back to third finisher, 34-1 Spun to Run.
Maximum Security’s mile and an eighth went in 1:47.56 over a surface that didn’t play as if it were souped-up. The 2019 Haskell was a strongly run event throughout, given splits of 22.92, 46.71, 1:10.17, 1:34.96, the winner getting his final furlong in a very worthy 12.60.
Now it’s on to Saratoga and the AUG. 24 Derby of Midsummer, the Travers, and a possible date with divisional stars such as War of Will, Game Winner, Owendale, Code of Honor and Mr. Money, among others.