The lunacy continues unabated. The most picturesque event in racing has been put on the shelf in the latest response to the deaths of 30 horses at Santa Anita this past winter and spring.
What’s really frightening is Greg Avioli, president of the Thoroughbred Owners of California, said last week that there were 30 deaths and 30 different reasons. That means there still could be a couple of dozen additional over-reactions.
No meaningful connection has been established between the perils of the 6 ½ furlong downhill turf dash and the rash of fatalities. Only one of the fatalities occurred during a race on the course, which features the only right hand turn in American racing and a brief crossover from turf to dirt back to turf. Unique is an over-used term but this course is genuinely unique.
Santa Anita recently announced there will be no downhill sprints during its fall meeting, which includes the Breeders’ Cup on Nov. 1-2. All turf sprints will be at 5 or 5 ½ furlongs, the latter a new distance for what once was the Great Race Place.
This makes as much sense as another misguided solution to a problem that doesn’t exist to the extent it is being presented, curtailment of use of the whip. With new softer strikers “whip” has become a misnomer.
Worse, this idea is spreading. Jockey Club Chairman Stuart Janney said Sunday that TJC is supporting a ban on the use of whips to encourage horses.
This is in response to rigged surveys with thoroughly predictable socially acceptable responses in which people are asked if they prefer jockeys to not whip horses. What kind of response would you expect to get to that?
Have you ever heard a player complain about a jockey using the whip in an attempt to win? So let’s tick off the base in an effort to appease those who couldn’t care less about racing.
Like Janney, Belinda Stronach is a well intentioned person but her meddling in an area in which her expertise is limited is moving Santa Anita and, by extension, California racing toward irrelevancy. Eliminating downhill turf races is the latest example.
You never know what might be coming next. Is there any wonder that more than 600 horses reportedly have left Southern California?
Santa Anita and Del Mar announced last week that they were hoping to maintain a four-day racing schedule in upcoming meetings. But they more or less acknowledged this is a goal more than a reasonable expectation.
This is a process that feeds upon itself. Fewer racing days and the corresponding decrease in the number of races will lead to a continued exodus of horses and horsemen from the state until the sport will no longer be able to sustain itself.
What’s a layoff?
The Daily Racing Form has made an overdue, if unfortunate, alteration to its presentation of past performances.
The Form has been running an underline between races when they are at least 45 days apart. For much of the history of the sport, this was considered a layoff. In an era where many trainers adhere to techniques about frequency of starts from sheets produced miles from a barn area, 45 days is regarded by some as coming back too quickly.
It must drive them crazy when a filly like Got Stormy comes back in a week and buries Grade 1 colts in record-setting time. It was only a couple of weeks ago that King Zachary did essentially the same thing, coming back in a week to win the Birdstone Stakes.
But it would be naïve to think minds are going to be changed. In fact, Greg Sacco says his priority is getting a Grade 1 win for Bal Harbor but he decided against running in the Pacific Classic, possibly the softest Grade 1 spot he will ever find, because he doesn’t want to bring his 4-year-old back in four weeks. There is no hope.
The Form has reacted by moving the rule to races that are at least 60 days apart. What’s the over-under for when the Form will be forced to modify this to 75, then 90 days.
Or will the sport die from lack of participants before this happens?
Racing shouldn’t sell its soul
A $20 million purse with $10 million to the winner.
This is the pot being put up by Saudi Arabia for a new race scheduled for Feb. 28, four weeks after the Pegasus and four weeks in front of the Dubai World Cup. Theoretically a horse could run for $40 million in less than two months. If this doesn’t keep older horses in training, we should abandon the effort.
But there is a substantial downside for American racing. The new races in the Middle East could cannibalize the Pegasus, currently the richest race in the U.S.
As noted in the previous segment, there probably aren’t many, if any American horsemen who would point a stable star toward all three races within such a short period.
The Pegasus, worth “only” $9 million, carries a steep nomination and starting fee. The initial Pegasus cost $1 million for a starting berth. This was cut in half last year. With all the rebates that accompany merely showing up, it’s difficult to put an accurate figure on what it really is.
Whatever it is, it’s a lot more than the entrance fee to the $20 million race in Saudi Arabia and the $12 million event in Dubai. Both are zero.
If you’re an owner, which way are you going to go?
What’s more, it likely won’t be as challenging for an American dirt specialist in the Middle East, where the fields will include many horses who race primarily on turf.
A significant caveat is another problem with the new Saudi Arabian race. This is clearly an image repair attempt by one of the harshest regimes on the planet. Children and gays are routinely beheaded and crucified; women are regarded to be the property of their male relatives, subject to the command of their fathers, husbands and even their male offspring; and as we saw recently, any journalist who brings attention to these atrocities is open to murder and dismemberment. Also, anyone whose passport shows Israeli birth or even a visit to Israel can be denied entry into the country.
Racing should not, at any price, be a participant in the cleansing of this dirty regime.
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