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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing

MEET THE MAN WHO OWNS A DERBY AND A STANLEY CUP CHAMPION, PLUS ROYAL ASCOT REDUX

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, June 27 – After this year’s Kentucky Derby was over, I felt sorry for Vinnie Viola. His brilliant yet enigmatic Fierceness, a signature in-and-out, big race-dull-race equine, had taken May’s first Saturday off.

However, let’s not forget that 2017 was a special year for the co-owner of Always Dreaming. And now 2024 is special, too.

But then I thought, the Kentucky Derby and Stanley Cup, won by his gritty Florida Panthers, gave him a second momentous victory; Thoroughbred racing and the National Hockey League. That’s seems like too much fortune for just one individual.

I like the team’s owners, Vinnie and Theresa, real people for billionaires, warm and unassuming. Actually, I socialized with Theresa first when we sat on adjoining bar stools in Louie’s place, aka Nove, north of Saratoga on Route 9.

Theresa introduced herself and we struck up a conversation. She ordered steak; I had my usual Fettucine Bolognese. After learning that I recently moved from Saratoga to South Florida, she said: “Why not give me a call, I’ll get you some Panthers tickets?”

I was thinking of that as I watched Game 7 on national television, I should have called Theresa Monday morning. Of course, I wouldn’t, that would be way too cheeky. Besides, I lacked the chutzpa.

Whenever I see Vinnie in the paddock before a race, he’s always the first to say hello. Successful businessmen and accomplished horse owners are odds-on to big-time you when you come into view. Not Viola, so I was rooting hard for the Cats Monday night.

Viola has put as much money into his hockey team as he has his race horses and probably never thought of interfering with the new direction the Panthers were about to take, a head coach who would stress hard-nosed defense and team play over an exciting offense.

Behaving like a rank runoff, I deemed the Finals a fait accompli after the Panthers went up 3-0 in the series. Monday’s game was a gut-wrenching, screaming-at-the-TV affair. It was nerve wracking and exhausting, but all’s well that ends …

So I don’t resent if Viola’s a one-percenter four times over, or that he was invited to join Donald Drumpf’s cabinet before deciding to turn the position down. Another wise choice.

Royal Ascot, Best Boutique Meet In The World

As I’ve lamentably written for the past year, I cannot recommend young gamblers get involved with Thoroughbred racing.

At least not while the 1% players enjoy special betting pool access, the size of their bankrolls making it impossible to know what the payoff odds will be until the very last flash of the tote.

Honest horsemen have told me they agree.

Then, last week, along came Royal Ascot Meet and, without apology, I fell in love with the sport all over again.

It was reminiscent of my first visit of the Big A on Memorial Day to see the mighty Kelso under 130 pounds and Eddie Arcaro nail All Hands, packing 117, by a neck, making up five lengths in deep stretch of the 1961 Metropolitan Handicap to do so.

I was hooked instantly. And that’s because pomp, ceremony, stylish fashion, and history are not window dressing but are visuals that are inexorably woven into the fabric of thoroughbred sport.

Respect must be paid to the animals, especially those who breathe rarified air, the trainer coaches who team them, the game riders who risk life and limb in order to make a big living.

On a day that feature great equine performances and exciting close finishes , I will recall Royal Ascot 2024 for the human connections. Among the more emotional outbursts following a victory in a half century, more was more heartwarming than Callum Shepherd aboard Isle Of Jura, who passed his class test impressively. He made me cry.

Then there’s the traditional excellence and domination exhibited by the O’Brien Clan. First came Vincent, winner of six Epsom Derby, three straight Grand Nationals and Triple Crown winner Nijinsky.

Now comes Aidan O’Brien, who has won 91 Royal Ascot events in his career, making him the current Royal Ascot leader, and over 400 Grade 1 races from around the world. All his 2024 winners were ridden by accomplished stable rider, the great Ryan Moore.

The cherry atop this confection is son Joseph, finishing 1-2 in the finale, a repeat performance of his 2023 victory in the Queen Alexandra Stakes, which brought Royal Ascot 2024 to a close.

There were many standout performances, but none greater than Bedtime Story, a juvenile filly from the O’Brien/Moore team, taking the Chesharn Stakes by a seeing-and-disbelieving 9-1/2 lengths.

Horses don’t win by those margins at Ascot, and she did it easily.  So impressive was Bedtime Story that she was made favorite for the 2024 1000 Guineas. Prematurely? Yes. But could be a sensational overlay depending on how she fares in events to come.

I cashed one wager out of seven, a small trifecta, but five mornings last week wasn’t about the money. It was about one of the truly great Thoroughbred racing events on the world’s biggest stages. Well done mates.

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2 Responses

  1. Thanks John,
    Every now and then it is nice to be reminded of what a great game horse racing can be.

  2. Regrettably it doesn’t happen often Aaron, but the trend in recent years to promote major events and feature outstanding race meets and unique venues such as Kentucky Downs and International racing, brings some fun and excitement to the labor intensive process. Thanks for the props.

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