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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, February 16, 2021 — We were encouraged last week to see that Breeders’ Cup Ltd. decided to follow in the footsteps of the Triple Crown and mandate that all “Win-and-In” Challenge Series races be conducted Lasix-free.

All aware that this would not be the first choice of horsemen but if racing’s fortunes are to turn around and march forward, they will need to get over the disappointment. Change in all things is inevitable.

And shouldn’t the “Lasix controversy” finally be laid to rest.

Parenthetically, education is vital to our species, but when it comes to the sportsfan species, education may not work because now computers do the thinking and the American public is badly out of practice.

Sportsfan doesn’t know, nor is he likely to care to learn about the difference between therapeutic medications and performance enhancing drugs. To sportsfan, a drug is a drug is a drug. If horses race on drugs there must be something wrong with the horse.

Drilling down on the non-Lasix qualifier, graded stakes points for the purposes of selection into a Breeders’ Cup race will only be awarded in Lasix-free graded events.

Breeders’ Cup is walking its talk and leading by example, efforting to align American racing with international standards. Besides, isn’t it really a wide, wide sales world after all?

“Future Stars Friday” was conducted Lasix-free last year and went off without a hitch, making 2020 the year to be remembered when American racing began to deal with its drug issues earnestly. And that’s a good, promotable thing.

We all realize there’s a long, arduous road ahead but, fittingly, the Horse Racing Integrity and Safety Act was passed with only four days left in the calendar year.

Under HISA, Lasix-free racing will commence on July 1, 2022. No one knows with certitude how it will be funded, nor should anyone care. Participation is a privilege, not a right. Either pay or ride off into the sunset.

“Hopefully [Breeders’ Cup] will set an example for other racetracks and stakeholders to embrace forthcoming safety and integrity measures, including the elimination of race day medication as a new, safer racing era approaches,” organization CEO Drew Fleming said in a statement. From Fleming’s mouth…

America Loves Winners, Hates Cheaters

Cosmically, around the time Breeders’ Cup made its Lasix-free announcement, Travis Tygart, CEO of the United States Anti-Doping Agency, granted an interview to TDN in which he gave an overview of what’s needed to clean up horse racing in the manner USADA helped clean up cycling.

By now, sportsfan knows about the blood-doping measures taken by disgraced American cyclist Lance Armstrong to earn all that glory and adulation. Regrettably, blood doping is a methodology which is not unfamiliar in horse racing.

Tygart stressed several requirements to accomplish USADA’s task. First, he admitted that he needs to completely understand the minute vagaries of medication rules as propagated in 38 disparate jurisdictions then pass that education on to horsemen.

He noted, too, that he recognizes the mentality of the cheater transcends all sports, whether it be human endeavor or one who gives an illicit edge to horses. He understands that all any stakeholder wants is the same, fair chance.

Testing procedure is about research into the components of what medications to look for now, as compared to what may be coming down the pipeline.

That done, what would the proper results of that management look like? Without further inquiry and testing, science knows only what it knows.

The model to determine which properties are natural to the horse and which are not, i.e. lab created, is complex. One agent might be composed of 50 different properties; add a 51st and the entire chemistry changes into something new.

Is what remains legal or not, and how is that determination made? Modeling is needed for both processes; intelligence gathering and investigation. And it has to be right, otherwise how can uniformity be achieved?

Tygart admitted that in the human testing world much emphasis was placed on knowledge passed on by whistleblowers, stating that  USADA got over 500 tips last year alone. A ‘whistleblower hotline’ was put in place. It resulted in positive findings in 22% of those cases.

If indeed it takes one to know one, snitching is a good thing. And doesn’t it take more courage to speak out than remain silent, as the country learned over the weekend? In any case discovery leads to detection and hopefully deterrence, the ultimate goal.

If not handled appropriately and cheaters learn that there will be no consequences if caught, deterrence will fail.

Tygart knows to expect pushback. He received death threats while working on the Armstrong case and knows knows the task is just as difficult, considering racing is a multi-billion-dollar business.

He termed the tragic equine deaths in California and FBI investigation a perfect storm that ultimately led to the passage of HISA.

Tygart is grateful there will be enough time, July-2022, for horsemen to adopt to any new rules that changed behavior needed for cleaning up the game requires.

Tygart believes the industry wants this now because if new rules and enforcement succeed, the public will regain confidence knowing that when horses win, all that was required is hay, oats, water, horsemanship, and patience.

And that’s the kind of perfect storm the game needs to survive and thrive once again. Anyone tethered to the horse should hope Tygart succeeds because if you allow hope to die, participation in this game at any level just isn’t for you.

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21 Responses

  1. Very encouraging piece, JP.

    .Knowledge, truth, and reason, may finally get horsemen a level paying field. If that should come to pass, then perhaps a level playing field for bettors will not be far behind.

  2. We shall see, I, thanks for getting it.

    As I said at the end, we horse-playing fans must keep hope alive, by any means necessary…

  3. John: The passage of HISA means that the Cheaters’ days are swiftly coming to an end. Moreover, the Lasix proponents are losing ground with the Ky Derby points races and the BC Win & In races being conducted Lasix-free.
    On another matter, I asked you to find out if NYRA really intended to conduct an entire weekend at Belmont without a stake. Not only was I incorrect in that request, I must comment Marty Panza and his entire racing office team with the new Belmont condition book. With HHR recently authorized again in Kentucky, NYRA is not standing pat but actively competing versus the Kentucky behemoth that is HHR. John, with 90K Maiden Specials, NYRA again has the highest purse structure save Kentucky Downs. One other thing John, I just noticed a race on April 23rd with an extraordinary condition, to wit, a mile and 1/8 on turf for a $250,000 claiming price-it has a purse of 100K. John, in a half-century of watching NY racing, I cannot recall such an absurdly high claiming price. The highest that I can remember is 150K. John, its pretty obvious that NYRA is not fooling around!

  4. Agreed Fram, they know their preeminence is threatened by Kentucky and they have been taking measures, and really have been along along with the Turf Festival, etc., at Belmont.

    A $250,000 claimer, why not? Owner has a sharp horse worth $100-150K , if he can sell it at a premium? I like trying new things. If they work, great. If not, try again.

    I did answer your query about the listed stakes on the weekend you questioned and the fact that the Thursday opener, as opposed to a Friday opener when the Affirmed Success was scheduled. DOn’t understand a Thursday opener but maybe just taking a cancellation day back?

  5. Not sure where else to put this, so it will go here. Saratoga released their stakes schedule, and I am furious. They have now stolen the Flower Bowl and the Jockey Club Gold Cup from Belmont and moved them up there. THE JOCKEY CLUB GOLD CUP!?!?!? You have to be ****ing kidding me. This is total crap. I would like to use stronger words, because I’m beyond livid.

    It was bad enough that they raided Belmont for the Woodward and the Coaching Club American Oaks, but the JCGC not being at Belmont it absolutely ludicrous. Disgusting

    1. As I stated I like new things, thought moving back the JCGC was OK, but totally agree. Opening weekend at Belmont Fall wasn’t available. I, too, believe it’s not right. Is NYRA trying to turn Belmont into Aqueduct, putting all eggs in Spa basket? This is a big much.

  6. John & Dr. D: Criticizing NYRA for moving races from the “old” Fall Championship Meet, is blaming the wrong party. The blame lies squarely with the behemoth that is the Breeders Cup. Once upon a time, and John met Toni there, the Woodward of 67 was not only the race of the Year, it was the race of the 20th Century. Fast forward 11 years, and in the Fall of 78, we had Two Triple Crown winners battling each other in both the Marlboro and the Jockey Club-something that we will probably never see again! Nowadays, we have five horse fields for the Jockey Club, without any Big Names running. What should NYRA do? They have long ago surrendered to the Cup. Lets just hope that someday, probably after the renovation of Belmont is complete ( whenever that will be), the Breeders Cup will return to Belmont and that it will be a regular part of the rotation.

    1. The Euros would love it if Belmont got back into the rotation: Two things, fear of weather==which you can get a nasty Fall day in Kentucky, too, and a rebuilt, smaller grandstand might not be able to accommodate the size of the crowd BC Ltd. would want to attract. SHould it happen, there still will be some more waiting to do…

  7. Moving the JCGC out of the shadow of the Breeders’ Cup makes a lot of sense to me. What would make even more would be to apply a TC-like bonus similar to that won by Bet Twice to NYRA’s Classic division series of $1M races comprised of the Met Mile, Whitney, and JCGC.

    Further, add a points-based qualifying system to the Met accumulated previous year-to-date based on graded stakes finishes in the Classic and Sprint divisions. For example:
    G1 | 10| 7| 4| 3
    G2 I 7| 4| 3| 2
    G3 | 4| 3| 2| 1
    Previous series 1-4 finishers would be preferred in remainder of series followed by qualifiers in Classic division only. Weighted bonuses would be paid to 1-4 finishers in at least two legs.

    Icing on the cake would be to extend that series to a 12f G1 Woodward whose $1M purse would become $2M if two Belmont Stakes winners started.

    A horse approaching a sweep of this series would surely attract a lot of attention.

    1. I, you’ve tried to float this point system before but now might be the time to visit. You remember, of course, they tried this 20 years ago and it fell on its face, even tied to a series of races. But a point system based on grade definitely would be more objective a standard than flat out opinion. Nitpickers will suggest, properly I think, that grading is a year to year thing and not all Grade 1s are created equal. Politics has much to do with the Graded Stakes Committee’s system. There are too many graded stakes in existence, which is just the way the breeders like it.

    1. Santa Anita and Del Mar are finally teaming up to pay a bonus to any horse sweeping the Santa Anita Handicap, the Hollywood Gold Cup, and the Pacific Classic. The public is likely to be more familiar with the competition in this series than they would be with 3YO fillies on turf.

      Unfortunately, the JCGC is now probably too close to the Pacific Classic to benefit from the participation in–and promotional value of–that series.

      1. I, you do make a good point about Pacific Classic and JCGC closer spacing, which probably hurts the Eastern race move. Western trainers are inclined to take advantage of their speed-trained stock to ship East rather than the other way around. Maybe a distance change of JCGC makes sense down the road to segregate the two and it gives horsemen more options.

  8. JP,
    The qualifier aspect would start people thinking seriously about the Met Mile as early as the preceding December. I’d like to see a standardized point system developed that not only enabled objective rankings of cumulative performances in graded stakes by division, but could also be used in some manner to determine the actual class level for each graded stake renewal based on the rankings and/or totals of its starters..

    It occurred to me that another benefit of the JCGC at SAR is the full two-turn configuration of 10f there. The clumsy start on the turn at BEL always detracted from the otherwise elegant proceedings. Now like the Travers (and KY Derby), the crowd gets to view the start in more intimate fashion.

  9. Forgot to mention before. I too hate the mile and a quarter at Belmont that starts on a turn and the 10F chute no longer exists. Hey, make the JCGC a mile and a half. Two months to the Classic does not have to be a training negative. Golly, remember when it was two miles. Most of today’s fast horses would require the aid of a van…

  10. JP,
    Re: the 2-Mile JCGCs, did any horse(s) besides Kelso and Buckpasser win a G1 (or the equivalent) at both one mile and two miles. The latest BC-day Marathons illustrate how far dirt races longer than 12f have degenerated.

    Good luck on extending the JCGC to 12f. Even more than I dislike seeing the Met Mile run on Belmont Day, I abhor NYRA’s wasting its only other open graded 12f opportunity, the Brooklyn, on that same day instead of later when the current year’s Belmont winner could compete.

    Yes I have floated graded stakes-based point systems on a regular basis, but at least I’ve tried to improve the concept each time I do. LOL

    1. I know 12F JCGC HIGHLY UNLIKELY to happen but we just like to think out loud. The only other horse with multiple G1s including two miles maybe Shuvee? Curious myself. Maybe you might Google and share?

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