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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


Churchill Downs might have no heart and no soul but it does have a sense of humor. Surely this is why it chose April Fools Day to unveil its latest Kentucky Derby Futures pool.

 Alas, the announcement, which came about 12 hours after the President’s coronavirus response team disclosed projections that 120,000 to 200,000 Americans will die in the next couple of weeks, was not a joke.

There is merit on both sides of whether it is proper or necessary for some tracks to continue racing while most of the nation is under a stay at home order. My position continues to be that the optics are horrendous. We are supposed to be in this together yet racing has absented itself from the rest of the community.. Anyone who thinks racing is making new friends is delusional. It’s more likely the opposite is true.

However, last Saturday’s Florida Derby program had no discernible impact on the spread of the pandemic and the justification that horses need daily care and exercise has validity. That they need exercise for $2 million in purses is tougher to rationalize.

This said, it is beyond indefensible for Churchill to be attempting to vacuum money from people who are being challenged to pay mortgages and rent and feed their families. Churchill’s glutinous corporate bottom line doesn’t need to be cared for and exercised daily.

Moreover, there is no certainty the Kentucky Derby will be run  Sept. 5 or at all. Wimbledon, one of the most cherished events on the global sports calendar, is the latest casualty of the pandemic. The world’s most important tennis tournament was scheduled to run to July 12. The All England Lawn Tennis Association feels right now that it’s prudent to project that it will not be sufficiently safe at that point in the calendar for business as usual.

Informed speculation has begun to emerge that even the NFL and college football, which kick off in early September, might not happen this year. This is a worst case scenario but it is not being dismissed. 

Presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden told NBC News on Wednesday that it was hard to envision his party’s national convention, scheduled for July 13-16 in Milwaukee, taking place as scheduled. Sure enough, the next day the Democratic National Committee rescheduled it for Aug.17-20. The new night Biden would give the traditional acceptance speech is 19 days from when Churchill says it still plans to run the Kentucky Derby. And that’s a hopeful date.

It is one thing for Churchill to push hopeful optimism. I share that. The Kentucky Derby is my favorite sports date of the year. Besides, hopeful optimism is something we need more of these days. But it has to be tempered with informed realism.

For Churchill to continue to attempt to pad its bottom line for an event that is iffy to take place is just wrong. Not only does it enable Churchill to hold onto the millions in future bets. It allows Churchill to hold the tens of millions of dollars in advance ticket and suite reservations. If Churchill were to follow the lead of March Madness, the Masters, Wimbledon and the major pro leagues and concede this year is like no other, it would have to refund that money. Every day it resists is another day Churchill can make use of that money..

Meanwhile, what a Kentucky Derby we are missing on the first Saturday in May.

Tiz The Law looked like the real deal in dominating the Florida Derby. That was a pretty good bunch behind him. If this year had a Blue Grass and Wood Memorial,  Ete Indien, Gouverneur Morris or one of the others who trailed the best NY-bred since Funny Cide would have been the horses to beat, probably at short prices. It’s indisputable Tiz The Law is the best in the East by open lengths.

With no Santa Anita Derby, supremacy in the West is up for grabs. It’s dizzying to wonder which of Bob Baffert’s killer triumvirate of Authentic, Nadal and Charlatan–each unbeaten and never seriously challenged–will turn out to be pick of the litter. The latter pair seemed destined for the Arkansas Derby when it was an April 14 prep for May 2. (They will probably still go there on May 2). Both couldn’t win, unless the race was split. So Baffert still might have had a couple of absolutely perfect challengers to Tiz The Law, whose only blemish comes with a saddle bag of excuses.

But now is now and then is not until September, if then. The odds that these budding superstars will still be the big names four months from now are long. It’s necessary to back only one year to see how long. 

The official Derby winner, Country House, never ran again. Preakness champion War of Will still hasn’t won another race. Sir Winston, who outlasted a mediocre bunch in the Belmont, didn’t run again until December and didn’t win again until an optional claimer in the dead of winter at Aqueduct. 

Omaha Beach held off Improbable in what was deemed an exceptional Arkansas Derby. Omaha Beach was the Derby favorite until an injury on the eve of the race knocked him out of action until a sprint in October. Improbable won only an ungraded stakes at Del Mar the rest of the year.

Vekoma, the impressive winner of the Blue Grass, checked in 12th in the Derby then went to the sidelines until last Saturday. Tacitus followed his Tampa Bay Derby triumph with a decisive score in the Wood Memorial. He hasn’t won again from a half-dozen starts. 

Roadster made the Santa Anita Derby his third win in four career starts, out-gaming Baffert’s Eclipse champion Game Winner. Roadster hasn’t won in seven starts since and Game Winner’s 3-year-old season ended in July.

This goes to why Woody Stephens’ credo was “run ’em when they are good.” Because of the cursed coronavirus, it won’t be possible to do that this year.

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⚠ Before you comment

Our staff likes nothing better than to engage with the HRI Faithful and provide a forum for interaction on horseracing and sports. In that spirit, please be kind and reasonable; keep the language clean, and the tone civil. Comments from those who cannot comply will be deleted. Thank you.

29 Responses

  1. TJ, loved the line that Churchill’s bottom line doesn’t need to be cared for and exercised daily, although apparently it does.

    Agree about optics but disagree about shutdown vis a vis that “2 million” in purses for Florida Derby day. How will can the majority of owners stick around and pay bills if there’s no way to recoup expenses? Wouldn’t that hasten the end of the business if that were to happen?

    But how about the optics concerning Arcadia’s magnificent Arboretum across the street from SA. Is that any more essential when they get, according to Art Wilson, 1,300 daily visitors while SA gets none?

    The optics I object to is that handlers or horses at the tracks that continue racing must be outfitted with masks and gloves since social distancing harder to maintain at the head of the animal, or when a trainer tightens the girth.

    In fact, it would set a good example to those primitive states that won’t shut their communities down.

  2. I’m still waiting to hear how much of the $2 million Florida Derby purses was kicked back to the track employees forced out of work.
    I’m not saying it didn’t happen because I don’t know. But if it did it should have been widely publicized to show that racing cares.

  3. TJ–
    I loved your opening paragraph–a thing of beauty!
    The arrogance of Churchill Downs never fails to amaze me……Perhaps NYRA can repay the favor by moving the date of the Met Mile to fall on the same day as the Stephen Foster Handicap? Or perhaps move the Woodward to the same day as the Clark ??
    But actually the best outcome of all would be if NYRA brings the Met Mile back to Memorial Day weekend–assuming the country has escaped the grip of the coronavirus by then.
    Chuck for Saratoga

  4. TJ,
    I appreciate your voice in support of unity for the greater good.

    Racing was not making new friends before the pandemic, but — like the virus’s victims — it seems to be acquiring new enemies exponentially.

    Is it any surprise that racing can’t negotiate with government officials to stay open for the public’s benefit as well as its own when it can’t self-regulate or cooperate within its own ranks?

    Racing has no concept of the greater good. No matter how they spin it, the spirit of racing today is “What’s mine is mine and I’ll do what ever I can get away with to get what’s yours as well.”

    So, right on the heels of the Servis-Navarro debacle, comes another potential for profiteering cooked up by Churchill Downs which just happens to be closely allied with the Senate Majority Leader.

    Racing, ahem, “leadership” fails to grasp the contempt it accumulates when horses and their connections’ wallets are being protected while humans die by the thousands without adequate healthcare resources.

    The pandemic will eventually come to an end, but so will racing if it doesn’t find a way to speak with one voice and contribute to the solution rather than add to the problem.

    Why isn’t a unified racing proposing doing SOMETHING like funding the production/procurement of healthcare supplies from its proceeds? Surely diverting rebates and purse excess to this effort would be considered patriotic under these circumstances.

  5. I, to your last point, that would require “sacrifice” for the “1%” betting types who receive this largesse. If they are so “smart” with all their expensive modeling, why do they need rebates?

    To one of your earlier points, tracks/ADWs will not give up revenue, so that’s a non-starter.

    To your earliest point, racing is a rudderless ship. The Jockey Club did some good this week, donating masks to Belmont Park where six backstretch workers have tested positive.

    Millionaire jockeys and trainers and breeders and deep pocketed syndicated buyers of million-dollar yearlings could band together and get PPEs for their workers, especially those handlers at tracks that are racing, and for frontline health-care workers.

    And racing is either an essential “agri-business” supporter or it’s not. If racing spoke as one voice, perhaps their pleas would be heard. Without purse money, the entire racing infrastructure will collapse. Who tends to the horses then?

  6. I, you made me think about something else, your call to being “patriotic under these circumstance.” Absolutely agree. But when America’s #1 citizen takes “no responsibility,” shows no leadership, and allows badly needed PPEs to be sold to foreign interests without mandating that we create our own under FDA auspices, what’s the point of 2020 America around the world?

    At election time, do you think he will call corporations “socialists” for accepting government assistance? He wouldn’t dare take away their “entitlements.” People are dying, but, like the pandemic, the politics of finger-pointing and whataboutism remains topical.

    And BTW, I understand that our readers don’t come here for this type of dialogue. But our mission is, above all, one that seeks equity and truth. As such, I am motivated by a moral obligation to my fellow horseplaying Americans … Not claiming any high ground here, just trying to keep it real.

  7. John, it’s high time for someone “new” to comment on your political rants. While I believe that you are 100% incorrect regarding the CEO of The United States of America and his Administration (which places my opinion directly opposite from yours), this is your website and Freedom of Speech is still applicable in this great land. Fortunately, there are others within your inner circle who share my opinion. Love the racing dialogue here (mostly) and disagree with the political commentary here (mostly).

    I have long enjoyed reading the racing comments made by many of your regulars. Just thought it was time to check in to give the site a balanced viewpoint. Hope that everyone stays healthy and safe !!!

  8. TTT

    Real men need action. If they stop racing completely, I,ll be back in the alley pitching nickels or baseball cards. Gambling is essential to our economy. They have not cancelled the stock market, the largest form of gambling there is. Unless you are butt ugly, please take off those absurd masks, take a deep breath, and go about your business. Send it in while you can and tell them Teddy sent you at the window.

  9. Richard E. Moore: I wish I had the confidence that you apparently have in our dear Leader; if I did I wouldn’t possess the anxiety that currently engulfs me every day.

  10. WMC, thank you. While I’m cautiously optimistic that we’ll get through this OK, I’m sweating bullets along with you in the interim. Our day-to-day living will certainly change once we beat back this virus. I’ll look forward to the day when I can hear your stories about ordering a pastrami sandwich with two pickles and a Fosters and paying the tab with a winning Finger Lakes wager. I live in Central NJ, 25 miles south of Manhattan. Each year since 1985 (and usually several times each Summer), I’ve taken the 3 1/2 hour ride North to Saratoga Race Course. After dropping our lawn chairs and cooler in the backyard area across from the Racing Secretary’s Office, I head towards the Grandstand to locate the simulcasting TVs, especially FL and Delaware Park. It will be a fun day again when racing comments fill the screen of this wonderful website – instead of the political ones.

  11. JP,
    I suspect that most HRI readers accept the reality that the pandemic has merged politics with racing; at least for the time being.

    What none of us should accept is the political polarization of those charged with leading us out of this danger. The fact that truth has become a casualty along with victims of the virus only magnifies our daily dread. Thank goodness for those with your credibility willing to speak it.

    Even in a best-case scenario, the post-virus battle to survive on this planet will require competent, fresher minds with the comprehension, compassion, and commitment to truth necessary to foster international cooperation.

    Mr. Moore,
    The calm demeanor with which you politely dismissed Mr. Pricci’s “political rants” does not match that of the “CEO of the United States of America” whose words without wisdom too often wrest reason from both sides of the debate. One can only hope your confidence is not misplaced.

  12. But politics and horseracing do so often intertwine,. At least in Kentucky they do, and want happens in Kentucky is of great import to all of America. The Twinspires AWD and Churhchill Downs are great financial supporters of team Trump and McConnell. Indirectly, by not funding or wagering with either, I am supporting Proud Marine Veteran Amy McGrath. McGrath by the way at this point has out raised McConnell in contributions. I would take a victory over McConnell over the greatest longshots I ever scored. Trumps the likes of Joe Cantey’s Temperance Hill, the late Marylou Whitney’s Birdstone exacta, 35-1 over 3-5 Smarty, and even 16 year old Cowboy Jack Kanell’s ride over 3-5 Willie Shoemaker’s Linkage. Admittedly have a bias, as I do support Semper Fi over Moscow Mitch with my wallet. I side with the Editor on all of his politics. Anything less is non-American. Having worked the aftermath of two World Trade bombing recoveries and also having served my country for three years, I applaud John’s efforts for those of us who also feel outraged. We will see how all of this sorts out in November. I pray to God above it will end with the voice of Truth prevailing over all else.

  13. Non-American was preventing a sitting President of the United States from nominating a candidate for the Supreme Court of the United States when he had 15 months remaining is his term. Sick of all of it is all. Funny how our youth are so easily expendable. In my youth it was fine to draft and deploy us, not that any of our elite ever serve. There were exceptions like McCain, but most elected find their path to the exits. Some even with bone spurs. Not even required to address which foot. Makes me ill just watching POTUS Asshat salute our dedicated service men and women.

  14. I don’t do politics. I write about racing. If you want to follow suit, I’m glad to hear from you.

    If not, do me a favor. Take your hatred to other places on this website where it is welcome.

  15. Had a busy Wednesday with family business and I see we have had busy little beavers at work here. Good. On either side of the political divide, if you’re not angry, you’re not breathing.

    Dissent, as long as it is respectful, as was Mr. Moore’s, for instance, is welcome here. All are free to speak their mind.

    With respect to content, when the spirit moves, I will speak on any subject I deem worthy as I pay the bills, such as they are. And, as noted above, racing and politics often intersect.

    If readers are put off by political commentary, I suggest they simply scroll by the political “rants.” This way, depending on one’s frame of reference, no one need feel compelled to defend the indefensible.

    I was engaged in a political argument today with an Obama hater on Twitter. After some little back and forth, I told the tweeter that he had won, that I would not, and could not, engage any longer.
    So this “colleague” made a wager with my political adversary, who accepted the challenge.

    His Retweet went something like, paraphrasing accurately. “Fine, we’ll have Pricci hold the money. He may be a deranged communist but is a man of honor and integrity.

    I laughed, gave him a Like and a Retweet and moved on, keeping my promise not to engage.

    But as for not speaking truth to power any any subject, that will never happen. I will always exercise my First Amendment rights respectfully although, admittedly, I do get nasty on Twitter. Then that’s what the medium is for, right? Have you heard this one?

    Jesus and a redneck walk into bar. Just as the bartender approaches to ask each what they wanted to drink, Jesus hurriedly returns outside but first turned to the redneck and said: “Don’t do anything until I come back.”

    Y’all have a good rest of the evening and don’t forget: There’s a $750,000 guarantee in the Rainbow 6 Thursday at Gulfstream…

  16. JP,
    Your dime, your time.

    I’ll continue to write about racing as long as you indulge me. My column Friday will be about nothing but horses and races.

    I quit Facebook three years ago to escape unhinged rants from both extremes of the political spectrum. It’s been really beneficial to my mental health. Hatred is a debilitating emotion.

    As long as others keep offering the same old venting, I’ll say for the umpteenth time, you are not changing any minds. Those who agree will tell you how smart you are. Those who don’t will ignore you. If you think anyone in power is paying attention, I’ll quote from a terrific Sheryl Crow song, “If it makes you happy…”

    Readers shouldn’t misinterpret. I have plenty to say about politics. I just feel this is not the forum. There are plenty of other places for that. And to reiterate, I know I’m not going to change any minds.

    Stay healthy, stay happy.

  17. TJ,

    Trying not to be a last word freak here. I must say I’m not trying to change any minds, only encouraging open minds to look at facts and search for truth the best they can. If I can accomplish that, my efforts will have been worth it.

    Agree that by definition this is not the venue for politics but it’s the only forum I have. Since we’ve been averaging about 35,000 unique visitors a month recently, a niche within a niche, I think it’s worth the effort, if only to relieve shelter-in-place tedium.

    Heaven knows there are enough racing issues to write about and unfortunately racing does intersect with politics whether we like it or not. Think Graded Stakes Committee, think Eclipse Award voting. Politics intersects with everything.

    I’ll tell you what frustrates me. When I write racing strictly, I get very little feedback if any. Either I’m a terrible hack or our audience revels in the fight, not the “sport.”

    I recently wrote about how this damn scourge has been a boon to racing in that it has widened the audience. Whether they stay upon the resumption of major sports, is another story. But until then…

    I mentioned also what a terrific job I thought TVG was doing in educating a non-racing audience tuned into NBCSN. No response about how I was wrong, or right, and whether or not this was horse racing making some lemonade; nada.

    WMC must be right; only gambling [and grumbling] matters…

  18. Open minds from you. You’ve made my day in an otherwise gloomy time.

    Racing politics is not real politics. Nice word game.

    Alas, you’re right about people gravitating to controversy. I plead slightly guilty since I try to be provocative at times (like now).

    Bottom line: Like you said, it’s your site; rank has its privilege.

  19. Mr. Jicha, I apologize for the trespass on your footprint. I should have first stopped for a minute, and then commented that I was in total agreement with your opinion regarding Churchill’s glutinous bottom line approach. Nonetheless, I was swept into the political dissent exchanged in the comments section, and having taken offense to some of the comments and opinions your article provoked or yielded (your choice), I freely admit, I lost it. Chit happens to the best of us. On future columns, I’ll just stay content reading your column and take a pass on commenting.

    I did want to ask one racing based question of you before exiting however. Several months back in one of your suggested multiple wager exotic tickets, you had mentioned that for defensive purposes, you could not leave Jason Servis off of your recommended tickets. For me the “optics” on that call were quite horrendous. I suspect that you found it acceptable to include the “highly suspected” trainer on your tickets as just being part of the game, whereas I simply chose to bet your other calls as singles. I could not then, nor would I today, wager on anyone I suspected as being corrupt. I would hope that that act would be equally offensive to all honest people involved in the sport.

    There often comes times in life when a person must either take a stand against, or to become a party to a horrendously corrupt situation. Just like in the political world, the prospect of money to be had at times, I suspect outweighs all else. Sometimes even a P4 can draw someone into the world of the “unhinged”. Thankfully time itself has a way of evaluating us all.

  20. McD,
    As I said yesterday, I welcome comments, even negative ones, as long as they are primarily about racing.

    I really did quit Facebook to get away from the politics.

    I’m not proud that I used Servis and Navarro defensively but I got tired of ripping up tickets when they did their magic.

    It’s like having a lot of burglaries in the neighborhood. Either you spend the money for an alarm or you keep getting robbed.

    You caught me at a bad moment. I’m glad we made our peace.

  21. Hard not to smile at the repetitiveness now ironically infecting TJ’s position against political discussion on these pages; even in response to an interesting piece inviting if not inciting such involvement!

    Discouragement of opinions through dismissal has not only proven ineffective here, but seems to strengthen determination and defiance as well. I can only imagine that the greater impact of the virus in New York has colored your current viewpoint. Thankfully, HRI is still a place to air it.

  22. TTT

    Seems this forum now is open season for political thoughts. Although I hate to admit it, there is a little leftist in all of us. Take the test below see if you may be a closet leftist. If you answered yes to 4 or more of the questions below, you are a leftist.

    (1) Have you ever littered?
    (2) Have you ever been given too much change when making a purchase and kept it?
    (3) Have you ever had or paid for an abortion?
    (4) Have you ever called others racist, but in private toss the “N” word around like a Frisbee?
    (5) Do you think Hillary is sexy?
    (6) Are you a virtue-signaling mother “f”er?
    (7) Does your wife lead you around by the nose?
    (8) Does the unrighteous mammon trump truth for you?
    (9) Do you think Nancy Pelosi is sexy?
    (10) Do you think Joe Biden is sexy?

    The truth will make you free.

  23. A good Passover and Easter to all. There is indeed room for all of us in this twilight zone of insanity time we currently share. I wish peace and good health to all of us and to all of our families. Even our adversaries for that matter. To all of humanity.

    So pleased we have worked our way through all of this my dogs bigger than your dog, and I don’t even own a dog crap. And now employing the voice of our esteemed Editor, time we all turn the page.

    Peace Out and Riders Up. Time we get back to horseracing. So who do you guys and girls like in todays featured race? Anyone notice John Boy has been on a mini roll of late? And who knows, maybe Denny Bets or Wendell mighta’ heard something. Did you guys know that one of ’em went to Cooper Union? Figures on the cuff too, all on the cuff at Cooper.

    I worked with a Cooper Union guy back in my Verizon days. Really smart and clever guy. One of the most balanced guys I ever encountered back in my working years was a now deceased friend from Brooklyn Tech. He used to laugh and say to the younger set that the rock on his hand from Brooklyn Tech was worth more than any ring that ever came out of St. John’s. Dr. Fauci said something along the same lines regarding his days at Regis. Another on the cuff guy. From Brooklyn no less. Me, I hailed from Nostrand and Carroll St.

    Ah Crap Homer, I said it was time to get back to racing.

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