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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing

HOT FUN IN THE DESERT, BAD KARMA FOR GULFSTREAM AND DISSING OF BELMONT PARK

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., February 21, 2021 – I’m happy I tuned into the cablecast of “The Big Race” from King Abdulaziz Racetrack from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia Saturday morning. If I hadn’t, I would have missed a great day of racing.

The obscene petro-dollars offered to the winner of the day’s feature race makes it possible to say that young jockey David Egan, reunited with Mishriff for the incomparable John Gosden, gave his mount a million-dollar ride.

There were two immediate surprises that became apparent after the start of the one turn mile and-an-eighth. It wasn’t that Mike Smith and Charlatan took the race to Joel Rosario and Knicks Go; there’s always a chance that Smith will put his colleagues on the defensive.

The surprise was how easily he was able to take the early advantage, pinning his rival down on the fence, not the very best part of a drying-out surface. It never is.

Finally, someone had the temerity to challenge Knicks Go for the first time since becoming a Brad Cox speed freak.

The second development, which might have been even more startling, was that Mishriff was able to sit right there, two or three lengths behind the leaders in perfect position, and did so easily. It was his speed that was really surprising.

The other development is that Egan did not allow the two American speedsters to separate themselves approaching headstretch. He got after Mishriff and gave his horse a target to shoot for.

And then finally, Egan kept Mishriff’s rally alive despite not changing over to his correct right lead. Egan and Gosden cannot get enough credit for what they pulled off on a damp night in the desert.

Mishriff is a late developer and probably still has some maturing to do. Now that he is proven on dirt, suddenly the Breeders’ Cup Classic is in play.

Mishriff beat a very good Charlatan, a not so great Knicks Go. Should all three show up with the ‘A’ game for the BC Classic, an additional furlong is likely to produce the same result.

In the hands of one of the best horsemen we’ve ever been around, Mishriff, given his good race over the same course last year, wound up a distinct overlay. To those who might have cashed at an absurd 19-1, say “thank you Tacitus.”

The Undercard: Surprises, Pleasant and Otherwise

With the exception of crack sprinter Space Rules ($3.00) and the formful Albathaly ($7.40), the mutuels for the remaining card were $24.60, 93.40, 54.60, 63.20 and 31.60. Not quite sure I’ve seen a string of prices quite like that on one world class program…

Godolphin starting 2021 right where it left off in 2020 with a double on the Riyadh program, and the feeling is Space Rules is not done making headlines this year… Japanese horses also doubled up, back-to-back; the old 11-2 double returning $1110.80 for $2.

Speaking of “the old” combination references, Maythehorsebewithu won on the Laurel Sprintfest undercard. God bless you, Harvey, wherever you are…

Always wondered whatever happened to jockey Wigberto Ramos but now I know: He moved his tack to the Middle East, changed his name to Wiggy and made locals happy on their big day with his popular victory aboard Albathaly…

The $1 All-Grays Trifecta in the pure-bred Arabian race returned $4,428.00. Nothing wrong at all with the payoff, but the idea of three grays finishing 1-2-3 in a full field? What are the odds…?

Can’t decide if British riding sensation Holly Doyle, who drove home eight-year-old mare True Self over heavy favorite Channel Maker in the opener, reminds me more of Julie Krone or Rosie Napravnik. Maybe both; Rosie’s finesse, Julie’s strength?

Bad Start to Fountain of Youth Week: Gulfstream Park certainly didn’t envision the third biggest day of its Championship Meet to be greeted with Sun-Sentinel headlines that read “Horse Deaths at Racetrack Alarm Officials.”

But that was the way this weekend started when it was learned that 113 horses sustained fatal injuries in racing or training since 2019, 58 that year and 55 in 2020. There has been one so far this year.

“We run way more,” The Stronach Group CEO Aidan Butler told the Sun Sentinel. “When you run more, the more injuries you have.” Butler fronted racing reforms at Santa Anita following 38 horse deaths in the winter of 2019 that made national headlines.

“We made the Santa Anita track one of the safest in the country in two years.” Butler, sent here by TSG several months ago to deal with troublesome issues, said at a Hallandale Beach commission hearing this week. “We’re going to do the same thing at Gulfstream Park.”

Gulfstream has hired more veterinarians to oversee the horses and has tightened medication rules on their own, in the absence of a Racing Commission in a state with a proud history of deregulation.

Of course, horse racing lacks a national body to regulate rules and impose sanctions, but that patchwork is going to change when the Horse Racing Integrity and Safety Act takes effect in July 2022. Butler is intent on making it happen sooner:

“The new bill will give us a chance to reshape the future of horse racing… we’re at the forefront of improving the sport.”

Here’s wishing Butler a barnful of good fortune. He’s going to need plenty of that in the state of Florida.

Jockey Club Gold Cup to Saratoga

We’re on record that New York Racing Association Vice-President of Racing Martin Panza has done a good job shuffling the stakes deck, creating popular new turf series, and growing the concept of mega-race days and racing festivals.

But it has been no secret that NYRA’s preeminence has been seriously threatened in recent years, brought on by exigent circumstances. The Breeders’ Cup has been around forever now and has wagged the tail of all fall racing jurisdictions everywhere, not just New York’s.

With horses racing less often, either by necessity or design, the problem is exacerbated. The Jockey Club Gold Cup and other traditional fall events at Belmont Park have suffered consequently in both quality and quantity.

Further, Kentucky has thrown lots of money at their purse structures. Churchill Downs and Keeneland are formidable, and Kentucky Downs has become another featured “good horse circuit” session. NYRA had to take action, and is doing so.

Spacing is everything these days, and the more time between significant Grade 1 events in all divisions the better, within reason. So pushing back the Jockey Club Gold Cup made good sense.  

September 4, the last Saturday of the Saratoga meet and date of this year’s JCGC renewal, is nine weeks before the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Wouldn’t eight weeks have accomplished the same goal? September 11 is the first Saturday of the Belmont Park fall meet.

We’re aware that arguably the Saratoga brand is the strongest in all of racing; it didn’t need the JCGC.

Downstate, “Beautiful Belmont Park” could have used a signature event on its initial autumn Saturday. The metropolitan area doesn’t need two Aqueducts. Belmont Park’s history deserved more respect than what it was shown.

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27 Responses

  1. “House horse (King Faisal)” nails “Money Mike” to take down Saudi Cup. You’re right, that was some impressive performance by Mishriff. Glad Knicks Go got a check as a very respectable fourth. Why did you say to thank Tacitus for the overlay on Mishriff? Did Tacitus take money? Pretty exciting race, ‘tho. Does Gosden ship to N.Y. or just BC and Saudi Arabia, ha, ha? I would like to see more of this Mishriff! Thanks.

    1. Last time I looked at the board, Tacitus was 7-1 late, though he might have drifted. He was the price Mishriff should have been, IMHO.

      1. Thanks. Mishriff owner is Prince Faisal, not King (yet). I will look for this horse in BC Classic as you opined above is a possibility. Tacitus has danced every dance, maybe it’s time to make babies. What say you? Read a bit about Zayat Stable dispersal sale. Horses that they had appraised at high amounts went for much less. Also noticed some Run Happy offspring are winning. Hard not to feel good for “Mattress Mack.” I think the winners are from his 2nd crop but not sure.

        1. First, happy for Mattress Mack too. Man does a lot of good, put up his money to help make the no-Lasix stallion. Bets his money–and how–go Buc(k)s!

          Zayat, right from the Drumpf playbook. Inflated the value of the stock to borrow money that he didn’t pay back. Maybe they will share a cell one day…

  2. AMEN to every word of that. I get it that Saratoga is the star brand of NYRA, and they had to move the race back due to the BC, but it could have been run in mid September and left connections plenty of time to use it to springboard into the Classic.

    While on the topic, it’s always sort of baffled me why NYRA moved the Met Mile to the Belmont Stakes undercard. It is a race that means a lot to downstate fans, and its considered one of the most important races run in the country all year. I think it’s too important a race to play opening act for anybody. In addition, why cut down a big Memorial Day crowd in order to add it to a card that doesn’t need a boost?

    On another note, maybe it was because the track was allowing closers to make up a ton of ground, and wide was good, but I was super impressed with Cowan’s finish in the 3yo race on the undercard. I’ll be curious to see if he can be re-acclimated to North America in time to hit a Derby prep race.

    1. Like Mishriff, Cowan never changed leads and I think it cost him the race. Yes, he was impressive but to me he’s more likely to break hearts than fill pockets…

  3. I think Mike Smith had to take the race from the start, regardless of the track bias. Smith had a faster horse, but in the end it cost him the race, to a finisher who had a great set-up. It was no surprise a speed duel would evolve, being the horse who decides to chase would have a huge disadvantage. I am reading people knocking Smith’s ride, which I totally disagree with. Conventional handicapping prevailed.

    1. Indeed it did. Any observer who knocked Smith’s ride is, IMO, not a sophisticated observer. When you believe you’re on the best horse, take control of the race and have the competition react to you, not the other way around…

  4. Yeah I agree with you. Horse looked well within himself and like Smith said, he has a very high cruising speed. Charlatan ran his race and was just beaten by a better horse that day. I didn’t have any fault with Mike Smith’s ride either.

  5. John, I guess a change had to made in regards to the Jockey Cup Gold Cup. At this point the Belmont Fall Meet is an afterthought. Don’t know if running it the first week at Belmont would change anything,but it wouldn’t have hurt anything either. I guess I miss the Championship Meet. When Breeders Cup started the end of year races in NY and Ca. still meant something. The times they are a changing.

    1. The times, I’m afraid, have already changed. If you’re old school like me, you still enjoy the races for what they mean to history. I enjoy the runup to Derby a lot, feel basically the same way in runup to BC. It’s like the playoffs where some horse “needs” the game and some don’t. Figure that out and value becomes available, right?

      1. At this point many of the big fall races have lost their historical significance. The JGC was once my favorite race of the year. As you can see from recent runnings it has lost its star quality. Another of my favorites was the Wood Memorial. When was the last time a Wood winner won the Derby ?.

        1. Cannot disagree with either observation, sadly. But as we’ve said, times change and when they do you must adapt or risk being left behind. Yes, it would come at the expense of other races, but wouldn’t losing a few listed $100,000 stakes to bump up the JCGC and Wood to $1-million, with the attendant publicity, might wake up both races. Seven figures not the big deal it used to be but does make people think–it still has a nice ring to it…

        2. Fusaichi Pegasus (2000) won The Wood Memorial and Kentucky Derby. Before that there was Pleasant Colony and in 1977 the great Seattle Slew ($2.20 to win). Slew was an iron horse who won Triple Crown for fun. Derby win was a little tougher as he broke out of the starting gate sideways. No problem, he won anyway. Doctor D, nice imagery sitting down with your cup of Harry M. Stevens Manhattan chowder (the red kind). Best deal around at $1.75! And it was good. Probably the mid 1970’s. huh? I remember Las Vegas back then when you could walk down The Strip and there was dirt on the shoulder. My sister sat next to Alice Cooper at a blackjack table at The Alladdin. Good times. Thanks for the memories.

          1. For all the aggravation, it’s comments like the one above that makes me realize why I love this job!

  6. I completely understand the reality of the Breeders Cup taking over the regional fall championships across the country, but I will never concede and fall in line with the agreement to allow the outright theft of our Memorial Day in New York.

    1. Yes – I’d give anything to go into that glorious Memorial Day weekend knowing that the highlight of the whole thing isn’t until the end of the Monday card. Walking into the track that Saturday morning and sitting down with my Manhattan Clam Chowder, knowing there is 3 days of Spring Belmont goodness in store – with the great race Monday afternoon was a joy that’s hard to put into words. I could feel the stress of the week shedding off of my being while walking from the parking lot to the entrance.

      1. Great memories. In those days, there were actually people at the track I remember walking in to the grandstand and having 3 or 4 tips before I reached the 3rd floor finish line. We also had the Harvey Pack Paddock Club live before it was broadcast thru the track.Many characters abounded throughout the track. A lot of sharp handicappers.

      2. DD,
        I too sought out the HMS concession clam chowder at every opportunity although on some losing days the clam broth had to suffice. LOL The winning days were often celebrated with shrimp cocktails.

        In the days when horses migrated South for the winter, and anticipation of their return made a horseplayer’s heart beat faster as the days grew longer, optimism would run high among Big A patrons warmed by the sun’s rays as they congregated along the rail prior to the first race on a sunny first Saturday in March. I wasn’t always lucky at the windows on such days, but I was sometimes fortunate enough to make a new friend.

        1. I, I learned something, didn’t know until this very day you had New York roots.

          Funny line re the broth. And you’re right about shrimp cocktail, think it was like $4.95–two bets plus–and I too had to have a winner before indulging. HMS fresh clams were excellent, too.

          Imagine if tracks served real good, fresh food at fair prices? Idiots, all!

          1. JP,
            Don’t forget Chicken Sadie’s concession at SAR. My mentor and I would often chomp on her chopped liver sandwiches while watching the horses being saddled under the trees.

            Once we started attending on a regular basis, we brought our own sandwiches to preserve our betting bankroll. Tuna fish accompanied our first big day. Eventually we discovered it was the Bumble Bee brand that worked the charm. LOL

    1. Preaching to the choir Pete; will be a topic in this week’s column which I hope to start today

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