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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


Whether racing’s stakeholders know it or not, all who are tethered to the Thoroughbred in any capacity owe The Stronach Group a debt of gratitude.

In the final analysis, the organization, knowing that it would shake up an entire industry and incur the wrath of status quo types, stepped up and did the right thing by the horse.

In doing so, it took a significant step in trying to secure the sport’s future.

TSG’s actions mean the sport no longer needs to apologize to the people who don’t get it about Thoroughbred racing, especially animal rights activists whose agenda extends far beyond the welfare of animals.

With Santa Anita’s prestigious winter meet 10 days hence, horsemen—and unknowing legislators who would put an end to California racing–will be faced with protocols that have drawn, and will continue to draw, the ire of industry critics and horseplayers alike.

Those who put on the show have the right to protect themselves the best they know how to do and hopefully what’s best for the industry by respecting its past, dealing with the present and being mindful of its future.

Change does not come easy and criticism comes from everywhere, from within and without. But all stakeholders need to acknowledge one fact and one fact only: Participation is a privilege, not a right.

When changes were made in California, TSG, a favorite target of curmudgeonly dissidents, roundly engaged in a tack popular in political circles when facts become an inconvenient truth; whataboutism. What about TSG’s other tracks?

Well, the Maryland Racing Commission approved a num­ber of house rules Oct. 24 geared toward racehorse health and safety, as well as accountability of partici­pants, signing off on new proposed regula­tions related to those concerns.

It was hoped the new rules would have gone into effect DEC 1. It didn’t happen. Then perhaps JAN 1. As of now, that won’t happen. FEB 1? Who knows? And why? If you guessed that horsemen would object, you won your bet, paying $2.40 – out – out.

Taking their argument to social media, some said that moving Lasix out from three hours pre-race to four, and restrictions on non-steroidal anti-inflammatories from 24 hours to 48, “will have horses not running to true ability and horses bleeding and easing,” said one concerned  horsemen.

“This will play right into our critics’ hand and compound the problem,” he continued. Said another, a veterinarian and trainer, “moving Lasix from 3 hours before racing to 4 is NOT good if one wants to protect a horse from Exercise Induced Pulmonary Hemorrhage, EIPH.”

I’d posit that it wouldn’t be wise to invite trainer Jerry Robb and Dr. Jim Casey to the same party as Bob Baffert and Todd Pletcher, who stated publicly at the recently concluded Arizona University Racing Symposium they now support a race-day Lasix ban.

Said Baffert: “I’m sick of reading about it, get rid of it.” Pletcher pointed out that it’s also a public perception issue and that racing on drugs is a message the industry should no longer be sending.

In part, changes are slowly beginning to take place at Gulfstream Park with Sunday’s announcement that alterations will be made to the purse structure and race status of both Pegasus events in late January.

Purses of the Pegasus World Cup Invitational and Pegasus Turf will be reduced to $3 million and $1 million, respectively. The races will now be strictly invitationals meant to attract Grade 1 and Grade 2 horses, according to new Gulfstream Park Director of Racing Mike Lakow, the goal being G1 status for both races.

Coupled with the purse reduction is the elimination of the substantial entry fees, but of greater significance is that both races will be run Lasix free and that 2% of the purse will go toward aftercare programs.

Purse reduction minus entry fees no longer makes a must-finish fourth a break-even proposition for Pegasus runners. Yes, net win is reduced for top finishers, but high six-figure risk has been eliminated.

Apparently, the notion that one-percenters would gamble horse-for-horse with their own money quickly lost its appeal.

The Pegasus purse reduction has caused Gary and Mary West to rethink their original plans, forsaking the long-term Pegasus goal, instead running for the big, blood money available in the new Saudi race with the obscene purse.

Never mind that Maximum Security is 4-for-4 at Gulfstream, the track that launched his successful career, or that the owners could give something back to American racing fans or take advantage of better spacing into the Dubai World Cup with eight-figure purse.

Could they be thinking about ducking, should Omaha Beach come back with a monstrous performance in Santa Anita’s opening-day Malibu?

But these are asides to a much bigger picture; racing’s future. The sport must change, in fact, it is changing, thanks to the tough protocols initiated post-Santa Anita’s tragic winter meet.

You can disagree with their methods, approach, timing, whatever. All are entitled. But to not recognize what appears to be the best of intentions for the industry’s present and future would be symptomatic for what America has become, a win-at-all-costs society with no regard for anyone or anything else.

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16 Responses

  1. ”Participation is a privilege NOT a right”……works both ways in business and most businesses need customer’s participation and in this case
    betting HANDLE.

  2. Maybe MAX can catch a ride over on Air Force One. Not a good look, Gary and Mary. What would Ol’ Blue Eyes sing, “Dubai, Dubai, Doo…Strangers in the Night?” BTW, is Dubai Cup run under the lights? Is it available on ESPN? Answers, JP!

  3. C, don’t know about Dubai on ESPN, but have until last SAT is March to find out. Definitely will be carried by TVG and, yes, under the lights. Dubai, Dubai, Doo? Probably will have that earwig all day, replacing the current one: Hate to admit but cried my way through the “Kennedy Center Honors” Sunday night and the current earwig? “Sunny Day, Chasing the… Clouds Away …”

    1. Yes, I watched also. Linda Ronstadt always impressed, voice as good as Streisand. Steven Spielberg saying people don’t tell him “he’s wrong” should try betting the ponies. Thanks for the Dubai particulars. Dave Johnson can do the call, “…and down the stretch they come in the Dubai Cup!” Enjoyed Larry Colmus call for TC winner, Justify: “The horse of a lifetime!” Used to hear him at Sufferin’ Downs (Suffolk).

      1. May have called American Pharoah “a horse of a lifetime” as he crossed wire at Belmont. Two TC winners in such a short span of time. Not since Slew and Affirmed pulled it off in ’70’s. Slew would’ve beaten ’em all but I may be prejudiced. One tough racehorse.

  4. Roger, agreed, business means betting handle. Do you think a purse reduction will affect that??

    Did you know that the first two weekends of the current meet set all-time Gulfstream records? And remember that the Caribe Internacional program was more about the event than the betting.

    I was there and of the five races I bet only one, the featured Clasico, b/c Puerto Rican journalist Roberto Rodriguez told me that #3 [forgot the name] was training well and had early speed–and speed was holding. He run great, until about the 3/16s pole…

  5. No disagreement on your major points but I still think the timing leaves something to be desired.

    My fear is this will be the last Pegasus. The huge purse was a way to induce horsemen to keep the Breeders’ Cup stars in training at a time when they were used to laying up or headed to the breeding shed.

    Also there is a strong likelihood the Pegasuswill lose its Grade 1 status, if not this year, next year. Let’s face it. We are looking at a rerun of the Harlan’s Holiday.

    No huge purse, no Grade 1 prestige means, I fear, no Pegasus, just when it was catching on as a major event on the racing calendar.

    Also, as I wrote Monday, it’s incumbent that fans who bought high priced tickets be offered the opportunity for a refund.

  6. TJ, in reverse order:

    Someone Tweeted last night about the possibility of refunds for any pre-sold Pegasus tickets; Agree 100%; it’s only fair, fans bought an event that, as originally presented, will not take place.

    If there is no Pegasus in the future, “Donn Day” would still be the big deal it always was but my instinct is that the Pegasus is not going anywhere. What has me absolutely crazy is this notion that $1 million and $3 million is chump change, an insult. Give me a break; that’s money that can bolster current purses or used to create new listed stakes, whatever…

    Mike Lakow told Gabby Gaudet that he spoke with nearly 70 trainers of Grade 1 and Grade 2 horses who said that waving the entry fee changes the game for them, that they would be more likely to point than not.

    I reject that a $3 million race isn’t enough to keep some would-be turned 4-year-old from not participating in that year’s breeding season. Can’t we all at least wait to see how this shakes out?

    Not to your point, but to others I’ve seen, I don’t see these purse reductions as “handle breakers.” The supporting stakes card will keep the handle at stratospheric levels. Have you seen the numbers these past two weekends? Record breaking!

    And the continuing construction is not helping on track attendance, either. The track hopes to have the major improvement work done by Pegasus day. We shall see. Let’s just see…

  7. $3 million is certainly not chump change. But when you were promised $9 million, it’s bait and switch.

    As for the $1 million Turf, the hope was that the $7 million would lure Euro stars to stay in training and make the trip. There is zero chance of that happening now. Gulfstream might get a Euro or two but they will be of the Grade 3 variety.

    Something neither of us touched upon is NBC’s continued involvement. It’s too late in the game for NBC to back out this year but let’s see what happens next year. Maybe the cable NBC Sports Network. If it comes down to just TVG, it has the same platform as the fifth race at Penn National. This isn’t to knock TVG. But it’s strictly for the hardcore.

    1. One TVG analyst happily said once that he had never been to NY. This was around the time The Belmont Stakes was to be run with Triple Crown on the line. As a New Yorker I take that as an insult. You cover these big races you damn well sure get your butt over to Beautiful Belmont Park! These are the folks who think the sun rises and sets on the left coast. Annoyed me.

  8. My lone argument with the bait and switch theory is that would imply that tack was the intention all along. It didn’t happen that way. It was rethinking a business decision and not all execs were on board with the final solution. Director of Racing Mike Lakow was only convinced after polling many trainers of G1 and G2 types.

    And who knows if the ultimate decision wasn’t politically motivated, given the heated Frank v Belinda confrontation?

  9. The Midwest could turn out to be the place to be in the Winter in coming years.

    With the problems in Calfornia, and Florida’s purses not increasing, trainers may look elsewhere. Read that Shug is sending a 15 horse string to OP.

    Oaklawn’s purse structure looking stronger than anywhere else right now.
    It’s a closer ship from Kentucky.
    If you need to run on Turf instead, Fair Grounds isn’t that far away.

  10. All good points, D, except NOLA does figure to get a lot more rain than SoFla this time of year; which of course would wreak havoc with training schedules…

    Next time I see Mr. Shug will ask him about OP.

    And keep up the whimsy and trips down memory lane, gents. Smiling is not a bad thing, especially these days…

    1. “Memory Lane” sometimes seems better than what it probably was but we were younger and had more energy to try and win at the races. Found out pretty quickly just how difficult it is. Props to anybody who does this professionally and grinds out a living. Was at RR one night and the race went off without an announcer. Jack Lee was not at his station and quickly ran to pick them up on the first turn. “This field is at the starting gate…” “The Red Man, Carmine’s gonna win it all!” Good times.

  11. D, good day for the Constitution, for the Founders’ vision, and the knowledge that some of our institutions still work for sure. But not so sure it changed anything in the country yet. That could take a generation or two, if ever.

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