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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, July 29, 2023 – The issue of supremacy in the sprint and three-year-old divisions were settled on the racetrack, which is exactly where such matters should be decided.

No one can make a credible argument that the remarkable Elite Power and uber classy Forte were not the best horses on the day.

The manner of their achievements certified the results of the Grade 1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt and Grade 2 Jim Dandy. Each had a license to be defeated but ultimately neither would be denied.

A television host said it best moments after Elite Power lowered his head and reached the bottom, finding more to will a victory, literally in the shadow of the wire.

“Never underestimate the heart of a champion,” Laffit Pincay Jr. said. Thirty minutes later, no one would have blamed Pincay if he repeated that phrase in reference to Forte’s drama-drenched, heroic victory.

Both horses were ridden by a four-time champion himself, who proved to all racing fans who believed that Irad Ortiz Jr. is America’s best race rider.

Ortiz is the ultimate difference maker on horseback. Even his critics, who are legion, agree, however begrudgingly. God forbid another horse and rider stood between Ortiz and the winning post. If necessary, he’d bowl them over to get there first.

When the finish line is in sight, Ortiz’s ferocious appetite for victory infuses him with uncommon strength and daring. He might lose but will never be outfought—to a fault.

HRI was among the most vocal pf early Ortiz critics, dating back to the 2021 Remsen Stakes in which Mo Donegal won a narrow photo from Zandon. Ortiz’s tactics made the difference that day, too. From the official Equibase chart:

“Mo Donegal rallied to take the lead outside at the furlong marker, moved in closer to the runnerup under a right-handed crop at the sixteenth pole… the rider put the crop away and threw repeated exaggerated crosses with the left rein near the face of the runnerup… narrowly prevailed while bumping with that rival near the wire …

Zandon dug in gamely on the inside in the final furlong … had the winner’s rider attempt to intimidate him late, then was bumped approaching the wire and just missed in a determined effort …”

Omitted from the chart was HRI’s addendum that “a protruding left elbow was thrown in the area where contact was made a jump or two before the wire.”

The Mo Donegal Remsen, and a series of other aggressive rides at that time, resulted in a 30-day suspension for Ortiz meted out by the New York stewards to send a message to Ortiz and other would-be aggressors.

Yesterday, Ortiz’s brilliance was on display in the G1 Vanderbilt, the first of two graded stakes in which he would guide the fortunes of two odds-on favorites on a Saturday in Saratoga.

Co-favorite Gunite was approximately three lengths in front leaving the eighth pole in the six-furlong sprint. Champion Elite Power was making his first lifetime start on a rain-soaked surface termed sloppy and sealed.

Under strong left-handed urging, Elite Power changed to his correct lead–the equine equivalent of a second-wind–lengthened stride, and got up with one desperate final thrust, Ortiz again making a difference.

Ortiz used similar tactics in the Jim Dandy, bringing Forte outside of a tactically advantaged Saudi Crown and inside a second Brad Cox trainee, Angel of Empire, who raced lapped on Forte the entire nine furlongs.

There were five horses in the Jim Dandy, three trained by Cox. The two more highly regarded Cox trainees had Forte and Ortiz right where they wanted him, in a lock-box.

But nobody puts Irad in the corner.

Using eerily similar tactics earlier this week, that tack earned Ortiz a demotion and a three-day suspension. He bulled his way into Angel of Empire in the same fashion and came away with a Jim Dandy title.

The first contact was clear but the second was certainly more egregious, hard enough to knock Angel of Empire off stride. The official and unofficial rule in this situation is: Too bad. Sit there. Wait for next time.

But Ortiz was on the best horse and he would have none of that. He would make sure his horse, the one scratched Derby morning “out of an abundance of caution” the one who nearly won the Belmont Stakes off an 11-week layup, was judged the best in show.

Nevertheless, it is imperative that when the lives and limbs of human and equine athletes are at stake, there’s no such thing as an abundance in caution. Caution is an imperative if racing is to be taken seriously on safety.

Inside the final furlong, Saudi Crown drifted out significantly. Forte, still under aggressive handling battling Angel of Empire, was put in a somewhat defensive posture between two rivals trained by the same man.

On balance, the bad taste left as a result of this victory is the confusion over the rule. Whatever that rule is, it can’t earn you a demotion and three-day suspension one day but have the result stand for the same offense the next.

It doesn’t matter that the stakes were higher. There’s just no objective justification for inconsistency.

I didn’t put a stopwatch on it but the Jim Dandy verdict took half the time to adjudicate as other recent riding incidents of this mature at this meet. I was pleased that the best horse won, just not proud of how it was accomplished.

Gun-to-temple–and I would have hated myself in the morning–but I would have disqualified Forte from first and placed him third behind Angel of Empire. That would have been my judgment call based on rule.

The rule of law and the spirit of the law are in endless conflict. If HISA wants the authority to set and adjudicate standards, stewards’ rulings must  be uniform everywhere. Doing so would honor HISA’s commitment to safety and integrity.

A foul like the one committed yesterday is a foul, and it should have been adjudicated as such. By any standard and like it or not, Forte and Angel of Empire did settle it on the racetrack. And the best horse won.

Hypothetically, what if the exact same events were replicated and the result was allowed to stand. Now, given the circumstances and repetitive nature of his actions, what if Ortiz were handled a seven-day suspension for, say, herding? Doesn’t that seem more like law, and order?

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33 Responses

  1. John,
    What happened in the Jim Dandy yesterday was the second obvious foul and most disturbing decisions I have ever seen by NYRA’s stewards ever, as it happened days apart. Since my first live race watching Kelso run, this is not the same sport.
    The first, and by far the worst happened race ten last Wednesday when JL Ortiz, almost caused a disaster, which thank g-d didn’t happen. The worst call I have ever witnessed in 60+ years. Not an intentional foul as Ortiz lost control which I think was due to his earlier week injury.
    As for yesterday, Forte Jockey was was leaning, while taking away AOE’s running lane. I am in agreement with you on the outcome.
    With all the problems this once great sport has, stewards decisions shouldn’t be one of them.
    Dazed and confused.

    1. Agreed Mark and thanks for weighing in.
      Only slight difference is I don’t know if I can let JL completely off the hook bt at least in his case, he doesn’t have a dossier of rough rides.
      This rough race-riding must be reeled in to avoid potential injuries–or worse.
      You’re right–this is not Kelso’s sport any longer, for reasons to numerous to list. Besides, long time loyal fans know what they are…
      But as to worst decision in 60 years? What about a horse called Allumeuse?

  2. “The rule of law and the spirit of the law are in endless conflict.” The “endless conflict” alas, was resolved far too quickly after the running of the Jim Dandy yesterday to the detriment of “Consistancy” and rank and file fans of the sport, the jury pool if you will, were cheated. “Stewardship” itself would appear to be in “endless conflict” to “detriment” of the sport itself. My mind flashes back to Codex and Genuine Risk at this point. A foul is a foul is a foul, and “the law” consistantly would appear to have little to do with justice.

    On the plus side, should I decide to take a stand against Forte at the mile and a quarter, which the gambler in me demands, it would appear there will be a better price to be had off of the Jim Dandy result. The Travers is setting up to be a “Dandy” of a heavy weight title fight.

    Fascinating commentary John. This was a race for the ages. At the very least, the non-foul call will last for the ages.

    1. McD, the non-foul call just another part of Saratoga racing lore. If something crazy happens, it usually occurs in the North Country from some reason. Spooky, is all.
      As for the upcoming Travers, wrote at the beginning of the meet and said on ESPN radio that the Travers is shaping up as one of the best in ages. And it is!
      Barring the unforeseen, the strongest quality three year old field will be assembled in Saratoga in AUG 26.
      But first, let’s see if Mott can do it again with Cody’s Wish i Saturday’s Whitney. I for one wouldn’t bet against it.

  3. Doctor Disaster says:
    July 29, 2023 at 8:47 pm Edit
    Before the screams all start everywhere about this Jim Dandy, one thing to keep in mind. There really is no victim in this one – around the turn, Prat was scrubbing hard on his mount while inside of him the jock on Forte was motionless. By then it was pretty obvious Prat’s mount was not catching the frontrunner while seeing the mount to his inside absolutely loaded. Intentionally blocking Forte in at that point served no real competitive purpose that I can see. He was finishing behind the other two horses no matter what he did there, so at BEST it is just as bad as Irad coming out. In this case, Prat is the one who “took it there”.

    I know this will be a minority opinion, and jumping all over Irad right now would be the easiest thing to do, but I gotta call it the way i see it on this one particular case.

    1. Doc, I agree with your judgment call but in relation to the events of this week, it is not germane, We’re talking about a rule and the inconsistent interpretation of same.
      Prat did nothing wrong, he is entitled to his lawful position on the racetrack and kept his course, which he is entitled to, but I do agree he would not have beaten Forte, in my view.
      But that’s an opinion, not knowable fact.
      As an aside, I said to my wife as the Jim Dandy field went into the lower turn, “Irad had better got off the inside.” At that point, I was thinking possible rail bias on the wet track, not what eventually happened.
      Finally, all favorites have that “target” on their back. But I’m no fan of stable collusion to use one of their horses to–however legally–impede the progress of another rival.

      1. Yes, the main thing that smelled funny about this whole thing was the strong sense of stable collusion. Prat did have every right to his position, but in the case of stable collusion, I have a lot less issue with what a trapped horse does in order to get space if he isn’t actually affecting the outside horse’s win chances (and I concede that this is at least somewhat subjective though it does seem that everyone is in agreement that AOE’s best result was going to be 3rd at that point). Maybe this is just one of those ‘letter of the law’ vs ‘spirit of the law’ things.

        Debates like this, where a legit argument could be made for either side, are one of the things that makes this sport so great in my opinion.

        1. Exactly Doc. And agree there’s no better thing for any sport than “good trouble” controversy…

          1. The worst racing discussion out there has to be on Twitter. Every loss is cause “the race is fixed – look at the jockey holding back!”, “the Ortiz brothers set it up so that if one of them doesn’t have the horse, they help the other one win”, “they take it easy on each other”, etc. It’s brain numbing stupidity. Have these people ever actually seen Irad Ortiz ride a horse? He would squeeze his own grandmother against the rail if she was out there and she was in the way of his win. I mean, if you’re gonna talk utter bs, at least try to make it make sense.

  4. Reposted from earlier, different thread JP

    Thanks, Again , Fox I, Fox II and its Sports network management with another interrupted, fragmented Saturday card at Saratoga with some $ 2,000,000 day in purses and intriguing racing, being replaced by some Girl Soccer highlights of games already played and shown in replay !! Really!! Why have they been postponing the last race , the 5 the one I believe , because it’s raining ? Don’t horses run in the rain ? ( Maybe, there were signals of thunderstorms ?) I dunno I,got bored listening to who thinks what about the better races in small fields coming up today.. It was as good as listening to Perry Como ‘ s songs… Zzzz! Come on , Sux, I mean Fox, snap out of it !!! Show some respect , logic !!! Gotta walk my dog, or vice versa. Come on, Cleo !

    1. I’ve been railing against the Fox contract deals for two years. There has to be a better way…

  5. Re-posted from earlier thread– JP

    Maybe the Stewards all left to walk their dogs as well. Did they even look at a replay? “Official” went up faster than I can type.

  6. Re-posted from earlier, different thread–JP

    Ortiz must be a Nascar and Roller Derby fan the way he elbows his way! Even with a winning cold triple and exacta in hand, I was livid! Here we go again with the ‘ Untouchables’ like this jockey, the trainer and the ‘ billionaire’s Queens owner, who by the way, was threatening that he’d leave the sport if some ‘changes’ would not be made… like what? Run the sport like owners run the NFL? Does anyone of these stiffs see, sense the damage that they’re causing to this sport whose followers keep on being more skeptical than ever before? In many sports the judges, referees, arbiters are announced before a match…. Who are these anonymous masked men/women that supposedly make these decisions? Do they answer to anyone else besides the usual suspects? What are their qualifications? Anyway, days ago, I just wanted to mention Ms Kate Davis as she seems to be so far ,no, not Julie or Rosie, not yet , but mush have a profitable ROI since she rides sparingly and when she does , she will move her mounts well, even if she lost her whip, as it happened today ,beating her older sister for a cold Davis sisters exacta! Best wishes to her and her riding family whose name usually reminds some of us of their father Robbie Davis, a NYRA jockey fixture x so many yrs, when bullying ,forcing your way to a win was Not Allowed !

    1. I too enjoyed seeing the Davis sisters go at it while their brother won three races on the same card. Love Robbie, and his family, though I don’t know them, only dad.
      A rule change would help absolutely everyone, including the stewards.
      There is one thing that all tracks can do. Put a camera in the stewards stand so that bettors can see the adjudication process in real time, as they do in the Far East.
      This industry throws the word transparency around often, HISA too. It’s about time they act on those words. Further, it would help fans/bettors to understand the process better…

      1. Katie Davis, after beating her sister to the finish line, she did it Again yesterday, this time edging her own husband, Mc Carthy ! I got to purchase a poster of hers ,never mind Farrah Fawcett of the 70`s !! She`s a Joy !!! There`s got to be a Katie Davis Fan Club somewhere in New York !! Just read a similar article about the Forte-Pletcher- Repole -I Ortiz bumping win by someone whom, i believe ,you must know well even if from different competing tabloids of the good old days of racing and just about everything else, Bill Finley. and it, of course, brings my memory to jerry Bossert and his ways to make fun of another race analyst, ,albeit chalk picker, Little.. especially during those Saratoga summer days of the past. Had to throw it in…

        1. PS: Forgot to mention that yesterday ,Sunday, had the best Saratoga day so far this year by picking- hitting the 5th,,7 th and 8 th races in exactas, all three ,and triples in two of them .Nothing like losing three races in a row and then hitting a cold $ 70 plus exact multiple times…In one race all three money horse were MTO s in a small field ! There `s a lesson in there ,but i wont mention it…it `s OBVIOUS ! So, now i start Minus 2 on Wednesday since i struck out on the last two races,,BUT not as Bad as the current Yankees [Yeecch!!].

        2. Yes, the press box was like jocks’ room. We all competed with each other but were friends. Miss those days…

          And, JG, I think you should start a Katie Davis fan club! She’s lovely.

          As mentioned was friendly with Robbie but met children when they were very young. I’m sure they were suitably unimpressed….

      1. The Davis clan, taking the Spa by storm. Good for them!

        (And for their followers, it seems).

  7. John, I couldn’t agree more. Forte was the best horse but should have been placed third. Cost me a 20 dollar exacta. I also think the disqualification inquiry took a very very very short time to let stand. Didn’t pass the smell test.

    1. Sorry for your exacta but happy you agree Forte was the best horse. Don’t believe this issue will go away anytime soon.
      Let’s hope the meet goes without incident the rest of the way…

  8. Despite Irad and Pletcher’s complaint that Saudi Crown was in the eight lane when he clearly was not , Ortiz bulls his way between the two horses . Look at the picture on Bloodhorse and you’ll see what I’m talking about. There wasn’t room and he bumped Angel of Empire twice after left handed urging . He fouled and didn’t get disqualified. Had anyone other than Pletcher and Repole been involved they would’ve been disqualified. Forte is a fabulous horse but without the bumping both Cox horses deserved better. As far as Cox having 3 horses and insinuating that they were trying to double team Forte -Forte had ample opportunity to get out of the box he was in either on the rail or waiting until the leaders straightened out. Just my opinion LOL

    1. Rob, welcome aboard. I agree with most of your take–I wrote that while I would not have wanted to DQ the horse that was best on the day, I would have. The rule needs to be examined; the adjudication process MUST be transparent, as is done in other parts of the world…

      Saudi Crown in 10-path was hyperbolic, to be sure, but he did come out a solid three paths and helped tighten it upon Forte.

      Guess the major disagreement is that I didn’t see any opportunity for Forte to get out of the box–apparently neither did Irad!

  9. Doc, responding to an earlier post of yours …

    I never engage with Twitter crazies. I have a lot of back and forth with sane people, and sometimes it gets a little heat but I don’t/won’t trade in conspiracy theories.

    When I see those, I just let them go. Look, let’s just say it was 2 against 1 in the Jim Dandy. Clean race riding and tactics is the reality. I don’t necessarily like it but I understand it. Horsemen have their own racing code.

    But if you you understand the game, you know this going in, and should not be surprised, or complain, when things you don’t like happen. As for those who don’t understand, or don’t get it, that’s why it’s called a learning curve…

    1. Not x nothing, but now, I don’t like the guy. Was rooting x him, his famiglia entourage with his daughter trying to get into the picture or video while her father is being interviewed, all of his ” look at me ” ruffians, ie, posterior lickers, etcc, all of this flamboyant, but boorish, really, acting up reminds me of when MC Hammer had a horse in a big race and the networks cameras were on him like flies on rotten fruits! Then ,of course, he went bankrupt… Mike Repole, whose last name is as mis pronounced as his favorite horse, at his age, and with supposedly, his money, should behave, act, conduce himself like if he’s been there already and he, and his flock have already taken enough winning horses pictures- photos to know better… As someone of the same cultural, ethnic background I’m reminded of that famous Italian word that starts with a C and ends with an E, which loosely translated in English means Boorish. My opinion, which I know won’t be worth half of an old Lira, esp. to a multimillionaire who’s s looking x the camera shots, with his young daughter at hand, posing…Classless!! Good $$ Wednesday, but skipping today, Thursday, where even the best race, the Glen Falls, is basically about a couple of horses and the rest of the scheduled races don’t seem worthy of waiting for.I’ m staying in my lane.. Until Saturday..

  10. I remember that race where MC Hammer’s horse, Lite Light, won the CCA Oaks. MC Hammer’s entourage was sitting next to the Phipps family entourage. The looks that the two groups gave each other were priceless!

    1. Yes,.. Thinking about the graceful poise, reaction ,class and humility that the lady- owner of the unforgettable Secretariat showed after that Great horse’s wins. ” Money Don’t Buy That ” !! But, as my ex wife was often reminding me, ” Don’t Compare People”. Many of them, us, just stick out, for the good and for the ugly and …..for the insatiable need to be noticed. I call it High School Syndrome , no matter how old we are..

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