The recent high-visibility removal of jockey Mike Smith from the mount on likely BC Classic favorite McKinzie has fueled speculation among the bored and restless.
LOS ANGELES—Is it possible the driving force behind that decision was Mike Pegram, whose McDonald franchises make possible his purchases in partnership of high-performance horseflesh like McKinzie?
It does seem logical that “Big Mike” was not as willing to write-off the loss of another Grade I stakes race as “Little Mike” who had remarked:
<i>”We lost the battle, but this ain’t the war. Hopefully we’ll come back and be ready.”</i>
Hmmmm. I’d bet Bob Baffert thought he was ready, and maybe this was the final straw for the trainer as well, given that this was McKinzie’s fourth second-place finish as the favorite in his last six races. He appeared to be best in at least two of those defeats.
Right horse, wrong jock?
Of course, negative patterns don’t seem to get noticed as quickly with regard to Mr. Baffert’s operation. Another such example was the string of seven sudden equine deaths that occurred in his Hollywood Park barn. Environmental contamination was the dubious explanation.
So now Smith has some idea how David Flores, Martin Garcia, Victor Espinoza and others felt when they fell from grace as Baffert’s go-to guys.
<i>“I’m still going to use Mike on horses,” Baffert explained. “But for the Classic, I’m going to make a change. I let Mike know now because I want to give him a chance to get something else.”</i>
Indeed, Smith can be expected to continue riding a lot of horses for a lot of top trainers, but probably not as many odds-on stakes favorites.
As it turns out, however, the racing gods rewarded Smith upon the return of a very healthy, extremely talented Omaha Beach on OCT 5.
As for McKinzie, it will be interesting to see if the hamburger magnate and his partners decide to send their star to compete in the announced extravaganza in Saudi Arabia.
SPEAKING OF SLAUGHTER…
The latest score from the Santa Anita Coliseum is PETA 32, TSG O. The media loves it. Who says racing can’t produce ratings?
Foal crops may be down, but horse racing reform advocates are on the rise. Recent articles by racing insiders like Arthur Hancock and Charles Hayward recently reiterated the calls by others for complete, cooperative, and compulsory data collection and analysis on breakdowns. Thus far, the only progress has been more hand-wringing.
The people who want legitimate and meaningful reform need to identify the people proven capable of defining, structuring and implementing it.
They must fund and develop an organization that can accommodate transitions to subsequent stages as early and as often as necessary; a body that can establish acceptable and effective criteria for locating, attracting, recognizing and inserting the most qualified men and women for each stage of the process.
Of course, there will be some overlap between the initial planning and final operational stages but the key is bringing skills to bear when they are most needed to accomplish each component’s objective.
Federal assistance and accountability is the only way to clean up the game, but everything needs to be laid out beforehand to establish what “clean” really means and how to keep it that way.
Some will do it for love, and some for money or fame. But shouldn’t racing’s fans and gamblers be instrumental in bringing forth a new day in Thoroughbred racing, one which is even more entertaining and popular than it was when they first got involved? Any thoughts out there?