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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


Bad keeps getting worse.

The $12 million Dubai World Cup and its lucrative supporting card has already strip-mined American winter racing of many of its stars—not that there is an abundance in serious training during the first quarter of each year.

The newly announced Saudi World Cup, with its $20 million purse, only made matters worse. An announcement during the past week of an alluring supporting card could be a second dagger to the heart of winter racing in the U.S.

Winter racing shifts to the Arabian Dessert

Owners and trainers, who might have been reluctant to ship halfway around the globe for one race, now have a lucrative second reason to become international travelers.

There’s going to be a $900,000 sprint race to go with Dubai’s $2 million Golden Shaheen.

Turf runners, who point toward the rich races in Dubai, will have three additional options grass options in Saudi Arabia: a $2.5 million stayers event at 15 furlongs, a more conventional 10 ½ furlong race for $1 million and another $1 million event at a little more than 6 ½ furlongs.

Three-year-olds taking the UAE Derby route to America’s spring classics can get another tune-up in an $800,000 stakes at a flat mile, an ideal stepping stone distance for that time of year.

With the exception of the headliner Pegasus stakes at Gulfstream and one or two well endowed Derby preps, there is nothing in America at this time of year with comparable purses for any of these categories. American horses, who do make the grueling trip and compete in both Middle East events in their division, are unlikely to be seen under colors back home until at least the summer.

Speaking of the Pegasus, the Saudi Cup is bidding to extract the leading finishers from America right after those races. The one-two-three finishers will be accorded automatic invitations to the $20 million race. As with the Dubai World Cup, these bids come with all expenses paid.

For many years, the Middle Easterners have been using their seemingly bottomless oil riches to buy America’s best young bloodlines. Now they are using the same windfalls to bring the top horses they don’t own to compete in their part of the world.

Telling it like it is

I’m not a big fan of Charles Hayward. The former NYRA boss is another one of former those race track executives, who acts as if he has all the answers now on what’s plaguing racing and how to address it after doing nothing while in a position to put his ideas into action.

However, I can’t say enough “amens”  to something he wrote this week in Thoroughbred Racing Commentary. In the aftermath of Justify’s positive in the Santa Anita Derby being swept under the rug by the California Horse Racing Board, Hayward opined, “I have come to believe that no one in the state regulatory offices, in the executive offices of the racetracks and certainly not the trainers nor the vets want to catch the cheaters.”

He, of course, was not just referring to the inarguably inept and possibly corrupt CHRB.

The National HBPA steadfastly refuses to budge on the issue of race-day medications. When Penn National was exposed as a cesspool of cheating, the HBPA rushed to the defense of those charged and later convicted.

Monmouth Park and the state of New Jersey did essentially nothing when “The Juiceman” video involving Jorge Navarro surfaced. He’s still winning races at a percentage far beyond that achieved by men recognized as the greatest trainers in the history of the sport.

Marcus Vitali gamed the system at Gulfstream and Laurel. He turned in his Florida license so his many alleged infractions would not show up when he shifted to Laurel, even though both tracks are owned by The Stronach Group. Even after this, he was allowed to come back to Gulfstream, although he has now on the outs again.

Jane Cibelli was thrown out of Tampa Bay Downs while near the top of the trainers’ standings for allegedly having a horse nerve-blocked, a horrible treatment that invites breakdowns. She just shifted her tack to Gulfstream and other tracks, where she has been welcomed and still wins races at a goodly clip.

An astute West Coast handicapping sheet refers to trainers with suspiciously strong winning records and turnarounds off claims as “super feeders.” That’s a creative way of putting it.

Then, of course, there’s Jason Servis. I don’t know what he is doing but he is doing it so well that it is foolhardy to leave his horses off any ticket.

None of this could happen if commissions, tracks and stewards exercised even moderate diligence. Hayward has nailed this situation perfectly.

More CDI shenanigans

Churchill Downs Inc. isn’t getting the kid gloves treatment in Illinois that it enjoys in Kentucky. CDI has been warned by Illinois that unless it acts toward creating a casino at Arlington Park, which horsemen have lobbied to get for years, it will not be awarded racing dates for 2020.

This could signal the end of one of the grandest racing venues in the world. There are no indications that CDI cares, that this isn’t exactly what it wants.

Simple explanation. CDI, born a racetrack company, resents having to share any of its casino proceeds with horsemen, which is how the company got its foot into the door of slots and table games.

CDI also owns Rivers Casino, only about 11 miles from Arlington Park. This is by far the most profitable casino in Illinois. A casino at Arlington by law would have to share its profits with horsemen for purses and other racetrack expenses. Rivers Casino doesn’t have this obligation. CDI keeps it all. A casino at Arlington would only diminish the Rivers Casino bottom line.

CDI has done something similar in South Florida. It was awarded a casino at what used to be Calder Race Course to support horse racing. Even after it abandoned racing at Calder, the state of Florida held it to its obligation to race at least 40 days and contribute about $9 million in slots profits to thoroughbred purses.

Remember, if not for Calder Race Course, whose horsemen worked vigorously to have the law changed, CDI would not have a casino.

CDI eventually concocted a strategy to escape its obligation to racing. It created a joke of a jai alai fronton and is contending this covers its obligation to maintain a pari-mutuel facility. Thus it should no longer have to support thoroughbred purses. Florida horsemen’s organizations are fighting this in court.

Other states with racing, which are considering going into business with CDI, should pay heed. This is the latest evidence that other than the first weekend in May, CDI no longer cares about racing and would just as soon see it go away.

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11 Responses

  1. Top Turf Teddy:

    Amazing how these owners and trainers will abuse their horses, denying them their so desperately needed “Lasix,” and will enter their horses in Dubai where Lasix is not allowed. You talk about “cheaters” in your article, obviously speaking of illegal substances/drugs being administered, of which I have first-hand knowledge, but to me, ANYBODY who advocates or administers Lasix to a racehorse is a “cheater.” Because it is “legal” and accepted, does not make it right. The industry continues to dance around this vital issue, and nothing is ever done. Lasix is big business, and unless it is banned, the industry is openly allowing “cheating.” In my estimation, persons who own/train horses who administer Lasix to their horses should keep their mouth shut regarding others “doping” their horses.

  2. Trainers tacitly admit Lasix is performance enhancing when they say they feel compelled to race with it even though their horse might not really need it because they do not want to give away an advantage to rivals.

    Everyone who has ever opened a Racing Form knows how much Lasix (or is it what goes in behind the Lasix?) improves performance.

    The only argument that this isn’t cheating is everyone does it so they all start out equal.

  3. Top Turf Teddy:

    It seems that the ethical and moral argument seems to always get pushed aside; what about the horse? A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse without Lasix! Because of the deaths in California, all of a sudden there was a firestorm over many issues, including Lasix. With respect to the Lasix issue, I do not care about the breakdowns. Irrespective of the breakdown issue, the drug makes these horses perform at an unnatural level, which cannot be good for their health and well being. I read a tweet from some moron, that the reason they don’t use Lasix in Dubai is because “the manner in which they race over there differs from the United States.” This is the kind of nonsense arguments the drug lobby puts out in their campaign to keep the profits rolling in. “Google” “Lasix,” and here is what comes up:

    All patients receiving LASIX therapy should be observed for these signs or symptoms of fluid or electrolyte imbalance (hyponatremia, hypochloremic alkalosis, hypokalemia, hypomagnesemia or hypocalcemia): dryness of mouth, thirst, weakness, lethargy, drowsiness, restlessness, muscle pains or cramps, muscular fatigue, …Sound like a great therapeutic exlixir! Does anybody doubt for a minute that there is a cumulative debilitating effect from injecting these animals with this foreign substance on a regular basis?

    There was another tweet yesterday, stating that Steve Asmussen and 600 others signed some sort of document advocating Lasix use. Oh, well, if the “Saint of the Sod,” Steve Asmussen says it is O.K., it must be.

    The new paradigm that was created in racing began with the introduction of Lasix, and it has been a downward spiral ever since. Get rid of Lasix and things will begin to fall into place, including being able to catch the “cheaters” who abuse their horses with other foreign substances to further their financial gain.

  4. Tom: With regard to winter racing, I have absolutely no idea how NYRA intends to conduct any type of regular schedule this winter. For all intents and purposes, the NY winter season lasts for four months, to wit, December through March. If last winter does not spell doom, then what is happening now, at Belmont, should be a multi-alarm call. NYRA is running 8 race cards during weekdays at Belmont. The large percentage of dirt races contain 5-6 horse fields. If this is the new “normal” at Belmont, during September, then what can they possibly have for the days when an icy cold wind blows in from Jamaica Bay in January?
    With all of the problems currently facing racing, when are they going to confront the humongous elephant in the room, to wit, the small foal crops of the past decade? Horsemen may love 5 or 6 horse fields but the betting public will not support them!

  5. FRAM, it’s about market forces. It’s like much of the country; either your among the 1% or somewhere near the bottom. The middle class horse buyers don’t exist as they used to, and where they do they are now paying, e.g., $250K for a horse that not long ago was closer to $100K.

    And now that the 1% is banding together to form partnerships to buy seven-figure yearlings, the problem grows. Further, huge purses are available everywhere, as is the ability to earn blacktype. The answer to the small field problem is less racing — which has a negative effect on a track’s revenue line. Smaller fields, except on turf, is the new normal.

    1. There’s always Evangeline Downs (it’s in Louisiana, Alice). Home of big fields and big payoffs. One problem: difficult to find winner. I remember Spend A Buck with Angel going wire to wire in Derby from post 16 (auxiliary gate). Watched replay of JCGC and was glad they put up Johnny V. Ortiz switched stick in close quarters which seemed deliberate to intimidate Code of Honor. Shades of Codex/Genuine Risk, although no contact with Code’s nose. Also to straighten Vino Rosso out, I guess but they were in pretty close at the wire. Would not want to be a steward.

  6. Because racetracks allowed casino operators to get started, they deserve to get handouts forever. That’s what racing seems to think.

  7. Nobody,
    You invite somebody into your house, you don’t expect them to take over and throw you out when they become successful.

  8. Not to make this political at all, but I remember not so long ago Jewish connections in the USA not really looking to go to Dubai as a form of solidarity, as having an Israeli stamp anywhere on your passport had been the source of some issues over there. I have no idea either way if that situation has gotten better or worse. A main concern of mine would be the pretty blatant imported slave labor situation over there that was used to build those structures.

  9. Dubai is a problem but at least it goes through the motions of pretending it is modernizing.

    Why any clear thinking American, especially anyone Jewish or with clients who are Jewish, would go to Saudi Arabia to help burnish the brutal kingdom’s image is beyond me.

  10. I’m not 100 convinced about this post. Your ideas are fautless, but conversely it’s foolish to base things on whatever strangers may feel. Please write more about this, because I find you to be an insightful writer and I want to learn more from you!

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