JC / Railbird


Three Strikes and a Pause

California’s new whip rules are in effect after much prep:

The CHRB said the effort has involved a review of racing videos and informing jockeys when their actions would have incurred a penalty under the impending rule. “Stewards report that jockeys are now in substantial compliance,” the CHRB said.

7/3/15 Update: More on the implementation of the new whip rules:

“It’s honestly going to help riders in general,” Van Dyke said. “If you go rapid-fire, like hit a horse four times quick, your horse tends to drift more. The whip rule will make the rider focus more on staying straight. I think it’s great.”

7/4/15 Update: Two riders fined for violations.

Hollywood’s Final Moments

It feels as though we’ve had chance after chance to say goodbye to Hollywood Park since it closed in December 2014, but the demolition of the grandstand in a controlled implosion on Sunday may truly be the end.

All That and a Dose of Thyroxine

Arthur Hancock III:

… “therapeutics” given to horses that don’t need them are abusive.

Let’s put aside Lasix, the subject of Hancock’s phrase above, and talk about thyroxine, the synthetic thyroid hormone supplement trainer Bob Baffert admitted dosing his entire stable with during a period in which seven horses under his watch died suddenly. Trainer Steve Asmussen did the same, a practice that became public knowledge following a PETA expose. Both were cleared of doing anything illegal or improper in investigations that largely dismissed indiscriminate thyroxine use as acceptable, rule-abiding care.

“I haven’t found a barn that uses it on all their horses,” said California equine medical director Dr. Rick Arthur of the Baffert barn regimen, yet: “[The thyroxine] was legally dispensed and reported as labeled. It was within their right to do so. There is no violation of any rules.”

“The KHRC also did not uncover evidence of a rule violation with respect to thyroid hormone supplementation,” determined Kentucky re: Asmussen (PDF).

It’s a measure of how thoroughly the discussion about dispensing therapeutic drugs like carrots has been shut down following both investigations that I feel it’s in bad taste to bring the issue up right now, when Baffert is going for the Triple Crown with American Pharoah in a bit more than a week. I mean, even the Paulick Report — the publication that most aggressively chased the Baffert sudden death story — is running a piece lauding the trainer’s “horse sense” and speculating that he might be “the chosen one” to win racing’s most elusive prize. Ed Zieralski worried that “a lynching party” would pursue Baffert in 2013 if he made it to the Kentucky Derby that year (he didn’t) — he doesn’t have to be concerned about that this year, when even an inquiry about a case of colic in a Baffert Derby contender “wasn’t a question that could be asked,” in the words of Daily Racing Form correspondent Marcus Hersh.

Baffert told reporters at Churchill Downs earlier this week that dealing with the media in New York before the Belmont Stakes would be a challenge:

“To me, that’s the hardest part. You have to deal with everybody. This is easy — today with you guys. But when we get up there, everybody is going to want to push the race and all that.”

And all that. I hope it’s all that. I hope some reporter breaches etiquette.

Whipping the Issue

Pull the Pocket on Victor Espinoza’s heavy hand in the Kentucky Derby:

I don’t know why we make things so difficult in horse racing: 32 is excessive by any measure. That’s against a rule, thus you penalize him. Next year, if you don’t want to see the same thing on national TV, you pass, or alter the rule beforehand and let the jocks know in the room that excessive use will result in a 14 day suspension. That would not allow the jock to ride in the Preakness. The jocks — who are professionals — will fall in line and your problem will be solved.

Except the people charged with keeping the rules don’t seem to see an issue with what happened. Although there are plans to review Espinoza’s whip use on American Pharoah, “clearly this is a discretionary issue,” chief steward Barbara Borden told Marty McGee (DRF paywalled, sorry). If there’s a point to press, it’s in the rule that a horse be given time to respond after being struck. As I said elsewhere, it didn’t look as though Pharoah got that.

Trainer Bob Baffert also downplayed how Espinoza used his riding crop on American Pharaoh, saying during the NTRA teleconference on Tuesday:

“I never noticed it during the race, and then … I read something yesterday. I went back and looked at it. The horse — first of all, the whips they use now, they’re so light … and he was just keeping him busy, because … the horse was not responding when he turned for home … he just was keeping him busy, and he was flogging him and hitting him, but he hits him on the saddle towel. He doesn’t really hit that hard, so he was just keeping him busy.”

It’s “flogging,” but it’s not a problem. And for the most part, watching most races, I agree, especially about allowing riders discretion — jockeys say the crop is required for safety and control, and because they’re the people putting their mobility and lives on the line in each race, theirs is the perspective that most matters. The crop also has a place in encouraging a horse. But neither control nor encouragement get in the way of articulating and enforcing limits.

Related to whipping not being a problem (in a slightly different way), here’s a quick post Dana Byerly put together last fall when Santa Anita was considering a change to its whip use rule (the new rule, which restricts riders to three consecutive strikes before they must pause, passed statewide in November).

6:45 PM Addendum: Santa Anita stewards have fined Espinoza $300 for a whip violation. He broke the skin of Stellar Wind in the Santa Anita Oaks on April 4, as reported by the state veterinarian in the test barn post-race. Trainer John Sadler tells the Blood-Horse, though, “This is the first I’ve heard of it and I don’t remember noticing any marks on the horse then.”

That’s a Wrap

Woodmans Luck runs down Depreciable in the stretch to win the last ever race at Hollywood (PDF). Farewell, beautiful track, and thanks for all the memories.

Watch the replay and the final winner’s circle presentation:

And raise a glass for one last toast:

To winning wagers on Willie Shoemaker, getting carried away in the seats where Cary Grant was granted access, and to those two flamingos left floating around on the infield lake that don’t want to leave.

More from Hollywood’s closing day: About the flamingos who evaded capture, “We have to give them a little bit of time to forget about it” … in the paddock for the penultimate raceriding Swapsa full lot … crowd jams grandstand and Mel Brooks grouses, “There are 100,000 people that have never been here, and they’re using up the tellers” … and then they pried bits and pieces of memorabilia from every corner, reports Ed Zieralski: “In the end, fans took everything they could. One guy was hauled out by the Inglewood police for looting” … get your own piece of Hollywood when the track holds an auction on January 24-25saying goodbye and savoring memoriespaying tribute … Vladimir Cerin, the last trainer to stand in the winner’s circle, would have shared that distinction: “I almost would have taken a four-horse dead heat there and let everyone have a piece of the last race.”


Ray Paulick continues digging into the sudden deaths of 36 California racehorses from July 1, 2011 to March 31, 2013, and finds that:

… one trainer with 2.5% of the horses and 1.5% of the total starts has had 19.4% of the sudden deaths over a 21-month period.

That trainer has hired a public relations and crisis management firm to handle the attention his startling numbers have aroused. They’ve been tweeting.

6/21/13 Addendum: The CHRB has issued a statement on the ongoing investigation into the sudden deaths (PDF). “The pathology and toxicology work has been completed … with no indication of foul play. This aspect of the review is believed to have been as thorough of an examination as has ever been done anywhere in the world with such cases.”

Bigger than California

John Pricci gets to the point:

It may be impolitic to judge without having all the facts but it would be irresponsible and inappropriate not to speculate based on circumstances. From where we sit, these cardiac related deaths are a possible indictment of not only individuals but the whole way the game is administered. It’s a problem that stretches far beyond the California state line.

More on the sudden death issue collected here.

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