Jessica Chapel / Railbird

CHRB

Shocking

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.

California Complication

Oh, California. In an industry roiling coast to coast, the turmoil out west is something else. Handle is down more than $77 million at Santa Anita. Too few horses cause canceled days. Horseplayers are in revolt. “In my opinion,” bettor Andy Asaro told Art Wilson, “the CHRB leadership has failed California racing.” The matter of who’s leading is about to get more complicated: A new group called the California Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association issued a press release last night challenging the standing of the Thoroughbred Owners of California as the official group representing owners’ interests in the state.

Meetings Taken

Santa Anita and Del Mar executives recently met with horseplayers to discuss the January 1 takeout increase and other concerns. Art Wilson reports:

A HANA-backed boycott of California races is believed to be a factor in Santa Anita’s declining handle numbers this meet. HANA president Jeff Platt and the group’s California representative, Roger Way, met with Santa Anita president George Haines and Allen Gutterman, the track’s marketing director, on Sunday at Santa Anita and with Del Mar president Craig Fravel and marketing director Craig Dado on Monday … Aaron Vercruysse, hired recently by the Thoroughbred Owners of California to advise the group on betting matters, attended Sunday’s meeting …

The meetings are evidence that horseplayers, as represented by HANA, have gained the clout to compel conversation about customer issues. And while conversation isn’t action of the sort that’s going to end the players’ boycott, it is a start, one that went over well with Andy Asaro, a California horseplayer who attended both meetings. I talked with Asaro last night and he was positive about the discussions, describing the Santa Anita and Del Mar executives as “very interested” in the bettors’ perspective and open to making adjustments. He was less appreciative of the TOC, represented by Vercruysse. Although Asaro found Vercruysse pleasant and knowledgeable, he felt his presence was perfunctory. “He was there for the TOC to be able to say they talked to us,” said Asaro, suggesting that wasn’t enough. “They need to show goodwill.”

1/31/11 Addendum: HANA president Jeff Platt answers questions about the meetings. Noted: “However, I think there might be at least partial support at this point within track management to rescind the takeout increase. I say that because they reached out to us. They are looking for solutions.”

Saturday Notes

It’s become fashionable to say that we haven’t seen the Kentucky Derby winner yet, the “yet” referring to any race for 3-year-olds in January, but looking over the prep schedules of the last four Derby winners, it occurs to me that we may not have even seen the winner work yet. Super Saver posted the first work of his sophomore year on January 24, 2010; Big Brown didn’t get started until February 24, 2008; Street Sense worked for the first time on January 29, 2007. All three, plus Mine That Bird, then had only two prep races, none earlier than Mine That Bird’s start in the February 28, 2009 Borderland Derby at Sunland.

Despite the trend, Derby watchers can’t help getting excited over allowances such as that won by Soldat at Gulfstream on Friday over a sloppy track (replay). The race, which Jeremy Plonk predicts will produce at least two winners of major Triple Crown preps, lost a little of its shine when trainer Nick Zito scratched maiden winner Dialed In because of the track condition. The colt will now point to the January 30 Holy Bull. “It’s not what I wanted to do, but it looks like that’s what we’re going to do,” said Zito. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said that Soldat could start next in the February 26 Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream. [Soldat was given a Beyer speed figure of 102 for the win.]

Foolish Pleasure rounds up today’s interesting 3-year-old runners, leading with the Sweetest Chant at Gulfstream, which drew trainer Ken McPeek’s Kentucky Oaks filly Kathmanblu. She’s making her return to turf after winning the Golden Rod at Churchill last November. “I want to keep her around two turns and get a race into her, and then get her back to dirt,” said McPeek. At the Fair Grounds, Aide, fourth in the Golden Rod, returns for trainer Al Stall in the Silverbulletday Stakes. She’s the one starter out of eight who didn’t win her last race. The Fair Grounds also features the Lecomte Stakes on today’s card with its five-horse field headed by the “quirky” Justin Phillip, getting blinkers on. For a much more comprehensive preview of the Lecomte and other prep races, subscribe to the Hello Race Fans! weekly Derby Prep Alert emails. (I do contribute to the site and the DPA; I get nothing for the plug, other than the pleasure of steering people to a genuinely good Derby Trail resource.)

Trainer Bob Baffert will be at Oaklawn for the February 21 Southwest Stakes. He’s still considering with which horse he’ll be making the trip.

At the CHRB board meeting on Thursday, there was little interest in rescinding the January 1 takeout hike on exotic wagers that’s infuriated horseplayers. “That would have to come from the tracks themselves and from the TOC,” said commissioner John Harris. There was no sign from Santa Anita last week that track executives would be requesting a rollback, despite a handle drop. “We’re where we want to be, but that’s something that’s we’re looking at every day,” track president George Haines told Steve Andersen.

Speaking of the Santa Anita handle numbers, about which there’s been some uncertainty, Mark Thurman gave a presentation on CHRIMS, the accounting and settlement system used by the track (and other California tracks), during Thursday’s CHRB meeting. Of interest to those following the numbers, Thurman said that CHRIMS was working on making “a small database” of handle figures available on CalRacing. Asked when that database might be online, Thurman replied, “Our goal is to have it up within two weeks.”

Wilbur Suspended

It took several months, but the CHRB finally issued a ruling against horse owner Bill Wilbur on January 7 for an incident at Cal Expo last summer in which he switched his customary silks for a set resembling the Confederate flag. The colors were worn by jockey Michael Martinez, riding a 2-year-old colt unflatteringly named after TVG host Ken Rudulph. Per the ruling (PDF), Wilbur will pay a fine of $1500, has had his license suspended through February 28, and has agreed not to apply for a new license before July 1 of this year.

1/21/10 Addendum: After reading Larry Stewart’s Thoroughbred Times report on Wilbur’s suspension, I became curious about what had happened to the silks in question. If the switch was, as the owner’s lawyer contended, due to a change in Wilbur’s personal circumstances, had the owner’s horses, including Mute Rudulph, continued to run in the new colors or did the owner return to using his registered purple-and-black silks? I asked Stewart, who was kind enough to look into the question. He replied that, according to Pat McCarthy, Wilbur’s lawyer, the silks worn by Martinez on July 15 had been turned over to the CHRB for evidence, and that in each of Mute Rudulph’s subsequent four races, the colt has run in trainer Bill McLean’s colors. McCarthy also clarified, said Stewart, “that contrary to some media reports, Wilbur has never said using silks resembling a Confederate flag was meant as a joke.”

You’re Not Welcome in Racing

That’s what the stewards should say to all involved on August 7, when a hearing is held regarding this incident:

A Sacramento horse owner and the silks custodian at Cal Expo are in trouble with the California Horse Racing Board for allowing a horse to improperly race in the colors of the Confederate battle flag during the state fair meet July 15.

The horse, Mute Rudulph, won the fourth race that day in his racing debut for owners Bill Wilbur, Chris Carpenter, and Bill McLean, who also trains the horse. The 2-year-old bay colt is named after Ken Rudulph, a host for the horse racing network TVG. Rudulph, who is African-American, is coincidentally from Sacramento.

The CHRB alleges that track colors man Tony Baze “received financial consideration and conspired to aid and abet” with Wilbur to substitute the “Southern Cross” for the horse’s designated colors.

Via @o_crunk and @superterrific.

8/7/10 Update: The CHRB hearing scheduled for today has been postponed until August 26, due to Baze appearing without legal representation.