JC / Railbird

Detention Barn

Feeling Insecure

Nick Kling on the closing of the detention barn:

In an attempt to sway bettors in their favor, barn opponents alleged it had no deterrent effect. However, that belies several examples of success from the security barn.

The most glaring was the case of a trainer known for winning at a high percentage at every venue. The instant the security barn opened this person’s New York success fell off the table. The stable continued to win 25 percent everywhere else, less than half that in New York.


In the past four years, the New York entries from this barn have been fewer than half the number from the final five months of 2005…. This outfit has had ZERO New York starters in 2010.

7/19/10 Addendum/Edit: Trainer Rick Dutrow, one of the reasons for the detention barn? “They didn’t trust me, man.” (Not the case, says Hayward.)

Farewell, Detention Barns

Saratoga detention barns, August 2005

There’ll be more stalls available at Saratoga this summer, and fewer complaints from horsemen year-round. NYRA announced today that, five years after the detention barn opened, the secure area has been closed, to be replaced by random out-of-competition testing and other security measures.

Trainer Rick Violette, president of the NY Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, approved of the policy change, telling the Daily Racing Form:

“It’ll be more horse-friendly without sacrificing the highest level of integrity in the business.”

“Horse-friendly” is definitely one thing that can’t be said about detention.

In 2005, when I worked on the Saratoga backstretch, I was paid an extra $30 a day for horse-sitting in the barn. Working detention added a decent sum to my weekly pay; trainers always needed the help. But there was a jittery boredom to the assignment, a tediousness too often only broken when a horse panicked in the unfamiliar surroundings. It was hot and bright in detention, the humid air fraught with nerves. It didn’t take much for a horse to freak out, to turn into a sweating, quivering, dangerous mess. I remember once standing uncertainly in front of a stall, shank in hand, as a 3-year-old colt wildly kicked and bucked and a security guard shrieked behind me, “Get it under control!”

That horse left his race in the barn, and he wouldn’t be the only one to do so.

7/15/10 Addendum: Another benefit to ending detention? Says @superterrific:

now let’s get Zenyatta out here!

Come east, big mare. Forget the Clement Hirsch, consider the Personal Ensign. John Pricci is thinking along similar lines: “But now, the Personal Ensign at 10 furlongs and at scale weights at meet’s end eliminates any excuse …

Not Like the Other

One last post about Zenyatta or Rachel Alexandra (for a couple days, at least), as I can’t help noting that the reasons both trainer John Shirreffs and owner Jerry Moss are giving for ruling out shipping the mighty mare to New York for a race at Saratoga or Belmont is the detention barn and Giacomo’s meltdown before the 2005 Belmont Stakes. Interesting how they’re citing the one thing that makes NYRA tracks different, just as Jess Jackson did with his mentions of Curlin’s Breeders’ Cup Classic loss and the Santa Anita Pro-Ride when he said Rachel Alexandra was unlikely for the Breeders’ Cup. Excuses to duck? Or legitimate concerns for both camps?

Fed Up

The following is a comment I made this morning at 8:09 a.m. on Ray Paulick’s latest, “A ‘honest mistake’ by Mullins,” and which is still “awaiting moderation” as of 10:56 a.m. now approved. I post it here because there a couple points I’d like to make in reply to the piece:

It doesn’t matter if Mullins made a mistake, as he claims. The NY rules are clear, Mullins brazenly violated the whole point of the detention barn, and he should be disciplined. But reaction in some quarters has been disproportionate, [making more of what happened than early reports indicated,] and yes, insinuating. I remember the Van Berg incident; hysteria didn’t follow. The same sort of perspective should prevail now. That it’s not, I take as a pretty good indicator of how broken racing is when it comes to drugs and enforcement — much of the breathless, Mullins-had-a-syringe! response seems rooted in a general dislike of the man himself and a desire (understandable, I also share it) to see the racing industry get tough and get rid of people who think the rules don’t apply to them. People are fed up, and here’s a convenient punching bag.

And that’s it from me on Mullins, until new developments arise.

11:30 Addendum: It just occurred to me, [maybe] Mullins is to integrity as Eight Belles is to safety. It matters not what actually happened, or how it happened — that something happened is enough to galvanize change.

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