How many downloads have there been from the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission website of the Life at Ten report released on Thursday? The number must be in the hundreds, at least. The findings, the result of more than four months of investigation into what happened before the start of the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic and Life at Ten’s poor performance make for fascinating reading, with day-by-day accounting of who was interviewed and what they said. The conclusions also confirm what was obvious in the days immediately following — there was a communications failure:
Had Dr. Bramlage given the jockey’s name or horse number to Dr. Peckham this incident could have been resolved before the running of the race. If Dr. Bailey had relayed the information she received in a text message to the KHRC veterinary staff, this incident could have been resolved before the running of the race. If the stewards had notified the veterinary staff after Zimmerman contacting them this incident could have been resolved before the running of the race. Pletcher, his staff, and Velazquez all noticed LAT was unusually quiet during the day and in the paddock. Velazquez also noticed LAT was not warming up like she normally did. While in the best position to feel a potential problem and have the horse examined, Velazquez obviously did not present LAT to the KHRC veterinary staff for examination. Had Pletcher or Velazquez communicated any concerns to any veterinarian this situation could have been resolved.
Abetted by the assumption of almost all involved that responsibility lay elsewhere, the situation was allowed to turn into an incident that made bettors feel like fools (thank goodness that was it, and Life at Ten recovered well). If the above reads like everyone shared in the fault, Bill Finley has no problem naming the person ultimately to blame for the fiasco:
There are three stewards, in this case Veitch, Butch Brecraft and Rick Leigh. But it is Veitch, as the Chief State Steward representing the State of Kentucky, who is in charge. The buck stops with him. The moment he heard from Zimmerman, he should have been vigilant and done everything within his power to make sure than a horse that was in no condition to race never entered the starting gate. Instead, he did nothing.
The KHRC recommended that chief steward John Veitch, along with jockey John Velazquez, face sanctions for their parts in the incident. Velazquez’s lawyer Maggi Moss has said that the rider is being made a scapegoat.
Whether anything useful will come from the report remains to be seen. Among the suggestions made by the KHRC to prevent another such failure are that the stewards’ roles should be clarified and a protocol for decision-making determined — a need painfully obvious on reading accounts of the conversation in the stewards’ booth after Velazquez’s comments on ESPN were made known — and that the distribution of veterinary staff on-track be reviewed. What seems most likely to result is a negative — the report recommends that other industry groups consider media training and pre-race interview rules for jockeys, and “consider the impact of post parade jockey interviews on wagering integrity.”
But the problem wasn’t that Velazquez spoke honestly on television about how his mount was warming up, and the answer isn’t to prevent future on-camera revelations. This game needs more transparency, not less.
Going back to the stewards’ pre-race discussion:
BECRAFT cannot recall the exact conversation among the stewards after they came aware of VALEZQUEZ’S comments but remembers it as follows:
BECRAFT: “We need to have a veterinarian look at this horse”.
LEIGH did not respond.
VEITCH: “If we do that we might as well scratch the horse”.
BECRAFT: “If there is something wrong with the horse that is what needs to be done”.
BECRAFT said an “eerie silence” followed this comment.
VEITCH denies hearing these comments from BECRAFT but acknowledges BECRAFT might have said it. VEITCH denies responding, “If we do that we might as well scratch the horse”. VEITCH does recall commenting to the other stewards “Let’s see what the jockey does”.
It’s not one of the KHRC’s recommendations, but perhaps it should have been — record the stewards as they work.
3/12/11 Addendum: Gregory Hall makes a good point re: the findings:
The report didn’t directly answer the central questions being debated by the racing public since the race — whether Life At Ten definitely should have been scratched beforehand because of her condition or whether gamblers who made her the second choice in the betting were defrauded by the decision to let her run.
What makes Becraft’s recalled conversation so striking is that if it occurred as recounted, then the answer to the latter question is a definite “yes.”
6/29/11 Addendum: In testimony tweeted by Courier-Journal reporter Greg Hall during the first day of the KHRC hearing into John Veitch’s role, the chief steward, “acknowledges he said calling vet would mean might as well scratch horse ‘and stand by it’.” More here on the hearing.
Trainer Todd Pletcher has issued a statement in advance of the KHRC Life at Ten report due today. After recounting the events at the Breeders’ Cup and the investigation that followed the mare’s poor showing, he gets to the point:
What we don’t know are the contents of the “Report” which is scheduled to be presented to the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission today because our request for a copy was declined. What we also don’t know is why this presentation is being made to the Commission behind “closed” doors where the public is excluded. This is a troubling approach and may be ignoring fundamental due process principles.
Wait, the report isn’t being presented publicly? That is disturbing …
6:30 PM Update: The KHRC meeting may have been closed to the public, but the complete report is available for reading (PDF via TT). You can find the summary recommendations here (PDF). A couple notable quotes: “Many of the participants seemed to be waiting for someone else to take action” … “It is clear a communication breakdown contributed to this controversy” … “All three Stewards regretted their lack of action in this matter.”
Arienza is off to a promising start after winning her debut following a strong gate work at Oaklawn. “Well, she looked like her mother this morning.”
Switch’s future is in longer races, Sadler said on Sunday. He plans to start Switch in the $300,000 Santa Margarita Invitational Stakes over 1 1/8 miles on March 12, and perhaps in the $500,000 Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn Park on April 15. His long-term goal is a start in the Breeders’ Cup at Churchill Downs in November. “We’re looking at six or seven races this year,” Sadler said.
Watching her last race, longer doesn’t seem a problem.
I understand that Rachel was held to a higher standard, as the reigning Horse of the Year, but to what end? Have we become so expecting of perfection of our stars, that they simply can not live up to them. Do we not allow ourselves to fully enjoy the special ones, because of these expectations?
There’s something about repeated brilliance that inspires a fear of loss (a fear not specific to racing). It’s sentimental. We can’t stand to lose the magic.
Frances J. Karon fondly remembers the champion mare, euthanized at Lane’s End Farm on Thursday at the age of 27: “[S]ince I heard the news of her passing I’ve been wondering: are there sugar cubes in heaven?”
“She was a great, great racemare and a great broodmare,” said trainer Freddie Head, Miesque’s regular rider. “I’m glad that when I was in Kentucky for the Breeders’ Cup in November, I went to Lexington and saw her.”
DRF has posted Miesque’s lifetime past performances (PDF). She won the Breeders’ Cup Mile in 1987 and 1988, the first horse to win the same race two years running, and she held the European record for G1 wins until this year, when Goldikova equaled, then surpassed her 10 victories at the highest level.
Miesque also enjoyed a successful career as a broodmare; she was the dam of multiple stakes winners and the leading sire Kingmambo.
“She’s not the biggest filly in the world … but she’s got the biggest heart in the world,” the Guardian quotes trainer Ed Dunlop saying of Snow Fairy after the 3-year-old filly won the Hong Kong Cup on Sunday by a neck with a startling display of late speed. The Telegraph estimates just how fast she was:
The split times for the Hong Kong Cup make astonishing reading. The time for the leading horse is taken every two furlongs of the 10 furlong race, and they highlight the amazing power of Snow Fairy’s stunning final flourish. The times for yesterday’s race were : 25.98s – 25.19s – 25.38s – 23.48s and 22.93s. Considering that she was a good eight lengths behind the leader at the two furlong marker, Snow Fairy must have covered the final two furlongs in around 21 seconds.
I get a stellar :21.8 timing her run from the replay:
Snow Fairy is a name to know for 2011. Dunlop confirmed the globetrotting filly, who won four G1s this year in four different countries, will stay in training as a 4-year-old and could start in the Dubai World Cup.
A dear friend, who doesn’t follow racing, emailed me on Saturday night:
I Googled Breeders’ Cup this afternoon — like it would help me “get” what happened. It didn’t. Looks like a lot of races and some kind of fight was reported — including the heights of the jockeys involved. I can see horse racing is its own world with weird horse names, legacies, and soap opera personalities. I also saw references to the Ladies’ Classic and laughed.
Not a word about Goldikova, or Zenyatta, or Blame.
I wrote back, knowing that I wouldn’t, I couldn’t, get across the wonderful strangeness of our little world, the essential mystery of every champion, every race that draws us back to the racetrack, no matter what heartbreak or disappointment befalls us there. We’re in search of the sublime in the form of a thoroughbred, and for 19 races, Zenyatta delivered.
Like a lot of other people, I made the pilgrimage to barn 41 on the Churchill Downs backstretch each morning of Breeders’ Cup week to gawk at her, the perfect mare. I took in her glowing coat and her calm amidst the constant crowd; I felt privileged to be so near. To look at Zenyatta was to wonder — how did she do it each time, coming from so far back? Could she do it again?
She almost did in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Almost.
I stood on the press box balcony, overlooking the finish line. I knew at the wire that she hadn’t gotten there first, even as I wished that what I knew would somehow turn out to be wrong. The crisp white “5″ of Blame’s saddlecloth blared “Winner” as the pair flashed past, he on the inside and inches ahead. Back in the press box, even the coolest turf writers stood stunned. “I wanted that win so much,” said one to me, surprise in his voice.
And he had picked Blame to win. He had a ticket to cash.
That’s racing, a game of love and money, emotion and reason.
In the post-race press conference, jockey Mike Smith cried, blaming himself for a result not his fault. “She should have won, and it hurts.” She should have, she could have, she would have. I looked at the fractions. There, the first — the quarter she ran in :26.01, losing contact with the field, as Blame went in :24.45. And there, the last — the quarter she ran in :24.17, gaining on a slowing Blame, going in :24.96. Faster, but too late. If only …
I didn’t cry until Sunday morning, and that was while sitting at a Cincinnati airport gate, awaiting a flight to Boston. It wasn’t because Zenyatta lost; it was because an era was at an end. We’ve been lucky to witness the greatness that we have, in Rachel Alexandra’s 2009 campaign, Goldikova’s historic career (to continue for another year, a bit of good news), and Zenyatta’s almost perfect 19-1 record. Years from now, I won’t say that I saw Zenyatta lose.
I’ll say that I saw Zenyatta.
“Honestly, these French.” Honestly, have I mentioned lately how much I enjoy reading Chris McGrath’s Independent columns? Today’s piece comes from Goldikova’s barn, where trainer Freddie Head took questions about the 5-year-old mare who may beat Zenyatta to the punch as the first horse to win three consecutive Breeders’ Cup races. Not that anything is to be assumed. “Gio Ponti, if he runs, will be the one to beat this year I suppose,” Head told the Racing Post, speculating on possible challengers in the Mile.
Zenyatta’s 14 victories before this year, and all the goodwill and inspiration she has meted out, and all the publicity and attention she has brought to the game and all her brilliant charismatic flashes probably won’t trump what happens when the latches of the gate spring open a few minutes after sunset on Nov. 6 at Churchill Downs. That’s just the way it is.
If Zenyatta loses to another leading HOTY prospect, it’ll be a crisis.