… there also remains the undeniable fact that claiming races, by their very nature, serve to weaken the inherent responsibilities of both ownership and animal husbandry. The demands of constant turnaround require short-term solutions in veterinary care. The claiming game also nurtures the ability to suppress any real emotional attachments to the horses involved. They are, after all, merely transients — poker chips, as one famous claiming owner called them — no more or less than means to an end.
What’s the future for claiming races?
That’s one of the questions I took away from reading the New York Task Force report, which determined that sharply increased purses “commoditized” lower level claiming horses earlier this year, and suggested reforming claiming rules so that claims may be voided if a horse is vanned off. “The voiding of a claim should not require the death of the horse,” the report’s authors write on page 60. Practical, humane — exactly the sort of rule change that’s necessary if claiming races are going to continue to be a significant part of the game. But while the imbalance in purses and claiming prices at Aqueduct may have led to the resulting claiming frenzy last winter, it didn’t actually commodify the horses, because they were already commodities. Most in racing don’t question the system — the claiming game has been a pretty elegant solution to keeping races competitive over the years — but it’s becoming harder to defend.
The Breeders’ Cup was held at Santa Anita in 1986, 1993, 2003, 2008 and 2009. In those five years, 31 Breeders’ Cup races were decided on Santa Anita’s main track. Horses coming off a race in New York have won just one of those 31 races for a miniscule 3.2% strike rate. That one winner was Lady’s Secret, who captured the 1986 Distaff after having won the Beldame in her most recent start. Lady’s Secret was voted 1986 Horse of the Year and entered the Hall of Fame in 1992.
Yikes. I knew the record was poor, but that’s a stark stat.
New York prepped horses do a bit better finishing in the money in main track Breeders’ Cup races at Santa Anita, with 17 running either second or third in the five years the BC has been held at the SoCal track. The main track race in which New York prepped horses have done the best at Santa Anita is the Juvenile Fillies — five New York fillies have finished in the money. New Yorkers also did their best on the Santa Anita main track in 2008 and 2009 — the synthetic surface years — when five and four, respectively, finished in the money, particularly in the Filly and Mare Sprint (2nd and 3rd, 2008), Distaff (2nd and 3rd, 2008), and Dirt Mile (2nd and 3rd, 2009).
Gov. Cuomo, in a startling move, has decided to “privatize” the running of the famed Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga thoroughbred tracks with a new management company that will replace the scandal-scarred New York Racing Association, The Post has learned.
I have no idea how this will play out, can make no predictions on how New York racing will be changed in the coming years, but do wish I could shake the unease and cynicism that comes with everything I read of Cuomo’s plans.
9/25/12 Addendum: Tom Noonan gives three reasons why privatization isn’t such a hot idea. Cuomo walks back the report, according to the New York Times, saying privatization is just one option that might be considered.
9/27/12 All you need to read on the subject: “I don’t see this happening.”
The New York Times is out with its latest piece in an investigative series on American racetracks, and this time, it’s veterinarians under scrutiny:
… in the shed rows of America’s racetracks and at private training centers, racehorse veterinarians often live by a different code — unique in the veterinary community — one that emphasizes drugs to keep horses racing and winning rather than treating soreness or injury through rest or other less aggressive means, according to dozens of interviews and a review of medical and regulatory records.
“It’s a simple equation,” tweeted turf writer Nick Kling on the story. “Either you favor the drug culture which props up US racing, or you oppose it.”
This could be the bright side of industry contraction: With fewer racehorses and fewer racedays, the economic pressure to run horses year-round could be reduced, meaning more rest and less reliance on drugs.
In June 2011, Courier-Journal reporter Gregory Hall live tweeted the John Veitch-Life at Ten hearing. It was superb coverage. “My 140-word tweets give fuller picture of the Veitch hearing than my newspaper story tomorrow will,” he wrote then, a realization that helped lead to yesterday’s launch of Hall’s new blog, HorseBiz, which promises “inside baseball” for racing folk. I’ve already added it to my RSS reader. You should too.
Few use 140 characters as effectively as @o_crunk, who tweeted about Trakus:
Trakus could be. Why isn’t it?
Also seeking answers re: New York racing …
On May 30, 2012, I made a freedom of information request to Racing and Wagering that was partially answered after the maximum number of delays allowed by law; then the information was mailed to the wrong address.
Frustrating. And the information she does get is illuminating only in what it reveals about the current state of New York’s racing stewardship.
In happier news: “After a period of time, IHA regained his calmness and he [grazed] in stately fashion just like a star.” Big Red Farm’s weekly I’ll Have Another updates are delightful (via).
The 141 Lasix-free 2-year-olds were distributed over 71 races; only nine were post-time favorites. As a group, they accounted for 10 wins, 13 seconds and 14 thirds. With all the variables involved, it is difficult to assess the significance of these results. The sample is also a very small one. It can be said, though, that many 2-year-olds performed well without Lasix this summer at Saratoga. And that is good news for anyone who doesn’t like to think American horses can’t compete without this medication on race day.
Noted: “Bled” isn’t a chart comment on any of those races.
As is generally known, race tracks have historically enjoyed a broad right to exclude persons from the track, as long as the grounds for exclusion weren’t illegal. The principle was blessed by no less than Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes in the 1913 US Supreme Court decision, Marrone v. Washington Jockey Club. Under Marrone, which still retains its legal vitality in many respects, most race track managements can do pretty much whatever they want in determining whether a patron (i.e., fan, bettor) can be barred from the track. In the case of licensees like trainers and jockeys, though, the track’s options are somewhat limited — though not so much that NYRA couldn’t act …
Unfortunately, reading Zorn, it sounds as though this is a lost opportunity. Essential to kicking Dutrow out would have been quick action — like when the NYSRWB handed down the trainer’s 10-year suspension last October.
Say whatever about trainer Rick Dutrow’s record and his apparent inability to hew even the straight-and-wide rules of horse racing, the man gives a great interview. He’s self-deprecating, a little endearingly self-pitying, feisty, funny. He loves horses; he loves winning, too. For all that he poses as an amiable goof, there’s a wily, hard intelligence he can never quite hide. Of course he’s become an outlaw hero to some, in this, the summer of his endless appeal.
Joe Drape’s latest will add to his legend: The New York Times writer checks in with Dutrow after Willy Beamin’s win in the King’s Bishop off three days rest, and his story is studded with terrific quotes, including this small declaration:
It’s my game, babe, I love it.
Ha! Trickster words from the trickster trainer. No matter how you look at Dutrow and his record, “It’s my game, babe,” is a fitting motto.
“There’s so much talk of no Lasix, we decided not to run them on it until they need it,” McLaughlin said Monday at [Saratoga]. “No one told me I had to do this, I decided it.”
Good for him.
9/15/11 Addendum: Jeff Scott looks closer: “Lest anyone get the impression that McLaughlin’s four juveniles were the only 2-year-old starters not running on Lasix at the Spa, Equibase charts show there were 60 altogether, and they came from the barns of 25 different trainers.”
Almost 10 months after NYC OTB closed its doors for good, the New York Times visits the defunct betting parlors, finding most remain empty and unmourned by neighbors. (“Thank God they’re gone,” says one.) There’s a slideshow, unlikely to induce nostalgia (even in me, quoted as an occasional former patron, pro-OTB community), except possibly for retro signage.