JC / Railbird

New York

Be Retired

Well wishes for Be Bullish, who retires a winner after eight years on track. The 10-year-old gelding started in 87 races, won 19, and earned more than $1.1 million. He’s the kind of horse who fills most cards, most days, year after year at racetracks major and minor — sound enough and classy enough to compete at the allowance level or in overnight stakes, but inevitably falling into lower and lower claiming spots as he ages and slows. He’s the kind of horse who becomes a fan favorite, because he’s consistent and game.

All great athletes have to retire some time, and not too many great athletes get to retire at the top of their game,” said owner Mike Repole, who claimed Be Bullish for $16,000 from trainer David Jacobson on Sunday at Belmont Park (quote link subscriber only). His final win was his third this year, his fourth straight. The gelding will be sent to Old Friends Cabin Creek.

Old Warrior

When NYRA tweeted a photo of the newly retired Stymie parading at Jamaica in 1949, it immediately called to mind one of the great pieces of turf writing — Joe Palmer’s “Common Folks,” about the popular horse’s final appearance.

Stymie was retired after finishing second in the 2 1/4 mile New York Handicap on October 1; he was found sore in the right front leg, in the same spot where he had previously sustained a sesamoid fracture. “He was just getting good,” lamented trainer Hirsch Jacobs of the 9-year-old. A month later, Jacobs reported Stymie was galloping sound, “but he doesn’t trot the way he should.” The next day, the trainer declared that Stymie’s career was over.

New York Times correspondent James Roach described Stymie’s last trip to the track before the third running of the Jockey Club Gold Cup like so:

It’s about time to make mention of the fact that old Stymie, racing’s money champion, was very much among those present for the third running of the Gold Cup. He’s on the retired list now. In a sentimental gesture that was appreciated by all hands, Hirsch Jacobs had him jog through the stretch before the race and then take part in the paddock preliminaries. It was his last public appearance in New York before he goes to stud in Kentucky.

Stymie, with pink and green ribbons braided in his mane and tale, got a fond farewell from Jamaica’s children. There was much beating of palms when a pony boy, Alton (Mickey) Finney, led him through the stretch and there was additional applause when he was walked back to his barn …

Some think he’s the most popular horse that has run in this theatre of turf operations since Exterminator’s day.

Palmer, writing for the New York Herald Tribune, put it this way:

… the racetrackers, I think, save most of their affection for the Exterminators and the Stymies and the Seabiscuits, who do it the hard way in the handicaps, pounding out mile after bitter mile, giving weight and taking their tracks wet or dry, running for any jockey, and trying with what they’ve got, even when they haven’t got enough. That’s why Stymie fitted a farewell better at Jamaica than a welcome in Kentucky …

This tourist … will long remember the way Stymie came around the turn in the Pimlico Cup Handicap, making pretty good horses look as if they had just remembered a pressing engagement with the quarter pole.

He was not a great horse, in the sense that Man o’ War and Equipoise were great. He isn’t versatile … [b]ut give him a field with speed in it, at a mile and a half or more, and horses had better get out of his way, even Whirlaway.

Anyway, another fine and ardent and satisfactory story of the turf was brought to a close at Jamaica. And it was happy to note, for all the the long campaign, it was not a battered and limping warrior which left us. Stymie never looked better with his bronze coat in great bloom, and the high head carried as proudly as ever.

As he stood for the last time, before the stands, people around the winner’s enclosure were shouting … “Bring him in here, for just for one more time.”

The groom didn’t obey, and probably was right. Stymie never got in a winner’s circle without working for it. It was no time to begin.

(I love those last two paragraphs.)

Stymie retired with a record of 131-35-33-28 and earnings of $918,485.

No Trace

When Kentucky mandated last year that state veterinarians give pre-race Lasix shots, in place of private vets, the results were eye-opening, reports Ryan Goldberg in the final installment of TDN’s drugs in racing series (PDF):

Besides the volume of Lasix [which declined], murkier drugs largely disappeared from post-race tests. Scollay said she had seen evidence that a drug called GABA, short for gamma-aminobutyric acid, was commonplace in Kentucky. The amino acid, which is present in the supplement “Carolina Gold,” is endogenous to horses as well as humans — it’s the predominant receptor blocker in the central nervous system. It has a pain-mitigating and calming effect that can conserve a horse’s energy prior to a race. However, because it’s naturally occurring and leaves a horse’s system within three to four hours, finding suspicious levels in post-race tests is difficult.

Its use in Kentucky was apparently curtailed once regulatory vets came in. The “noise” in post-race samples all but departed. Lasix is administered within four hours of a race; private vets were apparently giving GABA at the same time. There was no trace.

Wow. I wonder if the same thing happened in New York after the NYRA detention barn — in which horses were monitored for six hours before a race and only state vets could administer Lasix — opened in 2005, and if the concentration of Lasix in the blood, as well as the presence of other drugs or supplements in test samples, rebounded after it closed in 2010?

Dominguez Retires

This game … it’s the best when you’re winning. It’s the worst when you’re losing. And today, racing is losing one of its most gracious, popular, and successful jockeys of recent years. Ramon Dominguez — at the peak of his career, winner of 4,985 races, earnings of almost $192 million, and the Eclipse award for riding 2010-2012 — announced that he is retiring due to a brain injury suffered in an accident at Aqueduct last January.

David Grening has reactions from the New York racing community in his report on this morning’s news: “It’s just devastating to lose someone like that in our industry,” said Steve Rushing, the rider’s agent. Many share the sentiment.

Good luck to Dominguez as he continues his recovery. He’ll be missed.

2:30 PM Addendum: Here’s a spreadsheet of Dominguez’s record in graded stakes 1999-2012 and lifetime stats by year, compiled by Equibase.

Commodities

Jay Hovdey on why it’s time to talk about the claiming game:

… 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 Home Track Advantage

Jon White looks ahead from Super Saturday to Santa Anita:

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).

New York, New York

Huh:

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.

Five days until Super Saturday. Try to enjoy. (Maybe a little Kelso will help?)

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.”

All the Prescriptions

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.

Odds and Ends

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 so much more — efficient data distribution, an open API for developers, etc and this is what they come up with?

Trakus could be the group that leads industry out of the .pdf past performance dark ages. But here’s jockey efficiency ratings, have fun!

Trakus could be. Why isn’t it?

Also seeking answers re: New York racing …

Liz O’Connell pursues information on the New York Task Force on Racehorse Health and Safety and its delayed report on Aqueduct breakdowns (via):

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 Statistics Are Somewhat Hopeful”

Jeff Scott checks the stats on Saratoga’s Lasix-free juvenile starters:

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.

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