JC / Railbird

Trainers

Trainers: Who Gets the Distance?

TimeformUS takes a look at the distance race statistics of trainers with likely Belmont Stakes starters. Spoilers: The numbers at 12+ furlongs are small. Pletcher is solid. Mott knows what he’s doing. Clement has great turf form.

The Indefensible

Andrew Beyer:

It is wrong to characterize Asmussen as a bad apple. It is unfair to single him out for stigmatization. And it was thoroughly disingenuous for Phipps to say, “His presence and participation [in the Kentucky Oaks and Derby] would indicate that it’s just ‘business as usual’ in the thoroughbred industry.”

Through the industry, the indiscriminate use of drugs is business as usual.

Yes. And so long as it is, racing will be a target for groups like PETA.

Or Congress.

The Target

Trainer Rusty Arnold defends Steve Asmussen:

The two medications alluded to in the video (Lasix and thyroid powder) are both legal to have and legal to use. So, what crime has Steve committed?

None, but that’s the issue, isn’t it? The indiscriminate dosing of horses with unnecessary drugs has become routine. Maybe it shouldn’t be.

Don’t Be Disappointed

Oxbow spoiled nothing winning the Preakness, writes Bill Dwyre, because he put trainer D. Wayne Lukas back in the spotlight:

In this age of owners looking for quick prominence and quick return on investment, a Triple Crown winner offers a nice temporary buzz before disappearing into the breeding shed. Lukas coming back, with plenty left in the tank, should have his sport counting its lucky stars.

It has been a few years since Lukas was at the center — the last Triple Crown race he won was the 2000 Belmont, with Commendable.

Answers Wanted

Now that the first shock over the news that 11 Godolphin racehorses turned up positive for steroids in out-of-competition testing conducted by the British Horseracing Authority has passed, Greg Wood has questions:

Assuming that Zarooni was not creeping around the yard after midnight with a rucksack full of syringes, who was helping him? Was a vet — who would fall outside the licensing authority of the BHA — involved, as was the case with Nicky Henderson and the Moonlit Path affair in 2009? And who was supplying the steroids for what was, even if it was inadvertent, such a significant doping programme? Where were the drugs stored and who knew that they were there? How many other horses have been given steroids at Moulton Paddocks since Zarooni took charge in 2010?

All the questions are hugely embarrassing for Sheikh Mohammed. “I have made a catastrophic error,” said trainer Mahmood al-Zarooni. You can read his words as an admission of ignorance, or betrayal.

2:30 PM Addendum: “For Sheikh Mohammed, the mortification could not have been greater had they found a fridge full of cobra venom.”

In the Money

Courtesy Churchill Downs: Kentucky Derby trainer records 1898-2012 (PDF).

Among the stats included in the file linked above are most starts and most wins by trainer. Considering just currently active trainers, both lists are topped by D. Wayne Lukas, who’s had 45 starters and four wins in 31 years. Bob Baffert is second in wins, with three from 23 starters in 16 years. Those two are also the leaders with Derby starters finishing in the money — 35% of Baffert starters have hit the board, 22% of Lukas’ starters. Todd Pletcher is second to Lukas in total number of starters, with 31 in 12 years, but fourth, with 13%, when it comes to finishing in the money.

Pletcher will likely be first when it comes to number of starters in the 2013 — he has six possible contenders among the top 24 on the latest Derby points list (PDF). Baffert has three Derby points leaders, Lukas two.

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.

The Better Horses

Two items from the DRF story on the Breeders’ Cup juvenile race Lasix ban:

At Saratoga, the biggest East Coast summer meeting for 2-year-olds, 137 of 694 starters (19.7 percent) in 90 juvenile races raced without Lasix. The Lasix-free horses won only half as frequently as Lasix users … but other factors drove the disparity in win rate. Principally, trainer Todd Pletcher, the strongest 2-year-old trainer in New York, sent all his winners out with Lasix.

And:

“We can talk about it the day after the race, but I can guarantee you right now,” [trainer Christophe Clement] said. “The better horse will win …”

Re: the first, Pletcher’s all-Lasix Spa baby squad is definitely one of the factors that must be taken into account looking at this summer’s Lasix-free winner stats. And for the second, that there’s no Lasix in the juvenile races tilted trainer Richard Hannon toward sending Moyglare Stud Stakes winner Sky Lantern to the Breeders’ Cup because, “[it’s] a level playing field for all of us.” It can only be for the good if trainers here and abroad perceive the Breeders’ Cup as letting the best horses shine through drug-free.

Dutrow, Due Process, and Denial

Steve Zorn on how NYRA could have denied trainer Rick Dutrow stalls:

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.

The Babe’s Game

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.

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