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.
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 of 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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
As each year comes to its end, I go through all the racing stories I’ve bookmarked or shared over the past 12 months and pluck together a short list of pieces that stand out, whether for great reporting or great storytelling. If you haven’t read the stories linked below yet, take a few minutes to enjoy some of the best turf journalism from 2011 before 2012 begins:
“As 10-year ban hangs over Rick Dutrow, opinions vary about controversial horse trainer.” The definitive profile of the New York trainer, handed a record suspension this year, by Jerry Bossert for the New York Daily News.
“For Pletcher, managing a training empire is all in a day’s work” Joe Drape on how he does it, for the New York Times.
Pletcher was an assistant to trainer D. Wayne Lukas, dubbed “The most interesting man in racing,” by Gary West this spring, in one of the last posts published on his Star-Telegram blog. That the formidable turf writer with the superb flapdoodle detector was let go by the newspaper was a loss for Texas racing. Fortunately for readers, West now appears on ESPN.
Claire Novak won her first Eclipse award this year with “Pressure off Durkin at Belmont,” about the announcer’s decision to step down from calling the Triple Crown races on NBC, but I’m biased toward her terrific Kentucky Derby week story, “The Inside Scoop: Why Calvin Borel owns the rail,” which appeared on Kentucky Confidential. For fun, and a touch of Gay Talese, Novak’s recounting of a New Orleans cabbie’s racetrack story can’t be beat.
At Suffolk Downs, a rider reached a significant milestone: “Piermarini gets win 2000 on Sugar Trade.” Susan Salk of Offtrack Thoroughbreds talked to Tammi Piermarini about becoming only the fifth female jockey in racing to crack 2K.
Ryan Goldberg added context and depth to this year’s intense (and ongoing) Lasix debate with his well-researched and matter-of-fact story for the Daily Racing Form, “Lasix: Demystifying the drug, methods of training without it.”
DRF photographer Barbara Livingston shared some marvelous historic racing photos from her private collection this year, as in this post: “Man o’ War’s funeral: Remarkable final tribute for majestic champion.” The great horse was laid out in a casket for viewing; thousands filed past to pay their respects.
“Gray Thoroughbreds, a precious relic of the breed’s earliest days, became a rarity on the racecourse for a good part of the 19th century.” I had no idea. Kellie Reilly on the revival of grays in the 20th century, on BRISnet.
“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.”
Dutrow in happier days.
“RICK DUTROW DONE,” was the search term that led someone to Railbird this morning, presumably seeking more on yesterday’s shocking news that the KHRC denied the trainer a Kentucky license because of his lengthy list of violations and license application inconsistencies. “I never thought I’d see the day when a big-name trainer was held to task for his misdeeds,” tweeted Ryan Goldberg. Regardless of what happens next, there’s no denying, as the Racing Post put it so well, that “controversial trainer Rick Dutrow hit a new career low” on Wednesday. He has a chance to hit another in May, when New York reviews his license, or possibly when his biggest client, IEAH, pulls its stock from his barn. “Obviously, we can’t be in a position where our horses can’t run in certain jurisdictions,” Michael Iavarone told DRF.
A restraining order will make it possible for Amen Hallelujah, entered by Dutrow before his hearing, to start in the Vinery Madison today*.
Brooklyn Backstretch has posted a timely interview with RCI president Ed Martin on Dutrow’s record and the letter Martin wrote to the NYSRWB in February calling for an examination of his license: “His record is his record.” That’s just it, and Dutrow doesn’t help himself when he makes excuses:
He also said any misinformation on his license applications were not intentional but were due to the fact others completed the paperwork for him, and he just signed it.
Or refuses to take responsibility:
Dutrow said that was because he could not remember whether the incident occurred within the time frame stipulated on the application, but the committee could get copies of his criminal record in order to get the specifics.
What made the KHRC decision all the more interesting was the context. It’s spring, and racing seems to be in the mood to clean house. The movement to ban raceday medications is suddenly gaining real momentum. The latest group to sign on is the Breeders’ Cup, which announced today that its board:
… also endorsed in principle the recently announced recommendation of the Association of Racing Commissioners International (RCI) to eliminate the use of race-day medications in North American racing and decided to appoint a sub-committee with the objective of developing a plan and a timetable for the elimination of race-day medication in the Breeders’ Cup World Championships.
American racing is going drug-free! I don’t see what could stop … oh, right:
Saying they support efforts to limit race-day medications, two prominent Thoroughbred trainers said they hope the initiatives do not go so far as to ban use of the anti-bleeder drug known as Salix.
The Kentucky Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, which represents all licensed owners and trainers, hasn’t discussed stricter medication rules, said president Rick Hiles, a trainer.
“We believe in therapeutic medications to help the animals,” he said, “so we’re probably not going to endorse it.”
But what about the celebrity owners, Mr. Hiles? Spare them a thought, as TDN publisher Barry Weisbord does in a column appearing yesterday:
When a prominent t.v. personality such as Bobby Flay or a successful young businessman like Mike Repole or Kevin Plank — any of whom could participate in any sport they’d like — decides to spend his free time participating in Thoroughbred racing, what do we do? We make it tougher on him by forcing him to continually answer this question: Why do you spend your time in an industry which drugs its athletes?
Asking them to answer that question, be it in the lead-up to a major race, or when they’re receiving some other recognition in their professional lives and the topic of racing comes up, is not only unfair, but has to diminish their enjoyment of their participation in racing.
Actually, I get this. When I talk to people who don’t know much about racing, the question of drugs often comes up, and I find myself choosing my words carefully and trying to tell the truth but not make it sound so, so bad. There’s a perception of shadiness attached to even the legal medications, regardless of their therapeutic qualities. Banning raceday drugs is about doing right by horses, and giving horseplayers and casual fans reason to trust in the integrity of the game — which is why all the meds, including Lasix, must go.
4/15/11 Addendum: This is pretty funny:
Sallusto was not on the grounds for the [Vinery Madison], leaving jockey John Velazquez as the sole person to answer questions in the wake of the filly’s runner-up effort.
“No one,” was Velazquez’s response when asked who gave him pre-race instructions.
When asked whether he had talked with the trainer after the race, Velazquez replied, “Who is the trainer?”