JC / Railbird

Trainers

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.

The Must-Reads, 2011

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.

In search of the Kelco.” Bill Christine, at HRI, on the handicapping gizmos of yesteryear (which gave me an excuse to post about the Race-o-meter).

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.

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