Monday, June 30, 2008

Where There's Smoke...

Call me naive but the recent furor that Rick Dutrow and Steve Asmussen's high profile owner, attorney Maggi Moss, have created trying to debunk their respective (in Moss's case, the charge is against her trainer Asmussen) charges of doping horses, has only added insult to injury and totally missed the point.

In saying that they have not done anything out of the ordinary (merely gotten caught) Dutrow and Moss refuse to accept an attitude of zero tolerance for drugs of any kind in the sport. Dutrow called a press conference to say he made a mistake--actually one of his employees made a mistake--and didn't take the horse off the drug clenbuterol soon enough before the filly Salute the Count raced. Moss has decided to come out of legal retirement to defend Asmussen against the "antiquation of testing labs and the lack of uniformity in rules and testing."

Guess what? It is not the rules of the system that are broken; it is the system itself. One would hope that a defense of "technicalities" would not cut it in a universe where all drugs are illegal. Period.

Of course Dutrow has serious egg on his face once again because his clenbuterol overage was revealed on the coattails of Michael Iavaronne's announcement that IEAH Stable would be drug free by Oct. 1. And Moss looks equally foolish with statements like this: "Being the leading trainer in the country and having Curlin, it would be ludicrous for him to give lidocaine to a 2-year old filly who is going off at 1-5 odds. Nothing about this makes sense."

Neither does her statement. What does Curlin have to do with the 2-year old filly racing on pain killers? Ironically Moss is right about the antiquation of drug testing and the lack of uniformity of rules regarding medication across state lines but the answer is NOT to institute MORE rules but simply eliminate ALL drugs. This is not rocket science. Nor is it discriminatory. It is leveling the playing field for all concerned for the benefit of the horses. What about that does not make sense?

I think what we have here is two people very scared about changing the way racing has always done business. What they fail to see if that it doesn't change, there will be no more business for anyone involved.

Bickering over the timing of suspensions and the validity of drug tests is just detracting from the larger issue. I sincerely hope that for once the public is smart enough to see through the smoke.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Dog Dogs

We all know that animals are big business these days. This year the American Pet Product Manufacturers Association estimates that consumers will spend about $43.4 billion on their furry companions. That's a lot of money in an economy where $4.00 a gallon for gas may soon start to look like a bargain.

In any event, there is a wonderful new exhibit at the James Michener Museum in Doylestown, Pennsylvania that celebrates dogs long before they became status symbols. French-born American photographer Elliott Erwitt, who is 79 years old, started taking pictures of dogs in the mid-1940s and made it a point to shoot dogs being dogs wherever he traveled. The black and white exhibit of more than 60 dog photos is currently on display at the Michener Museum.

Many of Erwin's photographs are featured in his book, Dog Dogs, which is also the title of the exhibit. According to Philadelphia Inquirer art critic Ed Sozanski, what makes Erwitt's photographs so engaging is the fact that he has captured dogs in the act of being dogs. "Erwitt photographed dogs as he came upon them, usually outdoors--on the street, in parks or at the beach, but sometimes in other public situations such as a restaurant in Brussels and a dog show in New York," writes Sozanski. "Nowhere did I detect the slightest hint that Erwitt had staged any of the scenes, even when the dogs appeared to be performing."

Interesting camera angles and juxtapositions in the photos give them power and punch but there is also the element of instant sympatico--as in yes, my dog does the same things--to which dog owners will relate. Above all, notes Sozanski, Erwitt demonstrates that it is possible to photograph an overdone subject without being trite or sentimental.

Even if you can't make the exhibit, which runs through the summer, you might be interested in the book. As Sozanski concludes, "Most of Erwit's dogs, regardless of where and when they were photographed, are lovable, but not in a way that makes one embarrassed to be enjoying these photos."


Saturday, June 28, 2008

Testing the Drug Tests

There was a front page article in Thursday's New York Times about the failure of Olympic drug tests to detect all the substances that athletes use to enhance their performance. One substance in particular, recombinant human erythropoietin, known as EPO, always managed to go undetected.

My point is this. If drugs can slip through the cracks of what is called the "world's toughest anti-doping program" just imagine what is not being detected in the bloodstreams of thoroughbreds in training. The tests used to detect drugs in horses are notoriously unreliable--hence the standard procedure by most trainers to ask for a second reading on a split sample--and my guess is that most of the time horses run on all sorts of illegal cocktails that slip through the cracks.

Which is why a total prohibition on all pharmaceutical substances is needed--and even then will have to be vigilantly enforced. This will cost money and should ideally be part of each racetrack's operating expenditures, and the enforcers should only be federal agents if the government is willing to pay and train them.

I know that the concept of federal enforcement of anything makes some people nervous but I spent the day on airplanes Wednesday traveling to Providence R. I. and back for business and I was actually impressed by the TSA inspectors who all seemed a cut above most of the ones I routinely encounter. Maybe its because they know that flying has become such a hassle that they went out of their way to be nicer, but I think it also might be because they are getting more training and better salaries.

Anyway, all of this on the heels of Steve Asmussen's notification of a drug overage in the filly Timber Trick who broke her maiden at Lone Star Park in Texas on May 10. This time the drug was lidocaine--a local anesthetic. And why does it take so long to get the results? Note the infraction occurred on May 10 and he was officially served notice on June 26.

There are a lot of pieces to the puzzle and it seems to me that you can't fix the whole without first repairing the parts.

Friday, June 27, 2008

If the Shoe Fits

I am simply amazed at the staying power of the Big Brown Belmont story. ABC News even covered the "loose shoe" theory as did Bloodhorse and the New York Times. It seems that the loose shoe on Big Brown's right hind leg may provide the most "logical" explanation to date for his stunning loss.

Why are people still wondering about this? The horse lost. There are a myriad of possible reasons why and we will never know the definitive answer. Well, maybe we will but it is going to take a long time. We only recently found out that Phar Lap was indeed a victim of arsenic poisoning and that happened over fifty years ago. So get over it and move on.

The source of all this spinning continues to be Michael Iavarone who has serious financial interests in establishing his reputation as a conscientious owner. First he proclaims his stable "drug free" and then he jumps on the loose shoe theory as his get out of jail card. Couldn't have been the let down from steroids? Couldn't have been the excessive heat combined with lasix? Couldn't have been the inside post position combined with the increased traffic out of the gate?

Wait, remember the starting judge on the track in the blue jacket? Or the questionable ride by the jockey? Or the horse's unusual aggressive behavior in the detention barn prior to the race? Or the crowds? Or the noise? Or the deep track?

I truly believe this is just the latest in a series of possible outs for what was simply a bad performance all around. Big Brown may have come in last on the track but his owners and trainer are still running....

Thursday, June 26, 2008

How Low Can They Go?

How low can they go? I'm talking about Jeremy Rose and Rick Dutrow, the trainer and the jockey, both of whom were disciplined for breaking the rules of the sport and once again injuring innocent horses in the process. Both of these individuals should be acting as ambassadors to the sport, not adding insult to injury.

First Rose, who was suspended for six months following a stewards' ruling that he "engaged in extreme misuse of the whip during the stretch run" while aboard Appeal to the City during the third race at Delaware Park on June 23. Bloodhorse reports, "The horse sustained hemorrhaging around its eyes due to contact with Rose's whip."

The good news is that the horse is responding nicely to the treatment she received at New Bolton Center. The bad news is that Delaware Park was supposed to be testing the new shorter more humane whips. I have been unable to determined whether this accident occurred with the new whips or the old ones, which is actually irrelevant since it should not have occurred to begin with.

Rose has been suspended for a substantial amount of time (read lack of paycheck)and required to attend anger management classes, so this is not a slap on the wrist. In addition, Rose is responsible for all veterinarian bills for the care and treatment of Appeal to the City.

Compared to this, Dutrow seems to have gotten off fairly easy for doping another horse in his care. Salute the Count tested positive for twice the allowable level of clenbuterol after finishing second in a $100,000 stakes race at Churchill Downs the day before Big Brown won the Kentucky Derby. Dutrow is suspended for 15 days and the horse's owner must return the $20,000 in purse earnings.

The punishment does not seem to be meted out evenly in these two equally horrific crimes, which is an indication of the lack of central authority in the sport. As far as I'm concerned all "crimes" against horses should result in removal from the sport immediately and for perpetuity. No second chances. No appeals. No excuses.

As if Congress needed any more reasons to mandate a national commissioner...I am sure they are paying attention even if some of the people who earn their livings from the sport are not.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Only the Good Die Young

I have a friend who has lupus and when the disease flares up she is forced to take massive doses of steroids to put it back into remission. The long term effects of these drugs is beginning to take its toll. She has had cataract surgery (at 49!), numerous bone fractures and ruptured tendons. It seems she is always having some sort of "corrective' surgery.

At the same time, it is almost impossible for her to wean herself completely from the drugs. She tries to maintain the lowest possible dose, but she cannot be truly be steroid free without being debilitated. Long term use is itself debilitating, but so is complete withdrawal.

All of which got me thinking about how long it takes for horses to get the steroids out of their systems and what kind of consequences they suffer during the detox.

An AP article that appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer last week addresses these concerns. Don Rosenberg, a breeding consultant who worked at Three Chimneys for 25 years notes that many stallions arrive at the breeding shed from the racetrack with smaller testicles than normal and fillies, who have been on steroids may have irregular menstrual cycles and display "masculine" aggressive tendencies. "Four to five months after they get here, they're back to normal," Rosenberg notes.

The question is, what is normal. Most of these horses have been shot with steroids during their first year, to build muscle and make them more attractive in the sales ring. I've got to believe that muscle building is at the expense of bone building and that we are forcing those delicate legs to bear even more load. Muscular, "ripped" stallions may catch the eye of a bidder or bettor, but these centerfold equines are walking time bombs--set to implode with or without continued steroid use during their racing careers.

What needs to happen is an industry wide ban on these drugs--from cradle to grave, if you will--except for palliative and therapeutic reasons. Small animal vets usually resort to prednisone as a last resort--and in as small a dose as possible. There is no doubt it works but the question is at what cost.

Why can't large animal vets follow their lead? Isn't it ironic that our cats and dogs are living longer and longer and our horses are dying young?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Has the Worm Turned?

How the worm has turned!!! In yesterday's New York Times, the owners of Big Brown announced that they have decided to become the poster boys for the future of horse racing. Michael Iavaronne, spokesmouth for IEAH said that all the horses in their stable will be "drug free" by October 1.

No comment from Dutrow, who also did not show up for the Congressional hearings last week. Iavarone stressed that Dutrow "backed the self-imposed ban on all medications believed to be performance enhancing." However, Iavarone did say that his horses would run on lasix when necessary.

If you caught Dr. Larry Soma's testimony last week, you would have learned that lasix, perceived to be an anti-bleeding medication, is, in his opinion, "performance enhancing." So the moral of the story is "clean" is a relative term. Steroid free is one things. Drug free in another.

What is interesting is how masterful these guys are at the art of the spin. Perhaps they thought that Dutrow's original admission that he used Winstrol on all his horses would be interpreted as being open and upfront. In other words, yes we use steroids and we aren't ashamed to admit it. Since that backfired, they completely reversed their position, picking up on the buzz generated by the hearings last week and riding that tide. Too little, too late or just another attempt to attract new investors?

Here's my guess at what is really happening. Those horses may be "steroid free" but they will be pumped up with other things that are probably also legal like lasix and bute. There is no way they are going to be racing truly drug free and even if they are, according to the rules as they now stand, that usually means within a 48 hour window of running.

When Mr. Iavarone says he is going to train and race his horses drug free, then I might pay attention. Right now, I think they are just trying to recoup their losses by adding some credibility to their name. According to the Times, Big Brown's last place finish in the Belmont, "cost IEAH at least $50 million in the breeding shed and in future marketing deals."

Of course that is usually what happens when you put the cart before the horse and once you do that, it is hard to go back. What's that they say? What goes around, comes around, and this time its biting pretty hard.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Dog Days of Summer?

OK she did play Cruella De Ville the most notorious dog kidnapper in literature (What? you haven't seen the remake of 101 Dalmations?), but in real life Glenn Close is a serious dog lover. In fact, she and her husband have started a wonderful web site that features all things dog and is worth your perusal.

The site,, has lots of features: products to buy, information on common dog conditions, puppy photos, and blogs, one of which is written by Glenn Close. Her blog features interviews with celebrities and their dogs and the most recent one is a remarkable story about a service dog, raised by inmates, and the Iraq vet he is serving. It is a great read about the power of dogs to communicate with others and sometimes get through barriers that humans can't seem to penetrate.

Speaking of which, there is a new book out that is all about the communication that takes place between humans and their animals. Not all of this is verbal, as The Life of Edgar Sawtelle explores. Called a "stunning debut novel" by Amazon the book by David Wrobleswski is back-ordered (that's what a great review in the NY Times will do!) but probably worth ordering anyway.

It took Wrdobleswki ten years to write the tome about a deaf, dumb boy who communicates wordlessly with the family's dogs. I'm not sure what kind of dogs these are but the Sawtelles breed them.

Sound good to me and perfect for a beach read. I'm always inspired by people who hang in there for ten years to write their book--gives me hope on a lot of levels.....

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Two More Thoughts on the Hearings

Two more thoughts on the recent Congressional hearings. The first is about medical records; the second about the Triple Crown and steroids.

With regard to medical records, a few years ago I was hired by the Lebanon Pennsylvania Veterans Hospital to write their history. Now I know that VA hospitals have come under a lot of attack in recent days and the one in Lebanon, Pa is probably a little better than most, but one thing that is truly astounding about all VA hospitals is the computerized medical record keeping system they have installed across all their facilities. The doctors no longer write orders--they type them into a mobile computer that travels with them as they make rounds. No more mistakes due to unreadable handwriting for starters and these records are entered into a central VA system. That means that a vet who wants to get his/her meds. in Florida, where they go for the winter, can. Or the vet who was displaced after Hurricane Katrina still has access to his/her medical records. Pretty nifty--and I should note, your taxes paid for it.

Still, it astounds me to think that horses do not have medical records that travel with them when they are sold, claimed or passed from one owner, trainer to the next. When you take your dog to Penn Vet for heavens sake, you have to bring his/her medical records and proof of vaccination to even get an appointment.

I know vets keep records. Whey can't they travel with a horse? Or to put it another way, think of what they are hiding. I am not advocating a centralized medical record keeping system for horses--it is violently expensive and who would foot that bill?--but I do think it is a travesty that it is not a requirement of sale that medical records come with the horse.

The second thought is about the impact of steroids on the Triple Crown. For one, can you imagine how the concept of the Triple Crown would have been tarnished if Big Brown, a horse known to be on steroids, had won? Would it have lost its prestige? And how can those states in which the Triple Crown races are conducted permit steroids for just that reason? I think we are moving toward a state wide ban of steroids but I also think there will always be those who push the envelope to see how far they can go before they get caught.

To me the obvious answer is federal oversight and I just hope it happens in my lifetime.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Will the Circle Be Unbroken?

Almost every participant in the panel discussions at the Congressional hearings on Thursday implicated everyone in the industry for the abuses that have gone on much too long. Breeders. Owners. Trainers. Vets. Racetrack management. The cycle is complicated but deeply connected.

You buy or breed a horse and you hire a trainer to train the horse to win races. The trainer suggests the use of some combination of some performance enhancement drugs, coupled with lasix to "remain competitive." You balk. The trainer asks you if you want to win.

Well of course you do, because you have invested a lot of money in this horse and you hope to either make your name as a breeder by this horse's racing career, or set yourself up for a nice residual in the form of stud fees when this horse retires from the track. But if you don't win, none of this is even remotely possible.

So say you agree. Then the trainer asks the vet for some kind of performance enhancing cocktail that can't be detected or is legal in certain states. The vet balks. Well, the trainer will find another vet who will cooperate and get paid, often twice. Once by the trainer (who bills the owner) and perhaps once by the drug company whose cocktail he is using.

So we have a hyped up horse who may be masking an injury. The horse runs, finishes in the money but sustains a stress fracture that goes undetected. The trainer usually rests horses three or four weeks between races, but the racing secretary appears in his barn the next day and says there's a race in two weeks that looks very weak and perfect for this horse. Can he count you in?

Well of course. You want to win don't you? More drugs, more injury to an already injured limb and pretty soon, it is too late to go forward and much too late to go back. Time to retire the horse and pass on all the complications fostered by all those medications to the next generation. And so it begins again.

Everybody's hands are dirty and the argument of "That's the way the game is played" is not going to cut it any longer. I think the game is over unless we start promoting an industry that takes care of its own.

Am I right or wrong?

Friday, June 20, 2008

My Take on the Congressional Hearings

First a confession: I was not able to get my Real Player software to cooperate during the entire testimony of the first panel of yesterday morning's Congressional hearings on racing. It did kick in for portions of the audio and then the video miraculously appeared from about noon on so I saw the entire second panel and the second part of the first panel, after the break. I apologize for not responding to everything but I feel compelled to respond to what I did see, which was riveting.

The most compelling testimony, in my opinion, came from Allie Conrad, Executive Director of CANTER, who spoke for the horses who cannot speak for themselves. She painted, in no uncertain terms, a portrait of the abuses in the sport that brought tears to my eyes. She described the conditions of horses who run on injected joints until they can no longer earn their keep. She told of their horrific withdrawal from the drugs they are administered when they finally are released into the care of the volunteers from her organization. And she took issue with the figures quoted by the New York Times last week about deaths of race horses since they did not include the horses who meet their ends in her barns. "We are trying our best to clean up racing's mess without any funding from the industry," she stated. "Racing is not bothering to take care of its horses and there need to be funds set aside from starting fees or a percentage of purses at every racetrack in the country for re-homing."

And how amazingly ironic that Conrad was followed by Alex Waldrop who told the incredulous (I do believe they were incredulous) committee members that racing was doing a better job of regulating itself, working within the individual laws of the states in which it exists. Clearly the status quo is severely broken--what planet does he live on?--and clearly it is going to take some serious action at a national level--and by serious I mean sanctions with deep financial implications--for anything to change.

The cynic in me was silenced by Conrad's testimony. This is the time to make a change. And if it doesn't happen, then all the people that are employed by the industry need to make their own peace with the Devil. Because they have all sold their souls.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Glass Half Empty or Half Full?

Stuart Janney, chairman of the Jockey Club's Thoroughbred Safety Committee, has addressed the media on his committee's safety recommendations and while he has done a great job explaining the rationale behind these recommendations, in my opinion, they do not go far enough. The suggestions are: ban steroids on race day, eliminate toe grabs on horses' front shoes and use a padded and shorter riding crop.

With regard to the steroid ban, Janney was forceful but also pragmatic: "Steroids have no place in a horse on race day," he said, leaving the door open for the use of steroids for therapeutic purposes. What will have to be made extremely clear, however, is the window during which steroids may be administered prior to racing.

Part of this package requires the development of an appropriate test, ideally blood based, that detects synthetic steroids in horses. What will need to be determined is whether or not steroids like Winstrol, for example, which Dutrow admitted to administering on the 15th of every month, is still detected in the bloodstream of a horse on the 30th of that same month. In other words, no steroids on race day still leaves open the possibility of administering steroids prior to race day.

As for the elimination of toe caps, I think it is a great idea because it does put added stress on the horse's front legs. The question remains whether they should have eliminated them on the hind legs as well.

Think about wearing cleats. When you walk on surfaces that require their added traction, you do not notice them. But when you don't, they do change your gate. I am thinking, in particular, of the yak-trak cleats I wear to walk my dogs in winter snow and ice. You could break your neck on my tile floor, so I walk very gingerly in the house, but they are great on the ice. Even so, the first few days I wear them, my calf muscles are sore from walking in a different way. I can only imagine that if I had four feet instead of two and had cleats on only two of my feet, my weight would be totally redistributed and would indeed, place more stress on different muscles.

There is the risk of eliminating traction all together, which in itself is dangerous, but shifting toe grabs from the front to the rear feet may also prove to be problematic. Why not eliminate them all together--which they could do if they mandated synthetic racing surfaces. To be fair, Larry Bramlage, veterinarian, said the committee would be addressing the issue of traction devices on the hind legs but it would require additional data--which might be forthcoming pretty quickly once they eliminate the toe grabs on the front feet.

As for the shorter, padded whips--again a good suggestion and one that walks the middle ground. Will enforcement be needed to examine those "padded" whips? Will some be less "padded" than others? And are those whips only for race days, not training? Why not make them mandatory on the racetrack at all times?

So how do you see it? Is something better than nothing?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

All is Not as It Seems

Talk about putting the cart before the horse! Here's an interesting tidbit: The safety panel created by The Jockey Club after Eight Belles broke down in the Kentucky Derby and was euthanized on the track, has recommended a steroid ban in the sport.

The recommendation was released Tuesday, two days PRIOR to the Congressional hearings slated for Thursday of this week. Is this an effort to save face by the higher echelons of the sport or an effort to out trump Alex Waldrop, president of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, who still maintains that it is a state-by state decision? Or is it a realization that Congress is going to mandate this ban anyway so the Jockey Club might as well get on board and look good in the process?

Only time will tell of course, but feathers seem to be flying in all directions over this issue. Senator Damon Thayer, a Republican state senator from Georgetown, Kentucky called the concept of the hearings a "dog and pony show," lobbing a direct hit at Rep. Ed Whitfield, one of the organizers of the hearings. To make matters worse, he did so at a meeting of the Kentucky Equine Drug Research Council, of which Ed's wife, Connie, is a member.

Thayer and Waldrop are on the same side. They both believe that regulation of drugs in horse racing is a state by state issue. Kind of makes you wonder if they are being courted by lobbyists for the drug companies. The simple fact that there are such inconsistencies across the sport is enough to suggest that national oversight is needed. The larger question is whether or not this oversight should come from Congress or a national racing commissioner. Both solutions seem to make Thayer and Waldrop quake.

It makes sense that Waldrop is opposed to the creation of a national czar because that would put his job in jeopardy. But Thayer? Come on, two republicans from the same state trading punches? What gives?

All is not as it seems. When even the venerable Jockey Club comes out with in favor of a ban on steroids, its hard to disagree.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

New Horse Sanctuary in Oregon

I've written about the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) before and the good deeds they do. Well add another one. They recently opened a new horse shelter, the HSUS Duchess Sanctuary in southern Oregon.

This facility is a 1,120 acre ranch near Roseburg, Oregon and will serve as a sister facility to the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch, in East Texas, another HSUS facility.

As many of you know, the creation of this new facility could not have come at a better time. Perhaps it will even combat some of the outlandish claims in the mainstream press about the increase in unwanted and abandoned horses now that the U. S. has finally closed its slaughter facilities.

The HSUS now has two 1,000 plus acres facilities on which to provide care for horses in addition to their Cape Wildlife Center in the Northeast and the Fund for Animals Wildlife Center in southern California--covering the four corners of the U. S., so to speak.

This new facility was created by some hefty donations from some private foundations. Kudos to HSUS for their continued good deeds on behalf of animals everywhere.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Time To Come Clean

Sometimes it's all about timing and taking advantage of the moment. And right now seems to be the moment for the thoroughbred racing industry to admit that something is wrong, in fact, terribly wrong, with the status quo.

The AP reported yesterday as the lead sports story on AOL that thoroughbred racetracks in the U. S., reported more than three horse deaths a day last year and 5,000 since 2003. Most of these deaths were as a result of "catastrophic" injuries suffered on the racetrack.

Three horse deaths a day? That is astounding but not unbelievable since the actual figure is probably higher. Most deaths are unreported because there is no standard record keeping requirement among racetracks. Arkansas, Michigan, Nebraska do not record fatalities and only one track in Florida does. "There were wide difference among the other states in what types of deaths are monitored and how far back the records go," reports the AP.

How many cheap claimers meet their end because of injuries that are not really catastrophic? How many horses are fatally injured in their stalls or during morning workouts? How many expensive horses meet their end because owners want to cash in the insurance policy? And how many losing racehorses die at slaughter plants because they can't earn their keep?

More importantly, can you think of any other sport that does not track its injury and/or fatality rate? I can't. Just imagine if that was, God forbid, three human deaths a day. Do you think something would have been done years ago to stop the carnage?

Inconsistent race track surfaces are partially to blame but so are breeding practices, over and under training regimes, drugs and yes, just plain luck. To a certain extent, there is danger inherent in the sport, but I strongly believe that we are aggravating that danger by our essentially greedy practices that don't respect the horse.

Yes high end trainers treat their high end proteges like the high end equines that they are, but not everyone can afford to hire Nick Zito or Michael Matz to train their horses. Trust me, there are more trainers of cheap claimers than there are of stakes winners.

So step up to the plate racing and come clean. I really believe this is the last chance. Too many people have caught a glimpse of the dark side of the sport on national television to go back and pretend that that's the way it has always been.

It's time to do better.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Crazy Good

So who says horse books aren't hot?

This, from Newsweek, about Charles Leerhsen's newest tome, Crazy Good, the story of Dan Patch, a harness racer who captured the heart of a nation in much the same way that Seabiscuit did. "But before World War I, horse racing was the nation's leading sport and harness racing....was more popular than the Thoroughbred game," writes Tony Dokoupil in his review.

This popularity, Leerhsen's theorizes was due to the public identification with a horse pulling a cart, their primary means of transport. The fast trotting harness horse was in effect, "a chance to cheer on a faster version of something you have at home."

That said, Dan Patch provided a lot of opportunities for cheering. First of all he raced for NINE years, from 1900 to 1909, and he was incredibly fast. "More than 100,000 people would flock to watch his exhibitions of blinding speed, where he frequently pierced the two-minute-mile mark, and eventually shaved the record to 1:55." He also earned close to $1 million, hardly pocket change in his era or today. And in versions of the merchandising craze on which careers are built today, Dan Patch even had his own line of products ranging from pancake syrup to washing machines!

The book gets a great review ("From start to finish, this book has legs," writes Dokoupil), and the author, an executive editor at Sports Illustrated, gets kudos for resurrecting another equine superstar that time forgot. As much an homage to an era where horse power was literal as well as figurative, the book brings the horse alive through his connections in much the same way that any story about a main character who cannot speak must.

So perhaps the answer to my still-not-sold book proposal is to let Barbaro go away only to be resurrected in another, say ten or twenty years, by a public lacking long-term memory. The only problem, of course, is that the story won't go away because of all the issue tied to racing that it has come to represent.

Just another chapter in what I think is an even bigger story with even longer legs.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The 1987 Kentucky Derby

I had the most wonderful moment of serendipity two nights ago. My daughter and I were settling in to watch the Phillies play the Marlins (at least a few innings) but the game was rain delayed. So we channel surfed and happened upon the HBO show entitled Jim McKay: My World.

We caught the show about halfway through but by the credits, I figured out that it was a piece McKay had written and directed after his retirement from ABC Wide World of Sports. Basically it was his personal look back at some of the most memorable sports stories he had reported.

High on the list, of course, was the 1972 Olympics in Munich when McKay covered the kidnapping and subsequent murder of the Israeli Olympic team at the hands of terrorists. McKay was on the air live during the entire ordeal and the show included an interview with the parents of David Berger, an American who had moved to Israel and was a member of their weight lifting team. He was killed in the raid and McKay was acutely aware of the fact that Berger's parents were watching his broadcast.

He also reminisced about covering the British Open at St. Andrews, the Indianapolis 500 and of course the Kentucky Derby, which he covered for 25 years. McKay's love affair with thoroughbreds was sincere; he narrates a wonderful section in which he admits to his fascination with the sport because horses are among the most "pure" athletes he knew. "Why do they try so hard?" he wondered. "It isn't for the paycheck or the glory or even the crowd."

And then he highlighted his favorite Kentucky Derby of all those he covered--the 1987 Derby in which Alysheba chased our horse, Bet Twice, down the stretch to win by a length. And there, for a brief, shining moment, was Bet Twice ahead at the top of the stretch, only to be beaten at the wire by Alysheba. It was a goose bump moment for me and for my daughter, who had been born three weeks prior to that stretch run, it was a revelation. For some reason, no one in my family can find their tape of this race--we have most of the others--so she had never seen Bet Twice run.

So there you have it. Serendipity perhaps. Or else Jim McKay signing off with a final gift.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Day in Court

So next Thursday June 19 is the day that the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection has summoned the powers that be in the sport of horse racing to appear before them in Washington, D. C. Oh what I would give to be a fly on that wall!

Among the witnesses slated to testify in Panel 1 (The State of Thoroughbred Racing) are Alan Marzelli, president of the Jockey Club, Arthur Hancock, breeder of Gato del Sol among other great horses and longtime equine advocate, Randy Moss, analyst for ESPN (why?), Jack Van Berg, Hall of Fame trainer and Rick Dutrow.

There is a second panel (The Welfare of the Thoroughbred Racehorse) clearly devoted to more academic issues since the constituents are predominantly vets including Larry Soma, from Univ. of Pa. and Alex Waldrop, president and CEO of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association.

At stake will be whether or not the sport gets to retain its "special status" needed for betting across state lines. Bobby Rush, Illinois Democrat is the chair and ranking member is Ed Whitfield, a Kentucky Republican and longtime equine advocate.

I have quite a few problems with the witness list and those missing from it. Larry Soma, the Penn vet is an anesthesiologist. Why isn't Joan Hendricks, the Dean of the Vet School, attending or even Dean Richardson? And why are there no jockeys on the list? or even exercise riders? Who better to talk about the state of the industry and the horses in it than those who actually ride them?

And I would definitely have added a huge commercial breeding operation like Three Chimneys or better yet Coolmore. Let them talk about how many horses are being bred each year. And there should be an auction company like Fasig-Tipton who could speak to the amount of money spent on horses each year and what happens to those who don't sell.

And what about a representative from the yearling industry--those that "hothouse" them until they are ready to be sold and those that break them. Let them hear about the ways in which these yearlings are coddled and then show some photos of those same yearlings at sale--big, strong, muscular. Isn't it amazing that they developed those muscles in the paddocks, simply turned out and running with their friends.

In other words, this is not even the tip of the iceberg nor is it likely to uncover anything that isn't already known but not admitted. These people are all too enmeshed within the industry to rat on each other--with a few exceptions like Hancock. Trust me, it would be difficult for a vet who makes his/her living treating race horses bash the industry that feeds his/her family or the drug companies that fund his/her research.

And what is Randy Moss doing on the list to begin with?

So call me cynical, but I don't think this will amount to anything other than a slap on the wrist, albeit a fairly public one even though I would so love to be proven wrong....

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Thoroughbred Legends Fund

Let's see. If you had an extra $1 million laying around, would you be willing to invest it in the past performances of three legendary thoroughbred trainers? That is what the brains behind the Thoroughbred Legends Racing Fund are counting on.

The concept is actually interesting. Nick Zito, Wayne Lukas and Bob Baffert are joining forces to train yearlings and two-year olds in training that they hand pick for the members of the group willing to invest $3 million over three years. Granted these trainers represent the most winning trio in racing history (collectively they have trained the winners of twenty six American classic races since 1980), and they are, no doubt, extremely good at what they do, but I'm still not sure I would spend my $1 million on horses.

But then again, who am I to judge how other people invest their funds? Let's put it this way: I'd certainly rather invest in Zito, Lukas and Baffert than in Dutrow.

On one level, the move is designed to attract new blood into the sport and on another it is designed to keep the old blood from bowing out. Yearling prices continue to climb and sometimes it seems like the only people who are buying horses these days are the oil rich sheiks. Zito, Lukas and Baffert, who will continue to train for their individual private clients, are not running operations like they used to when Lucas had horses and assistants seemingly in every barn at every track around the country.

At the same time, these guys should be pretty well-off financially, so its hard to believe they are hurting but they probably are. Just like every other business, on one level it's all about sales and new customers and they need both to keep their hands in the game.

The complicated issue for me would be this concept of collective training. Apparently these trainers have all moved past their individual egos and are willing to work together, but they each have very different styles of training horses. If I were to sign up, would I have the option of saying I wanted Zito to train my share of the horse rather than Lucas, or is it like the medical practice where you get the doctor on call?

There is also no mention of the group's collective racing philosophy. Is the objective here to win with two and three year olds and rush them to the stud barn or is it to be sporting and continue to let them race a four and five year olds? What about use of drugs? Will this venture, in the end, be any different than any other racing partnership with regard to influencing the sport of racing?

Which it could and I guess that is what bugs me. These three guys could have made a huge difference in how the industry conducts its business and I'm afraid they are caving in to the power of the dollar.

Only time will tell.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Nice Guys Sometimes Do Finish First

There was a great sub text to the Belmont on the undercard. Dancing Forever, the five year old son of Dancinginmydreams, won the Grade I Woodford Reserve Manhattan, in a thrilling stretch run. According to, "In a thriller to the finish, it was Dancing Forever who became a grade I winner in the $400,000 Manhattan with his nose decision over Out of Control in the 1 1/4 turf race at Belmont Park."

Some of you may remember that Dancing Forever's mother, Dancinginmydreams, suffered an injury similar to Barbaro's and recuperated at Penn's New Bolton Center for over a year. She went on to become a successful broodmare and Dancing Forever is her first Grade I stakes winner. That she survived and then was able to reproduce is one of the sport's true miracle stories.

There is a coda here as well. Note that Dancing Forever is five years old and still racing. He was a late bloomer and there was no rush to the breeding shed by his owners/breeders, the Phipps Stables, one of racing's dynasties.

It just goes to show you that not everyone involved in racing is interested in getting in, getting out and getting rich. Too bad, these stories never seem to make headlines.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Questions Without Answers

Isn't it funny how we always need an explanation for unusual actions and we are so accustomed to having the media supply us with these answers? Well three days after the Belmont, there are still no answers, so the blaming begins because we are determined to discover a reason for Big Brown's poor performance.

First we have the jockey--and the trainer seems to be pointing the finger in his direction. Did Desormeaux do Big Brown a disservice by not giving him his head and letting him run? Did he pull him up to save face?

I actually think the answer to both these questions is "yes" but that is just my personal opinion based on gut not facts. And we may never know exactly what was going on with Big Brown or the jockey or the plan (was it possible that this was the fall back plan--pull him up if you aren't ahead?) or the heat or the lack of medication or anything else. Jeanine Edwards said something was "up" with the Big Brown camp the day of the race--they were not their jocular selves. And then there is that mysterious workout in which he ran the last quarter slower than the first--something you never want to see before a big race.

In the end, this speculation is actually pretty fruitless because until horses can talk, we'll never know.

But one thing I do know is that money talks--especially to these owners. In order for Iavarone to recoup the value of this horse--whose stud fee has dropped considerably after that last place finish--he has to race him again and win. If Big Brown doesn't win the Travers, he will never race again (which might be convenient because the Breeder's Cup is in California where steroids are banned). Even if he does, he might develop some mysterious ailment and retire to the stud barn while the getting is good.

So I do think the horse will run again--to earn his keep so to speak--unless there truly is something seriously wrong with him. So while others are busy calling for an investigation into the jockey's actions I'm actually looking forward to how Dutrow spins the next round--because I think there will be one.

One thing you can be sure of is that this group is determined to get the biggest return on their investment they possibly can.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Close But No Cigar (Pun intended)

We here in Philadelphia are used to coming oh so close and then losing. Our Eagles get to the Super Bowl and then lose. Our Phillies make it to the World Series or NL East Playoffs and then lose. Our Flyers almost get to the Stanley Cup playoffs. Our 76ers come close as well. Which may be why I am fairly nonchalant about the "almost" aspect of the Triple Crown that Big Brown didn't win.

In case you couldn't tell, I am no fan of Big Brown's connections, but I have nothing against the horse. He just didn't want to run--and that is something to which a Philadelphia native is almost immune.

But there's something else that does bother me and that is the lack of humility that surrounds this horse. He is always "the greatest," "the $50 million stud," "the presumed winner" before the race was even run. Ironically, at the moment, we here in Philadelphia happen to have a fabulous baseball player named Chase Utley who is currently a leading candidate for the MVP award (what does it tell you about a team that might have three consecutive MVP winners but no World Series titles to go along with them?) and who has made a career out of humility.

"My dad always told me you don't need to tell people how good you are," Utley told the NY Times yesterday. "If that's the case, people will tell you."

Hear that Mr. Dutrow? Ever hear of humble pie?

Utley also has what might be called a "throwback" work ethic. He gets to the park early. He studies videotapes of his opponents. He practices hard. He takes nothing for granted. He shows up for every game, ready to play to win. Davey Lopes, the Phillies first base coach, compares Utley to the players of his era (1972-1987) when, he says the players were prepared, focused and professional.

I'm not saying Big Brown wasn't prepared, focused or professional. He most certainly was and still is. But his connections are not. Baseball is a game for Utley but it is also his profession and he takes that seriously. He is intense, "wants to play hard" and here's the kicker: "will let everyone else talk about it, just as his father once told him."

The sport of Racing needs to pay attention as well. Stop putting yourself on page one with comments from people who do nothing to improve your image. Focus on the basics like working hard, being prepared and looking and sounding professional.

Then maybe someone else will be able to truly tell it like it is.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Spoiled Again

Want to know how to win the Belmont? And this I can tell you from personal experience. Go out in front and stay there. This is exactly what Da'Tara did and what Big Brown didn't. I'm not sure if that made the difference but once again a Triple Crown was thwarted.

So what happened? Hard to say. It is possible that Big Brown bled or had some other breathing issues. It is possible that the heat was too much for him (and it is hot here on the East Coast). It is possible he didn't like the #1 post position and never rebounded from getting bumped at the start. It is possible that his jockey was busy jockeying him around too much and didn't let him take the lead. It is possible that he didn't like having other horses in front of him--remember this is the horse that won the Derby from the #20 post.

It is possible the racing gods were angered by Dutrown's boasts. It is possible that it wasn't meant to be. It is possible that the lack of steroids was significant. It is possible that his hoof was bothering him. It is possible that he had a virus or sore back or some other mysterious ailment.

It is possible we may never know what went wrong. It is very possible that the horse will never run again. And it is possible that we won't see a Triple Crown winner until we start breeding horses that race drug-free.

It is a shame that Big Brown didn't win but I personally don't think anything is physically wrong with him. I think he just didn't "fire," as they say, for whatever reason--and it is a shame that it happened in the biggest race of his life.

I think they should have let him go to the lead and run away with the race, because once he found himself behind other horses, he stopped running. My friend, the astologer, told me to expect the unexpected.

I think I'll bet on her any day. And please note that Denis of Cork did me proud!

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Passing of an Era

You know how they say that things come in threes, well two sad events have already transpired today.

My dad called this morning to let me know that Jimmy Croll, who trained Holy Bull as well as our horses, Bet Twice and Housebuster, died this morning at the age of 88. He was in failing health recently but my father said his mind was still sharp as of last week when the two of them spoke. He was very much one of my dad's mentors and a great trainer, especially of two year olds.

If you ever met him you might have had a difficult time understanding him because he spoke very quickly. In fact, I used to think my father was the only one who could understand him. The funny thing was, if he ever started talking about what someone else said, he pronounced their words as clear as a bell. Just one of those things and clearly his horses understood him.

Jim McKay, also a great friend of horse racing, passed away today as well at the age of 87. He lived in Maryland, not far from my parents' farm, and they were great friends. In fact, for years, they would go to the Preakness together and I remember when they attended Jim's 75th birthday party. He loved horse racing and was a big supporter of Maryland breeding farms.

Also for years he was the voice of the Triple Crown races on ABC. In fact, it took me a long time to get used to NBC coverage because McKay was so good. He understood the sport from the perspective of an owner and breeder and he also loved the "up close and personal" aspects of the stories.

Two giants in the sport both pass away on the day in which a Triple Crown could be won.....The end of an era, the changing of the guard and perhaps some kind of deeper message there that we don't know, at least not yet.

A Scary Scenario

Yet another loyal reader sent me his analysis of the Belmont and it is not pretty. In fact, it is downright scary.

Of course, the first scenario is that it is a two horse race between Big Brown and Casino Drive, ideally culminating in a stretch duel for the ages. Then there is the possibility that either Casino Drive or Big Brown will simply run away with the race.

The scary part is the third scenario based on this reader's analysis of both Ruffian and Eight Belles. Yes, you know the connection between these two horses, hence the scary nature of the prognostication.

It is this reader's opinion that when both Ruffian and Eight Belles broke down, they were, as he puts it, "in another orbit where there was little even their good jockeys could do to control them." In other words, they were running on heart and determination and both were being beaten by another horse, something that had never happened to either of them. As he says: "I think part of the reason both of these great horses broke down was that neither had lost a recent race...and they would do ANYTHING to catch a horse running in front of them."

Need I tell you that neither Big Brown nor Casino Drive have ever been passed by another horse? Need I tell you that if the two of them are in a stretch duel down that LONG Belmont stretch both will be doing everything in their power to get by the other?

And need I remind you of that old adage that only the truly great horses break down trying to win?

Let's pray for safe journeys for all the competitors.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Conflicted Outcomes for Tomorrow

Something is up with my blog server which is why there was no post until now. My "auto-pilot" option is still enabled but nothing worked this morning. Hmmmmm.... You may get two posts today if it kicks back in.

Which is fine because you probably deserve a fresh take on tomorrow's big show down, which actually may not prove to be a show down since Casino Drive has apparently injured one of his hind legs and missed training this morning. He may not run, which would be a major disappointment but please do not overlook Denis of Cork--the horse who finished third in the Derby, flying out of nowhere.

In any event, it may in fact already be decided and I am so conflicted. Yes, I would love to see a Triple Crown but I would so love Dutrow to have to swallow his words. From today's paper came his prediction that Big Brown would be in the winner's circle by the time Casino Drive got to the eighth pole. Come on...that is downright nasty.

And then to make matters worse, I read about movie deals and the fact that the character of Dutrow is part of the appeal. Excuse me, but to who? How can you make a movie in which arrogance and greed, (read Iavarone and Dutrow) win one of the sporting world's mot coveted prizes? I know it's fun to root for the bad guys but these guys are just plain lucky. I maintain that this is all about the horse and the horse is getting lost in the showers of words that are coming out of his connections.

To be honest, I also wonder if this is why the Barbaro story did not sell--at least my version of it. Because mine is truly a morality tale about trying to do the right thing for the right reason and face it, vice is far more colorful and apparently sells more books.

Sour grapes? Maybe. Envy? Perhaps. But above all, divided loyalties. I truly don't want anything to happen to the horse or any horse for that matter, but how I would so love to see what Dutrow has to say if his horse is at the eighth pole when someone else crosses the finish line. Not that it's going to happen but how wonderful it would have been to say in the end, "It couldn't have happened to a more deserving team."

Thursday, June 5, 2008

A Page From the Hillary Play Book?

I know this isn't a political blog but something interesting happened Tuesday night when Hillary Clinton lost. She became human. Although she hasn't admitted it (and her tactics to become vice president are hardly subtle), she became a more sympathetic figure in defeat than she would be in triumph. At least to me.

I'm not sure what the lesson is here but it's almost as if you have to pay your dues, lose on the national stage to win in the long run. An interesting concept, but I felt more admiration for her last night than I have during this entire campaign.

So what does this mean to Big Brown who might not win on Saturday? Probably nothing because his reputation is fairly intact. After all, he just does what his handlers tell him to do.

But it might mean salvation for his connections who have a long way to go to endear themselves to the general public. I know it's a stretch but there are similarities. The brash, "We're going to win" proclamations, the less than nice things to say about the opposition and the overall arrogance. Problem is, if Big Brown does not win, people may say his connections got what they deserved. If he does, how do you explain victory without humility?

Maybe they need to take a lesson from the Hillary play book (see Bill--his mom used to love to play the ponies and I'm sure he has a few tricks up his sleeve that we have yet to see) and refuse to accept defeat even as the winner gets a blanket of carnations. Cry foul. Demand a re-match. Or give your supporters the chance to come down easy. Because after all it was so very close.

Either way, Big Brown makes history trying and so does Hillary.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Is It Good For Racing?

Although, as Hillary Clinton reminds us, "It's not over until the lady in the pants suit says it is," it seems to truly be a "foregone conclusion" that Big Brown will run into the history books this Saturday. Yes, Casino Drive will probably give him a run for the money but most of the other horses in the race have already been left in his wake once before. It seems the foot is fine--who knows the truth on that one?--the horse is ready and all that is left is the coronation.

To me, the bigger question seems to be not whether or not he will win (I am sure the horse will go off a 1 to 5 favorite), but whether or not his victory will prove to be the shot in the arm that the sport so desperately needs. The way I see it, either way, Triple Crown or upset, Big Brown has been good for racing because he has started a national conversation about what is wrong with the sport.

Drugs, over-breeding for speed, flipping horses like pancakes in search of profits, hedge funds, these are all topics that have become fodder for national publications, revealing the darker side of the sport. How ironic that in a year in which we have a potential Triple Crown we are not focusing on a "feel good" story of nice guys finishing first for a change. Think Smarty Jones, Afleet Alex or even Barbaro, all of whom came with classy connections devoted to putting the horse first.

Just lately we have Iavarone attempting to do that, saying that he will continue to campaign Big Brown after the Belmont, but it's too little, too late. We read about Dutrow's addictions, Iavarone suspensions and Big Brown's use of steroids--instead of getting goosebumps over the animal's incredible stride and powerful "second gear."

Are all eyes going to be on the Belmont the way all eyes would have been if it was say, Barbaro, attempting to gallop into posterity on Saturday? I'm not sure. A Triple Crown is a Triple Crown--a rare and incredible difficult feat--but this one seems to lack elegance, poetry and the heart and soul of a nation.

Maybe because we're too busy learning the truth.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Punto Blanco

Another loyal reader (have I ever mentioned how very much I adore loyal readers?) sent me a link to the story about Big Brown's other name--proof of the power of omens and superstitions along the backside, and proof once again that Dutrow should not be so quick to tempt the Racing Gods with his pronouncements that the Belmont is a forgone conclusion.

But then, perhaps it is?

According to the piece by Tim Laydon, Big Brown's "other name," the one he was called by the grooms who raised him at Monticule Farm in central Kentucky, is "Punto Blanco," Spanish for white dot. Big Brown was born with a quarter sized white dot at the top of his left front leg, near his rib cage. It is an unusual characteristic for a horse of his markings and has led to much speculation about him being "marked" for greatness.

His original owner Eddie Woods, who purchased Big Brown as a yearling for $60,000, calls it his " x factor," the thing that separates him from other horses. "That's his thing: a brilliant white spot in a very obscure place," he says. "You believe that the spot was placed there by the hand of God."

His second owner, Paul Pompa, sent Big Brown to his trainer, Patrick Reynolds, who also noted the spot and the advice he received from the late European breeder, Frederick Tesio. "He said the truly great horses have some freakish characteristic, and here was this marking. I'm thinking, 'Wouldn't it be something if that proved true?'" he wonders.

As Leydon notes so eloquently: "The racetrack is a place where hard men will sometimes give themselves over to romance and superstition...It is a place where otherwise pragmatic people will look at a white spot and see greatness explained."

Call it what you will: a freckle, a lack of pigment or an unusual marking, but the important thing, as far as track superstitions go, is to note its existence.

And realize that if, in fact, Big Brown's destiny is all but signed, sealed and delivered because of his "x factor," it does not matter who owns or trains him.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Rethinking Horse Insurance

A loyal reader sent me a clipping from the Wall Street Journal about re-evaluating the criteria used to issue insurance for thoroughbreds. According to Ron Kirk, a horse-insurance agent and underwriter in Lexington, KY, whose company manages the horse program for North American Specialty Insurance Co., "horse insurance policies don't take into account the injury history of a horse's family, and owners don't pay more to insure horses whose ancestors have produced injury-prone offspring."

Kirk's point, of course, is that they should, even though the industry has not reached a consensus on the subject. In other words, if you purchase a horse descended from say, Big Brown, you should pay more to insure it because of the likelihood of the horse to have tender feet. Kirk points out that "on occasion" his firm will already charge owners an additional premium to insure a horse whose parents and grandparents have experienced breeding problems.

It's actually a really interesting concept and one that might actually have an impact because it hits horsemen where they feel it most--in the pocketbook. Let's say that it would cost more to insure a horse descended from one with weak knees, or hooves or shins, and that the seller had to disclose that information BEFORE you purchased the horse. Would you be willing to buy it? Or maybe the better question is, would you be willing to buy it as a potential sire or broodmare, considering the financial obligations that you would be passing on to the next generation of owners? Or better yet, would you be willing to breed horses that cost more to insure?

I think not. And I think it might be great incentive to limit certain bloodlines but the challenge, of course, would be to determine which bloodlines these are.

And that is something that is not likely to happen in my lifetime since all those bloodlines are currently very much in circulation and no one wants to take his stallions out of circulation and put himself out of business.

As a sidelight, Kirk said that Big Brown's owners had insured him for nearly $50 million, "one of the largest policies ever for an active racehorse." The coverage is underwritten by nearly a dozen different carriers. Here's another thought for you. What would happen to the value of horses if there was a limit to the amount of insurance you could purchase for mortality and fertility insurance?

Here's one sure thing. If something were to happen to Big Brown and the owners did file a claim, premiums throughout the industry would hit new highs and a lot of owners might begin thinking twice about insuring horses for such hefty amounts.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Mr. Waldrop Goes to Washington

It almost had to happen. Congress has decided to investigate thoroughbred racing. According to the Louisville Courier Journal, "a House panel has demanded that state racing commissions provide information on breakdowns, drug use and breeding." The U. S. House subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection is requesting the hearing and Senator Ed Whitfield of Kentucky is leading the charge.

Whitfield, you may remember, is both anti-slaughter and anti-steroid and quite frankly, in my opinion, the investigation could not be in better hands. The question, however, is whether or not any good will truly come out of what he is sure to uncover. Whitfield along with subcommittee Chairman Bobby Rush of Chicago demanded that the Lexington-based Association of Racing Commissioners International identify by name every trainer "who has been sanctioned for medication infractions during the past five years and for a list of the nature and severity of the injuries of every horse over that period."

The purpose of this investigation is to determine whether or not "the special status of the sport under federal law is still warranted." That special status refers to the Interstate Horseracing Act passed in 1978 that permitted simulcasting to off-track locations for wagering and the subsequent one in 2002 that permitted wagering over the phone and internet.

It is not presumptuous to note that the economic viability of horseracing depends significantly on both pieces of legislation and that those bills were brought about with a fair degree of arm twisting on the part of the powers that be in the industry. If the ability to bet on races long distance is denied, I think you might as well kiss the sport goodbye. And the success of that practice depends entirely on individual states being able to control their piece of the pie.

Which is why Alex Waldrop, chief executive of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, is so vehemently opposed to the creation of a central national body to govern the sport, another issue that the House Committee wants to investigate. "We believe that states are the right places to govern these issues," he said.

It should make for some interesting discussion and a lot of behind the scenes lobbying on both sides. How do I think it will play out? Maybe something significant will happen in the steroid issue such as a national ban on performance enhancing medication and I think that would be absolutely amazing. But if that is achieved it will most likely be at the expense of the creation of a national racing czar.

Tit for tat and remember you heard it here first!