Archive for Breeders Cup

O’Neill’s Suspension Highlights Problems In Sport

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Bill Dwyre of Los Angeles Times…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

Doug O’Neill’s suspension shows why little makes sense in horse racing

Horse racing is the only sport where its customers are best served by putting on blinders.

It isn’t always a mess. Just most of the time.

We have gone through a 2014 Triple Crown season where a potentially beautiful story of California Chrome, a beloved trainer and a couple of first-time owners turned beastly at the Belmont Stakes. There, the horse didn’t win and one of the owners lost his common sense.

The Breeders’ Cup is 10 days away. It is a two-day spectacular, held for the third consecutive year at beautiful Santa Anita. The Breeders’ Cup generally overcharges the public, but also generally delivers. This year, two of its biggest stars, Wise Dan and Beholder, are out because of injuries. Assume ticket prices won’t go down.

Now, to top it off, we have Doug O’Neill saga, Part 2.

O’Neill is the Southern California trainer who guided I’ll Have Another to the first two legs of the Triple Crown in 2012, then scratched the horse the day before the Belmont because of a tendon injury. He served suspension time after that for a milkshake violation (giving a horse excessive carbon dioxide) in August 2010. He denied guilt.

Now, he is serving more hard time.

Because of the discovery of a drug called Oxazepam in a horse named Wind of Bosphorus at Belmont Park in June 2013, O’Neill will not be able to be the trainer of record for any entrants in the Breeders’ Cup. One of his horses, Goldencents, is defending champion in the Dirt Mile.

When hit with the most recent violation, O’Neill tried to negotiate a suspension that would start after the Breeders’ Cup. But then, the Breeders’ Cup invoked its “convicted trainer rule,” and exiled O’Neill to some sports bar in Santa Monica to watch. No word on whether he will wear prison stripes.

The O’Neill case is just another example of why Lakers exhibition games can make the sports front page and horse racing doesn’t.

What’s the deal? What is the ticket-buying, $2 gambler to think? Is O’Neill Jeckyll, or is he Hyde? A sinner or a saint?

Should we be proud of racing for taking a firm stance, even if it always invokes its punishments months and years after the crime? Does racing use test labs in Antarctica?

Or should we be questioning why, and how, horse racing has made a post office poster boy out of O’Neill, who, by most accounts, and by personal experience, is a decent, hard-working, fun-loving guy?

Like much of what happens in racing, with its alphabet soup governing boards (CHRB, TOC, CTT, etc., in California alone), little is clear and little makes sense.

O’Neill’s 2010 violation was from a horse named Argenta, who was lucky to make it around the track. Argenta, off at 20-1, finished sixth of eight horses in that race. Argenta didn’t need to be milkshaked, he needed rocket boosters.

In the 2013 violation in New York, Wind of Bosphorus was transferred to three different stalls in the days before the gelding ran. O’Neill, who wasn’t in New York when the horse ran, said he had to look up Oxazepam and learned it was mostly used by people with irritable bowel syndrome or by recovering alcoholics.

It is also used as a calming medication, and that might help a horse. Why would it be on racing’s Class-2 banned list if it had no enhancement qualities?

Fans who want to care about racing, who want to go to the track and put down a few bucks without having to be chemists or conspiracy theorists, will soon just start throwing up their hands and finding a water polo game.

O’Neill is the kind of person with whom you want to have dinner — funny, smart, charming. He spent the entire 2012 Triple Crown season answering, with incredible patience and good humor, the same media questions, each phrased slightly different but all basically the same query: “Why do you cheat?”

Before that 2012 Belmont, and before he scratched I’ll Have Another, the New York Racing Assn. ordered all Belmont Stakes horses stabled in a detention barn. At whom do you suppose that was aimed?

In the midst of all this, O’Neill allowed himself to be roasted at a charity event. One roaster, Tim Conway Jr., delivered the classic blow: “Most horses, when they are done, go out to pasture. Doug’s go to the Betty Ford Center.”

Would a bad guy, a cheater, smile through all this? Is he the Lance Armstrong of horse racing or a wronged Peyton Manning? Or is he the greatest con artist since Paul Newman in “The Sting.”

One race official summed it up thusly: “I love Doug O’Neill, but how many times can you say the dog ate the homework?”

According to a 2011 article in, the website for the Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Assn., thoroughbred racing in the U.S. had 38 jurisdictions, each with its regulatory agency. There are 18 racing test labs, six accredited. Is one of those that Antarctica lab that takes six months to find a test tube?

In essence, horse racing in the U.S. is a sport in which everybody is in charge. And nobody. You can laugh about the travails of Roger Goodell or Bud Selig, but at least you know at whom to laugh.

Hate Doug O’Neill or feel sorry for him. Just don’t try to figure out his sport. Don’t question why they never penalize the vets, why there aren’t security cameras in every stall, why every major decision takes 10 months and 80 meetings and then can be negotiated.

Don’t question why a suspended O’Neill is allowed to work out a deal with his assistant, Leandro Mora, to share in any Breeders’ Cup winnings.

Just put on your blinders and come on out.


Saturday’s Stakes Provided Preview of Breeders’ Cup

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Gary West of…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

What did we learn?

To get here, he took the long way around. He missed the Triple Crown because of a foot issue and didn’t make his first start of the season until May 26. And he was forced to take the Lewis-and-Clark route again Saturday to win the Awesome Again Stakes at Santa Anita. But Shared Belief has arrived. He’s the early favorite for the Breeders’ Cup Classic, the top 3-year-old in the country and the leading candidate for Horse of the Year.

Although the victory confirmed Shared Belief’s status, the journey was more troublesome and demanding than anybody could have expected, and so, ironically, it might have created some doubt about the unbeaten gelding. He won, yes, but he won by only a neck, and he had to work so hard to get there, had to pour so much of his energy into the effort, that he came out of the Awesome Again looking vulnerable.

Tonalist, on the other hand, came out of the Jockey Club Gold Cup looking like an improving colt who, having shed his blinkers, has seen his future. He has figured out what he really wants to do. He doesn’t want to stalk the pace, an unsuccessful tactic best left in the Travers backwash; no, he wants to settle into that long stride of his and then rally.

At Belmont Park, he, too, had trouble Saturday. Tenth early, he had to check and alter course approaching the second turn. That was where Moreno angled into the path of Wicked Strong, who appeared to clip heels, which unseated his rider, Rajiv Maragh. (Maragh reportedly has a broken arm.) Tonalist then waited behind horses, advanced through traffic and ran the final quarter-mile in 24.71 seconds to complete the 1-1/4 miles in 2:02.12 and win by nearly two lengths over Zivo.

Shared Belief’s trouble was arguably more costly. He entered he first turn at Santa Anita three-wide, but Sky Kingdom and jockey Victor Espinoza floated the 1-5 favorite out into the six path, and conspiracy theories were blooming before the field straightened for the run down the backstretch.

“They tried some tactics on him,” Shared Belief’s jockey, Mike Smith, said after the race. But, Smith said, Shared Belief was superior to any tactic devised to beat him. As it turned, though, he was just barely superior.

Sky Kingdom’s stablemate, Fed Biz, led the field into the second turn, where Shared Belief, still forced to race wide, began to rally. Just as he needed months to overcome his foot problems, and just as the champion took all summer to redefine himself and rise within his division, he needed the length of the stretch to overcome the wide trip, but he got there.

The new Santa Anita surface was quick but not speed-favoring, and Shared Belief’s winning time of 1:48.58 didn’t sparkle. The speed figures and quantifiers won’t dazzle. But the victory, his seventh in as many starts, will shine brightly as evidence of his determination.

And so, Shared Belief has arrived. But Tonalist is threatening. Yes, with a victory in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Tonalist could possibly sweep away all the chips. Wicked Strong, who looked as if he were going to run well before his mishap Saturday, deserves a shot at the Classic, too. And of course, California Chrome, whose conspicuous talent was muffled by a compromising and uncomfortable inside trip in the Pennsylvania Derby, could refurbish his reputation and return to the head of the class with a win in what’s shaping up to be an outstandingly compelling Classic.

Super Saturday featured six major stakes in New York and five more in California, all with Breeders’ Cup implications. And so here are some more thoughts and observations:

Granted, the championship races sit more than a month down the road, and on that road more preps remain, but at this point, American Pharoah, who’ll be favored in the Juvenile, looks like the most likely Breeders’ Cup winner. He set the pace and drew clear with instant acceleration when asked in Saturday’s FrontRunner Stakes and won by more than three lengths. It was a stylish, jaw-dropping victory, but in the context of the day’s races it looked even more impressive. American Pharoah ran the 1-1/16 miles in 1:41.95. A race earlier at Santa Anita, Beholder won the Zenyatta Stakes over the same 1-1/16 miles in 1:42.19. And so, a 2-year-old making just the third start of his career ran about a length faster than a two-time champion.

Private Zone became the first horse in 24 years — and only the fourth ever — to win the Vosburgh Stakes back-to-back, and in doing so, he became one of the favorites for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. A tough-as-woodpecker-lips veteran, to borrow a phrase from Chargin’ Charlie Beckwith, Private Zone put away the speedy Happy My Way, momentarily lost the lead and then fought back to win by a neck and complete the six furlongs in 1:08.95, a strong clocking for the day at Belmont. If he can take that effort to Santa Anita, he’ll be hard to beat Nov. 1. But after winning last year’s Vosburgh, also by a neck, Private Zone finished 10th as the 3-1 second-choice in the Sprint.

Reunited with jockey Rosie Napravnik and racing in blinkers for the first time in her career, Emollient seemingly returned to top form, and just in time for the Filly & Mare Turf, where she finished fourth a year ago. Ninth in each of her two prior races, Emollient won Saturday’s Rodeo Drive Stakes at Santa Anita by a half-length over Parranda. Still, Stephanie’s Kitten could be the best American hope for the Filly & Mare Turf. Showing a tactical dimension that had been absent from her recent efforts, Stephanie’s Kitten raced in fourth early and rallied three-wide at Belmont to win the Flower Bowl Stakes by more than a length over Abaco.

Vyjack looked like a contender for the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile with his performance in the Kelso Stakes. But his trainer, Rudy Rodriguez, indicated the veteran could remain in New York instead and wait for the Cigar Mile on Nov. 29 at Aqueduct. Vyjack rallied on the turn and wore down River Rocks in the stretch to win by a length and complete the mile in a lively 1:34.05. Itsmyluckyday, the odds-on favorite, finished third and left his trainer, Eddie Plesa, pondering the options, which include the Breeders’ Cup Classic and Dirt Mile. Not originally nominated to the Breeders’ Cup, Itsmyluckyday would have to be supplemented.

Since arriving in this country, Main Sequence has won three major stakes, all in a photo finish, the latest being the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic at Belmont. His trainer, Graham Motion, said Main Sequence, who has a history of sluggish starts and gate problems, gave his most “professional” performance Saturday despite ducking in and bumping the runner-up, Twilight Eclipse, at the finish. Main Sequence should be a player in the Breeders’ Cup Turf.

Angela Renee put herself in the Juvenile Fillies with her victory in Saturday’s Chandelier Stakes. She finished strongly, but the final time, 1:43.45, wasn’t going to frighten any rivals. After the wire, the runner-up, Conquest Eclipse, galloped out beyond the winner. The favorite for the Juvenile Fillies will probably emerge from the Alcibiades at Keeneland or the Frizette at Belmont.


Will the Derby and Preakness Wins Be Enough For “Chrome” To Hold Off Shared Belief for Three Year Old of the Year????

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Steven Crist of…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

Double Crown title streak could end

As any schoolchild knows, every 3-year-old since 1978 who won both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness failed to win the Belmont Stakes and complete the Triple Crown. But did you know there’s an even longer streak regarding the winners of the first two legs of the Triple Crown?

Since the Eclipse Awards began in 1971 through last year, 16 horses have won the Derby and Preakness – and every single one of them won the Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old: Canonero II (1971), Secretariat (1973), Seattle Slew (1977), Affirmed (1978), Spectacular Bid (1979), Pleasant Colony (1981), Alysheba (1987), Sunday Silence (1989), Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998), Charismatic (1999), War Emblem (2001), Funny Cide (2003), Smarty Jones (2004), Big Brown (2007), I’ll Have Another (2012) and … wait, not so fast on adding California Chrome (2014) to the list.

After Shared Belief’s impressive victory against his elders in the Pacific Classic last Sunday, he inched ahead of the idle California Chrome in the National Thoroughbred Racing Association’s weekly Horse of the Year poll. (Shared Belief and California Chrome are now ranked second and third behind the 7-year-old gelding Wise Dan.)

You have to go back 45 years, before the dawn of the Eclipses, to find a 3-year-old who won the Derby and Preakness but was not acknowledged as the division’s champion: That would be Majestic Prince in 1969. He beat Arts and Letters by a neck in the Derby and by a head in the Preakness, but Arts and Letters beat him by 5 1/2 lengths in the Belmont and then reeled off consecutive victories in the Jim Dandy, Travers, Woodward, and Jockey Club Gold Cup. (He also won the Blue Grass and, in between the Preakness and Belmont, the Met Mile.) Arts and Letters was understandably acclaimed as the champion 3-year-old and Horse of the Year.

It looked as if things might go the same way a couple of times since. Twenty years after Arts and Letters, Easy Goer had a very similar streak after falling short to Sunday Silence in the Derby and Preakness. He was heavily favored to complete the turnaround in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, but then Sunday Silence beat him for the third time in four meetings and was deservedly a nearly unanimous choice.

In 2003, it seemed that Empire Maker had edged ahead of Funny Cide when he beat him in the Belmont, giving him a 2-1 lead in head-to-head meetings and a 3-2 lead in Grade 1 victories. Neither one of them, however, won a race past June, and by the time ballots were due in December, Funny Cide’s Derby and Preakness made it seem to a majority of voters that he had been the more successful 3-year-old and deserved the nod.

The 2004 voting would have been interesting if Birdstone had won the Breeders’ Cup Classic. After denying Smarty Jones’s bid for the Triple Crown by beating him in the Belmont, Birdstone returned to win the Travers. Would a BC Classic victory have pushed him past the Derby-Preakness winner? We’ll never know since he finished seventh, and Smarty Jones was an easy Eclipse winner.

So, the question now is whether Shared Belief can catch up to a Derby-Preakness winner. Let’s say he makes his fourth and final start of an unbeaten 3-year-old season in the BC Classic and wins it, beating California Chrome in their only meeting. Would it be enough? California Chrome would still have a 3-2 lead in Grade 1 wins (Santa Anita Derby, Kentucky Derby, and Preakness vs. Pacific Classic and BC Classic), but Shared Belief’s two big victories would have been against older horses instead of the uninspiring 3-year-olds whom California Chrome was walloping last spring.

Still, winning the Derby and Preakness is a powerful double that tends to look even better in hindsight. The discussion then comes down to accomplishment vs. talent. It’s possible that one could simultaneously believe at season’s end that Shared Belief is the better horse but that California Chrome accomplished more this year.

It would be a fascinating debate if we get that far. Maybe the best part is that this could develop into more than a one-race rivalry: California Chrome is scheduled to race as a 4-year-old, and Shared Belief is a gelding with an unlimited future on the track. These things are always best settled on the racetrack, so here’s hoping.


Wise Dan Looks To Become a Two Time Horse of the Year, But Should He Win For Top Older Male???

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Steve Crist of…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

There’s one Eclipse Award where Wise Dan is not best choice

Secretariat. Forego. Affirmed. John Henry. Cigar. Curlin. Wise Dan?

Come January, the question mark will be gone and Wise Dan will join those six as the only horses to win more than one Horse of the Year title since the Eclipse Awards began in 1972.

(If you want to travel back to the pre-Eclipse days of Horse of the Year polls that began in 1936, you can add Challedon [1939-40], Whirlaway [1941-42], Native Dancer [1952 and 1954], and Kelso [1960-64] to the list.)

Wise Dan’s second such title is about the same price as the sun’s rising in the east tomorrow. Game On Dude would have wrested the trophy from the 2012 Horse of the Year with a Classic victory, and Princess of Sylmar would have made it a horse race had she won the Distaff. However, when those two finished ninth and sixth, respectively, at Santa Anita last weekend, while Wise Dan won his second straight Breeders’ Cup Mile, the voting for the sport’s top award became a formality.

Two days after the Cup, Wise Dan got 53 of the 56 (95 percent) votes in the National Thoroughbred Racing Association’s weekly poll, suggesting this year’s landslide may be even greater than the 2012 version, when he received 194 of the 250 (78 percent) actual ballots cast.

In some ways, Wise Dan fits right in with the other multiple winners. His 19 career victories are the same number as Cigar’s, and more than Curlin or Secretariat, and his $6.2 million in earnings put him fourth among the seven (behind Curlin’s $10.5 million, Cigar’s $9.99 million, and John Henry’s $6.59 million, but more than Secretariat, Forego, and Affirmed combined to win in the 1970s.) His seven Grade 1 victories in 2012 and 2013 are a smidge light but the same number that Curlin posted in 2007 and 2008.

The primary differences, and probably the ones that make some old-school types a tad reluctant to put him in such exalted company, relate to surface and distance. Wise Dan will be the first multiple Eclipse Horse of the Year who did not win a race at 10 furlongs or more during one of his championship seasons, or a dirt race of any kind.

He’s not the first to win the award twice with a predominantly grass campaign: John Henry won nine Grade 1 races during his 1981 and 1984 Horse of the Year campaigns, and seven of those nine were on the grass. (Curlin and Secretariat each tried grass only once, Cigar was 1 for 11 on it before he got good, and Affirmed and Forego never touched the stuff.)

I have no hesitation about voting for Wise Dan as Horse of the Year and champion turf male, but I will be looking elsewhere for champion older male. Those who take the name of that award too literally will argue that the Horse of the Year must by definition win any other category in which he is a contender, but to me that title really means best main-track older horse.

There is precedent for awarding the older male Eclipse to a horse other than a grass-based Horse of the Year who happens to be an older male. In fact, Wise Dan was the first such horse to win the older male award, largely because there were no dominant older dirt males last year. When John Henry won his second Horse of the Year in 1984 without a grass victory, the older male title went to Slew o’ Gold. When all-grass Kotashaan won the big prize in 1993, the Eclipse for older male went to Bertrando.

Last year there was a stronger case for Wise Dan as best older male on grounds of versatility – he had a runaway synthetic-track victory in the Ben Ali and a narrow defeat in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster on dirt to go along with his four grass triumphs. This year, he lost his only non-grass start when he finished second to Silver Max after the Shadwell Turf Mile was rained onto the main track.

So with eight weeks until ballots are due, I’m leaning towards voting for Wise Dan as Horse of the Year and top turf male, but for Game On Dude as champion older male. Before his Classic misfire, he was 3 for 3 on dirt and 2 for 2 on synthetics and swept California’s three biggest races for older males – the Santa Anita Handicap, Hollywood Gold Cup, and Pacific Classic, all at 1 1/4 miles. Wise Dan’s a worthy and inevitable Horse of the Year again, but there’s still an appropriate way to honor the horse who had the best season at classic distances on the main track.


Paynter Looks To End His Career With the Perfect Finish

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Bob Ehalt of…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

Paynter Looks For Hollywood Ending

Hollywood is the place where dreams or storybook tales can come to life.

That’s why it’s so fitting that on Nov. 2 a horse named Paynter will run in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita, a track within a relatively short driving distance of Tinseltown — traffic permitting, of course.

The story of Paynter belongs in Hollywood. Even now, when the events of his tumultuous past year and a half have been widely celebrated, they seem more fiction than fact.

Far more absurd is the notion — about a year removed from an illness that nearly claimed the life of the Zayat Stable colt — that he could beat the nation’s best horses in the year’s richest race, the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Then again, it’s all taking place in the shadow of Hollywood.

“This could be the biggest fairy-tale story anyone could ever imagine,” says 21-year-old Justin Zayat, son of Paynter’s owner, Ahmed Zayat, and racing manager for his father’s stable.

Go back to late summer of last year, though, and this heartwarming tale seemed certain to be written as a tragedy.

At the time Paynter was making a big name for himself. In just his fifth career start, he finished second by a neck in the Belmont Stakes. Then on July 29, he won the Haskell by nearly four lengths and was poised to fill the leadership void in the 3-year-old ranks caused by the sudden retirement of I’ll Have Another.

Soon thereafter, however, Paynter was diagnosed with colic and then laminitis — two potentially fatal diseases — as an army of fans used social media like Twitter and Facebook to express their support for him. It seemed a long shot that he would survive, and preposterous that he would ever race again. But before the year ended, he was back at trainer Bob Baffert’s barn.

“The fans have been there for him every step through the process,” Justin Zayat says. “That’s what kept us going during the low days. It’s just unbelievable, with the tweets, the messages, the postcards we get. Every one of them counts.”

Paynter’s comeback started with a win in a June 14 allowance race at Hollywood Park. A runner-up finish in the Grade 2 San Diego Handicap at Del Mar followed, but a disturbing last-place finish in the mud in the Grade 1 Woodward at Saratoga prompted concern that too much might have been asked of the 4-year-old colt.

A solid second in the Awesome Again — Santa Anita’s steppingstone prep for the BC Classic — dispelled those thoughts. Though he was beaten 4¼ lengths by Mucho Macho Man, the runner-up in last year’s BC Classic and a top contender in this year’s race, Paynter endured a wide trip that enhanced his performance and punched his ticket to the Classic.

“He’s doing fantastic. He should move forward off a good effort in the Awesome Again and is poised for a big race,” Justin Zayat says. “From Day One in bringing him back, our goal was the Breeders’ Cup Classic. The Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile would have been easier, but Paynter gets better the farther he runs. He’s a classic horse. He lost the Belmont Stakes by a neck so a mile and a quarter should be no issue for him. I think he’ll relish the mile and a quarter.”

While destiny would seem to be aligned with the charismatic Paynter, victory will not come easily for him.

His rivals in the Classic include leading Horse of the Year contender Game On Dude, plus last year’s BC Classic winner Fort Larned. Older stars Ron the Greek, the Jockey Club Gold Cup winner and Flat Out plus 3-year-old stars Palace Malice and Will Take Charge add even more quality to the sport’s deepest and most talented field of the year.

Were Paynter to beat all of them, after all he has endured, it would produce the kind of moment that would be fondly remembered for years to come.

“If he could win, it would be great, not just for my family, but for the whole sport,” Justin Zayat said. “It would be a great story, like when Zenyatta won the Breeders’ Cup Classic [in 2009]. I was there at Santa Anita when she did it, and the stands were shaking. It was the craziest feeling I’ve had in my life, but if Paynter wins the Classic, it has the potential to match that.”

Beyond that, it would be a perfect story for the folks in Hollywood.


Once A Wildfire Issue, Why Has The Push To Ban Lasix Cooled????

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Steven Crist of The Daily Racing Form…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

Five reasons why the effort to ban Lasix has stalled

The movement to ban Lasix from American racing, which looked like an odds-on favorite only a year ago, seems to have pulled up at the top of the stretch with the announcement last week that the Breeders’ Cup has scrapped its plan to enforce a ban in this year’s races.

Lasix will again be banned in only the four juvenile races while the treatment will be permitted in the 10 others, and insiders expect even the juvenile ban to be gone in another year or two. So, if there are 30,000 races in North America in 2013, Lasix will be permitted in 29,996 of them and prohibited in just four.

Regardless of which side of the thorny and divisive debate you are on, this is a stunning reversal. A year ago, Kentucky regulators were on the verge of phasing out Lasix completely but now are likelier to phase in a retreat from those rules. Efforts to enact similar legislation stalled in New York and never got off the ground in California. Numerous industry organizations have retreated from strong anti-Lasix stances.

What happened? Zealots on each side of the issue will call it a triumph of good or evil by forces of enlightenment or darkness, but it may be more valuable to examine why a movement that seemed inevitable suddenly lost its momentum. There probably are dozens of other factors, but here are five that contributed to the sputter:

◗ The willful attempt to blur the clear lines between administering a legal and regulated medication and the nefarious use of illegal and dangerous drugs to fix the outcome of races was a tactical error that alienated potential supporters who have an open mind on the topic.

Proponents of a ban consistently overstated their case and lost hearts and minds by trying to make Lasix sound inherently dangerous and linking its usage – with little veterinary evidence or support – to a supposed decline in the health and durability of the breed.

◗ The claim by proponents of a ban that Lasix use was harming the sport’s popularity was unfounded and unconvincing. After more than two decades of widespread Lasix usage, a span in which the sport had periods of both growth and decline, the argument that it had suddenly begun alienating potential customers lacked credibility. This was borne out when in 2012, a year in which racing probably received an unprecedented amount of negative coverage for medication and animal-welfare issues, American betting handle actually increased for the first time in six years.

◗ The lack of support for a Lasix ban from virtually any successful trainer left the anti-Lasix proponents not only without an influential spokesman but also with the weak and nasty rebuttal that trainers are either incompetent or shady. Even trainers who ban proponents thought shared their views said they found Lasix a useful and humane treatment.

◗ While it may be intellectually defensible (through the “playing by the existing rules” and “level playing field” arguments) to rail against the use of Lasix while continuing to race one’s own horses on it, people both inside and outside the industry found this to be a mixed message at best. Telling people to do what you say, not what you do, never goes over well in general and took the wind from the sails of the position that Lasix was so detrimental to racing that it must be banned.

◗ The argument that the United States is out of step with the rest of the world by uniquely permitting Lasix is both true and sobering, but a lack of conformity is not in and of itself a reason to change. What was needed to make that a more compelling argument was some illustration of how the United States could implement foreign procedures to replace Lasix instead of an assumption that we must be wrong.

There also continues to be a lot of misinformation surrounding comparisons between American and, in particular, European racing. It has become gospel that horses in Europe make more starts per year than American runners, and that Lasix might be to blame, when, in fact, the statistics are almost identical.

Whatever the reasons, the impetus to change Lasix policy has evaporated, but that should not mean the topic is permanently closed. Even those who have come to accept and defend its use would be hard-pressed to argue that it is commendable that American racing has gone down a path where virtually every horse is treated with it. Perhaps the next time the issue rears its head – and it will – there can be a more constructive, civilized, and informed discussion.


Is Champions Day on Par with The Arc or Breeders Cup as an Event???

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from David Yates of The Mirror…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

The Frankel Factor: Why last weekend’s British Champions Day was one of the most satisfying of afternoons

First of all, let’s get one thing straight.

Last Saturday, along with 30-odd thousand others, I went to QIPCO British Champions Day and, in common with the vast majority of them, enjoyed one of the most satisfying afternoons of my racing life.

As you’d expect from a racecourse that handles five days of Royal Ascot every year, the event was put on with assurance and panache, with many of the teething problems from 12 months ago ironed out.

Everybody breathed a huge sigh of relief when Frankel – don’t those antics at the start prove now is the right time to retire? – did what he was supposed to do, and we all went home positively brimming with feelgood.

There is, inevitably, a ‘but’, and it’s this – don’t be fooled into thinking that BCD has arrived . In truth, it still has a long way to go.

And if you think I’m being a sourpuss who is happy only when he’s moaning about something, imagine that it had rained not only Friday afternoon, but during the evening and throughout Saturday morning as well.

Lord Teddy Grimthorpe, racing manager to the great horse’s owner, Prince Khalid Abdullah, walks the course and, against all his competitive instincts and a will for Frankel to go out in a blaze of glory, decides the best thing is for the colt not to run.

Where would that have left us?

Cirrus Des Aigles and Excelebration are both admirable thoroughbreds of the highest merit.

But victory for each in their chosen races, the Champion Stakes and Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, doesn’t make for headline news, at least outside the racing pages.

And what of the undercard?

The best stayers, many regrettably out of form after a busy summer, turned up, and the sprint amounted to what any other European sprint amounts to when not dominated by horses from the southern hemisphere.

The fillies’ and mares’ race served up a below-par Great Heavens – she’d left her race in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe 13 days earlier – but a progressive winner in Sapphire.

And, like many, I’m still baffled for the need to stage the apprentice handicap. Wouldn’t it be more fitting on Newmarket’s Future Champions card?

Taking BCD as a whole – but without Frankel – it wouldn’t get news crews jumping up and down with excitement, which is one of its stated aims.

In short, the day was dangerously close to being a one-horse show.

To balance matters, I know that when BCD was conceived its founders had in mind a five-year plan, and Saturday was just the second year of those five – so there is plenty of scope for further momentum.

But BCD top man Rod Street, whose cheery exterior shouldn’t mask the fact he’s sharp as razor wire, will know much more progress is needed for Ascot to match the status of international fixtures like the Arc and the Breeders’ Cup.

In 2012, it outshone an unusually below-par – even humdrum – Arc weekend.

But it caught Longchamp on a bad year – the French would have had more to shout about if, as intended, Danedream, Snow Fairy and Nathaniel had turned up.

It’s inconceivable Europe’s richest race will suffer similar ill fortune with its leading players in 2013, while BCD will not have Frankel as its poster boy next October.

Don’t get me wrong. With its backing – both in terms of money and personnel – BCD has every chance of getting where we all want it to be.

Just don’t let the heroics of one extraordinary racehorse fool you into thinking it’s already there.