Archive for I’ll Have Another

As The Season Nears An End, I’ll Have Another Stands As Horse of the Year Favorite

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!

I’ll Have Another still out front in race for Horse of the Year

A week into October, the question of who will be America’s Horse of the Year remains exactly the same as it was four months ago: Can anyone unseat I’ll Have Another, who ran his last race in the middle of May?

Recent history suggests that someone will. Of the 11 previous 3-year-olds since 1978 who won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, all 11 were voted an Eclipse Award as the champion 3-year-old colt or gelding, but only two were named Horse of the Year: Sunday Silence in 1989 and Charismatic in 1999. The other nine were overtaken by season’s end: Spectacular Bid by Affirmed in 1979, Pleasant Colony by John Henry in 1981, Alysheba by Ferdinand in 1987, Silver Charm by Favorite Trick in 1997, Real Quiet by Skip Away in 1998, War Emblem by Azeri in 2002, Funny Cide by Mineshaft in 2003, Smarty Jones by Ghostzapper in 2004, and Big Brown by Curlin in 2008.

If I’ll Have Another becomes just the third Derby-Preakness winner in this span to win the HOTY Eclipse, it will be in the mold of Charismatic rather than Sunday Silence, who won the Breeders’ Cup Classic over champions Easy Goer and Blushing John to clinch the award. Charismatic, on the other hand, did not race after breaking down while finishing third in the Belmont and survived a confusing summer and fall where no one else stepped up. Faced with Victory Gallop and Daylami (with only one U.S. Grade 1 victory apiece) as the best alternatives, the voters went back to Charismatic, despite his 4-for-10 record. (I’ll Have Another was 4 for 4 this year.).

I’ll Have Another’s three Grade 1 victories in April and May (the Santa Anita Derby, Kentucky Derby, and Preakness) remained the most in U.S. racing this year until last weekend, when Point of Entry added the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic to his prior Grade 1 scores in the Man o’ War and Sword Dancer. That stamped him as one of three horses who have the best chance to overtake I’ll Have Another with a victory at the Breeders’ Cup on Nov. 3: Triumphs by Point of Entry in the Turf, Game On Dude in the Classic, or Wise Dan in the Mile would give them legitimate claims to the title – but it’s not as if any of them is a cinch.

Game On Dude, the only one of three to win on dirt this year, would probably win the award if all three of them were to win on Breeders’ Cup Saturday. A victory would make him 5 for 7 this year (3 for 3 on dirt, 2 for 4 on synthetics), with Grade 1 victories in the Hollywood Gold Cup, Awesome Again (nee Goodwood), and Classic as well as impressive Grade 2 runaways in the Californian and San Antonio. He’s a legitimate Classic favorite, in career-best form, and racing on his home court, but always a shade questionable going more than nine furlongs, races in which he sports a career record of just 2 for 8. He has been caught in the 10th furlong two of the last three times he has tried the distance, falling to Dullahan in this year’s Pacific Classic and Drosselmeyer in last year’s BC Classic.

Wise Dan and Point of Entry are scheduled to run at what look like their best distances, but have a different challenge: They may face an entirely different level of competition in the form of European invaders, who often dominate the Mile and Turf. It’s going to be another week or two before it’s clear which Europeans are coming over for those races, but the average Grade 1-winning European at eight or 12 furlongs on the grass is usually a couple of lengths better than his American counterpart. There are of course exceptions, but while Point of Entry and Wise Dan are very nice horses, it’s unclear how truly exceptional they really are.

Finding out will be a big part of the appeal and intrigue at this year’s Cup, and more power to them and Game On Dude if they can finish their already strong seasons with victories at Santa Anita. If they all lose, however, it could be Charismatic in 1999 all over again, with the fleeting hero of spring still standing tallest months after his career was over.

WHAT’S YOUR TAKE?

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Despite Reports, I’ll Have Another’s Treatment Proper

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

What’s The Big Deal?

Trainer Doug O’Neill has taken his lumps, many of them deserved. And owner Paul Reddam has taken his lumps for employing O’Neill. But recent news reports about their handling of I’ll Have Another during his run at the Triple Crown and how they dealt with the colt’s problems with arthritis shed new light on the pair. This is obviously not a win-at-all-costs owner-trainer team but one that in this instance played by the rules and in the end did the right thing by their horse.

I’ll Have Another retired at Belmont Park.

That probably wasn’t the intent of a spate of stories that came out earlier in the week that pointed fingers at O’Neill, Reddam and the sport in general because veterinary records showed that I’ll Have Another was x-rayed after his win in the Preakness and the x-rays revealed that the colt had osteoarthritis. He was treated with painkillers and a synthetic joint fluid. At first keeping a tight lid on the situation, O’Neill and Reddam could have been more transparent. But, eventually and apparently, they gave up on trying to get the horse right and announced that he had been withdrawn from the Belmont because of “tendonitis” and retired.

Dr. Larry Bramlage, one of the most respected equine veterinarians in America, has read the stories and studied the veterinary reports and has come to the same conclusion most people in racing have — this is much ado about nothing.

“I would guess that with every horses over the last 34 years that won the first two legs of the Triple Crown they were x-rayed after the Preakness,” Bramlage said. “That’s routine care. Further, I bet Michael Phelps got done over with a fine-toothed comb after he qualified for the Olympics in the trials. Probably you have to put air coolers on those MRI machines down at the Olympic training center because they’re looking for any little, bump, bruise, anything they need to be aware of when those athletes are training.”

On the fact that I’ll Have Another had osteoarthritis, Bramlage said: “He had only run four days before they took the x-ray and won the second leg of the Triple Crown, so how can they allege he had been having serious problems all along? They must not have been too serious. How unusual is it to have this problem? It’s not unusual at all. Dr. [Jim] Hunt [who treated I’ll Have Another] said it was a small localized place. Osteoarthritis is a very general term.”

The story of I’ll Have Another sounds a lot like Shaquille O’Neil’s battle with arthritis in a toe. Then with the Lakers, he played through the injury thanks in part to a painkiller called Indocin. When it became more than he could bear, he underwent surgery and missed the beginning of the 2002-2003 season. No harm, no foul.

If some are to be believed, the backstretches of America’s racetrack are shadowy, nefarious places where outlaw trainers and vets run amok. There very may well be available illegal concoctions that O’Neill could have used that would have had I’ll Another feeling no pain by Belmont Day, but those sorts of drugs never entered into the picture. Everything given to the horse to deal with his ailment was legal.

With attempts to manage the arthritis apparently not working to their satisfaction, O’Neill and Reddam had a choice to make. They could have run I’ll Have Another in the Belmont, taken their shot at racing immortality, a $1 million purse and a victory that would have added many millions more onto his stud value.

“I think some people would have chosen to run him,” Bramlage said.

But it wouldn’t have been the right thing do and O’Neill and Reddam knew it.

“I don’t think he would have suffered any sort of catastrophic injury had they run him,” Bramlage said. “I do think the injury would have gotten worse and I think it would have affected his performance. Had it come out that he ran with an injury that would have been so much worse than this on so many different levels.”

The horse racing industry has been bombarded with negative publicity over the last several months, and some of it has been fair. There are far too many drugs, legal and illegal, in the sport and the cheaters are rarely handed anything more than ineffective and insubstantial penalties. Having been suspended because some of his horses tested positive for elevated carbon dioxide levels, often the result of a trainer using an illegal potion known as a milkshake, O’Neill has been a part of the problem.

Here, though, he didn’t cheat, didn’t use anything illegal. He dealt as best he could with a problem and when he saw that it had turned into a serious concern he looked out for his horse and didn’t risk putting him in any danger by running in the Belmont.

Nothing bad happened here. Nothing at all.

WHAT’S YOUR TAKE?

Is The Triple Crown Harder Than Ever To Win???

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Alice Wincze of Lexington Herald-Leader…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

Why winning the Triple Crown is harder than ever

The fervor of the question increases with every passing year. And as the years turn into decades — three now and counting — the subject gets dissected so exhaustively that even those deemed experts abandon trying to come up with one concrete answer.

I’ll Have Another’s victories in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes have gathered the racing world to its latest roundtable discussion over why it has been 34 years since a horse has proven capable of capturing the three-race, five-week gauntlet that is the American Triple Crown.

Though just 11 legends have accomplished the feat, the current drought has long since passed the previous record 25-year gap between Citation’s sweep in 1948 and Secretariat in 1973.

The one thought most agree upon is if I’ll Have Another wins the Triple Crown, he’ll have done so in an era unlike that of any of his predecessors.

To merely say it takes a special horse to win the Triple Crown is too simple a way of explaining why a generation of fans exist who have never witnessed a sweep. Some of the greatest horses of our time, most notably Spectacular Bid (1979), Alysheba (1987) and Sunday Silence (1989), made it to this very point only to be tripped up by various factors during their 11/2-mile journeys around the Belmont oval.

For the majority of the 11 horses that have failed to finish the job since Affirmed did so in 1978, their attempts have come at a time when the racing landscape is drastically different than it was for the 11 who succeeded.

This is not your grandfather’s racing. As the Thoroughbred breed has changed — for better or worse — so too have training styles and the attitude within the sport.

“I think it has (become harder to win) because of the reasons for which we breed horses,” said Penny Chenery, owner of Secretariat. “Back in the ’70s we were still breeding horses to race them, and so much of the industry now is concentrated on sales. So you breed a good-looking, early speed horse who isn’t equipped to go a mile and a half, or to run three hard races in five weeks.

“We just have a different set of goals with the horses we breed now.”

The Triple Crown races have not changed since the Thoroughbred Racing Association formally recognized the three-race series in 1950. The variables needed to notch victories in the trio, though, have grown to titanic proportions

Size matters

Of the 11 Triple Crown winners, only the great War Admiral in 1937 began his run by defeating 19 others in the Kentucky Derby.

With the first leg now the most famous race in the sport and long-shot winners showing a Derby victor can come from anywhere, 19- and 20-horse fields have become the norm in the past decade, increasing the odds that even the most talented horse of a generation could be derailed by a troubled trip.

Though field sizes in general have declined over the years, the Triple Crown races regularly hit their starting-gate limits.

Citation only had to beat 15 total horses en route to his coronation. Secretariat defeated 21 others during his Triple Crown run. Seattle Slew and Affirmed faced 29 and 20 total rivals, respectively.

I’ll Have Another took on 19 in the Derby, 10 in the Preakness and could encounter nine more foes in the Belmont

“It’s not too tough to win the Triple Crown. It’s just these fields are always full fields and it’s all about getting a good trip,” said Graham Motion, trainer of 2011 Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom. “There is always going to be a horse in the Derby that’s not going to get a good trip and that’s what’s going to make it so hard to have a Triple Crown winner.”

How one even gets a horse ready for the Triple Crown races is a different animal than it was in the ’70s.

First, there is the trend of trainers wanting to allow more time between starts in hopes of avoiding the dreaded “bounce” factor off of big efforts. However, with the 20-horse Derby field being determined in part by graded stakes earnings since 1986, some say they now have to ask more of their prospects earlier in order to secure the crucial money needed.

“It is not a three-race series anymore, it’s more like a five-race series,” said Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, winner of 13 Triple Crown races. “In the ’50s or ’60s, you could take a soft approach and train your horse and come May say, ‘I think he’s good enough’ and run him in the Derby against 10 or 12 horses. Now you cannot do that.

“You’ve got to say, ‘We better run good in the Rebel Stakes, the Arkansas Derby, the Fountain of Youth.’ We better go to the well because the earnings are so imperative for us to get in.”

While the race for graded earnings has played a role, it is the monetary action brought on by the auction arena that has been arguably the biggest factor in the Triple Crown drought.

Money changes everything

Where once homebreds ruled the classics, the rise of the commercial marketplace in the past 30 years has prompted breeders to produce a different type of athlete than previously demanded.

With deep-pocketed buyers like Robert Sangster, Coolmore, and Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum arriving on the scene in the 1980s, wild bidding wars erupted that produced seven- and eight-figure yearlings as well as broodmare prospects.

Since buyers need to get as much return as possible on such lofty investments, precocious babies that could inspire a strong following in the breeding shed went to the top of buyers’ wish lists, regardless if they had classic ability.

“There might be a tendency to try and breed a powerful speedy horse as opposed to one that looks like it could run a distance of ground. But you have to understand that commercial breeders are breeding what they think they can sell,” said bloodstock adviser Ric Waldman, who managed the career of leading sire Storm Cat. “And I think the end user has wanted a speedy horse.

“It’s not like we don’t want to breed Derby winners, everybody wants a Derby winner. But it goes back to the type of horse we think will make a good stud horse. And the kind of horse we think will make a good stud horse has typically been one that has shown speed and precocity.”

In trying to breed fast, pretty horses, some argue the durability of the modern Thoroughbred has been sacrificed along with the stamina. Today’s runners might not be the iron horses of the past, but part of the issue behind their perceived fragility may be just that — perception.

“I cannot believe how well these horses handle the comeback (during the Triple Crown),” Motion said. “Animal Kingdom went into the Preakness great, he went into the Belmont great and I never could have predicted that having never done it before. I don’t think we give these horses enough credit for how durable they are.”

Given the way the sport has changed, some like Lukas have said the Triple Crown should change with it, both in terms of the races’ distances and spacing.

If I’ll Have Another ends up winning this challenge, he’ll not only have racing’s greatest achievement on his résumé, he’ll have overcome a new set of obstacles in doing so.

“It shouldn’t be easy,” Waldman said. “While everyone is hoping we have a Triple Crown winner, the fact there hasn’t been one in such a long period of time underscores how difficult it is. You add in the component that maybe we’re changing the breed over this period of time and that compounds the difficulty in trying to achieve it.”

WHAT’S YOUR TAKE?

Winning A Triple Crown is Entering a Special Sector of Thoroughbred Greatness

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

Triple Crown bid is a race against history

When I’ll Have Another attempts to win the Belmont Stakes on June 9 and capture the Triple Crown, he must do more than defeat a formidable group of opponents. He must overcome history.

The Triple Crown series almost unfailingly thwarts horses who are not among the sport’s all-time greats. In the past 64 years, only Citation, Secretariat, Seattle Slew, and Affirmed have swept the 3-year-old classics. Since Affirmed’s success in 1978, a total of 11 horses have won both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness before failing in the Belmont Stakes.

If a committee of experts tried to design a definitive test of American racehorses, it could not have devised one more effective than the Triple Crown series. In theory, a less-than-great horse ought to be able to beat a subpar group of rivals three times or hit a streak of hot form lasting for a few weeks. But of the 11 Triple Crown winners, only one – Omaha in 1935 – might be considered a fluke.

No one conceived or planned the Triple Crown. It evolved haphazardly. The distances and schedule of the races underwent various changes over the years before it took its present form in the 1970s: the 1 1/4-mile Derby is run at Louisville’s Churchill Down on the first Saturday in May. The 1 3/16-mile Preakess is contested two weeks later at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore. Three weeks later, Belmont Park on Long Island is the site of the 1 1/2-mile final leg of the series.

When Sir Barton won the three stakes for 3-year-olds in 1919, there was no Triple Crown. Charles Hatton, a Daily Racing Form columnist, began using the term in the 1930s, and when Whirlaway completed a sweep in 1941, he was the first horse universally hailed as a Triple Crown winner. The Thoroughbred Racing Associations created a Triple Crown trophy in 1950.

Four horses won the Triple Crown in the 1940s, but no horse did it in the quarter of a century between Citation in 1948 and Secretariat in 1973. The 1970s, the so-called decade of champions, produced three Triple Crown winners. But now 34 years have passed since Affirmed outdueled Alydar in an epic Belmont battle.

Before 1978, horses who captured two-thirds of the Triple Crown were just as likely to be foiled in the Derby or Preakness as the Belmont. Racing luck was a frequent culprit; Native Dancer’s rough trip cost him the 1953 Derby and Little Current was badly blocked in 1974.

But since Affirmed’s triumph, the Belmont Stakes has become the great obstacle in the Triple Crown. Two changes in the modern game have made the Belmont so elusive. American Thoroughbreds have become less durable, and running three times in a five-week period is more stressful for modern horses than for their ancestors. (The schedule used to be even more demanding. Sir Barton had only three days’ rest between the Derby and the Preakness.) Relatively few modern-day horses compete in all three legs of the series unless they are pursuing a Triple Crown sweep, in which case they are usually facing a field of fresher rivals.

The major difficulty in the Belmont, however, is its distance. Contemporary American horses almost never compete at 1 1/2 miles on the dirt. Few are bred to run so far. The history of the race suggests strongly that a horse’s running style plays a great part in determining his effectiveness. And the ideal style for the Belmont is antithetical to the style that often succeeds in the first two legs of the Triple Crown.

Horses frequently seize command of the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness with one bold move – usually on the final turn. But when a horse tries to unleash a similar burst at Belmont Park, he still has a seemingly endless stretch in front of him, and rarely can sustain momentum to the finish line.

Many horses have won the Derby or the Preakness with eye-catching acceleration on the turn: Spectacular Bid (1979), Pleasant Colony (1981), Alysheba (1987), Sunday Silence (1989), Real Quiet (1998), Charismatic (1999). All of them lost their Triple Crown bid in the Belmont, and almost all of them were fading in the last quarter-mile.

Plodders sometimes win the Belmont and speed horses often do – but in either case they are likely to be even-paced runners, not ones whose forte is sharp acceleration. When Affirmed led all the way in 1978, he meted out his speed, running the first quarter-mile in 25 seconds flat and the final quarter in 25.20. Such controllable speed is the most formidable asset a horse can have in the Belmont. It is no coincidence that the past four Triple Crown winners won the race by leading all the way.

As I’ll Have Another bids to become the 12th Triple Crown winner, he has certain obvious strengths and weaknesses. He has not yet proved himself to be in the class of greats such as Secretariat and Affirmed. He will be competing for the third time in five weeks against challengers who have been given a breather before the Belmont. But he appears to have a respectable pedigree, and he possesses a blend of speed and stretch-running ability that could add up to an effective running style at 1 1/2 miles. Now he has a chance to add his name to a list that includes some of the greatest Thoroughbreds who ever lived.

WHAT’S YOUR TAKE?

Is I’ll Have Another’s Trainer a Representation of What is Wrong With Racing????

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

Why I’m Not Rooting For ‘I’ll Have Another’ In the Preakness

QUARTER POLE

For want of a nail the shoe was lost
For want of a shoe the horse was lost
For want of a horse the rider was lost
For want of a rider the battle was lost
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.
-English Proverb

As much as I would like to again see a Triple Crown winner in Thoroughbred racing, as much as I think the sport could so use a boost these dark days, I will not be rooting for I’ll Have Another this Saturday afternoon in the 137th Preakness Stakes at Maryland’s Pimlico Race Course. And I’d like to tell you why.

I have nothing against the horse, of course. He ran a great Kentucky Derby two weeks ago and was a worthy winner over the breathlessly game Bodemeister. And I have nothing, either, against I’ll Have Another’s jockey, Mario Gutierrez, whose rags-to-riches story is one of the best of the year. If they win again, and have a chance for a Triple Crown in three weeks at Belmont Park in New York, here’s hoping that Gutierrez is every bit as much a part of the story as his horse.

But I’m not rooting for I’ll Have Another because I am not a fan of trainers whose drug suspensions are endlessly stayed. I am not a fan of track officials and state regulators who slap wrists. I am not a fan of owners who tolerate it. And I am not a fan of an industry that allows all of this to occur and then turns to the betting public and its fans says “we are doing what we can about racing integrity.” No, sir. Not for me. I’ll be rooting for another horse and hoping, as always, that they all make it back home safe to the barn.

HALF-MILE POLE

Doug O’Neill trains the Derby winner. I had never heard of him before this year’s stakes season but I thought he was pitch-perfect on Derby Day itself. The first I heard of his California record was after the Derby. I just stumbled across the news by chance at Ray Paulick’s website, PaulickReport, which has been reporting on the story for years (here’s a good piece from 2010). Within days of the Derby, the story had migrated from inside the industry to the mainstream media. Joe Drape and Walt Bogdanich at the New York Times, with another trenchant piece, wrote this last Thursday as their lede:

Last summer, the trainer Doug O’Neill was formally sanctioned after one of his racehorses at Hollywood Park in California tested positive for illegal drugs. A year before, in 2010, O’Neill was punished for administering an illegal performance-enhancing concoction to a horse he ran in the prestigious Illinois Derby — the third time he had been accused of giving a horse what is known as a milkshake. Four months later, he was accused again of giving a milkshake to a horse in California.

Over 14 years and in four different states, O’Neill received more than a dozen violations for giving his horses improper drugs. O’Neill’s horses also have had a tendency to break down. According to an analysis by The New York Times, the horses he trains break down or show signs of injury at more than twice the rate of the national average.

The point I want to make here is a relatively small one in the context of what this means. Whether O’Neill is guilty or not of the pending violation, there is no excuse for these sorts of suspensions to linger unresolved for years. We are told that O’Neill faces a possible 180-day suspension–for a test that occurred in August 2010. His answer? “I swear on my kids’ eyes i never milkshaked a horse,” O’Neill said last week. Because regulators and judges in California couldn’t resolve the case sooner, a local problem became an international one in the middle of racing’s Triple Crown. For the want of a nail…

Can you imagine any professional sport or enterprise tolerating such a delay between the announcement of an offense and the disposition of one? There is an entire class of trainers, in both Thoroughbred and Standardbred racing, whose members go about their daily jobs under suspended sentences–in legal limbo but free to make a living, earn more purse money, and create the kind of gash marks on the sport that O’Neill’s case has created over the past two weeks.
THREE-QUARTER POLE

Trainer gets suspended for doping horse. Trainer appeals suspension. Trainer gets stay of suspension pending appeal. Trainer and lawyer undertake administrative hearing. Regulators take their time to rule. Ruling gets appealed to state court. Hearing is held. Judge takes her time to rule. This happens every day in North American horse racing and it’s what is happening in the O’Neill case. If he is guilty, he should long ago have been forced to serve his punishment. If he is not, because of California’s testing protocols, then that system itself should long ago have been fixed.

Perhaps the best way to describe this dynamic is to think of it as one giant industry-sanctioned bail/bond program. The suspects get to go on with their lives while evidence of their alleged crime is debated languidly. The logic is both clear and perverse. Even though the fines are miniscule compared to the purse money, trainers like O’Neill won’t accept punishment until their rights are fully adjudicated. It takes forever for those rights to be adjudicated under the current system. And because it takes so long, regulators and judges are loathe to preclude suspects from earning a living in the meantime.

Know what horse racing needs? It needs its own Drug Court–an independent body which can quickly adjudicate doping disputes. It needs an enforcement mechanism by which the current model–where overburdened, understaffed regulators hand off trainer doping cases to overburdened, understaffed state judges–gives way to something faster and stronger. A trainer wants to appeal a suspension? Fine. The industry should guarantee that trainer a right to a “speedy” disposition. In return, the industry should demand the trainer’s purse money be held in escrow pending the outcome.

MILE POLE

The O’Neill story indeed puts horse racing into a terrible bind. On the one hand, the industry surely wants to see “I’ll Have Another” win the Preakness to keep alive a Triple Crown hope for the year (the last horse to win was Affirmed in 1978). But on the other hand the industry surely understands that the hotter the spotlight shines on O’Neill the more it will expose the inherent contradictions and consistent failures of the sport’s drug enforcement policies and priorities.

The idea that a Triple Crown-winner trainer could shortly thereafter be suspended from racing for 180 days is even worse than is the idea that The Times is doing stories in mid-May about horse doping. It will be interesting to see, therefore, how NBC handles the O’Neill story when it covers the big race on Saturday. Surely the network cannot bury the controversy. Nor can it highlight it. But wouldn’t it be a great gift to the sport if the broadcast team were to shine a light on racing’s inability to timely convict or exonerate its suspected cheaters? Surely Costas and company would have no dearth of interviewees.

The scandal here, if there is one, isn’t just that a Derby-winning trainer has a mixed record and current legal headaches. The scandal here is that the industry has treated O’Neill no differently than thousands of other suspected trainers, jockeys and drivers over the past decades. I understand the presumption of innocence as much as the next fellow. But there is a difference between protecting that presumption and living up to the responsibility that racing participants have toward one another–and toward the public. The sooner the industry bridges this gulf, the stronger it will be.

THE FINAL FURLONG

Oh, yes. The race! I like to watch the Preakness (All Hail Kegasus!) more than the Derby itself because there are fewer horses and thus fewer chances for accidents or bad racing luck. The luckiest Derby winners often are exposed in the Preakness. This year, only 11 horses entered the second-leg of the Triple Crown. Bodemeister is back, as a somewhat surprising morning-line favorite, and so is my sentimental Derby pick, Creative Cause, whose 71-year-old trainer Michael Harrington just saddled his first-ever Derby entry.

And so is Went The Day Well. Here’s how Drape and Bogdanich, in their Times piece, compared O’Neill’s record with the record of Went The Day Well’s trainer, Graham Motion:

Nationally, thoroughbred horses break down or show signs of injury at a rate of 5.1 per thousand starts, according to the Times’s analysis of more than 150,000 races over the past three years. In more than 2,300 starts, horses trained by O’Neill show a breakdown or injury frequency more than double that rate, at 12.0 per thousand starts.

“It’s a horrible statistic to be associated with,” O’Neill said.

In comparison, horses in the care of Motion — one of the trainers without a single drug violation and who will race Went the Day Well in the Preakness Stakes next Saturday — have started nearly 1,900 races and broken down or showed signs of injury in just 0.5 per thousand start

All of a sudden, a Triple Crown winner this year doesn’t seem that great, does it? I didn’t think so.

WHAT’S YOUR TAKE?

Is The Thoroughbred Getting Weaker or Faster….Or Both????

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

Could breeding be making today’s horses weaker?

Are modern racehorses weaker than their counterparts of past generations?

This issue has been hotly debated in racing circles for quite some time, and for me it takes on added significance during the Triple Crown season.

Last year’s Derby winner Animal Kingdom sustained an injury in the Belmont Stakes that ended his season, which consisted of only five starts.

Smarty Jones, winner of the Derby and Preakness in 2004 and unbeaten to that point, never raced after his loss to Birdstone in the Belmont Stakes.

Ditto for Afleet Alex in 2005, who never raced after winning the Belmont to go with victories in the Preakness and Arkansas Derby.

Grindstone won the Kentucky Derby in 1996 in just his sixth lifetime start.

A few days later, he was retired due to knee problems.

Statistics compiled by The Jockey Club show that the average number of starts made in a career by each horse in the United States and Canada was 11.31 in 1960.

Fifty years later, in 2011, the number has fallen to 6.20.

Of the 20 horses that started in Saturday’s Kentucky Derby, 17 of them made three or less starts this year as 3-year-olds.

It does seem that that many stars of decades past were tougher than those of today, although I hasten to add that past greats such as Artful, Regret, and Commando had brief careers.

If I were writing this column in 1919, I could have had worries about Sir Barton, who made his 3-year-old debut in the Kentucky Derby.

However, America’s first Triple Crown winner broke his maiden in the Derby.

Sir Barton then won the Preakness on three days rest, the Withers ten days after that, and the Belmont 18 days after the Withers.

Citation, the Triple Crown winner in 1948, made his 3-year-old debut with a victory over older horses on Feb. 2.

He made his seventh start of the year with a win in the Derby Trial on Tuesday, April 27, and won the Kentucky Derby four days later on May 1.

Speaking of the Derby Trial, no less than six horses in the 1950’s raced in it on Tuesday and won the Derby four

days later on Saturday.

They were Middleground (1950), Hill Gail (1952), Dark Star (1953), Determine (1954), Iron Liege (1957) and Tim Tam (1958).

Dark Star is famous for handing the great Native Dancer his only career defeat in the Kentucky Derby.

Bold Forbes won the Kentucky Derby in 1976 in his sixth start that year.

Spectacular Bid also won the Kentucky Derby in his sixth start as a 3-year-old.

“The Bid” won the Hutcheson, Fountain of Youth, Florida Derby, Flamingo and Blue Grass on the way to Louisville.

Today, you hear trainers talk about using only one or two of those races before the Derby.

I’ll Have Another made only two starts this year prior to his Derby victory last Saturday, and was making only his sixth lifetime start.

Bodemeister made four career starts before his second-place finish, all of them this year, and once again the history of unraced 2-year-olds not winning the Derby held up.

So, what is at work here?

I do think that speed in the breed, coupled with a generation of stallion syndications that causes early retirement of top horses, have not helped racing in this regard.

The creation of the Breeders’ Cup in 1984, as a very rich series to end the season in November, certainly changed both the spacing and number of races for many trainers.

To its credit, the Breeders’ Cup has a Marathon, worth $500,000 at 1 ¾ miles.

However, the Breeders’ Cup in my view has too many rich sprints.

There are the $500,000 Juvenile Sprint, the $1 million Filly and Mare Sprint, the $1.5 million Sprint, and the $1 million Turf Sprint.

If the 1 ¼- mile Classic went to 1 ½ miles, you would see more distance racing in this country.

If I could change one thing, though, it would be track condition.

Tracks have been too hard for decades.

What is wrong with the best horse winning at six furlongs in 1:10 instead of 1:07, or seven furlongs in 1:24 instead of 1:20?

Surfaces that produce those kinds of times must be taking a toll.

WHAT’S YOUR TAKE?