Archive for New York Times

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 But, eventually and apparently, they gave up on trying to get the horse right and announced that he had been withdrawn from the Belmont because of “tendonitis” and retired.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.



How Much Attention Should Racing Pay to the Sensationalism of the New York Times???

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

Rogue Reporting

The sledgehammer-like beating the Thoroughbred racing industry has taken recently in the New York Times over drug use has been hailed by many owners and racing organizations that want the industry to clean up its act. The coverage, which has cast racing in the worst possible light through slanted reporting and faulty statistics, has been widely expected by anti-drug supporters to accelerate change.

But these advocates have hitched their horse to the wrong wagon. Instead of rallying behind a champion, they’re giving credence to gross misrepresentations of the sport and allowing racing to be buried under a mountain of unchallenged and unmitigated negativity. This is dangerous policy for an industry that acknowledges a severe perception problem already exists in the minds of casual fans or non-fans of the sport.

Are there problems in Thoroughbred racing? Sure. Are there people trying to beat the system and ignoring what is in the best interest of their horses? Yes. Are these bad apples a substantial subset of racing’s owners, breeders, and trainers? A resounding no.

Super testing done in 2001 and 2002 on 1,596 samples from racing Thoroughbreds, including some samples retested with more sensitive equipment, found 98.7% of the samples were clean.

Without question, racing needs leadership to implement a system that punishes the cheaters and bans repeat violators from the sport, possibly sending them to jail. But the Times series is not moving us closer to this goal. The sensationalistic reporting has not advanced the The Jockey Club’s proposed medication reform rules across all racing jurisdictions. The reporting has not caused any jurisdiction to join Kentucky in taking even a baby step toward outlawing Salix.

Why? Because the Times seems to be taking the tack that sensationalism is more important than meaningful facts. Instead of shedding light and educating, its reporting screams and exaggerates. In the paper’s middle-of-the-front-page Sunday launch to its campaign against racing March 25, it quoted statistics compiled from race charts. One had to hunt for the explainer text buried inside, noting the statistics were for “breakdowns or signs of injury.” Lots of inflammatory text about incidences wrapped around pictures of dead horses and paralyzed jockeys obscured problems with the reporting. One problem is the statistics combined Quarter Horse and Thoroughbred racing, which are entirely different breeds and very different styles of racing. Problem two is that incidences include horses that may have been pulled up in a race, walked off the track, and were found later to have minor, treatable injuries. If the article had focused on the national Equine Injury Database, which monitors only fatalities in Thoroughbreds and has data verified by veterinarians, many of these “incidences” would have been cut in half.

The Times has been handling racing in this way for some time. Columns and editorials about drugs in racing have continued mentioning the breakdown of Eight Belles long after it had been proved the filly was clean, and all the racing industry has done is wring its collective hands. In its reporting on medication issues, the Times regularly exaggerates and misstates drug issues, most recently equating total carbon dioxide overages with “doping horses.” Milkshaking, while banned, involves baking soda, water, and sugar. No drugs are involved.

We should not be fooled into believing the Times is out to help horse racing; it is out to help the Times by attracting readers with sensational stories and grim photos designed to attract national awards—all at the expense of racing. If the newspaper actually cares about the sport, why doesn’t it present balance in its coverage? Instead, to garner maximum attention year after year, it rolls out the negative story timed to coincide with the Triple Crown series.

Unfortunately, the Times has been wracked by its own scandals, numerous times involving false and made-up reporting. The unimpeachable reputation the Times once deservedly earned seems no longer to exist. We have no access to the Gray Lady’s inner sanctum, but what a shame it would be if the motivation behind this series is to simply inflame emotions over drugs and animals in the hope of garnering some journalist laurels. Judging by its record, self-reward rather than racetrack reform seems to be the motive.

The racing industry should immediately cease condoning these articles in the Times and attempting to use them as its stalking horse. If it does not, it may one day find that even when Thoroughbred racing succeeds in ridding itself of all drugs, there won’t be enough people left who care anymore; that irreparable damage has been done by the blizzard of bad publicity.


Flay, Repole and Plank Show It’s Hip To Own A Horse

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Case Clay of The New York Times…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

A Toast to Horse Racing, With a Classic Twist

Bing Crosby, Fred Astaire and Cary Grant had more than one thing in common. They were not only entertainers, but they were horse racing enthusiasts, fans and owners. As a 37 year old who has grown up in the horse industry, I often hear folks talk about the “good old days” and how these three men created a great allure to horse racing, making it hip to own a horse.

When I hear this sort of chatter the next time, I will let the folks know there is a chance for “good new days” ahead.

On Saturday at Belmont Park, hours before the third leg of the Triple Crown, the modern-day, business version of the Crosby/Astaire/Grant trio got together for the first time in the same room and shared a drink. I got the feeling it won’t be the last. Three young horse owners, the celebrity chef Bobby Flay (age 46), the Under Armour founder and chief executive Kevin Plank (age 38) and the co-founder of Vitaminwater Mike Repole (age 42), are the new faces of horse racing, and it’s quite refreshing.

Each of the entrepreneurs is fun and engaging, each has earned a coveted Breeders’ Cup victory, each has built internationally recognized brands, but most importantly, they share a genuine passion for horse racing as a sport and will do whatever it takes to let people know that if you don’t own a racehorse, you’re missing an unbelievable opportunity.

“We love to promote,” Plank said, “and the three of us are getting together and saying ‘We want other people to take interest in this game that was once the most popular sport in America and say, ‘Why not again?’”

Individually, their intensity and enthusiasm is infectious, but together, when discussing horse racing, their enthusiasm rises to another level, and their love of horse racing is off the charts.

“It’s an unbelievable game,” Plank said. “There’s nothing like watching the horses coming down the stretch and crossing the finish line. And no matter what the odds, short or long, the winning is contagious and the beauty of the horse is something you can’t express. It is the prettiest thing I have ever dealt with in my life.”

The nice thing about Repole, Flay and Plank is they don’t take themselves too seriously either. As the discussion continues, I’m imagining Crosby, Astaire and Grant doing the same thing years ago, as these three gentlemen playfully weave verbal pokes back and forth to one another in jest as if they have known each other forever. They quickly maneuver between seriously passionate and hilarious zingers, which become fun to watch.

Repole and Plank, who had Stay Thirsty and Monzon, respectively, in the Belmont Stakes, asked Flay which horse would win the Belmont, each giving him a look that their horse better be mentioned. Without missing a beat, Flay smiled and said, “Santiva, definitely,” which immediately earned the payoff laugh from the other two guys.

Flay then switches back to serious and answers my question about what it was like to win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf with his filly, More Than Real.

“I’ve probably watched the race replay 300 times,” Flay said. “Actually I watched the replay this morning. I had about 12 people over to my house for brunch and we showed it to the guests. Somebody at the table said, ‘You can’t bottle that feeling.’ He’s right, you can’t bottle it. For me, it didn’t feel real, so I always have to watch the replay to make sure it actually happened.”

Repole comes back right on cue, “You had 12 people over for brunch, and we weren’t invited? Kevin, do you believe that?”

Plank responds, “Bobby, are you a cook or something?”

Repole pulls it right back to the passion and what he loves about horse racing. “This is what racing is about,” Repole says as he points to his 80 friends and family gathered at tables behind him. This is a celebration today,” he continues. “Whether my horse comes in 1st or 12th, it doesn’t matter. This is what racing can be about. You can come here and have a great time, spend $200, get something to eat, and possibly walk out of here with a thousand dollars. You go to a great restaurant with $200, and you’re not coming out with possibly more money in your pocket, especially if it’s one of Bobby’s restaurants!”

Flay laughs.

While they are riffing, I can see their minds moving, using what made their businesses successful to promote horse racing.

“For young guys in horse racing, the luck we have is more like a naiveté, which I promote more than anything,” Plank says. “Don’t tell me what can’t happen or what has to happen. Hopefully we can pick up a lot of trophies and have other people say, ‘I’d like to do that, too.’”

Plank, Flay and Repole were all underdogs at one point in their self-made lives. When you talk to them, you get the sense that they embrace the challenge of promoting a sport, which, like any sport (disputes and lockout discussions in the N.F.L. and N.B.A.) has its challenges; and will not let horse racing go away on their watch.

“It’s too important to let it go away,” Flay says. “We’re doing our best in this game, and we want this game to be the best it can be.”

These guys are winners and their attitudes are contagious, which is a good combination for horse racing.

“We wouldn’t have gotten into it if we thought it was going to lose,” Plank adds.

Repole, Plank and Flay don’t know what the future holds, but that certainly doesn’t stop them from dreaming. On Saturday, Flay’s filly ran a solid third in the Grade I Acorn, and he’s off to Royal Ascot to watch his Breeders’ Cup winning filly run. Repole’s horses ran third in the Grade II True North Handicap and second in the Belmont Stakes. And although Plank’s underdog didn’t take the Belmont this year, don’t bet against his long shots (his Breeders’ Cup winner was 46-1).

In the Crosby, Astaire, Grant days, it was hip to own a horse. Thanks to Bobby Flay, Mike Repole and Kevin Plank, it’s getting hip again.