Archive for Santa Anita

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 HBPA.com, 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.

WHAT’S YOUR TAKE?

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Saturday’s Stakes Provided Preview of Breeders’ Cup

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Gary West of ESPN.com…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.

WHAT’S YOUR TAKE?

2014 Big Cap Showcased Old Warriors

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

Dude the Redeemer

God love the seasoned warriors; the ones who rise up and reclaim glory in stunning fashion when everyone else has begun writing them off.

During the Sochi Winter Olympics, Austrian skier Mario Matt, two months shy of his 35th birthday, handled a tricky slalom course on challenging soft snow to become the oldest Alpine gold medalist in Olympics history. The course was so tough—termed brutal by some—that five of the eight top skiers from the first of two rounds failed to finish the course.

Matt’s experience, talent, and will to win allowed him to shine against some of the world’s most talented and much younger skiers.

“He’s a tremendous competitor, a game-day guy,” said U.S. men’s head coach Sasha Rearick.

Game On Dude gave racing the same type of performance March 8 in one of the most exciting Santa Anita Handicaps (gr. I) seen in many years.

Santa Anita Park is home base for the 7-year-old son of Awesome Again, but the Southern California track has been the site of as much heartbreak as triumph for him. Just four months ago Game On Dude was favored to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) after a sterling run of five consecutive graded stakes victories, including a 73⁄4-length romp in last year’s Big ’Cap. The gelding, however, finished ninth in the Classic, 11 lengths behind winner Mucho Macho Man and nosed-out second Will Take Charge. Game On Dude had been the favorite in the 2012 Classic, also at Santa Anita, and finished 15 lengths back in seventh.

The Dude ended last year with a good second to Will Take Charge in the Clark Handicap (gr. I), so a strong start this year would have restored the faith of many. But that didn’t happen. Instead, Game On Dude finished fifth in the grade II San Antonio Stakes against much softer competition than he would face in the Big ’Cap. The only other graded stakes winners in the field were Blueskiesnrainbows, who had just won the grade II San Pasqual Stakes, and Willyconker, who had won the grade I Frank E. Kilroe Mile Stakes in 2012 but had not won or placed in a stakes all last year.

So the speculation began. Had the Dude lost his edge?

Trainer Bob Baffert took the heat for the San Antonio loss, saying he didn’t have Game On Dude prepared. Then he stewed over the naysayers.
“Bob’s proud of Game On Dude,” said jockey Mike Smith. “He’s like family to him. When you knock him, you’re walking on the fightin’ side of Bob, I guess, like it says in the old country song that Merle Haggard used to sing.”

The Big ’Cap wound up being the perfect stage for redemption: a rematch with Mucho Macho Man and Will Take Charge at Santa Anita along with the top three finishers from the San Antonio—Blingo, Imperative, and American Blend—and grade II winner Hear the Ghost from the always dangerous barn of Jerry Hollendorfer. The doubt hanging over Game On Dude made him the third choice in the field; the first time he had not been the post time favorite in 15 starts.

The Dude was ready, however. Smith took him right to the front and let him roll through sharp fractions of :22.91, :45.39, and 1:09.39, a brisker pace than what unfolded had when Game On Dude ran head-to-head with Blueskiesnrainbows in the San Antonio. Heading into the second turn, the fans got the showdown they’d been hoping for with Mucho Macho Man at Game On Dude’s right shoulder and Will Take Charge just outside of Mucho Macho Man.

“The stars are all aligned,” said track announcer Trevor Denman.

This time the Dude’s talent and will to win were unassailable. Mucho Macho Man faded and Will Take Charge was held at bay by 13⁄4 lengths. The Dude trifecta was priceless: He made history by winning his third Santa Anita Handicap, he broke the stakes record with his final time of 1:58.17, and he struck dumb his critics.

“It’s an emotional win,” Baffert said afterward. “It kills me when they knock on him, but we came in quiet and that’s the way I like it. We came in under the radar, and we were ready for them.”

The Big ’Cap was an important race for the sport as well. A compelling handicap division allows fans to make a connection with top horses and gives a chance for rivalries to develop. Keep putting such compelling contests on TV and perhaps Thoroughbred racing could start to savor some redemption of its own.

WHAT’S YOUR TAKE?

Paynter Looks To End His Career With the Perfect Finish

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Bob Ehalt of ESPN.com…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.

WHAT’S YOUR TAKE?

Security Added To Long List of Issues In Racing That Beg For Uniformity

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

Five reasons why the effort to ban Lasix has stalled

Enhanced security measures for both the Wood Memorial Stakes (gr. I) and Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) were announced and implemented three days prior to these important Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) prep races.

Santa Anita extended its regular six-hour surveillance period to 72 hours just for the eight horses entered in its marquee race April 6. Surveillance meant having security guards maintain a log of who goes in and out of the barns and to collect the syringes used for any medications administered.

New York also began its monitoring of the 10 horses entered in the Wood Memorial April 3 and took blood samples for out-of-competition drug testing.

“NYRA’s mission statement, ‘meeting the highest standards in Thoroughbred racing and equine safety,’ is exemplified by these additional steps for one of our most important stakes,” said David Skorton, chairman of the recently created New York Racing Association Reorganization Board.

Increased security around high-profile stakes races is certainly admirable, but this kind of one-off ramping up of security begs the question—is racing’s day-to-day security inadequate?

And if the extra security ensures the highest standard for biggest races, why not apply it at least to the other stakes races on the undercards. Aqueduct ran four other graded stakes (grade I Carter Handicap, grade II Ruffian Handicap, grade II Gazelle Stakes, and the grade III Bay Shore Stakes) with a total of 28 horses entered. Santa Anita ran three graded stakes (grade I Santa Anita Oaks, grade II Potrero Grande Stakes, and the grade III Providencia Stakes) and one ungraded stakes, the Thunder Road Stakes, for which 31 horses had been entered. None of the extra security covered any of these horses.

Security at racetracks has simply been too reactionary. NYRA set up a detention barn system in 2005 on the heels of a case involving trainer Greg Martin and milkshaking (tubing horses with a bicarbonate solution to reduce fatigue during a race).
“We think it is an important step in improving the integrity of racing,” said NYRA’s then-president Charlie Hayward.

The detention barn system lasted until 2010 when NYRA announced the barn would be replaced by an in-house drug testing program that utilized state-of-the-art science, technology, and procedural processes. It was reported at the time that NYRA’s new robust testing regimen would be accompanied by equally robust mandatory penalties for trainers whose horses tested positive for illegal drugs.

That is until May 24, 2012, when the California Horse Racing Board handed trainer Doug O’Neill a conditional 45-day suspension for milkshaking. Less than two weeks later NYRA announced it was implementing a new set of security protocols for horses entered in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I), which included O’Neill’s Triple Crown title hopeful I’ll Have Another. All Belmont entries had to stable in a special “stakes barn” where they would be more closely monitored than any other horses on the expansive Belmont Park backside.

Trainer Michael Matz said it best when the stakes barn had been announced and disrupted the training and shipping schedule for his Belmont contender and eventual winner Union Rags: “…what I’m disappointed in most is the lack of uniformity. What’s good for New York should be good for Maryland, and what’s good for Maryland should be good for Kentucky.”

Security at a racetrack is essential, but it should not be influenced so easily by individual cases or focus only on individual races. If integrity is the goal, then forget 72 hours of security versus six hours. Instead the focus should be on implementing a consistent, reliable system for all tracks, all horses, and all races 365 days a year.

WHAT’S YOUR TAKE?

Breeders Cup Going To Santa Anita Makes Strong Statement Against Belmont Park

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

Breeders’ Cup decision a slap in face to Belmont

Next Wednesday, at a luncheon being hosted by the mayor of Los Angeles and Breeders’ Cup, Santa Anita is expected to be named the host site for the 2012 Cup races. Politicians and Cup officials will surely hail the announcement that Santa Anita will be the host for the third time in five years as wonderful news.

To my mind, it will be a sad day for American racing and for a Breeders’ Cup organization that has lost its way and abandoned the ideals it established nearly 30 years ago.

I would feel the same way if Belmont Park were being given the Cup for the third time in five years while California had not had one since 2005. Santa Anita is a beautiful facility and a terrific host for the Breeders Cup – once every three or four years. So are Belmont Park and Churchill Downs. (There’s a separate discussion about whether the rotation should include a fourth slot for a wild-card track.)

One of the founding principles of the Cup was that the races would move around the country while emphasizing the primary racing centers of California, Kentucky, and New York. It was a bedrock principle, the only way to ensure national unity and support for a year-end championship day that by definition was diminishing traditional events in each region, and obviously the fairest thing for the sport’s far-flung horsemen and fans.

At one time, before fairness and inclusiveness at the Breeders’ Cup went the way of the dodo and the Distaff, there wouldn’t even have been a discussion about the site of the 2012 Cup. After being run at Santa Anita in both 2008 and 2009, then at Churchill Downs in 2010 and again this year, the only question should have been whether Belmont would host it in 2012 alone or in both 2012 and 2013. Instead, Cup officials not only spurned New York for the fourth year in a row, but also did so in disrespectful and humiliating fashion.

Tom Ludt, the new Breeders’ Cup chairman, made the unnecessary announcement in June that there were now three “finalists” for 2012 hosting – Belmont, Churchill, and Santa Anita. Obviously, New York was being passed over again. Cup board members had been very impressed with the presentation made on Santa Anita’s behalf by Greg Avioli, now a top official at the track’s parent company but the chief executive of Breeders’ Cup until this spring.

It’s going to be fascinating to see how Cup officials can possibly justify three Cups at Santa Anita in five years while New York has not had one since 2005. I offered Ludt and Craig Fravel, the new Cup chief executive, an opportunity to do so but both declined comment pending next week’s announcement.

The Cup board’s previous arguments on behalf of Santa Anita as perhaps a permanent Cup host were flimsy or probably wrong. They proposed that Santa Anita should be considered for that because other major sports events have permanent homes (they don’t); because Los Angeles is a media and entertainment center with fine hotels and restaurants (unlike New York?); and because the 2008-09 runnings were so successful (in fact, they were the two lowest-handling Breeders’ Cup Saturdays in recent years, outdone by Belmont in 2005, Churchill in 2006 and 2010, and even Monmouth in torrential rains in 2007).

More recently, some Cup board members have been spreading the word that New York didn’t actually want the Breeders’ Cup, a complete fiction. The fact is that Belmont was ready, eager and able to host the Cup in 2009, or 2010, or 2011, or 2012. Each time it was misled about its prospects and had the goalposts moved – one time its franchise renewal hadn’t technically been ratified, another year officials had inadvertently promised the site to both Belmont and Churchill, another year it had to take advantage of a Kentucky tax break no one had suggested New York needed to pursue. Yet this time it’s okay to give it to Santa Anita even though the track has not even been awarded racing dates for 2012 and does not currently have a tested racing surface for the event.

The mean-spirited capper to all this is that when NYRA officials learned second-hand that they were not being given the Cup yet again for 2012, they asked if it could at least be announced next week that Belmont would finally getting the races again in 2013. The request was denied, and they were told there needs to be “further discussions” about that.

In a parallel universe of fairness and statesmanship, Santa Anita might not even have applied for the 2012 Cup and instead said it was obviously New York’s turn but that they’d sure like to be considered for 2013. When the Breeders’ Cup was being run by people who supported racing without regional preferences, by leaders such as Ted Bassett and John Nerud and D.G. Van Clief, Breeders’ Cups were awarded in an equitable fashion with the goal of helping the entire industry.

Those days are clearly gone, along with a fair and balanced Breeders’ Cup.

WHAT’S YOUR TAKE?

Are Santa Anita’s Woes The Fault Of The Track or The Horsemen?

This week’s LET IT RIDE.COM HOT TOPIC comes from Art Wilson of The Daily Breeze…take a read and VOICE AN OPINION!

Santa Anita looks to be back on track

Santa Anita came under fire this past year when there were 19 fatalities over its new dirt track during the 2010-11 winter/spring meet.

The criticism was justified, too, because that’s way too many.

But before we fry track management over one bad meet, let’s give them a chance to rectify the situation and get it right.

I believe they will.

The problems started in December when Southern California received a higher-than-normal amount of rain that, according to Santa Anita officials, turned a lot of the new surface’s sand to clay.

“We started off with a great track, but unfortunately that track changed for whatever reason,” Santa Anita president George Haines told the California Horse Racing Board at its regularly scheduled meeting Thursday at Hollywood Park. “There are a bunch of different theories, but we do know now that the composition of the track has way too much clay in it and the way to solve that problem is to dilute that clay with clean sand material.”

Haines said management has found the new material, has it on site and it will take 10-14 days to remediate the track and get it the way it’s supposed to be once the testing is completed and the maintenance begins July 11.

Meanwhile, Haines and Greg Avioli, recently named president/CEO of Santa Anita owner Frank Stronach’s racing empire, have pledged to do whatever it takes to fix the problem.

Avioli, former president and CEO of the Breeders’ Cup, told CHRB members
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Santa Anita will foot the bill by itself for the remediation.

“We know that it’s our responsibility because it’s our race track,” he said. “So we’re determined that we will get it right.”

Said Haines: “We have a great deal invested in this and we are going to do the very best to get this as good as we can get it.”

Veteran trainer Bruce Headley, a strong proponent of dirt racing, has no doubt the track will be fine by the beginning of Santa Anita’s autumn meet scheduled to begin Sept. 28.

“I think Ted Malloy (racing surface consultant for Stronach) has made more tracks than anybody else and he will get this right,” Headley said.

He believes there is another problem that leads to many of the breakdowns.

“When the horses get hurt now, start showing signs of wear and tear, they (trainers) won’t give them a rest and the problems turn into bigger ones,” he said.

Another industry insider, who preferred to remain anonymous, had stronger words when asked why Santa Anita had so many fatalities earlier this year.

“Same ol’ (bleepin) thing,” he said. “Too much cortisone, too much painkiller and trainers that are too greedy and too desperate. I mean, how many of the same guys are breaking down the same horses?”

To be fair to Santa Anita, Del Mar had problems with its synthetic Polytrack surface during its 2009 season, when there were 12 fatalities during a 37-day meet.

Del Mar turned it around last summer, when there were only five fatalities despite a rash of complaints from trainers about the track’s consistency.

Said Del Mar CEO Joe Harper on closing day last summer: “This track, during the offseason we added fiber and once we figured out how to mix it, it was a much more forgiving race track, and I think it showed statistically.”

Del Mar, of course, is hoping to host a Breeders’ Cup sometime in the near future. Santa Anita, which became the first track to host back-to-back Cups in 2008-09, is on the verge of landing another one.

Santa Anita, Belmont Park and Churchill Downs are finalists to host the 2012 Breeders’ Cup, a decision that most likely will come in the next 30 days.

“We have made a very aggressive bid for the 2012 Breeders’ Cup where we’ve made some very strong financial commitments,” Avioli said. “We feel pretty good about our chances and think that would be a very good thing for California racing.”

Indeed.

But problems still persist, problems that not even Zenyatta’s amazing victory in the 2009 Breeders’ Cup Classic could solve.

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