Archive for Wood Memorial

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…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.



Disclosure In Horse Racing: How Much Does The Horseplayer Deserve To Know???

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

Does Racing Need Mo Disclosure?

Mike Repole’s Uncle Mo arrived at Churchill Downs on Monday, still dogged by questions about his first career defeat in the Wood Memorial on April 9. Last year’s 2-year-old champion had no response when challenged in the final furlong of the Wood, finishing third, beaten 1 1/4 lengths by Toby’s Corner.

Some questions have gone beyond Uncle Mo’s performance, dealing with more philosophical questions about transparency in the area of veterinary medicine and racehorses.

For example, more than a few observers wondered about that freshly shaved rectangular patch below Uncle Mo’s right knee. Could it be a splint bone issue, a skin problem, or was the area ultrasounded for diagnosis only?

Others noticed markings on both of Uncle Mo’s shins indicating pinfiring, something that could have occurred many months ago. And then there was what appeared to be a right hind foot with an Equilox patch, a remedy that could indicate the need for reinforcement due to a quarter crack, bad hoof walls, or simply a complication from shoeing.

We don’t know, and probably never will.

The real question is whether or not it’s anyone’s business other than the owner of the horse.

It is the prevailing philosophy in American racing, as well as in the breeding and auction arena, that such information is private. Disclosure seems to be a dirty word in this business, whether it’s surgeries on racehorses, leg-straightening procedures on foals who will later be offered at weanling, yearling and 2-year-old sales, or medications given to horses before auctions or races.

Is there a connection between this veil of secrecy and the growing distrust and skepticism consumers seem to be exhibiting about the Thoroughbred industry? Or is this much adieu about nothing?

For their part, owner Repole and trainer Todd Pletcher have practiced partial disclosure. Following Uncle Mo’s defeat, they issued a statement saying the colt came out of the Wood Memorial with a gastrointestinal tract infection. The disclosure of the infection was preceded by this comment from Pletcher: “Although it is not my standard practice to share a horse’s examination results with anyone other than the owner, I feel that Uncle Mo’s disappointing performance in the Wood Memorial warrants an explanation.”

Their explanation for Uncle Mo’s performance didn’t include a treatment plan. Would he be given therapeutic medication, a special diet, or perhaps spend some time at a clinic with a hyperbaric (oxygen) chamber?

Again, is it any of our business?

That depends. Mike Repole owns the horse and pays the bills to take care of him. But many of the people who bet on horse racing believe they have a right to know what kind of injuries a horse may have had, what veterinary procedures that horse has undergone, and what medications he may be receiving.

Repole is a horseplayer. If he had no connection to Uncle Mo, do you think he might be curious to know about that shaved area on the right foreleg before he made a bet on the Wood? If he was playing the Derby Futures Wager, and there was widespread talk among racetrack veterinarians that Uncle Mo may have had a chip removed from his knee after the Breeders’ Cup in November, is that something Repole the horseplayer would be interested in knowing?

There are veterinary-client privilege laws throughout the United States, but horse racing is a highly regulated, government controlled industry. Many states require disclosure of information regarding the gelding of a horse or what raceday medications a horse receives. The long arm of regulations could be expanded.

Complete disclosure is practiced in what many consider the world’s most successful racing program in Hong Kong. Surgeries, lameness diagnoses and medications are fully disclosed and available to the public at the Hong Kong Jockey Club’s website. In my opinion, that kind of disclosure builds confidence in the wagering public.

Here’s an example: Sacred Kingdom, the 2010 Hong Kong Horse of the Year, had colic surgery last March and was diagnosed as lame on three different occasions. (Click here to read his veterinary report.) That kind of information is available on every horse stabled at an HKJC track.

In addition, horseplayers in Hong Kong are provided complete information on every horse competing in advance of each racing program. For example, click here for a look at tomorrow night’s starters in the seventh race at Happy Valley.

“We have complied and published records on our official website for about 10 years,” said Bill Nader, the former New York Racing Association executive who now serves as the executive director of racing for the HKJC. “The Jockey Club website is content rich, embraces transparency and our customers have come to expect the highest standard of information delivery. So, it is all good.”

Nader acknowledges that it’s a lot easier to practice complete disclosure under Hong Kong’s controlled environment.

“The built-in advantage here,” he said, “is a captive horse population as only nine of our races are truly open to outsiders, the rest are for horses stabled at Sha Tin. Also, all vets are employed by the Jockey Club.

“Customer experience is the one thing that nearly every industry must respect and horse racing is no exception,” Nader added. “Reporting veterinary findings, whether on an odds-on favorite that has run poorly or any horse whether it be in a Class 5 or a Group 1, is good customer service. If a horse bleeds or suffers from a heart irregularity, we will announce it over our public-address system within an hour after the race. We strive to present the best racing and betting product in the world and, by doing so, we are meeting customer expectations. The fundamentals required to do this are quality racing, big betting pools that offer high liquidity, competitive racing with regard to runners per race (12.5) and integrity. Through greater transparency, we only take integrity to a higher level.”

Average daily pari-mutuel handle on each of Hong Kong’s 83 racing programs is US$123 million and growing (that’s more than was wagered in the pari-mutuel pools on the 2010 Kentucky Derby).

They must be doing something right.


Mike Repole Embodies What Is “Good For The Game”

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

Be Like Mike

I never really believed much in the idea that something can be “good for the game.” If a horse were to win a Triple Crown there would still be 3,009 people at Belmont the following Wednesday. As marvelous as she was, Zenyatta’s exploits have done nothing to save California racing from getting off to a miserable start in 2011. Few things in the sport, no matter how great or marvelous they may be, seem to have much of a carryover effect.

But in Uncle Mo and his owner Mike Repole, we may actually have something that is “good for the game,” something that could help lift horse racing out of its ongoing malaise. That’s what makes them so easy to root for.

There’s no doubt that should Uncle Mo sweep Saturday’s Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont he will create the sort of excitement that racing hasn’t seen in more than 30 years and put 100,000-plus people in the seats at Belmont come June 11. But as great as Uncle Mo appears to be, it is Repole that might just do more for the sport than anyone has in a long time.

If Uncle Mo gets to the Belmont Stakes undefeated, Repole, who doesn’t shy away from publicity, is going to become the face of racing, and that would be a good thing. Not only is he a terrific representative of the sport, he leads by example and maybe he can chip away at some of the mindsets that have been so counterproductive to the game’s overall well being.

Repole, more so than any one else, puts the sport first, which makes him a breath of fresh air in an era when self-interests almost always prevail.

That’s why he has already announced that if Uncle Mo stays healthy he will race next year as a 4-year-old. Repole, a very rich guy, gets it that the many millions that Uncle Mo could put in his pocket the minute he stops being a race horse and becomes a sire won’t change his life one bit. He’d much rather enjoy watching the horse race and treating the racing fan to at least one more year of watching this potential superstar on the racetrack. Who knows, maybe Uncle Mo will run at five, maybe six.

That sort of thinking sounds so logical, but very few ever keep their good horses racing a second longer than they have to. Greed wins out just about every time.

For obvious reasons, Repole loves Uncle Mo, but he seems to love all of his horses. Repole always goes the extra mile to make sure that anything that comes into his barn never has to worry about their post-racing careers. He is among the most generous donors in the sport when it comes to thoroughbred rescue charities and he showered an old claimer he owned named Cool N Collective with love and affection when throwing him a retirement party last year at Aqueduct before sending him off to a cushy life.

He does everything he can to help promote the sport. A busy guy, Repole makes himself accessible to the media and is always friendly and upbeat when he does. He is particularly good to New York racing, which is why he told trainer Todd Pletcher that Uncle Mo would go in the Wood Memorial instead of the Florida Derby. Repole wanted to do something for the Big A, the same track where he discovered racing. He grew up in Middle Village, Queens, not far from Aqueduct.

Not that any of this should come as a surprise. Repole is the guy who appears to be too good to be true but apparently isn’t.

The co-founder of Glaceau, the company that makes Vitaminwater and Smartwater, he sold his business to Coca Cola for $4.1 billion. Yet, he is the least pretentious filthy rich person you could ever find. Usually seen in sweatshirts and jeans, he dresses like a kid from Queens that refuses to grow up, which is exactly what he is. He remains loyal to his neighborhood friends, donates millions to charities, calls his parents every day and helps look after an ailing grandmother. We learned from a feature story on Repole in the New York Daily News that he talked his brother into retiring from the police department and helped set him up in the real estate business so that no one would have to worry about his safety.

“I’m not delusional about how lucky I am,” he told the Daily News. “I’m truly blessed. I’m so appreciate of every thing given to me. I’m very fortunate and now I try to give back in as many ways as possible.”

Maybe Repole is just one in a million. Then again, maybe there are others in the sport that will see what he does and how he goes about his business and decide to emulate him. If he can do it, others can. Be like Mike, be “good for the game.”