Wednesday, June 6, 2012

How about a Fair and Honest Triple Crown Race?

Rumors are circulating about a pattern of dishonesty in the camp of Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, I’ll Have Another, and it takes some of the fun out of watching this Saturday’s big race.
by Charlie Leck

UPDATE 7 June 2012 at 7:00 A.M. Central Time:   A column by sports writer, Bill Dwyre, in yesterday's L.A. Times goes over all this material also, but seems to come up laughing at Frank Deford and others who are now -- after the first two crowns -- so worried about I'll Have Another winning the Triple Crown. When you finish this blog you might want to read... Doug O'Neill becomes America's Bad Guy.

Frank Deford may be the best sports writer of the time – this particular time! He’s awfully good and he’s really good when he’s reading his own work aloud, like he often does on National Public Radio. Wednesday morning I heard him read his piece about the upcoming run for the Triple Crown at Belmont Park this Saturday. It was certainly good, but it also opened my eyes. As of now (after listening to Deford), I don’t care very much if I’ll Have Another wins the race and the triple or not; and, as a matter of fact, I kind of hope he doesn’t.

Read or listen to Deford to find out what I mean [you can do either here]. The long and the short of it is something I’ve known about the race horse business for a long time; and that is that there are a lot of questionable practices in the sport. The trainer of I’ll Have Another isn’t one of the cleanest, most upright guys in the world and neither is the horse’s owner. Here's part of what Deford said...

“I don't want I'll Have Another to win the Belmont. Oh, he's a terrific little horse, and his jockey, Mario Gutierrez, provides us with a wonderfully uplifting story. To horse and rider, I say: Good luck, Godspeed, and if you win every race but the Belmont, good for you.
“But the people in charge of I'll Have Another don't deserve the honor. The trainer is Doug O'Neill, a charming enough character, but a drug cheat nonetheless. In fact, he must start a 45-day suspension on July 1 in California. Illinois has already suspended him. He's been fined nine times for horses testing over the regulatory threshold. Perhaps most grievous, horses he trains break down at twice the normal rate.
I'll Have Another's owner is J. Paul Reddam, who is invariably described as a former philosophy professor — as if he still strolls the hills and dales alone, contemplating his favorite philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein. More recently, though, Reddam is president of CashCall, which refinances dubious mortgages. Three states have challenged him over violations of consumer protection laws. In West Virginia he's charged with breaking usury laws, assessing annual interest as high as, yes, 99 percent.
“All right, no official judgment has yet been rendered against Reddam, but when the ethical standards of both men are taken together, can't we simply say: After 34 years, shouldn't a Triple Crown champion possess a better human pedigree?”

Son of a gun! That’s why they’ve ordered all of the horses in Saturday’s race into a special barn that will have 24 hour security and observation and anyone entering or leaving the barn will have to sign in and out. The New York State Racing Authority is extremely interested in making sure the winner of Saturday’s race runs in a clean and unhopped up manner. If the horse wins the big race, he really should do it clean.

O’Neill’s horses (those that he trains) “break down at twice the normal rate.” If you care about horses, you’re not going to like that. Such a record comes from training and racing the horses too hard and/or too often and, sometimes, from racing them when they oughtn’t race by covering up their pain with illegal drugs.

So, for now my loyalty will rest with another horse in that race – a horse owned by a wonderful lady who we know a bit and for whom we have great admiration. She’s really a horse lover and couldn’t do something illegal to a horse and then live with herself. And, the story surrounding her and this particular horse is a very touching one, indeed (I’m sure you’ll hear about it from the broadcasters if you watch the race on Saturday). His name is Union Rags, owned by Phyllis Wyeth, of Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, and he’ll be coming out of the number 3 gate.

I wish nothing bad for I’ll Have Another. He’s a bold and wonderful runner. Maybe there is nothing clean about any of the big winners these days and maybe all the trainers are pushed beyond the legal in order to compete in today’s racing climate. I certainly hope not.

Deford’s commentary about this weekend’s race has sure taken plenty of the bloom off it for me, but – count on it – I’ll be glued to a TV somewhere watching the big race from Belmont Park.

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