Saturday, June 9, 2012

Triple Crown Race Won’t Happen

My wife's courageous horse, Follow that Cab, winning in a 1979
race in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, I’ll Have Another, has been pulled from this year’s Belmont Stakes race and the rumors have begun to fly.
by Charlie Leck [5:30 A.M., 9 June 2012]

Doug O’Neill, the trainer of I’ll Have Another, says his horse has somehow injured himself. I read in one place that it was a rear leg and in another that it was a front leg. Whichever, the horse has been scratched and there will not be a Triple Crown winner this year.

This certainly takes the glow off of what was going to be an absolutely huge race day. The TV network that was going to bring it all to us must be beside itself. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of bars were counting on a big day during the races. They expected more than 100,000 spectators at the Belmont race track. I’m guessing many will choose to bag it now. Other racetracks around the country were going to simulcast the Belmont race and they expected big, big crowds at most of them. Now the crowds will probably just be average.

If you read my two previous blogs about this race, you can imagine that all this sets up a powerful flow of rumors about what may have really happened. And, dozens and dozens of questions will be raised. Did this horse need special help to compete? Were they successfully hiding drugging symptoms in other races? Had New York figured out away to surveil this horse to such an extent that his handlers weren’t able to treat him as they had in the past? Under normal conditions such questions would probably not be raised, but this was a horse with a tainted trainer.

Or, was it a real injury that threatened the horse’s future career as a stud?

Andrew Beyer’s column in this morning’s Washington Post does a good job of explaining just how fragile racehorses are and just how damaging the intense pounding on a racetrack can be. The column is very complimentary of Doug O’Neill and certainly takes an opposite tack from what I’ve said in my two previous blogs. But, don’t buy into too much – at least not until you read some of what Sally Jenkins has to say later on in this blog. Here are some of Beyer’s flattering words…

“But the tendon injury that prompted the immediate retirement of I’ll Have Another underscored the more banal truth: Thoroughbred racehorses are fragile and injuries to them are commonplace. They have been bred for three centuries to produce maximum speed and stamina by carrying a powerful body on spindly, delicate underpinnings. Their ankles, knees and legs are always vulnerable. I’ll Have Another was a different case only because his injury made front-page headlines and because it made more sense to retire a colt with future stud value than to bring him back to competition next year.”

Sally Jenkins, also in the Washington Post, opines that “horse racing needs fixing.” That is, as in repairing. There’s probably enough fixing in horse racing as it is. Jenkins is hard-hitting in this column and tags Doug O’Neill with some pretty tough round-house punches.

It’s a good thing I'll Have Another is such a celebrity. Otherwise that horse would be working right now. The most scrutinized trainer in thoroughbred racing was forced to withdraw the most famous horse in America from the Belmont, when he displayed obvious tenderness and swelling in his front left leg. What compassion. What noble caution, to scratch a sore-legged horse from a mile-and-a-half race.
“Doug O’Neill did the right thing by his horse — for once.
“This is hardly proof that thoroughbred racing has cured its creeping moral sickness. It only proves that O’Neill knows he can’t take another major public scandal at the moment, and neither can his sport. The real, longer-view truth is that Doug O’Neill hurts horses, and everybody in this beautiful-turned-rotten game knows it, and won’t do anything about it.”

Jenkins contends that about 800 horses die each year while they are racing and many others are seriously injured. She also points out Thoroughbred Times statistics that show O’Neill has the worst safety record, by two times, of any of the other trainers in the Belmont field. Jenkins also says that O’Neill has had “15 drug violations by racing commissions in four states over the last dozen years.”

The column by Jenkins is pretty brutal on I’ll Have Another’s trainer, but also on all of racing for allowing too many trainers to take advantage of the horses in their stables.

“If thoroughbred racing were a sport with any kind of governance, O’Neill wouldn’t be allowed to rake hay much less run an animal in one of the classics. But there are 38 racing organizations around the country, and none is distinguishing itself.

Well, I’ll watch the race today, but with much less enthusiasm than I would have had. As I told you, I’ll be pulling for Union Rags. He has a trainer, Michael Matz, with Minnesota ties and with a stellar reputation. His owner is a woman we very much admire. Union Rags started poorly in the Derby and fell too far back too soon. He appears not to like running behind a dozen horses who are churning up dirt into his face. He may also find such a long race, as the one at Belmont, not to his liking. We'll see.

With 12 hours to go to race time,
Dullahan is the current favorite at 5 to 1. He’s followed by Union Rags at 6 to 1. Revelo’s Boy and Guyana Star Dweej are the absolute long-shots at 50 to 1. Place your bets! Place your bets!

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1 comment:

  1. Speaking of horse racing, this season seems to have found a new victim of the Triple Crown Jinx: I’d love to see how the whole thing unwinds, but at this point one can only hope everything goes well. In any event, here’s a cool related story I was reading just before I stumbled onto your page: hope you find it as interesting as I did: Cheers!