Thursday, July 23, 2015

Zero Tolerance Punishing Doing the Right Thing

(This piece is also published in our on-line publication, Midwest Paddock Report, as an editorial)

Legendary Minneapolis Star-Tribune sports writer Patrick Reusse penned a column today detailing the possible suspension of Canterbury Hall of Fame trainer Mac Robertson by the state stewards and the Minnesota Racing Commission for a positive drug test. 

Before I get rolling I want to make a few things clear.  Mac Robertson and I are not friends.  We’re really not even acquaintances.  In the three years that I covered Canterbury for the Daily Racing Form, I would say that I maybe spoke to him twice – he’s not fond of publicity and I’m pretty sure he’s not fond of reporters either.
Robertson has also never trained for us.

Basically what I’m saying is that we’ve never had any kind of relationship that would make me a ‘Robertson apologist’ of any kind.
The horse, Purest Form, tested positive for 74 picograms of Methamphetamine.  This is 74 TRILLIONTH of a gram.  Given that two former employees were later proven to be meth users and the minuteness of the drug in the horse’s system, logic would dictate that one of these two people were in contact with the horse, or its feed, at some point, generating the horse’s exposure.

Logic, however, is never a factor in ‘zero tolerance’ policies. 
So much of society is a “gotcha” culture.  Goals have changed from level playing fields and one set of rules for all, to how can we catch someone doing anything and then crow about how tough we are on the alleged rulebreakers.   We can pat ourselves on the back and talk about how the industry is “doing the right thing”.  It really matters very little what is right or true, only that someone can take credit for ridding the sport of these miscreants.

These days no one wants to know the truth.  It’s only he accusation that matters - and gets noticed.  The “gotcha”.  Doing the right thing does not.  Exoneration does not. The truth does not.
Except the truth DOES matter.  An explanation should matter.  Robertson took this minute positive very seriously.  He subjected his staff to a random drug test to try and determine the cause of the contamination.  He took action when meth users were found in his employ.  Given the level in the horse and fact that two people around the horse were meth users, it is a certainty that environmental contamination is to blame.  The system worked, right?  Trainer with a sterling reputation finds that something went sideways. He then does the right thing and helps to police the sport he loves, protecting horses, riders and employees along the way.

Zero tolerance though, baby.  Get the chemists out of the sport. 
A suspension is coming.  A similar situation last year with lesser known trainer Luis Canchari garnered him a 90-day suspension and a $2,000 fine when his horse, Smart Masterpiece, was also found with trace amounts of meth in its system after a race.  The precedent has been set.  I don’t see where the Stewards have any wiggle room.

The Minnesota Racing Commission does though.  This suspension will certainly make its way before them and they will have the opportunity to inject common sense into the process and look at the big picture to determine what happened, why and the negligible effect it had on the horse and the race.  Let’s not punish a trainer for learning the truth and doing the right thing in an instance where there was no competitive advantage gained.
It is possible to be tough on drug cheats as well as do the right thing.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Belmont Day for HELLO RACE FANS!

We head into Belmont Day with another chance at a Triple Crown and, if you believe all the racing scribes, the best chance in nearly four decades to get one.  While I do think AP is the best horse in the race, he certainly isn’t the best value.  I think you either take a stand against him or you pass the race and root for history.

For Hello Race Fans, the best new racing fan education site on the web, a group of us made some picks for the Grade I races on the card so I’m going to go into a little detail here on my selections.


UNTAPABLE the unbeatable, right?  Well, nearly, but not entirely.  She’s been off since her easy victory in the Apple Blossom and has been training nice and regularly.  She’ll be zero value on the board and an improving WEDDING TOAST could be the one to go get her if she keeps on improving.



I got beat by the undefeated PROMISE ME SILVER in the Eight Belles on Derby weekend and it’s hard to not be impressed by SHOOK Ups runner up finish in the Oaks and Curalina’s cruising victory in a Churchill $75,000 optional, but I’m loving CONDO COMMANDO cutting back from a route to a mile.  Her speed may very well be the key and I think that she can cut back better than PROMISE ME SILVER can stretch out.



This is a nice betting race and I could make a case for several in here.  I went back and forth between BALL DANCING and COFFEE CLIQUE and decided to go with COFFEE CLIQUE.  Should the other win I wouldn’t be surprised.



Easily the best race of the day, all due respect to the Triple Crown try.  In a race where you have TONALIST, WICKED STRONG, BAYERN, PANTS ON FIRE, HONOR CODE and KOBE’S BACK – most of the best older horses in training – you really can’t do better.  I’m not a big BAYERN fan and he was a disaster in his odds on seasonal debut but he’s been training well and if his occasional clunker was out of the way in the Churchill Downs, he could bounce back nicely.  He likes the front and he has speed on his inside and that could make things tough on him on the front end.  If TONALIST doesn’t bounce after his sparkling debut, he should get the right trip behind the early pace.



Some really nice turf routers in here for this one and one former Derby trailer trying grass for the first time.  GENERAL A ROD doesn’t appear to have a turf pedigree and appears to have a tough trip laid out for him in his turf debut.  To the inside you have TWILIGHT ECLIPSE, the West Pointer that broke through with his first Grade 1 victory last out in the Man O War, and the tough and steady FINNEGAN’S WAKE.  The steadiest of all in here is BIG BLUE KITTEN.  The Ramsey homebred knows how to win and is always in with a chance.  His seasonal debut was stellar in taking the Ft Marcy and he should be flying at the end…if he can get there in time.



Unless you want to toss the favorite and look for a boxcar payoff, this is not a particularly good betting race.  By all indications and measures, AMERICAN PHAROAH is coming into the race perfectly.  He’s the best horse in a small field and if he can navigate the distance, we should have a Triple Crown winner.  In my opinion, this is a watch but don’t wager race since I’m not willing to toss the fave.  I don’t know if any of the real long shots tend to figure at all and, if you’re tempted to try and beat him, the best options appear to be FROSTED, MUBTAAHIJ and MATERIALITY.


Saturday, May 16, 2015

Preakness Thoughts

We head into Preakness Day like we always do - with only one horse with the ability to bring home a Triple Crown.  Some of the usual suspects come with the Derby King to take another crack at him and they join up with a few that have been waiting in the wings for Black-Eyed Susans rather than roses.

Sometimes the Derby King succeeds and goes on to New York with America in tow, waiting to see if the drought is broken and the country's thirst for a Triple Crown winner is quenched.  It hasn't been for 37 years.

Maybe this year will be different; maybe it won’t, but for any chance of it happening at all American Pharaoh has to win in Baltimore.  I’m not sure how he can fail.

Admittedly I got too cute in the Derby.  Around our house most conversations Heather and I had handicapping the Derby ended up with “maybe American Pharaoh is just the best horse?” He was and I was wrong.  I had him in the mix but in the big field, anything can happen, two-minute world of the Derby it was worth going for the price.  In Baltimore it’s all about the win.

I know it’s trendy to look at Firing Line improving or Diving Rod coming in for the Jacksons in their return to the Preakness, but with his owner and the likes of D. Wayne Lukas saying that the horse won in Louisville despite not being at his best and a field half the size he had to contend with in the Derby, I’m going with American Pharaoh, odds be damned.
(Follow this and other picks from a myriad of horse racing folks on the Preakness Day stakes at Hello Race Fans.)