Past The Wire, Weekly Column by Jonathan Stettin — August 11, 2014

Past the Wire

These Guys Get It

By Jonathan Stettin

With all the criticism in the Sport of Kings lately, and facing the downward cycle the game seems to be perpetually on at times, it is refreshing to be able to write about some of the industry leaders who truly “get it.” In prior editions of Past the Wire, I have written about Tim Ritvo of Gulfstream Park, and Jason Milligan of Oaklawn Racing and Gaming. Both are great examples of racing executives who truly get it. To really “get it” you have to have multiple perspectives. You can’t get it having just one perspective in a game that involves several. These people and the others I will discuss today have the ability and foresight to look at things from the eyes of the owners, horsemen, gamblers, fans, and all the others our great game brings together.

For a long time now, I’ve lobbied anyone who’d listen for a universal governing body for horse racing in the US equipped with a commissioner, just like other sports. It works in other games that are contested in multiple states and jurisdictions, and there is no reason it couldn’t work in ours. If we ever get one, and I hope we do, they should consider some of these people for the board, or even commissioner. At the very least, they need to spend a lot of time talking and even more listening to them.

Those who read or follow my work know I am against race day medication, including being anti-Lasix. I have voiced, on occasion, many of my reasons. For weeks, I have thought about writing a column about Lasix and the effect it has had on the sport, breed, wagering, field sizes, longevity and the overall health of horses. Yes, it has affected all these aspects of the game and never in a positive fashion.

I was planning to share studies I reviewed, interviews with a very talented and knowledgeable DVM who is not involved in the sport, and my own observations and notes over the past several years on the subject. At the end of the day, I decided to forego (no pun intended) the article for two reasons. First, most people already have their minds made up, one way or the other. The issue is being made way more complicated than it is and that is not a popular point of view. At the end of the day, an article, regardless of how many facts support it, will not change many minds. We see this every day on social media, as people lock into opinions and refuse to consider any differing points of view. They can think they have a handle on the theory of relativity. Albert Einstein himself can tell them they’re dead wrong, again no pun intended, and they won’t believe him.

The second reason is trainer Graham Motion, with some partial credit to the Horse Racing Radio Network. Graham is one of the finest trainers and horsemen in the game and has been for several years. I’ve followed his career long before his Derby win and knew it was just a matter of time until he was widely recognized as one of the elite trainers. Graham gets it. In a recent interview aired on the Horse Racing Radio network, Graham shared some of his thoughts on race day medications and Lasix. I could not have said it any better myself and pretty much universally shared his views on race day meds. We differ a bit on Lasix, but hey that’s why they run the races. I’ll allow the tweets by HRRN citing Graham speak for themselves;

“No other country medicates horses on race day. I’m afraid as long as we have race day medication the US is going to have a stigma.

Don’t think people realize how complicated it is in this country with every state having different guidelines.

If horses need medication that badly then surely they shouldn’t be racing.

Medication reform is all very well but if we don’t increase race day security it’s all a moot point.

If it was said that there could be no medication in racing tomorrow, my life would be a lot easier.

Lasix is not the evil medication that it’s perceived to be, there are more significant ones.

Biggest problem we have is we lack an overseeing body in the industry. That’s why it’s so hard to get all the states on the same page.”

These are some pretty compelling and telling statements coming from one of the best and also cleanest trainers in the game. Obviously, Graham gets it. The more trainers who share this view, the better the game would be, for everyone involved.

Because I was an East Coast guy who grew up at the NYRA tracks, when the Martin Panza hire was announced I did not think all that much about it. What little I knew about Mr. Panza, I liked, but it was limited to his work as a top racing secretary, racing promoter, and the creator of some new and exciting major West Coast races at opportune times in the season. When one of the first major announcements he made was moving the long standing Memorial Day staple, the untouchable Metropolitan Mile, to Belmont Stakes day, I must admit I was concerned. I didn’t get it. He did. Now, I get it too. What a move it turned out to be. Before he even knew we would have a horse going for a Triple Crown,  he figured out how to give the racing world a Breeders’ Cup-like day, one that could rival any Kentucky Derby card, or any card in the world, let alone the US. I remember writing an earlier Past the Wire, anticipating the pending card, and giving a shout out to Mr. Panza for his vision. That’s when I got it.

Mr. Panza recently spoke at The Jockey Club’s 62nd Annual Round Table Conference in Saratoga Springs. While his talk was very interesting, as it addressed some important industry issues like horse shortages and declining foals, it hit home with me for another reason. As someone who made a living playing horses for many years, I have been forced to evolve and change with the game. It’s always been tough, but much tougher now for multiple reasons. While that is a subject for another column somewhere down the line, the point is we share a certain revelation. Less is indeed more, sometimes. What racing needs is more big days and big meets but less racing overall. This will tie into the foal declination and horse shortage, short fields, low attendance but also to the professional bettor. Make no mistake about it, to beat the game today you have to bet more but less. Get that? What I mean is you have to bet more money on the big days into the big pools and less on the small days into the small pools. If you are a recreational player it doesn’t matter, but if you play to beat the game that is the only way today.

Mr. Panza, as an industry leader, sees all the different perspectives. He is willing to adapt and evolve. He sees carding 12 races a day is not suitable for today’s market. It’s bad for the host track and for the bettor. He gets the whole less-is-more thing in racing. He understands tracks have to work together when carding races and organizing big days. He brings new ideas to the table in getting European horses and outfits more interested in US racing. This is the kind of leadership our industry needs to survive, let alone return to all it could be.

While the Saratoga meet has provided many memorable moments thus far, none were more impressive than the Fourstardave Handicap and the performance of Seek Again. This horse served notice he had talent when he captured the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby in his stateside debut. He followed that up when after stumbling badly at the start, he gave two time horse of the year Wise Dan all he could handle running him to a nose on Derby Day in the Turf Classic. He was probably best that day. He had a strange trip in the Manhattan and wound up stalking without the cover he prefers. Bill Mott made sure that wouldn’t happen again by cutting him back to a mile. He exploded after being blocked much of the stretch and was a mile the best. This Juddmonte homebred by Speightstown is a serious racehorse.

On the West Coast, Kentucky Derby and Preakness hero California Chrome had his first breeze since the Belmont Stakes when he could not capture the elusive Triple Crown. It was a nice easy breeze and doesn’t really tell us much other than he is back and gearing up.

The interesting thing to me with the three-year-olds this year is perspective. While many, including yours truly, thought this was a weak crop and a lot of the better horses defected due to injury early, the crop is looking better. We have California Chrome, Shared Belief, Tonalist, Wicked Strong, Bayern and, maybe even, Mr. Speaker all pointing for major races and all are possible for the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Look out, we very well may have a three-year-old winner.

High Five:

This week we give it to Del Mar racetrack. Nice heads up guys stalling the fourth race a few minutes to allow the stake at Saratoga to run. This is the kind of cooperation and consideration players call for from all tracks but seldom get.

Low Five:

Loooch Racing has to take this down this week. While I can lead a horse to water, I can’t make them drink. For months, I tried to advise these connections to give this nice powerful filly a break, and bring her back in a confidence building spot to teach her what she is supposed to do. This year’s ship has sailed. Freshen her up on the farm, bring her back slowly and give her to Peter Walder to get a Grade 1 in 2015. Piece of cake.

Horse to Watch:

Trophee, a half to Treve, was primed and ready to roll and win her US debut Saturday at the Spa. I knew it and it was a major play for me. Unfortunately, Julien Leparoux is in a horrible slump and is probably over thinking and overanxious. He took the filly back to last, went way wide and was over confident when he slowly unleashed her on the far outside. She finished best and fastest and galloped out strong in a race she wins with a better trip and ride. This is not personal but strictly business. This is the life I’ve chosen.

 

Jonathan Stettin is a profesional handicapper and contributor to DanonymousRacing.com. He currently resides in Florida. He has several large Pick-6 scores to his name, including one for $540,000+ on August 10, 1994, at Saratoga. You can follow him on Twitter @jonathanstettin

 

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