Thoughts on Preakness Day…

…as viewed from home in Brooklyn:

How cringingly uncomfortable were we all when Jerry Bailey kept calling Big Brown “Barbaro”? I scared my cats off the couch when I yelled out loud, “Stop, Jerry, stop!”

In a related note: I continue to grumble over the re-naming of the Sir Barton. It seems historically unjust for the first winner of the Triple Crown to have his eponymous race taken away so unceremoniously. I get that Pimlico wanted to name a race for Barbaro, but why the Sir Barton?

Nick Zito was thoughtful and rather courageous, given the current climate, when he said, in response to a question of synthetic surfaces: “The game is bigger than all of us. This is American racing. It’s not English. It’s not French. And we race on dirt here.” He backstopped his comments by saying that if synthetic surfaces do indeed save horses’ lives, he’ll be all for them, but that the information that we have now isn’t enough to jettison 200 years of racing history. He is one of the those in racing who consistently reminds us of the importance of that history, and who honors it in word and deed.

I preferred the NBC discussion on safety issues to ESPN’s. ESPN’s seemed quite managed to me, rather scripted, while folks got pretty worked up over at NBC. Gary Stevens was the very definition of “eyes blazing” as he challenged William Rhoden, who on more than one occasion demonstrated how little he knows about the sport he vilifies. Stevens took on Rhoden over the latter’s contention that horse racing is analogous to bull-fighting and dog-fighting, and Rhoden didn’t have a good answer; in fact, he couldn’t offer any real answer to Stevens’s challenge. Stevens took that round, and Larry Bramlage backed up Stevens, albeit more reasonably and less emotionally.

Rhoden got it wrong again when discussing two-year-old racing. When it was pointed out that younger horses need to train and race in order to be sound; and that horses who race at two break down less frequently than those that start racing when they’re older; and that delaying the start of training and racing is rather like telling high school kids that they can’t play sports until they’re in college, Rhoden lashed back, “Yeah, but would you play a high school kid against the Packers?” Larry Jones then rather gently informed Rhoden that two-year-old races are age-restricted, and that young horses do not race against older horses. You could practically see Rhoden go, “Oh…oops.”

Why was Sam the Bugler at Pimlico on Friday and Saturday? Doesn’t Pimlico have faith in its own bugler?

Enough with the Desormeaux story hard luck story. OK, so the guy had a hard time getting mounts after he won the Derby twice; he now rides first call for one of the best barns in the country, and came within one win of the Saratoga riding title. An underdog he is not.

It was outrageous to have Molly Dutrow on camera to talk about the murder of her mother.

When informed that the NTRA would like to see steroids banned from racing by January of 2009, Dutrow responded: “Whatever the guidelines will be, we’ll follow them.” Riiighht…just as you always have.

Those human interest stories about the connections of Big Brown didn’t quite have that same heart-warming thrill as they did in recent years. I mean, who couldn’t love Roy Chapman and the Afleet Alex guys and Alex’s Lemonade Stand and Sackatoga Stable? Those stories made us root for those horses, made us want to see them again. The coverage of Iavarone and Dutrow made me want them to disappear from the face of racing as soon as possible. What’s to root for with these guys? An overly-stylized owner who sees his horse strictly as an investment opportunity? A trainer who puts drugs in his horses, then declares he knows nothing about the drug’s benefits (“I give my horses steroids because my vet tells me to. I don’t know what they do”)? Iavarone wore sunglasses in the shady winners’ circle. Ugh. The only good thing about Big Brown’s early retirement will be that with luck, we won’t have to see these guys all summer.

And then, in the trophy presentation, we get to be reminded that Pimlico is owned by Stronach, who has perhaps done more single-handedly to ruin racing than anyone in the country.

Was that our friend John Hennegan behind Iavarone as the latter was being interviewed after the win?

Racecar Rhapsody was fourth again. How unbelievable is that? Fourth consecutive race finishing fourth, and he was given the fourth Prime Power rating on the Brisnet past performances.

At least all the horses got home safely, and I guess that a potential Triple Crown winner is good for the sport. I’m unconvinced. More on that to come…

19 thoughts on “Thoughts on Preakness Day…

  1. When Zito and Baffert talk like that, they sound increasingly like guys more interested in preserving their own relevancy. “It’s not English. It’s not French. And we race on dirt here.” What an asinine comment in my opinion. We have the death penalty and invade sovereign countries for no reason here too. Doesn’t make it right.

  2. Come on, Alan–you’re not really comparing racing on dirt to the death penalty and invading sovereign countries? If Zito were concerned about preserving his legacy, I don’t think that he’d race his horses in tough spots in major races; I’ve heard him talk about having a responsibility to run in historical races, and disdaining those who duck tough spots. I think his interest in the history of the sport is genuine. I guess he’s the sort of guy that you can read depending on your perspective on him, and as I’m a fan, I read him as a positive.I guess I shouldn’t ask you your opinion of the North American vs. the European style of hockey? =)

  3. Rhodin is symptomatic of everything that is wrong with the New York Times — mainly liberal knee-jerk reactions without full knowledge of the issue at hand.

  4. I LOVE Nick Zito for his interest in preserving the history of the sport and for his love of his horses. I have no doubt that if it’s proved the synthetics are better then he’ll be all for the switch.And I think you’ve hit the nail on the head as to why I can’t climb aboard the Big Brown delivery truck (couldn’t resist). His connections are terrible for the sport. Dutrow was foul-mouthed in his interview on NBC (can’t he bother to clean up his act for TV?), allowing his teenage daughter on TV to discuss her mother’s murder was shameful and the owners look like overly slick copies of Gordon Gekko. UGH.

  5. Been doing some research on this Rhoden fellow. He actually has an excerpt in Joe Drape’s book “To the Swift” dealing with a Belmont filly breakdown just after the Barbaro Preakness that he concludes with the quote “As they say, it’s the business. But what kind of business is this?” Not sure why he’s picked racing to be his personal crusade? Usually sportswriters do their homework, especially before going on a national TV panel….He’s written some books on the social implications of the black athlete and was an assistant SID at Morgan State in Baltimore. I guess I just don’t see his angle. Nice work, as usual.

  6. This is the scrappiest of all the Scrappy T columns. You are in fighting trim, as it once may have been written in Boxiana. And I agree with you about Alan’s comments . . . oh, come on now! As for Rhoden, he’s usually pretty good, but it shows how insular racing has become when a bright guy like that doesn’t have a clue except for his gut instinct. Back in the olden days (and even well after Boxiana), sportswriters knew about horse racing as a given. As for the Big Brown connections, I think the Brooklyn Backstretch is right on the money, although I think I’m one of the few who see Rick Dutrow as a great character — life is a long drag without characters — even if he is rotten to somewhere in the vicinity of his core. I’d like someone to set up a poll: Pick the lesser of two evils: Dutrow or Asmussen? Go, Baby, Go!– J.S.

  7. >>Come on, Alan–you’re not really comparing racing on dirt to the death penalty and invading sovereign countries? Where did I say that? My point is only that sometimes we might consider that our European friends have some things right – like respect for human life, and racing horses on kinder surfaces that don’t cause 1.5 breakdowns from every 1000 starters, instead of worrying about things like early speed and time, which are really insignificant, in my opinion.And also, I would bet that people like Tom don’t even read the NY Times. If he did, he wouldn’t make ignorant statements about it like he did (and maybe spell the guy’s name right too).

  8. Well said Teresa.I was shocked when Dutrow made his comment about not knowing what the steroids do. What trainer worth anything doesn’t know what they are feeding or injecting into their horse or what it’s going to do to their horse? When a vet suggests something most reasonable prudent people are going to ask why, what is it, etc. when it comes to the welfare of animals they “care” about. Come on Dutrow, don’t buy it, “babe”. I’m with Zito too. I’m not ready to throw all the great history to the wind. I don’t wish to see Secretariat’s Belmont win become a footnote. The dirt/synthetic issue needs more research before manditory conversion with the return to “hay, oats & water racing” implemented immediately, IMHO. Then let’s compare the dirt/synthetic numbers to determine which is safer for the horse. The research might be interesting once the drugs are eliminated.

  9. I’d like to know if Dutrow is the only Derby-trail trainer using Winstrol, or the only who admits it. Steroids, absolutely, should be banned from our game. If they’re legal, Dutrow and anyone else using them aren’t to blame. Way above all else, there needs to be as much disclosure of vet information/history as possible and all of it should be easily available to the customers who wager on or root for their patients. Equibase, Racing Form—Vet Stats should be right beneath the trainer stats. Ahhh, a pinch (or fistful) of rainy day crankiness outside the theater before the drama begins: Good vs. Evil in the Belmont Stakes (otherwise known, to Casino Drive, as a NW2).Straight up: I know who I’m rooting for (unless some additional information worse than Reverend Wright arises), but I honestly don’t know who I’ll pick. The Moby Dick of Grade I events fears no one, and has swatted many hearthrobs aside.

  10. If Big Brown takes the Triple Crown – Will they engrave an askerisk on the trophy ? Just wondering…..

  11. “…and racing horses on kinder surfaces that don’t cause 1.5 breakdowns from every 1000 starters, instead of worrying about things like early speed and time, which are really insignificant, in my opinion.”I guess I would ask why not try to achieve that kinder surface by letting wet tracks dry out naturally instead of over sealing them or worse yet over sealing them if it seems like it might rain. The way I understand it it’s the over sealing that both creates the faster track and the more unsafe conditions. I also hate to break it to Tom that the NY Times isn’t really all that liberal.

  12. To second what some of you have said:As a Times’ subscriber, I’m not quite ready to paint the whole paper with Rhoden’s brush. Geno: I remember that piece; I think it was a filly called Lauren’s Charm (something like that), and it was at Aqueduct–I think it was just after Barbaro died. Not positive, but I do remember the piece, and in fact, I wrote a letter to the editor saying that most of us not only acknowledge but are saddened by the breakdown of any horse, not just the famous ones. The letter didn’t make it to the paper. Alan: “sometimes we might consider that our European friends have some things right” As someone who lived in Europe for three years, I couldn’t agree with you more. Anon: one blogger I’ve seen has already begun putting an asterisk next to Big Brown’s name.

  13. I’m glad I went to my friends Preakness-less stud in France to see my mare, yearling and cute Indian Rocket foal. Cute foal wins over scumbag winning trainer and ghastly winning owners every time.I’m not glad that I failed to check email before I left London and of course I had my first ever winner as an owner in the US at Belmont on Friday and had no clue we were even running. AARGHWhat’s the spread on the crowd size on the 7th? Surely not Smarty sized or maybe thousands of rabid Japanese fans will fly in to boost the numbers?

  14. Rhoden showed he was not prepared, especially when he argued that 2 years should not race. Actually it is pretty funny, because many horses now don’t run a race until they are 3 years old ( ie Curlin). As for the spread of crowd size, I know Belmont very well as well as the NY City sports fan..they love Big Stories and big events. I am not a big fan of the IEAH guys either, but I will be there on June 7th and if the weather forecast is good so will 125,000 others.

  15. 125,000 will be a nightmare but it probably won’t be as dangerous as 2004. The track was a Health and Safety nightmare. It was a miracle that no-one was killed that day.Anyway betting will be a bigger nightmare if even a few thousand Japanese turn up. Either need Japanese speaking windows only-as they did at the 2006 Arc-or perhaps they can soup up the SAM machines to work in Japanese.Won’t be a Deep Impact sized invasion but put 2-3 people in each line who don’t speak a word of English and meltdown will be quick.

  16. It was a great day for horse racing. I was happy for Kent and the owner of Big Brown too! I was flattered to be invited to the Preakness! I hope to play at Pimlico again next year! See you all at beautiful Belmont Park on June 7th! Sam the Bugler

  17. lets talk about new york racing and how bad it sucks. I play at home and have had to join twin spires because tvg does not have the tracks I like to play in the spring. Now the horeman and the tracks are fighting and i`m stuck with new york racing which I have labeled scratch city. If west coast racing commited the crimes new york does there would be 10 people at the track and 20 people simucasting. You can not pre handicap races because half the contenders are scrathed. how do you play a pick 6 or pick 4 or pick anything. Its like the horsemen are running the show. if the 3 horse can beat the 1 horse the 1 scratchs.I have been playing belmont for 3 weeks now and there have been more scraches than so. cal will get all summer. The next bitch is the betting structure 5 horses no tri what is this the tri will pay less than 2.10 ??? 8 are entered with 1 scratch no super ??? what is that.Should there not be supers on all races with 8 entrys. The take outs are great the racing is good the commentary is excellent durken stinks the keenland guy is good. overall new york racing needs to step it up and give the fans an oppurtunity to make a buck not try to protect us poor soles how want to play with a fair chance to handicap the night before and be prepared. GLC

  18. Pimlico continues its vengence on local bugler Mark O'Keeffe. Mark O'Keeffe did all of the Maryland bugling from 1997-2004 except the Preakness and Black Eyed Susan Stakes. When O'Keeffe complained about Pimlico bringing in a drunk bugler for those 2 events, he was fired. Now, financially strapped Pimlico has resorted to 1.hiring an anonymous bugler off the street, laying out over $1000.00 on a uniform only to have that bugler turn the gig down after just 1 year. Then, rather than hire O'Keeffe who lives just 90 minutes from the track, Pimlico snubbed O'Keeffe once again in favor of Grossman, who proceeded to screw up the call to post BADLY at the 2009 Preakness.

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