It wasn’t even fun while it lasted.
Standing near the winner’s circle on Saturday afternoon after the Wood, I watched I Want Revenge’s connections exult; I listened to the crowd cheer; I overheard conversations in which spectators marveled at the colt’s impressive win following a terribly troubled trip. This is a racehorse; this win didn’t come easily; this is a Real Derby Contender, out here at Aqueduct, on a cold and windy, ostensibly spring day.
But as I looked at those familiar star-studded silks, and I watched Jeff Mullins talk to reporters, and I saw Richard Schiavo take his place in the winner’s circle, I just thought, “Here we go again.”
Here we go again, with dodgy connections, a trainer with a checkered past. Here we go again, when one of the sport’s highest profile equine stars will get so many words devoted to him over the next month, and we’ll have to wonder which parts of the story aren’t being told because they’re too unsavory. Here we go again, when so many racing fans will have a hard time getting behind this colt, because to do so will feel like supporting so much of what is distasteful about this game.
And that was before Mullins came under suspicion for a detention barn violation at Aqueduct on Saturday, when Gato Go Win was a last-minute scratch from the Bay Shore.
Shortly after the sixth race, before I headed outside to the paddock, I placed a bet on Gato Go Win. Within minutes, I checked a TV screen for the odds. “Where’s Gato Go Win?” I asked. “I just bet him.” No one around me had him listed as a scratch, but clearly, the horse wasn’t going to run.
Later in the afternoon, murmurs were heard of an unspecified detention barn violation; Dave Grening reported the scratch and violation in a story posted on the Daily Racing Form site Sunday morning. Sunday afternoon, Ed DeRosa at Thoroughbred Times broke the full story, which indicates that Mullins is suspected of trying to administer a substance to Gato Go Win in the detention barn on Saturday afternoon.
It’s too early to know for sure what happened, and despite the incendiary nature of these allegations, we’ll need to wait to see what this week’s investigation into the matter reveals.
But wouldn’t it be nice if we didn’t have to? Wouldn’t it be nice if we could simply celebrate a great day of racing on Saturday and a great win by a talented colt? Wouldn’t it be nice to look forward without reservation to next month, to see if this horse who came east can turn the table on his West Coast foe?
Instead, we’ll wait, again, to see whether the trainer has done anything wrong. And we’ll wait, again, to see how Messrs. Schiavo and Iavarone will react. And we’ll try, again, to concentrate on the horse, who’s done nothing except everything that’s been asked of him, nothing except impress the hell out of all of us, instead of concentrating on the people around him, who can’t quite meet that standard.
Asked after the Wood whether he was ready for all the attention he was going to get, Mullins said, “No.” When asked if he wanted the attention, he said, “No.” One now wonders just what might have been on his mind as he contemplated that scrutiny.