(Just Might and trainer Michelle Lovell had to wait out an inquiry on Saturday. A drone may have prevented an injustice and could have helped make a decision / Photos by Holly M. Smith)
Some “light” reading for your Sunday, courtesy of our time at the Lake House this week and in-between our visits to the stricken area of Mayfield.
I must write, though, before we get started on the true mission of this piece, our visits to Mayfield are not for the “light” of heart. If you are planning to come? Take heed. Prepare yourself. Mentally. You won’t like what you see. And, if you have any bit of sympathy imbedded in you? It will break you. It will gut you.
I know. It has broken me. Time after time. Right down to the core. It has gutted me. Right down the middle.
So much so, at times, you just have to pull over the car; or stop the walk; or pause the conversation. So much so that you just have to sit down and pull the covers over your head. So much so that you have to beg your God for compassion and relief. Not for you. Not to dry your tears that fall like rain. But for the broken people who walk these broken streets and search their broken homes for some little piece of what used to be their daily life; some some little piece of peace.
It will break your heart.
And, I am not even from this part of Kentucky. My wife and her entire family are from here. But I am not. Yet, as soon as you approach the city, and you see the twisted metal wrapped around what used to be some tree in some sort of awful remake of the “Tin Man,” your stomach knots. Your eyes bulge. You look around to see if this awful, disgusting, despicable and cowardly storm — which had the nerve to strike in the darkness of night to hide its’ ugly face and murderous heart — is still lurking somewhere around the corner; over the hill. Your strength crumbles, and, for more than a moment, you want to turn your car and run in the opposite direction.
It will break your heart.
It will make you question why is our pledge of support and assistance taking so damn long? It will make you angry and disgusted that people — our own people — are still living in the cold and filth. It will shock you that there are more people standing around and talking than picking up; doing; and moving on.
It will break your heart.
And, it will make you — if you are as old as me — dig through the archives of your mind and your phone to find the nearest link to Barry, Robin and Maurice and beg the Brothers Gibb to tell you exactly how to mend a broken heart. For the past few days, they have been my personal shrinks and my go-to therapists.
Thank God for music.
Here’s our “List:”
(One of the chandeliers that we use at The Louisville Thoroughbred Society, since some of my Twitter fans love our fixtures so much they call them out, will serve as our “Light Bulb Moment” logo)
Light Bulb #1: How ‘Bout We Do This in Claiming Races?
Over the past year, much has been made of how many horses are now being claimed out of certain races. Some have “claimed” that many of the horses who are being purchased at the tracks these days are being transported to support races in other states; at other tracks; to restore numbers to trainers who have lost horses in other locales. And, as a result, the horse population at some tracks are being depleted to supplement the horse population at other tracks.
I have no doubt that some of this is occurring. This has long been the suspicion of some racetrack executives, who have attempted to restrict this “pilfering” by instituting certain limitations on where the horse can start next; and how long it would take to get out of “jail” and run somewhere else.
But there is some growing concerns.
All one has to do is look at the number of horses that are now being purchased at the racetracks all over Kentucky. The sudden rise in purse money — which has been spread to support all levels of race types, thank goodness — has suddenly peaked the interest in buying. And, not just at the sale venues — like Keeneland and Fasig-Tipton.
The numbers of horses being bought at the racetracks is at an all-time high.
Which makes one wonder. Or, at the very least, some of us, ponder. Is the current system of claiming and purchasing horses at the track in need of modification?
We think so.
I must thank and give great credit to my friend and long-time horse whisperer Rob Murphy for passing along this suggestion, which I think is brilliant, and worthy of discussion, and, perhaps, implementation. Then again, Rob is a bright man.
Here’s the deal:
Currently, if more than one person and/or entity drops a claim slip in to purchase a horse at the racetrack, then after the race is completed, a racing official comes into the office and announces that a number of people have “claimed” the same horse. And, in order to settle on who will actually get to acquire the horse in question, the racing official simply gives all the possible new buyers a number and then “shakes” a number out of a pill dispenser. The person holding the winning number gets the claim and the horse.
Easy peasy. Argument settled. Time to move on.
But is this process right?
Instead of “shaking” a pill out of a bottle, why not conduct an auction. Right then. Right there. Just like you were at a horse sale.
If you are willing to put a claim in for, say, $30,000 and five others are willing to do the same, isn’t it safe to think that someone in that group may be willing to pay more? Who will give me $35,000? Who will give me $40,000?
The track can take a cut for the auction fee. Say 5%.
The added money can go to the former owner, who certainly should be happier with additional funds.
And, every potential new owner has had a fair and equitable shot at purchasing the horse — for what the market will bear.
Plus, the Commonwealth will make more on the sales tax, too.
Win. Win. Win.
Right? Why not? If no one is willing to pay more, then you can revert back to the old system. No harm. No foul.
While we are at suggestions to modify the “claiming process,” why not allow the former owner to submit a claim slip and bid on their horse, too?
For example, an owner puts a horse in for $30,000. Why not allow them a chance at a buy-back, if there are more than one claim submitted. In other words, they would get to bid on the horse in auction, too.
And, if the former owner ends up buying the horse back for, say $40,000? Then the track takes its’ commission, and the rest is then split between the live under-bidders.
Full transparency. Full opportunity. May the best bid win.
Light Bulb #2: How About a Horse Racing “Transfer Portal?”
In recent days, all you hear about in college football is the “Transfer Portal.” As of last week, over 2,000 players were now in the process, or, at the very least, thinking about moving on.
According to the plan, it would go a little like this:
This star player here doesn’t want to be “here” any more, and now puts his name and game in the free market with the hope and possibility of going somewhere else. “Somewhere else” then begins to recruit the player to attend their university.
I, for one, applaud this flexibility. After all, coaches — for years — have broken contracts and chased the almighty dollar with no limitations. Even Tubby Smith, who came out recently bashing the transfer rule, left Georgia, while under contract, to go to Kentucky. For more money, right? For more glory, right? After all, colleges — for God’s sake — have snapped contracts and are leaving conference loyalties to join new organizations. Texas and Oklahoma just announced that this year. So, why are kids — who put on the damn show — some how indentured, and forced to stay in one place? Why can’t they have the same flexibility?
And, in a way, so should the horses that put on “The Show” in the sport of Thoroughbred racing.
We should consider having our own version the “Transfer Portal.” Although, admittedly, it would have to work a lot differently.
Here’s our thought.
If a horse is currently under the tutelage and day-to-day handling of a certain trainer; if that horse is found with a positive test result that either exceeds permissive limits or is for a prohibitive drug; and that test comes after the horse’s participation in any Graded Stakes event?
Then that horse in question shall be entered into racing’s “Transfer Portal.”
No questions. No options. The owner of the horse must move the horse to another trainer who has absolutely no connection to the previous trainer.
It can be any trainer. It can be any where. It just cannot be with the same outfit that had previously conditioned the horse.
I know what you are thinking. If the owner of the horse wants to leave him or her with the trainer, then they should have the right? Right?
Well, guess what. Owning an owners license is not a right. Owning a trainer’s license is not a right. It is a privilege. It comes with certain conditions. And, agreements. And assurances. If the horse in question comes up with a positive test result in a Graded Stakes event? Then they have lost the privilege. At least, in this case, for that relationship to continue.
And, who knows, maybe a horse in the future will benefit from the transfer, too.
Who knows. Maybe a horse will have a “clean” start on life.
Who knows. Maybe a trainer takes more precaution and doesn’t take as may risks or liberties.
Who knows. Maybe the horse and the game is better.
Light Bulb #3: How About a Mandatory Suspension Process?
Ever since the running of the 2021 Kentucky Derby and the subsequent muck that has occurred with the finding that the winner, Medina Spirit, had tested positive for a prohibitive drug overage, some bleeding hearts have argued that the embattled trainer Bob Baffert has a right to due process. That he is innocent until proven guilty. That he has a right to continue to operate until the allegation is proven. That he can go on and do business as usual until the “positive” has become positive.
Well, here we are nearly a year later. And, we may be closer to deciding the next Kentucky Derby winner than the last one.
All due to due process? Well, let’s consider:
Babbling Bob and his attorney’s filed a lawsuit before the Kentucky Stewards could ever issue a ruling. Hmmm.
Babbling Bob and his attorney’s continue to argue that the “positive” is not a “positive” because the “positive” in question was not “injected” and was, instead, due to a medicated cream that was rubbed on the horse’s ass to treat a possible skin rash. Despite the fact that the day the news broke about the4 positive test result, Babbling Bob ranted that he had never heard of the drug in question and that his horse had never been treated with it before or after. Hmmm.
Babbling Bob continues to train horses and enter races in nearly every jurisdiction outside Louisville. Hmmm.
Babbling Bob’s attorney’s continue to threaten lawsuits against anyone that holds him anywhere close to accountable. Hmmm.
Well, let’s be honest here, folks.
There is some madness to this madness. Delay. Delay. Delay. That is a game plan. It has been implemented before. Unless changed, it will be implemented again.
And, let’s be honest here, folks.
This “due process” argument would never happen in any other major league sport in America. Zero. None. Especially with a person in question who has had the questionable record of this guy over the past few years.
Major league baseball has suspended players for allegations and legal questions the past several years — including former Cy Young winner Trevor Bauer last year.
The National Football League has suspended a multitude of players for allegations and legal questions. All the time, it seems. Any time a player runs afoul of the law, there is an immediate action to determine if the player and/or the alleged foul violates the sport’s rules on behavior. If there is a serious question, there is no question. Suspension.
Other sports have similar rules, regulations, guidelines, restrictions.
It is time that Thoroughbred racing does the same.
Especially with those characters who seemingly can’t avoid the penalty box.
If the various Racing Commissions can’t find a way to institute a universal rule, and HISA is still months/years away in the making, then maybe the Association that represents licensed racetracks can agree to institute a “suspension of all privileges” until the formal judicial process takes its’ course.
If that is in place, maybe there is a reason to adjudicate quicker. Maybe there is a way to resolve sooner. Maybe there is a more positive outcome.
Due process is protected. Take as much time as you want.
The integrity/image of our game sport is protected, too.
Light Bulb #4: How About Changing Incentive Programs to Encourage More Foals?
The sport of Thoroughbred racing is rapidly reaching a critical moment. A critical stage. A critical point in time.
We simply do not have a critical mass. Of horses.
For the past several years, for one reason or another, the number of live foals has fallen. As a pure mathematical equation, that means that the number of potential race horses from that group is getting smaller and smaller.
You see, if you do the math, which has been a constant for years and years now, the math just doesn’t add up any more. If you have 25,000 foals each year, and about 1/2 of those end up making a race, then you are left with 12,500 race horses, on average. Only about 1/2 of those actually win a race, or there about. So, you are left with 6,250 horses. The best sires in the world these days — most of whom are domiciled, still, in Kentucky — managed to produce only about .08% Stakes winners.
It gets worse.
The fewer number of horses created eventually means fewer number of horses running. Fewer numbers of horses filling the starting gate means fewer betting options. Fewer betting options means fewer dollars bet. Fewer dollars bet means fewer dollars for both racetracks and purses. Fewer racetracks and fewer purses means fewer incentives to breed more horses.
The cycle is evident. Just this meet, the Fair Grounds in New Orleans is experiencing a decrease of about 1.5 horses per race. The result is that the track management is asking the Racing Commission to allow the track to run one less race per day.
The cycle is serious. The cycle is problematic.
But the cycle is fixable. If you start now.
It is time that states — such as Kentucky — take a serious review of its’ breeding and racing incentive programs. It is time that states — such as Indiana — take some actions to move some of the monies now available in purse allotments and put those cash reserves in programs that immediately encourage people to breed more mares; have more foals; and, ultimately, create more race horses in a couple of years.
Help breeders cover the initial stud fees, with payments up front. If you breed your mare to an Indiana -based stallion and the subsequent foal is dropped in Indiana? Then a payment should be made immediately to cover the cost of that stallion fee, up to a certain amount. Breeders simply cannot wait for two or three years in hopes of that renumeration on a large number of mares and fees. Help must come sooner.
Encourage breeders with purse supplement funds as soon as the horse races. In other words, if you breed your mare to a Kentucky-based stallion and the subsequent foal is dropped in Kentucky? Then a payment should be made to the breeder as soon as that horse makes the first start. It is not based on performance. It is not based on winning. It is based on starting. Breeders can utilize those funds to help cover the costs of continuing their farm operation.
Incentive programs need to evolve.
Once upon a time, we wanted to supplement purses to encourage more ownership. It worked. Now, there are more purses than ever before. More syndicates are being created to purchase more horses. The idea bore fruit. The creation of alternative wagering has added more purse money, too. Today, purses are at an all-time high in many states.
Now, though, we desperately need to supplement programs to incentivize breeders to produce more product; produce more horses. There are ways to do that. But the biggest way is to help defray costs; help create more cash flow.
Light Bulb #5: Make Drones Mandatory at Every Track & Video Available to Every Steward’s Room:
I love Indiana Grand, which will soon have a new name and marketing effort behind it. I love the General Manager Eric Halstrom, one of the best young professionals in the sport today. I love the staff, who enjoy their jobs immensely, or act as if they do. I just love the place.
And, one of the reasons I love the place is that the track and its’ personnel are not afraid to try new things. One of those new things in 2021 was the use of a drone to cover each and every race held at the facility.
It took a little while for the staff to get used to it, granted. There was a crash or two in test runs. Pilots had to master the trick and the winds. The video had to be fine-tuned and perfected.
But what started out as a possible quirk, certainly turned into something far better and far greater.
Better views of the racing action for the fans, to be sure.
Better yet? Better views of the racing action for the Stewards, too.
For the first time, truly, the Stewards could see if a horse had truly “cleared” another horse and now could move over without compromising another horse’s and rider’s chances or creating a health risk.
For the first time, truly, the Stewards could see from above, and see the entire field of study. Did something happen leaving the gate? Did something happen in the first turn? Did something happen on the backstretch.
For the first time, the video evidence was more than one dimensional. It was more global.
The time has come for every licensed racetrack to have the same coverage. Truly, it is the only way that the Stewards can do their job in a professional manner.
No better example than the Duncan Kenner Stakes at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans on Saturday. In that race, the Stewards ruled that the easy and convincing winner — Just Might — had caused interference on the backside and was disqualified for coming over in front of the path of the eventual winner Cowan, and causing another horse on the rail, Sir Alfred James, to check hard into the rail.
An argument can be made, and maybe even convincingly, that Just Might was wrongly accused. Yes, the horse did move over. But did he move into the path of any other horse — including Cowan — and did he cause any interference or the problem on the rail.
I would argue that the horse — Just Might — did not. But it is just that. An argument.
If the Stewards had access to Drone footage? In all probability, they could have made a thorough review and provided the fans — and bettors — with more convincing evidence.
Until that day comes? You will never convince some — like me — that the decision on Just Might was just right. Never. And, the bettors do matter. They had better matter.