Some random observations following the Preakness and preceding the Belmont Stakes:
- New York gets it right on nasal strips: A nascent Belmont Stakes controversy became not so controversial when New York’s racing stewards allowed California Chrome (and any other horse) to wear a nasal strip similar to those worn by some human athletes.. Chrome has been six-for-six since adding the adhesive strip – and jockey Victor Espinoza. In 2012, the stewards did not permit I’ll Have Another to wear one in his bid for the Triple Crown. What’s the difference between then and now? One factor may have been Doug O’Neill, the trainer of the 2012 colt, who engendered his own controversy with his record of drug infractions. This came only four years after persistent drug scofflaw Rick Dutrow was also going for the Crown with Big Brown. (Interestingly, Big Brown did not finish and I’ll Have Another scratched before the race.) I think the real difference, however, is Dr. Scott Palmer, who is the newly appointed Equine Medical Director for New York, the first such person to hold the position. Palmer concluded there was no evidence that the nasal strip has an effect on performance, and may even reduce the chance of pulmonary bleeding. His opinion convinced the three stewards, who are appointed by The Jockey Club, New York’s Gaming Commission and the New York Racing Association. It’s nice to have a decision based on facts and not politics or emotion, and one that was made quickly.
- Rosie is having a tough Triple Crown: After winning her second Kentucky Oaks in three years, jockey Rosie Napravnik has yet to finish in front of a colt in either the Derby or the Preakness, despite having different mounts. While she did finish in front of the filly Ria Antonia in the Preakness, the filly’s chances of winning that race were only marginally better than mine. Napravnik is not only a top rider but a great ambassador for the sport, so we can hope she has a better Belmont should she pick up a mount.
- Will a Chrome Crown save racing? People in the industry hold out the hope that a Triple Crown after a drought going back to Affirmed in 1978 will restore the sport to the prominence it once had on the sporting scene. I do not think we can discount the impact a Triple Crown will have on the general public. I watched the Preakness at the bar of a wedding reception. It was a mixed marriage – the bride’s side were Red Sox fans (excepting three aberrant Yankee supporters) and the groom’s side were Cardinal fans. There were not many racing fans in the group, but the place erupted when California Chrome held on to win. I was astonished at the reaction. I suspect, however, that the interest in racing will dissipate after the Belmont, even if Chrome wins, and resurface only when he races again.
- NYRA loses its Belmont Stakes bet: When a Triple Crown is on the line, the New York Racing Association does not have to worry about attendance on Belmont Stakes day – it will be in six figures. As a hedge against different horses winning the Derby and Preakness, NYRA decided to eviscerate one of the best racing days in America by moving three Grade I stakes from Memorial Day to the Belmont undercard. So the Met Mile – one of the top races in the country – is now a warm-up act for the Belmont. The Acorn, a Grade I for three-year old fillies that may well attract the exciting Untapable, is similarly playing second fiddle. The premise of the “experiment,” according to NYRA’s CEO Chris Kay, is to attract casual fans to Belmont Park. Well, they will be coming, with or without the added Grade I events. I would hazard a guess that most of those in attendance will be there because of the possibility of a Triple Crown winner, and do not know the difference between a state-bred maiden claiming race and a Grade I. Marketing the Met Mile and the Acorn on a Memorial Day card would present an additional opportunity to attract new fans, as well as to educate them, but that is now not going to happen. It’s like spreading in a Pick 3 only to have the favorites win. You cash, but end up losing money.