There is perhaps a mistaken view that only Medina Spirit’s drug positive is the news in racing. I hate to disabuse of that notion, but there are four other stories of note.
The first is that two trainers in the Belmont Stakes have experienced their own recent positives. Doug O’Neill, trainer of Hot Rod Charlie, had a horse test positive while he was on the ballot for the Hall of Fame. John Sadler, trainer of Rock Your World, had a horse recently test positive. Their horses are likely to be among the top betting choices in the Belmont and were indeed, the second and third betting choices in the Kentucky Derby. Think of the public reaction had their charges hit the board with the presumably soon-to-be-disqualified Medina Spirit.
Speaking of Halls of Fame, Richard Vega, a member of the Parx Hall of Fame – not to be confused with the National Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs – has been suspended from training by the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission. This followed a raid at Parx that uncovered a “significant amount of contraband” and “items that have no business on the backside” according to a quote by a Pennsylvania official in Thoroughbred Daily News.
Then we have the charming story from quarter horse racing. Hair tests prior to the Sam Houston Futurity revealed that six of the ten entrants had clenbuterol or albuterol in their system. Of the remaining four, two tests were inconclusive. This is apparently a major race in that sport since the purse was $731,650 – an amount exceeded by only two races on this summer’s Saratoga schedule.
While each of these stories has its own significance, a Kentucky Derby disqualification by a trainer who many see as the face of the sport is potentially devastating. Bob Baffert’s attorney, Craig Robertson, was interviewed on CNN by two reporters whose facial expressions conveyed that they were hearing a load of bullshit. Robertson appears to be asserting that additional testing will reveal that chemicals in the patch applied for the month following Medina Spirit’s Santa Anita Derby will “prove” that the ointment was the source of betamethasone and not an injection. I know there must be a Latin expression for this logical fallacy, but an equally plausible explanation is that the ointment was applied to cover for the possibility that the horse was also being injected.
Robertson at one point said that Bob Baffert was the Michael Jordan of horse racing. I am having a hard time getting around the notion that a person who may only sweat when he hears of the latest drug positive is the equivalent of Jordan. One of the interviewers suggested that a more apt analogy might be Jose Canseco.
Fortunately, drugs are not the only topic of controversy. New Jersey just implemented a rule barring the use of the whip except when safety is a consideration. Monmouth Park’s first weekend with this rule appears to have been unremarkable. Jockeys and some bettors are opposed to the rule. The jocks raise the issue of safety, even though there is an explicit exception reflecting that concern. Having just watched Irad Ortiz, Jr. taken from the Belmont track in an ambulance (he appears to be OK) pointed to the hazard of riding horses for a living. I am reluctant to be critical, but their argument makes little sense. Bettors are another story. They are going to make wagering decisions based on whether a horse can be whipped? Come on.