Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Double Secret Probation

A great moment in comedy happens in the movie "Animal House", when the exasperated college dean, realizing he has come to the end of his options, puts a fraternity on double secret probation.

Jockey Rene Douglas must know how that feels. Charged with no rule violation, Douglas was "excluded" from riding at Calder last month for reasons unknown, although everyone implied that it had something to do with an ongoing investigation by the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau (TRPB). This exclusion was then "honored" by Tampa Bay Downs, and, subsequently, by Gulfstream Park.

Now Gulfstream has changed its stand. In an interesting choice of words, The Blood-Horse reports that Douglas is now "cleared to ride" at the Magna-owned track. Cleared? Not charged with anything, it's difficult to imagine how he could be cleared. Why not invent a new term, in the spirit of Animal House, to describe the situation more accurately? Let's just say Gulfstream un-honored Calder's exclusion.

With another seven jockeys on the equivalent of double secret probation for the past six weeks at Tampa, said "exclusions" also currently being honored by Gulfstream and, it's rumored, Turfway Park, we all have to wonder when, if ever, the TRPB will produce the goods.

And who will be responsible for the jocks' financial losses if this "jockey scandal" just turns out to be a bad joke?

Monday, January 29, 2007

Barbaro's Struggle is Over

I was in the gym, facing a bank of televisions which I could only see, but not hear, when ESPN's Sports Center program led-off with footage of Barbaro's Kentucky Derby. I knew immediately that it could only be bad news. After a struggle lasting more than eight months, the heroic horse was unable to overcome the repeated complications and setbacks arising from a life-threatening fracture he received in the Preakness Stakes.

It is a credit to Barbaro's owners, and to the veterinary team that attended him, that they tried everything humanly possible to save him, and very nearly did, yet let him go humanely when his distress finally became acute. Both Barbaro and his connections showed tons of class in this, his final race. We all regret the loss.

Friday, January 26, 2007

"Wire to Wire": From Boob Tube to YouTube

The suits-in-search-of-a-mission known as the National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA) have terminated the ESPN broadcasts of TV's only national racing program, "Wire to Wire", deciding that the show "belongs on an internet platform". The move will reduce production costs, presumably freeing up some additional cash for executive compensation.

If you want to continue watching a scaled down, streaming-video version of the program, try a Google search. With a little dedicated effort, you should be able to find it. Rest assured that few of the general public ever will.

Are you sure this is how NASCAR got started?

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Crazy Business

The business of racing Thoroughbreds is a little crazy, definitely full of ups and downs. Thus, don't be surprized if that guy who trained a stable of 25 or 30 head at your favorite track last year is serving you a hotdog at your favorite convenience store today. In the spirit of this craziness, two brief bits of news.

In the wake of the Florida/Michigan/parts unknown jockey-scandal-that-wasn't, former leading jockeys Joe Judice and Terry Houghton are currently whiling away their days as exercise riders in Ocala. At least one other of the seven jocks banned from Tampa, Ricardo Valdez, has joined them there.

But while the mighty are frequently humbled in this business, the opposite is also true. Take Mary Anne Barron, a longtime Michigan trainer from a well-known family of trainers. While she was working as a car-parking valet in the horsemen's parking lot at Tampa Bay Downs yesterday, Magna Entertainment annnounced her appointment as Racing Secretary at the upcoming Great Lakes Downs meet. No word on her replacement at Tampa yet, but maybe management should consider interviewing some jockeys?

As they say on the backside, chicken salad today, chicken feathers tomorrow. And vice versa.