Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Way We Handle Scratches in Mayfield

There was a time when things just kind of worked.

If Whitey stole Wally's ball glove, his father would return it, and as punishment make Whitey mow the Cleaver's yard for a week.

In horse racing everything seems to be simple on the surface, but in the end it is anything but. Common sense goes out the window.

If we interview 100 track execs 99 will say our takeout is too high. But we never lower it. We often say we do not have enough marketing dollars spent on the sport (in Canada Bingo spends 400% more on marketing than racing does), but we never do anything about it. The list is seemingly endless.

The Life At Ten debacle at the Breeders' Cup, and its aftermath, brings this lack-of-common-sense to the fore, just like many of racings other issues.

What we have is an event that should have never taken place in the first place; if racing was even close to a normal functioning sport.

In general, what happened was -

Horse was off in the paddock - and the public knew
Horse was off in the warm up - and the public knew
Horse raced - the public wondered why
Horse was eased in front of a national TV audience - the public was mad
Controversy breaks out

A solution to the above: Kentucky racing commission dude John Veitch believes the problem is that too much information is given out in interviews:

“From the time a horse leaves the paddock until the time he starts, nobody should have communication with that jockey one way or the other,”

Where the hell are we racing horses, Shanghai Downs?

As what happens way too often in racing, we send the patient in for knee surgery and the doctor performs an appendectomy.

In Mayfield, methinks the process would have gone like this (something that I have seen done in paddock's everywhere, dozens of times):
  • The horse is off in the paddock so the trainer informs the track vet and rider/driver. He says "my horse might be tying up and I want to inform you all that if she warms up poorly we have to scratch her. The rider/driver will make the decision while out there, ok?" In this case, a national TV audience knows this is occurring.
  • Horse warms up poorly. Rider/driver brings horse back, informs vet and trainer that she feels like she is off. The TV audiences is right along with the story. Like reality TV, without sex, tiki dolls or Donald Trump.
  • Horse is scratched to race another day. TV audience says "that was the right thing to do"
  • The race goes on. TV audience at home says "they really have their act together in horse racing to do right by the horse"
This places the onus on the person who should be in charge at all times - the trainer. After all, he and no one else is responsible for his horse. If he races lame horses, give him 60 days and $30k. He won't do it again.

Too simple? Perhaps.

But that's the way it works in Mayfield.

Note: Alan talks about a sad story in harness racing whereby a trainer tried to scratch his valiant horse for warming up poorly and was dismissed. The great horse broke down and was destroyed. Common sense and racing? Two mutually exclusive terms.

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