Thursday, April 14, 2011

Speculation II

We wrote about horse racing and speculation a few days ago, and it has continued. This morning, Mike Repole and Todd Pletcher issued statements on the health of their colt, Uncle Mo. Pletcher revealed he has an internal bug, which is being treated, one surmises, with anti-biotics, and Mike says that if the colt is not 100% he won't make the Derby.

On twitter and in the press rumors of shaved knees and surgery are still there, the latter with hearsay evidence and nothing more.

The statement from Pletcher and Repole did not address a question from the Paulick Report through their publicist concerning recent speculation about whether Uncle Mo may have had surgery to remove a bone chip following his Breeders' Cup Juvenile win in November. Uncle Mo spent time at an Ocala, Fla.-area farm before resuming training in South Florida this winter. The Paulick Report has heard from several sources — none of which have a direct connection to the colt — that surgery was performed, but neither Pletcher nor Repole has responded to questions confirming or denying the surgery.

This is something that stumps me with thoroughbred racing here in North America. It seems that if there are questions about a high level horse, it is rarely addressed, fueling hearsay and rumor. It's like some sort of nuclear code secret, and if the public knows about it, the world will explode.

I remember Somebeachsomewhere in harness. The undefeated superstar was being compared to Niatross, sure to be syndicated for $12M+, so similar rules one would think would apply. After his second qualifier he received an ankle bruise which set him back. I was at the track and everyone knew about it, the press knew about it, and the trainer Brent McGrath would be in the dining room chatting about it. No big deal - that's horse racing. Later that summer when the horse stumbled home in only 29 seconds (still winning because he was brilliant) everyone and their brother knew something was up with him. In popped Brent with the bloods for everyone to see - the colt was sick.

If Somebeach had a shaved knee, Brent would be in the turf club probably saying "Ya, he got treated for a splint. He'll be fine". Ho hum.

Muscle Hill, the brilliant trotter trained by Greg Peck, had some minor setbacks at times, like when he was fumbly-gaited in the Breeders Crown. I remember being at the track that evening, and Brian Sears let it be immediately known that it was the shoes (to everyone in the paddock and to the press). It was again, no big deal.

In Hong Kong if Uncle Mo raced there on Saturday and lost at 1-9, he would have everything related to the loss published in the newspaper and on their website. He would not be allowed to even race again if it was not. (Hong Kong publishes vet reports, bloods, lameness etc on their website where it is public knowledge).

Leaving Uncle Mo aside and just speaking generally: Why is it so different here? Is it because if a problem is released a horse is worth $45M instead of $48M? Nonsense. The people buying into a colt and buying his offspring know what's up with him. Is it because we are afraid to tell the public that a horse might have a problem? Nonsense. The general public knows these are athletes and they might tweak an ankle or have a surgery, or get something cryo'd.

I think it is cultural. We are so used to keeping things quiet in racing and have for generations. It's like an old boys club, with brown things that are 1100 pounds.

Maybe everything in the statement is all that is happening with Mo, and on the surface, in my opinion, Mike and Todd's explanations are just fine. But don't blame people for speculating, because they have seen this movie a hundred times.


Tinky said...

I was with you up until the final paragraph.

They have been asked specifically about the surgery – which did occur – and have declined to comment. Now, can you please provide a single possible reason why they would not have responded with an emphatic "No" if he hadn't undergone a procedure? Do you imagine that they are taking some kind of principled stand?


The last thing they want is rampant speculation, but they made a poor, calculated decision to attempt to keep the surgery quiet, and now that the rumblings are loud, are faced with the unpalatable choice of admitting dishonesty, or doubling down with public denials. I don't envy them in either case.

With regards to the gist of your post, yes, I'd agree that it is a cultural issue. In the U.K., trainers are frequently asked about the physical status of their horses, and often on TV, and they almost invariably give – by our standards – remarkably frank accounts.

Secretariat said...

Come on....

Do you really think a horse named "Uncle Mo" has a Triple Crown type name?

They ought to rename him "Aunt Mo" after that performance in the Wood. He ran like a girl.

He is "Slo-Mo" in 2011.

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