RSS Feed for this Blog

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

The Ups and Downs of the Game

- I saw my friend Bob at Aqueduct on Sunday, and boy, was he hepped up. He was there to see Royal Livingston, a horse he owns in partnership with Sisters in Racing Stable, run against winners for the first time. His horses otherwise run under the name of Kasey K Racing Stable, and he's had a fair amount of success in the claiming game, as far as these things go anyway. I wrote a couple of Saratogas ago about Crayda, a particularly successful claim he had at the time with trainer Peter Walder. His horses have won around 25% of the time, which is pretty damn good. He currently has horses stabled up and down the east coast, with Jason Servis, currently in Florida, Scott Volk in NY, and Keith LeBarron at Philly Park.

Bob was particularly excited about Primal Peak, who ran an even 5th in a very fast allowance race at the Pha on Saturday, earning a fine Beyer of 81. As a Pennsylvania-bred, the horse is eligible for up to 40% in breeders awards in addition to the already lucrative Pennsylvania purses (the race on Saturday, an entry-level allowance, carried a purse of $46,000 before the bonus), so Bob is psyched about the potential rewards.

And he was absolutely beaming over a filly that he had claimed for $12,500. Unfortunately, the horse was discovered to have a bone chip in a knee. But otherwise, the filly looks gorgeous, and has an attractive pedigree. So, on a recommendation, he visited Cranberry Creek Farm in New Jersey, and has decided to breed the filly to Some Kind of Tiger, said to be New Jersey’s ONLY Son of Sire of Sires STORM CAT. Bob was excited about the possibilities to the point at which the day's race seemed almost an afterthought.

In the paddock before the race, we all marveled at how good Royal Livingston looked. Trainer Leah Gyarmarti cheerfully and hopefully informed us that she was wearing those goofy glasses frames in a superstitious attempt to break out of a slump. Jockey Ramon Dominguez made sure to look each of us in the eye while shaking our hands. Leah told him to just let the horse settle and then make his run. Royal Livingston seemed to be in a bit over his head on speed figs, but hey, it's racing, anything can happen, and everyone there believed that it could. Yes, hope certainly breeds eternal in our game.

However, at the end of the day, Bob was calling to inform me that Royal Livingston was not going to make it. The horse was eased up on the first turn; from our angle down on the clubhouse apron, we could not see that he had taken a gruesomely bad step. But we could see Leah racing frantically onto the track and towards the stricken animal as the rest of the field came down the stretch. We saw the horse walking into the ambulance, which provided hope that he was OK.

But when we saw the replay, and Bob received a call informing him that Dominguez said that it was "bad," hope turned to despair which was confirmed shortly afterwards. The injury was said to be "Barbaro-ish," which means that had he been a Kentucky Derby winner with deep-pocketed owners, perhaps efforts would have been made to save him. But this is reality, and, with no guarantee of success whatsoever, and the possibility, if not probability, of pain to the animal and exorbitant expense to the owners, the decision to euthanize was a routine one which occurs far too many times in our sport.

And thus, the extreme highs and lows of the game were on display on an otherwise unremarkable winter day of racing at the Big A. And the thing about the highs part is that Bob hadn't had a winner that day - nor in fact, on any day in the recent past. What he was getting all excited about was a horse who finished 5th at Philadelphia Park the day before, and a filly with a bum knee on whom Bob will be spending the next year shelling out money for boarding and foaling and, subsequently, for raising and breaking what we hope will be a healthy and happy foal. It certainly doesn't take too much to get one excited at the racetrack - merely the hope of a good day or two ahead. And it surely doesn't take too much to shatter those dreams - just one single tragic step. RIP Royal Livingston.

18 Comments:

Anonymous said...

Been there, done that, not fun.

Great job capturing the highs and lows of this roller coaster like game.

Mitch said...

Thanks, Alan, for this understated but eloquent bit of reportage, which captured my interest and emotions.

Mitch

rather rapid said...

this will continue to happen until the stewards get serious about prevention. every catostrophic breakdown the trainer involved should be placed on immediate suspension pending a steward's investigation of how the horse was handled in the month before the race--frequency of galloping, breezing, pre-race diagnostics. if there is negligence a lengthy suspension should result. we already know 95% of these are pre-existing stress fractures, most of them caused by trainer negligence or worse.

Steve D said...

Rather Rapid is a moronic Monday morning quarterback. Go pave your driveway with polytrack.

Horses break down. It's a sad part of the game. But you've got to run them, and you've typically got to run them when they are less than 100%.

If you applied the same standards to the NFL, every coach would be suspended and we wouldn't be able to finish the season.

Anonymous said...

The last poster suggest "you've got to run them when they are less than 100%." This is barbaric treatment of the equine athlete and symptomatic of today's low life trainers that permeate the sport. Steve D, get another job if you are training horses.

sweetd said...

the lows are always lower than the highs are high in this game

Anonymous said...

if you are not in the trenches please dont act like you know a thing about soundness because you obviously dont. people, you read some reports and you believe every thing you read. the only horses with out soundness issues are the slow ones.

the chalk said...

As was just mentioned, the facts probably should be put forward. There is no such thing as a "sound" horse. It's and extreme rarity or better put "fallacy". Because of confirmation the thoroughbred is fragile. Every horse on the backside goes through some kind of ailments. Its a cycle from lame to sound to lame. No whether its minor or a major ailment, only the trainer knows.

That is the trainers livelihood to get them to the track. I can also tell you there isn't a trainer in the US at any track who has not personally be associated with a horse who has broke down. If you penalized those who are, you would have no trainers in existence. Thats a fact from someone lived/associated to it.

Anonymous said...

Always interesting to read your inside the game reports, a sort of cinema verite of the thoroughbred racing world. A reminder to LATG readers of the thrill and heartbreak for those closely involved with these beautiful animals, and the kind of odds even the average runner must overcome to reach the winner's circle. When I read reports like this, my great respect for those directly involved in the sport is reinforced once again. And a welcome break from the franchise muddle. /S/Green Mtn Punter

Anonymous said...

Futher to your point about breakdowns, we need to face reality and stop training and running injured and unsound horses on injury masking drugs. And that also means a moratorium on any more synthetic surfaces, surfaces which were created as a means for perpetuating the far too many injury saddled, drug addled, unsound horses found at all race tracks these days. The reason it hasn't been done is that it means many fewer race horses and many fewer race tracks would be able to survive, at least in the immediate future. But is it humane to go on perpetuating the present system which leads to such inhumane treatment of these marvelous animals? /S/Green Mtn Punter

Erin said...

Re: breakdowns, Larry Bramlage recently did a Talkin' Horses on the Blood Horse, and explained in a way that truly clarified for me, why break downs occur so frequently with racehorses. He really gets to the core problem, which isn't training, track surface, or as simple as breeding for sales.
Rather than repost his long answer, I'll link - it's worth the read, imo.

http://www.bloodhorse.com/talkinhorses/LB121307.asp

Look for his answer to Shawnee, KS, the second half of the discussion.

the chalk said...

Further light:

-Soundness does not exist in racing. (on rare occasion you have one who has yet to have an ailment) Horses are routinely tinkered with and pampered for injury. Ranging from displacement to a bowed tendon. This applies from Curlin to Zippy Chippy. If you believe racing should only exist with completely sound horses, there would be no entries.

-Anyone involved on the backside (i.e. trainers down to the groom) have been associated with a horse who has broken down. This applies from Todd Pletcher to the worst trainer’s record at Beulah Park. People tend to forget this is an industry and not a sport to everyone at hand. Horses with legitimate injuries are the majority of one’s breaking down. No matter what surface or medication they are on. It’s the injury at hand making the difference. Sure surface can create or degrade an injury. It's a cyclical process.

-Something to note: Claiming racing would not exist without horses of the caliber being mentioned in this post. Those races are filled with those having previous and existing ailments along with those not bred to run 6f in 1:13. To further the point without shedding names; many, I repeat many of the tracks being played across this country would not have races without these horses.

Things to think about...

Teresa said...

I think it's misleading to imply that injured horses are "fill" claiming races. Some claiming horses are just too slow, or don't like to run, and I say this because my family used to race harness horses in claimers, and because I have friends who own horses who race in claimers. Could their lack of speed and desire be traced to an injury? Sure, maybe. But to paint with such a broad brush seems misleading, and an unfair indictment of owners/trainers who make up the claiming ranks.

the chalk said...

Teresa,

Thats exactly why I stated, "Those races are filled with those having previous and existing ailments along with those not bred to run 6f in 1:13."

Aka. Simply not good enough to compete in allowance company.

the chalk said...

Damn, hit the submit button before finishing my thoughts! Sorry.

Want to add that the claiming ranks cover the vast majority of American racing today. 6 out of 9 races on any card consist of these class of horses. Claiming racing is by all means, valued and important to the industry. It frankly its the working class of the sport. A few close to me can attest.

I would like people to be aware of the difference between an "injury" versus an "ailment". Injury being something physically keeping a horse from racing or training. An ailment being something problematic that a trainer is routinely working to alleviate. The point being all horses incur ailments during their racing careers. Those significant influence a horses ability, which intern determines what level they can compete at.

Teresa said...

Thanks for the clarification, Chalk...but I can read. =) I think that your phrasing suggests that injured horses (however you define it) make up the majority of entries in claiming race, which is an incendiary and possibly irresponsible concept to put forth without evidence, even if it's true, given what it suggests about owners and trainers.

the chalk said...

The point: there is no such thing as a fully sound horse. Those hands on can surely attest to this, as has been mentioned above.

Claiming races are made of horses inadequate to compete at higher levels or on the drop due to an ailment. Its only one or the other. They started with limited ability, or have been hampered to a certain level based on ailment. Concept of running for a "tag".

Bob at Kasey K said...

Thanks,Alan, for the kind words and firm grasp of the realities of what I consider the greatest game in the world. I've run the Kasey K racing claiming partnership for 3+ years and,yes, we have had some terrific claims and some not so terrific claims. Nothing matches the highs of not only winning but also seeing our partners' excitement at what I still consider the romance of the sport. We have a great time w/ it. It does, though, rip you up inside when your horse breaks down; it really does.My wife and I get way too close to the horses.Our partners are always at the barn.When something happens to a horse like Royal Livingston it just tears you up.I know it happens but it's something you never get used to.I do, though, disagree w/ sweetd.The highs of the game and the people I've met absolutely outweigh the lows.Congrats to Alan w/ Just Zip It.We also had a solid 2nd this afternoon at 31-1 w/ MR W B in the 5th at Aqueduct.It was great.Horse racing, warts and all,is a game of highs and lows as Alan so eloquently stated.But I know of no other sport which enables people like us to partake in every aspect of a sport I love.The claiming game lets me participate.You just need to roll w/ the punches and not let breakdowns, juicers, Albany,etc get you too down.Alan, keep doing the great job you do on this blog; it's both entertaining and educational