RSS Feed for this Blog

Monday, November 06, 2006

A Distaff Disaster

- A couple of readers picked up on the story of the delay in an ambulance getting out to Fleet Indian after she was pulled up during the Distaff. ESPN did have a shot of her owner Paul Saylor standing with the horse at 4:09, eight minutes after the race was over. I remember thinking at the time that he looked calm and composed. Little did I know he was awaiting medical assistance for the horse, and neither did the commentators on ESPN. According to Saylor, an ambulance did not come for "damn near 20 minutes." And Saylor was not that calm in a subsequent interview, in which he hurled two complaints with one stone.

"They had to bring it over from the Sports Spectrum (now known as Trackside Louisville). I tell you what, I don't know if it's the Breeders' Cup or Churchill (that is responsible), but I'm going to find out and I'm going right after somebody's throat because if she had had a fracture, we would have lost her. Everybody was screaming about the track bias, which should not have happened either. If you weren't on the rail, you weren't going to win. But that (the time it took to get an equine ambulance to Fleet Indian) was friggin' unbelievable." [Bloodhorse]
Churchill denied that the ambulance had to be brought in from elsewhere, instead citing a supposed regulation that prohibits two ambulances from being on the track at the same time. Huh? I'd love to hear an explanation of that!! An ambulance was of course tending to the more severely injured Pine Island.

I'm still shocked that Denman missed Pine Island's fall. Looking back, you can see the spill just as ESPN cut away to a close-up shot. I didn't see it at the time, and had no idea that something had occurred. Did you? I had a nice exacta box with her and the winner, and was looking around for the familiar black silks and red cap in the stretch while wondering why I hadn't heard Denman call her name; but I didn't know her fate until the disturbing replay of it afterwards, for which I was totally unprepared. Watching the tape, I hear that Chris Fowler jumped right in after the finish to say that both favorites had been injured.
"She was running good. We got on the backside, and I asked her to switch leads, and it happened so fast," Castellano said. "She broke down. I don't know what else to say." [AP]
To his credit, Fowler immediately picked up on the irony of Michael Matz and Edgar Prado being the winning connections as a horse was stricken on the track with a life-threatening injury. Jeanine Edwards did a sensitive job interviewing Matz afterwards, who didn't smile until asked about Barbaro. (And did I miss something while going to the bathroom, or was that virtually the only mention of the Derby winner all day?) Ms. Edwards was emotional after getting the bad news from Dr. Bramlage on her being put down, reporting that Ogden Phipps declined going on the air, "not if I don't have to."

Nick Luck tried to interview Castellano moments afterwards, but there was no sound on the wireless connection; and you could then see Luck trying to actually push the rider into an accessible spot. I was thinking that a guy who just went tumbling off a horse probably didn't appreciate that! Nonetheless, excellent job there by ESPN, who was right on top of that situation, as Luck soon after reported that Castellano would ride Bernardini. I also have to say that Round Pond's owner Rick Porter could have shown more sensitivity to the situation when he was presented with the trophy in the winner's circle.

As for Round Pond, it doesn't get much easier for Edgar Prado. He just rode the live rail, except to ease around the tiring Healthy Addiction on the turn; then ducked right back to the golden path. Happy Ticket ran an absolutely fantastic race, wide against the bias on both turns and totally out of her stalking game; yet she rallied for third, placed second after Asi Siempre was DQ'd. What a game mare she is! Balletto, who with the favorites out was the only horse left under 10-1, made a run, but never one threatening enough to earn the emphatic stretch call that she did from Denman. Asi Siempre ran well enough to justify Patrick Biancone's confidence of her ability on the dirt.

It was Round Pond's first Grade 1 win of the year, and her second stakes win of the year in five starts. She's by Awesome Again, his third Grade 1 winner of the year. Round Pond is out of Trempolino half sister to Black Minnoloushe and the Grade 1 winner Nasr El Arab. Don't know if it's enough for her to win an Eclipse in a wide open division; the race will certainly be looked at as skewed as a result of the inside bias. Personally, I think Happy Ticket should get some consideration, but considering that she lost to Round Pond in both their meetings, that would be a tough call.

- One reader, I think it was Nick, wrote in last week to say that the rail at Churchill was dead! I had checked out the charts for Thursday, and he was most assuredly right, check them out! That track changed drastically between then and Saturday. The rail bias and the tragic Distaff will only up the intensity of the call to move to synthetic surfaces. (Though I imagine that bias players are salivating over betting on, and against, some of these horses in their next races.)

- One criticism of Bailey; after the Distaff, in defending the Churchill surface as safe, he denied that there was a strong bias. I beg to differ.


Anonymous said...

You'd think that after the 1990 BC at Belmont, everyone would see the necessity of having two or more horse ambulances at the ready; at least the folks at NYRA learned from it. I think they had three in 1995. What regulation could possibly restrict Churchill to one? If they think they deserve the BC every other year, they really need to make some changes.

I had my eye on Pine Island in the Distaff because she was my girl...I saw Castellano tumble off just as they went off the screen and I knew it was bad. Kind of lost interest in the rest of the day.

Anonymous said...

Bloodhorse is reporting that Bernardini and Henny Hughes are being retired to stud. !@#$% - Alex

Anonymous said...

(I'll preface these comments by saying that I've worked on the backstretch before and been close up to the everyday aches and pains of racehorses. I never "lost" a horse that was special to me, but I've seen them go down at close range)

Oh my goodness. Here's the absurdity of any and all weeping and moaning over the fate of Pine Island (whether you blame it on Churchill, ambulances, surface, breeding, racing, the starters, the vets or anyone else): Roughly 100 horses competed at Churchill in the Breeders' Cup races, including juiced up Doug O'Neil types, lightly raced juveniles, and over-the-hill plodders and the one catastrophic injury occurs to the most conservatively managed, stoutly bred, non-commercial runner in the group!

Pine Island is an unfortunate footnote in the annals of racing history. I'm not even going to refer to it as a tragedy, as using such a reference in the death of a horse is an insult to others who have suffered real tragedies. It's sad for the people that cared for her on a daily basis, and its sad for the owners who would have obviously liked to benefit from her bloodlines for another two decades.

What it isn't is an indictment of the sport, a black eye on the Breeders' Cup, or a subject that anyone should spend much more than 30 seconds contemplating. There are too many other aspects of the day that can be dissected, analyzed, and opined upon. The racing industry and its fans need to come to grips with the fact that breakdowns are a rare, but unpreventable dark side of the game, that happen to the most well cared for animals in the world. Fans and potential fans who can't handle that need to try something else. Bury Pine Island and move on to other topics.

Anonymous said...

here,here for comments by steve d.
no golden rail Alan,just sour grapes.
Poor Trevor took a beating too,but of course he's a paid professional!

Anonymous said...

I didn't have any action on the Distaff, but i was watching Pine Island because i knew that Illman had been touting her prertty heavily. And yeah, just a split-second before they cut away to a different angle, i saw her stumble and dump the rider. At least i thought i did. The reason i was unsure is because there was no mention of it from Denman, and when they switched back to the wide shot, i didn't see a horse running loose. Thought maybe i was seeing things. And the thing with the ambulance, that's simply inexcusable. INEXCUSABLE.

As mentioned, it wasn't Denman's best day. But that pretty much sums it up, just a bad day. I still think the guy is a fantastic racecaller. As someone mentioned earlier, it may be that he's grown accustomed to calling smaller fields. I'm sure he'll be much better next year.

Btw, there was a head-to-head matchup here in Vegas between Fleet Indian and Pine Island. Go figure.

Alan Mann said...

Walter, what happens in that head-to-head bet? Does everyone lose?

I would think that when the bet was taken as a pari-mutuel wager, that they would have to give refunds, the same way if a race was declared a no contest. I've never heard of a pari-mutuel wager in which the house gets to keep all the money.

Anonymous said...

Horse matchups are not pari-mutuel. They're offered by the house. It's just like betting a baseball game, or a boxing match. In this case, if both horses are listed in the chart as "DNF", it would have to be declared a draw, and all bets refunded. However, i haven't seen the chart, and i'm not sure if Fleet Indian ever crossed the finish line. If she did, and was given a finishing position with beaten lengths, she'd be the winner.

Anonymous said...

"Fans and potential fans who can't handle that need to try something else"

Unfortunatly, they do, which is why you'll have 2,000 out at Aqueduct on Thursday. To many people, racing is a lot more than numbers on a piece of paper, its the horses buddy. While your analysis is pretty much correct, the day I forget about the breakdown of an Alabama winner after 30 seconds is the day I move on to the casinos. Racing needs to make the safety of the horse its number one priority, and its a long way from doing that.

Anonymous said...

"Racing needs to make the safety of the horse its number one priority, and its a long way from doing that."

This is Alan's board and I don't want to get into a big thing here, but the above quote indicates your naievete. Again, I will say that Churchill is a PREFERRED surface of horseman for safety and kindness to racehorses, and Pine Island is one of the most stoutly bred, well cared for animals that ran in the Breeders' Cup!

Your logic in the Aqueduct example is horrifying: 1. Horses break down; 2. There are 2,000 people at Aqueduct; therefore, low attendance at Aqueduct must be because horses break down. Come on!?!? Horses break down at Saratoga & Del Mar, too.

I'm just saying that this strange fascination that we have with the fate of less than 1% of the competitors is unproductive. Racehorses lay down their bodies for their trainers, owners, jockeys and, don't forget, the bettors money that they are carrying on their backs. That's why we love them! Occasionally, and for the most part, unpredictably, that burden is too great.