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Sunday, May 18, 2008

Bedbugs and Ballyhoo, Big Brown and Bellyaching

- Pursuant to the last post, and the discussion that follows (including what I believe to be the all-time longest comment in LATG history), I characterized any continued discussion of Dutrow's, and by extension, Big Brown's worthiness in the next three weeks leading up to the Belmont, as "bellyaching," which drew a couple of negative reviews. True, I could have used another word, but I stand by that one and here's why.

I think that we've had a more than thorough discussion of Dutrow's history of suspensions, both leading up to the Derby, and, partly in the context of the Eight Belles breakdown, between races too. I've blasted him here, and on The Rail too (#3), maybe even more for his frivolous attitude towards his suspensions, and the ban he got for brazenly violating the terms of one of them. He also cheerfully admitted to violating suspensions routinely in an interview before the Derby. I think he's a cheater, and it will take a few years of a clean record before I consider the possibility that he's reformed, as he said. Of course, I'd rather that a guy like Michael Matz was Big Brown's trainer.

But at this point, Dutrow's horse, Big Brown, is on the precipice of a historic achievement. He's a really good horse, maybe even a great one. Yes, the competition has been sketchy - I mean, if Big Brown only got a 100 Beyer given how little he really had to exert himself (Gary Stevens likened it to a quarter horse race) - imagine how slow the rest of them are. But I think his two Triple Crown wins have been breathtaking - the Derby for the sheer revelation of his being able to rate and run professionally down the stretch, the Preakness for its sheer ease, and both for the incredible acceleration he displayed when asked by Desormeaux to go (as highlighted by the overhead blimp shots on NBC).

So for me, the story going into the Belmont is the horse. And, I'm finding the continued growling about Dutrow, at this point in time, getting rather shrill. That's not to say that any such discussion that continues despite what I think isn't valid and constructive. But to me, it's just sounding like....well, bellyaching. The horse is the horse, and we have no evidence that he's running on illegal medication. In fact, given the extra scrutiny for these races, and Dutrow's two wins in Dubai where the horses are all closely monitored and tested (ask the owners of Brass Hat), I'm assuming he's not.

As far as the steroids go, in my opinion, that's not a valid discussion with regard to this particular situation, but rather one for the industry as a whole. If the medication is legal, than it's legal. On Friday, ESPN, on their crawl during their telecast, repeated the news of the NY Daily News report that Dutrow was giving Winstrol to his horses every month. But like a lot of stats we see on that network and others, it was presented without context, and is therefore without meaning to me. Was Big Brown the only horse in the Derby running on a steroid? Is he the only triple crown race winner that had been receiving it? I tend to doubt that. Allen Jerkens told Bill Finley last year: "Sure, I use them occasionally. It helps build up muscle and it helps when a horse hasn’t been eating well.” Whenever Jerkens has a horse in a big race, all we hear about (ad nauseum at this point) is why he's a giant killer, never about steroids.

So, I won't be writing about Dutrow's history between now and the Belmont. I'm sure there are some TBA bloggers who disagree - here's one, to start - and, with all the new mainstream media types that will be gravitated towards the Belmont, I'm sure we'll be hearing and reading plenty. So, if you're interested, they'll be plenty of that to read. But I'm done with the discussion, at least until otherwise warranted. We have a possible Triple Crown winner, coming just as many were starting to ponder that the nature of racing in the 21st century may preclude it from ever happening again. So I'm going to concentrate on the horse.

- Bedbugs and Ballyhoo


Anonymous said...

Alan, I was not attempting to trash Dutrow and Big Brown but rather to explore where this fits into the big racing picture: Do we really like what is going on in the sport/industry?

Is this year's 3 YO crop not following down the same path that we have grown to dislike so much? Are we just going to stand by and say" "Well, that's the way it is, there's nothing we can do to change it, so just accept it and go with the flow?" Should we just enjoy Big Brown's emerging achievements and not rain on the parade until after the Belmont?

Challenge to Big Brown's connections if you wish to earn the goodwill of loyal racing fans: Following the Belmont, announce that you are pointing your tiger to go in the Whitney and Travers at Spa. And then draw Curlin in for a showdown in the Whitney, just as Secretariat faced Onion and other older horses in the 1973 Whitney and, as we all know, the Triple Crown champ famously lost.

But Penny Tweedy did not rest on Secretariat's Triple Crown laurels and ran her tiger when she could have kept him in the barn. And despite Secretariat's loss that day, it did nothing to tarnish his reputation and in fact may have enhanced it. /S/Green Mtn Punter

Anonymous said...

I'm with you, on the Dutrow issue, about (guesstimate) 95%.

But out of respect to bloggers who love the game as much as I do, and from whom I often learn, I have kept a more vigilant eye on Dutrow and those like him.

I just wish everybody would aim most of her anger and frustration at IEAH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

In four weeks, the big story could be done.

I'm a Brown junkie, but he's really been wasting a group of bums. The Joe Louis analogy works for me. Yet no one denied Joe's greatness.

Brown's gots to stand up man up and face Curlin in the Jockey Club Gold Cup and then they can both kick back during the BC and hammer the synthetics. That would be THE Cup, at Belmont Park, filled with the Greatness they both covet.

But first, the biggest best Mineshaft yet has to be dealt with.

Patrick J Patten said...

am I a bellyacher? :-(

Anonymous said...

ReggieHammond says Mr. Alan now your talkin my language. I like your post....................

Anonymous said...

Thanks to Alan and to all who have recently contributed comments here - who says horseplayers can't engage in great discourse? (Well, maybe not all of them can.)

Green Mountain Punter's past couple of comments have been especially excellent. The sport of kings these days is just not the same - the greed, the drugs, the Frank Stronachs - and Punter hits the nail on the head.

Sunny Jim

SaratogaSpa said...

Alan, I agree with you, I am not a big fan of Dutrown and IEAH, but at this point I will be at Belmont on the 7th witnessing what I think will be a Triple Crown Winner. Do I think it stinks that he will not run as a 4 year old ? Of course, but that is not the horses fault. If he wins, I hope to see him at the Spa in the Travers and then the Breeders Cup. I would love to see more of him, but racing "is what it is" and we have to deal with what we have before us.

Anonymous said...

The thing that I do not like about the Dutrow trashing is that he seems to be the whipping boy for all that is wrong about racing. I do not believe he is any worse than many many others including most notably Pletcher who never seems to garner the negative publicity that Dutrow does.

Lets just enjoy BB`s exploits. Racing needs this.


Anonymous said...

My other thoughts post-Preakness have to do with the Belmont Stakes and it's historic place as the most prestigious of all three Triple Crown races in the pre-Col Matt Winn era at Churchill Downs. I would like to see the new NYRA bring back the Belmont Stakes in the hearts and minds of racing fans both casual and dedicated, and not just in potential Triple Crown years. I think the historic moment may be right. More on that as we near post-time for the big race. /S/Green Mtn Punter

Alan Mann said...

>>am I a bellyacher? :-(

LOL....Suck it up buddy. I'm sure you've been called worse. Don't you get DeRosa hanging around your blog?

I got a comment on another site where I posted my analysis comparing me to Dana Perino, the insufferable White House Chief Spokesperson of Lies! You wanna talk about a putdown?? :-0 Man, that hurt.

Alan Mann said...

>>More on that as we near post-time for the big race. /S/Green Mtn Punter

Looking forward to your thoughts. One more comment from your marathon the other day. I don't agree that Big Brown's pedigree typifies the fragility of the breed as you said. Of course, being a grandson of Danzig is not an advertisement for soundness to be sure. But that inbreeding to Damascus (32 starts - 21 - 7 -3) and Round Table (66-43-8-5) gives him an infusion of sturdier bloodlines than we often see these days.

Good point too about Secretariat....but what really are the chances of us seeing BB more than once at Saratoga, even in this ear of the six week season there?

El Angelo said...

This will be a great HOTY debate, if it unfolds in roughly the manner we all cynically expect:

(a) Big Brown wins the Belmont, and is retired a month later with a Triple Crown and the Florida Derby under his belt.

(b) Curlin wins the Stephen Foster & Whitney, then either takes the double of the JCGC and BC Classic or amazingly goes to the Arc and/or Japan Cup wins, to top off his 2 wins in Dubai.

Who's the Horse of the Year?

Superfecta said...

My biggest issue is that winning a Triple Crown by beating this year's sorry crop is not going to prove that Big Brown 'belongs' among the greats; that's not his fault.

If, as seems likely, his connections duck real competition, then his career continues to be everything that's wrong with the sport - winning a Triple Crown and disappearing makes it even more hollow.

Taking on Curlin (and, I would suggest, overseas competition) is what the sport needs.

Anonymous said...

el A, great question that is all too likely to be in play.

My vote goes to Curlin, especially because he would have in all liklihood destroyed the same crop of 3yo's as BB once they try him in the fall.

Do not understand why IEAH can not run him post triple crown.

I understand not going to the BC, due to the surface, but why not try turf again, emulate Secretariat and try the Arlington Million?

IEAH is publicly trying to position themselves as caring about the game, but that will all ring very hollow if they suddenly retire him, especially if they do not at least come up with a cheesy excuse.

Anonymous said...

Or since they are a hedge fund, perhaps IEAH can wager some of their stallion syndication proceeds and challenge Curlin to a match race?

Anonymous said...

To answer someones recent comment, my guess is 75% of the horses running on any given NYRA card are on steroids to varying degrees.

I would be surprised if the triple crown participants did not reach that threshold at the minimum.

They are used to control menstrual cycles in fillies, and to replace muscle lost on male horses post gelding, and to "increase appetite" in all horses, at least those are the "therapuetic" use.

In reality, just like in humans, they build muscle mass and have the same side effects, including lack of flexibility which is often deadly.

More weight, less flexibility = more breakdowns.

IMHO, this is the main reason for the supposed increase in fragility, which in truth is all anecdotal since no real stats were kept regarding breakdowns until recently.

Anonymous said...

i have no complaints about horse racing. just complaints about horse racing fans. never happy with whats going on, always comparing what happened 30 years ago. stop crying and just enjoy it. i can not remember a year since i have had internet that no "fan" was bitching about horse racing

steve in nc said...

I too am tired of the complaining, at least when it comes without proposed remedies.

Would there be any legal/logistical problem with limiting the BC and certain other top races to progeny of sires who race at leasr 4 times as a 4 YO? Antitrust issues? Or just that everyone in the sport would rather complain about the lack of enduring stars than do anything to make it happen?

Anonymous said...

Barry Bonds*

Big Brown**

(steroids and greed)

Brett said...

El Angelo great question but the answer is easy Curlin. He would have beaten the best horses on the dirt and grass in one year. Big Brown would have just beaten a bunch of below average 3 YO's.

El Angelo said...

There's no legal problem with that solution, but that wouldn't work in reality: someone would instantly start up a rival to the BC and the other top races to be all-inclusive, offer a ton of purse money, get all the good horses and the betting, and gut the BC in the process. That solution would also kill turf racing based on Euro sires; most of them don't race past age 3 either.

I fail to see what's wrong with accepting that racing is a niche sport and that we should be concentrating our efforts on making it better for the fans/patrons by lowering the takeout, making wagering easier, etc., than trying to get Curlin to be on page 1 of the sports section twice a year.

El Angelo said...

Brett, I agree 100%. But it's just amazing to consider that a Triple Crown winner wouldn't be the favorite for Horse of the Year; and while Curlin is quite good, he's not a top-20 all time horse good.

Alan Mann said...

steve in nc - Imagine all the crying if some star horse was legitimately injured and couldn't start at four.

And that would add to the problem of unwanted horses / retirement / horse slaughter / etc.... it's always something.

Agree that Curlin would have to be HOTY.....if only to discourage more owners from retiring horses at 3!

Anonymous said...

re: if he wins the TC, why not run past the Belmont? dug out of the archives an article [link below] where Pletcher said the next TC winner would be retired the next day.

Further it cited Three Chimneys telling another owner that continuing to run [another horse sent to stud there] - even with success wouldn't add to the value.

TB Times Dec 5, 2006 "Breeding industry affects top level of racing"

IEAH, as Andy Beyer reminded us all, was tied in with that "A One Rocket" milkshake mess and has bombed (so far) with their $5M 50% stake in Court Vision. They just tend to bring a certain less then clean feeling to the sport.

forego is my witness said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
forego is my witness said...

The only bellyachin' I'm gonna do is if they only race him two more times. Eight races total, all at 3 years old? How amazing would it be see him fill out a little more and race at 4? But overall, it doesn't take away from the excitement he's bringing to the sport. Were there 38,000 foals in BB's year of birth? I'd say he's proving already how special he is. I imagine June 7 is going to be a blockbuster day for more than just us fans of the sport....

steve in nc said...

I was there when Silver Charm & Real Quiet got beat, and was rooting against them (not just because I bet against them). I didn't think they were worthy of the crown, and in retrospect, that opinion still stands.

I will be rooting for BB (and passing the race) and I think he can pull it off. But I think he will be tested this time by Casino Drive. Damn I wish I could be Steve in NY next month.

I wouldn't want him to race at Saratoga -- I think he'll do better with more time off. My fantasy would be one prep then the BC.

I don't think racing ever will be a big sport again. I want them to have to race as full grown ups for the good of the breed and for strictly selfish reasons -- to enjoy the dramatic match-ups myself. I accept the pitfalls in my plan. But there have got to be some ways to change the overriding incentive to retire them so soon.

Anonymous said...

On the HOTY question, in any close competition, it's gotta go to the TC winner, as winning those 3 races, in five weeks at three, is the toughest test this sport has to offer.

Look what it did to Curlin (1/3)!

Anonymous said...

Who is the real money behind this IEAH -
$2.25 for a maiden winner like BB;
3-5 million for Court Vision;

A character who drives into NYC to Wall Street and his partner suddenly have as much money as they want to buy whatever they want?


Anonymous said...

Good question about IEAH, who is the majority owner from a dollar perspective?

Are they licensed, if it is an individual?

Pension plans?

Investors in hedge funds generally are institutional, is this legal in racing?

They have come a long way in a short time. All the way from A One Rocket to Big Brown.

As for 3 Chimneys assertion of "value", probably true, there is only downside.

Anonymous said...

Remember, Afleet Alex, Charismatic, Real Quiet, Silver Charm and Funny Cide?

None were supposed to lose the Belmont either.

And some of them were beaten by horses no more highly considered than Tale Of Ekati and Dennis of Cork, much less Casino Drive.

I will be there rooting for BB, as Alan says for the horse, the sport and the history, but not one part of me will shed a tear for the connections if he loses as I think he will.

Every triple crown candidate has three things to overcome, as all of us know.

Must make it to the gate in top shape, his jock must not make any mistakes, and must get the distance.

Even if he does all that he still may lose if Casino Drive ends up being better than him.

I remain skeptical and a contrarian as always.

Alan Mann said...

>>Good question about IEAH, who is the majority owner from a dollar perspective?

It was started by a couple of guys who made a lot of money on Wall Street, and they raised $40 million from investors - and only from like 80 of them.

Check out this story for more info.

Brooklyn Backstretch said...

Afleet Alex didn't lose the Belmont.

Anonymous said...

This is as many responses to any LATG post that I can recall. I believe that it says a lot about the deep seated fan dissatisfaction prevelant in racing today. Dedicated fans want to see honest racehorses, i.e., horses whose connections are ready to risk racing them in open company over time as opposed to some brief, micro-managed, 6 or 8 race campaign designed to win a Triple Crown and/or an Eclipse or 2. Racing fans are always searching between the lines of past performances to see if they are being fooled by the entries in a race. The modern day, micro managed campaigns on the cheap, i.e., a few key races, of Big Brown and others before him is just so blatant that it has many fans up in arms. Their message could be summed up: "Don't claim greatness for your horse unless you are ready to run him against all comers, my track or yours, fast or wet, over more than one season." Jess Jackson seems to be the kind of owner many of us would like to see a lot more of. /S/Green Mtn Punter

Anonymous said...

What will be fascinating is to see the impact of that purported $100M hedge fund from IEAH on the state of US racing.

While it will be a staggered investment, it is still a huge injection of would-be money on runners (vs. buying up broodmares) sent into racing with the expectation of high returns on the track and shed.

I think it will be ultimately negative for all but what can you do? Racing shouldn't be a private club where we keep people out "just because".

The only way mega returns will be had is if they follow the same 2yr - 3yr formula with colts. We all know of massive fortunes plowed into that chase only to end up with nothing to show.

IEAH does own the very honest and solid Kip Deville who does bring in G1-glory at the juicy big day racing events (Keeneland, Breeders' Cup, etc) that are on TV and investors can feel like they are kings. But he's "only" banked $186k this year which could be considered almost a rounding error on a $100M fund.

How are big returns going to be had when old pros at Dogwood and West Point, both multi-partnership groups too, are doing the same buying and racing - yet not with mega returns?

It begs the question: with all the talent for picking horses, training and racing them, why didn't D. Wayne Lukas go to Wall Street and raise a massive fund for the same purpose in the 1990's vs. working with wealthy owners? I'm sure back in the day he turned down would-be owners who just didn't click with him or the sport.

In his interview with Simon Bray, Lukas said that he liked owners who owned professional sports teams. Why? Because they were prepared for losses during the year but looked at ownership long term. Will IEAH have that same perspective when 100 millionaires are ticked that a loosing streak has hit town?

Alan Mann said...

Agreed that the IEAH model only goes to reinforce the present industry business model. But in time, shouldn't the laws of probability shake these players out? I mean, how many times are they going to get lucky like this? (Of course, having all that money to throw at the Paul Pompas of the world helps one make his own luck.)

Alan Mann said...

>>The governor’s office confirms that Gov. David Paterson has been hospitalized in New York City.

According to the press statement released by the Paterson’s office:

“Earlier this morning Governor Paterson experienced migraine like symptoms. He asked to be brought to The Mount Sinai Medical Center for an evaluation. He was evaluated and all preliminary tests were normal. He is now resting comfortably and will undergo further tests during the course of the day.”

Paterson was hospitalized last summer when he fainted on a campaign plane and has said he has a condition that is easily remedied by not sleeping with his shirt collar buttoned.>>

He sounds a bit sickly to me. Governor Bruno, anyone?

Becky said...

I agree 100%. Yes Dutrow is scum. Yes, his use of steroids is suspect. But there's no evidence that his cheating past is being recreated with Big Brown in the present. BB deserves all the attention he gets for the next two weeks. One can hate the trainer, owner and jock, and still love the horse.

That being said, I don't think anyone would consider Big Brown, even if he does win the Triple Crown, one of racing's 'greats'. He's certainly a very good horse, but he's definitely aided by the medicrity of his competition this year. Maybe if he keeps running full speed for the rest of the year, meets a few older horses and continues to decimate his competition, but he certainly doesn't deserve hero status based on his performances to date.

Anonymous said...

Meant Smary Jones, not Alex.

Anonymous said...

Back to IEAH, NYSRWB rules demand that all owners of greater than 5% of a horse be licensed.

Are these investors licensed, and if so who are they?

Just a bit skeptical that anyone, no matter their WAll Street connections, could raise this kind of capital to invest in racing.

Not like these guys were Warren Buffet.

El Angelo said...

It's worth stating that winning the Triple Crown does NOT automatically make you a top-of-the pile great. I have some issues with this list, but let's look at where the other 11 winners stack up on the Bloodhorse's list of the 100 best horses of the 20th century:

2. Secretariat
3. Citation
5. Count Fleet
9. Seattle Slew
12. Affirmed
13. War Admiral
26. Whirlaway
28. Gallant Fox
33. Assault
49. Sir Barton
61. Omaha

If Big Brown sweeps it, I have no problem putting him on the top-100 list, and if you want to argue he's in the class of Sir Barton and Omaha, fine. And that's nothing to be ashamed of.

El Angelo said...

Anonymous (right above my last post):

Getting licensed isn't a big deal. Neither is finding 20 guys from Wall Street to come up with $500k each--the bonuses alone have been insane the last few years have bankrolled many dumber and more expensive ventures than these.

Alan Mann said...

I'm a licensed owner via Castle Village. As El Angelo said, it's not a big deal. Iavaroni walks his investor into the NYSRWB office at a NYRA track, tells them he's a partner, he gets fingerprinted, pays $100 and he's licensed. Not a matter of public record as far as I know either.

Superfecta said...

FYI, I've seen two articles dated today that suggest the Belmont is Big Brown's last race, win or lose.

I did find one contrasting article, but it does seem to be in the minority.

I also posted a bit about Elite Racing Club today - I wish we had a group like that, rather than the IEAH setup.

Anonymous said...

If the NY State Racing & Wagering Board ever did a thorough investigation into the real ownership of IEAH, instead of wasting time and tax payer money drug testing the back stretch workers and making sure trainers have their workers comp in place, the game would suffer another black eye when it was uncovered whose money was being put to use.
So instead, the party line will be that it is wall street investors who are funding the operation.
Sure. Have yet to see the gang in the winners circle.
And this nonsense about other thoroughbred ventures like a veterinary clinic across from the Belmont for 17 mill. How and when is that investment ever going to pay off.
This whole operation with its front men is a comedy.

Anonymous said...

Thanks to El Angelo for posting the Triple Crown winners on the Blood Horse top 100 of the 20th Century. I agree if we updated the list to include those runners in the first 8 years of the 21st C., Big Brown, if a Triple Crown winner, might break the top 50. Are there any other 21st C runners who would make the list? Interesting to note that Dr. Fager, my all-time fave, and incidentally he did not race in any of the TC races, was ranked # 6 on the Blood Horse 20th C list. A number of reasons: Best 4 YO campaign ever (1968), only horse to ever win 4 Eclipse(sprint, turf, handicap, HOY)Awards in one year (1968), set track records at more than one distance,won under 132 + lbs more than once, set track/world record for mile under 134 lbs., won under 139 lbs, never headed in any race straight up, won 18 of 22 lifetime starts with 1 DQ from first. There may be others. That's what Big Brown and others have to shoot for, at least with many of us who remember great race horses like "The Dr". /S/Green Mtn Punter

El Angelo said...

Other runners from this decade that would merit consideration on the top 100 list (though not necessarily make it):

Point Given

Then you have the Euros like Ouija Board and High Chapparal that did plenty in the States to consider as well.

Anonymous said...

My two cents on the original top of the page comment....yes, Secretariat stayed competitive through his 3 year old year. But his record-for-the-time syndication deal kept us from seeing him race at 4. In my mind, nothing's changed in 35 years. It's all about the breeding $$.

I leave you with these great articles from the Sports Illustrated Vault. The 2008 racing season is deja vu all over again...;)
(great tidbit about why Secretariat's syndication deal was announced so early....)