The Week in Review: Firsts, Lasts, and About-Turns

Flowers for Randomized and Chili Flag outside Chad Brown barn Sunday | Sarah Andrew

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It didn't look like the GI Belmont S. It didn't feel like the Belmont S. But the Belmont S. it was, and Dornoch (Good Magic) will from here on in be called a Belmont S. winner.

What better way to break your Grade I duck as a trainer, as Danny Gargan did here. At a time of concentrated riches among fewer and fewer trainers, Gargan provided a welcome reminder that many plying their trade at less vaulted levels are just as capable of priming their stock for these big days if afforded the talent in the first place.

But in many ways, this bespoke four-day Belmont Festival was all about its leading ladies, spearheaded by Thorpedo Anna (Fast Anna) who gilded the image of her easy GI Kentucky Oaks win with another polished display in Friday's GI Acorn S.

Had she made the Belmont S. line-up, it sure would have added a whole lot of spice to the race. But you can't begrudge her trainer Kenny McPeek the decision to burnish his filly's resume with such a pedigreed prize. And McPeek is nothing if not an adventurous explorer–as evinced by his steering of Kentucky Derby hero Mystik Dan (Goldencents)–holding the promise of juicier assignments later on in the season for his latest muse.

The big, strapping magnificent mare Idiomatic (Curlin) lost nothing in defeat in Saturday's GI Ogden Phipps S. against her more vertically challenged rival Randomized (Nyquist). They're one-all in a match up. Here's hoping theirs turns into the sort of rivalry that lures warm bodies through the turnstiles as the rest of the season unfurls.

And then there was the Argentinian-bred Didia (Arg) (Orpen), who took the GI New York S. on the Friday in fine style, making her a Grade I winner in both hemispheres. Her trainer Ignacio Correas, IV sure knows how to manage a top-drawer Argentinian mare, epitomized by the careful lid he kept on the bubbling cauldron that was Blue Prize (Arg) (Pure Prize), a few years ago.

Blue Prize lost out on Eclipse Award plaudits to Midnight Bisou (Midnight Lute). Five years later, Didia tosses a beret into a crowded ring for champion female turf horse for possible recompense.

Louisiana About-Turn

Louisiana Racing Commission's hastily passed and just as hastily rescinded “emergency” medication changes proved once again that no exercise in futility is beyond racing's leadership.

At the end of May, the commission voted through “Active Emergency Rules of Racing,” raising the permissible dosage and shrinking the allowable withdrawal times for several medications, most notably the bronchodilator Clenbuterol and corticosteroid Depo-Medrol.

This prompted significant push-back from within and without the industry, most notably among several high-profile trainers rightfully concerned about the potential consequences for shipping horses out of the state to race in states with much stricter drug rules.

On Tuesday, the commission heeded the calls–sort of. It rolled the rules on Clenbuterol and Depo-Medrol back to match the Association of Racing Commissioners International's (ARCI) model rules. But it still left the looser rules for numerous other drugs unchanged.

On Wednesday, the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA) sent a memo to owners, trainers, regulatory veterinarians, and track management advising that horses coming out of Louisiana must be placed on the vets' list–what would have proven a major headache for trainers. Churchill Downs threatened to cancel a suite of big races at Fair Grounds, including the Louisiana Derby.

On Friday the commission capitulated fully, rolling back the rules changes for all remaining drugs.

What this farcical episode has highlighted is that such ill-considered changes do a disservice to the many participants of this sport trying to do right by their horses, their teams and their clients.

The advent of federal safety and medication rules has come with all sorts of growing pains. For some, these growing pains have been eye-watering indeed.

Just this week, a lawyer representing three veterinarians facing potentially lengthy suspensions for possession of prohibited medications in their trucks argued that HISA representatives had told them this was okay, provided the drugs were used to treat animals in their practice outside HISA's jurisdiction (as the veterinarians are claiming).

While HISA can only be applauded as it continues to tweak its rules in response to calls for more common sense approaches to commonplace drug and medication-related issues, a regulatory landscape marked by constantly shifting goalposts is a difficult one to navigate, to say the least.

Just as it's incumbent upon the sport's participants to familiarize themselves with the rules, it's just as incumbent upon those writing the rulebooks to make their directives readily understood and supported by both science and reason.

Goodbye Golden Gate…

By the time you're reading this, the last race will have run at Golden Gate Fields, the last stragglers in the grandstand will have trickled out through the doors, and the horsemen and women who remain will be left in the chilly silence that follows to confront a painfully uncertain future.

“I don't know why they close this place. But what can we do?” Octavio Saldana, who works for trainer D. Wayne Baker, told the TDN this past week, capturing the sense of powerlessness that many in Northern California feel.

Most of the horsemen and women there will, if they haven't already, start preparations to make the move to Pleasanton at the Alameda County Fair in Pleasanton, some 35 miles away, give or take. First up on the calendar is the regular California fair meets. Then comes the new 10-week meet this fall at Pleasanton, events at which will have a huge bearing on whether the Northern portion of the state can maintain a viable circuit in Golden Gate's absence.

All the while, tough economics for horse racing in California will prove ever more keenly felt. This reality drives a budgetary fight to be thrashed out at the upcoming California Horse Racing Commission (CHRB) meeting. At the heart of it all is a simple equation: The pie being carved up is currently too small to feed every hungry mouth.

Where California leads, the rest of the country follows. And many in the industry have said that California is too big to fail. But now is crunch time to see just how moved these individuals are to help sustain a year-round sport out West. A few more horses wouldn't hurt. A radical reshaping of the system would be better.

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