The Brock Talk

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Life At Ten, Players, Fans Deserve Respect From Breeders' Cup and Kentucky Officials

The setting is just before the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic last Friday. While conducting an interview with ESPN’s Jerry Bailey while warming up second favorite Life At Ten, jockey John Velazquez told Bailey and a national television audience that she was not warming up well. According to ESPN and The Paulick Report, ESPN producer Amy Zimmerman contacted the Churchill Downs stewards by telephone before the race and notified them of the troubling conversation between Velazquez and Bailey. But no action was taken before the race by the stewards or Kentucky Horse Racing Commission veterinarian Dr. Bryce Peckham to follow-up on the information from ESPN regarding the physical condition of the Life At Ten.

Life at Ten, normally a filly who likes to race to the lead, broke last, was never competitive in the least and was eventually eased to the wire by Velazquez. It can be argued the 5-year-old mare’s safety was compromised. There is no doubt that those who wagered on Life At Ten were not represented properly and lost money when they should not have. And that is saying it nicely.

In an explanation published by The Paulick Report, KHRC spokesman Dick Brown explained the matter by by saying there was no consideration given to scratch Life at Ten as there was “no dialogue with the track veterinarians or the stewards from the outrider, Velasquez or Pletcher indicating a problem with the horse that would have led to her possibly being scratched.”

Wednesday, chief state steward John Veitch told the Louisville Courier-Journal’s Jennie Rees that it was unfortunate, but “there's nothing we can do for [the bettors].” In a prepared statement, the KHRC said “The KHRC takes seriously the safety of horses and jockeys – before, during and after each race. The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission firmly believes its veterinarians and racing stewards acted properly in all instances regarding this race.” They did not mention of how seriously they take the interests of the wagering public or the fans.

The KHRC also said in that prepared statement, “From the time Life at Ten was brought to the paddock, saddled, led to the track for the post parade, warmed up and loaded into the starting gate, neither trainer Todd Pletcher nor jockey Johnny Velasquez voiced any concerns they may have had regarding Life at Ten to any racing officials, veterinarians or the outriders prior to the running of the Ladies Classic.”

Despite the fact that neither Pletcher from his location in the grandstand far from Life at Ten, nor Velazquez aboard her, formerly requested the state veterinarian to examine Life At Ten before the race, seems inconsequential and sophomoric as a explanation. It is sure to be helpful to the official veterinarians to have a questionable horse brought to their attention, but by no means should they pass the blame on the person who's job it is to ride the horse - not diagnose it.

Veitch, a former trainer now in the Hall of Fame, the two other stewards, the KHRC and the state veterinarian are attempting to explain this away by saying they didn’t know about her condition because the communication with ESPN was not part of racetrack protocol.

Equally ludicrous is the explanation of veterinarian Dr. Larry Bramlage that Life At Ten was simply not acting well before the race, creating a gray area that made it difficult for the state veterinarian to make a diagnosis sufficient for recommending a scratch. Bramlage represents the American Association of Equine Practitioners on many national horse racing telecasts explaining to viewers the implications and complications of equine injuries that may occur while on the air and is a prominent equine surgeon in Kentucky.

A former race track and current equine veterinarian told The Brock Talk that Life At Ten was in distress galloping out of the post parade and was cramping to point of causing apparent lameness. Anybody who has had cramps whether from athletic exertion, late night ziti or anything in between knows effortless running is often not an option. That condition changed little before Life At Ten got to the starting gate and should have been recognized by Dr. Bryce as lameness with no need to diagnose the cause as tying up.

To add insult to this situation is the possible prohibition of pre-race, on-track interviews of jockeys by television. Telling the Courier-Journal that “From the time a horse leaves the paddock until the time he starts, nobody (other than officials) should have communication with that jockey one way or the other,” Veitch also said that jockeys should not be distracted. Not only is that insulting the intelligence of jockeys, but archaic in a sports media world where NASCAR drivers and NFL football players wear live microphones into and throughout live competition.

It also tells me that Veitch and the stewards received information from ESPN that they could not process properly and their solution is to stop the information. In the future, if they don’t know about potential problems in a horse race, they can’t be held accountable. It seems unlikely however, that this solution will have any benefit to the horse, the horse player or the fan.

Until the Churchill Downs stewards and the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission figure that much out, they are far from correcting the embarrassment that was Life At Ten in the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic.


LetItRideMike said...

As someone whose best plays come from being able to spot horses who arent warming up well and betting against them, I would like to point out that no horseplayer who took the time to watch the horses was harmed, they actually had a great advantage by being able to throw out a 7/2 shot with confidence. And if they had access to the ESPN sound, it was a huge advantage. Anypne who bet on Life At Ten couldnt be bothered to learn the craft of horseplaying includes watching the horses and what to look for. As such, they dont deserve to be treated as wounded. The way it worked out, all sharp players were given a big edge, imo. No complainta from this corner, Brock. And if you start scratching all horses on the basis of bad warmups, ypu are going to see handle drop and have alot of upset owners who brought all their friends out to see their horse run, only to have him scratched when nothing is wrong with him in the vast majority of cases.

darlaflack said...

I disagree with you Mike! The majority of bettors are Not experienced in assessing whether a horse is in distress or not. They deserve to be protected by the racing establishment (stewards, vets, jockey's, trainers).That was a very legitimate "scratch" scenario. The fact that the jockey voiced an opinion of concern on National TV should have been taken seriously by the vet and stewards. The fact that he then did not voice any concern to said vet is imo shameful. I had a horse scratched once because it ran off with the jockey for about 1/4 mile. lol, was that good for the public, maybe, maybe not. Another occassion, had a filly burst through the gate, she was Not scratched??? There are fine lines sometimes of course, but in this case it should have been a no brainer.

Unknown said...

Some good points Mike no doubt. But a horse player like me in Texas, has only one way to play the BC and watch from home... bet at the track and then go home and watch the races. No way to cancel or change bets based on last second info.

The casual or beginner bettors were perhaps the most harmed by letting LAT run. Or imagine the hundreds of college football bettors who may have stumbled across the BC while waiting for the Rutgers - So. Florida game to come up. They see Hank Goldberg tout her and they decide to make a wager on their sport bet account. Not much of a chance to get those guys to wager on horse racing again.

Finally, I don't think Life at Ten was a typical horse just not warming up well. It was obvious to equine vets that I spoke with that she was tying up pretty bad. Her muscle tone and shoulder lameness was the key to that diagnosis they said they were confident in (even on TV for one vet.)

But you are very correct regarding the vast majority of horses just "not warming up" properly. You can't scratch most of them.

LANCE6466 said...

When the reader said that any bettor that didn't take the time to watch closely before the race and throw out Life at Ten. That the player should not be given any consideration. That the bettor gain's a fair edge if he is smart enough to pay close attention. Well although that is true there is another side of the coin. The track's survive today largely because of off track betting and or simulcast being held at track's across the country and Canada, and even Europe. Therefore the bettors that are using this type of betting are at an un-fair disadvantage because of the limited coverage that they get! It is extremely important that they be re-assured that everyone involved will pay close attention as to the condition of the horses before they are put in the gate. And if there is even the slightest problem that would effect the horse from being able to run a good race that that Horse will be taken out of said race. We need to know that there exist a level playing field! It is of the greatest importance that the public know that every effort will be made to assure an even chance for their bet to be possible. The public's interest should come second right after the safety of the Horse and rider,the public interest if not looked after will cause the public to not be involved, and would be just another nail in the lid of the coffin and the Death of this great sport. The industry is in trouble as it is and anything we can do to assure the public that everything is on the up. This would be a huge step in the right direction.

darlaflack said...

Well Said Lance!