Lasix-free racing: Gulfstream's experiment with carding races where Lasix isn't allowed got off to a rousing start this past weekend. In order to entice owners and trainers to try running without the drug, Gulfstream bumped up the purse for two maiden races for 2-year-olds, one for fillies, one for males, to $65,000. The races were so popular that they had to be split. Twenty-three horses entered the race for fillies and 18 entered the race for colts. Lo and behold, the horses ran without Lasix and the world didn't come to an end. The races were formful and everyone made it around the track just fine. The normal purse for a 2-year-old maiden special weight race this time of year at Gulfstream is $48,000.
Honest trainers railing against the cheaters: The people hurt the worst by dishonest trainers are those who play by the rules and, therefore, often compete at a disadvantage. Yet, the clean outfits rarely have anything to say about the dirty ones. It's the sport's version of omerta. Finally, someone stood up and said they're not going to stand for this nonsense anymore.
The United States Trotting Association convened an industry summit last week to gather leaders of the sport to discuss the game's many problems. When discussing why so many owners have left the game, trainer Mark Ford said it was because honest guys were tired of losing to cheaters. When it comes to this thorny issue, it was a rare display of honestly from a horseman.
"People don't want to get into this business because of what is going on," Ford said. "This is an issue that must be addressed. Over the last five, 10 years, I've seen things change drastically and it's not fun for me. If someone gets thrown out of one place they just show up at another track. We all see what is happening and we all know what is happening and it's driving more and more people from this business. People who used to buy yearlings and race horses just don't want to do it anymore. I've spent more than $1 million buying race horses and I know I don't want to do it anymore. I see this stuff go on every night and I am sick and tired of it."
Ford called the cheaters "savages" in regard to what they were willing to do to a horse to make it win.
Tracks focusing on quality of race dates over quantity of race dates: Parx is a racing factory. Thanks to the slot machine proceeds it gets it offers great purses, but grinds away day after day, nearly 52 weeks a year. Racing at Parx, with the exception of Pennsylvania Derby Day, has always been as humdrum as it gets.
But that's going to change later this year. Parx Racing and the local horsemen's group have agreed to create a $20 million racing festival that will run from Aug. 29 through Oct. 20. During that period, purses will be doubled and the end result will no doubt be better racing, larger field sizes and a much better gambling product. In order to fund the Festival, the horsemen agreed to reduce the number of annual live racing dates to 153.
It would be nice to see Parx take June, July and most of August off, which would provide a much needed shot in the arm to Monmouth Park in New Jersey. But one step at a time.
Owners donating to horse rescue causes: Richard and Karen Papiese have enjoyed much success with their Midwest Thoroughbreds racing operation. So they're giving something back. Quietly, the Papiese family has stepped up in a big way to look after its retired horses and those of others. They care for many of their owned retired horses at a ranch in Florida and have been generous contributors to many charities that look after the sport's retirees. Back in April, when it came to Midwest's attention that two horses it had once owned were in a kill pen in Louisiana and on their way to slaughter they stepped in and rescued the pair. Well done.
Races out of American Pharoah: Sure, we would all like to see American Pharoah back at 4, but we know it's not going to happen and no one can be faulted for cashing in on his tremendous value as a stallion. But there's no reason why he shouldn't run as much as possible between now and the Breeders' Cup. The owners have a jewel and they owe it to the sport to showcase him as much as possible. We know he is going to run in the Haskell, but then what? There's no reason why he shouldn't have two races after the Haskell and before the Breeders' Cup, and not just one. The Travers, Pennsylvania Derby and Jockey Club Gold Cup should all be under consideration.