Haskin’s Belmont Report: Barn Burner

What do Bobby Frankel, Max Hirsch, and John Sabini, chairman of the New York State Racing and Wagering Board, have in common?

They have all used Barn 2 on the Belmont backstretch to leave an indelible mark on Thoroughbred racing. The first two gave racing countless thrills. The third gave it a black eye.

Yes, we know the implementation of a “stakes” barn for the Belmont Stakes horses is supposed to “protect the integrity of the sport.” But spin is one thing and reality is another. It’s amazing that Sabini can say that with a straight face when the entire world knows why they decided to use a stakes barn this particular year.

As Dullahan’s trainer Dale Romans, said, “They think we’re all crooks.” He’s right. That is the only way this move is going to be perceived. Those unknowing poor souls at Churchill Downs and Pimlico allowed the horses to race out of their own barn. Shame on them. The New York politicians are going to show them how to do it correctly.

So, the SRWB wants to protect the integrity of the sport, but only for the Belmont Stakes. The heck with the sport’s integrity in all the other races. They don’t care what happens in those races. And, of course, should I’ll Have Another lose the Belmont, the main reaction will be, “See, there, the barn worked. We prevented I’ll Have Another from being tampered with.”

That thinking reminds us of a story actor/comedian George Gobel used to tell of his service in the Army during World War II, when he was stationed in Oklahoma. Gobel noted what a good job he had done in service to his country, because “not a single Jap got past Tulsa.”

Yep, that stakes barn worked just fine. Not a single doped up horse got by the Barn 2 Brigade.

So, of course, it was reported on Wednesday that I’ll Have Another had been restless in the new barn, sniffing and kicking, and is taking a while to settle in. Fortunately, he eventually did settle in fine and was his usual spirited self on the racetrack Thursday morning, turning in one of his better gallop/breezes.

There has been so much insanity in that barn already, it has become a slapstick comedy; but no one is laughing it’s so ridiculous. It’s as ridiculous as, oh, let’s say, NYRA preventing I’ll Have Another from using nasal strips or the California Horse Racing Board suspending O’Neill two weeks before the Belmont, even though they concluded there was no wrongdoing, no milkshaking, and no ill intent. But that part got buried in the report.

The whole barn scenario has already become a nightmare and is totally out of hand. It started when they wouldn’t allow Doug O’Neill and Michael Matz to cook their oats. O’Neill was told, “We know what you guys put in oats?” O’Neill, who has put up with more intense scrutiny, negative press, and condemnation from an ignorant national media than anyone should have to endure, finally threatened to take drastic actions and get out of Dodge, stating that I’ll Have Another needs his oats cooked.

Union Rags requires silicone-free needles to draw blood, because he is very sensitive on his neck, so Matz brought several silicone-free needles with him and informed the proper authorities in advance. But he still was given a hard time by the attending vet, who insisted on using regular needles and told him he’d have to clear it with the stewards. It took another vet to step in and help calm the situation.

When Bob Baffert’s assistant, Jimmy Barnes, walked in the barn with a bucket of ice, the bucket was searched thoroughly, with a security person sloshing through the ice with his hands. Heaven knows what he was searching for at the bottom of an ice bucket.

Once again, the integrity of racing was upheld.

And, with the majority of Belmont horses going out at 8:30, when only Belmont Stakes horses are allowed on the track, you had 10 or 11 horses having to be washed down at the same time. Have we used the word insanity before?

Dale Romans, who did compliment NYRA for making the best of a bad situation and fixing up the barn with such short notice, decided to take Dullahan out at 7:15 to avoid the 8:45 wash jam.

If I’ll Have Another should lose the Belmont, how many uninformed people, believing everything they read, will be convinced it was because he was put in a security, oops, stakes, barn? 
Yep, that barn sure worked. Racing has been saved from the forces of evil.

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