(Originally published in the November 27, 2010 issue of The
Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and
the bottom of the column.)
By Eric Mitchell - @EJMitchellKy on Twitter
David Vance, racing manager for Candy DeBartolo, is looking for the answer to two questions:
1. Should DeBartolo’s 5-year-old graded stakes winner Life At Ten have been scratched at the gate prior to the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic (gr. I) at Churchill Downs Nov. 5, and
2. Should the mare have been tested after the race?
Right now, neither Vance nor DeBartolo is getting the answers as quickly as each would like or has expected.
“I don’t understand why it is two weeks out and there is still no resolution,” said Vance from his home base in Oklahoma. “It allows for more speculation. From our vantage point, I would like to see an acknowledgement.”
The circumstances surrounding Life At Ten, the 7-2 second choice in the Ladies’ Classic, became a blemish on the 2010 Breeders’ Cup when jockey John Velazquez told ESPN commentators Jerry Bailey and Randy Moss about five minutes before the race that the mare did not feel right and was not warming up as she should. In post-race interviews, trainer Todd Pletcher acknowledged that Life At Ten did not seem right but told Velazquez to ride her out to the track to see if she woke up more. Clearly, she wasn’t right.
Vance, who was in the saddling paddock prior to the race, admits at the time, he didn’t suspect Life At Ten was not well. He thought she looked docile but attributed the calm to an experienced 5-year-old ready for the race. When the mare got out onto the track, Vance said the vets should have had a much different impression. When Vance reviewed the replays later, he noticed while Life At Ten was warming up around the five-eighths pole that the mare stumbled, staggered, and almost lost her balance. At that point, the fate of Life At Ten was in the hands of the state stewards and the 11 veterinarians stationed around the racetrack and at the gate.
With minutes to go before post time, what exactly happened and didn’t happen is fuzzy and part of an ongoing Kentucky Horse Racing Commission investigation. We know a television producer contacted the stewards and told them Velazquez’ on-air comments. It is unclear whether Velazquez ever talked to a vet. Still, 11 veterinarians and the stewards did not see anything amiss.
Now, a horse does not have to be lame or injured to be scratched out of a race. According to Kentucky’s senior and chief steward John Veitch, if a vet detects anything that makes him or her uncomfortable about a horse that he or she feels could compromise the horse’s ability to run, a scratch can be recommended to the stewards.
“We always follow the state vet’s decision,” Veitch said.
Life At Ten did not break well out of the gate, did not run well, and should not have raced at all.
Vance’s second question leads to major mistake No. 2. Life At Ten was not tested after the race because the testing barn was full.
“When we have something like Derby or Oaks day, the card is spread out a bit more,” Veitch said. “We didn’t have that luxury during Breeders’ Cup, with the races run closer together. We could not take her to the barn from a safety standpoint for the animals and human beings; it was very crowded. We just didn’t have that luxury.”
It should not be a luxury to test horses that are not behaving properly in a race. The 2010 Championships is not the first Breeders’ Cup ever held at Churchill Downs, and it will be held there again in 2011. If there was any question about the testing barn having enough space, couldn’t this have been addressed prior to the Championships? There is no question the protocols need to be followed to ensure the integrity of the samples being taken, but in this case it seems a fourth-place horse that had not given a urine sample yet should have been removed to make room for Life At Ten.
Vance said he’s confident, if tested, that the results would not have turned up anything. But the procedure still should have been followed.
“We have had vets look at her,” he said. “She was legitimately sick. But having been on the other side of the desk in racing, I know perception is reality. She should have been tested,” said Vance.
Veitch said the ongoing investigation will be thorough but could not give an estimate of when results might be presented to the racing commission or how they might be presented.
Let’s hope the investigation leads to real changes and that the only result is not a ban on jockeys from giving pre-race interviews on national TV.