The Circus Comes to Town - By Evan Hammonds

(Originally published in the June 9, 2012 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at the bottom of the column.)

By Evan Hammonds - @BlackCat30 on Twitter

By Evan Hammonds It’s doubtful any horse in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) will stumble as badly from the gate as the New York State Racing and Wagering Board did the week before the June 9 “Test of the Champion.”

In a knee-jerk reaction to “ensure the safety of horses and riders and to ensure that the integrity of the sport is upheld,” the NYSRWB hastily cobbled together a new set of protocols that border on the ridiculous, including the use of a “stakes” barn where Belmont starters will have to be housed beginning June 6, three days before J. Paul Reddam’s I’ll Have Another makes his bid for the Triple Crown.

The circus has come to town.

Upon arrival at the stakes barn, all Belmont starters will be required to have an out-of-competition blood test that will be immediately reviewed. Personnel access to the stakes barn will be limited, and checks of equipment, feed, and hay may be administrated.

Security will be bolstered by additional security, and investigators from the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau will be on site. Veterinarians will need to make appointments with investigators, who will monitor any and all treatments.

Like a parade of clowns pouring out of the teeny car at the circus, will all these additional layers of “security” streaming in and out of the barn have a detrimental effect on the horses?

Special “stakes” barns aren’t required at Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), at Pimlico for the Preakness Stakes (gr. I), or during the Breeders’ Cup at its various locations. We don’t believe the integrity of those events has been breached.

In their haste to one-up the security in the Big Apple, New York regulators are disrupting the stars of the game—a horse gunning to become the first winner of the Triple Crown in 34 years and his potential spoilers. Horses thrive on routine and to disrupt them from that routine is not fair to the horses, their connections, nor the betting public.

Trainer Dale Romans, who will send out Dullahan, the Kentucky Derby third-place finisher, ripped the NYSRWB to the Associated Press.

“The biggest problem we have in our game is the disconnect between the regulators of the game and the reality of what goes on on the backside.”

By going over the top in a dog-and-pony show for the runners in the Belmont, what the NYSRWB is actually telling us is that they believe their day-to-day operations are inadequate.

Does this mean the New York Racing Association is unable to “protect horses, riders, and the betting public” from runners in the other two grade I races run that day? How about the other five stakes races run during the weekend? Will the betting public be protected from evildoers and evildoing in the other 12 races run at Belmont Park June 9? How about racing at Aqueduct or at Saratoga?

A mandatory detention barn for all race-day starters in New York was put in place in May 2005 and lasted until July 2010 when NYRA said it would enhance its in-house drug testing program by using “state-of-the-art science, technology, and procedural processes” and would also deploy “an even stronger backstretch presence of NYRA veterinarians and security officers.”

As of June 6 the new in-house program is apparently not good enough. Will it be good enough on June 10, the day after the Belmont Stakes?

Remembering Mick

With sadness we learned of the passing of photographer Michael J. Marten on Memorial Day, all too soon at 54. We first met “Mick” in lower Manhattan in the summer of 1989 when he came to the offices of FIGS Form (later the Racing Times) with a stack of prints wanting to know if we would publish any of them. We did, and over the next 20 years so did The Blood-Horse, Daily Racing Form, and a host of other racing publications.

To say Mick was intense might be an understatement. He had a deep competitive streak and a fiery temper, but a talented eye that earned him a pair of Eclipse Awards for photography. His images will live on as historical markers for our sport for generations.

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