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.


Leave a Comment:


Here is how unreal it is. After interviewing Doug O'Neill this morning, I was making my way to another barn when I realized I was being followed. As it turns out, the stocky guy in the trench coat had seen me interview Doug and needed to record my name, press badge number, organization and time of interview. After providing said information, I went to two other barns where Belmont starters are located, neither of which had any security, much less someone recording every move.

05 Jun 2012 12:28 PM

Yep, can you say "hypocrites?" The other part that irks me is how all of a sudden, nasal strips aren't allowed either. I'm amazed they're not banning tongue ties and nosebands (IHA's "winsalot"), they've lost their minds.

05 Jun 2012 12:45 PM
an ole railbird

this hypocrisy brings to mind the opening of parimutel in texas in the 80s ,after years &years of no paramutel. the opposition to racing was allowed to write the rules for security. there were security people coming out of the wood work. you couldnt do your job for being questioned by security personal. the cost of security in brady ,texas ,population less than 15000. was higher than cost of security @ los alamitos in california. needless to say ,it was not cost affective& the meet folded.

05 Jun 2012 3:46 PM

Muckraker, that is insane!!

05 Jun 2012 5:25 PM
Mac Macus

once again a governing body has concluded that it is much more important to "appear" to be doing something significant than to actually be "doing" something significant.

06 Jun 2012 1:34 AM

Muckraker,are they a bunch of guys in trench coats following any one that speakes to Rick Duntrow as well??? or is it just Doug O'Neill.

06 Jun 2012 5:08 AM
Linda Waltman

This is certainly a sad state of affairs for what could possibly be the first Triple Crown winner in 34 years.  Next I'm sure they will start on Lava Man.  A retired racehorse may not pony a runner in a race.  Absolutely ridculous.  It is a shame that we have to enter such an important event in this matter.  I hope I'll Have Another beats everyone and comes out a true champion.  Best of luck.

06 Jun 2012 1:23 PM
Windy City

Let me put in this way: Big Brown's Belmont was less embarrassing to the general public that decision on "stakes" barn. What's next? Are they going to ban saddles or bridles? After all, it's "equipment", and can break....Pathetic and sad, sad because racing industry is trying to commit suicide in the middle of crowded place....Sad

06 Jun 2012 7:30 PM

I disagree with all of you, you bunch of pansy-assed whiners. Good for New York for raising standards and doing what is necessary to keep the sport clean. God know after FOUR time (caught!) cheater Doug ONeil has disgraced our sport, we need to clean house. I agree with Penny Chenery. D.O. is an embarrassment. And so are all you baby whiners. Probably a bunch of low life gambling addicts. You certainly don't care about what's in the best interests of the horse (which means no milkshaking or any other illegal substance ONeil gives to his horse) nor do you care about what's in the best interests of the sport (which means to get it CLEANED UP in the view of the TV fans)Your complaining is juvenile and moronic. I'm cheering for ABDO....Anybody But Doug Oneil.

07 Jun 2012 12:50 AM

Not so sure this is a bad thing. If we look back at the 2005 Breeders Cup, at Belmont, when something may have happened to cause an unusual thing to happen. I cannot say for sure that something was purposely done or something very ignorant, but two horses that went to Belmont, known to be healthy and both among the favorites in their races, both ran poorly, and returned to their homes only to develop cancer and die. One was a filly from Canada, I can't remember the name, but the other was Lost in the Fog, the overwhelming favorite in The Sprint. What is unusual about this whole thing is that it is very rare for a young horse to develop cancer at all. However, both these young horses did, which begs the question, why? Were they exposed to something in their stables that was a dangerous carcinogen? Vets that examined Lost in the Fog, found numerous tumors, including a football sized one on his spleen, which might suggest something was carried there in his blood, in my opinion and I'm no vet. But it makes me wonder, did someone want to make these horses perform poorly so as to give them an illegal betting edge? With large sums of money at stake one can only wonder, and of course we are talking New York here, not exactly the state of little known organized crime. So lets just hope that whatever they are doing is being done to protect the horses and not the opposite, to make it easier to endanger them. I'm just saying...

07 Jun 2012 1:49 AM

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