TrackNotes: Dastardly Derby Drama

No complaints here.

Even as the usual suspects reveal their (im)moral fiber again, TrackNotes was able to play the full Florida Derby card Saturday. It was so much fun, we forgot it was Gulfstream Park.

I'm not sure about watching Cubs World Series games, considering they did next to nothing to reward their wallet-opening fans by trying to sustain. I might do a search for Hawks Cup games, that would be nice.

But, in diminishing amounts, Thoroughbred horse racing is running real live, betting races. Racing is my only real sports time investment, I don't really watch any other. Not rubbing it in, just sayin'.

I know it's a cliche, but times like these open the curtain on who or what people really are. Regarding medical protocols, I'm not an expert, but I can still ask questions.

Tracks are closed.

When a backside worker at Belmont Park tested positive, the New York Racing Association closed Aqueduct. They're so close together, when either one is running, training and boarding goes on at the other.

Keeneland canceled its prestigious Spring meet, costing us the Blue Grass Stakes.

Santa Anita was shut down by the Los Angeles County Health Department just minutes before the first post Thursday. Curiously, Golden Gate Park in the Bay Area was open Saturday. I couldn't find out how or why.

The Dubai World Cup card, which was to be run Saturday, was also canceled. The United Arab Emirates, hard by Iran, would have been inviting a petri dish of international drop-ins. Good move.

Locally, Hawthorne Race Course suspended its current harness meet. As per tradition, Arlington Park is scheduled to open May 1, Kentucky Derby weekend. It has not announced the big yes or no.

Throwing in, trainer Bob Baffert, who has at least three of what would have been Derby contenders, has been consistent in his comments about the effects of the virus.

"I'm not really thinking about the Derby. We have to get over this virus first," Baffert said Saturday. He sounded sincere, and glad Churchill Downs relieved him of the concern.

On a people level, Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano tested positive for COVID-19 and is in isolation at his mother's home in Florida. His home is in New York.

But, Byron King, don't you read your own copy? Early on, he quotes Castellano's agent saying that the rider is asymptomatic. Later, he quotes Gulfstream's press release saying "Javier's symptoms were recognized" in a routine entry gate check. Which is it? Quote his agent; quote the release; don't ask questions. No curiosity? Judge Acker says, "Somebody here is lying."

We'll get to the monolith of evil, but first, Gulfstream.

It seems the track was absolutely defying the law and just kept running. While already deemed a non-essential business, the City of Hallandale Beach apparently did not have the guts to enforce a county directive. Browbeaten by Stronach muscle?

Owners The Stronach Group took the spirit of the directive to their own benefit. Yes, people are required to care for the horses, and the horses most definitely need exercise. Gulfstream took it so far as to interpret that as the kind of exercise horses need comes in RACES.

The current Gulfstream meet ends Sunday. The interminable summer dates start April 3. If you have any questions, remember, it's Florida. As Steve Dahl sidekick Dag Juhlin sings, "It's the dangling wang of the United States."

Now we get to Churchill Downs Inc. Don't get on my case. CDI does not, and never will, give a goddamn about horse racing.

All high and mighty, it announced that it was moving the Kentucky Derby to September 5, the first Saturday in September. It was a contemptible exercise in selfishness and cynicism.

But what else from a company, created by horse racing, that says it doesn't give a shit about horse racing and would rather drain money from the masses through its casino business?

Wait, there's more. CDI didn't tell anybody!! By all reports, it didn't consult with Pimlico, proprietors of the Preakness, or NYRA and Belmont, home of the Belmont Stakes. The September date is one week after the scheduled Travers Stakes, a much better race than the Derby.

Dripping with greed and cynicism, CDI CEO William Carstanjen - you remember him, the head of an ostensible horse racing company who's afraid of horses - fell back on "the fan experience."

"We believe that moving our iconic event to Labor Day weekend this year will enable our country to have time to contain the spread of coronavirus," Carstanjen said. "This will also provide our guests more time to reschedule their travel and hotel arrangements so they can attend."

Guests. Wallets is more like it. "Its energy and its magic really comes from everybody participating and being there to enjoy it," Carstanjen said. What that really means is that CDI wants to profit from up to 100,000 people being gouged by them and the greater Louisville business and hospitality community. Only those with self-denial fail to see through the sanctimonious biblical-level greed.

The rescheduling has major ramifications for not only the other two legs of the Triple Crown, but the Haskell trail, the Jim Dandy/Travers trail, Belmont's super October weekend and, of course, the Breeders' Cup.

CDI says it will "add races" as Derby preps for eligibility to the Derby. Does anybody honestly think there won't be heavy-handed skulduggery involved?

Both Pimlico and Belmont are playing it close to the vest, analyzing their "options."

I hope upon hope that they both, God willing, run their races as close to their normal dates as possible. EFF Churchill Downs! And don't believe the crap: the Preakness is older than the Derby.

Churchill could have, except for their morally depraved corporate ethics, consulted with the other two legs and said, let's push it back, run it in order; see what we can do. "Mind if I smoke?" "Churchill Downs, I don't care if you burn."

Personally, I'm happy they're not running in May. Every year, I feel dirty and swear to myself, I'm never going to bet the Derby or the card and put money into those bastards' coffers. This year, they're doing it for me.

Besides, there's another take.

Trainer Tom Amoss, conditioner of Serengeti Empress, winner of the recent Azeri Stakes at Oaklawn and the 2019 Kentucky Oaks, explained the moving of the Derby from a horse training sense.

"All of these preparation races are designed to be far enough away from the Kentucky Derby to give the horses a rest before they run their next race, which is the first Saturday in May." Amoss said. "With the postponement of the Kentucky Derby 'til September, there's no race, there's a void there. And those horses are looking to be their best (on that day)."

Citing Oaklawn Park's "cleverness" in rescheduling the Arkansas Derby to May 3, Amoss said "without being sacrilegious in horse terms, the Arkansas Derby is going to be the Kentucky Derby for 2020."

Amoss used the excellent example of 2016's Arrogate. He was still a maiden on the eve of that year's Derby and did not appear there. He then won a maiden special weight and two optional claimers before exploding in the Grade I Travers Stakes that August, dominating by 13 lengths with a 122 Beyer Speed Figure. In a time of 1:59.36, he broke the Travers and track records. He then won the Breeders' Cup Classic with a 120 and the Pegasus Stakes in January 2017 (119) before going on to victory in the Dubai World Cup. In three more races, all at Del Mar, a track jockey Mike Smith said he didn't like, he never won again.

The point is that he might not have won his Derby, but he matured and was one of the fastest horses in recent years. Those Beyers are otherworldly today. He would have won a September Derby that year.

Oaklawn President Louis Cella said the purse for the Arkansas Derby will be reduced from $1 million to $750,000. But if things go well at all, I wouldn't be surprised to see him offer something to horse owners to form what would have been the Kentucky field. It's the way he thinks. And don't think he hasn't been talking, when CDI won't, to Preakness and Belmont officials.

Serling Zone
Both NBC Sports and FoxSports1 are televising extended Saturday afternoon horse racing. They each have the rights, and it's live sports. TVG also pitches in. Many of the reporters are at home, but Fox's Greg Wolf and Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens were in the studio, watching on TV like us.

It's abundantly clear that Stevens and NYRA's house handicapper Andy Serling have a rivalry that might just lead to fisticuffs if they are ever in the same room, or at the same track. Serling was especially pugnacious Saturday, correcting Stevens on the Gulfstream layout and completely trashing horses Stevens was interested in. Serling may have gotten the better of the day. But Stevens is a Hall of Famer and is trying to keep his temper in check. One time recently, he said to Serling, "Let me know when you get into a Hall of Fame."

Two things: I want to see more of that from Stevens; and Serling probably will make some kind of hall. You know, hang around long enough.

One drawback was seeing only the mug of the jockey in the postrace interview while Acacia Courtney was required to keep her off-camera social distance, thereby stifling her on-camera time. These are the sacrifices we must make.

Tiz the Law won the Florida Derby on Saturday in a most professional manner. He's out of Sackatoga Stables, the folks behind our beloved Funny Cide, the gelding who won the first two gems but was beaten at Belmont. It was great to see the red diamonds-on-silver silks of Sackatoga.

Funny Cide, a modest New York-bred, captured the hearts of thousands if not millions, but also mine. Sackatoga had so many owners of the 'Cide, they'd charter yellow school buses to get to the races.

Upfront guy Jack Knowlton was interviewed Saturday. "I'm only three miles from the track, but I can't go to see Tiz the Law run. I think we would have had about 70 people there today," he said.

I hit a 9-1 winner and an 80-1 Placed to make my day and make me profitable. It was probably the last big stakes day for as far ahead as we can see. But they're still racing, in some places. I'm grateful.

Horse racing is what I like.


Tom Chambers is our man on the rail. He welcomes your comments.

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