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TrackNotes: Just Say No

Occupied by other activities, I was fairly relieved to learn midday Friday that I'll Have Another had been scratched from Saturday's Belmont Stakes and his attempt to become the first Triple Crown winner in 34 years.

I wouldn't have been, and wasn't, able to watch the race live. I knew the odds would take a beating with a lot more bettors getting on Union Rags and Paynter and I wouldn't be around to keep up with the tote board.

And my thoughts from a week ago haven't changed. So I was glad to be spared the angst of processing this Triple Crown winner. He of the slimy owner and cheating trainer.

It was an exciting, glacial race. Union Rags, as I figured he would, used an efficient rail ride and steamrolled past Paynter in the final 50 yards for the victory. His finishing time of 2:30:42 puts him with Drosselmeyer in 2010 and Ruler on Ice in 2011 for running three of the five slowest times in the Belmont since Secretariat's 2:24 in 1973. 2:24?! 2:24.

In that Belmont, the 31-lengths-behind place horse Twice A Prince finished in 2:28.2. So if Union Rags had been behind Secretariat, he likely still would have been on the turn as Big Red crossed the finish line. Yes, 2012's Belmont was slow.

From a horseplayer perspective, scratching I'll Have Another was good. They scratched instead of trying to run him at well less than 100 percent and taint the wagering. And they avoided a possible breakdown.

For owner J. Paul Reddam, the long rehabilitation, with no guarantees of full recovery, would have cost him next year's breeding season income.

If the racing industry is paying attention, it will use all of the negative publicity the game generated last week over horse drugs as an incentive to begin the process of getting rid of medications over the next three to five years.

NBC's coverage of the Belmont didn't help much, although they did bring up the drug issue with trainer Doug O'Neill. Bob Costas and O'Neill basically repeated verbatim an interview they did earlier in the week. It was like a honed killer hunk they polished on open mic night last Wednesday. Costas, like most, is horrible on the concept of the follow-up question.

Be as cynical or pessimistic as you'd like, but at least someone is talking about getting rid of raceday medication.

The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (significant because it's not, say, Iowa's or, god forbid, Illinois') has called for an end to the use of furosemide, commonly known as Lasix or Salix. The drug helps to minimize the amount of respiratory bleeding a horse can do in a race. Other racing jurisdictions around the world do not use it - or any other raceday medications.

But the typical opposition by feet-in-the-manure status quo-niks has already risen.

Commission member and Breeders' Cup board chairman Tom "Little Conflict of Interest There?" Ludt said (third in video sidebar) he abstained from the vote because he's looking to see a few other state commissions get with the idea.

"Is this the right time to lead?" said Ludt. Well, Tom, leadership has to start somewhere and you are frickin' Kentucky. You know, "My Old Kentucky Home" and all that.

Kevin Flanery, president of Churchill Downs, failed to see the leadership Kentucky and his company might take.

"Kentucky's at a competitive disadvantage to other states with regard to racing," he said. "Obviously, we don't have purses that are enhanced by casino wagering. We're seeing a foal crop that is diminishing across the country, so the competition for horses is increasing. Putting us on an island, putting us at a competitive disadvantage to recruit horses to come to Kentucky, is not something that makes sense at this time."

How about this: As an owner of race tracks in four states with wagering and media relationships with many other tracks in other states, how 'bout you say that if Lasix becomes illegal in Kentucky, you will spread the policy to your tracks and those of your partners?

That's leadership. But I'm just a broken-down horseplayer.

The Kentucky General Assembly will have to approve the new regulations, so lobbying will become a real evil.

But there's something to remember here. Thoroughbred horse racing has a unique opportunity to clean up its sport very quickly. The Kentucky Derby horses for 2014 are being foaled now. If you eliminate the drugs with this generation, within five years, the entire sport can be clean if done on an industry-wide basis.

Wanna come to the Kentucky Derby? Clean it up.


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

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