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TrackNotes: Listen To Big Hank

I can't wait for the year-end/decade-end lists to, well, end.

Next month, we'll be seeing, like clockwork, the Hot Toddy list, and the hard sell disguised as warm, compassionate advice. Mary Schmich was in the bullpen tipping her pitches in November, so it's a lock she'll have that slurve dropping off the table by January's Polar Vortex.

Then there's the refugees from warm weather whining about how the Chicago winter hit them like 12 rounds with Sugar Ray. You know: "I hate the winters here, but Chicago is such a World Class City."

It's cute and a guy feels chivalrous if it comes from a SoCal Little Surfer Girl metamorphosed into a Chicago Snow Bunny. But put this guy headfirst in a snow drift for how he's milking this load o' crapola. Talk about churning, this mook came to Chicago in the Eugene Sawyer administration! Forget the snowbank, UNDER THE BREAKWATER ICE!

Sure, in the days of our lives, things are cyclical and circular, but why are the hacks at The Daily Planet so lazy and repetitive? We've got stories, Chief. Hear about Hank the Horse? Stay tuned.

The 2019 season is basically over, albeit with a few Grade IIs and IIIs this Saturday at Gulfstream for the year's underachievers. And we hope to see Omaha Beach in the Malibu Stakes the day after Christmas.

Just one more thing and I'm done with this lackluster year. After Saturday's impressive win in Aqueduct's Cigar Mile (Grade I, 8 furlongs, $750,000), Maximum Security, a horse I'll never like, seems the likely winner of the Three-Year-Old Eclipse Award.

Devoid of a true two-year-old campaign - one race five days before Christmas 2018 - and therefore green in most of his races this year, he was rightly and historically DQ'd from the Kentucky Derby for bouncing around like Otis Campbell, nearly causing a catastrophic pileup. His connections pouted, skipped the Preakness and Belmont, and sadistically ran him in the record Hades of the Haskell at Monmouth, causing him to miss the Travers and, I believe, getting him sick (near-death colic) enough to also miss the Breeders' Cup.

In the ovalness of Thoroughbred horse racing, sure, the Spring stories will read the same in the 16 weeks to the May Day kickoff of Derby/Oaks weekend. But there is, by design, a whole new cast of stars to dance with, us players looking for nuance as we ponder preps and contemplate the classic 10 furlongs.

We can't afford to reminisce. Heed legendary John Mayall. "No, there's no more Room to Move, that's all way in the past. What did you come here? To hear an old record or something'?"

It's moving fast. Hell, quicker than the tortured Bears Supe and Trubisky MVP charitable wagering benefiting Las Vegas, the Kentucky Derby Future Wager Pool I has already come and gone.

But seriously folks, and that's no Catskills segue, the American horse racing industry is looking at its mortality, as long and slow a death as it could and would probably be. Horse deaths are a scourge, in a day and age when social movements are as easy to start as a pot of boiling water.

A group of racing organizations, mainly track owners/operators plus the Breeders' Cup organization, formed what they call the Thoroughbred Safety Coalition. We cannot get overly optimistic, but the things it and others are discussing are a start. I question the ability of good to win over evil these days, but at the least, it appears racing, especially in California, might have had the bejeezus scared out of it.

What the Coalition says it wants to do touches on all the important problems the industry faces. At this stage, we can't expect racing to wean itself off of horse drugs immediately, but it is talking about horses entering races cleaner. It's a start.

Yes, it appears racing people are sounding the alarm, I hope they wear out the fancy scan machine they just installed at Santa Anita, and because racing surfaces probably need to be idiot-proof, we're glad they're also talking about that.

The Coalition stumbled in not including The Jockey Club, the industry's breeding overseer, or The Jockey Guild, representing riders. Get that done by this time next year.

Sickeningly, the State of Kentucky itself, and Churchill Downs Inc. must be included in the equation, is fighting Lasix reform. The crutch is that Lasix is humane because it helps keep horses from bleeding in the lungs. But many say it's a performance enhancer. They talked about shortened careers if horses "turned out to be bad bleeders." Then solve the problem. Breed it out of them? P.S. Has anything good come out of Kentucky in our memories?

As racing comes spinning out of the 2019 turn into 2020, there's no damn time to look back, except to learn from history. History as recent as November, when Mongolian Groom grotesquely went down in what is really America's biggest race.

There are more important things than a list of the greatest Derby ladies' hats.

Apples And Honey
Call it whatever you want. Colorful. Skulduggery. The edge. But it never really stops.

* Steve Asmussen, the Hall of Fame trainer of Curlin and Rachel Alexandra fame, is walking in road apples again. Honestly, TrackNotes has no capacity to become a chemist.

* Here's a doozy. Linda Rice, most known for training titles at Saratoga, Belmont and Aqueduct, has been accused by the New York Racing Association of paying NYRA officials "substantial sums of money" to gain access to pre-race entry information. They allege she used the information to analyze potential and probable entries to determine whether she should enter one of her horses.

NYRA says it happened between 2011 and 2015. I'm surprised they didn't just let it go as "in the past." They have a particular problem with Rice? Mention was also made of the Swiss-cheese security at NYRA, IT and otherwise. I remember back then when that scandal hit and it became obvious that regulatory body NYRA had escaped all oversight, becoming a hotbed of patronage and pension gold-plating.

Hank The Horse
It's Christmas, and these horses, they find us. We learn again how great they really are, given the chance.

Hank the Horse, a huge 17-hand Tennessee Walker, abandoned and left for worse, was rescued by Tammi Regan and is now a big earner for the Salvation Army as the top equine bell-ringer in the land. Horses love to have something to do, and Hank seems to love ringing the bell. He looks the ham and such a nice galoot. All he wanted was a chance.

Ms. Regan can and does explain everything quite well. And in that inimitable way only horses have, listen. Big Hank talks to you too.


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

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