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TrackNotes: Triple Crown Tomato

Writing about big horses with little riders running in a counterclockwise circle seems awfully disproportionate these days.

But horse racing too cannot escape being a reflection of the society in which it exists. I suppose the old cliche of something being a sum of its parts might be true.

On the other hand, it's amazing how few parts, and one in particular, can wield the most power over the sport. First, barring an out-and-out boycott of any sport, the fans are most definitely not part of the parts. Fans, and people in general, exist only to be exploited by the fewer and fewer lords who have bought, stolen and fashioned their power purely for their own malignant aims. Racing is no different.

And let's not forget that horse racing, real racing and betting, has been running to some degree, all along. As one of the only available sports, and wagering opportunity.

The evolution of the 2020 Triple Crown series has the DNA of its host venues and their political atmospheres written all over it. Supremely consistent, the naked greed of Churchill Downs Inc., in its truly dispassionate corporate efficiency, set, of course, the tone. (Stay tuned for the damage CDI is inflicting upon the citizens of Illinois.) Which is also to say Belmont Park and Pimlico Race Course did much better.

As we know, Churchill Downs jumped the gun and arbitrarily announced in mid-March that its 146th Kentucky Derby will be run September 5, Labor Day weekend. It consulted no one, let alone the New York Racing Association, which operates all New York tracks, or Pimlico.

Keep in mind that we are talking about the Commonwealth of Kentucky, in which CDI has and uses considerable power, and that CDI cares less and less about racing than about casino gambling. My theory is that CDI is counting on a malleable political atmosphere in Kentucky to ignore the coronavirus and pack as many people as it can into Churchill Downs during Derby week.

If you need proof:

"We are confident we will run the Kentucky Derby and run it with a crowd," [CDI CEO William Carstanjen] said. "The Kentucky Derby is a participatory event; its energy and its magic really comes from everybody being there to enjoy it. We will roll with the punches but we feel very good that Sept. 5 is the right date."

This comes from a company that some years ago demanded a $50 NON-REFUNDABLE fee for the right to APPLY for Derby tickets. When you look at the policies and procedures Churchill has imposed upon people who already have tickets this year, most of them likely purchased before the pandemic was a thing, it smells punitive. There's gouging to be done here, dammit, by both the track and the greater Louisville "hospitality" industry.

From the announcement of the reschedule on March 17, CDI posted an online refund form operational for barely a month, until April 24. From what I could find, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear suggested people stay home, but he didn't issue a specific order. If you bought the ticket through a third party, and how many tickets does Churchill sell to these outfits to create a buffer against liability, they say it so many times, seems like you'll be out of luck. The first FAQ invokes the fine print like a hammer to the head.

Churchill has been running its Spring meet since May 16, only about two weeks later than its normal opening. Churchill doesn't give a damn about the Triple Crown. It figures the Derby stands alone.

I agree, because the spectacle is a pixel in the rearview mirror when the real summer racing begins. If a horse wins the Crown, it's the Belmont you remember.

But the stampede has been tainted recently. Justify in 2018 failed a drug test out of the Santa Anita Derby, benefited from a conspiracy stretching from California to Kentucky and won the three races. Notice how I didn't say Triple Crown. I don't consider him legitimate. In 2019, Maximum Security was the first race DQ in history (Dancer's Image was DQ'd in 1968 for what was probably a phony doping charge after his owner gave a $62,000 purse to Coretta Scott King; I said, this is Kentucky), a proper decision.

Still skeptical? Consider CDI's MO vis a vis Arlington Park, which is not only still closed, but has no prospect of opening soon.

Once again, CDI has issued another heavy handed ultimatum to the Illinois Racing Board that it won't open without the prospect of fans in attendance. CDI wants to squeeze the Arlington tomato tightly, especially the money for purses.

When an Illinois track is running its meet, it becomes the "host track" in Illinois. Which means it receives the fees paid for the rights to simulcast Illinois racing. That comes only when Off-Track Betting facilities are open, and right now, they aren't. When Hawthorne runs, it becomes the host. Arlington depends highly on tickets, parking, concessions, high Million Club ticket prices, etc. With the OTBs closed, Arlington is crying poor.

CDI's obstinacy and behavior is telling in other areas. Arlington has not reached a racing agreement with the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, which it was required to do last Dec. 31. ITHA says CDI wants to take $4.5 million in recapture money (money taken out of purses by the tracks to sustain an arbitrary revenue level) and send it to CDI headquarters in Kentucky. It doesn't sound like a lot of money, but it could make the difference between Arlington running or not.

Also, for all the years Arlington has blubbered for slots and/or casino gaming, now that Illinois has approved expansion, including gifting Arlington, Hawthorne and Fairmount casino licenses, CDI let the deadline come and go for application for an Arlington casino. But that was complicated by CDI's purchase of majority interest in Rivers Casino in Des Plaines, mere miles from Arlington Park.

The operative idea is that CDI does not want to have two casinos so close to each other (proximity of the Elgin casino is also problematic). But I believe CDI has no intention of continuing racing at Arlington. When its prospect for a track casino was established, CDI threw another hissy fit saying it didn't want to direct any casino revenues to racing purses. I also believe CDI is waiting for chairman Dick Duchossois, who sure as shootin' sold out to the Satanic CDI corporation, to go to the big paddock in the sky so they can tear it down and build either cheap townhouses or an Amazon warehouse there.

My hope is that somehow somebody like the Stronach Group, which owns several tracks including Santa Anita and Gulfstream, might step in and buy it. Also, that the village of Arlington Heights puts a stranglehold on zoning so that the track must remain what it is, unless they've already bent over forward and shot loopholes into the zoning already. It doesn't seem likely CDI would want to sell to anyone who might put a casino there.

Churchill started running without fans May 16. It could have easily run the Kentucky Derby on, say, this weekend, June 6, without fans. While the formula of Derby+two weeks+three weeks=Triple Crown may not have been possible, at least there would have been some semblance of races for three-year-olds. I would think Pimlico could adjust, and Belmont opened this week.

You can imagine the bad thoughts I'm having about how things might go on Derby Day, keeping the safety of horses and jockeys uppermost, but I hope nobody shows up and they get seven entries. I can dream. But don't worry, the hype will be the same. Whatever, 2020 will not have a Triple Crown as far as I'm concerned, even if somebody wins all three.

As I said, Belmont and Pimlico did much better with one exception. New York State and Maryland have been much more cautious with the coronavirus.

Pimlico announced in mid-May that the Preakness Stakes will be held Saturday, October 3. The Maryland Jockey Club is mum on what kind of attendance will be allowed, but the rowdy InfieldFest, which accounts for a bulk of the day's revenues, has been cancelled.

As for the race, it comes one month before the Breeders' Cup. It would be foolish to speculate on what kind of race the Preakness will be, or what it will mean.

The New York Racing Association, once it finally got the approval to open Belmont sans fans, announced the Belmont Stakes will be run June 20. Belmont will have a shortened meet, which translates into stakes races every day.

One BIG quibble I have with Belmont is that it shortened the race from 12 furlongs (1 1/2 miles) to nine furlongs (only 1 1/8 miles). I guess the idea is to give the young horses a break, and I'm not an expert. But I'd much rather see see it run at 10 furlongs, the classic 1 1/4 miles. Nevertheless, the Belmont Stakes should be a very good race and might even weed out horses that don't belong on that level, a cold compress for Derby Fever.

Frickin' Fraggin'
There's been a lot of woo-hooing these past weeks about how many new, real fans horse racing might attract. After all, with nearly no sports betting opportunities, racing was the only game in town and what a good one it's been thanks in large part to Oaklawn Park.

I believe horse racing's fragmentation all these years will keep it from making the big leap to the mainstream. If you've seen any commercials for racing during programming other than racing, let me know.

Handle is up measurably, but that makes sense.

TVG and Churchill just emerged from a slap fest when Churchill announced Fox Sports will carry its races. They both said they negotiated in good faith, but I ain't buying it, not that it matters. Does anybody really think CDI and its TwinSpires platform is going to award the TV to a rival betting platform like TVG?

Fox has better coverage with more knowledgeable analysts, including Maggie Wolfendale, jockey Richard Migliore and Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens. TVG's people are insufferable.

Although I've been watching it for the slightly better races, I haven't brought myself to bet on Churchill. If you've come this far, you know why.

Churchill will be shown on TVG2, which only streams on services I've never heard of.

I also wonder how many people are going to invest the time and brain power I feel it takes to know racing. Past performances and tendencies are everything, there's a lot of data, you have to pay attention all the time.

Another huge beef, one that's getting worse, is horses getting to the gate well past post time. It's always been a huge problem at Gulfstream, but now its everywhere, sometimes to the point where horses and riders step into the post parade with only a few minutes to post. One result of that is races going off at the same time.

When I bet, I call up video tabs of the two tracks I'm playing. I hate switching TV channels to see a race, because the between-race analysis on Fox is not to be missed.

See? Fragmentation.

Baffert Caught
Racing might be sensitive to what people, PETA and civilians alike think about drugging horses. But that doesn't mean the game stops using every available medication.

And it doesn't help that Bob (Don Roberto) Baffert got caught administering the anesthetic lidocaine to two horses on Arkansas Derby Day.

One of them was Charlatan, winner of one of the divisions of the Arkansas Derby! The other one, Gamine, won at Oaklawn the same day.

Baffert was more upset than anything that word of the violation got out. I can't see how he could be upset over a probable five-day suspension and/or $500 fine. If it's me, I also make him take his castor oil every day of the suspension.

I think he'll find things different in Arkansas, where Oaklawn's Cella family takes the game seriously. Not anything like the California Horse Racing Board, who conspired, including a board member who owns Baffert trainees, to hide Justify's positive test so he could run in the Derby.

With his Nadal retired with a broken leg, Charlatan is vaulted into top contention for the Derby, or any races he runs before then. Don't worry about the Silver Godfather, he'll take what he wants.

Flash horse Arrogate is dead.

A necropsy will be performed after he fell, couldn't get up, and was euthanized. They're speculating perhaps something neurological.

He retired in 2017 the richest horse in racing history, with earnings of $17,422,600.

His ultimate moment came In the 2016 Travers when he bombed the field by nearly 14 lengths in 1:59 and one, a track and race record for 10 furlongs, 1-1/4 miles.

He beat California Chrome in that year's Breeders' Cup Classic and then won the big money Pegasus Stakes and Dubai World Cup in early 2017. He was an empty fourth in the San Diego Handicap and a close second in the Pacific Classic. He finished fifth in his final race, the 2017 Breeders' Cup Classic.


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

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