by Jon White
March 25, 2020
As a California resident, I have been one of the 39 million or so in the Golden State mandated to stay at home due to the coronavirus pandemic in an order issued last Thursday by Gov. Gavin Newsom.
As this health crisis wreaks more and more havoc on our lives, it’s becoming harder and harder to find a way -- any way -- to take our minds off it. It’s especially true when so many have essentially been ordered by the state’s governor to become something of a prisoner in their own home.
For many of us “self-quarantinees” (how’s that for a made-up word?), it would be wonderful to have sports as a much-needed distraction. But pretty much all sports have been canceled or postponed except for horse racing.
Even the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo, which had been scheduled to be held from July 24 to Aug. 9, have been postponed until 2021. It’s the first time in modern Olympic history that a global health issue has disrupted the Games during peacetime. The Games had been canceled in 1916, 1940 and 1944 due to world wars.
Horse racing is just about the only sport being shown live on television these days. That means horse racing has been a much-appreciated diversion for many of us. Being able to watch and wager on horse racing enables a lot of people to take their mind off the pandemic by trying to solve various equine puzzles and maybe, just maybe, even make some money (hopefully via an Xpressbet or 1st.com/bet account).
Horse racing has been able to continue at a number of tracks under strict protocols and procedures, such as operating with no spectators and only a bare minimum of essential personnel on hand.
But even though horse racing has been able to keep going at some tracks, the sport has been hit hard by the coronavirus crisis. A large number of tracks in this country -- indeed, a great many tracks throughout the world -- have canceled or postponed racing due to the pandemic.
The biggest news in this regard was last week’s announcement that the date of this year’s Kentucky Derby, America’s most famous horse race, was being changed from May 2 to Sept. 5. Also in Kentucky, Keeneland’s spring meeting, which had been scheduled to commence on April 2, has been called off.
The $12 million Dubai World Cup was supposed to be held this Saturday. It was supposed to highlight a nine-race card offering a gaudy $35 million in purses. But it was announced last Sunday that the Dubai World Cup and the other eight races scheduled for that date will not be run this year.
As recently as Tuesday, yet another track, Charles Town, announced that it “will be indefinitely suspending its live racing programs until further notice.”
The Tuesday announcement by Charles Town came on the heels of West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice’s Monday press conference in which he issued a statewide “stay at home” order that has the impact of shutting down non-essential businesses as of 8 p.m. Tuesday.
On Wednesday, the New York Racing Association officially suspended live racing at Aqueduct through at least April 5. As a result, the Grade II Wood Memorial for 3-year-olds, previously slated for April 4 at the Big A, has been postponed to a date yet to be determined.
Also on Wednesday, racing at Turfway Park was suspended, effective immediately, in accordance with Kentucky Gov. Andy Beashears’s order that all non-life-sustaining businesses in the state should be closed by Thursday at 8 p.m.
As the number of tracks to conduct racing in this country has dwindled, it was touch and go last week as to whether Santa Anita Park would be racing last Friday, Saturday and Sunday. After the stay-at-home order issued by California’s governor on Thursday, Santa Anita’s status was up in the air all the way up until near post time for last Friday’s first race.
“Horse racing in California will continue at tracks in the midst of the state’s stay-at-home order because of the coronavirus outbreak after consulting with officials of the California Horse Racing Board,” John Cherwa wrote in Saturday’s Los Angeles Times. “Santa Anita was given the go-ahead less than an hour before Friday’s first post at 1 p.m.”
Santa Anita announced Friday via Twitter that “all profits from racing will go to a charity chosen by Governor Newsom and his team to assist during these difficult times.”
With authorities not ordering Santa Anita to pull the plug, the track was able to go on with racing as scheduled last Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Saturday’s nine-race card was highlighted by a pair of graded grass stakes, the Grade III San Simeon for sprinters and Grade III San Luis Rey for long-distance runners
Making his first start since winning Del Mar’s Grade I Bing Crosby Stakes on the dirt at Del Mar last July 27, Cistron took the 5 1/2-furlong San Simeon by a head at 4-1. Hall of Famer Victor Espinoza rode the 6-year-old Kentucky-bred son of The Factor for trainer John Sadler. The Factor holds Santa Anita’s track record of 1:06.98 for six furlongs on the dirt.
Bound for Nowhere, who had not raced since last Oct. 25, lost a close decision in the San Simeon when he finished second as the 1-2 favorite. Keeping in mind that he broke sluggishly and got squeezed in the initial strides, Bound for Nowhere actually ran a big race in defeat.
Ward 'n Jerry, trained by Mike Puype and coming off a second in the Unusual Heat Turf Classic on Jan. 18, won the 1 1/2-mile San Luis Rey by 1 1/4 lengths at odds of 9-5. It was his first graded stakes victory. Flavian Prat rode the California-bred gelded son of Lucky Pulpit and Tamarack Bay.
Lucky Pulpit is best known as the sire of two-time Horse of the Year California Chrome.
A daughter of 1993 Eclipse Award-winning 2-year-old male Dehere, Tamarack Bay won only three times in her 29-race career. But she did finish second or third in three stakes races on the dirt at Emerald Downs in 2003 and ran second in the Claire Marine Stakes on the turf at Arlington Park in 2004.
Tamarack Bay has been an outstanding broodmare. In addition to Ward ’n Jerry, who became a graded stakes winner last Saturday at the age of 7, Tamarack Bay has produced Grade I winner Tamarando, multiple stakes winner Luckarack and stakes winner U’narack.
Holy Bull Stakes winner Tiz the Law and Fountain of Youth Stakes victor Ete Indien head a field of 13, including an also eligible, entered in Gulfstream Park’s Grade I Florida Derby, a 1 1/8-mile affair that will be contested this Saturday.
Tiz the Law currently ranks No. 6 on my Kentucky Derby Top 10. Ete Indien is No. 7.
Here is my current Top 10 for the Sept. 5 Kentucky Derby:
3. Honor A.P.
6. Tiz the Law
7. Ete Indien
8. Sole Volante
9. Thousand Words
10. King Guillermo
Should either Tiz the Law or Ete Indien win the Florida Derby, they almost certainly will move up on my Kentucky Derby rankings next week.
Tiz the Law did rank No. 1 for a number of weeks earlier this year. The New York-bred Constitution colt held the top spot from Feb. 5 to March 4.
Trained by Barclay Tagg, Tiz the Law goes into the Florida Derby off a three-length victory in Gulfstream’s Grade III Holy Bull Stakes on Feb. 1.
Ete Indien won Grade II Fountain of Youth Stakes by 8 1/2 lengths when last seen under silks on Feb. 29 at Gulftream. Patrick Biancone conditions Ete Indien, a Kentucky-bred Summer Front colt.
Two other Florida Derby contenders are Independence Hall, winner of the Jerome Stakes early this year on Jan. 1, and Gouverneur Morris, a two-time winner in three career starts.
Independence Hall and Gouverneur Morris, like Tiz the Law, are sons of Constitution.
Tiz the Law has been installed as the 6-5 favorite on Jay Stone’s Florida Derby morning line. Ete Indien is the 4-1 second choice. Independence Hall is 9-2. Gouverneur Morris is 8-1. Everyone else in the race is 12-1 or higher.
CELEBRATING SECRETARIAT’S BIRTHDAY
It was 50 years ago this coming Monday (March 30, 1970) that Secretariat was born at 12:10 a.m. at the Meadow Stud in Virginia.
Secretariat ranks No. 2 on my list of the Top 100 Racehorses of the 20th and 21st Centuries to have raced in North America. Man o’War is No. 1.
After Man o’ War and Secretariat, my Top 10 consists of No. 3 Citation, No. 4 Kelso, No. 5 Spectacular Bid, No. 6 Native Dancer, No. 7 Dr. Fager, No. 8 Seattle Slew, No. 9 Count Fleet, No. 10 Affirmed.
By the time Secretariat came along, many were convinced that there would never be another Triple Crown winner. It had been 25 years since Citation had swept the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes.
Numerous theories were advanced as to why there had been no Triple Crown winner since Citation.
“The foal crops are so much larger now than when Citation was racing,” became a common explanation as to why there had been a long Triple Crown drought.
Another popular theory was Thoroughbreds no longer were stout enough to win the demanding Triple Crown consisting of three races at three different tracks within a five-week window (the 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May, then the 1 3/16-mile Preakness on the third Saturday in May, then the 1 1/2-mile Belmont three weeks after the Preakness).
Between Citation and Secretariat, the following seven horses were unable to complete a Triple Crown sweep after winning the Kentucky Derby and Preakness:
1958 Tim Tam (finished 2nd in Belmont)
1961 Carry Back (7th in Belmont)
1964 Northern Dancer (3rd in Belmont)
1966 Kauai King (4th in Belmont)
1968 Forward Pass (2nd in Belmont)
1969 Majestic Prince (2nd in Belmont)
1971 Canonero II (4th in Belmont)
As for Secretariat in 1973, many were of the opinion that “no son of Bold Ruler could win the Kentucky Derby,” let alone the Triple Crown. If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone say “no Bold Ruler can win the Derby,” I would have accumulated a whole lot of cash.
Despite the 25-year Triple Crown drought and doubts about Secretariat possessing the stamina to win the Kentucky Derby at its distance, I made the following prediction in my high school newspaper, the Lewis & Clark Journal, on March 22, 1973:
“Going out on a limb and living dangerous, I dare say 1973 will be a historic year as Secretariat will become the first Triple Crown winner since the great Citation in 1948,” I wrote.
I am as proud of that prediction as any other I have ever made in print or on the air.
Secretariat did indeed become a Triple Crown winner. And he did so spectacularly in that he not only succeeded in all three races, he won each of them in radically different fashion. He rallied from last in the Kentucky Derby. He made an electrifying move to the front on the clubhouse turn in the Preakness. He was a pace factor from the outset in the Belmont.
In the Kentucky Derby, Secretariat ran each quarter of a mile faster than the preceding one. He completed 1 1/4 miles in 1:59 2/5 to break the track record of 2:00 established by Northern Dancer in 1964.
In the Preakness, Secretariat was last early, then made a jaw-dropping charge to the front on the clubhouse turn. I have never seen a horse move with such a rush so early in a major race and still win.
How great was Secretariat? He died in 1989, yet he was able to break the stakes record for the Preakness in 2012. As far as I know, he is the only horse to break a stakes record 23 years after he died.
Secretariat’s original time for the Preakness was posted as 1:55. But there had been a timer malfunction.
Daily Racing Form’s highly respected clocker, Gene “Frenchy” Schwartz, and another Racing Form clocker, Frank Robinson, told the DRF’s executive columnist, Joe Hirsch, that they had both timed Secretariat in 1:53 2/5, which would have broken Canonero II’s track record of 1:54.
In the Secretariat book “Big Red of Meadow Stable,” originally published shortly after Secretariat’s retirement in 1973, William Nack wrote of the final time for the 1973 Preakness: “The discrepancy would never be resolved, though the proof would be overwhelming in favor of the faster clocking. Pimlico officials, conceding that the electric timer had malfunctioned, would later accept the time belatedly reported to them by the track’s official timer, E.T. McClean, who claimed he had timed Secretariat in 1:54 2/5. Later still, behind the impetus of handicapper Steve Davidowitz, the Maryland Racing Commission held a hearing on the matter and listened to testimony presented by CBS-TV, among others, that Secretariat had beaten Canonero’s track record…But despite the time reported by two veteran Racing Form clockers, and despite the evidence presented by CBS-TV, the racing commission would finally decide to keep McClean’s time as official.”
The DRF took the unusual step to note for the record its disagreement with McClean’s 1:54 2/5 clocking in the official 1973 Preakness chart. In the DRF’s Preakness chart, under the official race time of 1:54, it states: “Daily Racing Form Time 1:53 2/5 New Track Record.”
Canonero II’s time of 1:54 in 1971 stood as the Preakness record until Gate Dancer’s 1:53 3/5 clocking in 1984. And then in 1985, Tank’s Prospect posted a record Preakness time of 1:53 2/5, a clocking matched by Louis Quatorze in 1996 and Curlin in 2007.
Tank’s Prospect, Louis Quatorze and Curlin shared the record for the fastest Preakness in history until the outcome of a special hearing held by the Maryland Racing Commission on June 19, 2012, at the request of Secretariat’s owner, Penny Chenery, and Tom Chuckas, who at the time was president of Pimlico.
I was among those who had been critical of the Maryland Racing Commission for its original decision to accept McClean’s 1:54 2/5 clocking for Secretariat instead of the DRF’s 1:53 2/5. But the truth is the commissioners could not accept the DRF’s 1:53 2/5 Preakness clocking because their hands were tied by the state rules as they were in 1973.
“State rules dictated that only the time from the official time keeper [McClean] could be used as a backup,” the Baltimore Sun’s Chris Korman wrote in his coverage of the 2012 Maryland Racing Commission to address the official final time of the 1973 Preakness.
When the Maryland Racing Commission in 2012 dealt with the final time of the 1973 Preakness, the state rules had been changed to allow for a time adjustment if compelling evidence could be presented.
For more than two hours at the 2012 hearing, commissioners heard testimony, backed by modern technology, to prove Secretariat’s Preakness time actually was faster than 1:54 2/5.
“Chenery’s spokesman, Leonard Lusky, slowly built his case by calling on a former CBS director and video experts from Kentucky and Colorado to testify that the tape of the 1973 race had not been doctored and indeed reflected real time,” Korman wrote. “Digital technology allowed them to break down film frame-by-frame and create a comparison to other Preakness races.
“When Lusky finally showed three videos on the screen at once, stacked, the only immediately discernible difference was the quality of the film. The top block showed Louis Quatorze’s win in 1997, the middle showed Tank’s Prospect’s 1985 victory and the bottom Secretariat’s run. Though the productions used slightly different camera angles, the races clearly unfurled in unison.
“At the end, Secretariat hit the finish line at least a length and a half ahead of the other two -- even though Louis Quatorze and Tank’s Prospect had started the day sharing the race record of 1:53 2/5.”
The evidence was so compelling that, according to Korman, commissioners deliberated for only 10 minutes before announcing the vote had been 7-0 to change Secretariat’s official Preakness time to 1:53, a stakes record.
Korman reported that when the Maryland Racing Commission’s decision to change Secretariat’s time to a Preakness record 1:53 was announced, Chenery, 90 at the time, let out a cheer.
“People don’t like to be told something that, by implication, they got wrong,” Chenery was quoted as saying in Korman’s story. “So we had to be pretty delicate in presenting this. I just had to hope that they would listen to the evidence and not think about the precedent of overturning history. But we see it all the time in sports now. It’s accepted, with replays. It’s completely consistent with the way sports are conducted now, that we use all the analytical tools possible.”
Davidowitz, who died in 2019, zealously railed against the injustice concerning Secretariat’s time for the Preakness from 1973 to the Maryland Racing Commission’s hearing in 2012 regarding Secretariat’s final time in the Preakness. After the 2012 hearing, Davidowitz expressed his delight that Secretariat at long last was given credit for having run the fastest Preakness in history.
While I too was extremely pleased that Secretariat finally got his Preakness record, I also am grateful that E.T. McClean originally goofed in terms of Secretariat’s Preakness time. Why? Because McClean’s blunder played a significant role in Secretariat winning the Belmont by 31 lengths, or as the great Daily Racing Form writer Charles Hatton put it, “31 hysterical lengths.”
Even though Secretariat was far in front during the stretch run of the 1973 Belmont, jockey Ron Turcotte kept pumping his arms all the way to the finish. That’s because Secretariat and Turcotte were not just running against Sham and the other Belmont starters, they were running against the clock after believing (correctly, as it turned out) the colt had been robbed of a track record at Pimlico.
Years ago, I asked Turcotte about the Preakness and Secretariat’s time.
“Well, I think I feel the same as everybody, that he broke the record,” Turcotte said. “He deserved the record. There’s so much proof. There’s overwhelming proof that he broke the record. But they never gave it to him. Mind you, the Racing Form chart says it’s a record.”
I then asked Turcotte if it was in his mind at the Belmont that Secretariat had been denied a track record in the Preakness. Turcotte admitted that he did have that in mind during the final furlong of the Belmont. He said he did not want to take any chances of Secretariat being “robbed” of another track record.
“I did knuckle down on him a little bit the last 70 yards,” Turcotte said. “But I never did use my stick or tap him or anything. He just did it all on his own.”
I asked Turcotte if, at any time during the final furlong of the Belmont, he was looking at the timer in the infield.
“Oh, I was,” he said. “I was definitely looking at the timer. I was looking at the teletimer because I was not racing against any horse. All I was racing against was the clock at that point.”
Secretariat’s 2:24 Belmont clocking obliterated Gallant Man’s track record set in 1957 by 2 3/5 seconds. Secretariat’s 2:24 remains the fastest 1 1/2 miles ever run by a horse on dirt.
And so, if McClean had not messed up Secretariat’s time in the 1973 Preakness, Secretariat probably would have won the Belmont by a considerably smaller margin than 31 lengths in what many consider the greatest performance ever seen by a Thoroughbred in the history of American racing.
Here it is, 47 years later, and still no horse has ever won the Kentucky Derby, Preakness or Belmont in faster time than Secretariat.
In yet another of Secretariat’s tremendous performances, he won the 1973 edition of the 1 1/8-mile Marlboro Cup when defeating a stellar group of older foes at Belmont Park on Sept. 15. How strong was that field? The seven starters had won a total of 63 stakes races going into the Marlboro Cup.
Secretariat won the Marlboro Cup by 3 1/2 lengths in 1:45 2/5. That shaved four-fifths of a second off the world record. Finishing second was Secretariat’s stablemate, Riva Ridge, who the year before had won the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes.
Winning the Marlboro Cup with such authority against such a quality cast of older rivals while breaking a world record did a lot for Secretariat’s standing among the all-time greats.
It further enhanced Secretariat’s lifetime resume that he also trounced his elders twice on the grass in 1973. He won Belmont’s Man o’War Stakes by five lengths on Oct. 8. And then, in his memorable farewell on the racing stage, he captured the Canadian International on a raw Oct. 28 afternoon at Woodbine by 6 1/2 lengths with “steam puffing from his nostrils,” as Nack put it.
Secretariat was retired to stud at Claiborne Farm in Kentucky after the Canadian International. He was voted 1973 Horse of the Year after having been voted that same coveted title as a 2-year-old in 1972.
What would Secretariat have done as a 4-year-old? We will never know, of course, but the mind boggles at the possibilities.
But while many have a sense of regret that we did not get the opportunity to see Secretariat race at 4, what he did accomplish at 2 and 3 showed everyone that he truly was a fantastic racehorse.
WELLS BAYOU TAKES LOUISIANA DERBY
Successfully employing catch-me-if-you-can tactics, Wells Bayou won last Saturday’s Grade II Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots. Sent off as the 3-1 favorite, he defeated 13 opponents.
It’s to Wells Bayou’s credit that he was able to stay in front all the way down the long Fair Grounds stretch when being asked to race 1 3/16 miles. He completed his trip in 1:56.47.
Trained by Brad Cox and ridden beautifully by Florent Geroux, Wells Bayou was credited with a 91 Beyer Speed Figure for his triumph last Saturday. That figure was down from his career-best 96 Beyer when he ran second to Silver Prospector in the Grade III Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park on Feb. 17.
The Louisiana Derby was Wells Bayou’s first stakes victory. The Kentucky-bred Lookin At Lucky colt now has won three of five career starts.
While I thought Wells Bayou ran a fine race last Saturday, it was not quite good enough for me to add him to my Kentucky Derby Top 10 this week. But I will not be surprised if he makes more noise en route to this year’s Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in September.
NTRA TOP THOROUGHBRED POLL
Below is the Top 10 for this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 383 Midnight Bisou (32)
2. 307 Mucho Gusto
3. 271 Zulu Alpha
4. 169 Mr Freeze
5. 126 Maximum Security (7)
6. 106 Combatant
6. 106 Serengeti Empress
8. 90 Code of Honor
10. 53 McKinzie
10. 53 Starship Jubilee
Below is the Top 10 for this week’s NTRA Top Three-Year-Old Poll:
1. 344 Authentic (12)
2. 342 Tiz the Law (18)
3. 322 Nadal (4)
4. 212 Ete Indien (1)
5. 199 Charlatan
6. 158 Honor A.P.
7. 121 Wells Bayou
8. 114 Sole Volante
9. 60 Gouverneur Morris
10. 55 Independence Hall