Flash back to last week, when I previewed the Haskell Stakes at Monmouth Park.
I wrote that I would not bet on it, “because jockeys have been disarmed by the New Jersey rule that bans them from using their crops unless it is for safety reasons. That is too wild a card to bank on.”
Little did I know. Let Saturday’s lightning rod of a race be the launch pad for someone who is not quite a billionaire to lift off.
Sorting fact from fiction in the Haskell. The video of Midnight Bourbon’s spill and Paco López’s fall are seared into the memory of any horseplayer who was paying even half a mind to the Haskell. Horse and rider are fine now, but social media lit up with debate over the rule that prevents jockeys from using their crops except “when necessary to control the horse to avoid injury to the horse or rider.” With Flavien Prat riding, Hot Rod Charlie finished first but was disqualified for veering inward and causing the accident. “Yes, the lack of a crop came into play,” Prat told the Blood-Horse. “If I could have hit him one time left-handed, we would have been just fine.” Critics with 20-20 hindsight claim Prat would have been justified to use the crop under the “avoid injury” clause, but they are missing the bigger point. The new rule has left jockeys to question the very instincts that have made them expert horsemen. In the split-second it takes to think twice about using the crop, an accident happens. That is the curse of the rule that was approved by a group of bureaucrats who would not know a racehorse from a plow horse. By the way, how is it the promoted winner, Mandaloun, was not held responsible for drifting out from the rail?
Speaking of the Haskell ... Jockeys’ Guild CEO Terry Meyocks discusses last weekend’s Monmouth mess and the New Jersey crop rule on the new episode of the Ron Flatter Racing Pod, as close as a click of the underscored text.
CCA Oaks: More letters than horses. Seven letters. Four horses. Just when it looked like the summer would be full of big fields at Saratoga, the second Grade 1 race of the meet has fewer than a handful of names. Maybe Todd Pletcher’s undefeated Kentucky Oaks winner Malathaat scared everyone off from Saturday’s 1⅛-mile race for 3-year-old fillies. OK, so did an equine herpesvirus positive. Two of Kenny McPeek’s candidates were eliminated from consideration because they were in the same barn as last week’s veterinary red flag. The underachieving Clarière comes back from a troubled third in the Mother Goose to start in this race. So do maiden winners Maracujá and Rockpaperscissors, who look like space fillers. Consider Malathaat to be the free square in Saturday’s multi-race wagers.
A little Love for the Breeders’ Cup. Will Irish training star Aidan O’Brien send Love to the Breeders’ Cup Turf? He may not offer any spoken clues about that very soon. But bettors might get a hint about whether she deserves a spot at Del Mar in November after watching Saturday’s Group 1 King George Stakes at Ascot, England. Her three-quarter-length victory against the boys in the Prince of Wales’s was a highlight last month at Royal Ascot. This weekend Love (5-2) is favored to get her fifth consecutive victory. She has to stretch to 1½ miles, but that distance was just fine for her last summer, when she won the Epsom Oaks by nine lengths and the Yorkshire Oaks by five. Godolphin counters with Adayar (4-1), who won the 1½-mile Epsom Derby last month. Being 3, he catches a six-pound weight break. Another 3-year-old, Lone Eagle (6-1), comes back four weeks after a thrilling second to Hurricane Run in the Irish Derby. Mishriff (8-1) proved himself on the dirt by winning the Saudi Derby and on the turf with his score in the Dubai Sheema Classic, but this 4-year-old colt lost his mojo finishing third just three weeks ago in the Eclipse Stakes. Trained by John and Thady Gosden, Mishriff is better second off the bench, so it says here he is more than just a value play to win this race. Then who knows? The Gosdens are big supporters of the Breeders’ Cup, and this race is a fees-paid qualifier for the Turf, so maybe this is not a Love story. (Apologies to the late Erich Segal.) Even though rain is in the Ascot forecast Saturday, the turf course is expected to be good to firm for the King George at 10:35 a.m. EDT.
One Hall of Famer deserves another. Steve Asmussen is on pace to break the North American record for training wins in a matter of days. He headed into Thursday needing 13 to break the record of 9,445 held by the late Dale Baird. Asmussen is in the Hall of Fame. Baird is not. And that is wrong. The biggest difference between them is where they piled up their winner’s circle photos. Asmussen has done it on the biggest stages with an interstate staff and a multimillion-dollar clients. Baird did it with his family at Mountaineer in West Virginia buying his own entry-level horses, a story that rang loud and clear in the research for my feature at Horse Racing Nation. One of the beauties of this sport is that there is race for every horse. Not good enough to win a $1 million Grade 1? How about dropping in with $5,000 claimers? Bettors know that a 20-1 shot pays just as much for a maiden win as it does in the Breeders’ Cup. So why is the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame too high and mighty to accept the accomplishments of Baird? He epitomizes the everyday horseman who grinds out a living at little tracks all over the country. They are the backbone of the sport. There were whispers when he was alive that a lot of Baird’s rejects ended up in slaughterhouses. If one were to pull that thread, though, there is no telling how much of the Hall of Fame would unravel. Dale Baird came from a big, blue-collar, racing family that makes Mountaineer go. If the Bairds were gone, it could be argued that West Virginia racing would go away with them, and that would create a whole different uncertainty for the equine lives that it supports. Asmussen also comes from a big, blue-collar, racing family. He just took another path to his success. It means that a Hall of Fame without both Asmussen and Baird is one thing. Incomplete.
In addition to this weekly article, Ron Flatter’s racing column is available every Friday at VSiN.com with more frequent postings during big events. The Ron Flatter Racing Pod is also available every Friday morning at VSiN.com/podcasts. This week’s episode features a reunion of the 2014 TV series “Horseplayers” with Matt Bernier, Michael Beychok, Lee Davis, Christian Hellmers, Peter Rotondo Jr., Peter Rotondo Sr. and producer Andrew Yex. Also, Jockeys’ Guild CEO Terry Meyocks discusses the crop controversy in last Saturday’s Haskell Stakes, and DraftKings Sportsbook’s Johnny Avello handicaps weekend races, including the Coaching Club American Oaks at Saratoga. The Ron Flatter Racing Pod is available for free subscription at iHeart, Apple, Google, Spotify and Stitcher. It is sponsored by 1/ST BET.