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The trainer, the narcs and other things

By Ron Flatter  (VSiN.com) 

Todd_Pletcher_4_NYRA_Susie_Raisher
Shown during the summer at Saratoga, Todd Pletcher got off to a slow start this month trying to defend his 16th training title at Gulfstream Park. (Susie Raisher/NYRA photo)

Las Vegas

“To think I planted three nice items in the columns about you today. You can’t buy that kind of publicity.” – Lisa Fremont (Grace Kelly), “Rear Window,” 1954.

“I’ll go to the gift shop and get a copy of Time magazine. There’s supposed to be a blurb about Jerry. I think he mentioned my name.” – George Costanza (Jason Alexander), “Seinfeld,” 1992.

Consider those quotes a preview of the coming attractions. A dilletante’s path into a column about nothing. At least nothing in particular. Not with all these items and blurbs.

It is early. It is really early. But in a year beginning with “2,” has Todd Pletcher had a quieter start to a Gulfstream Park winter meet? He has won 16 of the last 17 training titles, but through Thursday he had only two wins from 12 starters. That is not awful, but what may be more glaring is that he is 1-for-3 with favorites. Only three favorites so far for Pletcher? Seven racing days are way too soon to be drawing firm conclusions, but it bears watching to see if he is still getting the high-quality horses that were literally the vehicles to his seven Eclipse Awards.

“Are they going to be funded, and who is going to do the funding?” Those were questions Michael Beychok had about the proposed drug enforcers in the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act that is still grinding its way through Congress. Beychok’s words carry weight because (1) he won the 2012 National Horseplayers Championship and (2) he is an influential Democratic political advisor based in Louisiana. He knows his way around gambling and bureaucratic blocks. “If it gets fully funded, it really should be a game changer,” he said. “I’m hopeful that it will be.” Beychok is hardly alone in believing there are too many trainers who cheat – and that HISA could fix that. Already passed by the House, HISA is, according to Beychok, “probably 50-50 to pass the Senate.”

Plug: The full interview with Beychok, including all his opinions and the horses he likes in Kentucky Derby futures, is on the Ron Flatter Racing Pod.

There are two distinct seasons in racing futures: pre-Kentucky Derby and pre-Breeders’ Cup. There should be a third. What are the odds that we see odds anytime soon for next month’s Pegasus World Cup Invitational? It is not the $12 million race that it once was, but $3 million is no pittance. That is Derby money. With prominent Grade 1 winners like Tiz The Law, Code Of Honor, Knicks Go, True Timber and maybe last year’s winner Mucho Gusto in the discussion, someone should have been making book already. My kingdom for a boiler room.

Fifteen days until a new season opens at Santa Anita, and it feels like there is more caution than optimism that it will be the first since 2017-18 to go uninterrupted from start to finish. Would county leaders use the current COVID surge as an excuse to pull the plug on racing the way they did for seven weeks last spring? The question was posed to a few insiders at the track, and shrugs were apparent in their responses. As one put it, “It’s not something I want to think about.”

It may be a harbinger for all things Stronach. Racing boss Aidan Butler told Thoroughbred Daily News that he is seriously considering the addition of a synthetic track at Gulfstream Park, making it the first in the country to have gamblers able to bet on dirt, turf and the fake stuff. Butler said “it does rest up the turf a little bit, and if the weather changes it gives you a lot of options to keep turf races together.” There may be more to this agenda, though. When Santa Anita and racehorse deaths were mentioned in the same breath two winters ago, a return to a synthetic main track was seen as a tool that could keep animal-rights extremists at bay. Santa Anita and Gulfstream Park are both owned by The Stronach Group. It would not be a stretch to think that there could be a synthetic frame around the bigger picture.

More Gulfstream: Butler told TDN he is leaning toward a Tapeta Footings surface, the same kind that was just christened at Turfway Park near Cincinnati. One racing insider, though, said, “That would be a huge mistake as hot as it gets in Florida.” Ah, memories of the Equitrack at Remington Park, where the summertime track rating from 1988 to 1991 should have read “gooey.”

I need to remind myself to watch “Let It Ride” the next time it comes on. (Or I should quit being cheap and just pay the $3.99 to rent it online.) It came out in 1989, and it may be 25 years since I last saw it. I remember the movie being just OK, but since it is about my pet sport, I should be armed with recent memory so that I may defend it. In the great pantheon of racing movies, “Let It Ride” may be mentioned first, but it says here that “Seabiscuit” and “Phar Lap” were the best.

No Derby preps this weekend. No Grade 1s. Only Hong Kong. Just have the front desk call to wake me on the 18th.

Ron Flatter’s racing column is available every Friday morning at VSiN.com and more frequently during coverage of big races. You may also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod at VSiN.com/podcasts. On the current episode, champion horseplayer Michael Beychok picks some long shots in the Kentucky Derby futures and has some strong opinions about medication in horse racing, Aqueduct riding champion Kendrick Carmouche talks about being one of the few Black jockeys in horse racing, and DraftKings sportsbook’s Johnny Avello handicaps races this weekend. The RFRP is available for download and free subscription at Apple, Google, iHeart, Spotify, Stitcher and at VSiN.com/podcasts. It is sponsored by 1/ST BET.

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