Tuesday, October 18, 2016

A Local Legend Calls It Done

Russell Road, a 10-year old gelding by Wheaton out of the Verification mare Roberta Grump (Roberta Grump produced 11 starters, all winners), called it a career recently at  Charles Town (W Va.) Races.  Winning  more than two million dollars during his career, Russell Road leaves behind a stellar record of 31 wins (22 were stakes wins) in 62 starts.

A farewell to Russell Road

Bethanny Roll, a photographer at the Hollywood Casino at the Charles Town Races, had this to say about the chestnut gelding;

"This horse was truly something to watch,  He won over half of his career starts and is a local legend here at the Charles Town Races.  

He was always a competitor at the race track.  In fact, when the track had him in the post parade for the West Virginia Breeder's Classic, a race he won three times, he was a struggle to jog off the track, because he wanted to join the competitors and race again.

He had a presence when he came on the track unlike any other (you get an idea of his presence in the picture above). He was the type of horse you knew was something big without even knowing his name."

Russell Road winning the 2014 West Virginia Breeder's Classic

Owner Mark Russell knows that Russell Road is a candidate for the retirement blues and needs to stay busy.  "He'll make any kind of jumper or riding horse and we're going to explore those possibilities for him.  He's not the kind of horse that's going to be happy stomping flies out in the field. Russell said.  He wants to do a job, he loves being around people, he loves having something to do. It's just who he is. It doesn't matter if you take him home and put him out in the paddock. 30 minutes later he's at the gate wanting back in.  He just likes that connection with folks."

Russell Road wins the 2015 Roger Ramey Stakes

Russell Road is the second leading money winner among all West Virginia bred horses and is held in such esteem that the Wild & Wonderful-a race Russell Road hit the board in three times in his career-will be renamed the Russell Road Stakes in 2017

I published this little story of an obscure gelding from a third tier track because so many stories from the racing world are scarred and ugly. corrupt and tawdry.  Tales of injured horses running on pain-killing drugs until they break down or are sold to slaughter when they can no longer produce on the track or the pay window are common.  This is a story of triumph.  A happy story.  Racing needs more of them.  And so do we.

Copyright: October 18, 2016 by Loren R. Schumacher
Photo copyright as noted.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

The Soft White Underbelly, Part 1

Since the coming of American Pharoah I have thought about little else, when it comes to horses, than thoroughbreds and racing.  I'm never going to know the lineage of every champion who put hoof to dirt or shoe to turf, but I will always love the game, the color, the mud spattered jockeys and the thoroughbred's time-compressing speed.  Feeling the tension before my horse enters the gate is part of the thrill of racing for me.  I remember literally being unable to sit down in the hours just before American Pharoah ran the Belmont and then plundered the field in the Breeder's Cup Classic in 2015.  Similarly, I suffer with California Chrome and Frosted each time they race.

One of my favorites was Big Brown (Boundary - Mien by Nureyev), trained by Rick Dutrow.   Now eleven years old, his progeny have begun to make their presence felt in racing circles.  His Derby and Preakness victories in 2008 left the racing world hungering for a Triple Crown Winner, the first since Affirmed decades before.  But in the Belmont he finished 9th, barely crossing the finish line before the last beer concession closed for the day.  A collapse so dramatic that it cast his entire race record in doubt.  In eight races, he finished first in seven of them.  His list of victories also include the Florida Derby, The Haskell Invitational and the Monmouth Stakes.  But to this day, a stench surrounds his career, the same stench of unscrupulous illegality and deception that follows trainer Rick Dutrow.

Big Brown and people who loved him.  Check out the watch on this guy.

Trainer Rick Dutrow.

Dutrow is now serving a 10-year suspension (at one point the state's Racing and Wagering Board recommended Dutrow be banned for life)  of his trainer's license in 2011 by New York regulators.
The former trainer of Big Brown has waged a continuous legal fight to have that judgement overturned.  But the beleaguered trainer's most recent appeal was rejected in federal court.

"The board's decision resolves two specific matters that arose in November 2010: Dutrow's horse Fastus Cactus tested positive for the drug butorphanol-a pain killer 10 times more potent than morphine-after winning the third race at Aqueduct Racetrack on November 20, and three hypodermic needles "loaded with the drug Xylazine" were found in Dutrow's desk in Barn 10 at Aqueduct on November 2.  Xylazine is an analgesic and tranquilizer that can enhance performance by alleviating lameness or calming a nervous horse."  While  he had probably not done anything that other top trainers had done, or been suspected of, he did get caught with his hand in the cookie jar, not once, but many times.  Bob Baffert and Steve Asmussen, both Hall of Fame trainers, have been under some scrutiny in the past for similar infractions.  "If anything, he's (Dutrow) had multiple opportunities to practice his profession in compliance with the rules.  After all these infractions, I don't think any court will say he has been discriminated against...given his record" said Louisville attorney and racing official Robert Heleringer.

While there is nothing to say Dutrow could not set up shop in another state, most racing jurisdictions will uphold the findings of other racing authorities.  An exception might be Louisiana where Heleringer said they "have a reputation for being more lax when it comes to honoring suspensions,

At the apex: Big Brown

but Dutrow's notoriety makes it less likely a state would take that chance."  If he were to apply for a license in a state other than New York and was denied, he would have to disclose the denial in future applications.

So unless Rick Dutrow pulls some nefarious behind the scenes shenanigans, he is out of racing,

At this point Big Brown's future is much brighter than Rick Dutrow's.  And that is a good thing.