07/01/2011 6:35PM

Life Goes On

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Consider for a moment the larger issues being raised by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission's investigation into the charges against chief steward John Veitch surrounding the poor performance of Life at Ten in the Breeders' Cup Ladies Classic last November at Churchill Downs.

To read the media reports of the three days of hearings -- which included a blow-by-blow twitter feed from Louisville journalist Gregory Hall -- there was an abundance of he said/they said testimony along with an agonizingly pointless reconstruction of who heard and/or saw what and/or when in the moments leading up to the race itself. Eventually the hearing officer will decide whether or not Veitch was irresponsible in not demanding a veterinary examination of Life at Ten in the moments immediately before the race (based upon what he was hearing from secondary, unofficial sources) and then whether or not Veitch had erred by not ordering post-race blood and urine samples be taken from Life at Ten.

The second question is a snap. Of course Life at Ten should have been tested, just as she had been tested and examined according to Breeders' Cup protocols in the days leading up to her race, and would have been tested had she finished in the first four. When a high-profile second choice runs up the track like she did, never really entering the fray, the integrity of the process is paramount. Her performance could not be simply shrugged off as "one of those things," and there was no evidence presented that Life at Ten was in such post-race distress that she could not have produced a test sample. If a steward has the power to exercise such testing discretion, I can't think of a more appropriate use of that power.

As to the first question, welcome to a slippery slope covered with thin ice.

Unlike a craps table or a roulette wheel, the pari-mutuel horse race is not a hermetically sealed betting event. Stuff happens. Stuff that's outside of the control of the officials in charge. Because of this, there is every reason for the public to think that any viable piece of information would be welcomed by stewards and veterinarians as the race approaches, as long it has passed at least an entry-level smell test.

When John Velazquez informed ESPN's commentators -- and viewers -- that Life at Ten was not warming up like the Life at Ten he knew, that was news, and in today's world, such news spreads fast. However, when the Churchill Downs stewards were informed of the rider's comments by TV producer Amy Zimmerman, the news was greeted with skeptical curiosity. Stewards are neither trained nor mandated to interact with broadcast media while the game is underway, which certainly includes the warmup period when most of the betting takes place. And broadcast media, not being under the jurisdiction of the stewards, can pick and choose which tidbits of information it seeks and disseminates. (No one, for instance, had asked Velazquez two hours earlier how My Jen was warming up for the Filly & Mare Sprint before she finished last, beaten 40 lengths.)

The fact that Velazquez turned out to be right, that there was something amiss with Life a Ten (an insipient case of Uncle Mo's cholangiohepatitis maybe?), is beside the point. If Life at Ten wins, Velazquez gets to poke fun at himself all the way to the bank. If she runs well and gets beat on the square, his pre-race comments become grist for speculation, but hardly for an inquest. But if Velazquez thought it was enough to present his concerns to television but not to one of the official veterinarians, then perhaps there is room for a refresher course for participants on the difference between show business and reality.

In the end, the chain of events that brought the game to that hearing room for three days could never happen again. Either independent broadcast media becomes part of the official oversight or not. John Veitch is being tried and possibly fried for failing to alert official veterinarians to something he was told a jockey said on television. Between commercials. If that makes sense, the game has taken a weird turn down a road overgrown with information while bereft of context. Veitch, when told, should have called Velazquez himself and firmly inquired: "John, it's John. I'm hearing things. Would you like to tell us what you told them?"

****

As a rule of thumb, I would lean toward spending precious funds these days on the living Thoroughbred, especially regarding his health, welfare and responsible retirement. Every so often, though, it's important to heed the call to preserve the sport's history, which is why it is good news that the remains of the Hall of Fame racehorse Noor finally have found a home.

Or will, as soon as they are exhumed from the unmarked grave in what used to be the infield of the training track at Loma Rica Ranch, near the town of Grass Valley in north central California. Noor ended his days there in 1974, at age 29, a pensioned stallion and local celebrity. Most of that celebrity stemmed from his championship season of 1950, during which he defeated the likes of Citation (four times), Hill Prince, Assault, Two Lea, Next Move, On Trust and Ponder in a testing, coast-to-coast campaign.

Noor's burial site soon will be part of a development project. No surprise there. Neither was it a shock that Charlotte Farmer, a retired executive secretary devoted to Noor's memory, had so much trouble finding a suitable place to transfer the remains. She got a lot of turn-downs and red tape along the way before the people at Old Friends Equine in Lexington said they would welcome Noor with open arms, and lay him to rest in a plot of ground hereafter reserved for Hall of Famers.

In order to get Noor from six feet under in Northern California to the embracing bluegrass of Kentucky, there is a need for donations toward a $6,000 nut to cover the costs of exhumation and transport. Old Friends will be providing the granite gravestone, so that's done. Donations can be made through the Old Friends website (http://www.oldfriendsequine.org/), specifying "Noor" via PayPal. Or you can always tell them the check's in the mail. Here is a sample of how Noor delivered in his championship form -- http://www.britishpathe.com/record.php?id=33929. Click below for Noor's past performances.

 

 

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