10/18/2011 12:43PM

Preventing Another Life At Ten Situation


It’s impossible to take issue with the plan to have a racing official monitor all television and internal track radio broadcasts at this year’s Breeders’ Cup in an effort to prevent another situation like the Life At Ten debacle that took place at last year’s Breeders’ Cup. It certainly can’t do any harm, and it might do some good. It’s sort of like adding another stop sign at a residential intersection that already has two of them. It might actually prevent an accident once every five years or so.

That said, horsemen and jockeys need to be reminded that the first line of defense at preventing another Life At Ten episode begins with them. While the rights and protections of jockeys and horsemen are always of critical importance, it should be reinforced to them and every other segment of the racing industry that the rights of the betting public come first.

I’m certain the prospect of having to gate scratch a horse in a multi-million dollar race would be a nightmare for both horseman and jockey. The jockey is in an awkward position because the owners have probably traveled a distance for the event, and a gate scratch could easily alienate a trainer just by placing him in a somewhat embarrassing position. The trainer is in a bad spot because – unfairly, the vast majority of the time – a gate scratch could cast aspersions on his ability to read and judge the racing fitness and readiness of his charge.

Simply put, horsemen and jockeys have to get beyond these awkward and embarrassing feelings that could arise in these instances. Not doing so compromises the rights of the betting public. Allowing a horse to race who might be unfit to race means bettors who wagered on that horse are not getting a fair shake.

Why should horsemen and jockeys (and everyone else in the industry, for that matter) be so concerned with protecting the betting public? They should, because it is the dollars the betting public wagers that funds the purse money horsemen and jockeys make their living off of. And this includes the Breeders’ Cup, and the breeding industry in general. Do you think for one second that the breeding industry would exist as we know it today without the incentive of the purses funded by the betting public?

What needs to be reinforced is, if a horseman or jockey suspects there is something even slightly off with their horse pre-race, not only in the Breeders’ Cup – in every race, they must seek consultation with the track veterinarian. Every time. It’s simply the right thing to do, for the horse, and for the people who pay to make this game go.

Rick Pilger More than 1 year ago
Jonny V. knew the horse wasnt right and therefore should have alerted a vet, a refund is better than loosing money.
Rock More than 1 year ago
Excellant take on the big picture. I kind of side with Ned Daly though. I think the Jocks' safety and horses' well being must be a priority, but that being said, the betting public would be better served if a questionable runner is scratched and you risk error on the side of caution. I always like to see the horses in the paddock at Saratoga to judge if they're comfortable with the crowds and noise. I've several times picked off horses that I would not bet that ran poorly. I would think a trainer or rider would have known better than myself there was something wrong. There is also an old saying that it's better to be thought a fool that to go ahead and prove it. If a horse is scratched there will be speculation and discord, if there is an injury there is going to be blame tossed at everyone.
R.L. Jones More than 1 year ago
Mike Watchmaker you have done an excellent job at evaluating this situation. It is very easy for the track vet to miss a problem & a problem could arise after the vet check thus it is up to the trainer & grooms to do what is best for the horse & have him scratched if they suspect there is a problem. The horses are athletes & need to be at their best in order to win & racing a horse just because owner's expect or a trainer feels a must run does not make sense. Jockeys are put in very tough spot if it becomes them who have to make the call & then it reflects back on the trainer & grooms. I don't think there are many trainers who haven't had second thoughts about running a horse yet have used poor judgement & run. The penalty is a horse coming up lame & worse is that a rider or riders have gotten injured due to poor judgement by the stable crew. Let's not put the rider's & the horses in that position, there's always tomorrow. I have trained & know what can happen & I have lost a good friend (rider) to an accident that may have been triggered by poor judgement & two other riders who ended their careers to what may have been again poor judgement. Let's eliminate that doubt and let those those riders be husbands, fathers and ambassadors to the betting public.
Sam Coniglio More than 1 year ago
I agree 100% about the betting public. The owner of Life At Ten was so upset that the stewards did not scratch her horse. The question I have is why was there only punishment handed down to John Velazquez? To me the most responsible person for the whole thing was Todd Pletcher. His comments about Life At Ten were more significant and in my opinion he should have been held accountable for what happened. He knows the horse better than anyone and should have known there was something wrong, but maybe the purse and prestige of the race sadly is why he didn't do anything.
Stewart More than 1 year ago
Excellent article Mike. Protecting the integrity of horse racing must start with protecting the bettors, who provide the fan base and financial resources upon which the entire sport is funded. Unfortunately, there are going to be times where the owners, trainers and jockeys are going to face some embarassment for the sake of protecting the integrity of the game. Several years ago there was an incident at Saratoga where Jerry Bailey caused Nobles Causeway to be scratched from the Jim Dandy at the gate (as the heavy favorite) after feeling a "bobble" during the warm-up. Trainer Zito went ballistic afterwards, claiming repeatedly during the next week that there was nothing wrong with the horse, who had now missed his Travers prep, and that he would never ride Bailey again for embarassing him and his owner. Zito then entered Nobles Causeway back the very next Saturday in an allowance race (with a new jockey), and we all watched as the starting gate opened and Nobles Causeway was almost immediately pulled up in the first turn (as the 4/5 favorite).
hialeah More than 1 year ago
Hi Mike, This is so right on. Someone once told me that the biggest hurdle in life is to "get over yourself". And it can be more than true. Third person in has to be the Vet who is trained to support the animal/athlete. Didn't bet a penny on that race last yr, but was watching and a blood-boil did ensue. The game is viable when on the square. Thanks!
Penn National Rick More than 1 year ago
I will say one thing. I really liked Life at Ten at the BC Ladies Classic. I was getting ready to finalize my bets before i heard Johnny V. being interviewed and he was explaining how Ten wasn't warming up and Jerry Bailey explaining what Johnny V. meant. Because of that i was able to change my bet and make it a winning one, but it seems to me that all they are solving on this matter is that we can't release any information to the public concerning a horses health/preparation leading into the actual race. So if the horse is sick, but the connections still wants to run him/her...well we just don't know about it until afterwards and they can use their excuses for post-race interviews. The sports already hanging by threads and they don't need to shut the public out completely on a possible bad investment.
brett More than 1 year ago
Hey Ned...I think what you don't understand is without the betting public, there is no horse racing and in turn, no jockeys needed. If you read the article, all Mike is saying that the onus is on the Jockey and Trainer to be the first to report that the horse is not right. John Velasquez should have done that last year with Life at Ten instead of riding her around the track like she was out on a morning jog. I would like to know how much WPS and exotic money was on Life at Ten because that money was dust in the wind as soon as the gates opened.
Ned Daly More than 1 year ago
"the rights of the betting public come first." Not so fast. I would propose The health and safety of the jockey The health and safety of the horse The interests of the bettors. My wagering interest in any race comes a distant third to the first two considerations.
Danny Cordova More than 1 year ago
I know there are many aspects to this industry, but your comments on protecting the betting public are right on target. Our interest in and support of horseracing can not be taken for granted. The industry is suffering here in Texas and elsewhere. Alienation of the betting public is the last thing we need.