Updated on 09/17/2011 10:49AM

Coming clean is the most positive influence


TUCSON, Ariz. - A hanging in Hong Kong and a stud ad in Lexington were items worth noting last week, and both are worth talking about.

The stud ad first.

I like originality. A few years ago actress-model Lauren Hutton caught my eye - in print - featured in ads for the creative Lou Salerno's Questroyal in New York in which she professed that "in my line of work, one learns a thing or two about studs." I'm a far better handicapper of beguiling ladies like Ms. Hutton than I am of Thoroughbred fillies, but Ms. Hutton's endorsement, clever as it was, and seductive as she is, would not in itself have led me to breed a mare to the studs in question.

A full page ad that appeared in trade journals last week would have.

It was for Devil His Due, the son of Devil's Bag and the Raise a Cup mare Plenty O'Toole, standing for a modest $7,500 at Margaux Farm in Midway, Ky.

The ad read, "44 Miles. That's how far Devil His Due raced without medication. Now . . . He's passing on his racing class and soundness."

The ad went on to say that through 2002, Devil His Due's progeny were averaging 14 starts a runner per year, while the national average is 6.9, and that they had average earnings of $44,031, nearly six times his stud fee.

As a racehorse, Devil His Due exposed the lie, so prevalent today, that horses can't perform without Lasix, without Bute, and without a lot more that is pumped into them without much concern for their well-being on the track or their future as stallions and broodmares.

Devil His Due was trained by Allen Jerkens, and over four years, competing in 27 graded stakes, he ran without L's and B's behind his name. He was, in short, a "hay, oats, and water" horse.

He stands today at Margaux with Cryptoclearance, the sire of Volponi, who, with all due apologies to Azeri, is my Horse of the Year, having sent Chris Harn, Derrick Davis, and Glen DaSilva upriver.

I did not know Steve Johnson, managing partner of Margaux, before he ran his ad. But I am intrigued by his acknowledgment, implied clearly in the copy, that there is a difference between stallions who had to rely on medication to get them to the post and beyond as race horses, and those sound and healthy enough that they did so without chemical help.

Johnson thinks it is amazing that with all the improvements that we have made with racetrack construction, in veterinary technology, in farm management improvements, and in training methods, we can't keep horses sounder than they were 50 years ago, based on Jockey Club statistics. So do I, and so do a lot of other people.

While it's safe to assume Mr. Johnson's ad referred to legal medication, there's nothing to prevent one from wondering about those horses - stallions and mares - that raced from the medicine cabinet, including some who raced on shadow substances, and their subsequent careers in the breeding shed and their not infrequent inability to pass on their quality, or in some cases their potency.

Which leads to the hanging in Hong Kong.

There was no noose or body involved, but rather the hanging of a $150,000 fine on a trainer for his horse coming up with a prohibited substance in its body. That in itself gives some indication that things are run a little different at Happy Valley, one of the world's most successful racecourses, than they are here. Even more significant is the fact that the trainer didn't rush to his lawyer's office and then to court, or scream that jimsonweed or poppies or a groom's doughnut or the butler did it.

One reason the Hong Kong trainer didn't do that is that the positive test was brand-new, the world's first for the diuretic it revealed. The trainer contended, as American trainers do, that he couldn't understand how the substance got into his horse, but he pleaded guilty to the charge: failing to present his horse for racing free of any prohibited substance. What a refreshing change from the American race down Litigation Lane.

I'm not going to name the drug the test revealed. There already are too many imports from Hong Kong, and I don't want to start a rush to the phones to get more.