Updated on 09/17/2011 10:26AM

Gelding's victory may prove a boon


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Some thoughts on a whirlwind Kentucky Derby Day:

The whole deal with Funny Cide becoming the first gelding to win the Kentucky Derby since Clyde Van Dusen in 1929 is a non-story. Geldings have run great in recent Derbies, with Best Pal finishing second in 1991, Prairie Bayou finishing second in 1993, and Cavonnier missing by a dirty nose in 1996. Fillies also have done okay in recent Derby history, with Genuine Risk winning in 1980 and Winning Colors in 1988.

I'm the first one to rail against some of the nonsense that usually passes for news in the days leading up to the Derby. But Empire Maker's foot bruise was a major Derby story, and anyone who told you differently is out to lunch. For one, Empire Maker's incredibly inflated closing price of 5-2 can be attributed to nothing else except his bruised foot, and if you don't think that is important, remember, this is, first and foremost, a betting game. More significantly, the way Empire Maker hung in the final furlong after making what appeared to be a winning move suggests that either the training time missed because of the bruise or the bruise itself cost him the race.

Going into the Derby, many thought Empire Maker might be good enough to win the Triple Crown. They were wrong, but it raises the question, What would it do for the game if a colt like Empire Maker came along and won the Triple Crown? It may not be all good. There would probably be a short-term benefit by placing Thoroughbred racing into the mainstream media. But with top horses more valuable in the breeding shed than on the track, a Triple Crown winner may only race two more times after the Belmont - in a prep for the Breeders' Cup Classic and in the Breeders' Cup Classic itself - because he would be too valuable to race any more than that. What benefit would the sport derive from that?

Unless, that is, a Triple Crown winner was a gelding. In no way am I implying that I expect Funny Cide to sweep the Triple Crown, although he is obviously the only one who can do it this year. Still, it is already great for racing fans that we now have a Kentucky Derby winner who won't be sold off to stud at the end of the year and, if he stays healthy, will be around for years to come. And if it does happen this year, wouldn't it be tremendous to have a Triple Crown winner around to savor for several seasons instead of a couple of starts? Maybe that would put the emphasis back where it belongs: on performance on the track, not potential in the breeding shed.

Although one long streak was snapped in Saturday's Derby - the lack of a victory by a gelding - a different, much longer, much more legitimate run could well have been broken: years without a victory in the Derby by a horse who did not race at 2. The last to accomplish that was Apollo (who, incidentally, was also a gelding) in 1882. With any luck, Atswhatimtalknbout, who did not begin his racing career until four days into his 3-year-old season, could have joined him.

Atswhatimtalknbout closed fastest of all, finishing fourth, beaten only two lengths, and a strong case could be made that he was best. He was bumped out of the gate, but more significantly he was blocked behind a wall of horses late on the far turn and into the stretch. That took away the head of steam he had built up, and forced him to re-rally.

Of course, if you were watching the NBC feed of the Derby, you didn't see it. Its unnecessary, inane camera cuts during the course of the race prevented viewers from seeing the most important piece of trouble in the entire race.

Coupling rule misguided

Integrity in racing is of paramount importance. As evidence, remember that for a long time after the Breeders' Cup Pick Pix scandal many tracks sacrificed millions in handle by closing their parimutuel pools early. If this is the case, then why does Kentucky have a rule that in races worth $100,000 or more horses owned by the same entity can race as separate betting interests?

Case in point: Saturday's Three Chimneys Juvenile. Dogwood Stable had two entrants: Heckle and Limehouse. Both are trained by Todd Pletcher, and because the purse met the requirement, they started as separate betting interests. Heckle went off at 1-2, while Limehouse went off at better than 6-1. You guessed it. Heckle faded after middle moving and finished fourth, while Limehouse rallied up the rail to win going away.

I understand why this rule is in place - to increase handle by giving bettors more options to bet on. I am in no way implying there was any monkey business going here. This rule, however, sends absolutely the wrong message. It says, "Your betting handle trumps the integrity of the game in general, and your protection as a bettor specifically." And, for this rule to still be in place - only about half a year removed from the traumatizing Breeders' Cup "Fix Six" - is insulting. This rule must be revoked. Now.