05/31/2012 2:55PM

Hovdey: Belmont Stakes security may be over the top

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According to the New York State Racing and Wagering Board, the only parimutuel horse race for the forseeable future that merits a heightened level of security in order to protect the investment of the public’s wagering dollars is the 11th race on Saturday, June 9, at Belmont Park.

This would be the 144th running of the $1 million Belmont Stakes, which clearly is a race of more widespread interest than, say, the $50,000 Susan B. Anthony Handicap, to be run the same afternoon at the New York upstate track at Finger Lakes, or even the $500,000 Woodford Reserve Manhattan Handicap, which is the race before the Belmont Stakes.

[BELMONT STAKES: Video updates, expected field, early odds]

With Derby and Preakness winner I’ll Have Another attempting to become the 12th winner of the Triple Crown, scrutiny is naturally high, just as it was for the Triple Crown attempts of War Emblem, Funny Cide, Smarty Jones, and Big Brown over the past decade.

It would be comforting to think that this year it is no different, and that great care and consideration is taken every time a Triple Crown is on the line. Unfortunately, circumstances suggest that the last-minute decision to change prerace procedures for the Belmont was inspired not by evidence that security for recent Belmonts had been lax, but by the onslaught of publicity over the ongoing battle between the governor of New York and the New York Racing Association, complicated further by microscopic scrutiny of the record of Doug O’Neill, the trainer of I’ll Have Another.

No one mentioned that the welfare of the horses running in the Belmont Stakes was of particular concern. But maybe it’s not a bad idea for the horses running in the Belmont to be sequestered three days before the race and for access to them to be highly restricted and closely monitored.

Then again, maybe it is. Ask Bill Mott or John Gosden about their first encounter with a detention barn at the 1987 Arlington Million, when all the runners were required to gather earlier in the day. Mott trained Theatrical, while Gosden had Sharood.

“The barn was hot and badly ventilated,” Gosden recalled. “We tried fans but they didn’t do much good. At one point I looked over at Theatrical and thought, ‘Well, we don’t have to worry about him.’ ”

Mott was beside himself.

“Theatrical got in there and completely fell apart,” he recalled, years after the fact. “I mean, the sweat was just pouring off him. At one point he just flat sat down in the stall. I was afraid he would colic, or tie up, or something.”

The idea of requiring prerace detention facilities tends to rise and fall like hemlines. California uses the security barn as punishment for trainers who spike a high carbon dioxide level, placing every one of their runners in detention the day before a race for 30 days. (Historical footnote: Lava Man, I’ll Have Another’s headline grabbing companion, won the 2006 Hollywood Gold Cup after being held in detention rather than his regular stall in Doug O’Neill’s barn.)

New York officials abandoned their fling with day-of, full-card sequestration in 2010 because it seemed to be doing more harm than good, because it was getting expensive, and because the press and public no longer seemed to care. Facilities were sometimes makeshift and no two horses reacted the same to the change in routine.

At Belmont Park at least, the detention area appears benign – from the outside anyway, where the media is kept at bay. As far as the particulars of the 2012 Belmont Stakes detention policy, trainer John Shirreffs wishes they had been in place when he took Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo to the Belmont in 2005.

“It was 11 o’clock the day of the race,” Shirreffs said. “He’d just finished his breakfast and laid down when they said it was time to take him to the detention barn. As soon as he got there they wanted to see him jog. Then they wanted to see horses from the other races jog, and they were jogging right there in front of his stall. He never was able to settle down it was so hectic.

“We actually requested that they put all the Belmont horses in one barn when we got there, so we wouldn’t have to move again on the day of the race,” Shirreffs said. “When you have to move barns it’s always an issue, but three days is probably enough time to get settled in.”

Some horses, of course, can get used to just about anything. It should be noted that Afleet Alex, who spread-eagled the 2005 Belmont field, lived in four different stalls that week, moving from his Delaware home to Belmont’s Barn 14 and then Barn 5 before arriving at the detention barn the day of the race.

In England horses spend hours on the road travelling from training yards to race courses, where they pass the day in an unfamiliar stall before running that afternoon. Japan is highly restrictive not only with horses, but jockeys as well. And in Australia, these American eyes bugged at the sight of the entire inventory of the day’s contestants lolling in open air stalls in full view of wandering patrons, like gallery exhibits.

The fact that the 2012 Manhattan Handicap, run an hour or so before the Belmont Stakes, could be populated by horses trained by some of the same trainers who have horses running in the Belmont provides one of those head-cocking “Huh?” moments for people with a nose for hypocrisy.

Yes, the Belmont is a special event, with a Triple Crown on the line and an unusual level of attention coming from people who have never before witnessed a horse race. But racing regulators are supposed to regulate the sport, and the sport neither begins nor ends with the 11th race at Belmont Park on Saturday, June 9.

R. Martin More than 1 year ago
The fact that TEN (10) horses have been entered indicates that quite a few trainers feel they can defeat the favorite. We will know June 9 if any of the challengers won.
Kalar Walters More than 1 year ago
Question: Once they're in that barn, are they in there for the duration until time to prep for the race or do they get out to exercise every day? I'm so thrilled to read that Lava Man gets to be with IHA. Yay!!!
Okiesharp More than 1 year ago
This is the height of stupidity...Just like the hanging chads in the Bush versus Al Gore presidential election. It isn't / wasn't the first time this has happened. How long does it take to get it right? There were more hanging chads in the Bush versus Clinton election than there was in the Bush / Al Gore election. There were also more hanging chads in Michigan than there were in Florida. Of course, nobody heard about that. If the powers that be really wanted to fix this so it isn't or wasn't a problem, they would have already done so.The NYRA is blatantly running amok and no one is saying enough is enough. Turn it over to Donald Trump....."You're fired"... okiesharp
Okiesharp More than 1 year ago
AND, don't give me that crap about it's something new we're trying....I mean it's only the 144th time....The NYRA is obviously not smarter than a 5th grader.
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
turn it over to trump are you out of your mind,trump is a buffon of the worst kind anytime he gets caught without a script you get to see what a fool he is,so its not surprising that the same people who love him and think he is a genious,would be against any effort to curtail cheating,its easy to see the corellation between trumps arguments for renting space to kaddaffi in new york after he kaddaffi blew up an american plane killed 280 inocent people and the anything goes attitude of trumps fans,these trainers ship into strange barns at the last possible minute all the time and win,so the problem is not the barns but the security at these barns.
Robin Dawson More than 1 year ago
Ha! Ha!...I guess that he can hold IHA's hand! Seriously, this is just further knee-jerk reactions by people who don't understand horse racing...there isn't sufficient space here for me to list them all.
Glenn Sorge More than 1 year ago
Does Lava Man get to go to the Dtention barn as well?
Kalar Walters More than 1 year ago
Yes, he does!!!!! Just read it!! :D
JoyJackson21 More than 1 year ago
Another excellent article on the recent decisions regarding NYRA's policies for the Belmont Stakes. Although all of these rules and regulations are mostly being aimed at the connections of I'll Have Another, the interesting fact is that the detention barn is inconveniencing ALL of the horses and teams in the race, not just I'll Have Another's, and will probably affect the more fractious horses in the race much more than the calmer-in-nature horses. It would have been nice if the NYRA had informed all of the trainers a little bit earlier of this change in plans in installing a retention barn. The trainers, especially the trainers of the horses that were in the Kentucky Derby - Doug O'Neill, Michael Matz and Dale Romans - have all publically expressed, either in print and on video, concern about the seemingly hastily thrown together nature of all of these extra plans by the NYRA. I just hope that whoever is running/supervising the retention barn remembers to make sure it is cool enough in that barn to keep the horses completely comfortable. It is June after all, and it can get quite warm in June. The situation described above that happened at the 1987 Arlington Million sounds like it was a horrible experience for those poor horses involved, and the NYRA and stewards must make sure that all of the horses running in the Belmont Stakes feel comfortable, hearty and happy in their new accommodations.
Kevin More than 1 year ago
Is this NYRA's doing, or is this the cognitive fruit of that newly self-appointed "King of the Sport"--New York State?
Scott K More than 1 year ago
Does anyone think that if local icon Todd Pletcher (and yes, he has multiple substance vilolations on his record, too!) was the trainer of IHA that we would be seeing the arbitratrary and ridiculous decision to have a four-day stakes detention barn? We all know that the answer is a resounding NO! Shame on NYRA for taking this rare opportunity to celebrate thoroughbred racing and making it yet another vein attempt to impose their misguided will on our sport!
Thomas More than 1 year ago
did you all ever think they know more than we do?
russell More than 1 year ago
What the hell is wrong with the people in NY? everybody trying to out-do others with their stupid ideas...now bloomberg wants to ban sodas.....must be some good weed being passed around...whats next no going to the beach on sunny days....