12/27/2013 4:43PM

Jay Hovdey: For auld lang syne, accent on the auld


This being the last byline of 2013, the moment felt ripe for a list of some of the best and worst things that happened in Thoroughbred racing during the year.

Since racing is a sport in which even the best lose four out of five times at bat, a recitation of unhappy events comes way too easy. In fact, the year was bracketed by soul-crushing moments.

In January, Ramon Dominguez sustained head injuries that ended a singular career at the peak of his riding powers. In December, Hollywood Park was closed for good by the owners of a land development company who wouldn’t know Dominguez from a dog catcher.

Gary Stevens Gary Stevens Gary Stevens. All we ever read about is Gary Stevens, as if no other athlete ever retired for seven years and then came back at age 50 to reclaim his place among the best of his profession and win some of his sport’s greatest prizes. Okay, so maybe that’s true. But how about a little love on the side for young Mike Smith, who turned 48 in 2013, who did not have the benefit of a seven-year sabbatical, and who is ending the season as the most successful jockey in terms of Grade 1 victories (13) and average earnings per mount ($32,837 to date) from just over 400 rides aboard horses like Game On Dude, Royal Delta, Points Offthebench, Princess of Sylmar, and Mizdirection, all of them candidates for Eclipse Awards.

While we’re on the subject, has there been a worse year in recent memory for the cream of the riding crop? Dominguez was bad enough, but the list also includes the freshly minted Hall of Famer Calvin Borel (leg), national leader Joel Rosario (foot), Rajiv Maragh (back), Junior Alvarado (ankle), and John Velazquez both in April (rib, wrist) and November (spleen). Like Eddie Delahoussaye said in his prime, “Are we overpaid? Hell, no. Who else you gonna get crazy enough to do this?”

Some of the best and worst came wrapped in the same package. Orb may have provided Shug McGaughey with his long-awaited Kentucky Derby triumph, but the colt was worth far more to the sport than merely a rosy notch on the trainer’s belt. After some time off from a tough spring he could have provided fireworks as a 4-year-old. Instead, co-owner Stuart Janney packed Orb off to stud because, to him, breeding Thoroughbreds is every bit as exciting as racing them, which is like Sinatra saying he’d just as soon hum as sing.

The Hall of Fame voters got it right with Housebuster and Lure but continue to get it wrong with Craig Perret and Alex Solis. They’ll have another chance in 2014.

The California Horse Racing Board issued a report that was interpreted as exonerating trainer Bob Baffert of direct responsibility for the sudden deaths of seven horses at Hollywood Park over a 16-month period ending in March of 2013. But that was hardly the point. Five of the seven deaths occurred during training hours, for which there is no chain of custody protocol for evidence and therefore no way to make any charges stick, even if warranted. In fact, the “why” they died is far more important. And since nothing conclusive was discovered, no one should be resting easy.

There was a race for Arabian horses at the end of the first day of the 2013 Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita. The winner pulled up lame and was vanned off, and the field behind him was strung out the length of the stretch. It wasn’t the worst thing that happened that weekend – the death of Secret Compass will not be forgotten – but it could be if it happens again.

John Nerud turned 100 in 2013, and the best news is that he still has a lot to say about the industry upon which he has made an indelible mark. The patronizing line goes, “And he’s still so sharp.” Baloney. The question is, are you sharp enough to have a conversation with Nerud.

Charlie Whittingham would have turned 100 in 2013. But as much as he is missed – and there are trainers of all ages who still ask themselves every day, “What would Charlie do?” – part of me is relieved he was not around to witness the end of Hollywood Park. Granted, Whittingham owned the room wherever he raced, but it was at Hollywood Park he ruled supreme. His 222 Hollywood stakes wins dwarfs the 149 of second-place Bobby Frankel, and those 222 included eight in the Hollywood Gold Cup and 11 in both the Sunset and the Californian. Reminds me: time to put a can of peaches on Whittingham’s Sierra Madre grave.

The best news, or at least the best under the circumstances, is that many of Hollywood Park’s historic events will be continued during the new bloc of spring and early summer dates to be run at Santa Anita beginning in 2014. As long as the races look like they’ve always looked in terms of purse and conditions they will retain their graded status. Beyond that, Santa Anita management can call them anything they want. Word is, though, that names like the Californian, the American Oaks, the Vanity, and even the Hollywood (as in “Hooray for…”) Gold Cup will be retained, which has the benefit of being good news that also makes perfect sense.


Richard More than 1 year ago
happy new year jay for the year 13 it want that good for racing, just more greed for track ownership tvg wants it all so make it easy close all the tracks to the public and get it on line. building big plush suites at sa is another waste by brackpole the bandit.. soon you all will see sa going into the casino business...ho ho happy days are coming......
Pom DeTerre More than 1 year ago
a little hard on gary stevens, don't you think? Smith is in a position where HE picks his mounts, therefore "just over 400 rides". You think he'll get his pants dirty in a 15k claimer? guess again.
Kimberly Shugars More than 1 year ago
Martymar, It appears that Jimmy, Black Caviar's 2 year old half brother by Redouts Choice was biten by a spider in early November and has been battling the effects of said bite for going on 6 weeks. He developed Laminitis and it's attending complications from the medications he was receiving and was euthanized on Dec 29.
martymar . More than 1 year ago
I know the story, I've read it
Pom DeTerre More than 1 year ago
well then, why don't you read the date of this article- December 27. I suppose the writer needs to have ESP to make you happy. Same with every other blog where you've posted this- which is pretty much every blog on DRF- all written BEFORE he died.
Kimberly Shugars More than 1 year ago
Could be someone put the wrong date on the entry in Pedigree Query ?
martymar . More than 1 year ago
Completely off topic: but for a content pay site why is it there is no article about the passing of Jimmy aka as Black Caviar half sibling? Most of the articles are self serving and has nothing to do with journalism anymore. The race results analysis are normally a paragraph, I tried the paid content for 2 months and there wasn't really anything that worth paying for.
Frank Raspy More than 1 year ago
NFL was so easy this w/e. Quit your whining, Maybe you'll start winning!
martymar . More than 1 year ago
I'm not a degenerate idiot like you, I don't care if I win or lose. I care more about the wellness and safety of horses and jockeys. In fact whenever I'm at the track I enjoy being the photographer and getting autographs from jockeys than betting.
Pom DeTerre More than 1 year ago
why are you cutting and pasting your Jimmy rant on practically every blog on this site? Enough already with the "Completely off the topic....) He wasn't a US horse, and while it's still sad that he died, you have become obsessed with this topic.
martymar . More than 1 year ago
let me spell it out for you since you don't seem to grasp thing quite easily due to lack of intelligence. It has nothing to do with Jimmy it is more so with DRF+ pay for articles, I as a paying customer want enhance customer content and not the same amount of content that was previously provided.
Pom DeTerre More than 1 year ago
I would suggest purchasing the equivalent Australian version. Jimmy had what- 3 starts down under, and while he showed potential, he was still unproven, a parallel to New Year's Day. Being a 1/2 to a great horse doesn't guarantee a thing- look at Zenyatta and Eblouissante. Jimmy did not race in Europe, North America or Asia, and he has no wide appeal here. How many Aussie's have heard of New Year's Day or Points Off The Bench? Lastly, you'd be far better taking your "pay" issue up with drf directly, as the posters here can't help you, as you readily state your post "is completely off the topic" and everyone is getting tired of it spamming across almost every blog.
Thorobred Racing More than 1 year ago
NOTICE TO CANADIAN BETTORS AND ALL OTHERS WHO BET ONLINE. It seems that stealing tax payers’ money of over 100 million dollars through the casino programs were not enough for the Canadian tracks WOODBINE & FORT ERIE .Now they are stealing off the betting public whenever a winning ticket is cashed. It seems that the highest take-outs on exotic betting is not enough either. Compare below to realize the extent of their criminal activities. Let hope the government corrects this organized criminal activity where horse bettors will not have to go for litigation to get their money back.. Tampa Bay Downs Race 10 pay outs - $2 Pick 3 7/2/1 (3of3) $119.00 Race 10 Woodbine & Fort Erie pay outs less ($10.10) $2 Pick 3 7 / 2 / 10 (3 of 3) $108.90 Tampa Bay Downs Race 9 pay outs - $2 Pick 3 8/7/2 (3of3) $189.00 Race 9 Woodbine & Fort Erie pay outs less ($16.20) $2 Pick 3 8 / 7 / 2 (3 of 3) $172.80 Tampa Bay Downs Race 8 pay outs - $2 Pick 3 2/8/7 (3of3) $231.80 Race 8 Woodbine & Fort Erie pay outs less ($19.80) $2 Pick 3 2 / 8 / 7 (3 of 3) $212.00 Tampa Bay Downs Race 7 pay outs - $2 Pick 3 5/2/8 (3of3) $1032.40 Race 7 Woodbine & Fort Erie pay outs less ($88.10) $2 Pick 3 5 / 2 / 8 (3 of 3) $944.30
Rob MacLennan More than 1 year ago
You should probably go look at how simulcast wagering works before you make crazy statements like that
Pom DeTerre More than 1 year ago
ever hear of "odds"?
John More than 1 year ago
As Jd Statonb mentioned below, No, Ive never seen Brad Free select any horse over 6-5 ! The thought of him going out of his comfort zone of picking favorites, race after race is , or should be an embarassment to the DRF, and the rest of us REAL handicappers ! Id rather lose 8 races and then catch a bomb at 20-1, then collect $3.40, day after day ! I usually start my DRF handicapping by avoiding selections by Brad Free, not only are they ALWAYS favorites, usually odds on, but new players follow his picks and cave in the price even more ! The word longshot to Brad Free is like poison to a dog !
Tiffini Brinson More than 1 year ago
Jay, totally agreed with the partially relieved Charlie wasn't here to witness the end of Hollywood Park! I can still vividly picture, so many years, what seems a lifetime ago... Charlie and Joe, both first sets circling in the dark, until one could no longer contain. The walk thru the backside trail to the front side at Hollywood Park was always a pleasant way to start the day. Sad to see it go~ but the memories will remain always!
Gerard O'Brien More than 1 year ago
Take no prisoners.Here's to 2014. Sorry to see New Years Day drop out though.
Patricia Doyle More than 1 year ago
i hope racing has a much better year for 2014 than 2013. Me too! just broke my arm Christmas eve. This makes using mouse and keypad difficult. Still able to wager on my wagering account, though. I wish everyone here a very prosperous 2014. To quote Harvey Pack, may the horse be with you.
Robert More than 1 year ago
Santa Anita is running off their regulars. They ripped out my box that I had for over 10 years for a bunch of suites that will be empty 97% of the year. Except for Del Mar, I'm pretty much over racing out here. I would rather spend my weekends playing golf or working around my yard. I'm not the only one of the guys who used to be there all the time who think like this either.
IRANIANMULLAH More than 1 year ago
you lose money playing golf
Robert More than 1 year ago
I don't understand your point?
Gunner More than 1 year ago
"Horse racing gouges you. You can't win playing horses". - Bob Neumeier - Friday on WEEI with Steve DeOssie.
Patricia Doyle More than 1 year ago
this is what happens when a track is the only game in town. wait until that one corp owns all the tracks in the country. i'm surprised they don't have 100 dollar minimum bets only. i realize Los Alamitos is trying hard to accommodate thoroughbred racing and i do wish them success but i don't think this will fill the void. A
Bellwether4U More than 1 year ago
222...Unreal!!!...Bobby Hoo???...