11/13/2013 3:04PM

Jay Hovdey: Eclipse voters have one tough call to make

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Tom Keyser
It may be difficult to pick between Ria Antonia (left) and She's a Tiger for champion 2-year-old filly.

Did I hear someone say that there are still Eclipse Awards to be decided in the wake of the Breeders’ Cup?

This is true only if you believe Will Take Charge needs to win the Clark Handicap in order to stick a fork in the championship chances of the now retired Orb, a lovely colt who hasn’t been a factor in anything since the first Saturday in May. I say Wayne Lukas will stand pat.

Anyway, it is the Breeders’ Cup races that decide championships with either a positive bump for its winners (Wise Dan, Beholder, Groupie Doll, Dank, New Year’s Day) or a forgiving spin on highly regarded losers (Royal Delta, Game On Dude, Will Take Charge). Mixed results inspire Eclipse voters to search backward through the season for division champions among noteworthy Breeders’ Cup no-shows, like the late Points Offthebench, and deservedly so.

The last time a race run after the Breeders’ Cup decided a championship was in 2004 when Del Mar Futurity winner Declan’s Moon skipped the Breeders’ Cup and then beat Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Wilko in the CashCall Futurity. Wilko didn’t really need to run, but what was his co-owner, Paul Reddam, supposed to do? He sponsored the CashCall.

The toughest decision Eclipse voters will have this time around is for the 2-year-old filly championship. Ria Antonia was a well-deserving 32-1 in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies when she finished second by a nose to the veering She’s a Tiger. If we are to take her jockey’s word for it, She’s a Tiger would not have won by the slender margin had she not been energized by the contact, or so says Gary Stevens. This gives Ria Antonia the victory in the biggest race for the division, while the disqualified She’s a Tiger has the best overall record, with 4 firsts, 3 official wins, and 2 seconds in 6 starts dating back to June. Both fillies are through for the year.

“She’s done enough,” said Jeff Bonde, trainer of She’s a Tiger. “We’ll map out a plan for next year and try to win the Oaks.”

That would be the Kentucky Oaks, where Ria Antonia also will be headed. Is Bonde eager for a rematch?

“Oh yeah,” he said. “It’ll happen.”

Now that the Eclipse Awards are settled, let’s talk about Lasix, always fun, and how Europeans look at the issue.

Here is England’s Greg Wood in The Guardian: Breeders’ Cup “needs to be staged on a level field and, if the horses cannot run without drugs, they should not be running at all.” Wood’s sentiments are echoed by Ireland’s John O’Brien in the Independent: “To any rational mind or to those who love racing, though not at the expense of a horse’s welfare, the permitted use of race-day medications like the anti-bleeding drug, Lasix, represents a stain on the sport that needs to be wiped away in the interests of credibility.” And let’s not neglect Scotland, where Garry Owen wrote in the Daily Record: “It’s a huge ask for our horses to compete with the ‘septic tanks’ in their own back yard and I’m convinced the only rule in U.S. racing is there are no rules.”

Don’t be offended. Coy wee Garry is using rhyming slang there for “Yanks,” meaning us. On second thought, go ahead and be offended.
Such sentiments, however, did not discourage trainers Jo Hughes, Michael Stoute, John Gosden, and Aidan O’Brien from bellying up to the Lasix bar for London Bridge, Dank, The Fugue, Magician, and Declaration of War in their various Breeders’ Cup events. For the record, three won and the other two just missed. About all that was heard from the critics was a tsk-tsk-sigh at the sad fact that the Euros were forced to deploy the “When in Rome . . .” justification for the use of the legal diuretic on race day.

What the foreign press forgets to mention, however, is that Lasix is just as common as a training tool in Europe as it is in the States (for training and racing), along with a variety of other medications allowed up to certain low, post-race test levels. Every trainer worth a nickel in Britain and Ireland will have a chart of withdrawal times for a menu of therapeutics and preventatives that need to be cleared by race day, just as U.S. trainers need to be ever mindful of how long certain substances will last in the equine system.

The horses administered Lasix for Breeders’ Cup races got their doses (from 3 to 10 millimeters) from one of four independent veterinarians working not for the trainers and owners but for the Breeders’ Cup under the auspices of the California Horse Racing Board. This should be enough to satisfy those who object to Lasix because its use gives private vets access to horses on race day. Those in favor of a complete Lasix ban have a taller hill to climb.

The third-party policy of Lasix administration already is in pragmatic use for all races in jurisdictions like New York, Kentucky, and Ontario. Unfortunately, California is lagging behind in implementing this simple reform, primarily because of objections raised by horsemen and veterinarians. It can only be hoped that by the time the Breeders’ Cup returns to Santa Anita in 2014 Californians will have taken at least this small step in the direction of a more sensible drug policy.