Archives for June 2021

SHOULD BAFFERT-LIKE DRUG VIOLATIONS PRECLUDE HALL OF FAME ELIGIBILITY?

Trainer extraordinaire Bob Baffert was inducted into the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame in 2009.  His enshrinement certainly won’t be rescinded irrespective of a documented record of equine drug violations, including most notoriously Medina Spirit in the 2021 Kentucky Derby and eventual Triple Crown winner Justify in the 2018 Santa Anita Derby.  Suppose, however, in the future a trainer with obvious qualifications comes along who has not yet been inducted into the HOF and has had similar drug infractions as Baffert does now.  Would he or she be deserving of induction?

There are two schools of thought about HOF eligibility.  One line of thinking says that the only standard is an individual’s record of achievement in actual competition. What he or she has done “within the white lines” is what counts and egregious behavior outside competition should not be a criterion.  The other perspective is that a person’s total resume needs to be evaluated and that off-the-field conduct is relevant.

Pete Rose is inarguably one of the most accomplished players in Major League Baseball history. He is not in the MLB Hall of Fame for betting on MLB games as a player and manager for the Cincinnati Reds. MLB classified Rose as “permanently ineligible.” Later in life, he was convicted of tax evasion and served prison time. Thus Rose has both on-field and off-field transgressions.

By contrast, the late great Green Bay Packer running back Paul Hornung is in the NFL Hall of Fame despite being suspended “indefinitely” by the NFL commissioner in 1963 for betting on games and associating with shady characters.  In 1964, Hornung was reinstated.  He was eventually inducted into the NFL HOF, in 1986, due to his redemptive behavior after returning from his suspension. 

If overall character were a criterion for HOF eligibility, at least some of the inductees in the major sporting hall of fames would not qualify.  For example, one of the legendary MLB players was a known racist, which is repulsive but is not illegal.  On the other hand, an alleged murderer and convicted felon like O. J. Simpson, who is in the NFL HOF, would likely have not become a Hall of Famer if his criminal record had predated his HOF induction.

Whether an individual’s infractions should disqualify him or her from HOF induction first and foremost depends on if the infractions were directly related to competition.  For instance, some of the record-holding MLB players of the “steroid era” have not been awarded HOF enshrinement because performance-enhancing drugs contributed to their prowess.

In the case of Baffert, the multiple infractions he has incurred pertained to racing horses on performance-enhancing drugs outlawed by state racing commissions, which, if he had not already been inducted, would make his HOF eligibility problematic. Could one of the all-time best trainers be kept out of the HOF? Ask Barry Bonds, MLB’s all-time home-run leader, or Roger Clemens, one of the most dominating pitchers in MLB history, both of whom have tainted records owing to steroid use.

Rather than leave decisions up to voters, the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame needs to craft and publicize unambiguous language about conduct “detrimental to the best interests of racing”–within and outside competition–that automatically makes a trainer ineligible for HOF consideration.

Copyright © 2021 Horse Racing Business

AN AMAZING RECORD WAS SET ON JUNE 5, 2021

The 153rd Belmont Stakes and the 242nd Epsom Derby were run on June 5, 2021.  Before the day was over, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s Godolphin had accomplished an historic first-ever feat:  winning the 1 ½ mile Epsom Derby and the 1 ½ mile Belmont Stakes on the same day in the same year. 

The Charlie Appleby-trained Adayar won the Epsom Derby at 16-1 odds and less than 3 hours later the Brad Cox-trained Essential Quality won the Belmont Stakes as the 6/5 favorite.  Appleby said that his intention was not to run Adayar in the Epsom Derby, but did so at the insistence of Sheikh Mohammed, who told him that there “is only one Epsom Derby.” 

As if the Adayar/Essential Quality wins were not enough, Godolphin’s Hurricane Lane placed third in the Epsom Derby.  Adayar and Hurricane Lane were both sired by the undefeated Frankel and Essential Quality is by leading stallion Tapit, who has now sired four winners of the Belmont.

The two global powerhouses in horse racing are Godolphin and Ireland-based Coolmore Stud.  While the two entities both have premier breeding operations located around the world, their approaches to racing are quite different.  Godolphin places horses for racing in the United States on dirt surfaces with American-based trainers, whereas Coolmore ships in horses to compete in U. S. turf races and occasionally in dirt races.  The Godolphin method has been more successful in winning dirt-track races in the United States with horses they have bred. 

An owner winning the Epsom Derby and the Belmont Stakes on a single day is a unique record in racing’s long history.

Copyright © 2021 Horse Racing Business

MORE WOMEN IN HORSE RACING, AN IDEA FROM INDY RACING

Automobile racing is a very male-dominated sport. In 1929, Maude Yagle became the first and still only woman to own the winning car in the Indy 500.  However, she watched from the stands because she was prohibited by track officials from visiting the pit areas and the race program prefaced her surname with her initials. In the 105-year history of the Indy 500, only nine women drivers have competed in the race, which is appropriately billed as “the greatest spectacle in racing.”

Very recently, American auto racing has made a concerted effort, backed by the most powerful individual in the sport, to attract more women and minority owners, drivers, and crew members…and has made manifest progress in doing so, as evidenced in the 2021 Indy 500.

In the summer of 2020, Indy Car launched its “Racing for Equality and Change Initiative.”  Roger Penske, owner of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway where the Indy 500 is run and by far the most accomplished car owner in American racing history, put his immense clout and prestige behind this initiative by offering to have his Team Penske provide technical support to women or minority racing teams…and the results were almost immediate.

In early 2021, Beth Paretta, a former Aston-Martin executive and a friend of Penske, formed a racing team, Paretta Autosport, that was the first ever to be woman-owned and majority-staffed by women.  Seventy-percent of the team are women, including veteran 32-year-old Swiss driver Simona de Silvestro, whose fan nicknames are “Swiss Miss” and “the Iron Maiden.” 

Beth Paretta

Paretta Autosport’s car was the final qualifier for the 2021 Indy 500, which positioned it in the start grid on the outside of the eleventh row.  At one point during the race, de Silvestro moved up to twenty-first in the 33-car field but her car’s brakes locked approaching a pit stop 31 laps from the finish…and she was done for the day…finishing in thirty-first place. Nonetheless, the Paretta team created plenty of media buzz for the Indy 500 and established a record for others to aspire to and surpass.

Simona de Silvestro

Unlike auto racing, horse racing has a long and illustrious history of female owners and numerous women work as exercise riders and grooms. However, women trainers and jockeys comprise only a small percentage of all trainers and jockeys.  In order to increase this percentage especially, the Roger Penske’s of the horse racing world could strongly back an equivalent of Indy Car’s “Racing for Equality and Change Initiative.” It would take such proactive and influential support to be successful, otherwise the initiative would just be PR banter.

A majority female team (at least two of three from owner, trainer, jockey) qualifying a horse for a spot in horse racing’s version of the Indy 500–the Kentucky Derby—would be a huge first step forward.

(The highly successful StarlightLadies racing partnership is unique in that it accepts only women owners. Add a woman trainer or jockey to any of its partnerships, and a majority female team is in place.)

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Horse racing and auto racing are extremely dangerous sports.  For example, in the 105-year history of the Indy 500, 58 people have died practicing, qualifying, or racing in it, including 42 drivers.  Similarly, numerous jockeys have been killed over the years.  This level of risk, in and of itself, is an obstacle to expanding the number of participants. 

Copyright © 2021 Horse Racing Business