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The Pressbox Blog
Posted Wednesday, July 18, 2018
Gene McLean has been there, done that. Here's where he'll be watching the summer races.
Posted Tuesday, July 17, 2018

As expected, the Kentucky Racing Commission on Tuesday officially approved Saratoga Casino Holdings as the new owner and operator of Ellis Park at a special-called meeting in Lexington, Ky.

Last week, “The Pressbox (thepressboxlts.com) first reported that a sale was imminent for Ellis Park, located in Henderson, Ky.

On Monday, that news came a step closer to reality when the racing commission announced a meeting to discuss, in part, transfer of the license from the current owner, Ron Geary, to a new ownership team.

Currently, Saratoga Casino Holdings is the parent company of Saratoga Casino Hotel in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and the Saratoga Casino Black Hawk in Black Hawk, Colo. SCH owns and operates the Saratoga Harness Racing, Inc. as well.

Saratoga Casino Holdings will take over Ellis Park's day-to-day activities and decision-making authority immediately.

“Everything went very well,” said Marc A. Guilfoil, the Executive Director for the Kentucky Racing Commission. “Seamless.”

Just a couple of years ago, Saratoga Casino Holdings purchased a minority position in Ellis Park. According to our sources, the partnership was still led and operational control was still held by Geary and his management team.

Tuesday, Saratoga Casino Holdings announced that it had purchased the remainder of Ellis Park from Geary, and that full ownership and operations would be transferred, if approved by the Kentucky Racing Commission. That approval took just a few minutes, and was absent of any drama.

“It’s been 12 years, and I just turned 71," Geary said in a statement. "My wife and my two kids and my nine grandkids for years have asked me to slow down. I think it’s time. I’ve enjoyed working with Saratoga over the years.

“It’s been a really fun and fast-moving 12 years. I feel like we’ve had some great successes and we’ve brought it a long ways with so many people’s help. I know Saratoga will be focused on continuing the progress.”

In other Kentucky news for Tuesday, the Commission approved a couple of other important issues on the Agenda as well.

The Commission voted to approve the request of Churchill Downs to own, operate and make public Instant Racing Machines at its new venue, Derby City Gaming, located a few miles from the racetrack.

That location is scheduled to open in advance of the Breeders’ Cup, which will be hosted by Churchill Downs this November.

In addition, the Commission approved Churchill Downs’ request to utilize the Ainsworth Game Technology Historical Horse Racing System and Entertaining Game Theme.

Posted Monday, July 16, 2018
Start, like writer Gene McLean, with the hopes and dreams of a 2-year-old colt.
Posted Friday, July 13, 2018

The last time we ran First Kiss it was at Churchill Downs in a maiden special weight event over the grass course. It was against a top-notch field on a special Saturday night, and we had family and friends gathered around for what we hoped would be a special occasion.

After all, in her first three starts down at Tampa Bay this winter, she had a couple of second place finishes and a third, and she had given us enough to hope, plan, pray and wish.

But on the night of June 2, just when it looked like she and her buddy Chris Landeros were poised to make their move going into the final turn of the 1 1/16-mile grass race, First Kiss appeared to take a bad step. And, just as soon as your hopes rose, they disappeared in a divot of angst.

After the race, we had our veterinarian check her out thoroughly. After many scans, x-rays, and other tests, we ascertained that she must have stepped on a foreign object, bruised her left hoof, and twisted her ankle.

Thank the Good Lord, there were no fractures or structural damages. Thank the good team at Lyster Stables, we have soaked her hoof and ankle every day — twice a day — in bucket of warm water and Epsom salts. Thank the good fortune, she has been able to return to training.

This week, I journeyed to Lexington, Ky., to watch the 4-year-old daughter of Smart Strike — who is from the same female family as the great Tiznow — get a three-furlong work at the Ashwood Training Center.

She looked good going over. She looked good going around. And, she looked good coming back.

So good, in fact, that we now hope to have her back racing in about three weeks. And, so good, in fact, that First Kiss was full of kisses all morning.

Hope does spring eternal. And, with this one, it has gushed over from the beginning. We are still looking for her first win. But we are looking better and better every day. Knock on wood. (Not that I am superstitious, or anything like that.)

Why own a racehorse? Sometimes I ask myself that question over and over.

Thursday morning, I got one of my answers. Because when they are good — and she was — it makes the breeze just a bit cooler, the sun a bit brighter, the hopes and dreams a bit higher and the world a whole lot more fun.

This morning, I got my answer when she caught my eye coming into the barn, took a peppermint from my hand and then dropped her head over on my shoulder.

This morning, I got my answer when she breezed like a good thing and bounced all the way back to the barn.

This morning, I got my answer. She was beautiful. And, so was everything else.

Posted Thursday, July 12, 2018
Ellis Park is reportedly being sold to out-of-state interests.
Posted Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Every so often, we will be addressing a few things: comments, decisions, people, whatever that – for one reason or another – should be tossed into the literary “muck pit.”

It is in the spirit of cleanliness, recycling, and protecting the environment that we offer this service of “addressing the muck” – free of charge. After all, someone has to do it, right?

Here's another edition:

I tried not to delve into this subject matter for so very long. Oh, how I tried. Really did.

But, Round II:

I read a Paulick Report editorial recently that begs more serious questions than it supplied answers. Or, at the very least, it makes me question.

Question the thought process. Question the motive. Question the sincerity. Question the intent. And, quite honestly, question the heart.

The first piece was authored by Arthur Hancock III. He is a nice enough man. I’ve known him for over 30 years. Almost 40 now. Good with a song idea, from time to time, and a guitar string. Good for a laugh, from occasion to occasion. A diverse fellow, for sure. The man not chosen to operate Claiborne Farm upon the passage of his father, Arthur “Bull” Hancock decades ago, yet the man who went on to own, operate and prosper at his own Stone Farm in Paris, KY., and breed Kentucky Derby winner Gato del Sol.

I would venture to say that Arthur is well-rounded in all aspects of the industry. He has bred many horses. He has run hundreds, if not thousands. He has earned his stripes, and, from time to time, the platform. Yet, in my view, he is a combination of many characters and definitions — that include complex, complicated, competitive, competent, and contradictory.

Over the years, he has taken the time to make his position regarding race day medication very public. He has written. He has spoken. And, he has testified.

This week, once again, Arthur III took pen in hand — or fingers to keyboard — and opined why Thoroughbred racing would soon fall into the toilet and abscess if all race day medications — including Lasix — were not banned immediately from the “The Sport of His Kingdom.”

He wrote that Lasix, alone, induces Thoroughbreds to lose significant weight from the time it is administered to the time of the race, and that this reduction in weight is “performance enhancing.”

Hancock goes on to write that all race day medications should be banned because the rest of the world does it, and we should either fall in line, or fall from grace and sight. The theory is that our racing is flawed. The thought is that race day medications — including Lasix — are all performance enhancers. The idea is that it hurts the credibility of the game, and it hurts the breed.

And, it is Hancock’s conclusion, from his self deductive process, that the only winners in this country today are the “cheaters.”

Well, I think most — if not all — of this subjective assumptions are either flawed, or need further explanation and dissection.

First of all, I think there needs to be significant science devoted to the study of cause and effect results of all race day medications, and Lasix. I don’t know how losing a significant amount of weight can help a “lighter” horse to run much faster. If that is, in fact, the case, doesn’t it make sense that a horse that loses that much weight in that short of time, may also lose strength, and be drained, exhausted, compromised and exasperated? Would that not make Justify — who is over 17.1 hands and weighs in at about 1,300 pounds — more likely to lose than win, if heavier horses are compromised?

Secondly, the assumption that the rest of the world does not allow race day medications should not immediately mean that there are horses overseas that are not given race day medications. Two very different statements.

One should ask, “How much testing is actually being conducted in these other jurisdictions? How many different drugs are the connections being tested for, and what standards are being set to ensure compliance in these other countries? Who oversees the testing, results and ultimate decisions in England, Ireland and France? What are the medications that are allowed the day before and/or the day afterwards? What drugs are being administered, tested for, and regulated during out-of-competition times?” Simply put: a ban on race day medication by statute does not mean that they are not being utilized.

Third, and my most important point is this: If you believe that race day medications are bad for the industry; hurting the sport; and punitive and compromising to the horse, then you should abide by one simple edict: Do Not Use Race Day Medications — Including Lasix — In Your Own Horses.

There is no rule, Arthur, that you HAVE to run on therapeutic medications — such as Lasix. There is no mandate that your trainer and veterinarian MUST prescribe and administer this preventive medication. There is no one holding a starter’s gun to your head.

If you are so convicted that Lasix is hurting the industry; the sport; the breed, there is a simple approach for you. Here it is. Don’t use it in your own horses that race. Make a commitment and stick to it. Do not use it. Period.

Yet, there are examples all over the country where you’re horses have run while being treated with Lasix. On race day. In fact, there are legislators lined up to ask you that very question if you ever decide to try that stage again in Frankfort and before the members of the Kentucky General Assembly. I may know of one. Or two. Just discussed it with them. You are welcome for another stage presence.

I would argue that in today’s world that it would be inhumane not to treat a Thoroughbred racing with Lasix. The drug is known for preventing hemorrhaging in the nose, throat and lungs. The drug is known to help horses breathe better; more naturally. The drug is known to help resolve a persistent and consistent issue that most, if not all, Thoroughbreds may experience to some degree or another. To stand by and not treat a horse with a medication that he or she may need may be the most inhumane thing that I can imagine.

But I would also argue that to “say one thing, and do another,” is less than sincere, professional, forthcoming, as well.

The second person to pick up the joust and do battle for the ill-conceived Horseracing (should be two words, or hyphenated, at the least) Integrity Act of 2017 is Belinda Stronach — President and Chairman of the Stronach Group and daughter of racing mogul Frank Stronach. (According to the supporters of Congressman Andy Barr’s legislation, Frank Stronach has already expressed his support for the legislation, as far back as April of 2017.)

I don’t know Belinda Stronach. Never met the lady. I will presume that she, like Arthur Hancock III, has the best interest of the industry in both their heart and head. She recently wrote a letter to Bob Latta, the Chair of the U.S. House of Representative’s Committee on Energy & Commerce, and to Jan Schakowsky, the Ranking Member of the same Committee.

In part, this is what Ms. Stronach wrote:

“The Stronach Group is one of the largest owners and opertors of Thoroughbred racetracks in the United States. Within our portfolio we hold some of the most recognized bands in the industry, including: Santa Anita Park, “The Great Race Place”; Pimlico Race Course, home of the legendary Preakness Stakes; Gulfstream Park, home of the Pegasus World Cup Invitational — the world’s richest Thoroughbred horse race; Laurel Park; Golden Gate Fields; Portland Meadows; and Rosecroft Raceway.

“It is well documented that The Stronach Group is a strong proponent for uniformity in Thoroughbred horse racing and that we support the abolishment of race-day medication.

“While our efforts to eliminate the use of race-day medication started years before, in 2014 The Stronach Group issued a letter written by Frank Stronach to our fellow racetrack operators, urging them to come together to discontinue the practice of race-day medication. At that time, we also vowed support for the National Uniform Medication Program (NUMP) hoping that states would adopt and implement the reforms by September 1st, 2014.

“As this committee is no doubt aware, to date these efforts have not come to fruition. Horses continue to race on medication administered only hours before they race. The United States is the only major racing jurisdiction in the world where this practice remains true.

“NUMP still has not been adopted by all jurisdictions. Out of the four states in which we operate, Maryland is the only one to adopt NUMP but has yet to fully implement all of its components.

“Our sport will benefit greatly from a level playing field, uniformity and federal oversight. Presently, there are 38 racing jurisdictions with different rules, regulations and penalties. These inefficiencies are both ineffective and costly and compromise the integrity of our sport.”

There are truly two things that stick out in the body of that letter and the language used.

One, Ms. Stronach states that the sport could benefit from “federal oversight.” While the proponents of the federal legislation argue that it only establishes a “non governmental board,” the legislation and this proponent invites the same federal government that struggles with the most minute issues to control, regulate and over-see the Thoroughbred industry.

Wow. The most inefficient form of governance in the world today is now going to have the experience, dedication and expertise to oversee Thoroughbred racing. Doubt it.

Two, Ms. Stronach if you truly believe in this subject matter so vehemently, so reverently, so undeniably, then here’s a question and a thought:

Why does your father still race horses that utilize race day medications — including Lasix — with his own race horses and in jurisdictions all over this country — including racetracks that you own?

Why does Adena Springs Farm, owned by your father and your family (I presume) stand stallions that raced on Lasix and were treated on race day? Some of the best stallions in the world, mind you. Stallions like Ghostzapper, Awesome Again, Mucho Macho Man and so many others.

And, why do you allow Lasix and other medications to be administered at your very own racetracks on race day? Those medications may be permissive, you have the control to write races that prohibit the use of any race day medication and you have the ability to prevent — if your track management teams so decided to do so. Oaklawn Park, led by the Cella Family, did just that this Spring.

Why have you not?

My guess is that there is money involved, right? So the conviction loses out when it comes down to a debate between the conscience and the pocket book?

The debate on whether race day medications should or should not be permitted at racing venues in North America is a worthy one, and there are very well intentioned and learned people on both sides of the equation.

In short, I don’t think people and veterinarians should ask or permit Thoroughbreds from running without the benefit of anti-bleeding medications — such as Lasix. Personally, I think there is no difference than asking the owner to go without their blood pressure, blood thinners, or any other prescribed meds that ensure quality of life.

But, after some discussion, perhaps if true dialogue were to engage, there may be some resolutions that all could agree upon and implement.

Yet, when the proponents of banning race day medications — including Lasix — have a track record that is easily obtainable, readable, digestible and understandable and that track record reflects a history of contradiction, and hypocritical behavior, it is difficult to take your arguments seriously. It is more difficult to take you seriously. And, it is easy to see why people don’t trust your words, your intent, your suggestions, your mandates, or your heart.

Posted Tuesday, July 03, 2018
The Horseracing Integrity Act is about much more than that, writes Gene McLean.
Posted Monday, July 02, 2018

The Player, a handsome fellow and magnificent runner owned by Buff Bradley and his partner Carl Hurst, continues to improve from the injury the colt sustained while running in the Grade 2 New Orleans Handicap at the Fair Grounds on March 24.

I was able to catch up on Monday with my great friend, ally, and regular pen pal, Bradley, for a progress report. Here is what Buff had to say:

“Still a ways to go, but leg looks better and he is walking better, and standing more square,” the trainer relayed. “LSU is my second favorite school (my guess the home state university still holds some heart strings). Vets there have done a wonderful job. He has been there for over three months.”

Unfortunate turn of fate for both the affable and talented horseman, and one of his prized pupils. The colt was bred by Buff, Hurst and Buff’s late father, Fred. By Street Hero and out of the Gilded Time mare Hour Queen, The Player really looked like he was poised and ready for his best year of racing. As in, ever.

After breaking the maiden in 2016, the colt won his very next race and then ran a huge second — beaten less than a length — to the highly touted Cupid in the Indiana Derby. He was laid up after that race, though, and didn’t make a return to the races until nearly a year later, when he ran in the Kelly’s Landing Stakes at Churchill Downs on June 30, 2017. In his first race back after 11 months away, The Player ran a huge third to Limousine Liberal at the seven-furlong distance that is right up the latter’s ally.

But it wasn’t long before The Player was ready to make some huge noise of his own. In September 2017, he ran second in the Grade 3 Ack Ack at Churchill Downs, losing by a length to Awesome Slew. Then, in the very next race, The Player ran away to a powerful three-length victory in the Grade Fayette. He whipped the likes of Neolithic, McCraken, Giuseppe the Great, and Honorable Duty in that tilt at Keeneland.

Yet, the best looked like it was still to come. In February of this year, in just his second start in 2018, The Player was completely dominant in the Grade 3 Mineshaft Handicap at the Fair Grounds. He ran away to a 4 1/4-length victory over Thirstforlife, Scuba and the rest of the overmatched pack.

Great things looked like were on the horizon.

Instead, a devastating injury loomed. Midway through the final turn of the New Orleans Handicap, The Player appeared to take a bad step at the 5/16ths marker. He was pulled up by his rider, Calvin Borel, whose quick actions probably helped save the horse's life.

Afterward, the colt was stabilized and then transported to LSU, where surgery was performed and multiple screws (more than a dozen) were placed in his leg.  Prayers, stall rest, and finally rehabilitation ensued. Every day hopes have continued.

Now, three months later, he is not forgotten by his family. Just last week, on a race day off, Buff Bradley jumped into his truck and drove to Louisiana just to visit with his friend, and love on his colt. The colt, you see, had stolen a special place in his trainer’s heart. In addition to being a friendly reminder of the days when the son and father would breed, raise and race their horses together, The Player had the charisma, charm, and personality of a bar room mate.

Often times, Buff would arrive at the barn and find his prized pupil lying under the webbing and nearly halfway into the shed row. It happened so often, that the trainer finally purchased a dog bedding to put his horse’s head to rest.

Sometimes, later in the day, Buff would walk around the shed row at feeding time and witness his colt sitting in the back corner of the stall — dog style. Two front legs stretched out. Sitting on his rear end. One was to wonder if the colt was waiting for his smoking jacket, a pipe and two fingers of his best bourbon for his daily cocktail.

The Player had gone from an oddity, though, to a star. While his methods of relaxation were questionable and personable, there was no mistaking his running ability. It was stakes quality, and high octane. Most of all, though, he had gone from foolish to freakish; he had matured from folly to friend.

Best friends.

That is what has made the long wait for his return to Kentucky so tough, agonizing, and troublesome. But, make no mistake whatsoever, Buff Bradley knows it is worth the wait.

All he wants is for his colt to come home. And, slowly, he is working his way to doing just that.

Godspeed, The Player. Godspeed.

Posted Monday, June 25, 2018
Gene McLean remembers the much-loved late wife of jockey Corey Lanerie.
Posted Sunday, June 10, 2018
Amazing, thrilling and exhilarating: That is Triple Crown winner Justify.
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The Pressbox is your source for news, handicapping and interviews with the industry's biggest stars. Gene McLean is the Founder of The Pressbox and The Louisville Thoroughbred Society. No one in this industry has more talent in reviewing, forecasting and handicapping.

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