Does Lasix-free Pegasus World Cup show 'disdain' for bettors?

By Tom Pedulla/Special to HRN
January 20, 2020 12:53pm
Does Lasix-free Pegasus World Cup show 'disdain' for bettors?
Photo: Courtesy of Gulfstream Park

Top handicapper Michael Beychok accuses The Stronach Group of “crapping on horseplayers” with its decision to have horses run without race-day medication in Saturday's $3 million Pegasus World Cup (G1) and the $1 million Pegasus Turf (G1) at Gulfstream Park.

“To me, it’s the culmination of the disdain the industry has for the horseplayer,” said Beychok. “They’re asking us to wager on one of the biggest races of the year and giving us a completely different package to wager on.”

Most, if not all, of the horses that will comprise the fields for the two highly anticipated races are accustomed to receiving Lasix on race day as a deterrent to bleeding. Even trainers such as Dale Romans, who is expected to enter Mr Freeze in the 1 1/8-mile dirt race, are not sure what to expect when it is not administered.

“I think it’s just guesswork right now,” Romans said. “Nobody knows whether their horses will perform differently without Lasix.”

Beychok is best known for banking $1 million as winner of the 2012 National Horseplayers Championship. He said The Stronach Group’s insistence on going medication-free with two of its signature races is the latest in a series of events that have driven him “closer than I’ve ever been” to becoming a former player.

“It’s a culmination of not having a central body or a commissioner regulating the sport,” he said. “You have different economic entities going in different directions, reacting differently, sending mixed messages. It’s just not good for the sport.”

Two other prominent horseplayers, Jonathon Kinchen and Dr. Marshall Gramm, do not view the absence of medication as all that big a deal in their ability to analyze the Pegasus races.

“Is it going to deter me from playing those big races? No,” Kinchen said. “I think at higher levels with well-bred horses, athletic horses that are as well-cared for, it is not something that concerns me in the short term.”

Added Gramm: “I think any horses that have severe issues with bleeding aren’t going to show up. The right horses will be entered that are either very light bleeders or not bleeders at all.”

Kinchen pointed to takeout and inaccurate information pertaining to the timing of races as his greatest concerns, not the departure from the norm with Pegasus runners. “On the list of things that are disrespectful of horseplayers, I’m not sure if that makes the top 10,” he said.

Kinchen, winner of the 2015 National Horseplayers Championship Tour, noted that his worries had little, or nothing, to do with the gambling aspect.

“My concern about no Lasix is if it puts the animal at risk in terms of bleeding,” he said. “I don’t think we want any of our four-legged friends to have to go through that.”

Gramm, an economics professor at Rhodes College in Memphis and a managing partner of Ten Strike Racing, listed takeout, timing, availability of data and short fields as his overriding complaints.

“There are a lot of impediments to playing this game,” he said.

Extremely poor weather played a role last January when total Pegasus Day handle dipped to $37,786,967 following a record $41,983,881 in 2018. Handle totaled $40,217,924 when the Pegasus was introduced in 2017. The 1 3/16-mile Pegasus Turf was contested for the first time last year.

Romans will be among those in the industry paying close attention to this year’s betting totals.

“We’ll see if they play,” he said. “It would be hard for me to spend on a horse that hasn’t run without Lasix.”

The Stronach Group announced the medication ban in mid-December in addition to a sharp reduction in purses, elimination of entry fees and a widely applauded commitment to donate 2% of purse money to Thoroughbred aftercare.

“We are investing in the future of our sport by creating new opportunities for horsemen and horses to run without medication,” said Belinda Stronach, chairperson and president of The Stronach Group, in a news release at that time.

As upset as Beychok is, he acknowledges that the two Pegasus races will command his attention.

“I’m a gambler, right? So I’m going to wager,” he said. “But I don’t know where to wager. I’m a horseplayer. I’m not a veterinarian. I’m not a trainer.”

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