Where facts and transparency become rumors and translucency. Where dashed Triple Crown hopes turn a perfectly good classic into a run-of-the-mill Grade 1. It has to be our sport of kings. Here is to the memories of red Kentucky roses and dyed Maryland daisies and hopes for something other than wilted carnations next month on Long Island.
Tapit is not just Trice as nice. This is the time of year when anything with the word Tapit gets my attention. Of the 12 Belmont Stakes horses he has sired, four won, including Tonalist in 2014, Creator in 2016, Tapwrit in 2017 and Essential Quality in 2021. Four others also hit the board, including Frosted in 2015 and Hofburg in 2018 in losses to Triple Crown champions. One more of Tapit’s sons and four of his grandsons finished in the top five since 2020, the year his colt Tiz the Law won the nine-furlong, COVID running of the Belmont. No wonder Tapit Trice has my attention among the names in the mix for this year. So, too, do Arcangelo, Hit Show, Kingsbarns and Red Route One, because their dams were sired by Tapit. At 22, he may not be a stallion in his prime as he was in the mid ’10s, but anyone ignoring Tapit on the pedigree lines should think twice. Or trice.
Bet the under on the Belmont. There are 13 horses listed on the early Brisnet past performances who are under consideration to start in 15 days in the Belmont. It would be great if the field were that large. But it will not happen. There have not been than many in seven years. Before every Memorial Day we hear about all sorts of possible starters just as we do every summer about how loaded the Travers (G1) will be. Then reality sets in, and the fields are more modest. If Bob Baffert brings National Treasure and Reincarnate and Arabian Lion to go the 1 1/2 miles, that would be great. Same goes for Brad Cox with Angel of Empire and Hit Show. And Todd Pletcher with Forte, Tapit Trice, Kingsbarns and Prove Worthy. And Larry Rivelli with Two Phil’s, although it looks like he is more likely to be racing next at Churchill Downs in the Matt Winn (G3) the day after. I would be happy if half of them showed up.
First came Billy Blazejowski. Anyone who saw “Night Shift” knows there must be an idea man here. True that. Pat Cummings of the Thoroughbred Idea Foundation got there first this week. He called for the results of pre-race, veterinary exams to be made public in timely fashion ahead of Triple Crown races. In short, why did we have to wait days for doctors to tell the public that there were concerns about Forte in the Kentucky Derby and First Mission in the Preakness? When I got wind of the First Mission injury the night before he was scratched last week, I texted every connection imaginable. Even connections of connections. One was none too pleased to get a wake-up ping, and I get that. Eventually, everyone responded with one notable exception: 1/ST Racing veterinarian Dr. Dionne Benson. Players have a right to know what adjudicating doctors find wrong with horses in any pari-mutuel race let alone the classics. It is sad to think racing actually would improve if it were like the National Hockey League, where the only thing that team management tells fans and bettors is that someone has an upper- or lower-body injury. I can see it now. “Forte: questionable, front half.”
Pimlico or bust. There are three sure things about the middle of May. Better weather, Mother’s Day invoices and speculation about the future of the Preakness. Except for the COVID year of 2020, I have gone to every renewal since 2007. Every year I hear stories about how track management does not want to be there anymore. How the Preakness will be moved to Laurel or Gulfstream or Santa Anita or to late May or early June. Yada, yada, yada, the race goes on at Old Hilltop, where the last major renovation came when the old clubhouse burned down in 1966. 1/ST Racing boss Aidan Butler told the Los Angeles Times that he prefers to keep the Preakness and all of Maryland racing at a rebuilt Pimlico. That represents a 180 from the move-to-Laurel, abandon-Pimlico plan of Butler’s predecessor Tim Ritvo. Of course, the Maryland state government will want to put its haphazard oars and dollars in this brackish water. Tick, tick, tick. Come May 18, 2024, Preakness 149 will be at Pimlico. Lather, rinse, rot.
Media ups and downs. Anyone who has seen most of the media covering horse racing knows a lot of us are closer to being carded for AARP discounts than we are for a cocktail. The deteriorating condition of Pimlico has moved into a fourth decade of being an annual talking point. Come to think of it, so has my deteriorating condition, although mine is more of an hourly topic. A creaky, old elevator used to take the media and executives and vendors and some hoi polloi from ground level to the next three floors of the clubhouse building. It would break down a lot, and management gave up on repairing it this year. Last week a temporary, construction lift was erected on the outside of the building. It looked rickety, so naturally, I had to give it a test ride. What do you know? It was smooth, and it got the job done. I think I was the only media type daring enough to use it, which I did close to a dozen times. Just wait ’til next year, when we are issued rappelling ropes. By the way, I just looked it up. Much of the grandstand was built in 1954, which was so long ago the Giants were still at the Polo Grounds, the Dodgers at Ebbets Field and the Orioles had just moved from St. Louis to Memorial Stadium, about four miles from the track. The rest of the clubhouse building was erected in 1959. Hey, so was I. Actually, it was the summer of ’58 when ... , oh, I had better stop there.