November 10, 2010

A Listless Life at Ten Raises Many Tough Questions

I did not bet a single dollar on Life at Ten, yet I want answers. I can only imagine how the hundreds of thousands of people who wagered money on her feel. As racing fights for every gambling dollar it can find, the last thing the sport needs now is to have an unexplained incident causing a loss of confidence in the betting on our sport. Without integrity, much is lost.

I have no financial interest in Life at Ten, yet I feared for her safety moments before the running of the Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic. I can only imagine how the owner of Life At Ten may have felt. The safety of both horse and rider must come first in a sport with inherent danger.

Clearly the wagering public, and owner, Candy DeBartolo, deserve an investigation complete with a satisfactory explanation, as to why this filly was permitted to run Friday evening. Plain and simple, she needed to be scratched. As the situation stands now it is a black-eye on thoroughbred horse racing. To sweep it under the rug without a proper review and tangible changes implemented, is the worst possible direction for racing to go.

By now we’ve all seen, and we’ve all heard, the sequence of events that proceeded the Ladies’ Classic. Life At Ten was a listless horse before stepping on to the track, she was uncomfortable on the racing surface pre-race, and then when the gates opened she was eased almost immediately. Did all of this information come from some serious post-race digging by an industrious journalist? Not exactly … It was announced pre-race to a national viewing audience on ESPN.

Analyst Jerry Bailey noticed something was amiss with Life at Ten during her warm-up, and asked her rider John Velazquez about the mare‘s condition. Velazquez stated that she did not feel right. Asked a few minutes later, Velazquez reiterated his belief that Life at Ten was not herself. She was in no condition to run in the Ladies’ Classic now just moments away. It seems like a cut and dry situation, scratch her for the safety of horse, rider, and the other jockeys and horses in the race. Scratch her to protect the bettors who knew that there money was trapped on a horse that had zero chance to win.

The scratch of Life at Ten was not the chosen path, however. To tell you the truth, and this may sound a bit callous, my main concern is not what was wrong with Life at Ten on Friday night, but rather, how on earth she was permitted to run. I feel relatively confident, whether it was cramping, or an adverse reaction to Lasix, or whatever may have ailed her, that she thankfully will come out of the incident free of long-term problems. What I do have major concerns with, is whether racing will take adequate steps to make sure something like this can not happen again.

Here is what the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission had to say, “From the time Life at Ten was brought to the paddock, saddled, led to the track for the post parade, warmed up and loaded into the starting gate, neither trainer Todd Pletcher nor jockey Johnny Velasquez voiced any concerns they may have had regarding Life at Ten to any racing officials, veterinarians or the outriders prior to the running of the Ladies Classic,” Odd. Do they not get ESPN?

So who’s to blame for this fiasco?

Did Todd Pletcher ignore clear signs that Life at Ten was not right before sending his horse to the track? If he didn’t realize there was an issue, as he has basically stated, doesn’t he need to be more aware of the condition of every single horse he personally saddles?

Did John Velazquez not do enough at the starting gate to make sure the vets there would take action and make her a late scratch? By stepping in the starting gate did he endanger everyone competing in the Ladies Classic?

Did the vets at the starting gate ignore what the experienced rider was telling them about the condition of Life at Ten? Were they informed by the stewards what had been said on ESPN?

Did the stewards not have enough to go on to either order her scratched, or have her run for purse money only? Randy Moss stated that the information from the broadcast was passed along … did they choose to just ignore this information?

Did the money that the track and Breeders’ Cup would have lost from the late scratch have anything to do with the lack of action?

In the end, I blame everyone. Most likely this was a case of no one being willing to step up and make a difficult decision in the moments proceeding the big race. That’s a shame. Now is the time to step up. Investigate thoroughly and learn from mistakes ... and this was a major mistake. Everyone who loves this sport deserves an answer.  Nothing short of the integrity of racing lies in the balance.


Michael said...

Well, I for one am livid about everything you mentioned Brian. I was at the BC and did not have the advantage of hearing the pre-race comments so of course, I wasted a lot of money on her. Not only was there a lot on her in the win pool, but how many had her in their exactas, tris and supers? I am just curious as to the difference between QR getting scratched at the gate LY and Life at Ten being allowed to run.

Brian Zipse said...

Both horses needed to be scratched, Michael. In Quality Road's case, the decision was made easy. In Life at Ten's case, apparently, it was not made easy enough.

Michael said...

My point exactly Brian (even though I was not clear). Both horses needed to be scratched. I am not for one second indicating that QR should have run LY.

Brian Zipse said...

Right, I knew you weren't saying that, I am just disappointed that of the many people with the opportunity to make the right decision, none did. We should all demand more answers.

Anonymous said...

last year quality road and this year life at ten?
same drugs, different reaction.why?
one's a colt, the other a filly.

Jonathan said...

This is more serious for me than a couple of knuckleheads throwing punches at each other. Having been an owner I would have been extremely angry if my horse was risked in any way.

As a punter I would have been apoplectic.

A disgrace.

Alexander said...

I think it was Todd that ultimately dropped the ball with both horses. It just underscores the fact that you can't train 300 horses. I have nothing personal against Todd, he just needs to learn to say no every once in a while. It would also have the added benefit of letting some of the little guys have a crack at getting a horse or two to train.

darlene said...

I missed the post parade to the Ladies classic and most of the race although race was repeated the post parade wasn't so I have a question When Jerry Bailey was talking to jockey wasn't an outrider with him then hearing his remarks? Another question I have is why wasn't there blood drawn after race? From all the info I've seen that this wasn't done. I also question Quality Roads performance. It was lackluster at best Same drug? no confidence in betting Plletcher horses for now And would a gate vet pull a horse w/o obvious signs such as lameness or QRs behavior last year just a jock saying horse doesn't feel right?These are things that I want to know as just a regular person who only bets once in a while and just loves to watch racing for the joy of it.Something that disappeared quickly on Friday

Steve Zorn said...

Based on her post-time odds, Life at Ten accounted for something like $1.8 million in bets in various pools. Would love to see a class-action suit against the Breeders Cup, Churchill and the stewards to get some of that back.

Brian Zipse said...

I like it ... A class-action suit would certainly get some attention, and shake the common practice to its core.

ja.raymond said...

Yes! Why didnt Valequez jump off when they got to the gate??!
And if Pletcher couldnt see anything wrong, I dont think he needs to be training!
I've never even really watched L@T's way of going and I saw how she was travelling on her front end - short, choppy and winging her right front, like it was something in her shoulder/s! Poor girl! :(

Anonymous said...

I say boycott wagering at CD for the fall meet. all the talk in the world will not go any where until you hit 'em where it the pocketbook. If you shopped at a retailer and were treated this way, you would shop elsewhere. No difference here.

Brian Zipse said...

Now we know how the owner feels ... “Without equivocation, (Life at Ten) should have been scratched from the race.” ~Owner, Candy DeBartolo, via Thoroughbred Times.