You know the drill: shoes off, pockets empty, laptop out of the case. It's what travelers have come to expect in the post-9/11 days of air travel in the United States. Transportation Security Administration officials aren't accusing you or any other passenger of doing anything wrong; they are simply looking out for the best interests of all of us.
And so it goes with backstretch security, in particular for the horses entered in some major races. No one takes this responsibility more seriously than the Breeders' Cup, though protocols for race-day and even race-week security took some time to develop.
Let's go back to 1999, when the Breeders' Cup was held at Gulfstream Park, and some of the horses competing in the championships were permitted to ship in the afternoon of the race. In the Classic, trainer Jim Bond had one of the hot favorites, Behrens, who had finished first or second in all eight of his starts that year. Bond was stabled at the private training center, Payson Park in Indiantown, Fla., and planned to van Behrens to Gulfstream Park just a few hours before the race.
Another trainer in the Classic, Michael Dickinson, had the 126-1 longshot Supreme Sound. Dickinson was not happy with Bond being able to ship Behrens in so close to the race and hired a private investigator to videotape and monitor Bond's activities at Payson Park. The PI then followed the van on the 90-minute ride to the racetrack. A different private investigator hired by Dickinson was lurking outside of a barn occupied by another rival trainer in the Classic, video camera in hand.
It was quite the cloak and dagger situation.
Behrens wound up running one of the worst races of his career, finishing seventh as the 2-1 favorite. The last-place finisher was Dickinson-trained Supreme Sound. But Dickinson made his point, and Breeders' Cup began to tighten security procedures, insisting the following year that horses be on the grounds prior to race day and eventually extending that requirement to 72 hours. Today, those horses are monitored 72 hours pre-race by security personnel, out-of-competition testing is conducted, and extensive post-race drug tests are done on the top finishers.
This week, the New York Racing Association said it planned to conduct similar monitoring of horses entered in the Grade 1 Wood Memorial on Saturday. There is no suggestion that any one of the horsemen have nefarious intentions, but the plan was designed to ensure a level playing field and provide a greater degree of confidence among participants and horseplayers that no horse would get an unfair advantage.
Santa Anita management also adopted a 72-hour pre-race security rule for Saturday's Santa Anita Derby, but this came about not because of the track's insistence or because the California Horse Racing Board felt it was a good idea. The Santa Anita plan was pushed by one of the participants, Janine McCullough, general manager of John R. Mabee's Golden Eagle Farm, which has the longshot Storm Fighter in the race with trainer Bruce Headley.
McCullough spoke with track officials, leadership of Thoroughbred Owners of California, California Thoroughbred Trainers, and the California Horse Racing Board. She even guaranteed to get private funding to pay for the extra security detail. If not for her tireless efforts, this would not have happened.
Not everyone in California with a horse in the Santa Anita Derby is happy about having security guards lurking in their barn for three days. Not everyone standing barefoot in an airport security line, shoes and belt in hand, is happy, either. But there is something good about knowing that the person seated next to you on an airplane didn't smuggle a weapon onboard.
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