THE WEEK THAT WAS…JUNE 22-28

by | 11.17.2010 | 12:46am
Two years ago, Deep Impact, a two-time Horse of the Year in Japan, traveled to Paris to take on the world's best grass runners in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. Thousands of Japanese fans followed the horse to France and bet with such confidence that Deep Impact was the odds-on favorite to win what is arguably Europe's most prestigious race.

The son of Sunday Silence could do no better than third, however, a stinging loss that paled in comparison to the news that followed  days later, when results of a post-race test showed the presence of the prohibited therapeutic medication Ipratropium, which Deep Impact was allowed to take during training in Japan to treat lung congestion. He had subsequently been treated with the drug in France prior to the Arc.

In a country where honor is in abundance, trainer Yasuo Ikee took the fall. He said he thought he was following the withdrawal time guidelines, but accepted full blame and responsibility for the error. There was no appeal. Ikee apologized to French authorities and to Japanese racing fans. He said he would do everything in his power to never make a similar mistake in the future.

A little over a month later, when Deep Impact scored an overpowering victory back home in the Japan Cup, Ikee was nearly moved to tears during a post-race press conference when asked about his experience in France. He continued to apologize for the medication positive, saying that it was by far the lowest point of his professional career. The Japan Cup win lightened the burden he felt over the Arc defeat and the humiliation of the post-race disqualification, but it was clear he continued to carry a large amount of shame and embarrassment over the incident.

I thought of Yasuo Ikee this past week when American racing's bad boy, Rick Dutrow, reacted like a petulant child when asked about a positive test by one of his horses racing at Churchill Downs the day before he saddled Big Brown to win the Kentucky Derby. “It's not my fault, though it's my responsibility,” he was quoted as saying in a press conference that turned bizarre. Dutrow plans to appeal his 15-day suspension, not because he feels the ruling will be overturned but because the system allows him to delay any suspension through the appeals process, and he wants to put off any punishment as long as possible so he can be with his horses.

How admirable.

Worse, however, Dutrow said, in effect, “Clenbuterol? It's no big deal.” He not only refused to accept blame for the positive test, he then started suggesting other past and current trainers were bigger cheaters than he was.  

The New York Post's headline said it best: Big Brown Trainer Mouths Off Again.

If timing is everything, the news of Dutrow's bad test couldn't have come at a worse time for IEAH Stable, the majority owner of Big Brown. Only a few days earlier, the outfit pledged to race its horses drug free beginning Oct. 1. Until then, I guess, it's “Katy, bar the door!”

Dutrow's clenbuterol positive wasn't the only time medication was in the news this week. Steve Asmussen, this year's leading trainer by money and wins and the conditioner of reigning Horse of the Year Curlin, was notified of a positive test for Lidocaine in one of his horses racing in Texas last month. His hearing is scheduled for July 18.

Asmussen has numerous medication violations during his career and served a six-month suspension in late 2006-early 2007 for a mepivacaine positive. Unlike Dutrow,  he was smart enough to allow his attorney do the talking for him, and stuck to training horses. Asmussen's lead attorney is Maggi Moss, last year's leading Thoroughbred owner in the U.S. by wins.

Consider this: the trainers of the 2007 Horse of the Year, the 2008 Kentucky Derby winner and the 2008 Kentucky Oaks winner (Larry Jones) are all facing positive drug tests for horses in their care. Anyone who thinks racing doesn't have a problem is in serious denial.

Finally, in what could turn out to be the most significant medication story of the week, Monmouth Park's leading trainer, Bruce Levine, had a surprise visitor on Tuesday when a veterinarian working for the New Jersey Racing Commission took “out-of-competition” blood samples  from each of the 41 horses in his barn. The commission will run tests for the blood-doping agent erythropoietin, better known as EPO.

No matter how the drug tests turn out (and there is no suggestion that Levine is doing anything illegal while winning at a near 50% clip), New Jersey officials should be commended for conducting out-of-competition testing. It's the type of activity that could act as a deterrent to other trainers who may be using illegal, performance-enhancing medication.

In other headlines this week, Santa Anita announced its decision to replace the current synthetic surface that had major draining issues earlier this year with Pro-Ride, manufactured by an Australian company. The Paulick Report reported the findings of a California trainers' survey and injury statistics supporting Santa Anita's decision to stay with a synthetic surface.

This week also found departure of another high-ranking Magna Entertainment executive (that's news?), Brant Latta, who had been with the company nearly 10 years.

Finally, we reported on the industry's newest odd couple, Robert Clay of Three Chimneys Farm and the human connections of Big Brown. Clay has spent years crafting an image of integrity and excellence, but he was eager to recruit Big Brown to his stallion barn despite the baggage the colt brings in the form of a co-owner, Michael Iavarone, who greatly enhanced his Wall Street reputation while recruiting owners to the IEAH Stable he runs, and trainer Rick Dutrow, who needs no further introduction at this point.

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By Ray Paulick


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