THE WEEK THAT WAS: JUNE 29-JULY 5

by | 11.17.2010 | 12:46am

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I'm not sure how good of a poker player Ron Geary is, but the owner of Ellis Park was engaged in a high-stakes game with Kentucky horsemen this past week. On the one hand, Geary put up his money to play this game when he bought the track from Churchill Downs two years ago, so if he wants to take his ball and go home because horsemen want a more equitable percentage of dollars bet through account wagering, that's his right, ultimately.

On the other hand, Geary should feel a responsibility – if not an obligation – to work with the people in Kentucky's signature industry, and his last-minute decision to close Ellis Park before its scheduled July 4 opening looked an awful like a spoiled child running home to mommy when he couldn't have his way.

Normally, one might look for leadership from the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority when a dispute like this occurs between racetracks and horsemen. What's that, you say? There is no Kentucky Horse Racing Authority? Oh, that's right. In the middle of this Ellis Park crisis, Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear dissolved the regulatory body and replaced it with another regulatory body called the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, which has yet to meet. Of course, it's the same thing previous governors have done so they can pay off some campaign favors.

(Maybe that's the real reason so many politically connected people detest the idea of any sort of federal regulation of racing. Governors and friends of governors would lose one of the spoils of victory that comes with the office.)

In his announcement about the formation of the new commission, Beshear issued some gibberish about how important the Thoroughbred industry is to Kentucky. Beshear, a Democrat, had the strong support of the Thoroughbred industry in his 2007 campaign to unseat Republican Gov. Ernie Fletcher, and one of the platforms of his campaign was expansion of the wagering menu at racetracks to include casino gambling. During the general assembly, however, Beshear was quiet as a church mouse on the issue, and the necessary legislation never got out of the starting gate.

Governor Steve's “rediscovery” of the industry is curious, at best, and his timing to dismantle the old authority is terrible.

Fortunately for Kentucky's blue-collar horsemen (the tiffany guys all go to Saratoga or Arlington), cooler heads have prevailed. A more equitable split of revenue has been agreed upon, and  Ellis Park will open a week late on July 11.

WITH THE TURNING OF THE CALENDAR PAGE, Fasig-Tipton moves closer to its July yearling sale and the first under the new ownership of Synergy Investments. Buyers shouldn't look for anything new, sale company officials told the Paulick Report, since the deal closed just over a month ago. But a survey we conducted of consignors and buyers showed great enthusiasm for what Fasig-Tipton's new owners can bring, not just to the company's sales rings in Lexington, Ky., and Saratoga Springs, NY, but to the industry at large. There also was much speculation that a stronger and more competitive Fasig-Tipton will have a humbling effect on the widely perceived arrogance of Keeneland.

SPEAKING OF HUMBLING, this past week's election results for the Breeders' Cup board of members and trustees had to be particularly tough on Robert Clay, the owner of Three Chimneys Farm in Midway, Ky. Clay, the vice chairman of the Breeders' Cup operating board of directors, didn't receive enough votes from nominators, and will thus be ineligible to run for re-election to that 14 member board when the members and trustees vote on seven open positions this coming Friday. Three other incumbents were voted off the larger board of members and trustees in what is clearly a sea change for the board, a potential scenario discussed at the Paulick Report a few weeks back in a two-part series (part one, part two).  

It will be interesting to see who is elected to the operating board of directors. My money is on Hill 'n' Dale Farm owner John Sikura to emerge as a powerful voice to represent the “new guard” at the Breeders' Cup as the battle against the “old guard” Jockey Club types continues to evolve.

THERE WAS PLENTY OF ACTION ON THE RACETRACK THIS WEEK, but the headlines came from two workouts: one by Kentucky Derby-Preakness winner Big Brown, his first since being eased in the Belmont; and the other by Horse of the Year Curlin on the turf at Churchill Downs. Big Brown's work was slow, but he's got a month until he is expected to re-emerge in the Haskell Stakes at Monmouth. Curlin's was more of a test drive for trainer Steve Asmussen to see how well the son of Smart Strike took to the grass. According to Asmussen, Curlin did everything right, and all systems are currently “go” for a turf debut, most likely in Belmont Park's Man o' War on July 12. If that goes well, Curlin's majority owner, Jess Jackson, wants to challenge the world's best grass runners in France's Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. I think Curlin will be up against it in France, but I probably wouldn't  have suggested Christopher Columbus sail west, either.

It was a quiet week for Big Brown's trainer, Rick Dutrow, aside from having Unrequited, a horse he raced twice in three days, be euthanized because of a fractured pelvis. This ordinarily wouldn't be news, but only two days before the horse was injured at Monmouth Park, Dutrow challenged the media to find the last time he had a horse vanned off the track with an injury. The good news: the mouth that has roared so much this spring is being muzzled. We look for the week ahead to be a No Dutrow Zone.

FINALLY, ON THE MEDICATION FRONT, red-hot trainer Bruce Levine's horses at Monmouth Park tested negative for blood-doping agents in testing conducted by the New Jersey Racing Commission. Frank Zanzuccki, the executive director of the commission, gave the Paulick Report some background on the regulatory agency's out-of-competition testing program.

By Ray Paulick


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