This past Saturday, a horse named Tobias was raced at Kentucky Downs. He finished dead last (of 12), some 28 lengths back for trainer/owner Rafael Fernandez. Nothing unusual there, of course. But then there’s this: Not only is Tobias 11 years old, not only was his first race over eight years ago, not only was this his 47th race overall, but Tobias was apparently “retired” back in April ’19, then thrust back on the track in August of that year, then possibly “retired” again before returning – after a one-year layoff – to race at Presque Isle this past August. Imagine that. But wait, there’s more.

Tobias’ last nine finishes, all under the aforementioned Fernandez:

5/5/18, Great Meadow: 10th of 11
5/18/18, Churchill: 7th of 10
6/7/18, Churchill: 7th of 9
11/3/18, Pine Mountain: 6th of 7
11/10/18, Churchill: last of 7
4/20/19, Keeneland: last of 9
8/30/19, Colonial: 9th of 12
8/27/20, Presque Isle: last of 8
9/12/20, Kentucky: last of 12

That’s four last-place, two second-to-last, none higher than 6th – with an average lengths-back of almost 17. But here’s the thing: Over his last three races – since being “unretired,” that is – Tobias has “earned” over $2,000 for Fernandez, including $885 for that woeful finish (28 back) Saturday. (In fact, Fernandez has trained and co-owned/owned Tobias for all but 3 of his 47 races, in total banking $172,000 off him.) So you see, there’s still money on the table – a sentient being’s life be damned.

Tobias…

Well, Eighty Eight’s 156th turn under the whip is in the books: dead last in the 7th at Lethbridge yesterday – 33 lengths back. And yes, the man (Rusty Smith) who a Canadian racing official claims “loves” Eighty Eight and considers him “family” had him “For Sale” (dirt cheap) immediately prior to the race. I’m out of adjectives, folks.

Eighty Eight, just before the race…

Eighty Eight, hopelessly bringing up the rear…

In the wake of my post on the abuse of a 14-year-old horse set to make his 156th start (today), one of our readers, Andrea Claici, reached out to Horse Racing Alberta, that province’s regulatory agency, on this poor animal’s plight. Andrea’s initial email:

Dear Mr. Verlik,

By way of this letter, I feel the need to voice my concern and outrage as it relates to Rocky Mountain Turf Club and an upcoming race this Sunday, September 13.

I became aware that owner/trainer Rusty Smith has entered his horse Eighty Eight into a claiming race. Perhaps nothing out of the ordinary thus far. However, Eighty Eight (EE) is 14 years old, Mr. Verlik! 14 years old! He was put to the whip 155 times, last time being October of last year!

In an interview and subsequent article written by Dale Johnson in September 2018, Mr. Smith stated that EE would be retired that very year and that he was looking for a good home for him. Shockingly though, 2 years later, Eighty Eight is being entered into yet another race! This horse has earned his retirement. He deserves a good home. He deserves for Mr. Smith to stand true to his words. Undoubtedly, Mr. Smith has an obligation to do so in order to prove he did not mislead the readers with his statements pertaining to EE’s retirement, albeit 2 years later. Retire him and re-home him. He has more than earned his keep. Mr. Smith is duty and honour-bound to do so.

I contacted the Manager of the racing office at Rocky Mountain Turf Club today, Ms. Dot Stein. I did so with the intent to obtain Mr. Smith’s contact details in order to express my concern for Eighty Eight’s wellbeing. If Mr. Smith is part of a legitimate business, a business being funded by public money, we all should be able to contact him, don’t you think? Ms. Stein was less than helpful advising me she would not share “confidential information.” I am yet to understand how a trainer/owner’s contact details are confidential. Ms. Stein further stated she would share MY contact details – that she requested from me and I supplied even though I didn’t have to – and she would ask Mr. Smith to contact me! We both know this will most likely not happen.

I am appealing to you, your compassion and humaneness, to please advise the track to scratch this horse from the Sunday, September 13 race. You have the power to do so. Eighty Eight has more than earned his retirement.

Respectfully,
Andrea

Mr. Verlik (who is the CEO) responded by saying that after his staff looked into the matter, they have determined that “[Eighty Eight] is eligible to race.” In addition to citing the horse’s “very respectable record,” noting that “the life expectancy of a racehorse is 25-30 years” (which, of course, is utterly irrelevant to the conversation at hand), and assuring that all horses are checked by an HRA vet “to ensure they are fit to race,” Verlik said this: “EE is owned and trained by Rusty Smith who loves and cares for his horses as they are part of his family. Mr. Smith would not race his horse if he felt there was a problem in doing so.”

Yes, of course, Mr. Verlik, nothing says “loves” like I own you and won’t hesitate to sell you (in fact, since Smith took ownership of Eighty Eight in June ’19, he has had him “For Sale” – dirt cheap, by the way – seven times; today will make eight). Nothing says “cares” like I will keep you locked – all alone – in a tiny room, pump you up with drugs, and have you flogged. Nothing says “part of the family” like the slaughterhouse (which is where most racehorses end up). Vile is too kind for these people.

From Canada, the worst abuse – in terms of duration – I’ve yet seen. The gelding Eighty Eight is 14 years old and has been put to the whip 155 times. Take a moment to allow that to sink in – 14 years old, 155 races. And: After having not been raced since last October, he’s slated for # 156 Sunday at Lethbridge (Alberta). That race, by the way, will be a $2,000 “claiming” (in Canadian currency, that is; it’s even lower in U.S. dollars). About as cheap as you will ever see. In short, that this poor, pathetic creature is still on the track is an outright obscenity.

Voice your outrage: Lethbridge Race Track (Rocky Mountain Turf Club): 403-380-1905 (The trainer/owner is Rusty Smith; I have no contact info for him.)

In addition to Princess Merida being “vanned off” in the 1st at Gulfstream yesterday, there was this for 3-year-old Emma Rose in the 4th: “EMMA ROSE reared in the grasp of her assistant starter at the break, flipped over backward unseating the rider and winding up draped across the back door of the stall, was extricated and vanned off.”

Again, that’s “reared…flipped over backward…[wound] up draped across the back door of the stall.” Imagine that scene.

I have nothing definitive (on either horse) yet, but Emma’s trainer, Kenny McPeek, tweeted this: “Unfortunately Emma Rose flipped when the starter opened the gate. Hopefully she and Edgard Zayas are ok.🙏🏻”

Vile – to the core.