5-year-old Centralinteligence (shown below), a Seattle Slew progeny, was vanned off after the $1 million Dirt Mile Grade 1 at Santa Anita. The video, which can be viewed here, shows no ambulance, of course; it’s all smiles and jubilation in the winner’s circle, with Goldencents’ owner calling Doug O’Neill “the best trainer of all time.” Yes, that Doug O’Neill.

photo credit: Breeders' Cup
photo credit: Breeders’ Cup

Later in the Santa Anita day, 9-year-old (54 starts) So Big Is Better was vanned off after winning a non-BC $150,000 Grade 1.

The following, unless otherwise noted, were “vanned off” American tracks this week.

Monday:
2-year-old Mr Rabbits (1st career start), Finger Lakes, race 4 (confirmed dead)
4-year-old Bb Mine, Zia, race 1

Tuesday:
5-year-old In God’s Country, Parx, race 8 (broke down)
3-year-old Worthy Note (after winning), Zia, race 12

Wednesday:
4-year-old Trick Falls, Albuquerque, race 7
3-year-old Dyker Beach, Churchill Downs, race 7
4-year-old Touch of Revenge, Suffolk Downs, race 3
6-year-old King T C, Thistledown, race 3 (broke down)
3-year-old Double Ought Pyro, Zia, race 2

Thursday:
4-year-old Kititis, Delta Downs, race 1 (not vanned off but “flipped in the gate”)
3-year-old Controlled Chaos, Hawthorne, race 7
2-year-old Deep Bottom, Remington, race 6 (not vanned off but “pulled up in apparent distress”)

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Because NY is the only state to publicly disclose its breakdowns as they happen, we have to draw inferences on the rest of the nation’s “vanned off.” But consider this: Today, the Gaming Commission announced the death of a 3rd (of 3) Finger Lakes ambulance-rider from Saturday. 5-year-old My Cousin Eddie, who “returned sore and was vanned off” after the 2nd race, is but a carcass now, joining comrades Magestick Tomahawk and Irish Lady. With these, Finger Lakes boasts 38 kills this year (and 44 in 2012). This is horseracing.

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Meet Todd Pletcher, Thoroughbred trainer. 5-time Eclipse winner, 10-time top guy at Saratoga, 7-time highest American earner (over $250 million lifetime), Mr. Pletcher also owns a Kentucky Derby and a pair of Belmont Stakes trophies. Raised around tracks and tutored by the legendary D. Wayne Lukas, the smart and business-savvy Pletcher seems well on his way to the Hall of Fame. Yet amid all the accolades, another part of his story needs telling.

Todd_Pletcher

In August 2004, the Pletcher-trained Tales of Glory tested positive for Class 2 mepivacaine after a win in Saratoga. He was suspended 45 days.

After an October 2008 BC race, his Wait a While was found to have more than 300 times the allowable limit of Class 3 procaine in her system. In defense, Mr. Pletcher, through his vet, said the “overage” came from a weeks-old granuloma (which formed after treating a fever) that ruptured and released the trapped drug during the race. The California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) practically called this ridiculous. More likely, it said, Wait a While was given another shot(s) of procaine closer to raceday, perhaps within 48 hours. But since there was no proof that Pletcher ordered or knew of it (imagine that), he was handed a 10-day suspension. Wait a While, then 5, never ran again. Final fate unknown.

In February 2010, two of Pletcher’s horses (Obligingly, Quality Road) tested positive for omeprazole sulfide at Gulfstream Park. He was “reprimanded.” On February 25th, 2012, Pletcher’s 4-year-old Coronado Heights, who had been diagnosed with early degenerative joint disease, broke down at Aqueduct and was subsequently killed. The New York Times ran this graphic on the multiple injections administered to Coronado Heights the week before his death.

In its report on the 2008 incident, the CHRB said: “It is impossible to overstate the damage that drug violations in Breeders’ Cup races can do to the integrity of the sport of thoroughbred horse racing. This is no longer the 1930’s when the Sport of Kings seemed invincible.” But on the other hand, Mr. Pletcher has had “a stellar 15 year career.” Verdict: 10 days. Anyone who still asserts that horse welfare – genuine concern for the equines beyond their ability to race – is an industry priority is either dishonest or delusional.

Running in his very first race, 2-year-old Mr Rabbits broke down and died yesterday afternoon at Finger Lakes, trainer James Acquilano’s 2nd dead horse in 3 days (Magestick Tomahawk on Saturday). The kill allowed Mr. Acquilano to hit his annual average at the western NY track (9 dead since 2009). Condolences to the connections, anyone?

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