BY DICK POWELL
What do horseplayers talk about? If the industry would listen, their ears would ring. My friends are knowledgeable and not afraid to voice their opinions. Not all of their opinions are correct, some are based in paranoia, but they’re worth listening to.
Let’s start out with Ramon Preciado, the trainer based at Parx Racing that performs enough “miracles” that he should be played by Anne Bancroft in the movie version of his training career. Old Ramon was in the conversation Saturday afternoon as his latest “miracle,” TROUBLE KID (Harlan’s Holiday) was entered in the $350K Francis J. De Francis Memorial Dash going six furlongs on the dirt at Laurel.
You remember Trouble Kid, the non-descript 3YO gelding that could not break his maiden for $12.5K. In his fourth career start against bottom levels of the maiden ranks, Preciado reached in and claimed him for $15K on July 5 at Parx Racing and wheeled him back 20 days later against $25K maiden claimers.
To no one’s surprise, Preciado’s new claim won. To everyone’s surprise, Trouble Kid gunned to the front, improved his position and drew off to win by 16 widening lengths. He earned a career best 94 BRIS Speed rating and left a lot of people scratching their heads.
To show it was not a fluke, Preciado brought him back a month later against starter allowance foes and Trouble Kid won by nine lengths in an even faster time, registering a 99 BRIS Speed rating.
Okay, he’s been beating up cheap horses; let’s see how he does against quality sprinters. No problem! On the undercard of the Pennsylvania Derby (G2) on September 19, Trouble Kid was entered in the Gallant Bob Stakes (G3) and dismissed at odds of 13-to-1. Many handicappers probably assumed class would tell and the former cheap claimer would be exposed as a flash in the pan.
Well, the flash was a blazing opening half-mile in 44.31 seconds and Trouble Kid held on to win by a neck. He came back at Parx a month later to capture a $150K stakes race by three easy lengths.
All the while, we are waiting for a shoe to drop. We constantly hear about the industry and how they want to protect the integrity of the sport. In other countries, Preciado would have been called into the stewards after the FIRST win and been asked to explain how he turned the horse around. After four victories in four starts, including a Grade 3 stakes, we have heard nothing from an industry that says they want to protect us.
Last Saturday, in his toughest race yet against a good field of older hard-knocking sprinters, Trouble Kid finished first in the Frank De Francis Memorial Dash but was taken down by the stewards for interference nearing the far turn. Despite the disqualification, he turned in another sensational performance.
Luckily for us, we are armed with statistical analysis that at least softens the blow. Like one of Pavlov’s dogs, when we see a horse that Ramon Preciado just claimed, no matter what form the horse shows on paper, we sit up, wag our tail and take notice. They’re just impossible to ignore. Whether it’s a matter of closing our eyes or holding our nose, we just go with the numbers tell us; no matter how impossible they seem to be, a horseplayer must leave any Preciado-claimed horse out of the wagering mix at their own risk.
Given the complacency shown by governing bodies, we realize there’s little chance the trend will stop any time soon.
We hear over and over again about the evils of Lasix but when it comes to the greatest move-up trainer I have ever seen, we get crickets from the pontificators of integrity. If past performances are any indication of future results, look for Preciado to start training for these folks.
Less than a decade ago, we saw a Standardbred trainer come out of California and suddenly, take Yonkers and the Meadowlands by storm. Horses, almost all pacers, not only moved up but it looked like they would fly if they had wings.
The sudden series of form reversals raised a lot of eyebrows and the trainer, knowing full well that he had something that was not being detected by the industry’s testing laboratories, even offered to run all his horses out of a detention barn so that they could be under constant surveillance.
He wound up getting caught, not by positive tests of banned substances, but by bookkeeping records that showed that he had purchased banned substances. Not a real vote of confidence for the testing labs. But all we had to do is watch a few of the horses he was training to see where this was going. The winning trainer statistics told the story and that is what we go on, not the pronouncements of the industry that they are doing everything they can to clean up the sport of harness racing.
On October 1, 2015, a horse names ARANA (Hard Spun) refused to leave the starting gate in a race at Belmont Park. This was her first start after rallying to win her last outing despite breaking tardily, so it was not a big surprise she had gate issues. However, she returned on October 29 and refused again.
The shocking part, and what we talked about it among ourselves, was that she had not had a workout from the starting gate since then. In other countries, there I go again, a horse that refuses to race or even acts up at the gate, would either be banned for life or would not be allowed to race until the stewards watched her break from the gate and felt comfortable that the bettors would be protected. Not over here!
Since then, Arana has worked three times and none were from the gate. Obviously, we are not going to bet her if she is allowed to race again but why would we even have to make that decision or what about the money bet on her because of her name, program number, etc.? The filly clearly doesn’t want to race so why is she allowed to?
Once again, we hear from our industry that we want to be like other countries but we don’t see that put into practice when it comes to protecting the betting public.