When I was a kid, a milkshake was a sweet, soothing drink, especially with a tuna fish sandwich on toast at my favorite drug store.
In racing today, a milkshake is a popular buzz word for carbon dioxide, or TCO2, as described in a California Horse Racing Board news release of Feb. 16. Whatever it’s called, it’s creating a controversy bigger than Hillary Swank’s teeth.
"Milkshakes" given to racing thoroughbreds in excessive amounts supposedly enhance their performances. Trainers whose horses have tested high at Santa Anita now are required by the CHRB to have them placed in a detention barn before they race. The horses of Jeff Mullins, Vladimir Cerin and Julio Canani, trainers who win their share of races, presently are under scrutiny, as are those of promising Australian, Adam Kitchingman.
As honorable and well-intended as the program is, at this early stage, it is imbalanced and inequitable, according to Mike Mitchell, another trainer who wins at a percentage above average and whose barn has been monitored in the past.
"I’ve said this before; the testing is flawed," Mitchell said. "It’s not fool-proof. Basically, baking soda (a key ingredient in the so-called milkshakes) and all that stuff is legal. This whole thing started from tipping horses before they went over (to the testing barn). They’ve stopped that. They stopped using a simple product called Wind-Aide just because Jeff was using it. Yet anyone can go in the tack shop and buy it. The testing system isn’t soundly established and it detracts from what we can do as trainers to make our horses run as best they can.
"When horses were being tubed (given milkshakes via a tube inserted through their nose) before the race, that’s against the rules and that’s been stopped. I understand that. But now we’re told we can’t administer any kind of bicarbonate, which is kind of weak. You don’t see the names (published) of some trainers who have had a bad test, but you see a name like Julio Canani.
"You mean to tell me Julio Canani is going to take a shot to do this? No. Marty Wygod (one of Canani’s principal owners, who races Eclipse Award-winning filly Sweet Catomine with his wife, Pam) is the one who funded most of the money along with Oak Tree (Racing Association) to have these tests. You can’t tell me Julio Canani is going to take a chance with a champion filly like that. That’s why I say this testing has gotten way out of hand."
Mitchell had an answer for critics who point out that trainers such as Mullins had their percentages dip dramatically once the current testing came into vogue.
"You have to freshen you horses sometime," Mitchell said. "That’s when Jeff freshened his horses up. Now he’s winning at his usual percentage again so the testing, as far as I’m concerned, hasn’t slowed the trainers who win. I’m 31 percent now; I was 40 percent at Oak Tree. Our percentages fall whenever we need to freshen our horses up, but look at the trainers who are winning and they’re running their horses down their throats (of opposing trainers) and running them where they can win."
Still, Mullins, second to runaway leader Doug O’Neill in the trainers’ standings, had won with only three of 34 starters since Feb. 9, when his horses were ordered to be held in a detention barn 24 hours before running. Prior to that, he had won with 17 of 52.
Mitchell, who has been commuting to and from California and Florida, where he is establishing a second string at Gulfstream Park, says Florida’s diligence is not close to the near-panic pace of California. Florida tests one horse a day at random, Mitchell said.
"California is the toughest (state) when it comes to testing of any place I’ve ever raced," Mitchell said. "And they make it sound like everybody’s just getting away with murder, but it’s the toughest testing I’ve ever seen. It’s almost like California doesn’t want you (to race) here.
"The trainers who complain the most are the ones who aren’t winning races. All they have to do is drop their SOB’s down where they can win, that’s all."
No Santa Anita Derby winner has won the Kentucky Derby since Sunday Silence in 1989, but that’s not stopping Ron Ellis from running his undefeated male 2-year-old champion Declan’s Moon in the $750,000 race at 1 1/8 miles on April 9. It will be the Maryland-bred gelding’s final prep for the Kentucky Derby on May 7.
"It can’t be like that every year," Ellis said after Declan’s Moon won his 3-year-old debut in the Santa Catalina Stakes Saturday for his fifth straight win. "I’ll bet you more times than not the Santa Anita Derby has been a pretty darn good prep, plus we don’t have to ship. We’re right here. A lot of good horses that won the Santa Anita Derby went on to win the Kentucky Derby. I’ve got no concern there."
It’s 15 years and counting since that happened, and six years since a horse that finished in the first three in the Santa Anita Derby won the Run for the Roses. That would be Real Quiet, who won in Kentucky after finishing second to stablemate Indian Charlie in the Santa Anita Derby.