In case you haven’t noticed, society wreaks with bad taste and convoluted values.
Family-hour television commercials display youths who look like gang members. A spot for Dodge vehicles shows a gremlin-type kid blatantly taking a leak on a wall. A soda hawker tells us to "Make Seven-Up yours." In my time, the term "up yours" had nothing to do with a refreshing drink. There is more torture on PlayStation video games than there is in "Stalag 17." Movie producers, lost for fresh comedy ideas, substitute violence for humor. Now cute little dogs are set afire and thrown out the window. Innocent people are stabbed or shot or kicked or punched or have sensitive private parts caught in zippers. In Hollywood, this is funny.
What does this have to do with horse racing?
Plenty, if you include in the Breeders’ Cup Ultra Pick Six scam in which three Drexel University graduates nearly got away with a computer-generated robbery of $3 million, which has produced racing’s darkest hour. When temptation rears its ugly head, everyone has a price. It’s been that way since Eve took a bite of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden.
"This isn’t really a reflection on racing," trainer Bob Hess Jr. said of the Pick Six scandal. "It’s more a commentary on human nature. Whenever there’s a gap in a system that someone can take advantage of, it’s going to happen, whether it’s in racing, the government or in grade school. If someone sees a copy of the test a day before the mid-term, they’re apt to pick it up and cheat.
"This is just life in general," the 37-year-old Stanford graduate said. "Knowing that, we need to be really careful. First, it’s completely asinine not to submit all the Pick Six selections until the fourth race of the Pick Six has been completed; second, a system that allows someone to cash in uncashed vouchers is nuts, too (Hess was speaking of a post-Ultra Pick Six scam in which a New York Racing Association security guard attempted to cash the winning $10,000 mystery voucher at a betting machine at Aqueduct. The guard, Henderson Kirton, is charged with stealing 30 to 40 envelopes containing mystery mutuel vouchers that had been returned by the United States Post Office as undeliverable).
"There must be ways to prevent these things," Hess said. "When you’re dealing with public confidence and that amount of money, you need to go to the nth degree. It has to be overkill."
With its fan base shrinking like the Japanese yen, racing must do everything in its power to restore public confidence.
"Fans felt cheating occurred before this," Hess said. "You can go back to the incident in Maine when the filly trained by Jerry Dutton won (leaving the gate at 9-2, plunging to 2-5 in mid-race, and winning by open daylight at Hollywood Park last April). That’s not blaming Jerry by any means, but it looked suspicious. Now the suspicions are confirmed. But I don’t think the fan base will be effected unless we don’t do anything about it, we being management and the NTRA. As long as we do what’s needed, I don’t think it will kill us.
"In fact, this might help in a way, because we’ve had a reality check and we’re doing something about it."
THE HOMESTRETCH: Next year’s Kentucky Derby winner could be Rojo Toro, an undefeated chestnut colt so high in Bob Baffert’s barnful of talented 2-year-olds, he had jockey Mike Smith aboard for a five-furlong workout at Santa Anita last Tuesday. Clockers said the Florida-bred son of Mountain Cat owned by Hal Earnhardt looked good as he went five furlongs in :59.60. Rojo Toro broke his maiden by 8Â½ lengths at Turfway Park on Sept. 21, then won an allowance race by 31/4 lengths at Churchill Downs on Nov. 17. Baffert has not publicly committed to the route Vindication will take to the Kentucky Derby, only that the undefeated Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner has the May 1 Run for the Roses as his ultimate goal . . . Patrick Valenzuela is back in the saddle after getting married and taking a vacation while serving 15 days of accumulated suspension time. "It was very relaxing," Valenzuela said of his respite. "I just spent some time reflecting on the year. It’s been a great one and it’s not over yet. I want to finish the Hollywood meet strong and get ready for the big meet at Santa Anita." . . . Las Vegas native Ron Anderson, agent for Jerry Bailey, reports that Bailey could break Mike Smith’s record of 67 stakes wins in one year during the opening week of Santa Anita’s 85-day winter/spring meet, which begins Dec. 26. The 45-year-old Bailey, fresh from a vacation in the Bahamas, has 64 stakes wins this year, including the $6 million Dubai World Cup aboard Street Cry last March. He has already set a single-season record for North American purse earnings by a jockey this year with $19,032,509, topping his own mark of $19,015,720 set last year. "There’s better than a good chance Jerry will break the record the opening week," Anderson said. "He rides in stakes at Calder (Dec. 13), Laurel (Dec. 14) and Hollywood (Surya in the Dahlia Handicap on Dec. 15), and he won’t be riding the weekend of Dec. 21, so his first chance to break the record will be at Santa Anita, where he’ll ride either from Dec. 26 through the 31st, or Dec. 26 through the 28th." Bailey rides Top Flight Handicap winner Sightseek for Bobby Frankel in the $200,000 La Brea Stakes (Gr. I) at Santa Anita on Dec. 28 . . . Hess plans to use the $100,000 Mr. Prospector Handicap at Gulfstream on Jan. 4 and the $200,000 General George Handicap at Laurel on Feb. 17 as steppingstones for D’wildcat’s major goal, the $350,000 Carter Handicap at Aqueduct on April 12. D’wildcat is fresh from a victory in the Grade I DeFrancis Dash at Laurel on Nov. 16 . . . Director Steven Spielberg, who reportedly has a piece of the action in the Universal Studio film, "Seabiscuit: An American Legend," currently being filmed at Santa Anita, was on hand at the Arcadia track last week. The movie is scheduled for release in July 2004, not next July as mentioned in last week’s column.