Are any of us old enough to remember a time when the training of Thoroughbreds was about providing enough care and enough exercise to obtain optimal performance? I suppose such a time existed, but not in recent memory. Hands on therapy and horsemanship have been replaced by fast acting and less labor intensive drugs and medications. By way of example, in the last decade we have seen the elimination of equipment such as the whirlpool tub. The whirlpool was as simple as a trash can that was attached to the exhaust end of a vacuum cleaner and then filled with ice and water. It was an effective technique in dealing with knee, ankle, and foot problems. Massaging legs has also become a practice of the past. Those techniques are no longer attractive alternatives to fast acting and comparatively inexpensive anti-inflammatory drugs and analgesics. I think back also to a time when respiratory problems where handled by a change in bedding, time in an outdoor pen, and adjustments in feeding procedures and feed products. Those days have given way to easier and more effective bronchodilators such as Albuterol and Clenbuterol. Those are just a few examples of the changing nature of the role of the trainer. I am not so naïve as to believe the old methods were more effective. But I am convinced that the change to a dependence on drugs has been a considerable factor in shortening racing careers, increasing expenses, and damaging the sport.
The demands of time and labor and competition, along with the efficacy of modern drugs have driven us away from patience as a training technique and pulled us into the world of pharmaceuticals. Unfortunately, the medicine cabinet of the barn area has morphed from its intended role into a cornucopia of performance enhancing alternatives. There has been no middle ground. We are all victims of what author Kevin Phillips calls “the inherent vulnerability of human nature exposed to pecuniary temptation.” As more and more trainers were seized by the gravitational pull of easier victories, new owners, and greater income, more and more trainers were enticed or, in most cases, forced into using alternatives they didn’t prefer. If a trainer wants to compete and wants to attract new owner-clients, he or she is left with little choice but to take the medical route; some trainers more so and some less so. Some trainers use the kitchen sink approach and give horses everything in the medicine cabinet, while others prefer not to administer anything unless they are certain of the therapeutic necessity. Success in racing favors those who lean towards the former approach.
The legal use of approved substances is not a moral failing. It is neither immoral nor unethical for the trainer, the veterinarian, or the owner to use, prescribe, or condone the use of therapeutic medications. If an allowable threshold level is 10 picograms, then there is no wrongdoing in seeking a level of 9.99. By setting thresholds, it is the regulators who have dictated what is acceptable and what is not. The regulators’ mistake has been in believing that their edicts regarding medications would allow the use of therapeutic medications while not creating performance enhancement. They were clearly wrong. Their mistake was using a standard that said the substance should not allow the horse to run beyond its natural ability. Stated differently, it was assumed that performance enhancement could be determined by testing for the detectable level of certain drugs and medications when they were present on race day. It was assumed that if there was a certain level of given substances there was performance enhancement. If there was no detectable level, it was assumed there was no enhancement. Both propositions were incorrect as shown by our everyday experience with Clenbuterol. Does anyone doubt that given the same conditions the following will happen? Take two horses of equal ability and physical condition, and give one the standard dose of Clenbuterol for fifty-seven days and give none to the other. Then race them against each other on the sixtieth day. The horse that has been on Clenbuterol will win. Frankly, I don’t know if scientists would agree, but I’m certain almost all trainers would.
If preventing performance enhancement is the goal, the standard should be that the substance should not allow the horse to run beyond its natural ability given its pre-administration physical condition. An exception could be made for substances that do no harm to the horse and do not have an effect on the betting public. (Under such a rule, a horse would be allowed to run on Salix, but not with the aid of corticosteroids.) Unfortunately, assessing harm to the horse or the betting public is difficult, if not impossible. Therefore, some make the argument for a total ban on medications. New rules are coming and they are certain to limit and/or ban the use of some medications. Like it or not, we have entered a new phase of regulation.
The Racing Medication and Testing Consortium (RMTC) has instigated major changes in drug classification and penalty rules. It has spearheaded the move to control steroids. It is about to attack the issues of corticosteroids, and there are rumblings of new limits on Clenbuterol. Although it has not yet been discussed at the RMTC, it is theoretically possible that a ban on NSAID’s is next. The movement has started, and the times they are a-changin’.
On board with the California Thoroughbred Trainers
By Ed Golden, Turf writer
Arguing religion and politics can erode the best of friendships. Debating sports can lead to divisiveness among the bosomest of buddies, too. Fortunately for Jim Cassidy and Mike Smith, their allegiance to the New York Yankees and the New York Mets hasn’t compromised the success they’ve enjoyed together on the racetrack.
Cassidy, a native of the Bronx, has been a lifelong Yankee fan, while Smith, born in Roswell, New Mexico, became a loyal Mets’ supporter while earning 15 riding championships on the New York circuit during a tour that began in 1989.
When Smith moved permanently to Southern California in 2007, after an earlier hitch in 2001, he joined forces with Cassidy and, baseball fidelity aside, it’s been a match made in heaven on the track, where they have won a plethora of stakes races together.
Cassidy, 63, like Smith, was weaned in horsemanship on the East Coast, working for among others the legendary Frank Whiteley, trainer of iconic champions Damascus and Ruffian, before coming to California in 1981. His stint in New York included nine years as an aide to veterinarian Jim Prendergast.
Other Cassidy tutors back east included trainers Joe Cantey and Charles Sanborn. In California, Cassidy learned the ropes as an assistant to Gerry Moerman, Darrell Vienna, and the late Brian Mayberry. Flying solo as a trainer since the mid 1990s, Cassidy currently is president of the California Thoroughbred Trainers (CTT), a relatively new organization devoted to “Horsemen Helping Horsemen.”
“I was voted in over a year ago, and it’s an absolutely worthwhile organization that’s a vital component of the horse racing industry,” said Cassidy, whose board members include trainers William Anton, Tim Bellasis, Jack Carava, Eoin Harty, Gloria Haley, Dan Hendricks, Cliff Sise, Jr., Howard Zucker, and retired 97-year-old trainer Noble Threewitt. “I’m hoping we can do things on this new board that haven’t been done before. Our goal is to help enhance racing in California and act as a buffer between the TOC (Thoroughbred Owners of California), the California Horse Racing Board, and management. Right now, we’re working on increasing the CTT’s presence and improving our effectiveness within the industry.”
Cassidy’s demeanor is one of leisure, but his core is impregnable, thanks in large part to Whiteley.
“He was tough as nails,” Cassidy remembered. “I was working for Prendergast when I first met him, and we did all his (veterinary) work. Whiteley used to call the vet ‘The Butcher’ and me ‘Butcher, Jr.’ I was there through the Ruffian years (1974-75) and it turned out to be very sad years (she was euthanized after breaking down in a match race against Foolish Pleasure in 1975).”
Fellow Irishman Harty, who says,“I joined the CTT for the betterment of racing and its personnel,” believes Cassidy is a good fit as CTT president.
“I know from being around him at the board sessions that he’s very opinionated, very forceful,” Harty said. “He seems to have the interest of the horsemen at heart, which is a good thing. You need somebody like that. He’s very passionate about what he does and has a strong sense of what’s right and wrong.”
Other board members have made significant contributions, among them trainer Howard Zucker.
“My objective has always been to speak for the horses, because no one can speak for their safety,” he said. “I’ve been head of our track safety committee for more than eight years, seeking improved conditions for our backstretch help and making sure our hospital and our benevolent programs run well. Mr. (Ed) Halpern has been a fabulous executive director helping on the workmen’s comp situation. We went through that crisis and remedied that problem. We try to offer our input in meetings with the TOC so that, in general, we can mutually benefit. Owners and trainers are on the same page, working for the same goals. We were responsible for bringing changes in our surfaces, and, hopefully, have made them much safer than they were.”
Said trainer and board member Dan Hendricks: “We’ll try to maintain positive thinking about our future. We want to be involved in many of the decisions and will try to make improvements we hope will benefit racing.”
Trainer Jack Carava, a relative newcomer, has similar objectives. “I’ve only been involved a short time, so I haven’t had a lot of long-term goals, but I’d like to maintain the goals that have been on the table since I got here,” he said.
“The reason I became a member of the board and vice president in Northern California was to try and bring management, trainers, and the TOC together,” said Bill Anton. “We’re like three spokes in a wheel. If one breaks, we all go down. Communication and cooperation between the three entities will make things better. These are very trying economic times, not only for racing, but every business, so we must be prudent and not selfish, otherwise, we’ll all be looking for a job.”
Tim Bellasis has become pro-active. “I didn’t like the way things were going,” he said in explaining why he became a board member. “I’m pretty vocal about what I think is right and wrong. I was unhappy with the purse structure up North. I thought the fairs were telling cheaper horses they were unwelcome. I thought it was time to get off the stick and do something about it.”
Participation in a Northern California committee to gain TOC voting rights in 2007 inspired Haley to seek a CTT directorship. “I want to see a continued dialogue among TOC, CTT, and the rest of the industry create a unified force to further our sport,” she said. “I’m concerned about the safety of the horses and the condition of the tracks. I’m also in support of horse rehabilitation and retirement organizations.”
As a new Director, Cliff Sise, Jr. wants to see the continued growth of CTT’s strength as an organization. “There are issues that require the CTT to make a stand on behalf of the membership, and I want to ensure that that action is taken.”
Cassidy, who moved to California in 1981 when Sanborn became ill, has made his mark in the Golden State with fillies and mares. His most recent stakes winner is Dancing Diva, who captured the Grade II CashCall Mile by a nose at Hollywood Park last July 5.
“She’ll be pointed to a race at the autumn Hollywood Park meet and then run at the Santa Anita winter meet,” Cassidy said. “I’m skipping the Breeders’ Cup. It’s true that my career has been dominated by good fillies (he won his first Grade I stakes with English import Ticker Tape in the 2004 American Oaks at Hollywood; later that year she won the Grade I Queen Elizabeth Challenge Cup at Keeneland).”
Other female stakes winners trained by Cassidy include Katdogawn (another English import), who won three Grade II races on turf in 2004; yet another English import, Singhalese, who won the Grade I Del Mark Oaks in 2005; and Passified, who last year won the Flawlessy Stakes and the San Clemente Handicap, each time with Smith aboard. In 2006, Moscow Burning, a six-year-old mare, became the career earnings leader for California-bred females, passing Fran’s Valentine with earnings of more than $1.4 million. Moscow Burning was claimed for $25,000 in 2003.
That’s not to say Cassidy doesn’t have a way with colts.
“We’ve had a few decent ones, like Milk It Mick (winner of the Grade I Kilroe Mile in 2006), Ocean Sound (third in the 2002 Blue Grass) and Golden Balls (2007 La Puente Stakes winner),” Cassidy said. “A few of those turned out to be OK, but the fillies have been sensational.”
The same can’t be said this year about his beloved Yankees. The Bronx Bombers, despite Major League baseball’s highest payroll, languished behind upstart Tampa Bay and defending champion Boston almost all season, and missed the American League playoffs for the first time since 1993. Cassidy is on good terms with former Yankee manager Joe Torre, himself a horse owner, who now manages the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“This season has been disappointing,” Cassidy said, “because I love the Yankees fiercely. I check the scores 20 times a day. I’ve talked with Torre a couple times and I did see him with (trainer Bobby) Frankel one day and we talked. I wished him good luck (with the Dodgers), but said I was never going to switch allegiance, and he understood. There was no chance I would switch to the Dodgers.”
Smith, whose Mets won the National League East title this year after blowing a 7 ½ game lead with 17 games remaining in 2007 to give the crown to the Phillies, reserves his jibes at Cassidy and the Yanks. Business, after all, is business.
“We’ve had really good success and really work well together,” Smith said. “Jim’s the type of guy who wants you to be part of the team. He listens to what you have to say and he’s willing to try things if you think they might work.
“Riding for him puts no pressure on you. He makes you feel like the horse is yours, too, and you’re going out there doing the best you can and he’s going to be OK with whatever the outcome is. If something happens, you explain it and he understands it. He’s a great horseman and a great friend, too. We go out and eat dinner a lot and have a great relationship together.”
That doesn’t mean Smith won’t take an opportunity to take a shot at the Yankees’ fall from grace.
“He’s a Yankee fan,” Smith said. “That’s his only vice, and I’m a Mets’ fan, so we argue about that. We get together on Sunday and have dinner and talk about what happened during the week and what the future holds and we always have a good time.”
Baseball and socializing aside, Cassidy has a realistic approach on racing’s future.
“To a large extent, it looks bleak, with the economy and all,” Cassidy said. “The sales are down in most places, but there are some positive signs. People have become more aware of what the public wants. There’s a big push against medications, which is really good. (Synthetic) tracks are a lot safer. Horses shouldn’t have catastrophic injuries that we’ve had in the past, so I see a lot of pluses.
“I know the overall picture looked dismal to a certain extent, but I look forward to the future. If the right minds get together and can stay on track, I believe we can make a big improvement.”
Edward I. Halpern, CTT Exec - (14 October 2008 - Issue Number: 10)