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.

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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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From the Daily News (10/26/13):

“From Gov. Cuomo comes the welcome news that Aqueduct’s days as a shabby and underutilized thoroughbred track are likely numbered. In its heyday, Aqueduct drew tens of thousands of horse racing fans every day during its meet. Now, with racing’s steep decline and the availability of off-track wagering, it’s a hulking shell onto which has been grafted a video slot-machine casino.”

Although a shutdown would involve Belmont absorbing an unspecified amount of the Big A’s racing, it would still mean one less. Good news, indeed.

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Two of the horses listed on this weekend’s ambulance report are confirmed dead. Again, thanks to NYS’s unique database, we know that Magestick Tomahawk and Irish Lady, both of whom fell at Finger Lakes (where else?), never made it out of the arena.

3-year-old Magestick Tomahawk, an “eased DNF” at Calder in May, “fx LF fetlock.”
6-year-old Irish Lady “faltered unseating rider – open fx bilateral sesamoids and ruptured suspensory – sedated then euthanized on track.”

Irish Lady is trainer Chris Englehart’s 5th death in NY this year and 22nd of his career.

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Finger Lakes 2013: 36 and counting…

A 4-year-old Thoroughbred named Points Offthebench broke his right front fetlock Saturday at Santa Anita. He is now dead. This one, however, was not difficult to find, no scouring of the charts required. For you see, Points Offthebench, having won back-to-back Grade 1s (and 6 wins, 1 place, and 1 show in 8 career starts), was a serious BC Sprint contender. Big news, I guess: ESPN, LA Daily News, LA Times, U-T San Diego, Bloodhorse, Paulick Report, etc., etc. Amazing how “tragedy” is such a relative word.

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LA Daily News (10/26/13): “The horse racing community can be an ugly mess at times. …But when tragedy strikes, like it did Saturday morning at Santa Anita Park when 4-year-old gelding Points Offthebench suffered a fatal injury while preparing for next Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup Sprint, the industry pulls together as one.”

Trainer Doug O’Neill: “Our thoughts are with Tim Yakteen and the connections…. We are saddened by the loss of a great horse.”

The horse’s owner, Charles Martin (Bloodhorse, 10/26/13): “He’s been a tremendous horse. He was the nicest horse you would ever find. He had an affinity for Tim’s youngest son. You could just walk up and he’d let you pet him for 15 minutes. He was as much a pet as an awesome racehorse. He brought so much fun to all of us.”

Owner and handicapper Bob Ike (U-T San Diego, 10/26/13): “I’ve loved this sport since I was a little kid and I have been involved professionally for 28 years. This is one of the saddest things I’ve seen.”

Horse Racing Nation’s Ashley Tamulonis: “What an awful, awful month. First Dullahan and now Points Offthebench.”

All of which leaves me wondering: Why doesn’t the industry “pull together” to end the annual slaughter of thousands of “retired” racehorses? Are thoughts and prayers reserved for those who’ve lost million-dollar horses? How many of 2013’s 91 dead in NY were considered “pets”? “One of the saddest things [you’ve] seen”? Why aren’t the three pedestrian Belmont horses who died the same day as Points not a part of the “awful, awful month”?

This industry is revolting.