Rest in Peace, Garrett Gomez

December 22, 2016

As a long time fight fan, who has seen my fair share of bouts ringside, I can tell you watching a fight ringside is a lot different from watching one on a television or monitor. I can also tell you there is nothing worse to see than a fighter, reduced to fighting on instinct, covering up in a futile attempt to prevent more damage and try and remain standing.

The past week in The Sport of Kings sort of felt like a fighter covering up to try and stop the blows. Unfortunately, the hits just kept on coming. It was not the way many of us would have liked to end the year. It would have been simple enough to watch California Chrome romp over his overmatched field in what amounted to a paid workout at his home track of Los Alamitos. At least it was a prep-race for his last hurrah on the track, The Pegasus, the inaugural of currently the world’s richest horse race. Horse racing has a way of punching itself in the eye however, and often on our biggest stages and days. Logically this is indicative of inherent problems that are not being dealt with timely or efficiently, and there is a reason for that which we’ll come to later. As usual, most of these black eyes wind up hurting the game and its reputation, and of course the one who seems to count the least, the bettor. The one who without, we’d be racing for blue ribbons.

One of, and without question the saddest and most troubling issue we faced was perhaps no fault of the industry and its people, or, on the other hand maybe it was. I don’t consider myself qualified to speak on the type of help Garrett Gomez may have needed, or if those resources exist or were extended to him. The details and circumstances of his untimely and unexpected tragically young passing are, for the most part, vague. We do know we lost one of the game’s greatest riders, a genuinely nice guy, and a man who desperately tried to fight off personal demons that in the end may have just proved too strong for him. I truly hope he sought and received help as opposed to the alternative. We also have to remain cognizant that you cannot help someone who doesn’t want to be helped.

While we may not know the circumstances surrounding Garrett Gomez from the outside looking in, we do know a life was lost, a family was hurt, and Garrett is no longer with us. I always thought he’d ride again. What we can take away, and are constantly reminded of, is how tough the life of a jockey can be. How competitive it is. How pound for pound they are among the strongest and fittest athletes in the world. How they play a dangerous game, with no contracts, no guarantees, and how only the top ones make the type of money that type of life and dedication deserves. We take a Peter Luger’s steak dinner for granted after a big win, they aren’t afforded that luxury. I cut them some slack. Rest in Peace Garrett Gomez, gone far too soon. 

Del Mar Meet

In the wake of Del Mar, coincidentally a California racetrack, and their confusion regarding the 5 out of 6 payouts closing day of The Bing Crosby meet in their new $2 Pick 6 jackpot wager, we are faced with yet another California based conundrum. This time it involves the much talked about and one of the worst kept secrets in racing, the pre-race positive test of Masochistic and the subsequent post-race positive test resulting in a disqualification, and purse redistribution. Actually it wasn’t a redistribution, the purse was withheld, at least for the second place and behind finishers pending the outcome. I’ll talk more about this and how really asinine it is in a moment. First, I’ll point out I did an article on this issue when it first hit the news, focusing on how nobody even considers the bettor in these scenarios. At Past the Wire I do and we do and you can read that article right here;

Not Even a Mention………

The bettor always counts here. Unfortunately, they are often forgotten everywhere else. The Masochistic situation was ridiculous and avoidable. You would think on one of our biggest stages, The Breeders’ Cup, we’d put our best foot forward. Not so this year.

Stanozolol

First off, to understand what happened you have to understand the testing procedures, rules, and of course the drug in question. The drug in question is an anabolic steroid called stanozolol, previously sold under the name Winstrol. You remember, the very  same drug Rick Dutrow said he used regularly, which was 100% legal at the time because it was beneficial to the health and recovery of his horses. He was pretty much tarred and feathered  for it, and it likely led to a biased, unfair, and unjust 10 year ban he continues to fight to this day. The fact is, it was legal at the time, and still is today, though now there is a difference. It is only permitted in out of competition horses. The term as used here borders on ambiguity or at the least is open to different interpretations.

Stanozolol is used to improve appetite, promote weight gain, increase strength and vitality. This comes straight from Plumb’s Veterinary Drug Handbook. It’s banned and considered performance enhancing in most professional sports, and reading the intended usage in animals, it is easy to connect those dots on why. It is a synthetic form of testosterone.

Masochistic was treated with Stanozolol in the past. We all know he’s had limited starts for his age, is very fast when right, and apparently has problems stringing races together. It appears Stanozolol may indeed have therapeutic benefits for Masochistic during his many layups.

Masochistic was placed on the vet’s list Aug. 29, 68 days before the Sprint. I would assume because he was on Stanozolol.

Masochistic made his first start of the year July 8. He won in a laugher. According to CHRB records, he was placed on the 60-day vet’s list for medication reasons April 3. Obviously, or at least we can assume, for Stanozolol. He was placed on the vet’s list again on May 2, which would start a new 60-day time period. The May 2 placement fell 67 days before his seasonal debut, the 6 1/4-length laugher he won at Santa Anita.

The Aug. 29 administration of the drug came two days after his second start of the season, a 3 3/4-length easy win in the Pat O’Brien Stakes on August 27 at Del Mar.

In California, anabolic steroid treatments are the only medication given to Thoroughbreds that carry 60 days on the vet’s list. This is a California policy, not a rule, and was put in place in October of 2013.

Because it is not allowed in the training environment, Stanozolol is not on the list of controlled therapeutic substances in place in California and the 19 other states that have adopted that pillar of the National Uniform Medication Program. The recommended withdrawal time for the drug is 60 days. It is also well known in veterinary circles, and also on the backstretch, that withdrawal times vary from horse to horse and can be affected by many things, including metabolism, and anything that can affect the metabolism. Further, withdrawal times can vary in the same horse. The same horse can take 50 days to be clean following one administration of the drug, and 65 on another. There is no way to accurately predict this in advance.

This leaves the door open for a trainer to have the drug administered 60 days prior to a race, be within the rules, and still come up with a positive test. That makes no sense. The rues and procedures to enforce them are “supposed’ to be designed to penalize those breaking them, not following them. With the withdrawal time differences involved with this drug, this whole thing becomes almost comical but gets even more ridiculous.

img_6612Masochistic was pre race tested 68 days before The Breeders’ Cup Sprint. He came up positive. It was a minuscule amount of the drug, almost  surely not enough to have any performance enhancing effect, no cheating or edge was sought, but the test was indeed positive. I have to ask, why pre-race test a horse, and if he comes up positive let him run? If you are going to do that the pre-race test is a mockery. The story is Ron Ellis was told the amount was so little the horse would probably test clean in 8 days when race day rolled around. This is horse racing. We all know what probably means in our game. Ron and the owners gambled and ran. I believe they believed he’d test clean. He didn’t.

The CHRB claims they did not notify The Breeders’ Cup of the positive as their rules prohibit it. Again why pre-race test? I always thought it was odd The Breeders’ Cup would allow Masochistic to compete if he was positive.  Learning they might not have known takes away the concern a blind eye might have been turned due to the unusually small field in The Breeders’ Cup Sprint this year, left even smaller by the scratch of Lord Carson.

The penalty that is likely to be imposed on Ron Ellis is harsh. A suspension and fine is likely but potentially even more significant is, he cannot compete in The Breeders’ Cup next year directly or indirectly. Indirectly means he can’t train a horse all year, then run the horse under someone else’s name. If you had a horse with Breeders’ Cup potential right now, would you give it to Ron Ellis to train? How could you? Would you pull a good horse from him now? A steep price for Ron to pay for essentially following the rules. The purse gone. The prestige gone. That goes for both owner and trainer.

Now the other angle. The bettors, remember them. Someone told me the other day the bettors have no complaints as the amount in question would have no effect on the outcome of the race. That’s preposterous and a total display of a lack of understanding of the game. Any horse in a race has an impact on the pace, how the race is run, position and more. That aside, what if you thought, as I did, it was a two horse race between Masochistic and Drefong and you used both in the Pick 6? If Masochistic was not permitted to compete because of a positive pre-race test, you could have added horses in another leg which could have got you to win the bet. There are a multitude of other scenarios. The impact was huge, involved big money, and it never should have happened. 

Speaking of Pick 6’s, had Volponi not won The Breeders’ Cup Classic in 2002, we likely wouldn’t even be discussing this, and past post betting might be occurring with the same frequency it did in the past. When I saw the structure of the winning ticket with Volponi, which paid over 2.5 million dollars, I, like most Pick 6 players, knew something was wrong. Single,single,single,single, all, all. That’s a strange structure. You are that good for four races, the first four races to boot, then you need all,all. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to conclude the ticket was put in after the first four races had been run. Volponi winning left only one winner, the past post ticket so it received a lot of scrutiny and the plot was discovered and revealed. Once again, on one of our biggest stages, we stubbed our toe. Systems were changed, safeguards installed, and the integrity we thought was there, now really was there we were told.

img_6548About two weeks ago, on December 8th, there was one winning ticket of The Rainbow 6 at Gulfstream Park. It paid $71,145.66 for the 20 cents wager. The structure of the ticket was eerily similar to The Breeders’ Cup ticket. It was structured single, single, single, single, single, all. Another really good handicapper on the early part of the sequence only to need more help late. To be fair, we do not know if this was the winner’s only ticket. We do know it cost $2.40 and was purchased through TVG. We also know the first five singles were not exactly obvious standouts with one exception.

Most curious to me was the lack of any significant public comment by Gulfstream Park or TVG. Both remained and continue to remain relatively quiet. The HRPB does database and analyze these wagers from member tracks of which Gulfstream is one. That makes it safe to assume the ticket is being looked at. The HRPB does not comment on investigations, or even confirm if one is underway. Those inquiries fall upon the host track, in this case Gulfstream and possibly the ADW, in this case TVG. 

The 20 cent wager is a different animal than the $2 dollar wager. I cannot speculate on this ticket without knowing the bettors playing history and betting patterns. I’d also need to know if there were other tickets purchased or if this was the sole bet. I guess we would also need their address, telephone number and birthdate to rule out those possibilities. What we really need is to hear from Gulfstream and or TVG, letting us, the bettors, the ones who prevent racing for blue ribbons, the ones who keep the executives of both Gulfstream and TVG employed, know that everything was on the up and up. Transparency is paramount to the continuation and growth of our game.

“All this leads back to the desperate need for a central governing body and uniformity in rules, equally enforced. We need a Commissioner, and a board made up of people from all areas of the game, including bettors. A gambling game cannot be effectively run by people who have never made a bet.”

High Five

Juddmonte for ponying up and acquiring Coolmore’s slot in The Pegasus for Arrogate. WE all want him there and to see him and California Chrome go at it again.

Low Five

TVG and Gulfstream Park, mum’s not the word on the Pick 6.

Contributing Authors

Jon Stettin

Jonathan’s always had a deep love and respect for the Sport of Kings. Growing up around the game, he came about as close as anyone...

View Jon Stettin

@jonathanstettin I for one can still actually feel the pall cast over the crowd and game that day. It was palpable. Kudos 2/2

William G. Gotimer (@WilliamGotimer) View testimonials

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