Sunday, August 24, 2014

THE X-FACTOR - Hardest Core’s Arlington Million: All Heart?

HARDEST CORE decisively turned back 2013 Breeders’ Cup Turf winner MAGICIAN in the Arlington Million August 16, despite the troubled castration which nearly cost him his life and perhaps as a result of the training methods of a conditioner known more for steeplechase racing.  

After he won I wondered if there was more to the gelding’s form reversal since being purchased by Andrew Bentley Stables, LLC and transferred to the Edward Graham barn?

The literal “X” factor in breeding could be the “large heart” phenomenon, a genetic anomaly found in SECRETARIAT’s massive 22 ½ pound heart.  The ordinary equine heart weighs about eight pounds.  A larger than normal heart in a thoroughbred is a huge advantage.  SECRETARIAT would have been able to pump more than twice the oxygenated blood than his peers.  At 1 ½ miles in the Belmont Stakes, he was able to run an astounding average of 12 second furlongs stopping the clock in an impossible-to-fathom 2:24 and won the race by an astounding 31 lengths.

The genetic anomaly that assisted SECRETARIAT is attached to the “X” chromosome which helps determine sex in a thoroughbred. Males carry a “XY” combination whereas females exhibit a “XX” gene system.  Diving into HARDEST CORE’s pedigree I looked for stamina clues which could explain his wins at 1 ¼ and 1 ½ miles this year. 

Immediately my eye was drawn to PRINCEQUILLO, the sire believed to have transferred the large heart to SECRETARIAT through his daughter SOMETHINGFABULOUS.  PRINCEQUILLO is also the sire of HARDEST CORE’s third dam LUQUILLO.  She produced 1969’s second ranked juvenile HIGH ECHELON, winner of the Futurity Stakes (6.5f) and Pimlico-Laurel Futurity (8.5f) at two.  HIGH ECHELON was also a winner of the Belmont Stakes...
...along with a third place finish behind DUST COMMANDER in the Kentucky Derby at three.

LUQUILLO’s daughter GILDED LILLY produced 1992 Champion Juvenile GILDED TIME and his ½ sister LILLYBUSTER.  LILLYBUSTER is HARDEST CORE’s dam, also producer of Darley’s multiple stakes placed turf router CALLA LILLY.  CALLA LILLY’s only foal is 5y.o. SIDE ROAD, second in the G.2 Elkhorn at 12f over the Keeneland turf and the listed John’s Call S. at 13f on sod at Saratoga.  If the large heart remained recessive in LILLYBUSTER, as it seemed to in CALLA LILLY, her male offspring of which HARDEST CORE is the best of three, had the best chance of using it for success on track.

However, PRINCEQUILLO was not the only possible contributor to the potential “large heart” in HARDEST CORE.  MAHMOUD, thought to be one of four sources passing along potentially large hearts (along with PRINCEQUILLO, WAR ADMIRAL, and BLUE LARKSPUR), is also found in the dam line of the 2014 Arlington Million winner.

Research suggests a “zig-zag” pattern passes the large heart gene from the sire to his daughter, and she to her son.  There’s a possibility that GILDED LILLY was a “double copy” mare, carrying the large heart on “X” chromosomes from both her sire WHAT A PLEASURE, produced by the MAHMOUD dam GREY FLIGHT, and her dam LUQUILLO.

So what about sire HARD SPUN’s contribution as a G.1 winner of the King’s Bishop at 7f, along with seconds in the G.1 Kentucky Derby...
...and G.1 Breeders’ Cup Classic?

He may have inherited the ability to stretch his ample speed to 10 furlongs because of a recessive trait along his dam line.  Third dam LUIANA may have inherited stamina from her sire, British 2000 Guineas winner MY BABU, who himself traces back to MAHMOUD’s second dam MUMTAZ BEGUM.  LUIANA produced 1974 Champion 3y.o. LITTLE CURRENT (winner of the Preakness and Belmont Stakes).

If HARDEST CORE had not been purchased by Bentley Stables, gelded, and transferred to Graham, who employs an English style of training involving jogs on roads and gallops up and down hills, he may never have realized his true potential.

However, when considering the many factors contributing to HARDEST CORE’s success in 2014, remember that the best training regimens are only as good as the equines performing them.  Absent diagnostic proof, I'm left to believe that the Arlington Million win by HARDEST CORE may simply have been all heart.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014


Recently published an article stating top trainers are pushing for the diuretic Lasix, also known as Salix, banned from race day administration in the United States.  They propose there should be no race day Lasix for 2y.o.’s in 2015, and no race day Lasix for any thoroughbreds in 2016.  The article stated that the Jockey Club, as well as prominent breeders and owners, have also called for elimination of race-day medication which would bring the American thoroughbred racing product up to the more stringent worldwide standards.  Breeders’ Cup representatives Bill Farish and Craig Fravel acknowledged the trainers’ support of what the Breeders’ Cup decision-makers started with the World Championship races for juveniles in 2012 and continued in 2013.

Hall of Fame Trainer D. Wayne Lukas has commented on race day Lasix use and uniform medication testing.  Here he is in videos found on the website, discussing Lasix:

However, industry change without diligent consideration of facts has already caused a monetary and physical price the thoroughbred racing industry is having a difficult time recovering from.  As we saw with the synthetic track mandate in California and the proliferation of synthetic main tracks around the country over the last decade or so, knee-jerk reaction resulted in less catastrophic injury but caused a multitude of soft tissue injuries not seen when thoroughbreds race on dirt.  Horses were forced away from the track, diminishing the crucially low horse population even further and greatly limited the earning potential of breeders, owners, trainers, jockeys and the many backstretch workers.  Millions upon millions of dollars were wasted installing, replacing, and tweaking most of the surfaces.

The question that needs to be answered by the trainers listed in the article is:   What scientific evidence do you have that justifies elimination of Lasix on race day, when the horses would be stressed the most and could benefit from the anti-hypertensive effect the medication provides?  

It would not be sensible to use Lasix only for sub-maximal applications, such as workouts, when they would theoretically need it less or not at all.  Noted private clocker and bloodstock agent Bruno De Julio was kind to comment on the Lasix ban, “Lasix is a hot topic - if only on race days it’s not a big deal but for every work…”  When asked to clarify his statement, De Julio stressed that Lasix used on race day would be acceptable, but not as chronic management for the thoroughbred during workouts.  He referenced the drug’s potential to cause cramps/muscle spasms because of electrolyte imbalances, as well as other health related issues.

Before racing enthusiasts make a decision for or against the use of race day Lasix/Salix, essential reading came from The Horse magazine in 2012, “EIPH and Furosemide Use in Racehorses Explained” by Erica Larson, now the Bloodhorse News Editor. The article references the scientific name, furosemide, of the drugs known as Lasix or Salix.  Larson succinctly addresses Autralia's Dr. Kenneth W. Hinchcliff's zero to 4 classification of EIPH severity.  Larson educates about the three theories that cause EIPH in the thoroughbred, five different presentations of equine bleeding, and the link between EIPH and sudden death.

Dr. Thomas Tobin, professor of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics at the University of Kentucky Gluck Equine Research Center, was quoted by Larson:  "All racing horses suffer (from EIPH) at some level."  He also commended the foresight of American horsemen who "correctly determined the benefits of furosemide 40 or so years ago, while it has taken science more than 30 years to confirm that the horsemen were on the right track, so to speak, all along with furosemide."  Dr. Tobin went on to say that the welfare of racing horses and their riders is protected by a conservative, science based view of furosemide.

New York THA president Rick Violette Jr. quoted in on the recent proposed race day Lasix ban, “The position of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association has not wavered.  The science has not changed. The horses have not changed. Most horses suffer from exercise induced pulmonary hemorrhage, and Lasix is the only scientifically proven, truly effective treatment we have to protect them.”  The article went on to quote Violette, “A Lasix ban does not benefit the horse, the owner, or the horseplayer. Forcing trainers to return to using archaic methods to treat bleeders, whether it is the barbaric practice of taking away water for 24 to 48 hours or trying homeopathic remedies with questionable results, is not progress. Absent a researched and reasoned alternative to protect horses from EIPH, NYTHA is vehemently against any ban on Lasix.”

Constructive dialogue is needed from both sides of the issue to discuss the effect of Lasix on the American thoroughbred racing industry, without editorial/unsubstantiated opinion.  Too often emotion, or some other political affiliation, causes industry leaders to change their minds.  When the Breeders’ Cup World Thoroughbred Championship instituted a ban on Lasix in the juvenile races in 2012, multiple Eclipse Award winning trainer and leading all-time money winning conditioner Todd Pletcher was quoted as saying, “Horses tend to bleed and Lasix counteracts that.”  Less than two years ago he described himself as "pro-Lasix."  Yet, Pletcher was among the conditioners listed in favor of a Lasix race day ban in 2014.  Has new evidence come forward to change his mind?

Yesterday Pletcher was quoted by Bloodhorse's Eric Mitchell, "We've been in a negative cycle for a while, with a lot of the major indicators being down.  We need something to change it up, and this is one way I think may make a difference.  The rest of the world has been managing without it."

Larson recently informed of research out of Autralia, presented at the Veterinary College of Veterinary Internal Medicine Forum held June 4-7 in Nashville, TN, which revealed that thoroughbreds racing at tracks in Perth demonstrated EIPH at a rate of 56.6%. The researchers found a higher incidence in race horses competing in low ambient temperature, horses who'd made 20 or more lifetime starts, and raced at longer distances.

Trainers listed in the recent article like Lukas, Pletcher, Bill Mott and Richard Mandella train for the upper echelon of owners, receiving the best horseflesh breeders/owners can produce and/or money can buy.  The voices of working class connections, those supporting the weekday racing product while hoping to hit the jackpot a la California Chrome, need to be heard.  Two trainers who play the game at all levels made statements about the topic three years ago.

In 2011 Ron Mitchell reported on that trainers Tom Amoss and Bob Hess, Jr. were in favor of race day Lasix.  Said Amoss, “Knowing that horses bleed when they run, why put a horse through that?  He went on to state that some studies show 90% of thoroughbreds bleed.  Amoss worked in New York in the 1980’s when Lasix was not allowed. He said, “It had everybody up there looking for the Holy Grail.  In an effort to simulate what Lasix does, they were spending $200 where it would cost $15 for a shot of Lasix. If we got to where there was no race-day Lasix, the only ones who benefit are the vets.”

Hess, Jr. was quoted, “We could get away with not having Lasix, but it’s much better with it.” At the time, he was concerned that the industry without centralized leadership posed the bigger problem.  “There is too much fighting; no one works together,” Hess said.  “One license, one medication policy, one czar.” 
His concerns about a divided industry rang true in Tom LaMarra’s Bloodhorse article from June 29,2012.  He quoted owner Maggi Moss’ passionate stance on the Lasix debate, "One word comes to mind when I think about this, and it’s insanity.  I feel like we’re living in an insane time.  I don’t know where everybody is.  I don’t know where the (industry) leaders are anymore.  I’ve charted a path of speaking the next three months because I think (the Salix issue) is important.” 
Dr. Stephen Selway, a practicing equine veterinarian and surgeon was paraphrased by LaMarra as saying that “the health and welfare of the horse must be the focus of the racing industry, and the public—fans and non-fans alike—must be educated on why Salix is good for the racehorse.”

Later in the LaMarra article, prominent Kentucky owner Tom Conway, a member of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, and Moss were so frustrated over the political nature of the Lasix debate that both threatened to leave the sport if the diuretic was ever banned. 
Said Conway, “We're in a war with The Jockey Club and breeders who want to tell us what we can do with our private property. Kentucky is a battleground state, and they're counting on other states to follow suit. I can tell you this regulation will be found deficient.”
“I haven’t said this before, but I, too, will be getting out of the business,” Moss said, “and I know other people who will be doing the same.”

Only Steve Haskin could eloquently summarize the quandary the racing industry has faced for decades.  From his Bloodhorse article July 1, 2012, “The History of Drugs in America,” his closing remarks were, “Racing is not only a sport, employing thousands upon thousands of people and generating huge sums of revenue, it also is a business.  It is not easy separating morality from practicality, thus making it difficult for racing jurisdictions searching for the correct solution.  Although economics is a major part of racing, the decision makers must realize that beyond the morass of conflicting motivations, such as attendance, mutuel handle, political gain, and financial solvency, is the Thoroughbred, without whom all else is meaningless.”

References (online article links):