14 October 2011

Should Northern Dancer Have An Asterisk Next To His Name?

A couple of nights ago I watched a show called The Canadians. The topic was Northern Dancer. This episode was done a few years prior to the Biography Channel Northern Dancer show, though many of the clips were the same.

Lots of recollection by those who were there, but one of the guests intrigued me enough to do a Google Search. It was Alex Harthill, Northern Dancer's Kentucky Derby vet.

What I found was new to me, or at least this is the first time I acknowledged it, if I in fact read it before. It is a story dated back 9 years ago (Harthill wasn't pushing up daisies yet):

My interest in Harthill, never dormant, was ignited again in 2001 by a remarkable interview that he gave Jay Hovdey of the Daily Racing Form. Harthill teased those of us who have been interested in his career by admitting that, before the 1964 Derby, he gave Northern Dancer a then-illegal, anti-bleeding medication known as Lasix (now used by an estimated 95 percent of the horses in training).

"Security was following me, though," Harthill told Hovdey, "so I got a vet I know from out of town to come along with me. I told him I was going to turn to the right, and he would go that way and take this little syringe down to Barn 24, stall 23, and give this to that horse. There would be a guy there named Will. He’d be waiting. So he did it, while the gendarmes followed me. They were following the mystique."

And the mystique helped Northern Dancer hold off Hill Rise’s challenge by a nose in one of the most exciting stretch runs in Derby history.

Now, read the whole article. I'll wait.

That was worth reading, wasn't it? But it really begs at least a couple of questions. Assuming Hill Rise wasn't treated with illegal (at the time) drugs, how can one not look at Northern Dancer's Kentucky Derby as anything but tainted? Then when you take the Dancer's Image fiasco into account, how did Dr. Harthill remain a prestigious vet at the world capital of horse racing, even after doing the Hovdey interview?

Being Canadian, and also being born the same year as the Dancer, I hate the idea of ruining Northern Dancer's reputation, but if this story is true, and it sure sounds true, I have no choice.

As for the second question. That one is easy too. Dr. Harthill's of the world are in high demand. In Harthill's own words:

"Everything (drugs) went through a transition period of being detected. The thing everyone wanted to find out was what didn’t show at the time. It was just part of the game, ever since I can remember. Everybody was looking for an edge. I don’t care who it was. A trainer would say, ‘Don’t get me caught, but keep me worried.’"

It seems that nothing much has changed since Northern Dancer, except more drugs are legal and more drugs are tested for. There is still the quest to get an edge that seems to motivate (the majority?) of trainers out there.

With EPO, DPO, snake and snail venom and their knockoffs, ITPP, and whatever else is still "illegal" but not tested for, the edge is always very tempting, and some trainers can pull the charade off over and over again without a blemish.

Some can't get the formulas right though. That might be what happened with Dutrow.

How many other super horses won big races thanks to trainers and vets "experimenting" with drugs that weren't being tested for? I have a feeling that the answer is lots.

Here is the 2005 DRF obit for Harthill.

As for Dutrow, it will be interesting if the industry now sighs "OK witch hunt is over, we gave the public what they wanted," or the time has come to clean up the game. It will be equally interesting if other jurisdictions honor the ban. California has climbed aboard. Good for them (who says I don't say anything good about California racing?)

10% Takeout On WPS????? No Way! Yes Way!!!!! No Way!!!!!!!!!!!
Northlands Park harness racing's 2011 Fall Meet kicks off today and they have decided to lower the takeout on Win Place and Show bets to 10%. This is phenomenal news, and I hope it works out fantastic for them.
EDITORS NOTE: Looks like I fell for something that was nothing short of a deceptive article and promotion. The association takeout is 10%, but the Alberta tax is 5% and there is a levy of .8%. Total takeout is 15.8%. Nothing has changed. Incidentally, Northlands takeout on other bets is a whopping 24.8% (exactors and doubles included).

It Appears That Tracknet Was Dissolved In Name Only
And HANA is on the case.

It is definitely horrible for the growth of the game when dominating companies like Magna or Churchill even think this way. The leaders of this industry should be focused on growing the Horseplayer base not chasing it away, unless they have given up hope that growth can be had. I believe it can, but it is going to take a lot of tracks getting together and focus on a longer than a year or two plan.


Tim said...

Don't be misled by Northlands 10% WPS spin. They are promoting that the track's takeout is 10% and neglecting to mention that Horse Racing Alberta takes an additional 5% and the feds take their usual .8%. So total takeout is 15.8%, still low by today's standards, but not the 10% they are implying.

In contrast Woodbine takeout is 16.95%. Woodbine takes 13.65%, 2% goes to the Ontario Horse Improvement Program, the province taxes .5% and the feds get their .8%.

All Northlands is doing is promoting that their share is 10% and the lowest in Canada. Technically correct, but misleading nonetheless, as I pointed out to them this past summer when they were promoting it during the thoroughbred meet.

Cangamble said...

Tim, I hate deceptive practices. That article is completely misleading and Borg also gives the impression they lowered takeout.
Northlands should be ashamed of themselves for not correcting the matter.