Stan Bergstein's Daily Racing Form columns
With permission of Daily Racing Form,
Stan Bergstein’s bi-weekly
columns for that publication will appear
here every other week.
August 1, 2002
CBS beams Saturday's Hambletonian at The Meadowlands - the
second million-dollar trotting race in seven days at the New
Jersey capital of harness racing - to 187 outlets around the
country, the program will have some object lessons for
One is the wisdom of
having supplemental entries.
Another is the wisdom
of not allowing Butazolidin or Lasix in classic races.
Society, which controls trotting's greatest race for
3-year-olds, does not allow supplemental nominations. That
stubborn stand has proved costly, last year and this, as two of
the best 3-year-old trotters in the world will have missed the
Last year, it was a
colt named S.J.'s Caviar, who never was nominated for the
Hambletonian and sat it out while an American-bred 3-year-old
owned in Sweden flew over and became the first foreign-owned and
-trained trotter to win the race in its 75-year history.
Hambletonian-winning colt, Scarlet Knight, had been kept
eligible by his Swedish owner-trainer, a former track
photographer who just three years earlier had been banned from
The Meadowlands for venturing out on the track while shooting
pictures of the Hambletonian. He turned to training, and wound
up a wild success, with a stable of some 50 trotters. The
Meadowlands welcomed him back warmly.
This year's ineligible
standout is a horse named Kadabra, with another fairy tale
Kadabra's dam, Quillo,
was a gift to Connie Hochstetler, a racing secretary at Midwest
tracks, from Beulah Dygert, the 93-year-old widow of Erwin
Dygert, a patriarch of Illinois harness racing. Until a few
years ago, Mrs. Dygert was still working as a key employee at
Hawthorne Race Course. After a fall that ended her working
career, she gave the broodmare to Hochstetler.
bred the mare to an obscure Illinois stallion named Primrose
Lane and got Kadabra.
The colt hardly seemed
to be Hambletonian material on the strength of his modest
pedigree, and was not nominated. But he won $230,500 last year
at 2 and another $312,870 this year, and remains ineligible.
Society discussed supplemental entries for its namesake race as
recently as last year. Although the Hambletonian Society has put
supplemental entries into effect for the Breeders Crown (which
it also administers), harness racing's version of the Breeders'
Cup races, it has steadfastly refused to consider them for the
Hambletonian. That stand now has cost it classic encounters
between trotting's two top 3-year-olds for the second year in a
The idea of classic
races is to bring the best horses in the sport together for
championship competition. Anything that defeats that purpose is
counterproductive to the goal. The argument that original
nominees to championship races need to be protected hardly seems
logical. The Breeders' Cup, and now the Breeders Crown, provide
for expensive supplementary entries, and a number of top horses
have reached those races because their owners made those
payments. If the nominating payments are added to the purse, why
penalize championship performance?
Sickness or injury or
modest breeding - all familiar obstacles to success in racing -
are not absolutes, but all three occur in the game with
unfortunate and painful regularity, and frequently at the moment
when costly nomination or sustaining payments need to be made.
The plight of the
Hambletonian, bereft of a top contender two years in a row, is a
convincing argument for supplemental entries in both harness and
If the stubborn
resistance to supplemental nominations is a curse on the
Hambletonian, the Society's stance on medication is a shining
The conditions of both
the Hambletonian and its companion feature for fillies, the
$500,000 Hambletonian Oaks, also to be contested on Saturday,
are clear and unequivocal. They read simply, "No horse
shall be permitted to race in the Open or the Oaks with
Butazolidin or Lasix."
This, of course, is in
sharp contrast to the rules of the Breeders' Cup, where whole
fields of 2-year-olds and everyone else go to the starting gate
with Lasix. Some apologists for this permissiveness claim that
not allowing Lasix is like depriving mothers of the right to
protect their children with vaccinations. This is arrant
nonsense, and a new book on the use of Lasix by Eclipse
award-winning racing writer Bill Heller, coming out in the next
month or two, tells the other side of the story in documented
detail, including testimony of reputable veterinarians who
disagree sharply with Lasix lovers who benefit financially from
the administration of it and much else.
Society may be wrong on supplemental entries, but it is dead
right on no medication in classic races.