Friday, July 16, 2010

Knocked Up: Trainer's desire to race 10-year-old pregnant mare invites criticism, questions

When I first read this news back in June at the Paulick Report, I couldn't believe my eyes. And today I can't believe the story -- and an ill-advised idea -- still has legs, especially after the demise of former Canadian champion Wake at Noon, who died on the track at Woodbine during a workout as his connections pointed him toward a destined-to-be-controversial comeback at age 13.

A trainer in Pennsylvania wants to send 10-year-old mare Violet Eyed Diva back to the track. After a seven-year retirement from racing. And when she's already a couple of months in foal to his own small-time son of Storm Cat, Draft Age.

PA-based owner-trainer Andrew Davidovich entered Violet Eyed Diva in a July 1 claiming race at Presque Isle Downs, but she was scratched by stewards who rightfully have a lot of questions. About the racing condition of the mare. And probably about Davidovich's sense and sensibilities.

The stewards at PID suggested Davidovich try running the mare at Mountaineer Park, where she's been training. Davidovich balked at the suggestion because "Diva" -- regally bred, sired by multiple-champion Swain and out of the three-times G1-winning Caerleon mare Kostroma -- was unsurprisingly a better turf horse in her brief, 12-race career that seemingly ended in 2003. She won three of those races and was once stakes-placed at Delaware Park, never racing for a tag and earning $79,533. Diva was retired after surgery to remove chips in her knee, an operation from which her form never seemed to fully return.

Davidovich thinks the synthetic surface at PID would be a better option for a horse with prior -- OK, I'm sorry, I can't call it "prior," it's distant, in the lifetime of a racehorse almost prehistoric -- turf form.

The Blood-Horse says Davidovich has made a "compelling case" that the mare should be allowed to race. He has positive reports from the state vets in both Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Reportedly the stewards at Mountaineer have deemed her eligible to race.

But Presque Isle Downs isn't yet convinced it's a good idea. Because it really isn't.

Davidovich says Pennsylvania State Steward Hap D'Angelis says part of the problem is that racing Diva would stir up bad publicity. Because it would. It has.

So I have to ask, why is Davidovich being so persistent?

Upon retirement, Violet Eyed Diva foaled three offspring, two of which haven't raced. The other, a 4-year-old Rahy colt named Justhitoverdrive, is unplaced in six lifetime starts and has been sent off at odds as high as 113-1. With such a poor produce record, and, Davidovich says, seeming to him that she "wanted to stretch her legs," he began working Diva, despite her confirmed pregnancy to his stallion. Davidovich said other horsemen have concurred with his decision to race her. Which boggles my mind.

The trainer says stewards need to make a decision soon.

"If there's no decision made in three or four weeks, I might as well give up on the idea, because there's no way I'm going to race her when she's four or five months pregnant," the trainer says.

Davidovich has been around the track for a good, long while. He's owned horses since the 1960s and has held a trainer's license since the 1970s.

Which is to say, he should know better. He should know (as should stewards at Mountaineer) this is a story that's going off at 113/1 to end well.

A horse coming off any serious layoff usually needs two or even three starts before she really hits her stride again. It's hard to imagine that a knocked-up mare who hasn't competed in seven years is going to fire her best shot right off the shelf. So her first race -- from a handicapping angle, probably even in the mind of most trainers -- is a throwaway. Maybe her second race, too. If she wins or places in them, it would almost be a shock. You'd just hope she came out of each race sound and ready to move forward.

But move forward to what?

Davidovich has already said he doesn't want to race the mare at four months pregnant. Which means he's working this mare -- seven years retired and two and a half months in foal -- toward what is now at most a six-week comeback.

What can she realistically be expected to earn running in cheap claimers (the tag July 1 was to be $7,500), over such a short span that makes all the risk -- not just to the mare, but to the tracks and the entire industry in potential bad publicity -- worth the reward?

I don't know if anybody else is thinking this, but at peril of being labeled all sorts of foul things, I'm willing to suggest it.

I wonder whether Davidovich isn't just trying to sell the mare.

Think about it: Dozens of rescue groups are out there, investing anywhere from a few-hundred to a few-thousand dollars almost every day to pull retired racing thoroughbreds from kill pens and find them new homes. And several times in the past we've seen former owners, devoted fans or other concerned parties step in -- when an accomplished horse has plummeted through the ranks -- to claim him from a cheap race or buy him privately with the sole intent of giving him a dignified retirement.

At this stage, despite her pedigree and raced siblings (she's half to Santa Anita Oaks-G1 winner Ariege), Violet Eyed Diva likely wouldn't bring $7,500 at auction. Her race career was moderately successful, but she's produced nothing of note from three foals: Her 2005 Point Given colt went unnamed; Justhitoverdrive was sent off at 65-1 in his last race (at PID) then refused to break; and while her 2007 filly Jo'burg Diva (Johannesburg) hasn't run out of time to make the races, the fact that she hasn't yet, halfway through her 3-year-old year, isn't encouraging. Now Violet Eyed Diva, unsuccessful when mated to three proven stallions, is in foal to the unraced Draft Age, which might actually reduce her value over selling her open and ready to be bred in 2011 on an early cover, should anyone desire to give her one more chance.

With the market flooded by for-sale and simply unwanted horses, many of them well-bred and with better track and produce records, or in foal to better stallions, Diva has little cash value. It might even be hard to give her away.

That is, unless somebody wants to "rescue" Violet Eyed Diva; to save her from being raced and risked. Seven years after her last start. Seven years after knee surgery. While in, as we humans used to call it, "a delicate condition."

Call me what you will.

I'm only suggesting it wouldn't be the first time a trainer used a steep drop into a cheap claimer just to sell a horse.

1 comment:

  1. Yeah maybe he's a bit more clever than we're giving him credit for...he's made sure everyone hears about it, so that could happen very easily! Could be he missed his calling, because he's obviously not much of a trainer!


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