By Richard Rosenblatt
A week into 2022, there’s horse racing news galore on almost every front, from the return of top jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr., to the retirements of Preakness (G1) winner Rombauer and champion female filly sprinter Gamine, to the passing of champion Da Hoss at age 30, and the switch to Fox Sports from NBC for the Belmont Stakes beginning next year.
There’s more. The end of 2021 brought the final numbers for top earning horses, riders, trainers, and owners. The winners: Knicks Go at $5,824,140 – more than $2 million ahead of Medina Spirit; jockey Joel Rosario with $32,944,478 in purse earnings; trainer Brad Cox with $31,832,345 in purse earnings; and owner Godolphin LLC with $17,403,204 in purse earnings.
On the Bob Baffert legal front this week, the New York Racing Association added to its complaint against the embattled Hall of Fame trainer. A disciplinary hearing is scheduled for Jan. 24 and could result in the suspension of Baffert from NYRA tracks, Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga.
The amended complaint adds references to two positives for a regulated medication from 2019 and a barn search conducted by the California Horse Racing Board. Baffert’s Medina Spirit won the Kentucky Derby (G1), but post-race positives could cause his disqualification. A final decision is pending.
Irad’s back at the races
After serving a 30-day suspension for reckless riding in races on Dec. 3 and Dec. 4 at Aqueduct, Irad Ortiz, Jr., returns on Thursday (Jan. 6) at Gulfstream Park.
The three-time Eclipse Award winner, and three-time reigning Gulfstream winter meet champion, is named on six horses.
Ortiz has been working horses in the mornings, mostly for Todd Pletcher at Palm Beach Downs.
Rombauer retired due to series of ankle issues
His owners, John and Diana Fradkin, kept him out of the Kentucky Derby so he’d be ready for the Preakness, and the decision paid off handsomely as Rombauer won the second leg of the Triple Crown by 3 ½ lengths over Midnight Bourbon with Derby winner Medina Spirit third.
But ankle issues developed over the last two months, and the decision was made to retire him from racing.
“His condition got worse to the point where we feel it’s best to stop on him,” Fradkin said in a press release.
The 4-year-old Rombauer won three times in eight starts but will always have a Classic victory on his resume. He ran third in the Belmont behind Essential Quality and Hot Rod Charlie in his final race.
“It’s not the ending we would have liked, but at the end of the day he’s an American classic winner and he ran third in a second American classic, and he provided me with my first classic winner,” his trainer Michael McCarthy told the Daily Racing Form.
Gamine retired following stellar career
The sprinting sensation trained by Bob Baffert was retired this week after a stellar career that included two-near world records, five Grade 1 wins, a Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf Sprint (G1) win, and nine victories in 11 victories in under two years of racing.
A daughter of Into Mischief, Gamine won the 2021 Acorn Stakes (G1) by 18 ¾ lengths, covering a mile in 1:32 2/5 – 1/5th of a second off Dr. Fager’s world record set 54 years ago. In winning the 2020 Filly & Mare Turf Sprint at Keeneland by 6 ¼ lengths, Gamine ran 7 furlongs in a track record 1:20 1/5, equaling Dr. Fager’s time in the Vosburgh Handicap that stood for 31 years.
“Gamine is the best filly sprinter I have ever trained. She defines greatness,’’ Baffert said. “She’s a big, beautiful, elegant filly. She was all class. We knew we had something very special right from the start.”
FOX Sports lands Belmont Stakes
Beginning in 2023, nobody will be rooting for a Triple Crown more than FOX Sports.
Fox acquired the rights to the Belmont Stakes on Wednesday (Jan. 5) in a historic deal through 2030 that moves the final leg of the Triple Crown from NBC to a network with a huge stake in New York racing.
The Belmont will also take on a gaming brand sponsor and be called the NYRA Bets Belmont Stakes.
The eight-year deal with the New York Racing Association includes the Belmont Stakes Racing Festival prior to the Belmont that includes many top-shelf stakes races.
NYRA Bets is jointly owned by NYRA and FOX Corp.
2-time BC Mile winner Da Hoss dies at 30
A comeback story for the racing ages, Da Hoss died on Jan. 2 at the Kentucky Horse Park near Lexington, Kentucky at the age of 30.
Da Hoss, trained by Michael Dickinson, won the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) in 1996, and was sidelined by series of injures for two years. Healthy again and a 6-year-old in 1998, the bay gelding, won an allowance race at Colonial Downs on Oct. 11, and 27 days later staged a dramatic repeat win in the BC Mile at Churchill Downs.
“He was our horse of a lifetime,” Dickinson said. “We all loved him. He brought us so many highs, even with his problems, we knew he would never let us down. He gave his all and loved to win. He was spoiled but deserved to be.”
Da Hoss was retired after the second BC Mile win with a record of 20-12-5-2 and earnings of $1.9 million.
Over the years while working at The Associated Press, Rich Rosenblatt became a familiar name to legions of the horse racing fans and industry insiders with his award-winning articles on horse racing and his stories from the backstretch.
In addition to being an astute observer of sports, Rosenblatt is the co-author of The All-American Chili Cookbook. His work has been seen in just about every publication in the world, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and Time Magazine.