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Aug 12, 2006




It was a bad week for Mel Gibson and the Cleveland bullpen. We all know that.

But what we don't know is that it was a bad week for the thousands of folks who had the misfortune to bet the favorite in the Hambletonian.

On the surface, the Hambletonian, held (not run) last Saturday at The Meadowlands, was an unqualified success. The Hambo, the marquee event on the harness racing calendar, brought 30,000 out to the Big M on a bright, sunny day, and they saw the popular John Campbell win his sixth Hambo on Glidemaster before a no-doubt captivated national television audience.


In the moments following the race, various publicity department personnel, as they do after every major race, thoroughbred and harness, rush downstairs to collect quotes from the principals in the race. This is done to save the working press from having to get off their collective butts and actually do some work.

The quotes are worthless 99 per cent of the time. "My horse ran (trotted) great. It was a thrill to be here. I have no excuses."

You know the drill.

But this was the one per cent.

A publicity person asked Brian Sears, who drove Mr. Pine Chip, the 4-5 favorite who broke stride in deep stretch, and finished last, about his trip.

Sears said:

"They (the barn) told me that he (Mr. Pine Chip) didn't have the best of weeks training, and that maybe he was a little sick, and it was just bad timing. He's not a big horse, and that takes its toll."

A little sick?

Is that like a little pregnant?

All I know is that millions were wagered on Mr. Pine Chip, and the horse - we learn afterwards -- was sick!

It's the betting public who should be sick.

After all, the connections of Mr. Pine Chip never said a word before the fact that the horse was sick. He was the top choice of virtually every public handicapper. And even harness guru Bob Heyden, who never met a favorite he liked, told the WFAN radio audience on the morning of the race that that the horse was a lock.

Hey, if Bullet Bob didn't know the horse was sick, then no one outside the immediate family knew he was.

Talk about not giving a damn about the betting public.

Offhand, the most blatant equivalent incident I can recall in thoroughbred racing occurred back in 1979.

You'll recall that Spectacular Bid was odds-on in the Belmont Stakes that year, and appeared a cinch to lock up the Triple Crown.

After Bid got beat by Coastal, trainer Buddy Delp blamed the loss on a safety pin that had pierced and lodged in the colt's foot.

True or not, you can be sure that nothing was mentioned before the race, and tens of millions went up in smoke.

Then there was the Go For Wand tragedy.

On the morning of the 1990 Breeders' Cup at Belmont Park, I heard rumors that all was not right with Go For Wand, the favorite in the Distaff.

I rushed to the barn only to find the barn doors closed and locked. It didn't take an Einstein to figure there was something terribly wrong.

Again, the betting public knew from nothing.and hours later the filly broke down, and was euthanized in front of the grandstand. I can remember like it was yesterday standing on the ground floor of the clubhouse, and watching a stream of thousands of tear-drenched fans rushing for the exits although there were still three or four Breeders' Cup races to be run.

Back to the present.

Sunday was Haskell Day at Monmouth Park, and, for the most part, it went off without a hitch before an announced crowd of 42,000.

Joe Bravo rode the first five winners, Bluegrass Cat blew away the Haskell as the stick, and all was well with the world.

Well, almost.

In the co-feature, the Matchmaker Stakes, Masseuse, the 7-5 favorite, was pulled up by Edgar Prado 50 yards into the race.

Shades of Barbaro.

But this time there was nothing physically wrong with the filly. Prado, sensing there was a problem with the filly's hind quarters, snatched her up.

If Prado erred on the side of caution, so be it. No one could read his mind, but maybe he was having flashbacks to Barbaro.

Thankfully the filly is OK, but how 'bout the betting public who never got a run for their money.

The fact that this happened on national TV just made it worse.

I know there is no precedent for the stewards ordering refunds on Masseuse, but maybe it should have been considered.

"Masseuse takes a lot of warming up," said trainer Toner, "and, for some reason, they had a very short parade (my guess: ESPN had a tight schedule), and she didn't have time to warm up properly."

The bottom line?

As it was for Mr. Pine Chip a day earlier, the public be damned.

As for Prado, anyone who reads this column knows that I believe he is numero one.

But you have to say that Edgar had as bad a day Sunday as Mel Gibson and the Cleveland bullpen had a bad week.

First of all, the six-seater from Saratoga was delayed getting to Jersey, and Prado missed his call on Strelladar in the second race. Bravo subbed, and nailed the second of his five straight winners.

Edgar then made the scene.only to finish second on Capeside Lady (the stick) in race three; fourth on Big Jon (8-5) in race four; third on Rebel Rebel (5-2) in race nine; second on Kazoo (5-1) in race 10; last on Masseuse (7-5) in race 11, and third on Strong Contender (2-1) in race 12, the Haskell.

Finally, a month ago in this space I pointed out that Paul Lo Duca is one athlete who gets it. I cited the fact that Lo Duca, when told by the press that he showed guts by playing with a sore thumb, told the press that, "if you want to see guts, check out a children's hospital."

In view of the events of the last few days, I must say I had no idea to what extent Lo Duca gets it. And I'm not talking about his .430 batting average since July 1.

One final note: congrats to the Knicks' latest signee, who turns six points and four rebounds a game into $30 million.

And now I'm off to Hot Springs, Ark., for a handicapping contest. I'll have the happy recap next week.

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