How We Brought You The Most Important Stories Of This Most Strange Year Of Racing

As we all prepare to close the book on 2020 (slam it shut enthusiastically in most cases), it’s time for our traditional look back at the stories we brought to you this year. This year has been a busy one for us at the Paulick Report, as we’ve covered major stories within racing and news from the broader world spilling over into the sport.

Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic was a central focus of our reporting this year, from the initial series of racetrack closures to the rescheduling of major events like the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. As it became clear the disruptions to daily life were not going away, we reported on the uncertainty and stress of horsemen across the country, and have continued our follow-up on from Pennsylvania, Illinois, and New Mexico, where the loss of wagering revenue has hobbled already-fragile circuits. In the face of the stress and fear that was common in the early days of the pandemic, we also brought you tales of kindness – horsemen helping each other feed their animals, helping to feed their communities, and an entire series on the dogged perseverance of the men and women who rise early each day to care for the horses we love. The economic disruption of the virus will not vanish when the calendars flip to 2021, and international racing experts have expressed concern about long-term impacts of the virus on public interest in wagering and ownership.

Activity in the national legislature became more impactful on racing this year than it has been before, as the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act was introduced, passed, and finally signed into law in December when it was attached to a broader government spending bill. We’ve endeavored to answer your questions about the basics of the new authority that will be created by the bill. We’ve also published responses from key industry figures and organizations – some of whom enthusiastically support the bill, some of whom oppose it, and others who have advised caution in the face of scant details about the funding of the new group.

It’s been a big year for news within racing, too. Several of our most-read stories of the year dealt with the indictment earlier this year of more than two dozen trainers, assistants, veterinarians, and others in connection with what the FBI says was an illegal racehorse doping ring. High profile horsemen Jorge Navarro and Jason Servis were among those arrested on charges of drug adulteration and misbranding, with horses in their stables extensively tested and transferred to other trainers. They have entered pleas of not guilty to the federal charges against them in the case. Other racing connections, both from the harness and flat racing worlds, would be indicted later, with authorities all the while hinting throughout 2020 since that more arrests could be coming. We sought to better understand what the health and welfare risks to the horses who had allegedly received the drugs described in the federal indictments, and to learn more about the history of SGF-1000, the drug Servis is accused of giving to the majority of horses in his barn. All indicted licensees saw their racing licenses suspended in March, but a Paulick Report investigation into the business of paper training questioned how easy it really is for a bad actor to be kept out of the sport.

Of course, Servis’s arrest dredged up debate about the record of Maximum Security, the colt who crossed the finish line first in the 2019 Kentucky Derby but was later disqualified for interference. Owner Gary West had not finished his legal fight to have his horse declared the race’s winner at the time of the indictments. West continued pursuing his civil case until three judges from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed a lower court’s ruling dismissing the suit in August. Meanwhile, West sent Maximum Security for a series of tests and a thorough medical examination by Dr. Larry Bramlage before resting the colt and sending him on to trainer Bob Baffert for a 4-year-old campaign. Though earlier in the year, Maximum Security had won the world’s richest race at the inaugural Saudi Cup, the Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia later withheld the winner’s share of the purse pending an independent investigation into whether the colt ran the race under the influence of performance-enhancing drugs. As the colt’s legacy continued to be a subject of debate, Maximum Security was retired to Coolmore, and a subsequent stallion ad touting the purity of his performances prompted some critical analysis from our publisher.

If there was one subject that ignited readers more than Maximum Security or the federal indictments, it was trainer Bob Baffert. Although he won this year’s Kentucky Derby (and Breeders’ Cup Classic) with Authentic, Baffert stumbled on the Derby trail when Charlatan tested positive for lidocaine after his win in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby. Subsequently, Baffert runner Gamine would come up positive for betamethasone in initial post-race testing after the Kentucky Oaks and Merneith would test positive for dextromethorphan after a run at Del Mar in July. Baffert released statements explaining each result and is in the process of appealing the ruling in Arkansas. We took a look at whether having multiple medication violations in so short a time would be likely to compound penalties for the Hall of Fame trainer, and why test results for the split sample from Arkansas seemed to come so slowly.

At the start of 2020, Triple Crown-winning owner Ahmed Zayat became embroiled in an ever-more complicated legal battle stemming from a multi-million-dollar loan he failed to repay to New York firm MGG Investments. A judge appointed a receiver to manage and liquidate the Zayat Stable roster over the course of the 2020 racing season, and MGG eventually received a summary judgment against Zayat Stables in the amount of $24 million. As news spread of the civil case, trainers and other creditors came forward to say the stable owed them money, too. Zayat himself would later declare bankruptcy. The case made lots of documents publicly available that most people never get to see, including contracts for the sales of breeding rights, high-end bloodstock, and appraisals for horses in the Zayat program. We took a look at those documents to better understand how stud deals are made, how horses are appraised, and to sort out the legal process for Zayat’s trainers and other industry creditors awaiting payment.

It hasn’t all been court documents and COVID-19, though. As always, we aimed to bring you warm and fuzzy stories, too. Our weekly Connections series, authored by Chelsea Hackbarth, tells the story behind a recent winner – often a stakes winner, but sometimes the winner of a bread-and-butter race that meant so much more to a horse’s connections. We’ve brought you monthly perspective from announcer and eventer Jonathan Horowitz in our Thoroughbred Makeover Diaries series as he navigates the highs and lows of retraining an off-track horse while still a novice rider himself.

In an effort to better serve our readers, we’ve also overhauled the section of our website we call The Paddock to bring you opinion and editorial content from a variety of voices. Mostly, it’s dedicated to written commentary but expect to see a return of The Friday Show appearing there soon.

Our goal at the Paulick Report has always been to present you with the most important stories from the racing and equine industries and to shine light on their challenges and their triumphs. We could not do this work without our readers. Thanks to all of you for your support, and best wishes for the new year.

The post How We Brought You The Most Important Stories Of This Most Strange Year Of Racing appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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