The defini tive confrontation between the nation's best 3-year-olds was supposed to take place in the Travers Stakes at Saratoga, but it probably won't happen. Spend a Buck is unlikely to come because the stodgy rules of the New York Racing Association won't let him use the drug he needs.
Hailed in some quarters as a superhorse, Spend a Buck had his shortcomings exposed when he lost the Haskell Invitational Handicap at Monmouth Saturday. He took the lead without being subjected to pressure, covering the first half mile in 47 seconds -- even claiming horses were running faster fractions that day. But he offered no resistance when he was challenged by Skip Trial, a 35-to-1 shot whose credentials were largely undistinguished. Skip Trial trounced the Kentucky Derby winner by nearly four lengths.
The upset promptly was followed by a litany of excuses. Trainer Cam Gambolati said the racing strip was too deep and tiring for the colt. (Actually it was pretty fast; Skip Trial couldn't run 1 1/8 miles in 1:48 3/5 on a dull surface). Gambolati also said Spend a Buck had been hurt by his two-month absence from competition. (But he had been training brilliantly before the Haskell.)
More likely, the key to Spend a Buck's defeat was the fact that he was bleeding from the nostrils after the race. Respiratory problems probably caused the colt's virtual collapse in the stretch. That's why Gambolati and owner Dennis Diaz seemed to decide so quickly they would cancel their trip to Saratoga -- where Spend a Buck couldn't use the antibleeding medication Lasix.
Yesterday, however, Diaz hedged, saying he would inspect the track before making his final decision. "If it's a deep, laboring track, like Monmouth was Saturday, instead of just a fast track, we can't run," Diaz told the Associated Press. "We'd be crazy. We can't let him get out there and run like that and run out of air and bleed or maybe even break down. And he would bleed, because he just won't quit."
Spend a Buck bled for the first time when he came back to his barn after winning the the Garden State Stakes in April. ("A trickle," Gambolati said. "Buckets," other sources claimed). Ordinarily, he would have been put on the New Jersey bleeders' list, which would have entitled him to use Lasix, but state rules dictate that he couldn't race within the next 15 days. The Kentucky Derby was 14 days later.
Because there are no standards for Lasix use in wide-open Kentucky, Spend a Buck had the drug when he ran away with the Derby. But since he still wasn't an "official" bleeder according to New Jersey rules, he couldn't be medicated for the Jersey Derby (which he won narrowly) or the Haskell. Now he has qualified for Lasix, and so he will stay in New Jersey to use it, most likely running next in the Monmouth Invitational and then in the Pegasus Stakes at the Meadowlands.
He'll probably run very well, because the Kentucky Derby showed that a drug-aided Spend a Buck is a killer. But it will be a travesty if he is hailed as a great horse or voted a champion for ducking the Travers and running well in New Jersey.
There are plenty of pros and cons about the legalization of Lasix and other therapeutic medications, but this much can be stated flatly: a horse's ability cannot be accurately and properly judged by his performances on medication.
In recent 3-year-old campaigns, horses such as Codex, Gate Dancer and Sunny's Halo have given explosive performances with medication -- but have been unremarkable performers otherwise.
Wild Again, the winner of the $3 million Breeders' Cup Classic, is another such drug-aided phony. He had the help of both Lasix and the analgesic Banamine when he ran the race of his life at Hollywood Park last fall. When he made his 1985 debut in New York last week, he was whipped by a $32,000 claiming horse.
The National Association of State Racing Commissioners proposed a couple of years ago that medication be banned for all major stakes, but the idea was widely ignored. So horses continue to build reputations by winning major stakes with the aid of drugs, then go to stud and beget offspring who are either drug-dependent or untalented. Horses such as Spend a Buck deserve a big asterisk next to their names in the record books. years ago that medication be banned for all major stakes, but the idea was widely ignored. So horses continue to build reputations by winning major stakes with the aid of drugs, then go to stud and beget offspring who are either drug-dependent or untalented. Horses such as Spend a Buck deserve a big asterisk next to their names in the record books.