Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Classic Drama

After a disappointing second in the Hollywood Gold Cup it didn't take Mace Seigel, the owner of Rail Trip, long to make up his mind to ship the gelding east, transferring him from the barn of Ron Ellis to Rick Dutrow.

The drama unfolding is already clearly visible. Samantha Siegel, who felt no need in moving the colt from the cozy confines of California, was as taken aback by the sudden decision as trainer Ron Ellis. No other horses have been removed from the Ellis, but the loss of Rail Trip is a hard blow to the stable.

It seems almost customary that the top horses be shuffled from trainer to trainer theses days. Just last year we saw Rachel Alexandra bought up by Jess Jackson off her 20 length tour de force in the Kentucky Oaks, then transferred from Hal Wiggins to Steve Asmussen. The brilliant Quality Road was moved Jimmy Jerkens to Todd Pletcher. Summer Bird, last year’s Champion three year old, was abruptly moved away from Tim Ice to Tim Ritchey.

Jess Jackson may be the only owner within the bunch mentioned above to have a valid excuse to moving Rachel Alexandra. He already had his number one trainer and for him to buy a horse like Rachel Alexandra and to not turn her over to Steve would’ve been one big slap in the face. The owners of Quality Road and Summer Bird, on the other hand have no good, legitimate reason that they have made know for the transfers. Now that Siegel joins the list of high profile trainer shifts, one has to ask, does he have a valid excuse?

The answer to that question is yes he does. Siegel obviously wants to get the horse a start over dirt against the best dirt horses currently training. He cannot do that sitting in California, since all of the major Californian tracks are some type of synthetic where the majority of eastern tracks are still good old, conventional dirt.

Another thing Rail Trip will get in the east is a taste of just how good the best dirt horses, currently training really are. If Rail Trip is placed in the Woodward for his first start on dirt he will meet up with the Blame and Quality Road, the top two older males of the east. Some other horses he will probably get to meet are I want Revenge and Mine That Bird. Both horses disappointed in their debuts this year, however, both had valid excuses in each start.

Now onto the final element of this interesting new drama, the Dutrow element. Man fans still question why didn’t Siegel allow Ellis to come east with Rail Trip? Why, if there needed to be a transfer, did he transfer to Rick Dutrow of all people?

The answer to question one is simply that the Siegel’s still have around 15 other horses in the Ellis barn and probably do not want him leave those horses for just one horse. They also have used Dutrow as their east coast trainer for years, with a number of horses. They trust in his ability as a horseman and even Samantha admits that Dutrow has a knack for noticing when something is wrong, way before many other trainers.

The answer to question two was already answered in question one. Dutrow, despite his lengthy rap sheet of drug violations, is a good horseman. He can detect things quicker than other trainers and refuses to run his horses unless they are in tip top shape. Is the man an angel, no, but the owners trust him and that is what matters.

So, is Mace Siegel the bad guy in this? My answer is no, but many may think otherwise, believing he hurt his previous trainer and turned his back on his daughter. To this writer, he did what was best for the horse and what was needed. Sometimes people may need to step on some toes and go against the beliefs of others to do what needs to be done. That is all that happened here and in due time his Samantha and Ellis will probably see the reasoning behind this move. Mace Siegel is not the bad guy, just a guy trying to do right by his horse.


  1. Hmmm,... I'll have to think about this.

    I don't specifically remember the situation with Jerkins losing Quality Road to Pletcher; however, Pletcher has made all the right moves with the 'big horse', and trainers realize this is part of the business anyway. You also mentioned Jess Jackson giving his new charge Rachel Alexandra to Steve Asmussen, which is exactly what he did after acquiring Curlin. Helen Pitts was Curlin's first trainer.

    I remember feeling especially bad a few years earlier when Bob Holthus lost Lawyer Ron to Todd Pletcher, then later I realized, with all due respect to Bob, who is a great trainer and started training when I was just a toddler, that Pletcher was able to bring Ron to the next level and make him a champion, something which Bob may or may not have done; hard to say.

    In the case of Ron Ellis losing Rail Trip, I felt this was a knee-jerk response after the horse, although losing the Hollywood Gold Cup, ran well enough to probably continue moving forward. I don't know what the conversation was between Ellis and Bejarano prior to the race, but I can't help but think the loss wasn't the fault of the trainer. I'm just guessing of course, and there's no need to go into the dynamics of the race again, we all know what transpired and why. If the owners were so concerned about getting a dirt race into Rail Trip (I've always felt he'd need one), would they still have made a change if Rail Trip had won the Hollywood Gold Cup? It's my understanding that Ron felt the horse could still run on the synthetics and then go directly to the 'big dance.' If Ron had been able to keep the horse and the owners insisted that he ship to a dirt track, then hopefully Ron would have complied with their wishes. As far as leaving 15 of their other horses to go with one horse back East, doesn't Ellis have assistants in his stable?

  2. John,

    Samantha didn't want to move and would've probably sided with Ron, even if Mace insisted. She didn't want to move from Cali. I'm not saying anyone is wrong in this situation. I think both had different ideas and Mace wanted to make sure his was followed. Should he have asked Samanthat and Ron or talked to them, I would say yes, it would be the polite thing, however he is the one who pays the bills.

    I'm sure Ellis has assistant trainers, but if I were an owner and I had two trainers, both as good as Rick and Ron, I would want to make sure that I had the best for both. Meaning I would want Ron to stay with the other 15, instead of having just one of his assitants.

  3. I'm not sure I agree with your argument about Ron staying with the other fifteen horses. If you have a good stable of assistants, you shouldn't worry about it. And besides, if Ellis had kept Rail Trip, I'm sure he would have gone back East with his one horse for the Breeders' Cup and left the others with able assistants anyway. There is no sense in even having employees if you can't depend on them to take care of your horses, no matter what level they run on.

    You are correct about the owner paying the bills, but I'm still disappointed that Ron didn't get to keep his 'big horse' since he was the one who brought Rail Trip this far to begin with. But in reality it's the owner's horse and he can choose what he feels is best for him. It's just in this case, I don't agree with his decision.

  4. Why hasn't Rail Trip had a workout since his last race, and his move East? I wonder if there are some physical issues...maybe Siegel wanted to get him off the synthetics.

  5. John,

    Thing is that it's not Mace's barn full of assistants. He pays Ron to train and Ron pays the assistants to help him train. Mace may trust Ron, but may not really know the assistant. Personally I really don't hear about many assistants getting a ton of credit, except for Scott Blasi. Other than him I really don't hear much about them in the news.


    Maybe there was, I didn't know he had not worked. If I'm not mistaken, I think Rick is normally pretty cautious with his horses. Maybe RT didn't settle well at first and he's just giving him time. Coming from the dry heat right in the middle of one of the East Coast heat waves could not have been easy. Maybe that affected him some.

  6. I'm thinking that Dutrow will do the same thing he's done to every other horse that's been moved to him after being bought in California or elsewhere for that matter. How long did it take him to ruin Stardom Bound etc. Heck I'd say that Big Brown didn't fare well under him despite his performance on the track, how much of that was 'assisted'. BB's former trainer KNEW the horse had some hoof issues and had to be babied. When the steroids were banned, while he is being scrutinized to the max? Watch his horsemanship skills diminish.
    There are a lot of great horsemen in racing, don't believe everything you hear.
    One of the best horsemen? Allen Jerkens. Bill MOtt, Mike Matz, Jimmy Jerkens, Jonathan Sheppard, Todd Pletcher, Wayne Lukas, Kiaran McLaughlin, Brett Calhoun all beat Dutrow in my book. The best horseman in that family? Tony.
    Hard to be great at anything when you're a head case.
    Want a disciple of Bobby Frankel? Then go with the hottest trainer in NY, Chad Brown.

    Mace is not the same guy he was 10 years ago. Samantha knows that, she usually runs the show but is trying to put a good spin on it. Ellis is an excellent trainer and an incredibly nice guy. This was a huge blow to his barn I'm sure.

    I often wonder about owners who place horses with these guys who have repeat suspensions and offenses. Did they suddenly turn over a new leaf after 20 years of the same behavior?

    Place blame? Bejarano gave the horse a really bad ride, Mace was mad that he lost the race because in his opinion Zenyatta was the only legitimate contender and when she didn't run? He thought he had it in the bag. Run on dirt? Really it seems transitioning from synthetics to dirt has been pretty successful. I don't like them but actually they're great to train on at most tracks.
    Assistants? There are a lot of great assistants, the only ones most of the fans hear about are the horses that make the pages of the blogs, DRF or Bloodhorse. Every trainer with big stables has them and many of them are just waiting to go out on their own. You probably know Blasi because you're a big fan of the Jackson horses, well at least the ones he bought for a fortune.
    Scott's biggest claim to fame? The fact that while Asmussen was on a 6 month suspension Scott still managed to hang around in the top ten trainer standings. Asmussen? Name ONE horse that he's made who is successful.

  7. Wow Anon,

    Why don't you tell me how you really feel?

  8. This is more like a chat room, just thought I'd chat. Sorry if I showed you up knowing more about the subject.
    Truth hurt?

  9. Anon,

    No need to get defensive, I was just observing. You seemed very very bitter to me in your last post that is all. I don't really thinkg you showed you knew more, and if you do fine. I'm not stopping you from commenting, you just seemed bitter towards the whole thing.