When Dancer's Image was disqualified after winning the 1968 Kentucky Derby, the announcement that his post-race drug test had come back positive was made less than 72 hours after the race.
"There are dramatic differences between then and now," said Dr. Norman Hester of Truesdail Laboratories in Tustin. "Testing is much more sophisticated than it was then, and it takes more time."
The time it will take to analyze Lil E. Tee's frozen urine sample still seems too long for a Kentucky Derby winner to wait. Truesdail, which does all thoroughbred lab work for Kentucky, does not expect to complete its Derby testing until early next week.
By then, Lil E. Tee and two of the other horses that are being tested--Casual Lies, who ran second, and Dance Floor, the third-place finisher--will be at Pimlico, getting ready to run in the second Triple Crown race, the Preakness, next Saturday.
There have been no suggestions that any of these horses--plus Arazi, the beaten favorite, who also is being tested--might test positive. But if one of them did, and the purse money was taken away, the Preakness could be affected, because with owners of more than 14 horses wanting to enter, preference will be given to the 3-year-olds with the highest earnings.
Racing shouldn't be putting itself in such a vulnerable situation, but then it is not uncommon for racing to do things the hard way.
When Arazi arrived in Louisville from France a week before the Derby, his blood sample had to be sent to a federal facility in Ames, Iowa, while the Derby favorite was sent to a converted warehouse across the street from Churchill Downs to await a chemist's assurance that he had no transmittable diseases.
About 40 hours later, Arazi was sprung from the warehouse and vanned to the track to resume preparations for the Derby.
Now, after his eighth-place flop in the Derby, Arazi's trainer, Francois Boutin, and his co-owner, Allen Paulson, are saying that the horse wasn't a happy traveler when he was shipped to Kentucky. The excuses for Arazi ought to stop with the one that he was ill-prepared to run 1 1/4 miles in the Derby off one soft prep race in France, but nevertheless the rigors of his quarantine would be enough to sour a horse who had just left Boutin's training center in the bucolic countryside near Paris.
John Gosden, when he was training in California, once lost the chance to run a foreign horse in a stakes race at Hollywood Park because the blood test had gone to Ames on a holiday weekend and wasn't processed in time. Since the Derby is a bit more than merely the eighth race at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May, wouldn't it serve foreign horses better if racing brought Iowa to Kentucky for a week instead of the other way around?
And wouldn't it be better, since Kentucky prefers to go to California for its testing, if Truesdail chemists were on standby in Louisville after the Derby, instead of the lab waiting for four numbered jars to arrive in Tustin from Churchill Downs?
Truesdail is doing the Derby testing for the third year, and Hester said Thursday that his lab received the horses' samples late Monday or sometime Tuesday. Had Truesdail been on the scene, the testing could have begun Saturday night, as it did the year Dancer's Image's sample came back positive for phenylbutazone.
The California Horse Racing Board treats routine races with more expediency than Kentucky does the Derby. The California board requires Truesdail to complete normal screening of post-race samples within 72 hours. Anything less can result in the lab being hit with a $500 penalty.
At least Kentucky is testing Arazi. Every time testing comes up, it is a reminder of the 1984 Flamingo Stakes at Hialeah, where Devil's Bag, as the 3-10 favorite, ran a dull fourth, beaten by more than seven lengths.
A reporter seeking out Woody Stephens for an explanation went to the two most likely places--Devil's Bag's barn and the clubhouse bar, where the trainer frequently replayed his races.
Not finding Stephens, he went to the track's post-race test barn.
"Mr. Stephens here?" he asked.
"He wouldn't be here because the horse isn't here," the attendant said. "They're not testing Devil's Bag."
A couple of days later, a call was made to the director of the racing board, to ask why Devil's Bag had not been tested.
"We run a lot of races in Florida, greyhounds as well as horses," he said. "We just don't have the budget to test all of them."
Horse Racing Notes
During a cross-country telephone news conference that included his jockey, trainer Wayne Lukas seemed to surprise Chris McCarron when he said that Twilight Agenda bruised his heel at Churchill Downs a week ago. "Not to worry, Chris," Lukas said. Twilight Agenda, at 4-1, is the co-second choice with Fly So Free in today's $700,000 Pimlico Special. Best Pal is the even-money favorite in the seven-horse field, which also includes Defensive Play, Strike The Gold, Ibero and Valley Crossing. Lukas said that Twilight Agenda didn't miss any training time and worked six furlongs in a sharp 1:13 3/5 at Churchill Downs before being shipped to Maryland.
Craig Perret will ride Strike The Gold, after all. Perret was headed for Chicago's Sportsman's Park, to ride Alydeed in today's $500,000 Illinois Derby, but now he will stay at Pimlico. Alydeed, a bleeder who races with Lasix, would not have been able to be treated with the diuretic because of Illinois racing rules.
Kent Desormeaux, who rides Best Pal, will be at Hollywood Park on Sunday aboard another Gary Jones-trained favorite, Kostroma, in the $100,000 Wilshire Handicap. Kostroma will carry 123 pounds in the eight-horse field, conceding six to 10 pounds to her opponents. Others running in the 1 1/16-mile grass race are Re Toss, Only Yours, Elegance, Danzante, Appealing Missy and the entry of Crystal Gazing and Sha Tha.
Vying Victor, who ran second to Lil E. Tee in the Jim Beam Stakes, is the probable favorite in the 14-horse Illinois Derby. The Sportsman's track is no longer a five-furlong bull ring, but even with a seven-furlong circumference, this field will be a crowd. Before his last start, Vying Victor stepped on a nail and went lame while training for the Arkansas Derby, then ran last. Also running today is Bright Day Bob, who had traffic trouble while running third in the California Derby. He will be ridden by Mark Guidry, Chicago's hottest jockey. Pat Day, who won the Kentucky Derby on Lil E. Tee, rides American Chance.
The $1-million Pacific Classic will be run at Del Mar on Aug. 30, the same day as the Del Mar Oaks. Other stakes are the Ramona Handicap on Aug. 15, the Eddie Read Handicap Aug. 16, the Del Mar Derby Aug. 29, the Del Mar Handicap Sept. 7 and the Del Mar Futurity on closing day, Sept. 16. The 43-day season opens on July 29.