Barry Irwin is a lot of things, and all of them begin with “outspoken.”
He can be outspokenly witty, outspokenly blunt, outspokenly introspective, or in some cases, just outspoken.
In the aftermath of the Belmont Stakes, where trouble at the start nearly sent jockey John Velazquez flying off of Animal Kingdom, he most certainly wasn't being the first.
“Mud didn't cost AK the Belmont,” Irwin wrote Saturday night on his Facebook wall. “At the break, Isn't He Perfect came over at the break, intimidated Mucho Macho Man, who slammed into Animal Kingdom so hard that our colt nearly went down. Our jockey lost his left iron, which was not corrected until the turn. We never had a chance. Isn't He Perfect had no business being in this race and he screwed it up for a lot of horses today. Classics are no place for amateurs.”
Animal Kingdom, who won the Kentucky Derby from far back just five weeks ago, is owned by Team Valor International, a consortium headed by Irwin.
Isn't He Perfect, an outsider who ended up running last, broke inward from the 11 gate and squeezed out Mucho Macho Man, who was starting in the 10 slot. That forced Mucho Macho Man to cut inside, nearly taking out Animal Kingdom from gate nine in the process.
Despite all the trouble, Animal Kingdom rallied to finish sixth, ahead of both Mucho Macho Man and of course Isn't He Perfect. As they turned for home, it looked for a fleeting moment like maybe he'd still have a chance.
This isn't the first time Irwin has put himself in the center of controversy in his career, and it's not even the first time in the Triple Crown season that he has.
In the minutes after Animal Kingdom's surprise Kentucky Derby win, he took the time in front of a national television audience on NBC to call out Team Valor's former trainers, saying that he hired Graham Motion because he “got tired of other trainers lying.”
Other than Irwin and those unnamed trainers (Todd Pletcher and Wayne Catalano both responded and vehemently denied the charge, and Irwin claimed he wasn't referring to either of them), no one has the ability to judge the validity of those comments, and even Irwin has admitted that the aftermath of the Kentucky Derby was not the stage for such comments.
Certainly his post-Belmont comments could fall under the same category.
But in this case, Barry Irwin is correct, and race tracks should protect horses by preventing entry to those who clearly do not belong.
Of course, going by form, Mine That Bird could have been excluded from the Kentucky Derby, and his sudden rise for five weeks from irrelevant non-player to Kentucky Derby winner and Preakness runner-up (not to mention his third in the Belmont) shows the inherent weakness to the argument.
It is racing after all, and anything will happen.
But at least Mine That Bird had a graded stakes win on his resume, taking the Canadian Grade III Grey Stakes at Woodbine as a two-year-old.
No matter how poor his form was in both prep races at Sunland Park and in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, he was a graded stakes winner.
Isn't He Perfect was not a graded stakes winner. He wasn't even graded stakes placed. He was an utter non-factor, never finishing better than a weakening fifth in the Jerome and Wood Memorial.
He had stepped up and ran against good horses—not great horses mind you, good horses—and didn't even offer a suggestion that he had a chance.
His trainer's excuse that he didn't handle the travel to Pimlico in the Preakness was wrong. He posted his highest Beyer speed figure that day, but he still never was never in contention, finishing ninth ahead of only tiring horses.
Isn't He Perfect had been given the opportunity to show what he could do against good horses four times. Four. Before the Belmont. And he never was in contention in any of those, weakening late in three.
Possibly the Maryland Jockey Club and certainly the New York Racing Association should have prevented Isn't He Perfect from running. His form showed nothing to think he even merited consideration.
And in a race that big, in a race this prestigious, horses shouldn't be allowed in just because they somehow pass the entry box qualifications. Or in the case of the Belmont, not enough horses tried to pass the entry box to fill the race.
There was no chance that Isn't He Perfect could win the race. There was no chance he'd even come close to running in the money. The only thing he could do to change the outcome of the race was to cause chaos or even worse, cause injury to himself or someone else.
Luckily, the only thing that happened was chaos.
Horse racing doesn't need to take unnecessary risks. Horse racing doesn't need Doodnauth Shivmangal entering a horse where the horse doesn't belong to seek impossible glory.
We've already gone through this once with Ricks Natural Star, and in no way am I comparing Ricks Natural Star to Isn't He Perfect. The latter conceivably could win a listed stakes race at a major circuit. The previous couldn't beat low-level claimers at Los Alamitos. But the situation is the same.
Isn't He Perfect likely shouldn't have been in the Preakness. After his Preakness run, he definitely shouldn't have been in the Belmont. They let him in. And it screwed up the race for multiple horses.
Barry Irwin is correct, and it is time the people with power start to listen to him.
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