Sometimes I wonder why I keep going to the Kentucky Derby.
Thoroughbred horse racing has such a sordid backdrop — dotted with crooked trainers, owners of questionable repute and excessive, dangerous medication of horses — that it’s kind of amazing the sport is still drawing crowds at all.
But just as it is with brain-injury-riddled professional football, the power, beauty and grace of the athletes is difficult to resist.
And so on Saturday, there I was again, along with 167,000 other people, taking part in the thrill and spectacle of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.
But once again, for those looking past the mint juleps and colorful hats and outfits, the nasty underbelly of thoroughbred racing was on display.
The winning horse, as many of you know by now, was an undefeated colt named Nyquist. Nyquist was the 2-1 favorite (the fourth year in a row that the favorite has won), and he did it in impressive fashion, holding off a stirring but belated stretch run by the second favorite, Exaggerator. (For the record, I bet Suddenbreakingnews — he finished fifth — and left a few hundred dollars at the track.)
In the winner’s circle, it was all smiles and jubilation, with two of the leading participants being 47-year-old trainer Doug O’Neill and 60-year-old owner J. Paul Reddam.
The problem is both men have checkered histories, very checkered. O’Neill has accumulated nearly 20 equine medication violations — drugging his horses to either make them run faster or raise their pain threshold — and has served 45-day suspensions in both New York and California. He’s an engaging and attractive fellow, but he’s a proven cheater. Some people call him “Drug” O’Neill.
As for Reddam, I didn’t know much about him until I read a story in today’s Louisville Courier-Journal. It seems he owns a company called CashCall. Hmmm. The writer of the story, Jason Frakes, described CashCall as “a firm specializing in small loans at high interest rates.”
Being a Kansas Citian and having written about some local men who wandered down crooked alleys, I recognize the description of a payday lending scam when I see one.
I Googled CashCall and Reddam, and guess what? Yep, like some of our local schemers, Reddam apparently has been involved in the online payday loan business. In December 2013, the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau sued Reddam, CashCall and two other companies he owned, charging that the defendants illegally debited money from consumers’ checking accounts. The case is pending in U.S. District Court in California, where Reddam lives.
An amended complaint filed in March 2014 says, “Defendants initiated banking orders to extract funds from consumers’ bank accounts to pay obligations that under state law were void or that consumers had no obligation to pay in whole or part…Defendants thus took money from consumers, many of whom were struggling financially, that the consumers did not owe. These consumers suffered significant financial harm as a result.”
The suit says Reddam played a central role in developing and setting into motion “the nationwide scheme through which loans that his companies marketed, financed, purchased, serviced, and collected.” Reddam contends the loans did not have to comply with state licensing and usury laws because they were made in the name of a company owned by a member of an Indian reservation…That company, however, was a wholly owned subsidiary of CashCall.
So, take a look at this photo of a joyful winner’s circle yesterday. In my opinion, only one of the three people pictured front and center is a winner.
One of the elements of thoroughbred racing I have always loved is the concise, ear-catching way writers for the Daily Racing Form — thoroughbred racing’s most authoritative publication — chart the races. DRF analyzes how every race at major North American tracks are run, complete with descriptions of every horse’s performance.
Here is chart for the first three finishers in the Derby:
“Nyquist came away in good order, was content to track the pace three deep, took closer order under confident handling leaving the three-eighths pole, overpowered Gun Runner soon into the lane, spurted clear while shifting towards the rail in midstretch, kept on under a downturned right-handed stick and held Exaggerator at bay.
“Exaggerator drafted back off the early pace saving ground, picked up steam into the far turn, angled out and aggressively knifed his way between foes nearing the quarter pole, swung out before being straightened into the stretch, then closed strongly to narrow the gap.
“Gun Runner showed speed from the gate, was allowed to settle off of the leader while saving ground, eased out advancing toward the half mile marker, overtook Danzing Candy departing the three-eighths pole, was confronted by Nyquist soon after, held a slim advantage into the lane, then gave way grudgingly through the final sixteenth.”
For comparison purposes, here’s the chart for Danzing Candy, who finished 15th:
“Danzing Candy advanced wide and took command under the wire the first time, angled in when clearing, secured the rail to dictate terms, was collared three furlongs out, ceded command soon after and gave way readily.”
…Not just “gave way,” but “gave way readily.” What a wuss!