Baffert’s ‘red flag’ move ends tragically

Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert came under some criticism after one of his horses, Tweebster, broke down and had to be euthanized at Santa Anita on Sunday.

It was unfortunate. But any equine fatality is one too many.

Under attack on social media, Baffert was quick to defend himself. He issued an explanatory press release through the Santa Anita publicity department.

I, for one, felt Baffert did nothing unusual. Trainers such as Baffert, who basically run only stakes and allowance horses, work for owners who want to compete at the highest level.

Tweebster’s resume contained graded stakes placings, showing he used to be a quality horse. However, when horses no longer have the talent to compete at that level, it is not unusual to cull the barn. Two ways of doing it are via private sale or dropping horses into claiming races.

Baffert dropped Tweebster down from an optional claiming $40,000 condition to a $12,500 price tag. In my daily handicapping comments, I would label this a “red flag” move.

No horseman at Santa Anita bit – no one put in a claim for Tweebster - but the betting public bit. Tweebster was bet down to a 6-5 favorite, ran fifth, then was vanned off the track and later euthanized.

It was an ugly end to a lovely horse. I refuse to believe that Baffert sent out an unsound animal. However, I do believe he was hoping someone would claim Tweebster for $12,500.

This episode should also sound a warning bell to California and New Jersey racing commissions that seek to implement exchange wagering. In exchange wagering, it will become legal to bet on horses to lose.

Persons with inside knowledge, confident that Tweebster was not going to win, could have made a lot of money via exchange wagering.

The way it would be done would be to offer attractive win odds on Tweebster on a betting exchange at higher than his 6-5 post time odds. It wouldn’t matter if the offer were 4-1, 5-1 on up.

Exchange wagering, as a process, offers a huge advantage to those with inside information. Apparently, a lot of insiders thought Tweebster was on the down side – proof being not one claim was made on the horse.

I’m not sure the horse racing industry will benefit enough financially to offset any potential negative integrity issues that could occur in scenarios such as this.

■ STEVENS RETURNS – Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens, a three-time Kentucky Derby winner who last rode seven years ago, is coming out of retirement at age 49. He has accepted a mount on Jebrica in the sixth race at Santa Anita on Sunday. Stevens said he will continue working for HRTV and NBC, but added that his knees feel better than they have in years. Stevens has won 4,888 races lifetime.

Richard Eng’s horse racing column is published Friday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter: @richeng4propick

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