Commentary

IEAH makes it look easy

Updated: May 4, 2008, 9:17 PM ET
By Ray Paulick | Special to ESPN.com

The racing stable known as International Equine Acquisitions Holdings, Inc. has come a long way from the Aqueduct inner track of December 2003 to the winner's circle at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May of 2008. The owners of IEAH have gone from small time to big time in no time, from winning cheap claiming races to capturing the biggest prize in the sport, the Kentucky Derby, with the unbeaten Big Brown.

Back in 2003, horses running for the IEAH operation of New Yorkers Richard Schiavo and Michael Iavarone were trained by Greg Martin, the son of a Hall of Fame conditioner, Frank "Pancho" Martin. Back then, instead of investing millions on a big-time prospect like Big Brown, they were spending chump change on horses like A One Rocket, a 4-year-old gelding IEAH claimed out of a winning race at Aqueduct for $7,500 on Dec. 13, 2003.

That particular runner would be just one of thousands of forgettable claiming horses that make up the bread and butter programs at tracks like Aqueduct every day, except for one fact: five days after being claimed, racing for IEAH and trained by Martin, A One Rocket turned in a spectacular winning performance on the same Aqueduct track, winning by 10 lengths and improving his final time over six furlongs by nearly two full seconds.

IEAH and Martin were on a roll. Martin was having his best year as a trainer, winning at a 22% clip and finishing 1-2 in 40% of his starts. The IEAH web site promoted the partnership's success, quoting from the "Aqueduct Handicapper's Diary" written by Dan Illman in Daily Racing Form's Simulcast Weekly in December 2003: "IEAH Stables and Greg Martin have impressed with ability to move horses up in the first start off the claim." IEAH's publicity machine also quoted the New York Daily News and New York Post in praise of the IEAH-Greg Martin team: Jerry Bossert wrote in the Daily News: "Trainer Gregory Martin continues to excel first time off the claim for owners IEAH Stables, as favored Sunshine Brian just whistled in the finale. Keep an eye on the hot combo." Anthony Stabil wrote in the Post: "IEAH Stables and Greg Martin have done well with recent claims, and you can add Sunshine Brian to the list."

A little over a year later, A One Rocket's winning race on Dec. 18, 2003, was the centerpiece of a federal indictment against an illegal bookmaking and gambling ring said to be associated with the Gambino crime family and included charges that Martin had given A One Rocket a prohibited performance-enhancing procedure known as a "milkshake" in order to win. (At its simplest form, a milkshake is baking soda, water and sugar delivered through a tube into the stomach to reduce lactic acid buildup in horses, which helps prevent fatigue.)

The January 2005 indictments eventually netted a number of guilty pleas, including one from Greg Martin for a single count of conspiracy to dope a racehorse. Martin was given two years probation, including six months of home confinement.

Neither IEAH nor its principals were subjects of the investigation and were not charged with any wrongdoing. To the contrary, the IEAH partners expressed shock and outrage over Martin and the fact that the sudden improvements in form by horses they claimed resulted from illegal activity. They moved their six horses from Martin to other trainers (not that they had any choice, since Martin's license was suspended immediately upon being indicted) and even suggested through an attorney they might take legal action against their former trainer. It might be of interest to some that Martin had served 60 days in suspensions for medication violations from 2000 until the time of the indictments, according to Daily Racing Form.

Hiring and then firing a confessed cheater like Greg Martin hasn't slowed the IEAH team. They've upped their ante, both in terms of horseflesh and trainers. Instead of Greg Martin, the bulk of their horses are in the care of trainer Rick Dutrow, whose own rapsheet of rules infractions is considerable. Instead of A One Rocket, the stable star is Big Brown, who made winning America's most famous horserace look easy.

Easier than it's supposed to be. Ray Paulick is a Lexington, Ky.-based journalist who served as editor-in-chief of The Blood-Horse from 1992-2007. Over the past 25 years he has covered Thoroughbred racing, breeding and sales on six continents and more than a dozen countries and appeared on numerous television and radio news programs offering his expertise on the industry. Contact Ray at raypaulick@gmail.com.