Wednesday, July 30, 2008


Saturday's DRF had a column on Seacrettina and her trainer Joe Petalino. Petalino is a name that will be familiar to most fans although one may not know why. He is a based in the Midwest and as the column points out he "consistently comes up with a good 2-year-old each season at Lone Star Park." They give examples for the last few years: last year Dill or No Dill and in 2006, Great Hunter. Great Hunter went on to win the Breeders' Futurity (gr.I) at Keeneland that year. Both horses were sold privately before going on to their stakes victories. This year he has come up with Seacrettina. She broke her maiden first out in a 4 -1/2 MSW. On Saturday, for her return to the track, she was pointed toward Lone Star's $75K Silver Spur Breeders' Cup against a field with some talented fillies. You can download a version of the article off the DRF site but I think it only appeared in print. No matter, it is a short article and I've given you most of the information from the article.
I offer this as an example of all the good stories and horses of interest that run that most of us will never hear of or get to see. Admittedly Lone Star is not on par with the "A" league tracks, and more than likely Seacrettina will not become a household name and may not go on to win a graded stake. But, it is great to follow these horses and trainers, like Petalino, as they reach the highest heights available to them. Unfortunately for me I cannot get HRTV so I had to wait to find out how she ran (I refuse to pay for replays). Perhaps the race is on You Tube by now. In any event Seacrettina did not disappoint. She went off as the third choice on the board at 3-1. Ken Tohill was up and Seacrettina ran the six furlongs in 1:10.49 winning by 6-1/4 lengths while earning a 95 Beyer! She's, for sure, a watch horse for me! My hope is that she doesn't get sold and Petalino has a chance to prepare her to compete against some of the "A" team. I know my heart and a "few" dollars would be with her! Good for Them!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Early Saratoga Lists and final Tour note

It's worrisome when rain is omnipresent at the beginning of the Saratoga meet. In all likelihood this points to a weather pattern that will persist throughout the summer. Those are tough conditions for those on the backside as well as horses and fans. Let's keep our fingers crossed and hope for better.

Along with the noteworthy performances there have been, as usual, surprises and disappointments. The disappointment ledger has to be led off with Ocean Colors who ran miserably in the opening day Schuylerville S. (gr.III). Of course weather can always be an issue, however, she broke well, led past the first fraction and just kept backing up thereafter. Being the second to last foal out of Derby winner Winning Colors she is a sentimental hopeful for almost everybody. I also have to put Grasshopper high on my disappointment list. I know he finished third yesterday but I didn't see The Whitney H. field as a particularly strong one. Yes, he's been knocked around by some of this group before. Yes, his last two races were dismal, but, he likes Saratoga and up until his Pimlico Special performance I would have counted him as one of the best fighters out there. Commentator did set some pedestrian fractions and the track did seem tiring but this is the Grade I Whitney! On the disappointment side I'll also put Bustin Stones just because it was a disappointment not to get to see him run. Let's hope he's better by The Forego. At least that would be my best guess for his next appearance. High on the list also has to be The Sanford S. (gr.II). Yes, the race! Four horses? Yes, I know, the weather! But four horses? Couldn't the secretary get on the horn and offer some urging to someone? I know I've ranted about this before but I abhor these small graded stakes fields, especially with younger horses. Who are they really beating? It's not as though everyone defected because they have to run against Man o' War or Secretariat! It's just a pity. Maybe it's a pity that we can't produce enough horses that we can have a full field of two year old's at SARATOGA! for such an historic stake such as the Sanford. I would also add to the list yesterdays Vanderbilt H. (gr.II) won by Abraaj in 1:10 .23 although Sammarco did set blazing fractions (22.06 - 44.56 - 56.98) . I just felt underwhelmed by the race. And if Alan Garcia had to hit Abraaj for another 100 yards I'm sure PETA would've been on the phones again! I'm going to list the field for the Go for Wand H. (gr.I) handicap as a disappointment also. With the exception of Ginger Punch only two other horses had won a graded event: Indescribable (the gr.III Arlington Matron) and Moon Catcher (the Gr.II Del. Oaks).

That brings me to the some surprises under which I would also include possible discoveries. The first also came on yesterdays card in the second race, a MSW for 2yo's. Munnings, a Speightstown colt, won by 4 -1/4 after hitting the gate, expending early energy and being challenged! Not to mention doing it in 1:09.84! - 2/5 seconds faster than the gr.II Vanderbilt H.
Where was he on Thursday for the Sanford? Of course times don't always tell the true story. Benny the Waiter won the first race, a 6f [S]Alw 61,000 N1X affair in 1:09.74! But, by the end of the day, horses looked like they were running uphill to the line. Maybe the bit of rain that fell? - who knows? Another surprise, again yesterday, had to be Forever Together in the Diana (gr.I). She beat a stellar field showing once again that you can never count out a Jonathan Sheppard trained horse.

As for the noteworthy category I would put Ginger Punch right up top. I know I ripped the field in the disappointment section but you have to admire how good she is. The jockeys in the Go for Wand, appeared to me, as though they were riding to do everything they could to keep Ginger Punch from winning rather than running to win themselves. In the end, class (of which grit and guts are a large part) won out. Ginger Punch and Bejarano split a seam that few jockeys, let alone horses, would have attempted. But, once through there was no doubt who was the best. The best race I have seen yet was Friday's 6th. An OC35k NW3L (69k). One of my watch horses Real Estate won, what would would have been an epic battle, had it occurred in a stakes race. He didn't break great but got to the lead, was challenged coming out of the turn by Visible Truth and then by Aqunio and the three of them banged it out the entire length of the stretch. Real Estate finally prevailed when there seemed no way he could. He had set fractions of 21.98 - 44.76 - 56.73 and won in 1:09.38. What a game performance! As a last entry on the noteworthy list I'm going to put today's Jim Dandy even though it hasn't been run yet. I think it is likely to be the best field (most contentious) we see at the Spa this year. It includes Pyro, Da'Tara, Tale of Ekati, Macho Again, Anak Nakal, Mint Lane and Tiz Now Tiz Then. Wow!

Big Brown looks like he's running hot again. A six furlong move in 1:10 .96 and striding out 7 in 1:24.90, working by himself! Now if only three horses show up for the Haskell next week I'd understand. I won't like it but I'd understand.

News that Swiss Yodeler is going to Harris Farm in Ca. is great news for Ca. breeders. I know he's 14 but I have thought for a long time he belonged in Kentucky. I imagine it's a credit to Heinz Steinman, his campaigner and owner, that he wants to keep him close to home. I can't believe he hasn't had some big offers.

The Tour:
Hat's off to Carlos Sastre who will be sipping champagne on the Champs-Elysees today! He made the big move on l'Alpe d' Huez and he made it hold by running the Time Trial of his career yesterday. His team CSC, also the tour winning team, was by far and away the best team in the field. With Andy Schleck they will also bring home the white jersey for best young rider! What a Tour for CSC! One has to feel for Cadel Evans, another podium finish but not a win. He had to run too much of the race alone. The truth of the matter is that bicycling, at least the tours are absolutely a team sport and all need to have the same agenda! Think about that when you think of Lance's 7 straight Tour wins. There were a lot of very unselfish teammates ridding alongside and very often out ahead of him. In Any event Congratulations to Carlos Sastre and Team CSC for a much deserved win at le Tour de France!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Fans Unite ... Le Tour

In early July we became aware of a new fan based organization of racing enthusiasts called Thorofan. Several days ago I posted a piece that suggested action by fans by way of a betting boycott for one of the big days of racing [Fans Rule] . While I enjoyed a lot of traffic as far as visitors it did not garner a lot of support, at least based on the single reply I received. However, Dana, who responded made me aware of another fan based organization of which I was unaware: HANA. I visited the site and am in agreement with their thoughts.

Something this made me aware of is the difficulty in putting together an organization even when people have similar or overlapping causes. It reminded me of all the horsemen's groups out there that have worked as separate entities when they had ought to be working together because of their similar, if not identical, concerns. Perhaps the THG is making inroads in starting to put the horsemen's groups together under one umbrella that will result in an increased bargaining position. But what of the fans? How many well intended groups of fans are out there that are not aware of each other? There has got to be a way to draw them all together to gain the power numbers demand. Again I reach out to all of you to help make this happen. Dana also sent a link to Self Appointed Fan Committee, an interesting site and just the type of forum where it would be possible to become aware of all the disparate groups and find a way to unite them. We can have a say and should have a say in the sport.

Another aspect Dana and I agree on is the power of a boycott. While her experience is similar to what I have found through the years - people are unwilling to sacrifice anything for better things later - I still believe it is the best way to show the solidarity needed to create change. Fans who won't sacrifice even one day of wagering, to my mind, are not so much fans of racing as fans of gambling. While the two are symbiotic in the industry, they are not the same.

On the HANA site there is a post dealing with the BH article on the precipitous handle decline since the triple crown. I haven't read that post through yet but I have read the article and originally intended for today's post to deal with my thoughts on the article's issues. Maybe tomorrow. In any event thanks to Dana for some food for thought. Check out the sites and let's make things happen!

Le Tour:
This has been one of the most exciting, enjoyable and contentious Tour's I can remember. What an absolute joy! The last two stages (16 &17) in the Alps have been all they should be. They have illustrated the extreme grit, determination and sacrifice of the elite riders. The climbs were absolutely monstrous! CSC's Carlos Sastre pulled a coup yesterday on L' Alpe d'Huez winning by 2:03 and gaining the yellow! However, he only retains a 1:34 advantage over the courageous Cadel Evans who seems to be riding the race alone this year. I don't think that advantage will be enough for Sastre to hold Evans off in Saturday's Time Trial. This year it may come down the Champs-Elysees! AWESOME!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

One Day Away... and L' Alpes

The wait is just about over! Tomorrow race fans will be reveling in the best racing America has to offer! My first experience with racing was at Saratoga Race Course; talk about spoiled! Things have changed a lot in not many years. The entire industry seemed more welcoming, from the Pinkerton's in the mornings to the accessibility to those in the industry. I'm not sure that this is true but it seems this way to me. But back then I was newly hooked and determined to learn and was not going to take "no" for an answer to anything. I would find away through or around any problem to get the answers and opportunities I sought. I lived in Saratoga for a while as well and the ability to walk to the track at any time, to observe the celebratory crowds coming and going from town, was a special treat. My favorite days have always been, and remain, opening and closing day. They are the two that I have always tried to be there for. Unfortunately, this year I will not be there opening day as responsibility has other ideas for me, but my heart will be there and I'm sure I'll know instinctively when the bell rings and the gates open for the first race of the meet. What I love about the final day is the heightened feeling of bittersweetness that must overcome all fans. I remember many final days when, after the final race, my friend John and I would just sit in our chairs at our customary spot until just about everyone has left. It's amazing how fast the show leaves town and in it's wake remains a void that only next years opening day can fill. I also love the excitement of sales week. After all that is what Saratoga is all about; the great possibilities that exist for tomorrow. The first sales I ever attended were the Keeneland September sales and it's impossible to imagine there being a bigger spectacle but the FT sales at Saratoga have a more social and festive atmosphere to them that, at least to my sensibilities, hearkens back to days long past in the industry. Saratoga is a phantasmagoria, a world treasure that needs to be cared and looked after. So, let's all keep our eyes on the marvel that we have and enjoy in our own back yard and not ever allow anything to diminish its' glory.

On a different note there were some great stories this weekend. There's not a better sport in the world for human and non-human interest stories. The first has to be Evening Attire winning the "win and your in" 1 - 1/2 mile Greenwood Cup at Philly, in record time! Wow! You have to love this stuff. Monzante rocketing up from last to win the Eddie Read at the wire has to be one of the great runs of the year! I can't imagine a more exciting performance. And of course Music Note's overwhelming run in the C.C.A. Oaks, spectacular!

Tour de' France
The next few days in the Alps will sort things out. Today and tomorrow are absolutely killer stages. Tomorrows stage is perhaps the most famous climb in Tour history L'Alpe d' Huez! It is my favorite climb to watch. This will be the 25th time a stage finishes atop L'Alpe d' Huez. Of course this year the riders will have to attack its' 21 switchbacks after riding over two Hors cat.(H.C.) climbs (climbs considered too difficult to fall within any of the cat.(1-4) climbs : the Col du Galibier and Col de la Croix de Fer. But that's getting ahead of things because today they have two H.C. climbs to survive just to be able to face tomorrow!
Cadel Evans relinquished the yellow jersey on Sunday but if he's anywhere close at the end of the big mountain stages on Thursday lookout because with his superior time trial skills he would likely be able to put the yellow on for keeps after Saturdays time trial. The problem has been his team. He has had to do too much by himself. Popovych has been a big disappointment, at least for me.
Andy Schleck (Lux) has truly distinguished himself this year. I think we will be talking about him next year as a true contender.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Fans Rule and de' Tour too!

I am still alive, regardless of what the week's (in)frequency of posts may imply. Work, the Tour de' France and waiting for Saratoga are about all I've been able to accomplish this week. I'm even behind on the happenings at Del Mar! I was, however, very impressed with Music Note today in the C.C.A. Oaks. But, having spent some time working with horses I view all races in extreme weather skeptically. I know how the heat can just wipe some horses out, just as slop, cold or sudden changes in weather can affect others. Still it was dazzling!

The article on The Horsemen's Group (THG) yesterday on the Bloodhorse site also caught my attention. Nick Nicholson, president of Keeneland is quoted as stating that he believes the future of horseracing on T.V. is in real jeopardy because of the conflict with THG and the "big racetracks." He may be right. The problem is ponderous. One word - exclusivity - seems to cause the problems.

Certainly exclusivity creates a windfall for an ADW and maybe in Nick Nicholson's mind, Keeneland. The fact that Keeneland and their partner track, Turfway, enjoy an all source-market fee helps solidify that judgement. However, his thinking on this issue is certainly not 'out-of-the box.' It is circumstantial. Perhaps it could be even better for Keeneland and other tracks if things weren't the way they were. Certainly Keenland doesn't depend on their handle to pay the bills. I wonder if a meet in the world equals Keeneland's take on just their September sale?

From how I view the situation everyone - with the possible exception on NYRA and NY's 6 OTB's- are giving more power to the ADW's than they deserve. I believe if the tracks and horsemen can agree on a formula they can write their ticket with the ADW's. Of course with CDI and Magna their track interests and their ADW business' create a conflict of interest. I can't imagine why this isn't an anti-trust issue but, nevertheless, that is how it is. If airing of the races was given away free and each track was to get a fixed industry rate on wagers placed on their track, no matter the source, exclusivity ceases to exist. It would in effect cause the ADW's to vie for patronage that would benefit not only the track but the fans! This is a win situation for everybody, except the ADW's because their monopoly (exclusivity) would be breached. There is a way for this to happen. The NTRA could be empowered by the tracks to control the signal from each track and make it available to whomever wants it for a fixed pct. The more outlets that carry a signal the better it is for everyone...except for those ADW's with now existing exclusive rights. Of course ceding the power to control their signal and rate is something that the tracks have refused to do. It would be a little like empowering the NTRA with the power the commissioner's office had in baseball in decades past.

I received a response (off-blog so it is not in the comment section) to my Ellis Farce piece that was critical of the fact that I had not mentioned the plight of the fans. Perhaps I am guilty of not mentioning the fan directly often enough. But, I always write from a fans point of view so I had assumed that my position (of a fan) comes across more, perhaps, than it actually does. I am for the fan first and foremost. As my responder stated it is the fan that makes it all possible. Yes that's true but if the horsemen aren't able to eke out a living we will have no product. So, we have to focus our efforts on where our money is going. And we need to be certain enough money is returning to the sport to keep it healthy. We need to make our thoughts and decisions heard, and we need information with which to make those decisions. The information coming from the industry is almost always skewed and purposely ambiguous. We need transparency and plain English! After becoming a fan I became interested in how the industry worked. I had, up until then, held suppositions on who received what from the takeout that were very similar to my responder. I thought the government's (Fed's, State and municipal) took almost all of it and the remainder went to purses and to run the tracks. I was shocked to find out how it is really cut up. Here's a site, the information is a bit old (2004), but it gives a good idea of how things are truly divided up: Calracing. Don't worry about the government they get theirs!

As I have carried on here I have forgotten one of the points that really ticked me off from the Bloodhorse article that made me think more about how "pro-active" I am for the fan's position.
Here's the last line of the article :

Horsemen’s groups have said they support wide distribution of signals through ADW outlets and don’t have a problem with broadcast exclusivity or fees paid to support TV exposure.

The horsemen obviously don't care about the fan at all. In racing it's all about the self interested factions with no thought of why or what makes a healthy industry. They don't care if we fans aren't able to get a signal or wager because of cable issues, disagreements, etc... It's just about their cut.

It's time we regain some control. We can do it. We just need to send the message. Maybe Travers Day or, better yet, B.C. day. Don't bet! Just one BIG day, don't bet! Let's see what that does! Send a message- without us NOTHING runs!

I have some ideas on how to make this happen, I'll explore them and post if any plausible plan develops. In the meantime let me know what you all think about something like a bet-out!

Tour de' France
What a terrific race thus far! Mark Cavendish has been spectacular for Team Columbia, winning four stages, so it is terribly disappointing to hear he is going to abandon. Cadel Evans is riding superbly with the yellow and he is my sentimental favorite to win though I would also be happy to see American (U.S.) Christian Vande Velde break through! He's currently third 38 seconds behind Evans. Tomorrow's stage promises to be brutal; I can't wait!
Ricardo Ricco looked fabulous winning two mountain stages with an ease that seemed superhuman and now it appears it was. He was arrested for EPO and sent home to Italy. If found guilty-extremely likely- I imagine he will be banned for life! And, if found guilty, he should be. Good for Cycling!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Curlin's Man o' War

Sometimes you don't know how much you're pulling for a horse until he loses. That was the case yesterday for me as I watched Curlin come up short in his grass debut in the Man o' War (g.I). The race was of the kind that is difficult or impossible to handicap on paper. Red Rocks (*Ire) and Better Talk Now had, unquestionably, better proven form on the grass. But Better Talk Now is 9 and hasn't won a race in over a year and Red Rocks form has been spotty especially in stakes company. So one is almost forced to handicap heart. That's the one element you can't read (at least not easily) on paper; you need to know the horse. It's the attribute that we, more than any other, use to anthropomorphize our equine champions. What we imagine to be the core essence of overcoming great obstacles by humans we imagine to be the same in great horses. Heart is also the attribute that all racing fans are looking to discover in the eye of each horse every time we watch a new winner or an old warrior. Do they have that 'eye of the tiger'? We imagine we see heart in stretch duels with front legs extended further than seems possible and ears pinned, we saw the pure essence of it when Dr. Fager tried to savage In Reality. And we also imagine we see heart when a horse, after winning, comes trotting back on their toes ears flicking playfully forward. I saw heart in Curlin in his Preakness, Jockey Club Gold Cup and B.C. wins. And I saw heart in his Belmont loss to Rags To Riches.

We have high hopes for our champions. We want them to always prevail, if even by a breath. It seems to assure us everything is right in the world. We want our new champions to live in our minds as large as those of yore, maybe because it substantiates our own lives as much as theirs. Whatever the truth, I was rooting unconditionally for the great experiment of Curlin on the grass to go off without a hitch. Many of us already had him running and winning the Prix de l' Arc de Triomphe! But yesterday the plan hit a snag. For a fleeting moment in mid-stretch it appeared that Curlin had a chance to catch Red Rocks but then he flattened out. He didn't show that quickening turn of foot that the great grass horses exhibit. In the end it looked as though the old champion, Better Talk Now, still retaining the remnants of that type of kick, was going to catch Curlin for second money. Disappointment washed over me like a bucket of cold water thrown over a horse. I felt it from head to toe, surprising myself. To be certain, Curlin did not run a Curlin type of race. Was it the turf?- or was it something else that we don't know about yet? Perhaps it was just an off day. He looked spectacular so I can't believe it was physical.

One race does not make a racehorse or undo his value. The bright side is that it was his very first attempt on the turf against very worthy, proven opponents and he did nothing to tarnish his legacy. At the moment no one knows if they will continue to point Curlin to the 'Arc but I think that if I were Jess Jackson I would start to reconsider other options again. Some of the horses he ran against yesterday are very good horses but not of the caliber he would meet up against in Europe. Considering that fact and the travel and getting used to new surroundings, yet again, it is an awful lot to expect. I applaud Jess Jackson for his vision and dream, he's the best part of racing this year. No matter what he decides I, for one, believe it will be in the best interest of the horse and his legacy, not necessarily Jess Jackson's.

Friday, July 11, 2008


Yesterday was the unveiling of a new enterprise in racing. What makes this organization so different and unique from other's in racing is that its' goals are fan driven. Thorofan, officially went public yesterday in Saratoga Springs, NY. It's main goals are to nurture new fans and to create an organized, fan based membership that will be able to - through sheer numbers - exert some influence on industry decisions. Through track seminars and online activities Thorofan will help take the intimidation out of the activity of handicapping. It plans to promote more and frequent contact with industry personalities and through time volunteered online by their membership Thorofan plans to be a living, breathing education and research center. I certainly will be anxious to use their resources for some of my entries. Getting a response to requests for information about the industry is often a very difficult task. Thorofan promises to be a place where access and answers will be easily secured from knowledgeable, informed, interested people that are concerned about more than just a bottom line. I hope they flourish. The fan, more than any other interested party in racing, need representation. I believe, depending on the response, that satellite offices are something that is envisioned. This is a good idea that is well intentioned and should create positive results within the industry. Let's all get behind this effort and support the cause! After all it's all of our's cause!Give their homepage a look at Thorofan.

On a different subject I don't know what to make of the latest news of yet another extension for NYRA. There are apparently a few issues holding up the signing of the 25 year agreement; things such as the contract holder for the Aqueduct Racino, deed concerns etc... All I can think is that if something looks bad, smells bad and acts bad it must be bad! I wonder what's really going on? It's hard to believe that it's simply these issues as are being reported.

Looking forward to a terrific day of racing tomorrow. Especially Curlin in the Man O' War and the Swaps. Enjoy the racing. Only 12 days to SARATOGA!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008


Sorry for the lack of posts but there's not a lot hitting me at the moment. Some doings at Calder but the big issue - ADW split - is yet to be resolved. Curlin's coming to NY this weekend to run on the grass, which is very exciting and I am looking forward to it, but there's not a lot to be said about it...until he wins! Then the excitement will start! As far as I'm concerned I have never envisioned this blog as a 'recap' space. We can all read the news so unless I have an opinion about something that is different than what I have read, or I have some comments on races I've seen, I don't feel compelled to write. I do promise you a post on Friday with some exciting news, but it's time sensitive and will have to wait until then.

I do have one thing to say that doesn't concern racing directly but should be an example for the industry; the way the Tour de' France organizers, and cycling in general, handles the doping problem in cycling. Simply put you get caught you're out. The time one is suspended does have to do with the severity of the infraction but we are not talking days here folks we are talking years! In some cases lifetimes. Very often the severity of the punishment ends up, in practice, to be a career. Good for them! I don't agree with all their judgements, for instance team Astana was denied entry in the Tour because previous members of their team were linked with the 'Operacion Puerto' doping scandal two years ago. All the accused members have either been found innocent or fired from the team but that doesn't matter they're OUT as a team! I don't like it because Alberto Contador, last year's Tour winner and one of the most exciting riders in the world is on Team Astana, and I wanted to see him have a chance to repeat. But that isn't going to happen this year. Contador has been accused of nothing but he rides for the wrong team this year! Too bad for him and us because we can't watch him race. As I said, I don't like it, but I think they are right to do it. It would have been very exciting as Contador is coming of a win in the Giro (The Tour of Italy).

The new American teams, Columbia and Garmen-Chipolte are the new age of teams. Their program is based on being drug free and testing all the time to be certain. Their programs are based on true talent, hard work and vitamins. Gotta love it. The Tour de' France is probably my favorite sporting event of the year, though, obviously, not my favorite sport. Racing should take a page from the cycling world! You cheat you're out--FOR YEARS!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Weekend Note

There were a lot of exciting races this weekend. In the American Oaks, Pure Clan and Julien Leparoux showed a lot of guts splitting horses and winning with style. In the Cash Call Mile I had Diamond Diva but still can't believe she back got up to beat Lady of Venice! Zenyatta was less than her usual spectacular self winning the Vanity(g.I) her second grade one victory; but she did win. Even with all the excitement in those races I was most excited about Hannahs Classy Boy in the 6th at Hollywood a [S] MSW 62k. It wasn't an easy MSW either.

More than anything else in racing I like to spot a new talent and then watch them as they develop, no matter the level. Of course it doesn't always work out so perfectly, but it's very satisfying when it does. With Zenyatta I'm sure it seemed obvious to anyone that she was special from the start. My favorite horse, More Than Ready, also seemed to exude that class when I first saw him. I'm not saying Hannahs Classy Boy is going to be in the category of either of those horses but he sure showed me something first time out! After running on the pace (22, 45, 57.3)he headed One Chin Again in the stretch, lost the lead by a head and then fought back and won impressively in 1:10.35 and paid $10! The next step up is always the most difficult and I can't wait to see how he handles it. I figure that to be sometime at Del Mar. Hannahs Classy Boy is a 3yo gelding by In Excess (*Ire) out of Classic Lady (Dehere). He's a homebred for Hi Card Ranch, trained by Brian Koriner and he was ridden by the continually impressive Joe Talamo. He's going directly in my stable.

  • Some changes at Calder in the last few days. Everybody needed relief. It will be interesting to see the outcome of the ADW battle down there.
  • NY thinking synthetics. [BH46028]

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Ellis Farce

The tea had been tossed overboard at Churchill and Calder earlier in the year and now the shots of Lexington and Concord have been heard at Ellis Park. It doesn't matter if the year is 1775 or 2008, one can call it taxes or takeout, but the issue still remains the same:MONEY! Now don't get me wrong I don't think money is a four letter word. I like money, a lot. In the right hands it often does a great deal of good. However, it can also be humanity's most corrosive force and I believe that is going to be the case for racing. It is very possible that these battles, based in Kentucky, will soon escalate into outright industry war. I, for one, hope it does because then it would force government regulation into the realm of industry financing. And I believe this is an absolute necessity. Simply put, not enough of the money that is siphoned off of each parimutuel wager is making it's way back into the industry. That money is needed in order for the product to remain healthy. The takeout is divided among several entities: the tracks; horsemen; and wager handlers (ADW's, OTB's), municipalities etc...

The big issue is ADW's - advance deposit wagering outlets - and how the money they take in is distributed. I'm not sure most fans know how their takeout is distributed. Perhaps some don't care but if they knew the reality of how it is being divided up they might care a little more. And to be honest I still am not 100% clear -too many spin doctors for each side- though I feel I've got a good handle on it.

Before I go any further let me say that I have been trying to obtain accurate figures from different sources in different states but have not been as successful in getting responses as I had hoped. Some may still return my inquiries and at that time I will pass on that information and any sense I can make of that info. I am also in the process of wading through a copy of the 2008 franchise legislation for NYRA but it's going to take a while and then a while more to decipher it, if that's even possible! But as I haven't posted in a few days while I tried to pull this together I have decided to post my impressions at this point otherwise a few more days may go by without a post. So consider this entry the beginning of a process not my final thoughts. For the sake of this entry, I will use information from the racing jurisdiction from which I have received the most help. Here's a breakdown that I was provided with. The percentages are based on each $1 wagered. So each pct. equals a penny. Keep in mind these are not exact figures but accurate ones:

The distribution of takeout on ADW wagers differs in state and out. For this
purpose, let’s assume we’re focused on out-of-state ADW wagers on a race;
otherwise, they can be quite different. Assuming a 20% takeout:
· 2 to 3.5% to purses – Host Fee split
· 2 to 3.5% to track commissions – Host Fee split
· 13 to 16% to ADW company

In states where an ADW has to pay a source market fee (payment to local track/horsemen) – few – it looks like this (on average):
· 2 to 3.5% to purses
· 2 to 3.5% to track commissions
· 3 to 7% to local track/horsemen
· 9 to 13% to ADW company

When source market fees are paid, the 1/3 revenue model horsemen are talking about is met; by adding the source market and host fees together.

After reading this one can see the problem at Churchill. Churchill can act as its' own ADW through Twinspires, so in effect they are getting an ADW fee and the track commissions. The locality of the breakdown above was not Kentucky but I imagine the percentages are not too different. In that case, on out of state bets, CDI would be retaining, at very least 75% (fifteen cents of every 20 cents of takeout) and as much as 90% of the takeout, with no extra money going to the horsemen. That money does not go back into racing but to profit, less operating expenses. And based on the figures above 10% to 17-1/2% covers that and more for most tracks. I believe the horsemen's argument for receiving the 1/3 revenue would be based on the fact that CDI operates in Kentucky so they would be a source market. However, Twinspires wagering hub, the ADW that CDI owns, is in Oregon. So I imagine that CDI would argue that they are not a source market. Now I am not certain of these arguments but they are reasonable to assume. But, undoubtedly, it is much more lucrative for Churchill to take wagers on their own tracks from out of state. CDI is taking money coming and going. If one looks into their empire Churchill Downs Inc. you will see that they have a hand in every aspect of racing from transmission technology to OTB's, racinos, tracks, a network partnership (HRTV) etc... I wonder how all this works with anti-trust laws? (Fodder for another entry). I would argue that the horsemen deserve at least 1/3 because they are, at the very least, equal in importance to the production of the product. I would say more than equal, but if they are happy being equitable, so be it.

I imagine most fans don't spend a whole lot of time worrying about the takeout. That is unless they are professional handicappers and are trying to beat the break as well. But for most of us we accept it as the price we have to pay to be able to enjoy the wagering side of the sport we love. The only problem is that the money is not going back into the sport! Look at those numbers again! Between two and three and a half percent goes toward purses! That's what feeds the industry in the above jurisdiction. The backbone of the industry is the horsemen and the owners. For the horsemen it is their life, everyday! Most love it and couldn't imagine doing anything else but that doesn't make it easy or even feasible in many cases. That purse money is their lifeblood! And when possible it trickles down through their stables. But, believe me, a lot more flow is needed!

I know they call racing the Sport of Kings and you have to be! It's true that many of the owners are usually very well off financially but because of their dreams and the bricks of money they invest in these horses we can enjoy the show. They purchase, break, train, vet, race and in some cases breed these athletes. And for most their only return is purses. Sure there's the occasional home run when one becomes sought after as a sire or broodmare but that's far from the rule. And for the small owner the problems are the same only more critical and problematic.

I'm not really certain what the ADW's offer that makes them able to demand those fees. I imagine it must be the systems that are being used. But with the technology today I feel certain there are many other companies that would be able to service the industry. I wonder why and if a neutral server should not be employed for a flat rate. I'm sure IBM could, or already has, an application that would work wonderfully. I think the industry would be better off paying them a flat rate than to continue to be shaken down by the ADW's now in place. But of course many of the industry players are in the business of being ADW's! How's that for catch-22? It's a little like a parent stealing money from their child's piggy bank! Again I have to wonder about the anti-trust aspect of this situation.

This whole situation down at Ellis Park just stinks! I wouldn't be a bit surprised to find out that CDI was sending arms to Geary to carry on their fight for them. Geary bought the track from CDI in 2006 for a sum that I don't believe has ever been published. Has a chip been cashed? It's like the industry's own little Iran-Contra affair!

Of course as I write this calmer heads have prevailed and an agreement has been reached and the horsemen will receive 6% up from the 2-1/2% last year. That's from a blended take of approximately 19.5% in KY (very close to the numbers provided) [DRF article]. Almost the third the horsemen wanted.

I am very pleased that the horsemen didn't give in and made some gains here. They stood up to Geary's bluff and gained some ground. Still more needs to be done. Don't believe for a moment the cries of poverty from Geary and his cronies. If he wasn't going to make money there would have been no reason for him to have acquiesced. Perhaps things are getting so hot down in Kentucky on the heals of the Senate committee hearings that even CDI is beginning to sweat! I believe this issue is still far from settled.

Let's not also forget that CDI, Magna et al, have the resources for a big P.R. department. The press is almost always tainted against the horsemen. We hear they are stopping the signal, they are being unreasonable, they are causing the fans inability to watch and wager. While in fact they are the ones that are causing the signals to be stopped, it is their only resource with which to wage the battle. This weapon was written into the IHA of 1978 for, I imagine, precisely this reason.

I applaud Judge Joseph H. McKinley the U.S. District Judge who refused to issue a restraining order on the horsemen to force them to accept Geary's deal and allow the signal to be transmitted. In effect this will cause the issue to be brought to a head and either the sides will have to find agreement or I imagine some binding arbitration would come next. I don't think CDI, Magna and the ADW's want to go that route.

As fans we all have an obligation to do what we can to make the sport healthy. Get involved. Find out where your money is going. Ask questions. Demand answers. And demand that fairness be meted out with every dollar that we put in! You have a right. The horses may be an owner's investment and a trainer's charge but it is YOUR MONEY that ultimately makes racing possible. That gives we, the fans, power if we choose to use it.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Play It Again...

I think the days of sport and its' hero's being bigger than life are over. Maybe this is because the human condition, which generally speaking is flawed and limited, has already reached its limits. Perhaps that is why so many of today's stars have turned to chemical enhancement to reach new heights of achievement. Although I guess 'chemically enhanced achievement' may be an oxymoron. Maybe it is because somewhere along the line money supplanted achievement as the yardstick by which success was measured. In baseball the free agent market began in the mid-seventies but it took the better part of a decade for it to really permeate the sport. Right about that time is when I lost interest in the sport. The numbers were bigger than the players could possibly be. At that point the game lost it's allure for me. Somehow players being bigger than the game ruined it for me. I have not been a fan since.

What, you might be saying, has this to do with horseracing? I'm glad you ask. I think there is a parallel between baseball at that point in time and horseracing now. What I think baseball lost then and horseracing is in danger of losing now is it's tradition. In baseball the game was moved off the grass, the balls were juiced, the fences moved in, the number of teams were expanded (diluting the talent), the pitching mound was lowered, the plate no longer belonged to the pitcher, a player with a hangnail was put on the disabled list (okay maybe not but you get my point).

The same is happening in racing today. The sport is moving to another surface, shorter races are making up more and more of a card, horses are becoming less versatile, surfaces are tinkered with to create faster times, and the number of tracks and races are too many to put on a good show everywhere. And that's just on the track. What about off the track? At Saratoga pretty soon all you'll need to get into the clubhouse is a toga! What's wrong with the tradition of a collar and pants? Has style and social propriety been completely lost? A fan can no longer get into the training track to watch the workouts (for years now!) Don't even think about the backside! The chasm between the fan and the game keeps getting wider. But I think the most damaging element is that the connection with the past is allowed to fade away. The most prominent element between races year to year is a number 136, 137, ... The industry doesn't even try to educate it's fans about its' rich and illustrious past. But unlike other sports racing's hero's are bigger than life and remain as compelling as ever.

To use baseball as a comparison again, the games' greatness and allure was encoded in my friends and I while growing up because we inherited the history of the game. We all knew all the records, who held them, when they played, what team they played for, their position and we committed to memory year to year statistics of dozens and dozens of players. As I look back now this is what made the game live for me and, I think, many of the friends I grew up with. We had inherited the lore of the game so we were somehow part of it. Most of the players we spoke of we never even saw, but we 'knew' them as though we had seen them play every game. For baseball I think that is lost now, too many changes and money has ruined it in too many ways.

For racing I don't believe that the lore is or has ever been (since I've been a fan) at the forefront of the game but somehow it lingers in the air at every great old track in America. You can still really feel it, sense it somehow. But it seems as though the caretakers of the sport want to exorcise those good ghosts from every clubhouse, barn and paddock. I truly felt the magic when I first became a fan, so much so, that I completely rearranged my life to go search out it's origins from within the sport. When I went to work at the backside at Belmont I went to the barn I thought I could best inherit that lore and somehow it could live through me. I felt obliged to do that if I wanted to train horses. Life doesn't always work out perfectly but I do know that the magic of the sport is still alive. I also know that like anything else it can be destroyed. I know, I sense it as I did that magic, that the first knell of the death bell has rung and we better act before it strikes twelve. Find solutions and compromise that are equitable to all. Keep it simple, keep it traditional and keep it about racing. I heard recently about a divorcing couple that had accumulated a lot of wealth and many properties. Through the course of a bitter divorce they couldn't agree on anything and let all their properties fall into foreclosures and now neither have anything. It made me think of the racing industry.

I had started this entry with a very simple thought and believed it may be my shortest entry yet! I read Steve Haskin's article Decompression Chamber, about the 1968 Suburban Handicap between Dr. Fager and Damascus and their campaigns that year. It brought to mind a thought I've had many times before, why don't they show the old races? Sure TVG has a distant replay now and then and I'm sure HRTV has similar segments (but I can't get HRTV!), but that is a rare occurrence. What better way to educate a fan base while at the same time bestow the great tradition, lore and hero's of racing on the public! The NTRA should have their own channel, they don't seem to do anything other than run interference anyway, this would give them a project. I know I would play hooky to watch those old races! The possibilities are endless. A Kelso Day! or Five! Or replays of the history of a particular race during the week leading up to it. If it was a half hour show you'd need a few weeks to show all the running's of some of the great races like The Suburban! And who wouldn't want to see the running of The New Hampshire Sweepstakes, that Haskin's reminds us of, when Dr. Fager "tried to savage" In Reality while they ran down the backstretch. And don't just show the races offer some history and background so maybe people would understand what a treasure this sport truly is. And maybe, one day, kids will grow up knowing the records and statistics of all the great horses. An education truly worth having! Just play them again and ...