Saturday, April 26, 2008


When I started this blog I had only one concern; try to keep it current. I had hoped to post at least twice a week. That's probably not enough, but a happy middle-ground. I decided this after reading many horse racing blogs. There is some very, very good work out there! I didn't envision a handicapping sight. There's enough of them. Also, I rarely get to the track any more so I'm not able to offer frequent enough observations. When I play now it's usually at a simulcast outlet. Although I do enjoy handicapping, for me it is more a way of maintaining contact with the sport, than being the the aspect I am most passionate about.

Of course reading other blogs before one posts can also be a danger. I may choose to change my habits in the future. The wind can be taken out of your sails when the thunder has already been heard elsewhere. That doesn't make the observation, idea or conclusion any less legitimate - quite the contrary it actually substantiates and that is comforting - but it does take the urgency away to a degree. I actually enjoy reading affirmations of my thoughts, but much more so after I have documented them myself. An example of a thought I had on my list to mention this morning would be the observation that Lion Heart is an obvious sire to watch Left at the Gate . This isn't quantum mechanics and we all write about the same sport, see the same races, so there are bound to be many, many overlaps. Those overlaps are the most interesting part of this, I believe it is those items that move the sport. However, it is terrific how many different perspectives exist. I find it amazing how my perspectives have changed from when I was involved in the industry. So today I've decided to just jot down some random thoughts; I think that's better than not posting.

It is usually in Late March when I start to miss the track the most. The mornings are still chilled but no longer uncomfortable. The prep season is winding it's way down and anticipation is ratcheting up. The smells start to hang on the air more than dropping from the air. Working in Lexington I was at Keeneland almost every morning and I worked on the backside at Belmont as well. Those days were filled with horses. I got to see so many more work, heard the buzz about new promising arrivals and attended the races frequently. One hardly knows there's another world out there. I was consumed. I suppose that's true for almost all of us. We would probably spend all day, every day, at it if we could find a way. I always found it amusing that everyone always knew the 'secret news' of a hot prospect arriving at any one's barn before the horse arrived. There are few true secrets - aside from Pyro's last work - in the business. No longer having those opportunities certainly limits observational information available to write about, especially pertaining to handicapping. Aside from first hand observation we all have the ability to access almost all the same information. Though, to be certain, I hardly ever found "tips" to have much value. As I said there are few true secrets in racing. I like to read others opinions but think it best to always trust yourself. When you're right it feels great, when you're wrong there's no one to blame. That's not to say I haven't been swayed by a friends' analysis when I find it legitimate.

I'm waiting for the final works and post positions before I post my Derby choice. I am amazed at how much the press seems to sway opinion. A month ago Pyro was the toast of the industry and now the press on him is almost as elusive as was the view of that last workout. The news now has been dominated by Big Brown. When Dutrow decided not to accompany his two winners to Dubai it was obvious what he thought of Big Brown. His strutting like a peacock is a bit much, however. A mile and a quarter is a long way to go when you run fast and not alone. And I don't think he'll be alone on the lead, ahead maybe, alone unlikely. All of us hope to see the next wonder horse. We want to be able to recognize it when we see it and enjoy the horses entire career so we can etch it in our memories to be used as a comparison for future greats. And so I hope he is, we all do in some way. But as Dutrow said it does seem a rather weak field. That doesn't bode well for comparative greatness. Lucky for us, in Curlin, we are able to continue to follow the career of a horse that will likely be mentioned among the greats of all time. How wonderful that he continues to race! Early on I liked Cool Coal Man and I am not off him yet, but certainly not convinced. I'll save all this for my picks entry.

I'd like to know if anyone has knowledge of the use of shoes at Keeneland. Any correlation between type of shoes worn and winners?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Ladies Cup

There was never any question that last years expansion of The Breeders Cup to Friday was a prelude to an expanded two day format. Every race fan looks forward to another great day of racing. How could it miss? -By not going far enough!

The two biggest changes will be to run the Distaff division races on the first day of festivities, dubbed 'Filly Friday,' and the renaming of The Distaff to the Ladies Classic. I don't like either change. I feel that all the most important races should be run on the same day. Determining the top eight races by purse "B.C." day should be: The Classic; Turf; Mile(T); Sprint; Distaff (I can't say Ladies Classic); Juvenile (both divisions boys and girls!) and F&M Turf. While I don't agree with these so be it but that should be the sports "showcase."

I would choose the Dirt Mile over the Turf Mile. After all in the U.S. we run predominately on dirt so this preference seems obvious. I think of races like The Cigar and Met Mile when I think of races that produce great sires. When I worked in the business I always heard that the best miler's make the best sires. Truly a breeder's choice! It is generally acknowledged that the mile is the most difficult distance to run. It's that netherworld between sprint and route where both speed and stamina has to be pushed to it's very limits. That's exactly the reason why they make such good sires, a mare can add either stamina or speed to create the horse of your choice.

I would also argue that if you want to equalize the importance of the two days the two juvenile divisions should be run on a separate day from The Classic and Distaff. Further, I would also drop the F&M Turf from the 'showcase' day. In it's place I would like to see the Marathon. After all this is the Breeders' Cup. Aren't we trying to highlight the best of the breed? Isn't the ideal to produce a horse that can carry weight with speed over a distance of ground? Would Secretariat still be Secretariat if we didn't have that image of him winning the Belmont by 31 lengths? There's a good reason they call it the Test of Champions. And as Rags to Riches demonstrated this year it is a wide open race. It should showcase the best of the best. But unless that purse goes up and more graded races are written for the distance I hold little hope for this to become the premier event it should be.

Change is hard in the industry, but they could at least try a little harder. Creating a "Filly Friday" and changing the name of the Distaff isn't what I would call going out on a limb. Why not change some habits that don't help further promote the sport. There surely are enough race fans to make both days work, however, I hearken back the issue of my first two entries: we have to create NEW Fans! How is this going to help? If you want to buck convention run them on Saturday and Sunday. I would be tremendously surprised if anyone other than race fans are going to watch the Friday card. What a damn shame! And then to put the Distaff as the feature for that 'lost' day is a crime. I suppose we will be treated to a replay of the stretch run on Saturday! What are they thinking?

For my money the best way to promote the sport on its' biggest day is to speed things up. I think they should start at noon and run the races every 20 minutes (or the quickest possible turn around time) and run them all on the same day. I know there would be a lot of resistance to this idea; concern about getting every betting dollar etc. I think that is misplaced concern. Better and more customer service can handle this problem. Not to mention that electronic wagering has already changed this landscape dramatically. Most handicappers have their budget and will find a way to get their bets in. The industry needs to adjust to a competitive sports world where everything is built around speed and short attention spans. We need to get people interested and keep their attention. That can't be done by running a race every 40-45 minutes with a lot of talk in between. Keep the action rolling! Those are my thoughts on the B.C. changes.

As long as I'm on wish lists I would like to see one other big change in racing. I know it's not going to happen but here it is. Like many I don't particularly like the thought of 2 year-old racing. I like watching them I just cringe sometimes when I think what may be happening. I know the Classics will always be the classics but how about this: Starting in January, create a new condition of races for horses that have not raced at 2 culminating in 'The Three Year Old Cup' to be run the first Saturday of the Saratoga meet. This condition would level the playing field for the late starters. Give it a nice purse say 250K, and maybe, just maybe, it would slowly encourage owners/trainers to back off a little. It could be an option for those classic hopefuls that started late and were not quite good enough, as well as the late bloomers. While it could affect the Travers field I doubt it would have much of an impact. If you have a good horse and can run in the Travers for prestige and a million that is where you'd point your colt. While a late start may not be the ideal road to the classics it can be done as Curlin has recently demonstrated. With the suddenly fashionable light race schedule for hopefuls it hardly seems that patience would be problematic. The 'Cup' would come up a little soon for the colts who need a reprieve from their classics run but would work well into a schedule if one had B.C. hopes. All right, save the Bronx cheers!

Today on Power Cap, Greg was commenting on TVG's dissing of NYRA tracks. I must admit I was miffed yesterday myself. Upon getting home I turned on TVG hoping to catch the last two races I figured that they were in another argument with NYRA like several months ago when they just stopped showing the NYRA races. I didn't even see the PT alert that let's you know what races are coming up. I just got frustrated and turned it off. What a crime! Again this goes back to what I see as the biggest problem with racing (see earlier posts.) I would urge all N.Y. wagerers that use TVG to cancel their accounts with TVG. Like most of the industry they will probably only respond when hit in the wallet!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Breeding Fights

The news that Synergy Investments of Dubai has agreed to purchase Fasig-Tipton has gotten very little press as far as I'm concerned. Dan Liebman wrote about it in his What's Going on Here article in the April19 issue of The Blood Horse, and there was the reports of the sale in the DRF. It is tacitly acknowledged that Synergy is, if not outright, then at least practically, controlled by Sheikh Mohammed.

It is hard to knock Sheikh Mohammed. He certainly puts his money where his interests are. Trying to figure the total amount he has invested in the thoroughbred industry would be a considerable undertaking; likely it would be more than the budget of many small countries. However, I am not enamoured with this development. I would like to state, before I go any farther, that I would be just as dismayed if it was Coolmore that had been the purchaser. And if they had I would say the same things. My reasons are manifold.

There already exists a somewhat unhealthy competition between both Sheikh Mohammed and the Coolmore gang and this can only add a greater chill. The result of this cold war is that it artificially restricts competition. While both players are playing at the top end there are many commercial breeders that target that market. I imagine it already hurts when one of these behemoths decides not to enter the race because of which stallion sired a particular hip. It hurts at the sale level and hurts when the breeder has to decide which stallion to book their mares to (one needs to know their market). Not to mention the 'trickling downward economics' that results to the pinhookers. Risk is already very high in every facet of the business, it seems unfair to add even more politics to a political game.

I'm not a fan of this whole aspect of the business but it is the aspect that fuels the industry. I am engrossed in pedigrees and for the most part I don't think commercial breeders breed with acuity as far as producing great racehorses. They breed fashionably. But they're in the market to sell horses not race them, so if that's what the market demands maybe it is the market and not the breeders that truly determine the product. But control and determination of the market is somewhat at stake here. Will it remain as objective as it is at the moment?

I absolutely don't like the two year old in training sales; much more harm than good. But again it's what the market responds to. What this all boils down to is that all these aspects I've just listed are already somewhat askew because of the need to buy and sell. What happens when someone has too much control over the entire market? If there were two major factories that produced cars and one factory owner was allowed to decide which cars to buy and sell would anybody be surprised if he decided create profit for his factory first? I know this is a little simplistic but I find it troubling anyway. Will there be pressure on breeders that have bred to Darley stallions not to sell at Keeneland? Will there be incentives to sell at Fasig-Tipton? Will the coolness that exists now between these parties 'trickle down' to smaller breeders? There seems a lot of what ifs. More than likely everything will work itself out without a hitch but someone ought to at least ask these questions.

We all reap the rewards of capitalism. But if the current economic downturn teaches us anything it is that even capitalism needs regulation. That was the lesson of the Great Depression and it was slowly forgotten. Our memories have only recently been jarred back to this realization. I think this principle needs to be applied in the thoroughbred industry as well. It is not a good idea for so few to control so much input, output and consumption. The name Bear Stearns comes to mind.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Keeneland Bound in '09?

Like many fans the Keeneland meet has me scratching my head more often than not this year. That's good for handicappers who have somehow figured out which horses are going to run well over the surface, I'm not one of them. However, that is not my biggest concern about the surface. My concern is for future racing at Keeneland, the spring meet in particular, when hopes are running high, final conditioning races are being run and last minute decisions have to be made.
Next year if you are an owner/trainer of a considered contender that has ran well on dirt are you going to risk sending your horse to Keeneland? I wouldn't and that is the real rub. Keeneland, along with Saratoga and Del Mar are looked forward to as the penultimate meets of the year. Surely the purses will continue to attract a majority of stables, but what of the best horses? Will it remain as one of the showcase meets? I hope it does but I can also see even more interest than usual slowly being siphoned away toward Arkansas, New York and Illinois. Oaklawn certainly has become one of the most successful routes to the Derby in the last several years.
One could argue that Keeneland's old speed favoring surface also kept some horses pointed to these other venues and that is likely true. However, I think one would be more likely to risk running on that surface than the Polytrack where some apparently superior horses can end up looking like also-rans.
This concern is just one more added to the list of uncertainties about the synthetic surfaces. I am undecided about them myself. I do believe, like many others, that California was a bit too bold in it's decision to coerce its' tracks to switch to synthetics. It seems to work well at Turfway and Hollywood and I will admit to enjoying the last Hollywood meet more than any other last year. At best Del Mar has had mixed success or lack thereof. When handicapping Del Mar it seemed that by taking into account the temperature and cloudiness one could almost pinpoint the race during a card where the track would change from speed favoring to benefiting those coming off the pace. This, too, is a problem. Do we want to have the track be so much of a factor in the races that it is the condition that determines success? Then there's Santa Anita... well enough said.
The arguments will continue for and against the synthetics. The results are probably still too few and too soon to be definitive. Other concerns specifically related to the synthetic tracks have also arisen. These range from concerns about the respiratory systems of both horse and jockey to other types of injuries and soreness in the horses.
One opinion I do agree with is; that if enough research and time went into trying to develop dirt tracks we wouldn't be having these discussions. It seems very likely that a suitably safe dirt surface could be fashioned for every environment. And for those where synthetics do make sense that option still remains. Turfway likely would be such a situation.
As a last thought I also wonder about the effect on breeding. Isn't there a responsibility to the breed itself? Surely horses are not ever going to run free again, at least not in any foreseeable future, but shouldn't we try to improve the breed to be superior on a more natural surface? Or are they just pawns for some reality video game?

A quick note: My inquiries to TVG and HRTV about their cost to be carried by a cable provider or their fee for making their signal available have gone unanswered. I will try again to get an answer from both TVG and HRTV. While living in Kentucky I received TVG with my basic cable. I don't know for sure if that is still that case. I'll make a few calls and find out. Alan from Left at the Gate, , in his April 18 post mentions that Capitol OTB pays $600,000 to have their signal carried by Time Warner Cable. I must admit that is surprising to me.