Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Year of the Five Year Old

The week and a half from now until The Belmont Stakes tends to be one of those lull periods in racing. Most of the news will be about which horses worked,when and how fast and second guessing if the timing was right to have the horse in peak form for the race.

This year we also have Big Brown's front foot to occupy our thoughts. Dutrow has been and continues to downplay the crack but he certainly can't feel good about it. And Ian McKinlay has had more press than he's likely to receive during the rest of his career. The horse hasn't said much. He did go for a mile and a half jog Tuesday to let off some of the pent up energy building in his system and I'm sure to alleviate some of the nerves of the connections.

If I were training BB I would be worried with every step he took. While he's shown he's so much better than the rest that it seems he could beat the others coming right off the farm we know it's not that easy. So he's going to have to work and the connections are going to have to sweat it out.

Big Brown has been battling these cracks since he began training. This makes me wonder about the wisdom of the breeding business. Reportedly Three Chimney's paid somewhere between $50 - $60 million for him. That means that they will try to make that back in the next three years before his first crop hits the track. Foot problems are hereditary. Knowing this would you, if you had a mare that pairs well, send her to Big Brown for a fee that will probably be between $125-$150k? Or would you try to find some value in the myriad stallions available that may result in a more sturdy, better racehorse? The question is somewhat rhetorical. Most commercial breeders would likely opt to breed to him - the new fashion for 2009 - and take a chance at hitting a homerun. How many homeruns there will be is any one's guess but the number is not going to be large. This means that there is likely a lot of losses that will result from breeding to the new guy in cell block number nine. I just don't understand the thought process. Wouldn't it be better to have a stallion prove his value in the breeding shed as they should have to on the track. This is another instance where the industry gets it backwards but there is no way to fix the problem. Perhaps the only way for anything to change is that breeders would have to change their habits. But everyone is out for that pot of gold at the end of the triple crown rainbow; the owners, the stallion station, trainer, breeders etc... I'm certain they would all say they are helping to serve to the sport but I think we all know better.

Looking at BB's pedigree if I had a mare from the predominant line out there (Mr. P.) I would have my concerns about breeding to Big Brown. Weakness to weakness or at least fragility to fragility. I certainly wouldn't think that I am strengthening the breed. I would feel more certain that I was creating a more fragile horse. What can be done about this flaw in the system? Like most problems in the industry probably nothing. I know that it is impossible to change the system, however, if I could here is a rule I would like to see the industry impose upon itself: No horse can stand until he is a horse (5 year old). I think this would have a positive ripple effect throughout the industry and here's how.

It would have the positive effect of horses having longer campaigns. This in turn will have several positive consequences. First, a horse will have to prove his durability and superiority on the track for more than a season. It will nurture new fans because they will be able to follow and root for a horse for several years. It would also create rivalries, so rare these days outside of the triple crown events, further nurturing fan interest.

What about a horse that breaks down? Implement a standard that makes the horse sit out one year after it's mishap before standing. So, for example, a horse that breaks down at 2 would have to wait until its' fourth year to stand. I think this would be a propitious standard because it would forestall the mysterious rash of injuries that would almost certainly occur for most successful three years olds! Certainly it would not benefit anyone to feign injury and sit out a year therefore taking a chance that the shine may fade from the star. It would also have the further effect of allowing time to impose its' propensity to allow clearer vision of value.

To do this would not curtail business one iota. I'm certain bidding for future stallions would be just as heated as ever. However, I think it would have some positive effects. One being somewhat reduced prices paid for a future stallions -with a ripple down effect through the industry - because to buy a colt at three would now carry more risk. The risks are manifold. The most obvious risk is that a colt does not continue to be as dominating a runner as it matures. Also there is risk that a colt from the next year's crop may become the shiny new gem outshining the previous year's model. And of course with every start that proves durability comes the risk of disaster. It will also result in something that we rarely see in racing anymore, it would oblige the best horses from different crops to compete against each other to prove superiority. So if the connections of a colt risk racing a horse into his fourth year before selling its' rights and it does prove to be dominant that huge payday will still be there. But the difference would be that we could be more certain a horse is worth the price. This year we may have an example of how this would play out if Big Brown and Curlin meet in the B.C. Classic. If Big Brown did win the race he would, in my mind, be absolutely the best horse running. If he loses to Curlin but runs well it would hardly diminish his value. However, next year we would be able to see if BB would maintain his dominance when he ran against the best of the next crop at year's end as well as maturing horses of his own crop. We would also get to see if his inbred traits would be his undoing or not. In turn the answers to these questions would truly inform us of his value as a stallion to promote the well being of the breed.

I could enumerate many more positive scenarios that would come out of this simply imposed rule but those listed are more than enough reasons to consider this idea. It could all be accomplished without anyone ever missing a beat in the industry. It would not cause one problem if the next crop of new stars of the breeding industry had to wait an extra year to start their service. There are enough stars in that universe already, no void would occur. Somewhere along the line someone is going to have to take financial hit to straighten things out. This idea limits and possibly eliminates the need for anyone to lose. It may just cause a one year delay.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Saturday at Belmont

After a long week I was finally able to watch a day of racing, concentrating mainly on Belmont.
For me, the highlight of the day was Monastic Springs (*GB) in the 7th. A MSW52K 7f (T). Monastic Springs is a son of the great sire Saddlers Wells and the first foal out of Ipi Tombe (*GB). Ipi Tombe was a champion 3yo in South Africa and 2003 Dubai Horse of the Year. She had a record of 12-2-0 from 14 starts and bankrolled $1,529,799. She was an absolutely beautiful animal. Alan Goldberg brought Monastic Springs to town and she was ridden by Edgar Prado.
He broke poorly from the gate in what seemed a very competitive field. I heard some comments around me cursing Prado for rushing him up after that start but I think it was much more that the colt was was into the bridle and Prado just let him get a rhythm before relaxing him a little. As the field was getting deep into the stretch Prado saw a seam and guided Monastic Springs toward it but the seam was slammed shut by He Struck it Rich who veered out. This caused Monastic Springs and Prado to start a chain reaction of contact as they were forced out to avoid clipping heals or worse. In the end he won by a neck that in no way illustrated how superior the colt was. But the colt did have to overcome one of the longest objections of recent memory to finally get credit. Here's how the chart reads:
Monastic Springs (GB) broke slow and was bumped off stride at the start, steadied early along the backstretch, checked on the far turn, waited along the rail on the turn, angled out in upper stretch, steadied behind the runner-up and swerved out bumping Bob's Star inside the furlong marker then finished with a flourish to get up in the final strides.

This is a horse to watch! I was feeling pretty good about my pick 3 at this point having singled Willsboro Point ($10.80) in the 6th and I had Monastic Springs ($27.80) along with the favorite Bob's Star in the 7th and I had half the field in the 8th. Of course rechecking the 8th I felt I made a big mistake in leaving out Monster Drive and I did as he won and the pick 3 paid ($511) I had to leave after that as I don't wager smartly after making a blunder like that.

However, I arrived home to watch Mauralakana win The Sheepshead Bay H. with a impressive late turn of foot for Christophe Clement and K. Desormeaux.

In the third, By the Light did her imitation of Big Brown for Richard Dutrow. The winning margin of about 2 lengths doesn't portray how in hand the victory was.

The pick six began and was over in the 5th when Halation, Lycius- Charmed Aura (Halo) rallied to win paying $146! While the colts breeding did suggest turf ability his PP's suggested little or no ability, go figure! There were a few handicappers around me dancing reciting their 'Samyn on the green' chant but even after considering his breeding I wouldn't have him figured if I went 4 deep. However, Halation's trainer, David Prine is a great human interest story.
Tommorow in the 2nd consider Vicarious. Allen Jerkins trains and C. Velasquez is up.

Friday, May 23, 2008

P. Val Redux

This post ran yesterday in a truncated version. As I mentioned Tuesday my schedule this week has me scrambling for time to make entries. After reading the post I knew it desperately needed to be reworked. I deleted the opening remark on Dutrow's comments about Big Brown's future but I did add a possible play for Friday.

I read in the DRF that P. Val is moving his tack to Louisiana Downs. I do have empathy for him and and any person that has to struggle with addictions. However, his ability to relocate his tack to another circuit is just another example of how the industry undermines itself through its members refusal to show any accord or acknowledgement of legal reciprocity. The industry needs to have industry wide rules. If the entities can't find a way to agree then perhaps the government should intervene. The integrity of the sport is at stake. When gambling of any kind - especially government sanctioned - takes place the integrity of the system is absolutely vital to the health of the system. When a trainer or jockey who has been suspended in one jurisdiction can find acceptance elsewhere it undermines confidence.

It seems a heartless thing to deny a person the ability to make a living at something they do well, but sometimes you have to do the hard thing. In this situation the good of the many definitely outweighs the good of the few. The problem events that led to California revoking Patrick Valenzuela's conditional jockey's license was not the result of a single event. A single error in judgement or mistake should be forgiven. Everyone is fallible. But, repetitious offenses are a wholly different circumstance. Any time he has a mount a question may exist in the mind of the fan as to his abilities or motivations. One has to look no farther than Big Brown's trainer Richard Dutrow as an example. In the blogs and in print some question the validity of the horse because of Dutrow's past offenses. This doubt is a disservice to the horse and the game. How can we expect any one to invest in a sport they think is rigged?

Also, safety must be a top priority. The demise of Eight Belles augments this need all the more. The industry is too much of an enabler. If your horse can't run under the rules of one circuit because of medication it needs to get into the gate, a circuit can always be found where it is able to start. Horses that rely on drugs to run do present a danger. And a jockey that rides under the influence of drugs or alcohol presents a great danger as well. Imagine the outcry that would result from a catastrophic injury if the jockey was found to be under some influence! It is always a difficult situation when judgement has to be passed because we are all flawed and... there but for the grace of god go I. But, banning him from the sport is not passing judgement on him as a person. It is judging him not good for the sport. And the sport needs to be bigger than any of it's players. To allow any such situations like this to exist hurts the integrity of a sport that cannot exist without integrity.

Race Note: On my watch list I have have a horse named Be Bullish. He disappointed last out in the [s] Screenland 75k but today he's in for a tag for the first time. He has really impressed me at times. In any case he is entered in the 2nd at Belmont a 60K claimer. Coa's up and the morning line is 10-1.
I wouldn't be shocked if he's claimed.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Kentucky Dreaming

Nothing seems to affect my life more than when other obligations force me to be out of touch with racing for a few days. It happens to all of us, regardless of what our passion may be. At those times I become nostalgic for the days I spent working toward what I had hoped would be a career as a trainer.

Often I think of he first day I arrived in Kentucky. I drove through the front gates of Poplar Hill Farm and before even getting my belongings settled I decided to take a ride to "twin barns" at the rear of the farm. I didn't make it that far. As I passed the paddock in front of the foaling barn I saw a mare down on her side rocking to and fro. I saw Dale, one of the farm managers, running toward her with a shank as he waved his arm signaling me for help. I drove into the lane leading to the barn and pulled onto the grass and bolted from the truck running to Dale and the mare. By the time I had joined them Dale had gotten the Mare up. He handed me the shank and said "she's colicking walk her; don't let her go down. I'll get the van, I'll be right back." Dale jumped the fence and dived into the old green Toyota pickup we used to get around the farm and sped off toward Twin Barns, leaving me to my assigned task.

I suppose, for those of you who have grown up around horses, this may not be so unusual. But for me it was. I had arrived on that Kentucky farm by an amazing 'twist of fate.' Four years earlier I thought I was pursuing a Law degree in Albany. But as we often find out life sometimes has other plans for us. Attending Law school had just been the vehicle that led to a serendipitous line of newly made lifetime friends and a newly found passion for thoroughbred horseracing. And that is where my odyssey began. Four years after experiencing my first race at Saratoga I was on a farm in Kentucky trying to keep an eleven hundred pound mare from going down.

Now that was no easy task. She was really leaning into me. I had to keep my feet at about forty five degrees from my shoulder which was wedged against the mare. With my lack of experience it hadn't occurred to me, until much later, that had she really decided to go down I probably couldn't have stopped her and likely would have gotten myself pinned. But all I could think about was keeping her up; not failing at this first task I had been given. She would spiral inward forming tighter and tighter circles and I'd yank at the shank to get her attention and force her to circle in the other direction. It worked for a turn or two but her left side seemed to be the one bothering her the most so she would continually shift back to circle in that direction. It seemed like I was there for an hour. "Where the hell did he go" I was thinking to myself. I was also thinking that I didn't know if I could keep her up much longer. Then in the distance I heard the van and it gave me new strength. Dale gunned it down the lane. He seemed to open the back of the van and the gate in one motion. He grabbed her from me and led her into the van. "Get in" he said. I jumped in the van and we were off down Iron Works Pike to Hagyard McGee's. I remember after getting into the van Dale turned to me and smiled that joyful smile he had and said "Good to see ya boy." We had met about a month earlier when I had gone down to meet everyone and make arrangements. On the way Dale explained to me how serious the condition could be and he hoped for the best. He said I had done a good job not letting her go down. That felt good. Dale was always one to give you a pat on the back when you deserved it. In time I would come to admire him as one of the best horsemen I was ever around. He never took credit for anything but it always turned out he was right in his observations and remedies.

I think that may have actually been the first time I touched a horse. I can't remember an earlier experience. All in all an auspicious beginning. Certainly one I'll never forget! The mare made it but didn't return to the farm for what I seem to remember being well over a month, maybe two. When she did finally return she was very skinny and still sickly. It was a wonderful motivator to watch her slowly regain her health while knowing I had had some hand in saving her life.

I read today in Tim Wilkin's blog in the Times Union that Yutaka Take will ride Casino Drive. I think that's great we don't see enough of the foreign jockeys.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Andy Beyer and Arthur B. Hancock III

My work load this week will not allow me much time for entries. So I expect most will be short unless something unusual happens during the week. I have only two things I want to comment on here. The first is an article my friend sent me that Andy Beyer wrote today for The Washington Post about IEAH. After reading it I only felt more certain of the feelings I expressed about IEAH, in my Ambivalence entry. In the long run I don't think their business plan will work in horseracing. They will be inflating the price of horses that they will be in competition to buy and it's way too easy to lose money in this sport already. They'll likely become millionaire's with those billions. I would have posted a link but when I went to the TWP site to create a link it prompted me to sign up and log in for (free) access to TWP so I didn't bother as I'm sure that link wouldn't have worked. So here it is cut and pasted from an email. Obviously I didn't set up the links myself and therefore I don't know where they will take you, though they seem obvious enough. Nonetheless here it is:

Getting a Handle On a New Horse Power
By Andrew Beyer Thursday, May 15, 2008

Whenever a young horse displays special talent, agents will besiege the animal's owner, making offers on behalf of potential buyers who have visions of winning the Kentucky Derby. Only the very rich can afford to get into such bidding, but even the very rich regularly find themselves overmatched against two of the players in this game. An agent sometimes involved in such negotiations said: 'You can't compete with Sheikh Mohammed. And you can't compete with IEAH. They're both willing to pay more than anybody else.'
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum of Dubai has been the world's most prominent horse buyer for nearly three decades, but IEAH -- International Equine Acquisitions Holdings -- was virtually unknown two years ago. Now it occupies the sport's biggest stage, as the majority owner of
Big Brown, winner of the Kentucky Derby and the overwhelming favorite for Saturday's Preakness. IEAH also owns the nation's top turf runner, Kip Deville, and the top sprinter, Benny the Bull, according to the Daily Racing Form's rankings.
Its recent successes may represent just a beginning, because IEAH is about to embark on a bold and innovative venture that will give it even more resources with which to buy thoroughbreds. Yet despite all the publicity that IEAH has received, many industry insiders are mystified by this new power in the sport. Michael Iavarone and Richard Schiavo, the co-CEOs, came from the world of finance and got into racing with the plan of buying proven runners instead of taking their chances at yearling sales. They employ several agents who scout for potential purchases, and Iavarone evaluates the prospects before making an offer. IEAH's operations are similar to other partnerships and syndicates that attempt to buy ready-made thoroughbred talent. What distinguishes it most is its financial clout. Iavarone said: 'Our investors are people I know from my
Wall Street life and people they have introduced to us. Most of them have never been in horse racing before. We have an unbelievable investor list.' Within a few weeks, IEAH will reconstitute itself in a new format, one modeled after hedge funds, and it will be unique in the horse business. IEAH will have a maximum of 100 participants investing a total of $100 million. Instead of having a separate partnership owning each horse, the new entity will give each investor a proportionate share in the whole stable. All of IEAH's current runners (excluding Big Brown) will be part of the portfolio. At the end of each quarter, an independent appraiser will value all of the holdings; based on this price, investors can cash out and new investors can buy in. Following the hedge fund model, IEAH will take a management fee of 2 percent, plus 20 percent of net profits. In addition to its racehorses, however, IEAH will have another component that makes the investment plan even more innovative. IEAH is building, across the street from Belmont Park, the Ruffian Equine Medical Center. (When Iavarone got into the sport, he said, 'I found it hard to believe I had to send a horse [from New York] to Kentucky for a $2,000 surgery.') The hospital will presumably be a source of profits, so the IEAH partners will have some cash flow to counterbalance the high risk of their horse ventures. The size and ingenuity of the deal is something one would expect from sophisticated Wall Street types -- and every profile of the 37-year-old Iavarone describes him as an investment banker who made millions during his 11 years on Wall Street. But the details of his career are invariably sketchy. His biography doesn't mention any firms where he worked; Iavarone said he is forbidden by 'contractual obligations' from naming them. He didn't leave much of a paper trail, though he was once registered as a stockbroker for Joseph Dillon & Co., a now-defunct Long Island firm that received censures and fines for various securities violations. Iavarone's partner, Schiavo, did work for major Wall Street firms, but he was an administrator, not a deal-maker., commenting on the two principals of IEAH, noted dryly, 'It [is hard] to say where they come by their investment acumen.' Among racing people, IEAH has raised eyebrows because of some of the company it has kept. When IEAH entered the sport in 2003, dealing mostly with cheaper stock, its trainer was Greg Martin, who had a knack for improving horses dramatically and inexplicably. One such horse, A One Rocket, became the focus of a federal investigation after he won a race for IEAH. The trainer was found to have given A One Rocket a prohibited procedure known as a 'milkshake.' After Martin pleaded guilty to criminal charges and was drummed out of the sport, IEAH hired trainer Rick Dutrow, who has a lengthy record of medication violations and a reputation (as did Martin) for being able to transform horses almost miraculously. When Iavarone was asked about the rap sheets of his trainers, he observed that plenty of other respected stables have employed trainers, such as Steve Asmussen and Todd Pletcher, who have been suspended for medication violations. 'Our hope,' he said, 'is that racing is on the straight and narrow.' From Dutrow, he said, 'I've never seen anything but the best.' The most intriguing question of all about IEAH is whether it can possibly make a profit. This is not Wall Street, where many investors can make big money simultaneously. Most horse owners lose money and are resigned to treating the sport as an expensive hobby. So Iavarone is setting an ambitious goal when he declares, 'We're trying to make a business out of something that is a pleasure.' So far IEAH has beaten the odds. The company bought a 75 percent interest in Big Brown for $2.25 million -- making his total valuation $3 million, a seemingly inflated price for a modestly bred colt who had won a single race on the grass. The Derby might have made him worth $40 million or thereabouts as a stallion prospect, but repeating a success of this magnitude won't be easy. Wealthy buyers from around the world are looking for the same types of horses, and using the same tools to find them, so it is hard for one wise guy to have an edge over the others. If some buyers, particularly the sheikhs, are willing to pay irrational prices, IEAH is going to have to overpay to play in this game. IEAH did so when it spent $5 million for a half-interest in the well-bred colt Court Vision, who has lost all of his races as a 3-year-old and finished 13th in the Kentucky Derby, looking very little like a $10 million property. In order to pay such hefty prices while making IEAH a profitable business venture, Iavarone and Schiavo will have to replicate the great windfall they reaped this spring. But if the probabilities of the sport are any guide, Big Brown will be a tough act to follow.

The other thing I wanted to comment on was the letter by Arthur B. Hancock III, in the May 17, issue of The Bloodhorse. I looked for it online and couldn't find it, so again, I'm sorry you're going to have to track it down in print. Or perhaps it is on the BH site somewhere that I missed. In any case I think he has got it exactly right and it's some very nice writing as well:

"I've come to the conclusion that we cannot regulate ourselves no matter how much we wish we could. We are too fragmented and too diverse. We are composed of too many 'fiefdoms' and each one is led by a Nero-like chieftain who'd rather do things his way than help the cause as a whole."

He seems to feel that government regulation is the best chance for the industry. I am in full agreement with him there. Though his idea is probably not as radical as mine. He still believes the Horseracing Act of 1978 is "the vehicle" to do this. I think a new set of laws needs to be shaped that can coerce not only the states to conform to industry regulations but all the entities in the industry. And perhaps the government needs to be the decision makers on some of those regulations as well. After all, as Mr. Hancock states in the quote above, they can't agree on a thing how in the world are they going to agree on an industry wide regulation?
He goes on to reiterate his opinion that "drugs" and "thugs" (does IEAH qualify?) must be outlawed from the game. Yeah for him!

Monday, May 19, 2008


How do we measure greatness? The two most prominent abilities in measuring greatness are the ability to overcome adversity and the ability to prevail over powerful, worthy foes. While the ability to overcome adversity can result in great performances, think of Afleet Alex's stumble at the top of the stretch in the 2005 Preakness, I think true greatness can only be attained through proving one's mettle by repeatedly prevailing-not necessarily always- against worthy foes.
As dominating as Big Brown has been it is seeming more and more apparent that his crop is also just especially weak at this stage of their development. Perhaps I just want to see a hero tested under fire to earn his stripes. Up to this point Big Brown's superiority has proved so overwhelming that he hasn't faced a true test. You can't blame that on a horse, he doesn't pick his competition. But for me it detracts some from his accomplishments at this point. I'm sure I'm not alone in believing that the Belmont will be no more of test for him than the other jewels in the crown. Sure, there will be some fresher horses. I would expect Colonel John and a few of the old K.D. gang back. Yes, there will be Casino Drive. But isn't an upset by him an unrealistic expectation to place on a colt with just two races to his career? And if he is able to pull off, what would be the greatest upset since Upset put the word into the lexicon of sports by defeating Man O' War in the 1919 Sanford Memorial, what does that say about Big Brown's value?
With a new $50 million anchor dropped in Kentucky it seems likely that The Belmont Stakes will be Big Brown's swan song. I don't want to take anything away from Casino Drive but if he's Big Brown's most worthy foe it's possible that Secretariat's record 31 length victory is also at risk. After all there would be no reason not to let him run it out.
If this scenario does play out, if Big Brown does go on to win the triple crown and is retired it is another crime perpetrated upon the sport and it's fans. We want to know how good he is. Is he real? Affirmed had Alydar, Sunday Silence had Easy Goer, Real Quiet had Victory Gallop and the list can go on. It's not always just one foe often there's many but these comparisons develop a truer clarity of value. As amazing as he seems can a horse that has raced only six times, against suspect company, really be worth $5o million? I'm not saying he's not. I am saying prove it! I hope they let him run the remainder of the year. Likely that would mean only two more races. I think we might expect to see him in the Travers and of course the B.C. Classic. If we were lucky maybe one more prep in between those races. Though I think eight or nine races is still a minimal amount of races to gauge true value at least one of them would be against proven and / or older horses. If he would win the B.C. maybe then we can talk about all-time great. And if he lost to the likes of a horse such as Curlin that would not be a disgrace at all. Nor should it harm his value.

With all the talk of needed change in the industry in the wake of the Eight Belles tragedy I still expect that he will be retired. It will prove once again that nothing is going to change. Behavior will remain status quo in the industry. The talk of breeding better, stronger horses will give way again to dollar signs and caution. I'm sure "Big Brown 'Unbeaten Triple Crown Winner' $125k" advertisements are being designed as I write this. Maybe he is a great horse. Maybe he will add stamina and durability to the breed. All I'm saying is allow the horse to go out and run often enough and against a class of competition that will prove he truly is what we expect of our heroes and what we need to strengthen the breed.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Big Brown WOWS in Preakness!

WOW! I don't have enough superlatives to describe Big Brown's performance! Is he really that much better than the good colts of this crop or is the crop just that poor? Again not a hair turned nor a nostril flared in the end. He should have a big "S" on his chest and be sporting a red cape! I'm just at a loss for words. If he doesn't win the Triple Crown it will be his own $50 million dollar hooves that will beat him, because there doesn't appear to be a colt in the world that can come close.

Here's the content of the post I had written for Preakness day that I somehow managed to delete. It's re-written as well as I can remeber. This is in response to an Anonymous comment left regarding my
"Greed" entry (see blog archive). Whoever left it thanks, I truly look forward to responses whether I agree with them or not. In this case I don't. Here's the comment:

You left out one of the largest group of 'greedsters,' horsemen. When Louisiana Downs opens without ADW this will make 7 tracks in 6 states with 5 different owners that THG has blocked:OH - Thistledown (Magna) OH - River DownsKY - Churchill (CDI)TX - Lone Star (Magna)LA - Lousiana DownsPA - Presque Isle DownsFL - Calder (CDI)When you look at the list of tracks supported by an ADW and see a list of states that cannot use the service to bet on a specific track though they can bet on others, you know the horsemen are to blame. For example, on TwinSpires you can wager (by phone only) on Pimlico, but not if you live in CA, ID, KY, LA, MD, MA, ND, OH, OR, VA, WA, or WY.Nobody's hands are clean in this fight and it's time to recognize the horsemen's greed, as well.May 16, 2008 7:55 AM

While I will do agree that "nobody's hands are clean" I still feel that the horsemen's demands are more within the realm of fairness.

The THG, which represents about 20 horsemen’s associations in negotiations with racetracks and ADW companies, hopes to get more revenue from account wagering. It advocates a formula whereby tracks, horsemen, and ADW providers would each get one-third of the blended pari-mutuel takeout rate, which averages about 21%, or 21 cents on the dollar. [Bloodhorse]

That sounds more than fair to me. The money that goes to the horsemen is put toward purses and facilities. That money has a direct impact on the quality of the racing at any track. So as I see it money that goes to the horsemen benefits not only owners, horsemen and their employees, but the fan and the public in general. The fan benefits very directly because the better the purses the better quality of racing they will see and be able to wager on. The public benefits because a healthy horse community adds a demand for other jobs and services in and beyond the immediate community. The jobs and services that benefit from a healthy horse community runs the gamut from restaurants to supermarkets to clothing stores and on. Also a healthy horse community creates the need for open, green spaces to raise horses and the hay and grain they consume. These needs create even more jobs ranging from the farming industry to employees for breeding and training facilities to truck drivers that transport and deliver feed and the horses. All this comes as a result of money going to the horsemen. While it is true that the tracks themselves do create some jobs they are much fewer and less impacting on a community or beyond. The same goes for ADW's. It is a much more concentrated profit. I would go a step farther and say that there is no profit in the horsemen's cut. And let's not also forget that it is the horsemen who put on the show, EVERYDAY. Without them there is no product. They produce what the other two entities - tracks and ADW's - make their money from. To ask for one third of the pie seems more than reasonable to me.

With the inability to watch and wager on races it is understandable that a fan would be angry. And with the predominance of press coming from CDI claiming that the horsemen are the cause of the problem it is understandable that the fans anger is directed toward the horsemen. But I say it is misdirected. CDI can just as easily end this situation by fairly sharing the revenue.

In the suit filed by CDI they claim that the horsemen's demand for one third of the revenue is at "a level that is significantly in excess of current sharing," as though an injustice is alright as long as it has a history. To me that just says that it's been unfair for a long time. Just as baseball had to come to terms with its' player's, in the late 1970's and '80's, so too does the racing industry now have to come to terms with its' players.

CDI also claims that THG has violated Section 1 of the Sherman Anti-Trust-Act, by engaging in a group boycott. But according to equine attorney Doug McSwain (see above BH link) that may be erroneous:
McSwain said previous cases involving the Interstate Horseracing Act have shown “there is no free market in gambling,” meaning the Sherman Antitrust Act doesn’t apply.

I understand that you always have to consider which horses mouth is talking. In this case it is council that represents horsemen so we know his opinion would be shaded toward their view. However, that being said, it also makes sense. There is no free market in gambling. The industry only exists because it is granted a licenses to exist by government. It seems reasonable to me that his assessment is correct. I would also argue that the horsemen are not boycotting they are in fact continuing to work, and for lower wages, while at the same time negotiating for a fair share of revenue which is their right and privledge provided for by The Interstate Horseracing Act of 1978. It is that Act that prevents CDI from receiving or exporting signals without an agreement with the horsemen. I don't think this is written into law by accident. It seems obvious that it is in there to protect both the livelihood of the horsemen as well as the tracks.

I feel I'm not remembering everything I wrote yesterday but this is the essence of it. So, thanks again for the comment. It forced me to dig deeper and learn a little more, but I'm still coming down on the same side of the argument. Fair is fair and I think CDI needs to start treating it's horsemen with fairness.

As an addendum to this discussion I would like to bring up something that bothers me in this situation; I want to know where the governments cut comes from. Is it just taxes? I was under the assumption that it also was part of the takeout. But after looking into the CDI, THG situation that doesn't appear to be the case. A friend and I have discussed trying to figure out exactly how each cent in a wagered dollar is distributed. I think it's going to be a more difficult task that it sounds. I imagine there are those that really know for sure, so if you're out there please drop a note.

Notes on Friday:
I was disappointed in the field of The Pimlico Special. I guess that cut in purse has had an effect. I was also disappointed, for the second race in a row, in Grasshopper. Maybe it was the shoe he needed replaced in the paddock, maybe the conditions, perhaps just another clunker. Maybe it's another example of why we need to campaign horses longer. We need to know the best are truly the best and not just for a season. Congaree comes to mind. Grasshopper looked like he would develop into one of those. It's too soon to write him off but it's disappointing nonetheless.

For all of us that follow NY racing it was great to see Channing Hill win aboard Sweet Vendetta! He is a very talented and well deserving of these types of horses! Congratulations to him! And on a David Cassidy NY bred as well!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Preakness Day

Well I'll get the easy stuff out of the way first. My prediction for the Preakness......drum roll.......
Big Brown. There's not much else to say. Can he be beat? Yes, every horse can be beat until they prove otherwise. If I was going to pick a horse to upset today I'd go to Icabad Crane. He's run well on dirt and at Pimlico, his pedigree suggests not even a concern over the distance and he shows steady and continuous improvement. I can't imagine Gayego won't run better than he did in the Derby but with Paulo Lobo having been undecided until late in the process I have no confidence in him here. I love the way Reade Baker has talked about his charge, Kentucky Bear. And it would be a great story if he is able to refuse Big Brown's promise to deliver but, I think he's pushing his distance limitations here. Tres Borrachos has a similar progression to that of Icabad Crane and I think he's poised to move forward here, unfortunately for him he doesn't show an ability to rate and win and that spells disaster here. Yankee Bravo was a horse I liked but I think he will have distance problems as well. The other dark horse may be Giant Moon. I think he will like the added distance. He's working very well and Richard Schosberg is a good conditioner, Dominguez is up, what's not to like? Also, Al Fried's farm is up in Rhinebeck, NY my old home town so there's some sentimental attachment as well. So if I was to pick the top five in order it would be Big Brown, Icabad Crane, Giant Moon, Tres Borrachos and Gayego. Those NY breds keep getting better!

Well I had a lot more to say here but I somehow mistakenly deleted it and I've no time to rewrite it now. I'll try to post it later today or for tomorrow. I had a reply to the comment left to my Greed entry and some notes on yesterday's races. Well at least I didn't loose it all.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Dream Play, Cosmic Queen

I really enjoyed Dan Liebman's The Sound of Silence piece. It hit all the right notes for me.

My friend told me to look for Cosmic Queen in the 3rd at Hollywood (Md.SpWt 48K). A Stormy Atlantic filly out of the Sadlers Wells (he'll be missed) mare Well At The Top *Ire. Christopher Paasch trains her and Mike Smith was up. As I have said before there are few secrets in racing and she wasn't one of them. She set a new track record of 50.72 for the 4- 1/2 furlong race while paying $5.60. I know most of us like to try to beat the chalk (to be honest I don't remember if she was, but if she wasn't she was close enough) but I think that if one is to make money at the track you have to take the money they give you. That means lay more when you think the chalk will be one of those 33%. Having said all that, if I wasn't watching at home, I probably would have bet on the #7 Streamin Heat. I thought she looked the best and you always have to strongly consider Wesly Ward first out (30%). He also bred the filly and is part owner. Maybe when they're his own he doesn't push as hard! She finished third. Truly Cosmic Queen was much the best.

I really enjoy the racing at Hollywood Park more than anywhere. To me that track is perfect. I have never seen a pronounced bias either for style of racing or placement on the track. If only all synthetics played so well! What a shame if we loose it!

Well apparantly the deal for Big Brown has hit some snags. I must say I'm a bit surprised. Whoever it was that was the interested party must think they are asking too much. I can't imagine what that price tag would be! Both parties are taking quite a risk waiting. I did read that IEAH's Michael Iavorne said that he thought that there was 'no chance' for Big Brown to be running next year (What about next -fall- season?). Here again is another problem with racing. All these players get up and say how much they love the game, and that's why they're here. But they never do right by the game. Thank god for Jess Jackson! I know it's easy for me to sit here and criticize. After all do I really know what I would do if someone offered me forty or more million for a horse? No, I guess I don't. At that point, however, at least your playing with house money. I'd like to think that I would at least struggle with the decision. Perhaps take less, split the risk and run him at least another year. What's wrong with that? How can a horse be a great horse without proving his value on all the battlefields?

I really wish they would not run The Pimlico Special on Friday for the same reasons I don't like the idea of Filly Friday (see The Ladies Cup in my April entries). They certainly make it hard to be a fan!

I saw another nice looking 2 yo Filly today in the 2nd at Belmont, Dream Play. She is a Hennessy filly out of a Saratoga Six mare (Playcaller). That breeding should ring some bells. She's has the same pedigree as Madcap Escapade (See Sassy Pants and Real Estate , below Ponderings). I think that Dream Play's second Dam's pedigree will give her more stamina than Madcap. Her second dam is Delice a mare by What a Pleasure (Bold Ruler) out of Swoonalong by the very durable Swoons Son. He ran from '55-'58 started 51 times with a record of 30-10-3 and $970,000 in earnings! He won too many races to list.She could be real interesting to keep an eye on.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


I'm an ambivalent horseracing fan at the moment. Not because of the tragedy of Eight Belles. I accept that breakdowns are going to happen. And it's my opinion that they will happen to the best horses more often because they are the ones pushing the limits of their physiology. I didn't spend my life in the sport but it did dominate my life for some years and I know that we will never be able to eliminate them. In an article I read this week someone had said that the thoroughbred industry was working to get the number of breakdowns to zero. I wish I remember where I had read that. I don't see how anyone could bring up zero; it's never going to happen, never! [If I find it again I'll update this entry with the link.] Like almost everyone, I believe we should try to do all we can to minimize their occurrence. But the dominance of this conversation has me about worn out. Even many in the industry are reacting as though this has never happened before! Is it any wonder that those outside the world of racing and it's fans are disillusioned? It must smack of condescension. It has left me feeling a lack of enthusiasm for the Preakness.

As superior a colt as Big Brown appears to be I find myself not rooting for him. I wasn't following racing when Seattle Slew and Affirmed won the last triple crowns, and was too young to have appreciated Secretariat when he raced and won his triple crown. So one can imagine how I have eagerly awaited 'Next.' I could never have imagined I wouldn't be rooting for lucky number 12! Strangely enough in a conversation with a good friend she also expressed the same sentiment. Makes one wonder doesn't it?

There are some things that the racing industry just absolutely has to clean up and others that they should. Again a lot of this I have touched on before, but bear with me. The first most pressing issue, and I think most will agree, is the drug issue. I think the fact that Richard Dutrow has been cited for the use of illegal substances in the past makes it hard for me to root for him. I don't mean to make him a villain. There are many others that have also been cited, but I think it projects a bad image when those individuals are allowed to continue and end up winning these races. People may not say what they're thinking, but they're thinking it! I for one don't believe for a second that Big Brown needed or had any 'extra' help. At this point he is just better than his peers. I think Dutrow is a very good trainer but even his own reputation will not be what it should or could have been because of his past. That's too bad. But what's even worse is that it leaves a black mark on racing. We need strict drug laws in the game and we need them now. And the very first law should state anyone found violating the following laws is out, FOREVER!

Syndicate racing; I don't like it. I think it too, is bad for racing. Too many bosses. And out of those bosses too few recipients. I've met Cot Campbell, he is a very nice man and a very good salesman. He was very creative and very innovative with his vision. And the industry that he created resulted in a boon to the breeding industry, but, in my opinion, also promoted the industry tendency toward "fashionable pedigree's." The need to 'win now' and 'win early' became more critical. But, I've said it for years and I'll stick by my opinion: this type of ownership puts too much pressure on the trainers and the horse. I guess IEAH is another reason I'm not rooting Big Brown. I don't root for those guys on Wall Street to find new ways to profit at everyone else's expense and I can't root for the 'Wall Street' horse.

I could recite a litany of problems and many would give the appropriate response. I know there are a lot more issues. But I'll touch on just one more: Whipping. I guess we have all seen occasions where we felt it was over done and it probably was, but outlawing whipping isn't something I think is necessary. Stan Bergstein wrote a very good column in the DRF today (5/15), I agree with almost everything he said (especially about drugs) but not about the whipping. I watch a good amount of racing from Europe and I don't agree with his assessment. They do use the whip in Europe but the types of races where you don't see much whipping is routes on the turf, which they run much more often than in the U.S., so toward the finish the jockey can probably feel the horse is spent. As the saying goes 'there's no use in whipping a dead horse.' We run a much more intense form of racing here which lends itself more to using the whip.

These issues are foremost on my mind when it should be racing! We have a triple crown in progress. I do expect Big Brown to win the Preakness. I won't be devastated if he doesn't. However, if he does go to win the triple crown I fully expect that I will feel extremely elated and happy for the horse, his connections and for experiencing it myself, because I know, somehow, it will be end up good for the Sport.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Sassy Pants and Real Estate

When I was working in Kentucky we had a mare on the farm named Sassy Pants. Up until that point she had only delivered one foal that was unraced. Well her anonymity was soon to end.

In 2001 Sassy Pants had a filly by Hennessy who would grow up and become
Madcap Escapade. She won over a million dollars while winning The Ashland S (GI), Forward Gal S. (GII), Shirley Jones S. (GII), Vinery Madison S (GIII) and The Princess Rooney H. (GII) as well as finishing 3rd in The Kentucky Oaks. In 2002 she had another filly named Dubai Escapade by Awesome Again who won The Ballerina (GI), Madison S. (GII) and The Vagrancy H. (GII).

The reason I bring this up is because in the 3rd at Belmont on Sunday a four year old colt named Real Estate out of Sassy Pants ran, and ran well! Here's the comment from the chart " Real Estate was rated under a strong hold along the rail for a half, shook loose on the turn, briefly surrendered the lead in midstretch then fought back again under strong handling to edge clear in the late stages." His PP's hint at some past problems as he missed his entire 3 year old year, but maybe they're behind him now. I always like when a horse runs strongly after apparent problems; to me it says that at least they're not afraid to still lay it out there. So he may be one to watch.

Another pleasantry on Sunday was, Parading. I just love watching how the Phipps' allow their horses time to come along and don't give up on them when they stumble. Parading, the winner of The Volponi on Sunday (8th at Belmont), is a perfect example. Of course the patience they practice explains how their horses are so often able to recover, mentally and / or physically. And they've got the perfect trainer in Shug. He does an absolutely first rate job. A racing team at it's best, doing it the way it should be done! It makes me nostalgic for the days of yore that I wasn't around to see. I hope to see Parading back in graded company soon. I'll be rooting for him and the team.

Monday, May 12, 2008


The following entry is something that I had written for submission but wasn't used. However, since I ended yesterdays entry hitting on the subject of greed and I had titled this piece Greed, I thought this might be an apropos place to use it. It hits on many of the themes I have written of already so excuse some repetition, but I decided to publish it on it's own. So here it is. I think after this entry I need a few days to just think about and enjoy just racing!

Greed is ruining the great sport of horseracing! Be it Magna, Churchill, NYRA or their partners, their main concern is collecting a piece of every cent wagered. They would rather deny the fan the product than risk creating a new fan and losing his nickel to a competitor. They act as if the signal is the biggest asset, not the racing. This creates shortsightedness that is damaging because it results in the fans being neglected and in a complete failure to nurture new fans. The only thing being wooed is the gambling dollar.
Let’s be clear, the tote fuels the sport. Equally as true is that without state and municipal coffers being fed the use of such valuable real estate would cease to be a reality. If the current trend of racinos doesn't scare you then you underestimate the power of greed. VLT’s require much less investment and risk than racing. As they prove themselves a dependable source of revenue and fans start to dwindle do you trust the government(s) to supplement the racing industry? The more likely scenario is that governments insatiable appetite for revenue will turn racinos into casinos surrounded by taxable development.
One may argue that a racino isn’t always as profitable as racing, citing Gulfstream Park’s decision to remove some slots this year. The removal of some slots is not proof that the return on them is not better than the ROI on racing. It is apparent that slots at Gulfstream have not produced any obvious enhancement to racing. The purses are not attractive. There are problems with the track and the racing facilities. The Breeders Cup committee did not view the venue suitable to present the fall showcase. What were they thinking when they designed the complex? All that remains is the slow decline of racing. The real estate is worth much more to Magna developed than as a race track.
As a race fan and a New Yorker, I am extremely concerned that NYRA’s new contract cedes title to Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga to the state. What happens when the bettors inevitably start to decline? Are we to trust the state to patiently help nurture new fans? I think fans feel that the institution of racing and such institutional landmarks as Saratoga Race Course are safe from the talons of greed. Friends in the industry have told me that they felt that way about Hialeah and Ak-Sar-Ben! This year we say good bye to Bay Meadows and Hollywood Park seems destined to the same fate. Where next?
The sport needs visionary leadership. It needs to take care of the fans and to nurture new ones. Without fans the sport will die. What can be done? First, let the racing be seen, free! Properly promote the sport outside of the trade publications. Try to create curiosity and interest in those with little or no exposure to racing. Stop worrying about the betting dollar because without fans there will be none! If targeting bettors is a must then make the desirability of the service the issue not the signal. Let the fans see the races! The weekend of the Louisiana Derby was a perfect example of the problems in action. When a fan as passionate as I am has to run maneuvers to see the best races how can racing attract new fans?
I implore the industry to stop acting like warring nations. Keep your eyes on the strength of the sport; the RACES! The institution of racing is not untouchable there is an institution much stronger: GREED!

*I have added the text of my comment to Jonah Lehrer to the end of the blog entry for May 4th. So for anyone who didn't follow the link you can now view it here at It's a Shame.

Sunday, May 11, 2008


No matter what notes I make to write an entry it always seems to wander in its own direction. Yesterday's entry is a perfect example. While I wanted to discuss the CDI situation I really had intended them as an example to point out a different, larger problem. Today I could continue with another entire discussion about their (CDI's) problems at Calder but it's easy to point fingers and not so easy to find solutions. Today I'd rather try what I set out to do yesterday, offer a solution to what I see as racing's biggest problem: disorganization.

I believe the lack of organization results from there not being any mediate body that has any power. There is the NTRA but it's power is non-existent as far as I can tell. Alex Waldrop can state anything he wants, as far as I can see it holds no sway over a single person. More often than not the NTRA seems to be a cushion between the industry players and the public. The largest industry players CDI, Magna and NYRA all act and negotiate for themselves with little thought, if any, as far as I can tell, toward the industry in general. Then there are the plenitude of Horsemen's associations, which are splintered by state and concern. Figuring out which is representative of whom is a full time job in itself. And as we can see illustrated in the CDI situation at Churchill you can pick one from list A or B depending upon your appetite. Then there's the Jockey Guild. Of course if we gauge what influence they have by the situation at Arlington Park (another CDI holding) where they have been fighting -unsuccessfully- for almost two years, to increase their mount fee from $45 to $75 dollars, one would have to argue that their only influence would be through the courts. Of course mount fees are an issue for another player, the owners (if you can't afford to maintain it don't drive it off the lot!). And we have the ADW's. Oh, I almost forgot, then there is also racing's biggest partner: government! And now many state governments seem to have partners in the casino business. Yes, this is the simplified model! YIKES!

How do you get all these parties together and come up with a working model that is not only equitable to each but also serves the best interest of the sport? You need a model of industry standards (pcts. fees etc.) that are fair and malleable enough that they can be changed to reflect the economic situation each faces. Then you need a governing body that has some teeth and can enforce decisions.

Any such body should be as lean as possible. It should not be allowed to become an industry in itself! Where ever there's a lot of money that is what is most likely to happen. One suggestion may be to have each entity (with the exception of ADW's or any betting outlets. They are the remoras in the tank as I see it.) vote for representatives that will sit together, negotiate and vote on issues of pcts., fees, race schedules, etc. with a 2/3 majority necessary for passage. So as I see it there would be tracks, horsemen, jockeys and owners. I think the first two should have equal representation let's say, six members each. The jockeys and owners should have one third representation, or two members each, because their biggest concerns are not as embroiled in these issues as the other two. Quite often their interests would coincide with the horsemen's since money allocated for the racing is what funds purses, maintenance of the tracks / facilities etc. And a lot of the owner's interests lay in the breeding end of the business.

Once these reps have been appointed have this body hammer out a binding agreement. The best way to see this accomplished is to not let any racing take place unless one is agreed upon. Everybody is more likely to negotiate when they are hurting. And we all hurt proportionately to how we gain. Of course this would have to be enforced by government bodies and they would lose cherished tax dollars every day - and they may be the greediest of all the parties - so I'm not sure they would agree to this.

As I said this needs to be a very trim organization made up of representatives AND ONLY representatives. Get them one room -in the worst part of town if it would expedite decisions! -
and set a calender to meet bi-annually with the ability to call for a meeting or whatever seems best. It is imperative that the members be working in the industry. This should not turn into an agency that needs its own offices etc. It must not end up like so many non-profits that start with good intentions but end up being just lucrative endeavors for a board of directors who then become money managers. And they must not be paid. (Maybe we should get back to this in congress as well!)

Okay, I know this is all pie in the sky. It is not a truly workable model; it is not meant to be. It is naive and simplified. It is just an idea meant to open up a dialogue . From where I sit there's a big problem and action is needed. Ideas are needed for action. So that's what it's meant to be, an idea for a start. There is so much waste and greed and it's hurting the industry as a whole. So much of how things are structured in the industry makes no sense.

Here in NY we have NYRA that has just received the go ahead to continue conducting racing in NY for 25 years. But we also have regional OTB's as well. This makes NO sense. Why splinter revenue when it shouldn't be? The OTB's have budget problems, so now it seems as though the government will allow Capitol District OTB's to adjust the fees they have to pay out. This is going to result in a net loss of $12 million for NYRA (if the figures are accurate) So now NYRA is already playing catch up after figuring an operating budget etc. I can only imagine that the NYC OTB's are going to get at least as sweet a deal! Shortfalls for NYRA will obviously lead to larger takeouts. It doesn't make any sense to have more than one entity conducting business in this case. Why is there a need to support another entire organization to do a job that is best suited to be run by NYRA. It just creates more expenses that have to be made up somewhere by somebody. That somebody is usually (always) the fan. And a fan already pays approximately 6% of their winnings to OTB if they play there even on in state wagers. What does the fan get for this 6%? Usually bad monitors, too few and unfocused tellers, broken betting machines and poor access to industry publications! Unbelievable! If you were going to make money off someones winnings wouldn't you do all you could to maximize their ability to win?

I know there are those who are much more knowledgeable about how all this works than I am. I know they will see inaccuracies in what I have written that I am unaware of. It's just so convoluted and I'm trying to make the best sense of it that I can. I wonder if anyone really understands it all? One thing that is obvious is that the whole system is broken from the national model to the local model, and something needs to be done. Greed is killing the sport. The fight for the dollar is making them all forget that the sport needs to be healthy to continue collecting those dollars.

The first two entries I wrote when I started this blog touched on the lack of vision caused by greed in the industry (Repeat Performance). I have a feeling it will be an issue revisited many, many more times. I have a sense that as I start to unravel exactly how everything works the situation will appear worse to me instead of better.

As an aside, I have decided to put any late comments I have on a days racing at the end of that days entry. I will signify this as I did in yesterdays title. The entry title will be followed by......and late racing.

Added 5/13/08 An update on Jockey situation at Arlington. DRF

Saturday, May 10, 2008

CDI What A Mess! ............and late racing

At Churchill the racing industry infighting continues. The issue? - money what else? I won't even get into the situation at Calder. I'll limit my comments to the situation at Churchill Downs. CDI has announced it will cut purses 20% effective May 14 (BH). Specifically the cut will be in overnight stakes. This is obviously meant to punish it's local community of horseman. Overnight stakes, in my opinion, make up the most important pool of purses for horseman at each particular track. That is because although the purses are substantially increased from those usually at a track they are not so high that they will usually lure out-of town entries. Certainly not those from far out of town. This has the effect of injecting the money back into the stabled community keeping it healthier. If you can't make money you won't stick around. For those who don't have a stable with graded talent (most of them) it is a chance to stay alive. This move by CDI is a thinly veiled attempt to whip it's horseman into submission. Here' how CDI put it:

“We have been left with no option but to reduce overnight purses to offset the amount of lost handle because Kentucky horsemen have prevented horse racing fans from wagering through ADW platforms,” Churchill Downs president Steve Sexton said in the release. “We are disappointed because the failure to send the signal will negatively impact the product both on and off the racetrack. While we are still hopeful this impasse can be resolved, we have no choice but to act now.”

The cut the horseman are asking for is one third the revenue (DRF). That seems reasonable to me. They are the ones getting up every morning, are in care of the product, take the risks and quite simply put, they put on the show. Without them there is nothing to sell.

It's amazing to me that horsemen cannot form a stronger front. It seems to me that all the power is in their hands yet they always seem to be negotiating from a weaker position. In some ways they do it to themselves. Here's an example:

Horsemen in Kentucky are being represented in their negotiations with Churchill over the account-wagering rights by the Thoroughbred Horsemen's Group, a company formed last year to seek a higher cut of the revenues from in-home betting. Officials of the Thoroughbred Horsemen's Group have said that they will not give approval to send the signal to or XpressBet unless horsemen receive one-third of the revenue from the services.

Flannery confirmed that Churchill is no longer seeking to negotiate with the horsemen's group over the signal rights, and that they have instead sought to conduct negotiations with the Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, which represents the majority of trainers at Churchill. Two weeks ago, Churchill sued the Thoroughbred Horsemen's Group, alleging that the company was violating the Sherman Anit-Trust Act.

The way I read this is that CDI didn't get the result they wanted from talking to the appointed negotiating party so they decided to find a different party of horsemen to negotiate with. One that may be more amenable to bowing to their will. I decided not to finish law school so I don't know enough about The Sherman Anti-Trust Act but you can look at it for yourself and make up your own mind. I would question who is in violation. Perhaps the best defense is a strong offense! But my question to the horseman is: why don't you just form one strong representative body so that you can conduct strong negotiations based on agreement among your membership? The negotiations hardly seem legitimate if they can't be enforceable. And how can they be enforceable if an agreement is made with a body that does not represent the affected party? Is there any wonder why the industry is in the mess it is?

In that same DRF article I found it very interesting that Since last year, Churchill has declined to make its handle figures publicly available except in quarterly and annual financial reports. I'm amazed that that's legal. Aren't they publicly traded? As I said I'm no expert on these matters.

None of the talk of percentages, takeout, ADW's, OTB's -I can go on - is made very clear. We are never given any concrete numbers or facts. There is absolutely NO transparency. That is what the industry needs! Make all parties legally responsible to make ALL and EVERY dollar amount public! Income, costs, payouts, cuts etc... Maybe they need to be regulated. Mention regulation with an honest possibility of it occurring and maybe we'll get a true picture of what's happening. It all is presented in way that is much more complicated than it seems it should be. I'm sure that's no coincidence either.

As ever, when there is an argument in the industry the fan suffers. In this instance by the inability to watch the races or to wager on them. If the situations continues by the reduced quality of racing. In the long run the industry is self destructive.

Have you ever wondered if the tote is true? I have been to the track on some big days and I look at the pools and I think there's no way that's all that's in the pool! I guess I don't trust any of them. Ever wonder how some of these entities are able to give the rebates to those large off-shore parlors? Does that come out as an operating expenses before the takeout is figured? I want to know how it works and will continue to try to make sense of it all. Right now I'm just thinking out loud.

On a lighter note there is another interesting article on the Bloodhorse site today about injuries. I was particularly interested about the information that 4 year olds have the highest incidence of catastrophic injuries. Now at face value this seems counter intuitive. But, when I thought about it more I had to wonder how many of those horses had run at 2 and 3? And of those it is reasonable to assume that they were good or valuable enough to hang around. So the injured,weak or the poor runners have already been culled out. There is a good possibility that the fact that 4 year olds are more likely to break down is another reason not to run them early. Let's get some stats on the percentage of horses that have broke down at 4 that did not start until three. Then we can compare that to horses started at two and we may have something valuable. Facts and statistics are seldom as clear as they appear to be.

Late Notes:
We all saw Casino Drive blow away the field in the GII Peter Pan. A very impressive victory, yet I can't say the field was a very strong one. But that was also said (not by me) about the Derby Field. Nonetheless, it does set up the very exciting possibility of Better Than Honor being the dam of three consecutive Belmont Stakes winners. What odds would you have given to take that bet? I'm sure we would have all spent the take already! I would have bet against any mare having produced three consecutive Belmont starters! Amazing! Patrick at Handride had an entertaining take on the race.

I was also very impressed with Lucky Island in The Bold Ruler (GIII). He really had to grind it out for a while in the stretch, maintained his poise and intensity to be much the best at the finish.
In the Lone Star Derby (GIII) El Gato Malo proved he is not going to go away. He ran into a bit of trouble coming round the final turn. there was some bumping and it looked like he was being pinched but he fought on determinedly and got the job done. A pretty gritty performance. I love to see a horse that doesn't quit in situations like that.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Friday Notes

An article in The Times Union by Tim Wilkin, had John Lee -NYRA's director of Communications- back stepping faster than Michael Jackson doing the moonwalk about replacing the tracks with synthetics. He says he was misinterpreted. I give him the benefit of the doubt. But, I don't think this is the last we'll hear about this issue.

The Jockey Club has appointed a seven member 'Safety Committee,' to study every aspect of the sport and how each relates to the welfare of the horse. Well there's nothing wrong with that but it's made up of people who are in the industry, have been for most of their lives and could have implemented changes and up until now haven't. In the Blood Horse report I read Greg Avioli, applauds J.C. efforts. In The Times Union article NTRA president, Alex Waldrop is doing the praising. Sometimes it just gets too much to take! I just can't stand all this backslapping for nothing. I'm not saying that something good will not come out of the findings - it better- but it smacks of the same old problem in the world: lip service and no action. Or lip service until the incident and it's after effects have blown over. ARRRRRR!

I really like where the Peter Pan has been placed, it makes a lot more sense. It should have the effect of us in NY getting to see some real nice horses at home. I'm still not crazy about The Woodward ending the Saratoga meet as opposed to opening the fall Belmont meet. As much as we all love Saratoga it already has an embarrassment of riches and it just seems a perfect way to kick off the fall racing. I think it fits into the racing calendar better as well, as the Peter Pan does now.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Synthetics in NY?

There's a lot of news out this morning and I haven't time to address more than one issue and even that only briefly. I'll try to add to my comments later and save the other topics for another day. Without any more ado...

This morning I learned that NYRA is considering replacing all the racing surfaces with synthetics. What! We are all aware of the overflow of bad press that has resulted from Eight Bells' breakdown, but this seems like a knee-jerk reaction to press, not a well thought out or researched decision. To release news of this magnitude is just a bad idea. In the mind of the public, I believe, stating they are considering this change is tantamount to saying it will be done. The fact that they said this makes me believe it is inevitable as well. Now if they don't go ahead and install these surfaces the first time a horse breaks down they will be labeled killers; and we all know breakdowns are going to occur. The same outcome will manifest itself if they change the surface at one venue but not the others. It would have been much more prudent to state that they would install a synthetic surface over the Belmont training track and to hold off issuing that news until they have actually decided to do so and how they will pay for it. Never promise a child ice cream and give them an empty cone. Also such a move seems a reasonable one and would allow some observations as to how a surface would fare in the North East during a year. What's wrong with that! Does anyone know how these surfaces respond to the weather variations we have here in NY? Again it seems to be putting the cart in front of the horse. I know I seem to be overreacting to this news but with the climate of public opinion and the press at the moment I think it was unwise to overstate anything. I was also unaware that the tracks at Belmont, either the main or training track, were considered poor training / racing surfaces. I was under the impression that quite the opposite is true.The same for Saratoga, especially the training track, as deep as it is I can't imagine the surface is unsafe. The main track at Aqueduct, we all know has problems, but with a fifty million dollar price tag to do all the tracks (and if that's their estimate, we all know it will cost more -reason not to do them all?) which track do you think is odd man out? Does anyone think they will install a synthetic at Belmont and then run at Aqueduct in the winter?Those nasty rumors of winter racing at Belmont are starting to haunt me. Adios Aqueduct?

It seems to me California acted hastily in their decision to change all their racing surfaces to synthetics. Let's learn a little from the toe they stubbed. Along with the travesty at Santa Anita this spring Del Mar, the premier meet of the west coast, got a bit of a black eye last year as a result of the surface. Their loss was Saratoga's gain.

It may be that these surfaces are the way of the future, in that case they will be here soon enough. However, let's march to the future having done our homework and having learned from any mistakes other's have made along the way. Public opinion, no matter how overwhelming, isn't always correct. Let's not bow to it just because of its' weight. Let's make information and the consideration of all possibilities the basis of a decision. Let's get this right!

Lot's more thoughts about this...

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Flux or Flub ?

Whenever crises' occur the calls and challenges for change are heard. This is true regardless of the size or scope of an an issue. It can be national security, the economy or the much smaller stage of horse racing. We work under the assumption that these crises could or would have been avoided had the players done something different. The truth is we will never know for sure; there is no way to go back and do it again. Was Eight Belles' breakdown avoidable? I don't see how anyone could say it was. Sometimes bad things happen. PETA and other activist organizations always try to take advantage of tragic happenings. Their arguments under these circumstances are always ad populum arguments. Obviously, in a situation such as this, every one's emotions are going to be sympathetic to the horse (horses by extension). Further, these arguments portray their target as having the opposite sentiments; that is simply not the case here. Just because Eight Belles broke down doesn't mean that the industry doesn't care about the horses. Again just the opposite is true. Their contentions that the surface or the whip was necessarily a cause of the accident also commits an argumentative fallacy. This is an atypical occurrence. It does not follow that because breakdowns occur (let alone this particular breakdown) then all industry practices are wrong or inhumane. And it doesn't prove that all horses that feel the whip are going to break down or are abused.

The industry is concerned about the care and treatment of horses, lessening the occurrences of breakdowns and portraying the sport in a positive light. But, I agree they can do more. First and foremost they have to act as united industry. Positive change is not going to occur if every racing jurisdiction doesn't adopt uniform rules. The first issue that needs to be agreed on is a uniform drug policy that will include steroids. Decide what's legal and what's illegal and have good reason for making those decisions. If bute or another substance is deemed legal to use during training then make it known that on race day any amount above allowable limits will result in an extreme penalty, suspension or both. In regard to serious violations, banned substances, etc., it should be a once and you're out policy. A trainer is responsible for his barn. Biancone should be gone. This is necessary to show the public that the industry is serious and does care about the treatment of the horses. The public needs to know that the horses' well being is not being compromised for a pot of gold. And, further, the handicappers need to have confidence that the product they are investing in is legitimate. No compromise is acceptable. A slap on the hand and lip service is not enough.

Surfaces are the talk of the industry at the moment. I believe a lot more needs to be known before we all embrace the synthetics. The statistics are far from decisive. There are so many variables they may never be. Just comparing numbers is not enough. The types and ages of horses using those synthetics need to be taken into account. The weather conditions as well. For those of us who watch winter racing in NY we have become used to seeing many of the same old warriors year after year. These horses have already proven themselves pretty durable. With this class/type of horse running I would expect to see fewer injuries/breakdowns no matter the surface. With 2 and 3 year old Graded races I would expect that the extreme level of competition and age of the horses would result in more injuries no matter the surface. I really don't know if these assumptions are true, I'll look into it.

We do hear of different types of injuries and soreness occurring in horses training on synthetics, particularly hind end soreness. My theory on this is that they can't grab the surface quite as well so their hind legs slip ever so slightly as they propel themselves. Maybe certain horses won't extend themselves when they feel this. Also I don't think the issue of going from synthetic to dirt has been looked at enough, if at all. As I understand it, in humans, the stress of concussion helps strengthen bones. And the stress of resistance training helps develop muscle. Obviously too much concussion can lead to tragic events, but we need some stress to maintain strong bones and muscle. So my concern is: will we see an increased occurrence of injuries in horses that switch from synthetics to dirt? Do they get enough concussion on the synthetics? I prefer watching racing on dirt. I believe that dirt tracks can be made as safe as any. But, if it can be proven otherwise, so be it.

Obviously there are many more issues that need to be dealt with. And just because the arguments made by PETA are not logical that does not mean that some of the issues that they point to are not legitimate. If they weren't there wouldn't already be rules in place about excessive whipping or the controversy now taking place about synthetics. But progress does need to be made. The industry needs to show they are in a state of positive flux trying to improve conditions. If they don't it will be just another tragically flubbed situation.

The last thing I'll add here is that I think the biggest crime resulting from this situation is the damage PETA's statements are meant to cause Gabriel Saez. How can one not feel for him? Twenty years old, first Derby, a well ridden race and then... I'm sure no one feels as badly as he does. To try to crucify him, to me, illustrates inhumane treatment by PETA. They could make their point without whipping him so much after the wire! I read a comment somewhere where the writer suggested he (Saez) should sue them for libel. I'm sure he'll act with more class than that (he already has) but they deserve worse. Shame on them!

Monday, May 5, 2008

It's a Shame

It's so unfortunate how much negativism is occurring because of Eight Belles breakdown. I know those of us who are fans don't enjoy seeing them happen (breakdowns), but I suppose we accept them more easily than the non-fan. Acceptance is not the same as callousness. We are not immune to the tragedy, nor the emotions or empathy that any human would feel under such circumstances. I am also surprised at how much criticism is being thrown around about the handling of the tragedy and not just at the industry in general. It's been aimed at everyone and thing from NBC to Donna Brothers to Larry Jones. Richard Sanomir and William Rhoden's articles in the NYT are certainly making the rounds. Alan Left at the Gate mentioned Rhoden's article yesterday and I more or less expected that was the last I would see of it. So you can imagine how surprised I was when I went to visit another of my favorite blogs - The Frontal Cortex, not horse related (usually) - and I was again faced with Rhoden's article. Jonah Lehrer writes a terrific blog and he has a great book out, Proust Was A Neuroscientist, and I urge you all to give it a visit. However, I obviously disagree with his opinion (he is in agreement with Rhoden) on this issue. Yesterday, I didn't comment directly on Rhoden's comments at Allan's blog because I didn't really think them worth response. But, today, encountering the article again, in a completely different context and arena, I felt more compelled. So rather than repeat myself here's the link: The Frontal Cortex.

**For convenience I have added the text below -with some spelling corrections-on 5/12/08. But please do visit Jonah's site, it is very good.The Frontal Cortex.

Jonah, I don't agree with you or Rhoden at all. I think that it would be an enlightening experience for you to work at a track for a while and then see if you still feel the same way. You obviously have diligently applied yourself in the areas of your choosing. I'm certain your experiences in those areas have informed your opinions; from your time and experience in the lab to that of the kitchen. It's very easy to criticize the worst part of anything, it's the worst part of it! But I have experienced more heart and soul in the race industry than anywhere else. Risk is inherent in almost everything. There is more in horseracing; some activities do present greater risk than others. No one in the industry wants injuries to occur nor are they immune to the tragedy. They are an unfortunate reality that is part of the business. The more an activity is performed the more every possible outcome will occur. But make no mistake, the horses are very well trained and cared for athletes, especially those running at the level of the Kentucky Derby. The argument that these horses are forced to do this I can't address. No one can really know what their thoughts are, but I do know many seem to love and thrive on the competition. Rhoden's comparison of racing to bullfighting is just absurd. As to the question of why is H.Racing given a pass? I think the question is phrased so there can't be a proper response. It implies guilt. Again, I urge you to go work at the track for a bit. While there are good and bad (people, systems and intentions) in every aspect in life, I certainly have not seen any hint of ill intent by anyone I have encountered in the industry; there is no guilt that I have seen. Again this is not to say the industry does not have serious issues they need to deal with. Perhaps as an industry there is some guilt in not dealing with those issues as one body, but that is off point here. Horseracing does have wonderful tradition and it does generate lots and lots of revenue for state and local governments. Since when are they bad things? I can't talk to the issue of dog racing I have no knowledge or experience of it. I like many others have heard the hearsay, I don't know the facts. In his article Rhoden also wrongly attributes intention to Larry Jones' (Eight Belles trainer) comments when he writes "But even through the grief, Jones instinctively toed the industry line about racing." I think it's irresponsible reporting. It should have properly been attributed that in his (Rhoden's) opinion that was what Jones' was doing. Again a sentence phrased so as to imply guilt. Just irresponsible (and this is in The NYT). Jones has been in the sport a long time. We all are familiar with the downside of whatever profession we work in and Jones obviously was dealing with a highly emotional and difficult situation. Rhoden's portrayal of Jones would make any reader think that Jones' grief was less than sincere. It also makes it seem that Jones' response was defensive as if he believed he needed to defend the industry he has dedicated his life to. In my opinion, if Jones was defensive I believe that Rhoden likely made him feel that way if indeed he actually was the one interviewing him. Racing is a wonderful sport that has inherent in its nature, the risk of very tragic events. It is very unfortunate that one of those occurrences had to part of the Kentucky Derby.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Big Brown

It is exciting when you know you are seeing something special. Anyone watching Big Brown's performance in the Kentucky Derby had to be excited. He was lucky enough to get the perfect trip and the perfect ride from Desormeaux, but that was as much a result of design and talent than anything else. There are times when I am happy to be wrong and this is one of them. I didn't think he could win this race, having had only three prior starts and breaking from post 20. He hadn't been tested against the best three year olds. But yesterday I think he could have run the race in the 20 path all the way around and won.

Seeing Big Brown after the race,walking along as cool and calm as if he were walking the shed row, for me, was the most amazing sight of all. It was as if he hadn't even ran. One has to think that the mile and a half Belmont distance won't present any problem for him. But that is putting the cart before the horse.

Colonel John and Pyro gave each other a pretty good bump at the start and never got to be a factor in the race. Big Brown will still have to overcome some race circumstances, like those bumps at the start. He has not yet had to contend with any problems but to get the grail he more than likely will. But, today it's much easier to see why Richard Dutrow has been so confident. Very good horses rarely get themselves in trouble and perhaps that is why he has avoided any problems thus far. Until the Derby the two best horses he had beaten were Smooth Air and Tomcito. Both nice horses but certainly not two that would have been rated with the top of their class. But now he's beaten the class and we can't wait for the Preakness. Let's hope that his foot problems are behind him and that we get to see this colt have his chance to make history.

Great horses make everyone around them great. Their stories are often the result of strange circumstances and twists of fate. In racing attrition seems to work in reverse. Instead of eliminating one's chances, if one is competent enough and perseveres there is enough luck that some usually finds everyone. For an owner, trainer or jockey to get a Kentucky Derby winner not only do they have to be good, they also have to be looked upon by Lady Luck. Then there are those who have come close to having that lightning strike and we feel for them when it doesn't. This year, as last year, with Curlin and Helen Pitts, one has to wonder what Patrick Reynolds is feeling? And how nice a story would it have been if Bernie Stutts had won with Smooth Air? I'm sure the gods of racing have their reasons.

I've read suggestions that this year's crop of three year olds is a weak one. I think perhaps this year's crop, as a whole, hasn't had the race experience of past years, but I don't believe the horses that lined up for the Derby are a particularly weak group. They were just beaten by a superior horse. I wrote in my Derby Picks entry that I didn't think Big Brown was a Curlin. Well, I can't wait to find out if I've erred on that account as well. It's a long way to the Classic but Big Brown promises to make it an exciting ride!

Saturday, May 3, 2008

134 Kentucky Derby 134

Wow-ouch! Thoroughbred racing is like no other sport on earth. It exhilarates and it hurts; it exalts and it humbles. It makes us brave and it makes us cry. Most of all it demands that we cannot escape our humanness. Through it we experience life and death. If one was able to watch the 134th Kentucky Derby and not shed tears for Eight Belles then you are not alive. If one was able to watch the 134th Kentucky Derby and not be absolutely astonished and awed by a colt named Big Brown then you are not alive. Eight Belles broke down after the wire, breaking both front ankles and had to be euthanized on the track. Eight Belles, like every single thoroughbred who breaks down, whether they be a $1500 claimer or a filly running second to a colt in the Kentucky Derby, give their life for what they were born to do, what they love to do; run as fast as they can for as far as they are able. That is what humbles us: brilliance, focus, ability and success. I think we experienced true greatness today both in Big Brown and in Eight Belles.

Life is fragile. We know that for something to live something else must give its' life. That is simply the law of existing. Seldom is it played out on a stage as dramatic as an event with the magnitude of the Kentucky Derby. But today it was. Today, we saw another undefeated Kentucky Derby winner. He adds his name to a short list of, Barbaro, Smarty Jones, Seattle Slew, Majestic Prince, Morvich and ironically, the filly named Regret. He won like few have. He left all but the lone filly far behind, accelerating away from the herd as though he had entered the race at the top of the stretch. After it had ended there was no sign of exertion, no lather, no flared nostrils, just a buck to toss his jockey, Kent Desormeaux, to the ground as if to grab the spotlight for himself. It seems that Big Brown has enough of a class edge over his peers that he has to be considered the best chance since 1978 to go on and win the first triple crown since Affirmed. Perhaps we are witness to the emergence of one of the greatest horses of all time. But nothing comes for free. For everything great there is great sacrifice. Unfortunately, that sacrifice manifest itself in the loss of the exceptional filly, Eight Belles. If Big Brown does go on to make history the loss of Eight Belles will not mar that accomplishment. His accomplishment would assure that she is forever remembered. So let's hope Big Brown goes on to become worthy of her loss. Let's revel in the ultimate emotional and physical exhibition of thoroughbred horse racing. Let's exalt in the victory of Big Brown and mourn with the connections of Eight Belles. I love this sport.