Monday, June 30, 2008

Heatseeking Disappointment

It's always disappointing when a good one is retired, especially when it appeared the best was yet to come. So, when I read the news that Heatseeker was retired because of a suspensory I just had to sigh. When he was scratched from the Hollywood Gold Cup it was reported that he had an ankle problem that was not thought to be serious. It's just too bad. Racing can't afford to lose it's stars. Obviously this can happen to any horse. One certainly can't blame his pedigree for this injury but it reminds us that the breeding industry needs to refocus on the aim of their endeavour. Unfortunately in the U.S. it seems that the aim of all endeavours these days is money first and true essence somewhere thereafter. The aim of breeding ought to be to breed the best horse we can. As I have said in a previous entry, to me, this means to produce a horse that can carry weight with speed over a route of ground. All three attributes are necessary to have a great horse. Even with the best intentions not all horses will have these qualities. So don't worry the sprints will never be in danger of disappearing! But they are not my favorite races and I truly dislike the creeping shortening of the majority of races written. I don't care to see a 5-1/2 furlong race and I especially hope to never see one in the Breeder's Cup! You can always watch the quarters.

I'm sure most of the industry breathed a sigh of relief when none of Bruce Levine's 41 came back positive! Finally some good news!

This weeks Final Turn column, by Robert Laurence, in the Bloodhorse is a good one. I don't necessarily agree 100% with his ominous conclusion but it must be contended with.

So, a subsidy, or we downsize to about five or six tracks, nationwide, and maybe a thousand new foals a year. I have nothing against subsidies. Lots of industries get them, directly or indirectly. But let’s be honest enough to admit that that’s what we’re doing—getting money that, if the market were left free and unregulated, would be going elsewhere. Let’s drop the smugness and sense of entitlement. We aren’t owed a cut of the slot machine take. We’ll turn the clubhouses into casinos, and run races that will barely be noticed by the players. We’ll take some of the money poured into the slots in order to keep our industry going. And we’ll hope that it will be enough.

My questions would be why? Why can't we attract new fans? Why can't we compete with the other sports? Why does a programmed slot machine have an edge over the excitement of horse racing? Answer those questions and maybe racing won't need subsidies! I know one of the answers I wrote about it in a previous post : GREED. If we don't start figuring out the answers Mr. Laurence will, undoubtedly, end up looking like Nostradamus!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Positive Experiences

In Kentucky Dutrow has taken responsibility for a barn error in administering clenbuterol too few days out from Salute the Count's race. Mistakes happen and I certainly believe that is what this was, a mistake. In the Blood Horse article on the subject what I found most interesting was not the report on the incident but the quote by IEAH's Mike Iavorone:

"We had serious thoughts of taking all the horses out of the barn. But IEAH has won over 400 races since its inception and Rick has won over 200 of them..."

This seems like an odd statement to me considering the 'love in' that took place during the Triple Crown run. Isn't there any sense of loyalty anymore? I mean if he has won half of all their races and the way the stable so vociferously defended Dutrow, in the hardly distant past, isn't it a little disconcerting that they would even consider unceremoniously dumping Dutrow because of this event? Especially without even talking to him about it first? It would be to me if I were Dutrow. IEAH seems like a runaway horse; so erratic that you never know what they are going to do. Their statement that their horses would no longer run on any meds following the Big Bungle is a laudable announcement but in light of this most recent news it makes me think perhaps they protest too much! If they were so aware and sensitive to these issues to begin with they would probably not have singled Dutrow out as their go-to guy to begin with. I would like to have seen a little more unity demonstrated by team Brown under these circumstances. It would have made me feel a little better about all involved. As it is, Dutrow got colicky instead of testifying in front of congress, his barn screws up and gets him a suspension for a drug infraction and IEAH seems to running the wrong way around the oval. I give Dutrow credit for addressing the media about his suspension and the circumstances and I give owner Michael Dubb credit for doing the right thing from the start.

As long as I'm talking about loyalty let's look at someone who gets it right. I'm talking about Maggi Moss deciding to help defend Steve Asmussen in his case with Texas Racing Commission. This case has got to be worrisome to anyone reading about it. It seems as though Asmussen is being railroaded down the tracks without any recourse to defend himself. Again mistakes can and do happen, but this is a detail oriented man and with all that's at stake with Curlin the remainder of the year it's unimaginable that he would make such a mistake. Also the handling of the samples seems a comedy of errors. I'd like to believe that the TRC is a fair judge on such important matters but the deck sure seems stacked when Steve's only recourse to have a sample re-tested is a laboratory that the TRC determines. That is not to say that all parties involved are not operating honestly but it certainly can give the impression of impropriety. And as anyone who has read my blogs knows I think the issue that is most important for racing to survive is that of integrity in every aspect of it's operations. The TRC's handling of this issue is just wrong. Maggi Moss thinks so also. And she sees the larger picture involved here as well.

“I think this is much bigger than Steve,” Moss said June 27. “I am taking it on for the love of racing because I don’t like the way things are going. This is getting very big. I think there a lot of misunderstandings.” [Bloodhorse Article]

All I can say is good for her! I hope that the truth is served here and I hope that the truth is on Asmussens side.

We're all getting ready for the penultimate meets of the year, Saratoga and Del Mar. The track will probably be the biggest issue once again for Del Mar and perhaps California racing overall. Here in the East NYRA has been stumping about their 'new' and 'improved' meet. I think Marilyn Lane's article, in Saratoga Today is right on target with her observations about the meet and it's problems.

Monastic Springs (*GB) runs today in the 7th at Belmont. A 1 -1/16 (T) open 56K Alw. contest If you didn't get to see him break his maiden you might remember the Alan Goldberg trained colt from a past blog entry of mine about that race. The first foal of Ipi Tombi he was more than impressive in his debut. This is just the type of spot I like to see a colt like him return. I think it's much better than going to run in a weak stakes race just to get black type. We'll get a much better idea just how good he may be.

While on the subject of weak stakes races the GI Mother Goose at Belmont is a perfect example. Proud Spell will face just three opponents, none of which have any graded stakes experience. Is it possible she gets beat? - In racing anything is possible. But the point I would like to make is that so many of these Stakes are woefully short on talent and field size. How can a race like the Mother Goose retain a G.I designation with this type of field? I would be in favor of automatically dropping a Stake a grade if it doesn't have at least 5 entrants and doesn't start at least 2 entrants of graded stakes experience. A race needs to have some form to be a contest! Of course this can't be imposed on the 2 and 3 year old races but maybe the conditions for those should be tougher also. In my opinion there's too much chaff getting black type in those categories.

As a final note is, Kindling in the 9th at Churchill an 8ok OC 1mile T event. She was a filly that had impressed me in a run not long ago but has never seemed to move forward as I thought she would. I'm hoping today might be the day she makes me feel better about my past assessment. If she doesn't I think I'll just give up on her.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Random Notes

It seemed there was a slow spot there for a few days if my blog and the others I frequent are any indication. But things do heat up quickly. High profile figures are being suspended everywhere. Asmussen gets time in Texas, Dutrow hears the knell in Kentucky and Jeremy Rose gets dismounted in Delaware (for a long time). I didn't see the Rose incident. I did read his statement. With all the bad publicity and accusations PETA made following the Eight Belles incident there would seem little to no room for allowing any jockey infraction involving any perceived cruelty to a horse. It's bad timing for Jeremy Rose. I'll suspend any personal judgement until I get to see the race myself. But the oddest case has to be Dutrow's. His horse Salute the Count tested twice as high as the legal limit for Clenbuterol. It seems as much a setup as Larry Jones to me! It could be just a mix up but I just can't believe his barn would mix things up that badly. These high profile penalties seem curious and look really bad for racing especially coming, as they are, right on the heals of the Senate hearings.

In New York Joseph Bruno has decided to step down as Majority Leader! He stated all the reasons that we expect to hear: family, satisfaction with his achievements etc... if you're the person out there who believes it write me and please include your Mars zip code. It will be very interesting to see where Mr. Bruno surfaces again! I know where I'm betting it will be. I liked the editorial in the Times Union.

On a lighter note, I can't wait to watch the Hollywood Gold Cup Saturday! Heat Seeker seems to just be getting better and better but one of my favorite old warriors, 9 year old Perfect Drift, is running and while I don't expect him to win how I would love to see it! He's making his second start for Mandella. He finished a respectable fourth in the Shoemaker Mile (gr.IT) in May. This will be the 48th start of his career! We need more horses like him.

Posts have been a bit scarce lately. In part because there hasn't been too very much compelling news and part lack of time on my part. Hopefully, both these situations will be remedied soon.

Sunday, June 22, 2008


Racing is in BIG trouble. We have Senate hearings where the invited guests can't agree if government regulation is needed - and isn't it interesting that you can almost draw the line between the wants and the want-nots by distinguishing between those who put their money in racing and those who take their money from racing? We have invited guests that don't show up; maybe the Senate should have set up a detention hotel for Dutrow then he could have gotten his meds and felt well enough to testify! What did they expect him to add to the proceedings anyway? Wouldn't you want persons of proven character to testify as opposed to those that don't have that quality? Well, no matter, he spit the bit anyway; a true testament to his character. And we have positive tests for a trainer who has never had a horse in his charge test positive. I have never felt so low about the future for the sport.

As far as Larry Jones and the Two Buck Stable horse Stones River are concerned I believe Larry Jones 100%! He has never had a positive in his 25 year career and if he says that Stones River was at least 96 hours out then I believe him. And I'm glad Jim Squires, owner of Two Buck Stables, has the confidence to defend Jones. I have it from a believable source that there is suspicion that some in the gaming industry are behind this infraction. Money is dirty business and big money is really dirty business so I am also inclined to believe these suspicions. In any case I feel for Larry Jones as he has been a target since Eight Belles' catastrophe. It also wouldn't surprise me if PETA had something to do with this. I don't trust those people one bit. I believe they would do anything to promote their agenda. I think their agenda is more important to them than the cause they promote. That's what happens when a good idea becomes a good organization; money becomes more important than the ideal and having an enemy is necessary and an enemy that that is high profile means good profits. There are remoras everywhere just waiting to feed off of the good intentions of others. Ask Michael Blowen about that situation.

I think if this situation points to anything it points to the need for a zero tolerance policy. That way a positive is a positive. If there is an issue it is an issue of lying or tampering, period. I do believe in the absolute insurer rule, however, more needs to be done by the tracks as far as security and recognisance. Training and caring for horses at the track is a 24/7 business and the window for opportunity is great for those who have a desire to open it. As race fans, I believe, our interests are more served by the owners and horsemen. CDI, Magna, NYRA etc... don't have the same interests as us. They would be just as happy -more happy, in fact- if the fan was betting on a virtual race. They are just interested in keeping as much of the take as possible! The more they are able to take the less value you, the fan, will get back. Ditto for those in the gaming industry. That's why they are the GAMING industry not the Racing Industry.

I have a great disagreement with some industry friends in regard to government intervention. Most believe that the bureaucracy that would be created and the cost of that bureaucracy will cripple the industry. I think it will challenge the industry but in the long run will better serve it than the greed that rules it now. Also, with intervention more transparency is inevitable. Transparency of industry finances will, hopefully, bring misrepresentation of funds (fraud) into the light of day and more than make up the difference.

There are so many good people in this sport, I believe Larry Jones to be one of them, and they and the industry's legitimacy are being impugned by opportunists. The sport is not perfect, none of them are, but the impost the racing industry is forced to carry is a burden Seabiscuit couldn't overcome. Most sports are given tax breaks and exemptions, racing saddles the full load and more. It is time that the sport gets to run at even weight with the other sports and then we will see how healthy it can be.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Much Ado about nothing, so far

Well, The Thoroughbred Safety Committee released their initial report yesterday and I think that the recommendations are good ones. However, I and most other fans know, there is no way to enforce them. This is really the most lamentable situation that needs an industry remedy. I've spent a lot of time writing about this issue in the past so I won't go on about it here. Maybe something will come from the Senate hearings that are to begin today, though I wouldn't put $2 on the nose of that horse. The usual pats on the back and commendations are being thrown around in response to the report but that doesn't do a thing does it? The three main issues addressed are: elimination of all steroids (with caveats in place); ban on toe grabs; whips related reforms. Although to read the text of the report one would think that the biggest change on the whip issue is to abolish the word 'whip' from the lexicon and replace in with 'riding crop.' I really don't know what to say other than at least it's something. Well, what else can one think?

I've read a lot about how several of the steroids are "naturally occurring" so they are impossible to test for. I wonder how accurate that information is. I wonder if Floyd Landis would say that synthetic and naturally occurring testosterone is impossible to distinguish between. For those of you that don't follow bicycling at all, Landis was stripped of his Tour de France title in 2006 after it was determined that he had higher levels of testosterone in his system than is normal and that it was not naturally occurring testosterone. He of course denied doping, but the penalty remains intact after at least one court case that I know of so, at least until it is proven otherwise, I would have to make the assumption that there is a difference in the two forms. And if it can be tested for in humans it is likely to be able to be tested for in horses; albeit maybe at great expense. So maybe the issue, once again, is dollars and cents.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Asmussen: good and bad

Yesterday's news that Churchill Downs would pay a $15,000 fine issued by the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority for hiring an assistant starter just prior to the Kentucky Derby seems, like all inter-industry fines, too small and of no consequence when there should be a consequence.
Apparently Steve Asmussen wanted his own starter to load Pyro. The request, initially denied, was somehow granted and Clinton Beck was hired and loaded Pyro. Apparently no specific guilt has been assigned so an agreement was reached where Churchill will pay $15,000 and all seem happy. Although Asmussen and Beck, reportedly, will still have to meet with the stewards.
I don't see this as a happilly ever after scenario. Someones head should roll. Once again, to me, this is an issue of integrity. What if Pyro had won the Derby? Many more and serious questions would have had to been asked and answered. Doubt would be cast and a pall would have settled over the validity of the Derby. I'm not saying that improprieties were committed or intended. I don't believe they were. But I believe that everyone has to play by the same rules. The field has to be level for all. Steve Asmussen cannot be granted favors because of the power of his barn. The power of his barn already gives him an advantage, that of quality and quantity of horses. This is an obvious blunder and whoever eventually granted the request should be dismissed and Asmussen should pay the fine. Both parties need to be held accountable. I'm not sure what role Beck played other than being the pawn but he should be investigated and, if any wrongdoing is found, appropriate actions should be taken. I don't think I can state any more clearly how I feel about any issue that will infringe upon the integrity of the sport. Believe me I would like to see Steve Asmussen do well for reasons I mentioned in my previous post, however, this is just way out of bounds as far as I'm concerned. The sport cannot play favorites, regardless of the hand one holds. I guess Churchill just likes to throw things Steve's way. An extra $250,000 to run, an extra starter to load, what next?

As long as I'm on the subject of the Asmussen barn... I really hope that the experiment with Curlin on the grass works out. I hope he does end up running and winning the 'Arc. What an absolutely wonderful story that would be. Added to his Preakness, B.C. and Dubai Cup wins it would be an accomplishment of absolutely legendary proportions! Truly, in Curlin we have a horse everyone can appreciate and root for. With every race it is becoming more and more obvious that we are watching one of the true greats of all time. Relish every second, it will likely be a while before another of his ilk comes along.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Curlin the Marvelous

It is nothing short of an absolute pleasure to watch Curlin go about his business. He is the consummate professional. What a racehorse! No disappointment when he runs. Steve Asmussen must wake up with a smile every morning that Curlin is in his barn. I am very glad for him and his family. While I never got to know Steve I had the privilege of working for his family at their El Primero Training Center in Laredo. I can't imagine a harder working more deserving family of horsemen and women. It just makes me feel good to know how truly appreciated Curlin and Steve's accomplishments are back there.

Curlin seems to know exactly what he has to do every step of a race. You can feel the communication, trust and faith between him and Robby Albarado. He won the million dollar version of the Stephen Foster Handicap (gr.I) by four lengths but it could have been much more. When asked (quietly) he pulled away from Barcola, who set soft fractions of 25, 49.28, 1:13.41 and 1:37.39. He does what he has to, does it easily, saving that extra ability and energy for the day another horse may tempt fate and decide to try to look him in the eye. If that day comes there will be no quit in this horse, or Robby Albarado. While I wasn't a fan of racing in the seventies, so I can't claim first hand experience of comparing him to Secretariat or Seattle Slew, I can say unequivocally, that since I have been a race fan he is the best I have ever seen. It is a honor to watch this horse run. While I can go on interminably about him I think my friend said it as well as it could be said in her article, Curlin: An Arabian Knight. I will just add an echo of her sentiment that this horse is what racing needs.

It was also a welcome sight to see Pyro back in the winner's circle. In winning Saturday's Northern Dancer Stakes (gr.III) he ran back to his pre-Blue Grass, more expected form. He ran patiently, sitting closer than in the past and was able to draw away when urged by Bridgemohan. I heard TVG commentator, Simon Bray say that he still believes Pyro may have distance limitations. I didn't see any sign of that limitation today. He finished well and seemed to gallop out strongly. He [Simon] was responding to a question about Pyro's next possible race being the 1-1/4 mile Travers. Simon thought, and I believe correctly, that the Jim Dandy is the next most obvious race. In my opinion Simon Bray is TVG's best asset.
All in all it was another memorable day for racing fans and Steve Asmussen.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Random Notes: NYCOTB, ADW's, etc..

Apparently Governor Patterson has decided that the best solution for the NYCOTB's is a state takeover, at least temporarily. In as much as my last post would have one believe that I think government can offer improvement in the game the truth is that I feel that in all but two instances I think government should stay out of racing. Those two instances are drugs and standardizing wagering fees to insure that the money wagered gets counted where it should. And, I will go a little farther in stating that I think intervention is necessary in these two situations only because the industry has proven their inability to be able to properly deal with these issues. Governor Patterson will appoint a "temporary" board to replace the the city controlled board for a term of 90 days. Or at least that is the plan.

Paterson said the state will now embark on a study to “examine the entire racing and wagering industry’’ in New York that could include consolidating other OTB operations now scattered across the state. [Bloodhorse]

What this does to rectify the situation I don't know. Everyone knows the OTB's should be consolidated. Everyone knows there's waste and corruption where there's big money. So revenue will go to the state first, so a new bureaucracy of people will be getting paid instead of the old board, what will change? There will just be a change in the crooks. I have less faith than ever in a good outcome after reading this news. Once government gets into this business it is going to be hard to get them out; at least that's my opinion. Of course, as was expected, the state has decided that a raise of 1% in the takeout fees is part of the solution!

Another aspect to this that just flat out scares me is that:

Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno said two of the bidders vying to run the long-stalled Aqueduct casino project have also expressed interest in running NYCOTB if the state takes it over. He did not name the bidders.

It makes me believe that this was the plan all along. And I will bet my last dollar, that if Bruno is involved, Capital Play will be running the OTB's in NY before long. Of course they would like to run the OTB's, who wouldn't? Does anyone really believe the rhetoric that these are losing propositions? If there is any reason they do lose money it is because there are too many hands in the cookie jar and government: state, city and local are the biggest hands.

As I write this (Saturday morning) NPR radio is reporting that this new organization does not placate Mayor Bloomberg and there remains a likelihood that unless more specifics are hammered out closure of NYCOTB's may take place tomorrow night. Another nuance I find interesting is how Bloomberg and Sheldon Silver can have such divergent opinions on this matter.

“There was no way we could let New York City OTB shut down,’’ said Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

In this instance Sheldon Silver is more realistic than Bloomberg. He of course realizes that the $17 million the city receives from NYCOTB is real even if it doesn't show up through a convenient trick of bookkeeping. I'll reiterate what I've written before: Close them and see where Bloomberg stands after a shutdown occurs. This whole situation gets my blood boiling but I stop here to address another related issue, ADW wagering.

I refer you to another Bloodhorse article: State Lawmakers urged to Take ADW Action. The article illustrates how difficult it is to get one's mind around the truth. Here's a few quotes to illustrate my point.

Drew Couto told the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States conference in Napa, Calif., that the conflict between ADW companies, the tracks and horsemen “is extremely problematic for our industry.
“Less than 50 percent of the revenues from ADW flow to racing interests,” he added.

He said ADW companies now conduct wagering in 43 states and estimated that the service providers receive about 58% of the revenue realized through such bets.

What does this actually mean? I read it as only 42% of the money bet gets into the pool. That doesn't seem possible. That would mean that only$33.60 of every hundred dollars bet goes into the pool, if we use a 20% takeout rate for arguments sake. But as I've said before there are days where I can't believe that the pools are not much larger considering how big a draw certain races or cards are. This is your money that is being discussed here. It is our obligation to sort this out. Your payoffs and the product you watch is being impacted. We need to demand transparency and precise terms. I'll get an email off to find out if I can get to the bottom of this.

As I am extremely pressed for time this morning I will just add one more, recurrent pet-peeve before posting. Why can't we all get to see the Stephen Foster? Why must we scramble to simulcast outlets if we can't get HRTV? What a terrific field! Instead of reiterating what I've said before here's an entry from the past that says it Repeat Performance. What a pity!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

House Subcommittee Hearings

I'm not a proponent of big government or its' intervention into the lives of its citizens. However, I do believe a government has a responsibility to see to it that any business that operates under its' protection also maintains a behavioral standard of operation that is in concert with the beliefs upon which that government is founded. In theory [our] government should protect the right of the individual over the interest of a business. Of course that's not what happens in practice. While it does happen that in the course of protecting business interests sometimes the government is protecting personal interests as well, I'm pretty certain that is not always the reasoning behind the action. Indeed I have lost faith in our government's ability to respond to the needs of the people. Perhaps it's runaway bureaucracy or just flat out corruption run rampant that is the cause. I can start another blog dedicated just to this subject, but, I bring it up because of the House subcommittee hearings set for the 19th, specifically dedicated to horseracing. I think government action is well past due in this instance because the industry has continued to demonstrate that they are unable to collectively address some of the issues that are vital to the well being of the industry. In my mind (and in the mind of almost all fans) the most important issue is the use of drugs, including steroids. The resolution of this issue is absolutely necessary to the health of the industry. It speaks to the most important ingredients for a healthy sport. First with uniform, strictly monitored and harshly enforced drug laws the fan can feel much more certain of the integrity of the game. Confidence is necessary if we are to expect fans to continue to invest their money at the track. Also, it would be a clear and unmistakable sign that effort is being made to insure the well being of the horses. Further, it would result in better breeding practices that would undoubtedly favor improving the breed by emphasizing soundness and endurance. With drug laws implemented we would be confident that horses that dominated in the afternoons are truly the superior horses.

There are many other issues that are slated to be considered as well. In my opinion there are few other, but imperative, necessities. There absolutely needs to be central regulatory authority that actually has authority to coerce action. There is discussion of amending the Federal Interstate Horseracing act of 1978 to insure adherence to conclusions that may result from the hearings to do just this. I also believe the industry needs absolute transparency as to all of its sources of income and exactly who is receiving what percentage of those monies. I mean all. We should know what cut the horsemen are getting, so we can be certain that a fair portion is being reinvested into the product. We should know what offshore AWD's are getting rebates and why. After all, in the long run it is the fan's money who pays for it.

I don't hold much hope that great things will come from these hearings. In my experience these shows are just that, pomp and circumstance. In the end, manifest results will be determined by who can contribute the most to who's re-election campaign or what fringe benefits or favors can be bestowed without detection. We all know who possesses the deepest pockets in the industry, so, as I stated, I don't expect much change. Sound a bit jaded? When it comes to big money and big government's ability or desire to do the right thing you bet I'm jaded!

You can read about the other issues - that would be ill conceived micro-managing on the part of the government - at either the Bloodhorse or DRF.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Clay's Folly?

I'll use the same sentence I used to start off yesterday's entry: What a difference a race makes! A horse never went from saviour to scapegoat any faster than Big Brown. One moment he seemed the horse to lift racing back into the stratosphere of elite sport but not even a race later his legacy more closely resembles the sub prime mess.

That is as good a place to start as any. The entire industry resembles Wall Street too much these days. There is no patience, everyone wants the big payoff now and those in error are willing to make everyone else pay for their mistakes. Hopefully, Big Brown will become an unwitting saviour and begin to put an end to the ridiculous scheme of the breeding industry.

The Clays are rumoured to have paid between $50 and $60 million for Big Brown. If you were in their place what would you be feeling right now? I'll tell you what: PANIC! They have no one to blame but themselves. They have been in the breeding industry for almost a quarter century. While that's not a long time compared to many families in the industry it's long enough to be able to know value. One can only hope that there are a lot of contingency clauses in that agreement. In my opinion Big Brown's pedigree is not a $150-$200k pedigree, even if he won the Triple Crown. I'm sure as I write this the ads stating "Unbeaten Triple Crown Winner BIG BROWN," have been reworked with the fee left out for the time being (does $75k interest you? Me either. Not at this point for sure. In the future I'd consider purchasing one of his daughters).

Can any horse really be worth that much? Maybe if they prove themselves over time like AP Indy or Storm Cat - and I would argue that Storm Cat was grossly overpriced for a long while - but the industry continues to push this upside down scheme. They put all the risk up front. It is no different than the stock market. They need to recoup all or most of their investment within the first three years so that in the event a horse gets no runners the balloon doesn't pop leaving them holding the proverbial hot potato. It's no different than the sub prime mess. Those mortgage institutions and banks that practiced the policies that led us into this mess knew what they were doing. They got their money, sold their problem off and everyone is paying except for them. Well that's exactly the same principle here. While a commercial breeder isn't forced to breed to the new kid on the block many will, even at inflated prices because he's the new fashion. It leaves a lot of people holding 'bad paper.' Well, I think that Big Brown will have to go on to win the Travers and the Breeder's Cup Classic to become a fashion instead of a fad. I say both races because, let's face it, this crop ain't much! Da'Tara had won only one race coming into the Belmont Stakes and was beaten more than 23 lengths by Big Brown in his only other graded stakes. While the field wasn't spectacular aside form the maiden Guadalcanal the remainder were expected to outrun him!

I also have to wonder who Three Chimneys were bidding against. Darly is a lot like Lola, what they want they get, so I can't imagine they were interested. With the Northern Dancer sire line one would expect Coolmore to have had some interest but with their wallet I can only assume that they either were not interested or were more astute in assessing his value in the breeding shed than Three Chimneys. I find it difficult to imagine that anyone so steeped in the industry got so wrapped up in the excitement of the Triple Crown chase that they lost sight of the bigger picture.

How can this flaw be remedied? Well how about graduated contracts with owners of a horse? A much smaller sum is paid up front for a stallion prospect with bonus and windfall payments throughout the life of the stallion to the owners based on his popularity, success and breeding fee. In this way the risk is spread around. If all involve truly believe in a horses value and they are proven right it certainly wouldn't take long to reap large rewards. Distorted Humor is a good example of this truth. With this system if a stallion prospect goes bust, as most do, the loss is much easier to be absorbed by all involved. Certainly full breeding rights can be purchased later when a truer value can be assessed instead of just speculated upon. Also the cost to everyone from the breeders to the buyers would (at least should, in theory) be more realistic considering the risk involved.

I am tempted to continue here with thoughts of this new 'Legend Fund' but I'll save it for another day. All I will say is one would have to be crazy, or EXTREMELY wealthy to invest in that venture. I'm sure the organizers are planning on the later. No, I take that back they must be counting on extremely rich and crazy!

Monday, June 9, 2008

Belmont Aftermath

What a difference a race makes! Big Brown the seemingly invincible colt, the sure thing, can lose. Once the invincible aura is broken fear just becomes respect. Does this mean BB is not a great horse? Certainly not. But he will need to continue to race and win, for us to be able to place him among the greats of racing. The 'great' Secretariat failed to win five times (once disqualified) but that fact doesn't for a moment tarnish his reputation. Man O' War, still regarded by many as the greatest horse of all time, lost once. They both raced 21 times. For a horse to earn "all-time" honors it needs to prove itself over time, against worthy competition.

Certainly BB's competition didn't suddenly become great and yet he lost. Team Brown are all looking for a reason, as though there is one. The truth is that there are probably many factors that contributed to him losing. The most formidable being that the Triple Crown may be the most difficult accomplishment in sports. For a horse to run three times in five weeks against the best competition the sport has to offer and win, has to be the greatest of achievements. Perhaps even more so in this era when in each contest there is new, fresh competition. BB's quarter crack didn't help him either. Whether it became a factor in the race we'll never know but it did become a factor in his training. Schedules were changed, gallops were missed and he was likely handled somewhat differently even if unconsciously. Steroids: we have heard Dutrow and veterinarians state that they don't believe not receiving his monthly shot of Winstrol could have had any negative effect on his performance. I completely disagree. I don't think racing should allow any drugs but at this point they are legal and were being used by BB, why would Dutrow do anything different before the penultimate performance? It's dangerous to substitute arrogance for confidence. Zito, who won with Da' Tara, along with Pletcher, who ran Ready's Echo (dead heated for 3rd) were two that refused to state positively yes or no when asked if their horses were running on steroids; I think we all interpret that non-answer the same way. So even if not receiving his shot didn't diminish BB's performance he was running against horses that were using and so their performance was enhanced. A horse that I liked very much going into the race, Icabad Crane, doesn't use them and he beat only Big Brown. It makes one draw some conclusions, doesn't it? Yet another reason may be as Desormeaux said, the track was deep and he was just not handling it well. And let's not forget the heat. Although he looked well in the post parade there was no telling how any of them would handle the heat. I worked around a horse that responded to heat by hanging his head and letting his bottom lip just droop so low it was practically on the ground. I thought he would just keel over at any moment. But as soon as the cool weather returned his head rose like a flower reaching for the sun.

All of these are probably reasons that contributed to Big Brown's loss. But the way he lost bothered me the most. Desormeaux pulled him up like he had broke down. The horse may have had nothing left in the tank but he had enough to fight Desormeaux about being pulled up. Desormeaux spit the bit, not the horse. I think we all agree, he was not going to win, but Desormeaux just quit. He should have let the horse do what he could. I'm not saying he should have whipped BB, but just worked with what was left. Let the horse lose like a champion should, fighting, even if there is nothing left in the tank and he is not going to win. It smacks a bit of the kid who takes his ball and goes home because he's not winning. I think Desormeaux's despondency resulted in a loss of dignity for Big Brown, the dignity of losing like champions do, by trying until the end. Perhaps it stole a bit of dignity from the sport as well. It's a hard thing to say because I can't do what he can but that's just how I see it. Of course he must have been overwhelmed with disappointment, the one scenario he wasn't prepared for, but you have to finish. To be too certain is a dangerous emotion and it leaves us empty when we realize our beliefs were misplaced.

We want our hero's to demonstrate courage in winning and losing. That is what it means to be a champion; to face adversity and return with a renewed vigor, not a broken spirit. Why was Affirmed so great? Because he was measured against Alydar, also a true champion, who came back to fight every fight and never lost tenacity! I wonder what the heart of Big Brown is feeling now? As much as I believed he would win I was ambivalent about BB because I didn't think he was the right horse, in the right circumstances with the right credentials to be the one. But I will be rooting for him to rebound and go out and prove that he is a champion, I want to see him have that opportunity.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

BB's Belmont

What a shame for the connections of Casino Drive! To lose the chance of realizing a dream after so much time, effort and money has been spent has got to be gut wrenching. In my mind they are absolutely making the right decision. Many believed that he had the best chance to beat Big Brown, I was not one of those.

I can take the safe route and pick Big Brown to win, almost everyone is. I do think he will most likely win. But I'll take a stand against him. So many freak things can and do happen in racing, that's why they run the races. Here's a way I can see him get beat.

With Guadalcanal's lack of 'big race' experience the noise causes him to break in on Big Brown. Of course spotting the field a few lengths at the Belmont distance probably wouldn't be enough to get BB beat. But he does like to be forwardly placed and if something like a bump or a bad break occurs Desormeaux and BB will have quite a bit of traffic with which to contend. Zito has already stated that Alan Garcia will be told to play the rabbit with Da' Tara so perhaps this will insure a decent pace to the race. I can see Tale of Ekati sitting back off him three lengths while BB has to exert some early effort going wide to get into his comfortable racing position (out of trouble). Icabad Crane will probably be hanging six or seven lengths further back with Denis of Cork just outside him a length or so. By the time they get a three quarters, in lets say 1:11.8, Da' Tara will start to falter. Big Brown, after working early and wide will inherit the lead with a mile in 1:37 with Tale of Ekati two back and Ready's Echo moving up within two lengths also. It will look like lights out. But the field, that has raced in 1:13.2 + and 1:38.4 +, begins to gain. Macho Again and Denis of Cork will be the first to cut into the lead. With an eighth remaining Ready's Echo falters, Tale of Ekati is slowly fading but Denis of Cork and Macho Again are hanging tough. Then Icabad Crane, who has had a perfect trip all the way around, starts to gain. And from the back of the field Guadalcanal is picking up horses. At the sixteenth Denis of Cork is within two lengths of BB Icabad is still gaining a length behind Denis of Cork. A hundred yards out Icabad Crane comes eye to eye with BB. Desormeaux whips BB with no response they fight it out the last hundred yards like Affirmed and Alydar...and at the wire Icabad Crane beats him with a nod! Denis of Cork finishes third three lengths back and from out of the heavens Guadalcanal finishes with a flurry to complete the superfecta! The race goes in 2:27 flat.

Okay, I know... but it's a lot more exciting than the race will probably be!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

CDI and NYRA, Slowly Sinking Ships

Churchill Downs has decided to rewrite the conditions of The Stephen Foster to insure that Curlin will enter. It will sweeten the pot by $250k. That's enough for another Grade I race, so it's a lot of sweetening. I generally don't like to get involved in subjective interpretation because more often than not it will deconstruct an issue to the point that there seems no true meaning at all. But I'm going to have to jump in here and interpret this action as a slap in the face to the horsemen. At a time where CDI is claiming hardship they have somehow come up with an extra $250k to bring a few more people to the track and pad the purse total for Curlin. I admit that having the opportunity to see Curlin will undoubtedly bring some more people to the track - it would get me there - but I don't see how it helps CDI at all. If it does anything it will likely drive the wedge, between THG and CDI, deeper. This seems an obvious observation, so much so that I cannot believe that the action was taken without that intent. The problems in racing just continue to become more complicated and partisan. In the cold climate that now exists between CDI and the horsemen this is another shot across the bow of the horseman's ship. It signals not hardship or need but that they have deep enough pockets to carry this fight further than the horsemen may be able to go. With attendance and handle down how long will it be before CDI announces yet another cut in purses, citing these very facts? With the hardship that the horesemen are probably already feeling such an action may be the final straw. I cannot stress enough how strongly I feel that the horsemen need to win this battle for the health of the industry. Without a healthy percentage of money going to the horsemen it makes the industry seem very much like our society at the moment where the very few benefit from the labor of the many. Without a reasonable amount of money to finance purse structure etc., racing may cease to be a feasible vocational activity. Everyday racing at Churchill Downs is already woefully lacking in its ability to produce a compelling product for consumption.In what condition will that leave racing in Kentucky if further damage to the product is incurred through the actions of CDI?

Conditions are not much better here in New York with the continuation of the NYC OTB problems. Whatever the outcome it will greatly impact NYRA and NY racing in general. Mayor Bloomberg, Governor Patterson, Majority leader Bruno, Speaker Silver, NYRA CEO Charles Hayward and NYC OTB are at odds with rectifying the situation. That's a scary lot of self interest across the table! Good luck getting a deal out of that gang of six that does not contain obfuscation to the point of illusion. The only thing I am certain of is that any agreement will result in loss for the fan and the horsemen. From where I sit the comments I have read from the players make NYRA's future much murkier than it seemed to be two months ago. Matt Hegarty explains the situation in his DRF article.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

BB's Big Day

This morning is probably the most critical morning in Triple Crown racing in 30 years. Big Brown is scheduled for his final work, sans patch. After reading the article in the DRF about why Dutrow has decided to put off applying the patch I have to agree with his reasoning.

McKinlay added: "There's a slight, slight, slight chance that something's in there. I don't think there is. There's no seepage at all. But when you apply the methacrylic patch, a lot of heat is generated. You could get something 72 hours later."
McKinlay said the remote chance of developing a problem on Friday if a patch was applied Tuesday was not worth risking.
"If I owned the horse, I'd treat him the same way," McKinlay said.
"The longer you wait, the better for him," Dutrow said.
Both Dutrow and McKinlay said working without the patch was not an issue.
However, after looking at Barbara Livingston's picture of BB's foot I would be anything but confident about sending him out for the type of work he probably needs. I would also be worried about being able to contain him during the drill. The crack is in an area I think would be very vulnerable to a horse extending itself. But of course he needs the work and so the drama builds. And, of course, the watch won't be over after the work is over. Often it takes time for a new or worsening problem to present itself. So team IEAH will be sweating it out for a while even if all goes well Tuesday morning.

If this wasn't for all the marbles there is no way the horse would run; it wouldn't even be considered. So I have to ask; are they considering not running him? I think the thought has had to cross their minds...more than once. I'm certain there's not a racing fan out there that hasn't ruminated upon all the possible scenarios, some of them not very pleasant to think about. If he stays together and runs, win or not, let's just hope he makes it around safely. Racing doesn't need any more tragedy.

I've heard so many people speak of Casino Drive as the likeliest candidate to challenge BB that you would think there are only two horses running. I have friends coming up to me that aren't even race fans asking me about him. The power the press has over people never fails to astound me! Obviously the pedigree is there and he certainly looked terrific in the Peter Pan but he's only raced twice! As talented as he may be I think this is an awful big mountain to climb. It's possible but I just don't see it happening. At the moment I think the two most logical contenders are: Denis of Cork who seems to be on schedule to peak for the race and I still like Icabad Crane to improve some more as well as loving his pedigree. But I'll wait to see how the remainder of the week plays out before I post my picks at the end of the week.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

ZENYATTA! ...otb mess

ZENYATTA! Wow! How good is she? Mike Smith and John Sherriffs must think they're in heaven. She's a $60k Keeneland Sep.'05 purchase proving once again you don't have to pay a lot to get a lot of horse. While that's not exactly chump change for average folks it does illustrate that the little guy is still able to strike gold in this game. Not that the Moss's need worry about that issue. They certainly do keep coming up with good horses year after year. I wonder who their agent is? In any case she's a Street Cry *Ire filly out of Vertigineux (Kris S) who is also the dam of Grade I winner Balance, as well as Where's Baily, an Aljabr filly that won the Remington Park Oaks. She has the type of pedigree that is just beautiful to me.

Vertigineux raced only 7 times with a record of 2-0-0. I point this out because it is my contention that a mare need not prove herself on the track like a colt. I would always choose a lightly raced or unraced mare with good pedigree over a great race mare. It is my observation that the duration of a mare's career, more often than not, seems to have an adverse effect on their ability to produce superior progeny. I don't know if there have been any studies that would confirm this and of course there are always exceptions but I stand by this thought. My suppositions are that either they tax their system so much so that they permanently harm the health of their reproductive system or that the hormones they are given to keep them from cycling is damaging.

On a completely different subject, here in NY the shenanigans surrounding NYRA continue. Last week Governor Patterson expressed ambivalence about having NYRA to continue to run NY racing. Days later he was back stepping. It is just a comedy what goes on in NY around racing in our state. The government is constantly finding ways to bind the hands of the franchise and then heaps blame on their inability to run an efficient ship. Aside from problems imposed on it I also think that part of the problem is it's non-profit status. All the non-profits I'm familiar with would be better named the 'non-efficients'. They seem to lack accountability and perhaps that is the worst aspect of NYRA. Too much waste like in all bureaucracies. In the process of awarding NYRA the 25 year extension the legislature failed to address the issue of OTB's in NY. What are they thinking? It appears that they welcome problem situations. I think that the more convoluted they can make a system the more they can find ways to steal from it.

For those of you not from NY we have a regional OTB system, six in all, that is separate from NYRA. So that NYC OTB, Catskill OTB, Capital District OTB, etc.. all have separate deals with the state and with NYRA. This means six separate, but redundant, bureaucracies and work forces exist with all the waste that entails. In effect each is its own special interest group looking to benefit itself, not necessarily racing. It's confusing and almost impossible to keep track of all the problems, percentages and issues that surround them all. They should all be under one agency -NYRA - with a consistent, clear, realistic business plan. It is as thought the state welcomes chaos.

Several weeks ago Capital District OTB requested a change in its payout structure that would result in $12 million dollar shortfall to NYRA. For months now we have also had Mayor Bloomberg threatening to close the NYC OTB's in June, stating that the city is subsidizing them. All just nonsense. It's posturing to hold the racing industry upside down to shake more money from its' pockets. There's only one thing politicians like more than being in office and that's money. I think mayor Bloomberg has been a fine mayor, however, I have disagreed with him on quite a few issues and this is one of them. I say let him shut them down. With all the AWD's out there New Yorker's will find a way to play and watch and NYC will lose all the money they get from OTB. We'd truly see who is supporting whom quick enough. The long and short of this is that another deal will have to be made for the NYC OTB's that will again result in adding to the shortfall to NYRA and in turn that means the fan will have to pay. This all at a time where NYRA has been going through a restructuring to reemerge from bankruptcy. How can any plan NYRA submits be regarded to have integrity when the state is constantly changing the formula with which it gets compensated for its product?