JC / Railbird

#Whitney #SaratogaToughest 'Ombre entering the paddock for race three. #SaratogaI spy Rachel's Valentina. #SaratogaPicked up a couple of souvenirs to support the PDJF. #Haskell2015#Haskell2015 post parade.Diana winner Hard Not to Like going to post. #SaratogaThere's a horse in there somewhere. #americanpharoah #triplecrown

Reality

This may be the truest paragraph in Kay Reindl’s appreciation of horse racing:

The racegoer has made a pact with himself. He knows he’s going to lose more often than he’ll win. He knows that most of the time, he’s going to see ordinary horses doing ordinary things. But he also knows that every once in awhile, he’s going to hit that big payout. And he’s going to see a horse do something that makes him or her seem chosen …

I’ve been thinking about this pact, because racing fans are on a winning streak right now. We’re in that golden glow of our longshots coming in and photos going our way. We have a Triple Crown winner, and he’s racing in the Travers. A two-time champion just became the first distaffer to ever win the Pacific Classic, all but guaranteeing her a third Eclipse title. Wise Dan seems to be his old self and ready to run. The handicap division has bounced back from losses earlier this year with popular Whitney winner Honor Code atop it. It will end, because all winning streaks do. But let’s enjoy the glow as long as it lasts.

8/26/15 Related: “I can’t remember a time when the game seemed more alive. The glow from the Triple Crown has lasted all summer” (DRF+).

“Jess’s Dream is a reality,” said announcer Larry Collmus as Rachel Alexandra’s first foal won his debut, a nine-furlong maiden special at Saratoga on Monday:

The 3-year-old Curlin colt broke slow, fell behind the field by more than dozen lengths, went wide. It wasn’t looking good as he loped along through the first three quarters in 1:13.96 (Trakus time). “I was hoping that he would just hit the board,” said trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. Then rider John Velazquez asked him to go: “At the half-mile pole I started getting after him and he started catching up to horses,” said Velazquez. “Once he caught up to the group, he knew it was time to run.” Jess’s Dream went from last to first, ran the final furlong in :12.03, and earned a Beyer speed figure of 90 for the win. TimeformUS gave him a speed figure of 106. McLaughlin said the colt’s next race would likely be an allowance at Belmont.

Where are the Women?

My most popular tweet on August 17, 2013, featuring a link to a Teresa Genaro column in the Saratogian about women in racing

Two years ago, Teresa Genaro wrote about the poor representation of women in racing. She’s back this week with an update of little progress, in a Pink Sheet column that concludes with this indictment:

Yet when it comes to putting panels together, or hiring executives, or filling board vacancies, women seem to be elusively difficult to find.

If the problem is a dearth of women on leadership pathways in the industry, current executives should be asking themselves why, and what they are doing to cultivate women and bring them into the sport, as other industries have long done and continue to do.

Instead, racing seems content, for the most part, to pander to stereotypes, to view women as decorations rather than as customers, and to overlook them when putting people in front of microphones and in board rooms.

How many times does this have to be said? (That’s a rhetorical question.) How can we do better? (That’s not.) The issue isn’t specific to racing — it regularly flares up in media and technology (the other industries I closely follow). Does racing need some equivalent of the VIDA Count? (Would be just a start.)

To anyone who scoffs that diversity matters, know this — diversity drives market growth. As the American population becomes more diverse, diversity is only going to increase in importance to any industry’s long-term survival.

Related: “NYRA Board less diverse than GOP primary field.”

Taking the Blame

Trainer D. Wayne Lukas tightens the girth on Take Charge Brandi in the Saratoga paddock before the 2015 Test Stakes

After Take Charge Brandi finished last in the Test Stakes at Saratoga last Saturday — the 2014 juvenile filly champion’s first start coming off an injury — trainer D. Wayne Lukas said the problem was all him:

“It was a bad training job,” Lukas said inside his office on the Oklahoma Training Track on Wednesday morning. “I misread her. I thought she was a lot tighter. She threw up a (four-furlong) 48 (-second) training work on the Oklahoma, and I thought, ‘Damn! She is way ahead of schedule.’ So, I backed up a little bit on her and I just misread her.”

The trainer also told Mike Kane: “[S]he was dog-tired when she finished [in the Test]. She blew out of there and ran as far as I conditioned her … I wish had pushed her a little bit more and had her more ready,” Lukas said. “But the good news is that it’s fixable.”

She’s pointing to the Cotillion at Parx on September 19.

8/16/15 Addendum: Take Charge Brandi is back to work, breezing five furlongs on the Oklahoma track in 1:00.90, the fastest of four at the distance.

The Handicappers

How we talk about women in racing — an ongoing series. Today’s entry begins with Scott Raymond’s appreciation for Saratoga, which includes well-deserved praise for NYRA’s announcer and in-house handicapping team:

Yes, this is your NYRA crew like we just experienced at Belmont, but they deserve credit for adding to the Saratoga experience. They are among the best in the business. You have Larry Collmus, arguably the best active announcer in horse racing. Mike Beer, Andy Serling, and all the guys on Talking Horses do a great job. They are horseplayers; they aren’t talking heads. And Maggie Wolfendale in the paddock provides solid insight. Her husband is a trainer and she has experience as an exercise rider. She’s not just a young, pretty face they put on camera. Her insight from the paddock is key, especially in analyzing younger horses and first-time starters.

Only Maggie Wolfendale’s professional ability is defined in relation to another person and physical appearance. For fun, let’s rewrite a couple of sentences:

You have Larry Collmus, arguably the best active announcer in horse racing. His wife is a trainer. He’s not just a hot, sexy voice they put on mic. Mike Beer, Andy Serling, and all the guys on Talking Horses do a great job. Beer’s significant other is a jockey. Serling’s mother is a steward. They’re horseplayers; they’re not just handsome faces they put on camera.

It’s obvious that no disrespect was meant to Wolfendale, but it’s a good example of how a compliment can display the unconscious bias that women couldn’t possibly be good handicappers in their own right.

Sometimes the bias isn’t so unconscious:

“A lot of people see me and think my husband is picking my card, but I play my own,” [Jeannie] King said. “We don’t even sit in the same room when we’re playing.”

Judy Wagner, winner of the 2001 National Handicapping Championship, and the first horseplayer appointed to the NTRA board of directors, heard much the same when she began going to handicapping contests.

For the record, King has finished fourth in the NHC, and Wolfendale was a great handicapper before marrying the trainer!

See also:

Which was in response to this “joke”:

(h/t @superterrific)

2015 Whitney

Breaking from the gate in the 2015 Whitney

Jockey Javier Castellano gives thanks for the winning the 2015 Whitney with Honor Code

Honor Code wears the Whitney winner's garland of Marylou roses

Connections of Whitney winner Honor Code leave the track with smiles

Honor Code wins the 2015 Whitney at Saratoga, earning a Beyer speed figure of 113 and a TimeformUS speed figure of 125.

MGC Grants Suffolk Days

We haven’t seen the last of live racing at Suffolk Downs yet. The Massachusetts Gaming Commission voted 4-1 on Thursday to approve the track’s application to host three days of racing on September 5, October 3, and October 31. It also approved a request for $1.2 million in purse monies from the Racehorse Development Fund to support daily purses of $500,000. Conditions are on Equibase, and include stakes for Massachusetts-bred horses and races written for horses who started at the East Boston track in 2014.

Suffolk Dates on MGC Agenda

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission takes up Suffolk Downs’ application for three days of living racing this year once again on Thursday — a vote on the three-day plan and a discussion of the 2016 racing season are on the agenda for the MGC meeting that begins at 10:30 AM. The track is amending its requested dates to September 5, October 3, and October 31.

Lynne Snierson reports for the Blood-Horse that there will be no lease deal with the Stronach Group to run a full meet at Suffolk Downs — the scenario sketched by trainer Billy Lagorio at the Commission’s meeting two weeks ago, prompting a delay on the application then:

“I can say definitively that we will not have an arrangement whereby The Stronach Group will lease or operate racing here,” Suffolk Downs chief operating officer Chip Tuttle told the Blood-Horse Aug. 5.

Tim Ritvo, chief operating officer of The Stronach Group and a Boston native who began his career as a jockey at the once-thriving New England tracks, did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Tuttle and Ritvo talked on July 29 about any potential Stronach Group interest in running racing in East Boston. They had no further discussion. Ritvo did speak with the Boston Globe for a July 30 article, politely shutting down the idea of a Stronach-managed meet in the near future. “Boston is a very lucrative market and we’re interested,” he told reporter Sean Murphy. “We’re open to anything, but it seems like a stretch to get it done immediately.”

Betting on Pharoah

American Pharoah parades before the 2015 Haskell

Amanda Duckworth on the American Pharoah effect:

[Monmouth Park] also posted an all-sources handle of $20 million, which is a non-Breeders’ Cup record. The Haskell alone brought in a record $6.54 million, shattering the mark of $4.4 million bet on the 2010 edition. To anyone who questioned why the track bumped the purse of the race from $1 million to $1.75 million, that is your answer. American Pharoah brings in people, betting dollars and a great deal of mainstream exposure. That’s a pretty great trifecta for the sport.

NYRA wants to see that kind of action on the Travers Stakes, and is trying to lure the colt’s connections with a promise to raise the Travers purse to $1.6 million, up from $1.25 million, if American Pharoah follows his Haskell win with a Saratoga appearance. Owner Ahmed Zayat wants to go. “My preference would be to run [next] at Saratoga,” Zayat told Bob Ehalt. “If it’s up to me, it would be the Travers,” he said to Ron Mitchell. “I have made my desires known to my trainer. He knows what I want.” Trainer Bob Baffert says that’s the case, and that Zayat is deferring a decision on the Triple Crown winner’s next race to him. “[T]his is true and accurate statement,” Zayat confirmed with a tweet.

Baffert’s not committing for now: “It’s way too early to say anything.”

This is an interesting little dilemma for owner, trainer, and Coolmore, who will stand the big horse at stud. Sid Fernando’s been dissecting the conflict and incentives via his Twitter stream, discussing the almost-certain “kicker” for winning the Travers (essentially a performance bonus), built into the breeding rights deal Zayat and Coolmore negotiated.

In the scramble for American Pharoah’s next start, the Travers seems to have moved ahead of the Pennsylvania Derby, which is the race I thought he’d point to next, given the likely purse boost, appearance fees for owner and trainer, and Baffert’s lack of interest in running the colt against older horses before the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Parx racing director Sam Elliott has been working hard to sell his race, traveling to Churchill Downs, Santa Anita, and Monmouth Park in pursuit, but Zayat has said “No Penn Derby” and ruled out the Pacific Classic as well — “zero shot!! Timing doesn’t work.” Elliott was at the Haskell on Sunday — I hope he didn’t get the Pennsylvania Derby news on Twitter too.

Mike Pegram, a long-time owner with Baffert, was blunt about the where-next question. “They’ll go where the money is,” he told Ed Zieralski. The Travers’ historic significance plus the added money makes a sweet exacta.

Odds and ends: American Pharoah was given a Beyer speed figure of 109 for the Haskell … Upstart will point to the Travers after running third to the Triple Crown winner on Sunday in his first start since finishing last in the Kentucky Derby. “I was miserably impressed,” trainer Rick Violette said of the Haskell winner … Monmouth reported attendance of 60,983 for Sunday’s race, a figure Chris Rossi calls into question by comparing per-attendee handle for the Haskell since 2000 (chart here, if you follow him on Twitter). This year’s $48.58 is the lowest average in that period, beating the previous low of $65.35 set in 2009. In 2014, the average was $70.29 … you can definitely rule out a possibility that probably hadn’t even occurred to you: The Eclipse Stakes winner Golden Horn will not meet American Pharoah in the Breeders’ Cup. “It’s a complete no-no, on dirt certainly,” said owner Anthony Oppenheimer.

Saratoga babies: The spreadsheet of 2015 juvenile race starters and winners has been updated through second week results (XLS).

Rachel’s Winner

Rachel’s got a runner:

The most anticipated juvenile starter of the summer didn’t disappoint in her first afternoon appearance. Rachel’s Valentina went to post as the 6-5 favorite in her debut race at Saratoga on Sunday and won the six-furlong maiden special weight by two lengths over Awesome Dame in a time of 1:10.39. “We knew she was fast but this was a tough race,” said owner Barbara Banke after. “I’m so glad it went well. She was awesome.” (All quotes via NYRA.)

Rachel Alexandra’s 2-year-old Bernardini filly was — as trainer Todd Pletcher said before she started — slow to get going. Jockey John Velazquez had her under a hard ride down the backstretch. She picked up the pace with a strong move on the outside as the field came into the turn and entered the stretch running wide. Once she hit the lead, she didn’t need Velazquez’s encouragement to draw away. “There were no issues saving any ground, going four wide,” said Velazquez. “She really runs.”

Pletcher, who called the race “everything you can hope for in a debut,” said a start in the September 5 Spinaway Stakes was a possibility.

Maybe this is sentiment, but seeing the Stonestreet silks on a bay filly rounding perfectly into the stretch, poised to win, gave me a Rachel Alexandra flashback — for a moment, I thought I was seeing Valentina’s mother. Whatever she does next, I’m glad to have felt that thrill again.

8/3/15 Addendum: Baby’s first Beyer speed figure — 79.

Valentina’s Debut

Rachel’s Valentina, the second foal of 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra, is set to make her debut in race two at Saratoga on Sunday. It’s a six-furlong maiden special weight, and the 2-year-old Bernardini filly is the 6-5 morning line favorite in a field of eight that includes Awesome Dame and Big World, the second- and third-place finishers of the July 2 maiden special at Belmont Park that was won by buzzy Tonasah. Big World came out of it as one to watch — the Tony Dutrow-trained filly recovered well from a poor break and a wide turn to round out the trifecta. Sixth-place finisher Fabulous Devotion is the only other starter from the July 2 Belmont race yet to return, and she finished third in a maiden special at Parx on Monday.

Trainer Todd Pletcher isn’t overselling his expectations for Rachel’s Valentina: “She’s trained very well and she’s as ready as we can have her,” he told the NYRA press office. “She’s not super quick away from the gate, [so] it’s probably not her ideal distance but it’s a good starting point to build on.”

Rachel Alexandra ran sixth at 27-1 in her 2008 debut, a 4 1/2 furlong maiden special on dirt at Churchill Downs. “No menace,” says the chart. She won her second start three weeks later, going five furlongs. In a nice bit of timing, her filly is debuting on Haskell day, exactly six years after Rachel Alexandra won the 2009 Haskell in peerless fashion:

Trainer Barclay Tagg also has an interesting first-time starter in Sunday’s race — Tale for Ruby. The Tale of Ekati filly had two bullet gate works in a row at Belmont Park on July 6 and 13; her sire’s 15% with debut winners. Tagg was quick to score at Saratoga, and one of his first two winners (from two starters) was the 11-1 firster Realm in last Saturday’s first juvenile race.

There were two more juvenile races at Saratoga on Thursday, both won by Pletcher. Race three went to Sudden Surprise, the first starter for New York sire Giant Surprise, who raced once, winning a 2011 juvenile maiden special at Saratoga (he came out of his debut injured). In race five the runner-up was an MTO entry for trainer Bill Mott — True Pleasure drew in when heavy rain forced the 5 1/2 furlong maiden special off turf and finished second in the slop at 12-1 to favored Island Saint, also an MTO entry. The takeaway — with two wins and two seconds from four starters, Mott first-time babies are still live.

8/1/15 Addendum: A little more from Pletcher on Valentina via David Grening (DRF+): “She’s shown enough quality and class and precocity to win first time out,” Pletcher said. “At the same time, she’s not super quick away from the gate, and the ones that are, you can get a pretty good handle on them winning first time out at short distances. Some of these other ones you know want more ground. It might take a race or two to get there. We’re hoping for a good start and clean trip and something to move her forward on to bigger and better things down the road.”

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