JC / Railbird

Mr. Meso taking Miss Wilby to post for the Isadorable Stakes at #suffolkdowns. #horseracingGliding By waiting her turn with the Horse IDer in the #suffolkdowns paddock on Sunday. #horseracing #thoroughbredMongolian Saturday. #BC15American Pharoah kicking up the Polytrack this morning. #Keeneland #BC15Grand Arch out for a graze. #BC15Shhh! Liam's Map is napping. #BC15Honor Code, getting serious. #BC15

Two Champions

Beholder turns into the stretch in the 2016 Vanity Stakes at Santa Anita

The Vanity Mile Stakes was never really a contest. Mike Watchmaker on how Beholder handled 3-year-old filly champion Stellar Wind on Saturday:

Stellar Wind ran extremely well. She was dead game, and she is very, very good. But Beholder absolutely toyed with her. Toyed with her. Anyone who watched the Vanity knows the difference between Beholder and Stellar Wind on Saturday was far greater than what the result chart suggests.

Beholder earned a Beyer speed figure of 100 for her 17th career win, her 10th Grade 1 victory. After the first three quarters in 1:12.53, she ran the last two furlongs in :11.46 and :11.98. “I thought we would go in sub 23, 45 and change for the second quarter and I thought the final time would be under 1:34,” said jockey Gary Stevens. “Twenty five is legit, 49 is legit, but I think that’s the fastest last three eighths I’ve ever run in my life.”

Why Not?

Steven Crist on extending the Pegasus World Cup concept:

The central idea of the Pegasus is to raise purse money from owners rather than through an extraction from the parimutuel handle. Horseplayers have been told for generations that they must pay an exorbitant 20 percent takeout on their wagers because of the need to pay purses as well as to staff and maintain a racetrack. Now, however, we have a rare case where the purse has already been funded.

So, why not eliminate the takeout on the race entirely, or at least slash it to a low, player-friendly rate such as 10 percent? That would make this a revolutionary race for the customers as well as the owners.

(I think I hear someone muttering, “to hell with the bettors.”)

The other Steve of the turf trade press proposes a Pegasus reality show.

The Rock

Rockingham Park gate in 2006
Rockingham Park gate, 2006

Reflecting on the end of Rockingham Park:

“It’s one of those places, like the house you grew up in, that you think will always be there. It’s so strange and sad to find out that it’s really going to be gone,” said Donna Barton Brothers, who was an apprentice in Rockingham’s jockey colony in 1987 before she went on to become one of the sport’s most successful female riders and an on-air analyst and reporter for NBC Sports and TVG.

“That track was where I cut my teeth as far as riding goes,” she said. “I learned so much about riding there from people like Phil Ernst and Bennie Carrasco and some of those really good, old riders like Carl Gambardella and Rudy Baez, who for whatever reason ended up at Rockingham. I rode with some world class riders.”

Speaking of the greats, old black-and-white photos of Eddie Arcaro, Johnny Longdon, and Bill Shoemaker still adorn the walls of Rockingham’s clubhouse from their time here. Pat Day hung his tack in the jocks’ room when he was a bug, and Chris McCarron to this day is revered as the local kid who made good.

Trainer Shug McGaughey won his first race at Rockingham and fellow Hall of Famer Bobby Frankel captured the one and only $500,000 New England Classic with Marquetry in 1991 as part of the nationally televised American Championship Racing Series.

The track, which hasn’t hosted live racing since 2010, will close permanently on August 31, following a sale of its remaining 120 acres. “So the simulcasting, the poker room, the shows will all be done at that point in time,” [general manager Ed] Callahan said. “We’ll get things cleaned up a little bit, have an auction here of a whole bunch of equipment and furniture and memorabilia.” For those concerned about the fate of any remaining historical items or archival materials, note that, per a report in the Blood-Horse:

[T]he racing memorabilia, trophies, and artwork with the greatest historical significance will be donated to the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, the New England Sports Museum, and the New Hampshire Museum of History, among others.

The auction is scheduled for September 24 and 25, time TBD.

Rivalry

Exaggerator crossing the wire first in the Preakness
Exaggerator wins the 2016 Preakness ahead of Cherry Wine and Nyquist.

Corey Lanerie on runner-up Cherry Wine gives jockey Kent Desormeaux a pat on the back after Exaggerator wins the 2016 Preakness
And Corey Lanerie on the runner-up gives winning jockey Kent Desormeaux a pat on the back as they gallop out after the wire.

Exaggerator gets a Beyer speed figure of 101 for his Preakness Stakes win over Pimlico’s sloppy track on Saturday. TimeformUS gives him a speed figure of 122, the same number assigned Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist for running third, quashing a Triple Crown bid. The two go on to the Belmont Stakes for a rematch in three weeks, and now that Exaggerator has finally beaten Nyquist — in the fifth race featuring the two of them — we have a rivalry.

So, what about the mud? “Thank the good Lord for raining on us today,” said a member of Exaggerator’s ownership team in the winner’s circle. “You have to think that the track means a lot to his performances, but his fast-track performances are not bad, either,” said rider Kent Desormeaux.

And what about the pace? Pretty similar to the Kentucky Derby, with the slight difference that Nyquist pushed to the lead and moved into the front early. He ran the first quarter with Uncle Lino in :22.38, the first half in :46.56, and the first three-quarters in 1:11.97. Here are the DRF incremental fractions:

DRF incremental fractions for the Preakness
View the official Equibase chart (PDF).

Nyquist won the Derby despite chasing a quick first quarter and running his final quarter three seconds slower; it was an impressive performance. In the Preakness, he was tired, and Exaggerator, tracking on the rail, was in place to take advantage. “The colt shimmied up the backstretch like a seal, utterly enjoying it,” and Desormeaux rode with confidence. Watch the Preakness replay, and see how he angles out and into the lead in the stretch:

5/24/16 Update: Nyquist spikes a fever, will skip Belmont Stakes.

Niche Work

Dave Hill spends Kentucky Derby weekend with Las Vegas horseplayer Alan Denkenson and things take a poignant turn when the bets don’t come in:

“I’ve been having a bad year. I’m starting to entertain the possibility that I could really go broke,” Dink says, without a hint of sentimentality. “Then again, if I don’t go broke there’s a 50 percent chance that I’m going to turn 75 and be making $4 bets in the sportsbook like these other guys. I mean what else am I going to do? Waz can go into stocks, into finance. I can’t do anything else. I’m 62 years old and this is all I know.”

Wrong-Way Goes Okay

Neat — Woodbine tested a clockwise turf race on Monday:

“There were no major problems, and that was one of the key things,” [jockey Emma-Jayne] Wilson said. “That’s the biggest thing. We wanted to make sure that everything would go smoothly. This was as close to a race scenario as possible and everyone handled it well. There is still a learning curve to it. The horses that have never done it will take a second to say, ‘Ok, now I get it, I’ve got to take a right turn.’”

Woodbine management will run as many as 40 clockwise turf races during the 2016 meet. The intent is to spice up the racing programs and to use a part of the turf course (the clubhouse turn) that is rarely run over since most normal races over Woodbine’s expansive grass course are run around one turn. The first clockwise pari-mutuel race is scheduled for June 10.

Sounds as though the “wrong-way” races could be dramatic:

“It’s a very short homestretch,” Ramsammy said. “You are looking for a horse that has a good spurt early, definitely a speed horse.”

Cunco Wins

And this is a great opening line: “Frankel remains unbeaten.”

The East Boston Connection

Furthering my half-joking homer theory that everyone in American racing has a connection to Suffolk Downs is this story of jockey Edgar Prado:

In 1988, one of Bob Klesaris’ jockeys at Boston’s Suffolk Downs was suspended. Too aggressive a ride, too tight, the trainer was told. Klesaris challenged the decision. It was his first appeal at the racecourse. He was confident the stewards would see, as he did, that his jockey was “100 percent in the right.”

They didn’t, and when Klesaris returned to the barn area, he spotted the offending jockey.

“Listen, I’m going to send you to Maryland,” he recalled telling him.

Edgar Prado, who over the next decade in the state would become its leading jockey six times, turned to Klesaris. Not knowing much about the nation’s geography, he asked: “What country is that?”

Suffolk racing returns for the first of three weekends this year on July 9-10.

Stars Aligning

The Pegasus World Cup is coming to Gulfstream on January 28, 2017, and to get a spot in the 12-horse starting gate, owners will have to buy an entry for $1 million, which will go into the purse, making the $12 million Pegasus the world’s richest Thoroughbred race. (Somewhere, Sheikh Mohammed’s gritting his teeth at this trumping.) The money doesn’t only guarantee entry, though:

All entrants will not only be competing for the world’s largest purse, but they will also share equally in 100% of the net income from pari-mutuel handle, media rights, and sponsorships from the Pegasus World Cup, according to The Stronach Group announcement.

Aspects of the Pegasus plan, which allows owners buying an entry to also lease a starter or sell their place in their gate, immediately reminded me of Fred Pope’s star vision from 2011. You might remember this idea:

Maybe, just maybe, the system we have been using for compensating our talent in racing has become a problem, a big problem. This year, if things go well, Uncle Mo’s races could have total wagering handle of more than $200 million. With average takeout of twenty percent, the wagering revenue generated by Uncle Mo’s races, $40 million, will go somewhere else.

Of that $40 million, about $10 million (5% of the $200 million wagered) will go to the host tracks where the races are held and be split between track operators and future purses. The remaining $30 million (15% of the total wagered) will go to those simply taking bets on Uncle Mo’s races. Why?

Why can’t the top finishers in Uncle Mo’s races receive the $20 million in purses due from wagering on their races? Our stars need to be compensated for the revenue they generate. That’s how the real world works.

Racing’s welfare system is not working for those putting on the show, thus it is not working for Uncle Mo, and the other brands in the sport. Racing needs the same distribution model as the Apple brand, where Apple sells customers direct, through bricks and mortar outlets and through on-line vendors.

The Pegasus World Cup is selling direct. Even if it doesn’t upend the current economic structure of racing, it’s a step in that direction.

5/19/16 Addendum: I missed this Tom LaMarra story in January, which quotes Frank Stronach addressing the business model experiment angle:

“The basic idea is how can racing compete with other great sports?” Stronach said. “We’ve got to make things exciting, things the press will write about. We want to tell people that love horse racing that we say, ‘Look. We want to establish a new business.’ We would lease Gulfstream for one day and call it a new business.”

He was cagier about it when asked by T.D. Thornton last week:

TDN: If the profit-sharing concept works with a race of this magnitude, could the concept be scalable? By that I mean could you see profit-sharing trickling down as a way of funding other types of races or even entire racing programs or race meets?

FS: That’s possible. But smaller races are less interesting, right?

The Distaffer

T.D. Thornton’s story of Jefferson Downs race caller Ann Elliott sparked an idea that I’ve been carrying around since at least Claire Novak’s Isabel Dodge Sloane profile, or maybe since my post about trainer Mary Hirsch, into action — women have always played a role in horse racing, yet their stories have a habit of getting lost. More attention should be paid.

Introducing The Distaffer — a newsletter of horses, history, and heroines arriving in your mailbox once or twice a month. We’ll explore the legacies of racing women past and meet the women shaping the game now. There will be stories of great racehorses, too, and related links, and maybe an occasional GIF. Subscribe — the first issue goes out on Tuesday, May 31.

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