JC / Railbird

Picked up a couple of souvenirs to support the PDJF. #Haskell2015#Haskell2015 post parade.Diana winner Hard Not to Like going to post. #SaratogaThe new painted Clubhouse stair railings may be the one change I love at #Saratoga .Cornelio! I'm pretty sure no jockey has delivered more longshots for me. Here he is on Realm, leaving the #Saratoga paddock for Saturday's first race.There's a horse in there somewhere. #americanpharoah #triplecrownAmerican Pharoah galloping at Churchill Downs this morning. He looks as "Wow!" live as promised. #triplecrown

The Bright Side

Greg Wood finds something positive in the retirement of dual champion and defending Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Main Sequence:

… the loss of Main Sequence from this year’s Breeders’ Cup, which will be staged at Keeneland for the first time, is a definite setback for the event. From a European point of view, however, it does leave the Turf looking very open indeed. Fabre may feel he has some unfinished business where Flintshire is concerned, and if it looks as though his five-year-old is likely to find at least one opponent too good at Longchamp in early October, it is at least possible that the race in Kentucky will assume greater significance.

Sidelined

Jay Privman on California Chrome and his connections (DRF+):

… what I do know, from having watched this horse for the better part of his career, is that Art Sherman always showed that he knew what was best for California Chrome. He ignored people who said the colt should have arrived sooner at Churchill Downs before the Kentucky Derby, and those who said he needed to work between the Derby and Preakness, and those who questioned why he was running on grass after the Breeders’ Cup.

Sherman was not down with going to the Pennsylvania Derby — a pure money grab that left him a race short for the BC Classic — nor going to England.

Sherman was right an all counts, and it’s a real shame his probity wasn’t fully appreciated by those whose interests he, ultimately, was trying to look out for.

Heft and Gleam

California Chrome returned to the U.S. on Tuesday, his international adventure over. Four Footed Fotos caught him looking ribby on arrival from Newmarket via Amsterdam, but Marcus Hersh reports that he’s now out of quarantine at Arlington Park and already making a better impression (DRF+):

The long trip home this week surely did not help his appearance, but even after just two days here, the colt appears to be headed the right direction. I saw him this morning as he was being hand-walked by groom Raul Rodriguez around the barn of trainer Chris Block, his new digs upon leaving quarantine, and it sure looked like California Chrome already had added a touch of heft and a bit of gleam to his chestnut coat.

The Coburns released a statement about Chrome’s condition on Facebook:

Many people on several different social media sites have concerns about Chrome’s weight. It is our belief that he needs to put on about 150 pounds. We appreciate all of your concerns and hope that you all know that he is in the best hands with Raul and Anna. His health and well-being is our top concern and we are confident that now that he is home and with people he is familiar with things will only get better.

He’s pointing to the Arlington Million, and jockey Victor Espinoza assures fans: “You better believe I will be riding Chromie in the race.”

The Million is a mere five weeks away, though, and Chrome did miss running at Royal Ascot because of a bruised hoof. “It’s going to be a very tough race,” trainer Art Sherman told Art Wilson last week: “He’s going to have all the Europeans coming for that race. It’s going to be a lot to ask of him, I think, personally. I’m just hoping I can get him fit enough.”

7/14/15 Update: California Chrome is done for the year and may be retired. While being vetted for a potential stud deal (which farm?), a cannon bone bruise was discovered in the 4-year-old colt. It’s a minor injury, but it means at least three months off. Retirement apparently isn’t certain. Per a comment on the DAP Facebook page, which is managed by co-owners Perry and Denise Martin, “No one really knows if Chromes Career is over except for Chrome.”

Lady Eli’s Foot

Four months from the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf, and Lady Eli looks unbeatable in her likely year-end race. “She certainly has the most devastating turn of foot I’ve ever worked around,” trainer Chad Brown said after the 3-year-old filly brought her undefeated career record to six with a 2 3/4-length win in the 1 1/4-mile Belmont Oaks. Her final time of 1:59.27 earned a Beyer speed figure of 98. Her TimeformUS figure is 120.

The Belmont Oaks finish time was almost two seconds faster than the Belmont Derby, run at the same distance, which Force the Pass won in 2:01.16 (92 Beyer, 118 TimeformUS). It’s interesting to think that Lady Eli could have won the age-restricted race with its larger purse ($1.25 million versus $1 million), and she might have. Pace complicates the comparison. According to Trakus, Lady Eli won the Oaks with quarters of :23.92, :24.27, :24.30, :24.21, and :22.77. Force the Pass went :24.97, :25.77, :25.05, :23.58, and :22.07. The first three-quarters in the Derby, with Bolo as leader, was 1:15.58. The same fraction for the Oaks, with Lady Zuzu in front, was 1:11.80*. Watch the replay:

*Trakus time; Teletimer/chart time is 1:11.71.

7/13/15 Update: Heartbreaking news from trainer Chad Brown — Lady Eli has laminitis. Brown’s statement is below:

“We have some unfortunate news to report from our barn. Following Lady Eli’s impressive victory in the Grade 1 Belmont Oaks on July 4, she sadly stepped on a nail on the horse path on the way back to our barn and injured her left front foot. Despite our efforts, including a talented team of veterinarians, Lady Eli’s injury has led to her developing laminitis. Thankfully, we have assembled the best possible team of veterinarians and farriers to stabilize her and assist her through these difficult times. I ask that all of her fans keep this magnificent racehorse in their prayers and hopefully she will be back on the racetrack flashing her brilliance again.”

Laminitis is a vicious disease. “If you’re an optimist, you’d say she’ll race again. If you’re a pessimist, she could be battling for her life,” co-owner Jay Hanley told the Blood-Horse.

7/24/15 Update: Encouraging news via the Daily Racing Form (DRF+):

Brown, back in Saratoga for opening day Friday, said Thursday that doctors are “extremely pleased with her progress, and they’re cautiously optimistic she’s putting this behind her.”

Brown said the veterinary team caring for Lady Eli has established a set of goals for the filly to achieve on a weekly basis, and thus far she has met them.

“I am personally pleased with how she’s moving and her overall condition and attitude,” Brown said.

Jersey Pharoah

The expected is official. American Pharoah will make his first start post-Triple Crown in the Haskell, and Monmouth is planning a blowout:

“We are ecstatic to know American Pharoah will be running in the Haskell,” Monmouth president Bob Kulina said. “This will be the biggest day ever in the history of racing in New Jersey. We’ve been racing for 70 years and this is the first time we will have a Triple Crown champion here. I didn’t think I would ever say this, but this will be even bigger than 2007 when we hosted the Breeders’ Cup.”

I don’t know where they’ll put all the people,” said trainer Bob Baffert (DRF+).

Owner Ahmed Zayat says the Travers remains a possibility for Pharoah, but Saratoga’s double-edged history is on his mind: “I am aware of the historic perspective of Saratoga. I am also aware that Secretariat got beat there.”

Competing

This post has been corrected. Please see the note at the end.

Plainridge Park’s new slots and video gaming parlor took in $6,154,626.38 during its first week of operation, or more than $703 for each of the 1,250 machines per day. Even considering opening week excitement and whatever pent-up local demand there might have been, that’s an impressive haul.

More than $6 million — that’s an incredible number … Plainridge is showing it can certainly compete with the existing casinos,” New England casino market expert Clyde Barrow tells the Boston Globe.

The nine percent of those revenues designated for the Racehorse Development Fund totaled $553,916.37; that’s $138,479 for harness racing, which takes place at Plainridge. I was going to insert a sentence or two here noting how much Plainridge handled on live racing during the same period, and maybe try to draw a conclusion from the slots-RDF-handle numbers, but tracking down harness handle figures turns out to make Thoroughbred racing look like a transparent, open dream industry. (Harness friends, any tips?)

So, let’s use 2014 numbers, taken from the racing office’s annual report (PDF): Last year, the track handled a total of $1,108,715 on-track on 82 race days, or $13,521 per card, and handled another $6,576,620 on its simulcast feed, for an average of $93,724 per card. Pull the Pocket does a bit of estimation/comparison:

Let’s say Plainridge does $100,000 in handle per card. At a low signal fee, let’s set revenue at 5% of that handle, which would mean the track and purses would drive $5,000 per card in revenue.

If they race three cards a week, that’s $15,000 in revenue.

$15,000 from racing, $567,000 from slots.

His conclusion: There’s no point to doing the work of growing handle when there’s so little payoff compared to the casino money. Plainridge is booked for 105 cards this year. Assuming they average about the same per card as last year, they’ll handle almost $10 million, while paying out approximately $4 million in purses (estimate based on averaged recent daily purse levels; in 2014, Plainridge paid $2.6 million in purses). There’s not much incentive to push casino patrons into betting on the local racing product either: The track’s portion of daily live handle runs roughly $1400 per card on-track, or about the gross on two slot machines.

1:35 PM Correction: This post was originally published using only the on-track handle total for 2014, which led to an incorrect conclusion re: daily revenue. This was because I did not include simulcasting handle, listed as “Export Simulcast” in the annual report. The post has been revised to include that figure, and the new and/or altered text is indicated in bold above.

Three Strikes and a Pause

California’s new whip rules are in effect after much prep:

The CHRB said the effort has involved a review of racing videos and informing jockeys when their actions would have incurred a penalty under the impending rule. “Stewards report that jockeys are now in substantial compliance,” the CHRB said.

7/3/15 Update: More on the implementation of the new whip rules:

“It’s honestly going to help riders in general,” Van Dyke said. “If you go rapid-fire, like hit a horse four times quick, your horse tends to drift more. The whip rule will make the rider focus more on staying straight. I think it’s great.”

7/4/15 Update: Two riders fined for violations.

Cutting Down (or Not)

Steve Davidowitz on the too many races, too few horses situation:

In my own judgment, racetrack managers in most states have failed to see the problems they have created for themselves. Fact is, there are so many tracks open for so many months each year, the majority have had to cut down on the number of races they offer each day.

Instead of a five day racing week with nine and 10 races per day, Santa Anita just ran four-day race weeks, with eight races on Thursday and Friday. That pattern is repeated in many states that used to operate five and six days a week with plenty horses left over after running nine and 10 races a day! Even Gulfstream Park had eight race cards …

And yet, when Saratoga opens for 2015 on July 24, it does so with 427 races planned, or about 14 more than 2014, when NYRA slightly reduced the total. The schedule calls for nine-race cards on Monday, 10-race cards Wednesday-Friday and Sunday, and 11-race cards on Saturday, excepting the Travers and Woodward cards (PDF). This is also during a meet in which most graded stakes have been moved to weekends and stakes that previously headlined days — such as the Personal Ensign and Sword Dancer — have been bundled into a “Big Day.” As Mike Watchmaker, taking on the super card trend, observes, “The daily stakes schedule at Saratoga does look pretty lean in the middle of this upcoming meet” (DRF+). Saratoga is great, and it can be a grind. I fear this year it’s going to be more of the second for even the most devoted fans.

Pharoah Planning

American Pharoah worked three furlongs in :36.40 at Santa Anita on Monday (photo) and negotiations re: his next race are ongoing. Monmouth Park wants the Triple Crown winner for the Haskell on August 2. Owner Ahmed Zayat wants a few things too if he’s going to commit:

Earlier Monday, word from the track was that they were still waiting for direction from Zayat as to whether he wanted them to increase the Haskell purse or put together some kind of lucrative package for winning multiple races, including the Haskell and Breeders’ Cup Classic.

That’s not what Zayat’s looking for, however, and he said he indicated that in a conference call with Monmouth Park leadership last week.

“I want to make it a festival,” he said. “Where it’s best for the prestige of this horse. Something that is appropriate for a Triple Crown winner. I want to excite the fans. I want to make it a festival that they will always remember. A great day for the sport. And whoever is going to deliver that, that’s what’s good for me. That’s where I’m going to go. That was my message to them.”

And what about Del Mar, where the colt will be training this summer?

… officials are trying to come up with a plan on how to deal with having racing’s superstar housed on the backstretch. Baffert made it clear that the colt is getting back to work, and surely Del Mar will respect those wishes. At Del Mar, it’s almost certain there won’t be nearly the fuss made over the colt’s arrival as there was at Santa Anita, where he was welcomed back as a conquering hero by adoring fans, TV stations and every form of media. As much as Del Mar would like to see it, this won’t be Cigar coming in for the 1996 Pacific Classic. Talk about a zoo.

All Del Mar can hope for is that American Pharoah’s scheduled works will be announced ahead of time to allow San Diego’s horse racing fans to attend them in the morning as they did for California Chrome last year.

If you’re not already planning to be there August 22, don’t rush to book a trip.

Plainridge Morning

Plainridge Park

It’s the only horse racing going in Massachusetts right now, so I went to Plainridge Park on Monday to catch Thursday’s rescheduled card. First post was 11:00 AM — too early to enjoy a snack before at Doug Flutie’s Sports Bar, although not too early for the crowd that was already settling into the new, cacophonous casino floor with its 1,250 slot and video gaming machines. When I emerged onto the track apron — after following a winding hallway that lost more glitz the closer it got to the beige and Formica simulcasting room — it was almost a relief to count only 28 other people out there with me.

That number went up, although not by much. By noon — that was race four — fewer than 100 people were along the rail or watching the flat screens inside. What I took for a larger group in the simulcasting room turned out to be eager casino patrons signing up for players’ rewards cards — Plainridge was processing their new loyalists in the one place they had space and the noise level didn’t make it impossible to capture that all-important marketing data.

I don’t know much about Standardbreds or harness racing, except that they’re sturdy animals who often run weekly and that horses breaking from the one hole have an outsized chance at winning because of likely ground saving. I also know that at Plainridge they’re now running for higher purses funded by casino licensing fees and a percent of gaming revenues via the 25% split harness racing gets from the state’s Racehorse Development Fund, which makes total handle a little less of a concern for horsemen and the track, and that — today, anyway — they were running races every 12 minutes. It was almost as though they were running the card as a formality.

Plainridge Park
The Plainridge Park simulcasting room.

Plainridge Park
Grandstand exterior. Tents and picnic tables were set up along the wall.

Plainridge Park
Lining up for the start of a race. A classic car with “Raceway Park” stenciled on the doors handled gate duty.

Plainridge Park
Coming down the stretch for the first time.

Plainridge Park
Debs Girloffortune (#1, outside) wins the first race.

Plainridge Park
A horse warms up in front of the crowd along the rail.

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