JC / Railbird

Mongolian Saturday. #BC15#AmericanPharoahAmerican Pharoah kicking up the Polytrack this morning. #Keeneland #BC15Shhh! Liam's Map is napping. #BC15Grand Arch out for a graze. #BC15#WoMile winner Mondialiste. Kinda think he's got a shot in the #BC15 Mile.Honor Code, getting serious. #BC15

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.

“Whole new, fun world”

First impressions of the Betfair New Jersey exchange wagering platform:

The one thing that is striking to me is that I’m more engaged in betting throughout the entire process of activity in a race when liquidity begins to show up. So when trades begin in a race, I’m keeping my eye on that activity throughout the entire process. Because this is fixed odds wagering, there are opportunities to “middle” out of positions and lock up small profits in these fluctuations, if that’s your thing. This is way different than waiting 30 minutes between races to see when the real late money comes in to react. The exchange allows you be engaged in a race at any time, real action *way* before the race. The other side of this is that you can just name your price well ahead of time and just leave it there to be matched.

The exchange opens on Tuesday. Disclosure — I’m freelancing with the agency handling marketing and public relations for the company’s U.S. exchange launch. But if you’re a New Jersey bettor and you’re interested in the platform, then reading this player’s post about his beta experience is worth your time.

5/16/16 Addendum: More early players’ impressions are linked here.

Respect

The 2016 Kentucky Derby field turns into the Churchill Downs stretch
Turning into the stretch of the 2016 Kentucky Derby.

Nyquist earned a Beyer speed figure of 103 for winning the Kentucky Derby, the highest Beyer of his career; his TimeformUS speed figure came up 123. However you measure his performance on Saturday, it was a peak, and trainer Doug O’Neill looks like a pretty smart guy for bringing his Uncle Mo colt to Churchill Downs in condition to move forward off two prep races, only one of which was around two turns. I thought Nyquist would come up short for that very reason, especially if the early pace as as strong as projected.

Just like Ed DeRosa, though, running down what he got right and wrong about this year’s Derby, I have no regrets:

RIGHT: Nyquist was the best two-year-old and best three-year-old. This might sound like a funny brag considering I didn’t pick him to win the race, but at 2-to-1 keying a 14-to-1 exacta I have no regrets about opposing him on top because even if I had picked him to win I still wouldn’t have won anything on the race at that price with (my actual pick) Exaggerator second. But the respect for Nyquist’s talent was clearly there. I just gambled against it trumping the rest of the group.

WRONG: Picking against Nyquist. From a horseplayer perspective, it’s easy to forgive the pick against—especially considering how well Exaggerator ran—but the fact is everyone wants to pick the Derby winner, and I had my chance after having Nyquist on top all year.

The winner went to post at a price of 2.30 and paid $6.60 — Nyquist’s odds were the lowest for a favorite since Point Given in 2001, and lower than the odds of the three winning favorites since 2013 — Orb’s price was 5.40 that year, California Chrome’s 2.50 in 2014, and American Pharoah’s 2.90 in 2015.

Here are the incremental fractions for the Derby from the DRF chart:

The 2016 Kentucky Derby fractions
View the official Equibase chart (PDF).

Danzing Candy hustled to the front and led the field through the first three quarters in times of :22.58, :45.72, and 1:10.40 before yielding his position to eventual third-place finisher Gun Runner and then Nyquist, who assumed the lead entering the stretch and wrapped up the 1 1/4 mile Derby in 2:01.31. He did run his final quarter three seconds slower than he did his first, but that he was in front at all is what’s impressive, as Mike Watchmaker points out:

He was the only true survivor of a Derby pace that completely fell apart, and Nyquist did much more than merely survive.

Every other horse involved in the Derby pace either collapsed, or out and out disintegrated. But not Nyquist. He kept on with dogged determination the way champions so often do, and he safely turned back a runner-up in Exaggerator who had this race set up for him …

Watch the replay:

Derby recaps: Now Nyquist has real respect as he sets out to exorcise a Triple Crown demonNyquist wins the Kentucky DerbyNyquist answers call, reignites Triple Crown chase with Derby winNyquist stays perfect with Kentucky Derby victory. He ships to Pimlico on Monday for the Preakness.

Derby 142

Picks for the Kentucky Derby card are up on Hello Race Fans. Today’s best bet — or, at least, the one horse almost no one wants to play against on the undercard — is Tepin in the Churchill Distaff Turf Mile. The 2015 Breeders’ Cup Mile winner is 3-for-3 so far this year and she’s looked nothing but indomitable. She may be the one certainty in a day of deep fields.

Nyquist is 2-1 in the early Kentucky Derby wagering, below his 3-1 morning line. Some handicappers may feel uneasy about the undefeated champion’s chances (I’m among them), but money on the favorite has been steady.

Rachel’s Valentina, Ann’s Legacy

We’re just a few hours away from the Kentucky Oaks, when all eyes will be on likely post-time favorite Rachel’s Valentina, trying to emulate her dam, 2009 Oaks winner and Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra, with a win. I’m a fangirl, she’s my pick. For the more considered and better-priced opinions of other handicappers, check the Kentucky Oaks day picks grid on Hello Race Fans.

Earlier this week, Golden Gate Fields announced that it hired Angela Hermann as its new race caller, replacing Michael Wrona, who moved to Santa Anita. Hermann comes to her new gig as the former racing analyst and substitute announcer at Canterbury Park, and she’s now the only full-time female race caller working in the U.S. She’s not the first, though — that would be Jefferson Downs’ Ann Elliott, who began calling at the defunct New Orleans track in 1962. Her almost forgotten story emerged with a tweet from Ron Flatter, who shared an episode of What’s My Line that Elliott appeared on that same year. Let T.D. Thornton pick up the story:

[Elliott] was comfortable in front of a mike, already had a decent local following, and the small track could reap the benefits of the novelty of having a lady announcer. What could go wrong?

Well, for starters, Elliott got booed lustily the first time she called a race. Shortly thereafter, an inebriated owner barged into the booth and started rooting for his horse in the middle of a call. Elliott, trying to keep her composure, had to lean so far out the window that she almost fell to the grandstand. Eventually, the racetrackers and fans took a liking to her, and she to them.

Keep reading.

Kentucky Derby Time

I was feeling the American Pharoah hangover. I didn’t have a Kentucky Derby horse, I was more interested in the Oaks — why not take a year off from this one race with its oversized field and tendency to chaos after we finally, finally get a Triple Crown winner? The feeling passed with the draw. Just like that, 20 horses slotted into the starting gate, and the excitement came back.

I still don’t have a Kentucky Derby horse, but I do have a few links to share:

1. The prep and historical criteria spreadsheet is updated with the 2016 field. For the past two or three years, I’ve thought it was time to revisit some of factors, such as the key preps, or the reliance on Beyer speed figures, but as a quick reference and a check on exuberant handicapping, the info holds up.

2. Keep the sheet open in a tab while you read why you shouldn’t pick Nyquist.

3. Who else should you play? Hand your Saturday party guests the Hello Race Fans Kentucky Derby cheat sheet to answer that question.

4. The Thomas Herding “Patterns of Motion Analysis for the Kentucky Derby” report is great reading each year — it’s a different way to think about each of the starters, and how they’ll react to being in a 20-horse field, that breaks through all the usual angles. This year’s edition is as insightful as ever about a crop that everyone seems a little stumped by, even if Kerry Thomas and Pete Denk are as flummoxed as observers at Churchill Downs have been by this year’s UAE Derby winner: “Lani moves very methodically yet runs with a strange Jeckyl-and-Hyde intensity,” they write. “This is a very unique profile.”

5. Sure, Lani has a unique profile. But is it a winner’s profile? If you’re looking for an reason to bet him, then Jon White’s Kentucky Derby strikes system gives you one — he has only a single strike against him. Lani also has one of the best pedigrees for the distance, says Valerie Grash.

6. Unless there’s a scratch and Laoban draws in, the Derby pace looks like:

7. The Bathing Index. (If Mo Tom wins, I’m a convert.)

Spring Reading

Covers of recently published books about horse racing

This spring* brings a bounty of books with ties to horse racing, and only one is about the 12th Triple Crown winner — Joe Drape’s American Pharoah: The Untold Story of the Triple Crown Winner’s Legendary Rise, which comes out on April 26. If this biography by a New York Times writer of the first horse to sweep the American classics in 37 years isn’t definitive, it’s still the book anyone else who tries to write about American Pharoah will have to cite.

Two more new releases are set for April 26 — Eliza McGraw’s Here Comes Exterminator! tells the story of the longshot winner of the 1918 Kentucky Derby. The author’s history with the great horse goes deep:

My affection and reverence for Exterminator started when I read Mildred Mastin Pace’s 1955 “Old Bones, the Wonder Horse” as a child. I became re-interested with his story when I was writing an article about cavalry horses in World War I, and saw contemporary headlines. Now, I’ve become obsessed, and spend hours at the Library of Congress and the National Sporting Library in Middleburg, Va., leafing through old copies of the Thoroughbred Records from the 1920s. Last year, my preoccupation took me to Pennsylvania, to visit Garrett and Muriel McDaniel. Garrett is Henry McDaniel’s great-nephew. “These were Uncle Henry’s,” he told me, handing over a worn pair of binoculars. They felt heavy and cool in my hand, and I imagined the thrill McDaniel felt as he watched Exterminator flash around the track.

McGraw writes more about Exterminator and her research on Raceday 360.

For the more literary-minded, there’s The Sport of Kings, the second novel by Hemingway/PEN award finalist C.E. Morgan. Set on a breeding farm owned by a powerful Kentucky family, centered on a horse named Hellsmouth, it’s described by the publisher as “an unflinching portrait of lives cast in shadow by the enduring legacy of slavery.” (Put it on the shelf next to Lord of Misrule.) You can read an excerpt on the publisher’s website.

The Legend of Zippy Chippy: Life Lessons from Horse Racing’s Most Lovable Loser, by humorist William Thomas, is in bookstores (and ready to ship from Amazon) today. There’s been some good press around this book and the Zippy Chippy story, such as this delightful New York Post feature. Zippy’s enjoying a happy retirement at Old Friends’ Cabin Creek farm.

If you’re interested in the intersection of horse racing and tech, or the collision of social media and the Zenyatta fandom, Holly Kruse’s Off-Track and Online: The Networked Spaces of Horse Racing has you covered. Kruse approaches an “overlooked” industry and its participants as a researcher and racing fan, a compelling mix for an academic title that opens with the invention of the totalizator and tries to impress on readers the importance of “understanding age, gender, class, race, and geography in broader social contexts.”

It might seem an odd pairing, but My Adventures with Your Money can easily be read alongside Kruse’s book as a tale of finding innovative — and not always legal — ways to use new technologies. Published last fall (making it the * in this round-up), T.D. Thornton’s history of con man George Graham Rice fits our cultural moment (and maybe this election season). A swindler, a grifter, a hustler who couldn’t stop hustling, Rice got his start selling tout sheets and manipulating the tote, then bounced in and out of prison for luring suckers into bad investments in the go-go days of 1920s Wall Street (he was also a “pioneer of sex appeal” in marketing). Rice preyed on the greedy and naive and relished it — if you like to root for charismatic anti-heroes (Walter White, Donald Trump), or if you’re fascinated by how such people entice dupes into their schemes, you’ll probably get a kick out of his story.

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