I believe that consolidating stakes too aggressively can have the opposite of the intended effect — actually reducing customer interest and wagering activity on regular and weekend race days throughout the rest of the meet. “Big Days” are exciting for the casual racetrack customer. However, I would suggest that offering consistent weekend race cards combined with a takeout reduction would be a better way to grow the racing business and make our product more competitive with other gambling and entertainment offerings.
Yes. How easy is it to find something else to do when even a holiday weekend card is full of short fields and/or lacks a classy feature? The many factors making super-cards a trend “may have reached critical mass with Saturday’s card at Belmont,” says Mike Watchmaker, running down an afternoon of racing that’s “a little scary” in its lower-level quality. (Sunday isn’t better.)
Two weeks ago, the Breeders’ Cup Classic looked as though it would be a showdown between two California 3-year-olds. Now it’s setting up as an East Coast vs. West Coast sophomore clash, after Belmont Stakes winner Tonalist exited a troubled Jockey Club Gold Cup with his second Grade 1 win and an improved, blinkers-off running style, and undefeated Shared Belief was tested, but not bested, by trainer Bob Baffert’s duo of Fed Biz and Sky Kingdom in the Awesome Again. Both winners reportedly came out their races in fine shape.
That’s the good news. The bad is that jockey Rajiv Maragh is out indefinitely with a broken arm after falling from Wicked Strong during the first half of the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Junior Alvarado, aboard Moreno when he veered into Wicked Strong’s path, causing the two to clip heels, is due before the stewards at Belmont Park this Wednesday to discuss the incident. [10/1/14 Update: Alvarado has been suspended for 15 days (DRF+ link).]
At Santa Anita, the stewards have already handed Victor Espinoza a seven-day suspension for the Awesome Again, in which his mount, Sky Kingdom, the longest shot in the field, steered Mike Smith and Shared Belief toward the center of the track on the first turn and then kept them running wide until he tired on the far turn and fell back to finish last. Trakus shows Shared Belief running 66 feet more than runner-up Fed Biz, who had a rail trip.
“It’s ridiculous,” Espinoza told Art Wilson on Saturday, responding to the allegation that Sky Kingdom was acting as a foil for his stablemate’s competition. “I would never try to hurt anybody or bump somebody, especially a horse like that. He’s an amazing horse. My horse, he always runs on the outside. He doesn’t like having dirt kicked in his face.”
Whether intentional or not, writes Mike Watchmaker, “what Espinoza did in the Awesome Again looks bad. Really bad. It appeared unprofessional.” You can judge for yourself: Watch Santa Anita’s HD replay.
While Smith was hotly deriding his rival’s post-race explanation, trainer Jerry Hollendorfer was playing it cool. “We’re all big boys,” he said. “It’s no big deal for me. Mike [Smith] will have to settle up with Victor [Espinoza]. It’s not the worst thing in the world to have a tough race and be double fit for the Breeders’ Cup. That race will be tougher, so we’ll need to be tougher too.”
Beyer speed figures and TimeformUS ratings for Super Saturday’s Belmont Park and Santa Anita graded stakes winners:
Re: Shared Belief’s 114 for the Awesome Again, Craig Milkowski tweeted, “If our figures included ground loss, particularly ground loss in relation to pace, Shared Belief would easily be 125+ …”
With rider Gary Stevens up, Beholder worked a mile in 1:40.20 at Santa Anita on Monday in preparation for the June 7 Ogden Phipps at Belmont Park. Trainer Richard Mandella got her in “1:38 and change,” and apparently, thought she looked so good that he “did a giddy jig afterward,” reports Jay Privman. Marcie Heacox observed her recent afternoon schooling:
Beholder schooled in a new way — without a pony but with a saddle and regular exercise rider David Nuesch. Like previous schooling sessions, she wore a hood to block noise, and Racing Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella distracted her with peppermints. The team put the saddle on soon after she arrived at the paddock, and Nuesch mounted a few minutes before she exited, but she didn’t react to either change. She usually goes crazy at some point during schooling, but this time she behaved absolutely perfectly.
Sounds like she’s physically and mentally in the same shape as she was before winning last year’s Breeders’ Cup Distaff, and ready to meet Princess of Sylmar and Apple Blossom winner Close Hatches on their home turf.
The 2013 Kentucky Oaks field was considered one of the best ever. The five fillies listed above as candidates for the Phipps all ran in last year’s Kentucky Oaks. Princess of Sylmar won at 38-1. Beholder finished second at 9-1 after acting up and unseating Garrett Gomez prior to the start. Dreaming of Julia finished fourth as the 3-2 favorite after she “got annihilated at the start” and “got stopped later in the race,” according to Todd Pletcher, the filly’s trainer. Midnight Lucky finished fifth at 7-2, which has been her only loss in four career starts to date. Close Hatches finished seventh at 7-1.
Amazing. Unlimited Budget, third in the 2013 Kentucky Oaks, hasn’t been mentioned among the Phipps possibles, but she is still running, finishing second in the G3 Rampart Stakes at Gulfstream last month.
Today’s group and graded stakes with potential Breeders’ Cup implications from Newmarket to Churchill Downs, listed in order of approximate post time:
Race names link to summary results, winner names to replays.
There’s also the ungraded Unzip Me Stakes at Santa Anita (post time 9:14 PM ET), and almost a full card’s worth of maiden special weights for juveniles: Race two (1:36 PM ET) and race three (2:07 PM ET) at Belmont; race one (4:00 PM ET), race three (5:04 PM ET), and race four (5:37 PM ET) at Santa Anita; and race three (6:56 PM ET) and race six (8:30 PM ET) at Churchill Downs.
Among the many notable runners today are Pachelbel, the first foal of Music Note, winner of several stakes, including the 2008 Mother Goose and 2009 Beldame, making his first career start in race two at Belmont for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, and Take Control, the now 6-year-old son of Azeri and A.P. Indy making his first start in more than a year and just his fourth career start overall. What’s he been up to? That’s a good question.
Big Brown at Three Chimneys in May 2012.
Looking back, it’s easy to see Big Brown’s loss in the 2008 Belmont Stakes as the point where the unraveling of IEAH began, and to marvel at how closely that outfit’s rise and fall paralleled the global subprime bubble and 2008 financial collapse, from slick talk and shady deals to ruin. Michael Iavarone and company boasted that they were bringing Wall Street to the racetrack, and in the worst way, they succeeded — all that’s left now of their ambitions, as Ryan Goldberg reports in his detailed, must-read story on Deadspin, is an empty equine hospital and a decrepit sign honoring Big Brown outside what was trainer Rick Dutrow’s Aqueduct barn. The horse, at least, is living the high life of a stud at Three Chimneys Farm, which has “all the charm of a quaint, leafy village, but with the perks of an executive suite” (via).
Turning to happier Belmont memories, what a remarkable moment:
We asked Chenery and Turcotte to watch the 1973 Belmont together. As the video played, as Chick Anderson’s legendary race call began, as the pair saw the timeless race unfold again, with Secretariat shooting up a gap near the rail, Turcotte told his former owner that he could feel the big horse’s heartbeat during the race, that he could feel the horse’s rhythmic breathing through his legs.
Hello Race Fans picks for Belmont day are up. Good luck, everyone!
The Breeders’ Cup was held at Santa Anita in 1986, 1993, 2003, 2008 and 2009. In those five years, 31 Breeders’ Cup races were decided on Santa Anita’s main track. Horses coming off a race in New York have won just one of those 31 races for a miniscule 3.2% strike rate. That one winner was Lady’s Secret, who captured the 1986 Distaff after having won the Beldame in her most recent start. Lady’s Secret was voted 1986 Horse of the Year and entered the Hall of Fame in 1992.
Yikes. I knew the record was poor, but that’s a stark stat.
New York prepped horses do a bit better finishing in the money in main track Breeders’ Cup races at Santa Anita, with 17 running either second or third in the five years the BC has been held at the SoCal track. The main track race in which New York prepped horses have done the best at Santa Anita is the Juvenile Fillies — five New York fillies have finished in the money. New Yorkers also did their best on the Santa Anita main track in 2008 and 2009 — the synthetic surface years — when five and four, respectively, finished in the money, particularly in the Filly and Mare Sprint (2nd and 3rd, 2008), Distaff (2nd and 3rd, 2008), and Dirt Mile (2nd and 3rd, 2009).
Gov. Cuomo, in a startling move, has decided to “privatize” the running of the famed Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga thoroughbred tracks with a new management company that will replace the scandal-scarred New York Racing Association, The Post has learned.
I have no idea how this will play out, can make no predictions on how New York racing will be changed in the coming years, but do wish I could shake the unease and cynicism that comes with everything I read of Cuomo’s plans.
9/25/12 Addendum: Tom Noonan gives three reasons why privatization isn’t such a hot idea. Cuomo walks back the report, according to the New York Times, saying privatization is just one option that might be considered.
9/27/12 All you need to read on the subject: “I don’t see this happening.”
Aqueduct numbers year-to-year, week-to-week, and day-to-day:
On the second day without NYC OTB, on-track attendance was still up, and on-track handle spiked by almost 11% over Wednesday, 12.8% over the previous Thursday. Interstate handle declined from the day before, but was up a tiny 1.3% over last Thursday. The ugly number is intrastate handle, which was down 4.6% over Wednesday, and almost 39.1% from last Thursday. How much of that was money moving? The difference in on-track handle from Wednesday to Thursday is plus $53,125; intrastate handle minus $40,000. If most of the upped on-track dollars were formerly intrastate wagers, then NYRA made gains, even if small. Over on LATG, Alan Mann estimates that NYRA needs to “capture one-third of the wagers placed on its races at NYC OTB in order to break even,”* and it does seem as though they’re doing all they can to grab those bettors, if the flurry of press releases sent out today is any indication, offering double points to customers signing up for NYRA Rewards before December 31, opening up Belmont for simulcasting beginning this Sunday, and looking for a way to get the races back on TV in the city.
In a comment yesterday, EJXD2 said, “I wish people would stop lamenting the death of NYC OTB and instead celebrate that a corrupt system is no more.” Fair enough. Huzzah! NYC OTB is dead! But there’s not much time for lamenting or celebrating. John Pricci called December 7, “the beginning of the end of the modern era of racing in New York,” and while we may not look back on that as such a bad thing, given how troubled the era passing became in its latter days, there’s pain ahead due to lost livelihoods and inevitable structural changes. The bright side (really) is now that closure has come to pass, and action is necessary before the whole industry goes broke, New York has an opportunity to blow up the dysfunctional OTB system and replace it with a streamlined operation** better suited to supporting racing in the contemporary market, which means efficient management and an approach to customers that’s less get-your-fix and more have-great-fun. It won’t be easy, but it must be done.
*8:15 PM Update: Talking to reporters in the Aqueduct press box this morning, NYRA CEO Charles Hayward confirmed that’s about right: “Hayward estimated that NYRA has to try and make up for 35 percent of what NYCOTB handled at its parlors because only 2.4 percent of each dollar wagered at an OTB parlor goes to NYRA, compared with 10 percent of each dollar wagered ontrack.”
**12/10/10 Update: Writes Jerry Bossert in the NY Daily News: “I’m all for it, but it will never happen as there would then be only one President, one vice-president, one director of marketing, etc. It will never fly as there are too many patronage jobs out there currently occupying all those seats in the other five regions.” I fear he’s right — political considerations have held up past attempts at reform — but maybe NYC OTB closing was just the shock needed to make this time different. (Via @BklynBckstretch.)
Because of this lucrative pipeline, Rudy has compiled one of the most phenomenal statistics I’ve ever seen. Horses making their first start for the Rodriguez barn after a straight trainer change have won 15 of 29 starts, a celestial 52 percent. In addition, Rudy has hit first-time out with 8 of 22 claimed horses. That is a 36 percent strike rate.
Rodriguez’s win rate is 30% for the year, 35.7% at Belmont since the start of the fall meet. He’s in the money 65% for the year, 69% at Belmont.
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