Jessica Chapel / Railbird

Blind Luck

Blind Luck to Lady’s Secret

Farewell to the rivalry for this year:

While Blind Luck’s rival Havre de Grace will likely use the Beldame as a prep for the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) against males, Hollendorfer said there is no way his filly will run in that race.

“I’m not running her in the Classic,” he said. “I don’t believe in that. If others want to do it, God bless them. If we win the Ladies’ Classic, that’s plenty good for us.”

Farewell to Horse of the Year, too.

9/22/11 Addendum: About HOTY, Hollendorfer? Hovdey inquires. “If I did the right thing for my horse, I’d say that nothing would make a difference.”

9/29/11 Update: Interesting — the rivalry could resume in 2012. According to their connections, both fillies are expected to race as 5YOs.

Painful Perfection

Brian Zipse asks why Blind Luck gets a pass that Rachel Alexandra didn’t:

I understand that Rachel was held to a higher standard, as the reigning Horse of the Year, but to what end? Have we become so expecting of perfection of our stars, that they simply can not live up to them. Do we not allow ourselves to fully enjoy the special ones, because of these expectations?

Simply, yes.

There’s something about repeated brilliance that inspires a fear of loss (a fear not specific to racing). It’s sentimental. We can’t stand to lose the magic.

Front Runners

Since the start of the Santa Anita meet, trainer Bob Baffert has once again become a familiar face in the track’s winner’s circle:

It wouldn’t be inappropriate at all if “Happy Days are Here Again” was being piped on a continuous loop at Baffert’s Santa Anita barn. Or if there was the overall feeling that the clock had been turned back a decade or more.

Baffert horses have won 17 races and finished in-the-money in 28 races out of 33 starts. That’s a win rate of 46%, an ITM rate of 76%. Of his 17 winners, all on the dirt, nine have won going wire-to-wire and another five have been within a length of the lead at the start. Always a Princess, winner of the El Encino Stakes on Sunday, counts among the latter. The 4-1 third-favorite chased Champagne d’Oro through early fractions of :22.38 and :45.41, drawing away in the stretch to finish 3 1/2 lengths ahead of favored Blind Luck with a final time of 1:41.47. Blind Luck, making her 4-year-old debut:

… never appeared comfortable in the El Encino as jockey Joel Rosario tried to get her going while racing from well off the pace in a field reduced to five 4-year-old fillies by three scratches. She shied from the whip a couple of times in the stretch.

She also appeared to take a bad step mid-stretch and then stumbled after the wire, dumping Rosario (the rider was uninjured). Despite her apparent dislike of the going, Blind Luck still ran the final 2 1/2 furlongs almost a second faster than did Always a Princess. DRF Formulator gives her closing time as :31.78, Always a Princess :32.73. Being a deep closer on a speed-favoring track is never easy, and trainer Jerry Hollendorfer seemed to be considering his options for the filly after the race, telling Steve Andersen, “We may have to do something else. If the track stays the same way, I don’t think we’ll run here.”

In the Sham Stakes on Saturday, even-money Tapizar went wire-to-wire to win by 4 1/4 lengths over Clubhouse Ride. The race marked the start of Santa Anita’s sophomore glamour series — otherwise known as Kentucky Derby preps — making Tapizar trainer Steve Asmussen’s newest Derby prospect.

If we’re starting to talk about Derby prospects, that means it’s also the time of year I start updating the big Derby Prep Schedule and Results chart.

California Jam

Why gadfly horse owner Jerry Jamgotchian is coming back to California:

… Jamgotchian said he feels California is a better place to race now because the “purse structure is higher” and smaller stakes fields increase the chances of his horses acquiring black-type than, for example, at Gulfstream Park.

“There are less horses in California to compete against. The new dirt track at Santa Anita is also an impetus,” he said.

At least someone sees a silver lining in the horse shortage plaguing SoCal. More than 2,400 horses stabled at Santa Anita and Hollywood, and Saturday’s Sham Stakes, the first of the track’s Kentucky Derby preps, only draws five — all maiden winners, but for Clubhouse Ride. What is really going on? Foolish Pleasure would like to know:

Can anyone explain exactly what is the real story behind California’s so-called “horse shortage”? Reading Steve Andersen’s piece in the DRF this morning it struck me once again that all we ever hear out of that state in recent years is excuses why they can’t fill cards.

Field size, reports Blood-Horse in an article on the horseplayers’ boycott of California, “is averaging 7.69 horses per race, down from 7.91 from the same period last year.” That’s with one fewer day of racing a week.

I’m not sure how much longer the higher purses drawing Jamgotchian will be around, if the boycott succeeds. It does seem to be attracting attention. It also may be making a noticeable impact. Thursday was the first official day of the action, and compared to the previous Thursday, handle was down 15.26% (from $5,454,129 to $4,621,858), despite steady attendance, the same number of races, and a difference of five starters. The decline was striking, after a couple weeks in which figures were down, but difficult to interpret.

Five for the Sham, but eight for Sunday’s El Encino Stakes, which features certain 3-year-old filly champion Blind Luck making her first start of the year. She’ll be running against the new dirt’s speed-favoring profile and front-runners Champagne d’Oro (the other G1 winner in the field) and trainer Bob Baffert’s Always a Princess, coming off a fourth in last month’s La Brea Stakes.

Odds and Ends

Blind Luck is raring to go for the El Encino Stakes next Sunday. She worked seven furlongs on Santa Anita on Friday in 1:25.20 and then galloped out another seven furlongs. “For a slightly built filly, she has loads of energy,” observed Jay Privman. On Sunday, it was The Factor flying over the Santa Anita dirt, going five furlongs in :58 flat. “He went a little too fast — he got away from the rider,” said trainer Bob Baffert of the 3-year-old colt.

Culture clash at the Big A? “I feel like I’m in an OTB! I feel like I’m in an OTB!,” LATG overhears an Aqueduct patron telling a security guard. Friday was the one month anniversary of NYC OTB’s closure. Funny, but the parlors already seem like something out of the far past, which I suppose says something about how removed from the mainstream life of the city they had become. (If you’d like to remember days at the OTB, here’s an unexpectedly poignant little video that captures the operation’s waning hours.) While there are some pains as the new element is absorbed into the track scene, NYRA’s efforts to attract displaced OTB bettors are paying off with higher ontrack handle and 2,434 new NYRA Rewards customers since December 8. On Saturday, the new Belmont Café took in a high point $137,889 in wagers from 325 players. “It just goes to show you that simple accommodations — a clean bathroom and a decent place to eat — can go a long way,” writes Jerry Bossert. There’s a still a significant shortfall in NYRA’s total handle, but the trend is positive.

So, the investigation into the l’affaire Life at Ten is ongoing, with the Office of the Inspector General in the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet being brought in “to have some independent review for certain aspects of it.” That’s KHRC executive director Lisa Underwood talking to Jennie Rees, who also reports that the KHRC has conducted 90 interviews regarding the Breeders’ Cup Distaff Ladies’ Classic fiasco. Ninety? Once this investigation concludes, how about another into what’s been a frustratingly opaque and slow process.

A New Year’s resolution particularly relevant to the above: “Protect the punter.”

Final handle numbers for 2010 were down 7.3% from 2009, to $11.4 billion from $12.3 billion. That’s the lowest annual total since 1995. “Obviously, we are losing bettors to other forms of gambling,” TRA executive vice president Chris Scherf tells Janet Patton. “We are in the midst of an unmanaged, market-driven contraction touching most aspects of the racing business.” Unmanaged is the key word, and nowhere is that more apparent right now that in the date dispute shaping up in southern Florida between Calder and Gulfstream. As for losing out to other games, sports bettors and poker players are pretty upfront about why they’re not paying much attention to racing.

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