JC / Railbird

Churchill Downs

A Jock’s World

Really nice photo essay by Bill Frakes on ESPN about Brian Hernandez, Jr., who rode McCraken to eighth in the Kentucky Derby.

Saturday, Churchill

Eric Crawford on American Pharoah parading at Churchill Downs on Saturday:

Crowds show up for one reason, to watch you run. Instead, he was being led over and turned not up the tunnel to be saddled, but kept straight on the grandstand, introduced as “Triple Crown winner, American Pharoah,” to each section, as ovation followed ovation.

Entering the paddock, a throng just as large, it seemed, as the one on the frontside was waiting. He passed a man wearing a pharaoh’s headgear. Rows of fans pressed forward on every balcony. The paddock was full, with fans holding signs and shouting to the horse, as if he could understand.

“I’ve waited all my life to see you,” one man said.

It was something to see, so many people pressing to catch a glimpse of the the 12th Triple Crown winner. The cheering was constant.

I saw American Pharoah earlier in the day, getting to the backstretch in time to watch him gallop. He was accompanied by a band of fans to the track and back, surrounded by admirers as he was bathed. Everyone was taking pictures. That part I’ve seen before. What I never have, though, is what happened next, when his bath was done, and he was led into the barn to walk the shedrow wearing his Triple Crown winner’s blanket — his audience applauded.

Photos from Saturday:

American Pharoah gallops at Churchill Downs

American Pharoah gets a bath

American Pharoah walks the shedrow

American Pharaoh parades in the Churchill Downs paddock

Fans line the paddock fence for American Pharoah

More Speed

Interesting reading from TimeformUS about how California Chrome’s Kentucky Derby figure was revised from a preliminary 104 to a final 110:

… we believe the wind and maintenance and distance … combined to make the final time seem even slower than it really was. California Chrome may not have broken any records, but his TimeformUS Speed Figure suggests his Derby was stronger than some may think.

I guess we won’t know until after the Preakness Stakes, or possibly later in the year, but I share the sense that his Derby win was better than the figures look, especially taking the wind into account for the first quarter, during which California Chrome had to make use of his tactical speed to secure a position rating off the early pace. He’s the only starter who ran a sub :24 first quarter to finish in the top four — the closest any of the other 10 who did the same finished was fifth, and six in that group finished 14th through 19th.

See also: Rob Bingel’s analysis of wind and time in the Derby (PDF) (via).

Related: Bob Ehalt talks to Len Friedman about California Chrome’s 7 1/4 sheets figure, “the slowest number since Cannonade earned an 8 in 1974.”

5/12/14 Addendum: Mike Watchmaker on the Derby Beyer speed figure:

… in this Derby, an incredible 15 of the 19 starters received lower Beyers than they did in their prior starts. In fact, it is incredible when such a large percentage of the field tails off Beyer-wise in any race, and is immediate cause to question the veracity of the winning fig.

The revised TimeformUS figure is roughly equivalent to 103 on the Beyer scale, which is still a regression from California Chrome’s previous 107 and 108, but seems a more plausible number than the 97 Beyer given to the Derby.

Turning Away Turcotte


Turcotte talks with a young fan in the Belmont paddock (2012).

Hall of Fame jockey Ron Turcotte, in a wheelchair since an on-track accident at Belmont Park in 1978, shares some stories of his own about Churchill Downs:

In 2012, despite being the subject of a National Film Board of Canada documentary being filmed at Churchill Downs, I was denied any parking assistance by the track. If not for the gracious actions of the film crew who had no other choice but to pay Churchill Downs $500 to allow me the “privilege” of on-site parking in a handicapped accessible spot, I am not sure what would have happened. In 2013, despite strong lobbying on my behalf by the Kentucky Derby Museum who hosted my appearance, I once again received no parking accommodation from Churchill Downs and ultimately was forced to park in an off-track neighborhood lot across Central Avenue. Making matters worse, I was then informed that Churchill Downs policy restricted my access to the Museum grounds only, preventing me from even being able to watch the race I had won twice.

Oh, who’s Turcotte? Just the guy who won the Triple Crown with Secretariat. I’m trying to imagine another sport treating one of its legends shabbily.

“Enough is enough,” tweets owner Steve Zorn. “CDI is embarrassing the game.”

If there’s a Triple Crown season tagline this year, “enough is enough” is it.

Odds and Ends

Tim Layden tries to ask trainer Steve Asmussen about the PETA allegations: “I just don’t think this is the time or the place to address it. I think the preparation of these horses for a once in a lifetime opportunity is the focus. And that’s what I’m going to concentrate on right now.” Lots of questions, but unless I’ve missed it, I don’t think anyone’s asked this — are Oaks and Derby contenders Untapable and Taptiture getting thyroxine (a drug mentioned as a widely used supplement in Asmussen’s barn in the PETA video) and if so, why?

Steve Davidowitz writes that the Kentucky Derby isn’t just the fastest or the greatest two minutes in sports: “it also is the most dangerous.” Cover your eyes when they break from the gate!

Gary Stevens will ride Will Take Charge in the Alysheba Stakes at Churchill Downs on Friday. “We’re looking at the big picture,” trainer D. Wayne Lukas told Dave Grening. “The Breeders’ Cup is at Santa Anita and Gary knows every grain of sand there. Nothing against Luis, but I thought Gary would be a natural fit.” Stevens and Mucho Macho Man beat Luis Saez and Will Take Charge by a nose in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic. Sounds like the jockey switch means the “Man” will need a new rider for this year.

Sturm und Derby

Is there anyone who isn’t upset with Churchill Downs this Kentucky Derby week? Well, Steve Asmussen was smiling while paddock schooling Kentucky Oaks morning-line favorite Untapable and Derby contender Tapiture this afternoon, despite the PETA allegations. And trainer Art Sherman seems happy to be in Louisville, although who knows what he really thought on seeing California Chrome’s name misspelled on his Derby contender saddlecloth.

But nine out of 10 Horseplayers Association members polled reportedly plan to bet Churchill less or not at all, due to the recent takeout hike. Rick Porter of Fox Hill Farm is fed up with Churchill’s gracelessness towards horse owners on stakes days (fellow owner Bobby Flay tweeted his support). And Little Mike’s owner-trainer Carl Vaccarezza is furious that the track took a blood sample for out-of-competition testing from his stable star in advance of the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic. (Little Mike now won’t be running on Saturday.)

Call it the Angry Derby.

If there’s good news, it’s that the horses don’t care. Twenty will go to post at about 6:24 PM on Saturday, and one will be the Kentucky Derby winner at approximately 6:30 PM. Post positions won’t be drawn until late Wednesday afternoon, but it’s not too early to start geeking out on Derby handicapping. If you’re looking for the 2014 historical criteria spreadsheet, it’s here, and it’ll be fully updated after Derby past performances are available.

4/30/14 Addendum: Re: the above in the context of the rumor that the Breeders’ Cup will be at Keeneland in 2015 (and Del Mar in 2016): “Lately, however, Churchill Downs’ ability to generate cash has been running neck-and-neck with its knack for making enemies.” Ow. And Frank Vespe explains why we should care about Porter’s rage: “He’s mad as hell … and a lot of people around racing are feeling the same way.”

Pricing

Tom LaMarra on simulcasting fees and Churchill’s recent takeout hike:

I’m no math whiz, so correct me if I’m wrong. In the case of Churchill, if its host fee remains the same, a rebate shop and its customers get to keep the extra 3 percentage points when the exacta takeout goes from 19% to 22%.

If you operate a rebate shop or are a large importer of simulcast signals, higher takeout is money. That may explain why racetracks, rebate shops, and [ADWs] don’t complain about 30% trifecta rakes: If they pay the sender 3% for the signal, there’s 27 cents per dollar to play with before taxes.

Matt Hegarty on how those cents might get shared:

If simulcast rates do not go up at the same rate as the takeouts, then some players may not feel the full impact of the hikes. Many account-wagering operations, including Churchill’s mammoth twinspires.com and an offshore site the company bought several years ago, offer rebates to players, and some sites may elect to forgo the additional revenue to increase the rebates to their players on the Churchill signal. Many rebated players, including those who use automated systems employing algorithms to determine their wagers, are highly sensitive to takeout rates.

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