JC / Railbird

HANA

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.”

Noted and Noticed

Penn National chairman Peter Carlino and CHRB vice chairman David Israel don’t agree on the value of supplementing purses, but they do on racing’s demographic. “There aren’t sufficient numbers of racing customers in the world anymore because they died,” Carlino said today in an investors and analysts conference call. “The average age of our ontrack customer is deceased, and the average age of our satellite customer is decomposed,” Israel told attendees of the UA-RTIP symposium last December. At least Israel went on to talk about reaching out to potential un-dead fans.

HANA president Jeff Platt, a racing customer very much alive, talks to Jack Shinar about the month-long players’ boycott of California. “Right now I believe there are a number of people in track management that are considering going to the CHRB to ask that it rescind the takeout increase,” said Platt, who took part in recent meetings with track executives. “The TOC is being very tight-lipped about this. This was a horsemen’s idea, after all, not a track idea.” No comment on the boycott from the TOC to Shinar. (Are they just considering, or have they already had discussions about rescinding the takeout increase? That’s an interesting question, considering the depressed handle and what must be growing concern re: the purse account.)

The equine California makes his debut in race eight at Gulfstream on Saturday in the first race at Gulfstream on Sunday. Trainer Todd Pletcher scratched the Madcap Escapade colt from a race that included barnmate Cal Nation, a half-brother to graded stakes winner Bluegrass Cat, and re-entered him in a race that came up a little less contentious. John Velazquez is named to ride on Sunday, instead of Ramon Dominguez, who had the mount in Saturday’s race.

2/7/11 Addendum: California finished third in his first start.

Meetings Taken

Santa Anita and Del Mar executives recently met with horseplayers to discuss the January 1 takeout increase and other concerns. Art Wilson reports:

A HANA-backed boycott of California races is believed to be a factor in Santa Anita’s declining handle numbers this meet. HANA president Jeff Platt and the group’s California representative, Roger Way, met with Santa Anita president George Haines and Allen Gutterman, the track’s marketing director, on Sunday at Santa Anita and with Del Mar president Craig Fravel and marketing director Craig Dado on Monday … Aaron Vercruysse, hired recently by the Thoroughbred Owners of California to advise the group on betting matters, attended Sunday’s meeting …

The meetings are evidence that horseplayers, as represented by HANA, have gained the clout to compel conversation about customer issues. And while conversation isn’t action of the sort that’s going to end the players’ boycott, it is a start, one that went over well with Andy Asaro, a California horseplayer who attended both meetings. I talked with Asaro last night and he was positive about the discussions, describing the Santa Anita and Del Mar executives as “very interested” in the bettors’ perspective and open to making adjustments. He was less appreciative of the TOC, represented by Vercruysse. Although Asaro found Vercruysse pleasant and knowledgeable, he felt his presence was perfunctory. “He was there for the TOC to be able to say they talked to us,” said Asaro, suggesting that wasn’t enough. “They need to show goodwill.”

1/31/11 Addendum: HANA president Jeff Platt answers questions about the meetings. Noted: “However, I think there might be at least partial support at this point within track management to rescind the takeout increase. I say that because they reached out to us. They are looking for solutions.”

Conflict of Interest

Will dirt’s return trump horseplayers’ takeout rage when Santa Anita opens?

Bill Finley, writing in support of an organized players’ boycott, notes:

Santa Anita might actually get off to a good start. A lot of bettors are excited about the return to dirt and that might yield an increase in handle at the outset. But what will eventually happen is what always happens when racetracks raise the take.

Via Bill Christine, Bruno de Julio certainly thinks dirt will win out:

“Dirt is in,” he says, “the track is doing massive marketing on the return to dirt, and do y’ll [sic] think this is going to deter the player from sending [money] in with both hands on opening day? … This boycott is a delusional cause. It won’t happen.”

Steve Davidowitz believes boycotters are making a tactical mistake:

[The boycott] will not work. Because the handle may not be negatively impacted by anything anytime soon given that southern California players have wanted to handicap and play races on dirt for too long to suddenly abandon such plans.

For Davidowitz, the problem is timing; I see it as one of focus. Instead of a single, easily promoted action that harnesses bettor enthusiasm for California dirt and demonstrates price sensitivity, the Players’ Boycott site offers several ways to show support for the cause, ranging from total withdrawal to offshore wagering (?!) — which will add up to no measurable impact.

Friday Notes

There have been retirements, defections, and unexpected announcements, but the recent Breeders’ Cup news that’s most interested me is that Theyskens’ Theory is now a probable for the Juvenile Fillies. ‘Theory,’ a Bernardini-sired 3/4 sibling to 2005 juvenile champion Stevie Wonderboy, started her career with three straight wins two wins from three starts before finishing third to Together and White Moonstone in the Fillies’ Mile. Trainer Brian Meehan, who hadn’t been talking about the BC for the buzz baby before that race at Ascot last month, much less a surface switch, said of the effort, “It was a good run, just not her best.” Maybe she’ll show that at Churchill Downs.

Keeneland president Nick Nicholson is succeeding Alan Marzelli as Equibase chairman at the end of the year. Dare to dream? It would be nice if the announcement heralded positive changes for the industry’s database going forward. Getting ahead of things, I started wondering what datasets I’d most like Equibase to make freely available in the way that Keeneland has its Polycapping database and sales results. All the Triple Crown races, of course, and the Breeders’ Cup races, as a group and by division. The Eclipse winners, as a group and by division. Pools, certainly, by track, by year, by wager type …

Dick Powell gets political:

While watching Mr. McMillan direct every issue back to the rent being too damn high, it occurred to me that maybe this is just what we need in horse racing. Instead of analyzing to death all the nuances of the issues that plague our sport, maybe we need the single-mindedness of Mr. McMillan. Maybe, we need Mr. McMillan himself to be our leader. Maybe we need Mr. McMillan to head up a new movement called “The Takeout is Too Damn High!”

Racing already has a McMillan. Its name is HANA.

With the end of the Suffolk Downs meet fast approaching, many East Boston racehorses are in need of new careers. CANTER New England is holding its fifth annual Showcase this Sunday, October 24, on the Suffolk backstretch, from 9:00 AM to noon, for just that reason. Read this delightful OTTB success story, about how well a retired Suffolk thoroughbred adapted to life off track, and stop by to check out the dozens of jumper, riding, and pasture prospects that the hard-working CANTER volunteers have cataloged for this year’s event.