JC / Railbird


Saturday Notes

The Suffolk Downs-NEHBPA dispute has made Paul Daley pessimistic:

Sadly, within the next month, live thoroughbred racing in New England may become the stuff of history books.

Despite the resumption of negotiations on Thursday with the NEHBPA, six simulcasting signals are still blocked at Suffolk Downs. For the second consecutive Saturday, Massachusetts bettors will take their money elsewhere: “My good friend, suffolkdownslova, has to drive all the way to Raynham-Taunton Greyhound Park to place the bets he so lovingly needs.”

Monmouth’s experiment has been mentioned as a model for Suffolk’s future, but a more instructive success might be Tampa Bay Downs, where many Massachusetts horsemen winter. Ed DeRosa highlights just one example of what the track has done well — the reduced takeout Pick 4, up 31%.

Orlando Bocachica, Suffolk’s leading rider in 2009, is hot at Gulfstream.

2/20/11 Suffolk Dispute Update: The track has presented the NEHBPA with a new offer for the 2011 meet. More information will be available on Monday.

Congratulations, Ramon

Ramon Dominguez’s 15-year career as a jockey has been more journeyman than money rider. Before moving his tack to New York in 2009, where he swept the leading rider title at every NYRA meet that year and scored his 4000th career win at Aqueduct last March, he dominated the mid-Atlantic circuit, only occasionally breaking through nationally, as he did when Better Talk Now won the 2004 Breeders’ Cup Turf or Scrappy T collided with Afleet Alex at the top of the Pimlico stretch in the 2005 Preakness Stakes.

In 2010, hard work and talent not only made Dominguez one of the most consistent and capable jockeys in the game, it also made him one of the most successful, with earnings of $16,911,880 and 369 wins, including 43 stakes, five of those G1s. Last night, out-polling Garrett Gomez 124-60, Dominguez won his first Eclipse Award. Of the honor, NYRA handicapper Andy Serling said it best: “Glad to see Ramon Dominguez win the Eclipse for Jockey of the Year. People like him make me proud to work in this industry.”

More Dominguez! Here’s a Flickr gallery of the jockey, with stakes winners Better Talk Now, Gio Ponti, Haynesfield, Fabulous Strike …

More Eclipse Awards: Steve Crist counts votes, Claire Novak recaps, Bill Dwyre celebrates with Horse of the Year Zenyatta’s connections (“I’m so happy for the fans”), Foolish Pleasure lists. And even more reactions via Raceday 360 …

A Dapper Man

Tod Sloan on his return from Europe

Tod Sloan, “great jockey, famed rounder, spender, one-time friend of millionaires and occasional toast of royalty,” on his return from Europe, 1898. The portrait is part of the Museum of the City of New York’s photography collection, much of which was recently published online. A quick search turns up approximately 150 photos of New York racing — including Sheepshead and Belmont racetracks — from the late 19th and early 20th century (via Kottke).

Questions, Questions

Steve Haskin keeps up the quest for answers:

Speaking of Rachel’s retirement, some fairly reliable tidbits heard through the grapevine include Jess Jackson and Steve Asmussen knowing she would not race again as of a week or two ago, and that it was nagging foot problems that prompted her retirement. Another cited suspensory issues. See what happens when you are not forthright in announcing the retirement of a horse such as this.

It is hoped one of these, if true, will be made public in the next day or two to give closure to Rachel’s retirement.

Would it make a difference now to learn there was an injury?

Here’s one question answered: Jockey Patrick Valenzuela, who has the mount on juvenile graded stakes winner JP’s Gusto, will be able to ride at Keeneland and Churchill (and in the Breeders’ Cup) this fall. The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission unanimously granted Valenzuela a license on Thursday.

Gary West asks: Can Switch beat Zenyatta? I think not, but if she were to do so in the Lady’s Secret on Saturday, it would highlight a downside to the big mare’s careful California campaign. Zenyatta has more to lose by losing to weak competition than she would in a race such as the Beldame Stakes.

ESPN Is to Sports …

College football fans tuned into ESPN this Saturday will get a chance to see Zenyatta. As part of a Breeders’ Cup Challenge telecast running from 6:30 to 8:00 PM ET on ESPN Classic and ESPN360, ESPN will break in between games at 7:15 PM to air the Lady’s Secret Stakes from Oak Tree at Hollywood Park.

I can’t knock exposure, especially for a champion with a story fit for Oprah and a game that has such loyal fans, but I keep thinking about a comment by Ed on the Plonk post of last week: “it’s hard to believe that it was just 12 years ago that ESPN was still televising the Little Brown Jug LIVE.”

Well into the 1990s, you could say ESPN was a true sports network, with an eclectic line-up that included football, baseball, soccer, golf, bass fishing, and the X Games. If people played it, ESPN aired it. Changes came with ABC/Disney ownership, competition from other networks, and an ambitious expansion plan that rode the rise of cable and the web, turning ESPN into the TV-radio-digital-print behemoth it is now. There’s a downside to this dominance, though, a homogenizing of sport, an emphasis on the popular and lucrative.

Think of it this way: ESPN is to sports as Playboy was to sex.

Like Hugh Hefner’s groundbreaking men’s magazine, ESPN transformed an industry, becoming hugely influential to a generation of young men and radically reshaping their perceived interests. Along the way, it became less a celebration of all that is athletic than a platform for aggregating massive advertiser-friendly audiences. That means fewer small-market sports, whether hockey or horseracing, and more major league sports and specious “news” coverage. When all of sports was a niche, more sporting niches thrived. Gone mainstream, broadly appealing sports “narratives” gain prominence.

What that means for racing is that events such as the Breeders’ Cup need ESPN to reach the largest possible audience of sports fans, but ESPN has no need for horseracing — which is why on Saturday, Zenyatta will be the entertainment between football games, not the main attraction.

It’s not a BC Challenge race, so it won’t be appearing on any ESPN channel, but Blind Luck versus Havre de Grace in the Cotillion Stakes at Philadelphia Park Parx on Saturday looks like a must-watch race. It’ll be the third meeting between the two 3-year-old fillies. Stakes winner Awesome Maria, making her second start of the year, is also entered. The Cotillion is part of the second annual Lady Riders Challenge, a very cool, under-reported event.

Watch this Kid

Rising rider William Buick made quite an impression over the weekend:

In the Foy it was the jockey who caught the eye as much as his mount. When a sportsman’s eye is in, it’s in, and young William Buick and his boss John Gosden, triumphant in the St Leger at Doncaster on Saturday with Arctic Cosmos, rounded off a dream weekend by taking the older horse prep with Duncan, the outsider in a field of six.

Buick, 22, is one of the weighing room’s outstanding emerging talents and for the second day in succession showed all the qualities that prompted Gosden to fast-track him to the big time. On Arctic Cosmos, he had ridden a finely-judged race from off a demanding pace to notch his first Classic; yesterday he controlled the game for most of the way.

Buick insists he’s not the new Frankie Dettori, but:

With good looks, youth and talent on his side, Buick’s rise has gathered momentum. Twelve months ago he landed a valuable but relatively insignificant sales race at Doncaster. Now he has five Group Ones and the prospect of two tasty mounts on the massive Breeders’ Cup stage in November with Arctic Cosmos (Turf) and Debussy (Classic).

He’s going to be a star at Churchill Downs during Breeders’ Cup week.

Every Winner’s Circle a Stage

Frankie Dettori, “the housewives’ favourite jockey,” on his most famous move:

“Everyone associates me with the dismount,” admits Dettori, who perfected it with seven winners in one famous Saturday at Ascot in 1993. “I’m the slave to my own act now. I do it because children on school holidays, perhaps having a day out at Lingfield, expect me to. It’s part of the thing I’ve created. I can’t get out of it.”

Flashback to 2008: About that award-winning Dettori dismount photo.

On the subject of ebullient jockeys: John Scheinman profiles Calvin Borel on BC360. “At Churchill, trainers stand in line like I’m selling ice cream,” says agent Jerry Hissam of his client. “At Saratoga …”

Plucky Mrs. Bagwill

In advance of a possible piece on the Lady Legends race, in which eight retired female jockeys will ride in the fourth race at Pimlico on Friday to benefit the Komen Foundation, I’ve been doing a bit of research on women jockeys in American racing. With the library packed up in preparation for a move, making it difficult to get to “The Lady Is a Jock” and other sources, I’m relying on what I can find through Google, the New York Times, and the DRF Archive at Keeneland, which yielded an interesting tidbit about an early “jockette.”

In January, I came across Miss Milfred, a young woman looking for work as a jockey in 1892 Chicago. Nothing more has turned up on Frances Milfred, but in 1898, there appears a Mrs. Bagwill. Notes the DRF of October 4:

Probably the only female jockey in the world is riding in running races on the Pacific Coast circuit. She is a Mrs. Bagwill, twenty-four years old, weight 101 pounds, and resides at Carson City, Nev. At the recent Nevada State Fair she won two of her five mounts. Mrs. Bagwill wears the regulation jockey costumes in races and rides astride.

Mrs. Bagwill, female jockey, 1898The October 9, 1898 Kansas City Journal fills in a few more details, although, not her first name:

Six horses, straining every nerve and splendidly ridden by some of the best jockeys of this country, raced swiftly around the track at Reno, Nev., at the last meeting, and came down the stretch in magnificent style. Of the three horses first under the wire the last was ridden by a woman who, sitting astride, plied whip and spur in masterly style, and clearly outrode her competitors.

The woman was Mrs. Bagwill, a native of Nevada, who is probably the only female jockey in the world.

Her experience as a jockey has not been very extensive, but of the five races in which she has ridden twice has her horse come in a winner, and never has she ridden “outside” the money.

Mrs. Bagwill’s first attempt was at Carson City, when she rode third to Coates, sometimes known as “Pizen,” and Feathergill.

Mrs. Bagwill is 24 years of age and has been married for five years. She is of medium stature, petite in figure, but well proportioned and weighs 101 pounds. She is very modest and unassuming. When on the street, she dresses in plain black and from her appearance none would imagine that she ever assumed the part of a jockey.

She had an ambition to assist her husband, and being a good rider, decided that she could be more successful as a jockey than at anything else. In the saddle when ready for a race she wears bifurcated skirts, but fitting neatly.

And with that, Mrs. Bagwill, like Miss Milfred, recedes from history.

Rachel Alexandra Works with New Rider

Rachel Alexandra works at Churchill Downs, May 10, 2010

Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra breezed four furlongs at Churchill Downs this morning, her first work since finishing second to Unrivaled Belle in the LaTroienne Stakes on the Kentucky Oaks undercard. Daily Racing Form gives the filly a flat time of :52 for the move, while Churchill (which sent out the Reed Palmer photo above) reports she went in :50, with splits of :13, :25.60 and :38.60, and galloped out five furlongs in 1:05.60. The time discrepancy isn’t all that’s interesting about Rachel Alexandra’s workout — there was also a notable change of rider, with jockey Shaun Bridgmohan up today in place of Dominic Terry, the filly’s regular exercise rider since she moved into Steve Asmussen’s barn following the 2009 Kentucky Oaks. “It was an easy first work back,” said the trainer, saying nothing, as is his way. “It’s nice cool morning and everything is ideal today. It’s another step in the process.” Re: Terry, via the Rachel Alexandra group on Facebook, comes this unfortunate notice:

Terry no longer riding Rachel

5/18/10 Update: Rachel Alexandra worked five furlongs in 1:04.20 over the sloppy Churchill surface on Monday, May 17, again with Bridgmohan up. Reports the Daily Racing Form, regarding the rider change, “Terry recently went to work for Dallas Stewart.”

9/13/10 Update: Dominic Terry was back aboard Rachel Alexandra for a workout over the Oklahoma training track this morning. The filly, in her first work since finishing second to Persistently in the Personal Ensign at Saratoga on August 29, breezed five furlongs in 1:00.65, the fastest of six at the distance, and galloped out six furlongs in 1:13.80.

The Borel Factor

Imagine the Derby winning rider on another horse, muses Jennie Rees:

Not to disparage the jockeys of the horses below, and maybe it wouldn’t apply at any other track, and maybe not any other race. (And in no way to take anything away from Super Saver’s big effort.)

But wouldn’t you want to know what kind of trips that Lookin At Lucky and Ice Box would have gotten if Calvin Borel had been aboard?

Both might have had better trips with Borel aboard, but would it have mattered for either? I briefly wrote about the Derby fractions yesterday; individual splits were ugly, final fractions lousy. It seems unlikely a rider change would have meant anything to Lookin at Lucky, “bumped two or three times” in the early going. After a troubled first in :25.84, the favorite did pick up the pace a little, running the second quarter in :24.11, the third in the same time, and the fourth in :24.62, but his final quarter was an unexciting :26.95. Whatever else happened, Lookin at Lucky didn’t have it yesterday — not losing ground at the start might have moved him up in the order of finish, but he wasn’t going to win. Ice Box is a little more interesting to consider: He ran every quarter but the first faster than the winner. You can’t begrudge trainer Nick Zito for wondering about what might have been, if the Florida Derby winner had only broken a bit more quickly and not been steadied twice in the stretch.

That Rees is even wondering about what could have been with Borel reflects how big a story is the rider this year: “Borel is the Derby king,” with his uncanny affinity for Churchill Downs. Blame the rider “for turning America’s great race into a rerun” with his rail-riding confidence. Call him “a man of destiny.” “He knows Churchill Downs better than anyone else,” and his “uncluttered mind seems to be an absolute gift in pressure situations.” After winning three times in four years, is there any chance the public will let Borel go to post in the 2011 Derby on a horse that’s more than 3-1?

How Super Saver prepped: Lightly. This year’s winner started in two preps (making him the fourth consecutive horse to win the Derby doing so — it’s time for me to concede such contenders must be taken seriously) and had only one work between the Arkansas Derby and Kentucky Derby:

Of the top five finishers, two came out of the Arkansas Derby (Super Saver, Noble’s Promise) and two (Paddy O’Prado, Make Music for Me) from the Blue Grass Stakes — a reminder that race still has some claim as a legitimate Derby prep, regardless of what handicappers think of the Polytrack era or its longshot winners.

5/3/10 Addendum: Somehow I missed Borel’s post-Derby prediction:

“I’m going to win the Triple Crown this year,” he declared.

Bold. But could this be the year?

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