JC / Railbird


Betting on Pharoah

American Pharoah parades before the 2015 Haskell

Amanda Duckworth on the American Pharoah effect:

[Monmouth Park] also posted an all-sources handle of $20 million, which is a non-Breeders’ Cup record. The Haskell alone brought in a record $6.54 million, shattering the mark of $4.4 million bet on the 2010 edition. To anyone who questioned why the track bumped the purse of the race from $1 million to $1.75 million, that is your answer. American Pharoah brings in people, betting dollars and a great deal of mainstream exposure. That’s a pretty great trifecta for the sport.

NYRA wants to see that kind of action on the Travers Stakes, and is trying to lure the colt’s connections with a promise to raise the Travers purse to $1.6 million, up from $1.25 million, if American Pharoah follows his Haskell win with a Saratoga appearance. Owner Ahmed Zayat wants to go. “My preference would be to run [next] at Saratoga,” Zayat told Bob Ehalt. “If it’s up to me, it would be the Travers,” he said to Ron Mitchell. “I have made my desires known to my trainer. He knows what I want.” Trainer Bob Baffert says that’s the case, and that Zayat is deferring a decision on the Triple Crown winner’s next race to him. “[T]his is true and accurate statement,” Zayat confirmed with a tweet.

Baffert’s not committing for now: “It’s way too early to say anything.”

This is an interesting little dilemma for owner, trainer, and Coolmore, who will stand the big horse at stud. Sid Fernando’s been dissecting the conflict and incentives via his Twitter stream, discussing the almost-certain “kicker” for winning the Travers (essentially a performance bonus), built into the breeding rights deal Zayat and Coolmore negotiated.

In the scramble for American Pharoah’s next start, the Travers seems to have moved ahead of the Pennsylvania Derby, which is the race I thought he’d point to next, given the likely purse boost, appearance fees for owner and trainer, and Baffert’s lack of interest in running the colt against older horses before the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Parx racing director Sam Elliott has been working hard to sell his race, traveling to Churchill Downs, Santa Anita, and Monmouth Park in pursuit, but Zayat has said “No Penn Derby” and ruled out the Pacific Classic as well — “zero shot!! Timing doesn’t work.” Elliott was at the Haskell on Sunday — I hope he didn’t get the Pennsylvania Derby news on Twitter too.

Mike Pegram, a long-time owner with Baffert, was blunt about the where-next question. “They’ll go where the money is,” he told Ed Zieralski. The Travers’ historic significance plus the added money makes a sweet exacta.

Odds and ends: American Pharoah was given a Beyer speed figure of 109 for the Haskell … Upstart will point to the Travers after running third to the Triple Crown winner on Sunday in his first start since finishing last in the Kentucky Derby. “I was miserably impressed,” trainer Rick Violette said of the Haskell winner … Monmouth reported attendance of 60,983 for Sunday’s race, a figure Chris Rossi calls into question by comparing per-attendee handle for the Haskell since 2000 (chart here, if you follow him on Twitter). This year’s $48.58 is the lowest average in that period, beating the previous low of $65.35 set in 2009. In 2014, the average was $70.29 … you can definitely rule out a possibility that probably hadn’t even occurred to you: The Eclipse Stakes winner Golden Horn will not meet American Pharoah in the Breeders’ Cup. “It’s a complete no-no, on dirt certainly,” said owner Anthony Oppenheimer.

Saratoga babies: The spreadsheet of 2015 juvenile race starters and winners has been updated through second week results (XLS).

Valentina’s Debut

Rachel’s Valentina, the second foal of 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra, is set to make her debut in race two at Saratoga on Sunday. It’s a six-furlong maiden special weight, and the 2-year-old Bernardini filly is the 6-5 morning line favorite in a field of eight that includes Awesome Dame and Big World, the second- and third-place finishers of the July 2 maiden special at Belmont Park that was won by buzzy Tonasah. Big World came out of it as one to watch — the Tony Dutrow-trained filly recovered well from a poor break and a wide turn to round out the trifecta. Sixth-place finisher Fabulous Devotion is the only other starter from the July 2 Belmont race yet to return, and she finished third in a maiden special at Parx on Monday.

Trainer Todd Pletcher isn’t overselling his expectations for Rachel’s Valentina: “She’s trained very well and she’s as ready as we can have her,” he told the NYRA press office. “She’s not super quick away from the gate, [so] it’s probably not her ideal distance but it’s a good starting point to build on.”

Rachel Alexandra ran sixth at 27-1 in her 2008 debut, a 4 1/2 furlong maiden special on dirt at Churchill Downs. “No menace,” says the chart. She won her second start three weeks later, going five furlongs. In a nice bit of timing, her filly is debuting on Haskell day, exactly six years after Rachel Alexandra won the 2009 Haskell in peerless fashion:

Trainer Barclay Tagg also has an interesting first-time starter in Sunday’s race — Tale for Ruby. The Tale of Ekati filly had two bullet gate works in a row at Belmont Park on July 6 and 13; her sire’s 15% with debut winners. Tagg was quick to score at Saratoga, and one of his first two winners (from two starters) was the 11-1 firster Realm in last Saturday’s first juvenile race.

There were two more juvenile races at Saratoga on Thursday, both won by Pletcher. Race three went to Sudden Surprise, the first starter for New York sire Giant Surprise, who raced once, winning a 2011 juvenile maiden special at Saratoga (he came out of his debut injured). In race five the runner-up was an MTO entry for trainer Bill Mott — True Pleasure drew in when heavy rain forced the 5 1/2 furlong maiden special off turf and finished second in the slop at 12-1 to favored Island Saint, also an MTO entry. The takeaway — with two wins and two seconds from four starters, Mott first-time babies are still live.

8/1/15 Addendum: A little more from Pletcher on Valentina via David Grening (DRF+): “She’s shown enough quality and class and precocity to win first time out,” Pletcher said. “At the same time, she’s not super quick away from the gate, and the ones that are, you can get a pretty good handle on them winning first time out at short distances. Some of these other ones you know want more ground. It might take a race or two to get there. We’re hoping for a good start and clean trip and something to move her forward on to bigger and better things down the road.”

Saratoga Dark Day #1

Four days down, 36 to go, and Bill Mott has emerged as the early leader in the race for this year’s trainer title. Hott Mott’s won six races from 13 starts so far and only one of his winners — My Friend Keith in Monday’s finale — was a favorite. His horses have finished second or third in four other races. DRF Formulator calculates his ROI at $7.79. That can’t last! Including the first days of Saratoga ’15, Mott’s win rate is 16% and his ROI $1.44 for all starters over the past five years. His elevated numbers opening weekend partially come from an unexpected source — Mott won with two juvenile first-time starters, both in 1 1/16 mile maiden special weights on the turf. Saturday’s winner, Site Read, was 21-1. Sunday’s winner, Sage Hall, 12-1. Mott’s third debuting 2-year-old starter, Rebelle, finished second to Sage Hall, a $258 exacta.

Who else is winning, at least in the meet’s first few juvenile races? Trainer Todd Pletcher’s tied with Mott for two wins, thanks to the disqualification of Magna Light from first in the Sanford Stakes after he veered out in deep stretch when rider Jose Ortiz struck him on the left and then veered back in when struck on the right. Magna Light was bumped to third, runner-up Uncle Vinny to first, and Percolator moved to second. I’m a little sore about the DQ, so instead of ranting, I’ll point to David Grening’s quick (and paywalled) take:

In my opinion, this is a terrible call.

Magna Light was well clear of the rest of the field and while he acted dramatically from the whip of Ortiz he did not bother anybody or cost them the race. He did come back over and got next to Percolator but I don’t think he bothered him. Carmouche never stopped riding.

Carmouche didn’t stop riding, Percolator didn’t break stride (the action begins in the replay at 1:03). The stewards saw it differently:

Kendrick Carmouche, the rider of #10 Percolator, lodged an objection against the winner, #4 Magna Light, for alleged interference in stretch. #4 Magna Light racing on the lead shifts out several paths after passing the 1/8 pole. #10 steadies briefly though #4 is clear when crossing. #4 then drifts back down toward the #10 in the final strides causing #4 to steady. #4 finishes third, beaten a half-length for second.

[SIC] on the final two instances in the above paragraph where the stewards mistype #4 for #10. “More significantly,” writes Tom Noonan:

… is that there is no explanation for their decision. Was it the first move by Magna Light that was the problem, or was it the second? Did it affect the outcome of the race, or was he being penalized for interference even though it did not affect the final result?

Magna Light’s owner, NYRA board member Michael Dubb, has filed an appeal of the disqualification, which he suggested was due to prejudice:

“There is a different set of standards in racing for Rudy Rodriguez,” Dubb … said standing next to his trainer outside the winner’s circle. “Maybe because he is Mexican. He is picked on. He is being held to a different set of standards in racing all together and is being treated unfairly. It’s not good, but it’s the world we live in.”

The New State Gaming Commission made Magna Light and Uncle Vinny co-winners of the Sanford on Monday while they consider Dubb’s appeal. “I don’t think he should be doing it — for the sport,” said Don Lucarelli, co-managing partner of Uncle Vinny owner Starlight Racing. The two could meet again in the Hopeful Stakes, closing weekend at Saratoga.

Steve Asmussen, Roderick Rodriguez, Barclay Tagg, and Rick Violette were the other trainers to win juvenile races during the first four days. Chad Brown finished second with both of his 2-year-old starters. If you’d like to dig more into the first eight juveniles races this meet, here’s a spreadsheet (XLS), which includes each starter and their trainer, jockey, sire, last race, etc.

Watch: Greenpointcrusader, second to Pletcher’s Saratoga Mischief in the fifth race on Saturday. It was the first start for this Dominick Schettino-trained Bernardini colt who’s a 1/2 to graded stakes winners Keyed Entry and Justin Phillip and a full brother to 2012 Holy Bull winner Algorithms. He seemed to figure out what he was being asked to do in the final sixteenth.

9/5/15 Update: Greenpointcrusader returned today to win a seven-furlong maiden special as the even-money favorite. Silvertown, fourth in the same July 25 race that Greenpointcrusader debuted in, finished second. The pair are among five who have returned from that July 25 maiden special, and while only Greenpointcrusader has come back a winner, the other four have finished in the money, with July 25 winner Saratoga Mischief running second to Del Mar shipper Exaggerator in the August 16 Saratoga Special and eight-place finisher Condominium second at 9-1 in an August 29 maiden special.

The spreadsheet for all Saratoga juvenile starters is current: Download the complete Excel file, or view (and filter) the Google spreadsheet.

Early Runners

How dominant is trainer Wesley Ward in Keeneland spring juvenile races?

When it comes to early season maiden races, Ward’s record is pretty close to off the charts. Since 2009, there have been 47 2-year-old maiden events at the Keeneland spring meet. Ward has had starters in 45 of them. He won 22 of them or 48.9 percent.

Incredible. I didn’t know until I read @DougieSal today, though, that trainer John Shirreffs was once a debut runner win machine:

… in the late 1990’s John Shirreffs was the most brilliant debut trainer in the land. In 1998 and 1999 he trained 24 first-time starters and a mind-boggling 14 of them won their debut and another four finished second. In those days, the Southern California circuit was unquestionably the toughest year-round circuit in horse racing, and Shirreffs won at a 58.3% clip with first-time starters and 75% of his debuters finished first or second.

His takeaway: Bet Cozmic One with caution, if you insist on doing it all.

One Fast Rose

Our Amazing Rose gets a Beyer speed figure of 91 for winning the fifth race on Thursday at Saratoga by 7 3/4 lengths. She went the five furlongs in :57.68, or .59 seconds faster than stablemate Corfu did winning the second. Both making their career debuts for trainer Todd Pletcher, of course. Watch the replay.

Pletcher Baby ROI

Everyone knows that trainer Todd Pletcher is dominant is Saratoga juvenile races, but he’s profitable, too, in certain scenarios: His five-year win stat for first-time starters in dirt sprint maiden special weights is 32%, with an ROI of $2.57. In the same conditions, restricted to state-breds, he’s 46%, with an ROI of $3.25. “Perhaps the time to take down a Pletcher juvenile firster is in maiden special weight turf routes,” writes Dan Illman, who pulled the preceding numbers from DRF Formulator. Good luck getting a big price in any circumstance, though: The longest juvenile shot Pletcher has won at Saratoga with in the past five years is Interactif, in the 2009 With Anticipation. He was 16-1 at post time. The only other Pletcher winner with double-digit odds was Lawn Man, in a 2012 six-furlong MSW. He was 10-1 going into the gate.

Missing Juveniles

Jennie Rees wonders:

What happens to all the 2-year-old maiden winners? Not long ago, Churchill had three stakes for 2-year-old colts in the spring. Now there’s only the Bashford Manor (plus the Debutante for fillies). And there’s virtually no such thing as an allowance race for 2-year-olds. How is this, with so many 2-year-olds on the grounds?

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