There’s no need for competition, Ed Fountaine writes:
NYRA should embrace the Haskell — which is, after all, merely a prep race for the marquee event of the Saratoga meet, the 141st Travers Stakes on Aug. 28. Since the same all-star horses that face off at Monmouth on Sunday will renew their rivalry in the “Midsummer Derby,” NYRA should start beating the drums now. Advertise that the local fans can watch and bet on the Haskell at Saratoga on Sunday. Show the race on the infield TV screens. Turn the tables on Monmouth Park by using their signature race to promote yours.
Especially if you’re NYRA, and you’re likely to win the numbers game: The test of Monmouth’s “elite meet” handle figures was always going to be the opening of Saratoga. Friday, when the Spa kicked off its 40-day meet, the New Jersey track took in $5,515,194, a decline of 20% from $6,898,633 the previous Friday, while attendance remained roughly the same. Sunday, Monmouth was down 11% compared to the previous Sunday. Saturday was the odd day out, as Haskell day will certainly be next weekend. With the Lady’s Secret and Rachel Alexandra featured, handle was up 25% and attendance up 37%, which tracked nicely with on-track handle, up 35% over the previous Saturday.
At Saratoga, the first four days of this year’s extended meeting have been declared satisfactory: “Average all-sources handle, wagers on Saratoga races both on-track and from simulcast outlets nationwide, came to $12,834,190 daily, for a total of $51,336,758.” Attendance averaged 18,133 per day.
Which recap best captures Rachel Alexandra’s three-length win as the 1-10 favorite in the ungraded Lady’s Secret Stakes at Monmouth this afternoon?
Rachel Alexandra has to work in Lady’s Secret victory (Blood-Horse)
… it was not a walkover for the reigning Horse of the Year …
Rachel Alexandra cruises in the Lady’s Secret (Thoroughbred Times)
Rachel Alexandra turned in a performance befitting a Horse of the Year …
Rachel Alexandra takes care of business (Daily Racing Form)
… a solid win, considering the conditions.
I’m partial to the last. She tracked an unexciting pace, responded when asked, looked comfortable, despite the heat. She won by open lengths, even if not by a great margin. (And really, what would have been gained by a blowout?)
Final time for the nine furlongs was 1:49.78 (final furlong :12.75).
With Rachel Alexandra running, Monmouth racked up phenomenal handle numbers, taking in a record $11,421,794 on its 12-race card. The WPS pool in the Lady’s Secret hit $1,593,662, the exacta pool $343,968.
At Saratoga today, first-timer Wine Police turned heads with a wire-to-wire win in the seventh, a 5 1/2 furlong maiden special, which the 2-year-old Speightstown colt took by 7 3/4 lengths in a final time of 1:03.36 (watch the replay). He’s the latest addition this summer’s buzz babies list.
A Beyer speed figure of 110 for Rachel Alexandra in the Lady’s Secret, 105 for runner-up Queen Martha. That’s a big number for ‘Martha, who was making her second US start and her first on dirt. Rachel Alexandra’s BSF revised to 105, per Mike Watchmaker (DRF+).
“A lot of people are expecting an awful lot, but realistically I just hope we go there and have a good meet, the horses run well and we win our share of races, have good racing luck and try not to embarrass myself.”
Since her history-making win last summer, Rice has picked up a few new clients, but she’s still seeking owners offering the sort of financial backing that would allow up her to acquire and train top-class horses. Somewhat ironically, her current stock, largely comprising turf horses and NY-breds, may actually better position her for a repeat title than would a barn full of champions, as 2009 runner-up trainer Todd Pletcher tacitly acknowledged:
“What we need to be successful at Saratoga is to be able to participate in open allowance races. If the cards are weighed heavily with a lot of New York-bred races and sprint races on the turf, we just don’t have the horses to participate in those categories.”
The headline says it all: “Rachel towers over Lady’s Secret field.” Monmouth anticipates the reigning HOTY will go to post “at the absolute minimum price” of 1-20. “I think we are running for second,” said trainer Patrick Biancone, who will saddle Queen Martha on Saturday. “But second would be good.”
That’s Monmouth, this weekend and next. Rachel Alexandra arrived at the track on Tuesday morning for the Lady’s Secret Stakes on Saturday (she may paddock school on Friday, reports Monmouth), and the likely field for the Haskell on August 1, which already included Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver and Preakness winner Lookin at Lucky, gained Derby runner-up Ice Box. “It’s everything you hope for,” Monmouth general manager Bob Kulina told the Star-Ledger. “It’s shaping up to be the premiere 3-year-old race after the Triple Crown, after the Derby.” (And what about the Travers, the mid-summer Derby? “… we will just have to wait and see what happens in Jersey.”)
Not to slight glorious Saratoga, which opens Friday and drew 127 entries for its 10-race card. Seven are entered in the Schuylerville Stakes, including Belmont maiden winner Stopspendingmaria, one of the buzz babies I’m following here, and Rick Dutrow trainee Le Mi Geaux, one of the first winners for freshman sire First Samurai. He did quite well at Saratoga in 2005, winning an allowance and the Hopeful Stakes.
Speaking of juveniles attracting buzz, Date With Destiny, the only foal of the late champion George Washington, is pointing to the Group 1 Meon Valley Stud Fillies’ Mile on September 25 after her impressive maiden win. The Fillies’ Mile is a Breeders’ Cup Win and You’re In Challenge race, but even if Date With Destiny does win, she’s a longshot for the Breeders’ Cup. Trainer Richard Hannon, addressing talk of sending his star milers to the event, said last month, “I am not interested in what they have to offer across the pond.”
Getting back to Monmouth, somehow I missed Dick Jerardi’s DRF+ column of last week. Per the Beyer speed figure makers, “Monmouth is getting faster (and better) horses at this meet than it got over the same period last year.” The only group not running to higher pars? Jersey breds.
Buzz builds for “Luck.” A producer claims, “it will be the greatest show on TV.” TV critic Alan Sepinwall (who writes some of the best “Mad Men” recaps out there) is excited — and worried — about the HBO drama, noting that it “may have the most prominent creative firepower, in front of and behind the camera, of any show in the channel’s history,” but what about Dustin Hoffman? Entertainment Weekly tabs the Oscar winner’s presence as a “breakthrough” for TV, while Santa Anita reveals what Variety didn’t, that the first season will consist of the pilot and “seven to nine additional weekly episodes.”
Sure, bring the kids for a day at the races. But don’t let them bet at Saratoga. (A trespass charge and an anti-gambling class? Oh, come on.)
Wow. Monmouth Park reports incredible results for the first 24 days of the “elite summer meet,” with attendance up 13% over comparable days in 2009, on-track handle up 43%, and total handle up an amazing 118%. The average field size is also up over last year, to 9.0, compared to 7.44 in 2009. Monmouth doesn’t mention claiming activity in its press release, but that must also be up by a huge amount, with 215+ claims so far. At the start of the Monmouth “less-is-more” experiment, Steven Crist wrote, “Gov. Chris Christie has said his goal is to make the racing industry ‘entirely self-sustaining.’ Unless handle increases from last year’s $3.1 million a day to $10 million, that isn’t going to happen.” That hasn’t happened, but with average daily handle of $7.6 million, Monmouth is still in a very good spot. [7/19/10 Addition: Business of Racing digs into Monmouth claiming activity vis-a-vis Belmont.]
By Ragozin figures, Blind Luck tops 3-year-olds of either sex.
After the Massachusetts state senate approved a casino bill 25-15 earlier this month, expanded gaming looked almost certain. There were just a few differences with the house bill to reconcile in committee, and a tight deadline for getting legislation to the governor. Difficult, but not impossible. Now, State House News Service reports, “… serious people are talking in somber tones about a two-week stare-down that yields nothing in the way of major legislation. The unimaginable — failure to sanction casinos despite Big 3 ardor and at least $1.8 million spent on lobbying during the first six months of the year — looms.” It’ll be a tense watch for slots supporters …
“Yes, a gentleman!” I never tire of the General Quarters story.
The day after Rachel Alexandra settled into her Saratoga stall for the summer, Monmouth Park tweeted that the reigning Horse of the Year would make her next start at the track on July 24, causing some confusion since there was no suitable stakes race scheduled for that Saturday. After looking at the schedule on the Monmouth website, and then checking for nominations on Equibase, I assumed she was starting in the ungraded Lady’s Secret Stakes on August 1, which would have been especially fitting, coming one year after the filly’s victory in the G1 Haskell.
I was half-right. The race was the nine-furlong Lady’s Secret, moved to the week before, as reported by Jeff Lowe. Majority owner Jess Jackson confirmed the planned start through a press release:
“We had a great experience at Monmouth Park … and we appreciate the overwhelming show of support the fans there have given us. It’s the perfect place to start what we hope will be another championship run.”
It’s strikingly strange that Jackson and trainer Steve Asmussen would choose an ungraded race for distaffers, even one with a purse bumped to $400,000 from $150,000 (as long as Rachel Alexandra starts) for a filly chasing a second HOTY [or even champion older female honors], but Monmouth general manager Bob Kulina told the Thoroughbred Times it was all about timing:
“They’re very interested in keeping Rachel [Alexandra] on a five-week schedule,” Kulina said. “They worked back from the Breeders’ Cup because that’s their objective, and July 24 worked well for Steve’s pattern. The distance of 1 1/8 miles was what they wanted. We had contact with them long before this and told them we’d do whatever to make a race work with their schedule.”
The track also tried to entice Zenyatta to New Jersey, according to the Times, without success. Said racing manager Dottie Ingordo-Shirreffs:
“They were nice about it, and they did call, but at this point in time it didn’t fit into what we want to do at this point in time.”
The SoCal star could start next at Del Mar.
So close! At this point, it’s starting to look like the only time Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta could meet is in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. That’s a daring plan, if it’s what Jackson is thinking. But you have to wonder if he really is — running Rachel Alexandra in an ungraded stakes after her win in the G2 Fleur de Lis at Churchill Downs last month isn’t much of a vote of confidence.
7:10 PM Update: NYRA reacts:
“We are puzzled and disappointed that Rachel Alexandra, who performed so well at Saratoga last year, is passing up the Grade 1 Ruffian to run in a non-graded race at Monmouth over the same distance,” NYRA president Charles Hayward said in a prepared statement. “We remain hopeful that the Saratoga fans will have the opportunity to see Rachel later in the meet.”
Maybe she’ll appear at Belmont.
… and notes before I check out for a few days …
Jittery Saratoga fans? Reports the Troy Record: “[Tom Federlin] brings in about $1.3 million annually renting homes during track season. This year, for the first time, he has had to include escape clauses in the leases guaranteeing renters refunds if the track doesn’t open.”
Thank you, Saratogian editorial board: “For the umpteenth time, NYRA isn’t looking for a bailout. It’s looking for a loan for operating cash that it wouldn’t be asking for had it been receiving the money owed by NYC OTB as well as its promised cut from the so-far nonexistent slots at Aqueduct.”
Not quite right, Associated Press: “NYRA, plagued for years by poor management and sinking revenues, emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2008 with the help of a $105 million state bailout that sent $75 million to creditors and $30 million to help NYRA until the Aqueduct ‘racino’ opened.” Take note, anonymous reporter, that was no bailout in 2008 — it was cash for land, and the state got a sweet deal on valuable parcels as part of the franchise agreement it made with NYRA.
Regarding a similar error in a story about the current situation, Ed Fountaine asks, “Is this use of the incendiary term ‘bailout’ just shoddy journalism, or a willful disregard for the truth?” Neither answer is a good one, for anyone who cares about journalism or New York racing.
In New Jersey, Monmouth Park has momentum and attention. Saturday, opening day for the rich experimental meet, drew a crowd of 17,903 (an increase of 74% over 2009) and attracted $9,357,444 in handle (more than double last year, and a record for a non-Haskell day). There was more good news for the track on Sunday, with 8500 in attendance and $7,046,389 in handle (an increase of 126% over the same day in 2009). Trainers are enjoying the “bargain hunting possibilities” brought on by horses priced so low, running for so much. Out of six claiming races on Saturday, 11 horses went to new barns. The pace picked up on Sunday, with 19 horses claimed out of five races.
Goldikova returns triumphant: Watch the Prix d’Ispahan replay. The 6-year-old mare will start next at Royal Ascot. “I think she’s better than last year, when she just hated the heavy ground,” said trainer Freddie Head.
Belmont buzz horses: On Saturday, Afleet Express, a 3-year-old son of Afleet Alex, made an impression winning a seven-furlong allowance by 7 3/4 lengths in 1:21.72 as the 7-5 favorite for trainer Jimmy Jerkens.
He was given a Beyer speed figure of 115, the best for any age sprinting, and second, at any distance or age, only to the 121 given Quality Road for the Donn Handicap. [5/25/10 Update: BSF revised to 107.] On Sunday, Flawless debuted with a 13 1/4 length win in a seven-furlong maiden special, zipping through a first quarter in :22.80 and a half in :46.57 as the even-money favorite. And get this: “She wasn’t cranked,” said trainer Bill Mott.
I’m doubling down at Monmouth Park. I’ve heard that Monmouth needs to double its handle to turn a profit this upcoming Summer, and while that number is even being debated, I’m here ready to do just that.
Me too. Let’s be honest: The racing at Saratoga was a little ho-hum last summer, with an abundance of turf sprints and NY-breds knocking around. The expansion to 40 days this year doesn’t bode well for race quality or field size. The Jersey shore beckons: If Monmouth attracts top stables and draws competitive 9-10 horse fields regularly, as officials hope, the Spa’s history and ambiance won’t be enough to keep my betting dollars loyal.
She’s beaten the winners of the Illinois Derby, Arkansas Derby, Santa Anita Derby, Kentucky Derby, Belmont Stakes, and Tom Fool Handicap. She’s won eight consecutive races, four of those Grade 1s, one a Classic, at six different tracks, and she’s done so by a combined 69 3/4 lengths. Her winning time of 1:47.21 for nine furlongs in the Haskell Invitational came within one-fifth of a second of the Monmouth stakes record; her
preliminary Beyer speed figure for the race is 116, which is the highest yet given this year to any horse of any age at any distance over any surface in North America. The leading contender for Horse of the Year, she’s the best of her generation, male or female, and quite possibly, the best American thoroughbred in training.
She’s Rachel Alexandra, and she’s great.
Superlatively speaking: Her Haskell win was preternatural … awesome … surreal … easily the most scintillating seen this year … spine-tingling. (For more, including photos and the race replay, visit R360.)
Meanwhile: Earlier in the day and across the ocean, Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Goldikova turned in a flawless front-running performance to win the Fr-1 Prix de Rothschild. Writes Sue Montgomery in the Independent,
Unlike those commercially driven, demeaning occasions now prevalent at feature race meetings, yesterday was a ladies’ day with a degree of dignity attached. At Deauville, the four-year-old filly Goldikova won the European weekend’s most valuable prize because of her deeds, not her looks. Her class as an athlete was being judged, not the style of her plaits or the colour of her saddlecloth.
Sing it, sister.
The brilliant Goldikova is expected to return to Santa Anita this fall to defend her title. “We’ll follow the same plan as last year,” said trainer Freddie Head.
And at Del Mar: Perfect Zenyatta breezed five furlongs in 1:00 in prep for the Clement Hirsch (video). Could the champion beat Rachel Alexandra, if the two meet? That’ll be the question for the rest of the racing year.