JC / Railbird

Racing Archive

Baze Retires

Russell Baze, the winningest rider of all time, retired without much fanfare on Sunday. After Wahine Warrior finished in a dead heat for second in the 10th race on the last day of the Golden Gate Fields spring meet, the jockey told his agent that his 42-year career was over.

There are a few things that I would have liked to accomplish that I couldn’t do, but I’ve had a great run,” Baze said, discussing his decision on Tuesday. “I’ve accomplished more than anybody could expect.”

It’s impossible not to dwell on his phenomenal record: From his first winner in 1974, Baze racked up 12,842 wins from 53,578 mounts, for earnings of $199.3 million (three years ago, he was profiled as racing’s $186 million man). He’s won more than 100 riding titles, ridden more than 400 winners in a year 13 times. He’s in the Hall of Fame. He was the subject of an award-winning multimedia profile in the New York Times.

He was also the regular rider of 2005 sprint champion Lost in the Fog, one of the most exciting horses of the early aughts, and one of the best to emerge from Northern California. He and Baze won the 2005 King’s Bishop:

It’s like being a roadie for a rock star. Everybody knows Lost in the Fog,” Baze said after the colt, who was then 9-for-9, won his first Grade 1.

The 2005 Swale Stakes was Lost in the Fog’s first graded win, and he looked so good, scoring by five lengths after a stalking trip, that trainer Greg Gilchrist considered trying him around two turns in the Florida Derby:

Baze’s record number of wins will likely stand. Other jockeys may not even get the chance to build the sort of remarkable journeyman career he had:

So with North American race dates shrinking, the number of annual races in a freefall, and entire circuits dropping off the grid entirely, will jockeys in the future be able to choose to remain in one place to build decades-long portfolios of accomplishments? Will the next generation of riders like Gall (who rode primarily at Fairmount Park near St. Louis), Ouzts (who currently rides the mid-level tracks in Ohio and Kentucky), and Carl Gambardella (a retired stalwart of the defunct but gritty New England circuit) be able to achieve top-20 lifetime rankings while competing close to home?

Best wishes to Baze. He won’t be forgotten any time soon.

Hatless

At the track without a hat, and it’s no big deal — I really enjoyed this post by Nicolle (@rogueclown) about discovering how welcoming racing can be:

Day in and day out, the people I met did not care that my identity or presentation did not fit the narrow bounds that I had feared were in place at the racetrack. They cared that I was enthusiastic. They cared that I was willing to learn. Sure, I had to swap the jeans for slacks in order to do interviews on the bigger race days. But, I didn’t have to give up my core identity in order to nurture my burgeoning love of horse racing.

It’s easy to get the idea that horse racing is straight, white, and bland. But for many of us who come to this game, the real fun begins as it reveals itself to be far weirder, more wonderful, and filled with fellow obsessives.

Belmont Day Figures

Creator noses out Destin to win the 2016 Belmont Stakes
Creator noses out Destin to win the 2016 Belmont Stakes. Photo Credit: NYRA.

Beyer and TimeformUS speed figures for the Belmont Stakes day card:

Race Winner BSF TFUS
Belmont Stakes Creator 99 120
Manhattan Flintshire 110 129
Met Mile Frosted 123 135
Just a Game Celestine 107 129
Woody Stephens Tom’s Ready 95 117
Jaipur Stakes Pure Sensation 102 121
Ogden Phipps Cavorting 102 127
Brooklyn Shaman Ghost 99 120
Acorn Stakes Carina Mia 98 114

Figures via DRF stakes results and TFUS figuremaker Craig Milkowski.

The WOW performance of Saturday afternoon was Frosted’s 14 1/4 length win in the Met Mile as the 2-1 favorite. His winning margin is believed to be a record for the race, as is his final time of 1:32.73. Watch the replay:

View the complete Belmont Stakes day playlist ›

Intersections

Off-Track and Online

Holly Kruse’s new book, “Off-Track and Online: The Networked Spaces of Horse Racing” (MIT Press, May 2016), covers the intersections of technology, gender, class, and public spaces in horse racing. I asked Kruse about her work, the history of women in racing, and Twitter (of course) for the first issue of the Distaffer (subscribe to the newsletter).

The Distaffer: Can you talk about the genesis of “Off-Track and Online”?

Holly Kruse: I had already written about the intersection of media/technology, gender, class, and space in my previous work, including in my first book, which was about the indie music scenes. I’d also written about popular discourses of the early phonograph, and how early 20th-century discourses concerning gender and domestic space allowed the phonograph to be accepted into middle class homes. When I began looking at what was happening with horse racing and technology at the turn of this century, I was at first most interested in racing’s use of technology in public and private space. I spent much of the 1990s living in Philadelphia, where I watched the Philadelphia Park cable channel (which led to the short-lived Racing Channel), and then I moved back to Louisville just as TVG was being launched, and it was only available in Louisville. In addition, I’d spent lots of time at racetracks and was interested in how they deployed screens in public space, as well as who was in these spaces and how they were relating to each other and to the screens.

TD: You mention in the introduction that you’re puzzled more researchers don’t use horse racing as a lens for media or technology research — what’s the response you get when you discuss your work with scholarly peers?

HK: They think it’s an interesting case study. My media studies colleagues seem to think that I’ve got this covered. I hear that in the past few years there’s more media studies work being done on interactive media and gambling, and I sometimes get manuscripts to review on gambling and digital technologies. When you search databases for scholarly research on gambling, most of it seems to be on problem gambling. I think it’s good to look at how and why forms of entertainment – including gambling – are meaningful and important to people.

TD: Related, what areas of study are overlooked in horse racing and tech/media that you’re either excited about and/or would like to see explored right now?

HK: I’d like to look at online information and prediction markets, and I’m scheduled to present a paper on the topic later this year at the Association of Internet Researchers conference in Berlin. Parimutuel markets are information/prediction markets, and Betfair is the biggest company in the online prediction market game right now. Outside the U.S. Betfair allows people to bet on all kinds of questions, like whether the U.K will leave the EU. In the U.S., these kinds of prediction markets are legal if they’re educational. The oldest prediction markets are operated out of the University of Iowa: the Iowa Electronic Markets. You can invest in markets that predict the outcomes of elections, or whether the Fed will raise interest rates through the IEM.

TD: You discuss how tech affects the tribe — the way simulcasting, and more recently, ADWs, reduced cues bettors might have relied on being physically at the track and altered social information sharing in public spaces. Does social media mimic or replace the interactions bettors would have had at the track or at OTBs?

HK: I think that Twitter does this. It doesn’t replace face-to-face cues or interaction, but it may mimic it. I wouldn’t say that face-to-face or online is better or worse. Just different.

TD: I’m on Twitter way too much, and what I love about it is what you describe as “coordinated actions across space in real-time.” It gives horseplayers and fans a forum to instantly react, together, to something happening on track. But Twitter has taken a step toward being more algorithm-driven, and it seems likely that the chronological, real-time feed will go away. Just as we’ve (the racing public) reconfigured ourselves in this online space, it seems as though greater algorithmic control and more bots acting on social media and in markets means there’s another reconfiguration on the horizon.

HK: I agree, although the algorithms have always been there, just not as obvious to us. The pressure on Twitter now is to increase its number of users in order to make investors happy, and it’s been seen as a difficult platform for newbies. That’s the reason for changing Twitter so that photos and links will no longer count toward the character limit. But yeah, I disabled the “While You Where Away” feature on my Twitter feed, because I wanted to see real-time postings and chats.

TD: You trace the history of women in racing’s public spaces, from the working class spaces and “genteel” lunchrooms of 18th racetracks to the “loser” housewives at OTBs and Thoroughbred rescue activism online. I was struck by your argument with Kate Fox, whose work [“The Racing Tribe,” Transaction Publishers, May 2005] puts forward a picture of feminity at the track that’s belied by observing a typical crowd, even at tracks such as Keeneland where the dressed-up/upscale element is visible. What does this split, still a part of current industry marketing initiatives with their focus on lifestyle and fashion, mean for understanding racing’s public spaces? Are women who don’t partake in this dominant feminine/upscale narrative rendering themselves invisible as participants?

HK: That’s a good question. I think if the industry is interested in sustaining itself on the current level without solely depending on big event days or elite meets, it has to look at women and girls as multi-dimensional. But it’s also true that part of the appeal to casual fans is the idea that anyone with a pretty dress and a big hat can experience a fantasy of affluence on Derby Day, and that shouldn’t be ignored or disparaged. Racing’s appeal to women shouldn’t be only that, however.

I was thinking about how all of the humans competing in and working at the dressage schooling show that I was at last weekend were female. (With the exception of the judge and the manager of the venue.) The same would be true at a local hunter-jumper show, or in barrel racing. Reining would be the opposite, and roping. At the upper competition levels of English disciplines, where there’s serious money to be made, there are plenty of men. There’s no necessary correspondence between one’s biological sex and one’s ability to ride a horse fast around barrels: but it has been defined as a feminine sport. I don’t have a specific point to make here (or maybe I do, but it’s been a long day), except for the fact that the reasons for these distinctions are historical, social, cultural, and institutional. I point out to students in my Gender and Technology class that there’s no biological affinity between women and washing machines, or between men and lawn mowers. (Or between women and high heels.)

TD: Your mention of the dressage show and the money split between male/female participants reminded me that we see something similar among jockeys in racing — there are more female riders at the lower level, and there are tracks, such as Suffolk Downs, where female riders compete and succeed against male riders without gender appearing to be much of a factor. But the highest level of Thoroughbred racing is almost exclusively dominated by male jockeys. In her study “Gender, Work, and Harness Racing,” the sociologist Elizabeth Anne Larsen discusses this pattern in harness drivers, and how it becomes reinforcing — men are linked to good horses and success, women are not. There’s a perception issue to overcome.

HK: That’s really interesting. It’s also true in dog showing, something I’ve been doing since I was 12. At the top level, in the Group and Best in Show ring, you see a lot of professional handlers who are men. The amateurs showing dogs, however, are mostly women.

TD: In the chapter, “Social Media and Affective Networks,” you discuss how social networks have increased consciousness around the issue of Thoroughbred rescue, and “have underscored how a North American racing industry that to some degree sees racehorses as expendable has grown increasingly untenable in the twenty-first century.” This happened because of affective, uncompensated, and gendered labor — it’s the activism of women challenging an existing order. I read this, and my first thought — connecting to what you’d previously written about women in racing — was that, even though racing is largely coded as masculine, what future form racing takes is to a great extent dependent on women. What does this mean for creating space for women within environments as diverse as racetracks, OTBs, and online communities, and within the industry?

HK: I think that you’re right about the future. I think that racing has to address the lack of diversity in its positions of power, and in its offices. It doesn’t only have to do with the demographic features of the people in these spaces: it has to do with outmoded ways of thinking. When I was finishing my post-graduate certificate in the Equine Industry program at the University of Louisville, I met with several of the top executives in North American racing, thinking that I might find a job in the industry. One of them reported back to my mentor in the program that I really knew a lot about racing, but he didn’t know what he’d do with someone with a doctorate in media studies at the track. Racing has to stop replicating itself in the ways in which it’s comfortable.

TD: More generally, has social media been an effective channel for activism within racing, for instance, on issues that affect horseplayers, such as takeout?

HK: I think that you’d have to ask someone who’s been involved in organizing horseplayers to agitate for tracks to lower takeout to find out how successful social media has been. I’ve seen the discussions but don’t know if they’ve had any effect.

An underlying conflict in racing is whether it’s a sport or whether it’s gambling. If it’s the latter, then its main constituency is the horseplayers, and that’s a fairly small, but lucrative, niche. If it’s the former, then it has different issues with which it needs to engage, because members of the general public have little to no idea of what takeout is, how it varies from track to track, how it differs on exotic bets … but they do see NBC report that two horses died at Pimlico on Preakness Day, and then that shows up all over social media, and is salient to people who aren’t racing fans. Racing may be able to stay a limited, niche form of gambling, but it’s hard to see, with the increased visibility of, and concern for, animal welfare issues in general, how it can remain both.

TD: You also discuss the history of racing on TV, and it occurred to me while reading that racing and TV in the 1960s-70s was a problem of asynchronous technological development — racing couldn’t capture the success of television in handle because the network available then was so rudimentary, especially compared to the personal, mobile, connected devices we’re all carrying around now. Creating OTBs and bet-by-phone lines, as you write, were interstitial solutions. So, speculative question — what’s the tech gap now?

HK: I try to avoid these questions about tech, because who knows? It’s a problem, I think, that you can’t easily or legally stream live horse races in the U.S. unless you have an ADW account, and thus if you live in a state where ADW is legal. This is an obvious way for racing to reach a wider audience, but unless it’s tied to betting, it’s not happening. Such gaps are common in media history: the film industry suffered in the 1950s because it didn’t want to provide content to the upstart television industry; and we know what’s happened to the music industry because of its resistance to streaming.

Two Champions

Beholder turns into the stretch in the 2016 Vanity Stakes at Santa Anita

The Vanity Mile Stakes was never really a contest. Mike Watchmaker on how Beholder handled 3-year-old filly champion Stellar Wind on Saturday:

Stellar Wind ran extremely well. She was dead game, and she is very, very good. But Beholder absolutely toyed with her. Toyed with her. Anyone who watched the Vanity knows the difference between Beholder and Stellar Wind on Saturday was far greater than what the result chart suggests.

Beholder earned a Beyer speed figure of 100 for her 17th career win, her 10th Grade 1 victory. After the first three quarters in 1:12.53, she ran the last two furlongs in :11.46 and :11.98. “I thought we would go in sub 23, 45 and change for the second quarter and I thought the final time would be under 1:34,” said jockey Gary Stevens. “Twenty five is legit, 49 is legit, but I think that’s the fastest last three eighths I’ve ever run in my life.”

Why Not?

Steven Crist on extending the Pegasus World Cup concept:

The central idea of the Pegasus is to raise purse money from owners rather than through an extraction from the parimutuel handle. Horseplayers have been told for generations that they must pay an exorbitant 20 percent takeout on their wagers because of the need to pay purses as well as to staff and maintain a racetrack. Now, however, we have a rare case where the purse has already been funded.

So, why not eliminate the takeout on the race entirely, or at least slash it to a low, player-friendly rate such as 10 percent? That would make this a revolutionary race for the customers as well as the owners.

(I think I hear someone muttering, “to hell with the bettors.”)

The other Steve of the turf trade press proposes a Pegasus reality show.

The Rock

Rockingham Park gate in 2006
Rockingham Park gate, 2006

Reflecting on the end of Rockingham Park:

“It’s one of those places, like the house you grew up in, that you think will always be there. It’s so strange and sad to find out that it’s really going to be gone,” said Donna Barton Brothers, who was an apprentice in Rockingham’s jockey colony in 1987 before she went on to become one of the sport’s most successful female riders and an on-air analyst and reporter for NBC Sports and TVG.

“That track was where I cut my teeth as far as riding goes,” she said. “I learned so much about riding there from people like Phil Ernst and Bennie Carrasco and some of those really good, old riders like Carl Gambardella and Rudy Baez, who for whatever reason ended up at Rockingham. I rode with some world class riders.”

Speaking of the greats, old black-and-white photos of Eddie Arcaro, Johnny Longdon, and Bill Shoemaker still adorn the walls of Rockingham’s clubhouse from their time here. Pat Day hung his tack in the jocks’ room when he was a bug, and Chris McCarron to this day is revered as the local kid who made good.

Trainer Shug McGaughey won his first race at Rockingham and fellow Hall of Famer Bobby Frankel captured the one and only $500,000 New England Classic with Marquetry in 1991 as part of the nationally televised American Championship Racing Series.

The track, which hasn’t hosted live racing since 2010, will close permanently on August 31, following a sale of its remaining 120 acres. “So the simulcasting, the poker room, the shows will all be done at that point in time,” [general manager Ed] Callahan said. “We’ll get things cleaned up a little bit, have an auction here of a whole bunch of equipment and furniture and memorabilia.” For those concerned about the fate of any remaining historical items or archival materials, note that, per a report in the Blood-Horse:

[T]he racing memorabilia, trophies, and artwork with the greatest historical significance will be donated to the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame, the New England Sports Museum, and the New Hampshire Museum of History, among others.

The auction is scheduled for September 24 and 25, time TBD.

The Rivals

Exaggerator crossing the wire first in the Preakness
Exaggerator wins the 2016 Preakness ahead of Cherry Wine and Nyquist.

Corey Lanerie on runner-up Cherry Wine gives jockey Kent Desormeaux a pat on the back after Exaggerator wins the 2016 Preakness
And Corey Lanerie on the runner-up gives winning jockey Kent Desormeaux a pat on the back as they gallop out after the wire.

Exaggerator gets a Beyer speed figure of 101 for his Preakness Stakes win over Pimlico’s sloppy track on Saturday. TimeformUS gives him a speed figure of 122, the same number assigned Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist for running third, quashing a Triple Crown bid. The two go on to the Belmont Stakes for a rematch in three weeks, and now that Exaggerator has finally beaten Nyquist — in the fifth race featuring the two of them — we have a rivalry.

So, what about the mud? “Thank the good Lord for raining on us today,” said a member of Exaggerator’s ownership team in the winner’s circle. “You have to think that the track means a lot to his performances, but his fast-track performances are not bad, either,” said rider Kent Desormeaux.

And what about the pace? Pretty similar to the Kentucky Derby, with the slight difference that Nyquist pushed to the lead and moved into the front early. He ran the first quarter with Uncle Lino in :22.38, the first half in :46.56, and the first three-quarters in 1:11.97. Here are the DRF incremental fractions:

DRF incremental fractions for the Preakness
View the official Equibase chart (PDF).

Nyquist won the Derby despite chasing a quick first quarter and running his final quarter three seconds slower; it was an impressive performance. In the Preakness, he was tired, and Exaggerator, tracking on the rail, was in place to take advantage. “The colt shimmied up the backstretch like a seal, utterly enjoying it,” and Desormeaux rode with confidence. Watch the Preakness replay, and see how he angles out and into the lead in the stretch:

5/24/16 Update: Nyquist spikes a fever, will skip Belmont Stakes.

Niche Work

Dave Hill spends Kentucky Derby weekend with Las Vegas horseplayer Alan Denkenson and things take a poignant turn when the bets don’t come in:

“I’ve been having a bad year. I’m starting to entertain the possibility that I could really go broke,” Dink says, without a hint of sentimentality. “Then again, if I don’t go broke there’s a 50 percent chance that I’m going to turn 75 and be making $4 bets in the sportsbook like these other guys. I mean what else am I going to do? Waz can go into stocks, into finance. I can’t do anything else. I’m 62 years old and this is all I know.”

Wrong-Way Goes Okay

Neat — Woodbine tested a clockwise turf race on Monday:

“There were no major problems, and that was one of the key things,” [jockey Emma-Jayne] Wilson said. “That’s the biggest thing. We wanted to make sure that everything would go smoothly. This was as close to a race scenario as possible and everyone handled it well. There is still a learning curve to it. The horses that have never done it will take a second to say, ‘Ok, now I get it, I’ve got to take a right turn.’”

Woodbine management will run as many as 40 clockwise turf races during the 2016 meet. The intent is to spice up the racing programs and to use a part of the turf course (the clubhouse turn) that is rarely run over since most normal races over Woodbine’s expansive grass course are run around one turn. The first clockwise pari-mutuel race is scheduled for June 10.

Sounds as though the “wrong-way” races could be dramatic:

“It’s a very short homestretch,” Ramsammy said. “You are looking for a horse that has a good spurt early, definitely a speed horse.”

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