JC / Railbird

Racing Archive

Feeling Fresh

Cloud Computing earned a career-best Beyer speed figure of 102 for winning the Preakness Stakes by a head over Classic Empire, news delivered to Jay Privman via a text from Andrew Beyer. The colt was assigned a TimeformUS speed figure of 122. “Preakness is not an easy figure to make,” tweeted TFUS figuremaker Craig Milkowski. “Track was changing and route before it (Sir Barton) had slow pace that probably affected time.”

The pace was set by Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming and Classic Empire, who broke side by side from the gate and then ran the first six furlongs together, matching strides through the first quarter in :23.16, the half in :46.81, and three-quarters in 1:11. The race was over for Always Dreaming before the quarter pole, as he ceded the lead to Classic Empire on the turn into the stretch, who opened up by three lengths on the rest of the field.

Just as it looked as though last year’s juvenile champion and jockey Julien Leparoux had the win, Cloud Computing struck — after stalking the top two with a trip as untroubled as anyone could wish for, jockey Javier Castellano and his mount ran down Classic Empire in the final sixteenth. No excuses for the finish, said Leparoux after the Preakness:

“We had a good trip. We got the trip we wanted, outside Always Dreaming. The only thing is, Always Dreaming backed out of the race early, so I got to the lead early, maybe too early. I got to the lead early, and the winner just came at us at the end.”

It was a valiant effort for the runner-up, considering the way the race unfolded from the start. Conquest Mo Money, widely assumed a likely factor in the early pace, was no factor at all, running in fifth and finishing seventh, and Leparoux had a mission aboard the fourth-place Kentucky Derby finisher:

“Second doesn’t mean anything,” the trainer of Classic Empire, Mark Casse, told Leparoux in the paddock before the race. “Let’s go and try to win this thing.”

The winner, making just his fourth career start, skipped the Derby and entered the Preakness with six weeks rest following a third-place finish in the Wood Memorial. That was the plan, said trainer Chad Brown:

“Certainly I’m not going to dispute the fact that I brought in a fresh horse as part of our strategy,” said Brown, last year’s Eclipse Award-winning trainer, who scored his first ever win in a Triple Crown race. “Our horse is very talented, too. Classic Empire and Always Dreaming are two outstanding horses, and our strategy was, if we are ever going to beat them let’s take them on two weeks’ rest when we have six (weeks), and it worked.”

“I have no regrets about missing the Derby,” Cloud Computing’s co-owner Seth Klarman told Bob Ehalt after the Preakness:

“I think possibly some of the reason that we won today was because we were patient and didn’t throw an inexperienced horse against a 20-horse field in the Derby on a very difficult track.”

Being fresh was “clearly a huge advantage,” Bill Finley concludes in his recap:

… a horse that had never won a stakes race and was coming off a modest performance in the Wood Memorial beat a Kentucky Derby winner and the 2-year-old champion in the Preakness. He was fresh. They weren’t. Case closed.

As for the Wood — downgraded to a Grade 2 for its lack of impact in recent years as Derby prep — Cloud Computing’s finish was a better-than-it-looked performance, writes Mike Watchmaker:

When Cloud Computing finished third in the Wood Memorial in his start before the Preakness, he was the victim of a passive ride that found him much farther off the early pace than he should have been. And this approach in the Wood Memorial was egregiously ill-timed because it occurred on a day when the main track at Aqueduct was profoundly biased toward speed horses. In other words, Cloud Computing’s third-place finish in the Wood wasn’t even close to a true representation of his ability. It was actually a good effort considering how he was so up against the bias.

Credit to NYRA handicapper Andy Serling, who touted Cloud Computing before the Preakness, tweeting:

“For those wondering who can beat Always Dreaming in the Preakness, I have two words for you…..Cloud Computing.”

Final time for the Preakness was 1:55.98. Cloud Computing, the sixth-favorite at 13-1, paid $28.80 to win. Here’s the chart (PDF). Watch the replay:

Get a closer look at key moments with the Blood-Horse race sequence gallery.

It sounds as though Cloud Computing, back in his stall at Belmont Park before noon on Sunday, may pass on the Belmont Stakes in three weeks. Brown was non-committal about the prospect on Saturday night:

“We haven’t ruled it out,” Brown said. “We’re just going to evaluate the horse this week and probably by next weekend we may have a decision.”

Todd Pletcher

Always Dreaming finished eighth as the 6-5 post-time favorite. It had to hurt:

A win was all [trainer Todd] Pletcher wanted on Saturday.

He paced in front of his Kentucky Derby winner’s No. 40 stall on Saturday evening, about an hour before the race, chatting on his cell phone as though it was just another day at the office.

He was anxious, he said, but not driven by his highly publicized winless record at the Preakness Stakes. Always Dreaming was only the ninth horse Pletcher had ever raced in the Preakness, and only the second in the past five years.

“I want to win it today,” he said.

Tim Layden also caught up with Pletcher before the Preakness:

“He’s ready,” Pletcher said, gripping a rolled-up program in his right fist. “He’s really ready.”

It wasn’t to be, although the trainer gave the appearance of taking the results about as well as anyone could:

Pletcher was a genuine stand-up guy Saturday, giving a clinic on how to conduct yourself when things don’t go your way by answering rapid-fire questions without the slightest hint of irritation.

“We didn’t have an excuse,” he said:

“We were in the position we expected to be and I think the turnaround was a little too quick. He ran so hard in the Derby and today just wasn’t his day.

“He didn’t seem to relish the track, but I don’t really think that was it. It was just that he put so much into the Derby that it wasn’t meant to be.”

“I was a little concerned coming by the wire the first time. He was there, but it wasn’t like he was dragging Johnny there, actually. It felt like he was on a loose rein by the time they turned up the backside, That’s kind of what we anticipated Classic Empire would do, take it to us, but he just didn’t have that reserve today.”

Jockey John Velazquez kept his post-race quotes brief:

“He just got beat. I didn’t have it. That’s it. I knew I was in trouble on the backstretch when the other horse got to him, almost head to head, and engaged him. I knew I didn’t have it. That’s horse racing.”

More Preakness recaps: Cloud Computing pulls off upset in 142nd Preakness (Baltimore Sun), Cloud Computing wears down Classic Empire in Preakness (Blood-Horse), Cloud Computing edges Classic Empire in Preakness Stakes; Always Dreaming fades (Daily Racing Form), Cloud Computing edges Classic Empire to win Preakness at Pimlico (Washington Post).

For the Patron

More details from Thursday’s New England HBPA horse park presentation:

Brad Boaz, of the Lexington, Kentucky-based architectural and engineering firm CMW, gave an overview of the “Massachusetts Horse Park” master plan, as well as presented some hard numbers, during a press conference Thursday in Boston.

“Keeping the horse in mind is paramount, but also for the patron as well,” Mr. Boaz said. “We want to keep them coming back.”

The horse park, proposed by the New England Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, would be at least 200 acres and feature a horseracing complex, an “agri-tourism village” and equestrian venues …

“We don’t feel like it’s this massive structure. It’s very quaint. It’s very inviting,” Mr. Boaz said. “What we’re trying to do is take little features from some of our most favorite tracks.”

Saratoga was apparently cited as a model.

The Bottom Line

The State House News Service reported on Tuesday that a section of the 2018 budget proposal in the Massachusetts state senate would sweep $15 million from the Race Horse Development Fund into the state general fund:

“It’s just been sitting there,” Senate Ways and Means Chairwoman Karen Spilka said of the Race Horse Development Fund money Tuesday. “That’s where we give some of the increases to (the Department of Environmental Protection) and (the Department of Conservation and Recreation). We use it for conservation and recreation, consistent with the original purpose.”

Spilka added on Wednesday:

“Much of the fund’s assets have remained unused, and given the state’s tight fiscal situation, we direct the money to protect and enhance our natural resources for the benefit of residents across Massachusetts.”

This development is no surprise. With Thoroughbred racing scheduled for six days this year and the recent sale of Suffolk Downs putting a likely end to any racing after 2018, there’s a growing pool of money in the RHDF with nowhere to go. The fund, collecting 9% of the slots revenue at Plainridge, had a balance of approximately $15.6 million through April. Last month, a Boston Globe editorial called for a new mission for the RHDF millions:

When the casino law was passed, allies of the racing industry tried to spin the fund as something other than a special-interest giveaway by claiming it served the broader public interest in preserving open space on horse farms.

If preservation is really Beacon Hill’s concern, though, it would make more sense to follow the suggestion of State Representative Bradley H. Jones, a Republican from North Reading, who last year proposed redirecting some of the horse racing money into community preservation funding for municipalities. Community Preservation Act money can be used for open space, affordable housing, and historic preservation; local dollars are supposed to be matched with state money, but the state’s contribution has been declining in recent years and will be stretched even thinner now that Boston voted to join the program …

Jones’s proposal would be a step in the right direction, but the state’s ultimate goal should be to wean horse racing off state support completely. The collapse of horse racing has inflicted undeniable pain on many workers in Massachusetts, and they deserve the Commonwealth’s full support making a transition to more viable jobs. But simply paying them to run horses in front of ever-shrinking crowds — at Suffolk Downs, in New York, or anywhere else — is not a long-term economic policy.

In 2016, WBUR and the New England Center for Investigative Reporting took a closer look at the RHDF and its (lack of) effect on Massachusetts Thoroughbred racing and breeding, finding it wanting:

A review of the fund’s work by The Eye and WBUR public radio has found scant gains in breeding race horses, a schedule of racing that continues to be limited, and growing infighting among industry factions that has tried the patience of the fund’s overseers.

And I wrote in 2014 that the legislature would come for the RHDF.

Much like last year’s revised split that increased standardbreds’ share of the RHDF from 25% to 55% — Plainridge is running 125 days with average daily purses of $60K and a $250,000 stakes race in 2017 thanks to the boost — the proposed appropriation in the 2018 budget bill is being sold as a temporary way to put the fund to use — it’s for one fiscal year only — except that legislators, whether or not the budget passes as currently written, aren’t likely to forget that the RHDF money is there. The fund will become an even more tempting target for raids when the Springfield MGM casino opens in 2018 and a percent of its revenue begins to swell the RHDF.

New England HBPA executives promise to fight the proposed appropriation:

The New England Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, for example, makes the case that the money in the fund was intended to promote horse racing. What better way to promote horse racing than to promote a horse park with a track, officials said.

“When we look at that money in the Horse Race Development Fund, we see 1,000 jobs and the preservation of open space,” said Paul Umbrello, executive director of the horsemen’s association. “We will fight the transfer.”

The NEHBPA continues to push their horse park plan; they propose to build a new racetrack and equestrian center in Spencer, a small town in central Massachusetts that’s off the Mass Pike but more than an hour from Boston. It’s a longshot. The Boston Herald blasted the plan a few weeks ago:

Now, silly us for raising a question like this, but if Suffolk Downs couldn’t make a go of thoroughbred racing a stone’s throw from downtown Boston, why on earth would the state want to invest its money in such a venture, say in maybe a town like Spencer?

It was, after all, Sen. Anne Gobi (D-Spencer) who filed a bill to divert money from the fund to a horse race park, while acknowledging that the racing industry is “on life support.”

“This is an opportunity to support the entire industry,” she added. “We have to do something because it’s going and once it’s gone it’s not coming back.”

And calling horse racing an “industry” does not make it so.

“We just want to say we want to take X percentage of that fund to build and support, as a bridge gap, the horse park,” Umbrello said. “Once we’re up and running it’s going to be self-sufficient.”

Like we’ve never heard that one before!

Until lawmakers find a better use for the racing fund it will continue to attract nutty schemes like this one.

(My initial reaction to the NEHBPA plan when it was laid out last summer.)

The Massachusetts Gaming Commission declined to comment earlier this week, but chairman Stephen Crosby told the Globe last month that while:

he supported legislation that would reform the horse racing industry and give it a better chance of success in Massachusetts … taking away the fund would be the “death knell” for racing in the Commonwealth.

The death knell is sounding — the obstacles to the NEHBPA horse park are substantial, Brockton is not viable, and the state of the larger racing industry is against new construction or a new track operator entering Massachusetts.

8:00 PM Addendum: The NEHBPA pitched the horse park to reporters in an event this afternoon, Bruce Mohl reports in CommonWealth:

Brian Hickey, the association’s lobbyist and the host of Thursday’s presentation, said the group would like to see the law changed so the money in the Horse Race Development Fund could be used to directly support the state’s horse-racing industry. He estimated a couple hundred thousand dollars would be needed for the horse park feasibility study, and indicated more of the money would be needed if the horse park itself moves forward. He said revenues from simulcasting races from around the country could also be used to support the park.

More to come …

Four Derbies, One Triple Crown

Bob Baffert might be the one trainer a non-racing regular can name, thanks to his Triple Crown race record (Wall Street Journal — beware paywall):

[Not even D. Wayne Lukas] can match Baffert’s ruthless efficiency. Both have won the Derby four times, the most of any trainers in the last 50 years. But Lukas has done it starting 48 horses, versus Baffert’s 27. Both have won the Preakness six times, but Lukas’s total comes in 41 attempts — more than twice Baffert’s 18.

For the past 20 years, Baffert’s California-based operation has been a Triple Crown juggernaut. He won both the first two legs of the Triple Crown in two consecutive years in 1997 and 1998. Then after years of more big-time wins both in the U.S. and across the globe, his Triple Crown triumph with American Pharoah in 2015 sealed his legacy as one of the best ever.”

Related: Paying a visit to American Pharoah, “a stud and a gentleman.”

Intertwined

A week before the Preakness Stakes, the Baltimore Sun delivers a story on Park Heights, the neighborhood that surrounds Pimlico. Three quotes:

1.

“We’re going to continue to invest heavily in Laurel,” Ritvo says. “Laurel is a much better place to have a year-round facility.”

State law requires the organizers of the Preakness to hold the race in Baltimore, unless there’s an emergency. But Ritvo says crime and blight are keeping the track in Pimlico from greater success.

“We have more murders around Pimlico than a place like Laurel,” he says. “We had a security guy, 22 years old, get shot in the parking lot. It’s heartbreaking.”

Security guard Kevin Jones was fatally shot in June 2015.

“When we run the Preakness here,” Ritvo says, “we try to get everybody out before it gets too dark.”

2.

City Councilman Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer, who represents the area near Pimlico, says a race track renovation plus connected businesses could help spur economic growth in the neighborhood.

Schleifer says the Stronach Group is standing in the way of progress.

“If we found a partner to rebuild that facility, you would see private investment come in on every corner,” he says. “These guys are holding Park Heights hostage.”

3.

Losing the Preakness would be a huge blow to the neighborhood’s rebirth, he says.

“If you had the Super Bowl in your backyard every year, you would never let it go,” Hurley says. “I don’t understand how anybody could be OK with it going to Laurel.”

Read more: Here’s a good overview of the money and politics involved at the Maryland Reporter. The Stronach Group is committed to keeping the Preakness in Maryland, if not at Pimlico, Maryland Jockey Club president Sal Sinatra says.

From the department of far-fetched ideas: A New Jersey state senate candidate sees opportunity for Monmouth Park. “Pimlico is struggling to keep up its end of the bargain … let’s edge them out. With the right investments, Monmouth Park has the potential to be the new home of the Preakness.”

5/17/17 Addendum: So, about the Preakness moving to Laurel …

The subject is bound to stir powerful emotions, says Anirban Basu, an economist with the Baltimore-based Sage Policy Group who has studied the Maryland racing industry. But in pure financial terms, he agrees with Ritvo that the Preakness could thrive at Laurel Park.

“I’m not advocating one way or another, but I don’t see any reason the race would not work much better at Laurel,” Basu says. “It’s a more upscale track, the MARC station is right there, there’s more parking and it’s in closer proximity to BWI and the D.C. airports. I very strongly believe the race at Laurel would be a more upscale affair that would attract more well-heeled patrons from around the nation and the world.”

On the other hand, the event would sacrifice some of its tradition and its quirky juxtaposition of corporate tents and college debauchery on the infield, he says.

“It would be more of a corporate race at Laurel,” he says. “At Pimlico, it’s more of a populist affair.”

From the archive, about that “populist” aspect: Whose Party? (5/12/15)

And here’s a stinging Baltimore Sun editorial taking the Stronach Group to task on the idea of moving the Preakness Stakes from Pimlico to Laurel:

It might well be smarter to talk about an entirely new Pimlico rather than investing in renovations …

But as for the wisdom of investing in Pimlico, we would note that the good condition of Laurel and deteriorating one of Pimlico didn’t happen by accident. It is the result of a deliberate strategy by Stronach and its predecessors to consolidate operations and investments in Laurel …

Rather than warning that it would require a “huge” commitment of state resources to keep the Preakness at Pimlico — and not acknowledging the “huge” amount of money the state is already sending their way as a result of the legislation that legalized slots and casino gambling — Stronach officials ought to be focused on finalizing an agreement with the Stadium Authority and the Baltimore Development Corp. on a second phase of the Pimlico study.

Finding a Way

From Jay Bergman’s remembrance of Sports Eye founder Jack Cohen:

What was so impressive about Mr. Cohen to me was his ability to get around obstacles in his way. At the forefront of his effort to put out past performances in Sports Eye, his publication that had only given entries, results and selections, was an obstacle called the track program. The program printed for the tracks at Roosevelt and Yonkers was a product of Doc Robbins. That product was a monopoly of sorts and Mr. Cohen had to figure out how to get access to information in advance of race day in order to provide “his version” of past performances in a timely fashion. Ultimately what he did was pay off Robbins’ employees to provide him a minimal amount of information that would allow for his staff to connect-the-dots and provide a competitive product.

I love these stories of people hustling to get around data monopolies, even if they’re all from decades ago, and racing data is now stagnant.

More Thunder Snow

Or, as I like to call him now, Thunder Bronco.

Jon White really regrets picking him to win the Kentucky Derby:

I am very glad that Thunder Snow was found to have no injuries. However, considering he was reported to be okay physically after a vet examined him, I can’t help thinking that perhaps what he also needs is to be examined by a psychiatrist. I’m even willing to join him on an adjoining coach. Because I certainly feel like I was out of my mind for betting some of my hard-earned money on a colt at odds of 16-1 who acted like a complete goofball on the sport’s biggest stage.

I understand the feeling, although I’m more chagrined that I put down a little flyer on J Boys Echo a couple of minutes before the race, swayed by his post parade appearance, 46-1 odds, and trainer Dale Romans’ pocket square. (Romans was dressed to win, but sartorial optimism is not a solid indicator …)

Tom Durkin had a run-in with the rambunctious Snow in the tunnel:

“The race starts and I’m watching it on TV,” Durkin said. “The horses kind of thunder past and I can’t really see anything. Then there’s this great commotion and people are yelling, ‘Get out of the way. Get out of the way.’ They open up the pole on the gap that leads into the tunnel and in comes Thunder Snow with the outrider. He’s crazed, and he basically pinned me up against wall of the tunnel. I am afraid of horses. I make no bones about that. He’s wheeling his ass end around and then I had to push him out of the way so he doesn’t kick me in the head. It was scary.”

According to the Churchill Down notes from earlier this week, Thunder Snow slunk out of Louisville on Tuesday afternoon, “[headed] for Huntsville, Alabama, where he would catch a flight to England.”

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