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Monday, 24 March 2014

A Quick Thought about the Sunland Derby

Yesterday Chitu won the $800,000 Sunland Derby for Bob Baffert over stablemate Midnight Hawk. It was a mediocre field for $800,000 in my opinion, as the Sunland Derby always is. Now that the Kentucky Derby uses a points system instead of the Graded Stakes earnings, is the $800,000 purse really necessary?
     New Mexico is a slots state, and that's the only reason the Sunland Derby exists. The race was only given Grade III status because Mine That Derby finished fourth in it before winning the Kentucky Debry. We've been seeing lately that slots are not a guarantee, they can be taken away, so wouldn't it make sense to cut the purse of the Sunland Derby just in case?
    Let's say the purse was cut to $500,000. Since it would still be worth the 50 Kentucky Derby points and $250,000 to the winner, it would likely attract the same quality field as it usually does, but it would give the track an extra $300,000 to put away for a rainy day. Furthermore, the handle on the race is not paying for even half of the purse. $1,277,009 was bet on the Sunland Derby yesterday (not including any multi-race wagers) for a takeout of $271,832. Slots are paying for 2/3 of the purse. Assuming the same sort of field would be compiled for $500,000, the handle would be able to pay for about half of the purse.
     Would cutting the purse make the Sunland Derby less special? No. Is having an extra $300,000 in the bank in case of in case smart? I think so. Slots welfare can disappear at any time. Sunland Park would be smart to be prepared for that, because it can certainly happen to them.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Be Careful Who You Call Great

Last night PETA came out with a video where an investigator disguised as a groom or something spent time with Scott Blasi, an assistant trainer to Steve Asmussen. It wasn't pretty.
     The video was definitely sensationalized. PETA wants you to believe that every trainer is a cheating animal abuser.This couldn't be further from the truth. But it does raise an interesting point to me. We need to be careful who we consider great.
     One scene in the video showed Hall of Fame rider Gary Stevens and Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas laughing about the use of 'buzzers,' an electrical device that shocks the horse into running faster. Completely illegal, and not a laughing matter. These supposed greats both got a good chuckle out of their past experience using buzzers. I'm not saying they are using the buzzers today, but regardless of how long ago it was, it's not funny. It's quite cruel. Are these the sort of people that horse racing wants to be remembered as the greatest?
     Another big part of the video is 2011 Kentucky Derby runner-up Nehro and his bad feet. Really bad feet. Feet bad enough that the horse should have been retired. It's not as though the horse hadn't paid his bills, he only won twice in 12 starts but earned $978,381. You would think the great trainer Steve Asmussen would recognize that the horse should have stopped racing. Shame on the owner, Zayat Stables, who also should have known better.
     You can go on and on about the supertrainers with very spotty records. Remember when Bob Baffert had seven horses drop dead, each with traces of a chemical found in rat poison in their blood? Todd Pletcher had a positive for procraine with Wait a While a few years ago. Richard Dutrow was given a 10-year suspension for the many positives he has gotten throughout his career. The corporate stables with a giant number of horses and the richest owners win the most races, but they also have the worst records for breakdowns.
     In this age where success in racing is simply a numbers game, the wrong people are going down as the greatest. Don't let a high win percentage convince you that a certain trainer/jockey is the best at his/her craft.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Crying Bias

I'm a believer in track bias. I don't think there's a doubt that it exists. However, I'm starting to understand why some people are sick and tired of hearing about it.
     Let's go back to Saturday at Santa Anita. We saw two major front end winners that day, California Chrome in the San Felipe and Game On Dude in the Big 'Cap. California Chrome was exiting two impressive wins and took pressure from Midnight Hawk, who backed off after 3/4 of a mile. There didn't appear to be any significant closing threats on paper, and that played out in the race. The best horse won. That best horse just happened to be a speed runner. Game On Dude took a bit of pressure from longshot Hear the Ghost in the Big 'Cap, but got away from him quickly. When Game On Dude makes the lead, he's next to unbeatable. He's a great horse when things go his way. Will Take Charge did manage to make up some ground to be second by a length and 3/4.
     Do these two races warrant calling the track speed biased? No. In the first race, 6/5 favourite Faith Love Hope made a clear lead, but was overtaken down the stretch by Satirical, who rallied from second-last to win by two lengths. In the San Carlos, Sahara Sky rallied from eighth to win even after being steadied on the turn. Clubhouse Ride came from sixth to be third beaten a nose for second. Then in Race 10, a first level allowance, Protocol won with a stalking trip, and the two early speed runners finished fifth and seventh. When speed was the best, speed won. When it wasn't it lost.
    Now I listened/read this speed bias chatter but blew it off. But then today at Gulfstream, we had the return of Honor Code. The Remsen winner who hadn't run since November couldn't possibly lose. At least not until he did. Social Inclusion, an impressive debut-winner on Fountain of Youth day, got a clear lead, went reasonable fractions, took no pressure, and drew off to win by 10. It just so happened in Race 6, a NW2X allowance, we had a lone speed winner in Evolution Rocks, who was exiting a Stakes win with a 105 Beyer. These two horses caused another uproar of how speed biased the track was. What people didn't seem to realize was that in the three other dirt races on the card, it was stalkers and closers who dominated. The supposed speed bias was non-existent.
    A speed bias is where speed horses are holding on when they shouldn't be, and closers aren't rallying when they should be. Take a look at what is happening in the all of the races before crying bias.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Falling on Deaf Ears

I was on Standardbred Canada this afternoon looking for some news that would interest me more than whatever class I was in at the time. I was in luck, as the first article was a letter written by Robert Burgess to John Snobelen. Mr. Burgess is a member of the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame who loves writing letters. Mr. Snobelen is one of the three members of the Ontario Horse Racing Transition Panel. If you've followed the situation in Ontario at all, you probably know who they are.
     Burgess' letter is essentially a warning to Ontario horsemen to not fall for a "false sense of hope" and that the "many positive advancements" made by the industry are to be taken with a grain of salt. Basically, purses are no longer inflated and we don't have four B-level harness tracks running at the same time, so the industry is failing.
     One thing I remember hearing many horsemen at Woodbine & Fort Erie talk about before SARP was cancelled was how "nobody goes to the races anymore" and that "everyone plays the slots." They all seemed to miss the good ol' days when the grandstand was packed and people loved playing the ponies. Now that we no longer have slots cash and we need to get people betting on the racing product, the horsemen aren't providing any good solutions. All they seem to be able to say is "We need SARP!" Burgess is worried that the industry will end up racing for "blankets, ribbons [and] accolades." What he fails to consider is that by growing handle, purses can be kept at a reasonable level for horsemen.
     An interesting comment on the letter said "Kudos to Mr. Robert Burgess for his continuing fight for horse racing in Ontario and standardbred racing in general, unfortunately it continues to fall on deaf ears." The deaf ears part of this comment, in my opinion, is a very accurate statement. The Transition Panel and the industry participants who are working to advance the industry and make it self-sustaining are deaf to this whining, as they should be. Kudos to Western Fair for lowering takeout, putting together competitive race cards, and succeeding in growing handle. Kudos to the Transition Panel and OHRIA for putting together the Alliance between the eight biggest southern Ontario harness tracks, and for getting $8 million/year of transitional funding for smaller regional tracks that need it. Kudos to Ajax Downs for realizing that no one will bet their product on a Sunday afternoon. There are plenty of people in the industry doing good things. Kudos to Mr. Burgess for trying to pull the industry back into our state of slot welfare and complete dismissal of the importance of a playable racing product and a strong customer base? No way.
    The Ontario Horse Racing industry is being fixed. The broken state we were in during the slots era will hopefully be replaced with a self-sustaining, customer based industry. Let's grow handle. Let's get people back into the grandstand. Let's make horse racing a big deal to people. Hopefully those comments don't fall on the deaf ears of Robert Burgess and the many people in the industry who share his views.