Thursday, April 10, 2014

Saturday Spot Plays

--Brian DiDonato

KEE 3 - Alw, 7f (AWT) - Maybe it’s crazy to expect anything close to the 8-1 morning line quote on Ghostly Wonder, but well-regarded runners Twang and Green Mask should take their fair share of action, as could Augusta Road considering The Masters is this weekend (I know it sounds crazy, but watch him take more money than you’d normally expect). Dismissed as the longest shot in field of five first out at Arlington in June, 11-1 Ghostly Wonder dueled with the well-bet favorite before leaving him in the dust for a very easy 4 1/2-length score. Now I know what you’re thinking--beating four runners at Arlington isn’t any major accomplishment. But that favorite was Spot, who took the GII Swale last month. Two others won their next starts, including last-place finisher No Surrender, who resurfaced at Hawthorne Mar. 28 to romp by 6 1/2 lengths and earn a 92 Beyer. Ghostly Wonder earned a solid 79 Beyer for his win—which stacks up well with the rest of the field, and projects out to something in the 90 to 100 range by the old rule that young horses should improve 1 1/2 to 2 points per month of development. I’m not saying Ghostly Wonder is going to run a 100, but he can run a lot slower that that and still take this. Play: Win on #2 Ghostly Wonder (8-1).

KEE 9 - GI Madison S. - Turnbacks seem to be at a huge advantage going seven furlongs on the Keeneland Poly, and there are three in here that I strongly prefer over favorite Judy the Beauty, who I think is probably best going shorter. The most obvious of the three is Better Lucky--she’s a very nice turf miler, but is two-for-four sprinting and must be included. There’s also Byrama, who I’ve always believed is a better sprinter. She was very unlucky not to win this race last year as she was blocked for most of the stretch, and she makes the same cut back from a turf mile that she did last year, albeit for new connections this time around. The third horse I’m interested in is Eden Prairie. She cut back to just miss at 10-1 in the track-and-trip Raven Run in October, and has improved her speed figures markedly in three runs on the Fair Grounds lawn since. She also has the advantage of good tactical speed. Play: Win on #7 Byrama (6-1) OR #9 Eden Prairie (10-1) (whoever is higher in relation to their morning line), exacta box with #6 Better Lucky. DDs 6,7,9 w/ 8.

KEE 10 - GI Jenny Wiley S. - Speed has done extremely well on the turf so far this meet, and there isn’t an abundance of it here. Discreet Marq already would have been formidable anyway, but now she should be doubly tough over this surface. I was particularly impressed with her runner-up finish in the GI Matriarch last time Dec. 1. That was a solid field of older runners, and she gave locally based Egg Drop all she could handle to only get beat a nose. There are certainly others you have to use in exotics, but my money’s on Discreet Marq to make the lead and never look back. Play: Win on #8 Discreet Marq (6-1).

SA 6 - Alw, 7f - This is a pretty nice group of 3-year-olds. I really thought highly of Indexical last year—I loved his work at Barretts May, and though he could only manage a fifth-place finish with some trouble on debut at Del Mar in July, he returned the following month to break his maiden at 16-1 with the addition of blinker--two spots ahead of eventual Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner New Year’s Day. I can dismiss his close seventh after setting a slightly quick pace in the GI Del Mar Futurity, and turf route attempt when fifth last out in October’s Zuma Beach. Now he tries dirt for the first time, which seems likely to be his best surface, and should be right there with any improvement on his maiden breaker (I do worry that he’ll need a start off the bench, but the price should be right). Play: Win on #10 Indexical (12-1), exacta box with #4 Papa Turf, #8 Top Fortitude, #9 True Ten.

GP 9 - MSW, 1 1/16mT - This one’s admittedly a bit speculative, but Classy Kid will likely be an overlay in his turf debut for Mark Frostad. The 4-year-old showed early interest before fading to a distant fifth when unveiled sprinting here Feb. 28, but he never really figured to fire his best under those circumstances for a patient first-out trainer. By versatile, but usually better turf sire Lemon Drop Kid, Classy Kid is out of Grade III-winning turfer Dynamite Lass (Dynaformer), who never set foot on a main track. None of Dynamite Lass’s previous foals have been superstars, but they’ve definitely preferred routing and/or grass, and Classy Kid should follow that trend. Play: Win on #5 Classy Kid (20-1), exacta behind #1 Siete C, exacta box with #7 Knight of Valor, #8 Smart Spree, #10 Chunnel.

See Saturday's TDN for this week's installment of the Road to the Kentucky Derby Showdown with Brian and Steve Sherack's picks for the Blue Grass and Arkansas Derby. Follow Brian on twitter @BDiDonatoTDN

Monday, April 7, 2014

Guest Blog: So It's Root, Root Root for the....Best Horse?

--Drew Rauso
   While the first day of spring didn’t immediately cast off its cold winter brethren, we the people of this Polar Vortex’d winter were certainly happy to leave the icy conditions behind us.
   Suffice to say when the “real” first day of spring arrived several weeks later, just this past weekend, in the form of Major League Baseball Opening Day, there was such an overjoyed reaction that there was a petition requesting the day be made into a national holiday. “Baseball’s back!” Right?
   The sport, for decades and maybe even a century, has been this nation’s pastime. You ask Chevy, “the official vehicle of the MLB,” to make a commercial and they resurrect a 1970’s tune “Baseball, Hot Dogs, Apple Pie and Chevrolet.”

   Take that little example however you see fit, but the truth remains that baseball was revered, and that is the key word: was. Football is this country’s new national sport, and new is an understatement.
   According to the Harris Poll, a study conducted yearly to document adults’ favorite sports, the NFL attracted 35 percent of the participants to the MLB’s meager 14. This disparity hasn’t changed over the last three decades; MLB has dropped from 23 percent in 1985 to this year’s 14, with the NFL never below 24 percent.
   So, does that mean game over for all sports not centered around bashing your opponent’s head in. No, it certainly doesn’t.
   Football has its own problems to deal with, different from baseball and possibly more threatening; the sport injures people at an incredibly alarming rate. Careers last several years, not several decades, and more and more former players are diagnosed with head injuries every year. I don’t know about you, but if the President of the United States publicly stated his children will never play your sport, I would sound the alarm.
   All of which brings us to the final stretch: horse racing has a fantastic chance to make its mark on the general public of this country. First, a comparison is in order. A day at the track and a day at the ballpark are not so inherently different at the core. I know this is simplifying matters, but for argument’s sake, let it be for now.
   Being at the ballpark is as much a social gathering as anywhere else, conversation is welcomed like Sofia Vergara entering a party, and the sport provides a backdrop for a nice afternoon.
   A day game at Citi Field: the sun is shining, you may walk around outside the stadium for a while, tailgate in the parking lot before the gates open, eat food, drink beer and enjoy being outside. (Now this part is reserved for Mets fans, a not-so-elite club that I just so happen to be a part of): once the game starts, many times there is not an incredible level of attention to the game, for whatever reason, the long nature of the sport, the standstill aspect of many of the players, whatever.
   Looking at a day at the track (I am speaking on behalf of my experience, that of a casual observer frequenting the track with friends, so as to emulate what would hope to be the general public), I see many similarities.
   You are outside, with friends, eating, drinking making conversation. The sport provides the backdrop, and when the races go off, conversation is for a moment suspended, as everyone is bonded by their fascination of such majestic animals performing at an incredibly high level.
   The similarities are hard to miss, and with the positive notes there are of course negative ones as well. Baseball in all of its glory in the ‘80s and ‘90s and early 2000s was a power show, an entertainment form basking in its own gargantuan pride, with mammoth home runs left and right and players so big they looked like bodybuilders.
   Of course we now know the reason behind this dark heyday, and steroids’ ugly head is slowly getting pushed into the underworld, along with the Alex Rodriguezs, Jose Cansecos and players of today.
   The Steroid Era is a driving force in the decreasing popularity of baseball; the fans just cannot trust players anymore, and sadly, this seems to be a pattern in professional sports, i.e. Lance Armstrong and the recent PETA case.
   For horse racing to truly enter the world of most popular sports in this country again (and this goes for any sport), people need to trust the faces of the industry.
   In an effort to regain their fans’ trust, look at baseball and Bud Selig’s administration; the crackdown on players after the Biogenesis debacle is in full effect with Alex Rodriguez’s 211 game suspension, along with Ryan Braun’s 65 games and Melky Cabrera’s 50 games, among others.
   While it is yet to be seen what happens of A-Rod, there is a general level of disgust with the player and a respect for the league because it has not backed down against one of the most powerful people in the sport.
   I asked several college classmates about what they thought of Steve Asmussen’s scandal, and the resounding reply was, “Isn’t that a common occurrence?” (Needless to say this conversation took place only after I agreed to listen to The Chainsmokers’ song “#SELFIE”, which is a different and entirely more frustrating commentary on my generation, but I digress.)

   Even though the statement is clearly not true, it raises flags about public opinion of racing. While Asmussen will continue to train horses, his reputation has taken a hit, and the industry should make it a priority to keep horses clean so as to prove the “common occurrence” belief wrong.
   The parallels are obvious; so how can the horse racing industry reclaim its integrity, because without it, there is much less hope of attracting a broader audience. However, the headline, “Horse Racing Integrity Recaptured” does not lend itself to breaking news, so to grab the attention of the nation, something much more direct is needed.
   Enter Secretariat #2, a new superstar, a face of the sport that captivates millions and captures the hearts of the country. Completely aware that once-in-a-lifetime stars are exactly that, I am merely saying that through this example, in which a new darling horse breaks out into the field and serves as a headline for the sport, there is a strong possibility of enhanced awareness and popularity of racing.

   One breakout star combined with the timing of other sports’ problems, could spell success for horse racing in getting people to admire the sheer beauty of the sport, but for getting the most people to the track?
   Show off what the sport can offer besides the actual race, and a day at the track may become much more marketable, plus there’s the possibility to win money, and any young person would love that scenario.
   A final example is a tennis match.  Go to the U.S. Open, and you will find tons of sponsorship stands and tents outside the stadium with games, prizes, activities and more, all while the matches are going on.
   While the ticket is still for a tennis match, there is so much more to do, and the same can and should be applied to horse racing marketing.

Enough of my ranting, see you next week.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Saturday Spot Plays

--Brian DiDonato

AQU 8 - GIII Bay Shore S. - I picked Financial Mogul in the GIII Gotham S. as part of the Road to the Kentucky Derby showdown, and mentioned (click here) after his even fourth-place finish that I thought he might appreciate a cut-back in distance. He gets it here, and should offer plenty of value. The dark bay romped by 5 1/2 lengths at Saratoga last time he tried seven panels, and he shows some quick works since the Gotham. I’ll also use Favorite Tale, who has crushed weaker competition at Parx in all three of his previous outings and could get a bit disrespected here; and another turn-back in The Admiral--his sprint debut and seven-furlong maiden breaker two back were both solid. I’m against favorite Kobe’s Back--he’s just way too obvious and inconsistent. Play: Win on #3 Financial Mogul (8-1), also using #6 Favorite Tale and #7 The Admiral in exotics.

AQU 11 - GI Carter H. - I love Clearly Now here. He was plagued by tough trips last season, including when finishing a very good second over track and trip 12 months ago in the Bay Shore. He showed what he could do with a better trip when he took Belmont’s GIII Bold Ruler H. with a 109 Beyer Speed Figure two back, but nearly went down after clipping heels on the turn in the GI Cigar Mile before settling for a solid fifth all things considered. Seven furlongs is probably Clearly Now’s ideal distance, and I look for him to sit just off the speed before pouncing. I’ll also hope to be alive in the pick four to last year’s Carter runner-up Sahara Sky as well as GI Malibu runner-up Central Banker. Play: (Large) Win on #2 Clearly Now (5-1), also using #1 Central Banker and #6 Sahara Sky in exotics.

SA 4 - MSW, 3yo, 6 1/2fT - I have a feeling that first-time starter Designated can run a bit. The Pam and Marty Wygod homebred is out of a mare who had some speed on the track before dropping talented sprinter Idiot Proof, a debut winner, Grade I winner on synth, Grade III winner on dirt and second in both the 2007 GI Breeders’ Cup Sprint and 2008 G1 Dubai Golden Shaheen. He also finished second in a Del Mar turf sprint stakes try. Another half-brother also won his debut and did most of his work in synthetic sprints. By a top turf (and overall) sire in Smart Strike, Designated shows some strong works up at Golden Gate for Jedd Josephson. Josephson has excellent numbers in two relevant categories. He’s two-for-four when shipping down to Santa Anita, including a 13-1 stakes upset down the hill here in 2011 and third with a 17-1 shot in an optional claimer a couple of weeks ago. Josephson also has very strong debut numbers--he’s 17% with a $3.75 ROI from a large sample size over the past five seasons (stats courtesy DRF Formulator). Included in those debut winners is last year’s champion juvenile Shared Belief, who Josephson unveiled for the Wygods up at Golden Gate in October before he was sold privately. Play: Win on #6 Designated (8-1), exacta box with #5 Footstepsinbronze.

SA 7 - GIII Providencia S. - Favorites Diversy Harbor and Nashoba’s Gold are both talented fillies with tons of upside, but it’s hard not to take a shot against them here considering the much different pace scenario they’ll face this time from when they ran one-two in the China Doll S. last out. The pace was very hotly contested in that one-mile affair, but there’s only one confirmed front-runner signed on here: One More. One More graduated against $75,000 maiden claimers two back over a mile of this turf course, and set a relatively unpressured pace last time to annex a course-and-distance (1 1/8 miles) allowance Mar. 13. She certainly didn’t have the toughest of trips that day, but I liked how she finished and think she’s a little better than the speed figure gap between her and the top two choices would suggest. Now, besides a win bet on One More, playing this race could get a little tricky. I’ll definitely use One More and the chalks in horizontal wagers, but I’ll also try to get some bombs into the trifecta. Longshots Full Ransom and Savings Account could find themselves closer to a slow pace this time and at least one of them could hit the board. So I’ll play 10 w/ 4,5,6,8 w/ 4,5,6,8, and 4,8 w/ 10 w/ 4,5,6,8. I’ll also play a 4,8 w/ 4,8 w/ 10 w/ 5,6 superfecta (not sure there’s much point in playing a 4,8 w/ 4,8 w/ 10 TRI). Play: Win on #10 One More (6-1) and the exotics outlined above.

KEE 9 - GI Ashland S. - I’m not expecting the 15-1 she is on the morning line, but Rosalind has a big shot in here. The Ken McPeek trainee was a late-charging second in the GI Darley Alcibiades over this track and trip in October, and put in a similar run to be third in the GI Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies the following month. Fourth with a wide journey in the GI Hollywood Starlet, she had some excuses when third on seasonal debut behind last Saturday’s GII Gulfstream Park Oaks winner In Tune at Gulfstream Feb. 27. Steadied pretty significantly early, Rosalind was caught behind a slow pace over a track that favored speed for much of the meet. She’ll get tons of pace this time, returns to a synthetic strip, and sports a local bullet work. I expect her to have a say at decent odds. Play: Win on #8 Rosalind (15-1).

OP 9 - GIII Fantasy S. - I like two horses here and I’m going to try to get both of them on the board. I have to give Kiss Moon one more chance to run back to her excellent allowance score here Jan. 11—she set a very hot pace that day, but kept right on going to win by 9 1/2 lengths. A puzzling seventh as the favorite in the Martha Washington S. after that, Kiss Moon showed a little more life to be fourth behind a few of these rivals in the roughly run GIII Honeybee S. I’m not sure why Kiss Moon hasn’t been closer to the lead in her last two, but I expect she’ll be hard-sent this time—she adds blinkers and sports two quick works in the interim. Mufajaah returns on short rest since taking her second straight Mar. 23. She just has the look of a really talented horse—she won at will last out and there’s no reason she can’t handle the step up in class. I’m curious to see how hard they bet her. Play: Win on #5 Kiss Moon (12-1), exacta box with #4 Mufajaah. Trifectas 4,5 w/ ALL w/ 4,5.

See Saturday's TDN for this week's installment of the Road to the Kentucky Derby Showdown with Brian and Steve Sherack's picks for the Wood Memorial and Santa Anita Derby. Follow Brian on twitter @BDiDonatoTDN

Handicapping the Transylvania

--Brian DiDonato

   Keeneland’s Spring Meet kicks off with a particularly interesting renewal of the GIII Transylvania S. Friday. A total of 12 sophomore turfers line up for the 1 1/16-mile feature, and a trio of longshots caught my eye. 
   Irish import Can’thelpbelieving was second in his first North American start for Graham Motion going an additional sixteenth of a mile here in October, and broke through with a very impressive turn-of-foot while adding blinkers and Lasix at Gulfstream Jan. 11 (video). Stepped up for that venue’s GIII Palm Beach S. after that Mar. 1, the bay was asked to close over a surface that had been playing extremely kind to speed, and could only muster a close fifth while covering his final furlong quicker than every rival but one (video). Can’thelpbelieving might prove more effective over longer distances than he’ll get to work with here, but he figures to get plenty of pace this time and his 8-1 morning-line quote definitely offers value. 
   Another intriguing off-the-pace chance is Woodfield Springs. The son of MGSW Communique (Smart Strike) (winner of the GIII Bewitch S. here in 2008) ran on well to finish third over yielding Gulfstream grass first up Dec. 28. Switched to the main track Jan. 25, the G. Watts Humphrey, Jr. homebred set the pace before settling for fourth—not bad considering a pedigree that definitely leans heavily toward turf and synthetic (he’s by Raven’s Pass). Rusty Arnold gave Woodfield Springs Lasix for the first time before a Mar. 1 return to the turf, and while the bay did enjoy an easy ground-saving trip, he looked very good reeling in the pacesetter en route to a 1 1/2-length graduation (video). Connections were considering the GI Blue Grass S. for Woodfield Springs, but I wouldn’t necessarily take this decision to play it conservative as a negative—they likely just believe that his future is on the lawn, and they’re probably right. 
   Medal Count broke his maiden by daylight on the Ellis main track in September, but it would come as no surprise if the son of Dynaformer proved best on the lawn. His lone grass attempt was a victory, albeit by dead-heat against a fairly average group of optional claimers in Hallandale Jan. 12 (video). It seemed as if the 2-1 favorite was ridden a bit over-confidently that day, and he likely would have won by a more comfortable margin if asked earlier and if not for some mild interference. Thrown back in the deep end after that in the GII Fountain of Youth S. Feb. 22, Medal Count was fifth while improving by four points on the Beyer Speed Figure he earned for the Jan. 12. optional claimer. I like that progression considering Medal Count was probably in too deep and on the wrong surface last time, and there’s no reason he can’t step forward returning to the grass. 
   The play: I’ll bet #12 Can’thelpbelieving to win at 6-1+, use 1,3,12 in pick 3s and 4s, and box all three in the exacta. 

Follow Brian on twitter at @BDiDonatoTDN

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Understanding McGaughey's Recent First-out Success

   As I watched 6-1 Run of the River provide Shug McGaughey with his third 3-year-old debut winner in March at Gulfstream Sunday it dawned on me: clearly the generally accepted notion that all of the Hall of Famer’s horses need a start before showing up with their best is inaccurate, and likely producing overlays on extremely well-bred, often better-than-average horses who are in fact ready to fire right out of the box.
   When it comes to 2-year-olds, there’s no doubt that McGaughey’s reputation as a trainer whose newcomers need one first is accurate. According to DRF Formulator, over the past five years, he’s just 3-for-74 (4%) with a paltry $0.26 ROI with juvenile first-time starters. Those three winners were Forward March, a $2.05-million KEESEP yearling and grandson of Miesque who won like a good thing at Monmouth in 2011, but never quite lived up to his original hype; and Honor Code and Top Billing, McGaughey’s top two 2014 Derby prospects who unfortunately were both knocked off the trail recently with injury. It would seem an occasional McGaughey trainee can overcome his trainer’s early patience at two (either on talent, his natural precocity, whatever), but it’s certainly a rarity.
   It’s a different story with 3-year-olds—especially this season. McGaughey has won at 11% with a take-out beating ROI of $1.95 with his sophomore firsters overall in the past five years. Those numbers jump up significantly at Gulfstream, where Shug’s fresh faces win at 21% (43% in the money) with a $3.82 ROI. A good chunk of the profit came over the past month. So far in 2014, McGaughey’s 3-year-old firsters are three-for-nine with a second and two thirds (33% win/66% in the money), good for a very strong $4.33 ROI (including 5-1 Peter Island Mar. 1 and 9-2 La Madrina Mar. 29 in addition to Run of the River). It may also be worth noting that two of the three McGaughey 3-year-old firsters who didn’t hit the board at Gulfstream were by far the two longest prices—perhaps suggesting higher expectations for those who ran well over those who didn’t.
   Usually when I stumble upon an interesting statistic I like to come up with some sort of logical, qualitative explanation for the situation to make it less likely that I’m just chasing variance. There’s definitely one here, and it lies in making the distinction between a trainer being patient in getting a horse ready for his first race vs. getting him ready for his entire career.
   Since McGaughey juvenile newcomers at places like Saratoga fail to win first out, bettors assume that all of Shug’s firsters will be equally unprepared for their first starts. But what McGaughey does isn’t necessarily bring horses around slowly in relation to their first race—it’s so that they’ll peak later on—i.e. as 3-year-olds. So the 2-year-olds that debuted at Saratoga may not have been specifically less prepared to win first out than the winning sophomores at Gulfstream. They were just unveiled earlier on in the process and therefore required the additional conditioning gained from racing before being at their best. The 3-year-old winners might have been later-developing types or have had minor issues that kept them from racing, but since the goal was still likely for them to peak at three, they were either more cranked-up than the average McGaughey firster or had been in training for a significant enough amount of time that they were further along than their lack of a race would suggest—like in the case of Run of the River, who has published works in New York all the way back to last July.
   Just out of curiosity, I went back through all of McGaughey’s graded stakes winners from the past five years who began their career with him and those runners required an average of 3.5 starts to break their maidens (I’d guess the average for all graded stakes winners is significantly lower). Last year’s Kentucky Derby winner Orb, for example, earned his diploma fourth out—so did top turfer Point of Entry. So there’s no doubt that McGaughey’s reputation as one who brings them along slowly (and succeeds with that methodology) is accurate, but it would still be wrong to assume that his later-debuting horses aren’t closer to hitting their best stride than their race-less record would suggest. Ill-fated multiple Grade I-winning 3-year-old filly Pine Island comes to mind--she was unveiled as a sophomore by McGaughey in March of 2006, and promptly blew up the tote at 28-1 before posting a 5-3-2-0 record in her next five tries.
   I’d keep an eye on any McGaughey firsters who debut in the next month or so in New York or at Keeneland as potential bets for the reasons discussed above. Then I’d probably avoid the very late-developing 3-year-olds and certainly his 2-year-olds. But keep a very close eye on how McGaughey’s sophomore firsters do next year at Gulfstream—there’s a very good chance they’ll outrun their odds and show a flat-bet profit once again.

McGaughey firster La Madrina rallies impressively to earn 'TDN Rising Star' status at Gulfstream Saturday
A Coglianese


Monday, March 31, 2014

Guest Blog: The Biggest Event I'd Never Heard Of

--Drew Rauso

"And African Story wins the Dubai World Cup!"
   A tale as old as time at this point, given the immediacy of our modern world, and thus, that is all the play the winning horse shall receive in this post. Instead, let us focus on Fox Sports 1, which graciously broadcasted the event, along with other aspects of the richest day in racing that I found interesting, odd or downright unexpected.
   First, backtrack about 72 hours, to a conversation that now brings a red, sheepish hue to my otherwise Mediterranean-style skin.
   My friend and massive horse enthusiast: “Yessir, the Dubai World Cup is this weekend.”
Me: “Umm, don’t you mean the world cup in Qatar, and that’s in 2022…”
Friend: “No, the richest day in horse racing, the Dubai World Cup.”
Me: “Oh.”
   Needless to say at this point in the conversation my fingers were itching to grab the ever-reliable smartphone cradled in my pocket and Google my way out of confusion, which began a frantic, 5-minute journey through cyberspace.  And so, I discovered that yes, there IS a Dubai World Cup, held at Meydan Racecourse annually with a total purse of $10 million.
   Now, I am among a presumably small percentage of my generation that knows about races that matter that are not named in the Triple Crown. I watched the Breeders’ Cup in November and have witnessed the Haskell live several times at Monmouth Park, both experiences helping to convince myself that I am not completely blind in the sport.
   So imagine my surprise when the most expensive day in racing was during the upcoming weekend, and I had never even heard of it. Just another testament to the lack of integration between the sport and 20-somethings, I suppose. But alas, yet another tale as old as time, and a rhyme that only sounds worse when used twice.
   On Saturday, Fox Sports 1’s broadcast of the event at times felt like a recorded version of my dad and
uncles discussing Twitter at a family party.  There were respected pundits (I’m going to assume they’re respected; I’d never heard of any of them unfortunately), including Alyssa Ali, who was in charge of the social media campaign and as far as I know a very good field reporter for the industry and Greg Wolf, your standard sports panel host.
   Fox tried engaging younger viewers with a hashtag #DWC2014, with Ali actually interrupted the pregame show (if I can call it that) to tell viewers to tweet which country they believed would win the race with said hashtag.
   I’m no social media strategist, but if that is the best Fox could come up wit in terms of active engagement, there needs to be some reevaluations afoot.  We are talking about a sport that is desperately calling for an increase in young viewership and preference, and the Twitter opportunity they went with is what represented country will win?!  A quick Twitter search--yes, you can do that--revealed an alarming high number of tweets strictly about J-Lo’s (ahem, Jennifer Lopez’s) performance at Meydan, perfectly illustrating two points.  One, at least the decision to bring in J-Lo was somewhat successful, because you know she was not there as the main audience’s first choice.  And two, not a lot of engagement on that Twitter poll!
Jennifer Lopez at Meydan
   Both moves only showcase the desperation horse racing has for a push to go young, and while they may have been with the best intentions, as everyone’s favorite paleontologist Dr. Grant says, “Some of the worst things imaginable have been done with the best intentions.”  I’m not putting a bad Twitter poll on par with stealing man-made dinosaur eggs (Jurassic Park 3 if that reference went unnoticed), but there is a takeaway here.
   Fox, spend more time and effort into planning how to attract an audience.  The race was during the midst of March Madness; maybe a bracket-style poll could have been interesting?  Something to draw in your American audience that possibly (a more polite form of “probably” in this case) flipped to FS1 in the hopes of college basketball and saw relatively unknown talking heads discussing horse racing.  You had the audience, all you had to do was keep them.  Keep in mind, American television ratings have not been posted yet, or I have not seen, so I am interested to see the numbers, but for now, I have my rant.  Any ideas for Fox, please, I’d love to hear them.
   The coverage was also interspersed with so many commercials, I felt like I was watching a poor man’s Super Bowl.  I know, call me crazy for using the word “poor” to describe anything in Dubai, but I stand by my vocabulary usage.  What I took from the combination of enhanced advertisements and the segment on who the experts were betting on was that there was just too much time for not enough information.  While having a lot of ads could be because of high viewership (again, no ratings yet), I saw it as a constant excuse to kill time before the big race.  Take it from me, commercials destroy an attention span.  I won’t even watch videos online if there is a 30 second ad first.
   The fact that gambling wasn’t only discussed, but the subject of a whole segment was interesting.  For one thing, it was mentioned that gambling is illegal in the United Arab Emirates, so the thousands of attendees were simply there for the thrill of the spectacle, which many people may age may write off as “crazy” unfortunately.  Being a sport so intensely related to gambling, I understand that maybe the out-in-the-open style of betting isn’t so odd, but it just felt unnerving.  Each pundit gave his or her bet, an interesting spin on another sport’s pregame show with all the experts simply picking winners.
   Finally getting to the actual race, and once again this may seem completely normal to racing enthusiasts, but the black synthetic material and the time of day (or should I say night) was jarring and foreign to me.  I’d never seen a horse race on something other than grass or dirt, and the jet black track was extremely noticeable, but I did not notice any real discussion of the track in the broadcast, as might be necessary for an audience less inclined to understand such things.  Also, night races exist?  I had no idea, and was thrown for even more of a loop when during the race, a horse and jockey went tumbling over the far wall.  I began shouting and gesticulating (my Italian relatives would be proud), but there was no real deep mention of the incident until later.
   I understand that I may seem hard-headed or naive or maybe just plain ignorant (I hope not), so please forgive me if anything stated is blatantly wrong and/or misguided.  I do my best to research and at least pretend to know what I am talking about, while simultaneously not trying to look too deep into things in order to keep a neutral, infantile-level of intellectual commentary on events such as the Dubai World Cup.  For me, this was the beginning of a long hard look into the minds on both sides of the “young generation infusion” debate, one that seems to be a very timely issue in the racing world.  With that, I ask: How do you attract people to a sport that inherently revolves around gambling when (1) it’s not like postgrads are rolling in money, and (2) the faces of the sport on television are all much older?  Stay tuned...

Monday, March 24, 2014

Guest Post: A Horse of a Different Color

--Drew Rauso

“I like that one’s name; he’s my favorite.”

My name is Drew Rauso, and I do NOT approve this message.

In my 22 years as a casual observer of the track, I have heard the aforementioned phrase more times than I can remember.  

However, I am happy to say that I, a soon-to-be graduate of the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland, am not on the same level of naivete as some of my less informed Generation Y-mates.

Though still definitely a fledgling when it comes to the “Sport of Kings,” I know my way around a track, and am here to provide an outsider’s commentary on the sport, whether that entails media coverage, thoughts on racing in popular culture or merely how much fun I had at the Preakness.

And so I must open my discussion with an introduction of what I’m doing here.

My first experience with horses (watching them, not riding them; no one wants to hear recollections of a six-year-old terrified of a pony named Bill) was at Monmouth Park with my late grandfather, a grumpy Italian man named Andy who couldn’t tip the 130-pound mark on a scale if he tried.

While Pop-Pop Andy was a nuisance to more than one waiter who wanted to disprove the recipe of marinara sauce, the guy knew which horses would win.

I spent many a sun-kissed Sunday afternoon at Monmouth with him, and watching him, pen in mouth, dark eyes squinting through sun-reflected round glasses in the grandstand, along with the massive Thoroughbreds, which captivated me from a young age.

In a much more contemporary setting, I have had the privilege to sit down and interview the great Bill Nack, the legendary sportswriter and author of Secretariat who is one of the most compelling storytellers I have ever met.

Mr. Nack opened my eyes to the unequalled grandeur that sport possesses; in no other setting will you find grown men screaming at people (jockeys) they have never met but whose fates are now intertwined (or at least until the purse is displayed), only to forget about those relationships after 120 seconds, and then do it all over again.

My mission, however large or small it may turn out to be, is to turn heads towards racing for those other than the die-hards, owners, breeders and trainers.

I hope that I can illuminate the sport for what I have come to see it as, an iconic pastime not named Steroids on a Field (ahem, Major League Baseball) that is as much an enjoyable day spent outside as it is a way to make money, with commentary along the way.

And so I present to you, readers of the TDN, an unbiased, original series looking at all things racing through my eyes, the point-of-view of a local kid from Middletown, N.J., “A Horse of a Different Color.”