Friday, April 27, 2012

Sophomore Maiden Winners to Watch...

TDN’s Racing Editor Steve Sherack takes a closer look at a pair of recent sophomore maiden winners that could make some noise this summer.

JOHANNES (f, 3, Johannesburg--Born Perfect, by Mr. Prospector) couldn’t have looked any more impressive in her Woodbine unveiling for trainer Reade Baker Apr. 8 (TDN Video).

Drawn on the fence, the $190,000 OBSAPR graduate left the stalls running, and was pressed early through an opening quarter in :21.87. With James McAleney in the irons, the Harlequin Ranches colorbearer began to edge clear on the far turn, opened daylight when briefly shaken up at the head of affairs, and went on to steamroll by an eye-catching 11 1/2 lengths, clocking her final eighth in :11.74. The final time for five furlongs in :56.80 gave the course record of : 56 2/5 a good run for its money. One race earlier on the card, 4-year-old Canadian stakes winner Tree Pose (Old Forrester) covered the same distance in :57.77 in a restricted allowance.

Johannes, bred in Kentucky by Padua Stables LLC, earned a 96 Beyer Speed Figure for the effort. The half-sister to Devereux (Forestry), MSW & GSP, $319,860, recently returned to the worktab with an easy five-furlong move over the Woodbine training track in 1:05 Apr. 22.

Have you ever seen a Hawthorne maiden winner crack triple digits on the Beyer scale?

Enter THERMAL CAT (c, 3, Tale of the Cat--Miss Thermal Tech {MSP, $356,658}, by Distinctive Pro). The Coffeepot Stables homebred earned a gaudy 102 Beyer rating when airing by 8 1/2 lengths and defeating older horses in his Apr. 11 debut (TDN Video).

Backed as the 2-1 favorite, Thermal Cat poked his head in front through a :22.37 opening quarter, began to shake clear on the far turn, and drew off nicely in the stretch after a couple of cracks from Harry Vega’s whip. The half-brother to the stakes-winning Feeling Fancy (Sky Mesa) stopped the timer for six furlongs in 1:11.36.

Thermal Cat’s maiden win immediately places him in elite company amongst his fellow crop of 3-year-olds on the DRF Beyer Speed Figure Leaderboard.

His figure of 102 locks him in a three-way tie for fourth on the Sophomore Leaderboard with GISW Creative Cause and MGSW Secret Circle. He trails only the likely Derby favorite in Bodemeister (108), the sidelined GIII Holy Bull S. hero Algorithms (105), and the very promising unbeaten Bourbon Courage (103), who lines up in Saturday’s GIII Derby Trial S. at Churchill Downs.

Looks like Wayne Catalano may have another nice one on his hands.

Progress Report: Racing's Response to the Internet Poker Shutdown One Year Later

--Brian DiDonato

   While, as a serious horseplayer, I obviously agreed with the general sentiment of Bill Finley's piece in Wednesday's TDN calling for lower take-out, it is not accurate to say that slots players are given a fairer chance than horseplayers simply because the house edge on slots is lower than the take-out on racing wagers. It is true that one wager on a slot machine has a higher expected return than one random horse wager, but the difference is that individual slots players are subjecting themselves to a game that is mathematically determined to be unbeatable in the long run no matter what while the financial fate of the individual horseplayer is not so rigidly bleak. The house edge on slot machines and table games is derived from the discounted return one receives on a winning wager versus fair value for that outcome. To simplify things, when I hit 7-7-7 on a slot machine, the pay-out I receive does not accurately reflect the likelihood of that outcome--it pays less than it should. That's how the house makes its money. So, using Bill's figure of a 9% house edge at Chester, the only possible result of playing slots in the (true) long run is a loss of 9%.
   Even though the take-out on win wagers in horse races is almost double that of slot machines (and higher for exotic wagers, which Steve Crist would very compellingly argue is actually lower because of the number of horses involved), the pari-mutuel system does not mathematically predetermine inevitable losses. We wager amongst ourselves, rather than against the house, so there are bound to be winners and losers. And since odds are determined inexactly by human evaluation, there exists the potential for something that can never, ever exist in a slots parlor: an overlay or market inefficiency. So, while someone betting completely at random on races will lose more than he would have playing the slots, he is not resigned to that outcome if he chooses instead to attempt to handicap and seek out positive expectation wagering opportunities.
   Bill also argues that winning at the races under the current take-out structure is impossible and that "The only players that have so much as a prayer are the whales getting huge rebates," but I can say with 100% certainty from personal experience over a very large sample size that that is not the case. The best players will be more than 16 or 20% better than the average player. Lower take-out would allow more players to be winners, and would obviously produce a more appealing wagering product, but even without any adjustments to take-out, horse racing should be much more mathematically enticing to the right type of person than slots or other casino games. It just needs to be presented correctly.
   Racing is a great product, much better than we in the industry give it credit for much of the time, but the problem lies in racing's complete ineptitude at locating the right demographics to which it would appeal and marketing to them effectively. 
   Exactly a year ago, I wrote a piece for this blog entitled, "Can exchange wagering fill the void left by online poker?". It came on the heels of poker's "Black Friday," in which American customers were essentially shut out from online poker by the Department of Justice. I sought to point out the general similarities between those who play the horses and those who play poker, focusing on the younger generation of internet poker players who were now without a place to play. I advocated for a swift introduction of exchange wagering as a way to decrease take-out while further appealing to a tech savvy group of potential customers. My concluding paragraph read:
   This is the time for the racing industry to actively and aggressively seek out a larger percentage of the gaming pie. With the very significant advantage of current online legality over one of its most formidable competitors, racing can generate a new consumer base through the introduction of exchange wagering. Readjustment of the pricing model coupled with innovative marketing strategies can appeal to a large group of young people that are currently without a product to consume. New Jersey and California already have the necessary legislation in place to implement exchange wagering, and tracks, horsemen and potential exchange operators in those and other jurisdictions would be very well-served to work out all the kinks as soon as possible before their competitor for gaming dollars is reborn and fortified through government support.
   Well, since then, only minor steps have been taken by the racing industry to take advantage of poker's temporary shutdown. The Breeders' Cup did enlist well-known poker player Michael Mizrachi to promote its event, which was a positive, albeit very small step in the right direction. And the California Horse Racing Board has begun the arduous process of approving exchange wagering with a tentative goal of having things in place by the time Del Mar opens in July. But little has been done in other states (New Jersey might deserve a little slack due to issues involving the leasing of Monmouth Park), and we might be running out of time.
   Recent news of a potential deal for major site PokerStars to buy out troubled competitor Full Tilt hints that a resolution with the Department of Justice could be on its way, at which point the prospects for legalized online poker in the U.S. could improve. The general consensus among experts is that legalized poker is an inevitability--state and federal governments need new sources of revenue to fund their massive balance sheets, and poker certainly fits that bill. The window for horse racing to make its move is closing.
   Racing seems to be under attack from all sides right now. We've been propped up by slots, but that model is unsustainable and will become less and less viable as people point out what a black hole racetracks can be for casino revenue (unless, of course, we get some of those slots patrons to wander over to our side). We're also under attack due to a very poor public image, which is grounded in some truth, but has been poorly managed by industry officials. Yes, racing has serious issues that must be dealt with, but it's not the un-bettable, fixed, inhumane blood sport that certain factions both inside and outside the game have made it out to be. Racing is still an excellent and appealing product--it's time we ditch all the self-loathing and figure out ways to get noticed by the right types of potential customers. I hope when I look back in another year I'll see more progress to that end than I did this time around.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Renewal Down Under

--Christina Bossinakis

   As some of you may already know, I recently returned from a whirlwind trip to Australia. I traveled down under to experience Australia’s marquee race for 2-year-olds--the G1 Golden Slipper--and to cover one of the top yearling sales in the world, the Inglis Easter Yearling sale in Sydney. The timing for my trip, at least on a personal level, couldn’t have been better. I left the U.S. in the middle of the bitter backlash precipitated by an expose that ran in the New York Times, which was intended to inform the nation on the state of horse racing in the United States. Many in this country have already read the story, and for those who missed it, all I will say is it wasn’t all kittens and bunnies. In fact, it was more of a black eye. To be clear, I do not intend to get into the truths or misrepresentations in the story, but more to offer a look at the other side of the game, offered from my own perspective.

   Not long after my arrival in Australia, I was able to venture out to Rosehill for the Golden Slipper, and what a breath of fresh air it was. The press leading up to the day was remarkable (akin to the final few weeks before the Kentucky Derby) and the local folk certainly knew what the fuss was all about. On Slipper day itself, whether one was situated in one of the suites, dining rooms or among the general public, everybody was sporting their finest (the Aussies are HUGE on the race day fashion shows!) and ready to enjoy a great day of racing. I met many people that day, and the excitement was contagious.
   The buzz spilled over to the Inglis Easter sale, which was staged later that week. In the days preceding the sale, the great nation was ablaze over the half-sister to local sensation Black Caviar, who was going to be offered up for sale during Wednesday’s second session. One of the local racing networks TVN (akin to HRTV in the U.S.) televised the sale. Apparently they have done this for several years, and I was told it has been very popular with viewers. (A side note: I know we featured a domestic sale on television at least once before, and if I remember correctly, it wasn't very popular, but maybe it's something we might consider revisiting. However, this time around, we could collaborate with our Australian friends who, quite honestly, offer a truly refined product.) In the days surrounding the actual sale of the A$2.6-million filly by Redoute’s Choice (BC3 Thoroughbreds ultimately bought the fairest damsel of them all), you couldn’t pick up a newspaper or turn on the TV without catching a snippet about the yearling. Welcome to Australia.

TDN's Christina Bossinakis & Peter Moody
   Without a doubt, many of the biggest operations in the world were represented at Inglis again this year, including Black Caviar’s trainer Peter Moody (who bought the final session's topper; a A$1.2 million Street Cry half-brother to Makybe Diva); Coolmore’s Demi O’Byrne; BBA’s Adrian Nichol (who is appropriately called the ‘King’ down there. He signed the ticket for a A$650K Fastnet Rock filly on Day 1); Shadwell’s Angus Gold; members of the Yoshida family...the list is endless.

    During my time in Oz--earlier this January for the Magic Millions sale and this time around for Inglis Easter--I had the pleasure of getting to know John Messara, the master of Arrowfield Stud and the new Chairman of Racing New South Wales. For those who have never met the man, he is a veritable force of nature and, without a doubt, would be a valuable asset to any racing jurisdiction anywhere in the world. During one of our friendly chats, I mentioned that we needed to get him over to the U.S. for a visit, sprinkled with some sharing of ideas. His response was, “You have everything in America that we have, and more.” I deeply considered his statement for several days and I finally came to the realization, “Do we?” 
   We have supposedly set the standard for many countries to follow, be it in breeding, racing, sales or administration, yet all too often we seem to get caught up in power struggles, which usually only serve to undermine the thing we should be fighting for collectively--the racing industry and its well being.
   Yes, it’s true, my visit to Australia coincided with the prestigious Sydney Carnival, which provided the very best that particular market has to offer. I’m not naive enough to believe other racing jurisdictions don’t endure their fair share of problems and don’t have significant obstacles to overcome. However, one thing that is abundantly clear is that Australians love to punt, they rarely miss the chance to get all dolled up to go racing, and they enthusiastically support their racing stars. With a few exceptions, they seem to get it.

Day 3 Topper - $1.2 million Street Cry colt

   In fact, Australians have several things to feel positive about over the course of the next few years, including a court ruling giving Racing NSW a significant shot in the arm--to the tune of A$120 million--which will result in substantial purse increases in the state in the near future. Additionally, plans are in the works for the renovation and development of several Australian Turf Club racecourses, most notably Randwick in Sydney. Yes, the world economy is still shaky, but Australians certainly have reason to be upbeat and you can feel the excitement when you speak to many of them.
   While the Inglis sale, and the Australian racing industry itself, have not been immune to the effects of the world economy, they people continue to have hope for the future and appear to look forward to it.
   What about the U.S.? Do we have reason to look favorably to our future? Are we capable of stepping back and finding real solutions to our problems or are we doomed to throw the baby out with the bath water?
   Of late, many have been quick to outline all the things wrong with our industry, but the truth is, we have several things going for us. The U.S. still is the source of one of the most respected, and sought after, commodity worldwide; North American bloodlines. And no matter which racing and breeding jurisdiction you may operate in, the majority of knowledgable horsemen and women place a significant value on our stock and its foundation. Additionally, several racecourses around the world are in some way modeled after North American tracks as are the principals used to operate them. Also, in something that is near and dear to my heart, we have made significant advances in equine retraining for careers following racing and retiremement. Yeah, maybe we're not 'there' yet, but we have certainly been moving in the right direction over the past few years and, I can confidently say, we surpass most other major racing jurisdictions worldwide.
   Finally, from my perspective, the high level of respect I was granted during my visit to Oz was not only because that is simply the way of the natives, but it is also due to their high regard for the American racing institution. I guess the question remains, despite all of our shortcomings, if so many others are able to recognize our value, why can’t we?

Guest Post: Why I Love Australian Racing

This Saturday, Australian two-year-old superstar Pierro will attempt to make history when he starts in the G1 Champagne Stakes at Royal Randwick in Sydney. The Champagne is the third leg of Australia’s two-year-old Triple Crown, and Pierro enters the 1600 metre contest off decisive wins in the first two races: the Golden Slipper on April 7, and the Sires Produce Stakes a week later.

Pierro represents everything I love about Australian racing. Trained by celebrity conditioner Gai Waterhouse, Pierro has danced every dance and dismantled all challengers this campaign. Declared “the 2012 Slipper winner” by Waterhouse after his debut victory last October, Pierro was put away for a few months to rest up for a bold autumn campaign in Sydney. The Darley-bred son of Australian champion sire and first-season American shuttler Lonhro opened 2012 with a win in the G2 Silver Slipper Stakes over 1100m at Rosehill. His next task was the G2 Todman Stakes over 1200m again at Rosehill, an important prep for the $4 million Golden Slipper, the world’s richest two-year-old race at the same venue and distance two weeks later. Pierro dug deep to take both contests, beating favoured Samaready, the leading Victoria-based two-year-old, in the Golden Slipper. Wheeling back off a week’s rest, Pierro toyed with the fresher All Too Hard, the previously unbeaten half-brother to Black Caviar, in the Sires Produce.

Pierro wins the Golden Slipper

In short, Pierro’s campaign has been defined by fierce contests off short periods of rest. While this may seem remarkable to foreign audiences, in Australia it is the norm in premier racing: the country’s leading group one performers will routinely race once every week or two weeks during the country’s top spring and autumn carnivals. In America, we yearn for the times when horses competed more than once a month, with the best going head-to-head race after race. In Australia, this is still happening, usually every Saturday in Sydney or Melbourne.

This realization would lead one to think that Australian horses are tougher than others. Maybe this is true. I personally believe it’s the way they’re managed that leads to their resilience. During a four-month stint in Australia last fall (their spring), I was very fortunate to spend a month working in the stables of one of the perennial leading trainers in Melbourne, Victoria. Aside from the lack of race day medication (which everyone already knows about) in Australia, there were a few things that stood out to me in this particular yard: first of all, no horses wore stable bandages unless they had a significant problem (and in my time there, none did).

In addition to their morning exercise, every horse was taken out in the afternoon to walk and swim 
(swimming is a big part of the Australian training climate in general). I believe this contributed greatly to mental soundness as well as physical soundness. There was not one horse of about 40 in the yard that I could not lead without a bit or nose chain, or leave standing quietly in cross ties during grooming. This included colts, geldings and fillies of all ages. In addition, there was not one horse in the yard that would lay back its ears or bite when a human passed the stall.

The final major contributing factor to the constitution of the Australian race horse is, I believe, their spelling regime. “Spelling” refers to the routine of putting the horses out to paddock for up to a few weeks as a break from training. So while the horses are raced hard, they are also spelled frequently. Depending on the mindset of the horse, it may be every few starts, or every few months. Generally, when a horse seems to be falling off form or developing a sour attitude, the trainer will send it out for a spell. This means up to a few weeks in a paddock on a farm, just “being a horse”.

It is important to note that, unlike in Europe where horses train on vast countryside gallops on a program that values stamina over speed, the Australian training program is more similar to America than anywhere else. Like in America, Australian’s train at racetracks in big cities, and they value fast times and precocity in their racehorses. Although Australia seems a world away, their training and racing environment are actually quite similar to those in America.

In addition to this time at the racetrack, I also spent a few weeks working on Darley's Woodlands Farm, where Pierro was born. In Australia, mares are foaled outside (their tepid climate gives them that luxury), and if both are healthy, it is possible that the foal will never see a stable until it is a weanling or yearling. While this can have both positive and negative implications, the upside is that all that time spent outside in its natural environment must be healthy for the foal.

When he lines up for the Champagne on Saturday, Pierro will attempt to become the sixth horse to win the Triple Crown. He has history on his side. It was last won by the Waterhouse-trained Dance Hero in 2004, and that conditioner nearly won it again in 2008 with Sebring before a narrow loss in the Champagne. The other winners are Baguette (1970), Luskin Star (1977), Tierce (1991), and Burst (1992).

For me, the best thing about Pierro is that there may be no limit to how good he is. It is important to note that the dark bay has already outrun his pedigree. As previously stated he is by Lonhro, a multiple G1 winner at up to 2000 metres at 3,4,5, and 6, whose progeny usually don’t get going until their later years. Pierro is out of a mare by Daylami, a stallion who performed well as a two-year-old but excelled later in life at longer distances, and typically sires horses in that mould. It would seem that Pierro was never meant to win, let alone become a champion, over sprint distances at two. If he follows his pedigree pattern and become better with age and distance, who knows how good he could be.

Lonhro's late run earns him a legendary renewal of
the Australia Cup in 2004.

Pierro’s Champagne Stakes is one of four G1 races scheduled for Saturday at the Royal Randwick meeting. The feature race is the 3200m Sydney Cup. Trainer Chris Waller saddles three, including the favoured Permit and last year’s winner, Stand to Gain. Waterhouse will saddle the mare Older Than Time, a stalwart route horse on the Sydney and Melbourne circuits.

The most intriguing race on the card to me is the 2000m Queen Elizabeth Stakes, where top mares More Joyous and Secret Admirer take on Melbourne Cup winner Americain and other top older horses Manighar, Jimmy Choux, and Rangirangdoo. More Joyous has won all three starts this year since March 24, and Manighar is four for five this year, including two wins over Americain. In the G1 All Aged Stakes, star three-year-old filly Atlantic Jewel will take on older males over 1400m.

Add Black Caviar going for her 20th consecutive win across the country in Adelaide in the G1 Sportingbet Classic at Morphetteville, and you have quite the day’s racing in the land down under. But Australian racing breathes excitement, so what more could you expect?


This weekend will be an exciting one for international racing, with additional group ones taking place in Hong Kong, South Africa, and France. In Hong Kong on Sunday, local favourites including California Memory, Irian, Pure Champion, Fay Fay, and Sweet Orange will line up against international contenders like Ireland’s Treasure Beach, France’s Chinchon, and the Mike de Kock trained Viscount Nelson. Across the globe in South Africa, superstar sprinters will take centre stage on a card of four G1 races at Turffontein, highlighted by What a Winter, Val de Ra, and JJ the Jet Plane in the Computerform Sprint. In France, last out Dubai Sheema Classic winner Cirrus des Aigles highlights the G1 Prix Ganay at Longchamp. Those looking to take down his colours could include So You Think, Wigmore Hall, and Reliable Man.

-- Kelsey Riley is a second year trainee on the Darley Flying Start program. She will join the TDN staff in July.       

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Guest Post: First, there is the matter of these nine furlongs on Friday

--Brian Ludwick, WinStar Farm Bloodstock Analyst

   The Louisville airport over the next ten days will accommodate a multitude of reporters from all over the world, each looking for that titanic Derby scoop. It's a safe bet that better than 90% of them could not name a single runner in the Grade I fixture contested just 24 hours earlier, the Kentucky Oaks. This blog will show the ladies no such disrespect! Though the filly division at this stage lacks any superstars, it certainly isn't lacking in the speed department. Even with the recent defection of the speedy Princess Arabella (strained suspensory ligament) and whispers out of the Pletcher camp that the supersonic Broadway's Alibi show may play next in New York (GI Acorn S.) rather than Kentucky, this should still be a race loaded with speed. Most years, the Oaks tends to unravel at a slightly less mad pace than the Derby. This year will not be one of those. In fact, one has to thumb through quite a few past performances before stumbling across a filly that is willing to pass runners in the final three furlongs at a two-turn distance. Let's have a look.

On Fire Baby (Smoke Glacken--Ornate) Trainer: Gary Hartlage
   A quick glance at this one's pedigree might not inspire confidence going nine furlongs as she is by sprint sire Smoke Glacken. However, if you peel back a few layers on her dam's side, you'll find there is plenty of route ability there. Her dam, Ornate, won four times at a route distance. Ornate's first foal, High Heels(E Dubai), won the 1 1/16-mile Fantasy S., taking the same Arkansas-Kentucky route that her younger sister will follow.
   Reading between the lines here, I'm guessing she showed evidence of bleeding when a very respectable third against males in the Smarty Jones S., as she ran back first time Lasix in her next start. That next start was a very good winning effort in the GIII Honeybee S. at Oaklawn. The genuine older male Alternation won the GIII Razorback H. that day in almost identical time with amazingly similar fractions, further flattering her effort.
   She is also unbeaten in her two starts at the Downs and has shown the ability on a couple of occasions to lay a few lengths off the leaders and still produce her best effort. Her connections got such a positive result from the filly off her eight-week gap between the Smarty Jones and the Honeybee that they have decided to trace those steps with another eight-week gap into the Oaks. That timing is not ideal from a fitness standpoint, however, and though obviously talented, she may be a vulnerable favorite.

Believe You Can (Proud Citizen-El Fasto) Trainer: Larry Jones
   The Oaks just wouldn't seem like the Oaks without a Larry Jones runner in the field. This year's version is another talented daughter of Proud Citizen. Team Jones (Larry and owner Brereton) in 2008 won this very race with another daughter of the Gov's own stallion. Her name was Proud Spell.
   Both of Believe You Can's two-turn successes in New Orleans came when she was allowed to control things on the front end. The baloney in this Fair Grounds sandwich was a failed experiment when attempting to rate in the GIII Rachel Alexandra S. Make no mistake; this filly needs the lead in order to win next Friday and she is being trained like a filly that will be let loose out of the gate. Her most recent breeze was a bullet five furlongs in :59.3 on Apr. 23 at Churchill. She finished unplaced in her lone start here when chasing a very fast pace in the GII Pocahontas S. as a juvenile. It's quite possible a similar scenario could play out on Oaks day.

Eden's Moon (Malibu Moon-Eden's Causeway) Trainer: Bob Baffert
   Here is yet another (I warned you) speedball, this one from the west coast. The daughter of Malibu Moon was all but proclaimed champion 3-year-old filly in many circles after an impressive front-running win in Santa Anita's GI Las Virgenes S. Then in the GI Santa Anita Oaks, arch rival Reneesgotzip was conceded a slender one-length lead in the early stages. Eden's Moon never could get by her, despite a blistering :23 flat third quarter and a stalking Willa B Awesome was the direct beneficiary of the all-out pace war. I honestly don't know which of the two speedsters would prove to be the faster, should they go flat to the boards from the break, but at Churchill it would be a moot point as both would get swallowed in the final furlong or so.

In Lingerie (Empire Maker-Cat Chat) Trainer: Todd Pletcher
   Purchased privately off an impressive Turfway debut with the Oaks in mind, this filly was test driven in a rather salty first-level allowance race at Gulfstream. In Lingerie found out pretty quickly that this Florida trip was no vacation courtesy of another Oaks candidate in Zo Impressive.
Team Todd promptly shipped her back to the site of her initial success and she responded with a facile six-length win in the GIII Bourbonette Oaks where she faced a field decidedly softer than the one she'll face on Oaks Friday.
   All we know for certain with this filly at this point is she enjoys the synthetic surface and that she has run her best races on the lead. As Pletcher likes to do with his springtime prospects, she will stay at her Palm Meadows base until Oaks/Derby week so as not to lose any crucial training days to the unpredictable weather that is Kentucky in late April.

Mamma Kimbo (Discreet Cat-Bag Lady Jane) Trainer: Bob Baffert
   Wasn't I just talking about a West Coast speedster from the Baffert barn? Well, here's another. If I had to point my finger at the speed of the speed, I would have to choose this daughter of Discreet Cat. She debuted brilliantly going six furlongs in 1:07.4 at Santa Anita (101 Beyer). Baffert was asking quite a bit of her to then fly to Hot Springs and try and stretch out her speed in Oaklawn's 8 1/2-furlong GII Fantasy S.
   The talented filly did just that, reporting home 1 1/2 lengths to the good of the more experienced Ami's Dini. Mamma Kimbo regressed slightly on the Beyer scale with the increased distance, but still posted a very respectable number of 94. A raw talent here, but things may just be coming up a bit quick for her as far as timing goes.

And Why Not (Street Cry-Alchemist) Trainer: Michael Matz
   If not for her connections, I wouldn't be giving this one a second look in here. Matz/Groves are not in the habit of throwing one into the deep end unless she was giving them the right signals. Yes, I know she was beaten 16 1/2 lengths by Grace Hall in the GII Gulfstream Park Oaks, but this filly has a running style that just might land her in the first couple. I'm not even going to begin to guess what went wrong at Gulfstream.
   Her lone Churchill effort was very good, and though her deep-closing style was helped by an extremely fast pace that day in the Pocahontas, she could once again be aided by a fast early pace in the Oaks. If Matz takes a pass on the race, so be it, but if this conservative team decides it's a go, she will be on my exacta tickets at a fat price!

Grace Hall (Empire Maker-Season's Greetings) Trainer: Anthony Dutrow
   She appears at or near the top of almost every Oaks list I've seen, yet has never Beyered better than the 90 she ran when beaten a neck by longshot Yara in the GII Davona Dale S. So what exactly does she bring to the table? In two words: consistency and pedigree.
   'Grace' has been first or second in all six of her starts over four different racetracks. She has paired up almost identical races to start 2012 and has the look of a filly that is ready to move forward now. Her sire Empire Maker has hinted strongly in recent months that he may well be on his way to becoming an important sire of Classic runners.
   The Tony Dutrow trainee also appears to want every bit of nine furlongs and, as she did in last year's GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, she appears capable of laying off the speed. For me personally, there is still that nagging fact that she has yet to run as fast as many others in here.

Summer Applause (Harlan's Holiday-Summer Exhibition) Trainer: Bret Calhoun
   This daughter of Harlan's Holiday comes in with arguably the strongest overall resume of any in this year's Oaks. Though she's been beaten in two of her last three starts, they have been good least in my book.
   Since transferring from the barn of Canadian trainer Josie Carroll, this filly has really blossomed for Calhoun. Because of the terribly short fields in all three of the Kentucky Oaks preps at Fair Grounds this year, Summer Applause was forced to stay closer to the leaders than she probably would prefer. Still, she finished up gallantly in all three and that will serve her well at Churchill.
   With an expected furious pace on Oaks day, jockey Robbie Albarado will have the luxury of letting this filly relax for a half mile before asking her for any run. As Bret Calhoun maintains a string on the Churchill backstretch, Summer Applause will be racing out of her own stall and that never hurts.
Her two most recent works--four furlongs in :47.60 on Apr. 13 and five furlongs in 59.60 on Apr. 20--only reinforce how well she is currently doing.

   I expect a full field of 14 runners in the Kentucky Oaks with at least three or four of them contributing to a sub :47.00 opening half mile. As my lovely wife Jo will be joining me at this year's Oaks, I will be expected to pick at least five winners on the day, including the Oaks exacta, or hear about it on the drive back to Lexington. Have you ever noticed how much shorter that hour seems when you're discussing your winnings?

Monday, April 23, 2012

Guest Post: A Day for "Excelebration" at the Curragh

Ballydoyle’s Excelebration made easy work of yesterday’s G3 Gladness Stakes at the Curragh, highlighting an excellent card at the popular Irish fixture.

A four-year-old by Exceed and Excel, Excelebration was purchased privately by the Coolmore clan last August following his decisive six length win in the G2 Hungerford Stakes at Newbury in England. By purchasing Excelebration to later stand at stud, Coolmore tapped into the prolific line of Darley’s Exceed and Excel, who shuttles between Sheikh Mohammed’s Kelvinside Farm in Australia and Dalham Hall Stud in Newmarket, England. Exceed and Excel got off to a fast start at stud, siring Australian G2 winner Wilander, from the family of Black Caviar, in his first crop. Wilander was quickly followed by G1 winner Reward for Effort in Exceed’s second crop, and, three years later, he is now the sire of four individual G1 winners, namely Helmet, winner of the Sires Produce, Champagne, and Caulfield Guineas in Australia; Margot Did, who took last season’s Nunthorpe Stakes in England, and Reward for Effort and Excelebration. Exceed and Excel’s other top European performers include G2 winners Masamah, Best Terms, and Infamous Angel.

Excelebration in the pre-parade ring
The success does not stop there. Excelebration comes from a long line of successful sires, and his grandsire is one that Coolmore in particular have had outstanding success with: Danehill. The international Coolmore roster includes 13 Danehill line stallions, including exciting young sires Duke of Marmalade, Dylan Thomas, Holy Roman Emperor, Mastercraftsman, Rock of Gibraltar, and Starspangledbanner, and the well-accomplished Danehill Dancer. The best of them all may in fact be Exceed and Excel’s fellow Australian-bred Fastnet Rock, who has sired nine G1 winners and is on fire at the moment, having already sired five individual G1 winners in Australia this season. Fastnet Rock was the busiest stallion in the world last year, covering 364 mares between Australia and Ireland in his second season shuttling. His first northern hemisphere foals are yearlings this year.

Excelebration in the parade ring
The point is, if Excelebration lives up to sire lofty sire line, Coolmore should easily cash in on their purchase. And he has the race record to suggest he should. Excelebration quickly recorded his first G1 win in September following the Coolmore purchase, taking the Qatar Prix Du Moulin de Longchamp in France. Despite his own top level success, Excelebration may be best known for finishing within four lengths of the mighty Frankel on three occasions last year: in the Greenham Stakes, the St. James’s Palace Stakes, and the QEII Stakes. After yesterday’s rousing victory at the Curragh, where the colt overcome a rain-softened turf course to roll his opponents by an easy 3 ¼ lengths under a Joseph O’Brien handride, many are wondering if Excelebration may be the one to finally get the measure of Frankel this year. According to trainer Aiden O’Brien, Excelebration is likely to contest next month’s Lockinge Stakes in England, which is also the target for Frankel. Regardless of whether they meet in the Lockinge, there will be many chances for the formidable pair to square off during a summer of prestigious middle distance contests in England.
Excelebration and Joseph O'Brien
after the win

Excelebration’s win capped a profitable day for Ballydoyle, which also ran first and third in the listed Loughbrown Stakes with three-year-olds Requisition and Nephrite. The Tipperary-based stable also enjoyed success in a two-year-old fillies maiden with Infanta Branca, who became the first lifetime winner for her first season sire Henrythenavigator, who stands at Coolmore’s American satellite in Kentucky.   

I was out at the Curragh yesterday to see Excelebration and take some photos. While it was a typical rainy Irish day for most of the card, the sun came out for Excelebration. Hope you enjoy!

-- Kelsey Riley is a second year trainee on the Darley Flying Start program. She will join the TDN staff in July.

Excelebration's win in the 2011 Qatar Prix Du 
Moulin De Longchamp
Nephrite and Requisition head off in the rain

Excelebration heads to the gate for the Gladness Stakes

Coolmore's Nephrite in the pre-parade ring before
his third-place effort in the Loughbrown

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Guest Post: My Richelieu Initiation, Bodemeister and Dullahan

--Brian Ludwick, WinStar Farm Bloodstock Analyst

 On an already sweltering late Sunday morning during the summer of 1969, my uncle Benny, cigar in mouth, was putting the finishing touches on polishing his modest Ford Falcon. I'd just finished an hour's worth of joyous play with my prized toy, a remote controlled (well, with cord attached) green robot called "Great Garloo."
   As I walked barefoot into the kitchen, the strong odor from my uncle's cigar collided quite unsympathetically with the always comforting smell of my grandmother's hot apple cake. "What are you doing this afternoon?" asked my uncle. "Nothing, why?" was my reply. "Do you want to come to the races with me?" "Sure" I said, not even knowing what kind of races he was referring to.
About twenty minutes later, with an excited 12-year-old in tow, Uncle Benny was backing his shiny Ford out of our driveway on Bloomfield Avenue in the Montreal borough of Outremont. We headed east of the city, passing some smelly, ugly refineries along the way that made me roll up (remember that?) my window. Finally, we wheeled into the very unassuming, yet bustling gravel parking lot (remember those?) of Richelieu Raceway.
   There was a certain excitement in the air. My uncle grabbed two fresh cigars from a sizeable, wooden box marked "Dutch Masters," putting them in the breast pocket of his freshly-ironed, short-sleeved shirt. Pushing down our door knobs (remember those?), we locked the car and walked up to the main (only) admission gate. The sun was shining. I had to almost run to keep up with the suddenly swift cadence in my uncle's step. I could clearly hear the sound of horse's hooves hitting the firm racing surface as they warmed up, still out of sight on the other side of a tall, wooden fence to our right.
   $1.25 (really) got both of us safely through the turnstiles and even a program to boot! My first of many questions that day related to the strange-looking bikes attached to the rear of the horses. These were Standardbreds, not Thoroughbreds my uncle explained. The bikes looked unnatural I thought, but not nearly as strange as the big, white, bubble-topped, metal-winged Cadillac which dispatched the eight participants at the starting pole for the first race.
   After a brief explanation from my uncle on win, place, show, quinella and exacta, I decided, with a full two races of experience under my new, suede leather cowboy belt, to wager $2.00 in race 3. Throwing caution to the wind--it being Benny's two bucks--I decided on a place bet on a 3-1 chance called Speedy Ed. My uncle handed me the ticket which I quickly stuffed into my pants pocket like it was a new pack of Montreal Expos baseball cards.
   My heart was racing as the horses left the mobile starting gate, my eyes locked on the #5 saddle cloth of Speedy Ed. To be honest, it wouldn't have mattered a bit where Speedy Ed finished (he won), I was hooked! I was beaming as we waited to cash my ticket in the $2.00 Place line (remember those days?). Due largely to the 4-5 favorite finishing third, I cashed a fat $4.20 place ticket. Forget the Great Garloo, my new hero was a real life gelding named Speedy Ed!
   I tell this story because even 40 some odd years later, it remains quite vivid in a memory (as my wife often reminds me) that has become somewhat clouded at my ripe old age of 54. Hey, how many guys can actually remember if that chick flick your wife wants to see starts at 6:50, 7:10 or 7:20?

Monday, April 16, 2012

Eighteen Is The Answer

by Bill Finley
   The Bodemeister and Dullahan camps had plenty to smile about over the weekend as their horses won major Kentucky Derby prep races and looked good doing so. Both are good horses and either one could easily win May 5 at Churchill Downs. That is, of course, unless they draw the one post. If that happens they might as well not even show up.
   Churchill Downs needs to fix the problem that is the one hole, and it is a serious problem. It’s bad enough that when you draw inside of 19 other horses you are all but guaranteed of getting into traffic problems. But the real issue is that the horse unlucky enough to break from post one is asked to start the race on the turn. Watch the head-on of any Derby over the last several years. With the way the gate is positioned, the one horse actually breaks to the inside of the inner rail. That means they can either run straight into the rail or the jockey can try to veer out a few paths immediately after the break. The latter means certain traffic problems, probably severe traffic problems.
   It’s well known that the one post hasn’t produced a Derby winner since Ferdinand in 1986. But here’s a much more startling statistic: Since 1988, when Risen Star finished third, no Derby starter breaking from the one post has even finished in the money. That’s 22 years and 66 straight No. 1s who couldn’t even make it in to the Top 3.

No shot from the one hole? The field breaks from
the Derby gates.
    The one post is a disadvantage that horses simply can’t overcome.
   Many want the Derby field reduced to 14. That would eliminate the problems associated with the one post and greatly cut down on the traffic problems. A 14-horse Kentucky Derby would be a much truer race and, therefore, a better race.
   It’s never going to happen. More money is going to be bet on a 20-horse race than a 14-horse race and Churchill is never going to let those dollars get away.
   The answer is to make the Derby an 18-horse race. By doing so, the horses that break from posts one and two can break from the same slots where the three and four now leave from. That would take away the problem of a horse breaking inside the rail. And cutting just two horses out wouldn’t affect the wagering that much.
   Racing luck will always be part of the equation, but a race as important as the Kentucky Derby needs to have a level a playing field as possible. It’s wrong to have a post position draw essentially eliminate a starter. Eighteen is the answer.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Guest Post: Save Windfields

by Kelsey Riley

For thoroughbred racing and breeding enthusiasts, E.P. Taylor’s Windfields Farm in Oshawa, Ontario, Canada is a place of major historic significance. Best known as the birthplace and resting place of Northern Dancer, Windfields was actually so much more. Founded in 1936, the famous farm has experienced nearly unprecedented success across the world. Its progenitors have won some of the world’s greatest races, including the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, Epsom Derby, 2000 Guineas, Irish Derby, King George, and Dewhurst Stakes. Windfields-breds have won Canada’s Queen’s Plate 11 times.

Windfields spawned 48 champions and 360 stakes winners that have won over 10,000 races for more than $84 million in prize money. Included amongst these horses are Northern Dancer, Nijinsky, The Minstrel, Storm Bird, El Gran Senor, Try My Best, Secreto, Shareef Dancer, Saint Ballado, Vice Regent, Victoria Park, and New Providence.

Windfields has also played an important role in shaping the bottom line of many of today’s thoroughbred pedigrees. Blue hen mares that have graced the Windfields paddocks include South Ocean (a daughter of New Providence, dam of Storm Bird and Northernette); La Lorgnette (Canadian Horse of the Year, dam of European champion Hawk Wing), and Glorious Song, multiple G1 winner and dam of leading sires Singspiel, Rahy, and Rakeen. Glorious Song was also a full-sister to Saint Ballado and Devil’s Bag.

Today, Windfields faces an uncertain future. The Taylor family, which had been downsizing the operation since the founder’s death in 1989, announced the closure of the commercial operation in the summer of 2008. The farm’s resident stallions were moved and clients dispersed, leaving just a few family owned horses on the fabled land. In 2009, Judith Mappin-Taylor, the then-80-year-old daughter of E.P. Taylor in charge of Windfields, announced the farm would auction off its remaining stock and close its doors forever.

The plan for Windfields was residential development. Located in the centre of a burgeoning university town, Windfields was already feeling the squeeze of development before its closure, and its land value was rising with each day it remained open. While the outskirts of the 1500 acre property have already begun to be developed, the “core” of the farm, including many historic buildings and the cemetery, was gifted to Oshawa’s Durham College and the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, located near the farm. The plan was to preserve this area and develop it into a public space, perhaps a park. This is where the problem lies today. Three years after its closure nothing has been done with the area, and it is beginning to show signs of neglect. Until a recent wave of negative media attention prompted action, the Windfields cemetery, which includes the gravesite of Northern Dancer, was grown over with weeds. Nearby historic buildings, including the breeding shed and the barn in which Northern Dancer was born, are falling victim to the elements and lack of care.

A video produced by

Mark Morisette, a local Oshawa resident, has become the voice of the community that is concerned about the future of Windfields. Morisette recently launched a site dedicated to the preservation of the farm at The site has generated a strong following and has resulted in more than 300 letters of support being sent to the Oshawa City Council in support of the cause. In response, the city is calling the university to action, asking them to reveal their plans for the historic site. The city council is also moving to make the Windfields core a designated heritage site, which would allow it special protection against development. Representatives from Durham College and the University of Ontario Institute of Technology say they are in negotiations about what to do with Windfields.

While current actions are positive, support for the preservation of Windfields is still needed. Don’t let a major part of our industry’s history fade into obscurity. Visit to learn more and see what you can do to help.     

A recent news piece on the plight of Windfields

--Kelsey Riley is a second year trainee on the Darley Flying Start program. She will join the TDN staff in July.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Guest Post: A Future For Racing?

by Mark Cramer

“But handicapping is complicated. If I wanted to do it well, I would really have to work hard at it. That would be like doing homework for school.”

   At the end of April 1989, I was attending a family funeral in my home town of Schenectady, New York. Once the body was laid to rest, several family members corralled me under a shady elm.
   “Who do you like in the Kentucky Derby?” they asked, in chorus. None of them were horseplayers. But racing was part of the general culture in this part of the woods. The Albany Times-Union had, and still has,
regular racing coverage, and during the Saratoga meet, its front pages are graced with feature articles on horse racing.
   With such interest shown by non-horseplayers, I was not made to feel like an oddball member of a marginal subculture. I told them I liked Sunday Silence. My aunts Helen and Ada, neither of them horseplayers, both bet Sunday Silence at their local OTB. When Sunday Silence drew out erratically to win, I felt as if I was doing my part to keep our glorious avocation alive and well.
   But these days, horse racing seems to draw a blank face from most folks. The hard-core are betting more these days and handle is up, but is this sustainable? On Thursday afternoons in April in Paris, stores are full of customers, soap operas enjoy a large audience, caf├ęs are buzzing, museums are crowded and the immense grandstand at Longchamp is nearly empty.  Most people have never heard of Olivier Peslier.
   In the fall of 1998, I was back in the Capitol District of New York State to watch the Breeders’ Cup at the Albany OTB theatre. Art Kaufman, the man who originally conceived and published the Tomlinson
pedigree stats, now invited my reluctant 14-year-old son, Marcus, to come along with us.
   Art made a bargain with Marcus. “I’ll give you $2 to bet in each race, as long as you promise to study the past performances and bet according to your analysis and interpretation. You get to keep any money you win.” Art and I helped Marcus to understand the pps. I had already introduced him to racing, but I knew that forcing it is the wrong strategy for a father. We need friends like Art.
   Marcus was able to pick the winner of the Sprint, Reraise, and he also picked longshot Hawksley Hill in the Mile at 15-1, who ended up a heartbreaking second by a nose to Da Hoss. Not bad handicapping.
After the races, Art asked Marcus if he had enjoyed handicapping the races.
   “It was fun,” Marcus responded. “But handicapping is complicated. If I wanted to do it well, I would really have to work hard at it. That would be like doing homework for school.”
   I have also taken him to live racing, so he could appreciate the poetry of the Thoroughbred in motion. But in the end, Marcus chose other things to do with his life.
   In the sire rankings (I’m talking about horse racing writers siring horsesplayers), I find myself near last place. Mike Helm, author of Bred to Win: the Making of a Thoroughbred, for example, had one kid, who became a horseplayer like his old man. William Scott, author of Investing at the Race Track, sired at least two handicappers. On the other hand, yours truly, with four kids, has produced not a single horseplayer or handicapper.
   I ask myself how and why I have failed. Part of the answer may have come from my son Marcus. He has let us know that playing the races, in a serious way, is very demanding. It is not like watching a Formula I auto race or going to Disneyland. Most forms of entertainment require little or no study. In handicapping and playing the races, if you don’t study, you get buried.
   Consider Nicholas Carr’s article in The Atlantic: “Is Google making us stupid” (July-August, 2008), where he points out a transformation in our culture, in particular, a loss of patience and attention span. He writes: “Once I was a scuba diver in a sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a jet ski.” So many links: we stop reading an article before we are finished and click on to a link, and then a link from the link.
  But this need for speed goes back before the internet. With the advent of remote control, TV viewers could zap one program as soon as it began moving too slowly. In order to counter the apparently shrinking attention span, some TV managers instructed their producers to hold no image beyond 13 seconds, so that viewers would not dart off to another channel.
   If this is all true, about the shortening attention span, then imagine what happens when we bring a kid or a friend to race track to enjoy live racing.
   “You mean we have to wait a half hour for the next race?” said one of my guests at Santa Anita. Of course, we could watch the horses in the walking ring, but those are slow images that last more than 13 seconds. My daughter Gabriela did learn to read the racing form, quite well, and appreciated the beauty of the Thoroughbred, but as she turned 13, she ended up dropping racing for other pursuits more in
demand by her teenage friends.
   It seems that other activities requiring both attention and patience, such as chess and jazz, are also losing supporters. But it would be simplistic to imply that the only reason for the shrinking of the racing audience is the parallel shrinking of attention span. Surely there are other changes in our culture that have squeezed away the space once occupied by horse racing.
   The French Jockey Club, France Galop, recognizes that a cultural approach involving all age groups, especially parents and children, is necessary to make racing touch the mainstream culture, the way I felt
it once did in upstate New York. So France Galop sponsors “Dimanches au Galop”, in April and May, with three participating tracks, two of them flat racing (Longchamp and Saint-Cloud) and the other the jumpers (Auteuil). Admission is free and there are many attractive activities for children. Picnic benches are set up in order to help fill those 30 minutes between races.
   Similar family-oriented free admission days are offered at other French tracks as well, with lots of festivities. The crowds are significant on those special days. But one France Galop official admitted to me that these events have a long-term goal but create no meaningful increase in betting handle. In fact, France Galop officials and employees are not even supposed to bet the races, and they don’t feel that it’s their job to teach the art of handicapping. They’re betting that a long-term cultural awakening to the beauty of the spectacle will eventually trickle into the betting handle. They also reward regular players by providing free coupons for people leaving the track on hard-core days, so seasoned handicappers will be able to get into the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, France’s biggest racing day, for free.
   In summary, the hypothesis is that racing has been relegated to the status of subculture and that types of entertainment that are less demanding on one’s attention span are taking its place. Here’s a link to a French Jockey Club promotion of racing. Do they have the right strategy? Or has the culture altered so much over the decades that racing will never regain its place as part of the mainstream culture?

Sophomore Spotlight: Blue Grass and Arkansas Derby

--Brian DiDonato

GI BLUE GRASS S. - While favorite Hansen (Tapit) showed somewhat of a new dimension in rating a bit last time when winning the GIII Gotham S., he's very vulnerable here. There's a ton of early speed signed on, and even if he's not on the lead, he'll be close enough to it that it should take its toll--especially at a distance farther than the champ has ever gone. I like two horses to upset the speedy grey--Dullahan (Even the Score) and Holy Candy (Candy Ride {Arg}). I'll use both in Pk3s and 4s, will box them in the exacta and will bet one to win (9-2 seems fair on Dullahan; 15-1 on Holy Candy).
Dullahan works up a storm at Keeneland
Coady Photography
   Dullahan seemed talented, but a bit lost in the first few starts of his career before the light came on and the half-brother to Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird graduated with a very solid off-the-pace effort in this venue's GI Breeders' Futurity S. in October. His connections opted for the GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile over the the turf equivalent, and Dullahan did little to undermine that decision. He was simply too far out of things early, but came running at the end to be fourth, beaten six lengths by the front-running Hansen. The chestnut resurfaced in the Mar. 11 GIII Palm Beach S. over nine furlongs of the Gulfstream sod, and came up a length short of fellow Blue Grass entrant Howe Great (Hat Trick {Jpn} while getting the worst of it. Whereas Howe Great saved ground while close up to a reasonable pace, Dullahan was at his usual spot towards the back of a compact field. He was forced to go very wide at the head of the lane while the eventual winner hugged the rail, and Dullahan just couldn't overcome the added real estate he was forced to cover. According to Trakus data, Dullahan traveled 44 feet more than Howe Great, which translates to more than five lengths. Dullahan did reportedly pop a splint in the interim, but it hasn't seemed to bother the Dale Romans trainee--he fired a five-furlong bullet in a super-quick :57 2/5 over the Poly here last Sunday. The Keeneland clocker comment said of the spin: "was impressive, loves the surface, out in 1:10 2/5." That proven affinity for Keeneland's somewhat quirky main track and a hot expected pace make Dullahan the one to beat.
   I already made the case for Holy Candy in my analysis of the GI Santa Anita Derby last week (click here), and nothing has changed. The pace should be more to the recent graduate's liking in this spot than it would have been last week, and while I'd be betting with both fists if Holy Candy were to go off near his morning line price of 30-1, I'm not quite expecting such a generous number. He'll still offer significant value, though, and should be moving well late along with Dullahan.

Bodemeister (inside) tries to hold off
Creative Cause   Benoit Photo
GI ARKANSAS DERBY - He'll probably go favored, but I expect Bodemeister (Empire Maker) to score here and stamp himself as a major Derby contender. When horses break their maidens with very high Beyer Speed Figures, like the 101 Bodemeister earned for his second-out 9 1/4-length romp, they almost always regress in their subsequent starts. But the Zayat colorbearer paired that 101 next out, nearly denying GI Santa Anita Derby runner-up Creative Cause in the GII San Felipe S. at Santa Anita Mar. 10. He pressed a hot pace that day (nine points above par early on the Moss Pace Figure scale) and did very well to hang on as much as he did (despite drifting out a bit) considering his lack of seasoning. Another start under his belt and more time to develop could lay the foundation for a figure progression, and any step forward from a 101 would make Bodemeister extremely tough to beat. The biggest question is whether or not he can rate, or at least harness his speed while setting the pace. I'm confident that he can and will. Bodemeister sheds blinkers for this, gets a rider switch to the patient Mike Smith and seems as if he has been getting some schooling in the mornings. Check out this HRTV video of his four-furlong spin at Santa Anita in :46 4/5 Mar. 23--he was able to relax and finish very well from behind a group of horses. I still say he's one of the most promising and best-bred for the Derby distance of this sophomore crop, and hope my future wager on Bodemeister at 22-1 will look like value after Saturday.
   The only horse I'll use as a back-up is Isn't He Clever (Smarty Jones), who couldn't have made a more unnecessarily wide, premature move after enjoying a perfect spot behind a pair of dueling leaders in the GIII Sunland Park Derby Mar. 25. He takes off the blinkers and gets a rider switch off that runner-up finish.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Major Impact...

What an exciting week in the Thoroughbred world. From California to New York, a plethora of Kentucky Derby protagonists were putting in their final preps for Churchill Downs. Gemologist (Tiznow), I’ll Have Another (Flower Alley) and Creative Cause (Giant’s Causeway) impressed, and will be tough to beat on the first Saturday in May. Meanwhile, the fillies took center stage on Keeneland’s much anticipated opening weekend, with Karlovy Vary (Dynaformer) springing an upset in the GI Ashland. The Bluegrass has been buzzing on the back of a certain basketball game, and the party just kept on rolling at Keeneland. On top of all that, a half-sister (by Redoute’s Choice) to the mighty Black Caviar created fireworks Down Under, selling for A$2.6 million at Inglis Easter. The TDN has been action packed.

With all that going on, it would have been easy to miss an important development in Japan last Sunday. Gentildonna (Deep Impact–Donna Blini) won the G1 Oka Sho (Japanese 1000 Guineas) at Hanshin in determined fashion. The filly bounced back from a fourth-place finish in the G3 Tulip Sho to capture the country’s first Classic of the season. In doing so, Gentildonna was realizing her genetic potential.

Deep Impact was a remarkable racehorse, whose appeal transcended the sporting realm in his native land. Moreover, his participation in the 2006 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, Longchamp resulted in widespread media attention. The Deep Impact fan club descended upon the prestigious Parisian venue in their droves, with the Japanese superstar running a gallant third to Rail Link (later disqualified). Unsurprisingly, Deep Impact has transferred his athletic prowess to the breeding sphere and was also responsible for the second-place finisher, Verxina, in the Oka Sho.

Gentildonna was produced by the former Brain Meehan trained Donna Blini, who won the G1 Cheveley Park and G2 Cherry Hinton in 2005. Although Donna Blini failed to fully recapture her sparkle as a three-year-old, she retired to stud with impeccable credentials. Katsumi Yoshida purchased her for 500,000gns ($1,017,240) at the 2006 Tattersalls December Sale. Gentildonna is Donna Blini’s second foal, the first being her Group 3-winning full-sister Donau Blue.

I guess that brings us to the principal reason that inspired this blog. Donna Blini is just one of many talented American/European racemares that have ended up in Japan over recent years. Calling it a mass exodus might be bordering on hyperbole, but Japanese buyers have certainly acquired some high quality stock. Azeri, Dubawi Heights, Ginger Punch, Hilda’s Passion, and Serious Attitude spring to mind. It may be argued that is far from a new phenomenon, and Japanese buyers have always been active at Keeneland, Fasig-Tipton, Tattersalls et al. However, their appetite for quality broodmare/stallion prospects has definitely increased.

On the stallion front, Harbinger and Workforce were world-class racehorses and could easily have stood in Europe. However, both were whisked off to Japan to commence their stallion careers upon retiring from the track. Likewise, the regally-bred Empire Maker was far from a failed stallion when Shadai acquired him in 2010. Empire Maker’s progeny have lit up the track/ring since his departure, and his loss will be a huge blow to the American bloodstock industry going forward. Harbinger, Workforce, and Empire Maker show that Japan is no longer a dumping ground for stallions that can’t cut it elsewhere.

The Japanese industry will continue to benefit from the substantial investment in international bloodstock, coupled with successful domestic bloodlines. The future looks bright in the Land of the Rising Sun...

Guest Post: Don't Look Now, But Handle Is Up

by Bill Finley
   Has horseracing turned a corner?
   Based on the latest monthly betting figures coming out of Equibase, it has.
   Wagering on U.S. races rose 9.46 percent in March as $984 million passed through the mutuel windows. For the year, wagering is up 5.43 percent or $139 million. The latest figures are a continuance of a trend that began in December when wagering was up 17.88 percent. It was the first month that had showed a wagering increase since November 2009, ending a two-year run that was as dismal as it gets.
   What’s happened? No one seems quite sure, but these are no doubt some factors that have contributed to racing’s recent good run:
--The Economy: The economy isn’t as bad as it used to be. As people start to get back on their feet financially they are no doubt rediscovering pari-mutuel wagering.
--New York City OTB: They pulled the plug on the hapless organization on December 7, 2010, which took hundreds of millions of dollars out of betting circulation. Since December 2011 the loss of the OTB dollars in the month-versus-month figures has not been a factor.
--The Weather: The weather in the Northeast was freakishly mild this year. There were very few cancellations and there was nothing weather-wise standing in the way of anyone who might have wanted to make a bet.
--The Gulfstream Factor: It can’t be a coincidence that racing’s reversal coincided with opening day of the Gulfstream meet. Gulfstream had a fabulously successful meet under the leadership of Tim Ritvo. The track’s all-sources handle was up $96 million for the recently concluded meet, a large chunk of the total handle increase in the U.S. Gulfstream opened earlier than ever this year, gained some momentum right at the start and never looked back.
   As I have written many times before, put on a great product and treat the customer right and people will bet. It’s not horse racing people have walked away from; it’s lousy horse racing.
--Low Takeout, Inexpensive Wagers: Nearly everyone has jumped on this bandwagon. Where once the customer was forced to bet a $1 or $2 multiple race wager with a ridiculously high takeout, now there are abundant opportunities to bet 50-cent tickets on Pick Fours and Pick Fives where the takeout is in the 15 percent range. These bets work because people think they have can spend modestly yet still have a reasonable chance of winning big and they don’t get fleeced by 25 percent takeouts.
   We’re probably not out of the woods yet, but, at the very least, it looks like the tailspin is over. Hallelujah.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Guest Post: Driving Down Borel Avenue

--Brian Ludwick, WinStar Farm Bloodstock Analyst

   Some of the greatest pro athletes over the years have taken a small, seemingly insignificant morsel of space and made it their own. Hockey legend Wayne Gretzky made some of the greatest plays ever seen from his "office"--that approximately five foot space between the rear of the opponent's goal and the end boards. The NBA's all-time leading scorer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar scored many of his 38,387 points almost at will, using his patented, ambidextrous sky-hook within the confines of a small slice of hardwood in the low post. Former Pittsburgh Steelers fullback Franco Harris led his team to four Super Bowl Championships running almost exclusively into that small gap between the tackles.
   Similarly, jockey Calvin Borel (Bo-rail to Churchill regulars) has for quite some time now been racking up wins at Churchill Downs by staying down on the rail with many of his mounts. Now there is every other rider's idea of the rail and then there is Calvin's version. Calvin's rail is more like the shoulder of the road, a very narrow country road, and quite literally only perhaps a few inches from the anodized aluminum inner rail.
   The footing on Calvin Avenue is virgin, unbroken or chewed up by numerous aluminum-plated hooves, unlike the often-traveled ground only a few feet to the outside of Mr. Borel's groove. Calvin Ave. is faster, but not for the faint-hearted. When horse and rider are that tight to the inside rail, there really is nowhere to go should any unfortunate circumstance occur in front of them. Of course that hardly concerns Calvin, who grew up riding on some of the roughest ovals known to man on the Louisiana bush track circuit.
   One would think that any rider able to win three of the last five runnings of the Kentucky Derby might be in very high demand as that first Saturday in May nears but, amazingly enough, that is not the case. Apparently this high-energy, Cajun package is not everyone's cup of tea. The man, after all, never even completed eighth grade. He is not well spoken or articulate. He seems awkward, almost uncomfortable in a room full of people.
   So just what exactly does Calvin bring to the table? Borel is a jockey who knows every foot of the Churchill Downs dirt surface like it was his own private putting green. A rider who, on Derby day, relies on street smarts rather than the kind one learns through high school and into college. A rider who has come to understand the often unreasonable pace of the world's most famous horse race and how many lengths can be made up by a legitimate stretch-runner in that testing final three furlongs. Boo-Boo, as the Borel clan calls him, brings a palpable, youthful exuberance to every Derby runner lucky enough to have him fiddling with their mane in the Derby post parade.
   For all the unbridled, delirious celebrating that takes place after Borel has guided yet another Derby winner to victory, the man is quite the opposite before the contest. From the time Calvin exits the jocks room until the assistant starter leads his mount into their assigned stall in the starting gate, the Borel face remains expressionless, only a steely stare suggesting the enormous amount of concentration.
   While the Castellanos, Gomezes and Velazquezes of the jockey set must mull over which one of the two or three offered mounts they will choose to ride on Derby day, Borel has no such luxury. Sometimes Calvin tends to come up with his Derby winners in unconventional ways.
   As the 2010 Derby approached, both of the Todd Pletcher "go to" riders were engaged to their respective mounts; Velazquez to Eskendereya and Gomez to Lookin at Lucky. With those two riders already spoken for, the mount on Super Saver was offered up to Borel for the Arkansas Derby as he had won the Kentucky Jockey Club S. on the WinStar colt as a juvenile. Derby favorite Eskendereya, of course, was withdrawn from the Derby due to injury only one day prior to entries, leaving Pletcher mainstay John Velazquez without a ride for the race. Calvin, as everyone knows, made the most of this improbable opportunity on Super Saver, giving both Todd Pletcher and WinStar Farm their first Kentucky Derby success.
Borel               Horsephotos
   The previous year, a virtual unknown little gelding exiting a minor stakes race in New Mexico was about to embark on a painfully long trailer ride to Louisville, Kentucky. With no "name" rider's agent even giving this gelding a second look, trainer Benny Woolley, Jr. reached out to the local guy. As Calvin had no previous commitment, he of course accepted the mount on the almost impossible longshot named Mine That Bird, and the rest, as they say, is history.
   This year, Calvin will team with former Churchill conditioner Pat Byrne and an A.P. Indy colt named Take Charge Indy. In two starts this year, perhaps by design, the colt seems to have developed into more of a free-running sort than Calvin is used to. Still, the partnership seems to be working just fine as they will enter the Derby off a very decent, front-running win in the Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park, defeating probable Derby favorite Union Rags.
   Somewhere around 5:30 pm on Saturday, May 5, in the cramped jockey quarters at Churchill Downs, 20 of the best riders in America will be giving the past performances one last look before donning their respective Derby silks. Some will in fact be more talented riders than the wiry, wide-eyed Cajun affectionately known as Bo-rail. None, however, will give their mounts any greater chance at that blanket of roses than him.