Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Thewifedoesntknow: Training Blog, Week 1

In my blog post last week, I introduced you to YouTube sensation Thewifedoesntknow (Golden Missile - Aheadnotatail, by Unbridled), who retired from racing this month. New Jersey hunter/jumper trainer Carole Davison and her daughter Liz began training the mare for her second career in the hunter ring.

On Friday morning, I visited San Sue Acres in Howell, NJ, and photographed Carole's training session with Thewifedoesntknow (affectionately nicknamed Ally-Gator). As I watched Carole tack Ally up, I noticed that the mare was already comfortable in cross ties, and watched everything in the barn with interest and curiosity. Carole's tack choices are simple and classic: Thewifedoesntknow is outfitted in a plain snaffle bridle, a copper roller D-ring snaffle, a jumping saddle, and polo wraps. The mare wears no tie-downs and no extra training aids.

Ally stood calmly at the mounting block when Carole got into the saddle. She began the ride with a few quiet laps around the arena at a walk before getting into trot work. I was immediately impressed with the mare's willing attitude. As she trotted around the ring, she cocked one ear toward her trainer. Carole encouraged the mare to stretch onto the bit and relax her topline; it was really fun to see how intently Thewifedoesntknow concentrated on Carole and how carefully she worked to understand the new way of riding. 
 One of my favorite things about Thewifedoesntknow is her natural rhythm. Many green horses speed up and slow down as they learn how to engage their hind ends and balance themselves, but this mare has a wonderfully consistent tempo for a horse at her training level. This will prove to be a valuable asset in the hunter ring.
Ally continued to impress me when she encountered a few deer, who were just outside the arena. One deer quietly walked past the arena but another crashed through the woods. Ally reacted, but was quickly under control. Carole's body language gave the mare confidence and she relaxed as she watched them.
Carole began canter work with Thewifedoesntknow a few days earlier, and they are already making great progress. She readily picks up both leads, and is learning how to keep her balance around corners.

After the canter work, Carole did a little work with transitions within the gaits, asking for a little more push at the trot, and then slowing her posting down. The mare is very responsive and is picks up on Carole's weight shifts and cues. She did a "stretchy" circle as part of the cooldown; although she is very green, Ally has little "lightbulb moments" for a stride or two during these exercises while she tries to figure out what to do.
 Carole incorporated ground poles into Ally's training session, and she willingly walked over a few during the ride. 
 After the ride was over, Ally showed off her patience and intelligence by standing quietly as Carole unhooked the arena gate. She is learning the ins and outs of farm life.
After their ride, Ally was treated to a cooling hosedown and a pick of grass before she was turned out in her paddock. As she becomes more comfortable with her routine and her people, she shows off more and more of her lovely personality.
Carole was kind enough to supply me with a training log of their sessions. For the first few days, she and Liz did groundwork with the mare, with both grooming sessions and work under tack, including standing by the mounting block and a little longe line work. Her riding sessions are short and sweet, usually 30 minutes including warmup and cooldown. In addition to her schooling under saddle, Carole is introducing other elements to her training, such as being in the arena with other horses and negotiating unusual objects.

Please check back next Wednesday for more news and updates about this promising mare.

--Sarah Andrew

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Guest Post: Royal Ascot Hangover

By Kelsey Riley

Royal Ascot is over for another year. And what a renewal it was. Although I have only been following racing outside America for a few years, this was easily one of the most anticipated and exciting few days I have experienced in the sport. The spotlight was on undefeated high weights Frankel and Black Caviar in their respective races.

Frankel opened the show with a flourish, winning the Queen Anne Stakes by an authoritative 11 lengths in what may have been his greatest performance in an already illustrious career. I am sure this was the greatest racing performance I have ever seen, in terms of sheer dominance, and obviously others agreed: he was assigned a Timeform rating of 147, making him the highest rated horse in history on that scale. Now trailing in his wake are all-time greats Sea Bird (145) and Tudor Minstrel and Brigadier Gerard (144).

Frankel and Tom Queally crush the Queen Anne

Here is an article that describes how Frankel’s all-time high Timeform rating was achieved:

Here is a list of the all-time highest rated horses by Timeform:

In the end, though, the week was all about Black Caviar. It was an incredible build up to the Diamond Jubilee Stakes on the final day of the meeting, and her fans were prepared, turning out in their Black Caviar paraphernalia every day of the lead up. And just like the preceding days, the aftermath has been all about the great mare as well.

The build up to the race was all about comparing Frankel and Black Caviar, something I grew tired of pretty quickly as you could tell by my last blog. Europeans were quick to throw their support behind Frankel, boasting about why he is better, and Aussie’s the same with Black Caviar in their camp. The aftermath, however, has seen a refreshing sense of appreciation for both animals. It seems as though racing fans everywhere were humbled by Black Caviar’s near defeat, realizing how difficult the task dealt to her actually was when she seemed invincible. For reasons that we’ll never be entirely sure of, Black Caviar ran 15 rating points short of her best performance in winning the Diamond Jubilee by a nose, recording a rating of 115, her lowest number in almost two years. Perhaps it was the testing track, the muscle tears she sustained in running, or the fatigue of international travel (the relatively slow time and weak field would also have hurt the rating). It was probably a bit of everything.

Black Caviar and Luke Nolen win the Diamond Jubilee

The most important measure of Black Caviar’s greatness in this instance was laid out by Timeform analyst Simon Rowlands. Rowlands pointed out in an article on that of the 392 horses that ran over the five-day Royal Ascot meeting, 46% (including Black Caviar) ran 13lbs or greater below their pre-race figures. Black Caviar was the only one good enough to still win, and a Group 1 at that, also overcoming a questionable ride. To me, that is simply remarkable. Rowlands’ article can be read here: 

Here is another story by Racing Victoria’s chief handicapper Greg Carpenter (also on the World Thoroughbred Rankings panel) along similar lines:

I think racing fans and commentators everywhere were united in the shock dealt by Caviar’s near blow, and the result has been an outpour of appreciation for the great mare (even from the British). Gone from the media are comparisons of Black Caviar and Frankel and arguments over who is better. It is clear now that the two cannot be compared, as there is no way to stage a fair contest between them. Black Caviar will now return to Australia likely to stay, and Frankel will remain in Britain.

I must say that amongst the media crush and pressure last week, Frankel’s trainer Sir Henry Cecil was the ultimate gentleman and professional. While he could easily have boasted about Frankel’s superiority after the colt’s Queen Anne romp, the master trainer remained humble, refusing to compare his colt to any other horse or to discredit Caviar at all.  

Getting back to this week’s post-race coverage, there has been some excellent commentary and analysis. I think it is a really positive sign for the industry that so many reporters are engaging in thoughtful analysis, as it is a common criticism (by me included!) that the industry is too archaic and poor at keeping records. It is this type of figurative analysis that will give mainstream fans a historical context and benchmark by which to understand the sport, and encourage their interest in racing. Here is another good article in addition to the two listed above:

A shout out must also go to the ever charismatic Australian fans. In addition to the estimated 3000 that turned up at Royal Ascot with their Black Caviar ties, hats, and flags, millions more watched from their homeland and elsewhere. Fans packed Melbourne’s Federation Square at a chilly 12:45 am (remember it’s winter there) to cheer home their heroine on the big screen, and they didn’t disappoint. Check out this video:

Black Caviar fans pack Melbourne's Federation Square
to watch the Diamond Jubilee

I spent four months of last year in Australia, and I found that Australians are some of the most incredible and enjoyable people to be around: they simply love gambling and sport, and will easily latch onto anything that resembles either and provides a thrill. They are the key reason why Australian racing is thriving: it seems that almost everyone in the country either owns a “leg” of a horse, bets regularly, or at least likes to dress up and go to the races, and they embrace a culture that is lost amongst the mainstream public in many other countries, especially America. Racing is regularly front page news in Australia. If we could bottle up some Aussie enthusiasm and spread it around America and Europe, racing would be thriving once again.

Here is proof of this observation: I watched the Diamond Jubilee Stakes on TV in the corner of a pub in Galway, Ireland. About a half hour before the big race, a family came in and sat at the table beside me. Seeing I was engrossed in the racing, they asked when Black Caviar was running. They said they were from Australia, and knew nothing about racing, but they heard Black Caviar was running so wanted to watch the race. I proceeded to share with them everything I could about Black Caviar, racing, and my time working for Peter Moody, and they were thrilled. In the end I hope I contributed to them becoming lifelong racing fans, but hey, they’re Australian, they were destined anyway.

So here’s to Black Caviar and Frankel, two undefeated champions from Australia and Europe, and two of the greatest horses ever. We are so fortunate to have been fans of racing in their time, and hopefully we will get the chance to see each of them a few more times before they embark on their careers in the breeding shed in their respective hemispheres.

If, like myself, you would like a bit of the hair of the dog to overcome your Royal Ascot hangover, here are some pictures from my two days there last week (Tuesday and Wednesday).

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

Frankel and Tom Queally after winning the Queen Anne
So You Think in the parade ring before the Prince of Wales's
The Ascot parade ring/grandstand

William Buick returns on Joviality after winning the Windsor
Forest Stakes

Friday, June 22, 2012

Guest Post: Sustainable Irresponsibility: The Case of Drosselmeyer

--Mark Cramer

Do you feel unappreciated at your workplace? Are you taken for granted by your children? Do you find yourself finishing the tasks of others who are less responsible than you?

If so, you might consider the lesson of Drosselmeyer. Drosselmeyer tells us that if we are too responsible, then we become predictable. When we are predictable, our work depreciates in pari-mutuel value, as was the case at Ascot when Frankel returned his backers only 10 cents on the dollar at Ascot.

The lesson of Drosselmeyer is called sustainable irresponsibility. Of course, most persistent irresponsibility is not sustainable and can get people fired or land them in jail. But some degree of irresponsibility enhances the appreciation we get when we do our job, in the workplace, as parents, and in other domains.

Drosselmeyer     Sarah K Andrew photo
Drosselmeyer raced 15 times in his career, with five victories. What his publicity agents at WinStar Farm don’t tell us is that Drosselmeyer was a beaten favorite six times! Surely you can call this irresponsibility. He was expected to get the job done and he didn’t. Perhaps he was telling the world, “don’t take me for granted”. But for Drosselmeyer’s backers at the betting windows, this irresponsibility was remarkably sustainable, because it boosted his average mutuel.

If you had played Drosselmeyer an equal $2 to win for each of his starts, you’d have invested $30.00 and gotten back $74.10. That’s more than a 140% return on investment! And even if you had not bet  on him in the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Classic, for a cool $31.60 payoff, you still would have had a 50% return on investment by playing him all his other races, which would be the envy of hedge fund operators.

(Watch Drosselmeyer get the job done in the BC Classic, without showing his hand until the stretch. Great call from Trevor Denman.

Drosselmeyer was also profitable in the place hole, and even in the show pool you made more than a 50% return on investment by backing him every time.
Pari-mutuel sustainability involves a measured dose of irresponsibility. A more hidden form of pari-mutuality exists in everyday life. Our human wager value is enhanced when we are not perceived as a sure bet.

Drosselmeyer already has a steady job at WinStar Farm. Too bad! He could have had his collection of how-to literature: Raising Children by the Drosselmeyer Method, How to Get Ahead at the Workplace according to Drosselmeyer, Don’t Be Predictable, and why not, Sustainable Irresponsibility.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Life After YouTube: the Next Chapter for Thewifedoesntknow

“Into the final furlong… Mywifenosevrything! Thewifedoesntknow! They're 1-2! Of course they are! Mywifenosevrything in front, to the outside, Thewifedoesntknow! Mywifenosevrything! Thewifedoesntknow! Mywifenosevrything! More than Thewifedoesntknow!”

Monmouth Park track announcer Larry Collmus’ famed call of the August 2010 battle of “the wives” was viewed hundreds of thousands of times on YouTube, shared on Facebook, tweeted, and picked up by countless online news sources.

Almost two years later, I heard the race call re-broadcast several times in commercials on the radio on Father’s Day weekend. That same week, the runner-up of the race, Thewifedoesntknow officially retired from racing, sound, and is ready to start her second career.

Carole Davison, owner/operator of Fleetwood Equestrian Services brought the chestnut mare to San Sue Acres in Howell, NJ and will train her as a show hunter. The mare’s natural balance and beautiful walk are indicators of her future talent in the show ring. Thewifedoesntknow will feel right at home, since she is the third chestnut mare in the care of Carole. Carole also owns O-Gee and Suzie. Suzie is another Thoroughbred off the track (Jockey Club name Dance All Nite Jes). Carole got Suzie as a 4-year-old, trained her, and she is now a show jumper with Carole’s daughter Elizabeth (Liz). Liz and Suzie are the current leaders in the Pre-Preliminary Jumper division at the Monmouth County horse shows. 

Last week, I met up with Carole, did a quick photo shoot with her new trainee, and asked her some questions about the process of working with horses off the track.

1) Have you always enjoyed working with Thoroughbreds? What are your impressions of programs like the Retired Racehorse TrainingProject and their impact on the breed?

I always enjoyed Thoroughbreds over all other breeds, owning my first one when I was 12. My grandparents gave me Hautbois (who we called O-Boy) for my birthday. He was originally my mother’s horse, but she didn't have the time to work with him.  He was “misunderstood” and I took that as a challenge. With Thoroughbreds, the breedier the better (like Irish Setters)- sleek with those long legs. I'm happy there are programs out there giving these animals a second chance. The Retired Racehorse Trainer Challenge at the PA Horse Expo was a wonderful way to get the word out.

2) What qualities did you see in Thewifedoesntknow that made you select her as a hunter prospect?

I really liked her attitude. She seemed curious as to what I was doing, but not nervous or anxious.  Of course, her confirmation had a lot to do with my decision but her attitude/personality was the deciding factor.  She is a very sweet mare with a kind eye.

3)  Over the next two weeks, what are your short-term training plans for Thewifedoesntknow?

I plan on working her under saddle, initially 15 to 20 minutes a day, building up to 1/2 hour. We will walk, trot and do a little canter work. We will work around the jumps and other items in the ring. She already walked over some poles, and we will continue with that. We will continue with some light lunging work as well.  I expect every day to be a new adventure as I get to know how long she can stay focused and just how much she already knows.

4) What is your basic turnout and feeding plan for Thewifedoesntknow as she adjusts to her new career?

She was turned out about 30 minutes the second day she arrived, and we have moved up to several hours. Initially, she went out in a smaller paddock with little grass, but now, for a few hours a day, she is in a larger paddock with grass. I plan on having her out 8 to 10 hours a day. As to grain and hay, I kept her on the same portion of both, but have already had to cut her hay back as she is more interested in the grass. I plan on introducing her to a lower protein grain, eventually switching her over completely to either 10% or 12%. I will, however, be keeping a very close eye on her weight and general condition and make any adjustments necessary as we proceed with turnout and work.

Front feet- 4 days off the track
Hind feet- 4 days off the track
 5) Do you have any advice for trainers who are working with off-the-track Thoroughbreds for the first time?

You need to have a lot of time to dedicate to the animal. Come with patience.  Learn as much as you can from others who have worked with OTTB's. If you are lucky, the trainer as well as exercise riders will give you insight on the horse you are getting.  Thoroughbreds are big-time athletes. Appreciate the condition they are in and the life they are used to. They are not the home-grown horse; they come with energy, with a past. They are true athletes, not weekend warriors. Patience, patience, patience. Every horse has its own personality, its own set of strengths, level of confidence, and insecurities. Treat them as individuals and don't pigeon-hole them.

Please stay tuned for regular photos and updates on the progress Carole is making with Thewifedoesntknow here on the TDN Blog.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Guest Post: Why Frankel and Black Caviar Shouldn't Meet

By Kelsey Riley

Next week will mark the 301st renewal of Britain’s historic Royal Ascot meeting. The flagship races of the five day meeting will be Tuesday’s Queen Anne Stakes and Saturday’s Diamond Jubilee Stakes, where Frankel and Black Caviar, the world’s two highest-rated horses, have their respective engagements. Frankel will attempt to take his record to 11 unbeaten in the one mile Queen Anne, while Australia’s Black Caviar goes for a perfect 22 in the newly named six furlong Diamond Jubilee. Frankel is currently the world’s highest rated horse based on the World Thoroughbred Rankings at 138, and Black Caviar sits below him at 130, and she is the world’s highest rated sprinter.

The European press is abuzz this week with speculation and debate over who is better. Because the two are unlikely ever to meet on the racetrack – Black Caviar may contest Newmarket’s July Cup before returning to Australia, and Frankel will remain on his home turf – the great debate will most certainly always be just speculation. The respective connections of Frankel and Black Caviar have been widely criticized for not arranging a meeting for their charges; However, I am relieved that the two are unlikely to meet.

For the simplest of reasons, Frankel and Black Caviar are just too different to allow a fair contest to be conjured. Frankel is a specialist miler with the potential to stretch out to nine or ten furlongs, and he trains over the softer surfaces and undulating gallops of rural Britain. Black Caviar is a sprint specialist trained over the faster and flatter surfaces of Metropolitan Melbourne. Although trainer Peter Moody has repeatedly stated that he believes his great mare could excel over longer distances (a mile or more), Black Caviar has carved a niche in sprints. If she were to compromise and meet Frankel over a greater distance and be beaten, there would always be a fair excuse. The same goes the other way around: surely it wouldn’t be a great stretch of the imagination to drop Frankel back a furlong to meet Black Caviar at seven, but it would be taking him out of his element. In addition, master trainer Sir Henry Cecil has put loads of work into teaching Frankel to relax and rate, and he seems to have finally gotten into the big horse’s head. A rubber match with the best sprinter in the world would surely undo all the work that Cecil has put into preparing Frankel to step up to 10 furlongs for the Juddmonte International this summer.

Black Caviar warms up for last November's Patinack Classic
at Flemington in front of her adoring Aussie fans
Being from opposite points of the world, one horse would have to travel a substantial distance to meet the other. As we have seen in America over the past few years, it is difficult to get two greats to meet even when they’re from the same country and excel over similar distances (Zenyatta vs. Rachel Alexandra, Curlin vs. Big Brown). There is always the excuse of the taxing flight and the adjustment to a new environment. Earlier this year, Qipco, which sponsors the British Champions Series, offered a £1 million bonus for Frankel and Black Caviar to both line up for the August 1 Sussex Stakes at Glorious Goodwood over a mile (a race Frankel won last year). While it can be reasonably argued that Black Caviar could have stayed in England and had sufficient time to adjust for the Sussex, why should she have to be the one to travel and forego much richer purses in Australia? There has yet to be any significant pressure for Frankel to travel to Australia. The other side would argue that the great mare should be the one to travel because British racing has been historically perceived as the best in the world. But with rapid changes in racing internationally in recent years, especially in Australia, I don’t think that’s a fair perception, especially for a sprinter.

If the two did meet, I feel it would be difficult to not be disappointed after the race, because one of them would have to lose. I have gotten so much enjoyment out of watching these two brilliant, beautiful horses over the last two years and, after next Tuesday, I will have seen both of them race in person. The fact is they are incomparable, so why compare? Why can’t we have two of the best in the world?

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

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Guest Post: American Pedigree in Europe

--Mark Cramer

For several years, I have been observing a certain advantage for American pedigree in European races, specifically France and England. I know enough empirically but not being an expert in pedigree, my reasoning may be flawed.

The method is simple. American-bred horses should be expected to have more speed breeding than the Euros, so as 2-year-olds, they can win early in sprints against their Euro-bred rivals.
When I first began testing the hypothesis, with real money, I limited the plays to American breds with obvious sprint pedigree. But I began noticing that even horses that I perceived as bred to route were still winning more than their fair share of sprints against the Euros, as first- or second-time starters. I could often find a longshot payoff at the smaller tracks. I limit the plays to when the trainer has a good statistic with 2-year-old horses, such as Ralph Beckett in England, or simply by seeing that the horse is getting late betting action.

Here’s a recent example worth looking at:

Chantilly, June 13, Race 3: 5 ½ furlongs:
The 6-horse, Her Star, was the only American bred in a field of 10. The sire was Harlan’s Holiday, and I remembered him as a route stakes winner and Derby contender. The trainer of Her Star is Pascal Bary (who won the BC Mile with Domedriver). I knew that Bary does well with 2-year olds, but the trainer advantage was neutralized by the fact that other “designer trainers” had horses in the same race: AndrĂ© Fabre (trainer of surprise BC Classic winner Arcangues), for example, and Freddie Head, of Goldikova and Miesque fame.

The pedigree of several other starters seemed to be formidable (Dansili, for example).
So in fact, the only differentiating factor was the USA pedigree of Her Star. However, there was a question of distance. Her Star’s full-sister, Silver Reunion, was a route horse, having raced only four times, all at a mile and an eighth. Her stakes win came in a Grade III race at Tampa, just after she turned three, and then her racing career vanished from the face of the earth.

Looks like I had a first-time starter in a short sprint whose immediate family liked long distances. Harlan’s Holiday’s average winning distance was 9.3 furlongs. What to do? Digging for more information, though, I discovered that Harlan’s Holiday had indeed won two sprints as a 2-year-old, one of them at 5.5 furlongs. 

The USA-bred Her Star raced forwardly, alternately challenged and was even passed for a few moments from left and right by several other runners. But in the end, she dug in and prevailed. The odds were only 2.3 to 1, but if you were a believer in American pedigree in Euro sprints, that was generous enough.

In TDN discussions I’ve seen many comments suggesting that American pedigree is in decline because unfit horses are in the pool, horses that have raced with Lasix or Bute and therefore might be passing on masked weaknesses to the next generation. Meanwhile, the past performances of Euro horses can be trusted as legitimately representing their class level, since doping is absolutely banned. So I wonder, if this is true, am I witnessing a renaissance of American pedigree or a last hurrah?

As you can tell, I am not a connoisseur of pedigree, but I do know that American bred horses in Euro sprints offer an advantage to the horseplayer. The question is, where will horses like Her Star be a year or two from now?

Mark Cramer is the author of the crime novel Tropical Downs and the bicycle racing chronical Handicapping on the Road. He lives in Paris.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

What's in a name?

--Gary King

Earlier this week, Cuba said goodbye to one of its favorite sons, Teofilo Stevenson. Stevenson won three consecutive Olympic gold medals during the glory days of amateur boxing–Munich (1972), Montreal (1976), and Moscow (1980). By claiming gold in 1980, he became the second boxer, after the Hungarian Lazio Papp, to triumph on three consecutive occasions. Felix Salon, a fellow Cuban, also accomplished this feat in 2000.

I was first introduced to the story of Teofilo Stevenson during the summer of 2006. The equine Teofilo (without the Stevenson) sparked this interest. Jim Bolger’s charge ruled supreme in a highly impressive juvenile campaign, which ended with a perfect five-for-five record. His epic duels with Holy Roman Emperor will live long in my memory, most notably the G1 Dewhurst S. (click here). Holy Roman Emperor’s run that day was visually breathtaking, almost Arazi-like, but he couldn’t get his head in front at the line. Teofilo was not for beating in the closing strides, displaying a rare combination of talent and determination. Unfortunately, injury prevented him from trying to replicate his juvenile sparkle as a 3-year-old. As a strapping son of Galileo, it had been predicted that Teofilo would improve as he matured.

Widely regarded as the finest amateur boxer of his generation, perhaps of all time, Teofilo Stevenson refused to turn professional. Unlike many other Cuban athletes, he stayed loyal to his country’s ban on professional sports. Stevenson never considered defecting and preferred the admiration of the Cuban public to financial gain. In fact, at one point during his career, he turned down a substantial money offer to fight an aging Mohammed Ali. The American boxing promoters Bob Arum and Don King tried everything to entice him, but to no avail. In doing so, Stevenson became an international standard bearer of the left with declarations such as: "What is a million dollars worth compared to the love of eight million Cubans?" Stevenson expressed absolutely no regret about this decision right up to his passing.

Whether or not you believe in his political ideology, it takes a pretty brave man to remain true to his principles when there is that much money on the line. There is more to the Teofilo Stevenson saga than meets the eye, and several stories have been bandied about over the years. I’m sure Stevenson was not without his flaws, but he was often used as a political pawn in the Cuban-American divide. Sometimes it’s very difficult to believe everything that you read, especially when the opportunity to engage in propaganda is rife. One thing remains certain, his record as a sporting icon will stand the test of time.

Stevenson retired in 1988 and never got the chance to claim a historic fourth Olympic gold, as Cuba did not attend Los Angeles (1984) or Seoul (1988). Just like his equine namesake, I guess we will never know what might have been...

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Guest Post: Belmont Day

By Sarah Fishback

Last Saturday was going to be a day to possibly rewrite history and finally have a Triple Crown winner. Unfortunately that was not to be when I’ll Have Another was scratched and retired the day before the race. This announcement truly knocked the wind out of the sails of many racing fans including myself. Three weeks of build up out the window, but I am glad they did what was in the best interest of the horse. Despite this fact I was not going to let it rain down on my first Belmont. There were still many great horses to cheer for and the 144th winner of the Belmont Stakes to be crowned.
I had never been to Belmont Park before and was in awe of the sheer size of the place. I have been to large racetracks but Belmont takes the cake in my mind. Luckily I was with people who knew where they were going otherwise I may have been wandering aimlessly for a while.
The day on a whole was absolutely fantastic. I have to thank TDN President Barry Weisbord for inviting me to the Belmont and showing me an incredible time. Our table established a show pool of betting early on in the day which managed to do well for several races but ultimately did not last the entire day. Luckily I did a bit better with my individual bets, which anyone who knows me will tell you is a shocking result.
The undercard races were almost as exciting as the feature itself. From Teeth of the Dog starting Michael Matz’s winning ways on the day to Tapisfly absolutely smoking the competition on the turf and then Desert Blanc getting a nose in front of Papaw Bodie. Each of these races increased my excitement for the Belmont. During some of the undercard races I made my way down to the grandstands and paddock to say hello to some of my friends in attendance. This provided me with an excellent opportunity to see all the festivities taking place around the track.
                                                            Union Rags (Patricia Calkins)

Finally it was time for the main event; I went back up to my original spot to get the best view I could for the race. Watching Union Rags squeeze through the gap was an amazing finish to the day that I will always remember. As much as I wanted Paynter to win and thought he was going to until the last furlong I was just as happy for all those connected with Union Rags. It was a great race and a nice way to end the Triple Crown journey.

Myself, along with 85,000 other people saw what horse racing truly can be, there is always a great story. And no matter what horses are running they will try their hearts out each and every time. And hopefully 35 will finally be the year the streak is broken.
                                                       The Belmont Crowd (Patricia Calkins)

--Sarah Fishback is a first year trainee on the Darley Flying Start course

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Belmont Day Analysis

--Brian DiDonato

   Horseplayers, investors and other types of gamblers often place too much emphasis on trends that seem pertinent but are not. When one bets on red in roulette because it has come out the past five spins, that's what we call the gambler's fallacy--each spin, or hand or race featuring disparate players or factors is its own entity, undetermined by and unrelated to past events. In racing, we've seen supposed un-buckable trends broken in recent years because what was perceived as causally determined by real and relevant factors was probably simply variance or randomness. If this notion holds merit, perhaps we should simply ignore the past 11 failed Triple Crown attempts and hand over the GI Belmont S. trophy to I'll Have Another (Flower Alley)--he certainly would be a deserving winner. It shouldn't matter that Spectacular Bid stepped on a safety pin, or that Smarty Jones couldn't quite go that far or that Big Brown had a shoe issue, didn't like the weather or just failed to show up. But it does, because the Belmont isn't like other races.
   For all the factors that make an impact on every race every day--pace dynamics, traffic, bias, etc.--the Belmont has a set of additional factors almost all its own. The quirky distance that has become completely irrelevant in the modern American sport, the short turnaround from the Preakness and the Derby and the large target that a Triple Crown aspirant has on his back are tiny roadblocks in and of themselves, but when combined they present a major hurdle. In wagering, it all comes down to price, and while no rational person would deny that I'll Have Another has proven up to this point to be the best runner in this field by a large margin, you simply can't do anything but play against him at less than even money. We'd all like to see a deserving Triple Crown winner, though it certainly won't be the sport's saving grace that some hope it might, but to bet on it would be a mistake that would leave some value on the table.
Paynter stretches his legs at Belmont
   I'm going with Paynter (Awesome Again) on top mainly because he's the one horse in this race who could potentially prove more talented than the favorite. I'll Have Another did beat Paynter by 3 3/4 lengths in the GI Santa Anita Derby when the latter was fourth, but the Zayat colorbearer was coming off just a 5 1/2-furlong debut. He then turned back for Churchill's one-mile GIII Derby Trial S. and dug in well in the slop to be second after contesting a pace that was 10 points above par early on the Moss Pace Figure scale. Paynter earned a revised Beyer Speed Figure of 100 for that effort--none of I'll Have Another's other challengers have reached the century mark. The $325,000 KEESEP yearling wasn't done climbing the Beyer scale, however, as he earned a 106 for a 5 3/4-length allowance romp on the Preakness undercard. He faced little adversity and/or resistance in that race, but did everything that was asked of him and comes into this race relatively fresh compared to those who have already competed in one or two Triple Crown events. Seasoning is certainly the main concern for Paynter--it's possible that he doesn't have the foundation to get this demanding distance off just a four-race career that started in February--but perhaps his stout pedigree will help him. The bay is the son of a major route influence in Awesome Again out of a full-sister to Tiznow and Budroyale, both runners who excelled at 10 furlongs.
   I'll also use two back-ups in my attempt to beat I'll Have Another that I fear could very well turn out to be trap horses because of their late-running styles, but who could benefit if Paynter does too much early. Dullahan (Even the Score) hung a bit in the Derby, but he has looked exceptional working and galloping over the track since he's been in New York. He came into the GI Blue Grass S. the same way, and certainly gives the impression that more distance can only be to his advantage. I was extremely high on Street Life (Street Sense) after his graduation and subsequent victory in the Big A's Broad Brush S. He has shown such a lack of early speed in his last two races, however, that he's forfeited any chance of victory. I was ready to sign the divorce papers with Street Life last time after his third in the GII Peter Pan S. from out of the clouds behind a quick pace, but I spoke with trainer Chad Brown last week (click here for TDN story) and he made some interesting and logical points that have convinced me to give Street Life one more chance, albeit not as my main play.
   I've voiced my doubts about Union Rags (Dixie Union) a number of times here and nothing has changed. I'll change my tune when he runs a fast race, though I do think the rider change to John Velazquez should allow the good-looking bay to relocate some of the speed he had as a 2-year-old. I'm not sure that'll help him get the distance, however.

Now for some undercard thoughts...

GI Manhattan H. - Hudson Steele (Johannesburg) couldn't have had an easier trip than the ground-saving pocket journey he enjoyed last time in the GII Dixie S., and his pedigree doesn't scream 10 furlongs. I'll look to beat him with Desert Blanc (GB) (Desert Style {Ire}), who kept superior company in Europe last year (Cirrus des Aigles, Casamento, etc.) at distances such as this one. He was completely left at the break against several of these foes in the 8 1/2-furlong GIII Fort Marcy S. last time, but recovered nicely to be second despite losing plenty of ground throughout. The Chad Brown trainee hasn't shown tons of speed in the past, but I have a feeling that the always pace conscious Ramon Dominguez might look to steal this one. 6-1 would be a gift. I'll also spread with some others, including longshots Al Khali (Medaglia d'Oro), who I've always been a sucker for and who seems best suited to this sort of distance and a turf course; and Omayad (Chi), a Chilean superstar who was clearly prepping last time in a one-mile Hollywood allowance.

GII Woody Stephens S. - Bourbon Courage (Lion Heart) could not have been more impressive in his first two starts, but he disappointed a bit when fourth in the GIII Derby Trial S. That race came after a deluge-induced delay at Churchill, however, and the bay traveled as if he despised the slop. A return to his best makes him very much the horse to beat, especially at a trip that may be better for him than a flat mile. I'm also interested in Il Villano (Pollard's Vision), whose Chick Lang S. score (99 Beyer) is hard to argue with; and Isn't He Clever (Smarty Jones), who may show more outside of New Mexico this time off the trainer change. This is definitely a race to go price hunting.

GI Just a Game S. - Winter Memories (El Prado {Ire}) is undoubtedly a very nice horse from a nice family, but she's a perpetual underlay. For whatever reason--maybe her running style that gives the illusion that she's overcome adversity when she's actually had an easy trip or her grey color--she's always overbet. There is absolutely no way she should be half or a third the price of Hungry Island (More Than Ready), who has beaten her before and whose win in the GII Distaff Turf Mile was superior to Winter Memories's GIII Beaugay S. score. I do think that last time was the time to have Hungry Island, however, so I'll also include pace players Wallis (GB) (King's Best) and Tapitsfly (Tapit) as well as Sylvestris (Ire) (Arch), who was extremely visually impressive last time in a local seven-furlong optional claimer.

Race 4 - Turf MSW - Ruthless Alley (Flower Alley) ran huge in his lone turf try when dueling through hot splits before settling for third. He should get clear here, and is a very likely winner relative to his odds. He'll probably be the overlay of the day at 8-1 or better.

Guest Post: Time Flies

By Sarah Fishback

It is hard to believe that I have already been in New Jersey for nearly two weeks; the adage `time flies when you are having fun’ really does apply. It feels like I have barely scratched the surface of what the area has to offer. I am hoping to do a bit more exploring in the near future; I know the few weekends I have here are not enough to discover everything, but hopefully enough to be able to see the highlights. I think I am most excited to head to Belmont on Saturday in hopes of witnessing history.
I have been able to see many incredible races during my short time in the Darley Flying Start program so far including the Irish Champion Stakes, Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, British Champions Day and the Kentucky Derby. The build-up to the Belmont Stakes may trump the anticipation I had for these other incredible races mainly because of the history of the race itself and the possibilities it holds, as well as the small personal connection I have to one of the horses.
While I will be cheering for I’ll Have Another to finally break the Triple Crown streak, I will also be rooting for Paynter. Not based on his prior form, which is impressive, but rather because he is one of the first yearlings I ever worked with at a sale. I had worked with the yearlings on our family’s thoroughbred farm, but never in a sales environment--especially a busy one like Keeneland. Paynter, or Tizzy as I called him thanks to his dam’s name, was always a professional and unflappable with the antics going on around him. He became such a personal favorite that I stayed late in order to see how he sold despite having to be at work early the next morning. I have followed his career from a distance and am excited to witness him run in the Belmont. I must admit, though, it will be bittersweet if he does win.

Paynter at Keeneland in 2010(Candice Chavez)
I have experienced this type of attachment to the Triple Crown before. The last time, though, I did not have a close personal connection to the horse, I was just a neighbor. I have been lucky enough to grow up in the heart of horse country and live my entire life just down the street from numerous champions. One of those champions was Victory Gallop, who ran in the Prestonwood colors during his racing career. In the 1998 installment of the Triple Crown, Real Quiet and Victory Gallop were the sparing partners. Real Quiet had beaten Victory Gallop in the first 2 legs of the race for the crown, despite my 10-year-old lungs cheering as loud as they could for Victory Gallop. Then in the Belmont, he just nipped Real Quiet by a nose, much to the dismay of racing fans. As much as I would have liked to see the drought end, I was excited to say I lived down the street from the farm that he represented. Then, there had only been 20 years since Affirmed did what now seems nearly impossible.

                                                                  1998 Belmont Stakes

Fourteen years later, we are still waiting. While time has been flying during my time here in New Jersey, that saying does not apply to the wait for a new Triple Crown winner. My sister was just over a year old when Affirmed accomplished the feat in 1978. She now has three children, the youngest of which is almost a year old. While she was too young to remember the race, she can say she was alive when it was last won. A new generation of racing fans will hopefully get to say they were around when the drought was broken. I hope I will be able to say I was there.

-- Sarah Fishback is a first year trainee on the Darley Flying Start course.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Guest Post: My Day at the Derby

By Kelsey Riley

During the last two years on the Darley Flying Start program, I have been very fortunate to attend most of the world’s best races. I have seen the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes, the Melbourne Cup, the Hong Kong International race meeting, and the Dubai World Cup. But as I stood amongst a crowd of 130,000 at Epsom Downs on Saturday while Coolmore’s Camelot charged to victory in the Epsom Derby, I felt like I was witnessing something truly spectacular.

With his resounding victory Camelot became just the third horse in 23 years to take the English classic double of the 2000 Guineas and the Derby. His five-length winning margin erased any doubts of stamina or class dominance, and he is now poised, if his connections please, to pursue the rare distinction of England’s Triple Crown in the St. Leger Stakes on September 15.

Epsom Downs: Home of the Derby
The English Triple Crown has not been claimed since the great Nijinsky in 1970, and has largely gone out of fashion since, with few 2000 Guineas winners attempting the Derby or St. Leger. Only two horses since 1989 have completed the Guineas/Derby double, and most of the top three-year-olds these days bypass the St. Leger in favour of more glamorous contests like the Arc. If there is to be any horse to buck the trends and go for Triple Crown glory, you would think it would have to be Camelot. Having achieved nearly every major milestone in European racing, Coolmore have little to lose by trying.

Camelot's trainer Aidan O'Brien 
While world heavyweight Frankel remains the darling of European racing, I think Camelot would be in a position to nab that title should he win the St. Leger. Even by simply starting in the race, he would undoubtedly draw massive mainstream attention to racing, something we all want. As with all major stars of the turf, there is already big talk happening in the days following the Derby, and some are speculating a matchup with Frankel at the end of the year. Or, maybe he could come to America and hook up with I’ll Have Another in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Longshot, yes, but isn’t this a sport of dreams?  

Coolmore's Astrology being saddled
for the Derby. He finished third.
My day at the Derby ranked right up there with the best race meetings I have attended. The atmosphere was electric from start to finish, no doubt helped by The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations, which kicked off at Epsom before the first race. With the monarch herself in attendance, a large crowd turned out for the festivities, which included an elaborate infield carnival. Before the main attraction, patrons were treated to a showing of last year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf winner St. Nicholas Abbey in the G1 Coronation Cup. The son of Montjeu (like Camelot) turned the race into a procession under Joseph O’Brien, providing a sneak preview of what was to come in the Derby. Speaking of young Joseph, I can’t express how much I admire the 19-year-old. He has shown to have a cool head and confident yet capable style in some of the most pressure packed situations in the sport. This was accentuated by his flawless ride on Camelot around what is regarded as one of the world’s most challenging racecourses. While he is no doubt helped by his family tree (father Aidan is Coolmore’s trainer), he would never have reached the level he has without loads of hard work and ability.
Camelot walking the parade ring
before the Derby

Credit must also be given to second and third-place finishers, Main Sequence and Astrology, who both ran huge races to hit the board. Astrology, another Coolmore charge, made all the running for his stablemate Camelot. For a few strides it looked as if the son of Galileo may have stolen the race from his stablemate, but in the end Camelot was too strong for him, and he was just nipped by Main Sequence, a son of American sprint champion Aldebaran, for second. Bonfire, the second choice, looked spectacular in the paddock but got worked up in the warm up and failed to factor. 

Needless to say, my day at the Derby was one to savour and remember. I hope these photos capture a bit of the excitement and atmosphere. I would certainly recommend any racing fan make the trip to England for the Epsom Derby.

Aidan O'Brien brushes Camelot before he heads to the track
Derby second place finisher Main Sequence
Derby second choice Bonfire
A packed Epsom Downs grandstand
Camelot and Joseph O'Brien return victorious
-- Kelsey Riley is a second year trainee on the Darley Flying Start program. She will join the TDN staff in July.