Thursday, June 27, 2013

Revisiting the Past Via the 2013 Triple Crown

--Christina Bossinakis
   Only moments after this year’s Belmont Stakes, trainer Todd Pletcher admitted it was an emotional win for him, largely because of his history with Dogwood Stables, the partnership that campaigns winner Palace Malice. Quite unexpectedly, however, it turned out to be a pretty poignant moment for me as well. Over the last 13 years, I have plied my trade as a turf writer, reporter and editor, and in more recent times, a TV host and analyst, but despite that fact, I consider myself first and foremost a racing fan. And in a poetic coincidence, ties to the first three finishers in the Belmont offered a vivid reminder as to why I fell in love with the sport to begin with.
   The very first Triple Crown race I ever watched live on TV was the 1988 Kentucky Derby, which was won by the roan filly, the Amazon, Winning Colors. Most will recall that the giant filly was the first Derby winner for her trainer, D. Wayne Lukas, as well as her jockey, Gary Stevens. I remember all too well how elated I was with her victory, not only because she was a girl beating the boys (I’m always up for that!), but also because I was a bourgeoning Lukas fan. Whether it was the fancy suits, the platinum tongue (‘silver tongue’ just doesn’t cut it with Wayne) or his rampant success, I was a believer. And quite honestly, I have been ever since.
Lukas & Winning Colors
   Fast forward to this year’s Preakness Stakes, and who should be standing on the winner’s podium but Lukas and Stevens, this time courtesy of the exploits of Oxbow, owned by Calumet Farm. Now owned by Brad Kelley, historic Calumet was also instrumental in stoking my passion for racing during an admittedly impressionable time. In 1990, Calumet campaigned a handsome chestnut by Alydar named Criminal Type, and he was trained by, you guessed it, D. Wayne Lukas. He won four Grade I’s and closed out the season with the Horse of the Year title to boot. I was a hardcore fan by then. In an interesting coincidence (well, maybe not such a coincidence), Lukas had a young foreman-turned-assistant working for him that would go on to give his teacher, not to mention the rest of the training colony, a serious run for their money. Todd Pletcher, who was with Lukas through 1995, might not have been an instant hit, but he showed very early on that he would be a force to be reckoned with down the line. Unapologetically a fan to this day, ‘The Man’ certainly lived up to the moniker I trumpeted (quite enthusiastically, in fact) each time he visited the winner’s circle (no doubt confirmed by any TDNer present circa 2002).
Todd Pletcher (shades) & Criminal Type
   This year’s Triple Crown also represented another significant tie to my passage in racing. I had the pleasure of observing Orb all winter long at Gulfstream in Florida and I was genuinely thrilled to see him win the Derby in the black silks and cherry cap of the Phipps’ and for trainer Shug McGaughey. Not too long ago, I found myself looking back to determine when Shug might have won his last prior Eclipse Award as champion trainer. I have to admit, I was initially a little surprised when I realized that he earned the title in 1988. ‘How could that be?’ I thought. ‘That’s the year Winning Colors won the Derby. Surely, Lukas would have won it that season?’ But very quickly I realized that Winning Colors lost the Breeders’ Cup Distaff in her final race of that season, and more significantly, the mare she lost to was none other than the remarkable Personal Ensign, owned by Ogden Phipps and trained by Shug. Also in 1988, that owner/trainer partnership campaigned champion juvenile colt, another son of Alydar (Yes, I had a thing for Alydar) named Easy Goer.
   By the time the 1989 racing season rolled around, I couldn’t get enough of racing. I read about it, I watched it on TV and I spent literally hundreds of hours poring over stallion registers and a wide array of other racing literature. And I was also positively captivated by Easy Goer. He was the cat’s meow. Heading into that year’s Derby, I couldn’t help but think that we were looking at another Triple Crown winner. Apparently, a racy, near-black colt from California had other ideas. While Sunday Silence would also go on and beat Easy Goer in the Preakness (Oh what heartbreak!), the latter would come back and win the Belmont in ultra-impressive style. That win would propel Easy Goer to victories in the Travers, Whitney, Woodward and Jockey Club Gold Cup. To this day, his loss to Sunday Silence in the Breeders’ Cup Classic ranks among my most heart wrenching moments in racing. On a brighter note, I did have the opportunity to see Easy Goer at Claiborne Farm in 1991 prior to his untimely death. A most remarkable racehorse.

Easy Goer winning the 1989 Belmont
   With the Triple Crown solidly behind us, critics have argued that this year’s 3-year-old crop was average at best and that this season’s Classics simply weren’t fast enough nor impressive enough to stand up in the annals of history. As a serious student of the sport over the past quarter of a century, I can honestly say that the racing community, myself included, have all too often underestimated particular horses and foal crops (while in the moment), and have just as frequently overestimated others. But time reveals all, and only time will tell whether any of this year’s sophomores will be remembered as exceptional. One thing is certain, however, the connections behind each of this year’s Classic winners have indeed withstood the test of time and have amassed records that will, in a grander historical sense, stamp them as not only exceptional, but quite likely, transcendent. And if the passion, commitment and dedication they have poured into the game over the past 25 years is any indication, I think it’s a very good bet that we’ll see all of them back for years to come.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Guest Post: CNN Doesn't Let Horses Get in the Way of Racing Coverage

--Mark Cramer

   On Friday, June 21 at exactly 7:55 p.m. Europe time, CNN's international news report, hosted by Jonathan Mann, announced an item about Queen Elizabeth winning the Ascot Gold Cup with the filly Estimate. It was a rare opportunity, thanks to the Queen herself, for horse racing to get into mainstream news coverage!
   The camera zoomed down upon the Queen's box seats, showing her flashing a radiant smile. We were told that her horse, Estimate, was crossing the finish line in first place. I say "We were told," because the camera did not show us the filly or racetrack itself.
   I am convinced that the attention span of a mass audience would not have been overly challenged by a few seconds of horses galloping magnificently across the finish line. Surely an image of the Thoroughbred in motion would have provided the necessary context for the event.
   There are two possibilities. It could be that the media excludes the actual horse race because program directors believe that the viewers would be uninterested in a Thoroughbred action scene. But it could be the other way around. The general public becomes less and less exposed to the potential thrills of a horse race and therefore less interested, precisely because the media has been blacking out racing scenes. 
   Try doing a media word count and you'll find that the phrase "horse race" is used hundreds of times more for election coverage than it is used for horse racing itself. In fact, the term "horse race journalism" now refers to election coverage rather than... horse race journalism. The metaphor has entirely eclipsed the literal meaning. That's why real horse race journalists were not able to ask the Queen, "How much did you bet on the filly?"
   Consider a recent broadcast of CNN's elegant new program Winning Post, sponsored by Longines. The two-minute 38-second clip, entitled Fashion and Glamour at Royal Ascot consisted of host Francesca Cumani interviewing fashion designer Fitriani Hay about the glamour displayed at the track. They are standing in front of the paddock, but a barrier prevents us from getting more than a partial view of an occasional passing horse in the background (click here).
   For a whole week, I had been counting down to my 2-minutes-38-second-per-week ration of mainstream horse race coverage and this is what I got.
In fairness, previous Winning Post episodes have covered human interest stories about owners, jockeys and trainers as well as features on horses like Frankel, but I have yet to see an episode that shows a horseplayer. In fact, if you watched this program regularly, you'd never know that horse racing is associated with betting.  
   Such glitzy coverage of racing would make the general public believe that getting into a racetrack is at least as daunting as landing a ticket to the inaugural ball, when in fact it costs so much less to attend the races than it does to visit Disneyland or to go to the movies.
   Okay CNN! As a horseplayer I don't mind if you relegate me, the horseplayer, to the status of the Invisible Man. But at least let the TV viewers know that horse racing centers around the exciting poetry of Thoroughbreds in motion.   

Monday, June 17, 2013


Near fatal incident reminds us of a formula that can revitalize racing

by Mark Cramer

On June 11, an "incident" unheard of in the annals of thoroughbred racing history can indirectly serve as a way to introduce a measure that could revitalize horse racing. It happened in what is known in France as "The Event": the daily horserace-lottery called the Quinté (pronounced cantay).

First watch what happened and then we can talk about the concept I am proposing for American racing. No need to understand the French of the race callers. Just look at the images. If you listen carefully you will hear a siren in the background as the horses round the turn. The siren was supposed to be an announcement to the jockeys to STOP THE RACE. But they could not hear it.

The driver of the tractor that should have pulled the starting gate off the track had difficulty with the computer panel (it was a brand new tractor), and was not able to start up the vehicle.

The starting gate remained on the track and this was a two-turn event!

With the gate located just after the turn, the riders could not see it until they were already upon it. No one was right on the track to warn them that a fatal collision could be imminent.

Just before it was too late, one rider, Adrien Fouassier, heard the siren and shouted to the other jockeys. Certainly Fouassier saved them all from a pile-up that would have made Hollywood chase scenes pale in comparison.

Jockey Alain Couétil told the press that they were all lucky. "If the turf had been less yielding and the pace faster, we never would have been able to stop on time."

So what does this have to do with an idea for revitalizing racing in the USA? First of all, this race was being carried live, not only on the cable racing station Equidia, but also on public television. The reason for the live broadcast? It was the Quinté race of the day, mainly an off-track wager that brings extra handle on a daily basis from players who rarely if ever go to a racetrack.

Even though the Nantes race course is a smaller market, there were 9 million Euros (about 13 million dollars) in the Quinté betting pool that day. Needless to say, all wagers were refunded to the players.

To understand the phenomenon, consider that the Paris-Turf publishes a centerfold just for this Quinté race, with vastly expanded past performances that include remarkably candid trainer commentaries, such as, "my horse is not cranked up for this one, and has a better race coming up in two weeks" or "disregard the last race, the mare was in heat".

Since the Quinté functions as a national lottery (you need to pick the first five finishers in order), racing authorities demand transparency in the past performances. Thanks to the Quinté alone, the Paris-Turf pps are found at virtually every newsstand, where you will also find a half dozen other past performance publications that specialize in the Quinté.

Back in the USA, finding a Daily Racing Form has become more challenging than finding Waldo.

In American racing, the bargain with the devil has produced racinos, where the slot machine area is completely isolated from the racing itself. There is no crossover between the mindless gambling at the slot room that feeds the handle, and the mindful gambling engaged in by horseplayer handicappers a few yards away. There is no relationship between slot machines and horse betting. With the same logic, race tracks could have houses of prostitution on the premises.

On the other hand, the Quinté has created a significant crossover. It's still a lottery wager but allows for the intervention of thoughtful handicapping. I do not play the Quinté. Even if it were a 5-horse field, there would be 120 different possible combinations for picking the first five finishers in order. With fields of between 14 and 20 horses, the odds against picking the winning combination are breathtaking. Winning combinations often pay more than 200,000 Euros but consolation payoffs are so feeble that there is no way to scratch out a sustainable bet over the long run.

Intelligent handicapping can help you come close from time to time, and that will seduce players to continue trying. As Yankee announcer Mel Allen used to say: "so near and yet so far!"

One of my racing friends and betting partners, Jean, is a smart handicapper who does well enough in other betting pools. By pooling our resources and combining our handicapping, Jean and I have been running a profit for the past year and a half in another wager called the Pick 5, where you do not need the five finishers in order.

Strangely, he continues to play the Quinté, at a loss, even with occasional good payoffs for picking the top four finishers in any order. I ask him why he persists in playing the Quinté, knowing that he does better in other wagers.

"It's just part of my culture," he says.

The Quinté race is a cultural phenomenon that bridges the gap between lottery bettors and horseplayers. Like the slots at race tracks, it's still a bargain with the devil, but in the end, the Quinté will certainly be more sustainable for the industry, while slot machines at race tracks will eventually and inevitably diminish as casinos arise at non-racetrack venues.

A national racing lottery wager would be good for the USA. But it won't work unless it brings new people into reading past performances, some of whom will eventually cross over into becoming race goers and race players. You'd have a better chance to get such a bet on national TV if it were based on a single race, rather than a pick-4 variety: fewer pps to study and easier to show on national TV. If they broadcast the lottery on TV, why couldn't they show a single horse race?

I once appeared on National Public Radio and was given a chance to explain to lottery players that they would do better to shift their money into a trifecta at the races, because they could actually make an informed choice based on the logic of the past performances. If racing industry leaders were to engage in a smart public relations campaign, we could certainly convince some of the more mindful lottery players that they would have a better chance with a horse race.

The near fatal incident at the Nantes race course reminds us of how many people had a stake in the Quinté "event" of the day. Many of them were folks who would have otherwise bought a few lottery tickets. Followers of this type of daily event do not need a Zenyatta or a Goldikova to play. The event is a mere handicap race, unless a major stakes race like the Arc de Triomphe has at least 14 starters.

Anyone who hangs out at a French OTB (PMU) can see that there has been a significant extension of Quinté wagering into other races on the race cards of the day.

Some bargains with the devil are better than others.

Mark Cramer is a writer and handicapper living in Paris.

A Labor of Love

--Jon Siegel

Maybe it's because my oldest child just graduated high school and is now embarking on her journey to find her path in life, but the saying "find what you love to do, and figure out a way to get paid to do it" is a common statement at my house right now.

With that on my mind, I can't help but realize that is exactly what I have been fortunate enough to do in my life. Born and raised in the thoroughbred industry, some of my first memories are from helping around the farm. Simple jobs like finding lost halters in the fields for 25 cents, cleaning out rain-soaked creep feeders, mucking stalls, picking feet and many more little jobs.

These early days around the farm created a love for thoroughbreds, and that love for the thoroughbred has rewarded me with some of the greatest memories in my life.  Like the time I had a tall, narrow yearling that I was sales prepping for the Keeneland September Sale.  This colt was tough as nails and loved to push your buttons -- I spent hours wrapping his legs and he spent hours finding ways to make my life harder.  One night he even ate the tail off another yearling I was prepping and I swear he was smiling at me when I brought him in the next morning. That yearling would go one to be know as "The Fish" and he brought me to tears when he won the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and was nipped on the wire in the Belmont, nearly becoming a Triple Crown winner. His name was Real Quiet.

Fast forward to 2013 and I still find myself in love with thoroughbreds. Although I am no longer making a living working "hands-on" with them, I continue to work behind the scenes marketing some of the best horses in the world. I remember saying to my wife in 1998 that Real Quiet would be the biggest moment in my career. I'm not sure I can say that anymore halfway through 2013.

Animal Kingdom
Jon Siegel photo
This year we were asked to follow Animal Kingdom on his quest to conquer the Dubai World Cup. Following him for months behind the scenes, we naturally became attached to him.  When you spend that much time with a horse, you learn their personality. Animal Kingdom is one of those horses who knows he is great but is still kind to be around, a quality I admire in horses and people. Standing on the rail taking pictures of him winning the Dubai World Cup, this horse once again brought me to tears.  

I came home from overseas and told my wife I had experienced a new moment that could not be surpassed. Outside of being connected to a Kentucky Derby or Triple Crown winner, it doesn't get any bigger than winning the Dubai World Cup. But one of the beauties of the sport we all love is that great moments don't always have to live in big events. The 7th race at Hollywood Park on Friday June 14, 2013 will be a date that will remind of that for the rest of my life.

Backtracking to Kentucky Derby week 2012, I brought my wife Christine with us to the backside of Churchill Downs to meet a few of the Kentucky Derby contenders. Standing in the shedrow of Bob Baffert's barn petting Bodemeister, I looked over to my right and to see Christine talking with the horse in the next stall over. I told her to be careful. That horse is tough I said, with his ears pinned and acting like he did not like the attention. She asked, "what's this ones name?" That feisty dark bay of course was Paynter and the statement I made about him being tough could not have been more true.

Working with the Zayat family on the Go Bode Go campaign, we became very close to them and their horses, especially Bode and Paynter. When Paynter got sick after the Haskell, we watched with great anxiety for his updates through Ahmed Zayat's Twitter feed along with the rest of the racing world. We worried about that friend we made on the backside of Churchill Downs, and although we knew he was tough, we worried we may never see him again.

Bodemeister and Paynter
Jon Siegel photo
Friday night at our house with my family standing in front of the TV, we were all brought to tears as we watched that tough dark bay with the white star victoriously returned to racing. I looked forward to Paynter's return for so many obvious reasons, but as I looked around that room and saw my family jumping up and down cheering it hit me: My daughter has graduated from high school and will move out sooner than later, my boys are nearing their teen years, and my wife and I are nearing our 20th wedding anniversary, and once again a special horse has us high-fiving each other like we just won lottery. Just one more way this industry continues to pay me for doing something I love. I am so thankful to these magnificent animals we call Thoroughrbeds.  Man I love this sport!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Can Kingdom Conquer?

by Kelsey Riley

On June 18, Animal Kingdom (Leoroidesanimaux {Brz}) will write the next chapter of his illustrious career when he lines up for the G1 Queen Anne S. at Royal Ascot. The plucky chestnut has come a long way since upsetting the 2011 GI Kentucky Derby as a lightly-raced and relatively unknown colt, and his story has been one of the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. Forced to overcome two injuries and lengthy setbacks since wearing the roses, Animal Kingdom came full circle and rewarded the belief and patience of his connections when storming to an authoritative victory in the G1 Dubai World Cup Mar. 30.
    That victory in itself put Animal Kingdom in an elite league, making him just the second Kentucky Derby winner--in addition to Silver Charm--to complete the Derby/Dubai double. Now, the Team Valor, Arrowfield Stud and Darley-owned colt will attempt to stand on his own as the only racehorse in history to win the Kentucky Derby and Dubai World Cup, and also take one of Royal Ascot’s (the world’s most longstanding and prestigious race meeting) coveted prizes. Next Tuesday, Animal Kingdom will become the first Kentucky Derby winner since 1935 Triple Crown winner Omaha (second in the 2 1/2 mile Gold Cup in 1936) to line up at Royal Ascot. He will be the first World Cup winner since Electrocutionist in 2006 (second in the G1 Prince of Wales’s) to compete at the Royal Meeting, and seeks to become just the second World Cup winner to win at Royal Ascot, joining the late great Dubai Millennium, who closed out his career with a victory in the Prince of Wales’s.  
Animal Kingdom

What Animal Kingdom will attempt to accomplish is truly unprecedented, which makes it somewhat difficult to assess what he is up against. The early betting suggests the 5-year-old towers over this field--he was yesterday installed the 8-11 favorite--and with the withdrawal of G1 Lockinge S. scorer Farhh (GB) (Pivotal {GB}) last week, this year’s race appears to be coming up a bit weaker than previous editions. It cannot be forgotten, however, that Ascot--with its undulations and rising finish--is one of the world’s most challenging racecourses, and under these extreme conditions, the opposition cannot be underestimated.
   In comparison to your classic American oval, Ascot Racecourse is about as unusual as they come. Refurbished in 1996, its main body is triangular shaped, and includes different courses for flat and national hunt racing. Flat racing is contested on the Swinley course, with the Queen Anne run over the straight course. The mile straight includes two significant dips before the uphill climb to the finish,

which begins two furlongs out. Adapting to this type of course can be the most challenging task invaders face. Last year, after Australian superstar Black Caviar 
The Ascot straight
scraped home in the G1 Diamond Jubilee, her connections admitted they had likely underestimated the difficulty of the course, and just days ago, South African trainer Mike de Kock withdrew his G2 Godolphin Mile winner Soft Falling Rain from consideration from the Royal Meeting, citing that the 3-year-old had failed to adapt to these conditions since arriving in England from Dubai. Therefore, a mile over the Swinley course would be more challenging than a mile over an American course, which was the key reason given by Animal Kingdom’s connections for selecting the Queen Anne as opposed to the 1 1/4 mile Prince of Wales’s for their stable star. While it is impossible to guess what will materialize on race day, the good news is that, unlike Soft Falling Rain, all reports are that Animal Kingdom has thrived in his work since arriving in England, and he pleased all onlookers with a strong gallop over the Ascot strip May 29. The climb to the finish tends to favor horses who can race handily, and Animal Kingdom has shown that ability in a number of his races, including the World Cup.  
   The Queen Anne has proven year in and year out to be one of the most competitive and prestigious mile turf races on the global calendar, and regularly features some of the world’s best horses. Last year, Frankel turned the race into a procession, dominating the talented Excelebration by 11 lengths in what many consider to be the undefeated champion’s greatest victory. In 2011 it was five-time Group 1 winner and 
Elusive Kate
Ascot specialist Canford Cliffs who got up to defeat defending champion Goldikova. With the withdrawal of Group 1 winners Farhh and Cityscape, this year’s edition undoubtedly lacks the flair of those recent renewals, but there could be some value to
be had, and the 4-year-old filly Elusive Kate (Elusive Quality) looks an attractive proposition at 12-1. Teruya Yoshida’s filly has been the picture of consistency throughout her career, her only off the board efforts coming in her career debut (fourth in 2011 behind eventual multiple stakes winner Falls of Lora) and in the final start of her well-traveled juvenile campaign, when she finished 8th, beaten 5 ¼ lengths, behind Stephanie’s Kitten (Kitten’s Joy) in the GII Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf. Elusive Kate is a two-time Group 1 winner, both at a mile, and she has not been seen since finishing third behind Excelebration and Cityscape in the G1 Queen Elizabeth II S. over this track and trip last year. Next to Animal Kingdom, fitness could be her greatest opposition. Elusive Kate found herself not quite up to the task in her seasonal debut off a similar layoff last year, when she finished second to Giofra--withdrawn from consideration for this race yesterday--in the G1 Falmouth S. at Newmarket. Her lone run over the course has it upsides, however, and she could represent value in a race where the favorite will simply be too short to bet. Yoshida’s Racing Manager Patrick Barbe yesterday expressed confidence in the filly and noted that she is 80% likely to run, with Yoshida traveling from Japan for the race. Gregorian (Ire) (Clodovil {Ire}), around 20-1, put in a very strong race over this course in last year’s G1 St. James’s Palace, and the 4-year-old appears to be coming into his best form now. He comes into this off a victory in the G3 Diomed S. at Epsom Downs May 31, and could pick up a piece of the pie.   
   While Animal Kingdom towers over this field on ratings, the Queen Anne will be an entirely new experience for him, and the breadth of the challenge is not to be taken lightly. Regardless of the outcome, it is a great story for racing, and, win or lose for Animal Kingdom, viewers tuning in from around the world will be treated to history in the making.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Twenty-Somethings Hit the Track in 2013

--Carly Silver
As usual, a good chunk of the Saturday race population at Belmont Park on June 8, 2013, consisted of longtime racing enthusiasts, each toting a Daily Racing Form. On this day, though, many more were new to the racing game, folks who trekked out on a warm afternoon to see the Belmont Stakes be run.

My longtime friend and fellow racing enthusiast, Liz Young, and I were in the former category. She’d picked Orb for the Kentucky Derby and was eager to see the Belmont unfold. She ended up choosing the handsome gray colt Incognito. Me? I’d yet to pick a horse for the big race by the time we arrived, but my eventual choices, Freedom Child and Overanalyze, finished up the track.
To my surprise, there was a seemingly unending supply of twenty-somethings crowded on our train from Penn Station to Belmont. Why were all of these people, likely newbies to racing, heading out to Long Island?

I found myself a bit put off by many attendees’ elegant attire. I hadn't known that fancy dress was recommended, so I came in a three-quarter sleeve T-shirt (which I later exchanged for a simple tee), jeans, and sneakers, figuring that, if I was going to be on my feet all day, I might as well be comfortable. To my surprise, though, the Derby dress rules applied to nearly every other twenty-something I saw at the track. Fascinators and tall hats bedecked many a perfectly coiffed head, while sky-high heels--impractical for crowding around the paddock or climbing staircases to the grandstand, I thought--were scattered throughout the crowd.

Did the races always call for young people to dress to the nines? Not necessarily. I blended in, without even trying, as an average racegoer. Were they hoping to find a race that captured the glamor of the Triple Crown? If so, it’s sad to say that they missed out on that event after the first Saturday in May. Were they there with family to celebrate, or was their trip simply for the beautiful weather and time with friends? I attempted to track down my peers in an attempt to hear their opinions on the race, on Belmont fashion, and the Sport of Kings.

I found John McHale, 18, at a picnic table in the backyard of Belmont Park, sitting with his friends and family. He hails from Rockaway in New York. A longtime racegoer, he was at his first Belmont Stakes, though he visited Belmont Park often since age two. He had chosen Midnight Taboo to win the race.

Alexandra Dumite, 22, was kind enough to chat with me while we were waiting in line together. We exchanged stories about being relatively recent college graduates and trying to find apartment housing in New York. Just last month, Dumite graduated from the University of Richmond. A Milwaukee, Wisconsin, native, she is currently interviewing for jobs in entertainment production. Dumite was at the Belmont with her boyfriend and his family—his uncle is particularly into racing. When I spoke to her at 3 PM, she didn't yet have a Belmont pick. Though she has attended the Preakness before, she was at her third Belmont Stakes. Dumite found the event to have a good mix of people—rich and regular, paupers and the pampered.
As I made my way through the backyard in the afternoon, young people stretched out on blankets, snacked from picnic baskets, and rooted their picks on while watching the races on TV screens. They swarmed around food trucks, gathered in front of the ESPN truck for a sports trivia contest, and queued for overpriced lemonade. They were everywhere--which boded well for racing. In an era in which lesser-known sports have trouble gathering new fans, I was happy to see people my age at the track. They might have been blocking my view of the stretch or blowing what sounded like vuvuzelas far too loudly on the train, but it’s good that they were there. Racing needs new blood.

I found myself drawn to one group of friends clustered on the backstretch. Its members, mostly men, wore creative, horse-shaped balloon hats. A dapper Blake Jones, 22, impressed with his festive attire, looking like a ’20s businessman from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Marcus Klemmer, 24, wasn’t in it all for the race: he confessed that the two biggest draws for him were horses and food trucks, in that order.  When asked what he found most appealing about the event, Adam Weinrib, 22, observed, “It’s the event. It’s the camaraderie.”

Everyone had their own pick for the big race later in the afternoon. Klemmer favored Orb for the Belmont for sentimental reasons. When he was a member of the Syracuse University lacrosse team, Klemmer’s nickname was “Orb” because of the way he ran. Weinrib didn’t have a specific horse he wanted to win—he just favored any runner but Goldencents, as he wasn't a fan of the horse’s part owner, Rick Pitino, the men’s basketball coach for the University of Louisville. It’s good, then, that Goldencents wasn't entered in the race.

As always, it appears that no single person came to the race for the same reason. Admittedly, I only spoke to a portion of the population at Belmont that day, but everyone experienced the Belmont differently. Some came with a group, while others ventured alone. Some came dressed to the nines, ready for their glamor shots, while some--like yours truly--looked like they were headed to the gym. Some came for the horses, some came for the food, and some came for the company. As Joe Palmer would say, This Was Racing.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Was there a bias on Belmont day?

--Brian DiDonato

With a drying out strip on Saturday, many were surely keeping a close eye on how Big Sandy was playing leading up to the Belmont S. Let’s take a closer look at the trip and pace dynamics at play on the dirt throughout the card:

Click race number for chart, race details for video.

Race 1 - 6f Alw/OC - track condition: muddy (sealed) - 29-1 longshot Cay to Pomeroy set a pressured, but only slightly above-average pace from slightly off the rail and repelled several bids, but couldn’t hold off an impressive move from 10-1 Dehere of the Cat. The winner was in the two or three path early and swung far out into the center of the track in the stretch. Odds-on favorite Master Cip pressed the pace from the four path, but settled for third.

Race 2 - 7f Alw/OC - track condition: muddy (sealed) - Odea, a 7 3/4-length allowance romper in the mud two back, was bet down to 5-2 favoritism. From the inside, he set an above-average opening quarter of :22.41 (5 points above par on Moss Pace Figure scale), but slowed things down to :23.30 for his second quarter. Despite the breather, Odea finished last. Winner Integrity (3-1) pressed the pace in third from the three path, while Slan Abhaile chased from second and the two path and checked in third. Runner-up Bad Hombre was in the two or three path in midpack early and came widest of all in the lane.

Race 3 - 7f NYB MSW (off the turf) - track condition: muddy (sealed) - 12-1 Ah Gaga, who had never set the pace in any of her previous eight starts, was hard-ridden from the gate by new rider Mike Smith (eventual Belmont winner) to grab early command. She set a quick pace (:22.67 opening quarter--8 Moss points above par) from the two or three path and kept finding more to hold on. Perhaps trying to bear in slightly in the lane, Smith gave Ah Gaga plenty of left-handed encouragement and she drifted out, possibly herding some of her pursuers. Runner-up Concealed (5-1) stalked close while wide; third-place finisher Mononoke (13-1) pressed Ah Gaga from her inside.

Race 4 - 1m NYB MSW - track condition: muddy (sealed) - Second timer El Genio, who opened short and remained well below his 12-1 morning line at 5-1 at the off while adding blinkers and Lasix off a dull debut, set an above-average pace (+9 opening quarter, +5 half) along the rail. Can’t Catch Me Now (15-1), who had rarely shown speed in 12 previous efforts, pressed the pace while outside of El Genio, and ultimately wore him down in the lane to prevail by a half-length. Bernardo, who was also very well-bet down to 4-1 (15-1 morning line--scratching of 4-5 ML favorite obviously had impact on odds) tracked from the two path in midpack and angled out to finish a close third.

Race 5 - 1m MSW - track condition: muddy (sealed) - Tenth-time starter Moreno, who had run one solid race two back in an otherwise unspectacular career, was turning back 3/16 of a mile, switching back to dirt and adding blinkers. Given an 8-1 chance (15-1 ml) in a race that appeared on paper to have other speed, the Eric Guillot trainee (who broke through the gate before the start) controlled the pace throughout through an easy opening quarter and quick second quarter and reported home an easy 6 1/4-length winner. It was a merry-go-round affair where the top three traveled that way from start to finish.

Race 6 - Easy Goer S., 1 1/16m - track condition: good - Chalk Power Broker, a GISW at this distance who was coming off a sloppy-track allowance win at the trip, set an average pace with company while kept in the two path before drawing off to a 3 3/4-length tally. Runner-up Micromanage tracked from the pocket, was shuffled back while waiting for room on the turn, but came with a nice run up the inside to get second. Irsaal, midpack early and always wide, challenged Power Broker on the home turn, but was quickly denied by the winner and had to settle for third.

Race 7 - GII True North H., 6f - track condition: good (borderline fast) - Fast Bullet, part of a 4-5 Zayat entry, set an easy pace (:22.48 opening quarter 10 points below par, :45.16 half 7 points below par on Moss scale) from the two path and reported home an easy 2 1/2-length winner. He earned a 110 Beyer Speed Figure, a new career top by one point. Entry-mate Justin Phillip saved ground throughout from just off the pace and proved second best. The rest of the short field didn’t do much shifting from start to finish.

Race 9 - GII Woody Stephen S., 7f - track condition: fast - The freaky fast Let Em Shine did what was expected--he set an extremely quick pace (:21.99 opening quarter was 15 points above par, :44.73 half was 10 points above par--he was running 12 lengths faster than par at 7f for the opening quarter). He was able to save ground despite his far-outside draw, and understandably succumbed to his early exertions very late to be beaten only a length. Enjoying his second meltdown pace set-up in a row, winner Forty Tales was always very wide and came from second-to-last early. Runner-up Declan’s Warrior saved ground off the pace and tipped out, but was kept in slightly by the winner and had to angle back in between horses. Clearly Now, always fairly close and wide, didn’t do himself any favors by failing to switch leads and checked in third.

Race 11 - GI Belmont S., 1 1/2m - track condition: fast - I was among those who predicted a pace more like the Derby than the Preakness, and while that was the case, the actual result wasn’t. Palace Malice and Oxbow--who were part of that insane collapse in the Derby--were both wide here and just off crazy opening splits of :23.11 and :46.66 set by no-hoper Frac Daddy and somewhat surprisingly underbet Freedom Child. The half was 20 points above par pace figure-wise (compared to a similar +19 Derby half set by Palace Malice). While the actual pacesetters eventually dropped out to finish last and second-to-last, Oxbow and Palace Malice inherited the lead midway on the turn and were never seriously threatened by the closers, with Palace Malice--who did a little less of the dirty work--leading home the staggerfest. Favored Orb made an eye-catching move from well out of it, but flattened to be third. 

So was the track speed biased? It certainly appears that way--horses who were ridden aggressively early fared well and outran their odds on the early part of the card. The outside also seemed like the place to be (jockeys were pretty willing to lose ground and stay off the rail). Not much can be gleaned from the first two stakes that were run, as both were won by short-priced favorites who enjoyed fairly easy leads (especially Fast Bullet).

Things get much less straightforward for the Woody Stephens and Belmont, however. Absolutely extreme early paces in both those races presumably counteracted the bias (assuming it was still present), so it’s hard to really know how to treat performers from those two races.

Let Em Shine will obviously garner plenty of respect off of his brave performance in the Woody Stephens, and the pace was so off-the-charts that positive treatment would be justified despite how the track was playing--especially considering that he was down on the inside. Still, Let Em Shine no longer looks impervious to pace pressers, and I’d be willing to bet against him going forward with other quality speed signed on--especially at seven panels. I’ll also be very much against winner Forty Tales next time--his two stakes victories and his stakes runner-up finish have all come with extremely advantageous set-ups. Even if he ran against the grain Saturday, he made his move on what was likely the best part of the track.

I don’t want anybody coming out of the Belmont, frankly. The performances by Palace Malice and Oxbow were both impressive from a pace perspective and bias-aided at the same time, I wonder how each of them will come out of the Triple Crown. They were both up on two of the most extreme paces you’ll see and we’ve seen time and time again how the rigors of the Triple Crown impact its contestants. Orb has been exposed twice now, but he will always carry the “Derby winner” banner, which guarantees he will be overbet for the rest of his career.

Members of this sophomore crop seem destined to take turns beating each other for the rest of the year, and I look forward to some nice wagering opportunities in races like the Haskell and Travers. Micromanage interests me off his runner-up finish in the Easy Goer, and Normandy Invasion (who moved way too soon in the Derby) and Itsmyluckyday will have benefitted from freshenings.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Belmont Stakes Analysis

--Brian DiDonato

1. Frac Daddy - Pro: These connections did dead-heat for the win in last year’s Travers with impossible-to-have Golden Ticket, and conditioner Ken McPeek did upset the 2002 renewal of this with 70-1 shot Sarava. Con: Where are his good races? Hasn’t come close to running back to maiden romp in November and his second in the Arkansas Derby was a total clunk up job. Verdict: Not seeing it.

2. Freedom Child - Pro: His break-out romp in the Peter Pan last time was very impressive and he may be peaking at the right time. Has the ever-dangerous fresh face angle on his side and has looked good in the mornings. Con: The Peter Pan was run over a sloppy track, and while similar conditions are very possible Saturday, it’s probably best to look at that performance with at least a little skepticism. Pace may pose a serious problem, as on pace figures he appears likely to get himself in trouble early. Verdict: Wouldn’t toss completely, as he clearly has some talent and upside, but will only use defensively as the pace appears like it might do him in.

3. Overanalyze - Pro: Does have two graded stakes wins at 1 1/8 miles, and one race that’s close to fast enough. He may have had the sneakiest trip of anyone in the Derby while finishing 11th--was shuffled back to last on the far turn, but made a nice run in the lane despite additional traffic trouble. Con: His pedigree certainly doesn’t scream 1 1/2 miles, but another son of Dixie Union (who I completely tossed, partially because of his pedigree) did win the Belmont last year. Verdict: Have never been a fan of his at all and don’t think he’s anything special, but he fits the profile of a horse who could make some noise here and I’m willing to excuse his very obvious pedigree concerns because of past success at nine furlongs--especially at double-digit odds.

4. Giant Finish - Pro: He’d be a nice Big Apple Triple candidate. Con: He already missed the first leg of the Big Apple Triple last Saturday. Verdict: No.

5. Orb - Pro: The positives are pretty obvious for him--he should get pace again, he might get slop again, and he figures to love the distance. Con: The jury was still out on him a bit going into the Derby, and while most of us (myself included) were willing to buy the hype after that race, it seems we were much too forgiving of the dream pace set-up he and the other on-the-board finishers enjoyed. Now can you really take him as a favorite off that mediocre (at best) effort in the Preakness? Verdict: Think he’ll be an underlay, but he’s going to get very similar circumstances to those that helped him garner all the hype. Certainly can’t toss.

6. Incognito - Pro: Obviously bred for this, being by A.P. Indy (Belmont winner and sire of a Belmont winner) out of Octave, winner of the local GI CCA Oaks at 10 furlongs. Overcame a world of trouble to beat older (weak) optional claiming foes two back, and was simply never put in a position to win last time in the Peter Pan. It was really a perplexing ride--he was dragged far out of it and never allowed to run until it was much too late. The grey did fly home, however, and galloped out in front. A rider change can’t hurt. Con: Somewhat immature and may find his own trouble, plus he does need to run much faster. Morning impressions have been a bit negative. Verdict: I’m playing him--he’s super dirtied up trip wise and has the best pedigree in the race for 1 1/2 miles.

7. Oxbow - Pro: He finally put it all together last time, and earned a 106 Beyer Speed Figure vs. Orb’s 104 for the Derby. His stout pedigree is well-documented. Con: I know it’s been fashionable to call the pace Oxbow set in the Preakness “fair” rather than “slow,” but I’m not so sure--the Moss Pace Figures have the opening half five points below par. If that’s fair, it’s definitely on the slow side of fair. And isn’t the pace guaranteed to be faster this time? Can’t see Stevens taking back considering how well the horse ran when sent. Verdict: A classic “last time was the time” horse.

8. Midnight Taboo - Pro: Probably has upside considering how lightly raced he is. Dam is a half to the dam of Belmont winner and Horse of the Year Point Given. Con: May not have the foundation to go 12 furlongs just yet. Did have some traffic trouble when second in allowance company last time, but didn’t really seem to have the punch to get himself out of trouble. Verdict: Connections giving off a vibe that he’s running just to run, so hard to have much faith in him.

9. Revolutionary - Pro: Hasn’t been off the board in his seven-race career, and handled the slop fine last time in the Derby. His sire (War Pass) wouldn’t have gotten the Belmont distance, but he’s out of an Alabama winner and gets plenty of stamina from his dam’s side. Con: Was clearly third best in the Derby--covered less ground than both Orb and Golden Soul, and was simply out-kicked by a 34-1 shot. Hasn’t looked spectacular in the mornings. Verdict: Called him “the most likely winner” of the Derby and he ran ok, but now I’m tossing. Go figure.

10. Will Take Charge - Pro: Everyone saw the trouble he had in the Derby--was moving right with Orb before getting stopped by Verrazano. Is a very large horse with a grinding style that is conducive to Big Sandy and this race. Going third off the lay-off now after being trained up to the Derby. Con: Never did any running in the Preakness--just never really seemed to get going while well off the pace. Verdict: Using him again--this might be the race where he shows up at a huge price.

11. Vyjack - Pro: He’s a really nice horse up to about 1 1/16 miles. Was very wide in the Derby. Con: Has given zero indication that he wants to go this far. Verdict: Probably would win the Woody Stephens, but this is five furlongs farther.

12. Palace Malice - Pro: Obviously, you can’t take his Derby at face value considering the insane pace he set. Con: While he’s bred to run long, has always struck me as a horse with serious distance limitations. Everyone’s acting like he’s going to turn into Silky Sullivan losing the blinkers, but I’ll be surprised if he’s not again close to the pace, which figures to be legitimate. Verdict: He’ll ultimately prove better going much shorter than this--possibly on grass.

13. Unlimited Budget - Pro: Has never run a bad race, and her only loss last time in the Oaks came when she was close to a quick pace. Con: Still, runner-up Beholder was closer to that pace, and Unlimited Budget just didn’t show much kick. Not sure how much stamina she gets from the bottom half of her pedigree. Don’t buy the notion that the colts and fillies this year are evenly matched. Verdict: Nice horse, but probably the underlay of the race on the morning line at 8-1. Not using.

14. Golden Soul - Pro: Gave him a bit of a chance to clunk up and hit the board in the Derby, and he did. Should appreciate even more distance and might get identical circumstances here. Con: Did have a lot go his way in the Derby, and hard to take him at a much shorter price than he was last time. Verdict: No real reason he can’t hit the board again as this may have the makings of a Derby repeat, but expect him to find at least one better.

How I’m playing: Would like to be alive to as many as possible in here as this has chaos race written all over it. In the actual race, I’ll bet Incognito to win at what figures to be 20-1+. Will also play an exacta box of Incognito, Overanalyze and Will Take Charge. Will probably work in Orb and Golden Soul as well, but the Belmont’s a race to swing for the fences in, so I’ll be looking for a nice $800+ pay-out for every $2.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

A Summer of Thoroughbreds... Colby's Story

I wish the month of May was 57 days long. There are not enough hours in the day to attend all the horse shows, races, and events that I want to see each year. On Memorial Day weekend, I visited Helping Hearts Equine Rescue in Perrineville, NJ and took some photos of the rescue's newest intake, an off-the-track Thoroughbred named Colby.

With a quick glance, you might guess that Colby is older than he really is. Although he is turning 4 in mid-June, his thin frame and the long guard hairs in his coat give him the look of a horse many times his actual age. Under his patchy coat lies a case of rainrot. His left knee is swollen, and he's recovering from a whopping hoof abscess.
As a newcomer to the rescue, Colby will spend 30 days in a quarantine stall and paddock. While he acclimates to the farm, his treatments and medical evaluations will begin. He will be evaluated by a veterinarian, dewormed, his rainrot will be treated, and he will be put into a specialized feeding program.

After quarantine ends, Colby will meet his fellow rescues, and spend time grazing, playing, and de-stressing in the farm's large pastures. When he's ready, his training evaluations will begin, and he will prepare to become an adoptable horse.
 Colby's body tells the story of a difficult winter, but the sparkle in his eye and his baby-faced expression tell the story of his bright future. In the capable hands of Lisa Post and the rest of the Helping Hearts team, Colby will receive the rehabilitation and training that he needs to start his new life.

If you're interested in donating to the rescue for Colby's care, you can send a Paypal donation to, or visit the HHER website for other donation options. HHER is a 501(c)(3) charity, and horses like Colby are nursed back to health through the generosity of donations and the commitment of dedicated volunteers.

Please check back for new photos and updates about Colby, as well as other Thoroughbreds I meet this summer.

- Sarah Andrew