Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Second Chances...

-Steve Sherack

While Arnold Zetcher’s Spring Moon (f, 2, Zensational) stamped herself as an exciting prospect for the upcoming juvenile stakes races courtesy her powerful four-length debut win at Del Mar July 21 (video), several of the also-rans from that salty heat have plenty of potential as well.

Assigned the dreaded one hole, West Point firster Tacit Approval (Tapit) ran a good one to hold the second slot after chasing the winner throughout. Hustled by Victor Espinoza to keep up in second through an opening quarter in :22.89, the 5-1 chance was guided to the outside as she took a run at the leader on the turn for home, and while proving no match, Tacit Approval stayed on gamely to hold her position by a half-length despite switching to her left lead down the lane. Produced by the talented racemare Punch Appeal (Successful Appeal)--heroine of the Delta Princess S. and Pocahontas S.--the bay brought $320,000 at the Barretts March Sale. Tacit Approval is trained by Craig Dollase.

The well-bred Fascinating (Smart Strike), a $1.3-million KEESEP yearling purchase, also showed plenty of promise while finishing a close third in her unveiling. Sent off at 7-2, the half-sister to GI Arkansas Derby hero and GI Kentucky Derby/GI Preakness S. runner-up Bodemeister (Empire Maker) broke well from her outside draw and chased from third. Sent three-wide into the stretch, Fascinating was re-guided to the inside of Tacit Approval and ran on well to narrowly outkick 6-5 chalk Southern Sunshine (High Cotton) for show honors. The Bruce Lunsford and Hill ‘n’ Dale colorbearer is trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert.

Richard Pell’s Southern Sunshine, meanwhile, should certainly benefit with that run under her belt. Conditioned by defending Del Mar leading trainer Peter Miller, the $340,000 OBSMAR graduate was bumped hard at the break and recovered nicely to settle in sixth. The half-sister to Den’s Legacy (Medaglia d’Oro), GSW & GISP, $405,600, began to make her move from the back as they straightened for home. With Joe Talamo aboard, Southern Sunshine swung wide into the stretch, and finished with interest to come within 4 3/4 lengths of the victress.

Satirical (Distorted Humor), produced by a half-sister to champion Funny Cide, was a late scratch after running off during the post parade. The $420,000 KEESEP yearling purchase is trained by Richard Mandella.

The final time for the 5 1/2-furlong contest over the Polytrack was 1:04.31. Spring Moon, also trained by Baffert, earned a 70 Beyer Speed Figure for the victory. She returned a generous $13.80 to win.

Follow Steve on Twitter @SteveSherackTDN

Monday, July 22, 2013

Guest Blog: Natural EPO for your Horses

by Mark Cramer
Let’s connect the dots between the results of the 2013 Tour de France and getting the maximum performance from a race horse. One secret might be uncovered if we explore the seemingly amazing second place finish in the Tour de France of the 23-year-old Colombian rider, Nairo Quintana.

Though beaten for the yellow jersey by the experienced favorite, Christopher Froome, Quintana won stage 20 in the Alps, won the King of the Mountain award for the best climber, won the white jersey for the best young rider and won his place on the podium, all this in his debut Tour de France.

Nairo Quintana               movistar.com photo
Quintana does not look physically endowed for cycling. Most Tour riders are tall, with long legs. Quintana is 5 ft 5 in. To compensate, he bypassed the European prep races and stayed in his native Colombia, working out in his home region, where the altitude varies between 9,000 and 10,000 feet above sea level.   

“Training at such high altitudes encourages the body to create more oxygen-carrying red blood cells — and that gives him a natural “advantage” over other riders,” according to an AP article that was picked up in newspapers around the world. The Colombian said he was “very thankful” to all those in cycling who have fought doping. His high altitude training produces the same effect as the banned EPOs, but it’s entirely natural.

Research on high altitude training for race horses has mixed messages, but an experiment in 2004 with a training track in the Alps produced several over-achieving winners when horses descended and raced at low altitude. If they remained long enough at the lower altitude, their performance reverted back to the usual, so the idea is to keep a horse in training at the high attitude and only ship to sea level just before race day. Most humans and horses would need time to adjust to the thin air, so high altitude training should, at first, be lighter than what it would be at sea level.

Going to these new training heights could be complicated. The track at Ruidoso seems like a good candidate, at nearly 7,000 feet above sea level. Ruidoso is a 750 mile ship to Sam Houston Race Park at sea level, and 550 miles to either Lone Star Park or Remington Park.

The idea first came to me by chance in the early 2000s when I came down from my home at 12,000 feet above sea level in Bolivia to attend the Claiming Crown at Canterbury Park.

I changed planes in Miami. Once off the plane, I began behaving strangely. I volunteered to lift people’s heavy suitcases off the carrousel. I climbed stairs instead of taking the escalator. I looked like the OJ Simpson Hertz airport commercial.

Other behavior changes crept into my life. At Canterbury Park I said “no thanks” to a ride into Shakopee and walked instead.  Anything within my range of sight was redefined as “within walking distance”.

I was writing the “barn notes” for the track website, watching workouts and interviewing trainers, jockeys and grooms. One particular horse on the program looked intriguing. In the past performances he was outclassed. He was shipping in from Arapahoe Park, at above 5,000 feet.

Two days earlier, I’d seen a longshot make it to the Canterbury winners circle after having shipped from Arapahoe.  

I reached the trainer on his cell phone. He told me he was rolling through Iowa.

“You timed your trip at the last minute,” I said. “Are you trying to make the most of the high altitude training?”

“Damn right I am,” he said.

His horse finished fourth in the superfecta at huge odds, and all you had to do was box him with the three favorites in order to collect.

Back to La Paz, Bolivia, I began my own training, first walking, then jogging, and finally, months later, running on a track with a view of luminous glaciers. My biology had adapted to the altitude. I would run up to 10 kilometers in La Paz and hike in the mountains at 17,000 feet.

With no racing in Bolivia, I took a flight to neighboring Chile, on the Pacific coast, to play the horses. I squeezed my running shoes in my backpack. Once checked into a hotel, I went for what I thought would be a brief jog along the beach. I ran, I ran some more, and I continued running. My endurance seemed as infinite as the Chilean desert, where it hasn’t rained in 200 years.  

I lack the expertise to comment on attempts to simulate high altitude horse training, such as Simulated Altitude Training (SAT) or Intermittant Hypoxic Training (IHT). Nor can I derive any firm conclusions from reading research abstracts, such as “Hematological changes and athletic performance in horses in response to high altitude (3,800 meters),” American Journal of Physiology –Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology (Wickler & Anderson, 2000), which examined the performance of four Arabian horses, one quarter horse and one Shetland pony.

Thinking without nuance, I can see some logic. The higher the altitude, the less oxygen you inhale per breath. EPO (erythropoietin) is supposed to boost the number of oxygen-carrying red blood cells, thereby increasing aerobic capacity (VO2 Max) and endurance. The natural EPO is the body’s gradual compensation for the lack of oxygen intake at high altitude.

Mountain training certainly worked for Nairo Quintana, who used to bicycle 10 miles to a rural school as a teenager. My old samples of Arapahoe shippers were far too small to be empirically valid. More recently, though, a skillful horseplayer friend provided me with some new evidence. “The Arapahoe Arabian shippers to the Northern California fairs has been a great angle for the past couple of years,” he said. It’s a 1,200-mile trip from Arapahoe to the California fairs.

Friday, July 19, 2013

NY Watch List

TDN’s Racing Editor and handicapper Steve Sherack reveals his latest list of horses-to-watch on the NYRA circuit. Follow Steve on Twitter @SteveSherackTDN

ANTONE SUAVEY: Finally broke through with a maiden win at ninth asking, and following a troubled start at $20k, outran his 19-1 odds with a very respectable fourth-place finish at $16k on quick notice. Hard to dismiss at a price versus a similar bunch of grass sprinters.

BALANCE THE BOOKS: Flashed plenty of potential on the grass as a juvenile--including a strong third in the GI Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Santa Anita--and just never looked comfortable in a pair of Triple Crown preps on the Poly earlier this spring. Got back on track on the lawn with a rallying third after being compromised by a slow early pace in the Solar Splendor S. at Belmont July 13. Loves the grass course at the Spa (won the GII With Anticipation S. as a maiden last term); GII National Museum of Racing Hall Of Fame S. Aug. 9 seems like a perfect fit.

BILL OF RIGHTS: Claimed by Steve Asmussen for $20k off Eoin Harty back in April, the full brother to Colonel John never fired in a $30k maiden claimer after a stumbling beginning in his first attempt for his new connections at Churchill June 16. Returned to $20k, the bay exploded with second-time Lasix, running away to an impressive front-running tally over the Belmont grass July 13, good for a career high 70 Beyer. Can handle a bump up the ladder for sharp barn.

MAGNIFICENT SHIRL: Continues to pile up excuses in each of her three starts since transferring to the Michelle Nihei barn. Up against it while trailing a field of six in the seven-furlong Diamondrella S. through easy fractions of :23.64 and :46.88, and veered in sharply once finally uncorking in the stretch. Ran much better than that fourth-place finish looks on paper.

MENTOR CANE: A debut second behind the talented Flashback (Tapit) at Hollywood in December, the son of Mizzen Mast fired fresh off the bench with a visually impressive five-length graduation at Belmont July 6, good for a 97 Beyer. Geared down late after flashing :44.66 speed to boot; very promising sophomore for the relocated Shirreffs barn.

SHARPANDWITTY: New York-bred needed 11 tries to exit the maiden ranks, but ran a big one against open company in her first attempt against winners after getting bumped at the break. Did all of the heavy lifting on the front end with company that day, and reported home a clear-cut second at 10-1. Has longshot appeal for low-profile connections.

SUPREME COMMANDER: Made a solid middle-move from the back of the pack while racing very wide in his unveiling behind the impressive Touchofstarquality at Belmont July 6. Son of the lawnmower Perfect Sting should move forward nicely with that well-beaten fourth-place finish under his belt for the very patient John Shirreffs.

YOU SO SMART: Not exactly Rosie Napravnik’s shining moment aboard this New York-bred last time. Making her grass/route debuts and receiving first-time Lasix for the dangerous Maker barn, the daughter of Jade Hunter was bumped at the break, and was hard-held in fifth through a very easy half mile in :50.96. The 8-1 shot remained all dressed up with nowhere to run throughout the stretch until finally finding some room late to finish fifth, beaten only 1 3/4 lengths. Will be very tough with a clean trip next time.

Click here to see who made the July 1 NY Watch List.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Guest Post: Trainer and Owners on Strike: A True Story

by Mark Cramer  
I suppose that in a country where employees engage in boss-napping (taking CEOs hostage in order to negotiate compensation for mass layoffs), where PTA members hide immigrant children who are threatened with deportation, and where in Operation Snail angry interest groups slow down traffic to make a point, it's not too much of a longshot to expect some sort bizarre protest to erupt at a French racetrack.

The eruption occurred July 4 at Dax, a small track in southwest France. At least six trainers who prolifically enter horses in low-level races in Paris and at rural tracks across the country decided to scratch a total of 35 horses from the Dax card. One of the rebellious trainers, Cedric Boutin, told the Parisien newspaper that, "Three of my horses came down with a fever just before getting on the road to Dax, and the other nine have upcoming races elsewhere."

Other trainers scratched "sans motif" (without a stated reason), which is permitted. If these trainers had expressed outright that they were scratching to protest, it would have meant fines of as much as the winning purse money.

For the past two years, France Galop has been adding restrictions on the subsidies paid to trainers for shipping horses. This began with a hike in the Value Added Tax on horse transactions. It was followed by a cap in the amount of shipping subsidy that any one horse can receive during a calendar year. Evidently, some of this belt-tightening is the result of guidelines from the European Commission.

In French racing, horses are not stabled at the track and most racing meets do not run day after day, so vanning is the primary way to get a horse to the track on race day. The subsidizing of shipping for lower class horses has meant a renaissance of racing in smaller markets, and this in turn has led to a significant expansion in betting handle. The cost of shipping falls heaviest on the small owners who race more frequently for lower purses.

On July 4 at Dax, the effects of the trainer-owner protest rippled across the country. An example would be the second race, with 14 originally entered, with a featured Multi wager. In order to card a Multi bet, where the player must pick the top four finishers in any order, you need at least 14 horses in the field. For €3 you can play a Multi with 4, 5, 6 or 7 horses. If you use 7 horses, for example, you receive 1/35 of the payout. With 14 runners, if you can get a longshot to finish fourth (or better), the payout can be generous. Hence, this is an extremely popular bet. But 8 of the 14 horses declared as late scratches, which meant that the Multi had to be cancelled. This meant an enormous amount of refunded tickets for those off-track bettors who played the Multi before the scratches, and a general loss of interest in other wagers on the race because of the small field.

According to the president of the Dax Racing Association, Jean-Louis Gayan Sourgen, this strike by the Association of Trainers and Owners cost the track €300,000, not a small sum considering Dax has only 15 racing days in 2013.

One trainer told me, "As for the transport subsidies, yes, I'm concerned about France Galop chipping away at them, because it's a marketing card that is useful in attracting owners, especially from England, where they end up paying exorbitant transport fees. I didn't know about the strike in Dax until it was happening, but I have to say hats-off to the trainers who actually cooperated to do it. There is an increasing frustration among smaller trainers (or big trainers with lots of small owners, like Boutin) that France Galop really doesn't have any use for anyone other than the Aga Khan and the Wertheimer brothers. Cutting the transport allocation the same time as the value-added tax went up is a blow toward keeping small owners in the game.

"Already two years ago, they eliminated any transport reimbursement for a horse that earned prize money of more than €6,000 in the day, and now that's been lowered to €5,000, too). I disagree that there are only 420 horses that have exceeded the proposed annual cap of €2,500 in transport subsidies. I'm sure horses at Cedric Boutin's yard are over the top on that limit."

From a bettor's point of view, the idea of playing dozens of different smaller tracks with large fields is seductive and enriching, at least in spirit.

France Galop responded with a communiqu that referred to "grave consequences", not without ambiguity, since these consequences to players, the track operators and the owners, trainers and jockeys of the scratched horses could refer simply to the aggravation and the money lost, rather than to any future sanctions.

Will the trainers and owners involved in the flash scratch strike be punished in some way? There have been no charges against boss-nappers, nor any punishment for parents who have hidden immigrant children in their homes to stop deportations. Farmers, truckers and students who have engaged in "operation snail" protests have never been pursued by the law.

So, as an investigation proceeds, it is unlikely that France Galop will apply any sanctions. "If they try to unblock this situation with sanctions," according to the Paris-Turf, "it would be like adding oil to a fire that is already impassioned--it seems time to sit around a table and have a discussion."

Monday, July 8, 2013

Salty Juvenile Maiden Loaded With Potential

-Steve Sherack

While Stop Smiling (f, 2, It’s No Joke)--a half-sister to MGISW Weemissfrankie (Sunriver)--stamped herself as one to watch with an impressive debut victory (video) for Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer on the Hollywood Gold Cup undercard (good for a 73 Beyer), several also-rans in that five-furlong contest should be kept on the radar screen as well.

Considering the deep field that day, it was quite surprising to see the runner-up, a first-time starter from the low-profile Art Sherman barn, take as much money as she did to go off as the 7-2 second choice. They knew, apparently, and Abide in Me (Tiz Wonderful), a $50k OBSAPR purchase, ran to the money and lived up to her morning works with a strong effort to finish 1 1/2 lengths adrift the victress after receiving a perfect stalking trip.

The third-place finisher, L T Reckless (Henny Hughes), also put on a pretty good showing. Sent off at 10-1, the $50k KEESEP yearling broke like a shot from post eight, zipped through fractions of :22.24 and :45.61, and just got a little bit leg weary late to get tagged for second by a neck. She is trained by Doug O’Neill.

Secret Compass (Discreet Cat), a $425k OBSMAR graduate, was favored at 9-5 from the mighty Bob Baffert barn after firing a four-furlong bullet in :47 1/5 at Santa Anita June 30. Outsprinted early, the Westrock Stables colorbearer had plenty to do as they entered the far turn, and really started to figure it out in deep stretch to finish a very promising fourth, beaten only 2 1/4 lengths.

Savings Account (Medaglia d’Oro), trained by Tom Proctor, also ran like a horse that should move forward with a race under her belt. The $310k KEESEP acquisition broke inward into a rival at the start, and was also checked slightly shortly thereafter. She saved ground throughout near the back of the pack, and showed mild late interest to report home a respectable fifth, beaten 3 1/2 lengths. Savings Account is the second foal from the stakes-winning and graded stakes placed Unbridled’s Song mare Wild Hoots.

Trainer Peter Miller is always dangerous with his youngsters, and he extended to $280k to land Spy Girl (Discreet Cat) on behalf of Richard Pell at this year’s OBSAPR sale. The bay took good money at 7-2--worked a bullet five furlongs in :59 2/5 at BHP June 28--and pressed the early leader from second for most of the way before tiring in the stretch to finish sixth. Expecting a much better effort from that speedy filly as well next time.

With the prestigious Del Mar meeting right around the corner, it should be fun to see how this group stacks up as the waters get deeper.

Monday, July 1, 2013

NY Watch List

TDN’s Racing Editor and handicapper Steve Sherack reveals his first horses-to-watch list for the upcoming action at Belmont and Saratoga this summer.

BOURBON TWIST: Visually impressive debut winner at Saratoga last summer has disappointed in a pair of paceless races since returning from the shelf in April, including a May 19 effort over a saturated Belmont turf course. New York-bred from the Chad Brown barn can get back on track with the proper set-up.

CAPO BASTONE: Unlike Pletcher stablemate Forty Tales, he was unable to overcome the speed-favoring strip on the GI Belmont S. undercard in the GII Woody Stephens S. Training well for a switch to grass--4f in :49.21 BEL (IT) June 23 and 4f in :49.20 BEL (IT) June 30--and certainly has the pedigree/proper running style [Street Boss half-brother to GIII Regret S. runner-up C J’s Leelee (Mizzen Mast)] to take to the green stuff. Best two races have come over the Del Mar Polytrack and Churchill main track, which both play kindly to grass types.

CAPTAIN GAUGHEN: His overall record isn’t pretty, but this son of Disco Rico has really stepped up his game since kicking off his sophomore campaign with a runaway maiden win at eighth asking against older horses May 24. Left himself a little bit too much to do after racing in 12th for most of the way in the New York Stallion Spectacular Bid S. June 30, and held his own with a strong second-place finish behind the back-classy West Hills Giant. Never been better.

FOREVER FOR ALWAYS: Frost Giant filly took a major step forward with a switch to grass to outrun her 19-1 odds with a solid third-place finish at the Big A Apr. 5. Can fire fresh off the bench versus state-breds for low-profile outfit.

GO ON MURT (IRE): Euro-import ran a big fifth after racing a bit headstrong early and enduring a wide trip in a key heat while making his U.S. bow at Belmont June 2, then flashed good speed and stayed on stubbornly in the stretch when just tagged for second on the turn back to seven furlongs June 27. Third try will be the charm versus a similar bunch of $35k beatens.

IRISH WHISPER: New York-bred looked like a future stakes horse while beating up on a big field in her unveiling at Belmont May 5, then had plenty of excuses (lunged at break/wide trip) when a well-beaten sixth after making a solid middle-move in her first attempt versus winners as the heavy favorite June 12. Langfuhr filly deserves another chance.

RED SUPREME: Made up some nice ground after getting a bit roughed up at the start in his grassy unveiling at Gulfstream for Tom Bush to finish a quietly good fourth at 63-1, then switched to the Mike Miceli barn to place a rallying fourth after receiving somewhat of a questionable ride most recently May 4. Waiting patiently for his return.

SUNLOVER: Needed six tries to exit the maiden ranks last term, but really turned it on nicely late in the year, capped by a solid third-place finish at 30-1 in the Super Mario S. at Belmont Nov. 23. Transferred to trainer Eddie Kenneally for his sophomore season, the GoldMark colorbearer never got a chance to run while a nightmare fifth--beaten only two lengths--going six furlongs on the Belmont lawn June 23. Should take a nice step forward with that one under his belt.

TOWN EXTENSION: Fipke homebred showed some promise at two, but has failed to take the next step forward with a pair of disappointing efforts over wet tracks this term. A switch to grass may be all that this son of Speightstown from the extended family of Warning Zone and We Can Seek (Chi) needs to finally put it all together.

YOUR LION EYES: From the dangerous Michael Mareina barn, this Lion Heart filly flashed some potential while making her debut in a grassy $25k maiden claimer. Last of 12 after missing the break, the 4-year-old came alive in the stretch to report home an educational sixth, beaten only 4 3/4 lengths. Looking good.