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Monday, February 9, 2015

More horse racing rivalries = more interest

On February 7, 2015 we were treated to what was called "The Rematch" between California Chrome and Shared Belief in the San Pasqual Stakes at Santa Anita.  On a cloudy and rainy day, over 21,000 fans showed up and they were not disappointed as these two hooked up in the stretch with Shared Belief proving the better of the two on this day.  

Of course, there was no trash talk before or after amongst the horses, but there surely was amongst the fans.  This is good for business as the slogan "put your money where your mouth is" comes into play as fans wager with their dollars.  It was a bit surprising to see Shared Belief at even-money odds over California Chrome at 7/5 since 'Chrome seems to have more of a fan base, but the public was right and more fans got to puff their chest as a result.

Those expecting to see these two "rivals" meet up every month for the rest of the year are in for a rude awakening as it is unlikely they might not ever meet up again this year or ever again.  Shared Belief is scheduled to run next in the Santa Anita Handicap next month while California Chrome has his sights on the Dubai World Cup with a $10 million purse.  Many horses don't come back the same after a trip to Dubai and 'Chrome's connections have mentioned running him on the turf afterwards.

It's too bad there are too many options for horses of this caliber; for the fans at least.  There are many big races throughout the year around the country and owners can pick and choose their spots.  Of course, the connections are thrilled when this happens as they don't have to face more than one or two serious challengers for a large purse, but it also hurts the business and the sport.  As a fan, would you rather see a 3/5 shot win a five horse field or have a large field with three or four serious challengers as we saw in the San Pasqual (Hopportunity was the other)? 

The San Pasqual, along with the San Marcos Stakes, and the Donn Handicap from Gulfstream Park, was featured on cable TV station Fox Sports 1.  I did catch most of the show and it was mostly positive.  I liked how they didn't avoid the wagering aspect of the game with handicappers giving their selections, they showed the payoffs afterwards and there were even online wagering commercials.  The showing of the Donn Handicap was the low point as it was not shown on full screen and there were audio and video problems which might not have been the network's fault.

Anyways, these type of shows would be great to have more than once per month.  Twice or even three times a month would be great to see and we could also see more rivalries develop other than the ones just for male Handicap runners.  Why not a sprint rivalry? a female turf route one? a turf sprint one? and so on.  Why does the horse racing industry continue to give the male Handicap division the most attention when supposedly the last rivalry was in 1989 between Easy Goer and Sunday Silence?  

What I would love to see is a showcase day at least twice a month that is filled with Stakes races for all divisions like on Triple Crown days.  Currently, we see tracks offer similar races in different parts of the country as we just saw with the San Pasqual and the Donn Handicap.  Both are at 1 1/8 miles on dirt and carry a $500,000 purse.  Why can't they have a schedule that would have the best horses from both coasts in one race for all divisions instead of splitting them up? 

Let's see if this will wake up some race tracks to work together to schedule a list of big day events throughout the year to help the industry as a whole.  All the food truck festivals, concerts or even Pick 6 carryovers will not and has not increased attendance over the years as it has fallen along with handle.  The industry was lucky to have a day like February 7 and one they should have more often if race tracks are willing to work together instead of only for themselves.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Five Of My Favorite YouTube Horse Racing Videos

If you have ever been on the YouTube website, you have probably spent hours going from one video to another and all of a sudden you realize it is 3 in the morning.  There is a vast collection of historic races on YouTube featuring legends such as Man O'War, Silky Sullivan and Secretariat along with races from horses you may not have heard of.

Over the past few years, horse racing has had its share of videos that have "gone viral" on YouTube including Tom Durkin's call of the horse Arrrr or Larry Collmus' call of a stretch drive between horses Mywifenosevrything and Thewifedoesntknow.  Whether it is a great race, an unusual call or a legendary horse it is fun to search around and watch them all.

In no particular order, here are five of my favorites:

1. The Debut of Donnaguska

Donnaguska is not exactly a famous name in horse racing, but you will probably remember her after watching this.  I would be surprised if anyone watched this race only once as it is unbelievable that Donnaguska wins this race.  Even the announcer can't believe it!

2. 1938 match race War Admiral vs. Seabiscuit

Many of us were not alive when this happened and we've seen the recent movie Seabiscuit.  It is awesome to see the actual race showing how dominant the underdog Seabiscuit was over Triple Crown winner War Admiral on this day.

3. 1988 San Bernardino Handicap

A fantastic race and finish featuring Kentucky Derby winners Alysheba and Ferdinand at Santa Anita.  Announcer Trevor Denman was in his prime, longshot Good Taste set the pace and would make his presence late as well.  It sounds like every single person in attendance was cheering them on in the stretch and watching this will give you goosebumps!

4. Video collage with Aerosmith's "Dream On"

YouTube user Pepper9873 did a super job editing this using clips of superstars like Zenyatta, Barbaro and Rachel Alexandra.  You definitely have to listen to the song along with the video to enjoy it even more.

5. Japan "horse racing" video game

Ok well, this is usually one of those you find at around 2:45 am.  It is a horse race simulation, but none of the runners resemble real-life horses.  It is bizarre and hilarious all at the same time and afterwards you'll be thinking to yourself "what did I just watch?". 

What are some of your favorite YouTube horse racing videos?  Share with us in the comments below!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A few questions about Lasix

Once again, the thoroughbred horse racing industry here in the U.S. is in a debate about the legal raceday use of the medication Lasix.  This medication is allowed for race horses to help prevent exercise induced pulmonary hemorrhage which in a few words is a natural occurrence of bleeding in a horse's lungs when they run.  I believe other than Canada, the use of raceday Lasix is not allowed anywhere else in the horse racing world and here are a few questions that some have asked:

-Prior to the late 1970's, Lasix was not allowed and horse racing was fine without it.  What happened?

-Why can't the fans and the horse racing industry just realize that Lasix is good for the horses, which in turn is good for the jockeys and the sport, and that horses need it to race?

-How do horses around the world race without Lasix?

These are all good questions and I wish I had the answers for all of them.  What I can give is my opinion and why I think Lasix along with all raceday medications should not be allowed.

After reading recent letters from various horseman associations that Lasix is needed for this sport to continue, I find it sad that we as an industry are dependent on this medication as if horse racing would end if it was banned.  Change is almost always scary, but giving us worst case scenarios such as every horse bleeding down the stretch with their jockeys returning with blood on their silks or horses collapsing more frequently because they did not receive Lasix doesn't fly with me.  If this did happen before Lasix, why didn't we hear about it?  I'm sure horse racing would not be as popular as it was in the first half of the 20th century if this was true.

One reason why it is difficult to attract new fans to horse racing is because there is a perception that horses are "drugged" or "doped" when they race.  While that is not exactly true, they do race with one medication/drug and that is a turnoff for some.  Also, there are studies that suggest that Lasix can mask other drugs and that is a reason why it is banned in human professional sports.  Shouldn't we know for sure if this is true or not?  A ban of raceday medications would also show the true talent of a horse that is not dependent on medication to perform to its full potential.

No one knows the exact reason why thoroughbreds are racing less frequently than they did in the past.  Whether it is inbreeding that is weakening the breed or the overuse of medications or a number of other reasons, I feel that the industry needs to find out if it is the use of Lasix during raceday.  A horse does not get to choose whether or not it receives Lasix for raceday.  However, we have a choice to ban raceday medication and I feel that would be a win-win situation for both human and horse.

Monday, July 14, 2014

What's new at Del Mar and Saratoga for 2014

The premier horse racing meets of the summer in the U.S. begin this week with Del Mar opening on Thursday, July 17 and Saratoga on Friday, July 18.  Both tracks offer some of the highest daily purses in the country and they are meets that many horse racing fans look forward to all year.  (Click here for my Del Mar vs. Saratoga blog from last year)

Even though both are already successful, both tracks look for ways to improve and/or attract more fans and this year is no exception: 

Del Mar
- Probably the biggest and most notable change at the seaside track is the widening of the turf course.  This will allow 12 horse fields for routes and 10 for sprints.  This also allows them to start 14 if need be and that helped them qualify to host a Breeders' Cup which will be held in 2017. 

- Instead of the usual local Beer Fest, this year they will have an International Beer Fest including brews from Germany, Ireland and Belgium.  Look for this event to add even more excitement on Pacific Classic Day Sunday, August 24.

- The takeout for Double wagers will be reduced from last year's 22.68% to 20.00%.  While this is still higher than Santa Anita, at least it is a reduction and it is lower than 41 other tracks in North America.

- There will be an additional meet this year running from Friday, November 7 through Sunday, November 30.  With Hollywood Park closing last year, Del Mar received the extra days.  It will be interesting to see how the locals respond to Autumn racing.

- Nearly $2 million in capital improvements were set for this year including 500 HDTV's, three high definition video walls, expansion of the Saratoga Porch dining area and the high-tech horse position viewer Trakus.  While Saratoga is one of the oldest tracks in America, it is nice to see them "step up" and modernize the facility.

- Admission prices will be raised to $5 Grandstand and $8 Clubhouse.  While I don't personally agree with the price hike, I understand they are running a business and at least they have made improvements to the facility.  At least they still have general parking for free.  

- Local television channel MSG+ will host its new "Friday's Live from Saratoga" show every Friday of the meet and a special Sunday edition Aug 24.  Horse racing television exposure has been lacking for years and this could help attract new fans.

- The Pick 5 wager will kick off in the first thoroughbred race of each racing day with a 15% takeout.  This wager has proven popular around the country and they attracted large pools at the recently concluded Belmont Park meet.

I'm looking forward to some exciting racing from both tracks with their large fields and top-class Stakes.  While I live too far from Saratoga, I look forward to going back there some year and I will attend Del Mar as much as possible (which is fortunately only about a half-hour drive for me).  

If you are looking for handicapping analysis for both Del Mar and Saratoga, check out Today's Racing Digest.  The Del Mar edition includes workout analysis and handicapping analysis for each runner.  The Saratoga edition (which is what I write) includes exclusive speed and pace figures along with selections and analysis.  Sign up for a FREE account today!

Monday, June 9, 2014

2014 Triple Crown Recap: High hopes and sour grapes

This year's Triple Crown run drew a lot of positive and negative attention towards the sport of horse racing.  For the 13th time in the last 36 years, a horse had a chance to complete the Triple Crown.  The high hope was on the shoulders of the obscurely-bred California Chrome as racing fans, sports fans and novice fans from across the country cheered (and bet) him on in the final leg of the Triple Crown: The Belmont Stakes. 

The journey began after California Chrome punched his ticket into the Kentucky Derby with a dominant win in the Santa Anita Derby in early April.  He was the most consistent runner entering the 'Derby and he proved he could bring his race outside of California with another emphatic win as the favorite at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May.

The Preakness Stakes didn't attract many strong challengers, but runner-up Ride On Curlin kept California Chrome honest with an all-out 1.5 length victory.  Under jockey Victor Espinoza, 'Chrome enjoyed perfect/flawless trips which you almost need to win a race in the Triple Crown series.  Unfortunately, that high hope of sweeping the Triple Crown in the Belmont Stakes turned to disappointment after the wire and sour grapes during the post-race coverage.

Out of the gate in the Belmont Stakes, 'Chrome was stepped on from behind cutting a piece off of his back hoof which Espinoza felt right away that his horse was not perfect.  Still, 'Chrome was placed in a ground-saving trip just behind the two leaders up the backstretch, but one could see he was not comfortable receiving all that kickback dirt in his face.  When the field entered the stretch, there was a brief moment when Espinoza swung him to the outside that 'Chrome would show that turn of foot we have become used to seeing.  However, 'Chrome was spinning his wheels and he raced evenly but bravely to finish in a dead-heat for 4th.

Anyone who was there or watching on TV felt the disappointment of yet another year without a Triple Crown winner when the field passed the wire.  Jockey Joel Rosario aboard the winner Tonalist was interviewed after the gallop out and he had mixed feelings.  He stated that he wanted to see California Chrome win if his horse didn't and his non-jubilant body language showed his class as a person.  He knew how 'Chrome's fans felt and Rosario did not rub the victory in anyone's face publicly.

On the other hand, one of 'Chrome's owners went on a tirade that most all of us have done when in the heat of the moment by saying things we don't really mean.  Of course, not all of us have a microphone and a national TV audience in front of us when we do it.  All the attention was taken away from the winning horse Tonalist and the gallant Triple Crown run from 'Chrome.  That owner did apologize two days later, but the sour grapes image will never leave the minds of those that viewed the angry rant. 

There are those that suggest the Triple Crown should be changed to make it easier to win.  A popular argument is that thoroughbreds just do not race as often as they used to and they need more time between starts.  That is a valid reason, but it would also take away from the 11 who have accomplished this gigantic feat thus making it Triple Crown "Light".

In my opinion, it should never change as we have seen what kind of attention and excitement it brings.  Even if a horse never wins the Triple Crown again, we horse racing fans would not miss the chance to see history after a horse wins the first two legs.  Our high hopes will always be there even if we know the disappointment it will likely bring after the finish line.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Rainbow 6 exposed?

The announcement by Gulfstream Park of its Rainbow 6 wager to have a mandatory payout on Monday, May 26, created a lot of excitement among horseplayers.  With its $6.6 million carryover, estimates made by track executives suggested the pool could reach as much as $20 million.  Entries were drawn earlier than usual to give horseplayers an extra day to handicap and with it's minimum $.20 wager, it seemed that anyone who wanted to play could afford to.

Unfortunately, the excitement bubble was burst when the Rainbow 6 was hit one day before on Sunday, May 25 for a payoff of $6,678,939.12.  The winning ticket cost $7,603.20 using the "all" button in five races and two horses in the other race.  All the hours spent handicapping by those looking forward to that day has been lost as the wager will likely have only a fraction of the pool for its mandatory payout and track executives will never know how much the pool could have swelled to.

As for the rules of the Rainbow 6, it is paid out every day for those who have selected the most winners on any ticket for that race day.  If there is not a single winning ticket, 70% of the pool pays out to winning tickets with the other 30% going into the carryover pool.  If there is a single winning ticket, the entire pool including the carryover is paid out.

Basically, if you have a winning ticket that is not a single winning ticket (with all six winners) you are hit with a double takeout: The 20% takeout for placing the wager and then 30% from the winnings that goes into the carryover pool.  Sounds like a lose-lose wager for those who play it unless you are one of the very few who has a single winning ticket which has proven to be extremely rare.

It will be interesting to see how the betting public accepts the wager now that the wager has been exposed in that it can be "bought" by a large ticket and for its "hidden" double takeout.  The dreams of a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow has faded and the Rainbow 6 wager might fade away as well.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Kentucky Derby 2014 recap

Under a flawless ride by jockey Victor Espinoza, favored California Chrome proved he was best with a 1 3/4 length victory.  The way 'Chrome can put his foes away entering the stretch is impressive though the final time was not at 2:03.66.  They ran the final quarter in a slow 26.21 which may be a sign this is not a good crop and/or thoroughbreds just are not bred to excel at 10 furlongs anymore.

There were a few horses who did not have clean trips led by my selection Candy Boy.  He was wiped out entering the first turn by Wicked Strong and he never had a chance to run to his best.  At least it appears he came back OK.  

Jockey Joe Bravo nearly caused a mid-stretch accident when he swerved Danza in front of Wicked Strong and Medal Count.  Danza did prove his big Arkansas Derby win was no fluke as it took him a while to get going, but once in the clear he really leveled out.  As for Medal Count, it appeared that he was just finding his best stride when Danza cut him off.  Thank goodness he did not go down.

Want to watch a strange ride?  Watch Calvin Borel aboard Ride On Curlin.  Breaking from the far outside, Borel took 'Curlin immediately to the rail as they passed the stands for the first time.  Entering the stretch, Borel decided to stay along the rail even though there were two horses right in front of him.  Borel had to check, he finally decided to swing him widest of all and he rallied while way too late. 

California Chrome was not as dominating as he was at Santa Anita earlier this year and the first 12 runners were only separated by about seven lengths.  That seems to leave little margin for error for 'Chrome if he goes to the Preakness Stakes in two weeks.  However, his name is in the record books and his name will be in full view between the famous twin spires for the next year.