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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Changes for Horse Racing in 2014

Like most industries, a new year brings about changes and horse racing is no different.  Here are a few changes we will see in 2014: 

Racing in Southern California - This is probably the biggest one with the closing of Hollywood Park.  There will now be more racing at Santa Anita and Del Mar while Los Alamitos will also run thoroughbreds along with their usual Quarter Horses.  The following is the 2014 schedule:

     Santa Anita: Dec. 26, 2013 - June 29, 2014
     Los Alamitos: July 3 - July 13
     Del Mar: July 16 - Sept. 3
     Fairplex: Sept. 4 - Sept. 23
     Santa Anita: Sept. 25 - Nov. 2
     Del Mar: Nov. 5 - Dec. 3
     Los Alamitos: Dec. 4 - Dec. 21
     Santa Anita: Dec. 26, 2014 - Dec 31, 2014

Aqueduct racing Thursday - Monday - From January thru March of the Aqueduct meet, they will change from Wednesday - Sunday to a Thursday - Monday schedule.  This will change in the month of February when they will race four days a week with a Friday - Monday schedule.  In April, they will return to a Wednesday - Sunday schedule.  Santa Anita tried the Thursday - Monday schedule a few years back and it was not successful.  Maybe this will as Aqueduct will likely be the "headliner" on Mondays for the east coast simulcast player.

Preakness Stakes purse now $1.5 million - It appears that Maryland racing is on the improve and a 50% increase in The Preakness Stakes purse seems to prove that theory.  This is the first purse raise since 1998 and it will be interesting to see if The Belmont Stakes purse is raised soon.  It is nice to see a healthy circuit and maybe Maryland can make a profit on a day outside of The Preakness someday soon.

Rolling Doubles eliminated at Santa Anita - There will now only be three Doubles offered on the card at Santa Anita with a lowered 18% takeout.  A Double wager can now only be made from races 1-2, 4-5 and the last two races on the card.  Click here to view my blog about this change.

Omni wager debuts at NYRA tracks - This wager will be offered for every race with a 15% takeout.  It requires a better to select two of the first three-place finishers.  In order to win, your two horses can finish 1-2, 1-3 or 2-3.  This has been tried at Hollywood Park and Keeneland in the past and it has since been cancelled.  They probably should think about eliminating the Grand Slam wager as it only handled $61,097 on Belmont Stakes day and only $18,362 this past Dec. 14.

Graded Stakes - There are always good and bad discussions about this as with all other human judgements.  I feel there are way too many Grade 1 races and it is hurting the sport (click here for my take on Graded Stakes).  The La Troienne at Churchill Downs is now a Grade 1 while The Prioress at Saratoga and The Princess Rooney at Calder were downgraded to Grade 2.  Four races were upgraded to a Grade 2 while seven races were downgraded to a Grade 3.  Two races, The Sapling at Monmouth Park and The Ohio Derby at Thistledown, lost their Graded Stakes status.

A change that has been discussed, but not implemented yet is a possible increase in admission at Belmont Park and Saratoga.  The NYRA has explained that this is needed to make a profit without help from the slot machine fund.  Outside of Belmont Stakes day, there is rarely a crowd of over 10,000 at Belmont Park so this wouldn't seem to help and it may keep angry customers away.  At Saratoga, why would you want to keep people away from such a successful and grand meet by raising admission prices?  Let's hope they see the light and do not increase admission prices.

With change comes hope and these changes (whether you like them or not) will likely make their impact.  Whether it is positive or negative that remains to be seen, but let's hope for more positive changes that will help improve our industry for the years ahead.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Can trainers really be that good?

It is no secret that when certain trainers on various circuits claim a horse (or receive a horse from another trainer by the owner) that many of the horses improve dramatically in their next start.  Are these trainers that talented?  Do they know something that most all the other trainers don't know that can make a horse improve more than a few lengths?

Here are a few examples of recent runners on the NYRA circuit who were claimed or switched barns and they improved a lot per their Today's Racing Digest Final Time Ratings in their next starts:

Claimed from Wesley Ward by David Jacobson July 28, Barrister Jim returned to win Nov 1 and improved his Final Time Rating (second last column on the right) from a 108 to a 135.

Moved into the Jason Servis barn after his 7th June 22, Dr. Wesley won his next two starts and earned a 137 and 156 Final Time Rating.

Claimed from Gary Contessa by Rudy Rodriguez Sept 19, Inmyfathersimage won by over eight lengths earning a 125 Final Time Rating Nov 7.

Claimed from Eddie Kenneally by David Jacobson off his win Oct 4, Pass The Tap went from a 105 Final Time Rating to a 129 Final Time Rating Nov 8.

Moved from the Bob Baffert stable to the David Jacobson stable after his 4th vs. $20,000 Maiden-Claimers Oct 5, Spirited Touch easily beat $50,000 Maiden-Claimers Nov 7 earning a 128 Final Time Rating.

As those of us know that go to the races or the OTB, when these runners win and/or improve their numbers dramatically, you will hear from other horseplayers "that trainer knows what drugs to use" or "they have the juice".  Now imagine yourself as a new fan and you hear this.  You might think to yourself:  "Is this what is really happening and that some trainers have better drugs?"

Most horseplayers will assume that this is the case.  They can't explain what happens to turn around a horse like this as we do not know what a trainer does to make this happen.  The trainer doesn't come out and say what they did and who could blame them.  They do not want to give out their methods.  

Unfortunately, this assumption of drug use is difficult to hide as legal medications such as Lasix and Bute are allowed on race day in this country and Canada.  Can these medications hide other illegal substances?  Are current drug tests not finding new substances?  

Until there are new methods to detect if there is any illegal drug use going on, this assumption by many horseplayers will not change.  A recent movement to rid any race day medication has deteriorated.  There are no 24/7 security cameras in the barns on the backstretch to catch any illegal activity.  Because of this, expect to see more of these big turnarounds to continue to happen without any reasonable explanation.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

My final visit to Hollywood Park

Honestly, I did not think I would visit Hollywood Park again after Zenyatta's last California appearance back in 2010.  I never really had any motivation to go back there after that, but an opportunity came up on Sunday, Dec 1 and I took advantage.

I was visiting family and friends in Los Angeles for the weekend and I noticed earlier in the week that Rookie Sensation was entered in the Hollywood Derby.  A good friend of mine has been on this horse all year including the Twilight Derby on Breeders' Cup Friday and he suggested we should go see him run in person.  I was all for it as I rarely turn down a visit to a race track.

It was certainly a nice day weather-wise, but there still was not a lot of people at the track.  This day being the Hollywood Park Turf Festival and the vibe felt like it was a late December Thursday.  

We arrived about 30 minutes before the Hollywood Derby and had no problem grabbing a good spot by the paddock.  

Surprisingly, Rookie Sensation was 2/1 the first time I looked at the tote and while I would place some money on him to win, I did play some Exacta's with him in the second slot with a few horses on top.

He looked great in the paddock as he was snorting and feeling full of himself (I'm talking about Rookie Sensation here though the same could be said about my friend on the right!).  He is also a pretty big horse and he looked to be sitting on a big effort.

My favorite jockey for a long time has been Corey Nakatani.  He is especially at his best when riding on the turf and he was aboard the foreign import Seek Again who had a recent haircut as he still had some of his winter coat.

We took a spot just before the finish line on the grandstand apron and Rookie Sensation would drift up to 3/1 as the second choice when the odds finalized.  As the field passed us to the first time, we could not believe our eyes as Rookie Sensation was on the lead!  Both my friend and I looked at each other with bewilderment as this colt has been a deep closer in all of his turf routes.

As the field turned for home, Rookie Sensation was still going strong and it looked like he had a chance.  However, there was a horse rallying along the rail and it was Seek Again.  He proved best in deep stretch while Rookie Sensation tired a bit and finished 5th.  What a disappointment especially for my friend as he wanted to see that big rally that Rookie Sensation has shown in the past.

My final wager at Hollywood Park turned out to be a winner.  I bet $9 in the race and got back $12.40 for a net win of $3.40.  We left a few minutes after that race after we each took a few last pictures.

While it is sad that another race track will be torn down, it really did feel like Hollywood Park was on its last legs.  It is too bad that the race track still couldn't be remodeled to fit the current crowds while using the rest of the space for the future development of the land.  I especially feel bad for those that were employed there as they will now have to look for another job/career.

2014 will certainly be a big change for California racing with the closing of Hollywood Park.  It could be a big opportunity for Los Alamitos to be a major player and it will be interesting to see what the attendance will be like at the Del Mar Autumn meet in November.  Will the Santa Anita turf course hold up for the upcoming six month meet?  Can Golden Gate turn their business around after years of downsizing cards and races per day?  It's all up in the air, but either way we will lose Hollywood Park forever.