Thursday, April 11, 2013
Break Up the CEO Trainers
At the end of March, uber-trainer Steve Asmussen notched his 6,418th career training victory to surpass Jack Van Berg. There’s probably nothing stopping Asmussen from winning 10,000 races.
But it raises a question, a question which includes several other trainers, as well as Asmussen: who really deserves credit for a win?
How many of those 6,418 winners did Asmussen leg-up himself? Early in his career, probably all of them, but when did that stop? At 1,000? 2,000? 3,000?
How many base hits would A-Rod have this year if Robinson Cano put on A-Rod’s jersey? Sounds silly, right? But that’s essentially how the CEO trainer gets credit for a win.
Unless, of course, the CEO trainer has Hermione Granger’s Time Turner
. And, let’s face it, more power to him if he does.
Though a trainer may not be present, his brand is present. His assistant trainers are his proxies. Most of these proxies, though in touch via phone or email with the CEO trainer, are the ones doing the hands-on training, the legging-up.
While their hands are on the horses, the CEO trainer is on the phone … with owners … being a customer service representative.
The CEO trainer is undoubtedly sharp. Any time I leave a conversation with one I’m amazed to the degree he’s able to recall every horse in his string, no matter its location in the country.
But I do have a problem with trainers barns turning into Wal-Marts. They pop up here. A string here. Another string here.
And what do these Wal-Marts do? They steal business away from very capable Mom and Pops who can’t necessarily compete on a macro scale.
The real paradox here is that Wal-Mart’s prices tend to be lower because of its massive supply. CEO trainers aren’t undercutting the Mom and Pops, quite the opposite really.
The elevated price weeds out a certain customer. After all that’s all owners are.
Since the CEO trainer has swept over the nation, it puts the Mom and Pops at a competitive disadvantage. Could it be these owners don’t know or don’t understand that the CEO trainer has his hands on a very select few of his athletes?
What’s the solution? If a trainer doesn’t physically saddle his horse for a race, he doesn’t get full credit for a win. Otherwise, to me, and I assume to others, it’s misleading. Underneath the trainer stats should be his assistant trainers, how many they’ve started and their results. This helps just about everybody involved.
It helps the assistant trainer get some notoriety. These men and women live in the shadows, sometimes quite literally. This way they get their due.
It helps owners and fans realize the cogs involved. Maybe a potential owner won’t be as impressed by the CEO trainer and, as a result, give a Mom and Popper a chance he may not otherwise garner.
If the CEO trainer is getting less credit, he may prune down his barn thus spreading out some of the equine talent.
This will deflate the winning stats. The CEO trainer-era is like the steroid era in baseball, to some extent. The winning stats are so inflated but, as I’ve said, they’re misleading. The CEO trainer gets credit for all the wins with little involvement.
In this sense it’s squashing the little guy. This is the type of competitive imbalance that does a disservice to everyone involved.
I’ve written about having a horse cap, one that would give some genetically gifted horses to trainers who would otherwise not get the chance because their names aren’t lit up like a Vegas casino.
Trainers put in long hours and deserve to reap the fruits of that effort. But it’s time to backslide and deflate the vast extent and vast credit CEO trainers seize in the win column.
Written by Brendan O'Meara
Thursday, April 04, 2013
Shanghai Bobby: Why the Juvenile Champion Never Deserves an Automatic Derby Berth
A funny thing happened on the way to the Florida Derby: the juvenile winner, the one ridden by Red Rosie, Shanghai Robert (let’s be proper) threw in the clunker of all clunkers. Well, not as bad as War Pass’s 2008 Tampa Bay Derby
, but close, no less.
In his defense, he has been in training for over a year. Says Jack Wolf, managing partner for Starlight Racing, “Shanghai Bobby has been at the track for 13 months and his energy level and level of performance has never suggested he needed any time off until now. It's time to freshen him up and, if all goes well, point for a late summer, early fall campaign."
Perhaps the King’s Bishop? Uncle Mo nearly won that race off a long, long lay off. But back to Robert.
Much, much, much as been made about the juvenile champion being allowed a guaranteed spot in the gates come Kentucky Derby time. I was happy to see the exclusion off all 2-year-old racing from the points system. All 2-year-old racing does is prove how fast a horse hits puberty.
Shanghai Robert is just the latest in a line of hundreds of horses who have no business running in the Kentucky Derby. Since 1984 337 horses ran in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Only 65 of those started in the Derby the next year. That’s 19 percent. Or, to view it through a more shocking lens, 81 of those horses fail to reach the Derby.
Of that 19 percent, only five juvenile fields
harbored the next year’s Derby winner. For clarity, I’ll use the Derby year here: 1985, Spend A Buck, 1987, Alysheba, 1993, Sea Hero, 2007, Street Sense, 2009, Mine That Bird.
So, only five horses out of 337 juvenile starters—1.5 percent—won he Kentucky Derby in 28 years, the length of time the BC Juvenile has been run. Or, to inflate that number just a touch, only five out of 65 went on to win the Derby, 7.7 percent. And, as we know from 2007, only one juvenile winner has ever won the Kentucky Derby, Street Sense. Go 1-for-28 in any other sport and you’re in the minor leagues.
Given that we’ve all been harking on the fragility of the breed, we’d expect those fields of the 80s and 90s to have proportionally more—by percentage—horses carrying over from the Juvenile to the Derby. What I found surprised me.
The year that carried over the most was 2011, the year Hansen beat Union Rags, Creative Cause, Dullahan, Take Charge Indy, Optimizer, Alpha, and Daddy Long Legs. The average Derby finish for this class was 10.75, with Dullahan coming out on top with his third-place finish. (His career is probably the most bizarre. He’s like a much, much less accomplished Animal Kingdom. But that’s neither here nor there.)
The 2006 juvenile class graduated five Derby starters—Street Sense, Circular Quay, Scat Daddy, Stormello, and Teuflesberg. The 1986 juvenile class also graduate five—Capote (the juvenile winner), Alysheba, Bet Twice, Gulch, and Demon’s Begone.
Four times over the course of now 28 years had a juvenile class graduate zero horses to the following Derby: 1985, 1989, 1996, and 2002. Mediocrity is spread out over the era, it seems. On average, 2.32 juvenile starters get to the Derby. This year, obviously, is TBD.
But more troubling, or more telling, is how few (depending on your point of view) juvenile winners make it to the starting gate of 20. Including this year, since Shanghai Robert is playing “It’s Five o’clock Somewhere” on a loop, the juvenile winner has appeared in only 13 of 29 runnings of the Kentucky Derby (I find that low). Just 45 percent of the time.
And this is the spot turf writers and handicappers are clamoring for an automatic bid? The average finish of the 13 juvenile winners is not totally abhorrent, but it is only 6.7 (one winner, two thirds, one fourth, two fifths, two sixths, two eighths, a ninth, a thirteenth, and a sixteenth).
Of the 65 juvenile horses who stayed sound and who were lucky enough to make it to the Derby—they marked just 65 of 491 Derby starters over 28 years—comprising just 13 percent of all entrants for an average finishing position of 8.35.
So, should the juvenile winner deserve a spot in the gates come Kentucky? I’ve always said no and the numbers say he doesn’t deserve to be there either.
However, as a handicapper, you should be begging for his automatic berth. He’ll be a known commodity and take a ton of money. And, as the numbers show, he’ll finish way off the board.
So get well, Shanghai Robert, and don’t feel too bad. You’re not alone. And, to quote Robin Williams, it’s not your fault. It’s not your fault
It should be noted that some horses who ran in the juvenile turned in poor Derbys, but did run well in later Triple Crown or even summer campaigns. But we’re stickin’ with the Derby here.
Written by Brendan O'Meara
Thursday, March 28, 2013
It’s Do or Die for Bobby
Bruce Springsteen said it best when he stated that it takes a red head to get a dirty job done. No more true is that than this Saturday when Rosie Napravnik gets a leg up on Shanghai Bobby, the 2012 juvenile champion.
The Kentucky Derby winner is coming out of this Florida Derby, and for Rosie it’s time to break into the A+ tier of riders. Some may say she’s already there with any number of Grade 1s in her purse and riding titles but she needs a Hall of Fame-ride in a Hall-of-Fame scenario.
Shanghai Bobby has much to prove. Shanghai Bobby has been tagged with the distance question, which is like getting yips on the greens. Frankly, none of them can get the distance. The final furlong is a war of attrition. The best horse is probably the one who hits the quarter pole first. The race then devolves into a bunch of toddlers running in moon shoes
Shanghai Bobby ran a spirited Holy Bull back on January 27 when he was defeated by Itsmyluckyday (who set a track record that day). It appeared on replay that it was your classic “this horse needed the race” kind of effort for Shanghai Bobby. After all, who wants their horse to run their eyeballs out on January 27? Certainly not trainer Todd Pletcher. Certainly not Red Rosie.
In watching the Holy Bull a few times, you can tell Napravnik isn’t asking her horse to gut this one out. She went to the stick a few times, but when it was clear she'd lose at sixteenth pole she let him cruise to the wire second best. In this prep, losing by three while coasting versus a driving length is about as easy a decision as there is.
Given that his connections are taking the newly traditional two-race path to Kentucky, getting the lungs expanded during training seems to be all the more important. All March Shanghai Bobby drilled 5/8ths. His previous four workouts to his Holy Bull effort were also five furlongs. He's had two half-mile workouts post-Holy Bull. This strikes me as a pattern indicating that they feel a need to train him hard. Either that or they fear that he may have distance issues. If you’re gonna run long, you had better train long.
Napravnik, in an interview with the Courier-Journal
, said, "Last time I worked him he just did what he had to do, nothing more. He’s doesn’t feel the need to show off or beat another horse just for the sake of beating them. He just fools around, yet does what you ask him to do. He knows the morning work is not the big show."
Ah, but the morning is the big show. If a horse can't take its workouts seriously, how can it win? We'll see if he was getting by on natural ability or if he really the cream of this crop. Just check out his friends.
Stablemate Overanalyze recently drilled three consecutive half-miles. Revolutionary’s last workout was four furlongs, and Verrazano, the latest chart-topper in the futures poll, mainly drills half miles. It appears that Pletcher is working Shanghai Bobby longer for a reason.
It will be up to the talented Napravik to ration Bobby's speed. Jack Wolf, one of the principals of Starlight Racing, said during an NTRA teleconference, “She’s just unflappable. She’s cool. I mean—and she’s obviously comfortable on these horses and the horses respect her and get that. But for a person her age – I think she’s 24 or 25 – the [one way] to describe her is she is very cool under fire, so—and actually, she’s a very talented rider too, so—she’s young and she’s got a tremendous future ahead of her.”
For Rosie that future is now. Whether or not she has enough horse will be entirely up to her--and the colt.
Written by Brendan O'Meara