Tuesday, September 17, 2013
Dirt Mile Could Prove Last Chance for Wise Dan to Trump #1 Game On Dude
SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, Sept 17, 2013—There’s no question that Wise Dan is a great turf miler, which does not in any way disparage his laudable versatility.
And it doesn’t matter that the Woodbine turf course was unusually glib on Sunday but the 2012 Horse of the Year can really, really run.
The Woodbine Mile was timed in one minute, thirty-one, and seventy-five one hundredths. Yikes! All that while Hall of Famer Johnny Velazquez sat still, more passenger than pilot.
Behind him were a couple of nice turf horses, Za Approval and Trade Storm. And while track announcers can deliver eye-rolling calls by ratcheting up excitement in the wake of a great performance, albeit lacking competitive drama, it was a neck-hair raising effort to be sure.
Once again, however, his connections, led by an 83-year-old owner who’s been racing Thoroughbreds for over four decades, refused to take the champion out of his niche, but were rewarded when $579,540 was deposited into Morton Fink’s purse account.
At what point does business become sport and sport become business?
Two years ago I had a cup of coffee as a horse owner. My little claiming filly was a break-even experience during the short time she raced.
As might be surmised, my financial circumstances were much different than Fink’s. But the point here is that there is nothing more exciting in racing than watching your horse race—and win!
And that comes from an owner who, on occasion, had the opportunity to earn more money winning a bet than Dubai’s Connection ever could have earned by winning a race at her level of competition.
There is talk that the gelded Wise Dan could race again in 2014 as a seven-year-old which is a lovely sporting gesture.
But there is a test that doesn’t take Wise Dan out of his comfort zone that’s a little more challenging.
Now no one will ever confuse the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile with many of the original events on the Breeders’ Cup program including the Mile on turf.
But at least it’s on dirt, and with the three-year-old Verrazano pointing toward that end-of-year event, this would be a worthy and most interesting test.
Most observers agree that Verrazano would make a top class miler. Wise Dan, proven on all surfaces, is a proven great miler. Verrazano has a speed edge; Wise Dan a battle-tested experience edge. Santa Anita dirt is neutral territory; the weights are at scale. There’s no Game On Dude and no top class European turf miler to contend with.
Verrazano’s trainer Todd Pletcher, while choosing spots wisely, doesn’t back down from a challenge. Pletcher would see the upside immediately.
This would also be a way for Morton Fink to not tackle Game On Dude on his home field, create the kind of buzz that might even upstage the Classic; in short, giving something back to the game.
Is Cigar Mile Incentive Bonus Really Necessary?
Last week, the New York Racing Association announced two purse incentives that, if criteria are met, could double the value of the Grade 1 $500,000 Cigar Mile Handicap.
Under the revised conditions, any previous Grade 1 winner who competes in the Cigar would race for a gross purse of $750,000. Should a winner of any Breeders' Cup race, from any year, compete, that horse would run for a purse of $1 million.
Is it good horsemen’s relations to give the rich incentive to get richer? Can’t a half-million dollar Grade 1 in New York stand on its own?
The purse for the 2012 was $350,000, so it’s already worth $150,000 more.
Last year's Cigar Mile attracted the 2012 Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint winner Groupie Doll which, with a victory, might have earned the filly Horse of the Year honors. Credit the Bradleys et al for not only extending their filly's distance capacity in a Grade versus males.
The victory by Stay Thirsty, the second Grade 1 of his career, certainly could not have hurt his stud value. Having been increased significantly, the race already has intrinsic value.
Last year’s renewal attracted a certain sprint champion because their sporting connections wanted a chance to have it all. It turned out to be a stomach-punching nose defeat.
If the association is willing to spend an additional half-million dollars, why not use it to create five restricted stakes at a $100,000 apiece to go along with the four graded events on the program. It would be a card to rival Wood or Belmont or Travers day.
The NYRA then could promote their big 2013 championship-sealing events beginning Breeders’ Cup weekend, early enough before promising good horses begin shipping to warmer climes.
Written by John Pricci
Sunday, September 15, 2013
Saratoga Racing Fatigue, or Extenuating Circumstances?
SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, September 13, 2013—Whether there is too much racing during the Saratoga thoroughbred racing season I’m not sure.
The fact that the racing day is too long is in dispute nowhere. Every racing day that goes beyond 5:30 p.m. is a marathon for on-track patrons.
The problem with staging a record 420 races is that NYRA is motivated to be its own bridge track.
Or, put another way: "It's hard to run fewer races when you can maximize your profit," said trainer Rick Violette, President of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's group and a NYRA board member, on Mark Cusano's "Down the Stretch" program Saturday morning.
In any case, the days of Saratoga being the “August Place To Be” consisting of nine race programs has become a quaint notion with the advent of simulcasting and horse racing as gambling fodder.
Card it, and they will bet.
In all likelihood, it was too much of this good thing that contributed to measurable decreases in handle and attendance, especially the latter. But compared to what?
"Saratoga is 35 percent of the national handle every day, it would be irresponsible to ignore [that fact]," added Violette. "[NYRA] is trying to hold the bottom line; be self-sufficient.
It is highly unlikely but not impossible that one day the Saratoga meet could run from July 4th through Labor Day but not anytime soon. For one, the town would have strenuous objections.
Saratoga racing, obviously, is world class. But it does not reduce the New York City Ballet, Philadelphia Philharmonic, and sold out events such as the upcoming Farm Aid benefit concert to the level of chopped liver.
Looking at the numbers year over year indicates that 2013 was not as successful as last year. But considering that last year's handle was up 14 percent, it would be unreasonable to expect that trend to continue. "Compared to the year before, handle would have been up 10 or 11 percent," Violette said.
If parimutuel handle and attendance are the only metrics that matter until something better comes along, absence and fonder hearts remain inexorably linked. Attracting 10,000 racing fans is plenty good for a Saturday at Belmont Park but is considered a disappointing weekday in Saratoga.
While some would credit the new 15% Pick Five for what NYRA termed a strong Belmont opening last Saturday, the fact there was no major league racing in the state for four days and no live sport in the metropolitan area for seven weeks matters--yet only 6,549 fans welcomed the horses back downstate.
What is scary is the fact that attendance increased by 42 percent over 2012.
As expected, the new wager was an instant success and has continued to draw strong support subsequently--but nowhere near where it is likely to be in 2014. The reality is that good things can happen when you keep bettors waiting, whether it's a week before racing resumes, or two years before making a 50-Cent Pick Five into a 15% pool a reality.
If one thing is clear, it's that it's extremely difficult to judge success or failure at Saratoga, or anywhere else, when disparate trends collide. It's like Violette said; finding the right answer to a problem is extremely difficult when the target keeps moving.
Exotic Payoffs at Affordable Prices
Low takeout Pick Fours and Pick Fives have proven popular virtually from inception. In keeping with that theme, a new Pick Four beginning at Belmont and ending at Penn National debuted this week and did not get left at the post.
Just over $59,000 was wagered in a 15% 50-Cent Pick Four linking the last two races from Elmont and the first two from Grantville--good considering it was up against a late double that stands on its own and as a saver vehicle for Pick Four and Pick Six players.
The handle, according to Penn National sources, was the third largest in that track’s history, trailing only two higher profile All-Stakes exotica.
Horse o' the Year Runs Today, Doo-Dah, Doo-Dah
Wise Dan is the 2-5 early line favorite to defend his title in the $1 million Woodbine Mile versus five rivals.
Wise Dan will carry “highweight” of 124 pounds, attempting to become the first horse to win the Ricoh Mile twice. The win would give trainer Charlie LoPresti his third straight Woodbine Mile, having saddled Turallure in 2011. Only Bobby Frankel and Neil Drysdale have won three renewals. Johnny Velazquez, seeking his fourth Woodbine Mile win, takes the re-ride.
Za Approval (4-1), trained by white hot Christophe Clement, ships from his New York base after finishing second to Obviously in the G1 Shoemaker Mile at Hollywood Park, June 29. Garrett Gomez, seeking his third WO Mile, will ride for the first time.
Four WO Mile prepsters have come back to win the Breeders’ Cup Mile but only Wise Dan won both races in the same year. Court Vision won both races did so in 2010 and 2011. The stakes record, set in 2009, of 1:32.04 belongs to the filly Ventura, the only female to win Canada’s most prestigious turf mile.
Written by John Pricci
Thursday, July 18, 2013
SARATOGA SPRINGS, July 18, 2013—
Happy 36th birthday. I know I haven’t written much lately, but I’ve been doing a lot of commuting between here and Gotham.
Sorry, but every once in a while I need a dirty-water bagel and a middle-finger salute to make me whole.
Meanwhile, I miss everything. Another Open House come and gone, and this one had entertainment—an appearance by an honest to goodness reality TV star.
Then the races for opening day were drawn Tuesday, and on Wednesday, NYRA’s new commander-in-chief, Christopher Kay, met with the media.
Unfortunately, I rolled into town about an hour after it started. I miss all the fun, and that’s no way to begin a sesquicentennial.
I’m happy to say that I live in a house that has bunting celebrating that occasion, as does several other homes around the neighborhood.
It’s really kind of cool, actually, the kind of thing that will always attract people to Saratoga Springs.
The people here are different, even if they find it difficult to make left turns.
As for the lid-lifter, the races for opening day look especially juicy. There’s probably not enough money on the planet to play this card. [We’re bracing for WMC as you read this].
Del Mar may have lots of pretty women in dresses and wide-rimmed hats but we’ve got those here, too.
Although I think we all could use an ocean breeze right about now.
But, sorry, Saratoga as a Thoroughbred meet is still the biggest brand in racing, considering its lengthy 40-day run and attempts in recent years to cheapen the product, worshipping at the altar of betting handle instead.
A total of 117 horses were entered overnight in 10 races including the oft-entertaining Grade 3 James Marvin and the traditional opener, another G3 for the debutantes.
The Marvin might turn out to be a good betting race if the opening-day crowd around the country makes any mistakes, but as for drama, it’s not exactly Mariano Rivera at the All-Star Game.
But the babies are fun. I like the idea of six furlongs and the fact that six of the seven entrants, including a Todd Pletcher entry, either broke maiden or won their debuts by an aggregate 25 lengths.
We expect the Schuylerville winner to come from another state; Kentucky. Trainer Bret Calhoun is very proud of Bahnah.
The filly won her debut laughing, then came back last week and outworked 122 of her peers that week at Churchill Downs.
Brazen Persuasion, meanwhile, was nearly as impressive and has a win at the trip; the only one in the field to do so. Rosie rides this miss for Steven Asmussen.
Still no rest for the wicked; there’s a lot to process for Opening Day. The countdown begins now.
Written by John Pricci