Sunday, July 16, 2017

Vox Populi on Racing Issues; Saturday’s Big Horses Run Big

Taking the pulse of racing’s audience, a recent Paulick Report poll revealed some interesting results about how the sport’s practitioners and audience—horsemen and horseplayers—view racing’s most dominant issues.

Given the amount of advertising and the kind of promotion that supports the PR site, we assume that the largest segment of its audience are horsemen, the breeders, owners and trainers who put on the show. The results were at once predictable and surprising.

Judged least important by 10% of the responders is concern about competition from other forms of gambling. This category probably elicited a good portion of response from bettors who could care less about casinos, the occasional sports bet notwithstanding.

The next classification--converting casual fans into bettors--produced the first surprising result. If HorseRaceInsider is any measure, then 10% is a low figure. Everyone has an opinion about how to best market the game: It’s the HRI Faithful’s favorite pastime.

Racing needs more of an online presence, for one thing; more television for another; better education and greater social media exposure. Everybody even has an idea about what the game itself is; the old sport vs. gambling vehicle argument.

In our view, it would be unfair to say that the industry has not made some strides in the promotional arena. Of course, it can be made better. If I knew what it was I’d write it and declare myself a genius, but only the devil has all those details.

Next comes a shortage of horses and owners, in with 19% [all figures have been rounded]. This is reflected a smaller number of races being run each year, and while the top of the sales market is strong, no one sets out to buy a “cheap horse” anymore.

But the shortage is also a reflection of racing’s two biggest challenges, according to those who voted in the poll, and those challenges have been present from time in memoriam:

Nearly one of every four voters points to a lack of cooperation, national coordination, and infighting within the industry, even if common sense dictates that old-fashioned competition for market share is at the heart of this phenomenon. An example:

Tracks set out with the best intentions and a greater number have been staggering first-race post times. And they are not responsible for the conflicts that make adherence to schedule nearly impossible what with disqualifications, multiple close-photo finishes, injuries, etc., and the like.

However, when it’s done purposefully, it’s an irritant. Gulfstream Park has a deserved reputation for post-dragging and now other tracks, noting Gulfstream’s awesome growth in recent years, have started to follow suit both in scheduling and creating betting menus.

Parenthetically, post-dragging might be the only effective way to resolve conflicting post times--as long as this tack is not abused.

The number of races run daily, a new preponderance of turf racing leading to increased field size, a betting menu that helped popularize the spread of lower cost but higher takeout multi-race wagers with built-in degree of difficulty have all contributed to competition among racetracks.

Add to this that fewer race days, with more races scheduled on fewer days, makes for long afternoons at the track. Since the industry now caters more to its off-track simulcast audience, there is less “need” for a live audience.

Longer race days help capture market share by attracting a few more betting dollar but it’s the on-track experience that creates passion for a day at the races. Economics and job security demands track managers play the short game, but what of the long term?

Finally, if one tallies up and thinks about all the factors, they are tied inexorably to racing’s #1 challenge. More than one in every three racetrack practitioners and horseplayers point to cheating via a “culture of medication abuse,” or 36.03% as of 7/13.

It is a vexing situation since all medications, legal and otherwise, having disparate withdrawal times for different individuals, increased use of legal mega-nutrients, et al, is part of one equation. Like the issues themselves, solution are at once simple but difficult.

Ban raceday medications, including Lasix, lengthen withdrawal times, and stiffen penalties. Of course, this won’t happen as long as horsemen have the power over the simulcast signal.

True help will never come from within. Only Federal oversight gets this done. That question was absent from the survey.

It was a big Saturday for big horses from coast to coast, from morning till night, from one breed to another. A case by case look:

’s season, at least on social media, is as polarizing as political debate. She probably is the most disrespected nine-time Grade 1 winner of either sex in racing history, even if an older champion’s scant nose is what separates Songbird from a perfect career.

Her heart and class cannot be questioned, but her ranking among all-time great fillies can with no disrespect.

Songbird was a brilliant champion at 2 and 3, but reaching down deep in her titanic Distaff struggle with Beholder forced her reach bottom. That may be the difference with her as a four-year-old.

Her two brave victories this year underscore this point. She worked harder than almost everyone expected to win the Ogden Phipps, a prudent one-turn spot, and Saturday’s Delaware Handicap. She faced a tough, proven rival in New York but not so on Saturday.

Her challenge yesterday was a deep and tiring surface in her second run this year. Mike Smith said that 10 furlongs may not be her best go. That may be true. But she didn’t look distance challenged while drawing off to win the Alabama by 7 widening lengths last year.

Songbird galloping out after
her impressive 2016 Alabama score

On both the Thoro-Graph and Pricci Energy Scale, she never has been all that “fast on figures,” and has shown no development since her career best effort in the Cotillion at Parx, the race that preceded the Distaff.

We normally don’t champion the case for the upper-dog, but we’re very happy that Rick Porter, a great owner and fan, finally got his Delaware Handicap victory in his home state…

One race earlier, Frostmourne, the recent winner of the G2 Penn Mile, stretched out successfully to 9 furlongs and destroyed five overmatched rivals in the Kent Stakes. Arlington’s G1 Secretariat looks like the next logical stop…

If there ever was an appropriate time for Irap to regress it was yesterday at Indiana Grand. Instead, the G3 Indiana Derby win arguably was his most impressive victory of his career. Connections could keep going for the W Va. Derby cash but hope otherwise.

That race comes up three weeks hence. Instead, how about trying a mile and a quarter on Aug. 26 at Saratoga? This colt keeps getting improving and he’s earned a shot at the heavy heads again. Never know what will happen in the wide open sophomore division.
However, Irap will be meeting, among others if all goes according to plan, the Derby, Preakness, Belmont, Jim Dandy and Haskell winners and a Baffert or two to be named later. West Coast is already pointing there.

The latter just about ran the Travers distance in Saturday’s 9-furlong Los Alamitos Derby, such was the nature of his trip. The win was Bullet Bob’s sixth victory in the race. The late developer is no Arrogate but he’s pretty damn good enough for the Spa.

Crossing breeds, there were four tremendous performances at The Meadowlands Saturday night.

Defending juvenile trotting filly champion Ariana G. was dominant taking the Del Miller Memorial in 1:51 4/5 with last quarter in 27 2/5. Third vs. 3YO males in Pocono’s Beal July 1, she jogged home with Yannick Gingras in the bike, beating six overmatched rivals.

is a complete trotting freak, a powerful colt who earn his role as Hambletonian favorite. He won the Stanley Dancer Memorial with Tim Tetrick in 1:50 2/5, home in 27 1/5. Devious Man, who defeated Ariana G. at Pocono, was a good, albeit non-threatening runnerup…

Agent Q looks like a special pacing filly, taking the Mistletoe Shalee in a sparkling 1:48 4/5, sprinting home the final quarter-mile in 27-flat...

Huntsville is fast, genuine, and extremely game, proving all that by taking the Meadowlands Pace with Tetrick, his fifth win in this classic pace, in 1:47 4/5, home in 27 1/5 after early fractions of 26 4/5, 53 3/5 and 1:20 3/5.

Huntsville was used hard on the hot pace and runnerup Downbytheseaside gave him all he wanted in deep stretch, but the favorite ultimately would not be denied.

File Photo by Toni Pricci

Written by John Pricci

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