Sunday, October 08, 2017

Horseplayers No Longer Crying in the Wilderness

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But in this case it’s more about the horse race industry working at cross purposes with its customers in the interests of commerce than anything else.

In this weekend’s edition of Horse Racing Nation “Insider,” the publication offered “FREE PICKS for KEENELAND STAKES!” Any NCIS fan can quote you chapter and verse Rule #37, according to Special Agent Jethro Gibbs: “There’s no such thing as a coincidence.”

It follows that the Cross-Country Pick 4, combining four Grade 1s at Belmont and Keeneland was also being heavily promoted, including “a 15-1 shot you can’t leave off your tickets,” with FREE Shadwell Mile PPs to sweeten the deal.

This is not meant to assess blame for bet-takers promoting their business but it is interesting that this “Insider” edition happened to coincide with a horseplayer’s boycott at Keeneland which dubiously insisted raised takeout was meant attract the best horses.

As if that weren’t going to happen, anyway. Clearly, this was a move to mirror the higher Churchill Downs takeout rates in place for years now, creating synergy should the two racing behemoths be given permission to encroach on other regional Kentucky tracks.

It would be also fair to ask whether these increases are in place at the Red Mile harness track. Is that Keeneland-owned property also a non-for-profit venture?

The highly touted Fall Champions Weekend that began opening day thus far has played to mixed betting results. Despite record attendance for Friday’ Fall opener, handle was flat year over year.

However, Saturday’s mega-card, featuring an All Stakes Pick Five—two Grade 2s and three Grade 1s--attracted 14.4% less handle than did the same number of races in 2016 and with two more betting interests, according to racing activists.

In advance of the Keeneland opener, the Horseplayers Association of North America and issued a joint announcement that a horseplayer boycott would take place to show that bettors resent being insulted by the false propaganda circulated.

Keeneland’s significant takeout increase was enacted despite the fact that Historic Racing machines at the Red Mile property have produced revenue increases for the parent company that insists on sticking with its false narrative.

Never mind that a takeout increase seven years ago resulted in an on-track dip of 27% at Los Alamitos. Or that a boycott of Santa Anita and Golden Gate the following year ultimately resulted in purse cuts, not increases, giving rise to significant employee layoffs at Santa Anita.

And never mind that the takeout increase at Churchill Downs three years later gave rise to a 25% handle dip at the spring meet, Kentucky Derby weekend notwithstanding, and also a 20% purse cut the following Fall.

The lesson here is that the loyal horseplayer base is mad as hell and not only are they not going to take it anymore but they’re actually doing something about it.

Even if the boycott does not reach its stated goal of 25-30% handle decrease at the Keeneland meet, the horseplayer boycott is getting coverage and gaining momentum in racing establishment media this time around and not treated as some passing fad.

The horseplayers who really care about the state of the game going forward are taking a stand and their voice is being amplified. A message is being sent and that real news is this: We’re here and won’t be taken for granted any longer.

And so the future is in the industry’s hands now, not ours. The chickens are back in their homes roosting. For how long only the business can say.


BELMONT PARK: The longer uncoupled portion of the Chad Brown entry takes the opener and will be the start of a huge day for Irad Ortiz… Copper Town takes a preliminary allowances at 1-1/16 miles impressively and it appears Todd Pletcher is going to have a lot of fun with him this winter at Gulfstream Park.

Disco Partner,
giving Irad his first of three stakes on the day, is one of this country’s classiest turf sprinters and proved it again in the Belmont Turf Sprint at 6 furlongs. They’ll be going shorter than that around those tight turf turns at Del Mar next month…

Montauk was strongly rumored to be Pletcher’s best 2-year-old. Nothing he did in his 7-furlong debut belied that opinion. Awesome performance, very bright future…Firenze Fire’s experience, and Irad strength and timing, the difference in the Champagne but Belmont's classic juvenile test not the strongest we’ve ever seen.

Yoshida finally breaks through but getting through some tight quarters, Manny Franco, in midst of a career year, helping to make the difference aboard one of the unluckiest horses at Spa meet. Love this animal but not sure he’s quite ready for a world stage, but give Bill Mott time…

New York-bred Diversify has really come into his own as a late season gelded 4-year-old taking the centerpiece Gold Cup under brilliant Irad rating, making some mid-race separation and leaving Keen Ice and Pavel with too much to do.

Their private stretch battle the latter two had allowed leader to get away. Not sure the Breeders’ Cup Classic favorites feel seriously threatened this a.m. Meanwhile, excellent work by Rick Violette, getting Diversify and peak at the Spa maintain that form in October.

KEENELAND: The stars on Friday were Whitmore, who looks like he’s back and with something in reserve for the Sprint. Whether he’s ready for Drefong is another issue, and Mark Casse with a training triple.

Did we mention Alcibiades winner Heavenly Love? Let’s put it this way; her dominant victories on Kentucky Downs turf and in Friday’s dirt 1-1/16 miles were like if Ruffian were turned inside-out. She has incredible late foot.

Heavenly Love vs. Moonshine Memories; East meets West in Juvenile Fillies. Can’t wait to see this one.

Happy for the connections who really enjoyed Bucchero’s victory in G2 Woodford, the 5YO sprinter taking advantage by sitting behind runoff speed. But he’ll be facing a different kind of competition and dynamics at the seaside course next month. Good job of pointing, Tim Glyshaw

Same can be said of Bret Calhoun who had Finley’sluckycharm fresh and fit enough to take the G2 Thoroughbred Club of America despite Brian Hernandez’s quixotic handling and should be a presence in the F&M Sprint but will meet much, much tougher next time…

Lament the passing of Ten City who appeared to be heading for victory in the Breeders’ Futurity before taking a bad step on the stretch turn, suffering an irreparably fatal injury...

Happy for Dale Romans who stretched Free Drop Billy out successfully, setting up another East-West confrontation in the Juvenile in which Bolt d’Oro will be a deserving favorite given his explosive score in Santa Anita’s Frontrunner last weekend…

Well ridden, fast-finishing Suedois raced strongly through the wire and galloped out well for Team O’Meara/Tudhope. He’ll be meeting better European peers next month but he sure looked good taking the G1 Shadwell.

Heart to Heart never got a breather but Mott’s Ballagh Rocks made a very good, sustained late run and should benefit from Saturday’s effort.

Casse, not known for having his first-timers pumped up for debut but $1.5 million purchase Curlin’s Honor broke maiden as the heavy favorite with a classy, come-again victory beneath Julien Leparoux, who’s gotten off fast looking for his sixth Keeneland title. Winner’s best races appear ahead of him. (Runnerup Fascilitator a likely maiden breaker next time out but probably will go favored).


Blackjackcat was a clear winner of the Obviously Mile but doesn't appear to be a serious threat a month from now and Roy H. looked good winning the Santa Anita Breeders' Cup Sprint Championship. Six furlongs in 1:08 3/5, with a final quarter in 23 3/5 over the tiring strip is to be respected. Next time the waters will be much deeper, however.

Written by John Pricci

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