Sunday, October 14, 2018

Prep-eration Done, Zero Minus Three Weeks

Serious horseplayers are chomping at the bit and at least 85 “Win-and-In” all-expenses-paid horse owners are eagerly anticipating the first weekend of November.

We’ve said it before, in both a sporting and gambling sense, that as an event the Breeders’ Cup never fails to fire. One can argue that posit but the end result figures prohibitively to be more of the same.

There has been some media and social hand-wringing over the lack of star power during this year’s run-up so it was welcoming news when John Gosden announced that the great Enable would be coming stateside for the Turf.

So whether bet on or lay the Turf favorite, this event and the competitively diverse Distaff are certain to lend stature to Saturday’s lynchpin Classic program.

And we love the new concept of “Future Stars Friday,” for two reasons:

Alliteration notwithstanding, Filly Friday never really caught on, and as sophomore-centric as the sport has become in modern times, what could be more interesting than getting an early line on potential 2019 classics performers?

East meets West, an interesting storyline and usually worthy of hyperbole, takes on added significance on Day 1 thanks to the performance of Complexity in last weekend’s Champagne, setting up his battle with the West’s equally gifted Game Winner.

What makes the confrontation classic is Complexity’s unusual brilliance and strength which belies a short-side pedigree v Game Winner’s two-turn experience and stride-lengthening finish. Brown v Baffert doesn’t hurt, either.

Adding to what should be an intriguing, action-filled Friday are turf routes and sprints for youngsters of both sexes, along with the traditional Juvenile Fillies which might become more of a Midwest v East v South thing.

Hard to know what to make of yesterday’s racing, including Rushing Fall’s performance in the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup. Pre-race, trainer Chad Brown announced there would be no Breeders’ Cup. Three presumed reasons:

Couldn’t give away her edge at Keeneland--where she’s now 3-for-3 after Javier Castellano walked the dog in yesterday’s QE II; she needs more than three weeks rest, and the likeliest concern: 1-3/8 miles may be a furlong or two too far.

In three significant Saturday events, one at Belmont and two in Toronto, each was won by horses that came from Europe.

Stella di Camelot, trained by Brown and ridden with precision by Eric Cancel, kicked clear from Andina Del Sur late, who ran much too good to lose, a casualty of pace and situational dynamics.

The two Ontario-based Grade 1s, one for each sex, was won by horses that last raced in Great Britain. Far from Europe’s best—E.P. Taylor winner Sheikha Reika had never run in Group company but was more than enough to handle whatever North America could amass.

The foreign victories said more about the inadequacies of turf talent on this continent as opposed to that seemingly racing anywhere else in the world in jurisdictions that do not run with raceday medication. Coincidence?

Credit trainers David Simcock and Roger Varian for their preparation and reading of the competition, and to excellent handling by young, talented paisano Andrea Atzeni, who timed both rides perfectly, starting with Desert Encounter.

Parenthetically, there has been a recent trend among Lexington-based breeders to produce strains that will perform well on turf, perhaps thinking that if dirt pedigree can act on turf, why wouldn’t it work the other way around?

This might come just in the nick of time, so to speak. Foreign dominance on North American turf courses is getting to be a little old.

Cruzado Dela Noche, bred at Hanover Shoe Farm but representing Sweden, shocked the Yonkers International Trot field at 30-1 with Hall of Famer Brian Sears in the bike.

Timed in a snappy 1-1/4 miles in 2:24, the race was marred when both favorites, Canadian champion Marion Marauder and prestigious Elitlopp winner Ringostarr Treb, jumped off stride early on, changing the entire race complexion. Sears, who has done so over 10,000 times, gave the winner a perfect drive, biding his time until setting sail in the final quarter mile.

The 2018 Yonkers International was the last major harness event hosted by Yonkers track president and CEO Tim Rooney, whose family held harness track recently sold the venue to MGM Resorts.

Rooney is the son of Art Rooney, a prolific horseplayer who once cashed a parlay at Saratoga worth $160,000. A lover of sports, the family patriarch had enough money to found the Pittsburgh Steelers franchise in 1933.

Thirty-nine years later, Art bought Yonkers Raceway and Liberty Bell Park, the precursor of Parx. His son Tim became Yonkers Raceway’s chief executive at a time when the sport was in its heyday.

Yonkers eventually carried on the International Trot tradition which began at Roosevelt Raceway. Tom Jicha and I first met Rooney in 1970 when Jicha was sports editor of the resurgent New York Daily Mirror. My memory of Rooney from those early days was one of a bright, soft spoken gentleman.

Under Rooney’s direction, Yonkers began simulcasting its races to France four years ago and began commingling betting pools two years later. Betting handle from France eventually resulted in higher payouts to Yonkers bettors.

Joe Faraldo, president of the Standardbred Owners Association of New York, best described Rooney in a recently published interview: “I found him to be a man of his word who really likes the sport,” Faraldo said. “His word was better than what most people put in writing.”

CROSS-BREED PICK OOPS: A refund was issued on all wagers made on Saturday's Belmont-Yonkers Pick 4 after it was determined a 'stop betting' order at the AmTote hub for the separate pool wager occurred after the start of Race 7 at Yonkers, the $250,000 Harry Harvey Invitational Trot, which was the first leg in the sequence of the Belmont-Yonkers Pick 4 wager.

Wagering on the Belmont-Yonkers Pick 4 was stopped during the running of the Harry Harvey Invitational Trot but some wagers entered the pool late.

In an effort to be fair to all bettors, the Belmont-Yonkers Pick 4 gross pool of $12,409 has been refunded. Players that purchased winning tickets will be contacted and paid the full amount. Those players that correctly played the winning sequence of 1-6-5-2 will be paid $1250.75 for each $0.50 ticket.

Kudos to NYRA management for doing the right thing by all bettors.

Joe Gorajec and I never met yet I’m one of his biggest fans. He speaks truth to power and three years ago lost his position as executive director of the Indiana State Racing Commission by writing and sharing this opinion after specifically being advised not to do so.

In part: “I have seen substantial efforts – with mixed results – to improve uniformity in drug testing and penalties for positive tests. I have also witnessed a largely inadequate, milquetoast response to emerging threats to racing's integrity…

“Most significant among these threats are blood-doping agents and other drugs that require an extensive out-of-competition program for detection. I believe the threat to the integrity of our sport is greater now than it was 25 years ago.”

Gorajec is at it again in his InsideRacingRegs blog whereby he “called on ALL state racing regulators to adopt rules voiding the claim of horses in claiming races if they suffered fatal injuries or were placed on the vet's list immediately after competing.”

Currently, the voided-claim rule is in effect in nine states but only California routinely provides that information to Equibase, the official industry database, so that horseplayers reading charts and past performances know when a horse was claimed and then had that claim voided.

Gorajec recently amended that suggestion, stating that the information provided Equibase details are general and that claims may have been voided for reasons other than a horse's physical condition.

“…I believe horse players deserve this information,” Gorajec wrote. “It might be helpful; it might not. That should not be for us – regulators, track operators, horsemen, etc. – to decide. Put the information out there and let the public decide. They are the ones who are risking their money.”

Gorajec, who supports Barr-Tonko uniformity legislation, continues to advocate for transparency in the name of the public trust. What a concept!

Staffer and soon HRI Managing Editor upon the debut of HorseRaceInsider 2.0, Mark Berner, discusses at length and in depth the benefits that improved technology can have on the horse racing landscape.

In his recent interview on the ESPN podcast “In The Gate” with Barry Abrams, Berner demonstrates his second-nature understanding of how new technologies can advance the industry’s course going forward.

Click on the following You Tube link below. The interview begins at the 13-minute mark:

Written by John Pricci

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