Sunday, June 26, 2016


Unsolicited Opinions and a Possible Heads-Up


HALLANDALE BEACH, NJ, June 26, 2016—Two weeks ago we thought it a capital idea to ask a series of impertinent questions, which was the title of a Sunday column written by the late Harness Hall of Fame writer, Clyde Hirt.

Today we thought we clear the cache, ridding the inbox of items that have been stored there for about a week or so, including Saturday’s stakes race results.

And, so, as tribute to the late, great Jimmy Cannon, sports columnist for the Journal-American back in the day when New York City had--between morning, afternoon and evening editions--about a dozen newspapers.

This, then, is our version of his very popular “Nobody Asked Me But…” opinion piece.

Nobody asked me but Mo Tom would not have a won a classic even if he had enjoyed the same clear sailing he experienced yesterday in suburban North Randall, Ohio--but that would have been interesting to see.

Mo Tom made an awesome far turn-move to win as much the best over non-Grade 1 rivals. Actually, the Ohio Derby wouldn’t have been on any horseman’s radar were it not for the $500,000 purse…

Nobody has asked but with so many graded stakes awarded because of political considerations, isn’t the Ohio Derby worthy of at least Grade 3 status? It may be next year after Saturday’s result, especially if Mo Tom returns to beat a big-time field later this year…

Instead, all Cleveland gets this year is a convention, and they’ll probably rue the day they did…

More impertinent question than statement, but will Adventist ever breakthrough in a big spot? He ran very well with blinkers removed and Aaron Gryder gave him a good trip, albeit angling very wide into the straight. But he did finish with a flourish thereafter…

After sweeping the Big ‘Cap and Gold Cup, Melatonin is the truest mile and a quarter in the West thanks to the incredible work done by trainer David Hofmans. But California Chrome and Beholder breathe different air out there…

Nobody asked me but
a matchup with the newly matured Shaman Ghost would be a better fit and one worth betting on. Can anyone get in an Exchange wager for me?

Given that ticketholders were on the brink of a life-changing $750,000 Jackpot score, Churchill Downs should not have cancelled the final race on their card last week.

Churchill has lights and a receiving/testing barn of some kind, yes? What would have been the harm in moving post time in either direction or waiting out the storm..?

Love the idea Thistledown lowered its takeout rate from 22.5% to 15% but this tack best serves the track, not rank-and-file players. If it track truly wanted to make a difference, a rake break should have been applied to all pools, not just Pick 4 and Pick 5. Next time, be Avis; try harder…

Come Saturday, Evangeline will celebrate a day in the spotlight with its Louisiana Legends program, Belmont has the Mother Goose and there will be juveniles aplenty at Churchill. Nobody’s asked me but Gulfstream Park is the place to bet next Saturday…

The Summit of Speed has been on my radar ever since there once was a track named Calder and, speaking of the Princess Rooney, it never should have lost its Grade 1 status.

There will be eight races with names attached to them on Saturday at GP, including four graded stakes, among them the Rooney at seven furlongs for fillies and the Smile Sprint Stakes for male sprinters at three-quarters. Both are Breeders’ Cup win-and-in events.

The G2 Rooney features Dearest, who’s only loss was to Cathryn Sophia; seven-furlong specialist, Gulfstream-loving and G1-winning Birdatthewire, and Paulassilverling, a winner of two straight graded sprints in New York, are among anticipated nominees. Multiple G1 winner Sheer Drama is possible. To us, unlikely.

The Smile has its share of zip. New York’s loss is expected to be Gulfstream’s gain with Private Zone’s return to the races (unless he opts for Belmont’s G3 Sprint Championship the following week), which at this point seems more likely.

Limousine Liberal, narrowly beaten at odds-on in the G3 Aristides, is expected to ship south from Churchill; Awesome Banner—who won the G2 Swale here this winter here and is cross-entered vs. three year-olds in the Carry Back—will get weight from his elders, and Delta Bluesman, because all sprinters trained by Jorge Navarro can’t be ignored, add more speed to the lineup.

If it’s summertime in South Florida; think two-year-olds.

The Cassidy for fillies features impressive maiden breaker Perfect Kay--a Stonestreeter who won off despite racing greenly with no lead change until the final strides—vs. China Grove, runnerup to Bode’s Dream in Belmont’s Astoria. She’s likely the big favorite…

Nobody’s asked me but
figure that the Birdonthewire for colts will be part of the Rainbow Six, Pick 5, or Late Pick 4. The nominees on paper make it a spread-festival.

There’s just no way to project what will happen when three fast maiden breakers, two at 4-1/2 furlongs, meet two fast 5-furlong maiden breakers on sealed sloppy surfaces, meet a bevy of first-time starters that could prove to be anything.

Among those, incidentally, is one trained by the controversial Patrick Biancone. You may remember Biancone for various and sundry reasons. One of his traits back in the day was specializing in getting juveniles to break maiden in stakes.

For your consideration, Diamond Square has been training at Palm Meadows for his racing debut.

Written by John Pricci

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Tuesday, June 21, 2016


Of Three-Year-Olds, ‘Capping Tomes, and the Fastest Figure Ever?


HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., June 21, 2016—For lovers of the game, the events this past week, both from a sporting and betting perspective, were interesting and thought-provoking. To wit:

An interesting poll question from one of the aggregator sites asked readers to register their vote for opinions the performance of 2016 to date. The choices were among California Chrome’s Dubai World Cup, Frosted’s Metropolitan Handicap and Tepin’s historical Queen Anne performance at Royal Ascot.

The results were as interesting as the poll question. While the victory of Tepin was a bit nuanced given turf and overall visual impression—a victory showing extremely high class while under brilliant handling from Julien Leparoux--figured to finish in the show spot.

She did, but was well supported by all 29% of all respondents. Of greater interest, as of 3:38 pm Monday, California Chrome and Frosted locked in a statistical dead-heat.

‘Chrome’ checked in with a 35.25% share for his dominating victory at 1-1/4 miles over a top-class international field that included Frosted, whose Met Mile’s electric, visually stunning performance gained a slightly larger share at 35.93% of total voters.

But if performance figures were used as a measure, the results probably wouldn’t have been that close. According to Jerry Brown of Thoro-Graph, Frosted’s Met Mile earned a figure of negative 8-½, the largest of all-time on the TG scale.

So, who did Frosted supersede?

According to Brown, the following were the best previous all-time figures: “Dreaming of Julia ran a negative 8 when she won by 20, one of the Pletcher Florida figures; #3 was Quality Road’s negative 7 1/2, another GP figure, and at #4 is Midnight Lute, who ran negative 7 twice.”

Given Frosted’s figure--which would be lower on the Ragozin scale but fast nonetheless--Kiaran McLaughlin probably will keep Frosted in his Greentree stall upstate until the Breeders’ Cup!

SONGBIRD COMING EAST:
Racing fans, especially East Coast–based players, should be excited that Songbird’s connections, after another perfunctory victory in the G2 Summertime Oaks over the weekend, are looking forward to a Saratoga sojourn.

If all goes well in the Coaching Club American Oaks, a 1-1/4 mile run in the storied Alabama Stakes would be next.

Owner Rick Porter indicated, however, there would be no races against males until her 4-year-old season, which is just fine if and when it happens, because he believes his filly has unfinished business with the Eastern-based best, Cathryn Sophia.

GUN RUNNER CONFIRMS HE’S A SERIOUS DIVISIONAL CHALLENGER:
Right now, the big boys of the sophomore class are juvenile champion and Derby winning Nyquist and multiple Grade 1 winners Exaggerator and Creator which, like Gaul, divided the Triple Crown into three parts.

But know that Gunner’s coming and coming at a fast pace. His victory in Saturday’s G3 Matt Winn on the Stephen Foster undercard was at once impressive yet suggested that there very likely is more there, there.

Showing some freshness, ‘Gun’ led them on a merry chase at a little better than a 12-clip throughout en route to 1-1/16 miles in 1:41.14, only .08 seconds slower than the track record set by the older Successful Dan two years ago, a final sixteenth in a snappy 06.16.

Gun Runner’s Matt Winn was his third graded stakes and will try to win his first G1 title in Monmouth Park’s Haskell Invitational.

Said Belmont Stakes-winning trainer and soon-to-be Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen: "I do think he is of the highest quality. That was only his seventh lifetime race and he's faster now than he's ever been." He’ll have to be all that at the Shore track this summer.

Gun Runner, like Songbird, caused a mini-minus place pool ($895) and negative show pool of $31,000. By comparison, the filly caused a minus place pool of nearly $9,600 and a sizable show pool from all sources of more than $201,000.

At Monmouth Sunday, Donegal Moon upset the G3 Pegasus for Todd Pletcher ($15.00) as the 3-10 favorite, Peter Pan-winning Unified, checked in fifth after chasing the pace in his two-turn debut and no longer is undefeated. King’s Bishop, anyone?

BUCKING HISTORICAL SMALL-TRACK TRENDS, LOWER TAKEOUT WORKING:

A 4% increase may not sound like much but, considering many poor weather programs resulted in smaller-field cards than usual, Canterbury Park is outperforming Class-C track trends by a lot, according to the good research available at http://www.pullthepocket.com.

Obviously there remains much more data to analyze and more days of the meet to be played out, but lower takeout is working and will work even better when field size bumps up a bit.

Compared to other C-tracks down approximately 10% nationwide this year, it’s clear bettors respond to better pricing. And considering whales are not contributing for lack of pool size, the comparison becomes starker.

Yes, there’s a shortage of stock everywhere, except at most top venues during their prime-time season which is as it should be: But bettors are now voting with their dollars and daily handle is following the money regardless of venue.

I will continue to moderately support them Canterbury out of loyalty to horseplayers and the realization we’re all in this together. It is in horseplayers’ best interests to do likewise.

As for Canterbury, they could help build field size by scheduling fewer races. That’s not always the panacea but it certainly would be a step in the right direction.

CONSIDER "CASHING BIG ON RACING’S BIGGEST DAYS” A LATE FATHER’S DAY GIFT, OR AN INTELLECTUAL PREP FOR HASKELL AND TRAVERS DAY


Steve Davidowitz’s latest work, “Cashing Big on Racing’s Biggest Days,” is, as they say, a good read. Winning strategies as imparted by Davidowitz, creator of the key race concept in the 1970s, lays out his winning strategies to attack these mega-programs.

It’s not only his approach to big days but the book includes the handicapping approach of other successful practitioners, many household names in the world of public handicapping and contest play, in chapters devoted to them by Davidowitz.

You’ve probably read this before but this work is an excellent primer for new players—both of you, who may be overwhelmed by these temptingly gluttonous betting programs that can overpower even the wiliest of veterans.

Professionals need to bone up on old and fresh perspectives alike such that their game remains at the highest levels, so necessary for survival in this very tough modern game where underlays are not easily avoided and are way too prevalent.

Written by John Pricci

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Sunday, June 19, 2016


A Reflective Occasion for Questions That Make No Sense


HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, June 19, 2016—Maybe because it’s Father’s Day morning that puts me in a contemplative mood. So, as homage to the late Harness Hall of Fame racing writer Clyde Hirt, I raise some impertinent questions:

Why was trainer Brian Lynch randomly tested for drugs? I’ve asked every trainer I came into contact this week and they knew about it, of course. But they couldn’t even hazard a guess. Did someone drop a dime? Was it a ruse for something else?

When you get your trainer’s license and stalls at the local track, you agree to sign many of your rights away so that officials can act “in the best interests of racing.”

Wouldn’t it be nice if racing executives were made to do the same, as opposed to following their prime directive: maintaining job security? What we’re saying here is that racing offices are not entirely responsible for large, unhandicappable fields of bad horses.

But I digress. Drug screening of trainers has happened before, I just never heard of another example after hanging around backstretches for a near half-century. The trainers I spoke with were aware but couldn’t recall who or when it happened before.

But why Lynch and why Belmont week? Why did he only have 48 hours to move his horses to another trainer? He had a half dozen stakes horses in his shedrow that needed to be moved. Was 48 hours a reasonable time-frame under the circumstances?

Why the rush? Were horses in danger because their trainer went to a party?

On Saturday, Lynch’s Grand Arch was saddled by Erin Cotterill, who will saddle two previous Lynch trainees, including Baciami Piccola in today’s Wild Applause Stakes at Belmont.

Grand Arch was her first listed trainee, the assumption being she is Lynch’s top assistant.

Reasonably, was 48 hours enough time to confer with owners as to their preference, or to speak with new trainers who presumably would have to make room—if they had the stalls—to care for horses on a temporary basis?

Why did Drew Mollica Esq. advice his client to surrender his trainer’s license? Is this idea analogous to Marcus Vitali’s recent troubles, the trainer who surrendered his Florida license so that he could not be prosecuted for alleged drug offenses in that state?

Florida, of all places, where you can drive 70 mph while talking with a cell phone on your ear and where you can legally carry concealed weapons.

I only mention this because, as of two days ago, a week after all those very young lives were taken in an Orlando nightclub, there have been 57 shootings in the state of Florida.

Lynch was busted for testing positive for marijuana, legal in 25 states and the District of Columbia; in New York the equivalent of a traffic-ticket offense--for possession, not ingestion. And does anyone care someone would smoke a joynt anymore?

Now everyone’s heard of the “October surprise,” an event that happens in the final month of a presidential election that could change the course of history.

L’affaire Lynch was the annual Belmont Week surprise, something New York State has done of late to show that they are oh so vigilant, oh so transparent. New York’s Racing and Gaming Commission is transparent all right.

Multiple stakes winning sprinter/miler Private Zone, the overnight favorite for the Grade 2 True North, was made to scratch after its owners had freshened him for five months, a long recuperative period following his over-the-top non-effort in the NYRA Mile last fall. Why punish them?

In light of this situation, it’s useful to recall that when Rick Dutrow was suspended for tricked-up offenses by the Kentucky Racing Commission, a trainer change to Mick Nevin was announced to the crowd as the horses came on the track for the post parade leading to a Grade 1 race.

What really flies in the face of optics is why Lynch’s Acorn starter, allowed to run the next day with trainer David Cannizzo listed as trainer on the official program.
Did officials forget Cannizzo’s recent past? A refresher:

Cannizzo had three horses test positive (two won, one finished second) for propoxyphene, a narcotic pain-reliever which was sold under the trade name Darvon until it was banned for sale in the U.S. by the FDA. The substance, likened to heroin, is a schedule-1 drug.

So how did Cannizzo get 45 days for a heroine-like substance when Rick Dutrow got 10 years for Butorphanol, which a preponderance of circumstantial evidence showed was highly likely planted in Dutrow’s barn office?

No trainer ever was suspended for Butorphanol before or since.

Were the 45 days a coincidence, since Cannizzo’s brother Jeffrey is the Executive Director of the New York Thoroughbred Breeders Association?

So tests showed that Lynch smoked pot which dealt with easily enough: Pretend he’s a person of color, put him in the slammer, and throw the key away.

Does this make me a bleeding heart? In the name of empathy, you can make an out-bet on that. I’ve been working under one principle at HRI for eight years: Think something; write something.

I just have one more question as I await my girls--who will have a lot more terror to face in their lives--to Face Time me. I wonder why military-style assault weapons are allowed to be sold to people other than the authorities?

While pondering that, have a Happy Father’s Day.


Written by John Pricci

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