Friday, October 30, 2009

Breeders’ Cup Bettors Need Complete, Timely Information

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, October 30, 2009--A cursory look at the past performances of the graded stakes to be run at Santa Anita next weekend indicates that, per usual, Breeders’ Cup events will crown its share of champions.

Breeders’ Cup days always do. Zenyatta’s appearance in the Classic would be just another cherry on this sweet confection.

Now this may come as a surprise, but horseplayers do not live by romance alone. They have something else in mind: Action, and making a score, not necessarily in that order. And they certainly don’t lack for opportunities at this event.

If you’re fortunate enough to have free time next Friday and Saturday afternoons, you will have a total of 19 races to handicap; nine Friday, 10 on Saturday.

In addition to six Breeders’ Cup races Friday, an early double consisting of two Santa Anita allowance races starts this off, with the Las Palmas Stakes bringing down the curtain immediately after the Ladies Classic.

Saturday features eight Breeders’ Cup races, of course, with Santa’s Anita’s Damascus Stakes lifting the lid and the Oak Tree Derby as the 10th race finale. What lies in between makes for a pretty nice wagering sandwich.

With wagering as with life, my philosophy, learned from my father, is: “All things in moderation.” In 1971, the newly mandated OTB corporation in New York City said it another way: “Bet With Your Head, Not Over It."

The advice was good then and remains good today, except for major event days when the pools are so sizable and the races so contentious so as to almost guarantee finding value on that day’s card.

From its inception, the Breeders’ Cup program was hailed as “the Super Bowl of Racing,” which is appropriate, except for the fact that the National Football League acts like it is “shocked, shocked that wagering in going on” on its games. Hypocrites.

Well, I’m here to tell you that if you have a hunch, bet a bunch on the Breeders’ Cup races. For me, there’s not enough money in this little sector of the planet to attack the Breeders’ Cup card. And I believed that when it was a one-day event.

Over the course of two days, there will be an opportunity to bet 17 Rolling Doubles; 15 Rolling Pick Threes; six Pick Fours; two Pick Sixes; 19 exactas, trifectas and superfectas and two Super High-Fives.

In addition, two special wagers will be offered; a Head-2-Head wager on which jockey will win the most Breeders’ Cup races, and a Special Double combining the winners of the Ladies Classic and Classic.

There are guarantees galore and carryovers, too. Each day’s Breeders’ Cup Ultra Pick Six will have a guaranteed pool only on the championship races. Friday’s Ultra Pick 6 will have a guaranteed gross of $500,000; Saturday’s a $2 million guaranteed gross pool. If no one hits the Friday Ultra Pick 6, the pool will carry over into Saturday with a mandatory payout.

The Pick Fours will have three guaranteed pools. Friday’s will have a guaranteed pool of $500,000. On Saturday, the early Pick 4 will have a $1 million guaranteed gross; the late Pick Four will have a $1.5 million gross guarantee.

Super High Fives require bettors to select the first five finishers in a race. If no one hits the Super High Five Friday, the Ladies Classic Super High Five pool will carry over into Saturday’s Classic Super High Five, again with a mandatory payout, paid after the Classic.

On Wednesday’s Breeders’ Cup conference call, I pointed out to Breeders’ Cup CEO Greg Avioli that for years I’ve sought to improve the dissemination of medication and equipment change information which in past Cups has been abysmal.

Race days are rife with corrections made by the track announcer, often after advance wagers have been placed.

And, even if that weren’t the case, late announcements fall through the tracks at simulcast facilities where it’s common practice that announcements are either inaudible or are drowned out by audio from competing racetracks.

Last year, there were the late Lasix announcements re: the Aidan O’Brien horses. And in the last Breeders’ Cup at Belmont Park, the noon-time announcement that the Mile favorite, Leroidesanimaux, would race with two bar shoes on.

Over the years, Lasix additions and equipment-change information has been lax when it wasn’t non-existent. Avioli said that Santa Anita would comply with California Horse Racing Board rules.

But if racing departments at all Breeders’ Cup host tracks don’t do their jobs properly, and the stewards fail to monitor that situation in the course of their normal duties, there’s something very wrong with the system.

Breeders’ Cup officials must mandate unconditionally that host tracks be diligent in dispensing traditional betting information that horseplayers need and routinely have come to expect, by getting this information from horsemen at time of entry.

This is nothing more than standard operating procedure at racetracks every day. Last year, over $155 million was bet on Breeders’ Cup races. Given that kind of incentive, demanding that racing departments insist horsemen comply with basic procedural entry rules isn’t asking too much.

I’m anxious to see what happens when final entries are set next Tuesday. You, and Breeders’ Ltd., should be interested, too.

Written by John Pricci

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Zenyatta: Savior of Synthetic Cup II

ELMONT, NY, October 21, 2009--Now is not the time for panic. Fifteen minutes from now, perhaps. Just not at this moment.

But it hasn’t been a fun run-up to the Breeders’ Cup World Championships thus far. In fact, racing’s greatest event never has been under such a microscope.

This event never, ever, has failed to fire. There’s just too much there, there. But at this point it looks like the fireworks are more apt to resemble sparklers than cherry bombs.

Developments began many months ago when everyone found out that thefilly in the "Year of the Filly,” the great three-year-old distaffer Rachel Alexandra, would not race “on the plastic.”

The hue and cry really began before that, two years ago when it was announced that one track, the mighty Santa Anita Park, would become the first venue to stage the event back-to-back.

The storied racetrack is not the heavy in this piece. Its racing surface, an artificial one mandated by California Horse Racing Board, is.

But at least the surface mitigated some of the reluctance on the part of European horsemen to ship their charges into a hot weather venue at the end of an enervating year.

Clearly, the aim was to turn the event into an international Thoroughbred happening. [Read romance the European betting market here].

In that context, and buoyed by the success of these outlanders in last year’s event, Europeans, or American-based foreign connections, will come in even larger droves.

I wrote at the time, and still believe, that last year’s Breeders’ Cup was, from an aesthetic view, one of its best editions ever.

Too bad that since inception it’s been a public relations nightmare, one that eventually ended with a member of the executive hierarchy being forced to witness the 2009 event from the cheap seats.

Then when Sea the Stars, nine-figure future and all, decided to retire after the Arc, the Classic, or Turf, suffered a huge hit.

He might not have been worth 10,000 new fannies, but he certainly would have attracted a good number from among the curious, creating palpable excitement for a grateful segment of the Thoroughbred audience.

But there have been other defections, notable in their own right. Fabulous Strike, the sprint division leader throughout most of the season and his recent conqueror, Kodiak Kowboy, had their names scratched from their Sprint dance cards.

And just as Breeders’ Cup officials were warming to the idea that E. P. Taylor winner Lahaleeb would seek more glory in the Filly & Mare Turf, their connections decided that putting up a $180,000 supplemental fee was a bad bet.

Trainer Michael Channon put it delicately: “…In a sense, Win and You’re In is a bit misleading.” Indeed. They’re headed to the Hong Kong Cup instead, all expenses paid.

Macho Again might not quicken the pulse, but he did come closest to catching Rachel Alexandra. He'll probably go to the Clark now, having established his liking for Churchill Downs by winning the Stephen Foster.

Time was when the Meadowlands Cup winner was a Classic automatic. But the exciting, albeit sparingly raced, Etched, will point to the Clark, trainer Kiaran McLaughlin indicating that his foreign owners are just saying no to Pro Ride.

Last Saturday at Calder, Jackson Bend, the best two-year-old no one’s ever heard of, completed a sweep of the Florida Stallion series with a three-length score in the In Reality despite looking beaten in upper stretch. No artificial surface for him.

Trainer Stanley Gold, like Stanley Hough in New York, who has a serious juvenile colt in Discreetly Mine and a talented filly in Awesome Maria, instead will look ahead to 2010 three-year-old season.

A victory in the Canadian International was not enough to send Champs Elysees out to Santa Anita for the Turf. Instead, the protem 2009 Canadian Horse of the Year will enter stud in the spring.

The Classic took two more hits this week, one from the connections of Rail Trip, the G1 Hollywood Gold Cup winner who’s battling foot issues, and the other from Team Valor, who decided to point Goodwood winner Gitano Hernando to the $10-million Dubai World Cup in March.

They think it makes more sense than running back quickly on the heels of a hard-fought victory, and they probably made the right decision.

Is the Goodwood becoming a West Coast version of the Meadowlands Cup? Maybe both tracks should consider scheduling their events earlier next season. Just a thought.

But the biggest blow would come from a champion that has had the Breeders’ Cup circled since winning a Championship last year. And for the Classic to have any juice for American race fans, it needs Zenyatta against the boys on her hometown track.

There has been considerable back and forth in the racing media as to the merits of a 14th consecutive modern stakes record victory without defeat or an outside chance at a Horse of the Year title.

It’s highly improbable that a Classic victory that pushes Zenyatta past Hall of Famer Personal Ensign will be enough to earn her the ultimate honor. But it’s not impossible.

I live in the real world and acknowledge Rachel’s three victories over males, one in a classic and another over elders, and two tape-measure jobs against her contemporaries, the most ambitious campaign by a filly ever waged.

But voting is a funny thing, and not just in Florida or Illinois. Think college sports, where late season victories take on added significance as voters start circling the provincial wagons.

A Classic victory, giving her a record 14 straight in this country’s most important race for older horses, would demand serious Hose of the Year consideration, even among Rachel’s staunchest supporters.

Never mind that it’s the only confrontation every Thoroughbred fan would love to see.

Plus having the added benefit of helping to preserve a spectacular racing event in a year that, even with the emergence of two all-time great three-year-olds, has done more to damage the psyche of Thoroughbred fans than any other in recent memory.

Written by John Pricci

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Saturday, October 10, 2009

As Breeders’ Cup Prep Races Go, Today’s Super Duper Saturday

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, October 9, 2009--With apologies to Belmont Park, this is a real Super Saturday. If you don’t believe me, count the races for yourself.

If the Super Saturday card from Oak Tree weren’t enough, Belmont checks back in with the Champagne and Frizette.

And it’s opening weekend at Keeneland. Think Breeders’ Futurity, First Lady, Spinster, Alcibiades, Shadwell Turf Mile, Phoenix, and many others from all three locales.

But, you know? I shouldn’t give Santa Anita any of this space.


Because as I finish this lead thought--at the moment--it’s 11:37 a.m. Friday--I CAN’T GET A LINE ANYWHERE, not from Equibase, not from anywhere, on Santa Anita’s stakes laden program.

The races were drawn Wednesday. So, let’s just take our own Southern California, laid back, sweet time. Forget that fans might be interested. And God forbid horseplayers might want to get a leg up on their work because they might want to BET this attractive card!

Many racing people just don’t want get it. And, trust me, reaping what you sew is not an idle fear any longer. The most valuable asset Americans have, time, is in very short supply these troubled times.

And this industry treats people, people who are on their side, as if they had all the time in the world. Build it, and they will bet. Well, that doesn’t work anymore. And the industry would like some help from outside sources? Based on what, exactly?

I digress.

There are two headliners appearing at Santa Anita today, Amazon filly beast Zenyatta going for 13 straight in the Lady’s Secret. This 1-1/16th miles has been an uncanny predictor of Distaff/Ladies Classic success, especially on SoCal event days.

In the Goodwood, Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird, reuniting with Calvin Borel, will try to get back on winning track. While the race, obviously, is a prep for the Classic, he figures to improve on his recent effort, given the procedure to correct an entrapped epiglottis.

Predicting today’s effort is a tough call, however. While the Goodwood hasn’t been as prodigious as the Lady’s Secret, it’s always had a significant effect on Breeders’ Cup West Coast form. Because of Pro Ride, the Goodwood is the quintessential Classic prep.

Ed. Note: Both races, and the Oak Tree Mile, can be seen on the ESPN family of networks, in and around football games. Check your local listings. Incidentally, just checked with Equibase again, and with the Oak Tree-Santa Anita website. It’s 1:33 p.m. EDT Friday. Still no odds line for Santa Anita.

Once upon a time, the Oak Tree Mile was a harbinger of good Mile form. But that hasn’t been the case in recent years. The last horse to parlay this prep into a Mile victory was Singletary at Lone Star Park five years ago.

From the West, Whatsthescript, and, from the East, Cowboy Cal, might vie for the favorite‘s role. While neither has done a while lot of winning of late, if you believe in classifying on the grass, know they’ve been knocking heads in top class competition most of 2009.

The Yellow Ribbon, for fillies and mares on the turf, has proven to be a key prep, i.e., a negative key prep. Top contenders have emerged from this race at relatively short prices but didn’t extend their Yellow Ribbon form beyond Arcadia.

This year is interesting because Magical Fantasy is an emerging four-year-old star who comes into the 10 furlong route in top form. I’m curious to see how she handles today’s trip, keeping in mind that the F&M Turf is at the same distance. She’s being managed like a top horse.

When Belmont’s Champagne Stakes colts run back in the Juvenile, they fare pretty well--except for those run at Santa Anita. It’s a pretty good roster of young horses that never made the transition out West. The latest failure was Munnings, although it’s hard to know whether the two-turn route or the Pro Ride surface was the bugaboo.

Meanwhile, it’s impossible not to be impressed by Hopeful Stakes winner Dublin. An imposing individual, yet light on his feet, he has a big engine to push him home and certainly appears to be, anyway, any kind of racehorse. His new rider is Ramon Dominguez.

First, however, there’s the matter of winning the Champagne and whether the unlucky Aspire, who chased Dublin home with an authoritative late burst in Saratoga, will fare better with a cleaner trip and added ground.

Discreetly Mine, who split the top two in the Hopeful is back for another go. The leading colt from the Eastern bloc, this instant, is the open-lengths winner of the Belmont Futurity, D’Funnybone, who Rick Dutrow will train up to the Breeders’ Cup.

The early line favorite for the G1 Frizette is Awesome Maria, who looks promising, multi-dimensional filly. She broke her maiden by nearly nine lengths in her second start, then came back to win the G2 Matron on today’s track.

It doesn’t appear that added distance will be a problem for Awesome Maria, a daughter of Alabama winner Pretty Discreet. Interesting, however, that trainer Stanley Hough told NYRA press staffers that he would think about the Breeders’ Cup but would rather put her away with a three-year-old campaign in mind. But if she wins, figure she’s in.

Ed. Note: This is the last time I’m checking this prior to filing this piece on deadline. It’s 3:16 p.m. EDT. Still no line for Santa Anita BC prep card! Pitiful, really.

Written by John Pricci

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