Sunday, July 03, 2016


Independence Day: A Selfless Fan Practitioner Is Leaving the Sport for Good


I met Steven Roman, a scientist with a passion for Thoroughbred racing who closely examined how pedigree can shape the destiny of young horses seeking to become next year’s Kentucky Derby champion, as a fellow participant at the first-ever Handicapping Expo in Los Angeles decades ago.

I enthusiastically embraced his research and learned to understand how a sire’s aptitude for getting stout horses on the first Saturday of every May and beyond via his Dosage Index algorithm. I found it fascinating, a useful tool that would help answer an age-old question.

On his website last month, http://www.chef-de-race.com, Roman revealed that he is ending his association with Thoroughbred racing, sharing his complete thought-process for the decision and taking nearly 5,000 words to do so. When the financial arrangement with his server provider lapses, the site will go dark for good.

We’re reprinting his long goodbye here in two parts, today and Wednesday, editing for context and brevity. The purpose of anything we do here at HRI is viewed hyper-critically in the eyes of the industry. We all are trying to leave the game it a better place and that takes tough love. We don’t exist to create sensational headlines.

Our persistence is not an attempt to restore the game to its former glory. That’s way above my pay grade and, seemingly, above those who control racing’s destiny, from the boardrooms to the backstretch of America’s racetracks. I don’t consider myself--nor do I wish to be regarded as--a prophet of doom.

But do know this: If Roman’s words don’t resonate with all the practitioners who are tethered to the Thoroughbred, at this exact moment in time, then nothing ever will and the sport is in a far worse place than anyone can imagine. Every individual needs to serve the long range health of the sport and take action now. Racing’s present needs it; racing’s future demands it.

As my former boss at the New York Racing Association, Media Relations Vice-President Pat Lynch said to me nearly five decades ago: “This game’s been studied to death.” Sadly, that's true today yet the same basic problems still persist. Who does the industry thinks it's fooling?

Like climate change, the situation is dire, one that calls for dramatic action now. Lamentably, it already may be too late. If the industry can lose a man who once was as passionate about the sport as Steven Roman was then we’re truly at a tipping point. The following is Dr. Roman’s farewell address:


“I am ending my association with Thoroughbred racing. The web site will no longer be updated. The content will remain available until the current contract with my web host lapses sometime in 1Q 2017, after which the site will go dark. Until then, any and all of the information at the site will be freely available.

“My interest in American racing has been waning for quite some time and I had hinted at my departure to friends as far back as three years ago. After 60 years, initially as a youthful racing fan, then as a hands-on owner, breeder and caretaker of pleasure horses and finally as an active participant on the racing side, the rewards of the sport that once were motivational and inspiring are mostly gone.

“My perception of a decline in the quality and diversity of American Thoroughbred racing along with the industry's continual (and, I believe, intentional) inability to deal effectively with the abusive nature of the game has taken its toll. American racing's ongoing decline is real and I am not alone in this view. A simple Google search will return many links to web pages suggesting the same.

“I'm not retiring because “retiring” implies an end to a job or career... For me Thoroughbred racing always has been an avocation. I've never been directly involved in the industry… I was content to enjoy the thrills and excitement of the sport while remaining an outside observer. Now it's coming to an end quite simply because I would prefer to spend my time doing other things.

“I've never relied on racing to make a living. If I had, perhaps my views would be more mainstream and similar to those of people actively working in the industry and whose income depends on maintaining or at best tweaking the status quo. That's not who I am as you will see.

“By training and inclination I am a physical scientist with advanced degrees in chemistry, and as the author of over 60 U.S. patents and peer-reviewed journal publications I know a bit about scientific method. I trained with a Nobel Prize winner and for many years I managed a world-class exploratory chemistry research group, was involved in university technology acquisition and participated in strategic planning for an international chemical company.

“I have extensive research and development experience in agricultural, animal health and industrial chemistry. It is this expertise, training and academic discipline that I have continuously applied to my research into the relationship between Thoroughbred pedigrees and on-track performance.

“I was a hands-on owner, breeder and early-stage trainer of Morgan and half-Morgan show and pleasure horses long before I became actively involved in Thoroughbred racing. I fed them, groomed them, played with them, tended to their ailments and pretty much hung out with them on a daily basis for 35 years until leaving the U.S. in 2004. I cared for a few retired race horses as well. So I also know something about the mind and body of the horse.

“Our opinions and values are shaped and developed largely by our life experiences. Since those experiences are unique to the individual I have no expectation the opinions and values of others will necessarily agree with mine. And that's fine. It's how it should be. Our differences are what make life interesting…Our experiences entitle us to our own understanding of the truth.

“Native Dancer was the first Thoroughbred I ever saw race. The "Gray Ghost of Sagamore" became TV's first Thoroughbred superstar. Watching him finish second in the 1953 Kentucky Derby in his only career loss was devastating to an impressionable youngster. Despite the disappointment, I was hooked. My love affair with the horse had begun.

“Looking back I am fortunate to have seen many of the great Thoroughbreds that followed. I recall the excitement of watching Swaps, Nashua, Round Table and Ribot in the 1950s; Kelso, Dr. Fager, Damascus, Buckpasser and Sea Bird II in the 1960s and, of course, Secretariat, Forego, Ruffian, Seattle Slew, Affirmed, Spectacular Bid and Brigadier Gerard in the 1970s. Then I sensed a change.

“Good American horses still came along on a regular basis but none, at least for me, generated the magic of those earlier years until Ghostzapper appeared in the first decade of the new century. There really haven’t been any since, although I have enjoyed a few such as Rachel Alexandra and California Chrome. Lest the reader think that I'm blinded by nostalgia, consider that the best colt and the best filly I have ever seen over seven decades both raced within the last half dozen years.

“However, neither one was American-bred and neither one was American-raced. Some latter day American horses have been prematurely proclaimed as racing's next saviors, the horses that will rekindle fan interest and return the game to its glory days. It has never happened and it never will. The slow decline of racing in the U.S. has been ongoing for years and if Secretariat couldn't reverse the trend, I doubt any individual horse ever can.

“There are parallels between the trajectories of Thoroughbred racing and professional boxing. From the 1940s and into the 1960s boxing reached its zenith of popularity when the Gillette Cavalcade of Sports was one TV's most successful series, bringing the best of boxing into millions of homes every Friday night. A short time later Muhammad Ali came along and his skills transcended those of all who came before. One could even argue that Secretariat was racing's Muhammad Ali.

“Then boxing changed. People's tastes changed. Why the public began to view boxing as excessively violent and corrupt is worthy of discussion but is not the point. What is the point is that our perceptions of the sport did change and that over time it lost favor with the general public even if retaining a hardcore base of followers.

“The American public seemingly has developed a similar attitude toward Thoroughbred racing. A growing number believe it is cruel and dishonest. This belief is continually reinforced when a prominent horse dies on the track or a well-known trainer or jockey is accused of cheating. I would argue that boxing's and racing's decline is the direct result of the respective industry's policies and internal activities.

“True latter day giants of the turf are becoming rarer as Thoroughbred racing has moved in a direction that has failed to sustain public interest. Today we are feeling the effects of Thoroughbred racing's persistent shift toward breeding for speed and early maturity in the hope of quick returns on investment. Since the 1980s the annual percentage of major North American stakes races contested beyond a mile-and-an-eighth on dirt has fallen dramatically. In 1987 there were over 50 major stakes races on dirt beyond nine furlongs. The leading horses among the winners were Alysheba, Bet Twice, Broad Brush, Creme Fraiche, Ferdinand, Java Gold, Personal Ensign and Snow Chief.

“In 2015 there were about half as many such races. The best horses included American Pharoah, Beholder, Shared Belief and Tonalist, hardly a comparable group in my opinion. For me, racing today is less diverse and less interesting. The emphasis on speed is reflected in the evaluations of classic races produced by many of the organizations that generate such ratings. For example, when Daily Racing Form's Beyer Speed Figures for American classic races are plotted by year, the trend line shows that the typical figure for the winners of those races has fallen from 111 in 1990 to 103 in 2015.

“Similarly, Equibase speed figures have fallen from 115 to 109 over the same time frame. My own Performance Figures (PFs) reflect an identical pattern, falling from -65 in 1997 to -56 in 2015. Even the Racing Post in the UK has noted a decline in their trend figures for the Kentucky Derby from about 123 in 1997 to about 120 in 2015. Horses, with some exceptions, apparently are winning the American classics at lower levels of quality than expressed two, three and four decades ago.

“It shouldn't be a surprise considering how excessive speed in a pedigree limits ability over a classic distance. This seems like the wrong direction for a sport that promotes classic racing as the ideal. It is not a coincidence that no major American record on dirt beyond a sprint distance has been broken in almost 30 years, while records at 5 1/2, 6 and 6 1/2 furlongs all have been set since 2009.

“As only an occasional recreational horseplayer…I don't really know how the trend toward ever-increasing speed affects the side of the game that supports and sustains it --betting. And as a casual and infrequent horseplayer, the wagering part of the game isn't nearly enough to keep me involved.

“There is another component of the sport that does impact the wagering side and that is the seemingly indiscriminate use of medication, both legal and illegal. The industry, clearly driven by short-term motives, has failed to properly address this serious issue even though many racing venues outside the United States seem to thrive while exercising strict control over the use of drugs.

“There is no convincing explanation as to why horses in the United States routinely race on Lasix and/or Bute while horses in other parts of the world do not. Apart from the potentially damaging long-term physiological effects of any pharmaceutical, their application could be considered abusive to the extent such drugs mask physical deficiencies that in their absence would preclude the horse from being able to race effectively if at all. Yet we still hear the argument that such drugs are not performance enhancing.

“That may be strictly true in that they don't allow a horse to run faster than it is physically capable of running. However, they undeniably enable physically compromised horses to run that probably shouldn't be running in the first place. I would consider that performance-enhancing in the broadest sense. It's a virtual certainty that the overuse of race day medication contributes to injuries and fatalities on the track. Yet it appears that the quest for short-term profitability inhibits any serious attempt to find a meaningful solution.

“Because of this economically-driven, self-induced paralysis we are continually subjected to the infuriating and obscene meme following any on-track fatality that "it's sad but it's part of the game." We've all heard this reprehensible comment even from the most successful trainers, riders and owners. In my opinion such comments are a disgrace and reflect poorly on those who make them. I doubt they would make similar statements about high school football.

“I guess in the end most people either don't really care or are in denial. It's also likely they are unaware of the Associated Press study conducted almost a decade ago that identified at least 5,000 track-related horse fatalities in the U.S. between 2003 and 2008, an average of about three per day. [Those statistics have improved but] I'm as guilty as anyone who tolerates these activities without protest.”

Part 2, Wednesday: Does the Industry Care Enough to Change the Way It Conducts Business?

Written by John Pricci

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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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