Friday, November 02, 2012


Breeders’ Cup: Keeping It In Perspective


SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, November 2, 2012—I wasn’t supposed to be at this dateline but you play the hand you’re dealt.

And, truthfully, I didn’t feel much like playing.

A quasi-political junkie in my spare time, the 2012 Presidential Election campaign has worn me out. That can happen if you’ve been immersed in it since 2010. Clearly, my bad.

My plan was to leave for SoCal from JFK. I live here, but Albany International doesn’t speak Jet Blue, hence the visit to Long Island.

But health issues intervened, and the new plan was to watch and wager on the Breeders’ Cup in South Florida; Calder on Friday, Gulfstream Park on Saturday.

That’s called being loyal and supporting the advertisers that support you and yours.

Enter Sandy, as cruel a storm as I’ve ever witnessed up close and personal, exacerbated by the fact that my oldest, Jennifer Lee, lives in Atlantic Highlands on the Jersey Shore.

It’s been nearly a half century—I must be having fun because it can’t be that long, can it?—since I listened to a transistor radio. But that’s what happens when the lights and the Internet go out. Power is still out for 9 of every 10 Islanders.

Who knows when it might return?

Thank God for keeping family, and extended family, safe. I arrived back here early Thursday morning, wiped out physically and mentally.

I managed to do one radio show out of two I was responsible for, got out the Equiform and Pick 4 products by phone, after my wife Toni read me the post positions, morning line odds, and jockey assignments over the phone.

The family that wagers together stays together.

Many thanks to the neighbors; George, Rosemary and Barbara Doran, siblings who had the prescience to install a gas generator many years ago for just such emergencies. It kept my cell phone and laptop alive and they showed an Italian what Gaelic spaghetti and meatballs taste like. The only thing better than the food was the company.

Obviously, even though they sit on the other side of the aisle from me, unlike their candidate, they believe in climate change. Not my words; Mayor Bloomberg’s.

I heard about the wind shear that ripped the façade clear off an apartment building somewhere below 39th Street; the devastation in Breezy Point; the carnage in Spring Lake, Barnegat, Seaside Heights, even inland, in Moonachie, New Jersey.

But after arriving in the Capital District, mercifully spared Sandy’s wrath, the video brought the thousands of radio words, well, home. “We’re safe, daddy, but Ocean Avenue is under three feet of sand. My town, it’s gone.”

I must have written this a million times on a blackboard: The Derby is my favorite race but the Breeders’ Cup is my favorite event. But yesterday, Breeders’ Cup Friday eve, I could not find motivation. The event seemed a lot farther than 3,000 miles away.

Anyway, the cupboard was bare, and I went shopping for necessities. I turned on Fox Sports 980--the button for which is on the HRI lead page if you care to stream in—and Jim Rome was talking Breeders’ Cup.

He was explaining to his “clones” why his attitude toward Thoroughbred racing changed, believing for so long that the game was a gambling vehicle, and gambling vehicle only.

But then he became friendly with Billy Koch, founder of the Little Redfeather Racing syndicate, and bought into shares of a few horses, enjoying few highs and many lows, but he stayed with it because of the aura of backstretch life.

Old schoolers may not care for Rome’s style, but he’s a brilliant communicator on radio. Despite those talents, he was having difficulty explaining why he now cares to much for the game.

So he played a tape of the interview he had earlier this week with celebrity chef Bobby Flay, who was introduced to Todd Pletcher and got into the game. Together, they won a Breeders’ Cup with a juvenile turf filly named More Than Real.

“Aside from the birth of my child,” Flay said in that interview, “it was the most exhilarating moment of my life.

“When [I think it was Pletcher—brackets mine] tapped me on the shoulder when the field reached the quarter pole and said ‘you’ve got horse,’ well…”

Rome and Flay are now kindred racing spirits, falling prey to what trainer Howie Tesher calls “the Manure Syndrome.” Once that smell reaches your brain…

The next thing Rome said was that he was humbled to have a horse good enough to race in the this year’s Breeders’ Cup.

The filly is called Mizdirection, a 20-1 chance that’s racing against males in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint, down the hill at Santa Anita going 6-1/2 furlongs. Arguably, it’s the most interesting configuration for a horse race anywhere in this country.

Rome then explained to his mostly non-racing audience that his trainer, Mike Puype, is very good bringing horses back from a layoff. Mizdirection hasn’t raced since May 27.

Twice recently she has come off layups, winning off a February to April break and the time before, last fall, when she came off another layup to be beaten 3/4s of a length in Keeneland’s Grade 2 Raven Run.

“I can’t tell you to bet on her clones, she’s in very tough. But she’s training great and we wouldn’t run unless we thought we had a chance…It’s an honor to run in this race.

“I can’t wait for Saturday. I’m going to pound it. If we win, we’ll be celebrating for days.”

Well, Romey, here’s some A-B-C type information. The Equiform Energy Figures I’ve been using for close to a decade tell me she has more than a puncher’s chance.

Both of her lifetime best figures were earned on this course, at this unique, hybrid distance. She might not be as “fast” as some of her male rivals, but the course is a great equalizer. She’s getting a three-pound sex allowance.

My Equiform Breeders’ Cup partners, Cary Fotias, the author of these figures, and European maven Nick Mordin, well respected professional horseplayers, are taking a swing. So am I.

Thanks for getting a stormed-out, political and Thoroughbred racing junkie pumped up again for Breeders’ Cup. Tragedy makes for informed perspective but, like electricity, and life itself, we should never take our inner compass for granted.

* * *

We’ll be back throughout Breeders’ Cup Friday and Saturday programs with developing storylines and handicapping updates

Written by John Pricci

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Tuesday, October 09, 2012


Quick Hits From the Big Weekend


SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, October 9, 2012—Back home for a bit so it’s time to catch up with a couple of quick takes on what’s been happening during one of the racing’s busiest time of the year:

Dan’s #1…Dan’s #1: And it would be unwise to think that positions on the NTRA National Poll will change until Nov. 5, a.k.a. Election Eve. Wise Dan, despite returning on unaccustomed-for-him short rest, dominated the Shadwell Turf Mile.

That’s three straight Mile wins on turf and 4-of-5 under those conditions dating back to July 4, 2011. But I agree with the Racing Post writer who recently stated Wise Dan should run in the Classic.

We believe that for two reasons: While trainer Charlie Lopresti and owner Morton Fink say publicly that a Horse of the Year title for their gelding is not all that crucial, then why--money notwithstanding--are you in the horse business?

Further, a look at his Equiform figures as he approaches Breeders’ Cup weekend, tell the same story they did before the Shadwell; Wise Dan owns better Energy Figures on both dirt and synthetic surfaces. If the Santa Anita dirt surface tightens up significantly, the connections could change their minds. That’s a big if.

SoCal, By Way of Shanghai: Kudos to the connections of protem Juvenile champion Shanghai Bobby for deciding on a go in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, after first planting seeds of doubt following his Champagne tour de force.

Whether it’s because last year’s Juvenile turned out to be a good Kentucky Derby barometer--in terms of participation in the 2012 Derby, or because they believe their colt had done enough, or feared no-show voter reprisals, or worried that a Lasix-less ‘Bobby’ would somehow be less than in the warm and sunny Arcadia environment, doesn’t matter now.

Starlight Racing is doing the game a good turn. And to be favored to earn the winner’s share of a $2 million pot ain’t so bad, either. Good for them.

Vote Your Conscience: My colleague Steve Haskin of Bloodhorse.com had it right Saturday afternoon at Belmont Park. If you want to make a statement and leave I’ll Have Another off your NTRA or Eclipse ballot for whatever reason, fine.

But if you rank him somewhere in the Top 10, how could he be anything other than the leading Horse of the Year candidate at this juncture. His 2012 slate: (4) 4-0-0, including a Grade 2, the G1 Santa Anita Derby and, of course, a Dual Classics winner. Until Nov. 3, anyway, it’s the sport’s most compelling resume.

A Mulligan For All My Friends: With apologies to Bukowski, I have awarded Breeders’ Cup do-overs to Ron The Greek, To Honor And Serve, and now Dullahan and St. Nicholas Abbey. Wherever you think they belong in racing’s pecking order is fine.

But each is better—much better—than their Jockey Club Gold Cup, Kelso, Jamaica and Arc say that they are. Not saying they will win at this juncture, only that they cannot be dismissed out of hand.

Now defending champion Amazombie has run well off poor efforts in the past, but he may be a Sprint throw-out this time. Have to think about this guy for a while; stay tuned.

Yes or No Answer, Please: Should Keeneland runner-up Exothermic, mistakenly administered Lasix on last Friday’s opening day program, have run for “purse money only?”

Absolutely. It was the right—and only fair thing---to do. This way, no one gets hurt.

Did Christophe Soumillon move too soon in the Arc? It certainly looked that way. Star Japanese filly Orfevre swept to command into the straight at Longchamp Sunday and appeared on her way to certain victory when Solemia, beneath Olivier Peslier, re-rallied and nailed Orfevre in the final strides. Taking nothing away from the victress, Orfevre ran too good to lose.

Will Todd Pletcher Be the Most Prolific Earner Ever? It certainly looks that way. Only 16 years ago, Pletcher saddled his first winner. Over the weekend, he became the second all-time leading trainer in money won, surpassing the late Hall of Famer Bobby Frankel.

What your attitude towards Pletcher, earnings of nearly a quarter-billion dollars (yes, with a b) in 16 years is an amazing achievement. Latest figures have him trailing his mentor, D. Wayne Lukas, by approximately $32 million, after saddling about half the number of runners. As of last Saturday, $228 million and climbing.

Was Groupie Doll More Dominating than Wise Dan? In her fashion, yes. Rajiv Maragh rode her with arrogant confidence, believing all he needed was running room and a dream.

Despite mid-post position, Maragh decided to save ground and entering the stretch was fortunate to find daylight between rivals. He knuckled on her and she was gone, powering away effortlessly. And like Dan, she doesn’t have to carry her surface around with her.

Name That Tune: Facing winners for the first time off a single start, Noble Tune, just as he had in his debut, was most impressive, demonstrating a turn of foot uncommon with juveniles, especially over yielding ground, a grass star in the making.

Racing sixth as the Pilgrim horses entered the far turn, Ramon Dominguez elected to shift inside toward the hedge, angled outside approaching headstretch with push button acceleration, blew the race open, and then was idled down late. Surface notwithstanding, was every bit as impressive as Shanghai Bobby.

Written by John Pricci

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Wednesday, October 03, 2012


In And You Win


ELMONT, NY, October 3, 2012—So you thought last Saturday was super? Think again. Enter Keeneland, making the racing Friday through Sunday in Lexington, Elmont and Arcadia the Mother of All Breeders’ Cup prep weekends.

According to information provided by Breeders’ Cup Ltd., there will be no fewer than 15 “Win and You’re In” events. And that’s significant, too.

The economy still is what it is what maybe it’s due to some feeling of acrimony between horsemen and Breeders’ Cup, precipitated by the “No Lasix” mandate in all events for juveniles.

Most horsemen are resentful, make no mistake, but this game never, ever has been happy with anything other than the status quo. There have been a number of juvenile defections already, reasons which are any other than the real issue.

Yes, I know, they believe it’s unfair to the division as a whole that championship events will be held without the performance-enhancing diuretic:

Horses on Lasix run faster than horses racing without it. What would you call it other than performance enhancing. And, parenthetically, Lasix does not “prevent” bleeding, it retards it. Ever hear of a horse “bleeding through Lasix?”

There is one point made by horsemen does ring true. It does throw a huge monkey wrench into betting on any of the juvenile events. How horses--even young ones who don’t “need” the medication per se—will react when it is withdrawn is unknowable.

Of course, owners and trainers did have the option of running without it all season, but that doesn’t fit neatly into various training “programs.” But, I digress.

This year, then, the “Win and You’re In” economic incentive is more important than ever.

On Tuesday’s NTRA tele-conference, Dale Romans, spoke of Breeders’ Cup participation for his 3-year-old turf star, Silver Max, the acknowledged leader of that class most of the season:

Said Romans: “We don’t know what his peak is or could be. We have to run in the Shadwell, evaluate his race and see what we want to do.

“It’s expensive [to run in the Breeders’ Cup]. He may not run at all. Even without [heavy favorite] Wise Dan, we’ll see what [Silver Max] is made of.”

Romans is not the only one looking for answers or, at least, seeking confirmation of where he’s at and where he’s going next. So is Charlie Lopresti, trainer of Wise Dan, ranked third in this week’s NTRA poll.

“He worked [great] other day, just like in Saratoga after the Fourstardave. He came out of the [Woodbine Mile] very, very well, so we decided that we might as well run him.

“Otherwise, I would have to work him Saturday and maybe two or three times after that. But if he shows any indication he’s not ready to run, then he won’t.”

‘Now if Wise Dan runs well and comes out of the [Shadwell Turf Mile] well, we’ll go on to the Breeders’ Cup. This race could knock him out. If we don’t go [to Breeders’ Cup], we can look at the [Churchill’s Grade 1] Clark on dirt.

The remarkable 5-year-old Wise Dan has won graded stakes on three surfaces; dirt, turf and synthetics.

The most disappointing aspect with regard to Breeders’ Cup is that Lopresti and owner Morton Fink do not plan to keep their options open by cross-entering in the Mile and Classic, even with a strong possibility of becoming Horse of the Year.

“If we go to California we know where we’ll run,” Lopresti said, giving every indication that it would be in The Mile on the turf.

“We’re not too overly concerned with [becoming Horse of the Year]. “He’s a gelding so it wouldn’t enhance his stud value.”

It’s refreshing when horsemen are completely forthcoming and guileless. But the admission that Wise Dan’s connections are “not too overly concerned” with a very winnable Horse of the Year title is not only unwelcome news for Breeders’ Cup but for the sport as well.

Many observers believe that he is, on balance, the most talented horse in America. But perhaps Wise Dan’s people are a little intimidated about meeting Game On Dude at 1-1/4 miles on his home track where he is undefeated in five lifetime starts.

But even European journalists are interested in seeing Wise Dan run in the Classic. Sam Walker of the Racing Post wrote this week that it would be “wise for Dan” to run in the Classic, using Racing Post ratings to make his case.

The top ranked horse in the world combining all surfaces is the amazing undefeated Frankel, ranked at 142 pounds on turf, 12 pounds higher than co-runners-up Black Caviar and Cirrus Des Aigles at 130.

In this category, Wise Dan is tied for sixth at 128 pounds, earned for his efforts on All-Weather and dirt surfaces. All other horses ranked above him are European turf specialists.

On turf, Wise Dan is rated at 127 pounds, the leading American turf horse but which places him in a five-horse dead-heat for seventh with five European runners.

On dirt, however, Wise Dan is rated at 128, one more pound than retired dual Classic winner I’ll Have Another and three pounds higher than Game On Dude.

Additionally, Wise Dan is the top rated All-Weather horse in the world at 128, one pound more than Pacific Classic-winning 3-year-old Dullahan and again three pounds higher than Game On Dude at 125, based on his Hollywood Gold Cup score.

As the lottery people say and keeping with this weekend’s theme, only in reverse, you’ve got to be in it to win it. Unless, of course, your horse is a gelding, and purse money is the prime motivator.

Imagine what American racing history would look like if the connections of Kelso, Forego and John Henry felt the same way. I wonder what Sam Rubin, owner of the legendary John Henry, would do?

Twice Horse of the Year and a four-time turf champion, John Henry, in addition to winning the 1981 Jockey Club Gold Cup, remains only one of three horses to win the Santa Anita Handicap back-to-back in ‘81 and ’82.

In 1984, at age 9, he became the oldest horse to win Horse of the Year even without a victory in the inaugural Breeders’ Cup Classic. But not for lack of trying.

Because his sire, Ole Bob Bowers, wasn’t nominated, Rubin would need to pony up a 20% supplemental few of $400,000 to enter the $2 million Turf. Said Rubin at the time:

''It's a stupid thing to do. I'm doing it for the horse, for the jockey, for the trainer. I could have done without it. I hope he comes out of the race healthy; that's what I hope.”

A crushing blow at the time, John Henry strained a ligament in his left foreleg, he was withdrawn from consideration, and never raced again.

Hopefully, Wise Dan does well enough, and comes out of the Shadwell well enough, to proceed to SoCal on the first Saturday in November. Lopresti said if we go to California, we know where we’ll run. Hopefully there’s still time to reorder priorities.

Written by John Pricci

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