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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Saturday, October 03, 2009

Raising Your Simulcast Voice: Last Call

ELMONT, NY, October 3, 2009--Those with designs on making a score on Breeders' Cup weekend will be keeping their eyes on the 38 graded stakes contested during the next two weeks, an astounding 20 of the Grade 1 variety. As we said earlier this week, this is a great time of year to be a racing fan.

But today will be the last opportunity you'll have to raise your voice when the Thoroughbred Racing Associations and Harness Tracks of America hold their simulcasting conference two weeks hence in Saratoga. And that's why we have this back on the HRI lead page. Your input is important. Trust me, the wheels of progress are beginning to grind forward. Slowly, but in the right direction.

In return for taking the time to respond, I promise to tell your story. The response has been strong but I'd love to have as many of your ideas as possible when suggesting how the industry might improve its simulcast presentation. And with nine of every 10 dollars wagered off-track, the need for a better product is more important than ever.

So, please, if you haven't done so, post a line or two. No need to be long-winded if you don't wish to be. Just list your top two or three preferences, I'll grade them, and pass them along.

We'll tabulate the HRI poll results to form a consensus, promising not to take refuge behind it. Consensus doesn’t settle debate; it’s often a way to avoid it. All I can promise is that your voices will be heard.

In case you missed this post first time around, your choices should be based on standard television production values. How does the picture look? Is the message and the information--scratches, post times, etc.--presented in a clear and comprehensive fashion?

Are graphics legible and meaningful and not just unwanted window dressing? How was the camera work; too many cut-aways, not enough? Were simulcast hosts appealing and informative, or verbose and arrogant? How useful was the quality of betting information? What about the paddock and post parade presentations?

Those are some of the values I value to serve my wagering needs. And these are some of the issues I'd like you to consider. So, please, let's see those 1-2-3s. Thanks.

This Is Final TIme This Post Will Appear on the HRI Lead Page

Written by John Pricci

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Friday, September 18, 2009

Finally, Industry Becoming Responsive to its Fans

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, September 17, 2009--Much as I hate to admit it, and as much as we bitch and moan that nothing ever gets done, sometimes somebody out there listens to its constituency.

After lamenting that the country never got a chance to see Rachel Alexandra make history in the Woodward Stakes either over-the-air or on national cable television, it was the suggestion here and elsewhere that the race could have been shown, perhaps, at halftime of a college football game.

Well it looks like Breeders’ Cup, the ESPN network, or both, stepped up and will televise two weekends of important Breeders’ Cup preps the weekends of Oct. 10-11 and again on Oct. 17, the conclusion of the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series.

While the schedule is truncated and not all it could be, it’s a step in the right direction and could set a precedent for seasons to come. It may not be Rachel, but it’s progress.

Between college football doubleheaders on ESPN, racing fans will be treated to both the Goodwood Stakes and Lady’s Secret Stakes at Santa Anita, the Breeders’ Cup site for a second consecutive year.

The Goodwood is expected to feature Kentucky Derby-winning Mine That Bird in his final Classic prep. The Lady’s Secret will showcase undefeated Zenyatta in her quest to tie Personal Ensign’s modern undefeated campaign while competing in top class company.

Unfortunately, it will be an either/or situation during the same time slot. ESPN will mix and match, shifting around post times if need be. The Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series races will be seen on ESPN, ESPN-2 or ESPN Classic.

Check--and double-check--listings in your local area.

While these races are part of the run-up to the event-day cards, they obviously can stand on their own. Anytime the Derby winner goes postward, it’s newsworthy.

Given that Mine That Bird was declared from the Travers with the lingering effects of routine epiglottis surgery and had lost his previous start, the Goodwood should be interesting. The return of Derby-winning partner Calvin Borel to the irons adds to the intrigue.

Zenyatta, of course, is technically still in the Horse of the Year running although Rachel Alexandra has what many voters consider to be a commanding, unbeatable lead. Either way, it’s always a treat to see the big mare rev up that huge engine three furlongs from home.

The October 11 telecast will feature two Grade 1s, the Juddmonte Spinster and Keeneland Turf, a Juvenile Turf qualifier. On October 17, international races from Toronto at Woodbine and the United Kingdom from Newmarket will conclude the series.

In conjunction with the TV schedule, Breeders’ Cup announced the launch of BreedersCup360, a specialized website that looks at Breeders’ Cup wagering.

The site,, which focuses on international horses, may be about a year late, considering the success of the Europeans in 2008. But, again, it's a good thing.

The most valuable features are access to race videos covering 14 divisions, commentary provided by many of the usual suspects. Of greater import, videos aside, is the compilation of historical stats with trend analysis of jockeys, trainers, pedigrees and relevant handicapping data linked to the site.

The important thing is that the industry finally is listening and getting tuned into the needs of its rank and file customers--horseplayers. Unfortunately, some of this customer service may be the result of Breeders’ Cup failing to capture the public imagination in the way the Kentucky Derby does.

It could be the difficult scheduling of the Breeders’ Cup itself, forced to compete with a strong fall sports schedule that features post-season baseball, the meat of the college football season, at a time when the cream of the NFL also is beginning to rise.

I have said repeatedly that the Derby is my favorite race but the Breeders’ Cup my favorite event.

But unless the horses that became household names during the Triple Crown of spring and traditional fixtures of summer show up for racing’s crowning event, Breeders’ Cup will have a difficult time getting non-racing sports fans fired up.

Breeders’ Cup has two elements to sell to the public; a world class international racing event and a spectacular cornucopia of attractive wagering opportunities. Bankrolls can’t be big enough to attack the handicapping challenges of Breeders‘ Cup event days.

The problem is that while interest in it is growing, international racing doesn’t get the blood of provincial American racing fans boiling. And only since the advent of the simulcast era have fans taken an interest in wagering beyond their hometown track.

There are many reasons why betting the horses isn’t as popular as it once was. Too much racing; a never-ending season; declining product quality; deteriorating facilities; high takeout; medication, legal and otherwise; illegal sports betting and the mindless pastimes of slots and the lottery.

Not to mention an intellectual underclass that has been dumbed down to the extent it believes it unnecessary to think any more than is absolutely necessary.

Written by John Pricci

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