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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Sunday, June 12, 2016


A Belmont Stakes Weekend Like No Other


HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., June 12, 2016—This past weekend at the Longchamp of Long Island was so eventful it’s hard to know where to begin.

Thursday’s racing was a damn good imitation of a Saturday summer program at Belmont Park looks like. Friday’s card was akin to a great Saturday at the races.
Belmont Day? Belmont day was nothing short of Breeders’ Cup without that brand. Indeed, it was a Festivus for the rest of us.

A look back at Belmont Festival races:

THURSDAY

Belmont Coronation Invitational: Bill Mott, who’s had a chilly spring, gives an indication that he focused on the event weekend, winning the 1 15/16 marathon with Suffused for major client Juddmonte.

Astoria Stakes: Bode’s Dream catches a flyer from her outer position in a small field and was never in danger for Todd/Johnny team in 1:03.66, going strongly under the wire. I see Schuylerville--the race, not the town--in her future.

Intercontinental: There may be a new sheriff in town and his name is Chad Brown. Favorite Zindaya kicked strongly approaching mid-stretch and got up at the finish.

Rivalry to Watch: With no apparent rivalry at this juncture between Nyquist and Exaggerator now that the latter’s Double Crown dreams were not realized and the Derby winner skipping the Belmont, the rivalry to watch may be Todd vs. Chad.

Chad had slightly better numbers two years ago is felt as if he were shunned by Eclipse Award voters. Now that he has dirt horses to go with his grass arsenal, Saratoga should be very interesting this year.

Last year, it was a meet-long battle until the final week when Todd’s numbers took over. Looks like the current playing field is much closer to be leveled. Can’t wait.

FRIDAY

Rags to Riches
: Mark Casse has long been Canada’s most dominant horseman. Looks like the rest of North America—and Epsom—is in his sights.
Theogony was monstress winning the race named for the 2007 Belmont Stakes winner. She won by 8 widening lengths in 2:28.42, final quarter in 24.17 seconds. It was a wow performances by a budding star. While it would not have altered the result, rating favored lone speed Mei Ling off the pace was one of the most curious things I’ve seen Johnny do. Very likely there’s more there, there.

Tremont Stakes: Another juvenile sprint, this one for the boys, and another flyer caught. Once Saratoga Two Step hit the side of the slip coming out leaving Silver Mission alone on the lead, winning by 6-1/4 lengths in 1:03.78, 12/100s slower than Friday’s filly.

Jersey Girl Stakes: Wow, Part II. The three-year filly division is already deep, and we’re not just speaking Songbird here, so make room for Kareena. She demolished only four rivals but did so in 1:07.87. The track was fast, but not THAT fast. Kiaran McLaughlin, like Mott, has been cool this spring. This effort signaled his big weekend to come.

G2 True North: Best storylines were Charlton Baker emerging as a possible major player on the New York scene and Manny Franco giving the “Ride of the Weekend” aboard Joking, getting up final strides to win by a neck. He rode a rallier the way one should be ridden, especially at Belmont. Begin your rally into headstretch staying behind cover and tip wide outside after straightening away. Great job!

G2 New York Stakes: Chad’s been doing this a lot lately, sweeping multiple money positions in stakes. Dacita was very good but runnerup Sea Calisi. Jose Ortiz, who’s ridden a staggering amount of winners at the Belmont halfway mark, gave the poorest judged ride I’ve ever seen from him. It happens. He took an inside path from far back and it didn’t work out. I’m still a huge big fan. As for Sea Calisi, she’s not a good mare; she’s in the conversation for best turf female in the country.

Belmont Gold Cup
: I wish I had $50K to out into Mike Maker’s account and say “please go claim me a turf horse.” The work he has done with Da Big Hoss is extraordinary—and now to get him to win going two miles? Awesome. No small part was the ride put forth by Florent Geroux, a rider I’ve been touting as elite from last year. The fact he’s moving his tack to Saratoga, with all that turf racing, fits into his wheelhouse nicely. Quietly, in most respects, he’s the second leading stakes rider in the country behind Javier Castellano. Awesome.

BELMONT DAY


G1 Acorn
: Bill Mott, Part 2: With Cathryn Sophia conceivably a bit over the top and with Go Maggie Go coming back quickly, the race was there for the taking by a fresh, pointed Carina Mia. She looked a winner every step beneath Julien Leparoux, himself back in top career form. Malibu Moon filly is a top player in a deep division headed by Songbird, scheduled to return next weekend.

G1 Ogden Phipps, McLaughin, Part 2: One thing to be humbled by a humbling game, another to be wrong at the top of your voice. Cavorting’s powerhouse score in the Ruffian certainly had to take a toll. It wasn’t Saturday. She came with a near carbon-copy run—Geroux’s second big one of the weekend--and swept to a 2-1/4 score in 1:40.14. There’s only one obstacle in her way to the division championship but it’s a big one; Beholder.

G1 Just A Game
, Mott, Part 3: She looked good winning the G2 Honey Fox but saved her best run for the ‘Met Mile for Females on Grass.” Clearly, she made the progression for 3 to 4 and in Mott’s hands it’s unlikely to stop there. Recepta continues to be unlucky, not as unlucky as in Beaugay, but never had a chance to make her late run outside. Still, she ran on very well for place. Maybe will even the score in Saratoga; stay tuned.

G1 Met Mile, McLaughlin, Part 3: From the time he was 3 he gave the impression he’d make a top class miler, winning his only prior start at the trip at 2. Well make that 2-for-2 with an exclamation mark! Or two exclamation marks!! Confidently ridden into the stretch by Joel Rosario, who did some nifty broken-field running to win the ‘Woody’ with Tom’s Ready and who fits Frosted like no other, he drew to win by 14-1/4 geared down lengths in 1:32.73, a final quarter-mile in 23.37. Anchor Down has raised his game and despite a fast yet stumbling start and chasing a strong pace three across the track, he held steadfastly for place. Say, when’s the Whitney again?

G1 Manhattan
, Chad, Part 2; Juddmonte, Part 2: And who does Flintshire think he is, Secretariat. Well, over a freaky fast, record-conducive grass course, was won by the now 7-year-old winner of $8 million, mostly the hard way, ran 10 furlongs in 1:58.92. Off the bench! Now this: Racing alternately in fourth to sixth position throughout, he mowed down eight rivals in splits that were run in 25.96, 24.13, 23.19 and an incredible 21:83. It probably will take another Brit to beat him from here on out. No one around these parts.

Test of the Champion 148: As Mr. Durkin, and many of the race callers to follow, might say, with their strides synchronized, Destin and Creator hit the wire together in a photo that didn’t deserve a loser. Destin had the easier time of it, dynamically speaking, and could not have been ridden better by Castellano. But Irad Ortiz Jr., perched way up on Creator’s withers and with pumping arms synchronized with Castellano’s, won a photo that was thisclose. Kudos to both colts and their handlers/connections.

As for favored Preakness winner Exaggerator, he was mostly empty all the way; the surface probably didn't help. Suddenbreakingnews never saved an inch of ground but was never in it; Cherry Wine lost his Belmont in the paddock; Brody’s Cause went forward, but not fast enough. Lani was a bright-finish third, despite a rabbit-less rabbit pace. Stradavari, mostly invisible throughout, raced one-paced. Governor Malibu had winning run but had to be halted up twice at critical junctures yet was beaten a mere length and a half. Is future is just up the stretch from here.

Written by John Pricci

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