Thursday, May 28, 2015
On Balance, Derby Points System an Improvment
LOS ANGELES, CA., May 27, 2015—This year, the new points system rule determining a starting stall in the Kentucky Derby celebrated its third birthday this year. The new rule dictates that points be awarded weighed on the merits of each qualifying Derby prep.
The more prestigious the prep, the more points money finishers earn. Grade counts as does the calendar. Previously, total earnings in graded stakes were the barometer.
So, if the pot were big enough, two-year-old stakes races not named Juvenile would have more of an impact on the Derby field than an event that almost always determines a divisional championship.
We thought we’d take a closer, detailed look at eligibility factors might help all Kentucky Derby fans distinguish between the intended and unintended consequences of participation in various races.
Current qualifying races are conducted at a mile and longer over natural and synthetic dirt surfaces during the period from September through April. Previously, turf races, sprints and early-season juvenile races had been included.
The new system rewards starters who perform competitively within the 10-week period immediately leading up to the Derby, places a premium on good results from the six historically most significant preps on the continent, a seventh from the Middle East, from a two-week span commencing five weeks before the big dance.
For the past three years, there were 36, 34 and 35 races covering the period 2013-15, respectively. The top four finishers from each event were awarded points for the top four finishers in a distribution ratio of 10-4-2-1.
That 17-point figure included all two year old races and early sophomore contests. For each of the next eight races on the scheduled, a total of 85 points were up for grabs in each of eight races during the first five-week prep segment.
Finally, a total of 170 points were available for the first four finishers in the final seven races concluding the prep season, prestigious contests such as the Florida Derby, Santa Anita Derby Blue Grass Stakes and Wood Memorial.
The first eight preps contested at eight and a half furlongs or longer receive 50 points, a total virtually assuring the top two finishers a berth in the Louisville starting gate.
The subsequent “big seven” at a mile and an eighth or longer, making the exacta finishers a cinch to compete with the second finisher earning 40 points to the winner’s 100.
The top point earning Kentucky Derby starter was the eventual show finisher, Santa Anita Derby-winning Dortmund with 170 total points. Longshot also-ran Frammento was the last one to qualify with 20 prep points via an in-the-money finish early in the South Florida prep season.
The question: Was the increased emphasis on traditional late season Derby achieve its goals of promoting recency and rematches among top tier Derby starters?
The inevitable defections among the most likely qualifiers from the top 15 races gives an opportunity accumulating less than the 40-point winner of a single race.
It has happened where multiple finishes in lower-qualifying events accumulate sufficient points to achieve eligibility at the expense of lower-ranked single-race qualifiers.
What didn't change despite the different criteria was the domination of favorites and the tracks hosting the big seven preps. It is no coincidence, then, that the top-ranked qualifiers were also were among the top money earning Derby entrants.
Perhaps the most noticeable impact of the new eligibility rules is that all three recent Derbies were won by the betting favorite; that streak following four consecutive failures by the public’s choice.
Interestingly, the three most recent renewals were captured by horses that won two of the 15 major preps over the final 10 weeks of the prep season. Perhaps of greater significance, two of the three have gone on to win the Preakness.
In all three years, the Derby show finisher won a top-tier prep and twice the fourth place finisher did as well. Rank outsiders finished second the first two years; this time it was a last-out winner of 50-point Sunland Derby.
The point is that it’s not unreasonable to credit the points system with having added stronger performers among the lower-ranked qualifiers. Further, under the new system, the “big seven” winners collectively are finishing progressively better as well:
Here’s how the qualifiers of the “Big Seven” preps fared in the Derby, star ( * ) denotes betting favorite:
2015 – [Top 6 of 7] finished 1*,3,4,6,8,10
2014 – 5 of 7 finished 1*,3,4,6,19
2013 – 7 of 7 finished 1*,3,7,11,13,14,17
2012 – 6 of 7 finished 1,2*,3,16,19,20
2011 – 5 of 7 finished 7,8*,9,15,16
2010 – 5 of 7 finished 2,8,9,17,18
2009 – 5 of 7 finished 2,4,8,10,18*
2008 – 5 of 7 finished 1*,4,6,17,20
The new system appears to be winnowing out less competitive horses, a desirable effect, or trainers are adjusting well to the new system.
The handful of Derby defections via injury or otherwise hasn’t affected the number of Derby starters that have gone on to the Preakness. However, Preakness field size has fallen by an average of three starters per year.
The first number is the amount of Derby starters to run back in Baltimore, the second number total of Preakness starters:
2015 – 5 of 8
2014 – 3 of 10
2013 – 7 of 9
2012 – 6 of 11
2011 – 5 of 14
2010 – 3 of 12
2009 – 7 of 13
2008 – 2 of 12
The trend clearly is that more Derby runners are skipping the Triple Crown’s second leg and are going directly into the Belmont.
The final digit is the total number of Belmont starters. The first digit is the amount of horses that were Triple Crown contestants. The second number represents the number of Preakness runners; the third is the amount of horses competing in all three races:
2015 – 9 - 3 - 1 *
2014 – 7 - 3 - 3 
2013 – 11 - 3 - 3 
2012 – 3 - 1 - 1 
2011 – 8 - 4 - 3 
2010 – 3 - 1 - 0 
2009 – 5 - 3 - 1 
2008 – 4 - 3 - 1 
( * ) Number of Belmont probable starters at posting
Is the increase in “Preakness skipping” simply a function of trainer unwillingness to compete on only two weeks rest, unless they've got a shot at the Triple Crown, or is the forced activity in the preceding 10 weeks taking a greater toll on Derby starters?
Without meaningful competition from other Derby participants, the Preakness is gradually becoming a “paid workout” for the Derby winner before its stamina is tested at 12 furlongs.
The Stronach Group is considering moving the Preakness to Laurel, or the race to Sunday, or both, the Laurel move needing state house approval.
Perhaps, under those circumstances, officials might be willing to consider moving the race back one week in an attempt to reverse the current skip-Preakness trend for Derby runners.
It remains to be seen whether Derby contestants molded by the current point-totals, “Big Seven” strategy will be better prepare possible Triple Crown champions. Is American Pharoah the prototype for generational superiority as a product of the current process? That, too, is a matter for further study.
Written by Indulto
Sunday, May 10, 2015
Governor, Let My People In
When Pharoah was in NYRA's land
Let my people in
Upon the grounds they could not stand
Let my people in
Go down there, HANA,
Way down in NYRA's Land
Let my people in
May 9, 2015—Just like the Horseplayers Association of North America and Bladerunners, early advocates for a National Horse Racing Commission, learned, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA) is finding out that organizing horseplayers is even more difficult than herding cats.
Sixteen million people watched the Kentucky Derby. According to the
, however, less than two thousand fans responded to an NTRA request for emails in support of tax reform on large winnings over the 300-1 odds threshold.
That's fewer people than HANA’s membership!
"The NTRA has created an easy-to-use form that makes it easy for the public to submit an e-mail directly to the appropriate IRS and U.S. Treasury officials at http://www.ntra.com/IRScomment. Nearly 2,000 comments originating from all 50 states and the District of Columbia have already been submitted via NTRA.com."
This apathy is not being lost on racing industry executives determined to extract whatever additional dollars it can from this seemingly disinterested bunch of horseplayers.
In another example of industry number gamesmanship reported by the New York Times
, the newly board-chaired New York Racing Association announced it would cap Belmont day attendance at 90,000 despite last year's crowd of 102,199, or the record 120,139 for Smarty Jones's Triple Crown attempt in 2004. Now, what segment of horse racing participants do you suppose represent most of the disenfranchised?
Interest in the run-up to the Derby and the Triple Crown events are what most horseplayers have in common. Some even feel compelled to justify this apathy annually. Despite all this, racing is in no danger of dying despite badly needed contraction to stay afloat, as long no damage is done to this annual rite of spring and early summer.
As above, horseplayers are very likely to take this sitting down in some bet shop and send their dollars in on American Pharoah in support of a pyramid scheme built on their backs; exploitation in the form of excessive takeout; difficult wagers with high-minimums that discourage churn; inadequate transparency and information and other contributors to customer-base erosion.
Who could have figured that the Cuomo-controlled version of NYRA was capable of making the Stronach Group look benevolent by comparison?
You might take comfort that NYRA's gall will only be rewarded if American Pharoah wins the Preakness; no sure thing despite the shorter distance. Hopefully, Todd Pletcher will decide to give his healthy Derby runners a chance to redeem themselves in Baltimore.
Parenthetically, Materiality deserves that chance. And so does Bob Baffert’s Dortmund, although I'm not totally convinced he will start. Baffert arrives Sunday and assess the current condition of his colts. No one wants to see an entry made only to result in a late-minute scratch, possibly denying another a place in the starting gate. Worse, Danthebluegrassman redux.
NYRA's tack is impressive. The Times also reported, "[CEO Chris] Kay said 66 percent of all seats for Belmont day have already been sold, which is about 1,000 more than this time last year, perhaps owing to the public’s belief in American Pharoah."
The cap should ensure that most of the remaining seats are purchased before the results of the Preakness are known, thereby ensuring NYRA's revenue from ticket sales will exceed what it would be if American Pharoah were to lose in Maryland. If he wins; no harm, no foul: The high rollers already will be assured a place. There will be no need for the added expenses associated with an overflow crowd. This is “guest” manipulation at its most profitable.
An opportunity exists to show our displeasure with NYRA's disregard for the average horseplayer's desire to be a part of history in the making. Horseplayers should just avoid NYRA racing on-track and off between the Preakness and Belmont weekends to show solidarity with those deprived of a possible date with destiny.
Perhaps a self-imposed three-week vacation from the game between the Preakness and Belmont, which can’t be good for business, might just make Belmont weekend much more enjoyable with executives getting the message they should be willing to service all
Meanwhile, Preakness day will answer lots of questions. Will Firing Line switch leads this time to deny American Pharoah a record making run three weeks later? Will Todd Pletcher second Materiality to Baltimore? Should Keen Ice be entered, what happens if he gets rolling earlier?
Can Divining Rod pull off a Bernardini? Will the Pimlico racetrack be souped-up for a Dust Commander-like performance, or will weather dictate one resembling Bee Bee Bee's? Will American Pharoah continue to respond to his overseer's whip?
I wonder if New York horseplayers will decide to freshen up a bit between the final two legs? If so, the Red Sea of Long Island might part, opening the gates to all those wishing to take a ride in American Pharoah's chariot.
Written by Indulto
Thursday, April 23, 2015
Money Maker Moreno and Other Memories
Los Angeles, April 22, 2015--Although I'm usually turned off when owners name their horses after themselves, the name of last year's Whitney winner never bothered me because it always reminds me of the lovely and talented Rita Moreno, of whom I'm a big fan.
So when Moreno the horse won the Charles Town Classic, I had a vision of Moreno the actress/dancer doing the Charleston. Absent the real thing, I offer HRI readers this video
which definitely captured the experience.
What amazes me about Moreno is the frequency with which he has been underrated only to finish first or second, often rewarding his supporters with inflated vertical exotic payoffs.
That might not have occurred last Saturday had the over-hyped Shared Belief been able to apply his ability. It was unfortunate racing luck that the 3-10 favorite sustained an injury, a little more serious than was originally believed.
It wasn't the emotional drain many associate with Bernardini's Preakness victory at Barbaro's tragic expense, but rather was a ringing reminder that races are lost when least expected, the reasons too numerous to count.
There is no such thing as a sure thing, obviously. Even Secretariat had his issues, with the letter “W,” as in Wood, Whitney and Woodward.
My approach, then, is try to be prepared for the unexpected while attempting to leverage the expected. It's great when it works out, but it can be a long way between waterholes.
What I wasn't prepared for on Saturday was the unannounced $2.00 minimum on tickets containing dime super combinations, which HRI’s executive editor referenced earlier this week.
When I key multiple horses on top, doing so well beforehand, I usually break the ticket down into multiple tickets with one key so that I can cancel easily later if I change my mind, without having to resubmit a revised play just before post time.
Slow late-wagering response on the Internet often makes it impossible to revise or submit saved wagers. (Can we have more bandwidth, please)!
When a $1.80 bet was refused, I assumed Dime Supers weren't available, just like 50-Cent Trifectas. I didn't have time to pursue the matter further so I just played the top two slots as exactas.
Parenthetically, I wound up hitting two $1.00 Exactas because I also make standard saver-exacta boxes of the best previous race survivors.
Moreno helped foil a favorite for me again, just as he did when finishing second in the 2013 Travers. Since that race, he has rewarded his backers from both sides of the exacta with some regularity – often when he competed against a rival previously:
$156.50 - Travers - Will Take Charge-Moreno (Jim Dandy)
$10.50 - PA Derby - Will Take Charge-Moreno (Travers)
$191.25 - Suburban – Zivo-Moreno
$78.75 - Whitney – Moreno-Itsmyluckyday
$11.40 - Woodward – Itsmyluckyday-Moreno (Whitney)
$5.40 - Santa Anita Handicap – Shared Belief-Moreno (BC Classic)
$165.90 - Charles Town Classic – Moreno-Imperative (Santa Anita H’cap)
Whereas Dime Supers were my primary weapon last year, I've been frustrated this year by an increasing number of situations where I had the top two finishers but wound up with third and fourth reversed, using ALL on the 4th line.
But I'll always wonder whether--if I thought I could have--I would have expanded that $6.00 exacta box into a Dime Super play using ALL in the two bottom slots for $25.20, pulling off a $1,900.00 score.
Instead, I'll have to settle for learning what it is about Charles Town that makes Imperative want to dance.
Closing Down Your Golden Gate; NoCal Racing There It Goes
When I last visited Golden Gate Fields in the mid-1970s, I saw Diabolo beat eventual Belmont winner Avatar in the California Derby. That’s when the race had more significance than it has today.
The track was built on a landfill in the San Francisco Bay and there were more seagulls than horseplayers in attendance those days. Since, the quality of Northern California racing, along with interest in it, has eroded, a process that began even prior to the closing of Bay Meadows.
One could argue that the remainder of the stakes schedule isn't likely to attract higher-profile SoCal horses to any greater extent than does California Racing Fairs.
The last vestige of major league racing there now is the Grade III El Camino Derby because of its inclusion among qualifying Kentucky Derby preps.
So it was hardly surprising when representatives of The Stronach Group announced they were considering closing the track at a recent meeting of the California Horse Racing Board.
What precipitated the announcement was TSG's desire to deny racing dates to Stockton which no longer hosts a County Fair.
Golden Gate loses money because its racing product can't attract enough handle to be profitable, either on-track or off. If Jerry Hollendorfer decided to relocate his stable elsewhere, they might have to shut racing down immediately.
The main incentive to close, however, like Hollywood Park’s back in the day, is the value of the location of the land occupied by the track.
It sure sounds as if the Stronach Squeeze placed on Calder is about to head west. Maybe the seagulls will save NoCal racing from a horde of locusts. It will certainly require a higher power than the CHRB.
Written by Indulto