Thursday, June 18, 2015
Addressing the Weakness in the Preakness
Los Angeles, June 17, 2017—When American Pharoah became the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years, he effectively ended the discussion on expanding the spacing between Triple Crown races. He is indeed the long-awaited superior specimen capable of winning not only 3 Grade I races in 5 weeks, but also 4 in 8 weeks.
Science and technology confirmed that assessment even before the horse ever raced. This inside information was revealed by Joe Drape
who reported, "When Mr. Seder and Ms. Miller [bloodstock agents for the horse's owner] scanned the colt’s heart and spleen, when they checked his airways, Mr. Seder saw what he described as a memorable cardiovascular system."
It will be said of the new champion's own progeny that their "fodder was a mudder" after his Preakness victory in a downpour that seemingly targeted the event, including terrifying thunder propitiously tuned out by the winner's earplugs, those in the know, anyway.
American Pharoah was the only horse this year to compete in all three legs; facing only four of the 18 rivals in the second leg. Because the close-up 2nd and 3rd-place Derby finishers were among them, it didn't figure to be a "gimme" for the Derby winner. But between the weather and 14 "skippers," it turned out otherwise. Five tried to challenge the champion again in the longer Belmont but all passed on the opportunity to succeed at a more familiar distance at which they were proven competitors.
When serious threats from returning rivals Frosted and Materiality failed to materialize in the final leg, heavily favored American Pharoah fulfilled the dream of most American racing fans starved for equine royalty.
But how likely is history to repeat itself next year? Or the year after that?
Will New York Racing Association management get another opportunity to manipulate attendance in the name of customer service? When will the streak of consecutive Triple Crown attempts be broken? Would a Belmont without an eligible crown contender render the event mediocre, even meaningless?
The question then becomes does the Preakness remain a rubber stamp opportunity for the favored Derby winner, or can it be revitalized to test him further? Another query concerns whether a Preakness defeat of the Derby winner deflate interest in Thoroughbred racing itself?
Scaled bonuses to Derby starters who finish 2nd, 3rd, or 4th in the Preakness might prove a sufficient incentive to increase participation in Baltimore. Extending a monetary incentive to any previous Grade 1 winners could also improve the quality of competition. Re-setting Triple Crown interest when the Derby winner fails in Maryland is potentially the most effective option.
This plan would involve using the Preakness as the first leg of a bonus-incentivized alternative three-race series. The two outcomes here is that it will either sustain and grow interest in racing’s glamour division, or in some way will diminish the Triple Crown itself.
In the 67-year period since Citation was crowned in 1948, there have been 24 TC attempts and on 41 occasions a horse won at least two TC legs:
1. Twenty Derby and Preakness Winners
2. Ten Preakness and Belmont Winners
3. Seven Derby and Belmont Winners
4. Four Triple Crown Winners
Who would bet against a member of group #2, including Capot, Native Dancer, Nashua, Damascus, Little Current, Risen Star, Hansel, Tobasco Cat, Point Given or Afleet Alex winning the next, or fourth leg as it were?
A new final leg could be conducted four weeks after the Belmont. It could promoted as the fourth leg of a "Grand Slam" series for three year olds. The Stronach Group has employed multi-race bonuses in the past, so its Santa Anita property seems a potential candidate to host a 10-furlong Grade I event. Monmouth, Saratoga, or Del Mar could fill that bill as well.
This approach could benefit the NYRA as well, especially in years where the same horse didn't win both previous legs. Perhaps the above example is too small a sample but the odds against a TC attempt are about 2-1. With the re-set option, a more meaningful Belmont Stakes seems assured.
Bonuses are part of the incentives currently being offered to attract American Pharoah for his next start, so a future "Grand Slam" has some merit. According to the Paulick Report
, Monmouth hosts the Haskell Invitational Aug. 2.
Saratoga wasn't mentioned even though the Travers is scheduled a week later than the Pacific Classic at the same distance. At nine furlongs, the Haskell would seem the best opportunity for those daring to challenge the champ whose superiority is more likely to prevail at 10 furlongs.
Despite the presence of older horses, the Pacific Classic scheduled 20 days after the Haskell would probably attract a less than stellar group of elders given the absence of such luminaries as Shared Belief and California Chrome.
The Breeders' Cup Classic, however, is the ultimate goal and for two years in succession the most effective route for three-year-olds has been the Travers followed by the Pennsylvania Derby. This year the calendar dictates that the Travers will come later in the month, reducing the spacing between those two races.
Given American Pharoah's mastery of Belmont, I’m betting his path to the Classic will be the Haskell followed by the Jockey Club Gold Cup. What say you?
Written by Indulto
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