Sunday, September 11, 2016
Can Breeders’ Cup Think Outside the Box?
LOS ANGELES, September 10, 2016--Following Arrogate’s Travers victory, Bob Baffert announced he would train the colt up to the Breeders’ Cup thereby signaling Juddmonte’s implicit willingness to pay $150K for the privilege of entering the BC Classic starting gate.
Although the prestigious Travers amply rewarded the winner with $670K, it was not a Classic Win-And-You’re-In (WAYI) as was the Haskell. Indeed, the latter at 9 furlongs is the only WAYI for three-year-olds despite the Travers’ 10 furlongs as the Classic.
Six berths in the Classic’ starting gate have already been spoken for by Moanin (February S. [Tokyo]); Bradester, (Stephen Foster H.); Melatonin (Gold Cup at Santa Anita); Exaggerator (Haskell); Frosted (Whitney) and California Chrome (Pacific Classic).
Two remain up for grabs, the Awesome Again and the Jockey Club Gold Cup with California Chrome targeting the former and a $1M bonus sweetener, so unless you want a piece of Chrome before the big dance, there’s really only one way to go.
That could leave Arrogate out in the cold if as many as seven other entrants without free tickets have better credentials according to the BC eligibility point system
__ | W| P | S |
G1 |10| 6 | 4 |
G2 | 6 | 4 | 2 |
G3 | 4 | 2 | 1 |
I was able to isolate 20 potential entrants with point totals exceeding Arrogate’s [see comment section]. Considering the incentives provided for a placing in a $6 million race, an oversubscribed field is possible for a race whose prestige is exceeded only by the Kentucky Derby.
Excluding four other Baffert trainees, there are at least 10 possible obstacles in Nyquist (30 points), Gun Runner (24), Creator (22), Destin (18), Hard Aces (18), Shaman Ghost (16), Effinex (16), Eagle (16), Mubtaahij (14) and Upstart (14).
Rounding out the possible competition are Lani (14), Outwork (14), Majestic Harbor (14) and Tom’s Ready (12).
There is always a chance that Baffert could re-think his position with Arrogate and show up in the Awesome Again or Jockey Club Gold Cup. Given his Travers, it appears unlikely that any horse on the East Coast can beat Arrogate at 10 furlongs and, furthermore, the purse in New York is more than triple what is being offered at his home base.
But given this conditioner’s proven ability to repeat past success,it would be a surprise if he didn’t take the “fresh” American Pharoah path to the Classic.
Breeders’ Cup and Horse of the Year
Question: Should results from a 10-week window outweigh 12-months’ worth of competitive accomplishment? If, say, an improbable Triple Crown victory in the measure than “yes,” then 35 days that yield three Grade 1 victories at different tracks and at disparate distances is, in context, a huge body of work.
The standard currency for acquiring Horse of the Year honors is a candidate’s total number of G1 victories. Arrogate’s second G1 score would match the already vanquished Exaggerator’s total as protem divisional leader.
The current trend of consolidating stakes into ”Big Days” further exacerbates scheduling-conflict issues that result in today’s big-event small-field racing. Shrinking foal crops and too many G1 events only add to the problem of trying to assess the country’s “best horse.”
The worst contributor to this sorry stake has to be the Breeders’ Cup itself. One annual shot at the brass ring is all you get?
What if champions could compete in multiple Breeders’ Cup races? Imagine starters from the Dirt Mile, Distaff or BC Turf also competing in the Classic? Or Mile participants contesting the longer Turf? Couldn’t juvenile fillies have a shot at the boys?
Why should a champion at its peak be prevented from demonstrating excellence at the highest levels in more than one dimension? Maybe the Breeders’ Cup could be run as a series that rewards horses showing multiple aptitudes with prize monies awarding unusual accomplishment?
Suppose the Breeders’ Cup were a three-leg event with the second allocation of races coming three weeks after the first, and the third group three or four weeks after that? Think a Triple Crown for every possible division.
For consideration, here’s a schedule of what a Breeders’ Cup series of events might look like:
BC Juvenile Turf
BC F&M Turf Sprint
Juv. Fillies Sprint
BC Juvenile Fillies
BC Dirt Mile
BC Juv. Fil. Turf
BC Turf Sprint
BC F&M Turf
BC F&M Sprint
Now we understand the politics involved, not to mention the logistics and, of course, racing would need to work around King Football’s schedule. Our only concern is making a great game greater and to increase awareness. What say you?
Written by Indulto
Tuesday, August 30, 2016
Travers 147: Too Much of a Good Thing?
LOS ANGELES, August 27, 2016--HRI blogger Tom Jicha accomplished what many racing writers attempt but precious few achieve when he presented his analysis
for the 2016 Travers.
To me, his unequivocal selection of Arrogate appeared the handicapping equivalent of Babe Ruth’s famously pointing to where he was about to deliver a home run.
While the DRF’s Mike Beer also predicted the son of Unbridled Song’s victory in his "Race of the Day" video, he didn’t match Jicha’s confidence or his vision as follows:
"… Arrogate, at 10-1, is the one who interests me most of anyone in the field. He's never run in a stakes but the stylish way he has won all three of his two-turn races, the most recent at 1-20, suggests still untapped brilliance.
Statistically, Arrogate mirrors the career of American Pharoah. He got beat in his sprint debut but he's been untouchable since. ..."
TJ is my new handicapping hero … at least until next week.
On a track that started to resemble Santa Anita when successive seven-furlong sprints shaded 1:21 on the broadcast timer (but not in the subsequent DRF charts), trainer Bob Baffert previewed his West Coast wizardry with a wire-to-wire win by Drefong in the King’s Bishop under jockey Mike Smith.
When that Hall of Fame duo teamed up again for their Travers triumph, the rider completed an Alabama/Travers double, having won the former with another West Coast sensation, Songbird.
Still, an unheralded sophomore was able to slip in under the radar and set a new track record becoming the first three-year-old since Secretariat to shade both two minutes for the distance and 24 seconds for the final quarter-mile.
Arrogate’s 13½-length victory over the deepest field assembled since the Kentucky Derby re-set the stage for both the divisional championship and Horse of the Year honors.
Further, it sends a message to the California Chrome camp that "it ain’t over ‘til it’s over."
In one minute, fifty nine and one-fifth seconds, the status of Southern California racing stock sky-rocketed--in contrast to the steadily declining support for the racing product there.
And it’s not just stakes runners shipped East by high-percentage trainers such as Baffert, Hollendorfer, D’Amato and the rest. Indeed, New York-based trainer David Jacobson has been very successful with horses he claimed in California to race elsewhere.
Bettor’s appetites for action at California tracks are being curbed by small, uncompetitive fields dominated by odds-on trainees carefully spotted by the few trainers among whom all the better bloodlines are distributed.
Arrogate and Drefong are shining examples of this phenomenon. To what degree this is facilitated by stall allocations, the condition books and owners who are unwilling to rock the boat is unclear.
What is clear is that good horses based outside California are seldom sent there to compete except when the Breeders’ Cup and notable Grade 1s are being offered.
This isn’t due simply to the lack of purses fueled by casino dollars but rather the refusal of Southern California track operators to schedule their stakes races cooperatively with the rest of the country.
Why was Del Mar’s G1 Pat O’Brien Stakes scheduled on the same day as Saratoga’s G1 Forego? Why were the G1 Pacific Classic and G1 Whitney with their million-dollar purses scheduled so closely together that neither got full fields?
And the problem doesn’t end with field size. The unwillingness of the Thoroughbred Owners of California and the California Horse Racing Board to adjust breakage on show bets and reduce takeout on exacta wagers inhibits expansion of those pools at California tracks.
The fifty-cent trifecta minimum was finally implemented at Del Mar but low payoffs in these tiny fields continue to dampen enthusiasm for these wagers in comparison to their popularity at Saratoga.
Baffert’s role in maintaining the status quo on the above issues as a TOC board member has undermined his popularity among horseplayer advocates since the TOC-maneuvered takeout increase
in 2010 at the expense of the player.
Indeed, Baffert’s detractors increased exponentially several years when the investigation
of seven sudden deaths in Baffert’s barn revealed that all of his trainees had been routinely treated with the thyroid drug Thyro-L, even those with normal thyroids -- a practice not unusual according to a veterinarian contacted by the Paulick Report
Sadly, freakish performances like Arrogate’s raise the specter of chemical assistance at the highest level of competition. Few would deny Baffert’s extraordinary ability as a trainer and judge of equine talent. But the lack of uniform rules and drug testing enables reasonable people to express concerns about the kind of performance witnessed on Travers Day.
Arrogate now is expected to train up to the Breeders’ Cup Classic but I’d like to know how his ascent to the top of the Baffert shedrow affects plans for his other accomplished three-year-olds, including millionaire Cupid, Mor Spirit, Collected, Toews on Ice, and Haskell/Travers runner-up American Freedom.
Juddmonte’s campaigning of Flintshire has been sufficiently sportsman-like to suggest they might be willing to face the best competition sooner rather than later.
With Nyquist targeting the Pennsylvania Derby and with the Jockey Gold Cup and Awesome Again out there—he’s already beaten his elders thrice—who knows?
If California Chrome and/or Tepin run the table, they’re the leaders of the pack. If not, have we reached a point where two potential Grade 1 victories in the Travers and Breeders’ Cup Classic would be enough to earn a Horse of the Year title?
Written by Indulto
Friday, July 29, 2016
A Legacy That’s Worth Leaving
LOS ANGELES, July 28, 2016—Steven Crist's retirement from the Daily Racing Form qualified him as the most newsworthy development of last week. Though better known as a Daily Racing Form executive and columnist, acclaimed author of betting books and influential horseplayer advocate, he had also worked as a New York Racing Assn. executive under then CEO, Kenny Noe Jr.
In a subsequent Q&A interview by the Thoroughbred Daily News
, Crist candidly described the experience: "… It was frustrating. I discovered there was this whole political side to the job. Kenny and I took a lot of early morning plane rides up to Albany to talk to dopey legislators. You had to do them favors or give them things. It was just horrible."
Asked about his impact when writing about New York racing and politics, he replied, "… It’s hard to feel any sense of accomplishment. It just gets worse and worse and it doesn’t matter what they say… they’re never held accountable for anything. What Andrew Cuomo has done, making a deal with NYRA and then taking it back, it’s just disgraceful."
Crist's announcement came on the heels of another news-making development made by friend and former DRF colleague, Charles Hayward. The former NYRA CEO garnered media attention
with "the formation of Hayward Advisory Services LLC to assist racing companies grow their business through a strategic planning process and by introducing revenue and cost-saving initiatives."
This is Hayward's next step in an effort to restore his relevance in the wake of attempts to further assassinate his character by minions of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and assorted industry commentators.
In what some observers attribute to the Governor's ‘agenda’ to optimize state revenues from gambling through casinos at the expense of horse racing in the state, Hayward was fired upon the official discovery of NYRA's incontrovertible failure to lower takeout beyond the legislated sunset date for a temporary state-imposed increase.
Ironically, the wayward Hayward was condemned by e-mails from and to Crist, who had inquired about the issue at the behest of a DRF reader.
Interestingly, Hayward's announcement came the day after a "Times Union op-ed piece
by current NYRA CEO, Chris Kay, defending NYRA's accounting practices which had been criticized in a recent audit by State Comptroller, Thomas DiNapoli.
Kay is also struggling with his image in the face of repeated unkind Internet commentary portraying the former Toys R Us executive as a fish out of water; cluelessly tampering with – if not trampling on – tradition.
Kay has been held responsible for counting both empty “sold” seats in an attempt to bolster attendance figures. There also were perceived relevancies between LIRR trains and the stranding of legions of Belmont Stakes attendees.
Parenthetically, Kay's subsequent performance bonus was widely ridiculed and, eventually, officially challenged by the audit in question.
Offering little insight and even less originality, Kay not only reiterated points expressed in earlier responses by NYRA General Counsel, Joseph Lambert, and NYRA Communications Director, Patrick McKenna, but he also co-opted Hayward's position regarding franchise performance standards and VLT distributions from this month-old Thoroughbred Racing Commentary article
It's highly unlikely this display of "chutzpah" by Kay precipitated Hayward's action, even if his superiority over his successor never was so glaringly obvious.
In this piece, Hayward said his firing "by the NYRA board after NYRA was alleged by the State Racing and Wagering Board to have knowingly overcharged our betting customers 1 percent on all exotic wagers.
“At the time and to this day, I have continued to assert my innocence regarding this allegation."
In reporting his announcement, DRF characterized Hayward as "a lifelong horseplayer and racing fan."
Hayward's own press release stated that "Over the past 35 years, I have participated in the Thoroughbred racing industry as a horseplayer, a horse owner, a racetrack operator and a publisher. My passion for and experience in the racing industry will allow me to make further contributions to this great sport."
As NYRA continues to demonstrate executive and boardroom misjudgments regardless of who is at the helm, one must infer that the problem is institutional as well as political. Whatever strategic planning may have taken place under successive new foxes in the old NYRA hen-house seems to have been based on survival, rather than growth.
Perhaps Hayward's experience could most productively be utilized from the outside rather than on the inside as a horseplayer advocate committed to the survival of racing's customer base.
Hayward certainly has the industry contacts and insider insights to effectively manage and represent a horseplayer organization if indeed one of truly significant membership can be created.
Meanwhile, it is Crist who is one of the few individuals sufficiently well-known and respected to gain trust and attract financial support across diverse horse-playing constituencies.
More importantly, it is Crist who has the necessary stature to motivate cooperation among constituents, harnessing and helping to direct their collective strength to influence wide-spread adoption of the reforms needed to keep the game vibrant and meaningful.
Some of Crist's suggestions have included the following:
"… The problem is right now we have a lot of once a-year-racing fans and a lot of 200-day-a-year racing fans. We could use a lot more 10-to-15 days type of fans.
“… We need something again like the ACRS that organizes the sport. If people knew that on the first Saturday of every month something really special is going on in racing, that would really help.
“[And if you fix ... IRS regulations], I think there would be a surge in handle that people wouldn’t believe."
Crist and Hayward could become Gotham City's next dynamic duo; gray hair notwithstanding, leading the charge to rescue racing from itself.
Written by Indulto