Sunday, April 12, 2015
Will Fortune Finally Smile on Advocate Upstart Violette?
Though April fouls
Have come your way
You've got the points
To run in May
So keep campaigning
And have no regrets
Because Upstart will start
For horseman Violette
LOS ANGELES, April 9, 2015--New York Thoroughbred Horsemen Association President, New York Racing Association Board member, and 2015 Kentucky Derby contender-qualifying trainer, Rick Violette, Jr., is leaving the Sunshine State – and its apparent disdain for snowbirding New Yorkers – as potentially a newly-minted horseplayer advocate.
It may turn out that horseplayer advocate is a be too optimistic, but Violette's apparent concern for racing's customers was quoted in a text to HRI’s executive editor John Pricci and later at Daily Racing Form
: '"It's disappointing that as hard as [president] Tim Ritvo and [general manager] P.J. Campo are working to raise the standard of Gulfstream racing they will not be successful as long as they have the incompetence in the judge's stand and the maintenance of their racetrack," Violette said. "Nobody should feel confident with those people overseeing the racing product, especially the horse player."'
While Violette's remarks in the wake of a double dose of disqualification dispensing from both sides of the same offense may not merit induction into the Sportsman’s Hall of Shame, they do speak for having greater transparency and competency in the future.
When I wondered why Upstart had not been pointed for the Wood Memorial instead of the Florida Derby, considering he had been bred in New York and was being trained by such a visibly well-connected conditioner, it was suggested that getting the horse qualified with five weeks rest going into the Triple Crown series was putting the horse ahead of politics.
Perhaps, but the last TC winners did so on three weeks rest or less. Seattle Slew wintered in Florida and returned North to win the Wood only two weeks away from the Derby, after winning the Flamingo at Hialeah 14 days earlier. Like Secretariat, he swept all TC legs over a 5-week period after two weeks rest.
Big Red’s three preps were all in New York, including a loss in the Wood. Affirmed, who wintered in California, won his Crown following his victory in the Hollywood Derby three weeks earlier, after winning the Santa Anita Derby 14 days before.
I acknowledge this is not the 1970s, but the Wood still provides four weeks rest; which is all Upstart needed between the Holy Bull, which he won, and the Fountain of Youth, in which he finished first. Interestingly, Upstart won his first two races as a 2-year-old within a 10-day period, even if that was meant to be his foundation going into the Champagne later in the fall.
Some might consider it hypocritical for the highest-profile advocate of winter racing in New York to be training his Derby contender in more hospitable weather, even if excusable under such exceptional circumstances.
And recall that in 2014 Violette did take the NY-bred Samraat through Aqueduct's Withers-Gotham-Wood sequence to the Derby, where he was nosed-out for fourth by Wicked Strong, who also ended Samraat's unbeaten streak in the Wood. The man obviously knows something about consistency.
It takes a cold heart to fault him for pursuing a path less chilling.
Some might regard any failure to continue helping the home team present the largest, most competitive field possible for one of its most important events under more temperate conditions as a lapse in loyalty. For those so inclined, they must be enjoying the fact he was frozen out of first in two big spots.
New York loyalists look forward to Upstart's return for the Belmont Stakes. Indeed, the local boy could still become a conquering hero in addition to being a wandering one.
The chances of any horse winning the Triple Crown in 2015 seem very slim as the competition appears to be stronger among this year's sophomores than in recent years but Upstart still is as likely a candidate as any of his rivals.
Like the last three Triple Crown winners, his foundation includes the Champagne. Like Affirmed, he finished second in the Champagne and then had one more start as a 2-year-old before wintering in warmer climes.
The surface at Gulfstream this year has tested stamina rather than support speed. Upstart has run well whenever and wherever he has been asked to perform, and he might have prevailed each time with fewer obstacles to overcome. It would help if his "what doesn't kill me only makes me stronger" quality were better balanced against his penchant for attracting adversity.
May fortune finally smile upon him when post positions are drawn in Kentucky. Both man and beast have at least that much coming.
Written by Indulto
Friday, March 20, 2015
A Quixotic Quest for Quality via Quantity
LOS ANGELES, March 19, 2015--The strategy of saturating selected Saturdays with graded stakes seems to be gaining strength within several racetrack ownership domains.
It appears to be succeeding in increasing the sport's exposure as well as the handle generated on those dates, but it remains to be seen whether interest in betting on thoroughbred races has actually been expanded in the process--and if total overall handle has increased as a result.
Santa Anita Handicap day has traditionally been an exercise in stakes-stacking but with somewhat static results. Approximately 5,000 more people came out to watch Shared Belief demolish a less than stellar field in the Santa Anita Handicap last Saturday than came to see him face off with California Chrome in the San Antonio Handicap four weeks earlier.
But that was still almost 15,000 fewer than the 40,810 who showed up on opening day to see him narrowly defeat an unheralded band of sprinters in the Malibu.
However, this was about 1,000 less than the 27,121 at last year's Big Cap for the anticipated rematch between Mucho Macho Man and Will Take Charge that turned out to be Game On Dude's finale, too. Both year's all-sources handle was just under $15 million.
This year's festivities featured replays of some famous renewals of the track's signature race, including a colorized version of Seabiscuit's victory over Kayak II. That film documented just how popular racing was in those days with displays of overflowing attendance.
One could conclude from all this that stacking stakes may not be as important as stocking them with competition. The more recent redistribution of racing product wealth is not being conducted cooperatively across competing management spheres which is, of course, not virgin territory.
The resultant reduction in practical opportunities for individual horses to participate in Eclipse Award-determining events has manifested itself once again. The Met Mile is reported Shared Belief's next Grade 1 target which comes three months after Big Cap.
With the 7-furlong Carter and the 10-furlong Dubai World Cup the only G1 options in between, he is expected to prep in the 9-furlong G2 Oaklawn Handicap, although Jerry Hollendorfer walked back that possibility this week. So we shall see.
This situation raises the visibility of some already questionably-placed Grade 1 races. Perhaps the most blatant waste of G1 status is the running of the Malibu at Santa Anita on Dec. 26, rather than at least six days later in the following year when it could exert some influence on divisional championships for older horses and/or sprinters.
Absent the Strub series it once anchored, why continue burying it out of sight of Eclipse voters?
The Hollywood Derby might have also been insignificant in 2014 had California Chrome's connections not used it to experiment with their colt on grass and try to firm up his claim on three-year-old divisional honors; fortunately for them, the strategy worked.
And speaking of the Metropolitan Handicap, moving it to Belmont Day still defies logic for so many. The Met Mile once matched sprinters with routers to provide a springboard from the G1 Carter to the 9-furlong G1 Stephen Foster and/or 10-furlong G2 Suburban Handicaps.
In one fell swoop, NYRA Vice President of Racing Martin Panza eliminated options for Met starters to also participate in the Belmont, Brooklyn, and Stephen Foster. Isn't a champion who raced at multiple venues and distances better for the sport?
The Brooklyn is a natural for a face-off between Belmont Stakes winners. It could join the Breeders' Cup prep path between the Travers and the Classic. Prepping at 12 furlongs for a big purse at 10 furlongs has its precedent, albeit not ideal preparation; Del Mar offers the longer Cougar II Handicap in advance of the Pacific Classic.
That path was successful for synthetic specialist Richard's Kid in successive years.
Remaining outside the box, perhaps the Brooklyn could rematch Breeders’ Cup Classic routers on Thanksgiving Saturday.
Either way, NYRA could offer a variable purse depending on the combined presence of multiple Belmont winners, just like it attracts Breeders’ Cup milers and sprinters to the Cigar Mile.
One might expect the popularity of the Triple Crown for three-year-olds to spawn similar series in other divisions.
Without bonuses, however, there is little incentive to commit to someone else's schedule. Jay Hovdey
recently referred to bonuses as a “boondoggle” because winners are required to sweep a series in order to collect.
Hovdey wasn't wrong, especially if the Alysheba-Bet Twice fiasco is the barometer..
Written by Indulto
Thursday, February 12, 2015
A Cross Country View from the Left Coast
Los Angeles, February 11, 2015—When the sprint-sharpened Shared Belief sat off a snail's pace and collared the questionably-conditioned California Chrome in the final furlong, it appeared that a tighter, more confidently-ridden Horse of the Year contesting the lead earlier with faster fractions could have been closer at the finish.
As such, the issue of individual superiority between the two rivals has yet to be settled in my view, and until their common conqueror Bayern re-enters the picture, so do future divisional rankings appear a work in progress.
Other than Bayern's stablemate Hoppertunity, the Grade II invitational event at Santa Anita offered little competition for the two superstars who both eschewed acquisition of a Grade I title scheduled less than an hour earlier cross country at Gulfstream Park.
I found it hard to believe that Bob Baffert thought he had a shot with his second-string in the San Antonio and that he was blowing a G1 opportunity for Hoppertunity facing what looked like, on paper, weaker Eastern opposition.
That suspicion was strengthened when Constitution, beaten by Hoppertunity in last year's G1 Clark Handicap, captured the Donn Handicap. That result drove Baffert's folly down to 5-1, enticing me to save with him in a superfecta over the dynamic duo, with the remainder fourth, for a fraction of my investment in a no-brainer universally-cold trifecta that came to fruition, albeit just barely.
In attempting to create a coast-to-coast success by showcasing the sport’s best older horses, The Stronach Group (TSR) somehow managed to avoid separating its brightest stars. In response to an expanded wagering opportunity and extended live television coverage, a somewhat disappointing 21,522 fans watched the centerpiece event live. Further, the $500K guaranteed Cross Country Pick Four betting closed $27,000 short of projections.
Perhaps I wasn't the only one unwilling to embrace then endure a short-priced, heavy-favorite-laden sequence which wound up paying a whopping $68.25 for fifty cents when the second favorite won the Donn. Parenthetically, I wonder how long Constitution will remain the division's leading G1 winner.
Shared Belief is now poised for a profitable appearance in the Santa Anita Handicap while California Chrome prepares for his globe-hopping trip to Dubai and a shot at the world's richest purse.
However, I doubt that money is the overriding consideration here. California Chrome has taken his connections through a Triple Crown campaign and to the Breeders' Cup. One can hardly blame them for believing the world is their oyster.
And so they'll go diving for pearls in exotic and prestigious places. These folks may be more tempted by the Arc de Triomphe than another Breeders' Cup Classic before their horse enters the breeding shed in their unbridled pursuit of lofty goals in every aspect of the game.
But I wouldn’t be too surprised if Chrome never won another race in top company. He hasn't really been the same since he sustained a minor injury at the start of the Belmont Stakes. For the second time now, his trainer suggested post-race that he may not have had the horse fully cranked.
If I owned a Triple Crown prospect, Sherman would still be my first choice to get the horse through it safely as well as competitively, but the current circumstances under which he works seems a waste of his talents.
Consequently, it's the rematch between Shared Belief and Bayern that fuels my interest more. And if that meeting should include Constitution, Tonalist, Palace Malice and other high-profile performers, so much the better.
The question now is whether Shared Belief really will race outside California prior to the Breeders' Cup Classic at Keeneland. Victories in the Santa Anita Handicap and Gold Cup at Santa Anita, Del Mar’s Pacific Classic and the Awesome Again back in Arcadia could add four G1 wins to this year's Horse of the Year contender without ever having to leave the state, although Jerry Hollendorfer did mention New York during last week’s media teleconference.
Hopefully a competitive rivalry between Shared Belief and Bayern will develop and force an expansion into New York. Another question is whether Shared Belief's trainer is ready to wrangle his share of the national spotlight from the likes of Baffert, Todd Pletcher, Bill Mott, et al, even if he cares about such things. As usual, only time will tell.
SPEAKING OF THE EMPIRE STATE
NYRA could use some help in finding out why a sudden rash of breakdowns has recurred this winter. Just possibly the answer might come from a different perspective, but NYRA, and racing in general, never appears willing to embrace outside help from racing fans, horseplayers in particular.
And so it’s highly doubtful they would craft a video package of the unfortunate race events from all vantage pints, however unsettling, including past performances for each horse, and to provide a synopsis of what they have learned from their investigations to the public. Maybe fresh sets of eyes will help. Any good suggestion could prove useful in the future.
Who Will Step Up Now?
When David Skorton, Gov. Andrew Cuomo's original Reorganization Board Chairman, vacated that position last December, the news coverage
it was also revealed in the news coverage that Bennett Liebman, the Governor's top adviser on gambling, had retired.
Like many, I have long regarded Liebman as the straightest shooter involved with New York racing in his various roles as regulator, industry observer, and NYRA board member. I applauded his appointment as Deputy Secretary of Gaming and Racing but was profoundly disappointed by his uncharacteristic public silence on racing issues. Hopefully, he will be moved to resume his insightful commentary.
The current Board Chairman vacancy provides an opportunity to appoint someone more inclined to keep the State's residents, voters, and racing customers informed as to what Team Cuomo really has in mind for the franchise and its properties in the future, maybe even accept public feedback on its plans and objectives. Horseplayers can only dream.
Written by Indulto