Friday, December 26, 2014
Moving Blue Grass Has Ripple Effect Beyond Keeneland
LOS ANGELES, CA, December 23, 2014—By moving both its Kentucky Derby qualifying races up one week, Keeneland not only has changed the dynamic of the horsemen's path to the Triple Crown, it also may have redefined the sixth most attractive racing day of the year for horseplayers.
While some are split as to whether Derby day or Breeders' Cup Saturday enjoys the widest audience in North American racing, few would disagree two days of Breeders' Cup and the three days of Triple Crown racing are the five most popular of the racing year; Belmont Day--with a Triple Crown on the line--commanding the most attention of all.
It may be that currently “Super Saturday” is the reigning sixth-ranked day of import, featuring championship preps at Belmont Park, Santa Anita, and Keeneland, 10 Grade 1s in all, two more than even Championship Saturday.
A case can be made for Florida Derby Day, the beginning of maximum-point qualifiers determining Kentucky Derby eligibility. The Louisiana Derby and the UAE Derby are also run that weekend, as is the Dubai World Cup, whose $10 million purse making that day's total purses the highest of the year.
Actually, racing at Meydan impacts U.S. racing not only because UAE Derby winners often compete in Kentucky, but because older American horses have had success in the world's richest race in the pre-synthetics era. The return of both races to dirt is likely to increase participation.
For 2014, 120 G1s were scheduled in the U.S., Canada, and Dubai. By moving the Bluegrass [and the G1 Madison] to the same day as the Wood Memorial and Santa Anita Derby, that Saturday's G1 total jumps to seven, ranking it third among 49 days of racing on which there is at least one Grade 1, 25 having at least two.
By giving Lexington performers three weeks to recover, Keeneland makes its prep more significant, even if its point total doesn't get adjusted by the Churchill Downs brain trust. This leaves room for the Illinois Derby's return to the Derby Trail--provided CDI is serious about its stated need to improve its image instead of continuing to punish Hawthorne.
As things stand, Oaklawn also would appear to benefit since all eyes on the “Trail” will focus more keenly on the Arkansas Derby, the final “win or place and you're in the big dance” event.
Despite decreasing foal crops, most Derby preps will continue filling to near capacity even when clustered closely together. The main problem, of course, is the perceived inability of today’s Thoroughbred to withstand the rigors of closely spaced races.
Of course, if you miss one timely opportunity you might miss out on the big event entirely, especially when few qualifying spots remain. The other concern is that with so many opportunities, horsemen can cherry-pick their spots limiting the possibility of rubber matches. And that’s too bad; as rivalries matter.
We could debate whether the Keeneland move will degrade or enhance the quality of the Derby field, and whether or not a lone superior competitor will be less or more likely to capture the Crown.
Either way, this new pre-Derby spacing increase apparently does not inspire thoughts of changing the Crown’s five-week format, especially since new Maryland Jockey Club President, Sal Sinatra, already has disavowed his predecessor's willingness for possibly moving the Preakness to later in the meet. No boats will be rocked there.
Revisiting Belmont Day changes,, the Grade 1 total jumped from three to six when the Metropolitan Handicap, Ogden Phipps, and Acorn were added to the undercard in an effort to make the day super special with or without a Triple Crown contender.
Now, however, the storied Met Mile can no longer serve as a Belmont prep, and the feats of Arts and Letters and Conquistador Cielo can never be replicated. The hope is that new traditions can replace the old Only time will tell.
And now Met Milers will have one less week to freshen for the 10-furlong Suburban, further altering the course of another proud tradition. The prestigious Stephen Foster also took a hit since Met Milers would need to ship and run in a week’s time.
As an aside, with so many lamenting the loss of a cohesive championship schedule for older dirt runners, all changes not made in concert with other venues seems like a poor strategy--if the goal is to create and sustain fan interest beyond the three-year-old class.
In our view, Bluegrass day now deserves to be moved up a notch on Players Up’s “Scale of Nationally Significant Race Days” to sixth place, dropping Super Saturday to number seven, with Breeders’ Cup Prep Saturday checking in at number eight.
But that’s just only player’s opinion.
Written by Indulto
Thursday, December 11, 2014
Make a Friend, Keep a Friend, Make Money
LOS ANGELES, December 7, 2014—Tom Jicha stimulated HRI readers recently when he challenged those commenting beneath a column
asking contributors to provide ideas how racing can best market itself.
The usual ideas were recycled: emphasis on sport versus gambling game; age group targeting; handicapping tournaments, etc.; resulting in the usual lack of consensus.
The only old saw missing was "Get the women in and the men will follow."
Actually, tracks haven't done all that much to entice women to enter racing’s emporiums, much less bet on races. The chic Del Mar and Saratoga meets get more than their share of women to attend but their effect on handle is minimal at best.
On-track customers are overwhelmingly male and for many of them racing isn't just about gambling; it's about enjoying time with friends, sometimes with those that also have a life-long passion for the game.
But racing needn’t be limited to either making money or sharing familiar time; it should be about creating opportunities for acquiring new friends in uniquely entertaining circumstances.
Just as racing needs new recruits to replace customers it loses through attrition, aging racing fans need new friends to spend time with when old ones move on to that race book in the sky.
What better starting point for establishing common ground than to recreate circumstances that were present when growing up?
Targeting age groups makes a lot of sense but each should be approached a little differently. Consider, for instance, the following demographical breakdown:
How about a plan to create as many multi-gender groups as feasible and reward each group with free vouchers that could act as seed money for each unit. What better way to randomly make new contacts and possibly forge new friendships than by splitting the proceeds of a parimutuel ticket?
This new “social promotion” could vary by themes: "Singles Day," "Ladies Day," "Couples Day," "Seniors Day," "Youth Day," etc. If there were a simple handicapping contest, e.g. “Pick the Winner, with the leading group entitled to some other perks.
Later on, there could be a battle among the groups for bragging rights and more prizes--and another way to make new friends at the racetrack. Why not leverage racing’s social aspects more fully?
Here's how it might work: Following an appropriate amount of new advertising. All interested new patrons would receive a coded "entry coupon" that randomly puts small groups of individuals within their category together.
If the promotion's theme that day happened by "Singles," a team would be created whenever three unattached females became available within the same age group. Later, they could be matched with similarly aged, unattached males to comprise a team.
Once a team is complete, whether they be chosen randomly or the use of color-coded ID cards, they would be directed to meet each other in a promotional area designed just for them.
Then the entire team would get registered in order to be eligible for the betting voucher, and possibly other discount vouchers good for food, beverages and the like, promoting further social interaction.
Some thought should be given as to whether teams be allowed to combine vouchers, provide participants with the opportunity to make even more new acquaintances while increasing the chance for potential financial rewards.
A positive by-product of a promotion such as this, in addition to getting new potential fans in the door, is creating an expectation that one's next visit to the track will also be a pleasurable experience.
Once people come in contact with other individuals who liked going to the track, wouldn't they be more likely to go to attend more often; even on their own?
An extension of the original matching process could result in individuals funding their plays in targeted pools, seeking out partners with similar investment goals.
However, before any new fans can be created, tracks need to start treating customers like people they value and want in their building today and as often as possible.
One egregious example of poor planning occurred in New York when Belmont Day patrons tried to leave the track by rail. No apologies were offered for the exceedingly inadequate service, only finger-pointing at the Long Island Railroad.
Racetracks need to start closing the gap between the perceptions created by the realities they create.
While the Internet has brought racing's customers closer together it has also widened the chasm between customers and track management.
There are many online forums like this one that can forge a meeting of the minds; what steps might be taken to handle specific complaints and criticism in general.
Sadly, there is seldom if ever an official response to issues raised at HRI and elsewhere on the Net, officials being either willing to ride out the latest storm or “not dignify” a complaint with a response.
I wonder if there is even one racetrack CEO willing to answer one customer email each day on his organization's website. That would be a good place to start.
Written by Indulto
Sunday, November 23, 2014
Big Irony: The Ballad of Texas Red
LOS ANGELES, November 22—Until this year’s Breeders’ Cup Saturday, most horseplayers over fifty associated the name “Texas Red” with the outlaw whose legend was immortalized by Marty Robbins in his ballad, “Big Iron.”
It was either that, the badass cowboy, or the latest designer drug for which a test has not yet been developed.
Now everybody recognizes Texas Red is a Thoroughbred racehorse that was a last-to-first, field-distancing winner of the Juvenile.
Much of the post-race coverage was the novelty of a Breeders’ Cup winner being ridden and trained by brothers; Kent and Keith Desormeaux, respectively.
The media also picked up the refreshing frankness of the trainer: "The first thing I thought when he was drawing away was, 'How good is American Pharaoh?
“You never want to see a defection, but it had to help."
And isn’t it interesting that the trainer will be focusing on the Kentucky Derby, not the juvenile championship.
His comment helps make the case for American Pharaoh as the champion considering the horse's two Grade I victories included the Frontrunner Stakes over Texas Red in the first start on dirt for both.
For the Juvenile, Bob Baffert put four swift works into his front-runner while Desormeaux worked three times far more slowly. The Baffert trainee then went to the sidelines with a bruised foot, or worse.
Desormeaux's charge made it into the Juvenile’s starting gate race and he inhaled his field. The final time for both the Frontrunner and BC Juvenile was 1:41 4/5 but the six furlong splits were 1:11 4/5 and 1:10, respectively.
Who can be sure Pharaoh would have been able to withstand the greater early pace pressure?
The sire of Texas Red is Afleet Alex who won both the Preakness and Belmont following a narrow defeat in the Kentucky Derby. His results in the breeding shed haven't yet been as impressive as those on the racetrack.
But just maybe his second Grade I-winning son can accomplish what daddy didn't; become racing’s next Triple Crown winner.
American Pharaoh, it should be noted, is the first Grade I-winning son of Pioneer of the Nile, the Kentucky Derby runner-up to Mine That Bird.
However, the fact that the last three Triple Crown winners were all two-year-old champions makes the title more than just an honor.
And, for the record, a subsequent win in the upcoming Grade I Los Alamitos Futurity certainly would confirm ‘Red's’ championship credentials, this race propelling Shared Belief to the championship last year.
The Derby is still five months away, a lifetime in horse years, and much can happen. I’m sure Desormeaux is well aware that since earnings no longer are the Derby qualifier, another 10 qualifying points probably would be enough for inclusion. It has been the first two years.
Texas Red's sales price of $17,000 barely covered Afleet Alex's stud fee of $12,500, and it exceeded that of only one other Juvenile starter. Ironically, the post time favorite and runner-up, Carpe Diem, was a field-high $1.6 million purchase.
And that brings to mind a song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=999RqGZatPs
With apologies to Marty Robbins:
To the city of Arcadia came a jockey BC Day
Name was Kent Desormeaux, sometimes had too much to say
He had lost a lot of business due to fear he'd take a nip
But supporters knew when riding that he seldom made a slip
Seldom made a slip
It was earlier in the meeting when misfortune reared its head
Getting kicked by a horse put Kent in a hospital bed
Broken ribs were not the only cause for pain he felt inside
For in the BC Juvenile he had a big horse yet to ride
Big horse yet to ride
In Keith Desormeaux's stable lived a horse called Texas Red
He had faced two other entrants and they both finished ahead
Every pundit praised the winner, Red's improvement didn't warn
Of the brothers' shared belief they had a big horse in the barn
Big horse in the barn
From the East would come top finishers from other major preps
To confront the Frontrunner winner who had run the fastest steps
But a bruised foot scratched the favorite just days before the race
A real boon to both he'd beaten no longer having him to face
Not having him to face
Another Juvenile defection came the morning of the race
Was the other local prep runner who had finished in second place
No one had to be a genius, no one needed Twitter text
To find the pattern suggesting Texas Red might come out next
Red might come out next
It was forty six past two when they left the starting gate
The next one hundred and two seconds would determine each one's fate
Texas Red was the early trailer, but advanced on the backstretch
Circling horses on the turn, he blew by the leaders in the stretch
Blew by them in the stretch
Wasn't longer before the brothers started talking to the Press
The jockey gave the trainer all the credit for their success
He'd acquired the son of Afleet Alex as a bargain in disguise
And had him ready to fire when they ran for the big prize
Ran for the big prize
Big Irony. Big Irony.
Written by Indulto