Sunday, June 23, 2013
Journalististic Values Help the Sport
LOS ANGELES, June 22, 2013-- Kudos to the executive editor for opening a window
for us West Coast wing-nuts. I have a feeling there will be a price to pay, even from 3,500 miles away.
The piece noted that the media and cyber-skirmishes between California trainer, Bob Baffert, and two of his more prominent and persistent Internet critics, Ray Paulick and horseplayer advocate Andy Asaro, had recently taken on a personal note when Baffert began making references to the private lives of his opposition.
The irony here is that Paulick and Asaro have previously publicly employed, if not exchanged, similar unpleasantness themselves, so none can claim to have taken the high road here.
It will be interesting to see whether those two adversaries, being on the same side of an issue for a change, can actually effect the change they advocate.
Baffert’s shot at Paulick took place on TVG which has yet to give the latter equal time. This is no impediment to Paulick who -- through his popular website -- has become the Oprah Winfrey of Internet racing discussion forums. His posted response
to Baffert was greeted with rousing audience support.
I respect Mr. Paulick as one of the most talented writers and communicators on racing-related matters. The continued success of his website mirrors his ability to present issues that fuel reader participation like the one mentioned.
However, I’m a little skeptical re his simplistic addiction-as-disease stance which elicited overwhelming sympathy from the audience. Some diseases can cause suffering beyond the immediate victims; to family, caregivers, society and even victims of unexpected and unintended consequences as a result of those actions.
Alzheimer’s is one such disease but one that is not self-inflicted as addiction caused by substance abuse can be. I’m not suggesting that’s the case here but I feel compelled to raise the awareness of those who have never experienced such tragedy in the life of a loved one.
The comment thread was reminiscent of a referee, i.e. the majority of posters calling a foul on a player who reacts to the foul that the ref didn’t see. In this case, the original foul was Paulick’s news piece on Quarter Horse racing that led with a seemingly gratuitous shot at Baffert, deserved or not.
Toward the end of that 200-plus comment thread, Paulick finally pointed his finger at the real villains in the piece: "… The Thoroughbred Owners of California and California trainers that have fought efforts calling for more transparency--even when it comes to mandatory release of veterinary records for horses that die in racing or training.
It pains me to say this but California racing is sinking under the current leadership of the CHRB and TOC."
While it has indeed been a series of tragic events accompanied by regulatory malfeasance that are dimming Baffert’s bright light, triggering suspicion and constant criticism in cyberspace, some of it is warranted. The comments made by this Hall of Fame icon speak to an arrogance that, in Sheets parlance, is a “new lifetime top.”
Some SoCal horsemen maintain that the 80-20 rule is alive and well in this state; that 20% of the horsemen are receiving 80% of the purse money. (I doubt we'll ever learn what portion of that 20% Baffert earns as the trainer of highly successful owners, and as an owner himself, but I suspect it is substantial).
The fact that Baffert sits on the TOC board, an organization that effectively controls the rate of takeout charged racing’s customers to fund those purses, strongly suggests a conflict of interest.
That he, or any trainer, could have seven horses in the same shed die suddenly within an 18-month period and be allowed to continue to train before the cause of those deaths are revealed, speaks to the regulatory agency involved.
At best, the California Horse Racing Board is overly influenced by this iconic figure and his powerful owner, the influential TOC board member Mike Pegram. At worst, it suggests that the CHRB is incompetent, corrupt, or both.
These two men have been subjected to continuous cyber-scrutiny by people such as Asaro, a horseplayer willing to speak out against the inequities imposed by the arrogantly influential and powerful, even in the face of intimidation that includes threats of legal action and an investigation into his private life.
That might explain why, up until now, only a few others have been willing to step forward and openly challenge these agents of privilege and power.
Perhaps, beginning with the efforts of Paulick and Pricci, more journalists, if there any left among industry media, will be willing to step up and call for broader-based, transparent leadership in California and elsewhere. Rubber stamps do the sport no good.
Written by Indulto
Wednesday, May 29, 2013
California’s Dire Situation Needs Gov. Brown’s Intervention
LOS ANGELES, May 28, 2013—Last Thursday, California Horse Racing Board meeting at CAL EXPO in Sacramento exposed its chairman, David Israel as an expletive-ejecting enabler of wealthy Southern California racing interests.
And If there was any consideration of Golden Gate’s replacing Hollywood Park in a statewide circuit rotation, I missed it. What I didn’t miss, however, were several earfuls of foul language and browbeating.
Even though the buffoon-turned-bully’s term on the California Horse Racing Board is up in January, seven more months of ineffective regulation while the state’s horsemen try to recover from the loss of a major venue can’t be a good thing.
The net result of the meeting was that Santa Anita and Del Mar will get most of Hollywood’s dates, with the remainder to be pursued by Los Alamitos and possibly Fairplex. The contentious stabling location and funding issue was not resolved.
One individual stood out in these discussions: Alan Balch, the Executive Director of the California Thoroughbred Trainers. It’s unfortunate that the clarity and dignity he contributed to the proceedings aren’t a regular component of these meetings.
Does it make any sense for Santa Anita to race in the heat and smog of June and July and without a turf course in optimal condition? Who will make certain horses and riders aren’t at greater risk competing in such a climate? Is night racing reasonable given rush-hour commuter traffic on all freeways surrounding it? Who will be available to play after-hours racing live or on-line on either coast?
Now that destiny has dispensed with the notion of a Triple Crown winner that many fantasize will reinvigorate racing, we are back to the status quo where enthusiastic national attention is limited to five days per year and local attention is lavished only on boutique meets. But can Del Mar expand its highly successful window and remain the attraction it is now?
Why would the Breeders’ Cup risk dealing with the vagaries of San Diego tides, untested surfaces and unproven security when Santa Anita offers certainty and capacity? This point is moot, of course, if the TOC sticks to its own-foot-shooting decision by refusing to authorize simulcast signals even if only juvenile races are subjected to the Lasix ban.
Parenthetically, the Breeders’ Cup could easily circumvent that challenge by splitting days among venues and running the Juvenile races (along with two others, e.g., the Marathon and Turf Sprint) elsewhere; perhaps in Florida.
The Blood Horse
reported that two-day Cup handle and attendance were off from the previous three runnings, which begs the question of Breeders’ Cup Ltd. diluting its own product.
It is not unreasonable to dream that handle for the strongest possible single day card at Santa Anita could eclipse the two-day figures, allowing for a subsequent second day to re-introduce Hialeah’s beauty to a new television audience, is it? But, I digress.
Current events have made it fair to revisit recent history. The politically-connected Keith Brackpool and leaders of the Thoroughbred Owners of California engineered the takeout raising coup that was legislated in 2010 effective in 2011.
Those who rebelled against the table-tilting subsidy to the wealthiest horsemen at casual player expense learned that this was only one in a long line of leadership lapses, resulting in the loss of horses, horsemen, and participating bettors.
When I’m asked to state my occupation these days, it is all I can do to suppress the urge to say, “disgruntled horseplayer.” Consequently I’ve come to enjoy reading the commentary of fellow HRI blogger, Harry Hacek, who taunts us with tantalizing tidbits for thought as he targets those he deems responsible for California racing’s present morass.
I applaud Mr. Hacek’s efforts to rabble-rouse (myself included) in his Only Insurrection Can Save California Racing
where he concludes, "If the past has taught us anything, the odds are against positive change. Revolution of the rank and file is in order. If not now, when?"
Resurrection through insurrection? Not in California. The opposition will never give in, even to save itself. When faced with the inevitable they will take their ball and go home. Racing in this state will continue to contract as long as powerful horsemen are able to self-medicate, self-regulate and, if Mr. Hacek comments regarding race conditions-writing are accurate, self-officiate.
Higher purses for smaller fields won by fewer owners and trainers while attracting fewer dollars cannot be self-sustaining. In that scenario, it’s hard to imagine weekday racing after the Santa Anita Derby. If summer dates at Santa Anita don’t materialize, Mr. Stronach might acquire those dates for Golden Gate rather than vacate them.
None of the above can change without pressure from the top, but it’s the pressure from the bottom that still will be necessary to ensure that changes imposed by the top are in the best interests of all
Few would advocate the ham-fisted approach Governor Cuomo has used in New York but many would like to see Governor Brown become more involved, at least to the point of restructuring the CHRB into a body that truly protects the public interest. That would be a critical first step.
Written by Indulto
Sunday, May 12, 2013
Derby’s Points System Revisited
LOS ANGELES, May 11, 2013--The 2013 Kentucky Derby is now in the record books and its new eligibility system awaits critiquing and tweaking. Apparently, however, the new rules had little effect on a trainer who was completely focused on a single entrant and probably picked the same spots he would have under the old rules in his attempt to annex the first leg of the Triple Crown.
The best horse won, and the manner in which it was prepared may have re-established the one-horse-one-trainer tradition for Derby Trail aspirants. With tremendous patience and mastery of his craft, Claude McGaughey made a convincing case for concentrated conditioner care; at least for those paying premium prices for premier bloodlines.
In contrast, Todd Pletcher displayed equally masterful management expertise in making multiple TC hopefuls eligible for multiple clients. Yet even with five starters (of which four were widely considered strong contenders), there was no trip for the trainer to the winner’s circle. Perhaps one his owners must be wondering whether full focus on his particular colt would have made a difference; then there are alternatives.
Joel Rosario eliminated all doubts that he is the nation’s top jockey. This year’s game of musical mounts returned Rosario to Orb but appeared to weaken Pletcher’s hand. Recently injured John Velazquez retained his choice of Pletcher mounts on Verrazano.
But Javier Castellano took himself off Revolutionary after having guided that colt to successive victories. There was no Garrett Gomez for Palace Malice because he already took a commitment aboard Vyjack. Joe Bravo opted off Charming Kitten for Black Onyx, who suffered a minor injury and was an early scratch.
It appeared that Orb was a selection more among those who could appreciate the effectiveness of his lengthy preparation at Churchill Downs; something that did not leap off the past performance charts but was noted by several workout observers. Orb’s potential was also camouflaged somewhat by many speed figure makers who thought his Florida Derby was on the slow side.
The sloppy track, the final piece of the handicapping puzzle, left many of us scratching our heads right up until post time.
Finally, did the new rules live up to expectations with respect to the outcome? Yes and no.
The winner was one of two co-top point accumulators with 150. Coming off five weeks rest he is more likely to win two more races in five weeks than if he had run again before the Derby. But the fact that Golden Soul with 14 accumulated points not only finished second to Orb but turned the tables on Revolutionary with 110 points suggests the qualifying point range might be too wide.
As an aside, Black Onyx was eventually scratched due to injury, the result being that the rail position in the starting gate was left empty so no horse suffered any ill effects from the rail post in a 20-horse field. The absence of the rail-position obstacle should be the rule rather than the exception.
Random post position draws are entirely appropriate when entrants require no qualification for entry and there is no significant hindrance associated with one particular post, such as the rail. There must never be a repeat of the Lookin At Lucky episode in 2010 when the top earnings qualifier, betting favorite, and subsequent Preakness winner, lost all chance at the start when pinned against the rail – just as everyone expected he would be!
To excel in mandatory trials only to face arbitrary obstacles at the last moment is self-defeating. Simply selecting post positions in reverse accumulated eligibility point total order might be an improvement but would excessively reward entrants competing in the higher point preps, which may or may not have been the most competitive.
Consider the following concept as a starting point for determining post selection order: Once all eligible starters have been identified, each would be assigned Draw Points. Unlike Eligibility Points, Draw Points would also reward participation in multiple preps, which promotes the creation of rivalries and rooting interests.
Draw Points could be as simple as inversely valuing the top four finishes in any prep; e.g., 1st-4, 2nd-3, 3rd-2, 4th-1.
Draw Points could also reflect the level of the preps by adding 1 if the race were worth 85 qualifying points, or 2 if it were worth 170.
Ties in Draw Point totals would be broken by accumulated eligibility points.
One change Churchill officials could consider is the status of the UAE Derby. I understand the politics. But consider that 3rd and 4th finishers might qualify on points, how realistic is it to expect they would ship into quarantine in a timely manner only perhaps to become also-eligibles?
Besides, winners of that race have yet to perform very well in the Derby, although Lines Of Battle ran creditably indeed, but also without mounting a serious win challenge. Perhaps that race under our guidelines could be downgraded to 85 points with a North American race taking its place at the 170-point level.
Illinois Derby redux, anyone?
The following is a synopsis of how each prep fared this year relative to Derby starters: The most productive prep was the Louisiana Derby with four. Three representatives were qualified by the Florida Derby, Wood Memorial, Blue Grass, Risen Star, Tampa Bay Derby, Delta Jackpot, and Kentucky Jockey Club.
Those preps sending two were the Arkansas Derby, Rebel, Spiral, LeComte, Holy Bull, Gotham and Remsen. Those with a lone representative included the Santa Anita Derby, UAE Derby, San Felipe, Fountain of Youth, Sam F. Davis, Southwest, Smarty Jones, Withers, Sham, Cash Call Futurity, Breeders’ Futurity and Champagne.
Those with no representatives were the Sunland Derby, Robert E Lewis, El Camino Derby, Derby Trial, Lexington, BC Juvenile, FrontRunner, Grey, and Royal Lodge
There always seem to be instances when races cannibalize one another because of scheduling conflicts within the same basic region. Rather than have short fields in each, perhaps the point values of those races could be tweaked vis a vis scheduling to one another. Those races figure to be weaker due to the likelihood of smaller fields. Consideration should be given to how better to deal with that scenario.
More food for thought: With six starters coming off five weeks rest, including the win-place-show finishers, the Lexington and the Derby Trial are unlikely to contribute again next year. Shouldn’t their point totals decrease from 20? This subtraction might have been enough to qualify an entrant this year from those major preps that should be as strong as possible, even if the later events were intended to enable horses with existing points to move up.
Written by John Pricci