Wednesday, March 06, 2013
‘A’ Is for Athlete
LOS ANGELES March 2, 2013—Were you aware that jockeys whose first names begin with “J” and “R” currently dominate the Sport of Kings in North America? Perusing the Equibase Jockey Standings the other day, I happened to notice that the first names of the top 6 ranked jockeys were Javier, John, Jose, Rafael, Rosie, and Joel.
Think that’s a coincidence? The 10 top jocks of 2012 were Ramon, Javier, John, Rafael, Joel, Jose, Julien, Rosie, Joseph, and Junior. In 2011, the top 6 were Ramon, John, Javier, Joel, Rafael, and Julien.
In 2010, Ramon led the way again over John and Joel, but the 4th slot was Garrett’s who previously beat out Ramon in 2009. Robby filled out the top 8 in 2010 and the top 9 in 2009 after Rajiv.
Whatever the initials, these are extraordinary pilots, not simply passengers.
“R” is for remarkable. Ramon Dominguez’s recent injury may have taken him out of this year’s running, but only after he led all jockeys in earnings for 3 straight years (2010-2012).
“G” is for great in the case of Garrett Gomez who actually topped the standings for 4 consecutive years (2006-2009), which is why he’s on the ballot for induction into racing’s Hall of Fame, in his first year of eligibility.
He should be a shoe-in -- a sure thing given his daunting display of character that showed him recovering from substance abuse to reach the pinnacle of his profession.
Still another “J,” Jerry Bailey, was 3rd in 2005, 5th in 2004, after also finishing on top 3 times in succession (2001-2003) following his 2nd place finish in 2000. This Hall-of-Fame rider also closed out his career strongly after struggling with alcoholism.
The foremost current “J” is Hall-of-Famer, John Velazquez, who finished first twice in a row (2004-2005). As Jockey Guild President, he led their recovery from the Gertmanian fleecing, yet he also faced public wrath and scrutiny for his controversial role in the Life At Ten (LAT) fiasco.
But JR is today’s most sought-after jockey – at least in the type of races he’s willing to ride. Unlike Ramon, for example, claiming races are seldom the source of earnings responsible for his ranking.
That Breeders’ Cup misstep involving LAT replaced Big Brown’s blown Belmont Stakes as the broadest bettor buster since Secretariat in stakes races starting with “W,” i.e., the Wood, Whitney, and Woodward.
That aggravatingly aborted Triple Crown attempt brings us to another Hall-of-Fame rider, Kent Desormeaux, who held the 3rd slot in 2008 and the 4th slot in 2009, but slipped to 15th in 2010, 52nd in 2011, 99th in 2012, and currently is 326th. A NY Times article documenting Kent’s battles with the breathalyzer is linked to from his own website.
The point here is that even the most successful jockeys have frequently had to overcome adversity beyond the expected risk to life and limb. Some have come back stronger than ever, and some continue to struggle. The Internet has eliminated struggling in private, while broadening the audience for public criticism.
Many whose on-track experiences were enhanced by Desormeaux’s dominance at Santa Anita during his heyday there remember an amazing athlete whose infectious smile always accompanied him on his way to the saddling area and then to the post parade.
Most of us are distressed if not depressed by the downward spiraling of his personal and professional lives, and are rooting for his recovery and career resurgence.
Riding at the current Gulfstream Park meet, he ranks 39th while John, Javier, and Joel round out the top 3. With 1 win in 57 starts, Kent’s name is seldom seen in Gulfstream results charts, although he did have as many as three mounts last Sunday and this Saturday.
Last Saturday, he rode twice, once for one-time benefactor, Bill Mott, but the duo finished last at 5-1. These days the mounts on Mott’s multiple stakes winners mostly go to Joel who seems to have also inherited Kent’s mounts from Dale Romans’ barn.
In an occurrence of the “There’s no situation so bad it can’t get worse” phenomenon, Kent did not travel to Fairgrounds for last Saturday’s Risen Star to be aboard again for the upset win by I’ve Struck a Nerve who is trained by his brother, Keith Desormeaux.
The question as to who decided that horse and jockey should part company after their 14-length loss in the LeComte, has so far been neither asked nor answered. It surely will be by Derby day.
It would be a terrible waste if Kent isn’t in the starting gate for the 2013 Run for the Roses. The three-time Derby-winning talent -- even if tainted by temperament and tragedy -- remains a threat to triumph in any Triple Crown event.
The proven ability to negotiate those particular 10 furlongs -- including last year’s close-up third on a horse whose only victories came on Polytrack – can’t be denied and shouldn’t be ignored.
Written by John Pricci
Tuesday, February 12, 2013
The Roaring Teens
LOS ANGELES, February 10, 2013--Ray Paulick Tweeted, "My old hometown Chicago is nation's #murdercapital w 42 killed in January. Meanwhile, it's illegal to make an ADW horseracing wager there."
Indeed, the impediments to horseplayer confidence within voting distance of the President's residence have set new precedents in 2013.
The crime against horseplayers is their inability to wager on-line because elected representatives failed to renew recently expired ADW legislation during the lame duck session.
It's not quite as bad as it is in Arizona where Internet wagering has already been mowed down by shady characters. However, like Arizona tracks, the Illinois tracks will benefit during this period from increased simulcasting host fees while there is no live racing in the state.
Land of Lincoln lawmakers do not have their crosshairs trained on horseplayers the way the California legislature does. But the Illinois Racing Board (IRB) did a California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) imitation when it allowed Hawthorne Race Course to steal $250K in purse money from its fall meet to try recover from the Illinois Derby mugging at the hands of Churchill Downs.
The crime of the century impacting Illinois racing actually took place in Kentucky. Recently the Chicago Tribune
reported, "Now that Churchill Downs has turned the Illinois Derby into a dead end street on its new Road to the Kentucky Derby series, Hawthorne Race Course is trying to remake it into a superhighway to the Preakness.
Hawthorne has increased the purse of the Chicago circuit's premier main track race for 3-year-olds from $500,000 to $750,000 and will run it April 20, two weeks before the Kentucky Derby and four weeks before the Preakness."
Hawthorne honcho, Tim Carey, said, "... we're looking to get sponsorship so we can increase the purse even more."
During its annual racing dates award meeting
back in September, the IRB shifted several hundred thousand dollars worth of simulcast host commissions from Arlington to Hawthorne. "... Carey testified to the IRB that additional money steered Hawthorne's direction could be used to boost the purse of the Illinois Derby to $750,000 or $1 million, but Carey said after the meeting that no specific plans had been formulated."
Hawthorne was granted 19 more such days (17 at Arlington's expense) as "...the Board appeared miffed at the decision of Churchill Downs to leave the Illinois Derby off Churchill's newly devised points system that qualifies horses for the Kentucky Derby..."
The decision to increase the IL Derby purse was supported by the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, "but with a string attached: Hawthorne agreed to reduce purses at its fall meeting by an equal amount and put the money into daily purses at its ... spring meeting." But however they try to spin it, the $250K purse increase comes at the expense of the fall meeting.
I'm on record as being one of those offended by Churchill Down's decision to exclude the IL Derby as a KY Derby qualification race. It was a petty and unnecessary exception to an otherwise sensible strategy that encourages all starters to compete as three-year-olds in open races on dirt and synthetics at a mile and over. More importantly, it funnels most contenders' preparation into a period from 7 to 3 weeks prior to the main event; forcing them to face higher levels of competition in the process.
I believe that this type of purse increase is misuse of funds by Hawthorne. If they want to see a horse come out of the IL Derby and beat the KY Derby winner in the Preakness, then such a horse must actually start in the Preakness. The purse increase accomplishes nothing if nobody goes!
A better strategy might have been to use the money for bonuses (sponsor/insurance paid?) to each IL Derby starter who starts in Preakness, with further incentives for those finishing in the top three.
Even without the purse increase, the IL Derby would still be the most lucrative Preakness prep not called the KY Derby. A "mere" $250K increase wouldn't change that. One can understand Hawthorne's desire to derail the Triple Crown applecart this year, but it's just another example of how the industry cannot cooperate even in an endeavor that should unite it.
In a year that promises to send more competitive performers to the KY Derby, the odds against a horse coming out of the IL Derby winning the Preakness against several KY Derby qualified contestants would seem astronomical.
If Mr. Carey goes ahead with a flawed plan that throws good money after bad, it would effectively reward the vindictive CDI with a double dose of damage to the racing program at Hawthorne.
Written by Indulto
Thursday, January 31, 2013
LOS ANGELES, January 28, 2013--The news that two of racing's most prominent and polarizing personalities had joined forces appeared to some to be as inappropriate as it was ironic.
Indeed the announced partnering of Frank Stronach with Keith Brackpool was not greeted with enthusiasm by many of the latter’s detractors who would have preferred that the sometimes abrasive and frequently dismissive former Chairman of the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) have little influence and no control over California racing once he stepped down from the board.
Brackpool told the Daily Racing Form
that 'he has taken an "equity share" in the Stronach Group of racetracks and horse racing-related entities' and 'he will direct Stronach's West Coast operations...'
'"I'm a huge fan of the sport," Brackpool said. "We can do amazing things with the sport or I wouldn't put my money where my mouth is."'
What some horseplayers found amazing was the arrogance with which he put their money in the mouths of the California horse owning and training elite by raising takeout on exotic wagers to increase purses.
According to the Blood Horse
, 'Keith Brackpool has entered into an agreement to acquire a minor stake in The Stronach Group. The company's Racing and Gaming Group announced Jan. 19 that Brackpool has joined the group's board of directors and has been appointed chairman of its operations in California.
"I have had a chance to interface with Keith over the past few years and have been extremely impressed with his knowledge and commitment to horseracing in California. We look forward to our future partnership," said Frank Stronach, co-chairman and founder of The Stronach Group.'
Gregory A. Hall viewed the relationship a little differently in his Stronach taps regulator as new executive
,"There's a saying in the news business that writers aren't talented enough to make up this stuff. The latest in the long parade of executives tapped by Frank Stronach fits the bill."
Still another viewpoint appeared in a public email to Andy Asaro's industry distribution list, in which columnist/handicapper Richard Eng wrote, "These moves deserve an explanation.
In Nevada, when a commissioner leaves the Gaming Control Board, there is a 1-year grace period before he or she can take a job in the gaming industry. This is to avoid any hint of impropriety while serving as a board member in charge of overseeing the gaming industry."
Eng followed up with, "I find it interesting there has been no reaction to the movement among Mr. Brackpool, the CHRB and the Stronach Group.
This type of maneuvering would not be allowed in the Gaming Industry in Nevada."
The "revolving door" policy was addressed at the Paulick Report
: "Brackpool, …, is prohibited from lobbying the horse racing board for one year under regulations of the Fair Political Practices Commission, Title 2, Division 6, California Code of Regulations."
"There is a very strict one-year policy, and we are completely in adherence to that law," Brackpool told the Paulick Report. "It will be completely respected."
The benefits of Brackpool’s contacts to the Stronach Group may well have already accrued. How many "interactions" between the regulator and the regulated were required (and how much time) to lay the groundwork for their becoming "one?"
Interestingly, Brackpool’s New York State counterpart, recently retired Racing and Wagering Board chairman, John Sabini
, said, "… he left before that [agency’s closing] date because he isn’t allowed by state ethics law to pursue other jobs while still chairman."
Too bad no equity opportunity opened up for him overnight!
The DRF article mentioned that "Brackpool owns the Manhattan Beach (Calif.) Country Club and is a close associate of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa." The B-H noted that "Brackpool was appointed to the racing board by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger Sept. 24, 2009. He became chairman in January 2010. His appointment was through July 26, 2013."
How does one get so close to both a Republican governor and a mayor who's a Democrat? One can only speculate as to the roles of campaign contributions, country club comforts, and charismatic companionship in establishing the connections with the two enablers
Only one aspect of this union is predictable: if and when Stronach decides he's had enough -- equity position or not -- the egress will be Brackpool's.
Now that the head horseplayer alienator us gone, the sometime seemingly headless one is now in charge as CHRB Vice Chairman David Israel assumed the duties of chairman. Prior to his announcement, Brackpool was noticeably if not conveniently absent from the previous day's CHRB meeting
at which Hollywood Park President, Jack Liebau, became the first California racing stakeholder to publicly, albeit belatedly, challenge the Brackpool-spearheaded takeout increase.
To a man, every horseplayer I know was motivated by this now classic 2010 editorial by former HRI blogger, Bill Christine, "Get Out the Lifeboats
" in advance f the Players' Boycott. He wrote, "... it's definitely time for Brackpool and David Israel, ..., to move on. They are supposed to lead racing out of the wilderness, but they can't see the thickets for the shrubs."
The preceding and many other articles justifying the boycott can be found here
, including one of my own
in response to a symposium speech of Mr. Israel's. My passion at that time has been partially re-ignited by Mr. Liebau's remarks. Hopefully other horseplayer advocates will also see them as the vanguard of customer representation at the CHRB.
Perhaps outside of Brackpool's shadow, Mr. Israel will more equitably deal with horseplayer interests. That would be more likely if the appointed replacement is someone who already has that perspective. An excellent choice would be the above-referenced veteran turf writer, Mr. Christine, who's seen and heard it all before, and isn't afraid to tell it the way it really is.
Raw ambition and ruthlessness are said to run rampant in racing. The expansion of exotic wagering reflects the fortune seeking nature of the game's participants. Those who run racing tend to be existing fortune holders seeking greater fortunes. The term "fortune hunter" is an unflattering one applied to seekers of wealth through marriage. The more formidable the fortune focused upon, the further the hunter must be prepared to go with fewer restraints. While it's not clear who is exploiting whom in this marriage of financial and political resources, it's safe to say that racing's customers will be paying for the wedding … and its aftermath.
Written by Indulto