Wednesday, November 07, 2012
Racing Post Breeders’ Cup Hurricane: Now What?
LOS ANGELES, November 6, 2012--Hurricane Sandy was the real thing, a force of nature that can't be denied or avoided, especially by sun-seeking Breeders’ Cup officials. Santa Anita wasn’t ravaged, Arcadia businesses flourished, Frank Stronach's racing fortunes were salvaged.
And local horseplayers are still outraged by the takeout increase on exotic wagers imposed on them in 2010 by the Thoroughbred Owners of California (TOC) and the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB).
Indeed, 2012 handle at Santa Anita of $144,272,332 was not only lower than 2011 and 2010 handle at Churchill Downs of $161,512,867 and $173,857,697, respectively, but also lower than 2009 and 2008 handle at “synthetic” Santa Anita, which totaled $153,271,176 and $155,740,328, respectively.
But even dyed-in-the-wool boycotters like me can’t deny the decrease was due to the damper that Sandy put on travel, Internet access and disposable income, not to mention the disposition of the residents of those two horseplayer havens, the normally unflappable types in New York and New Jersey.
According to Daily Racing Form, however, "…other factors seemed to be at play, including a large drop in field sizes for the five races restricted to 2-year-olds. In addition, betting on the Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup races started off strongly – stronger, in fact, than betting last year – but by the time the day’s last race, the Classic, had rolled around for its first prime-time appearance, wagering on the races had fallen off precipitously compared to last year’s final slate of races."
I suspect perhaps another female could have influenced the proceedings by her absence -- the former Godiva On Dude, Chantal Sutherland—blamed by baffled Bob for his charge’s Pacific Classic placing behind the premier Polytrack performer, Dullahan.
The Classic mount on Game On Dude went to Baffert’s ballyhooed #1, Rafael Bejarano, remembered for another disappointment at the distance; Rail Trip in the infamous Hollywood Gold Crawl. The resultant Eastern exile of that synthetic specialist was a blow to California racing, a blemish on its owner’s otherwise superlative image.
Whether it was the best that replaced the beauty, or the beast itself, the ride was ugly. The job of Baffert’s go-to jockey seems about as secure as Santa Anita’s present CEO. (See David Flores, Victor Espinoza or Martin Garcia).
It’s been a tough year for the nationally-ranked trainer and TOC board member, who survived a heart attack in Dubai just in time only to finish second in all the agonizing legs of the Triple Crown.
Still, the money rolls in because he is also among other California leading horsemen who are the overwhelming beneficiaries of the takeout increase, which is designated for purses only. Interestingly, those crafty ADW folks also managed to get a share--but not the tracks.
Voters were ready to anoint the Dude Horse of the Year had he won but his loss seems to have slid support over to the Mile winner, Wise Dan, in my opinion a horse that ducked the Classic field.
Despite the favorite’s fizzle in the finale, and the failure of a few of the front-runners to fuel the early pace, Fort Larned still fired off a 117 Beyer – fastest of the fifteen Cup races.
Though Dullahan had run a competitive 10 furlongs on dirt in the Derby, and won with a 118 Beyer for the distance at Del Mar, he opted for the Turf. Also absent was the 2011 Derby winner, Animal Kingdom, who nearly upset Wise Dan on Saturday and had conquered the Classic runner-up, Mucho Macho Man, on multiple occasions.
In case no one gave it a second thought, Rail Trip eventually returned to trainer Ron Ellis and jockey Jose Valdivia this year. I finally had ended my boycott of California tracks to bet him at Del Mar in the San Diego Handicap. I also enjoyed betting him in the Dirt Mile where he finished second again in another crawl.
(Fortunately, my predilection for boxing and wheeling exactas continues to bear fruit).
I warmed up for Saturday’s program by girl-cotting Filly Friday, now formerly filly Friday, and have for several seasons. As a survivor of the Northridge Earthquake of the early '90s that flattened some apartment buildings and made others uninhabitable-- while barely felt just 40 minutes away in Arcadia.
Instead, I found myself contemplating human hurricanes, such as Reuben Carter and Andrew Cuomo, known for their knock outs of old-school prize-fighters and old-boy board directors, respectively.
And, too, there was the Lasix issue to ponder. Four fewer freshmen competed on Saturday, down from 13 in 2011. Even with a two million-dollar purse and an Eclipse championship on the line, a juvenile event without performance enhancers or an automatic Kentucky Derby berth found owners and trainers of talented two-year-olds turning away from the Breeders’ Cup and tilting toward Louisville.
Time will tell whether Churchill Downs CDI will succeed in taking back the top day in Thoroughbred racing from Breeders’ Cup Saturday.
So, what are the most likely paths to the Derby now?
The first and second-place finishers in the seven primary preps earning 100 and 50 points, respectively, could fill up 12 to 14 stalls. Those and the eight secondary prep winners earning 50 points could account for all 20 starters.
However, it seems more likely that some horses will also qualify with combinations of primary thirds and secondary seconds and less likely that a horse will qualify without an in-the-money finish in one of the "sweet fifteen.”
By isolating, promoting, and televising those events - and focusing on their contestants - the Derby with its undercard will regain and secure the highest-handle, best-attended, most-watched status.
But all this is much easier than pondering what a 2013 Breeders’ Cup completely off Lasix would look like.
Written by Indulto
Thursday, October 04, 2012
Team Cuomo's premature leaking of their preference for privatization provided a precarious preview of the practice of politics applied to problem-solving for New York racing.
All the Governor's horses and all the Governor's men still haven't put the New York Racing Assn. together again. At least, the executive order that officially reorganizes the NYRA and makes the search for a new chief executive possibly has been issued.
Presumably, Team Cuomo’s next encounter with the press will address shorter-term problems and display more of the increased competence and decreased corruption that was promised during their premeditated displacement of their predecessors.
It occurred to me while watching "‘Ahnold's’ "60 Minutes" interview Sunday night that racing seems to turn governors into "Governators." In 2009, Hollywood's imaginary "Terminator" signed a bill increasing takeout on exotic wagers at California tracks.
The bill had been pushed through the legislature by his CHRB Board appointees who literally dismissed prepared statistical testimony by horseplayers and California’s chief executive either preferred casinos to fill the state’s coffers or was looking for Native American PAC money, or both.
In 2012, NYRA's "terminator" sought to assume control, ironically based on the then-existing management's failure to lower takeout when required. Cuomo's image has not descended to the level of his former counterpart, but his remarks here
seem more like those of an "aggravator" rather than an "innovator."
'"We're going to be putting a new board in place to basically take control, and then how you do the business of quote-unquote horse racing and what is racing in the future, and how do you really incorporate all the knowledge and potential of the entertainment industry, which is a big component of this, is something we're working through," Cuomo said.
... Cuomo said he was not necessarily pushing for the racetracks to be put in private hands.
"I'm not really a horse racing expert," he said. "I don't know this industry especially well. The point of the exercise of appointing the board is to do the study and the research to answer that question."'
At most venues, privatization might be a valid alternative, but not so Saratoga Racecourse which is itself a museum of racing, a bastion of American tradition, and the source of fond memories that millions of life-long racing enthusiasts have, will take with them to their final resting place after, hopefully, passing their passion to the next generation.
Saratoga also is the centerpiece of a vital community and cultural center that most rational people would protect and preserve for future generations, not to mention an economic engine for that region. The big-picture profit motive, however, is not always compatible with such objectives.
Belmont Park, home of the too-often irrelevant Belmont Stakes, is also a scenic setting that would merit preservation if its sprawling surroundings capable of supporting the capacity crowds (100,000+) of Triple-Crown attempts, could attract them in years where the same horse doesn't win both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.
Most telling is that -- even hosting six Breeders' Cup Preps on the sixth best day of racing, nationally -- attracted fewer than 9,000 on-track patrons. Belmont's residential community offers little to entice patrons from getting right back on the parkway.
OTBs, ADWs, alternative forms of gambling, the inconvenience/cost of getting to the track and the emergence of large-screen HDTVs that outperform binoculars have all negatively impacted Belmont attendance. Aqueduct faces the same problems but must also contend with weather/temperature variables.
Now it’s the second-class treatment of horse racing’s customers as compared with those of Genting’s clientele. Is profitability even a possibility while maintaining two physical plants ten miles apart without VLT revenue?
People are getting tired of hearing endless generalities but no specifics as to how racing will be promoted as a downstate entertainment destination. At some point the reality has to set in that the downstate track(s) must embrace the off-track customer to survive.
The NYRA can provide the product necessary to be the most entertaining venue – on-track and off – if it will start catering to recreational rather professional/high-volume bettors.
The new NYRA must take the lead by lowering direct takeout sufficiently that all customers are attracted to compete on a level playing field. It must then publicize who some of the winners are, and how they won. Promote socializing among players and support groups of fans of consistent winners.
The component combinations comprising each exotic IRS signer should be available for on-line viewing, and willing winners interviewed as to what thought processes were involved. Demystify winning and enable others to share and enjoy the experience; even if only vicariously. Some progress has been made in this area but much more is needed.
Create player partnerships that legally enable tax liability to be distributed among partners. Providing this service to NYRA account holders betting on-line would provide a competitive advantage to NYRA and grow customer interest substantially. Providing such a service to on-track patrons meeting for the first time could also augment couples handicapping contests for singles. Handicapping can be great entertainment as an activity done on one's own but even more entertaining as part of a group.
On Monday, New York's "Governator" signed the bill giving state appointees "temporary" control of the NYRA board for the next three years as reported in the Times Union '"Because it isn't just reporters who have deadlines, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signed the legislation laying out the reorganization of the New York Racing Association, including the creation of a control board that will place NYRA in state hands for the next three years. The bill had to be signed by midnight.
We still don't know who the appointees to the board will be — though those names will be coming "in the near future," according to the governor's news release.
… "New York State's racing industry is a major economic driver in the state, supporting thousands of jobs and attracting tourists from around the world," Governor Cuomo said. "New York taxpayers and the betting public deserve a racing industry that is managed competently and does not neglect the health and safety of the horses.
“The NYRA Reorganization Board will restore public trust, accountability, and transparency to the racing industry in our state, so New York can continue to offer one of the most exciting, enjoyable, safe horse racing experiences in the nation. "'
The piece went on to quote several powerful legislative leaders who will be involved in making appointments to this "Reorganization Board."
The wagons are circling. Is filing one's tax return at the last minute the equivalent of the Governor's eleventh-hour heroics after more than three months had elapsed since the bill was passed?
Procrastination without production has been known to precede prevarication. Team Cuomo's priority should be "restoration" of transparency.
Written by Indulto