Monday, December 10, 2012
The 2013 Prep Season: A Gift That Keeps On Giving
LOS ANGELES, December 9, 2012--When the American Graded Stakes Committee announced a net reduction of 8 graded stakes for 2013 to 457 -- 111 G1s (-1), 148 G2s (-3), and 198 G3s (-4) -– they earned the DRF’s seal of Good Grading from publisher, Steven Crist
, who wrote:
"Defenders of some of the downgraded races will have their quarrels, but at least these were thoughtful and defensible decisions made in consultation with a wide-ranging and geographically balanced group of racing officials, owners, and breeders. That is a sharp contrast to Churchill Downs’s new Kentucky Derby qualifying system, which threw the graded stakes system out the window in favor of a corporate-driven marketing plan to boost the importance of races at tracks owned by Churchill while punishing its rivals The idea that winning the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby is literally 10 times more important than winning the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile is utterly preposterous to anyone not employed by Churchill, where officials have said they consulted with no one else about the new scheme,"
"The Graded Stakes Committee swiftly acknowledged it made a mistake with the Hopeful after just one year. With any luck, Churchill Downs will do the same and come up with a more fair and reasonable Derby-qualifying system just as quickly."
I must commend Mr. Crist for keeping the Illinois Derby Issue (IDI) alive, albeit indirectly, as the preceding was at least the second time he has weighed in on the subject. What I find preposterous, however, is that earnings were the basis for Derby eligibility for so long, and that the ability to win a single race as a two-year-old could guarantee a start in the Derby as a three-year-old.
At least that error in judgment has been corrected.
What I find shameful and embarrassing to the sport is CDI’s having eliminated the Illinois Derby at Hawthorne Race Course as a Kentucky Derby qualifier which was no error but rather a deliberate act.
The main problem with Churchill Downs controversial changes is not the way points are allocated – or even that most previously qualifying races were eliminated – but that the single glaring exception to the strategy for elimination of races appears to have been designed to disrupt the operation of a business competitor.
Doubts that eliminating Hawthorne’s signature event as a traditional stop on the Derby Trail was somehow related to competition for racing dates with CDI’s Arlington Park were dispelled when Hawthorne officials subsequently offered to move their race to a date accommodating CDI’s newly defined points assignment intervals, but were rebuffed by CDI officials.
Assuming a National Horse Racing Commission (NHRC) existed, should it, and would it, have addressed CDI’s IDI? Consider this hypothetical: "Conduct detrimental to …" is a familiar phrase used in conjunction with disciplinary actions by major league commissioners in other sports … why not in racing as well?
The lack of a centralized racing authority prevents uniformity which is the key to fairness in racing. Since support for it has been elusive, some are seeking Federal intervention, seeking a means of possibly establishing policy in advance of a commission’s existence.
My previous remarks requesting greater transparency from Horseplayers Association of North America also apply to Bladerunners
, another "grass roots" racing reform movement, this one to establish an NHRC.
I haven’t signed on yet because the only issue I ever see their point man, Sean Kerr, pursuing publicly is the medication issue from an anti-Lasix posture. I hope this is not another case where a self-appointed elite group is determining objectives without sufficient feedback and support from those who would be affected most by their policies and actions.
Perhaps a representative from Bladerunners might interact with HRI readers publicly regarding the IDI to discuss whether or not it would make a good candidate for advancing their agenda. Maybe he/she would also consider discussing whether plans include level playing fields for horseman AND horseplayers through a) uniform medication rules with consistent enforcement and b) uniform rewards to all pari-mutuel participants by lowering direct takeout while simultaneously eliminating rebates for a privileged few.
Some wrongs can’t be righted but when trying a universal solution chances of doing the right thing are increased. The Genie is already out of the bottle with regard to alternative legal gambling and off-track wagering. But surely the equitable and impartial aspects of the game can be shoved back in.
The first Saturday in May is now less than five months away. Can enough outrage at the IDI travesty be encouraged by the media to force CDI to alter its stance in time for Hawthorne to move its race backward? Probably not. The Illinois Derby will likely morph into this year’s most lucrative Preakness prep not called the Kentucky Derby. They could run it on the same day Churchill opens with its Derby Trial, offering a two-turn alternative with a larger purse.
Thus, the Hawthorne situation would still be news on the day of the last Derby qualifier when all eligible horses resulting from CDI’s grand experiment will have been determined.
By moving its race forward, Hawthorne could provide the media some fuel to expose some of the CDI rhetoric in the final few days leading up to the Derby, inviting comparisons between Derby winners in such far flung regions as Illinois, New Mexico, and the United Arab Emirates. The ramifications of the 2013 prep season could linger long beyond May’s first Saturday.
Written by Indulto
Saturday, November 24, 2012
When Trees Fall in the Forest… Does Anyone Care?
LOS ANGELES, November 23, 2012--I might never have seen the well-written, caustic rebuttal to my initial blog piece on Derby eligibility point systems that appeared at "Fugue for Tinhorns" if a friend hadn’t sent me a heads-up. Hoping to fuel some debate, I added a comment to the piece with a link to Glenn Craven’s article.
I also enjoyed an entertaining exchange with the author at his site. Eventually, I addressed some of his points in comments to his rebuttal. It was a very positive experience, to say the least.
So when no response was forthcoming from the author of the HANA blog piece I rebutted "here
, I emailed him a link to his contact address as a board member on the HANA website.
(The return email was sent from his personal account, and so I didn’t consider it as coming from a representative of HANA).
He politely acknowledged the material at the link but without specificity. The extended discussion of funding that I desired seems unlikely to take place. Since no one else from HANA has shown any interest, I doubt that we’ll see those accepting dues under any of the conditions proposed by either myself or Mr. Pricci.
[Ed. Note: While there was a modicum of support for Indulto’s proposal at HRI, the response was extremely disappointing, especially considering the level of vitriol expressed here by horseplayers when they feel they are underappreciated. This is an example of the kind of indifference the industry has depended upon for years].
Resultantly, time may have arrived to consider an alternative to HANA; an organization that could utilize HANA’s expertise, if available, but with a more effective mission, structure, and a leadership that would have been determined in a more democratic fashion.
Despite having been launched at an interactive forum, HANA has not, to my knowledge, continued to promote real-time public discussion among ALL its members. There seems to be no way for non-board members to meet one another spontaneously, no outlet for independent, public discussion that others can participate in and expand the conversation.
I’ve heard rumors that a message board exists for HANA board members. Perhaps some non-board members have been invited to access it but I’ve never seen any specifics. The HANA blog allows comments, but each is delayed by required approval prior to being displayed.
Consequently, a membership has been created that generally can’t find out what other like (or unlike) minds they might be involved with, what issues are being addressed, what input has been provided, and whether it had been accepted or ignored.
Knowing the status of outstanding issues should not be a luxury but a requirement Does anyone else see this as an inhibitor to growth?
I believe that NOTHING WILL CHANGE to benefit the majority of non-professional bettors unless and until rank and file horseplayers are willing to come together to be counted – anonymously or otherwise -- to express our support for collective representation.
The first step is to prove to the industry that we are out there, IN THE AGGREGATE -- willing to collectively demonstrate our support for reform. How else can we help restore the previous levels of enjoyment and entertainment to the game in which we’ve spent a lifetime pursuing profit with passion under the assumption of fairness?
For that to occur, however, those currently involved in this process need to become more inclusive of others instead of being inhibited by what we’ll call the Internet Anonymity Fear Factor.
There seems to be an evangelical aspect to using one’s given name in cyberspace because I keep encountering some that do while demanding that others do the same; particularly anyone critical of their positions. Their contention is that it’s all too easy to criticize while "hiding" behind a pseudonym.
In our view, to assume that "who one is" is more important than "what one has to say," suggests an arrogance no less defeating than the apathy well-meant activism attempts to overcome.
Times have changed. Unlike the good old days when players were able to meet face-to-face with other like-minded activists at the local track, today’s issues affect horseplayers nationwide via not only brick-and-mortar simulcasts but by an increasing number of players preferring to bet on-line.
Pseudonyms do pose a challenge for those overly concerned with not saying the wrong thing to the wrong person. Is it any wonder that anonymous input providers are treated like lumberjacks in a sound-proof forest?
I wonder whether it’s easier to criticize anonymously or easier to ignore anonymous criticism. The Internet as communication medium is popular because it enables people to speak their minds without fear of off-line reprisals. Consider that the average non-celebrity or non-industry-employed horseplayer just might question sacrificing his privacy merely to provide legitimacy to a handful of bright but increasingly ignored individuals.
No ability yet has been demonstrated to effect changes critical to the majority of the represented. We now know that a volunteer think-tank/social club is not the ideal model to get horseplayers recruited and organized in large numbers. That model might suffice for what has been accomplished but not what’s been left undone.
Takeout: Killing the sport one customer at a time
The above sub-title came from an anonymous long-time advocate I’ve never met but who exemplifies my conviction that good ideas are more likely the product of sources without name recognition. Apathy is our worst enemy but arrogance is no more acceptable from within our ranks then from without.
If a horseplayer advocacy group ever does create an interactive forum for all its members, perhaps it should mandate the use of nicknames for public discussion and provide private messaging for personal conversations, including the exchange of identities or email addresses and the like if desired.
Let ideas speak for themselves. Enable the entire population to indicate their support for action on issues through frequent on-line polling. Leaders will emerge from the free exchange of ideas, confirmed via regularly scheduled on-line elections that would include a provision for funding dedicated for providing the necessary services in order to achieve results.
The preceding was the basis for a concept my friend, Vern, labeled SPARTACUS (Supporters of Player Action to Reduce Takeout for All Customers Uniformly in Stages) to reflect the concept of competitive equals rising up against existing corrupt controlling interests.
The idea was to create a gathering place for like-minded people willing not only to explore common objectives by debating merits and pitfalls but also to determine productive ways to deal with each other on different issues.
If an approach could be found to carefully craft well-conceived goals leading to consensus, leaders providing the most credible support for the majority positions would emerge and be recognized. Together these leaders could convert members and delegate authority for the good of all.
I’ve yet to hear a more practical way for the average horse-betting enthusiast to develop a voice too loud to be diluted by conflicting interests or dismissed entirely by the industry.
More people viewing and participating in on-line discussions would offer more opportunities to forge new friendships. A major concern is, of course, the cost to operate an Internet forum that accommodates in excess of 100,000 players.
Perhaps the founders of such a group could become stock-holders in a for-profit horseracing research data-base utility company providing revenue-generating access to test handicapping or wagering strategies, as well as to fulfill horse breeding, safety, and disposition queries.
Non-anonymous members could buy new shares if desired. Both anonymous and non-anonymous customers could also vote in matters pertaining to horseplayer advocacy; communicating on a forum supported by the aforementioned data-base operation.
Even with technology-experienced practitioners, funding is the primary obstacle to be overcome. What could entice a trusted name to step forward to get things under way? Unfortunately, anonymity doesn’t measure up in such circumstances. Neither does apathy.
Written by Indulto
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