Friday, May 04, 2012
Time Has Come for National Triple Tiara
SALEM, NH, May 3, 2012—It’s the Lillies for the Fillies this afternoon at Churchill Downs when the $1 million Kentucky Oaks is presented on the eve of the annual Run for the Roses in the 138th edition of both stakes. Tomorrow’s $2 million Kentucky Derby is also the first jewel in the prestigious Triple Crown, so why isn’t the Oaks part of the Triple Tiara?
Once considered as only the Derby’s little sister, the Oaks has grown up into one of the most important American stakes for female runners while Oaks Day has evolved into a major event attracting six figure crowds. The Oaks now outdraws the Belmont Stakes, the Travers Stakes and the Breeders’ Cup, even when the championship races are held at Churchill.
Then there is the matter of the eight figure handles year in and out on Oaks Day.
Last year, a record crowd of 110,122, the third highest of all time, was on track and the handle set a new mark with $12.1 million bet on track with $37.5 coming through the windows from all sources on the 12-race card. The handle was up 4.2% from 2010, which also set Oaks Day on-track and all sources wagering records. By the way, the country is still mired in the economic downturn.
Those numbers indicate there is some serious Girl Power going on.
Today, Think Pink. And Think Big.
The National Thoroughbred Racing Association, Churchill Downs Inc., and other industry powerhouses recognize the value in marketing, promoting, publicizing, and televising the Oaks. The race and its build-up will be shown in the mainstream media live on the NBC Sports Network this year when in very recent memory it was relegated to the obscure Bravo Channel.
Just listen to Stephen Panus, the vice president of communications for the NTRA, with whom this space traded emails while he was en route to Louisville on Thursday afternoon.
“NTRA and TJC's (The Jockey Club) joint initiative of America's Best Racing (ABR), via
followhorseracing.com, is committed to promoting the best horses, races, jockeys, tracks, trainers and owners. And, the KY Oaks represents one of America's Best races with top jockeys like Rosie Napravnik (vying to become first woman to win the Oaks), Javier Castellano, and Joe Talamo, among others, competing for the coveted trophy aboard the best fillies,” wrote Panus.
“It will be televised by NBC-SN and we are promoting it on social media as well as traditional media pitches. Both Rosie and Joe blog for ABR and give fans a unique insider/behind the scenes perspective. Whether you are a dedicated fan of horse racing or a new and curious fan looking to learn more about our sport, the KY Oaks is a must-see, tune-in-to-watch race.”
So that leads us to ponder the question again. Since the 1 1/8 mile Kentucky Oaks can stand in her own six-inch stilettos, why not make her the first race in the Fillies Triple Tiara?
I know the answer. Believe me, I know.
Thoroughbred racing in America is steeped in tradition, and the Triple Tiara has consisted of three stakes in New York since it was created in 1957. While it has undergone changes over the years, the trio of races have been run nowhere other than Belmont and Saratoga. Now the three legs are the Acorn at 1 mile, the Coaching Club American Oaks at 1 1/8 mile, and the Alabama at the American Classic distance of 1 ¼ mile.
Doesn’t a Triple Tiara that is hand-fasted with the Triple Crown make more sense? Think Oaks/ Derby, Black-Eyed Susan/Preakness, and Acorn/Belmont. Then fantasize about the national spotlight and buzz it would bring to the Sports of Kings, which incidentally, is no longer one of America’s top three sports (with boxing and baseball) as it was back in the Fifties.
“The Oaks, Black-eyed Susan and Acorn - are all major races that ABR will market and promote. The Girl Power movement in horse racing has produced 3 consecutive Horses of the Year and shows no signs of letting up. At ABR, we embrace and celebrate the best, no matter gender. Here's hoping the fans get to see more fillies race vs. the boys; they've proven they can hold their own,” Panus wrote.
Promoting the Big Three races restricted to 3yo fillies on each day before the Triple Crown races is one thing. Officially weaving them together into a bona fide Triple Crown for Fillies is quite another.
Over time there have been petitions from owners and trainers and proposals from influential media and fans to do exactly that. With no disrespect to New York racing, the Triple Tiara is a lovely set of grade 1 races in the summer but unless you have a horse in one of the legs or work for NYRA, do you genuinely care about it?
Of course you don’t. Hardly anyone else does either.
Granted, the eight fillies- Dark Mirage, Shuvee, Chris Evert, Ruffian, Davona Dale, Mom’s Command, Open Mind and Sky Beauty- who won the Triple Tiara are all deservedly in the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. But in the general public’s perception they don’t have anywhere near the name recognition, let alone the cache’, of the 11 male Triple Crown winners.
Now is the time to capitalize on the prestige and power of the Kentucky Oaks and capture the imagination. She’s been around since 1875 and is long overdue for her makeover into the first leg in a legitimate Triple Tiara that can be married- and marketed- to the Triple Crown.
This is a national marketing, publicity and promotional opportunity gift-wrapped and sitting on a silver platter. And it’s one that this sport can no longer afford to miss.
In this year’s Oaks I’m picking Grace Hall, Broadway Alibi and Jemima’s Pearl. Who do you like?
Written by Lynne Snierson
Saturday, April 21, 2012
Finally, Some Balance from the Paper of Record
If there were a more aptly named filly, I haven’t heard of one lately.
Thanks to Bill Finley and his well crafted story in Friday’s edition of the New York Times, we can now read some good news about racing in The Gray Lady. It would have been even better if the editors had seen fit to run the piece on the front page, where the Times’ recent and damaging expose about racing had been placed, instead of in the sports section.
Nevertheless, nice stories about horses and the wonderful people around them are welcome no matter where they’re printed.
With his trademark style, Finley told the remarkable story behind an unremarkable entry that showed up on Sunday’s card at Aqueduct.
Her name is Notinurwildestdremz and she’s a first time starter for the 5R Racehorse Stable, which is also making its maiden effort. The five “R”s stand for rescue, rehabilitate, racing, retraining and retiring. This four-year-old filly knows only too well about the first three.
Notinurwildestdremz is one of the 177 horses that were discovered starving and for all intents and purposes abandoned by the once-prominent owner and breeder Ernie Paragallo on his Center Brook Farm in Hudson Valley, New York in April 2009. A year later, Paragallo was convicted on 33 charges of animal cruelty, sentenced to two years in jail and fined $33,000- a mere pittance of only $1,000 per horse.
The animal abuser got off a hell of a lot lighter than his horses, several of whom died because they were too far gone to save despite the amazing effort of members from the local humane society and other rescue organizations. Notinurwildestdremz was one of 25 yearlings when the authorities found her and all of the other horses living- albeit barely- through a nightmare and in deplorable and reprehensible condition.
Listen to what Ron Perez, the president of the Columbia-Greene Humane Society and the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals who oversaw the rescue operation told Finley: “For any horse just to make it out of that place and prosper is just fantastic. To think that one could actually race would be unbelievable considering what the place looked like when we got there. When I heard that this horse was going to run, I almost fell out of my chair.”
At the time the news broke about the abuse these horses had been subjected to, people everywhere were sickened and outraged. Sean and Angelika Kerr did something about it. Although they were among the first to step up to the plate, the yearlings were the last to be adopted. So the Kerrs took three.
As repored, the Kerrs had been small-time breeders who never had a single horse make it to the races. This filly, now in training with Billy Turner of 1977 Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew fame, is the only one of the three yearlings and the only one of the Paragallo horses rescued to make it to the track. The other two yearlings adopted by the Kerrs include a colt who suffered brain damage from the neglect and abuse are they are still being cared for by the couple.
As we all know, keeping a horse in training is not inexpensive. So the couple turned to social media to find partners and a post on facebook netted 120 of them. Asked to contribute whatever they could afford, one partner ante upped with only $25.
Turner has been around the track a few times, as they say, and he realizes that the filly still has issues. The veteran horseman told Finley that since she didn’t get the proper nutrition and care at the critical development stages and her growth was stunted, this is an “uphill climb”.
But despite being small, the filly is said to have all of the requisite courage, competitiveness and attitude that make a racehorse. When she lines up in the starting gate on Sunday, about 40 of the 120 partners will be there, along with an army of people, including the veterinarians, who helped her get to this point.
“Every single person in the stable is of the opinion we have succeeded already. The fact she has gotten to Belmont (with Turner) and is training, we have already succeeded. If she just races this one race, she’s already won and everybody feels quite strongly about that,” Sean Kerr said to Finley.
In these difficult times for Thoroughbered racing there is still room for an inspiring story of redemption and hope.
It's important for world outside the fences to know that these acts are as much a part of the sport as the flaws found in its medication policies.
Written by Lynne Snierson
Monday, April 09, 2012
Weighting for Havre De No Race
What do Kelso, Forego and Havre de Grace have in common? They have all won Horse of the Year honors. But I don’t think I shall ever again mention Havre de Grace in the same sentence with two of the greatest horses to grace the Hall of Fame until she’s allowed to run in races befitting her title and talents.
I definitely won’t as long as she stays in her stall and away from the competition. It was reported on Saturday that “shortly after the weights were drawn” for the Grade 1 $500,000 Apple Blossom Handicap on Saturday and the Grade 2 $400,000 Oaklawn Handicap on Sunday.
She was withdrawn from the marquee events in Oaklawn Park’s glorious Racing Festival of the South even though she has been training over the track for one or the other since arriving in Hot Springs on April 1.
Daily Racing Form’s Mary Rampellini quoted owner Rick Porter as saying that now the Grade 2 $300,000 La Troienne at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Oaks Day (May 4) is her next likely start and that trainer Larry Jones was on his way to Arkansas to pick her up and take her to Kentucky.
The story went on to say that Porter and Jones were not happy when she was top weighted at 123 to defend her title in the Apple Blossom, and consequently, would be giving anywhere from six to 11 pounds to her rivals. With her gender allowance, she was assigned 118 for the Oaklawn Handicap.
Granted she is a filly and the racing industry has changed quite a bit since the glory days of Kelso and Forego. But the sporting aspect of the game never changes. In order to be the best, you take your assignment and then go out onto the track and show everyone why you deserve to be the Horse of the Year. That’s what the connections of Kelso and Forego always did.
For the record, Kelso was Horse of the Year an astonishing five times, an unprecedented and unequalled accomplishment, from 1960 to 1964. Afterward, Forego won the honor three straight years, from 1974 to 1976. And yes, they carried weight, plenty of it, as they set track records and racked up astonishing sets of Grade 1 wins in some mighty prestigious stakes.
Forego carried 134 pounds when he won the Carter Handicap and when the Suburban Handicap was contested at 1 ½ mile, he dragged 134 around the track again and still won. He toted 132 when he set a track record in the Brooklyn Handicap.
And in case you don’t remember the 1976 Marlboro Cup, he carried an impost of 137 when he was victorious, then went on to take the Brooklyn, Metropolitan and Woodward that year for Mrs. Martha Farish Gerry’s Lazy F Ranch.
Kelso carried at minimum130 pounds in 24 races, winning 13, placing five times and coming in third once. He set the world record of 3:19.1 for two miles in the Jockey Club Gold Cup and it still stands.
That was only one of his five straight Jockey Gold Cup wins from 1960-64, and he also won both the Suburban and the Woodward three consecutive years from 1961-1963 and the Whitney in 1961, 1963 and 1965. In 1960-61, Kelso won 11 straight races, and nobody ever gave him a break in the weights.
Nor did his owner Allaire du Pont of Bohemia Stable expect or want one. I had the pleasure of interviewing Mrs. du Pont before she died in 2006 and it was fascinating to hear her reminisce about her beloved “Kelly”. She was a racing purist with great enthusiasm for her horses, the sport, and the spirit of competition.
With Kelso and Forego, their connections knew they had the best, and they didn’t duck anybody come hell or high imposts.
Havre de Grace could very well be the best older horse this year, not just the best older female. But until she gets back in the starting gate, we really have no way of knowing that. She got my top vote again this week in the NTRA poll on the strength of her dominating win in the New Orleans Ladies Handicap on March 17 because the reigning Horse of the Year deserves respect.
But now her next race, and just her second of 2012, is at least a month away, and that is only provided that the weights are favorable. Since she is the defending Horse of the Year, she’s going to get high weight. What she isn’t going to get, though, is my vote for No. 1 again until she goes out onto the track proves to me that she deserves it.
Written by Lynne Snierson