Sunday, February 18, 2018


Through a Simo Saturday Notebook…


For obvious reasons, it was not a great weekend in South Florida, what with the events that transpired on Valentine’s Day at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

The 3,000 student campus is located about 40 minutes to the north and west of Gulfstream Park, where flags were flown at half-staff and where wall-to-wall and cover-to-cover reporting has dominated the media. Like mainstream media these days, for all the wrong reasons.

The racetrack community was fortunate, relieved to learn that in the aftermath of 17 murdered students, two of its own were spared. Senior Nicholas Vaccarezza and sophomore Michael Vaccarezza.

Vaccarezza the younger is better known to racetrackers and fans as Little Mike. The two pupils are the sons of Carlo and Priscilla Vaccarezza. Carlo, of course, is the South Florida-based trainer; Priscilla campaigned the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Turf winner a.k.a. Little Mike.

On Sunday, February 25, Carlo will close his restaurant, Frank & Dino’s, from mid-afternoon into the evening. The Boca Raton space will be opened to raise funds for the families affected by the senseless use of an assault rifle on promising young lives.

The public is invited. There is no charge for food and drink; just bring your checkbooks. For those not in the area wishing to help, the Marjory Stoneham Douglas Victims Fund has been established https://www.gofundme.com/stonemandouglasvictimsfund.

It is with profound humility and anger that we suggest the funds immediately be disbursed and shared among Washington legislators that they may become beholden to family victims of mass murder and all U.S. citizens, not the National Rifle Association.

DERBY STARS RISE AND FALL IN CHAOTIC GRADE 2 PREP


Actually, maybe there wasn’t enough chaos but more on the Risen Star results later. Suffice it to say that with the exception of the Grade 2 Rachel Alexandra featuring a strong pace, the four remaining two-turn dirt races were won by the speed, all getting away with modest early fractions--seemingly a routine race shape in Fair Grounds routes.

Special weight maiden three year-old fillies went an opening quarter in 23.05. In a ‘two-other-than’ allowances, featuring the return of 2017 classics campaigner Lookin At Lee, two horses hooked up from the jump, one lasting for the win. The other finished fourth, losing by a neck and two noses. ‘Lee’ never got out of a gallop and finished “absolutely.”

In the G3 Mineshaft, The Player, sporting a new set of blinkers, wired an otherwise outclassed group by 4-1/4 confident lengths following an opening gambit in 24.27, looking ready for bigger game next time out.

Monomoy Girl proved much the best filly in the Rachel Alexander after Classy Act set what turned out to be, for the day, a blistering pace of 23.58 and 46.8, but ‘Monomoy’s’ battle with Wonder Gadot never materialized, the pacesetter easily holding the place.

The Demoiselle winner was a one-paced third, appearing better off galloping on or near a moderate pace at longer distances. The Oaks trip will prove to be more to her liking than the winner’s. Can’t say that winner’s drifting out late was an encouraging sign.

Completing the day’s track profile, rock bottom maiden claimers closed out the Pick 4—of course, as all tracks must stick it to rank and file horizontal players—with Two Date wiring this two-turn bunch, never seriously threatened at 19-1.

The Risen Star was a rare four-speed number as the first four runners raced around the oval, positions virtually unchanged. Snapper Sinclair, a laughable overlay at 41.70-to-1, led the way in 24.15 and 47.96. With winning Bravazo on his hip, the duo remained that way until the last jump in a head-bobbing thriller.

Noble Indy ran spottily in a somewhat disappointing performance but redeemed himself somewhat upon video review. Racing between/behind horses throughout, he got his first taste of dirt in three lifetime starts. His late rail rally looked one-paced but was actually a tad better as he galloped out ahead of the near dead-heaters.

The time of 1:42.96 given the opening quarter-mile was solid, and the final five-sixteenths was completed in a worthy 30.10 seconds. Favorite Instilled Regard raced outside Noble Indy throughout in a flat effort; Principe Guilherme lost ground throughout in a dull performance.

SAY HELLO TO SYNCHRONY, BUDDING GRASS STAR


Michael Stidham, enjoying an excellent early season, did a marvelous job getting his five-year-old set for best in his 9-furlong return from a lengthy layup. Confident handled by turf ace Joe Bravo, he stormed home to deny the streaking favorite Mr. Misunderstood a successful four year old debut.

Roughed at the break, he settled nicely inside, making a sharp turn move from 10th that carried him 7 deep into the lane. He was two lengths in front in midstretch and held the favorite safe, never threatened for the win. The time was a snappy 1:48.82, the last three furlongs in a sharp 36.35 with final sixteenth in 11.41.

ONE CARD, TWO COOL HORSES

And they both won! On a card featuring 12 starter races for various price levels for both sexes, the seven year old mate Chella won for the sixth time in 10 starts at 7 furlongs, improving her lifetime mark to 26-for-41. It wasn’t easy, having to overcome a wide draw on a surface that carried speed on the inside throughout the afternoon.

In the nominal feature, the $60,000 Old Hickory at 1-1/16th miles, old pro Page McKenney, who has earned his money the hard way on the mid-Atlantic circuit, swept to command into the stretch and raced away from a hearty bunch with authority. It was the gelded eight year-old’s 21st win in 54 lifetime starts, adding to his career earnings of $1.7 million.

MARYLAND, COLD MARYLAND


Eschewing President’s Day in deference to a Simo Saturday that aside from the Fair Grounds Louisiana Derby Preview program, three storied Laurel fixtures highlighted racing on the East Coast the Grade 2 Barbara Fritchie, G3 General George and the storied but now ungraded John B. Campbell Stakes, nee Handicap.

Afleet Willy won an uninspiring edition of the Campbell, wiring four horses as the odds-on choice. But Fritchie winner Ms Locust Point is starting to act like a serious filly, so much so that the connections are going to take a hard look at Keeneland’s G1 Madison, where the waters will be much deeper.

Something Awesome won the General George in a neck thriller over Fellowship, both taking advantage of a hotly contested pace duel. The “house hose” was bred at Adena Springs and campaigned under the Stronach Stable flag…XY Jet won the Pelican in a laugher at Tampa Bay Downs. He’s now all dressed up and ready for his trip to Dubai’s Golden Shaheen.

Written by John Pricci

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Sunday, February 11, 2018


Computer Batch Betting Enathema to Horseplaying Majority


Oaklawn Park race caller and veteran handicapping contest player, Vic Stauffer, tweeted this on Friday .from the National Handicapping Championship:

“OMG I’ve never said a word in 20 years about late odds changes. But this was INCREDIBLE. I switched to the #2 in the tournament ONLY because she was 7-1. INTO THE GATE. Went past the ¼ pole at 4-1. OMG. OMG. OMG.”

With all due respect, Vic, wish someone with your visibility had spoken out sooner. It happens every day, especially at major tracks with big pools. Mr Jicha and I disagree on many things, as the HRI Faithful knows, but we concur wholeheartedly on this one:

Last minute computer batch betting, coupled with rebates, is the biggest threat the racing industry faces because of the damage it does to bankrolls. For players, it’s bigger than takeout, bigger than drug cheats, bigger than anything to a horseplayer’s fiscal health.

Horsemen’s groups should join responsible industry journalists and a majority of customers fighting to save the remaining horse player/fan. Your purse accounts depend on it, of course. Players who have remained loyal already have begun curtailing their play.

Racing had better shake these doldrums. Useful to note contextually that handle has tanked by about 1/3 in the last decade, and has been flat the last five years. In business you either grow or die, and we’re not even thinking about the inflation quotient here.

I spoke with a friend Sunday morning with a puncher’s chance to win the NHC despite one contestant’s commanding lead. He said there was significant chatter about big-odds drops during Friday’s wagering among those players at his table.

Sadly, he said, the contestants seemed resigned to the fact that this is the world horseplayers now live in.

Everyone lives in the real world: Racetracks, like any company, are in the business of growing revenue. Computer syndicates with access to pool data supply a significant portion of that income, but they wouldn’t be able to sustain it if it weren’t for rebates.

Big players that very much help the game go are entitled to their rewards—but not at the expense of the other 95%, many of whom may also be big bettors but without access to data and computer speed. They are rebated, too, but without the batch-bettor’s edge.

We’re only asking this much: Allow the computers to bet up until minutes-to-post strikes 0, then drag the start a few minutes for the benefit of the rest of us who can react to payoff odds that would be much closer to approximating final payoffs.

Give nine out of 10 serious and loyal players a fighting chance. Bet-takers might even be able to squeeze out a little more betting handle from the masses. If anyone has a better idea, please share. Horseplayers need all the help they can get.

LOTS OF FIRSTS AT GULFSTREAM SATURDAY…

First, first, there was the maiden victory of He Takes Charge, a very pricey purchase and precursor of trainer Mark Casse’s upset victory in Tampa’s Grade 3 Sam F. Davis with Flameaway, completing a training triple 30 minutes with 2017 Turf Champion World Approval who took the G3 Tampa Bay Stakes. He showed a little rust--and a lot of class.

In Hallandale, 7-year-old Heart to Heart finally got his Grade 1 taking the Gulfstream Park Turf Stakes in wire fashion beneath a heady and determined Julien Leparoux, able to help his mount to suppress the early challengers, holding on with grim determination.

“He had to work very hard today,” said a relieved Brian Lynch, “but he finally got it done. We were a little anxious at the start because when they reach that age you don’t know how much more they want to do it,” Lynch said, explaining Heart to Heart’s 2018 debut in the Ft. Lauderdale when his charge reared at the start, losing all chance. Happy for man and best; both deserved to win one of these.

That storyline repeated itself a half hour later when the usually trip-compromised Elysea’s World showed all her class to take her first graded score beneath wise, patient and strong handling from Javier Castellano, who admitted “today, she got a perfect trip today.”

The 5-year-old mare won by a nose over less experienced stablemate, Dream Awhile, who held grudgingly but was out-bobbed at the finish. Trainer Chad Brown didn’t get the dead-heat he was rooting for in the final strides but promised that Dream Awhile will be heard from. “She’s still young and I think she has a bright future ahead of her.”

BIG DAY AT THE BAY…

Excellent job by Dale Romans, shipping C. S. Incharge north to Tampa to take the Suncoast in the final strides coming off the two-turn maiden breaker at Gulfstream. You know she’s going to return for the next one MAR 10…Romans did not fare as well with Hollywood Star who appeared in need of his season’s debut, running spottily in the Sam F. Davis; will benefit.

The Sam F. Davis is always entertaining but outdid itself in this renewal. His rivals allowed Flameaway to get away a bit soft on a surface that on balance carried speed. Still, he proved more than a turf specialist while competing against a pretty salty group.

Fans of Catholic Boy and Vino Rosso take heart; all they lost was a horse race. Favored Catholic Boy never saw the fence at any time, loomed a winner but idled late as if in need of the effort. He, too, will benefit.

Show finisher Vino Rosso is going to be a tough customer in the Tampa Derby off his Davis finish. Racing between horses most of the way down the backside, he was outrun along the inside approaching the five-sixteenths but re-rallied after Johnny Velazquez brought him to the outside.

In a matter of jumps, he went from what appeared to be an off-the-board finish to nearly winning the damn thing, lengthening stride late, close to catching the two leaders by a decreasing half-length margin. Ate plenty of dirt and showed class and courage.

The Todd Pletcher charge is scheduled to return in the Tampa Derby. HRI has learned that Graham Motion’s Untamed Domain, who finished third in his 3-year-old debut on the Gulfstream lawn, is heading to Tampa Bay. The Tampa Derby will be his introduction to dirt racing.

Written by John Pricci

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Tuesday, February 06, 2018


Derby Trail Notes from SoFla and Beyond


Holy Bull winner Audible looks like a serious Kentucky Derby prospect. His turn of foot while on the lead after entering the straight, when Free Drop Billy loomed a serious threat, to separate himself from that rival was electric.

The next morning, after conferring with major partner Elliott Walden of Winstar Farm, the decision was made to skip the next dance and go straight to the Florida Derby.

Right now, major competition and scheduling notwithstanding, Audible is already appears to be where he needs to be. The danger is in overdoing it and the seasoned Todd Pletcher will not fall into the over-the-top trap going into May’s first Saturday.

A mile and a sixteenth in 1:41.92 was running on Saturday. The track was damp, tightened nicely by early morning rains and dried by intermittent sunlight and sustained winds. By anyone’s measure, it was a big figure effort; hence the longer time between races.

Free Drop Billy ran to the class he showed at 2 and series of strong workouts for his three-year-old debut. He will be ready for the next one. Stablemate Tiz Mischief, a prospect we have high regard for, looked a little soft in the paddock and is sure to benefit from his run.

On the Derby trail, it's always good to see those finish-too-late show types that will race themselves into top condition. That’s the way Dale Romans seems to be playing this one.

Free Drop Billy looks like a next-time horse. Tiz Mischief is likely to need another race, as will Enticed, who is much better than his season’s debut indicates. He was the disappointment of this year's renewal.

Swale winner Strike Power is an awesomely fast beast. I remarked in the paddock that while he was darker, to me he was reminiscent of—I know I’m crazy here—because the name that came to my mind was Raise a Native.

No comparisons, just a subconscious moment. That chestnut freak was amazing one afternoon at newly constructed Aqueduct in the early 60s. Undefeated at 2, he never raced at 3 but made a pretty good sire; Alydar and Mr. Prospector, to name just two of his get.

Strike Power, who earned a 1 on the Thoro-Graph sheets in his 5.5 furlong debut, made the start look bad for all but himself, and it was a nice assemblage of talent that he throttled. He broke like a bullet but rated kindly enough, ridden with confidence by Luis Saez.

Moving up in class and distance into a Grade 3, he came back blowing after his 7 furlongs in 1:22.68. Right now, he’s a speed freak. By Speightstown out of a Medaglia d’Oro mare, the Courtlandt Farm homebred might go farther, and might not, too. Time always tells.

Meanwhile, the second and third finishers were good. Gotta Go, a real looker, was an excellent second, showing class and power late, and Diamond King made a good seasonal debut for new trainer John Servis, in a Smarty Party renewal sort of way. Both will benefit from their runs and more distance.

Avery Island looked good taking the Withers in workmanlike fashion, a good effort while making his three-year-old debut at 9 furlongs. That description would also cover the runner-up, Firenze Fire, and third finisher, the behemoth and very expensive Marconi, who clearly has some lessons to learn.

Like the winner, Marconi will be heard from, but the Withers was slowly run and on this day, Avery Island won a battle of the grinders. All three should improve for various asundry reasons.

On the Left Coast, an “a other than” masquerading as the Grade 3 Robert Lewis Memorial, went to a recent graduate, lone F Lombo, who did look good doing it.

Lombo didn’t get anyone’s blood boiling but his development should be followed until we know more. Runnerup Ayacara is developing nicely but it’s hard to know anything definitively until these horses return to show whether there’s more there, there.

Written by John Pricci

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