Monday, May 27, 2013

Horse of the Year Wise Dan Deserving of Higher Profile

SARATOGA SPRINGS, MAY 27, 2013—It must be a sign of elongating teeth that I cannot recall if it was the late, great Charles Hatton, or the late, great Joe Hirsch, who would rattle off a list of Thoroughbreds that made the running of a particular race especially memorable.

“The previous winners of [big race here] read like a roll of drums,” they would write. If either were alive today, some of the names they might drop in advance of the storied Metropolitan Handicap, better known as the Met Mile, would be as follows:

Kelso, Carry Back, Gun Bow, Buckpasser, Forego (a horse so nice he won it twice), as did Gulch.

And they might have followed those up with underappreciated Criminal Type, the brilliant Ghostzapper, and a pair of super-fast three-year-olds; Holy Bull and Conquistador Cielo--a winner of the Met Mile five days before stretching out his noted speed the mile and a half of the Belmont Stakes.

Well, there are no Derby-aged runners in the Memorial Day renewal and probably--no disrespect intended--only one, Flat Out, has won a true world class event, even if it only took place in Elmont.

And not even would this uber game seven-year-old—"hickory," as those legendary Daily Racing Form writers might have described him--gets racing hearts a-pumping.

Today’s race would have been a perfect spot for defending Horse of the Year Wise Dan to raise his sporting profile but, since he’s a gelding, his connections, primarily owner Morton Fink, thought only of long term big bucks.

Call me a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. It simply would be better for the industry if owners--who wouldn’t be invested if at first they couldn’t afford it--played the game as if it were a just that and not a business.

A reason not to would be fear of having their gallant gelding exposed as something less than--and there’s been no evidence that's true. It's only a little sad that he’s not treated like the real Horse of the Year deal. At the end of last year, there was talk of a higher profile for Wise Dan, even a 2013 Breeders’ Cup Classic run.

Trainer Charlie LoPresti said he wanted to make amends for last year's unlucky Stephen Foster trip: "I would like to win that race," LoPresti recently told Blood

But then this: I'd like to win that race and then do everything I did last year and then make the decision if we get to the Breeders' Cup whether we go in the Mile or the Classic.”

Five days after Wise Dan won the Maker's 46 Mile in his 2013 debut on the grass, becoming the first horse in Keeneland history to win five graded stakes races, LoPresti confirmed that the Foster on Churchill Downs dirt would most likely be the next target. But after winning the Woodford Reserve, the Firecracker became the next target.

Bye-bye Stephen Foster; say hello to Dave, or Bernard Baruch.

For LoPresti and Fink, especially the 84-year-old owner, the successful brother act has been an embarrassment of homebred riches. In addition to Wise Dan, older half-sibling Successful Dan, a prominent handicap player himself, will take his famous kid brother’s place in the Foster.

Neither LoPresti nor Fink needed to run in the Met Mile. They can do as they please, and have, keeping the two separated, planning to get the money with Wise Dan by winning the same races he won last year while Successful Dan tests the waters in the Foster and Whitney, a race he was pointing toward last year until suffering a ligament injury. “We don’t want to have to run them against each other if we can help it,” LoPresti said.

“[Successful Dan] never has had a chance to run in one of these good races other than the Alysheba last year," the trainer continued. "He never got a chance to run in the Whitney [or] in any Breeders' Cup races. [But] right now he's good, and as long as Dr. Bramlage says 'OK'…"

"...Who knows, maybe we would toy with the Woodward at the end of [Saratoga] as a race for Wise Dan, but it all hinges on what Successful Dan does," Lopresti said. "I would love to have a chance to put one in the Classic and one in the grass race again, the Mile. That would be a good thing to have, two horses in the Breeders' Cup."

Wise Dan clinched Horse of the Year honors by winning the Mile and likely would repeat as best in show if he runs the lower profile table again--unless, of course, some three-year-old goes wild and runs his table, beating elders in the process.

The Horse of the Year didn’t need to run in the Met Mile, but easily could have. “Those two races took nothing out of him,” Lopresti said, referring to the Makers 46 Mile and Woodford Reserve.

All those 1s in the past performances look great but what’s more impressive are the names of the races alongside the running lines. That's what keeps the drum rolls beating.

A horse for two Breeders’ Cup races is a nice thing to have. But how much fun would it be to see brothers possibly finish 1-2 in the Classic? The chances of that happening are better than seeing siblings race against each other in some Classic to be named later.

If the horses are healthy, there's no good reason not to try. After all, weren't Kelso and Forego geldings, too?

Written by John Pricci

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Saturday, May 04, 2013

Careful, Don’t Rip Those Futures Pool 1 Exacta Tickets

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, May 4, 2013--When longshot Golden Soul came roaring home for place behind the impressive Orb--and an equally impressive Joel Rosario and Shug McGaughey--Pool 1 Futures players were witnessing an All Others-All Others Futures exacta. Neither Orb nor Golden Soul were among the 23 listed 3-year-olds.

So how would the payoff be determined? Has there ever been a 24-24 exacta? Of course, the answer is no, so this sent us to the posted rules which, regarding this issue, are as follows:

The Kentucky Derby/Oaks Futures Exacta described herein is to be conducted consistent with established and approved Official Rules for the Derby and Oaks Futures Wager. Futures pools are distinguished by the general characteristic that selections of (wagers on) runners which for any reason are ultimately non-starters in the designated Kentucky Derby and/or Kentucky Oaks events are not subject to refunds (return of monies wagered thereon).1.

Futures Exacta Rules.1.1. “Futures Exacta” requires selection of the first two finishers in exact order in the event on which the pool is based. “Futures Exacta” will be conducted in a manner consistent with the approved wagering pool known as “Exacta” as defined in KHRC rules and/or the laws of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.1.2.

“Futures Exacta” pools may be conducted with a minimum of three (3) and a maximum of 24 betting interests. Such betting interests must include one (1) interest defined as “Mutuel Field” (or “All Others”) representing all runners not otherwise named as specific betting interests. By way of example, a Kentucky Derby “Futures Exacta” pool with 24 betting interests will contain 23 named runners and one (1) “Mutuel Field” interest.1.3.

All runners in the Mutuel Field of the “Futures Exacta” shall be treated as a “Coupled Entry” for the purposes of determining winning tickets and payouts. (In the event multiple Mutuel Field runners finish in positions affecting the determination of winning tickets and payouts, the calculation of the $2 payout will be conducted in a manner consistent with the approved method for “Coupled Entries” as contained in KHRC rules and/or the laws of the Commonwealth of Kentucky.

By way of example, with #24 representing the Mutuel Field/All Others, a finish of 1/24/24/24/3 would result in an exacta payout to holders of a 1/24 ticket; a finish of 24/24/24/9 would result in an exacta payout to holders of a 24/9 ticket.) 1.4.

According to the middle section highlighted in bold italics, the Futures Exacta would be paid on the first and third finishers; Orb and Revolutionary, returning $102.20 per $2 wager. As stated in the rules, the All Others-All Others finish is treated as if the first two finishers were members of a coupled entry. Seems fair enough--unless you needed Revolutionary for trifecta purposes!

[There are three Futures pools; results will vary]*

Race 10: Back on the turf which apparently has gotten so boggy that Shug McGaughey decided that Point of Entry will not participate, as he was scratched about a half hour ago. That should leave the proceedings to Horse of the Year Wise Dan--providing he handles the soft going. His best weapon is his tactical speed, always helpful on wet ground.

Race 9: Back on the sloppy track and no shortage of speed in the G2 Churchill Downs Sprint and speed horses will have an edge. Under the conditions, it appears that Delauney is the speed of the speed; find out in eight minutes.

Race 8: Back on the grass for the Distaff Turf Mile with the track downgraded to yielding. After the scratch of morningline favorite Marketing Mix, it appears that Hungry Island, Daisy Devine and Stephanie's Kitten are the best prepard to handle the conditions. Aubby K showed her affinity for the wet and answered the stretch challengers after stalking Jamaican Smoke's hot pace throughout.

These three are the betting choices with a little more than 20 minutes to post, and the crowd has settled on Hungry Island. They're probably right.

Consecutive 11-1 shots: Longshot parade continues on Derby day as the wet course helped Berlino Di Tiger hold on, as the old pro Chamerlain Bridge came flying late. The 9-year-old gelding was in front on the gallop-out shortly after the pair hit the wire.

Race 7: Back on the main track and the first sloppy track of the day, as if the rail weren't hard enough to overcome going seven-eighths. Still, taking Jamaican Smoke to, well,smoke'm in the first Grade 1 of the day, the Humana Distaff.

Break up the McPeek barn, another win in the fifth giving him three on the day; great rating by Victor Lebron, the soft pace too much for Code West to overcome--but he did come flying to save the exacta players and the race might be a good prep for the Belmont, his intended purpose.

Race 6: We'll see how the showers have effected the turf, this being the second grass race of the day. This is a tough race, the G3 Churchill Downs Turf Sprint which Regally Ready won two years ago; why not again? He's 3-for-3 on this course and Asmussen is 21% effective with second-off-the-layup runners.

Two straight for McPeek/Leparoux team who stayed out of trouble setting soft pace outside of Old Time Hockey. Screenplay got roughed up at the start; The Pizza Man nearly went down in midstretch. Course acted firm but it had to be a little slick on the surface--probably helped the speed.

Great view of stewards inquiry process. Incidentally, they did excellent work in yesterday's rough-house Alysheba. In a bit of a tough call, they had it exactly right.

CD, Race 4: Wide open maiden scramble will need tote board assessment and paddock observation...and that might not help all that much. Too bad, would like to be alive in DD to Code West, who found an easier spot than today's 11th and feature event. He's a layover on figures in Race 5.

CD, Race 3: Just saw why speed is always dangerous--he said facetiously. But McPeek sure had that boy wound up. No excuses for Slan Abhaile.

Screenplay looks solid in first turf race of the day, although crowd goes for The Pizza Man early. Can't blame them for that.

CD, Race 2: Top of the ticket looks like #2 & #8; #8 looked great in paddock and has better draw.

#5, uncoupled Romans, back at his winning distance. Liked this colt in Fla., then disappointed.

Sorry, late checking in. Track still fast; anticipate formful opener.

As it turns out, too much Rosario.


In the opener at Churchill Downs, Apropos, given his most recent effort, is a deserving favorite and will be very hard beat, still we must try.

Jan's Perfect Star's debut puts him right in the hunt for this (fast track please) and Honey Hues is bred nicely for the wet track.

We'll be back as 10:30 a.m. post time draws near...

*Addition made 050513 at 7:55 a.m.

Written by John Pricci

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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

“Baffert-Gate,” Just Another Sad Chapter

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY, April 16, 2013—The news from California is very bad on several levels, disheartening to those who love the game and love the animals and unnerving, too, considering how it’s all juxtaposed to what Derby week media coverage might bring.

In relation to the Lasix issue which has to this point only tangential implications with respect to the heart attacks polemic at Southern California racetracks, HRI has counseled that public perception matters and that the industry should pro-act before another tragedy shuts the whole thing down.

Then I remembered: There is no industry per se, just states that permit parimutuel horse racing for which they get a piece of the action. The only thing any national racing organizations do is create jobs for themselves, wielding no influence and having no impact on how day-to-day racing business is conducted.

Until the “me” portion of the industry turns into the “we” portion of the program, there will be continued adherence to the status quo, the reason why all these chickens have been coming home to roost in greater number lately.

In the wake of doom-and-gloom, I prefer a proactive response to the cover-up but it’s clear that I and other like-minded people are the clear cut minority. You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.

As to the spate in cardiac related deaths over the past few years in California, no one can truly offer a valid opinion until more facts are known. Unfortunately, I have no confidence that more facts will be forthcoming. I have seen these PPs before.

Thoroughbred racing, like other big businesses and politicians, knows how to play the wait ’em-out-till-they-forget game, indeed proving that some of the people can be fooled some of the time.

Whatever the cause of these sudden equine deaths, whoever the culprit, this was not what Hall of Fame California horseman Ron McAnally meant when he said of the Thoroughbred race horse that “they give their lives for our pleasure.”

Those words were spoken in the emotional wake of the Go for Wand tragedy on a Breeders’ Cup afternoon at Belmont Park when, in the often crude language of the racetrack, one equine put so much heat on a rival that it would buckle under pressure.

Parenthetically, it was no different with Ruffian, or with Eight Belles, also females that tried so hard that their limbs couldn’t hold them. But unlike those examples, five of seven cardiac-related deaths from one barn came during training hours, not during the stress of play-for-pay action.

It may be impolitic to judge without having all the facts but it would be irresponsible and inappropriate not to speculate based on circumstances. From where we sit, these cardiac related deaths are a possible indictment of not only individuals but the whole way the game is administered. It’s a problem that stretches far beyond the California state line.

Empirical information is damning. Whether the number of deaths spiked the last several years are irrelevant: There were 20 two years ago, 19 last year and 17 this year, likely higher because 2013 cardiac deaths will not be listed until the fiscal year ends.

For openers, why this data is not made public as soon as the cause of death is determined is a failed administrative policy. Whether or not Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert is too big to fail may be a matter for the state to decide.

The industry cannot allow these deaths to go without consequence and it is unknown whether anyone in California racing circles has the courage to go wherever the findings might take them. To this point, the California Horse Racing Board at best has acted questionably.

Horse racing doesn’t want government involvement but its devotion to the status quo will someday end the game as we know it because people outside the sport will call on the feds to shut it down.

Common sense dictates that seven cardiac-related deaths from one barn in 18 months, five during training hours, is way beyond the pale. Horsemen interviewed by myself and others are warily suspicious to say the least, their observations going beyond the usual competitive jealousy. The animal is at the heartbeat of this way of life.

What is problematic has been the public deference shown toward Mr. Baffert by CHRB members one day before--through a public relations firm and on the advice of counsel-- he would issue the ill-considered “personally troubling” statement.

The fact that Commissioner Bo Derek reportedly would allow herself to be seen publicly with the trainer just before a CHRB meeting that was to review this matter was ill-advised at best. The idea that Chairman David Israel would be seen publicly with the target of an inquiry in his clubhouse box is thoughtless, arrogant or both.

And to have Dr. Rick Arthur walk back his remarks of the previous day regarding a “spike” in the number of cardiac deaths might be the most egregious insult to anyone’s intelligence with interest in this matter.

Further, what were trace elements of rat poison, reportedly not the same kind used by the tracks to combat rodent problems, doing in the stricken horses that died showing disparate symptoms that led to the cardiac-related deaths? Is blood doping an issue?

In his press release, Baffert noted that Derek and Arthur “made it clear that nothing I have done has caused any horse I have trained to suffer equine sudden death syndrome.” Clear to whom? If that’s an acquittal then why does he continue to work “with everyone…to find the causes of the unexplained deaths.”

In summary, Baffert’s statement read “I hope that research by the CHRB and its pathologists will discover information helpful to understanding the reasons that I, and many of my colleagues, have had horses suffer this unfortunate fate.”

Yet to date he has failed to submit veterinary records of the deceased horses to researchers performing post-mortem tests on stricken horses because in California there is no requirement to do so.

According to the Paulick Report, California horsemen have opposed an amendment to the necropsy program. Objecting were the Southern California Equine Foundation, representing veterinarians, and the Thoroughbred Owners of California, who would capitulate only to a blind study for fear that specific inquiries would lead to a possible witch hunt.

Alas, when all else fails, obfuscate the real issues by striving for perfection, the enemy of the good.

Written by John Pricci

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