Monday, September 26, 2016
Impending Danger: Industry Needs to Heed Worrisome Trend
LOS ANGELES, September 26, 2016—Horseplayers didn’t just lose an advocate this week, they lost an activist. Motivations vary, but activism generally requires passion, dedication, commitment, and sacrifice to be effective. There is a price to be paid for such expenditure of personal resources, and Lenny Moon finally decided that price was too high.
Unlike some of his predecessors, Moon didn’t pass away or even fade away. Though not explicit, his final blog piece, "Crossing the Finish Line
, suggested he succumbed to his obsession with the game.
The volume of sympathetic comments to that piece, including some from well-known internet voices, were not only a testament to his popularity but also indicative of how frequently horseplayers struggle to balance their passion for the game with their family responsibilities.
Among what he counted as his successes, he wrote:
"The organization that most resonated with me and my belief system regarding horse racing was HANA, the horse player founded group that is the voice of the customer in the industry. I wrote for their free monthly newsletter for the past several years, which provides more value than anything else the industry puts out and it’s not behind a paywall. I helped get out the word when they convinced a few tracks to lower their takeout rates. Most importantly I worked hard with them to punish Churchill Downs for raising their takeout rates. The tens of millions of dollars in lost handle that first year and each year since are proof that I was on the right side."
That wasn’t always the case.
I first became aware of Moon’s work in 2012 in an early Equinometry blog piece
through a link from the HANA blog. In it, Moon used his interpretation of an older op-ed piece of mine at the HANA blog to help make his point:
That the results of the Players Boycott of California in 2011 were less than they could have or should have been. Naturally, I went back to read all his previous blog entries to see what he had been doing during that period.
I found that Moon started blogging in October 2011, focusing on the Breeders’ Cup, and then Handicapping Tournaments. He didn’t start addressing takeout until February, 2012, so I concluded he was a relative newcomer to the takeout wars in his 30s, but that he the energy and determination to make a difference if his perspective outside of HANA could be maintained.
Obviously, it couldn’t, and the reinforcement he found there for his passion arguably might have led to his inevitably unbearable circumstances.
I know from personal experience that the initial exposure to the thoughtful analyses and arguments of Jeff Platt, or the far-ranging insights and positive thinking of Dean Towers, can be invigorating.
Further, I found that communicating with them, if only on-line, and receiving positive feedback in that process can be intoxicating; particularly in the absence of meaningful dialogue, reform and action elsewhere.
With such encouragement, it is easy to understand how Moon’s involvement and love for the game increased the level of his horseplayer advocacy.
Ironically, even with Moon’s solid contribution to the 2014 boycott of Churchill Downs and HANA’s application of lessons learned from the 2011 boycott of Santa Anita, the results were strikingly similar.
There was little loss in revenue despite lower handle and takeout was never reduced. That led me to suspect that there had been no significant increase in HANA membership in those three intervening years:
Horseplayer selfishness and apathy has helped fuel the indifference that the industry has towards its core customers.
Today I would agree with his criticism of the initial 2011 effort. Yes, it took a takeout increase to spur the first wave of activism. It wasn’t so much the amount of the increase as it was the justification offered for it, coupled with the dismissive manner in which it was orchestrated, implemented and defended by the self-interested Thoroughbred Owners of California and the unaccountable California Horse Racing Board.
Lamentably, Moon and others did not get meaningfully involved until Churchill Downs exhibited the same behavior.
I always had wondered whether or not Moon was a rebated player. He was certainly in favor of lowering takeout but it wasn’t clear whether or not he supported a level playing field for all, i.e., equal direct takeout for every parimutuel pool participant.
In my view, rebated players have dominated the HANA Board of Directors in the past, declining to pursue policies that would terminate their advantage over fellow members who did not receive rebates.
Indeed, one director envisioned the process used by AARP as an appropriate model for HANA. I interpreted that to mean that his preference was to work within the status quo; not rocking the rebate boat.
In his later writings however, it became clear to me that he, too, preferred change to the way things are now.
Either way, let me add my condolences to those who showed empathy for a shortened career of passionate pro-action that was compromised by the kind of circumstances that could consume any of us.
Wishing only good things, and the very best of luck, to a proud racing voice forced into silence by a greater passion for life that for the game.
It’s a very sorry state when passion for the game has become too much of a burden on players. By now, the larger message should be resonating with racing’s power broker elite: Two choices: Reform or die.
Written by Indulto
Sunday, September 11, 2016
Can Breeders’ Cup Think Outside the Box?
LOS ANGELES, September 10, 2016--Following Arrogate’s Travers victory, Bob Baffert announced he would train the colt up to the Breeders’ Cup thereby signaling Juddmonte’s implicit willingness to pay $150K for the privilege of entering the BC Classic starting gate.
Although the prestigious Travers amply rewarded the winner with $670K, it was not a Classic Win-And-You’re-In (WAYI) as was the Haskell. Indeed, the latter at 9 furlongs is the only WAYI for three-year-olds despite the Travers’ 10 furlongs as the Classic.
Six berths in the Classic’ starting gate have already been spoken for by Moanin (February S. [Tokyo]); Bradester, (Stephen Foster H.); Melatonin (Gold Cup at Santa Anita); Exaggerator (Haskell); Frosted (Whitney) and California Chrome (Pacific Classic).
Two remain up for grabs, the Awesome Again and the Jockey Club Gold Cup with California Chrome targeting the former and a $1M bonus sweetener, so unless you want a piece of Chrome before the big dance, there’s really only one way to go.
That could leave Arrogate out in the cold if as many as seven other entrants without free tickets have better credentials according to the BC eligibility point system
__ | W| P | S |
G1 |10| 6 | 4 |
G2 | 6 | 4 | 2 |
G3 | 4 | 2 | 1 |
I was able to isolate 20 potential entrants with point totals exceeding Arrogate’s [see comment section]. Considering the incentives provided for a placing in a $6 million race, an oversubscribed field is possible for a race whose prestige is exceeded only by the Kentucky Derby.
Excluding four other Baffert trainees, there are at least 10 possible obstacles in Nyquist (30 points), Gun Runner (24), Creator (22), Destin (18), Hard Aces (18), Shaman Ghost (16), Effinex (16), Eagle (16), Mubtaahij (14) and Upstart (14).
Rounding out the possible competition are Lani (14), Outwork (14), Majestic Harbor (14) and Tom’s Ready (12).
There is always a chance that Baffert could re-think his position with Arrogate and show up in the Awesome Again or Jockey Club Gold Cup. Given his Travers, it appears unlikely that any horse on the East Coast can beat Arrogate at 10 furlongs and, furthermore, the purse in New York is more than triple what is being offered at his home base.
But given this conditioner’s proven ability to repeat past success,it would be a surprise if he didn’t take the “fresh” American Pharoah path to the Classic.
Breeders’ Cup and Horse of the Year
Question: Should results from a 10-week window outweigh 12-months’ worth of competitive accomplishment? If, say, an improbable Triple Crown victory in the measure than “yes,” then 35 days that yield three Grade 1 victories at different tracks and at disparate distances is, in context, a huge body of work.
The standard currency for acquiring Horse of the Year honors is a candidate’s total number of G1 victories. Arrogate’s second G1 score would match the already vanquished Exaggerator’s total as protem divisional leader.
The current trend of consolidating stakes into ”Big Days” further exacerbates scheduling-conflict issues that result in today’s big-event small-field racing. Shrinking foal crops and too many G1 events only add to the problem of trying to assess the country’s “best horse.”
The worst contributor to this sorry stake has to be the Breeders’ Cup itself. One annual shot at the brass ring is all you get?
What if champions could compete in multiple Breeders’ Cup races? Imagine starters from the Dirt Mile, Distaff or BC Turf also competing in the Classic? Or Mile participants contesting the longer Turf? Couldn’t juvenile fillies have a shot at the boys?
Why should a champion at its peak be prevented from demonstrating excellence at the highest levels in more than one dimension? Maybe the Breeders’ Cup could be run as a series that rewards horses showing multiple aptitudes with prize monies awarding unusual accomplishment?
Suppose the Breeders’ Cup were a three-leg event with the second allocation of races coming three weeks after the first, and the third group three or four weeks after that? Think a Triple Crown for every possible division.
For consideration, here’s a schedule of what a Breeders’ Cup series of events might look like:
BC Juvenile Turf
BC F&M Turf Sprint
Juv. Fillies Sprint
BC Juvenile Fillies
BC Dirt Mile
BC Juv. Fil. Turf
BC Turf Sprint
BC F&M Turf
BC F&M Sprint
Now we understand the politics involved, not to mention the logistics and, of course, racing would need to work around King Football’s schedule. Our only concern is making a great game greater and to increase awareness. What say you?
Written by Indulto
Tuesday, August 30, 2016
Travers 147: Too Much of a Good Thing?
LOS ANGELES, August 27, 2016--HRI blogger Tom Jicha accomplished what many racing writers attempt but precious few achieve when he presented his analysis
for the 2016 Travers.
To me, his unequivocal selection of Arrogate appeared the handicapping equivalent of Babe Ruth’s famously pointing to where he was about to deliver a home run.
While the DRF’s Mike Beer also predicted the son of Unbridled Song’s victory in his "Race of the Day" video, he didn’t match Jicha’s confidence or his vision as follows:
"… Arrogate, at 10-1, is the one who interests me most of anyone in the field. He's never run in a stakes but the stylish way he has won all three of his two-turn races, the most recent at 1-20, suggests still untapped brilliance.
Statistically, Arrogate mirrors the career of American Pharoah. He got beat in his sprint debut but he's been untouchable since. ..."
TJ is my new handicapping hero … at least until next week.
On a track that started to resemble Santa Anita when successive seven-furlong sprints shaded 1:21 on the broadcast timer (but not in the subsequent DRF charts), trainer Bob Baffert previewed his West Coast wizardry with a wire-to-wire win by Drefong in the King’s Bishop under jockey Mike Smith.
When that Hall of Fame duo teamed up again for their Travers triumph, the rider completed an Alabama/Travers double, having won the former with another West Coast sensation, Songbird.
Still, an unheralded sophomore was able to slip in under the radar and set a new track record becoming the first three-year-old since Secretariat to shade both two minutes for the distance and 24 seconds for the final quarter-mile.
Arrogate’s 13½-length victory over the deepest field assembled since the Kentucky Derby re-set the stage for both the divisional championship and Horse of the Year honors.
Further, it sends a message to the California Chrome camp that "it ain’t over ‘til it’s over."
In one minute, fifty nine and one-fifth seconds, the status of Southern California racing stock sky-rocketed--in contrast to the steadily declining support for the racing product there.
And it’s not just stakes runners shipped East by high-percentage trainers such as Baffert, Hollendorfer, D’Amato and the rest. Indeed, New York-based trainer David Jacobson has been very successful with horses he claimed in California to race elsewhere.
Bettor’s appetites for action at California tracks are being curbed by small, uncompetitive fields dominated by odds-on trainees carefully spotted by the few trainers among whom all the better bloodlines are distributed.
Arrogate and Drefong are shining examples of this phenomenon. To what degree this is facilitated by stall allocations, the condition books and owners who are unwilling to rock the boat is unclear.
What is clear is that good horses based outside California are seldom sent there to compete except when the Breeders’ Cup and notable Grade 1s are being offered.
This isn’t due simply to the lack of purses fueled by casino dollars but rather the refusal of Southern California track operators to schedule their stakes races cooperatively with the rest of the country.
Why was Del Mar’s G1 Pat O’Brien Stakes scheduled on the same day as Saratoga’s G1 Forego? Why were the G1 Pacific Classic and G1 Whitney with their million-dollar purses scheduled so closely together that neither got full fields?
And the problem doesn’t end with field size. The unwillingness of the Thoroughbred Owners of California and the California Horse Racing Board to adjust breakage on show bets and reduce takeout on exacta wagers inhibits expansion of those pools at California tracks.
The fifty-cent trifecta minimum was finally implemented at Del Mar but low payoffs in these tiny fields continue to dampen enthusiasm for these wagers in comparison to their popularity at Saratoga.
Baffert’s role in maintaining the status quo on the above issues as a TOC board member has undermined his popularity among horseplayer advocates since the TOC-maneuvered takeout increase
in 2010 at the expense of the player.
Indeed, Baffert’s detractors increased exponentially several years when the investigation
of seven sudden deaths in Baffert’s barn revealed that all of his trainees had been routinely treated with the thyroid drug Thyro-L, even those with normal thyroids -- a practice not unusual according to a veterinarian contacted by the Paulick Report
Sadly, freakish performances like Arrogate’s raise the specter of chemical assistance at the highest level of competition. Few would deny Baffert’s extraordinary ability as a trainer and judge of equine talent. But the lack of uniform rules and drug testing enables reasonable people to express concerns about the kind of performance witnessed on Travers Day.
Arrogate now is expected to train up to the Breeders’ Cup Classic but I’d like to know how his ascent to the top of the Baffert shedrow affects plans for his other accomplished three-year-olds, including millionaire Cupid, Mor Spirit, Collected, Toews on Ice, and Haskell/Travers runner-up American Freedom.
Juddmonte’s campaigning of Flintshire has been sufficiently sportsman-like to suggest they might be willing to face the best competition sooner rather than later.
With Nyquist targeting the Pennsylvania Derby and with the Jockey Gold Cup and Awesome Again out there—he’s already beaten his elders thrice—who knows?
If California Chrome and/or Tepin run the table, they’re the leaders of the pack. If not, have we reached a point where two potential Grade 1 victories in the Travers and Breeders’ Cup Classic would be enough to earn a Horse of the Year title?
Written by Indulto