Saturday, December 07, 2013
What New York Needs Is… Its Own Triple Crown?
LOS ANGELES, December 6, 2013—New York Governor Cuomo took his lumps recently when he referred to Aqueduct as a “waste;” reviving speculation that the Ozone Park facility would be closed and its racing operation transferred to Belmont Park 10 miles away.
Whether the State maintains two tracks or three, NYRA must offer its patrons a new approach to the racing experience that deploys those facilities to their best advantage.
The sprawling Elmont plant, which contains the only 12-furlong oval in North America, is capable of hosting crowds exceeding 100,000 but it hasn’t filled to capacity since 2008. Such happenstances are limited to attempts to win the Triple Crown; an average of twice per decade since Affirmed in 1978.
Races around both turns of the huge dirt track are rare, and those at 10 furlongs which are forced to start on the clubhouse turn are even rarer. Inadequate maintenance of that section of the track recently compromised the start of the Jockey Club Gold Cup.
Could this be another obstacle besides weather and politics to prevent Belmont from hosting the Breeders’ Cup; a situation that further devalues the venue? Is there another head-turning option out there?
Belmont as a destination will always suffer in comparison to Saratoga. Ironically, Aqueduct is now located right next to a thriving casino whose clientele represent potential horse race bettors at an upgraded facility that shares its subway access.
So why prefer an isolated location whose physical layout makes one-turn routes out of many distances run around two turns almost everywhere else? Real estate property values for one; those who don’t understand this concept—namely politicians—another.
Going forward with only an outdated, underused property doesn’t seem practical without first demonstrating the ability to reverse declining on-track attendance in the face of growing off-track participation.
The decision is probably best delayed until a future private-sector bidder makes a proposal.
The State’s intention to privatize racing at Saratoga, Belmont, and Aqueduct in the near future, without current VLT revenue, will require innovation to increase the value of its franchise. Thus far, vision has proven myopic.
One opportunity to consider would be to take control of the Triple Crown by offering an alternate path that would increase the likelihood that a potential champion contests the Belmont Stakes. With equine safety consciousness on the rise, the timing is right to challenge the perception of what the Triple Crown represents.
Why shouldn’t any “qualified” three-year-old who, in confirmed graded company, wins at 10 furlongs on the first Saturday in May – and then successively at 9.5 and 12 furlongs within eight
weeks be deemed a Triple Crown champion?
Purists insist that the five week duration is sacrosanct, that changing the spacing between legs would make it easier to win. Doesn’t it make sense, however, that 4 weeks rest between each leg would enable more contestants to deliver their best effort, thus making it more difficult?
The Triple Crown tournament is limited to the 20 horses that can fit in two starting gates, but why should the contests be limited to the same venues. Isn’t accomplishment more essential than logistics?
Churchill Downs broke with tradition last year by forcing Derby participants to compete in a smaller subset of prep races, giving greater weight to those scheduled within six weeks of the event.
Of course, if the Derby winner is not up to winning the Preakness two weeks later or does but is unable to compete again three weeks after that, the Belmont Stakes becomes significantly less-than, and Churchill management couldn’t care less.
This spring, would Orb have fared better in the Preakness with more rest? Could I’ll Have Another have avoided injury with more time between starts? Would Bodemeister have been more effective with three races in seven weeks than in five?
Where is it written that the road to the Triple Crown must
only go through Louisville and Baltimore?
It has been posited that the main obstacle to moving the Preakness back even a week is that Pimlico would lose the heavy college student that has returned home. But what if the “new NYRA” proposed a second path to the Triple Crown, a New York-based path?
The key to an alternate New York path would be a weighted bonus structure for multiple top-four finishes in the series, generating greater earnings for most participants. Once the series catches on, bonuses could be extended to Derby and Preakness runners as well.
New York needs to do something dramatic, something different, and it doesn’t have to be limited to equine participants. Rather than raise admission prices to increase revenue, the NYTC could feature, say, a customer-friendly dollar-minimum Pick Six. Any carryover from the previous day would be suspended and payouts mandated for the Saturday pool only. Try it on a limited basis and see if it bumps attendance. Look outside the box.
Expanded use of Saratoga seems unavoidable if a downstate track is closed. Perhaps two shorter meetings replacing the existing one might work, but only with the town’s support, of course.
Since the area is as beautiful in May as it is in August, a Spa spring meet might prove an attractive launching site for a New York Triple Crown, encompassing a reconfigured Jerome or Dwyer and concluding with the Travers.
Written by Indulto
Thursday, November 07, 2013
Breeders’ Cup 30: Only the Foreshadowing Knows
Los Angeles, November 5, 2013--The term, “foreshadowing,” came to mind with the news that jockey John Velasquez was injured after his mount sustained a catastrophic injury in Saturday’s first Breeders’ Cup event.
My concern for the rider’s well-being was accompanied by the question of who would replace him on the now twice-jockey-jilted Palace Malice; the co-carrier of my schemes to conclude the day successfully with a late running three-year-old in the Classic.
The call eventually went to Rafael Bejarano, the goat of last year’s Classic for failing to get the favored Game On Dude off to a good start. Bejarano, however, proved the difference in Friday’s Dirt Mile when he gunned Goldencents from the extreme outside slip to win the race wire-to-wire.
It was no surprise, then that trainer Todd Pletcher plucked Bejarano from the sidelines to ride Palace Malice as the two had experienced success together with Overanalyze in the Arkansas Derby. But wouldn’t you love to know which other riders were under serious consideration? I would.
My only plays on Friday were in the races comprising the Pick Three starting with the Dirt Mile. My insufficient confidence in the winner’s ability to overcome his dreadful post position against Pletcher’s vaunted Verazzano led me to play trainer Bob Baffert’s win-and-you’re-in entrant, Fed Biz.
The foreshadowing may have already begun with this speed-favoring exhibition, not to mention Golden Ticket’s second place finish which undoubtedly alerted some to the strength of the Awesome Again as a Classic prep. Perhaps Verrazano’s loss foreshadowed the fates of Pletcher’s stablemates.
Saturday arrived and my wagering diet didn’t include the two downhill turf sprints preceding the Cup events. Nor did an undernourished Damascus field whet my betting appetite. Bypassing another non-Lasix event helped avoid the tragedy of a breakdown and a subsequent disqualification, but the stage had been set for my bankroll’s demise in the Filly and Mare Turf as three consecutive favorites produced an anemic $49.60 Pick Three. This failed to cover my losses in the accompanying vertical pools.
The Juvenile was not only another non-Lasix event but the race continued to bury New York shippers--as was the case for the Dirt Mile and Distaff--and which would continue to be the case for the remainder of Saturday’s card. The only exception was Juvenile Fillies, and that came via disqualification. Unfortunately, my success was reliant on New York shippers in the Sprint, Turf and Classic.
I can forgive myself for ignoring Magician in the Turf even though I know European trainers frequently win at much longer distances off mile preps, especially with good Racing Post figures. But I could kick myself for discounting Za Approval who turned back from a 9-furlong victory at 9 to repeat his second-place finish to Wise Dan at Woodbine. Ouch!
Still alive in the Pick Three, I lost the Sprint verticals beneath the winner when I zigged with Vosburgh participants over Phoenix prepsters instead of zagging in reverse. Ugh!
Now came the moment of truth. Alive in the Distaff-Classic Double and Pick Three with both primary selections, the scratch of Ron The Greek already altered my strategy for the upcoming Classic. Since I no longer had to use him to key a superfecta play, I could expand my coverage beneath my prime contenders. By embracing my mounting skepticism of Game On Dude, I could look for chaos in both the third and fourth slots, but doing so with both primaries might not be profitable.
With Bejarano’s unfamiliarity with Palace Malice gnawing away at me --as well as my fear of early speedsters-- I made my final adjustment. Unbeknownst to my friends who were watching all this on SKYPE, I decided to cancel previous superfectas and go with only Will Take Charge on top, using Palace Malice, Game On Dude, Mucho Macho Man, Fort Larned, and Flat out in the second slot, and ALL for third and fourth.
Live by the nose; die by the nose!
I thought all was lost when Will Take Charge went extremely wide on the last turn, but then his incredible surge at the end left my body and soul totally numb. Only the camera knew for sure. For a moment I thought I was a winner until someone said otherwise. Unlike the Travers, I wouldn’t win either way the photo went. This time, the nose of Will Take Charge wasn’t long enough and Mucho Macho Man made Gary Stevens’ comeback the equivalent of Babe Ruth’s home run call.
Here’s my story
It’s sad but true
About a horse that I thrice bet
He stole my heart and ran around
Every other horse but one in town
Last Gunfighter finished fifth as the longest shot at 46-1, beating Palace Malice, sixth at 8-1, who finished of the 13-1 Flat Out. So much for the Jockey Club Gold Cup’s recent hold on the Classic!
It was like the bad old days for New York prepsters. Next year, trainers are likely be take a cue from “Macho’s” trainer Kathy Ritvo and prep in California instead.
If you thought Super Saturday fields at Belmont were small this year …
Consider that Mucho Macho Man prepped in the $250,000 Awesome Again instead of the million dollar Gold Cup. Should California be granted a Breeders’ Cup monopoly, here’s something to consider:
Rather than reward “win and you’re in” one-shot wonders, perhaps it’s worth creating several divisional series with bonuses for multiple top four finishes that reward consistently high performances over the duration of a racing schedule, one that’s kind to both man and beast.
Why shouldn’t Super Saturday, say, close out the Belmont Fall meet with the final legs of several such series with opportunities to determine divisional championships as well? If Churchill Downs objects, perhaps they could offer divisional races that compliment, rather than compete with, those at Belmont. By creating a multi-venue exotic, both tracks can offer their on-track patrons and off-track players something special. That sounds like good business.
I seem to have survived the anxiety and excitement of Breeders’ Cup weekend. Passionate participation is what our sport is all about. After watching the replay a few more times, I think I finally understand the devotion of Classic fans enamored of another closer so magnificent in defeat.
Written by Indulto
Tuesday, October 29, 2013
Odds and Happy Endings
Los Angeles, October 28, 2013--One of the pleasures of perusing the advance editions of Past Performance charts for the Breeders’ Cup is the absence of time pressure when trying to isolate contenders without the benefit [or hindrance] of data such as post position, jockey assignment, and morning-line odds.
Every now and again, a horse will find its way to my top tier whose actual late odds appear appetizing enough to risk unauthorized amounts. My last successful application of that methodology involved Drosselmeyer who was trained by the wily William Mott and ridden by the propitious Mike Smith.
My first reaction to Santa Anita’s oddsmaker, Jon White’s, installing Game On Dude as the 8-5 morning-line favorite, is that he must have confused the Dude’s Classic competitors with the California-based creampuffs he usually devours.
Not that the Dude doesn’t deserve respect. Despite finishing out of the money in last year’s renewal as the 6-5 favorite, he is arguably more accomplished this year as the undefeated (five-for-five) winner of four Grade I stakes achieved in front-running fashion with excellent speed figures by anyone’s measure.
In doing so, Game On Dude became only the second horse to complete a sweep of the Santa Anita Handicap, Hollywood Gold Cup, and Pacific Classic.
Indeed, this could finally be the Dude’s year. A Classic victory would hightly likely anoint the durable gelding champion older horse and Horse of the Year honors as well.
So, then, what justification is there for challenging his credentials as established by those performances?
First, his competition has been suspect. He defeated runnerup Kettle Corn in his last two events and Clubhouse Ride as the in the previous three. Those horses were Grade II middle distance winners at best.
Secondly, there was no early serious pace pressure in those wire-to-wire wins. That will not be the case Saturday, not with Fort Larned, Mucho Macho Man and Moreno; all speedy types that have drawn inside the early line favorite.
Since Zenyatta’s victory in 2009, three consecutive Classic winners have come out of the Jockey Club Gold Cup. The Dude’s own preps came on “Super Saturday”, too, but at 9 furlongs, not 10.
But this time trainer Bob Baffert is bringing him back in nine weeks. While it should be noted that the Dude did win at the classic distance following a ten week layoff previously, it did require an all-out effort against lesser foes.
There are jockey switches to contemplate as well. Smith gave up the mount on Game On Dude for the Pacific Classic to honor a prior commitment on Royal Delta. Injury prevented Baffert’s first replacement choice, Joel Rosario, so he gave a leg up to Martin Garcia. A one-shot deal, Smith is back aboard on Saturday.
What was it about Garcia’s ride that convinced Baffert he’d be better off with Smith? Did that burst of speed and subsequent extension through the lane take too much out of the horse? What made Smith give up the mount on Palace Malice? Does he think the Dude is so superior? Was Todd Pletcher going to replace Smith with John Velasquez, anyway?
According to Trakus, when Ron The Greek hit the Gold Cup finish line, Palace Malice had already run farther than the winner given his wide trip. Perhaps Smith’s experience confirms the conventional wisdom that discounts the chances of three-year-olds against their elders here.
It may be worth mentioning that none of the last three Classic winners won their Gold Cups butthe winner of the previous two, Flat Out, returns again, this time without that “curse.”
The JCGC “curse” lands on Ron The Greek, whose runaway victory was reportedly aided by a rail bias. The result also has been subjected to further scrutiny by the race’s ground-crumbling start compromising several contenders, including stablemate Flat Out.
I had to laugh while reading the chart for that race which stated “the start was good for all but Cross Traffic,” but later commenting that “Palace Malice, one of only a few to get away unscathed at the break …” Four survivors from that race are entered here, as are two from the Awesome Again and two from the Pennsylvania Derby. Which event will prove the “key race?”
Last year’s Classic winner is returning off a victory in an ungraded stake at Churchill Downs. Fort Larned’s winning prep was little more than a paid workout.
That leaves two Europeans, which will have to endure quarantine prior to being acclimated to Santa Anita’s surroundings. One is a multiple World Cup also-ran. The other has five consecutive competitive Racing Post Ratings and victories on all-weather surfaces and turf. Either Declaration Of War and Planteur would prove to be an upset.
The following is the BC Classic field in morning-line odds-rank sequence [common last races are indicated via a combination of italics and underscores]:
w – denotes last start won
* - denotes favored last start
w*GAME ON DUDE
w*MUCHO MACHO MAN
w RON THE GREEK
w DECLARATION OF WAR
_ PALACE MALICE
w*WILL TAKE CHARGE
_ LAST GUNFIGHTER
I suspect White’s odds ranking but not necessarily the values. Clearly, White expects the crowd to prefer horses that have won their preps and those with victories over the host track.
I believe Ron The Greek is the closer most likely to prevail at Santa Anita if the early pace is contested as expected. Such a scenario would also enhance the chances of three-year-olds Will Take Charge and Palace Malice.
I doubt that Flat Out can outfinish all three but he should be in the mix. Mucho Macho Man must still prove he can pass a top horse in the stretch.
With such a competitive field, a single win bet is less a demonstration of confidence than a display of arrogance; and that is why the great gambling spirit in the sky gave us the superfecta. My primary play will use the closers I prefer on top:
11,10,8 // 11,10,8,12,6,7,9 // 11,10,8,12,6,7,9 // 11,10,8,12,6,7,9 (3x6x5x4)
My other assumes the Dude outlasts the speed and holds off the closers:
9 // 11,10,8,6 //11,10,8,6,12 // ALL (1x4x4x9)
Finally, I’ll save with exacta boxes using the three-year-olds. May the best horse win and all horses return safely.
Written by Indulto