Tuesday, October 25, 2016
A Strange Twist: Classic as a Lose-And-They’re-In Pegasus Event?
LOS ANGELES, October 24, 2016—If California Chrome can win both the Breeders’ Cup Classic and Pegasus World Cup he not only will become Thoroughbred racing’s first Win-Your Way/Buy-Your-Way-In winner but also would be the first to sweep all three legs of a bonus-incentivized series that included two Win-And-Your-In roads to the Classic.
Win or lose, it will be interesting to see which approach produces the more competitive of the two races. But should he lose the Classic, what then?
‘Chrome’ would not be the only dual WAYI winner forced to waste a free ride earned on the racetrack. Frosted has a ticket to the Dirt Mile to complement the one he earned for the Classic and, after deliberations, he’s headed to the latter.
Exaggerator’s recent retirement leaves only two possibilities among the six horses that have won seven "Classic Challenge" events: Hopportunity and Melatonin.
But as for Exaggerator, like Belmont winning Creator, Preakness winning Exaggerator will compete for dates with the sexiest broodmares in Lexington. Creator will due his suiting in the Far East.
As for Nyquist, plans are for him to compete in the Classic despite disconcerting defeats in the Preakness, Haskell and Pennsylvania Derby. Then no one knows Nyquist better than the brothers O’Neill.
One clear and present danger to Chrome’s ambitions appears to be another three-year-old, Arrogate, whose 13-1/2 length sub-two-minute Travers victory fuels the fantasy of a latter-day Jaipur-Ridan matchup.
It would be great theater to see two California-based speedsters racing head to head all the way around, even though it’s doubtful that “money riders” Victor Espinoza or Mike Smith would fall into a speed trap.
Besides, Art Sherman believes that Chrome’s at his best when he has a target to run at and said so following a recent workout.
But should a hot pace bring this dynamic duo back to the field, Arrogate’s uncoupled stablemate, the nicely prepped Hopportunity, just might pick up the pieces for Hall of Famer Bob Baffert. We’re sure Kiaran McLaughlin’s hoping for something that for Frosted, a likely stalk-a-pouncer in this lineup.
Interesting to note that Baffert could play still another card and add Travers runner-up American Freedom to the Classic mix. That colt is a tactical speedster that’s comfortable either setting or sitting just off the pace. We'll stop guessing when Breeders' Cup pre-entries are announced Wednesday.
The 2016 Classic could, in fact, boast the greatest number of uncoupled entries in its history.
The improving Shaman Ghost and sometimes enigmatic Effinex, unsuccessful in three Chrome-less WAYI races but nonetheless always brings his game, will represent the Junior Giant Killer Jimmy Jerkens' outfit.
Recall that Shaman Ghost nosed out over-confidently handled Frosted in the Woodward while Effinex was worn down by a tighter Hopportunity in Belmont’s Jockey Club Gold Cup.
With Dortmund headed to the Dirt Mile, along with Pa Derby runnerup Gun Runner, his conqueror, Connect, will sit on the sidelines.
It’s difficult to conjure up at this juncture where 12 Pegasus starters might come from. But how about Great Britain?
This weekend, trainer Aidan O’Brien indicated he would enter last year’s Turf heroine Found to the Classic lineup. The four-year-old filly will be cross-entered in the Turf but the connections want to “take a look.” Window shopping doesn't cost a dime.
Win The Space, third in the San Diego Handicap, Pacific Classic and Awesome Again, is expected to be pre-entered tomorrow with along with a fresh, fast-working early-season high-profile divisional player, Melatonin.
And just last week, the owner of 2015 Travers winner Keen Ice, Jerry Crawford, said he wants in, figuring all the Classic speed and its mile and a quarter distance suits his late finisher very well. It does, but then the competition might not.
Trainer Todd Pletcher backed Crawford's play re the pace and distance scenarios but unless the Classic falls apart completely it’s difficult to figure them making a case for trying nine furlongs at Gulfstream Park in late January, which brings us back to the Pegasus.
So the question remains which dozen horses will fill the Pegasus starting gate? One of Exaggerator’s owners recently sold his slot which could go to a Classic upsetter. A starting-stall would be a lot more valuable should Chrome be defeated. If that occurs, Chrome would lose the bonus which was expected to cover his Pegasus entry fee.
Worse, his anticipated stud career might lose a little momentum. Doubtful in light of his 2016 resume but anything’s possible in the horse business.
Unless there’s a clause we’re unaware of that allows investors to bail out of their commitment without taking too big a hit, the Pegasus very likely will have a full field.
And as far as that's concerned, it might turn out to be a LATI scenario for some not-quite-ready-for-primetime players. For the Classic/Pegasus favorite it's a Lose And They’re In scenario.
Written by Indulto
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