Monday, May 19, 2014
On Making the Triple Crown Even Better
LOS ANGELES, May 18, 2014—Along with considerably more competition than he faced in the Preakness with fresh and ready-to-pounce rivals in the June 7 Belmont Stakes, California Chrome's destiny awaits him in New York, pending stewards’ approval on whether he will be permitted to race with his customary nasal strip.
[Ed. note] On the recommendation of Dr. Scott Palmer, the NYRA unanimously agreed to allow the colt to race with a nasal strip in the Belmont Stakes. All Thoroughbreds in New York State no longer will be banned from wearing the apparatus that aids a horse to breathe. Palmer said that "it is not performance enhancing."
If permitted to start, NYRA will get its coveted Triple Crown attempt after all. The new cast assembled to derail Chrome’s bid for superstardom over the weekend was particularly underwhelming this year as 16 of the 19 Derby runners said no to Maryland’s hospitality.
Parenthetically, four of Chrome’s 18 Derby rivals were trained by Todd Pletcher. Pletcher’s Preakness pass-over has become the rule rather than the exception, but he is not alone in this thinking.
With the Tonalist unable to make into the Louisville starting gate, for example, Christophe Clement never gave the Preakness a second thought. Having the Belmont as the ultimate goal, Clement pragmatically chose lesser rivals, an extra week’s rest, and a race over the track rather than run in the Triple Crown’s second leg.
Without change, this example and others like it will continue to be the rule, not the exception, and the series will not be all that it can be in the future. No sport in the modern era has resisted schedule change like racing has.
This is not a new problem for Pimlico or the modern Triple Crown series. Even raising the purse didn’t change things dramatically. And Tom Chuckas, president of the Maryland Jockey Club, spoke up and said he would approach the other.
Triple Crown tracks to discuss what has become the game’s spacing issues.
I was unfamiliar with Chuckas before his interview with John Scheinman but his plan for "spreading out" the Triple Crown certainly had a familiar ring. Wrote Scheinman: "Blood Horse
"Chuckas said he will work toward a schedule that has the Kentucky Derby retain its position on the first Saturday in May, while the Preakness would be moved to the first weekend in June and the Belmont Stakes to the first weekend in July."
One might have first read about a similar proposal here at HRI in 2009 when executive editor John Pricci wrote in "http://www.horseraceinsider.com/On-The-Line/comments/06122009-altering-triple-crown-schedule-gaining-momentum/#comments"
target="_new">this blog, "a Triple Crown of longer duration not only better serves the horse but makes promotional sense by keeping the series alive longer. The distances and venues should remain the same …
“The Kentucky Derby has secured its traditional place on the first Saturday in May… We originally proposed that the Preakness be run on the first Saturday in June. This makes it more likely that the Derby horses would run back in the Preakness, thus improving series continuity while raising the profile of racing’s glamour division with mainstream fans…
“A Memorial Day weekend [schedule], which would allow a minimum of 3-½ weeks between the first two legs--likely closer to four if that weekend stretches into the first Saturday in June…
“And what could be a more fitting conclusion to this uniquely American series than a Belmont Stakes on the 4th of July…?
“Wouldn’t the accomplishment be even greater if the Derby and/or Preakness winner had to defeat a larger number of contiguous rivals…?
“Find a sponsor and bring back a participation and winner’s bonus… Even mainstream media is getting into the act on this. ESPN.com senior writer Pat Forde has adopted the Triple Crown holiday scenario …"
[Ed. Note: Forde wrote about it again this year].
Chukas's remarks followed those stated by Stuart Janney III a day or two earlier which were reported in the Baltimore Sun
"If Janney had his way, the Derby would take place the first Saturday in May as always but the Preakness would be moved back to Memorial Day weekend, and the Belmont would be a month after that, which would reflect a more normal running schedule for top 3-year-olds."
"I think it would help training patterns because trainers now are more comfortable giving horses a bit more time trying to produce what they would hope would be a peak effort," [Janney] said.
"And I don't think at this point they're comfortable running in the Preakness the way they have been in the past. What you are seeing again this year is that a lot of trainers just skip the Preakness and run the Belmont because they think they get an advantage having the horse rested for that period of time. Certainly, that's [Todd] Pletcher's strategy."
One might suspect this idea now could gain the support of Frank Stronach who has made a career out of thinking outside the box. It will be interesting to see whether the new NYRA and Team Cuomo are willing to cooperate.
Unfortunately, one can envision a scenario in which California Chrome comes through and becomes the long-awaited 12th horse in history to sweep the triad. How ironic would that be: a Triple Crown winner that could inhibit rather than inspire industry cooperation?
My own preference is for four weeks between legs; long enough to provide adequate rest but not too long to seriously impact the national schedule in an overly-dramatic fashion.
In my view, a Memorial Day-Independence Day Triple Crown schedule would not only weaken focus on the proceedings but would also remove two of racing's prime exposure opportunities for other divisions, particularly the handicap division with familiar names from prior years' Triple Crown events.
Racing needs more big days to promote itself, not fewer. How ironic, too, that the new $8 million Belmont Stakes day schedule denies promotional opportunities on other big Belmont Saturdays.
Given California Chrome’s quest, the storied Metropolitan Mile and the Race of the Year, featuring the Breeders’ Cup Distaff rematch among champion Beholder vs Princess of Sylmar vs Close Hatches are already mainstream media afterthoughts. Attractions have become distractions.
An aside: Perhaps someday there will be a national graded stakes schedule that provides optimal exposure of past and younger equine stars with optimal spacing between divisional events. Imagine the best facing the best in full fields on a regular basis. What a concept.
Presently, the Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup allow for big days at a single venue are the best things racing has. But optimizing big days that comprise big races at multiple venues could provide shared promotional opportunities and costs by offering affordably-low-takeout horizontals such as a 50-Cent National Pick 5.
But for something like that to occur, confrontation and consuming self-interest would have to give way to cooperation and compromise, admittedly a very tall order. A sensible lengthening of the Triple Crown, making the series stronger, not weaker, would be an excellent place to start.
Written by Indulto
Sunday, May 11, 2014
For Racing, Derby Was a Pleasant Distraction
LOS ANGELES, May 11, 2014--Derby day has come and gone and despite the presence and previous day's success of Steve Asmussen, the subject of a widely anticipated interview with Bob Costas, racing still seems to be alive and solvent; even if still unreformed and unfriendly to bettors.
[Ed. Note] There was, however, no mention to Asmussen from Costas as to why thyroxine was used needlessly on all his horses.
Though I watched without wagering for the first time in many years, I still enjoyed what I saw of the broadcast; the running, the result--and not being split by longshot Commanding Curve who came from the clouds to finish second.
California Chrome proved himself the real deal; capable of carrying the high-speed with which he motored over the Autobahn at Santa Anita a furlong further over a slower surface at Churchill Downs.
Parenthetically, one need only remember the track maintenance performed in Louisville prior to Invasor's Breeders' Cup victory to rationalize the relatively slow fractional and final times recorded for the Derby following a rapidly run sprint several races earlier.
But those fractions may have been as much, if not more, a function of jockey tactics and a lifeless, waterless surface. Clearly, nobody wanted a repeat of last year's suicidal pace, anyway.
In its second year, the new Derby eligibility system produced a popular winning favorite whose vertical exotic payouts were leveraged considerably by the longshot runnerup.
Hopefully, Commander Curve's surprising placing is a preview of what is to come rather than a reprise of Golden Soul's and Ice Box's careers as one-hit wonders.
The ‘Commander’ will be waiting to get even in the Belmont Stakes rather than take on Chrome in Baltimore where the pace figures to get hotter than the Derby’s. The ultimate wisdom of that plan will have to wait until June.
It is worth noting that the Chrome would also have qualified for the Derby under the previous earnings-based system, as well as the weighted points system based on graded stakes finishes exclusively. Commander Curve only would have qualified under the new rules.
Like old friend Drosselmeyer, he had only a third place finish in the Louisiana Derby to recommend him.
Once more Todd Pletcher's presence was underwhelming given his mastery of the Derby preps; especially given the new rules. His Derby trainees finished 3rd, 10th, 12th, and 17th, Danza could have finished closer owing to his troubled third.
Potential prepmeister Mike Maker's multiple entrants were unable to muster serious threats, as they finished 11th, 16th and 19th.
If Danza shows up in Baltimore at the last minute, it will be his third race in five weeks, a la Bodemeister, compared to six weeks for the Derby winner. If as expected he doesn't, it will reaffirm that Pletcher regards five weeks rest more important than racing his Derby also-rans in the Triple Crown’s second jewel.
All but the top two finishers had troubled trips to varying degrees. If you totally trust the Equibase charts, Dance With Fate seemed to have encountered the most interference. At various stages he was jostled, shuffled, bumped, and shut off, yet still managed to finish sixth. I am awaiting his next start with interest.
As there will be betting on the second leg, too, I won't be expecting to find any from new shooter Social Inclusion. As of this writing, only Ride on Curlin and General A Rod are the only Derby survivors to join the Preakness cast—although I believe Ride On Curlin needs more distance, not less, to turn the tables.
In terms of wagering, apparently DRF Bets account holders were given a chance to bet the Derby after all but had to transfer their account to Xpressbet to do so. Unknown to me is why couldn't both platforms offer Derby betting?
At the end of the day, I and my bankroll both got a well-deserved rest from the rigors of handicapping and wagering, respectively, which doubtlessly saved both my bankroll and sanity.
I will still be boycotting Churchill Downs races, only the Grade I Stephen Foster really representing any sacrifice at all.
The old friends I was Skype-ing with Derby Day supported my decision to boycott in principle, and only one attempted to entice me to split a ticket. He cashed the winning bet by himself, the racing gods being the poor sports that they are.
Knowing my affection [affliction?] for alliteration, he pointed out what a perfectly symmetric exacta box the two CCs would make. I replied that the asymmetric Danza/Dance With Fate combination might work, too. All I wound up losing was my mind.
My friends were as outraged by the takeout hikes imposed by Churchill Downs Inc., as they were when the Thoroughbred Owners of California did the same thing three years earlier. They understand how rebates--enabled and masked by excessive takeout--put them at a disadvantage.
The difference is that my friends play five to 10 days a year compared to my 50 to 100. These days they're into the entertainment and social aspect of the game with perhaps a slim possibility of making a score, even more than in staying in the black.
Parenthetically, I find this a source of amusement since some of them are the same guys that in their earlier days frequently burned the midnight oil on Friday nights, marking up their Morning Telegraphs prior to making long drives the next day to the nearest track with the best purses. How we loved horseracing then, and still do.
They will be watching the Preakness and the Belmont and those with grandchildren might attend the Belmont if the Chrome is still chasing the dream. But they only participate when the best face the best.
They have expressed no interest in the majority of races they perceive to be less reliable; the contestants too frequently over-medicated to the detriment of horse, rider or bettor.
Contraction seems inevitable to them unless the California Chrome story can be replicated and told over and over. It’s often said that in this game there’s always tomorrow. That’s still true. Unfortunately, the game’s prospects don’t look as good as they once were.
Written by Indulto
Saturday, April 26, 2014
The Asmussen Saga: My, My
LOS ANGELES, April 26, 2014--Frank Sinatra’s life helped popularize Jimmy Webb’s song, "That’s Life
," but Steve Asmussen’s perhaps has epitomized the up-and-down of it all.
"You're riding high in April, shot down in May."
Actually, it was a month earlier when the New York Times and PETA – now to be referred to collectively as the ADHR (Alliance to Destroy Hose Racing) – released the ignominious video that suggested massive misconduct within the Asmussen operation.
At that point, the winningest active trainer had been nominated to the racing Hall of Fame. That nomination was withdrawn, of course, with the four worthiest inductees of 2014 announced Friday, April 25.
"Each time I find myself flat on my face, I pick myself up and get back in the race."
Asmussen already had bounced back from a long suspension with the accomplishments that led to his nomination. This is a trainer who not only won with Horse-of-the-Year quality stock but also compiled huge numbers with his far-flung operation, amassing nearly 6,800 career victories.
How many other trainers have worked with so many different horses and have been involved in addressing such a diversity of issues? It’s time to see how he and others fare if asked to compete on a level playing field.
My guess is that he would still be successful; to what degree is the nagging question.
"I've been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet, a pawn and a king."
An aside: Remember how early hackers were recruited by their corporate victims to improve the security of the computer systems they once exploited? I wonder if Asmussen, now that he has been accused of egregious acts, fairly or unfairly, might be persuaded to assist in establishing rules that would thwart the kind of behavior allegedly attributed to him.
"Some people get their kicks stomping on a dream."
Among those committing aggravating--if not aggravated--assault on Asmussen’s Derby dream is Steve Davidowitz
The handicapping icon offered a curious analogy between New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s alleged undermining of his underlings to Asmussen assistant Scott Blasi’s abuse of owners and the English language. Davidowitz believes that Asmussen should step away and spare the sport "the maelstrom of negative publicity that will dominate Derby week coverage …"
The problem with that is even with Asmussen on the sidelines, what’s to prevent another suspected "cheater" from filling the void? There’s going to be a "maelstrom" regardless of what Asmussen does on Derby Day. In fact, there is a story in the April 26 edition of the NY Daily News on this issue.
The only way the Asmussen storyline doesn’t overshadow traditional Derby coverage is if critics can be convinced that pro-active steps are taken to prevent foul play by the edge-takers, whether it be owner, trainer, jockey, track executive or even bettors.
That would occur only if creditable professional turf writers work cooperatively in support of that objective.
Apparently "Bill Finley
would. In fact, he wants Asmussen’s horse in the Derby so that the story doesn’t go away:
"… It needs to stay alive and force some self-reflection on the part of the sport … so that the industry can't run and hide but, instead, finally deal with a problem … that a culture exists in this game where far too many trainers and owners believe that the way to get to the winner's circle is best accomplished with a needle."
Mr. Finley’s "culture problem" may be too limited in scope. It goes back to the debate about whether racing should be promoted as a sport or gambling game. Many think it’s a mixture of both.
Others regard playing the races as a game of skill, but few seem willing to call this skill what it really is; "edge-taking." Indeed, that’s the basis of parimutuel wagering, gaining an edge on the wagering competition as opposed to other luck-dependent games of chance. Purely and simply, rebated batch bettors are taking an edge with the public.
But putting the lives of horses and riders at risk is reprehensible edge-taking but can we expect those focused on the bottom line to give up whatever edge they think they have while others refuse to give up theirs?
Who can rightfully determine whether a particular edge is legal or not, moral or not? The handling of financial and informational edges remains largely conjecture. The game is always changing. New edges turn up every day.
To his credit, what Davidowitz has contributed to the game was effective instruction to horseplayers as to the importance of using one’s mind to create tools that give them an intellectual leg up over the crowd.
While edge-taking has become pervasive on the backstretch, so has awareness, due in no small part to the efforts of the ADHR’s making use of tactics culled from a Dick Francis novel. The late jockey-turned-author’s cumulative works contain every edge ever attempted, plus a few from the novelist’s fertile imagination. Going undercover was a common tack.
In "Dick Francis’s Refusal," by his son, Felix, there were developments analogous to the Asmussen situation whereby the main character had to fight charges brought against him based on manufactured visual evidence.
Further, the story’s villain extorted cooperation from another character by using staged photographs suggesting scandalous behavior. It was press coverage that was instrumental to the malefactor’s initial success because human nature is ever willing to believe in the worst capabilities of their fellow man.
PETA has raised questions of employee loyalty with all horsemen, be it the prospect of potential undercover agents or those willing to address some grievance by planting evidence. Sadly, the general public seems to be buying into PETA’s claims of widespread abuse. Livelihoods are at risk throughout the industry.
The only cure is cooperative comprehensive change with common goals and objectives. That change will come from within--or with coercion from without.
“And if I didn't think it was worth one single try, I'd jump right up on a big bird and fly”
Written by Indulto