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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


HALLANDALE BEACH FL, March 20, 2022 – One of racing’s best attributes is its history and traditions. Sometimes, however, tradition gives way to popular trends of the era. One prime example is how many stakes races of the past have been renamed to honor recent greats of the game.

The latest took place yesterday at Oaklawn Park when the former Grade 3 Hot Springs Stakes was renamed the Whitmore in honor of a locally- based Eclipse Champion who won the Breeders’ Cup Sprint at age 7, a totally befitting legend for a home state favorite.

Following his Triple Crown campaign in 2016, Whitmore began his four-year-old year sprinting, winning a six-furlong allowances in track record time. Appropriately, he returned to win his first black-type event in a race that now bears his name.

But this is about Saturday’s G3 Essex Handicap.

Yesterday’s Grade 3 Essex could have been named, if only for one day, the Anachronistic Classic, for which eight horses were entered overnight. And here’s what the overnight looked like, listed in post position order:

From the rail: Thomas Shelby, age 6; 7-year-old Title Ready; 6-year-old Warrior’s Charge; 7-year-old Plainsman; 8-year-old Popular Kid; 9-year-old Rated R Superstar; 6-year-old Beau Luminaire and 6-year-old Hanalei’s Houdini, making the average age of the field 6.86 years.

As stated, that’s anachronistic in this age, except, of course, for the near obscene $500,000 purse offered for a Grade 3 title at a modern major racetrack, a prize inflated by an infusion of casino dole. No anachronism, that.

So it was totally appropriate that the oldest member of the field ran them all down in the stretch to win going away. Never mind late runners were having a good day, or that the pace table had been nicely set. Federico Villafranco handed David Cabrera the reins to a loaded equine weapon.

Rated R Superstar, who won the Essex Handicap in 2019, improved his career mark to (59) 11-10-8 and now has amassed $1,589,014 in earnings. In only his second start following a claim by Kenny Caldwell, ‘Superstar’ finished second by a neck in last year’s race.

Handicaps are more enjoyable for fans and bettors alike because it levels the playing field, leading to upsets big and small. A more competitive race attracts straight and vertical-poos bettors and compels horizontal players into more spread scenarios, favored by racetrack bean-counters.

For traditional fans of the sport, handicaps are a measure that helps define greatness, as was the case with Kelso, Forego, Dr. Fager, champion filly sprinters Affectionately and Ta Wee, and a way for claimers to define their class, too, “starter” old-schoolers like Table Hopper, Palenque III.

Racing was more fun back in the day for many and could be again with some nurturing. Must every aspect of thoroughbred racing be devoted to the bottom line or, in the language of financial markets, increasing shareholder value?

No one expects imposts in the mid-130s anymore. High imposts can be tough on the animals. But given today’s “racing fresh” model, there is ample time available for recovery from taxing efforts, especially when good and not necessarily great horses can race for a half-million dollars.

The Essex highweight, runnerup Plainsman, carried a sensible 122 pounds; low-weighted Popular Kid, the second oldest horse at 8, toted 116. The “old man” was in receipt of four pounds from the favored highweight.

Interestingly, the Whitmore Stakes, run under allowance conditions, was won by a highweight too, Bob’s Edge, who lugged 124, spotting seven rivals three pounds while an eighth, show finisher Greeley and Ben, got five pounds from the winner.

While the Essex might have lacked star quality, it did attract eight hard-hitters that averaged eight wins each in their careers. If huge money is what keeps these old boys around, it’s a good investment in reliable “brands” that create lasting relationships with fans and bettors.

There are myriad opportunities for talented young horses to race for seven figures while building potentially lucrative sire resumes and therein lies the rub as The Bard of Avon once wrote. So, if big money helps keep healthy, winning horses around, that’s probably a very good investment to make.

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⚠ Before you comment

Our staff likes nothing better than to engage with the HRI Faithful and provide a forum for interaction on horseracing and sports. In that spirit, please be kind and reasonable; keep the language clean, and the tone civil. Comments from those who cannot comply will be deleted. Thank you.

15 Responses

  1. I enjoy your articles but have to wonder how many people in your position really know how things are done in the Thoroughbred world, but I guess we are not able to really talk about the truth, are we? Kat

    1. As a racing fan for way to many years to count, as in all businesses and industries, the finished product is all that matters to the consumer. When there is a recognizable problem, it is called out and debated among fans and the powers that be. Do I have to know anything about software to understand that something is not right when working with it?
      Racing’s problems can only be fixed from within, and that is the truth!

      1. Mark, I’m not sure I understand the software reference in regard to racing’s problems?

        Anyway, given the often capricious and arbitrary decisions made by industry stakeholders, whatever their positions, and mostly a complete disregard for transparency, I don’t see how “only from within” works.

        It would seem you are one of the few fans that believes racing can police itself. They need guidance. Racing needs HISA and USADA if the powers that be are truly serious about a much improved path going forward, IMO.

        1. John,
          Outside of completely overhauling the system, all it takes from within are a few powerful people honest enough to make major changes to preserve the integrity and gain public confidence.
          Once a great sport, racing could get there again by correcting problems they could have fixed a long time ago.
          And most fans know what they are.

          1. I cannot disagree with your sentiments. It will take more than a handful of powerful people. Racing is divided into 38 states each with their own rules.

            If fans know what the problems are, why doesn’t the industry? It lacks collective power and will to change. The powerful want status quo, again, IMO…

  2. Kat, this is an open forum and, respectfully, you may be a little late to the party.

    Come Derby Week we celebrate our 15th anniversary online.

    For anyone keeping score at home we’ve likely made a few more enemies than friends in that time.

    If true, it means that we take our responsibilities seriously. So welcome aboard again, and fire away.

  3. This ,again ,may not follow today’s thread but since in the past i’ve criticized Newsday`s handicapper i feel that IT IS My duty to mention that
    this past Saturday March 19,Saint Joseph’s Day ,that same person picked two cold exactas in a row and a $ 60 pick On Top on the following race, which netted a $ 550 plus Pick 3 . I give credit for a cold exacta when the First two picks come in first and second since i usually box my top two choices or use that first and second in triples {AB-AB plus others]. When was the last time a ‘mouthpiece’ picked such 29\1 horse on top? Congrats to the guy who keeps on “shooting to the Moon”. You were right ,he picks them long….

    1. Omerta` !! It has been a good run ,the last few days at the Jamaica track ,playing Only the few races that FIT .My main big loss, and a lesson NOT to be Repeated since i Rarely bet NY bred favs on top ,was an Odds/On selection with Mike Luzzi on top in a sprint in which the selection, and its old time jockey, gave up trying just after halfway ,reminding me of an old joint on Montauk Highway ,Half Way Stop. It seemed unreal,out of the ordinary, to see such rider on such a strong favorite in all gimmicks ;DD.Pk 3,Exactas.. Have you ever had jockeys that made you hesitate on betting them on top ? Never bet him on top before ,not even many yrs ago when he would get more and better mounts. With his miniscule winning %,this mount did not help him a bit . I ‘ll call it my” Luzzi Angle “; Do not bet a jockey who lost the winning habit ,not now, not ever .If he wins fine ,congrats, but i would rather bet someone else ,with more confidence ,or just skip the race, as i do about 2/3 of the time.” If the situation does not Fit ,Do not Commit”

  4. Jockey bashing never goes out of style, does it. If the jock stopped riding, as you suggest, there may have been a physical reason. I did not see the race and can’t comment further. Mike Luzzi gets on horses every morning and no rider, however talented, will garner a win percentage if he’s not given opportunities to ride live horses. Again, off point. Perhaps a site strictly devoted to gambling would be a better spot for observations such as this. Just sayin’

    1. In the last 10 yrs his winning clips have not been in double digits ,except this year 3/25 which might be a reflection of the present secondary colony at Aqueduct .His Equibase scale ,similar to a stock chart ,has been declining over the yrs. Hey,i [barely] remember Mickey Mantle striking out against pichers who would have been devoured by his bat years earlier. Papa time……hinting when it is time to quit which can be another reason why he usually gets poor mounts from trainers ,AFTER ALL THESE YRS THAT HE’S BEEN AROUND THE NEW YORK AREA TRACKS ! Do you remember when Carmine Abbatiello ‘Lost’ his hands? It happens to most of us and soon also to Tom Brady,, Time is not on Our side, not when past middle age. Thanks,but i was not trying to make it a gambling complaint but a reminder of when ‘Something does not feel right’ and i deserved the $ punishment.

  5. One of the first things players learn is to bet when they have an edge, not into negative trends, especially at short prices, and it’s good to allow mistakes to hurt and learn from them. But the biggest lesson is, win or lose, remember to turn the page.

  6. It has become a rarity here at HRI to read a comment that actually is about what Thoroughbred racing is all about – GAMBLING! JGR’s (I tend to think of him as ‘never lose JGR’) commentary brings things back to reality – it’s the betting window that is the attraction, not the thoroughbred

    1. In trying to be as comprehensive as time and interest allows, we’re all inclusive…

    2. Come on,i do lose,as a matter of fact,even after so many yrs,i still hesitate when i have to make an ‘automatic’ minimum bet of three digits.Even after hitting the main exacta[s] i still wish that it had been a shorter losing streak before i would have hit it cleanly.It happened again on Sunday ,that is ,hitting a $120 plus triple with just using my main three number,176,boxed and straight,in that order,1-7 then added the 6. Admittedly ,last winter i was on a long losing streak and only bet half of what i was ‘supposed’ to bet.Hit it,getting most of my lost $ recovered. Thing is, i would still bet the same if the occasion ,and streak, would repeat itself again. It does not have much to do with negative/positive bankroll ,even if it has been positive for a while .It just seems to be a way ,habit that [not so unhappily] i would not want to change. “For lack of a better word ,Greed’ is not within me maybe because in the long run, sooner or later , the method will find its profitable way[s] .It reminds of that old horse gambling question; Can you beat the Races or Just One race ? I’m leaning on the former and not on the latter,,,until ‘Situations’ change but i wish that i had concurrent copies of Newsday/Daily News of some 30 yr ago just to peek at some ‘automatic spot betting’ that i would have used/made, without cheating or changing Anything.A friend of mine who i have not seen for decades in NY thanked me for helping him make some money on that old “Special Weights horse with over 16 points between the DRF+Harris +Pricci picks ,which had to total be over 18 points. cannot do that anymore,gosh,cannot even pay attention to what the individualist “Trackman” picks,,,there is NO such anonymous person anymore,neither is Harris,the “Dean” as Pricci once called him. ” Thanks for your time ,until next time” .

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