Thursday, 30 April 2009

My Mint Condition Derby Strategy

Finding the best handicapping strategy for the Derby is easy: skip that freak show and concentrate on the dozen or so other races in which Saturday’s huge crowd, fueled by an increasing state of Julep-oversaturation, won’t fail to overbet the favorites, leaving the serious handicapper opportunity to cash in on some quality plays. Unfortunately, I'm not that serious a handicapper (as my 22-buck, 5-for-5 record today on betfair in-game tennis and snooker matches for a 2,14€-gain clearly proves). Besides, societal pressure demands at least an honest attempt at Derby handicapping from every racing blogger worth his salt, an obligation I’m now willing to fulfill:

In fact, not placing anything but a spice-up bet might be precisely what I'm doing after Baffert decided not to take the risk of Pioneerof The Nile being sensitive to some kickback, instead opting to test his colt’s sensibility for taking the countryside route both turns. My quality bet was supposed to be Desert Party, but with him getting more and more props from the public handicappers and, starting from PP 19, probably being boxed in on the outside rail by the Pioneer, I doubt there will be much quality left in this bet. One general concern about this year’s edition is the skyrocketing number of starters who lack a shot in a field that otherwise offers quite some quality, which figures to destroy any chance of a clean trip for all but the frontrunners, especially if CD shows off its usual speed-favoring self on Saturday.

With virtually every major contender determined to get a close look of the parking lot, this would usually suit up to be a Borel race. I still love reviewing that 2007 Derby, when everyone was so afraid of being boxed in at the rail that they opened up a highway for Borel's Street Sense, but I can't bring myself to embrace Mine That Bird's credentials here, even for 50-1 (why can't Borel be on Friesan Fire or DP, whyyy???).

In that scenario, Papa Clem and Friesan Fire might turn out to be the best bets. I'm not a real fan of either, but breaking from gates 6 and 7 with really nothing to their inside (early speed and otherwise), they might actually find themselves forced to take the shortcut. Until someone steps up big time, this has the makings of one of those years in which the Derby is for weeding out, leaving the Preakness to decide a real crop champion.

Monday, 27 April 2009

The Quality Road To Take

In a demonstration of horsemanship that hopefully will set the tone for this Triple Crown, and serve as an example to others, trainer Jimmy Jerkens has scratched Derby favorite Quality Road from the race after setbacks to the healing process on the colt’s (second) quarter crack.

Jerkens and Quality Road’s owner-breeder Edward P Evans are to be thanked for not risking the horse’s health in a forced attempt at making the Roses. The Sport of Kings needs more Horsemen like them. It must have been an awfully hard decision to make, and is therefor appreciated all the more.

Early reactions indicate the colt’s connections will give him a short rest, but he may be back to hopefully prove his class later during this Triple Crown.

NY Handle Decreases; Reduced Quality and Dependence On VLTs A Solution, Says NYTBDF

According to the DRF, New York’s Thoroughbred Breeding and Development Fund is facing “economic catastrophe”. The fund, tasked with paying incentive bonuses for the State Thoroughbred Breeding and Development Fund Corp., is unable to fulfill its payout obligations as the number of state-restricted races increases while handles, its primary source of income, keep shrinking.

According to NYTBDF executive director Martin Kinsella, the number of state-restricted races will increase from between 500 and 600 annually over the last years to 700-800 this year, a change the fund applauds and which, again according to Kinsella, far outweighs NYTBDF cutbacks.

Given a relatively level overall number of races on NY tracks, 200 more state-restricted races means that about one race less per day will be open to non-statebred (or state-registered) horses, further intensifying the already existing decline in quality of NYRA’s racing product. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t declining quality one of the main reasons for reduced handle? For comparison, look up “Gulfstream Park, Development of annual handle at” in the Cambridge Almanac of Common Sense.

Instead, Kinsella is holding out hope for the arrival of VLTs at Aqueduct, a bright future he actually refers to as a “long-term solution”. The NYTBDF was one of the first state incentive programs subsidizing breeding regions with huge amounts of money (over 60 million dollars annually), initially intended to draw breeders and owners from other states, but now mostly subsidizing the breeding of inferior horses that would not otherwise be profitable. It was effective enough to force every other breeding region around the country to start a fund itself, resulting in a stalemate that is a major cause of American racing's current oversupply.

Kinsella, if nothing else, proves one thing: No matter how many times the world economy breaks down because of this mindset, NY executives still won’t grasp a concept that every illiterate tanner in the middle ages was able to understand: In the long term, your business can’t be healthy if your expenses are higher than your income.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

The Todd Has Got Some Serious Issues

...especially after news of Wait A While’s positive test for procaine were confirmed. And you gotta love the title of that DRF article, someone's got his priorities straight.

As the Green but Game blog has pointed out, the most stirring part is that Wait A While’s disqualification was issued on April 23, almost exactly half a year after the race in question, last year’s Breeders Cup F&M Turf in which WAW finished third. To be fair the violation didn’t screw horseplayers that badly, given that The Todd’s penchant for his drugs cabinet is a factor every good handicapper works into his routine anyway.

But boy will Equidaily and others have a field day with this one. If we bloggers are hurting racing by actually covering incidents even if they happen in the brief timeframe during which there is some mainstream coverage, what secret PETA activists must there be in the Hollywood Park stewards office to wait until now with such a story.

Neil Papiano, paid liar attorney for trainer Todd Pletcher and owner Arindel Farms will advise them to appeal the ruling. Advice, btw, is also the name of one of the The Todd’s starters in the Derby next weekend. No remorse there then, I guess.

Papiano’s main argument is that the sample was driven, not flown, to a lab at UC Davis, opening the door to all kinds of conspiracy theories for our less enlightened brethren. "You don't hand it to somebody in a car. We don't know what happened in the car”, Papiano says. Apparently he thinks that car drivers could easily alter the sample, while it’s physically impossible for anyone to do so in a helicopter. Hollywood stewards dismissed this argument as baseless. I'm not sure how it’s handled in American racing, but in every other sport tests are sealed, which makes it quite obvious if they were subsequently opened or not.

Procaine, a local anesthetic, has been tested in the blood of horses up to three weeks after its injection. Many vets will use alternative treatments for that reason, and the CHRB offers free pre-race testing for the substance. Pletcher, who has several medications violations and one two-month suspension to his record, obviously still doesn't think he should check.

Mamas Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys

Count the DRF’s Jay Privman in the Mullins apologist camp after this schmaltzy "Urban Cowboy" editorial.

Privman, like others before him, paints the picture of Mullins as an outsider from the rural heart of America, trying to make it against the established elites of racing’s glitzy world. He struggled, couldn’t pay his bills, fought on, was knocked down again and was right back on his feet time and time again.

A great American story, you only have to be willing to disregard the fact that there are other struggling horsemen, people who wouldn’t bend their ethics, who refuse to cheat and who might ultimately fall by the wayside because f**king frauds such as Mullins cheat them out of their money. Doesn’t sound that heartwarming any more, does it?

"I don't care, as long as my clients are not bothered by it," Mullins said. "As long as they have faith in me, and they stick by me, that's all I really care about."

HANA Predictions 09-04-25

Shifting this week’s HANA race, today’s sixth at Hawthorne, from Turf Paradise was about the best thing that could happen to me.

Not that I don't like TuP (although it is embarrassing for a track with this name to feature the world’s worst "turf" course, which, judging from the amount of dust, doesn't resemble anything close to grass), but Hawthorne is a track that meets HANA's pro-horseplayer spirit. Livestreams, a nice race preview show and free replays make this the best track for overseas bettors outside of CA, Lexington and Oceanport, NJ.

This marks the first time I have race replays (crucial to my handicapping routine) available for a HANA race, so it's not entirely a sympathy bet. The race is wide open and of very good quality for this level, which promises some real action in the exotics.

Notes on today’s runners:

#1 Lose None – managed to find trouble in almost every start and could well encounter some adversity here; don’t think she’s worth it at 4/1, but has every chance if given a clean trip.

#2 Miss Fontana – first start this season and will need improvement on her speed, but at 10/1 is worth some consideration; 31% ROI stable off layoff.

#3 Tessies Tilbury – fresh horse and looks perfectly primed for this, but seems to have profitted from near-perfect trips in both starts and might be looking at a speed battle here.

#4 B N Graced N Glory – impressive back-to-back wins and a 96 Beyer last time out, but both performances on the slop and hasn’t shown anything similar under different conditions in 9 other starts; I have reservations about that Beyer, too. Finished well beaten coming off her previous two outstanding performances in only attempt at stakes level (Jan17, TP, 6f).

#5 Fashionable Lady – shown promise, but would have to step up in class again; will likely have to go wide this time and may lack speed .

#6 Cart’s Lisa – gamely three times in a row battling a moderate lead from perfect gate position; will find the scenario tougher this time and at 5/1 is a very good throwout.

#7 Bow Tie Pasta – two very good forms in sprints and two lackluster ones in two-bend races; has always run much better in faster races and this one figures to be very fast.

#9 Cumulonimble – improved last time setting the pace but doesn’t have the early speed to overcome her outside post.

#10 Happy Henrietta – starts into her sophomore campaign and returns to a sprint; outside gate shouldn’t be that much of a problem but 9/2 just isn’t a reasonable prize.

#8, #11 – others seem more likely.

Wouldn’t pick a specific one, but with several good throwouts, spreading some in the exacta or trifecta pools is the way to go.

Best Bets:
Small stacks can single out #2 for a quality Win bet if available from 8/1 upwards. The best bet is probably a weighted exacta. I'll wait for defections, race preview and post parade to decide how to weight my wager exactly, but my A-list includes numbers #1, 2 and 7 with 3, 4 and 10 worth consideration.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

April Racing Returns to Epsom

Today’s Blue Riband Trial at Epsom is unlikely to present the future Derby winner (not least because some of the major contenders for Britain’s classic aren’t seriously tested before gracing the Epsom turf in June), but it’s nevertheless nice to see this traditional race and raceday return after a one-year hiatus.

2007 winner Raincoats didn’t look too bad finishing second in the Dante Stakes (England’s most meaningful Derby trial), but couldn’t make an impression when subsequently running in the Prix du Jockey-Club (French Derby). 2006 winner Before You Go finished in the bottom half of the Derby, as did 2003 winner Franklin Gardens. The race has stopped being a true Derby Trial a while ago, a major reason for this being the minimal number of starters. The last five runnings attracted a total of 20 entrants, the most crowded edition being in 2005, with five horses.

In light of this, the field of seven assembled for today’s race is actually good news, especially since there are a few promising ones among them. Most intriguing is Hamdan-Al-Maktoum-owned Mustaqer, who was a good runner up when making his debut in a Listed race last August but looked very green in his two attempts after that, even though he won one of them. He’s a horse that needed maturing and should return much improved for his 3yo campaign. Today’s 10-furlong distance will help, too. He’s 7-2 with the bookies, and definitely worth choosing over Debussy, whose status as a favorite is based on a 9-lenght romp in a Maiden race over Lingfield’s polytrack.

Also carded are two historic feature handicaps, the 15K (pounds, of course) Class 3 Great Metropolitan over the full lenght of Epsom's weird Derby course and the 50K Class 2 City & Suburban over 10 furlongs. To emphasize exactly how historic, suffice it to say that these are the namesakes for Belmont’s Metropolitan and Suburban Handicaps.

Btw, isn’t it interesting that the centuries-old Great Metropolitan doesn’t carry Heritage Handicap status, but the Stakes (a Kempton polytrack handicap first run last October) does?

Saturday, 18 April 2009

No Broken Fixes, Please!

Despite the fact that Dunkirk has virtually secured his spot in the Derby field due to a number of health- and performance-related defections, concepts for a new Kentucky Derby qualification system are still pitched. The Osterman proposal, which the article linked above pimps, is a particularly ripe and representative example of the "Win-and-You're-In, if-the-race-has-the-highest-grade-it's-enough-to-show, though" - systems flying all around us this time of year.

For the uninitiated, the "playoff" system proposed by Today's Racing Digest writer Tim Osterman basically relies on a list of races (see below) in which a set amount of Derby spots is awarded (26 overall, Osterman hopes for repeat qualifiers and a handful of defections).

The 12 races Osterman listed that he feels should be used to determine the 2009 Kentucky Derby field:

1. March 7. Gotham Stakes (Grade III). The winner is in.
2. March 14. Louisiana Derby (Grade II). First and second are in.
3. March 14. San Felipe Stakes (Grade II). First and second are in.
4. March 14. Tampa Bay Derby (Grade III). The winner is in.
5. March 21. Lane’s End Stakes (Grade II). First and second are in.
6. March 28. Florida Derby (Grade I). First three are in.
7. April 4. Wood Memorial (Grade I). First three are in.
8. April 4. Illinois Derby (Grade II). First and second are in.
9. April 4. Santa Anita Derby (Grade I). First three are in.
10. April 11. Blue Grass Stakes (Grade I). First three are in.
11. April 11. Arkansas Derby (Grade II). First and second are in.
12. April 18. Lexington Stakes (Grade II). First and second are in.

Like all such proposals, a closer look reveals that support for them is motivated by the desire to solve a specific perceived flaw of the current system (in this case, I guess, the possibility of Dunkirk missing out) but it isn’t thought through in the least. In their attempt to rectify one flaw (if you see it as a flaw, which I wouldn’t), proponents of this and the many other qualification race systems are oblivious to the mountains of much worse imperfections such a system creates.

A case in point is the subjective choice of qualification races, usually founded on the fundamentally flawed system created by the American Grades Stakes Committee. In the Osterman system, two spots would go to the Lexington Stakes. Last year’s winner of that race was Behindatthebar (who qualified, then skipped the Derby, then bruised a foot before his scheduled start in the Preakness). Not qualified under the Graded Earnings System (GES) was Samba Rooster, who finished third in the Consolation Derby at LS next time out and didn’t do anything worth noticing afterwards. The year before, Slew’s Tizzy won, qualified, skipped, won the Lone Star Consolation, finished last in the Belmont and went on to a less-than-stellar career. Starbase was the runner-up left out of the Derby. And rightfully so, considering he subsequently failed to hit the board in the Ohio Derby and Arlington Classic. None of these Osterman qualifiers (the only ones in the polytrack era) started in the Derby, so what credentials does this race have to offer two spots, other than its formal status as a Grade II? In 2006, the last time this race was run on the dirt, Showing Up won. He got into the Derby under the GES, finishing 6th. The one who didn’t, but would have under the Osterman system, was Like Now, who went on to prove he didn’t deserve a spot by finishing 7th of 9 in the Preakness before finishing last in his next four starts. Under the current system, this now 180K-to-the-victor race is a de-facto “Win-and-You’re-In”, under the Osterman system it would more often than not waste a spot on a horse that doesn’t belong anywhere near the Derby.

No spots are given to the UAE preps everybody loves to hate, despite the fact that the 9-furlongs-of-conventional-dirt UAE Derby, regularly featuring some of the finest of last year’s South American 3yo crop, will consistently produce more likely Derby candidates than the somewhat anachronistic polytrack trial discussed above. In nine runnings until 2008, the race produced five Derby-eligible winners. One, Blues And Royals in 2005, never started again, leaving Discreet Cat in 2006, Essence of Dubai in 2002 (9th in the Derby, winner of the SuperDerby among other solid but not overwhelming results), Express Tour in 2001 (8th, Jerome winner and 3rd in the Woodward) and first-ever edition winner China Visit (6th, world-class miler). Not the worst race to slap a “Win-and-You’re-In”-tag on if you ask me.

While choice of races is questionable, the real damage is done elsewhere. Most troubling about the proposal is that it shifts the likelihood for a promising contender being skipped, but actually multiplies it. Dunkirk apologists never fail to point to the fact that the horse’s career started late due to health issues. Isn’t it worthy of support, they ask, that the trainer didn’t rush the horse?

In the Osterman system, a much worse case can happen. Given that all qualification races are between early March and mid-April, what happens if a horse has a stellar juvenile career, goes on to impressively win the Southwest and the Rebel, or the San Rafael and the Sham, or the Holy Bull and the Fountain of Youth, but suffers a minor injury or infection at the beginning of March, sidelining him for a few weeks? Or if such a horse starts in the middle of that timeframe (which includes the Florida Derby) and, hampered by a horrible trip or fundamental infraction, finishes fourth in a major prep? Wouldn’t such a horse be more worthy of a spot in the Derby than, say, the runner-up of the Illinois Derby; an illustrious group that over the last five years included the unforgettables Golden Spike, Reporting For Duty (who eventually became a Derby winner, at Zia Park), Mister Triester, Monarch Lane and, last but unfortunately not least, Song of the Sword (the only one of this bunch to actually qualify for the Derby under the GES, finishing 11th; then 9th of 10 in the Preakness).

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Perspective - It’s not the Absence of Thinking

I didn’t plan on pointing this out, but a number of recent articles calling for events (i.e. the Mullins incident) to be "put in perspective" (the one by Equidaily, to which I responded here, being the culprit) make it painfully obvious a clarification is needed.

The notion of "putting something in perspective" is routinely abused in our society as an indirect shut-up argument. It's a rhetorical device political campaigns have come to love because it allows them to defend an utter lie and even take the high road by painting their opposition as hatemongers for calling the lie a lie.

The fact remains that "putting things into perspective" doesn't imply that any point-of-view is equally valid. What it does mean is that commentators should evaluate any argument before drawing conclusions. In the case of the Mullins incident this means that commentators should seriously consider Mullins' response that he wasn't aware of detention barn rules, and that as a human he can make mistakes. I have. Among the other points I considered were that his career spans well over 20 years; that he has regularly fielded stakes contenders in and outside of California for a large portion of that time; that he has a long list of prior offenses, that a lot of them are excusable, but some aren't; the extent to which professional trainers can be required to know the rules; the extent to which it's believable they don't; and how believable a veteran trainer is in claiming he wasn't aware that different states have different rules on raceday medication (although in this case it turned out the rules were pretty much in place in his home state, too). I observed how a lot was made of the substance being "all-natural" (which is true of opium and cocaine, too) and "above-the-counter" (as are numerous steroids), all digressing from the actual issue at hand: that the use of the substance administered was illegal.

If the facts make it clear that Mullins' defense has the merit of a marathon runner claiming he didn’t know that taking a scooter was illegal, then it is "in perspective" to call it preposterous. Treating an obvious lie as a valid argument isn’t.

Response to Equidaily (All of Them)

News of Equidaily’s critique of several of my posts, an article on my own blog as well as a comment on another blogger's post, arrived me right when I was readying myself to go to bed, so please excuse me if this response seems a bit rushed. That's because it actually is.

First, if you choose to directly attack one of my posts on your website, I would consider it a question of basic decency to notify me. It doesn't really bode well for your argument that I have to find out about it from a post about a post discussing your post.

The source for my claim that AirPower is illegal in California is this Ray Paulick article, which makes it clear that absolutely anything except for water is illegal on raceday in Mullins’ home state. That’s clear enough, I guess. You’re right that it hasn't been “proven for certain” that Mullins didn't administer the substance in plain sight, but doubts have been serious enough as to be cited by NYRA in explaining why the investigation was still open.
I do admit fault for interpreting “won’t test” as “non-detectable”. You have the facts on your side, and my response that the context of this statement clearly implies the substance gives the horse an edge over his or her competiton without outright violating regulations shouldn't take away from the fact that, writing this sentence for an ad-hoc response on another blogger’s site, I was guilty of sloppy research. Sorry for that.

In case you really didn't understand (I mention it because you spend several paragraphs on the argument): I make a point of AirPower being “performance-enhancing” because it undermines the premise of Mullins’ defense. If his horse is the only one in the field gaining advantage from a performance-enhancing drug administered at a time when trainers are forbidden to do so there clearly is no merit in arguing that the incident was “harmless”.

For a more general thought about the premise of your article, and those of others, see the next post.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

HANA Pool Predictions

Tonight’s HANA pool (the Exacta in race 3 at Mountaineer) perfectly accommodates all of my betting weaknesses. It’s a bottom-feeder claimer at a bottom-feeder racetrack, I'm unfamiliar with most of the horsemen and all of the horses (plus I suck at those pinball PP’s). It’s a dirt dash, while what little expertise I have is mostly on two and three-turn races, preferably on the turf. Worst of all, in the interest of the greater good I’ll have to rest my longstanding policy of boycotting MTR tracks. I’m perfectly willing to do so though, HANA simply is an admirable effort that not only every serious horseplayer but everyone with a passion for racing should want to be a successful one. In the spirit of these thoughts, let me share my very uneducated guess on tonight’s exacta.

The favorite, #3 Enter The Lion, may have a reasonable chance to win but at his ML of 5/2 just isn't worth it even in an exacta. He steadily dropped in class from Alw25k since last August. Returning to a sprint after three sub-par mile performances looks like a very good decision, but the horse's last efforts are meager and have gone downhill as steep as the class he’s trying. It might be a questionable approach to these kinds of races, but I like to see a hint of form somewhere. My first choice for the winner would be #7 Kris’s Honor, a highly consistent sprinter who appears to be in great shape. The horse has shown promise in his first two attempts at this level and should at least hit the exacta this time. My second choice would be #8 Hey Reemer, who looks to be in the right spot here and should take kindly to switching back from Turfway's polytrack to Mountaineer's dirt, where his better forms come from. As an ExactaBox, those two look worth the cost.

Friday, 10 April 2009

Too Little, Too Lacking

Yesterday, on what the NTRA’s president and CEO Alex Waldrop dubbed "An Important Day for Racing" , Churchill Downs became the first racetrack accredited to the Safety and Integrity Alliance standard.

We're confident that our public, regulators, horsemen and others will embrace those who take the extra steps that are needed to ensure the highest level of safety and integrity of horse racing. Over time, those tracks and horsemen who unite in support of the Alliance and its Code of Standards will lead this industry in the right direction and in doing so, will secure horseracing's future for generations to come. (Alex Waldrop)

Waldrop remains vague on the merits of being an accredited track, also unclear is why he believes that SIA tracks will automatically lead the industry. Are bettors gonna stop betting other tracks? Is there any reason for horsemen to avoid non-accredited tracks?

What always strikes me about press releases concerning the SIA is that the contents of its centerpiece, the "Code of Standards" aren’t mentioned, in fact you have to search a little to find it on the NTRA website (it's the second result from the top). The reason becomes obvious for those who actually read it. Practically all of the standards are either already regulated by law in almost all states or, like post-mortem vet examinations of horses that broke down during a race, incredibly basic. In the critical "Medications and Testing" part, the NTRA, in the absence of any authority granted, has to resort to a meager declaration of intent, whereby racetracks "shall advocate" the emergence of uniform regulations. In a similar manner, racetracks "shall affiliate with and provide funding for recognized placement/adoption program(s) that meet AAEP criteria". The worst that can happen to any racetrack violating those rules: having their accreditation revoked (and of course it remains to be seen how tracks trailing on the "shall" standards will be treated). How can there even be tracks left unwilling to sign this?

What’s missing is any increased punishment for cheating trainers and owners, any increased oversight for horses on any other than raceday or any progress towards the emergence of a central oversight authority.

One probably doesn’t need to look any further than the two incidents shocking the racing world this week. Neither would SIA standards have prevented the Paragallo scandal, nor would they change the outcome of the Mullins incident.

When we set out on this journey following last year's Triple Crown, we based our actions on a sense of commitment to our customers and industry stakeholders.

Wanna guess which of the two groups had more influence on the outcome of the SIA rules? The newest code of standards for American racing remains laughable when compared to what has been standard in other racing jurisdictions for years. It could be called a very first step, but it may just as well be nothing more than a pacifier.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

HANA Pick 3 Predictions

Don’t forget to bet the HANA Pick 3 today. And thanks to everyone involved for all the free handicapping tools provided.

My predictions can be found below. Keep in mind that I’m new to betting Tampa, which somewhat screws up my usual handicapping method, especially regarding the horsemen angles.

Race 6:
On recent form, it’s hard not to like #2 Silver Truth, even though starting for the 8th time since December (and getting claimed twice in the process) she may bounce at some point. As a safety net #4 Number Uno Lady may be a good choice. She switches to a stable with solid zeros in the wins columns, but three runner-up performances in as many starts. Doesn’t look like they send out horses without a chance and Centeno aboard again shows some confidence too. #7 Celebration Dance’s last two are promising, but the horse has bounced three times before on third after layoff.
The horse that befuddles me is #6 My Gemsa Gem, who is moving up in class from four races in which her closest was 13 lenghts behind the winner, finishing 7th. The problem is that her trainer seems to have a bit of success with horses moving up and I don’t see any reason why he should have moved her if he doesn’t feel confident.

Race 7:
Not overly confident in anyone, but #2, 3 and 11(AE) should be the creme of the field. Doubts mainly because I have no idea why Homeister sits on the second O’Connell entry, #10, instead of the more appealing #3. #10 has her second start after a long layoff, but has struggled against much weaker as a 3yo.

Race 8:
#4 Williamsburg doesn’t look like it on paper, but in Tampa you just can't ignore the ridiculously high percentages of Ness and Ziadie. If playing a bigger ticket, you should consider adding him as a safety measure. #1, 3 and 6 figure to be the class of the field, with #1 African Angel probably the least questionable choice (I wouldn’t take him for 5/2, but in a Pick 3 he might be worth it). Like #3 See I A, this might be a case of forcing a win during a bad streak, both horses move down in class despite not running catastrophic lately, and #3 might get the trip he's been waiting for.

Small Bet: 2 with 2,3,(11) with 1,3
Broadband: 2,4,6 with 2,3,10,(11) with 1,3,4,6

Monday, 6 April 2009

Mullins in the Detention barn (sounds good, but isn’t)

Jeff Mullins, trainer of hot Derby prospect I Want Revenge, was caught inside the Aqueduct detention barn with a syringe on Saturday, the Thoroughbred Times reports. Mullins was forced by the stewards to scratch Gato Go Win from the Bay Shore Stakes after he tried to administer an above-the-counter drug to the horse. All other Mullins starters, including impressive Wood Memorial winner I Want Revenge, were allowed to proceed. The infraction, technically only a violation of detention barn rules, will also be subject to a stewards review during this week.

Tough, isn't it? Think about what the Hong Kong Jockey Club or JRA would do to a repeat offender caught with a syringe in a detention barn. Or, for that matter, to a trainer who blamed bettors for “crying about losing a $2 bet“ after being caught cheating. Any racing jurisdiction worth its salt would ban this trainer for at least a year from running any horses at their tracks, and formally warn off connections of all horses registered to his barn. In the US, the whole affair will barely reach slap-on-the-wrist proportions. In my opinion, it doesn't even matter if the substance was legal, what part of detention barn will Mullins pledge he is too stupid to understand?

How could any of this smell fishy to fans watching TV on Kentucky Derby Day: Here’s a trainer who within the last month was caught red-handed fiddling around with a syringe in a detention barn, trying to administer a performance-enhancing substance to his horse. This trainer saddles one of the Derby favorites, a horse owned by a shadowy “hedge-fund” operation run by a (former?) scam artist and white collar crook who once owned another horse which was the focus of a successful FBI investigation into organized crime at the races. How many fans of the sport will want revenge? How many casual viewers will just shake their heads in disbelief and sign the next PETA campaign against racing? How many true fans could really blame them?

Looks like contributor o_crunk was right commenting on the Railbird blog: IWR for Real Change!

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Not On Its Way to the Grave

This morning, a short note on the Handride blog got me thinking. It was a link to a Top 10 list ranking horse racing as #5 of things that will follow daily newspapers on their way to the grave. It also was one more in a long line of predictions of racing’s impending doom, a notion that even many of the sport's fans seem to have accepted as truth. But the newspaper analogy is, in my opinion, a perfect example for the difference between a doomed industry and a mismanaged but potentially viable one.

Despite the grim superficial picture racing may leave (and the frequently dire touch of my own posts), I don't believe for a minute that American horse racing is on it's way to the grave.

The illness of the newspaper industry is, sadly, incurable. The costs of producing a daily local newspaper are higher than the income generated by those willing to buy the whole product for the few features that are better than the alternate, free, online feed. Simply put, few people are willing to pay a few hundred bucks a year to have a paper on their door every morning when almost all of the content is available for free on the net. Newspapers have few opportunities to save on costs without alienating their customers.

The problems of American thoroughbred racing on the other hand are caused by mismanagement and oversupply. A lot could be done to attract new fans to the sport, but even under the current circumstances racing is hardly doomed. Unlike local newspapers, American racing is, for all practical purposes, free to decline in volume without equal negative effects on its quality, up to a certain point quality will in fact increase.

As a thought experiment, racing could easily exist with only one track running per day, which is precisely the system that works fine for Chilean and Argentinian racing. In those countries the takeout rate is even higher, meaning that racing’s health is even more dependent on its attraction as a sport/event, and the lure of handicapping as a strategy game. If nations with 17 and 40 million inhabitants can maintain a viable racing industry, there shouldn't be any problem in the U.S.

Friday, 3 April 2009

Dark Clouds Gather over Pimlico

The bankruptcy of owner Magna may put it's historic Baltimore property, Pimlico Racecourse, in serious danger, the Baltimore Sun reports. Home of the Preakness (the least prestigious, but arguably the most meaningful jewel of the Triple Crown), Pimlico's and the race's future have been the subject of much debate over the last couple of weeks, but a solution has yet to be found.

In the interest of racing, let's hope that the unique sight of Pimlico's crowded infield will not become a thing of the past. The Triple Crown isn't the Triple Crown without the Preakness, and the Preakness isn't the Preakness if it's not run in the slightly rowdy but likeable, always electrifying atmosphere of it's Baltimore home.

Keenely Awaited

And they’re off for the Keeneland Spring meet, otherwise known as the finest two-and-a-half weeks in American racing. For the most part, this is racing as it’s supposed to be: a beautiful track, lots of available information, races that are actually interesting from a sporting perspective plus free Video & Audio (well, video really, for whatever reason I can’t get the audio to work on the live stream).

By now, horsemen should have come to grips with Keeneland’s polytrack, and the initial heated two-camp shouting duel has calmed down to a more reasonable discussion about the surface's pros and cons. The results are more predictable too, thanks in part to alterations done on the track after the first meeting earned a lot of scorn for it’s unhandicappability (a word this blogocommentalist is pretty sure exists). Some of those results were, in my opinion, more due to the horsemen's strong perception of an anti-speed bias than to the existing bias itself. I remember first quarters of 25 flat in 7-furlong allowance races during Keeneland’s very first polytrack meet. After such races, commentators would point to another entirely unpredictable result on this weird surface, but have you ever seen a high-class 7-furlong race with such a slow first quarter (on any surface) that didn’t end in a weird dash to the line?

Salt in the Soup

Could somebody explain to me why there is a purse of 50k for a 4 1/2-furlong race for unraced 2yo’s in today's 2nd race? They shave off the purses of several of their major races because they have to save money, but they can still blow away 50k (several times) on pure gimmick races? Setting aside the question if 2yo’s should start in April in the first place, would that race have attracted a lesser field if run for half the amount? And if so, would anybody have noticed?
I guess they just want to lead buyers at their current 2YO sale to believe that Thoroughbred owners will pretty much get paid for anything.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Presidential Delusions and A Call for Congress

Over his last couple of articles, NTRA president and CEO Alex Waldrop has looked like a person slipping into delusion.

It started out a with a Joe Drape article in the NY Times, itself a follow-up to an article a few days earlier by another Times writer (which was, if anything, too modest in it’s well-founded criticism), both shining light on American racing’s still-rampant drug problem. Waldrop’s response was, frankly, maniacal. Responding with a five-point memo, he tried to disprove the criticism as baseless, but the only thing obviously baseless was his own line of reasoning. In his blog response, Alex didn’t offer the usual comments-section, instead trying to incite his readers to attack a Times reporter with hatemail.

This kind of counterproductive response triggered criticism of Waldrop by turf writers, fans and horsemen. Even now, facing attacks from people he couldn’t possibly accuse of trying to destroy his effort, Waldrop missed the exit sign. Instead he did what he has done as NTRA president: staying the course and admitting no fault, finally repeating and even adding to his points in a Bloodhorse article. The title? "Unprecedented progress". The real question now becomes: Who is Alex trying to fool?
His five-argument defense would likely be hopeless, not to mention morally repugnant, if published in a mainstream press release. In an industry media outlet it is nothing short of ridiculous. What racing fan is gonna believe Waldrop’s conclusion that the sport has basically solved it’s drug problem, or that 55 racetracks signing a non-binding declaration of intent constitutes a major step forward for Thoroughbred safety? After all it’s been barely weeks since the racing secretary of one of the nation’s major racetrack operators publicly announced that an unprecedented (but not in any way trend-reversing) record of breakdowns was just an unfortunate side effect of the business.

If there was any proof needed that racing’s current institutions won’t solve the problems outlined almost a year ago by a congressional comittee, the NTRA’s president has accomplished it.

Looking into the Futures

With the third and final Derby Futures pool opening tomorrow, the field is starting to shape up.

Most interestingly, Dunkirk is listed with a morning line of 8-1 (Quality Road is the favorite at 6-1) even though it’s questionable that he’ll even start. So far I haven’t heard anything about his connections resorting to desperate measures (by which I mean the Lexington or Derby Trial) and he is likely to sink too low on the Graded earnings list over the next two weekends. Not to mention that the running style he’s shown so far is ill-suited for the Derby.

Another odd choice is Theregoesjojo at 20-1, for a horse that is currently about 20k behind even being on the bubble, not to mention being beaten decisively by direct contenders in his last two starts. Am I missing something here?

The value bet may be 30-1 Desert Party, who has a lot of excuses for his runner-up performance in the UAE Derby. Like Dunkirk, he may have gotten a lot out of this defeat. Unlike Dunkirk, it didn't risk his Derby spot.

is listed in the morning line as 50-1, but considering how many tipsters have professed confidence in his chances those odds will probably be much lower. In my opinion, if his connections decide to start (which they likely will), they’ll do so for no other reason than his starting purse. The Kempton field he topped was good enough for what that race was, a Listed event, but as for the quality of his opposition, let me just share that my main motivation for betting him in that race was his promising fifth place in last year’s Timeform Million, a race that produced quality all the way to at least 8th place. I’m also not sold on his dirt credentials, it’s probably not very encouraging that his connections chose to run his final prep over the Polytrack. Maybe for some people it’s just wishful thinking, seeing as Mafaaz is already being built up as a posterchild for drug-free racing.