Sunday, 26 July 2009

World's Weirdest Racetracks: The Original One, or two

In the beginning, the Lords spoketh: "let there be three". But so it didn’t quite come to pass.

According to a 1740 parliament directive, British thoroughbred racing was to be limited to the three most important racecourses of the time:

The first one, located on the Knavesmire moor in York, continues to stage top-class race meetings in May and August, with a number of quality racedays held throughout the season.

The second one, Hambleton, is used as a minor training center to this day. Its location right on top of Sutton Bank in North Yorkshire ultimately proved too impractical for a racecourse, but at least today's workout riders can enjoy one of the best panoramas of any training center in the world.

The third one is known as the seat of The Jockey Club and remains one of the most prestigious on Earth - Newmarket Racecourse.

Fortunately the Lords didn’t explain the “only three”-part quite as extensively as Monty Python later would, and therefor it was never really heeded - or enforced, for that matter.

Newmarket’s claim to the title of oldest racecourse in the world is controversial, but its pivotal role in the development of modern thoroughbred racing isn’t. Starting in the 17th century, the town became home to Britain's most important racing and training center, its very name a synonym for excellence on the turf.

Much less appreciated, but no less stunning, are Newmarket’s contributions in the field of racetrack weirdness, where it remains #1:

(Image from the great site)

What’s commonly known as Newmarket Racecourse is actually two courses, consisting of nothing more than three long straights, one of which they share.

The best-known of the three is Rowley Mile, which – as you would assume from the World’s Weirdest Racetrack – isn’t actually a mile. It’s ten furlongs long, narrowly edging out Maisons-Laffitte’s 2000-meter straight for the title (Maisons-Laffitte, btw, deserves a honorable mention as WWR #11, mainly on the merits of having three winning posts at different points of a strangely-shaped course). The Rowley Mile’s most famous feature is The Dip, created by a downhill penultimate furlong and a rather steep climb for the final one.

Races over distances of more than 10f start on the Cambridgeshire Course, another straight of a full mile which owes its name to the fact that it starts and ends in the namesake county - the turn into the Rowley Mile occurs exactly on the border of Cambridgeshire and Suffolk. From June to August, no racing is conducted in Suffolk, but there is still racing at Newmarket Racecourse. Horses and jockeys just make a sharper turn a little before the end of the Cambridgeshire Course and enter straight number three – the July Course.

Another straight of a mile, the July Course has its own stands and paddock area, which are located to the South of the track, facing the Rowley Mile’s. So even though both straights are run from West to East, the Rowley Mile runs clockwise while the July Course is run counter-clockwise. This layout also makes the July Course the only track in the world where half the course is actually outside the grandstand’s field of view.

Not that patrons are missing anything they could see from the Rowley Mile’s grandstand. After all, even very good binoculars don’t help much when watching a 20-strong field head-on with nine furlongs to go. And you can’t see anything before they enter the stretch either, because most of the Cambridgeshire Course is hidden behind the estate of the National Stud.

"There is no race course in the whole of the world like Newmarket. It is a severe course from the easiest five-eighths to the severest two miles. There is no horse who does not stay who will win any race there. That is what stamps the mark on any horse that wins at Newmarket. It stands to reason that Newmarket makes a heavy call upon all the art that a jockey possesses - the nursing of a two-year-old, the judgment of pace, the different gradients, the knowledge of the mount under you, whether to take the lead an eighth from home or wait to got your advantage till you are on the post"

The quote above is out of a May 3, 1919 article in the DRF, as stated by “Brownie” Carslake, an Australian jockey who after establishing himself in his native country became one of the best jockeys to ride in Britain. Carslake’s bigger point was that Australian (and North American) tracks are build with the interest of the spectators in mind, while English racecourses were designed to bring out the best in horses and horsemen. He was arguably right on both counts.

Newmarket Racecourse is at the same time the best and the worst in the world. The best track for champion racehorses and jockeys to compete against each other, and the worst track for spectators to witness them doing so. It's, in short, the World's Weirdest Racetrack.

("I think the 3 horse is a head in front with a mile to go"; Panoramio images by Footix [above] and Jonathan W [top])

World's Weirdest Racetracks: #2

Combining the spirit, and spirits, of an apres-ski party with the slightly (okay, decidedly) elitist posh of old-style spa racing, Switzerland’s most important racecourse is neither turf nor dirt; and it’s not an artificial surface either. Races at St. Moritz Racecourse are run on snow, which itself is covering the frozen surface of a lake.

So there may not be much potential for a St. Moritz Racecourse "Midsummer racing at the Spa" meeting, but the track’s three racedays in February, labeled the "White Turf", are singular in the world of racing. As is the concept of conducting thoroughbred races on a frozen lake.

Due to its location at 1822 meters (5.978 ft.) above sea level, in the middle of the Swiss Alps, the surface can usually be counted on to support runners and racegoers - the grandstand is on the lake, too. Nevertheless, racedays have occasionally been shortened and parts of the grandstand have remained closed off if the ice was getting a little thin.

Conducting upper-class events on the frozen lake fits in with several of the towns other sporting highlights such as the Polo World Cup on Snow, which uses the same grandstand, and the Cricket On Ice tournament.

St. Moritz's feature event, the 121.121 Swiss Francs (about 105k$) Grosser Preis von St. Moritz, regularly attracts a number of quality horses from other European countries. Racing at this traditional Alpine winter resort offers by far the highest purses in Switzerland, and the Grand-Prix is also the country's most valuable race, beating the only other noteworthy race (the Swiss Derby at Frauenfeld) by 21.121 Francs.

Besides Thoroughbred racing, other disciplines contested are harness trotting (with skates instead of wheels) and Skijoering, a horse-drawn ski racing discipline of Scandinavian origin. St. Moritz's White Turf races are one of the most important societal events in Switzerland.

(Skijoering is a sport for people who wanted to be harness drivers but couldn't afford the sulky and can't get their horses to remain trotting; images by Heinz Schmid)

Saturday, 25 July 2009

World's Weirdest Racetracks: #3

There is a certain kind of humor in the fact that Equidaily, whom I owe a big "thank you" for being a major factor behind the spike in readership this WWR Top 10 got, yesterday replaced the link to this series with links to a video and photos of the Duhner Wattrennen, a mixed card of harness and thoroughbred racing held at low tide on the Wadden Sea, the tidal flats of the German North Sea coast. Even more props for linking to this outstanding photo of a mudflats harness race in the rain.

The funny thing is, I almost posted today’s WWR bronze medal winner yesterday, as #4, and the only reason I ever considered ranking it outside the Top 3 was the very existence of said Duhner Wattrennen at Cuxhaven. That annual event, which includes a few extremely low-level thoroughbred races, is after all the only reason to consider #3 not entirely unique. The fact that the Duhner thoroughbred races aren’t supervised by the German Racing Board and don’t count into conditions and allowances for professional racing makes them a borderline case, and was the deciding factor for making today’s entry the #3, mentioning the Cuxhaven event only on the side.

There is only one place in Europe where official races “under the rules of racing” are held on a beach: Laytown, Ireland (and strictly speaking, the Wadden Sea is a part of the sea, not the beach). On the shore of the Irish Sea, the famous Laytown Strand Races have been held annually since 1876.

Only six races are held per raceday, one less than usual in Ireland. Post times vary based on track availability, which means low-tide. A seventh race would actually turn into an aquatic event (then again, why not – after all some European steeplechases include swimming through a small lake as part of the course). Even so, the sea will often leak into the course, and track conditions can be counted on to be "sloppy" or "muddy" for most of the track, most of the time. One interesting debate amongst bettors is the draw bias at Laytown, which statistically favors inside posts. Others have denied that logic, pointing out that the rails and markers are dismantled after the last race, and thus one year's seaside rail can be where last year's standside was.

Until 1994, some races would lead from the Winning Post to the 7-furlong mark and back, but complications that year have forced the racing club to cancel those. Only races of up to 7f have been run since.

The quality of horses is understandably limited, but unlike Cuxhaven, it's professional racing, with tote betting, bookmakers and everything that makes racedays in Ireland great. Every year, hundreds of overseas visitors will make their way to what incidentally is Ireland’s only dirt track for their early September fixture.

As mentioned, Laytown Racecourse is a non-permanent facility for the most part. Rails, posts and the concessions and amenities facilities necessary to accomodate Laytown’s about 10.000 patrons are dismantled every year. Most of the grandstand remains on-site though, given that it consists of little more than some steps carved into the dunes of County Meath.

A short flyover clip over the Laytown straight course can be seen here.

Things to listen out for if betting the races at Laytown or Cuxhaven:

(Flickr image at the top is by PaulWa, out of an album about the 2008 Laytown Races)

Friday, 24 July 2009

World's Weirdest Racetracks: #4

Of the features that set the freak show that is British racecourses apart from the rest of the world in the "national team" category, this beauty’s got it all: straights, loops, undulations, multiple directions to run in; and the quality races to show off what it's got. But expectations are high at the very top of the WWR Top 10, and while all the effort put in is certainly admirable, Goodwood Racecourse lacks that special touch of extra eccentricity that would push it into the medal ranks.

There is nothing wrong with the quality of racing, which is good on any given raceday, and top-notch during the five days of Glorious Goodwood (starting next Tuesday). The course consists of a six-furlong straight and easily the most unique loop of any track in the world, with chutes, alternative routes and shortcuts all over the place. The 2-mile Goodwood Cup gets an extra point for being run without a starting gate, and starting mid-turn.

Goodwood’s racing history dates back to the year 1800, when the 5th Duke of Richmond allowed members of the Sussex militia to conduct Gentlemen’s races on his premises at Goodwood House (which is actually more than a mile away, but Dukes have a different understanding of the word "backyard"). From 1801 on the public was allowed to attend these races and the track quickly established itself among Southern England’s finest, despite a certain tendency to be covered in fog from the nearby coast on racedays. Ownership of both the estate and racecourse has remained with the Dukes to this day. Over the last decades, it has become one of the more innovative of British racecourses, building a modern grandstand and being one of the first to twin with another club: Oak Tree (the reason for the Goodwood Stakes at OSA and the G3 Oak Tree Stakes during Glorious Goodwood).
WWR Fun For Nuts:
The weirdness of Goodwood Racecourse is in the course layout and details. Comparing the 2 graphics above (which I callously stole from and, respectively), try to figure out the route horses have to take for every distance!

WWR Quiz:
Find out which of the two images is wrong, and why!
(If that's not enough for you, the layout in the Hamilton Park chapter also includes two mistakes, both hinted at in the text).

(Image on top is a Picasa image by John)

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

World's Weirdest Racetracks: #5

Named after the first regular horse racing venue in Paris, this is the only racecourse on Mauritius, a remote island in the Indian Ocean. Almost by default, this makes it the most important track within a radius of more than 1000 miles.

It would also be the most remote racecourse in the world if it wasn’t for the couple of (amateur) racedays held on Madagascar. With 787 square miles of area (less than a quarter the size of Rhode Island) and topped by a steep peak, plain land is scarce on the island, which required the Mauritius Turf Club to build this one-of-a-kind racecourse. One of the smallest turf racetracks in the world, Champ de Mars is only 1200 meters in circumference and so squeezed in between residential zones that there only was room for an extremely thin grandstand.

Racing is usually conducted every Saturday afternoon from April to December, and is the most popular sport in the nation. Because attendance numbers are far in excess of the grandstand’s capacity, the track's infield looks like Pimlico’s during the Preakness even for the most pedestrian of cards. On major racedays virtually every inch of the infield is packed with either parking cars or fanatical fans, some of whom can't possibly be able to watch the race from their position. All of this combines to add one of the most impressive atmospheres in world racing to an already weird racetrack.

Mauritius doesn’t have a breeding industry of its own, most of the horses are SAF-breds. In fact, most or all of the 13 trainers currently listed on the MTC’s website are imports too.

Extra points are awarded for a passionate racecaller who delivers with a trademark Mauritian Creole dialect and an equally passionate audience, all of it combining to make racing on Mauritius a unique experience and sort of a traditional start into Saturday’s racing for European bettors, who are treated with the Mauritius simulcast before British racing starts.

Watch the 2006 edition of the Indian Ocean's most prestigious race, the Maiden Cup (which is not a Mdn race)

World's Weirdest Racetracks: #6

While the vast majority of the WWR Top 10 was selected for the physical features of the track itself, today’s candidate qualifies on accumulated weirdness, on the premises and in the area surrounding it.

Happy Valley Racecourse was opened in 1864 on what was the only plain on Hong Kong Island (Sha Tin, opened in 1978, is located in the New Territories on the Asian mainland). Racedays are held on most Wednesday nights during the season, a concept HK introduced several decades before CDI had that “stroke of genius”. Another aspect worth copying is HK racing's integrity system, based on tough stewards, full disclosure of pretty much all aspects of a horse's record and a no-tolerance doping policy.

As to our topic, Hong Kong is a really weird country, or self-governing Special Administrative Zone, to be precise. It has a unitary administration (meaning there are no local or regional councils), and most of the settlements are primarily consisting of skyscrapers. With 16.380 inhabitants per square mile, it’s statistically the fourth-most densely populated jurisdiction in the world (UK: 640; US: 80), yet only 17% of the country are settlements, and there are vast uninhabited mountain ranges, dozens of islands and a couple of remote villages you would rather expect to find in Vietnam or Malaysia. As a unitary authority, it’s formally a city-state, but in practice it consists of a number of separate cities (HK City, Kowloon, Sha Tin etc.).

HK racing and gambling are unitary, too, with the HKJC managing both tracks, all OTBs, licensing and even buying the mostly Down Under-bred horses which are then re-sold to HK owners. It also has a de jure gambling monopoly (which includes betting on football), although there are several illegal and semi-legal alternatives, and the casinos of Macao are within easy reach for HK residents. Officially a non-profit company, HKJC is the country’s biggest tax-payer and second-most important sponsor of public projects (behind the state itself).

Happy Valley has an average attendance of more than 17.000 and a capacity of about 55.000 in one of the world’s most impressive grandstands, yet not a single stakes race is run there. Since the opening of Sha Tin, all pattern races are run at the larger track, where Hong Kong’s stables and training centers also are situated (click here for a look behind the scenes of the HKJC, including one of the most unique stable areas in the world).

As the only plain area in HK City, Happy Valley’s infield is packed with playing fields and small stadiums, the most important being HKFC Stadium with a capacity of 2.500. From 1976 to 1981 HKFC Stadium was home of the Hong Kong Sevens (Rugby Union) Tournament, which grew into the world’s most important Sevens Cup.

Hong Kong shows how racing CAN be a healthy industry and interesting sport in our time. It’s a weird track, but one to learn from.

(Hollywood Park is in the process of making way for low-rises in a poor neighborhood; Happy Valley is in no danger while being located in this one.)

(Wikimedia Commons image by Minghong; image at the top is a Picasa image by Kurt)

Monday, 20 July 2009

World's Weirdest Racetracks: #7

Even though it's far too well known as one of the world’s weirdest racedays to retain much of the spirit that originally characterized the event; the setting and iconic status of the place should ensure that it remains a unique one for decades to come, even if in a totally different way.

This annual event, first held in 1882, doesn't bear much resemblance to its early days anymore, or even to what it was two decades ago, when it was still largely an authentic Outback festival. The famous Birdsville Races have pretty much become “Royal Ascot meets Spring Break meets Burning Man” by now. Not many of the 5.000 visitors who make their way to this 120-inhabitant village, otherwise best known as the first re-entry into something remotely resembling civilization for travelers crossing the Simpson Desert, are from nearby towns (or whatever nearby means in an area where postmen deliver by plane and the average farm is bigger than some European countries).

The racetrack itself has basically remained the same tough, an oval route through the desert (talk about an original Dirt Track!), ending at a winning post that seems randomly-placed, somewhere in the overwhelming vastness of the Outback's Great Big Nothing.

Not so well known is the fact that Birdsville is merely the first of three stages for the Simpson Desert Racing Carnival. For an experience that more closely resembles the original Birdsville, the other two stages - Bedourie (where the focus is just as much on rodeo and camel racing) and the “family-oriented” Betoota, - are certainly better alternatives. As are other Outback racedays like the ones at Cloncurry, McKinlay or Boulia (all in Queensland).

Make no mistake though, Australia has for the last few decades been more radical than any other country in selling out every bit of its sporting heritage for the almighty AUS$, which means that any of those that you hear about for the third time has probably lost much of its appeal by then. For the purpose of the WWR however, there’s no denying that precisely this over-the-top kind of joyful larrikinism is what sets Birdsville apart from the other Outback racedays (and for all parties involved, let's hope it stays that way).

Watch this clip for a decidedly touristy and kitschy account of what has become a decidedly touristy and kitschy raceday.

A better account, albeit with lower-quality footage can be found on youtube.

("Downtown Birdsville scene", although presenting Birdsville as an isolated cowboy - or jackaroo - community is a pillar of most articles about the raceday, the village's economy is actually tourism-based all year; Panoramio images by Jonathan Berry and A2thaMFK [top])

World's Weirdest Racetracks: #8

If ever there was a region tailor-made for horse racing, it’s Yorkshire. This Northern England (ceremonial) county has the gentle hills, vast countryside and soils that just scream “build a grandstand, paddock and some rails here, or at least a stud farm and gallops”. Not surprisingly, it was one of the cradles of modern thoroughbred racing, and remains a stronghold for thoroughbred racing, training and breeding.

For a detailed history of racing in Yorkshire, this great site (one of my all-time favorites) offers everything you need to know, and then some. Other Yorkshire contributions to sports history: Sheffield is home to the world’s oldest Association football (Soccer) clubs, while industrial West Yorkshire was the birthplace of Rugby League.

Today, Yorkshire offers the highest racecourse concentration of any British county, ranging from top-level tracks York and Doncaster to the charms of small-town racecourses such as Thirsk, Catterick or the WWR’s #8.

While it may not look like a true World’s Weirdest Racetracks contender at first glance, the beauty of Pontefract Racecourse is in the dimensions. It’s home to the world’s longest regular flat Hcp race, the 2m 5f 122y Pontefract Marathon Hcp (held in April) as well as probably the only remaining track in the world to frequently schedule lower-level races over 18 furlongs. In a way it has to, given that the course itself is also the world’s largest thoroughbred racetrack. Thanks to a circumference of no less than two miles, the entire town park fits into its infield. Extra points are awarded for the unusual feature that the stretch is barely half as long as two other straights (it’s still slightly longer than 2 furlongs).

("I really wouldn’t want to be the track announcer on a foggy day"; Panoramio image by Lee Collings, not even showing the full extent of the Pontefract infield)

Sunday, 19 July 2009

World's Weirdest Racetracks: #9

This Glasgow area racecourse demonstrates how you can effectively cram a track into just about any location, even if there really doesn’t seem to be enough space, or suitable terrain. It’s not technically featuring a unique layout since Salisbury (a few hundred miles to the South) uses a similar one, but Salisbury’s is larger, and its uphill stretch pales by comparison.

One of five racecourses in Scotland, Hamilton Park is the only one to exclusively conduct flat racing (Perth and Kelso are National Hunt courses, Musselburgh and Ayr offer both modes). In 1947, Hamilton conducted the first evening meeting in British racing, now a staple of British and Irish racing during the summer months. In 1971, it also premiered morning racing, which was not picked up as a regular feature.

(Graphic from

Basically, this 18th century racecourse is nothing more than a six-furlong straight, with a loop near one end of it. Undulations are hefty even by British standards, the 6f start is at 61 meters above sea level, dropping to a low point of 47m, then uphill to 58m about hundred yards in front of the Winning Post (which is at 56m). The loop is even more extreme, going downhill from 48m to 38m, then steeply uphill until it joins the straight course at a height of 59m (measured using Google Earth, so it might be off by a meter or two).

This layout allows races of up to 13 furlongs, with those over the maximum distance actually starting some way in front of the winning post, going up the stretch, through the dip in the loop, up the hill and then back down the stretch.

For races over a distance of 11 furlongs and beyond, this layout means trouble whenever a horse unseats their jockey at the start. For the purposes of the World’s Weirdest Racetracks, it means #9.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

World's Weirdest Racetracks: #10

Thoroughbred racecourses have been used for any number of events over the years. Until the 1940s, football matches were frequently played at British racecourses. In Cup competitions small-town teams would take advantage of the existing large grandstand and even larger amount of quality lawn. The site of the world’s first International football match, the Racecourse Ground at Wrexham (Wales), was a regular venue for Cricket, Horse Racing, Association Football (Soccer) and Rugby in its early days.

To this day, several modes of racing are often conducted at the same track. In France, New Zealand and a few other countries it’s common for provincial tracks to host harness and thoroughbred racing on the same card.

Another combination is that of motorsports and horse racing. Aintree, site of the Grand National Steeplechase, is also home to some amateur motor racing. Dover Downs in Delaware would be a lock for a World’s Ugliest Raceways Top 10, but is ineligible for this list.

There are however two Southern Hemisphere racecourses that are host to both Thoroughbred and major-league Auto racing. One is Australia’s Sandown, by far the least important of Melbourne’s four designated metropolitan tracks, which also hosts races of the V8 Supercars series. The second one, host of the only V8 race in New Zealand, is the WWR #10.

Pukekohe Park is home to Counties Racing Club (which refers to Counties Manukau, a semi-official designation for the Southern part of Auckland Region). Its most important race is the G2 Counties Cup, held in late November. Due to its inside all-weather training course, Pukekohe also functions as one of New Zealand’s foremost training centers.

For the purposes of our Top 10, it gets the nod over Sandown because of the decidedly utilitarian appearance of the whole plant, with the pit lane area along most of the stretch and the infield training tracks as eyesores, compared to Sandown’s infield lake and meadows.

Being surrounded by an asphalt circuit, the racecourse at Pukekohe might not be the prettiest place to watch the ponies, but it definitely is a notable one.

("The racecourse must be somewhere around here"; Panoramio image by Rameez Saldin)

World's Weirdest Racetracks Top 10: Intro

I decided not to spend many lines on smartmouthing about the sad but predictable news racing offered those past two weeks (Ziadie, Hollywood etc.); bitching about the easy targets (e.g. how Shirreffs’ #2 horse contested the Hollywood Gold Cup, while his HOTY candidate has her eyes on the big prize – the Clem Hirsch at DM) or about how American racing officials, for once trying to be tough on doping, do it in such an objectionable manner as to find the only course of action that makes them look even worse than their usual sweep-it-under-the-carpet ways.

Instead of focusing on the madness, I have chosen to concentrate on weirdness for the next ten days or so. In this spirit, let me proudly present my personal Worlds’ Weirdest Racecourses Top 10 ranking, compiled by the staff of The Dresden File.

As with any good ranking, let’s start by stating the guidelines used to assemble this list:

1. This Top 10 ranks racetracks by weirdness of the course(s). It is neutral towards a course’s beauty (or lack thereof) as long as they offer truly remarkable features.

2. Physical features trump atmosphere. The reason is largely a practical one: I can only guess at the atmosphere of candidates. In some cases, I can’t even do that. For example, it’s entirely possible that tracks such as N’Djamena (Chad) or the Hippodrome de Beyrouth in Lebanon (heavily damaged by Israeli rockets during several attempts to establish peace by killing civilians) would out-weird some of those on the list had unique atmosphere counted equally, but I have nothing to base such judgments on, and considering the worldwide scope of this ranking, I doubt anyone has.

3. Only tracks that offer halfways professional thoroughbred flat racing are eligible. They can of course offer other modes of racing too, but there’s gotta be a minimum of common ground. As tempting as it is to place those countryside roads and farm lanes used for the Kiplingcotes Derby at #1, I feel there needs to be a clear line, after all there also are endurance races run in the Sahara.

4. A quality racing product is a plus, but not required.

So without further ado...

Saturday, 11 July 2009

BC Thoughts – The Juvie Turf Is A Bad Idea Now, But It Doesn’t Have To Stay That Way

As I was typing up a rather lenghty response to a post by Glenn Craven, trying to find some middle ground between our opinions, a quite radical idea popped into my mind.

Craven (of Fugue For Tinhorns, for those who don’t know) argues that the Breeders Cup shouldn’t cut down on its current 14-race program (or 15, including the Grand National). I disagree for the most part, but one good argument he brought up was that the BC, initially intended primarily as a North American Championship, should indeed include races for every division, even obscure ones.

On the other hand, the BC is also intended to attract more interest to the sport, and has a somewhat unhealthy focus on presenting itself as a “World Championship” (a pointless focus, as I’ve argued elsewhere). To that end, races like the Juvenile Turf divisions rightfully attract ridicule, and races like the Dirt Mile or F&M Sprint are just diminishing the quality of the BC’s real Championship races. They thin out the quality, provide the Discreet Cats of this world a chance to add a BC win to their resume without actually facing Championship opponents; and ultimately water down the prestige of the BC as a whole.

The same was true for the 12f Marathon, although at its new 14f distance, I find that race a most welcome addition. See, I’m not generally against using such races to encourage a shift in the breeding industry, I just don’t see much reason to encourage a shift towards the breeding of more turf horses with premature and/or sprint-oriented pedigrees in America. Plus, a 14f dirt BC Marathon still is an international "championship quality" race, if only because Argentina, Chile and Uruguay are the only other racing jurisdictions with a heart for the dirt stayer.

Still, Mr Craven has a point that there should be Championship races for the Turf Sprint and Turf Juvenile divisions.

But should those races be run in their current form, as part of the BC?

The Juvenile Turf races as contested last year are a joke. They will more often than not be won by second- or third-string overseas raiders, or occasionally by a top American (dirt) juvenile with a strong turf pedigree, whose connections decide to skip the more testing “real” BC Juvenile divisions. Same goes for the BC Turf Sprint.

However, such Championship races could make sense outside the current BC structure. In the process they could offer the first-ever productive application of the “Win & You’re In”-concept in racing, and finally offer a good idea to fill the BC Friday.

How about running those races as Finals, open only to horses that have qualified via the currently existing, regionally-focused, juvenile turf races?

Those races would be closed off to overseas competition, except if they go through the qualification process, effectively eliminating the “quick hit” option. They could be included in the main BC program or run independently of it as part of a separate Championship day, one more geared towards existing racing fans. If run on Grand National day (on another track, obviously) there might even be potential for some cross-promotion.

Unlike the current, haphazard BC W&YI, this concept could be effective in both increasing the status of the qualifiers and in creating buzz for the final. The main difference being that there is an actual connection between the elims and the final, other than in the “random races to determine 6 of 12 starters, effectively meaning top horses can just as well skip”-system the BC currently offers. This way, divisions and races that otherwise go largely unnoticed might gain some buzz within the racing world. I'm usually not a fan of playoff systems in the thoroughbred world, but in this instance it might be just the right thing.
Also, this concept provides an American Championship in a division in which American horses, generally speaking, aren’t very competitive in International company. Thus, it would be much more effective as a stimulus. Another perk would be that horsemen with top (dirt) horses couldn’t as easily use the Turf BC as a fallback option, so the extra race wouldn’t take away from the established one.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

German Derby - Before And After

The biggest news from Europe this weekend may be Sea The Stars’ victory in yesterday’s Eclipse Stakes at Sandown, but with the start of the 2009 Deutsches Derby at Hamburg less than an hour away, let’s get to that point.


For the second time this year I drove through half the city just to find that those newsstands that usually sell the Sport-Welt (Germany’s DRF) were sold out. While last time I was fortunate enough to finally discover a hidden exemplar somewhere beneath another stack, this time I went home empty-handed.
So there seems to be a bit of excitement in racing circles. That German racing adds some new fans is unlikely though, as the race isn’t broadcast until 11 PM, and then only on a regional channel (there is the Equi8 livestream of course, but to the broader public the race is lost). It’s not helpful that the Sport-Welt doesn’t even have a website, nor is there any other site to get German race forms from, so ultimately I could only have handicapped based on those extremely sketchy forms my ADW’s offer, and that’s not something I like to do.

Therefor, let’s just say it’s a pretty wide-open field, with Wiener Walzer, Oriental Lion and Panyu (the 1-2-3 finishers of the G2 Union-Rennen), Suestado (impressive winner of the Listed Derby Trial at Hanover), G3 Bavarian Classic winner Saphir and G2 Diana Trial runner-up Bolivia (who was supplemented for 50K) the obvious candidates. Of those, Suestado may well be the best, but he's also the chalk at 52/10 (that's 4/1 American). Update: He was eventually bet down to 39/10, which I think would show up as 5/2 on American ADWs.

With my sketchy info though, I’ll confine myself to a couple of small longshot bets on Ordenstreuer, who finished a good second in the Dresden Trial. That race was predictably several furlongs too short for him, but his late movement was nice, and for 60/1 (betfair, currently 32/1 on the Tote), he looks worth the shot.

In the sire category, Monsun leads the way with 3 of his progeny entered. Tiger Hill, Nayef and Seattle Dancer all have two starters in the field of 17.


With 100 yards to go, right after he declared the winner, the announcer’s mic took a temporary break. Or at least that’s what he claims. Sounded a bit like he just had trouble identifying the group of three battling for second place. If so, no reason to be tough on the guy.

Wiener Walzer (by Dynaformer), the second favorite at 46/10 and winner of the most important Derby Trial, won, but that’s as far as it goes in the “logical result” column.

Sordino (296/10; by Samum) finished second in his fourth lifetime start, showing off some well-hidden talent (you see, that’s what good past performance sheets and replays are for, if only we had them in German racing).

Toughness Danon (179/10; by Tiger Hill) finished third, and thus exactly one position worse than in all of his previous three starts, where he was soundly beaten by two horses he distanced today.

One horse he did finish ahead of however was today’s fourth-place finisher Eliot (137/10, also by Tiger Hill), who in his three lifetime starts (recurring theme!) had never finished better than 2nd and had been beaten by no less than four horses he outran today (to be fair, his forms were a little screwball-y, and in the Union-Rennen he was fifth but beaten only 2 ½ lengths by the winner).

Ordenstreuer, btw, finished a good sixth under the guidance of Dresden’s local boy Alexander Pietsch. He wasn't beaten by much, but may have been in a little over his head here. Still, he's definitely a nice and honest racehorse and should make his way in slightly lesser company.

Besides the winner, none of the favorites showed up. Suestado (39/10, by Monsun) finished 14th, thus never quite entering the internal duel, and leaving his owner Georg Baron von Ullmann only the small consolation of also being the owner of Gestüt Schlenderhan, which in turn is the owner of Wiener Walzer.

Deutsches Derby 2009 (with a couple of glitches, but at least it's available at all)