Wednesday, 14 April 2010

45 Days to Go... Or 136... Or...

Iffezheim Racecourse near Baden-Baden, by far the most important track in Germany, has been slipping in out of bankruptcy for about a year now (publicly; much longer behind the scenes). Its most recent (potential) savior is Infront, a renowned Swiss-based sports promoter, more exactly its Chairman Andreas Jacobs, who also part-owns Deutsche See (Germany's leading wholesaler of frozen seafood), but more importantly is also the Chairman of Gestüt Fährhof, one of Germany's most important thoroughbred owners and breeders.

Fährhof, which took the unusual step of turning into a not-for-profit foundation a few years before the passing of its founder Walther J. Jacobs (Andreas' grandfather), is currently represented Internationally by Quijano and has also campaigned the likes of Silvano, Sabiango, Borgia and Black Sam Bellamy in not-too-distant memory. Still, it may be most prominent as a breeder, the place where such sires as Acatenango, Lomitas and Surumu left their mark on the breed.

On March 23, Baden-Baden Racecourse's prospective new operator issued a press release which was, for whatever reason, received very positively by most of the International racing media, although it didn't announce any substantial new developments, other than finally confirming the open secret that Baden's highly important Spring meet was indeed cancelled (read the Racing Post's account).

What first dampened my enthusiasm about the "upbeat" announcement is the fact that, as of April 14, the club's own website is the only one in the world that still announces the next race date for May 22, and has a countdown ticking for a long-cancelled race date. In fact, the Internationaler Club's news section has not been updated to include anything about the press release.
The news coming since then (and also the news NOT coming) is some cause for alarm, because as of yet absolutely nothing – incl. Baden's summer meet – is definite, other than the fact that the "hope that all the legal niceties have been sorted out" was unjustified. An important notary meeting set for last Thursday was postponed until today. The city (which owns the property) and investor still have not come to definite terms on a lease and therefor on the contract itself.
Meanwhile, the Direktorium's (racing board's) plan to transfer as many as possible of the spring meet's feature races to other tracks had an official deadline set for April 11, but did go into overtime, with a final result to be expected tomorrow (Update: as of April 27, it's still not 100% airtight, but it seems very likely that all Group and a couple of the other races will be run on other tracks).*

In local news, Dresden Racecourse's high-flying dreams of installing a large photovoltaic system in the infield (and thereby making roughly the handle of one of their racedays in annual profit) were pretty much scrapped by the city. In response to the discontinuation of the Listed Preis der Dreijährigen, Dresden Racecourse has announced a new Listed race, the Dresdner Herbstpreis, to be run on the traditional final date in mid-November, over 2200 meters for 3yo's & up, thereby adding actual sporting importance to what has already become a favorite day for most racegoers.**

* Thanks go out to Rüdiger Schmanns, Manager Racing Department at the Direktorium, for giving me this information in the form of a prompt email response to a question asked via their website's "contact" box.

** Race not officially announced yet and therefor subject to change (although it seems safe it will be scheduled). Distance and age group info as per phone conversation with the club's executive director, Uwe Tschirch (here too, thanks for a thorough update are in order).

(Panoramio image on top is by Sigi2)

Friday, 9 April 2010

The Cigarilla

When five horses enter the gate for the Apple Blossom Invitational Handicap today at Oaklawn, none of them will be named Rachel Alexandra, and therefor the race will be run for a purse of 500.000$, rather than the proposed 5 million. Though the costliest part of Oaklawn's questionable stunt* will go down as a historical footnote, the race will still be run over 9 furlongs, almost a week after the originally given date, and the word 'Handicap' was obviously left in the title just for a chuckle. The "Invitational" part is to be taken literally though: it pretty much is an open invitation for Zenyatta to hit the magical 16 consecutive wins at minimal risk.

No race is ever won before the result is final, but Zenyatta will definitely not be 'beaten' by any of her opponents. Fate and Team Zenyatta themselves are the only ones who can cause the great mare to lose in this race.

As for the 5-million proposal: a historical footnote it may be, but an isolated oddity it certainly isn't. This year's Apple Blossom marks the current nadir of a trend that spans several decades and may most aptly be called "the horseman's condition book". The trend is characterized by an ever-increasing tendency to write stakes books and assigning weights according to the interests of influential – or in some cases merely very vocal - owners, trainers and breeders rather than the interests of fans, bettors or the sport, let alone the principles of sportsmanship.
The late Robert Frankel elevated badgering racing secretaries into an art form back when he had superstars like Ghostzapper and Empire Maker in his stable. Who could forget the time when he let it be known that his reigning HotY Ghostzapper would start in, of all races, the Oaklawn Handicap – but only if "the greatest racehorse in 20 years" (according to one R. Frankel) was assigned no more than 121 pounds. 2005 Oaklawn sent Bobby back to NYRA, where he always found an open ear. 2010 Oaklawn assigns 123 to Zenyatta - a virtual walkover. As if that wasn't enough, never before has the conditions sheet for a major race been mutilated so heavily to accommodate the interests of one or more specific horses.

Going forward from here, connections of superstar horses know that they can get the purse, date, distance and conditions of even major fixtures changed at short notice (a side issue of course, but should a race that has all but one of the basic conditions changed after publication of the Graded Stakes Schedule not be stripped of its grade?). Inclusion criteria for this new class of platinum customer equine star seem to be based on hype, which is a problem for a sport known to overhype horses on a regular basis.

So why is this post headlined "The Cigarilla"? Simple: as great a feat as Zenyatta's is, when Cigar tied Citation's winning streak in 1996, he did so beating nine opponents, giving 12 pounds to Unbridled's Song, 14 to Honour and Glory, 12 to Dramatic Gold. Zenyatta will give 3 pounds to War Echo and Just Jenda, and give new meaning to the old Soccer saying that "a tie is often a moral victory for one side".

Trivia Corner: there actually was a racehorse called Cigarilla once, a 1979 daughter of Banderilla (by Native Dancer).

* Several good reasons to call the proposal questionable can be found in this post on the great, recently revived (well, more or less) Thoroughbred Blog.

(section added April 10; 1025 CET, 0425 EST)

No surprises here. The race was written for Zenyatta, and she effortlessly won it going away. That's it in showbiz news, now on to horse racing.