Friday, November 12, 2010

In the News

- Sayonara Empire Maker. He has been a productive sire and stood for $50,000 this year. In four crops, he has produced three millionaires and one stallion. The JBBA must have a paid a a lot of yen for him. I wish him a stud career more like Sunday Silence than Ferdinand.

- Quality Road retired to Lane's End and will stand for $35,000. I'm not sure how I feel about that fee. It seems a bit high to me. Looking down the Lane's End roster makes excited for the English Channel juvies to run next year. His auction prices are surprisingly low, but man, that horse could run on grass.

- It's hard to feel bad for Todd Pletcher and his monster operation, but it just seems wrong that he is losing Pluck. Team Valor is moving all of their horses to Graham Motion. I understand the idea of consolidation and who can argue with the talent of Mr. Motion, but Pletcher won a Breeders' Cup race with her and loses her in the same week.

- Super Saver will stand at WinStar for $20,000. Even for a Kentucky Derby winner, that seems high to me. Looking down the WinStar roster, I would prefer Colonel John at $15,000. He didn't win the big one, but he was much more dynamic.

- Forget Pletcher, it's Tony Dutrow that's getting screwed. Larry Porter is sending Havre de Grace and others to Larry Jones, who is returning from a brief retirement. Dutrow trained her to earnings of more than $840,000 this year and a remarkable rivalry with Blind Luck. I totaly respect Larry Jones, but come on Mr. Porter.

- Vale of York was retired. He accomplished nothing after his Breeders' Cup win. He will stand for 5,000 Euros at Darley in Ireland. That's like 10 million dollars, or something like that. Lookin at Lucky is pacing his stall thinking about that little bum and how he stole his birthright from him. When I think about Vale of York at stud, I take back everything I said about Quality Road. Luckily, the surface at Santa Anita is being replaced and we will likely not see a winner like this again.

- Does anyone know the official criteria for Horse of the Year? I want to give an opinion, but I can't find the basis for voting. I would greatly appreciate if someone could point me in the right direction.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Wii Derby Dash

This has been a great week for horse racing in pop culture. First, Disney released a movie featuring Secretariat (a movie that I greatly enjoyed despite its historical inaccuracy). And now, Nintendo is releasing their new game, Wii Party, which features a minigame called Derby Dash.

The theme of the game is - "It's time for a horse race! Giddyup to the finish line, but be careful not to use up your horse's energy too soon." Sounds pretty good. Right? Here is the trailer...

As a minigame, it is not a full-fledged video game, but it is progress. It looks like I'll have another game to play with my son other than FIFA World Cup and Madden Football.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Joe Torre - Savior of Horse Racing?

Joe Torre announced this week that he will not return as manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers next year. It is expected that, although being 70 years old, Torre will assume a non-managerial job with the Dodgers.

I say, WAIT! There is a free agent in the market and he should be pursued by not only other baseball teams, but other SPORTS too. When I say sports, I mean thoroughbred horse racing. We severely lack a face of the sport, and Joe Torre may be just what we need.

Torre is a horse racing fan and owner. He reportedly became a fan when New York Yankees Bench Coach Don Zimmer took him to Pimlico in 1996. He is a part-owner of Homeboykris and Game on Dude. He was a part-owner of Vineyard Haven before being sold for $12 million and also owned part of Sis City. That's a bunch of graded stakes winners from a small portfolio of ownership. I guess this game is easier when you were close with the late Bobby Frankel. The former Yankees manager is also friends with his own "Babe", Rick Dutrow.

Torre is uniquely qualified to be the center of a marketing campaign by the NTRA or any other entity that is smart enough to use him. He is respected in both New York and Southern California - both major racing jurisdictions. He is also associated with winning (it hurts writing that as a Mets fan). To make it interesting for him, I can see cross-marketing with the Joe Torre Safe at Home Foundation.

So, what are we waiting for? I nominate Joe Torre as the new spokesman for thoroughbred horse racing.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Lots to Like at Saratoga

For the third consecutive year, I was lucky enough to be at the Saratoga Race Course for the Alabama Stakes. This was my longest visit ever - getting to the track for the 3rd race on Thursday and seeing every race through the 8th on Sunday. I thought it would be too much, but I was actually craving more while back at work on Monday.

Those that know me also know that I am not much of a gambler. The dime super is my thing (hit 2 on Friday). I have generally been a fan of the stakes races and the connections that compete in them. However, this weekend turned everything upside down. The stakes races were not great but the gambling in many of the other races was. Sure, the Alabama was significant, but as a fan of Devil May Care (Malibu Moon), I was let down.

But, when you get race after race of big fields and nice odds, the gambling becomes a lot more interesting. For a rare moment, I was more into the wagering than the sport. I "got crazy" and started in with the rolling Pick 3's and barely even went out to the paddock.

So, I have seen this message to the industry around the internet but I will deliver my own version of it now - MARKET THE GAMBLING. Horse racing is dramatically more exciting, glamorous and sophisticated than slots. Let people know this. You can bet many different ways. Don't like the win bet, try a trifecta. Want to solve a big puzzle, try the Pick 6. And the ladies can wear big, fancy hats if they would like to. Win - win.

The people and the stories are still my favorite part, so it was great to be there when Nick Zito won his first race of the meet with Mountain Town. Marylou Whitney (in the red below) owned the winner until he was claimed by Rick Dutrow for Paul Pompa for $75,000.
On Thursday, I also discovered a great Saratoga secret. When Hattie's Chicken closes after the races, they bring whatever is left over to the paddock bar. If you are nice to the bartenders, they will share some of the goods with you.
And they're off in the Alabama. Can you believe that Blind Luck was purchased at auction for $11,000? Wow.

How did NYRA manage to line up the umbrella giveaway with a rainy day? Not just rain, but major rain? You would think they would use these super powers for greater problems. Anyway, I really like my umbrella. And I took only one, unlike the spinners with their 10 each. It was fun watching them drop their armfuls into puddles. Gluttons. The umbrellas are selling for between $5 and $10 on Ebay tonight.

Good luck with Wednesday's carryover!

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Good and Bad on Belmont Stakes Day

There was a lot to like and dislike at Belmont Park on Saturday. Here are a few of what I consider to be "goods" and "bads":

GOOD - We'll start with the obligatory photo of Drosselmeyer. He was good enough to win the third jewel of the triple crown. Congratulations to him and his connections.

BAD - The guys who walked around with no shirts. Racing has certainly devolved from the times when everyone got dressed up to go to the track. And this guy was INSIDE!

GOOD - Dan Hendricks. It was a rare opportunity to see him in New York. I admire him very much.

BAD - Even with only 45,000 people in attendance, there were BIG lines for the Women's Room. I'm not sure which is creepier - that guy leaning on the wall outside of the ladies' restroom or me taking this photo.

GOOD - Bribon. The 7-year-old became a millionaire with his win in the True North Handicap. I used to think I was a good luck charm to Bob Ribaudo because he only won big races when I was in attendance. Apparently, it stuck with Bribon after he moved to a different trainer. His last big win was the 2009 Met Mile (and I was there).

BAD - People that camp out wherever they please. This is not the back yard. This is the apron around the 16th pole. These guys just set up their picnic and ignored the fact that they impeded traffic and prevented people from getting a better view. This is just one example of several groups with no consideration.

GOOD - Jody McDonald and Steven Crist. If you are reading this, you probably know who Steve Crist is, but unless you live near New York City, you probably don't know Jody Mac. He is one of the few radio sportscasters that discusses horse racing. I remember listening to his "Jody Mac at the Track" segments long before I became a fan of horse racing. You can hear Jody in the New York area on 1050 ESPN radio from 1pm-3pm weekdays. 1050 was broadcasting from the backyard for a while and Mr. Crist was a guest. I didn't stick around for the interview because the horses were coming to the paddock for the Acorn Stakes.

BAD - These guys. And everyone else that dressed in an unusual manner to draw attention to themselves. This includes the guys dressed up as Mario and Luigi.

GOOD - Champagne D'Oro with the win in the Acorn Stakes at 39-1. Reading her past performances makes you scratch your head. She seemingly broke her maiden in her 4th race but was disqualified. She was then sent to unsuccessful trips in the Delmar Futurity against the boys and than the Breeders Cup Juvenile Fillies. She then came back to break her maiden this past February, ran in the Fair Grounds Oaks and Kentucky Oaks and then came to Belmont. I could handicap this race 100 times and never land on her. She seems to be terribly mismanaged, but is now a Grade 1 winner. So, what do I know?

BAD - I leave you with this. Not just a race track rule, but a rule for everyday life. If you have bad dandruff, don't wear a black blazer. Head & Shoulders my friend. Head & Shoulders.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Let it Fail

The news today has stories about New York Racing Association's continued troubles as well as General Motors taking the next step in its turn-around. I see these stories as two companies at different points in the same trajectory. NYRA is at the precipice of running out of cash and ceasing operations while GM presented it's first quarterly profit in three years. GM was in NYRA's shoes not too long ago but took real action to fundamentally fix its problems and set itself up for ongoing success.

General Motors was once the standard of the world. It was a profitable institution with great product. However, the company did not change with the times, was hampered by government regulation and spent decades in decline. Hmm, sounds a lot like NYRA. On some days, NYRA still has great product, but they certainly have failed to evolve with the world and have clearly been hurt by unfair government regulation. And, like GM, NYRA has been dying a slow death since the 70's.

General Motors ultimately hit bottom and restructured through bankruptcy. They left the bad behind and moved forward with the good. They dramatically shrunk the company down to reflect the realities of the market and emerged as a fundamentally strong entity with a business plan that could work. It's failure was necessary for future success.

This may be blasphemy to some, but I think NYRA needs to do the same. It needs to fail in order to be strong again. The various OTBs need to fail too. The people in charge have to use the power of legal bankruptcy to restructure the entities in a way that can provide for long-term viability. No more half-hearted bankruptcies to obtain financing without changing the underlying way that business is done.

There are a few changes that can be made to greatly improve the chances of a "New NYRA" succeeding:

1) Merge OTB and NYRA - Of course, this is easier said than done, but it must be done. On-Track and Off-Track can't compete against each other. The concept is insane. They need to reduce redundancies and ensure that a fair share of takeout from Off-Track gets to the track and the horsemen.

2) Redevelop Belmont Park - The casino should be at Belmont Park, not Aqueduct. It's a bigger, more accessible facility that is in a better socio-economic area for a big development. Long Islanders will flock to a Belmont casino and City folks will have plenty of access by car and train. The redevelopment should include an all-weather inner track because we are also going to.....

2) Close Aqueduct - This facility is a vestige of the phenomenal history of racing in New York. However, the current climate does not support two facilities located so close together, and upgrades at Belmont will make it acceptable for bad weather racing. It must cost a fortune to maintain that beast so it must be slain. I think the State of New York holds title to the property now so they can use it for something else.

3) Make the fees paid to the State reasonable - The folks in Albany will certainly want to get their hands on some of the revenue of "New NYRA" and I don't have a problem with some money flowing into the Capital. But, the "tax" rate must be reasonable. The fees currently paid by NYRA and the OTBs to several government entities seem very high and prevent them from investing money back into their product and facilities.

4) Reduce racing days - Remember Pontiac and Saturn? They were eliminated by "New GM" just as a lot of race days and races should be given the axe by "New NYRA". I will not pretend to know where to scale back, but there is too much product and resources are spread too thin. Less is more.

I am a fan of horse racing in New York and I want it to succeed in perpetuity. The actions taken over the last few years (and maybe decades) are not going to sustain this industry long-term. It needs to be restructured so it can thrive. Without real change, the sport and industry will continue to slowly bleed until there is nothing left.

I drew a parallel to the controversial General Motors example, but NYRA's resurrection will not even need a cash "bail-out". The State merely needs to give NYRA the money that is owed them, award a casino franchise, make a few changes to the highly restrictive racing law and get out of the way.

Let it fail now so it can succeed tomorrow.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Photos from the Big A(rctic)

Man, it was cold at Aqueduct today. I came from the East and it was probably 15 degrees warmer there. I spoke with people from the North and West and they concurred. It would have been nice to have a casino to warm up in. But that's another subject. There was some good racing in New York today despite the unexpected chill.

We now have a clear Kentucky Derby favorite and that is Eskendereya. Here he is coming to the paddock to be saddled for the Wood Memorial. He looked physically impressive in person.
Here is Jackson bend walking in. He snuck up at the last moment to get second. JB has now finished second to Esky twice in a row and has three seconds in a row since being purchased by Robert LaPenta. I guess the jockey switch to Calvin Borel didn't have the desired effect.

Eightyfiveinafifty won the Bay Shore Stakes. He didn't bolt and jump the fence this time, but he was a little awkward. Perhaps we have found this year's 7 furlong specialist like Kodiak Kowboy and Munnings.
Here is Goldsville holding off Nite Lite in the Excelsior Stakes. I could handicap this race 1,000 more times and I would never have him to win. He blew my Pick 4. Nice finish, though.
I love the Carter Handicap. Some of my favorite horses have competed in the race (Ah Day, Bustin Stones). This year, Warrior's Reward held off Musket Man for the win. I was rooting for Musket Man. I enjoy when a $15,000 purchase can become a millionaire. He is just short after the close finish.

If you were on of the 8,553 in attendance, I hope you escaped frostbite. Today was just a preview of what New York has to offer. The Met Mile and the Belmont Stakes are coming up soon. If our State can get its act together, we may even have a summer at Saratoga.

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