Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Colonial stakes draw good fields, show Virginia's breeding-business weakness

My recent lamentations about shortened statebred stakes races at Colonial Downs notwithstanding, a fair number of entries were dropped in the box for the first two such races of the 2009 season.

The races are restricted to Virginia-born or Virginia-sired entrants.

In the John D. Marsh Stakes, which prior to 2008 a mile and a sixteenth race for 3-year-olds now cut to 5 1/2 furlongs and open to 4-year-olds as well, the connections of 10 hopefuls have entered-up. Six of the potential starters are 4-year-olds.

The clear morning-line choices are Hugo, a 4-year-old Stormy Atlantic colt installed as the favorite at 5/2, and Native Playboy, who'll open betting at 7/2. No other horse is at less than 5/1 odds on the morning line.

Hugo has won three of 14 lifetime for $88,010, including a third place finish in the World Appeal Stakes at Meadowlands as a 2-year-old. He'll break from the rail under Rosemary Homeister Jr.

Native Playboy, a 4-year-old gelded son of Distorted Humor, has won three of five lifetime for $56,420; no blacktype. He drew the 7 post and will have Sylvester Carmouche III in the irons. I like his chances better than Hugo's, but doubt you'll get a good price on either of them.

Of interest to me is that Michael Trombetta has entered a 3-year-old filly here against 4-year-old colts. So Vain (Mr. Greeley) was the winner of last summer's Jamestown Stakes for juveniles on the dirt at Colonial, in a mixed-gender group. It was her second lifetime start and she hasn't raced since. She'll only carry 113 pounds vs. boys on Saturday.

Morning-line odds aren't set at this writing for the fillies race on Sunday, the Oakley Stakes, which likewise was shortened by three furlongs a year ago, and thrown open to 4-year-olds in addition to sophomore runners. Among the favorites is likely to be Bopolene, a 4-year-old who placed in a pair of Colonial statebred stakes last year at 3, including the shortened Oakley.

I had expected to see Perfect Pet, a Marquetry filly whose breeders are among this blog's followers, pointed toward the restricted Colonial stakes this year. She's shown some ability on both dirt and turf and should like the distance. She was a place-finisher in last year's Jamestown behind So Vain, and has run competitively away from Colonial, as well, though she's yet to win her NW2L.

She was scratched out of a recent Pimlico allowance, then initially dropped all the way down for a $4,000 tag at Charles Town for a May 31 race, but scratched out of that one, too. If she's healthy and fit, she'd wouldn't have been out of her league in this group.

On a different note, both races show how weak the Virginia stallion ranks have become. For stakes races in which VA-foaled or VA-sired horses are eligible, of the 22 entries, exactly zero of them were sired by stallions still standing in Virginia. Only five of the 22 were sired within the Old Dominion at all, three by Housebuster (now deceased) and a pair by Bop (now in West Virginia).

The remaining 17 are all by studs based outside Virginia. Beyond the aforementioned by Mr. Greeley, Distorted Humor, Stormy Atlantic and Marquetry, the remainder are by: Whywhywhy; Prospect Bay; Van Nistelrooy; Not For Love (two); Proud Citizen; Strong Hope; Sligo Bay; Speightstown; Forestry; Congaree; Chief Seattle; Meadowlake; and Milwaukee Brew.

Anyone who thinks Virignia's breeding business is healthy -- I'm thinking of you, Gov. Tim Kaine -- isn't paying attention.

Here's a group of 22 Virginia-foaled horses -- many of them sired by stallions standing for $10,000 to $40,000 -- and all that breeding money, not only stud fees, but board, vet care, etc., is now spent outside of Virginia.

These are just the stakes runners from two statebred races. Of roughly 350 VA-foaled thoroughbreds last year, statistics suggest about two-thirds were sired outside the state.

Even if the governor and others in Virginia's government (and among voters) aren't interested in horses or racing, or are averse to wagering, how can they continue to ignore that sort of lost business, jobs and income (i.e., taxes)?

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