Thursday, May 22, 2014

Tough situation, smart move by DRF: Two days of free PPs

Considering I've taken time to criticize the horse racing industry as a whole and individuals or organizations within the industry for lack of good public relations skills, I'm going to give a pat on the back this evening to the Daily Racing Form. has been down now for quite some time -- going on 48 hours, I suppose. And it may have taken DRF management a little while to make this decision, or at least make posting possible, but as of this wring, the Daily Racing Form is offering free past-performances for all North American tracks, for today (Thursday, May 22) and tomorrow.

I don't know if doing this sort of thing was completely impossible in the wake of's recent server failure, up until this afternoon, or if it just took management awhile to come up with the idea for this sort of olive branch to the Daily Racing Form's customers. But it's a shrewd move, and one that should be appreciated by all those who rely on DRF PPs -- as I do on the rare occasions these days I get to a track.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Nasal strip flare-up threatens Chrome's Crown run, highlights need for national regulations

One of California Chrome's populist owners on Saturday fired a shot at Churchill Downs management for the track's perceived lack of hospitality during Kentucky Derby week.

Now they've fired a shot across the bow of the New York Racing Association, and anyone in this sport who still stands in the way of commonsense, nationwide, universal regulations for thoroughbred competition.

The California Chrome story has caught America's attention. The bargain-priced, modestly bred colt with a six-race win streak and owned by a couple of fellows with an unabashed "regular-guy" streak -- enough that Steve Coburn and Perry Martin named their stable Dumb Ass Partners -- stands one last victory away from capturing the nation's first Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978.

But an arbitrary, 15-year-old ruling by New York stewards might prompt the connections to skip the Belmont Stakes in three weeks. Trainer Art Sherman says the horse might not make his bid for Triple Crown glory in the Big Apple on June 7, because Chrome's co-owner Martin is who wanted the colt to run with the strips in the first place, and might not let him run without them.

Martin, it should be noted, apparently was so put off by the lack of hospitality in Kentucky during Derby week that he skipped the Preakness entirely. He completely stayed away. So don't be certain he won't do the same with his horse over an issue this dear to his heart.

"This guy Perry Martin, he might not run if they say you can't run with a nasal strip," Sherman told USA Today. "He's very funny about things like that."

New York remains one of very few North American racing jurisdictions in which thoroughbreds can't compete while wearing nasal-strip breathing aids, similar to those worn by some human athletes.

Operative words are "thoroughbreds" and "compete" in that sentence. Apparently in New York it's O.K. for standardbred horses to wear the breathing strips in harness races. And NYRA hasn't banned the strips for training on the state's thoroughbred racetracks -- only for race-day.

But it's a ban NYRA and its stewards have stood by in the past, even in the face of derailing a Triple Crown bid. In 2012 the connections of I'll Have Another, like California Chrome a Golden State shipper to the three eastern races, were going to be denied use of nasal strips by NYRA in the Belmont. That horse's trainer, Doug O'Neill, said he was prepared to "respect" the ruling run the horse without a breathing strip.

Ultimately, I'll Have Another didn't run in the race due to a leg injury. He was scratched only a day before the Belmont. And was saved the indignity of all the rampant speculation that NYRA stewards might have nostril-blocked the first Triple Crown winner in more than 30 years by their staunch enforcement of what is -- let's face it -- by all evidence just an arbitrary rule.

For a fan to stand behind NYRA in its possible rejection of a breathing strip-wearing California Chrome in the Belmont, we have to know why the anti-strip ruling was reached in the first place, and why NYRA continues to enforce it today, despite the device's use in so many other jurisdictions.

And after a little reading, all I can come up with is "just because."

From Bill Heller's book "Run, Baby, Run," it seems NYRA stewards rejected the strips after a very brief and inconclusive test in the autumn and early winter of 1999, after the breathing aids made a big splash at the Breeders' Cup, with about 30 percent of the competitors wearing them. The strips were banned for racing at the state's thoroughbred tracks, but not for training, and then-NYRA CEO Barry Schwarz said it was the stewards' choice.

A steward explained.

"We knew nothing about them, and I don't like to endorse something that the public doesn't know about, whether it affects the horse or not," said NYRA steward David Hicks.

That actually was a well-reasoned approach. For 1999.

Now it's 2014. We know a lot more about the strips, although that information is hardly definitive. Among the things we think we know is that the strips may or may not significantly reduce Exercise Induced Pulmonary Hemorrhage (EIPH, for which nearly every racehorse in America is injected with Lasix before every race), but that they at least don't seem to do any harm. And they don't work many miracles on the racetrack, either.

There have been numerous studies of the strips since they made a splash when a long-shot named Burrito won a race at Keeneland sporting such a schnoz-sticker. Some found glowing results -- Kansas State University initially saw a 33-percent decrease in EIPH among the wearers and a study at the University of California-Davis found that the most severe "bleeders" benefited the greatest. Other studies found no harmful effects, but couldn't really establish any helpful ones, either.

Initially it looked like the strips were going to be a hot commodity, but within a year or so their use had subsided. Still, a handful of trainers use them wherever they can -- just not in New York.

From a bettor's perspective -- which seems to be what NYRA is trying to protect, since it doesn't mind the horses wearing the strips for training -- with a month-long analysis of Churchill Downs races in 1999 Andrew Beyer quickly established that nasal strips were a throw-out in evaluating past performances.

"The data from Churchill suggest that bettors can disregard nasal strips as a handicapping factor," Beyer wrote.

Equibase data from the period generally supported Beyer. Between Oct. 23, 1999, and April 24, 2000, some 8,402 thoroughbreds raced with the nasal strips and 1,077 won -- a strike rate of 12.8 percent. … Not very compelling. According to The Jockey Club, the average field size of that era was about 8.15 horses, and since at least one horse has to win every race, that means the average strike rate was around 12.3 percent. If the breathing strips helped, it was only marginally.

So here we are in 2014 and stewards in New York may dig in their heels and defend a conservative decision made based on a lack of information in 1999, as though they've paid no attention at all to everything that has happened since.

Yes, it can be argued that "everything" to have happened is "not much." But that's part of the point.

There isn't unanimous overwhelming evidence that the strips are beneficial, but there seems to be a dearth of evidence that they're harmful to the horses, which should be everybody's first concern. And there never was any evidence that the strips were somehow shafting bettors. Even if they do create a tiny advantage in winning or losing, simply mark their usage on the past-performances like blinkers or any other piece of equipment and let the fan decide whether the strips are important enough to account for in handicapping.

This story further illustrates the debacles that a lack of universal North American racing rules invites. It doesn't matter much that the rules differ from California to New York if all you ever run is a $7,500 claimer. But in the graded stakes world, from connections to mere fans we expect horses to ship coast-to-coast -- sometimes overseas -- and still be able to bring their A-game. Weather, track conditions and other factors will always differ, but to have no single set of basic competition rules for what medications and equipment are allowed at the very least can create confusion and mistakes for visiting trainers, and at most can lead to what we may have this year -- a Triple Crown hopeful who stays away from the race of his life.

Try explaining that to racing's fans, let alone the the masses who already give horse racing very little credit as a major sport.

So here we are, in a stare-down on Main Street, city-slickers NYRA at one end of town, Steve Coburn in his cowboy hat and Perry Martin with the itchy trigger finger at the other. It's a three-week walk to the Belmont Stakes during which fans have to hope somebody blinks to avoid an ugly confrontation.

This is also our latest, potentially loudest call for nationwide regulations. It would benefit horses. It would benefit their connections. It would benefit the Triple Crown trail, Breeders' Cup and graded stakes everywhere. It would benefit the spirit of equal competition. It would benefit handicappers. It would benefit even the casual fan.

It's time for all the state-run fiefdoms to relinquish at least that much control, so silly things like this nasal-strip business can be settled once and for all, not flare up every couple of years threatening to embarrass the entire industry.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Churchill Downs finds a way to lose twice on the $15K it overpaid Wes Welker

Churchill Downs today might just be the poster-facepalm for an entire racing industry that is foundering for lack of better marketing and public relations.

Here's the scenario:

1. Wes Welker, darned-good football player and pretty widely recognized as an all-right guy, dresses up to attend the track's biggest racing day. (Glamorous!)

2. Welker wins big, and who doesn't like a winner? (#Winning!)

3. Welker celebrates his score by handing out $100 bills to numerous utter strangers. (Populist!)

4. Churchill Downs realizes it made an error in the payout and demands Welker repay almost $15,000. (Buzzkill!)

For the record, Churchill Downs, Welker's score and impromptu philanthropy was good publicity worth perhaps a hundred times what you lost in overpaying on his winning tickets. Asking for some of that money back -- less than 15 large on a day that your own betting service,, by itself handled a record $21.5 million -- is CD management face-planting in the souvenirs left after the post parade.

Are you trying to disprove the adage that there's no such thing as bad publicity?

Friday, September 20, 2013

Another year, another milestone -- and more

A lot happens when a guy doesn't update his blog for more than a year, especially if that blog is about horse racing.

Work and personal commitments might get in the way of a blogger, but the racing goes on. And for my 2-year-old sales class of 2010 -- now a bunch of 5-year-olds -- a few milestones were reached while I was "away."

One of the more significant markers of note happened only recently, as the class broke the 400-win barrier. The total now stands at 401 wins from 2,927 races worldwide, for a win rate of 13.7 percent.

Grabbing the milestone victories were a foreign runner and something of a surprise winner in the States.

Wild Shuffle (Hennessy-Shuffle Again, by Wild Again) has come into his own as an older horse in Trinidad & Tobago. The bay gelding, bred in Kentucky by Liberation Farm and Brandywine Farm, has a 3-8-11 record from 41 lifetime starts, but is 2-2-4 from 10 starts in 2013. His third lifetime win was victory No. 400 for the group of 187 2-year-olds I selected from various 2010 U.S. sales.

On Wednesday this week (Sept. 18), Knows How to Rock (Rockport Harbor-Unchained Princess, by Clever Trick) garnered his second lifetime win, and at a price at Kentucky Downs. Sent off at 13-1, the gray or roan gelding sat just off the pace in the mile-seventy race on grass, overtaking the leaders down the stretch and nosing out Alexander Thegreat at the wire.

Knows How to Rock was bred in Kentucky by Keene Ridge Racing LLC and is now owned and trained by Jose G. Castanon. The victory was his second -- he broke maiden among special weights at a mile on dirt at Mountaineer -- and he's had to fight for both of them, winning by a neck in his maiden-breaker and a nose on Wednesday. He has a 2-2-6 record from 22 starts for $47,319. I tabbed him one of my "steals" of the 2010 Keeneland April sale, where the horse sold for $13,000.

The sales class also boasts a new graded stakes winner and two new stakes-placers from the past 11 or so months. One has been a consistent winner throughout his career overseas, while the other found his stride when moved from dirt to turf in the States.

Previous stakes winner DELIGHTFUL MARY (Limehouse-Deputy's Delight, by French Deputy) was the sales-topper at the OBS April sale, bringing $500,000. She earned that back by the time she turned age 5, including a dead-heat for the win in the Ocala Stakes at Gulfstream as a 4-year-old and a win at age 3 in the OBS Championship Stakes. She was second in the G3 Mazarine Stakes at Woodbine and third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies-G1 at Churchill as a 2-year-old.

Dropped back into the sprint ranks, where she performed brilliantly as a juvenile, she scorched the Woodbine Polytrack to victory in the Grade 3 Hendrie Stakes, covering 6.5 furlongs in 1:15.54. The victory bumped her earnings to $588,055.

Elsewhere, Viva Ace (Macho Uno-Dancing Lake, by Meadowlake) was just a $20,000 purchase at the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic sale of 2-year-olds in training back in 2010, when I tabbed him among 48 prospects for a bargain-minded buyer. But he's compiled an 11-8-2 record from 27 lifetime starts over the Busan track in South Korea, earning a substantial $621,276 when converted to U.S. dollars.

On May 5, Viva Ace was one of two horses to upset an overwhelming favorite (G1-winning filly GAMDONGUIBADA, by Werblin) in the Gukje Sunmin S., aka the Gukje Newspaper S. The race was won by BEOLMAU KKUM (Put it Back), with Viva Ace a game second over the favorite.

Viva Ace was bred in Kentucky by Jim Gladwell, Martha Gladwell and Crossroads Farm LLC.

In the United States, Just Chillin Boss (Sweetsouthernsaint-Aleutian Gold, by Prospector's Gamble) came to life in 2012 when switched to the grass by new connections.

The chestnut gelding had one win and no placings from six starts on dirt in his native Florida when claimed by Bobby S. Dibona for $20,000 at Gulfstream Park March 16, 2012. But the horse never raced for Dibona, moving instead into the hands of Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred Investments and into the training barn of Ramon Moya.

Those connections moved Just Chillin Boss to the Northeast and entered him in a starter allowance at Meadowlands on May 5, going a mile on grass. Just Chillin Boss did all the work on the front end in that race and was game to the wire, beaten just a neck by Incisive Strike.

The performance convinced his connections that Just Chillin Boss should stay on the lawn, and it was a fortuitous decision. Over his next six starts, all at Monmouth Park, Just Chillin Boss would grab three wins and place third in the My Frenchman Stakes (to former Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint-G1 winner CHAMBERLAIN BRIDGE and multiple stakes winner JU JITSU JAX). Just Chillin Boss would  also set two track records on the Monmouth Turf Course (24 feet from the hedge), covering about 5 1/2 furlongs in a blistering 1:01.12 in an allowance win on July 8, 2012, and blazing over 5 furlongs in 54:66 for an optional-claiming win on Aug. 24.

Just Chillin Boss was claimed from that record-setting Aug. 24 race, for $22,000 by new trainer Gregory D. Sacco for owner Elliot Mavorah. He managed one second place run from four starts for those connections before being shelved after a Dec. 7 race at Tampa.

The Class of 2010 has earned its keep at the racetrack. The 187 prospects sold or were RNAs for a combined $6,446,900 and now have justified those bids by earning $11,841,814 worldwide. That's an average earnings figure of $68,449.79 for horses that on average sold for just $36,016.20 -- about $20,000 less than the average 2-year-old to sell in 2010.

The class has 23 stakes-placers from 187 members (12.3 percent) and nine stakes winners (4.8 percent).

You can review all their statistics, updated through Sept. 19, 2013, at the bottom of this prior post.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Stakes A'mighty: A new black-type filly and a return to glory for a sales-class millionaire

A 4-year-old filly donned black type her coming-out party in stakes company Saturday and a formerly injured millionaire may have found his old mojo on Sunday as my 2-year-old sales class of 2010 continues to earn their keep at racetracks around the globe.

Saturday afternoon at Calder Race Course, PRIZE DOLL stormed from off the pace to win the Ms. Brookski Stakes on turf at Calder over a field of 10 other competitors. On Sunday, GOURMET DINNER found the winner's circle for the first time since his 2-year-old season, taking the Majestic Light Stakes over the main track at Monmouth.

Saturday's victory -- her third in nine starts -- wasn't the first time Prize Doll faced stakes competition. Her connections of owner and co-breeder Edward A. Seltzer and trainer Curtis Garrison debuted her in restricted stakes company in March 2011 in the OBS Sprint Stakes (Filly Division), a race for horses that at some time had passed through the Ocala Breeders' Sales Co. ring. She was last of six that day, yet beaten only 4 1/4 lengths. (Another sales-pick of mine, Take Me To Zuber, was second.)

The chestnut filly by Pure Prize out of the minor stakes-winning mare Doll Baby (Citidancer-Sand Pirate, by Desert Wine) broke maiden in her second lifetime start, for a $50,0000 tag on grass at Tampa. After a sixth-place efforts and a fourth, she began working her way back up through the allowance ranks, clearing her NW2L condition on Independence Day this year with an optional-claiming win at Calder in which she had to survive a pair of objections.

There was an inquiry in Saturday's race, too, but it was against second-place finisher Timezone and rider Jose Rodriguez. That pair was taken down to sixth, with 3-year-old Wicked Night moved up to second and 6-year-old stakes veteran Brinca inheriting the show finish.

While all the excitement was taking place in the middle of the track, Prize Doll swept wide under Manoel Cruz and took charge at the eighth pole. Prize Doll finished the mile on grass in 1:36.22, winning by a length and a quarter over Timezone but another 2 1/2 ahead of the pair who would be moved up when that filly was DQ'ed.

Prize Doll was bred in New York by the aforementioned Seltzer and 1970s teen idol David Cassidy, who is no longer an owner per the recent race charts. I recommended her as Hip 970 from the Ocala April sale in 2010, where she failed to meet reserve with a high bid of only $17,000. With three wins a second and a third from nine starts, she has now earned $59,645. She also extends the black-type history of her female family; her dam wasn't just a minor stakes winner in New York, but was a half-sister to three other stakes winners, including four-time stakes winner HALF HEAVEN ($435,526), two-time turf stakes winner LOVE COVE ($396,739) and Black Eyed Susan S.-G2 winner SWEET VENDETTA ($224,596), all of whom were bred or co-bred by Cassidy.

With that kind of family, decent looks at a 10.2 breeze, I questioned the sanity of buyers who allowed her to pass through the ring without selling back in April 2010. Still do.

Meanwhile, the last time race fans saw Gourmet Dinner in a winner's circle was in the moments after the 2010 Delta Downs Jackpot S.-G3, where he shocked the field (but not so much me) at 20/1 to collect his fourth win -- three of them in stakes company -- as a juvenile. The son of Trippi was rock-solid as a 2-year-old winning his first three starts, two of them Florida Stallion Series stakes races, before getting derailed in the $400,000 Florida Stallion In Reality Stakes by another of my sales selections, the $21,000-bought REPRIZED HALO, who  himself would eventually win another stakes race and has banked $354,660 from 35 starts.

It isn't that Gourmet Dinner hasn't been competitive since -- he has, when he was healthy. He finished his juvenile campaign with a ship to California, where he was beaten a head for third place by Clubhouse Ride (behind Comma to the Top and J P's Gusto) in the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity. As a 3-year-old, Gourmet Dinner was very much on the Kentucky Derby trail (despite a pedigree that to me suggests a miler), finishing third behind Dialed In (beaten a head by Sweet Ducky for second) in the Grade 3 Holy Bull and second by two lengths to Soldat in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth.

But an injury that took him off the Derby Trail derailed him for a full year. Gourmet Dinner returned at Gulfstream in February 2012 and failed to hit the board in two straight starts before finishing third on grass in the Elkwood Stakes at Monmouth on May 19. Another couple of turf tries resulted in poor finishes (ninth in the Colonial Turf Cup and seven in the Grade 3 Poker Stakes at Belmont), so back to the main track -- and the winner's circle -- Gourmet Dinner went with Sunday's Majestic Light Stakes score at Monmouth.

Javier Castellano rated Gourmet Dinner in next-to-last of seven for much of the race and the horse responded in the stretch, out-gaming three-time stakes winner Ponzi Scheme to win by a neck. Small Town Talk was third, with 3/2 race favorite Brujo de Olleros(BRZ), champion miler in Uruguay, relegated to fourth.

The win in the $100,000 race was Gourmet Dinner's fifth from 14 lifetime starts, and the earnings pushed his career bankroll to $1,067,277. That's a pretty tidy sum for a horse whose connections, William J. Terrill's Our Sugar Bear Stable, effectively bought him for about $20,000 as Hip 277 at OBS April 2010, where the horse sold for $40K (roughly half of which Terrill got to keep) to dissolve the breeding partnership between Terrill and Ocala Stud.

G3 winner Gourmet Dinner was one of three close family members I recommended from that sale, and all went on to be black-type horses. His dam, Potluck Dinner, was a half-sister to Almost Aprom Queen, who was the dam of recommended Hip 726 RIGOLETTA, a daughter of Concerto who would sell for just $35,000 a few months before gutting-out a Grade 1 win over Tell a Kelly in the Oak Leaf Stakes at Hollywood Park and retiring after just six starts with $184,070 in the bank. Their dams were also half-sisters (all out of the Who's For Dinner mare Romantic Dinner) to the filly Decennial, another Trippi foal, who sold for only $26,000 as Hip 349, but has won five of 12 lifetime, placed among turf stakes company at Belmont Park, and earned $129,977.

That's three horses, 12 wins in 30 starts, G1 and G3 scores, three additional stakes wins, six additional stakes places (three graded) and nearly $1.4 million in earnings for a combined purchase price of $101,000.

It's been awhile since I've updated the sales class; life from time to time has gotten in the way. But armed with the knowledge that a horse I thought was unraced, Wild Shuffle (Hennessy-Shuffle Again, by Wild Again), has turned up a winner in Trinidad, and adding a couple of other new winners, the class now boasts 138 winners worldwide. That means out of the 187 recommended prospects, 176 have raced (94.1 percent) and 73.8 percent are winners.

The recommendations have made 2,163 worldwide starts, winning 305 races (14.1 percent), finishing second 358 times (16.6 percent) and third on 267 occasions (12.3 percent "shows," 43 percent total "in the money"). They have earned $9,666,381 for average earnings per starter of $55,875.03 and average earnings per start of $4,468.97.

Those would be pretty good numbers anyway, but considering bargain-hunting is my typical style and my average sales selection sold for barely $36,000 -- a full $20K or so less than the average 2-year-old of 2010, even including minor sales like primarily state-bred sales in Indiana and Louisiana -- I think the figures look particularly good and the recommendations on the whole pretty sharp. The class drew bids (sold or RNA) of $6,446,900 at the sales and should soon top $10 million in earnings; a pretty good return on investment for a game in which it's widely accepted that only about one in four horses purchased at auction will ever pay for itself. For the record, 97 of "my" 187 have earned more at the track than they cost at the sale; that's 51.9 percent, a number that could still grow a bit.

The addition of Prize Doll to the ranks of stakes winners brings that total to nine, or 4.8 percent of all selections. That isn't a stellar figure, but it's slightly above the breed average, for a price about 36 percent below the sale average. The class has 24 horses that are stakes-placed-or-better (one non-blacktype) for 12.8 percent -- about 50 percent above the breed average. And there's still time for a handful of these who are coming into their own at age 4.

Just like Prize Doll.

Click here and scroll down to read up on all 187 of those sales selections.