Category Archives: Commentary

A Midwest Thoroughbred double feature

I have a pair of stories in the latest news cycle of The Midwest Thoroughbred magazine.

The print edition features a preview story for the upcoming meet at Indiana Downs. The Shelbyville, Ind. track had a banner year in 2010, and faces the unique challenge of keeping that positive momentum going. To find out how they plan to do it, I spoke to racing secretary Raymond “Butch” Cook and trainer Randy Klopp, who is also president of the Indiana HBPA.

Click here to read my preview of the 2011 Indiana Downs meet.

On the publication’s website, I have a feature on Michigan’s breeding industry. The story discusses the impact the state’s flagging business has had on its breeding operations, and highlights five of its top stallions. To get some insight on Michigan’s breeding industry I spoke to Michigan Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association president Patti Dickinson, trainer/breeder James Jackson, McMaster Farm manager Dan Boik and breeder EJ Hubel.

Click here to read my story on Michigan’s breeding industry.

Also, if you’ll notice on page six, I have been added to the publication’s masthead as a contributing editor. I’m honored to be part of the team.

This is not the first time I have had work published in The Midwest Thoroughbred. Back in September, I interviewed jockey and trainer Richard Rettele for the magazine’s “Jockey Shorts” section.

The Midwest Thoroughbred is a fantastic publication for readers interested in horse racing in the region, and the effect its native sons and daughters have on the national scene. Though the magazine focuses its coverage on the business in Illinois and Indiana, it frequently covers topics pertaining to racing in surrounding states, including Michigan, Ohio, Iowa and Kentucky.

The publication is getting better with every issue, and is definitely worth the time to check out. And I’m not just saying that because I write for them. The feature writing is creative, entertaining and covers topics that the national publications may overlook.

I’d like to thank The Midwest Thoroughbred for having me on board, and I look forward to working together in the future.

If you like what you see, click here to subscribe to The Midwest Thoroughbred.

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“Making Claims” debuts in Arabian Finish Line

Another exciting chapter of my journalistic endeavors kicked off this month with the debut of my monthly column, “Making Claims”, in Arabian Finish Line magazine.

The column’s inaugural entry, which appears in the publication’s April issue, is split into two parts.

The first half introduces yours truly to the magazine’s readers, including anecdotes about my origins in the sport, a few of my qualifications and my experience in Arabian racing. Naturally, I throw in some anecdotes about Mount Pleasant Meadows, too. In the second part, I look back on the Darley Awards weekend, including my evening at Sam Houston Race Park, with the help of a numbered list.

This month’s issue also features several photos I took over the weekend, including ones at the races and a few on the cover.

And now, without further ado…

Click here to read the debut installment of “Making Claims”!

Like what you see? After this post, “Making Claims” will be exclusive to readers of Arabian Finish Line. To keep up with the world of Arabian racing, including my monthly commentary, click here to order a subscription to Arabian Finish Line.

Arabian Finish Line is a fine publication that provides insight on a sector of horse racing that often goes overlooked by the industry’s media outlets. The magazine features articles, commentary, stakes recaps and statistics on Arabian racing in North America and around the world. With detailed stats on every Arabian that leaves the gates in North America, the magazine is quite the useful handicapping tool, as well.

If the notion of reading my column every month is not reason enough to get yourself a subscription, hopefully something in the above paragraph will convince a few readers to give the magazine a try.

I would like to take this opportunity to once again thank the good people at Arabian Finish Line for allowing me the platform to express my views and spin some tales. I hope I can provide a consistent source of engaging and entertaining content for many issues to come.

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Five reasons why Michigan’s Thoroughbreds should look west

As of right now, the Thoroughbred racing business in the state of Michigan is an industry without a home track to call its own.

While the clock ticks down to the summer racing season, the state Attorney General’s office is taking its sweet time deliberating on whether Pinnacle Race Course is worthy of its conditional racing license. Meanwhile, any immediate alternative (Mount Pleasant Meadows, one of the state’s three harness tracks) will take time to build up into the kind of facility needed to host a meet of the Thoroughbreds’ caliber. Until a decision is made, it is difficult for the decision-makers in Michigan’s racing industry to pull the trigger on either option.

From this writer’s perspective, Pinnacle is at best a 50-50 proposition for opening its doors in 2011. The Detroit-area track closed down all of its operations at the end of last year’s meet under a mountain of debt from municipalities, tax collectors and simulcast providers. Even the track’s website has been offline for over a month, now. A recent story by Crain’s Detroit Business about a looming job-creation audit by Wayne County only heaps more on the pile.

Perhaps it is too soon to simply give up on Pinnacle as a long-term home for Thoroughbred racing, but with the track’s unstable past, present and future, it is not beyond the realm of possibility to consider an alternative.

On the Michigan-Bred Claimer Facebook page, I asked readers where they thought the 2011 Thoroughbred meet would be held, where they would like to see it held and where the long-term future of racing may rest. When presented with the options currently available, the conversation quickly shifted to building a new track in a centrally located area – Grand Rapids or Lansing. Looking at the current situation, it is not hard to agree.

Clearly, this idea is little more than a pipe dream. Pulling it off would mean convincing another wealthy investor that horse racing in Michigan is worth the risk, which at this point is admittedly a hard sell. This, along with a litany of other factors, would make the idea difficult-to-impossible. The following discussion is strictly hypothetical. However, if done correctly, a move west could help drastically improve the health of the state’s industry.

Another aspect discussed in the Facebook conversation was combining the breeds at said centrally located track. From an exposure standpoint, the harness tracks are doing just fine in Detroit. Keeping them there keeps the simulcast dollars flowing in their area. However, it would not be difficult to transition the Quarter Horses and Arabians to this imaginary track, as well.

Before I continue, I realize this plan flies in the face of my 3,000-word manifesto against the contraction of small tracks, effectively shuttering the two tracks I was trying to defend. Don’t worry, I have a plan.

Pinnacle and the proposed track cancel each other out, so there is no loss there. Mount Pleasant would be gutted with the loss of Quarter Horses and Arabians. However, the track represents the only pari-mutuel outpost in central and northern Michigan, so it is important to keep around. Plus, with the track suddenly much closer, there may be more interest to watch the races via simulcast in Mount Pleasant by those who can not make it to the live races every day, but want to play and keep tabs on the track.

To keep the simulcast going, the new track would split itself into a spring/summer and a fall meet, divided with a short mixed breed meet at Mount Pleasant to coincide with the Isabella County Fair. Mount Pleasant gets exposure at a time when the most patrons are on the property, the simulcast can stay open all year, and there is incentive to keep the track up to code to use as a training center. Damage is minimized and everybody wins.

Want to keep Pinnacle in the mix? Give Pinnacle and the new track each one of those meets, then either give Mount Pleasant back the mixed meet horses to run their usual schedule or keep the county fair plan. That way, Pinnacle can continue to stay in business, it gets some time off to ease the cost of hosting a live meet and perhaps it can finally work on finishing the “Phase Two” construction.

Both Grand Rapids and Lansing are viable and acceptable options for such a venture, but there are a few factors that make the state’s capital city particularly attractive in this scenario. To illustrate this, I have outlined five reasons why a move to Lansing might be in the best interest of flat racing in Michigan.

Keep in mind, this is not a call to shut down any track, but simply a scenario to consider in the wake of current events. It’s always better to have a plan than not.

The five reasons why Michigan should consider a racetrack in the Lansing area can be found behind the jump.

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Expanding the brand

The recent weeks have provided several opportunities to expand my presence to bigger stages on the printed page, online and over the airwaves. Here is what’s going on…

- In the coming issues, I will be debuting as a columnist for Arabian Finish Line magazine. My monthly column, “Making Claims”, will examine topics in the Arabian racing world and elsewhere through my usual off-kilter prism of perspective, and hopefully provide an entertaining and provocative experience for readers.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the good people at Arabian Finish Line for providing this opportunity. I look forward to providing a new voice to the publication.

To learn more about Arabian Finish Line, and to subscribe so you can read the column for yourself, click here.

- In related news, I have been invited to attend the Darley Awards in Houston, Tex. on March 5. The Darley Awards are the Arabian equivalent to Thoroughbred racing’s Eclipse Awards. The weekend’s festivities also include a pair of Arabian stakes races at nearby Sam Houston Race Park, so I will get to check off another track to visit, as well. Expect some observations on the entire event at the conclusion of the weekend.

- The Michigan-Bred Claimer now has its own Facebook page! The social network fan page will feature links to the blog and other items relevant to Michigan horse racing, as well as other thoughts and conversations too small to expand upon in the blog. To visit the page and become a fan, click here.

- Last weekend marked my second round matchup in the Post Parade Lead Pony Challenge against noted author and handicapper Steve Davidowitz. I regret to report that I did not emerge victorious. After having great success playing Gulfstream Park and Tampa Bay Downs in the first round, the state of Florida went cold for me over the weekend.

However, the matchup did afford me two opportunities to chat with the contest’s hosts, Molly Jo Rosen and Bruno DeJulio, on their Post Parade podcast. Outside of discussing my picks for the weekend, topics covered over the two shows included vocal impersonations (Hulk Hogan, Andy Beyer, thick-accented Italians), professional wrestling, the Aaron Rodgers championship belt and the rallying cry for fans of comedy podcast Sklarbro Country - “Henderson!!!”

My first appearance on the podcast, where I am the first guest, can be listened to here. Sunday’s podcast, where I show up around the 42:30 mark, can be heard here.

I would like to thank Bruno and Molly Jo for letting me join the fun for the inaugural competition and wish them the best of luck through its conclusion. If they include Mount Pleasant Meadows among the tracks for their next tournament, I just might consider a return appearance.

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The case for small tracks: A Top Ten

Small tracks are not the reason for horse racing's current situation. Shutting them down would only further damage the sport.

To help combat sagging business in the horse racing industry, a growing population of industry members have begun calling for a contraction of racetracks in North America.

In his keynote speech at the University of Arizona’s Racetrack Industry Program Symposium, Churchill Downs CEO Robert Evans presented a plan that would potentially halve the number of racetracks in North America. Evans said this plan would create “a business that is economically viable” that focuses on a “quality product” . That sentiment was echoed by superstar freelancer Claire Novak in a recent debate about whether fans or bettors drive the racing industry.

Allow me to respectfully disagree.

I make no bones about being a small track guy. My home course is a four furlong mixed breed oval in what one pessimistic message board poster called “no man’s land”. My state’s Thoroughbred industry has been in decline for decades, expedited by the addition of expanded gaming in other nearby states. If contraction were to happen tomorrow, there is little doubt Pinnacle Race Course and Mount Pleasant Meadows would be among the first to go.

But does it really have to come to that? Putting my bias aside, there are plenty of reasons why slashing the number of racing venues, especially those on the sport’s lowest levels, would only further damage the sport we love.

To help prove my point in an easy-to-digest manner, I have created a ten-point list, a “Top Ten” if you will, of reasons why contraction would eventually cripple horse racing in North America and why our small venues are worth standing up for against the will of the powers that be.

Please note, this is not a call for subsidization of failing tracks. If a track shows it is not viable and the ownership has no interest in keeping it afloat, then so be it. However, if the will to live among ownership and horsemen remains strong, then no one has the right to strong-arm them into shutting down.

From the top…

10. The Almighty Dollar
Governments typically don’t like to openly admit that they like horse racing. In fact, most are content to watch it rot on the vine as long as they don’t have to spend any money. However, it is no secret that they sure enjoy the tax revenue that racetracks bring in through wagering and other avenues. Threaten that cash flow with a “sweeping industry contraction initiative” and see how those governments, especially on the local level, respond to their track being on the chopping block. Nothing mobilizes an elected official like telling him he can’t make money.

But let’s keep it on the racetrack for now. Many small tracks run their meet for the sole purpose of keeping simulcast wagering in their plant. Not every state has off-track betting parlors or advanced deposit wagering as a source to bet on racing, and if their local bullring closes down, so does their chance to bet on the races. Mr. Evans has made himself the face of the contraction movement with his keynote speech. However, nothing will suffer more from people being unable to place bets than his all-sources Kentucky Derby handle. The Derby is the one day that casual fans brave the smoky simulcast rooms to bet on the horse they read about in the paper. These people probably aren’t going to sign up for TwinSpires or drive another hour and a half or more to go to the next nearest simulcast outlet. That money will vanish into the ether and likely never return.

The remainder of the countdown can be found behind the jump.

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Holy Bull Stakes preview for ThoroFan

Once again, I have been called into duty by the Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance to pontificate my handicapping wisdom on the ThoroFan website for this Sunday’s Holy Bull Stakes (G3).

My analysis is often long-winded (this one is 2,514 words long), but I went three for four picking winners in ThoroFan’s Handicapper’s Corner last year, including a dead-on call of the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) stretch drive and the giving out of 20-1 shot Exhi in the Coolmore Lexington Stakes (G2). Eventually, it seems I get to some good stuff.

So as not to give away any spoilers, I will not reveal here who I picked to win Gulfstream Park’s first graded Kentucky Derby prep of 2011, but I will say that if it all goes as planned, it should cash a nice ticket or two.

To read my picks and analysis for the Holy Bull Stakes, click here.

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Filed under Commentary, Triple Crown

Guest interview for Lead Pony Challenge

As some readers may know, I am entered in the Lead Pony Handicapping Challenge against some of the most notable figures in the horse racing media.

The contest requires competitors to select six horses from the cards of seven selected tracks (Aqueduct, Fair Grounds, Gulfstream, Keeneland, Oaklawn, Santa Anita and Tampa Bay). Each horse is given a mythical $2 win-place wager and the player with the most pretend money at the end of the weekend advances.

My first opponent is TVG on-air personality Matt Carothers. The winner of our matchup will likely face handicapping heavyweight Steve Davidowitz, author of more books on racing and betting than I have likely read of every combined genre in the last year.

The tournament is hosted by Molly Jo Rosen and Bruno DeJulio, co-hosts of  Post Parade with the Filly and the Clocker. Prior to each day’s races, the duo interviews the weekend’s competitors and gets their picks.

My matchup kicks off the event this weekend, so I called in earlier today and chatted with the show’s hosts. The highlights of our discussion included a mean-spirited haiku about my opponent, a potential sponsorship deal with Michelin Tires and me bemoaning the fact that the hard-knocking tracks where I excel the most at the windows are noticeably absent from this competition.

To listen to the podcast, click here. My segment comes in around the 33:30 mark.

I will be on again Sunday around noon ET to give my picks for the day’s races. The show is broadcast live on Blog Talk Radio, so keep checking back here to listen to the latest episodes.

In an earlier broadcast, DeJulio assigned me the longest price on the media side of the bracket (20-1) when laying out his morning line odds for the competition. No stranger to being an underdog, I have used this as bulletin board material to reaffirm my status as the scary mid-major of the field – along the lines of college basketball’s Butler University and football’s TCU. Hopefully I can show the world just what a Michigan-bred longshot can do.

UPDATE: I have advanced out of the first round by a score of 276-86. Five of my six picks hit for some kind of payout over the weekend. My next opponent will be Steve Davidowitz, author of such notable books on racing and handicapping as Betting Thoroughbreds and The Best and Worst of Thoroughbred Racing.

I made another appearance on Sunday’s edition of The Post Parade with the Filly and the Clocker with more picks and some back and forth with my opponent, Matt Carothers. I also made the announcement that I will be playing for the Don MacBeth Memorial Jockey Fund.

To listen to the podcast, click here. I am in the first segment.

 

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