Tag Archives: Mountaineer

Valient Tenobob nominated to Triple Crown

Michigan-bred Valient Tenobob is one of 364 early nominees for the prestigious Triple Crown races.

The series for three-year-old Thoroughbreds includes the Kentucky Derby (G1) at Churchill Downs, the Preakness Stakes (G1) at Pimlico Race Course and the Belmont Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park.

The dark bay or brown Service Stripe colt is trained by James Jackson for owners Red Riding Hood Stable (George & Chrissy Kutlenios) and Laura Jackson. Valient Tenobob was also bred by James and Laura Jackson.

Valient Tenobob is the first Triple Crown nominee born in Michigan since Hot Chili, another Jackson trainee, was made eligible for the races in 2008.

Valient Tenobob went three-for-three in 2010 for earnings of $48,222.

He broke his maiden on Sept. 4 at Pinnacle Race Course with a five-wide rally to prevail by a length. Valient Tenobob then traveled to West Virginia to follow up with a 2 3/4-length allowance score at Mountaineer.

After that race, Valient Tenobob was nominated to the Oct. 31 Iroquois Stakes (G3) at Churchill Downs, but instead returned to Pinnacle to compete in the Oct. 30 Michigan Futurity. Despite an erratic trip, Valient Tenobob exploded in the stretch to win by seven lengths.

Valient Tenobob has not raced since the Michigan Futurity and, according to Equibase, he has not posted a workout in the last 60 days. Check back for further updates on Valient Tenobob’s journey down the Derby trail.

For a complete list of the 2011 Triple Crown nominees, click here.

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Valley Loot claims third MTOBA Horse of the Year title

Valley Loot won or placed in stakes races at three tracks on her way to being named MTOBA's 2009 Horse of the Year.

For the third straight year, Michigan champion Valley Loot was named Horse of the Year by the Michigan Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association at its year-end awards banquet.

The five-year-old Demaloot Demashoot mare tallied two wins from nine starts during her 2009 campaign for earnings of $112,875.

Valley Loot notched stakes wins in the June 16 Golden Sylvia Handicap at Mountaineer and the Older Filly and Mare division of the Oct. 3 Sire Stakes at Pinnacle Race Course. She finished second in the Farer Belle Lee Handicap at Pinnacle and third in the Larkspur Handicap at Pinnacle, the Autumn Leaves Stakes at Mountaineer and the Windward Stakes at Presque Isle Downs.

Valley Loot is owned by Felicia Campbell and trained by Ronald Allen, Sr.. She was bred in Michigan by Marilyn McMaster. Her regular rider was Federico Mata.

For more information on the winners from the MTOBA Awards Banquet and other happenings during the event, check out my writeup on the MTOBA website.

In related news, I recently accepted a gig writing news updates for the MTOBA website, so if I write anything exciting over there, I’ll post a link to it. Don’t worry, I assure you the new venture will not affect the quality, quantity or objectivity of the content on this site. To quote my favorite recurring character from In Living Color, “Homey don’t play dat.”

As always, I enjoyed myself at the awards banquet. Catching up with people and making new connections in the industry is always a good time.

The silent auction is often my source of reading material for the following year, and there is always some cool memorabilia to bid on. I chipped in a few items myself by donating a few framed photos I took of the scenery at Keeneland Race Course and one I took of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin in the paddock prior to the 2008 Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs. Both sold pretty well.

My haul was not as visually impressive as in previous years (I’ve needed a good sized box to carry everything out on more than one occasion), but I still walked out with some goodies. I snagged a set of clubhouse passes to Arlington Park for next year’s meet, so look for a nice recap from the not-so-cheap seats sometime this summer.

In a move to expand my knowledge of the world of horse racing, I bought a book on harness racing – “Harnessing Winners” by Dave Brower. There were also a few Christmas presents in the pile, but to reveal what they were would compromise their surprise value. I’m sure you understand.

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Racino states draw breeders

A good indicator of the racing industry’s health in a given state is the number of mares it sends to the breeding shed.

This is a factor I try to illustrate whenever I explain Michigan’s situation to those unfamiliar with the industry. Because I am a strong believer in visual aids when giving a presentation, I decided to put together a chart to describe the breeding industry in the state of Michigan, compare it to other states in the region and explain the impact of alternative wagering on everyone involved.

It is no secret that horsemen are flocking to states with casino gaming at its racetracks. The fact will inevitably be brought up in any discussion about alternative wagering in a state that lacks it. However, the point is driven home when the figures are in clear sight.

Let’s have a look at the chart…

Thoroughbred Mares Bred in the Great Lakes Region by State, 1998-2009

Thoroughbred Mares Bred in the Great Lakes Region by State, 1998-2009.

X Axis = Year; Y Axis = Mares Bred *2009 figures are current as of 10/13/2009. Some reports are still yet to be received by the Jockey Club.

For a more detailed breakdown of the year-by-year breeding totals, a spreadsheet of the above data may be read here.

So what can we learn from these figures?

First and foremost, breeders are taking their mares where their foals can make the most money. The top three states listed in this sample are “racino states” (Because of its clear breeding advantage in the region, Kentucky was not included in the sample). The increased purse structure that comes with expanded gaming not only gives the horses themselves the best chance to earn a good living, it trickles down to the breeders in the form of incentive programs.

Also worthy of note is that in 1998, two of the three leading states (Indiana and West Virginia) actually bred fewer mares than Michigan. Today, both states breed several hundred more.

The clear exception to this rule is West Virginia, whose figures have actually decreased since installing full-blown slots in 2006. Two factors may be responsible for this. First, West Virginia installed slots at the same time as neighboring Pennsylvania. The 2007 debut of Presque Isle Downs, about 135 miles away from Mountaineer, also helped draw horses out of West Virginia. Second, the breeder’s incentive program in Pennsylvania is quite lucrative. Boosting the purses only made it that much juicier. Here, have a look for yourself…

Breeder’s Incentive Programs in the Great Lakes Region by State

However, West Virginia enjoyed a major boost throughout the first half of the decade. It was the first state in the region to adopt expanded gaming in 1999 when it installed coin-operated video lottery terminals. With the help of the VLTs, West Virginia pulled itself up from the dregs of the racing world to the point where the state actually led the region in mares bred in 2004. Despite the recent dropoff, West Virginia remains well ahead of the game from where it began.

Another conclusion that can be drawn from the data is racino states are drawing mares away from non-racino states. The poster child for this observation is Ohio, a state flanked by one armed bandits in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Indiana. Eleven years ago, the Buckeye State accounted for a comparable number of mares bred to Pennsylvania and was well ahead any of its other neighbors (excluding Kentucky).

As more and more states allowed its tracks to install casino-style gaming, the breeding totals in Ohio began to plummet. In 2009, the state is in danger of breeding fewer than 200 mares, a figure that would have seemed unheard of less than a decade ago.

Other states in the region without any forms of alternative wagering, Illinois and Michigan, have also seen significant drops as their neighbors reaped the benefits.

Once the cornerstone of the Great Lakes region, Illinois has seen its breeding totals cut in half over the last decade. Michigan’s drop off has been just as drastic, with a decrease of over 40 percent in the last year alone.

As these figures demonstrate, the benefits of installing alternative wagering are quite apparent on the breeding industry of that state. The increased purses and breeder’s incentives make them attractive places for horses to send their mares, which in turn improves the reputation of that state’s racing industry. At the same time, neighboring states without expanded gaming will be adversely affected as its horsemen migrate to states where they can make the most money.

Racinos have the ability to shift the balance of power in a region. It is time for the state of Michigan to decide which side of the scale it wants to sit.

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The Alternative Scene: Part One – Slot Machines/Racinos

Racetracks like Indiana Downs have seen significant increases in purse structure since adding new forms of alternative wagering.

Racetracks like Indiana Downs have seen significant increases in purse structure since adding new forms of alternative wagering like slot machines, but can the good times last?

In a poll that went about three and a half months longer than planned, the readers of this blog voted convincingly that slot machines are the most important form of alternative wagering for the long-term health of the racing industry. 

The voting was neck-and-neck between slots and advance deposit wagering in the poll’s early goings. As time wore on, slots pulled away to an insurmountable lead. 

Let’s have a look at the results…

Which form of alternative wagering is most important to racing’s long-term health?

Slot Machines – 58% (123 votes)
Advance Deposit Wagering – 22% (46 votes)
We don’t need no stinking alternative wagering – 8% (18 votes)
Instant Racing – 6% (13 votes)
Card Rooms – 3% (6 votes)
Other – 3% (7 votes)

Total votes: 213

“Other” answers (some of the answers could be placed in one of the categories above, but because they were placed in “other,” I am keeping them here):
– “table games, that’s what they want, only slots is not the answer”
– “telephone/Internet wagering”
– “All of the above”
– “exchange betting”
– “Simulacast”
– “Racino”
– “nothing we’re dooooooooomed”

There is no question slots have had an impact on the racing industry, and will continue to do so. Just look at the career path of Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird. 

The classic winner started his career at Woodbine, enjoying slots-enriched purses on his way to nabbing the Sovereign Award as Canada’s top juvenile. His earnings in Canada alone were enough to secure him an invitation to the big dance at Churchill Downs, which removed the pressure from taking the road to Louisville going through New Mexico.

Mine That Bird worked his way through the Derby preps at Sunland Park, which would have been a laughable strategy only ten years ago, and is unorthodox at best today. With the help of alternative wagering (mainly casino-style gaming) in 2009, the Sunland Derby offered a purse of $900,000, among the biggest prizes offered to three-year-olds in the country.

The race was not graded, and Mine That Bird finished off the board, but his eventual win in the Kentucky Derby put New Mexico in a position to become a legitimate path on the Derby trail. The little Birdstone gelding that could’s success has spearheaded the campaign to get the Sunland Derby designated a graded stakes race, officially making it more than a cash-grab race for Derby wannabes.

Simply put, without casino-style gaming, Mine That Bird is clunking around the California allowance ranks, Calvin Borel doesn’t tearfully celebrate his biggest upset on national television, Sunland Park still runs cheap Quarter Horses, West Side Bernie wins the Kentucky Derby and nobody goes home happy.

The story doesn’t end there. Just recently, the connections of Mine That Bird spurned the Haskell Invitational, and a rematch with Preakness winner Rachel Alexandra, to challenge the West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer. If Mountaineer were still in the slums of the racing hierarchy, as it was before the implementation of slots, a trip through the hills of West Virginia wouldn’t have even crossed the minds of team Mine That Bird (even if the gamble did blow up in their faces, leaving with a third-place finish).

Alternative wagering, slots in particular, does not only give gamblers more options at the racetrack. It also leads to horsemen having the option to try their charges in spots previously considered no-man’s land for horses with any class. Mountaineer landed a Kentucky Derby winner. Charles Town landed Commentator for the Charles Town Classic. Last year, Hoosier Park enticed Pyro, once considered one of his crop’s heavyweights, to enter the Indiana Derby. There is a $1 million race in the middle of Pennsylvania for crying out loud.

Even if for a brief moment, racinos can draw the big horses to come to your local track and thrust it into the national spotlight. If a few curious onlookers become serious followers of the sport, the track will be ahead for the day – and all thanks to a room full of retirees mindlessly hitting the “spin again” button.

However, the honeymoon between racing and slots may soon be coming to an end.

Many racino tracks are still struggling to find an identity for themselves, especially when the quality of racing has yet to catch up with the caliber of purses being offered.

Despite becoming a beacon for horsemen from non-racino states (just take a look at all the Michigan-based connections racing at Presque Isle Downs), Pennsylvania still faces issues with keeping the balance between the racetrack and the casino. Further complicating the situation is the radical discrepancy between the money the live handle kicks into the purse structure versus the purse money generated by the slots (as high as 20-to-1 at Presque Isle). According to the article linked to in this paragraph, Pennsylvania racing’s heavy reliance on the slot machine dollar paired with its difficulty generating its own funds could be seen as a sign of blood in the water by other groups looking to profit from gambling monies.

Though it has been confirmed at Prairie Meadows, an Iowa racino, that live racing actually boosts the slots revenue, the track plans to restructure its schedule for next year, with plans to jettison standardbred racing and ask for fewer Thoroughbred dates. While purses have steadily risen, live handle has steadily dipped despite being one of the first racetracks to adopt casino-style gaming.

The racetracks of today are the lab rats in the study of the miracle cure known as slot machines. Tracks with slots get the medicine – tracks without get the placebo. Early returns appear positive, but the side effects are still being discovered. Little is known about the long-term effects slot machines will have on the racing industry because they have only been around for the short-term. Proponents say slots will bring racing to an even playing field with competitors and will encourage the breeding of better competitors, while others worry the bottom line will eventually drive the “Rac” in “Racino” to become a full-blown “Cas”.

The answer is likely somewhere in the middle, but as it stands right now, there is only one way to find out.

A poll running this long deserves a post just as lengthy. To help preserve your eyes and attention spans, I am splitting it up into two separate entries. The next post, examining some of the poll’s runner-ups, will be up whenever I get around to writing it. Keep your eyes peeled.

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Filed under Commentary, Polls