Monthly Archives: October 2008

The Haiku Handicapper: The Aftermath

Curlin’s off the board
Quoth the Raven: high payouts
Fake dirt strikes again

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Filed under Stakes Races, The Haiku Handicapper

A Big Brown fly in the ointment

Michael Iavarone has no sense of timing.

Whether his claim of threats tied to Big Brown’s performance was true or not, the Breeders’ Cup broadcast was not the time or place to be airing that kind of dirty laundry. This is a day to showcase to new viewers the best the sport has to offer, not its seedy underbelly.

Clearly, this is Mr. Iavarone’s last desperate grasp at riding Big Brown’s star before the dual classic winner disappears to the breeding shed, taking his owner’s national notoriety with him. The IEAH Stables’ Co-President and Co-CEO has had four months to bring this revelation to light, and trying to steal the spotlight from the biggest day in racing is classless.

Maybe there was a good reason for Iavarone’s delay. Perhaps he was not allowed to comment on the situation while it was still under investigation. Maybe he felt the safety of his family would be compromised by making his announcement any sooner. Either way, if he wanted to inform the public about the threats to his family, there were better ways to go about it. Gathering the media before or after the races for a press conference would have accomplished the same goal while showing the Breeders’ Cup the respect it deserves.

A wag of the finger also goes to ABC for giving Iavarone the platform to make his claim. Aside from the content itself, the thrown-together presentation gave the the segment the feel of an impromptu moderated press conference, starting abruptly and finishing even more so. The whole thing came off as unprofessional, and someone should be reprimanded for letting it happen.

What Big Brown did in May was something special, but the actions of his connections are getting old very quickly. It is nice to see great horses do great things, but with owners like Michael Iavarone and his IEAH Stables drawing negative attention to themselves and the game, it becomes difficult to root for the player in spite of the team.

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The haiku handicapper

If given enough time, one will find analysis for tomorrow’s Breeders’ Cup Classic in just about every way, shape and form imaginable. However, I have yet to see anyone break down the race in the form of haiku. I am all but certain you noticed this as well. Not to worry, I’ve got you covered. From great boredom comes great inspiration. Enjoy!

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#1 – Go Between
Cal-based contender
Go-Go keeps him in the hunt
I miss Heatseeker

#2 – Casino Drive
Far East invader
True threat or paper tiger?
Mom can’t win for him 

#3 – Tiago
Giacomo take two
California also-ran
Step behind the elite

#4 – Duke of Marmalade (Ire)
O’Brien’s first horse
Lost to a girl in the Arc
Curlin can relate 

#5 – Henrythenavigator
Aidan’s other shot
Turf to dirt a big concern
New rider hurts odds 

#6 – Smooth Air
State derby mainstay
Ohio Derby this ain’t
In over his head 

#7 – Student Council
The classic’s elder
Sagging form, but still competes
Nice horse, not today 

#8 – Raven’s Pass
A Euro turf horse 
Same questions, proven sire
Possible bargain 

#9 – Curlin
Champ’s title defense
Fake dirt brings uncertainty
Greats win over nails 

#10 – Fairbanks
Won at the distance
He’s starting to hit his stride
That’s nice, still outclassed 

#11 – Colonel John
Jekyll and Hyde year
Great pre-May, decent after
Bottom of super 

#12 – Champs Elysees (GB)
You’re in the wrong race
Will close if shows up at all
Why aren’t you on turf?

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As for the winner?
Curlin slays Pro-Ride dragon
One, Seven for Tri

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Filed under Stakes Races, The Haiku Handicapper

Construction zone ahead. Slow down when workers present.

For those of you who have not yet noticed, I added a new page showcasing some of my best and favorite pieces from my time with the Thoroughbred Times and Central Michigan Life. Just go to the top of this page and click “Samples” to see for yourself. Keep an eye out for a page displaying my resume in the near future as well.

If we do not reconvene before the Breeders’ Cup, enjoy the races and good luck with your wagering ventures.

Oh, and go Curlin!

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Favorites dominate 2008 Sire Stakes

Mike Allen and Romeo Again prepare for the two-year-old males division of the Michigan Sire Stakes at Pinnacle Race Course

Saturday was not an awesome day to be a longshot at Pinnacle Race Course.

Of the six divisions contested in the 2008 installment of the Michigan Sire Stakes, four winners left the gates as the people’s choice. The longest priced horse to cross the wire first went off at odds of 4.80 to one.

Needless to say, it hard to make a buck at the windows. After whiffing on two exacta boxes, I scored on a dime super to put me two dollars in the black, tying my personal best at Pinnacle. I can’t seem to crack the place.

However, this number could have changed drastically had I not been shut out on multiple occasions. Though many of the bugs that riddled the track’s opening day have since been resolved, Pinnacle still suffers from a horrid bettor-to-window ratio, especially on the grandstand side.

For those of you unfamiliar with the setup of Pinnacle Race Course, the frontside is essentially divided into two areas separated by the paddock: the pavilion and the grandstand. On the pavilion side, there are at least two live tellers under a tent and at least five betting machines, supplemented by the occasional free-range teller and more windows inside the pavilion itself. While there was an occasional wait, the lines were normally no longer than six deep at the live windows and three deep at the machines; fairly manageable.

Where the problem lies is on the grandstand side. Because the area is the expected future site of a massive clubhouse, everything in the grandstand area is temporary, including the three-window betting shanty. Even on slower days, these three windows have a hard time keeping up with the demand of the betting public. On busy days, such as the Sire Stakes, placing a wager on a race with less than 10 minutes to post is wishful thinking.

This is a serious problem for two reasons. First, it means there are a lot of people standing in line waiting to hand the track money that are being turned away. I have heard from many sources that Pinnacle has not come close to meeting its projected handle figures, and one can not help but look at all the people who got turned away on big days and wonder how much free money they are turning a blind eye to just because no one is there to take it. The more money people wager, the more the track makes.

Second, to put it in political terms, the grandstand area is the racetrack equivalent of a swing state. From what I have seen, this is where the parents take their kids, where the first-time spectators stand to watch the stretch drive, and where the regular horseplayers’ wives shop at whatever completely non-racing-related booth is set up for the weekend. The people in the pavilion area – the horsemen, the pack-a-day simulcast players, the rich people, me – would pass through the gates every day if someone spit in their face upon entry. For a new racetrack without the tradition or tourism value of a Keeneland Race Course or Churchill Downs, Pinnacle can not afford to turn new, impressionable patrons off to the only product it currently has to offer: gambling. On opening day, I heard many people say they were not going to come back until the track was finished, if ever. That is an awful lot of lost wagering dollars, not even counting what could stem from these dejected racegoers’ word of mouth.

Simply put, if Mount Pleasant Meadows can’t handle that many people with three windows, it sure as hell can’t be done in the biggest city in the state.

Because constructive criticism is just bitching without the “constructive” part, I have a solution. All it would take to ease the burden on both the horseplayers and the tellers in the betting shanty is a single free-range teller wandering about the grandstand area taking bets. The lines would shorten at the windows and the employee designated to the position would easily pay for his or herself with the extra handle generated. Plus, with Michigan’s dismal employment rate, giving one more person a job looks that much better in the public eye.

But enough talk. Let’s look at some races…

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And they’re off!

Hello there.

Welcome to the grand opening of my newest project: The Michigan-Bred Claimer. 

I suppose an introduction is in order.

My name is Joe Nevills. I have been going to the races since I was four years old, watching my Grandpa Murphy’s horses run live at Mount Pleasant Meadows and over the simulcast at the now-defunct Detroit Race Course. While most of the children my age were darting back and forth about the racetrack apron, I was reading programs and trying to beat the races. It was all for fun, of course. Underage gambling is illegal. However, giving my parents wagering advice and accepting a majority share of the profits under the table is not.

After about a decade of following my grandpa’s horses online and at the simulcast joint, but only sparingly attending the live races, two horses altered the course of my life forever in 2004.

The first was dual classic winner Smarty Jones. Like 98% of Americans, I fell in love with the horse and his story, fulling expecting him to run away with the Belmont Stakes like he had the first two legs of the Triple Crown. I watched the race from the non-smoking simulcast room at Mt. Pleasant among the biggest crowd I had ever seen at the small track, all of whom were cheering for the chestnut champion. When he got edged out by Birdstone, the crowd at MPM was beyond crushed, beyond deflated. They were obliterated. People who I had never seen at the racetrack, and have not since, were openly weeping over a horse that they likely did not know existed three months before. It was here that I realized the power this game, nay sport, can have on the emotions and imaginations of the common man.

A couple months later, the second horse made me realize that the power is much stronger when the horse is competing under your colors. After causing nothing short of chaos in the paddock, my grandpa’s horse Royal Charley went on to win his first start by over five lengths at the recently-defunct Great Lakes Downs. Seeing that horse crush his foes while showing a complete disregard for everything and everyone around him made me want to associate with him immediately. Everyone has their sports heroes. Mine is Royal Charley.

Since then, I have become something of a student of the game, hitting the races whenever possible and trying to educate myself in any aspect of the industry I could find. I am currently a student at Central Michigan University majoring in journalism, but when asked, I say I am double majoring in journalism and horse racing. I have never regretted skipping a class to go the races, and my grades actually improve the more I involve the races in my life and coursework. 

In the summer of 2008, I worked as an intern for the Thoroughbred Times in Lexington, Kentucky. During my stay, I stood in the paddock and winner’s circle with 2007 Horse of the Year Curlin, secured exclusive interviews with jockeys Robby Albarado and Shaun Bridgmohan, discussed artificial racing surfaces with the Directors of Racing at Keeneland Race Course, Turfway Park and Woodbine, visited six racetracks, and wrote and proofread many stories for the magazine, website and daily newsletter. It was an amazing experience, and it is my goal to secure a full-time position with the publication upon my graduation.

Today, I am a frequent patron and amateur photographer at the live races at Mount Pleasant Meadows, and a quasi-frequent patron/photographer at the new Pinnacle Race Course in Detroit. Though the racing industry in the state has been struggling, like a good Michigan-bred claimer, the horsemen have scrapped and survived in the past and will continue to do so.

So that seems to be a decent way to start things off. I’ll probably end up filling some of the holes in my story as we go along, but until then, I would be glad to answer any questions you may have through comments.

Until then, your homework is to go to this Saturday’s Sire Stakes at Pinnacle Race Course. I’ll see you there!

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Filed under Great Lakes Downs, Mount Pleasant Meadows, Pinnacle Race Course, Story Time