First order of business: This is your last chance to vote in the “day racing vs. night racing” poll before I close the ballot box. If you have not already let your voice be heard, you still have time.
Now on to the matter at hand…
Last year was one of finding answers to important questions in Michigan racing.
Some of the more important ones, such as “where are we going to race this year” were answered, while questions about the sport’s long-term health in the state still linger.
Every new year brings a new set of questions that must be answered, and this one is no exception. Here are five to ponder while you await the June 5 opening of Pinnacle Race Course…
1. Who will be this year’s breakout sire?
Every year, there seems to be one new or unheralded Michigan stallion whose progeny come up big and draw lots of mares to his breeding shed the following season.
In 2008, Elusive Hour’s second crop produced the top two finishers in the Michigan Futurity, including two-year-old male of the year, Mr. Conclusive. In previous years, Equality’s multiple stakes-winning freshman crop and Island Storm’s success with Weatherstorm generated similar buzz.
With a large juvenile crop ready to hit the track, the stallion with the best chance of claiming the unofficial title in 2009 could be The Deputy (Ire).
Purchased by Hubel Farms in 2005, The Deputy will send his first two-year-olds as a Michigan sire to the track this year. The 11-year-old Petardia horse began his stallion career at Kentucky’s Margaux Farm where he saw moderate, if underwhelming, success, siring Panamanian champion Happy Buy and stakes winners at Hawthorne Race Course, Retama Park and Portland Meadows.
Though success at the highest levels of Kentucky racing may have eluded him, the achievements of his foals at tracks of comparative class to Pinnacle could bode well for The Deputy.
Further aiding The Deputy’s chances for success will be that he should have the most tries at siring this year’s juvenile standout. In his first year as a Michigan sire, The Deputy covered 55 mares, producing 30 foals, both state-leading totals.
However, strength in numbers means little if none of his foals can live up to the hype on the racetrack.
Because none of The Deputy’s foals from his stint in Kentucky have ventured into Michigan for any kind of serious competition (there may have been a few odd ones appear in the claiming ranks, but none immediately come to mind), the only measuring stick available is the sight test.
Though I was exposed to only a small sampling of his foals, the ones sent through the ring at last September’s Michigan Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association yearling sale were among the best looking in the barn. In particular, a gray filly named Dance in Delight looked well-developed and could be one to watch in the coming years.
2. How will Mr. Conclusive follow up on his dominant two-year-old campaign?
What do you do when you’ve already beaten up all the kids in your playground? You go to a bigger playground.
From what I have heard, Mr. Conclusive will spend his winter in Florida following a little time off to recover from an ailment. Once he makes his way back north, there is little reason to think he will not continue to run roughshod over the three-year-old division.
There is always the chance the Elusive Hour colt could run into the dreaded sophomore slump or one of his rivals could mature from last year into a serious contender, but with the margins of victory Mr. Conclusive put up, it is hard to single out anyone who could fill that role.
3. Whose Sire Stakes streak will stay alive?
As I touched off on in a previous post, there are currently two horses riding streaks of two or more consecutive wins in Sire Stakes races – Campbell Stables’ Valley Loot (two) and J. Mack Enterprise Inc.’s Meadow Vespers (four). At the MTOBA awards banquet, Valley Loot’s owner Lisa Campbell expressed her desire to surpass the latter’s mark.
All things considered, Valley Loot will likely have an easier go at putting another notch in her belt this year. Aside from being two years younger than her rival, the Demaloot Demashoot mare will likely be less threatened by last year’s three-year-old crop moving up into the older classes. Stakes winners Wave Pool and Clever Idea will be the primary challengers, having both won a race against older competition. However, with Wave Pool’s tendency to run hot and cold, the only newcomer with enough consistency and big-time experience to pose a serious threat would likely be Clever Idea.
Meadow Vespers, on the other hand, will face a much stronger crop of upcoming four-year-olds including stakes winners Bipolar Express and Equally Good, who both notched wins against older company in their three-year-old campaigns. Also coming up in that class will be multiple stakes winner Hot Chili who missed out by a nose to Meadow Vespers in an allowance race at Thistledown prior to Pinnacle’s opening.
The question of whether Valley Loot can equal or beat Meadow Vespers’ high water mark will b one for 2010, but I’m willing to bet it will be one we get to ask.
4. What will be new at Pinnacle Race Course?
From what I have heard, not a whole heck of a lot. Most, if not all, of the Phase 2 additions to the New Boston track appear to have been put on the back burner after money became more of an issue than expected.
Seeing a completed grandstand this year sounds less and less likely the more I hear and read about it. Hopefully a longer racing season and a year of public awareness will generate the funds necessary to start building again sooner rather than later.
5. How much of a difference will a few weeks make?
After gate troubles delayed the start of Pinnacle’s inaugural season by a half hour, many fans grumbled with displeasure. If they only knew…
Despite building the existing racetrack at a breakneck pace, the finishing touches of construction on the facility were delayed by weeks due to heavy rain. Because of this, the date for trainers to start bringing in horses to stable and train was also constantly pushed back to the point where trainers had only a few days to get their horses acclimated to their new surroundings before the first post.
Because the pool of ready horses was limited to ship-ins and Michigan-based horses who had started their year elsewhere, the fields were anemic at times in the early goings (do you have any idea how hard it is to defend your new home track at a national racing publication when it puts out a three-horse field on HRTV?). The fields got a little more robust as time went on, but playing catch-up is never a good time.
It will be interesting to see how things change both in size of fields and quality of horses entered with what ought to be a full slate of time to prepare for the 2009 meet. The additional time ought to benefit everyone involved.