Monthly Archives: April 2009

The Haiku Handicapper: The 2009 Kentucky Derby

The ol’ bait and switch
They’re at NTRA’s site
Thanks to Claire Novak

But seriously, click on the haiku above to see my picks for this Saturday’s big race on the NTRA website. As always, I owe Claire Novak a huge debt of gratitude for letting me graffito-tag her blog with my short, choppy, amateur-level poetry.

I will more than likely be watching the Derby at Mount Pleasant Meadows following the track’s opening day of live racing. It ought to be a good time. I have not exactly figured out how I plan to wager on the race, but as soon as I get a strategy put together, you’ll find it here.

Best of luck to everyone in their betting ventures this weekend.


Filed under Mount Pleasant Meadows, The Haiku Handicapper, Triple Crown

At least J. Geils was awesome…

As the title suggests, things did not exactly go as hoped for Mrs. Murphy’s first start at Hawthorne Race Course on Friday.

She broke a step slow and chased the field from last over 20 lengths back before finally getting past a horse that bled and stopped in the stretch. She also managed to nose out another tiring rival to finish sixth, a good 31 lengths off the winner.

Now, for a guest commentary on the race, former WWE superstar Ron Simmons…


Thank you, Mr. Simmons.

The thing I hate about races like this is you don’t learn much about the horse. The bad start is an easy excuse to rag on, but we can’t all be like I Want Revenge and blow by the field after moseying out of the gates and giving up a handful of lengths. I suppose we’ll get a more accurate picture of what Mrs. Murphy can do if and when she begins making starts at Pinnacle Race Course this summer. Hopefully, the stumble out of the gate was just that – a brief stumble – and not an indicator of her future finishing positions.

On the plus side, Mrs. Murphy got quite a bit of camera time in the paddock, which was nice. There wasn’t any sound on the Pinnacle simulcast, so I could not hear what they said about her, if anything. All I know is none of the handicappers picked her to hit the board and her final odds of 28-1 were significantly higher than her 8-1 morning line.

For an Equibase chart of the race, click here.

And for those of you who were wondering, the J. Geils Band concerts were nothing short of life-affirming. Even after a 10-year hiatus and even longer without producing new material, I have no reservations about saying they put on a better live show than any popular group out there today. The Hives might be within a stone’s throw, but when it comes down to sheer entertainment and musicianship (and the fact that none of them seem to have lost a step despite being in their 50s and 60s), the Swedes have to bow down and kiss Peter Wolf’s ring. More than worth the price of admission.

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Filed under The Family Business

Today is the day

Go ahead. Just tell weanling Mrs. Murphy because you were playing Aqueduct instead...She'll understand.   (Photo by Randy Russell)

Go ahead. Just tell weanling Mrs. Murphy you missed her first race because you were playing Aqueduct instead...She'll understand. (Photo by Randy Russell)

Few things match the excitement of a horse’s first race. 

There are so many unknowns. Its form is blank, and save from a few workouts and the reputations of the trainer, jockey and bloodlines, how the horse will perform is all but a complete mystery.

It’s exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. 

As a horseplayer, I tend to avoid first-time starters. Unless it posts some razor sharp works or has slam dunk connections in a field of nobodies, there are just too many unknowns.

But this time, it’s different.

Those of you who are regular readers or have spoken to me for more than 90 seconds in the past week already know what I am talking about, but for those of you just tuning in, I’m going to put it in big type so it’s nice and clear…

Mrs. Murphy is entered in her first race on Friday at Hawthorne Race Course. She is the #8 horse in the 6th race, expected to go off around 3:48 p.m.

Now that everyone is on the same page, I can get on with what I was writing about.

Though I will be unable to attend the race in person due to some rock n’ roll commitments in Detroit, I intend to place a wager on Mrs. Murphy at the Mount Pleasant Meadows simulcast before I leave. 

Even though I knew who I was going to bet on as soon as the entries were announced, I picked up a copy of Hawthorne’s Friday program just to see what she is up against. The more I look at it, the better I feel about her chances.

First off, it appears she had another workout at Hawthorne on April 9 that was either overlooked by Virtual Stable or mindlessly deleted in my daily exodus of Facebook notifications and newsletters from bands I don’t listen to anymore.

She worked four furlongs in 49.1 breezing from the gate, the 16th fastest time out of 44 to work the distance. Her mother, Janies Enjoyment won four-furlong races at Great Lakes Downs with the exact same time. Plus, it was an improvement of over four seconds from her previous work at four panels. It appears her trainer is getting her dialed in quite nicely for her first start.

As could be expected from a $15-13k maiden claimer at a mid-level track, the field is not comprised of world-beaters. In fact, all but one of the horses entered with at least one start are coming off double-digit-length losses. The lone horse to finish in the same time zone as the leader was seven lengths back coming back from a 28 1/4 length drubbing at Oaklawn Park. If this were any other race, I would avoid it like the plague.

Only one horse is directly coming down in class, the tentative favorite, #4 – Devils Feather, whose only career start saw her finish 12 lengths behind in fifth after burning out on the lead in a $25,000 maiden special weight at Hawthorne. Just about everyone else has been toiling in this class for most of their careers with little success.

Obviously, I’m a little biased with my picks in this race, but if Mrs. Murphy has any run in her at all, I see no reason looking at this field why she can’t at least hit the board. Granted, that could be a big “if.” Like I said, first-time starters are filed with mystery. But if she was ever going to sneak up and take a race at Hawthorne, this is as good a chance as she’ll get.

Here’s hoping for a safe and successful trip. Let’s go get that money.


Filed under The Family Business

It’s go time…

Oh, snap. Get a load of this…

Mrs. Murphy is entered to run on April 24, 2009 at HAWTHORNE. 

Race: 6  Distance: Six Furlongs  Surface: Dirt  Age: 3  –  Filly
Race Type: Maiden Claiming Purse: $ 10,500
Jockey: Jose R. Betancourt
Trainer: Randall R. Russell
Race conditions: FOR MAIDENS, FILLIES THREE YEARS OLD. Weight, 122 lbs. Claiming Price $15,000, For Each $1,000 To $13,000 1 lb.

Last Reported Workouts:
04/09/2009-HAWTHORNE-Four Furlongs-Dirt Fast-49:20 Breezing
03/20/2009-HAWTHORNE-Four Furlongs-Dirt Fast-53:80 Breezing
03/06/2009-HAWTHORNE-Three Furlongs-Dirt Fast-40:80 Breezing

Equibase Virtual Stable

It took me 22 years, but I finally made onto Equibase (Check the breeder on the Entries page). I mean “Joe Nevill” made it onto Equibase. I need to talk to someone about getting that fixed.

Exciting stuff, huh? The problem? I won’t be able to see it. I’ll be at a J. Geils Band concert in Detroit that night, so a run to Suburban Chicago is probably out of the question. With any luck, I might be able to catch it over the Pinnacle simulcast before the show. Not the ideal situation, but with the band’s age and propensity for artistic differences, you just don’t pass up J. Geils at this point in the game.

As for the race, I’m not going to pretend I know anything about Hawthorne’s maiden claimer scene. To my knowledge, I have handicapped exactly one half a card at the track and the Illinois Derby this year. Hardly enough to get a feel for the track and its horseflesh.

Here’s what I do know. Mrs. Murphy’s jockey, Jose Betancourt, is not among the top 20 riders at Hawthorne -Probably a negative, but in 2004, the rider on her uncle, Royal Charley, had only two wins on the year before he went on to dust the field by five lengths. Also, she’s listed as the second to last choice with morning line odds of 8-1. Considering her circumstances – first-time starter, Michigan-bred, less than blazing workouts, un-sexy bloodlines, unheralded rider – I figured she would be set at double figures without a second thought, even in an eight-horse field.

During Royal Charley’s heyday at Great Lakes Downs in 2007, I would put $5 across the board and $5 more to win on his nose. I have not yet decided how much I plan on wagering on Charley’s niece, but I figure it will be something in the $5 to win neighborhood (keep in mind that I will be placing the bet at Mount Pleasant Meadows around noon before I head to Detroit, so there will be no opportunity to handicap the race except for the horse I want to win). When Mrs. Murphy can prove she deserves the big bucks, I’ll play her accordingly. She ought to go for a decent price, so if she does manage to hit the wire first, I stand to make a good sum of money. Perhaps enough to pay for a concert t-shirt later that night.

One final note: If any of my Chicago-based readers (do I have any Chicago-based readers?) would be kind enough to snap a few pictures of Mrs. Murphy during your usual course of business and send them to me, I would be eternally grateful. She’s the #8 horse in the 6th race on Friday. Please send them to the email address listed on the “Contact” page. Thanks a bunch.


Filed under The Family Business

Help Michigan horsemen fight for their funding

As readers of this blog and followers of the Michigan racing industry know, the future of the sport in this state could potentially rest in the hands of our elected officials in Lansing.

Following Gov. Jennifer Graholm’s proposed cuts to the Michigan Ag Equine Fund, including drastic cuts to the state’s Equine Industry Fund and the disbanding of the owner’s and breeder’s incentive programs, the state Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee responded by restoring the monies to about 89% of the 2008/09 budget. Obviously, any cut hurts, but at least this will allow the industry to survive for the time being.

For a condensed version of the Senate’s proposed budget changes, click here. For an line item-by-line item overview, click here.

The issue will now head to the House of Representatives when the Legislature reconvienes from spring recess on April 21. The House Appropriations Sub Committee on Agriculture will draw up its own proposal for the ag-related funds, which will then be voted on by the entire House. After the revised budget is approved in a joint session, it will be put before the Governor for her approval.

Though the Senate proposed that most of the monies be restored, this does not guarantee the House will follow suit. The Equine Industry Fund is still in jeopardy. 

Because of this, the Michigan Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association is encouraging participants, fans and others with interest in the racing industry to contact the members of the Michigan House Appropriations Sub Committee on Agriculture to let them know how important horse racing is in this state and how losing the industry would produce more long-term negatives than the temporary benefits of cuts can relieve. 

As I stated when the issue was put before the Senate, if you are affected by Michigan racing in any way – be it as a friend or relative of a horseman, an operator of a business frequented by a racetracker or breeder, or even someone who just likes to go to the track once a year and play the Kentucky Derby, I encourage you to join me in signing the letters offered below and telling the members of the sub committee to at least keep the funding at the level proposed by the Senate. Every letter counts, and a big stack of them will make a big impression.

For those interested in taking action, here are the letters offered from the MTOBA website. If you did not receive a pre-addressed letter from MTOBA and would like to help, the addresses of the subcommittee members are listed at the top of each page. For more information on the issue and how you can help, please contact MTOBA.

John Espinoza – Chair of the House Appropriations Sub Committee on Agriculture Gary

McDowell – Majority Vice Chair of the House Appropriations Sub Committee on Agriculture

Matt Lori – Minority Chair of the House Appropriations Sub Committee on Agriculture

Thanks again for your time and support of the Michigan horse racing industry.

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Filed under Politics

Working toward the gate card

The call of Keeneland is strong, but final projects and exams beckon. Michigan-bred Speak of Kings gets ready to hit the track with Shaun Bridgmohan aboard.

The call of Keeneland is strong, but final projects and exams beckon. Michigan-bred Speak of Kings gets ready to hit the track with Shaun Bridgmohan aboard.

I kind of hate April.

Oh, sure. Give me the whole song and dance about the impending warm weather (it’s snowed twice in the last week), the conclusion of March Madness, the suspense of the NFL Draft, Derby prep season and of course, Keeneland. On paper, April sure looks like an exciting month.

The problem is, due to my crushing course load, I am unable to enjoy much of anything on that list. April is the part of the semester when things get difficult, and with all of my classes being 400-level or above, it’s only getting that much worse. Whoever scheduled the spring semester at Central Michigan University was clearly not a racing fan.

With that said, I’m afraid I don’t have time to write anything terribly original for the time being. Instead, I am going to point you in the direction of some people who are doing original things and hope you will find your way back here once things quiet down a bit on the academic front. Enjoy!

– Beulah Park is doing some good things on its website, posting informational trackside chat videos featuring Vice President and General Manager Mike Weiss answering fan-submitted questions. Check them out on the the track’s website or visit their Youtube page. Good stuff.

– The Kentucky Derby (Presented by Yum! Brands…How tedious) is just a few weeks away. Because most, if not all, of the Derby tickets have been punched, that leaves us with plenty of time to discuss how the morning line odds will be set for the big race. Fortunately, the Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance is on top of the matter with its own group morning line. Big props to Handride for putting it all together.

– The Michigan Office of Racing Commissioner released its annual report for 2008 this morning. I have yet to look it over in too much detail, but if I find something to discuss, you’ll find it here first.

– Just because I’m not writing about racing at length here does not mean I am not writing about it elsewhere. Right now I am working on a 1,500-2,000 word story about the proposed state cuts to Michigan’s owner and breeder incentive programs. So far, I am pretty happy with how it is looking. Stay tuned for more information on this as it becomes available.

– Some important upcoming Michigan racing-related dates to keep in mind…
        – May 2: Opening day at Mount Pleasant Meadows (oh, and there’s this race going on in Kentucky that sounds pretty important as well. If ESPN isn’t bothering to cover it though, I suppose it isn’t worth my time).
        – May 16: Michigan Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association Two-Year-Old and Unraced Three-Year-Old Sale at Pinnacle Race Course (assuming it fills. I have not heard anything going either way, so I’m assuming it’s on until I am informed otherwise).
        – May 24: Spring Fling at Mount Pleasant Meadows. A day for race fans 18 and up to go behind the scenes at the mixed breed racetrack. I’ll post more info on this as the day gets closer.
        – June 5: Opening day at Pinnacle Race Course.

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Filed under Mount Pleasant Meadows, Pinnacle Race Course, Triple Crown

The Haiku Handicapper: Blue Grass Stakes Recap

Ex-claimer’s legit
Top two finishers looked strong
Derby plot thickens

If you haven’t already, be sure to visit Claire Novak’s NTRA blog to view my original selections. Two out of three ain’t bad, and a boxed exacta would have paid $117.60.


Filed under The Haiku Handicapper, Triple Crown

The Haiku Handicapper: Toyota Blue Grass Stakes

Won’t find haikus here
Guest blogged at NTRA
Click here to see them

But seriously, many, many thanks go out to Claire Novak for letting me hijack her blog for the day.

Be sure to keep tabs on her happenings at Keeneland and leading up to the Kentucky Derby by following her blog on the NTRA website. Few people can nail down the racetrack experience quite like she can. Go see for yourself.

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Filed under The Haiku Handicapper, Triple Crown

Exploring the alternatives

The implementation of alternative wagering would likely speed up the construction process at Pinnacle Race Course. Caught In Traffic is led out of the paddock with Federico Mata aboard.

The implementation of alternative wagering would likely speed up the construction process at Pinnacle Race Course. Caught In Traffic is led out of the paddock with Federico Mata aboard.

The proverbial toothpaste is out of the tube.

The number of states seeing their purses skyrocket from slot machines and other casino gaming is growing with each passing year. 

Just as many racetracks, if not more, are going online for new sources of handle, offering advance deposit wagering for those of us who like to play the races but fear natural sunlight.

With so much competition for the gambling dollar from casinos, lotteries, neighborhood poker games and elsewhere, it appears the days of racing being able to thrive on its own product alone are becoming numbered.

Even Kentucky, the Thoroughbred capital of the world, is working toward legislation to implement slots into the state’s racetracks. 

The implementation of alternative wagering is also widening the gap between functional racing facilities and ones that struggle to keep the lights on.

Michigan, for example, has no alternative wagering options outside of simulcast and is suffering because of it. 

In 2004, a ballot proposal, largely funded by the state’s Native American tribes and three casinos in Detroit, was convincingly approved forcing the state’s racetracks to jump through a ridiculous and costly number of hoops to even get a chance to install slots or table games. In the same proposal, the tribes and Detroit casinos included a clause making themselves immune to the restrictions and free to expand their gaming operations in any manner they wish. To put the final nail in the coffin, the proposal was retroactive, killing a Video Lottery Terminal bill that was making its way through State Congress when the proposal was written.

The proposal was marketed as a way to empower the people of Michigan, allowing them to control where new gaming could and could not go. As any good Snake Oil salesman will attest, the first step in manipulating the masses is giving them a false sense of empowerment. Despite what a federal judge said earlier this year, a fast one of epic proportions was pulled on the people of Michigan in 2004.

Online wagering on Michigan tracks is also prohibited to its populace. Michigan residents are allowed to set up accounts and send their money to tracks across the globe, but can not wager on the ones in their own state. A person who lives on the other side of the Ohio border just a few miles from Pinnacle Race Course can fire up their Xpressbet account and play the races in his or her underwear. Meanwhile, the Michigan racing fan living in the state’s upper peninsula, a good eight-to-ten-hour drive from New Boston, is out of luck. There is something backward about outlawing something to the group that could benefit from it the most.

Through all of this, the number of tribal casinos in Michigan has swelled to 17, with at least two more in development. This does not include The Great Lakes Downs property recently purchased by the Little River Tribe of Ottawa Indians in 2008, which currently sits in administrative purgatory while the Tribe attempts to get a gaming license on non-tribal land.

The Michigan Lottery has also expanded quite freely, and since its inception in 1972 has ballooned to over 20 different drawings, Club Keno, Pull Tabs and countless instant ticket games; all of which are allowed to expand their presence into gas stations, bars, restaurants and elsewhere. The Michigan racing industry is literally being regulated by its competition.

Racing in the state of Michigan can not be expected to survive it is not allowed the same rights of expansion as other gaming outlets in the state and other racetracks in neighboring states. 

Because of the state’s unwillingness to provide its racing industry with the tools it needs to compete on a level playing field, Michigan’s horsemen are leaving in droves. With Pennsylvania’s Presque Isle Downs and two recently slots-enriched tracks in Indiana so nearby, many horsemen are sending their mares to foal in those states to take advantage of their generous breeder’s incentive programs. Others are simply pulling up the stakes and moving their entire operations to states with alternative wagering.

It is sad to see them go, but when a $7,500 claimer can run for double the purse elsewhere, one can hardly blame Michigan’s horsemen for going where the money is. If Kentucky approves slots, it will only give them another place to race for lots more money than they could here. The effects the massive loss of horsemen in this state could have is staggering.

I will now step down from my soapbox and allow you to step up onto yours for the next poll question: Which form of alternative wagering is most important to racing’s long-term health?

Though I use Michigan as an example, the question applies to the sport as a whole.

Slots make the purses nice and big, but is it just a bubble that will eventually burst? Account wagering allows players to wager from anywhere, but could it someday render live handle obsolete? Is there something out there no one has considered?

Personally, I think Michigan could use whatever it can get.


Filed under Commentary, Pinnacle Race Course, Politics, Polls

Think locally, broadcast globally

Jockeys and horsemen at small tracks could provide a different perspective from those at Santa Anita

Jockeys and horsemen at small tracks could provide a different perspective from those at Santa Anita. Jockey Dale Berryhill looks over his mount, Guys Nite Out, at Mount Pleasant Meadows.

Though it seems the producers of the Animal Planet reality series “Jockeys” have already decided to make a return trip to Santa Anita, the readers of The Michigan-Bred Claimer have made it clear they would like to see the show’s next installment held at a small-time racetrack.

I suppose there is always hope for season three if the series does well enough to stay out of the Animal Planet execs’ crosshairs. Unless someone in charge of the show manages to find a way to keep the current group of riders from getting stale, it is very easy to picture the series’ third installment to come from a new locale. Racetracks looking to get some national exposure would be wise to start making some calls and knocking on a few doors before someone else beats them to the punch.

Now to discuss the poll. Because I have already examined each option at length, I am going to keep my reactions brief.

For a review of the pros and cons of holding a season of “Jockeys” at the four choices offered in the poll, click here.

Let’s have a look at the results…

Where would you like to see the next season of “Jockeys” held?

A Smaller Track – 24 Votes (55%)
A Mid-Level Track – 10 Votes (23%)
Back at Santa Anita – Seven Votes (16%)
A Larger Track – Three Votes (7%)

Total Votes: 44

While I was not terribly shocked to see the small tracks win out, I was surprised to see so little support for hosting next season at another major location. I figured the draw of the big names in the saddle and under, as well as the major races they would compete in, would garner more votes than it did, especially considering many of the more prestigious tracks run short, easy to follow meets like the Oak Tree meet at Santa Anita.

Still, I fully support the results of the poll and agree that a season at a bullring would make for some very good watching, even if that track isn’t in Michigan.

Next time we meet, I will have a new poll question for you to ponder. Until then, what small-time track do you think would be best suited for an undertaking like “Jockeys?”

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Filed under Commentary, Mount Pleasant Meadows, Polls