Monthly Archives: May 2009

Back on the work tab

Got this in the inbox earlier today…

This notice is to inform you that one or more of your horses has worked out. 

Mrs. Murphy

Your Comment: 

Date: May 19, 2009
Track: PINNACLE RACE COURSE
Distance: Four Furlongs
Time: 56:80 Breezing
Track Condition: Fast
Surface: Dirt
Rank: 60/60

Okay, so last out of 60 isn’t exactly the sexiest number on paper, and that time is downright crawling, but a return to Michigan gives me reason for optimism. Even at its lowest maiden claiming levels, Chicago can be a tough place for a Michigan-bred to start out compared to like-priced maiden claimers at Pinnacle. She’s probably got a while before her next start (Pinnacle’s meet doesn’t open until June 5), so she can afford to be brought along at a slower pace. Just as long as she goes all out when they start to count, that’s all that matters.

If anything else, at least I’ll be able to get some pictures of her this time around.

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Filed under Pinnacle Race Course, The Family Business

The Haiku Handicapper: Preakness Stakes Recap

The filly did it
Top two proved they are legit
Who wants a rematch?

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Something to note: In a race that’s purpose, as defined by Rachel Alexandra’s former co-owner Dolphus Morrison, is “to showcase the future stallions of our industry,” the top two finishers were a filly and a gelding. Nice.

While looking through Preakness Stakes winner Rachel Alexandra’s pps, I noticed she  finished second in last year’s Debutante Stakes at Churchill Downs, a race I saw in person. I quickly searched my photo archives and found I had a couple pictures of her. Neither of them are exactly Eclipse-quality, but it is the first time to my recollection that I photographed a horse before he or she broke through to the big time. Enjoy!

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The Haiku Handicapper: The 2009 Preakness Stakes

The Crown’s second jewel
Most Rachel drama since “Friends”
Should make good watching

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

#1 – Big Drama
Does well off long breaks
Will duel for lead, but can last
Shooter with a shot

#2 – Mine That Bird
Historic upset
Best horse or opportunist?
No Borel, no chance

#3 – Musket Man
A pleasant surprise
Answered class, distance questions
As live as any

#4 – Luv Gov
Best name in the field
Took ten starts to break maiden
Would be a huge shock

#5 – Friesan Fire
Derby’s biggest bust
In-race hoof woes a concern
Has he recovered? 

#6 – Terrain
Wisely skipped Derby
Globetrotter on eighth new track
An exotic threat

#7 – Papa Clem
Off two big efforts 
Almost always a factor
Is a bounce looming?

#8 – General Quarters
A minor letdown
Rough trip in race, ride to track
Was Blue Grass his peak? 

#9 – Pioneerof The Nile
Hey, he handles dirt!
Great trip, ran into buzzsaw
Will be tough to beat 

#10 – Flying Private
Crossed the wire last
Lane’s End now an afterthought
Doesn’t look likely 

#11 – Take The Points
Passed on the big dance
Second tier on the west coast
Middle of the pack 

#12 – Tone It Down
A local entry
Could draft Mine That Bird on rail
Too much here to beat 

#13 – Rachel Alexandra
The filly phenom
Stallion showcase gains intrigue
Talent should trump post

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Who cashes tickets?
Zayat only needed one
Place: thirteen, Show: one

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Where everybody knows your name

Nothing warms the heart like a homecoming. Kit Corona heads to a maiden win under Juan Delgado at Mount Pleasant Meadows.

Nothing warms the heart like a homecoming. Kit Corona heads to a maiden win under Juan Delgado at Mount Pleasant Meadows.

For me, it all begins at Mount Pleasant Meadows.

It was at Mount Pleasant Meadows where in 1990 I stood in the winner’s circe for the first time with my grandpa’s horse, and future Echo Hills matriarch, Janie’s Echo. I was four years old. Richard Rettele was the jockey.

Mount Pleasant is also where I picked my first winner, an Arabian colt named Fast Dance, again at the age of four, maybe five. Using all the handicapping prowess I had at the time, I picked the horse with the best name.

Nineteen years later, I was again headed toward the winner’s circle, but an Echo Hills horse hasn’t run at Mount Pleasant in at least 15 years. Instead, I was on my way to get a picture of the race’s victor, Anniversary Annie, a horse I overlooked because her odds were too low to justify the risk. Richard Rettele was the jockey.

No matter what goes on in the outside world, it’s good to know some things never change.

After canceling its initial Kentucky Derby-corresponding opening day due to a lack of entries, Mount Pleasant Meadows kicked off its 2009 meet on Sunday.

It was a cloudy day, and there were still a few puddles on the track from the previous day’s storms. If the track surface does one thing well, it’s holding water.

The place was pretty quiet when I got there, about an hour before first post. People began filing in at a quicker rate as the horses reached the paddock for the first race.

The thing I love most about Mount Pleasant is its communal feel. The trainers and their assistants double as the pony riders, often taking horses other than their own from the barn to the paddock and to the starting gate. From there, the same horsemen put on yet another hat and become the gate crew. Try finding that kind of trust at Churchill Downs.

Speaking of trust, the trainers/outriders/gate men display an awful lot of it before each race. While the trainers saddle their horses in the paddock, they leave their pony horses in the care of whomever is standing near the paddock at the moment. Normally, this means young-to-preteen children, though I sometimes find myself holding one or two on slow or unseasonable days. Parents often look on as their children, usually new to the sport or horses in general, try to figure out what exactly they are holding the reins to. Just as often, the kids get sneezed on.

There are plenty of other things at Mount Pleasant Meadows a racegoer will not see at most tracks. Among them is previously mentioned jockey Richard Rettele, who at the age of 68 continues to be the big money rider at the track. He may not ride in every race, but when he does climb aboard, he usually removes his tack in the winner’s circle. ESPN.com mentioned Rettele in a story it did a few years back about older jockeys, which can be read here.

Also, because Mount Pleasant is a mixed breed track, fans are treated to races of varying distance and horse type. Not good at picking out Arabian closers at five furlongs? Give it a few minutes and a 250-yard quarter horse dash will be on the card. Want to see a paint horse go up against a Thoroughbred? Every once in a while they’ll make it happen.

Only at Mount Pleasant Meadows will you see an 0-for-three years paint horse lose a match race by five lengths, but win by DQ, then see its jockey get jumped by a chipmunk waiting inside the mailbox holding the phone to the stewards after the race.

Despite the attractions of the out-of-the-ordinary, Mount Pleasant Meadows is something of a track in crisis. The number of horses being sent to the gates has dwindled to four or five per race when the cards fill at all. The track is consistently and significantly last in the state in both live and simulcast handle year after year (according to Equibase, the total live handle on opening day was $3,267). Competition from a casino ten minutes away saps away even more of the gambling dollar, and outside of Triple Crown race days, the the live attendance is a long way from robust. Things are tough, and with the economy giving people a tight grip on their cash (especially in Michigan), and the state government’s almost daily report of bad news for the racing industry, thinking about the track’s future can be a little scary.

It’s a surreal experience visiting a track that knows it’s in trouble. Upon cashing a $9 winning ticket, the clerk said, “Hey, that’s pretty good for where you are.” I ended up making about $20 on the day, all from win bets because the fields were not big enough for exacta wagering for all but the last race.

The tension was spread out among the regular racegoers as well. Conversations tended to focus around the people who weren’t there, be it those listed in the program as having passed on, or more frequently those who left to chase bigger purses in Indiana. Notably absent were the pink and black silks of Ron Raper, usually good for 1.5 horses per race, who has moved his operation to the Hoosier state.  However, when slots-enriched Indiana Downs is offering more purse money in one quarter horse race than Mount Pleasant is in its entire quarter horse portion of the card, it is hard to blame anyone who takes up a new residence south of the Michigan border.

Still, it was great to be back. It was nice to catch up with the old friends I hadn’t seen since the meet ended last October and introduce myself to new friends I had made through this site. Not everyone may know my name there, but they all knew my grandpa, who was a regular since the track’s opening day 25 years ago.

For all the ragging I do on Mount Pleasant Meadows, it is the one track I always find myself longing for. Throughout my time in Kentucky last summer, I often found myself wondering what was going on at the dirt oval north of town. Simply put, without this track, the course of my life would have been dramatically altered. Hopefully Mount Pleasant can make it through its current struggles, because the racing world would lose something special if the lights go out.

Here are a few looks at opening day at Mount Pleasant Meadows…

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Michigan Notebook: May 8, 2009

– As if the Michigan racing industry didn’t have enough on its plate fighting for next year’s Ag Equine Fund monies, Gov. Jennifer Granholm landed another haymaker on Tuesday. From the Michigan HBPA… 

GOVERNOR’S ORDER: An executive order to reduce the projected 1.2 billion shortfall for Michigan’s 2008-09 Budget was issued May 5, 2009 to cut 300 million dollars. In the order to restore a reduction in ORC funding of 3.8 million, 1.4 million was taken from the thoroughbred programs for 2009. In doing so, that leaves -0- for Michigan bred supplements, breeders awards, and stakes races. End result, the state saves .12%, but takes 100% from equine funds. Not certain .12% will have any significant impact on the states problems, certain  100% reduction surely eliminates the breeding industry in Michigan. Attempts will be made to restore funding to an industry that is and has been a producer for the state. It is difficult to understand the rationale to eliminate a revenue producing industry, especially when the revenue received for programs comes directly from the statewide thoroughbred simulcast signal.

This new twist is part of my continuing investigation regarding the state’s cuts to the racing industry. I know I have been teasing this for a while, but the story will be coming to fruition sooner rather than later.

– Representatives from the various facets of the horse racing industry testified Wednesday before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture. A horsemen’s rally was held in front of the Capitol Building before the hearing, organized by the Michigan Harness Horsemen’s Association. Aside from gathering around the Capitol and holding signs, the horsemen took up the side of the road with trucks, trailers, tractors and other farm equipment. It was quite the sight. Though the event was put on by the harness people, whose numbers reached triple digits, it was also open to horsemen from the Thoroughbred and Quarter Horse sectors, of which I am disappointed to say there were very few.

As for the hearing itself, the horsemen represented themselves very well in their testimonies, explaining the industry’s impact on the state economy and its struggles from within the state and elsewhere.

Speaking for the Thoroughbred sector was breeder/MTOBA Director Rick McCune, Michigan HBPA Executive Director Gary Tinkle and owner/trainer/HBPA Director Robert Gorham. Mount Pleasant Meadows was represented by  Great Lakes Quarter Horse Association Vice President Carolyn Bay and owner Mike Bale. I’m not going to claim that I know too much about the harness side of the racing business, but the MHHA’s president, Brett Boyd is one heck of a public speaker. His speeches during the rally and before the subcommittee were both top shelf. Also delivering a convincing testimony in favor of the racing industry was former Michigan Speaker of the House Larry Julian, who recieved applause from the capacity crowd afterward.

Now, we’ll see if any of it made any effect on the House members in attendance.

Once the House makes its recommendations, it will meet with the Senate for a joint session before sending their version of the budget to the Governor for her approval.

– This Sunday marks the rescheduled opening day at Mount Pleasant Meadows. The card filled, but the fields are still very small. Of the eight races, four feature five-horse fields and the other four will send four horses to the gates. 

– In some unfortunate news, I came out of the Great Lakes Downs online auction empty-handed. It looks like that moment of sweet redemption where I finally get that clump of dirt isn’t going to happen. Boo-urns. However, it appears the Muskegon Chronicle has picked up the slack in terms of recording the tearing down of the track in this article.

– Speaking of Great Lakes Downs, the two-plus-year investigation by the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau finally produced some kind of results on Thursday. Tampa Bay Online reports that jockey Ricardo Valdes was “indicted Wednesday on charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit sports bribery.” Valdes is one of seven jockeys, including regular GLD riders T.D. Houghton, Joe Judice, and Jose Delgado, who faced scrutiny following a number of suspicious bets placed at Delaware Park on a race at Great Lakes Downs in 2006. Valdes was not a regular rider at GLD, but made occasional appearances at the Muskegon track during the 2006 race meet.

– Now that training has opened up at Pinnacle Race Course, a new feature I am going to try to get going is listing some of the notable workouts at Pinnacle for the previous week. Here is the trial run…

2008 MI 2yo of the year Mr. Conclusive – May 5 – 3f, 39.40b, 13/20
2008 Sickle’s Image winner Ittybittymeadow – May 5 – 3f, 38.20b, 8/20
4 1/2 furlong track record holder Weepster – May 5 – 3f 39.40b, 13/20
2008 Mackinac Hcp. winner Bishop Casey – May 5 – 4f, 51.20b, 3/5

– One more thing. Consider this your fair warning that the alternative wagering poll is coming down in the near future, likely sometime next week. After a long neck-and-neck battle, the slot machines are once again beginning to pull away from advance deposit wagering. Can they hang on? That’s up to you. Go vote!

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

The final nail

Take it all in, gang. By the looks of it, we won't be seeing horses at Great Lakes Downs again. Hanway (#1) and Caught in Traffic (#2) walk around the GLD paddock.   

Take it all in, gang. By the looks of it, we won't be seeing horses at Great Lakes Downs again. Hanway (#1) and Caught in Traffic (#2) walk around the GLD paddock.

On the last night of live racing at Great Lakes Downs back in November of 2007, I asked a security guard if I could step onto the track after the night’s card had concluded and scoop up a baggie of dirt so I would have a souvenir of the track where I fell in love with the sport of horse racing. I was denied.

This Thursday, I have the opportunity to get my redemption.

The second installment of the two-week auction of anything of value at the former Great Lakes Downs in Muskegon gives bidders the opportunity to buy the actual dirt that hosted Michigan’s finest Thoroughbreds for the better part of this decade.

This auction has been in the making for nearly a year. The property was sold to the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians last July and the tribe has expressed little interest in keeping it a racetrack, instead opting to work toward building another casino. Might as well get as much money out of what’s there before getting rid of the rest.

They are literally pulling things off the walls for this sale. Last week’s installment stripped down the bar where I celebrated my 21st birthday along with the rest of the plant itself. Each and every window looking out to the track was put up for bids, and as a track with its entire grandstand indoors, that is a lot of glass. Every chair, every handrail, every coffee maker…if it wasn’t bolted down, it appears it was being sold – and if it was bolted down, the buyer is responsible for removal, so it’s their problem.

Looking at how the track has deteriorated in the year and a half since the last horse passed the wire is painful, almost post-apocalyptic. The racing surface is full of weeds, as is the paddock and winner’s circle. They’re selling off the staircase I would bound up before the races  and would more cautiously climb down at night (not drunkenly, the steps were just unevenly proportioned) while going over the events of the evening with my friends and family. Memory Lane isn’t such a great place to be when everyone on the street has been evicted. Just looking at things as inconsequential as a certain section of fence or the perpetually unmanned guard shack by the jock’s room make me feel like I was just there. I was just there. It hasn’t been that long, but a little neglect can make a place change in a hurry.

Here are a few other items offered this week and last you’ll only find at a racetrack liquidation sale. Some of these items have already been sold, so be sure to check their availability if you covet such objects. I wish I had the space for some of these things. I would have the coolest backyard around.

The shell of the Great Lakes Downs tote board
Camera towers
Backstretch pole barns
The stalls under the pole barns
Highway signs advertising the track
The paddock stalls
Leftover GLD Memorabilia (I wanted this so badly. If the buyer of this lot is reading this, contact me. I’ll double what you paid for it.)
Various track signage
The turnstile at the front entrance
A crapload of Kentucky Derby glasses
Old-school S.A.M Autotote betting machines (If you bought a single-machine lot, the double offer goes out to you as well. I have no practical use for an inactive S.A.M., but it would be pretty cool just to say I have one.)
GLD trash cans (There was one trash bin by the jock’s room that was from the old Detroit Race Course. I am curious as to its whereabouts.)
The scale house
The inside rail

The meticulous nature of the items being offered in the sale all but confirms that Great Lakes Downs will never again host another race. In fact, the complete stripping of the property suggests the plant and surrounding area will likely be leveled to clear room for the tribe’s proposed casino. Simply put, this is a damn shame.

I regret having missed the first auction. Had former Turf Linker Andrew not alerted me to them, I probably would have missed the second one as well. This is what happens when final class projects keep me from checking Google Alerts. I miss important things like this.

I would have greatly enjoyed getting myself some keepsakes from the track where I spent some of the happiest days of my life. While the second auction primarily focuses on the backstretch, apron and other outdoor areas of the property, I am going to keep my eye on a few items that may not be immediately identifiable with the track, but will have sentimental value.

If anything else, going to pick up the items means I’ll get one last chance to say goodbye. Maybe I’ll finally get the chance to sneak out on to the track and get that baggie of dirt.

I miss my racetrack.

For more information on this weekend’s auction, click here.

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Filed under Commentary, Great Lakes Downs

Rave Reviews?

Alright, everyone who picked Mine That Bird to win the Kentucky Derby for a reason other than his name, number, silks color or Canadian background, raise your hand.

Liars.

You and I both know we wouldn’t have touted Mine That Bird to our worst enemy.

He was a Polytrack horse, and a Canadian one at that. He got butchered in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, finishing last by a mile. His only significant win was a Grade 3 at Woodbine – AT TWO. He couldn’t even muster up the athletic capabilities to hit the board in an ungraded stakes race at Sunland Park. Mine That Bird would have been a hard sell for a show wager in the Lone Star Derby, much less the highest-profile three-year old race in the world.

But here we are.

Looking through the sea of pre-race predictions, one would be hard-pressed to find anyone who put Mine That Bird in their top 15 out of the pre-scratch field of 20, much less in a spot of serious contention. I’ve seen more optimistic forecasts in a Chrysler exec’s stock portfolio. 

As a testament to just how out of left field this outcome was, I have compiled some of the more colorful predictions of Mine That Bird’s Derby chances from some of the biggest names and publications in Turf Writing. The results weren’t optimistic.

Because I’m a good sport, I’ll start with my own fearless prediction…

#8 – Mine That Bird
Made bank in Loonies
No graded starts in ’09
Avoid at all costs

Consider the foot firmly planted in the mouth.

Here is what the rest of the Turf Writing community had to say about the Kentucky Derby winner in their pre-race analysis. Just to keep it fair, I limited my search to professional writers and handicappers. These are the people who get paid for their opinions, so one would speculate they would be held in a higher regard. Just imagine seeing some of these clips in a stallion ad if Mine That Bird hadn’t been gelded.

“Save your money”
– Tom Pedulla, USA Today 

Best quality: “Photographs well”
– Jay Cronley, ESPN 

“Highest Beyer speed figure (81) isn’t even close to making him a contender. Has shown some speed in the past, but it probably won’t last for long.”
– Jason Shandler, Blood Horse

“Off career-best Beyers, he’s got about 23 lengths to make up. Hey, no problem.”
– Mike Watchmaker, Daily Racing Form

Fair odds: “399-1”
– Ed DeRosa, Thoroughbred Times

Odds to finish last: “7-1,” the lowest odds in the field. (By the way, actual last-place finisher Flying Private was set at 9-1)
– Bodog.com 

“We can’t see it, even with Calvin Borel in the irons.”
– BrisNet Editorial

“Too slow to be a factor.”
– Justin Dew, KentuckyDerby.com 

“Mind That Bird (sic) has simply run much too slow in all eight races to think that he can compete against this type of opposition.”
– “The Wizard,” BrisNet 

ESPN’s Jeremy Plonk listed Mine That Bird among his “Toss-outs,” but was more optimistic about his chances than most…

“Canada’s champion last year was last in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and has not improved enough this spring to make you think he can cash a check Saturday. But he’s a hard-trying horse and probably will out-finish one or two horses that will surprise you.”

So what’s the moral of the story? Never underestimate the longshot? Nope. Be nice to everyone because you never know who is going to hit it big? ‘Fraid not. Never EVER give Calvin Borel a clean look at the rail? Tempting, but no.

The lesson here is the betting machines have an “all” button for a reason.

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