Monthly Archives: January 2011

The case for small tracks: A Top Ten

Small tracks are not the reason for horse racing's current situation. Shutting them down would only further damage the sport.

To help combat sagging business in the horse racing industry, a growing population of industry members have begun calling for a contraction of racetracks in North America.

In his keynote speech at the University of Arizona’s Racetrack Industry Program Symposium, Churchill Downs CEO Robert Evans presented a plan that would potentially halve the number of racetracks in North America. Evans said this plan would create “a business that is economically viable” that focuses on a “quality product” . That sentiment was echoed by superstar freelancer Claire Novak in a recent debate about whether fans or bettors drive the racing industry.

Allow me to respectfully disagree.

I make no bones about being a small track guy. My home course is a four furlong mixed breed oval in what one pessimistic message board poster called “no man’s land”. My state’s Thoroughbred industry has been in decline for decades, expedited by the addition of expanded gaming in other nearby states. If contraction were to happen tomorrow, there is little doubt Pinnacle Race Course and Mount Pleasant Meadows would be among the first to go.

But does it really have to come to that? Putting my bias aside, there are plenty of reasons why slashing the number of racing venues, especially those on the sport’s lowest levels, would only further damage the sport we love.

To help prove my point in an easy-to-digest manner, I have created a ten-point list, a “Top Ten” if you will, of reasons why contraction would eventually cripple horse racing in North America and why our small venues are worth standing up for against the will of the powers that be.

Please note, this is not a call for subsidization of failing tracks. If a track shows it is not viable and the ownership has no interest in keeping it afloat, then so be it. However, if the will to live among ownership and horsemen remains strong, then no one has the right to strong-arm them into shutting down.

From the top…

10. The Almighty Dollar
Governments typically don’t like to openly admit that they like horse racing. In fact, most are content to watch it rot on the vine as long as they don’t have to spend any money. However, it is no secret that they sure enjoy the tax revenue that racetracks bring in through wagering and other avenues. Threaten that cash flow with a “sweeping industry contraction initiative” and see how those governments, especially on the local level, respond to their track being on the chopping block. Nothing mobilizes an elected official like telling him he can’t make money.

But let’s keep it on the racetrack for now. Many small tracks run their meet for the sole purpose of keeping simulcast wagering in their plant. Not every state has off-track betting parlors or advanced deposit wagering as a source to bet on racing, and if their local bullring closes down, so does their chance to bet on the races. Mr. Evans has made himself the face of the contraction movement with his keynote speech. However, nothing will suffer more from people being unable to place bets than his all-sources Kentucky Derby handle. The Derby is the one day that casual fans brave the smoky simulcast rooms to bet on the horse they read about in the paper. These people probably aren’t going to sign up for TwinSpires or drive another hour and a half or more to go to the next nearest simulcast outlet. That money will vanish into the ether and likely never return.

The remainder of the countdown can be found behind the jump.

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Holy Bull Stakes preview for ThoroFan

Once again, I have been called into duty by the Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance to pontificate my handicapping wisdom on the ThoroFan website for this Sunday’s Holy Bull Stakes (G3).

My analysis is often long-winded (this one is 2,514 words long), but I went three for four picking winners in ThoroFan’s Handicapper’s Corner last year, including a dead-on call of the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) stretch drive and the giving out of 20-1 shot Exhi in the Coolmore Lexington Stakes (G2). Eventually, it seems I get to some good stuff.

So as not to give away any spoilers, I will not reveal here who I picked to win Gulfstream Park’s first graded Kentucky Derby prep of 2011, but I will say that if it all goes as planned, it should cash a nice ticket or two.

To read my picks and analysis for the Holy Bull Stakes, click here.

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Catch Me Ridin Dirty named A.R.A.B. of Michigan’s Horse of the Year

The connections of Arabian Horse of the Year Catch Me Ridin Dirty celebrate the gelding's victory at A.R.A.B. of Michigan's High Point Awards.

Two years after a 5 1/2-length maiden score on a June afternoon in 2009, the Arabian colony at Mount Pleasant Meadows is still playing catch-up with Catch Me Ridin Dirty.

The gap got a little wider after Catch Me Ridin Dirty was honored with his second Horse of the Year title at last Saturday’s Michigan Association of Racing Arabian Breeders High Point Awards at Stanton’s Clifford Lake Inn.

The five-year-old Aransas HF gelding, who goes by the barn name “Louie” when away from the racetrack, made the most of a shortened 2010 meet, with wins in three of his four starts for earnings of $7,509.

Catch Me Ridin Dirty’s showcase win came in the July 11 Independence Open, where he led at every point of call and drew off in the stretch to win by 3 3/4 lengths over a muddy course.

Homebred in Michigan and trained by Nicole Holst, Catch Me Ridin Dirty was also named Horse of the Year as a three-year-old in 2009. Holst, who earned Trainer of the Year honors, said her gelding will return in 2011 to defend his title once again.

Jockey of the Year Nate Alcala has ridden Catch Me Ridin Dirty in all 10 of his career starts, all at Mount Pleasant. The pair won eight of those starts, including two in stakes company, to earn $19,134.

Catch Me Ridin Dirty finished the evening with additional awards for top four-year-old male and Michigan-bred male.

Leading the evening’s award-winners was Tom and Joyce Fritz’s Hickory Lane Farms, Inc. The Sidney, Mich. farm took home four equine awards, along with the prizes for top owner and breeder.

The standout horse to run under Hickory Lane’s neon green colors was three-year-old-male of the year Get R Done.

The Virgule Al Maury gelding finished a perfect two-for-two in 2010 by a combined 29 lengths. A 23-length victory in the Aug. 1 Michigan Arabian Juvenile Stakes helped Get R Done earn a Darley Award nomination for champion three-year-old colt or gelding.

Michigan-bred Get R Done is trained by Mario Fritz for owner and breeder Tom Fritz. He has amassed career earnings of $5,150.

Get R Done was a runner-up for Horse of the Year honors, along with Stars and Stripes Distaff winner Shestheone and award-winning older male Zanthus Fury.

Behind the jump is the full list of winners from Saturday’s awards and their 2010 statistics.

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Guest interview for Lead Pony Challenge

As some readers may know, I am entered in the Lead Pony Handicapping Challenge against some of the most notable figures in the horse racing media.

The contest requires competitors to select six horses from the cards of seven selected tracks (Aqueduct, Fair Grounds, Gulfstream, Keeneland, Oaklawn, Santa Anita and Tampa Bay). Each horse is given a mythical $2 win-place wager and the player with the most pretend money at the end of the weekend advances.

My first opponent is TVG on-air personality Matt Carothers. The winner of our matchup will likely face handicapping heavyweight Steve Davidowitz, author of more books on racing and betting than I have likely read of every combined genre in the last year.

The tournament is hosted by Molly Jo Rosen and Bruno DeJulio, co-hosts of  Post Parade with the Filly and the Clocker. Prior to each day’s races, the duo interviews the weekend’s competitors and gets their picks.

My matchup kicks off the event this weekend, so I called in earlier today and chatted with the show’s hosts. The highlights of our discussion included a mean-spirited haiku about my opponent, a potential sponsorship deal with Michelin Tires and me bemoaning the fact that the hard-knocking tracks where I excel the most at the windows are noticeably absent from this competition.

To listen to the podcast, click here. My segment comes in around the 33:30 mark.

I will be on again Sunday around noon ET to give my picks for the day’s races. The show is broadcast live on Blog Talk Radio, so keep checking back here to listen to the latest episodes.

In an earlier broadcast, DeJulio assigned me the longest price on the media side of the bracket (20-1) when laying out his morning line odds for the competition. No stranger to being an underdog, I have used this as bulletin board material to reaffirm my status as the scary mid-major of the field – along the lines of college basketball’s Butler University and football’s TCU. Hopefully I can show the world just what a Michigan-bred longshot can do.

UPDATE: I have advanced out of the first round by a score of 276-86. Five of my six picks hit for some kind of payout over the weekend. My next opponent will be Steve Davidowitz, author of such notable books on racing and handicapping as Betting Thoroughbreds and The Best and Worst of Thoroughbred Racing.

I made another appearance on Sunday’s edition of The Post Parade with the Filly and the Clocker with more picks and some back and forth with my opponent, Matt Carothers. I also made the announcement that I will be playing for the Don MacBeth Memorial Jockey Fund.

To listen to the podcast, click here. I am in the first segment.

 

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I Do One Two Three named World Champion Racing Paint Horse

I Do One Two Three held his own in some of the nation's biggest paint races to earn the APHA's highest racing honor.

Michigan-bred I Do One Two Three capped off a successful 2010 campaign by earning the American Paint Horse Association’s Running World Champion title for Regular Registry Paint Quarter Horses.

The announcement was made Jan. 15 at the Heritage Place Sale in Oklahoma City, Okla.

The tobiano four-year-old Judy’s Lineage gelding is homebred by Mount Pleasant Meadows president Walter and Carolyn Bay’s T-Bill Stables. A pair of trainers, Sleepy Gilbreath and Kasey Willis, sent I Do One Two Three to the post in 2010.

A winner of two of his seven starts in 2010, I Do One Two Three finished the year with earnings of $32,627. His overall career record boasts four wins from 14 starts for earnings of $74,375.

I Do One Two Three also earned divisional honors as top three-year-old gelding and overall champion three-year-old on the Regular Registry side of the awards. In 2009, he took home the award as the APHA’s top Regular Registry two-year-old gelding.

The APHA honors divisional champions in two separate registries – Regular and Solid Paint-Bred. According to the APHA, to qualify for the Regular Registry, as I Do One Two Three does, a horse must “exhibit a minimum amount of white hair over pink skin.” Solid Paint-Breds comparatively show very little color.

In the press release announcing the winners, the APHA describes its criteria for selecting champions as based on “level of competition, location, races won and earnings for the year”.

I Do One Two Three kicked off his 2010 campaign with a convincing win in his trial heat for the Graham Paint & Appaloosa Derby (G1) at Remington Park. A rough break, though, led him to a fourth place finish in the final. He finished fourth again in the Paint Stallion Breeders Association Derby (G1), also at Remington.

After a fifth place finish in the Texas Paint Horse Breeders Association Derby (G3) at Sam Houston Race Park, I Do One Two Three returned to Oklahoma to win the Lorelei Derby (G3) at Will Rogers Downs. He closed out the year at Will Rogers with a runner-up finish in the Talimena Handicap.

I Do One Two Three did not race in Michigan last year, but he does have experience at Mount Pleasant Meadows from his two-year-old season. In 2009, I Do One Two Three registered a trial win and a pair of second place finishes in the Great Lakes Quarter Horse Association Michigan Paint Horse Futurity (G3) and the GLQHA Stallion Service Sale Futurity.

The APHA’s inaugural Canadian champion, Paint Me A Bono, also has some experience at the central Michigan mixed breed track.

The four-year-old Bono Jazz gelding outkicked I Do One Two Three to win the 2009 GLQHA Michigan Paint Horse Futurity. He preceded that with a maiden-breaking score in his only other start at Mount Pleasant.

Bred in California by Theresa and Alan Reese, Paint Me A Bono is owned by Ivy Lane Racing and trained by Michigan-based conditioner Tom Dunlap.

Paint Me A Bono went one for seven in 2010, but he finished in the money in five of those starts. His earnings for the year totaled $24,972.

The gelding’s year started at Remington Park, with the trials and finals of the Graham Paint & Appaloosa Derby. He finished third in both races. Paint Me A Bono then moved north of the border, where he competed in the allowance ranks at Ajax Downs.

To view the full APHA press release, along with pictures of the champions and a list of other divisional winners, click here.

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Michigan Notebook: January 19, 2011

– The Michigan Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association is hosting its annual Stallion Season Auction on Tuesday, Jan. 25. Bidding will run from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. This year’s auction features seasons from some of the best sires Michigan has to offer. Perennial leaders such as Demaloot Demashoot, Elusive Hour, Syncline and the state’s 2010 stallion of the year Equality will have seasons up for bids, along with up-and-comers like Fire Blitz, Comedy Show, Monetary Star and Gainango. The sale also features out-of-state sires from Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Loiusiana, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia.

For more information on the auction, and for a constantly updating list of the sires involved, click here.

– The Michigan HBPA board has voted to focus negotiations for the 2011 Thoroughbred meet on Pinnacle Race Course for the time being. From the Michigan HBPA website

The Michigan HBPA board met Tuesday to discuss the 2011 live season, during the meeting the board took a “straw poll” as to what track they preferred to have the 2011 meet. The board moved to prefer Pinnacle and work through the issues until March 1, 2011 and pursue other options at that time, if necessary.

– MTOBA has rolled out a multi-pronged effort to increase its web presence. The organization recently opened up a Facebook fan page and Twitter account to go along with it’s redesigned website. Be sure to include Michigan’s Thoroughbred owners and breeders in your social networking endeavors.

– Voting for the Michigan-Bred Claimer Photo of the Year poll is still open and will remain so through the end of the month. The clubhouse leader is photo #18, titled “Affection”, depicting newly-crowned Horse of the Year Zenyatta and her groom Mario Espinoza in the Churchill Downs shedrow. If you agree with that outcome and want to lock it down, or if you think another photo is more deserving, the cutoff date is sometime during Feb. 1. Don’t get shut out!

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Two Michigan-Breds nominated for Darley Awards

Get R Done and jockey Juan Delgado teamed up for two impressive victories in 2010 to earn the horse a Darley Award nomination.

Michigan will be represented by two Arabian divisional finalists at the upcoming Darley Awards.

Stakes winner Get R Done earned an invitation to the event in the three-year-old colts and geldings division and stakes-placed Ovour The Moon is a finalist for champion four-year-old filly.

The Darley Awards are the Arabian equivalent of Thoroughbred racing’s Eclipse Awards. The winners will be announced Mar. 5 in Houston, Texas.

Get R Done was the uncontested leader of Michigan’s juvenile division during the most recent meet at Mount Pleasant Meadows. He was a perfect two-for-two in 2010 for earnings of $5,150.

Arabian Finish Line magazine reports Get R Done ranked 12th in the nation by 2010 earnings among three-year-old Arabian colts and geldings. Because of their size and speed of development, Arabians do not begin their on-track careers until age three.

Get R Done kicked off his career on July 11, with a six-length victory in his maiden effort. The Virgule Al Maury gelding followed that effort with an emphatic 23-length romp in the Aug. 1 Michigan Arabian Juvenile Stakes.

Get R Done is homebred by Tom Fritz and trained by Mario Fritz. The gelding is also nominated for three year-end awards from Michigan’s Association of Racing Arabian Breeders, including the state’s horse of the year.

Other finalists for champion three-year-old male include multiple G3-placed Ovour The Top, G3 winner Rich Frynchman, stakes winner T M Fred Texas and G3 winner Venom.

Ovour The Moon competed at Arabian racing’s highest levels in 2010 and locked horns with some of the best in the sport.

The four-year-old Nivour De Cardonne filly spent most of her campaign at Delaware Park, arguably the breed’s marquee venue. She also participated in the breed’s highest-profile race in recent memory, the President of the United Arab Emirates Cup Stakes (G1) at Keeneland Race Course.

Trained by John Youngdale and homebred by Kathryn and Paul J. Smoke, Ovour The Moon won two of ten starts in 2010 for earnings of $22,079. She was last year’s third-leading earner among four-year-old females, according to Arabian Finish Line’s figures.

After a pair of unsuccessful tries in maiden company, Ovour The Moon earned her first win against a field of open claimers. A second-place finish in another claiming contest led to an off-the-board finish in the CRE Run Oaks Arabian Distaff Stakes (G2).

Ovour The Moon found the winner’s circle once again in an optional claiming race, following a third place effort in an allowance race. She then made the jump back to stakes company, with a runner-up finish in the Rosebrook Arabian Distaff Turf Handicap. Her year came to a close with a pair of unplaced finishes in the President of the United Arab Emirates Cup and teh Buzz Brauninger Distaff Stakes.

Ovour The Moon’s competition for divisional honors includes stakes winner Burning Fancy, multiple stakes placed Doranikaa, G2 winner Sand Witchh, and multiple stakes winner TM Super Bird.

In related news, Michigan-bred Quarter Horse Cold Cash 123 was a finalist for the American Quarter Horse Association’s Racing Champion two-year-old gelding, which was decided Jan. 12

The Oak Tree Special gelding won the Nov. 28 Southwest Juvenile Championship Stakes (G1) at Zia Park and drew away in the Sept. 6 All-American Juvenile Invitational, the consolation race for the All-American Futurity, after winning his trial race. He finished the year ranked seventh nationally among two-year-olds.

However, Cold Cash 123 did not receive a single vote in his division’s Racing Champion ballot, which was won by multiple track record-setter JLS Mr Bigtime.

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