Tag Archives: Churchill Downs

Rave Reviews? – Animal Kingdom

Back in 2009, I put together a highlight reel of quotes and prognostications about Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird leading up to his upset victory at odds of 50-1. Needless to say, it wasn’t pretty.

This year’s Derby winner, Animal Kingdom, was not nearly the monumental shock Mine That Bird was, but at post time odds of 20-1, he clearly was not on the radar of many bettors.

With that in mind, I decided to again comb the prediction columns of some of the racing media’s most notable figures to see where they stood on Animal Kingdom prior to the big race.

Like the movie Avatar, Animal Kingdom received mixed reviews, but ended up making all the money. In the end, that’s all that matters.

As usual, I will start the proceedings with my own analysis of Animal Kingdom, so as not to give the impression that I am just taking potshots at everyone else.

#16 – Animal Kingdom
Won the Spiral Stakes
Even connections seem tense
About his dirt form

That is what we call a good, old-fashioned swing and a miss.

But it gets worse. Have a look at this post to my Twitter feed just hours before the race…

“Triumph The Insult Comic Dog’s “No Rules In The Animal Kingdom” came on my shuffle on the way to the track. Choosing to ignore that sign.”

That’s not only a swing and a miss, that’s a swing and a miss from a tee-ball stand, then whacking yourself in the face with the bat on the backswing.

Now, let’s take a look at how some of the other members of the turf writing community saw Animal Kingdom. Just for kicks, I have arranged the analyses in a rough order by how favorably they projected the horse’s performance, from non-factor to win threat.

Let’s start at the bottom…

“Bottom line: Can dismiss.”
– Tom Pedulla, USA Today

“Another complete mystery on dirt.”
– Steven Crist, Daily Racing Form

“Still has considerable upside, but didn’t beat much in the Spiral, and that race was six weeks ago.”
– Mike Watchmaker, Daily Racing Form

“Animal Kingdom is bred to run all day long so the 1 1/4-mile distance of the Kentucky Derby isn’t a concern. His pedigree is geared mostly to turf racing, however, so it’s questionable if he’ll take to the dirt at Churchill Downs.”
– Dan Illman, Daily Racing Form

“Brilliant Speed and Animal Kingdom are synthetic/turf horses who may or may not relish the track…Animal Kingdom could be any kind of horse but has trained well and has yet to miss the board.”
– Jason Shandler, Blood-Horse

“Given the dirt question and the fact his major victory came in a Grade 3 race, Animal Kingdom deserves to be 25-1 in a 20-horse field. Animal Kingdom, however, seems to be generating favorable buzz, and he might not offer great value in the win pool. But given his consistency, stamina, and impressive last race, he should at least be an attractive exotic-wager proposition.”
– Marcus Hersh, Daily Racing Form

“Worth using in exotics, for sure.”
– Jay Privman, Daily Racing Form

Exotics Contenders: ANIMAL KINGDOM: In Graham We Trust. The horse looks outstanding in the flesh and should have no trouble with the Derby distance. There’s not a ton to like on past performances to be honest, but there’s an infinite amount of respect for trainer Graham Motion and I love the grassy pedigree on the dam side, so key in past Derby success stories.”
– Jeremy Plonk, ESPN

“I’m certainly going to use him in the trifecta, because people I respect say no horse had a better work than Animal Kingdom at Churchill.”
– Jennie Rees, Louisville Courier-Journal

“Yes, the dirt is a big question mark, and he’s bred for the turf, but he looked good winning the Spiral, and the horse he beat by 6 lengths came back to be beaten a nose in the Blue Grass. He made an impressive early move in the Spiral, so you know he has a turn of foot. And he’s bred to run forever, so you just have to take the chance that he’ll be as effective on dirt. In this kind of year, it’s a chance worth taking if the price is right.”
– Steve Haskin, Blood-Horse

“Trained by the very capable Graham Motion, Animal Kingdom would not be a surprise to hit the board at a big price.”
– Gene Menez, Sports Illustrated

“Love the way he won the Spiral. Watch out if he likes the dirt.”
– Andy Andrews, Kentucky Confidential

“Watch out for Animal Kingdom, especially now that John Velazquez is aboard. After all his bad luck with horses going out of the race, this is one man who is hungry for a Derby win.”
– Deirdre Biles, Blood-Horse

“Animal Kingdom is a beast of a horse who caught our eye last fall. He is long and lanky with a humongous quickening stride.”
– Bruno DeJulio, The Rail Blog – New York Times

“Roared mightily through Spiral field. Worked well on Churchill dirt. Trust in Motion and love the price.”
– John Scheinman, Kentucky Confidential

“Animal Kingdom is capable of a sustained drive for second.”
– Frank Angst, Thoroughbred Times

“I’ve got many questions about Animal Kingdom’s ability to transfer his form onto dirt, but the bottom line is that he’s improved as a 3-year-old, has the pedigree for the distance and seems adaptable to any kind of pace based on his limited starts. If he’s anywhere as good on dirt as he’s been on synthetic, he’ll be a factor in the Derby and that’s a leap of faith I’m willing to make.”
– Chris Rossi, Hello Race Fans

“Animal Kingdom will win the Kentucky Derby. I know this because I didn’t write a feature about him.”
– Claire Novak, Everything (this particular quote in ESPN)

Congratulations to everyone that cashed tickets on Animal Kingdom. To everyone else, the Preakness Stakes is only a couple weeks away. There is always time for redemption.

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The Haiku Handicapper: 2011 Kentucky Derby

First and foremost, if you would like a more detailed analysis of the Kentucky Derby field, I wrote 5,000 words on the race over on ThoroFan.com for its “Handicapper’s Corner”. If you can find a more detailed breakdown of the Kentucky Derby field, you read it.

Please note, the ThoroFan analysis was written prior to Friday’s scratch of Uncle Mo, who factored into my exotic tickets, thus my picks are a little outdated. For the sake of discussion, let’s replace him with another horse who might have an advantage in the second wave of front-runners, Pants on Fire.

If you prefer a short, punchy breakdown of the field in a 5-7-5-syllabled parameter, you have come to the right place. Best of luck on all of your wagers today.

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

#1 – Archarcharch
Arkansas leader
Snuck up on folks at Oaklawn
Must overcome post

#2 – Brilliant Speed
Turf, synth specialist
Dirt efforts not so brilliant
Nice horse, not his spot

#3 – Twice The Appeal
Has the Borel bump
Super ticket needs longshots
He fits the profile

#4 – Stay Thirsty
Mo’s tag-team partner
Has shown tendencies to wilt
When placed in big spots

#5 – Decisive Moment
Got in the gate with
Minor checks in rich races
Decide against him

#6 – Comma To The Top
Derby Fever strikes
Wobbles coming down the stretch
Not the spot for him

#7 – Pants On Fire
Rosie’s rose runner
Earns his keep out on the lead
That’s a tall task here

#8 – Dialed In
Mud-in-face closer
Lone big horse to deliver
In his last big prep

#9 – Derby Kitten
Late to the party
Distance, surface, class concerns
They’re asking a lot

#10 – Twinspired
Another synth horse
Improving, but still outmatched
Not inspiring

#11 – Master Of Hounds
Foreign invader
Prior form offers few hints
On how he’ll perform

#12 – Santiva
Light soph schedule
History does not bode well
For last-prep clunkers

#13 – Mucho Macho Man
Well-traveled and tough
Qualities you like to see
In a Derby horse

#14 – Shackleford
None saw him coming
In Florida Derby scrape
Won’t go unchallenged

#15 – Midnight Interlude
Raw, rising talent
First start out of comfort zone
Hard place to have it

#16 – Animal Kingdom
Won the Spiral Stakes
Even connections seem tense
About his dirt form

#17 – Soldat
Went from chalk to dust
After dull Gulfstream effort
Needs to prove his grit

#19 – Nehro
Standing room only
On deep closer’s bandwagon
Can he find the line?

#20 – Watch Me Go
Tampa Bay shocker
Barely sparked in Illinois
Hard to expect much

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

Glory’s on the line
Can you hear Dialed In now?
One, seven and three

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Deal or No Deal: 2011 Kentucky Derby Future Wager

Soldat could end up being worth a look in the first pool of the Kentucky Derby Future Wager.

There are few things that please a horse racing fan more than being the first in his or her group to pick the Kentucky Derby (G1) winner.

The first opportunity to put some money behind that boasting will come this weekend when betting opens for the first Kentucky Derby Future Wager pool.

The first of three pools opens Friday, Feb. 18 at noon and closes Sunday, Feb. 20 at 6 p.m.. There are 23 horses listed as individual betting interests, with the rest lumped together as “The Field”.

A lot can happen between now and the first Saturday in May. Horses can emerge from obscurity just as easily as they can be knocked off the Derby trail. The future pools allow bettors to do some long-term speculating and hopefully catch a horse at odds higher than they might be on Derby day.

Of course, these bets come at a time when no horse, even with enough earnings, is guaranteed to be in the gate for the big race. Like all long-term investments, those are just the accepted risks of the game. The trick is finding the horses with the best chance to reward that risk.

Each year, I take a look at the horses offered in the first pool and try to single out a few who might be worthy of such a ludicrous wager and others who will probably offer more value on Derby day.

The whole situation can feel like staring down the banker’s offer on the game show “Deal or No Deal”. A horse may look tempting at the odds it gives in this pool, but that price could change drastically depending on the twists and turns of the Derby trail, just like the banker’s offer can fluctuate depending on which suitcases are opened. Some horses are worth taking the banker’s deal at the odds you’ll see this weekend. Others should be held on to until the final suitcase is opened.

The question is…Deal or No Deal?

A verdict of “Deal” means a horse should be considered for a bet in this particular pool and could give a higher price now than it will later. “No Deal” means bettors should pass for now.

Please keep in mind these speculations are based solely on the morning line odds set by Churchill Downs handicapper Mike Battagalia. The odds can, and will, fluctuate according to the action in the pari-mutuel pools, which could negate some of my statements – especially if a horse is entered to race this weekend.

Also, unless otherwise noted, this is not an analysis of talent, but a projection of betting value. Just because a horse is labeled a “No Deal” does not mean I do not think it is capable of winning the Kentucky Derby, and vice versa.

For a full list of the future pool horses, along with free Daily Racing Form past performances, click here.

Deal

Anthony’s Cross
Odds: 30-1

Anthony’s Cross showed gritty determination edging out Riveting Reason for the win in last Saturday’s Robert B. Lewis Stakes (G2) at Santa Anita. The Indian Charlie colt has improved with added distance and appears to have overcome early difficulties with leaving the starting gate.

Above all, there is one reason to take a chance on this horse – He broke his maiden at Churchill Downs under Calvin Borel. Three wins out of the last four Derbies, including 50-1 shot Mine That Bird, means that any horse Borel chooses to ride in the race automatically becomes live. If Anthony’s Cross continues to improve throughout the spring, their past experience together could lead the rider to take a good, long look at riding this horse.

On that same note, any horse Borel chooses to ride will likely be bet into the ground on Derby day. It will take a long string of “No Factor” mounts for him to sneak in with another high-priced horse, just because every bettor in America knows what he’s capable of in that race. There are a lot of “ifs” and “maybes” in the equation, but if Anthony’s Cross makes it to the Churchill Downs gate and Calvin Borel decides to ride him, he won’t give anything close to what he’ll give this weekend.

No Deal

Decisive Moment
Odds: 50-1

A son of With Distinction, Decisive Moment kicked off his 2011 campaign with a win in the Jean Lafitte Stakes at Delta Downs. You know who took a detour through Southwest Louisiana on the Derby trail last year? Last place finisher Backtalk. That’s not the kind of company a Kentucky Derby winner tends to keep. Scheduling fashion faux pas aside, that race was Decisive Moment’s first victory since a narrow maiden score five starts prior, and he stepped back in class and distance to earn it. A second place finish in the rich Delta Downs Jackpot (G3) will keep him on the earnings bubble, but if Decisive Moment does manage to sneak in with a resume consistent to what he has shown so far, he should give one of the longest prices on the board on race day.

Decisive Moment also figures to be one of the most volatile propositions in the first pool by virtue of his start in Saturday’s Risen Star Stakes at the Fair Grounds. His status as a viable future wager option and Derby contender could shift drastically in that race. Hold off on making too big of a judgement on him until we see what he is made of.

More keepers and tosses from the first Kentucky Derby Future Wager pool can be found behind the jump.

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Photo of the Year: 2010 – Results Show

The Michigan-Bred Claimer 2010 Photo of the Year is "Affection", featuring Horse of the Year Zenyatta and her groom Mario Espinoza.

Horse of the Year Zenyatta can add another title to her lengthy resume as the subject of the shot voted the 2010 Michigan-Bred Claimer Photo of the Year.

The photo depicts the champion mare sharing a moment with her groom, Mario Espinoza, outside her stall in the days leading up to her second place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs.

As discussed in my Breeders’ Cup retrospective, this shot came to be when I was allowed to tag along with Thoroughbred Times editors Tom Law and Ed DeRosa for a chat with trainer John Shirreffs. While they interviewed the conditioner, I got a golden opportunity to snap away. The chance to photograph such a special horse was memorable by itself, but what really stuck with me during my time in the Shirreffs barn was that behind all the hype, security and cases of Guinness, the legend of Zenyatta ultimately boiled down to a horse in a stall and the people who care for her – just like any other horse at any other track in the world.

Thanks to everyone who voted and commented on this year’s Photo of the Year poll, and especially to the horses, riders, connections and tracks for providing amazing subjects for me to photograph. A special shout-out goes to those kind enough to grant me and my camera special access for sweet angles and scenarios, including the staff at Thoroughbred Times, Churchill Downs, River Downs, Hoosier Park and Ellis Park.

Hopefully, 2011 will bring with it new tracks and new adventures. I look forward to providing you all with the view from my spot on the apron or elsewhere at all points along the way.

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

Let’s have a look at how the votes shook out…

Total Votes: 43

1. “Affection” (Zenyatta) – 10 Votes
2. “Lens Flare” (City Girl Jesse) – 7 Votes
3. “Fond Farewell” (Zenyatta) – 6 Votes
4. “Hello Rachel” (Rachel Alexandra) – 5 Votes
4. “Rolling Fields” (Keeneland Race Course) – 5 Votes
5. “Rocky Start” (Yellowstone Downs) – 3 Votes
6. “Downtime” (Emanuel Cosme & Edgar Paucar) – 2 Votes
6. “Head In Front” (RFR The Iceman) – 2 Votes
7. “Hard To Handle” (Little Shimmer) – 1 Vote
7. “On Display” (Juan Delgado) – 1 Vote
7. “Playing In The Mud” (Oscar Delgado) – 1 Vote
8. “A Leg Up” (Lee Gates, Jose Beltran & HQH Dashing Zorro) – No Votes
8. “Classic Backdrop” (Evening Jewel) – No Votes
8. “Crowd Pleaser” (Arlington Park) – No Votes
8. “Gallop Out” (Beduinos Cat) – No Votes
8. “Indiana Nights” (Sharmona) – No Votes
8. “Payouts” (Arturo Perez) – No Votes
8. “Post-Race Interview” (Martin Garcia) – No Votes
8. “Preparation” (Victor Lebron) – No Votes
8. “Testimony” (Wilkin Ortiz & Gabriel Lagunes) – No Votes

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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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Photo of the Year: 2010

This photo of Zenyatta and super-skilled photographer Jamie Newell is probably the photo of the year, but for the sake of competition, it gets a free pass.

As it was mentioned in previous discussions, 2010 was a big year.

I visited a lot of places, I took a lot of pictures, I’ve seen a million faces and I rocked ’em all.

Okay, perhaps that last line is a wee bit exaggerated, but two and a quarter years of operation on this site is too long to go without a Bon Jovi reference.

The first two parts of the statement, however, are completely true. The last year afforded me the opportunity to visit racing venues and big events around the country, and I have tried my best to bring my readers along for the ride with my tales and photos.

That brings us to the annual display of my favorite memories from those travels: The 3rd Annual Michigan-Bred Claimer Photo of the Year poll.

Truth be told, my best photo is all but certainly the one shown above of super-skilled photographer Jamie Newell and Zenyatta the morning after the Breeders’ Cup Classic, titled “Consolation”. That projection is supported by the photo’s third-place showing in the Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance photo contest. If I have not said it before, allow me to take this opportunity to thank everyone kind enough to throw a vote my way. We’ll get ’em next year.

For the sake of competition, we’ll consider that one the winner by default and conduct the poll as usual to determine a reserve champion. Unlike the TBA contest, this is one vote I can’t lose.

All of the photos included in this poll were shot with a Kodak EasyShare Z980.

Thank you all for reading, commenting, voting and otherwise being a part of what was a huge 2010. I look forward to providing a front row seat to my adventures in 2011 and beyond.

Behind the jump are the 20 photos I have handpicked as my favorites of 2010. Have a look, then vote for your favorite in the poll on the left side of the page. Comments are always welcome, too.

And now, without further ado…

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Making the most of 2010: A look back on the year

The days leading up to New Year’s Eve offer a time for reflection on the year gone by.

For most, doing so may conjure up a roller coaster of memories, recollections, emotions and perhaps scars. Some will find they have made the most of the year, while others might discover that they have done very little with the last 365 days.

After doing some searching of my own, I have no problem staking my claim in the former group.

I often carry massive stacks of photo albums and other mementos in my vehicle because I always assume people do not believe me when I tell them the stories of my adventures. To save time and space, I have compiled some of the highlights of my 2010 into a handy bulleted list of links to posts of those stories.

Even after putting it into an itemized list, it boggles my mind that I experienced all of this in a lifetime, much less in one year. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I am a lucky son of a gun.

Let’s have a look at some of the things that have gone down since this time last year.

In the year 2010 I…

Said goodbye to the man who got me into this whole mess in the first place.
Watched the Michigan Gaming Control Board slash the state’s race dates.
Checked two tracks off my wish list.
Watched the Michigan Gaming Control Board slash the state’s race dates again.
Was told to get out of Michigan by Chris McCarron at Keeneland Race Course.
Followed a colt with Michigan ties through the Keeneland Two-Year-Olds in Training Sale.
Gave out 20-1 winner Exhi in my ThoroFan Handicapper’s Corner preview of the Coolmore Lexington Stakes.
Drove off the beaten path to chase the Fortune 6 wager at Beulah Park…And was promptly dumped out by the second leg.
Wrote some haikus for Claire Novak’s NTRA blog.
Lost a Kentucky Derby pin collecting contest against Dr. Sale Guru Emily.
Got pelted by a flying mint julep on Kentucky Oaks day.
Roamed the backstretch to gather quotes after the Kentucky Derby.
Went to Mount Pleasant Meadows a lot.
Hosted racetrack bucket-lister Tom Miscannon during his visit to Michigan.
Suited up in the box seats at Arlington Park.
Broke down a Pick 4 while waiting in line for a cage fight, then did a phone interview about my selections during an intermission for Claire Novak’s Youbet On-Track podcast.
Watched the next generation of Michigan-breds go through the sale ring.
Ate, bet and drove my way through Hoosier Park, Ellis Park, Riverside Downs, The Red Mile and River Downs, which earned the attention of Jennie Rees’ blog.
Severely underestimated the popularity of racing in Montana at Yellowstone Downs.
Played blackjack and the Quarter Horses at Prairie Meadows.
Live blogged the Indiana Derby on-site at Hoosier Park.
Partied with Bo Derek, Toby Keith. Encountered Kentucky’s governor. Visited champion mare Zenyatta in her stall.
Witnessed one of the greatest races in the history of the sport – The Breeders’ Cup Classic – Even if the outcome wasn’t what we had all hoped.
Got to pet Zenyatta, cover breaking news in the Churchill Downs press box.

I don’t always drink beer, but when I do, I prefer Dos Equis…Stay thirsty, my friends.

Okay, perhaps that last statement is not entirely accurate, but it seemed like the right thing to say at the time.

Later today, my travels will take me to Turfway Park. Once there, I will have been to every still-active track I have ever visited within the 2010 calendar year…If that makes any sense. Turfway was the last track I visited in 2009 as well, so it is fitting to bring everything full circle.

This year has been, without a doubt, the most memorable ride of my life. I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who shared in my adventures over the last 12 months at the races, in the press box, in meetings, at parties, on the road, on this site and all points in between. You are the ones who make all these stories worth telling, be it as a reader or an active participant.

Now let’s try to carry some of this good mojo into 2011, shall we?

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