Tag Archives: Santa Anita Park

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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The Haiku Handicapper: 2010 Malibu Stakes

It’s the last hurrah
For the class of ’07
A loaded sprint field

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

#1 – Paris Vegas
Life imitates name
Big spots haven’t been his best
Wouldn’t have high hopes

#2 – Alcindor
Late-blooming prospect
He’s going for the gusto
Off two career starts

#3 – Thiskyhasnolimit
Second-tier circuit
Well-traveled colt tries west coast
Should like shorter task

#4 – Caracortado
Ex-claimer’s comeback
Dirt, top-tier form is shaky
Look for him next year

#5 – Noble’s Promise
Reborn in sprint ranks
Came back strong from Euro trip
Very dangerous

#6 – Setsuko
Back from eight-month rest
Needs some time to get rolling
Not feeling this spot

#7 – Don Tito
Calder vibes are hot
Nice surprise in first stakes try
Worth note for supers

#8 – Thomas Baines
Tried Cal Derby trail
Then sank back to claiming ranks
Nothing’s changed since spring

#9 – Twirling Candy
High upside speedball
Brings it at one turn or two
Won’t melt on the pace

#10 – Our Minesweeper
No-Cal-er tries dirt
Didn’t light up overnights
Sweep him to the curb

#11 – Smiling Tiger
West coast’s top sprinter
Beat older foes all summer
Solid as a rock

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

Who’s best in the ‘Bu?
The five horse looks promising
Nine and eleven

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My racetrack wish list

With the snow beginning to melt and warm weather slowly starting to find its way into the forecast, my itch to hit the road is beginning to return once again.

Plans are in the works for a trip to Keeneland Race Course in April, so that will ease my road trip jones for the immediate future. However, one of my goals for 2010 is to add some length to the list of tracks I have visited.

Below is a list of ten tracks I would like to cross off my list sometime in the future. Some of them are very plausible to hit in the coming year, while others are more likely to be long-term projects. The tracks range from tiny harness and Quarter Horse bullrings to the host of the last two Breeders’ Cups, so there is plenty of variety. Some of my selections may appear less than ambitious, but there is a reason for each, and any of them would be a huge “get” for my list.

Before we get too deep into this, the premise for this post was lifted from a great post on Equispace. A little while back, Thoroughbred Times News Editor Ed DeRosa also listed some of the tracks he has yet to cross off his impressive list.

The top ten tracks are listed in alphabetical order, followed by some honorable mentions. Let’s have a look…

Ajax Downs
I only became aware of this small Ontario track early last year, but from the sounds of it, I was missing out. Before getting approved for slots, Ajax Downs was a quirky, little Quarter Horse track that ran for tiny purses and was shaped like a “J”. Cindy Pierson-Dulay of Horse-Races.net described the track as “a 440-yard straightaway ending in a sharp right hand turn for the runout.” Since the slots, the track has remodeled into a five furlong oval and boosted its purse structure enough to draw the attention of some Mount Pleasant Meadows-based horsemen. If anything else, the track’s website is among the most impressive and comprehensive I have seen from a track of any size.

Bluegrass Downs
Where, you ask? In a past life, the Paducah, Kentucky track was a popular destination for horses and people from Mount Pleasant Meadows. Today, Bluegrass Downs is a standardbred-exclusive track. Harness racing isn’t exactly my bag, but from the description of racetrack bucket-lister McChump, the track’s too-small-for-its-own-good atmosphere is right up my alley.

The remaining tracks on my wish list can be found behind the jump. Did your home track make the list? Click the link below to find out.

Continue reading

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Guest Post: Thinking about synthetic surfaces after Breeders’ Cup weekend

Jeff Klenner photo - JPG

Jeff Klenner discusses the impact of synthetic racing surfaces following last weekend's Breeders' Cup. (Photo provided by Klenner)

An exciting weekend of horse racing action in the Breeders’ Cup races at Santa Anita last weekend has left Jeff Klenner musing about the virtues of the synthetic racing surfaces now used at all three “major league” tracks in Southern California: Hollywood Park, Santa Anita Park, and Del Mar Thoroughbred Club.

First question about Synthetic Surfaces: Safer than traditional dirt tracks or not?

From what I understand, the evidence thus far is insufficient to support the assertion that synthetic tracks result in fewer catastrophic breakdowns.  However, in the course of 14 Breeders’ Cup races over two days at Santa Anita this past weekend, I don’t recall seeing any horses pulled up nor any horse ambulances on the track the entire time.  That’s an anecdotal observation rather than empirical evidence, but it’s nevertheless somewhat reassuring for a guy like me who still has emotional scars from Go For Wand’s horrific breakdown in the 1990 Distaff (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VNltI2p_Mac but beware the gruesome scene).  From my perspective, anything that shows promise in preventing catastrophic breakdowns is worth the investment — regardless of the typical grumblings of most handicappers and protests from some horse owners (like Jess Jackson, owner of Rachel Alexandra).

My hope is that scientific evidence will ultimately validate claims regarding synthetic surfaces being safer than traditional dirt tracks.  That will help spur more tracks (which can afford to do so) to transition to such surfaces.  As they become more common place, there is bound to be less resistance from reluctant neighsayers and so-called “traditionalists” — after all, what track has more embraced tradition throughout its history than Keeneland and, yet, they were one of the first tracks to install a synthetic surface.  It’s true that the horse racing industry has some serious short term issues pertaining to its survival as a result of alternative gambling venues and other competition for the “entertainment dollar.”  Yet, the racing industry’s long term sustainability is still threatened by the possibility of a public relations backlash as a result of further high profile tragedies like those which claimed Ruffian, Go for Wand, and Eight Belles.  Heck, if I’m a dedicated, lifelong fan of the sport and still question my allegiance in the wake of such occurrences, what is the casual sports fan supposed to think?

Second question about Synthetic Surfaces: Promoting true International competition?

The fact that European stables won nearly half of the 14 Breeders’ Cup races surely demonstrates how competitive they have become at challenging American runners on our big championship days of racing.  Conduit (Turf) and Goldikova (Turf Mile) both scored repeat wins in their events this year.  By comparison, when is that last time a horse from the U.S. went and competed in the Prix de l’ Arc de Triomphe or other race of similar status in Europe?  Ironically, prominent owner Jess Jackson supposedly flirted with the idea of sending Curlin to France for the “Arc” a couple of years ago, yet balked at sending Rachel Alexandra to California this year merely due to the synthetic surface at Santa Anita.

Given that two of the European wins in this year’s Breeders’ Cup were on the synthetic dirt surface rather than the turf course, all indications are that the trans-Atlantic shuttle is likely to continue.  In my mind, that is a good thing.  In fact, I would like to see more horses coming from places like Australia, Japan, and South America.  When the racing surface proves to be less of a hindrance to that actually occurring, I consider that a positive development as well.

Third question about Synthetic Surfaces: What is the ultimate impact going to be on the breeding industry?

Since I am very much a Thoroughbred bloodline aficionado, I am fascinated by the possible long term homogeneity effect that standardized synthetic surfaces could render.  There could eventually be less of a differentiation between “dirt sires” and “turf sires”, leaving distance proclivities as the single major factor to consider in planning matings.  How would that impact the worldwide bloodstock market?  How would the breed evolve?  Would some prominent lines (like Mr. Prospector) give way to other lines that garner greater success on synthetic surfaces?  Would the net effect result in greater or lesser overall soundness in the breed?

What are your opinions regarding these three stated issues?  Let’s hear from folks via your comments or through submission of your own guest posts…

About Jeff Klenner:

Jeff started out as a hotwalker and groom at the Detroit-area Thoroughbred tracks (Detroit Race Course and Hazel Park) as a teenager in the 1970’s.  He is a graduate of the University of Arizona’s Race Track Industry Program and has worked in several capacities in the horse racing industry: as Director of Operations at The Downs at Albuquerque and The Downs at Santa Fe (both in NM); as General Manager of Payson Stud (KY) and Payson Park (FL); and as Projects Coordinator at The Association of Racing Commissioners International (KY), in which he was involved in developing the Model Rules of Racing.  He has also been a professor of Organizational Management (at Midway College in KY) and has recently transitioned into the field of law by completing his Juris Doctor degree.  He resides in a suburb of Detroit and remains a dedicated fan of the Thoroughbred racing and breeding industry.

Jeff invites you to connect with him on Linked In ( http://www.linkedin.com/in/klenner ) and/or Twitter (@klenner).

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The Haiku Handicapper: 2009 Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic, Filly & Mare Turf

(This is the first of two posts highlighting key races from this weekend’s Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Santa Anita Park. Today’s post focuses on a couple races on Friday’s female-focused program. Check back later in the week for previews of selected races on Saturday’s card.)

Ladies’ Classic

#1 – Careless Jewel
Elite three-year-old
Cleaned up while Rachel beat boys
This will be her test

#2 – Life Is Sweet
A local filly
Tailing off after strong start
Needs a turnaround

#3 – Mushka
In form at right time
Transfers well from turf to synth
Could bust some tickets

#4 – Lethal Heat
Likely to press pace
Enters with second-itis
Exotic wagers?

#5 – Proviso (GB)
Second-tier Euro
DQ’d in U.S. debut
Tough to get a read

#6 – Cocoa Beach (CHI)
Bridesmaid in ’08
Tried every surface since then
Shouldn’t top last year

#7 – Music Note
Versatile filly
Steps up her game with Maragh
In the driver’s seat

#8 – Rainbow View
Grade 1 regular
Does her best at a mile
Better fit for Turf

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

The Distaff winner?
Music Note hits the right groove
Three and one follow

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

Filly & Mare Turf

#1 – Visit (GB)
Show money last year
Resume lacks a big win
Middle of the pack

#2 – Forever Together
The defending champ
Late bidder creates drama
Watch if she gets room

#3 – Rutherienne
Summered in New York
Form improved in shorter stakes
Looking elsewhere here

#4 – Magical Fantasy
The race’s home team
On a tear since turf return
Leave off no ticket

#5 – Pure Clan
Letdown in ’08
Focused campaign to get back
Won’t run last again

#6 – Midday (GB)
From across the pond
Distance won’t be an issue
Should battle in stretch

#7 – Dynaforce
Beverly D champ
Enters off field’s worst finish
Hiccup or a trend?

#8 – Maram
Last year’s Juv Turf champ
Runs strong, but infrequently
Has too much to prove

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

Who chews up the Turf?
Do you believe in Magic?
Five, two round it out

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

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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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Jockeys: Mount Pleasant Meadows?

Compelling stories on the racetrack are not limited to the major circuits. Oscar Delgado leans on the outside rail following a race at Mount Pleasant Meadows.   

Compelling stories on the racetrack are not limited to the major circuits. Oscar Delgado leans on the outside rail following a race at Mount Pleasant Meadows.

It’s never too soon to start thinking ahead. 

After reading on Green But Game that a second season of the Animal Planet reality series “Jockeys” is rumored to be in the works, I started thinking about where the camera crews will be found this time around. 

Every racetrack has its charm and every rider has his or her own story. There are about 120 racetracks in North America that feature Thoroughbred racing, and a good crew could make just about all of them into watchable television. Think about it this way: if someone out there can pitch a show about lumberjacks and get it on the air, someone ought to be able to pull a good story out of your local bullring.  

So now I pose the question to you: Where would you like to see the next season of “Jockeys” held?

Because there are so many racetracks to choose from, I am narrowing it down to four options: returning to Santa Anita or going to another large, small or mid-sized track. I have included examples of racetracks I had in mind when deciding the track sizes, but they are by no means the only options available when deciding which one to choose. Of course, if you have a particular track you would like to see broadcast to the world, be sure to leave a comment with your reasoning.

To aid in your decision, I have compiled a list of pros and cons to consider. Feel free to discuss your own points as well…

Back to Santa Anita:

Pros:
– Unless the producers decide to wipe the slate clean and follow a new batch of riders, the jockeys will already have an established fan base. I don’t think too many people would complain if the cameras followed Chantal Sutherland around for another season.
–  The Breeders’ Cup will be held at Santa Anita once again this year, so there is a clear goal for the riders and a marquee event for the powers that be to use as a selling point for commercials.
– Because the crew has experience filming at the location, it will already know where to go to get the best shots and who to talk to for the best interviews, so the overall presentation of the show could be improved.

Cons:
–  If the show follows the same riders at the same track, there is the risk that the characters could become stale; especially with the Breeders’ Cup being held at Santa Anita again this year. It would be very easy to mail in an exact sequel to this year’s Breeders’ Cup chase, and barring some kind of outstanding circumstance, it would likely be the same stories on different horses. If I wanted that, I could put the reruns of season one on mute and dub over my own race calls. 
– If some of the riders from this season decide not to participate in the next round, it could create some tension among the Santa Anita jockey colony. In the world of reality TV, tension is money in the bank, but these are jockeys, not actors. They have a job to do and likely do not need the added distraction if they are not being compensated for it.

A larger track (Churchill, Keeneland, Saratoga, Gulfstream, etc.):

Pros:
– Any opportunity to showcase the game’s biggest stars on the biggest stages is a good deal for racing. How could documenting Curln’s stay at the Spa with Robby Albarado not be made into quality television?
– It would go one step further in making this jerk eat his words that every racetrack is a dump. Showing off a well-kept track with historical value, such as Keeneland Race Course, could help smooth over many of the common stigmas that fellow identified in his piece.
– Because many top riders go where the money is, there is a good chance that some of the jockeys from the first season could come back for full-time roles or cameo appearances.

Cons:
– With the exception of Saratoga, many of the preps for the big races are held at other tracks (the Kentucky Derby’s too early in the season at Churchill and Keeneland’s meets are too short). In Gulfstream’s case, it could be argued that a good chunk of its stakes calendar serves as a buildup to the Kentucky Derby, held at another track. Either way, this could create some rising action and climax issues in developing storylines if the crew stays at one track. One of the nice things about this season of “Jockeys” is there is a full slate of Breeders’ Cup prep races that build up to the big event all in one place.

A mid-sized track (Turfway, Suffolk, Hawthorne, Tampa Bay, etc.):

Pros:
– With so many riders on the cusp of racing on a major circuit at these tracks, the added exposure could help them get noticed by someone with a live horse at a big-money oval. 
– Though it obviously isn’t the Breeders’ Cup, many of these tracks have one big race, or day of races, that riders would aspire to be in (the MassCap for example). Having that kind of goal, especially at a place with smaller purses where the winnings would do a lot of good for the local jockeys, could create some high-stakes drama.
– The increased attention the show would draw could result in nice boosts in attendance and handle. Whether I like to admit it or not, I do pay slightly more attention to Santa Anita since watching “Jockeys.”

Cons:
– Many of these tracks have seen better days. The wear and tear may give the tracks character, but to the common eye, it just looks like poor upkeep. With racing in a delicate position with the general public, this might not be the image the sport wants to convey at the moment.
– While one big race could be seen as a final goal, those races are also ripe for the plucking from horses and riders who ship in for one day, get the money and leave. While very realistic, having the next season end this way would leave a bad taste in the mouths of many viewers.

A smaller track (Pinnacle, Mount Pleasant, Charles Town, Beulah, etc.):

Pros:
– The stories of the jockeys may be closer to those of the viewers. It can be hard to relate to Mike Smith and Chantal Sutherland when they get dressed up and go drink wine at a fancy restaurant in every other episode. Meanwhile, the rider at the small tack who might have to work another job to make a living can easily be identified by people in a similar situation. In this economy, I would figure they are plentiful.
–  The coverage would likely make the handle, and perhaps attendance, at that track skyrocket, even more so than the mid-level tracks. The increase may only be a drop in the bucket at a large track like Santa Anita, but at at a track that generates a fraction of that, the drop could make a big splash
– Broadcasting the struggles of the smaller tracks to a national audience could help turn the  gears on helpful legislation in states lacking alternative wagering and other things that are now key to the health of the industry.

Cons:
– Obviously, the immediate fan recognition of the track and riders would be marginal compared to those at a major oval. Those in charge of the show would have to quickly establish characters and make the viewers care about them or risk a ratings drop outside of the track’s region.
– Santa Anita has a good deal of scenery aside from the races themselves to use during cutaway scenes. While I have found every track to have its own distinct charm, it may be hard to convey this on camera.
– With little purse money being thrown around at many of these tracks, conveying the importance of the races could be a challenge. It is much easier to hype a $500,000 graded stakes race than a $4,000 claimer. 

It appears the Haiku Handicapper poll has received all the votes it is going to get, so I am easing it up. I will go with the Donn Handicap for my submission and keep everyone posted on its publication status. Thanks to everyone who cast their votes.

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Filed under Commentary, Mount Pleasant Meadows, Pinnacle Race Course, Polls