Track Times Today

Monday, August 22, 2016
The rail gets unnecessarily poor treatment . . .

    I don't remember just when it happened, probably about 15 years ago or so when Churchill Downs began allowing owners/trainers to pick their own post positions for the Kentucky Derby. And nobody wanted the No. 1 post, the position that, through the years, has won more races at more tracks than any other, by far.

    As soon as the trainers began expressing their disdain for No. 1, the TV types picked up on it in a hurry and started to apply it to all races at all tracks. The phrases most often heard were - and are - "mired down on the inside," and "bogged down on the rail." Me? I love the rail. Day after day, I watch the races on TVG and cash many bets on the No. 1 horses who get perfect trips at distances of a mile or more, especially on the grass. Rafael Bejarano, Joel Rosario, Javier Castellano and many more come flying down the stretch to nail the pacesetter(s), so often with the big red one on the saddlecloth. In the old days, Jerry Bailey and Pat Day were masters at it. 

    The "mired" and "bogged" comments have become everyday observations on TVG these days, by all the analysts but more by the pretty young ladies, it seems. They have apparently never bothered to check the post position stats at any racetracks, or they would see how well the No. 1 post fares. Did I mention that I love the No. 1 post?

    Prior to the Pacific Classic, the well-regarded website Horse Racing Nation had a pre-race assessment of the race and the headline "Nightmare Draw" was very prominent. "Chrome must overcome an unfavorable draw," they wrote, "as well as two formidable foes in Beholder and Dortmund." It was correct to call the latter pair formidable foes, but the nightmare draw comment was absurd. Chromie proved that in a hurry, winning by a furlong in 2:00.13 for the 1 1/4 miles, not far off Candy Ride's track record of 1:59.11. But Victor Espinoza had CC in cruise control from the sixteenth pole home or he might have come close to the record.

    (Across the country, Songbird crushed the field in the Alabama, winning by seven in 2:03 flat, with the Racing Form comment "Kept to task." Scott Hazelton on TVG must have been watching a different race, saying she was "geared down" or she could have run it two minutes flat. Scott, that's 15 lengths, in case you didn't know. Chromie was geared down, Songbird was not).  

    The bettors who pounded CC at the windows must have been unaware of the nightmare draw, because he went off at 3/5. At one time he was 1/5

    If you aren't prone to paying attention, watch your next distance race and see how well the No. 1 horse gets position going to the first turn while the outside horses are fanned wide and wider. Not in all cases, of course, but often enough to make it a significant factor in the running of a race.

    One final thought. Watch the head-on as the horses are about to leave the gate and you just might notice nobody leaves from the No. 1 gate anymore. They move them all out - in a big field the 1 horse might start from No. 2, and in shorter fields he might go from No. 3 or 4. There are no "rail" horses anymore. Did I mention I have a great affection for the rail?  

Thursday, August 18, 2016
Joins half-brother Revved Up at the farm . . .

    After Za Approval was retired from racing this week and came home to Live Oak Plantation, owner Charlotte Weber said, "Za Approval is yet another extraordinary member of a family that has been especially gratifying to Live Oak." Quite an understatement!

   The 8-year-old multiple graded stakes-winning gelding performed admirably for six years, posting a record of 9-9-4 in 34 starts while earning $1,394,66, and he's one of 10 foals produced by the sensational With Approval mare Win Approval.Among his exploits, Za Approval finished second to Horse of the Year Wise Dan in the Breeders' Cup Mile at Santa Anita. `  

    Based on her record, there was no way anybody could forecast the incredible success Win Approval would enjoy in the breeding shed - she went 2-4-1 in 16 starts and earned just $57,210. But she struck gold in her first attempt, producing Revved Up, a gelded son of Live Oak's own millionaire stallion, Sultry Song. Revved Up, born in 1998, rolled up an awesome record of 20-9-1 in 43 starts, earned $1,548,653, and is also enjoying the casual life at Live Oak at the age of 18.

    Of Win Approval's 10 foals, only one, the 2007 product Highest Approval, didn't make it to the races. Of the nine who did race, only Victorious Won (2010) didn't make it to the winner's circle. She went 0-1-0 in four starts and earned $12,647.

    Win Approval's second foal, Miesque's Approval, born in 1999, was her biggest money-winner. The son of Miesque's Son put $2,648,879 into the Live Oak bank account on a record of 12-10-5 in 41 starts and provided inhabitants of the Ocala Breeders' Sales Co.'s Director's Room with one of its funnier moments in January of 2006. After he won the Sunshine Millions Turf at odds of 48-1 and paid $99.60, Charlotte Weber made a quick trip to the cashier's window, came back to the room with a fat wad of bills in her hand and proclaimed to all within earshot, "Good, now I have money to buy dinner tonight!"

    Miesque's Approval went on that year to win the Gr. II Maker's Mark, the Gr. II Firecracker Breeders' Cup Handicap and the Gr. III Red Bank, then capped it off with a victory in the Breeders' Cup Mile, earning $1.9 million for the year. The only millionaire son of Win Approval who isn't a gelding, Miesque's Approval now stands in South Africa.

    Win Approval's last foal is World Approval, now four, who has posted a record of 6-2-3 in 16 starts and is getting better with every race. After winning the Gr. I United Nations at Monmouth Park last month, he's earned $863,450, and barring injury, will soon join his half-brothers in the millionaire category.

    Win Approval's other winners are Winabull (46 starts, 14-6-4, $145,852), Siteofawinner (60 starts, 7-8-6, $59,880), Magnificent Approval (9 starts, 1-1-0, $43,626) and Winning Doe (8 starts, 1-0-0, $20,242).

    All told, Win Approval's runners have made 261 starts, with 80 victories, a winning percentage of 30.6. They also have 45 seconds and 23 thirds, for a total of 148 times in the money, a percentage of 56.7. The group has combined for earnings of $6,737,895. And World Approval still has plenty of time to boost all those numbers.     




Friday, August 12, 2016
Where is the $10 million for purses?

     So Finger Lakes has canceled tomorrow's program due to a shortage of available horses. Now, we all can understand having a shortage of horses as being a viable reason for a cancellation, it's why there's a shortage that comes into question.

    The answer, no doubt, lies in the purse structure at the upstate New York track. Last Saturday, for eight races, the total purses offered came to a miniscule $84,300. There was one starter allowance and seven claimers, mostly of the $5,000 variety, and those races each had a purse of $9,000. Horsemen cannot exist on purses of $9,000 a race. Anywhere. Not at today's prices for vets, farriers, feed, vanning, etc.

    How can a track with a successful racino possibly be paying out the way Finger Lakes does, one might ask? I can't explain it, not knowing the deal Finger Lakes has with the state. I have always assumed it's the same as the Aqueduct casino - 7.5% of the "net win" goes for purses. For the 2105-2016 fiscal year, which ended the last week of March, Finger Lakes Gaming and Race Track had a "credits played" of $1.78 billion. The net win was $131.5 million. Taking 7.5% for purses, that's just under $10 million.

    Since Finger Lakes runs for 155 days, let's take nine races a day times 155; that's 1,395 races for the meeting. Allowing $7,000 per race and the almost-$10 million is accounted for. In these calculations, each race could be enhanced by an average of $7,000, leading to the question the great Dick Young used to ask in his New York Daily News column, "What's going on here?"  

    MUSICAL ANNOUNCERS - Pete Aiello's first announcing job in Florida came at Hialeah Park for the quarter horses a few years back, when he was also the track's marketing director. Pete is now at Gulfstream Park and he has become very good at what he does. The announcing booths at major venues around the country have taken on a new look what with the retirement of Tom Durkin and the semi-retirement of Trevor Denman. Larry Collmus, now full-time in New York, is the premier race-caller in the country and deservedly so. (He knows how to pronounce Leparoux).

    Frank Mirahmadi has hooked up with Monmouth Park and he does a superior job, too. Vic Stauffer is the newbie at Oaklawn Park and Vic is good as long as he doesn't let his ego get in the way. I'm not thrilled with Michael Wrona at Santa Anita - he sounds like a Denman imitation, but not quite as good. I thought Mirahmadi was a better fit.    


Sunday, August 07, 2016
Gone Astray has huge day at Gulfstream . . .

    Gulfstream Park's Florida Sire Stakes - Round 1 - was an overwhelming success on several fronts. On a day when Saratoga ruled the roost with five stakes on its 11-race card, including the Gr. I Whitney and Gr. I Test, which led to an all-sources handle of $29,335,235, Gulfstream had a couple of things of its own to crow about.

    First was its all-sources handle of $7,768,426, and second was the continuing emergence of the Gone Astray 2-year-old Three Rules as a major force in the juvenile ranks. In his first two starts, Three Rules won a maiden race by 3 1/2 lengths in :58.2, then captured the $75,000 Birdonthewire Stakes by five with 5 1/2 furlongs in 1:04.2. Yesterday, he annihilated eight rivals in the $200,000 Dr. Fager Stakes and he did it in style, drawing off by seven in the stretch and putting up a 1:09:49 on the teletimer for the six furlongs. That is a serious clocking for any 2-year-old at this time of year under any circumstances.

    Gone Astray stands at Northwest Stud Farm in Ocala on the land that once was the place where Fred Hooper bred and raised a slew of stakes-winners, including three-time Eclipse Award-winning Susan's Girl and Sprint Champion Precisionist. The stallion by Dixie Union enjoyed an excellent freshman season with earnings of $632,781 last year, but 2016 is proving to be exceptional. After Three Rules' stunning performance, plus a few others yesterday, Gone Astray has 29 winners, moved up to be the second-leading second-crop sire in Florida behind First Dude, the No. 9 second-crop sire in the country, and the No. 8 sire on the Florida general sire list despite the fact that he has only one crop and several 2-year-olds currently racing.

    Gone Astray also was buoyed by Shakakan's fourth-place finish in the $150,000 Three Ring Stakes - she collected $9,000 -Savanna's Smile breaking her maiden in the seventh race in her second start and earning $12,800, and Natalie La Rose winning the eighth race at Monmouth Park, good for another $9,519. The latter filly has now won four of eight starts and earned more than $53,000. All the solid efforts brought Gone Astray's seasonal earnings to $1,124,500, with the promise of loftier results ahead.

    As if the Gone Astray success didn't spread enough joy around Northwest Stud, one of its other stallions, United States, was the recipient of a third-place finish by U S Diva in the $200,000 Desert Vixen, which was won by Cajun Delta Dawn, a daughter of Ocala Stud Farm's red-hot  Kantharos. U S Diva rallied from way back at odds of 30-1 and paid $10.20 to show in just her second start. She  won in her debut at five furlongs, and now must be considered a threat for the upcoming  Susan's Girl, which goes at seven furlongs.  



Wednesday, August 03, 2016
Total play exceeds $8 billion . . .

    Remember in the January article in the Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald when Mary Ellen Klas and Jeremy Wallace brutalized thoroughbred racing and felt compelled to add near the end of a long dissertation, "And there's one other thing nobody is talking about, slots are declining, too?" Well, Florida's fiscal year ended recently and proved once again that they know not what they speak.

    The total amount of play at South Florida's eight racinos has slowly edged upwards since Gulfstream Park became the first of its kind to begin operations in November of 2006. In the fiscal year from July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2015, a record $7,979,515,006 was dumped into some 7,000 to 8,000 machines available for play. In the recently-ended fiscal year, that number jumped to $8,237,416,807. For the sake of those who are mathematically challenged, the second number is about $257 million more than the first. And for the benefit of the Klas/Wallace combo, it means slots are not declining, too.

    Last year, the facilities combined for a net slots revenue of $521,670,974, with $182,584,841 going to the state for taxes in return for all the wonderful work the people in Tallahassee do for the pari-mutuel industry. This year, those numbers climbed to $537,077,173 and $187,977,011.

    Pompano Park continues to lead the league by a mile, with $1,854,138,727 in play, and revenue of $143,082,238. With $50,078,783 subtracted for taxes, the harness track wound up with a cool $93 million or so to do whatever it is one does with $93 million. Pompano's bottom line is aided greatly by its outrageous takeout rate of 9.02%, eclipsed in the south only by the 9.11% raked in by Churchill Downs/Calder. That rate is responsible for the fact that Calder ranks only fifth among the eight racinos in total play, yet comes in third with net revenue of $74,820,811 before taxes.

    Flagler dogs has the lowest takeout rate of all - 6.13% - yet was second in total play with $1,400,210,746 and revenue of more than $83 million.

    Hialeah Park's John Brunetti is doing well, too, and he needs it due to all the money he is losing on the quarter horse meetings. Hialeah has one of the best takeout rates - 6.51% - and its net revenue is $68,311,309. After taxes, John has about $44 million to help him try to lure thoroughbred racing back to the Flamingo track. And wouldn't it be nice if Gulfstream let John have the two-month Calder period for a boutique meeting while they allow the Hallandale Beach track to recover from the previous 10 months of pounding on both dirt and turf.

    Gulfstream is in sixth place in both categories, with just under $800 million in play and $48,035,102 in revenue. With $16,812,286 going to the state, there's $31.2 million left for purses and the like.