Track Times Today

Tuesday, June 20, 2017
Overall play should reach $8.5 billion . . .

    Florida's pari-mutuel fiscal year is 10 days from winding up, and it turns out that the casinos down south will experience more than just a minor increase in several major categories.

    In the last fiscal year, total "credits in" for the eight facilities reached more than $8.2 billion; through May 31 of this year the number is nearly $7.8 billion. With more than $700 million a month currently being generated, this will be a record year again, somewhere around $8.5 billion. The highest previous total for any one month was $795 million last year, this time around $800 million was reached three times, in October, December and March.

    Last year, the state's 35 percent tax generated $187.9 million in revenues - this year taxes will exceed $192 million. That's good news because the state's regulation of the pari-mutuel industry has been so outstanding that we now have additional phony quarter horse racing at once-revered Hialeah Park, and the state should be rewarded.  Among the many items that are swirling around in various gaming bills in Tallahassee is one that would reduce the tax on each facility to 25 percent. They should pass that one by itself as long as the fatheads are sitting around and doing nothing at all on the other changes. 

    PLEASANT MILESTONES - Two more Pleasant Acres freshman stallions now have their first winners. Brethren was represented by Feisty Embrace at Evangeline Downs on June 16, and Poseidon's Warrior by Firenze Fire at Monmouth Park on the 18th. Both came in maiden specials. 

    Feisty Embrace went off at 1/2 and won by a length in 1:00.02 for the five furlongs. She had finished second in her previous start and now has earnings of $20,800. Firenze Fire sat second in the early going at Monmouth and was a ton the best with Antonio Gallardo in the stretch, getting five furlongs in :58.37 and earning $21,600. Nearing the wire, track announcer Frank Mirahmadi bellowed, "Firenze Fire wins from here to Florida." 





Thursday, June 15, 2017
Dead-Heats with Live Oak colt . . .

    With all the attention paid to the Triple Crown and other graded races all around the country, the interesting scenarios at smaller tracks, featuring the lesser lights, mostly go unnoticed. But not for the bettors who frequent TVG daily.

    One of those races was the second at Finger Lakes on Monday. It was a $20,000 maiden claimer with several first-timers, including Poppy's Salsa, a 3-year-old son of Get Away Farm's Two Step Salsa. The colt had four workouts listed, three at three furlongs and one at four, and none were anything special. Nothing to make anyone sit up and take notice. Poppy was 6-1 in the morning line.

    Most bettors aren't paying attention to the TV when a race ends and the morning line pops up for the next race at that track. After all, there's usually 20 to 25 minutes before the next post time and plenty of time to check out the odds. On this occasion, TVG analyst Rich Perloff did notice the first flash, and casually mentioned that Poppy's Salsa was 3/5. Handicappers who do pay attention to the first flash - like me - then watched to see what transpired thereafter.

    In Poppy's Salsa's case, his odds began to slowly drift up until the field was about to enter the gate, and he was 5-1. If there was anything special somebody knew about this colt, they had made their play early.

    When the gate opened, Poppy bolted to the lead with Gerald Almodovar, and continued in front until the turn when he was joined by King of Night, a 5/2 proposition owned and bred by Live Oak Plantation. The pair went head-and-head down the lane, and at one point King of Night forged ahead by a neck. But Poppy wasn't finished - he battled back gamely and they crossed the line so close together the announcer couldn't separate them. And, a final look at the board showed Poppy was now 15-1. Incredible.

    The judges took an eternity studying the photos and finally, and rightfully, decided it was a heater. So Two Step Salsa had another winner (No. 27 this year), as did Charlotte Weber's Live Oak. Poppy's Salsa paid $13.40, $13.20 and $7.80, and the early bird bettor (or bettors) had the last laugh. (Along with anybody else who paid attention to that telling first flash). 

    THIS ONE'S CORFU - Bridlewood Farm's Corfu became the fourth Florida freshman sire to have a winner when I'm Corfu broke his maiden at Presque Isle Downs on Tuesday in his fourth start. The gelding bred by Donna Burnham had finished second in his previous start and was sent off as the 1/2 favorite as part of an entry with stablemate Chateau, both owned and trained by Wayne Rice

    Ronnie Allen Jr. shot I'm Corfu to the lead in the five-furlong maiden special and the gelding never looked back, scoring by 2 3/4 lengths and stopping the clock in :58.19. Chateau came on for second, 4 1/4 lengths clear of the third-place finisher, so Rice picked up two checks. He had purchased I'm Corfu for a bargain $3,500 at the OBS January sale and the gelding has now earned $24,282. 

    There are 13 Florida first-year sires and Corfu joined Currency Swap, Prospective and Treasure Beach in the one-win column.  

Sunday, June 11, 2017
Tapwrit would be a major boon to Ocala . . .

    Following are some indisputable facts about Tapwrit.

     1. He sold for $1.2 million to Bridlewood Farm, Robert LaPenta and Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners at the 2016 Saratoga sale.

    2. His Belmont victory boosted his earnings to $1,143,902, so one more race and they're out as far as the price is concerned. 

    3. He's 4-1-0 in 8 starts and has won two stakes other than the Belmont - the Gr. II Tampa Bay Derby and Pulpit - and finished second in the Gr. III Sam F. Davis.

    4. He's the third son of Tapit to win the Belmont in the last four years.

    5. The Malones weren't able to be there for the Belmont, but Bridlewood manager George Isaacs looked really suave at the trophy presentation sporting another of his stylish straw hats.

    6. There are two sons of Tapit standing in Ocala - Woodford's He's had Enough and Hartley/DeRenzo's Rattlesnake Bridge. Tapwrit has already earned more than those two combined.

    7. What if Robert LaPenta and the many entities represented by Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, neither of which owns a farm standing stallions, I don't think, told John and Leslie Malone they could stand Tapwrit at Bridlewood when his racing career ends, at least for a couple of years, like Mr. Prospector, Stormy Atlantic, Successful Appeal, Yes It's True, Northern Afleet and more recently, Kantharos, etc. It would have to be listed under the headline Always Dreaming, but what a boost it would be to the Florida breeding industry.

    It won't happen, of course, for several reasons, two of which are obvious. First is that the colt appears to be of such a caliber he could go on to win many millions more and that would take him out of the Florida mix. Second is that he would stand for a stud fee too high for the area to support. There are only two stallions in Ocala with fees as high as $10,000. It's been quite a while since there was a high-priced stallion here, possibly not since Codex, and before him In Reality. 

    Ocala hasn't had a Belmont winner standing since Sarava (he won in 2002) and three decades earlier it was Peter Kissel's Pass Catcher, who won in 1971 and stood at October House Farm. Needles, of course, was the first. But Sarava was a one-hit wonder, wasn't well-received, and didn't last long in Florida.  

    Hey, it was just a thought.

    RAINBOW RISES - The Rainbow 6 jackpot has reached $842,532 heading into today's Gulfstream program. If there isn't a single winner today, bettors will have three days to keep trying before there's a mandatory payout on Saturday. If it reaches Saturday intact, the pool will be gigantic - again. 

    GOOD PROSPECTS - Ocala Stud's Prospective became the third Florida freshman sire to get a winner when Happy River scored in a $25,000 maiden claimer at Gulstream on Friday. Bred by Robert Shoukry, the filly raced five furlongs in 1:00.64 under Emisael Jaramillo and won by nearly four lengths, earning a check for $14,400. 


Tuesday, June 06, 2017
How did at all come down to this? . . .

I remember:

    Driving down the entrance lane to Hialeah Park in late February of 1970 amid the beauteous palms and grass and flowers and wondering, "Where has this been all my life?"

    Walking into the press box and being stopped by lovely Eve Dolan, who wanted to know what I was doing there. She was skeptical of my claim that I was the new racing writer for the Ft. Lauderdale News, until veteran New York-Florida handicapper Sam Engelberg came over and bailed me out.

    Looking out the press box window and marveling at the Queen of Thoroughbred Racing - the track, the trees, the flowers, the lake, the island, the flamingos, and the Seminole Indian sitting in his canoe waiting for the seventh race, and wondering, "Where has this been all my life?" 

    Watching the keeper of the canoe paddle over to stir up those beautiful pink birds, who then waltzed their way over and around the grounds while the PA system wafted the haunting strains of "The Flight of the Flamingos."

    Sitting in at a meeting at my new newspaper, the Miami Herald, and listening to a reporter telling us that he had been on a fishing trip with the Florida Supreme Court justices, and they related that instead of Hialeah keeping the January-February "middle dates" year after year, followed by Gulfstream, they were now going to let the two tracks rotate the dates.

    Calling the New York-based trainers to get their reaction to the dates switch, and Allen Jerkens, Lucien Laurin, Johnny Campo, Woody Stephens, John Parisella, Eddie Neloy and John Nerud all expressing their surprise, and dissatisfaction.

    In one column, printing all the letters that had arrived that week - all knocking Hialeah for its high prices for valet parking, seating, food, the clubhouse, etc., and having to go to the paper after the races to explain why I had so angered Herald publisher John S. Knight, owner of the Fourth Estate stable, who brought his Palm Beach buddies to watch the races every day in his box at his favorite track.

    Having to go to the paper for explanations once again after Art Grace of the Miami News had a long preview story pertaining to the debut of the $200,000 Keeneland yearling, Mr. Prospector, and I didn't write about it. I did write about it after Mr. P broke his maiden that day.

    Walking into the jocks' room one day and having Alberto Ramos give me a horse coming up in a couple of races with Don Brumfield aboard. I headed back to the press box and on the way bumped into Carl Rosen (owner of Chris Evert) and New York Yankees' centerfielder Bobby Murcer and marked the horse on their program. Brumfield brought him home at $34 and I made a nice score - Rosen and Murcer told me later they didn't bet on him.

    Talking to Lucien Laurin on the phone and him telling me, in that wonderful French accent, about a nice colt he had ready to start named River Reach. Fortunately for me, I read a piece in the Racing Form the same day and changed the name to Riva Ridge.      

    Booking a $2 win bet from the late Joe Hirsch on Head of the River in the Everglades when I knew Riva Ridge couldn't lose. Head of the River did beat Riva and paid $19, but unbeknownst to Joe I had snuck over to the window and bet the $2.

    Looking out at the winner's circle to get a glimpse of 13-year-old guest Brooke Shields, and wondering why she was allowed to defy the state rule that you had to be at least 18 to enter a pari-mutuel facility.

    Seeing three of the great ones of the sport, Seattle Slew, Alydar and Spectacular Bid, win the Flamingo in successive years, 1977-79.  

    Driving to Hialeah with Max Hugel and David Goldman for the 2001 Flamingo, won by Frank Stronach's Thunder Blitz, not having an inkling that it would be the last time the race would be run.  

    I could go on for a month.

    Now comes the news that John Brunetti has tainted the memory and history of the Queen by turning his previously legal quarter horse meeting into a farce, like Gretna, and Hamilton Downs, and Oxford before him. Reports from down south have Hialeah running two programs of eight races a day, using a makeshift starting gate, someone yelling "go" to start the races, and fields of two being acceptable. The "crowd" for the opener on May 31 is said to have been less than a dozen.

    Equibase no longer carries the entries and results, and TVG no longer carries the races.

    Track exec John Brunetti Jr. was quoted as saying the change was made to reduce the track's racing costs. The same racing that allows Hialeah to have a casino and a poker room. 

    For the record, that casino's slot machines netted $$68.3 million in the fiscal year 2015-2016, less the $23.9 million to the state, or a profit of $44.4 million. Through April of this cycle, the casino net is $60.7 million, with $21.2 million going to the state, a profit of $39.5 million. When the figures for May and June are added, it looks as though Hialeah's take will exceed that of last year.

    As for the poker room, the first 10 months of this fiscal year have produced a revenue of $5.4 million.

    Ergo, JJB Jr.'s explanation about having to reduce costs is a joke.

    The blame for this fiasco can be laid right at the doorstep of the Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering. There is no direction and no leadership as far as pari-mutuels are concerned and the only way the twisted state of affairs is going to be resolved is when the governor appoints a State Racing Commission, comprised of individuals who know and understand thoroughbreds, quarter horses, jai alai, dogs and standardbreds.

    And, 47 years after I first walked into the Hialeah press box, I wonder, "How did it all come down to this?" 






Friday, June 02, 2017
Leads fellow riders by a mile . . .

    The biggest surprise emanating from Gulfstream Park yesterday was not that nobody hit the Rainbow Pick 6 jackpot again, but that Tyler Gaffalione's mount in the second race - Rey Astray - paid $15.40.

    Getting a price on the talented young son of former rider Steve Gaffalione and grandson of former rider Bob Gaffglione has become quite difficult, especially since the northern jockeys have headed north for their summer engagements. Tyler rode four more winners yesterday and now has 72 for the current meeting, 20 ahead of his nearest competitor, Edgard Zayas. It's another 18 back to third-place Emisail Jaramillo, who has 34. 

    To show the respect the bettors have for Tyler, seven of the nine horses he rode went off favored, so he doesn't win them all. Aside from his four victories, he had three seconds, a third and a fourth. His owners do get everything out of a horse when Tyler is aboard. He has ridden in 240 races, so he's winning at a gaudy 30 percent. He also has 39 seconds and 43 thirds, an in-the-money percentage of 64. He leads the jockey colony at Gulfstream in every category, by a mile. 

    By the way, the Rainbow jackpot is up to $556,055, so another millionaire could be crowned shortly.  

    GRATIFYING SCORE - I always find it intriguing to follow the early careers of horses that bring big prices at the sales, although there are so many these days it's difficult to do so. One showed up at Finger Lakes earlier this week, a 3-year-old filly named Gratifying bred in Kentucky by Atlanta real estate entrepreneur Peter Blum, who has been doing it for about five decades. 

    Gratifying, a daughter of Bodemeister, was an RNA at the Keeneland September yearling sale in 2015. She showed up again at the OBS March 2-year-old sale in 2016 in the consignment of Ocala horseman Paul Sharp and she went for $200,000 to Gold Square LLC. Sent to the track, the filly finished fourth and sixth in two tries at Parx, fifth in a race at Aqueduct and ninth at Belmont Park. She earned all of $5,360 in the four attempts.

    Next stop - Finger Lakes. Running in a maiden special upstate, Gratifying took to the sloppy track under Joshua Navarro, galloped behind the pack down the backstretch, went four wide on the turn and jogged home by 6 1/2 lengths. She paid $2.50 and collected a check for $11,400. She's now earned $16,760 for Gold Star, a long way from her purchase price, but it will be interesting to see if this was the wake-up call she needed.