Racing's biggest problem - short fields at too many tracks around the country - reached new heights this week with the announcement that Santa Anita has canceled Thursday's program due to insufficient entries. Not Ruidoso Downs, or Prairie Meadows, or Sunland Park, but Santa Anita, which TVG's analysts remind us every five minutes or so is "The Great Race Place."
And it's not an aberration due to a mid-week program, based on these numbers: On Saturday, Santa Anita's 10-race card had 83 entries, for an acceptable average of 8.3 horses. However, included in the mix were two five-horse races, one of six and one of seven. The average was saved by the 10th race, which had 14 runners.
The situation took a turn for the worst on Sunday, when the nine-race program numbered just 58 runners, an average of 6.4. Included this day were two races with four runners each and one with five.
It wasn't any better at Aqueduct on Saturday, where the card featured 66 entrants in nine races, an average of 7.3, including one five-horse affair and two of six.
Gulfstream Park, with its Championship meeting ended, still had 95 runners in 11 races on Saturday, an average of 8.6, despite one race with a field of five. The handle at all three tracks, naturally, feels the effects of the short fields. For instance, someone wheeling a horse in a $5 exacta in a 7-horse race expends $30, while the same bet in a 10-horse race costs $45. Multiply that by the handle lost in all the various exotics when there are short fields and it results in a serious hit on the day's bottom line.
There seems to be a consensus of horsemen I have talked to that the increased costs of training, feed, veterinarians, vanning, farriers, etc. have knocked out much of the middle class, just like in so many other aspects in the country. At the sales, the high-end prospects are still selling en masse, but the middle-of-the-roaders are just not making it. Just check the RNAs at any of the 2-year-old sales.
QUITE A DAY - The claiming ranks reached a new level at Tampa Bay Downs over the weekend when the 6-year-old mare Laur Net was taken for $62,500, highest claim ever at the Oldsmar track. The new owner is Ron Paolucci's Looch Racing Stables, which more than made up for the price a few hours later with a major score in the Gr. II Charles Town Classic with its purse of $1,250,000. Paolucci's Imperative won the race by a neck and collected $732,000, while another Looch runner, War Story, finished third and took home $122,000. A third runner from the stable, Cautious Grant, wound up eighth and last and still earned $20,000, a total of $874,000 for the trio. Cautious Grant more than accomplished his purpose, though, as the 84-1 shot ran 6/5 favorite Stanford into defeat on the front end, making way for the come-from-behind 1-3 finish of his two stablemates.
Laur Net is an Illinois-bred with a major Florida influence, by Strong Hope (formerly at Winding Oaks Farm) out of the Lucky Lionel (formerly at Franks Farms) mare Lady Lionel, and she's won 7 of 27 races. She scored by 2 1/4 lengths under Ronnie Allen Jr. with a mile on the grass in 1:36.52 and will compete next at Delaware Park.
Wesley Ward has been heralded as the king of the early 2-year-old racing season for many years, getting his youngsters ready to roll when racing secretaries at Keeneland, Gulfstream and Aqueduct card rich maiden specials that anyone can take advantage of. Ward took advantage of three of them at Keeneland last week, and now Carlos Munoz and his trainer, Javier Negrete, has done likewise at Gulfstream.
In Gulfstream's first 2-year-old event on Wednesday, with a purse of $50,000, Munoz entered a pair of runners and got a little lucky when only five others joined the fray. He won the race with DiMaria, a Kentucky-bred filly by Data Line who paid $31.60 to win and collected a check for $24,000. DiMaria drew away from the others late and was clocked in :51.50, not far off the track record of :51.07 for the 4 1/2 furlongs.
The other Munoz-Negrete entry was La Chica Ripool, a Florida-bred filly who became the first starter for freshman sire Soldat, who stands at Woodford Thoroughbreds. La Chica Ripool set the pace, putting up fractions of :22.16 and :45.12 before tiring to finish third, 6 1/4 lengths behind her stablemate, and Munoz picked up another $4,400.
On Thursday, another owner/breeder who likes to pick up some of that early money, Fred Brei, sent out Slacks of Course to win the second 2-year-old event at Gulfstream. The colt is by Brei's stallion, Awesome of Course, who now stands at Ocala Stud Farm and has been responsible for some major paydays for his owner in the past several years. Slacks of Course paid $2.80 under Tyler Gaffalione and earned a check for $34,000 for Brei's Jacks or Better Farm. He was caught in :52.03.
The reason for the difference in checks for the two winners is that DiMaria is a Kentucky-bred, and didn't get to take advantage of the two $5,000 bonuses for Floridians that Brei received for Slacks of Course.
Two Florida-bred 2-year-olds have made a seasonal appearance thus far, I'm Corfu, by freshman sire Corfu, finishing fifth at Keeneland and Heir Horse One, by deceased champion Wildcat Heir, finishing fifth at Turf Paradise. That will change early in the day tomorrow by way of a pair of rich filly races at Aqueduct and Gulfstream Park, both at 4 1/2 furlongs.
The second race at the Big A is a $100,000 maiden special that has drawn a field of six, including Stream of Gold, a daughter of Get Away Farm's Two Step Salsa, one of Florida's leading sires. On Sunday, Two Step Salsa's second-leading money-earner, Classic Salsa, won at Laurel Park to gain his 11th victory in a span of 31 races, raising his lifetime bank account to $374,169. The 6-year-old doesn't appear to be slowing down, getting the six furlongs in 1:10.57 after posting fractions of :22.28, :45.66 and :57.80, and winning by 1 3/4 lengths. Classic Salsa has two victories and a third in three starts this year, and was claimed out of the race for $20,000. The consistent performer has also won at Belmont Park, Aqueduct, Pimlico, Tampa Bay Downs and Turfway Park.
At about the same time that the Aqueduct race goes off, Gulfstream's second will feature a field of seven fillies competing for $50,000, which includes an FOA of $5,000. The No. 1 horse is Go Astray, a daughter of Northwest Stud's highly successful Gone Astray. She's owned and bred by Ramiro Medina.
No. 2 is Panty Hose, by Ocala Stud's Awesome of Course, owned and bred by Fred Brei's Jacks or Batter Farm.
No. 3 is DiMaria, a Kentucky-bred, followed by the first two runners by Pleasant Acres Stallions' freshman sire Brethren. No. 4, Minaj, and No. 5, Baylor, are both owned and bred by Arindel, one of the co-owners of the stallion by Distorted Humor who won Tampa's Sam F. Davis Stakes.
The 6 horse is Kentucky-bred Lounge Act, trained by the country's perennial leading 2-year-old conditioner at this time of year, Wesley Ward, and No. 7 is La Chica Ripool, the first runner by Woodford Thoroughbreds' Soldat. She's owned and bred by Carlos Munoz.
The honor of getting the first Florida 2-year-old runner of 2017 goes to Bridlewood Farm's freshman sire, Corfu.
I'm Corfu, owned and trained by Wayne Rice and bred by Donna Burnham, finished fifth at Keeneland Wednesday in a $60,000 maiden special at 4 1/2 furlongs, earning a check for $1,341. The race was won by McErin, a son of Trappe Shot who went off at 30 cents to a dollar and scored by 7 1/2 lengths in :52.41. Corfu, by Malibu Moon, was bred to 55 mares and has 29 registered foals in his first crop.
BANG-UP MEETING - The Gulfstream Park Championship Meeting that just ended set an all-sources handle record of $867 million, up 7.34 percent over last year's previous record of $807 million. It seems that it wasn't that long ago, when Doug Donn owned the track in Hallandale Beach, and prior to full-card simulcasting, that the handle reached $100 million for the first time amid euphoria among track officials.
The meeting produced a record opening-day handle, and a record $40.2 million was wagered on the highly successful Pegasus World Cup day. Todd Pletcher won his 14th consecutive training title, a remarkable feat, and Luis Saez took the riding title with 102 victories. He was just the third jockey to surpass 100 victories at the meeting, following in the footsteps of Javier Castellano and Paco Lopez.
Another legislative update from FTBOA lobbyist Matt Bryan in Wire-to-Wire this week and, as usual, no explanation on several key issues leaves the uninitiated in the dark. Matt knows what he's talking about, the FTBOA board knows what he is talking about, but I haven't a clue because Matt doesn't adhere to one of the first things I learned when I went to work at the Long Island Press: Write it so that a little old lady in New Jersey knows what you're talking about.
In discussing approval by the state senate of SB 8, an act relating to gaming (by a vote of 32-6), he says the senate has approved CS for SB 8, and while I'm sure many people know what CS stands for, I don't. Tell me.
SB 8 allows for widespread decoupling, including the thoroughbred tracks. This is an absolute disgrace from a thoroughbred standpoint, even though I know for a fact Tampa Bay Downs has no intention of ending racing, decoupling or not. I am confident that as long as Frank Stronach is at the helm, that goes for Gulfstream, too. As opposed to the rest of the industry, I could not care less if dogs and jai alai frontons choose not to have a live product anymore, both entities are pretty much dead as far as fan interest is concerned. Let them end that live product, and pay a nominal sum to the facilities that stay open as a penalty. (The House Commerce Committee also approved H 7037 by a vote of 19-11. It does not allow for decoupling for any permitholder).
Back to the Senate bill. It allows for the continued existence of the not-for-profit thoroughbred permit in Marion County. Would it have been so difficult for Bryan to mention who has this permit? I assume it's OBS, but why not tell us? The bill also creates a statewide supplemental purse pool for thoroughbred races. Just what does that entail? I'm sure most people in the business would like a clarification, I know I would.
The bill also calls for reducing the tax rate on slot machines from 35% to 30%, and later, to 25%, and a portion of that first reduction would go to purses and breeders' awards. It's about time. The extra share of the percentages would add greatly to the purse structures and awards. However, why couldn't Bryan reveal when the percentage would drop to 25?
This is a big one. It would allow blackjack tables at South Florida tracks. While poker is very popular at all the facilities, it can get a little too complicated for many. No matter how many poker tournaments I watch on TV, I still can't quite get when you should go "all in."But everyone knows blackjack and the game would add tremendously to the bottom line.
The House bill, by the way, also clarifies that slot machine gaming is not allowed outside Miami-Dade and Broward counties. However, it should be expanded in one area - to include Tampa Bay Downs. The reasons are obvious.
Bryan says that the House and Senate have hinted that they will convene a conference of both entities to try to come to some mutual (and mutuel) agreement. I won't hold my breath. And when and if they do come up with something, I hope Matt doesn't expect us to understand all the nuances without some simple explanation.
Word from Gulfstream Park is that there were a great many disgruntled people cashing Pick 6 tickets after the last race on Saturday. The disgruntles didn't understand how they could hit six winners in a row and collect a measly $89 and change for their troubles. Which means, of course, that they didn't understand how the Rainbow Pick 6 works.
Here's a quick course. There was $1,045,673 wagered into the Pick 6 on Saturday as bettors were looking to make the big score - a single ticket on six winners that would grab the carryover of nearly $2 million, plus Saturday's pool. First, we have to account for the takeout - I'm not sure what it is, but let's use 20 percent, it really doesn't matter that much for this exercise.
After the takeout, which reduced the pool to $850,000-plus, the figure is now reduced by 30 percent, since only 70 percent is paid out to winning bettors when there is more than one winning ticket. That means the pool to be distributed was somewhere between $560,000 and $600,000. Sounds like a lot, but not when you study the succession of winners.
The eventual payoffs took a hit right from the start when Farz (Jose Lezcano) and Lukes Alley (Luis Saez) finished in a dead heat in the ninth race. That immediately cut the payoffs in half because they had to pay out twice as many tickets than they would have if there had been just one nose on the wire. That was followed by Celestine, who paid $2.60 under Jose Ortiz, and literally knocked very few tickets out of the mix.
It didn't get much better in the 11th race, where Joel Rosario brought Salty home at $4, and most every ticket was still alive. Dover Cliffs, at $4.40, won the 12th with Ortiz, then players got some slight relief from the string of favorites with Sadler's Joy ($9.40) in the 13th, with Julien Leparoux.
When Always Dreaming won the Florida Derby and paid $7.40, it helped the payoff somewhat, because with even-money Gunnevera winning under John Velazquez, the $89 would have been cut in half again. Imagine the wails if the price had gone up under $50.
Aside from the obvious, the short-priced winners, the most popular riders at the track (other than Javier Castellano) were aboard - Leparoux, Velazquez, Ortiz, Rosario, Saez and Lezcano. There were no 7-pound bug boys or 3 percent riders involved. Dividing the pool by the payoff of $89, there were somewhere around 6,500 winning tickets, give or take.
Fast Forward to Sunday, when it was all to be given away, and betting reached a phenomenal $7.336 million, contributing to a Saturday-Sunday all-sources handle of more than $48.792 million, more than $8 million greater than last year. Derby Day handle surpassed $30.614 million, second highest in Florida Derby history, which spans 66 years. The Pick 6 winning tickets were each worth $48,881 and nobody can be upset about that. I think.
MARE WINS LIVE OAK APPROVAL - When Revved Up was born at Live Oak Stud Farm in 1998, no doubt Charlotte Weber never imagined she would still be enjoying the exploits of his dam, Win Approval, some 19 years later. But when World Approval captured the $100,000 EG Vodka Turf Classic at Tampa Bay Downs yesterday, the 5-year-old gelding moved closer to becoming the fourth millionaire out of 10 babies produced by the daughter of With Approval.
With Julien Leparoux aboard, World Approval outclassed the field in the 1 1/8-mile race over the turf course, raising his record to 7-2-4 in 19 starts and his earnings to $953,763. It was his first start since October, and he's now 2-for-2 at Tampa. In his last six races of 2016, the son of Northern Afleet competed in Gr. I company at Woodbine, Arlington Park, Monmouth Park, Belmont Park and Churchill Downs. He won the United Nations at Monmouth, was second in the Turf Classic at Churchill, and third in the Manhattan at Belmont and Northern Dancer across the border.
When he gets his next good paycheck, World Approval will move into the millionaire's mansion along with Miesque's Approval (41-12-10-5, $2,648,879), Za Approval (34-9-9-4, $1,904,666) and Revved Up (43-20-9-1, $1,548,653). All told, Win Approval's runners have won 71 races and earned $7,338,208. Eight of the 10 have have visited the winner's circle at least once and just one, Highest Approval, didn't race. World Approval, at the age of five, has a chance to significantly increase all the numbers if trainer Mark Casse can keep him healthy.
more to come -
Back in 2011, when Ocala's Martin Stables South went bust and horses of various denominations were being rescued off the farm by concerned neighbors, Kathy Taylor and her daughter Andi wound up with nine of them on their five acres-plus called Capstone. The first order of business was to feed the five starving mares, three 2-year-olds and one 3-year-old, then sell them for a ham sandwich before the ladies were eaten out of house and home.
Kathy bred the mares to stallions whose seasons were donated by clients of her advertising business, and, in time, all had new homes ranging from Florida to a couple of time zones to the west. There was one foal, though, that Kathy kept. He was a fiesty one from day one, by Shakespeare out of the Storm Bird mare Cent Nouvelles, and Andi literally pulled him from the womb the night he was born.
They raised the little guy for two years, then entered him in the 2012 OBS January sale, but he didn't bring his reserve and they wound up selling him privately to Canadian owner Howard Walton, who races at Woodbine in the summer and Gulfstream Park in the winter. Now a gelding, French Quarter turned out to be a solid addition to the Walton barn, compiling a record of 7-5-3 in 33 starts and earning $243,726 before being claimed out of his last race at Gulfstream a few weeks ago for $62,500 by trainer David Fawkes.
Of his 33 races, 22 came at Woodbine and 11 at Gulfstream and it appears Frenchie likes the southern racing strip better than the all-weather up north - he won four times over it, including the last two this season, along with a second and a third. That's six breeder's awards for Kathy, and with the recent increase in the percentages doled out by the FTBOA, the last two were blockbusters of $5,400 each. That probably just about got Kathy even for her costs of five years ago.
Now Frenchie is in the Fawkes barn, and David is a year-round Florida resident, which has Kathy more than elated. And tomorrow, Frenchie is entered in the $100,000 Sir Shackleton Stakes at seven furlongs, a distance at which he has never won. He has one victory at five furlongs, five at six furlongs and one at 6 1/2. But he has the services of talented youngster Nik Juarez, who was aboard for his last two scores and appears to fit Frenchie like a glove.
It's only the second time the gelding has been in a stakes race - he finished fifth in the $125,000 Jacques Cartier at Woodbine last April and collected $1,925. Morning line-maker Ron Nicoletti has him pegged as the choice at 3-1, and Kathy and Andi hope Ron is on the mark.
And what happened to some of the other rescued equines from five years ago? Ifoundmy Mojo, one of the 2-year-olds, started 48 times in the mid-west and compiled a record of 13-9-5 with earnings of $222,510. In 2013, the gelded son of Spanish Steps ranked 53rd in the country by number of winning races - six. The 3-year-old filly in the group was named California Quick, and she went 4-5-1 in 15 starts and collected $61,497. Hojas, a half-brother to Ifoundmy Mojo by Two Step Salsa, bred by Kathy, is now six and sports a record of 3-3-3 in 15 starts with earnings of $36,696. After a long layoff, he recently returned to the workout tabs at Los Alamitos and should be racing again shortly.
Kathy will also have a second major interest tomorrow in the $1 million Florida Derby with the Gone Astray colt Three Rules, who is leaving right next to favored Gunnevera on the outside and attempting to show co-owner/trainer Bert Pilcher he's good enough to shoot for the Run for the Roses. Gone Astray stands at Northwest Stud, one of Kathy's clients.
SHOOTING FOR THE MOON - The Rainbow Pick 6 reached $1,543,677 for today's Gulfstream program, and if it's not hit, it will jump to more than $2 million for the Florida Derby card. There are 14 races slated, including eight stakes, and the mutuel handle will be somewhere in the stratosphere, with huge guarantees in some of the major exotics. If the Rainbow isn't hit today or tomorrow, it will be given away on Sunday.
There remain just four days for someone to become an instant millionaire - again - by solving Gulfstream's Rainbow Pick 6 on a day when nobody else can. There were multiple winners on Sunday, each hitting for $885, the 23rd consecutive day without a single winner. The carryover leaped to $1,354,776 after $479,499 was bet into the pool.
If no single winner emerges through Saturday, there will be a mandatory payout on Sunday, April 2, and the pool will reach enormous proportions, especially since Saturday is Florida Derby day, when there will be nine stakes in all worth $2.45 million. Betting will be astronomical. Of course, that all hinges on whether somebody gets lucky between Wednesday and Saturday. The $6 million bonanza won by the late Dan Borislow is still fresh in the minds of all Gulfstream's regular Pick 6 players.
Tyler Gaffalione reached the 500 victory mark on Sunday and it's hard to think of any jockey who accomplished the feat more quickly. The 22-year-old who grew up in Davie rode his first winner at Gulfstream in mid-2014 and his positive impact on the local scene has been unquestionably as great as any rider in recent memory. On Saturday, he won the Gr. III, $500,000 Spiral Stakes at Turfway Park aboard Fast and Accurate, who could be a supplemental nominee for that big race at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May.
Yesterday, Tyler won the fourth race on More Front ($10) for victory No. 500, then added Extravagant Kid ($31.60) in the eighth and Budding ($4.40) in the 11th to boost his total to 502 in a hurry. He has 61 wins at the current meeting, and he tries as hard on 20-1 shots as he does on favorites, with much success.
Tyler certainly has every reason to be as accomplished as he is. His father, Steve Gaffalione, rode successfully in Miami for years, and his grandfather, Bob Gaffglione, was a stalwart at Calder, Gulfstream and Hialeah in the 70s and 80s, especially with his success aboard the fabulous filly Hickory Gray. The reason for the different spelling of the last name is due to a birth certificate glitch when dad Steve was born and it was never changed.
Several years ago, noted turf columnist Andy Beyer wrote a long piece about one of the worst "bad beats" of all time. It concerned a person (or persons) who lost out on a huge fortune in a Rainbow pick 6 because a late scratch switched more tickets onto the favorite in the race and instead of having the lone winning ticket, he (or they) merely ended up sharing a consolation prize.
Add yesterday's Rainbow at Gulfstream Park to the list of bad beats of all time.
The pick 6 was sailing along thusly heading into the final race: Halloween Horror won the eighth and paid $11.20, followed by Cape Force ($13.40), Classic Cotton ($26), Distinta ($25.80), and Chivalrous ($10.60). Heading into the 13th race, there were 28 live tickets, but only the five horse, Starship Zorro, had a lone ticket on him and it was going to be worth more than a million bucks. Analyst Caton Bredar informed the TVG audience of this fact just as the horses were going to the gate.
Starship Zorro was 11-1 at post time, due to the fact that he had lost eight in a row since his last victory at Gulfstream West back in November. He did have a couple of thirds.
Emisael Jaramillo hustled Starship Zorro out quickly and he settled into a comfortable third in the mile and one-sixteenth race on the grass. The 7-year-old son of Giant's Causeway remained in striking position all through the backstretch, and coming to the turn Jaramillo let him loose and Starship Zorro took the lead easily, opening up by a couple of lengths. The owner(s) of the lone ticket had to be jumping out of their skin.
Starship Zorro was still digging in gamely down the lane, but 7/2 shot Hidden Vow, an 8-year-old New York-bred gelding with Luis Saez aboard, was rolling down the outside. The two went head-and-head in the final 100 yards and at the wire, it was Hidden Vow who prevailed in a head bob.
The pick 6 payoff to those alive with Hidden Vow was $38,321, and we can't know if those buried by the bad beat had one of those tickets or not. Hopefully, they did, and received some small consolation. But even if they did, they won't soon (if ever) get over this 'bad beat.'
The carryover into today's card is $765,299, and by the time the wagering ends the pool will again be well over $1 million. There was $410,662 bet into it yesterday. The bad beat victims will probably try again, assuming their hearts can stand it.
(Gulfstream enjoyed another big day at the windows, with the all-sources handle reaching $15,549,019).
When Bridlewood Farm manager George Isaacs asked owner John Malone if he was going to come to Tampa Bay Downs to watch their $1.2 million purchase, Tapwrit, compete in the Tampa Bay Derby, the boss said, simply, if the colt runs well, he would come for that other Derby in Louisville.
Tapwrit ran well, alright, making one of the most stunning moves ever seen in these parts on the final turn of the 1 1/16-mile race, a move that reminded some of Arazi when he won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile in what seems like eons ago. The 3-year-old son of Tapit lagged behind early in the field of 10 and when Tapwrit went wide under Jose Ortiz turning for home, he inhaled the leaders in what seemed like a matter of seconds and was comfortably in front when they straightened out in the stretch. He won by 4 1/2 lengths and his clocking of 1:42.36 broke the stakes record of 1:42.82 set by Destin in winning the race last year.
Tapwrit was a $1.2 million purchase at the 2015 Saratoga sale and was a collaborative effort of Bridlewood, Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners and long-time owner Robert La Penta. When the colt finished a distant 10th in his career debut at Saratoga last September, many eyebrows were raised, considering the price. But Tapwrit went to Gulfstream West in November and broke his maiden at seven furlongs, then added the $75,000 Pulpit Stakes at Gulfstream Park before finishing a fast-closing second to McCraken in the Sam F. Davis. He now has more than enough points to be eligible for the Run for the Roses, and John Malone, reputedly the largest owner of acreage in the United States, will be there. As will George Isaacs, who has worn a smart-looking fedora to both the Tampa races, and will no doubt continue to be fashionable in Louisville.
SUPREME EFFORT - In 1996, Hank Steinbrenner bred the stakes-winning Kinsman Stud Farm broodmare Spinning Round to Seeking the Gold and the resultant foal turned out to be a dream supreme. In fact, that's what they named the filly, Dream Supreme, and she went on to become a multiple graded stakes-winner, compiling a record of 9-2-2 in 16 starts. Among her victories she numbered the Gr. I Test, Gr. I Ballerina, Gr. III Gallant Bloom, Gr. II Distaff Breeders' Cup Handicap, Gr. II Humana Distaff Handicap and Gr. III Princess Rooney Handicap. All told, Dream Supreme competed in 13 straight graded stakes, winning six, finishing second in two, third in two and fourth in two. She earned $1,007,680.
In the sixth race on the Tampa Bay Downs Derby program Saturday, the eighth of Dream Supreme's 10 foals turned up racing in the colors of Lanes End Racing and Kinsman Stable. The 5-year-old is named Gold Shield, by Medaglia d'Oro, and he came into the optional claimer on the turf with a record of 2-3-2 in 12 starts and earnings of $136,005. He had been racing in New York for most of last year and won at Belmont Park on the grass in May, which was his last visit to the winner's circle. Idle since Oct. 6, Gold Shield drew the 10 post for trainer Shug McGaughey with rider John Velazquez, who had been aboard for the victory in May.
And the talented veteran did it again, giving Gold Shield his third victory, and adding $15,500 to his bank account.
THE OLD COLLEGE TRY - Two races later, millionaire Stanford made his second start of the year in the $100,000 Challenger and not only overwhelmed the opposition, but broke the track record for a mile and one-sixteenth that McCraken had set a few weeks earlier in the Sam F. Davis Stakes. The 5-year-old by Malibu Moon was clocked in 1:41.75, again under Velazquez, while posting his sixth career victory and surpassing the $1.3 million mark in earnings. Stanford had been sitting on the tote board at 1/5 for much of the wagering, but "soared" to 1/2 by post time and paid $3. Many felt like it was a steal.
There wasn't a parking spot to be found when the first race at Tampa went off Saturday, and the crowd of 10,079 wagered $865,204 on-track. The total all-sources handle reached $12,123,021. But the two major Frank Stronach tracks stole the day, as Santa Anita's total was $18,379,346, and Gulfstream Park's $15,460,422. Aqueduct took a back seat with a handle of $8,287,237, while Oaklawn Park wound up a tad under $4 million.
WHO WOULDA THUNK IT? - In one of the biggest disgraces in the continuing downturn of the former St. Pete Times, now the Tampa Bay Times, there wasn't one advance word about the track's major attraction in the Saturday paper. This, despite the many thousands of bucks TBD spends on advertising. Word around the track is that the once-revered paper, which for some unknown reason bought the Tampa Tribune and before that spent a reported $20 million to name the home of the Tampa Bay Lightning "the St. Petersburg Times Forum," is in deep trouble.
If thoroughbred racing emulated the other major sports and added ear-splitting music to the fare during live action, they could have had the 1974 Bachman-Turner Overdrive smash hit "You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet" blaring from all speakers as today's first race was being run at Turf Paradise.
Among the entrants in the $5,000 claimer at five furlongs was one "Bullseye," a gelded son of Perfect Mandate out of Ms Hearts N Arrows, bred in California by Old English Rancho and Berumen. What makes this tale so worthy of BTO's No. 1 song is that Bullseye is nine years old, and he was making his first career start for owner/trainer W. R. Whitehouse.
When Whitehouse happened upon Bullseye only he and the breeders know and I'm sure we'll soon find out, but we do know the gelding was entered in the California Thoroughbred Breeders' Association's Northern California Yearling Sale in 2009. He didn't bring his reserve, and was listed as a $9,200 RNA.
Fast forward to a couple of months ago. Bullseye begins working at Turf Paradise and has five morning trials on his tab, the best one being his last, a 49-flat from the gate, 19th best of 32 that day. Not earth-shattering.
The gelding drew the No. 1 post for his debut with Ronald Richard as his rider. When the windows opened for the race, Bullseye took a pretty good monetary hit early, and was sitting at even money for a while. He began drifting up slowly thereafter, but when Richard settled him in the gate, Bullseye suddenly reared and his jock jumped off, while the horse turned sideways and stuck one leg over the side of the gate.
The assistant starter got him squared away quickly, while the vet gave him the okay. Richard hopped back on, and when they sprung the latch, the price was 4-1. Bullseye broke a tad slow, but Richard quickly sent him up on the inside to take over the lead, with the No. 2 horse, 2-1 second choice Coulson, just to his flank. Bullseye continued on the lead and the pair opened up daylight on the field, but at the top of the stretch, Bullseye opened up daylight on Coulson and the gelding roared away to score by nearly seven widening lengths. It was the stuff of which legends are made.
Bullseye paid $10.20, $5.60 and $3.40 and no doubt those in the know who bet all that early money made a pretty good score. As for Whitehouse, the first-place check was only $3,828 but maybe he made that much on his wagers. The next question is: how long will it be before we see Bullseye again?
After a highly successful run that began a decade ago, it appears that the South Florida racinos may have reached their apex. Seven months into the fiscal year, it looks like most of the slots venues are going to experience a slight downturn, with the possible exception of Calder and Hialeah Park. With five months remaining, however, it's not etched in stone, but a major upturn doesn't seem realistic.
Statistics supplied by the Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering list Calder ahead of last year, although not by much, even after its takeout was lowered from an outrageous 9.11 to an outrageous 9.05. Same for Hialeah Park, although John Brunetti kept his takeout at a reasonable 6.51.
Pompano Park, the perennial leader down south, is about on pace to equal last year's projections, with a minor takeout increase from 9.02 to 9.03, also in the outrageous category. Miami Jai Alai is down slightly despite raising its takeout from 6.20 to 6.42, and Flagler dogs is down a bit despite raising its takeout from 6.13 to 6.47. Gulfstream is still down after lowering its takeout from 7.61 to 7.09 and Hollywood dogs is down after raising its takeout from 8.05 to 8.41. Dania Jai Alai is still in deep trouble, and always will be, as it sits between Pompano, Hollywood and Gulfstream, and within a stone's throw of Hard Rock.
To complicate the problem, FTBOA lobbyist Matt Bryan reported in a recent Wire-to-Wire article that knucklehead senator Bill Galvano has introduced a bill that's in committee that would allow slots in eight more counties in the state, and two more in the South Florida area. I will assume that some Vegas interests are pushing Galvano in his quest. Just what Miami needs, two more casinos to take revenue away from the rest. Good move, Bill.
Thanks to the Gulfstream PR department, it turns out the mystery of who hit the big jackpot last week wasn't really a mystery at all. The winning ticket, worth $324,179, was the product of a joint effort by 12 friends from "all over the place," in South Florida for an annual group outing sponsored by Jim Beam. The only mystery is how much Jim Beam was utilized after Frank Calabrese's first-timer, Nick the Cardshark, won the sixth and last race at odds of 27-1. There had been just two other live singles heading into the finale.
The winning 20-cent ticket cost the group just $194.40, a mere outlay of $16.20 per person, assuming each had an equal share. Art Friedman, who acted as spokesman for the 12, revealed that they make the trip every February, and two years ago, had five in a row before missing in the sixth. Friedman also made up their ticket - with 4-7-10-9-7-12 the winning combo.
WHAT'S IN A NAME? - Back in the old days, much of the time owners used some combination of the stallion and the mare to name their horses. That changed somewhere along the way, right about the time that Florida breeder Norman Casse began naming his using three or four words, all strung together, and the rest of the world followed suit.
There are clever names, boring names, and, very often, stupid names, along with names where people try to fool The Jockey Club and often get away with it, plus some pretty good steeds from the past whose monikers have been pilfered. One of those is Guadalcanal, who reappeared several years ago after his namesake competed with some success against Kelso and the other great handicap horses of the 60s.
Today, in the second race at Parx, the winner in a photo was Ima Frayed Knot, and if that isn't one of the great ones, I don't know what is. Kudos to the person who named that 12-1 shot and to those who wagered on him.
GIVE ADEMAR A CHANCE - More than once in this space I have mentioned that the most under-rated jockey who competes at Tampa Bay Downs is Ademar Santos, who manages to make it into the top 10 at the track every year despite riding a long list of bums. Poor Ademar gets on horses who are 15-1, 20-1 and 30-1 more than anybody else who has a pretty good record. If you're a show bettor, he will not stop riding until the wire pops up and the number of long shots he brings in second and third is remarkable.
His latest stats read: 148 mounts, 16 winners, 15 seconds and 13 thirds, with earnings of $212,245. Not close to Daniel Centeno, but Daniel never rides the type of horses Ademar does. On Sunday, he was aboard Coquivacoa, a 4-year-old filly by Northwest Stud's Flashstorm who had made two previous starts at Mountaineer. She was second in her debut in October, and seventh in her second try in November.
Ademar rushed her out of the gate from the 11 post, sat just off the pace, moved between horses on the turn and it was all over. Coquivacoa won by three lengths without anybody getting close - AND PAID $59. Good handicappers usually can flush out up and coming riders before the word gets out, but not in this case, it seems. I guess that helps me then, doesn't it?
Gulfstream Park's Rainbow 6 jackpot left the building Thursday and without further verification, it may have gone out in the pocket of a real player, Frank Carl Calabrese.
There were just three single tickets alive heading into the 11th-race finale, and when Calabrese's Nick the Cardshark loped home by 5 3/4 lengths and paid $57.40 under Carlos Montalvo, the pool was hit for $324,179. Sound reasoning would lead one to believe that the only person alive with the 27-1 shot would be the owner, especially since Calabrese is known for his wagering prowess.
Of course, Ken and Sarah Ramsey might have been alive for the finale based on the results of the first five races, three of which were won by progeny of their fabulous stallion, Kitten's Joy. After Live Oak Plantation's Kabang, a Tapit gelding, got things going at $18.80 in the sixth race, the Ramseys won the seventh (owned and bred) for a payoff of $7.20, West Point Thoroughbreds the eighth at $17.40, the Ramseys the ninth (owned only) at $6.20, and the Ramseys the 10th (bred only) at $17.40. Could Ken and Sarah be holding the winning combo? Or Frank Carl Calabrese? Word will probably leak out shortly, if it hasn't already.
HOW CAN THIS HAPPEN? - The conspiracy theorists had cause for further dismay at Oaklawn Park Thursday when First Thought went wire-to-wire in the second race. When he broke out of the gate in the six-furlong race, First Thought was sitting on the board at 5/2. He continued on top with a two or three-length lead down the backstretch and around the turn, and as they hit the top of the stretch. That's when the odds changed on the TV screen and he was 2-1.
I know the tracks swear they can monitor when and where all bets come from, but a change when they hit the top of the stretch? Come on.
BO OVER BOW - A horse showed up in the 10th race at Gulfstream on Thursday - Bow Town Cat - by Cowtown Cat out of Clara Bow, by Way West. Todd Schrupp and Simon Bray reminded us oldies that everybody under 45 or so believes that the world began the day they were born. That's why they laugh at the Fabulous Fifties, Elvis, the Bee Gees and disco, are positive that basketball originated the day Michael Jordan came to town, and constantly spout that today's athletes are "bigger, faster and stronger." (They always leave out "fatter.") I can't imagine finding any football player today who is faster than Bob Hayes (Cowboys) or Henry Carr (Giants) of the 60s.
Todd and Simon deliberated over the pronunciation of the Bow in Bow Town, whether it should be like cow, or bo. They clearly had no idea of who Clara Bow was. Thankfully, track announcer Peter Aiello got the bo right. By the way, Pete, who used to announce the quarter horse races at Hialeah and was the track's PR director, has become quite proficient during his stint at Gulfstream. He has a great announcing voice, speaks clearly and picks up horses who may not be close to the leaders when they begin making a move from the rear. Good choice.
Every once in a while, if one makes a habit of studying the tote board for clues to produce clever wagering, something pops up that makes us scratch our heads. At Gulfstream Park on Sunday, Flash Jak was the morning line choice in a $6,250 claimer at six furlongs with red-hot Paco Lopez aboard. The 5-year-old daughter of Northwest Stud's Gone Astray was favored on the board from the outset mostly at just under 2-1. The second choice was Unknown, with Tyler Gaffalione. (The horse wasn't unknown, that was her name).
As Paco led his mare toward the gate, she had been bet down to 6/5, and Unknown was 9/5. As they were ready to break, the board changed and Unknown dropped to 6/5, while Flash Jak jumped up to 8/5. The gate opened, they broke cleanly and a few seconds later, the board made its final change: both horses were 2-1. It was one of the most bizarre odds movements I've ever seen.
What made it more bizarre was that Paco quickly placed Flash Jak just off the pace in the two path, moved her up to the lead on the turn, and just hand rode her home to a 5 1/2-length score while looking under his arm for any competition. There was none. Unknown never got out of a gallop despite Gaffalione's urging, and she finished a distant sixth.
Because of the strange betting pattern, Flash Jak's backers were rewarded with a juicy payoff of $6.40; Unknown's backers ripped up their tickets - she went off as the $2.30-1 second choice. Flash Jak, who was claimed out of the race, is now 7-6-3 in 30 starts and the $10,000 winner's check boosted her career total to $102,020. She's cheap, but she brings home the bacon.
After being unable to find any answers last week concerning the relationship of the Aqueduct casino and the Nassau OTB casino, I finally solved the first major question: just where is the Nassau casino? Answer: It's inside the Resorts World Casino New York, or Aqueduct.
It seems that in 2013 Nassau OTB was granted the right to offer slots, but protesters and community groups stood in the way of implementation. However, in April of last year, a deal was struck to place 1,000 Nassau OTB machines at Aqueduct, although only 460 have been placed. I don't know why. That boosted the number of machines at Aqueduct to 6,400.
From what I can determine, without someone clarifying it for me, OTB is not obligated to contribute to NYRA, with one caveat. If revenues at Resorts World decline to to levels of 2013, negatively affecting the horsemen's association, then there will be a contribution. Genting, which owns Resorts World, is managing the OTB machines separately from its own. Then there's a provision that I cannot comprehend, something about "divvying up" $9 million to OTB for two years and $25 million a year after that. I think the writer doesn't understand the meaning of "divvy" and probably meant fork over.
P. S. I have now found a December column by Dave Grening in DRF clearing up several points.
"Under the deal, which was included in the state budget passed last spring, Genting can designate up to 1,000 of its current 5,450 VLTs as belonging to Nassau County OTB. Nassau OTB will receive $18 million from Genting over two years and up to $25 million in the ensuing years, and it will use some of that money to pay down part of its $12 million debt.
"Meanwhile, racing would only get revenue from those machines if revenue from the other machines falls below 2013 levels. Racing industry officials are estimating the impact could be $16 million to $18 million, with purses taking as much as a $12 million hit."
There's the straight scoop.
Based on industry leaders' comments in Grening's column, nobody was sure at the time just how much the deal was going to affect purses and breeders' awards. One puzzling facet of the extra machines: currently, the Resorts world machines have been generating a profit each day of anywhere from $322 to $398, but the Nassau OTB machines are generating at least double. For the week ending Feb. 4, in fact, the OTB machines generated $1,009. Why are the OTBs doing better than those of Resorts World? That will take a little more detective work.
P. P. S. I might have read Grening's column in December if the Racing Form didn't cost $11 a day.
When Street Sense used Tampa Bay Downs as his springboard to his Kentucky Derby victory in 2007, the Tampa Bay Derby was his first start of the year. The son of Street Cry defeated Any Given Saturday by a nose and set a track record of 1:43.11 for the mile and one-sixteenth.
Street Sense went on to miss by a nose behind Dominican in the Blue Grass at Keeneland, but was easily best on the First Saturday in May, winning by 2 1/4 lengths over Hard Spun, with Curlin almost six lengths back in third. He became the first Derby winner to emanate from Oldsmar.
Along came Super Saver in 2010, and he made the Tampa Bay Derby his first start of the season, too. The colt by Maria's Mon didn't even win it, finishing third by half a length to Odysseus and Schoolyard Dreams. Super Saver then went the Arkansas Derby route and lost by a neck to Line of David. However, in Louisville, Calvin Borel guided him to a 2 1/2-length score over Ice Box at odds of 8-1.
During that same season, Bold Start lowered Street Sense's track record to 1:42.83, and that mark stood until last year, when Destin lowered it by a fraction to 1:42.82. Yesterday, when McCraken overpowered eight other aspiring 3-year-olds to win the Gr. III Sam F. Davis Stakes, he took it down to 1:42.45. McCraken is a son of Ghostzapper out of the Seeking the Gold mare Ivory Empress, owned and bred by Whitham Thorougbreds, the same people who gave us the magnificent Argentinian Bayakoa, champion older mare in 1989 and '90.
McCraken is now a perfect 4-for-4, and, ironically, one of his 2016 victories came in the $83,000, one-mile Street Sense at Churchill Downs, where he previously had broken his maiden by 2 1/2 lengths going 6 1/2 furlongs and later won the Gr. II Kentucky Jockey Club at 1 1/16 miles by 1 1/4 lengths. Brian Hernandez has been aboard in all four.
Yesterday, Hernandez did what he did in the first three, taking the colt back to seventh and letting everybody else do the heavy lifting. When he swung McCraken to the outside and turned him loose, it was never in doubt and a legitimate Derby contender was unveiled. Stella Thayer's VIP room just past the finish line was packed with Whitham family members from all over the place and they all crowded into the winner's circle to accept the extremely heavy trophy.
McCraken picked up another 10 points toward Derby eligibility, which is just a formality now. He'll probably hang around for the Tampa Bay Derby next month and might even make a start in April prior to heading for Louisville. The $120,000 check brought his total to $310,848.
The runner-up in the Sam F. Davis was Tapwrit, a son of Tapit who was purchased by John Malone, owner of Bridlewood Farm, for $1.2 million at the 2015 Saratoga sale. In his September debut, Tapwrit bombed out in a 7-furlong maiden special at Saratoga, but he rebounded with a victory at Gulfstream West prior to winning the $75,000 Pulpit Stakes at Gulfstream Park. He closed nicely behind McCraken under Jose Ortiz and finished just 1 1/2 lengths behind, earning $40,000 and boosting his total to $103,902. He's also a Derby eligible, as is third-place finisher State of Honor.
The Lambholm South Endeavour Stakes, a Gr. III event at 1 1/16 miles on the grass, was won by favored Isabella Sings, a 5-year-old Eskendereya mare who went over the $600,000 mark for Siena Farms, winning for the eighth time in 20 starts. The third-place finisher was Lambholm South's Evidently, a 6-year-old Gr. III-winning Smart Strike mare who came from out of the clouds to nail down the show spot. She's now 3-2-3 in 23 starts with earnings of $274,823 for Lambholm owner Roy Lerman, who is also her trainer.
Gulfstream Park was the clear winner in the battle for the betting dollar yesterday, with an all-sources handle of $15,978,605, followed by Santa Anita with $10,046,272. Tampa was right behind Frank Stronach's other track with $9,488,680, while Aqueduct, suffering from weather woes, reached just $7,169,037.
From time to time, the success of the Resorts World Casino New York City at Aqueduct has been chronicled here for the purposes of assessing its impact on the purses at Saratoga, Belmont Park and the Big A. Yesterday looked to be a good time to address the latest update. Guess what to my wandering eyes did appear? Somewhere along the way - last October - the New York scenario changed drastically, and I've been trying to sort out the details with little success.
Here's the scoop. The first thing I noticed was that the Big A casino was sailing along toward another record year as of the Oct. 8 figures, which was 28 weeks into the fiscal year. The weekly "credits played" varied from a low of $365,409,003 for the week ending June 25, to the high of $425,598,771 for the week ending April 2, which was the first week of the fiscal year.
However, for the week ending Oct. 15, the figure tumbled slightly to $357,838,894, and the next week it went into freefall at $257,017,432. A quick check below that showed that the figures remained below $300 million right through Feb. 4. A little detective work followed, and I stumbled upon another chart, labeled "Nassau OTB at Resorts World Casino," and the first week of figures listed was through Oct. 15. Aha. Only $16,439,404, but enough to see why the Big A casino dropped that week.
After that 16 more weeks of figures, from a low of $108,216,130 to a high of $128,192,171. Obviously, that's why the Big A casino's numbers plummeted. I guess I missed any announcement in October of what was transpiring, so I started to dig. Was this a new casino? I found an article from Newsday dated Oct. 5 with the headline "NY gaming commission approves Nassau $26M casino deal."
What followed was a dizzying review of the terms of the deal, citing so many different figures it made my head spin, but all designed to help bail out Nassau OTB, which apparently has several branches. Nowhere, however, did it explain where the Nassau OTB figures were coming from. What physical plant were players going to in order to give Nassau OTB its own page in the lottery section, along with the casinos at the Big A, Saratoga, Batavia, Vernon Downs and the other New York casinos?
The original Resorts World Casino and the Nassau OTB Casino have different phone numbers. I tried both, and the same message, in the same voice, answers both. "All representatives are currently busy with other customers," the voice said. Surprise. It told me to hold on, and someone would be with me shortly. Shortly turned into hours as I made repeated calls to both. So I tried the New York Gaming Commission, and a young lady told me someone would get back to me. That was at mid-day yesterday. I'm hoping it will be in this lifetime.
By the way, the Big A casino's credits played was at $15.2 billion through Feb. 4 and there are seven weeks remaining to the fiscal year. Last year's record was $20.4 billion. They won't come close. Nassau OTB has credits played of $1.8 billion thus far.
Maybe there will be some further explanation today.
3 P. M. today - I finally had someone answer the phone at Resorts World Casino New York. A very nice young lady had no idea what I was talking about. She couldn't even refer me to someone else, or she didn't want to.
The Florida freshman sire list for 2017 is now up on this site, and it reveals several interesting facts, including that three of the stallions were bred to more than 100 mares.
As of now, there are 14 stallions listed and Pleasant Acres has the most in the running for leading freshman with five, including two with blockbuster books - Treasure Beach (101) and Poseidon's Warrior (90). Then come Brethren (67), Anthony's Cross (35) and Beau Choix (17).
Woodford Thoroughbreds will deature two frosh sires, Soldat, who leads the books with 124 mares bred, and Currency Swap (47).
Northwest Stud has a pair of newbies with pretty good books - Duke of Mischief (57) and Wrote (50), while Ocala Stud has just one, Prospective, who has a big chance to be the Florida leader with 113 mares bred.
The three farms with just one freshman are Bridlewood (Corfu, 55), Journeyman Stud (Winslow Homer, 53), and Hartley/DeRenzo (Rattlesnake Bridge, 64).
Based on the number of frosh sires, and the good-sized books they bred, this will be the most contentious race for Florida in the past several years. The sire's sires include two Tapits, two Malibu Moons, a Distorted Humor, a Galileo, a Speightstown, an Indian Charlie, an Elusive Quality, a High Cotton, a Graeme Hall, a War Front, an Unbridled's Song and a High Chaparral. That's an impressive list in itself.
A pair of 3-year-olds will be in the spotlight tomorrow at Gulfstream Park, one who will be closely followed by the entire racing community because the sophomore debut of the last juvenile champion is always viewed with great interest, and the other to determine if Florida's best from the previous year is going to progress and become competitive on a national level.
Classic Empire, the 2016 Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner and subsequent 2-year-old champ, makes his debut for trainer Mark Casse and owner John Oxley in the Gr. II, $350,000 Lambholm South Holy Bull Stakes at a mile and one-sixteenth. The son of Pioneerof the Nile, a $475,000 Keeneland September yearling, hasn't started since his neck victory in the Juvenile at Santa Anita, and he's been brought along slowly by Casse, with a 1:00.75 five-furlong drill at Palm Meadows his fastest work so far. Classic Empire won four of his five starts at two, and earned $1,485,000.
The only race Classic Empire lost can be easily forgiven. In the Gr. I Hopeful at Saratoga, in his third start, the colt wheeled at the break and lost rider Irad Ortiz, and Practical Joke went on to win. He had revenge in the Juvenile, where Practical Joke finished third. Classic Empire has drawn the 3 post with Julien Leparoux, who is still trying to find a TV analyst who can pronounce his name correctly.
Florida's great bay hope is Three Rules, the son of Northwest Stud's Gone Astray who won his first five starts at two, including four stakes, highlighted by a sweep of the Florida Sire trilogy in which nobody got close to him. But Three Rules bombed in the Breeders' Cup, sitting close to the early pace but having nothing left when the real running began. It was almost a mirror image of the performance turned in by California Chrome against Arrogate last week in the Pegasus World Cup.
Trainer and co-owner Bert Pilcher is bypassing the Holy Bull with Three Rules in favor of the Gr. II, $200,000 Swale Stakes, which will be contested at seven furlongs, seven races earlier. Cornelio Velasquez will be aboard the colt, who is 7/5 on the morning line. As opposed to Classic Empire, Pilcher has let his colt run in his morning drills, and Three Rules has posted four bullet works, a 34.10 for three furlongs, 47.20 for four furlongs, and 58.72 and 58.95 for five. No excuses here that he isn't ready for his return.
The Holy Bull and Swale are two of five stakes slated for another stellar Gulfstream program, and, although the handle won't approach last week's record $40-plus million, it should draw the most attention around the continent for handicappers who love to bet on stakes and turf races contested in the sunshine. The other three stakes are the $200,000, Gr. II Forward Gal for 3-year-old fillies at seven furlongs; the $100,000, Gr. III Sweetest Chant for 3-year-old fillies at one mile on the grass, and the $100,000 Kitten's Joy for 3-year-olds at a mile on the grass, which, naturally, has drawn Ken and Sarah Ramsey's Kitten's Cat, who is 5-1 on the line.
The advocates of the tired old terms "buried on the rail" and "mired on the inside" took another serious hit yesterday when Arrogate proved once again that the best place to leave from in any distance race is the No. 1 post.
The TV analysts haven't gotten the message yet and even Bob Baffert had his concerns, but the betting public didn't. The bettors ignored the morning lines on Arrogate and California Chrome and made the former 4/5 and the latter 6/5. Like me, the betting public loves the rail.
Granted, California Chrome had the worst of it from No. 12, but Victor Espinoza got the champ away quickly and Chromie was in a good spot as they headed down the backstretch. His failure to accelerate when Arrogate moved toward the lead nearing the turn was a major disappointment. However, nobody was going to beat Arrogate yesterday. His final time of 1:47.61 wasn't too far off the track record for a mile and an eighth - the 1:46.86 that Lea posted in February of 2014. And if anybody had been chasing him in the stretch, racing's new poster boy could have gone faster.
In judging the success of the $12 million Stronach experiment, the place was packed to the rafters, and an astronomical $40,217,924 was wagered on the superior 12-race program, a Gulfstream record. They gave the people everything they love to bet on - seven stakes and seven grass races - and the public responded by sending it in by the bucketful.
There will be an encore of this performance next year, without question.
OBS GETS IN THE ACT - And, speaking of handle, the eight pari-mutuel races conducted on the 11-race OBS Week of Champions program on Tuesday saw a total of $43,261 sent into the mutuel machines. The first seven races were of the quarter horse variety, and the eighth was the $50,000 OBS Sprint for fillies.
Here's a breakdown of the betting on each quarter horse race: 1 - $2,766; 2 - $3,764; 3 - $4,566; 4 - $4,218; 5 - $5,246; 6 - $4,640; 7 - $7,696. The OBS Sprint, naturally, took the most play - $10,365 - broken down thusly: win-place-show- $6,850; exacta - $3,051; and the daily double pool on races 7 and 8 - $464. The rolling daily doubles weren't too popular, lagging far behind the other pools in every race.
The bettors were keyed in pretty well, with the win prices ranging from the low of $2.20 on Silver Wings in the seventh race to the high of $11 on Of Royal Decent in the fourth. Silver Wings paid $2.40 to place and $2.40 to show, which no doubt upset the win players.
The Ocala Breeders' Sales Co. will be breaking new ground tomorrow with an unprecedented 11-race program scheduled for its "Week of Champions," highlighted by eight races that feature pari-mutuel wagering.
In the three previous years, wagering has been allowed on just the first two races, the first for quarter horses, the second for thoroughbreds, and including a daily double on the two. This time, there will be wagering on the first seven races, for quarter horses, and the eighth, the six-furlong, $50,000 OBS Sprint Stakes for fillies. There will be win, place and show betting, plus exactas, and rolling daily doubles through the eighth race.
In 2014, just under $16,000 was bet on the two races, and that jumped to more than $21,000 the next year. Last year, the total wagered was $23,532, with win-place-show bets totaling $10,469 on the thoroughbred race, along with $5,892 in exactas. There will be a great deal of interest from all corners concerning tomorrow's betting, not the least of which will come from those who feel that a short pari-mutuel meeting would go over well in Ocala.
After the filly Sprint, the final three races will be the $50,000 OBS Sprint for colts, the $100,000 OBS Championship Stakes for fillies, and the $100,000 OBS Championship Stakes for colts, the latter two each at a mile and a sixteenth.
Several of the nation's top trainers have horses entered, including Todd Pletcher, Mark Casse, Eddie Plesa Jr., Kiaran McLaughlin and Mike Maker. Among the jockeys, John Velazquez, Julien Leparoux, Paco Lopez, Jose Lezcano, Jose Ortiz, Joe Bravo and Luis Saez are all up from Gulfstream, along with Tampa Bay Downs' leading rider, Daniel Centeno.
All the runners have to have gone through an OBS sale, whether or not they were sold, and many are by out-of-state stallions. Current or former Ocala sires represented are Gone Astray, Biondetti, High Cotton, Crown of Thorns, Circular Quay, Yes It's True, Wildcat Heir, First Dude and Kantharos.
Former long-time Calder race-caller Bobby Neuman will again handle the announcing chores - after a brief respite from a full-time job, he's back again calling races at Golden Gate Fields.
Ocala Stud Farm reported that the first foal sired by The Big Beast was born in Ocala on Jan. 3 - a colt out of the Slew Gin Fizz mare Look to the Stars, who is a half-sister to multiple graded stakes-winning millionaire Isitingood. Christy Whitman is the breeder.
The Big Beast won the Gr. I King's Bishop at Saratoga as a 3-year-old and lost the Gr. I Vanderbilt Handicap by a head the next year. He's by former Florida champion freshman sire Yes It's True and was bred to 103 mares in his first book; he stands for $6,000.
Ocala Stud is the unquestioned Florida leader in the stallion department - the addition of Jess's Dream a few weeks ago boosted the farm's total to 14. Jess's Dream has a blockbuster pedigree, by Curlin out of Rachel Alexandra. Rachel Alexandra has one foal to race, Gr. I winner Rachel's Valentina, by Bernardini. Jess's Dream stands for what appears to be a bargain $5,000. The farm's other stallions with runners, High Cotton, Adios Charlie, In Summation and the rest, are all high on the state's sire lists.
WHERE'S THE DOUGH? - Just when you thought that, other than fake racing, everyone seemed to be getting along fairly well in Florida, comes the news that Saturday's Sunshine Millions program at Gulfstream Park will dole out just $600,000 in purse money instead of the originally announced $900,000. That's a big hit to the owners who have entries on the competitive card. Seems there's a big flap of some kind between the FTBOA and the FHBPA and the FTBOA is withholding the extra purse money. This one can't turn out well.
Somebody forgot to tell the people at TVG about the missing $300,000, and during today's telecasts, they continued to use the $900,000 figure along with the wrong amounts on individual races.
GETTING CLOSER - Frank Stronach's brainchild - the Jan. 28 Pegasus World Cup - may or may not turn out to be one of the major positive stories of 2017. It's one of those deals where we won't be able to fully evaluate the ramifications until it's all over. However, the $12 million epic has been the talk of the racing world for months, and the wheeling, dealing, buying, selling, trading and leasing of probable and possible participants has kept everybody guessing and excited at the same time.
The impending battle between Arrogate and California Chrome is great for the game, although there will no doubt be many tears shed as Chromie walks away for the final time. Every member of the ownership team that kept this great horse going should receive an Eclipse Award of Merit for service to the sport above and beyond.
(Sorry for the delay since the last column - had a little bout with pneumonia to take care of).
There's no sense going into the arguments - pro and con - surrounding the disqualification of Masochistic from second place in the Breeders' Cup Sprint because of a positive from a drug taken 68 days prior to the race. However, part of the wording of the ban on trainer Ron Ellis leaves me baffled.
Here's the paragraph that has me confused, and, I will assume, others, too. " It's from the Paulick Report: "Breeders' Cup also said that any horse that has been transferred 'to any other person associated with Mr. Ellis for the purpose of competing in the Breeders' Cup will similarly be prevented from entering and running in the 2017 event.' "
What does that mean? If Ron transfers a horse to another trainer tomorrow and in October the owner wants to enter the BC, he or she is not allowed? Or in February, or March, or April? Or does it mean Ron can't train a horse through the summer and then have it go to another trainer? In any of those cases, why should the owner - and the horse - be penalized because of this ruling against Ron? Will they give the owner back the money he has already put up? Not a chance.
I think the whole thing stinks! Why not sentence Ron to life in prison without parole for this dastardly deed.
And just for the record, Breeders' Cup geniuses, why would you say in the ban "prevented from entering AND RUNNING in 2017. If you've been prevented from entering, of course you can't run!!!
As for the haters who are smelling up the internet with their anti-Ellis vitriol, they're the same people who bash Tiger Woods, and who screamed for Hillary to go to prison although they had no idea why. Trump said it so it must be true. The same Trump who still hasn't produced his tax returns during the longest audit period in the history of the IRS. That is, if it was the IRS who was conducting this phantom audit.
IS IT REAL OR IS IT MEMOREX? - It's been a while since we last explored the reasons why so many believe that the Sport of Kings is dying, and nobody bets anymore and the old players are succumbing to age and no new players are replacing them. The report from Gulfstream the other day about wagering in 2016 must be part of the Fake News coming out of Russia and other nefarious organizations.
The news was simple: a record $1.774 billion was wagered through Gulfstream Park in 2016, a 9 percent increase over the previous record of $1.625 billion the year before. And, a record $1.508 billion was wagered on its live racing in 2016, a 13 percent increase over the previous record of $1.338 billion in 2015.
Since the doom and gloom set won't be able to comprehend why this happened, they came to the right place to find out. Here's the answer: All the people who have been betting on racetracks around the country decided they no longer wanted to bet on those tracks and they're all betting strictly on Gulfstream now. We should be hearing, in the near future, of the imminent closing of Aqueduct, Belmont, Saratoga, Del Mar, Santa Anita, Keeneland, Churchill Downs and many others who no longer have a base of players to wager on their races.
Sound stupid? No more stupid than the notion that everybody has abandoned the game for other forms of entertainment.
Gulfstream Park closed out the year with a bang, eclipsing both Aqueduct and Santa Anita in the mutuels department, at the same time unveiling another Todd Pletcher 2-year-old who will quickly be added to many Kentucky Derby 'horses to watch' lists and possibly draw a little attention at the Las Vegas books.
Gulfstream's all-sources handle Saturday was $11,760,283, compared to Aqueduct's just over $9 million and Santa Anita's nearly $9.5 million. On Sunday, Gulfstream followed it up with a handle of $8,347,916.
The Pletcher colt who turned some heads was Battalion Runner, a Kentucky-bred son of Unbridled's Song who went wire-to-wire in a seven-furlong maiden special under Johnny Velazquez, winning in a walk by nearly nine lengths in 1:22.82. His lone previous start had come at Belmont Park back on June 3, when he finished second behind the highly-regarded Super Saver colt, Random Walk, who then went on to finish second in the Gr. III Sanford at Saratoga behind Bitumen. Battalion Runner was sent off at odds of 30 cents to a dollar in his second start, paying $2.60.
From an Ocala standpoint, Niall and Stephanie Brennan had a good day at the Big A Saturday, as their Indian Soldier won a $25,000 claimer by three-quarters of a length. The 3-year-old gelding by Street Boss, owned and bred by the Brennans, went off at 7-1 and collected a check for $18,600.
At Santa Anita the same day, there was a dead heat for first in the $100,00, Gr. III Midnight Lute Stakes between St. Joe Bay and Solid Wager. St. Joe Bay is a 4-year-old gelding (just turned five) by Saint Anddan out of the Honor Glide mare Dream Ride. He was bred at Ocala's Bonnie Heath Farm by Bonnie and Kim Heath, who owned and raced multiple stakes-winner Honor Glide. St. Joe Bay was ridden by veteran Kent Desormeaux, and the pair dead-heated in 1:15.03 for the 5 1/2 furlongs.
BIONDETTI TOP FROSH SIRE - Florida's freshman sire race was a two-horse affair from the beginning and Woodford Thoroughbreds' Biondetti was the leader in both departments that count. The son of Bernardini edged Ocala Stud's Overdriven by number of winners, 10 to 9, and had it a little easier in the progeny earnings department, $400,000 to $335,495.
Just when you thought 2016 could go out without another bizarre tale muddying the waters, comes the news that Breeders' Cup Sprint runner-up Masochistic will be disqualified, owners Los Pollos Hermanos Racing and Jay Em Ess Stable will have to give up the $255,000 purse, and trainer Ron Ellis, one of the really good guys in racing, will be given a fine and a suspension.
And what is the cause of such great concern that the aforementioned steps have become necessary? Masochistic was found to have traces of the anabolic steroid stanozolol in his system in both blood and urine post-race samples. Now, on the surface, if that steroid is banned, it would seem that any repercussions are justified.
However, as the tale unfolds, it seems (1) that the 6-year-old gelding was given the stanozol treatment 68 DAYS BEFORE THE BREEDERS' CUP, and (2), there were just "low picogram" levels detected. It turns out that the recommended time to administer the steroid is 60 days or more from race day. So Ellis added eight days. What did the guy do wrong?
Then the bigger question arises - what is a picogram? If you look it up, it's one-trillionth of a gram. That's what it says. And if you look at a picture of a gram, it's about the size of the cap on a ballpoint pen. So a picogram is one-trillionth the size of the cap of a ballpoint pen. It has to look like Claude Raines (he was the Invisible Man for those who don't go back that far).
Here's my point, and anyone who has read this column knows I don't pretend to know a thing about the medications that make the game go, other than bute is like an aspirin and lasix helps horses who are bleeders. But I do know this: there isn't a person alive, in the medical field or elsewhere, who can prove to me that a picogram of stanozol given 68 days before a race, that is still lingering in a horse's system, made that horse run any faster in the Breeders' Cup Sprint.
Prove it beyond a shadow of a doubt, or give the owners back their $255,000 and let Ron Ellis go back to training and giving out sound handicapping advice on TVG. How many black eyes can a sport stand? Good horsemen are being victimized by a rule which defies the imagination. But, in Florida, a group can apply for slots and a poker room by running fake horses out of a fake starting gate down a fake racetrack in front of a fake audience. Go figure.
One of the all-time great musicals of the 20th century was "South Pacific," which featured one of the best comedy songs of all time - "There is Nothing like a Dame." This classic immediately came to mind as I read today's Blood-Horse.com piece by Jeremy Balan concerning yesterday's meeting of the California Horse Racing Board Pari-Mutuel and Wagering Committee at Los Alamitos.
If you're too young to remember, it goes like this: "We've got sunlight on the sand, we've got moonlight on the sea. We've got mangos and bananas we can pick right off the trees. We've got volley ball and ping pong and a lot of dandy games. What ain't we got? We ain't got dames!"
What does that have to with the California board? Well, we have leading sire lists, leading owners lists, leading trainers lists, leading jockeys lists, leading breeders lists, reports of mares bred, reports of foals, leading Beyer figures and much more. What ain't we got? We ain't got statistics or charts pertaining to many of the important areas that would make horsemen and players understand certain aspects of the game a little better. One of those areas is Advance Deposit Wagering, which was the main focus of yesterday's meeting, to which ADW operators were invited, according to CHRB chairman Chuck Winner.
Wouldn't you like to know how much of the pari-mutuel takeout every track receives from ADW wagers and how much the ADW operators get? Or how much goes to purses, or to anything else? I know I would. But we never get to see those figures. All we get to hear is that the tracks make much less from ADWs because of what they have to give to the operators, and the operators complaining that they don't get enough for what they do. Nowhere in Balan's piece do we get a clue, and I'm not blaming him because we don't get those numbers from anyone.
Winner asked the ADW operators to come forward and address the group. "There are concerns - with respect to charities, with respect to the board, with respect to other aspects of the industry - what are the ADWS prepared to do?" Winner asked them. "Rather than us dictate what we think you ought to do within your licenses, it would be better if you made some recommendations to us, without telling us why you can't do those things." Nice speech, but do we have any idea what he's talking about?
Brad Blackwell, vice-president of Twin Spires, then had a heated exchange with Winner. "California puts us at a disadvantage by strapping us with so many costs and not enough money to really do what we're able to do. If we were just operating in California, we could not justify that cost. California benefits from the costs we're incurring and we're having to make that up in other places." Again, I'd like to know more about what he's talking about so as to better understand the problems.
Blackwell went on: "When I hear, 'Would we be better off without ADWs? I know for a fact - and this is from a company (Churchill Downs) that owns racetracks, owns a tote company, owns an ADW, owns a handicapping business - I know for a fact that, without ADW, those customers are not coming to a racetrack."
Winner hotly disputed that statement. "You don't know that for a fact," he said. "What you know is, under the circumstances, they're going to the ADW and not going to the racetrack. If there were no ADWs, you don't know for a fact that they wouldn't go to the racetrack."
Players in Ocala know it for a fact. I don't get to Gulfstream anymore because the 4 1/2-hour trip is just too much for my aching bones. I get to Tampa about three times each season because I get invited on certain special days. The rest of the year is spent watching TVG and wagering from an ADW account.
"One of the purposes of ADWs was to create more business for racing - more business for racetracks," Winner said. "That hasn't happened. It's been the opposite. The ADWs have basically cannibalized racetracks and on-track wagering in California."
That statement is certainly not borne out by the facts. The North American handle from 1989 through 1994 was pretty much stuck in neutral at $10 billion-plus, and the advent of ADWs raised the total for nine consecutive years until it hit nearly $16 billion in 2003. It remained in the $15 billion range until the recession began wreaking its havoc in 2008.
One major problem hurting the tracks, according to Thoroughbred Owners of California president Greg Avioli, is the number of people who frequent the tracks and still use their phones to bet. "We get essentially nothing back," He said. That brings up several sticking points. If you deny entrance to people with cell phones, will they still come back? And what about the customer who comes to the track, loses what he has in his pocket, and wants to continue betting via his ADW account? This is a complicated issue and neither side seems to have an answer suitable to both.
Here's another area where we're all in the dark, and the talking heads in New Jersey keep talking and saying nothing that would lead us to believe them. Bart Barden, director of the U. S. exchange (exchange wagering) for Betfair, detailed the "success" of that betting platform at a recent symposium in Tucson. He said that exchange wagering increases churn while bringing new money and players into the game. Right. Cuba Gooding would have a good answer for that myth: "Show me the money."
For sheer excitement, quality of racing and all kinds of wagering opportunities for the betting public, Gulfstream Park's Claiming Crown is probably second only to Breeders' Cup day. Following are some of the salient points gleaned from last Saturday's program.
1. There was only one race out of nine - the Jewel Stakes - that had a field of nine, the other eight had 10 to 14. In all, 111 runners left the gate, an average of 12.3 per race. It was a handicapper's dream.
2. Because of the large fields and all those wagering opportunities, the all-sources handle for the day reached $11,115,864.
3. Winners came from everywhere - four bred in Kentucky, two in Ontario, one in Florida, one in New York and one in Great Britain.
4. Ken and Sarah Ramsey were prominent, again. They own and bred the Kitten's Joy who won a maiden special on the first race of the day, before the Claiming Crown began; they bred Defer Heaven, who won the Express Stakes, and they own and bred the winner of the last race, Keystonevictory, who captured the Emerald Stakes.
5. The bettors got it right on five races, which were won by favorites, although Keystonevictory ($3.30-1) and Defer Heaven ($2.40-1) were just lukewarn choices.
6. The race that knocked most out of every exotic pool was the fifth, the Glass Slipper Stakes, which was won by the lone Florida-bred to visit the winner's circle, Tormenta de Oro, who paid $91.80.
7. Two winners were college graduates, Tormenta de Oro having been bred by the University of Florida Foundation in Zuber, and Distaff Dash winner Spectacular Me by the University of Kentucky.
8. There was no lack of exciting finishes, with three of the earlier races being settled by a neck and two by one-half length. The final race, the Emerald, featured a major rush to the wire, and the first six horses were separated by one length. In fact, the horse who finished 10th, Andalusite, was just 2 1/2 lengths behind the winner.
DOWN TO THE WIRE - Florida's freshman sire race is going to go down to the wire with Woodford Thoroughbreds' Biondetti and Ocala Stud Farms' Overdriven as the only two contenders. Both have nine winners with 23 racing days remaining, and Biondetti leads Overdriven by just over $36,000 in progeny earnings, $345,545 to $309,198.
Don Ming's Gary D. has just three starters for the year, and all three have won.
It's been reiterated here often that the North American pari-mutuel handle reached a peak in 2000 when the total climbed over $15 billion for the first time and remained there for six more years, through 2007. The recession then took its toll, and in 2008, the handle dropped to $14.3 billion, then two years at below $13 billion, and in 2011, wound up at $11.4 billion. The wipeout of the middle class was, of course, a major factor in the drop. .
Despite the unsubstantiated tales of the younger set now being more interested in other forms of entertainment, that handle has held true for five straight years. In 2015, it was just under $11.3 billion, a 1.5% increase over the year before. Today, the figures released for the first 11 months of this year show that wagering in the United States has totaled just over $10 billion, compared to $10.675 billion in all of 2015. Adding on the final month, plus the total for the year from Canada, and the $11 billion mark is safe for another year. Whether it will ever reach $12 billion or more again is anybody's guess, but it's not going in the wrong direction at the present time.
GET YOUR MICROSCOPES READY! - Will anybody ever be surprised at the actions of Florida's Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering? If you want to inspect the figures for the state's poker rooms, here's a hint. Using a magnifying glass doesn't help that much - a microscope would probably be better suited for the task. Whereas the table used to be fairly easy to read, it's now sprawled over the computer screen in such a manner that makes it a real chore. Even with my recent successful cataract surgery.
The main problem, at this time of year, is that they list each venue at the left of the page, with all the info from July 1 through Oct. 31, in minute lettering. To the right, are the months of November through June, with nothing next to them - because we don't have figures for those months yet! Why doesn't someone at the Division tell the graph-maker to leave off the months that are nothing but white spaces and triple the size of the months gone by? Then add a month every 30 days and in the meantime figure out a way to solve the problem later in the season? Like, make the graph two pages!
Anybody who is in the dark about the impact that the poker room at Oxford Downs near The Villages has made on the poker room at the former Ocala Jai Alai fronton, digest these numbers. Prior to Oxford, the former fronton enjoyed gross receipts of $3.4 to $3.6 million a year.
For the July 1 of 2015 through June 2016 fiscal year, the fronton's take dropped to $2,974,293. That's because Oxford opened sometime in May and handled $72,788, then came back with its first full month in June and took in $274,182, or $346,970 that would have gone - all or in part - to Ocala. The fronton, in June, while Oxford was flourishing, took in just $173,832, its lowest month in a dog's age.
In the four months of the new fiscal year, the magnifying glass reads the score of the Oxford-Ocala game as Oxford $1,101,942-Ocala $582,596. Multiplying the Ocala receipts by three, and a low of $1.74 million means the fronton will do half of its previous best seasons. It makes it easy to understand why the new venues that are cropping up are so despised by management of those in place for years.
This is what appeared in the Sunday sports section of the Tampa Bay Times concerning horse racing: "Connect beat Divining Rod by a head at the end of a stretch duel in the $500,000 Cigar Mile at Aqueduct. The time was 1:35.34 in the final Grade I stakes of the year in New York. Connect earned $300,000 for the win, lifting his career earnings to $1.25 million for owner Paul Pompa."
It wouldn't be so pathetic if not for the fact that Saturday was opening day of the Tampa Bay Downs meeting. This is certainly not the first time I've lambasted the Times for its horrendous coverage, while at the same time Don Jensen taking reams of space to inform the public about a dog at Derby Lane, or an owner, or a race. The Saturday matinee at Derby Lane drew a crowd of 1,344 and the all-sources handle was $204,981. Attendance for the Tampa Bay Downs opening was 4,010 and the all-sources handle was $3,578,062, without benefit of a stakes race.
I guess that's the Times' editors thinking: if there's no stakes race at Tampa, there's no need for coverage, even though it marked the first day of what promises to be a bang-up meeting. On Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby day, and Sam F. Davis day, and Florida Cup day, to name a few, they draw more people and handle more money than Derby Lane does in a month.
Since the last meeting in Oldsmar, the one that ended in May, the Times merged with the Tampa Tribune and I wrongfully guessed that it might make a difference in the racing coverage. Apparently not. We'll see if anything changes, but I'm not hopeful.
GULFSTREAM ON DECK - The Championship meeting at Gulfstream Park opens Saturday and it, too, promises to be a blockbuster. Anxiety has been building for months for the $12 million Pegasus at the end of January, and the prospect of seeing California Chrome's swan song is certain to bring out the players in droves. The smart phones will be clicking from the time he walks over from the barn area until he makes tracks the other way when it's over. There won't be an empty space at the walking ring prior to the race and they will be five or six deep.
The final weekend at Gulfstream West has passed with a handle of $4,629,931 on Saturday and $3,768,897 on Sunday. Just in time, too, because a great deal of turf racing really tore up the course and the huge clouds of dust that ensued made it difficult to appreciate the racing.
It may just be wishful thinking but I am still hopeful that Gulfstream will give up the two months at ye olde Calder and let John Brunetti have a boutique meeting at Hialeah. Of course, I'm not privy to the particulars and it may be that there are roadblocks to the idea that only the principals know about.
The winter racing season in Florida kicks off in earnest in the next two weeks with the opening of Gulfstream Park's Championship meeting on Saturday, Dec. 3, preceded by the Tampa Bay Downs opener just five days from today.
There are several major stakes days scheduled in Hallandale Beach, but all eyes will be focused on Jan. 28, the day of the inaugural Pegasus World Cup, a $12 million event which California Chrome's owners have mapped out to be the final race in the unprecedented career of the world's richest equine. There are seven stakes in all scheduled for that day, including three Gr. III's, the William L. McKnight, La Prevoyante and Hurricane Bertie.
The Dec. 3 opening features the nine races making up the Claiming Crown, worth $1.1 million. Other major stakes days prior to the World Cup are Dec. 17, when the first three graded races will be run - the Rampart, Harlan's Holiday and Sugar Swirl - and Jan. 21, which will feature five Sunshine Millions races totaling $900,000 in purse money.
The $1 million Florida Derby is set for April 1 and there are nine stakes scheduled for that program, worth a total of $2.45 million.
Although Tampa opens Saturday, there will only be one other racing day in Oldsmar in November, on the 30th. In December, the track goes to a Wednesday, Friday, Saturday schedule, but will be closed on the 24th and 25th. The first stakes race is the $100,000 Inaugural, to be run on the second Saturday, Dec. 3.
The Sam F. Davis Stakes, to be run on Feb. 11, is a Gr. III and the first four finishers will earn Kentucky Derby points. On that program, they will also feature the Gr. III Tampa Bay Stakes on the grass and the Gr. III Lambholn South Endeavour Stakes for fillies and mares on the grass. The track's signature race, the Gr. II Tampa Bay Derby, will again be sponsored by Roy Lerman's Lambholm South on March 11. It also carries Kentucky Derby points for the first four finishers.
April 2 is the popular Florida Cup Day, featuring six sponsored stakes races, including the usual Ocala Breeders' Sales Sophomore, Pleasant Acres Stallions Distaff Turf, Stonehedge Farm South Sophomore Fillies, and Hilton Garden Inn/Hampton Inn & Suites Sprint. Two new sponsors are aboard, EG Vodka for the Turf Classic, and 14 Hands Winery for the Sophomore Turf.
BIONDETTI CLOSES IN - Woodford Thoroughbreds' freshman sire Biondetti picked up his seventh winner when Pretty Nacho broke his maiden by 3 1/2 lengths at Gulfstream West yesterday for owner/breeder Thoroughbred Champions Training Center. Biondetto still trails Ocala Stud's Overdriven by one winner, but leads in the money department.
More than two months has gone by (Sept. 8) since Barbara Banke announced she was moving Kantharos from Ocala Stud Farm to Hill 'n' Dale in Lexington. A great loss for Florida, because the son of Lion Heart was far and away the best freshman of his crop, the best second-crop sire, and this year, not only the best third-crop sire but second on the general sire list behind the late Wildcat Heir. Based on Florida-Kentucky history, Kantharos appears to be another in a long line of superior stallions to practice in Ocala - it began in a serious manner with Mr. Prospector - before moving into the big leagues of the bluegrass and making it big-time.
The Blood-Horse has changed the farm name on Kantharos' stallion page, but has yet to remove him from all of Florida's sire lists. I guess it gets a little hectic there in the cold, cold north and they can't pay attention to all the details too soon.
A while back, I wrote that the 'Upcoming Entries' sections on the Blood-Horse stallion pages weren't giving us all the horses coming up for the particular sires in the next few days. I pay close attention to certain stallions for business purposes and I noticed, while watching TVG, that many of the runners for those stallions weren't being listed, yet were showing up in races and I was missing them.
The Blood-Horse's Eric Mitchell answered that column with the explanation that stallion owners don't want to list entries when their stallion's runners were entered cheaply. How come, I wondered then and now, when one of those cheapies wins, it IS listed in the 'Recent Results' column, right next to upcoming entries? That includes winners in Puerto Rico, Mexico and Venezuela with their purses of $5,000, and Finger Lakes and other U. S. tracks, with their purses of $9,000.
Back to business. Saturday's $100,000 Sunshine Millions Preview at Gulfstream West turned into a cakewalk for Mr. Jordan, a 4-year-old gelding by Kantharos who has compiled a record that can only be described as enviable. At odds of 1/2, Mr. Jordan got out cleanly in the race at 1 1/16 miles, sat a comfortable third along the rail, moved three wide on the turn, and cantered to the wire nearly four lengths in front. His clocking of 1:42.52 set a track record. (Notice I didn't use the redundant term "new" track record, as so many of the uninformed do. I also call a first-year college student a freshman, not a "true freshman," as all of the uninformed college football announcers do, so as to distinguish him from a "redshirt freshman." The way you separate those two is quite simple - you call the second guy a redshirt freshman). It ain't rocket science.
Mr. Jordan has put together an 'enviable' portfolio - 17 starts, six victories, four seconds and five thirds, with earnings of $513,735. The only two times he was off the board were in the Gr. I Haskell, when he finished seventh behind American Pharoah and Keen Ice, and the Gr. III Hal's Hope, behind Mshawish. If trainer Eddie Plesa Jr. keeps him away from the big guns, Kantharos will have a millionaire on his page in the near future. Plesa bought Mr. Jordan for his three owners for $155,000 at the 2014 OBS April sale, and it's turned out to be a wise move.
By the way, Kantharos will stand for $15,000 in his first season at Hill 'n' Dale, and at that price should get one of those monstrous books like they do so often in Kentucky.
And finally, the competitive Gulfstream West program Saturday produced a handle of just under $6 million, despite the fact that the races began at noon, long before many bettors are plugged in, and the first few races suffered from it.
Wonder if Trump has a program to help bail out the die-hard favorite players who lost almost all the electoral votes over two days at the Breeders' Cup? And that's why I love the event so passionately; the possibilities for all kinds of major scores in all the exotics are endless.
Of course, I never got to watch the BC to take advantage of those possibilities for the first time since its inception in 1984. I was involved in a weekend golf event (planned a long time ago) at a famed resort in Palm Harbor, and guess what. The famed resort, whose name I won't mention but they play the Valspar there, uses the magnificent cable system called Brighthouse, which doesn't carry NBC Sports Network or the two TVG channels. So, after each round, I was forced to sit in the restaurant and eat, drink and make merry with the guys. Who would believe that a major resort a straight 20-minute drive from Tampa Bay Downs wouldn't carry racing?
Back to the BC. The Juvenile Fillies got the longshot players off with a bang Saturday when Champagne Room popped home at $69.20. She was followed by Queen's Trust ($18) in the F&M Turf, Drefong ($9.80 third choice) in the Sprint, and Obviously, who was the $9.60 favorite in the Turf Sprint, a race which featured four 6-1 shots.
Classic Empire ($11) was the second choice in the Juvenile, and Highland Reel ($9.60) was third choice in the Turf. The latter lulled them to sleep on the front end, walking to a seven-length lead on the backstretch, then holding on to win by 1 3/4. He was ridden by Seamus Heffeman, a household name only in his own household.
Finest City ($19.40) then captured the F&M Sprint, followed by Tourist in the Mile at $26.80. Even Arrogate's payoff of $5.40 was only second choice in the Classic behind Chromie in an epic battle.
Nine races, one $9.60 favorite.
It had been no different on Friday, when Oscar Performance ($15.20) won the Juvenile Turf, and Tamarkuz ($25.80) the Dirt Mile as 7/10 Dortmund and Runhappy ran each other into the ground with fractions of :22.45 and :45.37. New Money Honey ($15) took the Juvenile Fillies Turf and the other epic battle ended with third choice Beholder ($8.60) winning the Distaff by a whisker over no-longer-unbeaten Songbird.
To put an exclamation point on the proceedings, Frank Conversation won the last race on the program, the Twilight Derby, and paid $75.80. It may have been on omen.
And finally, to prove once again that people no longer care about racing, Friday's attendance at Santa Anita was 45,763; Saturday's was 72,811. Friday's on-track handle was $7,178,966, off-track was $50,935,934. On Saturday, on-track reached $13,854,721 and off-track $95,201,176. Not too shabby, considering that the younger generation is off somewhere playing games on their phones and tablets and ipads, or whatever it is they're called.
BIG BUCKS FOR BROODMARES - Bridlewood Farm continues to add expensive horseflesh to its broodmare band, haltering the Distorted Humor mare Baffled, in foal to Tapit, for $3.5 million at the Keeneland November sale. Glen Hill Farm took the Tapit mare Cassatt, in foal to Curlin, for $2.5 million.
In scanning the Breeders' Cup entries, one thing becomes painfully clear: Florida-breds, Florida stallions, Florida owners and Florida breeders are quite conspicuous by their near absence. In fact, there are many more entrants represented by stallions who used to stand in Ocala but are now plying their trade elsewhere, such as Congrats, Northern Afleet, Harlington, Cowtown Cat, Put It Back and Successful Appeal.
The first runner with Florida ties goes tomorrow in the Juvenile Turf. Wellabled is a Kentucky-bred colt by Shackleford, and was a $340,000 OBS April purchase for Carolyn Wilson, owner of Bay Tree Farm on highway 225-A. Wellabled is just a head away from being unbeaten in four starts, and he took the Gr. III Arlington-Washington Futurity by 7 3/4 lengths. The three races he has won are by a combined 17 1/4 lengths.
Also on the docket tomorrow in the Juvenile Fillies Turf is Victory to Victory, a 2-year-old Florida-bred owned and bred by Charlotte Weber at Live Oak Plantation. The daughter of Exchange Rate broke her maiden in the Gr. I Natalma at Woodbine in her third start on the grass. Trained by Mark Casse, she has Julien Leparoux in the saddle.
Saturday's Juvenile marks the true test for Shade Tree Thoroughbreds' Three Rules, the unbeaten son of Northwest Stud Farm's sensational second-crop sire Gone Astray who swept the three divisions of Gulfstream Park's Florida Sire Stakes without so much as drawing a breath. He's the leading money-winning 2-year-old in the country with nearly $700,000 in the bank, and has turned around the fortunes of co-owner/breeder Bert Pilcher. Cornelio Velasquez will try to make it six in a row for the colt. The Santa Anita line-maker isn't too thrilled by the Florida efforts of Three Rules, and he's 8-1 in the morning line.
Only three Florida-breds have ever won the Juvenile, the last being Brocco in 1993. Before that, it was Gilded Time in 1992 and Tasso in 1985.
Also in the Juvenile is Term of Art, bred in Kentucky by Ocalan Mandy Pope's Whisper Hill Farm, and a $220,000 Keeneland September purchase by Calumet Farm.
Noted and Quoted, a Florida-bred daughter of The Factor bred by Gilbert Campbell at Stonehedge Farm in Williston, will contest the Juvenile Fillies for trainer Bob Baffert with Rafael Bejarano in the irons. The $375,000 OBS March 2-year-old won the Gr. I Chandelier at Santa Anita.
Delta Bluesman, a Florida-bred by Bridlewood Farm's Wagon Limit, is 10-10-7 in 45 career tries, but has won four of his last six outings. The 6-year-old gelding captured the Hall of Fame Stakes at Parx in :57.45 for 5 1/2 furlongs, and the Gr. II Smile Sprint at Gulfstream in 1:08.94 for six.
Finally, there's Florida-bred Pure Sensation, 5-1 in the morning line for the Turf Sprint. The daughter of Zensational comes from the barn of Patricia Generazio, a New Jerseyite but a long-time Florida breeder of exceptional runners. Pure Sensation sports a record of 7-4-2 in 18 starts with earnings of $838,415, and he's on a three-race winning streak. In the Gr. III Jaipur invitational at Belmont Park, at odds of 18-1, he set a course record of 1:06.76 for six furlongs on the grass, and in winning the Belmont Turf Sprint Invitational at the same distance, he was clocked in 1:07.10.
Not a huge turnout, but a chance for some glory, nevertheless.
The Florida freshman sire race has heated up this week, with Woodford Thoroughbreds' Biondetti catching up with Ocala Stud's Overdriven via a pair of sharp first-time turf winners at Santa Anita and Churchill Downs. Both stallions now have six winners.
At Santa Anita, Conscripted came from dead last in a $52,000 maiden special at a flat mile on the grass, made a strong run through the stretch, and was up by a nose at the wire, clocked in 1:35.27. The colt bred by Three Lyons Racing and Jeff Heslep went off at 21-1 in his career debut and collected $31,200 for the score.
Clever Girl was equally as impressive in Kentucky, coming from seventh on the backstretch, splitting horses in the stretch, and drawing off to win by three lengths. The filly bred by Woodford was clocked in 1:43.90 for the 1 1/16 miles at odds of 8-1 and earned a check for $32,700 in the $58,000 maiden special. Clever Girl was a $150,000 Keeneland November weanling in 2014.
We would be hard-pressed to find any previous running of the Breeders' Cup Classic with a cast of characters as accomplished as the one coming up at Santa Anita next week. The talented field has won everything racing has to offer, and the combined earnings of the 14 runners - $49,084,202 - has to dwarf anything from the past.
Here's a thumbnail sketch of the participants:
Arrogate: 5-4-0-1, $784,600. Won the Travers by 13 1/2 lengths, defeating Gun Runner, Destin, Creator and Exaggerator in a track record 1:59.36 for the mile and one-quarter and his return since that one has been highly anticipated.
California Chrome: 24-15-3-1, $13,432,650. Racing's all-time money leader is 6-for-6 this year, including the Dubai World Cup, and has been untouchable.
Effinex: 26-9-3-4, $3,247,950. Won the Suburban and Oaklawn Handicap this year, second to American Pharoah in this race in 2015.
Found: 20-6-11-2, $7,250,405. Galileo filly is 9-2-6-1 this year, has a penchant for seconds, won Breeders' Cup Turf last year.
Frosted: 18-6-6-2, $3,912,800. Won the Whitney and the Metropolitan Mile (by 14 1/4 lengths in a spectacular performance), second in 2015 Belmont Stakes to American Pharoah.
Gun Runner: 10-5-1-2, $1,573,300. Won the Louisiana Derby, third in the Travers.
Highland Reel: 18-6-5-1, $5,100,647. Second in Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.
Hoppertunity: 22-6-6-4, $3,562,675. Won Jockey Club Gold Cup.
Keen Ice: 17-2-1-4, $1,827,645. Won memorable 2015 Travers Stakes over Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, who went off at 35 cents to a dollar.
Melatonin: 13-5-3-3, $1,218,552. Won Santa Anita Handicap and Gold Cup at Santa Anita.
Nyquist: 11-8-0-1, $5,189,200. 2015 2-year-old champ won 8 in a row, including Kentucky Derby, but lost his luster in last three starts - third in the Preakness, fourth in the Haskell and sixth in the Pennsylvania Derby.
Shaman Ghost: 12-6-1-1, $1,291,811. Queen's Plate winner was Canadian 3-year-old champ last year, won Woodward and Brooklyn this year.
War Story: 14-3-3-2, $399,395. Multiple graded stakes-placed.
Win the Space: 14-3-1-4, $292,572. Multiple graded stakes-placed.
It's a formidable field, and a fitting conclusion to the BC festivities.
With three months gone in the Florida pari-mutuel fiscal year, and six months gone in New York, it appears as though we can unofficially state that the racino boom has reached its apex in both states.
Let's start with Florida. From the time Gulfstream Park opened its slots parlor in November of 2006, the total "credits in" from all eight South Florida venues has increased every fiscal year through the last one which ended on June 30. The total amount sent through the machines at Gulfstream, Calder, Miami Jai Alai, Flagler dog track, Hialeah Park, Pompano Park, Hollywood dog track and Dania Jai Alai for 2015-2016 was a little more than $8.23 billion.
Through Sept. 30, or one quarter into the 2016-2017 fiscal year, the total is $2.01 billion, and projecting that for 12 months means the current-year numbers may not quite reach last year's record. However, with nine months remaining, anything can happen.
In New York, where the fiscal year ends on March 31, last year's contributions to the coffers came to a record $20.4 billion. The last 6 1/2 months have been pretty much on a par with last season, and the credits played number is $11.22 billion. So New York is still on track to beat its record year, but it may be close.
Pompano Park still leads the South Florida venues by a wide margin, followed by Flagler dogs, Hialeah Park, Miami Jai Alai and Calder, in that order. Gulfstream has taken a bigger lead over neighboring Hollywood dogs strictly from the amount of play angle, but its profit margin is much smaller because the dogs have a much larger takeout - 8.20% to Gulfstream's 7.12%. Why people would subject themselves to an extra 1.08% takeout when the two facilities are two minutes apart is beyond comprehension.
As for Dania Jai Alai, sandwiched between the others and with a limited chance for drawing players from the outer areas, play has been dismal since it reopened after spending a ton of cash and time on renovations. Even so, Dania's net slots revenue, less the 35% tax to the state, comes to $3.1 million.
SECOND-CROP SUCCESS - In the past 10 years, there have been precious few Florida stallions who have reached $2 million in progeny earnings as second-crop sires. Before this year, the last ones to achieve that level were With Distinction ($2.7 million) and Pomeroy ($2.1 million) in 2011. The year before, it was the incredible Wildcat Heir ($4.5 million) and Consolidator ($2 million). In 2009, Chapel Royal reached $2.9 million, but all of it came from his two first two crops of Kentuckians.
This year, two more names have been added to the list, Double Diamond Farm's First Dude and Northwest Stud's Gone Astray. Both have a chance to add to their totals in the next 2-plus months, especially with the Breeders' Cup coming up. Gone Astray, of course, will have unbeaten Three Rules in the Juvenile, and all Florida horsemen will be watching that one.
Is it humanly possible that the people behind the scenes at TVG are unaware that we the people who watch the races on a daily or almost daily basis are being driven to insanity by the four advertisements that are repeated about 40 times (just a guess) each day?
Just how many times can a person watch the same ads for Web.com, DealDash.com, Mesothelioma and Betfair Casino before being sent to the nuthouse? Especially the Web.com ads which inform us - about 20 times on each spot - that we can get a website FOR FREE! It wouldn't be quite so bad if it were true, but it's a blatant lie! I know from firsthand experience; before I had the former homepage for this site revamped to how it looks now, I went for the Web.com FREE spiel. It was a disaster.
First of all, the so-called "professional webmaker" didn't know a thing about racing. He asked me a bunch of questions about myself, then began to build a site - in slow motion. He took all my bank information, too, because after one month, they were going to start billing me for hosting , maintenance, etc. - $119.95 a month. That's the "one, low monthly fee" they talk about in the ad.
The professional web.maker procrastinated so much - I called every day to see how he was coming along - that it was almost a month before he finally had something for me to see. It was horrendous, four square boxes with my bio in them, after I specifically told him to follow the outline of the previous site. He also threw in a picture of a horse - I'm pretty sure it was stolen from a Clydesdale ad. And, to add insult to injury, before he got my approval of his work, he took down the old site, put up his new abortion for all to see, and charged my bank account $119.95 for the first month's fee. For this FREE website. That's $1,439.40 a year for the FREE site. "Not fake free, but real free." I canceled the deal immediately and even though they took my money in five seconds, it was more than a week before they returned it.
Viewers should get the idea via just one phrase uttered in the ad by a guy in a black shirt - "before I even paid them a cent." How can you pound FREE down our throats for however many seconds the ad takes, then sneak in, "before I even paid them a cent."
When you go to a restaurant, the appetizer is free, your drink is free, your entree is free, and your dessert is free. That is, until you finish eating and the server brings you the tab. Then, it's no longer free! Same as Web.com.
Fortunately, PM Advertising does have professionals who build good-looking websites and that's who built this one and Golfer. Of course, if I end up in a home due to being bombarded by the four dreaded TVG ads, it won't matter, anyway.
For those who are old enough to remember, the great old comic Red Buttons regularly appeared on various TV variety shows, often employing the same old schtick. He would cover one ear with his hand and utter in feigned amazement: "Strange things are happening."
Red would have been right at home today, before, during and after the running of the third race at Santa Anita. A few minutes before the start of the $50,000 down to $40,000 claiming race at six furlongs, the TVG commentators were stunned as they watched the No. 9 horse, Mt Lienster, sitting on the board at odds of 3-1. The 2-year-old by Field Commission had finished seventh in his lone start at Del Mar on Sept. 2, beaten 11 1/2 lengths with Tyler Baze aboard, at odds of 24-1. The gelding bred by Johanne Everard at Another Episode Farm in Ocala never made a semblance of a move at any time in the race, although he did show a little kick, if that's the right word, by finishing just one length out of fourth, but still 10 lengths from the winner.
The TVGers tried to find anything that would cause Mt Lienster to be bet the way he was - his morning line odds were 20-1. They couldn't find a thing, and when the gate opened, he was down to co-favoritism at 5/2. Kurt Hoover, a pretty astute analyst, watched the betting and said a ton of money had showed up on Mt Lienster in the win pool.
Baze rushed the gelding out of the gate first, then took back to mid-pack, but not too far off the pace. Mt Lienster came five wide on the turn, passed everybody but the other co-favorite early, then ran down his final rival to win going away by 1 1/4 lengths. He paid $7.40, $4.60 and $3.80, the place and show prices being somewhat inflated because he was hammered so hard on the win end only. Owners David Buchanan and Kendall Mann collected the winner's share - $12,945 - and who knows how much at the windows. You can bet the TVG people will go looking to trainer Gary Stute for an answer.
One reason for the score certainly isn't that Field Commission, who stands at Solera Farm in Williston for longtime breeder Ed Seltzer, is on a hot streak. He has just 36 foals of racing age, with 32 of them 2-year-olds, and Mt Lienster became just his fourth winner. In fact, the entire group had earned $94,906 before today.
Strange things are happening, and we can hope the TVG crew can solve the mystery.
The last time a Florida-bred colt won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile was in 1993 when Gary Stevens defeated Blumin Affair and Tabasco Cat with Brocco. It marked the third time in the first 10 editions of the race that Florida had walked off with the title, Brocco being preceded by Tasso in 1985 and Gilded Time in 1992. There have been others who were bred by Florida farm owners, such as Answer Lively, by John Franks, and Macho Uno, by Frank Stronach, but they were foaled in Kentucky.
If the 2016 Juvenile were being run this week, the sensational Florida-bred colt Three Rules would probably be the favorite. The son of Gone Astray is a perfect 5-for-5 and nobody is even close to his nearly $700,000 in earnings - or four straight stakes victories, the last coming at Gulfstream Saturday in the $500,000 In Reality.
"He looks 100 percent," owner Bert Pilcher said about the colt he bred with partners Geoff Roy and Tom Fitzgerald. "The race took nothing out of him."
There has been much speculation about the always-present deluge of offers that pour in when a 2-year-old makes a huge early splash. However, "I haven't had anybody actually give a figure," Pilcher said, "because I never let it get that far."
Gone Astray's success has come as no surprise to him, because he knew he had something special from the beginning. "The first time I saw him work a quarter I couldn't talk for 30 seconds," Pilcher said. "He's got everything going for him - his mind, his attitude, everything. He takes care of himself. I can't think of one thing I would change about him.
Pilcher runs Shade Tree Thoroughbreds north of Ocala, the farm that his late father, Hubert, owned and operated for many decades before him housing successful stallions such as Strike the Anvil and Hooched, and where Three Rules was born and raised. Like so many others, there have been tough times, but the $680,640 the colt has earned has more than alleviated the problem.
"He's a dream horse," Pilcher said, knowing there's plenty of room for many more dreams in the future. When Nyquist won the Juvenile last year, he collected $1.1 million for the Reddam Racing Stable.
FROSH RACE HEATS UP - The Florida freshman sire race has taken on a new look. After Ocala Stud's Overdriven took a 5-1 lead over Woodford Thoroughbreds' Biondetti, it appeared as though it was going to be no contest. But Biondetti has quickly added three more winners, the last one being La Zoraya, who paid $134 scoring at Gulfstream last Friday. Even though he trails Overdriven by one winner, Biondetti has jumped into the money lead.
TV IS TOPS - There was an interesting poll taken by the staff at the Paulick Report last week, asking where people watch their races. TV received 41.61 percent of the votes, followed by computer (28.46), on track (13.35), simulcast/OTB (9.72) and phone/tablet (6.87). Of course, if bettors had access to a track not far from their homes, the on-track would be infinitely greater. How many of us would be at Gulfstream or Tampa Bay Downs much more often if we lived closer to either?
Excluding the Kentucky Derby and Breeders' Cup weekends, which provide enough excitement to last racing fans for weeks, before and during, it's possible that what the nation's tracks are providing on Saturday could be the biggest stakes day in the history of the sport. Actually, I just made that up, because I have no idea if it's true - but it very well could be. It's difficult to digest the number of stakes on tap, so many of them graded, and with a myriad of the upper echelon equines scheduled to participate.
Let's start with New York. Belmont Park will feature three Gr. I's, the $500,000 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic (with Flintshire), the $400,000 Beldame and the $350,000 Vosburgh (with sensational Florida-bred X Y Jet). Add to that the Gr. II, $300,000 Gallant Bloom, and the Gr. III, $200,000 Pilgrim on the grass, and we have $1,750,000 worth of races featuring horses who will wind up contesting the Breeders' Cup.
In California, we have five Gr. I's, all with $300,000 on the line - the Frontrunner for 2-year-olds, the Awesome Again (California Chrome and Dortmund return), the Rodeo Drive on the grass, the Zenyatta (Beholder and Stellar Wind face off again), and the Chandelier for 2-year-old fillies (Demigoddess, by First Dude, has drawn post 12). Add to that the ungraded Unzip Me for 3-year-old fillies. There's also the Oak Tree Juvenile being run at Pleasanton.
At Churchill Downs, the spectacular sprint champ Runhappy returns in the Gr. III, $100,000 Ack Ack Handicap at a flat mile, supported by the $175,000 Lukas Classic and the $100,000 Jefferson Cup on the grass.
Laurel Park has a pair of $75,000 sprints, the Politely and the Challedon. Leaving from post 7 in the Challedon is Mylute, owned by Ocala's Gold Mark Farm in partnership with Mandy Pope's Whisper Hill Farm. In Canada, the $125,000 South Ocean is for 2-year-old fillies; Ocala's Gary Boulanger goes from No. 7 with Nineteen Sixteen. The features at Hastings Park in British Columbia are the Gr. III, $100,000 BC Premier's Handicap, the Gr. III, $100,000 Ballerina, and the $50,000 CTHS Sales Stakes, one for colts and geldings and one for fillies.
Last, but far from least, the stage is set at Gulfstream Park for unbeaten sensation Three Rules, the colt by red-hot Gone Astray who will be looking to add his name to the elite list of colts who have swept the Florida Sire Stakes. Three Rules is 4-for-4 with three stakes victories and he's been all by himself while cruising down the stretch in each race. He'll be a very short price in the $500,000 In Reality at 1 1/16 miles.
The festivities in Hallandale Beach begin in race 2 with the $150,000 Florida Sire Meadow Star for 3-year-old fillies, followed by the $75,000 Armed Forces Stakes for 2-year-olds at a mile on the grass in race 3.
Race 5 is the $75,000 Mr. Steele for 3-year-olds and up at a mile on the grass, and race 6 is the $150,000 Foolish Pleasure at a mile on the main track for 3-year-old colts and geldings. It features most of the best of Ocala's young stallions - Gone Astray, Big Drama (2), High Cotton (2), Hear No Evil, Kantharos (who has left for Kentucky) and Awesome of Course. The seventh is the $75,000 Our Dear Peggy for 2-year-old fillies at a mile over the turf course.
The My Dear Girl is race No. 10 and among those shooting for the major shares of the $500,000 purse will be Ocalans Shadybrook Farm, Don Dizney, Bill Rainbow, Sandra Trotter and Curtis Mikkelsen. Curtis, of course, has the unbeaten filly star, Cajun Delta Dawn, the daughter of Kantharos who is also 4-for-4 and looking for a Florida Sire sweep. (Losing Kantharos to Kentucky will be felt for quite a while in Florida). That will be followed by the $75,000 Panama City at a mile on the grass and then the big one, the In Reality.
All around, a magical day for those who wager via TV, computer, phone, tablet and whatever else they have invented for the purpose. What more could anyone ask, other than a having a nearby TV airing the Ryder Cup?
An interesting column appeared in Blood-Horse.com the other day, titled "Handle Decreased 26% at Monmouth Park in 2016." We learned that on-track handle declined 26.6%, total handle was off 26.4%, and attendance off by 9.2%. It didn't help that it rained on Haskell day, when 35,983 showed up, compared to 60,983 last year when American Pharoah was the headliner. It also didn't help that average field size dropped from 8.11 per race to 7.28.
Dennis Drazin, who at one time used to breed many worthwhile runners in Florida, is now an adviser to Darby Development, which operates the track. Dennis had this to say about the season, "Despite the lack of horses, we still recorded numerous accomplishments this year. The entire Monmouth Park team continues to work hard to put on outstanding racing in a fan-friendly environment that is second to none."
Then someone on the Blood-Horse staff felt obligated to add the following: "Among those accomplishments was the advent of exchange wagering. Monmouth was at the forefront to make New Jersey the first in the nation to employ the betting platform." Well, whoop-de-do!
I guess my favorite betting platform didn't go over too well, based on the handle figures. Of course, I could have told the Jerseyites that. Oh, wait a minute, I did, about 50 times. I'll say it one more time but I'm sure it won't be the last, nobody cares about exchange wagering. If they did, it would have exploded at Monmouth where $196,272,397 was wagered over the 57 days of the meeting. If it's such a success, why didn't Monmouth give the Blood-Horse the exchange wagering figures to go along with the others? Could it be because the figures were equal to the handle at poor Zia Park?
Hopefully, when next season begins in Jersey, exchange wagering will be off the table, and hopefully, we'll never hear about it again. As the old song said, "I can dream, can't I?"
THE REST OF THE STORY - I can't even guess how many years it's been since I started touting the 2-year-old sire lists as a great place for the everyday bettor to find a first-timer to make a score on. I think it began three decades ago or so when Charlie DiLibero's Lawmaker had 32 winners in his first crop and they were paying all kinds of prices. Since then, there have been many good examples of Florida sires getting hot at some time during the summer and offering smart betting strategies. Two Step Salsa a few years ago, and Kantharos in 2014 are among that group.
The problem with using the list that includes Kentucky is that there are no disguises involved. Everybody watches Tapits, Uncle Mos, War Fronts and the rest, especially if they're trained by Todd Pletcher, Bob Baffert or one of the other big guns. You rarely get one that pays, as Todd Schrupp likes to say on TVG, "big balloons."
The secret is to key on Florida, where a stallion can get hot and the TV guys aren't paying attention. Take Northwest Stud's Gone Astray, for example. With only two crops at the races, the son of Dixie Union has gone over the $1.6 million mark in progeny earnings and we're still in September. His juvenile earnings have topped $750,000, and he has eight 2-year-old winners.
The one who started it all was Carrie, who won at Santa Anita on May 1 and paid $25.40. Another came on Aug.27, when Gone Till Dawn made his debut at Gulfstream Park for owner Ebony L. Maynard. Going by my system, I boxed five horses in a $1 exacta, including Gone Till Dawn. It cost $20. Gone Till Dawn won and paid $49.80 and the $2 exacta came back $289.60. I picked up $144.80.
On Sept. 4, the day after the sensational Gone Astray colt Three Rules won the Affirmed Stakes at Gulfstream, Carlos Olivero brought first-timer Mr. Pinocchio home at a price of $16.60.
Yesterday, however, I blew it. I had been watching TVG for several hours, and was awaiting a Gone Astray first-timer named Heart Astray in the first race at Presque Isle, post time set for 5:35. But I got a call from a friend about going out for dinner, and in my haste to make the 5:15 engagement, I forgot to place my bet before I left home. The late Paul Harvey could have related 'the rest of the story.' Heart Astray won by nearly four lengths and paid $103.20, $32.20 and $17.20. Needless to say, I became ill when I came home and watched the replay.
The moral of the story is this: finding the right first-timer is only the initial part of the equation, you actually have to bet on it, too.
Rich Perloff probably has the toughest job on TVG. While he has an ongoing presence on the weekends when so often there's so much great racing (see Songbird, Nyquist and Exaggerator coming up in a few days), he also has to muddle through the agonizing telecasts by himself on Mondays and Tuesdays when he fields such questions from the viewing audience as: "Can a jockey be considered great if he doesn't win that much, or even not at all?" I kid you not, that one came up yesterday.
But the worst part of Perloff's stay on the worst two racing days of the week is trying to make programs at Parx, Finger Lakes, Fort Erie and Zia Park sound exciting. If there's anybody who hasn't been convinced yet that there's a critical shortage of able race horses in this country, one Monday-Tuesday go-around is all one needs.
Here's a rundown on the performance of the aforementioned tracks over the past two days.
Parx: 62 runners in nine races on Monday (average 6.8), 74 on Tuesday in nine (average 8.2, not bad).
Finger Lakes: 62 runners in nine on Monday (average 6.8), 65 on Tuesday in nine (average 7.2).
Fort Erie: 55 runners in eight on Tuesday (average 6.8).
Zia Park: 64 runners on Tuesday in nine (average 7.1).
It's never been disputed that short fields cause drastic cuts in handle, and mutuel wagering over the two days was disastrous. On Monday at Parx, on-track handle was a miniscule $40,507, and we don't know what all-sources handle was because Equibase got it hopelessly wrong by showing a figure of $1,219. On Tuesday, the numbers were $53,578 and $1,272,787. It's difficult to comprehend how the track can continue to function efficiently. It must be like walking around in a cemetery at midnight.
Finger Lakes is no better, except that the upstate New York purses are miniscule compared to those in Pennsylvania, despite the presence of a very successful racino. On Monday, the Finger Lakes all-sources handle was $1,306,513; no on-track handle was given, which usually means it's too embarrassing to divulge. On Tuesday, it was $1,221,914.
At Fort Erie on Tuesday, the all-sources handle was $847,862, which was monstrous compared to the debacle they call Zia Park, in New Mexico. At Zia, they aren't shy about revealing attendance - it was 194. I would guess that the on-track handle was an all-time record low for any track, anywhere, but Zia may have had some lower. The number was $16,106. I assume they save a ton on mutuel clerks and concessionaires by having just one of each. There was also an ITW figure - $3,820, and an ISW figure - $337,490.
The announcement that the amazing Kantharos would be leaving Ocala Stud Farm and headed to Hill 'n' Dale in Lexington comes as no surprise to horsemen who have been around Marion County for any length of time. Since the son of Lion Heart is owned by Stonestreet's Barbara Banke, and not Ocala Stud, it was inevitable, just as it was several decades ago when Mr. Prospector and In Reality left town, although the latter occurred near the end of his sterling career. Mr. Prospector, however, was just beginning, and went on to become one of the premier sires ever to stand in the U. S.
Kantharos came from a sparse freshman crop in Florida, but it wouldn't have mattered. His numbers have been spectacular and have held up for three seasons, beginning with 2014 when his first-crop runners earned $868,968, and continuing into his second season, when he reached $1,780,874. He's right at about $3 million already this year, second on the Florida general sire list, and his final total by Dec. 31 could be anything. That, despite the fact that he has just 79 runners, while the other four of the top five in Florida have more than 100. Deceased Wildcat Heir is the unquestioned leader, but he has 211 at the track.
The list of stallions who have been "made" in Florida and left for other lands is long - it includes Congrats, Northern Afleet, Yes It's True, Macho Uno, Stormy Atlantic and Successful Appeal, all of whom continue to remain prominent on the top 75 chart listed in Blood-Horse.
Like all of those listed, Florida breeders are going to miss Kantharos. So will this column.
COME ON ALREADY! - They're still waiting for someone in Pennsylvania to push a button and allow for the dispersal of the more than $6 million in breeders and stallion awards that horsemen have been waiting for since March. What a colossal joke!
NOT A RACE - Ocala Stud's Overdriven added to his lead in the all-but-over frosh sire race in Florida when Boot N Loot scored at Gulfstream Park last week. The gelding bred by Tony Everard became winner No. 5 for his sire, going wire-to-wire under Edgard Zayas and winning by four lengths. No other sire on the list has more than one winner.
Disqualifications often fuel heated debates, with those betting on the horse taken down usually getting very vocal about how they were discriminated against. Sometimes, of course, a dq is so blatant, nobody can say a nasty word about the stewards.
But, we have to remember it's not just the bettors who are affected by the dqs. The owners who get taken down lose a portion of their winnings, the trainers lose a portion of their 10 percent, as do the jockeys. And don't forget about the records of the horses.
Last Wednesday, I witnessed a strange dq in the 10th race at Gulfstream Park, not because I think they took down a horse who didn't deserve it, but because the stewards didn't go far enough in sorting out the entire incident.
They were racing 7 1/2 furlongs on the turf course, and in the stretch, Salutation, with Manny Aguilar, and Louie's Baby Boy, with Eddie Castro, were battling for the lead, with Conquest Goinggone, and Tyler Gaffalione, trying to catch them on the outside. Suddenly, Cornelio Velasquez came flying down outside of Conquest Goinggone, and as he was about to sweep by all three leaders, Saluation swerved to the right repeatedly and slammed Louie's Baby Boy, who was forced outward just as Terry's Charm came by. Aside from Louie's Baby Boy getting destroyed, Gaffalione had to stand up on Conquest Goinggone so as not to be crushed between Louie and Terry, and in so doing, he not only lost his irons, he lost fourth place to Matanzas Inlet, who was coming up on the inside.
Terry's Charm went on to win the race, Salutation held on to second, Louie's Baby Boy was third, Matanzas Inlet fourth and Conquest Goinggone limped home fifth with Tyler still searching for his irons.
The red signs all lit up, and soon the stewards rendered their decision - Salutation was disqualified from second and placed third. Since Terry's Charm won, and Matanzas Inlet came late and was nowhere near the others, it seemed like a just decision. But was it? The only ones with a legitimate beef were all the connections of Conquest. Here are the paydays each received: Terry's Charm, $21,600; Louie's Baby Boy, $7,200; Salutation, $3,240; Matanzas Inlet, $1,440; and Conquest Goinggone a measly $360, which all the rest of the finishers also got.
First of all, if not for the infraction, Conquest would have finished no worse than fourth, so he would have collected $1,440. That's more than a thousand bucks than he got. And he might have had enough left to pass a horse or two late. The real question is, how could the stewards not drop Salutation behind Conquest since the foul against him was so blatant? I would imagine his people are wondering the same thing.
Finally, it would have changed the order of finish drastically as far as the mutuel payoffs are concerned, and that is a major concern.
IT'S ALL OVER-DRIVEN - What there was of the Florida freshman sire race this season is all but over. Ocala Stud's Overdriven picked up his fourth winner on Sept. 2 when Over Limit won at Woodbine, going wire-to-wire and scoring by three-quarters of a length in his second start. The gelding bred by Ocala Stud raced six furlongs in 1:11.24. Over Limit had won his first try, too, but was disqualified and placed second.
Biondetti is the only other freshman with a chance to catch Overdriven, but the Woodford stallion has just one winner, and 17 have started.
The solution to the problem in Pennsylvania concerning the withholding of millions of dollars in breeders and stallion awards is too simple. FIRE ALL THE WEENIES ON THE PENNSYLVANIA HORSE RACING COMMISSION.
So, there's some problem with the way the statute is worded, and the bozos on the commission have been holding up the payments for months. The amount of cash the breeders are being screwed out of is roughly $6 million. Breeders have told the governor, the commission and legislators they are being forced out of business. I will bet that not one person among those three groups have been living without a paycheck since March, which is when the payments were suspended.
It has been reported that legislation that would have fixed the language in a new law died in committee. The House indicated it's working on a compromise that one legislator said will be addressed when lawmakers reconvene in September. That will be about six months too late for the guys who are feeling the crunch.
As I said before, it's so simple, really. Fire all the guys (and gals) without guts who won't release the funds. Then pay the breeders, and everyone can worry about the repercussions after the horses have eaten and the breeders have paid their bills and employees. Do we have to get Donald Trump involved in this boondoggle? Why is it that bureaucrats and the like get to rule the people who matter no matter how stupid the people in power are?
Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding told the breeders the department wants to restore the payments, "but we can't ignore the words in the law." I'll bet Redding went to Bern's Steakhouse in Pennsylvania for dinner sometime this week, if they have the brains to have built a Bern's in Pennsylvania. I doubt it. Probably eats at the Quaker Oats Diner.
Here's a quick fix to the problem. Let all the people who are involved in withholding the payments lend money to the breeders and stallion owners and reimburse them on the day the awards become available.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
In days of old, before computers took over newsrooms all over the U. S., there was a simple chain of events played out before every columnist's words reached the public. The writer put his or her words on a piece of paper using an old-fashioned typewriter, the paper was placed in a box in a room that housed several proofreaders known as rim men, and those bodies read the copy, wrote a headline and made all the necessary changes, if any, mostly of the typo variety.
Computers changed all that, and today's writers, for the most part, have nobody to check out their typos, misinformation, or the like. That's why the Associated Press stories we read in today's dailies contain so many mistakes, like so often leaving out the words to, in or at. I'm lucky in that respect - even though I try to re-read my columns once or twice, I still miss some errant words or thoughts here and there. But I have a long-time friend, Andy Klein, who lives in Hot Springs and emails me every time he spots those errant words.
What does this have to do with anything? I just wanted to relate one of the funnier errors I found this week on the monthly newsletter sent out by the Horseplayers Association of North America (HANA), a group that performs a great service to us all while acting as the Ralph Nader of the sport. Nobody looks after the fortunes of the downtrodden horseplayer like HANA.
In the July newsletter, the HANAians were preparing their betting constituents for the Saratoga meeting by printing several lists of statistics for past meetings to help handicappers with the one that began last Friday. One of the lists was dedicated to trainer stats, one to jockey stats, etc. Actually, there were two jockey lists that came into play here, there might have been more but I didn't go down that far. One was for 'dirt routes by rider,' the other 'dirt sprints by rider.' I assume that further down there were turf lists, too.
Each list began with the leaders by name with all their stats, until down a little way the jockey's name listed was 'no rider.' For dirt sprints, 'no rider' had 26 mounts with four wins and eight places. For dirt routes, 'no rider' had 25 mounts with five wins and eight places. Quite an achievement.
Now, there can be two explanations for this. One is that 'no rider' actually has a meaning that I have never heard of, or two, when no rider is listed next to a horse's name in the entries, and the public finds out who's on the horse when the track announcer gives the changes before the first race, the computer that arranges the stats doesn't pick up the changes.
In any case, I applaud "no rider" for his excellent percentages, even though he doesn't get that many rides. One other thought: if the reason is that the computer doesn't pick up the changes, then there are - in these two cases - 51 races where the real riders don't get the proper credit for their mounts. Is that possible?
And one final thought. There are many cases where I think 'no rider' could have given my horse a better ride than the guy I had.
Once again, the numbers emanating from upstate New York belie the overstated monthly reports of the demise of the thoroughbred sport.
Saratoga opened last week with 32,980 bodies packed into the quaint little oval far from the madding crowds and the on-track handle was $4,703,479. Added to the ISW figure of $13,059,558, the total handle reached $17,763,037 - on a Friday!
On Saturday, attendance dropped to a mere 30,708 souls who wagered $5,039,481. Add on ISW's $18,397,671 and the big day's total was $23,437,152. Sunday's attendance jumped to 36,126; the on-track handle was $4,367,845 and ISW added $16,674,448 for a total of $21,042,293.
There were no attendance figures listed for Monday and Wednesday (maybe they let 'em in free). Monday's handle numbers were $2,204,854 and $8,877,930, and Wednesday's $2,375,992 and $8,838,886. So, for five days, the combined handle totaled $84,540,144. That's a lot of betting from people who supposedly are leaving the game in favor of other types of more exciting entertainment.
Florida-breds, Florida breeders and Florida stallions all played a role in each of the five days at the Spa and took home a bunch of that Aqueduct casino money, much of it coming in races on the turf.
On Friday, Annie Rocks, a 3-year-old filly bred by Brenda Jones and Silver Oaks Farm, won a $40,000 claimer on the grass by a nose and collected $28,200 for the score. The daughter of A. P. Warrior was claimed by Ken and Sarah Ramsey. Later in the day, Market Strength, bred in Florida by Dr. Carolin Von Rosenberg, won a $40,000 maiden claimer on the grass after having finished second at Belmont Park in his last and collected $27,000 for the effort.
SATURDAY - Our Way, a 3-year-old Florida-bred by Tizway, won at a mile on the grass. Bred by Farm III Enterprices, the gelding earned a juicy check of $51,000. Procurement, the first of two Glen Hill Farm products to win during the week, captured a 1 1/16-mile test on the turf by 2 1/2 lengths under Javier Castellano. The 6-year-old gelding by Milwaukee Brew picked up a check for $30,000.
SUNDAY - Majestic Bonnie, a 2-year-old filly by Majestic Warrior, scored by a head in her career debut at 1 1/16 miles on the grass. Bred in Kentucky by the Steinbrenners' Kinsman Farm, she paid $26.60 and earned $49,800. Then, of course, the marvelous Songbird romped in the Gr. I Coaching Club of America Oaks, adding $300,000 to her coffers. The champ's dam is Ivanavinalot, the multiple stakes-winning Florida-bred mare raced by Gilbert Campbell and his Stonehedge Farm South.
MONDAY - Pinstripe, a 3-year-old Florida-bred by Ocala Stud Farm's High Cotton, won a $25,000 claimer with 6 furlongs in 1:17.71. Bred by Marion Montanari, the colt who had won his last start at Gulfstream in February paid $4.20, earned $30,000 for the score, and was claimed away from trainer Todd Pletcher by Jason Servis. Animal Appeal, a 4-year-old filly by Leroidesanimaux who had won her last at Belmont, won a $78,000 allowance optional claimer worth $46,800. She was bred in New York by Tony and Elisabeth Everard, owners of New Episode Farm in Ocala. Nice breeder's award coming.
WEDNESDAY - The second Glen Hill Farm-bred, Conscience, won a $14,000 claimer and picked up $16,800 after racing 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:17.45. The 5-year-old Indian Charlie gelding was claimed out of the race.
Horses sold at OBS also made a big impact at the Spa, highlighted by the smart victory of Bitumen in the Gr. III Sanford. The son of Mineshaft scored by 1 3/4 lengths and is now 2-for-2. He was a $280,000 OBS March purchase by Barry Berkelhammer, agent.
A great week for racing and for the Florida breeding industry.
The mystery of Overdriven's first winner has been resolved. The filly Nieve Morena, bred by Darsan Inc., broke her maiden at Quinto Centenario in the Dominican Republic on July 9, giving the Ocala Stud Farm freshman stallion winner No. 1. She was sold at auction to F. N. D. C. C., whoever that is.
Coming on the heels of the discovery, Overdriven picked up his second winner when Drive Sandy Drive, bred by Gail Rice, broke his maiden at Presque Isle Downs yesterday. To say the gelding was overlooked by the betting public in his debut would be an understatement; he went off at 57-1 under Nathan Vickers and paid $117.20. Assuming that all owners and trainers bet on their charges in their first try, the Rice family may have made a monster score, along with picking up a check for $9,000 for the victory.
Drive Sandy Drive came from third place and won by 2 3/4 lengths, clocked in 1:06.10 for 5 1/2 furlongs. He set up some awesome mutuel prices - the $1 exacta paid $469, the $1 trifecta $6,598 and the 10-cent superfecta $1,460.
Ocala Stud Farm's Kantharos enjoyed a sensational season in 2015, his second crop earnings reaching $1,780,874. No other Florida second-cropper even made it to $900,000. But, as good as Kantharos was last year, he's destined to be overshadowed this season by Double Diamond Farm's First Dude.
The son of Stephen Got Even was the leading Florida freshman sire last year with 16 winners and $997,148, buoyed by a registered foal crop of 98. This year, he has another 97 ready to roll, and he's already produced 36 winners from 70 starters and progeny earnings of $1,275,768. With more than 5 1/2 months remaining, and 125 colts and fillies who haven't reached the track yet, he's a cinch to go well over $2 million, a remarkable feat for a Florida stallion. Not close to the late Wildcat Heir, who racked up nearly $4.6 million in 2010, but a special year, anyway. And it's not too late for First Dude to go well beyond that with a little bit of luck.
In a span of 16 days since July 3, First Dude has picked up eight winners, five of them 3-year-old first-timers, plus having the 2-year-old filly Demigoddess finish third in the $125,000 Landaluce Stakes. And only two of the five won at Gulfstream, the other three came at Parx, Presque Isle and Penn National. Three allowance winners came at Belmont Park, Parx and Indiana Grande.
The winner at Penn National only came in a $5,000 claimer, but the effort was so stunning it needs to be noted. Foxy Gator, a 3-year-old bred by Double Diamond, stumbled at the start of a 1 mile and 70-yard maiden race, recovered and went after the leaders, went three wide on the turn, and pulled away under Erika Strunk-Miklos (I had to mention her name), reaching the wire 23 1/4 lengths in front. That's impressive at any level.
But the recent winner who could still prove to be one of the big guns for First Dude this year is Sticksstatelydude, a 3-year-old colt who was bought for $40,000 by a large group which included Greg Burchell, the longtime broodmare manager for Frank Stronach at Adena Springs South. Burchell, who can be seen each year as one of the assistant starters for the Kentucky Derby, moved back to the Bluegrass State several years ago where he and his wife Beth opened a business. When Stickstatelydude went to the races, Greg was the trainer.
The colt raced just three times as a 2-year-old, getting a victory and a second and finishing fourth in the Breeders Futurity. After a minor injury laid him up, he returned on June 19 to finish second at Churchill Downs, with the Burchells still listed on the ownership line, and Greg still listed as trainer. However, when Sticksstatelydude came back at Belmont on July 15, both Burchell references were gone, and Kiaran McLaughlin was listed as trainer. Apparently, Greg and Beth have sold their share in the colt.
Like Foxy Gator, Sticksstatelydude also stumbled at the break at Belmont. But he shot to the lead, held it safely the rest of the way and cruised home by 3 1/4 lengths. Victory in the $77,000 allowance race was worth $46,200. He's now 2-2-0 in five tries with earnings of $138,400, and the best, it appears, is yet to come. Both for him and First Dude.
How often can a horse run?
According to most U. S. trainers, not very often. That's not apparent by word of mouth, but by deed. A horse wins a stakes race one day, and when asked if he or she is going to run in the next eligible event, say, in one month, the trainer says, "I don't know, it may be a little too soon. We'll have to wait and see." It has always boggled my mind to think that an eleven hundred pound animal needs more than a month to recover from a race that went in 1:10 or 1:16 or 1:24 or 1:35.
Of course, on the other side of the coin, the unpampered claimers seem to be a great deal stronger (and fitter, I assume) than their stakes and allowance counterparts. On Saturday - July 8 - at Gulfstream Park, for instance, there was one runner making her 13th start of 2016, four making their 12th start, four their 11th start, three their 10th start, 11 their ninth start, eight their eighth start, and 10 their seventh start. That's 41 horses who are averaging a minimum of one start per month, all the way up to 1.9.
The one at the top of the list was Roraima, a 3-year-old Afleet Express filly who had started just four times at two for Gamas Racing Stable without hitting the board and earning $1,260. This year, however, in 12 starts, she was 1-4-2 with earnings of $27,320, and, after finishing first, second or third in her last seven tries, she won again at odds of 5/2. She's now 2-4-2 in 17 starts and the $9,100 winner's check boosted her total to $37,680. That's an average of more than $2,200 per race. There are varying estimates pertaining to just how much it takes to keep a horse in training for a year, usually ranging from $25,000 to $30,000 due to the ever-spiraling costs of veterinarians, feed, farriers and vanning, but Roraima is more than doing her job for the stable.
In the ninth race, a $6,250 claimer, there were two interesting subjects. Rachel's Girl, an 8-year-old mare by First Samurai, was making her 100th career start, but just the third of this year due to a layoff from Oct. 12 to May 25. She went in with a record of 2-6-3 and earnings of $51,282,hardly enough to buy feed over the years and her seventh-place finish in start No. 100 did little to help. Owner David Ludwig must just like to tell people he is a horse owner.
Then there was Esken Lady, a 3-year-old daughter of Eskendereya who started 13 times at two (earning $24,478) and was making her 12th attempt in 2016. This year, she was 2-0-1 with earnings of $30,050, so she's holding her own, too.
Another scrapper worth mentioning is Jill's Reflection, a 5-year-old mare by Two Step Salsa bred by the Rose Family Stable but long gone from Florida and Barry Rose's barn. After finishing second at Charles Town and Delaware Park, Jill's Reflection won at Charles Town Friday, going wire-to-wire under Kevin Gomez and scoring by five widening lengths. In for a mere $4,500, she's 3-11-8 in 65 career starts and has collected $90,500 for her various owners, $13,890 of it this year in 10 starts.
I would love to see one brave owner/trainer buck the trend and start a good horse 14 or 15 times a year just to see what happens. It could change the game, especially with short fields becoming more and more of a problem at too many tracks.
If you asked 100 hard-core gamblers to name their 10 biggest pet peeves when it comes to thoroughbred racing, you can bet it would almost be unanimous that late-changing odds would be at or near the top of every list. Nothing makes a player grumble louder than watching his 5-1 shot cross the line in front, and looking up to see the the horse is now 3-1.
Or 6-1 to 5/2, as it happened in the second race at Parx today. All through the betting in the $7,500 claimer at one mile, the No. 8 horse, Invocation, was heavily favored. The 4 horse, Sierra Sun, was sitting a couple of points or more under his morning line of 10-1. When the gate opened, Sierra Sun was 6-1.
Silvestre Gonzalez put Sierra Sun on the lead, and they continued in front all the way to the wire. I thought I saw the odds on the bottom of the screen change somewhere in the running, but didn't pay attention because I was looking for the four horses I had in the double. I did notice it at the top of the stretch when Sierra Sun was pulling away and it said "5/2" under his number. I was stunned.
I waited for analysts Rich Perloff and Nick Hines to make a mention of it, but there wasn't a word.
There are a great many people, myself included, who think that there are computer wizards out there who have discovered a way to get a wager down after they see who is in front, who is sitting second, and who has been left at the gate. I have NEVER seen the odds change late on a horse who has been running last all the way, other than going up, of course. Sierra Sun wound up paying $7.60, and Invocation, who had been so heavily bet for 25 minutes, was also 5/2 at the end.
I decided to send an email to TVG, asking them to replay the race because I wanted to see just when the odds changed after the gate opened, and if it was more than once. But Perloff and Hines were more interested in getting viewers to send in questions and/or their selections for upcoming races.
Track operators everywhere insist that they are able to monitor from where and at what time the last of the wagers come in, and it's only the lag time at changing the board that causes what appear to be past-posting bets. My thought is that hackers around the world have hacked into the computers of banks, corporations, governments, etc., and beating AmTote or any other wagering company would be a piece of cake.
I always have to bring up the case of Gino Buccola, one of the TVG stalwarts who used to be on late in the day and at night. In one race, the winner had gone off at 5-1, and by the time they hit the wire he was in front, and at 7-1. Gino quickly jumped in and said that should show the conspiracy theorists. How wrong he was. The horse in question was off last and was still last at the top of the stretch. He made a monster move in deep stretch to win - the bets were already in and he wasn't part of them. Inadvertently, Gino had helped back the theory.
To me, the only answer is to lock the windows when the first horse is getting in the gate. If people can't get their wagers in by that time, they need to find another pastime. Many have complained that a half hour or 25 minutes is too long between races. It's plenty of time to get a bet in.
WHERE ARE YOU? - The Blood-Horse freshman sire list for Florida now shows that Ocala Stud Farm's Overdriven has had his first winner, but I can't find it anywhere. Not on that list, or on Overdriven's stallion page, or Ocala Stud's website. Strange things are happening.
Saturday's popular Summit of Speed program at Gulfstream Park proved to be good to the people at Ocala's Northwest Stud and two of their stallions, surging Gone Astray and unheralded United States, and to a smaller degree, Flashstorm.
The second race was a $65,000 maiden special at five furlongs and it belonged to a first-time starter by United States named U S Diva. Bred by Northwest, the 2-year-old filly was ignored in the wagering even though her work tab looked pretty good; it included a recent 47 4/5 breezing line that was second best of 16 workers. With Jesus Rios aboard, U S Diva went right to the lead at odds of 23-1 and was never headed, scoring by nearly two lengths in :59.50, and paying a juicy $49.40. It was worth $42,000 to owner Sandra Trotter and a breeder's award of $5,000 to Northwest, if my calculations are correct.
Five races later, it was Gone Astray's turn. The son of Dixie Union had a highly successful freshman year in 2015, and has followed that up with an even better one this season. He's in third place on Florida's second-crop sire list and is closing in on $800,000, and on second-place Big Drama. The seventh was the $75,000 Birdonthewire for 2-year-olds at 5 1/2 furlongs. The 6/5 favorite was Three Rules, a colt by Gone Astray owned by co-breeder Shade Tree Thoroughbreds, who had scored an impressive 3 1/2-length victory in his June 10 debut with Cornelio Velasquez getting him home in :58 2/5.
Cornelio had Three Rules placed perfectly behind the leaders early and it was dicey if he was going to find running room when he needed it. But the rail opened up at the top of the stretch and the colt cruised to the lead and was eased up when he crossed the line five lengths in front. The clocking was a good 1:04.50 and the winner's check came to $44,640, bringing Three Rules' earnings to $80,640. If the Dr. Fager was run today, he would probably be 4/5.
In the next race, Bullet Gone Astray was 33-1 in the $150,000, Gr. III Carry Back at seven furlongs. The one-time stakes-winner has been stakes-placed often since, and he added another third this time. Marc Meneses had him way off the early pace and when he rallied in the stretch, he was still well behind winner Rated R Superstar. The $14,700 check increased Bullet Gone Astray's bank account to $152,810.
The one Northwest runner who failed to get 1-2-3 was Flashing Cat, a 4-year-old Flashstorm colt was who racing in an el cheapo, a $6,250 claimer at six furlongs. Samy Camacho did well to find racing room in the stretch, and Flashing Cat closed to within two necks and a head at the wire, and had to settle for fourth by half a length. He was 30-1.
OCALA STUD IS PERFECT - Another leading stallion from Ocala Stud turned in a stellar performance in the third race, the $75,000 Cassidy for 2-year-old fillies. There were eight in the field, and three were by Kantharos, Florida's leading frosh sire two years ago and leading second-crop sire last year. With just his third crop coming to the races recently, the son of Lion Heart is already second on Florida's general sire list behind the unreal - and late- Wildcat Heir. His three runners, Cajun Delta Dawn, Lirica and Perfect Kay, finished 1-2-3, collecting checks of $45,105, $14,550 and $7,275. Cajun Delta Dawn won it by half a length for partners Curtis Mikkelsen and Patricia Horth and is now 2-for-2. The three fillies have a combined record of 4-2-1 in seven starts with earnings of $180,730.
The honor of getting the first freshman winner from Florida goes to Gary D, a son of Successful Appeal who stands at I know not where. But I will find out - I think it's in Morriston. He has six 2-year-olds in his first crop and his winner was Miss Waterbug, a filly bred by Donald Ming and owned in partnership with the Rice Stable. Gary D raced in Donald Ming's colors.
Miss Waterburg finished eighth at odds of 26-1 in her debut at Presque Isle, then came back on June 27 and won by half a length in a $25,000 maiden claimer. She raced 5 1/2 furlongs in :54.87 and collected $9,000 for the Ming group. If all six of Gary D's runners are successful, we could celebrate the Ming dynasty.
FISCAL YEAR ENDS - Florida's pari-mutuel fiscal year ended yesterday and Gulfstream Park handled a solid $4,840,796 from all sources. Tampa Bay Downs, open yesterday and today to qualify for certain simulcasting purposes, had an attendance of 1,207 who wagered $80,180. ITW accounted for another $96,910 and ISW for $1,675,095, a total of $1,852,185.
Received an email several days ago from Mr. Carl Wilson, responding to the most recent column about my disdain for exchange wagering. I would have answered before this but ye olde computer had a meltdown for a couple of days. I don't know Mr. Wilson so I don't know what his connection is to any of the culprits - exchange wagering itself, or Monmouth Park, or Betfair, or TVG, but here is what he wrote:
"Strange and unnecessarily negative attitude in your article. Exchange wagering is an option that offers horse players much better odds than the tote system and a chance to lock in a price on a horse. It's a much better deal than the ridiculous and antiquated tote system where bettors have no clue what price they will get on a horse until they have run an eighth of a mile. It is extremely popular for these reasons all over the rest of the world, not just England."
Let me answer Mr. Wilson piece by piece. First, the pre-exchange wagering publicity put out by Jerseyites echoed the idea that EW is a new and innovative way to help boost the handle at race tracks, which so many novices view as "sagging." The truth of the matter is that in 2001, the total North American handle surpassed $15 billion for the first time, despite the tired old cliche for 40 years that the old bettors were all dying off and we weren't making any new ones because the younger generation had other places to go and things to do. The over-$15 billion figure remained every year through 2007 when the banks, and mortgage companies, and George W. Bush and his cronies wiped out the middle class. With that group no longer participating, the handle began to plummet in 2008, and in 2011, it dropped to less than $12 billion. However, despite the constant rhetoric from the gloom and doom section, the handle has remained between $11 billion and $12 billion since.
To conclude, to think that exchange wagering is some mystical method to build up the handle again is absurd. I certainly can't read everything written about racing so I don't know if anybody has expounded on the subject, but the numbers at Monmouth Park do not reflect even a smidgeon of response from the betting public. On Saturday, the attendance at the Jersey shore was listed as 16,461; the on-track handle was $562,804. That, my friends, is a per capita of $34.19. For those who don't understand per capita, it means that the average amount wagered by each person on the entire program at Monmouth Saturday was $34.19. It doesn't sound like exchange wagering has been a big hit with the local patrons. By the way, the off-track handle for the day was $3,559,134. By contrast, Gulfstream Park, which lost its big horses and trainers after the Florida Derby, and which does not have exchange wagering, had an all-sources handle of $5,533,332 the same day.
On Sunday, it was even worse. The attendance at Monmouth was 13,441 and the on-track handle $457,726. Per capita - $34.05. Off-track - $2,848,527. Gulfstream's handle - $4,673,429.
As for the "ridiculous and antiquated" tote system, where bettors "have no clue" what price they will get, that's also absurd. If I bet a horse at 6-1 and the odds change after an eighth of a mile, my horse isn't going to be 2-1; he might drop to 5-1 or go up to 7-1, depending on the late flash caused by computer experts (just my opinion) who have sent it in on the horse in front or in second place.
Another aspect I have read nothing about is how the people utilizing the exchange make their bets when a race is in progress. Is there a betting messenger standing next to them? Are they first on line at a window? Do they have a cell phone in their hands? If a person is standing among the crowd on the apron at Monmouth on Haskell day, and can barely move, how does he get his bet in? Can he even see the race?
Last but not least, about EW's popularity all over the world, not just England, it is also very popular all over the world to stone women to death for adultery, or cut off people's hands for various minor infractions, or throw political dissidents in prison for years for disagreeing with the government. Because the rest of the world does it doesn't make it right for the USA. England made a wonderful decision last week and the markets crashed around the world.
If the race track managers want to pump up handle and interest in this country, they need to find innovative ways of their own, not just bow to Betfair because it's the easy way out.
Mr. Wilson: Get someone from Monmouth Park to disclose just what positive effect EW has had on the handle. Or, at least, how much is being bet on EW. Inquiring minds would like to know.
Last Saturday, unbeaten sensation Songbird was set to make her eighth start in the Gr. II Summertime Oaks at Santa Anita. Lo and behold, my favorite newspaper, the Tampa Bay Times, opted to go with a 12-paragraph story by dog-lover Don Jensen about a mutt named Highlyclassified whose career was coming to a close at Derby Lane. We also learned in the story, by the way, that this fabulous dog had won 32 of 142 lifetime starts, and that he weighed 76 pounds. I was overjoyed to discover this information.
Usually, in this shill's Saturday column, he closes his dog food with a final paragraph about thoroughbreds. This time it read: "Husker Magic of Abernathy kennel got her 104th career victory Thursday." (Personally, I would have thought that the dog winning 104 races was a better story).
Songbird may never reach the rare heights of a female like, say, Zenyatta, who won 19 in a row before losing the 2010 Breeders' Cup Classic by a head to Blame. But, as she travels on that road, her story is 1,000 times more interesting and compelling than that of a dog whose sport may soon be the victim of decoupling.
IS THIS FAIR? - When TVG was invented, it was supposed to be this fair and impartial entity that gave both sides of the story in every case. Through the years, however, as Keeneland Sales became a major sponsor, the entire crew at TVG has been indoctrinated to mention it every time they recognize a Keeneland graduate winning a race.
OBS not only rarely gets a plug, but in many cases, Keeneland receives the air time even when a horse sold in Kentucky for $40,000 as a yearling, and was then pinhooked at OBS for $400,000 at two. Guys and gals, if you are obligated to mention the Keeneland connection, at least give OBS the credit it deserves, too. Remember the fair and impartial nature of the network.
OBS did get some unpaid-for publicity this week because TVG analyst Nick Hines, as agent, was the leading buyer with nine purchases for $878,000. Nick, a former trainer, also plucked the fourth-highest purchase, $370,000, for HIP No. 484, a Candy Ride colt consigned by Bobby Dodd. Nick had some good words for OBS.
ARE TROTTERS STRONGER? - Speaking of number of starts, and TVG, I watched a race at Yonkers and they mentioned that the winner had gone in with 144 starts under his belt. There were a few others in the race with 127, 117 and 57 and I didn't catch the rest. How is it that the trotters can run so much more often with nobody mentioning a bounce, sometimes in two or three heats the same day? And the clocking of the second heat is just as fast as the first.
Are the standardbred trainers better than the thoroughbreds? And I don't want to hear that they don't run as fast - their drivers are 50 pounds or more heavier than the jockeys, and they're pulling a sulky, for cryin' out loud!
Checking the American Racing Manual, the horse with the most wins in North American racing was Kingston, born in 1884. He won 89 times in 138 starts, adding 33 seconds and 12 thirds, and earning a rousing $138,917. A horse named Hiblaze, born in 1935, is the all-time starts leader, going to the post 406 times. Are American breeders raising a bunch of 97-pound weaklings who have to send away for Charles Atlas' free book?
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is a creep who has always done whatever possible to sabotage the state's racing and breeding interests. Four years ago he pretty much took over control of who would be appointed to the NYRA board of directors.
Cuomo's latest push, according to Tom Precious in the Blood-Horse, is a bill that would "give him sizable influence over a new NYRA board and would cap the annual revenue NYRA receives from video lottery terminals at Aqueduct Racetrack." The last part is something the slots non-believers have always brought up when discussing the issue, not only for New York but for every state that has racinos propping up purse money.
It has always been my opinion that the advent of racinos has been the best thing that happened to racing in decades, as long as governors and legislators keep their greedy paws out of the mix. That hasn't always proved to be possible in many cases.
If Cuomo wants to take away money from NYRA it's an admission that he's incompetent. When the legislation was passed years ago, it was determined that 44% of the net slots revenue would go to education. The exact wording is "Education contribution. The portion of net win allocated to the State Education Fund for direct aid to education." It could not possibly be any clearer than that."
So, let's take a look at the figures. For the fiscal year that ended the last week of March, the "net win" for the Big A casino was $856,634,479. A quick calculator check shows that "education" received some $377 million off the top. It's been about five years since New York's educators have benefitted from the racino boom, and there's about $1.5 billion involved. If the Empire State hasn't been able to straighten out its problems with teachers/students/classrooms/buildings with $1.5 billion, stealing more money from NYRA isn't going to make a difference. Unless Cuomo has other ideas for the money.
According to the story, NYRA would lose some $14-$16 million in revenue if Cuomo's latest proposal is allowed to stand. New York has positioned itself head and shoulders above the rest of the country from the standpoint of purses, breeders and stallion awards. This is hardly the time to head in the opposite direction.
Fortunately, there are a bunch of level-headed legislators who are bumping heads with the guv. Let's hope they hit his head hard enough to make a dent.
Just how strong was the Belmont Stakes day program? They bet $11,643,742 on track and another $87,211,857 off track for a total of $98,855,599. And that's without a Triple Crown possibility and without the Derby and Preakness winners facing off.
And as if they needed any further proof at Gainesway that Tapit is a breeding monster, it was etched in stone again yesterday. Digest this: Creator wins the Belmont Stakes and its $800,000 winner's share, and Lani runs on for third, good for $150,000. Frosted runs one of the greatest Met Miles ever and takes down $670,000; Anchor Down finishes second - add another $230,000. Just for kicks, A Lot is fourth in the Gr. III Jaipur and banks $18,000 and Cupid is fifth in the Easy Goer and collects $4,500.
That's a total of $1,872,500, as the son of Pulpit heads for another 'Leading Sire in North America' title. Tapit's stud fee for 2016 was $300,000. Could it be going higher?
Although Creator and Destin's photo finish was the highlight of the afternoon, what more can be said about Frosted's scintillating performance in the Met. It isn't often that a horse taking the lead at the top of the stretch has enough ground left to win by 14 1/4 lengths. He was overpowering, as his near-record 1:32.73 for the mile suggests.
Live Oak Plantation's World Approval has turned into a formidable turf runner, finishing a solid third after leading most of the way in the Gr. I Woodford Reserve Manhattan at a mile and a quarter. The 4-year-old Florida-bred gelded son of Northern Afleet now has $673,450 in the till for Charlotte Weber, and Julien Leparoux as his most frequent pilot.
(I loved it when it came time for Julien to announce himself on camera before the Belmont and he gave out with the old Le-paroux, as did Larry Collmus. But the TV dudes paid no heed, continuing to call him Lay-paroux or Leh-paroux. Hey, it's my own problem).
With just 23 days remaining in the fiscal year, I went to the Dept. of Business Regulation site again to see just how close the casino profits are going to be come June 30, and if they will be a record, as I have presumed. Of course, the people in Tallahassee have not updated the info since the last report - they're still listed through the first week of May.
So, I moved over to the poker reports, since it's been a long time since I perused them, and found that the poker rooms around the state are more than holding their own. Here's the comparison: For the fiscal year 2012-2013, the gross receipts for the state equaled $132,690,414. For 2013-2014 it came to $136,163,614. For 2014-2015 the figure dropped slightly to $135,888,902. And, through April of this year (they don't have May up yet), the figure is $122,577,563.
For the last few months, the group as a whole has been averaging about $13 million a month, so adding $26 million to the April figure, the total should be about $148 million. Poker, it seems, also doesn't come under the "slots are declining, too," column.
Ocala Jai Alai, however, doesn't seem to be following the others. After years of $3.63 million; $3.68 million; and $3.48 million, through April the "total rake" as they now call it, is just $2.58 million. Based on recent months, it looks as though Ocala will only reach about $3.2 million. Of course, since they only spend a few pennies here and there on marketing, it's no wonder half of Marion County no doubt doesn't even know there's poker being played on highway 318.
ADD ONE FRESHMAN - Another freshman sire has popped up on the Florida list, although he won't be making much of an impact with just six registered foals. His name is Gary D, and he's a grey or roan by Successful Appeal out of the Silver Ghost mare Harford Ghost.
No farm is listed for Gary D, who raced in the colors of Donald Ming after going through the OBS ring and selling for $100,000. He compiled a record of 3-4-3 in 21 starts with earnings of $135,690, winning the OBS Sprint Stakes in 2010. He also finished second in the Pelican Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs and fourth in the Woodstock at Woodbine.
Gary D's first runner was Tres Huevos, who finished fifth at Presque Isle in his debut. The gelding was bred by Ming and is owned by his breeder in partnership with Rice Racing. Kevin Rice is the trainer.
As the racing year nears the halfway point, the decided lack of new stallions that migrated to Ocala's thoroughbred farms for the next few seasons after the recession supposedly ended, has become clearly evident. The end-of-season freshman leaders in recent years, like Kantharos in 2014, and the trio of First Dude, Big Drama and Gone Astray in 2015, had no competition from anywhere else, and although they all fared well from a Florida standpoint, they made little impact on the national scene.
The situation for this year is even bleaker, with just four freshmen listed in the Florida Horse Stallion Register - Biondetti at Woodford Thoroughbreds, Overdriven at Ocala Stud, Revolving at Stonehedge Farm South and Reward the Cat at Buena Vista Farm. So far, the first three have runners, and no winners, the last hasn't had a runner yet. Based on the number of foals registered, Biondetti or Overdriven will be the 2016 frosh leader by default.
It's interesting that Journeyman Stud's late Wildcat Heir was the Florida general sire leader by a large margin in 2011, 2014 and 2015, and he's leading by far again this year. He was second to Put It Back, by a whisker, in 2012, and to With Distinction, by a whisker, in 2013. With Distinction had his first, and has been second three times and third once in that span. Graeme Hall, now standing in Saudi Arabia, was the only one close in all those years, with four thirds and a fifth.
It's also interesting that the emergence of the Ocala pinhookers as major forces at all the sales has also put the spotlight on OBS as a place to buy 2-year-olds by every fashionable stallion in the country. Whereas the April sale was once viewed as a place where one could get lucky with a $15,000 or $20,000 purchase, the prices have gone through the roof lately thanks to the superb job being done by those who buy yearlings for a nominal price and turn them into huge moneymakers.
At the recent April sale, the catalogue pages were littered with sons and daughters of Tapit, Medaglia d'Oro, Kitten's Joy, Pioneerof the Nile, Candy Ride, Giant's Causeway, Speightstown, Scat Daddy, Malibu Moon, City Zip, Harlan's Holiday, Bernardini and Hard Spun. You might recognize those 14 stallions as the top 14 on the General Sire List as of today. You have to go to No. 15, Street Sense, to find a sire not represented in the sale.
The prospects for 2017, however, are much more encouraging for Florida's breeders, with Joe and Helen Barbazon's Pleasant Acres Stallions in the forefront. They will have 2-year-olds at the track by six who went to stud in 2014 - Anthony's Cross, Beau Choix, Brethren, He's Had Enough, Poseidon's Warrior and Treasure Beach.
In addition, Adena Springs South will have two - City Wolf and Fort Larned, as will Woodford Thoroughbreds - Currency Swap and Soldat, and Northwest Stud - Duke of Mischief and Wrote. Bridlewood Farm will have one, Corfu, along with Hartley/DeRenzo, Rattlesnake Bridge; Journeyman Stud, Winslow Homer, and Ocala Stud, Prospective.
It will add some excitement to a division that has been less than boring for the past few years.
The state's pari-mutuel fiscal year ends on June 30, and it appears that the eight South Florida casinos will enjoy a record-breaking year. Not by much, but still the best year since Gulfstream ushered in the era of "racinos" on Nov. 15 of 2006.
The previous record denoting how many nickels, dimes, quarters and dollars were dropped into the machines, was more than $7.9 billion in 2014-2015. Through May 8, the last date available emanating from Tallahassee, the play has reached more than $7 billion, but there are 53 days of play remaining, and the figure should easily top $8 billion. This Memorial Day weekend will be a big boon.
The net revenue record from last year for all the casinos combined was more than $521 million, with the state getting its 35 percent, or $182 million-plus. Both numbers appear to be on the verge of being surpassed, too.
The numbers for this year have been buoyed somewhat by the re-opening of Dania Jai Alai, which had been closed for renovations for quite a while. But Dania's figures since its return in January have been quite disappointing. When the think-tankers were doing their thinking and tanking prior to the casino boom, they estimated that each machine would generate income of $300 a day. The only two places that have come close are Flagler dogs ($284) and Pompano Park ($273), with Hialeah at $216. Dania is running at a paltry $78 a day.
Gulfstream Park and Hollywood dogs are still locked in battle for the slots money around Hollywood, Hallandale Beach, Golden Isles and the environs, with their being three minutes apart hurting both. Gulfstream's net revenue thus far is more than $41.8 million, Hollywood's is $40.7 million.
The two "experts" in pari-mutuel affairs who forecast the demise of thoroughbred racing in the Tampa Bay Times in January, also wrote that nobody is talking about it, "but slots are declining, too." The facts bury this erroneous theory, especially with the record-breaking performance at New York's casino at Aqueduct, which handled more than $20.4 billion in its last fiscal period.
Want to know one thing that Nyquist and American Pharoah have in common? The last two Kentucky Derby winners ran the two slowest Preaknesses since Fabius was clocked in 1:58 2/5 in 1956. American Pharoah won in 1:58.46 last year, Nyquist lost to Exaggerator in 1:58.31 on Saturday.
There are countless others who will have the answer to that riddle, but I'm not nearly smart enough. I do know that the commonly-held theory that today's horses - like today's human athletes - are bigger, faster and stronger, is a lot of baloney. I also know that Curlin popped a 1:53.46 on the board in 2007.
The track was abominable Saturday and who knows how that affected Nyquist. But we all know that sending him out to joust with Uncle Lino in a :22.38 first quarter was suicide for both of them. I cannot comprehend what Mario Gutierrez thought he would accomplish by not just taking hold of his colt and letting him relax in second. For his part, Fernando Perez on 34-1 Uncle Lino looked like he didn't give a hoot about winning the race, he just wanted to keep Nyquist from winning it. And if that's not the case, just what the hell was he thinking? Perez could just as easily have taken back to second and let Nyquist go to the lead.
That doesn't take away anything from Exaggerator. Kent Desormeaux gave him a Zenyatta special - sit back on the rail, come flying on the turn and swing out to the middle of the track at the top of the stretch without losing a step. It was race-riding perfection.
And, of course, the dying sport got lucky again when a record 135,256 showed up for the festivities. It might have been much more if there hadn't been so much room taken up by raincoats and umbrellas. The handle was also a record - $94,127,434. Imagine if people really enjoyed the sport.
On the race itself, there was $21,739,774 wagered in the win-place-show pools; $11,464,524 in the exacta pool; $14,017,679 in the trifecta; $7,256,485 in the superfecta, and just $640,946 in the super high 5. That is some serious betting.
Now, Nyquist has spiked a fever and it was announced today he won't be going on to the Belmont, but Derby starters Destin (6th), Suddenbreakingnews (5th) and Brody's Cause (7th), are returning after skipping the Pimlico race, along with Exaggerator, Cherry Wine and Lani. Two or three more may jump in before entry time. Let's hope the track is fast in Elmont so we can see who's bigger, faster and stronger. This time, Exaggerator will be 3/5.
WHERE'S THE BEEF? - I may have missed it, but I still haven't seen the story out of Oceanport, N. J. that tells how exchange wagering has revitalized the sport and saved Monmouth Park from extinction. But I'm patient.
The last time a Florida-bred won the Preakness was in 2005, when Afleet Alex overcame a horrendous stumble at the top of the stretch with rider Jeremy Rose, and, incredibly, came again with a tremendous rush to win by a mile. Under the circumstances, it semed like a mile, although it was "only" 4 3/4 lengths. The son of the Florida stallion Northern Afleet, who stood at Double Diamond Farm at the time, was coming off a third-place finish in the Kentucky Derby behind 50-1 Giacomo and 71-1 Florida-bred Closing Argument. The $2 trifecta paid $133,134.
Despite the Louisville result, Afleet Alex, who had lost it all by a length, won it as the 3-1 favorite at Pimlico while Giacomo finished third at 6-1, and Closing Argument tired late to wind up ninth at 7-1. Afleet Alex went on to the Belmont Stakes and won by seven lengths; so only the length between him and Giacomo on the first Saturday in May prevented him from ending the Triple Crown drought 10 years before American Pharoah.
The previous year, Double Diamond's Don Dizney almost had a winner of his own when First Dude, at odds of 23-1, led from the start only to be run down late by 2-1 shot Lookin At Lucky. The third-place finisher, at 11-1, was Fred Brei's Jackson Bend, from Ocala's Jacks or Better Farm.
Brei will be represented in Baltimore again Saturday by Fellowship, who will be making his second start for Ocalan Mark Casse after recently moving from the barn of long-time Jacks or Better trainer Stanley Gold, along with the rest of the Jacks or Better horses. In his first start for many-time Sovereign Award winner Casse, in the $250,000, Gr. III Pat Day Mile at Churchill on Derby day, the late-running colt by Brei's Awesome of Course tired to finish fourth after having moved into second in mid-stretch. He has compiled a record of 2-3-3 in 12 starts with earnings of $574,715, and will go from post 10 in the 11-horse field with Jose Lezcano, who will be aboard for the fourth straight time.
There's one other Florida-bred in the Preakness, Gilbert Campbell's (Stonehedge Farm South) Abiding Star, a colt by red-hot Uncle Mo who hasn't been to the big time yet, but has won five in a row this year after a dull 0-1-1 in six starts as a juvenile. Included in the streak are victories in the Private Terms Stakes at Laurel and the $100,000 Parx Derby, in which he went wire-to-wire at odds of 3/5, scoring by nearly two lengths in 1:41.22 for the mile and 70 yards. Abiding Star, who has compiled earnings of $202,385, drew post 9 with J. D. Acosta aboard.
Both Florida horses are 30-1 in the morning line, while Derby winner Nyquist is listed at 3/5 from post 3 with Mario Gutierrez. Second choice is Derby runner-up Exaggerator, who's 3-1 from post 5 with Kent Desormeaux.
Abiding Star and Fellowship will be looking to add their names to a long list of Florida colts who have finished in the top three in the Preakness, dating back to Needles' second behind Fabius in 1956. Carry Back won in 1961, as did Affirmed as part of his Triple Crown run in 1978, and Codex in the controversial edition against the filly Genuine Risk in 1980. Also, Aloma's Ruler in 1982 and popular Gate Dancer two years later, along with Silver Charm in 1997. Runners-up include In Reality, My Dad George, Foolish Pleasure, Iron Constitution, Unbridled, Cherokee Run, Oliver's Twist, Skip Away, Sweetnorthernsaint, and First Dude. Lots of tradition on the line, albeit against an unbeaten champion.
Opening weekend at Monmouth Park has passed, and, so far, the world of racing hasn't seen an explosion of any kind. Exchange wagering was supposed to begin in New Jersey and I haven't seen or heard a word about it. Therefore, either it hasn't begun yet, or it hasn't made an impact. I vote for the latter.
I checked the numbers from Monmouth and found that for Saturday's opener, 11,416 people were on hand and the handle was $619,769. Off-track: $4,001,304. On Sunday, there were 7,664 at the track with a handle of $354,396. Off-track: $2,667,597. I perused the results of every race for the two days and didn't see any figures denoting exchange wagering bets.
I have to assume, for the time being, that EW was a bust. Until someone at Monmouth Park tells us differently. I won't hold my breath.
FIRST FROSH STARTERS - Two of Florida's freshman sires had runners in the past couple of weeks, but without a winner as yet. Ocala Stud Farm's Overdriven's first was Faith N Hope, who debuted at Gulfstream Park on the 11th. He finished fourth at odds of 17-1 behind Bode's Dream, the first winner for Bodemeister, and earned $2,000.
Overdriven had a second starter at Gulfstream on the 13th, and Boot N Loot finished second in a $50,000 claimer behind Saratoga Two Step, the first 2-year-old runner of the season by Get Away Farm's Two Step Salsa. Boot N Loot, bred by Tony Everard, picked up a check for $6,520.
Two Step Salsa has been red-hot in May, getting seven winners in the first 15 days of the month. One of them was the tough sprinter Classic Salsa, who scored at Belmont Park - his ninth victory - and surpassed $340,000 in earnings. Another was Mumbles, who took what was called the Hi Lord Stakes at Assiniboia Downs, run for a ham sandwich and a large Coke. In fact, the price of a ham sandwich and a Coke was probably bigger than the purse.
On May 6, Stonehedge Farm South's Revolving, a son of A. P. Indy, had Maggie Laine finish fourth at odds of 5-1 at Gulfstream. He earned $1,800. Revolving is listed with 14 foals in his first crop, while Overdriven has 59.
Gene Stevens, the controversial publisher of arguably the most successful racing and breeding publication in the United States for more than 37 years, passed away early Friday morning at his home at The Cricket Club in Miami. He died peacefully in his sleep after his long battle with diabetes, according to long-time friend Carolyn Hine.
Born in Brooklyn in 1935, Gene was a high school classmate of singer Steve Lawrence, and the two collaborated musically at Thomas Jefferson High, both dreaming of making the big time. Lawrence accomplished his goal via TV and hit recordings, and Gene accomplished it through his widely-read slick magazine, Post Time USA.
Gene was the owner of a photography studio in South Florida when he first made his name known to horsemen at Calder Race Course in 1970. He wrote a weekly column in the Miramar Mirror, close to the racetrack, and he was a constant thorn in the side of management, every week calling for the replacement of Calder's synthetic surface, called Saf-T-Turf. The pinkish track was causing soreness to muscles, tendons, backs, ankles, etc., and Gene was the willing spokesperson for the horsemen who wanted it removed.
One Saturday, Gene sent two bikini-clad models out onto the track between races. They were holding a banner that read, "Gene Stevens says: Saf-T-Turf must go, dirt track a must." It caused quite a stir and was the forerunner of his always-controversial publishing career.
In August of 1973, Gene and I and horseman Bob Gaudio started Post Time, a monthly newspaper dedicated to racing and breeding, with a little dab of entertainment thrown in to make Gene happy. But Gene and I fought constantly over the contents of Post Time, and after six issues, we split, after the Feb. 1974 edition hit the stands.
Gene re-grouped after that and in October of the same year, Post Time returned with a new editor. Gene's shtick was pictures - he felt that owners and breeders and trainers were deserving of much more recognition than they were getting and he gave it to them, plastering their photos over every section of the paper. He became the subject of a great deal of criticism, including from many in the media colony, but everybody read Post Time and Gene thrived on the attention.
He made it to all the Triple Crown races, the Breeders' Cup, the Florida Derby and Flamingo, the Eclipse Awards, and the entire Saratoga meeting, amassing a huge file of photos that not only included the horsey set but also actors, actresses, singers, presidents, senators, governors and anybody else he felt would enhance the pages of Post Time.
And it worked. Sometime in the 80s, Gene enlisted Bob Marks, former owner of Robin's Nest Farm in Ocala and an advertising expert, to revamp the paper and Bob did it in spades. Post Time USA was born, a full-fledged slick magazine that further enhanced the quality of the photos of the rich and famous, both people and equines. Gene's picture was on so many pages in Post Time USA that the late Pete Axthelm of Newsweek started an over-and-under pool based on the number of times Gene's image would show up in each issue. There were times when it was more than 100; many loved it and many hated it, but Post Time USA flourished and made Gene a rich man.
Always the innovator, Gene enlisted some of the leading thoroughbred writers in the country to grace the pages of Post Time USA. There were Bill Christine of the Los Angeles Times, Ray Kerrison of the New York Post, Billy Reed of the Louisville Courier, Daily Racing Form breeding guru David Goldman, John DaSilva of the New York Post and Bill Mooney of the Blood-Horse. There was even a long-time column written by famed consumer advocate Ralph Nader. Mooney's Post Time USA column about the last few days in the life of Fred Hooper's Florida-bred Eclipse Award winner, Precisionist, won an Eclipse Award of its own.
Although much of what Gene wrote focused on the issues facing racing, and show biz, two of his columns drew critical acclaim. One was for a series titled: 'The Rise and Fall of Calumet Farm,' for which he received an Honorable Mention Eclipse Award, the other was a beautifully-done piece on the life of the late Louis Wolfson.
In September of 1989, Gene and I reunited and for the next 21 years, I was again the editor of Post Time USA. That same month, Gene took me and Bob Marks to California to look into the feasibility of a west coast edition of the magazine. While we were there, we visited with noted owner Fred Sahadi and Gerry McMahon, who were in the start-up stages of a new sales company - Barretts. I asked Fred what kind of reception they were getting from the breeders, tracks, newspapers and other racing organizations and his answer was simple: "They're ignoring us." When we returned to Florida and began work on the next issue, Gene and I co-wrote a lengthy piece on Barretts, announcing it to the world.
All the while, Gene built up a unique persona. Most of the racing world no doubt never saw him when he wasn't impeccably dressed in an expensive suit, often of silk, and driving his Lincoln Town Car with the iron thoroughbred mounted on the hood.
He loved racing, but he was really in his element when he was around the show biz crowd. Post Time USA was graced over the years with pix of Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Joan Rivers, Jackie Mason, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, Jackie Gleason, Susan Lucci, Mary Ann Mobley, Phyllis George, Bo Derek, and many more. While in Saratoga, he never failed to sidle up to the piano bar and belt out a few songs at the Wishing Well or Siro's. He was a fixture at the Kentucky Derby soirees of socialites Marylou Whitney and Anita Madden, and the photo of him draped only in a towel after he fell into the pool fully clothed during one of Marylou's shindigs, has become legend.
Post Time USA ended its run in 2010 after 37 stellar years, and it was easy to see that Gene's demeanor changed drastically thereafter. He had neglected his health for years due to the demands of his profession and the last couple of years were not kind to him.
Gene Stevens won't soon be forgotten by the racing community. He created something unique because he was unique himself. Gene was the Barnum & Bailey of racing, and the sport will never see another like him.
The demise of thoroughbred racing took a serious jolt in the past two days and the situation will continue for at least two more weeks as the world speculates on the possibility of another Triple Crown winner.
Of course, there are thousands this morning who saw Exaggerator come flying down the stretch after Nyquist and are already handing him the Belmont Stakes. They figure the runner-up won't be able to get to the champ in the Preakness, because, as we know, 1 3/16 miles is shorter than 1 1/4 miles. But wait 'til he gets to that mile and a half!
That's just what Howard Cosell was bellowing after Seattle Slew had just wrapped up the 1977 Derby, with Sanhedrin bearing down on him late. "Wait 'til he gets to the Belmont," Howard screamed into the microphone. The order of finish of that mile-and- one-halfer was Seattle Slew, Run Dusty Run, Sanhedrin.
Nyquist did everything right yesterday, and there are those who will say, "Well, he got a perfect trip." Yup. And great horses get perfect trips because they make perfect trips for themselves. The son of Uncle Mo has so far gotten eight perfect trips. He went in with earnings of $3,322,600, most ever by any horse running in the Derby, and came out with another $1,631,600, for a total of $4,954,200.
It's not like Nyquist didn't run fast - his 2:01.31 was the best since Funny Cide's 2:01.19 in 2003. American Pharoah's clocking last year was a snail's-pace 2:03.02.
The Daily Racing Form's consensus box featured 21 selectors, and just eight of the 21 picked Nyquist. Andy Beyer, he of the infamous Beyer numbers, racing books, newspaper columns and major betting scores, picked Danzing Candy. If I had had the opportunity, I would have liked to have booked all win bets on the pacesetter since he was the first one I threw out. A quitting front-runner from the No. 20 post. What a bargain!
Kudos must go to morning-line-maker Mike Battaglia. He has never nailed one like this in his career. He had Nyquist as the 3-1 favorite and Nyquist won. Exaggerator was second choice at 8-1 and he finished there. Creator, Gun Runner and Mohaymen were all 10-1 and Gun Runner finished third and Mohaymen fourth. Creator finished 13th but he was fouled badly. Suddenbreaking News was 20-1 and snuck in fifth, but 12-1 Destin was sixth, 12-1 Brody's Cause seventh and 12-1 Mor Spirit 10th. Making a morning line for a 20-horse Derby with lots of talent isn't easy, but Mike did a great job.
As for the gloom and doomers? They had to be in awe as Friday's Kentucky Oaks program broke all kinds of attendance and handle records and Derby day came very close. The same should happen at Pimlico in two weeks. Is it possible the game is coming back?
FIRST FRESHMAN FINISHES FOURTH - The first runner for any Florida freshman sire raced Friday and finished fourth. Maggie Laine, a daughter of Stonehedge Farm South's Revolving, went off at 5-1 in her 4 1/2-furlong debut at Gulfstream and ran evenly, while never getting close to a runaway winner. She picked up $1,800. Revolving, a son of A. P. Indy, has 14 foals in his first crop.
(1) - The final field remained intact. There are 18 Kentucky-breds and two Pennsylvania-breds (Mor Spirit and Tom's Ready).
(2) - Eight of the entrants are by three stallions: Mohaymen, Lani and Creator are by Tapit; Mo Tom, Nyquist and Outwork are by Uncle Mo; Destin and Brody's Cause are by Giant's Causeway.
(3) - The winners of every major prep are represented, and Lani won a stakes in Tokyo and a Gr. II in Dubai.
(4) - Trojan Nation, who finished second in the Wood Memorial, is still a maiden.
(5) - Victor Espinoza, who won the last two Derbys with American Pharoah and California Chrome, almost didn't make it this time. He'll be on 20-1 Whitmore, who was third in the Arkansas Derby and second in both the Rebel and the Southwest at Oaklawn. Most conspicuous by their absence: Rafael Bejarano, Jose Ortiz and Joe Bravo.
(6) - Mohaymen, who was so highly-regarded after having won five in a row coming up to the Florida Derby, including the Fountain of Youth, Holy Bull and Remsen, dropped so far in prestige after his fifth-place behind Nyquist at Gulfstream that he's co-third choice on the morning line at 10-1.
(7) - Tampa Bay Derby winner Destin, runner-up Outwork and off-the-board Brody's Cause will be looking to become the third Derby winner coming out of Oldsmar, after Street Sense and Super Saver.
(8) - BetAmerica has a unique special on for Derby day. In any graded stakes race at Churchill, if your horse wins and is disqualified, they will pay you anyway.
I hope I don't jinx the Derby probables with this, but has anyone noticed that there hasn't been one significant defection and here we are just four days from D-Day? Usually, by this time, there have been three or four bowed tendons, or pulled muscles, or bad steps, or a fever, or something else, allowing No. 21, or 22, or 23 into the Run for the Roses.
Every winner of every major prep is still on the list - Nyquist (Florida Derby, San Vicente, Breeders' Cup Juvenile); Destin (Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby, Sam F. Davis Stakes); Outwork (Wood Memorial); Creator (Arkansas Derby); Brody's Cause (Toyota Blue Grass); Exaggerator (Santa Anita Derby); Gun Runner (Louisiana Derby, Risen Star); Suddenbreakingnews (Southwest Stakes, 2nd, Arkansas Derby); Mor Spirit (Robert B. Lewis Stakes, 2nd, Santa Anita Derby); Mohaymen (Fountain of Youth Stakes, Holy Bull Stakes).
Also of note is every horse listed above is a Kentucky-bred, except for Mor Spirit, who's from Pennsylvania. Nary a Florida-bred among them. And, lest somebody thinks there's an upset in order by a modestly-bred contender, here are the sires in the order the runners are listed above - Uncle Mo; Giant's Causeway; Uncle Mo; Tapit; Giant's Causeway; Curlin; Candy Ride; Mineshaft; Eskendereya; Tapit. Get the picture?
IT MUST HAVE BEEN A JOKE - In an "are you kidding me?" follow-up to that recent article in the Tampa Bay Times in which Mary Ellen Klas and Jeremy Wallace informed us that there's one other thing nobody's talking about, "slots are declining, too," here's the latest from the Resorts World Casino New York.
New York closed out its fiscal year on March 26 and the total amount of "credits played" reached an all-time high of $20.4 billion. The record from the 2014-2015 fiscal year was $18.3 billion. The year before it was $17 billion. So the notion that slots are declining in New York is absurd.
For the record, the "net win" in New York was a record $856,634,479, with 7.5% going to purses and another 1.5% to breeders' awards.
In this last fiscal year, the credits played was more than $400 million for just three weeks between April and Christmas. Then, it surpassed $400 million twice during the holidays, and it has been over $400 million for the last 12 consecutive weeks beginning in mid-February. Doesn't sound like they're getting tired of slots in New York, New York.
As for Florida, the stats that are supposed to be updated weekly haven't been updated since March 31. With the fiscal year set to end June 30, we'll have a better idea of how Florida's machines are faring when they get around to the next update. Assuming they'll get around to it.
Last year, Field Commission was one of a sparse Florida freshman stallion class. The son of Service Stripe, who stands at Solera Farm, had just four registered foals in his initial crop, and only one of them started. That was Ten Hut, who finished sixth twice and eighth once in New York, earning $1,217.
Based on those stats, the people at Solera asked The Jockey Club if the 2009 Champion Sprinter in Canada could receive special dispensation and be counted as a freshman again this year. The original answer was yes, but that has not happened. Field Commission is listed under second-crop sires this year.
On Feb. 26, Ten Hut made his 2016 debut at Aqueduct, and, at odds of 12-1, turned in by far his best performance. The 3-year-old colt finished second, beaten a neck, and earned $8,200.
On Wednesday, the first Florida-bred 2-year-old to run in 2016, a Field Commission colt, showed up at Keeneland. Drafted went off at 4-1 racing 4 1/2 furlongs over the newly-installed dirt track, and flew to a 2 3/4-length victory under Mitchell Murrill. The colt won at the direct expense of trainer Wesley Ward's Spelker, co-owned by former NFL wide receiver Wes Welker, who was the 20-cents-to-a-dollar favorite.
The Equibase chart doesn't come close to telling the real story about the race. It shows Drafted sitting one length off the rapid pace set by Spelker - a quarter in :22.26 - but the reality is that Spelker was three lengths in front of Drafted on the turn for home, and Drafted inhaled him with a powerful wide move, drawing off late in a track-record :50.45 seconds after a :44.34 half. The victory was worth $26,650 and Field Commission is, at least temporarily, Florida's second-leading second-crop sire. He does have 32 registered foals for 2016.
Drafted was entered in the Kim Harrison consignment in the 2015 OBS August yearling sale, and was RNA'ed for $19,000. She had him back at the recent March sale and he went for $35,000 to P. R. Laird and trainer Eoin Harty, who look like they have a good one on their hands.
Hallelujah! With one swipe of the pen, or something else, the people in New Jersey have come to the aid of the 'struggling' thoroughbred racing industry and saved it for all eternity. Exchange wagering is coming to Monmouth Park and the Meadowlands. Send out Paul Revere with the exciting news.
How can Chris Christie's disciples be so lucky?
I was naive enough a couple of years ago to believe that the exchange wagering issue was dead and buried. It has just been resurrected.
I can't help quoting - from the exchange wagering story - Michael Colangelo, assistant director of projects for the University of Southern California's Sports Business Institute. (That's a job)? "The biggest issue facing the industry is replacing the older generation of fans with a younger generation of fans, but that can be difficult, especially as the younger generation wants more of an 'experience' than just horse racing," this expert on racing said. I wonder if he made that up himself or if he had help from other experts at USC?
So, to help New Jersey dig out of its racing mess, the state will allow bettors to begin exchange wagering. "The new type of betting allows people to make multiple bets before and during a particular race."
What they don't realize in NJ is that they are competing with Aqueduct and Belmont for on-track fans, and every track in the country with off-track fans. What they also probably don't have a clue about is that they instituted a form of exchange wagering at Calder Race Course a few years ago and it fell to earth with a resounding thud. What they also don't realize is that nobody cares about exchange wagering, except in England. They may also not realize that we are not in England
Tom McCrocklin's friends were probably not surprised when the Broken Vow filly from his consignment to the OBS April sale sold for $1.2 million, highest price of the four-day 2-year-old sale. They have seen Tom make big scores before, both in the pinhooking department and at the mutuel windows.
In 2005, Tom was the talk of Ocala after Giacomo won the Kentucky Derby at odds of 50-1, Closing Argument was second at 71-1, and Afleet Alex third at 9/2. Word was that he scored to the tune of $96,000.
The Broken Vow filly was originally sold by Taylor Made Farm to Solano Beach Sales for $105,000 at the 2015 Keeneland September Sale. According to Blood-Horse Daily, the $1.2 million colt represented a pinhook ROI of 812%.
The second-best pinhook was a real head-scratcher, for me. A Gemologist colt consigned by Sequel Bloodstock brought $550,000 from Lane's End Bloodstock. The colt originally sold for $50,000 as a weanling at Keeneland November, and when he came up again at last year's Keeneland September, he was RNA'ed at the same $50,000. Seven months later, they hit a home run. The net profit was listed at 578.6%.
Overall, the April sale grossed $52.2 million, compared with $53.2 a year ago. But the average price set an April record of $79, 211, edging last year's previous record of $79,068. The "sport is dying" proponents will no doubt argue that there's a typo in there somewhere.
CHICKENS - As of this morning, I have received no response from the Tampa Bay Times concerning its dearth of coverage for thoroughbreds as opposed to the reams of dog columns written by Don Jensen.
A REAL MYSTERY - I will never understand many of the columns in the FTBOA's Wire-to-Wire magazine. For instance, every day there is one titled "Florida Stallion Progeny for (enter day here)," in which supposed Florida stallions are listed alphabetically, with their supposed progeny underneath, and the track that each horse is competing at that day. The explanation is written thusly: "Below is a list of runners sired by registered Florida stallions scheduled to start in races at racetracks across North America."
The problem is that half (or more) of the stallions listed haven't been in Florida for years, and they are certainly not "registered Florida stallions," even though they were once. And their runners are no longer Florida-breds, in most cases.
Here's an example from a recent WTW. Lite the Fuse, who hasn't been in Florida for years, was listed as having four runners that day, all at Penn National. A quick check revealed that one was a New Jersey-bred, the other three Pennsylvanians. There were many other similar instances, too, with stallions such as Middlesex Drive, One Nice Cat, Native Regent, Songandaprayer, Spanish Steps, Trippi, etc.
Who is looking for this information in Ocala? The wasted space could easily be filled by something everybody IS interested in - (1) the owners of the winners on the charts of every race at Gulfstream Park and Tampa Bay Downs, and (2) the attendance and handle at both tracks at the bottom of the charts. Currently, the trainer and breeder are listed on the charts, but not the owner.
Absolutely makes no sense to me.
Need some further corroboration that the nation's top newspapers have been a principal contributor to the perception that horse racing is in decline? One need only look at the Tampa Bay Times, once looked upon as a major source of news for the thoroughbred industry.
When the decoupling issue was stealing all the headlines several weeks and months ago, it was pretty much a fact that dogs, jai alai and trotters were the No. 1 force behind allowing the entities to discontinue their live product and remain in operation strictly as casinos. St. Pete's Derby Lane was among them, even though its handle was not that horrendous compared to many others.
But St. Pete's handle for Thursday night was $150,576, and, of course, somewhat better for the Friday and Saturday performances. But Tampa Bay Downs did $12.2 million on Tampa Bay Derby day! It would take a couple of months or more for Derby Lane to just equal that amount.
Yet, yesterday's Times had its obligatory Saturday article by Don Jensen on the pari-mutuel page devoting 13 paragraphs over 4 1/2 columns to kennel operator Mick D'Arcy taking his sixth Derby Lane distance classic title. At the end, there was this, after "HORSES." "Jockey Scott Spieth collected his 4,500th career victory Sunday aboard Aldana Gonzalez trainee Awesome Indeed at Tampa Bay Downs in Oldsmar." (I'm glad Jensen let the people of the Bay area know TBD is in Oldsmar).
The Arkansas Derby was being run at Oaklawn yesterday with major ramifications for the Kentucky Derby and Jensen felt it appropriate to feature Scott Spieth's 4,500th victory - one week later - following a 13-paragraph description of a dog race. What a disgrace. And this was far from being the first instance of the 13-to-1 ratio, Jensen does it CONSTANTLY. I know, because I am a 25-year Times almost-everyday reader.
It has come to my attention that this writer (who feels compelled to call any horse who ever raced at Tampa a "Tampa Bay Downs graduate"), determines what will be written in this column, not the Times, or anybody else. Inquiring minds have to seriously question what his motives are, and more importantly, WHY that is his agenda.
I would never - in this column - accuse Don Jensen of being on the take. But if I ever ran into him in person, you can bet I would put it to him, just to judge his reaction!
I am going to send this column to Times deputy managing editor for sports and photography Jack Sheppard, and I hope to get a response from him, or Jensen, or both.
The weekend's results made another strong point for the Tampa Bay Derby being awarded Gr. I status. Talk about a key race. Outwork, Saturday's Wood Memorial winner, finished second behind Destin in the TBD and he's now won 3-of-4. Brody's Cause, Saturday's Toyota Blue Grass winner, finished a non-threatening seventh in Tampa, but his monster late run at Keeneland was impressive.
The surprise of the Wood was runner-up Trojan Nation, who was still a maiden after five tries and came out the same way. But the son of Street Cry was gobbling up ground in deep stretch and looked like he would nail Outwork in a few more strides. He was 81-1, by the way. Trainer Paddy Gallagher says he may be sending his maiden to Louisville.
Todd Pletcher has two Derby candidates - Destin and Outwork - and they both prepped in Oldsmar, along with Brody's Cause, who's trained by Dale Romans.
The most thrilling performance of the three big Derby preps was turned in by Exaggerator, who at one time was called as being 10 lengths behind the last horse in the leading group, so he must have been more than 15 lengths out of it, probably 17 or 18. The run he made on the turn was eye-opening, and he actually passed the leaders as they straightened out for home, not in deep stretch.
ANOTHER RECORD - At Keeneland, they "only" handled $21,736,983, a single-day record for Blue Grass or any other day. There were 20,848 frigid souls on hand in 40ish temperatures or it would have been much more. They must not have gotten the message in Lexington that the sport is dying.
WE'LL MISS BILL - Bill Kaplan announced his retirement just before the weekend and spent his final day as a trainer celebrating Florida Cup Day at Tampa Bay Downs. The long-time South Florida stalwart wound up an ultra-successful run with a third by Chief Attraction in the $75,000 Stonehedge Farm South Sophomore Fillies and a third by Extravagant Kid in the $75,000 OBS Sophomore Stakes.
It's not just the newspapers who are constantly spitting out erroneous information about the state of racing. Even that bastion of the industry, the Blood-Horse magazine, joined in the cause, however unintentional it may have been.
In an article by Ron Mitchell concerning the country's pari-mutuel handle for March, whomever wrote the headline didn't do the story justice. It read: "U. S. Wagering Up Nominally in March."
Doesn't that sound uninspiring? Especially with the enormous numbers we have been tracking in recent weeks, like Gulfstream's record $32 million on Florida Derby day, and Tampa's record $12.2 million on Tampa Bay Derby day?
"Nominally" doesn't get the heart pumping. But here are the facts, as revealed later in the article. "Equibase reported total wagering for the month of $854,900,215, up less than 1% from the $847,700,697 wagered in March 2015." Then, in the next sentence, came this: "The number of race days declined 9.04% to 302 from 332 a year ago and the number of races was down 8.47% from 2,844 to 2,603 this year."
It's like the Ocala Star-Banner's favorite hypothesis, reporting that an OBS sale was down, say, from $40 million last year to $30 million this year, when the average price last year was $40,000 and this year was $90,000 with only half the number of horses.
In actuality, the first three months of 2016 have been very good. The misconception also follows concerning purses. Total March purses, it says, dropped 4.90%. But the average daily purses of $238,538 showed a significant increase over the $228,168 of last year.
Time to hire a new headline writer at the Blood-Horse. Anyone reading the headline in question without reading the story might be inclined to come to the conclusion the sport is dying.
IT'S TWO STEP TIME - When entries were taken for the Gr. III Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati Spiral Stakes, a few eyebrows might have been raised due to the presence of Get Away Farm's Two Step Time. The 3-year-old son of Two Step Salsa had won the $50,000 Heritage at Sam Houston in his last start, and was second in the $100,000 OBS Championship previously.
Hardly the credentials needed where one might think an owner would ship a horse to a Kentucky Derby prep with a $500,000 purse. But Get Away's owner, Manny Andrade, had confidence in the colt he bought at OBS for $27,000 and couldn't get sold in two subsequent sales. Now he's glad he took Two Step Time home.
With Mitchell Murrill (who?) riding, Two Step Time made a big run on the turn to move into contention in the 1 1/8th-mile race, but he was sandwiched between horses in the stretch and forced to steady. When Murrill (who?) got him running again, Two Step closed strongly, only to finish fourth by three necks The two who squeezed him were first and third.
Two Step picked up $23,500 for fourth, so at least he paid for the trip. He's 3-1-1 in seven tries with earnings of $116,750, but I have a sneaking hunch we haven't heard the last of him.
Horses who have done well in the OBS Championship races have gone in to bigger and better things before, such as 2008 champion grass mare Forever Together; Three Chimneys Spinster winner Plenty of Light; multiple stakes-winner Buffalo Man; Coaching Club American Oaks winner Golden Bri; Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint runner-up Lady Shipman; Valid Video, winner of the King's Bishop and the last horse to beat Ghostzapper, and many others. So it's certainly not out of the question for Two Step Time.
Once again, I shudder to think what Saturday's handle at Gulfstream Park might have been if the sport wasn't in the process of expiring. Since Gulfstream doesn't keep attendance figures due to the fact that casino and poker room players enter free so there's no way to separate one type of player from another, we have no idea of how many people were imitating sardines in the infield or the various other viewing locations.
But from the looks we got on TVG, the place was in overflow mode. The handle for the superb Florida Derby program reached $32,082,270, and only the Breeders' Cup has produced a higher day at the track. Last year's handle was $27.2 million.
It's less than 24 hours from Nyquist's dynamite performance in the $1 million Derby, and the pundits are already making excuses for Mohaymen. He had a bad post (No. 9), he was outside, he never got to the rail, he went wide on the turn, etc. Do they think he'll have it any better in Louisville? With 20 horses in the gate he may encounter a worse trip by far. Great horses have overcome infinitely worse trips than Mo did yesterday. Great horses are supposed to overcome adversity.
For the week before the race, the same pundits were punditing that Mo had a big edge; he was at a track he had romped over twice, he was at home, Nyquist had to cross the country, he had never been over the strip, etc., etc., etc. So Nyquist buried him. The pundits, I find, are often severely tripped up by their egos.
Does it mean that Mo is toast? Of course not. But for this day, he wasn't even near up to the task, despite all of the aforementioned advantages.
Nyquist, on the other hand, is something special. He sold at Fasig-Tipton Florida's March sale for $400,000, thus collecting the bonus of $1 million for being a Fasig-Florida Derby winner. I don't know if anyone keeps tabs on this, but it's quite probable that his $3,333,600 in earnings is the most by any horse in history as of April 3 of his 3-year-old year. With the cash from the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, the $600,000 from yesterday and the bonus, Who could have done anything more?
The son of Uncle Mo (why is Mohaymen by Tapit instead of Uncle Mo?) is now 7-for-7, with six graded stakes victories, and the Reddam-O'Neill-Gutierrez triumvirate has a chance to do for racing what American Pharoah did last year and California Chrome did the year before. It's called exhilaration, and it would put the mortuaries on hold a little longer.
The first time Great Attack visited an auction ring was as a short yearling in 2008. The son of Greatness and the Storm Cat mare Cat Attack was consigned by Hidden Brook, agent, who eventually took him home for $10,000.
Nine months later, Great Attack came back at the OBS October sale, and this time Hidden Brook let him go to Solera Farm for a measly $7,000. Six more months go by, and the colt shows up in the Eddie Woods consignment at the 2009 OBS April 2-year-old sale. He sells for $37,000 to Patrice Miller, partner in EQB with bloodstock guru Jeff Seder.
Seder and Miller have a boatload of wealthy racing clients and they assume they will get one or more to take Great Attack. Not a peep. Seder dubs him "The horse nobody wanted." So they come up with the weirdly-named Houyhnhmh Stable, and race the colt themselves.
And Great Attack turns into a better than average, gutty sprinter, especially going short on the grass. They campaign him for five seasons during which he becomes a multiple stakes-winner, and as 2013 is coming to a close - Nov. 20, to be exact - Great Attack is approaching $500,000 in earnings.
On that date, racing five furlongs on the grass under Kent Desormeaux, Great Attack wins a $62,500 allowance optional claimer at Churchill Downs and boosts his earnings to $492,410. And the Houyhnhmns lose him for the $62,500.
Now turn the clock ahead to Saturday at Gulfstream Park. Great Attack is 2-1 on the morning line in the eighth race - five furlongs on the grass for a purse of $24,000 - and the claiming tag is $16,000. The horse nobody wanted is now nine and he turns in a creditable effort, finishing second to Deer Dog as part of the Rainbow Pick 6 saga. Although he's been in several barns since his first claim three years ago, nobody takes him this time. Great Attack earns $4,800 and raises his career total to $717,102 on a sterling record of 11-12-7 in 47 starts. He's the third leading runner for his sire.
Nobody wanted the son of Greatness as a youngster, and Jeff Seder and Patrice Miller will be eternally grateful.
CAN SUNLAND BE REAL? - The racing calendar for Easter Sunday was sparse, with just five tracks running, three of them owned by the Stronach Group. Santa Anita was the wagering leader with a handle of $8.2 million, followed by Gulfstream Park with $5.4 million and Golden Gate Fields with $2.5 million.
Fair Grounds doesn't announce its figures, so Sunland Park is the only one left. Incredibly, an announced crowd of 1,008 wagered $47,399 on-track. That's not a typo. The off-track wagering came to $763,589. Sunland has a casino and if ever a facility was ripe for de-coupling, this is it.
You have to hand it to the "pool prognosticators." With the Rainbow Pick 6 at Gulfstream Park set to be given away today, and a carryover of $4,503,332 on the line, the pool prognosticators prognosticated that there might be more than $15 million in the pot by the time wagering closed prior to the seventh race. They were 8/5 to be wrong, however, they were right on the money.
More than $10.7 million went through the windows, telephones, computers, and various other types of ADW accounts. With a 20 percent takeout on the Pick 6, that left about $8.7 million to be added to the carryover, meaning thousands of players were putting together 20-cent tickets in search of some part of more than $13.2 million. Those who were sharp enough to include Mighty Mo ($8.60), Deer Dog ($15.80), Rose's Dancer ($31.80), Bibbo ($18.80), Harmonize ($6.00) and Appa ($14.20) made a score of $89,456. That is, assuming they bet less than $89,000 to achieve their purpose. Dividing $13.2 million by $89,456 and we get somewhere around 147 winners celebrating at their favorite restaurants tonight.
Oddly enough, not one of the six winners went off favored - even Harmonize was second choice behind Lira ($1.90-1).
I've never been a big fan of the Rainbow because it temporarily takes too much money out of circulation, but I must admit, it gets very exciting when there's a mandatory payout. Especially of this size. Unfortunately for the smaller players who didn't dive in with both fists, they were probably done after two or three races and didn't get to experience the euphoria of watching the final race with a major score on the line.
For the record, the total handle for the Gulfstream program was another blockbuster - $25,941,217. Imagine what it could have been if there was still somebody left who liked the sport.
WHAT A PRODUCER - One of the most remarkable broodmares in Florida over the past 20 years has been Win Approval, Live Oak Stud's daughter of With Approval, who is the dam of Miesque's Approval (12 victories, $2.6 million), Za Approval (9 victories, $1.9 million) and Revved Up (20 victories, $1.5 million), among several other lesser winners. All raced in Charlotte Weber's Live Oak colors.
In today's eighth race at Fair Grounds, the $300,000, Gr. II Munoz Memorial Handicap, another runner from the family finished second. World Approval came from far back under Julien Leparoux and picked up a check for $50,000. The 4-year-old gelding by Northern Afleet is 5-1-2 in 12 starts with earnings of $478,450 and he's getting better.
While the clowns on TVG were mispronouncing Leparoux all day, they added another goodie to their growing list. The horse inside World Approval was Potomac River, and they called him P-atomic. C'est la vie, Julien would say.
A VOTE FOR FRANKIE - The folks at Santa Anita decided - after testing many candidates - that Michael Wrona was the best fit to replace recently-retired announcer Trevor Denman. I guess they didn't want to disrupt the strange accent we grew to love from Denman. But I think they made a mistake; Frank Mirahmadi is at least as good as anybody in the country, and better than most.
BEWARE OF SHILLS - Being a shill for advertisers and sponsors is a regular occurrence, most people in our business do it. But when boosting the clients, there should at least be an element of truth involved. The TVGers constantly pump up Keeneland when a Keeneland horse wins a race. Fine. But yesterday, in doing so with Land Over Sea, who had just won the Gr. II Fair Grounds Oaks, trainer-analyst Ron Ellis felt obligated to mention that the 3-year-old filly was quite a bargain - she was sold at Keeneland for $42,000.
Yes, it's true that Victor Davila bought Land Over Sea for $42,000 as a Keeneland September yearling in 2014. However, he pinhooked her at OBS April last year and she brought $130,000 from Dennis O'Neill. She now runs in the colors of Reddam Racing LLC with Doug O'Neill as her trainer. Come on guys, get serious. And Ellis, of all people, should know better. Especially when the $130,000 OBS April tag was listed right there among her Racing Form past performances for all to see.
Today's subject, as it has been for weeks, is a continuing examination of the "Rise and fall of the thoroughbred industry - according to the media."
Most of the time, the media is swayed one way or another by statistics. But for some reason that can't be explained by rational people, statistics don't seem to matter when it comes the racing. So here are some stats that the media can add to its "ignore" list. What follows is the total handle for the country's five leading tracks for Saturday and Sunday, and the sum of those two days for each:
Gulfstream Park - $16,779,845 + $11,323,898 = $28,103,743.
Aqueduct - $8,122,279 + $7,112,272 = $15,234,551
Santa Anita - $13,003,218 +$11,563,028 = $24,566,246
Tampa Bay Downs - $5,009,549 + $3,427,719 = $8,437,268
Oaklawn Park - $9,124,972 + $2,459,555 = $11,584,335
Total for the five: $87,926,335. Other industries should be in such trouble.
Here's a little tidbit pertaining to the "the old players are dying off and no new players are being made" rant. At Oaklawn on Saturday, a crowd of 35,000 showed up to watch Cupid enter the Triple Crown picture with a sharp score in the Gr. II, $900,000 Rebel; Upstart return after a layoff of six months and romp in the Gr. III, $350,000 Razorback, and once unbeatable Untapable return after 5 1/2 months to get nailed in deep stretch by Call Pat in the Gr. II, $350,000 Azeri.
The on-track handle for the day was $2,122,102, a per capita of $60.63. Now, who are they trying to convince that 35,000 "oldies" turned out to bet $60 each for the day? A picture from overhead would no doubt show youngsters scurrying all over the place and having a ball.
Let's jump to the Mary Ellen Klas-Jeremy Wallace story a few weeks ago that informed us that "There's one thing that nobody's talking about - the slots are declining, too." Here's a fact: The Resorts World Casino New York City (at Aqueduct) has one week left in its fiscal year. The record year for the casino was 2014-2015 when $18.3 billion was dropped into the 5,000 machines, and the net revenue was $813.7 million.
Both records have already been broken - the casino's "credits played" is just under $20 billion and will end up at $20.4 billion at the end of this week. The net revenue is $838.99 million and will end up at 856 million, give or take. If that's an example of declining, I will give up wagering forever. (Not a chance).
Through Feb. 6, the Big A casino had enjoyed just one week in its five-year run with credits in of more than $400 million. The last six weeks have produced six over-$400 million bonanzas, including the highest week ever - $430.4 million.
As for the South Florida casinos, through February of the last fiscal year the total credits in came to $5,202,139,561. The net revenue was $337,954,552 and the tax due to the state was $118,284,093. For the same period this year, the credits in stands at $5,312,934,393, the net revenue $347,411,400 and the tax due $121,593,990. As Jon Lovitz famously uttered in 'A League of Their Own,' " Well, this would be more then, wouldn't it?"
P. S. The gross sales at OBS March last week came to about $50 million. Woe is us!
The morticians who have been retained by a coalition of newspaper editors, legislators, think tankers and the like to bury the "dying thoroughbred industry" have been treated to another week's vacation. The results from Saturday forced the cemetery workers to put down their shovels again and wait for further word from the gloom-and-doom set. Word that promises to be a long time in coming.
The Saturday leader in the handle department was Santa Anita, coming in at $17,769,157 with an attendance of 27,259. Makes you think about the old Yogi Berra quip: "It's so crowded nobody ever goes there anymore." Santa Anita was followed by the other Stronach entity, Gulfstream Park, with $14,806,523, while Aqueduct chimed in at $8,761,639. Oaklawn Park disappointed at $2,996,133 although a crowd of 16,000 wagered $940,685 on-track.
The eye-opener of the weekend was Tampa Bay Downs, with the Gr. II Tampa Bay Derby anchoring a 12-race card that featured four stakes in all, three of them graded. With an on-track crowd of 10,206 as a base, the Oldsmar track posted the highest handle in its history - $12,250,447. The old record set in 2011 was $10,949,948.
That comes to $56,583,899 for the five major tracks.
HERE ARE SOME WEEKEND HIGHLIGHTS:
TAMPA BAY DOWNS - Destin's marvelous victory in the Tampa Bay Derby was notable from many angles. In outgaming Outwork to the wire, he gave Todd Pletcher two more Kentucky Derby probables as the winner picked up 50 qualifying points and the runner-up 20. It was just the third start for Outwork, who had won his first two, and his first stakes try. The clocking of 1:42.82 for the 1 1/16 miles barely edged the track record of 1:42.83 set by Bold Start when he won the Challenger in 2010.
Brody's Cause, the son of Giant's Causeway who went off as the 2-1 favorite, finished seventh for trainer Dale Romans after never lifting his feet. The colt hadn't started since finishing third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile on Oct. 31. Romans said he'll send Brody's Cause to the April 9 Blue Grass.
It will be interesting to see if the country's leading rider, Javier Castellano, opts to go further with Destin considering the show he put on and the number of horses Pletcher has who are Derby-bound. Todd wound up Saturday needing just two victories to reach the 4,000 mark.
In the race prior to the Derby, Robert (Bats) Masterson's Tepin made an incredible late run to win the Gr. II Hillborough on the grass after pacesetter Isabella Sings had opened up so many lengths the other fillies and mares couldn't be seen on the TV screen. But Julien Leparoux kept the Eclipse Award-winning daughter of Bernstein at the front of the pack, so that when she started rolling coming to the turn, she had nobody to pass but Isabella, and she did that in deep stretch in course-record time.
Tepin's clocking of 1:46.26 broke the mile and one-eighth mark of 1:46.55 set by Special Envoy last year and gave the 5-year-old an enviable streak in her last nine races. She has posted seven victories and two seconds for trainer Mark Casse, the losses coming by a nose and a head, and eight of the nine were graded stakes. The $120,000 winner's share increased her earnings to $2,685,973. Before the current streak began in March of last year, Tepin finished eighth in the Gr. I Del Mar Oaks in August of 2014 at odds of 18-1.
Leparoux, whose name is mispronounced in this country almost as frequently as mischievous, had quite a successful trip, coming up from Gulfstream. He finished second in the $100,000 Challenger aboard Neck 'n Neck in a race won by Castellano on Adirondack King ($25.20), then won convincingly aboard first-time starter Formby ($18.20) in a $28,000 maiden special.
Julien then added the $200,000, Gr. III Florida Oaks with Baciami Piccoli ($31), who had started just three times in Europe with one victory, and the Hillsborough with Tepin, before finishing third with Calumet Farm's Star Hill in the Derby.
GULFSTREAM PARK - There were no less than six claims of $6,250 made in Saturday's second race, including the winner, Miss Dejavu, and the runner-up, Climate Change.
The fifth-race winner was Phil's Comprise, a 4-year-old colt by Comprise, a stallion owned by the Rose Family, racing for $12,500. Phil's Comprise came from last place in a field of nine and got up by neck under Vicente Gudiel for his first victory after 42 losses. He paid $90.20 and grabbed a breeder's award for the Rose Family Stable and trainer Barry Rose.
Seven days before, another Rose product, Diana's Comprise, won at Tampa after the Roses shipped her to trainer Alejandro Reyes at the beginning of the meeting. The 4-year-old filly had done well for Reyes, posting a second, three thirds and a fourth before winning for just the second time in 42 tries. She made a monster move on the turn and drew away to score by eight lengths, paying $5.40.
The Rainbow Six made it through another week and shot up to more than $3.1 million. If it isn't hit in the next two weeks, it will be given away on March 26.
A filly with one of the great names in racing, Miss Matzoball, won the $75,000 Captiva Island Stakes for Masie Stable and trainer Roy Lerman. The 4-year-old Smoke Glacken filly scored by half a length in :54.62 for five furlongs on the grass. The course record is :53.75. The filly's dam is the Royal Academy mare Miss Matzo. She's now earned $181,527.
Various theories abound in the world of thoroughbred racing, some with merit, many without, and some that are too difficult to prove.
The "bounce theory" has been shown to be a myth so many times it's hard to comprehend how hardened handicappers can still cling to it. It's the theory that says if a horse runs a hard race, he or she must wait weeks before being expected to run back to that performance. It is debunked constantly. And the problem for the believers is that they have no idea if a horse will "bounce," so they just offer a guess. How many times have we heard one of the TV types pick against a horse because "I think he may bounce." Hardly a sound handicapping tool.
The one that is impossible to prove is the one that is called "the conspiracy theory," defined as an illegal plot. It goes like this: a horse gets in the gate at, say, 4-1, and when the field has gone a quarter of a mile, or more, the odds board changes and the horse in question has dropped to, say, 5/2. The horse in question always breaks on top, or is a strong second or third: we never see a significant odds change on the horse who has come out last in a field of 10.
And, nine times out of 10, the horse wins or is right there at the wire.
The conspiracy theorists are convinced that some sharp hacker, or hackers, have found a way to past-post the track's computers. I am a member of that group. The tote companies and racetracks assure us that it's not happening, but I figure anybody who can hack into governments, banks and corporations, is perfectly capable of doing the same to AmTote and Autotote.
A year or two ago, TVG analyst Gino Buccoli watched a race in which the winner was 5-1 going into the gate, and when he crossed the finish line, his odds had jumped to 7-1. Gino figured he had found something, and exclaimed: "I guess that buries the conspiracy theory." But there was one thing Gino hadn't taken into account. The horse in question had broken from the gate last, remained there for three-quarters of the race and was still last at the top of the stretch. He then swept by the field with a powerful run. It was still a perfect example of the CT. The hacker wasn't going to jump in on a horse who was racing last.
Which brings us to today's fourth race at Gulfstream Park. When Angora moved into the gate with Tyler Gaffalione, he had just dropped from 8-1 to 6-1. The gate opened and Angora shot to the lead, coasting along comfortably. When the odds changed again, he was 4-1. Tyler guided him along with ease and Angora won by 1 1/2 lengths. He paid $10. Perfect fodder for the theorists.
For the benefit of those who like to keep track of just how much trouble the 'dying sport' of thoroughbred racing is in, here are today's figures so you don't have to go through the trouble of finding them yourselves. I know it's a problem for most of you to actually check facts.
Gulfstream led the way today with another robust handle of $16,739,523. Aqueduct chipped in with $10,043,533 even though in New York they have to contend with short fields and no grass racing. Tampa Bay Downs added $6,645,570 to the mix, $287,576 of it on-track for a per capita of $72.58. Oaklawn Park's total was $4,388,208, of which $1,057,037 came on-track. With an announced crowd of 18,500 (sounds fishy), the Hot Springs people are sending it in to the tune of $57.12 per person on-track. Of course, the Hot Springers do know how to throw a party. Santa Anita's wagering was second best for the day - $13,667,279. The per capita for the Hollywood set was $209.76.
Total for the five tracks - $51,484,113. If that's the definition of' 'dying,' one has to wonder what amount would have to be wagered to consider the sport healthy?
MORE OBSERVATIONS FROM A BUSY SATURDAY: Songbird didn't appear to beat much in the Gr. III Santa Ysabel but the way she did it was a thing of beauty. It only added $60,000 to her mounting bank account, which now stands at more than $1.7 million. She won by 3 3/4 lengths, but Mike Smith had her in reverse for the last eighth of a mile. At this rate, she won't be very weary come the Kentucky Oaks, and let's hope they don't change their minds and go for the roses. She's now 6-for-6 by about 35 lengths.
AM I WRONG? - Or does the announcer who subs for John Imbriale at Aqueduct sound a lot like Dave Johnson?
I WISH - TVG would get its salespeople on the ball and go out and get some new advertising. The ad for Web.com (for a free website) plays about 50 times a day and it's making me nuts. The Betfair Casino ad is constant, too, as is the Montel Williams spot for Money Mutual.
By the way, I called Web.com when I made the changes to this website more than a year ago, and believe me, don't believe them. The supposed "professional" web designers came up with the website from hell, and the 'free' is free only until they put your site up. Then it's $119 a month (the first installment of which they took out of my account without telling me. I got it back when I told them to take the horrendous site down).
And I love Montel's two great lines, the first about how over one million people "have turned" to Money Mutual - but no info on how many actually ended up borrowing money. Second, how about the line at the end that informs you that MM's interest rates are so high they have been banned in New York.
GET A THERMOMETER - According to Caton Bredar, a goodly number of horses in the Gulfstream paddock before every race are "looking well." I assume they have all been sick in the recent past. Isn't there at least one horse that looks good?
GOOD FOR LARRY - Gulfstream announcer Larry Collmus is still trying desperately to help the TV analysts pronounce Leparoux correctly. Today, during one winning ride by Julien, Larry loudly enunciated Le-paroux TWICE in the stretch. But it just doesn't hit home. They're still convinced it's either Lay-paroux or Leppa-roux, and, amazingly, they call him both.
The white-hot issue of de-coupling has now reached Daily Racing Form, and the erroneous information prevalent in so many other places hasn't escaped that august publication. And from a corner we would never expect it, no less than Matt Hegarty, one of DRF's stalwarts when reporting about issues, rather than stakes races.
In his column titled "Decoupling at Racing's Doorstep," Matt re-visits all the same old points, but felt compelled to add, "especially at a time when casino revenues have stagnated and the casino industry, like racing, is facing significant questions about its ability to attract younger generations." I think that in my previous column, the issue of declining casinos in Florida and New York was soundly debunked. As for the use of the word stagnating, where is it written that after years of rising revenues there can't be a point where those revenues have reached their pinnacle but are so profitable that stagnation is fine with everybody? Does anyone really expect revenues to rise every year for the rest of time? I doubt it.
Now let's move on, for the umpteenth time, to the issue of "like racing," when discussing declines. Here are the handles for the country's major racetracks from Saturday: Gulfstream Park - $24.1 million; Tampa Bay Downs - $6.3 million; Santa Anita - $11 million; Aqueduct - $8.3 million. That's $50 million total for the four tracks and if that denotes a dying sport we have to re-evaluate what makes a dying sport these days. By the way, the Ocala Breeders Sales Co., in the midst of this dying sport, in 2015 recorded the highest gross for its six sales in the company's 40 years of existence.
Even the FTBOA's own spokesman, Lonny Powell, had to get in on the misinformation act in Hegarty's column. "Here in Florida, we're blessed," Lonny said. "We have an old-school track in Tampa Bay that puts up huge business ontrack and in the simulcast market." Second part true, Tampa does explode in the simulcast market.
However, of the $6.3 million handle Saturday, more than $5.5 million came from out of state, and $475,631 came from elsewhere around Florida. That leaves a paltry $290,696 on track, a number that shines a spotlight on the poor per capita when considering that attendance was listed as 4,125. It computes to a little more than $70 a person, which is the norm for the track, and might be the lowest figure in the country. Compounding the felony is that horsemen (and media) walk in free and uncounted at the paddock entrance, meaning attendance is actually somewhat higher, and the per capita a little lower.
WEEKEND HIGHLIGHTS - Mohaymen performed as expected in the Gr. II Fountain of Youth, coming from behind and scoring by 2 1/4 lengths without the need of urging. The Tapit colt has won five in a row, paid $2.80 and boosted his earnings to $845,350. Shadwell paid $2.2 million for him at Keeneland and he's been well worth it. Mohaymen vs. Nyquist could be Affirmed vs. Alydar all over again.
Cathryn Sophia kept pace with Mohaymen on the fillies' side, winning the Gr. II Davona Dale by seven from off the pace with Javier Castellano, the world's best rider. She paid $2.40 and has earned $335,520, but Cash Is King LLC only had to go to $30,000 at Timonium to nail down the daughter of Street Boss. She's 4-for-4, by a total of 41 lengths.
X Y Jet, the gray Florida-bred gelding by Kantharos, won the Gr. III Gulfstream Park Sprint by 1 1/4, and now sports a five-race winning streak. He's gone past $365,000 in earnings and was a $56,000 OBS August yearling.
Catch a Glimpse, the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf winner for trainer Mark Casse on Oct. 30, made her return and captured the Gr. III Herecomesthebride on the Gulfstream grass, her fourth victory in a row. The daughter of City Zip went for $75,000 at Keeneland and now has $767,562 in the bank. She won by 2 1/2 and paid $3.20.
Yankees' fans had to have Jeter in the third at Aqueduct Saturday. The 7-year-old son of Lawyer Ron won for a $16,000 tag and was claimed for the sixth time since July of 2015. The new trainer, Edward Barker, had him when he was claimed last July. Jeter is 7-7-9 in 41 tries with earnings of $329,154, so it's no wonder he's such a hot item at the claiming box. He was 8-1 for this one under Jackie Davis.
American Phantom finished off the board in the 11th at Gulfstream Saturday, but he has gotten one breeder's award, winning at Gulfstream West in November. The 3-year-old son of Cowtown Cat was bred by Belleview High School and has earned more than $16,000 for P & T Stable.
Tuesday's column discussed the status of pari-mutuels in Florida and elsewhere, and, in particular, the Tampa Bay Times article by Mary Ellen Klas and Jeremy Wallace that detailed the supposed current sad state of affairs. One paragraph that needs to be repeated here: "But as Florida legislators decide whether to ratify a deal with the Seminole Tribe that cements in place the parameters of gaming in the state for the next 20 years, no one is talking about one thing: slot machines are declining, too."
I mentioned that this was a blatant lie and here are the numbers to back it up. For the fiscal year 2014-2015 (July 1 - June 30), the South Florida casinos handled a record $7,979,515,006. That's nearly $8 billion, and it's the amount of money that was dropped into the machines at Gulfstream Park, Calder Casino, Flagler dog track, Miami Jai Alai, Pompano Park, Hollywood dog track, Hialeah Park, and, for a short time, Dania Jai Alai.
For the first seven months of the current fiscal year, the handle is up $79.2 million over the same period last year, meaning that Florida's first $8 billion year is in the works.
Since the Times article was not specific about whether slots were declining just in Florida, which is false, as you can see, let me switch to one of my favorite topics, the Resorts World Casino New York City, at Aqueduct.
Like Florida, the Big A casino has broken a record every year since it opened. For the last fiscal year (April 1 - March 31) the casino handled $18.3 billion in pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters, dollar bills and whatever else they might throw in there. The current fiscal year has just five weeks or so remaining, and in the past few days, the record has already been broken again. The Aqueduct customers have surpassed the $18.3 billion mark and from the way they are sending it in, it appears as though the record they will be shooting for next will be between $20 billion and $21 billion.
In the last fiscal year, the $400 million mark for one week was reached (for the first time) just once, the week crossing over into the new year. In this fiscal year, the $400 million mark has been topped no less than seven times, including the last two weeks. The now-record of $455,618,538 again came during the week ending Jan. 2.
If that sounds like slots are in decline, I need to take offense with all the math teachers I had while growing up. And I certainly take offense to the writers who don't bother to check their facts, especially when the facts are right at their fingertips.
From time to time, to remind the aging set who may have seen it in the past, and to bring it for the first time to many others, I like to refer to an article written in the Blood-Horse magazine sometime in the '90s. The writer discussed at length about how the old-timers who had been betting on racing for decades were slowly dying off, and the sport wasn't making new fans. The younger set was more interested in other forms of entertainment, etc., etc., etc., and racing had little appeal to them. Therefore, the game would soon be obsolete.
At the end of the article, there was a short paragraph in parentheses that explained simply that this piece was reprinted from an issue from the early '60s.
Get the picture? It's now another 20 or so years later and we're still bombarded with the 'dying off and making no new fans' baloney. The newspaper writers of today are mostly in the same boat: they have no real idea about the status of the sport and they take their cues from some other writer of the same ilk who wrote it last week or last month or last year. That writer got it from someone else last week or last month, and so on.
What compounds the felony is that the sports editors of their respective newspapers believe the drivel, because there are usually some juicy quotes from somebody in a think tank who also doesn't have a clue.
In Saturday's edition of the Tampa Bay Times, there's a joint article from Mary Ellen Klas and Jeremy Wallace datelined Tallahassee and headlined, "Slots no sure thing to save betting." This is in response to the recent disclosure of the bill that passed out of the House Regulated Industries Committee pertaining to the de-coupling of tracks and frontons from their casinos and all that goes with it.
Here's the first paragraph of that article: "For years, the owners of the dying dog and horse racing industries have seen salvation in the cherry-spinning fortunes behind slot machines. Their vision was to convert their vast real estate into bold entertainment venues with blue-lighted rooms lined with slots machines, some offering dog racing as a novelty, or thoroughbred derbies as a nostalgic draw."
I have news for the two writers, and it's much like the old saw, "What came first, the chicken or the egg." If they weren't so quick to throw thoroughbred racing into the same old tub as the others, and had asked for guidance from thoroughbred people who understand the sport, they would have known that there were no real estate operators who turned their holdings into gaming venues and added derbies "as a nostalgic draw." We who do get it all know that the racing was there first - for 100 years, for cryin' out loud.
Among the many aspects of this article that brought my blood to a boil was that nowhere in it was there a quote from anybody in the thoroughbred industry. All the gloom and doom came from other venues, and think tank specialists, you know, the types who proclaimed several months ago that Donald Trump was a fad and would soon be gone from memory. We know how that brilliant prognostication turned out.
From the other side, the slots themselves, here's what the writers deduced: "But as Florida Legislators decide whether to ratify a deal with the Seminole Tribe that cements into place the parameters of gaming in the state for the next 20 years, no one is talking about one thing: slot machines are declining, too." I absolutely loved that one. No one's talking about it because it's a blatant lie. It's an area that you don't have to take anybody's word for it, you just have to own a computer that can Google the Florida Board of Business and Professional Regulation, then click on the line that brings up casino results. It isn't brain surgery - we leave that to Ben Carson. Back to this area little later.
Here are some of those quoted, and what they let us in on: "There is no hope for the pari-mutuels to ever become what they once were," said Dave Jonas, the owner of Casino Miami, home to one of the state's last jai alai frontons. (For the record, they still play jai alai in Miami, Dania and Ft. Pierce, and a version of it in Ocala and Orlando). Unfortunately, Mr. Jonas didn't just stick to his own plant, he had to throw a blanket over all of them. So I'll clue him in.
In 1979, advertising and public relations guru David Goldman of Ocala was hired by Sam F. Davis, then president of Florida Downs (now Tampa Bay Downs), to help bring the daily average handle at the track up to $300,000 or more, which it had never done. Sam offered David a $10,000 bonus if he could make it happen. David pulled out every marketing gimmick in the book and with two weeks left in the meeting, the average was up around $309,000. Then the sno-birds began leaving the Bay area in droves, and the number dropped to $297,500 by season's end. The meeting was less than 90 days then and the total handle was somewhere between $20 million and $26 million.
Now, due to the wonders of simulcasting, Tampa Bay Downs is one of the favorite betting venues among race fans across North America. Here are some recent handles for Tampa, and they're not cherry-picked in order to prove my point. I simply grabbed newspapers laying around from the last few weeks and wrote down the handle for the day.
Wednesday, Feb. 3 - $4,342,952; Friday, Feb. 19 - $4,290,925; Saturday, Feb. 20 - $6,557,452; Sunday, Feb. 21 - $4,418,724; and, last, but not least, Saturday, Feb. 13, the day, ironically, they ran the Sam F. Davis Stakes, $10,743,714. On that same day, the handle at Gulfstream Park reached $15,147,691, and at Santa Anita it was $12,429,620. A few weeks before, Gulfstream had a $20 million-plus Saturday.
If the sport of thoroughbred racing is "dying," somebody needs to tell its customers so they can make plans to take up other interests.
Here's another brilliant quote: "I don't believe pari-mutuels can be saved," said Izzy Havenick, vice president of his family-owned Magic City Casino (Flagler dogs) and owner of greyhound tracks in Miami-Dade and Lee counties."It's slow. It's boring. If you live in Florida it's hot and rainy. Most people under 40, they will never go outside and look at the racetrack. Unless there is some way to make dog, horse racing or jai alai exciting again, I don't see the pari-mutuels surviving as tracks." There we go again, the owner of a run-down dog track believing he has to speak for thoroughbred interests instead of sticking to his own dilapidated track.
A great portion of the Times article focused on the supposed decline of South Florida's slots venues. Here are some statistics pertaining to the slots: In the fiscal year 2012-2013 (July 1-June 30), the total amount of money that was slipped into the machines was $6,690,513,855. For 2013-2014 it came to $7,953,655,789. For 2014-2015 the number was a record $7,979,515,006. Remember, that first digit is billions.
For the first six months of the current fiscal year, the total is $3,838,683,245, but January, February and March are typically the best three months of the year so the final tally should be close to or better than last year's record betting.
A long time ago, Priscilla Mullens said to Mr. Alden, "Why don't you speak for yourself, John?" The thoroughbred industry doesn't need dog track owners, jai alai fronton owners and think tankers to speak for it.
Note to Mary Ellen Klas and Jeremy Wallace: I assume you ran out of room this time so you'll have the quotes from Frank Stronach or Tim Ritvo of Gulfstream Park, and Stella Thayer or Peter Berube of Tampa Bay Downs, in a future column.
A few weeks ago, after the Florida Farm Managers forum at Jumbolair explained the pros and cons of de-coupling, several people were of the opinion that I favored de-coupling, as opposed to everybody else in the industry who opposed it. I did favor de-coupling, but only up to a point.
The Florida Senate Regulated Industries Committee passed two pieces of legislation yesterday that, if passed by both houses of the legislature, will dramatically change the complexion of pari-mutuels in the state, for the better. The first authorized a $3 billion gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe; the second would allow most pari-mutuel facilities in the state to decide whether or not to continue offering their live product.
Here's a breakdown of the most important points:
(1) De-coupling would be authorized for dog tracks, harness tracks, quarter horse tracks and jai alai frontons, any of which could discontinue their sport and still be allowed to retain their casinos and/or poker rooms. This option would not available for Gulfstream Park's regular meetings or for Tampa Bay Downs. In return, the facilities that opt to discontinue their respective sports, would have to contribute to a $25 million a year "purse pool" to the other entities.
(2) Summer thoroughbred racing is also included in the de-coupling plan, meaning the two months of racing at Calder would not have to be held, even by Gulfstream. Of course, if Gulfstream decided not to hold the meeting at "Gulfstream West," it would be the perfect time for John Brunetti to regain his thoroughbred permit and return thoroughbred racing to Hialeah Park, something he has been trying to accomplish for many years. This would be a major boon to South Florida owners and trainers, who would not have to close shop for two months.
(3) This blog has been calling for the state to reduce the 35% pari-mutuel tax since the day it began - the bill would do just that. The new tax would be 25%, and what a difference that would make. Here's an example: For the fiscal year 2014-2015, Gulfstream 's net slots revenue came to $49,103,653, and the state tax was $17,186,279, leaving Gulfstream with $31,921,374. At the 25% rate, the tax would have been $12,275,913, and Gulfstream would have retained an extra $4,910,366. That's significant. In addition, facilities with slots would be allowed to add blackjack to their menus. Another major source of revenue for all concerned.
This bill, of course, has just passed through a senate committee. None of the resulting rhetoric may be relevant, and, the Florida House and the Seminole Tribe are expected to oppose the bill. Some lawmakers have made the age-old stupid remark about the "expansion of gambling," and anybody who utters that phrase is living in the dark ages. We have more gambling in this country than anywhere in the world and it's not going to end.
Everybody should embrace this bill.
Analysts and columnists have decreed that 2015 was an exciting and exceptional year for racing. I have deduced that much of that euphoria was derived as a result of American Pharoah's Triple Crown heroics, and I think this year will prove to be twice as euphoric.
There are currently a slew of colts and fillies who have shown so much promise that if they all can stay healthy, from somewhere up above Sinatra will have to add 2016 to his lyrics of "A very good year."
Already, filly champion Songbird has proven she's an awesome sort and colt champion Nyquist made it six in a row today by winning the Gr. II San Vicente in 1:20:71 for seven furlongs. Frosted has won across the sea, California Chrome is back for more, Hoppertunity made a successful return, Mohaymen was untouchable winning the Gr. II Holy Bull, and champion Tepin's debut under Julien Leparoux in the Gr. III Lambholm South Endeavour Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs Saturday was a thing of beauty.
(In the winner's circle I told Julien that the next time Caton Bredar interviews him at Gulfstream he should tell her how to pronounce his name. Julien laughed, but he's too humble, I think, to correct the problem).
Adding to the forecast for this season are a bunch of not-so-famous names who have proven in the last few weeks they might make things interesting for the front-runners.
Here are a few of them:
Cathryn Sophia - This 3-year-old filly by Street Boss won twice last year by 12 3/4 lengths at Parx and 16 1/4 in the Gin Talking Stakes at Laurel, both in wire-to-wire efforts under R. J. Rosado. Trainer John Servis brought her to Gulfstream for the Gr. II Forward Gal and she took a different tack under similarly-named Joel Rosario. Joel didn't put her on the lead, and when he asked her to go, the filly took off like the proverbial scalded cat and cruised home by 5 1/2. Cathryn Sophia raced seven furlongs in 1:22:04 without raising a sweat and paid all of $2.20.
Awesome Banner - This 3-year-old colt by Awesome of Course comes from the overflow barn of Fred Brei, owner of Jacks or Better Farm. He's trained by Stanley Gold, who has put Brei in the winner's circle with alarming regularity over the last six or seven years, most notably in Florida Sire Stakes races. Awesome Banner went wire-to-wire in his Gulfstream debut last June, winning by 9 3/4, then sat out until Jan. 2 when he returned to capture the Gr. III Hutcheson Stakes by 4 3/4 in 1:09:57 for the six furlongs. The colt came back in the Jan. 30 Gr. II Swale and won by five at odds of 4/5, getting the seven furlongs in 1:21:81.
Remember, Brei's Awesome of Course is the sire of champion Awesome Feather and near millionaire Fort Loudon, among other stalwarts, so he's no slouch in the breeding shed.
Smokey Image - On the other coast, this 3-year-old colt made his 2016 debut in the $250,000 California Cup Derby with Victor Espinoza aboard for the first time and went wire-to-wire by 8 1/2 lengths at odds of 2/5. As a 2-year-old, the son of Southern Image was 5-for-5 for trainer Carla Gaines, so he's now unbeaten in six. He won four minor stakes, too, so he's on a five-stakes winning spree and has earned $435,100.
Sunday Rules - She's now five, but she's no less intriguing then the ones above. A daughter of Tribal Rule, she came into the new year with eight starts on her card (seven victories and a third) and earnings of $444,840. She made it 8-for-9, with three straight victories, by way of a wire-to-wire score against males in the $150,000 Don Valpredo California Cup Sprint. Sunday Rules won by 2 1/4 in 1:08:42 for six furlongs.
Last (and certainly least for the time being) - is Tiger Blood, a 3-year-old colt by Cowtown Cat who was bred by Brent and Crystal Fernung at their Journeyman Stud. They sold the colt for a meager $4,500 at the OBS August yearling sale in 2014, but got a measure of satisfaction when the colt broke his maiden in his career debut for owner Miguel Barraza, who already has himself a bargain. Tiger Blood earned $13,900 for his score and the Fernungs collected a $2,000 breeder's award. Tiger Blood, by the way, won by 9 1/4 lengths under pickup rider Pablo Morales, clocked in 1:09:90 for six furlongs. And he went off at 14-1.
Seems like a very good year lies ahead, indeed.
Robert E. Masterson’s 5-year-old Tepin fits the bill on all counts. Her 2016 debut, which is scheduled to take place in tomorrow's Gr. III, $150,000 Lambholm South Endeavour Stakes on the grass at Tampa Bay Downs, has been eagerly anticipated by insiders and horse racing fans since her dominant victory in the Breeders’ Cup Mile on the turf at Keeneland against a field of males on Oct. 31.
Tepin nailed down the Eclipse Award as 2015 Champion Grass Female with that effort, to go with three other graded stakes victories, including the Gr. I Longines Just a Game at Belmont Park and the Gr. I First Lady at Keeneland.
Trainer Mark Casse is making no secret of his desire to put Tepin in position for a run at another Breeders’ Cup triumph and back-to-back Eclipse Awards. He is tentatively planning to point her to the Gr. I Maker’s Mark Mile against males at Keeneland on April 15.
“We feel she is training super,” said Casse, whose son Norman is mainly responsible for the Kentucky-bred’s day-to-day care. “She is the same Tepin we saw last year, and we’re expecting big things from her again.”
Julien Leparoux, who rode Tepin in each of her seven 2015 starts, has been named to ride her in the mile-and-a-sixteenth Lambholm South Endeavour.
The daughter of Bernstein-Life Happened, by Stravinsky, is one of four horses entered by Casse for the Festival Preview Day Presented by Lambholm South card, which offers $650,000 in stakes purses. Post time for the first of 12 races is 12:15 p.m. The Lambholm South Endeavour is the eighth race on the card.
Other expected starters from the Casse barn include Gary Barber’s 5-year-old mare, Lexie Lou, in the Lambholm South Endeavour, with Antonio Gallardo slated to ride; Barber’s 3-year-old gelding Whatawonderflworld, in the Gr. III, $250,000 Sam F. Davis Stakes, with Jose Lezcano in the irons; and John C. Oxley’s 6-year-old, Sky Captain, in the Gr. III, $150,000 Tampa Bay Stakes, with Gallardo aboard.
The Sam F. Davis, to be contested at a mile-and-a-sixteenth on the main dirt track, is the fifth race on the card. The Tampa Bay Stakes, a mile-and-a-sixteenth turf event, is the 10th. Also on the card is the $100,000 Suncoast Stakes, a mile-and-40-yard main track race for 3-year-old fillies carded as the ninth race.
The Lambholm South Endeavour Field also includes multiple graded-stakes winner Lady Lara, from the barn of trainer William Mott; Gr. I winner Photo Call, trained by Todd Pletcher; and multiple-stakes winner Partisan Politics, trained by Chad C. Brown.
The 12-horse Tampa Bay Stakes shapes up as an extremely competitive race. Sky Captain will be making his first start since Nov. 15, and while his ledger includes a victory in the Gr. III Dominion Day Stakes at Woodbine in July of 2014, he has not entered the winner’s circle in six subsequent starts.
Sinatra would have reported 2013 as "Not a very good year" for Florida stallions. After enjoying a season-long dogfight last year among First Dude, Gone Astray and Big Drama along with more than 10 others making a smaller dent, 2016 promises to be rather dull in the freshman sire department.
There are just five frosh sires who began in 2013 listed in the Florida Horse Stallion Register, although there are usually a few others who we'll find out about as the season progresses. Last year, Iqbaal and Brooks n' Down both popped up with no advance fanfare and achieved some success with a limited number of runners.
One of the two most prominent frosh sires for 2016 will be Woodford Thoroughbreds' Biondetti, the only son of Bernardini standing in Florida and winner of the Gr. I Gran Criterium in Italy. He was bred to 108 mares in 2013 and has 72 registered foals. Biondetti is a half-brother to multiple graded stakes-winner Delta Princess, dam of the great three-time champion Royal Delta.
The second sire expected to contend is Ocala Stud's Overdriven, a son of Tale of the Cat and winner of the Gr. II Sanford at Saratoga among just three starts. He's a half-brother to the multiple graded stakes-winner and millionaire Smooth Air. Overdriven was bred to 110 mares and has 65 registered foals. He's the only son of Tale of the Cat in Florida.
Field Commission was listed as a frosh sire in 2015 after having been a late arrival at Solera Farm in 2012. He produced just three foals the next season, one of whom raced in 2015 without winning. We understand he has been given special dispensation by The Jockey Club and will be considered a freshman again this season. The millionaire son of Service Stripe was bred to 56 mares in his second go-around and has 35 registered foals, so he could be a factor.
Revolving is a son of A. P. Indy standing at Stonehedge Farm South in Williston. He's a half-brother to Hopeful winner and millionaire Circular Quay and was bred to 20 mares, with 14 registered foals.
Reward the Cat is an unraced son of Good Reward who stands at Buena Vista Farm. He's a half-brother to some serious runners, including GI winner Traitor, Pennsylvania Derby winner and millionaire Sun King and the multiple graded stakes-winning filly Ocean Drive. Unfortunately, he was bred to just four mares and has three registered foals.
During the pari-mutuel fiscal year that ended on June 30, South Florida's 7 1/2 casinos did nearly $8 billion worth of business. The net revenue came to more than $521 million, and the state's 35 percent share in tax money was $182,584,841. And what does Rick Scott do with that money? He pretty much throws it in the street.
In a front-page story in today's Tampa Bay Times, the best newspaper in the state detailed how the worst governor in the history of Florida is about to dump $150 million into an extension of the Suncoast Parkway, starting just north of Brooksville and ending just north of Crystal River.
When the current parkway was first built, in 1992, some dolts (they were called consultants) projected that traffic would be so plentiful that the toll road would take in $150 million a year by 2014. After not coming close for six years, the projection had been lowered several times and was then at $38 million. In 2014, the actual take was $22 million. Just a little bit off, one might surmise.
(The parkway actually is a major time-saver for anyone coming to Tampa Bay Downs from the Ocala area or anywhere close. It's accessible from north Dale Mabry and saves a ton of time and trouble by having an exit just a few minutes from the track).
The consultant, San Francisco-based URS Greiner-Woodward, has in the past provided "sunny forecasts" for four other local projects, and all were way off the mark. In 2000, URS officials told the Times they were "basically guessing." No kidding.
Now, the Florida Dept. of Transportation wants to spend another $256.7 million for the northward expansion and a lot of people want to know why. Two years ago, URS was replaced by a company called Aecom, which holds a $5.9 million contract annually for making toll road projections. That figure is not a basic guess. But it's like stealing.
Last year, Gov. Scott injected $150 million into the new project which is being contested from all sides for a ton of valid reasons, not the least of which is that there is no reason to believe that the road will pay for itself when the southern half has proven to be such a failure. If the governor is so willing to throw away $150 million, he should first consider giving it back to the pari-mutuel facilities from whence it came. And he should be made to explain why he wants this project - unlike all the past incidents where the dictator has flat out refused to answer any questions from the press or anybody else.
CASINO BETTING IS DROPPING - At the halfway mark of the fiscal year, casino revenue was down somewhat from 2014-15, partly because Dania Jai Alai closed for renovations in October of 2014. The plant re-opened recently, but since the Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering's chart of monthly slot activity is more than a month behind, we don't have any new numbers for the fronton yet.
Of the others, Pompano Park is still well ahead of the pack with $66.3 million in revenue, followed by Flagler dogs with $41.7 million. In third place is Calder at $35.6 million, due to the highest takeout - 9.08% - among the facilities. Next comes Hialeah Park - $33 million, followed by Miami Jai Alai - $29.4 million; Hollywood dogs - $22.2 million, and Gulfstream Park - $22 million. Pompano - 9.04% - and Hollywood - 8.01% - also have a higher takeout than Gulfstream's 7.68%.
When the horses approached the gate for the fifth race at Aqueduct yesterday, Ocalans Niall and Stephanie Brennan's Indian Soldier had just passed the century mark on the tote board. The reason was obvious - the 3-year-old New York-bred Street Boss gelding had raced twice, at Belmont Park and Aqueduct, and had finished 10th and eighth, beaten a total of 34 lengths.
Indian Soldier left from the No. 10 post with Gabriel Saez in a 12-horse field racing six furlongs for a purse of $55,000. The break didn't help the gelding's chances; by the way, he went off finally at 104-1.
Indian Soldier bobbled as the gate opened, was bumped around from both sides, and Saez found himself 10th, 10 1/4 lengths behind, as the field reached the quarter. Indian Soldier was still 8 1/4 lengths behind at the half, and Saez took him six wide on the turn to try to get into contention, and the steed responded. He put it in overdrive down the lane and, although still two lengths behind winner Unstoppable at the wire, he nosed out Saratoga Charlie for the place.
Here are the vital statistics: Indian Soldier paid $76.50 to place and $29.20 to show. The $2 exacta paid $1,149; the $2 trifecta $10,052; and the $2 superfecta $65,031. No word yet on whether Niall and Stephanie shared any of that bonanza, but we'll find out. They did pick up $11,000 for second having collected all of $538 for Indian Soldier's first two efforts. And, the New York breeder's award - 7.5 % of the purse - came to $4,125. Comedian Yakov Smirnov would have put it proper perspective: "What a country!"
Everywhere I go, de-coupling appears to be the No. 1 topic on the mind of every person I talk to who's involved with thoroughbreds. And the crux of the matter is not whether Dania Jai Alai or Hollywood dogs or Miami Jai Alai would or would not sever relations with their sports in favor of just keeping their casino permits. The only concern is the fate of Gulfstream Park.
Nobody is worried that Frank Stronach would close his venerable track, he's just too into the game from every angle; racing, breeding, stallions, etc. And, based on his sterling reputation concerning the way he takes care of his employees, he probably wouldn't want to upend any of their lives. Rather, it's the prospect of what happens when Stronach is no longer around. Like a few of us, he's not getting any younger.
Although I have heard from some that his daughter would continue to operate the racetrack, others have told me in no uncertain terms that it isn't so. She would shutter it in a heartbeat. I wish I had her phone number.
So, to placate all those who have genuine concerns about their livelihoods, I have come up with the solution that should please everyone. Right now, way before the fact, we organize a group of wealthy Florida farm owners, breeders and the like to strike a deal with Stronach to buy Gulfstream Park when he is no longer around to revel in the statue of Pegasus.
Of course, some provision would have to be made for the new owners to also take over the casino and the poker room in order to maximize the profits and keep Gulfstream's purses at the high level they are now. Perhaps the group could buy 75 percent of the assets and the Stronach family could retain the other 25 percent.
Here's a quickly-put-together list of some who might be interested in getting in on the deal and I picked them because I know they all have the means to make it happen. I also know I'll leave somebody out who belongs on the list and I apologize in advance.
Charlotte Weber, owner of Live Oak Stud; John and Leslie Malone, owners of Bridlewood Farm; Don Dizney, owner of Double Diamond Farm; Mandy Pope, owner of Whisper Hill Farm; Benjamin Leon Jr., owner of Besilu Stables; the Steinbrenner Family, owners of Kinsman Farm; Leonard Lavin, owner of Glen Hill Farm; Mrs.Virginia Kraft Payson, owner of Payson Park; John Sykes, owner of Woodford Thoroughbreds, and Peter Vegso, owner of Vegso Racing Stable. Also, me, because I can't resist a good deal.
There were times in the distant past when this idea was seriously bandied about for both Gulfstream and Hialeah Park, and because of the critical nature of the current situation, maybe those discussions should be brought back to life. Like my grandmother from Russia used to say about chicken soup:"It couldn't hurt."
Proponents of pari-mutuel racing in Marion County might take heart based on the results of wagering on the first two races at the OBS Championships yesterday at the OBS Training Center. Granted, two races is not an objective sample with which to make a sound judgement, especially when one was a quarter horse race with just five entrants, but it has to be put in perspective.
The quarter horse race generated a win-place-show handle of $3,629, with another $1,744 in the exacta pool, and $1,818 in the daily double. The second race, the $50,000 OBS Sprint Stakes for colts and geldings, which drew a field of 13, generated $10,469 across the board and $5,892 in exacta wagers. That's a total of $23,552 for the two races, compared with $21,212 last year and less than $16,000 in 2014.
Using a little logic, one might expect that based on the betting on the second race, a full card of, say, nine races could generate an average handle of $18,000 to $20,000 a race and $150,000 to $200,000 a day. Of course, that depends on how many racing days a week the area could handle without customers losing interest.
Tampa Bay Downs, during the week, only generates $200,000 to $300,000 a day on-track, mainly because the per capita in the Bay area has always been unusually low. A per capita of $60 or $70 for 2,000 people adds up to less than $150,000. But the wonderfully appealing nature of the Tampa program, keyed by its superb turf course, makes it a welcome target for out-of-state bettors and the track regularly hits $4 million days.
The difference is that the Bay area people who can make it to the track in mid-week are retirees or the like, whereas OBS draws horse owners, breeders, farm workers and even the media, who are much more likely to send it in than their Tampa counterparts. The place was crawling with them yesterday.
First - $10,000 quarter horse race. Won by Cootinks Flying Ace, who pays $4.80 as the 7/5 favorite. 440 yards in 22.029 - track record 21.860.
Second - $50,000 OBS Sprint Stakes for colts and geldings. Won by Danbury, a son of Ocala Stud's two-time leading sire Kantharos. Eddie Castro rides and the win payoff is $46. Drama Club, a son of Big Drama, finishes third. The 4/5 favorite, Pinstripe, with Eclipse Award-winner Javier Castellano,. gets in all kinds of early trouble and closes to be fifth. 6f - 1:10.40.
Third - $50,000 OBS Sprint Championship for fillies. Won by Social Butterfly, with Scott Spieth. One-half length behind is another Kantharos - Kandoo, who picks up $20,000 for second under Eclipse Award-winning apprentice Tyler Gaffalione. 6f-1:10.80.
Fourth - $100,000 OBS championship for fillies. Won by Vieja Luna, a Street Hero filly who goes wire-to-wire under Emisael Jaramillo and scores by 2 1/2. The $60,000 check brings her total to $122,098. 1 1/16 miles - 1:45.
Fifth - $100,000 OBS Championship for colts and geldings. Won by Whatawonderflworld, a Mark Casse-trained gelding by New York-bred Tiz Wonderful who outgames Two Step Time to the wire by one length in a driving finish under Jose Lezcano. The runner-up is by red-hot Two Step Salsa who collects $20,000 for owner Manny Andrade of Get Away Farm, where the stallion stands.
An excellent indicator of how a successful freshman sire will fare as a sophomore is often how he does at the start of the new year. January and February are important, first to see if last year's runners continue to perform well, and second, to see if the ones who have been given more time now come out to play.
Last year's Florida leader, Double Diamond Farm's First Dude, had 16 winners and progeny earnings of just under $1 million. So far, three weeks into 2016, he has four winners and $86,899. Not bad.
The third-place finisher, Northwest Stud Farm's Gone Astray, had 10 winners and earners of nearly $700,000. He's off to a better start, with five winners and earnings of $102,000.
Which leaves No. 2, Bridlewood Farm's Big Drama, who had 13 winners and five stakes horses. Thus far, he has but one winner, and earnings of $45,385. But his one winner's race has to be seen to be believed. The victory came from Instant Drama on Jan. 16 in the fifth at Santa Anita.
The 3-year-old filly who had been a $40,000 purchase at OBS April drew the No. 4 post racing six furlongs under Drayden Van Dyke. In her lone prior start, back in October, she was off slowly, sat seventh in a field of nine, then closed with a rush to get up for fourth, beaten 2 3/4 lengths with Joe Talamo aboard.
This time, Instant Drama was off less than slowly, and lagged behind in last place in the 10-filly field until the turn. Midway on the turn, she finally caught the horse in front of her, swung wide into the six or seven path into the stretch, and began to close. After she passed a couple of horses, Instant Drama put it into rocket gear and picked up 10 lengths on the leader, getting up by one-half length at the wire. The six furlongs went in 1:11.12. It was an astonishing result and Instant Drama has to be a filly to watch carefully in her upcoming races.
The Eclipse Award voters got it right in every category, except for possibly one, but the balloting again lost some of its luster when a few lunkheads opted to turn in entries that were a joke, to say the least. Putting a checkmark next to a horse who has absolutely no right to be included in the conversation should be a violation of a media or organizational-type person's responsibility as a voting member.
The person who voted for Catch a Glimpse as best 2-year-old filly while Songbird grabbed the other 260 was a farce. A unanimous pick is an honor and if any horse ever deserved that honor, Songbird was it. Four victories in four starts, three Gr. I's including the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, all by daylight, and one jerk thought that wasn't enough to win the award? Too often, voters throw a bone to one of their friends when there's no chance of the horse winning. Why? What purpose does it serve?
Same holds true for the three dodos who voted for Mohaymen and the three who decided to abstain instead of tabbing Nyquist as best 2-year-old colt. The guy was sensational, and with one more victory than Songbird.
As for Big Blue Kitten winning male turf horse with 134 votes, and Golden Horn finishing second with 63, that's another joke. Golden Horn raced once in the U. S., was second behind the 3-year-old Irish filly Found in the Breeders' Cup Turf, and that's all that anybody needed to know. That Golden Horn won the Arc is of no relevance. These are not the European Eclipse Awards!
Runhappy won as best sprinter with 255 votes, while Private Zone picked up two and Mongolian Saturday and Secret Circle one each. How do you justify picking Private Zone when he got dusted in the Breeders' Cup Sprint by Runhappy, who only won five straight all by himself, including the one on the sport's biggest day?
And don't get me started on Stopcharging Maria, with four votes, and Sheer Drama, with one, preventing Beholder from becoming a unanimous winner. How do you beat 5-for-5, all stakes, including three Gr. I's, by a combined total of 24 1/4 lengths? Did they punish her for being scratched from the Classic? Why?
Last, but not least, older dirt male. Honor Code (126) over Liam's Map (95). Honor Code won 3-of-6, the Gr. II Gulfstream Park Handicap, and Gr. I Metropolitan Mile and Whitney. None of them still command the prestige they once had. Liam's Map lost the Whitney by a neck, won the Gr. I Woodward by nearly five, and was untouchable in the Breeders' Cup Mile, on a day when Honor Code finished a well-beaten third in the Classic. This one should have gone the other way. In my opinion.
And it's time to boot out the voters who who didn't take it all seriously.
WHAT HAPPENED? - The Tampa Bay Times, which used to cover racing with a flair, must be falling on hard times. The current coverage is disgraceful.
Racing writer Don Jensen's Saturday column is almost always an essay on what's going on at Derby Lane dog track, usually about 15 or 16 paragraphs. That's followed by one paragraph mentioning that Tampa Bay Downs is open today and post time is 12:25. There are many great stories emanating from Oldsmar, such as the current one that Antonio Gallardo has won at least one race every day for the last 15 days. And that he has won 54 races in 27 days, a tremendous feat. Gallardo was the second-leading rider in the country last year with 317 victories, second only to Eclipse Award-winning Javier Castellano's 339.
Instead, we get a dissertation on a dog that's going for two in a row. And it's not that Tampa Bay Downs doesn't advertise in the Times, their one-third pagers must cost a fortune.
As the new year begins, the most important area of concern for Florida's pari-mutuel operators and the owners and breeders of thoroughbreds in the state is the issue of de-coupling. The subject that has several industries in a constant buzz was addressed in spades Saturday evening during a round-table discussion as part of the festivities at the annual Awards Dinner of the Florida Thoroughbred Farm Managers' Assn. at Jumbolair Aviation Estates.
A large crowd attended the affair, and was treated to a responsible overview of the situation by a panel of industry leaders who pointed out the critical ramifications and harm that would result if the South Florida pari-mutuels were allowed to discontinue their live product and remain open only for casino and poker play.
Among the featured speakers were George Russell, President of the FTBOA; Tom Ventura, President of OBS; Bill White, President of the Florida HBPA; George Birkhold, Treasurer of the Florida Standardbred Breeders and Owners Assn., and Ron Smith, newly-elected President of the Florida Quarter Horse Assn. Aside from explaining the ins and outs of de-coupling from every angle, the group implored every attendee to contact someone in Tallahassee to voice their objection to de-coupling, and to tell their friends to do the same.
(One interesting moment came when a well-dressed gentleman not at the dais stood up and added to the discussion as if he was somebody important. But he never told the audience who he was, I assume because he felt he was important enough that everybody knew him by sight. I never saw him before in my life and I asked many others, and they didn't know him, either. Turns out it was Rep. Dennis Baxley of Ocala. Then I understood).
It's no secret that a cessation of racing at Gulfstream Park would cripple the thoroughbred industry in Florida, including all the related businesses which derive the bulk of their income from it. So, the main question is, "What will Frank Stronach do if de-coupling passes the legislature?"
Nobody seemed to have the answer to that question, but to a man the issue of the Gulfstream owner's age keeps popping up. The FTBOA reports that it, the FHBPA and Gulfstream have "forged a solid collaborative alliance to oppose or alter" the de-coupling plans. So somebody must have gotten an opinion from Hallandale Beach. We just haven't been informed what it is.
It's hard to imagine Stronach ending racing at Gulfstream, no matter what happens in Tallahassee. He has farms everywhere, mares, stallions, and five or six other racetracks around the country. What his heirs might do is another question that needs to be answered. Currently, Gulfstream is having a sensational meeting at the same time that tracks up north struggle to fill their cards, and have to cancel racing too often for customers to get a continuous feel for the game.
On Saturday, Gulfstream's handle was a rousing $12,161,483, while Aqueduct, usually the nation's leader, checked in at $8.3 million. The next day, while Gulfstream was doing $6,584,614 worth of business, Aqueduct ran its first seven races in a blanket of fog and race-caller John Imbriale was unable to distinguish the horses at various points. Then NYRA mercifully called off the last two races. Even on Wednesday, a notoriously slow gambling day due to limited opportunities across the country, Gulfstream still handled $5,634,030.
As for de-coupling in certain instances, I don't think anybody but the employees would lose any sleep if Dania Jai Alai and Miami Jai Alai were able to close down their live product. Jai Alai has become a dinosaur in both places. Dania has been shuttered for a year or more for renovations, and we haven't heard a peep about it. However, in return for this gesture, the legislation should be clear that both places have to pay a fee of some kind to the racetracks. Maybe the state's legislators could help make up for the frontons' payments by lowering the casino takeout from 35% to 32 or 33%. (Just a joke).
FTBOA propaganda keeps telling us that there are facilities that want to discontinue live performances, but never mentions which ones. If the FTBOA knows this information as fact, it is its duty to inform the membership. That's the way it used to be in the days of Charlie Frentz and Ket Barber, before the veil of secrecy invaded the organization.