Sunday, November 2, 2014

Racing Put on the Defensive - Again

I’d love to just recap my picks yesterday (not bad but not great), throw in Maryjean’s win Friday night (just great!) and add in the wonderful hospitality of just about everyone at Hawthorne Race Course where we spent the Breeders’ Cup on Saturday. 

I’m no Chromie, but California Chrome ran big.  Main Sequence and Untapable were tremendous.  The upsets and payoffs throughout the BC were amazing!

However, the cloud hanging over the Classic unfortunately needs some discussion.

Fortunately for me (we have a 7 hour plus drive ahead of us to western Iowa today!), Bill Finley summarized very well the reasoning why Bayern should have come down.  You can read that here. I do disagree with his assessment of the Horse of the Year voting, but otherwise I’m right there with him. 

I would add a couple of points of my own to the discussion as well:

There are those who argue that the race was long and there was time to make up the setback at the start and the others just couldn’t do it.  I would come back with not only Finley’s argument that the entire complexion of the race changed but would also add then that you’ve opened up the start of a horse race to all kinds of antics.

Picture this conversation in some paddock in the future: “Our main competition is on your inside.  When you break, dive in hard – don’t topple him or anything, just knock him off stride.  The race is a mile and a sixteenth so the stews won’t bother you and we get clear sailing from there on out.”

Is that just “race riding”?  Or is it setting a very dangerous precedent for horse and rider?  Is that just “playing the game”?  Is it cheating?  Rubbin’ may be racing in NASCAR, but it’s not in horse racing.  Jostling happens but taking out your rivals…that needed to be called.  Bayern probably just got away from Garcia, but that doesn't make it okay either.  And I would ask those defending it, just exactly where is the dividing line between where it matters and where it doesn’t?  A mile?  Five furlongs?  Just Quarter Horse racing so Thoroughbred racing should be an anything goes slugfest?

I’ve watched the head on too many times now and there are two things I DON’T see that everyone defending the non-decision says happened: I did not see where Garcia tried to correct immediately and I certainly didn’t see where an alleged “slow break” by Shared Belief cost him.  In watching the replay, Beyern never took a straight step.  He angled left right away.  How Mike Smith was supposed to be at fault for not getting him out of the gate is simply contradictory to the video evidence.

Additionally, the stewards can NOT wait 90+ minutes to issue a statement.  You made the call now explain it to everyone right away.  On the video monitors.  Clearly and concisely.  Go all John Madden and use a telestrator to illustrate your points.  Don’t run away and then leave it some PR guy to spin the decision for you.  You should be able to explain that decision right away.  Folks may not agree with you but it certainly alleviates any allegations of fraud, favoritism or collusion.

Which leads me to my final point.  Several folks who are casual fans at best connected with me after the race and wanted to know if that was REALLY legal in horse racing.  Can you really just take out part of the field and then pocket $2.75 million dollars? I didn’t really know how to respond.  It’s legal because the judges there said it was.

“What was their reasoning?”

“No idea.  They don’t have to tell us.”

“Really?  That doesn’t seem right.”

On our biggest stage we can’t help but shoot ourselves in the foot.  It simply never, ever fails.  We follow up a 2013 BC Classic that was for the ages with this debacle.  The game keeps making itself harder and harder to defend.  Yesterday for the first time after 30 years as a fan, nearly a decade as an owner and going on four years as a turf writer, I was embarrassed to be part of the industry.  Nobody really won that race yesterday and, in some ways, we all lost.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Breeders' Cup - Day 2

I whiffed on Day 1.  I got saddled with the donut.  Grabbed a bagel.  Name the cliché and I got it.  Zilch.  Bupkiss. In shooting for some value, I did manage to pick the 1st loser twice (Tapiture and Don't Tell Sophia) but that just don't get 'er done.

Both of my 2nd place horses made solid efforts.  I actually thought Tapiture was going to run Goldencents down but the Doug O'Neill Leandro Moro trainee just spun his wheels deep in the lane and Goldencents was simply not going to let him by.  It was a very impressive performance on the front end.  Untapable was also very impressive.  I think she is an absolutely remarkable filly.  At 7/5, she probably was a bargain.

Thanks to Maryjean whomping her field at Hawthorne for the Canterbury Racing Club, the day was not a total loss for me.  Heather continued her remarkable knack for tri and supers, hitting 2 tris and a super on the 4 Breeders' Cup races and doubling her stake heading into day 2. 

Here are my picks on Day 2 for Hello Race Fans.

Juvenile Fillies: Angela Renee.  There should be enough speed to run at here and Angela Renee ran nearly the perfect race last out to take the Grade 1 Chandelier at Belmont.  She appears to have improved going a bit longer and though I fear Conquest Eclipse running her down late or Cristina's Journey getting away with no pressure, I'm going to take Angela Renee, albeit tepidly.  Morning Line: 3-1.

Filly and Mare Turf: Just the Judge.  I love Stephanie's Kitten, I'll admit that up front.  She would have been another educated hunch play (shares a name with my sister...Stephanie, not Kitten) but this Euro appears to be in fine fettle coming into the race and her two American starts have been very strong, especially the prep at Woodbine in the Grade 1 EP Taylor. Morning Line: 5-1

Filly and Mare Sprint: Judy the Beauty.  The center of this field, Judy the Beauty, Leigh Court and Artemis Agrotera, all intrigue me. I think Judy gets the right trip and I'm hoping we can get a little more generous price than her morning line: 5/2

Turf Sprint: Silentio.  I admittedly was influenced by a conversation I heard on Steve Byk's radio show.  The topic was the downhill turf course and how pure sprinters can frequently give up the lead to closing types that are cutting back in distance and can pay a generous price.  If you look at Home Run Kitten, that race fits the profile perfectly.  The one in this race fitting that pattern is Silentio.  While Reneesgotzip appears to be the heir apparent to Mizdirection, I'm going with Silentio.  Morning Line: 8-1

Juvenile: Calculator.  I know he's still a maiden and that I hate maidens running in stakes races but hear me out.  American Pharoah was the lock of the weekend.  Who was clearly 2nd best in American Pharoah's last two races?  Calculator.  Does this necessarily make him the 2nd best 2YO in training?  Of course not, but I think he deserves a LOT more respect than 15-1.  His running style should be good for this race and with One Lucky Dane, Souper Colossal (who I also like quite a bit), Blue Dancer and perhaps even Daredevil wanting the front all the way around, Trujillo may be able to give him the perfect trip and give us a boxcar payoff.  Morning Line: 15-1

Calculator scratches with a sore foot so I move to Upstart.  Still a lot of speed in the race and now one less closer for him to get past.  Morning Line: 8-1

Turf: Main Sequence.  This one was tough for me.  I'm not great when it comes to analyzing the Euros.  I had Heather's help in getting to Just the Judge and last year I had a nice paying exacta with Magician and The Fugue with the help of our friend, Brit Peter Clancy.  This one came down to Telescope and Main Sequence for me.  I ended up on Main Sequence because although his last 3 wins were VERY narrow - collectively less than 1/2 a length - they were wins and that's the mark of a gutty horse.  Telescope's Racing Post Ratings are considerably higher than Main Sequence but the choice here has run this year in America while Telescope is coming in off a layoff with no works.  Morning Line: 6-1

Sprint: Rich Tapestry.  I had to swallow hard to pick a Euro against the home town team but after Goldencents' win yesterday, that nose victory over the Dirt Mile champion in his first out in the US looks all the more impressive.  There is more than enough speed to run at and jockey and trainer have settled into Santa Anita nicely.  Look for this one to be the first Hong Kong based horse to win a BC race.  Morning Line: 5-1

Mile: Tom's Tribute.  Now THIS is a race where I should be going with a Euro, yet I am not.  They may very well jump up and bite me in the butt but I'll take the local boy coming off two wins at Del Mar with Mike Smith aboard.  He should get a nice trip and be running at the end.  The question is going to be if he is good enough to be in front at the end.  Morning Line: 15-1

Classic: Shared Belief. I know, there is no value in here.  I know.  In the battle of the Romies v the Chromies, I don't think there is any battle at all.  I don't see California Chrome in the same league at Shared Belief.  Quite frankly I don't know if anyone is.  I looked hard to try an come up with scenarios to beat him: Bayern duplicating his Penn Derby run; Tonalist reliving the Jockey Club Gold Cup; Toast of New York living up to his buzz (though he lost to Shared Belief last out...go figure).  While I see each scenario as possible - Toast of New York less so - and if I really was going to try and beat Shared Belief I'd try and logically do it with Tonalist, I think this 3-year old is just better than his peers and the older horses he's up against.  If you wanted try and beat him at a good price, I would suggest finding one of the older horses that is to your liking.  It's tough for a 3-year old to beat older, though a bit easier as the season gets later, and one of the old war horses jumping up and teaching a kid a lesson at 15-1 or so is a possibility as well.  I'm just not going to bet on it.  Morning Line: 9-5

Friday, October 31, 2014

Breeders Cup - Day 1

Unfortunately this year heading to California was not in the cards.  However Maryjean, our gal from the Canterbury Racing Club, is heading to post later today at Hawthorn Race Course and as luck would have it, Heather has the time off and I have to be in Wisconsin and Iowa for business bookending the weekend, so at Hawthorne we shall be. That preview can be seen over at the Canterbury Racing Club page.  Here we'll focus on Day 1 of the Breeders' Cup.

If you don't know, Hello Race Fans is a site dedicated to racing fans education, a great way to bring fledgling fans deeper into the game. Even if you're not a novice they have great stakes previews, a "things to know" feature for key races that are must reads, and general overviews of things we may have forgotten over the years that can help sharpen up our handicapping. 

Several times a year Hello Race Fans invites a few experts to share their picks on key races.  For whatever reason, I am fortunate enough to be one of them.  Each year around the Breeders' Cup I try to share my reasoning being my selections and then be publically humiliated later!  Well, not always, which is what keeps me coming back.

My goal is to try and provide some value and not just pick the chalk.  The name of the game is making money and that's what I'm going to try and do!  So without further ado, my picks for Day 1:

Juvenile Turf - Startup Nation.  This colt's first two races were stellar.  He kind of stumbled a bit in his last, the Grade 3 Pilgrim, and threw in a real clunker.  Rosario makes the trip to ride, trainer Chad Brown seems to be around the winners' circle in every big race this year and I'm willing to draw a line through his last and also believe that there is going to be enough speed to run at to start us off right.  Morning line: 12-1

Dirt Mile - Tapiture. I wanted to type in Goldencents very badly.  That 6-5 morning line was less than appealing however and I'm not convinced that he's a mortal lock - though he's probably pretty close.  My guess is that he's going to go off at even money or less and that leaves some juicy payouts on the table.  I know I'm not exactly going longshot with Tapiture but at 6-1 there is value there and his off the pace style may suit this race given that there is plenty of speed in here.  Goldencents may seize the lead at the top of the lane, but I'm betting on Tapiture to pass him by in the final strides.

Juvenile Fillies Turf - Sunset Glow. A 2nd place finish at Ascot and then a couple of graded stakes wins upon her return home makes me feel pretty good about her.  I know we all look at the Euros in BC turf races but this gal has proven she can run with them.  She's fast, can win up front and can rate and since her maiden breaking effort, Victor Espinoza has been with her every step of the way. Morning line: 7/2.

Distaff - Don't Tell Sophia. I went round and round with this one.  Beholder would have been my choice if she stayed in, not only because she's amazing but because I have a real soft spot for her.  I would have thrown value out the window to see her win.  But she's out and I move on, but not to either Untapable (who I also think is tremendous) or Close Hatches, but to Don't Tell Sophia.  Sophia can run with these types, may be able to sweep by if their rivalry wears them both down, and she shares a name with my mom.  Analysis teamed with a hunch - the handicapping formula of the ages!  Morning line: 5-1

Good luck everyone!