Thursday, May 24, 2012

Opening Weekend and a Triple Crown


This should have been up on Monday but the real world got in the way and, well, here we are getting ready to head into weekend number two already!

Over 20,000 visitors spun the turnstiles for live racing on Canterbury Park's opening weekend.  Friday and Saturday were the biggest of the three days thanks to Opening Night and Preakness Day, which came complete with great weather.  Sunday was more mixed with rain in the morning and a dreary first half of the card that gave way to partly sunny skies and a drying out racetrack.  Some highlights of the weekend:

-          The early returns on the 14% Pick 3 and Pick 4 appear to be good, but the sample size is small.  Wagering into these pools was up about 20% year over year;
-          Hidden Gold won back to back Lady Slipper Stakes while his engaging and delightfully superstitious owner watched from the clubhouse in the same spot where he stood for the 2011 Lady Slipper;
-          Happy Hour Honey was the most impressive maiden winner of the weekend romping over a field of Maiden Special Weight Minnesota breds with a hand ride around the track;
-          Newcomer Tanner Riggs makes an impact winning 4 races over the weekend and topping the jock standings, tied with Dean Butler and a surging Juan Rivera;
-          Speed, speed and more speed.  According to leading Minnesota owner/breeder Dave Astar on his Facebook page, “16 races were won by horses that made the lead just half way through the race!!! NONE of the races were won by a horse more than 2 lengths off the lead half way through the race!!!”  Bet Your Boots in the 10,000 Lakes was a perfect example.


I finally gave up trying to find reasons to bet against I’ll Have Another and took the 3-1 happily.  Mario Guitterez gave a great ride and the colt was magnificent.  Bodemeister had the race he wanted and still could not hold on to win the race.  Can’t fault Bode or Mike Smith – they were simply beat by the better horse.  And the two of them were remarkably better than all the others.  Initial comparisons to Affirmed and Alydar were made but those hopes were dashed when Bob Baffert decided to skip the Belmont and prep for the summer.  While a bit sad, it makes all the sense in the world and I would do the same if he were mine: a mind blowing effort in the Derby wasn’t enough and I ran my race in the Preakness and got beat.  I’m not going to wire the field in the Belmont, so…live to fight another day in a race more suited to my style.  He’s a brilliant colt, no question, and we’ll certainly hear from him again.

In the meantime, the eyes of the racing world turn to New York and another pursuit of a Triple Crown.  While a Triple Crown after all these years would be great for racing, a darker side of racing is marching lockstep on the road to Belmont.  I’ll Have Another trainer Doug O’Neill was suspended 45-days by the California Horse Racing Board for a horse under his control testing positive for TCO2.  The Board determined that there was no evidence of “milk-shaking”, the use of a bicarbonate mixture to reduce the effects of lactic acid n the muscles.  The violation had been sitting out there since 2010.  Amazingly, two weeks before the Belmont and a run at history, the CHRB finally decides to pass judgment. 

O’Neill has denied the milk-shaking of any horses under his control and has denied it from the beginning.  He has vowed to “vigorously defend” himself against the charges while at the same time trying to lead an assault on history.  Other charges of neglect and endangerment are being dredged up including the infamous Berna Dette incident at Los Alamitos. At a time when the eyes of the mainstream sports world turn on our sport and we look back through a self-inflicted black eye.

I am hopeful that by Belmont Day the storm would have subsided and we can enjoy the racing.  There are several “storms” blowing through the racing industry right now – issues like race day medications, the real effects of Lasix, soundness issues and racehorse retirement – that need to be dealt with…among many, many others.  We have a beautiful game and it would be great if we could all get together and come to agreements that would make us a strong, vibrant industry again.  There is the very real possibility that we will see something that we haven’t seen in over 30-years and it sure would be nice if we could enjoy the moment and use it to move forward.

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