Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Smart Money

"Most women use more brains picking a horse in the third at Belmont than they do picking a husband." Lauren Bacall (Schatze)in How to Marry a Millionaire(1953)

So what do we do with all the smart bettors out there? How about embracing them, says Michael Konik, a best-selling author, television commentator, and former member of sports-betting syndicates. Good suggestions found here, like experimenting more with rebate amounts and lowering of track takeouts.

In housekeeping news, if you follow They're in the Gate and the other writers of the Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance via RSS, please note that the address has changed, and bookmark or join the new feed.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

On too the Breeders Cup

In front of a paltry but appreciative crowd of 8,563 fans, Curlin wins the Jockey Club Gold Cup to become the leader in career earnings, moving him past Cigar.

Now, if he is too cement his legacy, Jess Jackson, Curlin's owner, must enter him in the Breeders Cup Classic. He is the defending Classic Champion and the Champion must defend his crown. I believe Jess Jackson will do the right thing and the fact that he is shipping to California to work on the Pro-Ride synthetic surface is a great sign.

Now the race everyone wants to see, Curlin, champion 4 year old, versus Big Brown, champion 3 year old can take place. People love rivalries in sport-think Red Sox-Yankees, Ali-Frazier, Palmer-Nicklaus, and now we can add in Curlin v. Big Brown. Of course with BB retiring this is only a one race rivalry but nevertheless it is the race everyone wants to see. Throw in probable entrants Go Between, Casino Drive, Duke of Marmalade, Henrythenavigator, and Student Council and possible entrants of Commentator, Pyro, Well Armed and the great filly Zenyatta and we have a Classic to salivate over.

Curlin had 2 straight wins in the Woodward and Jockey Club Gold Cup, with no real challengers, and no real intrigue to bring more people out to see him. The BC Classic will be different. Fans will flock to the track and TV ratings will be strong. We have a solid month to talk up the race, and it should be alot of fun.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Weekend Preview

Big weekend for racing highlighted by The Jockey Club Gold Cup featuring Curlin. A win will put him past the 10 million mark and atop Cigar in the all time earnings list.

The forecast is horrible for the NY area. It is already raining heavily today and Belmont has cancelled Fridays card. The forecast is just as crappy for tomorrow and unless the rain moves out of here fast, do not expect any type of "crowd" to be out at Belmont to witness history. It will be interesting to see how Mambo in Seattle, last seen getting nosed out by Colonel John in the Travers, fares in the race.

Other Grade 1 races at Belmont include The Beldame featuring my favorite Ginger Punch (1st in the TBA Filly and Mare Standings) and the Grade 1 Vosburgh featuring First Defence (4th in the TBA TVG Spring Standings) and J be K.

Speaking of the Sprint Division, TVG is now sponsoring out Sprint Division and we welcome them aboard. Current TVG Spring leader Street Boss runs at Oak Tree-Santa Anita in the Grade 1 Ancient Title. Also at Oak Tree-Zenyatta, 2nd in the Filly and Mare standings, runs in the Lady's Secret.

Other horses running this weekend who are looking to rise in the standings include Well Armed-4th in the Older Division and running in the Grade 1 Goodwood at Oak Tree-Santa Anita; Mauralakana , 3rd in the Filly & Mare Turf running in the Grade 1 Flower Bowl Inv. @ Belmont and Dancing Forever, 3rd in the Turf Division running in the Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic @ Belmont.

A great weekend with a chock full of Grade 1 races, lets just hope the rain lets up at Belmont.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Ahoy Mates-Arrrrr is Coming

Arrrrr is racing again folks, albeit 7 days late as he missed International Talk Like a Pirate Day on September 19th.

Arrrrr, the 4 year old gelding with 2 first place wins at Saratoga this summer is running at Belmont Thursday in the sixth race.

His wins were made that more exciting by the calls from track announcer Tom Durkin. He also ran once this fall at Belmont, but Durkin was off that day and Arrrrr ran out of the money. Durkin will be back tomorrow but he has hinted his exaggerated Arrrrr calls will be put to rest. However if Arrrrr is in contention down the stretch it will be interesting to see if Durkin can restrain himself.

Post time for the sixth at Belmont tomorrow is scheduled for 3:40 p.m.

UPDATE: Arrrr came in 4th. Missed the call but according to the Equibase Charts, Arrrr raced along the stretch, needed encouragement to keep pace with the leader during the run around the bend, and tired after entering the stretch.

All Things Marketing

Congratulations to the TBA bloggers Green but Game, Handride, Superfecta, The Aspiring Horseplayer and Left at the Gate for their work on the 48 page NTRA Marketing Report. There were other authors involved, whose complete names and Bios can be found at the beginning of the report. So Grab a cup of coffee and read it, it is actually a fast read and chock full of good ideas regarding marketing of this sport to a new generation of fans, particularly online marketing. You can read it here. Also the respective bloggers have great recaps on their own sites.

In other Marketing news, Curlin will be running in the Jockey Gold Cup at Belmont this Saturday and NYRA has gone all out in promoting his appearance, particularly on the NYRA website. Of course, in typical NYRA luck, the weather forecast is for rain on Saturday.

However if you decide to stay home ESPNEWS found on most cable systems will televise the race live. Scheduled post time is 5:52 pm. MSG Plus will also provide coverage from 5:30-6:00 pm.

One of the marketing suggestions in the NTRA report is a "Take Back Saturday" theme where every Saturday from June or July up too the Breeders Cup there is a show featuring live races, race replays, features etc. Have you noticed no racing coverage on national TV outlets since the end of August? Why not? If you get them hooked starting in July, they will want to continue to watch into the fall, even with college football, pro football and pennant race baseball going on. I am a gigantic fan of those sports but I will find the hour on Saturday to watch horse racing if I know I can find it every Saturday on a set time and channel. And don't forget there is a thing now called DVR and TIVO.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Obama is a horse racing fan?

While reading todays edition of The Boston Globe to get a feel for the local coverage of this weekends Massachusetts Handicap at Suffolk Downs I came across Commentator owner Tracy Farmer stating that

"Barack Obama is a good horse fan and I think he will be good for our sport."

The article does not address whether he just like horses or actually horse racing itself nor does it address how Obama would be good for the sport. I have not seen any prior articles listing Obama as a fan of horse racing but I did find a mention that his "Heartland RV" tour of Ohio planned to stop at the Little Brown Jug harness race at the Delaware County Fairgrounds in Delaware, Ohio on September 18th. Don't know if the current financial mess pulled him away from that event.

As for the Massachusetts Handicap itself I will go with the Chalk-picking morning line 3-5 favorite and 2 time Whitney winner Commentator. With gorgeous weather look for a nice turnout.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

In, Out or Maybe?

With the Breeders Cup just 5 weeks away, it seems like we need a flow chart of who will be running out in California on the synthetic surface, who is in and who is still a maybe.

It is an indication of how dysfunctional and confusing this sport (or is just gambling?) can be. If you think the industry is just gambling and not sport- I guess you don't care. You just get the Past Performances a couple of days before, grab a pencil and start handicapping. As an old gambling buddy told me once, "I will gamble on ants running around on a sidewalk". However , If you consider it a sport and assume there are these type of people who follow horse racing because of a sporting interest, how do you ramp up sporting interest if you can't even figure out who is even running in it? Curlin-maybe, Commentator-maybe, Proud Spell-maybe. Big Brown-in-he's running in the Classic right (or is it the turf ?) at least I think he's definitely running in one of them??

Could you imagine if you followed NASCAR all year and some of the NASCAR drivers decided not to run their drivers in the year ending 10 race Chase?

How do you explain the Breeders Cup to a casual fan, when they ask how can it be a championship if all the potential champions are not competing in it?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Time to give the horse his due

The Associated Press describes the Big Brown win as a
..courageous front-running victory over older horses in the $500,000 Monmouth Stakes on Saturday at Monmouth Park.

I would agree. I was very impressed with Big Brown's win and the horse showed me he loves to compete and wants to win. A great horse should rise up and show us that he "wants to win" and I think Big Brown showed that yesterday. He showed me he can be the Horse of the Year, and I feel now Curlin would have to beat him in the BC Classic to take it away from him.

Remember this is a horse who got bashed after Belmont (okay maybe it was his trainer and owners-but still). Many said he would never step foot on a racetrack again. Well, he has stepped on a race track and is 2-0 since than. Watch this race again and tell me you are not impressed.

Doremifasollatido wins the Matron

In the Matron Stakes at Belmont on Saturday, 2 year old filly Doremifasollatido with Eibar Coa aboard split rivals at the top of the lane and pulled clear to secure her second win in four starts.

Enjoy Tom Durkin Singing the call.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Mad Dog on Big Brown

On Monday 9/15/08 Chris "Mad Dog" Russo starts his daily sports talk show on SiriusXM satellite radio from 2-7 pm. If you are looking for talk on horse racing you will not find it on his show (stick with Steve Byk, heard weekdays on Sirius on Ch. 126). Mad Dog was part of the highly popular "Mike and the Mad Dog" show on WFAN radio in New York. Former partner Mike Franscesca is a huge horse racing fan, and he also owns his own horses and is partners with other horse owners including his Pal and Part time Saratoga Resident Bill Parcells. Mad dog was never a fan of horse racing and friction was always present whenever Mike Francesca tried to shoe horn in talk of horse racing on the show.

How ironic however when Mad Dog's prediction/hope of Big Brown's chance of failing in the Belmont came true. With Big Brown running Saturday in the Monmouth Stakes lets flash back to Mad Dog's rant against Big Brown after he won the 1st 2 legs of the Triple Crown.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Big Brown Talk

A google search for "Big Brown and Curlin" brings up 256,000 different results.

They are also both mentioned almost daily in the various horse racing publications generally read by those who follow the sport.

The subject has many interesting angles-will one or the other or both run in the BC Classic?, will Big Brown perhaps run in the BC Turf?, Will Curlin skip the classic and just go overseas?, will a Match race be set up between the two horses? and on and on.

In the blogosphere and elsewhere, many state they are tired of the whole thing, won't go to see Big Brown Run, aren't interested in Big Brown and can't wait to see Big Brown retire etc.

But I wonder if this is entirely true. Big Brown drew a nice crowd at the Haskell and will probably draw a nice crowd this Saturday for the Monmouth Stakes. Curlin has been less controversial and attendance figures for his races have not been as impressive, but you can bet if they were to meet in a Match Race, many eyes would be at the races and glued to the TV Set.

Looking at the Sports end of this game Big Brown does keep the Sport interesting and even relevant. Sports always need Villian's and the somewhat unlikeable handlers of Big Brown fit the bill. Throw in a bizarre run in the Belmont Stakes, mix in some crazy Rick Dutrow quotes and you have a story people will read about and watch.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Weekend Notes

With big races this past weekend at Belmont and Woodbine, there was movement in the TBA Standings with Tough Tiz's Sis (Filly & Mare division); Ventura (F&M Turf), Forever Together (F&M Turf), and Champ Elysees (Turf) all gaining points in the Standings.

When checking out our standings, you will note we have a new sponsor of the 3 year old colt division-- Trainer Magazine.

It's been said that if you put 2 horse racing fans in the same room, you will get one thing-two people who do not agree on anything. In this vein should horse racing be marketed as a sport or gambling or perhaps both?? I lean on the side of both-remember that gambling drives the horse racing train but I think we can market sports fans who love competition, bring them into the game and they will love betting and rooting for this sport. Check out Railbird's post with lively comments from all sides of the coin of this debate.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Getting them in the tent

Ask any good carnival barker and he will tell you it is all about getting them into the tent. NYRA on the last day of the 2008 Saratoga Meet, announced free admission to everyone and as a result a strong crowd of 28,000 plus showed up, more fans than showed up 2 days earlier on a Beautiful Saturday to see Curlin Run in the Woodward.

This Friday on Opening day at Belmont, General Admission on Opening Day is free and there will be $2 off the clubhouse admission of $5.

This may seem like common sense, which would call for automatic dismissal when brought to those in charge of track management, but why not always have free admission to get into the track-especially no charge for General Admission? I can see a small fee for clubhouse admission, for space considerations alone at some tracks, but charging for general admission never made sense to me. Why charge people to come into your gates only to ask them to pay some more money again at the windows??

The handle is a product of the churn and the more people to churn the higher the handle. The don't charge you to walk into a casino. Why would they? The casino's know their product, they know it works and they know, like any good carnival barker, that all they have to do is get you to come to the tent, then they got you once you are in. If the tracks can put out competitive fields, i.e a good product, forget the general admission charge. Of course without the good product, nothing happens, and I lobby for the free admission on the assumption (dangerous..I know) that the product on the track is also being focused on and improved everyday. The tracks are competing for bodies here, and the entertainment options available are greater than ever-the major team sports, the growth of NASCAR, MMA, High School Sports, and of course 900 channels on Cable TV and anything you could possibly think of on the Internet.

Rather than occasional free admission days, NYRA and other tracks that charge a fee for general admission should ban it entirely. Over the long run, attendance and handle will increase with the greater exposure to the product.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Exit Saratoga

The 140th Saratoga Meet is now in the books. Like every Saratoga Season before it, it seems like opening day was only yesterday. Luckily, I ended the meet in my grandstand seats sitting in glorious sunshine, so unlike the opening day rainstorm.

I exited Saratoga yesterday with my trusty companion, walking slowly out the gates, much like the rest of the crowd, for we know there will be no racing the next day at the Spa. The last day reminds me so much of my childhood on the day before the 1st day of school..that bittersweet feeling...hopeful of what is ahead, yet sad of what we leave behind. We know we have to go, and just like summertime for a child, too much of Saratoga is not a good thing. The season should be short, just like summertime for a child, but even though we know if it went on forever it would be ruined and no longer special, part of us wants it to go on forever.

The final day saw 28,578 come through the gates, and 872,627 overall. For all that came, memories were made, for me I remember the following:

Commentator winning the Whitney again

The stretch drive duel between Proud Spell and Music Note in the 'Bama

Ginger Punch by a nose in the Personal Ensign

The Travers Photo finish between Colonel John & Mambo in Seattle

Curlin taking care of business in the Woodward

Watching Alan Garcia beaming with Joy after winning the Hopeful and
clinching the Jockey Title

Some final shots from the closing day at the Spa:

Leading Jockey Alan Garcia heading to the Track for the 2nd Race aboard Pals First Lady

The Post Parade before the Hopeful Stakes

Shade descends upon the Grandstand & Clubhouse as the final race ends and the sun sets upon closing day at the Spa