Thursday, October 30, 2008

Opening Day at the Big A

The winter home of NYRA, the Big A, also known as The Aqueduct Racetrack opened Wednesday. Opening Day attendance was 1,848 with a total track handle of $1,294,890. Slots have been approved by the State Legislature and after all the political maneuvering to be played, maybe we see slots in 2010...but don't hold your breath on that date.

Opening day featured familiar names, particularly to New York Horse racing fans including National Pride (3rd yesterday in the Best of Luck Overnight Stakes for 3 year olds); Big Apple Triple Crown winner Tin Cup Chalice (a scratch in the 3rd); Darley Stable's Numaany (3rd yesterday in the 8th race-an allowance) and '08 Travers Stakes runner Amped (4th in the 8th). Helsinki who was 3rd in the '07 Travers was a scratch in the 8th race yesterday. For fans of New York racing, Aqueduct is fun because the horses racing up here for the winter typically have raced previously at Belmont and Saratoga, and familiarity sometimes helps on the handicapping front.

For a better understanding of the economic impact of The Big A on the New York Racing scene, I point you to Steve Zorn's recent post found here.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

2008 Breeders Cup Ratings-A Closer Look

The three-hour “Filly”Friday broadcast on ESPN2 drew a 0.3 overnight rating. Ratings were flat when compared with 2007 ratings which were also 0.3 for a two-hour broadcast on the same network from rainy Monmouth Park.

Saturdays ratings are split as the broadcast was on ABC from 1-3:30 before switching over to ESPN from 3:30-7:00 pm.

The ESPN portion of the Saturday broadcast drew a 1.0 overnight rating, compared with a 0.75 last year when the entire Saturday broadcast was on ESPN, whereas the ABC portion drew a 1.3 rating, according to numbers provided by ABC.

A 1.3 rating corresponds to about 2 million viewers.
How does that compare to other sporting events this weekend. Not very well I am afraid.

Lets use the highest rated portion of the 2 day weekend cable/broadcast for comparison purposes-which would be the ABC Saturday rating of 1.3

Have a gander:

Horse Racing-ABC-Saturday-1-3:30pm: 1.3
NASCAR - ABC, Pep Boys Auto 500-Sunday-2:00pm: 3.2
College Football(regional games)-ABC-Saturday 3:30 pm:-5.2
College Football (Ohio-Penn St.)-ABC-Saturday 8:00 pm:7.2
Football-Fox-Sunday-4:00 pm (Giants/Steelers): 15.6
Baseball-World Series-Saturday –10 pm (rain delayed start)-6.1
Baseball-World Series-Sunday-8:00 pm- 10.7
Figure skating- NBC, Skating For Life (4 PM Saturday, taped)-1.0

The ABC Saturday afternoon college football game with a 5. 2 was up directly against the ESPN Saturday BC Coverage which was 1.0. The Taped NBC Skating special was also up directly against the ESPN cablecast. CBS also had a Saturday afternoon game, however results are currently unavailable.

NFL Football is a TV ratings monster, College football, The Baseball World Series (even a low rated one), and NASCAR all easily beat the Breeders Cup in the ratings. I have been known to be critical before regarding the ESPN coverage, but in an effort to be more positive let me highlight that the ESPN Saturday BC cablecast did tie the NBC Taped Nancy Kerrigan Skating Special on NBC.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Formula for Euro's winning the BC Races

Add one part Ban on Steroids in the Breeders Cup thus reducing strength of US Horses

Add one part Pro ride synthetic surface thus making it more enticing for the turf/synthetic friendly Euro horses to ship over.

Mix parts thoroughly, bake at 140 degrees, This should produce Euros winning at least half of the races at the Breeders Cup.

“The recipe for perpetual ignorance is a very simple and effective one: be satisfied with your opinions and content with your knowledge”--Elbert Hubbard

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Post BC Thoughts

Post BC thoughts

In no particular order, here they are:

--I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if the BC Classic was run on Dirt at Monmouth, Belmont or Churchill—I think Curlin would have won on any of those surfaces and been the 2 time BC Classic Winner and overwhelming 2008 Horse of the Year. I just have that nagging feeling that Curlin was a victim of the Pro-ride Surface

--Horse of the Year—let me think about this for a while –Zenyatta-awesome, I think she is a monster horse-but than again 8 of 9 wins are on Synthetics with most wins against the same group of horses over on the left coast.

--The Pro-ride track—some of the races reminded me of a harness race where the horses all line up and the in the last 100 yards they all dash to the finish. Also with no crown on the track it allows for more wide sweeping turns. This surface is just weird to me and I remain a dirt track fan who just wants a natural surface.

--Randy Moss on ESPN said after the classic that the Pro ride is a much safer surface than dirt (he cited the lack of any serious injuries over the 2 day BC Classic). I thought that was a premature statement. There are no definitive statistics that indicate the synthetic tracks are any safer than dirt tracks. There have been 5 fatal break downs over the Pro ride surface this fall at Santa Anita.

--On a Positive note the racing over the 2 days was good with some great performances including Goldikova, Zenyatta, Stardom Bound, Midnite Lute, Forever Together, Muhhanak, Raven's Pass and Midshipman.

A thank you goes out to the good folks at Thorofan for the Breeders Cup Party at the Saratoga Gaming and Raceway where the Cup was shown at the Vapor Club on the largest TV screen I ever saw. Made for a very convenient and enjoyable way to watch and bet the races.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Dartboard

"We must believe in luck. For how else can we explain the success of those we don't like?"---Jean Cocteau

Members of the Thorougbred Bloggers Alliance have posted what they feel are the winners in every Breeders Cup race over on the TBA Home Page. If you are looking for inspiration, consensus or amusement head on over to see who we are picking.

If your looking for an easy way to follow the various TBA Posts, you can grab the RSS Feed here and add it to your home page.

In speaking with casual fans today, most still don't even know about the all Filly & Mare BC card tomorrow-I will be very interested in the handle and TV ratings. My casual buddies all asked where I was watching the race on Saturday, not even one question about Friday.

But for those watching on Friday, the big race to catch is the F&M Classic aka Distaff: Looking for Zenyatta, Ginger Punch and Cocoa Beach to cross the wire in that order.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Travers-Breeders Cup Classic Double

In case your wondering if any horse has ever won both the Travers Stakes and the Breeders Cup Classic in the 25 years of the BC event, the answer is no. Thought we had a shot last year with Street Sense but he finished 4th in the Classic on his way to the breeding shed.

Who knows, maybe if Curlin does not take to the surface this year maybe the Travers Stakes winner goes on to take the Classic Crown. Certainly the morning line odds of the Travers winner Colonel John of 20-1 are attractive. He also has experience on these all weather or synthetic or whatever you call him fake surfaces and has won on them. He worked fine on the surface on Tuesday going an easy 4 furlongs in 49.50. Garrett Gomez has decided to jump on Go Between (morning line of 8-1) so Edgar Prado gets the mount aboard Colonel John.

I really see Curlin gutting this one out and finding a way to win, but I would not be shocked to see Colonel John finish in the money.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Great Unknown

The post positions are now out and Curlin will be in Post 9 in an 11 horse Breeders Cup Classic field. He is a 7-5 morning line favorite.

So now, how do you bet this race? I am completely confused by this Pro-ride synthetic surface and really don't know how to handicap the field. I just get this feeling I am not alone and wonder how much this will affect handle overall. Certainly if handle is down the economy will be blamed, but I wonder if the lack of familiarity with synthetics will be more significant. It appears even Steve Asmussen, trainer of Curlin as quoted in the Daily Racing Form is still uneasy about this surface.

"It's a huge variable," said Asmussen, who acknowledged Curlin's dirt speed figures are superior to those of his rivals.

"If he can transfer that to a third surface, the sheets do look that way," Asmussen said. "He's been very fast his whole career. The concern is being able to transfer those numbers to a third surface."

REMINDER: For those looking to bet on good ol' dirt and turf surfaces, try your luck at the Belmont Pick 6 Million Dollar Carryover on Wednesday.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Pre- Breeders Cup Treat -Million Dollar Pick 6 @ Belmont

Looks like Wednesday will be an interesting Day at Belmont Park.

What would have been just an ordinary ho hum weekday at Belmont while most eyes are on the pre-past performance cards for the Breeders Cup has now changed as the Pick 6 carryover will be $1,019,102.24.

The intrigue started on Saturday, thanks to Stormy Smile, 75-1 underdog winning The Maid on the Mist. On Sunday we had some more bombs including Munition in the 8th, paying $49.00 to win. Prime Obsession won the final race on Sunday, paying $15.20 and then we found out no one had 6-6 resulting in the million dollar carryover.

For the Bettor, especially the East Coast Bettor looking for some action this is the perfect pre-Breeders Cup mid week opportunity to sharpen the pencil and get out the form and take a shot. Hey better than playing the stock market, right?

Saturday, October 18, 2008

A Rising Tide lifts up all boats

....and a low tide brings all boats down, including Horse Racing which is not immune to the current economic times.

NYRA has announced that they will cut purses by 10 percent for the Aqueduct winter meet starting October 29, 2008. CEO Charlie Heyward cited the bad economy and handle declines of 10.6% @ Saratoga this summer and 10% decline thus far at the fall Belmont meet. As previously blogged about here, admission and parking will be free at the Big A this winter.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Breeders Cup TV Race Schedule

Here is the Breeders Cup Television Schedule. All times listed are Eastern Time.

Oct 24 ESPN2 3:35 PM Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint
Oct 24 ESPN2 4:15 PM Breeders Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf
Oct 24 ESPN2 4:55 PM Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies GradeI
Oct 24 ESPN2 5:35 PM Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf Grade I
Oct 24 ESPN2 6:15 PM Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic Grade I aka The Distaff
Oct 25 ABC 1:10 PM Breeders' Cup Marathon
Oct 25 ABC 1:50 PM Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint
Oct 25 ABC 2:30 PM Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile
Oct 25 ABC 3:15 PM Breeders' Cup Mile Grade I
Oct 25 ESPN 3:55 PM Breeders'Cup Juvenile Grade I
Oct 25 ESPN 4:35 PM Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf
Oct 25 ESPN 5:15 PM Breeders'Cup Sprint Grade I
Oct 25 ESPN 6:00 PM Breeders'Cup Turf Grade I
Oct 25 ESPN 6:45 PM Breeders' Cup Classic Grade I

I already said my peace on the Television Coverage and ESPN promotion (or lack thereof) of the Cup over on Bloodhorse, and I thank you all for the articulate comments.

We now have a week to absorb the 180 pre-entries (including 35 Europeans) in the 14 Breeders' Cup Races at Santa Anita Park.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Breeders Cup Television Coverage-Is That It?

This Post was also published at The Bloodhorse as part of the Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance relationship with The Bloodhorse where members TBA's entries are now posted there.

After coming into it’s partnership with the Breeders Cup starting in 2006 the Disney owned ESPN/ESPN2/ABC Channels promised us the world in it’s coverage and promotion of the event including coverage leading up to the Breeders Cup. Now entering its 3rd year of coverage on the Cable network, I feel like an underfed kid at the dinner table, fed some leftovers instead of the 5 course meal I was promised.

ESPN2 will begin coverage of racing Friday Oct. 24 from 3:30-6:30 p.m. EDT and feature five Breeders’ Cup Championship races. The Friday card is an all fillies and Mare card complete with a very unpopular decision to rename the Distaff the “Ladies Classic’.

On Saturday Oct. 25, ABC will air 4 races between 1-3:30 p.m. EDT before switching to ESPN from 3:30-7 p.m. This will be the 3rd year of ESPN coverage since taking over the coverage from NBC.

The 2007 Saturday telecast drew a .75 national rating, up slightly from 2006’s .7 number. The .75 translates to approximately 1.05-million viewers.

Last years Friday card drew an anemic .3 rating. The ratings results of the last two years on ESPN represent a roughly 50% decline in viewers from 2005, the last year that NBC aired the Breeders’ Cup.

Moving to a cable network, the Breeders' Cup figured to have a falloff in viewership, although not as steep as it has been in the 1st two years of coverage thus far.

When the ESPN deal was announced we were promised By Breeders Cup President Greg Avioli that the promotion during the run-up to the event would be “unparalleled” and that ESPN and “would expose millions of sports fans to the Breeders' Cup brand."

After televising a few “Win and Your In” programs during August, ESPN had No live TV coverage during the entire month of September. That ESPN/ABC, home of the Breeders Cup, can go the entire month of September without putting on even one hour of Saturday racing is atrocious. Let me not even bother to list the Grade 1 races that we had in the month of September that could have been on the ESPN network. ESPN finally had a racing card on Saturday October 4th.

The promotion of the Breeders Cup during the October 4th card centered mostly on the potential Curlin-Big Brown(since retired) BC Classic matchup. This would have been a perfect opportunity to do a short feature on the dazzling undefeated filly Zenyatta. Why not promote this great horse, generating interest and also drawing attention to the Friday card, which most casual racing fans are not even aware exists.

On the Bloodhorse talking discussion page, Greg Land, Breeders Cup Chief Marketing officer said “the move to an all filly and mare schedule on Friday was a racing decision not a marketing decision. We believe that the fillies and mares deserve a Championship day of their own and that fans will enjoy two near equal days of Championship racing.”

Huh??? Does that quote make any sense to you? The fillies and mares deserve to be buried on a weekday afternoon card that will be seen by very, very few people??

It just seems like The Breeders Cup is doing everything possible to disenfranchise loyal fans and their broadcast partners, ESPN/ABC, are doing the same by barely promoting the event, in effect pushing the fans to the ground after the Breeders Cup gang punches us in the gut. In 2006 ESPN floated the idea of showing a race during Halftime of an ESPN October 2007 Monday Night Football Game. What happened to the idea????....nothing of course. Maybe you could have done that this year with Casino Drive in his allowance race. Expose the product-especially to new eyeballs already watching your existing programs such as football etc.

If the powers that be insist on giving the fillies and mares a day of their own, why not tinker with the time a bit and try prime time coverage Friday Night. You can do a 6:30-9:30 pm Friday Television card with the renamed Distaff going off in prime time around 9:15 pm (6:15 pm at Santa Anita). Now you are exposing great fillies and mares such as Zenyatta, Ginger Punch, Hystericalady, and others to a prime time audience; an audience certainly bigger than one would get on Friday afternoon. People can come home from work, eat dinner, settle in front of their TV sets and computer with their ADW account and bet and watch the race. This would also work out better for the overseas audience and increase the off track handle.

Now more than ever, competition for the consumer’s sports and entertainment budget dollars will be fierce. If the Breeders Cup intends to build itself as a 2 day showcase of racings best, they must learn to truly market and use their broadcast partner to promote and showcase the product. ESPN and its sister channels has the programming hours to broadcast weekly programs throughout August and September leading up to the Breeders Cup and cross promote during their other big time sporting events, but thus far they have treated horse racing like the unwanted step child.

Monday, October 13, 2008

What could have been

To all those who doubt the injury, here is the photo, courtesy of the Daily Racing Form:

Big Brown---8 Starts, 7 wins.

One bad race-The Bizarre Belmont Stakes.

Now look at the other races and show me what Big Brown ever did wrong.

It is so easy to bash Dutrow, certainly arrogant and loud at times, but what exactly did he do wrong in training Big Brown?

What do the other trainers and barns use on their horses that is so different than what Dutrow uses? Illegal drugs, you allege? Very easy to cast allegations, I say not fair.

Remember Big Brown was not originally trained by Dutrow and he looked pretty good then when trained by Pat Reynolds.

If you had the chance to ever see Big Brown in person you knew what an athlete this horse was. Big Brown was an athlete, a true competitor, and a 4 time Grade 1 champion.

Was Big Brown truly a great horse? I am not sure we had enough on the resume to conclude. I did want to see more from Big Brown to see if he was truly a "great" horse. I do believe Curlin would have beat him had they met up in the Breeders Cup Classic, but I bet Big Brown would have showed up, dug in and competed.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Casino Drive wins his allowance prep

Casino Drive won today in a 1-1/16 mile allowance at Santa Anita in 1:42 with Victor Espinoza aboard. With only 3 wins, and only one Grade II win, this horse certainly has his fans and grabs alot of newspaper ink and Internet chatter. Today he was never really asked and had a huge class advantage but he did show he had no problems with the same synthetic track surface he will be running over in the BC Classic. He seems to be one of these horses that despite being so lightly raced people take an interest in and keep in their memory bank, probably due to his very good pedigree, a easy name to remember and the Japanese connections.

Thanks to Partymanners for the race clip

Friday, October 10, 2008

Free Admission

According to a post I read today by Paul Moran on his blog Paul Moran at the Races, The New York Racing Association will eliminate all admission and parking fees at the winter Aqueduct meet.

This has long been a pet peeve of mine and something I blogged about before.

For the life of me I could never figure out why you would charge admission to get into an event where the event promoters need you to spend more money after you pay your admission (i.e. gamble) in order to make the real money. No other gambling entity does this, not Vegas, the Racino's, the Indian Casino's etc. It just makes more overall economic sense to let everyone in for free and certainly gives the customer (us) the impression that our business is wanted and encouraged.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Autumn Leaves

The falling leaves drift by the window
The autumn leaves of red and gold
I see your lips, the summer kisses
The sun-burned hands I used to hold

Since you went away the days grow long
And soon I'll hear old winter's song
But I miss you most of all my darling
When autumn leaves start to fall

Autumn Leaves-Johnny Mercer

We had a frost in Saratoga Tuesday morning and again this morning. The nights are cold, the days are still warm, but we know the days grow shorter and before long even a bright sun will have a hard time pushing the mercury level up.

With seemingly less and less time for anyone to get anything done at all lately and looking to get away from work, screaming headlines, endless Presidential election chatter and general bad news all around, I took a walk on Union Avenue and East Avenue, taking in the sights of the Saratoga Race Course and the Oklahoma Training Track.

With a perfect blue sky and not a cloud in sight the peacefulness was comforting as I took in the sights around me..

The Oklahoma Training Track under a beautiful Sky

The leaves popping more each day, nearing peak

The Saratogian Pink Sheet dated 8/30/08 previewing the Hopeful Stakes, left behind, Pink now faded too yellow

A frayed and faded betting ticket, a non winner now to be recycled with the leaves

The main track backyard area-as things change around us, its timeless simplicity remains

Stock Markets go down, Money is made and lost, Presidents promise, But like Nature, the seasons will surely change, Summer will arrive and Saratoga will be open again.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Vineyard Haven to skip BC Juvenile?

Its looking more and more like Vineyard Haven, the gray or roan colt who won both the Grade 1 Hopeful and Champagne Stakes, may pass on the Breeders Cup Juvenile. As the only 2 year old male with 2 grade 1 wins, he would only be the 4th two year old Champ to skip the BC Juvenile. Steve Crist of the DRF has a nice chart detailing the history of past champs going into the BC Juvenile on his blog.

Vineyard Haven is Trained by Bobby Frankel, who co-owns the colt with Louis Lazzinnaro and Diamond Pride LLC. Diamond Pride LLC is Joe Torre, manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Torre who always manages to land on his feet, left the Yankees after being told he was no longer welcome despite 12 straight playoff appearances and 4 World Championships, goes to the LA Dodgers, where the Dodgers tread water for 1/2 the year, than acquire Manny (no last name necessary) and take off from there. On the same day his team sweeps the "0 for a Century Cubs", his Horse wins the Champagne Stakes at Belmont. Torre was able to watch the game in the clubhouse with his General Manager and received a congratulatory call from Frankel afterword. The Yanks by the way, finished out of the playoffs under new manager Joe Giradi.

The other co-owner of Vineyard Haven, Louis Lazzinnaro, is well known here in Saratoga as the owner of the very popular Sergio's Restaurant in Wilton, just outside Saratoga. He also owns Spolini in Kew Gardens, Queens. Both spots are highly frequented by Saratoga and Belmont trainers, owners, and various hangers-ons.

Frankel tells Dave Grenig of the Daily Racing Form that he has not changed his mind about skipping the BC Juvenile. There was speculation that the horse would be sold after his win in the Hopeful at Saratoga, but now look for Lazzinnaro, Frankel and Torre to hold on too him and with Torre's luck of late, one would expect this horse to keep winning in '09.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Zenyatta- Can we get a shout out here?

ESPN finally had a Saturday Racing Program today, the first since August. Hard to believe That ESPN/ABC, home of the Breeders Cup, can go the entire month of August without putting on even one hour of Saturday Racing. Let me not even bother to list the Grade 1 races that we had last month that could have been on the network.

Anyway, about 1/2 way into the program today the ESPN show hosts, Joe Tessitore, Randy Moss and Jerry Bailey began a discussion about the BC Classic and who might win. The talk centered on Curlin and Big Brown, certainly understandable. Randy Moss also mentioned the strong European field including Henrythenavigator.

However none of the 3 even brought up Zenyatta the undefeated 4 year old Filly. Why not throw her name out as a outside possibility to run in the race, and if so talk about her chances to win the race? Zenyatta deserves mention in the discussion. This would raise awareness of this awesome horse, and if she runs in the Classic great, if she stays with the other fillies and Mares and runs the day before on Friday, maybe you have a few more eyeballs who turn on ESPN on Friday interested enough to check out the horse. Seems like simple 101 Marketing if you ask me.

In other Notes, Vineyard Haven looked very impressive today in winning the Champagne Stakes at Belmont.

Friday, October 03, 2008

The Champagne Stakes

The 137th running of the Grade 1 $400,000 Champagne Stakes for 2 year olds will take place this Saturday at Belmont featuring A.P. Cardinal, Break Water Edison, Cribnote, Girolamo, Gone Astray, Hello Broadway, Munnings, Reynaldothewizard, Ventana and the winner of Saratoga's Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes- Vineyard Haven.

This race always brings me back to the 1972 Champagne, where Secretariat won but was disqualified and brought down to 2nd for interfering with Stop the Music. That year I became hooked on two sports that remain my favorite sports to this day-Baseball and Horse Racing. My team was the NY Mets who I started watching because, like most 9 year olds at the time, that is the team my Dad liked. The Mets were horrible in 1972, but I was hooked and I remain a Met fan to this day, more bad years than good. As for racing 1972 is also my earliest tangible memory of racing. Like many, I was intrigued by a 2 year old horse named Secretariat, who came into the Champagne Stakes off 5 straight wins including the Sanford Stakes and Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga and the Futurity Stakes at Belmont. His only loss thus far was his maiden race at the Big A.

He would next run in the Champagne Stakes on 10/14/72. After staring out slow, described as "void of early foot" in the Daily Racing Form, Secretariat made a move on the outside at the top of the Stretch. He veered in toward the rail and brushed Stop the Music (2nd in the Futurity Stakes) at the 3/16th pole. Secretariat continued to charge in on the outside of Stop the Music, easily passed him and finished 2 lengths ahead to get the win. Or so we thought. The inquiry sign went up, and after a long look, Secretariat was disqualified and placed 2nd to Stop the Music.

The decision was controversial as many felt the contact had no bearing on the outcome and no interference had occurred. Veteran Sports Illustrated Writer William Nack was quoted later as saying that Secretariat should never have been disqualified.

Only 2 weeks later Secretariat avenged the loss by beating Stop the Music by 8 lengths in the Laurel Futurity. He closed out his 2 year old campaign by winning the Garden State Futurity. He won 7 of 9 races as a 2 year old, and was voted Horse of the Year. It was an a amazing year, 7 wins for a 2 year old and really 8 if you count the Champagne Stakes.

This "unofficial photo" taken in the winners circle before the stewards made the final call shows Trainer Lucien Lauren apparantly anticipating the bad news, judging from the look on his face.

Sources: NY Times, Daily Racing Form, Sports Illustrated,