Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Synthetic Rant of the Day

This week we have seen a couple of reports regarding the safety of synthetic racing surfaces, or lack of safety of them. The Paulick Report has been on this story from the beginning.

In one study, done by Equibase, it was shown that synthetic was much safer than dirt. Later in the week, a new study said that dirt and synthetic were similar.

Both studies brought the kooks out, cherry-picking data to either support their cause, or defeat an opponents.

I think these studies should never have even be funded, because they are never going to tell us anything. However, since they are already funded we should at least do the right thing - when they are reported we should ignore them.

It's pretty simple why I feel that way. The data being used is specious.

How many trainers do you know with a sore horse, who sends it to poly, hoping it will help his horse be sound, or at least give it a chance to race. Did that horse break down because of the track? That horse is included in the poly breakdown figures, so I guess it was the track's fault..

If there are 40% less sound horses starting on poly, and 20% of those breakdown - three on a Sunday when the weather is humid and there was a 50 cent hot dog sale at the sixteenth pole - is that good, bad or ugly?

Everyone says that synthetic tracks have changed over and over again the past few years as they learn how to manage them. Is synth track A like B, or C? Was synth track A like synth track A of 2009? 2008?

If a tree fell in the forest, would anyone hear it?

Someone pass me a tylenol.

In another pool of bad data, the authors of one report conclude, as reported by Ray Paulick:

"Lost in the glaring spotlight of the track surface debate was the resounding endorsement in both the Equibase/TOBA statistics and the Equine Injury Database study involving 2-year-old racing.

Parkin said 2-year-olds on average were 35% less likely to suffer a racing fatality as horses aged 3 and up. Similarly, the Equibase/TOBA statistics showed a significantly reduced percentage of “career-ending did not finish” racing performances for 2-year-olds compared with older horses. It also showed that horses that began their careers racing at 2 were less likely to have a “career-ending did not finish” performance in subsequent years. In other words: racing a horse at age 2 is, on average, a net positive for the horse’s future soundness."

Say what?

Let me get this straight. A two year old who races, is less likely to break down later. So two year old racing is good for horses.


No mention of the obvious: A horse who starts perfectly on schedule at two has no physical issues during his train down. He has no splints, no bone chips removed, no hairline fractures, no blown suspensories, nothing. So he is a pretty sound horse. Of course with a data pool of sound horses the breakdown rate will be less. The horses who do not start at two usually have terrible confirmation problems, have hurt themselves, or are infirm. They will clearly start later in life and be more likely to break down.

It's like doing a study on a hospital in South Central LA versus one in Fairbanks Alaska and concluding the staff of the Los Angeles hospital is really bad at taking care of gunshot wounds, because they have a lot more gunshot deaths.

Why do we do this in our sport, seemingly over and over and over again? We constantly seem to let the inmates run the asylum, based on politics or who knows who, or who screams the loudest. There is no leader to say enough is enough, and enact a policy based on science and what's right.

There are smart people in this world; really smart people. There are people looking at synthetic and dirt tracks with mechanical hooves measuring forces on our equine athletes, trying to help them live longer and sounder lives. There are people like Mick Peterson who has a Phd in Theoretical and Applied Mechanics. He has been looking at this issue for some time now, and continues to study it.

Do we want to follow people like Dr. Peterson, and let him do his work by giving him time and money, and move this sport forward? Or are we going to all argue about statistics, when those statistics are a mess in the first place.

When my toilet is plugged I call a plumber. When we need direction on track surfaces and the forces they exert on living breathing horses, we should call an engineer like Peterson, not a guy with a database.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Redemption for Mark MacDonald

Saturday's victory in the North America Cup was more than just a win for Mark MacDonald. As most know, Mark was taken off the horse this spring, after driving him well last year. It was a business decision made by the connections (who we are not sure), but they wanted driver Brian Sears instead. It was a curious decision to some - Mark Mac is a world class driver, capable of winning and in fact has won, races like the Jug. Any bettor with a modicum of skill will tell you he is one of the best out there. Others could see the logic in it.

However, the plan did not go to plan, and Mark Mac ended up retaining the drive for the big one. He did a bang-up job and took home all the marbles.

In today's Guelph Mercury Mark was asked about the firing:

“It was heartbreaking. I’m not going to lie to you, it was a tough winter. I got divorced this year then I got that e-mail that they were taking me off the horse. It was like a punch in the stomach,”

But, clearly not lacking in pride, Mark said: “I believe you make your own luck and instead of feeling sorry for myself I got back out there, I started working out in the gym three or four days a week and racing at all the B tracks again. You know what? I guess hard work sometimes does pay off.”

I have spoken with Mark before and he drove a couple of our horses. I like him, so I am biased. I think he deserves all of his success because he works hard and generally tries to do right for the owner and the horse. Maybe some disagree, but that's the way I feel. I was happy for him.

In other NA Cup notes, Noel Daley, trainer of All Speed Hanover, who came last, told that his charge will be fine for the Meadowlands Pace, offering no other details.

NA Cup handle was up this past year. Any "up" in harness racing is a good thing.

Next, Lou Pena's horses apparently tested clean for known blood builders in OOC testing (according to SC).

VFTRG has a look at Wednesday's racing at the Big M. It is an eight race card. Yep, eight races, and not your average M races. The Meadowlands needs an intervention; and fast.

Note: Do you mind a personal shout out to of all things, a grocery store? Sobey's is an east coast food chain and they have supported harness racing by sponsoring the Sobey's Gold Cup and Saucer in pure racing country - Prince Edward Island (my trip to it last year is here). Well I found out another thing. They are also pretty good citizens for another four legged animal - dogs. I am currently fostering a pup and along with the dog comes some food. The food itself is damaged and not for resale; and Sobey's donates it to animal rescues, where this guy came from. Sorry for the off-topic post but I know this fella (and the pictured pooch) appreciates them.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Best Horse in Harness Racing? Shark Gesture

Lost in the excitement of last night's North America Cup was the Dan Patch at Hoosier Park. In it, one horse stamped himself as the top horse in our sport. Shark Gesture absolutely demolished the FFA field by about ten lengths in a track record.

What is really impressive in this is that this division is very close. Almost all these horses can pace really fast, week in and week out. Won the West was probably not on his game this night, but a ten length win in this division does not happen, virtually ever.

I can not believe how good this horse is right now. At Lexington in the fall, or at Mohawk in August for the Canadian Pacing Derby, world and track records could be toast if he stays good.

To have a look at awesome horsepower, you can below if you are interested.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

A Funky Yet Successful North America Cup

Tonight's North America Cup had everything we wanted - four or five strong contenders, a huge crowd, a lightning fast track and a probable track record. Most onlookers were calling this a deep race where trip would win because so many horses could win this. In the end, the race was not at all as advertised, but it was a good evening for last year's Metro champ Sportswriter.

Somewhat surprisingly he valuted to the lead and had to be worked very hard to get by pacesetter Kyle Major. From there on he played catch me if you can. With only a 27.4 last quarter (and a ripe for the closers last eighth of 14.2) and the contenders on live cover and in the pocket, one would think that would not do the job. But a funny thing happened - Rock n Roll Heaven, All Speed Hanover, Kyle Major - all failed to fire. Rock N Roll popped a 28 last Q and came 4th. Kyle Major backed up off the pocket and came 8th, and the real surprising one: All Speed Hanover came dead last and popped a 29 flat last Q. Fred and Ginger, as we noted on the live blog was full of sweat before post time as well.

Funky stuff. One horse might be no good on a night, maybe two, but for all the others to completely have nothing turning for home? Wow.

The blanks shot by the other big horses was not expected, however a couple of folks who benefited (and are probably on cloud nine tonight) are SBOA rookie owners of Piece of the Rock. Congratulations guys! He came third. The chalks who failed to hit the board keyed a monster super.

Another benefit of the big dogs being flat was the little We Will See. How pumped are they coming second? It must be awesome.

This year one other thing happened. Woodbine tried their butt off. The race was piped into TVG and handles were superb. There was once hand-wringing about going out to Mohawk for this race. The crowd was once again huge and it looks like they are building this brand at the Hawk.

Thanks to everyone who followed on our live blog, with twitter pumped in from across the land. It was fun. We should do that again soon!

I hope the windows treated you very well!

NA Cup Live

We'll pipe in some twitter feeds for tonight's $1.5M North America Cup from Mohawk. Temp 80F, track fast. For a free program you can get one here.

It's Raining

Today in the Big Smoke the clouds have opened, making the North America Cup card a question mark whether we will see fast or slop. Mohawk is a tricky track when sticky, so this could cause some handicapping problems. When it is like this, sometimes it is scraped hard, and horses with sore feet have some trouble (Sportswriter?). Other times it is just cuppy and traction is an issue. In Toronto and area, systems move in and out quickly often times, so let's hope this stops, and we get some nice weather late in the afternoon.

If you are handicapping the pick 4, Dr. Dreamy has been scratched from the 100k consolation. My potential play there, Stonebridge Tonic, moves in a spot and I like that.

I still can not find a free program for tonight's card anywhere. Maybe there is one. In searching I did find one troubling item. Program's (even downloadable ones) are going up in price. Via the HPI site: "Due to increases in supplier costs and taxes, the price of a downloaded Past Performance Program will increase to $1.25 effective Thursday, July 1, 2010. Programs can also be purchased using 250 HPI Rewards points, effective July 1. This new price will continue to include any applicable taxes."

As my friend 'Alpha' likes to say, "it's like going into a restaurant and having to pay to see the menu."

HANA spoke about free data yesterday, here.

UPDATE: FREE Program pages are here.

For my odds line (for fast) for tonight's big race, please see below if you are interested.

As well if you'd like to see Sulkypicker v1 software picks for the Cup, click below to enlarge:

Friday, June 25, 2010

North America Cup Analysis & Odds Line

This year's world's richest harness race for pacers has been called one of the most contentious ever. I am in that camp as well, because on paper, with whatever handicapping tool you want to use, there are several possibles. Unless someone steps up big time and a couple contenders have an off day, this should be a trip-fuelled result.

It is for this reason that I will be building an odds line and sticking to it. If one of my horses are an overlay, I will build tickets around him. If they are too overbet when compared to my odds line, I will be pitching them. Although I am leaning to one colt, I do not see a huge standout, now horse.

Here are some thoughts on each horse, and what I think are their relative chances via my odds line.

1. We Will See - Brett Miller

On paper it looks like he can win this with some luck, however, I feel he is a longshot. He got a dream trip last time and could only get up by a nose, or long head. He is going to have to move forward off last week to win this, and I think last week was his bottom.

My fair odds: 20-1

2. Fred And Ginger - Dave Palone

I was somewhat surprised that this colt is 12-1 ML and if I get anywhere near that I will be betting him. He is very fast (he is the top speed figure horse in the race) and has shown he is the class of these in previous efforts. He had a zero-chance trip last time, yet still flew home. No horse would have been able to muster much more than a third last time. The kicker for me: He was under the weather last week, and they were careful with him, unsure that he would race well at all. This colt can and should move up. My main concern is the post. If Palone eases out and moves to the wood, he will more than likely never get out. If I play him, I hope he blasts and doesn't let anyone by.

My fair odds: 5-1

3. Rock n' Roll Heaven - John Campbell

What can we say about him that the past performance's don't show? Not much. Everyone knows that he has had trouble at the half, but he did alright last time. The one concern I do have is that he was in a brutal division last time and he was beyond all out. He was very tired at the end. Is it possible he regresses off that effort? It's one of two small potential chinks in his armour and for that reason he is docked somewhat in my odds line. He is a likely favorite and I feel he will be somewhat overbet.

My fair odds: 4-1

4. All Speed Hanover - Ron Pierce

This colt is fast, tough; a true beast. And he has a number of things going for him. First, he was not taxed in his elimination at all, flying home. Two, he was not in fine fettle with signs of sickness in his race before that. Three, watching him warmup last week told my eyes that he is a sound racehorse; a true champ's presence. This week, Vanderkemp noted he is clean and healthy in interviews and he drove perfectly last week with the headpole. Can he move up off last week? Logic would say yes, and if he does the others are in huge trouble.

My fair odds: 5-2

5. Art Professor - Yannick Gingras

Simply a longshot for me.

My fair odds: 120-1

6. Sportswriter - Mark MacDonald

Showing his talent from last years Metro, he raced really well last time. The million dollar question for me is, will he regress off getting torched, or will he be alright? Did we see his bottom? You have to take a stand somewhere and I feel he will be overbet off last week, but if he's right and if he does move up, all it may take is a trip.

My fair odds: 6-1

7. Delmarvelous - Brian Sears

This horse is a little funky. He at times looks like he wants to bolt off the track, but last time he sat nicely. Brian seems to get along with him. However, if he can't win off a trip like last week, I feel he is only a longshot.

My fair odds: 30-1

8. One More Laugh - Tim Tetrick

Is he fast? Yessir. Has he been fast this year? No, not like last year. He looked fairly bumpy last time to me and he had trouble going by Piece of the Rock. He was also all out and very tired at the end of his mile. He will have to improve this week, however, I give him a little odds boost due to his back class speed.

My fair odds: 14-1

9. Kyle Major - Jody Jamieson

On paper he is a strong contender. Add the post position and him having to work very hard in the elim (I did not think he looked good at the wire, or on the track), and I can not back him unless he is fairly long on the board.

My fair odds: 16-1

10. Piece of the Rock - Paul MacDonnell

Here is a nice little colt out in no-man's land. He raced well last time, however is only a longshot in my book.

My fair odds: 100-1

Well Said 2009 (Standardbred Canada photo)

This edition of the Cup is perhaps the best betting race since its inception in 1984. There are a number of contenders, and a number of ways to play this race. Even my premise, that I want fresher horses who were not taxed in their elimination, is not at all written in stone, and you could have a completely different odds line than I do. For example, Well Said came into the race off some very bad lines, where he looked worn and tired. All he did was blow them away off back class.

In the end I have All Speed Hanover as my most likely winner. He has a Rock n Roll Hanover type situation in front of him: He is fresh, seemingly sound, fit, had a nice prep last week that should not have taken anything out of him. He also has tremendous back class as witnessed in last years BC.

I also like Fred and Ginger and feel if the morning line is right, it means value. He had a no shot trip and comes into the race in seemingly fine fettle. 48 miles over the Meadows, the top speed figures in the race, and a smoking last eighth last week should not be taken lightly.

If those two colts get a decent trip and are on their game, someone is going to have to be very good to beat them, in my opinion.
Early Cup Crowd (Standardbred Canada Photo)

Whatever way you go in this race, good luck. If you hit, I truly believe this race will reward you with value.


For a free printable Trackit program for the event you can get one here. I think there will be free programs somewhere, but I am too lazy to find them. Maybe someone who is not lazy can leave a link in the comments section :)

The Consolation in race six has three of my watchlist horses in it. Allthatgltrsisgold, OK Commander and Stonebridge Tonic. The last one will provide good betting value from the ten I think. He is a really nice horse.

Western Silk in the $660k Fan Hanover (race 5) seems to have problems in detention. However, going back in with a short break she might be better this time. If so, there might be value with her. She is an extremely fast filly.

Want to cheer for the little guy to win a big one? Try Piece of the Rock. Good luck guys!!!

If you are going and have not been, watch the traffic. The G20 is in town, but more importantly it's at Mohawk and people go to Mohawk. Geez, I should not even mention that; it gets me going. I am still annoyed we were at Woodbine all those wasted years. :)

Good luck at the windows everyone.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Some Thursday Notes

We'll get a few things out of the way before looking more closely at the North America Cup. I think I might pipe in a blog here Saturday evening. I will add twitter feeds from harness players, so if you are newer to the game and want to watch what players are chatting about with the card, it might be helpful. One caveat, one of the people I follow is Benny Beam. Benny is sometimes (only about every three posts) prone to some profanity. If you are under 18, you might want to ask your parents. That is my Benny Beam disclaimer :)

First up, there is tons of news on and Standardbred Canada about the Cup. Woodbine and SC is doing a great job filtering news this year - the best we've seen, in my opinion. For those of you who want to watch the Cup for free, who might not have an ADW account, they are (for the first time!) providing live video streaming of the event. You can access it via links here.

VFTG has full card picks here.

As most know, the state of Pennsylvania is dipping into the purse/industry fund for general revenues. Cohen gives his take here.

"In the long-run, both racing industry entities and racino operators must find ways to increase pari-mutuel wagering in order for racing to survive." says a gambling economist.

Some chatting going on over at R2 about racings use of video. I would issue a challenge to the North America Cup folks. Each year there are good stories, a great crowd and everything else via Cup night. A video diary or commercial would be good to have each year, I believe. The Breeders Cup does this, as below, and it is very effective to brand the event. Some cash went into this video, however, I think we can do something in harness racing that at least rivals it in some way. Have a look:

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

$1.5M North America Cup Draw Complete

The field is set for Saturday's North America Cup. First post goes at 7:10 and the race will be covered from 8:30 to 10:00PM on the Score Network with full card coverage on HPITV in Canada, and TVG in the US. The race will be covered on satellite radio via "Saturday Night at the Races" with Bill Finley.

PP Draw (elim winners picked their PP):

1. We Will See - Brett Miller (EW)
2. Fred And Ginger - Dave Palone
3. Rock N Roll Heaven - John Campbell (EW)
4. All Speed Hanover - Ron Pierce (EW)
5. Art Professor - Yannick Gingras
6. Sportswriter - Mark MacDonald
7. Delmarvalous - Brian Sears
8. One More Laugh - Tim Tetrick
9. Kyle Major - Jody Jamieson
10. Piece Of The Rock - Paul MacDonell

Since I have been following this race (I was peeking over the barrier in Cup One when I could not get a seat and have seen them all since then) I do not think I have seen a better betting race in its history. Horseplayers respond to a few things: Low take, full competitive fields and big pools. This race will have a nice pool and the field is deep. I think they will have a huge handle come Saturday. As well, Woodbine has promoted this race much better this year than in previous ones. That should help handles.

We'll chat about handicapping it in a little bit. There are so many ways one can go in a race like this. For those who have never bet a harness race before; this race is a good place to start.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

It's Not 1970 & I am Okay With That

There is a real battle going on in chat boards and on industry sites about how trainers should race their star horses. Namely, the discussion revolves around Zenyatta, and how she was campaigned. She is clearly one of the better mares ever - especially one-run closing mares - but people want to see her tested week in and week out to make sure she is. It seems that she is a horse, who even though has been racing for three seasons undefeated in grade 1 races when that in itself is a feat, that has not quite given enough.

Melissa Keith wrote an excellent article on this phenomenon in the Horseplayer edition of Trot magazine in April. The interviewee, Somebeachsomewhere trainer Brent McGrath spoke of the challenges that a horse goes through in a tough season nowadays. "You look at the number of miles under 1:50 he paced. Horses will last a long time if they don't do very much - just like people", he said. "We were asking him to do a big job every time he set foot on the track." A bettor in the article who wanted to see him race more, and race tougher, retorts: "you owe it to the sport to showcase the animal."

In the DRF, this topic was also broached for the runners via trainer comments.

Bill Mott: "Very seldom do you see a horse that has more than two really, really top seasons. It's a rarity any more to see that. Even Cigar, he was good at the end of his 4-year-old year, good at 5, and then good the first half of his 6-year-old year."

Baffert on his champ filly Silverbulletday: "I ran her at so many tracks, and I think that wears on them more than anything. That really stresses them, you know. It's a lot of road games."

Mott on Ajina: "By the time she was 4, she had just about quit. It had even taken me a while to get her going at 3."

I am a bettor, but I am also an owner, and I could not agree more with them.

When you get to the bottom of horses each and every race in this century, it does take something out of them. I have plenty of vet bills to prove it, and so do many of you. When they reach a bottom, they sleep in their stall the next day, a foot has a little trouble healing, the tweaks start. It is a paramount reason we see the short careers of today.

It was not like this 25 years ago, or before that. In 1970, in thoroughbred or harness racing there were no supertrainers with a colt or filly ready to light up the teletimer against you. There was not the depth of today - you'd have a 110 Beyer, or 153 pacer, then the drop-off was dramatic. Back then Cam Fella could race 33 times at three and take on all comers, because those horses could not go with him. 58 half times in plenty of his races is not taxing on a horse, unlike going 54 seconds and having to throw a 27.1 at the field to shake them off like today. In the thoroughbred game today it is not a lot easier. Let's say you had a nice sprinter in January as a 3 year old that you were prepping for a nice career. In 1980 you were fine - enter in any race early and you will not find a 120 Beyer in your midst; nice easy race. Nowadays you enter that same horse at Gulfstream against a first time Dutrow like This One's For Phil, and you get your head cracked open.

This is an age where the last two Kentucky Derby favorites were scratched due to injury - one of whom was scratched the morning of the race itself. In addition, the Triple Crown trail is not a term of endearment anymore, it is a war of attrition; almost a Darwinian pursuit. We must look no further than to see the carcassed career of thoroughbreds littering the landscape, even before a Jay Z tune is sung. We have bred fast horses, but we have not had a triple crown winner for 30+ years for a reason. This is not the age of Bret Hanover or Dr. Fager, and we should not expect horses to be raced like it. Yes there have been some horses able to do it today, but early retirements due to injury or being off form outnumber those horses by a stunning factor.

I firmly believe we are speaking of a horse like Zenyatta today for exactly that reason - they have treated her not like a commodity, but like a modern racehorse. I know three quarters of our fans are over the age of fifty, and thinking about horses in the context of the past is what's done. But for those who want Zenyatta in grade I races against males each time to "prove herself", or to ship cross country to meet a new contender who happens to run a big number, I think they should change their expectations. In 2010, just having her race at a top level month in and month out at age six while never losing a race, is greatness in itself.

On Big Mack has a nice video up of Zenyatta's career, including stretch runs of all her races. For those who have not seen all her races, please take a look as it is wonderfully done. In an era where handicapping books are written titled "The Power of Early Speed" because of the hole that deep closers are put in with our sport, I don't think Zenyatta got the memo. What a racehorse.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

North America Cup Elims Complete

The eliminations for next weeks $1.5M North America Cup are in the books. It was a very good night of racing, with plenty of excitement. Often times the eliminations are pre-determined, however this year they were anything but.

For a full recap, and replays, you can visit SC here.

In elim one, the expected tilt did occur, but added to the mix was Sportswriter who raced well for the first time in quite awhile. He was a very game third from a first up adventure. Rock n Roll Heaven got the best trip of the three and got the win, Kyle Major came second (but I thought he was washed out and did not look good at all). One might expect the winner to come from this division and I don't blame anyone for thinking so, but standing at the wire one thing was apparent - these were three totally cooked horses. Their respective trainers have a week to get them ready, but I can't help but think this is not the way to go into a big final.

In the second elim, Ron Pierce took a huge risk with the favourite, All Speed Hanover, but it paid off. He exploded late, and was fresh as a daisy at the wire. He absolutely flew the last eighth. I had a chance to watch him warm up and I must say I was really impressed. He is a monster and looks oh so sound. Fred and Ginger raced awesome from the back and looked very good. He came his last eighth, wide, in 12.3 - absolutely smoking. Those two colts with good posts and trips will be hard to keep off the ticket. They both are coming into the final in really good shape I think.

In the last elim, One More Laugh was the heavy chalk and failed to deliver to a nice little colt - We Will See. The race went in a sparkling 149 flat.

This is going to be a great betting final I feel. The Post draw for non-winners will be huge, because some very good colts did not win tonight.

Mohawk was, Mohawk. If there is a nicer place to watch a harness race outside in the summer I have not found it. The people were out in full force - in fact when I walked in I could not get a program because they were sold out. The beer lines were solid, and for those who think things are too overpriced, a pint of beer was $5, tax included. Not bad at all.

All in all a great night of racing. I have a feeling they are going to have a huge crowd next week for the final.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Mid-Week Tidbits; What Might Have Been Different

There is interesting chatter on the Paulick Report about Steve Byk and Steve Davidowitz's chat on his radio show yesterday. Byk does not much care for Zenyatta and Steve D does. The weird thing for me is that Byk is a host, and Davidowitz is a guest. I have not heard, in our sport, anyone ever argue or be critical of a guest for a simple opinion. Maybe Byk should have himself on as a guest. There is plenty of talk about it on the Paulick Report here.

What would Rachel's year look like if she was not sold? According to Reid Mclellan, whose son was Hal Wiggins' assistant a battle at Santa Anita against Zenyatta was part of it, " A plan was mapped that would take her to the Acorn, possibly the triple tiara, but if she dominated in the Acorn as she did in the Oaks, the Haskell-Travers were considered for next two races, Keeneland opening weekend for her BC prep and then HOY showdown with Zen. That was the plan." Via Paceadvantage. Jess Jackson gets a ton of credit for racing her where he did. But he hated synthetic tracks so he ditched the BC. I think I would take the above schedule. Haskell, Travers and Breeders Cup against Z, trumps the Preakness, Haskell, Woodward then shelf that we got, for me.

The program is not quite out yet for the Cup elimination card. There are quite a few stakes elims scheduled. I am of the belief that to ensure a big handle on big days we should not run stakes races or elims. Run the Cup, but make the other races great betting affairs. Jamming a bunch of stakes (especially with trotters) on the same card makes it poor for bettors, and hurts handles, in my opinion. I would run all trotting finals, especilly for fillies, with something to get us interested - a seeded super high 5, a low take superfecta. Something like that.

We were a fan of the changes in the new Score show. Marketing to the people who are already watching you has always struck us as a waste of airtime. The ratings are in and the show has tripled their audience. Is it perfect, or will it save racing? No, but it is progress.

The USTA has started an Eye on Harness Racing, a video magazine, detailing the major races and items in the sport. This is the first time I have watched this feature. I wonder what you think.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

North America Cup Elims Drawn

Elimination #1 - Race 5 at Mohawk:

Post Position - Horse
1 - Rock Me Please
2 - OK Commander
3 - Ideal Matters
4 - Power Of A Moment
5 - Code Word
6 - Allthatgltrsisgold
7 - Sportswriter
8 - Kyle Major
9 - Rock N Roll Heaven
10 - Dr Dreamy

Clearly this is the most contentious division, and the post positions add to the contention. This should be a whale of a race. Someone is going to get cooked here, I feel. Will it be Kyle Major, or Rock n Roll Heaven, or Dr. Dreamy? Three good horses, three bad posts. I have long been an advocate of seeding eliminations. If we are going to race them, at least make each field have some depth. With Ideal Matters, Rock n Roll Heaven, Kyle Major, Dr. Dreamy, Allthatgltrsisgold and even Sportswriter (should he somehow improve a lot) in the same split, it is not great for the event, in my opinion. I think I will be taking a poke on Allthatgltrsisgold in here, as he should be great odds, and he is a nice little horse.

Elimination #2 Race 7

Post Position - Horse
1 - Mach Dreamer
2 - Delmarvalous
3 - Twin B Warrior
4 - Art N Charm
5 - All Speed Hanover
6 - Four Starz Trace
7 - Stonebridge Tonic
8 - Haul Away
9 - Fred And Ginger
10 - Triple Major

With arguably the two best colts in racing knocking heads, this should be a neat race, especially since both are not speedballs. Delmarvelous seems a little nutty, so he can set a fast pace. Palone is going to have to work out something from out there. Pierce with his post should work out something rather easily, one would think.

Elimination #3 Race 8

Post Position - Horse
1 - We Will See
2 - Woodstock
3 - IAM Bonasera
4 - BP Chimo
5 - Keystone Raptor
6 - Piece Of The Rock
7 - Warrawee Legend
8 - One More Laugh
9 - Art Professor
10 - Malicious

Clearly this one is the weakest, and three of these colts are going to make the final. Woodstock and One More Laugh are the most talented, but Woodstock was not great last time and One More Laugh has been known to be wonky at times. I think we should dig into the PP's on this one and maybe try and find something for the superfecta. What's everyone think?

Magic Shoes

Zenyatta, as everyone who watches brown things run around in a circle knows, won yesterday; number 17 in a row. In a world where stakes horses are finished in about start five, it is quite the accomplishment.

Amazingly, there are plenty of folks out there who believe that Zenyatta really ain't that good. That's she's been a little lucky because she runs on a synthetic racetrack, she has not run a Lou Pena like speed fig - that sort of thing. One of my favorite posters at Paceadvantage, because he is smart (and I like his name) is Chickenhead. I remember laughing out loud when reading his magic shoes post. It kills me. In responding to one of many posters who were discrediting Zenyatta, he wrote this:

It really is quite amazing, and this is only partly in jest, that the other owners and trainers have let this obviously slow horse pile up $6 million. This is quite an amazing phenomenon, this almost outlandish stupidity on display spanning YEARS.

Now I realize that she generally runs on synthetics, a miracle surface that amazingly enough SHE is the only horse in the world it is suited to. A singular entity. It hinders every horses performance, except her, who it moves up. Now it does favor closers, and she is obviously the only closer around, but still, that doesn't explain it all. I think she wears magic shoes. A special composite forged from Shirrefs secret stash of unicorn tusk.

But, even allowing that other owners have been powerless to stop her and her magic shoes, on the magic/tragic surface that makes everyone slow -- unforgivably -- they have also let her, twice now, steal away with the G1 Apple Blossom and its large purse, arguably the top race of the Spring for Fillies. And with No Magic Shoes allowed!

WTF is wrong with everyone!

Chick is one funny dude. The unicorn line makes me laugh each time I read it.

Well the ORC is making Rock n Roll Heaven qualify again. I know they have to be by the book, but geez, can you not give them a break before a $1.5M race? Foggy night, some wacky stuff happening; it seems it could be given a pass. Anyhoo, at least it is not a big deal. He probably wanted to blow the horse out anyway, and it so happens that Mohawk has q's scheduled. Of course, Bruce Murray would have helped out a Cup horse if they didn't.

Auckland Reactor has some issues. He has been bumpy, but he is not that bad. He must be having some breathing or allergy issues, I would think. He shows moxy, but falters late, just like a sick horse does, in my opinion. Kelvin Harrison comments here.

Shark Gesture, boom. No tougher horse around right now. Not that I have seen anyway.

Noel Daley comments on his Cup charges. He does not seem overly worried about All Speed. I thought Ideal Matters was tired at the wire in his last, but he disagrees. He also speaks about being disappointed with Ideal in the NJSS final as I was.

Cup week starts in earnest this week. Who does the early line favor? I guess Rock n Roll Heaven, and All Speed are no brainers to like. Dr. Dreamy maybe, or the Burke colt? Other than that I really do not know who to hang the hat on this weekend. I don't mind the way OK Commander has been racing with a longshot chance. I hope he draws ok this week for a potential poke. Anyone have any insight?

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Off We Go to the North America Cup

I was standing outside last fall at Mohawk after a set of two year old stakes and I was chatting with a friend who was thrilled with the two year old crop - could be the best ever - he said. When he asked me my opinion, I said "ask me next September".

Yesterday we had All Speed Hanover lose a race he should have won. He drifted out and could not get the leader. After last week where he had to be asked it was understandable (the winner last night is a good horse), but he certainly does not look as formidable as the colt who paced wide onto highway 27 to win the BC last year.

The fastest horse this year and an understandable chalk for the Cup (if we were betting yesterday morning), Rock n Roll Heaven, jumped it off at the half. He will have to qualify now, which should not be a problem for him, but it is not exactly the way you want to go into a $1.5M race. Ideal Matters won the race, but he ended it tired. Maybe we did see his bottom last week in Jersey.

One More Laugh won at Yonkers, but it was not exactly stunning.

Fred and Ginger won in a wicked time at the Meadows, but he has not shown he is a superstar or anything.

Sportswriter was poor last night, failing to even hit the board, and has not really regained the form he had in last year's Metro. He was not on our short list here anyway, but he has some talent of course.

Woodstock was flat as a pancake last night and has not looked as good as his qualifiers.

Kyle Major wins races, but he wins races. They are not thrilling or anything, just consistent.

Like most years, some others who have two year old talent, like Rockin Image, have fallen off the radar after a bad race or two.

Is it any wonder why nowadays horseplayers are in awe of horses like the Beach or Rainbow Blue? They are fun to cheer for, because they show up and dominate, race to race and year to year.

So, where are we with this years crop? Ask me in September.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Saturday Notes

The Burlington Stakes go tonight at the Hawk. It's not the best set of Burlington's we'll see, but it is pretty interesting.

Division 1 (Race 5)
PP - Horse - Listed Driver
1 - Malicious - P. MacDonell
2 - Dr Dreamy - C. Callahan
3 - Kyle Major - J. Jamieson
4 - Sportswriter - M. MacDonald
5 - Grin For Money - J. Moiseyev
6 - Willies Place - L. Ouellette
7 - Im Gorgeous - C. Callahan
8 - OK Commander - D. McNair
9 - Twin B Warrior - J. Jamieson
10 - Code Word - J. Jamieson

Division 2 (Race 8)
PP - Horse - Listed Driver
1 - Future Million - S. Allard
2 - Rock N Roll Heaven - D. Dube
3 - Rock Me Please - S. Condren
4 - Ideal Matters - D. Palone
5 - Windfall Blue Chip - C. Callahan
6 - Stonebridge Tonic - D. McNair
7 - Art N Charm - M. Saftic
8 - Mach Dreamer - L. Ouellette
9 - Rojettes Best - TBA
10 - Triple Major - S. Filion
11 - Shipps Xtravganza - R. Waples

Division 3 (Race 9)
PP - Horse - Listed Driver
1 - Touch The Rock - R. Waples
2 - Luckcamotion - K. Oliver
3 - Mcaracas - M. Baillargeon
4 - BP Chimo - S. Filion
5 - Delmarvalous - C. Callahan
6 - Woodstock - D. Palone
7 - Aracache Hanover - D. McNair
8 - Keystone Raptor - J. Moiseyev
9 - Trick Man - R. Paver
10 - Warrawee Legend - R. Zeron

It looks like we'll have a loose track tonight with some rain. Sometimes at Mohawk this really can affect some horses, so I will be looking to bet against any chalk, if I play at all. I guess we'll have to see how the track is.

Leg one I think Kyle Major should get the job done, maybe at a price. Dr. Dreamy is another I might look at if the odds board is a decent one.

In Leg two, the 2-4 ex should pay about $4 and maybe that's an overlay. :)

In the last leg, we are looking at a nice race, in my opinion, with some possibles. Mcaracas needed his last, Woodstock should be coming from off it. The rail colt is not too bad at all.

The New Jersey Classic goes tonight at the M as well and it is a decent race, although All Speed seems to be a solid chalk. There is the Pena factor in there, though.

Shawn Robinson has been placed in a training barn at Mohawk. It seems to be a never-ending thing. Shawn's father, Bill, was a magic man in turning around horses in a number of days, and was given a hefty suspension after some positive tests. His brother, Brett was equally impressive with some monster turnarounds, and then he was sent packing for EPO, banished for ten years. Bill's assistant at one time was also sent packing for 10 years for EPO. With each of these connections, WEG was dealing with them in myriad ways - D-barns, whatever they could. Now Shawn is winning races - a lot of them - so WEG is back at it again. It's like a soap opera.

South of the border the Lou Pena saga continues with Andrew Cohen. Who can make a horse pace 1:44? Lou can, that's who, according to AC: " In the winner's circle a few weeks ago, or at least at some point after the race in which Real Joke had won for the first time in 1.47.3, sources tell me they believe they heard Pena bragging that he could make the horse go in 1.44 if he wanted to."

Good luck tonight everyone!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A Million Things

Some notes from the past little while in racing:

First I see that Ted Smith has thrown a barb at the CPMA (Canadian Pari-Mutuel Agency) about an idea that was shot down. We have long held the belief here on the blog that a national jackpot type bet would do racing some good on Monday nights when the races are televised across Canada. It seems like the new guard at Woodbine thought the same and got to working on it. It appears they envisioned a pick "all" where a bettor had a chance at a million dollars. According to Smith, this was nixed.

"Smith noted Standardbred Canada is not the only industry stakeholder frustrated with the agency. He told the meeting that the Woodbine Entertainment Group and the Score television network hatched an idea to re-launch its Monday night national TV broadcast as "Million Dollar Mondays" and give horseplayers a chance to win $1 million if they could pick all the winners on the Monday card. "We would have had people from all over North America watching, but the CPMA nixed it in two minutes. They said it's not going to happen."

I think it should be noted that the CPMA in other areas has been proactive in asking for new bets and ideas from racing, and racing was silent, or in some cases were completely unwilling to change (like the idea where uncashed tickets - i.e. the bettors money - were returned to them via a bet or lower takeout). Regardless, it will be interesting if the agency changes with the times, as racing has started to recently.

Nick Eaves has been speaking time and time again about lowering takeouts at Woodbine by removing the HIP portion of takeout, and returning that to bettors. This would be long overdue. Only in racing does the business expect horse bettors to pay for horse improvement programs. If Wal Mart wants to offer a health care stipend to workers, they will pay for it, not the person buying an IPOD. In fact, places like Wal Mart realize that their price is their business. They are staunchly afraid of having unionized workers there because if that occurred they would have to raise prices, killing their edge. The time has come for racing to understand that the price is their business too, and everytime they want something done, they should not add to takeout.

North America is up and running. Check it out if interested.

Three divisions of the Burlington occur this Saturday at the Hawk. This should tell us who is sharp and who is not, as well as who likes Mohawk. They are pretty interesting divisions. The Canadian debut of Ideal Matters happens in race 8. Was last week his bottom, or a poor race? I think we might find out come Saturday. This is a really cool crop with some fast horses. No superhorses like the Beach of course, but a pretty deep group with some nice colts. Kind of the opposite of this year's thoroughbred crop.

Toughest horse alive? How about Shark Gesture. A 48 qualifier, and he wants out of the barn the next morning. This is with Larry Remmen as well, a true honest horseman, who treats his horses well - not some cowboy who flies out of the woodwork. Those Card Sharks are triers. They will run through a wall for you.

On the tbred side, Zenyatta is in this weekend. I really am not enamoured in her works. I don't know, but I wonder if it might be ripe to take a shot against her in horizontals. Probably not, because she has not been at her best before and still won, which great horses do, but it makes me wonder a little.

Rachel Alexandra will probably be in this weekend too, more than likely against fillies in the Fleur De Lis. They'd have to be nuts to try colts since she has been anything but sharp. I am kind of surprised to see her in the box actually. I thought her last race would be her last. Both her and Z's race will be on my TV screen this weekend.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Belmont & the Six

Start spreading the... Jay-Z? That was awful. There is no other way to say it. Let's hope NYRA comes to their senses and does the right thing for next year. I must say I had a hoot that ABC was playing the Sinatra tune before commercials.

It'd be cool if someone thought of the horseplayer on big days. The Manhattan, featuring Gio Ponti, was the race before the Belmont stakes. One problem, you could not watch it. The ABC deal with Belmont et al affords them to have rights on all races before the Belmont and ADW's are blacked out. ABC did not show the Gio Ponti race, so most of us did not see the Gio Ponti race. I know he lost because I saw the results, but that's about it. He could have been leading by six with 100 yards to go and got hit by a pea-shooter-wielding Jay Z fan causing him to get caught at the wire, for all I know.

Belmont and NYRA have to get with the betting program, as well. I have three ADW's and could only play it in one of them - the one that I use for fun bets, that has about $200 in it. I bet a few exotics and concentrated on Monmouth. They lost a ton of handle today by constricting their signal.

As for the race it was a pace fest as many thought. Ice Box was horribly overbet as most closers are, and failed to deliver. The tri and super were fairly logical if you took a contrarian view. I was rather surprised that betfair had Ice Box at just short of 5-2. I expected that the sharpies would be fading him much more than that. Perhaps he was legit, but did not get the pace; who knows.

The Metro Six Shooter tonight paid..... I don't know. None of my ADW's had the payout. I took a shot and did not hit. I got a little excited down the lane because I used 1,2,10 in the first leg and the 10 almost outran the 1 at 40-1. The rest were fairly obvious, so I am still scratching he head on what it paid. { aha, 43 clams.}

Delmarvelous popped up at Mohawk tonight. Many handicappers do not have him as a serious contender for the Cup and I think they were proven right today. Frankly there have been a couple really nice fades this past week for the three year olds. Sportswriter was an excellent bet against last time, and Delmarvelous was a nice fade as chalk Saturday. Both lost keying some nice exotics.

Lou Pena was hot tonight at the M, winning left and right. I saw the Bob Heyden interview with GB after the third when he won with one of the Pena horses. George looked like he did not want to be there, maybe thinking Holly might ask him the question. The drivers know exactly what is going on in our sport, which is why we see them pike horses off the claim, who off past performances have no reason to be piked.

I got a note tonight that Tioga handles are holding fairly firm, despite a massive drop in harness overall since last year. That is a good sign. Tomorrow, Tioga hosts dandy Randy Waples in his first US drive in awhile. He will be handling Dreamfair Eternal in the big one down there. Keep popping a bit of cash at Tioga folks. It's decent racing, and they are bucking the harness trend by lowering take.

I Can't Wait for the Opening Number

I am getting to my two main items for tomorrow - handicapping the Belmont and the Metro Six Shooter. Past performances, software printouts, the usual stuff. However, I can not get the Belmont news this week out of my head: Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York" is being replaced with a new song; supposedly to attract some kind of new demographic.

We in racing have a serious identity crisis. We have no idea who we are. One of the most salient points (and a truism) about marketing is that you can not market what you are not. The moment you do, it tells the world you are hoodwinking them. World meet hoodwink, via the Belmont stakes.

Racing is not a new game, it has history and tradition and this history and tradition is part of its strength. The Derby is the Derby, it does not need changing. The Little Brown Jug is the Little Brown Jug. The Hambo is the Hambo. The Belmont is the Belmont, and the Belmont is not, nor will it ever be Jay Z.

Baseball knows who they are. That is why "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" will be played long after we are all pushing daisies, and if someone comes up with the idea to play a Blink 182 version of the song they will be shown the door. College football, 100 years from now, and 100 years after that will be marching bands and if someone wanted to mess with that, they too would hit the highway. Those sports are okay with that because they are comfortable in their own skin. They don't have to invent relevance, they are relevant; and they are for a reason - because they embrace who they are, and hold to their tradition.

This is one of the most curious decisions I have seen from racing, and in racing, that's saying something.

Rant over.

On to the big race. I have done my best to come up with a scenario to try and make some scratch and that scenario does not include Nick Zito's Ice Box. When Joseph Kennedy heard a shoe shine boy - the story goes - give him a stock tip in 1929 it was his time to sell. Right now a little old lady on the subway who has never bet a race in her life is keying Ice Box on top of her exacta tickets. I am bailing on Ice Box.

I like First Dude and will key him in all verticals and horizontals. Likely I will use UptownCharleyBrown and Game on Dude behind him and try and make a score. I was really impressed with First Dude last time and he seems to be on his toes.

Good luck tomorrow everyone.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Thursday Notes

I have not taken a look at the Belmont yet, however at first glance First Dude is probably where I will lay my hat. I can not help thinking Ice Box will be overbet.

The Metro 6 Shooter is ready to roll with their 30k seeded pool. Free PP's are available for it. We'll go through it on Saturday, so if anyone has some trip notes that they want to share, pop er up.

The ORC changed the claiming rule today, where when a horse was claimed it had to be raised in price. I find this a rather curious move. The Meadows just went to one because of renting a horse, and as we see far too often still, there are magic men in this sport that can move a horse up ten lengths in a matter of days. Owners flock to them, and round and round we go. Turning back the clock is never a good policy, and in my opinion this will backfire.

Lou Pena's barn was scoped today by the New Jersey commission with OOC blood testing. OOC testing was brought in because many of the items used (blood builders etc) could only be caught within a certain time frame from use - detention barns had no effect.

Good news from Woodbine: Payouts on certain bets from US tracks will be matched. As most know, and most of you complained about, a pick 6 could pay $40k in the US and $35k or lower here. Not any longer. Except for tris, supers and pick 3's, all payouts will be the same. No doubt they are working on the others. In all seriousness, this is a huge thing for players. For about four years this has been a complaint - so much of one that I know several players who have jumped ship from HPI completely. It took awhile, and there is more to do, but this deserves some kudos.

The pick 4 on Tuesday at Mohawk was guaranteed at 50k, but only got $40k. There is an opportunity there for sharp players to climb aboard if this holds for a week or two.

Good luck at the windows, and we'll be back with some Six Shooter handicapping later.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

At Least TVG Has a Sense of Humour

It's always good for a laugh when an on-air personality does something funky. In this case we had a TVG dude walk off the set after touting a heavy chalk who bit the dust.

This caused a lot of chatter on the chat boards, but there was an honest explanation.  Tony, a producer/director at TVG let people know what happened on the (although the simple explanation did not squelch the comments) : "It was a joke. Frank said before the race that when a horse like this loses he heads straight for the exit when he’s at the track. After the horses hit the wire I told him in his ear to walk off the set."

It was a good joke apparently, because it certainly caused a stir.

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