Is This The Year?

In horse racing, one phrase will be used more times than any. “Is this the year? Is this the year for the next Triple Crown winner?” – Thoroughbred racing needs a Triple Crown winner now and again. It draws attention to the beauty and pageantry and breathes life anew.  If we had one every year, would it be appreciated and admired? When a long time goes by without the thought of a champion, will fans lose interest? These are questions only the Racing Gods could answer. If you asked every writer, handicapper, and true fan of the sport. The answer would be filled with hope and anticipation. Racing has been on the sidelines waiting since 1978. Will this be the year where #12 will be added to the pantheon of Sir Barton, Gallant Fox, Omaha, War Admiral, Whirlaway, Count Fleet, Assault, Citation, Secretariat, Seattle Slew, and Affirmed. Will Bob Baffert join James Fitzsimmons, Ben Jones, Laz Barrera, and Lucien Laurin to name a few? In think the answer is starting to gain steam, and all will be revealed about 6:45 on June 6th.

 

I’m a believer in the rule of three. If one person tells me something good or bad may happen, I just listen. When the second person unrelated to the first approaches with the same exact story, I start to pay heed. When the third person approaches with the same exact message. I begin to prepare or react to the situation. Now, this is not to be dramatic or one for the stage, but I have heard around 500 positive stories, read countless articles, and heard about impressive workouts that shown his brilliance. I was reading Horse Racing Nation, and watched the Preakness Stakes for the 100th time, and listened closely to Victor Espinoza, and Bob Baffert as they watched their runner splish-splash home at Baltimore. Watch and listen at the 4:10 mark to Victor Espinoza as he is interviewed by Donna Barton-Brothers. Pay close attention to the 5:50 mark as Kenny Rice interviews Bob Baffert. This doesn’t have the cocky-sure fire attitude we used to hear years ago. He has a humble sound with his 6th victory in the Preakness. If this doesn’t give you the feeling good things are in sight and they are in awe of the moment, you better check your pulse. http://bit.ly/1FOyift

 

If you are a fan of workouts or breezes leading up to the Belmont Stakes, take a look at the way AP carries himself over the sloppy going on the deep Churchill Downs track. Common sense would tell you this colt is getting a little tuckered out. Be sure to watch the way he coms back from Baltimore following his Preakness victory ( be sure to start at the 1:35 point and see for yourself).

Coming back from Baltimore – http://bit.ly/1SC2ZKg

 

Training over the Churchill track caught by Jill Byrne – http://bit.ly/1PHDNmJ

 

 

If you’re still not convinced, take a peek at this incredible shot by Reed Palmer. I first saw it on John Asher’s FB page, and the vice president of racing communications of the world’s most renowned track has seen many good ones pass under the Twin Spires. Just take a look at his stride.

 

So, is this the year? Nobody knows for sure as they are many moving pieces to the racing puzzle. The gate draw, the contenders, how the race shapes up, will he get a clean trip, and does he have enough gas in the tank? I guess we’ll just have to wait like the owners, trainers, riders, and throngs of fans who will show up rain or shine to be part of racing history. This may be a race you won’t want to miss as watching the replay a few days later may not produce the chill bumps that will certainly be running down your arm. If your still not convinced, here are a couple of race replays that may have you jumping on the bandwagon. Best of luck, AP! We’ve been waiting for you since 1978.

 

Rebel Stakes – http://bit.ly/1BFxg25

 

Arkansas Derby – http://bit.ly/1cZp2K8

 

Kentucky Derby – http://bit.ly/1dxHD0M

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Memorial Day

by Ed Meyer

posted on May 27, 2015 in Blogroll, General Discussion, Horse Racing, WinningPonies.com | No Comments >>

If you surveyed 100 folks what they day was about, I would bet dollars to donuts many could not answer correctly. Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance for those who have died in service of the United States of America. Over two dozen cities and towns claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day. While Waterloo N.Y. was officially declared the birthplace of Memorial Day by President Lyndon Johnson in May 1966, it’s difficult to prove conclusively the origins of the day. Now, we can all use a little history lesson from time-to-time, but that’s not the case here.

 

The track had been the place for my family to gather for many moons. My Mom would make a big picnic lunch and we would meet my grandparents River Downs. I always tell the same story, but sometimes there is more to the meaning. As a child we would make our way out to the cemetery and Mom and Dad would plant flowers for his family. His father, grandfather, grandmother, and over time the list grew. We would play and goof around like kids, and didn’t take part in the gardening. We did this yearly ritual the day before, and the next day we would watch the ponies under the old maple tree. Years later I’ve worked most Memorial Day celebrations, and missed countless cookouts, parties, and the parades that travelled the streets of the little town I was raised. But now I took part in arranging festivities, calling the local honor guard, and finding the lone bugler who would play the National Anthem. He must have been nearing 80-years-old, and after a few beers would play a few lively tunes from his time. I’ve watched as military men and woman stood stoically in uniform as the color guard would march into the grounds. Families would stand together, and all would look to the waving flag at half mast. I always felt connected to the day, and there is not enough honored celebration that could do justice for the sacrifices made by many. I watched over the crowd as we had a moment of silence at 3:00 pm on Monday afternoon. The silence was deafening, but was greeted with great applause and cheers as we stood together on this day to remember what is important.

 

I make my way down to the race book as a I leave everyday. Sometimes I make a bet or two, and mostly it’s to say hello to some friendly faces. – Over in the corner was “Little Pete.” Now, Little Pete is probably about 70, and he comes everyday with his best friend and father “Big Pete.” They are a real pair these guys. I’ve been seeing them at the track since I was a kid. But on this day, “Big Pete” was missing. I strolled over and spoke about the races. We talked about winners and losers, but you could have heard a pin drop when I asked about “Big Pete.” – “Dad doesn’t come to the races on Memorial Day, Ed. He drives over to Spring Grove cemetery and watches the Civil War Infantry group conduct patriotic ceremonies. He then visits the grave sites of two pals from his youth.” – “That sounds like a wonderful way to remember what is important.” – “Oh, he loves this day. He takes a cooler of beer and sits at the graves of his friends. He talks about the war, and feels close to them again. But he’s just fine. He wants me to bring him a program for tomorrow, and I’ll pick him up around 5:30.”

 

I walked out to my car with another Memorial Day spent at the races. I saw the faces of old friends and many new ones, but the day is always special. Some spend it with family and friends, and others observe military activities to mark the day. As a country it is the unofficial start of summer, and before we go on to make more memories, it is a good time to look back. Look back and remember those who sacrificed, so that we may continue our way of life. As my car pulled out of the parking lot I smiled and thought of “Big Pete.” At his age he still remembers and honors the past in his own special way. I guess I’ll see him at the races tomorrow.

Been a Long Time Between Drinks

I was sitting at the dinner table for a “state-of-the-union” chat with my son. We talked about football, girls, grades, and how much he’s looking forward to high school. But as we did dishes together, and the talk turned to workman quiet. I thought about the huge task for teenagers to make the biggest decisions of their life. He was not old enough to drive, but he was being asked to start choosing his path in life. We’ve all been this route, but for some reason it means more now. Maybe it’s the years, or the passage of time. I feel asleep that night in a peaceful state. I started thinking back to my big decisions, and what awaits him down the road. I was standing on the backside watching three-year-old runners work in the morning. Beautiful time of day when the sun creeps up over the mountains, and a pinkish-blue hue looks painted in the sky. The horses coming and going, steamy sweat rising off the runners as they receive a bath in the cool morning air. – I was at peace.

 

Decisions come in many forms. The ones where we check yes or no; the harder ones where we put thought into action, and then of course the ones that define your life. My son got me thinking about the Triple Crown. He knows my love of racing, as I keep him a gentle spectator who gets to make a few place bets a couple times a year. This year has been something special. Hell, they’re all special, but this one has some extra sparkle. As I look back over the past year and think back to who did what and when. I think no matter the outcome, 2015 will stand out for this horse player.

 

The Triple Crown is the unicorn of racing. Hard to find and elusive to catch. Just when you think you’ll see the next one, the Racing Gods send a message loud and clear that “long is the road, and narrow the way.” There have been eleven Triple Crown winners, 24 Derby-Preakness doubles, and 24 others who have won two of the three legs. We ask these young runners to do the greatest test of their lives when they are least prepared. It is  near impossible to win the Derby then have two weeks off and ship to Baltimore to run at Pimlico, and then it’s three more weeks and you’ll be tested at a distance of 1 1/2 at Belmont Park. Most runners will never see this distance again unless they are purchased by the European stables for breeding. Just like the teenagers in my son’s class, we ask them to plan and produce at a time when life is changing and becoming more demanding.

 

I’ve been taken with Ahmed Zayat this year. He and his operation seemed more interested in giving a Triple Crown winner to the sport and loyal fans. He’ll probably be retired at the end of this season, according to Zayat in a Blood Horse.com interview. On June 6th, American Pharoah, the champion 2-year-old male of 2014 and Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) and Xpressbet.com Preakness Stakes (gr. I) winner. He would become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978 with a win in the June 6 Belmont Stakes. – Mr. Zayat has reached an agreement to sell American Pharoah’s breeding rights. On Wednesday, he posted a note on Twitter that the deal was with Coolmore/Ashford. Additionally, Zayat said, “Once he retires, I will stay in as a partner. I have always kept a minimum of a leg in a horse. I have kept as high as 75 percent, as I did with Pioneer of the Nile, or as little as 25 percent with Eskendereya.”

Zayat did not disclose the amount but confirmed that “incentives” or “kickers” would come into play and increase the price if American Pharoah were to complete the Triple Crown with a victory in the Belmont Stakes, and subsequently win additional Grade 1 races like the Haskell, Travers and Breeders’ Cup Classic, or be voted Horse of the Year. Management of the horse’s career remains in his hands until the end of his 3-year-old campaign, said Zayat, at which time he and the buyers of the breeding rights will make a collective decision, along with trainer Bob Baffert. He said it was “unlikely” American Pharoah would race in 2016, according to an article in the Paulick Report.

 

There are plenty of obstacles on the Triple Crown road, and a man named Todd Pletcher is not going away quietly. Thoroughbred racing is a gauntlet of sorts, and the top-name outfits love to play the role of the spoiler as in all sports. I was first upset hearing about the breeding rights sale, and the superstitious bug started to bite. I guess I felt in my heart his name was to be etched into the pantheon of greats, and didn’t want any added pressure. Then I remembered the teenager saga of being asked to do the unthinkable when they were least prepared. But when hard work and preparation come together, the greatest of things are possible. I enjoyed watching the Derby even though Mubtaahij finished 8th along the rail. When the rain came so quickly in the Preakness, the track crew didn’t have enough time to get that proper seal on the surface and the rail became a quagmire. He overcame the big field and post position in Louisville, the three inches of water on top of the sloppy track in Baltimore. American Pharoah now faces the sweeping turns of “Big Sandy” complete with fresh leg runners. I’m not one to jump on the bandwagon, or stand in the “I told you so” lines. But there is something in the air this year. Barring any unforeseen injuries or sickness, this guy is flat out the real deal. I could tell you countless stories, and tell the tales of a thousand what-if’s. – I think we’ll just sit back and take it all in. Hard telling when we’ll be this way again.

 

One More for the Good Guys!

I finished another day and stopped by the race book. The usual suspects were in the same places, and if there was ever a place that felt like groundhog day, this was it. Stopped by to make one or two bets, and maybe a little talk depending on who is in the house. I was watching Santa Anita, and the horses had just crossed the line. In the quiet of the early evening, I heard a weakened voice start yelling as loud as his age would allow. it made me smile, and I started thinking that would be me someday. As the older gent made his way to windows to collect, I saw he was walking with a cane. He was having trouble, but he was determined to make it. As he reached the clerk, he extended a handful of tickets with a smile that could light up the room. I was just about to leave when the gent with all the money caught a glimpse of my face, and shouted “Hey, Ed. come over here!”

 

At first glance I saw an older face smiling, but after a minute or two. I realized I’ve known this man for years. Bill used to be a regular at Turfway Park years ago. A railroad man by trade and family man by the love in his heart. When he told me his boys used to play ball at a local high school, not only was I happy to hear the story, I remember what great athletes they were. “They put a whooping on this player many games.” – Good family, and played by the rules. I guess that’s what makes it the toughest to take. You can’t complain when the other team beats your butt fair and square. Bill had left the area and went down to southern Kentucky. He had moved in with his mother to take care of her in her final years. “My wife passed on, and the boys are married and moved all around the country. She was all alone, and I’m the last of her boys.” I can still here the words as the extra large man with a heart twice his size was left the place he loved.

 

He was now in Franklin, Kentucky. His Mother had a nice three bedroom ranch that was close to everything. Even a little track with a one-of-a-kind OTB, Kentucky Downs. Named for the famous duels that took place in history,  it was smack dab on the Kentucky / Tennessee border and was illegal to duel with pistols in Tennessee. The most famous gent who drew pistols at thirty steps was General Sam Houston. Bill would step out and make some bets, run errands, and take care of his Mother. I met up with him over the years as Turfway, Churchill, and Keeneland owned the track called Dueling Grounds. They renamed the facility, and I was sent down by Turfway to oversee operations Friday – Sunday for almost a year. Every time I saw Bill, he would come up and give me a big bear hug. Some men aren’t just satisfied with a handshake. “Ed, what are you doing now?” I told him I called the races and set the morning line. He was almost as happy when he hit the big winner at Santa Anita! “Billy, what brings you back this way?”

 

He took off his glasses and sat back. I noticed he lost at least 100 pounds, and was a much smaller man. “I’m sick, Ed. I have stomach cancer. I came back this way to be close to one of my boys who transferred to Cincinnati. You know I love my boys, and now they make trips to see the old man!” He was as honest as the day is long and didn’t dilly-dally about his condition. He was not a complainer, and he wasn’t about to start now. Just get it out there and move on as he said. I’m trying to see some of the new tracks and casinos within driving distance. “You know I have always loved to bet, and some things aren’t ever going to go away!”. He was building his bankroll, and had won quite a bit of money over the past month. “I just won $1,800, and it’s all going into the pick-four, and on American Pharoah in exotics. He won’t pay much, Ed. But I think he may be the next Triple Crown winner.” I would sure like to see one more.

 

He reached for my hand and told me he was ready to leave, but the walk to meet his ride would take some time. “Getting old is hell, Ed!” I slowly walked with the man, and waited in the valet area where his daughter-in-law picked him up. “She’s a winner, Ed. My boy is one of the luckiest guys in the world. I told him he better treat her like a queen, or I would kick his butt!” He reached out and hugged me. It was not the bear hug I was accustomed to over the years, but this one was filled with more feeling. “Great to see you, Eddie. I’ll be up Saturday, and be sure to stop down after work. I’ll be listening to you, and can’t wait to watch the big horse roll.” I watched as the truck pulled away and my thoughts took me back. One of the good guys for sure, and the places we met over the years were filled with a big bear hugs and enjoyable conversation. I sure hope your pony rolls this weekend, Bill. I would love for you to see another Triple Crown winner.

 

 

Everyone Into the Pool!

Cheap racing has been around since Pike’s Peak was a pimple. Real players enjoy the opportunity to lock horns with condition claimers, cheap maidens, and longtime runners at small ovals. Why? The payoffs can get pretty sweet, and if you’re savvy enough to figure out the secret sauce. There’s a bumper payday waiting for you. With the advent of the racinos and casinos around the nation, the public is now coming out to the gaming facilities. Notice I said gaming facilities. There are slot machines, lottery terminals, top-notch restaurants, and some really cool burger joints and cafes. The bar areas serve specials everyday, and with free concerts, sports bars, and a brand new building. This is definitely not your grandpa’s game anymore. I have only one question. How come their not betting the ponies?

 

With all of the excitement, it has the feel of an adult carnival. The horses are much different, and in my opinion have the one-of-a-kind entertainment value that only a horse race could offer. There are odds to get the best action for your wager, and this is a game of skill rather than random luck. Nothing like betting the races. The first time you nail that pick-four, you’ll be itching to come back and get your bet on. The fans just aren’t playing the local races. Now, before you send me to the corner. I’m fully aware they have the best in simulcast action. But nothing beats the thundering hooves and fast paced excitement that is right in front of you. I think the new guard holds the opinion “build it, and they will come.” Not so fast there, Nelly.

 

There will be throngs of new fans coming in the doors. Most don’t even know there’s a track running, or when post time would be. I like to prove this when I was having a couple of beers with a good friend who comes on  the “Winning Ponies Internet Show” as a special handicapper, John McDulin. Johnny Mac and I were sitting there drinking ice cold drafts, watching Ohio State, and then we made the worst mistake of the day. John looked over to our server and asked; ” Sir, could we get Santa Anita on the screen that is showing a Sports Center talk show?” You would’ve thought Mac asked the guy if he could date his mother. “No sir. We don’t want to turn this place into a bookie parlor.” Ah-ha. The lights went on, and the answer was written on the wall. All we need to do is break down the barrier and educate. Before we talk to the first patron / guest. We need to have a session where every team member gets to know how they got there in the first place. Racinos were not here before the old time game of horse racing. I was passed an email from a top ranking player. The Host was attempting to explain why they couldn’t have full fledge casino gaming. Here is an example of an uneducated response.  “At this time we’re unable to have poker and blackjack because we have horse racing. But not to worry, we’ll be getting rid of that soon enough.” ;)  – Like I said before, we have a need to educate everyone in house before we speak to the next generation of gamblers. Oh, and the response about horse racing couldn’t have been more wrong if she would had been drinking.

 

Once we rid of the mist of illusion, the idea that horse racing and casinos can co-exist. Thoroughbred racing should not be the center jewel of the ring. It should be a wonderful part of the entire design. The other day I was visited by a marketing manager. Smart guy, sharp dressed, but didn’t have a clue why they weren’t betting. “I just can’t figure it out, Ed. It’s new, the place is sharp, and we’re ready to serve. Why aren’t they betting more?” I think too many managers watched the movie Field of Dreams. They won’t come if you build it. Racing ruled in the times of the big three. Baseball, Horse Racing, and Boxing. But we’re not there anymore, and the reason racing has stumbled is largely in part to complacency and entitlement. We thought we’ll always be the king of gambling. But, I digress. I looked at the gent, and asked him a question I thought would fit his life. “How about a wager for the new age player. Let’s call it Mutuel Fun. We’ll “sell” shares at $2 each, and the monies will go into a player’s pool.” The money will be used to play the pick-five, pick-four, and final pick-three’s. Any other monies would be used for an all-out place/show parlay. The pool will be seeded the first two weeks, and it will be held on the Friday card. There will be track handicappers who will select the wagers, and pool totals will be shown on every TV and big screen throughout the facility. Every player in the house can tweet, Facebook, and use any other social media form they choose. They already show up in good numbers to drink, eat, and listen to free concerts. Why not allow them to take part in the player’s pool ? They don’t have to know how to handicap, and if there’s a nice score. It may get them interested enough to make it to a free handicapping seminar. I can see pretty people hoisting a glass, and cheering for the ponies.

 

The 2nd Jewel/The 140th Preakness

 

The 141st Derby is in the books, and time marches on. It’s been that way since 1875, and the game has taught many of gamblers to rejoice the win, pick up the pieces, and look forward to the next opportunity. The 140th Preakness is held in Maryland in ten days. It doesn’t give the losers much time to build a bankroll, and it’s too much time for the winners to hold that cash in their pockets. – As usual, I like to build slowly. But with a short number of days to get-it-all- together, I’m picking up the pace. The Woodlawn Vase awaits the winners, and a good day of undercard action capped with a big bet in the Preakness sets my heart on fire.

 

I had a $50 casher from the Derby. I can only tell you it didn’t cost $50, but I was sure glad to have it the next day. What’s a player to do with limited time? Easy. Pass me the E-Z Win Forms, and let’s get to work. The day after Derby had me in a Chicago mindset. I guess it all stems back to wagering on Teleprompter in the Arlington Million to pay boxcars and a half. But I digress. I was going to use the top tier selection two times in place bets at Arlington Park to see if $50 could grow into a larger bill.

 

Race #6 was a turf sprint, and I love the grass racing. I made a $50 place wager on a first time turf runner by the name of Raining Diamonds. According to the handicapping icons she was a first timer to the green. In sprints I don’t mind taking the shot, but only for the first time in sprints. She won and paid a sweet $5.80 to place. The bankroll started getting over the Derby hangover, and the day looked brighter. My $50 bank grew to $145 in one bet. Next up was race #7 for maidens, and a gelding who was dropping in class with a jock change caught my eye. When Cernobbio ran second and paid $5.80 right back, things were starting to look good. The $50 left over from the Derby has grown into $420. Not bad, and the Derby was starting to get further in my review mirror. I had no real plans to play this day as the Derby had sapped me of my handicapping energy. I wanted to play, but the process of finding a winner was going to be like work. So, I just dialed up Winning Ponies to see what I could do for the day. With $420, I have plenty of money to work with now. I’ll be looking at New York, Chicago, and some of the Pimlico races to get a feel for the track. A day that started out as a “grateful to have money in my pocket” quickly turned me into getting back in the game.

 

Right now it looks like the top three are heading to Maryland. I was all over Mutaabhij, and he’s targeting the Belmont to show what a longer distance can do for a fresh horse. But one race at a time, and in ten days I’ll be taking my shot at Pimlico. I usually don’t play more than the Preakness and a turf stake. This is where I’ll be riding on the back of Winning Ponies. If you can find a good source to get you across the goal line, get on board and bet early and often. Right now trainers are talking about how everyone came out, and the fresh leg runners who prepped over Old Hilltop get ready for the next leg. I have heard plenty, and it’s pretty early in the process. Bob Baffert may have been a riverboat gambler in another life, and here is why I think he’ll take this one down.

American Pharoah — The Derby winner will remain in Louisville until shipping out the Wednesday of Preakness week. If you drop by Barn 33 on the Churchill Downs backside, bring his favorite snack — carrots. By the way, history’s on American Pharoah’s side. Trainer Bob Baffert calls the Preakness “the easiest race of the legs” and took it with all three of his previous Derby winners.

Dortmund — Baffert said he nearly skipped on flying Dortmund in for the Derby, worried about some colic-like symptoms after his final workout. The Big Brown colt quickly recovered, and now it’s on to the Preakness to challenge his stable mate American Pharoah again. “If Dortmund turns the tables on him,” Baffert said, “so be it.” – According to The Courier Journal.

 

This is all you need to know. He is playing it down when a camera lights up, and has the sound of guy with a lump of emotional joy in his voice. That may be true, but a leopard can’t change his spots. As a top-notch trainer bringing his young son to the races, wouldn’t you think he’ll be wanting his son to take part in history? This is a great time for a father and son, and if you listened to his interviews he mentioned young Mr. Bode about ten times. My 10-cent guess is he’s been looking further than the Derby for quite awhile. Good trainers target a race, and the great ones are looking two months or longer down the road. I think where we know Baffert fits, and I’ll be surprised if we don’t see the same tactics as in Louisville. The only difference will be that AP will not be as wide looking to save ground. Baffert knows there is only so much gas in the tank, and he’s looking three weeks away. If you subscribe to the who-beats-who mentality, Firing Line was beaten twice by Dortmund, and getting past this past effort may have taken a bit out of him. Baffert allowed the “bridesmaid” to get past his 1A, and use all his energy. But getting past his best student was another story. It would be like climbing out of the ring with Rocky Marciano and getting in the ring with Muhammad Ali. Pretty tall task if you ask me. But I’ll guess we’ll find out in due time.

 

But looking into the crystal ball is what gamblers do when nobody is in the room. We can’t help ourselves, and we look for an edge wherever we can find one. Thinking weeks away, I see a runner who took my heart. he did everything perfect, and never turned a hair. His race was far from a winner, but it may have been what the doctor ordered as we learn more in defeat that winning. You may have heard his name, and he’ll love the sweeping turns at “Big Sandy.” – Mubtaahij — Connections originally intended to send the UAE Derby winner, eighth in the Kentucky Derby, back overseas for a refreshing. But trainer Mike de Kock then “had some time to reflect on his performance” at Churchill Downs. “We watched the race replay, spoke to some people and got opinions,” the trainer added. “Mubtaahij ran a decent race and his owner Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa Al Maktoum agreed that his run was good enough to keep him here for a tilt at the Belmont.” – We’ll go more into this in a few weeks, but just a little to think about. Mike de Kock won the prize for the most candid interview Derby week, and for players who didn’t know much about the man now know he does what is best for the horse and doesn’t care about money and trophies. When he won three Group 1’s and a second in Group 2 action a week before the Derby, as he was interviewed all he could talk about was going to the Derby. We’ll see him in a few weeks.

 

In the mean time, just keep reading the track notes from the website, and see how the runners take to the track. Watch some Pimlico replays from years past, and examine some races from this meet. You’ll want to get a feel for the track so you’ll be on your way to winning. If you’re anything like me and don’t play much Pimlico. This is where a seasoned horse player tries to become the one-day-pro. Winning Ponies follows every race everyday. They know who does better for who, and which outfits will make enough money this meet to make the year a winner. With this in your arsenal, I would say you’ll be doing better than you would be guessing on your own. Oh, and before you start hearing about the “tight turns.” There was a grand experiment a few years ago. A Louisville newspaper; one of the last to cover the sport in a professional manner did some Google Earth work to see how CD and Pimlico matched up. They lifted Churchill Downs, and placed it right over Old Hilltop. Funny thing, there looked identical. Now, CD has that long stretch to prove your mettle, but they were the same. Just relax, and just do your homework now, and download your E-Z Win Forms to find the maximum value you’ve been deserving since the derby went official.

 

 

Under A Hand Ride

jockey holds his whip before a race at Pontefract. Riders are in ...

 

 

 

“As he goes to the stick; now he gets a couple of reminders; he is imploring his runner for one more furlong.” – Any of those sound familiar? I know I’ve heard about every announcer at one time or another use descriptive words when a rider uses his stick. But in the times of neutrality and acceptance, the court of public opinion is being heard once again. The Sport of Kings has been using a crop, stick, whip, and encourager for as long as the game has existed. Football uses helmets, shoulder pads, and brute force to tackle. Baseball used the “bean ball.” The NBA is being called for flopping, or B-movie acting. What’s next? Will NASCAR races be contested at 55 mph with stop signs? Did any of the folks who detest racing’s use of the crop watch any MMA this year? Take a closer look.

I’ve owned horses and have seen the whip used quite a bit. My horse was a nasty fella. He bit everyone he saw, and his stall routine was to go back against the wall, and shoot out like a coo-coo clock, and bite. Well, along comes a rider known for aggressively riding lazy horses. He was a talented jock who wanted the best from his runners. – We had our nasty boy in the paddock, and he was being saddled. As the jockey came out and shook my hand, he lunged out and bit the rider on the shoulder. The jock picked himself off the ground, and smacked the horse on the snout. After it happened, I wondered if the horse was injured, hurt, or pissed off? We won by five going away!

In any sport, there is always some type of abuse. Before you toss me in the mix of enjoying wrongful doing, know that I want the game to have more transparency and medication testing. There should be super-heavy penalties for trainers who dope, medicate with any PED’s, or try to gain an edge illegally. Ladies and gents, the health and safety of horses, riders, starting gate workers, outriders, and not to mention defrauding the public as money is at stake. Great Britain has had Thoroughbred racing since Roman times, and the Jockey Club was established in 1750. They codified the rules of racing, and laid the foundations of the handicapping system of weight-for-age. Today it is known as the (BHA) British Horseracing Authority. According to the Guardian, The BHA this week published a landmark review into the use of the whip in our sport. One of the review’s key findings is that under a very specific set of circumstances – including the use of an energy-absorbing whip and strict controls on how it can be used – the whip does not cause pain to racehorses and is not cruel. In fact, the whip plays a key role in good horsemanship, and is important to the safety of both the horse and its rider.

The BHA this week published a landmark review into the use of the whip in our sport. One of the review’s key findings is that under a very specific set of circumstances – including the use of an energy-absorbing whip and strict controls on how it can be used – the whip does not cause pain to racehorses and is not cruel. In fact, the whip plays a key role in good horsemanship, and is important to the safety of both the horse and its rider. There will always be those who feel uncomfortable with the idea of the whip being used in racing. It’s up to the sport to be confident in its approach and to explain clearly why, with the right regulation in place, the whip has an important role to play in upholding the highest animal welfare standards. Now before you start calling the authorities, did you do your homework on what is going on in American racing?

New York has opened the lines of communication with track management and riders.

“The rule is clear. It says you can’t hit a horse on the head or the flanks or any other part of his body other than the shoulders or hind quarters. And you can’t use the whip if the horse is clearly out of the race or has reached his best placing in the race. The rule also bars excessive force — without defining it.” Perhaps with that in mind, the jockey colony in New York held a series of briefings during the spring and summer as Aqueduct and Belmont on when and where to apply the riding crop.

Every Sunday morning at 11:30, the apprentice riders gathered in their lounge at Belmont and watched films of the week’s races, the way professional football players do.

But instead of a coach, the young riders were tutored by the 58-year-old custodian of the jockeys’ room, who happened to be one of the great jockeys of racing’s past: Braulio Baeza, winner of the Kentucky Derby in 1963 aboard Chateaugay and a man known for his dignified, serene manner of sitting on a horse’s back in a sport often marked by physical contact and even violence.

“The stewards began the film meeting,” Baeza said. “The riders watch and ask me questions about their technique. I advise them how to ride. Like when and how to use the whip. It changes with each rider.”

In 2009 the Australian Racing Board implemented rules regulating the use of whips in races. Jockeys were limited in the circumstances and manner in which they could strike a horse prior to the final 100 meters of a race, and were required to use a ‘padded’ whip: a short, wide, flat style with smooth edges and an internal shock-absorbing layer. So-called padded whips have a shock-absorbent layer between the inner spine and outer sleeve. This is intended to provide a cushioning layer between the horse’s body and the hard inner spine of the whip. The padding does not extend along the full shaft of the whip – only for about one-third of the whip’s length. The claim is that such a whip “will cause less pain and less damage to the body being struck” compared to a conventional whip.

California racing adopted the policy for riders to be allowed to strike a horse more than three consecutive times without giving the animal a chance to respond, according to the Blood Horse. Commissioner Bo Derek noted that, according to track veterinarians, horses are no longer getting marks as the result of being hit. In a 2008 article in the New York Times; “You don’t want to hurt the horse. So, the rules are clear: You can hit him only on the shoulder and the rump. They’re like people. They have less padding on the shoulder, more on the rump. You should wait until he extends to full stride, then flick him once to see how he reacts. But there are no magic spots. It depends entirely on the horse, and they’re all different.” According to The Jockey Club in 2010, The Thoroughbred Safety Committee calls for an adoption of the international model rules of “use of the whip” to require shock-absorbing characteristics. The following states have adopted the use of the safety crop: California, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, and Washington. Churchill Downs has re-emphasized enhanced security measures in its “Safety from Start to Finish” program outlining measures to protect both equine and human athletes.

As with any sport, there has to be a governing body that oversees the safety of both horse and rider. Some of these references are dated, and I’m hopeful they’ll continue to pursue safety and transparency. This will be applauded by the hard working folks who make the track their home, and the betting public who keep the game alive.

 

 

 

 

As The Smoke Clears

It starts the previous September, October, and continues until the Breeders’ Cup. Then we get a short break until early winter. The preps start in Florida, California, Fair Grounds, and a few in New York. All preps are important along the way, and all must be watched. The Fair Grounds has been good for the Oaks, but the Derby winner can come from anywhere. The runners have returned, and excuses and explanations are given. The trainers look like they went 12 rounds with the champ, and if time allowed, they would be sent to the farm to rest up for a couple months. This not being the case as the next two weeks will begin the talk all over again for the 2nd jewel in the Triple Crown at Pimlico in the 140th Preakness.

I’m a handicapper. That doesn’t mean I have the “secret sauce” to winning every race, but I understand the process of preps, workouts, and the nuances of what is hidden in the past performances. Many have thought of handicappers as “know-it-all’s” who have the answers. Normally this does not hold water, but this running made many published capper’s look good. When the chalk runners live up to the billing, its good for the sport as many bet the favorite and it helps keep the money churning. If you’re a little lost on that last part, the bettors wager, the track gets a cut, and most of the money is paid back to the players. It keeps the betting bankroll growing for the future. Good news. Writers, turf reporters, and bloggers around the world claim to have selected the exact running, and many did just that. Good news again as fans are following the game. Now comes the Triple Crown talk, and for two weeks you’ll read more about racing with the exception of the Breeders’ Cup month.

Trainers have looked over their runners, and most are making plans. According to the Blood Horse, Trainer Bob Baffert said May 3 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) winner American Pharoah and third-place finisher Dortmund would both run back in the May 16 Preakness Stakes (gr. I) at Pimlico Race Course.With trainer Simon Callaghan also committing Derby second-place finisher Firing Line to the 1 3/16-mile Preakness, it would be another showdown among the Derby top three. Historically the Preakness has had smaller fields than the Derby, and the “new shooters” Bodhisattva winner of the Preakness prep the Federico Tesio, and Lexington Stakes winner Diving Rod. You can always count on spoilers waiting in the weeds to jump in fresh and strut their stuff. Just think, these next two weeks will have even the most casual fan reading about racing. Good stuff, and racing needs as much as possible.

Baffert was holding pocket aces, but more times than not, the Derby has been won by the upset horse since 1875. This past Saturday, I felt the best horse won. I may be the only writer in the world that didn’t select the winner. I though he may get knocked around in the crowded Derby, and that is something he never faced before. He stayed off the rail, and most importantly out of trouble. I guess that puts to rest of how far he can run, and it will make trainers think twice before trying to hook the Derby winner. – American Pharoah could not have drawn up a better trip. The fractions were slow and favored a wire-to-wire win for Dortmund, but his stable mate relaxed a few lengths off the pace, allowing jockey Victor Espinoza to push the buttons and guide American Pharoah to victory. I suppose the cappers around the world envisioned a quicker pace and the stalkers and closers would have the final say. When the fractions were announced, I could feel the rocks churning in my stomach. If you missed the “Greatest Two Minutes in Sports,” take a look for yourself. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KwMuXuS4kyE

There was no secret weapon used to win the Derby, and AP lived up to the hype. Baffert played it pretty cool thinking back. Most of us would have been a mess. He rolled in cool and calm. It wasn’t the younger brash Baffert many watched for years. This was a trainer who could block out the noise. No more dancing and talking trash. Maybe it is his brush with a health scare. Maybe he was just convinced, or maybe he knows he’s still holding the cards. Either way, this Baffert was warmly received by the racing world. – Speaking of “secrets,” I was reading an interesting story in Sports Illustrated. On the morning after Pharoah’s one-length Derby victory over California rival Firing Line (with Pharoah’s Baffert-trained stablemate Dortmund in third), Baffert and assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes showed Sports Illustrated the plugs that Pharoah has been wearing throughout a five-race winning streak that now includes his Derby victory. Pharoah’s earplugs are puffy,  soft balls—smaller than tennis balls, bigger than golf balls—that can be purchased at a trackside tack shop or online for about $6. Baffert said that American Pharoah wears the plugs, “whenever he’s outside his stall for any reason.” So, expect to hear all of the pre-race hype, and I’m sure Baffert will be ready to play his pocket aces once again. You can bet every fan in the world will be lending to the noise, but one thing is for sure. American Pharoah won’t be listening to the critics and naysayers.

 

 

 

 

 

2015 Kentucky Oaks Entries

by Horstradamus

posted on May 1, 2015 in Horse Racing, News, Other Events | No Comments >>

A wide open field of 14 fillies will compete at Churchill Downs this Friday, May 1st at 5:49pm Eastern (TV: NBCSN) for the 141st running of the Kentucky Oaks.  I’m A Chatterbox (4-1), the easy winner of three consecutive graded stakes races at Fair Grounds, drew the 8 post.  Condo Commando (4-1) has dominated in NY, most recently winning in the Gazelle and will try to win outside of NY for the first time.

Trainer Larry Jones let's I'm A Chatterbox go. (Photo: John C. Engelhardt)

Trainer Larry Jones let’s I’m A Chatterbox go.
(Photo: John C. Engelhardt)

Condo Commando stretches out. (Photo: John C. Engelhardt)

Condo Commando stretches out.
(Photo: John C. Engelhardt)

 

 

Here is the full list of entries:

PP Horse Jockey Trainer Last Workout ML
1 Forever Unbridled M. Smith D. Stewart 4/24 CD 5f 1:01 B 3/30 15/1
2 Shook Up R. Albarado S. Asmussen 4/26 CD 4f :49.3 B 27/55 30/1
3 Include Betty R. Homeister T. Proctor 4/25 CD 5f 1:02.1 B 28/67 20/1
4 Eskenformoney J.J. Castellano T. Pletcher 4/24 CD 4f :48.2 B 19/78 20/1
5 Condo Commando J. Rosario R. Rodriguez 4/24 CD 5f 1:00.2 B 2/30 4/1
6 Angela Renee J. Velazquez T. Pletcher 4/24 CD 4f :47.4 B 4/78 15/1
7 Lovely Maria K. Clark L. Jones 4/26 CD 5f :59.3 B 2/33 5/1
8 I’m A Chatterbox F. Geroux L. Jones 4/26 CD 5f 1:01 B 5/33 4/1
9 Money’soncharlotte P. Lopez K. Breen 4/24 MTH 4f :47 B 1/31 50/1
10 Oceanwave R. Bejarano W. Catalano 4/24 CD 5f 1:02 B 11/30 30/1
11 Sarah Sis G. Stevens I. Mason 4/24 CD 5f 1:02.3 B 19/30 30/1
12 Stellar Wind V. Espinoza J. Sadler 4/24 SA 6f 1:12.4 H 5/15 7/2
13 Birdatthewire I. Ortiz, Jr. D. Romans 4/25 CD 5f 1:01.1 B 7/67 6/1
14 Puca J. Alvarado B. Mott 4/26 CD 4f :48.1 B 5/55 15/1
15 Peace And War (AE) J. Leparoux O. Stevens 4/25 KEE 5f 1:01 B 3/21 50/1

 

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2015 Kentucky Derby Entries

by Horstradamus

posted on April 30, 2015 in Horse Racing, Kentucky Derby, News | 2 Comments >>

Derby weekend is almost here and the post positions have been drawn. The 141st Run For The Roses is scheduled this Saturday, May 2nd at Churchill Downs at 6:34pm Eastern (TV: NBC).

All eyes will be on the lukewarm favorite American Pharoah (5-2), who has had an amazing sophomore year thus far. It’s scary that he has not yet been used and may have a lot more in store!

 

American Pharoah working at Churchill. (Photo: John C. Engelhardt)

American Pharoah working at Churchill on 4/26.
(Photo: John C. Engelhardt)

 

Here is the full list of entries:

PP Horse Jockey Trainer Last Workout ML
1 Ocho Ocho Ocho E. Trujillo J. Cassidy 4/29 CD 3f :38.2 B 8/9 50/1
2 Carpe Diem J.R. Velazquez T. Pletcher 4/25 KEE 4f :48.2 B 2/63 8/1
3 Materiality J.J. Castellano T. Pletcher 4/24 CD 4f :48 B 7/78 12/1
4 Tencendur M. Franco G. Weaver 4/25 CD 5f 1:00 B 1/67 30/1
5 Danzig Moon J. Leparoux M. Casse 4/24 CD 4f :48.4 B 31/78 30/1
6 Mubtaahij C. Soumillon M. De Kock 4/25 AP 4f :49.3 B 3/7 20/1
7 El Kabeir C. Borel J. Terranova 4/25 BEL 4f :46.4 B 3/55 30/1
8 Dortmund M. Garcia B. Baffert 4/25 SA 6f 1:13.3 H 19/33 3/1
9 Bolo R. Bejarano C. Gaines 4/24 SA 5f :59.3 H 4/51 30/1
10 Firing Line G. Stevens S. Callaghan 4/25 SA 5f 1:02.1 H 51/59 12/1
11 Stanford F. Geroux T. Pletcher 4/24 CD 4f :48.2 B 19/78 30/1
12 International Star M. Mena M. Maker 4/25 CDT 4f :50.4 B 11/12 20/1
13 Itsaknockout L. Saez T. Pletcher 4/24 CD 4f :48 B 7/78 30/1
14 Keen Ice K. Desormeaux D. Romans 4/25 CD 5f 1:01.3 B 15/67 50/1
15 Frosted J. Rosario K. McLaughlin 4/25 PMM 5f 1:01 B 2/9 15/1
16 War Story J. Talamo T. Amoss 4/22 CD 5f 1:02 B 7/20 50/1
17 Mr. Z R. Vazquez W. Lukas 4/28 CD 2f :24 B 1/1 50/1
18 American Pharoah V. Espinoza B. Baffert 4/26 CD 5f :58.2 B 1/33 5/2
19 Upstart J. Ortiz R. Violette 4/25 PMM 5f :59.4 B 1/9 15/1
20 Far Right M. Smith R. Moquett 4/24 CD 4f :49 B 38/78 30/1
21 Frammento (AE) C. Nakatani N. Zito 4/24 KEE 4f :48 B 4/57 50/1
22 Tale of Verve (AE) B. Hernandez Jr. D. Stewart   50/1

 

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Also, don’t forget to enter our FREE Kentucky Derby Handicapping Contest for a chance to win some cold cash!