Why HBO may succeed with Luck

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As I guy involved with horse racing for over 36 years, when I hear about a new horse racing show or movie, I cringe.

:: Why? ::

  • Typically they are so unrealistic, and any horsemen can find 20 things in every movie that just don’t happen. Case in point, in almost every movie, there is a scene with the jockey back at the barn, still wearing their silks. Well, as everyone knows, a jockey weighs out after a race, returns the silks to the color man in the jock’s room, then takes a shower and get dressed. (Unless they are riding in more races)
  • Historical Inaccuracies – Seabiscuit begins with him coming out of the clouds at Saratoga. It should have begun at Suffolk Downs in Boston, where he was discovered. In fact, there is no mention to any of his races in New England. Secretariat attempted to become the “Blind Side” for horse racing, when in truth he was one of the best bred, best looking animal that ever lived. Making it a rags to riches story just didn’t cut it. Big Red was no underdog, and Penny didn’t need food stamps no matter how well Secretariat turned out.
  • Sappy – Most of the movies are down right sappy and silly. In real life a jockey who has never ridden a race doesn’t show up to win a major race because they have a special bond with the runner.

:: Why this should work ::

  • HBO hands down creates the best programming. The Sopranos, Entourage, and now, Boardwalk Empire. If you haven’t seen Boardwalk Empire, it is an intensely gripping show, great acting, direction, and the sets are incredible. It is so powerful, that when it is over you are tired.
  • David Milch – Having a horse owner writing the script ensures a bit a realism about the sport not seen before.
  • The Cast – Dustin Hoffman is as much as you need to know. Add Nick Nolte, and a stellar bunch and you have the makings of an amazing show. Michael Mann directing certainly doesn’t hurt, as anyone who got to see, The Insider will attest.

Anyway, take a peak at the trailer below, and be sure to check out the show, January 29th at 9PM.

Havre de Grace: Nice Mare, Worst Horse of the Year Ever?

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Take nothing away from Havre de Grace, she is a very nice mare, worthy of a distaff championship. But to be horse of the year? This is an indication how weak racing was this past year.  When you compare her to the other horse of the year winners, you would be hard pressed to find many she would beat. She certainly wasn’t close to Zenyatta or Rachel Alexandra.  The next possibility on the list would be Azeri. But lets not forget how brilliant she was. I would have had to go with Azeri.

When I think of the award, I think of Secretariat, Forego, Kelso, Whirlaway, Cigar, and yes Zenyatta.  I certainly don’t think of Havre de Grace.

No it isn’t her fault and yes, she is a top notch mare. But, here is hoping next year we have a standout worthy of the honor, not the best of a bad bunch.

2

Volatile Stock Market Benefits Keeneland November

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So I bet you are reading that title and shaking your head. Strange statement, right?  Usually a strong stock market means strong numbers at the sale. More dispensable income allows people to buy luxuries, such as race horses. Although horses are an investment, few would argue the inherent risks with buying them.  Well, I can tell you, after spending 4 days at the sale that the sale was ultra-strong.   The gross was up over 41% which is incredible.  I saw horses sell for double their worth in some cases.   Case in point, at the Tuesday sale which featured horses in training, I saw a horse who had run 10th at Keeneland in a Maiden race sell for 90k.  I had bid 20, and thought I had gone over board.  That is the way the sale went, saying it was strong is an understatement.  But in this sale 90k was chump change.  Millions were flowing like water, with 23 horses selling for over 7 figures.

“Nobody told me there’d be days like these. Strange days indeed”.  ~John Lennon

 

So why was the market so strong? My theory is that the market is so volatile these days that people are actually looking at an investment in a nice mare in foal to a marketable stud as safer than than the market.  If you can get a healthy foal, you can at least have the opportunity to make money down the road.  To many this seems a better option than watching the market go up and down, or getting the paltry interest of other investment instruments.

Historically the stock market has been the best place to invest. But in today’s world you have to wonder what to do.  Certainly Keeneland and consignors were the beneficiary of the market unrest, and the result was something few could predict: That people actually put their money in the horse market forgoing the stock market.  Strange days indeed…..

Keeneland November sale comparisons:

Lots sold

2010: 2,929

2011: 2,554

Gross

2010: $147,392,900

2011: $208,511,200

Average

2010: $50,322

2011: $81,641

Median

2010: $17,000

2011: $24,000

Reserve price not attained

2010: 851

2011: 632

Million-dollar horses

2010: 8

2011: 23

Horse Racing Needs a Steve Jobs

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I was so sad to learn of the death of Steve Jobs.  As a web developer, I use macs every day and would not be without one.  In my house there are 6 macs in use, an iPad and a few iPods. (Once Sprint has the iPhone, we will have those as well). As a trainer I was one of the first in the world to have a website. So computers, as well as horses are a way of life for me. Steve Jobs made my life easier, and he made it better.

Steve Jobs was known for innovation highlighted in a wonderful ad campaign, “Think Different”.   It wasn’t just a tagline, it was a way of life and the corporate culture he built at Apple. I got to thinking, how racing needs such an innovator.  Racing has few original ideas these days.  We have the “give us slots” school of racetrack management, which is ok for survival, but doesn’t cultivate new fans.  What we truly need is management to come up with new and different ways to build our sport.

Now I wouldn’t say racing was completely devoid of good ideas, here are a few tracks ahead of the curve:

  • Keeneland seems to continuously come up with positive changes.  For instance, Polytrack, whether you like it or not, was a bold step taken with the best of intentions. They were the first to add HD, and will along with Del Mar soon be broadcast on TVG in high def.  Keeneland also added the chip in the saddle towel (Trakus) to make following races much easier. each meet Keeneland tries to add something new. Like Steve Jobs, they focus on the customer experience.
  • Churchill Downs added lights and has made an effort to bring in younger fans. A great idea. As a horseman I hate night racing, as the next morning is extremely hard, but thinking pragmatically, how can you ever build a base racing on weekdays?  The only people who can go to the races on weekdays are retired, unemployed, or independently wealthy (very few).  So night racing combined with entertainment is one of the only ways to build a younger base.
  • Monmouth Park last year also thought differently. They increased purses, and in doing so increased field size, had better racing and their attendance and handle went up.

To thrive again (not just survive) racetracks will need to take a page out of Steve Jobs’ playbook and think differently.  Racing is a beautiful sport which has never been marketed right.  With so many choices for gambling, racing needs to differentiate itself better.  Compare a gorgeous racehorse with a slot machine? I think we win.

So who will step up and lead our industry? I don’t know, but I hope he/she arrives soon.

2

Finally TVG to add HD

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“There’s a way to do it better—find it.”

— Thomas Edison

Those of you who read my blog, know how hard I have pushed for an HD signal for TVG. ( I would wish the same for HRTV, but somehow it isn’t available in my town)

When we watch the Triple Crown and Breeders’ Cup on the networks, we realize how gorgeous racing can be on TV.  On regular TV, especially with modern TV sets, the regular picture looks horrible. I wrote about this issue in aptly named post HD Please TVG back in 2008.

Well today one of my racing dreams came true.  I read a press release from TVG that they have signed exclusive agreements with Keeneland and Del Mar through 2016,and that the broadcasts will be in high definition. Of course, TVG still has to get the HD slots, but hopefully, they can pull that off.

It would be fabulous, if this starts a trend and other racetracks follow suit.  The drawback of course is the cost of HD equipment which can run in the millions.   Most tracks can’t afford the investment. But can NYRA really fall so far behind Keeneland, and Del Mar in quality?  Imagine how pretty the paddock at Saratoga will look each day in HD?

My guess is that HRTV will need to also adopt HD signals as well, or they run the risk of TVG leaving them in their wake.

This is a big step since my post about the situation in 2008. Hopefully in 2104 I will write about how HDTV is now the standard for all racing broadcasts.

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Penn Situation Disgusting, But Easy To Fix

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Sometimes you read something that just makes you ill.  I read a story in the Bloodhorse [LINK] that did just that. A filly broke down during training and needed to be put down.   Although this is sad, it is not uncommon. With all the horses training on a given day, there will be catastrophic breakdowns. Remarkably there were no vets on the grounds at 7:25 am.  The poor thing was left to suffer for 3/4 of an hour. This is the type of thing useless organizations like PETA need to hear about to start their inane picketing.

The article goes on to quote the head of the local HBPA:

“We have been engaged in trying to get the commission to mandate there be a veterinarian during training hours. But we don’t have any jurisdiction. It is not our property, and we are not the regulator.”

I disagree, and feel there is a much easier solution than trying to engage bureaucrats to do anything useful.  I would have a rotation of practicing vets on the grounds, and make a condition of starting training hours that there is a licensed vet present, just as there is an ambulance. No vet, no training. Simple.  If the vets don’t want to participate, no license.

As horsemen we are responsible for the animals in our charge.  If we allow the unnecessary suffering of our horses, shame on us.  This problem we can fix. Make it so.

1

My Faith in Saratoga Renewed

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2 Fridays ago, on my way to western New York, I stopped in to Saratoga, one of my favorite racetracks on the planet.  I stayed for a few races and left totally diss-heartened.  Lifetime condition races for 15-20 claimers, bad maidens, and just plain dull. Now, don’t get me wrong, claimers are the mainstay of racing, and mainly what my partnerships tend to race.  But Saratoga is a shrine, and having bad lifetime condition races just seems wrong. I remember in the 80′s the bottom being 25 down to 20.   Strange that cheaper racing is now more prevalent. On this I blame the slots, as big purses for bad horses make it economical to carry horses you would once get rid of. But before I deviate too much, back to the topic of the day…

I got to Saratoga Friday night, and the town was buzzing.  A good sign that Saturday would be awesome. And even with the hurricane approaching, the crowd Saturday was only off by 5-6%. Not bad.  I fortunately had paddock passes, which was great, as for me looking at the horses up close is the fun. Not the gambling, not the whose who bs. No, just let me see the horses.  Early in the day wonderful 2 year olds bred to the hilt beggining their careers. A Saratoga tradition, unveiling the new stars. then came the stake races. Wow, what a card.

  • Ballston Spa Stakes – Daveron, the German filly showed she is the real deal, beating a nice group of fillies and mares. I can’t imagine Team Valor paid that much for Daveron, and she appears to be a great investment.
  • Victory Ride Stakes – Hot Summer beat a real tough lightly raced filly Maple Forest who was game as hell.
  • Ballerina Stakes – One of the more impressive races all day, Hilda’s Passion absolutely romped winning by 9+ lengths. She could have went around again. Wow, she really rebounded from a bad race at Belmont.
  • King’s Bishop – This looked on paper to be a great race and it didn’t disappoint. You had a great field, and the return of 2 year old champ, Uncle Mo.  Any questions as to how Uncle Mo were answered in the paddock. He looked fabulous.  He was cool as a cucumber, looking fit, and happy.  It was so nice to see how excited the crowd got as he went on to the racetrack.  With all the speed, my assumption was he would lay off the pace. He rallied from 4th and made the lead.  he couldn’t hold off a tough colt named Caleb’s Posse who also looked excellent before the race. But Uncle Mo showed he still has the fire in the belly as they say. In fact if you watched them gallop out, Uncle Mo was a couple lengths to the good.  Uncle Mo figures to breath excitement into the racing scene, which is needed as the 3 year old crop isn’t all that intriguing.
  • The Travers – The race was overshadowed by the King’s Bishop.  Although you had the Preakness winner in Shackleford, and Belmont Winner in Ruler On Ice, the race didn’t hold the promise of many running of the great race.  Although he looked fabulous, Shackleford seems a bit tired after a real tough campaign.  Coil never got in the bridle and finished last. Stay Thirsty, proved he is a nice, if not brilliant colt and is definitely in the division lead. So now it appears it wil come down to the BC Classic to determine 3 yr old champion. It just might be a battle of the 2 stablemates.

As I walked out after the Travers I couldn’t help smiling. Saratoga is still Saratoga. With next years infusion of cash from the VLT’s next year seems even more promising. I for one cannot wait.

1

Northern Dancer’s Grave a Disgrace

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I read a note recently that Northern Dancer’s grave is surrounded by weeds.  I felt such sadness. One of the greatest stallions in history, who gave so much pride to Canada is lying is disrepair. For any of us that remember the 80′s, Northern Dancer was king of all stallions.  Windfields was a proud operation, who was the envy of stud farms worldwide. No one was close to Northern Dancer. A great racehorse, sire and sire of sires. Unreal that this can happen. To me one measure of a countries greatness is the way it remembers its heroes.

In case you don’t remember Northern Dancer, or are too young, This from Wikipedia:

$1 million stud fee and world record offspring prices

Between 1974 and 1988, twelve times Northern Dancer yearlings led the Keeneland July Selected Yearling Sale by average price. In the 1983 Keeneland Sales horse auction, one of Windfields’ colts, that would eventually be named Snaafi Dancer, became the first $10 million yearling. In 1984 his twelve yearlings sold for an unrivaled sale-record average of price of US$3,446.666.

In the 1980s, Northern Dancer’s stud fee reached US$1 million, an amount four to five times his rivals and a record amount that as of 2009 has not been equaled.

I remember the buzz in the arena at Keeneland. People cheered as records were smashed, especially the first 10 Million dollar yearling. The best way I can describe the auction is that it was like watching a baseball game and there is a walk off homerun. When it was over the place erupted.  Northern Dancer was the stallion whose offspring the world wanted.

Now Northern Dancer and 14 other proud racehorses lie amongst the weeds. Canada, you need to get your sh-it together and take care of your heroes.

Read article >> in Toronto News.

End of June Doldrums

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Once the Triple Crown ends, towards the end of June there is a real dull period until the premier meets of Saratoga and Del Mar.  Visiting the Bloodhorse, and other sites leads to more yawns. Just not much going on in the racing world.  Maybe the Queen’s Plate?  Not my cup a tea, good race but I can’t get excited.

Upcoming stakes, anything interesting there?

Charlie Barley S.
White Oak H.
Isaac Murphy H.
Iowa Sprint H.
Iowa Distaff S.
Saylorville S.
Kelly’s Landing S.
Golden State Cup S.
Karl Boyes Memorial S.

Nope, BORING. Unless you are a gig Iowa Distaff Stake fan?   I would call it the Radar O’Reilly Stakes myself.

Saratoga can’t get here soon enough…..