Friday, October 23, 2009

Miscellaneous Musings

*** I've received some emails as to the infrequency of the blog in the last month. Frankly a lot is going on with work and my free time is at a minimum. I try to hold each post to some standard and I generally wait until I have the proper time to do something worthwhile.

With that said I've been picking at the Breeders Cup selections and analysis and the blog will go into overdrive the week of the event. I'm also planning on doing a live blog throughout the day.

Also, the second part of the Saratoga piece has not been shelved. Many thanks to the Paulick Report for highlighting the piece. I've gotten some great feedback and it is certainly appreciated. I had the follow up about 90% done before I went in a broader, more extensive direction. It now rivals War & Peace in length. I'm actually going to chop that into more parts, but I'm not planning on posting it until after the Breeders Cup so I can give it its proper due.

*** Rail Trip's defection from the Classic is a big blow for the Americans in our signature race. We are essentially left with Summer Bird and Einstein in my opinion. Summer Bird is boom or bust without any form over synthetics. Einstein is the type of horse that runs a game 2nd or 3rd here and only wins if the race falls apart. If you get the feeling that I don't seem optimistic about the Americans in this race, you're correct.

*** Gitano Hernando, the G1 Goodwood upsetter and The Rail Touts $38 hero is bypassing the Classic. Sad to hear, but you cant fault connections for doing what they think is right by the horse. I think he stood a great chance to get a piece of the Classic, despite the fact that the Classic would be the dreaded second start "off the plane".

*** Betting with your head is overrated. The Tout bypassed a recent wager on a good friends horse while at the track, only to watch it pay over $100. I try to bet with my head most of the time, but typically while at the track I'll throw a little money around on personal interests. Being Mr. Bigshot after making Keeneland my personal punching bag during my last day at the Spring meet, I went against the routine and decided to "bet with my head" all day. (Because I've got this game figured out now!) I promptly missed a $2,500 payday. Go figure how the rest of my day went... right into the lumberyard, Danny.

*** You have to give Claiborne some credit for being the first major Kentucky farm to release their 2010 stud fees. Most farms are in wait and see mode, scared to put themselves out there only to have to make later revisions. (Like Lanes End in '09) Nobody really knows where the market is and I suspect most don't want to accept just how bad it could be. Mares bred were down 10% last year, and I suspect we will see another 10-15% decline in 2010. (Which might not be a bad thing, but I'll save that for another day)

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Weekend Review

G1 Goodwood

Congratulations to Team Valor for the big upset. They have a great track record of scoring first off the plane and where this might have looked a bit ambitious, the truth was Gitano Hernando’s form was solid, he was on the improve and figured to be flattered by a track that is counterproductive to American horses.

Gitano is a dangerous horse in the Classic. The 9f of the Goodwood is well shorter than his preferred distance and he beat a fair bit of America’s best Classic contenders. Minus Zenyatta, his only real concern is other foreign invaders. (Rip Van Winkle & Mastercraftsman)

The main take home point here is the American’s stand little chance against the Euro’s for the Breeder’s Cup. What we’ve got with synthetic racing these days, is horses bred for dirt, running over a synthetic track that is best suited for turf runners. So, the best out West are generally just the horses that regress the least over the surface they are not ideally suited for.

This is highlighted when west coasters ship abroad and get throttled or the Euro’s come over and teach a thing or two about turf racing.

One can only hope that the Breeders Cup will not be run on a synthetic track again and that Santa Anita will eventually convert the track back to dirt. The alternative would be for American breeders to completely refocus on breeding for turf racing, which is a long shot considering it’s something they’ve typically had a major aversion to. Without a major shift in focus to turf racing we will continue to produce false standouts and G1 winners over a surface than 1% of the participants are suited for.

G1 Clement Hirsch

Pressious Passion is by far my favorite horse in the sport. His wild, front running tactics are a sight to behold and one can’t help but enjoy watching a horse run as absolutely fast as he can for as long as he can.

He got back to his winning ways here in the Hirsch, after a disappointing effort in the Arlington Million. It’s not hard to see why this horse prefers the firm going. His speed is blunted over a soft course as was the case at Arlington.

Once the early splits lit up in the Hirsch, the race was over. Passion going a half in .47 is like having a Porsche idling.

If he sets a .47 half in the Breeders Cup, good night…

G1 Lady’s Secret

Slow race, low Beyer, visually impressive.

Not much more to say. The great mare continues her perfect run and soundly toyed with the field. She’s not beating anything of note but she looks to be rounding back into form at the right time.

She is America’s real hope to win the Classic and I hope her connections decide to give her that shot. It’s win-win proposition. If she triumphs she will go down as one of the best race mares of all time. If she is to retire losing a race, it serves her better to have that loss against males in the toughest race of the year as opposed to against her own gender in a race that will largely be considered an afterthought by many. (Plus, who can consider any American a “lock” after the way the track has played for foreign imports?)

She’s been handled with the kid gloves this year; it’s time to let the mare show us what she’s got.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Saratoga Expansion

It’s just been announced by the NYRA that the 2010 Saratoga meet will be expanded by 4 days, creating an additional weekend of racing. The Coaching Club American Oaks will be moved from Belmont Park to opening weekend at Saratoga.

I’ll spare the PR speak given about the decision but the bottom line is there is more money to be made at Saratoga rather than Belmont.

Of course I thoroughly disagree with the decision. As I’ve harped since the inception of this blog, racing needs less days not more. You increase quality by decreasing quantity. The quality of the Saratoga meet has gradually declined as the meet has shifted from its original 24 day meet, to the now ever bloated 40 day meet.

Yesterday I posted a breakdown of the Saratoga money flow (With the second part of that post coming tomorrow) and if you click here, you can see a day by day breakdown of the purses on offer in 2009.

As you can see the average race card at Saratoga has drastically declined. While Saratoga still boasts one of the best stakes schedules in the sport, the quality of most cards is really lacking. Now to be fair, a weak card at Saratoga is a strong card elsewhere, but some people like me hold Saratoga to a higher standard.

Also, a troubling theme is developing with the way the NYRA is structuring stakes races. The Coaching Club American Oaks and Alabama are now essentially the same race. Much like there is no difference between the Whitney and Woodward. While it is obvious more people watch the Woodward at Saratoga and more will wager on the CCAO at Saratoga, the race will be degraded as they will be run over identical configurations by largely the same fields.

Why we can’t follow the European model, which focuses on short(er) meets of extremely high quality is beyond me. You won’t see a card filled with claimers in Europe, but get ready for them at the Spa; they’ve got a foothold and aren’t going away any time soon.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Purse Structures & Money Flow Pt.1

As many who follow the blog know, I’ve been somewhat interested in finding new ways to structure purses, largely in an attempt to create greater incentive for horses to have longer careers.

An idea I’ve thrown around was to tier purses so that 4yo+ runs for more money than 3yo’s, who run for more money than 2yo’s and so on.

For once, rather than state an idea and assume it has merit I decided to dig in to the existing purse structure to see how it is distributed and see what if any changes could be made.

I chose Saratoga to review, which seemed as logical as any as it was underway at the time and is a quite lucrative meet.

So, what follows below is a break down of all purse money for the 2009 Saratoga meet. I elected to break the money down in several ways, by division and gender and then by race type.

I will make one note though about the numbers and state in advance that broad assumptions derived from them would be foolish as each meet is somewhat unique, not only in what it focuses on but where it falls in the year. Saratoga is known for its baby races and its top shelf stakes schedule. So it serves a slightly different purpose in late summer than say the Keeneland fall meet, where aside from the odd quarter-horse esque dash for the ultra-precocious types, most 2yo’s are still in training, therefore they don’t card many 2yo races. Also, for a meet like that, you have to card many more age restricted races then you would in late summer where most horses have to be introduced to the older horse ranks.

With that said here are the numbers…

Saratoga 2009

Percentage of Total Purse Money Offered By Age & Gender

2yo Fillies: 8.9%
2yo Colt: 9.6%
3yo Fillies: 6.9%
3yo Colts: 11.5%
3yo + F/M: 25.1%
3yo + C: 35%

Here is a further breakdown of the above stats with the stakes earnings for each division separated from the purses they run for in maiden, claiming or allowance races.

2yo Fillies 6.2%
2yo Fillies Stakes: 2.6%
2yo Colt: 6.9
2yo Colt Stakes: 2.7
3yo Fillies: 0%
3yo Fillies Stakes: 6.9%
3yo Colts: 0.9%
3yo Colts Stakes: 10.5%
3yo + F/M: 13.8%
3yo + F/M Stakes: 11.2%
3yo + C: 22.5%
3yo + C Stakes: 14.5%

Percentage of Total Purse Money Offered By Race Type

Maiden: 23.3%
Claiming: 8.7%
Allowance: 17.7%
Listed Stakes: 12.7%
Graded Stakes: 37.5%

*** The maiden percentage includes maiden claiming races. Allowance is a catch all for straight allowances, allowance-optional claimers and starter handicaps.

Percentage of Total Stakes versus Total Non-Stakes Races

Stakes: 50.2%
Non-Stakes: 49.8%

Points of note

• It’s hard to make the case that more money should be added to the stakes purses as half of the money is going to the top 1-2% of the breed to begin with.

• 25% of all money offered goes to maidens, the majority of which is going to 3yo and up maidens.

• The average race card is dominated by unproven or questionable stock. More cards have a higher percentage of maiden and claiming races than allowance or listed stakes.

• 75% of purse money is given to maidens and stakes horses. A wild curve considering the majority of horses fall somewhere in between those two points.

• At Saratoga, having a 3yo filly is the worst possible age/gender to have

*** Friday I’ll post the second part, giving ideas that will address putting the existing money into better use, as well as a structure that could incentivize keeping horses active longer or at the very least rewarding those that choose to stick around.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Weekend Review

(G1) Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe

The story was Sea The Stars going in and he delivered a stirring effort to win the Arc, a race that apparently has cemented his status amongst the great horses of all time in Europe. I say "appears" because I don't know nearly enough about foreign racing and its history to have a really good opinion one way or the other. (Though I enjoy reading about the great Brigadier Gerrard from time to time)

What I do know is that him becoming the first horse to ever win the Guineas-Derby-Arc treble coupled with the manner in which he won the race Sunday is very impressive.

After breaking sharp, Sea The Stars was rank throughout the first mile of the race being tucked in behind horses on the rail. Turning into the straight you couldn't help but question whether the horse was going to find the necessary room to make a run for it.

A slight hole finally appeared and despite some contact to claim the position, the colt turned on the afterburners and quickly found himself a couple lengths the better of the field.

It cannot be overlooked that his trip in the race would have humbled many a good horse. Great horses though, find a way...

(G1) Jockey Club Gold Cup

The year of the off track continued Saturday, as well as the ascension of Summer Bird up the ranks. He may not better better than Rachel Alexandra, but he is better than every other dirt horse in the world.

In fact I'd go as far as to say he is the second best horse in training in North America. (Surpassing even Zenyatta in terms of current ability) This little horse has really lived up to his potential and has impressed me by developing a little fight on the front end. He is by no means a speed horse, but he has shown some real pep early in each of his last three races. Adding that to his stamina based pedigree has created a really fine racehorse.

I'm not optimistic about any non Euro, much less an east coast-dirt horse, winning the Classic this year but he could be a big factor if he fires over the synthetic surface. If the BC was on dirt this year, he'd be the logical favorite.

I certainly need to tip the hat to Quality Road. He was in much better condition for this race and it showed as he fought a very good horse to the wire, despite the stamina edge his rival held.

I really hope Quality Road comes back next year. I do believe with a winter to further develop and some much needed experience under him, he could turn into a real monster next year. I could easily see this horse dominating the east coast, knocking down 3-4 G1 races. (If not more)

Hopefully the depressed market will keep him around.