How to Improve and Grow the Sport of Horse Racing

 

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August 8th 2018

I am working on a multi-part series for US Racing titled “How to Improve and Grow the Sport of Horse Racing”

The first part can be viewed by clicking on the link below:

https://www.usracing.com/news/features/improve-grow-horse-racing

Please note that ESPN2 aired the Dodgeball World Cup during prime time on ESPN2 on tonight. I rest my case. This sport has sorely needed a prime time night of the week to sell itself for decades and Wednesday is completely open.

My series will touch on improving overall fan experience for events, increased safety for jockeys, increased safety for horses and catering more to the backbone of this industry: bettors.

Stay tuned! I am bringing in some unique, lifelong experiences, that I think will help this sport grow. And my US Racing editor, Derek Simon, is great for giving us writers the freedom to speak our mind.

US Racing has grown tremendously in the past few years.  Just about every monthly update I get, views are up over the previous months. US Racing has added many other talented writers, has had a free lance author Margaret Ransom get nominated for two Eclipse Writing Awards.

My article, Does Triple Crown Winner Justify Have A Weight Problem? was the top-read article on US Racing for the month of July.

–Michael

 

 

Why Justify’s Premature Retirement Threatens The Future Of Horse Racing

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August 3rd 2018

My latest US Racing article Why Justify’s Premature Retirement Threatens The Future Of Horse Racing can be accessed on the hyperlink below: 

https://www.usracing.com/news/features/justifys-premature-retirement-threatens-future-horse-racing 

The article was edited for length and probably should have been a two part feature. So I will use this blog to expand on some areas.

“They did the right thing”

Judging from some of the comments I received from those in favor of retiring Justify, aka the “They did the right thing” crowd, first it needs to pointed out that Justify has not been officially diagnosed with an injury. Inflammation in the joints of performance horses is extremely common. A good article on the causes can be found by clicking HERE

Plain and simple, Justify was retired because he was worth more in the breeding shed than on the race track. It begs the following questions:

  • Are we breeding to race or racing to breed?
  • If this is now the standard for a Triple Crown winner, then why will the casual fan have any interest in the sport outside of the three Triple Crown races?
  • Why will the casual fan want to invest time watching a sport knowing full well that their favorite horse’s career will be short-lived if they are too good on the racetrack?

Can’t Buy Love or a Triple Crown

You’ve heard the old saying that you can’t buy love? Well, you can’t buy a Triple Crown winner either. Both are just fate combined with a little luck. As I noted in my article how Secretariat’s progeny fared, if you want another example of the other side of the pond, how about Lammtarra?

Lammtarra won all four career starts, three of which were Group 1 turf races in 1995 with his biggest being the prestigious Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. His breeding rights were sold to Japanese investors for $30 million at the end of his 1996 breeding season. This would equate to $48 million US dollars today. Lammtarra’s best progeny were two Grade 3 Japanese winners. His stud fees plummeted from £30,000 (~$39,300) to £2,500 (~$3,275).

However, examples like this doesn’t stop the foolish spending and attempts of buying a future Triple Crown winner on genes alone.

More Emphasis On Fan Experience

As I noted in my article, with the recent Supreme Court decision on sports betting, Joe American will have more options when it comes to betting. And handicapping an NFL game is easier than handicapping a ten horse field. So the sport of horse racing is getting more competition in the future and will need to focus more on improving fan experience at events.

One of my biggest beefs is selling tickets to get into the Walking Ring area. Selling tickets for seating in the Walking Ring area, I understand. However, having to pay additional for a pass to even get in the area is just wrong and greedy. You have to allow every fan in attendance an opportunity to be up close to the stars of the sport. Not try to capitalize on every potential dollar that you can make off them.

As I noted in my article, the 2016 Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Santa Anita was a very disappointing experience. Why? Because the Breeders’ Cup LTD organization oversold tickets to capitalize on California Chrome’s popularity. While this event did set Breeders’ Cup attendance records (45,673 on Friday and 72,811 on Saturday), the Breeders’ Cup is supposed to be the Super Bowl of the sport. It was everything except.

At the Belmont Stakes this year, I had great reserved seating but it was a long walk, needing your ticket for clearance to get through security, to get to a place where you could buy a Long Island Ice Tea on Long Island. Then factor in poor cell phone reception and absolutely no docking stations for patrons. Fortunately, Belmont Park treats media like gold as they had media stations everywhere with outlets and I was able to recharge my phone.

Come Out of The Dark Ages

As I noted in my article, docking stations to recharge your cellphone, they are now becoming more commonplace at sports venues. They have them at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City. This is an example, along with others noted in my article, of what other sports do today to attract and retain fans. Especially the tech-savvy younger generation whom this sports needs to market more to.

Overall, I love the sport of horse racing. I want the sport to reclaim some of its former glory and success. However, many key people within the sport need to take a long look in the mirror and get out of their cushy suite and experience an event as a regular fan.

This sport needs to come up to speed with technology and fan experience if it wants to compete with other professional sports in the future.

–Michael

Justify Retired After 6 Career Starts

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July 25th 2018

As I predicted two weeks ago in my blog titled Why I became a fan of Horse Racing – before the ‘Sport of Kings’ killed the Goose that laid Golden Eggs” today it was announced that Justify will be retired. I hoped like hell that I would be wrong.

I could reference other sources for quotes and reasons for the early retirement, but I am not going to. I am not buying it. Instead, I would rather voice my opinion and make my commentary on a larger scale in a US Racing article that might reach more of the key players in the sport of horse racing.

I have a bit of an “Axe to Grind” with the sport of horse racing that I love and have been meaning to write about it for awhile. But I sort of got sidetracked, so caught up in the Justify hysteria that I put it aside.

Stay tuned! This next US Racing article will cut like a knife but it needs to for its survival.

–Michael

Does Justify Have A Weight Issue?

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July 23rd 2018 – Update July 24th 2018

My latest article for US Racing that is titled “Does Justify Have A Weight Problem?” can be accessed clicking on the previous hyperlink or below: 

https://www.usracing.com/news/features/triple-crown-winner-justify-weight-problem

I joked with my editor that the title he chose for my article is going to get me in hot water with my primarily women readership. Why? I have never known any woman who didn’t think they were too fat. Just so you know, I have never, ever said a word about the weight of any woman I have been with. Ever. 

At any rate, my editor came a bit to my rescue in an article today titled: Why Can’t Horseracing Fans Be Like Other Sports Fans?”

Weight is the enemy of speed and too much weight is bad on the joints. Please read my article before judging. Thanks!

Some interesting tidbits, all three Kentucky Derby winners Elwood, Sir Huron and Donau,  who I profiled in my article, all had faster times in the Kentucky Derby than the 1st Triple Crown winne Sir Barton by roughly 2 seconds. 

–Michael

 

Why I became a fan of Horse Racing – before the ‘Sport of Kings’ killed the Goose that laid Golden Eggs

July 11th 2018

My latest US Racing article “Why I became a fan of Horse Racing” can be accessed by clicking on the previous hyperlink or HERE.

After you read the above article, to get a real feel for that era and what I felt, watch this video below–Howard Cosell interviewing Steve Cauthen going for his 1st Kentucky Derby. 

Cauthen doesn’t even look like he is shaving yet. It seems so surreal today. Cauthen wins the Kentucky and then the Triple Crown on Affirmed.

<insert long pause while I channel my emotions>

Sadly, the Golden Era of horse racing was the 1970s when I was growing up. There will never be another Golden Era like it. This era was before the Sport of Kings killed the Goose that laid Golden Eggs. A time before breeding rights became so lucrative it retired its stars early.

And you don’t even have to be a huge star to get retired early, just win a couple of Triple Crown races and lose the Belmont Stakes and the star performer, who you would like to root on further, usually gets retired to the breeding shed.

In case you haven’t heard, yesterday Justify has officially been taken out of training for swelling in his left front ankle. Read between the lines here folks. This, while I am sure its true, will be nothing more than an excuse to retire Justify early.

Justify is estimated to be worth $100 Million dollars by virtue of his $75 million dollar breeding rights. The cost to insure him to race has been estimated to be 3 to 5% of his net worth. That is $3 to $5 Million dollars. 

My guess, if Justify is not going to be retired soon, he won’t race in anything less than the Pegasus World Cup with its $16 Million dollar purse. And I wouldn’t hold my breath on that one as Justify’s racing expiration date was thrown around as the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

The sport of horse racing was one of the top three sports at the turn of the 20th Century and now the sport wonders why it has faded and fallen behind so many others sports today, many of which weren’t invented at that time or were nothing more than a local college sport or a gym activity after the fact.

So what’s mostly wrong with the sport of horse racing? See video below for the hint that kills every good sport.

To cut to the chase more specifically. The real reason? Rich men, with too much money, tax write-offs and no damn common sense. How did Secretariat’s progeny fare? You can’t buy a Triple Crown on breeding alone. See Zenyatta for your latest example. Yet the insanity and ludicrous spending on breeding rights and yearlings continues.

If President Trump wants to make “America Great Again” I think the sport of horse racing shouldn’t be ignored.

Stepping off my High Horse…

–Michael

Justify’s biggest threats in completing the Grand Slam

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July 8th 2018

After Diversify’s impressive win in the Suburban Stakes at Belmont Park yesterday, I had to do some quick research to come up with a list the top Breeders’ Cup Classic contenders that represent the biggest threats in thwarting Justify’s bid to become the 2nd Grand Slam winner of North American horse racing.

No decision has been made yet on when and where Justify’s next start will come, but it won’t be in the Haskell Invitational scheduled for the end of this month. However, they are planning to run him in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs on November 3rd and a prep race before then. My guess on the prep race is that it will be the Travers Stakes on August 25th at Saratoga.

Below are the top four horses in the older horse division that I feel are the biggest threats in preventing Justify joining American Pharoah as a Grand Slam champion. Really this should be a top three list as I doubt Diversify will be entered into the Classic:

2018 Breeders’ Cup Classic Contenders

1) Accelerate –Accelerate completed the Big Cap-Gold Cup double this spring having been victorious in the Santa Anita Handicap in March and Gold Cup at Santa Anita Stakes on May 26th. Next Start: The TVG Pacific Classic at Del Mar on August 18th.

Career: 19 Starts 7-5-5-1   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 2
Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 3 Starts  2-0-1-0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>2nd–>1st
Sire: Lookin At Lucky
Trainer: John Sadler
Jockey: Victor Espinoza (2015 Breeders’ Cup Classic Winner)
Fastest 1 1/4 Mile Time: 2:01.38 – 2018 Gold Cup at Santa Anita Stakes
Best Beyer Speed Figure in 1 1/4 Mile Race: 1112018 Gold Cup at Santa Anita Stakes
Best Beyer Speed Figure in 2017: 111 – 2018 Gold Cup at Santa Anita Stakes
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 111 – 2018 Gold Cup at Santa Anita Stakes  

2) Thunder SnowAs a 3-year-old, many fans will remember his “I’m outta here” start in the 2017 Kentucky Derby. However, he bounced back from that performance to win a couple of Group 1 races: The 2017 Prix Jean Prat (on turf) and the 2018 Dubai World Cup (beating the Bob Baffert-trained West Coast). Next Start: Nothing has been confirmed to date but they are eyeing the Jockey Club Gold Cup race at Belmont Park on September 29th.

Career: 18 Starts 7-5-0-1   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 3
Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 1 Starts 0-0-0-0
Last 3 starts: 1st–>2nd->1st
Sire: Helmet
Trainer: Saeed bin Suroor
Jockey: Christophe Soumillon
Fastest 1 1/4th Mile Time: N/A
Best Beyer Speed Figure in 1 1/4 Mile Race: N/A
Best Beyer Speed Figure in 2018: 111 – 2018 Dubai World Cup
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 111 – 2018 Dubai World Cup

3) West Coast – Another Breeders’ Cup Classic contender from Bob Baffert’s barn. West Coast finished 3rd in last year’s Classic. This year, he has two 2nd places finishes in the Pegasus World Cup and the Dubai World Cup. He has never finished off the board in 11 career starts and has the highest Beyer Speed Figure this year (117) of active horses still in training. He will have a different jockey than Mike Smith if both Justify and West Coast are entered in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Next Start: Nothing announced to date. But my guess would be the Pacific Classic at Del Mar on August 18th.

Career: 11 Starts 6-4-1-0   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 1
Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 2 Starts  1-0-1-0
Last 3 starts: 3rd–>2nd–>2nd
Sire: Flatter
Trainer: Bob Baffert (2014, 2015 & 2016 Breeders’ Cup Classic Winning Trainer)
Jockey: Mike Smith (1997, 2009, 2011 & 2016 Breeders’ Cup Classic Winner)
Fastest 1 1/4 Mile Time: 2:01.19 – 2017 Travers Stakes 
Best Beyer Speed Figure in 1 1/4 Mile Race: 112 – 2017 Breeders’ Cup Classic
Best Beyer Speed Figure in 2018: 117 – 2018 Pegasus World Cup 
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 117 – 2018 Pegasus World Cup 

4) Diversify – The 5-year-old gelding eclipsed the $1 Million dollar mark in career earnings with his win in the Suburban Stakes. His biggest career win was the 2017 Jockey Club Gold Cup race at Belmont Park. He runs great in the state of New York and especially at Belmont Park. The question is, can he transfer this form to another track? Last year, he finished 4th in the 9 furlong Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs. Next Start: The Woodward Stakes at Saratoga on September 1st. 

Career: 14 Starts 9-2-0-1   Grade 1 Stakes Wins: 1
Career in 1 1/4 Mile Races: 2 Starts  2-0-0-0
Last 3 starts: 7th–>1st–>1st
Sire: Bellamy Road
Trainer: Richard Violette
Jockey: Irad Ortiz Jr.
Fastest 1 1/4th Mile Time: 1:59.84 – 2018 Suburban Stakes
Best Beyer Speed Figure in 1 1/4 Mile Race: 110 – 2018 Suburban Stakes
Best Beyer Speed Figure in 2018: 110- 2018 Suburban Stakes
Career Best Beyer Speed Figure: 110 – 2018 Suburban Stakes


On the Docket…

I should have an article for US Racing coming out in the next few days that highlights how I became a fan of horse racing. I think you might enjoy it.

Update: Here’s the link: https://www.usracing.com/news/features/became-fan-horse-racing

–Michael

My Boy Jack is Back! Entered in the Belmont Derby

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July 6th 2018 – Updated July 7th 2018 5:15 PM CST

One of the more popular horses on this year’s Kentucky Derby Day–My Boy Jack-is making his first start of the year since the Run for the Roses in tomorrow’s Belmont Derby. The Belmont Derby will be aired live on Fox Sports 2 between 5 and 6 PM CST.

The Belmont Derby is a high profile turf race for 3-year-olds that carries a $1.2 million dollar purse. That is just $300,000 less than what the Preakness and Belmont Stakes offered. And it has attracted a great field which includes a winner of a recent Royal Ascot race, Hunting Horn, who won the Group 3 Hampton Court Stakes for trainer Aidan O’Brien.

Below are the entries, post-positions, weights, jockey assignments and morning line odds:

The Belmont Derby

The Belmont Derby – 1 1/4th Mile – Race #10 at Belmont Park – Post-Time: Saturday July 7th at 5:30 PM CST. Televised by NBC 

Post/Horse/Jockey/Weight/Trainer/Odds
1. Channel Cat (122) – Saez/Pletcher – 30/1
2. Encumbered (122) – Gutierrez/Callaghan – 30/1
3. Analyze It (122) – J.Ortiz/Brown – 5/2
4. Hunting Horn (122) – Moore/O’Brien – 7/2
5. Maraud (122) – Velazquez/Pletcher – 12/1
6. Kingstar (122) – Boudot/Brandt – 12/1
7. Catholic Boy (122) – Castellano/Thomas – 4/1
8. Hawkish (122) –  Franco/Toner – 7/2
9. My Boy Jack (122) – Desormeaux/Desormeaux – 6/1

Race Commentary: One thing I have learned over the years, don’t try to handicap turf races. At least North American turf races. They are usually wide-open and totally unpredictable. That being said, you can make a boat load of money on exotics for this type of race (big purse, turf, distance, 3-year-olds). My recommendation, just enjoy the race and if you are going to bet, make small wager exotics using longshots. I might make a few myself but it wouldn’t be prudent to recommend them to my readers as they aren’t likely to hit. But if they do, they will pay out well.

Update:

The Belmont Derby is being aired live on Fox Sports 2. NBC’s coverage of the Belmont Park races stopped at 5PM.


On the Docket…

I should have an article for US Racing coming out soon that highlights how I became a fan of horse racing. I think you might enjoy it.

–Michael

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Patch to race tomorrow in the Stephen F. Foster Handicap

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June 15th 2018 – Updated June 16th 2018 6:45 PM CST

Tomorrow evening, NBC Sports will air the Stephen F. Foster Handicap, a “Win and You’re In” race for the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Post time is 9:39 PM EST, 8:39 PM CST.

The one-eyed horse Patch was entered and drew the 2nd post and was given 10-1 Morning Line Odds. He’ll have some stiff competition in Backyard Heaven (6/5), Irish War Cry (5/1), Pavel (5/1), Lookin’ At Lee (12/1) and last year’s Stephen F. Foster Runner-Up–Honorable Duty (6/1). This will be a very interesting race because 7 out of the 9 entries are all coming off of wins in their last start.

I was planning on previewing this race, but life got in the way. The birth of my grandson Madden Joseph came unexpectedly late last night. And I have finally added a Grandson to my Grankid Trifecta.

Anyway, you can see the full Stephen F. Foster Handicap field on Equibase by clicking HERE

Update: You can see the Brisnet Past Performances by clicking HERE. When looking at the Brisnet Prime Power Ratings, this should be a close and exciting race. The horses that I would put in my Trifecta would be: Backyard Heaven, Honorable Duty and Patch. But I would give this a low confidence rating because this field is so close in talent. 

Backyard Heaven is the deserved favorite, but I am not sure he really deserves odds as low as 6/5 in this field. I don’t feel that this is the best distance for Patch but I feel his chances of hitting the board are pretty good. One horse that many liked last year, Pavel, could pull a surprise performance. He finished 4th in the Gold Cup race at Santa Anita Park back three weeks ago. 


On the docket…

I submitted my article for US Racing today that is tentatively titled: “Justify vs American Pharoah: Who’s Better?” This should come out in the next few days and I would guess by Monday evening at the latest. I’ll keep you posted.

–Michael

My Triple Crown Dream Was Justified

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June 12th 2018

I don’t even know where to begin when writing about my experience at the 150th Belmont Stakes or what adjectives to use to describe it. I checked off something that was at the top of  my bucket list by witnessing a Triple Crown Championship won in person. And the cherry on top was the fact that Justify became only the 2nd Triple Crown Champion to go through all three legs undefeated. Justify’s great-great-great grandsire Seattle Slew is the other.

I didn’t get to post this on my blog in time as this article for US Racing was posted while I was at the track Saturday but I did call this race. See: Why Justify Will Become the 13th Triple Crown Champion. 

Perhaps, it best that I share the two videos I took below and you will get idea of what I experienced. This race undoubtedly goes into my Top 5 sports memories viewed in person along with American Pharoah’s win in the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Classic to make him the first Grand Slam Champion of American Thoroughbred racing.

 

Gronkowski

I was really surprised how well the Aidan O’Brien-trained colt Gronkowski performed in the Belmont Stakes with his 2nd place finish. This colt had never raced further than a mile and had raced mostly on turf or synthetic surfaces. I didn’t really think this was the best race for him but he exceeded all expectations. Unfortunately for me and quite a few others, Gronkowski killed all of my exotic bets.

TV Ratings

Although the Belmont Stakes on NBC was the most watched TV program all weekend, the ratings are down from when American Pharoah and California Chrome made their Triple Crown attempts at Belmont. The theory is that since Justify didn’t race as a 2 year old, that he hadn’t developed the following along the way as the other two.

At any rate, my blog views this year were down considerably from January thru May over the last two years. I blame some of this on the fact the Older Horse division lacks stars due to so many key retirements. And also the fact that the most popular Derby contenders in this class entering the year were more lightly raced than in year’s past.

However, Justify is just what this sport needed. The interest seems to be back better than ever as my blog views for the month of June have already set a new record over previous years. So, I foresee that this year’s Breeders’ Cup World Championship at Churchill Downs will break a lot of records if Justify races in it as expected.


On the docket…

I am currently working on another article for US Racing that is tentatively titled: “Justify vs American Pharoah: Who’s Better?” This should come out in the next week or so.

For my blog, I also plan to preview this coming Saturday’s Stephen F. Foster Handicap if Patch is entered. So far this has not been confirmed.

–Michael