The Brock Talk

Monday, February 28, 2011

And The Brocktalkscar Goes To...

Certainly nobody thinks that horse racing’s Eclipse Awards are anything in comparison to Hollywood’s Oscars, but one has to wonder what a $30 million production budget and six hours of live network coverage might do for our little party. The organizers for the Eclipse Awards could easily make up some ground - first, by getting Billy Crystal to host next year; and second, adding a few more awards to the show to Hollywood the event up a little bit. So in that spirit, I present to you the Brocktalkscars.

Best Set Design: Charles Cella in the Race for the Ages.
For almost two years, racing fans around the country yearned for west coast queen Zenyatta to race against east coast queen Rachel Alexandra. Before either mare started in 2010, Oaklawn Park president Charles Cella announced that he would increase the purse of the grade 1 Apple Blossom to $5 million if both Rachel and Zenyatta started. What made the offer so intriguing is that is was feasible as both mares had won at Oaklawn and both owners agreed to the concept. As it turned out however, Rachel Alexandra did not show, the purse was only $500,000 and Zenyatta got her 16th consecutive victory. But the stage had been set… and was designed so well.

Choreography: Zenyatta, in The Pre-Race Dance
If there has been a more entertaining, dominating or fascinating pre-race rituals by any other race horse in history, please let me know. Zenyatta would start bowing her neck and kick-stepping her front legs at times before she even arrived in the saddling enclosure. That would continue usually through the post parade after which she would start her side passing (or side rocking), routine with jockey Mike Smith often dangling he legs out of the stirrups. Zenyatta would also at times seem to wait at the starting gate for her challengers to arrive as if to say, “once you step in here, you’re mine.” It was almost as enjoyable as watching her run.

Make Up: The Brock Talk, with Mine That Bird
I spent a good part of last year on this blog making up reasons why I thought Mine That Bird would win his next race. That went over about as well as James Franco and Anne Hathaway.

Best Short Action Film: Calvin Borel in The Little Fighter
Best Short Animated Film: Calvin Borel in The Little Fighter
In one of perhaps the most compelling moments in post-race history, jockeys Calvin Borel and Javier Castellano started trading punches with ESPN cameras conducting post race interviews nearby. The two were quickly separated, but Borel remained in an animated cajun rage while relentlessly trying to get at Castellano. Borel was eventually escorted back to the jockeys’ quarters at Churchill Downs by half the jockey colony, a few security guards, agents, friends and whoever else who had become part of the posse.

Costume Design: Looking at Lucky in Kentucky Derby Prep Races
He had everything I tell ya. The looks. The Championship. He had that silver-haired trainer Bob Baffert who won three Kentucky Derbies. And he ran in the silks of Derby winning co-owner Michael Peagram. Those famous yellow and orange silks that remind us of Derby winner Real Quiet. And Lookin at Lucky had a jockey with the nickname “Go Go.” He had everything I tell ya. He looked exactly like a Derby winner.

Best Actor: Quality Road, in The Starting Gate
After impersonating Charlie Sheen before the start of the 2009 Breeders’ Cup in which he nearly destroyed the Santa Anita starting gate and crew, Quality Road went through 2010 like a perfect gentleman. In six starts during the year, Quality Road did not have a single cross look to or from an assistant starter. Quality Road never relapsed after winter starting gate rehab.

Best Actress: Lisa Norwood, in the Life at Ten Investigation
What has it been now? Nearly three months? And Kentucky Horse Racing Commission Lisa Norwood Exec. is still acting like there’s no hurry to find a resolution to the Life at Ten Case.

Best Director: Todd Pletcher, in Kentucky Derby Prep Races
Before the Kentucky Derby last year, trainer Todd Pletcher was loaded. His stable had won the Lexington Stakes, Wood Memorial, Louisiana Derby, Sam F. Davis, Fountain of Youth, and Risen Star Stakes. He eventually saddled five Derby horses of which perhaps his most talented 3-year-old, Eskendereya, was not a part; and a filly, Devil May Care was. While most trainers would envy having that armament, it did come with a ton of pressure (some based on his 0-24 Derby record) and at the very least, a challenge to manage successfully. In the end, Super Saver won the Derby for Pletcher while evicting the proverbial monkey at the same time.

Best Motion Picture: Breeders’ Cup Classic
As difficult as it was for some to accept that Zenyatta had lost, the Breeders’ Cup Classic of 2010 taken by Blame will go down in history as providing as much drama as any stretch run in the sport.

There you have it. The first edition of the Brocktalkscars. And we didn’t even run over into local news.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Fountain of Youth Is Next Step To Maturity On Derby Trail

The first trimester of the Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brand (gr. 1) season of preparation ends this weekend with the Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. 2) at Gulfstream Park in the biggest spotlight. The $400,000, 1-1/8 race for 3-year-olds will be the last major race along the Triple Crown trail for the month of February with now only March and April before the Run for the Roses in May.

There is also the Borderland Derby at Sunland Park, the Turf Paradise Derby at Turf Paradise in Phoenix, Arizona and the seven furlong Hutcheson Stakes (gr. 3) at Gulstream Park this weekend, but none are expected to have the impact on the Derby like the Fountain of Youth field.

There have been a number of notable Derby prep races in February and most were won by respectful but short of awe inspiring winners. Brethren looked very good while winning the Sam F. Davis (gr. 3) at Tampa Bay Downs, but the Todd Pletcher trainee fell short of impressing the speed figure and numbers handicappers in that race. Dialed In had a nice come from-behind win in the Holy Bull Stakes (gr. 3) Gulfstream Park and has the benefit of trainer Nick Zito. But the Mineshaft colt missed this weekend’s Fountain of Youth which at least raises some doubts.

Mucho Macho Man finished fourth behind Dialed In in the Holy Bull then came back to take the Risen Star Stakes (gr. 2) at Fair Grounds. Although the Risen Star wasn’t that deep of a field, Mucho Macho Man seems to be moving in the right direction - and improvement this time of year is a valuable commodity for a 3-year-old thoroughbred.

Further West, trainer Bob Baffert unleashed The Factor in the seven furlong San Vincente Stakes (gr. 3) in February, and again, it was a solid performance. But like Dialed In, Baffert may not have as many opportunities as may like to prepare for the 10 furlong Kentucky Derby. The grade 3 Sunland Derby Mar. 27 or the Mar. 19 Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas are possibilities.

This is no knock on the winner’s of the these graded races in February, but the reality is that of those four races only the Holy Bull and San Vincente have had winners go on to also take the Derby. In 1994 Go For Gin won both the Holy Bull and Kentucky Derby and Barbaro won both races in 2006. No horse has ever won both the Risen Star and the Derby nor the Sam Davis and Derby. Three horses have taken the Derby and San Vincente, but one has to go back to Silver Charm in 1997 to find the most recent. The other two were 30 and 40 years previous to Silver Charm in Lucky Debonair in 1965 and Swaps in 1955.

While there has not been a superstar performance among the sophomores this year, many of more anticipated contenders have yet to make a stakes appearance including 2010 Champion Two-Year-Old Male Uncle Mo – set for a March 12 race in either the Timely Writer Stakes at Gulfstream or the Tampa Bay Derby at Tampa Bay Downs the same day.

The other 3-year-old near the top of most Derby lists yet to debut this year is To Honor and Serve, winner of the Remsen Stakes (gr. 2) (video below) and Nashua Stakes (gr. 2) last year. But To Honor and Serve will be making his first start in nearly 90 days this weekend as the favorite in the Fountain of Youth. Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott has expressed little concern however, saying To Honor and Serve may be his best chance to win the Kentucky Derby and has seemed pleased with the colts winter training regime in Florida.

The Fountain of Youth will also be the second start of the year for Soldat, a winner of an 1-1/8 allowance race at Gulfstream Park by more than 10 lengths Jan. 21. Last year Soldat concluded the year by finishing second behind Pluck in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (gr. 2T) after winning the grade 3 With Anticipation Stakes at Saratoga last summer, also on grass. But trainer Kiaran McLaughlin had to like what he saw when Soldat seemed to even excel on dirt in that recent allowance win. With little doubt Soldat likes the Gulfstream main track at least.

Also interesting about Soldat is his pedigree. He is by War Front, who was more of a sprinter as a race horse but who also won the minor Princelet Stakes at Belmont Park at 1-1/16 miles. Also known as a sire of sprinters, War Front has San Vincente Stakes (gr. 2) winner The Factor on the Triple Crown trail with trainer Bob Baffert in Southern California as well.

Gourmet Dinner is another making his second start of 2011 after finishing third behind winner Dialed In and runner-up Sweet Ducky in the Holy Bull. However, in the Holy Bull, Gourmet Dinner finished ahead of Mucho Macho Man in fourth. Mucho Mach Man of course, won his next start in the Risen Star Stakes (gr. 2) at Fair Grounds Feb. 19. Trainer Steve Stanbridge has also made a rider change for the son of Trippi, giving the reins aboard Gourmet Dinner to Ramon Dominguez.

Among other Fountain Youth starters is the trio of Shakleford, Casper’s Touch and El Grayling, the top three finishers in a Feb. 5 allowance race at Gulfstream Park, also at the 1-1/8 mile distance. While Shackleford was the winner, Casper’s Touch was closing second after overcoming plenty of trouble in that race.

Like the Holy Bull Stakes, the Fountain of Youth has seen only two of it’s winners go on to take the Derby in Kentucky. Spectacular Bid in 1979 and Thunder Gulch in 1995 both won the Fountain of Youth on their way to the Derby winner’s circle.

It would be difficult to be certain that this year’s Kentucky Derby winner will be running in the Fountain of Youth Stakes Saturday, but it is certainly the most serious Derby prep to date and this field has it's share of potential that previous runnings may not have had. And this time of year, potential is just what we'll be looking for.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Hashtags Among Improvements Horse Racing Can Do With Twitter

Horse racing has a history of not quite catching the golden media ring of opportunity, especially when it comes to new technology. While among the most popular sports in America during the early part of the 20th century, the horse racing where-with-alls then infamously failed to embrace television. They feared television and that it would doom the sport by taking away on-track fans.

During the 1980s and 90s, casinos began to embrace new gaming technologies such a player-tracking and more importantly, player identification Horse racing lagged behind because of expense and uncertainty whether players wanted to be tracked and never seemed to catch the benefits of "frequent-flyer-wagering" like their counterparts with slots and tables.

There are other examples of failed marketing opportunities lost by horse racing executives and I’m afraid we’re seeing it again. Horse racing is not taking full advantage of social media such as Twitter and Facebook.

Nearly every conventional media still in existence today, from print to network television, are supported by social media. Manufacturers, retailers and bankers, to name a few, all have large social media campaigns and marketing strategies. Octogenarian and award-winning actress Betty White was asked to host Saturday Night Live last year after a Facebook page was created, supported by her fans and recognized by SNL producer Lorne Michaels. Michaels asked White to host and the episode was the highest rated Saturday Night Live show in nearly two years.

Late Night television host Jimmy Fallon has entire segments built around Twitter and Twitter hashtags. Words or phrases proceeded by the # sign on twitter are known as hashtags. If a person tweets with the hashtag #KYDerby, for instance, that person’s tweet become available to anybody who may be searching for additional tweets regarding the Kentucky Derby. Other popular horse racing hashtags are #BC10 (Breeders’ Cup 2010), #TripleCrown, #Preakness, #BelmontStakes to name the obvious ones.

Where it appears horse racing may be missing the twitter boat, is our hesitancy to include hashtags in many of our tweets – hashtags that could significantly improve the viral networking components of these tweets.

Last week I sent out a tweet to 10 different race tracks currently running in North America asking them to tweet their favorite hashtags. Only two tracks responded and it was the two tracks most with horse racing experience on twitter would predict. Tampa Bay Downs in Florida and Remington Park in Oklahoma City.

I did receive several tweets form individuals on Twitter recommending some new and some old hashtags.

One of my all time favorite hashtags was #popsonghorses whereby tweeters could combine horse names with pop songs to create popsonghorses. For example, Pour Some Shergar On Me was one of my favorites from @SkipAway2000.

There are the star horses who have their own hashtags of course - #Blame, #TeamZenyatta and others stars from last year. Although the #UncleMo hashtag has a few tweets, nothing came up #boysattosconoava, #commatothetop, #muchomachoman, #gourmetdinner, #JPsGusto or #DialedIn. There was no hashtag for the Robert Lewis Stakes, the El Camino Real Derby nor the Fountain of Youth Stakes. There is a hashtag #fountainofyouth, but I couldn’t find any tweets mentioning horses in South Florida.

Each racetrack should tweet the hashtag for their weekly feature race or races. In fact, each track should tweet and promote their own hashtag several times per week. It is a very cost effect way to generate extra attention towards their weekly events. Although most tracks do a decent job of tweeting promotions, results and some commentary, they don’t seem to have the interest to maximize the potential of Twitter, no matter how small or large the impact on their business development and public relations relative to the almost zero cost of such an effort.

It also seems obvious to me for nearly every department at a track to have a twitter account. Similar to the Blood-Horse Publications and Daily Racing Form twitter efforts which each have several twitter accounts targeting specific segments of their target. Blood-Horse has a general twitter account, (@bloodhorse), a maiden watch (@BH_maidenWatch) twitter account, a sales update (BH_SalesUpdates) account, and @BH_RaceResults among others. Daily Racing Form has @DRF_InsidePost, @DRFDby among it's Twitter accounts and other twitter accounts.

A track racing office should tweet everything from extra races in the condition book, to morning entry run downs to overnights. Food service departments could tweet daily specials from concession stand promotions to daily menu specials in the restaurants. Even track security and parking may find Twitter as a tool to more effectively in manage traffic and parking areas.

Social media could also be used more effectively by breeding farms, auction consignors, auction companies, jockey agents and every other micro-industry found in racing.

The impact of social media may not yet be realized. Just ask the folks in Tunisia and Egypt. But it has been around long enough that horse racing should be able to benefit much more than we are. Staying at the cutting edge of even two social media like Twitter and Facebook can at times seem overwhelming, but one does not have to stay on the lead in this race. They just have to be a quite bit less further back.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

My Jon White Horse of the Year Rankings

While perusing through the Paulick Report yesterday, I happened upon Bill Christine’s Horse Race Insider blog entitled A Poll For What Ails You. In the blog, Christine wrote about another blog posted by Jon White on ranking every Horse of the Year since the Eclipse Awards were established in 1971. White then asked 31 other turf writers to do the same and came up with a concensus. That consensus is in Christine’s blog, but don’t look yet.

Christine provided all 33 horses in alphabetical order that have been honored with the golden Eclipse Award statuette. Some of them have won the title more than once.

What a great exercise, I thought. Just the kind of task that one looks for when freezing rain, ice and snow are dominating the news here in Arlington, Texas, despite the fact we’re hosting a pretty big football game here Sunday. That game has been preceded by multiple events and parties located throughout the massive metroplex in the weeks leading up to Super Bowl XLV. Needless-to-say, most of those events and parties do not fall within my financial nor my emotional budget, but those that might, have fallen down on the need-to-do list as a consequence of the local weather.

And just as Christine wrote in his blog, “But in the spirit of the thing, why not do your own rankings, then compare them with the rest of us? No peeking at the consensus, though. I'll list the 33 horses (some of them were champions more than once) in the next paragraph, then stop reading for a time and go do your assignment: Rank them from 1 through 33, in order of greatness. A deal? OK, here's goes:

Ack Ack, Affirmed, All Along, Alysheba, A.P. Indy, Azeri, Black Tie Affair, Charismatic, Cigar, Conquistador Cielo, Criminal Type, Curlin, Favorite Trick, Ferdinand, Forego, Ghostzapper, Holy Bull, Invasor, John Henry, Kotashaan, Lady's Secret, Mineshaft, Point Given, Rachel Alexandra, Saint Liam, Seattle Slew, Secretariat, Skip Away, Spectacular Bid, Spend a Buck, Sunday Silence, Tiznow, Zenyatta.”

Use any criteria you like. I did not cloud my judgement by looking up specific past performances or any other research. I went by memory and instinct alone. But that doesn’t mean you have restrict yourself from looking up races and information. Heck, that might be half the fun for you.

Hope you enjoy a little winter puzzle and let me know your rankings. My rankings are below. Don’t peak until you're finished with your list though…

Consenus Poll, Christine Rankings, White Rankings

Jon White blog

The Brock Talk HOY rankings.
1. Secretariat
2. Seattle Slew
3. Forego
4. Affirmed
5. Cigar
6. John Henry
7. Spectacular Bid
8. Zenyatta
9. Ack Ack
10. Tiznow
11. Curlin
12. Lady’s Secret
13. Skip Away
14. Azeri
15. Rachel Alexandra
16. Ferdinand
17. Alysheba
18. Sunday Silence
19. A.P. Indy
20. Point Given
21. All Along
22. Kotashan
23. Holy Bull
24. Ghostzapper
25. Invasor
26. St. Liam
27. Mineshaft
27. Charasmatic
29. Conquistado Cielo
30. Black Tie Affair
31. Criminal Type
32. Spend A Buck
33. Favorite Trick

I matched the consensus with #1 Secretariat, #4 Affirmed, #6 John Henry, #27 Mineshaft and number #33 Favorite Trick. The horses on which I differed the most with the consensus were, ironically, among my favorite horses, Alysheba, who I hand ranked #17 while he was #10 on the consensus; and Sunday Silence. I had Sunday Silence ranked #18 and he was also a top ten among the consensus pollsters at #8.

I ranked both Lady's Secret and Azeri much higher than the consensus poll, missing on them by eight and nine slots respectively. Although, two more recent female stars in Zenyatta (my rank #8, consensus #9) and Rachel Alexandra (my rank #15, consensus #19) I ranked a little low, but not far from the consensus.

Horses on which I missed the consensus by just one slot were Seattle Slew, Tiznow, Curlin, Skip Away,