The Brock Talk

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Dear Mr. Horse Racing

In a exclusive interview with The Brock Talk, Mr. Horse Racing discusses the highlights of 2010 and the prospects of the industry in 2011.

Dear Mr. Horse Racing: What was the best about 2010?

Mr. Horse Racing: Zenyatta was by far the star of the year, if not the star of the decade here in North America. Watching her streak grow to 19 undefeated wins was a great thrill and brought recognition to the sport from such influential media as Oprah Winfrey’s O Magazine and 60 Minutes on CBS. Even in defeat, her Breeders’ Cup Classic loss to Blame is one of the greatest races of our generation.

I also think people underestimate the year Quality Road had. He began the year in a starting gate rehab program after his Jerry Springer/Maury Povich performance in which he tried to eat the Santa Anita starting gate and it’s crew before the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Quality Road returns to begin the year with three graded races and has the biggest image change since Tom Hanks left Bussom Buddies.

Dear Mr. Horse Racing: What were the biggest disappointments of 2010?

Mr. Horse Racing: Other than the obvious being Zenyatta’s defeat in the aforementioned Breeders’ Cup Classic, there were four big disappointments in 2010. The other notable disappointment was Rachel Alexandra suffering defeats at Fair Grounds in New Orleans, Churchill Downs, Saratoga and thus retiring before the Breeders’ Cup. Number two: We have now gone two years without a Kentucky Derby champion winning a race after the Run For The Roses. Neither Super Saver nor Mine That Bird managed an appearance in the winner’s circle after winning the Derby. Number Three: Zenyatta losing her final race. Some would make this the biggest disappointment of the year, but at least she made it to the big stage with the streak and notched her place in horse racing history among those that brought horse racing to the general public. Difficult to say that her ultimate star power was a disappointment. And finally, number Four: There was no race between Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra. We had two chances this year. Thanks to Oaklawn Park president Charles Cella and his offer to write a big check if both appeared in the grade 1 Apple Blossom, there was a chance in April. The other missed opportunity came when Zenyatta’s connections decided not to ship to Saratoga for the grade 1 Personal Ensign Stakes in August. A decision that cost her a slam dunk as Horse of the Year.

Dear Mr. Horse Racing: Will we have a Triple Crown winner this year?

Mr. Horse Racing: Without hope and optimism, there is no horse racing. But I can say two things about the Triple Crown. We have a good group that will represent the class of 2011 including Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Uncle Mo, Boys of Toscanova and To Honor and Serve. There are also some 20 others that are on watch lists throughout the industry. From what I’ve heard talking to Santa Claus and others, there were a lot of owners and trainers that had injury-free on the Christmas, Hanaka, and Festivus lists this year.

Dear Mr. Horse Racing: We need another female jockey star in the sport. Any chances?

Mr. Horse Racing: First, let's recognize the progress women have made in recent years. Linda Rice won the training title at Saratoga in 2009 and was second to Todd Pletcher in 2010. Among the North America’s leading consignors at thoroughbred auctions are Murray Smith and Meg Levy. Women are becoming more prominent as owners as seen by Jenny Craig, Gretchen Jackson and Maggi Moss. Chantal Sutherland definitely has some star power as a jockey as does Inez Karlsson, a top ten rider at Arlington Park; and Rosemary B. Homeister, Jr., third in the jockey standings during the Churchill Downs winter meeting and a veteran making a courageous comeback after some personal challenges.

Dear Mr. Horse Racing: Will thoroughbred racing see a sharp decline in interest after the departure of Zenyatta, Rachel Alexandra, Lookin At Lucky, Blame, Quality Road and the likes?

Mr. Horse Racing: Simply put – No. Horse racing had some the best stars in recent memory carry it through one of the most difficult economic times in our nation’s history. Last year the Kentucky Derby had one of its biggest television ratings with Lookin at Lucky coming off a losing Spring campaign and Super Saver as a marginal favorite. Big crowds and large handles resulted in the New Jersey experiment at Monmouth Park and Churchill is now running on successful Friday night model still popular at Hollywood Park and many other tracks around the country. If the economy shows any hint of rebound, horse racing now has a base to benefit.

Dear Mr. Horse Racing: What were the worst decisions in 2010 that will have an impact on 2011?

Mr. Horse Racing: The decision of the Churchill Downs stewards not to scratch Life at Ten from the Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic may have cost horse racing thousands of marginal fans. Jockey John Velasquez said on national television that he was not comfortable with the way she was warming up – an important pre-race note most likely missed by casual and novice racing fans. I hate to think of the number of sports book players waiting for their pre-empted college football game on ESPN, with open online wagering accounts, who bet on the favorite as a “why not wager”, only to see her break last and not run a jump. Say goodbye to a great number of those proflic gamblers.

I also have to say that retiring 2009 Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird was a blunder. He may not have won the 2011 Santa Anita Handicap or Jockey Club Gold Cup, but he is a Kentucky Derby winning gelding that could have created much excitement with a marginal career. I would have given him 30 days vacation in Roswell to relax and hone his flying saucer dodging skills then sent him to one of the most prolific horsemen in the Southwest over the last 40 years, Keith Asmussen in Laredo, for the winter. If the folks at the Asmussen Training Center, known for buying and producing millionaires from California to France, see a sparkle in Mine That Bird, then off to Ron McAnally in California. McAnally has a long history with the Asmussen operation and of course trained one of the greatest geldings of our generation in John Henry. McAnally also trains in Southern California where the new track at Santa Anita is natural dirt and not the synthetic nemesis Mine That Bird so disliked. If McAnally decides that the Santa Anita Handicap is not in the plans, then consider a tour of the nation in popular grade 3 races such as the Razorback in Arkansas, the Lone Star Park Handicap in Texas, the Prairie Meadows Cornhusker in Iowa, the Longacres Mile in Washington, or the Monmouth Cup in New Jersey. Fans in these regional markets would clammer to see a Kentucky Derby winner if marketed properly and if Mine That Bird has a spark left, McAnally and the Asmussens would find it.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Dear Santa

For sake of disclosure, please be aware that you are just being copied on this list. The original has long been sent for consideration to Santa at his North Pole address.

Dear Santa,

I hate to ask for much this year because you delivered so many items from my horse racing Christmas list last year. Zenyatta stayed in racing all year and remained undefeated going into the Breeders’ Cup Classic and gave us a race for the ages in defeat. Quality Road and Musket Man represented the Triple Crown class of ’09 well in the older horse ranks and you surprised us with Blame. We also appreciate how Lookin at Lucky rebounded after having so much bad luck early in the year. There’s so much more for which to say thanks for last year, but I know you’re busy this time of year, so I’ll get right to my list.

1. Triple Crown winner - I hate to keep bugging you Santa. I know I’ve been asking for this every year since we got Affirmed in 1978 and I know they are difficult. But I don’t really care who wins the Triple Crown – I just would really like another Triple Crown winner. I don’t care if it’s Uncle Mo, To Honor and Serve, Comma To The Top or some 2-year-old most of us don’t even know exists today. And it’s just not for me Santa. Think about how much a Triple Crown winner would mean to all of the fans in Maryland who have endured so many difficult times over the years during daily cards at Pimlico and Laurel. And the fans in New York, Santa. They have made the nice list so many times coming out on Belmont Day in droves looking for that next Triple Crown winner only to be betrayed by the likes of Coastal, Summing, Bet Twice, Easy Goer, Touch Gold, Victory Gallop, Lemon Drop Kid, Empire Maker and Birdstone – not to mention the flops by War Emblem and Big Brown.

2. Speaking of New York Santa, I also ask that you do what you can to help open New York Off Track Betting Again. I know that sounds a bit crass to ask this – especially for a company that has been so woefully mismanaged for so long, but it represents 1,000 employees of NYOTB that are probably having a pretty tough Christmas this year. They also handle about a billion dollars a year, that this economy and racing industry very much need to churn.

3. I know we won’t get another Zenyatta, Rachel Alexandra, Quality Road or Summer Bird returning to the older horse ranks, but I’m sure you have another Blame in that sack of yours. Heck, this time last year Blame was coming off of two grade 2 stakes win at Churchill Downs and was looking in on the national spotlight shining on others. You have some tools to work with in Albertus Maximus, winner of the 2008 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile and 2009 Donn Handicap, making a possible comeback. Last year’s Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Haynesfield, Cigar Mile winner Jersey Town or the Bob Baffert-trained Alcindor, who has been turning heads in Southern California.

4. Hollywood Park Remain Open – I have to admit that I’ve already seen this present (at least as much as I can hope for.) Thanks Santa.

5. Success of New Santa Anita Surface – I know Santa, that I have been a proponent of artificial racing surfaces for sake of safety if nothing else. But I have to admit that I’m kind of excited about not having to solve the riddle of California 3-year-olds coming off of PolyTrack to try to win the Kentucky Derby. As you fly over Santa Anita, if you have a handful of marginal magical dust that you want to get rid of, feel free to sprinkle a little over the Great Race Place as you pass.

6. Slot Machines In Texas – Let me be clear Santa. I’m not asking for a five-time-pay hit on a on a dollar progressive slot machine if they get here in Texas. I’m just asking that you consider what it would mean a lot to see Lone Star Park regain its formidable place in racing with the potential to raise the bar toward original hopes for horse racing in Texas. Sam Houston Race Park has always shown promise and Retama Park has survived under the current dire economic racing climate in Texas.

7. Don’t let anybody in horse racing get busted with a foot fetish YouTube video unless they are a licensed farrier.

8. Three-Year-Old Filly Star – I know you have delivered on this the last two years in a very big way with Rachel Alexandra two years ago and Blind Luck and Evening Jewel this year. But horse racing always needs another female star and the Kentucky Oaks seems to be creating its own niche as a major event in the sport. Female stars bring more ladies and girls of all ages to the sport, and that is always good because women control a lot more than we men would like to admit. I’m sure Mrs. Claus would agree with me on this.

9. Keep jockey Calvin Borel from retirement – I’ve heard that there have been some ultimate cage fighting associations that are making a run at him.

10. And finally Santa, keep all of the jockeys, exercise riders, trainers, stable hands and of course the horses, safe throughout the year.


Brock Sheridan

Friday, December 17, 2010

Young CashCall Has Rich History

Relative to many other grade 1 races in the country, the 29-year-old CashCall Futurity at Hollywood Park Saturday is a relatively young event. After all, the Belmont Futurity is nearly 100 years older than the CashCall, having first been run in 1888. The CashCall, originally called the Hollywood Futurity, was first run in 1981.

Ten promising 2-year-olds have entered the 2010 CashCall Futurity at a 1-1/16 miles over Hollywood Park’s cushion track and the winner will likely join Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Uncle Mo, Remsen winner To Honor and Serve and host of others on the early part of the trail to the Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands May 7.

They are also hoping to find themselves on the significant list of previous winners of the CashCall Futurity, the last grade 1 race of the year for 2-year-old colts and geldings.

Snow Chief was the first winner of this race to go on to Triple Crown prominence winning the 1986 Preakness after capturing the 1985 Hollywood Futurity. A.P. Indy was next, winning this race in 1981 before taking the Belmont Stakes the next year. Trainer Bob Baffert also would use a late season victories in the CashCall for future stars of the Triple Crown. Baffert won this race with Real Quiet in 1997, Point Given (photo above) in 2000 and Lookin at Lucky last year.

Real Quiet went on to win both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. Point Given also won two legs of the Triple Crown winning the Preakness and Belmont, while Lookin at Lucky won the Preakness. Baffert also won the CashCall Futurity with future stars Captain Steve 1999 and Pioneerofthe Nile in 2008. Unfortunately Baffert will not have a chance to win three consecutive CashCall Futurities as he has no representatives this year.

Other popular winners of CashCall/Hollywood Futurity were Best Pal in 1990, Afternoon Deelites in 1994 and Brother Derek in 2005. So the list of future stars who have won this race is a long one indeed in just 29 years.

There may not be a Lookin at Lucky or a Point Given in this rendition of the CashCall Futurity, but remember, Real Quiet was far under the radar at this point in his career. Going into this race, Real Quiet had only a maiden victory to his credit from eight previous starts with third place finishes in the grade 3 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes and the $250,000 Indian Nations Futurity Cup at Sante Fe Downs making up his only stakes appearances.

Although Pioneerofthe Nile was the 7-5 favorite when he won his CashCall Futurity two years ago, he too had only a maiden victory to his credit and was coming off of a fifth-place finish as a 30-1 longshot in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

There are three non-winners of two races in Saturday’s CashCall, and every one has some intrigue. Ronin Dax makes his first start on a cushion track after finishing a troubled fifth in the grade 3 Iroquois Stakes at Churchill Downs in October. He also encountered some traffic problems in the grade 3 Summer Stakes on the Woodbine turf in September which also resulted in a fifth place.

Riveting Reason broke his maiden in his last race but finished third in both the Norfolk and Del Mar Futurity, both grade 1 races before running eighth in the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Churchill.

Industry Leader makes just his third start for trainer Kristin Mulhall and jockey Rafael Bejarano. After breaking his maiden he was second in the grade 3 Hollywood Prevue Stakes over the Hollywood track during the Oak Tree meeting.

On the other side, the CashCall Futurity this year also features three graded stakes winners led by J.P.’s Gusto with three graded wins on his ledger. Ridden by Joe Talamo and trained by David Hoffmans, the ridgling son of Successful Appeal, defeated Riveting Reason when second in the Norfolk and again while winning the Del Mar Futurity. J.P.’s Gusto also won the grade 2 Best Pal Stakes at Del Mar and the Hollywood Juvenile (gr. 3) this summer.

One of the more interesting entries is Gourmet Dinner, who arrives at Hollywood Park from trainer Steve Standbridge’s base at Calder Race Course in Florida. It won’t be the first traveling experience for the team that also includes jockey Sebastien Madrid. Last month Gourmet Dinner took the $1 million Delta Downs Jackpot (gr. 3) at odds of 20-1. Although it was third stakes win in the young career of Gourmet Dinner, the other two came in restricted Florida-bred stakes at six and seven furlongs in August.

Sure to get his share of betting support is Comma to the Top, a winner of four consecutive including the grade 3 Generous Stakes on the Hollywood Park turf in his last start. He also won the $100,000 Real Quiet Stakes by six lengths at Hollywood Park, so the synthetic cushion track should be of little concern for jockey Corey Nakatani and trainer Peter Miller.

There are no apparent standouts in the CashCall Futurity browsing through the past performances. But there are plenty of entrants with some potential. It won’t be until after the race Saturday until we know if the winner will be mentioned with Uncle Mo, Boys of Toscanova, To Honor and Serve or selected other impressive 2-year-olds being pointed to the Kentucky Derby next year. And it will be far later when we can grade this year’s winner along with some of the stars that have won this race in the past.

But the CashCall Futurity has established itself as producing such types and there’s a good chance it will again this year.