Sunday, November 29, 2015

Horse of the Year in Canada?

Last year undefeated JK She’salady was voted Horse of the Year in Canada with 45% of the vote. The winner of the Shes A Great Lady, Three Diamonds and Eternal Camnation, all held in Ontario, stood out from the pack, and she certainly met all the qualifications for the award, but the owner—3 Brothers Stables—consists of three brothers from New York, the trainer, Nancy Johansson, is based in New Jersey, and the horse was bred in New York, so her Canadian credentials weren’t strong enough for some. As a result, Casie Coleman trainee McWicked, whose only stakes win in Canada was a Cup elimination, received 11 votes to the filly’s 19.  So when there isn’t a standout Canadian based trotter or pacer, handicapping the Horse of the Year contest up North can be tricky.

In 2013 undefeated Bee A Magician won the award in a landslide with 81% of the vote. She took the Elegantimage, Casual Breeze, Simcoe and Super Gold Final in Ontario that year. The Kadabra filly also received 78% of the vote for the Dan Patch, so she was admired with equal fervor on both sides of the border. BAM is by an Ontario stallion, handled by a Canadian based trainer and owned by Canadians.

In 2012 Jug winner Michaels Power was voted Horse of the Year in Canada. He also won the Confederation Cup, a split of the SBSW, the Upper Canada Cup and three Gold legs. He was trained by Casie Coleman and driven by Scott Zeron. Jeffrey Snyder, from the US, owns the gelding. Michaels Power received 44% of the vote. The undefeated freshman trotter, Wheeling N Dealin, garnered 25%. The latter raced exclusively in Canada as a two-year-old, winning nine times, including the BC, Wellwood and Champlain. He’s Pennsylvania bred, but otherwise of Canadian origin.

And in 2011 San Pail, who had a career year, won in Canada with 92% of the vote, and he was designated the Dan Patch winner in the US with 80%. The eleven-year-old is Canadian from head to tail.

So what horse will win in 2015? It certainly isn’t a San Pail 2011 or BAM 2013 kind of year. For instance, none of the eligible, viable candidates made a season ending splash in the BC, Matron, Final Four or TVG.

The 2013 winner Bee A Magician, who leads all North American aged trotters in earnings, may be the first ever to rule the roost more than once in Canada while not doing so in successive years. SBSW is the only horse to win consecutive O’Briens, although he finished in a dead heat with Tell All the first time. Armbro Flight is the only three time pre-O’Brien winner; Handle With Care and Fan Hanover are the mares that won twice.

BAM won the highest profile open trot in Canada, the Maple Leaf, as well as the top mare’s open, the Armbro Flight. She also beat the boys in the Cutler, Charlie Hill and Centaur down South. After D’One beat her in the Fresh Yankee and Muscle Hill, and won the Allerage Mare and BC Mare, it looked like that one might take the Dan Patch from BAM, but D’One went back to Sweden prior to the TVG Mare. BAM is a prime candidate.

On the other hand, perhaps we’ll have back to back freshman fillies occupying that slot, for the first time ever in Canada. Armbro Ranger and Jade Prince each won consecutively, fifteen years prior to the inception of the O’Brien awards, but never two fillies. LA Delight raced exclusively in Ontario; won 11 of 12 starts; is second to BC winner Pure Country in divisional earnings; won the Great Lady and splits of the Eternal Camnation and Champlain; won three OSS Gold legs and the Super Final; is trained and owned by the iconic Bob McIntosh; is driven by Randy Waples; and was sired by on again off again OSS stallion Bettor’s Delight. What’s not to like?

She didn’t race past the Super Final, missing the BC, Matron and Three Diamonds, so she won’t beat out Pure Country for the Dan Patch in her division, but she will be voted the top freshman pacing filly in Canada. With each passing year racing becomes more Balkanized, and one manifestation of that is that fewer and fewer of the top fillies travel to the WEG circuit for the Grand Circuit stakes. That was the case again this year. This may serve as a detriment in her battle for the Dan Patch divisional title, but won’t impact her quest for division honors in Canada. It may hurt her in the Horse of the Year vote, however.

Three fillies: Trixton’s mama, Emile Cas El; Whenuwishuponastar; and JK She’salady have been voted O’Brien Horse of the Year awards. And Armbro Flight, Handle With Care and Fan Hanover won it prior to the establishment of the O’Brien Awards in 1989.

Freshman pacer Control The Moment won 8 of 9 starts, including the Metro and Nassagaweya and is the fastest two-year-old among the top ten on the money list from that class. However, he finished sixth in the BC and didn’t go on from there. His Canadian connections are solid and he made all his starts up there, but being by Well Said he has no record of achievement in the OSS. LA Delight is a more likely choice among the juvenile set.

What about the rest of the competition? State Treasurer had a great year, winning 9 of 11 starts at the highest level and earning a division leading $866,000, but the bottom fell out in Lexington and he was beaten soundly by Miki on his home turf in the BC. A division O’Brien? Yes. Horse of the Year? No. It’s tough to overcome a subpar fall season in the awards game.

Southwind Frank had three wins in Ontario, including the BC, but he may not even take his division. The Kadabra colt Tony Soprano was very strong in the OSS with a win in the Super Final as well as three Gold legs. He has no GC resume, but Bob McIntosh trains him and owns a piece as well, and Randy Waples and John Campbell drive. The first foal of Windsong Soprano doesn’t merit Horse of the Year consideration, but due to the quirky nature of the O’Brien voting, the division may be his. Poor Frank.

Tony’s paternal sister, Caprice Hill, was another demon in the OSS, winning her Super Final and three Gold legs for Tony Alagna. Yannick, Tim and Randy drove. Overall she won 7 of 10 starts and earned a nifty $454,000. She was bred by Hanover, but her owner, Tom Hill, is Canadian and she’s by Kadabra. Again, division? Yes.

The Mach Three sophomore Solar Sister had a very good year, winning the Super Final, three Gold legs and the SBOA Classic for the McNairs. She earned $435,000 on 8 wins in 16 starts overall. An O’Brien for her division? Maybe. HOY? No. I say maybe because her paternal sister Wrangler Magic also had a good year. She was unusual in that she was better on the GC than she was in the OSS. Wrangler Magic won the Fan Hanover and the Simcoe, but she was only 2 for 6 in the OSS. The Simcoe was her only win after July 2 and she didn’t get past her BC elimination, so she probably won’t even win her division.

Tony O’Sullivan’s mercurial Muscle Mass filly, Muscle Baby Doll, won a split of the Casual Breeze and 3 of 5 starts in the OSS program. A tenth place finish in her Super Final didn’t help. Mission Brief won the Elegantimage and the elimination for that one, but she lost in the BC, while Wild Honey took the BC, but finished second in the Elegantimage final and elimination. Again, Ron Burke describes Mission Brief as the best horse he ever trained, but the O’Brien Awards are different.

Reverend Hanover didn’t race enough and Twin B Thong was stuck behind LA Delight. She won 10 times in 15 starts for $337,000 and won in 1:52. Doug McNair drove.

So it should come down to Bee A Magician or LA Delight. BAM will win a Dan Patch and an O’Brien in her division, while the Bettor’s Delight filly will win an O’Brien. BAM could have locked up Horse of the Year honors with a BC win, in either division, but she finished fourth in the open. Shake It Cerry then beat her in the TVG Mare. And LA Delight probably could have put herself in position to win if she beat Pure Country in the BC, but she wasn’t staked to that, the Three Diamonds or the Matron. I think Bee A Magician will be the first ever to be voted Horse of the Year in Canada more than once without doing so in consecutive years.

Joe FitzGerald

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Exchange Wagering Approved in New Jersey

The Record reports that exchange wagering has been approved in New Jersey, to be the first state to offer the wager sometime in 2016.  Monmouth Park and Betfair have been licensed to operate exchange wagering in the state likely around March. 

It should be noted Monmouth Park is the group appointed by the NJSEA to run the state's ADW network which is operated by TVG.  Hence, it is in the realm of possibility bettors within the borders of New Jersey will be able to place exchange wagers on the Meadowlands at the start or shortly after.

To put it simple for those unaware of what exchange wagering is, bettors will be able to make fixed-odds wagers or if they feel a horse is not going to win, offer wagers on horses, looking to collect off of those who back a wrong horse.  Of course, if you decide to bet against a horse winning,  you need to be prepared to pay off the winning wagers.

In addition, if you think wagering is too slow, you will be able to wager on 'in-running' races, betting on horses through the entire.  This gives those who seek constant action a reason to wager on horses.

Afraid exchange wagering will cannibalize the pari-mutuel pools?  I find it highly unlikely older players will feel comfortable with exchange wagering because of its complexity plus in Europe, exchange wagering has increased wagering in exotic wagering pools, where the real money is made.

California had approved exchange wagering in the past but no one moved forward with it due to the concerns of thoroughbred horsemen.  With no objections expected by NJ horsemen, it appears exchange wagering will finally get its chance in the United States.

Pleasant Surprises In 2015

It’s always nice to see horses, drivers and trainers exceed expectations. Obviously there are many that have done that to one degree or another during the 2015 season, but here are a few who caught my eye.

A number of horses have focused attention on harness racing in Indiana over the past two years, but Freaky Feet Pete stands out in this regard. Unlike Wiggle It Jiggleit, Pete raced in the state’s sire stakes program, without incurring a single loss, from beginning to end. And his sire, Rockin Image, is a pivotal player in the state bred program. Pete, who won nine of his ten starts at two, is 15 for 17 this year. His two losses were to Wakizashi Hanover and Wiggle. Pete’s most prominent win was in the Breeders Crown, but he also took the Monument Circle and the American National. His $854,000 in earnings places him fourth in the division.

State Treasurer, the richest son of Real Desire, has been a very productive pacer since his three-year-old campaign, but he stepped it up a notch or two this year. He attained millionaire status when he won the Molson for the third consecutive year. And while the handy little six-year-old is right at home on the small London, Ontario track, he also took the Roll With Joe and Dayton Pacing Derby on 5/8 ovals and the USPC, Canadian Pacing Derby and Mohawk Gold Cup on the big tracks.

Krispy Apple, an eight year old daughter of Western Ideal, had the misfortune to be born the same year as the great See You At Peelers. And this month she finally passed that one in lifetime earnings; KA earned almost $347,000 on 12 wins in 26 starts this year, primarily in the F&M open at Yonkers, and she’s earned more than a million and a half dollars lifetime. She was handicapped with the outside post in many of those races, but overcame that stumbling block on a regular basis. She only won three times last year and earned half of what she has thus far in 2015, but never count her out.

Wiggle It Jiggleit, who will win Horse of the Year honors, is a pleasant surprise first and foremost because he’s the first crop product of a stallion nobody seemed to want any part of. Mr Wiggles is still one of only two NA based male millionaires by Badlands Hanover, so he was no slouch on the track, but his first three years at stud resulted in only 21 registered foals, so the breeders weren’t exactly beating down his door. The situation is somewhat analogous to that of 2013 Horse of the Year San Pail and his sire San Pellegrino. The latter didn’t leave too many productive trotters on this side of the pond when he was relocated to Sweden a year after San Pail was born. Double millionaire Wiggle It Jiggleit, who started his season near the end of January, is still going strong. He got his twenty-first win in the Progress Pace elimination on Monday and will call it a season after 26 starts in the upcoming final.

Mach It So, who is second to State Treasurer among aged pacers in earnings, has had an excellent year. Many horses that meet with success in a sire stakes program struggle to maintain that in the open ranks, but that has not been the case with the five-year-old son of Mach Three. Two years after winning three Ontario Sire Stakes Gold legs as well as the Canadian Breeders Championship, Mach It So edged out State Treasurer in the William Haughton at 17/1 and did the same to Foiled Again in the Quillen. Last week he won the $50,000 TVG Open and on Saturday he was second to Bettor’s Delight in the $400,000 TVG FFA Final. He has earned almost $648,000 this year and $1.2 million lifetime for Bamond Racing. Tim Tetrick drives more often than not.

Dog Gone Lucky, who recently won the Valley Victory (dead heat) and Matron, just like his daddy did, is the best trotter Lucky Chucky has produced. The latter had a tough year on the track and at the sales, but his son Dog Gone Lucky blossomed in the fall with a win in the $191,500 Kindergarten Classic Final at Vernon Downs on the last day of October and has followed that up with a very productive November for Hall of Fame trainer, Chuck Sylvester. The only trotter in his class with a larger bankroll is budding superstar Southwind Frank.

Luminosity, a five-year-old Cash Hall gelding, acquired by the Burke Barn in February, has come alive under Burke and driver George Brennan. After winning 16 times and earning $106,000 during his first three years of racing, he won 14 of 33 starts thus far in 2015, three quarters of them in the tough Yonkers Raceway open—generally from the outside post.

George Napolitano Jr has been making them go for a while now, but the Pennsylvania mainstay stepped it up this year. He won 100 races in July and got his 7,000 win on the 15th of that month. And beyond that, he has owned the fall of 2015. The winner of the dash title in 2010 moved ahead of rivals Aaron Merriman and 2013 and 2014 champ Ronnie Wrenn Jr when he won eight races at Harrah’s on October 25. George finished third, 168 back of Wrenn, last year, but he’s currently 18 up in the dash race. He’s 41 ahead of his own winning total in 2010. He’s number seven on the earnings list with more than $8 million. Napolitano won seven races on closing night at Pocono Downs. His other Pennsylvania home, Harrah’s, is open until mid-December, after which he’ll probably move on to Pompano Park.

Steve Elliott, best known as the trainer of seminal stallion Valley Victory as well as Donato Hanover, is having his best year since the latter was voted Horse of the Year in 2007. Doo Wop Hanover is the fastest four-year-old pacer in North America, thanks to his 1:47.4 win in a leg of the Graduate Series at Tioga. And he’s also banked almost $455,000. Fellow four-year-old Rockeyed Optimist won a Graduate split in 1:48 and has earned almost $200,000. Classic Martine has not duplicated last year’s campaign for Elliott, but she won the inaugural Miami Valley Distaff in track record time and has earned almost $190,000. Stacia Hanover won the Shady Daisy over Bettor Be Steppin, Divine Caroline and Sassa Hanover. And best of all, Elliott’s Rocknroll Hanover colt Boston Red Rocks recently won the Breeders Crown and the Governor’s Cup, positioning him to win his division.

Joe FitzGerald


Monday, November 23, 2015

Burke Rule Ends; Jersey (Horse) Politics

Kiss the 'Burke Rule' good bye.  The Meadowlands has suspended their rule which limited trainer entries in stake finals to no more than two horses (unless they trained the horse from the very beginning).  Some will argue it is a capitulation to the major stables; my take is this is the result of the horse shortage which is facing tracks; especially those without slots.

No, it is not good when a few stables are able to stuff stakes finals with their entries but faced with cancelling stakes or seeing five horse fields, it is better to repeal this rule and welcome all horses willing to show up to the dance.

Are New Jersey horsemen getting restless with the way things are being run at the Meadowlands?  One may get the impression this is the case with the defeat last week of Tom Luchento by Mark Ford in the contest for President of the SBOANJ.  The horsemen are allowing the Meadowlands to race the schedule management wanted this year, eliminating one night of racing in the winter, but in selecting Mark Ford as their new leader, horsemen have sent a message which is they will no longer rubber stamp what has been going on; they want a bigger say in how things will be done.

My suspicion is the lack of racing days at the Meadowlands is the biggest complaint they have.  However until Peter Koch has the delightful problem of an overflowing entry box, horsemen have no reason to complain about the lack of racing opportunities.

Things are far from great in New Jersey, but horsemen in New Jersey should be thanking their lucky stars there are 200 standardbred dates in the state when you combine Freehold and the Meadowlands after all, the way things are, their racing calendar should be more like Illinois, Kentucky, or Minnesota,  

Sunday, November 22, 2015

A Little Monte Racing and the Road to the Prix d' Amerique Begins

It's been awhile since I have shown any monte races and this time of year, it means going to Paris at Vincennes where the Grade III Prix de Bretagne was contested this week and Tess De Villeneuve was the winner of the 2,850 (approximately 1 3/4 miles) meter race in 3:32.05 ('off' track) or a kilometer rate of 1:14.40 (2:00 mile rate), defeating 16 other horses..  It turned into a good race once they dealt with the three false starts (something you deal with when you use a standing start.  There was some warm ups shown ahead of time so if you want to get straight to the race, the 8 minute point would be a good way to start.

Also at Vincennes, the road to the Prix d'Amerique began with the first of the 'B' races, the Grade II Prix de Betrange being contested.  When all was said and done, it was Akim du Cap Vert who bested thirteen other horses to cross the wire in the 2,700 meter (approx 1 3/5 mi)  event in 3:17.10  or kilometer rate of 1:13 (mile rate 1:57.48; time to get used to timing in the 1/100ths) over a sloppy track.  As per the rules of the Prix, the winner of this event, along with the other two 'B' races gets their ticket automatically punched for the Prix which is contested on the last Sunday of January.  This also was a standing start race but fortunately, there were no false starts.