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Friday, May 27, 2016

Lismore, Art Rooney Preview

Next up on the weekend stakes schedule are Saturday's Lismore and Art Rooney stakes at Yonkers Raceway which closes out the winter/spring meet.

While the Lismore has only six entrants, it is a highly competitive race where four of the horses can make a legitimate argument for winning the race.  As for the Rooney, it is a true puzzle and may offer some value for astute handicappers.

Let's take a look at the two stakes.

Sat. May 28 YR; 4th Pace - $100,000; Lismore 3yo Fillies
1  Cut And Paste (9-2, Sears) - Has shown some ability last year.  Still not sure she's ready.
2  Kryptos (3-1, Stratton) - 7 for 8 this year.  Tested for class here.  Might be up to challenge.  Consider.
3  Apple Bottom Jeans (5-1, Teague) - Been racing well in Delaware.  Possibility to land share.
4  Dime A Dance (5-2, Brennan) - NYSS champion at 2 has shown ability against open company.  Logical choice, but not a slam dunk.  Consider.
5  Rock Me Baby (9-1, Campbell) - Interesting long shot here.  Won Intl Stallion Stakes last year at Lexington.  Coming off pair of qualifiers.  Don't ignore.
6  Soft Idea (7-2, Bartlett) - Won NYSS at Monticello in last start.  May be the one.
Selections: 6-5-4

Sat. May 28 YR; 6th Pace - $300,000 Art Rooney 3yo Open (Horses Listed in PP Order)
  1  Art Magic (4-5, Brennan) - Weaker half of entry.  Finished 3rd in elim.  Would be quite a feat to win here.
  2  Rodeo Rock (5-1, Dube) - Finished 2nd in first start of season.  Can improve off of that.  Consider.
  3  No Shame Blue Chip (20-1, Buter) - Let's just call this a lottery entry.  Will need a lot to go his way to be a factor here.  Don't see it.
  4  Yankee Artillery (7-1, Stratton) - Expect him to try to make the most of a decent post draw.  May land share.
  5  Tailgunner Hanover (20-1, Schnittker) - Another lottery ticket entry.  Pass.
  6  Tap Into Power (7-2, Bartlett) - Either morning line is wrong or I am.  I'll pass here.
  7  Manny (12-1, Holland) - Last start from second tier.  Better than he looks.  Upset play?
1A  Missile J (4-5, Sears) - Winner of 4 out of last 5 including elimination.  Post may hurt here.  
Selections: 2-7-1A

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Molson Pace Preview

Lots of stakes action all weekend and we hope to report on most of them.  First up is the Molson Pace.

The Molson Pace is a wide-open affair with several contenders. While maybe not a Grade 1 event due to the stakes being contested at Harrah's on Sunday, this race would be a strong Grad 2 event.  Let's take a look at the field:

Fri 5/27 - 12th Pace WFD - $150,000 Molson Pace Invitational
1  State Treasurer (5-2, Christoforou) - Looking for a 4-peat.  May be ready to roll but at 5-2 or less; I will look for value elsewhere.
2  Bettor Rock On N (7-1, Jamieson) - Toss last.  Looks like a definite contender.  Consider at this price point or higher.
3  Sunfire Blue Chip (4-1, M Macdonald) - No chance in last.  Start prior in lower class one as fave.  This may be too deep for him.
4  Evenin of Pleasure (12-1, Filion) - Coming in winless and will be leaving winless.  Enough said.
5  Machtu N (6-1, Henry) - NZ import has raced well since arriving and has been improving each start, winning last start).  Upside potential unknown, think this one can step up.  My pick here at a price.
6  Mcwicked (7-1, Waples) - Figures to improve off of first start but may need another to be competitive.
7  PH Supercam (8-1, J Macdonald) - Needs a trip to be competitive. May land share.
8  All Bets Off (9-5, Kakaley) - Draws second tier.  Will be closing late but may be too far back to win.  Exotic possibility.
9  Rockin In Heaven (AE, Henry) - Also eligible raced fair effort in Confederation Cup.  Not likely if he does draw in.
Selections: 5-8-2-1-6

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Wednesday Briefs

At the start of the current thoroughbred meet, Canterbury Park announced a takeout cut for their wagers, WPS wagers would have a 15% rake while multi-horse exotics would have a 18% takeout.  A track with a sizable on-track presence saw on track handle increase 25% on opening weekend while wagers from all other sources increased 34%.  Granted this was the first weekend of their meet, but one has to be impressed with the results.

Let me remind you Tioga Downs has the same 15% takeout on WPS wagers and has a 17% rake on Exacta and Daily Doubles; it has been this way since the 2010 season.  Back then they had hope the New York Legislature would allow takeouts to be cut all the way to 9 or 10%, figuring the response to their industry-leading rate reductions would have a huge impact.

Well, Tioga Downs no longer looks for legislative change as the response to the takeout cuts was underwhelming.  Sure, handle increased but it hardly moved the needle and didn't make up the commissions lost at the higher rate.  Perhaps it is the fact handle at Tioga is relatively anemic, certainly when compared to the tracks in larger metropolitan areas.  Maybe it is the fact harness racing has such a small audience; there weren't many new fans to draw attention from.  To their credit, Tioga didn't revert to the original takeout rates (primarily because it is a slot track) but don't expect any further cuts from the Nichols, New York track.  But if you are wondering why no harness track cuts their takeout rate, remember it has already happened.  If you wonder why no other harness tracks cut their rates on traditional wagers, you can look back at the underwhelming response to Tioga Downs' cuts.  Harness tracks are copycats.  What works at one track is quickly copied by others and what fails at one track warns others not to try.

Those who say animal rights groups don't matter should take a look at the anti-greyhound groups who have another notch in their belt as Arizona is the latest state to ban live greyhound racing, banning racing at the end of this year and greyhound opponents have Kansas in their sights.  At the rate the anti-greyhound groups are going, there may be no greyhound racing in the United States by the end of this decade.  Of course it helps there are so few people attending greyhound racing that the tracks are ready to toss the towel in with the proper inducement; in the case of Arizona's last dog track, a guarantee to host simulcast racing at least for the next two years.  So when tracks or racing commissions institute animal friendly rules, those who support horse racing shouldn't complain as times are changing.  Yes, it will be harder to get rid of horse racing but if decoupling occurs in Florida or another state, you will see racetracks shouting 'we want to be next'.

With most of the heavy hitters competing at Harrah's Philadelphia this Sunday, little attention in the United States is being paid to the Molson Cup at Western Fair this Friday.  People should be looking at the race if only to see if State Treasurer is able to win his fourth straight Molson.  No, he hasn't been as sharp thus far this year but he isn't meeting the strongest Molson field.  Weaker field or not, to win the same race four years straight is quite an accomplishment.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Battle Time!

The Battle of Lake Erie this year is one of the most anticipated races of the year as we have the first match-up of two horses who look to battle for Pacer of the Year if not Horse of the Year, Freaky Feet Pete and Wiggle It Jiggleit.  But it is not just a two-horse race.  Also showing fine mettle at this time of the year is All Bets Off, though saddled tonight with post position eight.

Though typically a fall horse, The Battle likely will be the final appearance of the Iron Horse, Foiled Again, who at age twelve seems to be showing he is no longer able to go with FFA level horses.  While he may be able to pick up some checks and win against higher conditioned horses, tonight ma very well be the final appearance in major stakes for him.  I will be surprised to see him return net year as a thirteen horse.  Sooner or later, Father Time wins out.

Anyway, after drawing poorly in his most recent starts (and often this year), Wiggle It Jiggleit draws the coveted one post over the Flying Turns' half mle oval; expect WIJI to try to wire the field.  Freaky Feet Pete, with post position five will likely track WIJI, keep the fractions honest and try to take control of the race sometime after the half.  To make things interesting, All Bets Off will likely take back, hope for some blistering fractions and attempt a late brush to win the race despite drawing the worst of it.  As I said, perhaps the most anticipated race you can have for early in the season.

Of course, there are five other horses in the race who would like to have a say in the race.  Do any of them have a chance for an upset or get into the exotics?  Let's take a look at the field.

11th Northfield Park - Pace; $200,000; Battle of Lake Erie 
1   Wiggle It Jiggleit (Even, Teague) - Unless a strategic change in the game plan, this one will be going down the road in an attempt to wire the field.  It will be a question of fractions.  May be able to win it but at even money or less, I will look for some value.
2    Ideal Cowboy (8-1, Merriman) - One that has been drawing poorly, the one time he started inside of post six he won over the Yonkers oval.  This field is tougher, but with this post, may be an upset play.  Definite superfecta play.
3    Roland N Rock (25-1, Stahl) - Had some early season success then tailed off.  Given a month off and first start back was fair.  Unless he steps his game up big time, I don't expect he will be around at the end.  Pass.
4    Foiled Again (10-1, Bongiorno) - As discussed, he isn't the horse he once was and the fact Gingras is not driving should confirm the fact.  Barring reaching back into the fountain of youth, he will be satisfied with picking up a check.
5     Freaky Feet Pete (2-1, Tr. Tetrick) - This one is showing Hoosier bred horses are not to be ignored.  Expect him to track #1 and attempt to seize control past the half.  It's all about the fractions.  If you can get 2-1, may be worth a play.  If not, try the exotics or sit back and watch.
6     Santa Fe Beachboy (25-1, Wrenn) - Would be a shocker to win, but not to be on your exotic ticket.  Use accordingly.
7    Luck Be Withyou (15-1, Palone) - Oakes trainee upended JK Endofanera in second start of the season.  Can he improve from that from post seven?  Consider in exotics to goose price up.
8    All Bets Off (12-1, Kakaley) - Will look for speed duel to make late move.  Does he get it?  I suspect not.
Selections: 5-1-2-7

The Graduate series kicks off tonight at the Meadowlands as two short fields of trotters and a field of 4 year old pacers do battle.  Just briefly, here are my picks for these three tilts.  Second race - Homicide Hunter; Sixth Race - Crescent Fashion; Eighth Race - Split The House.  

Friday, May 20, 2016

Which Trainers Are Trending Up?

This is a look at how the trainers in the top 25 are faring after the first four and a half months of 2016, in comparison with the same period last year. I contrasted the results from the morning of May 14, 2016 with the same date in 2015. Some thrive in the pre-Grand Circuit period, while others do better early in the year, and these results reflect that fact.

Ron Burke, the top trainer this year and last, took $488,850 out of the inaugural Pennsylvania Classic when his charges finished 1-2-3, led by his Classics hope Check Six. Still, Burke has sent out 142 fewer starters this year, and those horses have won 16 fewer races and banked $282,000 less than his bunch had by May 14 of last year. He recently crossed the $4 million threshold while none of his competitors are close to $2 million, so it’s all relative.

Luminosity, Take It Back Terry, All Bets Off, Atta Boy Dan, and Confederation Cup winner, My Hero Ron, are a few of the 46-year-old trainer’s money makers.

Twenty-nine-year-old Rene Allard is second again, but unlike Burke he has 37 more wins in 260 more starts and has bumped his earnings up by $207,000. His UTRS dropped from 0.379 to 0.342. Half his starts have been at Yonkers Raceway, a percentage that will shift now that the Pennsylvania tracks are in full swing. Red Hot Herbie, Lettucerockthem A, Carolsideal, Yagonnakissmeornot, Domethatagain and Rock N Roll Xample are a few of his better ones.

Richard Banca is our first surprise, as the leading trainer at Yonkers goes from number 17 a year ago to number three. His 434 starts represent a 46% increase from May of 2015; his 94 wins are up 42%; and his stable has earned twice as much money--$1.1 million. Forty-one-year-old Banca, who was shown the not welcome sign at The Meadowlands in January, 2012 has made more than 90% of his starts at the Westchester track. Mach It A Par, Monroe County, Santa Fe Beachboy and Sam’s Escape are some of his money makers. He finished 2015 in 20th.

Fourth place Jeff Bamond,31, was third at this point last year. His starts and wins are about the same but his earnings are down more than $308,000 and his UTRS dropped from 0.314 to 0.283. He has made 85% of his starts at Yonkers. Krispy Apple is still going strong, but last year’s Matchmaker winner, Venus Delight, and four-time division winner, Anndrovette, have both failed to fire. Mach It So, Ideal Cowboy, Validus Deo and PH Supercam have made money for Bamond Racing. He wound up 5th last year.

Richard Moreau, 51, the dominant force in Ontario and winner of the Trainer of the Year O’Brien the last three years, is at number five, two spots better than a year ago. His starts and wins are down a couple of dozen each but his earnings are up by more than $32,000. Moreau finished 2015 at number 13. Witch Dali, Rafa, Ms Mac N Cheese, Gerries Sport,  Boomboom Ballykeel, Mohawk Warrior and Grin For Money are in his stable.

Australian native Peter Tritton is another surprise, as his stable of top shelf imports carried him from 48th in 2015 to number six this year. A low volume trainer, his starts and wins haven’t jumped much but his earnings are up more than $612,000. Bit Of A Legend N, the richest Standardbred in North America by $150,000, swept the Levy, while Sell A Bit N excelled throughout the first part of the year, including in the Matchmaker. For The Ladies N and Texican N are a couple of others. Tritton has made all but a handful of his starts at Yonkers Raceway.

Ontario based Carmen Auciello, 35, drops a couple of spots, from six to eight. Despite having 102 fewer starts, his win total only fell by two, although his earnings decreased by $216,000. Auciello, who crossed the $10 million threshold in career earnings in late January at Woodbine, made a quarter of his starts at Yonkers Raceway. His War N Munn recently won the Diplomat, while Heavenly Hill took the Blossom Series final.

Yonkers trainer Thomas Milici has risen from the depths of obscurity to the upper echelon of the training fraternity. He occupies the nine slot. His 73 wins represent a 63% increase over all of last year, when he didn’t crack the top 50. And his earnings are up $423,000 over all of 2015. A number of very productive horses have fortuitously fallen into his lap. Major Athens, the richest trotter in North America, and Kid PK are a couple of his charges.

Delaware trainer Dylan Davis, who turns 39 in a few days, jumped 12 spots to number ten. His 66 more starts have translated into 10 more wins and $148,000 more in earnings. Go Collect N and Cashendash Hanover are a couple of his winners.

Jimmy Takter, who ended the season in second, moved from 15 to 12, but what he accomplishes during the early part of the season means little. Not Afraid, Great Vintage and Sunfire Blue Chip are three horses that earned money for him during this period. Takter earned more money in Canada than any other trainer during 2015.

Meadows regular Norm Parker rose 31 spots to number 14. He had 124 additional starters that earned $200,000 more than his horses did during the same period last year. That represents a 40% increase. Coffee Addict, Chef Lee and Breedlove are three of his better ones.

Ohio trainer Virgil Morgan Jr, 50, who has more than 5,000 wins to his credit, fell from number 5 to 15. His earnings were cut in half as he took in $478,000 less than last year. Starts were down by 150 and wins off by 65. He’s the king of Scioto Downs; things should heat up now that they’re open.

Thirty-one-year-old Andrew Harris, who made more than 63% of his starts at Yonkers, moved up from 44 to 21. He had ten additional wins on 15 fewer starts and banked $319,000 more than he did during the same stretch in 2015. He is 12th on the Yonkers trainer’s list. His Bettor Rock On N has committed to the upcoming Molson Pace. Phil Your Boots, Skates N Plates and Lucan Hanover are other money makers. The latter just returned to the Casie Coleman Barn.

Tracy Brainard, 39, who was banned from Yonkers, except for sire stakes races, one week into May of last year, was ninth on the trainers list a year ago. She wound up at number 49 at year’s end and has only had a dozen starts under her own name in 2016.

Jennifer Sabot, who was/is Lou Pena’s girlfriend, was at number 13 on May 14, 2015. She’s credited with only 19 starts and one win in 2016. Contrast that with the 86 board finishes and $573,000 she was credited with at this point in 2015.

With things beginning to open up on the Grand Circuit front and in the sire stakes realm as well, the complexion of this list will change markedly over the course of the next couple of months.

Joe FitzGerald