Sunday, May 24, 2015

Harrah's Philadelphia Stakes Preview

Harrah's Philadelphia hosts a trio of Invitationals today which have national implications, though early in the season as some of these horses will have their first exposure against top-level competition.

In the $150,000 Jerry Taylor Invitational C(race 10) for pacers, Modern Legend gets saddled with the outside post, keeping an otherwise favorite at 6-1 in the morning line.  After missing by a nose in a TVG Series event at the Meadowlands last week he can't be discounted.  The favorite, Levy winner Domethatagain (2-1) must be respected despite his loss in a Pocono Open from post position eight.  Mach It So (5-2) finished second in an Open at Harrah's after racing at Yonkers; a possible threat on his second start over the oval.  Great Vintage (10-1) won his initial start of the season at the Meadowlands in 1:49.1.  Lastly, there is the Rodney Dangerfield of the field, Clear Vision (5-1) who has yet to visit the winner's circle this year, but the winner of $549,554 last year can't be ignored.

Selections: 3-8-4-7
Possible value play: 8
Longshot hunting: 7

In the $150,000 Betsy Ross Invitational (race 11) for pacing mares, Radar Contact has been the queen of the Meadowlands, finishing no worst than second in her last seven starts at the Meadowlands, properly priced at 9-2.  Anndrovette (7-1) had no chance in her last start at Pocono, draws better and finds a spot where she may be able to find the winner's circle.  Sayitall BB draws the rail after a horrible trip in her last star which may have been her best performance of the year; still at 3-1 she doesn't call out to me.  Table Talk at 20-1 showed little in her last start at Vernon, but the week before finished a neck behind 9-5 Yagonnakissmeornot who is the logical choice here.

Selections: 3-6-1
Possible value play: 3
Longshot hunting: 5

The most anticipated of the trio of races, the $150,000 Maxie Lee Memorial for trotters brings us the highly promoted match up between Bee A Magician and Father Patrick but the race is more than a two horse race.  Bee A Magician (2-1) has spanked the boys in her last two starts; may do it one more time although she faces Father Patrick (7-2) who kicks off his season today after putting in some fine qualifying efforts.  Market Share's (8-1) return in 2015 so far has been a nightmare; expect turnaround but it may not be this week.  Melady's Monet (12-1), a winner of a half dozen looks like she may hit the superfecta ticket.  Must respect Classic Martine (5-2) a winner of two out of three; but at these odds, I will pass on her.

Selections: 5-3-6-7
Possible value play: 5
Longshot hunting: 6

Friday, May 22, 2015

Now the Fun Begins

While we have had a few Grand Circuit events this year; I like to consider them the appetizer.  This Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial start of summer, starts the main course as stakes season kicks into high gear as the top horses start bumping heads against each other with regularity.

Saturday brings us a pair of eliminations for the $300,000 Art Rooney Stakes for three year old  pacers at Yonkers Racewaay.  While there are two divisions, the divisions are split into a six and seven horse field, not bad for a stakes race at the Old Hilltop. where five horse fields are not uncommon in their eliminations.

Sunday brings us a mini-Super Sunday as a trio of $150,000 Invitationals are contested at Harrah's Philadelphia.  While the exotics in Pennsylvania carry high rakes, Win players will have some high class fields to dissect.  In the Jerry Taylor Invitational, Modern Legend draws the outside post while Doctor Butch, who has finally lost his 'New York' horse label, and Sapphire City look to give Legend a run for the money.  In the Betsy Ross, you have Anndrovette and Radar Contact going up against Yagonnakissmeornot.

Finally, in the Maxie Lee Memorial the cup overflows with talent.  While the race is being billed as a match between Bee A Magician and Father Patrick, the race also has Classic Martine, Market Share and Melady's Monet providing challenge to the top two-billed.  With Bee A Magician and Father Patrick being top-billed, one of these other horses may provide value.

Monday brings us to Tioga Downs where we will start to see how the revamped Graduate Series is received as a trotting division has been added to the familiar pacing series.  Since entries are yet to be drawn we don't know who will be competing this week, but if the nominees are any indication these races should draw some nice horses.

If you are looking to head out to the track but not near these named ovals, remember sires stakes action is already in high action so depending where you are located, you may be able to see your state's best horses competing.

Whether at home or at the track, enjoy your holiday weekend.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Black Beauty

Anna Sewell’s 1877 novel Black Beauty is one of the most popular books of all time. The modern day film adaptations were also wildly successful. Aside from energizing the animal welfare movement in nineteenth century England, the story inspired worldwide love for a black stallion. In the Standardbred world, where folks often split hairs when it comes to distinguishing colors, black is an outlier. Blacks don’t represent a large percentage of trotters and pacers, but have played a key role in the development of the breed, nonetheless.

The most important sire of the modern era is Meadow Skipper. He was brown, but his daddy, Hall of Famer Dale Frost, was black. He won the Geers and Meadow Lands Farm Stake at two and earned more than $200,000. But this black stallion, who was handled by Delvin Miller and Jimmy Arthur, made himself an immortal by siring Meadow Skipper. Other productive sons were Fulla Napoleon, Mountain Skipper and Goodnuff.

Tar Heel, a jet black stallion, came along three years earlier than Dale Frost. Lawrence Sheppard paid a record $125,000 for the Little Brown Jug winner as a three year-old. And unlike Dale Frost, who passed after breaking his leg at age 17, and left behind a small number of offspring, Tar Heel was a siring machine: Hanover got 27 crops out of him. Many of his get were homely as sin and sour as a lemon, but they knew how to win races.

His sons did not sire on; he had no Skipper. However, his legacy on the track is deep. Horse of the Year at two, three and four, Laverne Hanover, won the Fox, Little Brown Jug and Tattersalls Pace. He won 61 of 98 starts. The full brothers, Nansemond and Isle Of Wight, beat the mighty Albatross a combined eight times. And the former won the Jug. Keystone Pat, Otaro Hanover, Tar Boy and Sunnie Tar are a few of the others. And the coal black giant, Tarquinius, who took over the FFA division for a stretch in 1964, was another standout.

The Tar Heels changed over time; there’s a striking difference between Tarquinius, who was out of a Corporal Lee mare, and Laverne and Nansemond, both of whom were out of Adios mares. Bob Marks points out that the son of Billy Direct got a steady diet of trotting mares prior to the success of Steady Beau and Sly Yankee, while the Adios mares that followed gave him smaller, better gaited individuals.

Tar Heel’s daughters were responsible for the Triple Crown winner, Ralph Hanover, as well as Praised Dignity, In The Pocket, Colt Fortysix and Forrest Skipper. Tar Heel mares produced the top performer for most of the sires they were bred to. Adios’s top son, Bret Hanover; Dancer Hanover’s best, Romeo Hanover; and Columbia George’s best, Le Baron Rouge, are three examples.

Widower Creed was a top notch black FFA pacer for Howard Beissinger in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The son of Jimmy Creed did not distinguish himself as a sire, but he did produce Miss Creedabelle, the dam of Bret’s nemesis, Adios Vic.

Continentalvictory, the brilliant daughter of Valley Victory, who passed three months ago at age 22, was another black star. The last filly to win the Hambletonian, the Hall of Famer, earned $1.6 million, and took the Yonkers Trot and World Trotting Derby.

Scotland, the progenitor of Muscle Hill, via Rodney, Speedy Scot, Speedy Crown etc., was a black horse. As was his son Hoot Mon and that one’s daughter Hoot Song, the filly who beat the boys in the 1957 Yonkers Trot and finished second behind Hickory Smoke in the Hambletonian. Caleb, a black son of Hoot Mon, was second in the 1961 Hambletonian. Hoot Mon, who is one of three black horses to win the Hambletonian—Park Avenue Joe and Continentalvictory being the others—was the sire of Hambletonian winners AC’s Viking and Blaze Hanover, as well as Capetown, the sire of Overcall, and Thankful, the dam of Nevele Pride.

Earl Laird, Jimmy Cruise’s FFA project, who was chronically lame and didn’t race until age six, was black. The brave trotter won the Maple Leaf Classic, United Nations Trot and the American Classic. Flak Bait, a high-end son of Speedy Somolli, who took the 1985 Kentucky Futurity, was black. And Natural Herbie, who surprised everyone in last year’s International Trot Preview, and also won the Vincennes and Chip Noble, is also black.

The 1953 Horse of the Year, world record holder Hi Los Forbes, was black. As is Rock n Roll Heaven’s sophomore filly, Band Of Angels.

There are only three mainstream black sires in North America: hitting the reset button in Ontario, after an unsuccessful run in New York as a four year-old, Archangel sold out right away up North; Shadow Play was very successful in the Ontario Sire Stakes with his first crop, but ran up against Sportswriter last year; and Winning Mister stood in PA in 2013, made a four race comeback in the fall of that year, and is now apparently permanently retired to stud. The first two will certainly spread that black around. Our world gets more bay and brown every day. We need more ebony, more onyx, and more black beauty.

Joe FitzGerald

This and That

Racing at DuQuoin and Springfield will be interesting this year.  While the Illinois Racing Board has approved their racing dates along with pari-mutuel wagering, it appears as of now the State Department of Agriculture has zero funding available for purses.  Race at your own risk as it once took almost a year for the winner of stakes races to receive their purse checks.

The good news is Maywood Park has decided to continue racing for the time being (at least until the sale of the facility at a bankruptcy auction) as they had withdrawn application to vacate the rest of their days for 2015.  The plan was for Balmoral Park to take over the then vacant Friday nights while dropping Sunday evening racing.

I am not thrilled with TVG (oops, 4NJBets) right now.  I wanted to play the Confederation Cup card, including Ontario's second RUS race of the year at Flamboro Downs and of course, they failed to aacept wagering on Flamboro.  Why is Flamboro Downs along with a bunch of other Canadian harness tracks missing from the NJ slate when every obscure thoroughbred and quarter horse track in North America such as Assiniboia Downs, the Downs at Albuquerque, and Will Rogers Downs are offered for wagering?  True any track which wishes to be simulcast in NJ must have an agreement approved by the NJRC but I suspect it has more to do with the NJSEA outsourcing management of the wagering system to an entity which operates Monmouth Park; people not exactly looking to promote standardbred racing.  If nationally TVG offers a signal, it should be offered in the Garden State.  If the thoroughbred people are not willing to approve harness signals as they do with the runners, then  NJ should get out of the ADW game and open up the state to any licenesed ADW.

It seems a shame all the effort racing secretary Peter Koch goes thru putting race cards together netted this week 8.75 (Friday) and 8.69 (Sat) starters per race at the Meadowlands.  Besides the known issues of competition for horses from slot tracks, it seems part of the problem may be the fixation on having 13 races a night. The amateurs have been invited back to fill the Friday night program to reach #13.  Instead of trying to get multiple divisions of a race in order to have 13 races with fewer horses , maybe having 10 races with full fields would be better.  After all, serious players rather see full fields.  

Belmont Prediction:  There will be no thoroughbred Triple Crown winner this year.  It seems every year of late there is a horse who lays in ambush ready to pounce on the Triple Crown contender in New York and there is no reason to think this year will be different.  The fresh horses always seems to do better than the horse who has been racing in two demanding races.  Of course, things have changed with the runners as well.  In the 'good old' days, the horses who raced in the Derby, moved on to the Preakness before heading on to the Belmont; hence each horse has been through the same tough schedule.  Now it is skip the first two races and lie in ambush or after a less than stellar finish in the Derby, it's skip the Preakness and try to regroup in New York. 

On a personal note, you may have noticed my postings have been less frequent of late.  Due to family obligations, my time has not been my own and I have been dealing with issues involving family members, myself included.  Hopefully, things will quiet down and I will be able to post more often.  In the meanwhile, we soldier on and post when possible.  In the mean while, I thank Joe F. for keeping things going by posting occasionally.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Saturation, The Story Gone Before it Gets Legs?

Sunday afternoon was a busy day for harness racing.  Racing in the afternoon (in the United States) was: Harrah's Philadelphia, Plainridge Racecourse, Saratoga Harness, Scarborough Downs, Tioga Downs, and Vernon Downs.  These tracks all began within fifty minutes of each other.   There were a few Canadian tracks also racing, but they are your minor tracks so they are unlikely to attract much American interest.

If one is looking solely at combined handle at each track, one doesn't need to ask what is wrong with this picture.   While there may be some local interest for Sunday afternoon harness racing, the majority of the local handles tend to be small.  As for ADW and OTW wagering, the vast majority of players are likely getting their fill with thoroughbred racing but even with those playing the trotters, the amount of handle is being divided between six tracks.  Can it be worth it?  Other than possibly introducing the sport to potential customers, most likely not.  

Of course, it should be noted all these tracks, save Scarborough Downs, are slot tracks.  Does it really matter how much is being wagered on their product?

But for the serious horse player, if they even are looking at the trotters, so many harness tracks running within the same window results in even more diluted pools not to wager into.  Is there any wonder why thoroughbred racing is more popular with the serious player?  If so many tracks are going to race at the same time, there needs to be a better way on deciding who races on a Sunday and at what times.

There is a great story in the making which probably will never be given the chance to help the sport.  By now, most are familiar with Hannah Miller, daughter of  Erv Miller who is killing them on the amateur circuit right now.  So far this year, her record in amateur races is 28-11-6-1 which equates to a .524 UDR.

Admittedly, it remains to be seen how she would do competing against 'A' drivers on a full time basis but it appears we will not be getting that opportunity anytime soon.  Current plans of Ms. Miller is to go to college and get her degree.  So while the potential for a great story exists, odds are it will never be given a chance to come to fruition due to Miller's decision.  You can't argue about the importance of getting an education, but one has to wonder was the decision to further her studies her own,or is the future of the sport that murky.  

In the meanwhile, let's enjoy Miller's story for as long as it lasts.

American Pharaoh is the latest horse seeking to complete the thoroughbred triple crown.  I wish him all the best of luck but I tend to doubt he will win as it always seems there is a fresh and ready horse waiting in ambush to take all comers on in the Belmont.  Regardless, the thoroughbred industry has three weeks of promotion for their sport coming up until the Belmont is contested.   The use of Lasix seems to wash these horses out after two races so they tend to throw in clunkers.  As long as Lasix is permissible and the rules allow a horse to skip the first two legs of the crown and race in the last leg, we may never see another a Triple Crown winner again.  As far as I am concerned, to start in the Belmont, a horse must have started in either the Kentucky Derby or the Preakness.