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Thursday, June 13, 2013

Reviewing "The Gural Rule"

VFTRG contributor Joe F. gives us a mid-season review of "The Gural Rule"

Note: Inadvertently, the entire article did not make it into this posting earlier.  Here now is the complete column:

We’re approaching the halfway point in the calendar year so it might be a good time to take a look at the early returns on Jeff Gural’s new rules restricting the viability of horses that are retired to stud duty after their sophomore season.

A look back at the past decade, focusing on complete horses that were successful colts—especially at three—indicates that something did need to be done. In 2003 Mach Three, Million Dollar Cam, Like A Prayer, Andover Hall and Chip Chip Hooray were all retired after successful colt careers. The following year it was No Pan Intended and Yankee Cruiser. In 2005 we lost Western Terror, Cantab Hall and Tom Ridge. Then it was Rocknroll Hanover and Village Jolt on the pacing side and Classic Photo on the other. Total Truth was shipped out in 2007 and Glidemaster was also retired. Donato failed to return the following year. SBSW, Santana Blue Chip, Dewey and Crazed represented a major loss in 2009. In 2010 it was Well Said, If I Can Dream, Muscle Hill and Explosive Matter. Two years ago we lost Rocknroll Heaven, Muscle Massive and Lucky Chucky to stud duty.

In 2011 Big Bad John, Roll With Joe, MOMM and Broad Bahn were retired, although the latter reappeared after a single unsuccessful foray as a stallion; he’s been relocated to Sweden. In this, the year the sanctions take hold, Archangel, who was granted a medical waiver, was the only defection. In some cases there may have been legitimate reasons some of the horses listed above couldn’t continue to race, but in most instances they were simply retired for breeding purposes.

The list of those that did return as aged pacers and were successful is much shorter: Shark Gesture, Art Major, Art Official, McArdle, Artistic Fella, Sand Vic and Chapter Seven are a few that stand out.

Some like Mr Big and Ponder don’t fit the profile because they have limited colt resumes. Others like Dali, Hypnotic, Delmarvalous and I’m Gorgeous were never the sort of horses the new restrictions were aimed at in the first place.

Some came back in their aged form but failed to meet expectations: Mr Wiggles, Quick Pulse Mindale, Up The Credit, Always A Virgin, Badlands Nitro, Jereme’s jet, Kadabra, Majestic Son and RC Royalty, to name a few.

As with the pacers, there are some trotters like Winning Mister and Cash Hall that stand as outliers.

This year the Gural rule, attrition in the Canadian breeding industry combined with an overall cut in the number of horses being bred, and a renewed emphasis on racing for older horses, has led to reinvigorated aged divisions. Repurposing purse money from old standbys like the Graduate and the Titan Cup to the TVG series seems to be working out very well at the Meadowlands. Sunday’s Roll With Joe FFA at Tioga drew an outstanding field. The upcoming Franklin probably won’t be the crush job for Cheddar it was last year.

The rule is aimed at the premier colts in the sophomore division: last year that would be Dan Patch winners Heston Blue Chip and Market Share and O’Brien winners Intimidate and Michaels Power. The latter, who has yet to race for money this year, is a gelding, and as such not a target of the Gural rule. BC winner, Intimidate, has been fighting the good fight in the Quebec sire stakes. He’s so superior to the competition that betting has not been allowed on him in any of his three starts. He’s not even nominated to the TVG series. Obviously, this is not what Mr Gural had in mind.

The two Toscano charges, Market Share and Heston Blue Chip, are apparently being marketed as the qualifying champs of 2013. They have each made one soft start. Market Share beat an A1/FFA field at M1 while HBC finished third in a weird five horse four-year-open at the same track, where two of the starters were from the Toscano barn. Market Share qualifies again on Friday of this week. This too is not what Gural had in mind. Thus far no Cutler, Maturity or TVG for Market Share and no Maturity or TVG for HBC. They are both staked to the TVG; let’s hope they join the party. Heston was eligible for the RWJ and had sufficient earnings to get in, but they qualified him at the Meadowlands instead. Maybe they’re trying to tread water and avoid compromising the breeding value of the pair? Perhaps Toscano is looking to establish them as the sports’ premier qualifiers? Last year she sat out some of the early and mid-season races with both horses, allowing the others to beat each other up. That worked to their favor at the end.

Michaels Power, who qualified at M1 a couple of times in the spring but has never raced there, just completed his second Q mile at Mohawk. He is eligible to the TVG series as well as the Franklin, which kicks off with eliminations a week from Saturday. Thinking Out Loud, another key player in the four-year-old division who has been missing, just qualified for the first time. TOL is not staked to the TVG or the Franklin. However, both of those horses are eligible to the USPC and the Haughton.

Several of the traditional stakes races for older horses at M1 are used as legs of the TVG series. So a horse like TOL can race in the USPC and the Haughton as well as the eliminations for those races, all of which are considered TVG legs, even though he isn’t eligible to the series. Modern Family is not staked to the TVG trot series yet he raced in the Cutler, which is part of it.

Panther Hanover, another key player from Canada, has not been out yet as far as I know. He has been nominated to the Franklin, but not the TVG, USPC or Haughton. With the situation in Ontario being so tenuous, you’d think nominations to the US based stakes would spike, but that hasn’t necessarily been the case.

Two years ago We Will See was the only four-year-old entered in the Graduate. And that one plus Delmarvalous, Ideal Matters and Aracache raced in the USPC. WWS, Ideal Matters, Aracache and OML started in the Haughton. With the exception of WWS that is not a very impressive group.

Last year Powerful Mist and Foreclosure were the only two four-year-olds entered in the Graduate, while there were none from that age group in the USPC or the Haughton. WWS was the only premium four-year-old to join the FFA ranks in 2011 and Cheddar was the only one last year. Coleman seemed to keep her distance from the Meadowlands, for the most part, in 2012. Cheddar’s only US starts were in the Franklin and the Quillen. He’s staked to the TVG, USPC and Haughton this year; let’s hope he makes it there.

This year’s TVG contingent of Sweet Lou, Kingcole, Pet Rock, Needy, Bettor’s Edge, Hillbilly, ARNRD, Bolt The Duer, Michaels Power, Heston Blue Chip, Mel Mara and Dynamic Youth is far better than what we’ve been exposed to in recent years. Not all of them have competed in the series to this point but they are now in the general mix.

There were no premier trotters added to the FFA ranks in 2011. Pilgrims Chuckie was the only four-year-old entered in the Titan Cup, while Il Villaggio was the only one to go in the Nat Ray. No four-year-olds raced in the BC that year. Last year Chapter Seven, Mister Herbie and Daylon Magician were added to the upper echelon ranks, but Chapter Seven and Daylon have both been retired, and Herbie is the Web MD poster boy.

This year’s crop hasn’t been as rich as it promised to be, what with Market Share going for the qualifying championship, Intimidate being managed by a crew from Bizzarro World and Goo being on the shelf. The latter had minor surgery for an entrapped epiglottis in mid-May and was supposed to be ready for the Maxie Lee a couple of weeks later but that didn’t happen. Maybe Richard Hans is giving him the rest of the year off. Still, Modern Family, Little Brown Fox, Uncle Peter, My MVP, Guccio and others are rounding into form and adding to the competition.

Despite the eccentric bunch managing the top four-year-old trotters, the Gural rule and accompanying TVG series seem to be having the desired effect. This portends to be the deepest FFA season for pacers and trotters that we’ve witnessed in a long time.

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