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Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Gural Rule 2017

The Gural Rule, which places restrictions on the progeny of healthy stallions that do not compete at age four, was born back in 2011. It covered the foals of 2014 racing at Jeff Gural’s three tracks as well as foals of 2015 and 2016, on an experimental basis, on the WEG circuit, and those staked to Hambletonian Society events beginning with those born in 2015.

Horses that did not receive physical exemptions needed to start six times after April 1, unless they failed to earn $500,000 at three, failed to start at least a half dozen times at three, or did not start after August 1 of their sophomore season. 

The pacers that fell under the mandate after the 2012 season—Thinking Out Loud, Sweet Lou, A Rocknroll Dance, Heston Blue Chip, Pet Rock, Bolt The Duer and Time To Roll—all raced the following year. They are all standing stud in North America in 2017.

Eight trotters qualified for sanctions if they ran afoul of the rule that year. Little Brown Fox and Knows Nothing were exported; Archangel received a medical waiver and stood in New York for a year before returning to the track; Prestidigitator was on the shelf for an extended period until a failed stab at racing again led to stallion duty in 2016; Market Share, Guccio and My MVP raced on; and Googoo Gaagaa started three times before being retired to injury. So, as with the pacers, there were no issues.

The 2013 Pacer of the Year Captaintreacherous was the first major star to get ensnared by the Rule. He only won twice in seven starts at four, after which he was promptly retired to Hanover She Farms. The other four pacers were Sunshine Beach, Surefire Blue Chip, Twilight Beach and Fool Me Once, all of whom raced but none of whom were going to put any fannies in the seats.

The qualifying trotters that year were Creatine, Smilin Eli and Corky, all of whom were exported, and Hambletonian winner Royalty For Life, who was retired to injury after two starts at four.

The 2014 sophomore pacing group contributed McWicked, JK Endofanera, All Bets Off and Always B Miki, all of whom raced on, and Pace winner He’s Watching, who qualified in the spring at four but was retired to injury in July.

On the 2015 trotting side, Trixton was retired after exacerbating an ankle injury in the CTC in September of his sophomore campaign. His book was full by March. I believe he got a medical waiver.

 Father Patrick, on the other hand, was the second big fish to be caught up in the web that was the Gural rule. He bred mares in New Jersey and made five starts for Jimmy Takter. Like The Captain, his four-year-old racing stint was disappointing, as he won one time in those five starts. Patrick is now back at Diamond Creek in Pennsylvania. Nuncio was exported while Harper Blue Chip was hurt.

So, in the first three years of the program the Rule essentially kept Patrick and the Captain on the track. Together they went 3 for 12 and earned less than $300,000 at four, so neither one was much of a draw for the fans. Both suffered a hit to their reputations, the extent of which is difficult to gauge. The Captain maxed out at 140 mares in both 2015 and 2016, while Patrick bred an abbreviated book of 73 mares in conjunction with training and racing in 2015, and he handled 136 mares in 2016.

The Western Ideal stallion Artspeak, who stands at Hanover for $5,000, was the only pacer in the 2015 sophomore class to have his offspring subject to sanction under the Gural rule. At three he picked up the scraps leftover after Wiggle and Wakizashi Hanover got theirs; Artspeak won the Tattersalls Pace and the Simcoe that year. Still, the drop-off in production from his freshman campaign and the restrictions his offspring faced under the Rule didn’t dissuade many from sending their broodmares to him. Artspeak bred 109 mares in 2016. Freaky Feet Pete, Dude’s The Man, Lost For Words and In The Arsenal all raced on.

Three of the qualifying trotters from that class—The Bank, Habitat and Uncle Lasse—wound up in Sweden, while Crazy Wow came back at four.

Four pacers fit the stallion rule profile in 2016. Check Six will apparently race on, while Control The Moment was retired due to injury the first week of September. He’ll stand in Ontario at Tara Hills, and I assume he’s been granted a medical waiver. The other two, Racing Hill and Betting Line, will retire, to Ohio and Pennsylvania, respectively, and both will apparently suck it up and deal with the consequences of the rule. Being shut out at The Meadowlands, Tioga Downs and Vernon Downs would certainly matter in the case of Betting Line, not so much to Racing Hill or Control The Moment, however, as they probably aspire to be regional stallions.

On the trotting side, Marion Marauder was pointed to a stud career but failed his fertility test, so he’ll race on. Bar Hopping and Southwind Frank, both of whom will stand in Pennsylvania, will apparently flaunt the rule. Ron Burke agonized over not being able to get Frank right throughout much of the season, but I don’t think it was anything that rose to the level of applying for a retirement waiver.

Who is in and out and when gets confusing, but it seems WEG has opted out of the Gural Rule beginning with horses bred by a four-year-old stallion in 2017, while the Hambletonian Society will restrict the foals of 2015 and 2016. Essentially, Artspeak, Racing Hill, Betting Line, Bar Hopping and Southwind Frank will be punished primarily by Gural. Their get will not be allowed to qualify or baby race at The Meadowlands, Tioga Downs or Vernon Downs. Actually, they will be banned from racing at all at those tracks, as Gural has increased the penalties in response to being abandoned by WEG and the Hambletonian Society.

The Graduate Series, Kindergarten Classic, William Haughton Open, Golden Girls, US Pacing Championship and TVG Series are all owned, serviced and sponsored by The Meadowlands. The inability to gain casino status has limited the track’s ability to fund some of these stakes so outside sponsors have been recruited, but you can be sure that will not diminish the scope of the Rule. The two Hanover stallions, Betting Line and Artspeak, would find their get conceived in their four-year-old form ineligible to these races.

Southwind Frank and Bar Hopping would be in a similar squeeze with regard to the Cutler Memorial, Graduate Series, Kindergarten Classic, Stanley Dancer Memorial, Del Miller Memorial, Cashman Memorial, Fresh Yankee, Peter Haughton, Jim Doherty and TVG. These stakes are also owned, sponsored and serviced by The Meadowlands. This would certainly be a problem for those stallions.

Thoroughbred racing is beset with the same issue of horses retiring to stud before their time, only they don’t have a figure like Jeff Gural who has taken a drastic step to address the problem. A recent Standardbred Canada poll showed that a healthy majority of those responding agree with what Mr. Gural is doing, but with the WEG tracks and the Hambletonion Society opting to convince owners to keep racing their high profile charges by promoting more four-year-old restricted stakes, as opposed to punishing them for retiring their stars, the movers and shakers in the sport are obviously not on the same page. Jeff Gural has also gone this route by sponsoring the Graduate Series, but he believes it will take more than an offering of honey to get the job done.

Artspeak sells his first crop in 2018, while Southwind Frank, Bar Hopping, Betting Line and Racing Hill will sell theirs in 2019. Mr. Gural believes the restrictions will have a profound effect on the desirability of these yearlings to buyers. Time will tell.

Joe FitzGerald

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