final NTRA poll thoughts

I voted in the NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll for the first time this year.  Some weeks were more difficult than others, but this week’s was the most brain-busting of all.

I had assumed all year that it would be the easiest.  After all, Breeders’ Cup is the big ending, and it’s the last poll of the year.  Though Breeders’ Cup is not the last big racing week before the Eclipse Awards — let’s not sneeze at Thanksgiving weekend, with races like the Clark and the Cigar Mile — it’s the only one of this scale, and nothing between now and the end of the year comes quite to the level of a Derby undercard, Belmont undercard, or Travers Day.

Yet?  It was the hardest.  Though Breeders’ Cup answered a lot of questions in individual divisions, the fact that the Top Thoroughbred Poll requires a voter to rank the divisions against each other makes it more difficult.  Most of my questions involved assessing not only what each horse did in their own division this year, but also how that stacks up against what horses in other divisions did.  Even with a rather sharp limitation that I’ve chosen to apply, that of not using horses who have not faced older company at least once during the year, many of the rank judgments felt uncomfortably tight.

Here’s my final ballot, with short notes on my rationale.

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A Day At the Races: Presque Isle Downs is the Cheers of racetracks

Of course, the sport on people’s minds was horse racing, not baseball. Deep, stained wood lined saddling stalls, not a bar. People sat in lawn chairs or at picnic tables, not stools. But, just like a cozy corner watering hole, the apron at Presque Isle Downs was where people went to catch up with friends and see the horses run after work. Whether you’ve been coming for years or for days, everyone knows your name, and they’re glad you came.

And, it’s the best kind of local haunt: close-knit, but excited to welcome new faces.

In my latest piece at Brisnet, read why Presque Isle Downs is the Cheers of racetracks!

why we watch Winx live

Last night, I stayed up to watch Winx race in the Chelmsford Stakes. She won her nineteenth straight. This morning, I’m drinking a little more coffee than usual.

The race went off at just before 1am my time. A few hours before, I was telling myself I’d go to bed and catch her race in the morning. As usual, that never happened. I stayed awake, tweeting before the race that my thoughts of going to sleep were once again empty. My laptop perched on my nightstand: Australian racing in one window, my Twitter timeline in the other.

The gates opened, and we caught our breath when Winx got out smoothly, unlike her blown start in the Warwick Stakes. We saw shades of Shining Copper, of Isabella Sings, of Presious Passion when Red Excitement opened up a yawning gap between himself and the rest of the field. We froze as the field turned for home, Red Excitement forgetting to stop, Winx with a chasm to cross. We caught our breath once more when Winx reminded us once again that no horse in the world knows where the wire is like she does. We marveled once we collected ourselves enough to realise she found the line without Hugh Bowman’s stick.

We.

I woke up this morning to some advice on Twitter: “Just DVR it.”

I could have watched the replay on my laptop, perched on my nightstand, once I wiped the sleep from my eyes. I would have appreciated Winx’s better break, Red Excitement’s strategy, Hugh Bowman’s hand ride, Winx’s will to win. I would have mused on the prowess, consistency, and racing luck it takes for a mare to win nineteen races in a row.

But, I wouldn’t have had racing Twitter in my other window, all around me, experiencing the race in real time. I love Winx partly because of her racing record. I also love that people all over the world get excited about her, that getting together to watch her race is an event.

I could watch the replay, but there’s no DVR for collective effervescence. I’d miss the we.

a rabbit, the Woodward, and a simple solution left unused

Twitter was abuzz about rabbits leading into the Whitney, when Cautious Giant and War Story were not coupled.  The move not to couple that pair left a lot of people scratching their heads, and the race went about as many expected — Cautious Giant gunned it to the lead, and War Story ran late.  About the only surprise in that race was the souvenir Cautious Giant gave eventual victor Gun Runner as he faded out of contention.

A month has passed, and the Internet once again buzzes with rabbit talk, focusing on Loooch Racing and War Story.  This time?  War Story was coming with a different rabbit, May B.  Racing officials refused to take May B’s entry in the Woodward.

Was May B going to be a long shot in the Woodward?  Sure he was.  But, his racing lines indicated that he was in good form, likely fit to run.  May B won a $12,500 starter allowance sprint two back at Los Al, and returned to hold second in an open $35,000-$40,000 turf dash at Del Mar.

Sure, May B was far more likely to win that allowance at Thistledown from which he scratched today than the Woodward, but it’s not the stewards’ place to decide that a horse is outclassed in a certain spot.  If that were the case, after all, they surely would have been able to pull the plug on Ricks Natural Star’s entry into the Breeders’ Cup Turf all those years ago.  Assuming his connections made all the proper stakes payments, nothing in the conditions barred May B from entering the Woodward, and he was nominated for the race.

Officials had a simple solution at their disposal: couple May B and War Story.

In stakes races worth over $50,000 in New York, racing officials have the choice to allow uncoupled same-owner entries, or to require that those entries be coupled if they find that doing so is necessary to the public interest.  The entries of both War Story and May B in the Woodward would tell a clear story to any reasonably seasoned handicapper: they’re both owned by the same entity, one is a come-from-behind horse with graded stakes form, and the other is a front-running sprinter stretching out and taking a large hike in class.  It’s a classic rabbit scenario.  But, for someone newer to racing, coupling that entry would make it beyond obvious that May B would be in to make pace for War Story.  Problem solved.

The only scenario in which it serves anyone’s interest to bar May B from entering the Woodward would be if there were so many other entries for the race that allowing May B in would keep out a horse owned and trained by someone else.  In that case, it makes perfect sense for the rabbit to be the first horse excluded — even though rule 4025.10(c) covers trainers, not owners, there is an argument to be made that making a same-owner-different-trainer rabbit would serve the spirit of that rule, in the sense of giving as many parties as possible a chance to contest the race.

But, since not every spot in that Woodward Stakes starting gate was spoken for?  May B should have been allowed in, as a coupled entry with War Story.

Dubai Racing Channel – Greentree feature

Earlier this month, after Equestricon, I was part of a group lucky enough to visit Greentree, Godolphin’s training facility in Saratoga.  Last week I published a photo gallery from that visit — but if you want to get another look, watch this feature from the Dubai Racing Channel!  Laura King was out at Greentree to do a video, which both looks at the horses as well as features brief interviews from some of us on the tour: Ruben Mendez, Ciara Austin, and yours truly!

Picks and Ponderings: Equestricon, from a smaller circuit perspective

I spent the first half of this week at Equestricon.  Despite the exhausting timing – it fell right after the Arlington Million – I’m glad I went.

Since coming home, my mind has wandered to how Equestricon could better engage horse racing communities outside the marquee circuits. Smaller circuits matter for the accessibility, and therefore the long-term health, of the sport.

Head over to Picks and Ponderings, and read my thoughts on how Equestricon can be even better for smaller circuits next year.

a tale of two eleven-year-olds

This evening, chatter on horse racing Twitter has been dominated by news of two eleven-year-olds.

Ben’s Cat has been retired.  Awesome Actor was entered to race this Thursday.

(Update, June 28, 2017: Erich Zimny from Charles Town has announced that Awesome Actor will not be allowed to run.  I am keeping the rest of this blog post intact, because I stand behind both my approval of how Ben’s Cat’s career was managed, as well as my trepidation over both Awesome Actor’s entry and the record of the owner under whose name he was entered.  But, I applaud Charles Town for having Awesome Actor scratched from Thursday’s race.)

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