Archives for February 2013


Following are a half dozen miscellaneous items about horse racing and casinos.

1. The New York Racing Association’s newly constituted Board of Directors established eight major goals to achieve in the next three years.

Four of the goals are especially welcome: (a) implement best practices to protect equine health and safety; (b) optimize the racing experience for NYRA customers; (c) enhance quality of thoroughbred racing at NYRA tracks to maintain NYRA’s traditional position of national leadership; and (d) judiciously employ new technologies to the benefit of the wagering public.

Customers have at times received shabby treatment from NYRA and safety issues at Aqueduct have been a problem. One of the possibilities being considered is to convert Aqueduct to a synthetic surface in order to mitigate breakdowns during winter racing. Another proposal is to eliminate winter racing altogether. Both of the Aqueduct changes would be controversial.

The view here is that a fifth recommendation—“prepare NYRA for re-privatization”—is the best one of all. In the vast majority of cases, the private sector performs more effectively than the public sector.

2. Lance Armstrong recently went on Oprah Winfrey’s television show to admit what almost everyone already knew, that he had used prohibited drugs during his bicycling career. Don’t hold your breath waiting on a few serial violators of drug regulations in horse racing to follow Armstrong’s example by offering up a mea culpa.

3. Violence, the name of many experts’ current Kentucky Derby pick, stands out so negatively in the wake of proliferating gun mayhem across the United States. Even though the colt’s dam was named Violent Beauty, her talented son should have been called something besides Violence. Were he to win the Kentucky Derby, imagine the headlines and the criticism. Contemplate the stretch call as the announcer informs that Violence has taken the lead in deep stretch at the Belmont Stakes.

It is difficult to fathom why an owner would put this unfortunate and provocative moniker on a horse and why the Jockey Club would approve it.

Violence may engender more buzz as a result of his name than any horse in memory.

4. Woodbine Entertainment Company in Toronto recently terminated the employment of over 100 people and the breeding industry in Ontario is in disarray, owing to the provincial government’s ending of the slots-at-racetrack program. This scenario could very well repeat itself in the United States and likely will. Already, elected officials in racino states are increasingly questioning the wisdom of subsidizing racing purses with a portion of slots revenues. The agribusiness argument for the subsidy is a valid one but is becoming difficult to make in an era of severe state-budget shortfalls. Governors and legislators are desperate for additional revenues and the slots subsidies are low-hanging fruit.

5. Regional casinos have had a deep effect on Atlantic City, New Jersey. In the past six years, revenues are down by 42%. Trump Plaza just sold to Meruelo Group of California for $20 million. This is the lowest sale price ever for a casino in Atlantic City. Little wonder that New Jersey is trying to expand into sports betting.

6. Northfield Park harness track near Cleveland is in the process of becoming a Hard Rock racino. Northfield’s longtime chief operating office, Thomas Aldrich, has been elevated to vice-chairman of the racetrack’s parent company, Milstein Entertainment. The new COO at Northfield is Brent Reitz. I have been acquainted with both of them for many years and know that they are highly competent executives whose promotions are well deserved.

The competition in Cleveland will really heat up once Northfield Park and nearby Thistledown are fully converted to racinos.

Copyright © 2013 Horse Racing Business


Item 1: On February 5, a dinner was held at Gulfstream Park to honor Kentuckian Don Brumfield, a Hall of Fame jockey, who works as a steward at the racetrack. In addition to Don, another Hall of Fame jockey was in attendance, Walter Blum.

Don Brumfield is best known for winning the 1966 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes on Kauai King, a son of Native Dancer, who also won two-thirds of the Triple Crown. Native Dancer’s only career loss came in the Kentucky Derby, by the slimmest of heartbreaking margins to Dark Star.

The tribute to Brumfield was organized by Bill Hirsch, whose father Buddy Hirsch and grandfather Max Hirsch are two of the greatest trainers in history, as recognized by their inclusion in the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. Max, Buddy, and Bill all trained for the famed King Ranch of Texas. Max Hirsch is perhaps best remembered for training King Ranch’s 1946 Triple Crown winner Assault. Bill Hirsch is no longer training but is the managing partner of Trackmen Golf Club Stable.

Another attendee at the dinner, Bob Quigley, will be inducted this coming summer into the Harness Racing Hall of Fame; he is the founding father of Meadowlands Racetrack. Bob commented that he wants to remain in the living-members section of the Hall of Fame as long as possible before seguing into the immortal section for deceased members.

Bill Hirsch’s next dinner will honor Hall of Fame jockey Bobby Ussery.

Item 2: On February 9, Gulfstream had a large and enthusiastic crowd to watch a card that included several stakes races. The Grade I Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap at 1 1/8 miles was particularly interesting because it had among the entries the 2011 Kentucky Derby winner and 2012 Breeders’ Cup Mile second-place finisher Animal Kingdom. He was pitted against Point of Entry, the Phipps Stable 5-year-old, who ran second in the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Turf at a mile and a half. Both of these horses could easily have won their Breeders’ Cup races with better in-race positioning.

The crowd around the paddock walking ring gave loud recognition to Animal Kingdom. He went off as the post-time favorite at 4-5 odds, whereas Point of Entry closed at 2-1.

In my view, Point of Entry should have been the betting favorite. He overpowered the field in the Grade I Sword Dancer Invitational at Saratoga in August 2012 and came back in the Breeders’ Cup in early November and ran strong. Thus it was not surprising when Point of Entry came out on top of Animal Kingdom. Point of Entry is arguably the best horse in training in the United States. Being by El Prado and superbly conformed, he will be attractive at stud. Plans are for Point of Entry to run in the Arlington Million and the Breeders’ Cup Turf.

The exceptional trainers of Point of Entry and Animal Kingdom, Claude “Shug” McGaughey III and Graham Motion, respectively, are exemplary representatives of Thoroughbred racing in the United States. Both are fierce competitors, but also are gracious in winning and losing.

After the race, Motion tweeted: “AK heading home. Not a happy camper. Beaten by G1 horse with HOF connections. Hopefully onto Dubai.”

It is amazing how Barry Irwin of Team Valor repeatedly comes up with stakes horses, as with Animal Kingdom. The proof is in the pudding and Irwin has demonstrated time and again that he is a keen judge of racing potential. Team Valor has a sterling record of success.

Item 3. Whenever I attend Gulfstream Park, I sometimes contemplate what the place will look like if the owner, Frank Stronach, goes ahead with his plan to add 50,000 or so seats (and two hotels). Some of the additions will be near the finish line, but most won’t. This seems to be a case of architectural form not following function, but I hope to be pleasantly surprised by the finished product.

Copyright © 2013 Horse Racing Business

The 2013 Cheltenham Festival

Cheltenham is a spa town in Gloucestershire, England and is known as the Western Gateway to the Cotswolds. It has long been famous for horse racing. The first flat racing occurred in 1815 on Nottingham Hill and by 1818 the Cheltenham Racecourse was drawing crowds of 30,000 people for a two-day July meet that featured the Gold Cup, which was a distance race on the flat. In 1834, steeplechasing commenced in nearby Andoversford and in 1898 was relocated to Cheltenham .

Today, the Cheltenham Racecourse is one of fourteen owned by the Jockey Club Racecourses. Cheltenham offers a panoramic view for fans, with the scenic grass course framed by foothills in the background.

Over the years, the Cheltenham Festival, held annually in March, grew in popularity and the racecourse facilities were expanded and improved to accommodate the crowds. The Festival is the premier event of the National Hunt in the UK and Ireland.

In 2005, the Festival was lengthened to four days and now includes 27 top-flight races. The main betting interests are the Champion Hurdle, the Queen Mother Champion Chase, the World Hurdle, and the renowned main event on the final day of competition—the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup, contested at 3 miles, 2 furlongs, 110 yards. The Gold Cup purse is £550,000.

The Cheltenham Racecourse draws about 700,000 visitors annually. The Racecourse has approximately 60 full-time employees, but the number increases to some 1,000 for a race meeting and burgeons to over 5,000 for the Festival.

The 2013 Festival is scheduled for March 12-15 and will again be a huge celebration of steeplechasing, with fans traveling from far and wide to take in the action, on the track and off.

The Cheltenham Racecourse previews the upcoming Festival meet, as follows:

The “meeting is once again shaping up to be a classic Cheltenham with some of the big winners from 2012 set to return… The ante-post betting is already kicking in with brilliant Arkle Chase winner Sprinter Sacre the hot favourite in the Queen Mother Champion Chase betting for March. Another horse to keep an eye on in the build up to the 2013 Festival is Bobs Worth, who after winning the Hennessy Gold Cup earlier this season is being well backed for the Gold Cup. There are a number of top class novices from last season making the step up in company this winter, including Sir Des Champs looks set for the Gold Cup and Simonsig who won the Neptune in 2012 and looks all set for the Arkle Chase this time around.”

The Cheltenham Festival races are all competitive with full fields. Forty horses are entered in the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup. A previous winner, Long Run, will be back to contest the race, in which he finished third in 2012.

The large number of entries in all of the Festival’s featured races provides plenty of opportunity for bettors to test their skills and luck. The next best thing to being in Cheltenham in mid-March is to watch the telecast and wager along with the crowd at the racecourse.

Don’t miss out on exciting Cheltenham Gold Cup Day betting from William Hill.

Copyright © 2013 Horse Racing Business.