Thursday, November 1, 2018

The Last Stand

Hey, long time no see.

I know I have not posted in a very long time. This blog died for a lot of reasons, most of them personal. They ranged from the simple act of a stolen camera to complicated moments of near crippling depression. All of them contributed to a basic lack of want to write here. There have been plenty of moments since my last post where I wanted to comment on something happening in the horse racing world, but it just would not come out. Forcing it out would be counter-productive, so I would just walk away from whatever I was going to say. The thought of putting out even a simple post talking about a stakes race and offering picks, which were always my least favorite, became revolting. The more I thought about writing about the sport, and more importantly the sport itself, I realized I was quickly falling out of love with the game.

One of the biggest reasons that my feeling of being “burnt out” from racing accelerated quickly was when Hollywood Park closed. With the track gone, the rest of the racing calendar became too much of the same thing. Santa Anita & Del Mar are too similarly shaped (especially the main track) to incite variation, especially compared to what they were replacing. (Santa Anita & Del Mar are one-mile dirt ovals with similar homestretch lengths, while Hollywood was 1 & 1/8th mile oval with a longer stretch). With no differences in the dirt track, and only two minor differences of the turf course distances, monotony quickly sinks in. This is especially true with Santa Anita’s turf course, as 8 ½ furlong grass races cannot be run on the current configuration. With Santa Anita absorbing most of the open dates, the meet to begin the year becomes one long slog. The specialness of the downhill races falls away when witnessing them five times a week for 6 months. The slight alterations for Del Mar (swapping 6 ½ furlongs for 5 for the turf sprints, adding 1m 1/6th) aren’t enough to re-engage a person after months of drollness.

The change in venues affected me in many ways that hurt way more than I had expected. One of the biggest was it ruined my favorite race and time of year at the track. My favorite race was the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby. With it being an end of the year test on the grass to give three-year olds one final chance against their own age group while at a sort of catch-all distance of a mile and a quarter. Thanksgiving weekend in general was my favorite time of the year to go to the track. Now with that part of the meet being held at Del Mar, the distance of the race is now a furlong shorter at a mile & 1/8th, it no longer holds the same challenge it once did. The quality has fallen off a cliff, and more questionable milers are among the contenders than the true stayers of the recent past. The fact that Del Mar is the host exacerbates the problem, as a tough but manageable ride on public transit to Hollywood Park has become an unaffordable trip on the train to Del Mar. (Driving is not a possibility for me)

The Southern California racing calendar has devolved into one place holding 2/3rd of the races. That one place is also the only that I have any sort of easy accessibility. That is a problem when you wish to enjoy live racing as much as possible. That is a major problem when you do not have many things you can do (on the cheap or otherwise) for fun. That is a fundamental problem when you let too much of one thing take up your personal life. That leads to what has become an unrepairable relationship with racing. Sadly though, it should not come to a surprise to anyone who truly knows me, as the one thing I consistently said since the clock started on Hollywood Park’s demise was that racing would become a non-entity in California within 10 (or 11) years of the track’s closure. And I would be done with the sport too. I just didn’t expect myself to be done before that.

The other main reason I soured on the game was an ever-building frustration of anger towards multiple groups in the sport. From the “Super-trainers” that dominate the major circuits (through legal or questionable means), the increasingly inconsistent decisions of the stewards, the managerial decisions that serve to only help themselves in spite of the game, to gamblers who talk about standing against one thing after another, yet supporting a different part of the product that is fundamentally worse than what they are fighting for. But the largest amount of anger is to the one person who controls the action while it is in progress, the jockey. I hold the riders to a higher standard than most, mainly because they deserve that amount of priority in a sport where the put their health on the line multiple times of day for the patron’s entertainment. Yet when you watch race after race after race after race where a complete lack of tactical awareness lead horses to places they have no chance of winning from, how can you enjoy, or even trust the product? From not sending a horse to a prominent position when it has not shown the ability to pass, to not using a horse’s tactical speed, letting others get away with unmolested leads through dawdling fractions when they never should have had the opportunity to do so. This feeling led me to not even enjoy either recent triple crown winners’ Belmont, as it felt more of a coronation than a final challenge. Where was the sense of pride from the other riders to prevent this supposedly meaningful accomplishment, such as McCarron’s masterful ride on Touch Gold in 1997, or the gang tackle mentality of preventing Smarty Jones winning in 2004? All too often now, this a feeling of passivity pervades into races that are supposed to be of the highest class. One of my only skills in life is judging intent and reacting accordingly, like watching which person will next punch “finish” on the self-service machine and getting in line behind them. So the (lack of) judgement riders show on a daily basis (admittedly unfairly) drives my disdain for the game further higher. And I do not need to do this to myself anymore.

So this has lead to the end of plenty of things. First, this is the last post for this blog. I do greatly appreciate your patronage way back when more than you can imagine. Second, this is the last time I bear myself to the internet in any form for a long time. (i.e. No posting on social media). Most importantly, this is the last weekend I shall let myself enjoy horse racing as a fan. I have barely held on to make it to this Breeders’ Cup, as I have been looking forward to the event being held there since it was announced. Years of not enjoying the Breeders’ Cup when it was held at Del Mar, Keeneland, and especially Santa Anita, to the point I did not even watch several races until the day after last year, definitely help drive me to this decision to walk away. So I wish you goodbye and good luck this weekend, and hopefully you don’t end up like me, making a last stand over something you once loved.

--Tencentcielo aka C.H.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Where Will Hollywood Park's Graded Stakes Land? (Where Should They?)

With the imminent closure of Betfair Hollywood Park, the 36 graded stakes are up for grabs to the other tracks on the circuit. Below is listing is of each of graded stakes available, along with where the writer thinks they SHOULD go and where they probably WILL go.

As the chart shows, the reason it is 36 (and not 37) graded stakes is that the Jim Murray Memorial Hcp. has not been run in either of the last two years, which means it will not be graded next year.

Most of the stakes are just going to be carried over from one venue to the other with little change, with some getting the axe due to excessive duplication or monetary issues. The third column is what this blog wish could happen to the schedule instead, taking advantage of certain factors and/or scheduling conflicts. This blog's main suggestions would provide a drastically needed shake-up while throwing a lifeline to a struggling smaller track.

Including Golden Gate Fields
The biggest change suggested is that Golden Gate (whose owners also own Santa Anita) get the Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup and the Grade 1 Shoemaker Mile. Moving the races there would not (initially) affect its Grade 1 status, as it is still within California and the basic timing and conditions of the race would remain unchanged. If this were to occur, two prep series could be set-up between the tracks, to help attract attention. The San Francisco Mile (GG) on Derby Day, the American (SA) 4 weeks later, and then Shoemaker Mile (GG) back at Golden Gate Fields on Independence Day would make up the first series (all older male grass miles). For the older main track routers, with the Mervyn Leroy Hcp (SA), Californian (SA), and the newly christened Golden Gate Gold Cup (GG) would make up a comparable series. (Golden Gate Fields will still run the G3 All-American on Memorial Day, as a local prep) Both could have some sort of bonus attached to get connections to run all three. The Golden Gate Gold Cup in particular could be marketed as a sort of test run for any horses who might want to consider a run in Dubai, with it being a similar Tapeta surface as the track at Meydan.

Including Los Alamitos
Los Alamitos is going to run 5 weeks (split among two weeks) next year, and the chance for them to pick up a few stakes that will get squeezed out of the schedule is there. This blog ended up thinking as many as five of them could end up at the track, with four of them being run in the Autumn meet (dark purple). Each of those four graded stakes would fit the configuration of the track AND have a high chance of not being picked up by Del Mar because of Del Mar's short meet. The G3 Laz Barrera was not run this spring/summer meet at Hollywood Park, and at 7 furlongs might have to change distance to be run at Los Alamitos, but it is an intriguing option to any 3yo sprinters who may not handle the Polytrack/facing older at Del Mar. The Hollywood Prevue could be available if Del Mar decides to not run a prep for the Hollywood Futurity, and Los Al could easily pick that up as well.

Hollywood Derby
Del Mar cannot run a ten-furlong grass race because of the configuration of its turf course. So that mean the Hollywood Derby would have to be shortened/lengthened to fit the course. Instead, this blog suggests that it be moved to Belmont Stakes weekend (or the weekend after) of the spring/summer meet. In this case, it would fill a natural void of races for 3yo turf horses early in the year, while also retaining its original distance. The other option is to move it to Santa Anita's autumn meet on closing weekend, forcing the Twilight Derby to opening weekend.

Honestly, this blog didn't cut any of the races from his column because he decided to see how the changes made would affect the schedule. The guesses on which will be cut are based on assumptions from track gossip, logical guesses based on the schedule (including the recently released 2013-2014 Santa Anita Winter meet stakes schedule) and which stakes seemed to be the most redundant compared to the track they are headed. The one stake this blog feels most confident on being cut is the Sunset, as with the Whittingham being a G2 and the omission of the typical closing day feature, the San Juan Capistrano Hcp., from the winter/spring schedule (assuming that it will be placed at the end of the spring/summer meet instead), the numbers don't add up for the Sunset's inclusion on the stakes calendar.

So there is this blog's "ten cents" on what the graded stakes schedule should look like for Southern California after Hollywood Park closes. What's your take? Let it be known in the comments. Good luck everybody.

Friday, November 1, 2013

2013 Breeders Cup Friday picks (Undercard Included) - Sparing Twitter Feeds

Let me be perfectly honest with you: This post only exists because I wish to state who I like for each race on the Breeders' Cup Friday card, but I don't want to flood anyone's Twitter feed with a whole bunch of tweets. So this is my kind of odd way of being nice while still getting my opinion out there.

On to the picks!!

Race 1
Another year, another "Best Bet" being on the undercard instead of in a Breeders' Cup race. This year it comes right off the bat with #12 Omega Star. Bred for turf, enough early speed to stay in contact with the leader through the first bend, much better sprinting than routing, a good outside post, and should be a VERY good price.

Confidence Rating: 9.3

Race 2
New year, same idea. Last year, I liked Basmati, but picked someone else on top because I didn't adjust to track quick enough. Not this year. I know there is other speed, but he's proven at this distance on this day. I would use EVERY speed horse if playing multi-horse exotics.
Confidence Rating: 5.6

Race 3 - Golden State Juvenile
California Chrome is either going to be on the lead or just barely off it. He should appreciate the extra distance. The favorite Tamarando is an ABSOLUTE play against based on how the track is playing.
Confidence Rating: 5.5

Race 4 - Golden State Juvenile Fillies
If the track were fair, I would take a shot with Whatsallthedrama, but it's not, so I'll take a swing for the fences with Swiss Lake Yodeler. She has speed from the outside draw and will have to gun hard. Considering her only win was at Fairplex, she will be a big price.
Confidence Rating: 4.7

Race 5 - Twilight Derby
Normally I love this race because it has a good mix of up and coming horses and play-against milers. This year though...THEY ALL LOOK LIKE MILERS! I know some of them won at today's distance, but I still have doubts on them. Kid Dreams is going to get overbet off his big number he earned last time (not sure HOW you come up with that number without any comparable races). I'm gonna stab with Outside Nashville. Hopefully with his post the jockey will elect to use more of his positional speed to stay closer to the pace and secure a good trip from his outside post.
Confidence Rating: 5

Race 6 - Breeders' Cup Marathon
Threw a dart, landed on Suns Out Guns Out. So I'll go with that.
Confidence Rating: 0.01

Race 7 - Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf
50% lifetime winning percentage for the writer's picks in this race. I never go with the "A" Euro (in this case Giovanni Boldini) in here because he always gets overbet. I going with Wilshire Boulevard instead. I like my juvenile Euros well-seasoned (7 starts) and a purely gut feeling has me thinking that he will appreciate two turns. If I had to pick a U.S. based horse, I'll swing for the fences and go with Bon Accord, mainly because I bet on him when he won the Calder Turf Dash at 46-1!
Confidence Rating: 6 (6.5 that one of the two will win)

Race 8 - Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile
Broadway Empire and Golden Ticket are the only two horses coming out of a nine furlong race. A nine furlong race has produced at least one of the top 3 finishers in each of the six runnings of this race. I expect that to continue today. (Click on the link to see my pre-bias thoughts on the races, via Thorofan,)
Confidence Rating: 6.5 one of the two wins, 9 at least one hits the board.

Race 9 - Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf
A first time U.S. horse or Ready To Act win this race. Slight lean to Chriselliam, for "obvious" reasons. (In vague preference: Chriselliam - Al Thakhira - Ready To Act - Vorda). The post dooms My Conquestadory unless she is a bigger monster than she has already shown.
Confidence Rating: 4

Race 10 - Breeders' Cup Distaff
Until the track came up so speed-favoring on Thursday, #2 Authenticity was an absolutely standout to me. I can't see how Mike Smith on Royal Delta was going to let Beholder get in an easy lead, yet I have no doubt that Gary Stevens would engage in a protracted duel if Mikey decided to go for the lead hard. (See Tiz The Truth's race on Sunday at Santa Anita as an example of why I think that. I don't trust Close Hatches going nine furlongs against better horses than she has been facing lately. Princess of Sylmar screams "over the top" in her after this race was added on to her campaign at the last minute. Street Girl is probably not fast enough, but if it all goes to heck, she could pick up a major slice at a big price.
But now that the track seems to favoring speed, I wonder if either Beholder or Royal Delta will get tired enough, even after dueling, for Authenticity to catch them on this track. Authenticity is still the pick, but...
Confidence Rating: 6.5

As for that Arabian race the ends the card, for purely entertainment purposes only I like #7 Ayers A. But that is just purely for fun. Good luck today folks.