Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Putting The Horse Before The Cart? Or Without A Cart?

Earlier this month, Oak Tree released their promotional schedule for the Oak Tree at Hollywood Park meet. There are 5 giveaways at the meet, with the first three involving Zenyatta in some ways. The last two are on consecutive days on the closing weekend of the meet. A giveaway for every weekend save one. But is that too many giveaways, especially Zenyatta giveaways, for only 5 week meet?

Let us first give a rundown on what the giveaways are and when they will be handed out. Opening weekend brings “the queen’s” last competitive appearance in Southern California in the Grade 1 Lady’s Secret (soon to be re-rechristened the Zenyatta Stakes), and a Zenyatta Hat will be given away. Also on this day, 3 other Grade 1 stakes will be run. Next weekend brings 2 more Grade 1 stakes but no giveaway. Weekend #3 brings with it a Zenyatta picture, and the Grade 2 Oak Tree Derby. The 4th weekend comes with the signature stein giveaway (moved from its normal opening week position), featuring Z. The last weekend will have the only two non-Z giveaways. Cal Cup Day on Saturday will bring with a shirt, and the next day will close out the meet with a sweatshirt to be handed out.

The above sounds like a normal promotional schedule, no? Not for Oak Tree. Oak Tree in the past gave away 3 items a meet. The stein on opening day/opening weekend, another giveaway in the middle, and the ubiquitous California Cup giveaway. (From here forward, “California Cup” will be shortened to Cal Cup) That was the schedule for years. It allowed for some time to occur between each giveaway. With five giveaways this season, especially on back-to-back days on closing weekend, this blog wonders if it may not have the desired effect of boosting attendance and revenue. Why have giveaways on consecutive days, especially on closing weekend, after having 3 other giveaways in the same month? It could be that the expected drop in revenue that much with the move from Santa Anita to Hollywood Park is so much that Oak Tree must resort to a “chuck-and-pray” strategy of giving away as much free stuff as possible to lure customers to make the driver over from Arcadia.

Let this blog make it undeniably clear: It has nothing against honoring Zenyatta with multiple giveaways in a meet. This blog expected that this year’s stein would honor her and her win in the 2009 Breeders Cup Classic. This blog also expected that the first giveaway would also be Zenyatta-themed. This blog did not expect a third Zenyatta giveaway, but it is nothing but another honor to the great mare. But this blog has a problem with the giveaways. The problem this blog has is the order and number of the giveaways. Why does the order and number matter?

The order and number of the giveaways may lead to a phenomenon this blog will call “Promotional Burnout”. With so many giveaways offered this meet, this blog wonders how effective the last two giveaways will be on attendance. With the first three giveaways being Z-themed, it is a guarantee that people will come out to collect them. The first giveaway will have the highest attendance, since that is the day of the Lady’s Secret, which is the next target for Zenyatta. The next two giveaway days, which are also Z-themed, could receive a “bounce-back” effect from the first day.

The “bounce-back” effect is an issue, as Oak Tree is pandering to the existing audience. They know that her fans will come (or at least hope that they will come) out for three successive Zenyatta giveaways. Yet doing this strategy could come at a major cost. If the crowds show up for the next two giveaways. will they be able to afford to come back for Cal Cup day? If it is a struggle to get people out for those two days, what chance does Cal Cup day have? Will any of the new people (which is part of the reason these giveaways occur, so that new fans can be enticed to visit) come out for a non-Zenyatta giveaway day, given the choice of a free Zenyatta-related item or a non-Zenyatta related item?

The worry that this blog has is that Cal Cup day will be the most affected by the promotional schedule. By the time Cal Cup comes around, anyone who is using the promotion as part of the reason to come out may have used up enough of their “entertainment budget”, for lack of a better term, that they will not be able to come out that day. Furthermore, even if they have the financial ability to come, it is doubtful that they the people in Los Angeles will have the drive to go to the track for the third straight weekend. The fact that instead of two full weeks worth of advertising for Cal Cup, it will get barely a week. As of now, unless one decided to dig around Oak Tree’s Facebook page, one would not know about the giveaway on Cal Cup day. The racing site for Oak Tree is still not up, and nowhere on Hollywood Park’s website does it list a giveaway. Yet all three of the Zenyatta giveaways are seen on the home page. The missed opportunity to promote Cal Cup prominently before Zenyatta runs, when interest is at its highest is a shame, landing another blow to the already struggling California-bred program.

This edition of the Cal Cup is especially important with the closing of one of the major farms out here in California, River Edge Farm. The number of horses bred out here has plummeted the last few years. This closing hints at the tough environment that exist out here in California. The Cal Cup (and its sister Gold Rush festival at Hollywood Park in spring) are very important to the Cal-bred industry. These days show off the stars of the program, and how it is possible for the little guy to get a piece of it. These days are a chance to get the fans to come out to see and wager on the home-bred team. These days allow the fans to see a horse who might be around for the next few years, running multiple times locally. These type of horses that can be seen a few times a year without having to travel the country. This type of marketing can build loyalty that can bring fans back to the game.

Where else could you have seen Lava Man, in the infancy of his stakes career, in a thrilling loss to Cozy Guy in the 2004 Cal Cup Classic? Where else you could have seen 2002 Hollywood Gold Cup winner Sky Jack win his first stake in the 2000 Cal Cup Classic, then come back from knee surgery to win that Gold Cup? Where could you have seen the game gelding Yougottawanna give a glimpse of what would be a long, fruitful multi-year career in his upset of Officer in the 2001 Cal Cup Juvenile? Where else could you have seen Cavonnier, who was the shortest nose away from giving trainer Bob Baffert his first Kentucky Derby win, cap off his two year-old season with a win the 1995 Cal Cup Juvenile? Where else could you have found all of these Southern California stars of tomorrow at the same place but at the Cal Cup?

Zenyatta is the first horse in a very long time that that deserves to have multiple giveaways in the same meet. Once she retires though, how many of those fans will come back? Especially without someone new, that they might see for years to come? That is why it bothers me that Cal Cup gets the short end of the stick when it comes to the promotional schedule this year. The horse shortage out here will continue to be exacerbated unless horses are bred out here in California. Without enough horses being bred, the California Cup will disappear. Without the Cal Cup, another big day for the California breeder/owner/trainer is gone. It will become a downward spiral of doom. As much as love and want to celebrate Z, i just can't stand to see the Cal Cup, the breeding industry and horse racing overall in California die a painful death.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Thoughts on the Last 2 Weeks

As promised yesterday, this post is about my thoughts about the events that took place during the time i could not post. I will be starting from the day of the Travers through the Hopeful at Saratoga, then switch to the west coast for thoughts on the events from the Pacific Classic to the Del Mar Futurity.

- The stakes on the Travers undercard were underwhelming. All 3 were won by gate-to-wire winners over a speed favoring track. I'm not sure what to make of the winners of the Victory Ride and the Ballerina, but Discreetly Mine winning the King's Bishop was a bit of a disappointment. Not only did my pick D'funnybone did nothing, but DM's win inspired nothing. I question whether he will have an impact come the first Saturday in November at Churchill in either the Sprint or the Dirt Mile.

- The Travers itself was a great race to watch as Afleet Express just held off Fly Down at the wire by the slimmest of noses. Both the winner and the runner-up showed they were very game. Super Saver further cemented himself as another in the string of Derby winning one-hit wonders. Not sure how this group of three year-olds will fair against older, as most of the races have been very middling.

- As this blog thought, Rachel Alexandra did not win the Personal Ensign. However, much to the blog's dismay, Life At Ten was not the one to defeat her. Rather, it was longshot outsider Persistently. Wearing the same colors as the horse who's name graces the stake, she ground her way to victory. It appears that Rachel just cannot run a mile and quarter effectively, especially with what she has showed this year. She should be pointed to the Breeders' Cup Ladies Classic, where she would be the favorite and have a much better chance of winning. But she will still have to deal with Life at Ten, who's run was very disappointing. Maybe there is some truth to the theory that Malibu Moon's at Saratoga struggle at a mile and a quarter. Let us see what Pletcher has in store for her. This blog still has faith in Life at Ten that she will prevail on November 5th.

- It was a bad time for the Asmussen barn, as not only did Rachel lose the Personal Ensign, but he lost both Kantharos and Majesticperfection to injury. Kantharos, a promising two-year-old who facilely won the Grade 2 Saratoga Special in last race, suffered a career-ending injury in training for the Grade 1 Hopeful. Majesticperfection suffered a career-ending injury on Sunday while continuing preparations for the Grade 1 Vosburgh S. at Belmont. Both leave gaping holes in their respectful divisions, and will be sorely missed. This blog thought Majesticperfection was a very strong contender for the BC Sprint. His absence leaves this blog scrambling for a selection in that race. Maybe Atta Boy Roy, the winner of the CD Sprint on Derby Day.

- With Kantharos out, heavy favorite Boys of Toscanova disposed of three overclassed rivals with ease in the Hopeful. While he won with ease, one has to question how far he will go, being a son of Officer, who failed in numerous attempts at two-turns. We shall see, but as of now, he is the de facto leader of the division.

Now off to the West Coast!

- The Pacific Classic anchored a three stake day at Del Mar. In the Del Mar Mile, Lava Man's 1/2 bro Enriched finally broke through in a stake with his gutty win. In the Pat O'Brien, Baffert's recent acquistion El Brujo made his Del Mar debut a winning one by blitzing his rivals. This charge will hopefully be pointed to the BC Dirt Mile, as he appears to like an elongated one-turn race. In the Pacific Classic, Richard's Kid defended his title under a patented Mike Smith ride from the back of the pack. He became only the third horse to defend his title, along with Tinner's Way and Skimming. His win continues the pass-the-buck nature of the older male division, where the group beats up on one another. Furthermore, while Richard's Kid has excelled over the synthetic, one wonders what the switch to dirt will bring. This blog thinks that it will not be good.

- Tell A Kelly capitalize on a hot pace set by favorite Wickedly Perfect in the Grade 1 Darley Del Mar Debutante to score the victory. Wickedly Perfect gamely held on for second. Both look to have a bright future going forward, and may have a rematch in Grade 1 Oak Leaf at Oak Tree at Hollywood Park. Both should have no problem with the added distance. Maybe this will be the beginning of another rivalry, a la Blind Luck and Evening Jewel. In the Del Mar Futurity, J P’s Gusto continue his reign over the the Southern California two year-olds with a sparkling victory. He blew apart the field after setting a solid pace, drawing off to win by 4 3/4 lengths. Jaycito closed out of the clouds to get the place spot. This blog feels that Jaycito is the one to watch going forward, as J P may have hit his limit when it comes to distance. J P’s pedigree does not really lend himself to go more than a mile.

- The last topic that shall receive comment is the situation that occurred in the Del Mar Derby. Twirling Candy won in a swift time, but not without controversy. Coming into the backstretch, he shied away from something in the infield and bolted outward several paths, carrying Summer Movie with him. Summer Movie eventually finished a well-beaten last. Yet no disqualification occurred. This blog went back-and-forth over whether Twirling Candy should have been disqualified. Both sides of the argument had merit. But this blog felt that a disqualification should have taken place. The interference inflicted upon Summer Movie not only cost him several lengths, but also how the horse would run. The jockey on Summer Movie had to ask his horse for significantly more energy to regain his previous position. The fact that the horse finished last should not obscure the fact the amount of ground lost due to the interference, plus the forced expenditure of energy to regain the position lost, is basis enough to warrant the disqualification.

Leaving the much-talked about decision aside, the field Twirling Candy beat was weak. The southern California 3 year-old turf division is one of the worst out here. It is the only division which has not had a representative hit the board in a stake outside of California. The weakness of the division means that while his win was nice, we did not learn much about him. With plans for him to head back to the main track for the Goodwood Stakes, then the dirt in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, it is fair to question how well he will fair against older. Even with the parity-filled but suspect group of older horses in SoCal, Twirling Candy would appear to be up against it once he faces older.

Why do the connections chose to move TC to the main track and point to the Breeders’ Cup Classic with him instead of his stablemate Sidney’s Candy is something to ponder. Is it that they believe that TC is that good? Or is it an indictment on whether SC cannot get the mile and a quarter? This blog feels that is more the latter. Twirling Candy’s pedigree will not have a problem with the distance, unlike SC, who showed in the Derby that he may have an issue with it..The pedigree for TC also leans considerably more to grass. This blog feels that he will not move up on the switch to dirt, something he would need to do in order to compete with the likes of Blame, Zenyatta or Quality Road.

So there is my “ten cents” on the past two weeks. As always, please comment below if you agree or disagree with anything i have said. Now that review of the past is complete, what was learned that can be used in the future? We shall see.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Del Mar Futurity - Will the Del Mar meet end with Gusto?

Before we begin, i need to apologize for my lack of posts. I had a computer issue that left me without one from Travers Day up until this last weekend. I apologize and will attempt to make it up to you over the coming weeks.

Wednesday is closing day at Del Mar. The traditional closing day feature is the 63rd running of the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity, run at 7 furlongs. This race has had some great winners such as Silver Charm, Bertrando and Best Pal. Recent victors are Stevie Wonderboy and Lookin at Lucky. Four of the last six winners (Declan's Moon, Stevie Wonderboy, Midshipman, Lookin at Lucky) have gone one to win the Eclipse Award for two year old male. Two of those also won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (Stevie Wonderboy, Midshipman). Who will join the historic list of winners? Here is the field:

#1 Jaycito M Garcia 12/1
#2 Riveting Reason A Solis 12/1
#3 McKenzies Way D Flores 8/1
#4 J P's Gusto P Valenzuela 5/2
#5 Just Imagine M Pedroza 20/1
#6 Major Art (GB) M Smith 8/1
#7 Western Mood J Rosario 7/2
#8 Indian Winter R Bejarano 5/1
#9 Comma to the Top C Nakatani 20/1
#10 Road Ready V Espinoza 8/1
#11 Gahnzo Bob A Quinonez 30/1

The morning line favorite is #4 J P's Gusto. This son of Successful Appeal has swept the 2yo stakes in Southern California so far and looks to continue the trend with a victory. He has 3 steady works in the interim. He is rather tractable, as he has come from just off the pace, but can assert himself on the lead, as he did last time out in the Grade 2 Best Pal. Three steady works, including the last one in a crisp 4f work in 46 & 4/5, shows that he is still in top form. But he is not the selection.

The selection is #7 Western Mood. This son of West Acre finished a so-so third last time out in the Best Pal. This blog admits to picking Western Mood the last two times against J P's Gusto. J P was simply the better horse both times, but this is the best time to turn the tables. Too close to the pace last time out, he will hopefully be given a more patient ride this time by jockey Joel Rosario. He totes 3 nice works, including a smart 5 furlong work last time out in 1:00 & 3/5. He will have no problem with the distance, and should get a nice trip with all of the potential front end horses signed up for the race.

The most interesting horse in this race to this blog is the British invader, #6 Major Art. This British-born son of Compton Place finished off the board in his most recent start 24 days ago in the listed stake Prix Francois Boutin at Deauville in France going 7 furlongs over the soft going. He previously finished 3rd in a Grade 3 at Goodwood in England. This is his first start over a synthetic track. He has been supplemented into this race by his new connections for his first start in the U.S. and for trainer Eric Kruljac. Major Art will be ridden by jockey Mike Smith, who has good numbers when riding for Kruljac. Will he take advantage of the classic "fresh off the plane" angle to score the upset?

Others to consider are: #8 Indian Water who won smartly 1st time out for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. (Also the trainer of #7) He will have the services of leading rider Rafael Bejarano and has two maintenance works; #1 Jaycito who lead most of the way in his debut until the #8 caught him in the final strides. He has experience with the rail and should be winging from the inside; and #3 McKenzies Way, who blasted a field of maidens last out gate-to-wire.

This should be a great race to determine the current top 2yo on the west coast. Will the chalk prevail once again? Will revenge be exacted instead? Will a new shooter shock the world? We shall see what happens as this appears to be a smashing renewal of the Del Mar Futurity. Hopefully a future star will announce his presence to the world with a scintillating performance.