Archive for June, 2009

Coach Billy G. – the horse – at Churchill tonight

Depending on how you feel about the University of Kentucky’s now former basketball coach, you may or may not want to put aside a couple dollars for a hunch bet this evening. Coach Billy G., named for former UK coach Billy Gillispie, makes his racing debut in tonight’s 11th race at Churchill, a six-furlong maiden special weight test.

By Storm Cat, Coach Billy G. is owned by Don Adam’s Courtlandt Farm. Adam is himself a native of Texas and befriended Gillispie when he coached at Texas A&M.

If you like pedigree, Coach Billy G. certainly has that going for him as the bay 3-year-old colt is out of the A.P. Indy mare A.P. Adventure. Then again, some would argue Gillispie’s own back class didn’t do much for him during his efforts in the Bluegrass so bet at your own risk (for the record, his namesake is 8-to-1 in the morning line).

Churchill promises to get it right tonight

Cheap beer and short lines. That was the proclamation Churchill Downs made in advance of its second evening of night racing tonight after a popular – but flawed – maiden voyage last Friday.

Though more than 28,000 turned out last week to see the lights come on, Churchill did not bring in enough staff to handle the crowd resulting in lengthy lines for beverages, food, and even rest rooms (as one friend of mine quipped “It was great as long as you didn’t want to eat, drink or urinate”). To their credit, track officials have acknowledged the short comings and vowed to make it up to those patrons who turn out this evening.

“No one should ever have to wait in line for an extended period of time to purchase a drink,” said Bill Carstanjen, COO of Churchill Downs Incorporated. “Believe me, we feel awful. It was unacceptable to our customers and it is unacceptable to us. A lot of planning went into making last Friday a success and a great new experience for our fans. We did a lot of things right, but, clearly, we did not meet customer service expectations when it came to food and beverage service. We just hope those fans who were frustrated by long lines give us another chance. Believe me, we have learned from our staffing mistake and it will not happen again.”

As part of its make up offering, Churchill will have an extended happy hour prices tonight with $1 beers in the paddock area from 4-8 p.m. and $2 from 8-midnight. Margaritas and daiquiris will be $3 from 4-8 p.m. and hot dogs will be $2.

General admission for tonight is $6.

Farish to donate $1 million to Disabled Jockeys Fund

One of the most prominent members of the racing community is reaching out to assist some of those most in need within the industry. Today, the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund announced William S. Farish, owner of Lane’s End Farm, has pledged $1 million to the organization, which supports some 60 former riders who are permanently disabled as the result of on-track catastrophic injuries. The gift will be annualized in four equal contributions beginning in 2009.

“Advanced medical technologies, better training and improved racetrack safety measures have made horse racing much safer for riders but no sport is ever risk-free,” Farish said. “It is my hope that members of the racing community will join me in supporting the PDJF, not only to help meet the day-to-day needs of our disabled athletes but to build an endowment that will provide a permanent funding source for their long-term care.”

Racetracks, corporate sponsors, horse owners, jockeys, horsemen’s groups as well as industry businesses and organizations have contributed to the PDJF since its inception. More than $2 million has been disbursed to disabled jockeys since 2006.

“We are deeply grateful to Mr. Farish for his commitment to the PDJF and the disabled athletes it supports” said Nancy LaSala, executive director of the PDJF. “Thanks to his generosity and leadership the PDJF can now focus more attention on building the endowment that will ensure that financial assistance for our disabled riders will always be available.”

Jackson dismisses Breeders’ Cup for Rachel Alexandra

This Saturday, racing fans will get to witness arguably the sport’s most popular star back in action when Kentucky Oaks and Preakness Stakes winner Rachel Alexandra returns in the Grade I Mother Goose at Belmont Park.

During a conference call to discuss the star filly’s preparations, however, co-owner Jess Jackson stated those who attend this year’s Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Santa Anita Park this November will likely not see the daughter of Medaglia d’Oro on the card.

Jackson has long voiced his distaste for synthetic surfaces – what he commonly refers to as “plastic tracks”. And after watching his two-time Horse of the Year Curlin end his career with a fourth-place finish in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic over the Pro-Ride surface at Santa Anita, he says he has no intention of subjecting Rachel Alexandra to the same fate.

“I’m absolutely certain (we will not run in the Breeders’ Cup) because, if I am going to run her for her four-year-old year, the Breeders’ Cup is not that essential,” Jackson said. “I don’t want to risk her. I watched what Curlin did and how he struggled. Plastic favors turf horses. I want to keep her on a surface she can enjoy. I know she will be safer on a dirt track and the safety of the horse is the biggest concern I have.”

Though Jackson has ruled out this year’s Breeders’ Cup for the time being, he said if Rachel Alexandra does return in 2010, his ultimate goal would be that year’s World Championships at Churchill Downs.

“I would love for her to be there,” he said.

Yeats makes history with fourth Gold Cup win

Coolmore’s grand old warrior Yeats has once again brought the house down at Royal Ascot. The eight-year-old just stormed to his fourth straight victory in the 2 1/2-mile Group I Gold Cup, an unprecedented feat for the historic meeting.

Yeats, a son of Sadler’s Wells, captured his first Gold Cup by four lengths in 2006 and has been untouchable in the race since. In his latest triumph, the bay horse rated just off the pace before making his move in the final few furlongs, turning back Patkai for another open-length victory.

“Unbelievable – that’s all I can say,” trainer Aidan O’Brien told Racing Post. “I was so sick this morning as I really believed this couldn’t happen. History is very hard to change, we knew we had a wonderful horse but usually fairytales don’t come true. You dream and dream and dream, we were in this position and we never would be again – great things can happen.”

Despite his dominance in the race, some had questioned Yeats’ ability to win a fourth Gold Cup this year as he came into the contest off a sixth-place run in the Vintage Crop Stakes during his only other start this year in April.

Here is the YouTube link to Yeats’ record victory:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p58FMQ81VBc

Chris McCarron to deliver Hall of Fame address

Twenty years after his tearful acceptance speech, jockey Chris McCarron will be the guest speaker at the 2009 Hall of Fame induction ceremony on Friday, August 14.

McCarron, 54, was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1989 near the midpoint of an honors-filled 28-year riding career. Among his 7,141 victories are six wins in Triple Crown races and nine wins in the Breeders’ Cup.

The founder and executive director of the North American Racing Academy in Lexington, Ky., McCarron is the third Hall of Fame member – following John Nerud in 1994 and D. Wayne Lukas in 2004 – to accept an invitation to speak at the ceremony.

“I’m incredibly flattered and excited about it,” McCarron said. “To be able to stand up in front of a group of esteemed individuals, people who have been involved in the racing industry for decades, as well as the fans who have supported the game for a long period of time, is a true honor.

“I really feel blessed to be able to share my thoughts and insights about racing and my school and the need for a place for young men and women to train how to take on the tremendous responsibility of riding a Thoroughbred.”

McCarron grew up in Dorchester, Mass., and was introduced to the sport when his older brother, Gregg, began riding. His first job on the track was a hotwalker for trainer Odie Clelland in 1971. After graduating from high school in 1972, McCarron continued his on-the-job education about training and riding Thoroughbreds at Suffolk Downs in Boston and Bowie Race Course in Maryland.

On January 24, 1974 at Bowie, McCarron rode in his first race, finishing last on Most Active. Less than a month later, he recorded his first victory on his 10th career mount, Erezev. By the end of the year, McCarron had ridden in a record 2,199 races and won a record 546, to lead the nation in victories while still an apprentice. He was voted the Eclipse Award as the champion apprentice.

In 1975, McCarron’s 465 winners led the nation. He also led the nation in wins in 1980 and was the leader in money won three times, 1980, 1981 and 1984, en route to becoming the first jockey to reach the $200 million earnings plateau.

During his career, McCarron won virtually every major race in North America. His Kentucky Derby victories came on Alysheba in 1987 and Go for Gin in 1994. Five of the Breeders’ Cup wins came in the Classic, including back-to-back victories on Tiznow, who was elected to the Hall of Fame this year.

Jockeys’ Guild letter to General Assembly

This morning saw hundreds (some reports even put the number closer to 1,000) members of the horse industry turn out on the steps of the Capitol to rally for support of adding video lottery terminals to the state’s racetracks. Among the more notable figures to show up was jockey Calvin Borel and yesterday, the Jockeys’ Guild itself delivered a letter to the Kentucky General Assembly.

Given what a hot topic slots currently is, here is the complete text of the letter submitted by the Guild:

Members of Kentucky State Senate

702 Capital Annex

Frankfort Kentucky 40601

Members Kentucky State House

702 Capital Annex

Frankfort Kentucky 40601

Dear Sir or Madam,

As the representative organization for the Jockeys nationwide and an active supporter of the Thoroughbred racing and breeding industry, the Jockeys’ Guild, Inc. urges Kentucky legislators to support expanded gaming to benefit Kentucky’s racing and breeding industry. We request your support for legislation to allow Video Lottery Terminals at Kentucky racetracks during the current special session.

Kentucky remains one of only a handful of states in which current law prohibits racetracks from installing slot machines at racetracks and is adjacent to states that have gaming. Neighboring Indiana has allowed multiple casinos to be built along the border it shares with Kentucky, three of which are in close proximity to Kentucky racetracks. As a consequence, Kentucky racing has seen a serious decline in the number of horses racing in the state and gambling money is flowing from Kentucky into other states. The Kentucky breeding industry, the backbone of Thoroughbred racing internationally, cannot afford a collapse of the state’s racing industry. Revenue is being lost and jobs are at stake.

Churchill Downs racing officials were forced to omit an entire racing card from its weekly program due to lack of entries.  Other tracks in the state such as Ellis Park in Henderson and Turfway Park in Florence are on the verge of collapse. Ron Geary, owner of Ellis Park, states that unless expanded gaming legislation is passed, Ellis Park will be forced to shut down permanently.

For many jockeys who call Kentucky home, the closure of Ellis Park and the decreased racing dates proposed by Turfway Park for its fall and winter meeting would have a direct effect on their ability to compete on the Kentucky racing circuit year-round.

Our Kentucky-based Guild members offer the following comments in support of VLT legislation in their own words:

“Churchill Downs and Keeneland are two of the top tracks in the country, but we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of Kentucky Downs, Ellis Park and Turfway Park. Together, these tracks provide a year-round racing circuit that keeps horses in Kentucky.  Without access to racing, horses and the people that depend on this circuit for their livelihood will have no choice but to go where they can make a living.  We need to make sure Kentucky’s Thoroughbred industry stays ahead of the curve.” — Jon Court

“I moved two weeks ago from Erlanger, Kentucky to Greenfield, Indiana.  I used to look forward to the Keeneland and Churchill meets.  Now I look forward to the Indiana Downs and Hoosier Park meets.  The purses are much better and I still get to ride for the same people.  Everyone from Kentucky is coming here because the money is better.” – Orlando Mojica

“I’ve called Kentucky home since 1995 and I say now is the time to act. I think people just assume since we are the home of the Kentucky Derby we are safe, but the mobility of this industry leaves Kentucky in a very dangerous position if we fail to keep pace with the other racetracks.” – Calvin Borel

“Kentucky’s Thoroughbreds are second to none. However, with other states using expanded gaming to lure horses and farms away, Kentucky could lose a significant advantage.  Once it’s gone, it would be nearly impossible to bring back.  Kentucky needs to do something to help keep its racing on top.” – Julien Leparoux

“Every state around us is seeing its racing improve because of expanded gambling.  The list of owners, trainers, and breeders that are leaving Kentucky for other states is growing.    Kentucky needs to enable its tracks to compete or Kentucky will no longer be known as the horse capital of the world.  I love it here. This needs to happen.” – Shaun Bridgmohan

“I moved here from Louisiana for the opportunity to ride better horses.  Now those horses are leaving for states with better purses.  We have to do something so the tracks here can compete and Kentucky racing can continue to attract the best horses and the best horsemen.  I have made my home here and love Kentucky, I want Kentucky to remain on top.” — Jamie Theriot

Beyond the racetrack, the budget deficits in the state of Kentucky have forced cuts in many social programs throughout the state. One rider in particular has first-hand knowledge of the hardships posed by cuts in these programs. Robby Albarado, one of Kentucky’s most notable and established jockeys, founded the Robby Albarado Foundation three years ago with the intention of reaching out to the underprivileged in the Louisville area.

“The reduced spending in education and social services we have seen recently has severely undermined the opportunities made available for young people to break the cycle of poverty. I fear that unless we come up with a solution to the budget deficits we are currently facing, the problems I see on an everyday basis will worsen. Expanded gaming will not only help the horsemen and racetracks and provide jobs in the Louisville area, but it will also fund education programs and other services that are essential to ensuring that those who live below the poverty line are given every opportunity to rise above it.” — Robby Albarado

Thanks you for your consideration of this important matter.

Respectfully,

Terence J. Meyocks (National Manager)

Jeff Johnston (Regional Manager)

Robby Albarado (Board Member)

Jon Court (Board Member)

Orlando Mojica

Calvin Borel

Julien Leparoux

Shaun Bridgmohan

Jamie Theriot

Poker Stakes winner Sailor’s Cap dead

Some sad news this morning out of New York. Team Valor’s Sailor’s Cap, who defeated former Breeders’ Cup winner Kip Deville to win Saturday’s Grade III Poker Stakes at Belmont, collapsed and died this morning in his stall. The cause of death is not yet known and an autopsy will be conducted at the New Bolton Center in Pennsylvania.

“He spiked a temperature during the day on Tuesday and simply collapsed early in the morning,” trainer Jimmy Toner said in a release. “We are all in complete shock over this turn of events.”

In ten career starts, the 4-year-old Sailor’s Cap had notched four wins and earned more than $616,000.

“He was just coming into his own,” said Barry Irwin of Team Valor. “This shows the highs and lows of the game. It is a tough nut to swallow.

More Royal Ascot success for trainer Ward

Could Wesley Ward start a trend? One day after watching his charge Strike The Tiger become the first American-based horse to win a race at Royal Ascot, the noted trainer scored another success today when he saddled Jealous Again to victory in the Group II Queen Mary Stakes contested over five furlongs.

Jealous Again, a 2-year-old daughter of Trippi, made all the pace in the Queen Mary and was never seriously challenged as she drew off for a five-length win. The bay filly was coming off a second-place finish behind stablemate Aegean in the Grade III Kentucky Juvenile Stakes at Churchill Downs on April 30.

“She ran brilliantly. I’m very proud of her, Johnny (Velazquez) rode a great race and everything went just like we thought,” Ward told Racing Post. “In America we train for speed and the reason I came over here was I thought the others in the race here are trained to go on for next year.

“I just thought I’d get a jump on the other trainers over here. Your horses are bred to go longer and ours are bred for speed and it worked out today.”

Ward is now the joint leading trainer at the Royal Ascot meeting along with Richard Hannon, according to Racing Post, and will send the aforementioned Aegean out in the Albany Stakes on Friday.

“I thought I would save my best runner for the weakest race and that is Aegean in the Albany Stakes,” he said.

Jackson confirms Mother Goose is next for Rachel Alexandra

Kentucky Oaks and Preakness Stakes winner Rachel Alexandra officially has a target to work toward. Owner Jess Jackson confirmed on Wednesday the bay filly would indeed make her next start in the Grade I Mother Goose Stakes at Belmont Park on June 27.

“Rachel is rested, healthy and ready to run,” Jackson said in a statement.

When Jackson was debating weeks ago whether to send Rachel Alexandra to the Belmont Stakes, he indicated the 1 1/8-mile Mother Goose would be the target if they skipped the final leg of the Triple Crown.

In her most recent work, Rachel Alexandra signaled her readiness when she covered six furlongs in 1:12 flat at Churchill Downs this past Monday. The daughter of Medaglia d’Oro is expected to arrive at Belmont on Tuesday, June 23.

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