Archive for March, 2010

Jockey Club releases Injury Database statistics

The Jockey Club today released a North American fatality rate for Thoroughbreds based on a preliminary analysis of data collected over a one-year period in the Equine Injury Database, the North American database for racing injuries which was launched in July 2008.

Based upon a year’s worth of data beginning November 1, 2008, from 378,864 total starts in Thoroughbred flat races at 73 racetracks participating in the Equine Injury Database, 2.04 fatal injuries were recorded per 1,000 starts.

The analysis was performed by Dr. Tim Parkin, a veterinarian and epidemiologist from the University of Glasgow, who serves as a consultant on the project.

“Data collected from a broad cross-section of racetracks in the United States and Canada will serve as an important tool for racetracks seeking benchmarks concerning the safety of racehorses,” said Parkin. “Over time, as data continues to be added, the database should yield numerous trends and factors associated with racing injuries and lead to strategies for their prevention.”

Racetracks currently have tools provided by InCompass Solutions Inc. to analyze data collected at their respective facilities. In early April, InCompass will make available an enhanced module that automates selected reports.

“Analysis of data in the Equine Injury Database is ongoing,” explained Matt Iuliano, executive vice president and executive director of The Jockey Club. “Dr. Parkin is scheduled to report additional analysis and insights on the matter at the third Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit on June 28 and 29 at Keeneland.”

The Jockey Club has underwritten the cost to develop and operate the database as a service to the industry. By agreement with the participating racetracks, from time to time The Jockey Club may publish certain summary statistics from the Equine Injury Database, but will not provide statistics that identify specific participants, including racetracks, horses or persons.

Eighty-one racetracks and the National Steeplechase Association participate in the Equine Injury Database, representing 86 percent of the flat racing days in North America. A list of racetracks participating in the Equine Injury Database can be found at jockeyclub.com/initiatives.asp.

Time is now for Amoss, Ron the Greek

He has amassed nearly 2,300 wins in his more than two-decade career, as an analyst with TVG, is also an official spokesman for the sport.

Safe to say, there is very little Tom Amoss has to prove to anyone at this point. But one of horse racing’s most consistent trainers would love nothing more than to get a certain niggling albatross off from around his neck.

“As a stable, we’re very proud of what we have accomplished but when they talk about Tom Amoss Racing Stable, the average fan or average race goer would say ‘He’s a good trainer, but…” and that ‘but’ would be that over a 20-plus year career, I’ve never developed a real classic horse of any kind,” Amoss said during a national teleconference today. “That is something that is certainly missing from my resume and…it would be nice to get ride of the asterisk by my name.”

Amoss’ chance at finally adding a Kentucky Derby starter to his list of achievements could take a major step forward Saturday when he saddles Grade III winner Ron the Greek in the Grade II, $750,000 Louisiana Derby at Fair Grounds.

The thought of breaking through to the Derby ranks first seriously manifested for Amoss last summer when his charge Backtalk rattled off back-to-back wins in the Grade III Bashford Manor at Churchill Downs and the Grade II Sanford at Saratoga. While the Smarty Jones colt won his seasonal bow on February 26 and is on track to start in the Grade III Illinois Derby at Hawthorne on April 3, it is Ron the Greek who has taken up the mantle as the lead Derby hopeful in the Amoss barn thanks to his last-to-first victory in the Grade III Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds on January 23.

Though Ron the Greek came back to run sixth in the Grade II Risen Star, Amoss blamed that effort on the fact the stone-cold closing colt had almost zero pace to run at when eventual winner Discreetly Mine got away with a half in :48 3/5.

“The Risen Star was so pedestrian up front that there was no chance to close,” said Amoss, who has saddled a Preakness Stakes starter, fourth-place finisher Hot Wells in 1998. “After that opening quarter, the horses that were 1-2-3 ended up running 1-2-3 so it was as difficult race. Once they posted those opening splits….there is no worse feeling than watching a race unfold and knowing your horse has no chance to succeed.”

Ron the Greek will have to line up against Discreetly Mine again the weekend, but the presence of the D. Wayne Lukas-trained Wow Wow Wow and Edward Evans’ A Little Warm  – both of whom are expected to press the issue up front in the 13-horse field – should give Amoss’ top colt more honest fractions to run at this time.

“I think Ron the Greek still has something to prove but what I like about this race is it looks like it will be a fairly run race,” Amoss said. “I see enough speed on paper to make it legit and it will be a mile and an eighth. There are some things that I think are positive not just for Ron the Greek but for the other horses in here.”

As much as Amoss wants to have the Kentucky Derby experience first hand, he is in no way blinded by Derby fever. In addition to needing the graded stakes earnings, Ron the Greek needs to show Amoss he still belongs in the discussion of top sophomores.

“For me personally, I have no interest in participating in the Kentucky Derby unless I feel my horse has a chance to be competitive,” Amoss said. “What I need to see from (Ron the Greek) is for him to show me a great finishing kick and for him to act like the extra ground is something he would benefit from. The race needs to measure up, not just to the naked by but when you step back and analyse it.

“I think he’ll tell us one way or another (if he’s Derby ready) and I hope he tells us loud and clear and it will be an exciting day.”

Velazquez: Rule headed to Wood Memorial

Jockey John Velazquez, regular rider of both Fountain of Youth Stakes winner Eskendereya and Rule, winner of the Sam F. Davis Stakes, apparently won’t have to make a decision between the two top Kentucky Derby contenders for a few more weeks.

During a national teleconference today, Velazquez said he had been informed that Rule would be pointed for the Grade I Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on April 3 instead of facing Eskendereya in Saturday’s Grade I Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park.

WinStar Farm, owner of Rule, had indicated the Florida Derby was their first preference for the son of Roman Ruler but Todd Pletcher, who trains both Rule and Eskendereya, expressed his desire to keep his top two contenders apart before the first Saturday of May.

“As far as I know yes,” Velazquez said when asked if Rule was headed to the Wood. “Until two days I didn’t know if he was going to run or not (in the Florida Derby) but to my understanding now he’s going to New York so that makes it easier for me to stay on both horses hopefully and make a decision later on.”

Velazquez has ridden Rule in five of the colt’s six lifetime starts and has been aboard Eskendereya in his last two outings, including his 8 1/2 length score in the Fountain of Youth.

“A lot of what goes into (deciding between Derby horses) is how long the horse can last,” Velazquez said. “You try to pick the best horse that you think in your mind might be suited to the Derby but a lot of them don’t even make it to the Derby. Last year, I had the chance to be on Quality Road over horses I was riding and…I ended up picking up a horse at the last minute (after Quality Road got hurt). Hopefully they can last.”

UPDATE: Eskendereya has now been declared out of the Florida Derby, according to Blood-Horse, and will point for the Wood instead while Rule is now back in the Florida Derby field. Read the full story here at: http://www.bloodhorse.com/horse-racing/articles/55925/eskendereya-passing-fla-derby-awaits-wood

Jackson: Rachel won’t run in Apple Blossom

According to a statement from majority owner Jess Jackson, Horse of the year Rachel Alexandra will not contest the Apple Blossom Invitational at Oaklawn Park on April 9 following her runner-up effort in the New Orleans Ladies at Fair Grounds Saturday.

“Yesterday’s race while a disappointment, helped us define Rachel Alexandra’s racing condition. While she is healthy, just as I had anticipated, she is not in top form. Therefore, I decided today she will not be going to the Oaklawn Invitational on April 9. Steve and I discussed this fully and we now regret we tried to accelerate her training in order meet the Apple Blossom schedule. We have a whole season before us to help define her greatness. She will tell us when her next race will be.”

Keeneland revises Maker’s Mark Bottle signing ticket system

Keeneland is changing the ticketing process for fans interested in having their 2010 Maker’s Mark Mile commemorative bottle signed by UK Basketball Coach John Calipari.

Because of the limited time scheduled for this year’s April 9 bottle signing – Coach Calipari is available to sign bottles for two hours — this year’s process includes a lottery-style giveaway for the 1,200 available tickets to the bottle signing.

The ticketing process will take place three days in advance of the actual signing at an event —on Tuesday, April 6, beginning at 11 p.m. and featuring a pep rally, music and festivities. Only fans who secure a ticket in advance will be able to have their bottle signed.

“With the popularity of Coach Cal, the enthusiasm of the Big Blue Nation – and, understandably, the Coach’s limited time to sign during the recruiting season — we felt it was important to create a process that made it is as fair and reasonable as possible for everyone involved, while also creating a fun, festive atmosphere,” said Keeneland President Nick Nicholson.

Here’s how the new process will work.

— On Tuesday, April 6 beginning at 6 p.m., the first 1,200 fans will be allowed admittance to Keeneland’s Keene Barn and Entertainment Center.

· A  — At 11 p.m., Keeneland will begin giving tickets away to the up to 1,200 fans in attendance.

· T  —  The  tickets will be assigned lottery-style—not first-come, first-served.

· T   — The event will include music and a pep rally.

· T  — Keeneland Barn and Entertainment Center is located inside Gate 1, the entrance across from the Man O’ War Boulevard. All traffic must enter through Gate 1, as Gate 2 and Gate 3 will be closed.

Once the tickets are distributed on Tuesday evening, fans should depart and then return—with tickets in hand—on Friday, April 9. Fans with tickets may begin lining up at 6:30 a.m. on Friday in order as assigned by their ticket number.

There is a limit of one bottle per person this year.

For more details about the ticket distribution and bottle signing process, please go to Keeneland.com

Mike Smith and Zenyatta – meant to be

It is admittedly hard to imagine anyone but jockey Mike Smith aboard the great undefeated champion mare Zenyatta as the Hall of Fame rider has guided the six-year-old daughter of Street Cry to 11 of her 14 career wins and all eight of her Grade I triumphs.

But during a national teleconference on Tuesday, Smith recalled how he nearly lost his famous mount to fellow rider David Flores – who rode Zenyatta in her first three starts – and how a dose of luck helped bring her back to him.

“I was supposed to ride her to start with but, to tell you the truth, I was riding a really, really nice mare for (former trainer) Frankie Brothers, a filly called Tessa Blue. And I had just won a really big stake on her (the Grade III Indiana Oaks). She won like a $400,000 or something like that. She was running back, I believe it was a Grade I or Grade II, and Zenyatta was going to run for the first time going 3/4 of a mile and you know, thinking that she’s….going to certainly be way back and probably need this first race, we chose to go ride Tessa Blue.

“She was one of the favorites at the race and it was on Thanksgiving Day. And for whatever reason, we didn’t fire too good that day as far as Tessa Blue went. I went back to the hotel and I was watching the coverage on TVG of (Zenyatta’s) maiden race and I just fell out of my chair when I saw her run. I was fortunate enough that David was busy on Santa Anita Derby day and I was able to get her back (for the Apple Blossom).”

New Jersey cuts dates, will offer $1 million in purses daily

An interesting piece of news came down yesterday when the Newark Star-Ledger reported a deal struck by New Jersey racing officials and horsemen to cut Monmouth Park’s racing dates in half, offering a 50-day meet from May 22 to September 11 that will boast a nation-high $1 million in purses daily.

The one-year deal will eliminate the Thoroughbred racing meet at the Meadowlands for 2010 and see Monmouth go to a three-day race week running Friday, Saturday and Sunday in addition to three Monday holiday cards. Citing the issues that come from competing with neighboring states that offer slots-fueled purses, New Jersey racing officials hope that by offering fewer days and – what they anticipate will be – a higher-quality product, they will see fuller fields and a significant boost in handle.

“Right after the 2007 Breeders’ Cup, myself and (former New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association president) Dennis Drazin decided we needed to have a future and…this is about giving the players what they want,” Bob Kulina, vice president and general manager of Monmouth Park, said during a national teleconference Tuesday.I think everybody in the industry realizes we have to improve our product and there are only a few ways to go about that.

“We saw what works; the player wants a better product with full fields. Looking into the future, we feel this is what racing in the country will look like. We’re cautiously optimistic that the model will work out. The goal is to sell more bets. I think people will look at what we do and hopefully they’re routing for us.”

Monmouth will also conduct a 21-day fall meet from Sept. 12 to Nov. 21 when daily purses will average between $250,000 to $300,000.

John Forbes, current president of the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, acknowledged the new model could leave the circuit’s smaller horsemen and their stock by the wayside as they will be unable to compete in the higher quality races. Still, Forbes said the long-term health of the industry made the deal a necessity.

“If it is the death knee for smaller horsemen it’s because the small horseman doesn’t have the horses consumers want to bet on,” Forbes said during the teleconference. “We are very concerned about our small horsemen but we also want them to step up to the plate. If they can’t recognize that poor racing in itself is a death knell than none of us are responding to what the industry wants.”


A whole new world: A glimpse at Thoroughbred racing in Qatar

We hear so often in the Thoroughbred business about what a global industry it is and, with such foreign-owned empires as Coolmore Stud, Darley, and Juddmonte decorating our Bluegrass landscape, logically we know this to be true.

Still, nothing quite drives home the reality of a situation like watching it unfold in front of your eyes. Thanks to a recent trip, I got to witness up close how widespread the sport truly is while getting a glimpse at a country that could become a more significant player in our signature industry.

On February 22, a colleague of mine and I departed for Doha to take part in the Qatar International Equestrian Festival – a fascinating four-day event which featured, among other highlights, two nights of Arabian and Thoroughbred racing.

One Cool Mission, a son of One Cool Cat, winning the first race on Thursday (Amanda Duckworth photo)

Seeing offspring of Storm Cat, Kingmambo, and Elusive Quality race may be a normal part of my work week here but, when one is watching said horses against the backdrop of the ever-expanding Doha skyline, the scene takes on different meaning entirely.

The Thoroughbred may be the king of our racing world but in Qatar, the Arabian is the dominant breed both on the track and in the show ring (although, as we discovered, the Arabians used for racing and ones bred for show are almost two different breeds in themselves – but that’s a whole other story). That being said, Thoroughbred racing is steadily becoming more popular in the Gulf countries making up about 35 percent of the race cards we witnessed at the smallish, but elegant, Qatar Racing and Equestrian Club.

While glancing through the program during the first night of racing, we were intrigued to see progeny of Smart Strike, Tale of the Cat, Distant View, Giant’s Causeway, Kingmambo, Distorted Humor, Stormin Fever, Lemon Drop Kid, Perfect Soul and El Corredor all present in the two Thoroughbred races on the card. After years of covering the sales, I had always wondered where some of those international purchases ended up. Now, I wondered no more.

The track itself is very European in its set up with its all-turf cards, clockwise style of running, and routine of parading the top finishers in the paddock immediately after each contest. Like Dubai, there is no betting – a likely contributor to the small crowds we were told are the norm – but there was quite an ample turnout for the meeting’s highlight race on Thursday, the Qatar International Trophy for Purebred Arabians worth $1 million Rial (about $275,000) won by the grand 8-year-old mare Al Dahma who captured the race for a record fourth time.

Qatar Racing and Equestrian Club (Amanda Duckworth photo)

Qatar Racing and Equestrian Club (Amanda Duckworth photo)

Among the horses she bested were – get this – her full brother, a 5-year-old horse named General, who ran second. Obviously, the trend of female runners defeating males knows no boundaries, familial or otherwise.

Though the Arabians were the centerpiece, there was also a Qatar International Trophy contest for Thoroughbreds the race prior which featured an identical hefty purse as well as, among others, Storm Sir, a son of Johannesburg, and Ticoz, a son of Cozzene, both of whom were sold at the 2006 Keeneland September yearling sale for $270,000 and $75,000, respectively.

Fittingly enough, the race was won in 2009 by an entry from Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin Racing stable – proof in itself Qatar is becoming a more serious player on the Thoroughbred scene. While Godolphin was back again this year with the Singspiel colt Sopranist, he could do no better than second as race winner Puchet, an Argentine bred, captured the 2,400 meter test in a record time of 2:26.49 seconds.

Amanda Duckworth photo

Amanda Duckworth photo

For those wondering, there is not a huge difference style wise between watching Arabian racing and watching the Thoroughbreds as they produce similar competitive finishes. What was interesting to learn later on though was how much the Arabian has evolved compared to its Thoroughbred brethren.

Where our speed records often last for decades (i.e. Secretariat’s Kentucky Derby and Belmont), it is not unusual in Arabian racing to see a record taken down by as much as 10 seconds in the matter of a few years. Also, since Arabian breeding does permit the use of Artificial Insemination, many of the races are dominated by the progeny of one particular sire, Amer, who apparently is the Storm Cat of Arabian studs. In the Qatar International Trophy, all five of the race’s entries were by Amer, which kind of put the kibosh on our faux hunch bets.

The field for the Qatar International Trophy, all by Amer (Amanda Duckworth photo)

The field for the Qatar International Trophy, all by Amer (Amanda Duckworth photo)

If I were to rattle off all the things that stood out to us during our time at the track, this blog post would go on longer than D. Wayne Lukas’s list of career starters. For the sake of wrapping this up sooner rather than later, I will say that in addition to the wonderfully enthusiastic track announcer and the seeming accessible horsemen (one jockey on his way into the paddock stopped to warmly introduce himself to myself and my colleague when he spotted us lingering along the rail), one of the most interesting things was the unusual path used to lead the horses to and from their barns.

The stable area was literally across the street from the track facility and, as we were leaving each evening, we witnessed the participants from the final race being led across the road and down a path situated alongside the traffic in order to reach the comforts of their barn (could you imagine having the Kentucky Derby horses trekking down the side of Central Ave as everyone was heading out? Exactly.) Remarkably enough, all of the horses we saw handled the situation without turning a hair – proof yet again we weren’t in Kansas any more.

The path back to the stables (Amanda Duckworth photo)

The path back to the stables (Amanda Duckworth photo)

In addition to scoping out the racing scene, we were also fortunate enough to visit with a few Arabian Stud farms in the area, most notably Al Shahania Stud which has seen its horses win 16 editions of the Emir’s Sword – the richest Pure Arabian race in the world. The aesthetic beauty of the horseshoe-shaped barn area was notable in its own right but what was most impressive was how all encompassing the facility is. With clinics being few and far between, all of the veterinary labs were right there on sight making it literally a one-stop shop for all the farm’s needs.

Stallion barn at Al Shahania Stud (Amanda Duckworth photo)

Stallion barn at Al Shahania Stud (Amanda Duckworth photo)

Within minutes of arriving in Qatar, it became clear the country is synonymous with growth as the plethora of cranes peppering the skyline literally make it look like one giant construction site. As we learned over the course of our visit, however, grandiose buildings are not the only thing on the expansion plan. The popularity of Thoroughbred racing appears to be on the upswing within the Gulf and, with the current market corrections still favoring international buyers, the global tag the sport boasts of has never been more true.

Keeneland alters format of 2010 September sale

In an effort to make the world’s largest Thoroughbred yearling auction more appealing and enjoyable to its participants, Keeneland announced Friday it was changing the format of the 2010 September sale to include two select sessions on Sunday and Monday nights, Sept. 12-13, and a four-day “Book 2” run that will go from Tuesday until Friday.

Keeneland’s September yearling auction previously began on a Monday, selling the “Book 1” – or select horses – the first two days of the sale, Book 2 on Wednesday and Thursday before taking a dark day on Friday. Under the new format, the dark day will now be moved to Saturday allowing the sale to offer approximately 1,500 yearlings before the one-day break.

Book 3 offerings will resume as usual following the dark day. The sale is slated to end on September 26 but the official conclusion date is dependent on how many entries come in.

The new format “will help create more stability and continuity for the marketplace as economic conditions begin to slowly rebound both domestically and internationally,” said Geoffrey Russell, Keeneland’s director of sales.

While Book 2 will extend over a longer period this year, Keeneland will sell fewer horses each day. The select portion of the sale will consist of about 200 horses total for Sunday and Monday while roughly 325 horses will sell per day – in alphabetical order – from Tuesday through Friday.