28 October 2008

Thoughts On The Breeder's Cup

I first have to say, I don't get excited over great horses. To me, the game is about picking winners first. When I was a child, winning streaks and track records mattered to me, but now it is all about winning at the races and spotting good claims to tell a few of my acquaintances about.

I can't comprehend someone paying $600 a ticket to see the world's top thoroughbreds live and up close, unless they had money to burn. In fact, I can't comprehend paying $10 for "the right" to see great horses live.

I'm a speed handicapper, and my top angles when it comes to picking winners and exotics get thrown out the door on Breeder's Cup day. I might as well take my racing form (actually my $1.00 print off from Thoroughbred Sports Network), and go to a pet store and line bird cages with it. I could then bet on the horses that attract the most bird waste. I know one thing, I wouldn't do any worse than I've done in the past. I vaguely remember winning one Breeder's Cup day, but I didn't win much.

The problem with the Breeder's Cup is that you have horses going brand new distances, and racing on brand new surfaces. At least it is more explainable when a horse goes from turf to synthetic, then when horses like Arazi went from turf to dirt way back when. Also, horses coming from all sorts of tracks, and horses with varying degrees of time off going into the Cup races. When a horse is off more than 30 days, speed figures become less and less a factor. It is just chaos handicapping. Betting using chaos handicapping only makes sense if you are betting into a 2% track takeout. Like that is ever going to happen.

Contrary to what many bettors like to think, synthetic tracks are here to stay. Any new tracks going forward and any new major track surfacing will have to do with a conversion to synthetic material. I really don't mind it on cheaper races. But when dealing with high allowance and stake races, chaos handicapping becomes a fact.

I like Bill Finley, he is a huge advocate of lowering track takeouts. But he has a book out right now called Betting Synthetic Surfaces, where he sort of concludes that it is a misconception that turf horses do better than dirt horses on artificial surfaces collectively. To be fair, I'm only on the first chapter right now (so I don't know if he has empirical evidence to back up his claim), but c'mon Bill, did you see what happened at Santa Anita over the weekend?

Curlin is a great horse, but the fact that he lost on a synthetic surface has to lessen his stud value a bit. I admire the owner allowing the horse to run as much as he has, especially in the days of early retirements for good horses, but he took a risk, and lets face it, if Curlin is a great stud prospect, what is Raven's Pass? A question has to be put in the mind of potential breeders: Will Curlin's offspring be able to successfully handle artificial surfaces, and is it worth the stud fee gamble?

Stud fees are dropping, partly due to the economy, but mostly due to the slow death of horse racing. Owners with deep pockets are dying, and they aren't being replaced, much like die-hard fans and bettors.

And what about steroids? The European horses demolished the North American horses in a steroid free environment. As more and more jurisdictions created more stringent steroid laws, how long will it take for "our" horses to catch up to the "across the ponders?"

Did lack of steroids come into play with respect to Curlin's loss? I remember Jess Jackson saying that Curlin was going off the hard stuff earlier this year, but what EXACTLY did that mean? Was he completely drug free this year, or just partially drug free, and did he have to even wean himself off other drugs to run in the Breeders?

Breeder's Cup Handle was up 5.5%, but lets face it, there were more million dollar Breeder's Cup races to bet this year, and last year, it was held in the muck.

Going forward, having a horse from overseas coming to North America one or two times in its life to win big events here, isn't going to help our breeding game, and isn't going to do much for racing's fan base. No following is created.

Racing better get its act together and substantially drop takeout, or allow for major rebating at every ADW, in order to grow their dwindling fan base. European domination of the Breeders is just another nail in North American horse racing's coffin.

Perry Lefko reports that Fort Erie is hoping for help from the government or other interested parties in order to stay alive next year:
The owner of Fort Erie Racetrack will submit a conditional application for race dates next year, albeit with an option to withdraw before the meet begins unless the government provides financial support.

And because of the volatile economic climate, the owner's proposed $300 million commercial/residential project beside the track has been indefinitely postponed.

Nordic Gaming Corporation spokesman Stephen Ayers said yesterday his company will submit an application to the Ontario Racing Commission for 78 race dates in 2009...."Our application will be on the condition we receive financial help from other stakeholders and interested parties in the track, failing which we reserve the right to cancel live racing at Fort Erie prior to the next race season,"


Well at least the $300 million project has been (temporarily?) swept under the rug. Now that it is out of the game plan, Fort Erie's owner needs to be realistic. Pleading for a larger percentage of slot revenues is on the table (and to me it was the only thing that makes sense at the moment). I guess they can ask for a bigger cut for HPI on betting made in the Niagara region and bets made on Fort Erie through the HPI hub by non Niagara residents (but good luck to that, WEG and HPI are too greedy to give an inch).

The other alternative is for Woodbine to at least partially takeover the racing operations of Fort Erie. I don't know how realistic that would be. But it is a definite that Ontario needs a B racetrack and an alternative dirt track, or the badly beaten breeding and owning part of the business will receive a final knock out punch.

Of course, Woodbine could buy back Fort Erie, or better yet, another group could buy the track, but Nordic has a history of grossly overpricing the track.

Even the Fort Erie Economic Development and Tourism Corp is painting a doom and gloom picture when it comes to racing at the Fort next year.
Talk about miscommunication, in the Niagara Falls Review article, the town didn't get the memo that Ayers has suspended the $300 million project indefinitely. Or does Lefko got it wrong. I doubt it, because El-Ad (Nordic is a subsidiary of El-Ad) has suspended a $5 billion project in Las Vegas earlier this year, thanks to bad economic conditions.

UPDATE: Thoroughbred Times has a longer version of Lefko's article.
The president of the Ontario Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association said the situation is not good, but the group is looking for possible solutions.

It’s a dire situation, that’s for sure,” Sue Leslie said.


Anonymous said...

Ravens Pass and Henrythenavigator 3yos that made UK racing interesting this past year both now retired to stud. Hope they have some replacements.

Anonymous said...

You have to see it to believe it ,race 12 at western fair raceway oct 28 .(pull the pocket) has the video on his blog, for the lack of a dq in the race, shows how this race result was fixed. the stewards should all be fired and maybe fined, and if anyone bet's on racing from London .You are the biggest fools around.this result proves 1 thing,they should build a fence around the race track there and paddlock the joint,the O .R..C should be fined by Agricuture Canada,this is an outrage to the true racing fan.