6 May 2010

The Apprentice: Woodbine And Fort Erie Are Full Of Them

I don't recall a year when the jockey colonies at Woodbine and Fort Erie had so many apprentice riders.

I imagine the purses offered at Woodbine has made the idea of being a jockey more of a goal to people who weigh less than 115 pounds. But with so many on the scene this year, many are going to find that making a living is going to be next to impossible.

And when it comes to weight making a difference, weight off probably matters least at Woodbine compared to other tracks in North America. Woodbine races are won by finesse and timing more than anything else.

Very few races are won gate to wire on polytrack surfaces. When a horse gets a clear lead, weight off is an added bonus on dirt tracks, and as long as the apprentice is able to control the mount, the odds increase that the horse will make it to the wire on top. And in route races, weight off matters more, but usually when it comes to dirt strips instead of grass or poly.

At Woodbine, jockeys like Chantal Sutherland, Patrick Husband, Eurico Da Silva, and Emile Ramsammy cannot be bettered by taking weight 99.9% of the time.

So far this year, as expected, Omar Moreno is leading all apprentices at Woodbine in starts and wins. Though he is winning only at around 11%, he is hovering around 50% in the money. He is definitely the go to apprentice so far, for trainers looking for an extra edge. He loses his bug status in the fall.

I like what I've seen so far from Betty Jo Williams. She seems to have the patience of a seasoned polytrack jockey like Chantal Sutherland.

Ryan Pacheco's tiny frame makes him a perfect candidate to have a very good apprentice year. Again, he has been impressive so far with limited mounts.

Brian Cheyne and Carolyn Duquette both lost their 10 pound bug early in the meet, and I expect them to struggle getting mounts at Woodbine. It is very hard to gain momentum and with that, the extra experience needed to become a colony mainstay when you are the 4th top rated apprentice or less on any circuit.

Terry Husbands didn't wow anyone last year when he had a chance to be the go to apprentice. He got a late start this year and is winless in less than 10 races. Another Husbands (Neil) is brand spanking new to riding in parimutuel
horse races. Other 10 pound bugs include Marni Williams, Joe Sabetti and Dean Stimpson. 5 pound bug Beth Wyard also accepts mounts at Woodbine.

There are more apprentices. With Fort Erie starting up, highly touted Bradley Wilson is back in the saddle. Cory Spataro, Mike Mehak, and Eric Edwards are also looking to make a name for themselves at the Fort. Lots of Woodbine based apprentices make the trek across the QEW to ride at Fort Erie when they have no mounts at Woodbine or when Woodbine is dark. So far, in the first 16 races at Fort Erie, the only apprentice to win has been Neil Husbands, who got his first career win on Sunday.

Apprentices who don't get good momentum have it tough. Many don't get the chance to develop and it is hard to gain momentum when one gets lesser mounts.

Former Fort Erie announcer Peter Kyte (still the announcer at Western Fair) has a blog: The Pete Sheets.
He can sing too:

I wonder what Simon Cowell would say about his performance?

Fort Erie handle sucked on the weekend. They did nothing to address the fact that they have one of the worst track takeouts in North America, so going forward, I can't see things improving. On track horseplayers can't possibly last when betting into exactor and double pools that have a 26.2% takeout. When they don't last very long, they are less likely to come back any time soon. Might as well just have someone at the entrances with a Hoover vacuuming out customer's pockets.

With handles up just about everywhere on Kentucky Derby day, Fort Erie was down 7% on live handle and over 20% off track. On Sunday, they were down 20% live, but were up 12% off track (still, total handle for Sunday was a mere $422,000, better than last year....but they can do a heck of a lot better if they understood the bettor.

Tampa Bay Downs, a racetrack that has been reducing takeout over the years, showed a 5% gain for the year, bucking the industry trend this year. Here is a track that has gone pretty much doubled handle over the last 8 years. They now do over $4 million a day (almost double than what Woodbine does). Tampa Bay still needs to reduce takeout on triactors and superfectas (25.9%).

Industry handle in down over 8% on the year, thanks to April not being as bad as the first three months. Being down 2.5% in April is no reason to celebrate nor is it something that should cause any racing exec any relief. Horse racing handle should NEVER drop. Every year, there are more and more people on this planet and every year the value of a dollar bill decreases at least somewhat (unless we ever have negative inflation).

The Kentucky Derby numbers improved. Handle was up, so were the TV ratings (in fact, they were the highest they've been in 18 years). Now this could be reason for some optimism. But if horse racing only attracts handles on big days, it still doesn't bode well for the industry which depends on day to day grinding by trainers, owners, and bettors.

Woodbine handle has been trending up lately thanks to TVG coverage in larger fields.
They desperately need to do something to keep customers though, and this can only be achieved by reducing takeouts.

Calvin Borel's stretch whipping of Super Saver didn't impress Stan Bergstein in the least.

His "overuse" of the stick now makes The Onion staff look like Sages. They put this video out prior to the Derby:

Who is the best horse flogger alive? Liam Hollins or Calvin Borel?

Shame on Woodbine for paying less on place and show bets on Tioga Downs (which has a takeout reduction experiment going right now). As expected they are paying a lot less on triactors and supers, but place and show? There is something terribly wrong with what they are doing.

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