Friday, November 30, 2007

Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em … Unless You’re At Churchill Downs

The energetic Vice President of Communications and Top Email Generator of Churchill Downs, Julie Koenig-Loignon, sends regular updates on everything Churchill and/or Twin Spires. I always thought she provided this service because she enjoyed reading my blog. Silly me. Horse racing has nothing to do with these little email updates. It’s all because I have a share or two of stock (CHDN).

Earlier this month, I received notice that smoking would be banned inside Churchill Downs as of November 25, 2007, in compliance with a Louisville ordinance that smoking is not permitted inside any bar, restaurant, bingo hall, bowling alley, or public building; basically, it excludes one's house (but what about public housing??). Louisville government officials came to the conclusion a couple of years ago that Al Gore wasn't crazy after all and the air quality really could use some improvement, and that smoking, in general, is not good for you.

Apparently, Churchill Downs, the Hallowed Grounds of American Horse Racing, site of the most prestigious race, which you may or may not of heard of, the Kentucky Derby, multi-million dollar revenue generator for Louisville and Jim Beam and Mint Juleps, had managed to finagle an exemption in the smoking ordinance. Gambling, liquor, and cigarettes – which vice do you eliminate?

So, Churchill Downs’ Champion Lounge remained a smoking friendly atmosphere. That is, until a couple of restaurant and bar owners in the neighborhood, who by the way probably benefit financially from Churchill Downs sometime around the first weekend in May, said, “Hey, wait a minute … if we can’t have smokers in our establishments, they shouldn’t either.” Needless to say, on October 12th, Judge Denise Clayton ruled that the exemption to allow smoking at Churchill Downs violated the equal protection clause in the state constitution.

Customers of the smoking persuasion at Churchill Downs are now only permitted to smoke outdoors. Now, that’s not so bad on a nice sunny afternoon when there is live racing. However, year-round simulcasting is generally not considered an “outside” entertainment source. In an attempt to provide concerned racing enthusiasts of both the smoking and non-smoking kind factual information, I contacted Julie Koenig-Loignon:
Our customers are permitted to smoke out of doors. That includes our many balconies, in the outdoor seating areas and on the "bricks" around the paddock area. These areas are adjacent to our simulcast wagering area. The Louisville smoking ordinance does not cover smoking out of doors, so those areas remain available to our customers.

There is a balcony right outside the Silks and Champions Lounges. Also customers in the simulcast-wagering area can step out into our outdoor, box seating areas. All are in close proximity.

I asked Julie Koenig-Loignon if Churchill Downs anticipated a financial effect as well as a change in attendance figures. She provided the following,
We do anticipate a negative impact on handle and attendance, as we draw customers from both Kentucky and Southern Indiana. There is an off-track betting facility in Clarksville, Ind., (just across the river) that does permit smoking indoors. Our Florida track, Calder Race Course, experienced declines in handle after a smoking ban was instituted in Calder's community in 2005. At this point, we cannot forecast what the financial impact will be. We are doing our best to educate our customers on where they still can smoke at Churchill Downs, which is out of doors.

I also inquired as to whether Judge Denise Clayton was a smoker or had ever been to Churchill Downs, however Julie Koenig-Loignon did not know.

Anyway, Churchill Downs is abiding by the courts decision. Signage in the Champions’ Lounge alerts smokers of the policy change. Ashtrays are strategically placed outside of the building. No word as to whether simulcast monitors and tote machines will be available in the elements for the smoking bettors, but Julie Koenig-Loignon infers that bettors can easily make a wager prior to a race, step outside for a quick drag, and pop back inside prior to post time. Also, it is unknown at this time as to whether plans are underway to schedule a future Handicapping / Smoking Cessation Seminar with Mike Battaglia.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

A Thanksgiving Exercise

Today is the day that we set aside a time to give thanks. My daughter's kindergarten class had a little exercise: List 5 Things That You Are Thankful For. Of course, Alice listed the usual standard kindergartener's answers ... Mom and Dad ... the dog ... Polly Pocket ... Maddie [her best friend] ... her bike. Anyway, it's a good exercise that everybody should embrace, at least once a year. So today, Thanksgiving, I shall list 5 Things That I Am Thankful For:

1. My family, especially those two little blondies who call me "Mom" - they make me thankful every day.

2. Every man and woman in uniform that are serving or have served our country. I would be 98,322 times more thankful if our soldiers who are currently deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan were actually at home, sitting around the table with their families and stuffing themselves with turkey and pumpkin pie. God bless them.

3. I'm thankul that the Fairgrounds opens today and there is horse racing because we are invited over to our neighbor's house for Thanksgiving dinner and my friend is not planning to serve dinner until after the Cowboys' game. I have a very sneaky suspicion that my girlfriend will be starting the day early with mimosas and go from there. Dinner may prove to be interesting. By the way, I got to go make a pie just as soon as I finish this exercise.

4. Microwave popcorn and tolltags.

5. And finally, I'm thankful that the Texas Thoroughbred Association and the Texas Quater Horse Association decided to actually work together and provide unified support in an effort to keep Texas racing. Last week, representatives from both organizations met in Waco and signed, as Dave Hooper of the TTA refers to it, a "historic agreement",
a milestone agreement on breed splits of revenue that would flow to purses once Video Lottery Terminals are legalized and operational at Texas tracks.

So instead of proposing 16,763 varying gambling bills to the Texas Legislature, they should be able to introduce a greatly reduced number in an effort to install VLTs at racetracks which in turn will increase purses which in turn is good for Texas racing which in turn is good for the Texas horse industry which in turn is good for me because I like going to the racetrack and it is, after all, all about me. So I am thankful. And hopeful.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Auction Action

Valerie over at Foolish Pleasure has been serving as a beat writer for the ongoing Fasig-Tipton Kentucky November breeding stock sale over the past week. Quite frankly, there’s nothing quite as entertaining as an Irishman and a Sheikh duking it out with their egos and checkbooks when it comes to purchasing top broodmare prospects.

The auction house is the mysterious place that few horseplayers visit, but they hear the rumors and the gossip of $16 million purchases for yearlings that may or may not be the next coming of Secretariat; the whispers of Arabs invading Kentucky in their not-so-covert attempt for World Thoroughbred Domination; the speculation that Michael Chertoff is unaware that these wealthy racehorse-owning foreigners have masterminded this Thoroughbred domination plan much less he can even recognize a horse.

For those of you who have never had the opportunity to visit a horse auction, let me provide you with some of my knowledgeable firsthand information. I had the fortune of going to the Fasig-Tipton Texas Summer Yearling auction a few months ago.

Prior to the sale, the fine folks of the Texas Thoroughbred Association assembled a panel of experts for an auction seminar, loosely referred to as “Everything you wanted to know about buying a yearling but were afraid to ask.” The first expert panelist, a consignor, stressed the significance of black type. The panelist droned on and on and on about the importance of black type and if the yearling you were selling did not have any black type or a very insignificant amount of black type then you should just load your yearling back up into your trailer and haul it home and hope for a life in the circus. Okay, maybe she did not say that. But the point being, she stressed the need for black type. All the seminar attendees nodded in full agreement and understanding. I, on the other hand, did not have a clue as to what in the world she was talking about. I considered asking her but I didn’t want to look like a complete moron so I just sat there … like a complete moron. Fortunately, the young woman sitting behind me asked the burning question, “What the heck is black type?” Black type in the horse's pedigree indicates a related horse is stakes placed. Obviously, the more horses with black type the better. And even better is CAPITOL LETTER BLACK TYPE BECAUSE IT MEANS THAT THE RELATED HORSE IS A STAKES WINNER. And it is more important that the black type and BLACK TYPE be in the 1st and 2nd dams because by the time you get to the 3rd and 4th dams, the horse standing in the auction ring has somewhat diluted relationship.

The second expert panelist was Shirley Dievert from Blood-horse publications. She provided a physical demonstration that the Blood-horse publishes no less than 817 tons of catalogs, pedigree profiles, and stallion registers available for breeders and buyers to keep handy. She also distributed those cute little personal fans that had Blood-horse emblazoned on the side.

Other experts provided helpful information that would be beneficial to the buyer, such as possessing the innate ability to recognize good conformation, or having more than $264.37 in your bank account because clearly that would be insufficient to purchase a quality Thoroughbred (read: black type).

The auction itself was a whirlwind of yearlings, being processed in and out of the building. Unlike good friend, Toteboard Brad, I elected to leave my wallet at home and continue making contributions to my children’s college funds, however the auction did provide a wonderful opportunity to rub elbows with trainers, breeders, turf writers, and bartenders.

There were no multi-million dollar purchases back in August, although the top seller was a PLEASANT TAP colt (whose 1st dam is TENSIE’S PRO, who is related to Toledo Toni and All in One) that went for $330,000, which was a record sale. I vaguely remember my lungs momentarily ceasing function when the bids on this colt started at $100,000 [cough] and jumped immediately to $200,000 [choke], which then was countered to $300,000 [gasp].

Okay, maybe sheikhs with fat bank accounts don’t descend upon the Texas auctions. But as I glance at my copy of the Fasig-Tipton Texas Summer Yearlings catalog, I find it noteworthy that featured on the cover of the catalog is a horse that sold for $20,000 at the Texas Summer Yearling sale back in 2004. His name: Kip Deville.