Thursday, July 26, 2007

Filling a Purse with Loose Change

A few weeks ago, the most fashionable woman ever to sit atop a horse, Mrs. Dallas Keen, asked, "What's wrong with the collective of politicians in Austin who so lovingly refer to themselves as the Texas Legislature that they cannot pass any kind of bill resembling slot machine installation that would in turn, boost revenue for purses at Texas racetracks and would potentially be beneficial to Texas horsemen?" Or something to that effect.

Problems did not lie with the Texas Legislature as much as it did with the gambling proponents. Each association, whether it be Thoroughbred, Quarter Horse, Paint, Clydesdales or miniature ponies, wanted a bill that would meet their individual group’s specific needs. Toss is the BIG DESTINATION CASINO lobby and one could see there lacked a clear, uniform coalition in obtaining slots. This diversification led to Rep. Ismael "Kino" Flores, who apparently decided to go by the name Kino in an unsuccessful bid to land a recurring role in Hawaii Five-O as Danno’s trusty sidekick, introduced roughly 16,763 gambling bills to the Legislature that never made it to committee and instead were converted into craft projects, paper airplanes, and disposable placemats at the nearby Hook ‘Em Horns Daycare.

The Texas Legislature wrapped up its session back in May and will not convene again until 2009. State representatives have headed home to their respective districts where they can relax with the libation of choice and wait for the Cowboys’ season to begin. And if they have a burning desire to sit in a slots parlor and gamble, they will do what other Texans do: Drive to Louisiana or Oklahoma.

Upon the demise of all gambling legislation, the Texas Thoroughbred Association has apparently decided to go on a scavenger hunt for increased revenue for purses. Mark Cornett, First VP of the TTA, who is also President and CEO of Turf Express Inc., and to the best of my knowledge, has never been quail hunting with Dick Cheney, is spending some serious time perusing the Texas Racing Act as well as every rule, regulation, recipe, and amorphous concoction that is associated with the Texas Racing Commission. And, according to the TTA, he discovered a couple of promising revenue sources:

    1. Open a simulcast facility. Saddlebrook Park in Amarillo, which is far, far, far away from Dallas/Fort Worth, is scheduled to be opened by 2011. A simulcast facility can be opened by 2009 and revenue generated by this simulcast facility far, far, far away, can be used to increase purses at other facilities such as Retama Park.

    2. Develop a county fair circuit. One of my favorite horse-owner-former-CPA-who-lives-with-a-redhead-somewhere-in-California friend loves the county fair circuit and I remember one particular e-conversation when he remarked that he would like to go to the Gillespie County Fair, which is not so far, far, far away. Actually, pari-mutuel racing takes place at the Gillespie County Fairgrounds on some weekends. According to recent figures gleaned from the Daily Racing Form, Gillespie County averaged a daily attendance 1405 and a handle of $134,530 over four dates in July, and all four race dates had a full 12 race card. Okay, okay … it’s not Saratoga but it’s not exactly Wyoming Downs either.

The millions of dollars generated by video slots that horsemen, and horsewomen if you are Mrs. Keen, had hoped for is not happening, at least for now. But at least there is an individual or two out there who is scraping up some loose change that might be available to add to purses.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

History Lesson

I’m a pack rat – a compulsive hoarder of useless items. I have been known to save slips of scrap paper because there is an unidentified phone number on it "that might be important" or a recipe for rhubarb tarts that was published in the Cresco Times three years ago because "I might make it one day." Photos are stored in unlabeled boxes and I’m pretty sure that I have the video of Smarty Jones winning the Kentucky Derby somewhere around here ... on an unlabeled black videocassette, naturally. And of course I have a plethora of art projects and scribbles and toys that my kids have given me that, as useless as they are, I cannot bear to part with them because I am a sentimental boob.

Meanwhile, my husband could happily exist with only his computer with reliable high-speed internet connectivity and an infinitesimal supply of cold beer.

However, Mr. Throw-The-Junk-Away is very appreciative of his library: Norman Mailer, Stephen King, Kurt Vonnegut, Ayn Rand. But for reasons unknown, there is one unusual title that has remained in his possession over the years: Sports Illustrated 1992 Sports Almanac.

This evening, I was inspired to read the section on horse racing in the 1992 almanac. (read: I couldn’t think of anything to write about).

First, a little refresher of the year 1991: We had a Bush in the White House and a war in the Persian Gulf. There was a little tussle between Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas on Capitol Hill. The Soviet Union broke up. MTV was still cool. There were no such things as cell phones, iPods, or Dr. Phil. And the "internet" was just a series of tubes.

And in the world of horse racing in 1991, Strike the Gold won the Kentucky Derby, Hansel won the Preakness and the Belmont, Calumet Farm went bankrupt, and the Shoe was paralyzed in a car accident. And there was this observation,

Sadly, much of the racing news in 1991 wasn’t cheerful. Tracks continued to grope for ways to boost sagging attendance. And the controversy over medication continued, with no uniform rules regarding the uses of Lasix and Butazolidin. Most vexing of all, racing continued to compete against itself by embracing the brave new world of high-tech TV gambling, which takes fans away from the tracks and pulls them into off-site wagering facilities. [William F. Reed, SI 1992 Sports Almanac]

Some things never change.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Just Because a Trainer Can Afford A Good Vet Doesn't Make Him a Cheater

I went to my hairdresser today.

Many of you, perhaps Alan or Andy in particular, are thinking, Now, what could that possibly have to do with me?

Well, a number of years ago during a moment of questionable lucidity, my girlfriend and I decided that I should dye my hair red. Using a home hair coloring treatment that I conveniently purchased at the local Wal-Mart, I was confidently convinced that my hair would look as a beautiful and as striking as the auburn hair that was displayed on the box. But that was not the case. Yes, after the home color treatment, my hair was red. Not auburn. Not strawberry blond. Not even Curlin's handsome chestnut. It was fire engine red. It was Bozo the Clown red. I stared into the mirror, too stunned to string more than three words together to form a coherent communication, "help ... fix ... ack ... gasp". My girlfriend bolted to the nearest drugstore and purchased a smorgasbord of hair color shades in the hopes that we could either lighten my hair or darken it or cover it up. In case of catastrophic failure, I was prepared to convert to Buddhism and shave my head and become a monk.

By 1:30 in the morning, success was marginal and I decided that I would have to live with the strawberry-watermelon-peach-blond color that we finally obtained. So I lived with it. I lived with it for 2 days and then went to a professional hairstylist who colored and highlighted and improved my hair color, all the while making small talk about other home hair coloring disasters that she has had to "clean up" during her career. And her "clean up" with my hair did not come cheap.

The point of this story is the old adage, "You get what you pay for."

Which leads me to the veterinarian practices in horse racing.

Since the Great Patrick Biancone Cobra Venom Raid at Keeneland occurred a few weeks ago, there has been numerous articles and commentary generated about drugs in horse racing, some of it sound and factual, and other opinions spouting nonsense. Some horse racing enthusiasts even feel that Monsieur Biancone’s talented filly, Lady of Venice, CashCall Mile win is tainted because he’s a "cheater" and if you watch the race very closely, you can clearly see a trail of pixie dust as Lady of Venice crosses the wire. But seriously, one commonality remains amidst all the blitz and accusations and suspicions: Successful trainers are being labeled as cheaters.

But let me share with you some of my thoughts ...

Veterinarian practices make a huge difference. The trainers with the Stables of the Rich and Wealthy, like Todd Pletcher, can afford brilliant equine vets that ensure horses get optimum treatments, nutrients, supplements, Bose sound systems in their barns that play Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake", etc. Smaller operations – trainers with only a few horses and limited budgets – do not have that luxury. Obviously, the horse that is receiving top-notch vet care has the advantage.

And trainers are generally not known for being pharmacologists, nor veterinarians for that matter. So the scenario exists that an unprincipled or uninformed vet, or a vet who’s just a plain ol’ buffoon, can propose a treatment for the horse that, unbeknownst to the trainer, could be harmful or even unethical. And the trainer would defer to the vet because, afterall, he's supposed to know what's good for the animal. And then there's all that "other stuff" to consider as provided by the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, remembering that allowable levels are different from state to state.

Yes, there are cheaters and unscrupulous individuals associated with horse racing. But realistically, horsemen love their animals and put the horse’s health and well-being above all. Their intentions are to never jeopardize the horse.

Friday, July 06, 2007

A Tale of a Two

For me, a 2-year-old conjures up images of a toddler displaying impatient behavior. There’s biting. Kicking. Hitting. "No." "NO!!" "NONONONONO!!!!"

Yet, I am reminded, especially this time of year, that thoroughbred 2-year-olds can be exciting as well as attractive races. Genius Alan has taken a few moments to cover today’s Belmont babies while nobody’s fool, Valerie at Foolish Pleasure has already crowned Ready’s Image as the next Juvenile Champion. And then there is Dan Illman over at the Daily Racing Form who, with religious zeal, covers every 2-year-old that wanders through Saratoga.

Thus, I am compelled to make a small and minor contribution to discussion of promising juveniles. And a very promising one here in the Lone Star State is Five Alarm.

Five Alarm, trained by W. Bret Calhoun, won his first race back in May:

Five Alarm ... was a five-length winner of a maiden special weight race, leading from start to finish under [jockey] Ramsey Zimmerman. It was the second career start for Five Alarm, who was second by three-quarters of a length in his career debut in April.

"We thought first time out, he didn't handle the off going at all," said Calhoun. "It looked like he was on ice skates out there."

Five Alarm won with ease on Saturday, earning a 78 Beyer.[DRF]

Five Alarm is by Early Flyer. I know very little about pedigree so I took some time to research some useful information that I would share with you. Early Flyer is a two-time graded stakes winner and was one of the top sprinters in 2001. He won the San Vicente Stakes (gr. II) and the Lazaro Barrera Memorial Stakes (gr. III), defeating the notable sprinting champion, Squirtle Squirt. This is an important fact because, (1) Squirtle Squirt went on the win the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, and (2) I like the name, "Squirtle Squirt" - it’s fun to say. Anyway, Early Flyer is standing at Valor Farm, which is in Pilot Point, Texas, which is a little ways "up the road" from Grapevine (read: not by El Paso) therefore there is a distinct possibility that I will take a fact-finding excursion to Valor Farm where therein lies the direct proportion that this will not be the last blog entry that you read about Early Flyer. Or Squirtle Squirt, for that matter.

Another important fact regarding Five Alarm’s sire, Early Flyer, is that he is a total outcross to Northern Dancer, Mr. Prospector and Seattle Slew. Actually, I do not know what this means but it sounds important.

So I have had Five Alarm on my horse watch since I was so easily impressed with his maiden victory back in May. On June 19th, Five Alarm worked 5f in 0:58.40. I thought that there must be an error. Perhaps some inept blogger that did not know how to operate a stopwatch clocked the workout. But that was not the case. Gary Reckner, Lone Star Park’s clocker, used the highly technical phrase, "monster work" when referring to Five Alarm’s workout. Subsequently, Five Alarm worked 4f in 0:48.20 on June 30th which was 5/77. I should mention that this workout was a breeze. A breeze from the gate.

Tomorrow, Five Alarm will be running in the Texas Stallion Stakes. And Lone Star Park's morning line oddsmaker and track handicapper, Rick Lee, has decided that clearly there is no competition, installing him and his coupled entry Gold Coyote, the favorite at 1-1.

So, what’s so terrible about two?