Sunday, July 26, 2009

Closing Day at Lone Star Park is Fun and Delicious

Today Lone Star Park closed out its 2009 Thoroughbred meeting. And of course, there's the usual doom and gloom regarding Texas racing: declining attendance, decreased handle, the mass exodus of good horses pouring over the border to Louisiana to race for bigger purses and boudain balls, etc. However, this afternoon I brought along a wonderful companion who easily overlooks all of the troubles facing the industry and just wants to have fun. Alice.

And Alice is my Guest Blogger.

One day on a Sunday we went to the race track and the first thing we did is that my mom called jon reckrds. Then he had to have pichers taken with other peepel. He gave me ice cream with chocklate sauce. We talked about g-force and he had to go so I said who made the ice cream? An 11 year old boy made the ice cream so I made him a thank you note. And he is going to love the note and it said thank you for the ice cream From Alice.

I made a new friend. I don’t know her name but she did not know where her bracelet was.

* * *

Okay, by now Alice has become completely bored with the whole notion of being a Guest Blogger and has pronounced that she “has a tummy ache” and can she “go lay on the couch” [and watch SpongeBob]. However, on the drive home she did launch off on a mini-tirade about the fact that she was unable to procure coveted jockey goggles from the Jockey Goggle Giveaway and it was no fair that she didn’t win any because Sophie won a pair a couple of years ago and then I informed her that Sophie did not, in fact, win the goggles but Gary West ensured that she was handed a pair of goggles by a jockey and that, coincidentally, Alice had just met Mr. West just before the last race and it was merely bad timing that Mr. West could not do the same for her as he did for Sophie, to which Alice grumbled, “What a rip-off!”

Anyway, Grand Slam Andre (Grand Slam) won the Middleground Stakes for 2-year-olds, having shipped in from Churchill Downs where he previously came in 4th in the Bashford Manor. His performance this afternoon earned him 2-Year-Old Male Horse of the Meet. It also gave Steve Asmussen 117 wins and another training title, just in case he doesn't have enough of 'em.

Jockey Chris Landeros won the riding title. Millionaire and winner of the Texas Mile (Gr. 3), Jonesboro was named Horse of the Meeting. And the Dollar Hot Dog was named the Food of the Meeting; Vanilla Ice Cream with Chocklate Sauce came in a close second.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Asmussen Suspended. This Texas Racing Fan [and Scientist] Has Some Thoughts

Recently, I wrote of honors bestowed to Lone Star Park's leading trainer, Steve Asmussen. However, last week was not all smiles and frivolity for him. There was, of course, a hearing before the stewards regarding last year's lidocaine positive - or more precise, a metabolite of lidocaine, hydroxylidocaine - in one of his maiden winners, Timber Trick.

His hearing was besieged with postponements and rescheduling, and it took more than a year before Steve Asmussen received his opportunity to present his defense before the racing stewards; eight hours of testimony that included trainer Bill Mott, and Steve Barker, the chief chemist for the testing laboratory at LSU. And after all the testimony and presentations, the stewards gave Asmussen an additional 48 hours to present more facts to the case before they made their ruling.

Any facts other than the quantity of hydroxylidocaine in the urine sample or a confirmation of lidocaine in the horse's blood.

So, what's one to do if you can't present the facts or the truth?

Of course, the stewards handed down their ruling yesterday: six month suspension and a $1,500 fine.

Karen Murphy, co-counsel with Maggi Moss, had expressed that the racing stewards have "broad latitude to look at the circumstances", intimating they could have allowed the defense's requests to quantitate the metabolite or test the horse's blood.

So why didn't they? Even if Texas is Zero-Tolerance Xanadu, wouldn't it be in the best interest of racing to know the facts? The truth?

I cannot understand why the Texas Racing Commission was so autocratic and self-serving in these proceedings. They were presented with an opportunity to make technological advancements in drug testing; specimen collection errors and/or contaminants versus actual cheaters. And they have left behind the distinct impression that the stewards were going to do what the Commission told them to do. How's that for "fairness" and "integrity" of the sport.

So the Commission nabbed their big fish. Leading trainer and a local guy who continually supports Texas racing yearly, even with dwindling purses. A fellow who has had tremendous success and has an arsenal of horses in his barn. An arsenal of horses that could very well end up racing elsewhere - anywhere but Texas.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Steve Asmussen Stars in the Stars of Texas

Saturday, Lone Star Park celebrated the Stars of Texas, which comprised of a handful of stakes races for accredited Texas-breds. And what better way to celebrate the Stars of Texas than to have free beer, which of course, they did not. But it was close – it was also Dollar Day.

Besides the bargains on admission, hot dogs, and liquid refreshments, the Thoroughbred meet’s leading trainer, Steve Asmussen, was an the verge of breaking the record for Most Wins in a Meet, which was 98 wins set by Cole Norman in 2003 and has probably been a burr under Steve Asmussen’s saddle for a while. Anyway, plans were to celebrate this record feat in the Winner’s Circle.

And if cheap beer and record-setting events weren’t enough of a fiesta at the racetrack, Lone Star Park wanted to honor its all-time leading trainer and Hall of Famer ... guess who?? Steve Asmussen, 2009 Lone Star Park Man of the Year. According to an email I received from Dan Leary, Director of Communications,

After the great year that Steve had in 2008, culminating in his first Eclipse Award, Lone Star Park wanted to do something special to honor him. As you know, this is his home base and where he lives. He is here most days with his family.

Stars of Texas Day seemed like the best day to honor him and present him with the Lone Star Park Man of the Year Award.

Anyway, plans were to celebrate this humbling award in the Winner’s Circle after the 6th race.

Conveniently, Steve Asmussen scored his 99th win in the 6th race with aptly named Big Texas Daddy. Even more fitting to the occasion, Big Texas Daddy’s big Texas daddy is Valid Expectations who got this whole stakes-winning ball of wax going for Asmussen. "It was great to set the record with this horse," Asmussen said, alluding to his relationship with Big Texas Daddy’s sire, Valid Expectations.

So the one extended celebration in the Winner’s Circle worked out well for the Asmussen Clan, Lone Star Park brass, and the media. There were photos and signs and interviews and awards and trophies and a cake presented by Chef Jake and an exquisite crystal commemorative knick-knack of some kind that may or may not be introduced to his Eclipse – truly, The Steve Asmussen Daily Double of Celebrations!

Steve Asmussen sets new record for most wins in a single meet
(Photo credit: Lone Star Park)

Every momentous occasion deserves a cake from Chef Jake.

New sign. No cake. There's a good chance the kids are feeling ripped off.

And I know what you’re all thinking ...

What kind of cake?

Italian cream cake.

Asmussen won 5 races on the card, including the Texas Stallion Stakes for 2-year-old fillies with Millennium Farm’s Camille’s Appeal (Valid Expectations - Belle Visage by Horatius). Camille’s Appeal is now 2 for 2, breaking her maiden at first asking at Delaware Park, winning by more than 7 lengths. She shipped in for the Texas Stallion Stakes where she rated at the back of the pack, rolling on the outside at the turn, and closing strong, winning by 2 ¼ lengths. Very appealing.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Can There Exist a Compassionate Horse Racing Fan?

Thank you, jo anne, for taking the time to read and comment on my recent post that involved the declining attendance and handle at racetracks. Your passion for the care and welfare of horses is greatly appreciated.

From what I gleaned in your comments, both here and in the Paulick Report, you have a disdain for horse racing fans and have collectively lumped them into an uncaring, unfeeling group of individuals that would prefer to drug, beat, abuse, and finally consume, a horse just to make a few bucks. Well, you've inspired me to step into the Great Abyss of Controversy to share a few of my thoughts regarding your cause.

I'm with you.

Yes, I'm a horse racing enthusiast and I care greatly for the well-being of all racehorses. I think we should get rid of drugs in horse racing, use pink fuzzy slippers instead of whips, and demand that all kill buyers hold hands and fall off the edge of the Earth. And while I'm at it, we should outlaw puppy mills, stop global warming, and end world hunger.

I'm not a horse owner, but I know a number of them, and they genuinely care about the welfare of their animals; they can yammer on endlessly about their horse's personality you'd think that the horse should be booked as a guest on Letterman. Frankly, I'm always delighted to listen to their anecdotes. But it's just as devastating to lose a horse to injury as it is to disease or ailment, including old age. And as you know, horses are not only injured racing and training, but they can do serious harm to themselves in a paddock or when they're turned out.

Your comments also got me thinking about other horses that work for a living. Should we protest the Amish because they use horses to pull buggies and heavy wagons when they could be driving a Prius?

A trainer I know once shared with me some thoughts about racing horses and the allusion of universal mistreatment, "Animals are here for our pleasure, but it's our duty to ensure that we love them and care for them in the greatest manner humanly possible, including after their racing days are over." Kind of spiritual, huh. And she meant it, too - setting up her own horse rescue and rehabilitation operation.

Now, I'm not naïve enough to believe that all trainers and/or owners take good care of their racehorses; I'm sure there is mistreatment, just as there are people who kick their dogs or, worse, kick their children. But we can continue to be vocal and vehement about demanding safety and integrity in the sport, and call for the industry to take a firm stand against horse slaughter. That's an "agenda" we should all agree upon.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Handle is Declining and I’m the Cause

A few weeks ago I received a friendly email from local turf writer, Gary West. He remarked that he had not seen me out at the track lately.

That’s because I’m not out at the track that much anymore.

In years past, there was always time to go to venture out to Lone Star Park a couple of days a week – swing by on Thursday night after work, or devote my Saturday to the entire card with a smattering of intriguing races on simulcast. I had my favorite pari-mutuel clerks, favorite seating areas, favorite refreshments. I had a variety of acquaintances amongst the loyal horseplayers that created a wonderful sense of camaraderie.

But things change.

Lone Star Park raised the price of admission. The cost of a racing program increased. Food and beverage prices increased. Just to "swing by the track for a couple of races" was costing me more money before I placed my first wager. My favorite pari-mutuel clerk retired. Even the casual friendliness that I had enjoyed had soured as I had the misfortune of receiving some unwanted / unpleasant remarks from annoying buffoons that I would’ve punched had I been a guy. Well, that’s moot because I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t have been the recipient of such talk if I had been a guy.

And life changed at home. The girls had more activities. I picked up weekend shifts at the lab. My husband embarked on a landscaping project that required my assistance. It soon became more desirable to spend my Saturdays putting in a garden walkway and tearing out juniper bushes than going to the racetrack.

Lone Star Park is turning into a lazy boyfriend. And judging by declining attendance and handle, I’m not the only one who’s getting turned off.

Here’s a tidbit of information: On July 3 – 4, Lone Star Park’s Stars and Stripes Fireworks Celebration had attendance figures of 15,000 to 20,000 people but could barely muster an on-track handle of $400,000. What does that tell us? That there were lots of families and kids, and they generally don’t bet. Similar numbers pop-up for concerts that appeal to the younger generation; an affordable concert venue but most of the crowd doesn’t contribute to on-track handle because (1) they’re too young, and (2) they’re not horseplayers.

It’s business as usual. It seems there’s little effort on the track’s behalf to disseminate racing information or impending events. Nothing new. Nothing innovative. Nothing that entices new horseplayers nor retains existing ones. Isn’t there anybody coming up with new ideas? Churchill Downs is figuring it out. Their creative "Downs After Dark" was a raging success, and it attracted the type of clientele that contributes to handle. Churchill Downs is incredibly proactive spreading press releases and "barn talk" and photos and racing notes. I go out to the Lone Star Park website to look for track news and it’s paltry – there’s a few measly photos from the 2008 Hat Contest on Derby Day. Yippee.

Perhaps there is a feeling of malaise amongst track management, being of the fact that they’re Magna and the racetrack license and operation is on the auction block. If there is apathy, sadly there’s a trickle-down effect.

It doesn’t help either that horsemen, frustrated with sagging purses in Texas, keep threatening to pack up their stables and race their horses in exotic slot-supplemented locales, like Louisiana Downs or Zia Park. I’m not a fan of slot machines and I don’t know any fellow horseplayer who’s thrilled about the notion of adding slots at the racetrack but if it makes the horsemen happy, I guess I’ll have to support it. But I continue to wish and hope for a better alternative.

Yesterday, the Professor posted,

Racetracks are faced with the unique challenge of entertaining people over a period of four hours while most of them are losing their money. Tracks can accomplish that only if they provide a comfortable setting and only by creating an unusual and exciting experience and, of course, by offering bargains.

Dollar Day at Lone Star Park is July 11th. The previous Dollar Day on April 25th had an attendance of 16,389 and an on-track handle of $710,590. What does that tell us? Well, a dollar admission, dollar program, dollar beer ... I can afford to go and take my friends and family. And I can afford to bet.