Sunday, August 29, 2010

Day 234

The weather has cooled off and we are needing to turn the fans off at night. Won't be long until we are getting the night sheets (blankets) out. I have so few horses that when we run a couple, the morning training dwindles to only a few hours as there just isn't that much to do. Usually the horses that run get three days off after a race though the occasional horse needs more time and I have given only 2 days off to a few.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Day 233

My two year old Smarty Jones fillies are all back on track after dealing with typical two year old issues like shins and sore feet. While they haven't progressed past the point of jogging on the training track, all three of them have grown during the down time and are maturing quite nicely. The other two were turned out after being broke this Spring as they were simply immature and needed time to grow. Funny that on one hand I am advocating the racing of two year olds then go and turnout two of my own fillies to grow up, guaranteeing they won't run as babies! While it is a cliche, each horse is an individual and sometimes you need to just let them grow up before they will stand training.

Lady Thief (Smarty Jones-War Thief, by Lord at War(ARG))

Day 232

Had a nice day at the races despite my filly getting outrun and me not cashing a single ticket all day. Tom Rothstein who works for my biggest owner, Bob Gary Racing, got us two executive boxes which were great. The racing was competitive as Chris Polzin put together a nice card and despite being warm, there was a nice breeze and the day was a good reminder that horse racing at its best is still a pretty good show.

Philadelphia opened it's track back up this morning and I am looking forward to sending more horses over there. While big days are still great events, the cold harsh reality of the world means that purse money matters and Philly Park has plenty of that.

Day 231

Brought my Dad to work with me this morning. AP puts on a nice show the morning before the Million, serving breakfast, interviewing the participants and generally promoting the big day well.

Worked a horse over the polytrack and came up with a much different clocking than the official time. What else is new?

The weather people missed again as the temperatures are getting hot and humid with showers expected tonight. Selfishly I hope it rains enough to soften up the course a little but not enough where they will take the races off the turf.

Day 230

Went to a Cubs/Padres game yesterday afternoon. Thought it was funny when I heard people saying that the crowd (over 33000 for a day game) was a little light. I would guess that the executives at AP would be thrilled to ONLY have a crowd of 33000 Saturday for the Million. Ironically the Cubs are in a free fall, putting a very weak product on the field, sadly not that dissimilar to Arlington's racing program. The only difference is that the Cubs have one of the highest payrolls in baseball where AP has a fairly weak purse structure.

Day 229

Quiet day. Entered the filly that broke her maiden a few weeks back in an optional claimer that I thought had very little chance to go and wound up drawing post 12! I suppose that every non-stakes calibur 2 year old filly in the Midwest that has broke her maiden was looking for a spot to run. In the not so distant past 2 year old allowance races or even claiming races weren't that rare by mid-August. Under the current circumstances I am not exactly sure what you are supposed to do with a 2 year old that breaks their maiden and yet isn't quite stakes quailty. Despite a preponderance of evidence showing that racing a 2 year old doesn't hurt them and usually leads to a longer career than a horse that doesn't start at 2, many people are now delaying the start of their horses careers, often till they are 3. Another strange trend that seems to be based on innuendo and faulty information. Of course this IS horseracing, in other words, par for the course.

Day 228

My Mom and Dad drove out from Saratoga to visit and attend the Arlington Million for the 1st time. My Dad had commented that he had always wanted to someday see the Million live yet because of the timing with the Saratoga meet, had never been able to make that happen. After a little arm bending (and possibly a bribe) he convinced my Mom that driving cross country wouldn't be such a bad thing to do.

The weather this week so far has been beautiful, cooler in the mornings and not so muggy in the afternoons. All the horses went fine today and hopefully this week will go smoothly.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Day 227

While it mostly stays hidden beneath the surface, horse racing has it's own lunatic fringe that sometimes rears it's ugly head, often for no readily apparent reason. While I certainly would not criticize anyone for taking the path less traveled in a sport where the worn path leads to losses 95% of the time, you occasionally run across people who are just plain nuts. The one factor that seems to link many of these crazies together is they usually don't have enough money to do things the proper way. They are either looking for a handout or have some elaborate plan that has them winning far more than even the most successful participants of the sport.

People who believe an ill-bred, poorly conformed 4 year old maiden will not only become the finest son of his fairly obscure sire but will also become a wildly successful sire as well, actually exist. They will beg for a deal on the training fees because they have been "screwed over" in the business. Then when the horse in question turns out to be a complete bust, not only being a rogue that attacks people and other horses but who can't stay sound for more than a few weeks at a time. Of course it is hard to try to deal with unsoundness when all the vets on the track refuse to treat or even examine the horse because they believe him to be too dangerous to bother with after he sent one person to the hospital with broken ribs and came close to killing another. Then when you are shipping the barn out of town for the Winter, refuse to take the horse back because they claim not to have the facilities to house him, more or less leaving the trainer to come up with a new home for him. After the same trainer not only finds a safe home for the horse, he pays the bills when the insane people forget to bother to. As if this wasn't bad enough, three years later they contact the trainer looking to shake him down because he doesn't recall where their silks or some therapy machine that they supposedly sent with the horse is. When questioned as to why it took so long to inquire about these items the nuts say that they couldn't locate the trainer despite being "facebook friends" for 2 years and virtually every racetrack in the country having the trainers contact information which hasn't changed in 10 years. The wackos then proceed to berate the trainer personally and professionally, telling him that it is "his job" to take care of his owners "stuff", as though the trainer is some equine pawn shop. Remember now these are people who never sent a single cent to the trainer despite the trainer not only cutting them a sweetheart training deal but also found a good home for their insane horse AND paid his expenses (7 or 8 months worth I believe) as well. Now they were looking for the trainer to reimburse them for their "stuff" three years later? You can't make this crap up...

I guess the moral of the story is whoever said "no good deed goes unpunished" was 100% correct.

Day 226

So I thought my horse yesterday got a little roughed up. Compared to the stretch run of Mizz Liza's race, yesterday was a clean trip. Alvarado did a terrific job in mitigating the bad post by alertly angling  inside when a sliver of room opened up and we wound up in the 2 path laying 5th. Considering the short run to the turn and post 12, that was a great spot. She was grinding along behind a tepid pace turning for home. The filly doesn't have a big burst but she keeps running the same pace and as the others were getting tired she was still running. At the 1/8th pole all of a sudden a horse in white silks crashes into her from the inside, causing Alvarado to almost come off the horse. We were checked close to a dead stop. An incident that deep in the stretch kills any chance of winning and probably cost us an on the board finish. I made a trainers claim of foul despite the infraction being quite obvious. It was that bad. The horse did get disqualified. Mizz Liza appeared no worse for wear back at the barn, amazingly not having a mark on her. So often when horses are forced to check that sharply, especially when the horses are tired, they get injured. It looks like we dodged that bullet so far.

Day 225

Beautiful day in Chicago today. My two year old got roughed up pretty good in his debut. Got slammed by the horse outside of him into the horse inside of him at the break. Settled into a decent position and then was bumped hard again by a different horse going into the turn. Was actually still in contention turning into the stretch when the eventual winner swerved at him as two year old often do. That seemed to spook my horse who immediately started lugging in, forcing the jock to worry more about straightening him out rather than riding him. It was an eventful first race but as long as he comes out of the race in one piece he should benefit from the experience.

Target Practice got outrun as the fractions (22.0, 44.2) were much faster than anything he has ever encountered. He did get some dirt kicked in his face and the jockey didn't abuse him once he realized were weren't going to get anything but hot and dirty. Since we are going to be 'trackless' at Philly Park for another 10 days or so I am going to send him to a local farm for a brief freshening.

Day 224

Very hot today though this is the last day of high temperatures for awhile according to the forecasts. Entered a filly for Sunday that has been a bit of a project horse. She drew a miserable post position (12) going a mile on the turf. Junior Alvarado is riding her and he is a pretty good grass rider and hopefully he will be able to work out some kind of trip from there. Not a whole lot going on otherwise but looking forward to racing this weekend..

Day 223

Wound up entering Target Practice in a 6 furlong allowance race at Delaware. It isn't the ideal spot but is only a 6 horse field and maybe he can pick up a check. While I hate running in a race where it looks as though we can't win, there just aren't any other viable options in the immediate future and perhaps getting outrun in the early stages will help him when we stretch him back out. Entered a two year old colt, Prospect Knight in a maiden claimer going 5 furlongs on the grass for Saturdays races at AP. He probably needs more ground but he is ready to run and the experience should help move him forward.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Day 222

Tuesday have always been a slow day in horseracing. When I was growing up the NYRA circuit used to run 6 days a week with Tuesday being the only dark day. Saratoga is the only track that runs 6 days a week now and Tuesday is still their day off but tracks like AP only run 4 days a week which is still hard to get used to.

I have been looking far and wide for a race for Target Practice. He fits in a nw2x going long at a B level track or a higher priced 3 year old claimer but those races aren't readily available, even in the mid-Atlantic area where there are a bunch of tracks. I initially loved the conditioned claimers when they started writing them but in many ways they have hurt as much as helped. On the East coast especially, the conditioned claimers have killed the straight three year old claiming structure. Even Saratoga which used to have races in the 25k, 35k, 50k, 75k, and 100k level for three year olds doesn't have much.

Day 221

I am a big believer in different types of physical therapy for horses. Some of the stuff they do may be hard to actually quanitify as to it's effectiveness but the people who are really good can be a valuable asset to a trainer. Often therapists have a little different view of horses that differs from what a trainer and vet see. As long as your ego doesn't get in the way (and that happens a LOT when talking about trainers and vets) there is a lot be to learned from the wide variety of therapies available. Now that doesn't mean that everyone out there providing some type of therapy is an expert and there are those that are just too inexperienced or simply not knowledgable enough to count on too much. However when you find someone that does know their stuff the extra few dollars that they charge can be well worth it.

Day 220

It is always a nice feeling going to work the day after the barn had a winner. Worked a couple of the 2 year olds out of the gate and they went well. Both are about ready to start though they are probably not sprinters and will do better as the distances get longer. My best two year old just isn't quite right and I am being cautious with him as I try to figure out what is bothering him. Hired a new blacksmith a few weeks ago and I am really happy with his work.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Day 219

Surfer Rosa, the two year old filly that drew post 10 in the turf race, unleashed a furious rally down the stretch to just get up to break her maiden today. Shane Sellers rode her cleverly, easing his way over to the rail on the turn which ultimately made the difference. Shane has always ridden well for me over the years and despite his sometime controversial stances of the past I was happy to see him move his tack to AP. I was a little skeptical of her chances since she drew so far wide with so short of a run to the turn and while I thought she would like the turf, a yielding course was something that she has never encountered. It was really nice to win for the owner who has had a rough year on and off the track and for the guys at the barn who work so hard every day.

Replay of the race

Monday, August 9, 2010

Day 218

Did a little gate schooling with Joe the Dude and Prospect Knight. Both did well, not that far from running. I have been criticized in the past as a trainer that is too passive with his two year olds (like that is a bad thing) yet I almost never have had stock that is suited to two year old racing. Funny how some really great trainers are praised for being patient (Mott, Frankel, Drysdale, etc) yet I get crap about not getting my horses to the races soon enough. I am not saying that I am in the same league as those guys as they are all hall of famers, practically legendary in fact, yet no one would ever expect those guys to be running their horses in June of their 2 year old year. Not because they aren't great trainers but because of their style of training and the type of horses that they have. Yet Mott and Frankel both were great claiming trainers prior to becoming known as turf/older horse guys and despite being known mostly as a grass trainer, Drysdale's best work was with dirt horses, AP Indy and Fu Peg. I really don't want to rush my babies and have no real desire to start trying to win a bunch of 4 1/2 furlong races but if I had a bunch of Swiss Yodlers in the barn I would.

Day 217

Graphite Halo ran 5th tonight at Penn National. She didn't run particularly bad but didn't really run that good either. To say that she has been a bit of a disappointment this year is an understatement. I am going to try something completely different with her next start and hopefully that will lead to a better performance.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Day 216

More rain! More light training schedules! Entered a 2 year old filly in a 5 furlong turf race and wound up in a 12 horse field! A few weeks ago this race didn't fill and now they have 12 and an also eligible? I guess the massive number of two year olds on the grounds may finally start to pay some dividends.

Was looking through the Saratoga sale results. First time in a long time that I didn't attend and from the looks of it a lot of peoples money didnt attend either. There aren't any new buyers coming into the game for various reasons and many of the old buyers have become sellers. The rare new people with any financial power that are coming into the game are cattle herded to the chosen few and soon become part of the 'establishment'.

Day 215

Lots of rain, not much serious training. Philadelphia Park is closing the main track (only track) for as they put it, "at least two weeks" for renovations which has caused us to have to send three horses to Penn National for the next 10 days to train and hopefully race. I understand and support them fixing the racetrack as it is the only track in the country that is open for racing from January 1st to December 31st. However it makes for an interesting three weeks (hopefully).

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Day 214

Had to make a tough decision today on the fate of one of the cheaper horses in the stable today. She hasn't been racing in good form and is already competing at the bottom level. Unlike so many of the bottom rung claimers, she doesn't really have many physical issues and because of that I decided that it would be in her best interest to retire prior to her developing issues. We could have easily sold her for a couple thousand dollars to someone at Penn National or Thistledowns but is a check for $1500 worth the lack of peace of mind that entering her into a highly respected retirement program brings? Despite the stable not being overflowing with cash at the present time I would be hypocritical to take the money instead of insuring a hard trying though not all that talented filly a good home. While it seems like I am taking a victory lap for a seemingly easy decision, several recent high profile cases have shown that many in this business simply don't seem to care about the fate of their horses.

On another topic, the business of horse racing is in a free fall that those in charge seem to either not care about or are simply blinded by their own self interests. As the racing and breeding world shrinks, the power and money continue to shift to the chosen few while leaving a wide swath of bodies in its wake. Here in Chicago there is a sense of real fear that there may not only be a negative announcement concerning racing dates and purses upcoming after the Arlington Million, but that next summers meet is in jeopardy as well. The politicians have not been very helpful in Illinois but from my standpoint there is no real plan in addition to adding slot machines which if allowed are a short term fix unless the other issues are addressed.

The pool of overall owners is shrinking and the few well heeled people that enter the game are whisked off to "Supertrainerland" before the ink on their first purchases' check is dry. The issues that this creates and reasons why it is bad for the sport on the whole are many. First of all it keeps the other 95% of trainers grasping for straws, often cutting deal with less than ideal owners to keep from being completely eliminated. The owners that can't or won't afford to be part of the Supertrainer posse are usually ones that come with baggage. They either want to tell the trainer what to do or they don't or won't pay the bills either in a timely fashion or at all in some cases. That leads to the vendors (vets, blacksmiths, feed man, etc,) reducing the amount of credit that they can extend, putting everyone in a bind since trainers bill on a 30 day net basis. Now the trainers are forced to put up more of their own money to cover the owners bills which leads to more broke trainers. Broke trainers become desperate ones which leads to more willing to "take an edge" to try to increase their win percentages especially so since the Supertrainers who receive positives never seem to have bad tests slow down their business. It is amazing that a sport where roughly 90% of owners lose money, most continue to hire trainers chiefly based upon win percentages despite in many cases keeping those win percentages up causes owners to lose money. The supertrainer is less willing to take a shot in a stake where a horses residual value could increase far more than the purse they are running for. Or they are willing to run a horse for a claiming purse less than a horse is worth in order to win without regard for the owner losing the horse for less than market value. Not to mention the higher day rates (basically for the same thing) and astronomical vet bills since horses in these barns are on "programs" whether they need it or not.

That is just from the owners standpoint. For the sports health these monopolies are killing the game at the highest levels. The supertrainer almost always has overlapping stakes horses in the various conditions and as such will usually choose to split them up rather than run them in the best races. When this happens in two or three barns you wind up with 5 horse grade 1 races and certain horses that deserve a chance in those races winding up running in a lesser race somewhere else so as to avoid the trainers conflict of interest. Add that to the fact that because the supertrainers now want to "space" races to the extreme, the regular trainers who don't do likewise are chastised as not being savvy enough to "campaign" stakes class runners. Believe me it is far easier to train stakes horses than any other type of horse. You can map out your plan months in advance and have viable backup options if there is an issue of some sort. Sure there is pressure to win but it pales in comparison to needing to win a race with a not so great horse in order to make payroll that week.

The truth of it is that it isn't the trainers fault that things have gotten to be like this. There were rules on the books at many tracks that were written to prevent a few trainers from dominating to the degree that they have. However these rules are either not enforced or were eliminated. The irony in the criticism of LeBron James teaming up with other NBA stars in Miami is that it is a common occurrence in horse racing as the owners flock to the same few names, choosing to join forces as opposed to trying to beat them. TVG and HRTV serve as infomercials as the same names get all the press week after week as they always have the players in the biggest races. The bastardization of the top level of the game has left the sport with no real rivalries outside of the made up Rachael Alexandra/Zenyatta rivalry which exists strictly on Internet chat rooms, not on the racetrack. Supertrainers say the right things, never take a stance on anything and are as dull as dull can be. There are no more rivalries on the track. It just isn't in the best interests of the trainers to let that happen. Better to ship to Iowa and win the grade 3 at 3/5 than take on the best competition, win or lose. Basically for the most part graded stakes quality horses embark on schedules that look like an SEC football teams non-conference schedules, ie. cupcake city!!! Why run in a tough race where you could possibly lose when you can win in style in a listed stake somewhere?

It may sound like sour grapes coming from another trainer who would be happy to take the scraps from the uber trainers but that doesn't mean that I am not 100% correct. The sad thing is that the only people that can change it won't because as always they have their own self interests at hand.

 Even if it is killing the goose that lays increasingly fewer golden eggs.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Day 213

Sometimes it is almost comical how inaccurate morning workout times can be. Just this morning I had four different sets of horses workout. The first horse worked alone and I caught him in 37.80 while the clockers gave him an official time for 38. No problem. The second horse I worked went in company with a horse of Austin Smith's. I had my horse in 48 flat. The clockers? No time. The third horse went in 51.20 which is what both the clockers and I had. The fourth set is where the problem comes about. My two horses broke off with the inside horse trailing the outside one by about 2 lengths. The inside horse collared the outside horse at the 1/8th pole and was 3 clear at the wire. I clocked the leader in 47.80 which if you take into consideration the 2 lengths behind he was beginning the work puts the work in the 47.40 - 47.60 territory and gives the outside horse a time in the 48.40 range. No time was forthcoming from the clockers after the work so when I looked up the time later in the day on imagine my surprise seeing 51 posted for both horses. So I was on the same page with the clockers in timing my other workers but was over 3 seconds off on this one? The fact that one horse clearly outworked the other and yet they get the same time (wrong time!) is really telling. There is really no way to verify workout times and because of that we have situations like this where the public will be given inaccurate information and there is really no recourse or way to prove that this information is not correct. Not to mention my owners questioning me when I tell them how well their horse worked and them seeing a time 3 seconds slower in the official workouts.

Day 212

We didn't do a whole lot with the Chicago horses as many are scheduled to breeze tomorrow. Graphite Halo breezed well at Philly and we entered her and she got in a cheap claiming race at Penn National for Wednesday night.

Kickin n Screamin didn't do much running in the 2nd at Philly today, though winning was going to be a tall task with the presence of a big class dropper who looked like she would control the pace. But Kickin didn't show her usual grit and was pretty much done with 3 furlongs yet to run. That was her 2nd poor race in a row though last time out she ran on a ridiculously hot day and showed some signs of heat stroke afterwards. However she has trained really well recently and for a 7 year old is remarkably sound and it was troubling to see her drop back with no fight. With fillies especially there sometimes comes a point where they simply dont want to do it anymore despite appearing fine physically. The fact that she is 7 years old also plays a factor as I don't want to beat the proverbial 'dead horse' and the economic reality is that horses running at the level she competes at have to earn all the time to make sense keeping them in training. In her particular case she isn't a very good broodmare prospect nor is she really much of an off the track performer either.

Day 211

Did a little gate schooling with a few of the two year olds. The gate crew at AP is very good, I have nothing but good things to say about them. Redboard King ran a disappointing race at Philadelphia Park in his first race around two turns. He was hounded by two hopeless horses for the first half mile which led to him setting fractions a little stronger than we were hoping for. He tired in the lane to finish 5th which wasn't terrible especially considering not getting clear on the lead but I admit to feeling that he should have held on better in the stretch.

We have so few older racehorses that it stings when one disappoints. When I had a larger stable it was easier to just turn the page and move on to the next one but having so few horses and owning a bigger stake in more of them makes the disappointments even tougher. The stable really depends on purse earnings to function and when we dont capitalize on a good spot it is harder than it used to be when there was more revenue flowing into the barn. Having a high percentage of two year olds make up the stable roster raises the potential ceiling but makes it a rough go until they start to get to the races and begining to pay for themselves. Ultimately we need to move a few of these horses along via private sale or claim box but when we aren't seeing replacements coming into the barn that is a slippery slope as well.