Tuesday, November 30, 2010

How the 5k Claimer Saved Hawthorne

What do handicappers really care about? Thrilling races? Not really. Fair playing tracks? Definitely not. Big stakes races? Maybe. Large fields? Ding ding ding YES! This is the key to the capper's heart -- or so says the handle at Hawthorne. With drastic purse cuts and a 4-day meet that cut out Sunday, Hawthorne has gone lean to attract the moldering core of railbirds who demand value. And they have succeeded. But what does this mean for Illinois horseman -- the ones that didn't leave?

Maybe it helped push Chris Block into going after the big races. Over the weekend he took down a Grade II and a Grade I in Louisville. I can't think of a trainer who's more deserving. He's also done OK at Hawthorne, but the exodus of good trainers and stock has been hastened by the lack of pecuniary enticement. Maybe that's not a terrible thing that the horses are heading down south to places like Tampa and Calder. Fair Grounds too. I'd rather be there, though there are no state restricted races they can sweep up to sweeten the idea of breeding in Illinois, but what are you gonna do? (This is where you say "Slots Railbird! Stop being dense!)

I guess my biggest fear would be that once you cut purses like this, you have no chance of getting trainers back that have moseyed their strings to sunnier climbs. But, that seemed to be inevitable. 5k claiming races aren't as fun to watch trackside, but attendance wasn't really surging in Stickney either. So, they did what had to be done. I haven't capped many days at Hawthorne because I don't like 5k claiming races much. But I still like the brown feel of Hawthorne in winter, listening to the old timers' bedraggled lungs belting out numbers, the latinos chirping at TV screens and the smokestacks sending noxious plumes over the south side.

Monday, November 29, 2010

GIANT OAK to the rescue

The Clark Handicap ushered out the 2010 season, which like the race went out swinging. Somehow through the illuminated dust-up Giant Oak's big run finally came through. Not first to the wire, Giant Oak has always been a gentlemanly horse, GO won thanks to the contrary nature of Successful Dan who learned the price of Success at all costs: a DQ. Dan's French cargo, Julien Leparoux, got three days for failure to control his bump- and grind-happy mount. Watching the race it looked like Successful Dan might have been reacting to some very precarious angling by the ten horse, but in his efforts he blasted the surging Redding Coillery about three times. Speaking of Redding, he kept away from the front end and was running a very smart race. Keep your eyes on him if he sticks around.

Zenyatta's loss in the Breeders Cup Classic will probably define the year. Though the game in Illinois faces bigger losses if the huge purse cut at Hawthorne and the looming charge of the one-armed bandit point to the future. How ironic that an Illinois Bred, Giant Oak, should take down the G.I Clark Handicap just as Hawthorne's purse cuts which support Illinois-breds takes a hit.

I've said before, I'm not excited about slots making their way onto the oval. The cheaper the criminal the gaudier the patter -- one of my favorite lines from the Maltese Falcon sums up my sentiments for the prospect of slots. But that's just my snobbery. The real problem strings back to the complicated nature of horse racing in America, which was for a long while given the lone provenance of legal gambling. It was provided this because it was able to use our more base, human nature to promote the bettering of our equine stock. We needed to do more than award 4-H blue ribbons at state fairs to keep our animal husbandry up to snuff. Since gambling, like the rest of technology and modern world, has unfettered itself from the horse, the racing industry's perils continue. Maybe a complete rethinking of the Illinois meets and the idea that less is more might be the answer, but most in the industry disagree.

Unfortunately I have no answer. I'd love to see the tracks hold off the bandits, but that thinking is very wishful.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Breeders Cup Recap

I haven't blogged in while. While the national economy has petered, the railbird's free time has come under fire. I've been a passive fan, fans. Giant Oak lost, Goldikova won -- not much has changed. A lot has happened though. The Breeders Cup was pretty fascinating this year, thanks mostly to the queen Zenyatta. Does she go down as a horse of the ages? She does. Don't listen to fools who suggest that the fact that much of her career was on sythetic diminishes or even qualifies more narrowly any of her achievements. Kincsmen's record as best racemare remains, but Zenyatta sits second alongside Miss Woodford.

Bad Behavior
So what's worse Borel's rage or team Pletcher's incompetence? Life at Ten raced while not fit, and it should have been avoided. It's all still under investigation. I should reserve judgment till all the info is in. But watching her break after the jockey stated on national tv that she wasn't her usual self was very disturbing. 

I wasn't all that disturbed by the jockey fight. It's hard to blame someone for rage when you put them and others in real danger. Race riding. It wasn't your typical Castellano ride nor typical Borel antics. I'd be lying if I said it wasn't entertaining.