You hear a lot about the need for more transparency in horse racing, but let me provide a current example of how the sport’s long track record of secrecy and disdain for horse players continues to rear its ugly head.
Complaints about the sport’s lack of transparency often revolve around secrecy surrounding stewards’ deliberations or the quiet dismissal of positive drug tests by racing regulators.
But an ongoing contract dispute between Churchill Downs and Nevada casinos over simulcasting offers another example of how the industry’s default secrecy setting is detrimental to the sport.
On Oct. 27, bettors who visited their local Nevada racebook to bet on opening day of the Churchill Downs’ fall meet learned that a contract dispute between Churchill Downs Inc. and the Nevada Parimutuel Association meant that the track was “blacked out” across the Silver State.
As the dispute dragged on, signals from Fair Grounds and Turfway Park, both owned by Churchill Downs Inc., also were withheld. If the deadlock is not broken, that presumably also will apply to the openings of the spring meets at Churchill Downs on April 28 and Arlington Park on May 1 — not to mention the Kentucky Derby card May 2.
In the intervening months I have repeatedly called and emailed Churchill Downs, the Parimutuel Association, the Kentucky HBPA, Nevada gaming regulators and anyone else I could think of who might know what the dispute is about. I might as well have locked myself in a closet and shouted myself hoarse.
The Nevada Parimutuel Association, which represents the state’s casinos in negotiations for simulcast signals, did not return calls seeking a comment. Likewise the Kentucky HBPA.
The Nevada Gaming Control Board, which has a mission statement that includes “maintaining public confidence in gaming,” declined to comment.
I repeatedly called and emailed Churchill Downs Inc. before I received this email on Wednesday from spokeswoman Tonya Abeln, which simply said, “We do not have a comment on the dispute, but hope that it can be resolved so horse racing fans of Nevada may once again wager on races taking place at the home of the Kentucky Derby.”
Now I understand that there are strategic reasons why you wouldn’t want to air your business disputes in public. But is it too much to ask that interested parties at least treat horse players as if they had a stake in the game and provide the most basic details about the nature of the dispute?
I’ll leave it to you to come up with the answer.
#RJhorseracing handicapping contest
A new 12-week contest offering handicappers the opportunity to compete against fellow readers begins this week with an interesting 1-mile turf allowance race for older males at Tampa Bay Downs and the $200,000 La Canada Stakes at Santa Anita, a Grade 3 for fillies and mares run at 1 1/16th miles on the main track.
There’s also a fabulous prize on the line for this contest: a copy of the Hor$ense Expert 2019 handicapping software, donated by Joe Mainardi, an #RJhorseracinghandicapper, will go to the winner.
Joe, an #RJhorseracinghandicapper since this column’s debut in June 2017, began developing Hor$ense way back in 1987 as a DOS program and released the Expert version in 2015. It was enhanced again last year, and just received the highest rating of any program in the January issue of Phillips Newsletter.
In the former, which looks like a wide-open race, the handicapping crew is lining up behind Hope Again, 6-1 on the morning line. They have King Cause (3-1) to place and Mountain Holiday (8-1) filling out the minor placings.
I’ll try my luck with That Quality (7-2) who returns from a long layoff for trainer Jonathan Thomas, who excels with such runners. I’ve got J Beresford Tipton (5-2) to place and U S Navy Cross, the 2-1 morning line favorite if he draws in off the also-eligible list, to show.
In the La Canada, the crowd ‘cappers are strongly backing 5-2 morning line favorite Spiced Perfection to get her photo taken. They see Queen Bee to You (3-1) and Horologist (4-1) completing the trifecta.
Spiced Perfection, a two-time Grade 1 winner, does have a class edge over this group, and should be able to work out a good trip from the outside under Joel Rosario, but I think fresh face Horologist might be able to spring the upset. I’ll use Spiced Perfection in second and Zusha (15-1) to inject some value.
Ellis Starr’s La Canada Stakes analysis
Der Lu gets the ground saving rail and is on an improving pattern of Equibase Speed Figures, which bodes very well for her chances to post the mild upset in this race. She won in her debut in August of 2018 when sprinting 6 1/2 furlongs, then not only stretched out to two turns but moved from the maiden ranks to stakes for the Chandelier Stakes but only managed fourth. Sent to the sidelines for nine months, Der Lu ran poorly in her first two starts as a 3-year-old last year, finishing fourth in a dirt sprint then fifth in a turf route. However, when put in a dirt route last October, Der Lu came through with flying colors to win by nearly five lengths, earning a career-best 100 figure in the process. In that race, Der Lu relaxed in third for the first half-mile, about two lengths off a very fast pace. However, in the La Canada I believe jockey Drayden Van Dyke will use the rail position to his advantage and that should mean Der Lu can successfully play “come catch me” with the field.
Horologist won four races in a row last spring and summer, culminating with victory in the Monmouth Oaks at the distance of the La Canada. After a third-place effort in the much tougher Cotillion Stakes in September, Horologist was shortened up to 7 furlongs for the Raven Run Stakes and ran poorly to be ninth of 10. However, noting the Monmouth Oaks was her first start after more than two months off and noting she is returning from a little over two months off for the La Canada, Horologist may be capable of firing a shot good enough to win, particularly as the 101 figure earned in the Monmouth Oaks is on par with the figure Der Lu earned in her most recent race. Jockey Joe Bravo comes in from the east to ride and was in the saddle for the first three of those four straight wins last year, another sign this filly is a strong contender in this race.
Queen Bee to You enters the race off a two-race winning streak, first in the Betty Grable Stakes at 7 furlongs then in the Bayakoa Stakes at the distance of the La Canada. Having earned 109 and 107 figures, respectively, in those two races, Queen Bee to You stands out here if none of the others improve. If there is a question about her ability to win this race, it’s that her career record over the Santa Anita main track is 1-3-3 in nine races. However, in her current form, Queen Bee to You would be no surprise winning the La Canada Stakes.
Spiced Perfection has the best overall stakes credentials in the race, having won the Madison Stakes (with a career-best 101 figure) last spring and the Go For Wand Stakes last month. However, both those races were run around one turn, at distances of 7 furlongs and 1 mile, respectively. The last time Spiced Perfection raced around two turns was in the Melair Stakes in June 2018, a race in which she was second and a head behind the leader at the top of the stretch and ended up second, a half-length behind the leader at the finish. Similarly, in the Soviet Problem Stakes in late 2017, Spiced Perfection was in front by a head in the stretch and ended up second, beaten three-quarters of a length.
The rest of the field, with their best representative Equibase Speed Figures: Kaydetre (95), Message (93), Starr of Quality (99) and Zusha (102).
Ellis Starr is the national racing analyst for Equibase. Visit the Equibase website for more on the race or to purchase handicapping products.