Horse players and owners in horse racing partnerships love the “Big Day” of stakes laden cards. Racetracks hold these events as a way to boost handle and attendance as well as generate interest in the media. The recent Belmont Stakes Festival of Racing is a prime example of a racetrack embracing the mentality and making it even bigger. The festival featured 19 stakes races held Thursday through Sunday with purses worth around $10 million. On Belmont Stakes day itself, 10 of the 19 stakes races were held worth a staggering $7.5 million making it the second biggest day in terms of purses distrusted second only to Breeders Cup Saturday.
Topics: Opinion Piece
With the beginning of summer here the best of what horse racing has to offer is officially underway. The days of freezing temperatures and less daylight are a distant memory, at least for the next couple months. Traditional summer meets are gathering steam with several looming boldly on the outside. One of the benefits of investing in horse racing partnerships is that instead of owning one horse, you can own shares in many horses – FROM COAST TO COAST. It truly is the most wonderful time of the year.
Topics: Opinion Piece
In our most recent blog “Seriously, how much does it cost to own a racehorse”, the costs of ownership were broken down to around $45,000 for routine maintenance and training fees excluding stakes nominations costs. Keep in mind that the costs are generally split between shareholders of horse racing partnerships making them a little more affordable. Many people go into horse ownership for the thrills and the experience, but in the end horse racing partnerships are a business with the end goal of producing a profit for its partners.
Topics: Opinion Piece
To the casual observer, a horse’s race day routine appears mundane. However, your horse racing partnerships horse’s journey from barn to paddock to post includes interactions with a variety of individuals who work to ensure the safety of the athletes and the integrity of the race. Below are just some of the people who directly or indirectly interact with a Thoroughbred when it is entered to race:
Regulatory veterinarian: When a horse is entered to race, it is visited by a regulatory veterinarian on the morning of the event. The regulatory veterinarian conducts a pre-race exam of the horse to ensure its racing soundness, and he or she can recommend that the horse be scratched if a problem is suspected. There is also at least one regulatory veterinarian who watches horses in the paddock, in the post parade, and at the starting gate. He or she can decide any time up until the race goes off to recommend that a horse be scratched. Regulatory veterinarians are employed by the state/racing association, not by owners or managing partners of thoroughbred partnerships and trainers, so they serve as objective advocates for the horse.
Horse Identifier: If you watch horses enter the paddock before a race, you may notice someone crouching to get a look at the inside of each horse’s upper lip. This person is the horse identifier, and his/her job is to make sure that the horse that is entered to race is the horse that is brought to the paddock and runs the race. Horses are currently identified by a tattoo on their upper lip that consists of a letter and five numbers. Microchips will be become mandatory in 2017. The horse identifier also uses pictures provided by The Jockey Club of each horse to confirm that the documented colors and markings of the entered horse match.
Paddock Judge: Have you ever wondered who decides when jockeys can mount their horses and go to the racetrack in one coordinated proceeding? Who stops a trainer from adding blinkers to a horse without getting the stewards’ approval? These are just some of the responsibilities of the paddock judge. As the name would suggest, the paddock judge is in charge of the operations of the paddock. His job is to make sure that all horses arrive to the paddock before the race on time and that they leave to go to the track on time. The paddock judge also makes sure that each horse is wearing approved equipment. For example, he may scratch a horse for wearing prohibited horse shoes, and he will not let a horse add or drop blinkers for a race without prior consent of the track stewards.
Starter/Assistant Starter: The assistant starter has one of the most dangerous jobs in all of sports. An assistant starter’s job is to safely walk a horse into the starting gate and keep its head straight so that it is afforded a fair start when the gates open. When you are dealing with naturally claustrophobic animals in a tight, metal space, this is easier said than done. Assistant starters wear safety vests and helmets to protect themselves from horses that may rear, flip, and/or thrash in the starting gate. Before a horse can be entered to race for the first time, it must earn its gate card from the starting gate crew, which is achieved through schooling at the gate during training hours in the morning.
Stewards: The stewards are rarely seen, but their influence is pervasive at the track during a race day. When interference occurs during a race or a jockey lodges an objection, the stewards are the people who decide whether or not there should be a disqualification. Additionally, stewards will put horses who perform poorly on the steward’s list. This will prevent the horse from being entered in a race until it works out under a specified time in front of the stewards. When stewards are not adjudicating races, they may be holding hearings or writing reports. The stewards are responsible for the conduct of races and to make sure that the state rules are enforced.
The next time you head to the racetrack, keep an eye out for these men and women who make racing safe and fair for everyone involved!
Topics: Opinion Piece
As an owner in horse racing partnerships one makes the occasional wager every now and then. One of the most popular wagers in the industry is the Pick 6 which gives horse players the chance at a life changing score. The first Pick 6 was introduced at the now defunct Hollywood Park in 1980. Since then many tracks have taken on the wager and have been successful in doing so. The traditional Pick 6 is a $2 base wager and will payout the total pool should the sequence be hit to the number of tickets with that combination. Selecting six winners in a row is a challenge in itself and the base price of $2 can make the bet both enticing and investment prohibitive.
Topics: Opinion Piece
In the aftermath of the Preakness Stakes last weekend, I was expecting that my non-racing friends and family would ask me about Exaggerator, the horse who finally defeated his rival, the undefeated Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist, in a thrilling race on Saturday afternoon. Who owns him? Is he part of a thoroughbred partnership? Much to my dismay, my post-Preakness conversations were not about the efforts of Exaggerator and Nyquist.
Rather, they were focused on Homeboykris and Pramedya, two horses who died earlier in the day. I had seen social media quickly blow up with links to articles about these deaths on Saturday afternoon, but I was not expecting them to be the lead story of the weekend. A common theme among the sources that was noted by myself and fellow horse racing fans was that these news outlets ignore horse racing 362 days a year (with the exceptions being the dates of the Triple Crown races). Thus, their limited “coverage” is skewed at best and wrong at worst.
We cannot help but become frustrated when my social media feeds are swarmed with comments from anti-racing people who come out of the woodwork whenever the mainstream media decides to shine a spotlight on the darkest parts of Thoroughbred racing. Unfortunately, racing suffers immensely from a lack of central leadership, and this deficiency often prevents the sport from standing up for itself when necessary. However, this does not mean that racing fans, those who are most frequently questioned about the sport that we love so much, cannot stand up for it and educate our friends and family who are willing to listen.
When a Thoroughbred dies of a heart attack, the casual observer needs to understand that the horse was not drugged, raced, or abused into cardiac arrest. He or she must realize that “drugs” should not be the scapegoat every time a horse suffers a catastrophic injury. They need to know that strict testing programs are in place to catch and punish anyone who tries to cheat and/or compromise a horse’s safety. Those who hate horse racing claim that people within the industry are apathetic toward equine fatalities. We wonder how many of these people have seen the outpouring of emotions at the track and on social media when a horse dies on the racetrack.
If the mainstream media will not tell the masses every part of racing’s story, then the knowledgeable racing fan must teach the casual observer that a riding crop/whip/stick is a tool, not a weapon. Like any tool, it is effective when used correctly. When it is misused, criticism of the user, not the whip itself, is warranted. If PETA and other animal rights groups will not acknowledge the countless organizations that exist to rehome ex-racehorses, then it is our duty as people who love racing and know about racing to debunk the ridiculous myth that all “slow” horses are sent to slaughter.
At first, we hated that tragedy has dominated my conversations about Preakness weekend. However, I have taken these discussions as an opportunity to teach those who would otherwise be left to form their opinions about horse racing from the warped portrait painted by mainstream media. I hope that people ask me the tough questions that mainstream media sources choose not to answer unless it will result in increased viewership and/or readership. I hope all passionate fans join me in embracing this questioning. The horse racing industry is far from perfect, but we should be the ones telling our story.
Topics: Opinion Piece
The topic of takeout in horse racing as is one that is highly contentious in the industry for the horse racing customer. The customer’s understanding of this concept varies as much as the condition books for tracks across the country. The casual fan may not even be aware of what takeout is while the more seasoned player uses it as a map of where they choose to play. Simply put, takeout is the fee the racetrack and horse owners charge to put on the racing performance. Las Vegas Sports Books and bookies have a similar fee. They call it “the juice”.
In horse racing the “juice” is generally 20%. This fee is a percentage of the handle wagered on the race card for the day. In other words, if $100,000 is placed to “win” on a race, the house (ie racetrack, and horse owners) removes $20,000 with $80,000 split by all the gamblers with the winning ticket. The actual percentage of each bet varies by racing jurisdiction. A great website for horse players is Horseplayers Association of North America. You can find the takeout rates in each jurisdiction there.
Topics: Opinion Piece
Prior to 1937 race tracks placed 3 stewards at the finish line so when two+ horses crossed the wire together, they would look at each other and vote on who won. Obviously, this inexact science created arguments, and controversy, especially in big money races. Can you imagine today if a million dollar Pick 6 was decided by three judges?
This all changed in 1937 when Bing Crosby unveiled the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club. Bing wanted to do things differently. We know he enlisted all of his Hollywood boys to add a little panache (and of course help finance and build the race track) to the new race meeting. He also did something that changed horse racing forever. He brought in Paramount Pictures motion picture engineer Lorenzo Del Riccio, who had just recently created a new circular flow camera. This new device started the film when an object - in this case a horse’s nose - hit a specific point and began filming in the opposite direction. The famous instrument was used for the first time on opening day at Del Mar in 1937.
As you can imagine this was revolutionary to the world of thoroughbred horse racing and tracks across the country called Del Riccio who was more than willing to sell them the newly patented camera. Hollywood lore has it that when Del Riccio created the camera he was under an exclusive contract with Paramount Pictures and the story goes Paramount began chasing him from town to town until a deal was reached.
How it works is technical. The circular flow camera uses a single vertical slit instead of a shutter; a strip of film moves horizontally across the fine vertical opening located in the focal plane. This limits the field of vision to no more than a few inches, the restricted field being aligned with the vertical line on the winning post on which the lens was focused. The strip film moved across the slit in the opposite direction to the race and at substantially the same speed as the rate of movement of the image of the horses as it passed the finishing line. This kept the image of the horses stationary with respect to the film. As soon as the first horse started to pass over the line, the camera began to record its image on the moving film from the nose backwards along the length of the body in succession. This produced a strip photographic record of the horses as they passed the vertical plane/winning post. Film was advanced continuously at a pace equivalent to the average speed of a racing horse, resulting in distortions of length but still preserving the order of finishers.
Improvements were developed to Del Ricco’s invention in 1948 by Australian Bertram Pearl whose system incorporated a mirror and neon-pulse time signature in the winning-post which would provide a precisely aligned image in which both sides of the horses could be viewed, and on which the neon left a set of stripes at 100th/sec intervals for accurate timing. If the reflected image of the horses aligned vertically exactly with the foreground image, it was proof that the camera was not viewing the finish-line at an angle (and therefore incorrectly recording the horses' relative positions). Pearl’s partner was his friend, society portraitist Athol Shmith and his contribution was to formulate means to speed the processing of the strip of negative down to 55 seconds and then to a rapid 35 seconds.
Although digital cameras are now used for photo finishes, the technology developed by Del Riccio was instrumental in reassuring gamblers they were betting on fair outcomes, and helped bring horse racing maintain its popularity in American culture.
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On Sunday, July 3, 1977 my grandfather picked us up from my mom’s house and we started our regular drive to Hollywood Park. I was 8. My sister Emily was 5. We were in our Sunday best. All dressed up because we were fortunate enough to sit up in the Director’s Room with all the Hollywood big wigs. Plus, we had to look good for self proclaimed style-master, Grandma Rudee. I was most looking forward to the delicious roast beef (of which I often had seconds and thirds from the buffet) and I had spent most of the night before going over the Racing Form to get my picks ready. Gramps gave us each $10 to bet with. My $10 was generally spent on the daily double while Em's lasted all day. She even offered to pay Gramps back the original $10 bucks if she still had it at the end of the day. I usually went back for $10 more after I had lost the first race.
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As anticipated, the OBS March ended in fine fashion today with another seven figure buy pushing the sale just south of the 2015 installment.Following an uptick day of trading, OBS reported an overall two-day gross of $51,650,000 versus $55,432,000 in 2015 for the same 325 horses sold. The two-day average fell from $170,560 to $158,923. The RNA rate was 25%, compared with 23% a year ago. Overall, my thoughts are similar to yesterday. The middle market is not what it used to be at these sales with the big buyers competing for the same limited number of high end horses and strangely not wanting to dial back to the next tier horse. With the bulk of Kentucky Derby winners (and countless stakes horses) sold in the mid-range level, it surprises me that the best and brightest take a herd like mentality to horse trading.
As for LRF, Day 2 was productive. Before we begin, I must digress for a minute. In 2013, our horse Egg Drop won three consecutive stakes races, including the Grade I Matriarch (the last GI at Hollywood Park). Eggy was sold in 2014 in foal to Tapit for $1.9m to John Malone’s Bridlewood Farm. Early this morning, we were invited to pay a visit to the historic farm where we saw Eggy, who is literally about to foal any second (again to Tapit). We also met her first son, aptly named Won Ton. That’s her (assistant at the time) trainer Phil D’Amato and funny enough, as soon as she saw Phil her ears pricked like when she was in training. We had a tremendous time. It was a nice breath of fresh air during the middle of the sales storm. It reminded us why this sport is so beautiful.
Back to the sale. Our short list got shorter early in the day when our vets scratched off two horses….leaving us with four. We went hard for Hip #331, a Tiz Wonderful colt, but we stopped at $200k and lost him when he went for $210k to a co-ownership that includes one of the biggest owners in the game - B. Wayne Hughes (Beholder). So, we felt good being on the “right” horse and had no regrets not spending another $5k since when B. Wayne Hughes wants a horse he usually gets it.
At this point, with only three horses left, we re-visited Hip #60 which if you recall was bought back by his owner yesterday for $70k. The horse was still for sale - which gave us relief that we may walk away with a quality horse we wanted all along. Still, we didn’t pull the trigger again!
Someone might ask, clearly you don’t want Hip #60 since it is still technically #4 on your list. Not true. We just wanted to play out our options. My favorite story to tell is when we buy multiple horses and everyone inevitably asks which one we like best/least. In almost every case the horse we place as the “last seed" ALWAYS ends up being the best. If we are still considering a horse at this stage, we think very highly of it.
Next up was Hip #524 - a super Pioneerof the Nile Colt who worked in a fast 10.1. We heard the reserve was going to be around $250k which placed him at the high end of our budget for the horse but we kept our spirits up. We raised our hand a couple of times but then the bidding flew past $250k. Then $350k. Our thoroughbred syndicate competitor Eclipse Thoroughbreds and Kentucky Derby winning bloodstock agent (I’ll Have Another) Dennis O’Neill were hooked up against each other with Aron winning at $450k. Before you ask, yes it sucks losing a horse to a competitor, but we placed a different value and stuck to our guns.
We didn’t have to wait long for our next horse - Hip #535 - a really nice Union Rags Filly out of an A.P. Indy mare. The reserve was $199k and we felt we had a decent chance at getting the horse in the $200k range. That feeling went away quickly as the horse jumped past $200k…on its way to $300k and sold to top bloodstock agent Donato Lanni.
With one horse left on our list, Team LRF had a serious discussion about Hip #60. This led to another visit of the colt….and a purchase. By Congrats out of an unraced Kingmambo dam what we liked most about this horse was his quick breeze and the way he looked effortlessly doing it. It also doesn’t hurt to have a nice pedigree with the dam being a half sister to Hard Spun. We also hope this horse is ready to run early. We look forward to getting him to So Cal for a Del Mar debut.
Last, but not least, we made a run at Hip #597 and consistent with our sale we got outbid drastically by our friends at Live Oak Plantation ($375k).
Leaving the sale with one nice horse is not ideal but very productive. We spend countless dollars and time at each sale whether we buy something or not. It’s our operating cost. We can’t factor that into the number we buy since in the end each horse we purchase must meet a high standard and inevitably perform on the racetrack. If it doesn't, your brand suffers. I feel good knowing we try to present the best product to our clients and the results recently reflect the hard work.
That's it for the 2016 OBS March Sale. I hope you enjoyed these blogs. We liked sharing our thoughts with you. If you have any questions, just email us.
Topics: Opinion Piece