Thursday, July 29, 2010

Just To Let You Know

They Are Off will be taking a short summer break for the next week while I return to Arizona after a brief hospital stay this past weekend. Everything is great and I look forward to getting some opinions and selections out there once again as quick as possible.

Tune in next week for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The BOA Challenge

I don't normally address anything other than Thoroughbred racing on this blog, but the BOA Challenge is going to Fair Grounds in New Orleans for the first time this year and frequent They Are Off contributor, Martha Claussen, has a story on the move in the latest issue of SureBet Racing News. Here is the link to her article:

Tune in tomorrow for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The 64th Oceanside Stakes

Wednesday is Opening Day at Del Mar, where the turf meets the surf. Del Mar remains one of the better legacies left by legendary crooner, Bing Crosby, along with the Pebble Beach Pro-Am, "White Christmas", and his "Road" pictures with Bob Hope. We will deviate slightly from the normal They Are Off schedule due to this and offer thoughts on the Opening Day feature: The $100,000 Oceanside Stakes:

There are several viable candidates with realistic opportunities to win this stakes race, but I will go with a 5-1 shot in #5 Hockley. The A.P. Indy product scored a nice win over an optional claiming field last time out at Hollywood on the turf on June 11. He has the second-best turf Tomlinson number in the race and David Flores will once again be in the saddle. For second, I will use the Bob Baffert trainee, #6 Macias. Macias led the Grade 3 Will Rogers at Hollywood last time out on June 20 until the stretch and this race on Wednesday is a sixteenth of a mile shorter. His two works since that last race have been outstanding, I might add. I saw #1 Face And An Ace win his last race on July 3 over the simulcast at Lincoln Race Course and he dug in to win in what appeared to be a tough spot. Brice Blanc rode that day and gets the call again here. All of this horses in-the-money results have come on the grass and he is 15-1 on the morning line. Finally, I will use the favorite as my fourth pick. #3 Twirling Candy is undefeated in two starts at Hollywood and has the top turf Tomlinson in the field. However, he has yet to go a mile and he has yet to race on the turf. There is just enough doubt here to make he think this horse is going to have to beat me out of it here. Here is the play for the $100,000 Oceanside Stakes:

$5 WP #5
$1 EX BOX 1-5-6
$1 TRI BOX 1-5-6
TOTAL- $22

Remember, They Are Off accepts no responsibility for any wagers placed in conjunction with these selections. They are merely suggestions. Tune in again tomorrow for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Let It Ride

I was perusing last week and I noticed an article that was linked to on that site about the "Ten Best Sports Movies Ever Made". The choice in the article was Burt Reynolds' "The Longest Yard". I certainly think that it is the running for a top spot on any such list, although I am not sure it is #1 overall (for a while, I might have put "The Natural" at #1 myself, but I have second thoughts about that as well). The article got me to thinking about quintessential horse racing movies. Actually, it got me thinking about the lack of quintessential horse racing movies. Honestly, can you name a really great movie about horse racing? "Seabiscuit" is the best recent attempt (although I find Tobey Maguire AMAZINGLY annoying in anything he does and Jeff Bridges should have been nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of Mr. Howard, the owner of the horse). We'll have to see what justice Disney and Diane Lane do to "Secretariat" and Penny Tweedy later this year, but the one that kept standing out to me as a true horse racing movie is "Let It Ride".

"Let It Ride" is based on a book written by Jay Cronley called "Good Vibes". By the way, one of the main gambling characters in the movie is nicknamed "Vibes". He receives one of the best lines delivered by Richard Dreyfuss in the movie after he says, "I'd bet my life on it." and Dreyfuss replies, "sorry, there's a $2 minimum bet". Dreyfuss heads up what turns out to be an unbelievably high quality cast of talent in the movie.

Dreyfuss, who won an Academy Award in 1977 for Best Actor in "The Goodbye Girl", plays the main character Jay Trotter. If you are reading this blog, I am sure you have seen the movie and you don't need me to go into details about how the movie goes, but Trotter is a compulsive gambling schlub who goes to the track with a tip his cabbie buddy, Looney, got the previous night and parlays $50 into well over $600,000, if my math is correct. Looney is portrayed by David Johanssen, who had a number one hit earlier in the 80s as Buster Poindexter called "Hot Hot Hot" and was also the leader of The New York Dolls, an underground punk music group from the 70s that Johanssen is still going strong with today. The main female character is Vicky, played by Jennifer Tilly, who would be nominated for an Academy Award herself for Best Supporting Actress in "Bullets Over Broadway" in 1995. She currently is prominent in the poker world and even has a World Series Of Poker champions bracelet for winning the Ladies' Main Event a couple of years ago. Dreyfuss' teller in the movie is played by Robbie Coltrane. Coltrane might be better known to you (or your kids) as Hagrid in the Harry Potter series of films that have been all the rage in recent years. The role of 19-year-old Evangeline, girlfriend of Sidney, is played by a very young Cynthia Nixon, who would play Miranda on "Sex And The City" and in the two movies that subsequently sprung from that series. Even the bookie in the movie, Lufkin, was played by David Schramm, who was the best thing about the TV show "Wings", playing Roy Biggins from the competing airline to Sandpiper Air. Finally, there's Michelle Phillips, who plays one of the women in the Jockey Club that endlessly flirts with Trotter. All she was was a member of the 60s music group, "The Mamas And The Papas".

Could there be more talent on display in this thing? I didn't even get to the role of Trotter's wife, played by Teri Garr, who has an Oscar nomination of her own for Best Supporting Actress in 1983's "Tootsie". I kind of left her out because all of her scenes seem to be the drag on the movie. The only funny scene she has is where she finally gives up and admits to Trotter that she will become a drunk and just consume mass quantities of alcohol so she can deal with his foibles.

Yes, I know there are some flaws in the movie, like Looney calling Lufkin to bet on the Packers, even though the game appears to have already started (hey, it could have been a pre-game highlight show). However, the story, the cast, and everything about "Let It Ride" makes me think about Dreyfuss' line near the end after Vicky propositions him. He looks straight at the camera and says, "Am I having a good day or what?" If you are watching "Let It Ride", I am positive you will be having a good day.

Tune in tomorrow for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Grade 3 $150,000 Arlington Handicap

The summer turf season is going strong at Arlington Park as we get nearer and nearer to the headline event at the Chicagoland track, the Grade 1 Arlington Million, which will be one of three Grade 1 turf races to be run there on Saturday, August 21. This Saturday is Million Preview Day at the track and They Are Off will be taking a look at the Grade 3 $150,000 Arlington Handicap at 1 1/4 miles on the turf.

#3 Rahystrada might fetch a minor price in this field at 6-1 on the morning line and he is 1 for 1 over the Arlington greenery. That one was a claiming victory last July at 1 1/16 miles. The distance might be a question for the top pick in here, given that he has yet to go a mile and a quarter. However, in his last try at Pimlico, the Grade 2 Dixie on Preakness Day, he was gaining through the stretch while in tight at the eighth pole and only ended up 1 1/4 lengths off the winner. #9 General Quarters scored a nice upset win in his last grass start in the Woodford Reserve Turf Classic on Derby Day at Churchill Downs, winning by a neck at 9-1. That was also the last time Rafael Bejarano was aboard and he gets the call here. General Quarters came back with another nice effort last time out over the main track in Louisville, running third in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster. This race will undoubtedly decide whether or not he goes on Million Day at Arlington. #2 Just As Well actually was one of two horses to beat the top pick in the Grade 2 Dixie at Pimlico. He came back in the very tough Grade 1 Manhattan on Belmont Day and finished 5th, just 2 1/2 lengths behind the winner in a crazy blanket finish. Julien Leparoux was not aboard at Belmont, but does return to the saddle here. This runner is also 2 for 2 in the top two over the Arlington grass. Finally, for a wild longshot, how about #4 Cross Village? He posted a bullet workout at Arlington on June 30 and came back to run 3rd with optional claimers on July 5. He could clearly be in over his head, especially reflected in his 30-1 morning line, but if we are going to throw in a price, why not? Here is the play for the Grade 3 $150,000 Arlington Handicap:

$5 WP #3
$1 EX BOX 2-3-4-5-9
$1 TRI 3-9 with 3-9 with 1-2-4-5
TOTAL- $38

Remember, They Are Off accepts no responsibility for any wagers made in conjunction with these selections. They are merely suggestions. Tune in again on Monday for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Boomer

For those of you who sample the links portion of this blog every so often, you will notice that one of the links on this page takes you to the website of Greg "Boomer" Wry. He is the track announcer at Yavapai Downs in Prescott, Arizona and so much more there as well. Actually, you don't need me to tell you that, you can read it for yourself in the latest version of SureBet Racing News. Here is the link:

The story on Boomer, written by John Gonzales, is on pages 9 and 10 of the issue. Boomer is one of my good friends in the racing industry. He first contacted me in 2001 when I first went to Turf Paradise as a late-season substitute for Luke Kruytbosch there. He called me while I was there to complement me on the job I was doing and we have been in contact ever since. As a matter of fact, I owe him a debt of gratitude for helping me out with a recommendation to Greg Hosch and the good folks at Lincoln Race Course for the summer part of my schedule.

Tune in tomorrow for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Luke Kruytbosch

Two years ago today, the most distinctive and compelling voice in Thoroughbred racing was stilled. Luke Kruytbosch died on July 14, 2008 at the far-too-soon age of 47. He was getting ready for another racing season at Ellis Park when he passed away in his hotel near there.

Luke was everything I aspired to be in an announcer. Whenever someone would say I reminded them of Luke, I always accepted the compliment graciously. Needless to say, it was because of phrasing or words that I used and not because of the voice. He and I would get a good chuckle when I would relay a story about how someone compared our work, because we both knew we sounded nothing alike. However, since he was my mentor in every sense of the word, I must have unconsciously picked up things he said and would repeat them in my racecalls. All I can say about that is there was no better teacher for this student to be copying from.

One of my most prized possessions is a photograph of Luke and I taken in the old announcer's booth at Churchill Downs in 2001. I ALWAYS have it in the booth whenever I am calling a race, whether it is at Turf Paradise or Lincoln Race Course or wherever I might be at a given time. The man that took that photo is another great friend of mine named Chris. Chris had the good fortune to go to the Breeders' Cup that autumn at Belmont Park. He was just minding his own business at Belmont one afternoon that week when he felt this tremendous bearhug wrap him up. It was Luke wanting to say hello and catch up on what had been happening in the intervening months since that first meeting. I told that story at a memorial service for Luke at Turf Paradise at the start of the 2008 season and added, "when you knew Luke for ten minutes, you knew him for a lifetime." I may never utter a truer sentence.

I was taken by the vast number of memories left for Luke by his passing on an internet guestbook where friends were asked to write their thoughts on him. So many of those thoughts were from people like my friend, Chris, who had a chance encounter with Luke at the track and never, ever forgot it.

As the announcer at Turf Paradise (and by the way, you will never hear or see me introduce myself as the Voice Of Turf Paradise, that will always be Luke Kruytbosch), I have the distinct pleasure of calling the Luke Kruytbosch Stakes on Opening Day of the season. I will always start that race with his trademark "They're Off And Running" simply because there is no other way to start that race and do it right. I know I am not alone when I say that I still miss Luke just about every day. There was always something comforting about listening to whatever track he might be at and know that the place was in his good hands.

Tune in tomorrow for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

George Steinbrenner

Some of my friends and family might think it odd that I will be dedicating today's post to the owner of the New York Yankees, given that I am lifelong Boston Red Sox fan. However, George Steinbrenner's passing today also affects the world of Thoroughbred racing. Steinbrenner was the man behind Kinsman Stable, which remained a successful enterprise throughout his tenure.

Steinbrenner never did win any of the Classics or Breeders' Cup races with any of his horses, but it certainly wasn't for lack of trying. In fact, Steinbrenner ended up running six horses at the Kentucky Derby from Kinsman Stable. The most famous, and most recent, of these was Bellamy Road in 2005, who went into the Derby that year as a prohibitive favorite following his crushing victory in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct. The problem with this was that Bellamy Road was a frontrunner and there was so much pace in that race that year, that Bellamy Road was among the many swallowed up by the closers that ended up in front of him. Bellamy Road ended up in seventh on Kentucky Derby Day, behind 50-1 longshot winner, Giacomo.

Steinbrenner's other Derby participants were Steve's Friend (fifth in 1977), Eternal Prince (twelfth in 1985), Diligence (ninth in 1996), Concerto (ninth in 1997), and Blue Burner (eleventh in 2002). Oddly enough, when once criticizing Dave Winfield, Steinbrenner referred to him as "Mr. May". He never did find the equine version of Mr. May, or at least, Mr. First Saturday In May.

As a final note, I might remark that as a Red Sox fan, Steinbrenner never did let it become boring. During his tenure, the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry was fanned to unfathomable heights, heights that certainly made for the betterment of baseball overall. Maybe it's a sad thing that he never did win the Derby. I, for one, would have loved to see him on the Winner's Podium being interviewed by Bob Costas, guaranteeing a Triple Crown to come. It certainly wouldn't have been boring.

Tune in tomorrow for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Ups And Downs

Up- Rachel Alexandra returned to the racetrack for a foggy morning workout at Saratoga this morning. The 2009 Horse Of The Year covered six furlongs on the Oklahoma Training Track in 1:12.45. For the record, she galloped out seven furlongs in 1:25.80, which is moving by any definition of the word. The workout is continued fine-tuning for her return to the races after her most recent victory at Churchill Downs. She is expected to be present in the gate for the $400,000 Lady's Secret at Monmouth Park on July 24.

Other ups from the weekend included Gio Ponti, who showed the tenacity of a champion in winning the Grade 1 Man O' War on Saturday afternoon. He just got past the stubborn 53-1 shot, Mission Approved, in the shadow of the wire. Also, how about Awesome Gem scoring a win over Rail Trip in the Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup? It seems that every so often Awesome Gem is awesome. If you are lucky enough to pick the right day when he is, more power to you.

Down- Drosselmeyer, winner of the 2010 Belmont Stakes, is likely to be returned to WinStar Farm in Kentucky from his current base of Saratoga by trainer Bill Mott. Drosselmeyer has apparently been dealing with some ankle issues that have caused him to be taken entirely out of training. It is now entirely possible that Drosselmeyer might miss the remainder of his three-year-old campaign, which has featured ups and downs itself. WinStar tried to get Drosselmeyer eligible for the Derby, but he never could get enough graded earnings to qualify, which required the five-week wait for the Belmont. However, I think that turned out OK.

Tune in tomorrow for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Friday, July 09, 2010

The Grade 1 $600,000 Man O'War Stakes

Belmont Park is now in wind-down mode for the spring season and everything is getting geared up to head upstate to Saratoga for the summer (that includes me for the first time, by the way). There are still plenty of big races at Belmont, however, and that includes the Saturday feature, the Grade 1 $600,000 Man O'War at 1 3/8 miles on the Inner Turf Course. It will feature a field of eight, including Gio Ponti, whose Man O'War win last year was one of a series of four straight Grade 1s he won on the turf in the summer of 2009. Here is the analysis of the Man O'War:

I cannot realistically select against #8 Gio Ponti. However, he is 1-2 on the morning line, so there will not be a win bet here for sure, especially given the fact that he hasn't actually WON in 2010. Two seconds and a fourth don't impress in three starts this year, but this field doesn't seem to present much in the way of a challenge to his greatness. He has been first or second in all seven lifetime starts over the Belmont grass. I will use a 30-1 shot in the second spot, though. #7 Midnite Silver has never been in a graded stakes race before, but since there is a first time for everything, I guess today is the day. He won two of the last three on the turf and the last win came at 1 1/4 miles and the comment in the Racing Form says, "Going Away!". A repeat of that could at least make the exacta interesting here. I will put #6 Grand Couturier in the third spot. He finished 7th in the Manhattan on Belmont Day, June 5, but was less than five lengths off the winner in that race. Every so often, he throws a big effort on the board, especially if there is a hint of rain in the forecast. Finally, I will put #5 Mission Approved in the fourth spot mainly because he is the lone speed in this field. He might try to steal it on the front end, but I doubt he will be able to go this far all alone up top. He was part of the ridiculous pace that torpedoed Curlin's effort in this same race two years ago and faded all the way to last. He might hold on for a better finish in this one simply because he has no one to go with him. Here is the play for the Grade 1 $600,000 Man O'War:

$10 EX BOX #7+ #8
TOTAL- $20

Remember, They Are Off accepts no responsibility for any wagers placed in conjunction with these selections. They are merely suggestions. Tune in again next week for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Thursday, July 08, 2010

It's A Sign Of The Times

So sang Petula Clark in the 1960s, and so sings another horse racing program slashed by the ferocity of the current economic climate. Turfway Park has announced that they will be eliminating the 2010 Kentucky Cup from their fall schedule due to "continuing financial duress" at that particular racetrack.

The Kentucky Cup has been a tremendous program for the racetrack and was certainly something that handicappers were able to use to scout out possible horses to look for in the Breeders' Cup that would eventually follow. The single standout one for me was a horse named Reraise, who absolutely bludgeoned the field in the Kentucky Cup Sprint in 1998. He then returned to do it once again to the field in Breeders' Cup at Churchill Downs several weeks later. Many other champion runners also participated in the Kentucky Cup over the years, including 1997 Kentucky Derby winner, Silver Charm.

The elimination of the Kentucky Cup was just one of many slashes to the fall season that Turfway Park had to make for their fall season. They will not conduct racing on Wednesday and they will only have one stakes race on the schedule for the entire meeting. One can only hope that the news out of the Bluegrass will be improving sometime soon.

Tune in tomorrow for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

John Henry

If any horse captured the imagination of the American racing public during the early 1980s, you would have to believe it would be John Henry. John Henry might have been one of the most versatile runners ever to set foot on a racetrack. He could do just about anything, run on dirt, run on turf, carry weight. As I said, he could do just about anything.

His most legendary run is, of course, the 1981 Arlington Million. This was the first-ever running of the race that has come to be the biggest turf race of the summer in America. It was also something very unique in American racing at the time, a race offering a purse of $1,000,000. We are now nearly thirty years on from that summer and with the coming of the Breeders' Cup, the escalation of purses in general due to economic changes, and other factors, it is hard to believe that such a short time ago, it was such a big deal. But what a big deal it was, John Henry appeared to have absolutely no chance to win even mere feet from the wire. The Bart was in front and appeared ready to pull off a monumental upset. However, John Henry was a champion above all else and his champion's heart refused to let him lose. He barely (and I mean BARELY) got his nostril to the wire first and denied The Bart being the first-ever Arlington Million champion, even if NBC mistakenly (and prematurely) declared The Bart the winner. However, he did not deny The Bart a place in racing lore. If anything, the fact John Henry got there to win is the only reason we even remember The Bart today. There is a statue that stands on the grounds of Arlington Park now called "Against All Odds" and it is a recreation of that unbelievable finish, one of the proudest moments racing has known in a long, long time.

John Henry won 38 other races in his 83-race career and hit the board 24 other times, earning $6,591,860. That total makes him the highest-earning gelding in racing history. John Henry won a grand total of seven Eclipse Awards and was inducted into the U.S. Racing Hall Of Fame in 1990. He lived to be a grand old man of racing at the Kentucky Horse Park, where he passed away at the age of 32.

Tune in tomorrow for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

Friday, July 02, 2010

The $1,000,000 Queen's Plate

Woodbine will host the 151st running of the Queen's Plate on Sunday afternoon and the Queen herself will be in attendance. It is a field of thirteen Canadian-bred three-year-olds going 1 1/4 miles. Actually, it is a field of thirteen Ontario-bred three-year-olds. The 3-1 morning line favorite in the Plate is Hotep, one of two horses in the field that were nominated for the Triple Crown earlier this year. Hotep tried his luck in Louisiana before his Road To The Derby hit a significant roadblock and now he is back north of the border to try and win the most prestigious race in all of Canada. Here are the selections for the 151st Queen's Plate:

I will go with the winner of the Plate Trial over the Woodbine oval on June 13 and that is #5 Big Red Mike. As his races have been getting longer, he appears to be relishing them more and more. Eurico DaSilva gets the ride, as he did in the Trial and I really don't see anyone else in this field that could challenge Big Red Mike's efforts to get the early lead and set the tempo here. The only real other speed he might have to deal with is the filly stationed outside in post #13, Moment Of Majesty. For the second spot, I will throw a 20-1 morning-line longshot in there with #7 Ghost Fleet. He removes the blinkers for this try and his last two workouts in late June were five-furlong blowout bullets. He got a dreadful trip in the Trial and if anyone is going to make a great leap forward to contention at a price, this is it. I will put #11 Hotep next. He seems comfortable on the polytrack at Woodbine with two wins, a second, and a fifth in four career races over the synthetic. Canadian legend Patrick Husbands has the riding assignment on this A.P. Indy offspring for trainer Mark Frostad. Finally, I will wrap the top four with #9 Mobilizer, who posted Beyers in the 90s in the last two starts and ran second behind Big Red Mike in the Plate Trial. As opposed to #7, he is adding blinkers for this race and has never been worse than third in four lifetime starts. Here is the play for the 151st Queen's Plate on Sunday:

$5 WP #5
$1 EX BOX 4-5-7-9-11
TOTAL- $30

For the record, that is $30 before the exchange rate. They Are Off accepts no responsibility for any wagers made in conjunction with these selections. They are merely suggestions. Tune in again next week for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!