Sunday, March 14, 2010

Rachel Won't Bloom; TDH Yells at Cloud; and Getting Tweepy at the Off-Track

Rachel Alexandra owner Jess Jackson released the following statement to the press on Sunday in The Paulick Report.

“Yesterday’s race while a disappointment, helped us define Rachel Alexandra’s racing condition. While she is healthy, just as I had anticipated, she is not in top form. Therefore, I decided today she will not be going to the Oaklawn Invitational on April 9. Steve and I discussed this fully and we now regret we tried to accelerate her training in order meet the Apple Blossom schedule. We have a whole season before us to help define her greatness. She will tell us when her next race will be.”

Let the debates begin.

Before anyone screams about being ripped off, let's not forget that the welfare of the horse matters most. I'd rather watch Rachel Alexandra in peak form taking on the best horses than running 3/4 fit in an effort to force the filly into position to be ready for the Apple Blossom at Oaklawn.

This brings us to a second potential controversy.

Zenyatta won the Santa Margarita by a length and a quarter on Saturday, while reigning Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra lost the New Orleans Ladies by a head. Anyone who thinks a race held in March 2010 should matter at all regarding the Horse of the Year vote held in 2009 is mistaken.

Zenyatta ran a comparatively soft 2009 campaign winning only one race that mattered. Rachel Alexandra toured the country defeating horses outside her own sex and age group and was correctly rewarded for her derring do.

Make no mistake - Rachel Alexandra had the better 2009 campaign. By all means, check out my post entitled, Memories of Rachel Alexandra for a trip down memory lane. Her campaign was a tour de force.

Now, if you want to argue about which mare is the better horse, that's a different story.

I find it amusing that people get worked up about Rachel Alexandra losing Saturday's race. The connections were very clear all week that this was a prep race for the daughter of Medaglia d'Oro, and a quick look at her past performances show that she needs a race or two to get in race shape.

*Did anyone notice that DRF Fair Grounds handicapper Marcus Hersh went against Rachel Alexandra in the Form on Saturday? As well, TV commentator Jessica Pachecho went live on air picking against Rachel. Those that took the time to review the small details made a bit of money on this one.

Unlike Zenyatta, Rachel Alexandra did NOT go into Saturday's race undefeated. In fact, Rachel has been beaten three times prior to her second place finish in the New Orleans Ladies.

Rachel Alexandra lost her debut at Churchill Downs on May 2nd 2008, finishing sixth beaten some eight lengths; she would finish second in the Debutant Stakes at Churchill on June 28, 2008; and on November 1, 2008 Rachel Alexandra was beaten three lengths by Sara Louise in the Pocahantas.

What Rachel Alexandra accomplished in 2009 was to cycle into the type of form rarely matched in racing history. Let's give her a chance to get in shape before we start to tear her down.

As Raceday360 pointed out on Twitter during Saturday's super day of racing:

"Kelso was five-time HOTY. He lost first start back each year, except for '61. Z was better today, RA was better, in sum, last year."

If Jess Jackson and Steve Asmussen say Rachel Alexandra needs more time, I'm inclined to believe them BECAUSE of their ambitious campaign in 2009. Check the past performances before tearing them down.

* * *

On the eve of a super Saturday of horse racing, Edmonton Journal columnist Curtis Stock published a blog entitled Horse racing's ignorance continues.

The piece argues that racetracks, particularly Northlands, dropped the ball in promoting the races of Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta.

Stock writes:

And what have we heard? Unless you go to the internet or buy the Daily Racing Form it's been Simon and Garfunkel's Sounds of Silence.

Northlands should be publicizing these two races as if they were being run here. But no. Maybe they're afraid of causing hard feelings with the harness horses which are in town, though from their promotion of this meet you'd be hard pressed to know it.

Most likely it's more to do with ignorance and not understanding what the sport needs right now: Publicity.

No matter which sport - harness or thoroughbred - racing has to be in this together. But racing has faded from the media which means they have faded from people's consciousness.

Here we have two horses given to them by the gods of horse racing and hardly a word.

This story should be everywhere. But it's not. And the question is why?

I agree with Stock in spirit - but I felt a little twinge at the quick mention and dismissal of the Internet.

The story of Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra WAS

A Google News search pulled up hundreds of news stories. For example:

Claire Novak of ESPN wrote, Preps key to possible showdown.

Tim Wilkin of the Boston Herald wrote, Both Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta to prepare Saturday for showdown

The Associate Press reported, Rachel Alexandra to face 4 rivals in 2010 debut.

As mentioned in Stock's article, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association provided (albeit an apparently glitchy experience) FREE streaming video of both mare's races.

Anyone with an Internet connection knew about the races to be held and where to watch. (For an interesting peek at how many people have access to the Internet, check out the CIA World Fact Book. More than 25M people online in Canada and another 231M in the USA.

In the piece, Stock points the finger at lack of promotion to traditional media outlets.

As I've written before, I believe the reason is that horse racing does not have anyone disseminating these stories to the news wires, to t.v. stations, to radio stations. And locally, racetracks don't do near enough to promote their stars either.

I would like to take that excellent suggestion one step further.

Traditional media (newspaper, television, radio) rarely reports on horse racing. It's a bit of a chicken or the egg philosophical question.

Does the public ignore horse racing because it's not printed in the papers? Or do the newspapers not report on horse racing because the public doesn't care.

(I suspect the answer might be a third option in that the racing industry generally only advertises in industry trade publications. But that's a different story.)

My spin on Stock's valid concerns about the promotion of the sport of horse racing would be to raise public awareness via social media.

Facebook boasts some 400 million active users with 50% of that group logging in daily.

Twitter boasts 6 million unique monthly visitors and 55 million monthly visits. In fact, Twitter even has it's own Twitter 101 For Business page to help companies get up and running.

Imagine the buzz a business could generate with only a percentage of that market?

The user numbers for social media tools dwarf the readership of most newspapers and other traditional media.

I still believe newspapers are a relevant way to reach a target audience, but a well developed social media network can accomplish the same goals.

I was inundated with Tweets and blogs and emails from the online racing community regarding Saturday's races - before, during and after the races.

Social media tools like Facebook and Twitter provide a home where conversations, interactions and blogs have merged together to create unique online communities. These communities provide opportunities for track management to engage directly with existing and potential customers, in order to better understand them and meet their needs -and hopefully get them to the track.

The market has moved to the Internet and racing has to adjust. In fact, many already have.

Despite living in Toronto and writing mainly about Woodbine horse racing, I often touch on the horse racing stories from New York. This is due in no small part to the work being done by the New York Racing Association media department. Dan Silver, director of communications and media relations for NYRA, was lauded by the Paulick Report in March of this year.

NYRA has clearly made a decision to use its website, along with Youtube, to inform, educate, and entertain racing fans and horsemen. How did your strategy evolve?

It’s very important to mention right away that all of the initiatives we have introduced wouldn’t be possible without support from the top, in our case NYRA president & CEO Charles Hayward and NYRA COO Hal Handel. They let me and Neema Ghazi, NYRA’s director of marketing, have pretty much free reign in exploring new ways to use the internet to benefit our fans. With the knowledge that they’re behind what we’re doing, it makes it much easier to launch new initiatives.

In terms of the strategy and how it evolved, I think it’s just trying to use our resources to the best of our abilities in reaching out to current and prospective racing fans. The internet is not just the future of marketing, it is the present, and it affords many opportunities to market your product and educate fans at a very low cost, certainly costing less than conventional methods of advertising like television spots, radio spots, and newspaper ads.

On The Lead, our monthly email newsletter, was the jumping-off point for our internet outreach initiatives. We launched it in April 2008, and now, two years later we are up to almost 100,000 subscribers.

I encourage readers to visit NYRA.Com and check out their "New Media Links" section. Or, check out my February 5, 2010 post entitled A Little Creativity Goes A Long Way which details the many new strategies developed by NYRA.

Locally, I know that the Woodbine website is currently undergoing an overhaul and the track is working hard to update their Woodbine Replays Youtube Channel and adding new content to QueensPlate.Com. It's an ongoing effort and many racetracks are getting aboard the social media bandwagon.

At any rate, my goal is not to be a curmudgeon. I want to help continue the discussion of what can be done to bring fans back to the racetrack. My suspicion is that if the buzz on the Internet is such that racing is in the public perception, that traditional media will be forced to report about horse racing.

Traditional reporting is already making an impact on social media. Pretty much every columnist has a blog these days. In fact, Stock's piece is actually a blog that has generated a fair number of comments.

Many businesses are already hiring for a position entitled "Director of Social Media". It's a position that racetracks looking to maintain current fans and develop new ones will have to consider.

* * *

Saturday truly was a brilliant day to be a racing fan. My plan was to set up a battle station in my living room and watch HPI TV, but at the last minute I decided that I wanted to watch the races in the company of racing fans so I headed to the Greenwood teletheatre - once home to Greenwood Racetrack.

I set up shop in front of rows of televisions featuring racing from across North America. My tools of combat included one pen/highlighter combo, one Daily Racing Form, one BlackBerry, three glasses of beer and one bag of salt and vinegar chips.

To be successful as a handicapper I need to focus on one track only and on Saturday I chose to focus on Gulfstream. It was a lucrative decision. Arriving in time for the fifth race, I put together a simple $24 superfecta ticket keying the Flying Zee stable entry of Strictly Society and Ontario-bred Rotten to the Core with Nick Zito's Liquidity Event in the top two positions. I used the same three horses in the 3rd and 4th positions underneath - Slam Fire, Sweet Bernie and L J's Way. Given that I had $30 in my account, I decided to use the remaining $6 on a $1 tribox using my key horse with Sweet Bernie.

In terms of a leadoff hit, this was a homerun. Liquidity took the early lead, with Slam Fire chasing in earnest and the Flying Zee entry next in line. Turning into the stretch, Liquidity exploded away from would be stalkers with Strictly Society chasing in vain.

It was one of those moments where the screen wasn't showing me enough of the race. I was halfway through my superfecta but who was going to finish third and fourth??

To my relief, Sweet Bernie hugged the rail all the way down the stretch to finish third completing my tribox. The other half of the entry finished fourth which meant the fifth place finisher Slam Fire was elevated into the final Superfecta spot.

My HPI account lit up. As did I.


As much as I love my online tools, nothing is better than being at the track. Or in this case, the Off-Track.

The next race at Gulfstream was won by Tino Attard's Radio Relay. Several of the punters in my vicinity cheered the Kafwain horse bred by Ormonde Farm down the lane. The Gulfstream feed continued to focus on the winners circle festivities and wouldn't you know it, there was Tino Attard ambling up to offer congratulations to the jockey.

"Hey Tino," exclaimed one happy fellow to the TV. "Nice work buddy."

With that, Attard took out a mobile phone and started dialing. In seconds, a jolly Attard was seen waving at the television camera.

The folks at the offtrack roared with laughter.

"HI TINOOOOOOOOOOO," yelled a table of punters waving their betting slips at the screen.

It was a magic moment and one of many laughs over the course of the day.

Tino Attard's Radio Relay delights the Greenwood OTB

Considering the number of races at various tracks on the day, I had scrawled the important race times on the back of my Daily Racing Form.

* 530PM Tampa Bay Derby
* 6:15PM Rachel
*6:37PM Zenyatta
* 6:47 Rebel - Oaklawn
*7:39 San Felipe - Santa Anita

I continued my handicapping adventure at Gulfstream while simultaneously following the banter on Twitter. What follows is a display of some of the Tweets that made me laugh, think or nod my head in agreement during the afternoon.

Odysseus absolutely shocked the finish of the Tampa Bay Derby winning a photo finish he appeared to have lost by a head. The angle on that tv camera must be appalling. I have yet to see the win photo.

Here are some of the Tweets.

TheAspiringHorsePlayer tweeted: I started an Odysseus fanpage on Facebook. Come one, come all! :-) Check it out.

Equispace tweeted WOWWWWW!!!! He got him at the wire!!!!

BombsawayBob tweeted Why is it Austrailia Racing has PHOTO Finishes posted within 10 seconds of the finish, but USA still uses "One-Hour-Photo" processing?

Odysseus wins the Tampa Bay Derby

Next up was the Rachel Alexandra debut. Bridge jumpers were lighting up the show pool and everyone in the Off-Track was buzzing in anticipation. When Rachel was beaten one Greenwood punter announced to no one in particular. "How could they make her horse of the year over Zenyatta...just stupid."

Similar chatter was littering Twitter, but let's look at some of the other fun Tweets during the race.

MIBredClaimer tweeted: I see Zardana is nominated to the Apple Blossom. If all three parties show up, that could bring some drama.

FilliesFirst tweeted Could it hit $1million in show pool?!? $860k w/3 mins to post!

o_crunk tweeted So how long until the RA retirement announcement?

Rachel loses to Zardana in the New Orleans Ladies

Following Rachel's loss, Zenyatta was on deck for what would be a remarkable performance. The big mare nipped to the rail and back again during the stretch run to easily pass a tiring Dance to My Tune.

The Santa Anita crowd rejoiced. The punters at Greenwood clapped in appreciation.

Vic Zast, of HorseRace Insider tweeted: Mike Smith's antics will get Zenyatta beat some day. Don't know if she can fail on her own. Hope her meeting with RA stays together.

Jessica Paquette, handicapper at Suffolk Downs tweeted: she was unreal. It was like watching two totally different levels of racing today.

Ed DeRosa, News Editor at Thoroughbred Times tweeted: Just don't get why people aren't gushing over zenyatta. She won as clearly much the best while giving 12 pounds. RA lost in a listed stake.

DeRosa was particularly upset at himself for having voted in favour of Rachel Alexandra for HOTY but has now come out with a blog post stating, Rachel Alexandra still deserving Horse of the Year.

Couldn't agree more!

Zenyatta wins the Santa Margarita

The attention then turned to Kentucky Derby favourite Lookin at Lucky. The Baffert trainee got up just in time to nip Noble's Promise in an exciting finish.

ColinsGhost tweeted Lookin at Lucky's race was the goods -- hope he runs in the Ark Derby

Larry Zapeye tweeted i said it before...Lookin at Lucky just might be our next Triple Crown winner...he has the tools...he has the trainer...he has the ability

ChangingLeads tweeted Bob Baffert has a Derby favorite .. How great is that? Lookin At Lucky is better than lucky, he's a pretty good colt

Lookin at Lucky wins the Rebel

The last big race of the day was the San Felipe Stakes and Caracortado was expected to emerge victorious. However, jockey Joe Talamo set a slow pace with talented Candy Ride progeny Sydney's Candy and had plenty left in the stretch to steal the race. No reason in my mind that Sydney's Candy won't get a mile and a quarter.

Larry Zapeye tweeted Sydney's Candy steals away with sloooooooooooow fractions & outkicks Interactif & Caracortado...pace makes race...except if your Zenyatta...

Keith-TripleDeadHeat tweeted thought candy looked good in san felipe post parade. will give it a ride (I hit the exactor on this one and a nice win payout to cap off my best day of wagering in donkeys.)

MiBredClaimer tweeted Man, Caracortado went pretty wide coming into the stretch. Atkinson rode the hell out of him, though.

Sidney's Candy wins the San Felipe

All things considered, it was a great afternoon of racing and Sydney's Candy, Odysseus and Lookin At Lucky will all generate a lot of media attention in the coming weeks. Get online and check it out.


Fran Jurga said...

You covered the gamut, Keith: From Rachel and Zenyatta to The Simpsons to three beers and a bag of chips lined up next to your Blackberry at the betting parlor. I was with you every metaphor of the way.

And, you're right, it was a great day (except for the NTRA glitch) (and Rachel losing).


The_Knight_Sky said...

It's okay to be curmudgeon once in a while. ;-)

But I hope all the Twitter techies contributed some buck$ towards the business of the sport while you were socializing on your uh, Social Media all afternoon.

Fan participation.
The wave of the future.
Truly revolutionary idea right there. :D

wendyu said...

Keith what a fun post! I was with ya! It made me sad that my only option for watching horse racing up here in the klondike is via a betting service on my computer (YouBet). I have to say, you made me wish we had OTB's around here. It's way more fun to share the excitement with others.

And I enjoy how you discuss the importance of social media. It has certainly built up the excitement for the Kentucky Derby for me! Lots of nice horses out there.

Keith - TripleDeadHeat said...

Thanks all for the great comments.

Fran - My day started out so well, I thought Jay Cronley was going to write a movie about me.

TKS - The best part about Twitter is that everyone on there is talking about handicapping. I've actually taken to following a few Tweeps for advice during post parade.

Wendy - You're impending move to Kentucky should help fix that TV issue!

The_Knight_Sky said...

Keith - you do know that Tom Quiqley (HorsePlayer magazine) does Tweets from the Santa Anita paddock, right?

I'm not sure how he's doing long term but for someone like me, to divide the time between handicaping, devising a strategy and broadcasting how good (or poor) a horse looks would be bordering on overkill.

I belief in simplicity and this being a parimutuel game, we can't always be divulging secrets. I hope you get my drift. Regards !