Wagering dispute settled

A good-news announcement this evening from Hollywood Park, which has lost a lot of betting because out-of-state fans haven’t been able to bet on-line and by phone on the Inglewood track this season:

Hollywood Park announced that as a result of an agreement between some account wagering companies and the Thoroughbred Owners of California, that account wagering on races conducted at Hollywood Park would be available commencing Friday, November 21, to those residing outside of California. The restoration of interstate wagering through account wagering companies lessens the severity of a necessary purse cut that will now be approximately 5% overall.

Jack Liebau, President of Hollywood Park, said that “the purse cut would have been far greater had account wagering not been restored.” Liebau added, that “the initial purse schedule had under estimated the adverse impact that economic conditions would have on handle and that wagering during that past week had been particularly impacted by further announcements regarding the deteriorating economy. It is anticipated that this purse reduction will take effect on Wednesday, November 26.

$251,712 carryover tonight at Hollypark

Break out the cash, there’s a huge pick-six carryover at Hollywood Park tonight. The pick six runs on races three through eight, with first post for the third scheduled for approximately 8 p.m.

Here’s who I like:

3rd — Ringmaster. He’s strictly a long shot, so don’t single this guy, especially with his dismal win record (30-1-4-4). But he’s dropping two levels and the rider who rode him to his lone win on Sept. 12 at Fairplex Park — Octavio Vergara — stays aboard. He could fire, and at 15-1 on the morning line he’s definitely worth using at the back end of trifectas and superfectas.

4th — Heywatchulookingat is another long shot, 30-1 on the morning line, but he raced wide into the stretch last out at Hollywood Park on Nov. 1 and he’ll get a five-pound weight break with the jockey switch to Michael Martinez.

5th — My best bet of the night is Ransom Captive, who’s been racing against graded-stakes horses and drops into this allowance spot. He figures to be rolling late under Mike Smith. Woodland City and Wickednwackyingrid also have shots here.

6th — Eight Below, with Martin Pedroza up, is another who can pick up the win with a late rally. He raced wide last time and Pedroza sticks with him. Trainer Michael Machowsky has had only 90 starters this year, but he’s won with 20 percent of them. Two others to consider in this $25,000 claimer — Fantasy Free and Red Hot Flame.

7th — Life At Ten, 7-5 on the morning line, looks like a solid single in this spot. He gets the services of Garrett Gomez.

8th — I don’t have a strong opinion here, but Dave’s Delivery looks live, as do Mark of a Star, First Contact, Blame the Wine and Paddlin Mud.

Good luck tonight!

Harness star is hurting


Here in Southern California, harness racing is 400 miles away (at Cal Expo in Sacramento) and big-time harness racing is even more distant, so it’s easy to forget about that branch of the sport. Here’s some unintended drama surrounding the nation’s top standardbred and his bid for history in the harness equivalent of the Breeders’ Cup.

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Deweycheatumnhowe has developed a throat abscess, jeopardizing his appearance next weekend in the Breeders Crown.

The Hambletonian winner, and a leading contender for Harness Horse of the Year honors, is heavily favored in the 3-year-old Colt Trot, one of eight finals worth a combined $4.9 million at the Meadowlands Racetrack on Nov. 29.

Fortunately, his division did not require an elimination, which would have been held Saturday night. If the problem clears, Deweycheatumnhowe could still attempt to join Mack Lobell (1987) and Malabar Man (1997) as the only trotting colts to win Breeders Crowns at 2 and 3.

“In two years he has never had a thing wrong with him, so I guess it had to happen sometime,” said trainer and driver Ray Schnittker. “I’ll wait till Monday and see what I’m going to do. We’re lucky there was no elimination.”

Deweycheatumnhowe has won 22-of-24 starts, earning over $3 million.

Mark your 2009 calendar

Our racetracks’ schedules for next year have been set by the California Horse Racing Board.

The Southern California slate:

Santa Anita — Dec. 26 (2008)-April 19
Hollywood Park — April 22-July 19
Del Mar — July 22-Sept. 9
Fairplex Park — Sept. 10-Sept. 28
Oak Tree at Santa Anita — Sept. 30-Oct. 8
Hollywood Park — Nov. 11-Dec. 21
Los Alamitos (quarter horses) — Jan. 1-Dec. 20

Woolf nominees are named

One of the niceties of the Southern California racing season is the annual presentation of the George Woolf Award to a jockey who has impressed his peers on and off the track. Many of the past winners show up at Santa Anita for the ceremony and are applauded by nostalgic fans. Nominees for the 2009 award were named today in the news release below.

Santa Anita Park announced today a list of five finalists for the 60th annual Santa Anita George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award, with the winner to be announced in January. Gary Baze, Calvin Borel, Javier Castellano, David Flores and John Velazquez will face an electorate comprised of their peers and one of the five will be selected the recipient of the 2009 Woolf Award.

Continue reading

Exotic key horses at Hollywood Park

I don’t like a lot on today’s card at Hollywood Park, but the first and last races did catch my eye.

I think Sunset Tijuana (8-5 morning line) and Stormy Racer (4-1) are live in the opener and I’d play both in early doubles, pick threes and the early pick four.

In the nightcap, I like Bonita Birdie, a 20-1 long shot. She’s broken slowly in three of her five starts and had a wide trip in the other two. Joel Rosario rides for the first time, and in a wide-open race I think she’s got a great shot to at least hit the board.

Good luck today!

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The best Euro we didn’t see

This may come as a shock to those who watched Raven’s Pass and Henrythenavigator run 1-2 in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, but there was a better-regarded European horse this year.

LONDON (AP) — Zarkava, the unbeaten filly who defeated the boys in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, was chosen Europe’s Horse of the Year at the Cartier Racing Awards on Monday night.

The brilliant 3-year-old owned by the Aga Khan won all five of her starts this year, capped by a two-length victory in the Arc against Europe’s best middle-distance horses.

Zarkava won the award over Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Raven’s Pass, English Derby winner New Approach, five-time Group 1 winner Duke of Marmalade and four-time Group 1 winner and Classic runner-up Henrythenavigator.

Recently retired from racing, the versatile Zarkava was a perfect 7-for-7 during her career, which included wins ranging in distance from a mile to 1 miles.

Zarkava also was chosen top 3-year-old filly, ahead of Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Goldikova, Lush Lashes, Halfway To Heaven and Natagora. New Approach was the Cartier winner in the 3-year-old colt category.

Other winners were Duke of Marmalade (Older Horse); Yeats (Champion Stayer), Marchand D’or (Sprinter), Mastercraftsman (2-year-old Colt) and Rainbow View (2-year-old Filly).

The awards were determined by a points system, and media and fan voting.

A filly whose name starts with Z wins Horse of the Year. Could this be a good omen for Zenyatta in the North American Horse of the Year contest? The difference, of course, might be that Zarkava beat males, Zenyatta didn’t face them.

Is Curlin’s racing career unequaled?

In a statement distributed to the media late Saturday night, Jess Jackson, majority owner of reigning Horse of the Year Curlin, announced that the 4-year-old colt will be retired to stud in 2009 but could race one more time if the conditions were right. He then goes on to make a case for Curlin’s record being the best ever.

“Curlin has proven himself across two continents with 16 starts, the honor of 2007 Horse of the Year and the greatest North American money-earner in racing history,” Jackson said in the release. “He always gave it his all and has done everything we have asked of him. I am proud to announce that he will start a new career in 2009 and contribute his soundness, stamina, durability and athleticism to the breed. I am looking forward to seeing his foals compete and possibly exceed his unequaled racing record.”

Unequaled racing record? Don’t get me wrong, Mr. Jackson deserves kudos for racing Curlin as a 4-year-old at a time when many owners of valuable racehorses retire their stars after their 3-year-old seasons. That’s good for their wallets, but bad for a sport that needs more equine heroes like Curlin, Big Brown and Zenyatta. Curlin was a very, very good colt, good enough to win the Preakness Stakes when he was still relatively inexperienced, good enough to win the Jockey Club Gold Cup in consecutive years and good enough to travel to Dubai and win the world’s richest race last March.

But unequaled racing record? Yes, he’s North America’s all-time leading money-winner, but is there anyone out there who would argue that horses the likes of Affirmed, Spectacular Bid, Forego and others who raced beyond their 3-year-old years could not have won the Dubai World Cup if the race had been around then and would not have earned much more money than they did if the purses had been as large then as they are now? I mean, how much money would the great gelding Forego have won if they had the size purses back in the 1970’s that they have now?

Let’s hear from some of you readers … is Curlin one of the all-time greats, does he deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as Secretariat, Spectacular Bid, Affirmed, Seattle Slew and other great horses of the past? Or is he just a very good horse whose legacy may or may not be enhanced because he set the all-time earnings record in an age where $500,000 and million-dollar purses are now the norm rather than the exception for some of these prestigious Grade I races like the Santa Anita Handicap, Hollywood Gold Cup, Pacific Classic and Jockey Club Gold Cup?

Sorry, but Curlin doesn’t even crack my top-five list of all-time horses, which includes Spectacular Bid, Secretariat, Affirmed, Ruffian and Forego.

The ride man for the job

Let’s update our ratings for the local jockeys after three weeks at Hollywood Park. As I explained recently, I give a rider a point for each win, award a bonus point for each long-shot win (10-1 or higher) and each photo-finish win (neck or less), and deduct a point for each loss on a post-time favorite.

Here are the leaders:

Overall: Rafael Bejarano (+15 points), Michael Baze (+11), Jose Valdivia (+8) and Pedro Arambula (+8).
Main-track sprints: M. Baze (+8), Arambula (+6), Martin Pedroza (+6).
Main-track routes: Bejarano (+6), M. Baze (+2), Arambula (+2), Garrett Gomez (+2), Tyler Baze (+2).
Turf: Bejarano (+9), Victor Espinoza (+5), Valdivia (+4).
Speed: Arambula has four wire-to-wire wins, Pedroza and T. Baze three each.
Closers: Bejarano has eight wins on horses who rallied from the back half of the field (and has no wire-to-wire wins). Gomez has eight back-of-the-pack wins (and one wire-to-wire).
Long shots: Valdivia has three wins paying 10-1 or more, M. Baze and Jon Court two each.

Good handicappers don’t bet on jockeys, they bet on horses. But good handicappers do pay attention to whether a particular jockey “fits” a particular horse in a certain race. Hope these numbers help you to do that.

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Wrona should get a callback

Great to see the Daily Racing Form’s Marty McGee’s glowing account of Michael Wrona’s audition for the Churchill Downs announcer job. I think Wrona, formerly of Hollywood Park, is the best in the business.

McGee begins:

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — No one can reasonably argue that Michael Wrona is not an immensely talented race-caller. Wrona is the entire package — uncannily accurate while laugh-out-loud entertaining at once.

During his six-day race-calling stint that ended Sunday at Churchill Downs, Wrona reaffirmed his reputation as one of the best callers in North America. With his clipped and distinct Australian accent, Wrona, 42, had the good fortune of calling a major milestone on his first day, Nov. 11, when Julien Leparoux rode a Churchill record-tying seven winners.

Such an extraordinary feat fit perfectly into Wrona’s wheelhouse. Wrona long has been known for races such as the 1990 Hollywood Turf Cup, a marathon turf race in which he said about Itsallgreektome, “Can he stay the distance? He stays like a mother-in-law!!” His quips about Leparoux were numerous, timely, and clever, so much so that fans not only were talking about Leparoux, but Wrona, too. …

Wrona was the third of five callers to audition this fall at Churchill, where officials say they will decide before the end of the year who will replace Luke Kruytbosch, who died unexpectedly in July. Wrona followed Bobby Neuman (Oct. 26 to Nov. 2) and Travis Stone (Nov. 5-9). Larry Collmus will take his turn Wednesday through Sunday, followed by Mark Johnson (Nov. 26-29).

As Marty goes on to note, some wonder if Churchill Downs would hire an Australian to serve as voice of the Kentucky Derby. If Churchill believes the Derby is the greatest race in the world, not just the greatest in America, it will hire the best regardless of accent.

Fan feedback is being taken at announcer@kyderby.com. I assume that means fans from all over, so if you’re a Wrona fan, give him your support.