Saturday, October 18, 2014

"Off-Season"

As fall continues to trundle along here in Minnesota heading toward our inevitable date with winter (side note: two reports have indicated the upcoming winter to be "possibly the worst on record" and "milder than normal" - take your pick!), I'm spending time trying to streamline the operation a bit.

Crowded and hectic are only two words that could describe how things are.  Between our groups, the Canterbury Club, the new gig for slotmaker Incredible Technologies (or for the non-gamers, the force behind Golden Tee golf), the breeding operation and serving on the Board of the Minnesota Thoroughbred Association, life has gotten a bit crazy. Heather has been a big help but you can only give attention to so many things before there is some deterioration.

MTA

Obviously work can't deteriorate, that has to be the first priority.  The rest of it needs to be streamlined.  To that end, as my term ends on the MTA board I decided not to run again.  I'll continue to be a member and help out where I can, but my time on the Board is over...for now anyway.  I loved my time on the Board and I'd encourage any of the over 200 members to run.  I heard a lot of constructive criticism of the MTA in my three years on the board and I would encourage any of those dozens of folks to go ahead and run.  Try and make a difference, don't just complain and then do nothing to affect change.  This is a wonderful time for Minnesota racing and a crucial time for Minnesota breeding so go ahead and run, get involved and make an impact.

BREEDING

Additionally, as I've mentioned, we're working on selling Tabby Lane.  That may be getting closer as activity and interest in that regard has picked up significantly on several fronts in the last week.  It really is bittersweet for me on a couple of fronts.  It's not secret that I love that mare and George (the future Tabby Dacat), her first foal, is just a joy.  Throw in the fact that the foal she is carrying is by multiple graded stakes winner Doneraile Court, they both exceled between 7 furlongs and a mile and 70 and are an A++ True Nick and I think that whoever gets her is going to have one helluva runner on their hands (preference will go to the buyer that allows us to be listed as co-breeder).

So why sell her?

I love racing.  I'd like to be proven right on the match but I love racing.  I don't have the patience for the development time it takes for breeding.  Georgie we will keep and race - watch for him to become part of a group late next year as he moves from yearling to a 2-year old in training.  Selling Tabby and the foal-to-be will help me finance the racing operation.  We're not independently wealthy and as such we can't do all things so for now we will streamline the operation to racing.  That's not to say we won't be back to breeding at some point in the future but right now the money in Minnesota is skewed toward racing and not breeding so we're going to focus on that aspect of the industry.

RACING

Heather is working with Ellie a bit now that she's had 30-days to come down from being at the track.  Not a lot of heavy work, but just some lunging to keep her active and get her mind active.  Ellie is an immature 3-year old and is almost ADD!  She's learning focus and concentration and hopefully getting a bit more independent.  She finally showed some promise going a route the end of last summer and I want her to come to the track next year as a completely different horse.

The Canterbury Club is starting to wind down as well.  We still have our two runners, Maryjean and Terice, but hopefully not for long.  Both are doing well and continue to hit the board but that elusive 2nd win for the Club has been tough to come by.  Hopefully we can pick up a couple before the end of the meet for the folks.

We'll also be looking to get ready for the 2015 season now that Bourbonology has retired and pull together another group to go after a runner to compete next season.  If there is some interest, please go ahead and email me and I'll give you the details.

The off-season really is a bit of a misnomer since there really is a lot going on, though hopefully in the next few months our focus can get sharpened up and we can head into 2015 ready to rock.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Closing Her Up

Our warm seasons in Minnesota are short, at least they feel really short when you have -23 high temperatures some winter days, so we try and savor the Canterbury Park live racing season while we can.

Admittedly there was not a lot to savor on the racetrack for us personally this year, we only managed one win this season, but there were certainly great moments.

Trainer Robertino Diodoro, in his second season training at Canterbury, seized the training title from 9 time champion Mac Robertson.  This is the first year that I can remember that Mac didn't have the title wrapped up with 4 - 6 weeks to go.  I had a chance to talk with Diodoro after his Castletown won the $40,000 HBPA Sprint Stakes and asked him what changed between his debut season, where he had a hard time reaching the winners' circle, to this season.

“We had help issues, horses getting sick, you name it,” Diodoro said.  “I wasn’t going to come back but [Minnesota HBPA President] Tom Metzen kept after me in Phoenix to try again.  I do really like it here and after evaluating our horses and where they would fit, I decided to give it another try, but we weren’t going to do it halfway.”

                                                       Trainer Robertino Diodoro


Diodoro tied the Canterbury Park record for wins by a trainer on a single card, taking six on the final day, albeit in a highly unusual way, winning both ends of a dead heat in the $75,000 Shakopee Juvenile stakes which counted as two wins.  I'm not sure which feat is more impressive: winning six races or getting six wins in five races!

                                         Mercedes Stables owned/Diodoro trained dead heat.

The jockey race was another that came down to the final day.  The trio of defending champion Dean Butler, Ry Eikleberry and Alex Canchari entered the final day with Eikleberry sporting a two win lead over his rivals and was able to hold off Canchari, taking the title 64 - 63.
The Indian Horse Relay was again a highlight of the meet for me.  These kids are truly amazing.  For those not familiar, there are several teams that consist of a rider, holder and mugger.  Three horses on each team go a lap each (1 mile) and at the end of the lap, the mugger grabs the horse coming in at nearly full speed while the rider jumps off one mount and vaults on another for another lap.  This year's winner was Dolphus Racing from the Cheyenne River Sioux Nation.

Horse exchange in the Indian Relay

And things can get dangerous - this rider was not seriously injured.

The big race of the season was the $200,000 Mystic Lake Derby, run on closing day for the first time in it's 3-year existence.  According to Canterbury's Vice President of Racing Operations Eric Halstrom,"“We had hoped that moving our biggest race to the end of the season would allow us to draw horses from tracks where we had not before."
Halstrom wasn't mistaken.  Ten of the 12 entered for Saturday most recently raced at tracks other than Canterbury, including Saratoga, Monmouth, and Parx in the east, Del Mar in southern California, and Northlands Park and Woodbine in Canada.
The winner was Long on Value who swept passed the early leaders Chairman Crooks and the favorite General Jack to take the richest race in the Canterbury Park era of Minnesota racing.
While the leading owners of the meet were brothers Al & Bill Ulwelling for the third time in five years, it's hard to imagine an owner having a better year than Rake Farms LLC.  Proprietor Scott Rake breeds and races a small stable but had some of the biggest wins of the year with filly Sky and Sea and gelding Bourbon County.  Between the two, four divisional honors were captured including Sky and Sea being named the Horse of the Year for the 2014 season.

Sky and Sea

From a business perspective, stats at the track were relatively flat but in an era when contraction is the norm and tracks are struggling to fill fields and just stay open, flat is the new up.
From my recap in the DRF:
Total purses for the meet were up 5.4 percent over 2013 with the track paying out $13,120,706 over the 68-day season.
Field size, which was a decade-best 8.36 horses per race in 2013, remained steady with 2014 fields averaging 8.22 starters per race.
Claiming activity at the Shakopee oval was up sharply year over year, with the number of horses claimed nearly doubled from 2013, 165 compared to 65, with a total value of more than $1,000,000, an increase of 79.3 percent year over year.
While the track still enjoyed robust average attendance, averaging 6,419 fans per race day, on-track handle slipped 7.5 percent year over year. Out-of-state handle, however, remained strong, essentially flat after the giant 31.8 percent increase from 2012 to 2013. All-sources handle saw a dip of 2.5 percent from 2013 numbers.
The purse increases have not subsided yet, either.  I believe that there are two more years of increasing from the original SMSC agreement before that money flattens out.  Additionally, we reached the bottom as far as Minnesota bred foal crops go.  This past year was the lowest number of 2-year olds we will see.  Starting next year the crops goes up exponentially and we should start seeing more MN bred races filling and more opportunities to race.
From a selfish business perspective it was a difficult season but overall it was another dynamic season of racing in Minnesota.  While we didn't win as many races, we'll just need to get better go forward.  And this summer wasn't a total loss as it was also the emergence of Heather as a bonafide photographer.  All the pictures here are hers and, if you follow her on Twitter (@raezen12 - and if you don't, I encourage you to do so), you've seen more of her marvelous photos all season long.
So off we go to regroup and try and come back stronger next season.  Now we'll focus on the baby and getting ready for 2015.  As always, we'll talk Breeders' Cup when the time comes as well as thoughts on various racing issues as the winter goes on and, of course, keep you posted on our activities as well.
I leave you today with the complete rundown of the divisional winners from this past season at Canterbury Park.
Horse of the year, 3 year old filly, top sprinter – Sky and Sea

Older horse – Bourbon County

3 year old colt/gelding – Speed is Life

Grass horse – Dear Fay

Older Filly/Mare – Talkin Bout

2-year old – Hold for More

Claimer of the meet – Terice

Quarter Horse – Dirt Road Queen
 
 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Tough Summer, Tough Love, New Attitude


There are all kinds of excuses I can use for not keeping up on the blog this summer: new job, work travel, busy with DRF writing and the Canterbury Club but the reality is that I’ve been depressed. 

This summer, as far as racing goes, has been a disaster.  It all started when our broodmare, Tabby Lane, in foal to graded stakes winner Doneraile Court (an A++ True Nick if you were wondering), nearly died from a bout with colic.  Of course we weren’t home for her, we were trekking halfway across the country to my oldest son’s high school graduation.  Thanks to the expertise and quick thinking of Lisa Duoos at Dove Hill Farm and the folks at Weitz Equine, Tabby made it through and made it through with her foal safe and sound.  Without them, she surely would have died.  The bills were, of course, enormous, and contributed to Tabby being put on the sales block.

Elusive Edition, our 3YO Minn bred filly, had beaten but a single horse this summer in her first 3 career starts – NOT the start we envisioned – until she actually seemed to make an effort in her last race.  She was 2nd most of the way before tiring to 7th in the stretch in her first route effort.   I’m still not sure what her future holds.  Maybe we’ll find her another career over the winter.  Maybe she’ll grow and mature a bit; she’s always been a bit on the small side and maybe she really wasn’t ready at three?  If that’s the case we’ll start her up a bit further south after the first of the year and have her ready for the start of the2015 meet.

Bourbonology has been a mere shadow of her former self.  Breaking her maiden in late running fashion last summer I think may have given us a false sense of how she was capable of running.  That turned out to be an aberration as she was content to lope around mid-pack for most of the rest of her races.  We really thought a nice extended vacation and a slow crank up was what she needed to recharge the batteries.  Turns out that there was nothing really there in the way of heart and she’d just given up on racing.  We found her a nice second career teaching kids to ride in southeastern Minnesota so the rest of her life she should be loved on constantly.

Even the Canterbury Club has faltered a bit this season.  Granted, last year winning four races may have been too much to emulate and winning with Maryjean right off the claim this year may have set up some impossible expectations, but we haven’t won since.  We’ve been hitting the board and paying our way, which is really what you hope for, but it’s till disappointing.  I love winning for the people.  They get so excited and it gives them a thrill that I know they really enjoy.  I feel badly having only brought that to them once this season.

So I’ve been wallowing in a season long stew of self-pity.  It’s been very hard to climb out of and, to give her all the credit in the world, Heather has been right there every step of the way.  She’s offered encouragement, backed off when that would be best, listened, consoled and offered advice.  She’s even kicked me in the ass when necessary.  I’ve been ready to pitch the whole racing thing on several occasions.  It’s tough to lose and it’s especially tough to lose when you represent other people.

For the partners that were in on Bobo (Bourbonology) from back in the E Sveikata (Kat) days, it’s a disappointing ending to a long and, what I would think, a successful ride.  We won with Kat and had her claimed for twice what we bought her.  Got a win with Bobo, hit the board with both a few times, and no one had to put in another dime.  That’s a good two and a half year run.  Those that bought into her heading into this season though, a completely different experience and I feel horribly about that.

I’m shaking it all off now, though.  We’re going to get through this lull and get back on form again.  This year was an aberration and it’ll be treated as such.  We’ll reform, regroup and get back on the attack: either starting at Hawthorne, Tampa or both.  Not only will we win again, but we’ll do so with a renewed humbleness that only this game can provide for you.

Thanks to Jeff Maday and Michelle Benson for having me on Chalk Pub Talk this week and help reinvigorate my attitude.  Great friends, great family and a great partner can get you through anything.  So to help kick off the relaunch of the blog (and my attitude), here is the edition of Chalk Pub Talk, courtesy of Canterbury Park.