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Horse Racing Commentary: Getting ready for winter

Recharging the handicapping batteries.

The day after the conclusion of the Breeders' Cup is sort of a traditional beginning of a handicapping refresh/recharge time for me. The length of that recharge time varies from year to year. Sometimes it lasts about a week before I need to pick up the form and find track to play, other years I back in the flow by Thanksgiving.

My girl and I are hosting Thanksgiving at our house this year and that's a very good thing since it will allow me a full day of Turkey Day Wagering TM. Football? Sure, I'll have some of the games on the secondary TV. But Thanksgiving morning, especially on the West Coast were the East Coast tracks get started early and are finished well in time for the dining festivities, there's nothing better for me than waking up and playing the ponies.

Other random thoughts:

  • Good luck today to my alma mater, the Monmouth College Fighting Scots, as they take on our arch rival Knox College in the 125th meeting between the football teams of each school. Monmouth is seeking to retain the Bronze Turkey for the 15th year in a row. Go Scots!
  • The final meet at Hollywood Park is underway with the final day of racing at the Inglewood track slated for the 22nd of December. Following the end of the final meet the track will be demolished to make way for a mall or condos or something other than the sport of horse racing.

    Hollywood's stature today within our sport is nowhere near as high as Saratoga, Del Mar, Keeneland, Churchill, etc., and I'm sure to many people it's just a run-down facility sitting on a big piece of land which could be used to make more money in other ways. And, in reality, that is exactly what it is. Sadly, you could make that same argument for almost every single urban-based track in the United States which invariably leads to the question: which track is next to go?

    While the loss of Hollywood will register as significant with very few, I think the loss of a track, and a historically significant one at that, is never a good thing.

    Thirty years ago, Hollywood Park hosted the inaugural Breeders' Cup.  After Dec 22 it will never host another horse race again.
  • My winter track to handicap is typically Gulfstream Park but we'll have to see if that remains the case this year after they went to year-round racing earlier this summer. Running all year isn't an issue in and of itself, but my concern over the condition of the turf course is very much an issue.

    The Gulfstream winter meet usually has a great turf program with an excellent mixture of stakes races, maidens and allowance fields that add some great handicapping opportunities (especially when running with the rail beyond 70 or 80 feet). But last season, by the end of the meet, the turf course was really beat up with major spots of dead grass and exposed dirt. Perhaps it wasn't as bad as the lawn at the Fair Grounds last year (which would be almost impossible), but it was really run down and, personally, I'm an extremely leery of playing races on the grass when the turf is torn up or closer to dirt than grass.

    Anyway, one of my concerns with the year-round racing at Gulfstream is how the turf course will handle the added workload. I haven't paid too much attention to the current meet but the first thing I'm going to look at as I begin to prepare for the winter meet is the condition of the lawn and how it's held up to this point in the season.
  • I see the Eclipse Award debates are in full swing, as usual. While I'm always curious to see how people view each of the division, and how the voting results unfold, the ultimate results probably matter to me a little less than the MVP voting in other sports. At least in football, baseball, hockey, etc., the winners of the award have some idea that they've been recognized by the media covering their sport as standing out amongst their peers. But for us, at least for the Eclipse Awards that involve the non-humans, it's not like Wise Dan really cares where he finishes in the voting. I'm sure he's just happy getting his hay, oats, water, as well as being able to do what he does best, which is run.

    The human-based awards are a bit different since who wouldn't to be recognized as the best trainer, jockey, owner or breeder? But as for which horses the voters select in the equine categories? Yeah, I can't get worked up over an award in which the winner will never have any clue that he (or she) won. And, at the end of the day, what you do on the track is what matters; awards don't change race results.

    So, I'll watch the Eclipse Awards on HRTV like I always do (mainly because there is nothing better than awards shows!), but the ultimate list of winners will do little to raise my blood pressure.