One can always tell that the true “dog days of summer” are right around the corner with the arrival of Memorial Day weekend. As racing fans, our attention will soon be focused on locations like Saratoga and Del Mar. The Triple Crown races will soon be behind us, and once again it will be time to test the top 3-year-olds against the top older horses in the nation and begin to set the table for the Breeders’ Cup this fall.
Before we reach that destination, there’s still some exciting action left to cover in the wake of the historic finish in the 2009 Preakness.
It’s closing weekend at Pimlico, which means it’s my last chance of the season to play along at the track where it all began for me. Much has been made of the decreased infield attendance at Old Hilltop during Preakness day, but I think folks who focus on that are missing the point. Both television viewership and betting handle were up significantly. If you had to pick between infield attendance, betting handle, and tv viewership, which of those selections would offer the weakest prospect in terms of building a long term relationship with fans? In my estimation, having been an infield attendee for many years during my college days, it was clearly the infield that had to go.
What had once been an exciting, if not over-the-top, annual tradition of adolescent drunkenness had turned into an extremely violent situation that seemed like a powder keg waiting to explode. In other words, I did not miss dodging flying beer cans for one moment this year. In fact, the infield is now a place where I can consider taking my small children one day, so that they too might develop a love and appreciation for the majestic horses that so captivate us. Imagine that! Rather than catering to drunken college kids who could care less if they ever even see a horse all day, the track might move forward and begin developing a bond of shared experiences with the next generation…all while Mommy and Daddy watch and wager without worry of having to defend their family with their life from a mob of inebriated hooligans. What a noble idea, huh?
I only mention this because living in the Baltimore area, one of the hot topics you still hear people arguing over is the whole “infield debate.” Personally, I think the decision was in the best interest of everyone involved; the horsemen, the horses, the racing fans who actually come to see the races, and even the would-be hooligans, who at so young an age realize not what a danger they are to themselves and others.
Again, ratings and handle were UP! That’s what you want to see! That’s how you gain national attention and become relevant! Not by allowing college kids to pillage one another in senseless unsupervised drunken debauchery. Was the infield more barren than years before? No question…but my guess is that once folks figure out it’s actually a family friendly place now, you’ll see more attendees file in over the year who are their to actually play the races, rather than just occupy a cube of grass and proclaim complete beligerence for any who dare pass bye.
Plus, how many times have we heard that our sport needs an image change? That all the things you see associated with horse racing, from fatal breakdowns, to degenerate gambling are “bad for the sport.” Is there really anyone out there who thinks the scenes from the Preakness infield in years past is what this sport needed at this point in time?
Hats off to the folks of the Maryland Jockey Club for standing up and doing what was right, even if it wasn’t universally popular or appreciated. The “right” decisions are often the hardest to make, and in this case doubly so considering the economic hardship that has hit Maryland racing in the past year.
Don’t get me wrong…the infield had it’s bright spots, and I’m filled with memories (though many are quite hazy and disjointed for some reason) of infields past that continue to bring a smile to my face, but the turn to ever increasing recklessness in recent years was one that had to be controlled. The fact that handle for the day was able to increase despite the economic situation our nation currently finds itself in also speaks VOLUMES about what one super filly can do for our sport. See that, folks? “Star power” does work. Now if I could just get someone to buy into the whole “Take Back Saturday” idea, we might have a fighting chance to turn things around for the sport still!
Ah…see, get me talking about Preakness and I start to rant. Let’s move on to the intended purpose of this post – some quick selections for the final day of racing at Pimlico.
We’ll focus on the feature race of the day, the Shine Again, for fillies and mares 3-years old and upward going 1 1/16 miles over the main dirt track. The field sets up like this:
- #1 Swallow Falls (J. Pimentel/ M. Eppler) 7/2
- #1A Katrinarita (no rider/ M. Eppler) 7/2
- #3 Four Karats (G. Whitacre/ C. Pickett) 15/1
- #3 Five Diamonds (no rider/ J. Hartsell) 3/1
- #4 Amie’s Legend (Luis Garcia/G. Motion) 8/5*
- #5 Silent Diva (no rider/ L. Murray) 5/1
- #6 Eye (no rider/ K. Leatherbury) 6/1
It may be a small field, but it looks to be an intriguing one. Two of the entries, #3 Four Karats, and #6 Eye, raced last Friday in the Kattegat’s Pride on Black Eyed Susan Day. Four Karats led throughout the early action, but ultimately yielded to Eye in the stretch, who pulled away to win by 2 1/4 lengths. It’s interesting to see these runners turned out again on such short rest, but do note that Eye began her 2009 campaign on just 15 days rest on 1/10/09 and managed to defeat $9k claimers at Laurel Park.
The horse who I think you have to focus on here is #4 Amie’s Legend. She’s got some personal connections that I simply can’t ignore, having a name that invokes reference to my wife (Amy). Further, the 4-year-old daughter of Not For Love is trained by Graham Motion, my favorite horsemen on the Maryland circuit. She exits a victory against $17k optional claimers and is taking a fairly steep class hike on paper, but she clearly fits on paper with the other runners in this field and this would appear to be a smart spot to place her in search of her first graded stakes victory. She should be able to come from just off the pace and a repeat performance of her last effort likely finds her in the winner’s circle once again.
Underneath I like #6 Eye coming from off the pace as well. Usually I’d prefer to take a speed horse at Pimlico, as the track tends to favor such runners, but it looks like their could be enough action up front between #2 Four Karats, #3 Five Diamonds, and #5 Silent Diva to give Eye a similar setup to what he received in the Kattegatt’s Pride last week. One thing is certain, we know she’s in sharp form coming off that last out win.
Of the rest of the field, Id prefer #3 Five Diamonds, but the field is small enough that you might as well hit the all button for the bottom of the ticket.
- #4 Amie’s Legend (8/5*)
- #6 Eye (6/1)
- #3 Five Diamonds (3/1)
$1 Trifecta: 4/6/All =$4
In the final race of the day, I’m somewhat excited about a longshot first time starter for trainer Robert Gamber named Big Boper. Apart from the King Leatherbury runner Stokes, who will likely be hammered at the windows by virtue of his 2nd place finish last out, Their really isn’t anything in this field that gives me tremendous pause. I think I’ll take the first time runner at 20/1, and who knows, the odds might actually get better on this guy by post time. Note that Gamber is actually hitting at a better clip this meet (17%) than Leatherbury (12%). Granted, it’s been a short meet, but that’s still worth taking into consideration. I’m not sure if he’ll pull out the win, but I’ll likely cover him across the board and play a small exacta with Big Boper and Stokes and hope for some magic.
Selections (race 10)
- $10 WPS #4 Big Boper
- $1 Ex Box: 4,11 ($2)
As always, best of luck to all and be sure to check for late changes and/or scratches. So long to Pimlico for the year. The meet may have been short, but it certainly was sweet.