BOOK REVIEW OF DERBY INNOVATOR

Using Grade I wins and victories in the Classics as the measure of attainment, Team Valor International is the most successful U. S. enterprise ever in the business of horse-racing partnerships.  Its record of achievement includes such stellar races as the Arlington Million, the Dubai World Cup, the Kentucky Derby, and the Santa Anita Derby.  The entrepreneur behind it is Barry Irwin, who has written a book titled Derby Innovator that takes the reader inside the ups and downs of Irwin and his horses.

Irwin grew up in Beverlywood, California, on the west side of Los Angeles, in a non-horse family.  Irwin says he “had been interested in horse racing from the time I could walk.”  His parents, who “shunned” the sport, would surely have been chagrined had they known that their 14-year old son was selling racing tip sheets on a street corner in 1957.

The adolescent Irwin became enamored with the Thoroughbred stars of the day, and in particular his all-time favorite Swaps (he published a 2002 biography of the 1955 Kentucky Derby winner).  As a high school student, Irwin was a competitive athlete in track and field, where he specialized in the high jump, a sport he shared a love for with his father, who died of a heart attack at age 41.

Irwin’s winding life journey has brought him into contact with a potpourri of colorful characters that horse racing is so well known for.  Irwin went from down-on-his-luck broke to seeing Team Valor horses in the winner’s circle for Grade I events in Louisville, Dubai, Hong Kong and other venues where only the best compete for money and acclaim.  (The only quibble I have with the book is that I would have found an index useful so I could readily reference the many humans and equines mentioned.)

Irwin’s early involvement with racing included stints as a writer, editor, columnist, and TV/radio host.  He eventually decided, however, that he wanted to shift his efforts from writing and talking about horse racing to becoming a participant instead.

If I had to describe Irwin’s overriding approach to writing this book, in a word, it would be “candor.”  He conveys his unvarnished impressions of people, both living and dead, who he has come across or done business with.   Some of the subjects would undoubtedly strenuously disagree with how Irwin portrays them–e.g., con man, disingenuous, and liar–but the reader is left with no uncertainty in regards to how he feels about them or their actions.

While Irwin’s forthrightness has sometimes not been well received, he views his blunt talk as a personal code of conduct.  To illustrate, he states that the “most meaningful” congratulatory note he received following Animal Kingdom’s win in the 2011 Kentucky Derby came from a Kentucky farm owner, who wrote:  “You have never worried about what others think, and I admire your independence…”

The old sports metaphor about chicken and feathers is an apt description of what it is like to be actively involved in horse racing.  Some days the reward is chicken and many days it is feathers.  Irwin reminisces about the chicken and feathers times in his life and the triumphs and travails of Team Valor International.  If you are an aficionado of horse racing–and appreciate underdogs becoming top dogs–you should enjoy this easily readable tale of improbable rise from college dropout to the apex of the sport.

Copyright © 2016 Horse Racing Business

THE CANTERBURY PARK TAKEOUT EXPERIMENT IS OFF AND REALLY RUNNING

The following May 24, 2016, media release by Canterbury Park is very encouraging.

__________________________

Shakopee, Minn. — Wagering on Canterbury Park’s opening weekend races increased by 31 percent compared to 2015, racetrack officials announced today.  The increase is largely attributed to the Shakopee, Minn. racetrack reducing its takeout, the amount withheld from each wager, to the lowest level in the U.S.

Canterbury conducted 25 races Friday through Sunday, handling a total of $2,024,819 in bets, $478,057 more than the same opening weekend in 2015.  The per-race average grew 26 percent to $80,992.

“We are pleased with the increase in wagering on our opening weekend,” Canterbury Park President Randy Sampson said.  “The takeout reduction, and the positive industry reaction it produced, introduced many new horse players to the Canterbury Park product this weekend.  We expect more players nationally will discover the great value and improved quality Canterbury racing has to offer as the meet continues.”

Wagering on track was up 25 percent and wagers from sources outside of Canterbury increased by 34 percent.  In April, Canterbury officials announced a reduction in takeout to 15 percent on win, place, and show wagers and 18 percent on all multi-horse wagers.  The announcement was met with widespread approval from horse players around the country.

“We anticipated our out-of-state handle would increase significantly and the results of opening weekend were right in line with our expectations,” Sampson said.   “We are also very encouraged by the significant increases in on-track attendance and handle as perfect weather and the takeout reduction combined to make for a very successful opening weekend for on-track business.”

“The support of horsemen showed at the entry box as well, with more than 200 horses entered in the 25 races,” Sampson said.  “With many horses yet to arrive and young horses still getting ready to race, I would expect our horses per race to increase as the meet progresses and we again will have average field size exceed the national average.”

PREAKNESS-DAY IMPRESSIONS

1. The Daily Racing Form‘s description of how the Preakness was run cogently depicts why Nyquist lost the first race of his career:

“Nyquist was sent hard from the gate to outrun Uncle Lino to his inside and Awesome Speed to his outside, but he and Uncle Lino sped the opening quarter in 22.38 seconds–the fastest opening quarter-mile in the race’s history–and Nyquist was in front after a half in 46.56 seconds and six furlongs in 1:11.97.  He was slowing down, and the others were gaining, most notably Exaggerator, who had saved ground from the start and was ready to pounce.”

Very few horses can set these kinds of fractions and win a race at 1 3/16 miles.  Why Nyquist was  “sent hard” is unclear, but it was likely miscalculation by his jockey.

2. Nyquist’s trainer, Doug O’Neil, was classy and gracious in congratulating the Exaggerator connections after the race and in not blaming the jockey for the ride he gave Nyquist.  This is how sportsmen take losses, unlike the unfortunate sore-loser display by one of California Chrome’s owners after the colt’s disappointing finish in the 2014 Belmont Stakes.

3. Sadly, two horses on Saturday’s Pimlico card perished.  Predictably, PETA and online posters quickly raised nefarious-oriented questions and made accusations, particularly about the possible causation of medication and even animal abuse.

One of the horses died soon after a race he won, probably of cardiac arrest.  This kind of death occasionally occurs among human and equine runners, so I don’t see it as unusual or suspicious.  The post-race blood sample will confirm one way or the other.

The other fatality occurred when a filly broke a leg during a race and was euthanized.  Her owners are Gretchen and Roy Jackson, who also owned the ill-fated Barbaro.  These folks are leaders in the ongoing campaign to rid horse racing of race-day medication and performance-enhancing drugs and they are apparently generous monetary contributors to veterinary research on horse injuries.  In other words, they are unlikely conspirators in doping or mistreating their animals.

Judging from many of the online comments I saw about the Jackson’s filly being euthanized, many people don’t understand that, unlike a human athlete who breaks a limb, a horse often can’t be immobilized while the break heals.

Horse racing should be made as safe as possible for horses and jockeys. To do so, a scientific and factual approach is required, which the horse-racing industry funds at major university centers.  Emotional finger-pointing diatribes don’t qualify as testable hypotheses.

4. The luckiest individual during the Triple Crown races has been trainer Dale Romans, whose horses finished sixth in the Kentucky Derby and second in the Preakness.  His luck has nothing to do with how his entries fared.  During the Preakness telecast, NBC showed a picture of the SUV Romans was driving after the Kentucky Derby when a driver ran a stop sign and broadsided Romans and his passengers.  It is thankfully a wonder that someone was not killed rather than badly injured.

5. What now for Nyquist?  The view here is the 1 ½ mile Belmont distance is not his niche.  Skipping the Belmont and planning a campaign around the Travers and the Breeders’ Cup Classic seems best.

Copyright © 2016 Horse Racing Business