1 - Given the commitment by Fox Sports to produce daily thoroughbred horse racing on its two sports networks (FSN1 and FS2) and its developing partnership with the New York Racing Association, last week’s announcement that the company had outbid NBC for the acquisition of the television rights for the Belmont Stakes came as no surprise. The eight year contract takes effect in 2023 and runs through 2030.
The Kentucky Derby, of course, is by far the most valuable media asset among the Triple Crown races and we suspect NBC will be decidedly more engaged in its efforts to maintain those media exclusivity when the bidding opens up in a couple of years. That said, the company permitted the National Hockey League to walk last year, and its primary sports investment is and will always be Sunday Night Football, so it remains to be seen how aggressive NBC will be.
Meanwhile, Fox, which owns 25% of the advance deposit wagering company NYRA Bets, can be expected to provide less airtime to Ladies Hats and more to handicapping and gambling on its Belmont Stakes telecasts. Fox Sports Executive Michael Mulvihill told the Thoroughbred Daily News that “we are going to be a little more willing to acknowledge that wagering is the lifeblood of the sport. We want to put a product on the air that appeals to the people who are playing the races regularly.”
While there’s always room for a few good human interest pieces during a multi-hour broadcast, we’re happy to learn that Networks – at least Fox - anyway, will concentrate on the actual product and the gambling that goes with it. We might actually tune in to see it.
2 - There were 76 races carded through the first eight days of racing at Santa Anita. Thirty eight were won by the combination of Flavien Prat and Johnny Velasquez. The other 38 were won by the rest of the room.
Prat has been a mainstay on the local circuit for several years and won’t be replaced as the top dog any time soon, but Johnny V. has been a revelation. Certainly, it’s not difficult to pile up the wins when riding first call for trainer Bob Baffert, but Hall of Famer Velasquez, at least in his current form, looks very much like the rider he was 10 years ago. With agent Ron Anderson calling the shots, Velasquez seems certain to remain in hot demand, though it’s not realistic to expect he can maintain his blistering 37 % win rate throughout the long season.
Highly capable jockeys such as Umberto Rispoli (3-for-26); Kent Desormeaux (2-for-28); Kyle Frey (2-for-36); Tyler Baze (1-for-34);Ricky Gonzales (1-for-25), Joe Bravo (1-for-20); Mario Gutierrez (1-for-19) and Drayden Van Dyke (0-for-22) are among those who have been hard pressed to locate live mounts. The meeting is young, but to avoid becoming yesterday’s news these guys need to generate some serious momentum pretty soon.
3 - Other than soon-to-be-named champion 2-year-old Corniche (currently wintering Kentucky), trainer Bob Baffert seems a little light (by his standards) in the Derby-aged division, not that it matters as long as his legal troubles with Churchill Downs remain unresolved, but his 3-year-old fillies appear to be doing just fine. They aren’t up to Echo Zulu’s level quite yet, but both Under the Stars and Adare Manor have star potential – ironically both earned identical 92 Beyer speed figures in their respective races over the weekend - and both appear headed into Grade-1 competition.
Under the Stars, a half-sister to Bodemeister, continued her ascent when winning the seven furlong Santa Ynez Stakes-G2 despite being under pressure from her rail draw every step of the way. A a daughter of Pioneerof the Nile, she appears ready to stretch out for the first time, and down the road we’d really believe she would be very competitive in a race like the classic Kentucky Oaks-G1. Of course, due to the Baffert ban, she’s no sure thing to be allowed to run.
As promising as Under the Stars is, Andre Manor may eventually develop into the better of the two, though at this stage all she has on her resume in a runaway 12-length maiden victory in her first try over a distance of ground. The daughter of Uncle Mo is as strong, powerful, athletic specimen and is the first foal from the multi-Canadian stakes-winner Brooklynsway that brought $375,000 at the OBS June sale. It’ll be interesting to see how long Baffert will be able to keep them apart.
4 - We’re always on the lookout for future stars, and any time trainer Todd Pletcher wins with a three-year-old at Gulfstream Park this time of the year we have to a take a closer look. What we saw on Saturday were a pair of sophomore colts that are definitely keeping close tabs on.
The first-time starter Iron Works, a Distorted Humor colt from Silverpocketsfull, a young stakes-placed Indian Charlie, mare was knocked down to 6/5 in a six furlong sprint and disposed of his foes from a cozy outside draw while being ridden out to the wire. The Beyer speed figure of 79 was solid if not spectacular, but the manner in which the win was accomplished – a stalking trip followed by a good late kick – suggests this colt will be perfectly suited by an extended sprint or a one-turn miler.
Thirty minutes later, the Pletcher-trained Dean’s List, himself a sharp debut maiden winner last month, verified that favorable early impression by coming back to score extra gamely at 1/5 by a nose over in a strong first-level allowance that produced a promising 86 Beyer speed figure. He’ll be seen in a sprint stakes next time out, either at Gulfstream Park or at Tampa Bay Downs. The runner-up, Dean Delivers will be odds-on next time. He’s a Florida-bred Cajun Breeze gelding who was making his first start since being nosed out in the Florida Sires Dr. Fager Stakes as a 2-year-old last July. There will be plenty of state-bred sprint stakes available for him this winter and spring.
5 - Earlier on the Saturday program yet another newcomer caught the eye, this one in a five furlong maiden all-weather affair event for sophomore fillies. Mouffy is an Uncle Mo filly and the first foal from Truly Together, a stakes-placed winner of three of six career starts whose dam was the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf champion, Forever Together. In addition to winning the five furlong event going away by almost two lengths, the Jonathan Thomas-trained Augustin Stable homebred set a new track record in :56.63 while easily dispatching the quick California shipper Comedic in the final sixteenth. Can’t wait to see this filly tried on grass and, in due time, over a distance of ground. Her winning Beyer speed figure of 81 makes her highly likely to become a stakes winner this spring, if not sooner.