November? It’s November? Yes, it’s November. Rake the leaves, start finalizing your stallion bookings, debate your neighbors on who should be Horse of the Year and stay busy following Thoroughbreds from one end of the region to the other. Some observations from September and October to feed the discussion:
Maybe Virginia got it right. This isn’t to say every state should try to build a Thoroughbred program without a racetrack (though the gears of rumor squeak of a potential buyer for Colonial Downs), but Virginia’s Thoroughbred industry got creative and will get a boost from its various ideas to promote state-bred and state-certified racehorses.
Owners of Virginia horses, be they foaled in the state or simply raised there, will receive bonus payments for racetrack victories outside the state.
Breeders didn’t leave – as evidenced by recent wins on big stages at Saratoga (by Virginia-raised Sadler’s Joy) and Monmouth Park (by Virginia-bred Just Call Kenny). Sales yearlings already prep in Virginia –
at Audley Farm, Lazy Lane Farm, Morgan’s Ford Farm and newer operations Old Chapel Farm and Chilly Bleak Farm among others. Now they’ve got another marketing tool for their horses and all should feel the impact of the new certified program which encourages breeders to raise horses in Virginia (no matter where they’re foaled).
The program rewards investment in the industry, wisely spends purse money raised from off-track betting facilities and account-wagering hubs and shows anyone outside the industry how much good can come from a little support.
Virginia also provides an example of cooperation between states with restricted races at Charles Town (in West Virginia) and Laurel Park (in Maryland) which can’t be anything but positive. See that model and build it in other states.
Virginia even linked its incentive program to steeplechase races, meaning owners and breeders of Virginia-bred and Virginia-certified steeplechase horses don’t get shut out of the program – even though they signed up just like everyone else.
From here, bravo. Keep it rolling. And imagine how much more fun this will all be if (when?) racing returns to Colonial Downs.
n You go to the Pennsylvania Derby and Cotillion at Parx Racing? I’ve been going to the races at the Philadelphia track since the 1970s when it was called Keystone and it – sorry – was never on my list of favorite places. Keystone reminded me of an airport or a shopping mall or some other means-to-an-end kind of place. People went, raced horses or bet on horses, and went home.
When the name changed to Philadelphia Park, the place didn’t change all that much though I always wondered what happened to the giant K from the side of the building. Renamed Parx Racing and Casino in 2009, old Keystone got a massive facelift and literally sparkles though it still doesn’t quite have the charm of some of the region’s other venues with more history.
But if you went racing there Sept. 23, you left impressed. The racing was strong. The names were big (face it, Mike Smith, Javier Castellano, John Velazquez, Bob Baffert and company don’t come to the region all that often). The horses were important. The place was alive, welcoming, fun.
Most importantly, the fans were enthusiastic. Baffert signed autographs, posed for photos and laughed at a “Hey Bob, you want a cheesesteak?” question from the other side of the paddock fence. The Hall of Fame trainer also later marveled at three E-A-G-L-E-S cheers bellowed at him in the winner’s circle. Smith couldn’t go more than a few steps without signing something or acknowledging an old friend. I’ve seen the interactions multiple times now – with Steve Asmussen when My Miss Aurelia got up in the 2012 Cotillion, with Art Sherman when California Chrome tried the 2014 Pennsylvania Derby, with Jerry Hollendorfer and Rick Porter when Songbird shined in the 2016 Cotillion.
The fans at Parx are engaged on Pennsylvania Derby Day. There are a lot of them. And they love their horses. Thanks for helping put on the show.
n Not that it ever went anywhere, but the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic yearling sale is back. It was encouraging to see strong statistics, big-time buyers and some world-class yearlings at the two-day sale Oct. 2-3. The average topped $25,000 for the first time since 2013, with the results swelling to 312 yearlings sold (the highest number since 2011).
Clearly, regional incentives for owners are pushing demand and breeders/consignors are providing quality horses. As it should, racetrack success will be the ultimate decider on buyer participation. A breakthrough sire based in the region would surely help the cause as well (no pressure boys). Beyond that, regional breeders can help the cause by choosing Timonium over other sales – I know, I know, Kentucky drives the market but complaints about regional results don’t sound so relevant when you don’t sell regionally.
n Laurel Park remembers Ben’s Cat with a memorial service and burial of the Maryland-bred great’s ashes near the paddock at 10:30 a.m. Nov. 11. It will be sad. It’ll be great. Everybody should be there.