I hope you all got your feast on for Thanksgiving, as you’re about to go on a forced diet when it comes to racing offerings thanks to the ongoing simulcast signal dispute between Churchill Downs Inc. and Nevada’s racebooks.
The standoff between CDI and the Nevada Pari-Mutuel Association, which passed its two-year mark on Oct. 27, prevents Nevadans and any horseplaying visitors who aren’t prepared to end-run the blackout from betting on Churchill Downs races.
That includes some excellent racing this long holiday weekend, including the $750,000 Clark Handicap (Grade 1), featuring a field of eight top older horses, on Friday and the $400,000 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (Grade 2), an early prep for the 2022 Kentucky Derby, on Saturday.
It also means no wagering on two of the most appetizing feeds of the late fall and winter — the Fair Grounds, which opened its 150th season on Thanksgiving Day, and Oaklawn Park, which launches an earlier-than-usual winter meet on Dec. 3.
The dispute boils down to the fact that Churchill wants to charge more for its signal and Nevada’s racebooks, which are thin-profit operations, don’t want to pay the extra freight. Doing so, they told me last year, would endanger their ability to offer free drinks and subsidized Daily Racing Forms to their customers.
It’s depressing that we’re now more than two years into this and there are no indications that any progress has been made toward a solution. In the meantime, many Nevada players are no doubt making their wagers on Churchill Downs-controlled tracks via offshore wagering sites, which typically pay nothing at all to the host track.
If you want to look at this lose-lose-lose scenario in a positive light, it offers an opportunity to tune into lesser-known tracks like Tampa Bay Downs, which opened for business on Wednesday. While not known for showcasing the finest equine talent, it offers full, competitive fields on both dirt and turf.
We also will be able to sneak a few snacks from the fridge before Santa Anita reopens on Dec. 26.
Del Mar concludes its fall meet this weekend with a flurry of stakes action, including the Hollywood Turf Cup (Grade 2) on Friday, the Hollywood Derby (Grade 1), Seabiscuit Handicap (Grade 2) and the Jimmy Durante Stakes (Grade 3) on Saturday and the Matriarch Stakes (Grade 1) and Cecille B. DeMille Stakes (Grade 3) on Sunday.
Aqueduct has an excellent card set for Dec. 4, with four stakes topped by the Cigar Mile (Grade 1) and the Remsen Stakes (Grade 2). The Claiming Crown races at Gulfstream Park the same day also are always fun.
The Los Alamitos Futurity (Grade 2) on Dec. 11 offers another chance to get a look at some of the top juveniles on the West Coast.
And Gulfstream Park will help get us to the Christmas holiday, with five stakes races on its Dec. 18 card, topped by the Fort Lauderdale Stakes (Grade 2).
Art Sherman retiring
Southern California trainer Art Sherman has announced he’s retiring at the end of the year.
Sherman, 84, has had an amazing career in racing, including working as an exercise rider for the great Swaps in the mid-1950s, riding for 23 years as a jockey and spending decades as a trainer, a stint that culminated with California Chrome, whom he guided to victories in the 2014 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes and the 2016 Dubai World Cup, among other big races.
Sad to say goodbye to an excellent horseman and one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet, but we wish him the very best in his golden years.
Ellis Starr’s Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes analysis
Tiz the Bomb sticks out on class and speed figures in this year’s Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, based on the field high 107 Equibase Speed Figure earned when closing sensationally for second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Stakes three weeks ago. Lagging back in 12th after three-quarters of the one mile race, Tiz the Bomb passed 11 horses in the last quarter mile including seven in the last eighth of a mile to finish second in an unusual race in which winner Modern Games ran for purse money only. Prior to that, Tiz the Bomb won three races in a row including two stakes races. His only dirt route came before the stakes where in July Tiz the Bomb decimated the field by a 14 length margin. Since returning to Kentucky from California, Tiz the Bomb put in a strong workout on the Churchill Downs dirt main track which was the fourth best of 59 on the day for five-eighths of a mile, demonstrating he is holding top form. It must also be noted that in 2015 Airoforce finished second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf before his victory in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes which provides evidence moving from turf to dirt while dropping from a grade 1 to grade 2 stakes may be the ticket to Tiz the Bomb winning this race.
Howling Time is another with history on his side. Winner of his maiden race in September, Howling Time stepped up in class last month to win the Street Sense Stakes over the track and at the distance of the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes. The Street Sense was the same race the 2016 Kentucky Jockey Club winner McCracken ran in prior to winning, and in 2019 Silver Prospector finished third in the Street Sense before capturing this race. Although the 92 figure earned winning the Street Sense is much lower than the 107 figure Tiz the Bomb earned in his most recent race, it is on par with the 90 and 89 figures Tiz the Bomb earned winning two stakes races, so if the likely favorite regresses to his previous form and Howling Time continues to run the same race, or improves, he has every right to win this race.
White Abarrio ships up from Gulfstream Park in Florida off a strong four length win in the second start of his career, following a six length win in his debut in September. His 94 and 89 figure efforts are pretty strong and one win came while leading from start to finish while the other came from off the pace so this colt’s versatility could be an asset. Since White Abarrio is running in a stakes race for the first time, I used Race Lens to check the records of other foals of his sire, Race Day, who has just three crops of horses racing to date. Among that small group, only eight horses have run in dirt route stakes races, but four of those eight have won stakes similar to this race. As such, White Abarrio should be considered with a chance to succeed in this field.
The rest of the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes field, with their best Equibase Speed Figures: Ben Diesel (81); Call Me Midnight (89); Classic Causeway (92); Guntown (79); Mannix (IRE) (96); Ready Pursuit (79); Red Knobs (81); Rich Strike (75); Smile Happy (91); Texas Red Hot (84); and Vivar (77).
Ellis Starr is the national racing analyst for Equibase. Visit the Equibase website for more on the race or to purchase handicapping products.