Friday, February 18, 2011
Gulfstream’s Secretary Bork a Very Timely Writer
HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla., February 17, 2011–The Kentucky Derby might be 79 days from right now but the jockeying for position has begun in earnest and things are beginning to heat up around here.
It’s about time, too. From the weather, to the booming business, to the ultra competitive racing at the highest levels, everything’s been going rather well for the South Florida track. And now we get a few sparks that could turn into Triple Crown fireworks.
Reading between the lines of Mike Welsch‘s Daily Racing Form story on the creation of the Timely Writer overnight handicap open to all three-year-olds going a mile on March 12–the same day juvenile champion Uncle Mo is scheduled to make his 2011 debut in the Tampa Bay Derby–it’s an easy surmise that Nick Zito, trainer of undefeated Dialed In, ranked third on HRI’s Derby Power 10 Ratings, may be a little miffed.
Clearly, Zito would love to have had the option of considering such a spot. With $240,000 in graded earnings from the Holy Bull, running in a graded prep before the Florida Derby was not an imperative for a horse that‘s Louisville bound.
But with only two lifetime starts, experience is what Dialed In needs–two turn experience–and it appears that next weekend’s Fountain of Youth is coming up on the salty side. If there were an easier bridge to the Florida Derby, Zito likely would cross it.
“Both the timing and the distance of the race really don’t fit my schedule,” Zito told the Daily Racing Form, “although it’s the distance more than the date that’s the big issue.”
“I’d like to find another alternative for my horse rather than the Fountain of Youth, and had the handicap been written at a mile and one-eighth rather than one mile, I’d probably think about running him in there.”
Finding a more suitable two turn race for Dialed In ultimately may be less of an issue than what may be being perceived as an accommodation to Todd Pletcher. Of course, big outfits have always had the upper hand in this game and I’m sure Zito has benefitted from such scenarios himself. Writing races for trainers are part of the game.
Meanwhile, Pletcher must be thrilled to have this option. Old school horsemen believe that a one turn mile is a more suitable prep for a nine furlong route than a shorter two turner such as the Tampa Bay Derby’s mile and a sixteenth.
Additionally, Gulfstream Park is a much shorter van ride from Palm Meadows. Pletcher could even elect to lead Uncle Mo over from his barn on the Gulfstream backside. It’s a nice option to have. Pletcher said he would talk it over with owner Mike Repole.
“It’s an interesting race,” Pletcher told Welsch. “The fact that it’s on the same day as the Tampa Derby obviously works into our timing.”
At once, this seems like a good move and a bad move for Gulfstream Park, although the arithmetic says that the good outnumbers the bad by a two to one margin.
Despite the later date, the Timely Writer could hurt next week’s Fountain of Youth. On it’s face it’s apples vs. oranges; two turns to one, it’s worth more money–graded money, too–and coming two weeks after the Fountain of Youth, it gives trainers more time.
The deciding factor for any horseman with Kentucky Derby aspirations is just how highly he values the Grade 1 Florida Derby and it’s million dollar purse. Pretty highly one would think, and the Timely Writer mile is a nice fit with the nine furlong Florida Derby three weeks later.
If three weeks turns out to be too close for Timely Writer horses to come back in the Florida Derby, the G1 Wood Memorial could be the beneficiary, as it comes on the following weekend. The bad news for the Wood horses is that Aqueduct’s Grade 1 has been the major spring-prep goal of Uncle Mo.
Either way, it’s likely to be a good business decision for Gulfstream, sure to gain national press exposure at the expense of the Tampa Bay Derby should Uncle Mo remain in South Florida. It should be pretty good for business, too.
But there may be another element at work here: Payback.
The handle figures at the current Gulfstream Park session have been off the charts, both on track and from all sources. The only numbers that have remained relatively flat, or up slightly, are the intrastate wagering figures.
That’s because the cost of Tampa Bay’s simulcast signal has been set significantly lower to undercut Gulfstream’s popularity, thereby compelling more of the state’s bet takers to take the less costly Tampa product over Gulfstream‘s more expensive signal.
The signal fees issue has put some strain on the relationship between 2011’s most successful winter venues, that just happen to be located within the state of Florida. We’re sure it’s nothing personal. It’s strictly business, just like the creation of the Timely Writer and its aftermath.