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Post Time: Friday racing notebook

By Gene Kershner

A couple of Derby preps to whet the whistle this weekend at Aqueduct (Grade 3 Withers Stakes) and Tampa Bay  Downs (Grade 3 Sam F. Davis) as we are a few weeks away from an increase in the points available in the Road to Kentucky Derby Championship Series.

Some random thoughts as we head onto the Derby trail….

- I've enjoyed the first two episodes of Horseplayers so far and with the character development stage in full swing, I'm enjoying Peter Rotondo, Jr. and Matt Bernier the most so far.  Last week's journey on the Triple Crown stage showed the audience that even the best handicappers around can have an off day.

- Congrats to NHC 15 winner Jose Arias who took home the top prize of $750,000 last weekend, leading the tournament from gate-to-wire. An odds change of 8-1 to 6-1 in the final minute on runner-up Tony Brice's selection left him $1.20 short of the grand prize. Brice picked up $250,000 for second place

- There was some noise on the interwebs that Arias or someone in his crew may have hedged on Brice's horse causing the odds to drop in the final minute and cost Brice the title. For the first time in contest history the selections of each player at the final table were revealed one minute before post allowing this sort of strategy to potentially be employed. If they did hedge, it was within the rules and actually was a brilliant move. Horseplayers hedge everyday, why not in the biggest tournament around. Guessing that the revealing of selections won't ever happen again.

- A couple Woodbine shippers are running in the Sam F. Davis. Reade Baker sends out Asserting Bear (9-2) who will have Joe Rocco, Jr. in the irons and Mark Casse will have Matador (6-1) in the gate with Julien Leparoux aboard. Pletcher sends out two colts, Harpoon (4-1) and Vinceremos (6-1), both coming off maiden wins at Gulfstream.

- The Withers at the Big A only drew six colts with the two favorites that are trained by New Yorkers Richard Violette, Jr. (Samraat - 7/5) and Gary Contessa (Uncle Sigh - 9/5). If you're looking for value Scotland (8-1), trained by Anthony Dutrow (39 percent in second route races) looks ready to roll after posting two consecutive bullet works. 

Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.

Post Time: Friday racing notebook

By Gene Kershner

Just back from Florida and looking for the guy who turned down the heat!

ThoroFan Breakfast

It was my pleasure to emcee last weekend's ThoroFan Awards Breakfast honoring Dogwood Stables' Cot Campbell as the second annual ThoroFan Award winner. During the breakfast, Jim Mulvihill, Communications Director for the National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA), presented the NTRA Moment of the Year which was the Breeders' Cup Classic win by Mucho Macho Man. The Macho Man was in the gates over the weekend, easily winning the Sunshine Millions Classic.

After the breakfast, I enjoyed some live racing action for the first time since the Breeders' Cup and was fortunate to run into Fort Erie trainer Nick Gonzalez and Hall of Fame trainer Roger Attfield at Gulfstream. Gonzalez is high on the 4-year-old River Seven, runner-up in last year's Prince of Wales Stakes at Fort Erie Race Track and may run him in the Donn Handicap. Attfield was engaging as ever and was lamenting the possible closure of Fort Erie. He said he may have a promising 3-year-old to try the Plate trail, but he appears to favor the turf at present and wouldn't commit to his plans otherwise.

Horseplayers

Due to my travel down to Florida I missed the premiere episode but based on the reaction of the twitterverse, other than a few miscues, it appears that the initial episode on the Esquire Network was a hit. Team Rotondo, John Conte and Christian Hellmers all made their debut in the opener and most reviews have been positive. Check out last week's Q&A with cast member Peter Rotondo.

Fox Sports 1 Racing Telecasts

More positive news on the television front as Fox Sports 1 announced their inaugural 2014 television schedule of nine dates representing "The Jockey Club Tour on FOX," which includes seven Sunday afternoon broadcasts. The first broadcast will be the Donn from Gulfstream on Sunday, Feb. 9 at 5:00 p.m. Included in the broadcast schedule is Ricoh Woodbine Mile at Woodbine in September and three races from Saratoga including the Coaching Club American Oaks, the Saratoga Special and the Sword Dancer.

Wando

The 2003 Canadian Horse of the Year and last Canadian Triple Crown champion passed away at the age of 14 on Wednesday of a suspected heart attack. He won the Prince of Wales at Fort Erie with a four-length score, which set up a historic Triple Crown bid at Woodbine a few weeks later where he prevailed by 1 1/2-lengths. He had career earnings of over $2.5 million and had a record of 11-2-2 in 23 career starts. He entered stud at Lane's End Farm in 2006, eventually returning to stand stud at his home at Schonberg Farm for the 2011 breeding season, where he passed away. His progeny includes Turallure, who captured the 2011 Woodbine Mile. He is honored each May at Woodbine with the running of the Wando Stakes, a key prep race on the road to the Queen's Plate.

Sovereign Award Finalists

The Fort Erie-based Gonzalez was tabbed as one of four finalists for Outstanding Trainer and the four finalists for 3-year-old male champion were Five Iron, Plate winner Midnight Aria, River Seven and Up With The Birds. The three finalists for Canadian Horse of the Year will be announced the evening of the awards in April.

Derby Trail

The Derby trail heads south to Gulfstream with the running of the Holy Bull Stakes which has attracted 11 colts. Kiaran McLaughlin-trained Cairo Prince (3-1) is the morning line favorite in a race that appears to be wide open and could be an excellent betting opportunity. John Velazquez will return to the races on Saturday at Gulfstream after suffering a spill at the Breeders' Cup that claimed his spleen. He'll ride Coup de Grace (4-1) for Chad Brown in the Holy Bull.

Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.

Post Time: New Horseplayers TV show to debut

By Gene Kershner 

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. -- Hello from Hallandale Beach on the east coast of Florida and the home of Gulfstream Park, site of this weekend's Eclipse Awards. I'm down here to emcee the annual ThoroFan Awards breakfast this morning where owner Cot Campbell will receive the second annual ThoroFan Award. Guest speakers at today's event include Brent Comer from Stonestreet Farm and caretaker of Rachel Alexandra as well as Groupie Doll's owner and trainer, Mandy Pope and Buff Bradley. It's sure to be a nice event in its first year as an official part of the Eclipse Awards.  I'm the treasurer of the fan-based member organization which is a qualified 501(c)(3) entity.

Horseplayers

Next Tuesday, Jan. 21 at 10 p.m. ET on the Esquire TV network (Time Warner - 114; Dish - 191; DirecTV - 235 and FiOs - 160), a new series called Horseplayers will premiere featuring handicappers across the country that culminates at last year's Breeders' Cup in a reality-based setting. Two of the handicappers featured in the new series include National Handicapping Contest champions John Conte (2009) and Michael Beychok (2012). I had the fortune of introducing Beychok last January at the inaugural ThoroFan Awards event. He won the 2012 NHC by a single dollar in the last race of the competition and subsequently purchased and retired the horse that brought him the handicapping crown.

The Esquire network is a joint venture between NBCUniversal and the Hearst Corporation, and was formerly known as the Style network. The show takes you from Churchill Downs to Saratoga to Santa Anita, and each episode follows a group of handicappers as they travel the country in search of instant riches – and compete for the title of America’s top handicapper. One of the handicappers on the show is Peter Rotondo, 38, a Vice President - Media and Entertainment for Breeders' Cup Ltd. I caught up with the stylish Rotondo earlier this week and had a little Q&A session about the new show, which also features his father, Peter, Sr., as one of the handicappers in the cast.

Post Time: Tell me how the show came to be and were you part of the group that initiated the idea?

Rotondo:  I qualified for the 2012 NHC and went to Vegas with my Dad and his best friend, Lee Davis. Bryan Pettigrew and Keith Chamblin from the NTRA were hosting a production company who was interested in Horseplayers and the NHC. Long story short – they mic'd us up (and a few others) for the weekend, created a sizzle reel. They pitched it to various networks and Esquire bought it and greenlit the pilot. The pilot turned into a 10-episode series!

Post Time: What was your first reaction when approached to be part of the show and the tie-in to your position at the Breeders' Cup?

Rotondo: My first reaction when the show became a "reality" was nervousness. I'm not exactly someone who wants to be in front of the camera (though everyone I know reading this just rolled their eyes), I'm comfortable behind the scenes in the TV landscape (as my role has been for many years working with ESPN and NBC). On the other hand, my Dad and Lee are made for TV, so I was going to do whatever I could to make it happen!  As far as a tie in to work at the BC, I cleared with Senior Management and they were very supportive. Most of the 'work' was on the weekend, so didn’t really interfere too much with my day to day job. Plus, I think the more exposure we can bring to the game the better we're all off and being close to the project made more sense than distancing myself from it.

Post Time: What’s something that viewers will be surprised about when they see the show?

Rotondo: Hmm…good question. I'm not sure. I think the hardcore fans of racing will like it to a point – I think they'll want to see more handicapping strategy and wagering but the "reality" is that the show needs to develop the characters before trying to explain handicapping and betting in detail. If the show takes off, you'll see a lot of wagering and handicapping discussion. I think the casual fan or reality television viewer that knows nothing about racing may find the characters interesting and, for the most part, the show destroys the stereotype of the typical horseplayer.

Post Time: What was it like being on a reality show with your father?

Rotondo: It was a blast. He's 64 but has so much energy so I know my role was to just get him going so he can be himself! He and Lee are truly crazy and everyone who spends time with them has a hysterically good time. I hope that comes across through the season – they put the "real" in "reality!"

Post Time: What will appeal to the casual sports fan when watching the show?

Rotondo: I think the risk and reward will appeal to the casual sports fan. I'm not sure the show is geared toward "sports" fans – maybe more toward the gamblers (think World Series of Poker) and at the same time the rest of the public as the curtain is lifted on something many people don't know much about.

Post Time: Out of the cadre of handicappers on the show, who impressed you the most?

Rotondo: Not to disparage my fellow cast-mates but Christian Hellmers impressed me the most. He is an amazing handicapper, exceptional tournament player and literally operates on a different "level" than everyone else. You'll have to watch to see what I'm talking about!

Post Time: Is there talk of a second season?

Rotondo: Not yet. I'm just trying to get thru Tuesday!

Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.

Post Time: Friday racing notebook

By Gene Kershner

The Eclipse Award finalists were announced on Wednesday morning and there were not a lot of surprises within the nominations for horse racing's year end laurels. The winners will be announced at the annual Eclipse Awards at Gulfstream Park on Saturday, Jan. 18. A list of the three finalists in each division can be found here. The three finalists for Horse of the Year (HOY) are Wise Dan, Mucho Macho Man and Will Take Charge. I posted a look at my ballot last weekend on this blog.

Some thoughts as we start heading down the Derby trail….

- My ballot wasn't too far off of the announced finalists. The one category where my top horse wasn't even on the finalists list was in the Female Sprinter category where I went with the full body of work of Cluster of Stars. My other two selections Dance to Bristol and Groupie Doll both made the final cut.

- Lots of noise surrounding the Older Male category and the inclusion of Wise Dan, who ironically won last year's Eclipse in this category. Some of the voters that have been around for some time seem to think that this is a category strictly for dirt horses.  Funny, I can't seem to find that anywhere, maybe someone can point me to where it says this category excludes turf horses?

- Interesting that Will Take Charge's late season heroics bumped him into the top three for HOY over Game on Dude, who had a solid season with his only clunker being the BC Classic.

- Glad to see my jockey selection Gary Stevens make the cut after the tremendous comeback year. He probably won't win it based on the pure numbers of Javier Castellano, but good to see him be recognized.

- Not sure why the industry announced the finalists on the same day as the Baseball Hall of Fame inductees. Why not pick a slow news day and avoid something that will dominate the sports headlines like something as controversial as the baseball hall?

- Sad that the Sham Stakes, a Derby points race at Santa Anita this Saturday, drew only four horses, three of which are trained by Eclipse finalist Bob Baffert.

- Speaking of the Run for the Roses, last month, Churchill Downs started the process of erecting a massive $12 million video board that will be 171 feet wide and sit 80 feet above the ground. It 90-foot board will utilize advanced ultra-high definition 4K technology and will be the largest outdoor screen in the world.

- Buffalo Raceway opens tomorrow night after canceling both Wednesday and tonight's races. First post is 6:40 p.m. and a new announcer, Michael Carter, will be calling the races from the Hamburg oval.

Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.

Post Time: Wise Dan should repeat as Horse of the Year

By Gene Kershner

This afternoon the 2013 Eclipse voting ends and on Jan. 8 we will know the three finalists in each of the various categories, including Horse of the Year. Fortunate enough to have an Eclipse ballot as a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association (NTWAB), I submitted my ballot earlier in the week. Here is my ballot and a brief summary of my thoughts when voting.

Two-Year Old Male: 1 - New Year's Day; 2 - Havana; 3 - Shared Belief

This was one of the more difficult categories for me as it was difficult to not go with the Breeders' Cup (BC) Juvenile winner, the biggest race for a 2-year-old male of the year. Havana, the second place finisher in the Juvenile and winner of the Grade 1 Champagne, had a solid year and I considered briefly. Jim Rome's Shared Belief won both of his races on polytrack, only one being a graded stake.

Two-Year-Old Filly: 1 - She's a Tiger; 2 - Ria Antonia; 3 - Sweet Reason

She's a Tiger lost the BC Juvenile Fillies to Ria Antonia via disqualification, but had the better overall year when looking at her fully body of work. A Grade 1 win in the Del Mar Debutante and second place finishes in a Grade 1 at Santa Anita and Grade 2 at Del Mar did the trick for me.

Three-Year-Old Male: 1 - Will Take Charge; 2 - Orb; 3 - Oxbow

After the BC Classic this one became a little tougher to decide, but a win against older in the Grade 1 Clark, solidified my leaning towards Will Take Charge as the 3-year-old champion. Add Grade 1 wins in the Travers and Grade 2's in the Rebel and Pennsylvania Derby and the choice became much easier.

Three-Year-Old Filly:  1 - Princess of Sylmar; 2 - Beholder; 3 - Close Hatches

By far the most difficult selection, that was almost a toss-up between the top two choices. They split the two head-to-head meetings in the Kentucky Oaks and the BC Distaff.  Each won four Grade 1 races during the year and both won races against older horses. I leaned towards the four straight Grade 1 wins by Princess of Sylmar (Oaks, CCAO, Alabama, Beldame) to make the final call.

Older Male: 1 - Wise Dan; 2 - Mucho Macho Man; 3 - Game On Dude

This category is usually slanted towards older dirt horses, but because of the fact that Wise Dan being my choice as Horse of the Year, he wins this category by default in my eyes. More analysis on this group in my HOY summary.

Older Female: 1 - Royal Delta; 2 - Joyful Victory; 3 - Tiz Miz Sue

It should result in a landslide victory here for her third in a row in this category.

Male Sprinter:  1 - Points Offthebench; 2 - Sahara Sky; 3 - Secret Circle

This is another tough category, wherein the voting should be very close. The late Points Offthebench who was euthanized after a workout a week prior to the Breeders' Cup had the best body of work with four straight wins, including two straight Grade 1 wins. The Met Mile winner and BC Sprint winner are both valid choices for this award.

Female Sprinter: 1 - Cluster of Stars; 2 - Dance to Bristol; 3 - Groupie Doll

I just couldn't bring myself to vote for Groupie Doll, whose best two performances were in the BC and on the Tapeta at Presque Isle. Dance to Bristol's seven-race win streak was impressive, but the head-to-head loss to Cluster of Stars in the Grade 2 Gallant Bloom as the highlight of her undefeated six-race season did the trick for me.

Male Turf Horse: 1 - Wise Dan; 2 - Magician; 3 - Point of Entry

See Older Horse synopsis.

Female Turf Horse: 1 - Dank; 2 - Laughing; 3 - Tiz Flirtatious

Dank's BC Filly and Mare Turf performance was so impressive, that she took this category running only two races in the States this year (she also won the Beverly D. at Arlington on Million day). Laughing had a great season, but was outclassed in the Filly and Mare Turf by Dank.

Jockey: 1 - Gary Stevens, 2 - Mike Smith; 3 - John Velazquez

Just based on Grade 1 and big wins during the year (Preakness, BC Classic) the top two delivered with the motto less is more. Smith had 15 Grade 1 wins to Stevens' nine. The magnitude of Stevens' wins off a seven-year layoff and coming back after spending time in the television booth, makes his comeback all the more impressive. While statistically and earnings-wise Javier Castellano had the best year, these three jocks consistently won the big races.

Trainer: 1 - Todd Pletcher; 2 - Chad Brown; 3 - D. Wayne Lukas

While I was tempted to go with D. Wayne Lukas, Pletcher and Brown both had tremendous seasons, Pletcher winning a Triple Crown race in the Belmont and another Saratoga training title overshadowed the good work performed by Brown in 2013.

Owner: Kenneth L. and Sarah K. Ramsey

Breeder: Adena Springs

I abstained from the steeplechase horse and apprentice jockey votes due to lack of knowledge in both of those arenas, similar to last year.

Horse of the Year: 1 - Wise Dan; 2 - Mucho Macho Man; 3 - Game On Dude

It was Game On Dude's award for the taking with a win in the BC Classic, but another disappointing finish doomed his chances. Mucho Macho Man's only two wins came in Grade 1's at Santa Anita, but winning the Classic gave him the juice to be my second choice. Wise Dan should repeat by default, as he effortlessly went through the year winning four Grade 1 and two Grade 2 races. His only blemish was an off-the-turf effort in the Shadwell Mile that was run on Keeneland's polytrack where he finished a length and a quarter behind Silver Max. He gets the nod for HOY.

Happy New Year!

Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.

Post Time: The 2014 Racing Kreskin

By Gene Kershner

In November, the Racing Kreskin reviewed his 2013 racing predictions where he fell well short of expectations after a solid 2012 year where he batted .500. The 2013 dip was significant as we missed our first eight selections and were looking to get off the duck at the Breeders' Cup with the final two projections. Luckily we nailed both to reach the Mendoza Line and give the Racing Kreskin some hope for 2014.

 So as we approach the new year, it’s time to pull out the crystal ball and start channeling our inner Kreskin to take a look at the upcoming 2014 racing season.  We’ll keep some of the staples in the mix (you’ll recognize them) and add a few new twists this year. So without further adieu, Mr. Kreskin…

1. A filly from the west coast will win the Kentucky Oaks. Last year, Princess of Sylmar captured the Oaks at 47-1 from the east coast. Sorry to go all 2Pac and Biggie on y'all, but it's the west coast's turn to win the Oaks.

2. The Kentucky Derby winner will come from gates 4 through 7. This is a bit of a stretch, and I could have gone with the inside and included the inner three gates, but we know that's most likely not going to happen. We're narrowing our odds here, but we're talking Racing Kreskin here, not Jimmy the Greek.

3. The Derby winner will come out of the Wood Memorial. It's been a long time since the Wood produced a Derby winner. You have to go back 13 years to Fusaichi Pegasus as the last winner. Three of the last five years' winners have been Derby threats, although two (I Want Revenge and Eskendereya) never made it to the gate.

4. The trainer of the Derby winner will claim his first. So what I'm saying here is no Baffert, no Pletcher, no D. Wayne, and no Shug.  Jerry Hollendorfer, anyone?

5. A colt will win two of the three Triple Crown races.  Wait, what? No Triple Crown again? Not only that, we're looking at two of three. Opens the door for an Afleet Alex type (Preakness-Belmont) or a disappointing failure in the Belmont, most likely.

6. Roger Attfield wins a record ninth Queen’s Plate. The Canadian and U.S. Hall of Famer is currently tied with Harry Giddings, Jr. for the top spot atop the trainer category for Plate victories. I watched his last win at venerable Fort Erie Race Track on the simulcast in 2008 when Not Bourbon helped him tie the record. Attention: This is a repeat selection, for those wondering if I was getting lazy.

7. Joel Rosario wins the riding title at Saratoga. He was red-hot going into the Spa meet in 2013, after winning the Dubai World Cup and the Derby, but finished third with 41 victories behind Castellano (66) and Velazquez (46). Castellano will be tough to beat and who knows how Johnny V responds in his recovery from his spleen removal. It's Joel's time.

8. The Haskell Hat is Green.  It's been dark colors for the past five years. Green has been off the rotation since 1997 and has to be back this year.  It has shown up on the brim in 1999 and in the stitching in 2007, but that doesn't count. Upset possibilities: white (2007) and yellow (2002).

9. A track other than Santa Anita or Churchill will be awarded the 2015 Breeders’ Cup.  It’s been a two-track rotation for seven straight years. This means we're projecting the folks at Breeders' Cup Ltd. going back to the origins of the concept and looking to rotate the Cup away from the big three (including Belmont).  This projection has the least likely chance for success.

10. The Classic winner will go off between 5-1 and 10-1. So we're saying the post time favorite won't win and it'll likely be a horse going off as the third to sixth choice on the board, but not a long shot. I like our chances here. 

That’s it for the Racing Kreskin, 2014. We made some bold predictions, but no one said this job was easy. Look for my year in racing review in print editions this weekend. 

Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.

Post Time: Friday racing notebook

By Gene Kershner

With only five days left until Christmas and 12 until the New Year, the racing season is winding down and we'll be spending the next two weekends deciding on our Eclipse Awards ballot which I will post in the first week of the New Year.

We're also feverishly working on our 2014 prognostications for next weekend (ala Kreskin) and hope we can get over the Mendoza line this year after last year's dismal showing. Last week's Festivus post received some solid traction thanks to equidaily.com's link and subsequent interview on Racing Across America via Capital -OTB TV in Albany on Wednesday ( go to 40:25 mark).

Some thoughts as we head into the holidays….

- It's regrettable that I never made it to Hollywood Park. So many great races have been held there over time.  Racing will conclude this weekend at the site of the first Breeders' Cup in 1984, and will give way to real estate development. It was No. 7 on my wish list...oh well.

- No news is typically not good news when it comes to the Ontario Provincial government that seems to be slow on the trigger to respond to the Fort Erie Live Racing Consortium's 91-page proposal surrounding the Year of the Horse and festival racing at the border oval. As more time passes, the more dire the situation across the border becomes. The festival concept is interesting, but will be very difficult to pull off, mainly due to stabilizing a horse population, not just the tourism monies that will have to raised. The glass is half empty in this corner. Let's hope racing isn't shuttered across the Peace Bridge.

- While preparing for my television interview, I didn't realize that Gary Stevens has only had 369 mounts during the year in ranking third in Grade 1 wins (8) behind Mike Smith (15) and John Velazquez (13), respectively. Ironically, Smith has only 402 mounts. It appears the elder statesmen sure know how to pick their spots.

- Aqueduct is unveiling a new wager on January 1 called The Omni. A bettor will have to select two of the first three finishers to win the bet. How many times has your exacta been split finishing 1-3 or worse 2-3? The bet will have a fairly low takeout rate of 15 percent.

- On January 1, New York State will impose a 5 percent market origin fee on each dollar wagered by a New York State resident on any out-of-state account wagering deposit (ADW) company. This will affect many of the ADW's such as twinspires.com, Xpressbet and TVG, the three largest in the country. The track wagered on by the NY resident does not matter when calculating the fee. ADW's typically retain 10-20 percent of each dollar wagered according to the Daily Racing Form.

- New York is obviously trying to discourage out-of-state ADW's with dealing with NY customers and to drive customers to one of the OTB accounts in New York or NYRA Rewards. However, when I contacted twinspires.com they assured me of the following: "This will not affect you in anyway. This fee is something that we as the ADW will have to pay. This is not a fee we will be passing on to our customers who live in NY. There is a chance some people would be affected but those are rebated players and it could affect their rebates."  Good news for the weekend warriors who like to use services like twinspires.

Happy holidays!

Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.

Post Time: It's a Racing Festivus 2013!

By Gene Kershner

It's that time of year where we dance around the Festivus Pole and discuss Thoroughbred Racing’s 2013 Feats of Strength and the Airing of Grievances. Time to gather round the table and enjoy a wonderful Festivus meal and a few Festivus ales as we're ready to unveil this year’s Racing Festivus for the rest of us...

“Feats of Strength”

Stevens and Lukas steal the limelight old school style. 50-year-old Gary Stevens won the Preakness aboard Oxbow, the Breeders' Cup Distaff on Beholder and the Breeders' Cup Classic on Mucho Macho Man to cap a terrific year after a seven-year layoff. Stevens was named the winner earlier in the week of the Big Sport of Turfdom by the Turf Publicists of America. D. Wayne Lukas teamed with Stevens in the Preakness and added the Travers win with Will Take Charge in addition to a nose loss in the Classic during a big comeback year for the 78-year-old conditioner.

Calidoscopio's incredible closing finish in the Brooklyn. NBC's Larry Collmus described Calidoscopio's win as "he came from the clouds" after trailing by a whopping 22 lengths during the Grade 2 Brooklyn Handicap. The 2012 Breeders' Cup Marathon winner bred in Argentina became only the second 10-year-old horse to win a graded stakes race with the win. You can watch the incredible finish here on the sloppy Belmont track on the eve of the Belmont Stakes in the mile and a half race.

Will Take Charge's late season charge. After struggling through the Triple Crown season, the 3-year-old who stands well over 17 hands tall, stole the show once the summer racing season began. Big wins in the Travers, Pennsylvania Derby and Clark Handicap surrounding a nostril loss in the Breeders' Cup Classic should vault the Lukas-trained sophomore to divisional honors in January. He ran a herculean 11 times during 2013 and finished the year 11-5-2-0, earning nearly $2.9 million during the year, clearly a feat of strength.

Ok, so here’s what you’re really looking for, the annual airing of grievances…also known as “I’ve got a lot of problems with you people!”

“Airing of Grievances”

NYRA increases attendance prices at Belmont and Saratoga for 2014. Clubhouse admission prices will rise $3 (or 60%) to $8; and general admission will be increased $2 (or 67%) to $5 for patrons attending both Belmont and Saratoga in 2014. Bettors will be a little lighter in the wallet. Come on NYRA, how about a season pass for the faithful that show up daily at the two venerable tracks? I can see you fleecing the unsuspecting tourist, but the loyal bettor that keeps your handle up. Promises of increased customer service to enhance the experience, ring hollow when you can't hear the sound system.

Derby Points System  current year revisions still shun Illinois Derby. It was more than obvious of the snub that parent company Churchill Downs pulled when eliminating the Illinois Derby from its new points system in 2013, and when changes were promised in 2014, the race is still on the outside looking in. You can bet that Churchill officials were holding their collective breath hoping that 2013 Illinois Derby winner Departing didn't win the Preakness. The Illinois Derby is run at Hawthorne Race Course, the rival Chicago track to Churchill-owned Arlington. Draw your own conclusions, but I’m continuing to air a grievance here.

Ontario government turns back on Fort Erie. The folks at the border oval have had to resort to presenting a festival-style meeting over a three-week period in August that still will require government approvals to extend thoroughbred racing into the 116th year at the Fort. It's a shame that the jewel across the bridge could be shuttered in 2014.  I got a lot of issues with your provincial governing, Ontario!

Breeders' Cup will return for third straight year to Santa Anita. Am I really upset that I have to go back to beautiful Santa Anita next November for Breeders' Cup XXXI? From a personal standpoint the answer is, of course not. But what about the original mission to showcase racing's best across the country at various tracks? Since 2006, the Cup has rotated between two tracks, with one miserable underwater venture at Monmouth Park in 2007. I'll give BC Ltd. credit for renaming the Ladies' Classic back to the Distaff this year, but the original mission and plan seems to be thrown away for the siren of Hollywood. Sorry, but I'm calling you on it, BC.

That’s a wrap for this year’s Racing Festivus. In the next few weeks, we’ll look at some 2014 prognostications, Kreskin-style. Happy holidays, racing fans.

Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.

Post Time: Friday racing notebook

By Gene Kershner 

Holiday racing has big races today (Clark Handicap) and tomorrow (Cigar) at Churchill Downs and Aqueduct, respectively. 

Clark Handicap 

Game On Dude (8-5) was assigned high weight in the Grade 1 Clark (126 lbs) where he will take on 3-year-old contender Will Take Charge (9-5, 123 lbs) in an attempt to save face after a dismal ninth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Classic. The 9-furlong race is at the Dude's favored distance where he's won seven of nine starts and finished second in another at the distance. Mike Smith will be in the irons for trainer Bob Baffert on the Dude. 

It will be Will Take Charge's 11th race of a long year that has seen him win four times including a Grade 1 (Travers), two Grade 2 victories (Rebel, Penn Derby), as well as his nose loss to Mucho Macho Man in the Classic. A win here could propel him to the 3-year-old male championship with a second consecutive good showing against older horses. Luis Saez gets the mount for the fifth straight time on the son of Unbridled's Song. 

Other contenders include last year's Travers dead-heater Golden Ticket (9-2, 120 lbs.) and Bourbon Courage (8-1, 117 lbs). There is some pace to the race with the Dude, Prayer for Relief (20-1) and Jaguar Paw (20-1), but it looks like it will come down to the main two challengers.  I like Bourbon Courage's chances to hit the board and pick up the pieces should the race fall apart. 

Cigar Mile 

The Grade 1 Cigar Mile at the Big A on Saturday will feature Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile winner Goldencents and Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint winner Groupie Doll, both of whom will try to place an exclamation point on their respective seasons. Talk of a 3-year-old championship with a Cigar Mile for Goldencents isn't out of the question, who is partially owned by Kentucky basketball coach Rick Pitino. 

Groupie Doll, running for new owner Mandy Pope, had her final workout on Monday, going four furlongs in 48.55 for trainer "Buff" Bradley.  Pope purchased the daughter of Bowman's Band during the recent Keeneland November breeding stock sale for $3.1 million. Stay Thirsty nipped the champion female sprinter by a nose in last year's edition of the Cigar Mile, so she's taken on the boys before in this very race. 

Todd Pletcher will send out of trio of challengers including Haskell winner Verrazano, King's Bishop winner Capo Bastone and Forty Tales to the gate to challenge the Breeders' Cup winners. 

Fort Erie Festival Racing Proposal 

On Wednesday the Fort Erie Live Racing Consortium unveiled their proposal to the Ontario government for a festival racing concept. The proposal detailed a three-weekend meet to be conducted in August 2014 with an emphasis on "The Year of the Horse," representing this year's Chinese New Year. The Year of the Horse celebration would feature a regal horse as its centerpiece, a man-made horse built via a traditional bamboo scaffolding technique, used primarily in Hong Kong. 

The festival strategy combines marketing efforts to ethnic groups, an interactive gaming site called Horses 101, concerts and special tour packages to draw interest from outside of the area. A link to the proposal can be found here

Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.

Post Time: Friday racing notebook

By Gene Kershner 

Next week's holiday weekend serves up the last big racing of the year with the Clark Handicap at Churchill on Friday and the Cigar Mile at Aqueduct. That will round out the racing year for most of the divisions with very few races in December that should impact Eclipse voters. 

Both races have some star power as Game On Dude will try and regain some traction after another abysmal performance in the Breeders' Cup Classic by coming east to run in the Clark. The only way he doesn't run is based on the weight he is assigned per trainer Bob Baffert. 

The roster of known probable starters for the race includes (with trainers): Bourbon Courage (Kellyn Gorder), Easter Gift (Chad Brown), Finnegans Wake (Romans), Game On Dude (Baffert), Golden Ticket (Kenny McPeek), Prayer for Relief (Steve Asmussen) and Will Take Charge (D. Wayne Lukas). 

In a very close race with Orb, who has been retired to stud, for 3-year-old male divisional honors, Will Take Charge would make a big statement with a Grade 1 win in the Clark against older horses. 

The names being floated for the Cigar Mile include three Pletcher horses, Capo Bastone, Verrazano and Forty Tales, in addition to Clearly Now, Groupie Doll and west coast shipper and BC Dirt Mile winner Goldencents. That is shaping up to be quite the contest next Saturday at the Big A. 

Some other random racing notes and thoughts as we head towards the holidays… 

- This Saturday at Delta Downs features the $1 million Grade 3 Delta Jackpot for 2-year-olds has attracted 10 juveniles. Mark Casse-trained Coastline has been installed as the 5-2 morning line favorite.

- This year's Prince of Wales champion Uncaptured (7-2), will also be in action at Delta Downs on Saturday, running in the $150,000 Delta Mile. Familiar names Decisive Moment (10-1) and Nates Mineshaft (9-2) join the winner of the second jewel of the Canadian Triple Crown at Fort Erie Race Track this past July.

- I was a guest on Capital OTB-TV's Racing Across America last week and discussed various racing topics including ThoroFan, the Breeders' Cup, Fort Erie and the upcoming Eclipse voting. I come on around the 41-minute mark.

- Best wishes to Bill Tallon, the Canadian editor and correspondent for the Daily Racing Form, who announced his retirement late last week. Bill was always a gentleman to me while covering the last three Plates every June. He'll be sorely missed in the Woodbine press box.

RIP turf writer Paul Moran, a former Buffalonian who spent a number of years covering racing for publications such as Newsday, the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel and most recently, ESPN.com. Moran passed away recently after a long battle against cancer. I ran into him in a back room at the Preakness last May while we were both waiting to go on radio shows in Buffalo and Albany, respectively.  I deferred to him and went outside to conduct my interview so he could have privacy for his call back to Albany. As we exchanged pleasantries about Buffalo and whatnot, he mentioned that the only reason he was at the Preakness was he thought Orb had a great chance to win the Triple Crown, and that it might be his last chance to see a Triple Crown winner.

Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.

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About Sports, Ink

Budd Bailey

Budd Bailey

Budd Bailey has served in a variety of roles in Buffalo sports in the past 35 years, including reporter, talk-show host, baseball announcer, public relations staffer and author. He covers the Bandits and running for The News when not working as an editor.

@WDX2BB | bbailey@buffnews.com

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