Updated February 26, 2021 - 6:48 pm
I AM REALLY FRUSTRATED!!!
Those words belong to reader Bruce Little, a retired veterinarian and former thoroughbred horse breeder and owner who moved to Nevada from Illinois in 2007, in part so he could continue to enjoy the sport he has been involved in for most of his life.
The reason for his vexation: the continuing contract dispute between Nevada’s racebooks and Churchill Downs Inc. over how much money the racebooks should pay for the track’s signal, a dispute which has now dragged on for nearly 16 months.
As it did last year, the dispute is preventing Nevada horseplayers from betting on many of the key prep races leading to the Kentucky Derby, including Saturday’s Southwest Stakes from Oaklawn Park. If the matter isn’t resolved soon, Nevada residents and visitors also will have few wagering options for the Run for the Roses on the first Saturday in May.
Far from just complaining, though, Little says he’s ready to do whatever he needs to do to get the dispute resolved.
“It really disturbs me,” he told me this week. “I’m willing to do all I can do from my telephone and computer … to wake these people up either by marching on their offices or mounting a write-in campaign to the governor.”
The Nevada Pari-Mutuel Association, which has not responded to multiple requests for comment since the dispute erupted on Oct. 27, 2019, represents Nevada’s racebooks but does not consider those who inhabit those gaming spaces to be its clients.
And Churchill Downs, which likewise did not respond to requests for comment, is fast developing a reputation as an industry bully that only cares about its bottom line. It added to its notoriety with an announcement Tuesday that it plans to sell historic Arlington Park outside Chicago to a developer while it pursues transferring the track’s racing license to a yet-to-be built facility in the area.
The real problem in Nevada, according to an industry insider who spoke on condition of anonymity, is that the state’s decades-old laws enabling pari-mutuel wagering on horse races are hopelessly outdated and stifle competition by preventing any individual company from negotiating its own deal.
“Without a free market, this will happen again and again,” the insider said of the current dispute, adding that it could have a silver lining if it helps bring about needed structural changes in how the sport is regulated in the state. “It’s going to take some major thing like this to bring it to the forefront.”
In the meantime, if you have any thoughts on the issue that you’d like to share with state regulators, you can submit a public comment to the Nevada Gaming Control Board and Nevada Gaming Commission via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Submissions should include the commenter’s name and be 3 minutes or shorter when read aloud.
Southwest, Fountain of Youth this weekend
With or without us, the 3-year-old races will march onward this weekend, with Saturday’s $750,000 Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn and the $300,000 Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream Park highlighting the action.
In the former, a Grade 3 race run at 11/16 miles, juvenile Eclipse Award winner Essential Quality, 3-2 on the morning line, will make his 3-year-old debut in a field of seven that includes nemesis Jackie’s Warrior (8-5), a perfect four-for-four before tiring late as the favorite in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile won by Essential Quality.
The Fountain of Youth, a Grade 2 race also run at 11/16 miles, attracted a field of 10 led by 9-5 morning-line favorite Greatest Honour for Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey.
Both races will be part of the “American’s Day at the Races” coverage on Fox Sports 2, with the Southwest expected to go postward at 1:58 p.m. PT and the Fountain of Youth set for 3:10 p.m. PT.
Ellis Starr’s Fountain of Youth Stakes analysis
Greatest Honour was well regarded by bettors as the second choice in the Holy Bull Stakes last month and rewarded his backers with a visually impressive win by almost six lengths. Rallying from seventh in the early stages, Greatest Honour swept past his rivals on the far turn while four paths wide to lead by a length in the stretch before drawing off with ease. Bringing his record to a perfect two-for-two at the distance of the Fountain of Youth, Greatest Honour earned a 103 Equibase Speed Figure. That was not his best figure, but the 106 figure Greatest Honour earned winning one race before the Holy Bull is the best figure earned by any horse in the field. The only other horse in the field to have broken the 100 threshold is Fire At Will, who earned a 105 figure winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf last year. Considering how easily Greatest Honour won the Holy Bull, I think he could have run faster and earned a higher figure if needed and that is why he is the one to beat in this year’s Fountain of Youth Stakes.
Drain the Clock appears to be on a pattern that, if continued, would allow him to run well enough to win the Fountain of Youth. On the same date of the Holy Bull last month at Gulfstream Park, Drain the Clock put in a visually impressive six length victory in geared down fashion and earning at 95 figure. Four weeks prior to that, Drain the Clock earned an 88 figure winning the Limehouse Stakes and if he can improve about the same seven points as he did in the Swale, Drain the Clock could run as well as Greatest Honour is expected to run. Excluding his effort in November when losing his jockey when a piece of equipment broke, Drain the Clock is a perfect four-for-four in his career. Although the Fountain of Youth will be his first attempt at two-turns, the fact that he draws the ground saving rail and has shown the ability to stalk the pacesetter in second or third before winning suggests no matter how the early pace unfolds, Drain the Clock should have no problem being a very strong contender in this race.
Tarantino was no match for Greatest Honour when second and beaten five and three-quarter lengths in the Holy Bull, but he ran very well nevertheless. Earning a career-best 94 figure in his first race on dirt after three races on grass to start his career, Tarantino was nearly four lengths clear of the third horse in the field of nine. With jockey Edgard Zayas getting off to ride Drain the Clock, Tyler Gaffalione gets on and there is no issue with the quality of the man in the irons. Making his third start off a layoff suggesting physical improvement, and making his seconds start on dirt, there is every reason to believe Tarantino can take another step forward on his quest to be a contender as we move towards the Florida Derby next month and the Kentucky Derby in 10 weeks.
Fire At Will would certainly be a top contender for me if he were not coming back from nearly four months off and trying to go two-turns on dirt for the first time against horses which have run well and much more recently. Fire at Will finished sixth in his career debut last summer then reeled off three straight wins, all in stakes. He improved from an 80 figure, to 96, to 105 when winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf in a field of 14. One of the wins came on a sloppy dirt track (in a race scheduled for turf) so it appears he can run on the surface just fine and there’s no doubt he can run this far as he won the Pilgrim Stakes on turf at the distance. Still, it’s a doubly big question to ask a horse to run well enough to win off this long of a layoff in a two turn race at this level and as such I’ll be taking a stand against Fire At Will in this situation.
The rest of the field, all who have the ability to compete effectively in this race, with their best Equibase Speed Figures: King’s Ovation (83), Jirafales (76), Papetu (89), Prime Factor (88), Sososubtle (93) and Tiz Tact Toe (78).
Ellis Starr is the national racing analyst for Equibase. Visit the Equibase website for more on the race or to purchase handicapping products.