Matthew Espinosa’s first trip to the racetrack won’t be his last. After spending opening day at southern California’s Del Mar Thoroughbred Club with friends and family, Espinosa is hooked, “I’m definitely going to go back, I had a lot of fun, a calm day. You can have a good time betting on horses and the people watching is a whole different world!”
Originally a digital star with an army of social media followers numbering in the tens-of-millions, 20-year old Matthew Espinosa is the lead in the 2016 film Be Somebody, and he shares his rise to success in his book, More Than Me. Before hitting the track, his impression of racing mostly came from media, ”The closest I came to horse racing were random clips, like on Entourage.”
America’s Best Racing hosted Espinosa and his crew at Del Mar and had handicapper-racing pundit Jose Contreras guide the newbies in the basics. “I brought my friend Q, my sister and her boyfriend and they were talking that it was a lot of fun, a lot more fun than we expected. We didn’t know what to expect, none of us had been there before. It was really cool for all of us, placing bets, understanding how it all works. I won two races, I’m 100% into new experiences!”
Billy Koch of Little Red Feather Racing invited Matthew Espinosa and company down to the winner’s circle if the Little Red Feather horse won. Alas, it was Koch’s horse was nipped at the wire. Koch mentioned there are ways of having fun as an owner in a partnership. Asked about that later, Espinosa didn’t rule it out in the future when he’ll have more time for hobbies.
The opening day fashion parade caught Espinosa’s eye. “I was randomly taking photos of people with really cool outfits. I was thinking this is really unique, I gotta document this. I was very under-dressed. I’m like ‘Whoa, what’s going on here?’ Gotta step it up with a suit the next time. Is there some kind of checkeredsuit.com?”
Last year Delaware North, FLRT’s owner, lobbied for and received tax incentives for their on-site racino on par with tax incentives granted del Lago. The horsemen, who constitute the backbone of horse racing at Finger Lakes Gaming & Racing, were unsuccessful in having the law revised to protect purses from a projected precipitous decrease caused by the expected migration of players to the new casino.
Racing purses are in part funded by revenue from video lottery terminals (VLT) at the Finger Lakes racino. VLT players siphoned off to the del Lago casino will result in a decreased revenue stream for FLRT purses.
Lower purses mean reduced income for the owners and trainers who populate Finger Lakes’ backstretch. With diminished purses, there would be fewer horses and races; and less need for the jockeys, exercise riders, grooms, hot walkers, farriers and veterinarians who are the fabric of track life.
The races at FLRT are chock-full of horses bred, raised and trained in New York. The robust thoroughbred industry in central and western New York is supported by incentives from the New York State Thoroughbred Breeding & Development Fund that is funded in part by a micro percentage of VLT revenues.
Lower VLT revenues will diminish the funding streams that sustain the incentives that attract breeders and owners to the NY-bred program. Without the protections afforded in S01003, industry downsizing is inevitable. When breeding and training facilities reduce operations or shut down, jobs evaporate. Every horse farm has a web of suppliers – including feed stores, landscapers, small machinery repair shops, lumber mills and farm machinery dealers. When a farm closes, negative outcomes ripple throughout its community.
All is not lost.
Never a collective to act before necessity, last year the legislature left bills similar to S01003 languishing. With the clock ticking – del Lago is scheduled to open February 1, now is time for legislators to tweak the original legislation and counteract the predation of FLRT operations. *
Under current law, race tracks within the same designated geographic region as a new casino are protected. The challenge that FLRT faces is despite proximity FLRT and del Lago are in different regions. The revised law will extend protection to racetracks within 50 miles of del Lago, regardless of region.
Senator Bonacic explains the importance of S01003:
This legislation is necessary to protect horsemen, breeders, and the entire racing industry from the projected loss of revenue at Finger Lakes when Del Lago begins operations. This is a critical issue and that is why the Senate Budget Resolution last year proposed to address it. Unfortunately, it was not resolved in the final budget, but I will continue to fight to protect the horsemen, breeders, and all the jobs created by the racing industry in New York. **
Bonacic’s legislation states:
If an applicant that does not possess either a pari-mutuel wagering license or franchise awarded pursuant to article two or three of this chapter is issued a gaming facility license pursuant to this article, the licensee shall pay:
(a) an amount to horsemen for purses at the licensed racetracks in the region and in the case of region five any licensed racetracks within fifty miles of the licensee’s facility, that will assure the purse support from video lottery gaming facilities in the region and in the case of region five any such licensed racetracks within fifty miles of the licensee’s facility, to the licensed racetracks in the region and in the case of region five any such facilities within fifty miles of the licensee’s facility, to be maintained at the same dollar levels realized in two thousand thirteen to be adjusted by the consumer price index for all urban consumers, as published annually by the United States department of labor bureau of labor statistics; and
(b) amounts to the agricultural and New York state horse breeding development fund and the New York state thoroughbred breeding and development fund to maintain payments from video lottery gaming facilities in the region and in the case of region five any such facilities within fifty miles of the licensee’s facility, to such funds to be maintained at the same dollar levels realized in two thousand thirteen to be adjusted by the consumer price index for all urban consumers, as published annually by the United States department of labor bureau of labor statistics.
* It will be up to Governor Cuomo to sign the legislation into law in a timely manner.
** Senator Bonacic responded to an email query. A spokesman for del Lago Resort & Casino did not respond to an email query.
Stallion manager Richard Barry and trainer Bob Baffert with American Pharoah the day he arrived at Ashford Stud, Versailles, Kentucky. Photo courtesy of Coolmore.
In the year since winning the Triple Crown and 2015 Breeders’ Cup Classic, American Pharoah has received international accolades, moved to Coolmore’s Ashford Stud in Kentucky, there are over 100 little Pharoahs on the way, and his biography was a best seller. Not bad for the genial bay colt.
American Pharoah is still America’s horse
Part of American Pharoah’s popularity is due to his accessibility. When he worked out, fans were at the track at dawn to watch the colt. When Pharoah had a bath, snaps of him covered in bubbles streamed though social media. These days, special tours bring his fans to meet-and-greets at Coolmore.
While racing, Pharoah’s followers were welcomed into his realm. The colt patiently posed for selfies, with carrots his currency. Pharoah’s gentle amiability allowed fans to get close enough to feed him those carrots, without the mayhem or mischief commonly exhibited by 3-year-old colts.
American Pharoah’s breeder-owner Ahmad Zayat negotiated American Pharoah’s career as a stallion during the Triple Crown campaign. The deal struck was after his racing career, Pharoah would transfer to Coolmore at Ashford Stud in Versailles, Kentucky.
Retired, American Pharoah’s fans remain legion. Scott Calder from Coolmore explains:
“The level of interest in American Pharoah is unlike anything we have seen in the past. We are very fortunate to have had a lot of great horses retire to Ashford over the years but interest mainly comes from within the industry.
With American Pharoah it is different, he has celebrity status that goes beyond the bloodstock industry. We have had a lot of visitors, interest from the media, cards from well-wishers etc. Thankfully American Pharoah has an exceptional temperament so he takes all the attention in his stride. He seems very content in his new life and the first part of his stud career has been a great success.”
Pharoah’s life on the farm
Calder shares American Pharoah’s routine:
It’s the offseason at the moment, so American Pharoah’s days are pretty quiet. The stallions are given a grain feed early in the morning by the night person – before our stallion staff arrives at 6.30 a.m.
The stallions all have their own paddocks and they are turned out as soon as our staff arrive. We don’t ride any of our stallions, but if they need some extra exercise they are lunged for around 10 minutes in one of our lunge rings.
The stallions spend all morning outside and are brought in before lunch. They all get groomed and then are available for our clients to come and view.
At 2.30 the Ashford Stud tour takes place and American Pharoah is obviously one of the highlights. The tours are booked through Horse Country Inc. and run Monday to Friday for 25 people.
The stallions get their evening feed around 3 p.m. and are bedded down for the evening. All the stallions have cameras in their stalls so they are monitored around the clock, when our day staff leave and night watch begins.
American Pharoah’s your daddy
Untouched Talent is the first broodmare ultrasound scanned in-foal to American Pharoah. She will
(Above, Untouched Talent in foal to American Pharoah.
Photo courtesy of Coolmore.)
likely deliver one of Pharoah’s earliest foals in 2017. The Merck Veterinary Manual says the average gestation for a mare ranges from 335 to 342 days. Anyone who has waited for a foal to be born knows that mares ignore published guides and foal when they are ready – sometimes weeks early, many times weeks late.
Coolmore purchased Untouched Talent in 2012 for $5 million at Fasig-Tipton’s Fall Sale. Her price, a sizeable sum, reflects the success of her first foal, the Grade 1 stakes winner Bodemeister. As a sire, Bodemeister is proving popular in the sales ring and has runners competitive at the graded stakes level.
Calder shares the rationale for pairing American Pharoah and Untouched Talent:
Untouched Talent is the dam of Bodemeister who won the G1 Arkansas Derby and was 2nd in the Kentucky Derby. Bodemeister is by American Pharoah’s grandsire Empire Maker so the resulting foal will be closely related to Bodemeister. While we don’t know for sure if she will be the first to foal we expect her to be one of the early ones.
Starting in January, expect to see streams of Pharoah foals on racing social media.
The horse and his bard
Joe Drapes’ American Pharoah: The Untold Story of the Triple Crown Winner’s Legendary Rise embeds the reader in the ascent of American Pharoah – from his days as a foal to his transformation into racing icon. Drape is an Eclipse Award-winning reporter for the New York Times who covers the horse racing beat.
Drape’s narrative lets us peek behind stall doors, listen to trackside banter and delve into the collaborations that enabled American Pharoah to accomplish what had been so elusive for 37
years – winning the Triple Crown, and, to do what had never been done before – winning the Triple Crown and the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Catching up with Drape a year after American Pharaoh’s Breeders’ Cup Classic, he answered some questions about the genesis of his book:
When did you go live covering AP for the book?
I covered the Triple Crown for the paper (New York Times) and had no intention of writing a book – frankly because I did not think he would the sweep the series. When he did, I went back and re-reported it with the goal being why was his horse different than the eight previous one’s I saw fail, and who had a hand in his development.
Were you embedded with the AP camp? What kind of access?
No, embed. Regular access. In fact, my coverage was at odds with Baffert and Zayat for most of the last seven years. But we have all dealt with each other pretty much professionally, meaning they continue to answer my questions.
What’s your takeaway from covering such a momentous campaign?
You need an extraordinary athlete, which AP was and was identified as such as a weanling. You need a ton of luck, which he got beginning with banging his ankle on the way to the Saratoga Yearling Sale where he failed to be sold.
Knowing what I know about how much talent, luck and magic is required now, I can see why we waited 37 years for a Triple Crown.
Triple Crown winners, like Secretariat, Affirmed and Seattle Slew, are revered. This year is no different, the Millennials have taken American Pharoah as their own on his trip to win the Triple Crown.
And that means American Pharoah has his own hashtag, #HailTheTail and videos on Youtube, including an homage to his short, brushy tail. It is early to see if American Pharaoh’s own millennial peers, maybe the sharp looking Frosted or dark-maned Mubtaahij, will be early-adapters of a bobbed, piecey tail for summer-into-fall racing.
For a boots-on-the-ground recap of American Pharoah’s Triple Crown celebrations, watch this and regret all over again foregoing that trip to the Belmont.
Both videos are used with permission from America’s Best Racing
The National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame has announced
the selection of Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt to be inducted into the
Pillars of the Turf category
Through his contributions to Thoroughbred racing that resonate to this day, Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, 1912-1999, was one of the architects of the golden years of racing spanning the 20th century. The young man who devised the match race of the century between Seabiscuit and War Admiral, and whose homebred Native Dancer influences the pedigrees of Thoroughbreds to this day, became a horseman accepted as a peer by the finicky and fickle population that makes up horse racing.
Whereas Vanderbilt had to earn his racing stripes one at a time, outside of the track milieu his own pedigree from a storied American family gave him advantages in terms of access and wealth. A great-great-grandson of transportation and shipping magnate Cornelius “Commodore” Vanderbilt, young Alfred lost his father in 1915 when the Lusitania sank. As an adult, one week might find Vanderbilt sitting outside the Dancer’s stall shooting the breeze with Lester Murray, Dancer’s groom. The next week he might be on safari with Ernest Hemingway.
As a teenager, the racing bug sank its bite into Vanderbilt and never let go. At 21, he was given his mother’s racing stable and its horse farm base in Maryland, Sagamore Farm. Racehorses raised at Sagamore include Native Dancer, Find, Bed o’ Roses and the memorably named Social Outcast. Vanderbilt’s cerise and white silks were immediately recognizable out on the track and in the winners’ circle. Those silks were last seen as his homebred filly Opening Address was sent out alone to gallop over the Aqueduct track as part of Vanderbilt’s memorial service in December 1999.
Vanderbilt’s involvement in racing went far beyond being an owner-breeder. He had a knack for racecourse management and brought his skills to Pimlico, the Westchester Racing Association − the precursor of the New York Racing Association (NYRA). He was chair of the board and CEO of NYRA for four years. Early on in his racing career, Vanderbilt was dissatisfied with the starting procedures of racing so he developed the starting gate; at the other end of a race, Vanderbilt pioneered the use of a photo-finish camera.
In August 1963, Vanderbilt was featured in a Sports Illustrated cover story that outlined his concerns about where racing was headed and what was needed to remedy the situation. The points made in the article concerning industry leadership and uniform standards are as relevant today as they were 52 years ago.
One of Vanderbilt’s roles outside of racing was as an advocate for veterans. He served as a lieutenant on a PT boat in the Pacific in World War II, earning a Silver Star for gallantry. After the war, he was the head of the World Veterans’ Fund.