Jon White HRTV Host/Handicapper
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
A host for HRTV since its inception and a simulcast television commentator from the paddock at Santa Anita and Oak Tree beginning in 1993, Jon White has been involved in racing since he joined the Daily Racing Form in 1974 at Playfair Race Course in his hometown of Spokane, Wash. He also spent three years as a licensed Thoroughbred owner in the 1970s.
A 25-year career with the Daily Racing Form took White to tracks from coast to coast in various capacities (reporter, columnist, handicapper and chart-caller). He covered the inaugural Breeders' Cup in 1984 at Hollywood Park as a reporter/columnist and called the official charts for the 1986 Breeders' Cup at Oak Tree and 1987 Breeders' Cup at Hollywood Park.
White has the distinction of being the youngest steward in the history of racing, having worked in that capacity in Washington state at age 24. He also spent two years as a steward at Les Bois Park in Idaho in the 1990s. Additionally, he was the media relations manager at Lone Star Park in 2000.
As a writer, White's work has appeared in numerous publications, including The Blood-Horse, Louisville Courier-Journal, New Orleans Times-Picayune, California Thoroughbred, Washington Thoroughbred, Canadian Horse and Paddock magazine. He received the 2004 Mark Kaufman Media Award from the Washington Thoroughbred Breeders' Association "for his excellence in reporting on the Washington Thoroughbred industry and Emerald Downs.'
In 1993, White was co-simulcast host from the Santa Anita paddock for the Breeders' Cup at Oak Tree. From 2001-2003, he was co-host of the Fox Sports Northwest one-hour Longacres Mile telecast at Emerald Downs. At Fairplex Park from 1997-2000, he was a television commentator from the paddock and made the track's morning line. From 1983-91, he made the odds in the Los Angeles Times for the races at Santa Anita, Hollywood Park and Del Mar.
It seems like public handicappers and TV hosts have an opinion on every race being run at events they cover. That seems unreasonable given the difficulty of handicapping every race on a card. What are your thoughts on a public handicapper/TV host saying that the race is wide open and/or too difficult to make a real selection rather than forcing a unrealistic and/or bad selection to the public?
You make an excellent point. Which is precisely why sometimes I will say something like "this is a very wide-open race" or "this race is a real head scratcher for me" if that's how I feel about the race. Just the other day, I said something like that on HRTV about a New York-bred turf race at Aqueduct. I mentioned that, through the years, when covering the New York races as handicapper for the Daily Racing Form or when I've played pick six in New York, I have found New York-bred grass races often to be wide open and difficult for me.
Who do you think is the greatest race horse of this decade? Why?
This is an excellent question. I thought the best approach was first to take a look at those who had been voted Horse of the Year. After all, it would be rather difficult to be Horse of the Decade without at least being Horse of the Year. So that provides us with a list consisting of Tiznow, Point Given, Azeri, Mineshaft, Ghostzapper, Saint Liam, Invasor and Curlin. For me, using that list as a starting point, I whittle it down to Tiznow, Point Given, Ghostzapper, Invasor and Curlin. Tiznow had so much heart. Point Given, I believe, should have been a Triple Crown winner. Ghostzapper was so brilliant. Invasor was a win machine. But I'll go with Curlin as the greatest horse of this decade. I thought he ran a marvelous race to finish third in the Kentucky Derby considering he did not race at 2 and he had only three lifetime starts going into the Run for the Roses. Curlin then won the Preakness over Street Sense and was tough enough to compete in, and nearly win, the Belmont. Curlin took the Jockey Club Gold Cup in extremely game fashion over older horses, then was a decisive winner of the Breeders' Cup Classic on a wet track against older horses. Now he is two for two this year, with an impressive win in the Dubai World Cup added to his resume. If Curlin continues to pile up the victories this year, a distinct possibility, he not only will solidify his position as probably the greatest horse of the decade, he will make a case for being one of the greatest horses of all time. And thank you, Jess Jackson, for going against the grain and racing Curlin at 4 instead of retiring him to stud.
What's one piece of advice you would give to a young person who wants to get into the racing industry?
Probably the best approach is to go through the Race Track Industry Program at the University of Arizona. They offer two paths into the industry. The "business path" prepares a student for employment in the areas of racetrack management, regulation and racing organizations. The "equine management path" prepares a student for employment in areas dealing with racing and breeding horses. I have crossed paths with numerous graduates from that program, from Linda Pangle, who worked as a racing official at Playfair in the late 1970s, to my current HRTV colleague Aaron Vercruysse, who is the simulcast director for Santa Anita and Oak Tree in addition to his television work. Bob Baffert and Luke Kruytbosh (the track announcer at Churchill Downs) are two of the more famous graduates of that University of Arizona program. Pete Selin is a prime example of what you can do through that program. While in his 40s, Pete happened to visit Lone Star Park one day and fell in love with the game. That day, he made the decision that he wanted to get into the racing industry. So he enrolled in the University of Arizona program. And Pete's dream of working in the racing industry did come true. When I was the media relations manager at Lone Star Park, Pete also worked there as an intern. Pete would go on to write for the Texas Thoroughbred breeding magazine. He also did publicity work for Tampa Bay Downs. Sadly, Pete passed away in January 2006 from leukemia. An indication of Pete's impact on those whose lives he touched, Rillito, the track in Tuscon, Ariz., where the University of Arizona is located, has a race called the Pete Selin Memorial Happy Minute. I would recommend that you check out the University of Arizona Race Track Industry Program website (http://www.ua-rtip.org/).
Santa Barbara, CA:
What's it like working with Jeff Siegel?
It's a complete pleasure. He's has so much knowledge and is so enthusiastic, what's not to like? I've had tremendous respect for Jeff ever since I first got to know him in 1981 when I came to Southern California as a columnist/reporter for the Daily Racing Form. We used to work together on what we called "the Friday night show," a half-hour magazine-type program in the Los Angeles area on KDOC, channel 56. We share a passion for this great sport and actually have many similarities. We've both been owners, though I must say at much different levels. The horses I owned in the 1970s ran for claiming prices like $3,200, $4,000 and $5,000. Jeff won a Santa Anita Handicap with Martial Law and almost won a Kentucky Derby with Captain Bodgit. We've both been public handicappers in print. And we've both been broadcasters.
Santa Barbara, CA:
I think that Colonel John seems like the only horse in the Derby who wants to get a mile and a quarter. Can you think of any others?
I certainly agree with you that Colonel John acts as if he will relish a mile and a quarter. As for others, it appears to me that (alphabetically) Adriano, Cool Coal Man, Court Vision, Cowboy Cal, Monba, Pyro, Tale of Ekati, Z Fortune and Z Humor have the running style and breeding to possibly win a mile and a quarter race. Anak Nakal is by Victory Gallop and should have no problem in the stamina department. I just question whether he's good enough to win the Derby. Big Brown is by Boundary, Gayego is by Gilded Time. That's a big concern for both. However, one should never be too quick to discount a horse's chances to win the Derby solely because of the sire. I remember hearing over and over how "a Bold Ruler" could "never" win the Derby. Well, not only did a son of Bold Ruler win the Derby, Secretariat set a track record that still stands and, of course, he also won the 1 1/2-mile Belmont by 31 lengths to sweep the Triple Crown. Those Bold Ruler knockers seemed to ignore the fact Secretariat was out of a Princequillo mare. Princequillo was a tremendous source of stamina in breeding. Big Brown is out of a Lost Code mare. That helps in terms of stamina. And Gayego is out of a Nureyev mare. That helps a lot in terms of stamina. I'm not crazy about Smooth Air's pedigree for a mile and a quarter, but I think he has a chance to be first or second with a furlong to go. I felt the same way about Closing Argument in 2005. Closing Argument, at 71-1, did indeed have the lead in the Derby with a furlong to go. He led in the final furlong until getting overtaken in closing yards by Giacomo. Of the last 45 Derby winners, 43 have been first or second with a furlong to run, with the exceptions being Grindstone and Giacomo. I think trying to find a horse that will be first or second with a furlong to go is a big key to the Derby. And I'm also not crazy about Visionaire's pedigree in terms of a mile and a quarter, but I view him as a very dangerous horse in the Derby. I liked his Gotham (what little you could see of it in the fog) and I thought he ran a deceptively good race in the Blue Grass to be coming on late to finish fifth after quite a wide trip on the Polytrack. Unlike Pyro, at least Visionaire showed some late interest in the Blue Grass.
After Pyro's pathetic performance in the Blue Grass, do you think he might have lost confidence? And could that impact his performance in the Derby?
Pyro's Blue Grass certainly was a debacle. I don't mind a horse losing the Blue Grass. For instance, in 1995 Thunder Gulch won the Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby, lost the Blue Grass, then rebounded to win the roses. But Thunder Gulch finished fourth in the Blue Grass, not 10th like Pyro. Not only that, but I went back and took another look at Thunder Gulch and found it interesting that he earned a 101 Beyer Speed Figure when he won the Florida Derby and a 101 when he ran fourth in the Blue Grass. So his Blue Grass, from a Beyer standpoint, actually was as good as his Florida Derby victory. Pyro earned a 95 Beyer Speed Figure when he won the Louisiana Derby, then ran a 73 in the Blue Grass. I have Kentucky Derby past performances going back to 1955. The only horse to finish worse than fourth in his or her final Kentucky Derby prep was Iron Liege, who finished fifth in the 1957 Derby Trial five days before the Run for the Roses. And remember, Iron Liege probably should not have won the Kentucky Derby. That's the Derby in which Bill Shoemaker misjudged the finish while riding Gallant Man, who lost by a nose. Closing Argument lost the Blue Grass in 2005, finishing third, and was my pick to win the Kentucky Derby. But, again, there's a big difference between finishing third, like Closing Argument, or 10th, like Pyro. The wrinkle we have to consider with Pyro's Blue Grass, of course, is Polytrack. And perhaps Pyro's Blue Grass debacle can be totally disregarded because of Polytrack. But I'd still prefer to have seen something -- anything -- from him in his final start before the Derby. I don't know if Pyro's lost confidence after the Blue Grass. But I certainly lost a little confidence in him following that race, enough so that I immediately moved him out of the top spot in my weekly Kentucky Derby Top 10 list. But his owners, Joan and Ron Winchell, are very nice people who have put a lot into the game. It will be fine with me if Pyro redeems himself on the first Saturday in May.
If Eight Belles runs in the Derby, do you think she has a chance to win? Do you think it's fair to cross enter her in the Oaks and Derby?
Yes, I do think she has a chance to win. In looking at any race, whether it's the third on a Thursday at Thistledown or the Kentucky Derby, I think one of the most important considerations is determining whether a favorite is vulnerable. Big Brown, I think it's pretty clear, is the most talented 3-year-old going into this year's Derby. But talent alone does not always win the roses. I think Big Brown is vulnerable because he's had only three career starts and just two preps this year. We saw last year how a talented horse can fail to win the Derby when Curlin likewise went into the race with only three career starts and finished third. No horse has won the Derby with only three lifetime starts since Regret in 1915. And I while I have considerable respect for Colonel John, he has not even earned a triple-digit Beyer Speed Figure yet. In fact, if you take the best four Beyers for Colonel John and compare them to the best four Beyers for Smooth Air, you'll see Smooth Air's figures are better. So I think the door is open for a quality filly like Eight Belles. Again, her four best Beyers are better than Colonel John's. That shows that it's far from a tall order for Eight Belles to win. My main concern regarding Eight Belles is the way she was lugging in late in the Fantasy. Then she was lugging in again in a recent workout. Gate Dancer ran some big races despite lugging in. But it's still not something you want to see. Do I think it's fair to cross enter her in the Oaks and Derby? As someone who has worked as a steward, the first question to be answered is this: "Do the rules permit this?" The answer clearly is, "yes." Beyond that, it's becomes a judgmental matter. I do think it would behoove Churchill Downs to change the system to not count a filly's graded stakes earnings in races restricted to fillies. If a filly wins a Santa Anita Derby like Winning Colors, those earnings should count. But not her graded stakes earnings for winning the Santa Anita Oaks, a race RESTRICTED to fillies.
After War Pass got off the Derby trail, do you feel like Big Brown could possibly win the Derby wire to wire or do you think there's enough speed to wear him out?
The defection of War Pass definitely helps any of the possible pace factors in the Derby. But I always assume the Derby pace is going to at least pretty fast and possibly very fast. It's an extreme rarity to see someone get away with setting fractions like War Emblem (:23.25, :47.04, 1:11.75) did when he won in wire-to-wire fashion in 2002. And I am convinced the only reason that happened is a reaction on the part of the jockeys to the meltdown following the insane pace set (:22.25, :44.86, 1:09.25) the year before. Not only did Songandaprayer pay the price for setting such fast fractions, everyone remotely close to him early -- with the exception of Congaree -- finished far back. I thought Congaree ran an amazing race to finish third after being pretty close to that pace. There is a possibility that Big Brown could do what he did in the Florida Derby when he won despite that horrible post position. Maybe he's just so much the best of this group that he will go right to the front and make every pole a winning one. I think these are the pace candidates: Big Brown, Bob Black Jack, Gayego, Recapturetheglory. Depending on his post position, Big Brown also might stalk early. I think Cool Cool Man also is a stalk candidate. And then I envision Eight Belles, Smooth Vision, Tale of Ekati and/or Big Truck sitting right behind the stalkers. As far as the possibility of a wire-to-wire winner, I doubt we'll see that because it just doesn't happen very often. Since 1947, the only wire-to-wire winners have been Kauai King (1966), Riva Ridge (1972), Bold Forbes (1976), Spend a Buck (1985), Winning Colors (1988) and War Emblem (2002). As I said, probably the best possibility of that happening this year is if Big Brown is just simply superior to everyone else and shows that from the outset. But, in my opinion, that's not likely.
Thank you for answering our questions, What do you think of the two fillies Eight Belles and Proud spell and do they belong in this field with the colts? Also What do you think of Gayego and Z Fortune?
You're very welcome. Thank you for taking the time to submit your questions. I've mentioned earlier that I think Eight Belles could possibly win. So, yes, I think she belongs in this field with the colts. It's been announced that Proud Spell is going to run in the Kentucky Oaks and definitely will not compete in the Derby. I have much respect for Gayego's trainer, Paulo Lobo, who won the 2002 Kentucky Oaks with Farda Amiga. Gayego is a wonderful colt. Just look at his consistency. Just look at his Beyer Speed Figures of 102 in the San Pedro Stakes, 96 in the San Felipe Stakes and 103 in the Arkansas Derby. And thanks to Smarty Jones, Afleet Alex and Curlin, winning the Arkansas Derby certainly carries more cachet today. Those three Arkansas Derby winners have won seven (and nearly eight) of the last 12 Triple Crown races. I think Z Fortune should offer excellent wagering value vis-a-vis his chances to win the roses. It would not surprise me to see Z Fortune emulate Lil E. Tee and Grindstone by winning the Kentucky Derby after finishing second in the Arkansas Derby. I think Z Fortune and Smooth Air both have what it takes to win the Kentucky Derby in terms of class, stamina, running style and precedence. I once felt it was only a matter of time before D. Wayne Lukas would win his first Kentucky Derby. I have that same feeling about Todd Pletcher and Steve Asmussen. Maybe Asmussen will get his first Kentucky Derby win this year with either Pyro or Z Fortune.
How does HRTV determine what races to show on its network?
I'm not involved in that process, but I do know many factors and considerable thought goes into which races are shown.
Thank you, Jon, for taking our questions. As you have repeatedly been saying on the air, Victory Gallop has been sending out a lot of turf winners lately. What's unusual about this is that he didn't turf himself or at least wasn't remembered for distinguishing himself on turf. Do you have any other names you feel will likewise turn out to be good turf sires [that haven't already made their prowess known]?
Thank you for being a racing fan and taking the time to submit your questions to me. I think Lemon Drop Kid, even more than Victory Gallop (who indeed never raced on the turf), is an outstanding turf sire. And, like Victory Gallop, Lemon Drop Kid never ran on the turf. It's actually not surprising to see Lemon Drop Kid become such a successful turf sire, though, because he's by Kingmambo (whose dam is the great two-time Breeders' Cup Mile winner Miesque). As for someone I think who will turn out to be a good turf sire who hasn't already made his prowess known, I would say More Than Ready. He also never raced on the turf. More Than Ready has Northern Dancer on the top side of his pedigree and Woodman on the bottom. Believe me, a person can do worse than just blindly wager on every single Lemon Drop Kid and More Than Ready runner on the turf, especially those racing on the turf for the first time. I've also become a big fan of Rock of Gibraltar. We haven't seen all that many Rock of Gibraltars in the U.S., but for the most part they have done extremely well. Sweeter Still is a Rock of Gibraltar filly trained by Jeff Mullins that I liked in her first two races this year at Santa Anita. She won a maiden race at almost 3-1 and the China Doll Stakes at almost 5-1. That shows how being the fan of a sire can pay off from a wagering standpoint sometimes. By the way, Sweet Still races for David Lanzman (who owned Breeders' Cup Sprint winner Squirtle Squirt) and Jason Wood (co-owner of Lava Man). One other good pedigree angle I've noticed is, for some reason, Decarchy is an excellent debut sire. So watch out for those first-time starters by Decarchy (a half-brother to Empire Maker).
My question has to do with the races from Fairplex Park - or as I remember it being called - The Pomona Fair. Is the Paddock Commentator at Fairplex still the infamous Professor Gordon Jones ? If so, does he still stand on a milk crate while broadcasting from the paddock area wearing that goofy, outdated headset? Did you ever wear that thing or stand on that milk crate?
Yes, Gordon Jones was still doing paddock commentary at Fairplex as recently as last year. And, yes, I stood on that milk crate while wearing the headset there for a number of years. Since it's been a few years since I last did paddock commentary at Fairplex, I don't know if the milk crate is still being utilized.
What's your take on Synthetic surfaces? Do you think more owners and trainers will defect to the east coast because of them in pursuit of their desire to win The Triple Crown races?
I agree with trainer John Shirreffs when, on the Roger Stein radio show earlier this year, he talked about how too many people have become so emotional and intractable in terms of their position of either liking or hating a synthetic surface. I always try to keep an open mind, something I felt was an attribute whenever I've worked as a steward. Let's start with the issue of reducing injuries. If -- and I emphasize if -- it is proven that synthetic surfaces do reduce injuries, then that is a huge benefit. But are injuries really being reduced? Or are we seeing different injuries? Instead of horses having bone issues from competing on a dirt track, are they instead incurring soft tissue injuries? Personally, I would like to see more statistical information gathered and studied to formulate a more educated opinion on the subject. There also evidently can be quite a difference in the various synthetic tracks. I have to say that in terms of analyzing races, I am more comfortable with Cushion Track, Pro-Ride or Tapeta compared to Polytrack. But Keeneland's Polytrack seemed fairer this spring. So, again, for all of us, right now it's an evolving aspect of the game that we need to try and cope with as best we can. There is one concrete fact that I can say about synthetic surfaces. They do lead to increased field size. The bigger fields at Oak Tree and Santa Anita correspond to the implementation of the synthetic surface prior to those meets. Also we have seen a demonstrative increase in the field sizes at Golden Gate since they've switched from dirt to Tapeta. As for owners and trainers pursuing wins in Triple Crown races defecting to the East Coast because of synthetic tracks in Southern California, that is a possibility, though, again, illustrating how this is a polarizing issue, there actually are owners and trainers adamant that they do not wish to race in Southern California if there is a switch back to dirt. Bill Casner of WinStar Farm, for instance, is a huge proponent of synthetic surfaces. He has said that if Southern California did not have synthetic surfaces, Colonel John would trained and raced elsewhere this year leading up to the Kentucky Derby. If Colonel John or some other "Southern California synthetic horse" wins the Kentucky Derby, that obviously will go a long way toward alleviating concerns of preparing for a Triple Crown race on a synthetic surface in Southern California. We have seen numerous horses -- like Gayego, Tiago, Heatseeker, Zenyatta and Monterey Jazz -- win stakes races on the dirt races after training and racing on a synthetic surface. How about Monterey Jazz? After racing on Santa Anita's synthetic track, he shipped to Lone Star Park and won the Texas Mile by eight lengths last Saturday while earning a whopping 118 Beyer Speed Figure.
Who is your early Derby pick?
I'm sticking with Smooth Air to win, though I admit I'm a bit concerned that he spiked a temperature last Thursday (April 24) and Friday (April 25). He did not go to the track Friday (April 25) or Saturday (April 26). He did go back to the track and jogged Sunday (April 27), then galloped Monday (April 28) while appearing frisky and full of energy. Any hiccup leading up to the Kentucky Derby is cause for concern. But I honestly think it's more of an issue for Big Brown that he never went to the track once during the entire month of January due to a quarter crack than Smooth Air not going to the track for a couple of days after virtually all of his serious Derby training already was done. The reason I think it's a negative that Big Brown did not go to the track once in January is because it is possibly detrimental in terms of having the proper foundation to go a mile and a quarter under 126 pounds on the first Saturday in May, especially for a colt taking only three lifetime starts into the Derby. As I mentioned, I think Smooth Air (whose four best Beyer Speed Figures are better than Colonel John's four best figures) has what it takes to win the Kentucky Derby in terms of class, stamina, running style and precedence. My second choice is Z Fortune, who likewise has demonstrated to me he has what it takes to win the roses in terms of class, stamina, running style and precedence. My third choice is Colonel John, who looks rock solid and seems to be sitting a big performance following his sparkling five-furlong drill in :57 4/5 at Churchill Downs. Remember, last year Hard Spun worked five furlongs in :57 3/5 at Churchill Downs the Monday before the Derby. Hard Spun then ran well enough to win a lot of Derbies, only to finish second to Street Sense, who received a ride for the ages by Calvin Borel and who certainly had an affinity for Churchill Downs. Often the Derby winner comes up with a workout like that :57 4/5 move by Colonel John. But keep this in mind. Big Brown, Colonel John, Tale of Ekati, Monba and Recapturetheglory go into the Kentucky Derby with only two preps. Of the last 55 horses to go into the Derby with just two preps, 53 have failed, the exceptions being Sunny's Halo and Street Sense.
Overland Park, KS:
There seems to be all this hubbub about comments made by R. Dutrow about Big Brown can't lose. While I think BB has a lot to prove and there are several good horses in the race. What are your feelings on BB and Dutrow's comments?
I can't blame Dutrow for being so confident. It's obvious he's training a gifted colt in BB. But it was equally obvious that Steve Asmussen last year was training a gifted colt in Curlin going into the Derby. Yet Curlin finished third. Bob Baffert conditioned an ultra talented colt in Point Given, who I was confident was going to sweep the Triple Crown. But Point Given ran the worst race of his life in the Kentucky Derby, finishing fifth, the only time he ever ran worse than second. And then he went on to win the Preakness and Belmont with such authority as to show he had the talent to sweep the Triple Crown, as I had suspected. Is BB as good or better than Native Dancer? Native Dancer won 21 of 22 career starts. The lone blemish on his record was his troubled second in the Kentucky Derby, a race he lost by a head to Dark Star. As shown by Native Dancer, Point Given and Curlin, tremendous talent alone does not necessarily guarantee a Kentucky Derby victory.
Jersey City, NJ:
Although you knock Big Brown's lack of foundation & race experience, what will be your spin on these points if he runs off the screen on May 3rd ?
I certainly don't take the position that he can't win the Derby. Just like I never said Curlin couldn't win the Derby last year. But it's a tall order for any colt to try and win the roses with only three lifetime starts. Big Brown doesn't have to run off the screen to make a believer out of me. If he simply wins on May 3, he will earn considerable respect from me for what I would consider to be one of the greatest accomplishments by a Thoroughbred in my lifetime, coupled with my excitement that we may very well be looking at such an extraordinary colt that he just might go on and sweep the Triple Crown to end the drought that has lasted since Affirmed in 1978.
I remember reading your columns and analysis in the Daily Racing Form when I used to be a frequent visitor to Playfair in Spokane as it was 3 hours from my hometown in British Columbia. Are some of the names back then still in the game somewhere. People like Randy Colton, Todd Stephens. Terry Motschenbacher,Joe Rizzuto,Tom Roberts.
I salute you for making the three-hour trip to Playfair from Canada. While II have never been to Northlands Park (Edmonton),I have been to Stampede Park (Calgary) and Hastings. I saw so many horses from Northlands Park and Stampede Park (the abbreviation used to be Ceg for Calgary Exhibition Grounds) run at Playfair while I was growing up. They even had a section of the barn area at Playfair that was dubbed "little Canada" where most of those Canadian horses resided. It's such a shame Playfair no longer exists. On my wall is a picture of Quillabhai winning at Playfair in 1979 for the ownership group I was part of, Media Mandess. Our trainer was Dan McCanna, whose son, Tim, has won a number of training titles at Emerald Downs. A bearded Randy Colton, who you asked about, rode Quillabhai in that 1979 victory. I don't know whatever happened to Randy or the others you asked about other than Tom Roberts and Terry Motschenbacher. Tom Roberts, who once saddled 72 winners in a 68-day Playfair meet, has continued to train off and on through the years. I saw him at Oak Tree just last year. Motschenbacher rode Turbulator, my favorite horse of all time, in his very first start at a little track in Idaho in 1969. I was there for that race. Because that track was not recognized by the Daily Racing Form until 1970, that race never officially counted for Turbulator. He finished third. Motschenbacher was one of two jockeys, one trainer and the jockeys' room custodian who had their licenses permanently revoked by the Washington Racing Commission for their involved in a race-fixing incident at Yakima Meadows on April 2, 1988. Motschenbacher and the other jockey, William Christian, appealed their original lifetime suspensions. In 1989, in Spokane County Superior Court, Judge Larry Kristianson reversed the lifetime suspension for Motschenbacher and Christian. The commission then appealed, and in 1990 the Washington State Court of Appeals reinstated the lifetime bans. The case then was appealed to the Washington State Supreme Court. When the Washington State Supreme Court refused to hear the case, the decision of the Court of Appeals became final.
San Clemente, CA:
Hi Jon, I watch you guys every day... and thanks... Question: Can you tell me exactly what the difference a horse will find different in dirt racing vs. synthetic? Does the dirt tend to clog up into their hooves, is it much thicker to run on, etc...(saying that the weather is sunny and not a wet track)
Thanks for watching HRTV. Mike Smith, I think, has articulated the main difference in dirt racing vs. synthetic is traction. The synthetic does tend to clog up more in their hooves, especially with Polytrack. Last year some trainers in California were spraying Pam on the hooves to try and deal with the clogging issue. There has been a tendency for turf horses to do well on a synthetic surface, which tells us the footing on a synthetic surface seems to be more similar to the footing on a turf course than on a dirt track.
San Diego, CA:
If you were to pick a longshot in the Kentucky Derby this year, who would it be and why?
I have a soft spot in my heart for San Diego because my wife is a San Diego native. I met her at Hollywood Park on May 17, 1981, when John Henry won the Hollywood Turf Invitational. As was the case when I picked Closing Argument to win the Kentucky Derby in 2005, my pick to win the 2008 Kentucky Derby is a longshot, Smooth Air. Since 1999, I developed a formula of key factors to determine how a Kentucky Derby candidate looks from a historical standpoint in terms of class, stamina, running style and precedence. When a horse doesn't qualify in one of the 10 categories, he or she gets a strike. Since 1999, seven of the nine Derby winners have had zero strikes or one strike. Funny Cide and Giacomo had two strikes each. Smooth Air, Z Fortune and Adriano have zero strikes. I automatically toss out any horse with three or more strikes. Recapturetheglory has three strikes. Denis of Cork's connections have wanted to get into the Derby. It looks like they are going to get their wish. However, with three strikes, I think running in the Derby will be a waste of time for Denis of Cork, even though I think is very talented and I had him ranked at No. 2 for several weeks on my weekly Kentucky Derby Top 10 list.
I want to applaud you and Kurt Hoover for taking the time on HRTV last weekend to mention the achievement of Unusual Heat in siring 26 winners at the recently concluded Santa Anita meet. In my opinion, Unusual Heat is the most exciting news in California Thoroughbred racing since the advent of synthetic surfaces. With two major California breeding farms closing last year, and with the breeding industry continuing in steep decline again this year, don't you feel he deserves more attention from breeders (he was only bred to 47 mares in 2007)?
Yours truly and Kurt Hoover have been on the Unusual Heat bandwagon for a long time now. No sire has beat me out of winning the pick six more than Unusual Heat. So he sure has my respect. And I agree with you that I think he deserves more attention from breeders. But I sense that's starting to happen, especially after he sired his first Grade I winner this year (Golden Doc A in the Las Virgenes Stakes) and has a very promising undefeated graded stakes winner in Lethal Heat. Ironically (or perhaps not), I had printed out some of these questions and was reading through them in the press box at Hollywood Park last Sunday when I was covering the Gold Rush card for The Blood-Horse. At the time I read your question, Unusual Heat had sired two Gold Rush winners (Spenditallbaby and Bel Air Sizzle) earlier in the day.
With all your varied experience in the sport, what do you see as the greatest improvement and the greatest detriment to the sport in the past 30 years? What would you do to improve the sport?
The greatest improvement and the greatest detriment to the sport in the past 30 years might well be simulcast wagering. On the one hand, it's so wonderful that a person can go to Santa Anita and watch and wager on races at Gulfstream Park, Golden Gate, Aqueduct, Keeneland, etc. I say that because while I was growing up, I often would drive 276 miles roundtrip in the same day from my home to Longacres to attend the races. In those days, you had to go to the races. Now the races come to you, either via simulcasting or via HRTV, etc. But the sport has paid a price for this convenience in the erroneous perception that horse racing is dying. This has severely negatively impacted the sport's coverage in newspapers, which has only fueled the dying perception. But more people by far are watching the races at Santa Anita today than in the days 60,000, 70,000 or 80,000 people were in attendance. But because the track doesn't attract those huge crowds, many sports editors -- and many people generally -- have the wrong idea in terms of racing's popularity. I also think the enhancement of information in the past performances has been a great improvement. Again, this also has been a detriment in that I used to have quite an advantage in the information I had that others didn't (fractions, trouble notes, equipment notes, trainer changes, etc.). Now we have so much information at our fingertips when analyzing a race. Steven Crist, chairman and publisher of the Daily Racing Form, deserves a lot of the credit for the enhanced info in past performances. Another detriment in the last 30 years is what we've seen with regard to shortening races. Again, when I was young, the Jockey Club Gold Cup -- the Breeders' Cup Classic of its day -- was a two-mile race when won by Arts and Letters (who drilled Nodouble) or the great mare Shuvee twice. Then the Jockey Club Gold Cup was shortened to a mile and a half, the distance when Exceller nosed out Seattle Slew in a race for the ages in 1978. Charlie Whittingham, the trainer of Exceller, used to bristle whenever that race would get up. Most people remember that race for Seattle Slew coming back on to almost win. "People forget," Charlie would say, "Exceller WON THE RACE!" As usual, Charlie had a point. The shortening of races has, in my opinion, been detrimental to the sport both in terms of racing and breeding. That's one positive for the introduction of the Breeders' Cup Dirt Marathon. It's one of the few times in the last quarter-century attention has been paid to stamina in this country. What would I do to improve the sport? The very first thing I would do, if I had a magic wand, would be to instantly make the rules of racing uniform from state to state. But that would take a magic wand. One thing I would do without the need of a magic wand, as I've written for almost a decade now, is to make stewards accountable for their votes. The Supreme Court of the United States deals with the most sensitive and controversial issues we have as a society, yet we know how each member of the court votes in each case. But when the stewards at Sunland Park or Belmont Park or Lone Star Park disqualify a horse -- or don't disqualify a horse -- it is done under the cloak of secrecy. I think the public has a right to know how each steward voted.
Los Angeles, CA:
Jon, remember me, the boy who asked you for an autograph in the press box at Santa Anita and also met the announcer Trevor Denman. I wanted to ask you that is it possible to have another Triple Crown winner?
Yes, I remember you. And, yes, it's possible we will have another Triple Crown winner. I remember so well how it was in the years leading up to Secretariat. Much like now, many people were convinced the Triple Crown would never be swept again because it had not been accomplished since Citation in 1948. There were several theories. One of the most poplar theories was the size of the foal crops had grown so much from the 1940s. But then along came Secretariat. And what an exclamation point he put on that Triple Crown by winning the Belmont by 31 lengths. My dad considers that to be the greatest moment not just in racing, but in all of sports. I also consider Chic Anderson's call ("He is moving like a tremendous machine," etc.) to be the greatest in racing history. And then along came Seattle Slew, an undefeated Triple Crown winner. And then along came Affirmed, who won his Triple Crown as part of the greatest rivalry in the history of the sport. After Affirmed, there was an unmistakable sense of apathy as a lot of people expected Spectacular Bid would join the ranks of Triple Crown winners. But there was the terrible ride by Ron Franklin in the Belmont, and now, all these years later, we're still looking for that next Triple Crown winner after Affirmed. But it's not as if no one has come close. Real Quiet lost the Triple Crown by a nose. Silver Charm lost the Triple Crown by three-quarters of a length. Smarty Jones and Afleet Alex each lost the Triple Crown by one length. So one of these years it probably will be achieved again. Who knows? Maybe it will be this year. If Big Brown wins the Derby with so little experience, he will prove he's such an extraordinarily talented Thoroughbred that he just might pull off the elusive sweep (though it's rather hard enough for me to envision a son of sprinter Boundary winning the Derby let along the Belmont).
Jon, Enjoy your articles on the website. I have a curious question how did you and others on HRTV get their jobs? For a racing fan it is a dream job. I know you all basically had racetrack experience but what made the people in charge pick who they did? Gary Stevens is a natural selection and Laffit Pincay certainly has the name, but what goes into picking the crew for HRTV and its competition TVG?
I'm very glad you enjoy my website columns. I put a lot of work into them, though admittedly it's a labor of love. While I love racing and love working for HRTV, I've actually enjoyed all of the various jobs I've had in racing, especially being a steward. As for how the commentators at HRTV were hired, I was fortunate enough to be one of the original three. In terms of the reasons why the commentators HRTV has were hired, you really would have to ask the person (or persons) who made that decision, and that, of course, isn't me. I will tell you that, from the beginning, HRTV is headed by Amy Zimmerman. I can't even begin to tell you how important she is to the network. Basically, Amy started HRTV from scratch and you can't imagine all that goes on behind the scenes in television concerning the technical aspects, etc. Amy knows racing and she knows television. She is highly respected in both industries and her excellence has been recognized with numerous awards. In addition to HRTV, she has worked on a great many Breeders' Cup and Triple Crown telecasts for NBC. She set the standard and the tone for what HRTV is today.
Jon, I always enjoy your analysis and appreciate you being humble about it. (Unlike many of the TV analysts) I love the Colonel and Dennis of Cork in the Derby. Big Brown is supposed to be a freak, now explain to me why he was scheduled to be on the turf in his first start this year if they were seriously considering the derby, I know about the feet problems but I don't buy that Dutrow thought this was a Derby horse from the get go. Your thoughts please.
I'm really glad you enjoy my analysis. I always give it my best. I certainly don't have all the answers. I'm constantly learning about racing and broadcasting all the time. That's a big part of what makes them both so enjoyable, striving to improve day after day. You know, Charlie Whittingham once told me he still was learning when it came to racing. I will never forget that. I almost fainted. I thought, "Wow. If he says he's still learning, that sure tells me I still have plenty I can learn when it comes to racing." I can't blame you for loving the Colonel. I think a lot of Denis of Cork, but I am of the opinion they messed up when they waited to run him in the Illinois Derby instead of running him in both the Rebel and Arkansas Derby. Denis of Cork gets three strikes in my 10 key Kentucky Derby factors. Since I developed this formula in 1999, no Kentucky Derby winner has had more than two strikes. So, for me, with Denis of Cork, it's strike three and he's out. I'm concerned that Denis of Cork was fifth at the eighth pole in the Illinois Derby and third at the eighth pole in the Southwest Stakes. No. 3 of my 10 key Derby factors is "the eighth pole factor." A horse must have been either first or second with a furlong to go in EITHER of his or her final two preps. This is important because, as I said earlier, the Kentucky Derby winner in 43 of the last 45 years has been either first or second with a furlong to go in the Derby, with the exceptions being Grindstone and Giacomo. So that means Denis of Cork gets a strike. No. 5 of my 10 key Kentucky Derby factors in the "distance foundation factor." A horse must have finished at least third in a 1 1/8-mile race before the Derby. Denis of Cork hasn't done that. So he gets another strike. Denis of Cork has made only four lifetime starts. No. 6 of my 10 key Kentucky Derby factors is "the sufficient racing experience factor." Since 1955, only Grindstone, Fusaichi Pegasus and Barbaro won the Kentucky Derby with fewer than six lifetime starts. They each had made five career starts before the Derby. So Denis of Cork gets strike three. As for Big Brown, it doesn't really trouble me all that much that he was entered in a turf race for his 2008 debut. I still believe they were thinking of the Derby as a possibility even then. According to what I have heard Dutrow say, if that race had stayed on the turf, Big Brown probably would have gone next to Polytrack and the Blue Grass as a possible springboard to the Kentucky Derby. Barbaro's first three races were on the turf before they gave him a chance to race on the dirt.
Jon, have you ever heard a trainer talking about his horse chances as Richard Dutrow is doing about Big Brown? Can he be that confident?
I enjoyed the time I worked in racing in Pennsylvania at Keystone, which is now Philadelphia Park. And, yes, I sure have heard similar confident talk before. Bud Delp often talked like that about Spectacular Bid. A lot of people didn't like Spectacular Bid after Delp proclaimed him to be "the greatest horse to ever look through a bridle." When all was said and done, Delp might have been right. And if he was wrong, he wasn't wrong by all that much. So I could understand Delp's confidence. I had two very good friends, Dick and Joy-Lyn Cottam, co-owners with me in our Media Madness Stable, who kept telling me Spectacular Bid was overrated -- until they saw him win the Santa Anita Handicap in person. As I mentioned earlier, since Big Brown is obviously so gifted, I can understand Dutrow's confidence. But one thing about racing is confidence can quickly turn into humble pie. I had a trainer express that to me just the other day off the record, so I won't name the trainer. But the trainer told me how great things were going and that when that trainer ran three horses at Hollywood Park the other day, that trainer thought all three would win for sure. Not one of the three won. "This game sure can humble you in a hurry," the trainer said.
Jon, I really enjoy the passion you bring to the game. Just wondering if you were granted one wish, what you like to see accomplished or occur in racing?
I'm so very glad that you enjoy my passion. Thank you. And if I were granted one wish, as I said earlier, I would instantly make the rules of racing uniform from state to state and would like to see the stewards' votes made public. And I'm like a lot of people in that I would like to see another Triple Crown winner. I mean, how spoiled were we in the 1970s with Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affirmed? And we also had Ruffian and Forego in the 1970s. Also, as I have previously mentioned, I'd like to see the pendulum swing back toward longer races. And I sure wouldn't mind seeing the sport get the respect and space it still deserves in newspapers. But, sadly, I get the feeling that's not going to happen.
Los Angeles, CA:
If you have been given the chance to be the owner of any racehorse at any time in any country in the world, name the horse, the trainer and the jockey you would use, if you were the owner.
What a wonderful question. The possibilities are so tantalizing. While I think Man o' War was the greatest horse of all time, I think it would have been more pure fun to own Secretariat. And I would have Laz Barrera train him and Laffit Pincay Jr. ride him. I don't think Laffit would mind that. How sweet would it be for Laffit to ride Secretariat instead of Sham in the Triple Crown? Again, thanks for asking such a wonderful question.
Menomonee Falls, WI:
Is any chance that HRTV will be available on DirecTV in the near future? Also have you seen Harlem Rocker, The Withers winner with a 106 Beyer? Do you think he would be better suited in the Preakness or the Queen's Plate?
I sure hope HRTV will be on DirecTV someday. Then my parents would get to see it. Harlem Rocker is quite intriguing, especially in the wake of that 106 Beyer. I think he'd be very scary in the Preakness as a fresh up-and-coming 3-year-old, much like a Withers winner by the name of Bernardini. By the way, Bernardini earned a 104 Beyer in the Withers. And I would have to think Harlem Rocker would be very hard to beat against Canadian-breds in the Queen's Plate. Perhaps he could even follow in Wando's footsteps and become a Canadian Triple Crown winner. That sure would like a distinct possibility at this point.
How do you feel the demise of the smaller venues such as Playfair Race Course has impacted the sport in general?
I think it's more of a negative for the sport than a lot of people realize. I don't think it's helped Emerald Downs, for instance. Yakima Meadows and Playfair were good feeder tracks for Longacres. I think Emerald Downs has missed having that. I honestly lament the demise of every single venue, small or large or in between. I think it's a shame we don't have Centennial or Ak-Sar-Ben or Detroit Race Course or Caliente. I'm sure glad I visited Caliente a number of times. You could see how, in its day, Caliente must have really been a special place. Whenever I visited Caliente, I couldn't help but envision Phar Lap racing and winning there. The smaller tracks, like a Playfair, play an important role in providing an opportunity for fans to see live racing. How would have my life turned out if there wasn't a track in my hometown? It was the first track I was taken to by my parents as a kid. It was the first track I worked at for the Daily Racing Form. Yakima Meadows was the first track I worked at as a steward. Gary Stevens' career as a jockey started at smaller tracks as he worked his way up from Les Bois Park to Portland Meadows to Longacres to the big time.
Will HRTV cover any European races this summer?
I have not heard yet.
How often do Derby trainers add blinkers to their colt between the last prep and the Derby?
Not very often. I am not aware of any Derby winner who added blinkers between the last prep and the Derby. Sea Hero did wear blinkers in the Blue Grass, then won the 1993 Derby without blinkers. Since Daily Racing Form has included blinkers in the past performances beginning in 1987, no horse has added blinkers at 3 before winning the Derby. I just don't think you're usually going to see a trainer tinkering with a horse's equipment to the extent of adding blinkers at 3 and then winning the Derby with that horse. It would be the exception rather than the rule. Secretariat raced with blinkers starting with his first race. They didn't get into Secretariat's 3-year-old campaign and suddenly say at some point before the Kentucky Derby, "Gee, I think he'd be better with blinkers." Or what about Gate Dancer and his ear muffs. I broke the story in the Daily Racing Form early in his 3-year-old campaign that they were going to put ear muffs on him. And why were they tinkering with his equipment? Because Gate Dancer lugged in so badly. With ear muffs, he mugged poor Fali Time in the stretch during the Derby. Gate Dancer finished fourth and was disqualified and placed fifth for what he did to Fali Time. That happens to be the only disqualification in the history of the Kentucky Derby for a horse's actions during the race.
What is your opinion of Easy Goer? He is the horse who got me back into racing after being a big racing fan as a child. I have some tapes of Easy Goer's races with you providing comments on behalf of the DRF.
As I wrote in my recent XpressBet.com column listing my 10 favorite Kentucky Derbies, I was a big Easy Goer fan. And I also became a big Sunday Silence fan. While many people seemed to be in one camp or the other, generally along geographical lines, I truly appreciated both colts for being so good. As I wrote in that column, I am convinced that the only thing that stopped Sunday Silence and Easy Goer from becoming Triple Crown winners is the misfortune they had to be foaled the same year.
If a horse has made enough money to get into the Breeders' Cup race, his sire being nominated yet he has not, can he still run in the Breeders' Cup championship races?
Horses not eligible to the Breeders' Cup can become eligible through a supplementary payment.
Who is the best racehorse you have seen from 1975 to present date?
Spectacular Bid. I got a chance to sit down and do a one-hour interview with Bud Delp at Pimlico before the Maryland Million in 2004. It was a very candid interview. For instance, I asked Delp if he ever bet on Spectacular Bid. "Yeah, I bet on him a few times," he said. "I bet enough on him in the World's Playground Stakes that I made about $5,000." Spectacular Bid won the World's Playground at Atlantic City as a 2-year-old by 15 lengths. He paid $12.40. "Then I bet $5,000 on him in the Champagne," Delp added. Spectacular Bid won the Champagne and paid $6.80, resulting in a $12,000 profit for Delp.
How does Recapturetheglory fit into Derby 134? i.e. Does he need a duplicate performance of Illinois Derby? Does his pedigree hinder him for top spot?
He's certainly eligible to be a pace factor. However, unlike Illinois Derby winner War Emblem, who had zero strikes in my key Kentucky Derby factors, Recapturetheglory has three strikes. Since 1999, no horse has won the Derby with more than two strikes. Recapturetheglory gets a strike for not having run in a graded race at 3 before March 31 (which indicates he's being kind of rushed into the Derby). He gets another strike for getting passed in the final furlong in one of his final two preps. And he gets a third strike for not having at least three preps. His pedigree is far from ideal for a mile and a quarter, too, at least in my eyes. People were concerned about War Pass having the stamina to win the Kentucky Derby as a son of champion sprinter Cherokee Run. Recapturetheglory also is by Cherokee Run. Recapturetheglory is out of a Dehere mare. Dehere was a 2-year-old champion, snatching the title from Brocco by one vote because Brocco's connections blew it by running him one more time at 2 after his Breeders' Cup Juvenile win (over Dehere). After the Breeders' Cup, they ran Brocco in the Hollywood Futurity, which he lost to Valiant Nature.
Who is the best closer in this year's Derby?
Based on what I saw in the Santa Anita Derby, I would say Colonel John. He was ninth with three furlongs to go. With a furlong remaining, he was three lengths behind. But he turned that three-length deficit into a half-length victory. Yes, that was on a synthetic track. But I'd say his five-furlong workout in :57 and change at Churchill Downs shows he is going to do just fine on the dirt. And maybe Pyro will redeem himself and prove he's the best closer if his Blue Grass debacle can indeed be thrown out the window because it was on Polytrack. Pyro was particularly impressive with his stretch kick in the Risen Star.
LAST UPDATED: 1:23 P.M. (ET)
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