11/05/2012 9:58AM

Less can be more at horse sales


I’m on the Red-eye coming back from Las Vegas after a weekend away from work. Of course, I can’t sleep and my thoughts wander to harness racing.

The Harrisburg sale starts in a few hours and many horses will be sold for big money. When Detour Hanover was hammered down for $825,000 last year, I couldn’t comprehend the logic behind spending so much for one horse. How do you recoup such a large purchase price? Wouldn’t the horse have to be a world-beater?

The Cancelliere brothers (John and Tom) explained to me that they could easily get back their investment in breeding alone, regardless of the horse’s accomplishments on the track. Perhaps that is true. But I still have reservations with paying so much for one horse (a problem I am unlikely to encounter).

Considering the number of horses available at these sales and the quantity of low-priced horses which will produce strong results, I can’t see spending more than $150,000 or so for a horse. That seems to be the right number to race on the Sire Stakes scene and easily get back your money if you get a decent horse. I threw that number at a couple of buyers (one of which who has spent more than that in the past) and a breeding insider. Both agreed that spending more than $150k on a consistent basis is a recipe for disaster.

Look at the success a guy like George Teague Jr. has amassed with cheaper (under $100k) yearlings. The trainer of greats like Rainbow Blue and her 2012 Breeders Crown winning daughter Somwherovrarainbow, admitted that he has shied away from spending a lot at the sales because it is too hard to make your money back.

Teague thought owner Jerry Silva had the perfect plan for owning horses. Silva waits for horses to show their worth and then buys in for a small percentage, thus avoiding the uncertainty of whether a horse will mature nicely or take to racing.

Regardless of my thoughts on how much should be spent, some owners will eclipse the $150,000 barrier. And, well, that is good for the sport. Good luck to those bidders. They will need it.

Vegas Baby

While hanging out in the Race and Sports Book at the Venetian Hotel I got to play around with Cantor Gaming’s interactive wagering screen. Basically the screens, which are available at about 100 individual tables, are split into four sections which allow you to view live odds and scores for sports, bet on the games, play casino games and watch and wager on races.

I have to admit that having so much available at my fingertips was a nice option, but I think the functionality misses the boat for horse players. In order to wager on a race, you have to exit the live video screen. Who wants to wager without seeing the tote board? Especially in harness racing where the odds can change abruptly nearing post time.

If the screen could be adjusted to allow bettors the option of watching the live simulcast while wagering, that would be a nice option to have at a track. I would love to sit in the dining room at the New Meadowlands and be able to have a screen like that available.

The Speed Game

Sometimes you just don’t realize how biased races are until you view them consistently first hand. Obviously I know that early speed rules the harness racing game. But as a handicapper who focuses most of his attention on the Meadowlands and stakes races, it took me a few races to get on board with the speed bias at Yonkers and Harrah’s Philadelphia while I was wagering from my cozy seat in Vegas.

Yeah, some horses won from off the pace. But it was clear that my handicapping needed to be speed and close-to-the-pace dominated. I have no problem with this, but as someone who used to look for the second-over horse when trip handicapping, a slight adjustment is needed at these smaller-sized tracks.

I have talked about the emergence of the first-over trip as one of the better options in racing, but now I have a new good-trip possibility. Without a strong live early flow (movement before the three-eighths marker), I found myself content with a horse that could wind up third on the rail. It used to be that third on the rail meant you were locked in or stuck uncovered. Now it seems that more often than not a horse can duck in third and pull first-over around the half and only need to take air for one or one-and-a-half turns.

So, leave for position, braven up on the cones and attack the leader in the latter stages.

Racing third on the rail in the early stages might not be the best trip in the game, but on smaller tracks it has the potential to produce as much as a second-over trip.