CINCINNATI -- It’s a relatively quiet weekend on the horse racing front, with no Derby prep races scheduled until next weekend. The Withers at the Big A and the Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita will both have 10 Derby qualifying points available to the respective winners next Saturday. The biggest 3-year-old race this weekend is the Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs, a non-Derby points prep race for the 50-point Tampa Bay Derby on Mar. 7.
Some thoughts as we start heading down the Derby trail…
- As an Eclipse voter I heard a lot of outrage in social media for the two abstentions in the voting for Horse of the Year. While voting is certainly a privilege, I suspect most of those complaining didn’t actually read both accounts of the writers that abstained from the votes. Both were well reasoned and had valid thoughts on why they couldn’t come to a decision on the vote. Just your typical shoot first and research later.
- Not only are there two big Derby preps next weekend, but the older handicap division looks like it is shaping up to have some tremendous competition looming.
- Good news that Fort Erie is slated for a 40-day meeting commencing June 2 and concluding on Oct. 20. Racing will be featured on Sundays and Tuesdays throughout the meet. Tuesdays will have a 4:15 p.m. ET post time through Sept. 1. The second jewel of the Canadian Triple Crown, the $500,000 Prince of Wales Stakes is scheduled for Tuesday, July 28. It will be the 80th running of the famed race.
- Eric Guillot is the anti-Marshawn Lynch, other than they both use the term “boss” when addressing the media.
- Thank goodness the Kentucky Derby doesn’t have the foolishness of a “media day.” Hopefully a flat tire won’t keep me from this year’s draw. I’m looking at you, Route 71 in Cincinnati.
- Speaking of Cincinnati, nearby Turfway Park in Florence, Ky. attracts race fans by offering $1 beers, bets and dogs and a post-racing concert by local bands on the weekends. A lot of folks I spoke with this week were very high on the program, which also includes free admission.
- New York State is the home of the current National Handicapping Contest (NHC) champion John O’neill. Last weekend O’neill defeated a big field of handicappers to claim the $800,000 first prize. He hails from Long Island and the 74-year-old works in his construction business between 60-70 hours a week. He gives the weekend warrior some hope.
- One cool aspect of the NHC, was the DRF Live feed hosted by Dan Illman, Matt Bernier and Peter Thomas Fornatale. The trio was on hand and giving live updates on the standings, strategy and upcoming mandatory races as part of the contest. It was a welcomed addition to the weekend. Fornatale has authored books on horse racing and handicapping and Bernier is the youngest qualifier to make the NHC two years ago and a star on the Horseplayers television show on Esquire last year.
- Todd Pletcher has nominated seven horses to next weekend’s $500,000 Donn Handicap. If all seven make the gate and you box them in a $1 trifecta, it will cost you $120.
- Based on legal betting estimates the Kentucky Derby trumps the Super Bowl, the emphasis on legal. Last year’s Derby handled $124.7 million in 2014 and the American Gaming Association estimates $100 million is legally wagered on the Super Bowl. In the AGA’s first ever estimate of illegal wagering on the Super Bowl, they estimate $3.8 million of illegal bets will be made on Sunday’s game. Whoa.
Post Time Outlook: Patriots 38 Seahawks 13
Check for my 2015 outlook on racing in tomorrow's print editions.
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.