News and notes from around the Thoroughbred racing world, compiled by NTRA Communications. DRF AND NTRA INTRODUCE NHC TOUR
The National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA) and Daily Racing Form (DRF) announced today the creation of the NHC Tour, a yearlong bonus series offering additional prize money and qualifying berths to the DRF/NTRA National Handicapping Championship (NHC). The NHC Tour will be open only to officially registered contestants and will be based on performances at NHC qualifying events throughout the year.
Should the overall NHC Tour winner go on to capture first place in the NHC finals, he or she will receive a $2 million bonus.
To become eligible for the NHC Tour, participants must pay an annual $125 registration fee. Tour members then receive NHC Tour points for top-20 finishes in NHC qualifying events held during the year.
Fans can register for the Tour at www.ntra.com/nhctour beginning February 15. All officially sanctioned NHC qualifying events in 2008, including those held prior to February 15, will be included in Tour scoring.
At the end of the year’s qualifying events, the overall point leader will receive a bonus of $100,000. The second-place finisher earns $50,000. Third place is worth $25,000, fourth place is worth $10,000, and the fifth-place finisher will earn $5,000. There will be cash rewards to the top 50 players on the Tour. In addition to cash prizes, the top three NHC Tour point leaders will receive automatic entry into that January’s NHC finals in Las Vegas if they have not already qualified for the event during the NHC Tour year.
Additional benefits for NHC Tour members include automatic enrollment in the Horseplayers’ Coalition. Now in the formative stages, the Coalition will focus on seeking legislative and regulatory solutions to tax and business issues that impact pari-mutuel racetracks and their customers and provide grass roots support for the NTRA’s lobbying efforts on Capitol Hill.
Tour members also are automatically eligible to participate in NTRA Advantage, offering preferred pricing on products and services from leading suppliers, including Dodge, John Deere, Sherwin Williams, OfficeDepot, UPS and Toshiba.
“The NHC Tour will reward our sport’s sharpest, most avid tournament players and will more closely link the qualifying tournaments that lead to the National Handicapping Championship,” said Keith Chamblin, senior vice president for the NTRA. “We believe that the Tour will also encourage greater tournament participation by fans–including those who have already qualified for the National Championship.
U.S. ARMY SERGEANT TO COMPETE IN NHC AFTER QUALIFYING FROM AFGHANISTAN
There will definitely be a sentimental favorite in the house when 278 horseplayers gather at Red Rock Casino and Resort in Las Vegas on January 25-26 to vie for a record first-place prize of $500,000 and a $1 million overall prize pool in the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship (NHC). Chris Lavezza, a U.S. Army sergeant who was deployed in Kabul, Afghanistan, as part of Operation Enduring Freedom for a year starting in September 2006, will be among those competing for the top prize.
Lavezza qualified for the NHC by virtue of a fourth-place finish in an NHCqualify.com online tournament on April 28 of last year. Lavezza participated in the qualifier while stationed in Afghanistan.
“The NHC helped take my mind off the gravity of being in a war zone,” said Lavezza, who spent most of his time in Afghanistan in a compound in Kabul. “You have to be vigilant every day out there — especially when you travel — given the existence of I.E.D.s [Improvised Explosive Devices] which can be anywhere. You just never know what’s going to happen from day to day in Afghanistan.”
An 11-year veteran of the U.S. Army, Lavezza, 32, serves as an Information Management Officer. He will come to Las Vegas from Germany, where he has been stationed since September. The NHC will mark a family reunion of sorts for Lavezza, who has not seen his wife, his 5-year-old son, his father or his brother since an R&R break last March. All five will convene in Las Vegas to catch up and to wish Lavezza well in the NHC.
In Afghanistan, and now in Germany, Lavezza is responsible for keeping computer networks up and running in intelligence operations centers. In the U.S., Lavezza calls Stedman, N.C., home. But after qualifying for the NHC, Lavezza had to get special permission to head to Las Vegas to compete in the finals. “I went through all the proper channels,” said Lavezza. “I talked to my unit and told them about the tournament. Then I put in a leave form and had to go through the platoon sergeant in my company. The commander signed off on it, and on January 22nd, I will ask for my leave form and be signed out. Early on the 23rd, I will fly from Frankfurt to Atlanta where I will meet my father and brother and fly to Las Vegas. On Friday, the 25th, after the first day of the tournament, my wife and son will come in.”
“We are delighted to be hosting Chris at our first ever million-dollar DRF/NTRA National Handicapping Championship,” said Keith Chamblin, senior vice president of communications and industry relations for the NTRA. “Chris is one of thousands of Americans selflessly giving their service to defend our freedom, and we are proud to count him as one of our sport’s sharpest and most avid fans.”
In just its ninth year, the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship is the most important tournament of the year for horseplayers and is the culmination of a year-long series of NTRA-sanctioned local tournaments conducted by racetracks, casino racebooks, off-track betting facilities and horse racing and handicapping Web sites, each of which sends its top qualifiers to the national finals. This year’s finalists advanced from one of 87 local tournaments held at more than 50 different sites across North America from February through December 2007. In the past year, more than 100,000 people have participated in these local tournaments.
Regular Championship updates will be posted on the Internet throughout the two-day contest at both www.ntra.com and www.drf.com.
TVG BREEDERS’ CUP SPRINT CHAMP MIDNIGHT LUTE SET FOR PALOS VERDES
TVG Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner Midnight Lute, who is expected to earn an Eclipse Award as outstanding sprinter of 2007 when honors are announced on Jan. 21, will make his first start of 2008 in Santa Anita’s Grade II Palos Verdes Handicap on that day, weather permitting, trainer Bob Baffert said.
Previously, Baffert had said Midnight Lute would make his debut this year in the Grade II San Carlos Handicap on Feb. 16. The Palos Verdes is at six furlongs, the San Carlos, seven.
“I’ve got him ready to run,” Baffert said of the 5-year-old son of 1998 Kentucky Derby winner Real Quiet. “What if it rains San Carlos weekend? I just don’t want to sit on him. He’s cranked up, he worked really well the other day at Hollywood. I don’t think I can sit on him until the San Carlos.”
Midnight Lute won the Breeders’ Cup Sprint by 4 ¾ lengths on Monmouth Park’s sloppy track last Oct. 27, unleashing a breath-taking rally under Garrett Gomez, who has the mount in the Palos Verdes. Midnight Lute was second by 2 ½ lengths as the 1-2 favorite in his most recent start, the Grade I Cigar Mile at Aqueduct last Nov. 24.
BELMONT WIN BY RAGS TO RICHES VOTED 2007 NTRA MOMENT OF THE YEAR
The historic victory by Rags to Riches over Curlin at the Belmont Stakes has been voted the 2007 National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA) Moment of the Year. The connections of Rags to Riches, whose Belmont Stakes win was the first by a filly in 102 years, will be honored at the Eclipse Award ceremony Monday, January 21, in Beverly Hills, Calif., with the “NTRA Moment of the Year” award. Balloting was conducted at the NTRA Web site, ntra.com, and offered voters 12 different images illustrating a wide range of human emotions as well as outstanding displays of equine athleticism.
The Rags to Riches Moment received 51% of all votes cast. The runner-up was the euthanization of Barbaro, which received 17%. Finishing third in the vote with 10% was Curlin’s win in the Breeders’ Cup Classic – Powered by Dodge. Tied for fourth with 7% each were the death of John Henry and the victory by Street Sense in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands.
The first-ever “NTRA Moment of the Year” was the touching scene involving Charismatic and jockey Chris Antley following the 1999 Belmont Stakes. The following year’s winner was the stretch run of the 2000 Breeders’ Cup Classic, which saw Tiznow hold on for a dramatic victory against Giant’s Causeway. Tiznow won again the following year as fans selected his stirring repeat victory in the Classic over Sakhee. In 2002, fans cited the passing of the last living Triple Crown winner, Seattle Slew. In 2003, the popular Kentucky Derby win by Funny Cide was selected. Birdstone’s upset win in the Belmont Stakes over Smarty Jones took down top honors for 2004. In 2005, fans selected Afleet Alex’s spectacular victory in the Preakness Stakes. Last year, fans paid tribute to the emotional scene at the New Bolton Center as Barbaro recovered from the serious injury he suffered during the Preakness Stakes.
“The NTRA Moment of the Year award is a great way for the fans to play an active role in the Eclipse Awards ceremony,” said Keith Chamblin, NTRA senior vice president of communications. “In a year with so many memorable moments, Rags to Riches clearly stood out in the hearts and minds of horse racing fans. We are delighted to salute her marvelous Belmont victory as the latest NTRA Moment of the Year.”
BIG A INCLUDED IN HI-RES PANORAMAS PHOTO PROJECT
Aqueduct Racetrack in New York has joined some of the famous panoramas in the world as the subject of the latest in high-resolution photography and interactive technology.
Using GigaPan, a robotic device that attaches to a standard digital camera and shoots multi-billion pixel panoramas, New York Times staff photographer Josh Haner spent several hours last week shooting views of the grandstand at Aqueduct. The hundreds of individual shots were stitched together using custom software to create an amazingly detailed panorama and then downloaded onto the web, where viewers can use a zoom button to explore the image in incredible detail.
Available on the interactive GigaPan website (www.gigapan.org) with the search term “Josh2” or “Aqueduct,” the Times website (www.newyorktimes.com) beginning Sunday, or linked on the New York Racing Association website (www.nyra.com), the images of Aqueduct join the Golden Gate Bridge, Dublin Castle, the Grand Canyon and others as subjects of this new technology.
With a limited number of the GigaPans (short for gigapixel panoramas) out on loan, the shoot at Aqueduct marks one of the first times the new technology has been used by a news organization. The technology is expected to be available to the public later this year.
Developed as part of the Global Connection Project at Carnegie-Mellon University and also sponsored by the NASA/Ames Intelligent Robotics Group and Google, GigaPan consists of the robotic camera mount, custom software for stitching the images together and a website for sharing the images.
RACING TO HISTORY
Jan. 17, 2000: The first ever NTRA “Moment of the Year” award went to the post-race scene after the 1999 Belmont Stakes, when jockey Chris Antley held Charismatic’s injured foreleg.
Jan. 19, 1955: Swaps won the San Vicente Stakes, the first race of his three-year-old campaign, by 3 ½ lengths at Santa Anita Park. He went on to triumph over Nashua in the Kentucky Derby, but was in turn defeated by his rival in a $100,000 match race at Washington Park on Aug. 31, his only loss of that year.
Jan. 20, 1972: Secretariat was shipped from Virginia to Florida to be trained by Lucien Laurin.
Jan. 20, 1979: Odds-on favorite Affirmed, with Steve Cauthen aboard, finished second in the San Fernando Stakes at Santa Anita, beaten 2 ¾ lengths by Radar Ahead. It was their fourth consecutive defeat. Cauthen subsequently lost the mount on Affirmed to jockey Laffit Pincay Jr., who rode the horse for the remainder of its four-year-old season, winning seven victories in as many starts. Affirmed was later voted Horse of the Year for 1979. Cauthen had ridden Affirmed to a Triple Crown sweep the previous year and the pair recorded 11 wins in their 16 races together.
Jan. 21, 2005: Jockey Jorge Chavez earned his 4,000th career win aboard A Rizzi Reuben in the fourth race at Gulfstream Park.
Jan. 22, 2005: Jockey Russell Baze passed Bill Shoemaker to take over second place on the all-time win list when he picked up his 8,834th victory aboard Hollow Memoires in the seventh race at Golden Gate Fields.
Jan. 22, 2004: Jockey C.C. Lopez earned his 3,000th career victory when he piloted Sunnyridge Sam to a winning effort in the seventh race at Aqueduct.
Jan. 23, 1994: Pat Day, 40, became the tenth rider in North American racing history to ride 6,000 winners, when he rode Miss Popsnorkle to victory in the first race at Oaklawn Park.
Jan. 24, 1974: Jockey Chris McCarron rode his first race, in which he finished last aboard Most Active, at Bowie Racecourse.
Jan. 25, 2000: According to The Jockey Club Fact Book for 2000, gross purses and total handle rose again in 1999 with North American purses topping $1 billion for the first time in history.
Jan. 26, 1950: Citation’s 16-race win streak came to an end in the La Sorpresa Handicap at Santa Anita. Despite giving 16 pounds to the winner, Miche, Citation, carrying 130 pounds, lost only by a neck.
Jan. 27, 1973: Penny Chenery accepted the Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year on behalf of Secretariat, who was also voted champion two-year-old of 1972.
Jan. 27, 2003: Azeri became the first female since Lady’s Secret in 1986 to receive the Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year.
Jan. 28, 1979: Bob Baffert won his first race as a Thoroughbred trainer, saddling Flipper Star to win the second race at Rillito Park in Tucson, Ariz. The winner’s share of the $600 purse was $330.
Jan. 28, 1999: The Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association and the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association announced the creation of the “Claiming Crown,” a six-race event to be held at Canterbury Park.
WEEKEND STAKES RACES (unrestricted stakes worth $75,000 and up)
SATURDAY, JANUARY 19
San Marcos Stakes, 4&up, $150,000, Grade II, 1 1-4M (T), Santa Anita
Aqueduct Handicap, 3&up, $75,000, 1 1-16M, Aqueduct
Pasco Stakes, 3yo, $75,000, 7F, Tampa Bay Downs
Tuzla Handicap, 4&up (f&m), $75,000, 1M (T), Santa Anita
SUNDAY, JANUARY 20
San Pedro Stakes, 3yo, $75,000, 6 1-2F, Santa Anita
MONDAY, JANUARY 21
Palos Verdes Handicap, 4&up, $150,000, Grade II, 6F, Santa Anita
Jimmy Winkfield Stakes, 3yo, $75,000, 6F, Aqueduct