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Accelerate early favorite to win Pegasus World Cup

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. — Accelerate’s big week is here, and it’s off to a start his connections wanted.

Accelerate is the 9-5 early favorite to win Saturday’s $9 million Pegasus World Cup, drawing the No. 5 post in a field of 12 for the race to be run over 1 1/8 miles of dirt at Gulfstream Park. It’ll be the final race for the Breeders’ Cup Classic champion, who is a mere 1 1/8 miles of Gulfstream Park dirt away from beginning his stud career.

“It’s a good post,” Accelerate trainer John Sadler said. “We didn’t want to be on the outside and we didn’t want to be on the inside. We were hoping for 5 or 6, so we’re very happy with the draw.”

Accelerate was almost certainly going to be the pre-race favorite regardless of what spot in the starting gate he drew. He’s also a finalist for Horse of the Year, the top prize that will be given out when the Eclipse Awards are unveiled at Gulfstream on Thursday night. That trophy figures to come down to either Accelerate or Justify, the now-retired winner of the Triple Crown last year.

“I have nothing but respect for the other horse, obviously,” Sadler said. “He’s an undefeated Triple Crown winner, and I saw him breeze all winter at Santa Anita, my home base, so I’m pretty familiar with him. He’s a great horse. That being said, my horse was a great horse last year.”

And a win on Saturday would only cement Accelerate as an all-time great: If he prevails, Accelerate’s career earnings would place him in the top 10 among all North American thoroughbreds. That’s the perk of the Pegasus, which offered purses of $12 million and $16 million in its first two runnings – and will pay out $16 million again this year, with $7 million of that earmarked for a newly added turf race to the program.

The Pegasus dirt is the richest purse in North America; the Pegasus turf has the richest purse for a grass race in North America.

“It’s good for racing,” said owner Ron Paolucci, who has Imperative in the Pegasus dirt race and Dubby Dubbie in the Pegasus turf. “That’s what I got into it for. And truthfully, it’s very selfish on my part. You win one of these races, it changes your life forever – not only in the racing community but in your financial situation.”

City of Light is the second choice behind Accelerate at 5-2, and Gunnevera – who was second to Accelerate at the Breeders’ Cup Classic – is 8-1 in the morning line. Gunnevera was third in the Pegasus World Cup last year.

Yoshida – a Grade 1 winner in both dirt and turf races – is the morning-line favorite for the Pegasus turf race at 5-2, just ahead of Catapult at 7-2. Yoshida finished last year on dirt, and was fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

“He’s got a pedigree for both and he’s one of the odd horses that has transitioned from one to the other,” said Bill Mott, who trains Yoshida. “It’s probably debatable whether his dirt races are better than his turf races, and they may well be, but he’s a horse that won very nicely for us in the spring last year on the turf. He’s run with good company, and we weighed our options here and thought that maybe the turf was the spot to go this time.”

New England’s last thoroughbred horse track winds down

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BOSTON — New England’s last thoroughbred horse track, Boston’s Suffolk Downs, is hosting its final live races this weekend, but it’s not clear what comes next for the industry, which continues to receive millions of dollars in casino tax subsidies.

Sterling Suffolk Racecourse, the company that operates the once grand, 84-year old track, has been running a handful of summertime races since losing out on its bid to build a resort casino on the property in 2014.

Two years ago, it sold the property – where the Depression-era champion Seabiscuit was discovered by the team that launched him into the limelight – to a real estate developer that plans to build apartments, condominiums and offices on the 161-acre property straddling Boston and Revere.

But Sterling Suffolk still wants to remain in the racing business and is betting on legislative approval this year to make that happen.

The company has proposed restoring the Great Barrington Fairgrounds near the New York state line while keeping its more lucrative simulcast and online betting operations in the Boston area. Current regulations don’t allow for a state-licensed race operator to split its operations this way.

The company is also seeking permission to tap into a special state fund for the horse racing industry in order to make improvements at the track. It also wants to extend the length of its racing license from one year to 10 years.

The Race Horse Development Fund is funded by gambling revenues from the state’s three casinos – Encore Boston Harbor, MGM Springfield and Plainridge Park. But under state regulations, the money must be dedicated largely to horse racing purses and benefits for industry workers. Capital projects like improving a racetrack aren’t permitted uses.

“It doesn’t do the horsemen any good if there’s money building up in that fund and they don’t have any place to run and compete for it,” Chip Tuttle, chief operating officer for Sterling Suffolk, said Friday.

Restoring the Great Barrington track would cost up to $15 million and require extending the length of the half-mile track, as well as renovating the grandstand, he said. The track, which hasn’t hosted horse races since 1998, could be ready by next fall.

“Great Barrington works because it’s a more reasonable option than starting from scratch,” Tuttle said. “But it’s not really practical for us to take on the complete refurbishment of that property unless we have a longer term license and the certainty that comes with it.”

At least one industry group opposes the idea.

The Massachusetts Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association backs a separate bill that would require licensed racing operators host at least 60 race days a year. Sterling Suffolk’s bill would require at least one race day annually and Tuttle said the company only envisions hosting a handful of race days initially at Great Barrington.

“Not until we get a full time track will we see the benefits of the horse racing industry in terms of horse breeding, farms, agriculture and open space,” said Bill Lagorio, the organization’s president. “Folks are raising horses in New York and running them in Massachusetts for a few weeks. That’s not doing anything for this state.”

Tuttle says Lagorio’s group is an “outlier” and does not represent the majority of the region’s horse owners and breeders.

Two other industry groups – New England Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association and the Massachusetts Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association – support the proposal, he noted.

The competing proposals and other bills related to the horse racing industry are being considered at a Statehouse hearing Monday.

In the meantime, casino revenues continue to accrue in the Race Horse Development Fund.

To date, nearly $56 million has been paid out — $21 million to the thoroughbred industry and another $34 million to the separate harness racing industry, according to Massachusetts Gaming Commission data.

The harness racing industry continues to run regular races at Plainridge Park’s track and has steadily spent down most of its funding. But the thoroughbred industry, which has long been anchored at Suffolk Downs, has nearly $13 million in its coffers, and growing.

Breeders’ Cup to stay at Santa Anita this year

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LOS ANGELES — The Breeders’ Cup world championships will remain at Santa Anita this fall after 30 horses died during the Southern California track’s recent meet.

The Breeders’ Cup board of directors unanimously decided to keep the two-day event at the track in Arcadia for a record 10th time on Nov. 1-2. The board made its decision at a meeting Thursday in Lexington, Kentucky.

Craig Fravel, president and CEO of the Breeders’ Cup, says the ownership of Santa Anita along with other groups has made “meaningful and effective reforms” in recent months to improve safety. He says the Breeders’ Cup embraces those reforms and will devote time and energy in the coming months to further those efforts.

The 30 horse deaths occurred during Santa Anita’s winter-spring meet that began Dec. 26 and ended Sunday.