TRC’s weekly industry digest - a round-up of international racing news from the past week.
All five Breeders’ Cup juvenile races to be run on ‘Future Stars Friday’
North America: In a major Breeders’ Cup reshuffle, all five of the World Championship races for 2-year-olds will be run on the first day of the event from this year’s meet at Churchll Downs on November 2-3 onwards. It is to be branded Future Stars Friday.
Under the new schedule, the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies and the new $1 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint will join the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf and the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf on the Friday race card, which will culminate with the $2 million Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, the first and most prominent step on the road to the Kentucky Derby. The Juvenile had been run on the Saturday program in previous years.
The $2 million Longines Distaff and the $1 million Dirt Mile have been moved to the Saturday program to help accommodate Future Stars Friday.
“With the increased excitement and international interest in our juvenile races, Future Stars Friday will create an identity to showcase the emerging stars of our sport on the first day of the World Championships,” said Craig Fravel, Breeders’ Cup President and CEO.
A total of eight starters from the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (Good Magic, Solomini, Bolt d’Oro, Firenze Fire, Free Drop Billy, Mendelssohn, My Boy Jack and Flameaway) competed in last Saturday’s Kentucky Derby. Horses that ran in last year’s Juvenile Turf at Del Mar have combined for 12 stakes victories, seven of them Graded or Group events, since the 2017 Championships.
Eight banned for ‘brazen attempts to cheat’
Oceania: The Racing Appeals and Disciplinary (RAD) board issued guilty verdicts at Melbourne County Court on all 271 charges “of brazen attempts to cheat” against eight horsemen, the so-called ‘Aquanita Eight’.
Veteran dual-purpose trainer Robert Smerdon, who was said to be “the major driving force behind the scheme”, and his long-term assistant, Greg Nelligan, have received lifetime bans – as does Nelligan’s wife Denise.
Trainers Stuart Webb, Tony Vasil and Trent Pennuto were banned for four, three and two years respectively. Trainer Liam Birchley and float driver Danny Garland each received one-year sanctions.
The scandal was exposed by the Herald Sun, which uncovered text exchanges between Nelligan and Birchley on the eve of the 2015 Melbourne Cup, many of which included references to Smerdon. Damningly around 1,000 messages of the 70,000 texts downloaded from Nelligan's mobile phone mentioned bicarbonate loading – known colloquially as top-ups in Australia or milkshakes Stateside.
RAD chairman Judge John Bowman described the findings in the Aquanita Case, named for the stable involved in the scheme, as “one of the darkest and longest chapters in the history of Australian turf”.
Noseda loses Phoenix Thoroughbreds horses
Europe: Phoenix Thoroughbreds has removed all the horses it had in training with Newmarket trainer Jeremy Noseda.
One-time Kentucky Derby hope Gronkowski has been shipped to Chad Brown in New York, with his owners hoping he can still make the Belmont Stakes on June 9. The remainder of Phoenix’s British horses have been allocated to Martyn Meade, Karl Burke, Ed Vaughan and Robert Cowell.
Noseda took to Twitter to announce the seemingly acrimonious split, stating that he was “shocked and surprised” by the syndicate’s decision to remove its horses from Shalfleet Stables.
The former assistant to John Gosden added that he had “no reason or explanation for the decision”.
Inglis chief stepping down
Oceania: Inglis managing director Mark Webster will step down as the chief executive of Australia’s leading Thoroughbred auctioneers. Webster’s resignation as the day-to-day manager of operations will take effect at the end of the year, but he will remain on the board of directors.
“After 20 years as a chief executive, I decided that I would like a change and take roles which do not involved the day-to-day running of a company,” said Webster. “I'm already on a couple of boards and will stay in a non-executive role on the Inglis board.”
Webster joined Inglis as managing director in 2007 and the Australian native has overseen the operation’s move from Newmarket in Randwick to the Riversides Stables complex and hotel at Warwick Farm on the outskirts of Sydney.
Inglis director Arthur Inglis said that the firm, which was founded in 1867, had been “very lucky to have Mark lead the business over the last 11 years” and paid tribute to the outgoing chief executive’s character. Inglis nevertheless admitted that he had to “respect and appreciate” Webster’s decision to “change his lifestyle”.
Churchill Downs celebrating another Derby wagering high
North America: Betting on the 2018 Kentucky Derby set new records for operator Churchill Downs Inc (CDI), which reported that all sources on the Churchill Downs’ program totalled $225.7 million, an eight percent increase on the 2017 total and previous record of $209.2 million.
Gambling from all sources on the Kentucky Derby alone also increased by the same percentage to $149.9 million, which also eclipses the previous record of $139.2 million set last year.
Bill Carstanjen, chief executive of CDI, stated the week’s activity should result in the company’s Quarter 2 adjusted earnings reflecting “another record” meet, with “$11 to $13 million of growth over last year”.
Major cash boost for Ontario Racing
North America: Ontario Racing’s board of directors has signed a 19-year funding agreement with the Ontario Government.
Last month officials from the Canadian province promised to pledge up to C$105 million a year to horse racing industry stakeholders, which will be used to sustain breeding and racing - including purse management, operational expenses and capital improvements.
“This is an historic day for horse racing in the province,” said Bill O’Donnell, president of the Central Ontario Standardbred Association (COSA). “This government clearly remains committed to ensuring the long-term sustainability of the Ontario horse racing industry and the rural communities that depend on it.
“This new, collaborative agreement will help provide horsepeople, owners, breeders and racetrack operators with the support needed to ensure stability and long-term success.”
Relief for Musselburgh
Europe: The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) has granted Musselburgh Racecourse a further extension to its racing licence until the end of its flat season on October 16.
The Scottish track had recently faced difficulties with its licence and management structure, but the temporary permit will ensure the racecourse's fixtures during the remainder of the 2018 season can go ahead as scheduled.
“This is a further positive step in securing a long-term solution in the best interests of Musselburgh Racecourse. Racegoers, staff, owners and trainers now have certainty for the remainder of the flat season,” said Fiona O’Donnell, chair of the new Musselburgh Racecourse Associated Committee.
ATR and Sky win exclusive Breeders’ Cup TV rights
Europe: At The Races (ATR) will broadcast the 2018 edition of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Churchill Downs on November 2-3 exclusively live in the UK and Ireland.
In addition, Sky Sports Racing will broadcast the 2019 and 2020 Breeders’ Cups exclusively live following the launch of the new HD, dedicated racing channel, as the successor to ATR, in January 2019.
Under a new partnership, ATR/Sky Sports Racing will have exclusive UK and Ireland TV broadcast rights to all races from the two-day Championships and will commit significant promotion and coverage to the event and to the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series across their digital and social media assets.
ATR will report exclusively from the track and behind the scenes at Churchill Downs in 2018 and will broadcast live using NBC’s feed and acclaimed coverage of the event.
O’Sullivan hits Hong Kong 400
Oceania: Expatriate New Zealand trainer Paul O’Sullivan collected the 400th win of his Hong Kong career when Pearl Warm Warm was successful at Sha Tin. The Kiwi-bred son of Keeper, who is out of a half-sister to the dual Group One winner Scarlett Lady, was ridden by Zac Purton.
O’Sullivan established his Hong Kong operation in 2004 after winning 11 trainers’ premierships in New Zealand.