OPINION: LAZY LANE FARM MANAGER FRANK SHIPP ON THE RECENT MEET AT COLONIAL DOWNS

Over the next thirty days, the stakeholders in Virginia racing will be taking a close look at the recently completed live meet at Colonial Downs. We are seeking input from everyone involved and today we are publishing the remarks from Lazy Lane Farm manager Frank Shipp. Feel free to send your opinion to vta@vabred.org.

Joe Allbritton’s Lazy Lane Farm in Upperville is annually among the top four or five breeders of Virginia-bred earners. A semi-commercial breeding operation that has for many years both raced and sold their homebreds, Lazy Lane is best known for Preakness winner Hansel and the stakes winner and successful Virginia sire Secret Hello. They have bred quite a few Virginia-bred champions over the years including Rgirldoesntblush, Kona Blend and Virginia-bred Horse of the Year Union Avenue (pictured below right) as well as graded/group stakes winners Kittwood, Elizabeth Bay and Beal Street Blues. Lazy Lane has also bred the leading Virginia-bred earner of all time, Seeking the Pearl who won $4,022,066 while racing primarily in Japan. Hansel (center photo) is number four on the list with earnings of $2,936,586.

Shipp (pictured above left with Frank Petramalo) is a lifelong horseman whose pedigree traces back to Kentucky hardboots. Shipp is clearly calling for change.

Here are my views on the Colonial meet, particularly as it affects Lazy Lane, and our planning for the future:

The current Colonial race meet mirrors the general conditions on the MD/DEL/WV circuit over the past couple of years, in that the emphasis (i.e. races that “go”) is on sprints (particularly on turf at Colonial), lower priced claimers, with a few stakes thrown in – again, more sprints than in the past.

Our breeding program has always aimed for the middle-to-top of the commercial market, which usually highlights at least some stamina in the pedigree. This allows us to target classic distances, whether we sell our foals/yearlings, or keep them to race. The commercial market has always favored well-conformed yearlings with classic potential – hence the emphasis on that type of pedigree in our program. We primarily keep fillies to race, in an effort to re-stock our broodmare band with females who can continue to produce similar offspring for sales/racing.

The result of all of the above is that we increasingly find ourselves unable to find suitable races for our stable in this area, and even more so at Colonial-the reason there being that, while the state-bred bonus program makes for a nice potential purse for us, the overall low purses, relative to, say, Delaware/Philadelphia/Presque Isle/ Monmouth, etc., make it next to impossible to attract enough non-VA breds to fill the “long” allowance races we need.

In addition, at least two of the VA-bred stakes we formerly “patronized” – the John D. Marsh and the Oakley – have been shortened to sprint distances and, even though we won the Oakley last year, the vast majority of the time, we wouldn’t have even a chance at running for the black type there that we need for our breeding program. Even with the longer stakes, we find it next to impossible to properly prepare our younger horses for that caliber of competition without suitable prep races, which have virtually disappeared.

The bottom line is, we will concentrate more and more on our commercial activities, and continue to reduce our racing stable to the point where, in all probability, we’ll only retain a filly or two for racing, and will probably be forced to send them outside the mid-Atlantic region for the opportunities we’ll require. Monday’s card (July 12) was, unfortunately, a prime example of why we can’t continue to plan to race our horses in Virginia – nine races, eight of them for $5k claimers, and the other a $7.5k maiden claimer.

It can surprise no one that, with the above “product”, neither of the TV racing channels can be persuaded to show the entire card, and HRTV (our current broadcasting partner – and I use the term loosely – doesn’t even show live racing on Tuesdays anymore. If Colonial wishes to remain relevant for what we consider to be “quality” racing (i.e. the kind of racing that attracts simulcasting dollars outside of the extremely marginalized “Monday-Tuesday” market currently in place), it will need higher daily purses that will draw nicer horses to run on that turf course that we horsemen adore.

How do we accomplish this increase? We could do a lot worse than emulating, in some way, the weekend-only schedule Monmouth currently uses, combined with fewer races offering larger purses. Additionally, the Turf Cup/VA Derby purses can be reduced, with the resultant money channeled into overnights, or other stakes. The “series bonus” is already dead, so the justification for two of these races for three year-olds at one short meet defies logic in this economy.

We also need to find some way to restore our television signal, and our agreement with TVG, both of which would increase handle. HRTV has handed us a disastrous situation, so that our product, meager as it is, has almost no chance to grow in popularity except for the most desperate simulcast patrons at other race tracks.

In conclusion, Einstein (or Ben Franklin, depending on who you ask) was quoted as defining insanity as doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results. Hopefully we, as an industry, can appreciate the changes we need to put us on a path toward “sanity.” I don’t claim to have all the answers, or even most of them, but as long as most of us continue to ask the right questions, perhaps we can persuade our leadership that our current course leaves us, at best, striving for mediocrity.

We need to alter that course before it is too late. — Frank Shipp.