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HRN Original Blog:
The Pressbox Blog
Posted Wednesday, September 12, 2018
Purim’s Dancer was once a racehorse. Now she's trying to make them.
Posted Monday, August 27, 2018
Gene McLean recounts his friendship with the late John Asher.
Posted Monday, August 27, 2018

Every so often, we will be addressing a few things: comments, decisions, people, whatever that – for one reason or another – should be tossed into the literary “muck pit.”

It is in the spirit of cleanliness, recycling, and protecting the environment that we offer this service of “addressing the muck” – free of charge. After all, someone has to do it, right?

And, it didn’t take long for us to find a few pounds of, well, manure.

Here is a look at our latest edition, with a little game of “How Is It Possible?” Most of these are rhetorical, but if you want to engage with a plausible answer, please feel free:

First…

“How Is It Possible” that we tout the grand Catholic Boy ever since we first laid eyes on this magnificent being at the Breeders’ Cup last November at Del Mar; we pick him as our No. 1 choice for this year’s Kentucky Derby all the way through the early part of the Triple Crown preps; and we voted for him in the HorseRacingNation.com weekly poll faithfully, religiously, continuously until it was obvious that he would not make the Derby (just ask my good friend Jonathan Lintner), and then not bet him straight in the Travers Stakes?

Oh, I had him in my exotics, mind you.

But they didn’t pay off.

And, I touted him on our weekly podcast with the great broadcaster Dave Baker.

But that didn’t return any change for the old pocketbook.

But…

Well, there’s always a but, right?

I do like Catholic Boy.

Second…

“How Is It Possible” that we can stand some — if not most — of the world’s greatest stallions right here in Kentucky, and they can father some of the greatest racehorses of all time; from generation to generation; from yesteryear to this year; from the great Secretariat and Seattle Slew to the likes of American Pharoah and Justify, yet we cannot seem to be able to breed, keep, and race just one of the best grass horses in the world these days?

Not even one?

Oh, we have been able to scratch up an exception every now and again. But for every Lure, or John Henry, or even Wise Dan, we regularly get our butts kicked by the Europeans. Like in regularly. Like in always (or so it seems).

Like by the likes of 7-year-old Glorious Empire in the G1 Sword Dancer at Saratoga.

On Saturday, the 7-year-old Irish-bred gelding whipped the best this continent had to offer in the Grade 1 Sword Dancer Stakes at Saratoga.

Oh, I understand that he has run predominantly in this country ever since he got here in 2016 from Newmarket. And, I know that he is now become Americanized about as much as most of our homebreds. But in 14 races since making the trip across the pond, he has managed only 4 wins. And, one of them was in a claiming race, for goodness sakes.

Yet, there he was on Saturday, running away from some of America’s best like he was the great Frankel versus a group of Maiden Claimers.

What’s up with that?

If you had to rank the best turf runners in the United States right now, who would be included on that list? Robert Bruce? Despite the fact that he has run his last three times in this country, he is a Chilean-bred and won his first six races in that country. Is it Sistercharlie? The filly is 3-for-4 this year, and she did win the G1 Beverly D at Arlington Park. But the best grass runner in America this year is a filly? Is it Hi Happy, who lost in the Sword Dancer? And, he is an Argentina-bred, who started his racing career in South America. Who is it?

It may be Catholic Boy. In fact, I would argue that it is Catholic Boy. But don’t you figure that he will run next in the Breeders’ Cup Classic? On the dirt.

So our best grass runner to face-off with the best that Europe may send to Churchill Downs for the Breeders’ Cup is a dirt horse?

We really should do better. We really should.

Third…

“How Is It Possible” that the affable and talented Bob Baffert can win nearly every race he enters when he ships a horse from his home base in California across the Mississippi to any racing racing venue in the Midwest or East?

On Saturday, Baffert entered two horses in two races at Saratoga on Travers Day. Although he had won the last two Travers Stakes with the likes of Arrogate and West Coast, he didn’t have a horse he felt merited a trip to The Spa for that event this year. Not with the injury, defection and retirement of the great, Triple Crown winner Justify. But he did have a horse for the G1 Personal Ensign, and another for the G1 Ballerina Stakes.

As fate would have it, Baffert and his horses won them both. Abel Tasman, winner of the 2017 Kentucky Oaks, captured the Personal Ensign, and Marley’s Freedom ran away with the Ballerina.

Now, Baffert — a man known for his golden touch with the colts — is starting to dominate the country’s best filly races?

Well, so it seems.

All I can say, or write, is that the man gets really good horses to train. And, the man knows what to do with them once he gets them.

He is the best.

As in?

Ever.

Fourth…

“How Is It Possible” that a Hall of Fame trainer, such as Bill Mott, goes to whining and crying — like a baby filly on the first night she’s been weaned from mom — when he doesn’t get his way in a decision from the racing stewards?

My gosh, man, give it a break. You and your fine filly, Elate, got beat by Abel Tasman in the Personal Ensign at Saratoga on Saturday. In a great race, no doubt. But you got beat.

The fact is Bill, if you try to watch the replay with an unbiased eye, the two great and grand fillies came together — converged towards each other — like great racehorses normally do. They both moved toward each other to engage the fight. Elate, your horse, moved toward the inside. Abel Tasman, the winner, moved toward the outside. And, they came side by side. In one of the best, most challenging, most fun races since the great Beholder nipped the fantastic Songbird in the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita in 2016.

It was magical. It was aggressive. It was race-riding.

Did they exchange a bump? Maybe. Kind of looked like they may have.

Did it cost one horse the race over another? Didn’t look like it. Neither broke stride, stumbled, faltered or waned.

That race should not have been settled by the stewards. It should have been settled by the horses.

And, it was.

Abel Tasman won. Again. And, it was a race for the memories.

A Hall of Fame trainer should understand that, and appreciate being part of it. A Hall of Fame trainer should look forward to having another chance to turn the tables. A Hall of Fame trainer should not be crying.

So quit.

Fifth…

“How Is It Possible” that anyone who watched the Travers Stakes on Saturday thought that Mendelssohn ran a great race, and should be considered a serious threat for the Breeders’ Cup Classic?

Really? Seriously?

Let’s be honest, guys. OK? Up for that?

Mendelssohn — who won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf last November at Del Mar — set sail for the lead of the 1 1/4-mile Travers Stakes right at the hatch of the gate. And, on a track that was aiding and abetting speed types all day long, and in a field of horses that was devoid of any true speed types, Mendelssohn took advantage. Full advantage.

He plodded along on the front end through pedestrian-like fractions. The first quarter was nearly :24. The first half was nearly :48. The three-quarters time was 1:11.97. Those are the kind of fractions that you would normally see set by allowance horses. Maybe even some claiming horses.

Still, Mendelssohn — trained by Aidan O’Brien — could not hold onto the lead. Not even close.

When the running got serious, Catholic Boy zoomed past Mendelssohn as easy as a Porsche boxcar goes past a moped. Catholic Boy rolled to an easy 4-length victory, and it could have been by more. Bravazo and King Zachary nearly did what was impossible on Saturday’s racetrack — close. Bravazo came within a length of catching Mendelssohn.

Mendelssohn may be able to beat any of our best on the grass — again. (See the “How Is Possible” above.) But all he showed me on Saturday is that he is a nice grass horse who becomes rather ordinary on the dirt.

And, no matter what his connections may try next, he won’t warm up our best in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Not even close.

Sixth…

“How Is It Possible” that Ricardo Santana Jr. is not considered one of the top riders in the world?

There is a reason why the man rides first chair for Steve Asmussen.

He can ride.

There is a reason why the man got Whitmore up to win the Forego Stakes at Saratoga on Saturday. While all the main contenders were wheeling wide into the turn, Santana and his steed steered to the rail. And, when the hole opened, they were strategically and ideally placed to take full advantage.

There is a reason why the man was so excited when he and horse strode across the finish line first. He was happy. On the world’s largest stage, he and horse stole the show.

It is time the game started to give the man his due.

He’s earned it.

Posted Tuesday, August 21, 2018

The long-awaited arrival of construction workers and heavy equipment is just around the corner. The much-anticipated wait is nearly to be over, and noise of machine and man will soon replace the zoom of nearby traffic. The future — which we have been buzzing about for over a year — is about to begin.

And it is music to our ears.

This week, demolition crews will begin digging out on old, abandoned concrete pad just to the East of the historic Fetzer Building at 209 East Main Street in downtown Louisville, Ky., and will begin creating a hole where a brand spanking new parking garage will soon be erected.

And, that garage — my friends — will become a critical component, building block and intricate part of the new and improved historic structure that will soon house the Louisville Thoroughbred Society.

“When I got the news that construction crews would be roping off the area and beginning to dig out the old concrete slab, I think my heart jumped a beat,” said Gene McLean, one of the leaders behind the new project. “We have been working on this concept for such a long time. It truly is exciting to see the project come to life with these initial steps in the construction process.”

The “Society” — which is anticipating to occupy the entire second floor of the 6-floor historic structure — will be a private membership club dedicated to providing first class accommodations and amenities to members and guests interested in, involved in, engaged in, and part of the Thoroughbred racing industry.

(A look at the proposed parking garage, which will be located East of the “Fetzer Building” and in-between the current Ice House location. Rendering provided by Bruce Rogers, architect on the project.)

Broadcasts of live Thoroughbred racing will be featured in and around the entire facility through state-of-the-art audio/video equipment. Top shelf dining and drink options are expected to be offered in a world-class bar setting, and private rooms are projected to be constructed that will allow for private parties, functions and other meetings.

The roof top of the garage is scheduled to be a major component of the “Society” and will be utilized as a beautifully designed green roof setting, and will allow customers and friends to roam in open air space and still have the ability to watch some of the world’s top horse racing events in vivid, high-definition and surround-sound stereo.

It will be the first “private club” of its’ kind in Jefferson County and downtown Louisville, and will cater to the fan and friend of one of the Commonwealth’s most iconic and signature industries.

(The terrace view at Crushed Ice Catering facility and the Ice House. Photo Courtesy of Crushed Ice Catering.)

In addition, a premium “Cigar Bar” is slated to be constructed on the North End of the newly constructed garage roof top, and that facility will provide a world-class humidor, and an exclusive, private area for connoisseurs of fine cigars to enjoy some of the best and cured leafs in the world.

Construction should be under way by the end of this week and the first of next week. “The Pressbox” will be on hand to document the beginning of the construction project, and provide you with regular updates, photos, and videos of the progress. The project is expected to take between nine and 11 months to be completed.

Obviously, with the 2019 Kentucky Derby just 8 months away, it will be a strain to get all the accommodations, renovations, top-end furnishings, and the vast array of amenities and services completely operational by that critical date in the annual racing calendar.

However, we never say never. Right?

The Louisville Thoroughbred Society — which will be modeled in some ways after the Thoroughbred Club of America in Lexington — is a project headed by McLean, and the team of Mike Schnell and Dave Steinbrecher.

Schnell and Steinbrecher — who own and operate construction companies and have built highly successful careers in the profession — bought, renovated, and opened the Ice House property several years ago in a major restoration project. The multipurpose facility — which was completely restored, remodeled, and redone — now provides commercial rental properties for several businesses, and apartment and condominiums, as well. In addition, the Ice House has convention space, and is the home of Crushed Ice Catering — one of the more successful food and beverage catering business in the Midwest and operated by Erica Schnell.

(A view of the Ice House from the Washington Street location. The parking garage will be constructed to the right of this building. Photo courtesy of Crushed Ice Catering.)

A couple of years ago, Schnell and Steinbrecher extended their downtown holdings by purchasing the former Fetzer Building. They duo also acquired the empty lot that is located between the current Ice House operations and the building formerly known as the “Fetzer Building.” That is the site of the newly planned, designed and soon-to-be-constructed parking garage. Once completed, the garage will fully connect the properties.

McLean, a Thoroughbred owner and breeder, owns and operates McLean Communications. For over 30 years, McLean was a top lobbyist for many major corporations, including AT&T, Houchens Industries, the Kentucky Hospital Association, the Kentucky Beer Wholesalers Association. Over that time span, he represented many other companies that specialized in road construction, construction management, health care, and other specialized fields of study.

Before that, McLean served as the Executive Vice President of the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association and the Kentucky Thoroughbred Owners & Breeders’ Association. In addition, he was the first President of Kentucky Off-Track Betting, Inc. He has been a member of the Thoroughbred Club of America for nearly 30 years.

(The Pressbox logo. Site can be found at www.thepressboxlts.com)

Now, McLean Communications owns both McLean Lobby, LLC. and has all operational rights to “The Pressbox” — an on-line publication dedicated to covering, promoting, and touting the entire horse industry.

In addition, McLean developed “The Louisville Thoroughbred Society” concept, and is the and one of the three founding members of The Louisville Thoroughbred Society — along with Schnell and Steinbrechler.

The new group is now planning on hosting an “Open House” at the new facility. While the final date and time is still to be determined, the event should be scheduled soon and announced for a time this September. By reservation, people interested in either investing in the “Society” and/or becoming members will be invited to attend and get a close-up look at the new project.

If anyone is interested in learning more how to become an investor in the project, or a member and the various membership packages being planned, you can contact Gene McLean at gene@mcleanlobby.com.

Posted Thursday, August 09, 2018
Columnist Gene McLean runs down the good and bad of this week's racing news.
Posted Wednesday, August 08, 2018
Fasig-Tipton's Saratoga yearling sale finished up almost $10 million.
Posted Wednesday, August 08, 2018
Gene McLean explains the joys of ownership through 2-year-old Seek N Justice.
Posted Wednesday, July 18, 2018
Gene McLean has been there, done that. Here's where he'll be watching the summer races.
Posted Tuesday, July 17, 2018

As expected, the Kentucky Racing Commission on Tuesday officially approved Saratoga Casino Holdings as the new owner and operator of Ellis Park at a special-called meeting in Lexington, Ky.

Last week, “The Pressbox (thepressboxlts.com) first reported that a sale was imminent for Ellis Park, located in Henderson, Ky.

On Monday, that news came a step closer to reality when the racing commission announced a meeting to discuss, in part, transfer of the license from the current owner, Ron Geary, to a new ownership team.

Currently, Saratoga Casino Holdings is the parent company of Saratoga Casino Hotel in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and the Saratoga Casino Black Hawk in Black Hawk, Colo. SCH owns and operates the Saratoga Harness Racing, Inc. as well.

Saratoga Casino Holdings will take over Ellis Park's day-to-day activities and decision-making authority immediately.

“Everything went very well,” said Marc A. Guilfoil, the Executive Director for the Kentucky Racing Commission. “Seamless.”

Just a couple of years ago, Saratoga Casino Holdings purchased a minority position in Ellis Park. According to our sources, the partnership was still led and operational control was still held by Geary and his management team.

Tuesday, Saratoga Casino Holdings announced that it had purchased the remainder of Ellis Park from Geary, and that full ownership and operations would be transferred, if approved by the Kentucky Racing Commission. That approval took just a few minutes, and was absent of any drama.

“It’s been 12 years, and I just turned 71," Geary said in a statement. "My wife and my two kids and my nine grandkids for years have asked me to slow down. I think it’s time. I’ve enjoyed working with Saratoga over the years.

“It’s been a really fun and fast-moving 12 years. I feel like we’ve had some great successes and we’ve brought it a long ways with so many people’s help. I know Saratoga will be focused on continuing the progress.”

In other Kentucky news for Tuesday, the Commission approved a couple of other important issues on the Agenda as well.

The Commission voted to approve the request of Churchill Downs to own, operate and make public Instant Racing Machines at its new venue, Derby City Gaming, located a few miles from the racetrack.

That location is scheduled to open in advance of the Breeders’ Cup, which will be hosted by Churchill Downs this November.

In addition, the Commission approved Churchill Downs’ request to utilize the Ainsworth Game Technology Historical Horse Racing System and Entertaining Game Theme.

Posted Monday, July 16, 2018
Start, like writer Gene McLean, with the hopes and dreams of a 2-year-old colt.
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Meet Gene McLean

The Pressbox is your source for news, handicapping and interviews with the industry's biggest stars. Gene McLean is the Founder of The Pressbox and The Louisville Thoroughbred Society. No one in this industry has more talent in reviewing, forecasting and handicapping.




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