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Monday, November 24, 2014

Not Getting the Memo on Cuomo

It seems as if not everyone has gotten the memo that the governor is not involved in the casino selection process.  Last week, it was reported that Republican Senator James Steward had written to Cuomo (copying in the location board) to advocate on behalf of Howe Caverns, referring to the casino law's intent of creating jobs and funding for schools. 

“It is clear that no other site better fulfills these strict criteria, no other will another have a more profound regional impact, than the Howe Caverns Resort and Casino,” Seward wrote in the letter dated Nov. 14. “It is projected to deliver 20 percent more revenue to the Schoharie County budget, create 3,000 construction jobs and nearly 2,000 permanent positions.” [Capital New York]
I've considered Howe Caverns to be an interesting longshot.  Though its revenue projections come in below that of the other three Capital District applicants, it enjoys wide community support in a region that was devastated by Hurricane Irene.  And, as Senator Steward also noted, it is located far enough from Saratoga to not pose much of a threat at all to the racino there.  Remember that the state collects a higher tax rate on the existing VLT parlors than it will on casinos, so it's certainly in the state's interest to try and prevent cannibalization there.

As if that wasn't enough, Governor Cuomo received some additional reading material last week; this from two lawmakers supporting the Hard Rock casino in Rensselaer. 
"We believe that opportunities for employment and tourism will extend to both sides of the river in Albany and Rensselaer Counties," the letter states. " ... Issues such as transportation, job training and employment are critical to our constituency and will be of utmost importance with regard to this project." [Albany Times Union]
  And why exactly was this letter addressed to the uninvolved Governor of New York? 
"At the end of the day ... the members of the (Gaming) Commission are appointed by the Legislature, yes, but also by the governor," [Assemblyman John] McDonald [of Cohoes] said in an interview.
Indeed.  And the Gaming Commission, which ostensibly made the selections to the location board, happened to pick five gentleman who all have varying degrees of ties to Cuomo; two of them, in particular, held key posiitons on Cuomo's 2010 campaign team.  So, you can't blame these legislators for sending their letters the governor's way.

Mentioned in the article about Rensselaer are a "flurry of rumors" regarding the Capital District license, which are apparently pointing towards Schenectady.  I recently read a quote from Rennselaer mayor Dan Dwyer to that effect.  If those rumors turn out to be true (and I can't really imagine where they'd be coming from), the license award would be going to Rush Street Gaming despite a concerted effort by the Unite HERE union to discredit the company on grounds of unfair and mean-spirited labor practices.  And there has also been bad publicity regarding the company's involvement in gaming apps marketed to kids.  (Rush Street is also involved with Saratoga harness in their Newburgh bid.)  Should the location board select this project despite those concerns, you can expect the union to keep the heat on as the Gaming Commission considers the issue of the company's licensability.

We're told that the location board will indeed make their announcement at their next meeting, whenever that might be.  I'll believe that when I see it.  These guys have a lot to consider; that's an understatement to be sure.  One thing that I'll repeat here.....and perhaps there's no need, because, hopefully, the location board members have, at some point, visited all of the proposed casino sites; though if they have, they must have done so quietly.  If they haven't, then I don't see how they can be getting the whole picture.  The trip that the Head Chef and I took up to Ellenville, home of the proposed Nevele casino, a couple of weeks ago really opened my eyes.  It's one thing to read and hear about how the Catskills proponents are concerned about a casino in Orange County.  It's another thing to take the trip up there and pass by, one by one, the signposts for towns with proposed casino sites off Route 17 on the way from NYC and the Catskills region.....and yes, that includes Newburgh, despite what Saratoga harness wants you to believe. 

Similarly, I don't see how one can fully appreciate the concerns of the residents of East Greenbush that live near the proposed site there without seeing the surroundings for oneself, as I did; and I'm sure that goes for places like Tyre and Tuxedo as well.  If the board is having trouble making a decision and/or coming to a consensus, then I'd recommend that they take a couple of days off from their day jobs and do their due diligence, if they haven't already done so.  As they should have.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Casino Selections Hurdle Towards New Year

We're told that the Gaming Facility Location Board is "closing in" on their decision on where, and to whom, to recommend the issuance of up to four casino licenses; but it won't come at Friday's closed door meeting.  "We expect to be able to make a decision at our next meeting,” Kevin Law wrote to Gaming Commission Mark Gearan.  But we don't yet know exactly when that meeting will be....mid-December is the target.  However, once you get to that time of year, the holidays loom and people have the tendency to put things off until the new year.  I would not at all be shocked if that happens here.

The longer this thing goes on, the more it veers off the ambitious timetable that had been set by Governor Cuomo, who had one time actually envisioned casino money starting to flow by the early months of 2015.  And the more it veers off course, the more I start to believe that maybe.....just possibly.....the outcome will not be what I've always believed to be one that was pre-ordained in the days/weeks leading up to the casino referendum vote.  That was when the New York Gaming Association flipped its stance and agreed to not oppose the referendum after flipping its stance to one of opposition.  The thinking here all along has been that then-NYGA president James Featherstonhaugh, along with Jeff Gural and, perhaps, Genting (who has had a complicated history with the governor, but who surely had the money and the means to influence the vote's outcome) would have the inside track via a closed-door deal with the governor.  That may still indeed end up being the case.  But if it does, these guys are sure doing a convincing job of going through the motions!

Tom Noonan was nice enough to drop by last week and point out that with a grand jury looking into allegations that Cuomo interfered with the investigations of the Moreland Commission, the governor and his staff would have to be a clueless and arrogant fool to interfere with a competitive procurement.  Especially considering the scandal over the selection of the Aqueduct racino.  That's surely a very fair point. However, one might have thought that, with US Attorney Preet Bharara squarely focused on the matter, Cuomo would have had to have been a clueless and arrogant fool to tamper with that investigation by orchestrating a coordinated response by Moreland participants willing to say that there was no interference.  Maybe Bharara's furious reaction to that action gave the governor pause about his meddling behavior.  Still, these casinos are his baby, and it's extremely difficult to believe that he's not actively monitoring the deliberations.  And that his preferences have or will not be expressed to a board which includes people with whom he has worked closely in the past.

But in any event, and no matter what Cuomo is or is not doing, the longer this thing drags on, you gotta believe that Gural and Feathers are shitting their pants.  Surely they must have felt, at the very least, entitled to a license when this process started.  But now, it all seems to be up for grabs....seemingly at least. And both of them have some serious issues with their bids.  For Gural, it's the fact that his revenue and employment projections are incremental to what his Tioga Downs racino is producing now; it's the only existing racino bidding to expand into a casino.  That was the point of the ad attacking the Tioga bid that Lago ran, even if it didn't have the facts straight.  You may recall at the oral presentation, Gural was called out on his projection of 1200 jobs, and sheepishly admitted that only 900 of those positions would be new ("we're allowed to present it like that").

As for Feathers, he picked up his stake in Saratoga, a place where there was some staunch opposition to expanding his existing racino, and landed in the middle of a residential area in East Greenbush, where the opposition is stauncher still.  In my opinion, an award to his Capital View casino there would belie any claim that the process is legitimate.  And his Newburgh bid relies on a notion that it would "complement and not compete" with a Catskills casino which, as I pointed out in this post, is a bunch of unadulterated hogwash.  I would hope that the location board members took that same drive that I did up towards the Catskills to visit each of the sites (don't know if they've actually done so, as they certainly should have by now); then they would have seen the arrogant lie behind the Newburgh narrative for themselves.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Don't Expect Much From NYRA "Re-Privatization"

Gary Pretlow, the chairman of the Assembly Racing Committee, feels that NYRA is not "ready to go on their own" as of yet.

The warnings by Pretlow and the hesitation by his Senate committee counterpart to give a green light now to any of NYRA's still-developing plans signal some potential bumps for next year's scheduled end of state oversight of NYRA.
Though NYRA uses the term "re-privatization" to describe the scheduled end next fall of the state's control of its operations, Pretlow made clear he will oppose any effort that might arise to make NYRA a truly private corporation. 
"It remains a franchise under the state of New York and nothing else is really acceptable," Pretlow said. [Bloodhorse]
I think that last point is something that was conveniently overlooked when we heard talk about re-privatization meaning a New York Racing Association that was owned and operated by Churchill Downs or Frank Stronach.  The 2008 franchise agreement runs through 2033 and quite explicitly states that the New NYRA "is the not-for profit racing corporation incorporated pursuant to Section 402 of the Not-For-Profit Corporation Law of the State of New York."  So, it would require a lot of legislative effort, at the very least, to effect a change as drastic as NYRA becoming part of an out-of-state for-profit entity.  It's not going to happen.  I think that for all of the talk and speculation about the "re-privatization" of NYRA, it could be largely a non-event.

In fact, I think this whole state takeover thing just about qualifies as a non-event itself.  The fact is that NYRA was already under state control.  The Franchise Oversight Board was established in the franchise agreement to oversee the operations, and should NYRA not satisfy a list of Performance Standards that were written vaguely enough ("NYRA shall use its best reasonable efforts to maximize attendance..") to give it wide discretion, the FOB can threaten a revocation of the franchise. It was that threat which forced NYRA to reorganize its board to Cuomo's wishes in the first place.  And though we read about how the new board is "dominated by Cuomo appointees," it consists of largely familiar faces.  Nothing really drastic has occurred here.

Of course, that's not to say that things are not different than they might have been had the so-called takeover not transpired.  Surely, the old NYRA board would have gone in a different direction in choosing a new CEO, and he - or she (ha) - would have brought in a different executive team.
And while they would have faced the same issues - pressure to improve the financials separate from VLT money, the general decline in national handle, the future of Aqueduct (punted by this board), safety and medication issues, and a big wad of VLT cash with which to install much needed capital improvements - a different team may very well have taken a different approach.  Perhaps it would have focused on filling the void left by NYC OTB to fill its financial coffers instead of bleeding its customers for extra cash; or declined to be as hostile to the press and as non-transparent as this regime as proven to be.  (And a half hour session with customers at 10 AM on a Sunday morning at Aqueduct doesn't really change the latter.)

However, structurally and functionally as a corporation, I'd guess that things won't be all that much different when the three year period ends as it would have been if the governor hadn't been interested in staging his brief political show in reaction to the 2011-12 spate of breakdowns at Aqueduct and the takeout "scandal" which was portrayed as "robbing" bettors of millions of dollars.  The franchise agreement will remain in place, and NYRA will still be subject to the Franchise Oversight Board and the performance standards set forth.  It will almost be like nothing ever happened.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Number of Casino Awards Going South?

An editorial last week in the Binghamton-based Press & Sun-Bulletin wants to know exactly how Tyre, NY - where Wilmorite is seeking to build their Lago Resort & Casino despite concerted opposition in the town - got involved in the competition for the Southern Tier license in the first place. 

The rub here is that — as stupid and suspicious as it sounds — the state for casino licensing purposes has chosen to define the "Southern Tier" to include Seneca County, taking the Tier all the way north to Lake Ontario.

Why? you might ask. What were they thinking?

All definitions of the Southern Tier of New York state say Tier counties roughly run along the northern border of Pennsylvania. Empire State Development, the state's chief economic development agency, defines the Southern Tier as Broome, Chemung, Chenango, Delaware, Schuyler, Steuben, Tioga and Tompkins counties.

Darned if we know what went on.
Indeed, here's the map of the regions, with what the Gaming Commission deems to be the "Eastern Southern Tier" shaded in pink.

Tioga and Broome are in the southern portion along the PA border, enclosed in blue; while Tyre is not only in Seneca to the north, but towards the northern portion of it, off the NYS Thruway.  Tyre's inclusion for this purpose is, according to the editorial, a "gerrymandered" definition of the region.  And should Wilmorite be granted a license there, it would mean "zero employment and zero economic benefits to our area — the true Southern Tier."  
Gov. Andrew Cuomo visited Binghamton on Nov. 6, 2013 — the day after the casino amendment passed handily, with 57 percent of the vote, and received overwhelming support from Southern Tier counties....The governor spoke behind a podium reading: "Funding for Schools ... Jobs for the Southern Tier."

We're asking the state and, specifically, Cuomo to hold true to that promise.
Hmm, seems as if the governor was quite busy blowing a lot of hot air all around the state on Nov 6, 2013.  That was the same day that the governor visited Sullivan County in a similarly triumphant mode, declaring how the coming casinos would "fundamentally change the economy of the Catskills."  To those in the southern Southern Tier who agree with this editorial page's exhortation that "we need that casino," Tyre is their spoiler equivalent of Orange County.

Except that I'd be a lot more worried if I was a casino proponent in the Catskills than one in Binghamton.  The Tyre casino has serious issues, from the staunch community opposition to the possible cannibalization of the Turning Stone casino, as well as of the Finger Lakes and Vernon Downs racetracks.  The project generated some bad publicity last week when it published an ad which included falsely understated projections for a casino at Tioga Downs (while, as this article points out, raising a legitimate question of exactly how much additional revenue an expanded facility there would generate.)  Besides, as we've discussed, Tyre is a little rural town that is just totally inappropriate for a casino.  I'd be pretty shocked if they get a license there.  (And only a tiny bit less so if it doesn't go to Gural.)

But folks in the Catskills, already apoplectic at the prospect at a casino in Orange County, must be further rattled by the increasing speculation that the location board will recommend only three licenses, with only one going either there or somewhere in Orange County.  
After New York voters approved four upstate casinos last November, four Atlantic City casinos have closed, gambling profits plunged from Connecticut to Mississippi, and new casinos opened or were greenlighted in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts....That increasingly unsettled, crowded market has casino developers and gambling opponents alike speculating that state regulators may award three licenses instead of the four authorized in the 2013 referendum. [Times Herald-Record]
Should that be the case (and assuming that each region would get one....which does not necessarily have to be so), I would have to believe that the Catskills/Hudson Valley license would go to an operator in the Catskills (probably the Montreign/Adelaar project at The Concord).  It just has never seemed possible to me that the Catskills would get completely shut out here; I've been thinking in terms of one for Adelaar (the only developer who said they'd still build should a license go to Orange County), and one perhaps in Newburgh.  If the board is getting concerned about competition, the Catskills region is further isolated at least from the present racino at Yonkers and a future one at the Meadowlands than are the Orange County locations further south.  (As well as from Philly, about to add a second casino.)  However, on the other hand, if the board is instead thinking in terms of trying to get the jump on the Meadowlands, then maybe they are indeed thinking about an Orange location.  In that case, they could be tempted by the big prize - Genting's outlandish and outrageous proposal at Tuxedo, complete with its $380 million bribe.  Though, having said that, I don't believe Genting will get a license there.....they're messing with environmental groups and that project therefore carries the threat of being tied up in the courts for years.

So, we await the location board's next meeting on Friday.  I think it's 50/50, at best, that the announcement comes at that time.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Still Waiting...

A bit of wishful thinking?  Or some clever (and prescient) advance planning?

We don't know yet.  And we won't until at least November 21.  That's all we were told after the closed door meeting of the Gaming Facility Location Board that took place in Manhattan on Monday.  And while Gaming Commission spokesperson Lee Park said that the board is "on track to make a decision this month," he added that a final decision is not guaranteed to be announced at that time.

Well, even a November 21 announcement would actually be past the "early fall" target that would make this process truly "on track" with respect to the original plans.  One can surely be cynical and say that the decision was never going to happen before the election, that the board is procrastinating to make it seem that the license awards are not already pre-ordained and 'in the bag;' that they are waiting for advice and/or approval from Larry Schwartz or Regina Calcaterra from the governor's office (if not from the governor himself); or that they are merely now devising a narrative to make the decision seem as if it is really based on the merits rather than on politics and the wishes of Andrew Cuomo.

Given the history of this administration, all of that, and any similar conspiracy-type theories, would be absolutely 1,000% fair to believe.

However, we'd prefer to think that these gentlemen are doing their job in earnest, meticulously weeding through the thousands of pages of documents, taking into full consideration all of the comments received at the hearings and in writing, weighing what the true intent of the casino-enabling law dictates, and simply struggling to come to a fair consensus.  (Before, the cynic quite fairly would believe, they run it by the second floor for approval.)  But whatever the case, we continue to wait.

The Head Chef and I were up in Ellenville, home of the once-thriving and now dormant Nevele resort, this past weekend to visit some friends.  We drove up the Palisades and Route 6 to Route 17, the road which I once traversed many times en route to a Sunday afternoon of racing at Monticello (when it was the only Sunday game around).  Post time was 2:30 PM, and many of the regular NY drivers would be on hand.  But now, it's a ragged road which still promises to become Route 86; and I'd surmise that the traffic which once clogged it on late Sunday afternoons is no longer such a problem. 

On the way up 17, it was perfectly clear exactly what all the angst up in Sullivan and Ulster counties over possible casinos in Orange County is all about.  We passed right by signposts for Woodbury, South Blooming Grove, and Montgomery; all proposed casino sites.  No doubt that there's little reason to see why potential customers would want to continue on to the Nevele or the Concord; and perfectly understandable why the Catskills developers wouldn't want to build in that case (or, in the case of Empire Resorts' Adelaar/Montreign project, significantly scale back).

Jimmy Feathers and Saratoga harness, however, would have you believe that their Hudson Valley Casino in Newburgh wouldn't present the same problem because it's located north of Route 17.   It will "complement, not compete," they say.  But we passed two big signposts for Newburgh as well; one when getting onto Route 17, and one where that road intersects with Route 84.  The latter intersection is, according to Google Maps, 22.6 miles and 24 minutes (without traffic) from Newburgh.  But from there to the Nevele, it's 27 miles/31 minutes.  And to the Concord (and yes, Google Maps, we know that both resorts are "reported closed"), it's 29.2 miles/29 minutes).

So, I know that the argument from the Newburgh developers is that it's a completely different driving route there, and that the location therefore won't detract from the Catskills locations.  Gamblers will already have decided to visit one, or the other.  But I guess it depends on how one is going.  Anyone on Route 17 or 84 who sees the sign for Newburgh and consults with their GPS when they get to that intersection will see that that city is the closer location.  Who's to say they just won't turn off there even if they originally intended to head to the Catskills?  And if you're on the Thruway, maybe deciding where to go, when you get to the turnoff for Route 17 at Harriman, you're more than an hour from either the Nevele or the Concord.....but just 47 minutes from Newburgh.  So, I think it's fair to say that, as with most everything we've heard from this group with respect to their East Greenbush proposal, Feathers and his cronies are simply full of it.  Actually, I'm struggling to make their point make any sense even as I write this.  Because it really doesn't.

 - We were told that downtown Ellenville has seen some economic relief thanks to The Shadowland Theater, right in town.  It presents a full slate of live theater over the spring/summer/early fall months.  The productions this past season were quite well-reviewed and well-attended; Stephanie Zimbalist starred in one; Judd Hirsch has appeared there in the past.  The theater has spawned, I'm informed, the opening of several restaurants in town.  That's the kind of more wholesome economic revival that I'm sure everyone would prefer to see.  Of course, the bad times in the town and the region require more than a few eating spots.  A casino located outside of downtown will surely create jobs for now (while sucking money out of the pockets of local gambling residents); but whether patrons will venture into downtown (beyond walking distance in the winter months at least) is surely an open question....regardless of what a newly-issued, industry-commissioned report may say.  We know that Resorts World hasn't done much for surrounding businesses in Ozone Park other than the pawn shops...and there's not even a hotel there.  The Nevele proposal touts an unspecified number of "great restaurants" on site.

There hasn't been a whole lot of buzz about the Nevele - which may be a good thing for proponents, as most buzz we've heard about other projects involves communities aghast at the thought of a casino in their midst.  Even in Ellenville, there was a billboard on Route 209 at the edge of town, but I didn't notice any lawn signs either for or against. 

The question of whether this panel opts for the Catskills or Orange....or, possibly both (which would presumably preclude the Nevele and Mohegan Sun, both of which have said they won't build with a casino in Orange)....or, quite conceivably, only one in one of the probably the most vexing one for them.  It didn't have to be this way.  And when Governor Cuomo made his triumphant appearance in Sullivan County the day after the referendum was approved, there was no reason to think it would be.  This board's job would have been a whole lot easier if it weren't.  Why the governor made the call to include Orange, we don't exactly know. Maybe we'll learn more about his intentions on November 21 or afterwards (the cynics would say).

 - Mohegan Sun, one of the two bidders at the old Concord site, has added a sweetener to its proposal.
We will certainly want to welcome back to the Catskills those who themselves, or through their parents and grandparents, have such fond associations with the Catskills in its heyday, but more critical will be ensuring generations of new visitors.  To that end, and to promote the new concentration of gaming and entertainment amenities at the Concord, we are pledging to dedicate a portion of our gross gaming revenue annually - 0 .5% - to a new marketing and tourism fund to focus on the Catskills and Hudson Valley region as a gaming and entertainment region, and we will encourage others to participate to maximize the program and its impact.
  That actually is a continuation of a theme, as Mohegan Sun's proposal already includes a revival of the Grossinger's resort, and development in downtown Monticello.  They have also begun "moving dirt," and have advanced their projected opening date from June, 2016, to March of that year (barring any unforeseen weather events), "or sooner."  Still, that's a long way from Cuomo's original hope that casino money would start flowing into the state coffers early next year.  That was even more unrealistic than expecting the location board to have made a decision by now.  Of course, should the decision not go Mohegan Sun's way, that dirt will stop moving pretty fast.  I bet they won't even put it back where they found it.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Yonkers to France: Sensationnel!

Quite a successful beginning to the Yonkers-France experiment on Sunday morning.  Five full-field mile and a quarter trotting races attracted European handle, through the French betting conglomerate PMU, of nearly 1.4 million Euros.  That is well above and beyond the projected 1 million Euros, and it translates to around $1.75 million USD.  As we mentioned in this post, the 13 race card on Yonkers Trot/Int'l Preview night did a little over $1.1 million.  So...sensationnel!  Not only that, I'm told that there were some transmission kinks in the first race that kept the handle down on that race, and that $2 million is a possibility for this weekend.  The results had something for everyone - couple of favorites (with nice returns for exacta-wheelers) a medium 9-1 shot, and a bomb.

Domestic handle exceeded expectations too.  Horsemen were concerned about how the card would measure up against the Tuesday night session that the Sunday card replaced; but the nearly half million bucks wagered in the U.S. was, again as I'm informed by an informative source, comparable to a "bad Tuesday night."  (And that's with no triples in the first two races.)

So, let's assume that the cut of the overseas handle that is due to Yonkers made it a pretty good Tuesday night on a Sunday morning/afternoon.  And, again, the big potential here is in commingled betting pools.  That's a whole new world....literally.  Not only would the track and horsemen get their direct share of the total wagering, one would have to expect that more domestic bettors would be attracted by pools with the kind of liquidity that we just don't see in harness racing (or in most thoroughbred racing outside of the major markets, for that matter).  And as far as the early post time here in order to better coincide with prime European time, maybe 11 AM on Sunday isn't such a bad time after all; especially once the football season is over.  Might be a good time for holidays as well; we've spoken in the past how NYRA and other tracks run stakes races late on days such as Memorial Day and the 4th of July, when they might very well be better off starting around 11 and finishing up by 3 or 4 so that people can go home and have their BBQs.

Can't really say enough about this collaborative effort between horsemen and track management.  Here's a situation in which the racing is well-supported by VLT's, yet the parties have joined forces to work towards increasing handle in an innovative and creative way.  I'm not aware of any other similar initiative at a racetracks with slots subsidies.  With the coming of more saturation of the casinos market, and the states' inevitable clawback of slots money earmarked for racing, seems to me that other tracks would be well-advised to take a hard look at what Yonkers is doing.

Another, though different, example of horsemen and track management working together has taken place at Monticello.  You may recall that we wrote earlier this year about the dispute regarding the provision in the casino law which caps VLT slots revenue to purses at 2013 levels which led to the horsemen blocking the simulcast signal.  The horsemen later discontinued their action, and the two sides got down to some good faith bargaining which resulted in an extremely creative solution.  Should Empire Resorts, the track owner, get a casino license for their Adelaar project at the Concord, it will guarantee that racing will continue at Monticello for nine years.  The horsemen will receive one million shares in the company stock ( did they manage to get the NYNY ticker symbol?) and a warrant which gives them the option to purchase an additional 300,000 shares under certain conditions related to company projections and share price.  Over the life of the contract, the horsemen are free to sell the shares, with the proceeds going to the purse fund.  Obviously, they will have a strong interest in the share price faring well....though if the shares decline below a certain price, the horsemen are still guaranteed a lump sum payment at the end of the contract term.

So, the horsemen will indeed get more money based on the performance of the casino, though indirectly via the stock price and not based on any direct percentage of casino revenues; and management doesn't have to pay anything out of their pockets unless the casino underperforms (or if other factors contribute to a decline in the share price).  So, no precedent is set as far as paying money out to racing from casino revenues; but a precedent is set in terms of horsemen getting purse money above and beyond the limit set by the casino law.  Monticello horsemen association president Alan Schwartz praised and thanked his members for their sacrifice - as should all NY horsemen of either breed!  

 I want to thank each and every member of the Association for the sacrifices they made during the several long months of pain, when it wasn't clear if we would live to see another day of racing. Because of the courage the Monticello horsemen displayed in overwhelmingly supporting the Board, we have achieved a much better future than Albany provided us. In addition to our legal and accounting team, special thanks go out to Peter Gerry, who volunteered his time, effort and expertise during the delicate and extremely complex negotiations involving the acquisition of the stock and warrants, so as to ensure that a genuine economic benefit was actually realized.....While we were sometimes criticized for the stances we took, the financial reward now finally achieved for our horsemen was our only goal. It would not have been necessary if legislation was more thoughtfully considered in the first instance.
 So, although a far more adversarial situation than at Yonkers, here again is an example of horsemen, track management, and the Gaming Commission (credited by Empire with helping to mediate the dispute) cooperating in coming up with a plan - one of sheer survival for horsemen in this case as opposed to that of further prosperity at Yonkers.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Four More Years

Kicked me like you kicked before
I can't even feel the pain no more.

As much as we'd like to put the lamentable events of last week's Election Day behind us, we'd be remiss if we didn't have a word about our Governor Re-Elect. Andrew Cuomo's victory was decidedly unemphatic.

The Buffalo News said that Cuomo's vote total may be the lowest for the winner of a governor's race in New York since Franklin Roosevelt in 1930. [Democrat & Chronicle]
His 54% share of the ballots cast by the measly turnout was eight points lower than in 2010; nine points below that of his father's re-election total.  Amazingly, Cuomo lost in 46 of the 57 counties outside of New York City; and that to a bland and vastly outspent candidate, on the defensive throughout, with cookie-cutter conservative views that are clearly out of line with the demographics of the state. It's fair to wonder just how close the race could have been with the Republicans had a more polished and credible candidate.

Democrats of the more liberal persuasion, who already felt betrayed by the governor's active facilitation of the arrangement in the Senate that allowed the minority Republicans to cling to power and block passage of measures dear to their hearts, are left battered by that party's ascension to what is now an uncontested majority in the chamber. This governor, who agreed to work enthusiastically for a Democratic majority in exchange for the support of the Working Families Party, did absolutely nothing of the sort. He made exactly one personal appearance on behalf of one candidate, and was less than effusive and expansive with his words. His other "endorsements" came via statements released - over a weekend! - while he was traveling in Puerto Rico; an action so cynically half-hearted that, like Steve Berman said on that Enimem record, "It would be better if you gave me nothing at all."

Now, given Cuomo's poor showing outside of NYC - including, specifically, the counties in which the three upstate candidates he "endorsed" were running - one surely can't say whether more full-throated endorsements would have turned the tide for the Democrats.  However, the governor made passage of all ten planks of the Women's Equality Act as the central theme of his campaign, even creating the Women's Equality Party in the process.  (Some felt that his emphasis on the latter party was attempted payback to the similarly-acronymed Working Families Party for cornering him as they did; but the latter attracted well more than enough votes to keep its ballot line, though it will drop a notch below the Green Party.)  Cuomo surely was well aware that the only hope of passing the Women's Equality Act in its entirety was to have the Democrats control the Senate.  But we never heard him make that exhortation on the campaign trail.  "Let me be clear - you must turn out and vote for [Democratic Senate candidate] if we want to achieve full equality for women!"

We never heard anything like that.  Perhaps - just maybe (or maybe not) - that could have made a difference in SD-46, which elected Democrat Cecilia Tkaczyk in 2012; or in SD-3 in Suffolk County, where Cuomo and Astorino ran neck and neck.  He broke his promise to the WFP, and by not working energetically (if much at all) towards a Democratic Senate, he was, in fact, dooming the law to failure.  To me, that renders his entire campaign - especially those feel-good ads with his girlfriend and daughters - as being insincere and hypocritical.  Instead, he can now continue to talk about "working with Democrats and Republicans," and maintain the kind of centrist approach that is conducive to national politics; that at the expense of progressive causes which will now have to wait.

And, as a result and perhaps worst of all, we'll now have to spend the next two years looking at the empty smiles of Dean Skelos, the poster boy for the term "empty suit."  A man who has not uttered a single substantive sentence during his time as the GOP Senate Leader, Skelos has shown that he will stoop to any measure necessary simply to retain the perks of the majority party, even selling out his party's base in order to appease the governor when he deems it absolutely necessary to maintain his own standing.   

Friday, November 07, 2014

Times Pours (Ice) Cold Water on Catskills' Casino Dreams

Casino supporters in the Catskills may be wondering about the tone and the timing of this article in the New York Times:  Poconos Casino Offers Lesson as New York Weighs Proposals in Catskills.  It's a bleak lesson indeed being taught by the Paper of Record, and it comes now, after all these months of speculation, just days before the Location Board, presumably in the home stretch of this process, is scheduled to go into closed session on Monday to evaluate the various proposals.

Seven years after opening, the Mount Airy Casino Resort has fewer than half of the hotel envisioned by developers, and a third of the slot machines promised in news releases. It has generated about half of the slot revenue forecast by Pennsylvania officials, and little economic spillover has occurred outside the resort. Expansion plans have long since been shelved. The much-heralded charitable foundation has raised a grand total of $1, federal filings show. Those funds have not been distributed.
As New York State officials prepare to announce up to four new casinos, the case of Mount Airy — once advertised as "Your host with the most in the Poconos" — offers a cautionary lesson for residents and elected leaders in another faded postwar vacationland desperate to reinvent itself: the Catskill Mountains. The Catskills were once home to 500 hotels and scores of bungalow colonies, and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and legislators have talked up gambling as a path back to prosperity.
In 2006, Pennsylvania projected that the Mount Airy site would generate $269 million per year in revenue from slot machines alone. It has never come close. Slot revenue peaked in 2008 at $176 million and fell last year to $143 million. Table games were added in 2010 and total gambling revenue reached $190 million in 2012 but fell 3 percent to $183 million last year. [NYT]
The article touches on all the areas of skepticism that we've touched upon in the last few months: over saturation, the self-containment of the casino which results in little benefits for surrounding businesses, increases in traffic and accidents, and the "dissonance between resort gambling and traditional family-friendly attractions." But as much as we tend to agree with those observations, and as much as we dislike casinos, this article strikes me as being exceedingly negative and one-sided...and you know that we don't particularly like when the Times does that either.  From reading this article, one would think that the only person in the entire town who is happy is some dude, a.k.a. The Goldfather, who is apparently an unlicensed pawnbroker.

I mean, if the reporter really wanted to, he could have surely, and if nothing else, found at least a few people for whom the casino has provided stable employment and benefits that he/she didn't have before. And, in mentioning the Sands casino in Bethlehem as one of the competing facilities, he could have pointed out that that casino is considered by many to have actually been "successful" in helping to revitalize a depressed area (the poor gamblers on whose backs that has occurred aside).

Having said that however, the point of the article is that the circumstances of the Mount Airy casino are similar to that of the Catskills - a casino with recreational and resort amenities in a once-thriving-with-tourists but now struggling rural setting - as opposed to the Sands casino, which is an urban one. But even here, this article simply does not have its facts straight.
Yet each of the three proposals for Catskill casinos — in or around the borscht belt destinations of Ellenville, Kiamesha Lake and Monticello — is on the scale of what was envisioned for Mount Airy: hundreds of hotel rooms, thousands of slot machines, dozens of blackjack tables. Myriad dining and entertainment options, championship golf courses, zip lines, water parks. Acres of parking for the anticipated hordes of visitors.
I dug up the original 2006 presentation for Mount Airy, (a very large PDF file) and, contrary to the above passage, what was envisioned was actually on a decidedly smaller scale than what we're seeing in the Catskills and elsewhere in New York.

No championship golf courses, zip lines, water parks, big entertainment nor "myriad" dining options here; just a pool, a spa, and a few restaurants. (The coffee shop turned out to be a Starbucks.)  Though it did present a visual depiction that was most definitely more polished than the finished product.

I'm impressed that the artist got the presence of birds in the water right, though they're swans rather than ducks.

So the projects being proposed in the Catskills are actually significantly more ambitious than what was promised at Mount Airy as far as its non-gambling features go. And, though I'm still skeptical that this model will prove to be successful - and therefore, as I said, would basically tend to agree with the glum outlook being presented - this biased and inaccurate article does seem unfair to the folks in the Catskills who are just so desperate for the kind of economic relief that they truly believe these casinos, for which they have been praying for so many years, will provide.   I have to imagine that they must be wondering why the paper didn't instead focus its wrath on projects that developers are trying to force down communities' throats.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Peace, Love and Baccarat

It's 6 PM on Election Day.  Do you know where your casinos are?

Well, no.  And no surprise there.  The members of the location board and Gaming Commission Executive Director Rob Williams talked a lot about a decision in October, but it was apparent to many of us that politics dictated that nothing would happen before this day.  Some things are just really obvious around here. A reporter for TWC News was sitting around on Oct 31 wondering about the decision that was, at one time (to some people), expected during that month, and was replied to dismissively:

Spokesman Lee Park in an e-mail sent Friday noted that neither the Upstate Gaming Economic Development Act, nor the Request for Casino Applications, ever established a deadline for a decision.
We know that, Spokesman Park, dude.  We know that the law doesn't specify a date or month, and we didn't say anything about October.  You did.  
 The board, appointed by the Gaming Commission, is not on a deadline, Park stressed. Although the goal is to make recommendations in about two weeks, that could be pushed until after the elections in November. But the board is “hoping to get it done in October,” Park added. [Daily Gazette]
Less obvious of course is exactly when the announcement will take place and where the casinos will be.  But we have some ideas about the latter, as we've been saying all along, and I guess we should propose a formal prediction at some point very soon!  I think I can handicap this better than I did the Classic.

Sullivan County officials have not given up on the idea of both possible Catskills/Hudson Valley casinos going there, even though they would both  be located at the Concord.  What at one time seemed like a highly improbable scenario has taken on a life of its own - it even has a slogan: 2 at the Concord.  Ok, maybe not a very catchy slogan, but it's something. Here's a radio ad funded by the county Industrial Development Agency.

Everybody remembers Woodstock - can you believe it was 45 years ago? Over 500,000 people came to Bethel in Sullivan County!

Hmm, yeah, I'd say that's a bit of a stretch for this purpose.  And I'd venture a guess that the prospect of three days of amazing music, free love, and good drugs (other than the bad acid, man) would outdraw a casino even in this day and age.

Actually, now that I think of it, I'm surprised that none of the bidders have included that concept in their proposals!   Resorts Worldstock!  Ah, I can just see it now....



Yeah, come on all of you rich Asian men,
Uncle Andrew needs help again.
He's got himself on a spending spree
Way up yonder in Albany
Go to Woodbury Commons, get your shopping done.
We're gonna have a whole lotta fun. 

And it's one, two, three,
What are you waiting for?
Don't ask me, you're feeling hot,

So go play some baccarat!
And it's five, A. M.
Open up the entrance gates,
Well there ain't no time for a midnight snooze,
Whoopee! you're all gonna lose!

Well, come on mothers throughout the land,
Get yourself down to Feathers' scam.
Come on fathers, don't hesitate,
Governor Cuomo can hardly wait
For your home to be the first on the block
To be fitted with a padlock.

And it's one, two, three,
What are you waiting for?
Forget the golf and bucolic lake,

Get to the tables with your stake
And it's five, A. M.
Who needs a gourmet meal?
Well, there ain't no time for eats and booze,
Whoopee! you're all gonna lose!

 - Save East Greenbush filed another lawsuit against the Saratoga harness/Churchill Downs proposal; this one is in regard to the October 14 meeting of the zoning board in which the zoning laws were changed to permit this commercial project in the residential area on Thompson Hill.  I skimmed through the lawsuit papers; it's quite a well-researched effort with a lot of citations.  I'd go into it in more detail, but with the decisions presumably just a few days or weeks ahead, I'd like to think that it's all soon going to be moot.  If this location board has the nerve to give Feathers this casino over such vociferous opposition, and considering that the revenue projections do not at all outweigh the other Capitol District contenders to the extent which would make up for that lack of community support, then this process will surely be exposed as a fraud.

Having said that, if you've perhaps forgotten just how controlling and meddling this governor is, this recent article describes yet another instance in which Cuomo virtually dictated the conclusions of an appointed board that was supposed to be independent.  So, I guess we shouldn't be surprised by anything.  Still, just the fact that there are lawsuits pending, with the potential to slow up the works, should give the panel pause as to the project's viability, no matter what the merits of the suit are (and I'm sure they're pretty solid).  At least, that's what a logical person would think.

 - I think this was my favorite performance from the Woodstock album and movie.

Monday, November 03, 2014

BC Classic Cheating

I finally got around to watching the Classic on DVR on Sunday morning without knowing the result. That effectively gave me about 13 hours of additional hope that I'd cash a ticket before sitting down to watch the three horses that I probably liked the least battle it out to the wire.  It was a thrilling three-horse stretch duel that was somewhat reminiscent of the very first Classic.  Except that one had better horses, wasn't preceded by an overwrought performance of a horrible song; and Tom Durkin's race call still brings chills all these years later.

And the '84 Classic didn't feature this kind of controversy either.  Andrew Beyer, in defending the stewards' decision to let the result stand despite Bayern "[causing] interference to the horses directly to his inside" (and those are Trevor Denman's very words in his on-track explanation of the stewards' decision), writes that the stewards were right to avoid marring it with a disqualification.  But the race was equally marred by their lack of action.  This race was going to have an asterisk attached in the minds of many horseplayers and fans the moment that Bayern came out of the gate running sideways.

We hear that "thousands" of horses veer in or out at the break, and that the stewards cannot become involved in all of them.  I'd agree with that.  This didn't seem like a typical case though.  We see horses bobble or veer in and out and take another horse or two with them all the time.  In this case though, Bayern and jockey Martin Garcia came out of the gate running in a straight (diagonal) line towards the rail right from the start despite no apparent misstep or mishap, and no history of having done so in the past.  We're told by Beyer that Garcia "got control of Bayern almost immediately," but I don't see it that way; not at all.  Looks to me like he kept going left even as the mayhem he was causing had to have been apparent.  [Shared Belief must be feeling like Obama nowadays; he got slammed from his right in this case (and later by Toast of New York too); got slammed from his left in the Awesome Again to get carried out wide.]

The stewards noted: "in our determination, it didn't happen in the point of a race where it was reasonable to speculate that they didn't finish in a position where they were reasonably expected to finish, which is the language of the rule."  Fair enough; a rule is a rule.  "We're loathe to speculate," they noted.  Indeed, one cannot possibly guess as to whether Bayern would have been beaten had all the horses had a clear shot. But I think the more relevant question in this case is how the incident affected Bayern rather than how it affected the other horses.  It allowed him to run the race the only way he could have in order to win.  Forget Shared Belief; by taking Moreno out of the early running, he assured himself an uncontested lead.  (Of course, that's assuming that Moreno was up to running his usual race without the traffic problems, which one cannot necessarily do either.)

But again, that's not the rule - the mere fact of interference, about which there can be little doubt in this case - is not grounds for a DQ in and of itself, even in a particularly obvious case such as this. Even though it clearly enhanced Bayern's chances to win.  Perhaps the national racing authority all the myriad racing jurisdictions need to take a look at the rule.  Because for a sport which is SO worried about its image in terms of trust by the betting public, one would think it would surely want to avoid situations in which a horse can wipe out its competition at the start and ultimately be rewarded for doing so.  Even if Garcia's actions were not intentional, what is to prevent him or other jockeys from practicing that kind of race riding at the start going forward now that a clear precedent has been established?  Or, more significantly, why wouldn't the betting public now believe that the start of a race is a free-for-all with no rules to protect the horse it bets from foul play, intentional or otherwise?  (And what's to prevent European punters, already suspicious of the American version of the sport, from believing this was a hometown decision in favor of the local trainer over the overseas shipper?) 

I think that an incident like this in a high profile race has the potential to cause far more distrust on the part of the betting public than some trainer getting a 20-day suspension because one of his or her horses in a barn hundreds of miles away tested 2 nanograms over the allowable limit of an otherwise allowable therapeutic medication.  Those trainers are now reviled as 'cheaters' regardless of the intent or lack thereof.  So, how was this not cheating on the part of jockey Garcia? 

Good thing it wasn't the Derby, and only a Breeders' Cup Classic that nobody watched.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Breeders' Cup Saturday

Nice little field of ten in the Breeders' Cup Fillies & Mare Sprint, and as far as I'm concerned, we can take this and the Dirt Mile and throw the rest of the races that have been added to the BC over the last few years away.

Leigh Court (4-1) has returned to the races at age four with a bang, after a layoff of 316 days; winning at this distance on the Poly at Woodbine, and then scoring in the six furlong Grade 2 TCA at Keeneland; earning sparkling TimeformUS speed figures in both cases.  (And a career best 6 on the Sheets, part of a nice looking pattern of slow and steady improvement.)  Daughter of Grand Slam has settled on sprinting as a career choice after actually enjoying some success going longer, on turf and synth, last year.  Truth be told, she benefited from a perfect trip and a smooth journey behind a fast pace in the Keeneland race (which included even money favorite Stonetastic, 8-1 ML here).  But she was very impressive visually, seeming well within herself.  Two very sharp works at Woodbine since then, and she seems ready to roll for trainer Josie Carroll, who has a TFUS Trainer Rating of 93 (out of 100) with horses going third off the layoff....

......Though, to be honest, would like, and expect, to see odds higher than the morning line at post time on Leigh Court considering the presence of accomplished sprinters like Artemis Agrotera (3-1) and Judy the Beauty (5-2) in the field.  Don't have anything negative to say about either of those, except that they are unlikely to present any value. They're both fast, versatile, and accomplished at this distance.

Throw out the three two-turn efforts by Sweet Reason (9-2), and this 3YO daughter of Street Sense has a record of 6-5-1-0.  She's three-for-three in one turn races this year, most recently her win at this seven furlong distance in the Test at Saratoga, in which she stumbled pretty significantly at the start. As consistent as she is though, she hasn't really progressed speed figure-wise from her two-year old season, and I don't know that the level that she's attained is fast enough in this very contentious spot; her first try against older horses.  (She paired up a career best 7 on the Sheets in her last two....that's good, yes?)   She'll also need some pace in a race that Pace Projector has favoring horses - particularly the aforementioned and very speedy Stonetastic - up front (though it's hard for me to imagine that there's not going to be a fair pace in a $1 million sprint race).  Love this filly, and can't count her out, but I think she'd be an underlay at her morning line.

Thank You Marylou (20-1) ran an improved figure when adding blinkers at Churchill two tries back. Never got going from the rail in a big field at Keeneland in her last, but could liven up exotics if she can run back to the Churchill effort.  Little Alexis (15-1) is making just her fifth career start, and cuts back to a sprint after running evenly behind Untapable and Sweet Reason in the Cotillion.  Like Sweet Reason, had some trouble at the start of the Test, and only finished a length behind that one. With expected improvement...

 - As far as the Classic, doesn't seem to be any point trying to top the hilarious "scientific" horse-by-horse analysis by Pullthepocket.

But, in any event, let's give the race a shot: I'm gonna let my East Coast bias guide me here.  Shared Belief (9-5) is undefeated and survived the horse racing equivalent of negative campaign advertising - and the depths to which candidates of both parties will stoop just continue to astound - when he survived being floated out to a five-wide-both-turns trip, and won the Awesome Again in an awesome performance (and an awesome call by Trevor Denman, who will be sorely missed again this weekend).  He earned a solid TimeformUS speed figure of 114 (which doesn't take the ground loss into account), and a Sheets number of 3 (which does).  He certainly looks formidable here and would be no surprise.  But he's never raced outside of California, which brings me back to my natural skepticism of west coast runners which has become innate over decades of Lasix (when it was permitted there but not in NY), rock-hard speed tracks, and synthetic tracks (not an issue of quality per se, but of surface preferences); and even if none of those factors are in play these days....I just can't help it!  Besides, he'll be a short price, and has to bounce back from what was truly a grueling effort.

I don't need an east coast bias to discard California Chrome (4-1) here.  I think he's toast (sorry to use that metaphor in two consecutive posts).  Any horse whose connections are euphoric over drawing the 13 post obviously has some serious tractability issues.  And his owner is a schmuck.

Bayern (6-1) scored wire-to-wire wins in the Haskell and the Pennsylvania Derby on tracks that TFUS has rated as favoring speed (race rating shaded in light would have meant a particularly hideous speed bias like the one on BC Friday last year).  Not only that, he got away with a slow pace (pace figures shaded in blue) at Parx.  He'll have Moreno in his face on Saturday and needs to last another furlong.  I think he's likely to finish closer to last than to first.

Tonalist (5-1) and Zivo (15-1) ran 1-2 in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, both coming from the back of the pack.  Each had their progress interrupted when Wicked Strong threw his rider.  I think that Zivo took the worst of it in that regard, though he saved 10 feet relative to the winner according to Trakus.  They are both as consistent as can be, and both come into this race with nice patterns of improvement.  Tonalist, in fact, has improved his TFUS figure in every race in his career (save for one instance in which he duplicated the prior one).  Zivo's improvement has been a more general one during this, his 5yo racing season....and he comes in with a nice recent pattern on the Sheets.  (Here you get a little preview of the Ragozin PPs product that TFUS will be releasing within the next few weeks.)

(Note that he was compromised in his Woodward effort two races back, his only out-of-the-money performance this year, by a track that was rated as strongly favoring speed by TFUS.)  Both would seem to need to step forward one more time in order to get the top spot here, but each seems eligible to do exactly that.

There are questions about both: Tonalist seems to particularly love Belmont, while Zivo's trainer Chad Brown hasn't enjoyed much success west of the Mississippi; 1-for-27 on the SoCal circuit over the last five years.  Find them hard to separate on form, but easy on price.  One could do much worse than 15-1 on a horse who has won seven of his last ten while moving forward for a master trainer for whom the 35-day layoff between races is right in his wheel house.  I'll take a shot with him on value, but Tonalist needs to be on the tickets as well, for sure.

Toast of New York (12-1) is racing on dirt for the first time, and he's....well, you know.  Hope we get a lot of Euro money in the pools here.

V.E. Day (20-1) is an interesting longshot here in my view.  The Travers winner is making only his 8th start and surely would seem to have more to give.  Willing to give him a pass for his dull Jockey Club Gold Cup effort after he took a solid bump at the start, and given the weird configuration of the mile and a quarter distance which starts on the turn.  Think he'll prefer the standard two-turns and could make some noise in the final furlong.  Cigar Street (12-1) has some nice numbers (in fact, the best last-out TFUS figure - 115 - in the field), and excellent tactical speed.  I think he's had it pretty easy though in his two races back from a 510 day layoff, and I'd use him only deep on my exotic tickets here.  Candy Boy (20-1) is in recent sharp form, and comes off a competitive career high TFUS figure of 110.

So, it's a win bet on Zivo, and I'll play him in exotics with Shared Belief, Tonalist, V.E. Day, and throw in some Cigar Street and Candy Boy.

 - In the Grade 3 Discovery at the Big A, Bay of Plenty (8-5) would seem to have this field at his mercy.  He's the lone speed in a race favoring such runners according to Pace Projector.  He returned from a 154 day layoff to win his last, at Belmont, in easy fashion, earning a career best TFUS figure of 103 in his third wire-to-wire win in a row.  So maybe it's nitpicking when I point out that he was allowed to set a very moderate pace in that last race...and that he benefited from tracks that TFUS has rated as speed favoring in his prior two.

But let's instead go with the fastest horse in the race; which is, according to the TFUS numbers, Noble Moon (5-1).  He has two 4ths to show from his last two, which came off a layoff of 140 days; but earned field-high TFUS figures in efforts in which he really had no shot in races in which he was quite ambitiously placed.  There was the G1Kings Bishop at Saratoga, in which he actually acquitted himself well rallying for 4th, earning a figure of 104.....and the PA Derby behind Bayern on the speed-favoring track; an even effort in which he was given a figure of 108.  In his prior two turn efforts - in the Jerome and Wood earlier this year - he actually showed some pretty decent early speed (in fact, he wired the Jerome).  So hoping he can find nice position breaking from the rail in a short field, and run the favorite down late.  Three Alarm Fire (2-1) handled his first assignment against winners with aplomb, but tries two turns for the first time.  We'll try leaving him out.  Best of luck and have a great Breeders' Cup!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Breeders' Cup Friday

In the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile, I'd love to try and beat Goldencents (6-5), but getting the same feeling as I do when I'm trying to figure out how the Democrats are gonna keep the Senate.  He won this race last year using the same three stepping stone races to get here; so he looks like a tough incumbent to unseat.  4yo son of Into Mischief is simply faster than these based on his TimeformUS figs, and he's two-for-two at a mile on this track.  He benefited from that nutty speed bias on BC Friday last year; don't know if that will be the case this year, but I imagine that tactical speed surely won't hurt. 

But there are a couple of horses listed at 6-1 ML who I think will run well:  Pants On Fire (6-1) has been sharp during his 6YO season, if not quite as fast on TFUS figures as in the past.  Could be ready to move forward though off a dominant win in a Charles Town stake in which he was wrapped up through the final sixteenth.  That was his 4th race in a compressed period of 55 days, and came after a tough loss at Belmont in which he stalked an insanely fast pace and held on grimly for second to Golden Ticket (15-1 here); that on a track that TimeformUS has rated as favoring closers.  Interesting to note that his CT win, slow-ish on TFUS, came back as a 1 on the Sheets; that's the best last-out Ragozin number, including the favorite.  It was a big jump that I suppose invites thoughts of a bounce.  But he won easily, as mentioned, and has a 41 day break and a bullet half work in between.

Throw out the Derby, and Tapiture (6-1) has quite a pattern of improvement going on.

Still needs further progress to compete with the favorite; but this 3YO son of Tapit is making just his 12th career start, so he's eligible for continued improvement.  Since the Derby, Tapiture has an easy win at Churchill, a gritty victory in the W. Virginia Derby in which he zigged mid-stretch to find room, and a no-shot second to Bayern in the PA Derby.  Tough task facing older for the first time, and from an outside post, but expecting a good effort here.

Fed Biz (7-2) comes off his ground-saving (but nonetheless game) second to Shared Belief, earning a 115 TFUS figure that surely puts him in play.  I'd like to ignore him and throw him out in favor of the abovementioned pair.  Turns out that, in Sheets-land, he's not all that fast on dirt.  When one set of numbers doesn't support what one wants to see, turn to another set that will.  That's what I always say.

 - The Breeders' Cup Distaff sets up like a harness handicap race with the two best horses, Untapable (5-2) and Close Hatches (3-1), assigned to the outside posts.  I think they're both toast.  Untapable has been good but hardly great since her Kentucky Oaks win.  The bubble burst when she tried the boys in the Haskell; and her Cotillion win was not all that convincing, coming with the benefit of a perfect trip as it did.  Her TFUS figures have declined with each effort since the Oaks, and I'm just not feeling a big turnaround here.  Close Hatches wired the muddy Personal Ensign, earning giant pace figures along the way, and then was dueled into submission in the Spinster at Keeneland by the 1st-time blinkered Ria Antonia (15-1).  The change of tactics served the latter well, as she held for second.  Don't see why we'd see anything different here, and with $2 million on the line, we might see some speed surprises from the inside too; particularly from Iotapa (6-1), who'd shown improved early speed before a sluggish break last time out (and who won the G1 Vanity here three back, earning a 120 TFUS figure which tops this field).

So, why can't Don't Tell Sophia (5-1) get a pace setup similar to the one she took advantage of to come on and win the Spinster?  This hard-hitting 6yo daughter of Congaree always fires, and has won four of her last five.  She's been particularly sharp in her last two, which came off a 175 day break, overcoming a slow pace to win at Churchill, and then her Spinster win, which represented a breakthrough in Grade 1 company.  Now she goes third off the layoff for trainer Philip Sims, who has a TFUS trainer rating of 92 (out of 100) in that category, and a perfect 100 in 3YO+ stakes races.  Hoping to see her go off north of her morning line, and can see using her in exactas with Untapable to save.

 - In the 6th at Aqueduct, Lady Luciano (9-2) makes her second start off the claim for trainer John Toscano, who is happy to be back at the Big A; he celebrated by scoring with a longshot winner (with this horse's rider Ruben Silvera) on opening day to break a long losing schneid from Belmont.  He claimed this 3YO daughter of Frost Giant for 40K two races back, and protected her in Starter Allowance company last time out.  That was a fine second in which she stalked a lively pace, responded dutifully when prompted mid-stretch, but failed to hold off Costenia, a Toddster 4-5 favorite who next ran a good second in a Keeneland allowance.  She earned a TFUS figure of 83, the best last-out number in the field.  Lady Luciano seemed to get a little distracted on the turn and in upper stretch; she kept turning her head to the inside.  Been 49 days off and two half-mile breezes since then; hopefully she'll be more professional in this spot.  Pace Projector shows her (#4) in prime stalking position (after a half mile) behind a horse stretching out beyond 6 1/2 furlongs for the first time.   

Queen Corey (3-1) was claimed out of her winning debut by Linda Rice (also with a winner on opening day).  Steps up to face winners from maiden claiming company.....but the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th place winners from that race all came back to win, and she really doesn't have all that far to improve in the speed figure department to be prominent here.  Best of luck and have a great day.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

NYRA Looks Ahead, and NOT Back

NYRA is either REALLY excited about Aqueduct opening.  Or, they REALLY don't want you to think about the Belmont fall meet just concluded.  Twice in the last two days, I've received press releases in my inbox about the opening of the Big A, and the $14 million in recent capital investment by the New York Racing Association designed to further enhance the guest experience and improve the quality of racing.  (That expenditure comes out of the 4% of VLT revenues that are specifically earmarked for maintaining and upgrading the tracks....some $21.5 million for the first eight months of 2014; $31.5 million in 2013.)  Tuesday's email was a MEDIA ADVISORY, a notation that is normally reserved for announcing board meetings or significant news developments.

As for Belmont?  No sign of the usual end-of-meet release that details attendance and handle figures, along with the comparisons to the prior relevant meeting.  Now, perhaps I'm wrong, as these press releases are not something that I go out of my way to save.....and the search engine for press releases on the NYRA site is lacking, at best.  But I recall that such announcements always and immediately follow the end of a race meet, whether the news is good or bad.  Here's a negative report from the fall meeting of 2009.  And here's a really bad one from the 2010 Saratoga meeting that was spun to highlight the good parts.

But NYRA apparently, at least as of this writing, is not even trying to spin this Belmont meet.  They've just ignored it, thus far.  It's Breeders' Cup week, so Grening is otherwise occupied, and not around to ask them what's up.  And even if I'm wrong, and past NYRA regimes have ignored unfavorable results, I thought this is supposed to be the new "transparent" NYRA?  Seems to me that they're about as transparent as the Rock of Gibraltar.

Well, at least in today's press release, as opposed to the one on Monday, the Longshots simulcast facility at Aqueduct is discussed.  Don't know if that was just an oversight.  In any event, what we're not told is that NYRA raised the admission price by $5 since the last time we were at the Big A, to $10/$5 for non-NYRA Rewards members/members.

And perhaps you were considering spending your Breeders' Cup day at Longshots?  That'll cost you $40 if you're not a NYRA Rewards member.....$20 if you are.  NYRA continues to try and achieve the so-called "profitability without slots" by nickel-and-diming its customers.  Though I guess $40 to get into Longshots goes well beyond that characterization.  I'll be interested to see if maybe they've gone a little too far in this case.  But I won't be there to see for myself.

Having said that, it's good - and rather surprising - to see that NYRA is making an effort to upgrade a track that it probably intends to close at some point in the next few years.  I'd noted some of the improvements that I saw in progress when I was there over the summer.  In addition, according to the release, there are new video boards in the infield, new TVs throughout the plant, and that "airport style" seating to replace "more than 450 bucket seats at Aqueduct, many of which dated back more than 50 years."  I might miss those, some of them have my name on it.  Also, and curiously in my opinion, improvements to the infield, with a new fountain, sod, and shrubs, to "improve the external look of the racetrack."  Hmm.  Must be Chris Kay's inner green self from his Trust for Public Land days!  You can read the complete release with all of the improvements here.

High Hopes for Yonkers Races for French Audience

The Head Chef and I were at Yonkers Raceway on Saturday night, and many, many thanks to the Standardbred Owners Association of New York for graciously hosting us.  Had a great time, a nice meal (yes, the Head Chef approved), and met a lot of really nice folks, including SOA of NY President Joe Faraldo, who, I learned, is actually NOT the Joe Faraldo who I used to see drive at Roosevelt and Yonkers!  That was his cousin.  I never knew that, and apparently, neither does/did a lot of other people.  I'll put that in the "you learn something new every day" category.

I have been to the Yonk a few times since its transformation to the Empire City Casino, but this was easily the biggest racing crowd I've seen there.  It was a "big night," with several stakes for 3YOs, including the prestigious Yonkers Trot and Messenger Stakes.  The card was highlighted by the $250,000 International Trot Preview, a precursor for the return of the International Trot next year.  As you may know, the International was run for many years at Roosevelt (1959-88), and routinely drew crowds of 40-50,000 plus before the OTB era began.  It was moved to Yonkers for a few years when the Big Wheel closed, but hasn't been conducted since 1995.

But the Trot Preview had a more immediate purpose, as a lead-in for a series of six Sunday morning/afternoon cards (1st post 11AM) to be run at Yonkers, starting on Nov 9, with the express purpose of having five races simulcast to France, where bettors will wager on the races through PMU, the French wagering authority.  The series is a result of an initiative by SOA of NY to drive handle....and not their first foray overseas; they have been successfully exporting signals to Australia and New Zealand, creating some $150-$250K in additional handle per card for the track.  The horsemen and track management do not always see eye-to-eye, but this is a cooperative effort between them, along with the Gaming Commission.  In fact, Yonkers President Tim Rooney Sr. accompanied Faraldo and SOA-NY Executive Director Alex Dadoyan to Paris to sign the agreement

Though the pools will not be commingled, Yonkers will get a percentage of the overseas action.  And that action is expected to be rather substantial.  “They have the second largest pari-mutuel pool in the world behind Japan,” Dadoyan told DRF Harness' Jay Bergman over the summer.  Indeed, Dadoyan, who worked with PMU on Hambletonian simulcasts when he worked at the Meadowlands, was informed by his French counterparts that they are expecting total handle for the five races to be around one million Euros.  That comes to some 250,000 US dollars a race on average with today's exchange rate.  That's a pretty staggering sum, considering that on Saturday night, the horsemen were thrilled to see the total handle on the card exceed $1 million ($1,105,936,  for an average of around $85,000 per race).

So man, they sure do like their harness racing in France!  (And in the countries to which PMU transmits the signal as well, which includes Germany and Austria.)  I'd think that U.S. harness racing is a better fit for European customers than our thoroughbred racing given the different surfaces and culture of the latter sport here.  And it helps that, unlike here, PMU only takes two racecards at a time. 

In order to make the races better appeal to the French audience, the Yonkers races will all be trots, have overflow fields of 12 (four starting from the second tier, though a 6 and 6 arrangement was considered), and be contested at a mile and a quarter; that as opposed to the usual one mile distance which is the standard.  Races at half mile tracks such as Yonkers can tend to be formulaic, but the mile and a quarter distance can make things a lot more interesting, as it did for the Trot Preview on Saturday night.

As Jay Bergman noted in his fine piece on the race, had the race been run at a mile (and conveniently ignoring the fact that the strategies employed by the drivers would have been different), chances are good that the two frontrunners would have duked it out to the end.  The extra distance allowed Natural Herbie to come on and win despite being parked without cover from the half-mile mark, and after being counted out by track announcer John Hernan, who noted at around the 3/4's mark that the 4YO Ohio-bred was "starting to unravel."  It was quite an impressive performance.  Harness Racing Update reports that Natural Herbie, not staked to the Breeders Crown, is done for the year and will rest up for 2015, when he presumably and hopefully will appear in the International Trot.

Runner-up Commander Crowe is an 11 yo Swedish trotter, with 60 wins from 107 career starts and lifetime earnings of some $4.75 million, whose owner shipped him here, I was told, simply to try and avenge past defeats to Sebastian K (who unfortunately broke trying to get to the top in his first try on a half-mile track).  He looked absolutely spectacular on the track in his first U.S. appearance; an amazing equine specimen.

So, with full fields and that extra distance, there certainly should be some interesting Sunday morning racing going on.  If the program proves successful, the next step would be to try and commingle the pools. While Yonkers will benefit from its percentage of the overseas handle, they're not expecting too much from the domestic betting on NFL Sunday mornings (though what else are you doing at 11 AM?).  But if the pools were combined and the French handle numbers live up to expectations, then it would give harness players here a rare chance to bet into pools that are not only far bigger than what they normally encounter, but swelled with money from French punters who are sitting in PMU shops early on a Sunday evening drinking red wine and betting vast sums of money on foreign horses, drivers and trainers whom they know little about.  Ooo la la!  Now that could be worth skipping tailgating for!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Don't Look Here for Breeders' Cup Info

Just in case you haven't noticed, this is not the place for in-depth Breeders' Cup coverage.  Well, for much of any BC coverage to be honest, with the possible exception of a pick or two if I get around to it; I have other things on my mind and on my plate.  There are probably literally hundreds of blogs you can check out instead, as well as the usual excellent news sources -  Bloodhorse, Thoroughbred Daily News and DRF, the latter of which I think actually does have at least a few articles that are not behind their paywall.  As far as TimeformUS goes, we'll have handicapping posts for a few of the races on our blog.  For those of you who are, for some reason, willing to pay to see who other people like (including insight on the foreign runners from an 'expert' from TimeformUK), you can purchase our BC package for $29.99 here, and get analyses for all of the races.  But c'mon, if you're a horseplayer, you should be coming up with your own selections, you know that.

My interest in the event has varied from year to year, but as it has become more elitist, (too) bigger, esconsed at Santa Anita and its Frankentrack dirt surface (who knows what we'll get this year) and, in the years to come, at tracks that greedily jettisoned safety and competitiveness by tearing out their Polytrack in order to host it, I've become less and less interested. Maybe if/when it ever comes back to New York, I'll get more involved.  This game offers fascinating puzzles to solve almost every day; I don't particularly need nor care much for the Breeders' Cup and its Euro imports with scarcity of program information.  Give me full fields of 25K conditional claimers any day.

I was looking back through the NY Times archives at some articles pre-dating the Breeders' Cup, and this just about sums up the thinking when the event was coming to fruition.

The announced purpose of the Breeders Cup is to attract new fans to racing. The idea was that millions in purse money would attract the best horses and automatically create a major news event.
That's from an article dated April 16, 1983 that I'd guess was written by Steve Crist, though there's no writing credit on the page.  But in any event and no matter who wrote it, I'd have to say that the Breeders' Cup has failed rather miserably in that respect.  Here we are, 31 years after the first program was run in 1984, and the industry is still struggling with the same problem.  In fact, by packing all of these races into two days and reducing the rest of the late summer/fall season to a series of preps, one might argue that it's made the sport even more remote to potential new fans.  (Maybe that's a New York-centric complaint since most, if not all, of those championships were once determined here at Belmont Park over the six weeks or so that made up the autumn meeting.)

And while there seems to be a lot of excitement on Twitter, it's hardly a major news event.  As I've been saying for years, it's far, far too much information in too short of a time for the press to digest....and that was true before they added distinctively non-championship races to the championship program.  In fact, it's no longer even a major TV event - if it ever really was - relegated to a cable sports network as it is, except for a one-hour prime time telecast on NBC at a time on Saturday night when only the already-committed will be paying attention.  (I'll be either at a Rangers game or a Meat Puppets show.)
''Racing needs an event like the World Series, Super Bowl and N.C.A.A. championships. I think the Breeders Cup could be the biggest of them all.'' - John Gaines [NY Times, 7/25/1982]
 Didn't quite work out that way.  Did it?

Speaking of New York, NYRA doesn't need to look any further than the Breeders' Cup to see why their "big day" strategy is not going to work to create new fans.  In fact, I've been wondering if they've already abandoned the idea, considering the total lack of promotion for the Super Saturday program at Belmont and, if it's really considered to be a "big day," the NY-bred showcase day last weekend.  ("Come to Belmont to see inferior horses run all day!")  We really heard very little from NYRA about either of those days either before or after.  And the fact that NYRA did not release attendance figures for Belmont (unless asked) indicates to me that they no longer plan on focusing on the crowd numbers, which were originally supposed to be the whole point of the "big days."  Wonder if they'll announce next year's Belmont crowd without being prompted to do so.  Maybe only if there's a Triple Crown possibility?

As opposed to the press release that came out the day after Saratoga closed trumpeting the so-called "top quality thoroughbred racing," along with the attendance and handle figures, the post-Belmont press release talks only about Aqueduct; as if Belmont never happened.  We're told about the $14 million in capital improvements at the Big A to enhance....yes....that "guest experience;" the ones paid for by the percentage of slots revenue specifically earmarked for such improvements.
Notable upgrades include high-definition infield video boards equipped with Trakus technology, 557 flat screen, HD televisions and new airport-style seating, to go along with a host of improvements designed to increase the quality and safety of racing.
I guess one of the "improvements" to better the quality of the racing is the fact that there are only eight races carded on Thursday and Friday; we'll see if that's a meet-long thing.

Completely missing from the press release is any mention whatsoever of the Longshots bar!  Ha, seriously?  Maybe that's because they don't want to tell you that it costs ten bucks to get in (Fi dolla if you have a NYRA Rewards card)?