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Thursday, June 30, 2005

Thursday Night Notes - June 30

- Botanical won his U.S. debut for Godolphin in the feature allowance at Belmont Thursday. He was last seen just a length behind in third to Saratoga County in the Sprint at Dubai. He was 2-5 and check out the chart comment:

BOTANICAL stumbled leaving the gate, was bumped after the start, quickly showed in front, set the pace along the inside while in hand, drew away when asked and cruised home under mild encouragement, winning with speed to spare.
He’s a 4 yo by Seeking the Gold out of a Shadeed mare and a half to several European stakes winners including 2005 Dubai winner Satin Kiss. His time was 1:09.23; he came home in 12.22.

All first time starters in a 2 year old race in the 2nd, and the money showed on the winner, Pletcher’s Stonesider, a Giant’s Causeway colt out of Black Eyed Susan winner Added Gold (Gilded Time).

Keep an eye on Scott Lake, starting to heat up after a dismal start. He teamed with Elbar Coa to take the 5th with Athena Girl. Edgar Prado had three winners.

- Commentator was given a Beyer of 121 for his 7 furlongs in 1:20.23, and Steve Crist writes in the Form (sub/print ed only) that that’s no joke.
Commentator's 121 is the second best Beyer Figure earned by anyone in American racing this year, behind only Ghostzapper's 122 in the Met Mile.

Since 2000, only five horses have run a Beyer higher than 120 in a race at a mile or shorter: Ghostzapper's 122 in the Met equaled Swept Overboard's 2002 Met and 2001 Ancient Title, and Aldebaran's 2003 Forego. Left Bank in the 2002 Tom Fool and Shake You Down in the 2003 Smile both ran 121's.

Saturday Stakes Preview

- Big racing weekend coming up, here's a quick look at the graded stakes on Saturday. Perhpas I’ll return later and try to pick a couple of these.

- At Artlington, it’s the G3 Arlington Classic, a 3 yo turf race at a mile and a sixteenth. Southern Africa is the 5-2 second choice, coming off his unsuccessful attempt at a mile and a half in the Belmont, but Guillaume Tell has been installed as the 2-1 choice. The Team Valor/Todd Pletcher Chilean-bred French import actually remains winless since being imported, and is tabbed as favorite on the basis of his third to Rush Bay and Rey de Cafe in his last.

- Belmont has the G1 Suburban, and despite the absence of Limehouse and Eddington, it’s not a bad race, and it will one of four races to be televised live on ESPN, all right! I mean, it’s too bad that no one other than fans and bettors have any incentive to tune in, as the industry still hasn’t adopted my suggestions to get people to watch, but it’s cool anyway. I don’t believe there’s a national pick 4 though, is there? Offlee Wild looks to bounce back from his disasterous effort in the slop in the Pimlico Special, faces the tough Pollard’s Vision, the picky Funny Cide, and Record Buster, a scary one making just his 4th start for Frankel.

Also at Belmont and also on ESPN is the G2 New York Handicap. It’s a mile and a quarter on the turf for 3 and up fillies and mares.

- Churchill Downs has the Grade 3 Locust Grove Handicap; 9 furlongs on the turf for 3 and up fillies and mares, with Katdogawn and Delta Princess heading the field.

- The United Nations Handicap is a mile and three eights at Monmouth on the turf for 3 a nd up. Last year’s BC Turf winner Better Talk Now has had a mixed bag of a season thus far and has no excuse against this field, especially with the prospect of a soft turf course and stablemate Shake the Bank on hand to insure an honest pace. [Bloodhorse] Frankel’s pair License to Run and Exterior should be the main threats. This one is also on ESPN.

- Prairie Meadows has the G2 Cornhusker Breeders' Cup Handicap for 3&up at 9f.

- The 3 yo second stringers go in the G2 Ohio Derby, the 11th race in a mammoth 15 race card! Magna Graduate is the 5-2 morning line favorite which I don’t think says that much about the rest of the field considering he’s coming off of two 4ths and a third against similar competition. Belmont last place finisher Pinpoint is second choice for Zito.

Money Well Spent

- Turf champion Kitten’s Joy tuned up for his 2005 debut in Monday's G2 Firecracker BC Handicap at Churchill with a between-races 5 furlongs workout on the turf in :59 1/5. "That's pretty fast," said [trainer Dale] Romans. "I told him (Orantes) to let him run down the lane a little bit, and he 'smooched' to him and he just exploded down the lane.' [Bloodhorse]

- Commentator is headed for Saratoga after his spectacular victory at Belmont Wednesday. Commentator is 6 for 6 in races at a mile or less, with his six wins by a combined 58 3/4 lengths.

Zito said that Commentator would likely make his next start at Saratoga. Zito's main goal for Commentator is likely the Grade 1 Forego on Sept. 3. The Grade 2, $200,000 Vanderbilt at six furlongs on Aug. 13 is the prep for the Forego. [Daily Racing Form]
Commentator is by Distorted Humor, out of a Storm Bird mare, and is from the female family of multiple G1 winner and $3 million earner Behrens.

- Man, there’s a lot of stakes action this weekend. I’m going to have to try and sort this all out. There are five graded stakes at Hollywood on Sunday, three of them grade 1’s, and Andujar is expected to top one of those, the Vanity Handicap at 9 furlongs for f&m, 3 and up. She certainly won’t be 7-1 as she was when she stepped up to graded stakes company and romped in the Milady BC Handicap. Andujar is a half-sister to the dam of Going Wild, and in support of her harried half-niece nephew, jeez! - she’ll be wearing one of those ‘W’ stickers with a line drawn through it that you saw during the presidential election campaign to protest the methods of trainer Wayne Lukas.

- Don’t you love studies that produce these incredible revelations that you never would have imagined could be true? Here’s one, via Albany Law School.
A casino within 10 miles of home has a significant effect on problem gambling and is associated with a 90 percent increase in the odds of being a pathological or problem gambler, said John W. Welte, Ph.D., principal investigator on the study.

The likely reason for the increase, he added, is that the availability of an attractive gambling opportunity can lead to gambling pathology in some people who otherwise would not develop it.
Funding for the study was provided by a $1.2 million grant from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
[Science Daily]
Well, there’s money well-spent for you!

Pletcher Positive is a Negative

- Todd Pletcher, one of the leading trainers in the game, is facing a possible suspension for an illegal substance found in one of his horses at Saratoga last summer. At Saratoga last summer? Why would it take almost a year?

Tales of Glory, who won a second-level allowance race at Saratoga last Aug. 4, had mepivacaine, an anesthetic, in his system following the race. The Association of Racing Commissioners International classifies mepivacaine a Class 2 drug, meaning it has "a high potential to affect performance." Mepivacaine is sometimes given to horses who are receiving stitches to repair a cut and can linger in a horse's system.
Though extenuating circumstances can cause penalties for a mepivacaine positive to vary, a trainer can receive as much as a 60-day suspension for such a violation, according to Stacy Clifford, spokeswoman for the New York State Racing and Wagering Board. [Daily Racing Form]
Pletcher had 35 winners at the meeting last year. He’s a guy about whom people have whispered accusations given his recent dominance, and those whispers grew a bit louder when he got off to a slow start at the detention-barn Belmont meet. He’s since recovered, but this news, rightly or wrongly, is sure to revive suspicion. A drug suspension for such a high-profile guy would be typically unwelcome news for the sport as we head toward the Saratoga and Del Mar seasons.

- Frankel’s High Limit continues to work towards his return, getting five furlongs in 1:00.87 on Wednesday morning. He’s heading to the Leonard Richard Stakes at Delaware on July 17; that’s where he started his career with two spectacular wins. "I want to get a win into him," Frankel said when asked why he chose the Leonard Richards. [Daily Racing Form] He’ll spend the weekend at Delaware, as he’s pointing Sis City to the rich Delaware Oaks the day before.

- Five favorites under even money at Belmont Wednesday with three more less than 2-1. Not all of the favorites won. Consecutive .45 - 1 favorites went down in the 4th and 5th. Michael Dickinson, who had been 4 for 7 at the meet, sent Affirmed Royalty in the 4th and saw him run more than 17 lengths back in 5th, creating show prices of $23.60 and $21.40 (an entry ran 1-3). The winner, Starduster, ended an 0-44 streak for jockey Chantal Sutherland. And in the 5th, it was Dominick Galluscio’s 2-5 favorite Meniscus, a previously 2-2 3 yo by Raffie’s Majesty getting necked by a 10-1 shot and Elbar Coa.

Another first-time longshot in the state-bred maiden grass race; we’ve seen a series of them in the 10 to 15-1 range. If you like the breeding or something about a firster in these races - this one in the 9th was by Langfuhr out of a Fit to Fight mare - it seems like you should just forget the board and bet it. Two winners each for Allan Jerkins and Nick Zito, including the aforementioned Commentator.

- Wild Desert will be pointed to the Canadian Triple Crown, according to owner Dan Borislow; the next race is the $500,000 Prince of Wales Stakes at Fort Erie on July 17.

- All the details on ordering tickets for the Breeders Cup races at Belmont October 27 are here. Inflated prices once again, with $10/$25 grandstand and clubhouse admission respectively.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Blog Standings and Musings

- Steve Haskin on has this handy list of the 3 year old Triple Crown casualty list:

Declan's Moon, Bellamy Road, Bandini, Rockport Harbor, Giacomo, Wilko, Consolidator, Roman Ruler, Greater Good, Coin Silver, Noble Causeway, Uncle Denny, Defer, Sweet Catomine, Scipion, Monarch Lane, Fusaichi Samurai, Fusaichi Rock Star, Harlington, Dearest Mon, and Patriot Act.
Fusaichi Samurai, I think, is the only one (I'm thinking maybe Defer has run?) who has made it back to the races (or is even really close to doing so, if they're not already retired), but he finished last. Roman Ruler was supposed to run today, but scratched at Belmont. Perhaps Bob Baffert knew that Zito’s 4 yo Commentator would make his return from his last in January with a hand ridden, 16 length victory in 1:20.23, getting the final furlong in 12.07! Haskin has Roman Ruler now starting in the Dwyer on the 4th of July, where he could meet Oratory, as well as Flower Alley.

- Damn, now Eddington, who finally had started to fulfill his promise in winning the Gulfstream Park Handicap and Pimlico Special, has been retired after sustaining a soft tissue injury in his right front leg during a workout on June 24 at Belmont Park.
"He was a Grade 1 winner on the dirt and a Grade 2 winner on the turf," [Mark] Hennig said. "I think he could have been a Grade 1 winner on the turf, too if we had pursued it." [Thoroughbred Times]
The son of Unbridled will host mares at Claiborne Farm. He’d been working for the Suburban, also to be run on the 4th, and with the retirement of Ghostzapper was amongst the top contenders for year-end older horse awards.

In fact, Eddington is currently ranked #2 in the Older Horse division of the Blog Standings that are newly listed in the right-hand sidebar. Thanks to Patrick, the proprietor of Pulling Hair and Betting Horses for putting this together. It’s strictly a points system based on top three finishes in graded races (and mere appearances in grade 1s and 2s), with higher totals for higher-graded races, and double the grade 1 totals for the Breeders Cup races, which is appropriate for racing’s championship day. The rankings will be carried by other blogs as well, as the miniscule horse racing blogosphere unites in the cause of bringing some much needed order to our sport, displaying it in a way that people are accustomed to from looking at professional sports standings every day. Patrick wrote over at Pulling Hair: Horse racing doesn't have standings. The fans leave it up to the talking heads at DRF, TVG, or Eclipse voters to decide the matter. Personally, I wouldn't trust those people to mow my lawn. So I came up with a score card.

And check out Your Average Horseplayer, a new racing blog with news along with comment from proprietor Ruben Bailey, with particular attention to carryovers and handicapping contests along with doses of pop culture and common sense. He also checks out the booming poker scene, noticing the vast number of blogs devoted to the subject as opposed to the small number of racing blogs. I think there may be more blogs on fine dining at Denny's then there are on the ponies. Personally, I detest poker and I bristle when I see it on TVG. I find the participants to be unappealing and pretentious and I dunno, I just really don't get off on watching these characters basically lie to and deceive each other; that's the essence of the game, isn't it, the same as so many reality TV shows? I frankly find it uncomfortable to watch. (Perhaps I need to lighten up about this.) But Mr. Bailey looks at the proliferation of poker blogs and wonders if the blogosphere could be a way of spreading the word of our far more interesting sport.

- I'm trapped in the basement as the Head Chef is hosting a book club meeting. It's one of those all-women things, and they pick more "cultured" selections. No Bret Easton-Ellis here. I'm sure it's going to be unbearable, so I'm staying here. There's TEN of them! Fortunately, we have a bathroom down here, so I should be able to hold out for the entire time without even having to go upstairs and have to say hello. I already showered, I have provisions, and I'm in it for the long haul, perhaps for the entire ten race card from Evangeline, welcome back!

Soft Spot for Limehouse?

- Todd Pletcher may have found a good spot to get Limehouse a Grade 1 win; he’s entered in the Hollywood Gold Cup at a mile and a quarter Saturday, and the only other names I’ve seen mentioned are Congrats and Lava Man. I wonder where Going Wild is these days. The only time Limehouse has tried the distance was last year’s Kentucky Derby, in which he ran 4th to Smarty Jones. Hollywood also has the American Oaks, which despite its wholly inappropriate name for a race designed to attract international entrants and attention, has drawn 6 runners from Europe and Japan, making it a handicapping nightmare.

The Oaks is the top race on a Sunday program that has five graded stakes. Three Degrees and Melhor Ainda, the unbeaten winner of three stakes, lead the Oaks, which is run over 1 1/4 miles on turf. The Japanese invader Cesario, a winner of 4 of 5 starts, is considered the top foreign threat.

On Tuesday, Memorette, second in the Hollywood Breeders' Cup Oaks on June 12, worked five furlongs on turf in 59.80 seconds. She will be making her turf debut in the Oaks. [Daily Racing Form]
- Great news for Louisiana horsemen, and for simulcast bettors that appreciate full fields. Evangeline Downs reopens tonight, and the reviews for the resurfaced track are raves. "I love it," said quarter horse jockey Darrell Darbonne on Tuesday. "I like it better than the old Evangeline Downs and I just finished working some thoroughbreds on it today."
On the night of May 12, jockeys refused to mount for the seventh race after two horses fell in earlier races. There has not been a single race since.

Variances in elevation between four and 12 inches along the soil cement base were later found, and since then, track owners have spent $2.7 million rebuilding the then three-month-old racing surface that now has a new covering of clay, river silt and sifted sand. The entire track also was laser leveled. [Opelousas Daily World]
- Scrappy T’s connections continue to be ultra-conservative with their colt, withdrawing him from consideration for Saturday’s Ohio Derby after a 6 furlong workout.
"He worked real good, but the schedule just didn’t work out the way we wanted it to with the Ohio Derby," [trainer Robert] Bailes said on Monday. "We were really trying to point toward the Colonial Cup here, but he threw our plans out of whack when he didn’t take to the turf and things just didn’t come up right for making this one.” [Thoroughbred Times]
The Travers is their major objective.

- Got an interesting comment the other day from an anonymous poster regarding the Princequillo sire line, which was represented by Queen’s Plate runnerup King of Jazz.
K One King (from the Apalachee branch of Princequillo), the sire of King of Jazz, now represents the only hope of keeping the Princequillo (and back through Prince Palatine, etc. to St. Simon) alive. Too bad King of Jazz is a gelding. But there could be a really good one from K One King in the future if he stays healthy, fertile, and is given some good mares.

Meadowlake from the Prince John branch is old and his only son of racing prominance in recent years was Greenwood Lake. Success Express in Australia was doing well a few years back.

Greenwood Lake is getting small crops and of uncertain quality in his mares. He started in Florida, is now in Kentucky and I would guess he would do alot better under better management.

Since there is no money in preserving the line, I expect it will die. A real shame.
Beaten Queen’s Plate favorite Dance With Ravens is out for the year with a bone chip. Winner Wild Desert was trained at one time by Ken McPeek, who has saddled his last horse to become a full-time bloodstock agent. And now Elliot Walden has announced his retirement from the training game. He’ll become vice president in charge of racing and bloodstock services for WinStar Farm. [Bloodhorse]

- Mr. Happy, Paul Moran of Newsday, weighs in on NYRA’s announced price increases for the Travers.
Shameless price gauging worked so well on Belmont day that the crowd was 15,000 or so less than front-office estimates and half what it was a year ago when Smarty Jones was in position to win the Triple Crown. Yes, many of those $110 seats were empty. President Charlie Hayward actually had the nerve to say this: "We are always reluctant to raise our prices" Question: Can NYRA completely mess up Saratoga, too? Tough assignment, but not out of the realm of possibility. [Newsday]
- Feel free to email me with comments, links, suggestions, or questions.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Saratoga Smog

- NYRA had their pre-Saratoga press conference yesterday, which I’m sure couldn’t possibly come soon enough. Amidst all their problems, the Saratoga meet remains if not the top, certainly close to it in terms of the quality of racing, and definitely number one in daily average on-track handle ($3.2 million last year), and attendance (27,000). The attendance figure is roughly equivalent to a typical week’s attendance downstate. The most publicized news was the increase in the admission prices for Travers Day to $5/$10 grandstand/clubhouse from $3/$5. But there are some other notable changes as well.

The six-hour prerace detention policy established at Belmont will continue at Saratoga. Some have attributed the short fields downstate to the reluctance of barns to ship in and have their charges endure detention, but it’s hoped and assumed that the allure of Saratoga will make that just a little nuisance to be dealt with. Racing Secretary Mike Lakow is looking for a fully competitive meeting.

Lakow’s enthusiasm is fueled by the addition of 23 trainers who were not stabled at Saratoga last year, including Wally Dollase, a two-time winner of the Travers, and Tim Ritchey, who will most likely saddle the favorite for this year’s Travers in Preakness Stakes (G1) and Belmont Stakes (G1) winner Afleet Alex, who won the Sanford (G2) and Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga last year. [Thoroughbred Times]
Lakow is also anticipating a lot of 2 year olds: "At Belmont, the 2-year-old program has been a little light….From what the trainers tell me, it’s because they’re getting ready for Saratoga.” There will be two new grass stakes for 2 year olds: the P.G. Johnson for 2-year-old fillies on the turf (Sept. 2) and the With Anticipation for 2-year-olds on the turf (Sept. 3). [Saratogian]

The Jim Dandy will be run a week earlier this year, making it 4 weeks before the Travers and following the trend of spacing preps earlier than ever before the target race. The 2 yo Hopeful and Spinaway (fillies) have been moved up a week; the Hopeful on Travers Day and the Spinaway on the Friday before.

In addition, betting from certain off-shore rebate shops has been discontinued, and that will effect the total handle as compared to years past.
[NYRA] expects a 5 percent to 10 percent decline in handle, NYRA Vice President Bill Nader said:

Such accounts represented about $50 million of the $550 million bet on Saratoga races last year.

NYRA said it pulled the plug on the off-shore betting because of complaints by patrons that the foreign bettors were, in effect, manipulating the odds. Races where the favorite was listed as 5-2 on the tote boards at Saratoga would sometimes suddenly drop to 2-1 after races started when the effect on the pari-mutuel pools of late off-shore betting activity was factored in. [Business Review, via Albany Law School]
- Jeff Scott of the Saratogian points out that NYRA does deserve credit for the continuing success of the Saratoga meeting.
It should be remembered that on NYRA's watch, Saratoga became (and has remained) arguably the best race meet in the world. The Belmont spring and fall meets, while not what they were once, still feature the same core of prestigious races in which the best horses continue to make their names.

This doesn't mean that another organization might not have done just as good a job. But the role NYRA has played in maintaining New York racing's preeminent position - as well as the chances that it would continue to do so in the future - ought at least to be part of the current discussion.
- Bill Callahan performs and records under the name Smog, and his latest collection, A River Ain’t Too Much to Love, is out on Drag City. Smog features solemn, acoustic guitar-drenched songs delivered in a somber baritone voice sometimes compared to Leonard Cohen, spinning tales that at times are as grim as the music suggests, but which are always articulate and thought-provoking, often celebrating the natural beauty of our nation. The new CD ends with the gorgeous Let Me See the Colts. In deference to my respect for creative copyrights and the Supreme Court’s decision on file-sharing yesterday, I will not post an MP3, but I hopefully will be forgiven for reproducing the copyrighted lyrics.
Knocked on your door at dawn
With a spark in my heart
Dragged you from your bed
And said ‘Let me see the colts’

Let me see the colts
That will run next year
Show them to a gambling man
Thinking of the future

Have you been drinking…no
Nor sleeping
The all-seeing all-knowing eye is dog tired
And just wants to see the colts

We walked out through
The dew dappled branches
And sat upon the fence
Is there anything as still as sleeping horses
Is there anything as still as sleeping horses
- In two other decisions yesterday, the Court said that religious displays on government property are sometimes OK, and sometimes not OK, depending on their context and history, thus insuring lucrative employment for hundreds of attorneys for many years to come. Ten Commandments in a classroom? – no. In a courtyard? – maybe. At a private-public track? I dunno. Is there a commandment that says Thou Shalt Not Piss Away Money Gambling? In his dissenting opinion on the decision prohibiting the display in a courthouse, Justice Antonio Scalia wrote the following:
"Nothing stands behind the court's assertion that governmental affirmation of the society's belief in God is unconstitutional except the court's own say-so." [NY Times]
I find his words to be quite haunting. Indeed, given the Republican’s control of the White House and Congress, there’s currently nothing standing behind women’s reproductive freedom nor our freedom from having religion shoved down our throats other than the court’s say-so, and that say-so is now extremely tenuous on this Court, as demonstrated by the 5-4 decisions in both Commandments cases, and especially with at least one retirement widely expected soon. If it’s up to the president and the religious extremists that wield so much influence in his party, there would be 9 Antonio Scalias on the court, and women, gays, and those of us who prefer our country secular won’t have a prayer. That is why the recent fight in the Senate over judicial filibusters was, and continues to be so crucial. It’s the only check and balance we have left, for now, anyway. With the president's poll numbers on Iraq continuing to plummet, could the 2006 Congressional elections come soon enough?

Monday, June 27, 2005

Monday Night Notes - June 27

- Bit of a bummer to read Nick Zito confirm that Bellamy Road is a “stretch” for the Travers.

"He's back on the track jogging; we'll turn him around soon,'' Zito said, referring to galloping. "He's a very athletic horse, but the Travers is a little bit of a stretch. Let's hope he makes the fall. The main thing is I talked to the Steinbrenner family and my main goal is going to try to get to the Breeders' Cup Classic.'' [Daily Racing Form]
Andromeda’s Hero had a slow 5 furlong work and is being pointed for the Jim Dandy, which at a mile and an eighth is probably about an eighth of how long a race would have to be for him to have a shot.

- You may want to take this into consideration if you’re planning a trip or twelve to Saratoga this summer.
On three of the Wednesdays (Aug. 3, 17, and 31), NYRA's nine-race cards will have two steeplechase races. In previous years, steeplechase racing was held on Thursdays and alternating Wednesdays. By condensing steeplechase racing to one day a week, management hopes to run more turf races on the flat. [DRF]
It’s thank heaven for simulcasting on those days. It hasn't been all that long really since there was no simulcasting permitted there. Even at Aqueduct for the downstate simulcast, there would be no other tracks offered, while not far away, the Meadowlands had the Spa and around 10 other tracks as well. For many years, the harness tracks and regional OTBs were able to prohibit any thoroughbred simulcasts after 7:30 P.M. So, it didn't matter if there were four of them across the track in the 9th from Turf Paradise, when the clock struck 7:30:00, the scene shifted to this annoying guy Frank Drucker doing the telecast from Yonkers Raceway; I wanted to fucking shoot this guy sometimes. When the OTB channel first started carrying the Meadowlands, Frank Drucker was in control of when you saw what. So naturally all the races from Yonkers with 3-5 shots going wire to wire from the 1 hole would be on live, while the far more competitive and bettable Meadowlands races got short shrift. They eventually changed this, possibly because I called to complain, and thoroughbred races are now carried all night and into the wee hours with racing from Australia, but it's these little things over the years that demonstrate how incompetently racing and wagering has been conducted in this state, and it's not all NYRA's fault. They didn't pass all those idiotic restrictions that it took years to finally remove.

Also note that the Saratoga yearling sale has been cut back to two nights from three, and the catalog declined substantially, by over 27%.

Friends Present the Obvious

- Friends of New York Racing has released their “preliminary report” on the state of NY racing, and it’s filled with incisive observations such as: the NY horseracing industry is facing serious problems; OTB was the biggest change to NYRA’s business model since it took away most of its customers; slots money increases purses (accompanied by revealing charts showing things such as purses before and after slots in West Virginia); the present business model needs to change; there were no weapons of mass destruction; and other things we already knew. They propose two new ownership models; one a government/private ownership partnership that seems to be modeled after that at Woodbine, the other a complete privatization (both models allow for a 10% “non-profit” ownership, though it doesn’t go into detail). They discuss allowing the OTBs to merge into the new company. But the bottom line in the proposal is this, and what a surprise: slots, slots, and more slots - 5,500 more than currently proposed, to be housed at Belmont Park, where there’s generally enough open space for probably ten times that amount. While there’s little new and innovative that I can see here, given the way the legislature has watched as the industry heads down the drain, I imagine they need everything spelled out for them in this way. You can download the document here (preliminary report)(pdf).

One of the more significant points they make is about the VLT tax structure in New York, which is way more than in other states.

Even after 2005 legislation allowing New York track operators to retain a slightly higher percentage of VLT net revenues than previously, racinos in New York are still taxed at the highest rate in the country. This situation has diminished the amount of capital available for facilities, has diminished the ability of operators to market and promote at the same level as other states and, thus, in the opinion of most analysts, has had a dampening effect on revenues, including the amount produced for the State and education.
Still, the report goes on to cite the purse increases resulting from VLT's at Saratoga Harness, and doesn’t even mention the success at Monticello, nor the lofty aspirations at Yonkers I posted about earlier. One thing that is not addressed until an additional comment made by a member following the body of the report is marketing – “Fan creation is the industry’s single most important need.”

- Roman Ruler is entered in a 7 furlong allowance race at Belmont on Wednesday.
"We shipped him there on Saturday," Baffert said. "He's not ready to go a mile and a sixteenth yet." Baffert was referring to the Grade II Dwyer Stakes to be run at Belmont on July 4. From Wednesday's allowance race, Baffert plans to run Roman Ruler next in the Grade II Amsterdam Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 7 before trying the Grade I King's Bishop Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 27. [NY Daily News]
- Just how slow was Wild Desert's win in the Queen's Plate?.
.. the running time of 2:07.37 (with a crawling final quarter-mile of 27.39 seconds) was the slowest fast-track time since the Plate was restored to a mile-and-a-quarter distance in Woodbine's inaugural year of 1956. Only two winning times have been slower since — Royal Chocolate (1973) and Amber Herod (1974) — and each of those came in knee-deep slop. [Toronto Star]
In fact, the harness horses got home quicker in the Canadian Pacing Derby Saturday — 27 1/5 seconds as opposed to 27 2/5 over a slow Woodbine surface yesterday [Star]. Still, owner Daniel Borislow claims to have collected $100,000 in winning bets in addition to the 60% share of the $1 million purse, so I’m sure he doesn’t care about the time. I’ll look forward to betting against him when he comes back to the States.

The Appeal of Slots

- The decision by the Broward County State Attorney Mike Satz to appeal the Florida court decision allowing - actually, ordering the county to write their own rules for slots by July 1 must come as a relief to both sides. The county was struggling to write some kind of basic, stopgap set of regulations to protect their rights by the deadline lest the judge do it for them, and even Dan Adkins of Hollywood Greyhound acknowledged ''Obviously, nothing was going to happen until we had clear legal authority anyway.” [Miami-Herald]

"We're not against gambling," said Ron Ishoy, Satz's spokesman. "We just want it to be done right. The Florida Legislature is the place to do this." [Sun-Sentinal] Interestingly, the state had to turn to Satz to file the appeal when the state Attorney General refused to do so, saying that he believes it is the responsibility of the Legislature to act and said he will not get involved.

State law requires Crist to defend the state in criminal cases but gives him discretion in civil cases. Crist has maintained that the Legislature has the obligation to implement the amendment. His statement Friday said ``that implementation does not include the Broward County Commission or the judiciary.'' [Miami Herald]
Earlier, Governor Bush had called the court ruling “bizarre,” a type of behavior the governor himself has exhibited lately.

- Pennsylvania dodged a bullet when the state Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the slots law, but there are other challenges to come. In addition, the aspect of the ruling that restores power to local zoning boards over casino construction is not a welcome development for Governor Ed Rendell. effectively grants local zoning officials the power to decide where more than half of those gambling halls would be located in their communities.

Before the court tossed out a portion of the law, that power resided exclusively with the seven gubernatorial and legislative appointees on the gambling board.

That change has Rendell and some legislators worried that wrangling by local officials and community groups over where to place slots parlors could bog down their opening. Now, the five stand-alone venues and two resort casinos called for in the gambling law will need zoning approval. (Seven horse-racing tracks will also operate slot machines, but they are already built or approved.) [Philly Inquirer]
Via Albany Law School Racing and Wagering Page comes this take on the "contortionist" ruling by the state's high court.
Ironically, Justice Cappy said earlier court rulings recognized the need for ''fair notice to the public and to the legislators'' of changes in bills. ''Reasonable notice'' is the keystone of one of the constitutional provisions PAGE claimed was violated. But the court looked at the massive changes known as Act 71, made late at night and passed over a holiday weekend (all by design, of course), and just nodded.

Was the embryonic bill changed unconstitutionally to include more than one purpose? It went from background checks to the entire structure for slots. No, said the court, both ''relate to the single subject of regulating gaming,'' confirming that often the law isn't a scalpel but a butter knife ... especially when wielded in this system.

The court did say Act 71 went too far in trying to provide direct funding for volunteer fire companies and other programs unrelated to gambling. And, it went too far in giving the Gaming Control Board poorly defined authority to run roughshod over local zoning concerns.

Beyond those quibbles, forget banking on the state constitution. In the view of the justices, it hardly is a constitution at all. It's just a list of official suggestions. []
- As I mentioned before, Yonkers Raceway is now closed for 4 months to build a racino where the old grandstand used to stand before it was demolished due to lack of need and use. Yonkers is not just looking for survival here; they are thinking in far, far greater terms.
Yonkers's general manager, Bob Galterio, predicted that the 5,500 machines would bring in enough revenue to increase purses nearly sixfold. Feature races on weeknight programs could be worth as much as $100,000. The track's top stakes would offer $1 million purses, and the Messenger and the Yonkers International, races Yonkers farmed out to other tracks because it could no longer afford them, would return.

Should the projections come true, Yonkers will most likely have the highest purses of any North American harness track, surpassing the Meadowlands and the handful of tracks that already have slot machines.
"There are seven million people who live within 30 minutes of Yonkers Raceway," Galterio said. "No gaming jurisdiction has ever had those kind of numbers. We're hoping our projections are on the low side." [NY Times]
Wow, those are some lofty aspirations for a track where average daily attendance has dropped from a peak of 25,397 in 1964; last year, it was 559. And as is the case with racinos, while the purses may go up, it doesn’t mean that interest in the sport will too.
Most tracks that have added slot machines seem to have gone out of their way to shield customers from the racing. The on-track slot rooms rarely have betting windows, televisions showing the races or even a view of the racetrack.

"It would be nice if Yonkers could commingle the two forms of gambling," said Jeff Gregory, a top driver. "A lot of these tracks upstate are built like you're in a cave, and the people playing the machines don't even know the races are going on.
- Also a nice article in the Times on the one-time jewel of Florida racing, Hialeah Park, and the efforts to revive it. The track now stands decaying and unused except for the occasional wedding reception. Use login ‘unfortunately’ and password ‘required’ to sign in if needed.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Sunday Night Notes - June 26

- The Queen’s Plate by far highlighted this pre-July 4th Sunday, and it was the American connections coming in to take the top two spots. I couldn’t get a bet in at Woodbine so contented myself with rooting for my blog selection King of Jazz. He certainly looked like a winner top of the stretch, but was outkicked by Wild Desert, who I thought was overbet at 3-1, but what do I know? I really don’t know what to make of the race, with the final quarter run in :26.2, and a s-l-o-w final time of 2:07.37. They said on HRTV that the track was tiring and slow; there was a mile and a sixteenth race that went in 1:47 1/5 that I thought was slow until I noticed there was one prior that was three seconds slower! Wild Desert is another stakes winner with connections from Philadelphia, the current horse racing capital of the world. The filly Gold Strike was running with seeming ease on the lead, and held on for third; the top three finishers from the Plate Trial brought up the rear in very disappointing performances.

Otherwise, a pretty slow Sunday in advance of a big July 4 weekend. At Belmont, there was a state-bred stakes won by Naughty New Yorker at nearly 9-1! Otherwise, four more state-bred races, and another wide open maiden race on the turf. And of course, another grassy winner for Bill Mott. There finally was a shipper, Remuneration, for the claiming race in the 6th, perhaps attracted from Delaware by the $41,000 purse, and he won. It was another winner for sire High Yield, whose High Yield Hunter took the 9th yesterday in his debut on the turf. Perhaps the bettors had that in mind when, in the 9th, they bet down Higher Approval, a High Yield filly making her first try on the grass. She was 6-1 morning line, but 3-1 at post time. But like in the finale on Saturday, it was a well-bred first timer overlooked in the betting. On the Catwalk took the prize at 12-1 for trainer Carlos Martin, having a nice meet so far with 6 winners.with limited starters. On the Catwalk is by Honour and Glory out of a Theatrical mare who’s a half sister to turf stakes winner Incurable Optimist.

More Than Ready is a second crop sire who’s offspring have been doing well on the turf. At Monmouth, his 3 yo daughter Ready’s Gal took the Little Silver stakes for Pletcher. It’s at least the third turf stakes winner of the month for More Than Ready, including a Grade 3 win by a 2 yo filly named La Chunga in England. It was Ready's Gal's turf debut, and she was bet down to 5-2 second choice. This filly has burned a lot of money prior to this race, including a 20 length loss at 6-5 in her last, so had I been handicapping this race, I likely would have unsuccessfully disregarded the board action in this case.

I took the day off from racing - for the most part anyway. The Head Chef and I ended up at a most unlikely place - the entrance to the Billy Graham Crusade at Flushing Meadow Park in Queens. We had gone to see an exhibit at the Queens Museum, which is located in the park, nearby, and strolled over to check out the scene. And what a scene it was, an endless stream of people diverging from every direction; there were reportedly 90,000 people in attendance for what is supposed to be his final revival. The fountains were on at the old World’s Fair unisphere, and I wonder if Rev. Graham paid for that; I don’t remember the last time I saw the water on, and to stand in the spray downwind was a welcome relief from the heat. The police were out in big numbers, and they had their wonderful “protest pens” set up. Those gained popularity, along with the orange netting that scooped up innocent bystanders, at the Republican Convention, which I still can’t believe was held in New York City. Here, there were two pens and two cops and a grand total of one protester, a lonely guy holding a sign that said “Graham Hates God.” Some people on the way to see Graham stopped to take his picture. I presume and hope that Rev. Graham's message is a positive one, without the hatred others dispense in the name of religion these days.

I did make one bet today, in an attempt to get out from what was a bad betting weekend, with my losing ways of Friday extending into Saturday. It was the 5th at Hollywood, and I loved the 3 horse, Right Proof, at 7-1. He was making a very big class jump from 40K to 62.5K claimers. It’s just recently that I’ve become comfortable with betting horses jumping in class like that. I’ve always been told that it’s a good sign, and a better bet than a horse dropping, but it’s taken me this long to be able to anticipate the drastic improvement it would take to make a jump like this one. In his last race, Right Proof changed jockeys and tactics, the latter drastically so as he came from dead last to win after his prior races were on the lead. Now his move up the ladder while keeping his rider Garrett Gomez seemed like a confident placement by his trainer Bill Spawr, who has good numbers at this meet and with last-race-winners. Right Proof sat in good position behind the leaders, but was beaten to a hole in the stretch by Alex Solis on the eventual winner, had to alter course sharply, and closed quickly for third just a head and a neck away from the triple for me. A frustrating end to the weekend to be sure.

Stakes Recap and Stuff

- A much more patient ride for Smuggler in the Mother Goose than she got in the Acorn. Edgar Prado had her situated comfortably behind the contested pace, and swept around them on the turn. Nice effort by Spun Sugar, and Summerly was certainly not disgraced and will likely improve around two turns at Saratoga if Steve Asmussen chooses to send her there. She was very wide down the backstretch and never seemed comfortable. After the race, Simon Bray on TVG pointed out that this daughter of Unbridled out of Inside Information, now a Grade 1 stakes winner, is worth as lot of money! But with her breeding, I doubt this Phipps filly will be going anywhere but the Phipps broodmare band. It was the first Mother Goose win for Shug McGaughey, who saddled Smuggler’s dam to a third place finish. The win didn’t come without trouble though, as she had to check behind Spun Sugar after that filly ducked in at the gap between the chute and main track. "She just about clipped heels," McGaughey said. "She hit herself on the back of her ankle." [NY Daily News]

Prado said she was capable of more than the final :13 second furlong and time of 1:48 2/5. “She was just galloping along when she got to the leaders. She is a very nice filly. I think she forgot to keep going. She kind of pulled herself up. She could have won by a little more." [Bloodhorse]

- When you’re hot, you’re hot; another turf winner for Billy Mott at Belmont, but better yet, his Seeking Slew got double DQ’d into a Grade 3 stakes win in the Kent BC at Delaware. And sizzling jockey Elbar Coa had another four-bagger at Belmont, his second within a week’s time.

- There was a nice co-feature scheduled at Belmont, a $60,000 handicap at a mile and three eights on the turf, but the field was decimated by five late scratches, leaving the standard field of five. NYRA can't seem to catch a break here. Dreadnaught had won two consecutive Grade 2’s to close out 2004, but here in his 2005 debut he was no match for Salic Law, who could be a developing long distance star for red hot Tom Albertrani. It’s the second straight impressive win for this 4 yo son of Deputy Commander who's a half brother to millionaire Bowman’s Band. He’s out of Hometown Queen, a stakes winning Pleasant Colony mare who is also the greanddam of Pollard’s Vision. This is a royally bred horse - Chris Evert is her third dam; this is the direct family of Sightseek, Chief’s Crown, and let's just say many other good horses.

- Kelly’s Landing set a track record for 6 furlongs in winning the G3 Aristides BC at Churchill yesterday. Give at least partial credit to Jet Prospector for setting a pace of 21 flat ant 43.83 to set things up, and to Gary Stevens for the perfect rail-skimming ride that propelled them to a clocking of 1:07.58 in the 4 yo gelding’s first stakes effort. "I guess when you run 1:074/5 and lose, you can't feel too bad," said [2nd place finisher Battle Won’s] trainer Chuck Simon. [Courier-Journal]

- I like to write about (and win on) horses that get tote action and then back it up on the track, but of course it’s not always that easy. There’s been a preponderance of maiden turf races at Belmont, many of them state-breds, as NYRA desparately attempts to present full fields, quality notwithstanding. Since they raised the purses on claiming races, I personally haven’t noticed a single horse shipping from another track other than the Finger Lakes. In a lot of these maiden turf races, the board is the only thing to go by, as you get a mix of first-time starters, first-time turfers, and if you’re lucky, a couple with mediocre grass form. If you’ve been following the money the past couple of days, you’ve lost. I fell for one in the 4th; Final Markdown (Dynaformer) was making his career debut on the turf; he was 6-1 morning line, got pounded to 5-2, and made an impressive appearance in the paddock. But he ran a sluggish 7th.

In the second yesterday, for state-breds on the turf, Pletcher’s first-timer Spin Factor (Indian Charlie) went off 9-5 (he was actually 8-5 ML) but settled for second. And in the 9th, Aaron’s Classic was 8-1 morning line, got pounded to 8-5 in his turf debut, and ran well but finished second to an absolute monster performance by 17-1 first timer High Yield Hunter, Coa’s 4th winner. He jumped at the start, settled into last, circled around them all effortlessly while five wide on the turn, and drew away to the win. So, even as the money was right about Aaron’s Classic, it was wrong.

High Yield Hunter really got away at that price; his trainer Jimmy Toner is doing well at Belmont with 5 wins and 11 in the money finishes in 18 starts, and is worth watching; he’s always been one to pop a first-timer. This 3yo gelding is indeed by High Yield, and his second dam is grade 1 turf winner Estrapade, winner of the Arlington Million, amongst others.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Notes - Saturday, June 25

- A winless betting day for me yesterday, but that didn’t at all ruin a beautiful day and evening at Belmont yesterday with a tad over 5,000 on hand. It started out a bit wacky in the second, a 2 yo affair. Bill Mott had a first time Storm Cat filly named Saoirse Cat, out of G3 winner Saorise, that was getting absolutely hammered in the win pool, while Pletcher had the morning line favorite, a first time starter who was dull on the board at 5-1. Indeed, Pletcher was talking on a cellphone the whole time the horse was in the paddock, and was chatting away as even as giving Velasquez a leg up with this free hand, so I figured if he wasn’t paying attention to the horse, I wouldn’t either. So I used the Storm Cat over the two logical form horses, but there was an incident at the gate, and both Mott’s and Pletcher’s horses were scratched, leaving a four horse field, and causing tens of thousands in refunds and a loss in parimutuel takeout that NYRA will likely be criticized for in the next audit. That was the only ticket I cashed all day.

Mott came back to win the third, with a 2 for 2 3 yo filly, Sweet Symphony (A.P. Indy). She won her debut at 17-1, and was 2-1 second choice to Pleasant Lyrics, coming off a close second to Toll Taker in the Boiling Springs at Monmouth. She won impressively, drawing off by 6 under a hand ride by Bailey. This George Steinbrenner-owned filly is a half-sister to a couple of nice stakes horses, Infinite Glory and Patriotic Flame, and her second dam is Sharon Brown, the dam of Holy Bull. Definitely one to keep an eye on.

My most frustrating loss of the day was in the 5th. It was five horse field, for a change, but I’d picked out the 5-1 Boortz, moving up the claiming ladder for the high-percentage Frank LaBoccetta barn. He was sitting in perfect position on the rail, close behind the 7-5 favorite Justification, dropping down for Allan Jerkins and involved in a contested pace. But as they headed around the turn, a guy started screaming “ASK HIM TO RUN, ARROYO! ASK HIM TO RUN, ARROYO!” Once again, this is the ultimate kiss of death for me; it’s just uncanny how I can never win when the screaming guy is rooting for my horse. And just for good measure, this guy adds “THE FIVE IS DEAD!”, referring to the favorite, who went on to beat Boortz by 2 3/4.

Javier Castellano had four winners on the day and Elbar Coa chalked up another. Jerry Bossert in the Daily News has news on another disturbing trend for NYRA.

More than ever, we bet more on out-of-state thoroughbred racing than at the three New York Racing Association tracks - Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga.

In 2000, it was almost 5-0/50 but last year it was 6-0/40 in favor of the out-of-state action and by the end of this year it could be 65-35. Out-of-state gambling has jumped 34% since 2000, when it was $738,063,394, to $987,907,132 last year.
New York State lawmakers, breeders and horsemen should all be concerned because very little of the money bet out of state gets returned to New York State and the racing industry.

Instead, the money the six OTBs make on these out-of-state wagers goes to local municipalities and not toward the well-being of racing in the state.

That's the way the system was wrongly created back in 1971.

Lawmakers have to increase the percentages OTB returns to the state and industry on out-of-state bets or, once and for all, do the obvious and correct the problem. [NY Daily News]
- Just a coincidence, but on Queen’s Plate weekend, there's a Canada in New York concert, presented with major support from the Canadian Consulate General in New York, at Brooklyn’s Prospect Park tonight, and the Head Chef is currently shopping for picnic dinner supplies. New Pornographers, Stars, and the Sadies are the bands performing.

The Queen's Plate

- Ten three year olds are entered in Sunday’s Grade 1 Queen’s Plate at Woodbine, the first leg of the Canadian Triple Crown. Like its American counterpart, it’s a mile and a quarter, and in this case anyway, none of the entrants have been more than 9 furlongs. Five of the horses are at least partly owned by Americans, and it’s not hard to figure out why.

It's also a restricted race, meaning that only horses foaled in Canada can take part. Look at how many thoroughbreds were foaled in the United States this year (an estimated 34,000) and compare it with the number foaled in Canada (2,580), and it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that if it's a million dollars you're after, the Queen's Plate gives you far better odds than a million-dollar race south of the border. [Toronto Globe and Mail]
The morning line favorite is Dance With Ravens (A.P. Indy), who was arranged to be put on this Earth for this moment and basically this moment alone. His mother, the great Dance Smartly, won the Plate, as did two of his half-brothers. [Toronto Star] He comes off his controversial DQ from first to sixth in the Plate Trial, a result which has yet to be adjudicated by the racing commission. Dance With Ravens has never crossed the wire out of the money in 6 starts, and should obviously have little trouble with the distance based on his breeding, though he did just hang on in the Trial through a :13 second last eighth after stalking a slow pace. His trainer Mark Frostad mentioned something about Todd Kabel moving too soon. Three in the Bag was declared the winner in the Plate Trial; in his prior race he ran second to Reverberate in a N1X allowance at Belmont. He closed well 4 wide to miss by a neck, and the son of Silver Deputy out of a Pleasant Colony mare may benefit from the 10th furlong. I'd posted more about the Plate Trial and these two contenders here.

Get Down was actually favored in the Plate Trial, having come off an 8 1/2 length win in a N2X allowance race. He forced the tepid pace and tired to third (placed second), and despite Richard Migliore coming north for the ride, I don’t see much reason why the extra distance should benefit him.

Gold Strike (Smart Strike) seeks to become the 5th filly to win the race. She's destroyed the fillies in her last two, and is the only 2005 graded stakes winner in the field as well as owning the highest fig. But as I noted yesterday, her trainer Reade Baker seems quite concerned that it’s been just two weeks since her win in the Woodbine Oaks. Here’s more:
"She was pretty tired....The heat really took its toll on her. It took her a long time to walk back home after she was in the winner's circle. Three weeks back would be perfect, but we're going to have to make do with two weeks." [Daily Racing Form].
There's disclosure for you; can you imagine Julio Canani having said stuff like this?

Wild Desert is a big wild card here. I had bought into him as a Derby contender at one point, and I liked him in the Lane’s End when he rallied for second behind Flower Alley. But he’s been away since running far behind Afleet Alex in the Arkansas Derby. He had just one published workout, at Monmouth, before a breeze at Woodbine yesterday, but that apparently doesn’t mean it was his only work.
Gate Artis, Monmouth's head clocker, acknowledges that it is possible that Wild Desert, being relatively unknown locally, could have worked without being recorded.

Monmouth, unlike Woodbine and some other major racing jurisdictions, does not require horses to be identified before training.

"Usually they call them in, about 90 percent of the time," said Artis. "But sometimes, they don't." [Daily Racing Form]
Well, that's not much disclosure at all! His trainer is now listed as Bobby Frankel, taking over for Richard Dutrow, taking over for Ken McPeek. Who knows if Frankel has ever seen this horse. After the Stephen Foster, I read his comment that he touched Saint Liam for the first time when saddling him prior to the race. In this case, he may just be communicating with the horse by cellphone and fax.

With no offense intended to my friends and readers to the north, where things seem a bit saner than they currently are here, I’m going to take a shot with one of the U.S. invaders contenders, King of Jazz. He’s won his last two, a maiden race at Keeneland and a N1X allowance at Churchill, both at 9 furlongs. He took his last with a 96 Beyer, second only to a 97 earned by the filly two starts back, winning easily with an pretty good last eighth of :12 3/5. He’s a son of K One King (Apalachee) out of a mare by Stop the Music, who, with the death of his companion Lyphard, is the oldest living thoroughbred in the world, according to Pedigree Query. There’s not tons to go on from his breeding; his stallion, who won the Oaklawn Handicap at a mile and an eighth, has no stakes winners in two small crops, and there's not much to see on his female side. But his running lines look to cry out for distance, and he’s inbred to Princequillo and has classic winners Master Derby and Dust Commander close up in his pedigree, as well as handicap champ Tom Fool. Rafael Bejarano comes up to ride for trainer Carl Natzger, and he’s 6-1 morning line.

King of Jazz
Three in the Bag
Dance With Ravens

Friday, June 24, 2005

Long Post on a Short Day

- Colonial Downs owner Jeff Jacobs should give his publicity person a raise considering all the national press I’ve seen about the Grand Slam of Grass series there which starts tomorrow with the $500,000 Colonial Turf Club. No slots in Virginia, but Jacobs has come up with a unique way to get slots dough anyway.

He has succeeded in a novel way, using revenues from truck-stop casinos he owns in Louisiana to supplement Colonial Downs.

"We weren't profitable in the early years," said Jacobs, whose holdings with Jacobs Entertainment include 14 truck-stop casinos in Louisiana and casinos in Colorado and Nevada.

"But many of the most successful tracks these days have some kind of [slot] machines. Ours just happen to be a thousand miles away." [Sun-Sentinal]
I love these 3 yo turf races, but the problem with handicapping this one for now is that there is a competing stakes at Delaware tomorrow, the Grade 3 Kent BC Stakes, and no less than six of the horses are entered in both. Whatsmore, some trainers may wait until Friday night to make a final decision on where to run. [FOX] So no point putting a lot of time into these until we know who’s running.

- Only six entered in the G1 Mother Goose tomorrow, and word is that one of them, Lady Pegasus, may very well scratch. Acorn winner Round Pond is waiting for the Delaware Oaks in three weeks; John Servis says the timing…is perfect for his filly. She'll have six weeks from the Acorn and five weeks to the Alabama at Saratoga. [DRF] That very well may be, but Dave Liftin points out in the Form that the Delaware race is $200,000 richer, and writes of the fierce stakes purse competition that is adding to NYRA’s short field woes.
Instead of waiting for next week's Suburban Handicap, Saint Liam, who trains at Aqueduct, went to Churchill Downs for last week's Stephen Foster Handicap because the purse was $828,000. That is $328,000 more than the Suburban purse.

Ashado, winner of last week's Ogden Phipps Handicap, "probably" will run next in the Go for Wand Handicap on the first Sunday at Saratoga, according to trainer Todd Pletcher. But he raised the possibility of opting instead for the Delaware Handicap two weeks earlier. Why not? Ashado, already a champion and a Grade 1 winner in each of the past three years, has long since proven everything a budding broodmare needs to prove. Why run in the Go for Wand for $250,000 when the Delaware Handicap is worth four times as much?

Trainer Bobby Frankel worked Louisiana Derby winner High Limit and Ashland winner Sis City in company the other day.

Don't look for High Limit in the $150,000 Dwyer on July 4, because 13 days later the Leonard Richards at Delaware offers double that amount.

Sis City, who at 3-5 was outdueled in the Kentucky Oaks by Summerly, bypassed a rematch with that rival in Saturday's $300,000 Mother Goose and awaits the $500,000 Delaware Oaks in three weeks. [Daily Racing Form, sub. Only]
High Limit, by the way, is working well, turning in a 5f work in :58.65 the other day.

As for the Mother Goose, it’s obviously not a great betting race. I’ll stick with Smuggler, who I had at 6-1 when she ran second in the Acorn. She was a bit closer to the hot pace than I would’ve liked, and Shug McGaughey switches to Edgar Prado with Velasquez out of town. Summerly and Spun Sugar have won their big races around two turns, and it’s always worth taking a shot against when a horse tries the one turn configuration at Belmont.

- With the New York legislative session drawing to a close, Governor Pataki announced an agreement with the Senate and House leaders that would set up an oversight board for the NYRA. The board would replace a board within NYRA established by its board of trustees and management, which Pataki and state and federal investigators have accused of mismanagement and corruption. [Albany Times-Union] In addition:
Pataki announced a deal to send oversight of NYRA's $170 million Aqueduct casino project to the Division of Lottery and take jurisdiction away from the Racing & Wagering Board. The board had determined that NYRA improperly entered into a contract with MGM Mirage to manage the casino, having failed to honor competitive bidding requirements.

….Pataki's move enhances the chance a NYRA casino will be built.

Instead, Lottery would have to deem the MGM contract appropriate, something Pataki indicated he expected. [ATU]
Aqueduct will not be the NYC area’s first racino however, as Yonkers Raceway will shut down for four months after tomorrow’s card for construction of a VLT parlor. Some of the horses will move up to Monticello, which is adding Sunday racing to accommodate them, and which is thriving from its racino these days, with the featured pace now going for $12,000 every week, as compared to the $5,000 that was offered before the machines hit town. [NY Daily News]

- Ten horses are scheduled to go in the $1 million Queen’s Plate at Woodbine Sunday, and Dances with Ravens is the 5-2 morning line choice. The filly Gold Strike, who won the Woodbine Oaks two weeks ago, is second choice at 3-1, but if you’re thinking of betting her, heed the words of her trainer Reade Baker.
"I'll tell you, at the quarter-pole Sunday," Baker said as to when he'll know if Gold Strike is fit enough to run. "That's the only time you can tell.

"If I had a chance to breeze her five furlongs then Jimmy (jockey Jim McAleney) can come back and say she's as good as she was the last race or two races ago but this is a pig and a poke.

"We're just going to have to take her over there and take a chance. We don't have a choice. With two weeks there's just not enough time to do anything." [Ottawa Citizen, via Albany Law School]
I’ll try to pick a winner a bit later after the PPs come out. It’s a gorgeous Friday in New York City, with a high of 96 predicted for tomorrow. I’m once again taking a half day to go to Sunset Racing at Belmont; the card seems a bit better than what we’ve been seeing, but on a day like this I’d go to see a rickshaw race between Dick Cheney and Michelle Malkin. Have a great day.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Thursday Night Notes - June 23

- Field sizes were a tad bigger at Belmont today, but that’s mostly because there were a lot of turf and state-bred races. The ill-humored Paul Moran, who hasn’t seemed happy since Giacomo won the Derby, pointedly noted that it was a matter of quantity over quality; and whined of the four full fields that none of these races are bettable. [Newsday] Harumph. Michael Hushion, who according to Russ Harris is batting .320 with firsters, had another one in the 4th with Quick One. She’s a state-bred 3 yo filly who took the money as the 2-1 favorite (7-2 ML), running off by 7 1/2 from firster Webmistress, a $230K yearling with bullet works and Todd Pletcher, who was the morning line favorite but was dull on the board as the 5-1 3rd choice. Quick One is by Afternoon Deelites out of a Pentelicus mare; her second dam is a half to the 2 yo stakes winning filly Over All.

For the most part, seemed like a pretty uninspiring day; only two of the races had favorites that were more than 7-5, and 5 out of those 7 choices won. Elbar Coa had another winner, a 3-5 shot, and Richard Migliore had 2. Shug McGauhey took the feature with his non-Phipps La Reina, a 4yo A.P. Indy filly out of multiple Grade 1 winner Queena, and a half-sister to graded winner Brahms. La Reina won the Grade 3 Tempted as a 2 yo and ran second in a Grade 2 last year.

- You know how people say that a basketball game doesn’t matter until the last five minutes? For me in recent years, the entire season doesn’t matter until the last five minutes of the last game, which is probably when I’ll start paying attention to Game 7 tonight. I miss hockey.

- Ken Warkentin was a disappointing third at the Meadowlands tonight, shaking up the picture for the Hambletonian for the time being anyway. On HRTV they showed his 2005 debut last week, and it was really awesome - he rallied in deep stretch from absolutely nowhere, though the time wasn’t great. Tonight he was far back again, which is pretty interesting because looking at his form as a 2 yo, he was usually either in front or well on the way there by the half mile pole. Tonight’s race was very fast on a warm night, but they absolutely walked home in :58 4/5 with a Derby-like :30 final quarter after an insane half mile, for trotters, of :54 4/5. But the 3-5 favorite could only rally mildly for third. New York Yank set the hot fractions and held on; he won the Peter Haughton Memorial last year. There was a horse named Franks and Beans, and I always wince at that phrase since Something About Mary. Ugh, why would anyone name their horse that?

- And speaking of horse names, the voting is well under way for the name for my partnership’s Tactical Cat colt (out of Highland Tide), and I’m not encourged at all. The more creative names, including a couple submitted by readers are not faring well, while two of the frontrunners are Highland Cat (yawn) and High Castle Cat (yuck! That’s like that Karakorum thing of using their name in every horse - this partnership is Castle Village Farm.) I’ll have to rally behind the other leader Scotch N Rocks as the lesser of the evils, even though it’s socially irresponsible, promoting the use of alcohol.

More importantly, lousy name notwithstanding, he seems to be faring fabulously on the track. He had his first timed work here on Monday, and here’s the report sent to the partners:

Went a half in 49-2/5 quite effortlessly. When he came back and cooled out he was still quite wound up as if he had wanted to do even more. He's a couple of weeks from a race, however, [trainer Billy Turner] will not run him 5F at Belmont. He feels that they start so close to the turn that's it's a bit too risky. He'll wait for a 5-1/2 F or longer race to be written. They do write these 6 F turf races for babies and perhaps that could be an option. The colt is in good hands with BT and I'm sure however he works it out, it's with the horse's best interest in mind.
I’ve been too lazy the past couple of weekends to get my butt out of bed and go to the barn, but now that I’m writing that I’m going to this weekend, I’ll feel obligated and do it, I hope.

Afleet Alex Loves NY

- Afleet Alex was also offended by Karl Rove’s remarks, giving a little snort after reading the text, but he’ll hang at Belmont for now according to managing partner Chuck Zacney.

He'll stay at Belmont until right before the Haskell….(Trainer Tim Ritchey) decided to leave him in New York because he is very happy with the track up there, and because the people at Belmont treated him so well. He'll probably ship to Monmouth the second or third week of July." [Newark Star Ledger]
Nothing like a little New York hospitality to make the equine set happy. Alex is apparently doing quite well after the Triple Crown grind, and Newsday’s resident sourpuss Paul Moran, who besides his constant bellyaching even looks grumpy in his picture, is thankful at least for that, especially with Ghostzapper gone.
After Afleet Alex's dismantling of the 3-year-old division in the Preakness and Belmont, little intrigue remains beyond the anticipated return of Wood Memorial winner Bellamy Road, who is recovering from a minor injury suffered in the Kentucky Derby. Bellamy Road…may in time prove to be the best in the division and will be a force when he returns to competition, but that may not be before fall. The sensational, undefeated Lost in the Fog, brilliant in the Riva Ridge on Belmont day, is easily the nation's best 3-year-old sprinter. He may be the best of any age, but though he is one of the more exciting horses competing, there is little glamour among sprinters.

No star has emerged in the 3-year-old filly division, which is especially thin this year with the Triple Tiara series set to begin with Saturday's Mother Goose Stakes at Belmont. The older female division, with defending champion Ashado back in good form, is led by the usual suspects.

In Ghostzapper's absence, this becomes the year of Afleet Alex; the year of the throwback, the horse who trains hard and races often, whose 2-year-old form holds up at 3, who is capable of overcoming adversity, of rising to the occasion. It is likely that we have yet to see the best of him. [Newsday]
Not so fast. Besides Bellamy Road, I for one am anticipating the return of undefeated Declan’s Moon and of Rockport Harbor. I'm intrigued by the recent performances by Oratory and Don't Get Mad, and thus I'm not ready to write this season off, nor concede all to Alex. Via Railbird, we learn from Rockport Harbor’s website that he will gallop again tomorrow and is doing great. Whatsmore, Rock Hard Ten is back galloping and is being pointed for the Goodwood Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II) at Santa Anita.
"He just started galloping," Mandella said. "I gave him a break after the Santa Anita Handicap, and when I started back up, he got stiff and sore all over. I had to deal with that for a month, and I just went ahead and took it real easy with him. Sometimes, when you let up on an older horse they'll stiffen up on you, and that's what he did. But with a little patience and backing off on him, he's come around real well.” [Bloodhorse]
His ultimate goal is the BC Classic, and a meeting between he, Alex, and Saint Liam don’t sound too shabby, does it?

- It’s kinda like the Afleet Alex-Giacomo Belmont showdown in that Kentucky Oaks winner Summerly will meet Black-Eyed Susan victor Spun Sugar in the G1 Mother Goose at Belmont Saturday. The Phipps stable’s Smuggler, second to Round Pond in the Acorn, will go too. Only six entered.

- Maine governor John Balducci is waffling on his promise to veto legislation calling for a voter referendum on a new harness track/racino unless it passed both houses with a 2/3rds majority. The House succeeded, but the Senate fell a bit short with a 21-11 vote. That’s only 65.6%, while the governor was calling for 66.7%. However, he’s wavering in public as to what to do, saying "I don't want to argue fractions." []

[Late word comes that Balducci has now announced that he is done arguing with the fractions and will indeed veto the referendum.
"I understand the desire for prosperity and a better economic future -- I am committed to that as well. However, I am not convinced that expanding an industry that has high societal costs is the best way for Maine to proceed. We know for certain that it will bring broken families, broken dreams, bankruptcy, increase substance abuse and addiction." []
He forgot to mention embezzlement and suicide.

Rove in NY

- Sorry, but I'm compelled to interrupt our regularly scheduled programming for the comments made by Karl Rove addressing the Conservative Party in New York City last night.

“Liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers….Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 and the attacks and prepared for war.”
“Conservatives saw what happened to us on 9/11 and said we will defeat our enemies. Liberals saw what happened to us and said we must understand our enemies.” [MSNBC]
How dare this flaming asshole come into my city and once again use the murder of 3,000 people that occurred here to divide us and distract us from the disaster that is the Bush Administration and their criminal war. I was here, six blocks away from the attack, and I can assure you that there were no liberals nor conservatives here, Mr. Rove, just ashes, twisted metal, mutilated bodies – the ones that were left anyway - and human beings unified in grief and horror at what had transpired. And everyone was ready to unite behind our leaders in healing and appropriate response. The only “therapy and understanding" being offered was for the victims and their families, and where were you, Mr. Rove? Probably already working with Dick Cheney and Condi Rice and Don Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz to despicably take advantage of the attacks to invent a cause for a tragic war that is nothing more than the neoconservatives’ idea of foreign policy, and your strategy for the president’s reelection. (Notice I didn’t include the president on that list; to intimate that he is anything more than the boob we saw helplessly sitting in a Florida classroom after the attack is to give him far too much credit.)

All wars are tragic, but this one especially so because it didn’t have to happen, because Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11, and because over 1700 Americans and tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis have lost their lives because of your lies, with no end and no "last throes" in sight. This liberal would have led the cheers if your administration hadn’t botched the operation in Afghanistan and captured the man behind the attack, but you had other priorities to attend to instead. So next time you want to come here to exploit the loss and suffering of the loved ones of over 3,000 victims, why don’t you have the balls to stand up and do so in front of some real New Yorkers? (Though this one would probably be kicked out and threatened with arrest for the bumper stickers on his car.)

More from Markos, Josh Marshall, John Aravosis, and John Cole. I'll resume the usual content of this blog after I calm down.

Pennsylvania Slots Rush

- The Pennsylvania Supreme Court unanimously rejected a bid to declare the state’s slots law unconstitutional, opening the way for selection and construction of casinos at racetracks and stand-alone sites around the state.

Gambling opponents filed suit with the Supreme Court, alleging that the General Assembly violated the state constitution when it took a one-page bill regulating background checks for harness track employees and added to it a 145-page amendment allowing 61,000 slot machines at 14 locations. Gambling opponents argued that the maneuver violated constitutional provisions prohibiting a bill from being amended to such a degree that the additions alter its original purpose. [Philadelphia Inquirer]
But the Court responded:
"Keeping in mind the trepidation with which the judiciary interferes with the process by which the General Assembly enacts the laws….we conclude that as a matter of law, there was a single unifying subject to which most of the provisions of the act are germane, the regulation of gambling." [, via Albany Law School]
So, the floodgates are open for up to 61,000 slot machines, which would put Pennsylvania second behind Nevada in number of machines, and the State Gaming Control Board and casino companies such as Harrah’s, whose plans had been on hold pending the decision, are free to proceed. Penn National stock was up sharply on the announcement.

The court however, did strike down a provision that would have pre-empted local community boards from enforcing zoning laws regarding casino construction decided by the gaming board. While this will give local communities more power over some aspects of the casinos, it did not alter the authority of the Gaming Control Board to decide where to locate the casinos. [NY Times] The Times article is about the town of Gettysburg’s efforts to stop a casino from being built in the shadow of the historic Civil War battleground there.
The casino would not be the first near a Civil War battlefield. Four floating casinos operate near Vicksburg, Miss., where Gen. Ulysses S. Grant won a victory that split the Confederacy in two. And the current fight is one of many over development around Civil War sites; a proposal to build a Disney complex in Manassas, in Northern Virginia, was defeated, for example.
And I suppose it’s a somewhat related subject that the Supreme Court today ruled that states can seize private property to make way for commercial endeavors like shopping malls or office complexes. So when you refer to yourself as a “homeowner” and your property as “private,” be aware that that's really not the case, because local officials, not federal judges, know best in deciding whether a development project will benefit the community. [CNN]

- New York’s Governor Pataki is seeking to accelerate the process of considering bids for the expiring NYRA franchise.
Current state law states that a nine-member panel "composed of three appointments of the governor and six from legislative leaders" be in place by next December to begin the request for proposal process for the racetrack franchise, which has been held by NYRA since 1955. The plan kicking around the Capitol would change that date to the end of next week -- a clear signal that at least some in state government are serious about putting the franchise out to a real bidding war this time. [Bloodhorse]
In addition, according to the Albany Times-Union, NYRA has made a non-public request for legislation authorizing their Aqueduct casino contract with MGM Mirage in the wake of Alan Hevesi’s audit, which asserted that the bidding process was not competitive.

- Churchill Downs has received a new high offer for Hollywood Park from Stockbridge Capital Partners, the owners of Bay Meadows. It is widely assumed that the property will be developed for commercial purposes other than that of people betting on horse races.
Churchill Downs…..bought Hollywood Park in 1999 for approximately $140 million. According to the report in the Business Journal, Stockbridge made a late bid that was 10 percent higher than the previous top offer, catching other buyers - mostly large homebuilders - off guard. [Daily Racing Form]
- Michael Mayo of the Sun-Sentinal has this to say about the court decision on Broward County slots:
Judge Leroy Moe's ruling on slot machines was refreshingly stunning in its brevity, simplicity and clarity.

The boobs in Tallahassee never knew what hit them.

They were so flustered by Moe's surprise ruling that they made a lot of noise without even mentioning the phrase "activist judge," that standard refrain of the Republican playbook.

But Moe is no activist judge. He's simply trying to adhere to the state constitution, something the Legislature should try for a change.
Instead of moaning and groaning about the ruling, or trying to stop it through appeals, maybe Gov. Jeb Bush, House Speaker Allan Bense and Senate President Tom Lee should try this novel approach:

Get as many butts as possible back to Tallahassee for a special session next week, hash out slots legislation before July 1, and obey the constitution they have sworn to uphold, defend and protect.
In the meantime, local officials are truly struggling to comprehend and implement Judge Moe’s order to write the rules themselves, at least for now.

- Hambletonian front-runner Ken Warkentin makes his second start of the year at the Meadowlands tonight in a NJ Sire Stakes final. He’s part owned by the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Tie Domi. [US Trotting Association] The Hambo eliminations are on July 30, with the final heat on August 6. Long gone are the days when the eliminations and finals were on the same afternoon, sometimes necessitating a third heat race-off to determine the winner. What was once a unique racing epic in a country fair setting is now just another big purse on a steamy August afternoon in New Jersey.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Belmont Notes - June 22

- Paul Moran in Newsday wrote this morning of today’s all-too-typical card at Belmont, noting the short fields in the dirt races.

Short fields have become the rule rather than the exception at Belmont, a disquieting trend.

Appears that the only sure way to come up with something close to a full field is to put up a maiden race on grass, then put the overflow to use in a second inscrutable and unbettable heat.

This tack results in two fields of nine maiden fillies and mares, the fourth and sixth races at 9 furlongs on the inner turf course, facing pick-six players, many of whom will pass on a stab at the one-day carryover. The first division demands a deep spread and the second has two principal contenders and a first-time starter who may be capable of a debut win over an unimposing group.
Expect the status to remain quo until the shift to Saratoga late next month. [Newsday]
The two races actually turned out to be pretty formful, but they also showed the difficulty I have selecting for multi-race wagers without getting to see the betting pools for the individual races. In the 4th, the top three betting choices finished 1-2-3 in order of public preference with Cologne getting the win for the Phipps barn and Shug McGaughey. He was 7-2 second choice in the morning line in his first try on the turf, but he took the money at 9-5 and gave Elbar Coa his third of four winners on the day. Coa is riding in excellent form. Cologne is by the South African champ Horse Chestnut, out of an unraced Mr. Prospector daughter of the Phipps’ multiple Grade 1 winner Versailles Treaty; this is the family of General Assembly and Chief Honcho.

In the 6th, the capable first time starter Moran mentioned, Glorious Girl, was 6-1 in the morning line. She has a flashy turf pedigree - Kris S. out of a Danzig half sister to Dynaformer - and hot trainer Christophe Clement. But she was totally dead on the board, at 10.80 to 1. Man, a horse like that to me just has no shot; it’s amongst the surest throwouts at the track. At 6-1 morning line, she could have gone either way in the odds; at 3-1, she could have been a standout in my opinion! If you spread the race for a Pick 3, you almost have to throw her in, but it turned out to be a wasted bet.

The 4-5 winner, Anura, was another well-bet one for Michael Dickinson; according to Russ Harris in the NY Daily News, he was 3-for-6 with shippers at this meeting coming into this race. She’s another one bred for the turf; an Irish-bred by Giant’s Causeway, out of a mare by two-time Arc d’Triomphe winner Alleged.

- Hey, a bit over 4,000 on a shaky weather Wednesday at Belmont - maybe this game is finally catching on!

Tracks Conditioned

- Evangeline Downs is scheduled to reopen next Wednesday, and all systems appear to be go; in fact, that’s one whole day earlier than originally scheduled. The meet has been extended until September 24, and a fifth weekly racing day has been added as well. The new schedule ensures the track will run 86 of the 88 Thoroughbred days approved for this year by the commission. [Daily Racing Form] The shutdown did not adversely affect the slots parlor though. The slot-machine casino won nearly $7.1 million, compared with $5.5 million the same month last year. [Opelausus Daily World] I doubt that that's money being diverted from the races, given all the simulcast options available there; and what self-respecting horseplayer would sit and feed coins into a slot machine all night anyway? Seems to me it's just another illustration that slots players could care less whether there's a racetrack at their casino, or not.

Meanwhile, the reopening means the party is over for Louisiana Downs, where there was little problem filling races the past few weeks. "Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't wish anything bad on anyone," [Racing secretary Pat] Pope noted Sunday afternoon. "But having had the extra horses has made it easier to get the big fields that makes for more exciting racing." [Shreveport Times, via Albany Law School]

Delaware Park cancelled their last four races on Sunday and the whole card on Monday when the jockeys refused to ride citing track conditions, and it cost track superintendent Bob Beaubien his job. The track’s COO Bill Fasy said the complaints were that the track was uneven in several places.

"In one spot the track might be deep and a quarter mile later it was thicker or thinner," Fasy said.
Scott Peck, president of the Delaware Park Horsemen's Association, said some trainers recently had expressed displeasure with the track condition. However, Peck isn't convinced the jockeys made the right call Sunday.

"They complained the track was too dry and needed water," Peck said. "It looked like they added too much and the track was muddy. It was heavy going for the horses. Jockeys were coming back from races with mud on them and soaking wet. I know there was concern, but I didn't think the track was unsafe to ride on." [Delaware Online]
Racing resumed this afternoon as scheduled.

- Saturday is the Grade 1 Mother Goose for 3 yo fillies at 9 furlongs, the one-time second jewel of the filly triple crown. Summerly will be making her first start since her win in the Kentucky Oaks, having missed a start due to the quarantine at Churchill. On Tuesday, she had a four-furlong work in 47.43 seconds, the fastest of the 40 at the distance.
Other Mother Goose contenders include: Smuggler and In the Gold, the second- and third-place finishers in the Grade 1 Acorn Stakes; Black-Eyed Susan winner Spun Sugar; and Winning Season, a recent allowance winner at Belmont for trainer D. Wayne Lukas. [Daily Racing Form]
- Derby winner Giacomo had successful surgery to remove bone chips in his left ankle and right knee. He could return in the first few weeks of the Santa Anita winter meeting in 2006. [DRF]

- Please feel free to email me with comments, links, suggestions, or questions.