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Friday, September 30, 2005

Jockey Club Gold Cup

- I think that the two 3 year olds in the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Saturday, Flower Alley and Sun King, don’t have a chance. I loved Flower Alley in his last two wins, and there’s no doubt he’s an improving and maturing colt. Todd Pletcher is once again exuding confidence in the colt.

"I feel like we’re holding a very strong hand and the horse [is] running figures that are good enough to win a race like this.....He’s certainly a relatively fresh horse that’s in great form and obviously handles a mile-and-a-quarter. So we’re delighted with where we are." [Thoroughbred Times]
But he’s had everything his way in his last two stakes wins against his own age group. He had four rivals at his mercy at 1-2 in the Jim Dandy and as perfect a trip as you’ll ever see in the Travers, sitting behind the returning Bellamy Road. In both cases he was under a drive to the wire, and he came home in :26.1 in the latter.

By entering the rabbit Bishop Court Hill to soften up Lava Man, Pletcher is trying to ensure another smooth trip for Flower Alley. Lava Man was pushed to a 45.4 first half in his defeat in the Pacific Classic, and Bishop Court Hill can get to the half in 44 and change. But Flower Alley himself likes to be close to the lead, so as Haskin notes in Bloodhorse, this rabbit could very easily cook his own stablemate, just as Spanish Chestnut did in the Derby.

If that happens, it could set things up for a late runner. But even if the rabbit doesn’t run or fails to be a factor, the pace should still be contested. Suave has shown speed in his two starts this year, both wins, and his connections are ebullient over his condition. "We're ready," [trainer] Paul] McGee said. "I've never seen him doing better." [Louisville Courier-Journal] And eventually, Flower Alley would have to take on Lava Man himself, and that one has proven himself to be one tough customer. He hung on grimly in the Pacific Classic until late, and he’s going to be much tougher to pass than Bellamy Road was.

So whatever the scenario, rabbit or not, there could very well be some pieces for the closers to pick up. Borrego is getting the most attention as the likely beneficiary of a quick pace off his win in the Pacific Classic. He’ll put in his run as he always does, but he rarely wins and could be overbet here.

But another California closer, Imperialism, may present some value. He’s run very well second time off a layoff, including his narrow loss to Rock Hard Ten in the Shrub. And while he hadn’t run that well in his last two tries when returning off a layoff, he was extremely sharp closing from far back to win the Grade 2 Pat O’Brien at 7 furlongs at Del Mar on Aug 21, his first race in over five months. He had to run a :21.4 second quarter just to stay somewhat in contact with the hot pace, circled the field with purpose around the turn, and got the final eighth in 12.2. Whatsmore, his trainer Kristen Mulhall told the AP after the race: `He's only had about five works in the last five or six months, so he hasn't done a whole lot.....He was about 80 percent today.''

Now, Mulhall says that “he’s never been better than he is right now.” [Bloodhorse] Imperialism’s first race for her was a last to first win in the 7 furlong San Vicente last year which was extremely similar to his O'Brien. She then stretched him out to take the one mile San Rafael around two turns at Santa Anita. Now he goes longer again, but tries ten furlongs around what I guess is 1 ½ turns at Belmont – the race begins on the turn. I don’t know if he can get the distance. He’s tried it twice on the dirt, running an even 3rd in the slop in Smarty’s Derby, and a 7th in this year’s Santa Anita Derby, in which he pulled a muscle, leading to his layoff. He closed well for third at the distance on the grass in last November's G1 Hollywood Derby.

Assuming that he goes off in the area of his 8-1 morning line, I’ll take a shot that he can get the route, and I’ll box him in exactas with Lava Man as well.

- There's obviously a lot of other action on Saturday. Unfortunately, I'm on the road all day today so I won't be able to write about the other four Grade 1s at Belmont nor the Goodwood featuring the return of Rock Hard Ten unless I get some time later tonight. There's also, for the trotting set, the Kentucky Futurity trot at The Red Mile in Lexington. Rivals Classic Photo and Vivid Photo will hook up for the first time since Classic Photo avenged his defeat by Vivid Photo in the Hambletonian on August 27 at Balmoral. Since then, Classic Photo has won three in a row, and Vivid Photo took the two-heat World Trotting Derby in record time for a 3 year old gelding. The Kentucky Futurity is also a two heat affair. With just eight entered, that means the entire field will return for a second heat, and if one horse fails to sweep, then they'll be a race-off between the two heat winners, and that could be a dramatic Photo finish.

Scrappy Apprentice

- The apprentice jockey Channing Hill is back from injury and riding at Belmont, and I’d noticed during his absence numerous instances in which he tended to move horses up. He was back at it Thursday at Belmont, his second day back in action. Meet My Buddy’s recent form warranted his 36-odds; but he was a game second to even money Incredible Speed, completing a $125 exacta. Halo Duty was a dismal eighth at 74-1 in his debut at Saratoga, but in the 9th he swept past the field 4 wide on the turn and rallied for a nose victory at 27-1. It was a rare win for trainer Howie Tesher, once a force on the NY circuit.

- Post time for the Indiana Derby will be around 9:45 PM Saturday night. Scrappy T is the 5-2 morning line favorite despite his five month layoff since the Preakness. A look at his PP's shows a horse that was really coming on, and if he's ready I think he outclasses these, even though there's a lot of quality in the field. Scrappy T’s trainer Robert Bailes says: "The last few months he’s been training like a monster and really doing good.” [Indiana Herald Bulletin]

Correction: Greater Good, who will return in the Indiana Derby, last ran in the Kentucky Derby, not the Arkansas Derby.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Still Waiting

- Legislators in Florida are still bickering over the same issues - tax rates, the amount of machines and what kind (Las Vegas style or “bingo”) - that are holding up the VLT’s that Broward County voters approved last year. While a state appeals court affirmed a lower court’s decision that there's no reason for four Broward parimutuels not to install slot machines while they wait for the state or the county to draft guidelines, the pari-mutuels – Gulfstream, Pompano Park, Hollywood Greyhound, and Dania Jai-Alai - will likely not do so until the rules are agreed upon in Tallahassee. [Miami Herald]

But when that will be is not clear. Chances for a special session of the legislature are grim, since the two sides have hardly budged off their original positions.

That angers Sen. Steve Geller, D-Hallandale Beach, one of the staunchest proponents of expanded gambling in the Legislature.

"The Republican leadership of the Legislature is treating the constitution and the will of the voters as advisory opinions," he said. [Sun-Sentinal]
- Former jockey Corey Black once described Rock Hard Ten as "Kobe Bryant in Shaquille O'Neal's body." Trainer Richard Mandella says that he’s as “fit as he's going to be” for his return in the Goodwood at Santa Anita. "He's not any taller, but he's muscled up….I wish I could say the same for myself." [Houston Chronicle]


- Well, Highland Cat will NOT be making his debut on Saturday. We received this message today:

[Billy Turner] was not happy with the breeze the other day [he breezed a half in :51.16 on Wednesday]. He had the horse wormed a week ago and it probably had an effect on the breeze. Anyway, it doesn't really set him back too far. There are races on October 8, 12, and 15, that he will now get him ready for.
C'mon, I don't miss work when I get wormed. We thought the time was pokey because it was just a maintenance work, but perhaps that wasn't the case. Obviously, I’m hoping that’s all it is - because damn, you know how these things can go - in which case this is no big deal. And now I can actually concentrate on what will hopefully be a banner day of racing at Belmont.

- Henny Hughes was knocked off the top 2 year old perch when he was defeated by First Samurai in the Hopeful, but, according to a veteran clocker at Saratoga, you’d best not discount his chances in the Champagne or Juvenile.
Henny Hughes…worked five furlongs from the gate in 1:00.01 Wednesday morning over the Oklahoma training track at Saratoga. Freddie Bond, the clocker at Saratoga, called it "the most impressive gate work since I've been here, which has been since 1985.''

Bond timed Henny Hughes in fractions of 24.98 seconds, 37.15, 48.14, and galloped out in 1:13.40. He worked in company with Ball Four, who was timed in 1:01.61. [Daily Racing Form]
- Todd Pletcher had two winners at Belmont on Wednesday, and they were both 2 year-old second-time starters who were amongst his month-long streak of well-bet first-timer futility at Saratoga. He now has five second-out winners at this Belmont meeting. His winner in the ninth was particularly impressive. Wait A While (Maria’s Mon) was 2-1 when finishing a well-beaten 5th in her debut at Saratoga, but was sent off at 6-1 in this, her turf debut. She was steadied in traffic, hit the rail and dropped back suddenly, but circled the field 4 wide on the turn, and won going away by 5, wow.

There was another dead heat in Belmont’s second on Wednesday – that’s the 4th one since last Thursday. It was also a 2 year old race, and the winners were longshot first-timers trained by Bill Mott and Wayne Lukas, a couple of guys who don’t pop that many firsters. Now, if that sounds familiar regarding Mott, it’s because She’s Indy Money (11-1) is his second straight debut winner, and I wrote the same thing when his Sweet Fervor won the other day. When a guy is as hot as Mott, those stats can go out the window. Lukas’ winner, Gently, was an even longer shot at 19-1.

And these are two fillies with outstanding breeding. She’s Indy Money is by A.P Indy, out of Grade 1 winner (Santa Monica Hdcp) Nanys Sweep; and her second and third dams are stakes winners as well. Gently is by Storm Cat, out of Grade 1 winner (Hollywood Starlet) Cuddles; she’s a half to graded winner Katz Me If You Can. Cuddles is a half to the dam of Northern Afleet, the sire of Afleet Alex, and this is the family of multiple G1 winners Gorgeous, Fantastic Light, and Golden Attraction. Nice.

- Roman Ruler is staying in California to face Rock Hard Ten in the Goodwood on Saturday, leaving a field of eight (seven betting entries) for the Jockey Club Gold Cup. Bob Baffert cited NYRA’s six hour detention barn policy as one of the reasons for his decision.
"If I ship him and run him 1 1/4 miles against older horses, he'll have nothing left for the Breeders' Cup….He'll be cooked. I just got to thinking about it and decided it was better to leave him here. Plus, the six-hour quarantine at Belmont Park really takes a lot out of them. So it would be a lot to ask of him to run there because he'd have to come back here because of the weather and then ship all the way back again four weeks later. [Bloodhorse]

Wednesday, September 28, 2005


- A couple of addendums to posts from earlier today. In writing about this weekend’s stakes races for 3 year olds, I mentioned the Super Derby and the Pegasus, but neglected the Grade 2, $500,000 Indiana Derby at Hoosier Park; and a grievous omission it was. It’s by far the most interesting of the three. Scrappy T. finally makes his first start since the Preakness, and will be reunited with jockey Ramon Dominguez.

After all the false starts, trainer Robert Bailes picked what could be a treacherous spot. Don’t Get Mad, Thors Echo, Purim, Southern Africa are in the field, as well as Greater Good, the Rebel winner making his first start since the Arkansas Derby, where his mere fearsome presence scared Jeremy Rose into a whipping frenzy on Afleet Alex, thereby costing him the Kentucky Derby and the Triple Crown.

It's little wonder that the Meadowlands drew the short end of the stick as far as the weekend's 3 yo action goes. The $250,000 purse for the Pegasus looks puny compared to the Indiana Derby and the $750,000 Super Derby, which drew a field of ten.

- And thanks to Jessica at Railbird for bringing this column by Bill Finley to my attention. Finley must be a Left at the Gate reader; he did the research I suggested and came up with some much better examples of the weightgate jockeys riding out of town at weights far lower than they are being accused of.

One of the races involved was the 3rd race on July 11, 2004 at Belmont. Castillo rode Southack to a third-place finish and was listed at 118 pounds. Based on comments from the Attorney General's Office that the riders were anywhere from seven to 115 pounds overweight, Castillo supposedly weighed at least 125 pounds.

Isn't it curious then that he rode at 115 the day before at Delaware Park? That means he somehow gained 10 pounds over the course of a day or the clerk of scales at Delaware was also in on what had to have been a vast conspiracy. Both cases are highly unlikely.

On Aug. 30, Jose Santos rode at 116 pounds aboard horse named Ohbeegeewhyen in the sixth race at Saratoga, another example listed in the indictment. That means that Santos had to have weighed 123 pounds or more. Isn't it curious then that he rode two days earlier at Monmouth Park and made 116 in the fourth race. Santos must have eaten like a real pig over the course of the next 48 hours. Either that or the Monmouth clerk of scales was also part of the conspiracy. []
Finley adds that in his opinion, it's 1-10 that Sclafani and Baeza beat the charges.

News and Notes - September 28

- The implications of Weightgate reached clear across the country as the CHRB (I told you that I wasn’t going to spell out California Horse Racing Board anymore) will hold a meeting on the subject of jockey’s weights. The comments by CHRB head Richard Shapiro shows that the casual reporting of weights is not a phenomenon limited to New York.

"I think it's foolish that we deceive ourselves and the bettors about how much weight the horses are actually carrying," Shapiro said. "We're not asking the jockeys to carry any more weight, and we're not asking for minimum weights to be increased. We just want the accurate figures out there so there's no confusion." [Daily Racing Form]
Albany Law School’s Racing and Wagering has their “initial take” on the whole weightgate affair, a comprehensive (if not properly proofread [like I should talk]) primer on the laws, people, and issues involved, available for pdf download here. The article says that the focus of the indictments are on the weigh outs – before the race – rather than the weigh ins afterwards. This would make the comments I quoted from Matt Hegarty’s piece in the Form the other day about riders picking up weight from dirt, mud, or polytrack (or not) during the race irrelevant. Still, equipment such as safety vests and helmets are not to be included in the weight outs, and it’s not clear if the prosecutors are making allowances for them.

The Albany Law School piece takes a look at the charges involved, and questions if some of them are really applicable here.
[Sports tampering] requires under Section 180.50 of the Penal Law an “intent to influence the outcome of a sports contest.” Even assuming the clerks did what they are accused of, maybe all they were doing was giving riders breaks....They might not have cared one iota about who won the race. It also requires tampering with an animal. The term tampering is not defined, and it may be that utilizing a jockey weighing 4% more than he is supposed to weigh is not tampering with an animal.

Falsifying business records involve similar issues. These entries of weight by the clerks are clearly records, but are they business records. NYRA has no business duty to create or even maintain these scale sheets or proof programs on which the weights were recorded. It is unlikely that anyone at NYRA has ever done anything but file these records away....Even though “business record” has an expansive definition under Section 175.00.2 of the Penal Law, a business record has to have the “purpose of evidencing or reflecting its condition or activity.” It is uncertain whether these notations evidence much of anything.
I was wondering here the other day if any of the riders had ridden out of state around the time of their alleged overweight rides, and the report comes up with one inconclusive instance. Herberto Castillo, who, according to the article seemed generally “unable to make 118” in August 2004 according to the indictment, rode at Delaware on September 4 at 116 and at Woodbine on September 18 at 117.

- Brian Sears, harness racing’s leading driver in North America by earnings, has been suspended by the Pennsylvania Harness Racing Commission for six months after failing a random drug test for an unspecified substance at the Meadows on August 13. Though the ruling was issued on September 21, the news of it has been limited to dribs and drabs, very odd. The usually comprehensive US Trotting Association site just posted an item about it yesterday (buried amidst the news headlines), and promises to post the full text of the ruling on Friday. I know it's crappy news for the sport, but it's news nonetheless; if Jerry Bailey flunked a drug test I'm sure it would be all over the thoroughbred sites. The suspension begins on October 3, and will prevent him from driving in any jurisdictions that honor suspensions issued elsewhere, and that would include Ontario and New Jersey at the very least.
At the end of six months, Sears will be eligible for a conditional license, which would be reviewed annually for a period of five years, and during the time his conditional license would be in effect Sears would have to sign a waver and release consent, authorizing the Commission to obtain personal information that would ensure compliance with the ruling and the conditional license.
Sears has earned over $11.5 million this year, and was taking aim at the single-season earnings record of $14.1 million - which was set by John Campbell in 2001. [NY Daily News]

Racing Notes - Sept 28

- Last year’s BC Distaff winner Ashado looks to bounce back in Saturday’s Beldame, one of the five grade 1s on the card at Belmont, and the first leg of a $500K Pick Four. She ran 4th as the heavy chalk in the Personal Ensign. Unfortunately, Shadow Cast, the upset winner of that race, who was scheduled to be part of an extremely deep Beldame field, suffered a career ending injury working out on Tuesday. Trainer Neil Howard said, "She's got a couple of tears in the upper third of the tendon, which spells retirement.” [Daily Racing Form] Man, things can turn around so quickly in this game...generally for the worse, so it seems.

Still, Ashado will face stiff competition from Dream of Summer, Happy Ticket, Island Sand, Society Selection, and Sweet Symphony. Happy Ticket's trainer Andy Leggio would have preferred that Ashado stay on the sidelines, and not just because of her ability. "We were planning to ride John Velazquez if Ashado didn't go in the race....But since she is in the race, and Velazquez is committed to ride her, we've decided to go with Victor Espinoza." [Shreveport Times]

Sweet Symphony will be making her first start against older fillies after winning the G1 Alabama. This seems like an extremely tough task given the quality of the field. But listen to Jerry Bailey, who generally speaks plainly and honestly about what he thinks of his mounts' chances: "She hasn't been a product of things going her own way.....Her wins have been legitimate; things haven't necessarily gone her own way, and she doesn't need things to go her own way.'' [DRF]

- Like Sweet Symphony, Shakespeare is 4 for 4 for trainer Bill Mott, and on Saturday he’ll face the difficult task of stretching out to a mile and a half in the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic. But of Shakespeare, Bailey says that he "sends chills down my spine because I haven't got the best of him yet.” And who’s to argue with a guy who’s 10 for 20 at this Belmont meet? Mott, who had a frustrating Saratoga meet but has 11 winners out of 25 runners at Belmont, seems a bit more reserved, noting that Shakespeare "has to go an additional three furlongs than he has ever been before."

"I’m confident that he’s a very good horse, but I think that the mile and a half is something that he has to try to prove that he can do. We’ve tried horses in the past that appeared able to get the trip, but the last eighth of a mile might get them in the end. I’d feel very confident in saying that he’d be a very top quality horse at a mile and a quarter, but let’s just see how he does this weekend and then we’ll know if we have a horse for the Breeders’ Cup." [Thoroughbred Times]
- Forget about Sun King training up to the BC Classic, he’s joining what’s turning out to be a pretty interesting cast for the Jockey Club Gold Cup. While he, Flower Alley and Roman Ruler will take on older horses for the first time in the race, the remnants of the tattered 3 yo colt division will split up into two graded stakes against their own age group. A maiden no more after winning at Saratoga, Nolan’s Cat will run in the (not so) Super Derby for a whopping $750,000 purse. Lukas’ A.P Arrow is also a go, and a definite money burning candidate. Don’t look now, but a good performance could mean that he’ll clutter the field in the BC Classic. "He has to earn his way," said Lukas. "If he was to have a good, strong showing on Saturday, we would look in that direction." [DRF] Lukas just seems to have less and less credibility with every passing week, and his idea of a "good, strong showing" may differ from the rest of the racing universe. West Virginia Derby winner Real Dandy, Smokescreen, Desert Breeze and The Daddy are also in town for the race. [Shreveport Times]

And the Grade 3 Pegasus will be contested on opening night at the Meadowlands Friday. With a relatively meager $250,000 purse, the race is expected to draw only four starters: Park Avenue Ball, Magna Graduate, Andromeda's Hero, and Network.

- Racing is cancelled at Suffolk Downs on Wednesday due to the fact that "the future of Thoroughbred racing in New England and specifically at Suffolk Downs is at stake." [Thoroughbred Times] It has to be one of the most unusual circumstances for canceling a race card ever, but it’s a sign of the times, as the Massachusetts Legislature’s Joint Committee on Consumer Protection conducts a hearing on the slot machines needed to save Suffolk Downs. Jessica Chapel is attending the hearings so check out Railbird for her first-hand report.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Big Day

- This Saturday is Breeders Cup Preview day at Belmont, with five Grade 1s including the $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup; and also the Beldame, Vosburgh, Joe Hirsch Turf Classic, and the Flower Bowl Invitational. They’ll be a T-shirt giveaway, and a $500,000 guaranteed Pick 4. In addition, the NTRA will be running a national Pick 4 with a $400,000 guarantee, which will consist of the Hirsch and the Gold Cup, as well as the Super Derby from Louisiana Downs, and the Goodwood Handicap from Santa Anita, in which Rock Hard Ten is expected to make his long-awaited debut.

I’m going to be a bit distracted though, as Saturday will be all about Highland Cat, who is scheduled to make his racing debut in a 6 1/2 furlong maiden special weight. He will race even if it rains, as our trainer Billy Turner thinks he’ll love the slop; though he would scratch him on a sloppy track if he draws the rail. No jockey has been named as of yet.

We now also have our 2 yo Real Quiet filly at Belmont with Turner. She missed the Timonium sale, where we were hoping to sell her, after a routine X-ray revealed a small knee chip. It was removed in June, and she’s been pronounced as fully fit, but the strategy is to try and get her sold off workouts. We paid $50,000 for her last year at Keeneland, and a year, a stint at consignor Neill Brennan’s farm, trips from Kentucky to Florida to Maryland to Pennsylvania and one knee operation later, I don’t even want to think about how much she has cost us thus far. And with Real Quiet on his way to Pennsylvania to stand for $6,500 ($5,000 for PA-based mares), we certainly can’t say she has a fashionable sire, despite his being a Derby/Preakness winner. However, she does have a classy female side, as her third dam is champion sprinter Gold Beauty. In fact, her half sister by Pure Prize (Storm Cat) sold for $100,000 at Keeneland last week. Despite a pedigree that screams ‘speed,’ the thinking is that she’ll be most effective on the turf.

- Don’t tell Pennsylvania breeders that Real Quiet is a disappointment at stud.

"We've never had anything like this happen in Pennsylvania before," said Secretary of Agriculture Dennis Wolff. "The whole industry has been energized by this. I think it's just the first of many things we can expect to see happen in Pennsylvania in the near future."
"We have 70 to 80 potential customers lined up for the next breeding season," said Tom Reigle, who along with his wife, Ann, have transformed a former seven-acre tract into a huge projection of the state's horse racing future. "This is the kind of thing you dream of one day happening. And with slots moving into the state in the future, it's the kind of thing which will become more and more common place.

"We expect to have Real Quiet here in central Pennsylvania for some time. The racing climate's right for his move here." [Penn Live]

- Undefeated Declan’s Moon is out for the year.

Jersey Beat

- Monmouth Park’s 2005 meeting is in the history books and New Jersey thoroughbred racing moves to the Meadowlands on Friday. Attendance was actually up 2% from last year, which seems like a reason in and of itself for jubilant celebration; the average of 9,093 is a number their neighbors at NYRA would be envious of. However, the betting handle was down, 8.5% on track, and a whopping 14.4% in total. [Bloodhorse]

The handle decline came despite purses that were fattened by Atlantic City casinos in their effort to forestall the installation of slots at racetracks, and NJ Sports Authority CEO George Zoffinger sounded perplexed when he told the Asbury Park Press: "We're down in betting and I'm very disappointed….We did everything we could do to improve the racing product. Everybody told me a year ago it was all about purses."

But the track suffered from a turf course that was in such poor condition that races were routinely switched to the main track even when the weather was sunny and the main track fast. 46 races in all were switched, and the course was shut down altogether after Labor Day for a complete refurbishing that is scheduled to be completed in time for the 2006 meet, and with an eye towards the 2007 Breeders Cup. Handle was also negatively affected by the cutting off of some rebate shops.

Zoffinger also bitterly referred to a plan to sell Monmouth and the Meadowlands that was scrapped when NJ Governor James McGreevey resigned and was replaced by current Acting Governor Richard Codey.

"I had them sold for $325 million…..That was an initial offer, and could easily have gone higher if bidding took place. Today I'm not sure I could get $225 million for them."
Looking ahead to 2007, when the subsidies from the casinos expire and slots will presumably be ensconced at tracks in New York and Pennsylvania, the discussion turned to the familiar desperate pleas for slots to save the industry in New Jersey.

But Bill Handleman, the excellent columnist for the APP, opines in a separate column that things may not be as bleak as the numbers make them out to be, saying that the difference between this summer and last summer cannot be quantified. Handleman asserts that with the “for sale” signs removed and new management in place, the atmosphere amongst and between employees and patrons was far healthier.
Maybe that's why the racing seemed slightly better than it was a year ago, ever so slightly. Maybe that's why the lost turf races didn't infuriate people the way they did last summer.

That's what attitude does.
Dennis Dowd is the new head racing guy at the Sports Authority, and he says that you can’t underestimate the effect of the lost turf racing on the betting handle, especially at simulcast facilities.
"It permeates the whole card when you lose turf races and it impacts all your multi-race wagers.

"If I've invested time in handicapping thinking there is turf racing, and I come to the track and they're off the turf, that time spent handicapping is wasted. If that happens a lot at a particular track, I'm more likely to move my attention to a track where that's not occurring."
Democratic Senator Jon Corzine is widely expected to be the next governor of the state come November, and Handleman is hoping that he stays the course put in place by his interim predecessor.
If Corzine listens to Codey, he will surely refrain from selling or leasing the racetracks at a time like this, with the Breeders' Cup coming in 2007, with the prospect of off-track wagering parlors finally becoming a reality before then, with the inevitability of slots at the racetracks.

While there are those who may still want to go strictly by the numbers and bottom-line the state out of the racetrack business altogether, it seems as if there is now a strong argument to go the other way. And in its own un-quantifiable way, it got a little stronger this summer at Monmouth Park.
- Thoroughbred racing at the Meadowlands has become more and more of a burden to the Sports Authority over the years as attendance has plummeted; the harness product has proven to be far more popular there. At one time, the flats ran from Labor Day through the end of the year; last year it ran just five weeks, and this year it will go from Sept 30 – Nov 12, enabling them to bring the trotters back the following week with a bang, hosting seven Breeders Crown races on the weekend of Nov 18th. It seems like a different millennium (and it was, actually) when I saw Seattle Slew upset by Dr. Patches there before a packed screaming house in 1978.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Sunday Night Belmont Notes - Sept 25

- Looking at the Belmont results for Sunday, there were a few interesting winners and losers. Wave the Baton debuted on the turf for Christophe Clement earlier this month at Saratoga and ran a nice close 4th at 13-1 in open company. In Sunday’s second, the 3 yo colt was .55-1 against NY-breds and overcame traffic in the stretch to draw away late. Wave the Baton is by Dixieland Band, out of Seducer, a stakes winning Housebuster mare who is also the dam of graded turf winner Seducer’s Song. Seducer is also a half-sister to the dam of Roman Ruler, who put in his final work for Saturday’s Jockey Club Gold Cup.

Another losing favored first-timer for Pletcher in the 5th, a 2 yo filly affair; A P Easy finished 5th at 2-1. She’s by A.P. Indy, by a stakes winning Easy Goer mare who is a half-sister to promising sire Vicar. A P Easy was just a slight favorite over winner Sweet Fervor, a relatively rare debut first-time winner for Bill Mott. Sweet Fervor (Seeking the Gold) is a half-sister to several stakes horses, most notably Concerto, the sire of Bellamy Road (and Sweet Fervor is also bred and owned by Steinbrenner’s Kinsman Farm). Two in a row for Mott/Bailey as British import Titian Time (Red Ransom) took the 6th as the 1.75-1 favorite.

The 9th was a 2 yo state-bred filly stake and it was bombs away with a superfecta payoff of over $66,611. This had to be one of the most unusual $66,611 superfectas of all time, as three out of the four horses had won their last race, and the other had run second in a restricted stake at Finger Lakes. No Reason was favored at 6-5 for Asmussen; she had won her debut by 11 at even money at the Spa and had an excuse when 5th at another FL NY-bred stake. But winner Artistic Expression (Western Expression) ($36.20) was coming off a nice debut win for Ramon Hernandez, off to a good start at Belmont. Place horse Fly to Me (12-1) was second to Classic Pack in the FL stake, and broke her maiden by 10 prior. Show horse Zippy Missy (32-1) won her maiden race easily at Saratoga; and 4th place finisher Curtana (48-1) was close finishing third and second at Belmont and Saratoga, and then won her last at the Spa.

Sunday Morning Notes - Sept 25

- Afleet Alex is scheduled to work out on Friday morning at Belmont, his first since his surgery on his left front leg. Tim Ritchey said it will take one or two works to determine when and where he will make his return to the races. [NY Daily News]

Saint Liam worked five furlongs in 1:00.93 at Aqueduct on Saturday as he continues to train up to the Classic which Alex is very much doubtful for. Some have cited the history of horses generally needing a race closer to the Classic than the nearly two months Saint Liam will have had, but this horse has proven not only his ability, but his preference for longer rest, and I don’t think it will present a problem.

- I had written during the Saratoga meeting of Todd Pletcher’s futility with his first time starters there, usually at low odds. He’d popped a couple during the first week, but none thereafter, and his streak of first-time non-winners in New York lasted 20 races and six weeks, finally ending on September 18 with Lasting Appeal.

Keep an eye on him with second time starters; according to Formulator, he has three wins and a second with the last four he’s sent out at Belmont. On Saturday, he won with second-timer Bluegrass Cat (Storm Cat), who had debuted for now-retired trainer Elliot Walden at Churchill in June. Bluegrass Cat won the 7 furlong race in style by 6 ½. He’s a half to 2005 Grade 2 winner Lord of the Game, and she’s out of an A.P. Indy half sister to Daydreaming, another G2 winner this year. His second dam is a half to Travers and BC Juvenile winner Rhythm.

- Bright Abundance (Quiet American) got a nice trip from Richard Migliore and took the Grade 3 Noble Damsel at Belmont, holding off favored My Lordship in the stretch. In handicapping this race, I noticed an extreme example of the Beyer guys making adjustments to the raw speed numbers. Several of the horses were coming out of the De La Rose stakes at Saratoga, which was split into two divisions. Cloak of Vagueness had won one of those with a final time of 1:34.3. Path of Thunder took the other division; she set a snail’s pace of a 51 second half, as opposed to the :47.2 in the other race, and finished in 1:36.4, a full 2 1/5 seconds slower than Cloak of Vagueness. Yet Path of Thunder earned a 96 Beyer rating as opposed to Cloak of Vagueness’ 95!. The heats were run two races apart and there was no difference in the turf condition. I’d be interested to know exactly how they came up with that, though the slow pace engineered on Path of Thunder by John Velasquez was no doubt a big factor.

The bettors seemed to discount the numbers, dismissing Path of Thunder at 12-1 (she ran a very involved 4th), and making Cloak of Vagueness the 7-2 second choice (she never got a call, finishing 9th).

Nice job by Brian at Triple Crown Racing, tabbing Bright Abundance ($15.60) as well as the $51 exacta; and also the way overlaid Ever Elusive ($18.40) in the 8th. Check out the exacta payoff – with 9-2 Flaming Heart in second and the 3-5 Play Ballado in third, it returned a paltry $66 in an eight horse field. There’s no way the winner should have been 8-1, and the exacta players seemed to have it much closer to right.

- Matt Hegarty’s piece in Sunday’s Form sheds some light on the imprecise and sometimes casual procedures used to account for proper weights before and after a race, and how they may have contributed to some of the accusations leveled against the riders and clerks in the NYRA Weightgate indictments.

On Friday, several racing officials questioned whether prosecutors made allowances for safety equipment carried by riders and the fact that riders typically weigh anywhere from three to seven pounds more after a race than before it. The procedures of accounting for weights vary from state to state and sometimes from racetrack to racetrack within a state, depending on different rules and how strictly they are enforced.

According to two clerks of scales and a retired jockey who gives advice on riders' issues, those differences do not show up on the clerk's official weight sheets, which are filed with the racing office. Those sheets appear to represent critical pieces of evidence for the prosecutors, who say the sheets are the basis for the charges of "falsifying business records."
According to the racing officials, the clerk of scales typically subtracts the weights of helmets and safety vests - which are required equipment in all jurisdictions - before and after a race from the official weight and will many times give allowances for any dirt, water, or sweat that a jockey and his equipment will pick up during a race. In addition, in many jurisdictions, riders carry more equipment to the scales after a race than before, and that weight is also subtracted from the official post-race weight.

"Let's say a guy checks in with 115 pounds, and that's without the helmet and the jacket," said Victor Sanchez, the clerk of scales at Calder Race Course in Miami. "You're going to expect him to come back 118 or 119 because now he's got the jacket and helmet, and he's carrying the saddle girth which soaked up a lot of sweat plus his pommel pad and saddle, and if it's muddy, then you've got all that dirt and water, and that stuff is heavy. You still mark 115. That's just logical."
You wonder how much of that is known by prosecutors that are obviously going strictly by the book.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Say It Ain't So, Braulio

- Bennett Liebman has an interesting tidbit about Braulio Baeza on his fabulous Albany Law School Racing and Wagering site. As you may know, Baeza is one of the two NYRA employees, or rather, ex-employees, indicted in the weight-gate case, and was an accomplished jockey himself, having ridden champs and great horses such as Dr. Fager, Buckpasser, Arts and Letters, and, most memorably to me, having come upon the scene relatively late in his career, Wajima. The following is taken from his website:

In Summer of 1976, at the height of the Saratoga meet, Braulio woke one morning to discover that after having jogged in his plastic suit and reduced the night before, he still had 8 pounds to lose before the start of the race day. He called the Clerk of Scales and told him that he was going to ride no longer.

Thus ended the riding career of one of the finest jockeys who ever lived. He was pure poetry on a horse: efficient, elegant and always spectacularly in rhythm with the horse. He won a total of 3140 races in the United States and another 873 in his native Panama for a total of 4013 lifetime wins.
This is particularly interesting in light of some comments I read from jockey Earlie Fires today in The Saratogian:
'I have seen those things happen at other tracks,' Fires said. 'The weights for jockeys are too low. They need to be raised, and everybody knows it.'

Fires, 58, recalled a similar incident that occurred many years ago at Washington Park in Illinois where several racing officials were fired for their part in a jockey weight scandal.
'Braulio's a super nice guy,' he said. 'If there was ever a jockey that would try and help other riders, it's him. I've never seen a guy that looked more drained from reducing himself all day than him. He would get off a horse and have to lie down in between races.'
The charges against Baeza are, of course, just allegations at this point, but one can perhaps start to see a picture of a man who went through hell to maintain his riding weight and who just may have had sympathy for his younger colleagues going through the same struggle. While the indictment includes allegations that the riders gave tips to the clerks, it doesn’t seem as if this was a scheme which would make Baeza rich.

I imagine that if the Jockey Guild wasn’t bogged down with responding to a subpoena from a Congressional committee in response to their inadequte response to prior requests for documents, we would see one of their typically bizarre statements blaming the whole scandal on the culture of racing that requires that jockeys ride as light as they do, and that the minimum weight should be raised. And while their point would be well-taken, I’m sure their statement would be filled with their usual flourishes and poor grammar.

As weird as the Guild’s behavior has been under the Wayne Gertmanian regime, their apparent refusal (inability?) to satisfy the demands of Rep. Ed Whitfield, who is leading an investigation into the lapsing of the Guild’s catastrophic insurance for on-track accidents, is perhaps their strangest conduct of all. Or perhaps it’s their most telling conduct of all, because just maybe the requested documents would confirm the worst suspicions about why the policy lapsed, and as to exactly what services are being provided by Gertmanian and his Matrix Capital Associates consulting firm in exchange for their healthy salary and fees, respectively.
"It was pretty clear to us that they were not really being responsive in providing us with documents that we had requested," Whitfield said yesterday.

"We think it's essential we get a complete analysis of how the money's coming, how it's being spent," he said. [Lexington Herald-Leader]
The subpoena names Gertmanian personally, and he is required to produce the documents by October 3 at 5 PM.

- Prospects for a compelling edition of the Jockey Club Gold Cup increased with the addition of Hollywood Cup winner Lava Man. Trainer Doug O'Neill had planeed to keep his charge out west, but has joined the party in search of a large enough chunk of the $1 million purse to subsidize the $360,000 needed to supplement the horse to the Breeders Cup Classic. In addition to Lava Man, three year olds Flower Alley and Roman Ruler will take on older horses Borrego and Imperialism. NYRA could really use a good day on October 1 to get a little momentum going for the Breeders Cup. The fall meeting has thus far been an aesthetic and attendance disaster, and I can’t imagine that the over/under for the Breeders Cup day crowd could be much more than around 30,000-35,000 at this point. Or is that too high?

Weight A Minute!

- Rightly or wrongly, I have to say that weight is a virtual zero factor for me in handicapping a race. I'm rarely even conscious of what the weights are. Even in handicaps, for which at one time the weight assignments for horses like Forego, who carried at least 130 pounds 20 times in his last three seasons and as much as 138, were back page news, you rarely see any weight spreads that seem significant anymore. If anyone tried to give a Bobby Frankel horse 130 pounds nowadays, he’d stamp his feet and threaten to export his stable to Dubai.

So part of me agrees with Jessica Chapel at Railbird when she writes skeptically of the indictments in the NYRA weight-gate affair, wondering if the attorney general's office isn't being just a bit overzealous in its prosecution of this case. She makes her point with some excellent blogger investigative work showing the results of a sampling of the races in which the accused jockeys allegedly, in the words of the indictment, “deprived bettors of hundreds of thousands of dollars by misrepresenting the jockey's weights and thereby tricked said bettors into betting on said horses." If you look at the odds on the horses in Jessica’s said sample, you’ll see that not many people were tricked, at least on these runners.

However, these accusations go far beyond the everyday insignificant 2 or 3 pound overweights that I think we all assumed this would involve when the NYRA offices were raided last winter. In fact, they border on the unbelievable – jockeys riding as much as fifteen pounds overweight?? A couple of writers from upstate New York weigh in on that (sorry) this morning. Tim Wilkin of the Albany Times-Union:

Most riders try to maintain weight of 112 pounds. Fifteen more would compute to an increase of 13 percent. I have to believe someone would notice if Jerry Bailey or Gary Stevens or John Velazquez were walking about with a beer gut…. Fifteen pounds seems absurd. Seven pounds is even too much for me to believe.

"It just sounds absolutely ridiculous to me," said [Ron] Turcotte, who rode Secretariat. "That's a lot of weight. You could tell the difference if a rider put on that much weight. You could see it."
And Nick Kling of the Troy Record pounds his point (I can't help myself) when he writes:
In Thoroughbred racing terms, that is the equivalent of loading the kitchen sink on the back of any horse ridden by the accused jockeys. Only the most fanatic believers in weight would suggest that a couple of pounds can influence the outcome of a race among 1,100-pound Thoroughbreds. Yet just as obvious is the notion that seven to 15 pounds can do just that. Change the weight spread between Affirmed and Alydar by seven to 15 pounds and we may be honoring the latter as the 1978 Triple Crown winner.
As for the accused riders, this could be extremely serious business if the allegations that they "tipped" the indicted racing officials that allegedly falsified their weights are proven to be true. I would think they could face harsh suspensions. One wonders why these riders were not indicted themselves – NYRA CEO Charles Hayward finds that “peculiar” as well. [DRF] It seems like the equivalent, if true, of a cop being arrested for accepting a bribe and the briber walking away free. And if the story catches on with the mainstream press, it could find its way to a Letterman Top Ten list - Top Ten Ways for Fat Jockeys to Fix Races (#1 – Take their mounts for a pre-race meal at McDonalds). Anytime name jockeys are involved in anything dishonest, all the public will hear is “fixed races.” It’s a direct blow to the integrity of the game, and that’s really serious stuff.

- If Jessica or anyone else has the time and means for some more investigative work, I’d like to see research into whether any of these guys who are being accused of riding 15, or even 10 pounds over rode in any other jurisdictions around the time of the races cited in the indictment. If they were really that much overweight, which, again, seems extremely difficult to believe (though the Times’ Bill Finley says they have it on surveillance tape), I would have to assume that you wouldn’t find any of them having ridden outside of New York during that time. If you do, it either casts further doubt on the government’s case, or it means that overweight jockeys were getting the wink and the nod at tracks other than those run by NYRA, and that would be the roots of a burgeoning national scandal.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Cowering Before the Throne

- Alan Shuback reports in the Form that Bobby Frankel’s Leroidesanimaux has been installed as the 7-4 favorite for the Breeders Cup Mile by British bookmaker Ladbroke; this despite what is considered to be still a formidable European contingent of contenders even after the retirements of Footstepsinthesand, Shamardal, and Divine Proportions.

Leroidesanimaux is French for ‘King of the Animals’ and, according to reader Andrew Young, who traveled to Woodbine for Sunday's Atto Mile, at least one of his rivals seemed to cower before his regal presence. Noting his measly 3-5 odds and impressed by the appearance in the paddock of Regal Regalia and Vanderlin, Andrew was looking to beat the favorite. “Then it happened and all bets were off.”

Lero and Vanderlin were being walked close to their groups just before riders up. The lead groom for Vanderlin was not paying attention and almost walked his horse into Lero. Lero just kept going as if to say "get the hell out of my way" and Vanderlin just stopped dead in his tracks and was almost spooked by the confrontation. Poor Vanderlin was finished. I could not believe what I saw, and was not sure if anyone else had seen the same thing. I asked around and nobody seemed to know what I was talking about - maybe it was my vantage point, maybe the beer. In my mind the race was over. I bet $200 on the nose for Lero just for the sport of it. There was no way the horse was going to lose and the impressive performance verified what I saw in the ring. I have only seen two horses in my life that have made that kind of visual impression up close. Wando the Canadian Triple Crown winner, and Point Given whom I saw win the Belmont. Leroidesanimaux might top that list!!
The King earned a Beyer of 114 despite barely extending himself in his 8th straight victory, and that’s the highest turf number on the continent this year. Whatsmore, he did so on a soft turf course and from the one hole, not a favorable spot in a one-turn race. Bobby Frankel observed, "That was the easiest I've ever seen him win….He usually doesn't draw away. He was really strong today." [DRF]

I don’t know if Afleet Alex has already been conceded Horse of the Year honors; but a smashing win on Breeders Cup day to complete a four race undefeated season for Bobby Frankel…..sound familiar?

Highland Claimer?

- I haven’t posted an update on Highland Cat in a while. For new readers, he’s a 2 yo Tactical Cat colt in whom I own a small stake through Castle Village Farm. Some photos I took of him in Saratoga are posted at the bottom of this post. We thought he would debut at Saratoga, but our trainer, Billy Turner, felt that he wasn’t mentally ready. There was nothing to report for awhile, as he had a 19 day workout gap after his last breeze at Saratoga, something that raises red flags for me as a handicapper. But there was nothing wrong and he continued to gallop regularly. (He finally worked a half in 48.83 [6/14] on Sept 14.)

Word came on the 13th that Highland Cat would finally be making his debut – in a 75K maiden claiming race. “Huh??? We’re running him for a tag???” replied one of the partners in a huff. Well, that was me. We’d been hearing for several months now how much Turner likes the colt, and I really wasn’t expecting that. “I thought we liked this colt, has that changed?” It was explained that Turner wanted to avoid the more expensive competition in the maiden specials, that the likelihood of him being claimed was virtually non-existant (and besides, the tag would be nearly twice his purchase price), and that we could maybe pop him first time out (a distinctly non-Billy Turner-like maneuver), pull one over and even get an offer for him if he won impressively. After all, this is supposed to be a pinhooking partnership, the only problem being we’ve been yet unable to sell three of the four horses!

This all does makes sense of course. However, I found the news to be a big letdown, and even a bruise to my ego. After all, I’ve been writing here and telling everyone I know about how well the colt has been training and how high Turner is on him, and then I have to tell people that he’s debuting for a tag? Perhaps some or most of you don’t see that as quite the stigma as I do; as a handicapper, I generally figure that an owner who runs a first-timer, for whom hopes and dreams are not yet tinged by reality (like a pro sports team during training camp when everyone is 0-0), for a tag is an admission that he/she doesn’t think much of the horse.

So I hadn’t even written about it here; I actually felt a little embarrassed! Also, I didn’t really know how to present it, because I didn’t want to say ‘well, we love the horse and we’ll slip him by for a tag and cash in’ because in the unlikely event he was claimed, I’d be forever haunted by the feeling that perhaps someone read it here and put in the claim! (None of you would do that to me, right?)

But now, it’s a moot point. Turner, explaining that the colt has progressed well since Saratoga, has decided not to take the risk and to run him in a maiden special weight after all. He's planning to enter him in a 6 ½ furlong affair written for October 1, Jockey Club Gold Cup day. Some other partners joined me in celebration. I pointed out that as a first-time starter myself, in an enterprise that is supposed to be mainly for fun, the excitement of running in a maiden special on a Saturday with five Grade 1s far exceeded a maiden claiming debut on a sparsely-attended Belmont weekday. But Castle Village’s head honcho Steve Zorn made me think again when making known where he stands on the issue:

My view comes from a lot of experiences seeing a horse get badly outrun against top-level company. That's perhaps even more discouraging than having your trainer say the horse belongs in maiden claiming first time out. And it's a real concern running open maiden special at Belmont, where you see some pretty expensive horses.

..Some pretty good horses have run first time out for maiden claiming prices, namely Silver Charm (Kentucky Derby) and Trafalger (stakes winner of over $500,000), both of whom raced for Robert and Beverly Lewis, who presumably have pretty strong ego involvement themselves.

That said, it's Bill's call, not mine.
Well, what can I say; he makes some solid points. Only time will tell who is right. But on Wednesday, Highland Cat, as if to validate the trainer’s call, zipped a half mile in 48.46 breezing, the 5th best of 35 works at the distance on the Belmont main track. If all goes well, he debuts a week from Saturday.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Horse Slaughter Measure is Temporary

- The legislation passed by both houses of Congress to ban horse slaughter is an amendment to an annual spending bill that does not permanently ban the practice, but effectively puts the three existing U.S. plants out of business for one year starting October 1 by barring federal funding for required meat inspections. A bill to end horse slaughter permanently is waiting in the wings.

The American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act is sponsored in the House by Reps. John Sweeney (R-N.Y.), John Spratt (D-S.C.) and Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) and will soon be introduced in the Senate by Sens. John Ensign and Mary Landrieu (D-La.). The Act would prohibit the transport, purchase, selling or donation of both wild and domestic horses to be slaughtered for human consumption here and abroad. [US Newswire]
Two of the plants are located in Texas, and their lobbyist Jim Bradshaw said "We're concerned for our employees, we're concerned for our vendors….We have 150 or 160 employees in this area, so it hasn't been a good day." [Dallas Morning News] But, as detailed by venerable Senator Robert Byrd, who co-sponored the bill with Republican Senator John Ensign of Nevada, they’re not too concerned about the horses who haven’t been having very good days themselves.
"Horses can be shipped for more than twenty-four hours without food, water, or rest. They can be transported with broken legs, missing eyes, or while heavily pregnant. The horses are kept in cramped conditions, in trucks with ceilings so low that they prevent the horses from holding their heads in a normal, upright position. The cramped nature of their transport often results in trampling, with some horses arriving at the slaughterhouses seriously injured or dead." [Environment News Service]
- Godolphin’s purchase of Discreet Cat takes him out of the Breeders Cup picture as he is being sent to Dubai to prepare for his 3 year old season, and Brisnet’s James Scully recalls a similar circumstance.
In 2003, Godolphin elected to skip the Breeders' Cup Juvenile with Ruler's Court (Doneraile Court), a 14-length winner of the Norfolk S. (G2), because the race didn't fit into their program of preparing the colt for his three-year-old campaign. That cost Ruler's Court a very realistic chance for championship honors because the Breeders' Cup was contested at Santa Anita (site of the Norfolk) and longshot Action This Day wound up winning the race. Ruler's Court didn't race at three due to an injury.
- A setback for Declan’s Moon, who was pointing for a return on October 14 at Keeneland.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

News and Notes - September 20

- You could see Angel Cordero’s one-day comeback coming from furlongs away. More and more we'd been reading about him exercising horses in the morning, even taking a month off from his duties as agent for John Velasquez to work horses full time for Todd Pletcher. It’s too bad he won’t be riding in New York, where for years he was serenaded with cries of “monkeeee,” and vilified and lionized by the railbirds in seemingly equal measure. To me, he was the best. Day in, day out, race after race, he always had his mount in position to win, and the jeers were misdirected when he didn’t find the winner’s circle.

The 62 year old Cordero, who weighs in at 115 pounds, will ride two horses for Pletcher at Philadelphia Park on October 1, when John Velasquez will be at Belmont to ride Flower Alley and possibly Ashado. The 3 yo colt Yes Yes Yes and the unbeaten 3 yo filly Indian Vale will receive his services, and Cordero has pledged to donate 25% of his earnings to the Katrina relief effort.

- I guess Shiek Maktoum isn’t tapped out after his wild spending spree at Keeneland last week; Godolphin has purchased Discreet Cat, the 2 year old who earned the year’s highest juvenile Beyer thus far (106) when he won his debut at Saratoga. Well, at least this one has already shown something on the track; I’d be most curious to know what the price was. You would think that Discreet Cat’s former trainer Stanley Hough would be devastated, but he’s realistic and said that it made good business sense. "He's a lot of horse. It was a very fair offer, one that was hard to turn down. In my opinion, he was well worth it." [Daily Racing Form]

Discreet Cat has a shin condition and will likely not run in the U.S. again before being shipped to Dubai. Godolphin has tried and failed in the past to win the Derby with horses based in Dubai, and we’ll see if they are determined to make the same expensive mistake again. This is likely another net loss for North American racing.

- Whitney winner and Woodward rabbit victim Commentator is out for the year. It’s been a real roller coaster ride for Nick Zito this year. At one time he seemed to hold all the Derby cards, and then crapped out on all the Triple Crown races. Things were looking up with Commentator, and with Bellamy Road’s second in the Travers, but not for long in each case. A scan of the Blog Standings indicates that his 3 yo filly In The Gold is his only current championship prospect, and, in my opinion, she’s a longshot. He does have the revived Sun King, about whom, at least right now, everybody’s laughing/everybody’s happy after his win in the Pennsylvania Derby. He’ll train up to the Breeders Cup Classic.

- Folklore earned a Beyer of 99 in her Matron win, the highest for a 2 yo filly this year, on a day that featured, according to the Form’s Mike Watchmaker, a drying track that was a bit tricky to make speed figures for. [DRF] That’s 18 points higher than her previous high, and I think the Beyer folks may be coming back for a second look at that number at some point.

- I love Sorcerer’s Stone’s win in the Arlington-Washington Futurity more each time I watch the race. The one turn mile should set him up perfectly for his next scheduled start, the Breeders Cup Juvenile, for trainer Patrick Byrne.

"He couldn't impress me any more than he did today….Favorite Trick was a brilliant 2-year-old, but I didn't feel he would turn out to be a [Kentucky] Derby winner. This could be a special colt."
"Time will tell how good he is," Sorcerer's Stone's jockey Mark Guidry said. "Today if he'd have been pressed he could easily have gone 1:34." [Chicago Tribune]
We noted the short fields in the Matron and Futurity, and Steve Haskin at Bloodhorse points out some of the problems.
The scheduling of the Futurity and Matron pretty much leaves the participants of the two races hung out to dry, either having to go from seven furlongs straight into the Breeders' Cup off a six-week layoff or squeeze a race in between. The change in distance back to seven furlongs is a good one, but the races likely should have been run a week earlier.

Trainers of horses competing in the Hopeful and Spinaway have shown no desire to run back in the Futurity and Matron, so there is no reason for the extra week. And most trainers pointing for the [one mile] Champagne (gr. I) and Frizette as their final Breeders' Cup preps are not likely to subject their young horses to three grade I stakes in six weeks by running in the Futurity and Matron. If the Futurity and Matron were run on the big Woodward weekend, it at least would give trainers four weeks to the Champagne. NYRA could get lucky this year, with Private Vow and Folkore possibly coming back for the Champagne and Frizette, but that is only because they were so dominant on Saturday. It is still asking a lot.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Build It and (maybe) They Will Come

- I wasn’t really trying to be gloomy in my post yesterday, but if it came across that way, it wasn’t because I didn’t cash a ticket when I went to Belmont Saturday, but rather, it was because I was at Belmont Saturday, period. I feel as if I’m personally witnessing the death of horse racing as a live spectator sport in New York, and the process seems to have accelerated with the return from Saratoga. Even if there weren’t a total of seven graded stakes races on the first two Saturdays of the meet, you’d expect far more than the crowds of 6,217 and 7,385 that showed up.

Friends of New York Racing have suggested slot machines for Belmont, and it would do the place a service just by taking up some space and making the track smaller. The plant was built to regularly handle crowds in excess of the total attendance for an entire week nowadays, and its size has become a curse. I’d guess that 75% of the place is virtually unused except for one day in the year. There is no energy in the place whatsoever; it’s hard to find more than a handful of people in any single spot. Throw in, as on this past Saturday, some short fields and poor betting races, no turf racing, a main track on which closers didn’t seem to have a chance (and that’s from someone who is more often than not skeptical of track bias claims), and stakes races that fell completely apart like the Matron and Futurity did, and a day at the track can become downright dull and depressing.

So, I’m starting to think that maybe Frank Stronach is right. Perhaps we need to build grand entertainment centers to attract people with more popular forms of entertainment. Get the people there, and then it’s up to the ingenuity of management to direct people, both newbies and those that may have gone astray and decided to spend their money in a more responsible way, to the racetrack. In the restaurants, show races on a big screen; give people a horse to root for, to win a glass of wine and a free bet or two at the track. In the movie theater, show a race, tell people to pick a horse, and listen to the crowd cheering for their choice – even if you’re not giving anything away! As I’ve mentioned before, check out the crowd at a ballgame when they show those silly subway or bobblehead races on the video screen. People just like races; it’s human nature. So what a natural fit this should be!

Build it and, maybe, they will come. They sure ain’t coming out now, so we might as well try something else, and something other than slots. Slot machines' benefit to attendance is more indirect, coming from larger purses and the resulting bigger fields. That can help, as it did at Saratoga Harness, where a big crowd witnessed a night of state-bred championship races this past weekend.

But with the general expansion of legal gaming, racing can’t depend on slots and needs to do something bold. Just maybe, in his bumbling way, Frank Stronach has the right idea.

- Those two year old races at Belmont on Saturday, a G1 and a G2, attracted a total of 13 horses, while the Lassie and Futurity at Arlington drew 9 horses apiece, and the juvenile races on Kentucky Cup day drew 10 and 8.

Folklore’s 14 length win in the Matron is going to look good in the Form on Breeders Cup day, and should attract a lot of money. If that’s the case, then there’s at least one favorite I’ll be betting against that day. Don’t get me wrong, she’s a nice, consistent filly, and I had her in the Spinaway when she ran second. But as I watched from midstretch as she came home widening her lead under urging, I took a peek at the rest of the field, and they looked like a bunch of drunken sailors, absolutely staggering towards the wire. That field was finished, and it was more a matter of everyone stopping cold then Folklore sprinting away from them.

India hit her head when the neighboring horse broke through the gate, and John Velasquez said that she “ "got all shook up there. I knew we should have scratched right then..” [Bloodhorse] Steve Asmussen’s previously unbeaten Halo Humor was absolutely dead on the board and ran that way; the two California shippers had been no match for Wild Fit in the Del Mar Debutante and didn’t inspire any excitement, at least for me. You can bet that Folklore will be facing a more contentious bunch in the Juvenile Filly, not the least of whom could be Pletcher’s Adieu, who beat Folklore in the Spinaway

The only suspense in the two juvenile stakes was whether Broken Vow would beat the loose horse who sprinted to the lead after dumping Javier Castellano. Those two were 9 in front of the rest of the field; and second place finisher Changing Weather was 4 ½ ahead of 21-1 shot Dixiecrat for third. Once highly regarded Master of Disaster was around 25 lengths back in 5th, ugh.

Throw in favorite Smokey Glacken’s dominant (bias-aided?) win in the Floral Park, and it was a day of stakes races that were as dull as the atmosphere in the grandstand.

- Sorcerer’s Stone was very impressive in taking the Arlington-Washington Futurity. He'd been unbeaten going 4 ½ and 5 ½ furlongs and handled the stretch out to a mile with aplomb, moving to the lead while in hand on the turn and throwing down final eights of 12 seconds each to win by 8 ½ in a stakes record 1:35.16. He’s a son of Gulch out of a Slew O’Gold mare, trained by Patrick Byrne; he’s a half brother to stakes placed Holiday Thunder. Patrick Biancone’s highly touted Grand Survival was even money off a maiden win and was up the track, c’mon!

But Biancone got the money in the G3 Kentucky Cup Juvenile with Stream Cat (Black Minnaloushe), who I raved about in this post after he won his last on the turf. This race was on the dirt, but he showed the same powerful closing kick in coming from last and besting Asmussen’s highly regarded and favored Cab.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Left at the Gate

- Dick Powell at Brisnet the other day touched on a subject that I’ve often wondered about – how much handicapping information is too much? This year, I added the Racing Form’s incredible Formulator 4.0 product to the arsenal. Am I blessed or burdened by the endless wealth of information, including and certainly not limited to access to each horses’ last three race charts and past performance lines of each of the opponents in those races it provides? You can see all the details of it here if you’d like, but let’s just say that it’s comprehensive. If they develop a Formulator 5.0, it will probably give you a live shot of each horse in its stall and a chance to ask him or her “How ya doing?”

Powell writes of a study conducted by, believe it or not, the CIA in 1979 (not declassified until 1999), in which they used 8 handicappers to consider the question of exactly how much information is needed to make an accurate judgment?

The handicappers were first asked to rank the importance of 88 handicapping factors (weight, distance, rider, etc...).

They were then given the five most important factors to use and handicap a race. Then the 10 most important, the 20 most important and, finally, the 40 most important factors.

The results were startling: three handicappers showed less accuracy when information increased, two showed more accuracy and three others showed no change. As a group, the eight handicappers did not improve their accuracy when more information was provided and their accuracy actually went down some.

But more importantly, as more information was provided, the handicapper's confidence grew. By the time they were given the most handicapping factors, their confidence had doubled. Their results went down some with more information and their confidence grew, making the gap between winning and losing even wider.
Powell goes on to relate a recent example in which he dug up the sales breezes of a first time starter, and figured he was on to something most others weren’t: With this additional information, my confidence level went skyward.
Had I just stuck to my usual routine, I would have had Bonnie Dares as a contender based on her recent sales price and fast workouts at Saratoga the past month on the turf. But, I also would have paid more attention to the fact that trainer Phil Serpe only wins 5 percent with his first-time starters and 10-pound apprentice rider Julien Leparoux had won three races at Saratoga but they were all going two turns and not in sprints where the start is critical.

The betting public dismissed Bonnie Dares at 14-1, but most of them didn't know what I knew about her training breeze at the Fasig-Tipton sale. More for me and I bet her with way too much confidence.
This is a familiar scenario for me (the horse finished 8th); I can easily get hooked on a horse because I found something, somewhere that many others haven’t. Powell talks about having too much confidence in this situation, but to be perfectly honest, for me I think it’s more narcissistic. I want the extra work and my cunning to pay off; so, at times I no doubt skew my judgment so that I go with the horse that would make me not only a bit richer, assuming the odds reflect the public’s ignorance to what I know, but a bit more clever too. In doing so, I put aside class, speed, and all the other basics of handicapping. It’s kinda like fixing the facts around the policy, gee, where have I heard that before? After all, I don’t bet enough nor in a way that’s going to make me wealthy; half the fun is just being able to say “I had it,” and it’s even better to be able to say “I had it,” and add a dazzling explanation as to how and why.

I often think back to my much, much younger days, when all we had was the Daily Racing Form, and we were lucky if able to get it the night before. And the Form had no Beyers – adding together the paper’s own speed rating and track variant served us all well for many years. There were no stats for the trainers in the relevant categories; no indication of how fast the workouts were in relation to the others that worked at the same distance that day; no information as to how much the horse sold for and at which sale. Lasix, what was that? Yet, I recall many grand days of winning, even on occasions when I was half blind from ludes and beer (in fact, winning is just about all I remember from those particular days.)

Why, if you think about it, if our handicapping ability all increased – forget about exponentially, say just one-tenth exponentially with the rate of the increase in the quality and quantity of information that we can freely access nowadays, we’d all be owning horses instead of betting on them. But yet, at least for me, that’s hardly the case. I sometimes feel that my best handicapping days are behind me, and that I’m just lost in the morass of fine print, talking heads, links, downloads, software, TVG, HRTV, and simulcasts, simulcasts, simulcasts. That’s why I write a blog called Left at the Gate; because that’s how I too often feel even after attending the races with regularity for over 30 years. With all of my experience, and, especially, with the technology that allows us all to conduct a virtual CIA investigation into the detailed history of every horse, trainer, and jockey in every single race at every track, you’d think we’d ALL be able to make a little money at this!

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Sunday Stakes

- Leroidesanimaux heads the $1 million Grade 1 Atto Mile at Woodbine Sunday. Bobby Frankel’s “king of the animals” is heading towards the Breeders Cup Mile, and has been installed as the 9-5 choice. He was an easy winner in his first start in six months at Saratoga on Travers Day, when nearly everyone at the track had him leading off the big Pick 4. He’s won 7 in a row.

A couple of horses who have finished within a length of Leroidesanimaux will take another shot at him here. King of Happiness is a very consistent sort himself, but seems to be consistently a tad slower than the favorite. A To Z had an interesting prep for the Atto, disposing of jockey Omar Figueroa at the break. Trainer Paula Capestro explained "He got to the front and ran a beautiful race all the way around on the lead and won by five. He pulled himself up after and waited for the pony. The pony took him off the track, so he thought he won." [Daily Racing Form] Imagine his surprise when he tried to cash his tickets.

- The Arlington-Washington Futurity was once the richest race in the country and a major stop on the 2 year old circuit for future champions like Buckpasser and Spend a Buck. But now it’s a Grade 3 race run on the same day as the Futurity in New York, and the Form’s Marcus Hersh points out that it’s now either is a stepping-stone to the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, or just a nice chance for decent regional 2-year-olds to run for a $200,000 purse.

Indeed, half of the ten entrants are coming off their maiden victories, including the morning line favorite Grand Survival (Grand Slam), a $1 million Barretts purchase in March. He’s trained by Patrick Biancone, who says of Grand Survival’s Breeders Cup prospects, "The answer will be on Sunday afternoon.” Oh please, we constantly see Biancone push his horses to the limit whether they are ready or not, and given the purchase price, it will take a dismal performance to keep him from looking to October 29.

He was bet down to 9-5 in his winning Saratoga debut, and beat a field which has produced three next out winners, including Steve Asmussen's well-regarded Cab, as well as Superfly, who in turn ran second best to the Discreet Cat, the fastest horse in the world. But he figures to be overbet, and I’m not going for the hype; he stretches out to a mile from 6 ½, and there are some others in here with a chance.

Red Raymond (Deputy Commander) and Sorcerer’s Stone (Gulch) both come off minor stakes wins, the former in a 7 furlong race at Ellis Park, where he beat a nice looking colt named Deputy G, who’d won the G3 Bashford Manor. He’s benefited from blistering fractions in his two wins and needs a similar setup here. Sorcerer’s Stone should be the one to catch, but it’s a huge stretch from 5 ½ furlongs to a mile, so he could make for a handy target.

Let's try one of the decent regional 2 year olds running for the $200,000 purse. Mr. Pinstripe (Yankee Victor) has improved in each of his three starts, the last two of them wins. In his last, he threw in some quick internal splits to keep up, and still had enough to draw away under a hand ride to win by 3 in a final eighth of 12.4, and a Beyer second in this field only to Red Raymond. The second place finisher came back to run second in a stake at Prairie Meadows. He worked a bullet six furlongs for this, and the jockey-trainer combo of Shaun Bridgmohan and Steve Hobby is quite a potent one - to the tune of 11 wins and 27 in the money out of 35 races! Still, Mr. Pinstripe is stretching out from 6 furlongs to a mile, so I’d demand something close to his 5-1 morning line. With the Yanks hot on the Red Sox' heels, perhaps a good hunch bet as well.

Friday, September 16, 2005

A Poorly Placed Prep

- Despite criticism of its revised stakes schedule in 2005, Gulfstream announced that the 2006 Florida Derby will once again be held five weeks before the Kentucky Derby, a virtual no man’s land of a race that is historically too long before the big race to be an effective final prep, and too close to get another one in, at least here in the 21st century.

In a rationalization so ridiculously absurd that perhaps he should apply for a job at the White House, track president Scott Savin defended the placement by saying “Nick [Zito] brought Bellamy Road back from more than a three-months layoff to run second in the Travers, so it shows a layoff of five weeks doesn't hurt.'' [Miami Herald] Last year’s 1-2 finishers High Fly and Noble Causeway not only performed poorly in the Derby, but neither of them has won a race since. Is that latter tidbit irrelevant? Perhaps. But certainly no more so than Bellamy Road’s Travers is to the wisdom of holding Kentucky Derby preps five weeks out.

Belmont Juveniles

- Two year olds take the spotlight this weekend, as Belmont features the Grade 1 Matron for the girls, and the Grade 2 Futurity for the boys on Saturday, both at 7 furlongs. On Sunday at Arlington Park, we have two Grade 3s – the Arlington-Washington BC Lassie for the lassies and the Arlington-Washington BC Futurity for the boys, both at a (one turn) mile. With the Breeders Cup at Belmont this year, the Juvenile and Juvenile Fillies will also be contested around one turn, which may mean less uncertainty in handicapping those races, but more once we start stretching out on the road to the Derby and Oaks in 2006.

The Belmont races stand an excellent chance of being contested over wet tracks, as the track was sloppy yesterday, and rain from the fringes of Ophelia are expected overnight, yuck.

The Matron may be the more significant of the Belmont races in terms of Breeders Cup preparations, as Todd Pletcher’s India, ranked #1 on Mike Watchmaker’s rankings for the Juvenile Fillies in the Form, will make her stakes debut. In fact, it’s her first race against winners, coming after her sensational 12 length win maiden win at Saratoga, her second start, in which she sprinted away powerfully from the field in perhaps what was the most visually impressive juvenile performance of the Saratoga meet. That came back on July 28, and Pletcher had thought about running her back in the Spinaway, but didn't for several reasons.

First, Pletcher felt the Spinaway might have been too close back after such a huge race. Second, India had to miss a little bit of training while a sale was pending. Frank and Jane Lyon, who bred India, purchased her from owner John Fort for $2.05 million. Lastly, Pletcher wanted to target a Grade 1 race for India, and the Spinaway is a Grade 2. He won the race with Adieu. [Daily Racing Form]
In fact, Pletcher blasted the graded stakes committee for downgrading the Spinaway to a Grade 2 this year. That race featured some of the strangest betting of the year in New York, as the fans completely disregarded the local contingent in favor of shippers Effectual (9-5) and Sensation (5-2), creating huge overlays on fillies like Adieu and Folklore, who both went off at 7-1 and ran 1-2, returning an exacta bonanza of $103.

Folklore returns for the Matron for slumping trainer Wayne Lukas, and as opposed to India, who hasn’t run over 5 1/2 furlongs, proved herself at this distance with her strong second in the Spinaway. She could love the mud with her Tomlinson number of 420.

Fifth Avenue was also dismissed in the Spinaway at 6-1, despite closing strongly for second to Folklore in the 6 furlong Adirondack. She ran more to her odds than the others, finishing up the track in 7th. Her trainer, Mark Hennig, was 0-for-Saratoga, but that was an anomaly; he's hitting at 20% in 2005, has been burning up Monmouth recently, and scored a Belmont winner on opening day. Young fillies are always apt to throw in a bad one, and the switch from Pablo Fragoso to Elbar Coa has to help.

Two fillies, River’s Prayer and Miss Norman, ship in from California, having run 3rd and 4th respectively to Wild Fit in the G1 Del Mar Debutante. Wild Fit will prep for the Breeders Cup in the Oak Leaf Stakes at Santa Anita at a mile and a sixteenth (two turns) on October 2. River’s Prayer was very wide in the Debutante and adds blinkers. Interestingly, her sire, Devon Lane, despite being a son of Storm Cat, seems to be primarily a sire of quarter horses.

India’s Beyer towers over the rest of this field and she was thus installed as the 7-5 choice, but keep in mind that these 2 year olds can improve drastically, as India did in improving by 31 points over her debut. Halo Humor seems eligible to show similar improvement in the Matron. Trained by Steve Asmussen, she’s 2 for 2, and comes off an easy win against just three rivals at Saratoga at 6 1/2 furlongs. In her debut, she beat Better Now and Ex Caelis, who have both gone on to win. She shows a very sharp half mile breeze which was two seconds faster than her work before her last win, and retains the services of Jerry Bailey. She has a Tomlinson mud number of 436, and could give the favorite a run for the money.

- The Futurity will be run without First Samurai and Henny Hughes, the 1-2 finishers in the Hopeful, and ranked in that order for the Juvenile by Watchmaker. Those two could meet in the October 1 Champagne at Belmont, though trainer Frank Brothers mentioned the two turn Lane's End Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland on Oct. 8 as a possibility. Steve Klesaris’ entry of Master of Disaster (second to Henny Hughes in the Saratoga Special) and Diabolical (second to He’s Got Grit in the Sapling) is the 6-5 morning line favorite, but it seems like a more open contest to me.

Asmussen has Private Vow, coming off two easy wins at Saratoga, most recently at this distance, also has Bailey, and also has the highest Tomlinson mud number in the field. Union Course was three wide running third in the Special and could improve. Darley’s Changing Weather was extremely impressive winning his extremely well-bet (8-5) debut, though he stretches out from 5 to 7 furlongs.

And Tim Ritchey ships in Dixiewink, at 15-1 the outsider in the morning line. He broke his maiden in his third start, a two turn race at Delaware just a week ago. But Ritchey excels when running horses back on 7 days rest, as well as in the route-to-sprint move. It’s disconcerting that Diane Nelson is listed as the jockey rather than Jeremy Rose, but he could be worth a flyer nonetheless.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Hoping PLEADING For Alex

- “Depleted” seems to be the operative word to describe the prospective field for the Breeders Cup Classic, but trainer Tim Ritchey is still holding out hope that Afleet Alex can make the race, and oh, what a bonanza that would be. Nobody wants to see him rushed back too soon, but anyone connected with the sport has to be hoping that he can make it. After the lung infection fiasco in the Rebel, some people, including myself, scoffed at the notion that he’d be able to come back and win the Arkansas Derby.

Of course, that was just a little mucous, and not a leg injury, so, as Jay Privman writes in the Form today, It's a longshot. Maybe not Arcangues at $269.20, but a longshot nonetheless.

The situation seems Herculean. Afleet Alex had his surgery two months ago, and has not even advanced from jogging to galloping, though that could change imminently. Ritchey also wants to get a prep race into Afleet Alex. Do the math - this year's World Thoroughbred Champion-ships are a bit more than six weeks away - and the window of opportunity seems barely open.
"We will know more after he starts galloping [perhaps Friday]," Ritchey said. "He has been jogging a mile and a half early in the morning, and then another mile and a half later in the morning, for the past two weeks. Once I start galloping him, and get a breeze into him, we will know more about him in terms of fitness. I want to get a prep into him, either a sprint at six or seven furlongs on dirt, or even a mile on grass, to get him to the Classic. I could wait until as close as two weeks out.
- Sun King, back in favor after winning the Pa. Derby from the 14 hole, will train up to the Classic. The Form starts their individual coverage of the eight Breeders Cup races today.

- Storm Cat already commands the highest stud fee (for horses, anyway) in the world at $500,000, but after the select portion of the Keeneland September sale, he could be due for a raise. An astounding seven yearlings by Storm Cat sold at the Sept. 12-13 select sessions for at least $3 million. In all, 22 were sold for an average of $2,028,409.
"The impact is a combination of factors," [Overbrook Farm’s Ric] Waldman said. "One, I think this is the best group of Storm Cat yearlings that have ever come into this sale; and two, there is a strong turnout at this sale--all of the major buying groups are here."
"The older he gets, the more success you see coming from him," Waldman said. "Not only on the track, but from his sons. The success of Giant's Causeway has done an awful lot to help sons of Storm Cat." [Bloodhorse]
Paul Moran of Newsday writes about some absurdly priced sale horses of the past.
The names are not particularly impressive without the accompanying pricetags. Consider Seattle Dancer and Snaafi Dancer, the two most expensive yearlings ever sold at auction at $13.1 million and $10.2 million respectively.

Then there was Imperial Falcon ($8.25 million), a colt sold last year for $8 million and still not named, Jareer ($7.1 million), Laa Etaab ($7 million), Tasmanian Tiger, Amjaad and Van Nistelerooy, all between $6.4 and $6.8 million.

None of these horses accomplished much or earned even a small fraction of their purchase prices. This does nothing to dissuade the very wealthy from spending fortunes on unproven horses with promising pedigree, however.
- NYRA's federal monitor Neil Getnick (whose firm, by the way, will reportedly be paid between $4 and $5 million by NYRA), blasted NYRA's regulators, blaming them for not having taken action that would permit NYRA to make up revenue lost by their cutoff of rebate shops, and to get into the 21st century of racing.
Getnick had harsh words Tuesday for the State Racing and Wagering Board, lashing out at the agency for failure to act on pending simulcast contracts and proposed rule changes that would permit NYRA to institute a player rewards program - read rebates…

The board, publicly scolded, under pressure and short a member, may actually take action within a reasonable period of time.

"Right now," Getnick said, "the regulated is leading the regulator." [Newsday]
- The Meadowlands opens its abbreviated thoroughbred meet on September 30, and they’ve dedicated the weekend of October 7-8 to raising cash for the Katrina relief effort through the NTRA Charities Racing to the Rescue Fund. And in keeping with the times, the track will give away $500 gas cards to five very lucky winners each Friday night of the meeting.

Thursday Morning Musings - Sept 15

- When I saw the name Patriot Act in the Belmont entries Wednesday, it caught my attention, and not just because I’ve been watching the John Roberts confirmation hearings, and the judge’s “thread the needle” responses make me nervous about the future of our right to privacy, on top of the concerns already in place due to the law that the horse was presumably named after. The name just seemed familiar, so I figured that I’d lost money on him some time in the recent past.

Then, on the Triple Crown Racing blog, I read that Patriot Act was touted as the best maiden in the country after he finished second in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity last October. Brian, the proprietor of this blog, claims in his profile to be 15, and if that’s true, I hope his parents aren’t counting on him going to law school.

That was it; I’d seen his name in the past performance lines of others in that stakes race. The winner was Consolidator (Storm Cat), who, after winning the San Felipe in impressive fashion by 6 ½ over Giacomo, was pretty high up on my Derby list, Um, actually, I had him number two. Behind High Limit. Oh man. (Remember how Frankel was at first being so cautious with High Limit, and then he just went nuts with him. Now he’s one of the most reliable money burners in the sport; he most recently ran 7th at an incredible 4-1 in the Del Mar Derby.) I think the only thing I was right about on that list was Michael Jackson getting acquitted.

Because of his win in that Breeders Futurity, Darley Stud can write “$1.25 yearling who became a Grade One-winning juvenile” on their website, and after the select portion of the Keeneland yearling sale, they might want to emphasize "son of Storm Cat." Consolidator will start stud duty at their Kentucky-based Jonabell Farms next year; he fractured a sesamoid bone a few days before the Derby after disappointing in the Blue Grass. They haven’t yet set a fee. What do you think they can get for a son of Storm Cat who won three times in ten starts, out of the money five times?

Patriot Act was actually the 3.30 – 1 second choice in that Grade 1 despite still being a maiden. The favorite was Bellamy Road, who faded to 7th and was hurt after being challenged on the lead by Consolidator. Come to think of it, not only has Bellamy Road lost each time he hasn’t had his own way in a race, he’s been injured too.

Bellamy Road was a nose in front of Scipion (A.P. Indy), who made a little noise when he won the Risen Star at Oaklawn. He was reported to be back in training in late July. When he fired, he had an exciting late burst, is extremely well-bred (3/4 brother to Vindication), and could be an interesting one if he makes it back. He suffered a non-displaced condylar fracture after his disappointing Louisiana Derby, and if I recall correctly, it was suffered during a workout on the turf, as trainer Patrick Biancone was trying to avoid the wet California tracks of last spring.

Also in the Breeders Futurity were Straight Man and Three Hour Nap, both of whom won minor stakes at Arlington over the summer. While Patriot Act was no match for Consolidator, he was 3 ½ in front of the rest of the field after closing from 8th after a half mile. He followed up the Futurity with a 5th place finish to Rush Bay in a maiden special at 1-5, and then was gone until Saratoga, where he closed well for second at 3-1 on 8/20. I was there that day, but must have either been spacing out or betting races from Ellis or Arlington, because I honestly don't recall. On Wednesday, he was 1-2, and this time broke alertly, dropped back to last, and rallied for the win by 1 ¼, with the final eighth going 12.63. He’s already shown distance ability and class, and with his closing style, could also be an exciting one to keep an eye on. He has inbreeding 5x5 to Tom Fool and he’s a half brother to graded turf stakes winner Class Kris and to the dams of Gulch Approval and Don’t Get Mad.

- Via the Albany Law School Racing and Wagering page (which also has tons of information on the news on NYRA), comes this great read from the Cleveland Plain-Dealer, about a notorious, and now retired local horseplayer named Off-Track Eddie. He got his nickname from his specialty (and my nemesis) – betting horses on off tracks.

So determined to know the track condition of out-of-town tracks on days he was stuck in the office - we're talking before cell phones and the Internet - Eddie once called the Louisville weather bureau when he had a mud-lover at Churchill Downs.

"This is Mr. Kelly of Kelly Amusements," he said. "I'm going to be moving several truck loads of rides through Louisville this afternoon between 4 and 5 p.m. I was wondering if you could tell me if there is rain in the forecast so I can pull the canvas tarpaulins over them."

"For sure," said a meteorologist. "It's raining cats and dogs."

Off-Track Eddie called his bookmaker and made a sizeable wager on the pony that was half-thoroughbred, half-porpoise. It splashed home an easy winner.
Now we can always get the latest Doppler Radar on the internet, but getting the track condition and the status of the turf races in a timely manner can still be as maddening as watching Senators Kennedy, Biden, Schumer and Feinstein trying every possible approach to try and get Judge Roberts to actually answer their questions! I mean, what would be the problem with answering the question, “Would you say there's a general right to privacy?” with ‘Yes, senator, of course.’ instead of “I don't know what general means.