RSS Feed for this Blog

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Notes and News - Nov 30

- Got a look at Private Vow’s win in the Kentucky Jockey Club on Saturday, in which he confirmed his status as one of the top two year-olds, and made one wonder how he might have fared in the Juvenile had his rein not broken. Shaun Bridgmohan was practically upright in the saddle trying to keep the colt under control around the first turn, and kept him under stout restraint as he stalked the slow pace (:48.4 to the half, as opposed to :47.1 for the girls in the Golden Rod) while well wide. He got to the top effortlessly and was ridden home to a 2 1/4 length win in his first test around two turns. Watching the race (thanks to the excellent Thoroughbred Daily News), one knew what Bridgmohan was saying when he commented "All I was was a passenger trying to keep him out of trouble.” [Louisville Courier-Journal] It would be nice to see Bridgmohan get a shot to stick with the colt should he make the classics next spring. So Private Vow and Bluegrass Cat have now both won around two turns, while Derby hopefuls such as Stevie Wonderboy, First Samurai, and Henny Hughes will have to wait until next year to pass that test.

Private Vow is the only stakes winner thus far amongst 12 winners for his sire Broken Vow (Unbridled), out of 38 starters and 92 foals in this crop. Broken Vow was unbeaten in four tries at 3, only one of them (the Sir Barton) being a stakes race. He blossomed at four, taking the Iselin and Ben Ali, and placing or showing in four other graded stakes, all of them at a distance.

- Not much rest for Japan Cup winner Alkaased, who is being wheeled right back on two weeks rest for the Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Vase. What are the chances of seeing a Grade 1 winner not trained by Richard Dutrow try that here these days?

- More turmoil in the world of expanded gambling in the state of Pennsylvania. Last September, Frank Fiel, the executive director of the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, resigned after press reports that he lied about his academic record. Friel had testified under oath that he had bachelor and masters degrees; it was later discovered that while he had attended two colleges, he had received a degree from neither. In an angry and tearful rebuff to the press, Governor Ed Rendell said, "I hope you understand what you did.” [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette]

Now, Friel’s replacement, Anne L. Neeb, is facing a far more serious and possible criminal charge stemming from her time as the Executive Director of Louisiana’s Gaming Control Board. That state’s State Inspector General accuses her of collecting pay for hours she did not work, and of falsifying attendance records in an attempt to validate her pay.

Louisiana State Inspector General Sharon B. Robinson alleges in her report that Neeb missed work for 208.5 hours but was paid for the time. Neeb later submitted leave adjustments for 152 hours of the missed time.

"She came back later, after we started asking questions, and submitted a leave slip," Robinson said. "Those issues suggest potential payroll fraud, but we can't make that determination." [Philly Inquirer]
A state police commander said that Neeb may have been collecting paychecks from two states.
[Col. Henry] Whitehorn also said it appears that Neeb was absent the entire last month that she collected a salary and might have been paid both by Louisiana and the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board. The Pennsylvania board hired Neeb July 7, two months before her resignation from the LGCB, as executive director, contingent on the results of a background check.

Whitehorn recommended that the district attorney's office in Baton Rouge investigate the issues for possible criminal acts. [Shreveport Times]
Neeb denied the charges categorically, claiming that she was owed leave time under the Family Medical Leave Act; and she also invoked a defense that we’re all-too-familiar with from Washington: Neeb also said she could not account for all her time because she was engaged in confidential meetings that required she not disclose the participants.

The Louisiana report also accuses the current head of that state’s Gaming Control Board of not working the hours required of him for his pay. Charles Gaudin is supposed to be in Baton Rouge four days a week.
Investigators concluded that Gaudin worked in Baton Rouge an average of two days a week for a 3-month period ending July 3.

They also found that Gaudin is being paid more money than allowed by law and that the gambling board's attorney and former executive director received full-time pay despite working fewer than 40 hours a week.

In a letter, Gaudin claims the investigation stemmed from an anonymous whistle-blower with "ulterior motives." He doesn't outline what those motives are. [ (Baton Rouge)]
- Highland Cat faces six others in the second at Aqueduct on Friday.

- From time to time, we see a high-priced yearling or two-year old succeeding on the racetrack, but I imagine there are far more that we never hear from again, especially colts. Temescal Ridge brought $875,000 at the two-year old in training sale at Keeneland in 2003, and was unplaced in two starts on the track. But he's a half-brother to Belong to Me, so he'll get a shot at stud in California for $1500 a pop. Gonna take a lot of pops to break even on this one.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Time of the Season

- The days are getting shorter and it won’t be long until the first snow falls on the city. The malls are packed (especially the ones with discount stores), and the colored lights are starting to appear. This can all mean just one thing.

It’s almost time for the winter racing season! Yes, the horses are already starting to descend upon Gulfstream and Oaklawn, and the Fair Grounds meeting is already under way, albeit at Louisiana Downs. There’s always something on the horizon in the racing game. No doubt we’re in a bit of lull from now until Xmas, but Santa Anita swings right into action on the 26th, Gulfstream on Jan 4, and Oaklawn starts a Friday – Sunday schedule on Jan 20. The winter season melts seamlessly into the Triple Crown. After the Belmont, we look to the August meetings at Saratoga and Del Mar, then to the Breeders’ Cup, and we’ll be right back here this time next year.

Afleet Alex is amongst the 100 or so horses that have arrived at Gulfstream. This will be the first year at the Hallandale, Florida, track for trainer Tim Ritchey, who indicated Afleet Alex could run in the $1 million Sunshine Millions Classic at Santa Anita Park on January 28. [Brisnet]

With the Fair Grounds meet running only until Jan 22, Oaklawn has experienced a flood of requests for stall space. Oaklawn has received requests to accommodate a record 3,000 horses, said [Terry] Wallace. The stable area has 1,500 stalls. [Daily Racing Form] John Servis is back after having experienced the worst luck there last year, at least with Rockport Harbor.

Rockport Harbor on Saturday breezed three furlongs in 36 seconds, said Servis. (Published works at the track are not yet available, with the meet not set to start until Jan. 20.)

"That was his first work back," said Servis. "I'm tickled to death." [DRF]
[Isn’t it surprising that trainers would have such a long period of time during which they can work their horses without the times being recorded?] Besides more horses, they’ll be more Instant Racing machines (with other yet-to-be-designated “electronic games of skill” on the way) and the track needs to make some room for them.
The addition, which will further encroach the lower paddock area, has already been roped off with signs saying, “Please pardon our construction, we’re building bigger purses !” [Arkansas Democrat Gazette]
- Steve Crist wrote a couple of weeks ago of the way large fields make handle explode, citing the recent Stars of Tomorrow card at Churchill. The handle over the comparable day from 2004 was up an astounding 36%.
The 2005 card attracted 126 starters, 29 more than the 97 that ran a year earlier. This works out to an average gain of 2.6 horses per race. The differences were spectacular when the difference in field size was well above or below that average.

Four of the 11 races, including both stakes, drew either five or six more starters than their 2004 counterparts. The respective handle increases on these races (the 2nd, 8th, 9th and 10th) were 148 percent, 56 percent, 99 percent, and 63 percent, compared to the total increase of 36 percent for the day.
Bigger fields don't just create more permutations. They inflate the odds on contenders, create overlays on possible upsetters who get lost in the shuffle, and make customers feel like they are getting a lot more bang for their bucks. [Daily Racing Form]
Handle figures at Hoosier Park and Hollywood Park seem to bear that, and the converse, out. Bucking the general trend, the handle at the recently concluded meet at Hoosier was up 30%! Hoosier General Manager Rick Moore said the increase in average field size to 9.3 horses, which was up from 8.7 horses in 2004, helped bolster handle figures. [Thoroughbred Times] The average purses were up over 12%, pretty outstanding in a non-slots state.

On the other hand, Hollywood Park has shown dismal attendance and handle figures through the first month of their meet. The average ontrack attendance was 5,509, a drop of 15.5 percent. The average ontrack handle was $1,282,295, a drop of 9.4 percent, and the average all-sources handle was $7,972,033, a drop of 11.1 percent. [Daily Racing Form] No doubt that the lack of the turf racing that always attracts full and competitive fields is a big factor in the declines. With bettors able to peruse the country for the races that best challenge their intellect and knowledge, and reward them sufficiently for using them keenly, the home tracks can no longer take their own fans for granted. At the same time, a track like Hoosier, presenting large and competitive fields on Sunday and Monday nights with little else to choose from on TVG and in simulcast sites around the country, has the opportunity to flourish, even without slot machines.

Notes - Nov 29

- Liz Mullen reports in the subscription-only Sports Business Journal (thanks to Robert Colton for passing it along) that the Jockeys’ Guild used money from members’ savings accounts for their operating expenses, and that “there is not enough money in the operating account to pay back the roughly $440,000 owed to scores of jockeys.” As if that wouldn't be bad enough even if the expeditures were legitimate, one can only shudder to think what exactly qualified as “operating expenses” to one L. Wayne Gertmenian.

The article says that the Guild is $240,000 short, which is a bit more than the $217,000 in checks that Dr. G and Albert Fiss cashed while they were being removed from their positions. There is still no word about the police investigation into that affair.

The money owed to the jocks is savings accumulated by riders whose contributions from their mount fees have already covered their monthly health insurance premiums. Former manager John Giovanni explained to Mullen that the money was kept in individual accounts under his watch. “We never commingled funds….It was their money. That was the way it was supposed to be.”

- Highland Cat worked a snappy half mile in 49.24 seconds breezing at Belmont this morning, the 7th fastest of 44 works at the distance. In our last report from the barn, we were told:

[Bill Turner] told me that the 2 year old maiden race field that Highland Cat caught in his last start was as tough a field as there was this year. He then mentioned that when Seattle Slew broke his maiden, there were 5 horses that he beat that eventually were Stakes winners.
So, that means that he doesn’t think that Highland Cat is as good as Seattle Slew? Really? Shit! The winner of his last race, Flashy Bull, ran a real bang-up second to Bluegrass Cat in the Remsen. Highland Cat is slated to race over the inner track on Friday in a 60K maiden claiming affair at a mile and 70 yards.

Even better than Highland Cat was the work by Mum’s the Word, who got the half in :48.94. She’s the Real Quiet filly that we recently sold, and she’s been working up a storm for her debut.

- The Supreme Court’s refusal to hear a constitutional challenge to New York State’s expanded gambling opens the doors for Indian tribes to pursue opening casinos, which can’t really be good news for horse racing in the state. "There's no place left to go," said Cornelius Murray, an Albany-based attorney who represented a coalition of anti-gambling groups in the case. "It's the proverbial end of the line." [Newsday]

Monday, November 28, 2005

Monday Night Notes - Nov 28

- Just watched the Real Quiet Stakes from Saturday at Hollywood, which featured the controversial DQ of Bob and John, who won with by six while hand ridden home at 1-5. Based on the outrage expressed by Bob Baffert at Valenzuela ("[Valenzuela] rode him out the whole way......Dirty riding and we get disqualified. It's a joke, unbelievable." ) and jockey Victor Espinoza ("You have to wonder if the stewards here can see what is going on.”), I expected the foul to be less obvious than it appeared to me. [LA Times] If the rules require a DQ if the stewards felt that Bob and John coming over on Kissing Knight cost the latter a placing (he missed the place in a head bob), then don’t you have to disqualify him, no matter how much I’m sure they’d have preferred not to? And as for Valenzuela, it wasn’t like he was chasing Baffert’s horse out to the middle of the track. He rode him off the rail, sure, he's a race rider as we know, but he actually hit the horse right-handed right before the incident.

This reminds me, especially since I’m on this thing about how the TV coverage we see from abroad seems far more innovative than what we see here, of the sprint on Dubai World Cup day. Alex Solis claimed that Javier Castellano on the late Saratoga County (how about him for the sprint Eclipse?) impeded him and cost Pico Central second. If you saw the telecast, you’ll certainly recall the live coverage of the stewards explaining their decision to the two jockeys. They acknowledged that there was interference, and that it did cost Solis second, but the rules in Dubai do not call for a DQ unless they thought he would have won the race. So under those rules, Bob and John certainly would have been left up.

Bob and John is a blue-blooded Stonerside homebred, by Seeking the Gold out of graded stakes winner Minister’s Melody (Deputy Minister), and a half-brother to 2005 NY stakes winner Connie Belle. Bob and John’s third dam is Too Bald, the dam of Exceller, Capote, and Baldski.

A Sea of Cranes

- An article in the Palm Beach Post (via Albany Law School Racing and Wagering Page ) paints a picture of the Gulfstream construction that I think we all expected, especially after Wilma struck.

Gulfstream officials envision an unmatched racing and entertainment complex, but today it's a sea of cranes, exposed girders and patches of rocky land. A bettor probably would wonder if a grand opening just four weeks away shouldn't be a long shot on the tote boards. If there were tote boards.

What are the odds Gulfstream won't reach the starting gate Jan. 4?

"Zero," President Scott Savin said. "Because if me and everyone on my staff has to pick up hammers and nails, we're going to be running races on Jan. 4 and taking care of patrons. Failure is not an option."
I believe him when he says they’ll be racing there on Jan 4, but what facilities will be ready for the public is hard to say. I hope they still have some of those tents handy.
Partially because of delays from Hurricane Wilma, Gulfstream officials are prioritizing work that must be finished before opening. That includes the first floor of the structure, including the jockeys' and simulcasting rooms; the paddock and its apron; a walking ring that wraps around a fountain; and second-floor club-level seating.
I’m planning my trip there for President’s Day weekend as I usually do, and I imagine they’ll be a bit further along by then. Patrick will be there a couple of weeks before then; he'll see much better racing than I will, but he may be watching them while wearing a hardhat in the heat (though I imagine that Frank Stronach himself will make sure that the air conditioning is working from Day One). Unfortunately, the hotel on Hollywood Beach that I generally stay at is closed due to damage from the hurricane. Seems like they had a bit of a mess down there.

- Pennsylvania’s slots are not just about horse racing. The state’s Gaming Control Board is now accepting applications for licenses, and when they are done awarding all its licenses, there will be 14 slots parlors in the state _ a dozen that can offer as many as 5,000 slot machines and two that will be limited to 500. [AP] That’s a lot of gambling for one state. Just seven of the casinos will be at tracks. Two of the stand-alone 5,000-slot parlors are for Philly, one for Pittsburgh, and two more are up for grabs for the rest of the state, and the competition for those, as well as for the ones designated for the cities figures to be fierce.
The board will not disclose who has applied until after the deadline. And rumors are rife about who is interested in what site _ some even claim that Las Vegas casino magnate Steve Wynn was spotted in Philadelphia and the Lehigh Valley.

"For every supposed application out there, there's probably another four or five entities that have seriously looked at entering the Pennsylvania market," said Joe Weinert, the vice president of Spectrum Gaming Group, an Atlantic City, N.J.-based gambling consulting firm.
Still unresolved as well is the last remaining harness/casino license, for which both applicants were rejected a couple of weeks ago

- Three horses from the Cigar Mile were retired to stud. Winner Purge (Pulpit) will stand for $20,000, Mass Media (Touch Gold) for $7,500, and Value Plus (Unbridled’s Song) for $10,000, that for a horse who won three races in 15 career starts. I was at one of those, an allowance win at Gulfstream in Feb, 2004, and it was quite eye-catching; so much so that I bet him in the Derby futures pool. He only won one race after that, and it was also at Gulfstream, the following year, and it equaled the career high 108 Beyer he earned the day I saw him. He actually never came anywhere near that number in his other 12 races, but you can bet that his stud advertisement will say something like “Earned 108 Beyer speed ratings at 3 and 4!” He was purchased privately by the breeders who will stand him prior to the Cigar, so it figures that he shot out to the lead, because now they can also put in their ad “Led the Grade 1 Cigar Mile through six furlongs in 1:09!” I should be the guy who writes this stuff, doncha think?

Japan Cup

- If you missed the Japan Cup, you can check it out here if you have the right media player to do so; it’s well worth the effort, what a race! As the leader Tap Dance City tired in the stretch, and the pack moved in, the filly Ouija Board looked like the strong horse at first. Then Alkaased came flying on the outside, but they came at him from both sides. The son of Kingmambo was dead game in repelling favorite Zenno Rob Roy on his outside and then just holding off Heart’s Cry, rallying to his inside, for the win. A crowd of 95,000 was screaming and what a great race call from the gentleman whose name I do not know.

If you can see this replay, which comes via the Hong Kong Jockey Club site, you see another example of TV coverage of racing abroad willing to deviate from the continuous cut from the main camera focused on the leaders that is standard at U.S. tracks. As they went down the backstretch, the camera panned slowly through the field, so one could get a close-up of how the trailers were faring. Then, after cutting to one of those great shots from a close-up camera tracking the field, they again panned through the field, stopping for a moment to linger on the favorite Zenno Rob Roy as he started his rally. I didn't feel I was missing anything from not seeing every step of the unchallenged front-runner. After the finish, they showed a slow motion overhead view of the finish with the finish line superimposed on the screen, and you can hear the crowd gasp as the horses hit the wire. This angle leaves no doubt whatsoever as to who won the race, as close as it was, and man, it was close. Dettori joked that the stewards "left me suffering and sweating for 20 minutes’’ before the final result was announced. [Thoroughbred Times] The photo for the show spot looked like a virtual dead heat, with Zenno Rob Roy getting the nod.

If that view of the finish were to be adopted here, it would eliminate any little doubt still remaining as to the result of a race before the numbers are posted on the board. When I first started out, there were no replays of the finish at all until after the race was declared official. So you got one look with the naked eye, at regular speed (in black and white if you were watching on TV) and that was it! Talk about sweating out a photo; those were the days. It wasn’t at all unusual to see people betting on the photo result – some people were quite consistent and made a steady income from the practice. I did it once and lost five bucks, and never tried again.

You may recall that Alkaased was here for the BC Turf, though his trainer Luca Cumani never seemed to have his heart in it, at first unhappy about the soft ground, then scratching him due to an illness. Ouija Board was impeded a bit when Heart’s Cry brushed past, and finished a gallant 5th. Turf winner Bago threw a shoe and finished 8th. The Americans Better Talk Now and King’s Drama were no match for their foreign counterparts.

Alkaased is one of 57 stakes winners (9% of foals) for sire Kingmambo (Mr. Prospector), whose stud fee remains at $300,000 for 2006.

- Balance (Thunder Gulch) was just the kind of horse we were talking about the other day; the kind that gets bet in a dirt race on the basis of Beyers earned on the turf, making him an apparent underlay. First under the wire in two races on the grass (dq’d in one), Balance was sent off as the 9-5 favorite in the Sharp Cat Stakes at Hollywood, but in this case the chalk players were right on. She won handily, kicking home the final sixteenth in :6 1/5. She’ll stay on the dirt now, and head for the G1 Starlet on 12/18.

Balance is out of a Kris S mare, and is a half to stakes winner Where’s Bailey. Her sire, the 1995 Derby and Belmont winner Thunder Gulch, is taking a hit in his stud fee for 2006, going from $40,000 to $25,000. His 48 career stakes winners is just 4% of foals (10% is considered the benchmark, though with sires having such large books these days, that number is becoming more difficult to achieve). Balance is his second California two-year old filly stakes winner in a week, as his Private World took the Moccasin Stakes last Sunday. He had a decent book of 84 mares in 2005, and at $40,000 per, that added up to $3,360,000. He’ll have to work some overtime to achieve that amount in 2006.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Sunday Morning Notes - Nov 27

- Four winners for Todd Pletcher at Aqueduct on Saturday, as a crowd of 4,484 saw the last graded stakes of the year in New York We seem to be establishing new attendance lows each week, as they struggle to break the 2,000 mark during the week, and can’t seem to be able to reach 5,000 on a weekend. Maybe the closing of the grandstand has kept people away; perhaps it’s just too damn depressing for some. With three quarters of the plant shut, and with past promotional items being sold throughout the track for five bucks, it’s apparent that NYRA has no shame in showing their desperation to the world. In fact, perhaps that’s exactly their strategy. The amount of money it would take to get them through to slots (and we still haven’t heard anything about the start of construction; what the hell is going on??? I have a post from Nov 7 with Hayward predicting the "hammers to be flying in a couple of weeks") is just a drop in the bucket for the state in the scheme of things, and a drop that seems well worth the investment. The loss of revenue from a halt in racing would quickly eat into the $20 million that the state is seeking to prevent NYRA from raising with two seemingly harmless sales, and which could get them through until next fall.

Back to Pletcher, all these wins are just gravy as he adds on to the single-season earnings record that he’s already established. He started his day with two year old state-bred maiden World Cat (Tomorrow’s Cat) in the second. Then, in the third, his Pool Land (Silver Deputy), making her first start late in her three year old season, was established as the 1-2 favorite, the proverbial “fastest horse in the world.” But 1-2!? And though she looked like a 1-2 shot every step of the way, there’s gotta be better ways to invest one’s money. For Pletcher, that’s five first time winners at this Aqueduct meeting alone. Pool Land is out of a Slew City Slew half sister to BC Sprint winner Very Subtle.

Pletcher then had a setback in the Grade 2 Demoiselle for two year old fillies, despite the fact that he accounted for no less than three of the five entrants! His Cinderella’s Dream, the 9-5 second choice, ran second to Wonder Lady Anne L (Real Quiet), at 10-1 the longest shot on the board. Jerry Bailey tried to steal the race on the trainer’s Wait A While, cutting out a half mile of :49.4, and dooming the chances of the 8-5 favorite Better Now, rated along far behind with Javier Castellano seemingly oblivious to the developments, or lack thereof, up front. Looked like Pletcher had a lock on this one with Cinderella’s Dream tracking the slow pace, but the longshot surprised them all for Richard Dutrow.

In the Grade 2 Remsen, Pletcher sent out the 3-5 favorite Bluegrass Cat, who shook off a pesky 18-1 shot in Flashy Bull for a wire-to-wire win. It was his first start around two turns, which had me looking around for a possible upset. Lauren Stich wrote about this one’s blue-blooded pedigree in the Form the other day.

Bluegrass Cat is a half-brother to Lord of the Game (Saint Ballado), a multiple stakes winner this year who was on the also-eligible list for the Breeders' Cup Classic. Bluegrass Cat's stakes-winning second dam, Get Lucky, was a full sister to a 2-year-old champion and Travers Stakes winner, Rhythm, as well as Not for Love, a leading Maryland-based stallion. Another half-sister, Oscillate (Seattle Slew) is the dam of stakes winners Mutakddim and Smooth Charmer. Bluegrass Cat's third dam is stakes winner Dance Number, and his fourth dam is 1971's 2-year-old filly champion, Numbered Account, who also produced Private Account and Polish Numbers. [DRF]
Pletcher capped his day in the G1 Cigar Mile with Purge, the most unlikely of winners at 25-1. I was skeptical of all the top choices other than Scrappy T, but even if I looked for a longshot, it wouldn’t have been this one. Never in his 14 prior starts had Purge ever been over 9-1, and that was in last year’s Belmont. He ran 6th in the Cigar last year at 7-2. Here, he benefited from a quick early pace set by stablemate Value Plus to rally for the win. The trainer spoke as if he’s unlocked the heretofore unknown secret to this guy. "I realize more why he did what he did today and why we didn't do better with him the rest of the year.....Last year I felt he could be as good as any older horse in the country. Things just didn't jell early in the year." [NY Daily News ] He’d run fairly well finishing third in the Iselin (at 6-5) and the Meadowlands Cup (at 5-2).

Remember yesterday that Frankel seemed to make a pre-excuse for beaten favorite Badge of Silver, saying “He might be over ready?” After the race, he indeed said “Maybe I breezed him too fast." [Bloodhorse]

- Readers Walter and Dave discuss the relative merits of the Beyer and Bris speed figures in the comments section here. My understanding is that the Bris figures are raw speed figures with no adjustments made; while the Beyer boys make adjustments, using projected figures. That means that if a horse has been running consistent 98s, but then a figure comes up as an 85, they’ll figure “well, he always runs 98, so he must have done about the same in this race,” and they’ll "project" the fig accordingly, depending also on the past figs of others in the race. In the case of French Park that Walter cites, his 80 in the Pocahantas was likely based as much on what other horses ran as what he did; thus the higher fig than Sabatini, who ran faster at the same distance on the same day. This is why Dave’s BRIS figures had a higher number for Sabatini than it did for French Park.

I’ve always wondered about these projected speed figures that Beyer uses. It seems to me that by the logic of projecting what a horse’s real figure is based on his past races, they can calculate some figures for a race before it’s even run! There’s no question that they sometimes have bad figures, and in fact, they will occasionally go back and adjust a figure after a subsequent race casts doubt upon it. Dick Jerardi, who is one of the figure-makers, wrote a column about this process this past summer in the Form, discussing a race from June 17.
The day was what we call 13 Beyer points fast or -13. To get the proper figure for each race, the figure-maker had to subtract 13 points from the raw number (which equates to the actual time of each race).

Each race seemed to fit nicely into line - except the third. It was a race for 2-year-old New York-bred maidens. The time (57.23 seconds for five furlongs) equated to a 110 raw number on the scale. After subtracting the 13 points, the actual figure was 97. First-time starter Classic Pack had defeated fellow firster Mr. Sam I Am by a head, so both horses earned a 97.

Was it possible for two New York-bred maidens to get such a big figure? Yes. Was it likely that these two horses could earn a figure that would make them among the fastest 2-year-olds in the country? Not really, but you could not truly know because there was no context.

So Mark Hopkins, who does the New York figures, entered the 97 into the database and put a question mark next to the figure. Absent any compelling evidence, Hopkins went with the data.

"When it's not certain, we try to put a number down that has the best chance of being right," Hopkins said.

When Mr. Sam I Am ran back in a statebred maiden race on Aug. 1 at Saratoga, his 97 towered over the field. He was an odds-on favorite. He dueled for the lead and finished fifth, earning a 47.

Hopkins adjusted the original figure downward to an 83. When Classic Pack appeared in an open allowance at the Spa on Aug. 7, he went off at 22-1 and finished last, getting a 62 Beyer. [DRF]
For me, the proof is in the pudding, and while I sometimes question the figs, they seem to, more often than not, justify themselves in time. (Indeed, French Park won the Golden Rod. In fact, maybe that 80 was far too low considering his 95 in his debut.) So I wouldn’t go as far as Walter did in calling them “garbage;” however I don’t hesitate to view them with some skepticism when I believe it’s called for. And Dave and Walter are both right on in pointing out that the crowd does jump all over the high fig horses, even when they were earned on a surface or at a distance that’s not relevant to the race at hand. Those situations can create some of the best value you’ll see at the track.

- Private Vow atoned for his Juvenile loss with a solid win in the G2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

A Scrappy Saturday?

- Hope everyone is having a nice holiday weekend. Sorry for no posting the last couple of days, but the holiday season is upon is, for bettor or for worse, and the Head Chef is demanding my time and attention. I was at least able to make it to Aqueduct on Thanksgiving morning, and the sun seemed to break through just around the time I stepped out onto the apron around 11 A.M. It was all downhill from there from a betting standpoint anyway. There’s nowhere else I’d rather have been, but man, I was absolutely nowhere, up the track in races from four different tracks, as the lackluster live racing had me looking elsewhere.

Friday was a culture day, and one thing I can tell you is to choose a day other than the day after Thanksgiving to go to the Met, especially when Vincent Van Gogh l is in town. If NYRA got a hold of one of these babies, they wouldn’t need slots until 2009.

So I was out and away from racing, and wasn’t home in time for the Clark from Churchill and thus did not get a bet down on Magna Graduate ($10.00) nor on the exacta I’d picked right here. However, a mere cash reward is more than compensated for by not only being able to say I had it right, but having put it out there for all to see in advance of the race. I don’t bet in a way that my life is going to change whether I lose or win (though the upside is theoretically limitless, so just being able to tell people that I won is half the fun. (And on the other hand, don't you hate it when people ask you how you did, and you have no choice but to just go, “I lost,” because your colleagues at work wouldn’t understand about how your horse was five wide into a hot pace and was savaged by a filly in heat while rallying in the stretch.) So I was pleased to see that at least Walter in Las Vegas got a bet down.

While I unfortunately can’t buy any Xmas gifts with the satisfaction I earned, perhaps I can cash in today. Magna Graduate’s win is certainly flattering to Scrappy T, who he beat by ¾’s in the Discovery on Breeders Cup day. The 105 Beyer he earned that day equaled his career high, and I think he can move forward here in his first try against older horses....and he's 8-1 morning line, oh my! Certainly Badge of Silver would be tough on his best day, but he’s raced just once since April, a pointless 6th against Saint Liam in the Stephen Foster back in June. Frankel said, "He's ready.....He might be over-ready. He's breezing very good." [DRF] Sounds like he’s already making excuses.

As for the others, I’m just not scared of Host (0-1 lifetime on dirt), Imperialism (good money after bad), Mass Media (one for his last nine), Gygistar, or even Silver Wagon going first time for Dutrow (filling in, ironically, for the suspended Ralph Ziadie). I don’t think any of these are really in peak form right now, while Scrappy T, one of just two three-year olds here, could very well be sitting on a career best race in this, his third start off the layoff. I’ll be all over him if he’s anywhere near that 8-1 price.

- Too late for Indian Vale to jump into the muddled picture for three year old filly champion, but she easily handled the field of older mares in the Falls City at Churchill on Friday. When’s the next time we’ll see 2-1 on this one? Scary to read that she still has more to learn:

Velazquez said Indian Vale will be even better with maturity "and she gets a little more serious about things she needs to do." He said she still switches her leads back and forth. [Louisville Courier-Journal]

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Happy Thanksgiving!!!

And thanks, as always, for stopping by!

- Stellar Jayne makes her final appearance in Friday’s Grade 2 Top Flight Handicap after a disappointing run in the Distaff. "We were a little disappointed we finished fourth in the Distaff," said Rick Mettee, assistant to trainer Saeed bin Suroor. "I don't think being in the second flight of horses was the best spot for her. I thought she'd be closer up than she was or even on the lead." [Bloodhorse] Frankie Dettori rode her that day, and Jerry Bailey will make the trip to New York to ride her; she’s two for two with him on board. Godolphin paid $3.6 million for her last year, and she’s only made it to the gate three times for them. She was pointed all year specifically for the Distaff, and as John Kimmel, trainer of Seeking the Ante, pointed out, "A lot of horses don't run the races you think they will after the Breeders' Cup."

So while I have no hesitation in trying to beat her, with whom? Pletcher has Bohemian Lady breaking from the rail; she looks to have some speed, and may challenge Stellar Jayne on the lead, but she comes up short in this kind of company. Seeking the Ante trounced NY breds in the slop in her last. Areek has run well pretty well in graded sprint stakes in her last two, but a mile may not suit her. Ender’s Sister won her last by 19, but it was in the slop at Keeneland, and if we can throw out any bad races we want from the fall meeting there, can’t we throw out good ones too? So while I think the Top Flight is screaming for an upset, no one inspires me. Maybe hit the “all-but-Stellar Jayne” button?

- The other big stakes on the day is the G2 Clark at Churchill, and here too we have a horse coming off a loss on Breeders’ Cup day. But in this case, the third place finish by Perfect Drift in the Classic was a big positive for the tough six year-old gelding, as noted by his trainer Murray Johnson. "Our horse came out of the Breeders' Cup in perfect shape...He's sitting on a big race, I believe." [Daily Racing Form] However, we’re always willing to go against a horse that has won a single race on the dirt in his last 15 tries, especially when he’s the favorite, which he likely will be.

I like Magna Graduate, and that’s something I wouldn’t think I’d ever write a few months ago when I considered him to be a second-stringer, and a mediocre one that always got bet at that. Well, for one thing, we’re down to all second stringers, really. But since Todd Pletcher took over, Magna Graduate has shown much improvement, with two close seconds and, most recently, two wins. I was still skeptical even after he won the Pegasus at the Meadowlands based on the competition he’d been facing, but his win in the Discovery at Belmont on Breeders Cup day, in which he closed strongly and quickly, getting the last 2 ½ furlongs in :29.4, to defeat Scrappy T and Buzzards Bay has me thinking that he’s ready in his first test against older horses.

A.P. Arrow is another horse that I’m grudgingly coming around to. I’d chalked up his close second and win in allowance company at Saratoga to weak competition and/or slow final fractions. But he did well jumping up to Grade 2 company in the Super Derby, closing quickly to miss The Daddy by a neck. That was an extra furlong though, and I think he’s good for a part of the purse at best here.

It’s time for Suave to put up or shut up. His connections have touted this one mightily prior to his last two, a second to Borrego in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, and a thoroughly decent 5th in the Classic, just a half length behind Perfect Drift. And his trainer Paul McGee is exuding confidence once again. "No doubt it's going to be a tough race, but I see my horse as the horse to beat." [Bloodhorse] He should find the competition easier here and has no excuses left. Alumni Hall is a consistent sort, and M B Sea is sharp now, and either could sneak into the triple. If Andromeda’s Hero wins, I’ll eat the paper this is written on.

I like Magna Graduate, with Perfect Drift and Suave to complete the exacta.

- Henny Hughes is off to Dubai where he will prepare for a Triple Crown campaign in 2006. Gee, that strategy has always worked SO well in the past.

- First year sire Forest Camp has had his stud fee raised to $25,000 from his 2005 fee of $15,000, and from his previously announced 2006 fee of 20K. His son Your Tent Or Mine took the Hollywood Prevue last weekend in pretty sensational fashion, completing the seven furlongs in 1:21.

- Here's wishing everyone a happy, healthy, and safe Thanksgiving day. Peace.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Falls City Handicap

- You can bet that I’ll be out at the Big A bright and early on Thanksgiving morning. The first race has been delayed this year until 11:25 from 11 to accommodate those who have to use the detention barn for the early races. Post time used to be 10:30, but back then I was lucky to just be getting out of bed after one of the bigger party nights of the year, and I'd be lucky to make it by the third. I should be able to stick around until the featured Fall Highweight Handicap, but with all the fun out of that race with a 127 pound highweight and a four pound spread covering the entire field, it looks like just another undecipherable sprint stakes to me.

Churchill runs 12 races on turkey day; maybe families convene later in the day in Louisville, as they don’t finish until almost 5 PM! Horsemen here were outraged a few years ago when NYRA added a 10th race, which still was off well before 3:30. The 11th there is a Grade 2 for fillies and mares, the Falls City Handicap at nine furlongs. Todd Pletcher has his three year old Indian Vale, four for five and coming off a 9 ½ length win in the G3 Turnback the Alarm at Aqueduct. That followed Angel Cordero’s unsuccessful comeback aboard her in the Cotillion at Philly Park, in which she finished fifth. Pletcher said that Cordero just “picked the wrong day to ride her..... That track is pretty sandy, while this track has a little more cushion to it. Today, was easy, it was a walk in the park." [Daily Racing Form]

A walk in the park it was, but that may have been partly because of some weak competition as compared to the Cotillion, even though the latter was restricted to three year-olds. The 5-2 second choice in the Turnback, Asti, had never even run on a dry dirt track before. In the Cotillion, she faced two other promising and lightly raced fillies in winner Nothing But Fun and runner-up Yolanda B. Too. (Both of those ran unsuccessfully in the BC Distaff, in which they were run ill-advisedly in my opinion; but Yolanda's owners West Point at least got to show their partners a good time. Hope she recovers from her 22 length defeat.)

After Indian Vale's last race, Pletcher mentioned a December 17 Aqueduct stakes as her likely next race, so the fact that he’s spotting her here must mean that she’s doing well. Still, she faces some early pressure and could get a run for her money. Pampered Princess is a tough-as-nails five year old mare from Florida who passed her test for class the Grade 1 Spinster, defeating Pleasant Home, who of course trounced the Distaff field in her next race. She’s won four out of five, and comes in off a 45 day layoff; her trainer Marty Wolfson hits at 29% in that category.

Flying Glitter is a sharp and speedy three year old who should also be involved early. She’s three for four over the racetrack, and two for two around two turns; but this is her first try over a mile and a sixteenth, and a tough spot in which to try it. Bending Strings’ best efforts have been one turn, such as her last, a win in the G2 Chiluki at a flat mile. Prior to that, she was 4th, over four lengths behind Pampered Princess in the Spinster. She’s 7-2 in the morning line, drew poorly in the 12 hole, and looks like one to go against at that price. Joint Aspiration was the horse that put Gary Stevens, who will announce his retirement on Friday, over the 5000 win mark. Unfortnately for her, she’s now ended up in the hands of Patrick Biancone, so he typically puts her on the dirt for the first time ever, and runs her in a Grade 2 stake.

Tough race, as it looks like it may set up for a closer, yet none of those types seem competitive in here. So I’ll go with the five year old Pampered Princess, who has shown that she can sit a length or so off the pace.

Dr. G Update

- No further developments thus far on Wayne Gertmenian’s alleged $217,000 money grab on the day that he and Albert Fiss were removed from their posts at the Jockeys Guild. The matter was turned over to the police, and the result of the investigation is still pending. I mean, he couldn’t really have been brazen enough to do such a thing. Could he? He’s already under scrutiny by the United States Congress for possible contempt for failing to comply with their subpoenas. We knew the guy was shifty and devious, but if the allegations about the money turns out to be true, that would be a strong indication that he's just a fucking idiot. When the film of this whole affair is produced, I don’t know whether it will be tragedy, comedy, farce, or science fiction.

Meanwhile, the guy continues to be on the staff at Pepperdine University, where he teaches a course entitled Prices, Profit and the Market Economy. The school’s website continues to trumpet claims that he worked in the Nixon and Ford administrations from his resume (scroll down a bit) even though they have been widely discredited from people who should know. "We've heard from Henry Kissinger, and he said he never heard of this man," said Rep. Joe L. Barton (R-Texas). "When [Gertmenian testified], he set a new standard for disingenuous and fraudulent statements."[LA Times] Pepperdine issued a statement in response to questions about their Dr. G:

"While we can confirm that Dr. Gertmenian is currently a professor of economics at the Graziadio School of Business and Management at Pepperdine University, the university does not publicly comment on personnel matters pertaining to its staff, faculty or students.

"As always, the university reserves the right to take action should any staff, faculty or student engage in unlawful conduct or conduct inconsistent with the university's policies, procedures or practices."
In addition to their money woes, the new Guild staff, headed by Interim national manager Darrell Haire is now facing that $10 million lawsuit filed by Gary Birzer. Haire’s job has to be up there with NYRA’s Charles Hayward on the list of jobs NOT to be thankful for on this holiday.

- A couple of retirements: Florida Derby winner High Fly is done with a medial condylar fracture of his right front fetlock. And Distaff winner Pleasant Home has a date with Awesome Again.

Wednesday Notes - Nov 23

- It turns out that our trainer Billy Turner never was going to race Highland Cat on the turf, and only intended to enter him last Saturday in anticipation of the race coming off the grass. His thinking was that that would have left a weak field that HC could take advantage of. It’s so heartening to hear that he has such confidence in the colt now. He worked a half in 49.63 this morning, and we’re now hearing that he’ll be entered in a one mile maiden special dirt race on Cigar Mile this Saturday. I find that a little odd too, considering that we were told that the horse could improve when racing around two turns.

[UPDATE] Two turns it is. He'll be entered in a mile and 70 yds race on the inner track on Friday, Dec 2; it's a 60K maiden claimer. Report from the track says:

Bill likes the way he is going now, and says that HC is feeling real good. Don't take the fact that Bill is putting him in for a tag to mean that he has given up on him. That's far from the case. He wants to see HC run a big race in this spot and then race him this winter when the comp gets a little easier.
- Private Vow will head Saturday’s Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, a race he probably would not have run in had his left rein not broke in the Breeders Cup Juvenile. He worked a half in :46.60 on Tuesday, "more than we expected" according to Steve Asmussen. [Lexington Herald-Reader]

- NYRA intends to forge ahead with its art sale next week despite the opposition of the Racing and Wagering Board, even in the face of threatened legal action.
NYRA officials have insisted that they never needed state permission before to sell things like tractors or machinery, and that it doesn't need the state's authority to sell paintings given to and purchased by NYRA over the years. [Bloodhorse]
NYRA VP Bill Nader says that the $2 million they expect to raise from the sale would only get them through the end of the year, and wonders what exactly the state wants them to do at this point.
'There aren't a lot of options available to us other than shutting down and putting a lot of people out of work. There aren't a lot of plays in the playbook.'
'We're still hoping we can work something out with the state, some kind of package that would get us through this period,' Nader said. 'Right now it isn't pretty, but if we can hang in there, it will be.' [Saratogian]
Incredible that the possibility of a shutdown of racing in New York is now being discussed so matter-of-factly. The state has even expressed its opposition to NYRA consulting with a bankruptcy lawyer. As Michael Veitch of the Saratogian writes, with thousands of people worried sick about their jobs and the future of the racing game, the politicians are having fun kicking around the football known as NYRA. They had best keep their eye on the game clock. It seems that we’re inside the two minute warning, and who will they blame when they see the cash flow come to a grinding halt?

- The president apparently does not like our favorite animals.
President Bush may love Texas, and his ranch, as he reminded Mongolians when he compared their land to his beloved state. But his enthusiasm does not extend to another Mongolian passion - horses.

When Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld was here a month ago, the Mongolians presented him with their highest honor: a beautiful gelding that he named Montana. So in a delicate act of diplomacy, the White House secured an agreement that President Enkhbayar Nambar would not give Mr. Bush a horse. [New York Times]
This is separate from the agreement the White House secured with the Defense Department that on matters of Iraq, Secretary Rumsfeld would not give Mr. Bush the truth.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Monday Night Notes - Nov 21

- Scipion (A.P. Indy) won – kind of – at Churchill on Friday, as he ran second to Funk, who was running for purse money only. He was way wide coming out of the turn, and rallied pretty well, out gaming Patriot Act for the win spot. Scipion’s three quarter brother Vindication (Seattle Slew) stands at Hill’n’Dale Farm in Kentucky for $60,000. The first peek at his offspring recently took place at the November sales, and he acquitted himself quite well at Keeneland; he had seven offspring sell for an average of over $213,000, second only to Mineshaft (who only had two sold).

- Allan Jerkins is considering taking on the males in the G1 Cigar Mile for his filly Society Selection, and maybe it’s not such a bad idea. Jerkens said that Society Selection is a "good miler and she comes from behind.....If they mix it up a lot on the front.....she could come strong at the finish." [Daily Racing Form] She can’t seem to find her pace scenario against her own kind, so why not give it a shot? One of the front runners that Jerkins would hope will contribute to a quick pace is Scrappy T, making his first start against older horses, and his third start off the layoff from the "pulled muscle in the back” suffered in the Preakness according to trainer Robert Bailes. And you thought Afleet Alex took the worst of that. Bailes added: “Right now, I think he's as good as he's ever been." [DRF]

Richard Dutrow has a few possibilities for the Cigar, including Silver Wagon, who will be making his debut for the barn. Dave Litfin of the Form points out that several Buckram Oak horses from either Florida or Kentucky have improved leaps and bounds after shipping to Dutrow's barn at Aqueduct this year, notably Silver Train, winner of the Breeders' Cup Sprint.

The improvement pattern has already been exhibited by Tiger Heart, who had an out-of-town Beyer peak of 91 before rattling off figures of 108-102-105 in his first three local starts. And the first-time Dutrow angle will be in play with Silver Wagon, who is already talented enough to have run a Beyer of 110 finishing second in the Met Mile.

If Las Vegas had an over/under line for predicting Silver Wagon's Beyer first-time Dutrow, what do you suppose it might be? It's hard to say, but since he was capable of reaching 110 with another trainer, the new-and-improved number would probably be something around 120 - 1 point below the best figure that Cigar himself ever ran.
- Bob Baffert is in a streak of hard luck that just won’t quit. He recently had to retire Roman Ruler, and his early two-year old sensation What A Song died earlier this year. Now his two year old filly Diamond Omi (Giant’s Causeway), winner of the G2 Oak Leaf over BC Juv Fillies runner-up Wild Fit, has died from complications of pneumonia.

- It seems that there’s an endless stream of horses going into stud duty these days. A Grade 1 win is certainly not a requirement. Just today on, comes the headline: Grade II Stakes-Placed Strive [Deputy Minister] to Pepper Oaks. A third place finish to Mineshaft was the best he could do. (He is however a half brother to G1 winner Pirate’s Bounty, and to the dam of Sweet Catomine.)

Also, there's Congressionalhonor (Forestry), whose sex life will be greatly enhanced by virtue of his being Saint Liam's brother. Good break for this one, who may not have gotten to third base on his win in the Bay Meadows Derby alone. Grade 2 winner Blazonry (Hennessy) has just two wins from eight starts and earnings of $105,454.

Freeforinternet is a more obvious candidate, having won graded stakes here and abroad. So is Wildcat Heir, who will stand for $8000 in Florida. It seems like I read a steady stream of these items, and I wonder if the attrition rate of deceased and retired stallions warrants such a large number of replacements each year.

I wish we could get some of these guys in the Administration to retire to stud. Karl Rove could stand for $25,000, payable when the child reveals government secrets. The president could stand for $15,000 on his own farm, payable when the child serves a complete stint in the National Guard. Dick Cheney, not really suitable for stud duty, could stand for 99 cents, payable when Mohammed Atta actually does meet with an Iraqi intelligence agent in Prague.

Weekend Stakes Random Rambling

- India (Hennessy) made one of the more impressive appearances of this year’s Saratoga meet when she got her maiden win by 12 lengths, finishing with aplomb, and attracting a bid of $2 million. But she’s been a disappointment since then. She had an excuse in the Matron at Belmont when she had troubles in the gate and got cooked in a quick pace. On Sunday, she made her first appearance since then in the G3 Valley Stream Stakes, and suffered a similar pace fate, though without a mishap in the gate.

Instead, it was Miraculous Miss (Mr. Greeley) who had gate problems, striking it at the start and breaking last. However, that was likely fortuitous, as she was able to rally for the win off of yet another blistering pace for India, who got hooked by Princess Sweet and tired for third. They went the first quarter in :21.3, and the last one in :26.1. As you know, that's not really that unusual for American thoroughbred racing, especially for these two year-olds, who are bred to fly out of the gate. Many races are won by the horse that is the least tired and slow coming home.

It was the second stakes win in just two weeks for Miraculous Miss, as she took the Fifth Avenue on Nov 7. She was 7-2 then, but returned a healthy $21.20 here, as her high Beyer of 62 was significantly below those of other contenders. Given the way she picked up the pieces in this spot, I imagine she’ll be more than fair odds in her next race too. She’s one of the two year olds that owner Jeff Puglisi and trainer Steve Klesaris spent mucho money on earlier this year; they paid $350,000 at Timonium in May.

Miraculous Miss is a half sister to Tiger Heart, who ran second as the 2-1 favorite in the DeFrancis Memorial at Laurel on Saturday. I’m The Tiger (Siphon) went wire-to –wire for Frankel. I find many of these sprint stakes to be totally ponderous. On paper, there seemed to be tons of speed, but as so often happens, one of them, in this case I’m The Tiger, got the jump on all of them and was never really challenged. In trying to pick my spots amongst hundreds of races each week, I will almost always pass on a Grade 1 sprint with 14 entries. You don’t have to bet on every race, even, or in some cases, especially if it’s a Grade 1 stakes.

- The Grand Canyon was an interesting little turf stakes for two year olds at Churchill on Sunday. For one thing, it was for some reason carded as the second race. I went to Keeneland a few years ago, and I remember that the track seemed empty on Sunday. When I inquired about that, I was told that it’s a late arriving crowd that day because people are at church. If that’s also the case in Louisville, there may have been some well-dressed, God-fearing people racing into Churchill to get their bets down on the even money favorite Wise River, an impressive winner of his two starts, both on turf. Wise River is a half-brother to Ruler’s Court (Doneraile Court), who made a big splash a couple of years ago when he won the Norfolk and was assigned co-high weight on the Experimental Freeweight thing. I believe he’s been pointing to Saturday’s Cigar Mile.

Lewis Michael rallied to win the race as the 7-2 second choice, as the favorite settled for third. He’s by Rahy (Blushing Groom – Glorious Song), the sire of grass stars such as Designed For Luck and Fantastic Light, out of Justenuffheart (Broad Brush) a turf stakes winning half sister to grass champion Kitten’s Joy, who will start his stud career for a $25,000 fee next year. He was well back in seventh through a slow half of :49 1/5, yet rallied wide to win, despite the fact that the pace quickened from that point. That would normally seem really impressive, but the other two turf races on the card were run in similar fashion, so I don’t know how much to put into it. In fact, in the G3 River City Handicap, America Alive (American Chance) closed for the win off a 50 second half, and despite a final three furlongs run in :36.44.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Sunday Morning Notes - Nov 20

- Check this out. I’m in Manchester, Vermont with family members young and old. Amidst much turmoil in the hotel room early Saturday evening, I switched on the laptop instantly I'm hooked up via the wireless hi-fi. Super Tote on lets me know that the 7th at Hollywood is upcoming in 15 minutes. I’ve got the past performances, and much more, on Formulator, the video via a link to the Capital District OTB channel, and a toll-free number to my phone account. Not only can I bet the race, I can look up trainer records, get the double payoffs with the horse I liked in the subsequent Hollywood Prevue, and even watch the race live. Is this freaking awesome or what?? It won’t be long, if it’s not already possible, before I could excuse myself from the dinner table, go into the bathroom and do all of the above on my cellphone!

OK, so I ran second in the race with You Crack Me Up, second at 5.70 to 1; and I wouldn’t have won anyway, since Old Thunder ran 4th at an underlaid even money in the Prevue. When I wrote that I liked him, I didn’t say that I liked him at 1.10 to 1. Though I guess I didn’t say that I didn’t like him at that price either. Your Tent Or Mine was one of the two entrants sired by Forest Camp (out of She's Got the Look), and this two year-old ran his seven furlongs in 1:21 after a bit of a sluggish start, a full 4/5ths of a second faster than older allowance horses in the 5th, getting his final furlong in 12 2/5. He was the longest shot on the board at 6-1.

At Churchill, Sundrop (Sunday Silence) found the competition in the Grade 3 Cardinal somewhat easier than the BC F&M Turf, after which she finished 14th by 37 lengths and was vanned off the track. Whenever I see a horse with the ‘van’ comment get bet down from the morning line in his/her next race, I consider it worth paying attention to. Rick Mettee, the New York-based assistant to trainer Saeed bin Suroor, said that jockey Frankie Dettori thought the filly took a bad step and eased up as a precaution.

"She did a real good piece of work the other day at Belmont that most people might not have noticed. She worked 59 and change on the dirt, which is really good for a turf filly." [Louisville Courier-Journal]
- Somebody noticed because she was 15-1 in the morning line, but went off at 7-1 and stormed home in 12:11 seconds to hold off the tough Delta Princess. It was her last race.

- An editorial in the Baltimore Sun points out that Magna scored a handy profit of $172 million with its sale of the Meadows harness track, thanks to the slots law that guaranteed a racino there, and wonders exactly what their motive is in Maryland.
Back in Maryland, ask whether Magna would do the same thing here, grab a low-priced slots license from the state as an entitlement to save racing and then quickly flip it - fleeing right away with perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars.

Marylanders should pay close attention to Pennsylvania's rush to slots, beset from the start with questionable, if not corrupt, deals. They also should ask whether Magna wants a slots license or two to save horse racing or to flip them for a quick buck.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Saturday Stakes

- Still a lot of good two year old stakes to be run this year, and you never know when a prospect will come out of one. It will all culminate on the left coast with the G1 Hollywood Futurity and Hollywood Starlet on Dec 17-18. Some Grade 2’s next weekend, with the Kentucky Jockey Club and Golden Rod for colts and fillies respectively at Churchill, and the Remsen and Demoiselle at the Big A. This weekend, juveniles go on the turf in a couple of wide open-looking races at Laurel, the Selima for fillies and Laurel Futurity.

At Hollywood on Saturday is the G3 Hollywood Prevue; it’s considered a prep for the Futurity, which last year determined that Declan’s Moon would be the Eclipse winner. It's only drawn six this year, but Lauren Stitch in the Form sees pedigree potential in the field, especially in the 2-1 morning line favorite Bengal Lore. She explains his fascinating pedigree with a strong connection to Kelso. Bengal Lore (Tale of the Cat) also sports the highest Beyer in the field, having earned a 90 in a nose loss in the six furlong Sunny Slope at Oak Tree last month. He looks like he should be able to grab the lead from the two post, but needs to show he can stretch his speed to seven furlongs.

The Pharaoh goes from the outside post, and he should take some money based on second place finishes to BC Juvenile winner Stevie Wonderboy in the Del Mar Futurity, and Florida speedster In Summation. He’s by freshman sire Forest Camp, out of a mare by recently deceased Meadowlake. Forest Camp (Deputy Minister) has eleven winners thus far, he's doing quite well in the sales ring as well, with 59 yearlings having sold for an average of over $95,000 this year. Accordingly, his 2006 stud fee of $20,000 is an increase from 15K. Forest Camp is also the sire of Your Tent Or Mine, well-bet at 8-5 in his winning debut in September, and Valenzuela rides again.

Just a length back of The Pharaoh in the Del Mar Futurity was Old Thunder (Fusaichi Pegasus), and this is who I like. He followed up the Del Mar race with a dominating 8 length win in a maiden race at this seven furlong distance, covering the final three furlongs in an impressive 37 2/5 under a hand ride. The 83 Beyer continued a pattern of faster figs in each of his four starts, and he has a couple of nice long works for Ron McAnally.

- Also at Laurel is a Grade 1 sprint stake, the Frank J. De Francis Memorial at six furlongs. Might have been a nice spot to settle the sprint championship if you believe that it’s between Taste of Paradise and Silver Train, but both are done for the year (forever in the case of the former). Instead, we get the 4th and 5th place finishers from the Sprint, Atilla’s Storm and Elusive Jazz. A total of 14 horses go in this wide open sprint, which unfortunately, to me anyway, has just a little bit of a stench with the presence of likely favorite Tiger Heart. He’s yet another horse that has shown such improvement since being switched to the care of Richard Dutrow that it just has to make you wonder how he does it. This four year old by Scatmandu showed potential last year with a second place finish to Eddington in a route allowance race, but he had lost by a total of 36 lengths in his last four races before going from the care of Ken McPeek to Dutrow. Since then, he scored a 12 length win in a Belmont allowance with a 108 Beyer (at even money), and after another allowance win, ran second, just two lengths behind Taste of Paradise in the Grade 1 Vosburgh. How does he do it?

News and Other Crap - Nov 18

- Well, Highland Cat did not draw into Saturday’s ninth race – so much for his turf debut. While I’m going to be out of town and I’m glad that I won’t be missing it, there are no more grass races for him in New York this year, so overall it’s a disappointment. Waiting word on what’s next.

- What’s next for NYRA remains to be seen in the wake of their cool reception towards the recommendations made by the state’s Oversight Board as to how they should deal with their financial crisis. As expected, raising the takeout, a non-starter as far as NYRA goes, was key among the suggestions, which also include deferring their NTRA dues, which would save $3.3 million over the next 13 months. I don’t imagine they consulted NTRA about that!

Other recommendations, and they are just that and have no binding authority, include negotiating a cash advance from VLT partner MGM, renegotiating simulcast contracts, settling lawsuits against NYC OTB and Finger Lakes that the board feels stand in favor of NYRA, selling their stake in Equibase, and monetizing their Belmont Stakes contract with ABC. The latter would involve finding an investor to front cash in anticipation of future revenues, which would be returned with interest.

NYRA wouldn’t even comment on the recommendations, about which the board demanded a response by Nov 28. "It is becoming a bit of a circus and we're not going to respond to a letter sent to Charlie Hayward from the oversight board. We're not going to play this out in the media,'' said Bill Nader [Bloodhorse]

Nader also would not comment on NYRA’s response to the Racing and Wagering Board regarding the art sale; but the catalog including the paintings is once again posted on the Sotheby’s website, and NYRA has shown no sign of backing down on this.

The idea of racing in New York shutting down is something that seems unthinkable; yet, some horsemen are starting to have serious concerns.

"It's almost like a slow death here, watching this happen," said Alan Foreman, lawyer for the New York State Thoroughbred Horsemens' Association.

He said everyone from backstretch personnel to trainers and owners are worried NYRA may close its Aqueduct meet, which is supposed to run all winter.

"We're all becoming concerned that that could happen here. I represent the people whose livelihood depends on that racetrack opening every day," Foreman said. [Albany Times-Union]
Gee, perhaps we’ll all have to start playing poker instead. I’ve written things here in the past, such as calling the vice-president of the United States a ‘lying prick,’ about which I’ve braced myself for negative reactions from readers, but it took my calling poker ‘crap’ to finally elicit such a respone. Reader David Rex replied (in capital letters, no less):
That may very well be true; I have no knowledge as to which game gives one a better chance of winning, and I have nothing against those who enjoy the game and/or find success with it. My aversion to poker has to do more with the fact that I feel that its popularity on TV is merely part of the cultural abyss of reality programs we presently find ourselves in, as viewers gravitate towards shows which are based on real people lying to and deceiving others. I have no more desire to watch some pompous ass wearing sunglasses to conceal his eyes try to fake another out of his money with a weak hand than I do to watch cruel pranks such as those on repulsive shows such as Punk’d. Perhaps I’m being oversensitive, jealous of poker's popularity as compared to racing, or carrying my hatred for reality TV too far, but it all just rings the same to me. No offense to true poker lovers intended.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

News and Notes - Nov 17

- Another racing tragedy last night as Josh Radosevich, a 16 year old apprentice jockey, was killed Wednesday night in a spill at Beulah Park. It’s the second jockey fatality in a month; Mike Lapanese died after an October 24 accident at Suffolk Downs.

- Hold your horses, the NY State and Wagering Board has said to NYRA regarding its scheduled sale of artwork. NYRA has been given a deadline of end-of-the-day Thursday to confirm that has withdrawn its 19 paintings from the Dec 2 auction at Sotheby’s, under the threat of legal action by Attorney General Eliot Spitzer. As of this writing, the paintings are still listed on the Sotheby’s website [the catalog has now been pulled from the site]. As you know, NYRA needs the cash desparately, but not just to cover its day-to-day expenses, as reported in the Albany Times-Union.

NYRA, which is considering bankruptcy court, will be in trouble with U.S. District Court if it doesn't come up with a $1 million payment Dec. 1, 2006. It is the last installment in a $3 million fine it agreed to as part of a settlement of a criminal indictment for its role in a three-decades tax fraud conspiracy. Robert Nardoza, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney, would not discuss the ramifications if NYRA misses the payment.

In addition to the remaining fine, NYRA has a host of other bills. It racked up millions of dollars in legal and consulting bills trying to fend off prosecution and trial. The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. has filed liens on Saratoga Race Course due to NYRA's failure to pay about $7 million into an employee pension fund. It has incurred expenses to enhance security at races and cut links with rebate companies, losing tens of millions in revenues. And, [NYRA VP Bill] Nader said, NYRA….owes millions more in property taxes to three counties and state parimutuel taxes.
NYRA has shown much resilience of late in avoiding the threatened federal prosecution, but with the state fighting them on every single front, including something as relatively innocuous as selling off some paintings, it’s hard to see how the association will extricate themselves from this one.

- The parties emerging from Albany Law School’s think tank on new racing legislation lived to talk another day. "The meeting went better than a lot of participants expected. No food was thrown,'' said Raymond Casey, president of the New York City Off Track Betting Corp. [Bloodhorse] That’s an accomplishment considering the fact that the meeting brought together rivals from NYRA, OTB, harness tracks, and horsemen of both breeds that haven’t agreed on much in the past. The group agreed on the need for legalizing computer wagering in the state, as well as on the general concept of rebating.

Regarding the all-important question of merging NYRA and OTB into a single operation, Friends of NY Racing head Tim Smith said that an "alliance'' between racetracks and OTBs could be possible in a year. Without specifically discussing a merger, Smith was vague when he told that he envisioned some sort of financial "joint ventures'' that the sides would launch.
Of some issues, Smith said, "Politically we might not be able to tackle or the Legislature might not want us to tackle.'' He cited a FONYR plan to permit VLTs at Belmont as one example the group didn't discuss.
That idea was one of the centerpieces of a FONYR report issued recently. Smith didn’t elaborate, but in a speech at the Jockey Club Annual Round Table Conference, the text of which is posted on their website, Smith said
.. have you ever wondered why state law provides for VLTs at almost every state racetrack, but expressly prohibits them from Belmont Park? Answer: the past opposition of the Nassau County OTB, along, perhaps, with some mixed signals from the NYRA side.
And that is the heart of the problem in the state, separate entities looking out for their own interests without regard for the big picture. Until that changes, it’s hard to see how things will improve no matter who gets the franchise.

- A couple of moves by the Daily Racing Form: they’ve purchased the assets of Sports Eye, which publishes Harness Eye, the standardbred equivalent of DRF, with comprehensive past performance lines that go far beyond what’s available in the standard track programs. They also publish sports handicapping products, and some abridged thoroughbred stuff as well. At one time all published under the name Sports Eye, it was a real rag at one time as I recall, but developed throughout the years. I always enjoyed the late columnist Clyde Hirt’s Impertinent Questions column; he now has a race series at the Meadowlands named in his honor. Sports Eye once actually competed directly with the Form, publishing thoroughbred past performances that weren’t bad at all; in fact, there was a period during which I tried it in lieu of the Form. If I recall correctly, the Form ended up paying them to stop publishing those pp's, and they became known exclusively as a harness publication.

In addition, Steve Crist announced in today’s edition the beginning of a column devoted to poker, calling it a “game right up horseplayers’ alleys.” He says to readers that are just not interested: feel free to turn the page. There's probably a race going off somewhere - and there's always the prizefights and "Fiddler on the Roof." Personally, I’ll read Harness Eye long before I waste my time with that crap.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Highland Cat Tunes Up

- Highland Cat breezed a half in 49.64 seconds on Wednesday morning, the tenth best of 21 at the distance. He remains on course to make his turf debut in a maiden special at a flat mile on Saturday. His sire, Tactical Cat, has had his stud fee halved from $10,000 to $5,000 at Overbrook Farm in Kentucky. It’s been a slow year both on the track (he ranks 25th in 2005 earnings amongst third year sires) and in the shed (bred only 38 mares in 2005).

However, his biggest earner this year, Virden, took the G3 Senorita on the grass, and Highland Cat is similarly bred, both being out of Damascus-line broodmare sires – Private Terms, a grandson, for Virden, and Highland Blade, a son, for our guy. Highland Blade was a versatile handicap star in the early 80’s for Pen-Y-Bryn Farm and David Whiteley. He ran second to Summing in the 1981 Belmont Stakes, sweeping by Derby/Preakness winner Pleasant Colony while widest on the turn, and getting to within a half length of the winner at the end. It was all accompanied by one of Marshall Cassidy’s more unbearable calls. Highland Blade won stakes on dirt and turf, taking the Marlboro Cup and Brooklyn Handicap on the dirt, and the Pan American and Red Smith on the weeds.

Highland Cat has a three year old half brother by High Yield (like Tactical Cat, by Storm Cat) named Jono, who broke his maiden on the turf in England last year [Oops, wrong horse, nevermind]. The dam, Highland Tide, was stakes placed on the dirt; but half brother Super May was a stakes horse on the grass, taking the Grade 1 Mervyn LeRoy. So, while there are reasons to be hopeful, it’s basically, after his dismal last race, taking a shot and hoping for the best.

- Business is booming at the new slots parlor in Bangor, Maine, as patrons pumped more than $12.5 million into the gambling facility's 475 slot machines. [Bangor Daily News]

Dr. G --- as in Gone

- Or maybe as in Gonzo may be more appropriate. Consider that on the day that L. Wayne Gertmenian was removed by a reconstituted board of directors of the Jockey Guild, he was overheard by LA Times reporter Bill Christine yelling at the interim national manager Darrell Haire while interviewing him on the phone. "Get out. Get out, or I'll call the police."

Haire was asked whether that had been Gertmenian.

"Yes, it is," he said.

Barry Broad, a former lawyer for the guild, said Tuesday night that there was a scuffle in the office and that Monrovia police appeared. But no arrests or charges were made. [LA Times]
[Matt Hegarty reports more on the confrontation in the Form.] You would think that, at this point, Gertmenian would want to see police in his office about as much as does Karl Rove. Because besides his mismanagement and his allowing its on-track insurance policy to lapse without notifying the membership, his funneling of Guild’s funds to his Matrix Capital consulting firm could possibly, at least to this non-legal mind, be construed as embezzlement. Already, Rep. Ed Whitfield said "we're still looking at" possibly pursuing perjury or other charges against Gertmenian.

Amongst the documents posted on the Subcomittee’s website is a ledger of Matrix expenses “directly benefiting the Jockeys’ Guild,” and it includes some $70,000 paid to ‘Scoop, Inc.’ between June, 2001 and last December. During the congressional hearing, Gertmenian acknowledged that the company was actually his daughter Farrah. There was another $14,000 made out to Farrell, or F. Gertmenian; over $60,000 to VP Albert Fiss, who was not removed on Tuesday; $3,000 to Don Peppe’s, a restaurant near JFK Airport, and $6,000 to that popular payee “Travel Expense Reimbursement.”

What the real financial status of the Guild is won’t be clear until they’re done going over the books. And despite everything, the Guild’s agenda will likely move forward during Thursday’s Subcommittee hearing. Matt Hegarty in the Form reports:
Despite the divisive atmosphere Gertmenian helped to create during his tenure, some of his calls for reform have been met by the racing industry....

In addition, following the Congressional hearing, several Democratic members of the subcommittee sent a letter to the chairman of the National Labor Relations Board urging the board to consider allowing jockeys to conduct collective bargaining negotiations with racetracks. Gertmenian has called for such power despite questions over whether jockeys could ever be represented by a union because of their status as independent contractors.
Jockey Brian Peck, though acknowledging that the change is in the best interest of riders, added
"He's sure gotten us noticed...He sure got people to sit up straight and pay attention on a lot of issues. I don't have anything bad to say about him." [Louisville Courier-Journal]
Good thing for Peck that he wasn’t riding Lil Bit of Rouge in the 7th at Mountaineer on July 20, 2004. It seems to me that to give Dr. G any credit for progress being made on insurance and collective bargaining issues is misguided. Given the testimony and documentation, I think it’s fair for one to speculate that Gertmenian simply did and said what he had to in order to maintain his financial windfall and to deflect attention away from any apparent mismanagement or corruption. To surmise, even venomously, that he used Gary Birzer in some perverse grand scheme to focus attention on issues of importance to jockeys that is now paying off is to imply that he really cared about those issues, and in any event is likely giving him far too much credit.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Stevie Haskinboy

- I guess there’s not much going on since I see people turning their attention to the Kentucky Derby. Steve Haskin has his first Kentucky Derby Trail article at today.

What better way to begin than by cruelly putting enormous pressure on Stevie Wonderboy, proclaiming him one of those rare 2-year-old champions (to be) that look to have all the tools to win not only the Derby, but...nope, I won't dare say it.
Er, didn’t he say basically the same thing about First Samurai a couple of weeks ago? Yup, he did.

Well, I have this silly rule that I don’t start speculating that a horse can win the Triple Crown until he’s at least won around two turns, and this colt hasn’t even tried it as of yet. So, despite the breeding that says he’ll have no trouble with that, I’ll reserve judgment for now. Haskin also asks: And how can you not root for Merv Griffin, who could become racing's greatest ambassador since Jack Klugman back in 1980.

Well, there’s the matter of the $25,000 he gave to the Republican National Committee before last year’s presidential election, so personally, I have no problem rooting against him. Given his wealth, you’d think he could hire somebody (like me) who knows what he/she is talking about to write the blurb on his website ( about his prized thoroughbred.
It was also the first time a horse at the Breeders’ Cup had not raced for 52 days, a deliberate strategy that paid off big for Griffin and O’Neill.

And, for the first time in 20 years, the Beyers (considered the best indicator of which horse is best on a scale of 1-100) went over the top and gave Stevie Wonderboy a 104.
Damn, and to think I didn’t bet him because of that stupid 52-day rule.

The Flying Dutchman

- Don’t know if I’d place a wager on this horse if I saw him in the paddock, but NYRA is betting on this baby to bring in up to a half million or so when they auction off their art collection at Sotheby's on December 2. That money would buy them around two weeks of racing at an Aqueduct meet that has set new attendance lows. Apparently, only about 4,400 people see fit to make the trip out to the Big A these days, and that’s on weekends! And on nice, sunny weekends at that; what will happen when it actually gets cold? There were 4,401 people on Saturday, and 4,411 on Sunday so while at least there’s an uptrend there (though one of the additional ten people was me), the old joke about it being the same 4400 people every day is no longer funny.

The painting is of the 1849 Derby and St. Leger Stakes winner The Flying Dutchman, and it is by John Frederick Herring Sr., from between 1849 and 1851. According to the Sotheby’s website, it’s expected to draw bids of between $300-400,000. It’s the only one that’s slated to draw six figures, but NYRA is hoping that they’ll all add up to around a million bucks, good for a month’s worth of expenses. I like this one:

Perhaps if I had hit that Pick Four on Breeders’ Cup day…

However, according to the Albany Times-Union, the state’s oversight board is still threatening to veto the sale, as well as the sale of unused land that could bring $20 million that should get NYRA through to the Aqueduct slots that will save the day.

"We have stated that at the minimum they would need board approval to move forward with this," said Scott Reif, an oversight board spokesman. He said the board, which meets Friday in Colonie, is still assessing the situation.


State officials are discussing other options for NYRA, including settling two pending lawsuits, which doesn't appear likely to happen soon, and taking more money out of each bet, which NYRA doesn't want to do.

William Nader, a NYRA spokesman, said the auction is going forward. "We would prefer not to have to sell the art, but these are not ordinary times," he said. [Albany Times-Union]
It’s fitting that the state, which bears no small measure of responsibility for NYRA’s plight, would now move to prevent the association from fending off bankruptcy. The state is unlikely to yield on the land sale unless it gets some kind of understanding that it does not imply that NYRA has ownership of the rest of the land that its three tracks sit on.

Friends of New York Racing (FNYR) is today participating in a think tank sponsored by Albany Law School with the aim of crafting new racing legislation which hopefully will address the problems that have hampered NYRA, especially the issue of an outdated off-track betting system that cannibalizes the racing product that supports it. FNYR seems to be the only thing standing between a system such as the present one, developed by and for politicians, and one that is truly structured with the good of the game and its fans in mind. They’re facing an uphill battle, to be sure.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Guild Senate Meets Tuesday

- New insurance woes for the Jockeys Guild were reported by Liz Mullen in Louisville Business First, via According to the article, the organization’s health insurance plan is in serious jeopardy, as jockeys are more than $700,000 in arrears on their premiums, at least as shown in documents dated March, 2005, and posted on the website of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation. Guild member Darrell Haire said "I don't know what the heck is going on here....It's very disturbing information I am hearing. I don't know what to believe anymore." This is a separate matter from the insurance for on-track accidents, the one that the Guild allowed to expire.

In addition, at least one jockey, Shane Sellers, said that he was specifically told by Guild VP Albert Hiss that he didn’t have to pay his premiums.

[Barry] Broad, a lobbyist who represents several labor unions, said it would be "serious misconduct" for any guild official to allow certain members not to pay medical premiums, as Sellers claimed occurred in his case.

"If that is true, that is very disturbing," he said. If guild officials forgave debts owed to the guild, "that is essentially giving away assets," Broad said. [MSNBC]
On Tuesday, the Guild senate will convene to consider Dr. G’s status. As Matt Hegarty reported the other day, his opponents will have to invoke some kind of nuclear option to dispose of him, changing the by-laws so that they can replace a board of directors that contains, incredibly, Gertmenian supporters. It’s hard to believe that anyone on the board would defend Dr. G, especially since, as reported by Ms. Mullen on August 8, he accused the board of being the ones responsible for the lapsing of the on-track insurance policy! Lobbyist Broad believes that the proposal to change the bylaws will easily pass. [Daily Racing Form]

Hegarty can’t seem to get Dr. G on the phone, but Bloodhorse did, and he cooperated with some of his usual weird statements such as "I guess they'll destroy the leadership and start over. We came in under the same fire and anger, and kept it alive for four years." He said he won’t resign, and if he somehow survives Tuesday’s senate meeting, he could yet still have one last moment in the sun on Thursday. That’s the day that the Congressional Subcommittee reconvenes on the matter of jockey insurance, but this time the focus will be on racetrack officials. Judging from some of the comments at the last hearing from committee members, including chairman Ed Whitfield, they may get grilled on the question of whether the tracks should be taking more responsibility for on-track insurance. Then, Dr. G could say ‘You see, THIS is what I’ve been talking about all along!’ Still, the financial improprieties, which is causing some tracks and states to withhold desperately needed insurance contributions because of concerns about the management, will certainly lead to his demise sometime soon if not at the senate meeting on Tuesday. I take it we won't be able to watch this on TVG.

- It was a disastrous meet at the Meadowlands, concluding on Saturday with a declines of 12.3% and 15.8% for on-track and all-source handle respectively. They had seven race-day cancellations due to the rain, and a lot of horsemen went elsewhere, leaving short fields once the track dried out. Big meet for Channing Hill though, as his 19 wins was second only to Joe Bravo’s 24.

- Highland Cat returns on Saturday, and he’s being pointed to a maiden special on the turf this Saturday.. While I’m very excited about him running on the grass, I’m bummed about the date because I’ll be unavoidably out of town. Damn!