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Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Tuesday Night Notes - April 25

- At least one person seems to be bullish on horse racing. The noted investment manager Mario Gabelli has increased his stake in Churchill Downs to 7.35% of its outstanding share, up from 6.35% last fall. This is despite the fact that Churchill has no slots nor any near-term prospects of them at any of their tracks except for the Fair Grounds.

Gabelli hasn’t been shy in the past to pressure management to take aggressive steps to boost a company’s share price.

In a conference call with analysts and investors last month, Gabelli analyst Jen Ganzi asked whether Churchill Downs had plans to buy back any of its own shares.

“If there were, I don’t think we would announce it here,” Chief Executive Tom Meeker responded. [Louisville Courier-Journal]
So do you think he’s optimistic about the horse racing business? Or perhaps it’s a NYRA/slots play? The news was also bullish at Santa Anita, where on-track attendance and handle were up 15% and 11% respectively.

- Another major newspaper cuts down on its racing coverage. New York’s Newsday, which at one time was a bastion of reporting on the sport, announced that it is eliminating the listing of tomorrow's entries at Aqueduct and Belmont, and tightening the listing of daily results. They continue to run a pretty comprehensive daily analysis of NYRA races by Steve Matthews.

In the past, Newsday has featured respected racing scribes such as John Pricci, who now has his own website,, and Bill Nack, who has won no less than seven Eclipse Awards (and recently hosted a chat on Newsday was progressive with its coverage; it was the first paper I remember that ran daily trip notes on the prior days’ races. Brad Thomas, the excellent race analyst for Monmouth and the flats at the Meadowlands, was a co-author of that column, which met its demise long ago. Though the sometimes cranky Paul Moran still pens a weekly column and provides solid coverage of big events, the shrinkage of coverage in Newsday certainly mirrors the general sad trend.

- New Jersey police may have confiscated mass quantities of the blood-doping agent Arasnerp in the Ledford scandal, but there’s apparently plenty more where that came from. A joint team – actually sounding large enough to invade a small country – of the [Ontario Racing Commission (ORC)] Investigative Unit team with the Ontario Provincial Police's Illegal Gambling Unit, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Toronto Police conducted raids in and around Toronto that turned up what was termed “large quantities” of the drug.
In a bid to snuff out horse dopers at the source, the Ontario Racing Commission has come down hard on a local outfit believed to be a drug supplier to the racing industry. [Toronto Sun]
It sounds like Elliot Ness is running this operation! I don’t think racing commissions in this country have the authority to assemble a small army and “snuff out horse dopers at the source” do they? I can’t picture any suits from the New York State Racing and Wagering Board bursting into a home waving harness racing whips and yelling “Freeze!” I guess they take this drug stuff seriously in Canada. But I’m sure this is not the last we’ll be hearing of Aranserp. Who knows how many people are using it now?