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Friday, June 30, 2006

Frankel Heating Up

- The latent heat in Bobby Frankel's barn is starting to detonate - two more winners at Belmont on Thursday; he took the sixth, the third of four consecutive turf sprints on the card, and boy, we’re going to be seeing a lot of these this summer. Yankee Thunder, a first-timer by Thunder Gulch, was the 3-2 favorite, and he won by 3 3/4 with an absolutely perfect trip. He settled in comfortably on the rail a few lengths behind a slow pace, saved ground on the turn with Kent Desormeaux, and exploded home when presented with an open inside lane turning for home; he got the last quarter in 23.97 seconds. He’s a half-brother to Private Emblem, the Arkansas Derby winner whose fatal breakdown at Aqueduct in 2004 was recalled by some in the wake of Barbaro’s injury. Yankee Thunder is inbred 3x3 to the UK champ Storm Bird, so no surprise he's taken to the grass.

Frankel then won the featured 8th with 7-10 Sugar Shake (Awesome Again), and the chart comment says it all about his Stronach three-year old homebred filly’s six length romp:

Sugar Shake quickly showed in front, set the pace while in hand, soon drew clear, ran away from the field when asked and was wrapped up in the final furlong, a handy winner.
It just doesn't get any easier than that. Another possibility, I suppose, for the Darley Test She’s out of a stakes winner, Skipping Around (Skip Trial).

And speaking of three-year old fillies, seven are entered in the Grade 1 Mother Goose at Belmont on Saturday, one of two Grade 1's on Saturday's card. Or Grade 1's in name anyway. The Suburban comes up pretty weak in my opinion, and shows the lack of depth in the handicap division. Looks like we're going to be seeing a lot of Andromeda's Hero in our near-term future. I'll attempt to get back with a look at these, and some of the other weekend stakes sometime this evening. Sorry if I'm slacking, but, you know, life gets busy at times!

- In the old days, when people paid attention to the weights in handicap races, they used to say that the idea of the weight assignments was to produce a finish in which the entire field hit the finish together. The first at Belmont on Thursday was just an allowance race, but you gotta try and check this race out (I know, no more free lunch on Cal Racing), as the field of six was strung out across the track at the wire, and the official margins separating them read "nk, no, no, hd, hd." And it looked like this:

- And a bit of bad news on Highland Cat; he was not entered in tomorrow's turf race, and the report from the barn says that Bill Turner felt Highland Cat wasn't quite right.
Just a little bit of a foot bruise, from when he managed to take off his own shoe a week or so ago, and probably nothing that most trainers would even bother with, but Bill is extra careful, especially with young horses, and so he opted to wait a bit longer.
Well, we like the trainer's caution....of course, he's not the one getting the cash calls...

Thursday, June 29, 2006

News and Notes - June 29

- Another win off the layoff for Bobby Frankel at Belmont on Wednesday; he sent out Cotton King to win in his first race since September on Saturday, and on Wednesday, Sir Halory (Unbridled) upset favored Dr. Pleasure in his first effort since graduating on his 4th try at Churchill last November. Sir Halory is a half-brother to Halory Hunter and I bet against him at 4-5 at Saratoga last year (though I didn’t have the winner, Nolan’s Cat).

John Ward’s public choice was close early in the mile race, then dropped back to last, though just a few lengths off. He was forced to make a four wide move around the turn, while Rudy Rodriguez on Sir Halory, last early, saved all the ground. As Dr. Pleasure started to hang midstretch, Sir Halory was “crying for running room” according to Tom Durkin, and finally found it. He got up to win late, as the race kinda fell apart in the last quarter mile, which went in 26.60, after an opening six furlongs in 1:09.75, as Dr. Pleasure faded to third. It was the third winner of the day for jockey Rodriguez.

And here’s another nice-looking horse from Darley; Burmilla was an $850,000 yearling purchase. She's a daughter of Storm Cat, out of the graded stakes winner Nannerl, and I posted about her when she won her only prior effort at Gulfstream in January. Here, in her return, she brushed off a challenge on the turn, and drew off to win by six under a busy ride by Garrett Gomez. Perhaps we’ll see her in the Darley Test at Saratoga – that’s right, the Test has picked up a sponsor this year.

- They’re apparently, and finally, off and racing towards slots in Pennsylvania. The Gaming Control Board agreed on awarding licenses to suppliers when board member Jeffrey Coy, satisfied that the suppliers represented a sufficient diversity of location and ethnicity, finally relented on his demand that the suppliers be limited to one of two regions. With a 90-day waiting period in place before the actual gambling licenses can be awarded, the state is on track to start issuing them this fall. Racetracks will be first, and licenses for standalone casinos are expected to be awarded by the end of the year. Chairman Tad Decker said: "We're hoping four of six tracks are going to be up and running -- some by the end of this year, some early next year." [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review]

Still, there’s uncertainty in the legislature about a bill, passed by the Senate, that would eliminate the suppliers altogether. Though many feel that the suppliers provision was designed to benefit companies with political connections, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that most of the companies with political heavyweights....were not licensed yesterday. The bill, whose fate in the House is uncertain, also contains a provision to increase the tax rate, already considered to be high at 51%, on casino owners by 4%. Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs, located near Wilkes-Barre in northeastern Pennsylvania, has said a tax increase could lead it to rethink its plans to build a slots casino. [AP]

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

A Manley Choice for the Guild?

- You would think that, after the tumultuous reign of Wayne Gertmenian and the ensuing efforts to heal its own finances and to mend relations with disaffected jockeys and irritated racetracks, the Jockeys’ Guild would go for a nice, safe, conservative selection for its new national manager. Like, perhaps, David Stevenson, a former rider himself, as well as a trainer, breeder and owner, and a person who is knowledgeable of issues such as slots and offshore wagering.

However, though the Guild denies that they have come to a decision, Stevenson has told the press that he’s been informed that the Guild has instead hired Dwight Manley, a rare coin collector/dealer and the owner of an agency that represents NBA players, and the Reverend Jesse Jackson; the two have proposed to become co-managers of the organization.

Manley is hardly a low-profile guy. Among his basketball clients have been two of the more flamboyant and eccentric, to put it nicely, players in the NBA’s recent history: Dennis Rodman, and Bison Dele, who played under the name Brian Williams, and then disappeared under mysterious circumstances at sea in 2002, presumed murdered by his brother Kevin, who later committed suicide. There’s much more on the two in this fascinating 2002 piece from Sports Illustrated.

It’s interesting to note that the Rev. Jackson at one time intervened for Manley in the case of both those players – appealing to NBA Commissioner David Stern to commute a suspension for Rodman, and trying to talk Williams out of retirement after he left the Pistons in 1999.

The apparent hiring is already causing some rumbles amongst riders, according to Tom LaMarra in Mike Luzzi has resigned from the Senate, and he said, ""Some guys expressed disappointment, and I'm sure some people are concerned," Luzzi said. I haven't been to the jocks' room yet, but I'm sure I'll hear some kind of talk."

What Manley and Rev. Jackson’s motives may be in aligning themselves with a sport neither knows much about is hard to say, unless you consider that, according to sources cited by LaMarra, their proposal calls for the pair to receive 15% of the Guild's gross revenue for the life of the Guild. (Again, that reads: for the life of the Guild.) At least in the case of Rev. Jackson, the gig would fit with his agenda of aiding those who are getting the short end of the stick. On the other hand, Stevenson portrayed his interest as strictly benevolent. "I would hesitate to say I'm disappointed because it's their loss not mine. I was trying to help them. It was about them, not me." [Thoroughbred Times] And he called for building cooperation and trust between the Guild and the industry. "I think it can be done in harmony," Stevenson said of the Guild having a working relationship with others in the industry. "It shouldn't be us or them." [Bloodhorse]

LaMarra reports that an announcement has not been made because sources said they believe the board is testing the industry waters before the announcement is made. I bet they’ll find that those waters will be quite choppy. Already, a remark by Rev. Jackson from his presentation has caused some extreme reactions. Speaking of independent contractors, the status that racetracks have given to jockeys, he said: "It's a long word meaning semi-indentured servant." Matt Hegarty in the Form noted that Jackson's speech had echoes of the language used by Gertmenian, who once compared Churchill Downs to a "plantation."

The website Equidaily went a step or three further. The site is a treasure trove of links to racing stories, but its uncanny physical resemblance to the repugnant Drudge Report has always made me a bit queasy. But today, Equidaily adopted some of Drudge’s tactics of twisting the news to fit his own agenda as well. Under the blurb “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss,” the site printed the following:

>>>Rev Jesse Jackson is in the running for spot as Jockeys' Guild national co-mgr... Questioned the widely accepted status of jockeys as independent contractors. "It's a long word meaning semi-indentured servant."

>>> Flashback to 2004: 'Dr G' compared the plight of jockeys seeking coverage from tracks to that of blacks during slavery and segregation, "I had hoped the days of Master and Slave were over."
Now, the wisdom of choosing what could certainly be a volatile and polarizing pair in Manley/Jackson over Stevenson is certainly up for debate. But to intimate in any way that the Rev. Jackson, who has worked all his life to help the oppressed, downtrodden, and those who are discriminated against in this country, is the “same boss” as the scumbag who cynically eviscerated the organization financially, betrayed their trust, and allowed the riders’ insurance to expire without saying a word is going way, way too far.

Just the fact that Rev. Jackson can inspire these kinds of reactions, as he certainly has at times over the years may, in itself, be a reason to go in the other direction. The Guild has spent the last several months repairing relations with the industry; indeed, some of the racetracks that cut off media rights payments last year under the old regime are making payments again. It is, of course, up to the Guild to decide what’s best for them, and let’s reserve judgment until an official announcement is made. But it seems to me that a dose of some “why can’t we all just get along?” could go a long way for the Guild, and for the industry as a whole.

Double Dip on Saturday

- Christening is entered at Delaware on Saturday, and it's a turf race for $40K maiden claimers. It's a surprise to see her on the grass, though given the lack of information we've been getting on her, for all I know they could be prepping her for a conditioned trot at Harrington. I don't recall offhand seeing any offspring of Vicar even run on the grass, no less win. R Lady Joy, who is his top money-earner, was entered in a turf stakes at Calder in May, but it was washed onto the main track.

It's been a quiet year for Vicar, now represented by his third crop; his only stakes winner thus far is Wild L, who won a six furlong stakes at Prairie Meadows in May, joining Vicarage and R Lady Joy as his only stakes winners overall. That's not going to get the job done and allow him to maintain his digs in Kentucky.

Christening is out of a mare by Belong To Me who is a half-sister to Fit for a Queen, who did win in England at two, but made her name here on the dirt. I don't see anything that screams 'turf' here, and I hope this is more than just an early act of desperation after her one disappointing, but not terrible effort on the dirt.

Meanwhile, Highland Cat is scheduled to run on the same day, in a mile race for $40k maiden claimers on the grass at Belmont; if, that is, the rainy weather ever goes away here (it's supposed to clear out on Friday). Good job by Bill Turner anticipating the rain that washed last Saturday's race off the turf and thus not entering him, but this one is only a mile, and the thinking was that he'd enjoy some extra distance, as in the mile and a quarter race that he passed on. Highland Cat breezed a half in 50.49 seconds (48/89) on Tuesday.

- A tad over four weeks to go, and NYRA had their annual pre-Saratoga press conference the other day, and while I’m sure that Charlie Hayward and Bill Nader had their it’s-almost-time-for-paradise happy faces on, one imagines that, for them, the upcoming meeting is in the backdrop; almost a distraction from the drama leading up to the August 15 deadline for their bid to retain the franchise. And that will be followed by the irrationally mad dash to the September 15 deadline for the committee to select the next operator of the state’s tracks (and personally, I don’t think it’s really going to play out in that manner).

After September 15, NYRA could enter what would be a long lame duck period, though not quite as long as that facing the President of the United States, who should hopefully start quacking soon after the November elections. (By the time NYRA's franchise expires in Dec 2007, the only words out of the president's mouth could be 'AFLAC!') However, at the same time, NYRA would no doubt be in court claiming that they own the land that the tracks sit on, and man, who knows how that will play out. The state seems positive that they will prevail on the issue, but they seemed to back down when they had a chance to have it decided by a bankruptcy court last winter, and they ultimately blinked and bailed NYRA out.

But the show will go on, and the biggest change, besides the Woodward being moved there to salvage the usually moribund final weekend, is that you’ll be able to go across the street and watch the races at the harness track, where the parking is free and close to the entrance. Plus, the joint is air conditioned, so you’ll probably find Frank Stronach there if he’s up there this year. NYRA gets the use of 47 stalls in return, and they have the right to pull the plug after this season if they lose too many customers. I can't imagine that more than a handful would go to sit inside there; but on the other hand, on a horrible rainy day, there are worse options, and it would likely be good material for a blog post anyway.

Hayward also spoke about the Aqueduct casino, and, of course, the construction is STILL not underway! Asked what the latest holdup is, Hayward said, 'It's not clear to me.'

'We have done everything we can to get this going,' Hayward said. 'Our hope is that we can begin construction shortly.'

Every month VLTs don't operate results in $40 million worth of lost revenues, he said.
NYRA counsel Patrick Kehoe said he expects groundbreaking to occur this summer, and NYRA Senior Vice President Bill Nader has said construction could take at least 12 months. [Saratogian]

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

News and Notes - June 27

- John Ward seems to have a full deck of three-year old prospects for the second half of the year – Strong Contender will race in the Dwyer next week; Minister’s Bid was an impressive allowance winner at Belmont last Wednesday and is now two-for-two.. "Minister's Bid got a 118 speed rating on Equibase. I don't know that much about those figures, but I looked up the Kentucky Derby, and Barbaro got a 119. When I saw that I realized how hard a race that was.” [Bloodhorse]

But Ward told the Daily Racing Form that Dr. Pleasure, who is entered to make his second start of the year at Belmont on Wednesday, will turn out to be the best of his lot. "Three years from now, we'll look back on him as the best," Ward said. "He's smart, and he's never been able to display that like an older horse would."

His first race this season came at Keeneland and was a case of too much, too soon. He closely tracked the pace in a seven-furlong race and finished third as the 4-5 favorite.

"It was a race where he wasn't quite fit enough to do that," Ward said. "He came back pretty tired."
Dr. Pleasure could go in the Jim Dandy if he runs well on Wednesday.

Todd Pletcher is resting Sunriver and Bluegrass Cat, but they will soon start to crank up for stakes in August. “[The Haskell] is one of the primary options for both horses, but right now, Bluegrass Cat is the more likely of the two to run in the Haskell." [Thoroughbred Times]

- A couple of follow-up notes to my prior post. Whywhywhy (Mr. Greeley) is standing stud at Gainesway for $7500. Juvenile Grade 1 Winner Ranked Above EMPIRE MAKER on the Experimental Free Handicap! proclaims the blurb on his Stallion Register page. That’s probably because Empire Maker only raced twice at two, winning a maiden race and running third in the Remsen, to Toccet, while Whywhywhy was more precocious, running five times and winning three graded stakes, including the early season Flash. No mention, of course, of the fact that the colt was a flop at three, with a lone third place finish from four starts.

And I mentioned FEMA in passing, and the NY Times has a new piece on the front page today (free registration required, or try about the “Breathtaking” fraud that took place in the areas hit by Hurricane Katrina, calling it: one of the most extraordinary displays of scams, schemes and stupefying bureaucratic bungles in modern history, costing taxpayers up to $2 billion.
A hotel owner in Sugar Land, Tex., has been charged with submitting $232,000 in bills for phantom victims. And roughly 1,100 prison inmates across the Gulf Coast apparently collected more than $10 million in rental and disaster-relief assistance.

There are the bureaucrats who ordered nearly half a billion dollars worth of mobile homes that are still empty, and renovations for a shelter at a former Alabama Army base that cost about $416,000 per evacuee.

And there is the Illinois woman who tried to collect federal benefits by claiming she watched her two daughters drown in the rising New Orleans waters. In fact, prosecutors say, the children did not exist.
On a rare bright note, the Times reported yesterday that tax revenues in Louisiana are projected to reach record levels this year, providing a much-needed boost in the state’s coffers. The boon is attributed mostly to sales taxes on goods purchased as replacements for those lost to the flooding. However, there was another, more unexpected factor.
James A. Richardson, a professor of economics at Louisiana State University, said one of the biggest surprises had been how strong gambling revenue had been. At riverboat casinos, state data show, there have been fewer gamblers, but they have lost far more money ($22 million more in April this year than in the previous April).

Some Louisianans may have pumped their federal aid into video poker machines and slots. But Professor Richardson said he thought much of the gambling was done by out-of-state workers who flocked to the Gulf Coast after the hurricanes.

"You couldn't go to a restaurant without running into an insurance adjuster," he said, "and there were not many things for them to do in their spare time." [NY Times]
There’s a captive audience for you I guess. And it’s not the first time we’ve read about this phenomenon there; there was a steady stream of reports late last year of booming business at Fair Grounds’ OTB operations that reopened last October; enough, in fact, for Churchill Downs to have increased purses at last year’s Fair Grounds meet at Louisiana Downs to an average of approximately $370,000 per day, the largest ever for a meet in Louisiana. I guess this is a reminder that gambling is one of the vices that people sometimes turn to in times of despair. Or when they’re shamelessly ripping off the government (and the rest of us) for aid money.

Monday, June 26, 2006

An Interesting Object

- As you know, I like to watch the tote board, but the smart money ain’t always so smart. Sometimes an apparent overlay is just that for whatever reason, and the board is just plain wrong. When Sunday’s first race at Belmont was taken off the grass, the two main track only horse figured to be the top two betting choices. River Street (Machiavellian) had shown a bit more consistency than Pretty Proud (Mr. Greeley), and was coming off a sloppy-track second in his last race; but their Beyers were similar, and Pretty Proud had a good wet-track race two back herself. So, they were 1-2 respectively in morning line favoritism, but that's not the way it went down.

River Street was made the 7-10 favorite, while Pretty Proud, for trainer Stanley Hough, was seemingly a dead piece at 6-1. The bettors instead went with Bill Mott’s Jinni, making her wet-track debut, but sporting a lofty Tomlinson of 422; she was 7-2. Jinni set the pace to the half, but was dead last by the three-quarters mark. River Street checked out soon thereafter, and the pair took up the rear as the overlooked Pretty Proud rallied from last and lasted by a desperate nose over 9-1 Philanthropy Lady.

I know this is red-boarding, but there really was little reason for such a disparity in the odds on the two. Perhaps it was because River Street is a Darley horse; and maybe that’s the reason that the bettors keep giving her another chance. Since winning her first start, she’s burned more money than FEMA (well, not quite) in losing at odds of 2-1, 3-1, 7-5, and, now, 7-10. At this rate, she’ll be 2-5 next time out.

As a homebred, River Street didn't sport a fancy sales price tag; actually, Pretty Proud (Mr. Greeley) was pretty expensive at $290,000 as a yearling in 2004. She has some nice pedigree too; she’s a full sister to the Grade 1 (Futurity) winner Whywhywhy, and a half to Spellbinder, who won the G2 San Antonio this year. Her third dam is Equal Change, the filly that had the misfortune of coming along the same year as Ruffian, and who I wrote about here.

I wasn’t at the track on Sunday, but I can say with a fair amount of certainty that I wouldn’t have had Pretty Proud; not with that kind of board action. The idea of watching the board is too far ingrained in me to easily give up; I’ve been wedded to the concept ever since experiencing an epiphany at Roosevelt Raceway during my formative years, one that I detailed in this post (yes, we’re going back into the archives today) and, though I don’t keep the detailed betting records that we're all advised to, I would guess that the strategy has served me very well on the whole. But still, it sometimes closes my mind to horses that others would see as a steal at the odds. It’s all really paradoxical for me; I talk about getting good value, but I start to salivate if I see a 12-1 morning line bet down to 9-2.

I recently picked up a copy of Tom Ainslie’s seminal Complete Guide to Thoroughbred Racing; I’d lost my copy many years ago. He is the man who introduced to me the idea that watching the win betting in relation to the show pool can point out horses getting the so-called "smart" money in the win pool. But you know how sometimes you don’t quite remember things the way you read or saw them years ago? Ainslie actually was pretty skeptical on the whole about tote action, and only devoted a couple of pages to the subject.

In my opinion, the tote board is an interesting object but should be allowed to play no role whatever [sic] in the player’s handicapping. His first problem is to find himself a horse [hmmm, there’s a little sexism from the late 60’s for you]. If he finds it, the tote board tells him if the odds are reasonable.
But he does go on to let us in on watching the show pool (he actually says to watch the place and show pools [I strictly watch the show], and never talks about the horse getting bet “on the nose,” so I must have thought of that expression), and adds:
Now that I have done my level best to discourage the reader from allowing himself to be swayed by what he sees on the tote board, I should admit that it seldom pays to buck such betting trends in maiden races at major tracks.
Well, there you go....that’s a lot of races covered in that category, and I think that all of us give more weight to the board in those.

I am trying to keep a more open mind these days, but I still hew closer to the opinion that Brad Free expressed in the column I linked to in the aforementioned post:
It is downright stubborn to ignore unusual betting action without considering the possibility the action is meaningful. When a horse's odds are out of whack, bettors should ask why. Backing a high-odds horse is acceptable, even recommended, as long as one understands the reasons the horse is being ignored by others.
Were there such reasons for Pretty Proud being overlooked in the wagering? With the benefit of hindsight, we can say that Darley horses, and this one in particular, generally get overbet; and while Mott’s horse may have looked classy enough to warrant some action, her best recent effort was on the grass, and 7-2 was an underlay here, considering her lack of off-track form. I’ve always looked at betting the hot horse as a “wiseguy” bet, but correctly identifying the horse that is legitimately overlaid, as opposed to being so for some good reason that only “they” know for sure, can be one of the most profitable wagers at the track. Anyone who had this horse at 6-1 was pretty wise indeed.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Sunday Morning Notes - June 25

- As advertised by Barclay Tagg, Showing Up (Strategic Mission) loves the turf. He pocketed a fairly easy $600,000 for owners Roy and Gretchen Jackson in the Colonial Turf Cup, tracking down daylight leader Kip Deville for a three length win. Unlike the Jackson’s Barbaro, who went from turf to dirt, Showing Up is going the other way, and who knows, maybe he’ll sweep the Grand Slam of Grass and earn for the owners the $5 million bonus that they wouldn’t have gotten anyway even if Barbaro had won the Triple Crown. His 6-1 morning line was a pipe dream, and he was a pretty solid favorite at 5-2.

For the Jacksons, it's pretty unbelievable that they are able to enjoy Showing Up as "consolation" after losing Barbaro to injury.

"I'm pretty speechless," Gretchen Jackson finally stammered. "It seems like a composite of 35 years of racing in six months of all that could happen."

"We don't know why this is happening," Roy Jackson added, "but we know you have to enjoy the good times." [Washington Post]
One of the many bummers about Barbaro’s injury is the fact that we knew he could run on the turf, and that opened up some intriguing possibilities, including the Arc, reportedly mentioned as a desire of Ms. Jackson. Plus, we’ll never know how good he could have been on the grass. The general feeling, which was expressed by Edgar Prado, was that he was a better horse on the grass. But who knows, maybe the Jacksons will make it to the Arc with this one instead.

Michael Lewis Lewis Michael faded to 9th as the 5-1 third choice, eek. Bad job there by connections and bettors alike. The horse had shown tremendous progress on the dirt, but it seems like the $1 purse was too much to resist trying. He ran a great race in the Peter Pan, and I think Sunriver ran well enough in the Belmont to argue that he flattered Michael Lewis in the process. Perhaps in the long run, this race will be of no consequence to his development, but at the very least, it’s a detour, and another month at least of not covering his expenses. Horses don't seem to have that many bullets in the holster these days, so to speak, and it seems a shame to waste one like this.

- Latent Heat was all kind of awesome taking his allowance race over a sloppy track at Belmont. Indeed, Highland Cat’s came off the dirt, so good job of weather forecasting by Bill Turner, who apparently tunes into the Weather Channel on a regular basis. Latent Heat may be the only one of the horses in California that ran in one or more of the Derby preps there to have won out of state. He was 1-5 (and was 3-10 in his other win).

And perhaps he would like to try the grass as well. He’s by Maria’s Mon out of True Flare (Capote), a graded winner on the grass in France and here (the Grade 2 San Clemente and Rare Perfume), and a half sister to four other horses who have won grass stakes here or abroard (both in the case of War Zone.

Frankel also took the sixth race with Cotton King (Awesome Again), a Stronach-bred graduating in his second start. His prior was back in September, a 7th place finish in a race won by Political Force, subsequently second in the Nashua to Bluegrass Cat (and the last time he's been seen on the track in the afternoon). Cotton King's 417 Tomlinson mud number was easily the highest in the field. He was 20-1 in his debut, and nearly 8-1 here.

Extreme Supreme (Deputy Minister) was second, also at 7-1; another sharp one off a layoff for John Ward, and as I noted in this post, his second dam is a half to Roberto, so watch out for this one on the grass.

- Frankel didn’t fare so well in the G2 Beverly Hills at Hollywood on Saturday, in which his Dream Lady ran dead last. The winner, Memorette (Memo) is another horse who has made a successful surface switch. She competed in the three-year old filly division on the dirt early last year before trying the grass in the Hollywood Oaks, and after not winning since December 2004, got her second in three starts, as well as her first graded stakes win here.

And how about Film Maker (Dynaformer); they don’t make them much tougher than her these days. In her debut as a six-year old, she took the All Along at Colonial in a dominant three length win. It was her 18th consecutive appearance in a graded stakes win, and her sixth win in that sequence to go along with nine in-the-money finishes, wow. Two of those races were second and third place finishes in the BC Filly and Mare Turf, and you can bet that she’s headed there again to give it another shot. The first registered foal out of the Mr. Prospector mare Miss Du Bois, Film Maker has an unraced juvenile half-sister named South Ocean Blvd (Capote) and an unnamed yearling full brother. [Brisnet]

- Todd Pletcher is planning an invasion of Iowa. He plans to send no less than six horses to Prairie Meadows for the Iowa Festival of Racing, and will be competing in that state for the very first time. "The schedule just worked out for us.....We have a stable at Churchill Downs for the first time, and that makes it a little easier ."
Pletcher said he plans to send Master Command for the Cornhusker Breeders' Cup; Circle the World for the Iowa Derby; Bishop Court Hill for the Iowa Sprint; Cowgirls Don't Cry for the Prairie Gold and Lassie and Bella Shambrock for the Prairie Gold Juvenile. [Des Moines Register]

Friday, June 23, 2006

Friday Morning Notes - June 23

- Reverberate (Thunder Gulch) returns at Belmont today, in the 4th race. You may recall he caused a stir last spring with a second in the Peter Pan which was impressive enough to cause him to be bet to 11-1 in the Belmont (though at the time as I recall, many expected him to go off at lower odds), in which he finished 10th. He rebounded with a solid second to Flower Alley in the Jim Dandy, but then was trounced in the Travers, his last race until now.

And what ever happened to Oratory (Pulpit), the horse that beat Reverberate in the Jim Dandy? If you forgot about him, as I did, it’s because he’s one of many who was prematurely retired with injury and sent to stud. He raced just five times, with three wins (the Jim Dandy being his only stakes victory) and two seconds. Oratory stands at Josh Pons’ Country Life Farm in Maryland for $5,000. Mr. Pons is the gentleman who pens the monthly diary that appears in the Bloodhorse print edition (only).

And Flower Alley (Distorted Humor) makes his four-year old debut on Saturday at Monmouth in the Salvatore Mile. Under other circumstances, I’d say that he’ll have his hands full with the ultra-sharp, though less classy Cherokee’s Boy. But we know that there are wiser ways of investing one’s money than betting against Pletcher off the layoff, so we’ll just take a pass and hope to see Flower Alley return in good form and add himself to the handicap division picture. I'm off to Vermont; speak to you from there.

No Highland Cat on Saturday

- Highland Cat is fine, but he’s out of Saturday’s ten furlong race; it’s trainer Bill Turner’s decision. According to the barn reporter: His thinking was that the turf was pretty hard and with a lot of rain in the forecast for the next 6 days, it would be best for HC to wait a week and shoot for the race on Saturday, July 1 [one mile on the turf].

Well, that’s actually good for me, because I’m leaving to visit my daughter in Vermont tomorrow morning and won’t be back until Sunday. And anyway, there are supposed to be some strong storms over the next couple of days, and chances are they won’t run on the grass.

Meanwhile, Castle Village Farm continues to the partnerships that I’m not in. One of them in which I had a chance to buy a share last year and decided to pass was Bagavond, a NY-bred three-year old gelding by Abaginone (Devil’s Bag) out of a Groovy mare. He debuted in April and his first two races, on the dirt, were nothing special. Then, switched to the grass at a mile and a sixteenth, he suddenly showed keen speed, and led by six lengths in 1:09 before fading to 4th.

Then, last Friday, Turner cut him back to six furlongs, and to me, he looked like the typical horse that gets overbet when he cuts back to a sprint after leading in a route. But when they turned for home, he accelerated away from the field to bury the undistinguished state-bred maiden test by six in 1:08.89, final eighth in 11.74. The winner’s share was 60% of the $41,000 purse that was almost twice of that which Highland Cat ran for in open maiden claimers. Then, I get an email from someone I know in that partnership that says: [Turner] said he never had a faster horse and that includes Slew. Slew never ran 6 F in eight and change. I just can't explain how I felt hearing him talk about Baggy. I still have goose bumps.

Well, that looks like a great decision on my part. This was a $20,000 Saratoga yearling in 2004, and actually I’m not sure if Castle Village purchased him there or if they bought him privately. I’ll have to get back to you on that.

On Thursday, Castle Village and Turner sent out Ty’s Ridge for his first turf race after two dirt races that were poor enough to cause him to go off at 46-1. He’s a $43,000 two-year old purchase for Castle Village and EQB; pretty high by CVF standards. While his breeding, Quaker Ridge (Forty Niner) out of an Ogygian mare may not scream ‘turf” on first glance, a look deeper into his pedgiree shows that he’s inbred thrice to Ribot (5x4x5), through His Majesty and Tom Rolfe; and broodmare sire Ogygian is a son of Damascus. So there was definitely some grass influence there, and indeed, he almost pulled off the upset, sitting close all the way, and rallying for third, missing by just a neck and a nose. He’s also a state-bred running for rich purses, and he earned as much finishing third as Highland Cat did for running second.

So, two lessons here for me; one, again, don’t hesitate to pull the trigger on a horse that has some grass pedigree that you love even if the horse isn’t bet. And, despite what the trainer stats say for Bill Turner first time turf, that’s three recent cases – Highland Cat, Bagavond, and Ty’s Ridge – that the horse has improved drastically over his dirt form in his grass debut.

- Minister’s Bid got the job done at 3-5 at Belmont on Thursday. He was “rank in the gate” according to the race chart, but wore down Frankel’s Racketeer to win by two for John Ward, the trainer's third winner in a row. Ward also caught a break with Strong Contender in the Dwyer with Discreet Cat out of the race.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

New Cushion at Hollywood Park

- Hollywood Park is set to install their synthetic racing surface, but, surprise, it’s not Polytrack. It’s a similar-sounding material known as Cushion Track, and according to the website of UK-based manufacturer Equestrian Surfaces, it has “minimal kickback.” Well, we’ve heard that before about Polytrack, and it couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, people are getting concerned about possible long-term effects from horses and jockeys breathing it in. The cost of installing Cushion Track will be in the neighborhood of $8 million. [Bloodhorse]

- You’d think that Mike Hushion would be thrilled about the second place finish of his filly Nothing But Fun in the Phipps last weekend, especially since it was just her second start of the year following the disaster in the Distaff last fall. But he sounds pretty disappointed, actually,

"I guess I should be happy with her, but I felt so good going in…. "Normally with a second in a Grade 1, you're very satisfied. The way she was training going into the race, it was a bit of a letdown." [Daily Racing Form]
- I posted about Woodbine’s new policy for their stakes races the other day, and Bob Baffert, the trainer of Wanna Runner, isn’t happy that his colt had to be there a full five days before Sunday's Queen's Plate. In fact, he says he’s not coming to see the race.
"It sort of messes things up….We were all going to go up and take a few days off and enjoy it, but I just can't get away [for five days]. I had to send the horse early and you have to send other people. It's sort of a pain. . . . They came up with this rule at the last minute, so I had to change my plans around. . . . [The Woodbine rule] caught us a little off-guard. . . . They could have taken blood here." [Toronto Globe and Mail]
Of course, that doesn’t at all explain why he can’t attend the race. Sounds like he’s having a little hissy fit, but he ain’t going to get any compassion from Woodbine president David Wilmot: "I don't have much sympathy at all for people complaining about inconvenience when the integrity of the business is at stake." Especially not in this case, as Baffert’s horse, a second stringer amongst U.S. three-year olds, and with all due respect to the horses who will face him, won’t find a better opportunity to pick up a huge payday, even if the million bucks is in Canadian currency.

And if Wilmot seemed a bit testy, perhaps it’s because he has other things to worry about. Mutuel clerks at his track have gone on strike, and TBA member Jen Morrison has the details on her Thorough-Blog (as well as in the Toronto Star).

- Empire Racing Associates’ Jeff Perlee doesn’t buy NYRA’s argument that the fact that they pay property taxes means that they own the land that their three tracks stand on. 'There are literally thousands of transactions in New York City where the person who holds the lease pays the taxes…'NYRA would have to reinvent the business notion of commercial real estate.' But on the other hand:
NYRA Senior Vice President Bill Nader said that the firm took out a loan from private lenders to purchase the racetracks in the 1950s and that it has possession of the deeds.

'I don't know that that other argument applies,' he said. [Saratogian]
You just know that ultimately, the fate of the New York franchise is going to come down to a court decision on this very issue; stay tuned.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Notes - June 21

- Walter mentioned South of Broad, a son of Broad Brush who made a winning debut for Bobby Frankel at Hollywood on Saturday. He’s a Stonerside bred and owned colt with some stellar bloodlines who battled back after briefly surrendering the lead turning for home, and paid $12 to win. This colt is out of Fortyniner Fever, an unraced daughter of Forty Niner who is half-sister to none other than Fusaichi Pegasus, the Derby winner who continues to have an extremely quiet 2006 in North America; Bandini remains his only graded stakes winner (the G3 Skip Away), or, actually, stakes winner of any kind on the continent this year. What’s up with that?

South of Broad’s second dam is Angel Fever, a half to the Preakness winner Pine Bluff and his stakes winning brother Demons Begone.

- Brother Derek is back on the track and pointing to the Haskell.

- Showing Up, whose last start, just his 4th lifetime, was his sixth in the Derby, is one of 17 eager entrants for the $1 million Colonial Turf Cup at Colonial Downs on Saturday. Only 14 can start. I guess I shouldn't be too surprised given the rich purse that Lewis Michael is entered. He had shown improvement after switching to the dirt, most recently in the Peter Pan, in which he battled Sunriver to the finish, but will run for the green, on the green in Virginia.

- Richard Migliore was just along for the ride on Afrashad (Smoke Glacken) when the Godolphin colt blazed six furlongs in 1:08.38 on Belmont day.

“He didn’t break well and I just gave him his head and he was gone…..Looking at the break, he had to turn the first quarter in just over 21 seconds. He’s a freak talent wise; I really think he can accomplish anything if he learns to settle down a little.” [NYRA]
- Via Albany Law School’s Racing and Wagering Page comes this tale of a horseman being caught with needles in hand, literally.
Tioga Downs security officers observed [Larry] Futter parking his horse trailer at a rest stop on State Route 17, about five miles east of the racetrack, at about 6 p.m. Futter, along with trainer Joseph Sansone, were seen entering the trailer with several syringes in hand, then later exiting and discarding the syringes in a garbage can….

Futter admitted to security to using the syringes to inject homeopathic breather medication, lactanase and ACTH, and also told of purchasing the drugs easily through internet websites. []
The track's owner Jeffrey Gural perhaps mispoke when he said, “Today’s unfortunate events and successful conclusion are what I envision not just for Tioga Downs and Vernon Downs, but for all horse racing.” So, he envisions assigning security officers to trail any horsemen making his/her way to the track? Doesn't sound too practical to me. Unfortunately, neither does the prospect of making the sport drug-free.

- And catching up a bit on my TBA reading, you just gotta check out this post from the Bug Boys. If you think Seek Gold’s rally was cool, check out this race from Japan. And the wider angle of the camera allows you to see almost the whole thing, instead of the usual sudden entry into the picture that we’re used to seeing here. (Another example of why U.S. racing TV producers should check out telecasts from overseas).

A Key Story

- I've said before that one might want to be careful about assuming that any past performance line that contains italicized names amongst a race's top three finishers is a key race. A subsequent winner could have raced against far inferior company or on a different surface.

Darley has Tall Story in the third at Belmont today, and make no mistake about it, this one is most certainly coming out of a key race. Not only did the first three finishers win (and five overall), but two of them won stakes within their next two starts (runner-up Malakoff went on to win the G3 Marine at Woodbine).

Tall Story (Quiet American) was far behind in that race, but was steadied down the backstretch, and now makes his first start since that April 1 for Tom Albertrani. He's a half brother to current sire Abaginone, and to Grade 1 winner Cara Rafaela, the dam of Bernardini. He'll face a $1.85 million yearling purchase in Fairbanks (Giant's Causeway), who is trying the dirt for Pletcher after two unsuccessful tries on grass. He's a half-brother to Keats, and his dam, by Time for a Change, is a half to the popular handicap star Darn That Alarm.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

PA Slots Far Off?

- Racetrack slots and standalone casinos in Pennsylvania have already, before they've even been licensed, caused fear and loathing in surrounding states, joyous anticipation by horsemen, casino companies, and job-seekers alike, construction that is already underway to add racino facilities and the resulting cancellation of the state's biggest thoroughbred race (not to mention Harrah's Chester, a brand new harness track due to open in September). But now, they may be further away than ever as the state's Gaming Control Board faces a crucial deadline. The situation is so serious that Tad Decker, the board chairman, was quoted as saying "I'm not sure we're even going to have gaming.....I want to be honest with you." [Thoroughbred Times]

The board has until July 5 to finalize all of the rules and regulations covering slots, but there is a contentious sticking point that shows no sign of being resolved. The slots law passed by the state legislature two years ago mandates that suppliers of slot machines may not sell directly into the state, but must do so via Pennsylvania-based suppliers. Columnist Eric Heyl of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review has no doubt as to why this extra layer was added.

The supplier applicants are politically wired individuals. They will function as needless middlemen, purchasing slot machines from manufacturers, then turning around and selling them to the casinos at what undoubtedly will be a large and unearned profit.
The dispute amongst the commissioners centers on whether the suppliers will be able to sell anywhere throughout the state, or if each will be limited to one of two regions. The board is said to be deeply divided on the issue.
Commissioner Jeffrey Coy insists on two regions, saying that will allow the largest number of suppliers to operate and create the most jobs. Commissioner Ken McCabe favors just one region. Other commissioners could go either way. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette]
The slots law that created all of this gave the commission two years from July 5, 2004 to come up with the rules, so if they don't see eye to eye by then, authority reverts to another government agency, and Decker fears that this could put the slots ball right back into play.
The commission could hold hearings for months, taking testimony from slots foes and proponents and further delaying approval of supplier license regulations, Mr. Decker said.

He said the commission review process could take "at least a year and maybe longer."

"I think [delay of] a year would be an optimistic timetable [for issuing supplier licenses]. There will be opponents of gaming who will have a shot to delay this'' once the commission gets involved. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette]
On the other hand, the commissioners could agree to agree and the first machines could conceivable roll out early this fall. But a considerable delay would have wide implications, and not just only in Pennsylvania, and not solely in the U.S. For neighboring states with either no slots or with prohibitions against table games which, some feel, will help them compete, it will buy more time before the onslaught begins.

Canada-based Magna Entertainment has a huge stake in the outcome as well. The $225 million sale of the Meadows harness track is contingent upon slots licenses being issued, and the debt-laden company needs the cash badly, as one of its own executives freely admitted.
"A year delay would be devastating," said Michael Jeannot, vice president of operations......Magna, which has reported a working capital deficiency, plans to use funds from the sale to repay two large loans. [Thoroughbred Times]
In addition, you may recall the footnote to the company's latest financial report last month which, according to a now-archived article in the Toronto Globe and Mail, cautioned that Magna’s ability to continue as a going concern is in "substantial doubt" amid high debt, poor cash flow and delays in a key asset sale. Well, this is that key asset sale, and a delay in the licensing process in Pennsylvania could certainly cast an even bigger shadow on the company's already murky chances of succeeding in the competition for the New York franchise.

- Prospects of licensing delays haven't stopped the developers of the proposed Bedford Downs harness track/casino in Pennsylvania's Lawrence County from celebrating a court decision that ordered the state's Harness Racing Commission to reconsider its rejection of their application to build the track. The commission was concerned about an alleged connection between the developer's deceased grandfather and the mob, but the court treated its reasoning with disdain.
"The deceased grandfather is not an officer, director or stockholder of Bedford," the court wrote. "Thus, there is no statutory basis for considering whether his previous business dealings with reputed organized crime figures are consistent or inconsistent with the best interests of racing." [Beaver County Times]

More Hardball in Ohio

- Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s piece in Rolling Stone entitled Was The 2004 Election Stolen tried, apparently unsuccessfully, to revive the debate over possible election fraud and dirty tricks in Ohio that gave the election to the current occupant of the White House. There's been little if any reaction to it in the mainstream press, which is perhaps afraid to go anywhere near such a volatile matter, one that nobody, regardless of political affiliation, would ever want to believe could occur in this country.

Whether the allegations are true or not, some in Ohio were perhaps inspired by the idea that anything goes at the ballot box in order to win. The efforts by Queen City Gaming to gather enough signatures to put a referendum permitting a casino in Cincinnati has apparently succumbed to some hardball tactics by Learn and Earn, a group that seems to be not quite as benevolent as their name suggests. Learn and Earn's casino plan excludes Cincy, and is backed by Penn National, which owns a riverboat casino in Indiana that would have been hurt by the competition from a casino there. For their part, Learn and Earn claims that a referendum that would bring gambling to the southwest part of the state would be less likely to be approved by the voters in that more conservative region of the state.

In addition to filing repeated challenges to the Queen City group's petitions on procedural grounds, Learn and Earn took them out of the game by simply hiring all three of the available signature-gathering firm in the state, and, facing an August 7th deadline to gather 323,000 signatures, the task is now too insurmountable. A spokesperson to Louis Beck, a local banker heading the Cincy drive explained: "It's become more and more clear that you need a professional firm to do this job, and it's not likely that there is one available at this point ." [Cincinnati Enquirer]

However, Learn and Earn still needs and wants support from the city, and is hoping to speak to Queen City sometime soon. Leslie Ghiz, a Cincinatti counselwomen who pointed out bitterly that "If we looked cross-eyed, they challenged us," is one slots supporter who doesn't seem the least bit amenable to any sort of agreement.

"Our first objective is to keep them off the ballot.....They won't get another signature out of southwest Ohio. Turnabout is fair play." [Cleveland Plain-Dealer]

Monday, June 19, 2006

Belmont Father's Day Musings

- Over 13,000 at Belmont on Father's Day, and with the possible exception of the 4th of July, that will likely be the second largest crowd of the spring meeting there, and by a pretty significant margin. Shows you once again that the things that once made Belmont such a popular destination can still draw them in on certain special occasions. And what better occasion than a special day with the family, all doing exactly what Dad wants to do?

There's always a nice crowd on Father's Day, and NYRA seemed ready to handle it. But where were the inducements in the form of, at the very least, free return admission coupons to get people to come back?

- In the second, Godolphin, looking for their 4th consecutive win, and 5th out of 8 at this meeting from their very exclusive stable here, sent out Rondo (Grand Slam), a $2.9 million two-year old in training purchase in February of 2005. He'd had one prior start last September, finishing second to the recently-revived High Cotton at Belmont. He was 7-10 here in his return, and was on his way to victory when Edgar Prado switched to a right-handed whip and smacked the unsuspecting Holly Time (Gilded Time) square in the snout. That's one type of inquiry neither side has to sweat out; the replay clearly showed Dutrow's colt recoiling indignantly from the blow, and the only question was why it took the stewards so long to take him down.

Rondo, unsuspecting of his rider's transgression, merrily galloped out in impressive fashion, and should be around 1-10 in his next start unless, perchance, he meets a horse that cost more than he. Holly Time was also coming off a long layoff, and had finished second to Doc Cheney and ahead of Achilles of Troy in his debut, earning a 90 Beyer which was equal to the favorite. Other than the purchase prices, a mere $80,000 in the case of the winner, there was little on paper to distinguish the two.

John Ward was in town with three runners after having sent out just two following the conclusion of the Keeneland meeting. After a 4th place finish in the Rondo race, his Lovely Dream won the 4th, a NY-bred maiden contest, by 16 3/4 lengths with Edgar Prado gearing her down late. This was a $220,000 two-year old in training Oxley purchase last year.

She's a daughter of Freud, the heavily-marketed full brother to Giant's Causeway who had his first stakes winner just the day before. Flirt For Fame took the Mystery Jet Stakes for Mass-breds at Suffolk Downs by a similarly ludicrous margin; according to his stud farm Lakland North's website, She bats her eyelashes at Mystery Jet field and romps by 14 1/4 lengths. Freud has 56 two-year olds this year, his second crop, after just 33 in his first.

In the subsequent 5th race, a six furlong maiden sprint on the turf (and we're seeing an increasing number of these, with good success at the entry box), Ward sent out Sweet September for her first start since a good 4th on the grass as a two-year old last September, naturally. This one got bet late to 3-1 favoritism after opening around 6-1, and if you want to see an example of a perfect trip, check out the tape on this one. Mike Smith inherited an inside pocket trip in 5th as the leaders went 21.37 and 44.36 up front. He held the rail around the turn, and when he swung the filly out for the stretch, he seemed to be just deposited into an absolutely clear 3 wide path, from where he glided to the top and held off the deep-closing Left Me Breathless, more on the latter in a bit.

Sweet September (Gone West) was a mere $200,000 Oxley purchase - we saw some of his bargains on display here - this one as a yearling at Keeneland 2004. She's out of a stakes winning Summer Squall mare, and has some European stakes winners in her female side; she's inbred to Secretariat and Buckpasser.

The runner-up was a first-timer with only three workouts from Christophe Clement; she was dead on the board at 17-1, but had some really serious turf in her pedigree. Left Me Breathless is by Belong To Me, out of a mare by Arc winner Trempolino who is a half-sister to Rothman's Int'l winner Lassigny. My experience is that if I see things in the pedigree that really scream 'turf,' it can be worth a bet even if the horse seems dead on the board. It's another thing to get myself out of that mindset and actually bet it.

I actually did in the 9th race, which I bet before leaving for a Father's Day dinner. No, my family did not wish to celebrate the day where this Dad does exactly what he wants to do. Well, not the losing of course. I used Trick Meeting on top in some exactas. Trained by Stanley Hough and making his turf debut, this colt is by Phone Trick out of a General Meeting mare who is a half to the dam of the Grade 1 turf stakes winning brothers Silvano (Arlington Million) and Sabiango (Charles Whittingham). This horse, sent off at 9-1, had trouble at the start and was dead last in a field of 12.

As a guy who always loves a good closer, I was heartened by Seek Gold's rally to victory in the Foster. If he could win that race, as far back as he was turning for home, any closer within shouting distance has a shot too. Trick Meeting started his move far earlier than Seek Gold, but it was an impressive run nonetheless. Of course, he missed by a head to 6-1 Meet My Buddy (second winner of the day for trainer Mike Miceli), one of my second horses in the exacta, which returned $133 the wrong way for this dad.

- Ward also has Strong Contender and Minister's Bid in town, and the latter will make his first start since his spectacular debut win at Keeneland in an entry-level allowance on Thursday, and Strong Contender will run in the Dywer on July 4.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

More Churchill Stakes

- Did you see the way Julien Leparoux fearlessly bulled his way through a hole - or should I say slit? - that barely even existed at the top of the stretch in Saturday’s Regret? A willing Lady of Venice looked like Priest Holmes bursting through the line into daylight on her way to a four lengths win for Patrick Biancone. It was the eighth win, and 4th stakes victory for the jockey/trainer combo.

Lady of Venice is by Loup Solitaire (Lear Fan), a French stallion who stands for 4500 Euros, and whose Best Progeny contains no household names. The distaff side of Lady of Venice contains some illustrious turf names. Her third dam is Verouschka, the dam of the multiple Grade 1 winner Soviet Star and The Very One, a durable multiple stakes mare on the turf who went to the post 71 times.

- Happy Ticket (Anet) may have won the Fleur De Lis, but I think we learned more about Oonagh Maccool. She had won her three races since being switched to the dirt with aplomb, but here she was tested by a more seasoned mare that we already knew would give no quarter to a rival in the shadow of the wire. Oonagh Maccool showed her mettle in defeat, and could be better for the experience next time for trainer Todd Pletcher.

For Happy Ticket, it’s her third all out photo finish in a row, the prior two ending up as bitter defeats, and trainer Andrew Leggio Jr. was thinking he had seen this before. "I was kind of paranoid......I just knew we got beat." But this time, he turned the tables on Pletcher, whose Spun Sugar edged Happy Ticket in the Apple Blossom.

Happy Ticket’s next race may not be for awhile.

Leggio said he'll look for one race for Happy Ticket between now and the Breeders' Cup.

"Every time I've run her fresh, she's won," Leggio said. [Courier-Journal]
- I’ve been telling you that Nick Zito is about to break out with a big stakes win. The only problem is that he no longer trains Seek Gold, the simply unbelievable winner of the Stephen Foster. I’ve watched that replay of the field at the top of the stretch several times as the then-last place son of Touch Gold dropped out of the picture, still not believing that he would make a sudden and most unexpected return appearance in the final frames of the movie, spoiling the Hollywood ending of a win by Perfect Drift. The seven-year old gelding looked home free, and his rider Mark Guidry said “He pulled up a little bit. He was getting a little bored.” [AP]

Seek Gold is by Belmont winner Touch Gold, his third stakes winner, and first graded one of the year. He’s out of Aly’s Adita, a stakes winning daughter of Alydar who is a half-sister to the great champion Davona Dale, who won eight graded stakes at three, including the Oaks, Black-Eyed Susan, and the NY Filly Triple Crown (Acorn, Mother Goose, CCA Oaks).

Derby Horses Return

- The G3 Northern Dancer BC featured a couple of one-time Derby hopefuls going in the opposite direction. High Cotton was always under the radar for Todd Pletcher, whose Derby hopes rested mainly with others such as Bluegrass Cat. He ended his two-year old season with a second to Private Vow in the Kentucky Jockey Club, and some had the latter right at the top of their list of Derby prospects (though this observer always felt that he had only proven to be the best of the second tier....I just had to get that in, right?). Here he was making his first start since his 15th place Derby finish. High Cotton exited the Trail after the Arkansas Derby, the second of two extremely ugly running lines he’d posted as a three-year old, but he had excuses in both. At Oaklawn, according to Pletcher, “He got annihilated at the start and came back all cut up.” [Louisville Courier-Journal]

The two both went off at 3-2 (with High Cotton the slight choice), and Private Vow, after setting the pace with High Cotton stalking him all the way, still looked strong midway through the stretch after setting a moderate pace. But he weakened suddenly inside the eighth pole, and ended up in last. His rider Shaun Bridgmohan seemed puzzled: "I have no answers for what happened at the end.....He was running the whole way, and I don't know what happened."

As for High Cotton, he followed up his win in the Sir Barton on Preakness day with his first graded stakes win, and could follow in the footsteps of Pletcher’s Flower Alley, who developed into a division leader after last year's Triple Crown. He’s a son of Dixie Union, who had a pretty good day, as his daughter Nothing But Fun took second to Tour D’Or in the G1 Phipps at Belmont. He’s out of an AP Indy mare who is a half sister to the BC Juvenile Filly winner and champion Storm Song. High Cotton is inbred 4x3 to Seattle Slew, and also has inbreeding to Northern Dancer and Mr. Prospector.

- A thrilling finish between a couple of other horses making their first starts since the Derby, as Point Determined (Point Given) finally prevailed over AP Warrior after the latter refused to cede and may even have stuck his nose back in front after being passed at the eighth pole. The interesting aspect of this race was that, approaching the final turn on the backstretch, AP Warrior seemed to be well in hand as Victor Espinoza was busy on Point Determined. Vic Stauffer noted that AP Warrior was “traveling comfortably and smartly,” while Point Determined was being “asked for everything he’s got leaving the backstretch.” Usually not a good sign, but then again, we’ve heard before that Point Determined is a lethargic sort, as Bob Baffert confirmed.

"This horse, he's hard to ride. He's very lazy, you got to force it out of him. He's like riding a bicycle with a rusty chain. He's tough to ride. He made the lead there, and he was sort of like not tired really, but that's his demeanor.

"If he had his dad's attitude, we could have been relaxed there watching him come home. But he's like Silver Charm, you know, you gotta' force it out of him. He's tough, though. That's a big step up. But A.P. Warrior, when he runs his race, he's a really good horse." [Bloodhorse]
And speaking of his dad, it was the long-awaited first graded stakes win for the Preakness/Belmont/Haskell/Travers winner....and when will we ever be able to describe a horse again in that way?

- Well, the party is apparently over at the Cal Racing site. Only races won in California are currently available for I hope you all enjoyed that as much as I did!


- Brilliant (War Chant) showed promise on the dirt last year and early in his three-year old season this year for Neil Howard but managed just a single win, with three seconds and a third, in five tries. But the Triple Crown nominee was switched to the turf this spring, and is now undefeated in three tries, all at Churchill, with his win in the G2 Jefferson Cup on Saturday. "The best way to put it was his performance matched his name," said Frankie Albarado. [Louisville Courier-Journal]

Garrett Gomez nearly stole the race on pacesetter Tahoe Warrior, loping to the half in 49 seconds – by contrast, the Regret for three-year old fillies two races later saw a half mile mark of 46.36. Albarado had to go four wide into the stretch, and Brilliant seemed to hang a bit midstretch before driving up to wear down Tahoe Warrior in deep stretch. The final three furlongs went in 35.43 with a last furlong of 11.81 so trainer Neil Howard wasn’t kidding when he said that "He had to lay it down the last three-sixteenths of a mile."

"Hopefully off this, he'll fit into the 3-year-old turf picture and then beyond that we'll just have to see as far as older horses go.....I'm not crying at the fact that he likes this turf course either with the Breeders' Cup here this fall." [Bloodhorse]
It should come as little surprise that Brilliant has taken to the grass, nor to the Churchill course in particular, as he has; his sire, War Chant, won the 2000 BC Mile right there. In addition, he’s inbred to Roberto 4x3, and to Princequillo 5x5. And his dam is a half-sister to Furiously, who won the Bernard Baruch on the turf at Saratoga in 1993, tying the course record in the process.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Saturday Morning Notes - June 17

- Horsemen have griped over the six-hour pre-race detention barns at NYRA tracks, but that’s nothing compared to the precautions being taken at Woodbine in advance of Sunday’s Queen’s Plate.

Horses aiming to run in the Queen's Plate must be on the grounds 48 hours before entries close -- by 8:30 a.m. the Tuesday before the race. All entries will be strictly supervised, with specially assigned security guards monitoring the horses, even accompanying them to and from training sessions.

Only approved people may have access to the horses during that period to feed, groom and train them, and all medical treatment must be documented. The horse may face blood testing at any time. [Toronto Globe and Mail]
Woodbine president David Wilmot was shaken by the blood doping scandal involving driver Eric Ledford at the Meadowlands and was puzzled about an 11 ½% decrease in the betting handle at the track’s harness races over the winter. But he became aware of sudden improvements in horses' performances at both Woodbine and at Meadowlands in New Jersey, where Ledford raced.
"I've been in this game too long to see its integrity compromised by short-sighted, self-interested, greedy people who are prepared to do things that hurt the industry for their own short-term purposes," he said.

Eventually, every race may face the same scrutiny, but Willmot said Woodbine is starting first with the biggest races.

He is still unsettled by last year's Queen's Plate, won by U.S.-owned Wild Desert, who showed no public workout during a 10-week layoff before the race.

"I wouldn't suggest that there was any wrongdoing, with prohibited drugs or non-therapeutic substances in that case," he said. "What bothered me was the appearance that they had hidden some workouts. And our Queen's Plate looked to the public as if it was just a betting coup for the connections of the horse. . . . We were not pleased with it."
And what ever happened to the investigation of that little betting coup, in which owner Dan Borislow smugly announced how much he'd won? It seems to have gone the way of the “Phase 2” investigation of pre-war intelligence.

Woodbine, of course, is one of the tracks making the switch to Polytrack, and in California, where the switch has become mandated by the state Senate, Hollywood Park will apparently be the first to make the change, perhaps for its fall meeting, and at a cost estimated at up to $8 million. But even amidst the reflexive calls for the artificial surface following Barbaro’s breakdown, some trainers think this is too much, too soon.
"Obviously, everybody's for what's best for the horses," trainer John Sadler said. "But there's other things to look at (to make horses healthier). What about running fewer dates? What about cleaning up the medication laws?

"It's an unknown to me. I'm not in the camp that says it's a cure-all. We were kind of hoping they'd put it on the training tracks first and see what it's like."

Said trainer Mike Mitchell: "I want change, but I think they're jumping into it too fast.” [LA Daily News]
Another unknown in California is how the surface will stand up to the extreme heat and heavy equine traffic, two questions not answered by Turfway Park.

(And by the way, in answer to Walter’s query, Sadler, over the last five years, has 10 wins out of 198 first-time starters, for a percentage of 5%. For second time starters over the same period, the percentage improves to 12%.)

- Lawyer Ron has been pronounced ready to return to training. "We'll try to have him ready to run sometime around the first of September."

And Bernardini had an unofficial workout as Tom Albertrani starts to crank him up for the either the Haskell, or, more likely, the Jim Dandy. "He went three furlongs in :39....Just to stretch his legs." [NY Daily News]

- NYRA officials met with horsemen for the second time in the last couple of weeks. While the first one dealt with business issues, including the upcoming battle for the franchise, this one was concerning the Belmont main track, which has been producing fast times and, according to trainer Phil Serpe, “some injuries in the morning." [Daily Racing Form]

- The Form’s Steve Crist addresses a couple of the questions I’ve raised here about the New York franchise process. Regarding the partnerships that are vital to the financial prospects of bidders such as NYRA and Empire Racing Associates, Crist reports that some bidders say privately that those potential alliances are still in the exploratory stages. And as to why exactly the committee will have just a month to make a selection?
The unrealistic and accelerated timetable for completing the bidding process is entirely a function of a Pataki committee's trying to resolve the matter before Pataki leaves office. Why else does a winner need to be announced a mere 30 days after proposals are hurriedly due, with no public comment or outside scrutiny of the bids, a full 15 months before the end of the NYRA's franchise? [Daily Racing Form, sub. only]
- And NYRA will accommodate those of us who don't wish to spend an hour on line waiting to get into Saratoga on giveaway days. They'll have a special non-giveaway window for people who would prefer to bet the early double than to receive their Todd Pletcher bobblehead doll.

- I know this should go without saying, but, just to make sure, when I mention a horse such as Haze the Man, who is 5-1 morning line off a layoff, but goes off at 10-1, it doesn't count. You knew that, right?

Big day of stakes racing today; sorry, no time for analyses and predictions from me, but the way I've been going, you're better off without me. And besides, I'm being forced to spend the day at the beach. Have a great time without me.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

News and Notes - June 16

- Fellow bloggers John and Scoop pointed out in the comments section that the timeframe for the New York bidding process is not really short as far as RFP's go. Indeed, I looked up some other RFP’s on the internet, and the two months until the August 15 deadline is actually rather generous. It was also pointed out that the bidders have pretty much known what to expect and should have no problem putting their packages together; after all, there were no real surprises in the request.

My concern is really more about the mere one month that the committee has to decide. For one thing, I guess we can forget about public hearings. And is that really enough time to fully evaluate the bids and make a truly informed choice? Given the reality that the government is not going to act for many months to come anyway, why force a decision far sooner than is necessary?

I'd also be curious to know whether, with the bidders required to make their intentions known by June 30, the marriages of partners have all been consummated, or whether there is last-minute jockeying going on. I’ve seen Churchill Downs mentioned as a possible partner for NYRA. But Empire Racing Associates has said that it has lined up a partner with significant racing experience. Delaware North, the operator of Finger Lakes, perhaps? And who knows who else could pop up – Penn National, Trump, Isle of Capri, hell, maybe Bill Gates sees a bright future here. Or how about the Kingdom of Dubai? Paul Moran of Newsday says: Magna Entertainment, also insolvent, is probably a non-starter. We hope that he's right about that.

There’s one thing about this process that I don’t understand however. How is the committee to pick a single bidder in September if the fate of the state’s racing laws and the status of the OTBs won’t be known, probably until the last day of the 2007 legislative session? (I think you could probably take that to the bank; I’d like to check out the futures on that one.)

Bidders are allowed to bid on all or just some of the three different scenarios regarding the laws. So, say that there are six bidders, three are bidding only on scenario #2, and three only on #3. How could they then select just one of them? And even if that circumstance seems extreme, won’t they still have to have some kind of contingency selection almost no matter how it shakes out unless they all bid across the board? What if the laws don't end up changing much, but the nominee hadn't submitted an offer for that possibility?

Moran also wrote that NYRA is least likely to be successful and is without the funds necessary to wage a long legal battle over the property. But NYRA’s CEO Charles Hayward came out scrappy as usual, and asserted

“At the end of the day, the nature of running a track and, perhaps more importantly on the resolution of the land claim, we're going to be formidable.''
Hayward said potential partners include gaming companies such as MGM Mirage, its partner in installing video lottery terminals at Aqueduct, and tote firms
[Albany Times Union]
- Trainer David Donk has sent out, on the grass, three horses off layoffs of 180 or more days at this Belmont meeting; all three of them have won. On Friday, the first twilight card of the Belmont meeting, he sends out Haze My Man on the turf in the sixth, a state-bred allowance, for his first start since Dec 1. It’s also first-time-Donk for the six year-old gelding (with only five lifetime starts), which was also the case with Peg’s Prayer, one of the barn’s layoff winners.

This horse showed excellent form on the grass in 2005, his first one at the races. He ran in three state-bred maiden races, losing by a nose and then a head before graduating last fall. His last race was an up-the-track in an off-the-turfer at the Big A. He’s 5-1 morning line, but that seems on the high side; Donk’s other winners have paid 9-2, 7-2, and 2-1. Haze My Man is by Husband, the Rothmans International winner standing in Virginia for $1000, out of a Rokeby mare by the Belmont winner Summing. The second and third dams, Weatherwise and Christmas Wind, are Rokeby-bred as well, and the latter produced the durable handicap star Winter’s Tale, who, in 1980, when there was no Breeders’ Cup and NYRA still hosted a ‘fall championship season’ which was truly just that, won the old Marlboro Cup, the Brooklyn, and the Suburban for trainer Mack Miller and jockey Jeffrey Fell. (Though it must be said that Spectacular Bid won Horse of the Year honors in 1980, and ran only once, out of eight races (all wins)in New York, that being his walkover in the Woodward, for which Winters Tale was scratched with injury.)

All In The Family

- If you go to this page on Darley’s site, you can see, for any given day, all the horses running worldwide under any of the entities and individuals associated with one or the other members of the ruling Maktoum family of Dubai. Their juggernaut at Belmont continued after four Maktoum-owned horses triumphed on Belmont Day.

On Sunday, Calla Lily (Pulpit) graduated on the grass for Darley and Tom Albertrani. And on Wednesday, Godolphin made it three in a row and four out of seven at Belmont as Ashkal Way won his second of two turf races of the meeting and in this country, capping a furious rally with a nose decision in a wild five horse blanket finish. This four-year old gelding is a son of the Irish-bred grade 1 (French) stakes winner Ashkalani (Soviet Start). He’s related to Flower Alley – his second dam is a half sister to Princess Olivia, his dam.

A nice return to the races for Awesome Twist (Awesome Again) for John Kimmel; in his first race since October, he rallied from second to last to a three length win over 4-5 favorite Rumspringa in 1:15.98, final sixteenth 6.25 seconds. You may recall that last year, at three, Awesome Twist was sent off as the 8-5 favorite in the G3 Lone Star in just his 4th career start, following dominating wins in maiden and entry-level allowance races. Except for a romp in the mud at Saratoga last August (his Tomlinson is off the board at 432), he hadn’t flashed winning form in three other starts, and was up the track in the Jerome and Perryville last fall.

Watch out for him at Saratoga for sure, especially on a wet track. He has that muddy win and a second in two starts there. Both his sire and his dam won Grade 1’s at the Spa – Awesome Again took the Whitney, and Twist Afleet took the Test.

Rumspringa was coming off an impressive return of his own last month, winning with a lifetime best Beyer of 103 in his first start since the fall. In that race, he defeated Godolphin’s Safsoof, one of their two winners on Saturday. But he settled for second here for trainer Barclay Tagg, who earlier took the third with Stormy Kiss (Bernstein). This four-year old filly won Grade 1 sprint stakes in Brazil, and was making her second start in the U.S.; she debuted with a fifth place finish in a stakes at Delaware. Here, Stormy Kiss, bet down to 6-5 favoritism, drew away in the stretch to a dominating win in 1:09.35.

And Kimmel swept the late double with Awesome Twist and King Hoss, the latter taking a 45K maiden claiming race on the turf. He finished 4th as the favorite in Highland Cat’s breakthrough performance on the turf. Highland Cat is reported to be training well, and is still being pointed for a mile and a quarter maiden special on the grass a week from Saturday.

- Your Tent Or Mine is done for the year. He’ll have surgery, but Neil Drysdale said “...he'll be fine." So he’s obviously out of Saturday’s Affirmed Stakes, but Cause To Believe, Point Determined, and AP Warrior are in. Bob and John’s Belmont was the latest failure of California-based three year olds to break into the national spotlight, but these will be amongst their own this time, and it's an appealing matchup. That will be the final race of four to be televised on ESPN, if, that is, the College World Series game that precedes it doesn’t go 19 innings. Preceding the Californian will be the Stephen Foster and Fleur de Lis from Churchill, and the Ogden Phipps from Belmont.

- Contrary to earlier reports, Kiaran MacLaughlin told the Newark Star Ledger of Jazil: “I'd imagine we'd run in either the Haskell or the Jim Dandy before the Travers."

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Franchise Bid a Sprint to the Finish

- J Patrick Bennett, the Chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Future of Racing in New York, wasn't kidding when he said that he wanted to get the bidding process done and over with. It's an all-out sprint to the wire for prospective bidders, and there's no time for them to be Lost in the Fog regarding the complex Request for Proposals (RFP) that were issued yesterday. The proposals are due by August 15, and the bidders have to identify themselves as such by June 30. That deadline is unfortunate timing particularly for NYRA, who will be running the Saratoga meeting at that time. Bidders will have to consider no less than six different scenarios: There are three hypothetical circumstances offered regarding changes in NY racing law, ranging from none, to a complete consolidation of the regional OTBs into a single entity including representatives of all the state tracks, including harness. Then, bidders are asked to consider each of those with and without slots at Belmont Park.

Bids will be judged on the following criteria.

The committee will grade each bid based on six components, with the development plan accounting for 50% of their vote. The other points are: integrity, 20%; financial viability, 10%; approach and managerial theory, 10%; experience and qualification, 5%; and lease payment valuation, 5%. [Thoroughbred Times]
The 'development plan' which counts for 50% encompasses two key questions:
1. How do you plan to conduct racing?

2. What are your plans for track facilities? [Saratogian]
I suppose that these questions include matters such as:

How do you plan to maintain New York's position as the nation's top racing venue?

What are your plans for Saratoga?

What experience in and/or knowledge of conducting successful horse racing meetings do you have?

How can you demonstrate your commitment to the sport of racing, as opposed to running slots parlors?

But I would have preferred to have seen them specifically articulated.

Most perplexing is that the committee will spend all of one month evaluating the bids; their decision is due by September 15.

That seems like an extremely small window in which to make such a crucial decision; Empire Racing Associates CEO Jeff Perlee called it a "bit on the aggressive side."[Louisville Business Journal] The big rush is even more mystifying when you consider that the committee's decision will have to be approved by the legislature and the governor, and with the former currently concluding their session, that won't even begin to happen until they reconvene next year. Given the way politics work in Albany, the final confirmation is expected to take as long as a year. So what the hell is the rush? One month to give proper consideration to what could be six different proposals each from as many bidders that emerge? And with 4500 slots due at Aqueduct, and most likely at Belmont as well, that number could be significant. There are few restrictions on who can bid.
Committee Executive Director Robert Williams said there are no restrictions on the type or number of firms that may submit bids. Any properly incorporated stock corporation, public or private, may seek the contract. It's possible, for example, that large gaming operators, including the Oneida Indians, who previously bid on a state Lottery contract, could join the process.

'We'll have to really be focused,' said Saratoga Springs Mayor Valerie Keehn, a committee member. 'I'll have to clear my calendar.'
[Albany Times Union]
I guess we won't be seeing the good Mayor out at the races much.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Back To Reality

- In a quick return to the realities of this dangerous sport after an upbeat day on Saturday, jockey Chance Rollins is in a medically-induced coma at Stanford Medical Center after suffering grave injuries in a spill at Bay Meadows on Sunday. It was reported that the jockey was not breathing when reached by medical personnel. "He required full cardio-respiratory resuscitation." [Brisnet] The outlook is guarded, at best.

"It's difficult to predict the outcome. The next 48 to 72 hours will tell. He could have just minimal memory loss, or he could be in a vegetative state. I'm cautiously optimistic knowing the resiliency and toughness of jockeys." [SF Chronicle]
- Veteran racing writer Dick Jerardi, leading the charge to change the spacing and the distances of the Triple Crown races, called the Belmont "stupid" after the Preakness. Perhaps to emphasize his point, Jerardi was quick to denigrate Saturday's race, assuring us that Barbaro would have would have won by approximately 12 lengths, and claiming that Jazil earned an anemic Beyer of 95, the worst for a Triple Crown race since at least the early 1990s and probably long before that.

Jerardi is one of the Beyer boys, so he should know, but according to the Form, the correct number was 102; perhaps it was upgraded upon further review and conjecture. My question is this: how can anyone assign a speed figure for the only race each year that is run around two turns at Belmont Park? Jerardi points out that there were fast sprint times during the day, but don't they make separate variants for one and two turns races?

I think that the final time of the race, put in historical perspective, has to count for something here. After all, I'm sure this was not the only Belmont day that the track may have played fast. You can check out the past times here and decide for yourself. It seems to me that the race stacks up fairly well; looking at more recent editions, it was faster than Afleet Alex, Lemon Drop Kid (by two hundredths of a second), Empire Maker, Touch Gold, and Victory Gallop. It was not faster than Point Given, AP Indy, Easy Goer, or Affirmed. And that all makes perfect sense to me. A great horse, as the latter four are considered to have been, Jazil is not - at least not yet. But his Belmont win was a thoroughly respectable performance with a nice closing quarter mile of 25.17 seconds against a couple of horses in Bluegrass Cat and Sunriver that I think we'll be hearing more from.

- Construction is under way on slots facilities at Pompano Park harness track in Florida, and though the plans have been scaled back somewhat due to the high tax rate established by the Florida legislature, they are still pretty ambitious.
The new racino complex will be a bit of upscale Las Vegas in South Florida, with action, light and sound. It will hold a gaming arena with 1,500 slot machines for 16-hour-a-day play, a multi-story feature bar with high-imagery audio and video, a high-tech sports bar, expanded simultaneous off-track betting facilities, an expanded poker parlor and four restaurants. [South Florida Business Journal]
Aren't we forgetting something there? Like, maybe, horse racing? Take a look at the financials of track owner and casino giant Isle of Capri, and you'll know why.
Current revenue for Pompano Park is not broken out separately in Isle of Capri's annual report. Instead, they are lumped with "corporate and other" revenue, which is estimated at $19.8 million, or 1.8 percent of the firm's overall $1.1 billion revenue.