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Saturday, September 30, 2006

Wait No Longer For Shot At Cup

- Wait A While was the star of the preps today, and, in my opinion, is the one horse we saw today who looked like a serious Breeders Cup contender. [NOTE: This post was written before the Oak Leaf.] She's four for four on the grass with two Grade 1 wins and a combined winning margin of almost 20 lengths. It was last September that she won her turf debut in a maiden special at Belmont in her second start. After the race, I posted:

Wait A While (Maria’s Mon) was 2-1 when finishing a well-beaten 5th in her debut at Saratoga, but was sent off at 6-1 in this, her turf debut. She was steadied in traffic, hit the rail and dropped back suddenly, but circled the field 4 wide on the turn, and won going away by 5, wow.
But who that day would have thought we were looking at a contender for the Filly and Mare turf? Maybe not even Todd Pletcher, who ran her on the dirt her next six races (two of those off the turf stakes races, and three of them wins, all on off tracks). But despite that, no one was fooled when she returned to the grass and was bet to 5-2 in the Grade 1 American Oaks.

As she's done since returning to grass, she made it look easy in the Yellow Ribbon in her first race against elders, and won as if there's plenty left in the tank for Churchill. She has tactical speed and a big closing kick; she got the final quarter today in 23.09.

Ashkal Way was also very impressive in winning for the fifth time in six U.S. starts, though not in a way that suggests he can run with the best turf milers in the world. But he's as consistent as can be, and has a big heart, once again showing his toughness in lasting over a stubborn, and, at 11-1, overlaid Free Thinking. I mentioned the latter in my preview, and for once, I listened to myself and nailed the $142 triple. The bettors made Frankel's Art Master - the hype horse - the 8-5 favorite; nice win price on the winner at 2.10-to-1.

And I would agree with Randy Moss' assessment on ESPN that The Tin Man did not finish in a way that would suggest that he'd last at a mile and a half against the European horses that will be here for the Turf.

- Past performances for the Arc (in pdf) available from the Racing Form here.

I'll be up for the early racing, but I must admit that I will be on my way to the Jets-Colts game by the time they're in the gate for Arc. So I won't be watching the race until I get home. If you see me at the game, don't tell me who won.

Saturday Morning News and Notes - Sept 30

- The raves keep coming on the Polytrack and Cushion Track surfaces at Keeneland and Hollywood. "It's like racing on a cloud," John Ward said. [Dallas Ft-Worth Star Telegram] Neil Howard told the Form:

"My riders are thrilled with it....It's giving and it's safe. To me, this is all about safety. If this surface means that there's one less injury, then it's worth it." [Daily Racing Form]
Walter reported on some similar raves from California trainers using Hollywood's Cushion Track, including the story of Jeff Mullins moving his entire barn there from Santa Anita. Of course, Mullins may not be needing a place to train at some point going forward.

So I think concerned horseplayers such as reader Steve D, who laments that his best meet lifetime, from an ROI standpoint, was Keeneland this spring, should just keep in mind that happy and healthy horses will make for better racing and, thus, better wagering opportunities down the road.

- Most of the VLT attention is on Pennsylvania these days, but Florida's first racino is set to open in about six weeks. The Mardi Gras Racetrack and Gaming Center, formerly the Hollywood Dog Track, will unveil 1,100 machines during the second week of November if all goes well. And just a few minutes away, Gulfstream will be ready with 500 machines of its own around the same time.

- The Stones played at Churchill last night, and by all accounts it was a rollicking show. Whatsmore, Bloodhorse.com reports that it was only rock and roll and the horses' didn't seem to mind. The equines apparently even survived opening act Alice Cooper. (And I'll spare you the video of Elected from You Tube, at least for now.)

- And this doesn't have much to do with racing other than the fact that it involves Frank Stronach's daughter Belinda, much in the news in the great white north these days. But it's a delightful passage regarding Ms. Stronach's apparent preference for professional hockey players, an attraction which, according to one observer, is shared by other Canadian women.
- It's an observation subtly reinforced by Amy Nugent of Edmonton, a doctoral candidate in Canadian politics who studies women in public life:

"It is part of a Canadian woman's genetic disposition to be sexually attracted to good skaters and hockey players, part of our Darwinian struggle. Nothing sets my ovaries humming like the spray of ice from a hockey stop. It's grace, strength, hockey-coach-for-your-kids, the measure of a Canadian man. I was never a puck bunny, but I get it." [Toronto Globe and Mail]
Have a good Saturday at the races. This racing bunny is racing off to Belmont.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Friday Night Notes - Sept 29

- Here's some interesting stuff from the Guardian Unlimited's Greg Wood on what to expect for the on-track betting in Sunday's Arc.

The Japanese Racing Association estimates about 200 members of the Japanese media will be at Longchamp tomorrow, along with possibly 3,000 travelling racing fans. The French are used to being outnumbered by the British at their showpiece but this year they may also be swamped by a contingent from Asia.

This could also have implications for the on-course betting, since the Japanese like to back their hero with serious cash. Like France, Japan operates a pari-mutuel monopoly, with no bookmakers allowed, and Deep Impact always starts at ridiculously short odds. Indeed, he once started at no odds at all - there was so much money for Deep Impact in the pari-mutuel pool when he won the Japanese St Leger that the dividend to a 100 (yen) stake was ... 100. The punters risked everything to win nothing, but no one seemed to care.

The Japanese racegoers will not believe their eyes when they arrive at Longchamp and, more than likely, discover that Deep Impact is odds-against. The rush of money for Deep Impact could be immense, not least because backers in Japan are not allowed to bet into foreign pools. The travellers, therefore, are likely to be carrying not simply their own betting money but that of their friends and families too. [Guardian Unlimited]
- Trainer Stanley Hough was 0-for-Saratoga, and in fact, had not won on the NY circuit for 35 races going back to July 7 at Belmont. So on Friday, he won not once, but twice! Hough had suffered some tough luck upstate, particularly with his two-year old Giant Chieftain, the most physically impressive two-year old I saw at Saratoga.

Another of Hough's tough luck losers at Saratoga was Hometown Boy, who was nosed by repeat winner Successful Ways after a slow start in his debut at 10-1; I wrote about the race in this post. This two-year old son of Came Home is listed as the 5-2 favorite in the second at Belmont on Saturday. Todd Pletcher has first-timer Gruffles (4-1); Pletcher has won with just one of his last 18 two-year old first-timers in dirt races. Gruffles (Mr. Greeley) worked a furlong in 10.3 at the Ocala sale in February, where he was purchased for $250,000. He's out of the graded stakes winner Darby Shuffle, who is the third dam of the Kentucky Oaks winner Summerly.

Zito has a first-timer with some nice workouts in Eurotango (Silver Deputy), a half-brother to Eurosilver, who was starting to look like a really nice four-year old when he was retired with a fracture last July. He stands in Lexington for $12,500. He's coupled with Southernconference, and this was a hype horse I fell for at Saratoga. The hype was that Zito was sending out first-timers to win, and this one got bet down to 2-1. He ran into Tiz Wonderful that day, so he deserves another shot, and gets Jara while Eurotango will be ridden by Espinoza.

The Unforgiven

- Here's another reference, from writer Jim Kean of Scotsman.com, to Deep Impact's jockey Yutaka Take having screwed up in the 1994 Arc.

Slagging off jockeys from other countries is a national pastime in Britain and the last thing the critics need is for someone to sharpen their knives for them. As Take did when riding a stinker on White Muzzle in the 1994 Arc, a display that led to the colt's trainer Peter Chapple-Hyam throwing a wobbly and publicly informing the jockey he would never ride for the stable again.

Back in the days when I used to own the odd bit of a few horses however, I always used to think that if a jockey made a cock-up the best thing to do was put him up the next time. He would do his damndest to make sure he didn't make the same mistake again.
For one thing, if I ever had a jockey who made a cock-up, I'd be sure to wash my hands after shaking his after the race. Secondly, c'mon man, it's been 12 years; I can't believe they still hold this against him like that. Check this out; it's a list, from the British site channel4.com, of the 10 Rides to Forget. And guess who's number one?
1. Yutaka Take, 1994 Arc de Triomphe

The Japanese champion jockey took the ride aboard White Muzzle in the Arc de Triomphe on a wave of publicity as the first rider from his nation to take part in Europe’s premier middle distance race. Sadly for him though it was not a pleasant experience. White Muzzle had finished a close second in 1993 and was expected to make the frame again, but in the race itself, Take settled his mount towards the rear and made little effort to improve his placing until well inside the final quarter mile. When allowed to run the horse flashed home but could only finish sixth – much to the disdain of his trainer Peter Chapple-Hyam. He promptly sacked Take in a public dressing down in the Longchamp unsaddling enclosure.
Wow, they don't seem very forgiving, do they? Good thing for Willie Shoemaker that he didn't ride over there; he never would have been forgiven for misjudging the finish line in the 1957 Derby. Though even Stewart Elliot couldn't escape the scorn - he makes it to #6 for his ride on Smarty Jones in the Belmont.

So, this is where I embed the video of the 1994 Arc so we can see for ourselves just how badly the guy screwed up. But it's not there; what the hell good is this You Tube?

Well, while I'm over there, I might as well post something. I was looking for a video from Big Country's second album Steeltown, which I recently decided is actually better than The Crossing. But I couldn't find one - what good is this You Tube? - so we'll have to settle for their 1983 classic In A Big Country.

Swallowing the Hype (Deeply)

- Simon Bray, in an ad on TVG, promises to reveal his "lock of the year" during the network's coverage of the Arc on Sunday morning. "And it won't be the morning line favorite!" he emphatically assures us. Walter saw the "American" morning line, and Shirocco is listed as the 8-5 choice.

Also via Walter is Simon Holt's engaging analysis of the race in Sporting Life. Perhaps the soundest advice he gives is this: The lack of pace makes this more of a race to watch and enjoy rather than be confident of the outcome.

We could do that, right? I mean, we wouldn't bet if we weren't confident of the outcome. Right?

The fact is that with the small field, there's not going to be much value if you like any of the top three picks. Simon Holt likes Deep Impact, though he admits that he could stand accused of swallowing all the hype. I hate falling for the hype horse and losing. The hype horse always goes off at too low of a price, but it's like I just don't want to miss out on the bandwagon. "You mean, you didn't have him?" you're asked incredulously. Could I ever face Walter again if Deep Impact wins by four and I don't have him?

But if the hype horse loses, then it's just another bad bet. Any wager on a horse that is bet below its proper value is a bad bet. So, if Deep Impact gets bet too low, I have an excuse to just watch the race. Would anyone be shocked if he's the "American" favorite?

- I'm always confused as to whether it's Simon Brey, or Simon Bray. So I went on Google and entered "Simon Brey" TVG. I got the message Did you mean Simon Bray TVG? But beneath that were two lonely results with the misspelling. Both mine.

Is that Search Engine Optimization?

A Change in Venue

- Jeez, they could have just told him to use another jockey.

Arc Notes - Living in Hope

- Only eight horses will contest the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe on Sunday, and that's the smallest field in 60 years. Hurricane Run seeks to defend his title, but Timeform's Chris Williamsn told Guardian Unlimited that he "faces an uphill task."

This year Hurricane Run has generally been below the form of his Arc win," says Williams. "But if he is at his best, and with Deep Impact and Shirocco in there, this could turn out to be a very good Arc. On average with our ratings you need a 136-137 horse to win the race," added Williams. This year Timeform have Deep Impact top-rated on 135, followed by Hurricane Run (134) and Shirocco (133), with the potential of more to come from Japan's superstar.

"We have been really impressed with Deep Impact," says Williams. "The form lines suggest he can beat the Fabre pair. Deep Impact was not at his best when suffering his only defeat behind Heart's Cry at the end of last year, and that is not the line to take," reasons Williams, referring to the form shown since by Heart's Cry when he was beaten a length by Hurricane Run in the King George at Ascot. [Guardian Unlimited]
Deep Impact's trainer Yasuo Ikee used an interesting metaphor in describing his horse's chance.
"I compare my feelings about him now to that of Miyamoto Musashi, one of the greatest Japanese swordsmen, who lived in the 17th century," he explained.

"We don't need to sharpen this great sword any more. I just put it back in the sheath and wait for the raceday so that he will be able to run the race of his life." [Sporting Life]
One horse who seems to be gathering an undercurrent of support is Andre Fabre's three-year old Rail Link. He comes out of a win in the Prix Niel, a race which, according to the Guardian piece, has produced six out of the last nine Arc winners. It was the 4th straight win for this son of Dansili (Danehill). "We live in hope with only eight runners so theoretically he should have a one in eight chance..." said Teddy Grimthorpe, racing manager to owner Khalid Abdullah.

Here's the odds quoted on Friday by Ladbroke:
Ladbrokes bookmaker listed Hurricane Run as 5/2 favorite Friday, with Deep Impact and Shirocco tied at 11/4, and Rail Link at 7/1.

St.Leger winner Sixties Icon carries British hopes at 12/1; Alain de Royer-Dupre's filly, Pride, is perhaps the best value at 8/1; French Derby runner-up Best Name is 40/1, and Irish Wells completes the field at the long odds of 50/1.[International Herald Tribune]

Learn and Earn Should Crash and Burn

- I'm pro-racing, so I guess that means I have to be pro-slots. It's sometimes an uncomfortable position. Slots have become little more than a convenient way for state governments to balance their budgets, and I have no argument with those who contend that the balancing is being done at least partially on the backs of those who can't afford it. Even those who argue for slots can usually come up with no better of a defense than 'people would gamble it away in [fill in the slots state] anyway.' What they'll say when every state in the union has it, I don't know.

But unfortunately, slots have also become a crutch for the racing industry; and a fragile one at that. More akin,really, to the spindly-looking legs that support our thoroughbred heroes. It's a road to riches that is destined to eventually come up snake eyes. However, tracks in the states that don't have them can't compete with the ones that do, or at least they'll be less able to do so as gambling continues to expand. So the beat goes on, and for any racing guy to oppose them is, well, downright anti-racing.

Ohio is a particularly ponderous case given the strong-arm tactics and downright sleaze and deception employed by the Learn and Earn group that is backing the slots referendum there. More than in any other state, they're attempting to conceal the millions that will be earned by casino companies behind a benevolent-sounding education campaign. Take a look at the peachy home page of their website, and try to find the word 'slots.' When you do, you'll read a familiar refrain:

Did you know that Ohio has lost billions of dollars in gaming revenue to our neighboring states? Learn & Earn will reclaim this money to invest in education and jobs here in Ohio!
Worse yet, and at the risk of sounding overdramatic, Learn & Earn's ballot initiative could help thwart the Democrats' bid to gain control of the Senate in the November elections. Ohio is one of the key seats that the Democrats must win in order to have any hope of gaining the six spots they need. Incumbant GOP Senator Mike DeWine is locked in a tight battle with the Democratic candidate, House Rep Sherrod Brown; the last poll I've seen is about dead even.

But now comes the expected development that conservative religious groups in Ohio will attempt to rally their constituents to defeat Issue 3, an effort the GOP will certainly get behind if they've not, in fact, already done so. And that's bad news. With many conservatives dispirited by the ongoing incompetence that the current administration has displayed in Iraq, and with issues such as gay marriage below the radar this year, any hot-button issue such as gambling that can be used to increase Republican turnout can not be good news for the Dems.

Senator DeWine joined most of his GOP colleagues in voting for the bill that gives the president broad powers to conduct trials of terrorism suspects and define what constitutes torture. (And to be fair, Rep. Brown voted in favor of the House version....he's one candidate that the GOP will not be able to attack on that basis.) The bill also denies terrorism suspects habeas corpus rights; that is, the right to challenge their detention in court. That's the part of the bill that I find particularly unconsciounable.

No one is saying that terrorists are entitled to the same legal rights as the rest of us, but we're not talking strictly about terrorists, but people suspected of terrorism. How anyone can talk about defending freedom and democracy, and at the same time support unlimited and unchallengeable incarceration of people merely suspected of a crime, even one as hideous as terrorism, I can't really fathom. Even some Republicans who voted for the measure expressed uneasiness about the provision, and acknowledged that it will likely be overturned by the Supreme Court. But the law was rushed through in order to give the GOP something, anything with which to produce misleading campaign commercials intended to make the Democrats seem "weak on terror."

Maher Arar is the Canadian citizen who was sent by U.S. officials to be tortured in Syria. Not only was he merely (and as it turned out, wrongly) suspected of ties to Al Qaeda, but Canadian officials informed the Americans before his rendition that the evidence was flimsy at best. But Mr. Arar actually got off lucky. Yeah, he spent 10 months in a coffin-size cell being beaten with electric cables. But at least he got out. Under this law, he could have been locked up in a jail cell indefinitely with no recourse at all.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Racing on Saturday Too

- We're all hepped up about the Arc, but there are some good stakes races here, on Saturday, as well. I tend to get overwhelmed as these stakes-filled weekends approach; there are so many races that I want to write about in detail, that I sometimes end up writing about none of them!

So I'll try writing a little about a few of them. The Grade 2 Kentucky Cup Classic at Turfway Park is a faux Classic prep. Not because it's being run on Polytrack, though there may still be some who feel that way. While we all admire Perfect Drift, and I do think we'll see an improved effort after his disappointing run in the Pacific Classic, I don't think anyone considers him a top contender for the Classic this year. And even if he runs huge on the Polytrack, people will be skeptical of his being able to reproduce the effort on a real track.

Of course, it may not be long before the real dirt tracks become the minority; we'll have our first Grade 1 stakes races run on Polytrack next weekend - the Lane's End Breeders Futurity for 2-year olds on Oct 7, and the Juddmonte Spinster for 3-yer old fillies the following day. I suppose the angst will really be cranked up when the Blue Grass is run on the surface next spring, but could the results possibly be anymore meaningless than they were this year?

Anyway, Perfect Drift will have to be sharp to beat the Woodward winner Pleasant Tap, and I think that Good Reward should run closer to his second in the Pacific Classic then his disappointing, and incredibly overbet performance in the one-turn Brooklyn.

I tried to be skeptical of Wait A While in the Lake Placid at Saratoga, and won't make the same mistake twice in the mile and a quarter Brade 1 Yellow Ribbon, not even against some hard hitting older fillies and mares. They may be older, but they're all slower than Wait A While. But I suppose I could be tempted to take a flyer at the right price on Live Life. She held well for third after throwing a shoe in the Beverly D. She set a pace that was four seconds faster to the three quarters than The Tin Man in the Million the same day. She's shown steady improvement throughout the year, and is proven at the distance.

I loved The Tin Man in the Million, and just in case you missed it, I feel compelled to point out that I picked him in print in my professional handicapping debut in the Saratoga Special (as well as the cold exacta with Cacique). There ain't much speed in the Grade 1 Clement L. Hirsch, and though I don't know if Espinoza will get away with quite as slow of a pace as last time, this looks like an easy tuneup for the Turf. Sure, he cut some slow fractions at Arlington, but, as Richard Mandella points out:

"I might be prejudiced, but I've watched the replay of the race and you know, the favorite and the second favorite were both within a length at the quarter pole."
......
"They had every chance he did. It's not like he had five (lengths) on them all the way and then just held on. It wasn't a walkover. But he doesn't need me to defend his record." [LA Daily News]
I think that Cacique's subsequent win in the Man O'War certainly backs the trainer up. There could be a lot of talk about Bernardini on Breeders Cup day, but the eight-year old The Tin Man will have a chance to be a major storyline himself in the Turf should he perform as expected on Saturday.

Point Ashley (Point Given) is getting a lot of hype, and she should be favored in the Grade 1 Oak Leaf. It will be her first try around two turns though, as it will be for most of the two-year old fillies in the field. Baffert's filly will have to contend with the 11 post as well, so she's hardly a lock in here. She showed another dimension rating behind a blistering pace in her last. I posted about that race and her pedigree in this post. But if you scroll down to the comments section, you'll see that Walter noted her slow final eighth, and indeed, the time was 13 4/5. Seems like a good race to poke around a little..

Ashkal Way will "go Kelso" at Belmont for Godolphin in the one mile race. He's four for five in the U.S., and came home in 11 1/5 in his last, a win in the G2 Bernard Baruch at Saratoga. Godolphin horses, or at least those for which the mysterious bin Suroor Saeed is listed as trainer, have won 15 of 37 races in this country over the last calendar year.

Art Master, a Grade 3 winner in France, makes his U.S. debut for Frankel. He's a half-brother, by Royal Academy, to the trainer's three-year old Latent Heat. Meteor Storm turns up for his 2006 debut, but trainer Wally Dollase told the Form: "We're kind of giving him the race." I'm a bit interested in Free Thinking (Unbridled). The mile distance on the grass seems to suit him quite well.

There is a National Pick Four on all of the above races save the Oak Leaf, with the Kelso leading off. If you didn't know about the bet, Steve Crist suggests this reason why:
The NTRA's recent cutback of staff and services has diverted resources from promoting these national wagers, and both the presenting and receiving tracks have never fully embraced them anyway. Ontrack announcements and graphics reminding patrons about the National Pick 4 are usually minimal, and track officials sometimes view and treat them as a confusing distraction from their own local pick fours although the numbers say otherwise. [Daily Racing Form, sub. or print ed. only]
The four races will be on ESPN during a 4 - 6PM broadcast as part of its leadup to their initial Breeders Cup. Anytime the sport can get four races on national TV, it's an opportunity to get creative and try and involve the public in some way. Do something! I've suggested using contests with big jackpots to get people to watch and have a rooting interest.

Hell, show the races in Trakus animation and promote it as a cool video lottery game with an expected $1 million jackpot. Jay Cronley, on ESPN.com, points out that for many people, racing is just a numbers game anyway - they bet their birthdays, or their street addresses, and sometimes they win big.
The point is this: Why play the state numbers lotteries, which is like making a bet on a 40-horse field, when you can sometimes play the horse race lottery involving but ten or 11 chances?

Thoughtless gambling blows a horse player's intellectual cover but is good for the game. [ESPN.com]

PA Tracks Get Go-Ahead

- HALLELUJAH! SLOTS IN PA exclaims the headline at the Harness Tracks of America site, celebrating the decision by the Pennsylvania Gaming Board to issue conditional licenses to the five existing racetracks there - Penn National, Philly Park, and the harness tracks the Meadows, Chester Downs, and Pocono Downs. The board acted despite concluding that slots revenues would be significantly less than projected by the tracks, and after fining Penn National $50,000 for breaking a law barring out-of-state gaming interests from giving to state political campaigns. [Phila Inquirer]

And you can bet that there are some 'hallelujahs' going up in the corporate offices at Magna, whose $200 million sale of the Meadows is contingent on licensing, and crucial to the company's ability to pay off outstanding debt.

The payment is to be made in two notes, MEC said in a statement yesterday, with the first note of $175-million payable on Nov. 3.

Another $25-million will be held back until the opening of a permanent casino at the track, which MEC purchased in 2001 for about $53-million in a deal that also included a stake in television network The Racing Network. [Toronto Globe and Mail]
Reaction in neighboring states such as Maryland and West Virginia was not as joyous. Maryland has no slots at all, while West Virginia is sweating over the coming competition to their own slots parlors. Racetrack owners in the latter state are pushing for table games in order to keep pace. Bob Marshall, the GM of Wheeling Island Racetrack and Gaming Center, is leading the call for expanded gambling while painting a bleak picture of his track's revenues without them.
"I anticipate a 30 percent to 40 percent drop-off in revenues....Last year we paid $110 million in taxes, so take off about $30 (million) or $40 million of that."..In addition, Marshall said as much as 30 percent of the track's employment could be laid off after Wheeling Island feels the full effect of competition from Pennsylvania. [The State Journal]
The competition will have a profound effect on the state's revenues.
State Sen. Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, said video gambling is the second largest tax revenue source for the state.

“If we see this revenue reduced by 25 to 30 percent, we will either have to cut programs or find other sources of revenue,” he said. “I prefer table gambling because it is mostly out-of-state money being contributed to the state’s economy.” [Wheeling News Register]
That money may be coming from out of state now (60% of Wheeling Island's customers come from Pennsylvania, according to Marshall), but eventually, Pennsylvania will respond with table games of their own. And then there's Ohio and Delaware and Maryland....it's only a matter of time before the house of cards all comes crashing down.

Heh Heh

- Looks like someone at NYRA has a good sense of humor. Check out what you get if you click on www.empireracingassociates.com.

[EDIT: Empire's website can be found at www.empireracingny.com.)

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Wednesday Night Arc Notes - Sept 27

- There's some uncertainty over a couple of the riding assignments for the Arc. Christophe Soumillon, the regular rider for Shirocco, is contracted to the Aga Khan family, and the filly Mandesha, who runs in the colours of the Princess Zahra Aga Khan, entered the Arc picture after winning the Prix Vermeille. According to the UK's Guardian, Frankie Dettori is a possibility for Sixties Icon, though he's also been "linked with Shirocco." (Sounds like Belinda Stronach and Tie Domi.)

One assignment that is set, of course, is Yutaka Take on Deep Impact, and please be sure to check out Walter's latest update on the Japanese star. This is an interesting article in the Guardian about Take, who, it says, is still villified in Britain for an "ill-judged" ride in the 1994 Arc. He is said to have moved too late, and his big rally fell two lengths short (he finished sixth).

The form-book comment "nearest finish" in a major race is a cardinal sin in a punter's eyes, like an uphill putt to win the Open that stops two feet short.

Never mind that he has won more than 50 Group Ones worldwide, including the July Cup at Newmarket on Agnes World. Many backers in this country simply will not have Take at any price, or on any horse. This weekend, he has his latest - and probably last - chance to confound the critics or, just as easily, push the Sneerometer off the scale.

Deep Impact, below, the best horse ever to emerge from Japan, likes to come from well off the pace. Longchamp, as Take knows all too well, is a track that few riders ever really master. The potential for another "nearest finish" is all too obvious. [Guardian]
Still, he's being offered in the UK at around 5-2 / 11-4 depending on what account you read, so it would seem that there's been at least some forgiveness.

Andre Fabre, the trainer of the other two horses vying for favoritism, Hurricane Run and Shirocco (he's also starting Rail Link, a three-year old), is concerned about a lack of pace. (Fabre is quoted at 7-4 to have the Arc winner.)
"I have nothing for that role (of pacemaker). Short of getting out there and running myself, there's nothing I can do about it....All three of our horses are good, brave fighters who like to challenge from out of the pack.

"But I can't see where the pace is going to come from - it is a big worry for me." [Yahoo Sports UK]

Lack of Restraint

- Following up on that meet-opening first race at Santa Anita, Symphony Sid sure was lone speed. You didn't have to be a genius to figure that out, but I didn't think he'd be up by eight at the half mile pole in 44.42 - that in a mile and an eighth race! He was up by nine at the next pole, and though he tired after that, he held on remarkably well against the still-undefeated Unrivaled Song (Fusaichi Pegasus).

Watching the replay, I'm already reminded of what Davidowitz wrote in the Form about horses performing better when they are not heavily restrained during the early running. Aaron Gryder let Symphony Sid have his way. We've all seen similar situations in which the jockey would be strangling the horse back, but in this case, Gryder just cruised along for the ride, and the horse responded well against an opponent he probably wasn't going to beat in any pace scenario. The exacta with the 3-2 favorite and 3-1 second choice returned a very fair $19.40.

- Second of June, second in the Woodward, has been euthanized after breaking down during a workout at Churchill.

And Precisionist, who won a championship as a sprinter in 1985 at age four after winning the mile and a quarter Swaps the year before, has died at the age of 25. I think it's fair to say that he will forever be the only horse to ever win a Breeders Cup Sprint at the Big A.

Blog It And It Will Be So...

- ...or so it seems, the way that the day after I wrote that the tracks would benefit from having their race archives made easily available online for free, Churchill Downs announced that they would do just that for all of their properties.

Now comes the joyous discovery that Cal Racing has acquired the rights to show replays for many tracks outside of California, including those of NYRA and Magna (though not Churchill). This is particularly excellent news as far as NYRA goes, as their replays on the Racereplays.com site had become a disgrace of late. Cal Racing has a nice size screen and excellent sound and video quality, though, as with most video sites, is subject to freezing during peak hours. Like now I guess.

And a note about the redesigned NYRA site, which I had given a passing grade last week. Now it seems I may have been too hasty, unless I'm just missing something. One of the better features on the old site was the stakes section, in which you could see a listing of the stakes schedule for the year, read a brief history of each race, and then go to the 'Stakes History' link and see all of the past winner/jockey/trainers of each one. I figure it's gotta be me, that they wouldn't possibly remove such an informative and interesting feature as that (as in, one that makes me sound smarter than I am). Did they?

-

News and Notes - Sept 27

- Just Zip It picked up the pace in her second timed workout, a three furlong breeze in 37.42 (5/10) at Belmont on Tuesday. Prior to the work, our trainer Bill Turner remarked that she's like a whole different horse since she breezed in company last week with two other fillies...and that he likes JZI and says she has a nice way of moving. Seems like a little taste of competition has done what a reporter on a right wing propaganda machine masquerading as a legitimate news outlet was able to do to a certain former president - get those competitive juices flowing. But given Turner's history, they'll certainly be a few more workouts before he considers sending her to the starting gate. I'd guess some time in November if all goes well.

- One thing I'd like to see more of in the racing press is discussion of the art of handicapping by the experts in the field. Bloodhorse and Thoroughbred Times are news outlets, and have none to speak of. The Daily Racing Form has its handicapping section, but much of that is useful but race- or site-specific columns on particular races or tracks, Dick Jerardi boring us with his latest betting exploits, or Steve Klein writing that 97.8% of horses who have the lead in six furlong races on Thursdays go on to win. Even Andy Beyer rarely writes about handicapping anymore; personally, I wouldn't miss a series of columns by Beyer if he were to recap, reiterate, and update handicapping principles, both basic and advanced, from his landmark books. I believe that you can never have enough of good advice, and it often pays to go back for another look.

So that's why I'm excited about Steve Davidowitz' return to writing a regular handicapping column in the Racing Bible, especially when he imparts solid advice as in his latest column in their subscriber-only DRF Plus section. I'd love to just reprint the whole thing here, it's that good, but cannot do so out of respect for the paper's paid content. So let's see if I can briefly excerpt his piece to highlight his main points without pissing anyone off (and perhaps encouraging people to subscribe) (in which case, I should get a commission, right?):

On Lawyer Ron's defeat in the Super Derby:

Whenever a horse is heavily restrained during the early stages of any race, his performance could have been better than it appears in the past performance lines. This is one of the best reasons to watch video replays of as many races as possible, be they in preparation for the Breeders' Cup or your home track.
......
Very often a true measurement of a horse's capability to handle longer races can be seen in how rank or how relaxed the horse is at shorter distances. In my experience, this fact is even more reliable than how fast a horse closes in shorter races.
On Magical Ride's poor performance as the 6-5 favorite in the Matron:
Earning a big figure in a five-furlong race, followed by a precocious, but losing display of early speed in a subsequent race is a gilt-edged invitation to toss the horse from contention in today's race at a longer distance.
On King of the Roxy's win in the Futurity:
Having tactical (not precocious) speed and an outside post position in a closely matched contest is a major advantage in a one-turn race, especially a one-turn race at an elongated sprint distance such as seven furlongs to one mile or longer at Belmont and seven furlongs to one mile at Aqueduct, Arlington, and Churchill Downs.
And finally, on Karen's Caper's race prior to her win in the Noble Damsel:
..her second-place finish in the Ballston Spa Breeders' Cup on Aug. 28 featured a sustained rally from less than three lengths behind the slow pace set by a relaxed My Typhoon. This type of performance and/or a display of more tactical speed by a confirmed stretch runner invariably hints at a vastly improved performance ahead, especially in a race with more pace.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Who Do You Like on Opening Day?

- The Oak Tree meeting opens at Santa Anita on Wednesday, and it's a cause celebre for racing fans everywhere. The meet gets off to a rollicking start with a contentious six-horse allowance race on the grass. Here's the breakdown:

Symphony Sid (5-1) was claimed for $50K by Mike Mitchell two back, and his last was a thoroughly fine 5th in the Grade 2 Del Mar Handicap, in which he earned a 92 Beyer that is well competitive in this field. Drops down to the N3L allowance level - he won at the NW3X level at Bay Meadows last year (he's the only horse in for the optional claiming tag). The cut back from a mile and three-eighths to nine furlongs should help as well as the inside draw. He could very well be lone speed in here too.

Unrivaled Song (2-1) is two-for-two lifetime and on the grass for Neil Drysdale. In his last, he broke a bit slow, and was extremely wide coming out of the turn, and closed to win, getting his final furlong in 11 1/5. The horses that ran second and third ran behind Symphony Sid in the Del Mar. Unrivaled Song is by Fusaichi Pegasus out of a Danehill mare, which makes him inbred 3x3 to Danzig.

Budha (9-2) was a Grade 3 winner in Chile. His two allowance races here have been OK, but other than a couple of sharp recent workouts, not too much to get excited about here.

Robador (7-2) has returned in fine fettle as a four-year old after a year layoff, with two route wins on the dirt. He put in some decent efforts on the grass in three winless tries. He's by the late Batonnier, a 15% turf sire who is inbred 3x3 to Ribot, and he has some European stakes winners on his distaff side. Still, I'd want some value against some horses with proven grass form.

Potential (8-1) is the longest shot in the morning line, but I dunno, it seems to me that his last race, a win at 35-1 in his turf debut, stacks up quite favorably against that of the morning line choice. For one thing, he ran a faster race according to Beyer, 90-87, and he too was very wide swinging for home. Whatsmore, whereas Unrivaled Song loped along and saved ground early, Potential had to run early to stay in contact with a quick pace; his first quarter was 22.89. After a second quarter was 23.80, and he quickened in each of the subsequent quarters as he rolled home in 23.49. The two horses out of the race that have started ran 1-2 in the Ponoma Derby at Fairplex (on the dirt). Not much turf in the pedigree to speak of, and an anemic Tomlinson of 186. But his performance on the grass certainly showed some potential (sorry).

Much Faster is 3-1 morning line off a 13 month layoff for Frankel. Another one of those TNT horses from Brazil (and I'm surprised that a stable with that name is permitted to fly equines or humans into this country), he had shown steady progress culminating in a win in his 4th U.S. start in an entry level allowance at a mile and three-eights. He earned a 93, the highest last grass Beyer in this race, but he has to contend with a move up in class and a cut back to a distance that may be less than what he'd prefer. He's working nicely, but damn it, I'll continue to stand against these long layoff horses that are overbet until I eventually go broke. Besides, this horse may not be the best one here even without the layoff.

PICKS:
Symphony Sid - in front as far as he goes
Potential - can split the exacta (at least) at a fair price
Unrivaled Song - tough to pick against a horse that has come home in 11 1/5 in both starts, but I think the value will lie elsewhere as this one needs to go faster as he moves up and tackles elders.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Lots and LOTS of SLOTS

- On Wednesday, Pennsylvania's Gaming Board is expected to issue conditional licenses for racetracks to proceed with opening their slots parlors, subject to issuance of permanent licenses in December. With most, if not all of the tracks expected to get the go-ahead, Magna will no doubt breathe a sigh of relief if and when the Meadows gets past this point.

The scope of the gambling about to come to the state is absolutely breathtaking; the annual take is projected to be $3 billion a year, with most of the state's share to be used to help cut local taxes and boost the state's share of spending on public schools.

If [the] projection proves accurate, Pennsylvania would become the third-biggest commercial gambling state in the nation, behind Nevada and New Jersey and ahead of Mississippi and Indiana, based on 2005 statistics compiled by the American Gaming Association.
.....
With racetracks in each corner of the state and most near major population areas -- including Philadelphia and Pittsburgh -- at least two-thirds of Pennsylvanians will live within an hour's drive of a gambling hall. [AP]
We're also starting to see the magnitude of what is actually being proposed in Ohio by Learn and Earn, much to the dismay and disbelief of opponents there. In order to meet the lofty promise of contributing $850 million annually to college scholarships, the sponsors of State Issue 3 assume that Ohio will have 31,500 slot machines spread across seven horse-racing tracks and two downtown Cleveland casinos.
For that to happen, every one of Ohio’s gambling facilities — including racetracks in Grove City, Lebanon and Northfield — would have to be larger than the largest casino in Indiana, Illinois and Missouri, a Dispatch analysis of gambling in the three Midwestern states found.
These projections have drawn predictable attacks from slots opponents.
The co-chair of the Vote No Casinos campaign, David P. Zanotti, said that $2.8 billion figure is inflated from Learn and Earn’s own previous projections.

"How did their gross revenue go from $2.3 billion to $2.8 billion? Just by them talking about it?" Zanotti asked. "If this were being done in the private sector, it would be no different than Enron. [Columbus Dispatch]
One thing's for sure, folks in the racing industry, in slots states, anyway, sure have a nice lot in life these days. They have failing business models, but are fortunate enough to be subsidized and artificially propped up. Imagine owning a struggling business, and someone comes to you and says 'hey, how about I move in with you and I'll give you 20% of my $3 billion business, just for the right for me to be in business? Nah, you don't have to do anything, just keep losing money.' And unlike their competitors, racing is immune from any anti-Internet gambling bills pending in Congress. There's very little to complain about, high tax rates in states like Pennsylvania and Florida notwithstanding, and if the industry doesn't come up with its own solutions before the VLT bubble implodes, it's their own fault.

And implosion is only a matter of time and space.

- Here's the schedule of expected openings in Pennsylvania. Pocono Downs is scheduled to first, in November, followed by Harrah's Chester Downs. Harrah's drew some criticism last week over their opposition to slots at the Meadowlands. They, as well as other Atlantic City casino owners, say that slots at the Big M would hurt business in AC. But at the same time, Harrah's is opening the Chester casino, which is actually 50 miles closer to Atlantic City than is the Meadowlands. And as Bill Finley points out on ESPN.com, many people who the casinos say won't come to AC if there are slots at the Meadowlands will end up going to Yonkers or Aqueduct anyway.

Godolphin No Phun

- Discreet Cat vs. Bernardini unlikely to happen reads the headline on the Form's website. Of Discreet Cat, Godolphin guy Rick Mettee said: "His getting sick screwed up everything.

"He would have gone Dwyer, he would have run in a couple of those big summertime races. We would have had a completely different agenda. You might have even seen him in against older horses in one of those races. We have to do the right thing now by him. It might not be a popular thing, but the right move for him right now is the Jerome Oct. 1. That is the right move regardless of where we go the next race." [DRF]
Don't know if I'm buying that stuff about what kind of campaign he would have had, are you? In any event, if Discreet Cat had stayed healthy and had "gone Dwyer" and Travers and whatever else, it's altogether possible that it would instead be Bernardini who was heading to the Jerome and the Cigar.

News and Notes - Sept 25

- Better Talk Now's win in the Sky Classic at Woodbine was achieved despite a slow pace, and trainer Graham Motion says that the seven-year old is "every bit as good as he was when he won the Breeders' Cup [Turf in 2004]." [Bloodhorse] But Motion said that there's a "very good chance" that he will opt for the Canadian International on Oct 22 rather than this year's Turf.

- How impressive was George Washington in winning the QEII Stakes on Saturday? According to the UK's Sunday Herald: Michael Kinane would probably have been done by the stewards for not making sufficient effort but for the fact that George Washington won by the easiest one-and-a-quarter lengths seen this season.

Instead, the stewards, at the behest of Frankie Dettori, the rider of Godolphin's Librettist (who was reported to be lame the following morning), suspended rider Seamus Heffernan for 14 days for improper "team tactics." Hefferman was on board Ivan Desinovich, who was part of the Coolmore team entered to ensure an honest pace for George Washington; and Dettori accused him of purposely carrying Librettist wide as he was tiring. The stewards agreed.

"As we saw it, as he started to come up the hill, he was about one off the rail," [steward William] Nunneley said. "By the time he got to the bend, he was anything up to six horses wide, and then he dropped back in again after that.

"We decided that this was improper riding, in that he had done it on purpose. I don't know why he did what he did, but for us, it's a bit like being a referee in football. We don't really work on motive, and unless someone came in with a smoking gun and said that that's what they told the jockeys to do, we wouldn't really go down that road.

"Once we had come to that conclusion, we followed the guidelines on pacemakers and team tactics, and that led us to the suspension that was imposed." [Guardian Unlimited]
Hefferman was slightly peeved, telling Coolmore trainer Aiden O'Brien: “Bullshit, it’s f***ing out of order.” [Sunday Herald]

The Independent's Chris McGrath, who observed that the feeble bump administered by Ivan Denisovich on the home turn did not remotely prejudice Librettist's chance , picked up on the incident in the larger light of the feud between Coolmore and Godolphin.
The fact that those behind him included Godolphin's other runner, Proclamation, may have contributed to Dettori's exasperation. Dettori has not ridden a Group One winner in Britain for Godolphin for two years, and it is typical of their season that both Librettist and Proclamation were lame yesterday morning. The entire stable was stricken by sickness in the spring, and earlier this month its standard-bearer, Electrocutionist, dropped dead. Of course many suspect that Godolphin has more endemic problems, and their rivals at Coolmore doubtless watched Sheikh Mohammed's frenzied recent spending at Keeneland with wry smiles.

The Maktoums hardly help themselves, moreover, in their petulant refusal to invest in yearlings by Coolmore stallions. The stud may have lost its bedrocks - Sadler's Wells is ageing, and Danehill dead - but it remains home to two of the world's most promising stallions in Montjeu and Galileo, while George Washington himself may yet prove Danehill's most precious legacy.

Coolmore continues to outperform the Maktoums' own breeding operation, and relations between the two empires were soured further on Saturday. Strong words were exchanged in the weighing room between O'Brien and Dettori. A man of congenital calm, O'Brien was plainly insulted. Whatever the truth of the matter, Dettori seemed guilty of precisely the sort of sulkiness that once threatened the fulfilment of George Washington himself. In the spring, he seemed nearly ungovernable, but O'Brien quietly insisted that all the colt had to do was grow up.
The Guardian reported that George Washington is rated at 2-1 to win the Mile. Good grief!

John has the tape of the race (with his favorite French racecaller) posted over at Not To The Swift.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Cold Mott Runners Prove Live

- Bill Mott had two winners at Belmont on Sunday that were stone cold dead on the board. In the first, Nunnery, by Forest Wildcat out of a full sister to Pulpit, - Patrick wrote a lot more on her pedigree here - was coming off a close second with the highest Beyer in the field, and was listed in the morning line as the 7-2 second choice to 3-1 Hunsa. Yet she was allowed to go off at 5.30-to-1 in graduating on her third attempt, as the bettors opted instead for Clement's Left Me Breathless, who was stretching out beyond six furlongs for the first time. The latter was made the 5-2 favorite in the mile race, and what a horrible chalk she was, backing up to last after being in perfect position behind dueling leaders on the turn, ugh. Mrs. Bailey ralled smartly for second at 11-1 for Chantel Sutherland, who has been riding in improved form of late.

The ninth was the Joseph A. Gimma, for state-bred two year old fillies, and in this one, Mott had Win With A Wink, again 7-2 morning line second choice to a 3-1 favorite, Laurentide Ice. She was also a close second choice in the Form's selection box. Yet she was allowed to go off at a dull 6-1. Crosstown Traffic was made the 4-1 second choice, and actually, that's who I had. I suppose I was thinking that Mott's filly was dead on the board.

The exacta with Win With A Wink and 2-1 favorite Laurentide Ice returned $37.20, which I think indicates that he was bet more in the exactas than in the win pool. Seems a bit light, you think? Ten horse field, with the 6-1 4th choice on top... Using the rule of thumb of the win price multiplied by the place price, it should have paid around $56.

Crosstown Traffic broke a step behind the field, moved up smoothly on the inside but had to check and lost momemtum. But he came on again, moving back into contention around the turn, and did pretty well to get third, so we'll put him on the watch list.

Backwards Pick Three

- As it turned out, I was alive to Octave in Saturday's late Pick 3, even though she ran in the Matron, which was the first race of the sequence. Before leaving to my parents' for a holiday family affair, I bet the late Pick Three with the two horses I picked here for the two juvenile stakes, Octave and King of the Roxy, with five horses in the finale.

I was able to free myself during that little lull between the hors d'ouevres and drinking portion, and dinner, and got to watch Mascot win the final race. Besides being one of my selections in the race, he was 11-1 winning his 4th race in a row! This three-year old son of Five Star Day was a $160,000 sales yearling who had one dull start for Todd Pletcher at two. Then in February, he turned up for a $16,000 tag for Dutrow, went off at 7-10, and got claimed by Robert Klesaris. After a third in three subsequent dirt tries, Klesaris tried him on the turf for a $40K tag, and he rallied for second at six furlongs. He hasn't lost since then, taking one at Belmont at 45K, and then two at Saratoga for 40K. On Saturday, he was moving up to allowance, and stretching out to a mile and a quarter from a mile.

Garrett Gomez did a great job rating him on the lead to a 1:14.69 three quarters, and from there, he was able to come home in quarters of 24.31 and a zippy 23.25. Far back in sixth was the 4-5 favorite Devil's Preacher, a close second in the Saranac.

Mascot is potentially a very interesting story, and let's see if Klesaris tries to find some kind of overnight stakes spot for this horse, perhaps at the upcoming Meadowlands meet. He has a lot of pedigree, being out of a Slew O'Gold mare who is half to the successful sire Clever Trick, and to the dam of Grade 1 winner Alydeed.

When I got home, I decided to watch the Futurity first even though it was run after the Matron. I was more confident about King of the Roxy than for Octave, so I figured I'd have a better chance of extending my action to a third leg. Might as well some bang for the buck, eh? Watching the race, I think you got an idea of what Barry Irwin was talking about when he raved about how the colt took the turn in the race that inspired Irwin to buy him. He was four wide and seemed to be propelled coming off the sweeping turn at Belmont, finishing the seven furlongs in 1:24.09, about four-fifths faster than the Matron was run. He got the final furlong in 12.69; John Velazquez said that he "got to the front, and he started waiting.... I think he can be better if he puts it all together." [Brisnet]

And he's trained by Pletcher, so we can add him to Circular Quay and Scat Daddy as the trainer's Juvenile prospects.

So I was alive in the first leg of the Pick Three! The bettors made Magical Ride the 6-5 favorite, but she was never really involved this time in a race whose pace was quite manageable. Her trainer Rusty Arnold told Bloodhorse.com: "It was kind of a disaster. I'm going to have to go back and re-assess and start over."

It looked like I was going to nail this one, didn't it? Octave had to be hard used by Garrett Gomez as he saved ground turning for home, so I wasn't confident at that point. But she continued to grind away as Meadow Breeze was drifting out and pacesetter Featherbed was tiring, and she looked like a winner to me as they passed the sixteenth pole. It's a tough angle to judge on TV, though, when a horse is drifting out, so I can't be sure if Octave ever acheeeeeved the lead (as Marshall Cassidy used to say), though it sure appeared that way before Meadow Breeze beat her by a head.

It was an unlucky bob that prevented Octave from having the place spot to herself instead of sharing it with stablemate Featherbed. And it was a disappointing loss for me, but at least I managed to get maximum excitement out of the bet.

- King of the Roxy is by the first-year sire Littleexpectations, a son of Valid Appeal who stands for $3500 in Texas; the sire is a full brother to the top Texas sire Valid Expectations. He's already had seven winners out of a 40-foal first crop, and this was his first stakes winner. King of the Roxy is out of a Bold Forbes mare, and has some classy turf winners on his distaff side, including Mea Domina and Geraldine's Store, the latter being a nice mare who was campaigned in New York by P.G. Johnson.

Meadow Breeze is by Meadowlake, and it's the sire's second Grade 1 winner of the year; his Wildcat Bettie B took the Prioress in July.

Strong Super Derby for Strong Contender

- Looks like Lawyer Ron was up to his old tricks in the Super Derby. Whereas he seemed to relax easily in the St. Louis Derby, this time, as at Oaklawn in the Arkansas Derby earlier in the year, he pulled jockey John McKee to the lead. “He was rank,” Lawyer Ron’s trainer, Bob Holtus, said. “He didn’t want to relax. The third-quarter mile is what did him in. He’s only had one race in five months. He beat himself.” [Shreveport Times]

Looking at the race chart, it seems as if it was really the second quarter that got him beat. He went from a half-length off the pace at the quarter-mile mark to the lead by the half, in a quarter that went in 23.01; so that was likely a sub 23 second quarter for Lawyer Ron. He then went 24.08 to the three-quarter mark. Considering that the final three furlongs were run in 37.75, I'd say that Lawyer Ron did very well to put up the strong resistance to Strong Contender that he did, finally succumbing by a length.

The winner got his first win around two turns, and perhaps he really has matured into the horse that he's been built up to be by his trainer John Ward, who was stuck in Kentucky due to bad weather. "Physically, the best I've ever seen him is right now, and he's still a pretty lightly raced horse," said Barry Knight, Ward's assistant. [Shreveport Times]

Winning jockey Robbie Albarado said that Strong Contender "wants to go a little farther," and, regarding the mile and a quarter Classic, Ward said "We'll watch and see what the other (possible) participants do. I'd like to see him go a mile-and-a-quarter."

- Albarado rode three other stakes winners on the card, including Birdbirdistheword in the Harrah's Juvenile on the turf for trainer Kenneth McPeek. You may remember that McPeek "retired" last year, but that retirement lasted less than a year before he returned. And he's come back with a vengeance, sporting a 2006 winning percentage of over 20% thus far with a smaller stable than before. "The one thing I learned from before was this -- do not get too big. So I will restrict my numbers this time around." [McPeek Racing]

Birdbirdistheword is McPeek's first stakes winner since his comeback, and his first since Sweet Talker took the Edgewood at Churchill in May 2005. This two-year old son of Pure Prize is now two-for-two on the grass, and made the successful leap from maiden to stakes company.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Notes - Sept 23

- Tim Holland has a superb article up on Brisnet that is well worth reading in its entirety. Noting the intentions of Aidan O'Brien to send Dylan Thomas to Belmont to prep for the Classic, the piece recounts all of the Coolmore runners that have come over for the big race. Giant's Causeway was the first, in 2000, and his thrilling loss to Tiznow is posted on Not to the Swift, with French racecallers. That's right, racecallers. There were two announcers, who switched off like a tag team after each one's turn through the field. The difference between the two is stark - imagine if ESPN had decided to have Durkin and Denman split the races in this fashion!

Holland opines that Giant's Causeway was more likely to take to the dirt than Dylan Thomas will be.

Being by Storm Cat and out of a Grade 2 winner on the dirt, it was expected that Giant's Causeway would take to the dirt. So it was little surprise to many that he ran a huge race from the 13 post to be beaten in a thriller by Tiznow, who would go on to repeat the following year.
.....
In addition to being by Danehill, who has proven himself as one of the best turf sires worldwide in recent years, Dylan Thomas is out of a mare by Diesis (GB) who is having a banner year as a broodmare sire. With his daughters previously responsible for grass-oriented millionaires such as Cetewayo, Honor in War (Lord at War [Arg]) and Manndar (Ire), they are also credited with this year's English St Leger S. (Eng-G1) victor Sixties Icon (Galileo [Ire]), who is set to take his chance in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (Fr-G1) in October.
.....
Dylan Thomas has proven that his ideal scenario is lying close to the early pace over firm ground at 10 furlongs, and of the five previous Coolmore runners to attempt the Breeders' Cup Classic, the closest to match this is Giant's Causeway. However, while the latter's pedigree suggested that dirt should be no problem, the same cannot be said for Dylan Thomas, so it will pay the connections to make this "fishing trip" before committing to the big race at Churchill Downs in November. [Brisent]
- O'Brien may be bringing along a pal for Dylan Thomas in George Washington. The latter bounced back and won the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot. "Mick [Kinane] said he was just half-speeding....If he's well tomorrow and the coming days we'd love to go to the Breeders' Cup." [Sporting Life]

- New York's Ad Hoc committee announced that it will not make the Sept 29 deadline to announce their recommendation of the next franchise holder. The announcement is expected to come next month. [NY Daily News]

Friday, September 22, 2006

King of the Futurity?

- Pletcher has King of the Roxy, the 2-1 morning line favorite in the Grade 2 Futurity on Saturday. He's an $8,000 sale yearling by the $3500 sire Littleexpectations who was purchased privately by Team Valor after graduating in his second start. Prior to his next start, in the Adirondack at Saratoga, I posted on the Saratoga blog about Barry Irwin's account of his phone call to partner Jeff Siegel after watching the horse graduate on TV, and they're worth repeating here:

"Did you see that colt?....Did you see the way he straightened out that turn? You don't see a young horse take a turn like that. He kept the same strong stride throughout, changed leads like a well-oiled machine and looked like a router if I've ever seen one. Let's buy this colt."
King of the Roxy proved Irwin correct, at least for one day, when he ran a close second, beaten less than a length by Chace City. My own comment on his effort was three wide around the turn and finished extremely well...

I think he looks pretty tough in this spot. His main competition is projected to come from two colts coming off of debut maiden wins at Saratoga. Incrminate (Unbridled's Song), a $1.5 million Darley purchase, is a full brother to the occasionally brilliant Value Plus. C P West is one of three winners from the first crop of Came Home; and he was one of Zito's well-bet debut winners upstate...but I do question the quality of that race. I mentioned Alan Klafner and his debut winner Kong's Revenge in a prior post, and that son of Dixie Union has had two excellent workouts since that win on September 2. His Beyer is a bit lower and that race didn't have any monsters in it either, but the barn has had some live runners at big prices of late, so he could be worth inclusion in exotics.

Octave Seeks High Note

- I don't know if it means anything, but the two fillies that came out of Magical Ride's debut to win their next race, Five Star Daydream and Cherokee Shiek, both regressed significantly Beyer-wise despite winning. Five Star Daydream went from an 89 to a 79, and Chrokee Shiek went from an 82 to a 72, and then to a 62 running second in allowance company. So, is it possible that Magical Ride's 102 Beyer in her winning debut at Belmont is too high?

Well, whether it really is or not, it seems like a reasonable theory and a good enough reason to try and beat Magical Ride, listed as the 7-5 favorite in the Grade 1 Matron at Belmont. As I mentioned the other day, horseplayers can be a forgiving lot, and George Arnold's filly seems to be forgiven for fading to third after running a first quarter of 21.83 in the Adirondack. But the track seemed pretty quick that day - an earlier maiden race for 2 yo colts went the first quarter in 22.04. And who's to say that she won't get involved in a speed duel again, with Featherbed, Cash's Girl, and Eternal Grace all possible pace factors?

I'm not afraid of the low Beyers on Octave, nor the presence of Garrett Gomez for Pletcher instead of Velazquez, who rides the trainer's Featherbed instead. Gomez was aboard for Octave's win in the Adirondack, and Pletcher seems to stick with a rider once he's had success on a particular horse. The pace could be favorable again, and the stretchout to seven furlongs should help a lot for this classy looking daughter of Unbridled's Song, out of a stakes winning daughter of personal favorite Dr. Carter.

They're Off in Ohio!

- Learn and Earn, the group spearheading the slots initiative in Ohio, has gathered enough signatures to get their referendum on the ballot, and that's great news for bloggers everywhere. Given their tactics that helped earn them a spot on the ballot, as well as the usual ferocity of the anti-slots forces, we can expect a lot of luscious dirt to be flying back and forth as Election Day approaches.

So, it's a good time to briefly review the steps that Learn and Earn took to get into this position. The organization proposes to funnel 30% of slots proceeds at the state's seven tracks, as well as two standalone parlors in Cleveland, to college scholarships. A group in Cincinnati desired a casino there as well, but the city was unceremoniously dumped by Learn and Earn in order to get Penn National on board. That company operates a riverboat casino in nearby Indiana which could have been hurt by the competition.

When a group in Cincy announced plans to propose their own amendment, Learn and Earn strong-armed them out of the running by filing repeated objections to their petitions, and by hiring every available signature-gathering company in the state. They reportedly misled prospective signatories by not telling them that the education money behind their referendum proposal came from slot machines. Recently, they offered financial renumeration to Cincinatti in an effort to secure the city's support, an action that some charged was nothing more than a payoff. "If elected officials tried the very same tactics, it would be called bribery, and people would go to jail," said Daniel Zanotti, president of the conservative, anti-gambling Ohio Roundtable. [Columbus Dispatch] In fact, the offer of money has caused a Cincinatti councilwoman to drop her lawsuit regarding the misrepresentations by the signature-gatherers.

Oooo baby, this is going to be fun! It's Ohio, after all, where some still feel the Republicans stole the 2004 presidential election; and the state represented by Republican Senator Bob Ney, who, after months of denials, last week admitted that he had sold out his office to convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff. It's the home of Tom Noe, a key Bush fundraiser who pleaded guilty to money laundering and is under indictment in connection with the disappearance of millions in rare coins, all related the 2004 election. And, Ohio Governor Bob Taft (do I need to say he's a Republican?) was convicted in 2005 of accepting golf outings and gifts from lobbyists, causing his approval rating to plunge to 6.5%. In terms of popularity, Bush is like Barbaro compared to this guy.

So I imagine that Learn and Earn ain't too worried that Taft, who will be voted out of office in November, is, along with Republican Senator George Voinovich, leading opposition to their referendum. Learn and Earn's campaign is a slick machine, as evidenced by their website. A representative even came to this blog to respond to a post I wrote in June, though he didn't really address the main points I had made. I invite him to come back and do so now.

Notes - Sept 22

- After hedging a bit on the Oct 7 Jockey Club Gold Cup, Aidan O'Brien has boooked John Velazquez to ride Dylan Thomas at Belmont that day. Johnny V already has had a nice view of Bernardini's rear from his rides on Bluegrass Cat in the Preakness and Travers, so he should be in a familiar position, assuming that O'Brien is merely using the race as a prep, as he says. Of course, the race is also a prep for Bernardini, and if he had acted like a mortal horse thus far, we could speculate that Albertrani may not have him cranked up either. But the way he's been winning, the thinking here is that the trainer couldn't tone the horse down even if he wanted to.

- John Ward is really talking up the physical development of Strong Contender, and provided Jerry Klein of FoxSports.com with an excuse for the Haskell: "In the Haskell, everyone wanted to be on the same part of the racetrack and we were like the lead blocker in roller derby — just getting bounced around bad." Ward is looking for the colt to run back to his 109 Beyer in the Dwyer, but it may (or may not) be worth noting that his two races around two turns have been his weakest efforts to date. Perhaps they can be excused - one was in Sinister Minister's freakish Blue Grass, and the other was the Haskell behind Bluegrass Cat.

Klein's occasional columns on the (ugh) Fox site are always informative, and this week he also discusses Cash's Girl, starting for Tim Ritchey and Cash Is King in the Grade 1 Matron at Belmont tomorrow. She won her debut at Delaware by 11 lengths. No mystery here why Cash Is King was interested in acquiring this one. She's by Northern Afleet, the sire of Afleet Alex, out of Jolie Hawk, a half-sister to the same. Though she has the least experience in the six horse field with just that one start, she comes in with the best last-out Beyer in the field.

Walkovers

- I did some research on walkovers, and found that there was one as recently as July, 2005, at Colonial Downs. Liveinthepresent was the only one of five original entrants to make it to the post; all the scratches were by the vet according to the account on this page. It also says that the horse started to bolt down the backstretch; that would be something if a horse in a walkover doesn't finish!

As far as Sharp Cat goes, her walkover was on December 7, 1997, at Hollywood Park. I found the program having been offered for sale on Ebay. Not only was there a walkover that day, but later in the program, there was a triple dead heat. Quite an odd day at the races. Here's the program page; there were three entered originally in the Bayakoa Handicap as you can see. Sharp Cat was 1-5 morning line, so I suppose no one was really anxious to face her anyway. We could see a similar scenario with Discreet Cat on Oct 1.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Belmont Notes - Sept 21

- Defrizz won at Belmont on Thursday - he was, in my opinion, the hottest horse of the entire Saratoga meeting. He had made his only start at Belmont in June, and on a muddy track, he finished a distant 5th as the 5-2 favorite after stumbling at the start of the state-bred maiden special.

He didn't race again until August 17th at Saratoga, where he turned up in an entry allowance race on the turf. He was 8-1 morning line, but I had to check and re-check to see if I was looking at the right race when I saw him on the board at 8-5. Against winners! On the turf for the first time. By the $3500 sire Rizzi. And this was not for Dutrow or Pletcher, but for Willard Freeman, a veteran horsemen who enjoyed success here in the past. But he rarely has runners now, and is certainly not the type to take money on the trainer angle. True, he was facing a dismal field, but it still seemed rather astonishing.

Defrizz drifted up to 3-1, but was still the post-time favorite. As in his debut, he stumbled at the start, rushed up towards the lead and faded. He was back on Aug 30, this time rained off the turf and back against maidens. Sent off at 8-5 this time, he broke better and held for a game second.

Horseplayers can be a very forgiving lot. Back at Belmont and on the grass in Thursday's sixth, he was 8-5 this time, and finally got to the winner's circle for his beleagured backers, who didn't really get much back in return for their loyal support.

- It's been a tough last couple of months for trainer Alan Klafner and Paraneck Stable, but they've shown some signs of breaking out after enduring 42 consecutive winless races at NYRA tracks. On Sept 2 at Saratoga, the barn scored with first-timer Kong's Revenge at 11-1; and on Wednesday, Bonus Size dropped in class and scored at 18-1. On Thursday, Jackie K displayed an unlikely form reversal to run second at 19-1. In typical Paraneck fashion, Kong's Revenge comes back in the Grade 2 Futurity on Saturday.

- We've been just half-kidding talking about the Jerome being a walkover for Discreet Cat. Today, the Form reports that only Noonmark is considered definite to face him on October 1.

"The most intriguing thing about Noonmark is the races that he's run at Belmont Park have been very impressive," his trainer, Scott Blasi, said from Kentucky. "He broke his maiden in impressive fashion, and he ran....[blah blah blah]"
C'mon man, save your breath. You're running for second money, you can tell us.

An Anonymous Late Double

Anonymous said...

PS - In the late DD, if you love the Citronnade - Metro Meteor DD as I do and you rely on the NYRA site for guidance, you would play the 5-9 combo instead of 1-1.

By not listing program numbers anywhere on the site, and having an a*s backwards odds matrix, they are just begging gamblers to go somewhere else to wager. Brilliant!!
- Anonymous nailed both NYRA's website and the late double in a single comment...and nice to see that byanose benefited as well. Bobby Frankel figured prominently in the result. In the 8th race on a card that was better than many run at Saratoga, Citronnade made his grass debut for Frankel after four solid dirt tries. Though he went off at .55-to-1 (twice) and .35-to-1 in his last three (two wins and a second), he went off at 5-1 today; that despite the fact that his breeding seemed fine for grass. He's by Lemon Drop Kid, out of a Lord At War mare, and a mostly French distaff family with several grassy stakes winners, including the versatile Warleigh.

Well, Anonymous couldn't have been too optimistic turning for home, as Citronnade lagged in 8th. Even after he rallied into contention, he still didn't look like a winner at the 8th pole as Pletcher's Somethingaboutbetty struck the front. Or at least that's how it appeared from what I could make out on Racereplays.com, and I'll be getting back to that shortly.

In the 9th, many bettors fell for Frankel's favorite Heatseeker (Giant's Causeway), though not our anonymous hero. This three-year old colt was making his first start in almost exactly a year - he ran third in the G1 National Stakes in Ireland, finishing two lengths back of George Washington (scheduled to run on Saturday in the Queen Elizabeth II). Heatseeker got bet down to even money despite the year layoff. 9-2 on Metro Meteor (City Zip), nice! He had the best last Beyer in the field, and now has won four consecutive efforts in turf sprints for Linda Rice. So, nice job to anyone who scored on that $66 double.

Now as to the other points raised, regarding the NYRA website, I'd already noted the backwards exotics matrix and just the general crappy look. But I didn't know that the program numbers weren't listed. And I'll add my own complaint, regarding NYRA's race archive on Racereplays.com. Is it just me, or does the quality of the NYRA replays on this site remind anyone of dial-up internet video circa 1995 or so? This has been going on for weeks now. Does Racereplays.com have similar problems with the tracks that you have to pay for?

And that's another thing. To me, tracks that don't make their video, especially the live feed but also the archives, freely available are only hurting themselves. I don't understand why, with all the simulcasting options available, a track wouldn't do anything within reason to make people want to bet there. Live video is just a no-brainer! Of course I'm going to bet on the tracks I can watch without having to sign up for an Xpress Bet account that I don't need.

Though it's not as important, having archived races freely available in watchable quality, as on the Keeneland and Cal Racing sites, gives handicappers a valuable tool, and I for one am attracted to tracks that have more information available. It's another example of how the industry is not utilizing the internet to its full potential

Franchise Flurry

- Amidst a flurry of activity, including Jeff Perlee's double-edged missive to the state oversight board, and perhaps the first indication that there are indeed live human beings at the Lottery Division, NYRA has made an appeal to the members of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association (NYTHA) for support in their efforts to get approval for the Aqueduct casino. In a letter mailed directly to NYTHA members, NYRA points out that the slots will generate over $200,000 daily to purses and breeders awards. "Purses at Saratoga, for example, should have been $900,000 a day."

The letter recounts NYRA's failed effort to elicit the support of the NYTHA board in an August 24 meeting with the horsemen and a Sept 1 meeting with the board. The first effort resulted in a poisonous press release that came out the next day through, according to NYRA, Empire's PR firm. In that release, a copy of which is also enclosed in the mailing, NYTHA president Richard Bronze accused NYRA of holding a "fire sale of New York racing assets."

"The VLT program was enacted by the state Legislature and the Governor to help the horse industry, not as a giveaway program to be divided up among Las Vegas casino companies or Indian gaming operators."
But as if to acknowledge its own hypocrisy, the release also admits that "racing operators" have since joined the Empire coalition, mentioning Woodbine and Churchill, but not Magna nor the huge conglomerate Delaware North. Those investments are said to be limited to 6%.

The package also includes NYRA's response to that release, as well as a September 1 letter to Governor Pataki in which Charles Hayward disputes the notion that approval of the casino would negatively effect the franchise selection process.
By statute, NYRA's management agreement with MGM will transfer to, and be binding upon, any successor to NYRA. Moreover, the Ad Hoc Committee's own RFP instructed bidders that any successor to NYRA will be required to assume the terms and conditions of the existing management agreement between NYRA and MGM.
Hayward goes on to point out that further delays will threaten its agreement with the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation to establish a schedule to pay off its pension obligations, which would in turn, according to Hayward, "only further frustrate and delay this vital project." NYTHA members are asked to sign a letter of support and return it to NYRA in a self-addressed, stamped envelope (and I wonder if they received approval from the oversight board for that expense).

Perlee's letter to the oversight board urges the release of the remaining $19 million to keep NYRA operating, independently of the Lottery Divison's approval of the VLT project. But at the same time, it tweaks NYRA for its financial problems, twisting the association's characterization of its Saratoga meeting as an "unparalled success" in an attempt at irony. He also urges further review of the MGM contract, which was granted without a proper bidding process, asking the state to compare it to existing racino agreements. Empire is clearly concerned about the prospect of a NYRA bankruptcy filing, perhaps because it could lead to an unwanted court ruling on the issue of who owns the land that the tracks reside on. Perlee's letter prompted this response from Hayward, questioning why Perlee would seek to add a further delay to approval.

Meanwhile, the Lottery Division speaks (!), releasing a statement disputing NYRA's contention that the final draft of its agreement was provided to the division four months ago.[Daily Racing Form] They claim that the latest revision to the agreement was not received until the second week of August.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Wednesday Night Notes - Sept 20

- Christophe Clement sent out first-timer March to Victory to do just that in the second at Belmont, a two-year old maiden turf race. According to Formulator, that's his 4th such winner out of his last nine starters over the past 12 months. March to Victory paid $9.50, and that's the longest win price of the four. It's always impressive to see a first-timer be able to rate and make his way through traffic like this son of Dixieland Band did. It reminded me a little of the way Clement's most impressive Admiral Bird won his debut at Saratoga...though not nearly as powerfully. Pletcher's entry of debut runners went off as the 3-2 favorite, and ran a respectable 3-4.

Jimmy Jerkins took the sixth, a baby turf race for fillies, with Christmas Kid, winning in her second start. She's a daughter of Lemon Drop Kid out of Christmas Gift, a stakes winning half-sister to Bright Candles, the dam of Grand Slam. Her third dam is Sugar Plum Time, a popular Calumet-bred stakes winner here in New York in the 70's.

- Last week, a commenter asked my opinion of NYRA's new website. It seems like the changes are mostly cosmetic. The content is similar, but everything is easier to access than before from the left-hand column. But as the reader pointed out, the matrix board for exactas and doubles (and yes, QQ, the quinellas too) are backwards. Whereas the rest of the industry has the winner numbers listed on the left, NYRA has the winners spread across the top. And in general, I don't particularly like the look of the tote board they're using.

- Please feel free to email me with questions, comments, suggestions, or whatever (please be nice).

A Bonus For the Gold Cup

- Being the cultural snob that I admit that I am, I grow to despise phenomena such as You Tube once it gets too popular. However, one must adjust to the times, and I've watched with envy as the more technically adept TBA bloggers have utilized the videos from the site. And political sites such as Think Progress have used embedded video effectively to catch some of the lying liars on this unhappy planet in the act.

So, I figured it out; it wasn't that complicated, really. I'll use it sparingly, and wanted to find the tape of Dylan Thomas's win over Ouija Board in the Irish Champion Stakes, since both horses have been in the news the last couple of days. Ouija Board will probably run in the Prix de l'Opera rather than the Arc. You gotta love the way the Brits put things sometimes: After pipping Alexander Goldrun in an epic duel for the Nassau Stakes at Glorious Goodwood, the five-year-old mare was just touched off by Irish Derby winner Dylan Thomas in the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown last time. [Sporting Life]

And today came the news that Dylan Thomas will run in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, and may I say WOO-HOO!! Wow, the top three-year olds in the U.S. and U.K. squaring off right here at Belmont. However, Aidan O'Brien tried to temper expectations, saying that he wasn't expecting Dylan Thomas to be pipping Bernardini. "We wouldn't go there expecting to win it, by any means." [Thoroughbred Times]

In looking for the epic duel between the two on You Tube, when I searched for Ouija Board, all I could find is this Morrissey video.



A search of 'Dylan Thomas' yielded the race, though the call is in French. Appr├ęcier!



[EDIT: I read Walter's comment after I posted this; he points out that the Dylan Thomas news is not being reported in the UK...and O'Brien does say that he "wouldn't go there expecting to win," which does sound rather tentative.]

Super Derby a Little Super

- At this point in the season, a three-year old race without Bernardini or Discreet Cat is kinda like a series between the Braves and the Nationals. But nonetheless, The Super Derby is shaping up as a pretty interesting race amongst some of the second stringers (as in, anyone other than the two mentioned above) who figured more prominently earlier in the year. Lawyer Ron, fresh off his successful return at Fairmount Park, is scheduled to face Point Determined, and Strong Contender.

The latter is perhaps the most overhyped horse of the year and speaking of which, what ever happened to Point of Impact? No sign of that Baffert colt these days, but the trainer's Point Determined returns to the dirt after failing on the turf, and gets the nod for the trip to Louisiana over stablemate Bob and John. Baffert told the local Shreveport Times: "He's still a horse that is lazy and learning, but he's tough....It's going to be a tough race, that Lawyer Ron, he's no slouch."

Strong Contender makes his first start since a disappointing third in the Haskell. Trainer John Ward says that the son of Maria's Mon has matured, and he still has lofty aspirations for him.

"The horse has gotten stronger, and he's leveled that big stride out. He used to have big knee action, but he keeps his back very level and is doing everything like he should....If everything goes well and he runs a big race, I'd have to look at the Classic, because he's an improving horse." [Bloodhorse]
But Lawyer Ron has matured too, according to trainer Bob Holthus, who pointed to the way he rated comfortably from well off the pace in his return. "I think he's more relaxed now. You can probably take him back further. It's just maturity. He's gotten older, has a little more seasoning." [DRF] Louisiana Downs is also the site of his fastest race, the 106 he earned in the Risen Star (he got a 103 at Fairmount). You may recall the way Lawyer Ron was able to kick home so quickly after going to the lead earlier in the year, so he could be quite formidable rating as he did. But as far as the Classic goes, Holtus said: "He'd have to run a very high (speed) number to consider the Breeders' Cup. That race is going to come up with some very nice horses."

- Empire Racing released a brief statement in response to Alan Hevesi's letter to the New York Lottery Divison. "This thing has been a mess for years and is just getting worse. 2007 can't come fast enough." Gee, thanks for that Perlee of wisdom.

- Sue at Post Parade is all ga-ga over Dreaming of Anna, the juvenile filly who beat the boys on the grass at Woodbine on Sunday. Steve Davidowitz, writing in the Form (and it's nice to see him writing regularly in the Racing Bible about a real sport again), doesn't rank her in his top three prospects for the Juvenile Fillies.
1. Point Ashley: A very impressive winner of the seven-furlong Del Mar Debutante; Bob Baffert-trained, bred to improve with more distance.

2. Five Star Daydream: Shug McGaughey-trained; improved on cue to win second career outing, more development expected in the fall.

3. Octave: Finished well for her win in the 6 1/2-furlong Adirondack; trained by Todd Pletcher who, as usual, is loaded with prospects for this division. [Daily Racing Form, sub. only]
Baffert is pointing Davidowitz' top pick to the Grade 1 Oak Leaf Breeders' Cup Stakes on Sept 30 at Santa Anita. As for Dreaming of Anna, she is by Rahy, and is a full sister to Lewis Michael, out of a half-sister to grass champ Kitten's Joy.