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Sunday, December 31, 2006

Happy New Year!

- I guess that the Tropical Park Derby on the grass at Calder today officially kicks off the Derby trail considering that Barbaro won it last year. Oh man, already?

Well, there don't seem to be any Barbaro's in this field. Nor any Showing Up's for that matter. But Pickapocket may have a class edge off a stakes win in the Pilgrim Stakes at Belmont. He's won three of his last four with his only loss coming in the trouble-filled With Anticipation at Saratoga, an excellent race which produced next-out winners Admiral Bird, Giant Chieftain, and eventual stakes winner Twilight Meteor. In the Pilgrim, he defeated Strike A Deal, who came back to win the Laurel Futurity, as well as the aforementioned and imposing Giant Chieftain. However, he draws the outside 12 post here, and will have to use some of his early speed to try and gain position going into the first turn.

Soldier's Dancer figures to get a lot of local support. In two Florida turf tries, he has a six length win over Florida-breds, and a head loss at 3-5 in the Kris S. In that race, he saved all the ground, but still had to close impressively into fast closing fractions. This gelding sold for all of $4500 as a yearling, but really seems to have found a home on the turf. By Lost Soldier, the sire of Lost in the Fog, he's out of a Gate Dancer half-sister to Bull in the Heather, who we mentioned just the other day.

Rutledge Cat made an dazzling wide move on the turn of the Laurel Futurity, but Corey Nakatani may have moved too soon in this case, and he was collared by the aforementioned Strike A Deal. This son of Tale of the Cat has never been out of the money in five tries on dirt, Poly, and turf, and should give a good account once again.

Loose Leaf has also been consistent, and ran second in his turf debut in the Grand Canyon stakes at Churchill to the impressive Corrupt. Gets the rail and Castellano, and could upset.

Picks: Rutledge Cat, Soldier's Dancer, Pickapocket

- And a very, very happy, healthy, and safe New Year to all of my readers. I can't tell you how much I appreciate your kind patronage. As Harvey Pack used to say, May the Horse Be With You, each and every one of you, in 2007.

New Year's Eve Notes

- Green Mtn Punter asks: for Capitol Play, I thought they were banned from receiving the NYRA signal a couple of years ago since they were involved in questionable off shore rebate activity, or am I wrong?
No, you're right.
In January 2005, New York Racing Association terminated its agreements with four wagering sites named in an 88-count federal indictment. At the time, NYRA was rebounding from major legal problems of its own and was taking extra steps to restore its tarnished image.

Days after ceasing ties with the four indicted firms, NYRA cut ties with six other firms because of concerns about their ownership, customer base and government regulation. Capital Sports (Capital Play) was among them. [The Saratogian]
The company's CEO Karl O'Farrell said: "That was the result of a bad investigation....We're licensed in a first-world country. Our (racing) commission and government were quite peeved." O'Farrell has a NY-based harness breeding farm on board as an equity partner, and financing in place from GE Capital.

But at least one legislator, Rep Gary Pretlow of Yonkers, a member of the Ad Hoc committee, says "To my way of thinking, the race is over."

Green Mtn Punter also points out that the same Saratogian paper has largely downplayed the troubles of Sen. Bruno, who represents the city and has "brought lots of goodies their way." This is in contrast to the hard-hitting investigative reporting going on downstate, particularly in the Times. A lot of people around here still bitterly recall Bruno's ultimately unsuccessful efforts in 1997 to rescind the city's rent control laws; and it was a demonstration of his power and, some would say, arrogance that a Senator representing an area three hours northwest of here would seek to scuttle laws that would have made housing unaffordable for thousands of New York City residents. So no, Bruno ain't gonna get much sympathy from this corner of the state. And I still say he's out as Majority Leader by the time the winter chill thaws.


- Wow, what a race by Downthedustyroad in the Grade 1 La Brea. She stalked a lightning pace, entered the turn three wide before effortlessly assuming the lead turning for home; and she drew away to win by four in 1:21.40. This filly, who graduated in a 25K claiming race, hasn't finished out of the money in the nine races since her debut.

Downthedustyroad, Bob Baffert's second winner on the day, is by Storm and a Half, an unraceed Storm Cat stallion standing for $2500 in Arkansas. While it's his first graded winner, he actually now has nine stakes winners from the 122 foals in his first three crops, for a more than respectable 7.4% stakes winners from foals.

Balance was a mediocre third as the 2.90-to-1 favorite. The disappointing effort came on a track over which she had run her best races. She seems to have lost interest in the game, something we see in young fillies from time to time.

Kolo took the Eddie Logan Stakes for juveniles on the grass in a thrilling finish over a game 41-1 shot in Mystery Island. He's the 11th stakes winner of the year for his sire Dynaformer, who will finish second in the overall sire money-earning standings behind AP Indy.

- Baffert has six winners from 15 runners thus far at the meeting.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Friends of Friends of Friends

- Friday's NY Times article on the ever-expanding FBI probe of Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno calls his trip to Kentucky in October, 2005, arranged by two officials of Friends of New York Racing including Jared Abbruzzese, whose name is coming up everywhere in this affair, as a catalyst for investigations into the business activities of Mr. Bruno. Furthermore, it states that Friends and Abbruzzese have emerged as central elements of separate investigations by the state lobbying commission and a federal grand jury.

The grand jury is investigating whether the payments by Abbruzzese to Bruno's consulting company were intended to influence him in the matter of the franchise. Besides arranging for his flight, Friends picked up catering costs at [the] Lexington, Kentucky fundraiser for the New York Senate Republican Campaign Committee [Albany Times Union]. In addition, the group held a fund raiser for Bruno in Saratoga two months prior. The Times' piece goes on to emphasize that many Friends officials went on to become key players and/or investors in Empire.

This all brings to mind the Albany Law School Forum of this past summer, when NYRA's Charles Hayward confronted Friends head Tim Smith, who was also present on the Kentucky trip, about the question of what Friends' true intentions were. He elicited an admission by Smith that he was an investor in Empire. Hayward was particularly piqued about Smith addressing a meeting of the New York Thoroughbred Horseman's Association in February, at a time when Empire was seeking their endorsement, which they eventually got. To Hayward, Smith's attendance at that meeting was proof positive that the former National Thoroughbred Racing Association commissioner was laying the groundwork for Empire while saying on the other hand the Friends project was completely independent. [Thoroughbred Times, via Racing Saratoga] Once again, Hayward must be smiling over the present developments.

Friends of New York disbanded in February of this year after releasing their final report last December, one which recommended that the state “permit any form of business or venture” to bid on the franchise. In addition to Smith and Abbruzzese, Friends board members Dennis Brida, the head of the New York Thoroughbred Breeders , and Richard Bromze, the president of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association (NYTHA), both became involved with Empire; Brida is the group's executive VP. The Friends' backers also included Magna, Churchill, and Woodbine, all now investors in Empire. Whatsmore, Empire CEO Jeff Perlee was a member of Friends' Business Advisory Council.

Excelsior apparently has an official with Friends in high places too. Veterenarian Jerry Bilinksi was on that flight with Bruno. Described by The Times as a "close friend" of the Senator, he was a consultant to Bruno on racing until June. He has also been subpoenaed by the grand jury.

Bilinski was briefly the head of the state's Racing and Wagering Board in 1995-96, a stint which led to him having the kind of ethical ghosts in his closet that you'd think a group bidding for a franchise in an industry in which honesty is a requirement would avoid.

In June 1996, the [State Ethics] commission found “reasonable cause” to believe that Dr. Bilinski violated state law 30 times by selling breeding rights and other horse-related services to, and owning horses with, people licensed by the board. Dr. Bilinski resigned his $90,823-a-year job that August.

That did not end Dr. Bilinski’s troubles. In November 1996, after receiving two anonymous tips, the state inspector general found that he improperly used state money for trips to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in February and to Louisville, Ky., in May. [New York Times]

Friday, December 29, 2006

News and Notes - Dec 30

- As mentioned here in the comments, Eibar Coa won his 300th race in New York this year when he won the 4th at the Big A on Friday. He then added two more, including the feature with Spooky Mulder, who had a much easier time than last time. Coa is only the 4th rider to accomplish that feat since 1940 (though remember that the season was about three months shorter for much of that time).

Nonetheless, he indeed joins distinguished company in Angel Cordero Jr., my favorite jock of all time, Mike Smith, who dominated here in the early 90's, and Stevie "The Kid" Cauthen, who had a Gretzky-esque 433 wins in 1977, almost 100 more victories than the next on the list!

Coa just missed getting the milestone win in the third race when he fell a neck short of Itsaffirmative (Songandaprayer). This West Point runner had made his only start almost a year ago, in January, when he ran a dismal 10th by some 24 lengths. He was listed as 10-1 in the morning line for his return, at least before the scratch of Darley's $5.2 million bust Ever Shifting (whose running line looked almost as bad). But Itsaffirmative was made the 5-2 second choice; with Jose Santos, he was easily 3-4 wide going into the first turn, opened up three lengths coming into the stretch, and managed to hold on in a 27 second quarter. You gotta love this game.

I've mentioned trainer Alan Klanfer from time to time. The conditioner for the fussy Paraneck Stable, he was winless for over two months during the summer. He probably would have been fired if the stable hadn't already gone through two other trainers this year. But the barn has been live of late, and at nice prices too; the median payoff over the last year is $20.50. Plus they've had a boatload of high-odds horses run second and third in the last few months. Of course, it's one thing to mention him and another to actually profit on it, which maybe I'll get around to some day.

Klanfer scored on Friday with Cabbage Patch Gal. This juvenile daughter of Not For Love had made four prior starts, going off twice at 4-1, once at 5-2 and most recently at 6-1; this despite the fact that she'd never finished better than 5th, and lost by 15 two back. After getting trounced by 13 in her last, the bettors finally gave up, to a certain extent anyway, and let her go off at 11-1, which still seemed short given her 15-1 morning line. This time she took the lead out of the gate and never looked back. You gotta love this game.

- Steve Davidowitz, writing in the Form's paid DRF Plus section, notes that the big question at Santa Anita, at least in the early stages of the meet, is how Cushion Track form will translate to real dirt in what will be the final such meeting held in Southern California. Too early to say thus far of course, but he has this observation:

Horses with a steady diet of moderately timed workouts on artificial tracks - especially at five furlongs or longer - apparently gain more conditioning and stamina compared to horses with much faster workouts on dirt racing surfaces. Thus, it seems likely that lightly raced horses, absentees, and first-time starters will be fitter when shipped from Hollywood Park to run over the usually glib Santa Anita dirt surface.
- Santa Anita officials are investigating the claim of a horse trained by Bruce Headley by his son Gus. "Minutes after the race we began to receive phone calls," said steward Scott Chaney. "Given the peculiarity of the circumstances, we referred it to the CHRB to investigate the claim." [Bloodhorse]

But as the elder Headley said, "The horse was for sale and had a claiming price on him, period....Gus has a (trainer’s) license, he’s in that job, there’s no collusion." It's an interesting case because now that I think about it, I don't ever recall hearing of, for example, Jimmy Jerkins claiming from Allan, or Anthony Dutrow from Richard. Perhaps there's an unwritten rule about it. But if there's no written rule against a trainer claiming a horse from a relative, then there's no rule, and I suppose that should be the end of the matter.

- In Massachusetts, a bill that would have allowed the state's tracks to continue taking simulcast wagers failed to pass, and three tracks, including Suffolk Downs, will have to close on Monday if no agreement is reached. The bill was killed by Democratic Rep. David Flynn, who objected to a clause that would limit thoroughbred simulcasts at the Raynham-Taunton Greyhound Park, a track in his district which conducts year-round live dog racing. Since the Legislature is in informal session, his lone vote was enough to keep the bill from advancing. [Associated Press]
Suffolk Downs president John Hall released a statement condemning Flynn as "callous" and calling it "frustrating" to try keep the track going under such circumstances.

"This would not be tolerated in other industries, and it is a very difficult way to ask someone to run their business," Hall said. [Boston Globe]

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Notes - Dec 29

- Speaking of Maria's Mon, his son Monarchos is one that has not fared particularly well as a sire. He started out at $25,000 in 2002, was cut to $15,000 this year, and slashed further to $7500 for 2007. From his two crops to race thus far, he's had three stakes winners, just one this year, and none of them of the graded variety.

- Interesting winner for Bob Baffert at Santa Anita on Thursday. C'Mon Tiger (Storm Cat) had raced once over in Ireland, running 4th before making his dirt debut here. He's a half brother to the two time Classic winner and dual champ Tiznow. So it was little surprise that the bettors ignored his 5-1 morning line and sent him off as the 9-5 favorite, especially given his sensational workout tab. He won by three lengths, but will have to improve on his final quarter clocking of 26 seconds in order to step up to more serious company.

Bobby Frankel had two winners on the card, including Indian Flare, who took the Kalookan Queen Handicap, defeating the slight favorite Somethinaboutlaura. It's been a good week for Indian Flare's dam True Flare, whose three-year old son Latent Heat won the Malibu on Tuesday.

More On Franchise Bid Details

- Mr. Williams of the Ad Hoc Commmittee was kind enough to send along the following information regarding the statute that requires the committee to make a formal presentation of its findings to the Governor and the Legislature:

The recommendation, by statute, requires the committee to "report its findings to the legislature, the governor and the racing and wagering board with recommendations for such actions as it deems necessary to implement its determinations regarding the corporation or corporations, association or associations to which such grants of authority and/or franchises should be made or granted, the legislation which should be enacted governing such grants of authority or franchises, and the responsibilities related thereto which should be assigned to the racing and wagering board and to such other state agencies or officers as it deems appropriate." See, N.Y. Rac. Pari-Mut. Wag. & Breed. L. §208.f.
Thus, by law, the above procedure is what constitutes the formal recommendation, which the Committee is presently working on. That is the event which will then prompt the release of the information to the public.

Tale of Two Tracks

- Horsemen at Yonkers sued the raceway twice regarding the 17 months that the track was dark, but driver Michael Forte told the Journal News that there were no hard feelings anymore. The racino has netted a cool $43.6 million thus far, and even after the $23.6 million that goes to state education, there's plenty left over to increase purses and races.

When Yonkers Raceway closed in June of last year, the bottom purse per race was $2,500; now, it is $4,000. The top purse increased from $15,000 to $21,000, excluding special stakes races such as the Yonkers Trot, which last year fetched $735,000. Empire City expects that event to yield a seven-figure purse down the road.
"We have an overabundance of horses because of the high purse structure," Forte said.
The track will add a sixth day of racing, and envisions eventually going to seven or eight programs a week. And part of the new building will open today, bringing another 1,741 slots machines online.

The total take from Aqueduct thus far? Zero, zero, and zero. If you assume that they would be doing similar business as at Yonkers, you have to figure that the state has lost out on over $100 million in education money had the racino been open this year. I hope that Governor Pataki has set aside some time from his presidential campaigning for his court appearances to answer the lawsuit filed by NYRA over his blatant stalling on the project.

As we've been discussing, the details of the franchise bids have still not yet been made public. Matt Hegarty reported in the Form over the summer:
Under the committee's rules, bidders are prohibited from discussing their responses until the committee releases its recommendations, at which time the bids will become public, Williams said.
That's Robert Williams, the executive director of the committee. I'm going to send him an email to ask him why the bids have still not been released. You can too at:

[UPDATE: I received a prompt response stating that the committee has not actually made its formal recommendation, and has only released the grades. The bids will be released when the Committee officially submits its recommendation to the Governor and Legislature early next month. Which I suppose will be that the bidder with the highest grade is the one that's recommended. Hmmm...]

News and Notes - Dec 28

- Latent Heat was the 10th stakes winner of the year for Maria's Mon; and that includes Eclipse contender Wait A While, and graded stakes winners Strong Contender, Gaff, Cause To Believe, and High Limit. Thus, this stallion son of Wavering Monarch will be a far more expensive date in 2007; his stud fee, which dropped from $35,000 to $25,000 this year, is now going directly up to $60,000 without passing go or stop or anything else. In a post back in February about Maria's Mon getting off to a good start in 2006, I noted the prior drop in his fee and wrote: I imagine it will go back up next year if he continues to get these results throughout the year. Just thought I'd point that out.

High Limit himself will take up stud duty in 2007; he'll stand at Cloverleaf Farm in Florida for $6,500.

- Australia's Capital Play refuses to walk away from the New York franchise race. The group was dq'd for failing to post a bond, but they are touting their $1.8 billion plan directly to legislators. Their proposal includes a novel plan to allow OTB to handle all wagers, both on and off-track, and building corporate boxes as well as hotels and Belmont and Aqueduct. And then there's the cash: $225 million to invest in each downstate track, $110 million to fully cover NYRA's pension obligations, and annual payments to the state of $850 million over the 20 year life of the franchise.

Wow. Recently, in response to Empire's statement that they would bump up their financial proposals, a reader questioned whether this process was becoming strictly an auction. I suppose that we'll find out if that's the case from the reaction to these proposals, both from the state, and from the competing bidders. One of the main themes we've heard throughout the process is that the franchise holder should have connections to the state in which they'll be holding the franchise. Empire initially made that their main appeal, especially having the horsemen in their corner; but lately they've been forced to defend the presence of disparate interests amongst their investors. Excelsior emphasizes their connection to the Yankees. And we've heard from members of the Ad Hoc Committee and from politicians that they would prefer a group with local ties.

But if the Australian group is allowed back into the hunt based on their lucrative offer, that would surely show that the bottom line is indeed the bottom line. And if the other bidders are permitted to increase their offers in response, then they might as well just hire Fasig Tipton and auction the franchise off in the sales ring in Saratoga. "C'mon folks, it's a beauty. You won't find anything else like it for the next 20 years..."

- Capital Play's CEO Karl O'Farrell claims that Australian racing has done a "rebounding of racing focusing on 18- to 34-year-olds."

He said the group would follow the "Australian model" that makes going to the track a social event, now the case only at Saratoga during its short summer season.

"You should go to a race track and think, `This is a place of beauty,"' he said. [AP]
Well, I'm not really thinking that the Big A should be a place of beauty. There's certainly a place and time for that - spring at Belmont, summer in Saratoga - but I think we all need our hardcore grimy city track once in a while, don't we? I don't think we'd fully appreciate the grandeur of Saratoga if we didn't trudge through seven months of Queens. Besides, unless they're proposing to hoist Aqueduct up onto a couple of trailers and transport it somewhere, I'm thinking that the setting just isn't conducive. Richard Migliore spoke to the Daily Racing Form about one of the differences between the Big A and Santa Anita:
"I love New York racing.....It's been great to me. But it's hard to get up every morning and drive down the Belt Parkway to Ozone Park. You're not going to see any beautiful sunrises, like at Santa Anita. You're just hoping to miss sleet and snow."
- Fleet Indian, recovering from surgery after being hurt in the Distaff, will make an expensive visit to the court of Storm Cat, and you can see the hypo mating here (pdf); and that's now a free feature on Bloodhorse's Stallion Register site.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

What Were They Thinking?

- It's little surprise of course that Empire Racing has severed all ties with Jared Abbruzzese by buying out his stake in the company. Abbruzzese left the board of directors in October upon word of his being investigated by the state lobbying commission for providing free air travel to Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno. But he remained an investor; and was one of the original ones. According to Business Review, he helped raise the $3 million the group initially used to form and to formulate its bid to take over the thoroughbred franchise. A spokesperson for Empire wouldn't say whether Abbruzzese gained or lost on the deal and said that "it was for a mutually agreed-upon price." But considering that Empire's bid was basically dead in the water as long as both he and Bruno remained as active players in the franchise drama, I doubt that Abbruzzese will be divesting himself of any airplanes in order to cover losses.

And the betting here is that Bruno will be forced to step down as Majority Leader before too long. He's expected to be re-elected to his post on Jan 3. But the story of a Senator receiving "hundreds of thousands" for his private consulting firm from a businessman (confirmed by Abbruzzese's attorney), and authorizing highly unusual grants to that businessman's company, seems so corrupt just on its face (regardless of what the investigation may eventually yield) that I'd be very surprised if he survives; especially given Bruno's vocal criticism of Alan Hevesi. Add in the fact that Bruno is one of three people who was to decide whether Abbruzzese's company would receive the racing franchise, and you just really have to wonder what they were both thinking, and if they really thought that the conflicts of interest would go unnoticed.

Day After Xmas A Good One

- It was the day after Xmas, with no work nor HRTV in sight, and kids hanging around the house. So what better day for a late afternoon excursion to the Meadowlands to catch opening day from Santa Anita? It's another sign of how behind the times New York is that there is no off-day simulcasting available at NYRA tracks. Nor, apparently, at Yonkers.

But it was definitely worth the trip. For one thing, an extra two bucks got me my own little workstation and TV in the Raceworld room, and you just can't beat that. Plus, I was all hepped up about Kip Deville, and this time, for a change, I played it exactly the right way. It started with the 4th race, a $20,000 claiming race featuring one of the worst favorites one could possibly encounter. Number Juan won his last race for a 40K tag, earning a Beyer of 102. But that race came back in January, and here, Number Juan was returning for 20K and was a steady 2-1 on the board, before being sent off at 9-5. I think you just gotta bet against horses like this. It was almost like a Division Fourteen race.

So I settled on 8-1 Fantasmin, cutting back to a six furlong distance at which he was 4 for 6, tossed the favorite entirely and used a couple others in exactas. I haven't had much success of late, so when Fantasmin started to drop back on the turn, it seemed like just another loss, and I started to already mentally move on. I actually gave up and stopped watching him, but as they came past midstretch, I looked and there he was, revitalized and closing in determinedly on the outside with Chavez. It seemed quite miraculous, actually, and he surged past Cat of Fifty Seven just before the wire, and held on despite an unfavorable head bob, giving me an exacta payoff of $120.

Whatsmore, I'd put five bucks on him to win with the express intention of parlaying the winnings on Kip Deville. Thus, when that one, after enjoying a perfect inside trip, found a spot while in severe traffic midstretch and slipped through to win for the Mig at an extremely generous 7.10-to-1, it made for a extremely nice day! Had I instead played the race with my usual exactas and triples, I no doubt would have been crushed by the second place finish of 23-1 Awesome Gem.

In the Malibu, Brother Derek, amazingly (to me) the 5-2 favorite, had a trip that was similar to that of Kip Deville, except that when it came time for a path to fortuitously to open up in the stretch, Garrett Gomez did not enjoy the same good fortune. You can see the horse's head going back and forth, desperately seeking a way through, but it was not to be. Once again, you must give him an excuse and another shot, though given the way he's been campaigned, his next race will likely be another spot in which he's unlikely to win. Perhaps that race on the grass they tried to give him recently. As Pete mentioned in the comments, there wasn't really that much made of the trouble he had in the newspaper accounts of the race. The Santa Anita notes quote Gomez as saying: "He wasn't liking it down there, and I couldn't do anything with him;" but it looked as if the colt was just crying for room to run.

Latent Heat was a very impressive winner. He showed himself to be quite handy, as after taking an early lead, Edgar Prado sold to Da Stoops and Sailors Sunset, who went on to engage in a pace duel. In his past winning races, Latent Heat had always been either on the lead or within a head of it at the half mile pole, but here, Prado was able to sit a good length off the pace, and rally three wide turning for home take the lead midstretch and draw off to a two length win in 1:21.39; final furlong an impressive 12.3. Spring At Last rallied nicely for second, and Da Stoops confirmed his affinity for Santa Anita by holding on well for 4th.

Walter is quite entitled to be upset about Frankel's pre-race comments that the horse was sick going in to his Keeneland race and that he probably shouldn't have run him. That's the same kind of issue over which an ultimately unsuccessful lawsuit was filed against the connections of Sweet Catomine last year. Afterwards, Frankel changed his tune a bit and made it seem as if any illness wasn't totally apparent until after the race, telling the LA Times:

"I wasn't back there and he wasn't eating well before the race and they were saying he was going to be all right, but his white [blood cell] count was 13,000 after the race....He had to have some sort of infection in his system. He had been training well, and he performed like he was supposed to today."

Monday, December 25, 2006

Sir Beaufort

- I like Kip Deville in the Sir Beaufort at Santa Anita on Wednesday. In Summation, the 7-2 morning line favorite in the 14 horse field, has been putting up some big Beyers on the turf, but stretching out to a mile here, he's an automatic bet-against should he really be favored or even amongst the choices.

Kip Deville seems like a different horse than the one that ran off to a 15 length lead in the Colonial Turf Cup only to be run down by Showing Up. Two races back, running at this mile distance in the Bryan Station Stakes, this son of the Oklahoma-based sire Kipling rated comfortably in second through a first half of 48.27 before taking over in the stretch. His final three splits were 24.2, 23.4, 22.3, as he actually accelerated throughout the last six furlongs. That was a strong race; while not technically a key race because none of the participants have come back to win, two have run second, one third by a neck, and one 4th, all in stakes races. You can excuse his last race, the 6th place finish to Showing Up in the G1 Hollywood Derby. He cuts back to a mile, and will leave from the 3 post in the overflow field with several of the main contenders, including and especially Get Funky breaking from the 14, stuck out on the outside.

- Tiago is a two-year old making a late season debut for John Sherriffs. By Pleasant Tap out of the Stop the Music mare Set Them Free, the colt is a half-brother to Derby winner Giacomo.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

The Malibu

- The winter season officially gets under way with the traditional day-after opening at Santa Anita, and let's take a look at the Grade 1 Malibu for three-year olds at seven furlongs. Here's my take on the contenders from top to bottom in post position order.

Lightly raced Hyperbaric (Sky Classic) is unbeaten in three starts for Julio Canani, though the last two have come on the turf. The dirt race from which he graduated has produced four additional next-out winners, including the second and third place finishers, as indicated by the italics in which they appear in the Form's pp lines. But as I've mentioned before, those italics, though well-meaning, don't always tell the whole story and can be one of the more misleading features in the Form. For one thing, you're obviously only seeing the top three finishers; and simply the fact that one or more may have won their last race, or not, can be deceptive. A loss by a nose in a higher class can mean much more than a win against cheaper and/or under different track conditions; and you obviously don't get any of those details in the paper.

There are many things about Formulator to be grateful for, and none more so than the ability to look in detail at the charts of each horse's last three starts, and at the past performance lines of each horse that competed in them. In the case of Hyperbaric, you see that runner-up Mon's the Man beat maidens in his next race, but then ran 4th in two allowances. Third place finisher Like Running Water won his next on the turf; and the question of how significant that is when the subject horse is running on the dirt is one that vexes me. 5th place finisher Get Off the Sugar won his next around two turns at Fairplex; and 6th place Accrue won in a 50K maiden claimer.

So was this really a key race? I guess any race that produces five next out winners has to be considered one. But the point of this long detour from the Malibu is simply to reiterate that the key race feature in the Form is one that demands further investigation.

Now, Hyperbaric returns to the dirt after beating a nice looking Clement turfer in Forward Move (who came back to run a good second to Frankel's Dealer Choice in his next). He's shown a nice closing kick on both surfaces, and will certainly need it after likely getting shuffled back from the rail in this big field. This colt, a mere $10,000 weanling purchase in 2003, is related to Bull Inthe Heather, the 1993 Florida Derby and the only thoroughbred I know of that ever had a Sonic Youth song named after it. The Sir Beaufort on the grass seems like the more logical spot for this late developer, but he's been working quite well over this surface and perhaps they're here for a good reason.

Arson Squad (Brahms) has never been out of the money in his seven dirt tries. This gelding progressed in distance and speed up to his 104 Beyer in taking the G2 Swaps at a mile and an eighth. But, after a decent 4th on the turf, trainer Bruce Headley has brought him back as a sprinter. His win against allowance company in his last was a classy one in a field that was pretty strong. But it was also one that lacked pace, so I wouldn't put too much into the fact that he was positioned forwardly; and plus, his early pace numbers are on the slower side. Breaking from the two post with quicker horses outside, I think he's going to have some work to do, and he'll need some racing luck to navigate his way through the 13 horse field. He looks like the classiest horse in the race, and man, he's been just flying in the morning. But he may not present much value under the circumstances.

Interestingly, Brother Derek (Benchmark) comes into this race off his highest career Beyer, a 109 earned in his 5th place finish in the Classic. Some, like Brad Free in the Form, dismiss that effort as being "bias propelled," which I know will raise the ire of at least one of my readers. But to me, the Classic was just another race which typifies his career of late, putting in honest efforts against horses that are just faster than he. Even the El Cajo, which was intended to be an easier spot for his return, came up tough, and at 2-5 that day, he was the biggest underlay of 2006. He then ran against Lava Man in the Goodwood before the Classic - he's been put in so many no-win situations that he may feel like Robert Gates. I was skeptical of him last spring during his four graded stakes winning streak, and I've gained more respect for him as he's been losing five in a row.

Having said that, I think you gotta bet against him enthusiastically in the Malibu, especially if he's really the favorite at post time as he is in the morning line. This is another extremely tough spot. He hasn't run in a one turn race since his second career start, has some serious sprinters' speed to his outside, and figures to take a lot of heat. I gotta say that I'd be shocked if he wins, and I'm planning to leave him completely off my tickets.

Sailors Sunset (Petionville) has won four of his last five, earning a career high Beyer of 106 in taking the G3 Underwood on the Cushion Track. The one loss in that time was in the Perryville at Keeneland, where he may not have liked Polytrack, the about seven furlong distance, or running against Midnight Lute. In any event, he draws right outside Brother Derek, and figures to be quite prominent in the early mix.

Midnight Lute (Real Quiet) was actually beaten by Sailors Sunset at Del Mar in July, but that was in his first effort in a year. It was also his only loss in four career starts. Since then he's won twice, most recently in the seven furlong Perryville. That came against a field that was considered to be a strong one at the time. However, of the next four finishers, only Praying for Cash has scored subsequently, and that was in the form of a permanent vacation to a Florida stud farm. Lewis Michael, High Finance, and Court Folly all disappointed next time out, the latter two as heavy favorites. Midnight Lute's winning rally from off the pace was pretty much was in line with the prevailing trend at Keeneland, but he was very wide on the turn, and it was an impressive move. He's no doubt talented and improving, and he figures to be well-positioned from a post favorable to his running style.

Da Stoops has never won a race in open company - all five of his wins (in 15 starts) have come against fellow Cal-breds. Yet that was enough to earn him a stint at stud after this race at Sequel's Florida operation. Other than the fact that he is a son of Distorted Humor, there doesn't seem to be much that's distinctive about his pedigree. But he's shown some high speed, especially over this Santa Anita strip, on which he's 6-3-2-1; his pace figures here put him right on the lead in the Malibu. However, I don't expect him to be there at the end.

Objective (El Corredor), a close second to Cause to Believe in the El Camino Real last spring, showed some nice speed over the Cushion Track in his first race since March, and could add to the early mix.

Northern Soldier (Yankee Victor) is a bit interesting at 20-1. He started his career with three straight wins, including a graded stakes win in the Laz Barrero at this distance, defeating Arson Squad. He then got a bit off track racing on turf and in routes. Back to six furlongs in allowance company in his last, he got back in the winner's circle against a modest field. He'll have to do a lot more here, but he seems to be moving back in the right direction now.

Latent Heat (Wavering Monarch) needs an excuse for his poor performance in the Perryville. Of course, Polytrack could be enough. But Bobby Frankel told the Form: "He was sick going in, and I probably shouldn't have run him." Oh, nice of him to tell those who made him the 4-1 second choice that day now. What ever happened to that full disclosure thing that was a buzz in the industry media for about a day after the Sweet Catomine fiasco last year?

From the 12 post, Edgar Prado will have the best view of the other speed and pressers, but it doesn't appear to me as if he'll be able to clear the field. He certainly likes the distance and has shown an affinity for this track; he ran a decent third at a mile and a sixteenth against Brother Derek in the Santa Catalina last winter in only his third start. He's made some short work of some short fields since then and before the Perryville. He's another early factor for sure, but I'm not convinced he'll be be anything more than that.

Sprint at Last (Silver Deputy) won an entry-level allowance at Aqueduct for Pletcher in his last under a rail-skimming ride by Velazquez in a one-turn mile at Aqueduct; runner-up Barcola came back to win his next race by 16 lengths, thereby really earning those italics in this case. Note that the colt was sold at Keeneland November for $675,000 afterwards, so this is not a Pletcher horse running under the name of Doug O'Neill. I wouldn't put too much into Barcola's race - it was his second start for Contessa, who's been winning with everything there, and he was lone speed on the inner track. This is a huge step up in class for this half-brother to G1 winner Sharp Lisa, but his two best races have been around one turn, and his running style in those races suggest he could rally for a share.

Picks: Strictly a value play in a contentious field, I'll take a shot with Hyperbaric at 15-1. He'll need a lot of racing luck to get through the field from the rail, but he has closed strongly thus far, and showed the ability to overcome some severe traffic problems in the stretch two races back. Arson Squad looks like the most talented colt in the field; takes this with a clean trip. Midnight Lute could be any kind. Spring At Last looks live for a spot in the trifectas.

- Oh and yes, Merry Christmas to everyone!!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Notes - Xmas Eve

- With Todd Pletcher's suspension set to start on Wednesday, here are the names you need to know for the next 45 days: Seth Benzel in New York, Michael McCarthy in California, and Anthony Sciametta Jr. in Florida. They'll handle the training duties as the Pletcher machine continues on uninterrupted.

Pletcher was denied in his attempt to start his suspension on what was probably, out of the 365 days of the year, the most optimal possible day: during the December lull, on the day that a ten day break in New York commenced, and early enough so that he'd be back at Gulfstream and Santa Anita during the first week in February. Still, even with the delay, he'll be back by Wednesday, Feb 14, in plenty of time to hop on the Derby Trail. (The Fountain of Youth, for example, is not until March 3).

Gulfstream opens on January 3. Nick Zito has been warming up at Calder, and with the win by Carmrachkim in the second on Saturday, he now has seven winners and four seconds from the 20 runners he has saddled. He's even managed to get Hesanoldsalt a graded stakes win and Little Cliff under the wire first (he was DQ'd to second). So you know he must be hot.

Zito has started four first-timers at the meet, all two-year olds, and he has two winners and a second. You may recall his hot streak with these at Saratoga, and after a lull following that meeting he appears to be warming up with them again. Those who are looking at his record of years past of scoring with first-timers at Gulfstream can throw the book away (for the record, he's 2 for 19 there over the last three years). Subsequent to the win by The Luckiest, which I posted about here, he sent out King Alliance for Kinsman Farm, and nice to see Nick still getting horses from the Boss, who has a new farm manager these days.

Calder, Philadephia Park, and Fair Grounds will be the only thoroughbred tracks running on Christmas Eve. Dallas Stewart is off to a good start at the New Orleans oval, with seven winners out of 22 runners. In the 4th today he sends out first-time two-year old Cat on the Line for West Point Thoroughbreds. By the good two-year old sire Tale of the Cat, this colt was purchased for $200,000 at the Fasig Tipton two-year old sale in February after working furlongs in 10.2 and 10.3. It's been a long road to the races for him since then. But note that Stewart and West Point combined to score with first-time juvenile Ollie Jet earlier in the meeting, and this one shows a similar work pattern.

Cat on the Line descends directly from the female family of the 1985 champion two-year old filly Family Style - his second dam is a half-sister to the venerable Wayne Lukas / Eugene Klein runner who won three Grade 1's at two - the Frizette, Spinaway, and the Arl-Washington Lassie. In the Juvenile Fillies, at the Big A, she settled for second to her stablemate Twilight Ridge; but she went on to run 35 times, and was a Grade 1 winner (La Canada) at four.

NY News - Dec 23

- Recently, in speculating on ways for major league baseball to cast a blind eye to involvement by Yankees partner and Boss-to-be Steve Swindal in the eventual Aqueduct and Belmont racinos, I suggested that he could pledge to limit his involvement to the racing side of the venture. In response, I got a note from someone with connections to Empire claiming that NYS law does not allow the racing operation to be separate from the VLT's - that they are "by intent and design, interwoven." It was also suggested that Swindal, by virtue of his involvement with the Yanks' farm team in Staten Island, may already be in violation of MLB rules regarding ownership of minor league teams. Those regulations prohibit any involvement by officers or directors of such clubs in a "Legalized Gaming Enterprise" other than the breeding or ownership of racehorses.

Of course, there's always Swindal's wife, and Mr. Steinbrenner's daughter Jennifer; as well as the Boss' other daughter and sons, all of whom are involved with Excelsior. Blogger Verifiable checked back in with some more details of the gambling ambitions of Detroit Tigers' owner Mike Ilitch's wife Marian; given that, I still would imagine that Bud Selig will not cross the Boss on this.

Things have obviously changed in the last decade. In the course of doing some research, I came upon a 1995 NY Times article regarding the Steinbrenner family investing in the Red Mile harness track in Lexington, which states: Steinbrenner himself will not hold stock in the Red Mile because major league baseball rules prohibit franchise owners from having gambling investments. Swindal's involvement with the racing itself doesn't presently seem to be an issue at all.

- Empire CEO Jeff Perlee spoke to the Saratogian about the possibility of the company going public should they win the franchise. The article discusses the increased financing opportunities that come with publicly traded stock. Of course, it also can put a company in play, as we've seen recently with the humongous buyout of Harrah's by two private equity firms. As racing becomes more and more intertwined with and dependent on far more lucrative casino gambling, the possibility increases that it will eventually be swallowed up and spit out as more strictly bottom-line oriented investors become involved.

Excelsior principle Bill Mulrow is being mentioned as a possible successor to NY Comptroller Alan Hevesi, who has been forced to resign in disgrace. Hevesi, who once called NYRA the "poster child for mismanagement and corruption," thus avoided a possible jail sentence for using state employees to chauffer and tend to his wife. The NY tabloids seem to be taking particular delight in his fall.

Mulrow will obviously have to decide between one or the other; even in the wacky world of New York State, the comptroller cannot have an interest in an entity over which his office has traditionally exercised oversight; in fact, it would seem logical that his association with and lobbying for Excelsior thus far would already be sufficient to disqualify him from consideration. In any event, Mulrow, like Richard Fields, has close ties to Governor-to-be Spitzer. New York Magazine reports that: The Mulrow and Spitzer families are so close they vacationed together in Ireland last year.

As more entanglements between the two top bidders and state politicians emerge, Charlie Hayward must be smiling over at NYRA. Presently, no politician in his right mind would be seen on the same block as a NYRA executive. But who knows, by the middle of next year, an organization that was given a clean bill of ethical health by the federal government, with a proven track record of conducting the best racing in the country, and with no private planes with which to provide free rides to governors and senate majority leaders might not look so bad.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Odds and Ends

- Here's another vote for Barbaro for the three-year old award, courtesy of Fox Sports' Jerry Klein:

Racing is fortunate when it has one standout 3-year-old but last year was one of those rare occurrences when it had two. Alas, they competed against each other for about eight seconds in the Preakness, before unbeaten Barbaro was pulled up with a career-ending injury. Bernardini won that day and established his own measure of greatness in the Travers before finishing second in the BC Classic, making the choice a very difficult one but, for better or worse, the first demand of the racing world is that 3-year-olds be at their best on the first Saturday of May. Barbaro was and he met that challenge with a performance for the ages.
While I don't have a problem with giving extra weight to a Derby win, I don't know if I agree that it should be the absolute defining factor. How much does a non-Derby winner have to do to overcome? I wonder if Klein would still feel the same way had Bernardini prevailed in the Classic?

- Dick Powell, writing on, notes that one major industry player sees synthetic surfaces as a safe haven from dirt.
Belgravia is a modern-day Thoroughbred that has spent his entire racetrack life training and racing over synthetic surfaces. Team Coolmore wants as many of its juveniles to be stabled at tracks with synthetic racing and training surfaces as possible, and with a $2 million investment in Belgravia, they were taking no chances by running him on dirt. At least, not yet.
Interesting to hear the dirt surfaces over which our thoroughbreds have been running for decades referred to as being such a treacherous hazard. Powell was writing of last week's Hollywood Futurity, in which Belgravia ran 4th, and he has a theory regarding Stormello's game comeback win.
If you notice BRIS' Post Bias of the races run at this distance over Cushion Track, inside horses had a decided advantage over outside horses at this meet -- especially as it went on -- so maybe Stormello's gallant finish was the result of being on the best part of the track.
- Gary West of the Dallas-Ft Worth Star Telegram, is not yet on the Hard Spun bandwagon, though he seems to be interested in reserving a spot.
He won Monday's Pennsylvania Nursery Stakes at Philadelphia Park by nearly eight lengths, and it was his third victory in as many starts. But his winning time Monday, 1:23.87, was mediocre; it was just the sort of clocking that ensures a modest number.

But Hard Spun's a baby. A late foal (May), he only now is starting to learn the meaning of running in circles. In his first two starts, he led throughout, and the plan Monday was to take him back early, teach him to control his natural speed, explained his trainer, Larry Jones.

But Hard Spun was simply so superior that he had a two-length lead after a half-mile. In the stretch, with no rivals to interest him, he became distracted by windblown debris and wandered in and out. But he won handily, moved powerfully but gracefully and galloped out strongly, all suggestive of a horse that could improve dramatically.
-'s Jay Cronley has another reason to lament the onslaught of racinos - they attract too many of what he calls the regular horse player's greatest natural asset, the dummy.
So smarter people now frequent the horse races, live and remote, in a greater percentage than has ever been the case. Small meet, small pools, all the dummies are punching and grinning at the casino, now you can usually get the money in your pockets. I was in the local simulcast hall the other night and only counted three dummies in non-smoking, four, if you threw in a teller.

That what frequently benefits our sport the most, the slots, has made it tougher to win a bag of money, is fortified irony.
- Jockey Alex Beitia is the latest rider to be banned from track grounds, this time from Philadelphia Park. However, Beitia will be permitted to continue riding at Laurel.
"We're letting him ride," [track Sr. VP Lou Raffetto said. "I know Philly barred him, but I haven't been told by anyone what this investigation is about, and no one has made me aware of any details of what is going on. I don't think it's right to ban someone just because of someone else's opinion." [Daily Racing Form]

New Racing Form Figures on Pace for 2007

- The Daily Racing Form will add pace figures to its past performances in 2007. Called the Moss Pace Figures after its creator Randy Moss, beta testing will commence with opening day at Santa Anita on Tuesday, and yours truly is happy to report that I am part of the group. New York tracks will follow in beta right after the New Year. The paper is hoping to have the figures available to the public for the major circuits by the end of January, and fill in smaller circuits as the year goes on.

Moss explains in a message to the beta group that the figures will not be on the same scale as the Beyers - a Moss Pace Figure of 100 would equal a Beyer figure of 120), though they will be based on the same variants. According to their creator, the figures are the product of an exhaustive process that is still ongoing.

The figs will take into account factors such as track configuration (how much of the early portion of the races are run around turns), the runup distance between the gate and timer, and the wind. More on this once I get a peek at the numbers when the fields for the Santa Anita card are drawn on Saturday.

[Post edited on 12/23]

- The G1 seven furlong Malibu for three-year olds will be the headline race on opening day. Brother Derek is slated to go, but his regular rider Alex Solis has apparently chosen to ride Arson Squad. "You can say he told me he was going to ride the horse," [trainer Bruce] Headley said, referring to Solis' agent, Scott McClellan. [Bloodhorse] So Garrett Gomez is expected to be on board the Santa Anita Derby winner. Also expected to go are Da Stooops, making his last start before going to stud, Latent Heat, and High Finance.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

News and Notes - Dec 22

- The Albany Times-Union reports today:

A federal grand jury investigation of Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno is focusing on hundreds of thousands of dollars funneled by a wealthy businessman into the senator's private consulting company to allegedly influence the powerful Republican lawmaker,
And yes, that businessman is Empire investor Jared Abbruzzese. Yesterday, the paper reported that Abbruzzese owns 15% of Evident Technologies, the company to which Bruno directed $500,000 in grants that almost always are directed to non-profit companies.

We're also starting to read of stirrings amongst state Republicans that they should have a new majority leader on Jan 3, when a vote is scheduled. At this point, that would probably be a good thing for Empire. Their extensive proposals for Saratoga were seen as being aimed at Bruno, and the Senator has expressed a preference for the for-profit racing model that the group espouses. However, as details of the FBI investigation of Bruno emerge and increasingly point to his relationship with Abbruzzese, it seems as if it would be difficult, if not impossible politically for Bruno to throw his support behind his friend's group now. And that's especially so considering that Bruno's own appointees to the Ad Hoc Committee voted for Excelsior. Whatsmore, the high profile nature of the investigation provides political cover for Gov-to-be Spitzer to give approval to Excelsior despite his now-overshadowed plane rides courtesy of that group's Richard Fields. For Empire, a fresh face in lieu of Bruno might be their best shot to remain in the running.

- Got a comment in response to this post regarding Murray Chass' column the other day, and I checked out the writer's blog, The Verifiable Truth. In this carefully researched blog, I read about the extensive casino holdings and ambitions of Marian Ilitch, the wife of Detroit Tigers owner, and Little Caesar's founder Michael Ilitch. Ms. Ilitch is not an owner of the Tigers, but Mr. Ilitch worked to legalize gambling in the state, and obviously benefits financially from his wife's success.

It's hard to see how Bud Selig could permit that arrangment and say no to Swindal and his one itsy bitsy slots-only casino. OK, probably two itsy bitsy slots-only casinos. In any event, I would guess that they will come up with some arrangement that Swindal be involved only in the racing part of Excelsior. Because that's what he's really interested in anyway, not the dumb slots. Right? After all, it says right on their website that they're exclusively dedicated and committed to making thoroughbred racing in New York the best in the world.

- Donald Trump, the biggest name in the Pennsylvania casino sweepstakes, turned out to be one of the biggest losers when his TrumpStreet casino was passed over by the state gaming commission in favor of two casinos to be built on the Delaware River. I think Rosie O'Donnell picked a bad day to mock him. Here's a recap of the winner and losers.

The Pittsburgh Penguins are definitely amongst the latter. The rejection of the application by Isle of Capri means no $290 million for a new arena that would keep the team in the city. Winning bidder PTIG Gaming has agreed to a Plan B in which it would contribute $7.5 million a year for 30 years, but that would mean that the team would have to kick in $8.5 million initially, and another $4 million over the same time period. Penguins fans are now faced with the loss of the team.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Bruno Leak Well-Timed

- Green Mtn Punter says of the leak that brought the FBI investigation of Senator Bruno to light: wonder if it just may be a NYRA or Excelsior source now that the franchise issue is going hardball? And that's some interesting speculation! You may recall that I posted about Howard Wolfson being on the Excelsior team. Again, Wolfson is a serious political operative, a top advisor to Hilary Clinton, and a man known for employing tough tactics.

It does seem to be quite a coincidence, doesn't it, that word of an investigation involving Bruno and a key figure from Empire that has been going on since April would suddenly emerge at this time. Suddenly, we're no longer reading about Eliot Spitzer flying around on Richard Fields' plane, are we? All very convenient. Of course, we don't know if Wolfson played a role; but it may be worth noting that the recent profile in the NY Times profile compared Wolfson to Karl Rove, and adds that Rove is a man whose skills Mr. Wolfson admits to admiring. And just how deviously Rovian of a move would this be?

Wolfson is also acting as the spokesperson for Richard Fields in the matter of the latter's bid to buy a significant stake in Suffolk Downs.

Fields is betting he can revive the track and someday even hit the ultimate jackpot - a green light from Beacon Hill lawmakers for slot machines, insiders say. [Boston Herald]
I would imagine that, given the uncertain state of the track, Fields would be in a good position to negotiate a price that would make the gamble worthwhile. Whatsmore, the deal would include hundreds of acres of developable land, much of it tucked within Boston’s borders.

The upside in casinos is certainly high, and two private equity firms, Texas Pacific Group and Apollo Management Group, have purchased Harrah's for $17.1 billion. But the buyers will be borrowing so much of that sum, that the company's debt load will nearly double and its priority will shift to paying it down instead of reinvesting in growth. [Associated Press]

Analyst David Katz with CIBC World Markets said property sales would need to be considered to reduce debt. The Rio casino-hotel in Las Vegas and Showboat in Atlantic City are prime sell-off candidates because they fall outside core brands Harrah's, Horseshoe, Bally's and Caesars, he said.

"The next issue for us is to figure out which properties they may or may not want to sell and how does the math pencil out?" he said.
Imagine when the money men at Texas Pacific and Apollo Management are assessing the various properites, and they're like, 'Caesar's Palace...Paris Las Vegas...Showboat Atlantic City,' and then they come to this tiny speck on the sheet called harness racing at Chester Downs.

'What the hell is this? What do we need this piddling crap for?'

For now, it's just the cost of doing business. But how long before the slot machines have been augmented by table games, and Texas Pacific and Mohegan Sun and Penn National and Oaktree Capital have their lobbyists up in Harrisburg going, "Hey! What do we need this lousy horse racing for? Money that could be going towards property tax relief is subsidizing a money loser. And besides, we had to go through the most stringent scrutiny imaginable to qualify for a license, and here you're making us subsidize this sport in which top trainers are caught cheating with drugs! Can't we get rid of this?"

- Excellent job by Matt Hegarty getting the scoop on the banned jockeys in Florida...or on some of it anyway. The fact that Rene Douglas doesn't appear to be involved in the Great Lakes Downs race lends some plausibility to the whispers reported here by Walter and Brad regarding his being a whistleblower.

In any event, all I have to say is: that's it?? One - maybe two - races at Great Lakes Downs? In which only one of the banned riders even participated? With all the intrigue of the unexplained bans reaching to both coasts of the Sunshine State, I thought it was going to be a biggie. Maybe even a sleeper cell. Instead, it could turn out to be a sleeper. We'll have to wait and see.

Notes - Dec 20

- Now that Wire to Wire is getting the ax from ESPN, wanna know what else is so important that they can't squeeze it in?

How about the Arena Football League? One day after announcing that the racing show would be cancelled, not only did ESPN trumpet a deal to carry AFL games, but they've actually taken a 10% stake in the league. "This isn't dating; this is getting married," [AFL commissioner David Baker] said on a conference call. "They are officially an AFL owner." [LA Times] And although a network exec "scoffed" at the idea that there could be a conflict of interest regarding news coverage choices on Sports Center, the spouse always gets priority, doesn't he/she?

Their sister network ABC will carry the AFL championship game on July day after they carry the first Breeders Cup Challenge program from Saratoga. Good opportunity for them to use horse racing to promote their latest property; let's hope they don't have Tom Durkin call the races from New Orleans, where the game will be held.

A quote from an ESPN exec on the AFL website reads:

“We are committed to the Arena Football League and its exciting brand of football. We will help grow the league across all of our multimedia platforms. As the league grows, so will our business, and we see a bright future for us both.”
Hmmm, sound familiar? I bet they say that to everyone...

- I wanted to go back to a comment that Green Mtn Punter left a little while ago regarding the NY franchise bidding:
If the NY legislature in it's infinite wisdom does not reform these laws, or more likely "reforms" them just enough to look good to uninformed voters but in the end only to cause further problems, then what? All bids are withdrawn as a result of the contingencies not being satisfied and back to Square One?
Indeed, the RFP's called for the bidders to submit different bids for different legislative scenarios: massive changes in the law, moderate, or none. And one of the many things we do not know since the bids have STILL not been made public, is what, if anything, in each bidder's proposal, is contingent on what. In a Q&A in the Saratogian, Saratoga mayor Valerie Keehn makes the first reference to that issue that I've seen, though she doesn't really clear up much:
Q: Were the Bidders bound by the specifics of their bids?: (Note: The context of this question included my asking Mayor Keehn about the possibility of the winning bidder not getting racing reform legislation that could hinder future operations.)

A: 'There are components of their bids that I think they are bound to if they win the franchise. We talked a lot about legislation to fix some outdated laws and other problems. We considered that sweeping changes might not happen, so when we looked at the RFP's and made the selection, that was in the backs our minds.

'Certainly the legislature is going to craft a franchise law with the winning bidder. Not knowing what the law would be, we took their financial guarantees as just that. Guarantee means guarantee.'
From the sound of that, it seems to me as if the idea of separate proposals for separate scenarios has been separated from the process; and that whoever wins the franchise will be basically on their own to deal with Albany and try to get the best deal they can. And if they can't? Well then, 'guarantee means guarantee.'

- Mike over at Curb Your Enthusiasm tells of two-year old Minefield, the latest object of desire in Godolphin's obscene spending spree.

Being Up Front

- NY Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno revealed that he is under investigation for the FBI. "I wanted to be up front and assure that I have nothing to hide and avoid speculation, unfounded rumors, and distortions," he said. [NY Daily News]

Bruno is being so up front that his announcement comes a full eight months after the investigation started, and only after word of it was leaked to the press. The Senator has been the subject of stories in the last week regarding the $500,000 grant to Evident Technologies, which his friend and Empire investor Jared Abbruzzese. And according to Newsday, sources familiar with the probe say that it indeed deals with that relationship. Should the probe lead to Bruno relinquishing his position as Senate Majority Leader, the dynamics of the franchise battle would obviously change.

- Nothing new this morning on the situation in Florida, where seven riders have been banned from the grounds at Tampa Bay Downs. The jockeys interviewed all claimed to be shocked and innocent. But there's apparently something potentially ominous brewing in the investigation by the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau (TRPB). According to the St. Petersburg Times, the organization's mandate is to expose and investigate all activity prejudicial to horse racing and to maintain public confidence in the sport of both thoroughbred and standardbred racing.

Three of the banned riders have won riding championships at the track: Terry (T.D.) Houghton (1998-99 and 1999-2000); Derek Bell (2000-01), and Joseph Judice (2002-03).

If that's not bad enough, there's an outbreak of equine herpesvirus invovling horses at Calder, and in Ocala and Palm Beach.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

News and Notes - Dec 19

- Reader Late Scratch pointed out the column by Murray Chass in the Times today about the apparent contradiction between the Pittsburgh Pirates owner Bob Nutting, who scrapped the idea of bidding for a slots parlor (“We withdrew the application for slot machines because the rules in baseball are very clear."), and Steve Swindal, the Boss-in-waiting of the Yankees, who seems totally sanguine that his involvement with a giant slots parlor at Aqueduct will be accepted by baseball commissioner Bud Selig.

Swindal has been telling the press that he's kept Selig informed and that he "got his permission before I went into it." He's mentioned that he feels that he would be grandfathered in due to Steinbrenner's long-running status as a breeder and owner, even though the Boss has never been involved with casinos. Selig says simply that he'll decide when he has all the details. It seems that Swindal is being rather cocky about this; perhaps naive is the right word. Then again, Detroit Tigers owner Michael Ilitch's wife is the owner of a casino in Detroit. Still, as Chass wrote:

What would be surprising is if Selig said yes to Swindal after Nutting assumed the commissioner would say no to him.
- After telling us how devoted they will be to the sport of kings now that they have the Breeders Cup, ESPN has dropped their Wire To Wire recap show, thus leaving us with 40 hours less coverage of the sport than they had this year. Now, senior VP Len DeLuca is telling us that "less is more......We will be more committed on the jewel events, particularly now that the 'Breeders' Cup Challenge' is in place." [Bloodhorse]

"The ratings for Wire To Wire were poor," he continued, but perhaps that's because it's on at 2 PM on weekday afternoons, with replays at 5:30 A.M.

- And reader Greg wants to know what the hell is going on in Florida, where just three days after Calder banned jockey Rene Douglas without explanation, Tampa Bay Downs has done the same to seven riders there. In a statement, the track said:
"This action is being taken as a result of an ongoing investigation being conducted by the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau. Tampa Bay Downs is fully cooperating with this investigation and has no further comment on the matter at this time." [Thoroughbred Times]
The TRPB had a similar "no comment."

Uh oh.

Pennsylvania Licenses At Finish Line

- 2,100 slot machines opened at Philadelphia Park today. Or should I say, at Philadelphia Park Casino. Let's call a spade a spade, and a racetrack a casino. I love this exchange from this article in the Philadelphia Inquirer, involving a disgruntled horseplayer:

This is supposed to be a racetrack," he said to a guard. "You're turning it into a casino."

"It's the best of both worlds," the guard answered.

The man kept walking. "It's supposed to be a racetrack."
Well, there is racing, and the purses are expected to increase from an average of $100,000 a day to $500,000. Indeed, an anticipatory hike of 40% has already been implemented. reports that the track is likely to be one of the biggest entertainment attractions in the Philadelphia area.

Perhaps. But for how long? Even after the time that two grand stand-alone slots parlors/hotels/entertainment centers open in downtown Philly, making it the largest U.S. city with legalized gambling halls? Five bidders, including Donald Trump and Foxwoods, have made their lavish proposals, and the state's gaming board is scheduled to announce their decision on Wednesday.

And really, once they are open, who the hell from or in Philly is going to travel all the way up to Bensalem when they can go to one of these right in town? Check out the one on the left (Trump Street); it looks like the proposed Freedom Tower at the World Trade site for heaven's sake! (And it will almost certainly be completed before that one is.)

Man, there's a lot at stake here. For all of the companies involved, it's money, money, money. For those in the Gettysburg area, it's what some perceive as the historic sanctity of the site. For hockey fans in Pittsburgh and around the league, it's the future of the Penguins and their absolutely sensational young star Sidney Crosby; only one of the three bidders for the single casino that will be built there has pledged to kick in some $290 million to finance a new arena that would keep the team from moving elsewhere.

And for all of the communities involved, there are, according to supports, jobs and prosperity at stake; the flip side, according to opponents, is the addiction and related problems inherent in easily accessible around the clock gambling. The answers will come on Wednesday. After deliberating behind closed doors, the board will conduct a roll-call vote in front of what is expected to be a overflow auditorium in the state capitol.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Notes - Dec 19

- Hollywood Park closed with an 11 race card on Monday, including the Grade 2 Dahlia for fillies and mares. Christophe Clement had five winners out of nine starters coming into the day, and his graded winner Naissance Royale was 4-5 as the only triple digit Beyer horse in the race. But Frank Lyons, on TVG, took note of the fact that Grande Melody, 15-1 morning line for Patrick Biancone, just one for 14 at the meeting, was bet down to 6-1. This three year old French import, a daughter of the late Grand Lodge (Chief's Crown), had a lot to prove after running third in an ungraded stake earlier in the meet.

And when Naissance Royale effortlessly passed horses around the final turn ("without really being asked," according to Vic Stauffer), even saving ground in the process, she truly looked as if she would be home free. But Grande Melody just kept coming and coming and, as winning rider Julien Leparoux said, "That leader wasn't stopping, but my filly was the best today." Wow, that was really an impressive and most unexpected rally. They came home in 29.59 for the last 2 1/2 furlongs; final sixteenth in 5.86.

- Todd Pletcher was planning to start his vacation on Monday. "My attorneys told me to start the suspension today." [Daily Racing Form] The New York Racing and Wagering Board says 'not so fast.' They'll take up the matter during their next scheduled meeting, on Thursday; and "it is anticipated that the board will set Dec. 27 as the start date for his 45-day suspension," said board spokesman Daniel Toomey.

With the Big A on hiatus until that day, Monday was an opportune time for Pletcher to start his suspension - that's ten days right off the bat that he wouldn't have missed in New York. So I wonder if the board is deliberately countering that strategy and making him serve his time at their discretion, and not at his.

Yonkers Revisited for the First Time

- When Yonkers was finally set to reopen, I linked to a quote from Joe Faraldo, the head of the harness horseman association; talking about the lack of an infield tote board, he told the NY Daily News that it "has been ordered and it should arrive on Monday."

That was on Nov 11. Today, there is no tote board. But it looks as if it may have finally arrived. Or parts of it anyway.


I was in the neighborhood today, so I stopped by Yonkers Raceway to inspect the new digs, and perhaps check out some simulcasting for the late double from Chester Downs. While the slots were very much up and running, it was hard to believe that there was an active racetrack there.


That's the old clubhouse on the left; it's the only part of the old racetrack left. The building going up to the right of it, which looks mostly done, will house more slot machines for an eventual total of 7,500. It doesn't appear as if there will even be any windows overlooking the action in the prime viewing area as pacers and trotters come down the stretch. Here's a closer look from the apron; it's basically a construction zone.



The old winner's circle, now just part of the scenery.


These seats are perhaps the last remaining useful relic from years past. Located on the clubhouse turn, they used to extend all the way up to the outer rail, and you'd get a really cool and close-up view of the horses there. Not a great place to see the finish, but it was an interesting angle, and on a summer's evening, especially during daylight hours, a very pleasant spot to hang out and watch the horses warming up for later races. Those seats are my most recent memories of nights spent there after the grandstand was vacated (and later demolished), and I recall sitting there thinking that Yonkers had become a "nice little track," as opposed to its grandeur of the past. Today I was sitting there thinking that it barely seemed to qualify as a track at all.


And there amidst the ongoing construction, the doors to paradise.


Rows and rows of machines. The entire former first floor of the clubhouse - and anyone who knows the place knows that's a decent chunk of space - devoted to slots; the second floor too. The old Empire Terrace room is now a restaurant, and the area that actually used to be an outdoor terrace - and a major pot-smoking area - is now an extension to the building devoted to slots.

Oh, and that simulcasting I wanted to check out? After looking hard, I found the signs directing one to the 3rd floor (simulcasting) and 4th (live harness and simulcasts).


Hmm, not much action here. How about the 4th floor?


Well, they're required by law only to conduct live racing, so why bother with simulcasting?


The old clubhouse dining room overlooking the track is still there, along with some held over artwork. And lighting fixtures.


This billboard located right across the street is a reminder that competition isn't far away.

Holiday Cheer in Short Supply

- It was a Big Bar Mitzvah weekend for the family. My sister, as she did for her older son, scheduled the service for Saturday afternoon and the party for 4PM Sunday evening, effectively turning the weekend into one long family affair. Nobody in my family - not one single person - reads this blog, so I could expose a lot of dirty secrets - or at least those known to me - and nobody would know.

But it was fine, even nice at times, despite being subjected to a lot of really bad music. I even managed to make it to the Big A for the last few races after returning home on Saturday. It was the last weekend before the annual Christmas break. It wasn't always like this; they used to race on Xmas Eve with an early post time. Originally conceived as an overdue break for horsemen and employees alike, now it also means five less days of NYRA losing money.

Unlike during final Big A weekends before holidays past, there were no jolly carolers roving around the clubhouse. Xmas decorations seemed sparse, and the Christmas village display that has for years greeted patrons as they entered through the clubhouse was gone. An electric menorah was set up near the lobby escalator with obvious haste. It was like on Friday, someone went "Oh shit...The menorah!" and got ten bucks from Charlie Hayward to run over to the Home Depot and pick one up. Between the unseasonably warm temperatures and the lack of holiday accoutrements, it felt more like Wood Memorial day that the run-up to the holiday break.

It's gotta be a tough time for NYRA employees. One can imagine that all of the uncertainty is making for a depressing holiday; and I'm assuming that the concept of holiday bonuses and salary reviews are not presently part of the corporate culture. I would also think that the relentless criticism of NYRA, in which public officials vilify the present organization for the sins of the past, must be wearying and demoralizing. Yet through it all, NYRA still runs a first class operation. The Big A is clean - the Equstrus level downright spotless - and I find that NYRA employees continue to be polite and professional, even downright cheery in many cases.

So here's a holiday shoutout to the men and women who are working under adverse conditions to keep the Big A a really cool place to come out and watch the races. Let's hope that their jobs will be safe no matter what transpires (Excelsior said in their proposal that they would be retained), and that at this time next year, they, and we, will know who'll be running the show after Dec 31, 2007. And that there will be a show to run.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Notes - Dec 17

- Five winners for David Flores at Hollywood on Sunday, and he saved his best for last. He took the short way home on Romance Is Diane in the Hollywood Startlet, thus earning a Grade 1 win. Quick Little Miss closed strongly from far back for second despite being extremely wide on the final turn. She tried to take advantage of a quick pace - the half time of 45.2 set by Tizthen was over two seconds faster than the pace set by her stablemate Stormello on Saturday.

Bobby Frankel's Down, 8-1 morning line in her second start, stepping up from a maiden special sprint (which she didn't win) to a Grade 1 route, was made the 7-2 second choice. As in her debut, she had a slow start ("she just stood there," explained Vic Stauffer); but she flew past horses while coming home down the center of the track in the stretch. She looked like she would easily pass Quick Little Miss for the place spot, but give that filly full marks for gamely holding on for second money. Frankel obviously has a very talented soon-to-be three year old in Down, and watch out if he's able to correct her slow starts.

Romance Is Diane is by the California sire In Excess, and she's his first graded winner of the year. She's out of a mare by the Mile Turf (thanks Jen R) winner Prized, and is from the family of the recently retired Badge of Silver.

- Gary Contessa continued his ridiculous hot streak at the Big A with two more winners; he now has 22 winners from 75 runners. These were two impressive winners too. Marquis Diamond closed for second running for a 75K tag in her debut; up to maiden special juvenile fillies, she romped by almost 11 in 1:10.2! And in the following race, Lost Going Home, a state-bred three-year old gelded son of City Zip, remained undefeated in three starts with a five lengths win.

Pataki Previews Defense

- Gov. Pataki was in Saratoga on Saturday, and Paul Post, reporting for the Saratogian, got a preview of what his defense will be in response to the lawsuit filed by NYRA. Referring to the proposed agreement between NYRA/MGM and the Lottery Division that would have approved the racino, Pataki said:

"My internal counsel's office took a good look at the documents and had some changes that they felt were necessary that ultimately weren't agreed to.

"Until they agreed that it was an appropriate deal, I certainly wasn't going to sign it."
"The lawyers just never were comfortable with the actual agreement that NYRA had submitted. So until we had a legal document that everybody, particularly my counsel's office, felt protected the taxpayers and people of the state, it wasn't in the interests of the people (to approve it)."
The Lottery actually approved a deal last Dec 30, but NYRA/MGM requested what Pataki termed "two important technical amendments" in April. NYRA contends that the Lottery didn't even reply until July; and that the changes they requested were submitted on August 3. (The Lottery Division has nearly confirmed this, stating that they received the changes during the "second week of August."

Steven Crist in the Form [sub. only], quoting from NYRA's court filing, reports on a different explanation that NYRA claims Pataki previously provided them.
"Defendants withheld approval of the Aqueduct VLT Project at least in part to make the franchise to operate the Racetracks more attractive to prospective for-profit bidders . . . . Indeed, in August 2006, Defendant Governor Pataki and a senior member of his staff confirmed this, when they stated to the Chairman of NYRA's Board of Trustees that they would not permit final approval of the Aqueduct VLT Project because that would interfere [with the request-for-proposal process]."
If that's the case, it would lend support to Crist's argument that, considering the revenue lost due to the delay, NYRA's charges are a far more serious case of corruption and violation of the public trust than anything the beleaguered racing association has itself been accused. If you consider Pataki's latest explanation, it seems a stretch that the Governor, if he really wanted to, couldn't have had his lawyers iron out any problems, considering that it's now been four months, as admitted by the Lottery, since the latest agreement has been on the table.

And if you take a look at the action at the Yonkers racino, you get an idea of just how much money is involved. The NY Times reports today:
Empire City Gaming at Yonkers Raceway earned $35.6 million from Oct. 11, the day the casino opened, through Dec. 8, well above the other seven tracks that offer electronic casino games. The second-highest amount earned was $19.2 million at Saratoga Gaming and Raceway.
The article reports that around $19 million of that will go to education in the state. This Governor fought tooth and nail, and ultimately successfully, against a court order requiring sufficient state funds to be provided to New York City schools. We're anxious to hear his explanation in court of why he allowed potential monthly windfalls from the Aqueduct racino to go by the boards.

Taken By Stormello

- Principle Secret was dead on the board again for the Hollywood Futurity, and Gary Stevens, on TVG, noted in the post parade that the colt's coat looked dull and that he seemed to have lost weight from the summer. So the fact that he didn't go for the lead may be more due to him just not having it rather than Victor Espinoza trying to rate him this time as we expected him to do in the Juvenile. That left Kent Desormeaux, on Stormello, on the lead contrary to specific instructions from trainer Bill Currin.

"He wanted to go play on the lead today....I just dropped the lines and let him find a comfortable place where he would be happy and the happy horse was the fast horse today." [LA Times]
Currin, in an extremely animated interview with TVG's Christina Olivares immediately after the race, said:
"No, I did not want him on the lead, but it's hard to keep this horse from being on the lead. Kent's strong, and Kent knows this horse. I even gave him a photograph instead of giving him instructions, I said here's where I want you."
He then told Ms. Olivares "You're pretty," and tried to plant one square on her lips, settling instead for an awkward peck on the cheek.

But with Principle Secret taken back, Stormello was lone speed. After a first quarter of 23.57, he basically ran 24-second quarters the rest of the way. Still, Liquidity looked set to go right on by in midstretch, and Walter, checking in from his winter hiatus, was right on top of that one, who went postward at 15-1. But Stormello "re-broke," as Currin put it, and they came home in racehorse time - 30.53 for the last 2 1/2 furlongs, and the final time of 1:42.19 was a few ticks quicker than older entry-level allowance horses in the prior race.

Belgravia looked really nice on the track right before the race; Stevens noted that he carried himself with "a lot of authority." He was way wide on the first turn and man, that's a short run into the turn at that distance there. He finished pretty well for 4th and definitely warrants another shot.

The G1 Hollywood Starlet for the fillies is later today, and maybe I can catch Quick Little Miss (Freud) this time. I liked her in the Juvenile Fillies based on my belief that she likes two turns, but she had little shot from the 13 post. I passed on her in the subsequent Moccasin because it was a seven furlong race. And though she won at 7-1 (ouch), her Beyer wasn't great, and she took advantage of a pace that collapsed and a final furlong of 13.4. I still think she wants two turns and that she can better that last effort, and she signaled that she holds her form with a bullet half mile work.

Frankel has the maiden Down (Mr. Greeley), making just her second start. She was left at the gate in her debut, and rallied very well to lose by a nose in a six furlong race at Belmont. That has proved to be a pretty good race, as three of the horses have come back to run close seconds. Still, it's a big step up in class and distance here. Down is out of a dam by the versatile Waqouit, who won stakes up to a mile and a half; and this is the female family of Personal Hope, the Santa Anita Derby winner in 1993, remember him? He ran 4th in the Derby behind Sea Hero, favorite Prairie Bayou, and Wild Gale.