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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Pure of Heart

- Roy and Gretchen Jackson, along with Dr. Dean Richardson, were on the Larry King show last night, and what will it take for horse racing to ever be the main subject on that show again? Mr. Jackson said that Barbaro's dam, La Ville Rouge, is back in foal to Dynaformer. Her future foal, as well as her yearling Dynaformer colt, will most likely be named for foxhounds in a family painting, as was Barbaro. [Bloodhorse]

Joe Drape, writing in the NY Times, relates that: Several horsemen estimated that the Jacksons spent at least $500,000 trying to return Barbaro to the pain-free life of a healthy horse. The article also speculates that he was insured for approximately $13 million. When you consider the unliklihood that he ever would have been fit for stallion duty had he survived, you get the idea of the couple's dedication to the animal. Lesser folks could have given up and collected the insurance premium had they wanted to a long, long time ago.

And the following eloquent passage is from an editorial in the Times entitled One Horse Dies; I'll post it here without any further comment:

Humans are not especially good at noticing horses, but Barbaro was easy to notice. And if his life caused us to pay attention to the possibilities of all horses, his death should cause us to pay attention to the tragedy inherent in the end of so many horses. Barbaro’s death was tragic not because it was measured against the races he might have won or even against the effort to save his life. It was tragic because of what every horse is.

You would have to look a long, long time to find a dishonest or cruel horse. And the odds are that if you did find one, it was made cruel or dishonest by the company it kept with humans. It is no exaggeration to say that nearly every horse — Barbaro included — is pure of heart. Some are faster, some slower. Some wind up in the winner’s circle. But they should all evoke in us the generosity of conscience — a human quality, after all — that was expended in the effort to save this one horse.

Notes - Jan 31

- Some notable returnees at Gulfstream today. After Market, who won his first four starts for Bill Mott including two graded stakes in New York, runs in the 7th after a disasterous 10th on a soft course in the Kent in September. There, he'll find Einstein, winner of the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park BC last winter, and idle since running 4th to English Channel and Cacique in the Turf Classic on Derby Day.

And in the sixth, Darley will take the cobwebs off Barbican, who got himself on some Derby lists last year with a smashing allowance win over the Gulfstream strip last January 15; he's been on the sidelines since then. He's a homebred son of AP Indy out of Colour Chart (Mr. Prospector), a multiple group winner in France. Barbican is a full brother to the 2001 juvenile filly champ Tempera, as well as to a couple of French stakes winners; and his dam is a half to the Canadian grass champion Rainbows For Life. So I wouldn't be surprised if Darley is prepping him today with an eye towards grass racing down the line.

Street Sense Doesn't Blow. Less Preps Does.

- Barbaro's legacy includes his Derby win off a five week layoff and just one prep in 13 weeks, and that's not really a good thing for those of us who enjoy following the changing landscape of the Derby picture as the contenders knock heads during the prep season. It portends a future with less races and more guesswork on Derby Day. We've already heard Carl Nafzger say that his champion Street Sense will only make two starts prior to the Derby, and the colt has just started to stretch his legs with a half mile workout in 53 seconds. "He didn't blow much....He didn't blow any." [Daily Racing Form] We're looking at the Hutcheson, now at 7 1/2 furlongs on the Fountain of Youth undercard on March 3, and the Blue Grass on the Polytrack at Keeneland on April 14, and that's it.

And Barclay Tagg sounds as if he doesn't have too much in mind for Nobiz Like Shobiz, slated to make his sophomore debut in the Holy Bull on Saturday.

"He's a big, heavy horse and might need three races before the Derby, but I don't think with him it's absolutely necessary, especially since I already know he can go a mile and one-eighth and do it easily.....If something happens along the way and I have to miss a race, it wouldn't be a disaster. I might even keep him right here and give him his final prep in the Florida Derby. The five weeks to the Derby is never a concern. In fact I wouldn't be concerned if I had to go eight weeks." [Daily Racing Form]
Barbaro technically started three times before the Derby, but remember that one of those was on the grass on New Year's Day.

Scat Daddy is also scheduled to run in the Holy Bull, but two prominent horses originally scheduled to run on Saturday at Gulfstream will not. English Channel will not face Miesque's Approval in the Canadian Turf Handicap, and will prep instead at the Fair Grounds for a trip to Dubai.

And Premium Tap will not meet Invasor in the Donn. He's been purchased by Saudi Arabian interests, and will ship there to run on Feb 10. But, if all goes well, he'll then go to Dubai and rumble with his Uruguayan rival in the World Cup.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007


- Thanks to reader Case for sending this one along. If you missed it, PhiladelphiaPark Casino has agreed to pay customer Stephen Wilkinson the $102,000 jackpot that he won at the slots. Or, at least the one he'd thought he won.

Last Monday, Wilkinson was wagering two quarters at a time on a Wheel of Fortune machine when the video monitor flashed a message that he had won the $102,000.

But employees at the Bensalem racetrack casino told him it was a mistake - a malfunction, they said, of the in-house computer system the casino uses for cash prizes and promotions. The slot machine itself was not faulty.

After apologizing, the casino offered Wilkinson two complimentary tickets for the buffet, which he dismissed as a not-funny joke.
Wilkinson filed a complaint with the Pennsylvania Casino Control Board and said he would hold out for the $102,000. Gaming-industry experts nationally said it would have been hard under casino regulations in most states for Wilkinson to force PhiladelphiaPark to pay for a mistake. [Philadelphia Inquirer]
But in the end, the bad publicity garnered when the story was picked up nationally by the AP outweighed the payoff, and the casino relented.

Now, $102,000 may seem like a small fortune for the retired carpenter, but to a jockey recovering from a crippling spill, it doesn't go very far. As you may know, Philly Park has, at $100,000, what is believed to be by far the lowest on-track insurance limit of any major track. So I was heartened to read on last week that former jockey Robert Colton has stepped in, and reported to have made progress with track management. Colton is now the head of the Delaware Jockey Association, and he was instrumental in getting Delaware Park riders $1 million in coverage, plus much more.
“The jockeys at Delaware Park have a full-blown benefits package,” Colton said. “As far as I know, they are the only jockeys in America to have that. They have a personal health plan that offers short- and long-term disability, non-occupational coverage, as well as a safety committee that meets every month. We currently have about $425,000 to $450,000 in health benefits that I manage.

“What we are trying to negotiate at Philadelphia Park goes well beyond on-track insurance as well. I can’t comment on the specifics at this point, however.”
With the slots money flowing, there's no excuse for Philly Park to resist a trend that most other major tracks have followed. Especially when they can give away $102,000 just to avoid some bad press.

- And the Philly area's latest Derby hopeful, the unbeaten Hard Spun, will remain at Oaklawn to complete his preparation for a hoped-for trip to the Derby.

- Feel free to email me with any links, comments, or suggestions.

Do-Over No Silver Lining for NYRA

- One might think that NYRA would welcome Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver's suggestion to have a "do-over" for the franchise selection process considering that they finished third in the voting. But VP Bill Nader, noting that "everything expires at the end of the year," told the Saratogian that there's not enough time.

New contracts must be reached with a variety of parties such as employee unions, food-and-beverage concessionaires, simulcast and television operations. At the same time, NYRA must take care of the day-to-day duties of running its three racetracks.

"These are big, big tasks," Nader said. "If you wait too long it's going to be very difficult to do it properly. To negotiate all of these contracts in a way that's most efficient in running the business, with proper bidding, we've got to do this quickly."
A spokesperson for the persistent Capital Play Ltd said that they're ready to take over now; Excelsior expressed its usual confidence that the committee's recommendation will hold sway.

As for Empire, reporter Paul Post writes:
Empire Racing Associates agrees with Silver's assessment that integrity should have been given more weight under the ad hoc committee's scoring system.
Obviously, Empire would be happy if Silver's suggestion to start over became a reality. But do they really want ethics to be given more weight? Considering the suspicions surrounding Friends of New York's morphing into the group, as well as the deepening investigation into the relationship between Jared Abbruzzese and Senator Bruno, one might think that Empire would prefer that the writer rephrase that statement.

Bruno's Semi-Vacation

- The noose tightened a bit more around the neck of New York's embattled Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno. The Albany Times Union reported on Monday that a portion of Senator Bruno's previously reported trip to Florida with then Friends of New York Racing, and soon-to-be Empire principal Jared Abruzzese, was partially paid for by state-regulated campaign funds. Bruno originally categorized the trip as a "vacation," and, in fact, on Jan 18, he complained on an Albany radio talk show about not previously having "had a vacation in 35 years."

His staff, too, initially insisted the trip was private.

However, state law makes "the personal use of contributions received by a candidate or political committee" a crime "if such personal use is unrelated to a political campaign or the holding of a public office or party position."
The Times Union report follows the evolution of the statements by the Senator's spokespeople, from "It was a private trip, and we're not going to discuss anything he does in his private life that doesn't affect what he does as a public official," to, after the questions were raised, alluding to some fundraiser in Florida the following month for this Senator who hasn't had an election opponent in more than 10 years.

- It looks like NYRA may have taken a page from the Bush Administration in making payments to journalists. The Times Union reported that NYRA's bankruptcy filings include debts owed to several writers, some of whom were paid fifty bucks to appear on NYRA's broadcast to handicap. Two of the writers, Paul Moran of Newsday, owed $250, and Ed Fountaine of the Post, owed $200, said they send the money to charities involving retired jockeys or horses.

Also on the list is talk show host Paul Vandenburgh, whom NYRA claims was paid for a "remote" of his show at the track. Vandenburgh is ardently pro-NYRA on his radio show, according to reader Late Scratch. Vandenburgh said the $300 is his standard "talent fee" when his station does a live broadcast from the premises of a business.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Let the Derby Trail Begin

- Two more American soldiers were killed in Iraq today; bombings and mortar attacks across Baghdad on Monday killed at least 21 people and wounded 67 others, Iraqi officials said. Five schoolgirls were killed and 21 wounded when their school was hit by insurgent mortar fire. In Washington, an incredible trial reveals the details of how our leaders marketed their lies to an eager press during the run-up to war. Chaos continues in Darfur, and millions of Americans struggle to make ends meet each day, many of whom don't have homes.

In Pennsylvania, Barbaro died. I imagine he wasn't the only horse to pass on today; who knows how many others died of injury or neglect. Or at the slaughterhouse. Yet Barbaro's death is a pretty big story; the 1,517 articles devoted to it that are available on Google News is far more than the number concerning any of the above. We've seen the amazing dedication of Dr. Richardson and the entire medical staff, and that of the owners who paid bills and frequent visits. And we saw how many people became so emotionally involved in the horse's daily medical reports, even if we thought some got a bit carried away.

I don't think the attention received by Barbaro should be so surprising, really. No matter how awful the current state of the globe is (and it almost always seems to be bad), amidst all of the senseless mass killings in Iraq and elsewhere that have become almost an afterthought on the evening news, human beings always seem to somehow have the capacity to embrace a single helpless living being, be it a kid stuck in a ditch, miners trapped under the earth, a cat in a tree, or, as in this case, a horse in distress.

Not just any horse of course, but a Derby winner.

Now, you can read hundreds of articles and columns today about how Barbaro was embraced by the public largely because of his dogged courage and determination to live, and certainly you didn't come here for more of that! I don't really agree that that's what is mainly behind the public outpouring of support. Of course, those qualities, along with his rare intelligence, certainly helped him live longer, which in turn earned him growing admiration, including some from people with far too much time on their hands. But we read stories everyday of people grimly hanging on to life, whether in war, lost on mountaintops, or fighting a disease. And the will to live is inherent in all living things, even, apparently, ducks.

And how many "lesser" racehorses that even we fans never hear of, similarly struck down by injury while performing for our benefit, exhibit just as much determination to survive, only to not make it off the racetrack?

Barbaro is the story that he is because he won the Kentucky Derby. I can't really imagine that, given the state of the sport in this country these days, that, other than through an extraordinary confluence of events (like Ruffian), any horse other than a Derby winner could ever be the subject of such intense national scrutiny (not to mention the effort to save him or her in the first place).

I don't think this is all bad, and I don't think that sadness should be the main order of the day. Barbaro fought on longer than anybody with any sense ever could have imagined; his plight should inspire the industry to continue its move towards safer surfaces, and the medical knowledge gained will hopefully lead to other horses being either saved, or spared an ultimately hopeless fight for survival. It was time, and Horse Heaven is certainly a better place, somewhere he can frolic around on four good legs, be eligible to participate in the annual Dead Derby Winners Dash, and do bourbon shots and shoot the shit with Joe Hirsch and Red Smith. [ed note - I seem to have killed off Joe Hirsch prematurely! Sorry man!]

And the fact that the Derby remains such an integral part of the American landscape shows that there's still a lot of life in the old sport, even if, as far as the average sports fan goes, it's currently largely confined to the first Saturday in May.

Barbaro demonstrated as well as anyone how important the race remains. In a little over two minutes, he went from an industry secret to a part of American folklore, one on which all eyes were focused two weeks later, and, for the wrong reasons, for the next eight months as well. I disagree with all of the commentators who are saying that Barbaro will be remembered more for his fight to live than for winning the Derby. As the years and decades wear on, I believe that few will remember the details of his medical struggles.

But he'll always be known as the 2006 Derby winner, one who won the race while undefeated, by a historically large margin, and, just maybe, the only horse since Needles in 1956 to win the Derby off a layoff of more than four weeks. When people watch the race, as I did myself several times today, they'll be impressed by what was a visually dazzling Derby win. I don't know if I'd go as far as Andy Beyer, who wrote that he is very likely the best American 3-year-old since Spectacular Bid [Washington Post], but he was certainly a great horse on Derby Day.

I have to admit that I've thus far purposely been playing down Derby fever, trying to turn my elitist nose up at all the hype, which is way too early. However, I think that an appropriate tribute to Barbaro would be to celebrate the race that made him a celebrity; and the race which keeps our sport very much alive in the national consciousness. There's been a fair amount of negativity about the Derby of late, including from yours truly. There's too much hype, too many horses touted in too many Haskin columns, far, far too much emphasis on a single race that can compromise many a promising horse's career. That's all true in my opinion. But the Derby is also all we got these days in terms of connecting with the public, and it naturally follows that it will, and must be a centerpiece in any effort to make horse racing a major sport again. And, after all, it really is the Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports.

So thanks Barbaro, for your brilliance and determination, and may you rest in peace. And now, let the Derby Trail begin.

Barbaro Gone


Notes - Jan 29

- Pegasus Wind was just awful in his three-year old debut at 3-10. 3-10! But Wayne Lukas reacted the way he usually has the last few years when one of his horses intended for bigger and better throws in a putrid effort. “I think we can just draw a line through the race. Throw it out....I am going right on with my plans we had when we brought him here.” [Arkansas Democrat Gazette] Let's hope we're not looking at another Going Wild in the making here.

I actually had a live double ticket with Dixie Belle winner Devil House and a horse other than Pegasus Wind, though not the correct one. Despite the fact that Lukas has gotten off to a pretty good start at Oaklawn, I just had a feeling about this one, and only partly because my Formulator stats showed that over the last five years, Lukas was 1 for 34 with 61-180 day layoff horses cutting back from a route to a sprint. Make that 1 for 35. The race winner, Mucho Gusto, was 3-1 morning line, sent off at 8-1 for Asmussen. The inflated price was partly because of the way Pegasus Wind was bet, and perhaps also because the horse was entered for the $75,000 optional claiming tag despite being eligible for the 'NW 1 other than' allowance conditions. That's kinda like the trainer saying, "Take my horse. Please."

- A more positive statistic has been compiled by Pussycat Doll, Bob Baffert's five-year old daughter of Real Quiet. She's not only now three-for-three in Grade 1 seven furlong races after taking the Santa Monica at Santa Anita on Sunday, but she's blown away the fields in each case. This time, she was coming off nearly nine months away, but it sure helps when four of them are lined up across the track at the half mile pole in 44.08, and you have Garrett Gomez observing the proceedings from not far behind. Trevor Denman noted that he was looking for room through the tiring leaders in the stretch, but Gomez could have steered her around the grandstand rail and still managed to give Baffert a big win on the 28th anniversary of his first thoroughbred winner.

- And I guess I forgot to mention that Highland Cat did not run on Sunday; it turned out that the race we were hoping for was an extra one, and it didn't go. Instead, he breezed a half mile in 49.50.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

More Millions

- Storm in May (Tiger Ridge) proved to be quite adaptable in winning the Millions Dash. He'd been running in turf routes, and, except for an ill-fated try in the slop, had never been more than a couple of lengths from the lead. This time, he was 9 1/2 lengths back in 10th after a half mile. But that's a good place to be when they're going 43.96 to the half up front, and a quarter mile (run in 26.24 seconds) he was under the wire first, and having his part-owner and trainer Bill Kaplan thinking big. "He may end up on the Derby trail." Oh man, it's that time of the year again.

I liked Bayou's Lassie in the one race I really got into handicapping, the Millions Filly and Mare Turf, especially after the speedy Woodbine shipper inside her scratched. I was on the same wavelength as a friend I met at an OTB/restaurant, and we negotiated on which horses to key in some superfecta wagers.

We felt that our choice could be lone speed, but worried about Charmsil, 8-1 morning line from the 12 post, but favored in the doubles over the morning line favorite Rich In Spirit, and the betting favorite as they came on the track. We talked about how sometimes, you see a horse you don't care for takes money, but you ignore it even as you get that nagging feeling that you shouldn't. And how it sucks when that's exactly what happens. In this case, the money was telling me that Charmsil would try and gun from his outside post and spoil our little lone speed fantasy.

And sure enough, Charmsil, who drifted up to the 9-2 second choice, had gotten good position going into the turn, and was there to turn up the heat on the backstretch. After Bayou's Lassie got away with a moderate first half of 48.81, Charmsil pressed the leader into a third quarter of 23.16, and a subsequent 23.28. Still, they both held pretty well while yielding late to winner Miss Shop, who closed into a final three eighths time of 34.72 seconds, and good-trip runner-up Memorette.

Battaglia also picked this one on NBC, though I'm just so tired of hearing about Prove Out and Onion every single time someone picks a Jerkins horse that isn't favored. Hobeau Farm's Miss Shop (Deputy Minister) was a 5-1 shot, and wasn't exactly facing Secretariat in this field. Whatsmore, Battaglia brought it up again during the post-race interview with the trainer. A better moment was when Jerkins was asked about the winning ride by Rafael Bajarano, who was standing right next to him. He replied that he was "where he should be most of the time" with what seemed like a pointed emphasis on most. Some trainers are never happy.

Sweetnorthernsaint was virtually eliminated when he got caught a good five wide going into the first turn. He moved to challenge on the second turn, but you could see Frankie Alvarado riding along easily on McCann's Mojave, as Ramon Dominguez worked hard on the 9-5 favorite, who faded to 5th, and Edgar Prado labored three wide on Silver Wagon. McCann's Mojave returned a big mutuel, and he's a nice story in its own right for owner Mike Willman. But they walked home in a final three eights of nearly 39 seconds, last eighth in 13.43. So I don't think that Lava Man or Invasor should be too worried.

- Before the Distaff, Donna Brothers didn't like the way Take D'Tour looked on the track. I've never been a huge fan, though she did finally get a couple of two turn wins in her last two at Calder. Here, as the 6-5 favorite, she had the lead to herself, and had no real excuse other than her washy appearance on the track.

- Here come the comparisons to Lost in the Fog for Smokey Stover. Greg Gilchrist picked this one for owner Harry Aleo for $140,000 as a juvenile in 2005. He's by Put it Back (Honour and Glory), a stakes winner for Hobeau around the turn of the century, and he actually has some interesting grass influence in his pedigree. He's out of a half-sister, by Jolie's Halo, to the graded turf winner Galic Boy, and the dam of the popular multiple graded turf winner Dreadnaught. The second dam of Smokey Stover is a half-sister to the Canadian International winner Great Neck.

- Tom Durkin sounded to me like a guy who dropped into the office while in the middle of a long, relaxing vacation. Which is basically what he did. He sounded fresh and eager, and handled his races with aplomb, though you could clearly hear Collmus' track call in the background during the first and last races. Trevor Denman was just Trevor Denman, and stuck with the things that have made him one of the best in the business....though he didn't have much to work with in three uncompetitive finishes.

- NBC did a quick, but upsetting segment on Barbaro. Besides showing the accident in the Preakness which we don't really need to see anymore, they showed a video clip of Barbaro grazing on December 20. This was before his recent troubles, and I have to say that I was startled and disturbed at his appearance. Besides the expected diminishing of his physical stature, his lower right hind leg was badly deformed; it looked like a club leg. Considering that we were at one point hearing that he was on the verge of leaving the hospital, I was taken aback at how bad he looked.

And as I said, that was back a few weeks ago, when things were relatively OK. Simon Bray, on TVG today, interviewed Dr. Larry Bramlage, the vet who appeared on NBC's Preakness coverage, about today's grim developments. Dr. Bramlage described the latest surgery as "buying time," and called it a corrective procedure, as opposed to those in the past intended to move the colt forward. Frank Lyons wondered how much more the horse can take. It all made me think back to Vic Zast's recent column, as the once unthinkable seems to become a liklihood.

The Barbaro tragedy and its subsequent medical saga have focused our attention on competence and compassion — qualities in rare supply in today's world. As a result, Barbaro may now be better remembered for the courage he showed during his long battle against his injuries than what he accomplished in May.

But despite his valiant struggle, eventually, and regrettably, the ode to Barbaro – now a folk song — may become a requiem.

We should not be afraid of that. Euthanasia, under the right circumstances, is the right call. And if and when that time comes, sentiment must not obscure what is important, which is to give Barbaro a decent end. []

Millions Musings - Part 1

- A solid return for Lava Man, and it seems that the Sunshine Millions races make him relax; like he did in winning last year's Sunshine Classic, the six-year old gelding was able to sit off the pace. He didn't have the best of trips, getting caught three wide on both turns, but handled the outclassed field with relative ease, coming home in 12.21 seconds for his 8th win in a row in California. The last time Lava Man lost in California was when he finished third, beaten less than a length, in the $1 million Pacific Classic on Aug. 21, 2005, at Del Mar. [LA Times]

Given that success, you'd think he'd stick around, but Doug O'Neill indicated that Dubai remains a possibility.

He said two grass races during the World Cup in Dubai on March 31 -- the $5 million Duty Free or the $5 million Sheema Classic – could be next for Lava Man. Asked if the Santa Anita Handicap on March 3 is a consideration, he answered, “Oh, for sure.” []
O'Neill had an excellent day, as his Mistical Plan won the Oaks in the most exciting finish on the Millions program. She was eighth, buried inside on the turn. But shortly after Trevor Denman noted that she was "crying for racing room," she got it, neatly skimming the rail turning for home, and swinging out for the winning rally. This filly, by the California-based sire Game Plan, an unraced son of Danzig, burned money as the favorite in her last two tries, both around two turns in graded stakes company. Here, she took advantage of the softer company, a blistering early pace, and the short route home to get the nod at 2-1. Or, she just might have appreciated the turnback in distance. I think it may be worth keeping an eye on her to see if she's overbet upon returning to open company.

Filly and Mare Sprint winner Shaggy Mane (Bertrando) was a $12,500 claim who has since won three of four, with the only loss coming at a 7 1/2 furlong distance that's a furlong and a half too long. She was 20-1 in the morning line, and went off at 6-1, but this was a case, I think, of a bad morning line rather than a hot horse (or a case of bettors following Mike Bettaglia, who tabbed this one correctly for NBC).

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Denman Done?

- A couple of readers checked in on the subject of track announcers in the comments section, where I wondered why, given the fact that Tom Durkin's contract with NBC was cited as the reason why ESPN needed to replace him with Trevor Denman for the Breeders Cup telecast, Denman would be permitted to call today's Sunshine Millions races for NBC. Perhaps he has an out in his ESPN deal, as one reader speculated; or maybe the fact that this is a Magna gig being televised from a Magna track at which Denman is an employee trumps any other commitments.

Or maybe there's something else. I'm told by an informed source that the word on the street says that Denman is already out as ESPN's voice of the Breeders Cup anyway, due to his shaky performance and other disagreements with the network.

- Tom Precious reports on that NYRA lost in excess of $7 million in December.

The red ink experienced by NYRA in December is nothing new. Typically, the racing group loses between $5 million-$6 million during most Decembers. This year, though, NYRA reported an additional $1 million in expenses due to its bankruptcy reorganization efforts. NYRA chief operating officer Bill Nader said those costs involved payments to bankruptcy lawyers, accountants, and the creditor’s committee NYRA must fund.

Friday, January 26, 2007

BIG DQ, Nice Consolation

- Thanks to Ban Check for pointing us to Bob's "Notes On a Program," where it is revealed that one of Wednesday's Pick Six winners did indeed have Conveyor's Angel on his ticket. The DQ, about which Bob reports that the press box observers were divided, cost the bettor around $2 million, the difference between what would have been a $2.4 million windfall, and the $405,000 prize that has to be the biggest conso payoff of all time.

Free Workout Reports

- The National Turf site is offering their private clocker reports on workouts for the Millions runners for free, starting at 10 PM Eastern time tonight (Friday). Go to the site, click on "workout report report login," and select tomorrow's date on the calendar.

- NYRA rescheduled some stakes races to avoid conflicting with the new Breeders Cup races.

Millions on NBC

- Tomorrow's Sunshine Millions will be carried on NBC from 4 until 6 PM. Gulfstream's track announcer Larry Collmus, doing a nice job in his first year there, must be none too pleased that NBC is bringing Tom Durkin in to call the races. Interestingly, Durkin will go head-to-head with Trevor Denman, the man who replaced him as the voice of the Breeders Cup; Denman will call the Santa Anita portion of the program. One can't help but think that Durkin will view it as an opportunity to show ESPN that they made a mistake, especially given Denman's unusually erratic performance in his Breeders Cup debut.

Street Sense, the Juvenile winner whose move was completely missed by Denman (and who will not, in my opinion, win the Derby this year), has been assigned 127 pounds in the hypothetical Experimental Free Handicap. Those who look to the old "dual qualifier" system of determining the Derby winner (dosage under 4.0 and weighted within ten pounds of the Experimental highweight) shouldn't expect any help, at least at this particular moment, as the list contains most or all of those presently considered contenders (as well as some who are not):

There are 14 dual qualifiers this year among colts and geldings, a relatively high number compared with recent years. They are (with weight and Dosage Index): Street Sense (127, 2.14), Scat Daddy (123, 2.47), Circular Quay (122, 2.08), Great Hunter (122, 3.00), Nobiz Like Shobiz (122, 1.44), Stormello (121, 2.67), Tiz Wonderful (120, 2.11), Any Given Saturday (119, 2.67), Horse Greeley (119, 3.0), Liquidity (119. 1.86), Pegasus Wind (119, 4.00), King of the Roxy (118, 3.00), Belgravia (117, 3.36) and Roman Commander (117, 1.50). [Louisville Courier Journal]

Maryland Not So Special

- The opening of slots parlors in Pennsylvania continues to wreak havoc in surrounding states, both those with and without slots of their own. In slotless Maryland, The Maryland Jockey Club has cancelled the Pimlico Special, considered the state's second most prestigious race after the Preakness, saying that it needs the $500,000 purse for its day-to-day racing. Baloo has more on this over at The Bug Boys. Racing officials immediately appeared before the Senate Finance Committee to appeal for help, and cited the competition from Pennsylvania as their main problem.

Of particular concern was Philadelphia Park in Bensalem, Pa., which reaped $175.2 million in wagering in its first three weeks of slot machine operations beginning Dec. 18, according to the Blood-Horse, a racing industry publication.

"Philadelphia is where we used to send our three-legged horses," racing commission member John Franzone said. "Philadelphia Park 10 years ago ran for $100,000 a day. This year, [Maryland tracks are] going to run for $210,000 a day. They'll be running for $400,000. It's over." [Washington Post]
But action on slots does not appear to be imminent. Democrat Martin O'Malley, the former mayor of Baltimore, has replaced Republican Robert Ehrlich as governor. The latter was a staunch supporter of slots, but failed in his four year effort to outmaneuver House Speaker Michael Busch, who has nearly single-handedly prevented approval. But while O'Malley supports slots as a savior for the racing industry in the state, he did not introduce a slots bill, and he said last week that he wants to spend this 90-day General Assembly session working on other things.
"That issue is one that got us into drawing lines in the sand," O'Malley said last week, referring to the debates during Ehrlich's term. "Every other issue fell hostage to that debate. I do not want to allow education, health care and all the other issues we need to deal with in the next months to fall hostage to that standoff." [Baltimore Sun]
The Sun reports that a projected $1.3 billion shortfall could raise pressure to pass slots legislation, but Busch remains opposed, and the legislative landscape has changed for the worse. The last slots bill passed the Senate with three votes to spare, and two gambling backers who retired before the November election were replaced by slots opponents.

West Virginia has slots, but it's now not considered to be enough given the scope of the competition from Pennsylvania. So for the third straight year, the industry will try and push through a bill permitting table games at racetracks; a bill is expected to be introduced in the House on Tuesday. Contentious issues include the tax rate - the state wants to double their take as proposed in prior years' bills - and whether the issue would be decided by voters state-wide, or only by those in counties that have tracks.

Ridiculous Ethics

- The New York Sun is reporting today that State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver favors tossing aside the Ad Hoc Committee's franchise recommendation in its entirety. This would render the months of the panel's work, and the "selection" of Excelsior Racing meaningless, an outcome that many had anticipated given the change of administration in Albany.

Mr. Silver mocked the ad hoc committee's grading system under which the category of "integrity" counted for about a fifth of the evaluation and was assigned a larger weight than "financial viability."

"The other process gave weight to ethics, which was ridiculous," Mr. Silver said. "If you're unethical but you bid an extra $1 million, we may take you. But if you're ethical and bid $1 million less, it doesn't help you."
Say what? Is it just me, or does Silver's quote make little sense? Leave it to a New York politician to be quoted in a newspaper as saying that giving weight to ethics is "ridiculous," no matter what context he really intended. I see a negative campaign ad somewhere in his future. In any event, the folks at Empire Racing, and NYRA I suppose as well, must be thrilled about Silver's statement.

Silver is also extremely cranky over the decision by a panel commissioned to recommend a replacement for former Comptroller Alan Hevesi to bypass Democratic Assembly members in favor of three candidates with more financial experience. One of those selected is William Mulrow, a principal of Excelsior Racing. This could set up a confrontation with Gov Spitzer, who favors an outsider over a legislator.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Notes - Jan 25

- A coiffure you can't refuse.

- Race of the Day: No, this doesn't mean I'm actually going to pick a Race of the Day everyday, but I have one today, OK? In the fifth at Santa Anita, Fabulous Sun reported home first in a performance that I thought was rather extraordinary. She's a three-year old filly trained by Richard Mandella, who was looking for his first win of the meeting after 17 runners. This daughter of Maria's Mon was making her third start, second on the turf, and ran well enough last time to be sent off as the second choice (though both he and favored Gout de Terroir went off at 3.30-to-1).

Starting from the ten post in a nine furlong grass race, Victor Espinoza was unable to move inside, entered the turn four wide, and actually blew the turn and bore out. 99% of the time, you can rip up your tickets in a case like this. She managed to gain ground coming out of the turn and settled in third. She then proceeded to circle the two in front of her while three wide the entire turn, and edged clear from a host of pursuers, getting the final eighth in 12.04. Quite a performance.

Fabulous Sun is inbred 5x4 to Ribot, and is a half-sister to Colony Band, stakes placed in France, and a stakes winner on the dirt in the U.S. (the Doubledogdare at Keeneland in 2005).

- Alan Shuback, writing in the Form, took Simon Crisford's statement on Discreet Cat as having "defused speculation"...."stating emphatically that the undefeated son of Forestry has the Dubai World Cup as his major early-season goal."

Again, the quote was: "We've got plenty of options....But the plan at this time is to prepare him for the Dubai World Cup." Sounds to me like he's leaving the door open to ducking the race more than just a crack, though perhaps Shuback is more familiar with Godolphin-speak than I.

- And here's one that I really don't understand. Harness driver Eric Ledford, who had his license suspended for 10 1/2 years as a result of the Meadowlands EPO blood doping scandal, his father Seldon, and two others pleaded guilty to possession of a controlled substance - Equipoise, an anabolic steroid. In return, all of the race-fixing charges were dropped, and there's speculation that Ledford could be back in the bike in a couple of months! But as far as I recall, it was the blood-doping agent Aranesp that was suspected in the drastic reversal of form by the Ledford barn. So the whole thing - the drugs and syringes found "all over the house," and the sudden form reversals all seem to have added up to next to nothing.


- As you may have seen, the folks at Deadspin have been having some fun with the fanatics posting messages to Barbaro at the Univ of Pennsylvania website, and Yahoo picked up on the story on their home page with a headline asking "Don't they know that horses can't read?" and an accompanying video. It's gone now; perhaps they were threatened with a boycott by the FOB. Here's my favorite posting of the day:

So long as you continue your brave fight, this nation can rest assured that the terrorists didn't win. God Bless Barbaro, and God Bless the United States of America! Crusader; OK, USA.
Perhaps the president should forget about the 21,500 troops and just send the horse over there. At least that was my favorite until I saw this:
Barbaro, I will never see life the same after seeing you. You are truelly [sic] a SPIRITUAL CREATURE.A HUGE WALKING GOD SPARK PACKAGED IN FOUR LEGS AND A MANE. I love you.
Oh man. Speaking of fanatics, the anti-slots crowd has their fair share, and in Virginia, some are so opposed to the idea that:
The House of Delegates passed a resolution three years ago asking that Maryland keep slots away from the Potomac River, fearing that problems associated with gambling could encroach into the commonwealth. [Washington Post]
Sounds like they want a gambling de-militarized zone. There's a movement now to bring machines similar to Oaklawn's Instant Racing, in which patrons wager on old races, to the state. One opponent went so far as to offer this twisted analogy: "If you had a pharmacy that wasn't making it, you wouldn't let them sell crack cocaine to stay in business." No, I suppose not. Though they'd probably be permitted to sell lottery tickets.

Here's the Cat

Discreet Cat goes for a spin in Dubai against the backdrop of buildings constructed by exploited migrant workers. Thanks to reader Alex for bringing us the news via that Godolphin's Simon Crisford indicated that the colt is indeed being aimed for the World Cup and a showdown with Invasor. Here's the statement from Godolphin's website:

Godolphin's Racing Manager Simon Crisford said that the unbeaten colt is currently being trained for the Emirates-sponsored Dubai World Cup, the world's most valuable race. However, all options are open because Discreet Cat also holds entries in the Group One Dubai Golden Shaheen over 6 furlongs and the Group Two Godolphin Mile.
I still think that's a big 'however,' and I'll stick to my opinion that they'll ultimately opt for one of those other options. On one hand, I hope I'm wrong. On the other, given the difficulty we've seen some - certainly not all - World Cup participants have had bouncing back, I wouldn't want such an early season encounter to jeopardize the proceedings at Monmouth in October.

- Here's an interesting note regarding opening weekend at Oaklawn:
The corned beef and sunshine were about the only favorites to be found this past weekend as 15 of the 27 races produced winners that paid double figures, with seven paying more than $30. The two stakes races were both won by longshots. [BRIS]
- The 'other' Cat, our own Highland Cat, breezed a half mile in 50 seconds this morning in preparation for his much-anticipated return, scheduled for Sunday.

Business Up At Gulfstream

- On-track business is up at Gulfstream over last year, and rather significantly.

Through the first 15 days of the 2007 session (Jan. 3-21) ontrack handle on live racing was $11.9 million, up 32 percent from the same period a year ago, while the handle on incoming simulcast signals during live racing was up 90 percent from 2006. Overall, the total ontrack handle is $22.3 million, compared with $14.5 million from last year, an increase of nearly 54 percent. [Daily Racing Form]
Of course, the building was only half open at the beginning of last year's meeting, and a lot of poor publicity about the lack of seating and the high prices probably kept people away. They've stopped announcing the attendance figures, which are increasingly irrelevant these days anyway, but apparently people are either getting used to the new facility, or just learning to accept what is now there rather than lamenting what once was.

I came across this article on the Major site; it's an in-depth review of the facilities. The general theme seems to be that it's a bit cramped for horseplayers, even the one part of the track that the writer compares to the old.
Before we leave the second level, will again note the circular promenade, overlooking the paddock. Good viewing -- and its attractiveness reminded of the congenial people-gathering areas inherent in the old structure - especially the walkway leading from the paddock to the front apron. But, alas, on weekends, this area gets extremely crowded, slowing navigation times considerably. The cramped quarters make many pine for the Good Old Days.
I suppose that someday I'll return to Gulfstream. I would go with friends in the mid-to-late 70's, at a time when I was still primarily a harness guy, and would look forward to nights at Pompano Park. I remember seeing Prince Thou Art beat Foolish Pleasure in the Florida Derby in 1975. Then after probably nearly 20 years of not going, I started going by myself for four days each February. I'd take an early Friday morning flight, go straight from the airport to the track, and stay through the Monday races. It was funny how I'd remembered all the little nooks and crannies as if I'd never left. The one caveat was that I had to leave early on Saturday to drive to West Palm Beach and have dinner with my grandfather (who, at age 103, no longer is able to spend the winter there); I missed Read the Footnotes' Fountain of Youth win that last year, in 2004.

I never really said a proper goodbye, because I didn't realize the magnitude of the destruction Stronach had in mind. I figured, OK, they'll tear down the building and put up a new one, but I had no idea it meant goodbye to the backyard area, which always cleared out during the running of each race (except for the weekend concert-goers); it was a place where everyone really paid attention. And I couldn't imagine that it meant no more afternoons spent with the likes of Survivor, Three Dog Night, and America.

Now, my favorite hotel isn't even there anymore. There was a great Holiday Inn right on the nearby beach strip amidst the high rise condos and the newly reopened Diplomat. I could literally roll out of bed onto the beach, spend several hours basking in the sun, and then make the five minute drive (not counting the construction around the drawbridge) to the track. But the place was damaged beyond repair by Hurricane Wilma, and closed permanently in favor of, no doubt, another high rise condo. My friend Eileen actually bought one of the beds at a dispersal auction for her late mom's apartment.

So next time I go - and I imagine it won't take me 20 years this time - it will be a new hotel, and a completely different track. The quality of the racing remains the only attraction to me. Right now, that's not enough for me to make the trip. But I suppose I'll get over it eventually.

- Lava Man is set for the Millions Turf San Manuel Indian Bingo and Casino Stakes, and Doug O'Neill says: "I feel more confident now than I did at this time last year." He told the LA Times that he still feels that the six-year old gelding can win outside of California, but a trip to Dubai, where he's nominated to the $5 million Duty Free, doesn't sound like it's in the cards.
"There's a little dream about taking him to Dubai and trying the turf over there, but it probably isn't a realistic thing....We'll see what happens on Saturday. I think the dream, aside from Dubai, is to try and have a similar campaign as we did in 2006."

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

SA Stewards an Angel to Pick Six Bettors

- Over $3 million in the Pick Six pool at Santa Anita on Wednesday, and that with a card that was pretty brutal. Six bettors pulled down over $400,000 each, but I wonder if any of them had a ticket with the six horse in the 7th race. The disqualification of that horse, 48-1 Conveyor's Angel in the Tuzla Stakes, may have scuttled a Lotto-type jackpot in the pool on Thursday. (Or perhaps it prevented one bettor from a record payoff.) The sequence started off with winners at 8-1, 9-1, and 20-1.

Conveyor's Angel was tough to like if you couldn't get past her last race, in which she was eased in the stretch of the Dahlia against a few of the horses she was facing here. But this time, she came absolutely flying a good six-seven wide around the turn and blew past the field. But she bore in around midstretch, and forced Corey Nakatani to check hard aboard the 2-1 favorite Movie Star, who wasn't going anywhere in my view. Conveyor's Angel had already flown around her while in a wider path on the turn. Nakatani made it look dramatic, but I have to say that it doesn't really look all that terrible to me on the head-on (again, go to Cal Racing.)

But the stewards ruled that Conveyor's Angel had taken the path of....Movie Star during the stretch run, causing Movie Star to "take up, clip heels of another horse and stumble," [Associated Press] giving the win to the 7-2 second choice Singalong (Singspiel).

- Bill Turner is so pleased with the fitness of Highland Cat, that the now four-year old grey gelding will be entered in a one mile 40K maiden claiming event on Sunday!

Wednesday Morning Notes - Jan 24

- Tom Albertrani was reported to be surprised at Bernardini's margin of victory in the Eclipse voting for top three-year old colt.

Bernardini received 210 of the 271 votes cast for 3-year-old champion. Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro, the sentimental favorite, was a distant second with 56 votes. The undefeated Discreet Cat got four votes, and Belmont Stakes winner Jazil received one. [Albany Times-Union]
Jazil?? Who the hell voted for Jazil?

A reader sent an email pointing out that the one horse who has won from beyond the nine post at a nine furlong race at Gulfstream was none other than Barbaro, who won the Florida Derby from post ten. After the race, I recall thinking 'what was so hard about that,' and marveling at the job that Prado did. Looking back, I didn't give enough credit to the horse. Watching it again (and you can on the Cal Racing site) reminds one that Barbaro didn't even break well that day, but still was able to gather himself, and accelerate into the contest without having to go too far wide going into that turn. I imagine that a lot of horses have since failed despite breaking far better.

Jazil? I can see the four votes for Discreet Cat, but what case can one possibly make for Jazil?

- Add another racino to the landscape in the Northeast, as Pennsyvania's Chester Downs opened its doors a day early after a successful test weekend. Only about 100 people were reported to be there for the "soft" opening, and they were probably lining up to be first in for the scheduled opening on Tuesday.
Word must have quickly gotten around as the floor steadily filled up throughout the day.

By 8 p.m. or so, about 2,000 to 2,500 people had already checked out the new casino, with even more coming after evening TV media coverage aired.. [Delaware County Times]
- Good luck with this Pick Six at Santa Anita today; it's not exactly a card fit for a jackpot which I imagine will equal or exceed $1.5 million or so. Three of the races in the sequence are maiden claiming events, two of which I'd classify in the "dismal" category.

There's also a turf stakes race, the Tuzla Handicap at a mile for fillies and mares, and man, that is one tough race; it seems hard to throw out more than a couple of these entirely. Frankel's Movie Star is listed as the 5-2 morning line favorite, and Singalong is 7-2 off a pretty good close for third in the Grade 2 Dahlia.

But let's take a shot with the outside horse, Maxxi Arte. AFter a couple of nice wins last summer in California, she found herself in Grade 1 company out east, prompting the pace in the Garden City and the QEII Cup, both at nine furlongs, before tiring. After two and a half months off, she set the pace from the rail in Movie Star's win before finishing third. Now she makes her second start off the layoff for trainer James Cassidy, who is 22% with a 4.44 ROI in that category. She also shows a bullet six furlong work (1:12) on Jan 18 on the Cushion Track. Maxxi Arte looks like the clear speed here, and could be tough to run down if she clears before the turn, as it appears to me that she can.

In the sixth at Santa Anita, Antifreezette looks like the clear speed of the $16K claiming sprint based on the Moss Pace Figures. Her last was a suspicious drop off a win from that level to 10K. Nobody bit, and she moves back up in class after getting nipped at the wire. The pace figs say she'll have that lead all to herself today.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Notes - Jan 23

- Were you watching the State of the Union address, or handicapping for the big Pick Six carryover ($723,744) at Santa Anita? It may (or may not) be worth noting, as pointed out in BRIS' Santa Anita Notebook: Not a single horse won in wire-to-wire fashion from 34 events over the previous four days, which has to be a record of some sort for Santa Anita.

- Mum's the Word makes her debut at the Big A in the second race on Wednesday. She's a four-year old Real Quiet filly who our pinhooking partnership sold privately in 2005. She was working up a storm last spring and Bill Turner, who retained training duties with the new owners, was pretty hepped up about her. However, she got hurt and missed a few months of training. She's been back working since November, and shows a steady string of improving workouts.

Now, Turner rarely strikes with first timers; he's 2 for 28 over the last two years, though he did strike this past Nov 5 with 55-1 Play It True. Real Quiet hits with only 4 or 5% of his first-timers, depending on if you're using the Form's Closer Look or BRIS.

But I'll have a few bucks on her. She's bred to be fast, fast, fast, at least on her distaff side. Her dam is a daughter of the two time sprint champion Housebuster; and her third dam is Gold Beauty, a sprint champion herself, and the dam of the almost sprint champion Dayjur. This is also the family of Sky Beauty, Pleasant Home, and the late Pine Island.

Slots Foes Never Say Die

- Those persistent slots opponents suffered a setback in Maine with their inability to collect enough signatures to place a repeal referendum on the ballot in November. But, as you'd expect, a spokesperson for No Slots for ME! said "We view this as an ongoing fight."

As you may know, slots are already up and running in the state - Penn National's Hollywood Slots in Bangor which, in 2006, generated $564 million resulting in net revenue of more than $37 million.

By law, 39 percent of this goes to a variety of state and local funds, including harness racing purses, support for agricultural fairs, university and community college scholarships. Bangor, as the host city, receives 1 percent. [Bangor Daily News]
Whatsmore, there will be a referendum on the ballot regarding a second racino, to be built by the Passamaquoddy Tribe in Washington County. But voter approval of that casino (which would require the construction of a - gasp! - racetrack) won't stop the anti-slots forces, who I imagine would keep on fighting even if Donald Trump was elected governor.

A more interesting situation is taking place in Florida, where slots opponents, similarly undaunted by the commencement of slots operations at Gulfstream and the Hollywood dog track now known as Mardi Gras (and the construction of racinos Dania Jai Alai and Pompano Park), are pressing on with a court challenge regarding the legitimacy of the signatures collected to get the 2004 referendum that amended the constitution, and permitted the subsequent vote on slots that was approved by Broward County voters in 2005, on the ballot in the first place. They allege massive fraud in that regard, including allegations that the petitions included the signatures of several dozen people who were already gambling in that Great Casino in the Sky. One anti-slots group claimed that they contacted 5,000 supposed signatories, and 68% of them didn't recall signing.

Initally, a Florida judge ruled against the challenge, writing that the courts can overturn the results of an election only when there is evidence of fraud in the election itself, not in events leading up to the election, like petition drives. [AP, via Black Box Voting forum]

However, that decision has since been reversed by an appellate court, and the case has been sent back with orders to invalidate the amendment if it were proved that slots backers failed to obtain enough valid signatures [Miami Herald].

Uh oh.

Slots supporters are now requesting that the state's Supreme Court delay that trial until they first rule on these two questions:
Whether signature validations can be challenged based on fraud allegations after absentee voting had begun.

Whether an amendment approved by voters can be invalidated if it is shown sponsors failed to get enough valid signatures due to fraud if a challenge is filed before the election.
That challenge was indeed filed before the first election, in September 2004. The appellate court has already ruled against such a delay in the new trial, but proponents are now appealing directly to the Supreme Court. Their ruling, and ones possibly to come subsequently, could have consequences that I'm sure the pari-mutuel industry in the state doesn't even want to think about.

Wait a While a Worthy Winner

Reader Kashatreya responded to my quick dismissal of the Eclipse Awards (I'm just not a big awards show guy, and haven't even yet peeked at the Oscar noms) by suggesting that Wait A While's three-year old filly championship might be considered a slight surprise given the voters' tendency to favor dirt horses over those who ran on turf. But I sense little dissent over the decision, nor should there be in my opinion. In fact, I had bravely suggested going into the day that she had an outside shot for Horse of the Year consideration if she beat Ouija Board, and if Bernardini and Invasor checked in last some 20 lengths behind, say, a victorious Flower Alley.

And though the voters did the right thing, I think, in selecting Bernardini over Barbaro, the special awards given to the Jacksons and to the New Bolton Center were the proper way to recognize the achievement of those who have helped the Derby winner get where he is today. Which is apparently is in a better place than a week or so ago.

Ho Hum

- I find the Eclipse Awards to be about as suspenseful as an episode of the Honeymooners, and that's the way it should be. The championships were earned on the racetrack, and I don't think that anyone other than the loonies posting on the Barbaro message board can really have too much of a problem with any of the winners. Do you?

Just two questions for anyone who watched the ceremonies on TVG: 1) Who exactly is Jerry O'Connell?; and 2) Did Anthony Sciamatta Jr. come up to accept the award for Pletcher?

Monday, January 22, 2007


- World Cup Abuzz Over Invasor-Discreet Cat Clash reads the headline on, but personally, I'd be rather surprised if the two really do meet on March 31 in the Kingdom of Dubai.

Invasor, or, as I prefer, EEN-VA-SOR! is certainly being pointed for the race after his scheduled season debut in the Donn. But, according to Alan Shuback in the Form, Discreet Cat is also nominated to the Godolphin Mile and the six-furlong Dubai Golden Shaheen. Given the way they've campaigned this horse, I just can't see them running him at a mile and a quarter in March, especially against Invasor at this point, his decisive win over that one in last year's UAE Derby notwithstanding.

- Sweetnorthernsaint is screwed after drawing the 12 post in the Sunshine Millions Classic.

None of the six horses at Gulfstream who broke from post 12 going 1 1/8 miles in 2006 and 2007 finished better than third. In fact, only one horse from 29 starters has won a race from beyond post 9 during that same period. [Daily Racing Form]
Lava Man also drew poorly in the...and let's get this exactly right...the San Manuel Indian Bingo and Casino Stakes (formerly the Millions Turf), drawing the 11 hole. But he'll have the entire length of the stretch to establish position before the first turn. Besides, there ain't much in the race that Lava Man shouldn't be able to handle.

- Liquor Cabinet got a 112 for his facile win in the Aqueduct Handicap while racing with an aluminum pad. He's headed to the Fairgrounds for the Grade 2 New Orleans Handicap on March 10.

Oaklawn Park's A Secret Here

- Oaklawn Park opened on Friday, but you wouldn't know it around these parts; at least if you don't have Dish Network. Didn't see any Oaklawn races on TVG this weekend - the last I read, the sides were in discussion . Sunland and Turf Paradise were on instead, and the latter was cancelled on Sunday. Thus, HRTV has Gulfstream, Santa Anita, and Oaklawn, giving them a near-monopoly on significant winter racing.

And, rather surprisingly and distressingly, the track wasn't even on the simulcast menu at the Big A, as it's been as long as I recall. NYRA opted instead for Tampa Bay Downs. Fortunately, we still have the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, and the excellent local coverage of the meeting by Robert Yates. While the track may have become a secret around here, Friday's off-track handle of $ 3,115,501 was a 19. 9 percent increase over the first day last year; that despite no major cancellations elsewhere. “We were all scratching our heads,” [Director of gaming and wagering Bobby] Geiger said. “We were pleasantly surprised.”

Steppenwolfer is scheduled to make his return there in the Essex on Feb 10; and Wayne Lukas is planning on starting Pegasus Wind in the $ 250, 000 Southwest Stakes on Feb. 19.

Racinos In a Cage

- According to an article in the NY Times today, the racino at Yonkers have earned $55 million since opening day, Oct. 11, and $29.9 million of that will be spent on education. One player tells of the games' appeal: “Playing a table game, you have to make a decision....With a machine, there’s no decision.”

If she doesn't want to make a decision on table games, imagine how challenging horse racing would be! I suppose that it's attitudes like this that cause racetrack/racino operators to totally shun the idea of attempting to cross them over.

And I've mentioned the oddly soothing cacophany of sounds that make up the soundtrack of a VLT hall. The Times reporter compares it to something John Cage might have dreamed up, and I rather like that comparison, both musically and figuratively. Why have the extra distraction of horse racing in the racino cage?

I got a very nice note from a reader in Pennsylvania who is an owner of a breeding farm, and naturally stands to reap the benefits of the slots bonanza there. However, she told me that she experienced quite a culture shock upon her first trip to the Philly Park casino, and expressed mixed feelings, reporting that "they blocked off the entire view of the track from the first (for smokers) and second floors (non smokers), just so that people would sit endlessly unaware of anything else going on."

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Oh The Excuses

- I got an email from a reader who told me that he/she has a small piece of a Team Valor horse, and thus receives their newsletter. It seems as if the stable has an excuse or three for the poor performance of Oh So Awesome at Gulfstream the other day. For one thing, he bled "as bad as a horse can bleed—5 on a scale of zip to 5." More descriptively, he "gushed....Team Valor has not had a horse bleed this bad in years," according to the newsletter.

In addition, the stable's co-owner Barry Irwin was quoted as blaming the jockey:

"Because the colt drew a good inside post position, Prado wanted to be able to take advantage of it, [so] he tried to rush the colt into a contending position leaving the gate. It did not work, as the colt failed to respond. This colt has no early speed and when you try to rush him and make him show some, it takes him right out of his rhythm.

"If that wasn’t bad enough, Prado made a second, and probably worse, error when he prematurely put the colt into a drive down the backstretch. Oh So Awesome responded this time, but instead of heeding Kimmel’s advice to stay wide at all costs, Edgar drove him right up into a pocket, where the colt [proceeded] to dissipate his energy and get frustrated.

"I have learned that most horses bleed badly when they are made to do something that is physically and emotionally uncomfortable."
And, Irwin didn't seem too thrilled with his trainer either.
"I like [John] Kimmel and he generally is thoroughly professional, but as Oh So Awesome was preparing for this race, Kimmel was at a vet convention in New Orleans, after which he went on vacation with his son. And now he is watching him run on television. This is not exactly what
we had in mind when we gave the horse to him."
No mention of global warming or Bill Clinton as being at fault, but perhaps those will be excuses for next time.

Tiago Time

- Giacomo's baby brother Tiago got the eventual nod in an incredible race at Santa Anita. Reader 30for60 tipped us off on rider Gerry Olguin, who he knew from Woodbine. He says that the jock can "get them home," and he did on Spanky Come Home despite blowing the turn, and bearing out even further in the stretch. It was the former incident which led to his disqualification, as he took Tiago with him. Trevor Denman thought they were both "eliminated,", but they ended up running 1-2, placed 2-1.

Tiago (Pleasant Tap) was quite wide on both turns even without being carried out. Time Squared, a son of Fusaichi Pegasus out of an AP Indy three-quarter sister to Stephen Got Even, finished third at 1-2.

Another sibling of a Derby winner didn't fare quite as well earlier in the card. Speedy Jones (Orientate) is neither as speedy nor Smarty as his more famous brother. After running 10th at 31-1 in his debut, he went off at 75-1 and finished over 25 lengths behind in the third.

Boboman made those who backed him at 6-5 feel like boboheads when he checked in dead last in the Grade 2 San Marcos at a mile and a quarter. It was apparent when I saw Garrett Gomez working hard on the turn that the five-year old son of Kingmambog was going nowhere, The effort was so surprisingly poor that let's add that we hope he's OK. Winner One Off, a seven year old gelding by the British stud Barathea, seems like a bargain at 11-1 with the convenient benefit of knowing the result.

An up and down day for the Pletcher barn at Gulfstream on Sunday. Here's another prohibitive favorite going down to defeat: Luvyasomuch, making her first start since last April, and returning for a 30K tag after running second against maiden specials, was sent off at 2-5! There's gotta be better ways to invest your money than that! She opened up a couple of lengths, but was worn down by the persistent You Know It's True, first time to the post at 35-1 for trainer Giuseppe Iadisernia.

The sixth was a maiden special with a host of first timers, but Pletcher's Extra Classy, by the good first-time sire Allan's Prospect, was the only one which get bet, getting hammered to 6-5, and winning by five. She was three wide on the turn while confidently handled by Velazquez, seemed to have a little trouble changing leads, but once she did, she sprinted away. She didn't come home too fast - it was a 26 second final quarter - but she won with authority and certainly showed promise.

In the ninth and feature on the stakes-less Sunday, the barn's Two Names was bet to 3-2, cutting back from a mile and a sixteenth to five furlongs. Runway Cat was 8-1 morning line making her first start since May, and first ever on the grass for Barclay Tagg. Bet down to 4-1, she broke in front and never looked back. Turf layoff horses (180 days +) are a good category for Tagg; he's now 6 for fifteen over the last two years with these.

Sunday Morning Notes - Jan 21

- No response when asked is the comment line on Declan's Moon's latest last-place debacle, and trainer Ron Ellis says that the now five-year old gelding seems to have lost his competitive spirit.

"That's the way he's been running....He hits the quarter pole and is not interested in fighting at all. It just appears he doesn't want to put out. As soon as Jose went to ask him, he resisted." [Bloodhorse]
- Dream Rush was supposed to be a lock for West Point and trainer Richard Violette at Gulfstream on Saturday. Light on the catalog page, the three-year old daughter of Wild Rush drew $285,000 at Ocala last February, had won her first two races convincingly, and was firing bullets in the A.M. at Palm Meadows; all leading to her being sent off as the 3-10 favorite in the 4th race. Unfortunately for her backers, Rafael Bejarano needed a harness track passing lane in the stretch after getting himself totally boxed in. By the time he extracted himself, he couldn't catch Secretsoftheheart, now three-for-three in sprints for trainer Shawn Musgrave.

Trainer Frank Alexander picked up his third winner out of ten starters at the meet with first-time turfer Sinkwich in the 6th.

- Dave Litfin complains in the Form about NYRA's entries being drawn only 48 hours in advance, as opposed to the 72 hours that most tracks now utilize.
Beyond making life more difficult than it has to be for some public handicappers, the 48-hour entry schedule doesn't make sense from a business standpoint. The Thoroughbred simulcast market is highly competitive, so it is illogical that any tracks would grant rival operations a 24-hour head start to get their product to the customer. [Daily Racing Form, sub. only]
That's the least of it in my opinion. NYRA is amongst the many track operators whose live video is not readily available for free on the internet. I was trolling for tracks to bet the other night, a slow one on TVG, and came up with Delta Downs and Woodbine Harness. Delta has their simulcast feed available for free online. But when I clicked on live video for Woodbine, I see that I have to sign up for an account...and that I have to be a Canadian citizen in order to do so.So which of those two tracks am I going to give my business to?

It just seems like a no-brainer that tracks would try to attract business instead of effectively turning it away! And going one step further, wouldn't it be to a racetrack's advantage to make their past performances available for free online? It's been called to my attention that Canada's Windsor Raceway, a harness track in Ontario, has their pp's and their live video available for free online, giving them what seems to me to be a competitive advantage over nearly every other track in North America.

Saturday, January 20, 2007


- I have to say that the Moss pace figures just put me onto 9-1 Save in the 8th at Santa Anita, as well as the $89 exacta. The numbers indicated that he was plenty fast enough to contest second choice Indian Chant for the lead on the turn. Frankel's Cotton King was nowhere to be found, and talk about money burners, are you kidding me?? This one has lost has last four at odds of .55-to-1, 9-10, even money, and today's 6-5!!

The pace numbers were similar to what I saw in Any Limit, who won the First Lady at a well-bet 5-2 with a similar move on the turn.

Friendly Island was slammed to 1-2, and won the Palos Verdes easliy. Acting trainer Michael McCarthy said: "I don’t know (what’s next) but I think Dubai is definitely in the cards." [Bloodhorse]


- Tiz Wonderful is the first big defection from the three-year old picture; he's out with a tendon injury that's not believed to be too serious. Steve Asmussen said: “We don’t believe it’s career-ending....But he’s definitely going to be walking the shedrow and it’s a critical time to be walking the shed.” [Louisville Courier-Journal] He earned a lot of points in my book with his gritty win over Any Given Saturday in the Kentucky Jockey Club, in which he earned a Beyer of 101.

- Silver Prospector hopped a bit at the start of the Aqueduct Handicap and rushed up three wide entering the first turn trying to get to Liquor Cabinet, who got the jump from his outside post; he could never get past the favorite and backed up to dead last, ugh. But nothing was catching the winner on the this day who, according to the chart, cruised in under wraps.

Aqueduct Handicap

- I'll take a stab with Silver Prospector in the Aqueduct Handicap even though I'm concerned that the race may not set up to his liking. It's his third race since being claimed for 50K by Contessa, and he's since moved up with a second for 75K, and a wire-to-wire win in the Don Rickles, beating a pretty good trio including subsequent winner Cavallo Pazzo. There was a parade of front-running winners that day, but it was the way he did it that stands out. His half mile split was a good two seconds faster than any other race that day, and he seemed to be gliding along with ease, earning solid pace numbers from both Moss and BRIS. Since then he's had four solid workouts on the inner track. He could face early pressure from Mayan King and New York Hero, both breaking inside of him. But he's certainly fit and rates a shot at his 9-2 morning line.

Liquor Cabinet may simply be the best horse in here. He has the best Beyers, and returned from his layoff with an allowance win that was strictly a prep. Jockey John Velazquez hand rode him home despite his being in a close duel with stablemate Mr. Whitestone, just giving him a right handed tap near the wire. He's also been working well and is strictly the one to beat with the red hot Ramon Dominguez.

Mayan King generally shows speed when the track is dry so you could see two Contessa trainees (different owners) vying for the early lead. His best races, however, have been around one turn and I think he figures to be overbet.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Quiet Weekend

- It's pretty slim pickings for graded stakes races on Saturday. The Palos Verdes is a Grade 2 sprint, but it drew just four entries. The Pletcher barn has Friendly Island, making his first start since his second in the Sprint. After a slow start, surrogate trainer Michael McCarthy has two wins, a second and two thirds in as many starts. And none of them were less than 2.30 to 1.

But Friendly Island is listed at 6-5. It's an opportunity for those convinced that the inside was the Path to Glory on Breeders Cup day to take a stand; the horse had the rail into the stretch, and then angled out to the 3-4 path before rallying for second at 58-1. He's been pretty consistent at this distance, has run well off similar layoffs, and shows some nice works on the Cushion Track.

Frankel starts To Sender on the dirt for the first time, but he seems an unlikely candidate for this surface with his pedigree, despite some nice works on the Cushion Track. He's by Irish stud King's Best (Kingmambo), who stands for €35,000 for Darley; he's out of a Sadler's Wells half sister to Epsom Derby winner Commander in Chief, and his distaff family is filled with European stakes winners. If he fails to fire on dirt, that would likely leave Limited Creole on the lead alone, and a tough task for the favorite and closer Harvard Avenue.

Gulfstream has the Grade 3 First Lady, also a six furlong sprint. Malibu Mint is listed as the 8-5 favorite. She had those two huge races last summer - her upset of Dubai Escapade at Calder, and her subsequent second to Stormy Kiss in the Honorable Miss at Saratoga. Since then, the only races in which she's crossed the wire first have been on Polytrack; and she's failed to Beyer over 91. She was smacked in the snout in her last at Gulfstream Aqueduct and placed first, but she looked beaten before the incident.

Contrast (Unbridled) makes her first start for Alan Goldberg since taking the Candy Eclair at Monmouth by five in June. Contrast is a daughter of the BC Sprint winner Safely Kept, and would the latter have run in that race if there was a F&M Sprint at that time? Contrast took her debut, and has won off a longer layoff than this. She's lost just once in five starts, but has to be considered a question mark given her erratic campaign.

Any Limit has been working insane for Allan Jerkins - two recent bullets over the track in 45.2 and 57.3! She's only had a few days to recover from the latter one, but seems to be quite happy at Gulfstream, where she disappointed in her first two career starts last year. She seems a cut below graded stakes company, but her Moss Pace Figures, in beta mode for the Form, suggest that at this distance, she could make a winning move to the lead on the turn. While I'm not at liberty to disclose the details, I can assure you that if nothing else, Moss's figures will be the result of an absolutely exhaustive effort to factor in any and every possible factor.

The Grade 3 Aqueduct Handicap may be the most interesting betting stakes of the day, and perhaps I'll be able to get to that in the morning for my intimate weekend audience.

- Brad Free, writing in the subscription DRF Plus section of the Form, tells of a three-year old he likes:

A colt by Point Given making his second start Jan. 12, Air Commander raced greenly in the mile race, pulled himself up after making the lead late, then re-rallied to miss by a head. Point Given offspring often are slow learners; Air Commander, who earned an 83 Beyer, could be the real deal.
He's a Bob Baffert-trainee who's out of a Star De Naskra mare, and he's a half-brother to the Dwyer winner Medallist.

Setting the Record Striaght

- Reader Late Scratch was at Empire's town meeting, and he reported that the Saratogian did indeed have a lengthy article in their print edition. I'd even done a search by 'Paul Post' but there was nothing. So thanks for that info, and I apologize for that bit of misinformation.

He also informs us that he didn't hear Perlee make the remark that was attributed to him in the Glens Falls Post Star; directly from the story posted on its website, Perlee was reported to say: "What the Belmont is, and when you see what the Belmont could be, as a New Yorker, it breaks your heart." As quoted, it's such an off-the-wall statement in my humble opinion, that I'm certainly willing to consider that perhaps he was misquoted; in fact, I'd go as far as to say that I hope he was.

Late Scratch thought Perlee was talking about the backstretch at the track, something that few would dispute. But note that the quote was in context with the content of the story at that point, as it followed the line in which Perlee said he'd like the Belmont to be like the Derby, and reader Green Mtn Punter agrees. I just don't think that's in the cards...unless a horse has a chance to sweep every year. There's so much emphasis on a horse winning the Triple Crown these days, given the length of time since Affirmed was the last to sweep it, that there's just a natural letdown if the Derby winner fails or doesn't run two weeks hence. And I also think that Bernardini's absence from the race may encourage others in similar positions to do the same. I think that the Travers is a better race to try and promote as a Derby-like event. It is known as the Midsummer Derby after all.

News and Notes - Jan 19

- Magna announced that they will not operate Great Lakes Downs after the 2007 meeting. The track has been a steady money loser for the company, including a $1.8 million bath it took in 2006, after losing $1.6 million the year before. In a press release, the company said: without significant changes in the regulatory environment that restricts horseracing from competing on a level playing field with other forms of gaming and entertainment, MEC has been unable to make Great Lakes Downs profitable. The failure to get slots at Michigan racetracks is particularly vexing, as the state has at least the 19 full-fledged casinos that I see listed in this directory. Even Gary Tinkle, the head of the state's horsemen group, seemed sympathetic, telling the Form: "We were aware that they had been losing money for years on the track, and we're just appreciative that Magna made such a strong go at it."

Coincidentally, the track is also apparently the focal point of whatever it is that has caused ten jockeys to be banned from riding in Florida and Pennsylvania.

- Sheihkatoga, as a loyal reader emailed me yesterday. His Royal Checkbook Horseman has purchased the Stonerside property adjacent to the Saratoga backstretch for a reported $17.5 million, even more than he's ever paid for an unraced horse. I've seen the property, fenced off forebodingly behind the main backstretch area of the track. Darley has actually leased it for the last two years, so it will be just like home; Bernardini trained over its training track as a juvenile. Former owner Robert McNair, the owner of the Houston Texans, bought the property for $5.5 million in 1999.

- Another airplane trip taken by NY's Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno courtesy of former Empire investor Jared Abbruzzee has come under scrutiny. Abbruzzee flew Bruno to West Palm Beach, where they stayed at the Breakers, regarded as one of Florida's most lavish oceanfront resorts, according to the report in the Albany Times Union. They played golf at an exclusive club, took a helicopter trip over Gulfstream, and visited an upscale strip club, bada bing. The trip took place in January 2006, months before Abbruzzee became an investor in Empire, and while he was involved with Friends of New York.

The twist here is that the trip also included Joseph Torani, a member of the state Oversight Committee overseeing NYRA's operations in the wake of their legal troubles. Torani turned out to be a voice of support to NYRA; he's the only member of the board who publicly criticized the state for its stonewalling of the Aqueduct casino. In fact, the Times Union relates that Torani reported the details of the trip to NYRA's CEO Charlie Hayward. "Joe's a stand-up guy. He told us he went on that helicopter ride around Gulfstream, to look at the track from the air," Hayward said.

Hayward said he has concerns about what was going on behind the scenes as Friends of New York Racing, a nonprofit group that included Abbruzzese, morphed into Empire Racing Associates. Empire Racing officials said Hayward is off base in describing Friends of New York Racing as its forerunner.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Gulfstream Notes - Jan 18

- You Asked won the 7th at Gulfstream at six furlongs on Thursday, and nice going if you had that exacta with the 7-2 second choice on top of the 8-5 choice, for $32, wow! There's some value for you. This can seem like a simple game after the fact. Favored Lookin Back at You (Put It Back - Reflected Image) looked the part after a second in a Meadlowlands stakes; You Asked was coming off a second to Golden Dreamer, who returned to win the Ruthless at the Big A.

The favorite streaked to the lead as he had in his prior two at the Meadowlands, but he just went too fast - 22.11, 45.07, and then opening up by three after getting the next eighth in 12.62. Bejarano had the field bottomed out except for You Asked, who rallied a bit erratically, but ultimately resolutely to get the nod as the leader tired to a 13.31 final eighth.

This three-year old filly, trained by Alan Goldberg, is by Yes It's True, who finished third on the third-crop sire list in 2006; he had 13 stakes winners. You Asked has that Rasmussen Factor (RF) thing going on, being inbred 5x4 to Shenanigans, the dam of Ruffian, Icecapade, Buckfinder, and Laughter, his 4th dam. His second dam is a half to the Wood winner Private Terms.

Frankel took the feature with house horse Sugar Swirl. Like his winner Welcome Again the other day, she shipped in from Woodbine.

All (Mostly) Quiet on the Franchise Front

- Things remain pretty quiet on the NY franchise front as all sides gear up for the coming court rulings on the land issue and NYRA's complaints against the state. And speaking of quiet, Empire held their first town meeting in Saratoga last night, and judging from at least the early returns, it seems as if the media coverage of the event was minimal. Nothing thus far in the Albany Times Union, or even the hometown Saratogian! The only paper that I've seen coverage in thus far is the Glen Falls Post Star, and it reports on the expected suggestions for improvements in customer service, backstretch conditions, and Polytrack.

Jeff Perlee was there, and reiterated that Magna's investment is limited to 6% and that there would be no slots at Saratoga. He also told the audience this: "What the Belmont is, and when you see what the Belmont could be, as a New Yorker, it breaks your heart."

Huh? That seems like an odd statement even for Empire. It seems to me that the Belmont has pretty much thrived over the last decade, with two six-figure crowds, both handled with ease by NYRA. Perlee says he wants the race to be like the Kentucky Derby. But in my opinion, he'd have to move the race to Churchill and run it on the first Saturday in May in order to achieve that. The Belmont is what it is - it's the third leg of the Triple Crown, and as such, it's the only race in the series which is directly dependent on events beyond its control - specifically, the result of the Preakness (and other than injuries) - for its popularity in any given year. If the Preakness is won by the Derby winner, you'll likely have 100,000+. If the Derby winner loses or breaks down gruesomely at Pimlico, then the race becomes a natural anti-climax, and you'll do extremely well to get the 61,000 they did in 2006. And under both scenarios, those numbers are up drastically from those of the past.

I'm not saying that more can't be done to try and make the race more of a citywide event, but this is New York, not Louisville, and the vast majority of people here don't give a damn about it, and wouldn't even if Mayor Bloomberg hosted the participants at a City Hall rally, or if the Empire State Building was illuminated in the color of Todd Pletcher's hair. The Belmont Stakes and the Saratoga meet are the two things that New York racing fans can and should be proud of, and they've now both been the targets of surprisingly disparaging remarks by the current second place team in the NY sweepstakes.

On the Excelsior side, the Times Union reports that Gov Spitzer's campaign has returned $110,000 in "excess donations" from Richard Fields. Howard Wolfson, acting in this case as a "representative" for Fields, told the paper that "the contributions were made inadvertently over the limit." Oops. Wolfson is busy these days trying to steer Hillary Clinton left enough to attract liberal Democrats still pissed at her refusal to repudiate her vote in favor of authorizing the war in 2002, without straying too far from the center with an eye towards the general election. Good luck to him with that. In a recent straw poll at the liberal Daily Kos site, Mrs. Clinton garnered only 4% of the vote. Now she's against the Surge, but also opposed to a cutoff of funding. Wolfson gained some attention the other day for his testy statement blasting John Edwards for "negative campaigning" in response to his plea to Congress to: "Speak out, and stop this escalation now. You have the power to prohibit the president from spending any money to escalate the war - use it."

OK, now I'm getting off topic, so I'll stop. For now.