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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Race of the Day

- There were some nice races at Gulfstream on Wednesday, as the winter racing season moves into its peak season. As unappealing as the new Gulfstream sounds to me, the racing remains a lure. As much as Andy Beyer complained a couple of weeks ago about how it is the most dysfunctional racetrack in America, he's still there (and still complaining).

The fifth race, the Race of the Day, was a maiden special for four year olds on the grass. And it was the first of three heavy favorites to go down for Pletcher, on a rough day for Team Todd. Mantle (here it comes...) slipped his backers a mickey (sorry) as the 7-10 favorite. He couldn't quite shake The Cuban Hawke up front though, so as they turned for home, the race seemed primed for a closer.

But not for Rising Moon, you wouldn't think. He was close up in 4th early, but at this point, he looked as if he was being left behind, losing ground instead of gaining. Track announcer Larry Collmus noted that "One True Thing circles the field into 5th, going by Rising Moon." I wouldn't have given much for a ticket on him at 8-1 at that moment, and even less so when With Honour drifted out in front of him in upper stretch. But with Edgar Prado aboard, he found his stride around the eighth pole, and came flying home in a frantic finish to nip With Honour and hold off the fast closing Dynaski on the outside in a blanket three horse photo. (And as always, go to Cal Racing, sign up one time, and check out the replays.)

Rising Sun is trained by one Roberto Calvo, Richard Dutrow's Man Near Havana during his latest suspension. Calvo now has three winners, two seconds and a third from nine runners. Life goes on indeed. This colt had been out of action for almost 14 months, and was making his first start for the Dutrow barn, and third lifetime. He's a son of the newly pensioned Runaway Groom, who I saw win the Travers in 1982, and with whom I posed for a photo when I went on a breeding farm tour in Lexington several years ago. I'll have to try and scan that and post it one of these days. He's 28 years old, gosh.

The sixth was the filly race I posted about last night. And while I thought that Extra Classy would be bet lower than Silverinyourpocket (Silver Deputy), I didn't imagine the latter would be 9-2. But it would be an extreme case of redboarding if I said I'd have had her at that overlaid price. The fact is that I probably would have figured she was dead on the board. Magical Ride did get cooked on the lead; not by Jerkens' horse, but by 50-1 Miss Willow. Neither Magical Ride nor Pletcher's 8-5 favorite, closer to the lead than I thought she'd be, could keep up, and the winner ran off by six. She's now two-for-two, with both of those on sealed tracks.

Justa Streak checked in 4th at 7-5 in the 8th, completing another hat trick for Pletcher, though this one of the dismal variety. Barbican was livelier on the board this time as the 5-2 second choice, but not so much on the track. He suffered a wide trip around the turn, and came up empty when it mattered. Political Force slipped up the inside for his second win of the meet, and the 11th for Allen Jerkens out of 34 starters.

News and Notes - Feb 28

- Declan's Moon worked a snappy three furlongs in 34.60 on the Cushion at Hollywood Park this morning. Ron Ellis had told the Form on Feb 9 that "Everything is 100 percent....They went over him with a fine-tooth comb. It's back to the drawing board," and said at the time he was looking at a couple of months before another comeback.

- A lot of discussion about TVG over at Pulling Hair (here and here), and Lenny writes a long letter to the network. (And PHBH also links to a piece in the Louisville Courier-Journal that discusses Churchill's plans to form an ADW platform of its own). I have little to add other than to reiterate that I don't really care about exclusivity (though I do feel that having exclusives inspires the network to take more pride in the production quality of their broadcast); but more about distribution, so that we can all watch races from the tracks we want to.

I think that the ideal setup for me would be one in which we could flip through those channels with high numbers, and along with having a choice of those highly specialized music channels, we'd have (and I'm really dreaming here) a menu of every track's own simulcast presentation. Then we could watch whichever track we want, and see the post parades, get the paddock analysis, as well as some truly substantive analyses that aren't offered from afar on TVG and HRTV. Then a national network - say the NTRA Network - could concentrate on news, stakes recaps and replays, handicapping shows for beginners and "experts" (like us, hee hee) alike, discussion and debate, The Works, and special trackside broadcasts of stakes races. And, of course, those wacky infomercials. Like I said, I'm just fantasizing...though there's no reason why tracks shouldn't be offering their simulcast feeds on the internet now.

- An anonymous commenter brought the death of a two-year Storm Cat colt during the under tack show at Calder to our attention, and the fact that he was consigned by the same folks who brought us The Green Monkey. Bloodhorse reports that the cause of death was an aneurysm. Consignor Dean De Renzo said: “This was one of the hardest days of my life....The colt had all the right moves, and we had no indication anything was wrong." Our game is one of ups and downs to be sure, and even the highest of highs becomes just a distant memory when tragedy strikes.

Lien Games Leans on NYRA

- NYRA is now the subject of a separate lawsuit from Lien Games, a North Dakota betting hub, which has broken ranks with other creditors claiming relief in bankruptcy court, regarding $1.6 million that it claims it's owed from wagering pools.

And while we all know the circumstances - from the dysfunctional racing laws, to the lecherous structure of the OTB's, and the failure by the state to approve the Aqueduct racino - that have helped lead to this whole mess, this kind of news and the detailing of the list of their 700-plus creditors cannot help NYRA's chances to hang on to the franchise.

Neither, of course, does the Ad Hoc Committee's report, in which they finished a clear third of three. Sticking to their position that they owned the land, they declined to offer lease payments, instead offering a percentage of "free cash flow." Whereas Empire named Merrill Lynch as their source of financing, and Excelsior named Citigroup and Goldman Sachs, NYRA merely referred to "unidentified third-party lending sources," and said that a portion of capital improvements would be funded by the sale of certain properties at Aqueduct. Gee, that must have gone over really well, eh?

And the integrity section was an ugly black mark for the association. Whereas Empire and Excelsior listed all of their proposed integrity initiatives, however substantial the amount of BS was involved, NYRA's "General Approach to Integrity" was summed up in one line: "NYRA enclosed their Code of Ethics and Anti-Money Laundering Procedures for Committee Review." That was followed by 16 pages of their "positive responses" regarding convictions, judgments, liens, alleged violations of human rights laws, failure to file tax returns, uninsured civil litigation, and environmental violations, including charges of illegal discharging of waste water into the city sewer system. As the Committee noted with respect to Empire, many of these may be considered "normal" for an entity in business as long as NYRA. But it just doesn't look good. The list was followed by statements by NYRA addressing each category of indiscretions and declaring that it doesn't believe that they are "relevant to the granting of the franchise," and they may be right. But that's going to take a lot of explaining to a state capitol that is already largely hostile.

NYRA also initially failed to respond specifically to sections 3.5a through h of the RFP, which requested specific dollar amounts or net revenue percentages that it would devote to programs such as backstretch improvements, thoroughbred retirement, drug testing, and wagering integrity. Whereas Empire and Excelsior provided some detailed responses, some of which "pleased" the Committee, NYRA only provided a general amount to be devoted to all of those sections of the RFP. When pressed for details, they largely responded by stating what they are presently doing or spending, rather than proposing new programs. At times, I got the feeling that NYRA was almost dismissive of the whole process, knowing that to retain control, they will have to do so via court rulings on the land rather than on the substance of their proposal.

- Gov Spitzer told James Odato of the Albany Times-Union in an article published on Tuesday that he'll conduct a new "public review" of the New York franchise bids. Oh man.

"There will be a process that will be open, that will permit full public review of what has occurred, and we will get quickly to the right decision," said Spitzer. "It will be a process that will let the right questions be asked. It is a major industry that should be jump-started in this state.'
I believe those are the first words ever uttered in public by the Gov himself about the situation. Senator Bruno said that "you can mix and match the best of what people have to offer," which is fine, except who's going to run the thing? Empexcelcapitalnyra Racing?

Saratoga mayor and Ad Hoc Committee member Valerie Keehn commented that she hopes that they're "not starting the whole process over again" and that they should "build on our foundation," and, though I'm not specifically endorsing Excelsior, that seems like a wise idea. I criticized the makeup of the committee when it was formed due to its lack of industry experience, but having read the report, it's obvious that they did their work assiduously and actually listened to the experts that testified in the public hearings. They know far more about the bids and their relative strengths than any politician at this point, and to just disregard their conclusions out of hand would be counterproductive. Do you really think that Joe Bruno is going to read the thousands of pages of all four bids?

But this is New York, where the Assembly recently disregarded, for their own selfish political motives and in violation of an agreement with the governor, the recommendations of three past and present comptrollers, and selected one of their own, an accomplished businessman and well-respected legislator, but a person with no direct experience, to replace Alan Hevesi as Comptroller.

Capital Play Wants More of Your Capital

- The Australian consortium Capital Play Ltd is back in play in the franchise race according to Senator Bruno, who referred yesterday to there being four bidders for the franchise. A look at their bid reveals some proposed increases in takeout, substantial ones in certain cases. They discuss the decline in win betting as a percentage of overall wagering, and write that "Emphasis will have to be placed on increasing the size of the exotic pools exponentially." And while they propose to leave the takeout on win betting unchanged at 15%, and say that that rate "will probably have to decline over time," not so for exotics:

Daily Double - 20%
Quinella - 20%
Exacta - 25%
Superfecta - 25%
Triple - 25%
Pick Three - 25%
Pick Six - 30%
Grand Slam - 30%
Currently, the takeout rates are 17.5% for multiple wagers (two horses), and 25% for exotics (three horses or more). Exacta bettors (like myself) come up as the biggest losers under their proposal.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Extra Quality

- Nice allowance for three-year old fillies at Gulfstream on Wednesday as Magical Ride, who burned a ton of money in the Adirondack (.95 to 1) and Matron Stakes (6-5) last summer, makes her return for trainer George Arnold. She's a daughter of Storm Cat out of Victory Ride (Seeking the Gold), who won the Test for Arnold in 2001. The 102 Beyer she earned when I had her in her debut was subsequently downgraded by ten points, which still towers over anything else in here. But she seems to need the lead, and she could have her hands full with Quality Affair, starting from the outside eight post for Allen Jerkens (ok?). The Chief is hot, hitting just under .300 (10 for 31) at the meet, and this daughter of Elusive Quality is enjoying her trip to Florida. She makes her third start of the form cycle after winner her last in front running fashion.

Randy Moss' pace figures in the Form indicate that Quality Affair can give Magical Ride a tussle up front, so I think that the 6 1/2 furlongs may be a half furlong further than they'll last. Two fillies come off debut wins in which they each benefited from a pace scenario such as the one suggested for this race. Silverinyourpocket (Silver Deputy) is the 5-2 morning line favorite for Helen Pitts. She took her debut at 9-1, holding off Slammingpartygirl (Grand Slam - I'm In Celebration), a hot Pletcher returnee.

But why she's favored over Pletcher's Extra Classy (3-1) in this race, I'm not sure - perhaps it's her two point Beyer advantage? Extra Classy was 6-5 in her debut on Jan 21, and was impressive enough to get a mention here. She was confidently handled by Johnny V, and won off after seeming to have a little trouble changing leads. The third and fourth horses (Quality Affair being the former) both came back to win maiden specials. And, of course, Pletcher is hot. So this one looks formidable.

- They're certainly not shy in Dubai, are they? No less than 15 opponents are lined up to face Discreet Cat on Thursday in the one mile Lahan Burj Nahaar Stakes at Nad Al Sheba, for which he's listed as the even money favorite.

Notes - Feb 27

- Another workout for Street Sense, this one a six furlong move in 1:13.60 at Palm Meadows. An anonymous commenter speculates that there's something wrong with him, but I think he's OK, and that Nafzger, who does his own thing, is just doing what he thinks the colt needs at this point. I wrote rather definitively a few weeks ago that he won't win the Derby, and I wanted to clarify that remark, and add that I fervently hope that he doesn't win. If he does, we may not have much to talk about in Derby trail seasons to come. I know that Sunny's Halo didn't start a trend when he won off two preps, but, as was pointed out by Gary West the other day, he had raced 11 times at age two; and besides, the "less is more" approach is one that is far more in vogue just in general now.

As far as him winning the Derby, look, he could win, but what I was trying to say is that I don't feel that his win in the Juvenile, in which the seas parted for him on the rail while others encountered severe trouble and wide trips, doesn't make him any more likely to be standing in the winner's circle on May 5 than any of a dozen other contenders, in my opinion. And that's with or without there really being a strong rail bias on BC day, something that has not really been clearly confirmed or not by the subsequent performances of the horses that ran that day. In fact, the history of the Juvenile-Derby "curse" makes it even less likely to me that he'll win, in part because I think it's very much on the mind of Nafzger, and causing him to take this approach of only two preps.

Meanwhile, Stormello is hopping a Fed Ex flight to Gulfstream for the Fountain of Youth, and I hope Bill Currin saved the tracking number somewhere in case he gets lost. "Hello, yes, I sent a horse and it didn't show up. It did, really? Do you know who signed for it? WHO? TODD WHO???"

- Robert Yates' report in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette today contradicts our Lenny's report of whispering that Hard Spun will come to the Big A for the Gotham. According to trainer Larry Jones, who indeed had some disparaging things to say about the Oaklawn surface after the Southwest, the colt has bounced back well physically since returning to the track, and is on target to face Teuflesberg in the March 17 Rebel. For some reason, I actually think a little higher of this colt in defeat, and I'm giving him another shot. I'll buy the excuse of the rail bias, and I was impressed by the wide move he made on the turn.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Derby Contenders, Discreet Cat Back in Action

- Big weekend for the Derby trail coming up after a week off, and Nobiz Like Shobiz, at or near the top of many Derby lists these days, is actually going to race - again! - as the Juvenile champ Street Sense is amongst the hopefuls who will still be without a race after the weekend. I was thinking that if Nafzger chooses the Rushaway Stakes at Turfway as his debut instead of the Tampa Bay Derby, both of his preps, with the Blue Grass a definite goal, will have been on Polytrack. I can say with some assurance that no horse has ever won the Derby off two races on Polytrack.

A couple of contenders will make their three-year old debuts - one place or another. Bill Currin wants to ship Stormello to Gulfstream to make his against Nobiz in the Fountain of Youth, but is having trouble with his travel arrangements. He has two potential flights for his horse on Wednesday, but as of late Monday afternoon, Stormello was not confirmed on either one. [DRF] Whether or not he makes it, and hopefully he's not booked on Jet Blue, or ends up in the Bob Lewis at Santa Anita instead, it will be his first race since his win in the Hollywood Futurity late last year. This colt had gotten some buzz before the Juvenile after beating Principle Secret in the Norfolk, but they were both kinda dead on the board on BC day. They came home slow in the Norfolk, and I didn't like Stormello in the Juvenile. Come to think of it, I might have bet against him, unsucessfully, in the Futurity. I don't think he has much of a shot if he comes to Gulfstream, despite his sparkling bullet work (of 63) of five furlongs in 58.2 over the Cushion Track on Saturday. As for his Derby prospects, I'm not crazy about his breeding - Stormy Atlantic out of a Carson City mare - and he's not high on my list of probable winners.

Great Hunter also makes his sophomore debut, he in the Bob Lewis. I did like him in the Juvenile; he was stopped cold behind a tiring horse on the turn of the Breeders Futurity, in which he beat Circular Quay and Street Sense, and demonstrated a lot of athleticism in quickly getting into the outside flow and going on to win. In the Juvenile, he had tons of trouble, yet actually had the lead between calls at the top of the stretch as Street Sense cruised unmolested up the rail. He has a solid string of works for his return. Great Hunter is by Aptitude, three times a graded winner at ten furlongs; and is inbred 5x4x5 to Buckpasser. If you go back a bit in the pedigree of his dam, who is by Roy, you'll find a couple of classic runners in Star of Cozzene and Sid Watters' splendid Alabama and two-time Beldame winner Love Sign (the second dam of the latter is the 4th dam of Great Hunter). This one I like, though he's never run very fast, so we'll be looking for some improvement in the Beyer department.

Baffert is planning to start Saint Paul in the Bob Lewis; it will be the colt's first start for the trainer. He was purchased privately on the trainer's recommendation out of his last effort, an eight length win in his two-turn debut at Calder on December 29. It was his fifth race, and first win after trying sprints and the turf. He's by Sweetsouthernsaint out of a mare by Twining, who won the Peter Pan and Withers in 1994 for Flint Schulhofer. Saint Paul is a half-brother to Canadian stakes winner Halo Steven; and this is the distaff family of the Secretariat winner Ghazi.

According to the Form, he didn't work very well when Baffert first got him out west, but he's picked up the pace.

A 46-second half-mile workout Feb. 9 was the fastest of the morning; it was followed by five furlongs in 58.40 on Feb. 15. Solis worked him Wednesday, and Saint Paul dropped his head into the lane, left his workmate in the dust, and smoked seven furlongs in 1:24.80.

"Very nice," Solis said after the work. Added Baffert: "I'm excited."
Walter dropped me a note to tell me that those works on 2/9 and 2/15 were in company with Tough Tiz's Sis, a nice Tiznow filly that won overcame a lot of trouble to win in allowance company for Baffert on Sunday.

- Reader Lenny advises us that the word on the backstretch at Laurel is that Hard Spun will ship north for the Gotham at the Big A.

- And a hat tip to Bank Check for tipping me off on Discreet Cat's scheduled return in Dubai on Thursday.

Gulfstream Notes

- Meant to mention Maizelle going down for Pletcher at Gulfstream on Sunday - she was 3-10! Man, I mean, she looked good, but [redboarding alert] how about that 27 seven final quarter in her last race? She ran fine, but John Ward turned the table with Lovely Dream, off the four month layoff. This four-year old, $220,000 daughter of the New York stallion Freud has really turned things around since coming back at Belmont off a layoff last summer. After two big dirt wins, one by 16 lengths, Ward tried her on the grass with just a second to show, but here, back on the main, she was clearly better than Pletcher's filly.

The King of the World also ran second in the Very One Stakes with Safari Queen. Christophe Clement sent out Royal Highness for the win, and he also had a winner on Monday. Clement has been kind of quiet, having sent out only 24 runners at this meeting; Pletcher has already sent out 45 since his return. He got off to a slow start too, but he's hot as a pistol now, with five winners from his last nine starters. The latest was Egypt Lane in Monday's 5th, s four-year old Mr. Greeley filly dropping to a 30K after an 11 month layoff.

Pletcher did get another winner with Quiet Royal on Monday; she's yet another stakes quality turf filly for the barn, and she flashed her ample talent with an easy win, sent off at 1-2 by the fearless chalk players. John Velazquez had to take her three wide on the turn into quick fractions after he sat behind a slow pace, but she was in hand, and accelerated away under a hand ride; very nice. She was a close third in the G1 QEII Cup last fall in her U.S. debut before running up against Ouija Board in the Breeders Cup. She's a four-year old daughter of Royal Academy, out of a Miswaki mare. She has two siblings that were G3 winners in France, and the dam is a half to Dare and Go, and Go Deputy.

Putting Teeth in Suspensions

- Steven Crist takes a look in the Form at the "toothless suspensions" that we've recently seen Richard Dutrow mock. But in contemplating a more effective alternative, he writes: This is not to say there is an obvious better way to proceed.

The throw-the-book, zero-tolerance crowd has proposed tougher penalties, such as barring a suspended trainer's horses from competition or forcing them to be turned over to independent trainers and moved to different stables. These actions, however, would only punish owners and horses who had absolutely nothing to do with the infraction that prompted the suspension.

Some argue that these harsh measures would discourage owners from giving their horses to trainers who have had positives, but there is no evidence that these suspensions are having any such effect. [Daily Racing Form]
It's true that a suspension of the horse would hit innocent owners hard; not to mention the horses themselves (though some might say that any owners who give or keep their horses with a trainer with repeat violations would have only themselves to blame.) But I think that Crist hits upon a punishment that could strike a more proper balance. By disallowing a suspended trainer's assistants to enter horses at all, but permitting those animals to run for a different stable, you would certainly create an inconvenience and possibly some financial cost (and certainly one in terms of time) for the owners; enough, it would be hoped, to encourage them to exercise discretion in their selection of trainers. But it would stop short of the draconian measure of banning their horses altogether and thus depriving them of the opportunity to earn purse money.

Whatsmore, under the current system - and perhaps even under one which would result from banning the horses altogether - the suspended trainers merely resume their duties with their horses and systems still in place. But under this idea there's no guarantee that the owners will ever move their horses back. So the trainer would face a real possibility of suffering some debilitating long-term effects from a suspension instead of merely incurring a temporary cost of doing business.

This may not be a perfect solution. If the suspended trainer has a large barn, it could create logistical hazards at certain tracks, and some owners may be unable to find a trainer they feel is suitable for their stock. But it would certainly be a more meaningful punishment, and perhaps it's a good starting point for discussion.

- Buffalo Man is off the Derby trail.
“He took a bad step,” said trainer Cam Gambolati Monday morning. “Fortunately, it’s not life-threatening or anything like that and he should be able to come back. He could make it back sometime in the fall.” [Bloodhorse]
- A half mile in 48 seconds (2/35) for Invasor at Palm Meadows on Sunday. Kiaran McLaughlin told John at Not To The Swift last week that he would ship his champion colt to Dubai around March 20.

- According to The Downey Profile, Todd Pletcher is considering Twilight Meteor for the Lane's End. The colt did win on the Polytrack in his only non-grass start. "He looks like a horse that can go both ways.” These days, however, a horse might have to do a three-way (turf, Polytrack, dirt) in order to be a Derby horse.

Notes - Feb 25

- Trainer Larry Jones offers an excuse for Hard Spun's defeat in the Southwest Stakes, blaming a "real inside speed bias" at Oaklawn.

"All I'm asking for is a level playing field, and I didn't get one. Unless I see some changes (with Oaklawn's track), I may go elsewhere (for Hard Spun's Derby prep races). Don't be surprised if we do." [NY Post]
My thought was that the race could have done the colt some good, giving him some experience being behind the leader, and roughing it while significantly wide on the turn. Jones said that he "got a lot out of the Southwest....He did come back a tired horse. But he's fine now." Don't know if he's really fast enough, but I like the breeding and I'm not ready to give up this one just yet.

Brother Derek is out of the Big Cap, and he'll be out for "about four months" according to trainer Dan Hendricks.
"It's not the end of the world," said Hendricks, who expects the 4-year-old to come back "strong as ever" for an autumn campaign. [LA Daily News]
There's an obvious snarky remark to make in response to that, but I'll just let it go.

- Here's an interesting stat that the folks in West Virginia might want to check out, from Prairie Meadows Racetrack and Casino in Iowa, which already has table games, approved in 2004.
Its revenue breakdown in 2006 from its three types of gambling: $163.8 million from slots, $18.8 million from table games, and $4.6 million from pari-mutuel betting, or horse wagering. [Pittsburgh Post Gazette]
Perhaps even blackjack and poker require too much thinking and time for most gamblers.

Sunday, February 25, 2007


- The Associated Press has come up with a possible loophole by which Bud Selig can OK Steve Swindal's involvement with Excelsior and the Aqueduct racino.

Major League Baseball prohibits "any ownership interest" in gambling businesses, but also appears to allow interest in some "legalized gambling enterprise or permitted lottery," according to rules provided by the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

That is where New York's highest court might help.

In a 2005 decision, the Court of Appeals overturned a lower court and said video slot machines technically called "video lottery terminals" are constitutional as lottery products. The state constitution bans traditional, mechanical slot machines. The high court ruled VLTs are legal because they send a portion of revenues to horse racing breeding funds and enhanced track purses. [Newsday]
While a spokesperson for Excelsior said that: "Our understanding moving forward was that it was a complete go," Selig insisted that he hasn't yet examined the details.

Since participating in Thursday night's presentation by Excelsior Racing to his fellow NY horsemen, Gary Contessa has gone 16-5-4-3 in the last three days. He was the only NY horseman to publicly break with Empire, who was officially endorsed by the NYTHA. We've really never gotten any idea though of how the rank and file actually feels.

Anyway, Contessa is hot, as usual when it's cold, and he had another winner on Sunday, with Forecourt, in the third. He claimed this horse for 20K in his last, and he was returning at the same level. While dropping precipitously in class, Forecourt had lost his last four races by a combined 54 lengths. Yet here he went to the front and stayed there, turning back the hot horse Run With The Lark. 12-1 morning line, this Richard Schosberg trainee was bet throughout, and got hammered from 4-1 to 5-2 in the last couple of minutes. It was six lengths back to the show horse, so it was a case of a well-intentioned betting move running into a hot barn. I was at the Big A on Sunday, and before the race, I was thinking, 'how can you bet this horse at 6-1,' and afterwards I was thinking 'how can you not bet this horse at 6-1.'

So in the next race, when I saw that Contessa's first-timer Too Much Zip was the same price, I figured what the hell? One can do far, far worse than getting 6-1 on a first-timer running in a crappy-looking state-bred race from the top trainer at the meet, and by an excellent first-time sire in City Zip (20%, according to the Form).

Unfortunately, the filly had trouble after the start. The chart notes that she was bumped and steadied; but a look at the head on at the Cal Racing site shows that she was knocked sideways pretty severely. She was almost 14 lengths back after a quarter, but moved up while saving some ground on the turn, and finished quite well for 4th, missing by just a half length, with the three in front of her separated by two noses. I had Too Much Zip on top of those first two noses in the exacta. I'll check her out at 6-5 the next time she starts.

Let's see, I lost in the 5th too. I thought Pletcher's filly Shea D'Lady had a chance to wire the field, but favored Baby Gray, who I left out entirely, is extremely sharp now having turned back to sprints three races ago now.

Then I also lost in the 6th. I fell for the first-timer Ghost Dancing, from the proficient debut trainer Anthony Dutrow. She's by a 14% first-time sire in Silver Ghost, has a couple of stakes-placed siblings, looked fabulous on the track before the race, and was bet down to 4-1 with some late action. However, like the Contessa first-timer, Ghost Dancing stumbled after a bump, and this one was only able to rally for 6th.

I was there for one more race after that, which I lost as well. I liked Pletcher again, this time with the 9-5 favorite, Doctor Freud. I didn't like the 5-2 second choice at all; Dr V.'s Magic was coming off a winning debut, but that race was in the slop, at 15-1. His 360 Tomlinson, and the fact that he's by the Cormorant sire Raffie's Majesty, were reason enough to theorize that he wouldn't necessarily reproduce his form on dirt. So I tried to crush the exacta, betting a cold number with Time Piece, from none other than our friend Gary Contessa. One can do far, far worse than to have Pletcher-Contessa for a $55 exacta, especially with the favorite on top of a horse that showed improving form and was making his third start for the barn.

And he ran the race I hoped he would, closing from far back. Unfortunately, third choice Vow to Greatness ran the race I hoped he wouldn't, and split me in the exacta. I didn't have the resulting $26 exacta, but I thought I had the correct value play, so I couldn't be too upset. In fact, it was one of those days that I could feel OK about my selections even if they didn't quite work out.


- Didn't have a chance to mention it here, since I didn't look at the race until I was at the Big A Sunday, and a lot of good it does now. But I loved Audacious Chloe in the Gaily Gaily Stakes at Gulfstream. She reminded me of her stablemate Twilight Meteor, who won the Hallandale Beach Stakes for Pletcher on Saturday, in that she was coming off a layoff after showing nearly flawless turf form at age two. Dreaming of Anna's disappointing return to the races made her seem vulnerable to me even though she was returning to the turf. Easy to say this stuff now, I know.

Dreaming of Anna rated comfortably in second with jockey Rene Douglas, behind Fanlight Fanny. The problem, besides the latter's unappealing name, is that they let the 16-1 shot get away with a second quarter of 25.23 seconds, 48.21 to the half. So Graham Motion's filly had a lot to offer when Douglas tried to go by, and she battled the 4-5 favorite during a subsequent quarter run in 23.46. Once Dreaming of Anna did leave that one behind, she was immediately tackled by Audacious Chloe, who sat behind the leaders before pulling three wide on the turn. After another quick quarter - 23.54 seconds - Dreaming of Anna couldn't hold off Audacious Chloe in the final sixteenth, though she showed some class battling on gamely to the end. The final time of 1:41.71 was a second slower than Twilight Meteor's race the day before.

[By the way, the Gulfstream turf course doesn't look so hot, does it? And what's all that white dust kicking up from the grass course at Fair Grounds?]

Audacious Chloe is by More Than Ready, out of Audacious, a mare by the turf champ Manila, so her affinity for the grass should be no surprise. Audacious is also a half-sister to Freddy Frisson, the dam of First Samurai (Giant's Causeway) - Audacious Chloe and First Samurai, currently standing for $40,000 at Claiborne, have the same second dam. Audacious Chloe has an unnamed two-year-old half-sister by El Corredor. [BRIS]

Say Goodbye to The Works

- One thing that most everyone appeared to agree on regarding TVG is that we love The Works, the series that presented keen analysis and discussion of the morning workouts leading up to the Derby. But Maryjean Wall, reporting in the Lexington Herald-Leader, reports that the recent split between TVG and Churchill has put the series in dire jeopardy for this year. "As we commented last week, it appears that we will not be participating in the 2007 Churchill Downs meet," said TVG's General Manager, David Nathanson, in a recent email message.

"You could see the stars as they were developing and get an insider's look," said Steve Davidowitz, handicapper and author whose newest book is called The Best and Worst of Thoroughbred Racing.

Davidowitz termed the impasse in contract negotiations as "arrogance against arrogance." The loss to fans, he said, would be in the show's usefulness as an educational tool on how horses are prepared for this important race.
Churchill's John Asher told the paper: "We hope to work out something in a couple of weeks, but what that will be, I don't know." I would speculate that some kind of show on HRTV is a possibility, which of course won't do much good for the vast majority of us.

- Carl Nafzger told the Form that Street Sense won't run in the Hutcheson Stakes next Saturday, and instead cited the Tampa Bay Derby (March 17) or Rushaway Stakes (March 24) at Turfway Park as the two most likely options.
"I just don't want him to get hooked in a sprint like that by horses who have already run and are fit, read, and talented. I don't want to knock the bottom out of this colt after all the work we've done with him so far this winter."
It's well documented that Sunny's Halo is the only Derby winner since 1947 to come into the race off two preps, but I'd be interested to know if even he waited this long to make his debut at age three.

The other horses considered to be contenders who are planning on just two preps are, according to Maryjean Wall: Stormello, Great Hunter, Birdbirdistheword, Belgravia, C P West and Principle Secret. Belgravia, as we learned this week, has had a setback with a lung infection. Stormello worked five furlongs in 58.20 seconds at Hollywood Park on Saturday and remains a potential starter in next Saturday's Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes. However, he remains, according to his trainer Bill Currin, a possiblity for the UAE Derby in Dubai.
“Depending on how we do in the Fountain of Youth, that will tell a lot,” Currin said, indicating that an easy win could lead him to Churchill Downs whereas “if I get my socks beat off,” the colt might not be ready for the long trip to, and tough race in, Dubai. [Dubai Carnival Blog]
- Jose Santos has been diagnosed with even more severe spinal injuries than were originally revealed after they were apparently missed at Jamaica Hospital the day of the Feb 3 spill.

- Todd Pletcher, who said that Scat Daddy wasn't fully cranked off his layoff after he finished third in the Holy Bull, told the Form after Twilight Meteor's win in his return in the Hallandale Beach Stakes last week: "Layoffs are overrated."

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Pletcher Settles For Hat Trick

- Three more winners for Pletcher at Gulfstream on Saturday, all in a row, including a stakes win in the middle with Twilight Meteor in the grassy Hallandale Beach Stakes, at odds of 6.50-to-1, man! Sometimes you get an overlay when Pletcher has two in the race, and the one without Johnny V. wins. While Velazquez was taking the overland route on the final turn with Pleasant Strike, Edgar Prado sat chilly behind horses while saving ground, and got a clear trip down the two path to wear down the leader Sedgefield. Not a flashy performance, but he got the trip, and got the job done in his first race in nearly four months. In five starts, he has three wins, a nose loss, and a close 4th in an extremely roughly run allowance at Saratoga.

Twilight Meteor is out of One Over Prime, an unraced mare by the graded turf winner With Approval, and a half-sister to Citronnade, a graded winner on the grass for Frankel earlier this year.

Pletcher started the streak in the 6th with first-timer, and 2-1 favorite Hesogoodwithmoney, his second debut winner in two days. He's a son of Forest Wildcat, out of a Deputy Minister half-sister to High Yield, who sold for $350,000 as a yearling in 2005.

The trainer completed the natural hat trick with Trendy Lady, who burned a ton of money in her last three, but was an easy winner for the persistent chalk players who sent her off at 7-10.

And incredibly, Pletcher just missed a four-bagger when Honey Ryder, now a six-year old making her first start since November and her first ever against the boys, settled for second in the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park BC Turf at one mile and three eighths. Maybe she was just a bit short off the layoff, as she had an absolutely perfect trip, saving ground all the way, and then exploding through a seam with an exciting burst of speed. However, Jambalaya (Langfuhr) also saved ground, right in front of Pletcher's 2-1 favorite before swinging wide and getting up to beat her by a neck.

But Einstein, a half length back in third, ran an absolute monster race and was much the best. He was three wide on the first turn, four wide on the second, and way, way wide on the turn for home. He actually struck the front midstretch, at which point he may have already run the mile and three-eighths, but he couldn't quite hold off the two who traveled far, far less ground.

Excelsior Takes Its Case to Horsemen

- David Grening reports in the Form of a meeting between officials from Excelsior Racing and New York horsemen which took place Thursday night (they were scheduled to meet with local horsemen currently stabled in Florida on Friday). Steve Swindal and Richard Fields presented their scenario of an idyllic paradise at Aqueduct and Belmont.

"We're talking about building this unbelievable destination," said Fields, the co-developer of the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casinos located in Tampa and Hollywood, Fla. "We're going to drive people in because we're going to have the best restaurants, the best theaters, the best stores - there's going to be excitement. We're going to drive 30,000 people a day through there - some of them, by the way, are going to go for the slots, and lots of them are not. We're going to be driving people in; they're going to sample the horse product. They're going to come back because the horse product is so exciting."
Daily purses of $800,000 to $1 million (!) were discussed, and Swindal promised to utilize his Yankees' YES Network to help promote the sport. There's no question that it all sounds very exciting, and Grening reports that many horsemen were impressed.

However, at least some of the optimism is based on the group's extremely rosy projections of an average daily take of $591 per VLT at the Aqueduct racino for the first year, to rise to $668 by year five (numbers they projected would be reduced to $473 and $572 should VLT's be permitted at Belmont.) The Ad Hoc Committee questioned the figures, and Excelsior responded with a study by Klas Robinson QED, "a professional market research firm specializing in assessment of gaming markets and projections of gaming revenues for start-up gaming ventures." That company's website is here; they list amongst their clients the St Regis Mohawk Tribe, whose proposed casino at Monticello Raceway was signed off on by Governor Spitzer this week. (No word in Excelsior's proposal of what effect that casino would have on the take at Aqueduct.)

Empire projected $414 per machine; NYRA's estimate was $400. Some reported actual net-win figures I've seen range from $370 at Philly Park, to close to $300 at Yonkers, down to $133 at Monticello. So Excelsior is clearly talking about a home run here, and only time will tell if the figures are realistic, and what would happen to the group's lavish promises if the projections prove to be significantly off the mark. I suppose it's things like that which make Spitzer hesitant to award a 20-year franchise with no provision for renegotiations.

The subject of the possible conflict between Swindal's involvement with major league baseball and a casino also was discussed. "I really don't see that scenario coming up....I am committed to making our investment in Excelsior a success and at the same time working my tail off to make the Yankees successful as well." Again, I don't know if Swindal has gotten some indication that Bud Selig will find a way to permit what seems to be an obvious violation of MLB's rules against owning casinos, or if he's living in some kind of fantasyland. He's counting on Carl Pavano to fill one of the Yankees' starting rotation spots, so perhaps it's the latter.

- And please, please, please be sure to check out the comments section of the post Racino Approval Imminent?, where there is some absolutely fascinating discussion and varying opinions of the NYRA land issue by our regular reader/poster Green Mtn Punter and some anonymous posters, all of whom are far better versed in the intricacies of real estate law and the complex and tangled historical relationship between NYRA and the state than your humble proprietor. We can all learn a lot from the discussion going on there.

And that includes the tidbit that Dennis Dammerman, a member of NYRA's board since March of last year, was the chairman of GE Capital for eight years before resigning at the end of 2005. GE Capital is the company which is seeking to loan the association $50 million against the land at Belmont. Seems as if NYRA has some friends in conveniently high places as well.

Friday, February 23, 2007

News and Notes - Feb 24

- You were a winner on Friday if you went with the old Pletcher first-out in maiden claimers angle. Actually, one might be wary seeing a stable of his stature starting one of their firsters in a claiming race, especially one which sold for $130,000 as a juvenile a year ago.

Pletcher doesn't start many this way, but with the convincing win by Fate Takes a Hand, running for $75,000 in the Friday's 7th at Gulfstream, he's now won with four of 11 such runners over the last two years. And one outfit that was not at all wary was Prime Time Stable; they put in a claim for the son of Tale of the Cat via trainer Timothy Ritvo. It was Pletcher's third winner in two days, after having just three prior since his return.

- Lava Man worked six furlong in 1:12.20 over the Cushion Track, preparing for next Saturday's Big Cap at Santa Anita. He will carry the high weight, to be specifically determined this week. O'Neill said on Friday that he predicts Lava Man will be assigned 123 pounds. "I've done a little politicking.." [Daily Racing Form] He also told the paper that the $5 million Dubai Duty Free on the turf is still a possibility. Personally, I'd like to see the horse win in Kentucky or New York before they try shipping him to Dubai. But I'm also being a little selfish, as I'd really just like to see the horse stay fit and race throughout the year, something that's not guaranteed for those who take the trip.

- Liquor Cabinet, dominant in earning a 113 Beyer in the Aqueduct Handicap, is pointing to the New Orleans Handicap on March 10 at the Fair Grounds, a race for which I've seen Pletcher's Master Command, and the returning High Limit mentioned for as well.

- Street Sense worked a half mile in 49.20 this morning at Palm Meadows.

- The House of Representatives in Indiana has approved the installation of 2500 VLT's at Hoosier Park and Indiana Downs. The bill will now go to the Senate, where the Republican President Pro Tem has said he would like the bill to have a hearing..[Associated Press]

While passage is far from certain, I wonder how Churchill feels about their decision to sell Hoosier Park now.

But in neighboring Illinois, where there are no slots in sight, Hawthorne opened on Friday, and its president Tim Carey sounded the familiar refrain of the have-nots.

''In order to compete on a level playing field, the Illinois racing industry must have slot machines....We used to compete only with each other for racing dates. Now we compete with casinos and other racing jurisdictions with casinos. [Chicago Sun Times]
And ditto in Maryland, where the long-feared spectre of slots in Pennsylvania has become a reality, not to mention the possibility of table games in West Virginia.
"Come 2008, without slots or some sort of subsidy, our landscape will change even more dramatically," [Maryland Jockey Club president Lou Raffeto Jr.] said. "We cannot maintain that $200,000 [daily purse] level - at least not for anywhere close to the 184 days a year we've been running - because there simply is no more money. This is not some hollow threat." [Daily Racing Form]
While Raffeto sweats over maintaining that $200,000 level, Philly Park president Hal Handel says that the bottom line for racing at Philadelphia Park potentially could be "purses of $450,000 to $500,000 a day, when it's all said and done."

Derby Notes - Feb 23

- Six furlongs in 1:11 1/5 for the current Derby trail frontrunner Nobiz Like Shobiz at Gulfstream this morning.

"I told Cornelio (Velasquez) to go in :12s the whole way and he came pretty close," trainer Barclay Tagg said. "I got him the first three-eighths in :35 and change and caught him galloping out seven furlongs in 1:24 and a tick, so everything worked out well." [Bloodhorse]
Trainer Michael Gorham is looking to test Nobiz with Adore the Gold in the Fountain of Youth on March 3. “He's doing everything right, and I want to try the two turns. Seven-and-a-half is really an extended sprint, and the two-turn race might be easier on my horse right now." [The Downey Profile]

- Exhale is officially off the Derby trail; he'll have knee surgery and be sidelined until late summer or fall. Owners Lee and Susan Searing suffered similar disappointment with Cindago last year.

And Belgravia bled significantly after his last workout, and was found to be suffering from a lung infection.
[Patrick] Biancone said that "it's too early to say" whether the setback will prevent Belgravia from starting in other Triple Crown preps in March. "He'll need a little time," Biancone said, downplaying the incident. [Daily Racing Form]

Racino Approval Imminent?

- We've heard this one before, but Charles Hayward told the Saratogian that NYRA is in talks with the Governor that he believes will lead to approval of the Aqueduct racino within 30 days. The difference is that he is now dealing with Eliot Spitzer, instead of the former Governor, who we believe, and as NYRA will try to prove in court, helped to drive the association into bankruptcy by stalling on the go-ahead for slots. Spitzer has already included anticipated revenues from the racino into his budget proposal, so there's ample reason to believe that this will finally get done, despite the fact that neither side is willing to back off of the pending court battle over the land. "We certainly aren't going to drop our land claim," Hayward told reporter Paul Post.

Hayward also said that he believes that Spitzer will approve a $50 million bailout to keep racing going for the rest of the year; the latest state loan will only keep them going through mid-March.

According to Hayward, state officials including Spitzer don't want NYRA to get financing from an outside party. GE Capital's financing would be secured by a mortgage on Belmont Park, potentially opening up all kinds of legal issues. Also, interest rates on a state loan are much less, 4 percent versus 10-15 percent.
Once again, for an issue on which the state, along with many well-informed impartial observers, has so adamantly insisted is on their side, the land claim seems to be quite a powerful card that Hayward has played masterfully throughout this drama. Every time we get to the point where it looks as if the decision will fall to the judiciary, the state seems to back down. You just gotta wonder if the state will ever be willing to take the risk of an unfavorable ruling, and if NYRA will indeed be able to parlay the claim into at least a partial role in the future of racing in the state.

Empire's Takeout Plan a Ruse

- Steven Crist, writing in the Daily Racing Form, rips Empire Racing for proposing an increase in the takeout, and exposes the lie behind their stated logic for doing so. Noting that Excelsior and NYRA both intend to keep the rate as low as is feasible, Crist writes that Empire struck a radically different note:

"Empire stated they would request an increase of take-out on regular and multiple wagers to place New York on par with the national averages for such wagers. This, they stated, would be a short-term test of two years."

Empire's position is not merely wrongheaded. It is based on a familiar and deceptive characterization of New York's takeout rates that is trotted out every time someone wants to put more of the public's money into his own pockets.
He goes on to explain that, though New York's takeout on straight and multiple bets are a bit lower than that of Kentucky and California, its rate on exotics is significantly higher - 25% as opposed to 19% and 20.68% respectively. If you blend the rates and give proportional weight to multiples, the rates are actually comparable.
So Empire's claim that a takeout increase on straight and multiple bets is needed to "place New York on par with national averages" is simply false. Even more disturbing, though, is the very idea that a takeout increase is necessary or even appropriate when New York racing is on the verge of swimming in money from slot machines at Aqueduct and perhaps Belmont. Excelsior and NYRA seem to understand that this is an opportunity to experiment with lower takeout rather than soaking the overtaxed betting public even further.

Horseplayers will not find any comfort in contemplating where Empire's higher grab of their payoffs would ultimately be going - to the prominent racing companies and individuals who bought ground-floor shares in the enterprise at a nominal fee and stand to make windfall profits if awarded the franchise.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Thursday Night Notes

- Back from the Garden; leave it to the Rangers to try and ruin the day. Thanks much to all who have posted or emailed about Highland Cat. I particularly love the story of the tout in a suit and tie at the OTB on 38th at Broadway. The regulars will never doubt you again I'm sure; at least not the next time.

Finally got to actually see the race, and it looked pretty much the way it sounded. Highland Cat broke a bit more alertly than usual, but still was far enough behind - six lengths or so - that I would have had my doubts if I was seeing the race for the first time. But he saved some ground, and was still running through the stretch and down to the wire, a helpful strategy when the final eighth is run in 13.73 seconds. Nonetheless, he was striding out well at the finish, and got the job done at a distance shorter than he'd prefer, and on a surface which I feel is not his preference.

But the grass is still around six weeks or so away I'd guess, so he'll try the dirt again. The talk is that he'll stretch out, possibly in an allowance. A win can do wonders for the confidence of horse and people alike.

For our trainer, Bill Turner, it was his second winner on the day, as he won the race prior with Heretic. Whatsmore, he now has three winners with his last three runners, having won the Holly Hughes on Saturday with Introspect for Castle Village.

- Nice little public workout by English Channel at Gulfstream, as he prepped for a trip to Dubai. It was a stroll in the park at 1-5; he won with something left in a course record time of 1:44.51 for a mile and an eighth; just two seconds slower than maiden fillies ran a mile and a sixteenth a few races earlier.

Highland Cat Wins!

- And no, this one is NOT a misprint. I owe Richie at Castle Village breakfast at Saratoga. (At least he didn't take me up on my offer to eat the program if he won!)

More when I get to see the replay (no, I did not give up a day's pay to go).

[UPDATE - He was not claimed, and paid $11.60 as the co-second choice. The winner's share of the purse is $6,000, as low as you can go NY. That should hold off another cash call for a couple of months or so..]

Must Be Mistaken

- The Dubai Racing Club Blog is reporting that that Sweetnorthernsaint is a possibility for the World Cup.

Trainer Mike Trombetta said on Wednesday that he and owners Joseph Balsamo and Ted Theos are aiming to make the final decision on a trip to Dubai by March 1.
However, the post also mentions Brother Derek as a potential starter in the big race. That has to be some kind of misprint. Right??

- As Turfway continues to struggle to get its Polytrack right in the wake of nine fatalities since Thanksgiving (though none -*knock wood*- in February), Santa Anita announced that it is indeed going ahead with its artificial surface, though it hasn't yet decided on which. It will be installed during this summer's Del Mar meeting.

Notes - Feb 22

- CapitalPlay Ltd is not included in the Ad Hoc Committee's report due to a missed deadline, but its CEO Karl O'Farrell told the NY Times: “There’s every indication now that our bid will be considered fully with the other bidders.”

- Both Empire and Excelsior issued the expected press releases following the report release. Excelsior called themselves the "clear winner." Empire, keeping in character, took the opportunity to take one last backhand swipe at the Committee, calling it "the last remaining committee of the Pataki administration," their way of letting us all know that the panel that selected their rival is a relic that is no longer relevant to the decision.

- The Committee had some recommendations of their own other than who should run the franchise. In addition to seemingly weightier issues such as the structure of OTB and the matter of a general regulatory review, it zeroed in on a more practical problem that Big A patrons are well familiar with. In a section titled Parking at Aqueduct, the Committee wrote:

"The State needs to examine the future parking needs of patrons at the Aqueduct Racetrack, post-video lottery gaming implementation. Reduction in parking availability through 1994 land sales to The Home Depot and the Port Authority...could prove problematic. Resolution of these parking concerns could be critical to the success of the video lottery gaming operation. It is critical to address the future parking needs of patrons before the vacant land is assigned use by its owners and development occurs."
Amen to that.

- The presence of giant corporations on Empire's board seemed to cut both ways. In a discussion of complaints of "the historic privacy regarding the present operation of the State racing franchise," the Committee noted that "several members thought the structure of Empire, with several publicly-traded partners, might lend itself to better transparency." But in the category of Financial Viability, which went to Excelsior on the basis of their higher guarantees for capital improvements and programs, the Committee expressed concern that should there be "unallocated revenue" resulting from higher than projected earnings, Empire "could be tempted to make distributions to their partners."

- NYRA's date in court to apply for financing from GE Capital has been postponed again, this time to Feb 28. Matt Hegarty reports in the Form that the association has petitioned the court for permission to spend $50,000 on an appraisal of the land, which it says is a prerequisite for the loan.
NYRA said in the petition that the appraisal would seek to determine "the most probable price which the properties should bring in a competitive and open market under all conditions requisite to a fair sale."

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Excelsior Outhustled Rivals

- On the day that the Ad Hoc Committee on the Future of Racing released their final report (available, all 270 pages of pdf, here at the Racing and Wagering Board website), a spokesperson for Gov. Spitzer told the Associated Press that "it will be reviewed and will be part of the governor's consideration and evaluation. He does not feel bound by it and in the next days we will be announcing a process for that evaluation."

The report provides a detailed breakdown of how the three bidders were evaluated and ranked in the various criteria, and, as we know, recommends that Excelsior be the next franchise holder in New York.

"Excelsior could reasonably be expected to best provide over the proposed franchise period for the operation and maintenance of the racing facilities, the conduct of race meetings at such facilities, the pari-mutuel betting on the races to be run at such race meetings and the video lottery gaming facility at Aqueduct racetrack in a sound and economical manner consistent with the traditions of thoroughbred racing in New York, ensuring the long-run viability of thoroughbred racing in the state for the support of government." [Daily Racing Form]
A reading of the Scoring section, in which the Committee highlights the aspects of the proposals they found most pleasing, shows that Excelsior went the extra mile as compared to Empire, adding exacting details, and ideas that the Committee found innovative; ideas that Empire probably wishes they had thought of too. With all of the solid industry experience on Empire's side as opposed to a company they derided as a "dog track operator," it's surprising that they would be outdone in that regard.

Proposal Detail was the category given the most consideration, at 50% of the overall score, and in the (b) options (those scenarios including VLT's at Belmont), Excelsior scored a unanimous 9-0 vote over Empire on the first roll call. What really jumped out to me here is that Empire, going against the generally accepted mantra that reduced takeout increases handle, actually proposed a takeout increase. Do I sense a bit of a sardonic tone when the committee wrote that they "appreciated the honesty of Empire in its detailing of a takeout increase on regular and multiple wagers."
"This action, however, was contrary to the advice of proffered by Bennett Liebman of the Albany Law School and Steven Crist of the Daily Racing Form. Excelsior's concepts of utilizing take-out reductions for marketing and promotional reasons were well received. Whether they can be implemented given the current state of law and technology is beyond the Committee's knowledge, but the concept was imaginative and inventive."

What was Empire thinking of here? We don't see that on their website or in their press releases; and I doubt it was brought up at the town meetings. Horseplayers want to hear "increased takeout" about as much as the Bush White House wants to hear "Senate investigation into use of prewar intelligence" these days.

On capital improvements, the Committee "was impressed with the amount, depth and immediacy of improvements guaranteed by Excelsior. The Committee was concerned that the installation of a synthetic surface at Belmont by Empire was simply left "to be determined."
"Likewise, the Committee was favorably impressed with Excelsior's guaranteed development of non-racing facilities, ancillary and satellite properties, even if minimal in scope. Empire's bids, by contrast, simply guaranteed development of the [VLT] facility at Aqueduct.."

The Committee noted that Empire's backstretch plans were "mainly geared toward Belmont Park" while Excelsior's "considered all three tracks and was considered by many to be more complete in approach and discussion than the other bidders."

And, the Committee was "pleased" with Excelsior's proposal to "retain all of NYRA's existing workforce" and, as had been previously reported, "make immediate payments to address existing pension shortfalls and seek to have the pensions fully funded within five years of franchise award." The report pointedly notes that Empire made no commitment regarding the employees, and stated that they consider the pension problem "to be the subject of franchise agreement negotiation."

So while Empire continues to portray themselves as Excelsior's equal, it seems to me that they were more or less "outhustled" in the most important category, and badly. Excelsior's proposals seemed to cover all the bases, while Empire stumbled in an area in which one would think they would have been more proficient.

But both Empire and Excelsior's bids have large clouds hanging over them at this point. Gov. Spitzer will have to have a good explanation, given his self-portrayal as a "steamroller" against the old ways of Albany, to award the franchise to Excelsior given the well-documented and investigated plane rides and campaign contributions he received from that company's Richard Fields. I imagine that the Governor will be singing a far different tune about the relevance and importance of the Committee's work if he decides to go with Excelsior. Empire would probably be helped if the federal grand jury investigation into Senator Bruno's ties to their former Director Jared Abbruzzese results in a new Senate Majority Leader. And then you have NYRA, who would be in a commanding position should the coming court rulings on the land issue go their way. I would no sooner venture a guess on this three horse field as I would right now on the Derby.

- In the Integrity category (20%), which was won by Empire, the Committee's report actually had little to say, and provided nothing in the way of fodder for the company's PR machine. "The Committee determined that Empire and Excelsior were close in integrity, evidenced by the fact that this category was the only one requiring three ballots before consensus was achieved." And that's about it, except for an explanation of why Empire, with all of the business experience amongst their investors, had more "positive responses" to explain. (Positive responses as in "yes, some of our principals are involved in investigation for a civil or criminal violation..."). The Committee concluded that there was no pattern of behavior "considered troublesome" and said the responses were "of the nature evidenced through business experience."

More interesting was the long-awaited explanation of NYRA's integrity score...or lack of one, I should say.
"NYRA extensively quoted from the federal monitor's final report as evidence of its address of the weaknesses that led to their being indicted....While the Committee was pleased that NYRA has made great advances toward remedying the underlying behavior that contributed to the indictment, many members questioned whether these positive steps would have occurred but for the indictment."
Hmmm, I guess that's one way of looking at it. The report also cited the fact that NYRA's Board still included members from before the indictments, and discussed the various liens and debts that the association is faced with; as well as citations by the Departments of Health and Sanitation, and the Environmental Control Board.

- NYRA tried to claim the $4 million it figures it's losing each year as a result of cutting off rebate shops as an annual expense on wagering security, but the Committee called them out on that, calling it "disingenuous."

- A footnote in the report reveals that Abbruzzese held the maximum 25,000 shares, or 6.1% of Empire's shares before being bought out. However, the resulting reduction in the number of shares outstanding means that the combined ownership percentage of Churchill, Delaware North, Magna, and Woodbine, is now 25.92 percent. That means that each of those companies are already over the 6% ceiling (that I guess was actually 6.1%) that Empire has been touting as the maximum investment all along.

Tough Teuflesberg on the Trail

- Dan Illman asks: Is it just me, or was Teuflesberg's win in the Southwest the worst thing that could happen to the horse? [Daily Racing Form]

I think it's just him. The horse obviously loves to race, and is certainly no worse for the wear after getting clobbered in the Juvenile last fall. In fact, he's only gotten better, with three out of four wins since, and a 100 Beyer earned on Saturday.

"He really is maturing day by day," said [trainer Jamie] Sanders, who has 46 horses in training. "He looks forward to going out to the race track every morning. He likes to go to the track and look at things. And he loves to run." [Albany Times Union]
So while Illman has the colt's best interests at heart when he worries that the connections are now going to be tempted to enter longer Derby preps, I say bring it on. I see no harm in pointing him to the Rebel as Sanders intends, and if he succeeds there, why not go on to the Arkansas Derby or Blue Grass? He doesn't seem like the type who will take a sound trouncing to heart.

I know that I'm Mr. 1-800-NODERBY, and always criticizing connections who either rush unseasoned horses to the Derby or persist with those who are obviously unqualified. But Teuflesberg doesn't easily fit into either of those categories, in my opinion. Plus, he has some interesting pedigree for stretching out (detailed here). No, I'm not touting him as my Derby horse, but that would be something, wouldn't it? We'd certainly stop hearing about all this two-prep stuff. So I'd be happy to jump on this bandwagon.

Highland Cat - Your Call

- Highland Cat is listed as the 4-1 third choice in the 4th at the Big A on Thursday, a brutal maiden claiming affair with a 16K tag. Let's Get Going is the 7-5 favorite, and logically so, dropping off a good effort for 35K. Yourturntoyield, the second choice in the morning line, flashed speed against slightly better and comes in off a 2 1/2 month layoff.

As bad as it may look to the uninformed eye - a drop from 45K to 16K off a seven month layoff - I can tell you that there's nothing wrong with Highland Cat, other than the fact that he's slow. On the dirt, anyway. This particular partnership, originally intended as a pinhooking venture in September 2005, has not worked out for Castle Village, and I keep hearing the phrase "cut our losses." They don't want to wait another six weeks to run him on the grass, the surface on which he earned a 73 Beyer running second for 45K just two races back. We're certainly not going to get rich running in maiden claiming turf races given the purses in those affairs. They think he has a shot to win, and would gladly walk away with the 6K from the purse, some win tickets, and the claiming tag if somebody was so inclined. I don't see how anyone would be if they're just going by the Form; but hey, I'm putting it out there - the horse is fine, so do what you want!

Don't get me wrong, I'd love to see him get another shot on the turf as his part-part-part owner, but there's certainly a case for moving on at this point. Personally, I think he's a better claim than a bet - I wouldn't wager on him with your money tomorrow (unless you happen to be Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum). I think it's most obvious watching his races that he backs off from the dirt in his face, and there's little reason to think he'll suddenly show early speed. On the other hand, he's certainly competitive on Beyers, and he's faced far better than this crew, so again, the Cat is in your court.

Table Games Move On

- The table games bill that passed the West Virginia House of Delegates last Friday now proceeds to the State Senate, where opponents will have another shot to kill it, and racetracks will try to lower the 35% tax rate that they deem excessive. The law would allow racetracks in four counties to request that the question be put before local voters in the next election or primary; so it's conceivable it could create a new class of have's and have not's within the state.

One Senator, noting that his chamber has approved the idea in the past, said the approval process could move quickly in the Senate, and the bill will likely be passed out well before the session ends on March 10. [The Journal]

Even though table games are still a ways off in the state, neighbors are already thinking about the implcations - even those not directly bordering West Virginia. A Delaware columnist acknowledges that West Virginia's action has little direct affect on us.

But table games there would likely influence what Maryland lawmakers eventually decide. If they decided to go with table games to stay competitive with their neighboring state, that would affect us. Table games in Maryland would take a devastating toll on Delaware's slot machine revenues. [Delaware Online]
Jeez, Maryland doesn't even have slots yet! One Delaware lawmaker is pushing for sports betting as a response to the slots in Pennsylvania. Delaware already has slot machines that simulate blackjack and poker, and with the right modifications, analysts said, the game could qualify as a slot machine in Pennsylvania. [Pittsburgh Tribune Review]

I read one article, whose link I unfortunately can't find now, that quoted an opponent as saying that table games are a way to lure horse players into the casino, and ultimately deposit them in front of the more addictive slot machines. You're not going to let that happen, right?

- The Pennsylvania Derby is back, and in a big way. It was skipped last year due to construction at Philly Park, but now is back with a $1 million purse.

- Ron Franklin, now 47 years old, was granted a license to exercise horses and a promise to have his jockey license considered in six months.
Frankliln must attend counseling with Dr. Reginald Gerstein at Fair Grounds three times a week. Gerstein and Franklin must maintain communication with Bill Borchardt, director of the Horsemen's Counseling Program in Maryland. And Franklin must take two random drug tests each month. [Bloodhorse]

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Notes - Feb 21

- A friend suggested I check out the race by Blue Bullet at Gulfstream on Monday. A Hobeau Farm homebred, this three-year old son of Red Bullet made it two-for-two lifetime for the red hot Allen Jerkens when he took a 6 1/2 furlong allowance by eight lengths under mild urging by Cornelio Velasquez at odds of 7-10. Blue Bullet is a half brother to Kelly Kip, a multiple graded sprint winner for Jerkens late last century. The Chief now has nine winners out of 28 runners at the meet, which puts him in third, 11 winners behind Anthony Sciamatta, Jr., heh heh. Sciamatta was credited with 20 winners and 19 seconds from 81 starters. Life goes on indeed.

Another Gulfstream race from Monday I wanted to mention was the 7th, a NW4X grass allowance race. Minister's Joy, a non-Phipps runner from the Shug McGaughey barn, was 6-1 morning line in the contentious field which included four stakes winners, but was bet solidly down to 3-1 favoritism. If you check out this race, you'll see what has to be one of the most effortless looking last to first moves you'll ever see. It helped that Javier Castellano saved all the ground on the turn, and that a convenient seam opened up for him once they straightened away. He never went to the whip, but was by the field in an instant so it seemed, and started easing the horse up immediately upon striking the front. The final 2 1/2 furlongs of the mile and a sixteenth race went in 23.1, plus 5.58 seconds for the last sixteenth. This horse has never succeeded in stakes company; and though I imagine Shug will try him again, he'll never, ever get a more perfect journey than this one.

TVG Talkers Tuned Out

- Still getting comments on TVG, though not from the poster who threatened to call out Steve D.

One thing everyone seems to be in agreement on is that most of the blabber we hear from the TVG talking heads isn't worth a whole lot, especially to those holding a Racing Form or the BRIS PP's, which I imagine has to be around 98%, doncha think?

In the matter of the TVG on-air talent, I prefer to stick to the principle of "if you don't have anything nice to say, say nothing at all." But in thinking about the various hosts, I realize that I don't really listen to them. I tune them right out, and couldn't really distinguish most from the others. They might as well be playing that groovy music from Monday and Tuesday nights. I thought Vic Stauffer had more interesting things to say during the few times I saw him on the air than I've ever heard from some of the others. Of course, Gary Stevens catches my attention, and there's some worthwhile talk from Simon Bray, Matt Carothers, and Frank Lyons, at least when he's not trying to hide his disdain for his partner.

And I'm in total agreement with Steve D about The Works. That's great TV. Stevens, Lyons, and Tom Amoss all have their opinions and they're not afraid to mix it up with each other. They quickly developed a nice chemistry, and it's just about the only really lively exchange and debate of ideas we ever hear on the network, Carothers vs. Watchmaker aside. Even Todd Schrmmmppff does a good job playing the straight man.

As for HRTV, I haven't had it since last spring, and I have to say I rather miss it. I thought that their on-track coverage of the Santa Anita races was very sharp. Millie Ball and Becky Witzman did a good job with their pre- and post-race interviews, and I thought that the on-air talent was just generally stronger - Jon White, Kurt Hoover, Jeff Siegel, and Peter Lurie all brought a lot of knowledge and left the phony "gee, isn't this $15,000 NW2L claiming race exciting" posturing at home (or for Laffit Pincay, Jr.)

But getting back to TVG (and I rarely hear from anyone who has HRTV these days), commenter Lenny said that he would rather watch races with no analysis. And those in the NYC area with Time Warner Cable, which doesn't carry either of the racing channels, instead get exactly that with the NYC OTB Channel - at least when the NYRA track is done for the day. Once the 9th at the Big A has been run, the races come in rapid fire one after another from Gulfstream, Santa Anita, Fair Grounds, Oaklawn - and a second channel for some spillover tracks like Turf Paradise and Bay Meadows. No frills, no chatter, just hardcore racing. The director usually does a great job switching back and forth at relevant times. And this goes on for the rest of the night - harness and thoroughbred, even Australian races. I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if Time Warner doesn't any requests for TVG at all.

Fire Sale on Highland Cat

- Highland Cat is entered on Thursday, in a maiden claiming sprint, for a tag of $16,000. And I have to say that I'm confused and not too happy about this latest development. We'd been told how he was a different animal after having treatment on his back, and we were all looking forward to finally seeing a healthy Highland Cat back on the grass, where he showed such promise with a rousing rally for second against 45K claimers last May.

Since his return from his rehab, he's been entered in two or three mid- to high-priced maiden claimers, none of which ended up being used by the racing office. Some partners clamored to ship him out of town, perhaps as far as Florida, where he could get back on the grass. Now instead, he's being put up for fire sale without any prior discussion with the group, and without any indication of why we now feel he's worth less than half of what we did a couple of weeks ago.

Of course, only a sucker (or someone who reads this blog and knows that the horse is fine....or at least we think he's fine) would claim him with his mostly sorry looking lines, and dropping almost two-thirds in claiming price off a seven month layoff. So maybe I'm just being stupid to think that someone would - though that second place on the turf with the 73 Beyer is only two races in the past. Perhaps we'll have our chance to give him his fair chance on the grass after all. But it just seems weird to me that the management would, in the space of a few weeks, go from expressing sunny optimism to talking about cutting our losses, without any obvious event in between to trigger that change of heart. It's not like it's a chance to make some purse money, or for a low percentage barn to get in the winner's circle - the horse isn't going to run on the main as long as there are creatures with four legs in front of him kicking up dirt; and even the winner's share of the meager $10,000 purse (!) wouldn't make much of a dent.

Castle Village has had a lot of success with a lot of horses that I don't own - they even got a stakes win this past weekend with Introspect. I get the feeling that they just don't want to be bothered with our grey gelding anymore. I suppose that any owner will feel a certain amount of despair when their once-promising (as they all are) horse ends up in a cheap, garbage race like this one. I just feel that his grass race provided a sliver of hope, which is all one needs to get by in this game until that sliver turns to dust. I don't think that it's yet that time for Highland Cat.

- Speaking of garbage races, the quality of the racing here is so bad right now that the current condition book includes two races for $5000 claimers. NYRA racing secretary P.J. Campo had no idea when last time horses ran for such a cheap tag in New York except to say it was before his time, at least 10 years ago. [NY Post] And Monday's ninth had to be another kind of new low - a $15,000 maiden claiming event for state-breds! It's just this year that we've seen any maiden claimers for the New York set here...and this race was just as awful as one might expect.

- And going mostly off-topic here, I have to say that I'm really taken aback at all the excitement over the reunion of The Police, whose two August shows at the Garden went on sale today. Now, I know I have weird taste in music, but I was into the band during their heyday. However, I can't think of any albums I've ever heard that have aged more poorly than their last two releases, Ghost in the Machine and, especially, Synchronicity. Just my humble opinion here, and I won't go into sarcastic detail because I know I'm in the vast minority.

I said this is mostly off-topic because the only time I saw the band play live was in the infield at Liberty Bell Park in Philly. It was an all-day concert, and jeez, I just can't seem to recall who else played there that day. Berlin? The Pretenders perhaps? Now there's a band whose music sounds just as fresh and emotional today as it did then. As far as I'm concerned, this Police tour should be arrested.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Notes - Feb 19

- Street Sense continued to pick up the pace of his training with a five furlong move in 1:00 4/5 on Sunday. Trainer Carl Nafzger felt that his Juvenile champ may have gotten a lot out of the drill. "The track probably wasn't particularly fast this morning....It may turn out that it was deep enough that he gets even more out of the work than we expected." [BRIS]

But Nafzger is no closer to giving us an idea of when Street Sense will make the first of his expected two preps for the Derby. "I might not know for two weeks."

- Todd Pletcher promises a better effort by Scat Daddy when he next faces Nobiz Like Shobiz, a meeting scheduled for the March 2 Fountain of Youth.

"He wasn't in great position; he was kind of stuck inside in the Holy Bull....And he wasn't fully cranked for his first start. We've faced Nobiz Like Shobiz twice thus far and we're one and one. So it should be interesting to see what happens the third time." [Daily Racing Form]
But Pletcher so routinely does have his horses cranked up in these situations that it just doesn't ring true to me when he uses a layoff as an excuse. I picked Scat Daddy in the Holy Bull (largely because I anticipated that he would be ready) and championed his overlooked effort in defeating Nobiz in the Champagne last fall. But Scat Daddy looked plain outclassed to me in the Holy Bull; there was nary a moment when he looked like he'd beat Tagg's colt.

And speaking of Nobiz Like Shobiz, his status for the Fountain of Youth is on a shoestring according to remarks made by Tagg in the Form over the weekend, after the son of Albert the Great worked five furlongs in a minute flat on Saturday. The work had been delayed due to the heavy rains earlier in the week, and Tagg said: "If I had to wait another day I probably would have had to think about skipping the Fountain of Youth and going to the Fair Grounds the following weekend for the Louisiana Derby."
"If we get another glitch we'll go to New Orleans, although I'd rather stay here. It's a lot less stress on him to lead him over right out of his own stall than have to ship out of town."
Maybe the trainer is just a tad less sanguine about the horse's prep schedule than he was in the days before the Holy Bull, when he said that he could get by with two preps and eight weeks off before the Derby. Personally, I think the horse needs two more preps, not so much for conditioning, but for experience. He was mighty green in the stretch of the Holy Bull, and certainly seems to me to be more than just one race away from being ready for the monumental task he'll face at Churchill.

- I guess Oonagh Maccool wasn't fully cranked up either. She was bet down to even money for Pletcher on Saturday; that despite breaking from a tough rail post in the G3 Sabin Handicap at a one turn mile, her first effort since July. And sure enough, the post hurt as she had to rush up to the lead after breaking a step slow. She was pressed hard by Frankel's Sugar Swirl to a half of 46.57 and was done on the turn, fading to 5th.

Swap Fliparoo (Exchange Rate), the first of two stakes winners on the day for Allan Jerkens, seems to have benefited from a little time off following a demanding summer/fall campaign. But most of all, she's one of those horses who every once in a while will find herself in a race with a contested pace which falls apart sufficiently to make her rally a winning one. In her last win before Saturday, the Grade 1 Test at Saratoga, a grueling pace gave way to a final furlong of 14 seconds. The second half of the Sabin was run in 51.16.

Spun Out To Dry

- A nightmare trip for Hard Spun from the outside post position in the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn. That was a factor that those who made him the prohibitive 1-2 choice may not have paid enough attention to. He broke a step slow, and the short run into the first turn gave him no time to recover. He was caught extremely wide going into the turn, and was asked to rally from several lengths off the pace for the first time in his life. He put in an exciting move while four wide on the turn, but never got within shouting distance of the loose on the lead . Considering how much ground Hard Spun lost, I thought he showed some class finishing just three lengths behind the winner, whom he beat by nine lengths in the LeComte when he was the one with the quicker break from an inside post.

The final quarter of 26.14 won't get people excited, but Oaklawn produces some pretty slow times in route races - two cheap claiming races at the distance went 1:41 and 1:42.4 - so I won't write the field off before seeing some figures. The folks in the Philly area add a lot of enthusiasm to the Derby picture when one of theirs is around, so I hope we'll see Hard Spun bounce back next time (and perhaps present some value). By Danzig, out of a mare by the champion Turkoman, Hard Spun's second dam is a half-sister to the stretch-running Preakness/Belmont winner Little Current.

Teuflesberg, who made his 13th start, has suddenly now won three of four since getting buried in the Juvenile. He's been in training straight through since last April, so in the unlikely event that he's your 2007 Kentucky Derby winner, that would certainly cause a sudden change in the debate, wouldn't it? Seems like reason in itself to join the Teuflesberg fan club. He's by Johnannesburg out of a Devil's Bag mare, and the most interesting aspect of his pedigree to me is the fact that he is inbred 5x4 to the broodmare State (Nijinksy), with both sire and dam tracing to her tail-female. State is the dam of Narrate, who is the dam of Preach (and the 4th dam of Johannesburg), who's the dam of the fashionable young sire Pulpit (AP Indy).

- Padua has purchased a share of Any Given Saturday from Winstar. I imagine they paid more than they would have if they made the purchase before the colt won the Davis on Saturday, but I don't believe that they really know much more about him based on his facile win against inferior competition.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Cheating Reported Rampant at Monticello

- Here's the link to an extraordinarily disturbing exposé on, the website for the Catskills-based Times Herald Record. It concerns the suspected widespread use of the blood doping agent EPO at the upstate harness track Monticello Raceway. It's well worth reading, with a lot of increasingly familiar talk about snake venom, Epogen, Aranesp, and the difficulty in effective testing for these substances. What's different here is the magnitude that's being alleged:

Tony D'Acunto, who for a decade has owned horses that compete at Monticello, believes half the horsemen are using EPO.

"Maybe a little less," he says. "People are becoming pretty brazen about it. You have people that ask you matter of factly if you want to put a horse on EPO if it isn't performing."
The Racing and Wagering Board began testing for EPO in 2003. According to D'Acunto, when fliers were passed around the paddock, alerting owners and trainers about the testing, the place freaked out.

"One of the leading trainers, I won't say her name [that certainly limits the field-ed.], ran out of the paddock, screaming what the (expletive) am I going to do," D'Acunto says. "There were a lot of people pulling out of races that day because they didn't want to get tested, I would say a dozen."
One thing I found most interesting about the article was to learn that steroids are used to mask the presence of EPO. It was possession of steroids that Eric and Seldon Ledford were allowed to plead guilty to in the New Jersey court case which let them off the hook for suspected race fixing involving EPO at the Meadowlands. So they were allowed to cop a plea for possessing a drug that could have been used to hide the presence of the EPO's that they were suspected of using to achieve the form reversals that they did. Unreal.

There's no use kidding ourselves and thinking that if the drug is that effective and hard to detect, it's not being used at thoroughbred tracks as well. Reading this article makes me think that perhaps I am being naive.

I was at the Rangers game on Sunday, and after a good old-fashioned hockey fight, the Head Chef's daughter couldn't believe that the officials were standing around watching rather than trying to break it up. I explained that fighting is against the rules, but it's not prohibited, being as it is penalized by only a five minute penalty. If they really wanted to ban fighting, the NHL would do as is done in college and international hockey, where fighting really is prohibited, and impose severe suspensions. You just don't see fights in those games.

Illegal medication is against the rules in racing, but how seriously can we say the industry is trying to prohibit it? It's obvious from the repeat offenders we see that the current rules are more akin to a trip to the penalty box, where you can relax and watch as your team plays on, than a serious deterrent. Richard Dutrow's flaunting even of those minimal rules, and his subsequent mocking of the authorities by gleefully announcing that he'll spend his latest suspension in Brazil, is akin to a hockey goon mooning the crowd as he exits the ice after a brawl.