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Saturday, March 31, 2007

A Long Ways From Dubai

Wha Happened?

- No disrespect to the top two finishers, who emphatically displayed their class and skill, but that wasn't what all the anticipation was about, and not what any racing fan wanted to see regardless of who they bet. Well, I'm getting out of the girls' bedroom, where I watched the race on delayed tape; I'd say around 10-12 minutes after it went off. It was presented within the confines of the odds for the third race at Aqueduct on the already small TV screen. I'm off to the Big A for the rest of the card and the Florida Derby. Have a great rest of the day.

In The Dark

- NY's OTB channel switched from the excellent UK coverage it had been carrying over to its Aqueduct simulcast at noon, leaving those of us without Dish Network out of luck. Yes, I saw the Sheema just now on tape, and they'll show the other two shortly after they're run, but it's certainly not the same.

Since I was so wrong the other day, I'm not going to drop any 'F' bombs on anyone without knowing for sure who, if anyone, is at fault. Churchill Downs, which controls the signal, and TVG still do have a business relationship, however adversarial, since TVG is contracted to carry Calder through next year. So couldn't something have been worked out with the good of us racing fans in mind?

It's probably no coincidence that on Friday, TVG made its big announcement about its increased coverage of Keeneland, which was really not much of an announcement at all, perhaps in an attempt to blunt their failure to carry the biggest race of the decade. They'll be some extra on-site coverage, which is nice, but hardly compensates for how lame the network has been, and will continue to be once Churchill opens. And they'll be a one-time session of "The Works:Toyota Blue Grass Stakes 2007, which seems kinda like a special episode of "Law And Order: Assisted Living Facility Purse-Snatching Unit."

Romp for Asiatic Boy

- Watching the races on my illicit cable connection. How impressive was Asiatic Boy in the UAE Derby? He was wide the entire trip, but took off like a rocket in the stretch. No apparent excuse for Folk, who finished well back; nor for Day Pass. Another year with no Derby horses coming out of Dubai (Asiatic Boy is a Northern Hemisphere four-year old).

Runner up Jack Junior, making only his third start, is a Florida-bred son of Songandaprayer who is nominated for the Triple Crown; but it was said by the announcers after the race that he'll be heading to the 2000 Guineas instead.

No value in the U.S. on Mile winner Spring At Last, who was 2-1 early before drifting up to 7-2. Not much money in the pools here. He looked like he was going to be swamped in the stretch, but Garrett Gomez coolly kept him in reserve before drawing off to win easily. That is his first stakes win, and it couldn't have come at a better time or place. Good start for Doug O'Neill, who is hoping to cap his day off with Lava Man in the Duty Free.

Saturday Morning Notes - March 31

- Overlooked in the discussion of where you can and can't watch the Dubai races is the fact that there is no national coverage whatsoever of the Florida Derby, other than for the intimate audience of HRTV. You can, however, watch that network's coverage streamed live on starting at 5:15; and here's the link for that page. Nice job by NBC with that.

And a footnote to this post; Joe Drape of the New York Times is in Dubai to cover the races.

- I've actually started to put horses that I post about and say to watch, on my watch list so I can mention them before they run. Perhaps going forward, I'll remember to mention them before the weekend, when the traffic on the site generally subsides. Skellytown is a grandly-bred colt who graduated on the turf with a frenetic late burst on March 1 at Santa Anita for Mandella. He tries allowance company in the 7th at Santa Anita on Saturday, where he's the 3-1 morning line favorite. He doesn't get the extra distance I'd speculated that he'll relish, but finds a moderate field that he should be able to handle.

- The Aventura is a seven furlong stakes at Gulfstream with a nice group of not-quite-ready-for-prime time three year olds. Street Magician is listed as the 5-2 morning line favorite for Michael Trombetta. He comes into the race straight out of his graduation, accomplished by eight lengths and with a 99 Beyer. But in his prior race, his debut, he couldn't quite keep up with Allen Jerkens' Blue Bullet, who subsequently won an allowance and is in this field as well. Street Magician has been pounded at the mutuels in both of his starts, and may be well-bet again today. The second choice in the morning line is Green Vegas, who has an admirable record including two minor stakes wins and several such placings. The problem with this colt is that his trainer, Luis Olivares, 12% winners for 2006, is currently zero-for-42 at this meet.

The Moss Pace figures say that Blue Bullet, a half to Jerkens' stakes winning Kelly Kip, has the speed to clear the other front runners in the opening quarter mile; but he figures to have a host of pursuers. I'll take a shot with Silver Source (Honour and Glory), 6-1 morning line for trainer Larry Pilotti, hitting at a solid 20% for the meeting. This colt graduated over this course in February, making his first start for the barn, and first since October. He sat close behind what was a very moderate pace of 45.87, went three wide on the turn, and stylishly ran down a much-the-second best Sammarco, running two consecutive eighths in 11 3/5 for a final quarter of 23 1/5 seconds. Third place finisher Added Bonus graduated in maiden special company in his subsequent try last week.

- Soaring By drops into allowance company after his unsuccessful try against the Derby crew in the Louisiana Derby; that in the 6th at GP. Or maybe he didn't like two turns?

Friday, March 30, 2007

Summit in Dubai

- It seems kinda surreal, this World Cup. It's a classic first-time confrontation between giants of different generations that recalls the likes of those between Affirmed-Seattle Slew or Alysheba-Ferdinand that we rarely ever see anymore. But's it's happening far, far away in a shadowy place in which human rights often take a back seat. It may remind our Canadian friends of the classic, to put it mildly, Summit Series, the first-ever meeting of the NHL players comprising Team Canada, and the Russian national hockey team in 1972, when the climactic game, and the dramatic winning goal occurred in Moscow during the Cold War.

A big difference of course is that the Summit Series was covered extensively in Canadian press, and watched on TV by probably every person, and probably most of the horses in the country. The World Cup is being held in relative secrecy here. We've discussed the TV arrangements extensively. The racing trades each have reporters there (and Bloodhorse and Thoroughbred Times dutifully reported on the massive new racing complex planned by the Sheikh without questioning who was going to build it, and as if any of us could possibly care less). But none of the racing writers for major dailies that I've seen have been sent to Dubai to cover the event. For the most part it's been reduced to a few lines. The New York Times had no mention of the event whatsoever in Friday's paper. The LA Times devoted just a brief mention to local hero Lava Man.

But it's really happening; I was absolutely convinced that it wouldn't, at least not at this point in time. With all the caution that has been exercised on behalf of Discreet Cat, I'm quite surprised that he's still running despite missing the prep. I suppose it's all part of the big show, along with today's big announcement, that the emirate is putting on for the world.

Regarding Invasor, there's that nagging worry that his 4th place finish last year was due to the fact that he doesn't like the racetrack. I think it more likely that he's just developed over the last year into the top class racehorse that he is. If I'm correct about that, than I have to say that as much as I was amazed by Discreet Cat last year, I'd be fairly surprised (and further amazed) if he beats Invasor. I agree with Walter that it won't be worth betting either one of them; but another friend suggests that 6-1 makes Premium Tap worth a shot, and that seems about right to me.


This is a closeup of Polytrack, and I think it looks yummier than it must taste. Could almost pass for some sugary candy concoction. But the kickback at Woodbine has become such a concern that CEO David Wilmot told the Form that "It's broken."

Woodbine management met with Polytrack vendors Martin Collins and Keeneland on Wednesday to discuss what needs to be done to the surface. The current Polytrack has tended to separate and yield excessive kickback during cooler weather.
The track is hoping to limit their loss of racing days to one while the surface is adjusted. Nonetheless, the march towards synthetics go on, as Arlington Park's installation of the surface is now under way. In a well-publicized spate of fatal injuries there last year, 22 horses lost their lives.
"It's the right thing for us to do as a business and the right thing for racing in the United States," [Arlington Park President Roy Arnold] said. "Our obligation was to look at alternatives (to the dirt surface) and we reached the conclusion that Polytrack had moved from a science experiment to a product that was ready for installation." [Cook County Daily Herald]
- Slots at Hoosier and Indiana Downs took another step towards reality....or did it? The Indiana State Senate passed a bill that would allow VLT's at the state's two tracks, but it differs greatly from the version passed by the House. The latter would permit 2,500 machines at each track, and require them to each pay a $100 million fee. But the Senate version authorizes only 1,500 machines, and imposes a whopping fee of $400 million!
That would be the highest such fee charged anywhere in the country. [Larry Smallwood, chairman of the Indiana Horse Racing and Breeding Coalition] said revenue from the slots would barely cover the interest on the loans needed to pay the fee.

"It's just not workable at this point," Smallwood said. "Hopefully common sense or cooler heads will prevail down the road." [Louisville Courier-Journal]

No Dubai Races On TVG

- Thanks to the anonymous poster for bringing us the bad news that TVG is in fact NOT carrying the Dubai races on Saturday morning. And that's a fact which I confirmed by phone myself. I've been writing that they were to be televised based on past years. But I suppose I should have considered the fact that Churchill, which controls the signal, has terminated their relationship with TVG.

So it looks like delayed tape for me, as well as for anyone else in the NYC area with Direct TV. Don't tell me who won, please...

Can Top Two Get Licked?

- Before the Breeders Cup, I posted an excerpt from UK handicapper Nick Mordin's analysis of the Classic, in which he correctly selected Invasor. And though he wasn't quite spot on when he wrote: "Actually I think Invasor will annihilate the Classic field and that Bernardini won't even run second," it was an impressive display of prognostication to be sure.

Mordin has written an analysis of a World Cup card that I personally find virtually insurmountable. It's up on Cary Fotias' subscription-only Equiform site. As was the case last fall, it was sent to me by a reader, and since it's a paid site, I can't reprint it extensively here, and will keep my excerpting limited to the big race and hope they don't get mad at me for posting it at all. In return, I'll hype Equiform here, and specifically point you to their highly regarded The Xtras sheets, as well as to their order form from which you also get their Tele-clinics.

Now that I feel a tad less guilty, back to Mordin, who, not surprisingly, has some thoughts that may surprise you. I'll preface it by saying that he feels that Kandidate will be on the lead, and that he may be able to slow the pace down significantly if Frankie Dettori tries to keep Discreet Cat in reserve.

I can't have Discreet Cat because smart as he is you don't win the world's most valuable race with a doubtful stayer that's had an interrupted preparation. The last seven winners of this race had a prep but he missed his.
If any horse is going to benefit from the slow early pace besides Kandidate it will surely be Argentine horse of the year Forty Licks. Three of his four biggest wins have been off a very slow early pace. When he won a 10f Group 2 on the dirt at La Plata, Forty Licks 'walked' the first mile in 1:39.71 before blasting through the last two furlongs in 24.53. When he won the Argentine Derby the early pace was so sluggish the final time was about six seconds slower than it would have been in a truly run race.

I think Forty Licks' trainer is right to excuse his first dirt loss in eight tries to Premium Tap in Riyadh on stamina grounds.
There's no question that Invasor is a brilliant champion....But he faces a serious rival in Forty Licks. And there still remains the concern that his only lifetime loss in eleven starts was that moderate fourth in the UAE Derby on this course last year. Maybe he was unfit that day, however it's also possible that he doesn't like the lightning fast surface at Nad Al Sheba.

There are many possible outcomes to this race. Maybe Discreet Cat will stay and be fit. Perhaps Premium Tap will handle the likely slow early pace. Or it could be that Kandidate will steal it from the front. But in my mind's eye, I see Forty Licks taking over from Kandidate with a quarter mile to run and sprinting to the line with Invasor in hot pursuit. So I say bet Forty Licks to win and take out a couple of insurance bets in case he runs second to Invasor or Kandidate does go all the way.

Response from Churchill Downs

I received this message from Churchill in response to my post about the Dubai races that will be televised on a delayed basis on NYRA's simulcast outlet, Channel 71 in NYC.

Churchill Downs Incorporated offered to allow Dubai races 5-7
(Dubai Sheema Classic, Dubai Duty Free and Dubai World Cup) to be shown LIVE on NYOTB Channel 73. NYRA would not allow that to happen. Liz Bracken, NYRA's director of simulcasting, contacted our staff yesterday to say they had made the decision not to allow the live feed because it would set a bad precedent.

It is our understanding that Channels 71 and 73 can only show New York racing content when New York tracks have live racing available. Due to the time difference, the Dubai races will go off at the same time live racing is available from New York tracks, and according to Liz, NYRA did not want to establish a precedent by which non-New York races would be shown during those hours.

In your blog, you have asked readers to contact Churchill Downs to complain. If they are dissatisfied with NYRA's decision, they should contact NYRA's offices.
So there you go. Apologies to Churchill. I was also told that Jerry Bossert of the NY Daily News, whose story I based the post on, was contacted as well. I do often take other reporters' words as fact, which I suppose is not proper journalism, though if I was a proper journalist, I'd be getting paid for it! But that's no excuse, and we'll have to be more cautious before making harsh accusations in the future.

Florida Derby

- I'm not looking for a big upset, or even a little one in the Florida Derby; I think the winner will come from the Gang of Four of Stormello, Scat Daddy, Notional, and Adore the Gold. Chelokee is getting a lot of press based on the Michael Matz/Barbaro angle, and is just sure to be overbet. Matz is having an awful meeting at Gulfstrem, with five winners out of 62 runners; 0 for his last 18. Many of those have come at short prices, including his latest loser, Sugar Baby Love, bet down to 7-5 on Thursday in her first North American start, ugh! Chelokee is coming off that spectacular looking stretch run after being checked on the turn, but that was an entry allowance race. I have to pass, with his trainer being so cold, and Matz can thank me for the favor if he wins.

Boogie Boggs tries two turns and stakes company for the first time; he's eligible for entry-level allowance company. Imawildandcrazyguy ran a decent 4th in the Louisiana Derby after his second to Notional in the Risen Star, and could pick up some pieces with a little luck. Birdbirdistheword was No real threat in the La. Derby with no excuse at all, and will have to close from dead last breaking from the dreaded nine post; pass. So let's get to the main players.

Notional (In Excess) would seem to present excellent value at his 4-1 morning line, but I don't expect to see that price. He's the new face in this crew, and I think he'll be somewhat of a wise guy horse; the anti-Beyers play (not that his Beyers are really much slower than anyone else here anyway). I wouldn't be shocked to see him open as the favorite and drift up a bit from there. I watched his winning effort in the Risen Star for the first time in awhile, and was reminded of announcer John Dooley noting that the colt was still "in hand" as he turned for home; this after conceding some ground on the first turn from the 12 post. He had to drift out to find room in the stretch, and took control convincingly once he did. He since has three solid workouts on the Cushion Track, and as I've mentioned probably ad nauseum at this point, my theory is that training on that surface is helping the West Coast horses when they ship east. He has been out for seven weeks, and with five weeks until the Derby, perhaps he's the one who should be compared to Barbaro. [Calm down, Friends of Barbaro...I'm not comparing him in ability, only in his Derby prep campaign, which is actually extremely similar.]

"The timing of this race is perfect, Robby's had the benefit of already riding him once, and the addition of blinkers in the San Rafael has made him much more versatile and easier to position in his races," said Doug O'Neill. [Daily Racing Form]
As I'll get to below, I think the pace scenario will be favorable for him to make his run from mid-pack.

Scat Daddy (Johannesburg) seems to have actually been downgraded by some for winning the Fountain of Youth, as will sometimes happen when a horse is greatly benefited by the pace scenario of a race. It's well known that the final eighth mile of the race took almost 14 seconds to complete. However, according to Formulator, Scat Daddy ran that last eighth in 12 4/5 seconds, which is nothing to scoff at, especially considering that he took the long route home on the final turn. I've been up and down on him; like many bettors who let him go at almost 6-1 in the FOY, I was put off by his Holy Bull. But in retrospect, that was perhaps a training exercise, as he was sent to battle Nobiz Like Shobiz for the lead. If you throw out that race, the Juvenile, and his very troubled Hopeful, he's undefeated. Yeah, I know that's a lot to disregard, and that he hasn't improved Beyer-wise since his first two races. But I think it would be a mistake to count him out, and perhaps he'll be a fair price too.

You might think that Stormello (Stormy Atlantic) would be exhausted after he labored home bravely in the FOY, refusing to let anyone by until the final stride; and that after a grueling 14 hour trip from California. But he since shows two excellent works on the Cushion Track, most recently five furlongs in 58 1/5. Trainer William Currin told the Lexington Herald Reader:
"I wanted to wait for the Arkansas Derby (April 14)....But my horse made the decision for me.

"You can't hold him to the ground (right now)," Currin said, in trainer-speak for "my horse is feeling so great he's demanding to race."
The trainer has shown the same admirable competitive spirit as his horse, shipping him back across the country to "get our nose back." [Sun-Sentinal]

As you might expect, Currin is "hoping for a slower early pace." [FOX] Remember that as game as Stormello was, he tired and slowed down considerably - 39 2/5 for the last three eighths. But it's hard to see why he won't be pressed again by Adore the Gold (Black Tie Affair), especially considering that colt's five furlong work in 57 3/5. Trainer Michael Gorham is extremely confident in his horse's ability to get a route of ground.
"It was his first mile-and-an-eighth (race)," Gorham said, noting that Adore the Gold was making an adjustment to two turns after winning the 6½-furlong Swale. "Now he's got that race under his belt; that's going to help him a lot. … He just got beat a length by the same horses. Right now he's a better horse than he was a month ago. He did get tired in that race. He's fitter and he's stronger now." [Louisville Courier-Journal]
But Gorham has little choice but to instruct Cornelio Velasquez to stalk Stormello closely, because there's no other speed in the race whatsoever. The problem for Adore the Gold is that he doesn't break particularly well, and is very likely to be chasing Stormello again. Assuming that the latter is as fit as he appears to be, passing him is going to once again be a stiff challenge, so I see the race setting up similarly to the FOY.

So I like Notional, and he over Scat Daddy in the cold exacta.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Equal Time

- Here's some equal time for the connections of Invasor to rave about their horse. Again, Chris McGrath, reporting from Dubai for the UK's The Independent.

Though acquainted with outstanding horses since his days with Lukas, McLaughlin has never come across a horse quite like Invasor. "I tell Neal and Trish that we've got to soak this up every day, as much as we can, because this horse is once in a lifetime," he said. "He's very unusual in that he never blows at all. He can go a mile and a quarter in the Breeders' Cup Classic and he's cooled out in five minutes. That makes him very special."

The McLaughlin team consider Invasor "twice the horse" he was when only fourth behind Discreet Cat in the UAE Derby last year, both in terms of his physical progress and his self-assurance. "As last year went on, he started getting his confidence up, started to show off," his work rider, Barry Downes, said. "He knows what he's done. He knows he's good. He tries to get away with things. If you're not paying attention, he might just bite you." [The Independent]
And how about some blogspace for Premium Tap?
"My horse is pretty versatile, he won the Clark in big fashion and won very well at Riyadh," said [John Kimmel]. "He's also won at Aqueduct, Belmont, Gulfstream and Saratoga, I don't think he needs a particular racetrack." Kimmel noted that Premium Tap has displayed marked improvement since his third to Invasor in the Breeders' Cup Classic (Gr 1) at Churchill Downs last November by easily winning the Clark Handicap (Gr 1) at the same venue three weeks later.

After being acquired by Saudi King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz and his sons, Premium Tap ran a good prep race last month when an easy winner of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Cup (also known as the King's Cup), in Riyadh last month.

Kimmel said that the race had put him spot on for the Dubai World Cup. []
I think that if you just looked at the race without knowing anything else about the participants other than what's on the paper, you would rate Premium Tap just a notch below the other two, don't you think? He fits right there on Beyers, and finished only 3 1/2 lengths back of Invasor in the Classic after having a little trouble getting started. With a little racing luck, and a continuation of the excellent pattern of improvement that he's shown, and it doesn't seem out of the question that he could be right there.

As for Discreet Cat, we will hopefully find out definitively whether or not he's the freak that many people think he is, and that I think most fans hope he is. Seeing true thoroughbred greatness can transcend many misgivings one might have about its human connections, so yeah, I hope he puts in a dominant performance that we'll always remember, even if we have to watch it on delayed tape.

I think he'll have to be that kind of freak in order to win the World Cup. There's no reason to expect that Invasor won't run an amazing race. He's done so every time he's run since last year's World Cup program, improving with virtually every race, including perhaps his amazing run in the Donn. Discreet Cat has never been a mile and a quarter, hasn't raced since November, missed his prep due to a minor illness, has only had a couple of recorded works, and has an unfavorable post. It's a pretty big leap of faith to back this horse at low odds, in my opinion. Commenter Sean from Wolverhamption is planning to wager most of his monthly salary on Discreet Cat at 6-5; I wish you luck, man, but I believe that Discreet Cat will have to be something akin to the "unicorn sent from God" that you describe in order to pull this off.

- Lava Man is apparently a U.S. phenomenon - virtually no mention of him in the overseas press I've seen. He's apparently doing quite well, and his connections insist that he's handled this trip better than those past. “He does ship well most of the time – but this time he was much, much, much better,” assistant trainer Leandro Mora said. [DRF]

Say Thank You to Churchill Downs

- My understanding is that TVG and HRTV will both be televising the entire World Cup program live starting at 9:30 A.M. But if you're in NYC, and you have Time Warner Cable, don't plan on seeing the feature race live at home. Although NYRA's simulcast feed, available on Channel 71, will have the rest of the program live, Churchill Downs, which controls the signal and wagering from Dubai, has prohibited NYRA from showing the race live on that channel; it instead will be shown on tape at some point before or after the second from the Big A. So send a big 'thank you' to Churchill for that bit of fucking pettiness. I suppose they'd prefer that the 12 people who actually get HRTV watch it there. The race will be shown live at the Big A, and you can catch the replay of the World Cup and UAE Derby on ABC starting at 2:30.

- has updated their story on Excelsior, and a spokesperson for the group confirms that Steve Swindal is still on board despite his being kicked out of the Steinbrenner fiefdom (and bedroom):

"Steve Swindal is an integral part of our team. Over the last decade with the New York Yankees, he has gained extensive experience in managing a world-class sports franchise, and will being that experience to bear with the Excelsior team moving forward."

Table Games Battle Heating Up

- West Virginia Governor Joe Manchin has signed the table games bill that allows four tracks to conduct referendums in their counties to permit the gambling expansion. While the tracks have the option of waiting until a 2008 primary day, ha, you think they're going to wait that long? Three of those tracks are seeking to have a June 9 vote at their own expense, estimated to range from $30,000 to $250,000, which I suppose doesn't include campaign and PR expense. Only Charles Town, which has a healthier economy, a booming population and no immediate threat of competition, has yet to set a date for a vote. [Charleston Daily Mail] While the tracks say that they're simply trying for the earliest date they can get, a conservative Christian group suspects an ulterior motive to the common date.

"I didn't ride in on a turnip truck, I can assure you," said Kevin McCoy, executive director of the West Virginia Family Foundation.

"They know what they're doing. They know our resources are limited, both in personnel and financial....I see this as a way to get us off balance, to keep us from being able to organize effectively in those counties."
McCoy's group plans to file lawsuits to try and stop the votes. The suits will contend that the law permitting the vote is unconstitutional. That argument was pressed unsuccessfully by opponents in the legislature, but seems to me to be based on reasonable grounds. The law passed in 1984 that is being used to justify the expansion was intended only to legalize scratch off lottery games.
Moreover, the Family Foundation plans to challenge the law on moral grounds by insisting casino gambling injures the state’s health and welfare as a society, given the negative impacts associated with gambling and the social ills attributed to addicted gamblers. [Register Herald - Beckley, W.V.]
I'd stick to the constitutional argument if I were them. For one thing, the standard contention that casinos cause an increase in crime has not played out in Florida. (Hat tip to Albany Law School's Racing and Wagering Today for that link.)

Speaking of Florida, while the talk of legislative efforts to repeal Broward County's slots law has died down, there's still that move in the courts to void the results of the referendum that is long past. In a little noticed story from Wednesday (thanks again to the Albany Law School site), the Miami Herald reported that the Florida Supreme Court has agreed to hear the challenge, and to consider the constitionality of two issues:
whether such signatures can be challenged even after the signatures have been certified by the secretary of state and voting has begun, and whether a state constitutional amendment may be invalidated even after the vote if a claim is later lodged that some signatures were fraudulently obtained.
These rulings were actually requested by the slots proponents, because an appellate court has already ordered a lower court to invalidate the election should enough signatures turn out to be fraudulant, something that the opponents insist they have ample evidence to prove. And all I can add is - oh, man. Can you imagine the law being overturned after the racinos have already opened and millions have been spent on their construction? And this is at a time when Gov Crist is already incorporating revenues into his budget, and the legislature is moving towards further expansion and relaxation of some of the harsh restrictions imposed by former Gov. Jeb Bush (whose name I don't really want to hear of or mention again anytime between now and November, 2008).

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

News and Notes - March 29

- Reporting from Dubai, the Guardian's Greg Wood relates some scary first- and secondhand observations of Discreet Cat.

To date in his unbeaten six-race career, he has been discreet by name and nature, appearing only rarely to win with complete authority, and only once at Grade One level. Looking at him yesterday, though, it was clear that this could be the year when patience has its reward.

The consensus among those who had seen Discreet Cat race in the flesh last season, when his five wins included the Grade One Cigar Mile at Aqueduct, was that he looks like a different horse. He is taller, stronger, a colt whose body has developed into an ideal match for his exceptional engine, and under the lights at Nad Al Sheba racecourse on Saturday night, Frankie Dettori will get a chance to work through his gears. [Guardian]
Godolphin's Simon Crisford told Chris McGrath of The Independent:
"The horse has definitely matured....As a two-year-old, he still had a lot of development to make.

"We needed to handle him carefully, let him grow into his frame. Over the past year he has become physically stronger. He's definitely more settled, while at the same time remaining an alert type. He's a horse on his game. Which is as it should be, because he's about to face the biggest test of his life." [Independent]
Regarding Discreet Cat breaking from the one post, note that Frankie Dettori rode the late Electrocutionist to victory in last year's World Cup from that same post; that was the first time in the 11-year history of the race that the rail horse had won.

- Albany TV Channel 9 reported yesterday that NYRA and the state are close to hammering out an agreement on the Aqueduct racino, and where have we heard that before? The report says that a remaining sticking point is the distribution of VLT funds; NYRA is prohibited from doing so due to its bankruptcy, and a new arrangement would have the state distribute the funds back to NYRA and MGM. Huh? The report also says that NYRA will be back in bankruptcy court on April 11 to finalize the plan. However, April 10 and 11 are the dates that have been set by Gov Spitzer for the public circus that will be the new and improved (as in, more money) presentations by the franchise bidders. Ringling Bros and Barnum and Bailey will be at the Garden during that time, so maybe they can hold the hearings right there in the center ring.

Excelsior Racing insists that they remain in the running despite the news that Steve Swindal's wife (George Steinbrenner's daughter) is filing for divorce. According to the NY Times: When Swindal leaves the family, he will effectively leave the Yankees.
According to an individual with direct knowledge of the matter, Steinbrenner no longer plans to promote him, and he would seem to have no future with the team.
I suppose that gets Bud Selig off the hook. But considering that Swindal was the public face of the group, and that he promoted his ties to the club's YES Network as part of Excelsior's appeal, it's fair to speculate as to what will happen to their bid. Perhaps another member of the Steinbrenner clan will step in. Who knows, maybe the Boss himself?

- The Daily Racing Form will break out statistics for synthetic surfaces starting on Thursday (though they don't seem to be in the Formulator pp's as of yet). The line, labeled 'synth' (which makes me recall looking at the credits on a Yes album) is squeezed in between 'Wet' and 'Turf,' looking uncomfortable and forlorn without a Tomlinson rating of its own.

- I guess this week is about it for Gulfstream. Though the meet drags on until April 22, expect to see the major trainers and jockeys split to head up north after this weekend, with a three week layover at Keeneland starting a week from Friday.

In Wednesday's third, English Colony, 12-1 morning line off a distant 10th place finish at a route on the turf, got bet to 7-1 in a five furlong dash, and rallied to run off by three for Angel Penna Jr. He's a three-year old from the first crop of the champion, or should I say, world champion Rock of Gibraltar, who is spending the 2007 breeding season in Japan.

Race of the Day

- Check out the seventh from Santa Anita at Cal Racing. Three-year old fillies going nine furlongs on the grass in an entry level allowance; I love these races. Honnete (Elusive Quality) won her debut for Neil Drysdale at 9-1 last month; on Wednesday, she was pounded to 6-5 on the basis of her improbable winning rally after looking hopelessly beaten with 100 yards to go.

As in her debut, Honnete lagged behind, this time last in the field of seven. Brice Blanc was in no rush even as a fast early pace dissipated into a moderate one. Trevor Denman seemed to warily note her slowly creeping closer, though still trailing the field. But when they turned for home, she was still last, and Denman noted that "she has to pick it up from here." She advanced towards the inside, drifted out for room, and just like last time, you could see her gearing up before she started to fly, as if shot out of a slingshot.

Unfortunately, this time, her momentum was stopped as Seven Steps drifted out in front of her. But after stopping to go around the trouble, she surged again, and just missed in a thrilling finish to 8-1 Le Cirque, who had won her only turf try herself. Watching the pan shot, I at first thought that Seven Steps had caused the trouble for Honnete. But if you watch the head-on at Cal Racing, you see why it was Le Cirque who was DQ'd and placed third. The daughter of Dynaformer drifted out, bumping Seven Steps and forcing her wide, causing her in turn to veer out and bother Honnete. So the chalk players got bailed out this time.

This filly really motors once she gets going, and would have won for fun with a clear path. The last eighth was run in 12.27, and she gained ground while having to shift paths. She looks like an exciting grass prospect, and she has some cool breeding too. She's inbred 5x3 to Graustark; 5x4 to Bold Ruler through his sons Secretariat and Chieftain.

Honette's sire, Elusive Quality, has the great turf mare and broodmare, and one of my favorite horses of all time, Glowing Tribute on his dam side. The mating of Honette's dam, Teaksberry, with Elusive Quality seems to have been carefully planned. Teaksberry's sire, High Honors, is bred along extremely similar lines to Glowing Tribute; they're both by Graustark, out of Hail to Reason mares. Honette has a moderate Tomlinson number of 260, and who am I to argue with that guy? But it's obvious that she loves the turf, and she sure has a lot of grass influence in just the names I've mentioned above, so this is one I'll be keeping an eye on.

Folk As Queen

- A few people have written in about Folk, the Darley filly who will take on the boys in the UAE Derby on Saturday. I first mentioned her in this post, and mistakenly so, as the PP's on Formulator hadn't picked up her Dubai races, and I thought that she hadn't raced since winning by ten at the Big A in November. Guess I'm delinquent in following the Dubai Carnival, as I was quickly corrected; she's run not once, but twice since than, in the UAE One Thousand Guineas and the UAE Oaks, both against fillies. Although this is a sizeable step up in class, note that her times for both classics are comparable to those posted by Asiatic Boy [BRIS], who may be the favorite in Saturday's race.

But as far as her taking on the boys in the Kentucky Derby, Godolphin's Simon Crisford told Bloodhorse that she's not being pointed for the Kentucky Derby, but rather for the Oaks. Crisford added that the fillies weren't enough competition for Folk, and that she has a big weight advantage against the boys.

"Not only does she have the fillies' allowance, but she gets the Northern Hemisphere allowance against the Southern Hemisphere horses as well. She's got a 13lb weight pull and that puts her right in the picture.

"She's a strong, big, powerful filly. She has the right disposition and constitution and we're looking forward to seeing her run against better quality horses." [Sporting Life UK]
Folk is by Quiet American, who stands for Darley at $20,000 per shot. Her half-sister, Danuta (Sunday Silence), took the UAE Oaks in 2002. Her second dam is Eugene Klein's champion two-year old Family Style, and this is the distaff family of familiar names such as the current campaigner West Virginia, Belmont winner Editor's Note, and stallions Hold That Tiger, Hennessy, and Talk Is Money, the sire of Ann Coulter.

- Frankie Dettori, who will be aboard Discreet Cat in the World Cup on Saturday, paid a visit to the barn of Kiaran McLaughlin to check out Invasor.
The jovial McLaughlin, who knows Dettori well since both have spent many winters racing in Dubai with the Maktoum family, told the jockey that he better take a close look at Invasor’s head.

After all, McLaughlin asserted with a big smile, the only part of Invasor that Dettori will be seeing in the Dubai World Cup is his long black tail.

Onlookers reported that the usually glib Dettori had no immediate comeback. [Dubai Racing Club Blog]
Discreet Cat drew the rail, and Invasor the outside seven post for the World Cup. "It wasn't a big concern, but the interesting thing was the 1 hole," said Invasor's trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. "Neither one of us wanted it, they got it." [DRF]
The draw was held Wednesday evening at the Johara Ballroom of the Madinat Jumeirah Souk, a large, lavishly appointed convention and meeting center located on Jumeirah Beach adjacent to the Burj Al Arab, which bills itself as the world's only seven-star hotel.
That comes out to about one star for each dollar paid per day to the migrant workers who built it.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007


- Reader Matt writes:

Anybody concerned about Any Given Saturday's graded earnings? He absolutely can't have anything go wrong (ala Circular Quay in the Risen Star) in his last prep or he probably won't have enough to get into the starting gate at Churchill.
The current graded earnings standings are here. Any Given Saturday currently stands 22nd, having earned $102,969 finishing second to Tiz Wonderful in the Kentucky Jockey Club last fall. There are a couple ahead that could drop out; King of the Roxy is hardly definite, and you'd think that Sedgefield would stick to turf or Polytrack. But there's also the danger of someone behind him jumping in front. The Florida Derby is worth $1 million, so a second, or even a third by a horse like Chelokee would put Any Given Saturday another notch down.

So Pletcher doesn't have quite as much leeway as Carl Nafzger does with Street Sense, or Doug O'Neill with Great Hunter in terms of using the race strictly as a Derby tuneup. (Although, considering that both of those will have only two preps, one would think that they need to get more than just a tuneup out of the race). Actually, you never want to see a horse finish out of the money in its last prep; but it would seem that Any Given Saturday must finish at least third to be assured of a spot. Nice catch by Matt; thanks for pointing that out.

- Reader Kevin is psyched about NO-TION-AL in the Florida Derby, and yeah, he could conceivably be that 4th choice in the betting, y'think? He has the most to prove in terms of class and Beyers; but he can certainly benefit from any action up front between Adore the Gold and the stubborn Stormello. And Notional is also working on the Cushion Track; most recently a six furlong move in 1:12.40 (2/21) on Saturday.

Florida Derby Worth the Wait

- Some of us on the East Coast will have been watching racing from 9 AM in the morning on Saturday by the time the Florida Derby rolls around at 5:30 or so. As for you out in the West, be comforted by the fact that the World Cup race itself isn't scheduled to go off until 10:30 your time. By Florida Derby time, many of us will find our vision blurry and wallets light.

But this Derby prep has been revitalized this year after last year's winner Barbaro's Derby win. Staged five weeks before the Derby in what not too long ago was called "no-man's land," many, including myself I must say, had virtually written it off the last couple of years since it was placed in that slot. I get almost addicted to some of these "rules," at least the ones that make sense. Which is a lot of them. I stubbornly stuck to the Dosage rules for years, dismissing Strike the Gold's win as a fluke, and making note of it when his dosage index was retroactively lowered. Well, I threw out a lot of losers that way, I gotta say. I finally broke out in 1998 when I had Real Quiet, though unfortunately, on top of 3rd, 4th, and 5th place finishers Indian Charlie, Halory Hunter, and Cape Town (and not 2nd place finisher Victory Gallop).

The race has come up strong this year; it seems as if the preps are more competitive this year, doesn't it? According to the Haskin, the prospective field is: Scat Daddy, Stormello, Notional, Adore the Gold, Imawildandcrazyguy, Bold Start, Chelokee, Johannesburg Star, Hal’s My Hope and Boogie Boggs. (And Birdbirdistheword has now been added as well.)

All of these horses have to pick up the speed figures a bit to get on par with the top contenders; but the first four mentioned above have all proven to be talented and game. The race is still a bit flawed in that post position is so very vital with the starting gate so close to the turn, so I gotta wait for the post positions to make a pick. But whichever one proves to be the 4th betting choice will probably be pretty good value. I must say that I'm taking a real liking to Stormello due to his toughness. He comes into the race off a fabulous bullet (of 67) five furlong workout, 58.20 seconds over the Cushion Track; I've been noting how well that the California horses who have been training on that surface have been doing out east. The latest is Doug O'Neill's Maryfield, who took the Distaff Breeders Cup at the Big A on Saturday; she had worked a half in 45 4/5 over the Cushion in her most recent work.

I know a lot of people that I've heard from like Adore the Gold, and I don't disagree; but depending on the post position, he's still going to have to find a way to pass Stormello at some point, and that will be no easy task to be sure.

News and Notes - March 27

- Back home in NY, yippee...

- The New York Times picks up on the story of the Hong Kong dart shooters.

It was a device worthy of Rube Goldberg, or perhaps Wile E. Coyote. A remote-controlled mechanism with a dozen launching tubes was found buried in the turf at Hong Kong’s most famous horse racing track last week; it was rigged with compressed air to fire tiny, liquid-filled darts into the bellies of horses at the starting gate.
It's thought that a gambling conspiracy is behind the device; given the way the device has been described as "elaborate," I presume that it was capable of singling out specific horses to be darted.
Horse racing experts said it might be hard for gamblers to profit by silently firing darts into one or more horses and betting on others to win. They said that any horses that were pierced, and possibly horses near them in the starting gate, might react violently, which would probably lead to the discovery of the darts and the cancellation of the race.
I'd guess that it would cause a cancellation of much more than just one race. "Yup, poison darts, just like I thought....bring em out for the next race!"

- The economic benefit of Monmouth's Breeders Cup is estimated to be $57.6 million, according to a study released Monday by the Center for Urban Policy Research at Rutgers University in New Brunswick. But no word on how much of that will be generated by, or should we say, from local blogger Patrick, who is hoping to generate another $39 worth of Ramsey shirt sales.

- Nobiz Like Shobiz was again accompanied by Funny Cide during his Monday workout. Both were timed in 59.80, and observers clocked both galloping out six furlongs in 1:13 and seven furlongs in 1:27. In addition to being probably the only horse Tagg has that can keep up with his Derby hopeful, I'm sure that the trainer is counting on Funny Cide to take him under his wing, and counsel him on how to handle the Derby Day crowd. Tagg actually commented on the lack of crowd noise in New York that I half-kiddingly mentioned the other day, saying "I don't think there will be much of a crowd at Aqueduct." [The Downey Profile]

- And oh yeah, there are some decent races in Dubai on Saturday. The Daily Racing Form has all the entries here. Todd Pletcher has five.
Grade 1 winners English Channel and Honey Ryder, who will race in the Dubai Duty Free (Gr.1) and Dubai Sheema Classic (Gr.1), respectively, were particularly striking as each galloped with gusto. Dubai Golden Shaheen (Gr.1) entrants Friendly Island and Bishop Court Hill, both chestnuts, gleamed in the morning sun.

The other Pletcher runner, Dubai Sheema Classic challenger Host, stayed on the training track on Tuesday but could make a return to the main facility on Thursday. [Dubai Racing Club Blog]

Free Steve Haskin

- Steve Haskin writes exhaustively of Ketchikan in his column today, explaining:

The reason this section is going to be quite long for a Louisiana Derby runner-up who is ranked just behind the 12th horse Cobalt Blue on the Derby Dozen, is because he looks at this time to be the most live dark horse for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I). If you’re a future book player, this is the time to get him. [Bloodhorse]
The real reason I see that he would write so extensively about a horse with four career starts, who didn't debut until Xmas Eve, and who ran second in a race two weeks ago is that the man has far, FAR too much Derby Trail Time on his hands. Really, there's only so much you can analyze this stuff before you start to wig out. We know that the colt was on the lead in a fast pace in surprising fashion; whether it was caused by jockey error, an overanxious horse, or, as Haskin speculates, he was trying to get out of a tight spot, the fact is, HE RAN TOO DAMN FAST! Unless he does something really spectacular in the Arkansas Derby, he's not a serious Derby contender anyway at this point in time; in my opinion anyway.

Haskin's obsessing over the contenders, and non-contenders alike, is why the man, after months of writing about the Derby Trail, cannot actually pick a winner when the times comes. Come May 5, we'll read something like this: Street Sense is the most likely winner but he presents no value so keep an eye on Cowtown Cat at a price but if the track is favoring front-runners watch Adore the Gold but if there's too hot of a pace watch out for Circular Quay and if his Polytrack form is no fluke beware of Hard Spun and if he's over 30-1 you gotta take a shot on Belgravia and if the temperature is below 68 degrees then watch Nobiz Like Shobiz because he's run well in New York and even though he didn't win the Wood he didn't change leads until midstretch and then he changed them back and changed them back again and he blinked his right eye indicating that he might have gotten some dirt in it and his ears were pricked at the wire and he's inbred to Northern Dancer....

And I'm not writing this to criticize him, really. I love the guy, and actually feel bad for him because he obviously goes through a major meltdown as all the weeks and months of writing and speculation come to a close, and he actually has to make a decision on who's going to win. I don't think that anyone should have to spend so much time analyzing a single race. Haskin is an excellent writer who could be spending his time more productively than watching Derby preps over and over, frame by frame. It's bad for the brain. I think he should be freed.

Back to the Terrific Trio (Plus One)

- We're back to the original Fab Four in New York - or perhaps the Terrific Trio Plus One, depending on how you consider Capital Play Ltd. Catskills OTB joined Steve Wynn in basically telling the state to go shove their integrity reviews. Gov. Spitzer professed to open up the process to new players, but then imposed conditions that were difficult, if not impossible to meet. Considering that the so-called Thoroughbred Racing-NY couldn't whip up any kind of website in the two weeks of its existence, it seems unlikely that they would be able, in just a few days, to present the exhaustive information which was requested. The data that the state is demanding normally takes months to assemble, some recipients said. [Albany Times Union]

As explained by Catskill OTB President Donald Groth, for his company it was a matter of "principle of conduct."

He said OTB, as a public benefit corporation, already reports regularly to the state Racing and Wagering Board, state comptroller and state Tax Commission. Its profits are allocated to the state, counties, New York City, racetracks and breeders.

"Catskill OTB could not agree to such a large payment of public monies for a report which would still further certify Catskill's well studied integrity," a press release said. [Saratogian]
The large payments are the $100,000 retainers requested from each entity for the cost of the exhaustive integrity review that includes interviews, background checks and record checks of each entity and its principals; all the principals are also required to submit their last three years tax returns. The cost to the firms are expected to far exceed the retainer amount.

I don't really know what they expect to find other than some possible ghosts in the closet that aren't really relevant to the situation at hand (though they certainly could be portrayed as such by politicians or by the PR machines of competing bidders). This is just political grandstanding, plain and simple, which threatens to obscure some of the more relevant issues regarding possible attempts to illegally influence public officials. Just because Jeff Perlee may have paid his taxes properly or never been arrested for a DWI doesn't mean that Empire has conducted itself with integrity with respect to its morphing from Friends of New York, or the conduct of Jared Abbruzzese.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Derby Top Ten

- Here's the LATG top ten of horses and people I think will be making headlines on or around the first Saturday in May.

1) Any Given Saturday, along with Street Sense, have been the subject of much discussion in the week since their scintillating stretch duel in the Tampa Bay Derby. There are compelling arguments either way as to which of the colts was more impressive. Any Given Saturday conceded ground on the turn, at which point John Velazquez spurned an opportunity to get a jump on his rival, instead peeking back and waiting until he saw the Juvenile winner move. Street Sense saved all the ground, but the inside was said to be a disadvantageous path on that day; and after all, it was his first race in 4 ½ months. He also conceded a race over the track to his rival on a surface that not every horse cares for.

Who knows what would have happened if Any Given Saturday was the one with the head in front. Would he have allowed Street Sense to get by? As it is, he seemed to be getting to the champ in the final strides, and may have even won if the wire was 10 feet closer or further. I rank him on top based on his tactical speed, consistency, and the sense that he can improve.

That's right, improve. There's been tons of talk about he and Street Sense coming out of the race worse for the wear; that they could bounce in the Blue Grass, and even regress going beyond that. On one hand, it seems almost an illogical argument; these are young, healthy, and maturing young colts who are both lightly raced; Street Sense has run six times, Any Given Saturday five. Yet, in 2007, it's a perfectly reasonable argument. I don't imagine this would be an issue if it were 1977.

In the immediate aftermath of the race, I fretted along with Frank Lyons on TVG that the race could take more out of Any Given Saturday (Lyons felt before the race that the colt seemed to be "too fit" at this stage to start with). I was worried because of the extra ground he had to cover as compared to Street Sense. But upon further review, while Pletcher's colt may have run a little extra ground, like Street Sense, he really didn't do much real running until the final quarter mile. If that's enough to knock either of these colts off their perch, it's a troubling sign indeed for the state of the breed.

2) Great Hunter - No news is good news when a horse is between races...though it wouldn't hurt to see a workout, with his last race more than three weeks past, and the Blue Grass still almost that far off. Overlooked a bit I think is perhaps the most unorthodox campaign of them all. Doug O'Neill will have to crank up Great Hunter for two races in four weeks, after having just one in 5 1/2 months; that his easy win over an outclassed field in the Bob Lewis. At least he'll be put to the fire right off, facing the two abovementioned colts in one of the most definitive Derby preps we've seen in quite some time.

3) Street Sense - The two rail-skimming victories by Carl Nafzger's colt get him so used to being on the inside that he refuses to come out of his stall until two stablehands produce a section of the inner rail and carry it around by his side. But he comes into the Derby off just one prep as he draws the 12 post for the Blue Grass and is a late scratch due to an anxiety attack.

4) Attorney General Alberto Gonzales still has the backing of the president despite the revelation that he'd personally conducted warrantless surveillance of the Bush twins' emails. The embattled AG denies any role by himself or the White House in the firing of eight stewards at various U.S. racetracks. But subsequent emails reveal that Karl Rove had complained about one of the dismissed officials who was involved in a disqualification that cost him a $2 quinella at Evangeline in 2005.

5) Nobiz Like Shobiz continued to tune up for the Wood, blinkers added since his last race, with a workout Monday morning; five furlongs in 59.80 at Gulfstream; that's identical with his work last Thursday during which he was accompanied by Funny Cide.

"I wanted to work him in company and there aren't many I could send with him other than Funny Cide. I knew 'Funny' would get a little tired at the end and 'Nobiz' went past him and he didn't go over on him. He doesn't lug in in the mornings. I don't know why he's done it in his races." [BRIS]
Tagg had once said that the colt shied away from crowd noise, which would explain why he doesn't do it in the morning, and also why he ran more professionally in his races in New York, where there is no crowd, and no crowd noise. That may help him in the Wood, though he's liable to try and make a dash through the infield come Derby Day. He still seems like he could be the one to step up and dominate his peers; perhaps the blinkers will do the trick.

6) Circular Quay, having trouble getting sleep amidst the excitement in the Churchill backstretch, takes some Ambien with near-disastrous results. He hops into a pickup, and goes through a McDonald's drive-thru, picking up some fries from the wary workers. He then tries to crash the annual star-studded Barnstable Brown Gala before returning to the barn. He misses one day of training with a stomach ache.

7) Hillary Clinton, after being presented faulty intelligence from TVG and Hank Goldberg, comes out in favor of Wayne Lukas' Flying First Class as her Derby pick. But come Derby Day, the colt is nowhere to be found, and it becomes apparent that it's been years since Lukas' Derby program has been operational. However, Mrs. Clinton refuses to apologize for the pick. "I have taken responsibility for that pick," she said. "It was based on the best assessment that I could make at the time."

8) Hard Spun solidifies his position in the standings with his solid win in the Lane's End. He doesn't move up, just gets to stay here. Check back after his test for class in the Blue Grass.

9) Notional is another one for which there's not much doing of late. Doug O'Neill raced him monthly from October to February, but it will be a seven week break before he runs in the Florida Derby on Saturday; then another five weeks to the Derby. Remember the five week thing? Barbaro has made it so that you don't hear about that at all this year. However, just because one horse, who may very well have been an extraordingary one, breaks a long-term trend, that pattern doesn't become automatically meaningless. While Notional has been out of action, others have been running three-digit Beyers in important preps; this son if In Excess has much to demonstrate on Saturday.

10) Rudy Giuliani plays the 9-11 exacta.

Still in Florida

- Rangers on a roll!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Class Test Next for Hard Spun

- Hard Spun still has to answer the question of class after his classy win in the Lane's End at Turfway on Saturday. He beat an interesting field, but one whose quality remains to be seen, especially if you figure that betting favorite Twilight Meteor wants grass, and that stone-cold-dead-on-the-board Forefathers wants no part of nine furlongs.

But Hard Spun made an excellent case for trainer Larry Jones' contention that he just didn't care for Oaklawn. Plus he proved he's not just a sprinter, and showed that he can rate and finish strongly...this despite being three wide on both turns. Jockey Mario Pino left for position from the ten post and was third, in close stalking position in a quick first quarter of 22.78. “I knew I had a ton of horse from the moment he came out of the gate." He maintained that position through a second quarter of 24.48 and 24.38, before dragging Pino to the front turning for home, and getting home in 37.79 for the last three-eighths; 12.68 for the last furlong without being pushed hard.

Hard Spun is now four for five, but has never faced any of the top tier contenders. He will certainly do so in the Blue Grass, the race designated as his final prep; if, that is, Jones doesn't chicken out.

“… My only concern about the Blue Grass is that it could be suicide with so many good horses [Street Sense, Any Given Saturday, Great Hunter] going in the race,” said Jones, who called New York’s Wood Memorial in two weeks an outside possibility instead of the Keeneland race. “I wouldn’t be overly confident going into that race. But it’s a good feeling to know our horse could compete with those horses.” [Louisville Courier-Journal}
Of course, the Wood may not be a piece of cake either, with Nobiz Like Shobiz and Circular Quay scheduled to run. And I don't know if Jones is going to be anxious to leave the friendly confines of Polytrack with the horse doing so well on it. Besides, the common wisdom is that Street Sense and Any Given Saturday are not going to be cranked for another grueling effort just three weeks before the Derby. But either way, Hard Spun will only have to finish close enough to show that he belongs.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Showtime for Hard Spun

- Just one Derby prep of significance today, though just how significant remains to be seen. Hard Spun (Danzig) drew the ten post but trainer Larry Jones is not too concerned about the post nor the apparent speed inside. "This is not a one-dimensional horse....We're not concerned how the pace shapes up." [AP] The pace shapes up as a contested one, with Sports Town, Bullara, and Forefathers inside. But Hard Spun got experience being behind the pace in the Southwest, and now he races on a surface on which he's trained extremely well. "He just floats over it," said Jones' wife and assistant, Cindy Jones.

And as I've mentioned, I really do like his pedigree, with his third dam Luiana having been the first dam of the Preakness/Belmont winner and three-year old champ Little Current, one of the first thoroughbreds that I recall capturing my fancy during my formative years. So I respectfully disagree with the commenter who derided Hard Spun's ability to get nine furlongs, and I suppose we'll find out shortly who's right this afternoon.

Todd Pletcher may hold the key to this race, and what else is new? Twilight Meteor has an extremely impressive record running on grass and Polytrack, and had perhaps his best race on the latter last November against two impressive performers in Marcavelli and Admiral Bird. (Curiously, neither of those colts have raced since.) Forefather looks to bounce back from a troubled start in the Hutcheson and Zito told the Form: "I will let everybody in on this: This horse trained unbelievable over the Polytrack at Keeneland when we had him there last fall."

However, this race is at Turfway, and it seems as if those surfaces have differed from track to track, particularly those running in different seasons. Turfway has had to tweak its Polytrack this year after a spate of breakdowns over the winter. We don't say that a horse is training well on the dirt at Belmont, so he'll like the surface at Tampa Bay; and I don't know if we're to assume that we can make that blanket statement about synthetics at different tracks. In any event and more importantly, this is the first race for Forefathers beyond seven furlongs, and I think he faces a tough task.

Sedgefield ran a close second to Twilight Meteor in the Hallandale Beach on the grass in his last, and he graduated over the Turfway track. He's another one who can contend if he can translate his improving form back to Polytrack. And Helen Pitts has For Your Reppo; he comes off a sharp second in Chelokee's allowance win at GP, and also has an improving Beyer pattern, as well as a confident trainer. Tough field, interesting race, but I'm going to stick with my convictions and pick Hard Spun.

- Pletcher took the 5th at Gulfstream on Friday with Oistins Bay, a second time starter by the deceased sire Deputy Minister; he ran off to win by 5 3/4 in 1:09.85. His final quarter of 12.30 was actually faster than his prior one of 12.43, while being hand ridden home. He has some unusual breeding, being inbred 2x4 to his sire's sire Vice Regent. He's out of a Boston Harbor dam who is a half-sister to the Grade 1 winner (Cigar Mile) Left Bank.

And I could go on and on as you know, but we're in Florida, and the Head Chef is calling for me to go with her to the weekly Farmers Market in Sarasota, so I'm off. Maybe I'll get her to do one of her Farmer's Markets reports, which you may have seen if you were with us during Saratoga. Anyway, enjoy the day of racing.

News and Notes - March 23

- NYRA's Bill Nader, who will continue at the association until mid-April, told Jerry Bossert of the NY Daily News: "We ... are anxious to launch, but we are regulated by the State of New York and need approval. We are hopeful that the state's approval is imminent." But no, this is not yet another post on the delayed racino; this is regarding NYRA's internet wagering site, a concept finally approved by the state early this year. Despite having submitted their application two months ago, no action has been taken. So the ad on NYRA's website continues to read "Coming Soon."

- The settlement between Churchill and the Jockeys Guild includes resumption of the contributions that the track conglomerate stopped paying the Guild in 2005 during the Gertmenian disaster, as many other tracks did as well. However, the payments were based on the number of mounts at its tracks, and since Churchill has since sold off Hollywood, Hooiser, and Ellis Park, expected to be significantly less than $375,000 a year, the amount it was averaging before. [Daily Racing Form]

- More slots, longer hours, and easier access to money may be coming to Florida, where talk of attempts to repeal Broward's casino laws seems to have ebbed with the departure of Jeb Bush, and Democratic gains in both houses of the legislature. A House panel approved a measure which would, if passed by both Houses and signed by Gov Crist, allow an increase in the maximum number of slots per facility from 1500 to 2000, and an extension in their hours from 16 hours a day to 24 on weekends and 18 hours on weekdays. ATM's would be permitted as long as they're not in the same room as the machines.

It is illegal to have ATMs or to cash checks on-site, so patrons now must leave the parimutuels and ride on shuttle buses provided by the casinos to get more money. [Sun-Sentinal]
Man, that must be one grim bus ride; and it seems somewhat perverse to me that the racinos would whisk tapped out customers to their cash machines and back.

Patrons at the four Pennsylvania racinos have bet $1.57 billion since January 1, producing roughly $17.5 million for purses and breed development for horse racing.
Pocono Downs...will offer an all-time-high $100,000 a day in purses for its upcoming meet.
Meanwhile, at Penn National Race Course, Thoroughbreds for the first 25 racing days of this year competed for daily average purses of $71,000. Penn National is licensed for slots, but owner Penn National Gaming Inc. opted to build a new, integrated racing and gaming facility that won’t open until early 2008 rather than operate a temporary slots facility.

When Penn National slots are operational, purses are expected to approach $200,000 a day under a year-round racing schedule. [Bloodhorse]
- And here's an interesting piece by attorney Andrew Cohen, a harness horse owner and legal analyst for CBS News, regarding the New Jersey Racing Commission's acceptance of a settlement that would in theory permit driver Eric Ledford to be re-licensed next month; his original suspension in the Aranesp scandal was 10 years. Cohen feels that the state's evidence obviously wasn't the slam dunk that it was originally made out to be, and that once the prosecutor bailed on the criminal case against the Ledford Five, last week’s actions by the New Jersey Racing Commission were a foregone conclusion.
Something just wasn’t right with the case against Ledford and Company. Something convinced the prosecutor that he did not necessarily hold a winning legal hand—and that “something” (whatever it is) also allowed the defense attorneys involved in this to convince the commission that an exit strategy made sense before the administrative hearing. I guess the commission figured that whatever scared off the prosecutor figured to scare off the administrative law judge, too.

What happened between the harsh findings by the Board of Judges and the soft landing announced last week? I do not know. I do know, however, that the disconnect between the findings of the Board of Judges last year and the language used by the commission this year ought to be embarrassing to both bodies. Either the Board of Judges prematurely oversold its case against the Ledford Five or the commission has belatedly undersold it. Either way, those folks ought to have a sit-down to discuss how this sort of thing can be avoided in the future. [Harnesslink]

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Notes - March 22

- Courtesy of the Dubai Racing Club Blog, here are the likely fields for World Cup day as we stand now (pdf file).

- Helen Mirren Queen Elizabeth will attend the Derby.

- An anonymous poster writes of the poison dart contraption in Hong Kong:

"Just imagine if that happened in the US. The Equibase chart would be something along the line of "BERRIES AND JAM was hit in the stomach with a poison dart before settling in good order, stalked three wide on the backstretch, moved into contention on the turn before galloping like a drunken sailor into section 112 and collapsing."
HEY MAN! THAT'S MY KIND OF MATERIAL! Watch it there, buddy!

- As I mentioned, it's a travel day for me, and I'll be checking in next from sunny (I hope) Sarasota, FL. So they'll be a slight gap in posting....though not 18 days. See ya in a bit.

Pretty Poison

- Bill Nader may consider Hong Kong to be a breath of fresh air compared to the grim present and clouded future of NYRA, but at least he's never had to deal with remote controlled poison darts under the Aqueduct starting gate! Hong Kong police have found what was described as an "elaborate device" embedded in the turf course at the Happy Valley racetrack.

The remote controlled shooter included 12 metal tubes, each a foot long, filled with darts buried in the grass under the spot where the starting gates would be situated for 1,200 metre (3,937 ft) races on Wednesday night.

The tubes, spaced so each would aim up at a horse, were wired together and linked to a wireless receiver, according to a local newspaper and a police source who declined to be identified.

"The obvious intent was that it was going to fire these little darts which have got some kind of chemical in it ... up from the ground up to where the horse's starting gate is," said the senior police source.

"I doubt very much that it was meant to do anything more than just slightly tranquilise the horse. That's my speculation." [Guardian UK]
- Putting another bit of nastiness from the Dr. G era behind it, the Jockeys Guild has settled its dueling lawsuits with Churchill Downs, which stemmed from the 2004 walkouts by riders at Hoosier Downs and Churchill, in protest of the tracks' lack of insurance for on-track injuries.
The settlement, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Louisville, bars the jockeys from walking out or going on strike until 2011 and forbids the track from taking disciplinary action against the riders, except under normal circumstances. [AP]
- The Pletcher Shuffle: With Ravel out, Rags to Riches is possible for the Santa Anita Derby; Sam P., currently scheduled for the Illinois Derby is also a possibility for the West Coast, which could shift Cowtown Cat from the Wood to Illinois. Deadly Dealer will try the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Notes - March 21

- First, a scheduling update: The Head Chef and I are heading to my folks' place down in Florida on Thursday evening for a short getaway, courageously taking our two younger daughters along. They're both 15 - one hers and one mine - so we figure that time is growing short before they depart the human race for full-fledged teenagerdom. This may be our final opportunity to spend some quality time with them before they insist that we walk on the other side of the street. No, no Gulfstream; we're headed to Sarasota on the other coast, and I won't get to go to Tampa Bay Downs either. My only shot for pari-mutuel delight is the Sarasota Kennel Club - though I will have my laptop, which is almost like carrying racetracks around under your armpit in this day and age.

Anyway, the point is that posting will be a bit sporadic for the next couple of days as we prepare to leave, and I go to cheer on my beloved and surging Rangers as they host a putrid Flyers squad tonight. After that, I'll be checking in from warmer climes.

- Highland Cat was back on the track this morning, and I think he may still be there, as he turned in a lethargic five furlongs in 1:04.02. We're hoping that he'll make his long awaited return to the grass at the Big A on April 18.

- In what could be the first major casualty of this Derby season, Ravel is off the Trail with what appears to be the beginnings of a fracture in his left front cannon bone [Daily Racing Form, getting the scoop on Bloodhorse this time!]

"We can't find anything on the X-rays, but the feeling, based on the nuclear scintigraphy, is that he's starting to develop a fracture, and it would turn into a condylar fracture if we breezed him," Pletcher said from Florida. "It's a tough blow. He's obviously a talented horse, but it wasn't meant to be."

Pletcher said Ravel likely would be out of training for three months, and then point for a fall campaign, but said it was hard to pinpoint the length of his recovery due to the lack of specificity regarding the injury.
Pletcher added that the injury makes the filly Rags to Riches a possibility for the Santa Anita Derby, which was to be Ravel's next start (they're both owned by the Tabor-Smith team).

- Twilight Meteor shows up in the entries for the Lane's End on Saturday to take on Hard Spun.

- And here's two genuine rarities for you. Santa Anita will conduct the first baby race of the season today, one of those two furlong dashes. You may notice that two of the entries, Kaylasrocketdancer and Kyles Rocketdancer, are both listed as being by Rocket Cat, out of Banta's Dancer. It's not a mistake; the fillies are twins.
"This could be the first time in history two twins have raced against each other," said Hemet's J. R. Williamson, who bred the pair. "Most of the time when there are twins, only one might race and not well. We think this is something that's never happened before."
There are no available records on the racing performances of twins at either the Jockey Club or the CTBA.

The occasion of twin births among horses isn't a blessed event.
"Very often, when twins are detected, breeders and owners are worried that one or both will be too small or undeveloped, so they crush the membrane and not allow the second foal to develop," said veterinarian Dr. Richard Beck, for 30 years an equine specialist in Hemet who tended to the twins as they grew and developed. [Press Enterprise...hat tip to Albany Law School Racing and Wagering Page]
Fortunately for one of the twins, her presence wasn't detected until they were being delivered. Kayla is actually my aforementioned daughter's name, but don't expect me to ever place a wager on sentimentality.

And at Gulfstream today, a very well-bet Roshani took the third for Pletcher, in her grass debut and off a layoff of nine months. That means that, besides the fact that I jinxed Michael Matz again (and originally referred to the fillies in the race as colts....maybe I should leave my laptop behind after all), all six horses who competed in her last race, the second at Belmont on June 11, have come back to win their next race. I'd like the Elias Sports Bureau to tell us the last time that happened.

Sunland Oaks Fractions Corrected

- Equibase has corrected the fractional times (pdf) for the Winstar Oaks; the stewards at Sunland retimed the race. The difference may not be as drastic as some people had thought.

Wrong fractions:


In an email, it was explained that due to a malfunction, the race had been hand timed, and "not too well." But the corrected clockings still show a race that slowed up considerably after the first half; after going 47.46, the third quarter was run in 26.13 seconds, as opposed to the 26.81 indicated by the faulty timing. (Note that Tough Tiz's Sis was a length and a half behind at the half, so she ran a bit quicker than that.) That still means that Tough Tiz's Sis then quickened the pace, now adjusted to 25.79, to the mile, and came home the last sixteenth in 5.80 seconds. The email informed me: Although the last portion of the race is still fast, it is acceptable. So, even with the corrected fractions, it was an oddly run affair, contested more like a harness race than what we normally see in the flats.

The Winstar Derby's time was confirmed by the Sunland Park stewards. Thanks much to Mr. Chuck Scaravilli at Equibase for keeping us posted.

- Hollywood Derby winner Showing Up is starting to crank up for his 2007 debut, a belated one scheduled for the Manhattan Handicap on Belmont Stakes day. He worked a half in 48 2/5 at Gulfstream on Monday.

- Magna has installed an additional 705 slot machines at Gulfstream, bringing the total to 1,221. And changes continue at the track, though they're all directed towards slots and cards players.
A second-floor room that housed a nightclub is being converted to a permanent poker and simulcast room. The poker room has been temporarily located in tent that serves as an outdoor wagering area fronted by bleacher seating that overlooks the racetrack. [Bloodhorse]
- Hard Spun is set for the Lane's End after his workout in 1:00 3/5 seconds over the Turfway Polytrack the other day; that was three seconds faster than the next fastest at the distance. Jockey Mario Pino said: "It was a nice time, without much effort. He felt great, really."
"He just didn't grab the track (Oaklawn) like the other tracks I've ridden him on," the Maryland-based Pino said by phone. "… He put in a nice run to get up to second at the top of the lane. But spinning out makes you tired. … He only got beat three lengths. It's not like a terrible race. But … he's a better horse than that." [Louisville Courier-Journal]

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Sorry Michael

- Ever since I wrote that Michael Matz seemed poised to break out at Gulfstream, he's lost his last 13 in a row. That includes Round Pond at 2-5, and his last three runners at 7-2, 4-1, and 5-1. Since we all like Matz, I think I should stop writing about him. But I'll give it one more shot, because he has a nice looking grass horse in Inavision running in Gulfstream's third on Wednesday. She missed by a neck in his grass debut last month, and the comment of inside bid, edged, doesn't quite tell the whole story. She got in a tight spot turning for home and had to wait for room. Once he did, she exploded through the opening, but was held off by a tough Gone Overboard. The latter subsequently ran quite credibly in allowance company, challenging for the lead, but tiring to 6th, just 2 3/4 off the winner.

This filly is owned and bred by Roy and Gretchen Jackson, and like Barbaro, he's by Dynaformer. The Jacksons also owned Inavision's dam Storm Dream, who won the G3 Boiling Springs on the turf. She's by the two-time English champion Catrail, a son of Storm Cat. The Pedigree Query site says that he was retired due to infertility; but I found this stallion page here that has him standing for a private fee (pdf) in British Columbia.

So, I feel bad for Matz, but I have to say that I like Inavision. One more that should be mentioned is Roshani. Formerly trained by Dutrow, she raced last on June 11, and reappears for Pletcher. That race last summer was a field of six, and all of the other five runners won their subsequent race; three against maiden specials, and two dropping for a tag. Roshani could complete the ultimate key race.

- Jamie Sanders now says that, addition to the Lexington, Teuflesberg is a possibility for the Arkansas Derby, Wood, or Blue Grass.

Notes - March 20

- I don't know if Stormello is good enough to be a Classic winner, but he's as dead game a colt as you'll ever see. William Currin has designated the Florida Derby as his next race.

“We’ve decided to come back there and settle the score with Scat Daddy. I’m convinced he never saw (Scat Daddy) coming. His ears were pricked.

However, he ran a great race and I think we accomplished everything we set out to, giving him exposure in the east. Since then, we’ve received inquiries from five major farms in Kentucky about his stud career. [The Downey Profile]
He worked five furlongs in 59.60 (2/37) on the Cushion Track last Friday. Victor Espinoza will replace Kent Desormeauex, who will ride Premium Tap in the World Cup that day.

- Brad Telias, writing for the, is another who is wondering how the fierce stretch duel of the Tampa Bay Derby will effect Any Given Saturday and Street Sense.
Hard fought contests like the one on Saturday -- strikingly similar to High Yield and Hal's Hope's battle in the 2000 Florida Derby -- often result in both horses emptying their tanks. The one-two Florida Derby finishers wound up 15th and 16th in the Kentucky Derby.
However, that race was much closer to the Derby than this race, as well as their final preps, so I don't know if the example is relevant. And I'll repeat my contention that I'm really not concerned about Street Sense - at least not for that reason - and Haskin agrees, noting that he lagged some seven lengths off a moderate pace and then quickly closed in on the leaders under no urging whatsoever from Calvin Borel, who didn’t even go to his whip until just outside the eighth pole. By the way, nobody has expressed the same concern about Scat Daddy, Stormello, and Nobiz Like Shobiz, who slugged it out in the Fountain of Youth and who were obviously much more tired at the end than the TB Derby horses.

- While we're waiting for Equibase to adjust the fractions of the Winstar Oaks, and any resulting Beyer changes that may result, let's mention that Winstar Derby winner Song of Navarone had every right to improve to the 102 Beyer he's been assigned. He's improved his figures in each of his four starts since his debut, and exploded to a 97 running third in the Sham. He had six weeks off to recover from that effort, and came into the race off two nice six furlong works. He's a son of the Hollywood Gold Cup/ Whitney/Woodward winner Sultry Song (Cox's Ridge/Best Turn/Turn-to) out of a mare by Navarone (Irish River/Riverman/Never Bend); so here's another colt descending from non-ND/Mr. P families (he has one instance of Mr. Prospector in his pedigree, none of Northern Dancer). He has inbreeding to Buckpasser (4x5) and Princequillo (5x5) - a lot to like there. Song of Navarone is a half-brother to Celluloid Hero, a sprint stakes winner, but note that that one is by the sprint sire Glitterman.

Freaky Fractions At Sunland

- Walter took out the calculator, and the fractions for the Winstar Oaks, as compared to the Winstar Derby, don't seem to make much sense. Here are the splits for each race (the Oaks was 1 1/16, the Derby a mile and an eighth), followed by Walter's analysis of what seems to be wrong:

23.33, 47.46, 114.27, 139.47, 145.18

22.50, 47.26, 111.63, 136.89, 149.53

After hitting the half-mile in roughly equal time, it somehow took the Oaks leader an extra 2.44 seconds (roughly 15 lengths) to run the next quarter mile? Gimme a break. And then, after losing 2.44 seconds in the span of a quarter-mile, she was somehow able to match them in the next quarter-mile (25.20 to 25.26)? Again, gimme a break. Finally, look at her closing fraction. We're supposed to believe she got her final sixteenth in 5.71 seconds? That's impossible for a two-turn race on dirt, particularly if you're slow enough to run a mile in 139.47. So obviously, the time for the WinStar Oaks is a complete farce (at least after the first half-mile). I was concerned that this would result in an extraordinarily low (and incorrect) Beyer figure for Tough Tiz's Sis. Now, it looks as if it has affected Song of Navarone's Beyer as well. Because the surface variant has apparently been thrown out of whack by the faulty time in the Oaks. And if the timer was wrong for that one (which it definitely was), how do we know it was accurate for the WinStar Derby just a half-hour later?
Tough Tiz's Sis came in with a 79 Beyer, very low, as Walter surmised. Song of Navarone's 102 was faster than the Tampa Bay Derby, which raised some eyebrows here right off the bat (though it doesn't seem impossible when you look at the colt's progressive pattern of Beyers). Perhaps the best way to solve this is to do what was done with Secretariat's Preakness; simply get out a stopwatch and time the replay, or watch the two races side by side. It may be impossible to get exact times watching them pass the poles on a TV or computer screen; but there's such a difference between the fractions of the two races, that absolute precision wouldn't be necessary in this case. Anybody have a stopwatch and some free time?