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Thursday, May 31, 2007


- Take a look at Authorized, the big favorite in the Vodafone Epsom Derby on Saturday, winning the Dante Stakes his one and only prep for the race, that two weeks ago. They sure do things differently over there, don't they?

Just glancing over a few articles, there seems to be an undercurrent of skepticism regarding Authorized, being quoted at around 4-5, on the grounds that he hasn't beaten anybody. Some guy on the You Tube page wrote of the Dante Stakes field:

Raincoat won a weak 4 horse trial & is not in the Derby, Al Shemali only won his maiden & been beaten 3 times this season, Adagio came here after a poor run & clearly didn't stay, Proponent won 2 soft 2 year old races & was having his first run in 7 months & Prince Golan was out of his depth & got badly outpaced in the straight. [Guy on You Tube]
Frankie Dettori rides the favorite courtesy of His Royal Sheikhness, who granted his contract rider permission to try and get his first Derby win, after 14 prior tries. Does that mean he can't win the big one?
"All the horses I have ridden in the Derby have had question marks over them, but Authorize is pretty special. He is the best ride I've had and the Dante win was as good as any horse in the past." [Daily Mail]
- The Californian at Hollywood is shaping up as a pretty nice race, with Kip Deville having become the center of attraction running back after his disappointing 6th in the Shoemaker on Monday. Of course, that's routine for Dutrow, who ran Golden Man on back to back days in July 2005 - he ran third and then second. Interesting field includes Perfect Drift, Boboman, Buzzards Bay, a real disappointment since his runaway in the Oaklawn Handicap last year; and Wilko, now winless in 16 attempts dating back to October 30, 2004.

Straddling the Fence on Street Sense

- I haven't weighed in with a strong opinion on the decision not to run Street Sense because I don't really have one. I think there are valid points made by both sides, though it must be said definitively that no one has the right to demand that the trainer or owner run their horse whether it's for the good of the game or whatever. (And full disclosure demands that Bill Finley let us know if he has a futures bet on Street Sense in the Belmont.) But we can ask politely, especially when the rider and trainer spoke of how well he did in his workout.

A couple of readers questioned the decision. Lenny wrote:

I can not believe Nafzger said that if SS ran in the Belmont he would not have sufficient time to recover and prepare for the Travers. Last time I checked the Travers was in late August, meaning the horse would have two months to rest before the Jim Dandy or Haskell. Is two months not enough time?
Reader kjc wrote:
Nafzger had said that Tafel so badly wanted to win the Triple Crown that when they lost at the wire it took a lot out of them and left them totally disappointed. Are we then to believe that if they did win in Baltimore that the Belmont would be contested no matter what the situation, whether Street Sense was 100% or less?
Taken together, those two arguments make a compelling case - the fact is that he's only run four times and he'd likely have enough time to prepare for the Travers even if he ran in the Belmont, as he most assuredly would have if Borel hadn't peeked over his shoulder (just kidding), probably even if he was less than 100%.

But on the other hand, he didn't win the Preakness, and I think it's understandable that the Belmont isn't a compelling attraction for Mr. Tafel now, with the prospects of the late summer and fall championship races to come. I know not everyone would agree with this, but I think that the Belmont, because of its mile and a half distance, is just not a definitive race these days unless it's determining a Triple Crown. To me, it doesn't determine who is the better horse, but rather, merely who is the better horse at a mile and a half. And since that is a freaky distance nowadays, it doesn't necessarily mean a thing to me. Easy Goer was eight lengths better than Sunday Silence at a mile and a half, but would anyone say he was a better horse? (OK, I know some people will always believe that he was..)

Of course that's not always the case - sometimes, the best horse is just the best horse; Afleet Alex comes to mind as a recent example. But then you have your Jazil, Birdstone, and Sarava.

So I believe that the question of who is better between Curlin and Street Sense probably would not have been addressed in the Belmont, and by holding him out, the owner and trainer feel that he'll be better off when the matter is settled for real at Saratoga, Belmont in the fall, and, hopefully, at Monmouth. And just maybe, that will ultimately turn out to be the best thing for the game.

That seems a bit geographically selfish of me, doesn't it? By the way, the deadline draws near for getting totally ripped off for the Breeders Cup. The application (pdf file) needs to be received by June 6 in order for you to qualify for the random drawing. And remember, there's no walk-up cash admission, you need to have a ticket for at least the $50 general admission; or for the seating which starts at $100. Oh, and $25 to get into the Monmouth parking lot ($10 for remote lots), and that's all prepaid too.

Difference of Opinion

- You may recall that Pletcher called the "shipping back from Dubai thing overrated" after his Honey Ryder won on Saturday. James Scully, writing on, agrees:

The "Dubai jinx" is a myth that has become accepted as fact due to constant repetition by members of the media, similar to the claim of tighter turns at Pimlico, and Pletcher put it in the proper context following the Sheepshead.
But Mike Watchmaker has a totally different view:
Unfortunately, for every American-based horse like Cigar, Formal Gold, Silver Charm, Victory Gallop, and Aptitude, who were able to perform at a high level back in this country in a reasonably short time frame after competing in the Dubai Cup, there is a list of American horses two to three times as long who were never the same after racing in the Dubai Cup, or took a very long time to recapture a semblance of peak form. This longer list includes some very good horses, such as Soul of the Matter, Siphon, Sandpit, Behrens, Captain Steve, Harlan's Holiday, Pleasantly Perfect, and Roses in May. [Daily Racing Form, sub. only]
In his column, Watchmaker, apparently with little else to do, wonders what would happen to the handicap division if Invasor does not recapture his form, which seems a pointless discussion at this point considering that he's already raced here after running in Dubai. So no point contemplating a summer and fall of Hesanoldsalt vs. Flashy Bull rematches just yet.

- The Associated Press reports that the Sheikh appealed to our illustrious president for assistance regarding the lawsuit filed in Miami on behalf of abused camel jockeys.
Maktoum asked Bush for his "personal attention" to the lawsuit filed in Miami federal court, which the prime minister said "is causing an unnecessary interference with the good and mutually valuable relations" between the two countries. [AP]
In a letter dated February 11, the Sheikh said that the UAE is "a key partner in the global war against terrorism." The note was written before the Sheikh played host to Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad earlier this month. A hearing is scheduled for July 16 on the UAE's motion to have the suit dismissed. The Emirates contend the lawsuit should be thrown out because U.S. courts have no jurisdiction and its rulers are entitled to sovereign immunity.

- The Bengals' Chad Johnson will race against a horse for charity at River Downs on Belmont day, a contest that may be more interesting than the Belmont itself.
The race, billed as "man vs. beast," will be held on the turf course, with Johnson starting at the sixteenth pole and the horse, Restore the Roar, starting at the eighth pole. []
No word on how Johnson will celebrate at the finish line should he win. I seem to remember, many years ago, Beasley Reece, the former New York Giants DB and currently an Emmy winning broadcaster in Philadelphia, racing against a horse at Monticello. I don't remember if he won or not; maybe I'll ask him.

The Street Is Closed

- THUMP! That's the sound of the market for seats for the Belmont after Carl Nafzger announced that the Derby winner will skip the race and point for the Travers instead. lists just five probables for the race - Curlin, Hard Spun, Imawildandcrazyguy, Tiago, and Slew's Tizzy. Rags to Riches anyone?

Notes - May 31

- Empire Racing wants to have Saratoga placed on the National and State Registers of Historic Places. I suppose that would thwart Capital Play CEO Karl O'Farrell's desire to build a beautiful fence around the track. The Australian entry into the franchise sweepstakes has been dominating the news of late, and since Empire had included this proposal to Governor Spitzer’s franchise selection panel in April and...pledged to fund the entire process, I suppose that part of the reason for the announcement is to simply stay in the news at a time when the relevancy of each and every one of the bidders is in question.

We've heard even less from Excelsior lately; their last press release was issued back on April 12. But they'll be in the news soon if my information from a secondhand source who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the situation is correct; I'm told that Steve Wynn will soon withdraw from the group.

Governor Spitzer met with legislative leaders yesterday in a public meeting to negotiate a number of issues they want to resolve before the end of the session on June 21. The all-important matter of repealing the law that prohibits the resale of tickets to sports events, concerts, and the theatre seemed to be the top priority; and the NY Times article reported no discussion of the franchise situation.

The Times also contains an odd full page ad:

10 Billion Dollars
Contributing to the Development of Knowledge and Culture

His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum announced the establishment of his foundation with an endowment of 10 billion dollars, focusing on human development in the region. The foundation will facilitate and promote knowledge creation and dissemination, and will nurture future leaders, providing them with equal opportunities with the aim of building a knowledge-based society.
I'm presuming that the ad is not running in the Daily Racing Form. The ad refers to a website which is equally vague as to what exactly the Sheikh is going to do with his $10 billion - is there no limit to this guy's money? - but there is no mention of spindly-legged yearlings anywhere on the site.

- And we'll file this story regarding the establishment of a database to track on-track injuries in the "you mean, we don't already have this?" file.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Franchise Notes - May 30

- I got some pushback from my Belmont backstretch connection regarding my Australia connection's contention that a full contingent from Capital Play did indeed visit the backstretch, on May 14. The former tells me "Bullshit," while the latter says "But before the throne of God I declare it happened." (He didn't specify whether that's the Northern or Southern Hemisphere God.) Since I wasn't there, I'm going to step out from the middle. But since I have no reason to think that either side is making anything up, let's just say that it's apparent that a group from Capital Play visited, but did not met with everyone that would like to have a word with them (and has since postponed at least one subsequent appointment to do so). And I'll just leave it at that.

An Australian site reports that Capital Play is negotiating with James Packer, who heads Crown Gaming, which claims on their website to be Australia's largest Casino, to be their casino partner.

Capital Play president and chief executive Karl O'Farrell refused to confirm or deny the Packer negotiations but a source close to the group said the Australian billionaire was one of four potential casino partners.

However, he said Crown Gaming had been a "late arrival" to the negotiations and may not get to the line in time, given that Mr O'Farrell is anxious to name a casino partner as soon as possible. []

And again we see a little cultural disconnect when the story informs us that: "The 113-year-old racetrack in Queens is accessible from all over New York for just $US2 on the subway, a guarantee of packed houses in a gaming market estimated at 50,000 machines." The fact is that for those in parts of the city such as the Bronx or upper Manhattan, it would be far easier and quicker to take a bus to Yonkers than to get to the Big A by train.

- According to Charles Hayward, it was not NYRA's idea to break up the franchise and have them run Saratoga. "I don't think anybody believes that splitting the tracks would be prudent....I don't think the breakup of the tracks is realistic under any scenario." [The Saratogian] But as reporter Paul Post writes of the ongoing dispute over who owns the land, letting NYRA have some share of the franchise might be the only way out.

Starting to Make Sense?

- More on Street Sense's workout (and as much as I'd like to take credit for being clairvoyant, it was listed on Equibase's site early this morning), including some more upbeat assessments from the connections:

The Street Cry (Ire) colt clicked off splits of :12.80, :24.60, and :36.60 under jockey Calvin Borel and galloped out five furlongs in 1:01.80.
“He's doing good," said Borel. "Carl's got him on the right track. It's up to Carl now. He told me what to do with him this morning and I did what he wanted. We're just going to go from here. He's as good as before, or better."
"There's something about this horse—he's a fast work horse," Nafzger said. "I don't necessarily say that's an asset or not, but he worked :49 this morning and never did drop his head." [Thoroughbred Times]
A couple of readers disagreed as to the significance of the Thursday media conference at which Nafzger will announce their decision. I think it was scheduled even before this work, so I don't know if it means anything either way. I'm still thinking they're going to duck the race, but these comments make me a bit more hopeful. Judging from the Toddster's recent remarks, if he does run it will probably mean that Rags to Riches doesn't. But I hope that the sporting nature of her connections - if they have any - prods them to do so if she's ready. The last couple of years have been a difficult promotion for a non-Triple Crown Belmont - even Afleet Alex vs. Giacomo was a bit of a stretch - but this one has some real potential if all of these guys - and the gal - go.

Bill Finley, writing on, makes no bones as to his opinion:
It's a sad day for the sport when a horse who has run all of four times this year and, apparently, is perfectly healthy may duck a Triple Crown race. The Belmont is a difficult race and the Triple Crown is a demanding series, but it is where good horses go to prove their mettle and their talent. Tafel and Nafzger should be relishing the Belmont challenge. Instead, they are prepared to run from it. That's not fair to a terrific horse in Street Sense and it's certainly not fair to the sport.
But it's not fair to the horse or the sport if the trainer feels that the horse isn't up to it, and it would be hypocritical of anyone who's been advocating stretching the series out to insist that the horse run in the third leg. Not that Finley has to my knowledge....but I'm just saying. [UPDATE - Michael at Curb Your Enthusiasm has more more thoughts on Finley's column.]

- A brief baseball break - Last night in New York we saw two fairly remarkable games that showcased two teams headed firmly in the opposite directions. The Yanks dropped their fifth in a row, falling 14 1/2 games out of first behind some other team. The Blue Jays went ahead in the 7th when Aaron Hill made a mad dash to steal home while Andy Pettite was completely oblivious, locked in on his next pitch; one of the more infrequent, but most exciting plays in the game. And though the Yanks managed to tie the game in the top of the 8th - courtesy of two Toronto errors - the Jays scored the winning run in the the bottom half when Alex Rodriguez, featured on the front page of the NY Post for entirely the wrong reason today, played a sacrifice bunt that was clearly headed foul, and Scott Proctor, brought in for unknown reasons by Joe Torre, surrendered a sacrifice fly in a terrible relief performance.

Shortly thereafter, the streaking and most Amazing Mets went into the bottom of the 12th trailing by a run. Fortunately for them, Giants manager Bruce Bochy brought in Armando Benitez, who promptly walked the leadoff batter Jose Reyes. Benitez, a hated ex-Met known to wilt under pressure, promptly balked Reyes to second, and after the latter moved to third, AMAZINgly balked him home after being rattled by a fake dash home. You tell me the last time you saw two balks on the same baserunner. It was little surprise that the easily rattled reliever then gave up a mammoth game-winning homerun to the red hot Carlos Delgado. David Wright said "I don't think you'll ever see a game like this again," but if there's a way to lose, the Yankees will probably find it. So don't bet on that.

Notes - May 30

- Bob and John, possibly the worst Belmont Stakes favorite of all time (did you even remember he was the betting choice?), determinedly held off Sweetnorthernsaint, last year's Derby favorite, on a sloppy track in the Lone Star Handicap on Sunday. It was his first win in more than a year, since he took the Wood, also in the slop. If you take a big black marker and draw a line through those two ugly Triple Crown races, you see a horse who has never finished out of the money in 11 starts. Bob Baffert said: "Bob always shows up....We've been waiting for John to kick in. Finally, it did today." [] You see, don't you miss that guy on the Derby Trail? Both Bob and John may next race in the Hollywood Gold Cup.

Another Baffert runner who ran over the weekend was Point of Impact, who, as you may recall, was one of the more highly touted yet-to-start horses in recent memory last winter. It took him three races to graduate, and then he ran up the track on the grass last March, and this was his first appearance since then. And now he's just another horse, sent off at 7-1 and finishing a never-in-it 7th.

- Street Sense was scheduled to work out this morning at Churchill and let's see...ah, a half mile in 49 seconds (14/28). An announcement is expected on Thursday as to whether he'll run in the Belmont, and the guess here is 'no.'

- Corinthian got a 107 Beyer for his win in the Met Mile, and his owners are talking about taking on Invasor in the Suburban on June 30.

- The Form reports that Shakespeare, last seen running 12th in the 2005 Breeders Cup Turf at Belmont is training for a comeback, now for Kiaran McLaughlin. And High Finance earned a gaudy 114 for an allowance race win at Belmont on Sunday.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Be An Owner on Belmont Day

- Or at least sit in one of their boxes. The Belmont Child Care Association (BCCA), a non-profit organization which has established an on-site childcare center for the benefit of working families at New York area racetracks, and which provides scholarships to those unable to afford the cost of care, is raffling off an owner's box on the finish line at Belmont for the big day. Please check out their website for more information. The organization also holds a star-studded fundraiser in Saratoga each summer; this year's scheduled for August 22 at the Gideon Putnam Hotel.

Raffle tickets cost $5, or five for $20. There are several way to enter. You can call BCCA at 516-488-2103 and purchase them via credit card; email your card information to or fax it to 516-488-1410, or mail a check (or CC number) to: The Belmont Child Care Association / Belmont Park - Gate 6 / 2150 Hempstead Turnpike, Elmont, NY 11003. But please note that entries must be in by Friday at noon!

Monday, May 28, 2007

Tuesday Morning Notes

- A happy crowd of 15,000 was on hand at Belmont for Memorial Day. Well, I suppose not everyone was happy, particularly one guy who, on the way out, was muttering about what a "rat hole" the track was. I'd shudder to hear what he calls Aqueduct. But most everyone seemed happy, and the park was crowded. There were actually lines at the windows outside, and I had to go to Betting Plan B for the first time this year.

I was late getting there; it was foolish for me to think that I'd be able to leave at my convenience with a full allotment of kids in the house. So I phoned in a bet on the early double; a cold combo of the horses I picked here in the first two. Cockney Gambler, misidentified as Dontess on a shaky day for Tom Durkin (that sure would have been a disappointment for Dontess bettors back in the day, listening to the call on WCBS), did his part before I arrived. But Dr. D.F.C fell short in the second to a 60-1 shot (!), Big Daddy Rex. My fate was sealed as they turned for home, and a guy watching at the same TV started screaming "Go Eibar! C'mon Eibar!" It's just uncanny how I never win when the big loudmouth guy in the area is yelling for my horse. If I had a computer with me and could get on one of those exchanges where you can wager in the middle of the race, I'd have laid off my bet as soon as he started yelling.

So that was a disappointment, but I did hit the Pick 3 ending with He's A Pioneer in the sixth, another horse I picked on the blog. I singled Pletcher's Winstrella, spread in the 5th, and singled He's A Pioneer. I would have been even happier if 10-1 Spurred had caught 7-2 Thunderestimate in the fifth, but the $142.50 payoff was quite satisfactory and made for a profitable day. Reverberate was dead on the board in that last leg and ran 5th.

I also picked the winner of the 7th here, and the runner-ups in reverse order. But it was a race that I just didn't care for, and I ended up not betting that one. And the 9th was just wacky. I had written that it looked like an impossibly wide open race, and felt silly when Perfect Bullet was the only horse getting bet. He was even money, and got slammed to 1-2 at post time, 1-2! Looking back, he was a standout going strictly by proven turf form; and neither of the first-timers got bet. But I was surprised that he was bet that low, and felt vindicated when he ran out of the money.

- Thanks to Valerie for pointing out that Clocker-1 was back today, and had this to say about Street Sense:

..he DID NOT make a favorable impression. He appeared a bit washy again, and was reluctant to get going. In fact, he actually had to have the lead pony engage him in order to begin galloping! Not good news for those of us hoping to see the "BIG 3" in the Belmont.
They're supposed to make a decision by Wednesday.

After Corinthian's win in the Met Mile, Jimmy Jerkens referred to the horse's last workout; it was a bullet (of 54) five furlongs in 58 flat.
“The work a week ago was beyond anything I ever saw. I never had a horse do what he did. He was just strong all the way. He was terrific all week. I thought if he didn’t run good today, he just wasn’t good enough.” [Thoroughbred Times]
The move was one full second faster than the second fastest drill at the distance; and it was truly a star-studded workout roster that day. Chances are that if the Met Mile was scrutinized as is the Kentucky Derby, there would have been numerous stories written about that work, and the horse would have been 7-2 instead of 9-1! Jimmy Jerkens did his part in keeping the payoff generous; I found no comments from him about the work before the race, only him saying that "It's going to be tough."

As he did in his work, he ran strong all the way in the Met Mile. He was right behind the contested pace that picked up steam in a second quarter of 22.49. He was then three wide for a good portion of the sweeping turn for home; but he was solid in the stretch, putting away a game Lawyer Ron and holding off the overlaid Political Force to set up an all-Jerkens exacta of $285.

He's The Man

- The Tin Man was The Man in the Shoemaker, undaunted by a lengthy layoff, a distance that may be shorter than he prefers, the presence of the mile specialist Kip Deville, and despite a three wide journey around the leaders on the final turn. Once the remarkable nine-year old put his head in front soon after turning for home, I felt that the outcome was never in doubt. There was no way any of those other guys were getting past The Tin Man as he stormed home in 11.31 seconds for the last furlong.

And the $9 mutuel, with the benefit of hindsight, was a pretty nice price. I was too busy working on getting the BBQ going to get down at that price, but was glad I got to see the race live.

And would you have believed in February that you'd be able to get almost 10-1 on Corinthian in May? Kudos to any of you who stuck with him at that price. Despite his excuse in the Excelsior, it still seemed a disappointing race, and the one-turn mile was a change of pace (though he won at a mile at the Big A last year). He looked like a mess in the paddock, sweat dripping like a steady leak from a faucet as he made his way to the track. I ended up betting Sun King without much enthusiasm. I felt that Lawyer Ron had to be opposed at 8-5, and I think I landed on Sun King more because he had less negatives than the others than because I really liked him. He had no excuse whatsoever, and I'm filing it as a bad bet. I've lost my last wager on this horse, never again!

Notes - May 28

- Received a couple of emails regarding my post on Capital Play. An Australian journalist wrote to inform me that he accompanied "the entire Capital Play team" to tour the Belmont backstretch on May 14 in what was a "comprehensive visit." I had presented my information that they hadn't visited to a representative of the company in what was at least a half-hearted attempt at being a real journalist; I went with it when it was not disputed. But in any event, apologies for that bit of misinformation.

Another reader writes:

[Betsy Berns] is the author of a horrible, terrible book called "The Female Fan Guide to Thoroughbred Racing," which is filled with party tips and pointless, cutesy factoids (including one that incredibly makes wife beating out as something kinda funny) along with basic handicapping and wagering instruction. It is not to Capital Play's credit that they have Berns on board, at least to this female fan ...
Ms. Berns, who is assisting the company in its strategy to attract women to the tracks, also writes a blog called the Female Fan for IVillage. I haven't read the book, so I can't yet comment on the above assessment of it, but I did look at the blog, and the thought that she's actually getting paid to write fluff like that is getting me all depressed and making me think that I should be devoting my time to a more lucrative pursuit. So let's change the subject...

- I ran across this interesting piece in the Evansville Courier & Press (which I probably found on the Albany Law School's Racing and Gaming Today). I was not aware that it was Ken McPeek who picked out and signed the ticket for Curlin, and he describes how he got the colt for just $57,000:
Curlin was forecast to sell for about $300,000. McPeek bought the colt cheap because he'd had an OCD lesion removed from his left ankle as a weanling. That dissuaded any pinhookers who train them for a few months and resell at a profit. "He had it all," said McPeek. "Hips, legs, length, girth. Everything but a real attractive head. People trying to turn a horse quickly wouldn't touch him with that ugly ankle. I gambled. That's what I do. I gamble where some won't."
Nice gamble, indeed. Knowing which imperfections are the ones that are OK to disregard is a very valuable talent. The original owners have already partly cashed in on the horse, and I imagine the best is yet to come.

As you may know, Garrett Gomez replaces Mario Pino on Hard Spun, and the deposed rider spoke to the Baltimore Sun.
"Absolutely, I don't think I did anything wrong...The whole race was fast and I thought my horse ran really well.

"It's horse racing. Things happen out of your control. I really don't have any second thoughts. [The race] was presented that way. It set up that way. Fast from start to finish."
Pino said he wishes Hard Spun and his connections "nothing but good luck.

Said Pino: "Life goes on. Everything is good."
- And apologies to A.P Jet, who I tried to kill off the other day. The stallion is alive and well at Sugar Maple Farm in New York,

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Met Mile Day

- Some thoughts on today's Memorial Day card at Belmont:

Race 1 - Cockney Gambler moves up in class confidently for the hot Phil Serpe barn. He had to angle out sharply after turning for home on the rail, and put in a nice rally when he finally got settled. He may or may not appreciate the extra furlong, but something around his 9-2 morning line seems worth a try. On the Margin also moves up, he for Bruce Levine. He lost on a head bob in his last (to a horse that came back to beat cheaper at Philly), and the turnback to seven may help. Dontess opened up a lead with ease for Eibar Coa against cheaper for the revived Howie Tesher; but the fact that Coa jumps off for Raw Cat, and the extra distance are both concerns. Raw Cat looks logical off a second at this level, but doesn't inspire confidence for the top slot.

Race 2 - Dr. D.F.C ran very well for third in his grass debut. He got squeezed a bit between horse while very wide on the turn, but once he found a lane, he closed with good energy, though he failed to last for second over the ground saving Senor Musician. Switch to Eibar Coa may help. Striking Rizzi has been consistent with three seconds since switching to grass; the third and 4th place finishers in his last both won their subsequent starts in this company.

Race 3 - The (latest) return of Commentator, 2-5 against four defenseless state-bred rivals. "He gets these fractures and they have to heal," Zito said. [DRF] That can be a problem.

Race 4 - Winstrella won easily at a mile at the Big A for the hot Toddster, turning back Joppa Flat's, who ran very well for second on Saturday; note the steady improvement in his Beyers. Cheetah Trail graduated first out for Dutrow, and ran well for second in allowance company despite hesitating at the gate both times. Note the two nice gate works since at Monmouth. He tries stretching out, and could complete (or top) a short exacta. Three in the Bag has good early foot for Contessa and has proven to be a stubborn foe on this Belmont strip.

Race 5 - This is one tough state-bred maiden race, with several of these coming off impressive graduations on the grass. Then there's That'll Do, making his grass debut for Castle Village Farm and trainer Leah Gyamarti, whose runners have been quite sharp here thus far. This three-year old son of Freud was claimed by CVF for $50,000, and has already won for them on the dirt. But the grass is where he should shine, at least according to his bloodlines. He's out of a mare by Lear Fan (Roberto) [which makes him inbred 4x3 to Roberto] who is a three-quarter sister to the St. Leger/Epsom Derby winner Touching Wood, and a half to the dam of the multiple Group 1 winner Pride. Thunderestimate was second on the board and the track to Admiral Bird in that one's Saratoga debut; and was the easiest kind of winner in his return on May 2; fifth place finisher Logic Way won the 9th on Saturday, and you may want to upgrade if Striking Rizzi runs well in the 2nd. Back to Mandalay really did win with something left, as noted in the comment line. You may want to upgrade him if Seeking No More runs well in the 2nd.

Race 6 - Reverberate looks tough here dropping back to reality after three decent tries in graded stakes; he should have a willing target in City Attraction, for whom the mile distance seems beyond his capabilities. But here's a plug for He's a Pioneer, 6-1 morning line for Bruce Levine. Yes, he had a blistering pace to run at in a pretty mediocre field when he won his last. But, according to Formulator, he ran a 21.43 second quarter just to keep up, yet still was able to circle wide and hold off Pulpiteer for the win. He's had a month off to recover from that effort, two excellent workouts since; and he's won at this mile distance.

Race 7 - Pays to Dream is two-for-two on grass in this ponderous and uninspiring state-bred allowance; doesn't have the figs, but has some nice turf pedigree. By High Yield out of a stakes winning Time for a Change (Damascus) mare, he descends from the family of the Italian champion Alwuhush and his brother, the Rothmans winner Husband. Good Going Darl probably has the best grass form, having run second to Gimme Credit in a restricted stakes last fall. The problem is that he's been out since fall and returns for a barn that's winless in 2007. Banrock also returns off a layoff, and had a series of close-but-no-cigar finishes in this class last year.

Met Mile - I dealt with this contentious edition of this classic Grade 1 stakes by the process of elimination and came up with this: Silent Name surprised in the Commonwealth on Polytrack, but has never run on natural dirt. Some people were ready to see Corinthian take on Invasor after his dazzling four-year old debut, but the narrow win over Hesanoldsalt and his poor showing after a poor break in the Excelsior has tempered some of the enthusiasm; and in any case, this doesn't seem like his ideal route. Dutrow has entered a rabbit in Mr. Umphrey, which figures to make life very difficult for Half Ours and Latent Heat (and longshot Accountforthgold as well). The latter seems the more likely of that duo to survive the early doing, but this seven furlong specialist may be hard pressed to last until the finish.

That brings me to three main contenders - Lawyer Ron, Sun King, and Silver Wagon. If you put a line through the two mile and a quarter races at Churchill Downs, Lawyer Ron has some fantastic record. He seemed far more tractable under rating by Edgar Prado in the Oaklawn Handicap than he did as a three-year old; and two back was a win at the one-turn mile of Gulfstream over subsequent two-time winner Istan. Pletcher has been spacing his races a bit less than two months apart, and this son of Langfuhr looks ready to roll. I expect a return to closing tactics for Sun King after he was closer to the pace in the Westchester, his 2007 debut and nothing more than a prep I suspect. The pace setup should be far to his liking, and he should be rolling late for the hot Zito. Silver Wagon is in incredible form for Dutrow, and interestingly his current roll seems to correspond with the addition of front bandages. Castellano will be looking for a trip identical to the one that carried him to victory in the seven furlong Carter.

I'm going to narrow it down further to Sun King and Lawyer Ron for the top slot. Silver Wagon, as sharp as he is, has never won beyond seven furlongs, while the mile seems right up the other two's alley. I can't see betting Lawyer Ron at his 5-2 morning line in this affair, and would lean towards Sun King if he's really 5-1. Even though he's never quite won a Grade 1, I feel that he's the only real legit such horse at distances beyond seven furlongs. Zito's runners have been sharp, the pace setup should be to his liking, and Sun King should be rolling late. (And a word for Jerkens' Political Force as a possible price play for the bottom portion of the exotics. This four-year old son of Unbridled's Song is improving for the Chief, and could work out a trip behind the speed.)

Race 9 - An impossible maiden turf affair including a couple of very unfortunately named runners appearing on Memorial Day. Perfect Bullet (yuck) shows two good efforts on the lawn at Gulfstream and seems the logical favorite here. First-timer War Monger (ugh) is by the excellent first-turf-out sire War Chant, out of a half-sister to the French champion Salse. He debuts for Mott, four for 35 with first time grass runners over the last year. Giant Storm debuts for the hot Stan Hough barn, just one for nine over the last two years with first-timers on the grass. This son of Giant's Causeway is a half to Argentinian champ Miss Linda, who also won the Spinster (but never won on the grass). Watch the tote on these two first-timers. Virginia Minstrel had a nice effort on grass last year; by Pleasant Tap, he's a half-brother to Bandini. Hyracotherlum is another possiblity off a decent close in a sprint for Pletcher. Good luck in this guessing game!

Race 10 - There's a tenth?

A Capital Play Odyssey

- By the way, the prior entry was the 2,000th post on Left at the Gate. Patrick is going to be mad at me for not making a big deal about it; perhaps I would have if I'd remembered and if I was in the mood for profoundity on this hot and lazy holiday weekend.

Anyway, post 2001 will be about Capital Play Ltd. There was some debate here as to what exactly are their qualifications to run horse racing as opposed to merely taking bets on them. Their CEO Karl O'Farrell tried to counter a columnist's opinion that they're just an "Australian gambling-based group" in a letter to the Albany Times Union, but didn't provide any details. I had contacted a representative of the company for his response, and he replied that though Capital Play Ltd. (Australia) is an "international wagering company," Capital Play (New York) does in fact include executives with "extensive experience in race track management." Those gentlemen are all listed on their website here.

Chief Operating Officer Mark Owens was the Chief Executive of the Australian Capital Territory Racing Club in Canberra in the early 1990's. Operations Director Paul Brettell was CEO of Moonee Valley Racing Club, and, according to the bio:

..led numerous initiatives that were firsts in Australia, including installation of the new sand profile turf track, promoting night racing, securing a place for the BMW Cox Plate in the World Racing Series, selling sponsorship of the inside running rail which has been copied by all major clubs, growing wagering and non wagering revenue streams..
Jim Colquhoun was the Chairman of the Canberra Racetrack, and later Chairman of the ACT-TAB, the Aussie equivalent of NYC OTB. Legal council Andrew Goodell served in varying functions at the upstate harness track Vernon Downs, including as its CEO in 2002.

Capital Play also wants us to not disregard their experience as a bet-taker, pointing out that with 87% of their handle being generated in international markets, they feel that they can enhance New York's reputation around the world.

It seems fair to say then that they have endeavored to bring some race track management onto their New York team. And while I don't personally know enough about Australian racing to say how valuable the specific experience cited will be here, they may have more actual racetrack management experience on board right at this moment than does Excelsior, which plans to assemble their team when and if they're chosen.

Reading over their proposals, I'm again taken by how much emphasis they are putting on their strategy of reviving racing as a live sport in New York City; and I think you have to at least admire that idea. None of the other bidders would even dare to make specific predictions as to bigger average crowds, as Capital Play has done. Their bid projects that average daily attendance at Belmont will increase to 13,043 by the year 2012 from an estimated 8,012 in 2008; and don't ask me where they're getting those numbers from! They talk about extensive improvements "to make the tracks extremely attractive," integrating the VLT's into the racing part, week-long carnivals; promoting the facilities for corporate conventions and trade shows, and the restaurants for special guest chef days, wine and cheese tastings and fashion shows. During the Rifkin Committee hearings, O'Farrell spoke of giant banners on buildings and advertising in subways.

And of course, there's their master plan to attract single young women, "knowing that young men will follow." Yes, that's actually written into their promotional materials. They even have a woman named Betsy Berns, who "has worked with the NFL and various corporate sponsors to reach sport’s female fan base." This is where I'm reminded of the cultural differences we've discussed, and wonder whether their plans, as earnest and well-intended as they might seem (and yes, nearly 140 pages of their 267 page bid is a proposed condition book for every single racing day of the year), are viable in 21st century New York City.

Indeed, there are times where they show some disconnect. For one thing, I'm told by someone who works on the backstretch at Belmont that Capital Play is the only one of the challengers that has not come to tour the facilities (and more than once). For another, one passage on their website expresses dismay that:
The vast majority of [New Yorkers] surveyed had no knowledge whatsoever regarding Belmont Park or Aqueduct, never attended either racetrack, and had no intentions of ever attending the tracks, even though both tracks were located within the City!
But we know that Belmont is in fact a stone's throw over the city border in Nassau County, and that to most Manhattanites, both Elmont and Ozone Park might as well be somewhere in the ozone layer floating over the city. And it's in large part because of that geography that Capital Play's insistence that successful OTBs can help maintain a high level of interest in thoroughbred racing that ultimately leads to a higher level of attendance at the tracks is, in my opinion, a strategy better off abandoned. It's just the total opposite of what we've experienced here, and just because it's been "proven over and over again in Australia," doesn't mean it has a shot in this weird little corner of the universe.

And then, of course, there's the matter of their proposed takeout rates, which includes across the board increases in two-horse exotic wagers - as high as a 42% rate increase for exactas! As someone who bets a lot of exactas, that alone just about makes them a non-starter. (Though despite all the bidders' takeout proposals, isn't the rate ultimately determined by the legislature? Not that that's something to necessarily take comfort from, but it can be pointed out that the state's WPS and exotic rates are the lowest in the country.)

That's too bad, because even if I'm not convinced that their strategy to make Aqueduct and Belmont vibrantly trendy destinations would work, nor if they really have the personnel with the right experience to pull it off here, it's the type of thing about which I'd love to be proven just dead fucking wrong. They're certainly persistent and spunky if nothing else, and gained some substantial financial credibility in the form of real estate developer Stephen Ross, who has bought in to the tune of 20%. So, once left for dead by the Ad Hoc committee, it seems as if Capital Play is here to stay. Now, why don't they do something about those takeout rates, and show that they mean what they propose to do about the backstretch, and then maybe we can talk.

Belmont Notes - May 27

- A little preview of July at a hot and hazy Belmont on Saturday, with 7,138 on hand. Pletcher took the second with Communicator (Jump Start); the Toddster is now 7 for 27, gathering steam after a slow start at the meeting. This guy faded to 8th in his debut, but here came absolutely flying wide around the turn from out of the picture, and went on for Johnny V. This colt's second dam is a half-sister to the Derby winner Grindstone.

I loved Trippi's Storm in the third, and I watched with amusement as the 6-1 morning line shot got pounded on the nose in the win pool in the closing minutes; from 4-1, down to 5-2 before settling at 3-1. And though I had a winning exacta ticket with second place finisher Tiverton, I needed to hit the triple to make real money on the race, and was denied when Frankel's favored Lemon Law was edged for the third spot by 23-1 Big Bold Place. Ow. It was the first of two winners on the day for trainer Stan Hough, and of three winners for the resurgent Javier Castellano, who suffered through a poor meeting at Keeneland.

In the sixth, Count On Pal was another hottie; 12-1 in the morning line (a dubious line in retrospect), he was bet steadily throughout and went off at 4-1. After leading throughout with Raul Rojas, he was confronted by No Parole, who got pounded late at the windows himself returning off a long layoff for A. Dutrow. The two staged a fierce head-bobbing duel inside the sixteenth pole with Count On Pal getting the head bob.

An impressive return in the 7th by Frankel's First Defence. He'd run second to Zanjero in his last start last fall, a race in which Dominican ran 4th, and remember him? I guess he's a Polytrack specialist after all, eh? With a couple of speed horses scratched, First Defence went wire to wire in a dazzling 1:20.96; the chart reads: cruised away on his own courage turning for home and reported promptly under mild reminding.

Forget that thing I said Dubai taking something out of Honey Ryder. “I’ve always thought the shipping back from Dubai thing has always been overrated,” Pletcher said. Of course, he said the same about eight week layoffs before the Derby (though not afterwards).

And I was alive in the late Pick Four to Victory Assured, the second choice in the 9th. It was paying a decent $297 despite the two heavy favorites in the middle, but it was not to be, as he checked in third behind runners that went off at double digit odds. Ugh.

Taking the day off from racing today, and will rev up for the big Memorial Day card featuring the Met Mile, which may be the hardest race of all time.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Comments on Comments

- I was thinking out loud about just where this idea to split the New York franchise between Saratoga and downstate came from if not from the governor's office. Late Scratch asked:

Why exclude NYRA from your list of suspects? They really never wanted anything to do with slots (or OTB or simulcasting) from the beginning. This unlikely scenario plays right into their supposed strengths - a not-for-profit who can put on a boutique meet front-loaded with graded stakes.
I think that makes a lot of sense; whats more, since NYRA is, presumably, the only bidder in direct contact with the governor's office, it's conceivable that it's an idea that was brought up during the negotiations. One anonymous commenter noted that it must have originated from a politician- it's a lousy idea. While I wholeheartedly agree with that statement in principle, if this one came from a politician, I think it was someone other than Spitzer. I don't really think that Governor "What's the difference if there are horses running or not?" has considered anything other than the potential for revenue, and that he neither knows nor cares enough about the industry and the issues to even have been able to conceive of such a thing. I wonder if he could even name the bidders without referring to his notes.

And another anonymous poster pointed out that the Port Authority may take precedence over any private development of a shuttered Aqueduct site. This whole scheme has been a disguised eminent domain issue from day one. I would imagine that Spitzer would fight any sale that doesn't bring the most money possible; and considering that the fencing that for many months closed off so much of the Big A parking lot was nothing more than a big 'fuck you' encircling a completely empty space, it's hard to see what justification they would have for wanting the whole property. However, the Port Authority has always been at the center of Big A rumors in the past, so I suppose we shouldn't expect anything different now.

I also liked the irony in Late Scratch's comment, regarding the lack of people at Belmont, that maybe if we held a Stanley Cup final game there..... I know they are totally different situations, but still, with all the talk last week about how hockey was below even racing on the sports totem pole, even a typically poorly-attended and moribund Islanders home game (as in, any game not against the Rangers) can outdraw several days worth of crowds at the track.

- Andrew Lakeman has spinal cord damage, and the doctors would not comment as to what the implications are. [Charles] Hayward said Lakeman, 32, had “severe spine trauma, the implications of which is why they’re not making any prognosis.” [NY Times]

Friday, May 25, 2007

Belmont Saturday (w/ updates)

- Jockey Andrew Lakeman is in critical condition at North Shore hospital after a spill at Belmont on Friday. Reports from the hospital said that Lakeman was facing life-threatening injuries, and the next 3-4 days will be critical. [NY Daily News] Lakeman exercises horses for Allen Jerkens, and has won seven races out of 181 as a jockey.

At first, Lakeman was reported to have a broken nose and possible head injuries. Sketchy reports last evening from the hospital, which cannot release patient information, said he was heading into the operating room and on life support.

Little is known about Lakeman.....he lives in a dorm on the Belmont Park backstretch, and on his personnel card in the jocks room, his next-of-kin is listed simply as "mother." [NY Post]
However, life goes on at Belmont today as always, as the holiday weekend kicks off. I really intended to do all nine races by last night, but y'know, things just don't always work out, so I'll have to settle for this, and I know it's already too late for many people to read it anyway. But here goes.

Race 1 - Sir Jackie was claimed for $50K by Patrick Reynolds, was badly beaten for 75K after a slow start, and now drops for $17.5. Hello. And beware of River Mountain Rd, dropping for A. Dutrow; he's lost six in a row at odds ranging from 6-5 to 7-2, and his last race particularly sucked at a similar route to this. I'd love to bet against both of these but I don't like anyone else. Pass.

Race 2 - Ah, this is more like it. Validation was well-bet in his debut for R. Dutrow, broke badly and finished well for a distant third to repeat winner Holy Canyon and the ridiculously named The Duke of Stanco, who just missed here last week. Thank goodness the latter wasn't a Derby horse with that name, though he could have had a TV show named after him. Secret Entry is the other half of the entry, with C. Velasquez named on both, each also entered at Monmouth. This one stretches out after a close loss in a sprint, and either one could be favored on his own. Joppa Flat's has the best Beyer in the field, achieved when finishing second to a Pletcher favorite in his last at this distance. Charlie Caliente stretches out after a poor try at six furlongs; his prior at seven was good and I think he'll like the stretch to a mile. Perusal is 4-1 morning for Shug; this son of Dynaformer out of a Danzig half-sister to Coronado's Quest ran well on Poly in his last and may prefer grass.

Race 3 - Trippi's Storm was supported at the mutuels when moving up sharply in class, and exploded home under a highly confident ride by M R Cruz; Larry Collmus noted that he was still in hand when still 7th midway round the turn, and responded with a whoosh when finally asked for run. Castellano is back and he's a possible price play in a race in which all six runners have a shot; and trainer Stan Hough has won three of his last six. Sea of Trees ceded much ground to the winner when he dropped a half length decision in his first off a layoff and with a suitable drop in class. Lemon Law goes for Frankel, who's mired in a 1 for 27 slump at Hollywood (make that 2 for 28 after Double Trouble took the third on Friday night). But that makes him five for 15 everywhere else. Lemon Law loves to mix it up - he's been involved in the photo in four straight races decided by a nose. He's lost the last two, but will probably be close again.

Race 4 - The insanely hot Christophe Clement - another winner on Friday, his 6th from 17 starters - unveils Jets Only, a son of the late A.P Jet out of a Dynaformer mare who won't have to be much to beat the ones who have started in this state-bred affair. His sire has an 11% mark with first-timers. He has a steady but unspectacular series of breezes going back to February. Mr. Bibbs (Wheelaway/Unbridled) debuts for Todd Beattie, a high percentage trainer on the mid-Atlantic circuit with a 34% mark with first-time starters. He's three for 14 when shipping here, two of those wins with his nice stakes winner Fabulous Strike.

Race 6 - Robert Klesaris is two-for-five at the meeting thus far, and he's hot at Del Park too. Wave the Baton makes his first start since November, and showed good turf form last year; a somewhat similar pattern to Taming the Tiger, a prior winner this meet for the barn albeit off a much longer layoff. Karakorum Tuxedo was favored in his first turf start in his 40th race - what took them so long? He had the lead between calls in the stretch, but succumbed late to the same Taming the Tiger; shorten up in distance here may help. Multiple Choice rallied wide around a big field for third, and had a solid second at this class and distance in May of last year here. He also won the 2004 Jaipur Stakes.

Race 7 - A lot of speed here, [UPDATE: not so much now with both halves of the Dutrow entry scratched] and perhaps that will help Shone get into the winner's circle for Zito, 10-4-1-1 at the meeting, after burning a lot of money of late. I think you can excuse his last in the slop at Churchill, and this appears to be his best distance. First Defence returns for Frankel; in his last race last fall at Churchill, he ran a bang up second around two turns to Zanjero. He romped here in October at six furlongs against a field that has hardly distinguished itself since. He seems to want the lead and may not get it here. Grand Refer is one of the other speeds; he has some nice lines against NY-breds, but those were very weak fields and he'll have to step it up today.

And briefly, in the Sheepshead Bay, I'm standing against the probable favorite Honey Ryder. Just a feeling that she won't be at her best just a couple of months after her debacle in Dubai. We see some horses come back OK from that, and some not, and I'm leaning towards the latter with this one. But Pletcher also has Safari Queen in the race, and she is in top form this year. She hasn't beaten the best Grade 3 fields, but, aside from Honey Ryder, this one ain't so hot either. Factual Contender looks like possible lone speed, and a handy target for Safari Queen (or Honey Ryder if she's in the mood).

That's it, sorry for the late posting, but tell NYRA to take entries earlier like everybody else!!!

[UPDATE: One more thing before I the 9th: Mark Hennig won two races on Friday, and starts Victory Assured here. He did save ground when rallying for third in his last, but showed good energy closing in 11 3/5. And the race looks like a good one: the winner, Hangingbyathread came back to run third in an open company allowance; the second place finisher ran an OK 4th in his next (albeit at 3-5), and the 4th place finisher, Manhattan Mack, won his subsequent start.]

Not Showing Up

- Some bad news, as the Form reports that Showing Up has a ligament tear and his future plans are uncertain.

"I'm not going to run him for three months," Tagg said...."I'm not even going to think about the Breeders' Cup; I'm not going to think about his year. I just want to get it better first. A lot of those things can heal up in three months. Maybe it will, maybe it won't, I don't know. We're going to give it every chance."
At least it sounds as if he will run again at that ripe old age of four at which others with a similar injury could be retired. Of course, with his rather obscure breeding, Showing Up probably still has to show up and race in order to enhance his value at stud.

And as expected, Nobiz Like Shobiz won't run in the Belmont, and Tagg will aim for the Dwyer instead. "If it were a walkover or a two-horse race, I would run." [Louisville Courier-Journal] As Jessica, posting regularly again over at Railbird said: Tagg's no fool. He knows his still maturing colt is no match for the likes of Curlin right now.

- Trainer Bill Kaplan told FOX Sport's Jerry Klein that Imawildandcrazyguy, who rallied nicely for 4th in the Derby, had the Belmont as his main goal all along, a line we've heard from many trainers of plodders in the past. "He needs 2 1/2 miles but he'll have to settle for 1 1/2."

- Invasor is preparing for his June 30 start in the Suburban Handicap at Belmont, and then perhaps will run only once more before the Breeders' Cup. Don't expect to see him run in the Hollywood Gold Cup that day instead. Sheikh Hamden al Maktoum, who operates Shadwell Stable, does not want his horse to run on a synthetic surface like Hollywood Park's Cushion Track. []

- It's Friday, and people are still writing about NBC skipping out on their hockey telecast for a Preakness pre-game show which had a lot of content meaningless even for us racing fans. It could be the most publicity the sport has had since Todd Bertuzzi attacked Steve Moore. Perhaps the NHL had the right idea, and should always schedule playoff games three hours before something that the network has to switch to. The Anaheim Ducks and Ottawa Senators will play for the Stanley Cup starting on Monday, and here's hoping that the series creates some excitement on its own. I like the Sens in 7.

'Any' Means Any in West Virginia

- On Tuesday, West Virginia's Court of Appeals rejected the constitutional challenge by the West Virginia Family Foundation to the upcoming referendums on table games at four racetracks, and the votes will go on as scheduled.

Ohio and Jefferson counties will hold the first balloting on June 9, and began early voting Friday. Hancock County is scheduled to vote on June 30, and Kanawha County on Aug. 11. [Times West Virginia]
Originally, all of the votes were scheduled for June 9, but two of the counties failed to advertise the elections 30 days in advance as required by law. [Charleston Daily Mail] Er, oops.

The opponents' argument that the 1984 law that authorized a State Lottery didn't apply to table games seemed to make common sense, but not legal sense, at least not to three of the five sitting judges, who accepted the state's argument that the term "lottery" has broad meaning and refused to even hear the case.
In response to the foundation's lawsuit, lawyers for the state Lottery said in court records: "Any scheme or device through which a chance to win a prize is exchanged for consideration is a ‘lottery.' That has been the law for many decades.

"And ‘any' means any," the Lottery said. "Whether the ‘scheme or device' is a scratch-off ticket, video poker terminal, pay-off pinball machine, punch board, theater give-away night or a casino-style table game, ‘any' means any."

Big A Land In Huge Demand

- Thanks to reader JK to sending along the link to this article in the New York Sun about just how attractive the land upon which Aqueduct sits would be to developers should the track be closed.

"It probably is the largest undeveloped hunk of viable real estate in the city," a professor of urban studies at CUNY's Queens College, Martin Hanlon, said. "In terms of potential for development, it's very much there — you have the Belt Parkway, you have the A train."

If Aqueduct, which sits just north of the western reaches of JFK, were shut down and opened to new construction, real estate analysts say the giant site, about eight times bigger than the Hudson Yards rail site on the far West Side of Manhattan, could be developed as a regional hub for southeastern Queens, with room for millions of square feet of residential and commercial space.
The piece goes on to discuss the usual desire of the local community to restrict any possible development to low-rise housing in keeping with the character of the community there, but ha, and sorry Ozone Park residents, but fat freaking chance for that! The current zoning laws in the area allow for commercial development - just check out the Home Depot built right next door - and the track sure ain't coming down to build two-story, one-family residential housing, I'm sorry to say. Of course, the whole deal is quite speculative right now, and the reaction to the story has been wholly, and thankfully, negative.
"I'm totally opposed to it," [Gary] Pretlow, the chairman of the Assembly's Committee on Racing and Gaming, said via telephone. "It's not good for racing — it doesn't do anything for the entire industry in New York; it hurts the existing venues."
- According to the Saratogian, the idea to split the franchise up between NYRA, who would run Saratoga, and a franchisee for downstate didn't come from Spitzer's office. The concept is anathema to the folks in Saratoga, and the Concerned Citizens for Saratoga Racing immediately convened a press conference to explain why.
- Separate track operators would compete with each other.
- Operators would find it hard to hire and retain competent staff.
- Duplication of equipment and operating systems.
- Owners and trainers might move to states with more stable operations.
- Competing tracks might run head-to-head, forcing one to close.
- Racing's quality would deteriorate, reducing income to state and local government. [The Saratogian]
But if the idea didn't come from the governor's office as Rifkin claims, where did it come from? I don't imagine that Tom Precious, who broke the story on, made it up. My ever-skeptical mind wonders if it's something being floated by one or more of NYRA's challengers. After all, Saratoga may be profitable, but I don't imagine that those revenues would be very material compared to those from the downstate slots parlors. Recalling the backlash when Magna proposed making Saratoga a year-round entertainment destination, why would the bidders want to hassle with the responsibilities and restrictions associated with the high demand to keep Saratoga exactly the way it is (as in, slots-free)? They would, of course, if they really cared about the sport. But excuse me if I sometimes often wonder if that's really the case.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Highland Cat Sputters, Belmont Shines

- As Highland Cat was unsaddled after his mediocre fifth on Thursday, there was still a sliver of hope. Hope that someone would come along, slap on a red tag, lead him away, and deposit $35,000 in our account. Of course, that wasn't likely, and it didn't happen. The Head Chef, so impressed by his appearance before the race, was harsh and succinct in her post-race assessment: "He sucks."

Well, maybe she's being a little harsh, but chefs of her stature always demand perfection. He actually got the first call, sticking his cute little head in front leaving the gate. He dropped back to fifth, maintained decent position, and started to rally on the turn. But that quickly fizzled and he basically ran evenly the rest of the way. The pace was against him - after six furlongs in 1:12.53, the next quarter went in a zippy 23.07, and the last sixteenth in 6.05. So he didn't finish badly, and galloped out well. So I don't know that he sucks, and I think he can get purse money in this company under certain circumstances. But he may very well have to go out of town to start getting wins.

Y'know, under other circumstances, I could have crushed that race; I didn't like the eventual 4-5 favorite Exton to win, though I used him and the third place horse in my triples. And I liked the winner a lot, and used him on top in not enough combinations.

Despite the big disappointment, it was an absolutely beautiful day at Belmont. It seemed almost like a whole day off even though we were only there for the last three races. This is the nicest time of the year at the track in my opinion, before the haze and humidity of July, and the chill that quickly prevails in the fall. We stuck around to see Harlington win facilely, benefiting from a picture perfect trip. I don't know if I'd agree with Durkin's assessment that he's a "force to be reckoned with," at least not yet, just off this race. Then I made an additional donation trying to get even in the ninth. Despite the losses and the total crap I've been picking in this blog lately, I actually feel good about my handicapping right now, and I'm looking forward to spending a lot of time in that big backyard this weekend.

Notes - May 24

- Getting ready to leave for Belmont, and the Head Chef will be coming along too (though I won't have her do any filming this time). So I'll be back with photos and hopefully some happy news later on.

Also need to catch up on some news at some point soon. Walter had been wondering why no other track had yet gone with Cushion Track as their synthetic choice, and now Santa Anita has. Don't know how much that will cost Magna, but whatever amount it is will be that much more than they are apparently willing to spend to fulfill promises made to fix up the backstretch there. I'm sure they're more enthusiastic to kick in their share of Empire Racing's plans to do so in New York given the potential slots windfall that may await them here.

Thanks to those who have chimed in with varying opinions of Capital Play and exactly what experience they bring to the table. I'm in the process of gathering more information before I chime in on that. Honestly I didn't really take them seriously at first, but they've certainly been persistent if nothing else.

TVG postponed their usual overnight infomercials to run one on behalf of themselves on Wednesday night. Their all-night marathon of repeats of their Hollywood Pick Six preview was about as subtle as Lou Dobbs hawking his anti-immigration agenda on what is supposed to be a news show. It was nothing more than TVG's way of trying to pump up its own share of the massive pool (and if anyone knows what it actually was, please let us know since I can't seem to find it anywhere).

Anyway, I'm off to the races and I'll speak to you later.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Good Spot for Highland Cat

- Highland Cat is listed at 10-1 in the 7th on Thursday, and I have to say I think he's a good bet at odds like that. I think I've been pretty objective about his chances; and in fact, I didn't like him the only time he won. I owe Richie Munk breakfast at Saratoga because of that.

As soon as he came out of the gate in his last race, you could see that Highland Cat was far happier running on the grass. He broke well, showed a little tactical speed in getting position from the nine post, tracked the pace intently, and came on strong in the final sixteenth. He ran the final quarter in a respectable 24 3/5, while saving ground on the final turn. Note that he drilled a solid five furlongs exactly a week before the race, the same workout pattern Bill Turner employed last time. There are a couple of potentially formidable foes here, but he has a good post and I think that he's going to run well.

Exton is the 2-1 morning line favorite for Bill Mott and the obvious main threat. He's dropping from allowance company, where he ran a solid second two races back against a pretty good field; winner Loconia has a couple of near misses against better, and 4th place finisher Dancing Forever won earlier this month. If Exton runs back to that race, I think he'll be tough to beat. His last race was kind of an odd effort as the 5-2 second choice. He seemed to run in fits and starts, looked like he might rally but seemed to lose interest at the end. Mott doesn't seem to run horses for a tag first time in order to cash a ticket - he's 0-for-8 doing so over the last two years; 2 for 22 for the last three. So perhaps the drop is as suspicious as it probably needs to be in order for Highland Cat to beat him.

The other horse I'm a-scared of is John's Song. Phil Serpe dropped him in class a couple of times in seeking his level, and found it in a 35K maiden claimer. He won under a rousing ride by Cornelio Velasquez, who rides him back here, in a final quarter of 22 3/5 at Gulfstream. Trainer Phil Serpe is off to a quick start with two winners and a second in five tries.

Gift of Valor ran third, a length behind Highland Cat in his last. He broke poorly and came from last with a sweeping move and covered significantly more ground than did Highland Cat. However, as they approached the wire, he wasn't really gaining on Highland Cat, and I don't think he ever would have passed him. Gift of Valor is a bit of a plodder to be sure. And though he's improved a bit with Alan Garcia, I don't think he'll be better than third.

Lunenburg wired an entry level allowance field at Tampa when he walked to the half in 50 2/5. There's not much speed inside but this horse isn't really that quick either, and he beat a bad field. It's actually hard to see who the speed will be in this race, so he could perhaps clear the field, but I don't see him hanging on.

So that's it; I think this is a nice spot for Highland Cat in an important race in terms of determining his near-term future. If he proves to be not competitive in this class - bottom basement for non-NY bred grass races - the partnership has made known its intentions to send him somewhere where he will be, possibly Colonial Downs.

Rear Admiral

- Admiral Bird ran last all the way around the track as the 5-2 second choice in a performance that makes you just hope that the horse is OK.

And Rondo goes down at 1-5 to Stan Hough's Valid Notebook!

Won't be able to post until later tonight, so just wanted to reiterate that Highland Cat is scheduled to run in the 7th tomorrow, and I'm planning to attend. So if you're there, please drop by the paddock or the winner's circle to say hi!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Sticking (Stuck?) With Hard Spun

- Hard Spun still seems to have a lot of support; after all, he's been in the money for both the Derby and Preakness despite having pace issues in each race. James Scully of Brisnet sums up the prevailing reasoning of why he should not be dismissed in the Belmont.

The pace will be slower, with Hard Spun the probable lone speed, and he's got the pedigree to run all day as a son of Danzig out of a 1 1/2-mile stakes-winning dam. Bold Forbes regressed off a front-running performance in the Derby, finishing third by four lengths at Pimlico after dueling through a wicked pace battle (like Hard Spun), but he returned three weeks later with a wire-to-wire victory in the 1976 "Test of Champions." Commendable, Touch Gold, Thunder Gulch, Tabasco Cat, Hansel, Bet Twice, Danzig Connection, Swale, Conquistador Cielo, Affirmed and Seattle Slew have all utilized their speed en route to capturing the Belmont since then. [Brisnet]
Of course, Bold Forbes had Angel Cordero to somehow nurse his speed and just barely get him home; and he was trained by Laz Barrero, who would win the Triple Crown with Affirmed two years later. Here's a somewhat grainy video of Bold Forbes' Belmont win, with Dave Johnson at the mike.

Tiago worked three furlongs at Hollywood, a shorter distance than he usually drills for John Sherriffs, who said that it "was a work preparing him for his next work." [DRF] If he does indeed continue on to the Belmont, his gallop-out after the Derby will be become one of the most discussed and analyzed in recent history. I think he's an interesting entry who has an outside shot with the right pace; the win by Jazil last year may cause some of us to re-evaluate the common wisdom that dead closers don't win the Belmont (and look how far back Great Contractor and McKenzie Bridge were in '76). But I don't think he'll present much value on Belmont day.

If there really was a commissioner of racing, he or she would certainly be working on getting Street Sense and Rags to Riches to come, and we might end up with a Belmont that serves as a true grand finale to the series instead of the reflexive anti-climax that it seems to have become when the Derby winner doesn't win the Preakness.

- I understand that some people are having problems leaving comments, and I'm really at a loss. I don't see anything listed in the "known issues" on the Blogger Help section. I have the comments settings on the least restrictive settings - no moderation, and anyone can comment. I do have the word verification on, because otherwise I get deluged with spam. If you're having a problem, please let me know and/or send the comment privately and I'll post it myself.

Belmont Notes

- It's not quite Discreet Cat vs. Invasor, but those crazy Maktoum brothers will mix it up in the third at Belmont on Wednesday. Rondo is 3-5 in the morning line; the $2.9 million son of Grand Slam didn't miss a beat returning from a nearly nine month layoff at Gulfstream. Joe Bravo never moved a muscle, and he seemed to have a real smooth stride. Godolphin trainer bin ("Don't call me Bin") Suroor Saeed has won three out of four at the meeting and is now five for nine this year. The main challenger would appear to be Shadwell's Abraaj, cutting back to six furlongs for Kiaran McLaughlin and jockey Alan Garcia. And tell me this - why does Alan Garcia have his full first name listed in the Racing Form?

Admiral Bird is running in the 7th, and I got hooked on this three-year old son of Royal Academy when he made his debut at Saratoga last summer. I have him on my DRF Watch List and have been getting all the workout reports, but the notice of him being entered to run in this race ended up in my bulk folder; and that's not the first time that same sequence has occurred. You think maybe it's because of the word 'entry?'

Admiral Bird caught my attention with an exciting burst between horses to win that debut, and I eagerly awaited his return. It came on September 1, and I was on my way to crushing the $52 exacta with Giant Chieftain and getting out for the meeting when Admiral Bird lugged in badly. And despite Garrett Gomez having to nurse him home carefully, he missed by just a nose to Fernando Po with Giant Chieftain another nose back. I guess that means I would have lost that exacta even if Admiral Bird won... But I was really close to getting out!

He moved up to open company and beat Twilight Meteor in a Keeneland allowance before running third there to the same on Polytrack. Now he's back after seven months off for Clement, 14-5-3-3 at the meeting, including layoff winners Resound and Operation Red Dawn. This is a tough and interesting field, which again includes Twilight Meteor, now a stakes winner for Pletcher on Poly and turf, and back on grass after a brief appearance on the Derby Trail. Strike A Deal (Smart Strike) is another scary one coming off another good layoff trainer in Alan Goldberg; he won the Laurel Futurity in his last start. Summer Doldrums makes his grass debut; he caused a brief sensation winning the Whirlaway over the winter. He's by Street Cry out of an Unaccounted For mare; and has a bit of grass in his pedigree - his second dam is a half sister to the French Group 1 winner Var. But I look for him to be overbet off his dirt form. So it's a competitive race to be sure, but I'm definitely not letting Admiral Bird get by me at what should be a decent price.

Capital Play Gets The Kid

- I've been seeing Steve Cauthen's name the last couple of days; as the rider of Affirmed, he generally comes up once the hopes of a Triple Crown are quashed. (And by the way, given the heroic way that Curlin and Street Sense both ran just two weeks after the Derby, can we please have a moratorium on the calls to stretch the series out?)

But now, here's Cauthen again. reports that the one-time "Kid" has joined the Capital Play team. The announcement came at a press conference where the company discussed ideas to promote the Belmont in non-Triple Crown years.

“In Australia, for example, when the Melbourne Cup is coming up, you cannot get flights to Melbourne--they’re booked months out,” O’ Farrell said. “The cooperation there between the racing industry and the tourism industry is something we can learn from, the way they work together to generate excitement around racing events.”
But the Melbourne Cup is the Derby of Australia - and then some. It's a Public Holiday for Melbourne and the surrounding suburbs! So once again I think the company is being unrealistic in expecting that their experience in Australia would necessarily apply here.

Preakness Pucks Over Hockey Fans

- Many FOB's and other racing fans were disappointed when NBC postponed their Barbaro documentary when Game 3 of the Rangers-Sabres series went to double overtime. Now, the skate is on the other foot, as many hockey fans were enraged when the network left Saturday's Senators-Sabres contest before overtime for their Preakness coverage. And I can tell you that if it was the Rangers playing instead of Buffalo, as it very well could (and should) have been, and I was sitting in my hotel room in Nashville with no Versus on the TV menu, I'd be getting a bill to pay for the television with the [insert the nearest solid object] lodged through the screen.

But like most other hockey fans, I'm more disappointed with the league, wondering why they would ever accept not only having the games on in the afternoon, but scheduled only three hours before the Preakness telecast (as it was on Derby day too), and still stewing about the stupid lockout that caused it to lose their contract with ESPN in the first place. And, as is the case with horse racing, I just lament the sport's lack of popularity. To me, hockey is the most exciting team sport on the planet, and playoff overtime is a sporting spectacle second to none. But if you think horse racing ratings are anemic, they're like those for American Idol compared to hockey (a 5 for the Preakness as compared to 1.5 for the game). Some compared the incident to the infamous Heidi incident in 1968. And at least one writer suspects a grand conspiracy by commissioner Gary Bettman to impose shootouts on the playoffs, which to me would be as meaningful as a close Eclipse Award race being decided by which trainer could saddle his horse faster.

But of course, it was a no-brainer for NBC. They pay a handsome fee for rights to the race, and had to appease their paying advertisers. The NHL is on the network on a revenue-sharing basis and receives no upfront fee- and besides, there are no commercials aired during playoff overtimes.

But some did take their frustration out on the sport of kings. Most were particularly frustrated that the overtime was over at 5:20, nearly a full hour before the race actually went off. Allan Muir of Sports Illustrated wrote:

This was an epic embarrassment for the league. A conference final elimination game dropped for talk about a horse that died last year and the weather at Pimlico.
From the blog Barry Melrose Rocks:
What amazes me the most is that no one had the foresight to move the time of the game, as is done so often. Instead, we all got to watch a bunch of horses run around for two minutes and the countless inane hours of pre-show that go along with it.

Congratulations, hockey is now lower on the food chain than a sport whose glory days are far behind it, and has tried in vain to find a 'champion for the ages' that will captivate mainstream America and spark a new era of growth. Wait... or is that the NHL?
Deadspin noted:
The reason NBC was so anxious to dump the hockey game? The horse-racing pregame show. Late-breaking updates on the quality of Street Sense's pre-race bowel movements take precedence over the NHL's conference finals.
He's wrong when he wrote that "horse racing is more popular in the United States than hockey"; I don't recall professional hockey ever needing bingo halls filled with Golden Girls playing nickel slot machines just to keep a dying enterprise afloat. Well, except for the Penguins...
The CasonBlog asked: Where's PETA when you need em?
Isn't it cruel and unusual punishment to force poor defenseless animals to dash at dangerously high speeds around an oval with a 8o lb human tormentor on their back? Horses should be free to run, eat, get eaten, crap and procreate at their leisure. Well shouldn't they? Where were the legions of PETA protesters on Saturday afternoon when I most needed them? Wouldn't a huge pile of hemp-clad slackers stacked en masse around turn one have been just the ticket? Then we could have gone right back to OT in Buffalo. But noooooooo!!!!
Ironically, in Buffalo, where the local NBC affiliate stuck with the game (as did the one in nearby Rochester, where I'm sure reader Jim L. was watching), the ratings for the Preakness once the game was over was the third highest in the country; and that's not just because the Sabres fans, so smug just a couple of weeks ago, were too busy crying into their pom-poms to change the channel. The city had the 10th highest ratings for the Derby. So maybe just a few were busy sobbing.

Unfortunately for our reader Red Wings Fan, his team's tragic OT loss on Sunday was shown to its conclusion. Now he knows how we felt after blowing a 1-0 lead late in Game 5 and losing in sudden death.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Notes - May 22

- Flashy Bull got the head bob over Hesanoldsalt in the race before the Preakness, and that one could be a textbook example of 'stirring stretch drive' - they hooked up soon after turning for home, and neither one gave an inch in a....well, a stirring stretch drive. Alan Garcia was on board the winner for Kiaran McLaughlin, and he's winning at a 35% rate for the barn. He had a bit of a buzzzzz going on at Belmont last weekend, and he's second in the jockey standings with 19 wins. It was a rousing ride, with Garcia switching the whip from his left to right and back to his left in deep stretch, and getting the nod over Prado.

Nice to see these two three-year olds improve as they have at four; they got a 107 Beyer for their efforts. Hesanoldsalt has now run second three times in a row, albeit all in graded stakes, and most recently his close loss to Corinthian. That puts Flashy Bull, a Derby Trail survivor winning his first-ever stakes, in pretty good company.

Corinthian is being pointed for the Met Mile next Monday, and Memorial Day at Belmont still has a special feeling even if the crowds of 40,000 that once regularly attended on that day are long in the past. So I have the day marked prominently on my calendar. Sun King, Keyed Entry, Lawyer Ron, Latent Heat, and Godolphin's Utopia are amongst the other nominees.

- Did you know that it cost at least $45 just to park at the Preakness? The prices actually ranged up to $85....and as much for $150 for "VIP" parking. Just think - you could have been Very Important enough to pay 150 bucks just to park your car. It's only been a couple of years now since NYRA finally hiked Belmont day prices, which for years were the same as any other day. General parking will be $10; $25 for preferred, and I guess VIP's can park without extra charge. General admission is a mere five bucks, and $10 for the clubhouse.

And oh, by the way, Curlin got a 111 Beyer in the Preakness if you care. It was one race that we didn't really need a number to know just how good it was.

A Post Preakness Post

- It's post-Preakness, and as with the pre-Preakness, I find that there's not all that much to say. I think that the race pretty much speaks for itself. It was a lively affair, with the big move by Hard Spun, the surprise challenge by C P West, Street Sense's burst and Curlin's comeback. But what's missed on the replay - both NBC's and the track's - is the journey of Street Sense, and how he seemingly went from Durkin calling him 12 lengths back to the lead in a mere instant. So you might want to check out the head-on angle at Cal Racing; it provides a better view.

He remained in the two path down the backstretch, with just one horse behind him. When he started his move, he burst inside of three horses around the turn and started up his familiar rail path. However, Xchanger was quitting badly in front of him and, like in the Derby, Borel had to make a split second move to get out and around. You could say that he again was lucky to be able to make that move so seamlessly with no interference from horses outside. But again I think that you have to attribute that in large part to just how quick he is. Man, he was flying!

I have to say that as much as I admire the courage of Curlin to come back (and it helped too that he finally changed leads), I come away from the Preakness with more admiration for the loser. Part of that could be due to connections that are hard to root for (and apparently Steve Asmussen doesn't come off very well on HBO's Real Sports). But I also have an affinity for horses who can close from way back; and this one seems able to pass all of them well before the eighth pole.

I think that move would serve him well in the Belmont; I could see him running in similar fashion to Afleet Alex's Belmont. It seems as if Nafzger is a bit more amenable to the idea, at least according to Jay Privman in the Form. Big 3 showdown in Belmont? reads the headline; which to me, is saying there's a Big 3 showdown between Hilary Clinton, Barack Obama, and Dennis Kucinich. Why is Hard Spun running in this race? Sure, he hasn't been beaten at all badly - and I didn't have him anywhere on my trifecta tickets - but he hasn't come close to winning either. Does it seem like a mile and a half could possibly help him turn the table? I know about the breeding; I touted him myself earlier in the year in part due to his relation to Little Current, one of my first favorite horses. I knew Little Current, and Hard Spun is no Little Current.

The Belmont is definitely next for Curlin, according to Asmussen.

Sightseeing got a 97 Beyer in the Peter Pan; he got a 96 in the Wood, and has improved his fig each time out this year. This Phipps-bred son of Pulpit has some solid distance influence on his distaff side. He's out of Resort, a mare by Pleasant Colony who was second to Jostle in the 2000 Coaching Club American Oaks when the race was still a mile and a half. This is also the family of the 1988 Oaks winner Goodbye Halo, the two-time Turf Classic winner Val's Prince, and Serious Spender, who won the 1 5/8 mile Gallant Fox Handicap at the Big A. Still, I don't know that Shug will run him in the Belmont. He looked like he was hanging in the stretch of the Peter Pan to me, and just got up because the leaders tired.

Tiago and Imawildandcrazyguy are expected to run, and both should pick up some mutuel support off their late closes in the Derby. Privman also mentions Great Hunter and Nobiz Like Shobiz as possibilities. Nobiz Like Shobiz! Remember him?

- The Head Chef had her jar of Nashville blackberry preserves taken away at the airport last night. Seems it qualifies as a gel. They told her that it would be donated to a womens' shelter. So let me get this straight - the preserves were taken away because they could possibly be some kind of explosive. But it's OK to then give it to some homeless women? Just thought I'd ask.