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Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year

- The agreement to keep Aqueduct open until January 23 means that the last remaining piece of my equine empire, Just Zip It, will go postward in the 9th race should she not be scratched due to the expected sloppy track. I think I own like 1.85% of this horse, which translates to a few hairs on her tail probably. It's her first start since her debut some 13 months ago, when she closed from far behind to get second. To be honest, that race, a 50K state-bred maiden claimer, has not come back very strong. However, she did close quite well; Formulator has her final furlong and a half as 11.79 and 5.43 seconds respectively, and that's pretty good. You see her six works on the tab, and she had two prior going back to Nov 1. So it's a pretty solid string of works, and that quick work on Dec 5 was out of the gate.

Trainer Bill Turner is not a big layoff guy, but he does have one 180+ winner this year. And that winner happened to be Highland Cat, the only time he ever won while I still owned a piece through Castle Village, and I wasn't there. Highland Cat is also running on New Year's Day, in the 9th at Calder, a 16K claimer on the grass. Or scheduled to go on the grass. I have to admit that I bet him the last time he ran, not knowing that the race had been taken off; I felt like an idiot. This looks like a really tough spot, and he has a bad post. Dutrow has two dropdowns breaking from inside posts. He's reported to be doing quite well though, and I think he's a better horse on the grass, so I'll probably put a few bucks on him (though I'll check to see if it's on the turf first).

Now, if you don't mind, I'm going to take the rest of the year off from blogging. Here's wishing all of you a peaceful and healthy New Year, and thank all of you once again for reading. If you happen to be at the Big A tomorrow, check me out in the winner's circle after the 9th (he says hopefully).

And now, a brief musical interlude, and I'll see you again in 2008!

Dinosaur Jr. - Freak Scene (dedicated to my 2,000 or so fellow degenerates at the Big A)

Husker Du - Don't Want to Know If You Are Lonely (dedicated to Joe Bruno)

Pavement - Cut Your Hair

The National - Lit Up

Low - Hatchet (dedicated to Eliot Spitzer and Joe Bruno)

Cracker - Teen Angst (..what the world needs now are some true words of wisdom, like la la la la la la la la la)

Elvis Costello and the Attractions - What's So Funny Bout Peace, Love, and Understanding? (dedicated to all of us) (Peace.)

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Franchise Fiasco a Team Effort

- Indications are that sometime soon, perhaps on Monday, the outlines of a deal worked out by the staffs of the governor, Sheldon Silver, and Joe Bruno to extend NYRA's franchise will be announced. I'd guess that NYRA will get its 30 year term in exchange for giving up rights to the land, albeit with periodic checkups as ordered by Dr. Bruno. And I'd surmise that NYRA will have to cave at least to some extent on a restructuring of the board. Joe Bruno will proclaim that the new NYRA will be strictly monitored and held to high standards. Sheldon Silver will take satisfaction that he blocked slots at Belmont. The governor will issue a statement talking about the importance of the racing industry to the state economy, and how he's gratified that he was able to craft a solution to have it continue without interruption. NYRA executives will raise a New Year's toast to a victory which seemed absolutely inconceivable just 18 months ago.

But those of us who keep the sport going by pumping the hundreds of millions through the tote machines will be left scratching our heads. Hey, what about what we think? Why is there no real discussion of consolidating OTB with the track operator? Where are the artists' renditions of the renovated facilities at Aqueduct and Belmont? What are the plans to make those tracks vibrant and alluring once again, even if large crowds are a thing of the past and, with the proper structure in place, increasingly irrelevant to financial success? What will be done to ensure the integrity of the sport and to prevent cheating and fight illegal medications? What, improvements are in store for backstretch conditions? (I imagine the horsemen have many of the same questions.)

The public was ousted from this process once the Ad Hoc Committee on the Future of Racing was done with its work. In the nearly three years that I've been following this process, I've been right about some things, and wrong about a lot. But I've not be more incorrect than I was when I initially mocked the makeup of that committee, noting their lack of experience and knowledge of the racing industry. I scoffed further when they displayed that inexperience with questions posed at their initial public hearing. But the fact is that if the current principals put in just a mere fraction of the time and energy that the Ad Hoc Committee did in educating themselves on the important issues at hand, we'd have been much better served. Their process may have been flawed in being too clinical, and you could argue for or against their final decision. Ultimately, subsequent events and their strict assumption that the state owned the land rendered their work obsolete.

But at least they listened. They invited the public to comment at their hearings, and the fact that they listened to, and processed and carefully considered the information was clear in their final report, which disclosed, for everyone to see, exactly what went into their decision, with hardly a detail overlooked.

Ever since the current administration came to power, the process has been a classic example of secretive closed-door Albany politics. The meetings of the Rifkin Committee were public only in that they could be viewed on the internet. We learn of the current developments only through anonymous sources. And, worse yet, none of the principals have added anything constructive - not a thing - to the debate. Spitzer has been disinterested from the start, and, whatever one thinks of his MOU with NYRA, it's clear that backing down from the land claim fight was the path of least resistance and effort. Silver hasn't shown a shred of interest, except to block slots at Belmont.

And Joe Bruno? As the only member of the trio who is not only knowledgeable of the subject, but, we're told, a genuine enthusiast, he has the most to answer for. If the Senate Majority Leader was holding out for a plan to consolidate OTB, for guaranteed investments to improve the plants, for a better cut for horsemen and breeders, for a clear stated vision on how to maintain and build on the state's status as the best racing venue in the country, well, then, we might all be behind him. With no disrespect to the horsemen for whom the winter is so crucial financially, I don't think any of us would give a shit if racing here was halted for a few weeks, if it was for a good cause. But instead, Bruno has been holding out over issues that are strictly for his own political benefit, and for who knows which suitor with respect to NYRA's simulcast rights. I mean, imagine a businessman like Bruno demanding that a company spin off one of their most lucrative assets? We've seen how he reacts when it's suggested he give up his outside business interests.

Finally, there's NYRA. Their comeback has to be one of the greatest rallies this sport has ever seen. They played their hand expertly, and I don't believe that anyone can blame them for doing so. It's business, and survival, and any person or entity in a similar position would do the same. Under NYRA, racing in New York has risen to its current position of prominence, as most recently demonstrated by the dominance of local horses at the Breeders' Cup; and I have little doubt that the sport remains in good hands. They were the only bidder that I can say with any confidence that they will treat racing, and not slots, as the top priority. However, the fact is that NYRA won their case on threats, and not by articulating a positive message and future for the sport in New York. We can only hope that they do so once the smoke has cleared.

Of course, we'll need the politicians in Albany to be willing to take the time to carefully examine the OTB's and other issues of importance. And if they didn't do so with the pressing franchise deadline looming, why would they once it's passed, especially once slots revenues start to flow? Instead of looking ahead to a bright new era, as 2008 begins, things look disturbingly the same. And everyone involved shares a bit of the blame.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Bruno Backs Down....A Bit

- Joe Bruno has started to back off in the franchise negotiations; that according to Tom Precious, reporting for, who writes that Bruno’s negotiators in closed-door talks had suddenly dropped several demands. The Senate Majority Leader is no longer insisting that NYRA's simulcast be spun off to another operator, nor that top executives resign.

Apparently, the pressure is being turned up by Bruno's Saratoga constituency. Precious reports of word that hotel bookings for the summer are down, and that board member and local businessman Charles Wait, described as a "longtime Bruno supporter," was going to take out a full page ad in the Sarartogian. Negotiators said talk of an ad targeting Bruno in his district helped move along the sides on some stalled issues.

However, the 30-year term and the makeup of the NYRA board remain issues, and, though Bruno said on the Capitol OTB Tv station that “Practically speaking, it’s a done deal," [DRF] Hayward said afterwards that “There are a number of very substantial issues that are not close to being resolved." The Form reports that Bruno has gone to 20 years from his previous stance of 15. But I believe that NYRA will hold firm to their position that 30 years is fair in exchange for the valuable land it insists it owns. Seems to me that the composition of the board is a more negotiable issue. Though I know NYRA feels strongly about that as well, I'd think that Bruno has to get something out of the deal, as a face saver if nothing else.

As far as the temporary extension goes, the Form finally settled on a headline of NYRA: Aqueduct staying open no sure thing, its second downgrade from its original declaration that an extension was approved. Different reports convey varying senses of how dire the situation is. My best understanding is this, and correct me if I'm wrong: NYRA feels that it needs a license from the Racing and Wagering Board in order for their land claim to definitively remain intact after Dec 31. The Board, in deciding that it was not up to them, effectively denied them that license; and though one might take its action as a tacit approval of the extension given the fact that it was agreed to by the Oversight Board which the RWB says has authority, NYRA is unwilling to commit at this time. And they won't unless and until it receives assurances from its lawyers that it poses no threat to their legal position.

NYRA officials said on Saturday afternoon that they were meeting with officials of the oversight board – which was created in 2005 to monitor NYRA’s operations – to work on language in the temporary agreement that would protect NYRA’s rights to owning Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga. [DRF]
If they soon announce that they cannot go along, then the heat turns up on Bruno as the deadline ticks down.

Racing To Go On...... [?] [Further Updates]

- As already noted in the comments section (indeed, early on, before the news hit the wires) the State Racing and Wagering Board has declined to take any action on a temporary license for NYRA, declaring that it lacks the authority to do so. "They should have called us and asked us and we wouldn't have had a meeting today," [panel chairman Dan] Hogan said. [Albany Times-Union] Sounds like he's pissed that he had to get out of bed. Hogan declared that it's the Oversight Board which has the ultimate authority to grant the extension; and that Board has already signed off on it.

According to Matt Hegarty in the Form, the meeting lasted all of four minutes, and the board unanimously agreed that it needn't take any action at all. As a result, NYRA will not be forced to shut down after Dec. 31, when its franchise expires. [DRF] Start making some wall space for those calendars.

Closed door negotiations on the permanent extension continued on Friday. Spokesmen for Silver, Bruno and the governor all acknowledged ongoing negotiations for a possible long-term solution but stopped short of providing details [Albany Times Union]. Hegarty notes in the Form that "some progress" was made towards resolving differences between Bruno and the governor.

[UPDATE: This commenter feels that Hegarty's take is wrong...thanx for the input. Newsday is also reporting that the extension is approved via the Board's action, or lack thereof...]

[FURTHER UPDATE: Hegarty has now amended his story. The headline now reads: Good possibility Aqueduct will run Jan. 1. Oh man....

During an emergency meeting on Saturday that lasted four minutes, members of the board unanimously agreed with Robert Feuerstein, the board’s legal counsel, that it did not need to approve the agreement in order to allow NYRA to continue to operate. Board members said that as a result, NYRA will not be forced to shut down after Dec. 31.

However, NYRA’s president, Charles Hayward, said on Saturday morning that the association’s legal counsel needed to make sure that the board’s action was sufficient under applicable racing law to allow Aqueduct to continue to race on Jan. 1.

“I think it’s a very good possibility” that NYRA will open on Jan. 1, Hayward said. “But we want to make sure we’re doing everything right under the law and that our rights are protected.” [DRF]
So, still put some room aside for the calendars....but you may want to have an alternative, just in case.]

[ADDITIONAL UPDATE: I'm going to the track! :-D ]

Share, Share, That's Fair

- It was early Friday evening, Santa Anita was open, but not, of course, on TVG, and they had the skeleton crew on hand. John Lies was doing solo duty, and I saw him on Thursday night too. Perhaps he's been chained to the desk. Lies' career is certainly on the upswing. He's been the track announcer at Lone Star since 2005, and I met him at Saratoga two summers ago when he was reporting for the Saratoga Special. Since then, I saw him hosting Del Mar's simulcast show this past summer, and now he's a talking head on TVG.

John seemed like a nice guy, and he's certainly knowledgeable, and I'm sure he'll be a fine addition on the network, though it seems as if he's still getting comfortable. It can't be an easy gig. Think of all the bad music you hear on Monday and Tuesday nights and imagine someone having to talk through all that time. Besides, I don't think that the TVG announcer training program has kicked in yet. You see guys like Iggy Puglisi and Nick Hines, who were informative yet a bit crude on the air at first, but in a matter of months they had a whole new presence, as if they'd been doing it all their lives. They spoke confidently, stared assuringly out at the viewing audience with their bodies otherwise turned at a slight angle. All very professional and polished. They each have some great tape to send out to prospective employers should their current endeavors not work out.

I imagine that it wasn't a great day at the network with the announcement that their NYRA coverage has been un-exclusived, and they will have to share the wealth with HRTV. It could get a little crowded on the clubhouse turn at Saratoga next year. In addition, wagering on the races has been offered to other platforms, as was the case in New Jersey; and deals have been concluded with the TrackNet outlets and Youbet. TVG's David Nathanson, putting the best face on the situation, said:

"Our investment in the best-of-breed wagering platforms, highest quality television production, and unmatched television distribution will continue to set TVG apart from others in the marketplace and [blah blah blah]." [Thoroughbred Times]
TVG certainly has the 'professional and polished' thing going on with their public relations as well. What they need, particularly during the winter months, is some more compelling content. If HRTV ever gets the Direct TV deal that there was recent speculation about, then TVG will lose what remains their greatest advantage - higher distribution. We'd see then how Nathanson would spin that.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Temporary Insanity

- The temporary extension of NYRA's franchise, which runs through Jan 23, still needs approval from the State Racing and Wagering Board; Oversight Board chairman Steven Newman says he is "confident" that the final approval is forthcoming. There's no doubt that the agreement was carefully constructed from NYRA's side to ensure that the land claim is left intact; and the term is short enough so that their ace in the hole remains potent. Charles Hayward told Bloodhorse: “NYRA is not commenting on any franchise developments at this time." He's just getting into the spirit of these most closed door of closed door negotiations.

But from the muffled sounds coming through those doors, leaking from the top staff members of the three relevant parties who are doing the negotiating, we may very well be in the same position on January 22 as we are now. The reports indicate that Senator Bruno and his Senate Republicans are not budging an inch, and why would they right now given the extra breathing room?

Negotiators for Spitzer were said to be upset with Senate Republicans for refusing to compromise on some matters, according to officials involved in the talks. Bruno also wants to sharply cut--by as much as half--a deal made by Spitzer with NYRA for a 30-year extension. [Bloodhorse]
James Odato reports in the Albany Times Union that the sticking points other than the length of the extension remain the same: the makeup of NYRA's board, and the rights to the simulcast signal. Odato also writes that the Senate wants to make sure the NYRA president and chairman is replaced. That, on its face, sounds to me like nothing more than petty vindictiveness. How about if we replace the Senate Majority Leader instead? Thus far, it doesn't seem as if the pressure from his Saratoga constituency is making much of a difference. We may not see if it ultimately will until the deadline is firmly upon us. And I don't expect NYRA to agree to another extension after this one.

The New York Sun reports today that Bruno will not meet face-to-face with the Governor, whom he accused of threatening his life, unless they're done in front of the cameras; that's the latest somewhat irrational if not hysterical statement to come out of the Senator's mouth. Perhaps he's confusing Spitzer with his former consultant Roger Stone?
[Sheldon] Silver, speaking to the Sun, said Mr. Bruno is "stomping and screaming and name-calling," suggesting that the Senate leader has a "total disdain" for his responsibilities.
"What would Shelly have us do? Have the governor run roughshod over everyone?" Mr. Bruno asked. "This governor has gotten very politicized. ... He has threatened my life in terms of my existence, personally, calls me a senile old s—, and he's going to knock me down and knock me out. And then Shelly, the wimp, sits there doing nothing and thanks the good lord that it's not him that Spitzer's aimed at."

Mr. Bruno was apparently referring to an episode earlier in the year when he charged that the governor told him he would "knock" him down. Spitzer aides denied the charge.

Said Mr. Silver: "I really shouldn't dignify anything that he says with a response." [NY Sun]
Yup, sounds like they're close to an agreement to me! Talks are said to be continuing today.

- A bit further up the Thruway, Vernon Downs' owner Jeff Gural will meet with Assemblyman Gary Pretlow, and a representative from the horseman's association other than Joe Faraldo. Gural has backed down, for now, from his threat to shutter the racino there on January 7. He's hoping that the Assembly will take action on the bill, passed by the Senate, which provides a bigger cut of slots revenue to some racinos, and which contains a provision specifically designed to help bail him out from his idea to compete with the Turning Stone casino ten minutes away. The Assembly bill contains a cut of 8.75% for the horsemen; that number is halfway between the 8.25% in the Senate bill, and the 9.25% which the horsemen contend was the legislative intent of New York's original VLT bill.

- Shug McGaughey's always-trying Dancing Forever has been toiling in second level allowance races - to my financial detriment in a couple of cases. But he found a stakes field he was able to beat on Wednesday, nipping co-favorites Terrific Storm and Croton Road in an exciting three-way finish to the Our Dear Peggy stakes at Calder. He's an honest horse and the talent has always been there; leave it to Shug to help him finally put it all together late in his four-year old season. He beat a couple of nice horses there, and overcame a slow pace to do so, closing for the win in a final furlong of 11.16 seconds. Dancing Forever is by Rahy, and has the usual Phipps suspects on her distaff side - out of a full sister to champion Heavenly Prize (the dam of Good Reward and Pure Prize), third dam is Blitey (dam of Dancing Spree and Furlough), etc., etc.,

Hunch Bets for December 28

Another Month 3rd at Calder
Joesfullofit 3rd at Sam Houston
End of an Era 5th at Aqueduct
Go To Plan B 4th at Sam Houston
Strong Presence 9th at Aqueduct
Great Event 1st at Calder
Keep It 2nd at Fair Grounds

(Hunch bets are for entertainment purposes only!!)

- It's weird that Santa Anita has the dark day after opening day. It's like in baseball when they keep the day after opening day free in case of a rainout. Although, actually...I guess that could apply in this case too. Jerry Klein, writing for FOX Sports, reports:

During the last few weeks, workers at Santa Anita feverishly removed the original material and cleaned out the base while different combinations were tested on the far end of the backstretch. The new concoction passed muster in limited trials, but the big test comes when the rains return, which may be sooner rather than later. [FOX Sports]
Well, actually, rain is no longer in the forecast, so track president Ron Charles can breathe a sigh of relief. At least for now. Actually, I'd think that the sooner they find out, the better, so they can start to make other plans with the Breeders' Cup coming in the fall. And I think the BC folks would agree.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Tiz Now For Johnny Eves

- Interesting comment by trainer Mel Stute, the 80-year old So Cal-based trainer who, as one might expect from a grizzled old-timer, is opposed to synthetic tracks. In fact, he was pissed the other day when one of his horses broke down at Hollywood after having been shipped there to work due to the unavailability of the surface at Santa Anita. "I hope [Richard] Shapiro's happy," he said, referring to the CHRB chairman who advocated the mandatory installation of synthetics in California. Of course, the trainer was understandably emotional, and overlooked the fact that Hollywood has Cushion Track too.

Anyway, Stute told Art Wilson that Santa Anita should switch to Tapeta should the Cushion Track fail to hold up when it rains (there's a slight chance of precipitation on Friday by the way).

"The jocks all seem to like it,....I talked to two horsemen and they seem to like it. One guy said it might be tough on soft tissue, maybe tendons or something, but otherwise they all seem to like it." [Press-Telegram]
I haven't really read much at all about the Tapeta Footing either at Presque Isle or at Golden Gate....and I guess that's a good thing. But Stute said of the newly-reopened surface at Santa Anita: "It was way better than I thought it would be."

Wednesday's opening card went off without a hitch. The times were fast, and by glancing at the charts, it looked kinda like old times, with horses failing to make up any kind of ground in the stretch. If you go to the sports web page of the LA Times, and you scroll down.....way down, past the Lakers, past the news of the Giants-Patriots game going from a virtual private screening to a worldwide simulcast (no word if Al Jazeera is picking it up), past the college football, hockey, the World Golf Rankings, the death of sportscaster Stu Nahan (a hockey guy), more college football....all the way to the bottom, you get to the story of the Malibu Stakes.

With all the recognizable names, both human and equine, in the field, it was a good ol' Cal-bred taking the money for trainer Jay Robbins. Johnny Eves paid $24 and led a parade of longshots that produced a superfecta of over $120,000. Since I'd written prior to the race that I'd certainly demand value far in excess of his 5-1 morning line, it's not redboarding for me to wonder how in the world Divine Park could have been 7-2 in this field, coming off an extended layoff. (Same goes for Great Hunter, who was 6-1 in his first start since the Derby.)

The owners of the winner were not in town for the Grade 1 win. They traveled to Hong Kong following the untimely death of their 7-year-old Scottish terrier. "They had already bought the dog a lot of presents and couldn't face being home for the holidays without him." [OC Register] Now, I hate dogs, so I probably should stop right here, before wondering which I find sillier, buying the dog Xmas presents, or taking solace via a trip to Hong Kong. But again, I hate dogs...

Anyway, I hope the win at least gives them some comfort, and I suppose they can return the gifts. (There I go again!! I'm mean, right?)

Johnny Eves is by the California-based stallion Skimming, who stands for $7,500. His second crop is two this year, and Johnny Eves is his first graded stakes winner, and a Grade 1 at that, nice! The stallion has an interesting pedigree, being very closely inbred, 2x3, to Northern Dancer. He earned over $2.2 million on the track, winning the Pacific Classic twice, and over some fine horses too - Ecton Park and Tiz Now (that's how it's spelled here [pdf file]) (and he was also trained by Robbins) in 2000, and Dixie Dot Com and Captain Steve in 2001.

Latest on the Franchise

- Sorry for more lousy picks at Aqueduct yesterday, and I'm done picking ponies for the rest of this year. My aides are currently in negotiations with Spitzer, Bruno, and Silver as to whether I continue any handicapping at all in 2008. Matt Hegarty reports in the Form that the three will meet today to discuss the franchise, but I'm not clear as to whether that refers to their staffs, or if the three of them will actually be together in the same room. Introductions may be in order if the latter is the case. Negotiations on a temporary extension are said to be "ongoing."

With no legislation on the MOU planned, NYRA's bankruptcy hearing has been postponed to January. Since the reorganization plan is based on the MOU being passed into law, there seems little point in proceeding at this time.

"We've been having very positive discussions with the folks in Albany to try and help break the logjam that may exist . . ." NYRA's bankruptcy attorney, Brian Rosen, said yesterday. "We didn't want to in any way impose ourselves [on today's meeting] by going forward in the bankruptcy court. [NY Post]
The motion by unsecured creditors - the IRS and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. (PBGC) - for the court to reject the reorganization is based on their stated belief that the MOU will never be passed in a form that will allow the plan to move forward. NYRA's creditors shouldn't be "forced to live with a confirmed plan that can never be implemented," the filing said. The PBGC's motion includes a request to end the plans, which, it says, are 66% funded. This is actually an effort to protect the pensioners.
According to PBGC estimates, the plans have $137.3 million in assets to cover about $208.8 million in benefit promises. If the PBGC becomes statutory trustee of the plans, it expects to be responsible for $59.7 million of the $71.5 million shortfall. [PBGC Press Release] [Forbes Magazine]
However, the company notes that its actions are based on "the likelihood that [NYRA's] racing franchise will not be renewed by the end of the year." Though that may literally be the case, it's more likely that some kind of agreement will be in place by Dec 31, for a temporary, if not permanent extension. I think. [And I should add here that the reorganization plan calls for the pensions to be 100% funded.]

Another creditor, Plainfield Special Situations Master Fund Ltd, is also dissing the plan, but keep in mind that the investment firm is a partner of Capital Play Ltd. It purchased $500,000 worth of NYRA debt in order to get their two cents in, and it's quite likely that it was among the 3% which voted against the reorganization plan.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Big A Racing Resumes Until Further Notice..

- Racing has resumed at the Big A with no official word of any temporary franchise extension. However, in a Xmas day article in the Albany Times Union, Oversight Board chairman Steven Newman confidently predicted that racing will go on, and that an agreement will soon be reached. "Everybody's working to resolve this matter ... so that racing employees have a job they can go to on Jan. 1." With no chance of a legislative agreement by Dec 31, that short-term extension will be required; Newman "would not say" if he's worked out the terms. NYRA continues to plug its New Year's Day calendar giveaway as if there's nothing different going on this year.

Buddy's Holiday won the second, though with several scratches, I didn't get the odds I was looking for in this post. However, he got bet like a good thing, on the nose in the win pool. This was a classic example - with just a few minutes until post, he commanded around 25% of the win pool, but only 12% of the show pool. So I had to get down despite the odds, just to cash a freaking ticket for a change. And in his first try around two turns, he won like the hot horse he was, wire-to-wire after lagging behind in his initial, sprint race. I'll likely piss it all away on Gipsy Limits in the feature.

- Santa Anita will apparently open today as scheduled after repairs to correct the drainage problem, but the true test for the Cushion Track won't come until it rains. And again, track president Ron Charles doesn't sound the least bit convinced, telling the Orange County Register that if drainage problems continue, the Cushion Track would be treated like a conventional dirt surface.

"That means we'll have to seal the track, run heavy rollers over it when it rains....That'll mean the track will be harder than we want it to be, and then we'll just rip it out after the meet and put a new one in."
And if those sound like fightin' words, reporter Larry Bortstein noted a war of words and talk of litigation between officials of Santa Anita and Cushion Track.
Paul Harper and Philip Bond of Cushion Track have been at Santa Anita the past week but have declined to comment
The question of who will pay for the possible resurfacing might not be settled without both sides going to court. [OC Register]
- The holiday weekend brought the tragic death of trainer Dale Baird in an automobile accident.
Baird became the first trainer in history to reach 7,000 wins in 1996, became the first to reach 8,000 in 1999, and in 2004, became the first to reach 9,000.
After he reached his 9,000th win, Baird was honored with a Special Eclipse Award in January 2005. He is not a member of racing's Hall of Fame. [Bloodhorse]
And Frank Gomez, who retired from training in November due to declining health, passed away at the age of 78.
Invariably, Gomez turned over his top horses to other out-of-state trainers instead of leaving behind his family, once it became apparent the horses were of national caliber. Princess Rooney and Smile helped to put Calder on the national racing map once they left and went on to earn Breeders' Cup victories and national divisional titles.

Gomez preferred to enjoy their success while watching from afar.

"Look, I don't need any of the limelight," Gomez said in a 1993 interview after Cherokee Run, whose career he launched at Calder, finished second in the Preakness Stakes after being handed over to another trainer. ``I just like to do my own thing and go my own way. Who cares about limelight?" [Miami Herald]

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Wednesday Morning Notes - Dec 26

- In the second at the Big A, the Pletcher entry of Spurrier and Mr. Shortcake are listed as the 5-2 favorite. The Toddster is five for 15 since racing switched to the inner track; and is 45-10-8-8 overall at the Big A. But this is one of those entries which could be grossly overbet; neither horse has been around two turns, and Mr. Shortcake has been a bit of a money burner while finishing in the money all five of his starts.

Buddy's Holiday was well bet in his debut, at six furlongs, and dropped far back while racing greenly on the inside. He gained some ground while zig-zagging through the stretch, and, according to Formulator's individual horse fractional splits, finished up with consecutive eighths of 11.4. The son of Harlan's Holiday tries two turns, and we saw the sire's Into Mischief pull that off successfully in the Cash Call on Saturday. Buddy's Holiday is out of a mare by Relaunch who is a half-sister to the Grade 1 winner Dispersal, winner of the Woodward, Louisiana Derby, and NYRA Mile. I'd like to see odds higher than his 3-1 morning line, but that could be the case should Pletcher's entry and McLaughlin's British Columbia get overbet.

In the 4th, Wild Garden is the 5-2 morning line choice off a second place in his debut for trainer Ben Perkins. I'm standing against him based on the possibility of that race being a "negative key race." The five horses who have come back to run not only haven't run well, they've all been awful, losing from margins ranging from 13 to 24 lengths. Instead, let's check the tote on a couple of first-timers with good works and from sharp barns capable with debut runners. More Than Thunder (More Than Ready) goes for Tom Albertrani; he's out of a mare by Thunder Gulch, and hails from the distaff family of the Derby winner Grindstone (the second dam of the latter is the third dam of More Than Thunder). Hatta Diamond debuts for McLaughlin; he's by Street Cry, out of a mare by Court Trial (In Reality) who's a half to the stallion full brothers Valid Expecations and Littleexpectations.

In the 8th, Gipsy Limits takes a drop in class for trainer Peter Kazamias. This sturdy mare has enjoyed a change in fortunes since being claimed by this barn, rolling through these allowance conditions over the summer, and winning a level above as well; she's eligible here via the optional $75,000 tag. Gipsy Limits has been chasing better in her last three, tangling with the ultra-sharp stakes horse Pure Disco in a Meadowlands stakes, and a couple of very tough high-class Philly allowance horses in Coli Bear and S W Aly'svalentine in her last two. Either of those two would likely be favored here I think, and if Gipsy Limits can get a jump on Circuit Breaker breaking to her outside, she may outrun her 12-1 morning line.

Happy Xmas!

- The closest I came to a white Xmas Eve was watching the 11th race from Monticello, where the snow was plentiful during the week. But whatever color your holiday is, I hope that's it's a happy, healthy and safe one.

As is tradition, the Head Chef is having her entire family over for holiday dinner, preceded by an extended session of gift giving. I told her that if anyone gets me another horse racing book, I'm not even going to pretend to be excited. Can't understand why people think of me that way; I mean, do I talk about racing a lot?

Well, there's no racing today as you know, and not much traffic on the site, so I'll assume that you're either hanging with the family or trying to figure out the Malibu. So much for the worries that the fields at Santa Anita wouldn't be full; 99 runners are entered in the ten races, 14 each in the Malibu and Sir Beaufort, as three-year olds get their last chance to play together without (what's left of) the older guys butting in. The Malibu is impossible, and I think that part of Keeping It Simple Stupid has to be finding easier races than this, doncha think?

Graded stakes winners Great Hunter, Horse Greeley, and Divine Park all make their first start since the spring, and the latter, the Withers winner, is unbeaten in three tries for Kiaran McLaughlin. The trainer is making a very rare appearance on the SoCal circuit - just his 4th in the last five years. They've all been for Grade 1 stakes as you might imagine - Randaroo ran second in the La Brea in 2003; Bending Strings did the same the following year; and Lady of Venice was third in the La Matriarc last month. So I suppose that McLaughlin has always covered his airfare.

Divine Park is by Chester House, who had a stakes winner at Fair Grounds on Saturday. I must admit that I completely missed the fact that Steve Asmussen had an incredible six winners there that day, sweeping the four stakes, all with Shaun Bridgmohan aboard. The jockey has endured a couple of tough summers at Saratoga in sticking with the barn, and it certainly pays off on days like this. Tres Dream, by the aforementioned stallion, won the Esplanade, but I of course can't tell you how many stakes winners Chester House has. A Dead Stallion Register is one book I would actually gladly accept today!

Divine Park is out of a mare by Ascot Knight (Danzig), and his second dam is by Czaravich, a favorite from the past whose name I don't see all too often in pedigrees. Czaravich won the Withers himself, in 1979, and took the Met Mile the following year for trainer Bill Turner and jockey Laffit Pincay, Jr. Czaravich is by Nijinsky, so there's some more Northern Dancer blood; and Divine Park is in fact inbred to ND threefold, 4x4x5. His second dam is a half-sister to a couple of fine fillies, the Grade 1 winners Sardula (Ky Oaks, Hollywood Starlet) and Imperial Gesture (Beldame, Gazelle). He has some excellent drills for this race, though all at Belmont, and the barn does well with layoffs. But this is a tough spot, and I'd certainly demand value far in excess of his 5-1 morning line.

- Someone left a comment telling me to keep my hunch bets to myself next year. I mean, you don't really bet on those, do you? They are meant strictly for entertainment. Of course, if you read the rest of the post, you could have scored on Greeleylikealady ($14) in the 5th at Calder. That's the latest winner in an incredible stretch for trainer Kirk Ziadie, wow. This filly won first off the claim, and, over the last two years, Ziadie has won with 20 out of 39 such starters. He has one horse scheduled to start on Wednesday; Real Truth (2-1) is an obvious contender in the 8th.

I guess that's it for now, as we're preparing for some 25 guests, ten of them of the "kids" variety. I'll leave you with my favorite Xmas song of all time. This really old clip of the Kinks lip-synching to Father Christmas is of very poor video quality, and it's totally out of synch. But the audio is fine, and it rocks. So crank it up and have a fantastic day. (Though don't forget the kids who got nuthin / While you're drinking down you're wine...)

Monday, December 24, 2007

Xmas Eve Hunch Bets

Hammered 6th at Philly Park
Embellisher - 4th at Fair Grounds
Lord Abounding 1st at Calder
Droll - 5th at Fair Grounds
Money Destroyer 9th at Philly Park

- Talk about a hot trainer - Kirk Ziadie won the 5th at Calder with Bushmills Best on Sunday, and check out these stats. For the current reporting period (the Tropical Park portion, which started on Oct 15) at the endless Calder meet (which actually does end on Jan 2), Ziadie has 27 winners out of 82 starters, a percentage of 32.93%. And most recently, from his last 17 runners, he has ten winners, three seconds, two thirds and two 4ths.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

"Old News At The Track"

- That's the latest of what I'm being told about a 90 day extension of NYRA's franchise. "Everybody at the track is aware of the agreement," is what I was told by the reader, who was on the backstretch today. Why an announcement would be delayed, I can't say; perhaps to announce it on a certain day - Xmas eve, or maybe when they appear at court on Thursday. Or maybe there are still some details to work out. But I was told it's a "done deal."

Sunday Morning Notes - Dec 23

- NYRA's bankruptcy plan was approved by 97% of its creditors. "NYRA is proud to have the support of its creditors as it works to emerge from chapter 11 and maintain its position as a leader in thoroughbred racing," Steve Duncker said in a brief press release. NYRA is due back in bankruptcy court on Thursday to argue for final approval, but that approval is contingent on legislative approval of its franchise extension, which is unlikely to occur before that time.

- Back to the Cash Call Futurity, the winning connections of trainer Richard Mandella and Victor Espinoza didn't exactly burn up the (cushion) track during the meet; Mandella finished with just three winners from 29 runners, and Espinoza rode just seven winners from his 129 mounts — an appallingly low 5 percent.

"The way I've been going lately, I'm surprised he wasn't 30-1," Mandella said of the little bay colt who gave his trainer his only stakes score of the meet.

"I've noticed that my training gets better when my horses run faster." [Orange County Register]
And I'm not sure how those whose free trials over at Discreet Picks had expired will react when I inform you that...well, I suppose you can guess..

SoCal racing takes a brief break now until Wednesday, when Santa Anita opens, commencing the dark portion of the racing season for those of us who don't have HRTV; literally, should racing in New York be interrupted. The Cushion Track there opened on Saturday for the first time since December 4, when it was closed to correct a drainage problem.
"It's back to normal," proclaimed Rosie Yrbarra, a longtime employee at Clocker's Corner, who was sporting an elf's costume and a big smile Saturday. "And everybody is happy."

On this cool but sunny morning, there were only good comments about the condition of the track.

Retired jockey Chris Loseth, who worked Smooch for trainer Sean McCarthy in 34.2 seconds at three furlongs, said, "It felt good to me. Very even." [LA Times]
However, track president Ron Charles sounded less than sanguine that the problems are 100% behind them. “Even though it’s not draining to specifications, it has improved and we’re hoping that will remain so." [Bloodhorse] Some trainers have said that the absence of main-track training for more than two weeks has left some of their horses behind schedule [DRF], so we'll keep an eye on the entries for opening day to see if they come up a bit short.

- And back to NY, Joe Bruno has resigned from Wright Investors Service, the Connecticut investment firm which has handled investments for New York unions which routinely have business before the State Senate, as reported by the NY Times a couple of weeks ago. Taking a page from the Bush Administration, the announcement was timed to hit the papers on a Saturday in order to minimize press exposure, especially on a pre-holiday weekend. The Senator admitted himself that "the relationship was ended on December 17."

Bruno is generally defiant about his right to supplement his income given the part-time nature of legislative work in New York State. In the wake of the Times report, he said that the paper is "the extreme liberals out there and they love Spitzer", and questioned why they were "singling me out with my other income, which I have a legal right to earn?” But now, he's slinking away from the gig quietly, and calling for a debate on whether the legislature should instead be a full-time job. I wonder if that's perhaps because, as the NY Daily News reported:
Law enforcement sources said last night the FBI probe of Bruno remains active.

A number of subpoenas have been sent by a federal grand jury to people and companies with ties to Bruno.
That probe is, of course, the long ongoing investigation into possible conflicts from his outside business interests. Wright Investors has refused to comment as to the nature of Bruno's work, nor whether they have received any of those subpoenas. Here's a wild guess...

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Vintage Vinyl and a Classic Race

- Early Saturday evening, I had TVG on and Formulator open, but the audio was on mute, and the phonograph was playing. As some of you may recall, when CD's first came out with its promise of pristine sound with no hiss or crackles, some audiophiles swore that vinyl remained the superior format. They said that digital sound was cold and mechanical, and lacked the depth, warmth, and grit of analog. I was undecided at the time. But now, after a quarter century of digital in its various forms, when I get the rare opportunity, as I did today with no kids within miles, to kick back and crank up some vintage vinyl like XTC's 1980 release Black Sea, I feel as if the CD-naysayers were absolutely right. At least, that's the way I hear it.

I turned the (digital) TV sound back on for the seventh at Hollywood, an interesting two-year old maiden race with some well-bred runners. Sangaree, the 8-5 post-time favorite, is a half-brother, by Awesome Again, to Congaree, who has a full-page ad in the latest issue of Bloodhorse; his first-crop were yearlings this year. One of the great milers of modern times, the ad proclaims. It lists Cigar Mile winners Aldeberan, Forty Niner, Quiet American, El Corredor, and Discreet Cat, and notes that Congaree is the only horse to ever win it two years in a row. Of course, it's only been run since 1988 (wasn't run in 1993). Congaree stands at Frank's Adena Springs in Kentucky for $15,000; his yearlings averaged just over $60,000 this year.

Also in the field was Alonzo (Pleasant Tap), a full brother to Tiago, and half to Giacomo, 14-1 in his debut for John Sherriffs. I think he's named after that Police album Outlandos d'Alonzo, or something like that.

In the race, first timer Cardinal Zin found room up the rail with Alex Solis to upset at 23-1; with 69-1 Option finishing third, the superfecta returned over 25K for a buck. Alonzo was dead last most of the way, and finished 11th of 12. Frank Lyons told the TVG audience that Alonzo quickly galloped out past the field after the wire, and asked to have the tape of the finish keep rolling. But the tape cut off long before we could see what happened. Ken Rudolph, whose name is actually Ken Rudulph, mused aloud: "After eight years of us talking about the importance of gallop outs, we still haven't learned to keep the tape rolling." Huh, did he really say that? This guy must be real popular around the production crew. Then, when he appeared on screen, it was apparent he had some kind of goatee going on. "What is that on his face?" wondered the Head Chef.

The race winner has a very unusual pedigree. Cardinal Zin, by first year sire Whywhywhy (6th on the first year sire list, in large part due to Juvie Turf winner Nownownow), out of a Cox's Ridge mare, is inbred 4x3 to Honest Pleasure; that's a name that I don't notice too much at all nowadays, no less twice in one pedigree. Honest Pleasure was the juvenile champ in 1975 for owner Bertram Firestone and trainer Leroy Jolley; and won the Florida Derby, Flamingo, Blue Grass, and Travers at three. But it was his second place finish in the 1976 Marlboro Cup that many of us remember him most for, and it's always a good time to take a look back at that one, certainly one of the best races I've witnessed in person. Remember that Forego was giving the three-year old son of What A Pleasure 18 pounds.

Into Mischief stalked the pace and took over in the stretch to take the G1 Cash Call at 13-1 for Richard Mandella in his first try around two turns. He's the first Grade 1 winner for his sire Harlan's Holiday, who will climb to #2 on the first crop sire list with the $403,000 in purse money earned.

Saturday Morning Notes - Dec 22

- Friday's scheduled court hearing on Jeff Gural's attempted closing of Vernon Downs' barn area was postponed to early January. A local Assemblyman called for Governor Spitzer to get involved. "The governor ran for election saying that he would be a leader, and this calls for leadership to solve the problem at Vernon Downs." [Oneida Daily Dispatch] I would guess that this is not very high on Spitzer's priority list. He probably thinks that Vernon Downs is the host of a TV game show.

The Assembly version of the casino bill that Gural and Faraldo are battling over contains a cut of 8.75% for horsemen and 1.25% for breeders, instead of the 8.25% / 1% passed by the Senate. It also specifically carves out Aqueduct from any such requirement; and as I mentioned in this post, the contentious MOU has a cut of only 6.5% for the horsemen there.

Matt Hegarty reports in the Form that things ain't going so well with the franchise negotiations in Albany - "little progress" has been made.

"All of our focus right now is on moving the process forward," [Bruno spokesperson Scott] Reif said. "We hope to get at least a handshake agreement before the end of the year, and then address that legislatively in January." [Daily Racing Form]
Would Spitzer and Bruno actually have to shake hands in order to have a handshake agreement? That would be front page news in itself. We've certainly come a long ways from this poignant scene from Valentine's Day, haven't we? Joe may come with a bucket of horse manure next time.

Steven Newman, Spitzer's handpicked new Oversight Board chairperson, is expected to work closely with NYRA on a temporary extension if a long-term agreement is not in place. [DRF]

Friday, December 21, 2007

NYRA Extension Signed?

- Got a note from a reader who tells me, in an authoritative tone, that, this afternoon, NYRA signed a franchise extension "until April..." Stay tuned...

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Darley's Boys

- Great cover shot on the new Bloodhorse, featuring the Darley Boys - Street Sense (Front and Center), with Hard Spun, Discreet Cat, and Any Given Saturday. Street Sense is looking straight at the camera with a quizzical look, as in: C'mon man, what is this place, where's the rail, where's Calvin, get me outta here, there's nothing to do! Where's that big guy, I want another shot at him..! You never know; he could prove to be disinterested and return to the races. But actually,, apparatus is on display in the photo, and I'd guess he'll probably find his way. Street Sense, at $75,000, is the highest priced stud amongst next year's rookie squad; Hard Spun is second at $50,000, and Any Given Saturday tied for third (with Corinthian) for $40,000; Discreet Cat will stand for $30,000.

Smarty Jones has been occupying attractive two page spreads in the magazine of late, and there he is again. The ad points out that he's the Leading First Crop Sire of Yearlings for 2007. That's one sire list I don't think I've ever seen in Bloodhorse. I think it might be kind of an unofficial, made-up list. But you get the idea.

Smarty Jones colts brought $650,000 at the Saratoga Select Yearling Sale and $600,000 at the Keeneland September Yearling Sale and ten of his colts and fillies brought more than $300,000 as yearlings. [Three Chimneys Farms]
34 of his yearlings sold at an average of a bit over $200,000 at sale this year.

- If anyone at Hollywood Park had a sense of humor, they'd change the purse of Saturday's Grade 1 Cash Call Futurity to $744,375, which represents a year's worth of interest if you were to borrow the actual $750,000 in prize money from the sponsoring company.

Massive Drama was a universal tip for Baffert/Zayat winning his debut at 8-5 at Monmouth on Breeders Cup Preview day. He'd been entered the prior month at Belmont, and I wrote on September 6 that his first crop sire Kafwain was off to a nice start with six winners, and two stakes winners. Now, three months later, Kafwain has 12 winners and four stakes winner, including Massive Drama, who became the sire's only graded stakes horse thus far when he took the Hollywood Prevue. Kafwain (Cherokee Run) is number 11 on the first-year sire list, having a solid freshman season for his $10,000 fee at Darley. Not front cover of Bloodhorse stuff, but pretty good nonetheless.

But this will be the first try around two turns for Massive Drama, whereas Colonel John, with whom he figures to contend for favoritism, won the Real Quiet by three at this distance on this track. I'm looking back at my impressions of that race:
He was ridden with extreme confidence by Corey Nakatani, who allowed him to drop back to sixth on the backstretch. There had to be some anxious moments to those who backed him at 7-10, as he seemed to be boxed along the rail with a lot of traffic in front of him. But Nakatani held the rail, and exploded to the lead after finding a seam in the two path turning for home.
When I went back today to look at it again, I wasn't quite as blown away, to be honest; the horse did save a lot of ground relative to the rest of the field. Still, he looks like the legitimate favorite off that effort.

The Toddster is hitting .333 at Hollywood; seven winners from 21 starters. Monba is undefeated in two starts, and stretches out to two turns. But unlike Baffert's colt, Monba could offer some value. He's by Wavering Monarch Maria's Mon out of a half sister, by Easy Goer, to the Alcibiades winner Silent Account; Gomez picks this one out of Pletcher's trio. Eaton's Gift is also owned by Zayat, and also tries two turns, he for Dale Romans. His race two back on Oct 19 at Keeneland is a super-duper key race, having produced three winners and four runner-ups out of eight horses to run back. But being by Johannesburg out of a Carson City mare doesn't make me think he'll love the route.

I liked Shore Do as my longshot in the Juvenile based on his third place finish in the Norfolk. I explained why in this post. His distant 8th in the slop at Monmouth is a total throwout, and now he's switched to the barn of Bobby Frankel. So if I liked him there, I gotta like him here, especially off a string of solid works on the Cushion Track.

Playing the Percentages

This is the sign that was posted at Vernon Downs last week by track owner Jeff Gural. I think that most reasonable people on either side of the issue would agree that it was Gural, and not Joe Faraldo, the attorney for the Harness Horse Association of Central New York (HHACNY) (and the President of the Standardbred Owner’s Association of New York), who ordered the barn area shut. Gural also ended the fall race meeting early in defiance of the State Racing and Wagering Board, and is threatening to shutter the casino next month.

Faraldo called the action "childish." On Monday, after he argued that the closure was in violation of the HHACNY's contract with the track, a judge ordered Gural to keep the barns open and to resume maintaining the track pending a full court hearing scheduled for Friday.

The dispute centers around the casino bill, championed by Gural and opposed by the horsemen, which was passed by the Senate last week (but not taken up by the absent Assembly). It would increase some New York tracks' revenue cut from their racino operations. But Faraldo and Gural have actually been tangling since late 2005. A group led by the latter had entered into an agreement to purchase the track, which had been dark since 2004. When negotiations with the HHACNY on purse funding broke down, Gural helped facilitate the formation of a rival group; the horsemen claim he funded it. The State Racing and Wagering Board eventually denied the new group's certification, and Gural was forced to negotiate with Faraldo's group; the hard feelings on his part obviously persists.

Gural claims that he's losing $1 million a month and needs the added money the bill provides to stay open. But the horsemen are piqued at the 8.5% contribution to purses that Bill #S6512-A provides, and are particularly galled by the fact that Vernon Downs is singled out for the most special of the special treatment it contains. The current statutory rate calls for racinos to retain a 32% cut of VLT net revenues, plus an additional 8% for marketing. The latter increases to 10% across the board. However, the legislation provides carve-outs to benefit certain tracks deemed to need additional support - 36% for racinos with less than 1,100 machines; 40% for tracks with a population less than one million within 40 miles. (All figures are for the first $50 million in annual revenue.) It also provides 42% for tracks located within 15 miles of an Indian gaming facility; and that's the kicker as far as the legislation's opponents are concerned. Vernon Downs is located a virtual stone's throw from the Turning Stone casino - an 11 minute drive according to Google Maps - and is the only track eligible for the highest rate. (Yonkers, Finger Lakes, Saratoga Harness, and Aqueduct (some day) would remain at 32%.)

The horsemen are furious that Gural would receive special treatment to basically bail him out of the flawed, to put it mildly, business decision to open a racino within shouting distance of a full-blown Indian casino (a sentiment shared by others, including Assemblyman Gary Pretlow, chairman of the Committee on Racing and Wagering). At the time, Gural said:

"Hopefully, we'll be able to offer a different product and people will go both to Turning Stone and us.....Turning Stone attracts a lot of people to the area and hopefully they will take a ride over to Vernon if they want to watch some racing." [Oneida Daily Dispatch]
Wishful thinking indeed. Gural also fancifully expressed hope that bettors would patronize his racino given the fact that the revenue is taxed for education, and Turning Stone is not. Now, he complains that he can't compete against an operation that isn't taxed.

Faraldo and the horsemen see their 8.5% share as a reduction from the intent of the original VLT legislation, passed in 2001 but declared unconstitutional by a state judge in 2004, which, they contend, provided for an effective rate of 9.25%, which they want set as the minimum standard. That was actually a blended rate in the 2001 bill - the actual percentages were 7.50% for the first three years, 7.75% for the next two, and 10% over the next ten. The state legislature amended the law to address the court's concerns, but had to strike those required revenue splits in order to do so. Thus, the splits were then determined through negotiations between individual tracks and their horsemen (or, at least in one case, at Monticello, by arbitration after a dispute in which the horsemen withheld their approval for out-of-state simulcasting of the track's signal). The rates currently range from 8.25% (Vernon, Yonkers, Monticello, Tioga), to 8.5% (Saratoga), to 9.25% (Buffalo Raceway).

In this rebuttal to Faraldo's statement linked to above, Gural decries the losses he's suffered at Vernon and at Tioga Downs, points out that the 8.5% is actually an increase from the current rate, and describes improvements he intends to make to the barn area. However, his arguments fall apart when he writes that why "the State would be taking money from education to give to the horsemen is anybody’s guess." It's Vernon Downs which stands to reap the greatest benefits; and the horsemen's request seems paltry in comparison to the 12% total increase the track stands to receive.

Having said all of that, the bill also contains a provision which allows tracks and horsemen to negotiate deals above or below the stated 8.5% share. So, like everything else political that has to do with horse racing in NY, that brings us back to the franchise issue. The MOU which proposes to extend NYRA's term for 30 years includes a cut of only 6.5% for the horsemen. (In fact, the actual percentage may actually drop going forward, a somewhat complex mathematical exercise which we'll try to get to in a later post.) Charles Hayward explained in a September article in Thoroughbred Times.
NYRA President Charles Hayward said that NYRA also gets a much lower share of VLT revenues under the Spitzer plan. NYRA would receive 7%, but 4% would have to go toward capital improvements, leaving 3% for operations.

“The VLT splits for the horsemen we negotiated as aggressively as we could,” Hayward said. “The government wanted them to be lower; we wanted them to be higher. The horsemen we’ve talked to, although they realize that it’s less, what’s more important is to get this process going and get this thing built, starting to get some money to purses.

“Because even 6.5% … we’re still going to have a purse increase of about $30-million. That’s an increase of almost 30%. It’s less than the other deal, but the financial dynamics the components of the other deal were quite different.” [Thoroughbred Times]
John Pricci, in a column dated September 13, pointed out that NYRA's original plan when MGM was slated to run the racino, was more beneficial to the horsemen, and to breeders too.
Originally NYRA had agreed to distribute more, on a sliding scale 7.5% of gross gaming revenues to purses for the first three years, 7.75% in years four and five, and 10 percent in year six and beyond. The share to the breeders was constant at 1.25% [1% under the MOU].
One of the four franchise bidders, Excelsior Racing, was awarded the rights by the Ad Hoc Committee on Racing appointed by previous Governor George Pataki. Did Spitzer’s advisors and the inspector general ever bother to check the proposal made by the original awardees?

Excelsior’s proposal not only promised the same higher purse distributions from VLT revenue as the original NYRA accord, but it proposed to raise the percentage of the gross gaming revenue to the New York Breeding and Development Fund from 1.25% to 2% which, based on projections, meant $11 million more for the breeders. []
And the thoughts of the NY Thoroughbred Horseman's Association (NYTHA)? I don't really know. The NYTHA has been rather silent since its split from Empire and the departure of its outspoken former president Richard Bomze. I'm sure that Joe Faraldo would have something to say. He might even order the barn area to close.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

News and Notes and Chilling - Dec 19

- A "major announcement" is forthcoming from Curlin's connections; that according to Marcus Hersh in the Daily Racing Form.

The breeding season is nearly upon Kentucky, and Curlin is nowhere near a stallion barn. Instead he is in steady training at Fair Grounds with Steve Asmussen, who, for lack of any other directive, continues to train Curlin with an eye toward an early-season 2008 campaign.

"Right now, I think he's the best horse in the country, and we're going forward from there," Asmussen said Tuesday morning. "I definitely have ideas in my head." [DRF]
Zanjero, who Asmussen said is pointing to the Oaklawn Handicap, as well as a host of other second and third string three-year olds of 2007, Daaher chief amongst those, are no doubt hoping that Curlin finds a nice home at a Kentucky farm. Without the presumptive Horse of the Year, and with Midnight Lute's distance prospects uncertain, the outlook for next year's handicap division would be cloudy at best. A lot is riding on the pending decision. 2008 could be a showcase for a potential superstar, or another nondescript year for the older horse division. I'm sure the Mythical Commissioner of Racing would be working furiously behind the scenes to encourage Curlin's return.

- You may notice that the Stallion Register page for Pavarotti has been corrected. I'd noted in a prior post that it erroneously claimed that the horse had run Triple Digit Beyers of 105, 107 & 108. Fellow TBA blogger Jose Guerra of Warstone Farm fired off a letter to Bloodhorse, and not only received a response from them, but from Walmac Farm, who stands the sire at Hartley/De Renzo (Walmac South) in Florida, as well. They apologized to Jose for the mistake, and the page was corrected to read Triple Digit BRIS Figures of 107 & 106; so he not only lost the Beyers, but one of the figures as well.

That evening I received an email from George Hills of Walmac's Bloodstock Sales department. Considering what I considered to be the relatively light-hearted nature of the post and the fact that I'd written "I imagine it's some kind of innocent typo," I was taken aback by its tone.
At the end of the day, a simple error was made by someone at the Bloodhorse and hopefully the issue has been resolved however, I do regret that you felt compelled to write a blog as negative as the one you did however, it is obviously your prerogative to do so.
Hmm, touchy, touchy, eh? I mean, I can do 'negative' too, but I really didn't intend that post to be in that vein, and I don't think it reads that way. Was just having a little fun, and I of course couldn't pass up the chance to blast Giuliani.

Anyway, be sure to check out Jose's excellent series on the "Best and Worst Stallions of 2008" over at his Warstone Farm blog.

- A couple of names in the news today that we haven't seen much of lately. Governor Spitzer has hired William Mulrow to head his political operation, and to help expand the governor’s relationships with business and labor groups. You may recall that Mulrow, who vied unsuccessfully to succeed Alan Hevesi as State Comptroller, is a principal in Excelsior Racing. That group has once again receded to the sidelines after briefly emerging for the Senate's latest franchise hearing a couple of months ago.
An administration official said Mr. Mulrow would not assume his duties as political adviser until the franchise competition was settled. [NY Sun]
In the seemingly unlikely event that Excelsior gets a piece of the action, he would be required to divest his financial stake in the group.[NYT] The motivation behind the hiring is two-fold. The Sun has reported that Ms. Spitzer is urging her husband to make a clean break from the top advisors involved in Troopergate; the governor is said to be mulling other major changes to his political team. [NY Sun]

In addition, Spitzer is looking ahead to next year's elections with an eye to helping the Democrats assume control of the Senate; the GOP has a two-seat edge, with a special election pending to replace Republican Senator Jim Wright, who will be retiring at the end of the year.
Spitzer aides believe that [Mulrow's] seniority, sizable Rolodex and range of experience would help the campaign bridge the different camps within the Democratic Party in New York.
Mr. Spitzer and Mr. Bruno have been openly feuding since the summer, and a strong effort by the governor to win Mr. Wright’s seat for Democrats is unlikely to help. Indeed, Mr. Bruno is already angry with the governor merely for attending fund-raisers earlier this month for two likely Democratic challengers to members of his caucus.

“How do you govern if you’re at war with somebody?” Mr. Bruno said at a holiday lunch with reporters on Tuesday. The fund-raisers Mr. Spitzer attended, he said, were “a continuous declaration of war heading into the session,” which starts in January. [NYT]
There's been this understanding in the "old Albany" that governors accept the political alignment of the two legislative bodies and don't intervene in local elections. Spitzer already broke that rule last year, and, if it's at all possible for relations between he and Bruno to get worse, this is the way to do so. I'm sure it doesn't put the Senate Majority Leader in an accommodating mood, with respect to the franchise or anything else.

A news item that was overlooked last week was the nomination of Glenn Suddaby to a federal judgeship by the Bush Administration. Suddaby is the federal prosecutor who has been investigating the business dealings of Bruno. The investigation would presumably carry on under his replacement; but it's been going on for so long now, one wonders if anything will come of it.

- And finally, a couple of Xmases ago, I recommended SOMA FM's Xmas in Frisko internet radio stream (available on I-Tunes and at their website) for some truly twisted holiday tunes. That program is still available, and is still not for the easily offended. However, this year, I guess I'm a bit mellower because I'm preferring their Christmas Lounge: Chilled holiday grooves and classic winter lounge tracks. (Kid and Parent safe!) So check it out, and chill out for the holidays. (And that means you too, George Hills!)

No News Is No News

- No developments on the franchise on Tuesday, but a couple of things to mention.

Good job by Matt Hegarty in the Form, pointing out how the Oversight Board's extension offer appeared to provide some political cover for [Republican] opponents of a legislative agreement, which is supported by Spitzer and Sheldon Silver...both of whom are Democrats.

The oversight board was created in 2005 by former Gov. George Pataki, a Republican, who selected three of its five members. A fourth member, Joseph Torani, was selected by the Senate majority leader, Joseph Bruno, the powerful Republican who has led the opposition to a long-term extension of NYRA's franchise. The fifth oversight board member, Madelyn Wils, was selected by Silver. [DRF]
And the NY Daily News included an opinion column by one Bill Hammond, whose name I've only fleetingly encountered during my travels around the web in search of news relevant to our purposes. Entitled Hold your horses, governor, it's the latest anti-NYRA editorial by a clueless writer who simply rehashes those familiar themes - scandal, bankruptcy, decreasing attendance, etc., - in simplistic fashion, without any acknowledgment of NYRA's reform efforts and clean bill of ethical health, nor making the slightest attempt to explore the complex reasons behind NYRA's financial situation and its declining live crowds.

As is often the case in these editorials, the writer quickly flaunts his ignorance of the subject.
[NYRA] would also receive a generous slice of the revenues from video lottery machines to be installed at Aqueduct - money that would otherwise be earmarked for schools.
That money is of course earmarked for whoever is operating the tracks, NYRA or not, and it's laughable if the writer really believes that either of the for-profits he fancies, Capital Play or Empire, wouldn't receive at least the same share.

The bit about money "earmarked for schools" makes one think that Hammond was reading from a Capital Play bullet points memo. That consortium's relentless attacks, which started up as if on cue as Empire faded away, is clearly having an effect. The audience that their negative TV ad is targeted to - which includes columnists like Bill Hammond - knows little about the subject, and as they read and hear the same points hammered away, with little to no rebuttal from the other side, they accept it as the whole truth. It's no different from what political campaigns are these day, and that's why candidates with the most money with which to run negative ads usually win.

And that's also why Capital Play hired the experienced Sheinkopf Communications as their political consultant/communications strategist; the firm has worked for Bill Clinton, and for Eliot Spitzer himself. They were hired to help form public opinion, and I'd venture a guess that NYRA's poll numbers could be worse than even the president's right now. You certainly have to give Sheinkopf credit, and to Capital Play for selecting them. But I don't expect to read a columnist in one of the top circulated papers in the country merely echo their PR without making any effort whatsoever to explore the details - and questions - behind them.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Monday Night Notes

- I'd mentioned Monday's 4th at Calder, and what a race that turned out to be; worth checking out if you can (replays available at Calder's website, if you register for free). Neither Two Double nor Hall of Famer would budge an inch in a stretch-long duel. Stride for stride at the sixteenth pole, you can barely make out that there were two horses. Hall of Famer got the nod, and I think he may have kept a bare nose in front for most if not all of the drive. He's the Clement first-timer by Grand Slam, and that makes ten winners for his dam Quimper, at least according to the Form's sibling summary. Pedigree Query lists eleven, including Hall of Famer. Either way, that's a lot of production.

The winner paid $16.60, and it's not too unusual for Clement to pop one at a nice price. You may recall he had Megadeed at 12-1 at the Big A in November. Pletcher's first-timer Sir Dynamite, 3-1 morning line for Stonestreet, was nearly 8-1 at post time, and trailed throughout after a sluggish start. I dunno, maybe it's just me, but I think it's valuable handicapping information when you see this horse the next time with the 7.90 odds in the running line, to know that his morning line was 3-1. I asked about morning lines in the pp's on Crist's blog, and he dissed me big time. I know I probably take the tote board too seriously. But I think his being 7.90 to 1 means something different if he was 3-1 morning line (making him cold stone dead on the board) as opposed to if he was 10-1.

Will Racing Get Stoned?

- This is certainly a pivotal moment as this years-long drama nears its conclusion - perhaps. I suppose that depends in part on whether NYRA accepts or rejects the Oversight Board's extension offer. If it accepts, then we're likely looking at continued racing, and continued closed-door negotiations that could theoretically drag out for months. After all, the extension, as currently written, would not end until "the selection by Gov. Eliot Spitzer and the legislature of a new franchise operator."

But if they reject the proposal, and if the Oversight Board affirms their intention to find another operator, then we could be looking at New York racing at the brink. Indeed, Michael Gormsley reports for the AP that the Board has authorized chairwoman Carole Stone to start negotiating to continue racing at Aqueduct.

If NYRA can’t or won’t continue to run racing after its franchise expires at the end of the year, then board Chairwoman Carole Stone is authorized to negotiate with others, including NYRA’s competitors. They are Capital Play, Empire Racing, and Excelsior Racing.
Oh man. Do you really think that the state would have Ms. Stone arrange to bring one of those entities in? Can you picture the NYRA security guards at Aqueduct physically turning Jeff Perlee and Karl O'Farrell away on Jan 1?

It's not just Spitzer who has backed down from a judicial confrontation over the land issue. Pataki did so in December, 2005, coming through with a $30 million package, thereby forestalling a potential showdown in bankruptcy court. NYRA and Charles Hayward have seemed to gain confidence in their position since that time, while the state has continued to wobble. If NYRA truly believes that the issue will be decided in their favor, then why wouldn't it reject the offer outright and make it clear that they'll be in court on January 1, if they can find a judge somewhere. With all the other parties in favor of the MOU, and Bruno making demands that are unacceptable to NYRA and just plain unreasonable in my opinion, the pressure would come down squarely on the Senate Majority Leader to give in.

But if NYRA were to agree to the extension as is, without a definitive end date, I think it takes the heat off Bruno. Without any immediate threat of NYRA running to court to enforce the land claim in the face of an imminent threat (PERLEE AT FIVE O'CLOCK!), Bruno could harden his position and even put the onus on NYRA to give in on important points. So I'd be surprised if NYRA accepts the offer as is; it seems to me that it could diminish their most powerful weapon. I think they'll either insist on a hard deadline in the not too distant future, or reject the extension offer outright.

Extension Offered, Considered

- With virtually no possibility of the NY legislature convening before the end of the year, the state's Oversight Board, as reported by Tom Precious on this morning, has approved letting [NYRA] continue running racing on a temporary basis until officials can agree on a new franchise-holder. But the extension is subject to acceptance by NYRA, which, shortly afterwards, released a statement which reads:

NYRA remains confident that an agreed memorandum of understanding and legislation will be achieved. NYRA will continue to work cooperatively toward that end.

NYRA’s attorneys are reviewing the resolution adopted today by the Non-Profit Racing Oversight Board to determine an appropriate course of action.
Those attorneys are presumably determining whether acceptance of the extension would in any way jeopardize its land claim. Charles Hayward had also told Precious the other day:
“We’d have to be convinced that we’re on our way to somewhere....Because, say we do 90 days from now, if there’s no more progress then on March 15 we’d be doing what we’re doing today. And it would be more detrimental for racing to stop then, right before the Wood Memorial, than it would on January 1." [Bloodhorse]
The extension offer includes no end date, merely that it will end upon the selection by Gov. Eliot Spitzer and the legislature of a new franchise operator. If NYRA doesn't agree, then the Oversight Board has the authority to enter into a contract with another operator; that according to the board's chairwoman Carole Stone. NYRA would, I'm sure, be back before the bankruptcy court before such an announcement had even dropped to the floor from Ms. Stone's mouth to protest anyone other than itself being on what it views as its property.

Another looming 12/31 deadline is the expiration on that date of TVG's exclusive broadcasting and account wagering deal with NYRA. However, in an email response, Mr. Hayward informed me that "on the account wagering side NYRA will no longer be exclusive with TVG and therefore the signal will be made available to all domestic account wagering platforms assuming that we can conclude a proper economic agreement with each of them." That would continue the recent trend towards the end of ADW exclusivity that started with the experimental open platform in California, and sounds similar to TVG's recent deal with the NJ Sports and Exposition Authority. The question of TVG's exclusivity with respect to the broadcast rights are still the subject of negotiations, which NYRA hopes to conclude before the end of the year.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Monday Morning Notes - Dec 17

- Country Star responded promptly to a couple of right handed smacks from Rafael Bejarano, and was gone in the Hollywood Starlet. Good job by me picking out 13-1 Grace and Power, who rallied widest of all and was a clear best-of-rest second, completing a $39 exacta. Indian Blessing is a deserving Eclipse winner, but this daughter of Empire Maker is now a two-time Grade 1 winner as well, both around two turns. Reader rgustafson pointed out that Ken Rudolph may really have seen a possible Oaks winner in this filly. I think that Country Star would be the favorite over Indian Blessing should an Oaks futures pool be conducted today, doncha think? (Bejarano said: "Oaks? She's going to be the next Kentucky Derby winner.." []) Her final time of 1:40.54 broke the Cushion track record for the distance that Zenyatta had tied (in fifths, anyway) earlier on the card.

Elvis Trujillo, the CF on my all-star jockey baseball name team, nearly hit for the cycle in Calder's Grand Slam on Saturday, taking three of the four graded stakes. Paradise Dancer (Langfuhr) won the Grade 3 Kenny Noe; this seven-year old gelding now has a solid record of 40-11-10-10, making all but six of his starts at Calder; this was his first graded stakes win. Ditto for Electrify, the winner of the G3 Fred Hooper, who has now taken four of his last five. He's a son of Delaware Township, a third-year sire who I recall having a bit of a buzz a couple of years ago, but who has since been shipped from Florida to a farm without a website in Pennsylvania, where he stands for $4,000. Trujillo then shocked the G2 McKnight with 67-1 Presious Passion (Royal Anthem), who had won the G3 Cliff Hanger at the Meadowlands in September.

The 4th at Calder on Monday is an interesting juvenile maiden race, scheduled to be run on the grass. Hall of Famer goes first time for Christophe Clement, 13-3-3-2 at the meeting. The barn is seven for 23 with two-year old first-timers on the turf over the last three years. Hall of Famer is by Gone West, out of Palace Music, and he's a half-brother to no less than ten winners, three of them stakes winners. Pletcher debuts Sir Dynamite, and the Toddster has won with six of 16 starters at this meeting. This colt, a $450,000 yearling purchase, is by Dyanformer out of a Trempolino mare who's a half to the dam of the juvenile champ Action This Day. Most interesting on breeding though is one stuck out on the AE list. Sir Mott would make his debut for Bill Mott should he draw in; he's by Stravinsky out of a Private Account mare, and he's a half-brother to the graded turf winner Sir Cat. His second dam is the champion April Run, who I remember as if it were just yesterday....OK, maybe as if it were just a few years ago, beating the boys in the Turf Classic two years in a row (1981-2) for owner Bertram Firestone and trainer Francois Boutin.

Overlooked amongst these well-bred firsters could be the other Pletcher Tanganyika (Smart Strike), 5-1 morning line with Edgar Prado. He's had three perfectly decent 4ths on the grass thus far, and returns after a brief freshening.