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Thursday, January 31, 2008

Meadowlands Fans Disappearing

- From time to time, I bring my camera to a track, and come back and post pictures showing how empty it was. So yeah, here I go again.

I'd really prefer to post pictures like this one here. But this is reality, and such is the state of the game these days. It had been awhile since I went to the Meadowlands; I think that this was my last visit, nearly two years ago; man, time flies. But that's not a long time in the scheme of things, and I was really struck at how empty it was compared to how I last remembered it. (Which was, of course, already far less crowded than in the past.) Since my last visit, phone account wagering, the advent of OTB in the state, the availability of the races on TVG and other ADW's, and the usual attrition rate have no doubt had profound effect.

I'd always marveled at the fact that the Meadowlands had kept the entire plant open despite the dwindling crowds; but that is no longer the case, with half of the second floor now closed, and protected behind those increasingly familiar white barricades with the lattice patterns.

Now, of course, it was a wintry Wednesday night, and only an idiot or a degenerate would make his way to the Meadowlands on such an evening when he/she could wager from the comfort of home. And the photos were taken upstairs in the clubhouse; while there was a somewhat more normal looking gathering on the first floor. Still, the announced attendance was just 2,806, and I don't know how or if they include those there for afternoon simulcasting. And I'd never seen it nearly like this.

That's the third floor clubhouse area which used to be promoted as a sports bar. It was pretty lively on most nights, and I'd be lucky to be able to nab one of those tables; but no more. I counted 17 people in the area, including the two guys doing the simulcast show. It was eerie, and added to the sense of doom created by the looming purse cuts that are promised should a new subsidy program not be agreed to. And there's no short-term relief from slots on the horizon.

I generally stay neutral in the slots debates, at least as concerning their own merits, separate from the save-the-tracks standpoint, and as a means for state governments to raise revenues. I don't dismiss lightly the arguments against them, and greatly prefer there were other ways of balancing budgets. But we're not hearing that usual debate in New Jersey about things like the ill effects on society and preying on those least able to afford it. This is simply a case of the state's casino industry using their political clout to prevent competition, period. In this particular case, the identity of the bad guy is plainly clear. Atlantic City's business model was based largely on its regional monopoly on casino gambling. Now, even as that dominance has become obsolete, the casinos are seeking, through bullying and intimidation, to hang on to a piece of what's left (a strategy that hasn't worked out too well for the music industry by the way). The competition from surrounding states has engulfed Atlantic City and will continue to do so as more slots come on line in Philly and, one of these days, at Aqueduct and in Maryland. The contention that another 1,000 VLT machines in East Rutherford would have a material effect is doubtful at very best.

They were promoting some award the track got for being the "best simulcast facility of 2007," but it's been that for some time as far as I'm concerned. The Meadowlands has long been awesome for simulcasting, not to mention the live product, with an ample wagering menu, hundreds of monitors, attentive customer service, and no betting lines, even years ago. The plant is as immaculate as ever now after nearly 30 years, as maybe you can make out from the photos. I've always found it to be comfortable and accommodating, both inside, and out in the spacious trackside park area during the summer.

The Meadowlands would be a perfect place for slots if there's such a thing - there's plenty of room, both in the building and on the park grounds. But since that's unlikely, a new subsidy agreement funded largely by the casinos only seems fair. Here's hoping that Governor Corzine sees fit to keep his word and shepherd it through before any further damage is done.

- On the track, I fell just two noses short of hitting the 7th race triple when Justcallmerosie fell just short at odds of 8-1. With the favorite and second choice on top, the triple paid over $80, so if I had won......(why do we go through pointless exercises like that?) I also had the winner of the 7th at Balmoral on top, but failed to hit the exacta. Other than that, I wasn't too close, but it was nice to get out. And besides, a race that I didn't even bet made the trip totally worthwhile.

The sixth was a maiden pace for three-year olds, and Rudy Rednose was a first-time starter. Gotta be a hunch bet in there somewhere, eh? This pacer is trained by George Teague Jr., and was driven by Brian Sears. With my limited knowledge of harness racing current events, I'd guess that's about equivalent to Mott/Desormeaux or so, yes? Rudy Rednose, 7-2 in the morning line, was the clear betting favorite off a single qualifier. I was out in the cold for the post parade, and the gelded son of Red River Hanover looked fantastic on the track. I think I'm actually better picking out harness horses from their warm-ups than I am with thoroughbreds - which isn't really saying much. I find it easier. You actually have a chance to see the horse in something approaching full stride; and if you're paying attention, you also get a preview during between-race warm-ups about 90 minutes or so before the horses race.

Rudy Rednose went off at 8-5, but was 9th after a half mile; he started to inch up a bit on the outside, but around the turn, he was still four deep in a cover flow that wasn't going anywhere. It wasn't until after turning for home that Sears tipped him out, tapped the sulky with his whip a couple of times, and Rudy Rednose just exploded past the field with absolute ease in a final quarter of 27 seconds (that's good). It's always exciting to catch an impressive debut like that no matter what the breed. So, while I haven't yet had anything even approaching a Derby moment as of yet, if Walter can find me 100-1 on Rudy Rednose in the Meadowlands Pace, I'd certainly get some action down on that!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

No Progress To Report

- NY Assembly Minority Leader James Tedisco (R-Schenectady) told The Saratogian that he’s unaware of any progress in racing negotiations.

“There’re no talks that I know of,” Tedisco said. “The real holdup here is Sheldon Silver. He just said publicly it’s not a priority. It’s not rent control in New York City. We’re trying to convince him that you have Democratic colleagues here.
“I don’t know if the speaker’s trying to play a card to get some more funding or assistance for the downstate area in delaying this process, but I know the longer we go the worse impact it has on the economy of Saratoga.”
Senator Bruno said that the ball is in Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s court, which means, of course, in Brunospeak that it's up to Spitzer to accede to Bruno's demands on the NYRA board and the length of the franchise. The two agree, however, on Belmont slots, and it's Silver who is holding up an agreement on that. Regarding OTB, Bruno said:
“We should be rolling all of that in while we’re addressing racing and wagering here in the state....We can’t get the support for that from the others that we need, the Assembly and the governor. We have to have one racing and wagering venue and this was an opportunity for us to do it. So we’re still going to keep working toward getting that done.”
Bruno has been talking about the OTB issue, but only since the time that the Senate put forward their response to the MOU; and it has only gained prominence since Bloomberg's threat to close the City OTB. So it would be false for him to imply that he's been out front on the matter all along while the others have waffled. In fact, enhancing his political influence in the new franchise has seemed to be his top priority.

Bruno also told a luncheon audience: “I’m not the greatest fan of this governor and he is not my greatest fan." We knew that.

The Democrats will have another opportunity to gain control of the Senate and nudge Bruno towards irrelevancy. Already, a special election will be held on February 26 to replace retiring Republican Senator James Wright. Now, a second upstate Republican lawmaker, Senator Mary Lou Rath, has announced her intention to retire. The GOP currently holds a two-seat Senate majority, but a tie would effectively result in Democratic control with the party in control of the governor's mansion. Senator Rath will remain in office until her term expires at teh end of this year, thus no shift in power could occur before the March 31 budget deadline, at which time we'd expect the franchise issue to be resolved once and for all, for better or for worse. But her retirement does put another seat into play come November.
“I am sorry to see Senator Rath leave. She is one of the best senators in the state,” said...Bruno. “That’s a Republican seat; we’ll be O.K. We have a depth of people behind her.”
Doug Forand, a political strategist for the Senate Democrats, said of Ms. Rath’s district: “The numbers are Republican, though the margin has been narrowing in recent years. This would be a tough race, but probably not unwinnable.” [NY Times]
- Slots opponents in Miami-Dade were working with far less money than supporters, and turned to some desperate measures. One group ran an ad that asserted that former NFL star Michael Vick, who sponsored dog fighting, would vote for the slots if he could.
"Financially, we were outnumbered 10 to 1. We had to resort to using methods that would get our message across to the voters." [Miami Herald]
It didn't work; the winning margin was almost 2 to 1. The Flagler Dog Track is expected to spend $80 to $100 million on renovations. Miami Jai-Alai has a contract giving Isle Of Wight first dibs to buy it; the company owns and operates Pompano Park, the most successful of the Broward County racinos thus far.

In New Jersey, Freehold has agreed to delay its draconian purse cuts for a week in the hope that Governor Corzine, the state legislature, and Atlantic City casinos can agree on a new purse subsidy package. The horsemen there have threatened a work stoppage should the cuts occur.

News and Notes - Jan 30

Hunch bets for Wednesday, January 30:

Smile N Wave Boys 8th at Delta Downs
That's A Given 5th at Aqueduct
In Command 7th at Aqueduct
Termsofengagement 7th at Charles Town
Legal Trouble 1st at Laurel
Where's Michael 4th at Turfway
I's Coming Home 5th at Charles Town
- It was a runaway in Florida, as Miami-Dade voters overwhelmingly approved slots at its three pari-mutuel facilities. Calder and the Flagler Dog Track kicked in $5 million for the campaign (Miami Jai-Alai I guess just went along for a free ride), and they are expected to see their investment pay off quickly.
Ryan Worst, a securities analyst at Brean Murray, Carret & Co. in New York, estimates Calder’s pre-tax net revenue from slot machines could be between $75 million and $100 million in the casino’s first full year. Harness track Isle Casino at Pompano Park is the only Broward County pari-mutuel facility with slots revenue on a faster pace.

CDI has had a Calder casino in “the planning stages” and now can start determining details, said Kevin Flanery, the company’s vice president for national public affairs. [Bloodhorse]
Calder is located not too far from Gulfstream, and why the former would flourish while the latter continues to struggle isn't clear; perhaps something to do with the competence, or lack thereof, of their respective managements?

- The IRS has reduced its claim against NYRA from the fanciful $1.6 billion to $15.2 million, but NYRA says they're still negotiating.
In an interview Monday, attorney Brian S. Rosen said "$15.2 million is a far cry from $1.6 billion," but "we reserve our right to object to that proof of claim. The parties are continuing to discuss the issues associated with it and hope to reach an agreement soon." [AP]

Monday, January 28, 2008

Biancone Getting Last Laugh

This guy seems pretty happy, and why the hell not? He's hanging out, attending sales, and plotting his future, which may just be brighter now that he and loyal owner Fab Oak Farm have purchased the training facility at Hurricane Hall in Kentucky.

Biancone said the uphill Polytrack course was the determining factor in purchasing the property.

“To be able to gallop horses everyday up hill is a huge advantage, as you don't need to gallop as long as on a flat track to arrive at the same level of fitness....As an example, if you gallop one mile up hill, to obtain the same work on a flat track you would have to gallop at least a mile and a half. This will help with the soundness by less concussion on the legs and extend the length of racing career.” [Thoroughbred Times]
So Biancone may not be earning money now (or perhaps he is, as he's allowed to be a bloodstock agent, consultant, and who knows, perhaps he took out a real estate license and got a commission on this deal). But this little vacation may work out just fine, given the time, as he has, to build up his operation, and on private property too, so he doesn't have to deal with those nosy investigators snooping around his refrigerator. Yeah, this will act as a real deterrent to other trainers, that's for sure. Some may decide that an enforced vacation isn't a bad idea, and that the time could be used quite productively. It's almost as if Brian McNamee was allowed to buy the Yanks' training facility at their spring complex in Tampa.

And in case you missed it, Ed Fountaine's story on Jack Van Berg that ran in Sunday's NY Post is a devastatingly bleak assessment of the state of the game. The industry tries to lead us to believe that most trainers are clean, but this article conjures up an image of syringes being crushed beneath one's feet as you walk around the backstretch. The hall of fame trainer calls for a strict no-medication rule, and says:
"If you had sophisticated testing, and no medication whatsoever, and you caught them and sent them down the road for a year, (you would see) a lot of difference in them."
But I don't think that Biancone's suspension is exactly what Van Berg has in mind by "down the road." This is supposed to be a punishment, a setback, not an opportunity to enhance his future earning potential. It's been a joke, really, ever since the day that New Jersey racing officials had to kick him off the grounds of the Breeders' Cup. Except that Biancone seems to be the only one laughing.

Ashes To A$hes

- Roy and Gretchen Jackson have scheduled a press conference for Tuesday, at which time they are expected to announce the plans for Barbaro's ashes. But Left at the Gate has learned exclusively that the Jacksons will announce that the ashes have been sold to Darley for $200 million. "The Sheikh had tremendous admiration for Barbaro and his valiant struggle for life," said bloodstock advisor John Ferguson, "and that spirit can only help to inspire His Highness' horses to achieve the global dominance he so, so, so badly desires."

"And besides, it's a pretty cool collectible and he has the money," Ferguson added.

The Fans of Barbaro expressed outrage at the Jacksons, and took back, one by one, each of the 7,254 good things they ever said about them.

Too Close To Call

- Calder's president Ken Dunn told that he expects a "tough race" for approval of slots in Miami-Dade.

Dunn is not predicting the result, and “Yes for a Greater Miami-Dade,” the pari-mutuels’ political action committee that raised $5.2 million through Jan. 8, is not releasing any poll data.
No polls have been released by either side, which means a) the race is probably quite close, and b) wow, an election in which we really have no idea what the results will be, pretty cool.

The turnout is expected to be high of course due to the presidential primary. But remember that the state is being boycotted by the Democrats (most of them, anyway) because the date was moved up earlier than the Democratic National Committee would allow. So if the turnout is dominated by Republicans, I would guess that wouldn't be good for the pro-slots forces in a state in which the issue has broken largely across party lines.

Meanwhile, the Seminoles are forging ahead with the first phase of their compact agreement with Governor Crist despite the court challenge by the Florida House. The Class III slot machines are being rolled out at its Hard Rock Cafe casino in Hollywood Beach, and the number of machines to eventually be installed there threaten to simply overwhelm the existing slots at racetracks in Broward.
The nearly 1,000 new Las Vegas-style slot machines debuting Monday are the beginning of what could be more than 15,000 games expected to be installed at the Hard Rock Casino...

"We ordered thousands of new slot machines following the Jan. 7 approval by the U.S. Department of the Interior of the company agreement between the State of Florida and the Seminole Tribe," said James Allen, CEO of Seminole Gaming. "We had no idea so many machines would be available so soon," said Allen.

Allen credited the delivery of the games to the tribe's "buying power" and its relationships with the manufacturers. [WPLG-TV Miami]
- I was watching Matt Carothers on his 58 Flat program for awhile on Sunday, and just as the 5th at Philly Park was going off, he quickly noted that jockey Joanne McDaid fell off Interception, which was his selection in the race. They're off, you lose, as they say. After the race, Carothers looked at the replay and, while trying not to be critical and emphasizing that he hoped she was OK (she was), he repeatedly expressed surprise that the rider couldn't stay on. The replay from the standard angle showed the horse bobble a bit, and I agree that the cause of her dismounting was not clear from that view. I know that Matt tries to be edgy on this program, but I really think he should have withheld any such comment until and unless he saw the head-on replay (and I say that without having seen it myself). A lot of things happen during a race that one cannot comment fairly on from just seeing the pan shot. The chart comment noted that Interception lunged at the start then stumbled unseating his rider.

The following race at Philly was interesting for us tote watchers. First-time starter Sensual Melody was bet down based on her bullet half-mile work, and Carothers was fully on board. He emphasized that her sire, Brahms, was a very good first-out stallion (though a later check of BRIS showed a percentage of 10%, which I personally would classify as average). But another first-timer in the race, Dulce Realidad, was 8-1 morning line off some very moderate works, yet was also getting heavily bet. She was down to 2-1 at one point, with virtually no money in the show pool. Well, you know how I love that kind of action, so I made a small bet boxing the two horses. There's something perverse to me about boxing two first-time starters in a in, it's nothing but a guess, and a longshot one as well, no matter what the odds are, really.

Nonetheless, that's what I did, and, not surprisingly to me, it was Dulce Realidad (Sweetsouthernsaint), up to 4-1 at post time, who skipped out to an easy lead. Sensual Melody couldn't keep up, and was done by midstretch, fading to 4th, while the winner was being wrapped up under the wire. (Joanne McCaid got third on 31-1 shot Squeakums.)

- Go Between is now two-for-two on synthetics after taking the Sunshine Classic on Saturday at Santa Anita. His other 19 starts have been on grass for trainer Bill Mott. Diamond Stripes was 4th as the 2-1 favorite; you can speculate that he didn't take to the Cushion in his first synthetic try - or maybe that his ambitious placing in the BC Classic hasn't done him any good, as he also disappointed in the Clark Handicap.

You Can Say That Again...

- With the Feb 13 deadline looming more ominously than either of the previous two, Mike Luzzi comments on the ongoing saga:

"The thing that is most disappointing to me is everyone knew the date: Dec. 31," said jockey Mike Luzzi, 38, who has ridden in New York since 1994. "We have known that date for being the deadline for such a long time. The trainers and owners and jockeys and people who work for NYRA, we just want to know what's going on. It's like all the talk about steroids in baseball. Enough. We're tired of it, already." [Albany Times Union]

Monday Morning Notes - Jan 28

- Didn't get to Aqueduct until the fifth on Saturday, but saw some pretty terrific races there. In that fifth, Dynergy and Commander Matt were second to last and last respectively first time under the wire, but they were first and second at the finish, separated by a bare nose in a head-bobbing finish. It was a particularly cruel beat for those who had Commander Matt at 6-1, losing a most unfortuitous head bob as he was going on by the winner at the very end, ouch.

Lord Snowdon was dead last turning for home in the featured Paumonok Stakes before weaving through the field and catching a game front-running Man of Danger late; the $10.20 win price had me kicking myself. It's the first stakes win for this much improved five-year old half brother, by Seeking the Gold, to Mott's Derby prospect Court Vision, and he figures to be tough in this company here for the duration of the winter season.

The 9th race was another featuring a flying finish between two horses that had been far back - no inside speed bias at the Big A on this day. Ready Read got the nose decision with a well-timed late move by apprentice Carol Cedeno, who's ridden 10 winners from 105 mounts.

- Kiaran McLaughlin won the first on Sunday with Alyssa the Dancer and ran second in the next race with Shadwell first-timer Alzehba. The trainer is on quite a nice streak at the Big A, with a record of 8-2-2 with his last 19 starters. McLaughlin really seems to be loaded with talented, lightly-raced horses, and not only for the Sheikhs.

On Saturday, McLaughlin won a Laurel stakes with Wild Hoots, for owner Dell Ridge Farm. Mario Pino barely moved a muscle while wiring this field by 4 1/2. This four-year old daughter of Unbridled's Song sold for $900,000 as a yearling and started her career in the Mott barn. She looks to have really found a home on the dirt after five grass tries. She won her prior by 14 on the dirt at Philly; based on that effort, the bettors discounted her 4-1 morning line and made her the solid 6-5 choice on Saturday. Wild Hoots is out of a Storm Cat mare, and she's a full sister to Buddha, winner of the 2002 Wood Memorial. And speaking of great finishes....

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Frank In All His Glory!

- Nothing clicks on today's Aqueduct card for me, so I took a look at the G3 Appleton at Gulfstream. Grass-loving Croton Road found himself on the lead in a paceless Calder stakes in his last after a four month break. That's not his preferred style it would seem, but he's shown versatility and improvement since returning from another layoff last summer. However, he was never quite able to clear Terrific Storm to his inside, and was hung outside that rival both turns. Still, he battled that one on even terms to the wire, and the pair succumbed late to Dancing Forever. Today, he draws inside of Terrific Storm, and figures to have a target to run at in Jet Propulsion. It's the second off the layoff for Croton Road, and he ran a career best race under similar circumstances in August. His workout tab since his last indicates he can do the same here, and he looks like he would be quite a bargain at his 8-1 morning line.

Host is reportedly making his final start here. The eight-year old rallied powerfully to win the Canadian Turf Handicap, a race in which Jet Propulsion dueled through fast fractions with the speedy Kiss the Kid. But the latter isn't here today, and the pace figures to be more moderate. This race is also a sixteenth of a mile shorter. Host is cleary the class of the field, but he will need things to go his way to get there today.

- I had a nice day at the Big A yesterday, hitting the 3rd race exacta with Laysh Laysh Laysh on top; one of two winners on the day for David Jacobson. Also had the midday double for $70; an excellent price considering that the parlay returned $34.60, with favorite Huge City taking the sixth. Bailsby was 12-1 morning line for the 7th, and was bet that way in the doubles. However, he was bet steadily to win, and went off at 5-1; and that's another betting pattern that I love to see.

- Did any of you catch what was going on in the winner's circle at Gulfstream on Saturday? I'm sure that Frank Stronach was smiling there after Ginger Punch dominated an outclassed field in the Sunshine Millions Distaff. But he couldn't possibly have looked happier than he did while he had his arms draped around two of the lovely contestants in the Frank's Energy Drink Model Contest. The sound was off at the Big A, but no words were necessary....nor could they possibly have been appropriate! Frank was in all his glory, and Donald Trump was there too as the lucky winners were selected. ("I love coming to the races, more so than anything else," Trump said. "I love it that much." [Palm Beach Post]) You should have seen the "what the f---?" look on Trump's face when he was handed a can of Frank's Energy Drink to display for the cameras. But, after the initial shock, the Donald shrugged and flashed his winning smile....though he wasn't beaming nearly as much as Frank himself. You'd think that the Magna chief would have been at Santa Anita to help manage the crisis there, but he sure wasn't going to miss this! (No word on whether Frank took the opportunity to solicit some advice on bankruptcy proceeding from Trump.)

The sixth at Gulfstream was the kind of three-year old allowance that has many thinking about bigger races down the road. But please spare us regarding the winner Cool Coal Man, who was fully extended to prevail in a final eighth mile of 14.03 seconds. War Pass, another Zito horse who I don't particularly fancy as a classics contender, worked a half in 48.80. The trainer said he is looking for a mile-long race at Gulfstream in three weeks to set War Pass up for the Feb. 24 Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. I). [Bloodhorse]

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Hunch Bets For Sunday, January 27

Decisive Victory 6th at Aqueduct
Grimacing 1st at Golden Gate
Life's Lessons 5th at Fair Grounds
Dream On Desperado 6th at Golden Gate
Hopeitworksout 7th at Fair Grounds
Undignified - 4th at Philly Park
Look Out Below - 7th at Oaklawn Park
Final Jet - 9th at Philly Park
(please don't bet on these unless you have good reason to. Real selections coming up if I have time.)

Harness Horsmen Support New Proposal

- The Standardbred Owners Assocation of New York is throwing its full support (pdf document) behind a bill being introduced in the Assembly by Racing and Wagering Committee Chairman Gary Pretlow. The measure would guarantee harness horsemen 8.75% of VLT revenue (1.25% for breeders), as well as minimum racing dates.

The legislation would give racino owners, especially Jeff Gural, the tax relief they say they need to survive. Gural's Vernon Downs (where the win per machine figure dropped to $92 in December [pdf]), by virtue of the fact that it's located within 15 miles of an Indian casino (Turning Stone), gets the most favorable treatment, with a straight 42% retention rate, up from 32%, with no diminishing scale as the revenues grow. Monticello (if I'm reading this thing right) would get 40% on the first $50 million. Yonkers would get to retain 32% on all revenue, as opposed to the current sliding scale. Tracks would also see their marketing allowance increased from 8% to 10%, except for Yonkers, which goes from 4% to 8%.

Again, Aqueduct is specifically carved out from the 8.75% cut for horsemen, as the proposed NYRA settlement calls for only 6.5% for the thoroughbred horsemen there. No doubt we'll hear the NYTHA point to this measure, should it pass, and ask why the harness horsemen are getting more favorable treatment.

Of course, the extra money for the racinos has to come out of someone's pocket:

Racetrack video lottery terminal operators would get to keep tens of millions of dollars otherwise destined for public education under a bill introduced by some Assembly Democratic leaders.
No, that's actually not a press release from Republicans in opposition, or from the teachers' union; but rather, the lede of James Odato's story in the Albany Times Union today. But, as Pretlow noted:
"If we're in danger of tracks being closed ... we're losing the $50 million anyway." In theory, the new deal would pay for itself, he said, because improved tracks and greater marketing will bolster gambling proceeds.
Odato reports that Spitzer supports the deal. Senate Racing and Wagering Committee Chairman William Larkin said he is still studying the measure.

- Worthwhile piece in the NY Times today about Spitzer's proposal to lease the state lottery to private interests. There's a lot of interest in the idea from Wall Street:
Ten investment banks that have lobbied state officials believe that the state could reap $25 billion to $45 billion now by agreeing to give up a share of future proceeds from its lottery system for the next three to four decades.
(Though reporter Danny Hakim pointedly notes that Wall Street’s credibility is not exactly at a high point, especially when it comes to financial engineering.)

The article also emphasizes a point that a commenter made here the other day regarding the fact that a private company would market the lottery far more aggressively than the state currently does. That would increase competition with other gambling interests such as racing. Other states have studied the idea of privatizing its lottery, but none have seen it through as of yet.

Simpler Times

- Looking at Saturday's third at the Big A, I was transported back in time, to an era in which handicapping seemed simpler, before I was "burdened" with speed figures, Formulator, pedigree charts, replays, and the like. I would have handicapped this race in about five minutes, and it would have gone something like this:

Morning line favorite Dump It and Run (2-1) has run both of his lifetime races on sloppy tracks. So with a fast track expected today, I'd look elsewhere. That's not to say he's a throwout per se; but he would be on principle (never bet a favorite being asked to do something it hasn't done before) as the public choice for sure. Second choice Drift King (5-2) graduated on a muddy, sealed track after two losing tries on fast ground. Ditto. Glowing Image (7-2) was twice unsuccessful on fast and good tracks after graduating in the slop, but won his last in the slop. And likewise, the only career win by Run With Me (9-2) was on a sloppy track (though his fast track second at Calder gives him an advantage over the aforementioned trio).

So, I'd be giving a long look to the two remaining entrants, even though they're the longshots in the morning line. Laysh Laysh Laysh (8-1) has improved adding blinks off the claim for David Jacobson, and graduated (over a fast track) in his last. And Api Mohkat (10-1) graduated two back for a 75K tag also after adding blinkers, as well as Alan Garcia, and then faltered in the slop; fast track and Garcia gets back on board today.

And I'd basically be done. Eliminating well-bet horses being supported off efforts on track conditions different from the day at hand was one of those basic no-brainers which superseded all other factors, and which served me well for many years. Adding a modern touch, I'll also note that two horses came back from Api Mokhat's race to win (and that Api Mokhat achieved a field high Beyer of 84 in the race); and that Laysh Laysh Laysh (who is moving up from the maiden ranks, but figures to represent good value) defeated Magical Forest, who came back to miss by a nose in his next start, as well as Grapple, a very well-meant first-timer from the Schosberg barn.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Franchise Notes - Jan 25

- Nick Kling notes in the Troy Record that Senator Bruno seems to have hardened his stance on NYRA.

One month ago I spoke to Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno about the NYRA Board of Trustees. Bruno has been advocating a significant change in the make-up of the group. I asked Senator Bruno if a reconstituted NYRA board would have to consist of a majority of state appointees. His answer to me, at that time, was clear. "Absolutely not," Bruno said.

However, Daily Racing Form reported in its Jan. 21 on-line edition that Bruno is now striving for exactly that. [Troy Record]
Matt Hegarty, the Form's crack political-and-other-off-track-stuff correspondent, repeated that assertion in his latest column on the matter, in which he also reported that support within NYRA for slots at Belmont may be waning. Some officials may feel that the poor economic outlook and widening state budget deficit will cause lawmakers to further slash the industry's cut of the VLT pie. Hegarty also opines that the Feb 13 deadline may have a lot more meaning than the last one did.
Given all the turmoil, it is becoming more likely that NYRA will not participate in another short-term extension. Without a long-term legislative deal, NYRA officials could threaten to shut down racing on Feb. 13 and seek a resolution through the U.S. Bankruptcy Court. NYRA filed for bankruptcy late in 2006 and has repeatedly claimed in court that the association owns the three racetracks, a position that is disputed by many state officials. [DRF]
A shutdown would become even more likely, indeed, inevitable, should the Republicans on the Oversight Board flex their newfound muscle and seek to dilute the language which, in NYRA's view, fully protects their land claim. I still lean to the opinion that they won't do that, as the fingers would still point to Bruno as the Man Who Stopped Racing. On the other hand, NYRA may finally be ready to take this to the brink and demand a resolution or else. If they fully believe in their legal stance, why wouldn't they at this point? NYRA's influence on the negotiations figures to greatly diminish once the issue becomes entwined with the general budget negotiations (which may already have occurred given Spitzer's inclusion of Belmont VLT's in his proposal). And after all, the state has backed down every time that the land claim has threatened to go to court. However, I'm not even going to try to guess at this time if they'll do the same next month.

Try To Hail A Tote Board In This Weather?

- Ron Charles told the LA Times that it wasn't the rain that caused Thursday's card to be canceled; it was the hail!

"Without the hail, we would have raced today, and possibly tomorrow and Saturday as well. We had a good seal on the track and were actually in pretty good shape until the hail hit. The hail melted and sunk into the track that, as everyone already knows, has a severe drainage problem."
Charles is still holding out hope that the West Coast portion of the Sunshine Millions could be held as scheduled on Saturday; but said it would be rescheduled within the next two weeks if it can't. The Cushion Track fix is scheduled to take place next Monday and Thursday; those cards would obviously be canceled as well.

There's been discussion of the infield tote board issue, and the explanation that the races could not be moved to Hollywood because the two tracks share one that couldn't be transported and hooked up in time. But Art Wilson reports in the Whittier Daily News that some feel that's just a weak excuse, and that Santa Anita simply doesn't want the races to be staged at a rival track. But, frankly, who needs an infield tote board?
"Most of the people are looking at the monitors anyway," [racing board vice-chairman John] Harris said. "We're really into a more high-tech era now where the old style is not as critical."

Santa Anita officials are worried about transporting funds from their mutuel department to Hollywood Park. Said [Santa Anita general manager George] Haines: "That money is insured at Santa Anita but may not be insured at Hollywood Park."

OK, but don't other major companies move money across town? That's why we have armored trucks.

"Moving money, I mean, banks move money every day," one racetrack official said. [Whittier Daily News]
Seems a reasonable point about the tote board. Thinking about it, when I'm making my final wagering decisions, I'm generally indoors using the monitors. I think I'm past the point when I go racing inside in the last minute in reaction to a late betting move revealed by the infield tote. (Mostly over it, anyway.) Besides, I imagine that if they really want to move the races to Hollywood, one of those giant jumbotrons could be rolled into the infield to show the odds instead.

- Racing has been canceled at Santa Anita again today. But it's not just synthetic tracks that are sometimes at the mercy of the weather.

[UPDATE: This is quite a serious storm, potentially with far more profound consequences than the Sunshine Millions. Let's just hope everyone is OK out there. Man, California is one wacky place to live!)

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Washed Out Again

- No racing at Santa Anita today, and the outlook is bleak for the weekend's Sunshine Millions.

“Moving to Hollywood Park on a moment’s notice is a logistical nightmare,” said Haines, who added that moving tote equipment without sufficient time to check everything could jeopardize the ability of the track to take wagering. Southern California tracks share in the ownership of the primary tote board, which is moved from meeting to meeting and would have to be shipped to Hollywood Park and then returned.

“It’s doubtful we could get the tote board across town on one day’s notice,” Haines said. “The funds to operate a mutuel department are astronomical, and to move that money across town, which is insured at Santa Anita but may not be insured at Hollywood, is a very big risk for us.” [Bloodhorse]
They could bring in some British bookmakers to set up shop if they really wanted to!

By the way, I recall that the Millions was on NBC the last couple of years; but this year, they were scheduled to be shown only on ESPN News, and ESPN2. I'd guess that ESPN News would merely show the live races from 4-5, and that the ESPN crew would take over ESPN2 for the second hour. In any event, it's certainly a downgrade from broadcast television, and even gets second tier treatment - at best - on ESPN.

- I was watching the tote for the 8th at Gulfstream, in which I had picked Ling Ling Qi. The horse opened as the favorite, and was sticking around 2-1/5-2 with a few minutes to go. Suddenly, he started shooting up in price - 3-1 / 7-2 / 4-1 / 9-2 - all in consecutive flashes. I was thinking something was wrong. And then he was scratched. Don't know what happened, but perhaps he didn't look right on the track? Or maybe he decided to do his imitation of the Barbaro statue.

The winner, Make The Point, was making his first start since August, and first for Kiaran McLaughlin. He's by Menifee, out of a half sister to stakes winning Daydreaming, and to the dam of Bluegrass Cat.

- The Miami Herald came out in opposition to slots. It cites the pending deal with the Seminole tribe, on the grounds that the pari-mutuels won't be able to compete; and opines that "Slots generate few professional, high-paying jobs and far more that are low-skill and low paying." And it points to the experience of Broward County:
Broward approved the gambling expansion in 2005, but the slots there have generated less than initially projected. State-revenue forecasters had to lower their estimates by $83 million this year.

Moreover, the promised boost to education from expanded gambling is minuscule at best. This is because the $200 million or so expected from Broward slots is a mere drop in the bucket of Florida's $20-plus billion education budget. And most of the education money generated in Broward doesn't go to Broward schools.
Finally, for those who simply enjoy the thrill of long-shot bets, there already are plenty of options, including the Florida Lottery, Indian casinos, off-shore casino ships and, of course, Broward slots.
Er, isn't there something missing in this list? Hmmm, perhaps, something like HORSE RACING?? Well, I guess that shouldn't be a surprise. With all that competition, the sport is fast becoming just an afterthought in the Sunshine State.

FOB's Poop Over Barbaro Statue

- Roy and Gretchen Jackson have distanced themselves from a statue of Barbaro which is set to be displayed in NY's Central Park starting on April 30, and coinciding with the running of the Derby on the following Saturday. And one can certainly understand why from their standpoint. For one thing, it's pretty unflattering, depicting their Derby champ lying on his back, representing his inability to stand on his feet due to the debilitating laminitis which followed the shattered ankle he suffered in the 2006 Preakness Stakes. [Barbaro's Law]

And secondly, Daniel Edwards, the "controversial" sculptor, is taking a direct swipe at the racing industry.

The Memorial’s website....provides an online petition urging Congress to pass a law that would arm consumers with the truth about the perils of horseracing by requiring racetracks to disclose race-related injury and fatality statistics. “Informed race patrons may choose to avoid contributing to the breakdown and destruction of racehorses by not buying a ticket or placing a bet,” said gallery co-director, David Kesting. Estimates are that 700-800 horses are killed on racecourses annually in the US and Canada with an additional 375 racehorse deaths in the UK.
The website has a comments section, so, as you might imagine, the lunatics of the FOB's (I'm now unsure whether that stands for Fans or Friends [or Fiends] of Barbaro) are there.
- Do you have legal permission to use the name “BARBARO” in the title of this “exhibition of poor taste”? (Someone responds that "there are 5 other horses named Barbaro, all of which were foaled BEFORE your Barbaro.")

- This is disgusting and in no way represents the Barbaro that we knew and loved. He stood upright with strength, courage, and dignity until the end. This is a mockery of our hero and it should be destroyed.

- The sculpture is just horrible, why in God’s name would put a horse on is back. Our horese are worrier’s and proud animals. Barbaro should never be on his back, proud and upright is were he should be. Maybe you should rethink this. (original spelling left intact)

- If this statue is erected, I will stop my trips to NYC and will never return to a city with such bad taste.
Well, that would be a shame! And a potential loss of business at Bellevue's psychiatric ward.

However, amidst the inane drivel is a far more relevant and right-on comment by handicapper Andy Serling, who writes:
While a great fan of the art world, and an advocate of free speech, I am also a great fan of horse racing and to anyone familiar with this situation your sculpture smacks of opportunism of the highest order.

You display a complete lack of understanding of the truth, in even the most basic ways, and it is hard to believe this is anything other than a desperate attempt to cash in on the fears of the uninformed.

How much, pray tell, are you donating to horse rescue? Surely with as much concern as you pretend to have, you have a long history of contributing to the many foundations that work tirelessly to further the welfare of the thoroughbred. If not your work here is nothing if not completely self-serving.
I come down on the This Is Art school of thought - it's to be admired, reviled, or ignored as you wish. Personally, I find it unattractive, and lacking the humor of some of Edwards' other works, such as his topless bust of Hillary Clinton, his depiction of Paris Hilton's autopsy, or his bronze sculpture of Suri Cruise's first poop. However, when the exhibit is over, the upside-down Barbaro will go away. Unfortunately, there's no sign of the FOB's doing the same.

New Jersey Tracks Have Hesitation Blues

- Purse subsidies for New Jersey racetracks have not yet come to fruition, and Freehold Raceway is slashing purses for the second time.

Freehold issued a statement on Tuesday that said: "No deal has been reached as of yet for a new purse supplement. We have been overpaying purses by over $100,000 per week. With the current purse schedule, we would be in an overpayment situation in another week. This will be the new purse schedule until a new agreement is reached."

The schedule has a top purse of $9,100, compared with the previous top of $14,000. The bottom class, which had been carrying a $2,500 purse, would drop to a purse value of $2,000, a level [trainer Paul] Wojtowicz said has not been seen "in many years." [Asbury Park Press]
The supplement that the tracks were getting from Atlantic City casinos since 2004 expired at the end of last year. Governor Corzine favors a new package, and indicated last October that an agreement was near in which the government would share the cost with an increasingly reticent casino industry, which has succeeded in blocking VLT's at the tracks. But that agreement is still pending.

The Meadowlands may be next to cut purses should help not arrive, and check out these possible reductions - they're quite dramatic!
Without a purse supplement, the Meadowlands’ nightly purse distribution would drop from the current average level of $220,000 per program down to $90,000 nightly. [US Trotting Association]
- An anonymous reader writes:
Why doesn't NTRA have one central replay archive(like Calracing)for all the racetracks In the US, at no-fee.
Yeah, why not!?! In fact, shoudn't there be a national racing channel produced by the industry like the NFL Network, or, especially, the absolutely awesome NHL Network? does, by the way, have a fine video archive of stakes races, so a comprehensive library seems a natural next step.

Thanks to reader Bit Player, who got to the bottom of NY's Oversight Board; we learn that the members were appointed in 2005 for four year terms. So Spitzer is stuck with them for now. (And here's a complete link to the text of the law which created the board.) I suppose that somebody on the committee got around to reading the rules at some point, and realized that the chairperson didn't have to be all-powerful if they didn't want him or her to. Chairman Steven Newman told Matt Hegarty of the Form:
"I don't think it's particularly helpful....I will obviously honor the resolution, but I honestly don't know what we will do if there is an extension and you have a problem with it. So be it." [Daily Racing Form]
But again, I personally don't see the board standing in the way of an extension, and I believe the members did it basically because they had an opportunity to issue a direct rebuke to the governor.

Ernie writes:
If you teach a class in this stuff, I'll be your first student and will even pay extra tuition which can only be used at the Forest Hills OTB.
A memory from grade school which remains quite vivid for me is the time when a science teacher suggested to the class that one explanation for the creation of the universe is that it was always there. I recall that my little mind was pretty flipped out trying to contemplate how something could exist with no beginning; the notion seemed inconceivable, and still does. But I can tell you with the utmost confidence that the Forest Hills OTB has always been right there, at the corner of Queens Blvd and 70th Road. There, since the beginning of time (or before), it has reliably served as a wart on the otherwise upscale Austin Street shopping district. The idea of it closing is as incomprehensible as a universe which has always existed.

We also learn that reader jk is not Jorma Kaukonen. But he is a fan. So rock on indeed.

(That's Cate Blanchett in the role of Jack Casady.)

Thursday Morning Notes - Jan 24

- There's rain in LA, and the forecast is for it to persist through the weekend. There had been talk at one point of perhaps moving Saturday's Sunshine Millions event to Golden Gate, but track president Ron Charles declined to comment on that.

Moving Saturday's races, particularly at this stage, would seem to be unlikely because of the logistical problems it would create. [LA Times]
- Dr. Pleasure is entered in the second at Gulfstream today. Remember his maiden win at Saratoga in 2005 that created such a stir? The son of Thunder Gulch hasn't won since for trainer John Ward, whether in graded stakes or in entry level allowances such as today's. He's 9-5 morning line, and well worth a stand against I'd think; unfortunately I can't find anyone else too inspiring here. Giant Chieftain also caused a stir at Saratoga, in 2006, when he bolted himself out of a sure victory in his first race, and then ran third in a restricted stakes. But he too has been a disappointment, for Stanley Hough, and switches to dirt here.

But let's try to catch one of those key races beforehand this time. In the 8th, Ling Ling Qi makes his first start since running second in a Remington Park stakes in September. Trainer Ken McPeek is hot, with two winners on Wednesday, three out of his last four, and six for 21 at the meeting. Six horses from that Remington race have run back - three have won, one ran second in a Texas-bred stakes, and another ran third. Winner Dill Or No Dill was up the track in the subsequent G1 Frizette, but has since gone on to take the Ruthless stakes at Aqueduct.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Slop Is Not Super Duper

- Sloppy and sealed at Gulfstream on Wednesday, and won't you be happy not to see that anymore once synthetic tracks take over the universe. I've maintained all along that, all other things being equal, a switch to synthetics would be worthwhile just to ensure that the track is fast. When the drainage works anyway.

The late Tom Ainslie wrote in his Complete Guide to Thoroughbred Racing:

Several times in every season, the Weather Bureau touts everyone onto a loser. "Fair and warmer," the forecast says. But the morning sun gives way to clouds and the rain begins to fall at noon. By post-time for the first race the running surface is a mess. What to do? Some players go home. Others hunt for spots.
I definitely fell into the 'go home' category, but not anymore. Like so much one reads in classic handicapping books these days, this passage is obsolete now. Many of those like myself who once headed home now simply turn to the simulcast tracks.

The 7th was a maiden grass event for 3yo fillies taken off the grass. The bettors made Distorted Lady, 4-1 in the morning line, sporting a fancy 402 Tomlinson, and making her debut for Pletcher, as the 2-1 choice. She could however only manage a distant third, in a typically ugly sloppy track race - 16 lengths separating the first three finishers. Forest Trail won by 4 1/2 of those lengths at 5-1 for Shug; and here's one of those facts that it might have been more helpful to know before the race. This daughter of Forest Wildcat was the last filly to run back from the 4th race at Aqueduct on Nov 18. Out of the six horses in that field, four won their next race, one ran third by 2 1/2, and the winner, Carolyn's Cat, ran second in the Ruthless Stakes. That qualifies that Big A event as a super duper key race. Just thought you'd like to know.

Budget Debate Takes Center Stage

- Governor Spitzer unveiled his new budget on Wednesday, and we're off to the races on the annual sprint to the March 31 deadline. Albany is on a two-year streak of actually having met the deadline after years of being late. The governor is proposing to increase spending by 5%, to $124.3 billion, while closing a $4.4 billion deficit; all "without raising taxes." Right. That's the usual politispeak for "closing loopholes" and "adding or raising fees." So ask a New Yorker if taxes haven't been raised when he/she is paying an auto insurance fee of $20, up from $5; real estate transfer taxes of up to $400 instead of $75 (if there's anyone buying real estate out there these days); taxes on cans of one's favorite malt liquor, or $3.50 per gram on a purchase of marijuana. (No, I'm not smoking it, but maybe Spitzer is.)

Add in a reduction of property tax rebates, cuts in health care and in aid to NYC, and you get the picture. Republicans, led by Senator Bruno, levied their expected criticism, noting that the taxes fees, totaling, in his estimation, $1.7 billion, “would increase taxes on virtually every New Yorker. It increases taxes on people who buy homes, own homes, drive cars or pay health insurance, or own a small business.” [Albany Times Union] Bruno also feels that the budget does not adequately benefit upstate interests, and criticized the reduction of property tax rebates. More on the Senator's, and other reaction, here.

And the budget anticipates $250 million in fees collected from the operator of the racino at Belmont. The problem with that, of course, is that Speaker Silver adamantly opposes slots there. That issue is one of the sticking points of the franchise standoff; and Spitzer's inclusion of that in his budget could well be the beginning of the process whereby the franchise issues becomes interwoven into the general budget debate.

If that's to be the case, NYRA will of course require a new temporary extension well past the new February 13 deadline. The first two deadlines were granted without much apparent debate by Steven Newman, Spitzer's hand-picked successor to Carole Stone, the former chairperson of the Oversight Board. But now, as reported by Tom Precious on, the Board, dominated by Republicans, has voted to rescind the broad powers it had previously granted to Stone, and presently, at least up until now, enjoyed by Newman. That means that any further extensions would have to be approved by the entire board. "The purpose is to shut [Newman] down," said one government source.

My first thought is to wonder if Spitzer has the power to dissolve the Oversight Board altogether and replace it with supporters. But also, what really are the Republicans trying to accomplish other than to directly rebuff the governor? I don't see where it would be to Bruno's advantage at this point for the board to deny the next extension, shut down racing, and throw the whole matter into the vagaries of the court system, thus risking the land being awarded to NYRA. Do you?

Hunch Bets For January 23

Bamboozled 6th at Delta Downs
Tight Money 7th at Beulah
Stop Singing 1st at Laurel
Departing Now 4th at Philly Park
Unstoppable Force 7th at Philly Park
Til I'm Zar 9th at Delta Downs
Turn The Screw 5th at Tampa Bay
Hey Bill 5th at Turfway
Become My Hero 3rd at Charles Town (Yes, I hate the Giants that much!)

(For entertainment purposes only!)

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Slots Notes - Jan 22

- As the Republican presidential candidates turn their focus to Florida for the critical January 29th primary there, slots proponents and foes are battling it out over the referendum, to be held that day, on the question of slots for the three Miami-Dade pari-mutuels - Calder, Flagler Dog Track, and Miami Jai-Alai. Supporters are flush with $5 million in cash provided by Calder (owned by Churchill Downs) and Flagler. On the other side, the Humane Society of the United States, which on Tuesday conducted a call-in to urge passage of laws banning the transport of horses to Mexico and Canada for slaughter, has donated $500,000 to slots opponents.

"Why is an out-of-town group spending $500,000 on an election in Miami-Dade County to put one dog track out of business when there are 14 other operational dog tracks in the state?" asked [Yes for a Greater Miami-Dade]spokeswoman Sarah Bascom. [Miami Herald]
According to the Sun-Sentinal, there are no less than 16 other pari-mutuels outside of Broward and Miami-Dade. Those tracks may be more interested in what is scheduled to transpire the following day: the opening arguments before the Florida Supreme Court on the Florida House's lawsuit against Governor Crist's gambling agreement with the Seminole Tribe. Crist's deal would preclude any expanded gaming outside of Broward and Miami-Dade. So the tracks have a lot riding on whether the high court accepts the House's argument that the governor may not act unilaterally in this case, and that their approval is required. They also feel that they offer the state a better deal, as in $1 billion of VLT revenue per year.
"They can play with $100 million from the Indians every year or $1 billion from the pari-mutuels," said Patrick Biddix, general manager of the Melbourne dog track. "That's the game plan — that the economic demand will dictate that they abandon the Indian compact in favor of VLTs." [Sun-Sentinal]
- A temporary racino at Fair Grounds opened in September with a mere 250 machines; the permanent facility will house 750. When the horses at this 149-year-old institution run by on the track outside, no one looks up. [New Orleans City Business (via Albany Law School Racing and Gaming Today)]. Sounds like everything is going according to plan. The Louisiana State Police report gamblers lost $1,602,781 on Fair Grounds slots in November for an average of $57.68 per person. I did some rough math and figured that the machines are averaging around $215 per day.

Purses at Fair Grounds were high even before slots came online; that was due to the booming business at eight OTB's that the track operates. Purses were boosted to an average of $405,000 a day by the end of last year's meeting. This year they'll start at around $355,000. Fair Grounds is a profitable racetrack - and it was even before slots - and the track's OTB's, several of which also have video poker, are no doubt a big reason why. That's what happens when OTB's are part of the racetrack operation, and perhaps a delegation from Albany should fly down to have a look.

Louisiana has one of the lowest tax rates on VLT's in the country. Only 18.45% goes to state and local taxes. Another 15.17% goes to the Gaming Control Board and other state agencies to cover their costs in running the joints.

Still, the state's four racinos contributed $13.8 million in state taxes....from July through September. Plus, the horsemen get a whopping 15%, thoroughbred and quarter horse breeders get 2% and 1% respectively, and the tracks get to keep 48%. I recall reading debates from other state legislatures in which Louisiana was used as the poster child for states not taxing their racinos enough. However, everybody seems to be happy!

Of course, not as happy as in Pennsylvania, where the state is collecting 55% of the booming business there. But certainly happier than in New York, where the prohibitive tax rates have track owners heading hat in hand to Albany (when they're not threatening to shut down), and the state offering only 6.5% of VLT revenues to the NY thoroughbred horsemen.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Tuesday Morning Notes - Jan 22

- I put in a good three hours at Aqueduct on Monday, which is about my limit there. Three hours can go by like a dream at Saratoga or Belmont, but, as much as I love it, that feels like a full day at the Big A.

I didn't overhear any discussions about the franchise, and whether or not racing would continue, even though it could have been the last day. It's seemed a foregone conclusion for awhile now that an extension would come through. And if there was an announcement at the track of word of the new extension, I didn't hear it. The new deadline date is Feb 13.

NYRA issued a statement claiming that: “The latest temporary agreement provides the necessary time to enact legislation granting a long-term racing franchise.”[] But the truth is that if lawmakers really intend to fully explore the OTB issue in the light of NYCOTB's threatened closure, it's going to take a lot more than three more weeks. The scenario suggested the other day in which the franchise becomes entwined in the annual March 31 budget deadline drama makes a lot of sense, and perhaps is one we should have expected all along.

Of course, NYRA, if it really, really, really, really, really was 100% solid in its belief that it would ultimately prevail on the land claim issue, could put a stop to continued delays by threatening to halt racing and go to bankruptcy court.

Not much exciting to report from the local racing scene; just another day of winter racing with a holiday crowd of 2,691 on hand. The highlight I guess was the win by Bustin Stones in the Promonroe Stakes, remaining undefeated for trainer Bruce Levine in four state-bred races, despite being out since May. But I wasn't there in time to see that.

I cashed an exacta ticket on the 5th at Gulfstream, the winner of which I correctly selected here; though I needed the Motion horse, which finished third, to get second for some serious winnings. The winner, Lookalike, is worth a mention though; for one thing, she took some serious late money, slammed from 7-2 to 2-1 in a single flash with a couple of minutes to go. And she backed that up with a powerful rally after being confidently ridden by John Lezcano. Nice looking three-year old filly from Matz has now raced well on Tapeta, Poly (the Keeneland variety), and grass, and she has the pedigree to succeed on dirt too.

When Mambo Meister scratched from the 8th at the Gulf, it assured me of a break-even day as far as my blog picks went. But too bad he scratched, because the race was awful, with Mott's Fierce Wind laboring home in a lethargic 1:52.29. This horse is now two-for-two around two turns with a combined winning margin of 15 lengths; so as I mentioned, look for him in Haskin's next Derby column....but don't believe the hype. By Dixie Union, he's a full brother to Rebel Yeller, who won the Woodlawn on the grass last year. The bettors made Pletcher's Southern Terminus the 3-5 favorite off a single sprint maiden win at the Big A, ouch.

I could have had a really nice day had I hit that cold exacta in the 10th at Fair Grounds, but, of course, this time, King's Silver Son benefited from a ground saving trip and got the win as the 6-5 favorite, with my top pick running second.

- I don't like professional team sports these days. The Rangers are in dead last, and though, at the risk of sounding some sour grapes, the puck has not really bounced their way all year, they've certainly achieved their current standing on merit. I will, however, go on record here as sticking by the Blueshirts, and maintaining that they will make the playoffs and make some noise there as well.

But worse yet, how about a Jets fan having to endure a Giants-Patriots Super Bowl? What, are you kidding me? What did I do to deserve this??? One sure bet you can make on Super Bowl Sunday is that you'll find me as far, far away from a TV set as possible. I'm hoping that there's some retrospective of four-hour Swedish films at Lincoln Center or something like that. One good thing about living in New York is that most people don't care about football (or hockey, or, certainly, horse racing), and it's very easy to isolate oneself from nauseating match ups like this. And that's the last mention of football you'll see on this site until next fall.

Random Picks

- A few horses that I like today:

- 7th at Aqueduct: The speedy Tough Shipmate makes his first start since April, for trainer Richard Schosberg. But he's won off layoffs of similar length twice before, most recently over this track last March. In that race, he prevailed after battling head and head for the lead much of the way. He may have to shake off Daddy Joe breaking from the outside post here, but not much other apparent speed in here, so he looks like he should be around at the finish line in his first try for a tag. Soulshine moves confidently back up the claiming ladder for the hot Jacobson barn, but has a habit of settling for minor awards.

- 5th at Gulfstream - Lookalike returns to the maiden ranks after a try in an open stakes race. She finished 10th in the Selima, but was beaten by less than eight lengths in a fine field - winner Bsharpsonata returned to win the Trop Park Oaks, and two others have subsequently placed in stakes. 5th place finisher The Cat's Affair won a maiden race here at the Gulf. The Selima was this Matz-trainee's first grass try, but her prior effort on the Keeneland Poly - a race which itself produced two winners, a stakes-placed second, and two thirds - indicates she'll like the grass. Lookalike is a daughter of Dyanaformer, out of a half-sister to Behrens and to the dam of the grassy-stakes winning Cowboy Cal.

- 8th at Gulfstream - Mambo Meister has the ten post at a mile and an eighth. I've noticed that they've barely even written any races for this distance at Gulfstream, perhaps because of the inequity of the route given the close proximity of the starting gate to the first turn. It must be an embarrassment I imagine. Mambo Meister would seem to be a throwout based on his bad luck at the post draw. However, this gelded son of King Cugat appears to have the speed to overcome that handicap, with not much early foot drawn inside. He faded to sixth in his Gulf debut, but note that the race was at the one-turn mile; he's been far more successful around two turns, and his prior such race produced the high Beyer in this field. With a couple of maiden graduates from Zito and the Toddster sure to get bet (either one, if it wins, is sure to be featured in Haskin's next Derby column), this one could present some value at his 6-1 morning line.

- 10th at Fair Grounds - Revenge Is Sweet has improved markedly since stretching out to two turns and adding blinkers. His last was a second to an Asmussen even money favorite. Not thrilled with the rider change, but looks best nonetheless. Asmussen starts King's Silver Son, the morning line favorite. This one has been 5-2 or less in each of his five starts, with four seconds and a 4th to show for all the cash invested. A lot of excuses too, so maybe with a clean trip he gets it done. But I'll use him to complete a cold exacta.

Good luck and have a great MLK Day!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Tensions Cool But NYRA Impasse Remains

- The rhetoric has cooled in Albany on the heels of the Governor's State of the State address, and the death of Senator Bruno's wife. "I am in a frame of mind that I just want to be nice," Bruno told an Albany luncheon last week, his first political public appearance since Bobby Bruno's funeral on Monday. "Speaker Silver--we have a love/hate relationship. Presently, we're in the love relationship." [Business Review] And the Senate Majority Leader has even spoken to Spitzer directly on the phone.

But Bruno's "nice" phase has not quite halted all of the partisan sniping. He feels that the Governor's proposals for upstate development leaves out the city of Albany.

"It is OK when it [money] comes to the Capital Region," he said. "Is there something wrong with that? ... I am going to be there through the budget process to make sure we are not overlooked."
And he reminded the audience of what he perceives as Spitzer's bluster and bullying during his first year in office.
"Historically, the governor has made very bad judgments in governing because he has favored the politics over governing, and that's what started the whole problem -- the governor wanted to be the only game in town." []
Additionally, there's tension over an upcoming special election for an upstate Senate seat being vacated by a Republican; a crucial race given the GOP's sparse two seat majority in that chamber. Spitzer told a local TV station that he would stay out of the race this time; Bruno was infuriated by the Governor's active campaigning for the Democratic candidate in a similar situation last year. But the NY Times' City Room blog reports:
According to the New York Public Interest Research Group, of the $232,026.03 that [Democratic candidate Darrel] Aubertine raised in the filing period ending last week, $200,000 came from the state Democratic committee, which is essentially controlled by the governor. Much of that went to pay for the slick new commercial produced for Mr. Aubertine by Mr. Spitzer’s ad guy, Jimmy Siegel.
That prompted Bruno to reply: "I think that his active involvement out in that special, that he's just really exacerbating a problem that he created last July." [NY1]

And then there's the franchise matter, which remains at an impasse according to the latest report filed by Tom Precious on The issues - the length of the extension, VLT's at Belmont, and the makeup of the NYRA board - remain the same; except that there's a new player in town.
Officials with the New York Off-Track Betting Corporation were also on the scene at the Capitol Jan. 18, one day after the release of an internal report that sets the stage for the shut-down of the OTB June 16. OTB officials say a variety of state-imposed conditions are making the entity a money-loser. The OTB wants its concerns addressed in the franchise discussions, leading some negotiators to theorize the talks could lead to some sort of new model to end the decades of fractured relations between the OTB and NYRA. [Bloodhorse]
Of course, such a new model is something we've been hoping for all along; it took OTB's threat of closure to bring the matter to Albany. Like the horsemen's plea for a higher cut of VLT revenues, OTB's bid for more money comes well after the original Dec 31 deadline, which, in retrospect, nobody really seemed to take too seriously.

Now, according to the Bloodhorse report, attention has turned once again to another temporary extension, one which could, this time, coincide with the annual March 31 budget deadline drama.
Such a course could make for easier deal-trading involving the franchise and other, unrelated matters. But it could also prove dangerous if, as some in Albany fear, Gov. Eliot Spitzer and lawmakers are unable to reach a budget deal before the fiscal year starts April 1 and the franchise gets spun into disputes involving health care, education, and other spending priorities.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Early Returns

- A reader writes: How many believe we'll see Biancone back in the winner's circle on Breeders' Cup Day(s) 2008?

My understanding of the settlement that the trainer reached with Kentucky authorities would prohibit that from happening. The one-year suspension technically didn't begin until Nov 1, though in effect it started prior to the Breeders' Cup. The 2008 Breeders' Cup will be run on Oct 24-25.

The compromise settlement permits Biancone, after the first six months, to serve as a bloodstock agent, consultant or manager although he is not allowed in nonpublic areas at race tracks. So in theory, the only way we could see Biancone during the Breeders' Cup telecast is if he finds a good angle for the TV cameras and waves his arms and jumps up and down.

But I suppose that if Eric Ledford can be back driving at the Meadowlands, then anything is possible. This was a case in which the state authority actually did crack down, suspending the driver and his trainer-father for 10 1/2 years for possession of Arasnesp, a blood doping agent, as well as syringes and a shockwave therapy machine. (More background in these old posts, here, here, and here. [unfortunately, the links are mostly dead])

But Ledford pled guilty to lesser charges, specifically to "aid in possession of and/or failed to report the possession of a controlled dangerous substance," which essentially means he pled guilty to not turning in his father (trainer Seldon) while having knowledge that he possessed Equipoise (an anabolic steroid, which is legally administered by veterinarians). [NY Daily News]
His suspension was then reduced to a year. Meadowlands Sr VP Dennis Dowd told Bill Finley that the courts had been too lenient with racing cheats.
“This is America and you have an obligation to give due process and people have a right to appeal.....The sadder thing is the courts don’t understand the game or the process and the quality of proof that is often required are higher than you can actually get. Ledford got caught doing something, but what he got convicted of doing was not that egregious.” [NY Times]
Though the Ledfords had the drugs, there was no proof, other than common sense based on the dramatic form reversals that occurred, that they had administered them to their horses. Similarly, there was no proof that the cobra venom found in Biancone's barn was anything else than what the trainer claims - property of his vet that was in his stable unbeknownst to him. I'm sure that the KHRA considered the likelihood that Biancone could ultimately succeed in the courts when reaching the settlement that mitigated, somewhat, the terms of his suspension.

The nature of the evidence in the Ledford case seemed so damning at the time of the arrests that New Jersey police announced that they had "dealt a crushing blow to illegal activity in the sport of harness racing."
"By taking down one of the top finishers in the sport, Operation Horsepower will create a ripple effect that will be felt throughout the entire horse racing industry," said Major Jim Fallon, commanding officer of the Special Investigation Section. "Based on the attention these arrests have created, everyone who lost a race to a Ledford horse may now be asking some serious questions," he added. [NJ State Police]
The serious questions being asked now are not the ones that Major Fallon had in mind.

Saturday Morning Notes - Jan 19

- In the 6th at Gulfstream, Vacation stretches out to two turns for Shug after four well-bet in the money tries at shorter. Under other circumstances, I might surmise he's one of those money burners, and perhaps he is. But his Phipps pedigree surely suggests he should love this nine furlong distance. This three-year old son of Dynaformer has some fascinating and unusual inbreeding - 3x4 to distance influence His Majesty and 5x5 to Hasty Road, the winner of the 1954 Preakness. Certainly we don't generally see those patterns. He's a half to Boca Grande, and his stakes winning dam Country Hideaway is a half to the Distaff winner Pleasant Home and to the dam of Pine Island; all familiar Phipps names.

One more note here - the outside horse is named Subprime Lending - talk about your negative hunch bet! This horse could lose by 14.2%!

No stakes races at Gulfstream today, what's up with that? Santa Anita has the G2 San Marcos at a mile and a quarter, and Frankel's Champs Elysees is the 6-5 morning line favorite off his second to Sunriver in the G1 Hollywood Turf Cup. He was the surprise 8-5 favorite in the race, as there was that ultimately silly talk that Sunriver wouldn't handle the softer going that day. Y'know, I always get into trouble when I try to beat Frankel, especially when he has the favorite such as in this case. So maybe I should just shut up.

But unfortunately, I can't help but notice that Champs Elysees has burned a bit of money, with only two wins to go with five seconds and three thirds in his 12 career starts. Certainly nothing wrong with his Turf Cup effort, in which he had to wait for room while saving all the ground around the turn. Looks tough, but he's going to be a short price while cutting back to a mile and a quarter.

Medici Code rallied quite well for second, to repeat winner Daytona, in the G1 Hollywood Derby for three year olds two races back, getting the final quarter in 22.4. His third in the subsequent San Gabriel was good enough, but he's shown a fine closing kick, and I think he'll much appreciate the stretch out back to the Hollywood Derby distance of a mile and a quarter. Obrigado looks to me like a horse which has never been the same since he went to Dubai last March. He's the third choice at 4-1, and thus I think he's well worth leaving out of exotics entirely, perhaps in favor of the Toddster's Rocket Legs (12-1), who has really improved since graduating on the long grass of Kentucky Downs, and has been running and training very well since on the Hollywood Cushion Track.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Instant Oaklawn

- Steve Asmussen has already started over 100 horses this year; the number was 102 going into Friday, and he already had 32 winners, six of them in stakes! I'm sure there are a fair amount of trainers would be thrilled to have those stats for a year! It's amazing, isn't it, and it gives you an idea of the scope of Asmussen's operation.

And you can make it at least seven winners now after Carson's Legacy won the 5 1/2 furlong Dixieland Stakes on opening day at Oaklawn, with a crowd just over 20,000 on hand. I read this today in Robert Yates' Oaklawn Report in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, and it kinda blew my mind.

Handle on Instant Racing, the electronic pari-mutuel game that allows fans to bet on recycled races, continues to creep closer to on-track handle during the live season. The difference was only a little more than $75,000 last year, but Bobby Geiger, Oaklawn’s director of wagering and simulcast, said he believes the live product again will have the edge when the 54-day live season ends April 12. Geiger said the growth of Instant Racing has slowed, but that has more to do with the introduction of other electronic games and, most recently, table games.

“We’re just don’t have any more room,” Geiger said, referring to adding more Instant Racing terminals. “We’re bumping our head on the ceiling now.” Geiger said Oaklawn has 375 Instant Racing terminals, 130 terminals for other electronic games and 29 positions for table games.
As I mentioned yesterday, they'll be building a new facility after this meeting, and doubling the 1,000 machines there now.
eventually could push purses at Oaklawn to more than $ 400,000 daily. [Arkansas Democrat Gazette]
Carson's Legacy came off the pace, circling widest of all and determinedly running down leader Yonegra inside the sixteenth pole. This was a really nice run; it was not a fast pace, with a half of 45.93 after a 13.80 second second furlong. From there, Yonegra picked up the pace to 12.27, and the final sixteenth was 6.37, so it was a nice rally indeed.

This son of Carson City has faltered twice when run around two turns, but has now won two stakes in sprints. He has a speed favoring dosage index of 6.0, so I think we'll see this one sticking to shorter distances.

Gambling a Campaign Issue in Nevada

- Senator Barack Obama is reportedly an avid poker player. But he spoke out in opposition to expanded gambling when he was a State Senator in Illinois. And according to an article in today's LA Times (registration required), he developed a reputation in Illinois as a critic of gambling.

As a matter of principle, he repeatedly opposed expanding gambling in Illinois, saying it was bad for communities and not a good way to fund government.

As recently as 2003, Obama, then an Illinois state senator, said he believed the "moral and social cost of gambling" was potentially "devastating" and that using gaming as a source of revenue or for economic development was "irresponsible." [Review]
The Clinton campaign is now using that opposition against Obama in the run-up to the Nevada caucuses, which take place on Saturday, and where the topic is obviously of local importance.
The issue has come into focus primarily due to the Clinton campaign, which has distributed a document to local reporters, headlined, "Obama Blasted Gambling as Socially Destructive and Economically Irresponsible," listing several of his past quotes.
In 2001, the Clinton memo states, Obama described himself as "generally skeptical" of gambling as an economic development tool and likened the expansion of slot machines to the state lottery, in which, he said, "you'll have a whole bunch of people who can't afford gambling their money away, yet they're going to do it."

As part of its efforts to publicize those statements, the Clinton campaign has secured the help of top industry players -- several of whom participated in a campaign-sponsored conference call with the media last week designed to chastise Obama. [LA Times]
Hillary has cast herself as a supporter of the industry, and, in an interview for the LA Times piece, more or less pooh-poohed concerns about social costs.
Clinton aides said the New York senator had long supported communities' efforts to lure new casinos to economically struggling places outside New York City, such as upstate New York and the Catskills.
Clinton likened the potential social costs of gambling to the costs of other industries that pollute or leave toxic dumps, saying that the impact "depends on how well-regulated it is."

"Any human activity has social costs, really," she said, adding later: "Life is filled with trade-offs, and you have to do the best you can to balance the pluses and the minuses."
The Times also notes that Senator Clinton is listed on the Empire Resorts website as a supporter. Empire is the owner of Monticello Raceway, which had its bid to partner with the St Regis tribe to build a casino there rejected by the Interior Department earlier this month. That decision is being contested, and it's obvious where Empire Resorts' campaign contributions will be headed. A Clinton Administration II would apparently be more amenable to approving the casino.

Obama has softened his stance somewhat on gambling from his days as an Illinois State Senator. And, whereas he refused contributions from the industry at that time, he now ranks 10th in the Senate in terms of the amount of money accepted from gambling concerns; you can decide cause or effect for yourself.
Obama's campaign says there is no inconsistency because he believes states should regulate gambling. As an Illinois state senator, he objected to the way the state regulated the industry. In Nevada, he believes regulation has been done right. And as a federal lawmaker, he doesn't have an oversight role. [Review]
Obama's campaign also said that the government should "bring (Internet gaming) under regulatory control to stop the worst abuses" -- that is, make it legal.

Gambling is obviously not one of the hot button issues in the presidential campaign, so it's interesting to get this rare look at where the two Democratic front-runners stand. Since the Republicans are concentrating their efforts in South Carolina (except for the Mittster, who has ditched SC for Nevada, where Mormons are looked upon far more favorably), we haven't gotten much insight into their views. We can obviously assume however that Mike Huckabee considers it sacreligious. John McCain introduced a bill in 2000 to outlaw gambling on college sports (a bill which was co-sponsored by John Edwards); though McCain has been spotted shooting craps in Las Vegas. Since Romney tells people whatever they want to hear, I suppose he's amenable to gambling for the next 24 hours anyway. That will likely change once he gets back to the South.