RSS Feed for this Blog

Monday, March 31, 2008

All Big Brown, All The Time

- Big Brown-mania has already reached overseas. Chris McGrath, writing in the UK's The Independent, was so taken with Big Brown that he opined that Dutrow's colt is not only an obvious candidate for the Kentucky Derby, but a feasible rival, later in the year, for Curlin himself. McGrath seems to be getting a little ahead of himself. Or is he? Big Brown got a 106 Beyer for the Florida Derby, by far the best two-turn fig in a Derby prep this season, and did it while dominating what was considered, at least before the race, a strong, wide-open field. It sure didn't get bet like one, did it? I got at least one thing right before the race when I wrote that "I wouldn't be at all shocked to see him go off at 2-1 or even less." It turned into essentially a two-horse betting race, with Big Brown the 3-2 choice, and Elysium Fields, who "was on the verge of a heat stroke when we got him back to the barn" according to Barclay Tagg [DRF], a solid second choice at 5-2. Fierce Wind, 10th at 7-1 (with no excuse that I've seen), was the only other horse in single digits. Even Tomcito, who'd gotten a fair amount of press, was dead on the board, at 12-1.

So the following are some thoughts on the new Derby favorite, and maybe some other subjects as well:

- I don't believe that the Derby distance will be a problem for Big Brown based on his pedigree, and from what we've seen thus far. I know that Boundary is considered to be a sprinter/miler sire, and that we prefer horses from the Raise A Native line based on recent history. But Nureyev, his broodmare sire, should add some stamina, and I love that wacky inbreeding to Damascus and Round Table; the latter in particular, from the Princequillo line, adds some potential staying power to the equation. Also, the dosage guys must love this one; he has a total of 36 Chefs-de-Race (23 in the midrange Classic category) and a dosage index of 1.67.

- I watched the head on replay at Cal Racing - I know that davidrex has been having problems, but I've seen it now several times, so try it again. The horse was all over the stretch, and Haskin described what he saw:

The only odd thing was jockey Kent Desormeaux pulling on the left rein a total of seven times after the colt appeared to drift out slightly. Even as he drifted back toward the rail, Desormeaux kept pulling on the left rein. At one point, Desormeaux’s butt went flying off the left side of the horse’s body before popping back over the saddle. When it did, Big Brown became a bit unbalanced and dipped his head and shoulder for one stride. It didn’t affect the stretch run; it just made for an awkward moment. [Bloodhorse]
We've all read about Big Brown's foot problems, but it's entirely possible that it was just him being green. Steve Davidowitz, writing in the subscriber-only DRF Plus section of the Form, contemplates a darker explanation:
Aside from sheer inexperience, Big Brown's shift towards the rail occurred despite a left-hand whipping from jockey Kent Desormeaux, and this raised a potentially troubling question: Was this in any way attributable to the colt's hoof problems that previously interrupted his career?

While such speculation may be completely off the mark, Big Brown's hoof problems will remain a background issue unless he puts in regularly spaced workouts from now to Derby Day. Given Big Brown's inherent speed and prior physical issues, it is hard not to recall the troubles that affected Unbridled's Song, who won the 1996 Florida Derby just as impressively as Big Brown only to suffer recurring hoof problems during Derby Week that undermined his Derby bid.
Even if he's just green, I think that's still something to consider before backing him in the Derby at short odds.

- I don't think that Big Brown is going to rate in the Derby should War Pass or someone else flash high speed. A couple of readers mentioned that he rated in his allowance win, but, I've often noticed speed horses that may have appeared to rate at a sprint distance, but don't when they go two turns. Bellamy Road (a horse that I'm keeping in mind in my effort to retain some healthy skepticism here) had a running line like that. Big Brown's allowance race wasn't a sprint, but it was a one-turn mile with sprint fractions early, including a second quarter of 22 2/5. So I don't think his being second was anything more than his being outsprinted at that point. And I believe that if War Pass shows flashes of his old self in the Wood and makes it to the Derby starting gate, there will be a real possibility of a speed duel. Of course, if I'm wrong about that as I may very well be, then maybe Chris McGrath isn't jumping the gun after all.

- Pyro, who has suddenly been forgotten, worked six furlongs at Keeneland in 1:14.60.
“I got him galloping out in 1:27 3/5 and the last five-eighths in 1:00 4/5,” said assistant trainer Scott Blasi, who supervised the move for trainer Steve Asmussen, who was in Dallas.

Keeneland clockers caught the pair in :23 for the final quarter, and :11.20 for the last eighth. [Bloodhorse]
He worked with stablemate Sonoma Cat. You can watch portions of the workout in this Zen-like video on the Keeneland site. I can now see myself starting to get excited about Pyro. I still think that he should be considered the favorite, and I discount the significance of his slower Beyers. If War Pass rules the Wood, and Pyro loses the Blue Grass after being too far back after six furlongs in 1:17, then maybe Asmussen's colt could be third or fourth choice come Derby day.

- Georgie Boy is out with a pulled muscle.

Sunday, March 30, 2008


- I was driving to my brother's house in Jersey yesterday when I got the call from Bob. Actually, there were two calls; one with 17 minutes before Primal Peak went to the post for the 9th at Philly to give me the encouraging news that closers had been doing well there thus far. He was pretty excited, and so was I. The Head Chef shook her head, counseling restraint; but it was far too late as far as my wagering investment went.

So then he called again right before the race to give me the live update. We exchanged good lucks, and they were off. "OK, he's fifth, and he'll soon be last." All according to plan thus far. That remained the case for awhile; and I must say that Tom Durkin, Bob is not. Then I heard, "here he comes." The reporting became more urgent as he took off four wide around the turn, and then simply degenerated into frantic screams of "GO, GO, C'MON, C'MON!!" I sensed that he was getting kinda close. I was waiting for the cry of "YES!! HE DID IT"

But instead, I heard.........a really bad word. I don't print shit like that on this blog. Primal Peak had fallen short, by a head in the original report, and then, when he composed himself and called back a few minutes later, a nose, which was the official chart call. He was five lengths in front of the field on the gallop out by the time he got to the turn. That nose cost us some $20,000 in purse money, me the exacta and triple, and Bob the double and pick three. (I at least had a saver exacta and won $8 on the race.)

But it was obviously an excellent effort by the horse off a major jump in class. Whatsmore, we all think that he actually prefers the grass. He has a record of 7-2-2-0 on that surface, and won a NW2X allowance at Laurel last year. And he's 2 for 3 on synthetics too (Presque Isle and Turfway). Keith Lebarron has a $100,000 PA-bred grass stakes this summer in mind as a long term goal. Nice horse, and a very sharp claim by Kasey K Racing, having haltered him for $25,000 three races back; he's already easily exceeded that tag.

What Can Big Brown Do For Us?

- Well, for one thing, he adds some sizzle to what was becoming a dull Derby picture. As they went around the turn, and Big Brown wasn't all that wide as he glided his way towards the lead, the race was effectively over. Post 12? No problem at all.

Kent Desormeaux, interviewed immediately afterwards on ESPN, appeared to be genuinely stunned by the performance, despite the confidence he'd shown prior. "45? It felt like we went in 50!" It was actually closer to 46, but no matter. (The splits were 22.76, 23.07, 24.25, 25.10, final eighth in 12.98.) Fierce Wind and Elysium Fields chased early but were finished shortly thereafter and finished far back in the pack, 10th and 11th respectively. Both colts had been consistent performers and had wins over the track; I think it's too much of a coincidence that they both just had off days. They had just never encountered anything like this before. Their prior races went to the half in around 48.

Of course, many racing fans aren't too thrilled about the emergence of this colt due to his trainer Richard Dutrow Jr., who had a pretty good day to say the least. Dutrow has flaunted defiance in the face of multiple suspensions, bragging that he vacationed in Brazil during a ban he received last year for violating the terms of a 60 day suspension in 2005, when he was caught having contact with his barn. When he returned from that 2005 suspension, the Albany Times Union asked him flat out whether he'd had such communication, and he replied: "I have to say no….The rules of me taking my suspension say you can't be involved in any part of the business. I have to leave it at that." In retrospect, Dutrow was being flippant in his deceitfulness.

Anyone who doesn't want to see him standing in the winner's circle at Churchill five weeks hence should be paying close attention next Saturday when War Pass runs in the Wood. He was once the Big Brown of this Derby (before Big Brown became the Big Brown of the race), and now he's the main hope of those who don't want to see Dutrow's colt galloping alone on the lead. A resounding comeback by the juvenile champ would inspire visions of a potentially ruinous speed duel, and drastically change the complexion of the Derby just one week after it turned Big Brown.

And it's interesting that the Florida Derby came on the same day as Curlin's World Cup win, as it brings up an interesting comparison. Curlin was equally if not even more impressive than Big Brown in his first three starts, and went into the Derby in start #4. I think we all realized what kind of potential Curlin had, but many of us felt that he just wasn't ready for such a big challenge so early in his career. But while Big Brown will also make just his 4th start in the Derby, I don't think there are many people out there at this particular moment in time who don't think he has a very large shot. Of course, last year we had a deep field of contenders. This year, we've been waiting for someone to come and wow us. So consider us wowed.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Curlin Rolls On

- I think it's fair to use the characterization "toyed with" to describe the way that Curlin and Robby Albarado handled the World Cup field. The rider had no qualms about being hung out three wide on the long turn, and still had Curlin wrapped up as they crept up to the leaders in upper stretch. Once he asked him to run, he was gone.

Curlin seems unstoppable and indestructible right now, and the usual concerns about how a horse reacts to the trip don't seem to apply. I'm sure he'll get a break before the big summer/fall races, and he can instead spend some time helping his young friend Pyro accomplish what he wasn't quite ready to do last year.

- I just saw an ad on TVG for next week's Ashland featuring the "undefeated" Indian Blessing looking to continue her streak in next week's Ashland. Hello?

Diamond Stripes Win = Big Day For Big Brown?

- Wow, Diamond Stripes looked like he was being left in the dust midstretch of the Godolphin Mile, but somehow came on again and won with a bit to spare, with Prado aboard. It's all the more remarkable considering what looked like a significant drop off of the horse's form; seemed like all the running against Grade 1 horses with whom he couldn't quite match strides had caught up to him, and his recent form was just fair.

I wonder if Richard Dutrow is having second thoughts about not going to the race. On the other hand, remember that it was a workout in which Big Brown outworked Diamond Stripes that helped get the trainer so excited about the former and no doubt contributed to his decision to stay here. I imagine he may be feeling pretty good about his chances at Gulfstream later today.

- Don't know about those of you watching HRTV, but this music on TVG is pretty damn hot. It almost makes me want to dance with Todd Schrrmmppff. Where is he anyway? Couldn't get up in time?

Friday, March 28, 2008

GP Notes

In the second at Gulfstream on Saturday, Jasmine Gardens (8-1) is a daughter of Mineshaft making her second start for Tom Albetrani. We're still waiting for the sire to make his mark. He finished 17th on the rookie sires earnings list for 2007, with most of those ahead of him bearing stud fees far less than his $75,000. and had just one stakes winner; La Mina won two ungraded stakes.

Of course, Mineshaft didn't start at two and didn't get good until he was four, so it will be awhile still before his worth can be judged. He's doing better this year, standing at #2 on the second year sire list, thanks in large part to Cool Coal Man.

Jasmine Gardens was dull on the board at 15-1 in her debut, but rallied quite well for a nice second after a slow start. The Beyer wasn't great, and she saved a lot of ground on the turn. But it was her first race, and perhaps we don't take that into enough consideration when handicapping. (Or maybe I should speak for myself.) I remember one day I was in the paddock with Castle Village, and Bill Turner, watching a first-timer head to the track, chuckled and said "He has no idea what's going on." Think of how confused some humans are the first time they see a horse race, and imagine how messed up the dumb horses must be! So I think this filly is eligible to improve, which I suppose you can say about any offspring of her sire, and I think that 8-1 would be a bargain for sure.

Smart Surprise (5-2) is the kind of horse you gotta love to bet against, with his four seconds and three thirds in seven starts, five of those at 2-1 or less. Just make sure to use her in the exotics. Handlethetruth (4-1) earned a nice Beyer running second behind eventual stakes winner Spirited Away in his last; but that was in July, and around two turns. Peach Rose (5-1) is a first-timer for Mott. The trainer is winless with his last 50 debut runners. This filly is by Red Bullet, out of Brandy Rose, a half-sister to Holy Bull.

If This Is Peace.....

- One might think that peace would have broken out amongst horsemen and track management in New York amidst the various legislation passed last month. But that's apparently not totally the case. For one thing, the state Racing and Wagering Board is about to rule on Jeff Gural's closure of Vernon Downs last year, four days before the meet was scheduled to end.

To cancel races, a track needs the agreement of the racing board and of horse owners and trainers at the track. The racing board denied Gural's request. Horsemen did not agree, either, said their lawyer, Joe Faraldo, and suffered hardships because the track shut down early.

"The importance of the long racing season is the ability to race your horses throughout the whole period," Faraldo said. "If it's a limited time and your horses are not fit to race and there's no October racing, there's no November racing, you don't get to race at Vernon."
Owners had to ship their horses to other tracks, including Saratoga and Batavia, which meant increased expenses for Vernon horsemen and that horses at those tracks got bumped, Faraldo said. [Post Standard]
Seems to me that the horsemen all over the state would be severely impacted in the way Faraldo describes should Vernon have its license suspended; so I'm not sure what the horsemen have to gain by continuing to press their complaints on this matter. On Tuesday, the new racino splits that will provide increased revenue to Vernon, the state's other harness tracks, and the horsemen take effect.

Elsewhere, the Standardbred Owners of NY won the right to file a brief in support of the Racing and Wagering Board in a court appeal against Suffolk OTB. The Board is seeking to overturn a lower court decision which would relieve the OTB from paying "millions of dollars" to harness racing interests.

In Albany, as the NY budget process forges on behind closed doors [There has been all of one public five-way leaders meeting. Just for the record. (Daily Politics)], racing industry issues have been pushed to the backburner. However, the question of slots at Belmont has to be on some table somewhere.
Proposed budgets from both Paterson’s office and the state Senate call for gaming at both Aqueduct and Belmont, but the Assembly budget wants video lottery terminals restricted to Aqueduct only. [Thoroughbred Times]
And, of course, the question of who will operate the racino at Aqueduct is still awaiting an answer...and how long has that been going on? A spokesman for Paterson said that negotiations are under way. Jeez.

And, most ominously, Elizabeth Benjamin reports on her Daily Politics blog:
State lawmakers and competitive Capitol reporters alike have noted with some trepidation how unusually crowded The New York Times' Albany bureau is this week, and are all abuzz about what big story the Gray Lady might break next.
It was the Times that broke the story that led to the downfall of Spitzer.
The assumption, of course, is that the target du jour is Spitzer's replacement, Gov. David Paterson, who has revealed much about his personal life since his swearing in on March 17, but nevertheless remains the subject of considerable speculation.
Oh man.....

Florida Derby

- Elysium Fields was the best horse in the Fountain of Youth, having conceded loads of ground to the winner Cool Coal Man. The latter hugged the rail as Elysium Fields was a solid five wide around the first turn, and then three deep around the second. So it was little surprise when Cool Coal Man was able to swing off the fence and sweep to the lead entering the stretch. Elysium Fields would not quit though, and was coming back at the end. Barclay Tagg's son of El Prado has shown some solid improvement since adding blinkers two races ago. He'll have to overcome an outside post again here, but several contenders break even further outside.

The win by Fierce Wind in the Sam F Davis was not quite as easy as it may look on paper; Zito's colt was a solid four wide all the way around the final turn as he circled those in front of him. He looked vulnerable in deep stretch, but gamely held off Big Truck, who, as you know, went on to take the Tampa Bay Derby. Son of Dixie Union figures to save tons of ground from the rail, and has amply proven his affinity for two turns. Tough to beat in this spot.

Tomcito could be 12-1, or he could be 4-1; could be good enough to take advantage of a good post draw and leap into the Derby picture, or he could simply be outclassed. We won't know until they open the gate, and your guess is as good as mine. The tote board dictates whether he's worth taking a shot.

Face the Cat represents part of the fading Derby hopes of the Toddster, as he tries two turns for the first time in his first start for the trainer after a dominant one-turn mile allowance win over repeat winner Nistle's Crunch. This son of Tale of the Cat, out of a Forty Niner mare, would certainly seem to have the breeding for at least this trip; but the outside post makes him an iffy proposition in only his 4th career start.

Majestic Warrior had excuses in the Louisiana Derby, hung out four wide on both turns in a most difficult spot to be making his three-year old debut; but that makes two ugly running lines in a row after his Hopeful win against three others at Saratoga that, in retrospect, may not have been all it was cranked up to be at the time. Bad post doesn't help, and I'm waiting to see more from this well-bred son of AP Indy.

You've heard the hype on Big Brown, seen the imposing running lines, read Kent Desormeaux talking about him being possibly the best horse he's ever ridden, and Richard Dutrow disdainfully dismissing questions about his post. And you've also seen the questions about his soundness, the dismal stats for outside posts at the route, and the questionable quality of the four horses he beat in his off-the-turf allowance. If, by some chance, the naysayers win out on the tote, and he's second or third choice, then I say fire away. But as the favorite, he demands an opposing stance. Could be the Derby favorite or just another false hope, stay tuned.

Nistle's Crunch has never been out of the money in six starts on synthetic, turf, and dirt, around one turn and two. Nice effort at this route in his last, cracking the 13 second mark in the final furlong. Picks up Leparoux in his test for class, and draws an excellent post. Smooth Air has also finished in the money in each of his starts, and was just 1 1/4 lengths behind Fierce Wind at Tampa. Hey Byrn has won his last two over the track by a combined 20 lengths, and also gets his class test here. Any one of these three could jump up at double digit odds without it being too much of a shock.

PICKS: I would hardly call Elysium Fields "terrific value" if he goes off at 3-1, as Mike Watchmaker contends. 3-1 from the eight post in this field?? What's the big guy smoking this week? The Watch-man thinks that Tagg's colt will be the favorite, whereas I think that Big Brown will take the money despite his post. But either way, Elysium Fields looks like the colt with the most proven talent and gets the nod here. Fierce Wind has the rail and is unbeaten around two turns. Tomcito seems worth a shot at even half his morning line odds.

- Christophe Clement has two interesting entrants in the G3 Palm Beach on the grass for three-year olds. Sporting Art missed by a neck to the three-time stakes placed Run Sully Run (also in this field, in the outside post) in his North American debut. He's by the Seattle Slew stallion Doneraile Court, out of a Run Softly (Deputy Minister) half sister to Man O'War winner Defensive Play. His second dam, the G1 winner Safe Play, is a half to the 1000 Gunieas winner Musical Bliss; so a lot of grass pedigree here.

Flying Dismount comes out of an entry level allowance, but has really turned things around in his two starts since coming over from the Pletcher barn. In his last, he broke last in the field of ten, encountered some early traffic before settling in, and swept by the field impressively, striding out powerfully to the finish. This son of Proud Citizen, out of a Regal Classic mare, is a half to Cool All Over, stakes placed on grass at Turf Paradise last year.

Thursday, March 27, 2008


- TVG to Telecast Dubai World Cup

(thanks to reader Mitch.)

Primal Peaking?

- I mentioned that Primal Peak, one of the three new horses in my powerful stable, is running for an outsized purse + PA-bred bonus at Philly Park on Saturday, in the 9th race. And actually, to my Philly-area LATG contingent, I would love to go, and probably would if not for a family obligation that day (which may also cause me to miss watching the Florida races live). The last time I was at that track, it was called Keystone!

One thing that trainer Keith Lebarron noticed when he got Primal Peak into the barn after he was claimed by Kasey K Racing Stable on Dec 30 was that the horse was outfitted in turf shoes despite running on the main track. Lebarron changed that, and the horse showed immediate improvement in his next start, rallying for 5th after being raised in class, and improving his Beyer by 27 points. His subsequent start was a winning one, dropped back into claimers.

Now, he's moving back up to the same allowance class as two races back. I imagine that the favorite will be Casual, coming off a gaudy fig against cheaper for Scott Lake. Two others are coming off faster races than Primal Peak; OK Nothanksforaskn and Talkforfree (who Primal Peak defeated in his last race). The latter in particular looks like a horse on the upswing after a recent claim. However, Primal Peak is reported to be doing quite well, and has a change of equipment that you won't see in the Form. The horse has had a problem on the turn, seeming to lose focus as he turned his head outward. Lebarron wanted to add blinkers for Saturday, but you're not allowed to change equipment following a win unless granted specific permission from the stewards. Did you know that? Always learning something new in this game...

So instead, Lebarron changed the horse's bit, thinking that perhaps the old one was bothering him; and it's reported that he handled the turn better the last time he breezed. So, there you have it. Check out the pp's; he definitely would have to move up Beyer-wise to win this race, but I think that a piece of the purse, at the least, seems within his grasp.

- Thanks to Glimmerglass for tracking down the morning line for the Florida Derby. There will certainly be value to be found in this wide open affair; it has to be one of the better betting Derby preps of recent years. Someone speculated that Big Brown would be higher than his 3-1 morning line, but I'm not sure I agree. Bandwagon/hype horses such as he are often subject to being drastically underlaid, and I don't know that the post will detract that many bettors. I wouldn't be at all shocked to see him go off at 2-1 or even less. Amongst the horses that drew inside, Fierce Wind seems an obvious contender at 6-1, and 12-1 on Smooth Air doesn't look too bad either considering that he was only 1 1/4 behind Zito's colt at Tampa, eh?

- Dogwood will separate their two Derby hopefuls; Atoned is headed to the Illinois Derby, while Blackberry Road will be reunited with Calvin Borel in the Arkansas Derby on April 12. Big day scheduled for Oaklawn the weekend before too, with Ginger Punch and Hystericalady slated to face off in the Apple Blossom, and check out this possible field:

The $ 500, 000 Grade II Oaklawn Handicap on April 5 is expected to have a slew of Grade I winners with Brass Hat, Buzzards Bay, Circular Quay, Encaustic, Fairbanks, Going Ballistic, Heatseeker, Jonesboro, Reporting For Duty and Tiago among the expected starters.. [Arkansas Democrat Gazette]
I'll be quite interested in seeing if Circular Quay can duplicate his change-of-tactics win at Fair Grounds; if so, he puts a whole different spin on the handicap-divison-other-than-Curlin.

- Interesting article in the Times today on Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick. Seems as if the nation's second elected black governor is currently being defined by the recent defeat in the state House of his proposal to create three resort casinos.
He blames Speaker [Sal] DiMasi [a fellow Democrat, by the way], a veteran of Beacon Hill who embraces old-school ways of doing business and holds far more sway than the governor over his members. Mr. Patrick believes his casino bill could have passed if Mr. DiMasi, who said gambling would be a scourge on the state, had not pressured lawmakers to oppose it.

“It’s part of what we ran against, and it needs to be called out,” Mr. Patrick said in an interview last week on the day before the House overwhelmingly killed the bill. “We’re going to keep working on it until we get a Democratic process that’s functioning.” [NY Times]
Part of the pressure put on lawmakers by DiMasi was committee chairmanships granted to six members who originally supported the casino bill, but then either voted against it or abstained. By elevating the lawmakers to leadership positions, DiMasi virtually guaranteed they would back his position because chairmen rarely vote against the speaker. [Boston Herald]

In addition, the governor accused DiMasi of breaking a promise to allow an open floor debate that could have tweaked the proposal to satisfy critics.

Next up in the state is a proposal that would grant slots to each of the state's four racetracks (under Patrick's bill, tracks would have had to compete for the licenses).

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Big Problem

- Big Brown isn't the only horse who got screwed in the Florida Derby post position draw. It's almost like a handicap race at the trotters, where the top horses are placed in the outside posts. Face the Cat (11), Majestic Warrior (10), Hey Byrn (9), and even Elysium Fields (8) all face daunting tasks. Tomcito fared well with number four, and Fierce Wind continued his string of fortuitous post draws by getting the rail. With the latter's perfect record around two turns and with that post, I think he's gotta be prominent on my tickets come Saturday.

I don't know that I would have made Big Brown the morning line favorite from that post; but the oddsmaker is surely considering the hype in addition to the substance. Richard Dutrow was undaunted, and showed no inclination that he would scratch, brashly telling Jay Privman: "We get to play the intimidator from out there, instead of being intimidated. We are ready, babe." [DRF]

Big Brown worked a bullet (of 42) five furlongs in 59 1/5 at Palm Meadows on Tuesday, his second best-of-day drill since his dominating allowance win on the dirt at Gulfstream on March 5 in which he earned a 103 Beyer going a one-turn mile...despite being geared down by Kent Desormeaux. But let's play some devil's advocate if you don't mind.

He ran fast early tracking the pace in that Gulfstream effort, but then slowed down to a second half of 50 1/5. Of course, Desormeaux had him under wraps toward the end. However, the fact that he came home so slowly yet extended to a 12 3/4 length win may say something about the quality of the mere four rivals he defeated that day. Big Brown had a good trip, stalking behind a couple of colts how were each trying winners for the first time - Hedgefund Investor and Crimson Comic, the latter a particularly overbet entry coming off a layoff and stretching out for Pletcher. Those two finished in the last two spots; second place finisher, the 45-1 Heaven's Awesome, had lost his last two by some 48 combined lengths; show horse Deputiformer was a restricted stakes winner at Woodbine last year, but was making his first start since November and had slower Beyers than the others.

So I think it's fair to say that Big Brown beat a field of undetermined quality, and that he'll be facing far, far better in the Florida Derby. And despite what Dutrow says, the post position can't possibly help. I think he's a logical bet-against if things get carried away on the tote, which you might see considering how awesome those two races look on paper.

Big Brown is another Derby contender this year with a somewhat modest pedigree. He's by Boundary, the Danzig sire who stood for $10,000 before being pensioned due to declining fertility; that at the young age of 15 in 2005. He's out of a mare by Nureyev, and there's not much at all to say in terms of relatives on his distaff side. However, he does have some very interesting inbreeding; he's 3x3 to Northern Dancer (his great-grandfather on both his paternal and maternal sides), Damascus 3x4 and Round Table 4x5. Little wonder that this colt likes the grass, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if he eventually makes his name on that surface (or synthetics).

LATG Stable Expansion

- I've been down to a piece of just one horse, Just Zip It, since I cleverly sold my share in Highland Cat; that was three wins ago, so nice move there. However, I'm happy to announce some additions to my thoroughbred empire. I've mentioned my buddy Bob here a few times, most recently in connection with a tragic day at the Big A a couple of months ago. Things have been looking up for his Kasey K stable since then, highlighted by a win by Primal Peak ($26.20) on March 4 at Philly Park.

Despite our strict instructions to our wedding guests that there should be NO GIFTS, Bob violated that rule and offered to bequeath to me a percentage of his present stable as a gift. Oh yes, I fought him tooth and nail on this, but he stubbornly insisted on not only giving me a percentage, but on exempting me from any cash call obligations on any of the horses. Can you believe the nerve of this guy?

So I have three new horses: Primal Peak and Foolish Bid, both presently with trainer Keith LeBarron at Philly Park, and Mr. W.B., who is under the care of Scott Volk at the Big A, but who shipped to, and ran third at the Pha on Monday. Bob claimed Primal Peak for $25,000 three races back; Foolish Bid he got for $12,500 in a David Jacobson clearance sale (he won at Philly his next time out), and Mr. W.B. was haltered for $25,000 last summer. The latter's race on Monday was for $10,000, but he's had three seconds and two thirds for Kasey K. There's also a broodmare involved who I'll discuss in further detail at a later time.

So, this should be a lot of fun (especially since I stand to reap only the benefits). And Primal Peak is entered in the 9th at Philly on Saturday, a NW3x allowance race. The purse is an already generous $46,000; but since Primal Peak is a Pennsylvania-bred, he'll be running for an additional 40% bonus, making for an effective purse of over $64,000! That's more than a lot of overnight stakes races!! Unbelievable....and no wonder Bob is all hepped up. It's not an easy field for him, as he's taking a big class leap from the $25,000 claiming level at which he won his last race. But the horse is doing well, and, besides, Bob really claimed him with the grass in mind, and that will hopefully be coming up after this race. So, I'll obviously have more on this upcoming race and the further developments and exploits of this trio of horses as the events unfold. And thanks again, obviously, to Bob!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Wednesday Morning Notes - March 26

- Country Star worked six furlongs, in company with Ginger Punch, in 1:11 over the Cushion Track at Hollywood.

Country Star will make her first start of the year April 5 in the Grade 1 Ashland at Keeneland; Ginger Punch runs the same day in the Grade 1 Apple Blossom at Oaklawn Park. [Daily Racing Form]
Should Country Star dominate in the Ashland as she did in her races last year, I imagine that we'll hear calls for her to try the Derby, even off of only that one prep. Michael Hammersly made his emphatic case for just that in the Form over the weekend, pointing out that at this relatively late stage, instead of the males solidifying their spots among the Derby elite, their failures are raising more questions. But first things first; let's see her back at the races first.

Colonel John worked out on Tuesday at Santa Anita, preparing for the SA Derby; and you can watch all the action on You Tube, along with some cheesy musical accompaniment courtesy of Peter Gabriel. I have to admit though that my heart is not going boom, boom, boom over the California Derby prospects as of yet. I know that I boldly stated here a few weeks ago that I was going to ignore the synthetic track factor and base my opinion of them strictly on the usual factors. And I don't believe that it's the track surfaces that's giving me a tough time drawing a bead on these horses; rather, it's that the races have been slow, the trips for the winners advantageous, and the pedigrees uninspiring. In other words, they're like many of the contenders all over the country.

Though Colonel John was officially clocked in 1:13.60, Eion Harty's assistant got him in 1:12.40. Colonel John galloped out seven furlongs 1:25.20 and a mile in 1:39. [DRF] He earned a mere 86 for his win in the Sham, but the slow pace precluded a faster final time, so that figure may be as meaningless as the 90 that Pyro earned in the Risen Star. He's done little wrong, really, which you can certainly also say about El Gato Malo (whose Sham effort I actually liked better than Colonel John's), and Georgie Boy, who a few people I know really like. My reservations about the latter, besides him being by a son of Storm Cat, stem largely from the fact that his San Felipe win was accomplished against others with questionable distance prospects trying two turns for the first time; and it returned a modest Beyer of 92. However, you had to like the determination with which he finished after having to find some room in the stretch. So, I'm keeping an open mind on this group, and I'm most anxiously looking forward to the SA Derby, which will hopefully help us get a better handle on their relative merits at a distance of ground.

- Garrett Gomez rode Colonel John in the Sham, but will skip the SA Derby and instead ride Court Vision in the Wood Memorial a week from Saturday. His agent, Ron Anderson, told Haskin:
“He closed on a track that you can’t really be that far back on, it’s Bill Mott, he’s won at Aqueduct, he’s well seasoned, WinStar owns both horses, Colonel John has never run on dirt, and I think Kathy Walsh’s horse (Georgie Boy) is going be very tough in the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I)....It wasn’t an easy call, but I really like my horse.” [Bloodhorse]
Out of the three prospects whose 2008 returns were considered to be the biggest flops - Majestic Warrior, Tale of Ekati, and Court Vision, the latter's effort was clearly the best, though that's not saying too much. In past years, I could have gotten enthusiastic about it as some fans have. But these days, with layoffs seemingly less significant, and with only two preps in mind, I personally am looking for more. Court Vision had a nice pace setup, and some very slow fractions to close into. He himself ran the final furlong in a plodding 13 4/5, according to Formulator. Combine that with his slow Remsen win, and Court Vision will have to show me an awful lot in the Wood in order to win me back over.

Tale of Ekati will also have a chance to redeem himself in the Wood; and Majestic Warrior is a possibility for either that race or the Florida Derby this weekend (and I've seen the Arkansas Derby mentioned too).

Thanks to the readers who informed us that NBC will be carrying the Wood, Illinois Derby, and SA Derby on April 5. I still haven't seen that, and the only note on the NBC Sports web page is something about "Santa Anita" on April 12; which isn't when the race is. But I'll take your word for it, and that's certainly good news. Also good, I think, is that I'll be in the Big A pressbox on Wood day, and I'll be doing the live blog thing, so you can read me losing in real time, which should be a lot of fun.

News and Notes - March 25

- In case you didn't know (as I didn't), Perfect Drift is now under the care of trainer Richard Mandella. He's also recovering from surgery as he prepares for his nine-year old season. Mandella lost the nine-year old The Tin Man to an injury late last year, but replaces him with another hard-hitting oldtimer.

- The Dubai races will be televised on HRTV, which is good news for about eight of us. I suppose that ESPN will show the World Cup on its Florida Derby coverage, which has been downgraded to ESPN2 this year. And speaking of downgrades in TV coverage, as reader Glimmerglass was, a look at the upcoming TV schedule shows nothing whatsoever for the Wood Memorial and Santa Anita Derby. Racing on network TV seems to have been reduced to the Triple Crown only - what happened to Derby preps on ABC, or all those races we used to see on CBS just a couple of years ago? Hate to belabor the point, but for a network which pledged to increase their coverage when they took over the Breeders' Cup two years ago, ESPN seems to be showing less and less, at least at this time of year. And a look out to October shows that they have the Friday Breeders' Cup races on ESPN2. Imagine, the former Distaff, the showcase for the great fillies and mares of our sport, has gone from being a mainstay on NBC's Saturday coverage to being run during the dinner hour on ESPN2 on Friday. Unbelievable.

- Reader Case sent along an article about a high-stakes poker game gone bad in Delaware. The players were bound and robbed, and a couple were beaten; and a cop who was a participant in the game is among three who have been arrested in the affair; he's accused of setting his fellow players up.

And as it turns out, many of those fellow players are harness horsemen.

They included licensed harness owners, breeders, trainers and riders, according to sources from law enforcement, the racing industry and two of the poker players.
And while none of the robbery victims has been charged with gambling-related offenses, the current and former executive directors of the Delaware Harness Racing Commission say their role in the high-profile event is troubling.
"The commission is concerned about what's in the best interest of harness racing," [Harness commission chairman Hugh] Gallagher said. "We'll have to determine whether it's an illegal activity. It could possibly be against the law.

"If it was found to be illegal, I'd probably assign an investigator and want a full report to find out why they would be engaged in that activity and at what level in a purported illegal activity such as a high-stakes card game," he said.
In addition, the commission can refuse, suspend or revoke a license if someone is convicted of a gambling violation, has pending criminal charges or "whose conduct or reputation may adversely reflect on the honesty and integrity of horse racing."[Delaware Online]
Oh, please! There are a lot of things in harness racing, and the flats as well, that are troubling and worth investigating. Playing poker with some buddies certainly can't be one. Of course, poker players are rarely investigated or charged with any crimes even though the games are technically illegal......but neither, generally, are public officials who engage in prostitution. So one never knows.

- Reading stories like this, and like this, after having read this, makes me nervous. Imagine Joe Bruno as two of the three men in the room!

Governor Paterson is now also imminently facing a potential constitutional and judiciary crisis, as Albany DA David Soares is demanding that he immediately, by 5 PM today, waive the executive privilege that Spitzer had claimed to withhold emails regarding Troopergate that were labeled "potentially damaging" at the time, and which are now "almost definitely positively damaging" given yesterday's revelations about his coffee-spitting orders to proceed. Paterson has referred the matter to Andrew Cuomo for advice; but personally I'd be shocked if he goes along and releases Spitzer's emails. Soares wrote the governor that "the public has expressed great interest in this matter;" but the truth is that the public stopped caring about the matter months ago. Any public interest now is more of the prurient variety due to the exploits of Client 9, and it's still my opinion that Bruno's cynical use of state resources for his own political purposes is a more important issue; especially now, with Spitzer gone and having proven to be somewhat mentally unbalanced. Bruno is getting a free ride here, like a certain other prominent Republican.

Hunch Bets for March 25

Type A Personality 8th at Beulah
The Lady Waffles 7th at Turfway
Always Take Cash 5th at Beulah
Smile Regardless 4th at Penn National
Hey Slick 5th at Turf Paradise
Cosmic Illusion 7th at Mountaineer (I guess this is the Senator's idea of success...)

Nice To Be Him

- Must be nice to be Steve Asmussen these days. Curlin is over in Dubai poised to add a few million to his bankroll on Saturday; and his latest workout was described as "perfect." Back home, his Derby favorite Pyro drilled five furlongs at Keeneland in 1:02 2/5, a work the trainer described on the Keeneland website as "excellent."

With regular exercise rider Dominic Terry aboard, Pyro recorded fractions of :26 2/5, :38 4/5, :50 4/5 and 1:02 2/5, galloping out six furlongs in 1:15 2/5.
Check it out; that was an eighth in 11 3/5 to the five furlongs. You can watch an excerpt of Pyro's workout here in an odd video that spends more time showing Asmussen looking self-satisfied than on the horse actually working. But the trainer certainly has a lot to be self-satisfied about theses days.

Monday, March 24, 2008

SA Notes

- If you're like me, you love a good last-to-first rally, and if so, check out the 7th from Santa Anita on Monday. Processor's Turf was way dead last down the backstretch, and nowhere, a million wide, as they crossed the dirt track on the downhill course. Trevor Denman, who, as you know, excels at picking up moves, didn't see this one coming until around the 16th pole, but the three-year old son of Sky Mesa got up by a nose, and it was another nose back to the third place finisher. Even though he was obviously aided by a fast pace (21.53, 43.80), he closed, according to Formulator, in 21.90 and 5.19 for the last quarter plus half furlong. Despite two excellent prior efforts at the 6 1/2 furlong distance (albeit on synthetic tracks), this one returned a healthy $23 for Pletcher, in his first try against winners. The Toddster is rolling along at Santa Anita at his usual 24% winning rate.

Processor's Turf, who sold for $425,000 as a juvenile, has shown quite the late kick at this distance, sandwiching a poor try around two turns. He's out of a Private Terms mare, and has the dosage index (1.86) of a stayer. His second dam, Duty Dance, won the Diana and ran second against the boys in the Man O'War; and the third dam, Discipline, won the Demoiselle, Test, and Molly Pitcher back in the 60's, before even my time. Processor's Turf hails from the distaff family of distance winners such as Living Vicariously (Brooklyn), Sightseeing (Peter Pan), Val's Prince (Turf Classic), and Goodbye Halo (CCA Oaks). So perhaps this colt will eventually get another shot at a route. In the meantime, he's worth following going short.

- Tiz West, the first race winner graduating on the grass, is by Gone West out of Tizso (Cees Tizzy), a full sister to the two-time Classic/Eclipse winner Tiznow.

Rags to Riches to Retirement

- “It’s the same injury she had before." So said Todd Pletcher about the hairline pastern fracture which has ended the racing career of Rags to Riches. The four-year old filly provided quite arguably the racing highlight of the century thus far when she held off Curlin in the Belmont. Her failure to remain sound is all the more disappointing when you consider that she was attempting to come back strictly for the sporting aspect; having already proved that she could run with the boys, there were in theory no limits on what her connections could have tried with her. She could have been pointed to the Classic, and thrown a big-time wrench into the Breeders' Cup plans to segregate the girls on Friday.

But though her racing days are over, her legacy can still be enhanced through the exploits of Curlin. The more he accomplishes, starting presumably with this Saturday's World Cup, and the greater he proves to be, Rags to Riches' Belmont victory will seem that much more wondrous and legendary as the years go by.

She may also leave her mark, of course, through her offspring. There are never any guarantees that a great filly will produce similarly talented offspring; but she certainly descends from a prepotent distaff family, so why not? The prospective foal by Giant's Causeway will have quite a lot of inbreeding, which I find is quite typical of high profile matings these days. This one would have both Blushing Groom and Secretariat 4x4, and Northern Dancer 4x5.

Spitzer Had Hard-On For Troopergate

- Today's story in the NY Times which reveals that Eliot Spitzer, despite his specific denials, was not only aware of the efforts by his staff to use State Police travel records to smear Senator Bruno but was intimately involved (and, in fact, directed the effort), certainly is no surprise given recent events. The Paper of Record reports that when Darren Dopp, his communications director at the time, dared to question Spitzer as to the sagacity of the strategy:

The governor was so angry, Mr. Dopp recalled, that he turned red and spit out coffee he was sipping as he directed him to release the records immediately. “As he was saying it, he was spitting a little bit,” Mr. Dopp said. “He was spitting mad.” [NY Times]
(David Kurtz, at Talking Points Memo, notices a trend here.) Dopp's wife said she was struck by how often Mr. Spitzer called Mr. Dopp at home during that time. It was inconsistencies between a statement that Dopp now contends he was pressured to sign by Spitzer's staff and his subsequent testimony to the public integrity commission that prompted Albany DA David Soares to renew his investigation of the matter, and his new report is due this week.

I think it's fair at this point to question virtually everything that came out of Spitzer's mouth during his tenure. For our purposes, we can now wonder what really was his motivation in awarding the racing franchise to NYRA. I thought it was largely out of indifference and expediency....but really, who the hell knows? Maybe it got to the point where all of his decisions were based on little more than how often he could get laid? Indeed, it was on the franchise deadline day that he was planning his fateful rendezvous in DC that night. Or perhaps he was getting off from watching Jan Rushton handicap the early double, or from seeing Sam the Buglar's knee-high boots, and didn't want to risk another franchisee replacing them? Maybe he liked to play the background music from the NYRA simulcast show during his trysts?

And on a more serious note, though there have yet to be any accusations of financial corruption (other than his use of state money or aircraft to facilitate his meetings), I certainly couldn't argue with anyone who wanted to take a look at the Getnick and Getnick deal in a different light and consider possible conflicts of interest, whether financial or sexual.

As far as the new governor goes, we still don't have a clue as to his view of the racing industry or of the franchise agreement, as moot as the latter may be at this point. For one thing, Governor Paterson has been busy dealing with his own private matters, and, now, questions as to why he has thus far refused to authorize the release of emails related to Troopergate that Spitzer's staff had claimed executive privilege.

However, we have learned of a connection that an ancestor of his had to racing, courtesy of this article from Saratoga Today (and thanks to this reader who initially posted it, and this one, who correctly nudged me to mention it here on the main page). According to the story, Paterson's maternal great-grandfather was the blacksmith for Upset, and was rewarded for the horse's legendary win over Man O'War by owner H. P. Whitney with a house in Brooklyn, one in which the new governor lived at one time. The author speculates that the house "may well have been the conduit which provided opportunity for Basil Paterson, the Governor’s father to forge his own illustrious political career."

We also learn, via Wikipedia, that Governor Paterson is an avid sports fan (Mets, Jets, Knicks) who has been known to call in to WFAN, a major sports talk radio station in New York City. So perhaps there's hope that Paterson will take the sport seriously. Maybe he'll even be at the Wood instead of taking care of his woody.

- Not surprisingly, Senator Bruno has once again become a sympathetic figure thanks to his now deposed nemesis. A Siena poll reports that his favorable/unfavorable rating saw a big jump....from 23-38 in October to 32-32 in this poll. [Daily Politics blog]

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Tomcito Es Un Tramposo

- Several commenters now have mentioned Tomcito, and I have to admit that I've been out of it enough over the last couple of weeks that I had to Google him to refresh my memory and see who he is. Ah yes, the Peruvian horse....actually a pure US-bred who sold as a yearling at Keeneland for $7500 and has won four of five in Peru, including Peruvian Grade 1 stakes against older South American horses at a mile and a quarter and a mile and a half.

Personally, I think that Tomcito should not be eligible for the Derby. The conditions of the race should specify that it is for three-year olds who have not run over nine furlongs....and I'm only half-kidding about this. The whole intrigue of the race is based on young horses trying the mile and a quarter distance for the first time, and in that sense, Tomcito has cheated. Derby horses are not supposed to have already answered the red phone at 3 AM.

Tomcito is by Street Cry, the sire of last year's Derby winner Street Sense, out of an unraced mare by the late Eastern Echo (Damascus). He has some interesting inbreeding - 5x5 to Hoist the Flag and 4x4 to Northern Dancer and his half-sister Raise the Standard. And he has some solid distance influence close up, with horses such as Theatrical, Alleged, Glowing Tribute, and Sword Dancer all in his first four generations. Despite all that, and his success at longer distances on the racetrack, he has a serious question of class to answer when he starts in the Florida Derby on Saturday. An impressive performance would certainly shake up the unsettled Derby picture; but to me, it would smack of, as Trevor Denman would say, his jumping in at the quarter pole.

Spitzer: The Week That Was

- It's now been nearly two weeks since the story broke, but, after returning from a week out of the country, I found that the downfall of Eliot Spitzer continues to reverberate and amaze. It's still unbelievable, and the subsequent admissions by Governor David Paterson add a sense of the surreal to the scene.

Since Spitzer stepped down, a picture has emerged of a man who was unable to adapt his uncompromising style to the political realities of Albany. I, of course, voted for him and to be perfectly honest, I too, given his electoral mandate and seemingly unstoppable political momentum, believed, naively as it turned out, that he'd be able to steamroll the status quo and bring meaningful change to policy and process. That obviously was not to be the case, and Sunday's piece in the NY Times revealed that the Governor was simply unable to deal with not getting his way.

It is hard to say what role, if any, Mr. Spitzer’s escalating disappointment in Albany played in his extraordinarily risky, self-destructive behavior, and it remains unclear when his once seemingly idyllic life went so awry. But the interviews with his aides and others who encountered him over the last several months made it clear that he had come to feel deeply ambivalent about his job as governor, the latest, grandest political prize in what many calculated would be a rise that could take him to the White House.

In fact, several aides said that 14 months into his term, he felt profoundly exasperated with the experience of trying to bend a powerful and divided State Legislature to his will.

He just could not accept the way things worked, or did not work, in Albany, the aides said. He was offended to the point of distraction by the fact that his chief rival, Joseph L. Bruno, the Senate majority leader, was seen by many to have outmaneuvered and outwitted him. Mr. Bruno had taken to calling him “a spoiled rich-kid brat.”

And the aides, all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity out of deference to the wounded Mr. Spitzer, said the former governor, for all of his estimable brilliance, was often a poor chief executive: combative, micromanaging, and unable to take a long view when things went wrong.

Despite Albany’s often dysfunctional ways, there were allies to be had, coalitions to be assembled. But he most often saw them as enemies, all part of a system that had thwarted reform. [NY Times]
But though Spitzer evidently wore his frustration with his job on his sleeve, even his closest staff members had no clue of his secret life.
When office talk digressed into rumors of state officials having extramarital affairs, Spitzer appeared shocked.

“That’s appalling,” he said to an aide, expressing his moral outrage. “Do you think that could be true?”

So when Eliot Spitzer, whose political career rose by accusing others of behaving unethically as well as criminally, last week was toppled because of his involvement with a prostitution ring, those closest to him thought they were dreaming. [Buffalo News]
We've also learned in the past week that, despite Justice Department officials' pointed denials that there was any political motivation behind the investigation of Spitzer, the Department used some of its most intrusive tactics against the Governor.
The scale and intensity of the investigation of Mr. Spitzer, then the governor of New York, seemed on its face to be a departure for the Justice Department, which aggressively investigates allegations of wrongdoing by public officials, but almost never investigates people who pay prostitutes for sex.

A review of recent federal cases shows that federal prosecutors go sparingly after owners and operators of prostitution enterprises, and usually only when millions of dollars are involved or there are aggravating circumstances, like human trafficking or child exploitation.
Bradley D. Simon, a veteran Justice Department trial lawyer who was federal prosecutor in Brooklyn throughout the 1990s, said that although it was rare for the department to use so many resources on the workings of a prostitution ring, the involvement of such a high-level politician must change the equation.

“If they’ve got some evidence of a high-ranking public official involved in violations of federal criminal code, it may not be unreasonable for them to pursue it,” he said. Still, he said, “I don’t think prostitution has been a high priority at the Justice Department.” [NY Times]
The question of the feds' motivation is a sensitive and totally relevant one given the scandalous politicization of the Justice Department under former AG Alberto Gonzales, and questionable prosecutions such as the one that has sent former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman to well as the slow pace of the long-running investigation of Republican Joe Bruno. So the claim by Republican operative and dirty trickster Roger Stone that he tipped off the FBI of Spitzer's indiscretions is worth considering in that context. The timing is the key - it's been reported that the investigation commenced in July in response to the bank reports of unusual financial transfers. The Times noted:
Relying heavily on financial records and court approved wiretaps, investigators found that Mr. Spitzer was a customer of an expensive prostitution operation, which used a Web site to attract customers who paid thousands of dollars an hour for the services of its young women.
Stone claims he spilled the beans to the FBI on November 19; so it's most unclear whether the Feds already knew. And actually, the Post reported that Stone's letter came in response to the FBI contacting him. So, considering Stone's credibility, or lack thereof, it's altogether possible that he learned of the prostitution investigation before writing the letter, adding the thing about Spitzer wearing calf-length black socks just to add his own special touch to the affair. I suppose that I'm willing, for now, to accept the timeline and events as the Justice Department claims. Spitzer surely left a blazing trail, one that any self-respecting inspectors were certainly going to follow. But we'll certainly be on the lookout for further developments on the question of any political motivation behind the events.

As for Paterson, while the events are certainly different, I think that the relative free pass that he's received in response to his own admissions of infidelity goes to show how anxious Albany was for some fresh air. Given the animosity against Spitzer from politicians of both parties, I would guess that , if the circumstances of his affairs were instead along the lines of Paterson's, there still would have been calls for him to resign.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Easter Morning News and Notes

- Robert Yates reported in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette that Rick Porter has nominated his filly Eight Belles to the Arkansas Derby, though her next scheduled start is the G2 Fantasy on April 6. “Unless something unforeseen happens,” Porter said he still plans to make Eight Belles a late Triple Crown nominee. The daughter of Unbridled's Song earned a 91 for her win in the Honeybee last weekend; that's down from a 96 in her prior, a 13 length stakes win, and from the 100 she earned in her 15 length allowance win two back. But if you see just how easily she won the Honeybee, the Beyers don't seem to be that significant.

Pure Clan, who was previously undefeated before running second to Eight Belles in the Honeybee (she closed as the 7-1 third choice in the second Oaks futures pool), has also been nominated for the Arkansas Derby, though trainer Bob Holthus said “We don’t have any plans to run.....It’s just an option.” [Arkansas Democrat Gazette] That's a lot of nominating for two fillies who don't plan to run in the race.

- Don't get me wrong; though I've staunchly defended Pyro's role as solid Derby favorite at this point, I'm hoping and planning to bet enthusiastically against him in the race. Like everyone else, I'm searching, thus far in vain, for someone to get me excited to do so. Can't really say that Adriano is doing it for me given his sole natural dirt effort; but it seems that he'll get another shot in the Lexington. Perhaps grasping for straws, Graham Motion pointed out that the colt was well-behaved prior to the Lane's End, whereas "he kind of fell apart [on FOY] day. The fact that he was good today made a big difference.” [Bloodhorse]

Adriano is by AP Indy out of a Mr. Prospector mare; some good old-fashioned dirt breeding there. His second dam, Golden Treat, though by the grass champion Theatrical, won the G1 SA Oaks on dirt; and she's a half to the great Belmont/Haskell winner Bet Twice. So Adriano certainly has some dirt ability in his pedigree.

The Florida Derby next Saturday comes up as one of the more intriguing preps, with several horses in the eligible to improve category expected to compete, including Elysium Fields and Big Brown. Another probable entrant, Fierce Wind, was sold privately last week, but will remain in the care of Nick Zito. New owner Halsey Minor, the founder of CNET, spent $3.3 million to purchase Dream Rush last fall; but that filly has not raced this year. Fierce Wind is three-for-three around two turns, and brings just a bit of speed to the game. Whereas we all often look for potential closers as our Derby prospects, this seems like a year in which perhaps we should be looking at possibilities to steal it on the front end. War Pass could look pretty good to me at around 10-1!

Fierce Wind is by Dixie Union out of an AP Indy, and is inbred, 4x3, to Seattle Slew. Besides the fact that no possible Derby horse has blown me away on performance, I haven't really seen any pedigrees that have knocked me asunder either. Though Fierce Wind is a half to the graded (turf) winner Rebel Yeller, and his dam is a half to a graded winner in Parade Queen, he, like most of the pedigrees I've examined, is rather light on the catalog page and doesn't inspire me on breeding alone.

Hey Byrn is another Florida Derby candidate, said here to be one of the expected favorites despite a lackluster 88 Beyer earned in his two-turn allowance win against five rivals on March 2. He's by the Honour and Glory sire Put It Back, out of a Skip Trial mare; also not much else to discuss pedigree-wise, though if you delve back to his 4th dam, you'll find that she was the granddam of the accomplished marathoner Lemhi Gold (Jockey Club Gold Cup, Marlboro Cup, San Juan Capistrano).

Another Filly Star For Jones

- Larry Jones sure has some nice three-year old fillies. Maren's Meadow won the G3 Bourbonette Oaks at Turfway on Saturday; Proud Spell won the G2 FG Oaks two weeks ago, and the spectacular Eight Belles took the G3 Honeybee at Oaklawn with ridiculous ease last Sunday. So it's been a good month for the trainer's sophomore filly crew.

The name Maren's Meadow seemed familiar to me, and when I got home from the Big A, I looked her up and saw that I posted last year about an incident in which she was found to have been 'sponged' (a suspected tumor turned out to be a sponge lodged in her nostril) after finishing third as the 4-5 favorite in a Delaware Park allowance race. She won her subsequent race, but really seems to have improved since stretching out to two turns two starts ago, a game second in an Oaklawn overnight stakes to Win Star Oaks winner Sky Mom.

So I was a bit surprised that she was 7-1 in this spot (and pleasantly so for me, as I'll get to below, and, apparently, for Jones, who remarked: "I was on her myself.”). Maren's Meadow was ridden with confidence by Gabriel Saez; she was floated wide on the first turn, and remained in a wide stalking path down the backstretch before effortlessly easing to the lead; the winning margin was an undiminishing length.

Jones said that the daughter of the late Meadowlake will steer a different path from his other two, and bypass the Oaks for the Black-Eyed Susan. She's out of a mare by Yukon, an unraced Northern Dancer stallion, who's a half to the dam of Healthy Addiction, and Maren's Meadow is a half to two other stakes winners. Her third dam is Cool Mood, a Canadian Grade 1 winner and an influential broodmare from whom has descended graded winners such as Touch Gold, With Approval, Hedonist, Pies Prospect, Seeking Daylight, and Izvestia.

Eight Belles also descends from a nice distaff family. By Unbridled's Song out of a stakes-winning Dixieland Band mare, her third dam is Belonging, the dam of sire Belong to Me; and her 4th dam is the durable (99 starts) multiple Grade 1 winner Straight Deal, the dam of the G1 winner Desiree, in turn the dam of G1 winner Adored.

- Sorry to write this after the fact, but I loved Rite Moment in the G2 Distaff at the Big A on Saturday. Never even had a chance to look at the entries before I went to the track, but I certainly recalled this filly's spectacular win in her last, after which Contessa affirmed that he'd cut her back to sprints. Control System, who freaked in the mud here two back, was the 4-5 favorite, and Rite Moment was actually 9-2 when I bet her with around seven minutes to go. She went off at 5-2, broke a bit slowly, but moved up steadily and showed the tenacity of her sire Vicar in running down front running Your Flame in Me in a final furlong of 12.25 seconds.

I then cleverly parlayed the winnings onto two of the Bourbonette starters, including the winner and, as it turned out, the runner-up Valentine Fever. So not a bad return to the races for yours truly!

- Adriano took the G2 Lanes End on the Turfway Polytrack; but Randy Moss and Jerry Bailey spoke on ESPN about the fact that Graham Motion had previously counted the colt out of the Derby after his poor effort in the Fountain of Youth, his only career natural dirt start. He's now sandwiched that flop with impressive wins on turf and Poly, but Bailey spoke of the opportunity that Donald Adams, the colt's owner, who Bailey said has invested "tens of millions" on horseflesh, now has to run in the Derby. It's a tough opportunity to pass up I'm sure, and it will be interesting to see what the owner decides... though I think we all can suspect what that decision will be.

Derby Top Ten

- Here's the LATG Derby Top Ten of horses and people who I think will be making headlines on or about the first Saturday in May:

1) Pyro - Jessica linked to Dick Powell's column, noting that she shares his reservations about Pyro being a "counter-puncher." And that observation strikes me as the latest stretch in trying to find a reason to be skeptical about Asmussen's colt. Pyro is about as clear-cut of a Derby favorite at this stage that I recall in recent years, especially with the unceremonious flop of War Pass last weekend (and notwithstanding that of Z Fortune, who Pyro defeated in the Risen Star). Powell wrote:

He responds to what the other horses are doing but doesn't dictate his own circumstances. Until we see him in the Kentucky Derby (G1), where against a large field he'll get a fast pace, we won't know how he'll respond. [BRIS]
Seems to me that the ability to respond to different race situations is a very good thing for any horse in any race, especially one, like this year's Derby, which apparently lacks anything approaching a dominant animal. What will he do in a large field in which he'll get a fast pace? Personally, I don't see any reason why, based on his races thus far, he won't come flying down the middle of the track. He will, of course, be subject to the vagaries of racing luck, but until I see a horse who I believe has the innate ability to overcome any such misfortune on his or her own, Pyro remains in my opinion the clear and logical favorite for this year's Run for the Roses.

2) Denis of Cork - Ugh, this means that I have the same top two as Haskin....but it's slim pickins out there to be sure. The decision to skip the Rebel, with the accompanying admission that he's "not robust," doesn't exactly inspire confidence, and he'll go into the Derby with just one race in 11 weeks and just four lifetime starts. But he was surely flattered by the stakes results of last weekend, and again, it's slim pickins out there....

3) New York Assembly Minority Leader James Tedisco becomes the latest acting Governor to resign due to sexual indiscretions after his admission that he rubbed up inappropriately against his official State office furniture. Previously, Senate Minority Leader Malcolm Smith admitted to having amorous thoughts about Sheldon Silver, who himself was forced to step down after being observed in a compromising position with the New York State Seal. David Paterson had been forced to resign after his list of affairs expanded to include those with the entire Democratic conference, after which Joe Bruno served for three days before admitting that his love of horses went far beyond breeding and racing.

4) The Breeders' Cup refuses to back down from the fierce criticism of its Filly/Female/Femme Fatale Friday program, and defiantly announces a third Cup day, this one restricted to races for geldings, ridglings, horses of uncertain sexual orientation, and former Governors of New York State.

5) Elysium Fields - To be perfectly honest. I don't really have more than a Top One or Two at this point; the rest of these are just horses that seem to have the potential to improve between now and then. This one looks as if he has as much of a chance to do just that as anybody, even though he finished behind a horse I don't care for at all in Cool Coal Man. But he continued on gamely after being passed by that one in the FOY, and has worked spectacularly for Barclay Tagg since then. The Florida Derby is next.

6) Visionaire - He may have benefited from good trips and pace scenarios, but he's done little wrong and, like the above choice, has a trainer with winning Derby experience. Michael Matz is said to be deciding between the Illinois Derby or the Blue Grass.

7) New York Governor Charles Hayward announces the finalization of the franchise deal with NYRA President Charles Hayward, and denies any conflict of interest.

8) Ready's Echo - If we're ever going to see a horse with just two career races, and one win, as of March 22 win the Kentucky Derby, this could be it. Late runner needs to pass many tests - winners, two turns, the Pletcher Derby jinx - but at least he didn't finish last at 1-20 in the Tampa Bay Derby.

9) Senator John McCain takes his Bullshit Express to Louisville. The presumptive GOP presidential nominee, who is against lobbyists (but includes several as senior staff members), is now in favor of overturning Roe vs Wade (after being against it), is for extending the Bush tax cuts (after originally voting against them), and who now criticizes the original conduct of the war (after praising it at the time), changes his Derby pick from War Pass, to Pyro, to Visionaire, to Proud Spell, to Tale of Etaki, to Majestic Warrior, to Rudy Giuliani, and proudly accepts the endorsement of Patrick Biancone.

10) El Gato Malo - Pedigree questions abound for this son of El Corredor; but, like Pyro, he's raced well given differing pace scenarios, and finished extremely well against an unfavorable one when he determinedly chased Colonel John in an 11 4/5 closing furlong in the Sham.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

On Vacation Thru March 20

- Left at the Gate will be closed through March 20 as the Head Chef and I go on our honeymoon. We're a sorry pair right now, with my cold and her back, but off we go. For me, though there's a lot to talk about with this weekend's appearance by War Pass and, of course, the shocking fall from grace of Eliot Spitzer, it's a much, much needed break from writing, and a chance to recharge and refresh and forge on to the Triple Crown (and, hopefully, a long playoff run for the Rangers).

Please visit the other bloggers of the TBA for the latest news and opinion in the thoroughbred world; and may I recommend the Daily Politics blog for all the latest from Albany. So until next week, good luck and, as Harvey Pack used to say, may the horse be with you!

Eliot Era Ends

"I cannot allow my private failings to disrupt the peoples' work."

David Paterson is the new Governor of New York as of Monday, March 17.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Clash of Titans?

- I found the Daily Racing Form headline that read Clash of titans shaping up in Blue Grass to be rather odd. Seeing it at first, I thought that Zito had decided to send War Pass there to face Pyro after his Tampa Bay Derby this weekend. But instead, the story was referring to Visionaire and Cool Coal Man being sent to challenge Asmussen's Louisiana Derby winner. Personally, I would hardly put either of those in the "titans" category! In fact, I don't really know that Pyro would qualify as such either at this point.

Pyro certainly doesn't in the mind of some horseplayers. I was taken aback by the ferocity of some of the Pyro-doubting comments in that post about the colt on Steve Crist's blog that I mentioned yesterday. Perhaps some of it is a dislike of Steve Asmussen; his six month drug suspension has certainly not been forgotten; I'm sure that a lot of people would strongly prefer to not see him standing in the winner's circle at Churchill. But again, I just don't see how you can criticize a horse for two impressive, visually if not fig-uratively, wins in his first two 2008 starts. Especially this year, when those races stand in stark contrast to the flops of horses such as Tale of Ekati, Majestic Warrior, Court Vision. Monba, and Giant Moon (actually his second such race, but first since Jan 5). (Is it too soon to speculate that this is a weak three-year old crop? Or does the modern age of sparse preps preclude us from jumping to any such conclusions until much later in the season?)

I'm not at all down with Cool Coal Man. Perhaps that's hypocritical given the fact that he too has won his first two races of the year, both at nine furlongs. His Beyers of 92, and that recalculated 98 in the FOY, aren't bad; but what stands out to me are those agonizingly slow come home times - 14 1/5 - fully extended! - in his allowance win, and 13 4/5 in the FOY. He also started from the highly advantageous rail position in those two GP races, leading to good trips. That ain't gonna get it done come Derby day.

Visionaire ranks higher on my list. He's consistent and improving, earning a 98 Beyer in his foggy Gotham win. However, he too has benefited from fortuitous trips, tracking the lethargic Risen Star pace from the inside to finish third, and, we think, saving ground both turns in the Gotham before his winning rally. But given the sloppy conditions, questionable field, and slow final 2 1/2 furlongs of 33 1/5, he still has something to prove. Certainly before he gets equal billing with Pyro.

- Indian Blessing will skip the Oaks and cut back in distance.

"I wasn't convinced [she wanted to run long]," Baffert said. "She's quiet, but when that gate comes open, she grabs that bit and goes. I'm going to freshen her up for summer and fall."
Baffert said the long-range goal for Indian Blessing is the BC Filly and Mare Sprint.[DRF]
I'm not convinced that she can't win some big races around two turns, but I guess we won't be finding that out too soon.

- Denis of Cork, who I'd pesonally rate significantly higher than either of those two horses discussed above, will miss the Rebel, and instead will await either the Wood Memorial (gr. I) or Illinois Derby (gr. II) the same day. [Bloodhorse]

- Thanks to all for your wishes of good health for me. Unfortunately, they have not yet come to fruition, and I'm suffering from a bad cold. While the timing was fortuitous as far as the wedding went, not so for our honeymoon, on which we depart on Thursday. I was hoping to get some catch-up posting in before then, as I know it's been erratic of late, and I appreciate you sticking with me. However, I'm going to have to spend my time trying to get better, and helping out the Head Chef and her cranky back. Oh man!! So I don't know if you'll hear from me again before we depart, except to say goodbye and/or to announce Spitzer's now long-awaited resignation. We're now told by the Times that he is engaged in an intense legal and family debate about whether to resign or, as close aides said his wife was urging, to stay on.
“The governor called me yesterday,” said Mr. Paterson, who lingered on Tuesday outside the State Capitol grounds, avoiding the swarm of journalists inside. “He said he didn’t resign for a number of reasons, and he didn’t go into the reasons, and that’s the last I’ve heard from him.”

Close aides to the governor suggested on Tuesday that the mood in the Spitzer home was tense, with the governor’s wife, Silda Wall Spitzer, recommending that he not step down, but they cautioned that the situation could change at any time. [NY Times]
Wow, I guess that Silda Wall Spitzer must really like being the First Lady of the state!!

On the other hand, the Daily Politics blog reports that he has reportedly already drafted his letter of resignation. I suppose he could always keep it in his drawer for a different occasion. But I still say it's 2-5 that he's gone....but I suppose that nothing should really surprise us at this point!

Spitzer Still Hanging Around...For Now

- I find it more than just a little ironic that, as reported today by James Odato in the Albany Times Union, it was an inquiry by that paper into the use by Governor Spitzer of a state airplane to fly from Buffalo to Washington DC on February 13 that first brought the allegations of his starring role as Client 9 in his tryst that evening to light. It was, of course, the inquiries by that paper, however induced by Spitzer's office they may have been, into Senator Bruno's use of state helicopters for his personal political purposes that triggered the Troopergate affair which cost the governor political and personal capital that he could surely use today. Live by the sword, die by the sword, as they say.

It's well past noon as I write this; and that was the most recent rumored time that Spitzer was supposed to announce his resignation. Elizabeth Benjamin, writing on her Daily Politics blog, notes that talk has now turned from "if" the governor will resign to "when" that will occur. The NY Times also reports that the governor's aides expect him to resign.

Lt. Gov. David A. Paterson and his staff have begun laying the groundwork for him to take over as governor and are reaching out to members of the Legislature, the aides said.
And meanwhile, more unseemly details continue to emerge. (And that face on Spitzer will, I'm sure, serve as a lasting legacy of the soon-to-be ex-governor.)

A word about Senator Bruno: at a time when few people would criticize him for gloating, he showed admirable class and restraint in his public pronouncement on the matter:
“I think it’s very, very unfortunate and I feel very badly for the governor’s wife, for his children....The important thing for the people of New York State is that people in office do the right thing.” [NY Times]
This as opposed to the Assembly Minority Leader James Tedisco, who is already threatening Spitzer with impeachment "if he does not resign within the next 24 to 48 hours." Frankly, I find that rather unseemly and cruel. You don't have to like the governor, but I think that a little compassion is called for here, especially for his family....and particularly for his three teenage daughters. One can only imagine what they will have to go through in the days, months, and years to come. Whatsmore, one could easily argue that Rep. Tedisco is being highly hypocritical here since, while this scandal is (thus far) mostly a personal affair, the investigations surrounding Senator Bruno involve alleged abuses of his public office and taxpayer money.

The governor will resign....and if he doesn't, you can bet there will be calls from both sides of the aisle for him to do so. Some have mentioned the cases of David Vitter and Larry Craig, who have thus far survived their embarrassing sexual imbroglios. But Spitzer's sanctimonious crusade against corruption, combined with the fact that he likely violated federal law regarding transporting prostitutes across state lines, plus the arrogance that has burned bridges to Democrats and Republicans alike, would make it absolutely impossible for him to govern effectively. He has to go, and he will in very short order. (Reader Glimmerglass alertly noticed that Googling "New York State" returns a link to WWW.NY.GOV, with a sublink entitled Governor David Paterson.)

Monday, March 10, 2008

Notes - March 10

- I really wanted to write more about Pyro today before the unexpected developments here in NY took precedence. Honestly, I can't believe that he hasn't yet resigned as of this writing.

Anyway, now, like Michael, I've fallen ill. I've popped two Nyquil and I'm waiting to pass out. If I trail off in the middle of this post, you'll know why. Good thing this didn't happen yesterday.

So, I'll instead refer you to the discussion going on over at Cristblog as to whether Pyro's middling Beyers (he earned a 95 for the Louisiana Derby) make him a potential Derby underlay. The proprietor notes the comparative fractions of the Risen Star and Saturday's race:

Risen Star 25.46...50.50...1:16.13...1:44.68
Lou. Derby 24.78...48.86...1:14.07...1:44.44

Note the difference in his come-home time. When he was able to lope the first six furlongs in the Risen Star in 1:16, he flew home in 28.55 for the final 5/16ths, whereas a first six furlongs of 1:14 Saturday resulted in a slower final 5/16ths of 30.37.
My take is this: I think that his 90 Beyer in the Risen Star is a total throwout, just as the 93 earned by Street Sense in last year's Blue Grass turned out to be. The paces were so slow in those races that the winners would have had to fly home in impossible fractions in order to have earned a triple digit Beyer. While his Beyer on Saturday could have been higher, and was indeed less than that earned by Proud Spell (99), Shaun Bridgmohan did have to wait for running room, and one could argue that he would have run a faster final time had he had a clear trip. And besides, I look at it as an educational experience for the horse; staying closer to the pace, and overcoming traffic, two things which will serve him well in the Derby, and which, when it comes down to the chaos of the 20 horse Derby field, may prove to be at least as important as his speed figures. So I'm certainly not downgrading his chances based strictly on the Beyers, as important as I think they are.

Spitzer Fiddled While Franchise Drama Burned

- Reading the accounts of Governor Spitzer's alleged conversations with the proprietors of the Emperor's Club prostitution ring, the date on which the rendezvous occurred seemed quite familiar. And there's good reason why. It transpired on February 13. And it was on that day that NYRA's temporary extension was to expire, and on which the drama built to its climax. So, as Steve Duncker issued his ultimatum, as the press reports varied between optimism and despair depending on which you were reading, as legislators on both side of the aisle and representatives of the industries (both thoroughbred and harness) worked diligently to hammer out an agreement (to the benefit of the horsemen in both sports), with the short-term and, in the case of the harness tracks, long-term future of the racing industry in NY very much in doubt, with peoples' livelihoods hanging in the balance, the Governor of New York was working feverishly too. Just that it was on a private matter, as he called it today.

Six times, from the evening of Feb 12, through the day and night of franchise deadline day, Spitzer allegedly had six telephone conversations with the defendants, five of which he initiated, trying to arrange his meeting with Kristen that night, at times in negotiations over payments which may have been as tense and intricate as those going on in Albany. (This is all, of course, alleged....however, Spitzer implicitly affirmed his involvement with his statement today...and his voice was apparently caught on tape. Any chance of him raising the Roger Stone defense and claiming that Joe Bruno hired Rich Little to impersonate his voice?)

In addition to that, he somehow arranged for the hotel staff to leave his room door unlocked, but not in a way that it would make it look unlocked. (Oh man...); and managed to come up with $4300, which I presume he did not withdraw from an OTB account, as a deposit so as not to be hassled like that again next time. (Which prompted reader jk and the Village Voice to wonder if he's due a refund).

None of this should, of course, come as a surprise. Well, yeah, the prostitution thing is certainly a surprise...but not the fact that Spitzer's priorities did not include horse racing in New York. His lack of interest was apparent right from the start. He pursued the franchise path of least resistance in surrendering the land claim, never showed any sign of educating himself to even the barest details of the situation, delegated responsibility to committees which conducted meaningless hearings that ultimately added nothing to the equation, and displayed his disinterest with statements to the press as hollow and empty as the one today. The only thing I read him say about the franchise negotiations over those two days was his misstatement that the negotiations were in the backstretch. To paraphrase Ice Cube, this account contained in the indictment can serve as Exhibit A of Spitzer telling the state's racing industry, "Here's what I thought about you!"