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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The End of the Gate...

- I wrote about Big Brown's post draw and why I don't think it's a big deal, but I sent it to the Times. Sorry about that, nothing personal of course. Here's a link.

Thanks to all who wrote in about Just Zip It. I was at work, and I called Bob after I saw that Bill Turner won the 4th, and asked him what the odds were of him having two winners on the day. Now, I love Bill Turner, he's a great horsemen, a nice man, and I've never questioned anything he's ever did with any of my Castle Village horses. Or not much, anyway. But facts are facts, and he's not a high perecentage guy these days, and you know I'm a statistical sort.

So Bob is like, yeah, that horse was 30-1, and I was like, what are you talking about? I didn't know that he had won the 5th too. This was getting a little weird now.

But she's a really nice filly and she obviously just loves to run. (And if Bill Turner can win three in a row, does that mean the Rangers can too?) She rated kindly as Precious Too opened up a big lead in quick fractions of 21.3 and 44.1 Once she got going in the stretch, there was no stopping her, and she stopped the clock in 1:09 4/5, a career best as they would announce at the trotters. She hung on by a half length after opening some daylight; she doesn't seem to particularly go beyond six furlongs. She made $30,600 to push her career earnings to $115,000. She's out of state-bred conditions now, so it's stakes-bred stakes or open company allowance races next.

Oh Man... (With the Happy Update)

- ...What are the odds of Bill Turner winning three races in a row...

UPDATE: Well, according to the payoff of the all-Bill Turner Pick Three, around 810-1!!

And Bob asked me to put in the good word for Thoro-graph!! :-D

Thinking Out Loud - Part 1

- Here's who I don't like to win: Big Truck, Anak Nakal, Court Vision, Z Humor, Smooth Air, Adriano, Bob Black Jack, Denis of Cork, Cowboy Cal, Cool Coal Man, Recapturetheglory.

I'm going to think out loud here about the ones I'm still considering.

I'll start with Pyro (Pulpit), who, as I'd mentioned in the last post, was a horse I liked quite a lot until his Blue Grass. I still believe that his dynamic rush to victory in the Risen Star is the most impressive prep race of the year, Big Brown's Florida Derby included. A lot of people, including myself I must add (if you scroll down to the bottom here), struck a skeptical pose, postulating, for one thing, that the pace of the race was so slow that you could downgrade Pyro's rally. But perhaps that's over-analyzing. When a horse is far back in a slowly run race, and rallies to win (in this case getting the last quarter in 22.3, according to Randy Moss' digital timer), that's a good thing, a very good thing. So why venture beyond that?

I think it may have been the fact that so many people were pointing at his speed figures and saying he was too slow that got me riled up enough to jump on his bandwagon. The 90 he earned in the Risen Star is meaningless because of the pace; just forget about it!! The Louisiana Derby number, while a bit disappointing, could have been better had Shaun Bridgmohan not had to wait for room.

But whether we can just forget his Blue Grass, no one knows for sure. It's just a guess. Those who have seen him work out at Churchill are now telling us to throw it out. I wrote before that race that I hoped he'd lose, so I could get a good price. Well, he lost. He'll be a good price. I think one could do a lot worse than betting him if he's in the vicinity of 10-1.

- Monba is another puzzling entry given the fact that his best races have come on synthetics, and his career high dirt Beyer is 86. Whatsmore, he's been training at Keeneland, and didn't ship to Churchill until today, so we haven't read any impressions of his training. But in only his third career start, he closed with a huge rush to finish 4th [won by Into Mischief] in the G1 Cash Call in December on the Cushion Track, only a length behind Colonel John, and ahead of some decent horses in Sierra Sunset, Indian Sun, Eaton's Gift and Into Mischief. He made up much ground into quick closing fractions; but in his Blue Grass win, he showed some versatility, and was able to track a slower pace. Nice pedigree, by Maria's Mon, sire of Derby winner Monarchos, out of a mare by Belmont winner Easy Goer; and I like the 4x4 inbreeding to Buckpasser and the tidy dosage index of 2.0

On the negative side, since his Fountain of Youth was more or less a non-race, he's essentially coming into this race off one prep. And perhaps worse in my opinion is the fact that Prado turned down the mount. Still, he's obviously a horse with a lot of potential, and the fact that he's trained by Pletcher is a positive, at least to me! Talented colt may very well see better days down the road, but he seems to have enough potential to step up and get at least a minor share.

Be back with more later on.


- I know I said I'd start to run down my Derby contenders, and I'll start that shortly; might as well wait for the post draw at this point.

Until then, a few things:

A couple of people commented on Andy Beyer's chat last night, and the fact that he didn't say who he liked, only who he didn't. One excerpt of the chat which caught my eye:

I don't have enough confidence in any one horse to bet to win. But it's the Derby, so I've got to make a play. So I'll throw out Big Brown and Colonel John, dive into the tri and super pools, spread quite a bit and try to come up with a monster payoff.
And my question is, why does he got to make a play? That's a question that I internally debate before big races from time to time. I suppose I'd feel stupid following the Derby Trail all these months and then passing the race. But is there anything wrong with that? The Derby has always been hard enough to bet; now, with the synthetic track questions and the paucity of solid evidence resulting from the current trend of less racing as well as the fact that the key contenders rarely face each other in preps, it's more of a guessing game than ever. So, the festivities aside, wouldn't it actually be a prudent move to not bet the race seriously? I mean, I'm certainly not suggesting that some kind of action bet isn't warranted, if not required. But why do we have to make a significant play? Is anyone out there planning on sitting it out entirely?

- A couple of negative developments regarding Just Zip It. Aegean Breeze has scratched, eliminating a possible pace challenge to Precious Too. And my buddy Steve checks in from NC with the word that the Ragozin sheets are not quite as favorable as Thoro-graph. A battle of the Sheets, so to speak. Something about an 0-2-x scenario, which didn't quite work out for the Rangers last night, ugh. But I will remind Steve that she did take a nice bump at the start, and ran much of the race with three shoes. So we'll see!

- A couple of interesting observations by Haskin from his latest dispatch. Everyone's Derby guru, who, as a reader noted, will likely make a case for most of the 20 horses in his final wrap-up, goes against the common grain regarding Colonel John's workout.
Although his five-furlong work in :57 4/5 Sunday was an excellent move and showed the colt handles the dirt well, he did take the turn into the stretch a little wide and didn’t show the agility a horse like Street Sense did last year or Denis of Cork this year. He is such a long-striding horse it takes him a while to find his best stride and you don’t want to get him stopped in any way or stuck in too much traffic.
And regarding Pyro, he says of that colt's half mile work the other day:
Despite being under restraint, Pyro still came home his final furlong in :11 4/5. He looks terrific physically and appears to be coming up to the Derby in top form.
I could certainly see myself swinging back to Pyro, who I liked all along until his Blue Grass, if the price is right. I guess I'm in the same boat as Beyer on this colt in that as much as I liked him at one time, it's just hard to put the Blue Grass totally out of mind.

- Jeff Gural says that he doesn't want to pay the $20,000 fine levied on him by the Racing and Wagering Board for closing Vernon Downs early last year. Acknowledging that the track could lose its license should he not fork over the cash, Gural said: “I certainly don’t want to see that happen, but it would cost the state a lot more than it would cost me." [] Of course, in relative terms, it would cost even more to all the employees and horsemen who depend on the track to make a living in these difficult times. So real nice attitude there.

- I know people are upset about the blackout of the NYRA signal at the Mid-Atlantic Coop tracks. But we also hear a lot about how the tracks don't get nearly enough for their signals, and that that aspect of the industry's business model must change. So NYRA is trying to do their part in that regard. Hopefully, the short-term pain will be worth the long-term goal of tracks being properly compensated for their product.

- NYRA is touting a renewed effort towards customer service, so Bob just gave me a call from Belmont to tell me that he's been waiting for a half hour to get his Thoro-graph sheets because they wouldn't give him change. He tried to give them $40 for the $25 purchase, but was told "we don't give change." Efforts to break a twenty at refreshment stands were met with similar refusals. So he's waiting for the windows to open. Maybe he can get some customer service there. [UPDATE: Bob called again to tell me that they're accepting wagers at Churchill, but there's no video signal. Don't know if it's just a glitch or if it has anything to do with the current ADW dispute. But he said there are a lot of very unhappy horseplayers there.]

Just Zip To Roll Lucky Seven (I Hope)

- My friend Bob is a Thoro-graph guy, and he's all over Just Zip It today - that's in the sixth on opening day at Belmont. She has three straight 7's, and I'm told that she's poised to move forward. If Bob was Richard Dutrow, he'd probably bet like $150,000 on her. One key factor in her favor is that I can't go; she's shown an aversion to the winner's circle when I'm there and both her wins came in my absence. But I'll be watching at a downtown OTB (though not the one at 17 John Street), and that's always a lot of fun. And it was good luck when she graduated at 5-1.

Precious Too went from a 10 to a 6 on Thoro-graph, so I guess she's eligible to bounce; though considering how she's run since Levine claimed her, she could easily run off and I wouldn't be at all surprised. Hopefully they'll be a little pace, and Just Zip It will be able to track it and kick home. She always tries, and seems at least a good selection if you're in the SHOWdown contest which begins today [doesn't start until May 7, sorry].

The race kicks off the midday double, and the 7th is a toughie. After long deliberations, I narrowed it down to two, so I'll probably use both depending on the payoffs. Mine Or Who's raced in open company last year, and ran third in a Churchill stakes last fall. Her three-year old debut in March at Gulfstream seems disappointing at first glance - 8th by almost eight lengths. But that race has turned into quite the key race, producing four winners, two of whom finished behind Mine Or Who's, Calder Oaks winner Ginger Brew, Seemingly and Lookalike, who ran 1-2 in a Keeneland allowance, and Calder Oaks winner Ginger Brew. Now she drops into state-bred company where she appears to have a decided edge in class (if not in Beyers). John Velazquez gets on board; he is now at 30% with 33 rides for Mott.

Ambidaxtrous graduated in her grass debut, in which she was well-bet at 9-2 for Tom Bush. A half sister to two turf stakes winners, the daughter of Deputy Commander was steadied sharply first time by the stands. She moved three wide on the turn, and exploded past the maidens to a six length win, earning a field high Beyer of 80. 4th place finisher Sonic Sound was a close second at 10-1 last weekend; and I picked second place finisher Stormy Catch here on Saturday. Unfortunately, she got absolutely buried in stretch traffic on the inside, and closed late for a good 4th.

- New flat screen TVs in the backyard are among the improvements you can expect to see if you make it out to Belmont this spring. The rest of the renovations are listed on this page (scroll down).

- A statement released by the Mid-Atlantic Cooperative claims that NYRA is making "unprecedented monetary demands" for its simulcast signal. Here's the list of tracks which will not be receiving the Belmont signal starting today:

Atlantic City Race Course, Freehold Raceway, Meadowlands, and Monmouth Park in New Jersey; Philadelphia Park Casino & Racetrack, Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course, and Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs in Pennsylvania; Charles Town Races & Slots in West Virginia; Delaware Park, Dover Downs, and Harrington Raceway in Delaware; Ocean Downs and Rosecroft Raceway in Maryland; Colonial Downs in Virginia; Suffolk Downs in Massachusetts; and Rockingham Park in New Hampshire. [Bloodhorse]

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

News and Notes

- Just a couple of workouts this morning, and only one of those, by Tale of Ekati, by a definite starter. Halo Najib was the other, and he currently occupies the #21 spot on the graded earnings list. I think we can say that there are no worthy contenders being shut out this year, though Tomcito fans may cry foul, feeling that the money he earned in Peru should count. He didn't do nearly enough in his two races here to either earn enough money or to create enough of a visual impression to make his case. But having said that, he'd sure be a more interesting entry than Z Humor or Anak Nakal in my opinion.

Tale of Ekati is squarely on my no-chance list, and a half mile in 49 2/5 isn't going to change my mind about that. You can see his workout on the Kentucky Derby site; unfortunately, I just discovered that today, but you can go back and check out some past drills as well. Looks like Tale of Ekati was on the wrong lead for much of the stretch as well.

I've been writing a lot recently about horses I don't like, which is certainly a necessary part of the process. But starting later tonight, after the Rangers game - and hopefully I'll be in a good mood - I'm going to start to run down the horses that I like...or that I at least haven't completely eliminated at this time. And please remember that on Friday, I'll be doing a blogathon throughout the day, during which we'll try to actually come up with some selections while we also try to pick a winner or two on the day's races at Belmont and Churchill. So please drop by if you have a moment.

The other big Derby news is the arrival of Big Brown last night, and the Derby favorite is looking pretty comfy, doncha think?

"We're going to be all in," Dutrow said by phone from Florida last week. "We're all in and we can't wait to bet. This is a horse playing barn, we're players." [Albany Times Union]
The start of the race will obviously be key, and Dutrow said: "In the first 10 jumps, we might have 15 of them beat."

(But Joe Drape reports from Churchill that Dutrow seems far more subdued today.)

- NYRA, which had its reorganization plan approved by the bankruptcy court, announced today that it is in dispute with the Mid-Atlantic Cooperative over simulcast signals, and that the entities will not simulcast the others' signals when Belmont opens tomorrow. NYRA's executive VP Hal Handel said: “Simulcast pricing is a changing part of the racing landscape. The discussions have been amicable, so we’re hopeful our outstanding economic issues can be resolved soon.” NYRA is of course trying to nudge those simulcast rates upward, and you might recall that Charles Hayward told me: "We have to have some cash in the bank because we'd probably have to go to war with some of these guys." Not sure what their bank balance is these days, but NYRA is nonetheless taking a stand which will mean its signal will not go to some 16 tracks in the mid-Atlantic region. (By the way, NYRA is currently accepting wagers on Churchill Downs.)

- Jeff Gural was fined $20,000 by the Racing and Wagering Board for his early closing of Vernon Downs last fall in defiance of the Board's specific denial of his request to do so.
Board members said track owners showed a blatant disregard for the rules, and threatened to issue fines against owners themselves if the track cancels races again.
[Joe] Faraldo said he would have liked to see a higher fine, but the fine imposed was the highest allowed under law. [Syracuse Post-Standard]
- Thanks to John for posting this link, where we can at least see the odds on horses for Kentucky Derbies past (just enter the year). It's unfathomable to me that the Kentucky Derby website doesn't have complete historical charts for the Kentucky Derby! Indeed, the filly entry of Althea and Life's Magic was the favorite in 1984, with Swale the 3-1 second choice. I think I ended up going to the Vanlandingham/Pine Circle entry if I recall correctly.

Reader Jen R says "how times change" with respect to the 1984 article on Swale, which read: The colt's last two workouts were crucial because he has not raced since April 17. Just amazing, isn't it? Swale ran 7th to Gate Dancer as the favorite in the Preakness, and then won the Belmont at 3-2. He died of a heart attack a week afterwards, which added to the mystery and intrigue that surrounded the colt during that strange run-up to the Derby.

- And speaking of deceased's Barbaro's 5th birthday! So happy birthday champ, and let's hope that he's pulling some straight flushes these days!

Monday, April 28, 2008

Tuesday Morning Notes - April 29

- Just Zip It is entered in the 6th at Belmont on Wednesday. For new readers, she's a NY-bred City Zip filly, trained by Bill Turner, in which I own a small stake via Castle Village Farm. This will be her second try in the state-bred NW2X level. Purses are up for the Belmont meeting, and this race goes for a cool $51,000, up from $48,000 last time. She ran third in her last after taking a couple of solid bumps coming out of the gate; and she also threw a shoe at some point on the backstretch.

But Just Zip It came out of the race OK, and had her usual lazy breeze on Saturday. She saves her running for the afternoon, and has never been out of the money in six starts. So I'm expecting that she'll run well again cutting back to six furlongs. Main problem appears to be this Levine horse, Precious Too, who has crushed weaker, opening significant leads on the backstretch and crusing home, in her two starts since being claimed by this barn. The chart comment for her last reads: Sent inside, long gone. Not bad for a filly who hadn't won in 17 starts going back to Sept, 2006 before being claimed.

Precious Too has giant Moss Pace numbers in her last race, and if that's any indication, she could be off to the races. The only other horse who would appear to have a chance to keep pace early is Aegean Breeze, a nemesis who has defeated Just Zip It twice. However, she quit badly chasing a slower pace in her last. If nobody can run with Precious Too, Just Zip It may be running for second money, which is actually pretty substantial - $10,200 - given these purses.

Pleasant surprise to see Grasshopper in town for the G3 Westchester Handicap at one mile. Seems a bit of a strange spot at first glance for a colt who blossomed in two turn races last year, most memorably his second to Street Sense in the Travers. But trainer Neil Howard has his eyes on the G1 Met Mile.

“We thought we have seen that side of him (to handle the mile). He has a nice stalking style and a good punch at the end. We thought, why not do this now over the track the Met Mile is run.
Divine Park, last year's Withers winner is in the field, as is the highly disappointing Sightseeing.

Hunch bet for April 29:
Daddy'slittleangel 1st at Delaware

Final Word on Workouts

- Not much else to talk about other than workouts these days as far as the Derby goes. And when it comes to daily, timely clocker reports, it seems as if Mike Welsch of the Form is really the only game in town. James Scully provides his visual impressions for the Kentucky Derby site each day, but I don't think he's an official clocker, with a stopwatch and an official clockers certificate. And of course, Haskin checks in from time to time as well. But Welsch's reports are up by mid-afternoon each day, and many people consider him to be the best in the business. I'm listing his reports in the right sidebar for your convenience.

So, it's always interesting to read his take, and today he comments on works by Pyro ("appears to be flourishing"), Denis of Cork (the work of the day), Big Truck ("began to tire noticeably nearing the wire"), and Visionaire ("under some pressure to complete his final furlong around the turn in 13:04"). (Scully confirmed Welsch's impressions in each case.)

Welsch has been right on, picking the winner the last two years. But I went back to his final report last year just to see what he'd written about the others. Any Given Saturday ("couldn't look better"), Zanjero ("looks great and has really flourished here"), Circular Quay ("appears to be in peak form"), Cowtown Cat ("another member of Team Pletcher who has stood out").

Now seriously, I really don't mean to embarrass Welsch here. Just wanted to make the point (and for the last time - I promise) that most of these horses look great in the morning, but that doesn't mean that they'll get the distance, have the agility to deal with the traffic, have the right kind of running style, break well, have the good fortune to get a clear run, or simply be fast enough when it counts.

Having said that, of course I'd be lying if I said the I completely ignore these reports - who can when they're reported in such detail on so many outlets. Obviously, Colonel John's workout reinforces my positive opinion of him. I've been coming around to Visionaire, but I don't really like reading that he didn't finish up well. Pyro was on top of my list until the Blue Grass, but I could come back to him at the right price if I'm reading that he's doing well. I don't like Big Truck, and the negative report goes to reinforce that opinion. But I'm not going to change my mind on horses like Denis of Cork and Court Vision solely on the basis of workouts.

One memorable case in which a horse's workouts were not at all a good indication of Derby performance was Swale in 1984. Trained by Woody Stephens (though he was hospitalized at the time), the son of Seattle Slew had been considered the likely Derby favorite off of a win in the Florida Derby. But his workouts leading up to the Derby caused quite a lot of concern. The Times reported:

Swale just does not seem as fit and sharp as he was for the Florida Derby, when he turned back Dr. Carter's stretch drive in a courageous effort. The colt's last two workouts were crucial because he has not raced since April 17, but he worked slowly both times - seven furlongs in 1:29 1/5 Sunday and a half-mile Thursday in 50 seconds. Mike Griffin, who has been deputizing for the hospitalized trainer Woody Stephens, says that the colt is in fine shape and he flatly denies a published report that Swale might be scratched.
I liked Swale, and I have a distinct memory of agonizing for days over what to do. You can probably guess that I went off him, and if memory serves well, the $8.80 win price was one which reflected the uncertainty surrounding the horse. In fact, I believe he was second choice to Lukas' filly Althea, who finished 19th. I don't know for sure because I can't find a result charts with odds anywhere....and please don't get me started on that topic again!

Monday Works Nothing Special

- A few workouts this morning, and nothing at all earth shattering. For the most part, just the usual nice works with the obligatory effusive trainer comments afterwards. I liked Joe Drape's observation from Churchill:

Of the hundreds of horses here going through their training paces, the Derby contenders are Adonises — they are ripped, with shiny coats and do not look like ordinary horses. [The Rail]
As I've said many times, these are all good horses who are generally going to train and appear very well. So I'd be wary of the glowing reports, unless they have some particular relevance, such as with Colonel John's first drill on the dirt. Or perhaps if Pyro turned some heads (he didn't).

A couple of items worth mentioning here: Z Fortune worked rather slowly, a half-mile in 51 seconds flat. Asmussen mentioned something that has concerned me about this colt.
Noting the slower time for Z Fortune, the trainer said one concern was how hard son of Siphon ran from the 13 post position in the Arkansas Derby. “We want to put a little bit back in him and have him at his best for the Derby and not for the work for the Derby.” [Bloodhorse]
Not thrilled when a trainer articulates one of my own concerns like that, especially when it seems to be affecting his workout regimen.

Denis of Cork is in, as Pletcher declared Behindatthebar out. Interesting to read Calvin Borel's comments after the colt worked 48 flat this morning (and before he knew he was in the race).
“The Derby comes only once a year....The way the colt is doing right now, it’s a shame; it’s kind of depressing, the way he worked this morning. He was unbelievable. He was just like I wanted him to be, and he finished up good. The colt’s peaking right now, that’s what’s so sad about it." [Bloodhorse]
You could probably swap at least the gist of those comments with the way Borel spoke about Street Sense last year and not know the difference. This ain't no Street Sense though. He's a colt I might have liked had he been campaigned differently; but he really was not given a chance to develop and build on his Southwest Stakes victory; a race which is not quite as impressive as it looks when you consider that he closed into a final half mile of 52 3/5 after they sped in 45 1/5 to the half. In the Illinois Derby, his one effort since that race over two months ago, he basically spun his wheels against an impossible pace scenario. He's getting some attention for the way he's training, but it seems to me that he has a lot of catching up to do. I'm putting him in the same category as Court Vision regarding the works, and not buying the hype.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Monday Morning Notes - April 28

- Filly Owner Courts Criticism - New post up at The Rail, over at The NY Times.

- Three winners for Contessa to close out the Aqueduct meeting. Since January 1, the trainer had 77 winners from a staggering 453 starters at the Big A.

Two winners for Prado, who wasted little time getting here from Keeneland. He took the G3 Fort Marcy with Silver Tree for Mott. Had I not spent my day watching the Rangers get shut out, I might very well have been betting against the winner. The eight-year old son of Hennessy had been beaten at short odds in his last three, and looked decidedly on the downside of his career.

- Doug O'Neill was disappointed but not discouraged by Lava Man's third place finish against Cal-breds on the grass.

"Down the backside, I thought (Lava Man) was 1-9," O'Neill said. "The little hair that I have left, I'm fixing it and saying, `I think I'll stand on that side of the winner's circle today.' That's what is so shocking, but when he came back to be unsaddled, he was really blowing, and that's a sign of conditioning.

"We were disappointed, but he still ran a very good race." [San Bernardino Sun]
The Hollywood Gold Cup is still on the schedule for Lava Man.

Surf Cat had a far more successful return when he won the Mervyn LeRoy on Saturday with a rousing rally. You gotta figure he's headed towards the Gold Cup too, but he may be making a detour to the Met Mile here at Belmont.

Belmont opens on Wednesday with $1 million in improvements, including expanding the picnic amenities to the backyard. [NY Daily News] However, fans will pay more for the track programs, increasing in price from $2 to $2.50; and, worse yet, NYRA will once again attempt to eliminate the old pocket programs that veterans like myself feel totally lost without; they will be replaced by a $3 "Daily Racing Program." The last time NYRA tried to get rid of the "small programs," it didn't work out so well, as a torrent of protest led them to bring them back. But that was at Saratoga, where there were actually people who cared enough to complain. So it looks like the classic old track program is history.

Second Looks

- Some of the horses I like the least in the Derby have some of the best pedigrees to get the mile and a quarter distance. So I'm wondering if any of them are worth a second look.

Cool Coal Man is by the second year sire Mineshaft (AP Indy). As we've discussed before, that stallion did not race at two, and won his first stakes, including the Suburban and Jockey Club Gold Cup at a mile and a quarter, at four; so we expected that Mineshaft could get off to a slow start at stud, which he has. But we can also expect to see horses like Cool Coal Man improve as time goes one.

He's out of a mare by Rubiano, who was known more as a sprinter, for which he won an Eclipse. But Cool Coal Man descends from a classy female family; his third dam is South Ocean, the dam of the champions Northenette and Storm Bird, the latter an influential stallion.

However, Cool Coal Man, despite getting most favorable post draws (and acknowledging his Fountain of Youth win), has not come home in a manner which suggests he'll finish strongly at any distance really, no less a mile and a quarter. He ran the last eighth in 13 4/5 in the FOY, which took the glitter off the 98 Beyer he earned in that race, and 14 1/5 in the allowance win that preceded it. Zito's colt actually came home faster in the Blue Grass, in which he lost ground late and finished a distant 9th. We can throw that race out on the Polytrack theory, but I can't imagine he'll get his own way on Saturday as he did in his two wins. So he's still out.

I wrote about Tale of Ekati's pedigree here, prior to his first start last July.

He's by the excellent first-out sire Tale of the Cat, out of a Sunday Silence half-sister to the champion Sky Beauty. That one's dam, the champion sprinter Gold Beauty, is the third dam of Tale of Ekati, so this is the talented family of Dayjur, Pleasant Home, and Pine Island.
An interesting combination of speed and stamina there. The Storm Cat line has not been successful in the Derby, but you gotta like the presence of Sunday Silence, and the Phipps influence too.

However, as little as I thought of Tale of Ekati's win in the Wood, the news that War Pass suffered his injury 20 yards before the wire makes me like it even less. So not only did he struggle to get past War Pass in a very slowly run stretch drive, his closing surge came as the juvenile champ broke a bone in an ankle. As Patrick wrote in his Top Ten Throwouts on The Rail, he has not shown much improvement this year, and that may be kind if you, like me, are skeptical that a stakes caliber horse could earn a 93 Beyer for running nine furlongs in 1:52 1/5. Even with that number, he's one of the slowest horses in the race.

Anak Nakal gets the honor as the slowest horse in the field; his highest Beyer is 87. There oughta be a law. Not sure about his pedigree either, but it's at least interesting to mention that he's inbred 3x3 to Fappiano, who is both his great grandfather and great grandmother. I'm a bit pissed at Zito about this horse running here, as well as for the whole thing about War Pass. Right after the Wood, I wrote right here that there was no way in the world this horse was going to go to the Derby, and I was just flabbergasted, no matter what the owner said, that his trainer would even have been contemplating such a thing.

I wrote about Adriano's fine pedigree here. I've gone back and forth on this horse, and I've seen signs that he could be a bit of a wise guy horse. But the bottom line is that he's run on dirt once, and finished 9th by 17 lengths. No matter what transpired in the paddock prior to the race, I'm not going to bet him purely on speculation, especially since it looks like he's going to get some attention on the tote. So, no go on him either; this exercise has been a complete wash!

On the other hand, some of the horses that I like have pedigrees that are either questionable, like Visionaire, or difficult for me to draw any conclusions from, such as Z Fortune. I'll get into that more as the weeks goes on.

I Guess He Likes The Dirt

- A week to go, and as I'd mentioned, online coverage has really reached the saturation point as the racing media finally figures it out. So, no need for me to report on every little workout, gallop, and walk around the shedrow here. I've listed some links over in the right sidebar. (I'm not happy with the physical appearance of that section, and anxiously awaiting the return of Handride so he can help me fix it, but at least it's functional.)

From those resources, I'm sure you can find out more than everything you need to know. In addition, a couple of TBA blogs will have reports from on the scene - Michael is down there all week for Curb Your Enthusiasm; and Ed DeRosa takes time out from belittling and ridiculing those who don't agree with him to report live for Railbird. As for me, I'll be in Queens. But on Friday, I'll be home and blogging all day. We'll take a look around the online world to see who likes who, and live blog the races from Belmont and from Churchill up to and including the Oaks (at least once ESPN checks in from the latter at 3 PM). Remember the Oaks?

As I've mentioned in years past, I believe that the scrutiny of the workouts are way overblown except, of course, when they're positive and involve horses I like. So while I'm not going to mention the drill by Adriano today, I will point out that Mike Welsch noted the other day that Z Fortune made an awesome physical appearance on the racetrack.

And I'll certainly mention the awesome workout by Colonel John today. Er, I guess he might like the dirt. Five furlongs in 57 4/5. What was that the other day about him being tentative on the surface?

He was clocked in splits of :12, :23 1/5, :34 3/5, :46. He galloped out six furlongs in 1:11 1/5. His final quarter was in a snappy :23 1/5.

Looking on was Elliott Walden, a former trainer and vice president of WinStar Farm.

“He went very well,” Walden said. “I don’t think it was too fast considering we’re six days out (from the Derby). We feel very comfortable about it. [Bloodhorse]
Walden also pointed out that the track was "live," and that Proud Spell, now out of consideration for the Derby, worked in 58 flat, and Eight Belles in 58 1/5. "Good horses work fast," Walden added. And since all of these horses are good, if not great, most of the remaining workouts this week are going to be good. So be wary of the hype.

-And back to those Derby resources, a special shout-out here to The Rail at the New York Times. And no, not (only) because they're letting Patrick and me post there. But mostly because of this: A lot of the mainstream and industry press have blogs these days. But, with an exception or two, none of them have made any effort whatsoever to even acknowledge the existence of a thriving independent blogosphere. Why, if I didn't know better, I'd think that many of them are jealous. But over at the Times, in addition to letting some of us participate, Joe Drape has started a feature called Blog Rolling, where he features and links to members of our own TBA. It's the first effort of its kind I've seen, and one I think is way overdue. So thanks for that, and be sure to check out the site.

Feeling Macho

Quite a day on Saturday for the second year sire Macho Uno, with his three-year old sons Macho Again and Harlem Rocker winning the Derby Trial and the Grade 3 Withers respectively. The 2000 Breeders Cup Juvenile winner stands at Adena for $20,000.

Harlem Rocker is now unbeaten in three starts for the seemingly unlikely duo of Frank Stronach and Todd Pletcher. Macho Again continued the winning ways of trainer Dallas Stewart, who had an excellent Keeneland meeting with five winners from just 13starters. He went off half of his 12-1 morning line after running up the track in the Lane's End. I guess he didn't like the Poly; Pyro fans take heart.

These were the first stakes winners of the year for Macho Uno; he ranked 5th on the rookie sire list last year, due in large part to Wicked Style, and what ever happened to him?

Here's a look at that 2000 Juvenile, and notice how many of these horses are currently at stud. I count seven, so that was quite a potent race (sorry). That year, NBC utilized their moving camera to follow the horses down the stretch. And though it was an interesting view and a worthy experiment, the finish of this race pretty much shows why it doesn't really work.

You don't really get a full sense of how close the finish was from that angle I don't think. Anyway, the current stallions that ran in that race are Macho Uno, Point Given, Yonaguska, A P Valentine (Texas), Street Cry, City Zip, and Scorpion. [And thanks much to this anonymous commenter, who points out that in addition to these guys, Noverre stands in Ireland, Burning Roma in Florida, and Flame Thrower in California!]

Majestic Warrior ran 4th in the Derby Trial; it's been a stunning fall from grace since last August's Hopeful for this grandly bred Kinsman homebred, and I'm sure that Coolmore is glad they bought into him after he won the Hopeful; shrewd move there. This was his best finish since then, and by a long ways! At one point last fall, Bill Mott seemed to hold a strong Derby hand with Majestic Warrior, Court Vision, and Z Humor; but none of those have come even close to building on their juvenile form. In fact, with the exception of Anak Nakal, Court Vision is the slowest horse in the entire Derby field. I'm certainly not going to bet on him based on a single workout.

The Rangers are in Pittsburgh at 2 PM today, so that's a wrap on the Aqueduct season for me. The Blueshirts need to show the kind of resiliency that the Flyers did last night, and bounce back from their awful loss in Game 1. They made too many mistakes to overcome the fortuitous bounces the Pens got on three of their goals, and the disgraceful penalty called on Martin Straka with three minutes to go. But the team has bounced back all year after disturbing losses, and I'm looking for a big effort today. Let's Go Blue!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Late Double

- Yesterday, I mentioned Dancing Forever, who won the closing day stakes at Keeneland for Shug. Criminologist, the 9-5 ML favorite in the G3 Beaugay at Aqueduct later today, is a very similar case, also having worked her way slowly up the allowance ranks and steadily developing into a legitimate stakes horse late in her four-year old season last year. Criminologist has been a bit ahead of her stablemate, having won two graded stakes in emphatic fashion in the fall.

After a few months off, the daughter of Maria's Mon ralled for second in one of those Keeneland stakes races masqerading as an allowance. One can certainly argue that the mere presence of winner Sharp Susan, though no world beater, still made that a more formidable test than this race today. Criminologist got caught behind a slow early pace, and his final quarter rally in 22.56 seconds wasn't quite enough.

Short field today, but she has does have some tactical speed, and will likely track behind All Is Vanity, stepping up to stakes company for Clement. All in Vanity defeated Shug's Carriage Trail in her North American debut, and that one won the Doubledogdare at Keeneland last weekend. But I think that Shug will turn the tables today.

Let's go for a cold late double: Stormy Catch (3-1) has the look of a potential perennial bridesmaid, having run second her last three races, all on the grass. But I'm willing to give her another shot. In her turf debut last August at the Spa, she ran into eventual Comely winner Sherine, who ran third against the boys in her subsequent start. Her next race, also at Saratoga, produced three subsequent winners and the stakes placed Mine Or Who's. Then it was almost eight months until her last race. She had no real excuse with an inside trip, but ran into a filly who seemed to freak on the grass for Tom Bush. Last shot today.

- - reports this morning that Smooth Air has a slight fever, and missed his scheduled gallop. He's being treated with antibiotics, and trainer Bennie Stutts said that the horse won't run in the Derby if he can't get him back on the track by Monday.

Pletcher said that he'll decide about Behindatthebar after watching [him] train over the next few days.

And Larry Jones said that owner Bereton Jones appears “95 percent” committed to running Proud Spell in the Kentucky Oaks.

There's three horses squarely on the Derby bubble....and it sounds as if one of them has already slipped off. Looking good for Bob Black Jack at least. I'm sure Dutrow isn't the least bit concerned about the speedy West Coast-er; but I don't think he'd be worried even if Shecky Greene was in the race! Still, I want to see him in it, and I trust a lot of other horseplayers do too.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Pletcher Rolling Home

- Pletcher heads back to New York after closing the Keeneland meeting with two more wins on Friday. He took the trainer's title easily with 14 winners, from 47 starters, for an average of 29.8%. The Toddster has bounced back since that bad day on April 5 which had a few people writing his obituary.

With first-time starters at Keeneland, Pletcher was six for ten overall; four for eight with two-year olds, including Pride, the winner of Friday's opener. This filly had worked in company with Mr Mistoffelees, and her winning time was just 2/ths of a second slower than her stablemate's. Pride is also owned by Tabor/Smith, though they paid only $475K for this one. She is, to the best of my knowledge, the first winner for the rookie sire Lion Heart, who cost me the exacta and triple when he ran second to Smarty Jones in the Derby. He stands for Coolmore at Ashford for $20,000.

Lion Heart was three-for-three as a two-old year, including the G1 Hollywood Futurity. He's also a son of an excellent first-out sire in Tale of the Cat, so it may be worthwhile to check out his first crop.

Dancing Forever ($10.60) took the G2 Elkhorn, continuing his advancement for Shug. As I wrote back in February after his last race, this always-trying five-year old son of Rahy could very well be a factor in the turf division this year. Maybe one of these days, I'll get around to betting him.

News and Notes - April 25

- Former Jockey Guild president Wayne Gertmenian has been booted off the creditors committee in the Guild's bankruptcy proceedings. The U.S. trustee would not comment specifically, saying only that the action was pursuant to the U.S. Bankruptcy Code section governing committee administration. But perhaps he saw some of the same evidence, presented to a US House of Representatives committee in October, 2005, which strongly indicated that Gertmenian had bled the Guild dry to his own financial benefit, as well as that of his family and associates. And maybe he learned that Gertmenian wrote himself checks on the day that he was removed. Dr. G, as he was once affectionately called, claims that the Guild owes him over $900,000 in one of the greatest displays of gall I've ever seen; and his position on the creditors committee further twisted the knife.

So I'm sure that the Guild is ecstatic, though current president Terry Meycocks would not comment. The move leaves Gertmenian's associates in a minority position on the committee; and they include Lloyd Ownbey Jr., the Guild's legal stooge under Dr. G. I'm hoping that he has something to say on the matter, because we can always use a few laughs around here.

- Churchill Downs, which as you may recall, sued the Guild in 2005 over the jockey boycotts the year before, has filed suit against two horsemen's groups over their refusal to approve the export of simulcast signals from, so far, Calder and Lone Star, and, starting tomorrow, Churchill Downs itself. The horsemen want to see betting handle split evenly three ways between the tracks, ADW's, and the horsemen. Matt Hegarty reports in the Form that currently, a horsemen's group gets approximately one-quarter of the revenue through a combination of direct payments and source-market fees.

In the lawsuit, Churchill alleges that the individual horsemen's associations that have joined the Thoroughbred Horsemen's Group [specifically in this case, the Florida Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association] have "entered into a contract, combination, and conspiracy to raise and stabilize the price for [simulcast] signals, and to coerce acceptance of their demands by a joint boycott of sellers of signals." [Daily Racing Form]
But isn't Churchill, in combination with Magna through their TrackNet Media venture, doing essentially the same thing by aggregating the two companies' signals to increase their negotiating power, and then cutting off those signals from the ADW's such as TVG who don't accede to their terms?

- Del Mar will water their Polytrack in the afternoons this year. Their refusal to do so last year was one of the more contentious issues between track management and horsemen over the surface. The horsemen contended that it was the lack of watering which caused the track to slow down so significantly in the afternoons; but Del Mar didn't want to fool with procedures that was resulting in less catastrophic injuries. The track has also added a different wax to the mixture.
[Director of racing Tom] Robbins said the applied wax is "a different type of wax that will react a little differently than the original wax that was put in. It will be less sensitive to the warm climate. We've definitely found that it cools down the material and holds it together better.

"Our goal is to lessen the difference between afternoon and morning. I'm cautiously optimistic that the additional water will be pretty helpful. We want to get there and not sacrifice safety." [DRF]

Derby Top Ten

- Here's the LATG Derby Top Ten of horses, people, and things who I think will be making headlines on or around.....

Where'd it go?

Oh. Over here.

Hunch Bets for Friday, April 24

U B The Judge 2nd at River Downs
Sharp Move lst at Lone Star
Have Bills To Pay 10th at Indiana Downs
Comingfrombehind 7th at Lone Star
Headed For Home 6th at Hollywood
Dont Bug De Bully 11th Indiana Downs
Back To Reality 2nd at Calder
Suit Yourself 8th at Hollywood

Thursday, April 24, 2008

DQ Leads To Carryover (and Suspicious Reader)

- In the 7th at Keeneland, which I happened to catch on TVG Thursday, 4-5 Accredit hooked up with 41-1 Secret Getaway as they left the (about) seven furlong chute; they went head and head for much of the rest of the way. The longshot, who had last raced at Canterbury in August, bobbled at the break before rushing up on the inside of the favorite, and he would just not yield; even when McLaughlin's colt opened up a half length or so midstretch. As Secret Getaway battled back with Albarado, Accredit leaned in, not too severely it seemed, but enough to apparently cause Secret Getaway to stumble once again. Still, the longshot would not give up, and missed by a stubborn neck. The chart reads that he held on gamely to miss; not sure if I've ever seen it phrased that way.

The inquiry sign went up. Watching the head-on showed contact between the two, and I'd have to say that Accredit initiated contact when he leaned in. But it didn't seem severe enough to warrant a DQ. Matt Carothers thought it was apparent that the result would stand.

But it did not. Perhaps the stewards were influenced by the stumble. But in any event, down came the favorite and up went the longshot, no doubt dealing a final fatal blow to any Pick Six players who happened to survive the 21-1 shot in the first leg.

Usually, the talk in the grandstand during such an inquiry would be like "Nah, they're not gonna take down the favorite - they all have it, those crooks!" And even the less suspicious amongst us would believe that human nature would dictate that the foul would have to be quite significant with such a huge swing in bettors' fortunes at stake due to the disparity in odds involved. But a reader emailed me suggesting a different scenario.

After the stewards’ decision, I saw that the horse put up was 41-1 and had this suspicious thought that – after a $45.80 horse had led off the pick six – putting up this longshot would almost certainly guarantee that nobody would hit the pick six and hence there would be a huge carryover to Keeneland’s final day - when the huge carryover itself plus the fact that it had to be distributed based on its being the final day would result in an immense handle for the pick six. [Not a run-on sentence on this blog.]

Well, the above thought in alliance with my having read of Keeneland’s “handle woes” led me to cry “foul."
The reader swears that he's not the conspiracy theorist type, and neither am I, but it's certainly worth some thought under the circumstances. The carryover is $375,000.

- As expected, Mr Mistoffelees made a smashing debut in the third, going right to the front, set a pace of 21.48 and 43.89, and just bounding down the stretch, drawing off by almost ten and clearly loving the game ("WOOO, this is SO cool!"). [Thought I had figured out a way to post this race, but no luck, so you'll have to check it out on Cal Racing.]

- As mentioned, Friday is the last day at Keeneland. That means that the long, long winter racing season in New York is about to end. Yes, it's been spring for a few weeks. But if you check out Thursday's charts at the Big A, and look at the types of races and the names of the jockeys and trainers involved, for the most part they could just as well have been from February other than the races are on the main track and turf. I seem to remember in years past that the Aqueduct meeting would revive in the last few weeks. But now that doesn't happen until Keeneland ends and the big stables head back up north. As it turns out this yer, there's only one more week until Belmont! We'll still see plenty of names like Contessa, Levine, and Alan Garcia winning races this spring and summer, but the big guys are coming back soon.

Slow News Days

- Big Brown zipped five furlongs in 58 3/5 seconds this morning, so I guess those feet are holding up thus far. Dutrow had all the usual laudatory comments that we'll be hearing from a lot of different trainers about their horses this week. He'll ship to Churchill on April 28th and, in case you want to be on hand to give him a warm Louisville welcome, he'll arrive there by about 5 p.m.

Other than that, there's just not much going on right now. However, with internet coverage for the Derby already reaching a saturation point, people have to write about something. So we see headlines about Tale of Ekati working out yesterday, and Cool Coal Man doing so today; those two items go in the 'so what' category in my opinion. And there was other compelling news such as: Gayego had the morning off Wednesday, walking the shedrow at Barn 33. As I said, not much going on. The Courier-Journal lists the drills currently scheduled for this weekend. Nothing too exciting to me there either until Pyro and Z Fortune go on Monday. Colonel John is not yet listed, and we'll surely be looking out for that one. I shudder to think how dull this Derby would be if not for Big Brown.

The paper also is reporting that Pletcher has opened the door a crack to the possibility of Behindatthebar running. Personally, I'd like to see that door slammed shut. It would have important implications, as it would close the door to Bob Black Jack, who those of us planning to bet against Big Brown are certainly hoping to see with his potential for high speed. Even forgetting that, Bob Black Jack is, in my opinion, a deserving Derby runner, having stretched out his speed to give Colonel John a tussle in the G1 SA Derby. He also ran third in the San Felipe. Pletcher's colt would qualify on the basis of a single graded stakes, and a questionable one at that. I think that a rule prohibiting a horse from qualifying based on a single graded stakes may be in order.

- Egads! A rock concert on the hallowed grounds of Saratoga? NYRA is planning a free music festival there on September 13.

Secure with a new 25-year contract to operate the track, the New York Racing Association is working with whiskey maker Southern Comfort to host the Sept. 13 concert in the track's parking lot along Union Avenue, facilities manager Charlie Wheeler said.
"The concert is a reflection that NYRA perceives all of its racetracks as venues, destinations used to host major events," [VP of sales and market development Gavin] Landry said. "We're having discussions with all three tracks that will allow us to offer things to people who may or may not come for the races." [Albany Times Union]
Sounds like NYRA may be coming full circle back to the old after-races concerts that used to pack the backyards of Belmont and the Big A in the 70's and 80's. At least one resident was unhappy, telling the Times Union: "It'll have a real detrimental impact on the neighbors." But I'm sure that the 20 bucks a car that the neighbors will charge to park on their lawns will more than make up for any inconvenience.

- Contrary to earlier reports, Atlantic City is not exporting a simulcast signal for its six day meeting which started yesterday. Horsemen and the NJ Sports and Exposition Authority could not agree on a deal.
NJTHA President Dennis Drazin said the New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority pays horsemen 3.5% of handle on its exported simulcast signal from Monmouth Park and the Meadowlands. Greenwood offered 2.5% for the Atlantic City signal, a figure that horsemen rejected. [Thoroughbred Times]
- Developer Louis Cappelli received local approval for his plans to turn the old Concord hotel into an entertainment complex featuring a new Monticello Raceway and racino. But the state has not yet approved relocation of the racetrack. [Times Herald Record]

Keeneland Chief Struggling Too

- Keeneland CEO Nick Nicholson acknowledged that bettors' lack of confidence in the Polytrack surface may be contributing to the decline in handle.

"It's not as easy as it once was....And I'm not going to criticize the critics. I understand their frustration." [Lexington Herald Reader]
Sounds like he's having a bad meet himself.

Dale Romans made what I think is a good point when he said: "I'm not so sure it would be a problem if it were longer than a two-week meet, so they can get a gauge on who's running well." Reader rgustafson had posted the winning favorite percentage for the grass races - 4 for 23 coming into Wednesday - which were even worse than the Poly. I know it's an extremely small sample, but perhaps it's an indication that the races there are just hard, period. Horses pour in from tracks all over the country, which makes comparisons difficult. And since they race so infrequently these days, you rarely, even in the meet's final days, get races in which you can attempt to determine the contestants' relative strengths based on them having run against each other, or at least over the track. For example, check out today's 6th - 11 horses who last ran at eight different tracks, none of them Keeneland.

- Thursday's third is a baby race, and Pletcher, the meet's leading trainer (11 wins from 43 starters), unveils Mr Mistoffelees, a Storm Cat colt who brought $1.5 million from Coolmore at Calder in February after breezing an eighth in 10 1/5 seconds. Not too often that one sees such expensive horseflesh this early in the season, so I'd have to assume that he hasn't missed a beat and is ready to roll. Indeed, he comes off two blazing workouts, earning the clocker's comment looked sharp, about ready for his debut when getting a half in 46 flat on 4/19. Mr Mistoffelees is out of Country Romance, a stakes winning Saint Ballado mare who's a half-sister to the graded winner Katz Me If You Can. His second dam is the late Grade 1 winner Cuddles.

- Mattieandmorgan, trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, makes her debut in the 9th, a seven furlong sprint; she's a half-sister to the once-defeated grassy Grade 1 winner Shakespeare, by 15% first-out sire Smart Strike. Turf in this one's future for sure, but what better place for her to debut than on the Keeneland Poly?

- Handicappers aren't the only ones finding Keeneland to be difficult. Steve Asmussen has just one winner from 23 starters thus far.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Wednesday Night Notes - Apr 23

- Prado took a spill in the 7th at Keeneland today, and took a trip to the hospital to get checked out. But it appears he'll be fine to ride Adriano in the Derby.

“He seems to be OK, and everything checked out fine,” agent Bob Frieze said from the hospital. Frieze did not say which areas of Prado's body had been X-rayed. [Bloodhorse]
That sounds like when hockey teams identify injuries merely as "upper (or lower) body injuries" during the playoffs in order to prevent the enemy from "accidentally" aggravating an existing ailment. It's Derby time, so perhaps Frieze is worried about an opposing jockey giving Prado a well-placed playful jab in the jocks room before the race.

Looking back at this post, I recall that Graham Motion had counted Adriano out of the Derby prior to his win in the Lane's End. Jerry Bailey spoke on ESPN of how owner Donald Adams had invested a small fortune in the game, and that this opportunity would be hard to pass up. Guess he was right about that.

The explanation for his flop in the Fountain of Youth seems to have morphed from his not liking the dirt to his "falling apart" in the paddock before the race. He seems to have gained a bit of a following, including Bob Baffert. Prado chose this horse over Monba and Tale of Ekati. I know some people have upgraded Adriano because of that; but I'm thinking that Prado is honoring a commitment to a trainer with whom he has a long relationship. I think it's more a case of Prado telling us that he's not crazy about the other two. I imagine that if he really thought he had a legit shot elsewhere, he'd explain to Motion and the trainer would understand.

Jeremy Plonk has been doing some interesting analyses on his Countdown to the Crown series on, and he's been talking this horse up. But check this out:
Still photos of turf/Polytrack ace Adriano working at Churchill Downs have been a wee bit of a concern. The Lane's End winner has tons of pedigree for dirt and a wonderfully long stride, but his high leg action captured in the still photos looks awfully turfy. Of course, Barbaro had the same action, a far cry from the daisy-cutter efficiency of a Smarty Jones, though Barbaro was able to be just as effective. []
(Don't expect to see me doing any analysis of leg action from still photos on this site anytime soon.)

Adriano, by AP Indy out of a Mr. Prospector mare, is one of the better bred horses in this field. I wrote more about his pedigree in this post, and repeating: 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.

However, we haven't seen any on the track thus far, and I think he's a tough case to make, and that's despite the high regard I hold for Motion.

- In that 7th at Keeneland, Prado's mount, May Meeting ducked in sharply right after the start, causing 7-10 favorite Closeout to get body slammed and swerve in and nearly go over the rail. I'm hoping he didn't suffer an upper body injury or anything. Lookalike won the race for Matz, and this three-year old filly caught my attention when she graduated earlier this year. She's by Dynaformer, out of a Mr. Prospector half sister to the multiple Grade 1 winner Behrens.

Oh, Manohla!

- I don't read all that many film reviews these days because I find that they give away too much of the plot. Between that and the trailers, there's hardly need to even bother seeing some of these movies at all! So I skim the first and last paragraphs to see if they liked it, and then come back to them after seeing the movie if I'm inspired to do so. But of the ones I do read, those by the Times' Manohla Dargis are amongst my very favorites. Wonderfully articulate, Manohla not only cuts through all the hype and fanboy BS, she bludgeons them to death and judges films on what they are and not what they're cranked up to be.

So, when she unceremoniously trashed The First Saturday in May, even this racing fanboy gave pause, and briefly contemplated passing in favor of someday watching the DVD, or maybe seeing it on TVG At The Movies (Schrmmppff: Two thumbs way up). However, better judgment prevailed, and the Head Chef and I saw it at Cinema Village last night. I counted 17 people in attendance, including an elderly couple who entered late; the woman was repeating lines and subtitles back to her companion, making me feel as if I was watching Carnac the Magnificent.

And as I should have expected, the film proved to be a delight. The six trainers featured provided an interesting and eminently watchable contrast of styles and personalities, and the Hennegan brothers obviously made them feel totally at ease in front of the camera. They devoted just enough time to each one's background to make them seem familiar without bogging us down with details. I thought they did a fine job juggling the stories, spending an appropriate amount of time on each, and creating the kind of intimacy by which we wanted each and every one of them to succeed.

Why Manohla felt compelled to criticize the film for not exploring the issues around drugs, or for providing an in-depth tutorial on the methods of training, I'm not really sure. Reading it again, it almost seems as if she had an agenda, like if she's a paying member of PETA. Those are worthy subjects indeed, but not the point of this particular film. Perhaps it had to do with her unfamiliarity with the sport. The Head Chef pointed out, correctly I think, that if someone only vaguely familiar with baseball saw a comparable documentary on that sport, he/she may very well wonder out loud why it didn't deal with steroids. Horse racing has created its own bad publicity, and perhaps it manifested itself in this case. It also obviously didn't help that Barbaro was amongst the subject horses; his presence raises issues of fatal equine injuries that are addressed only tangentially at the end.

In fact, one of my two criticisms of the movie has to do with that ending. I didn't feel it was necessary to provide an addendum dealing with Barbaro's breakdown and subsequent passing, and it made for an awkward conclusion in my opinion. It felt like an add-on; the movie was about the Derby, and could have ended right there. We all know what happened to Barbaro, and his death could have been noted with a simple subtitle, just as the fates of the other horses were (though not of Achilles of Troy, an oversight there). Sometimes, a tragic event can seem even more poignant when framed in the same terms as everyday happenings.

My other critique is one beyond the filmmakers' scope - even in a documentary, there can be tension regarding how the story will turn out. But in this case, the movie lacked that drama since we all knew how it would end.

But those are minor quibbles to be sure. I have to say that I don't even agree with Manohla's technical criticisms - I thought that the filming was fine, I didn't find any of the scenes to be pointless, and the fact is that trainers really do spend a lot of time staring off into the distance. And I liked the scenes filmed on Derby day, especially the Deputy Glitters fan. I also want to add a shout out for the editing, which I found to be crisp and timely; one touch I particularly liked was a quick cut from Aqueduct out to Dan Hendricks in California marveling after watching Jazil's rally for second in the Wood on TV.

So, as one might write in a real film review, The First Saturday in May was a winner. You can visit the Hennegan brothers' blog here, and, starting on May 1, pre-order the DVD here.

- I got home in time to catch the overtime between the Flyers and Caps. I believe that 7th game sudden death overtimes are hazardous to one's health and that they should be abolished. I've gone through two of those as a Rangers fan, once, in person, against the Devils in the Cup year of 1994, and the other watching on a fuzzy illegal TV hookup (anyone remember WHT?) ten years earlier when the Islanders eliminated the Blueshirts in what was, that year, a best-of-five series. The Rangers outplayed the Icelanders from start to finish of that series, and I obviously still haven't completely gotten over it.

So I totally sympathized with the stunned Capitals fans when Joffrey Lupul scored a power play goal six minutes into OT for the winner. Man, what a devastating loss, despite the magical finish to their season. The two veteran referees let an obvious tripping penalty on the Caps go early in the period; it looked otherwise as if the Flyers would have been off on a 2 on 1. So, when former Ranger Tom Poti committed a similar foul shortly later, Paul Devorski whistled him off, and the Caps could not survive. You had to feel for Poti, who was unfairly savaged by Ranger fans during his time here, and for owner Ted Leonsis, who looked like he wanted to cry. I wouldn't have blamed him; I know I would have if I was him.

So, it's Rangers - Penguins, and it starts on Friday night...

Walking Barefoot

- Always encouraging when we see the occasional outbursts of interest in our sport, especially those other than at Saratoga, Oaklawn, or Keeneland. Atlantic City opens its ultimate boutique meet today - six days, Wed - Friday this week and next. With virtually no promotion - not even an active website - the meet drew surprisingly well last year.

Last year's four-day meet drew a total of 18,442 fans, which was the highest of any track in the country during that time period. The final day's attendance was just less than 6,000.

Only Churchill Downs, which was hosting the Kentucky Derby the same day, had a bigger crowd. [Press of Atlantic City]
Really? I'm skeptical about that, but guess we'll take their word for it. All the races will be on the grass course, still recognized as the best on the East Coast.
It is so plush that course officials are planning to stage a promotion sometime during the meet that allows fans to walk the turf barefoot, much like groundskeepers at other tracks do to get a feel for what a state-of-the-art grass surface should feel like.
I'd like to hear a similar offer for a Polytrack venue, though I suppose we'd be picking various and sundry debris out of our toenails for weeks!

On Friday, Mr. W.B. will run at A.C. in a 5 1/2 furlong sprint for Kasey K. Yeah, I know I wrote that he would get a break. But he's done well since switching to Keith Lebarron at Philly Park, and is ready to go. And a week from Friday, Primal Peak gets a shot at a sprint stakes there. Lebarron has done quite a job with that one and Foolish Bid. "He's Todd Pletcher to me," Bob told me. Whatsmore, he's the Toddster at about half the day rate, and at a track offering outsize purses, moderate competition, and middling field sizes - bad for bettors and handle perhaps, but good for the horsemen there indeed.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Racing Data Off the Charts

- A couple more thoughts about the preceding post, and the comparison between the easy access to statistical information in sports such as baseball, and the lack thereof in horse racing. Baseball is naturally not giving away their intellectual property; an article in the Times yesterday discussed the tension between the new media, including bloggers, and major league sports' desire to control their exclusive broadcast rights and prevent their value from being eroded.

Major League Baseball recently issued new rules limiting how the press can use photographs and audio and video clips on Web sites. Many organizations and publications, like Hearst, Gannett and Sports Illustrated, have refused to go along with the new rules. (The Associated Press Sports Editors, a group of newspaper editors, did agree to less restrictive rules, allowing a “reasonable” number of photographs published online rather than a limit of seven, for example.)

League officials argue that too much video and audio on a newspaper’s Web site could infringe on rights holders — the broadcasters who pay millions of dollars to carry live games. And the leagues and teams have their own Web sites, carrying news accounts and footage, that are big business. Major League Baseball Advanced Media, baseball’s Internet arm, generates an estimated $400 million a year in revenue and is growing at a 30 percent a year. Investment bankers have estimated that the business is worth $2 billion to $3 billion. [NY Times (via Sarasota Herald Tribune, no reg. req.)
However, as I'd noted before, there are no restrictions whatsoever on baseball's dissemination of statistical and historical information.

Racing is different of course in that statistical information is a necessary commodity to fans, as opposed to batting averages and goals against averages, which are tools which help fans evaluate performance and argue over who's better than whom. So, naturally, there's an entrenched industry devoted to the sale of past performances, and there's no denying that it was good old capitalist competition between the Racing Form, the Racing Times, and various other smaller players that led to the revolutionary improvements in past performances introduced in the 90's. BRIS and the Form keep each other honest nowadays. I suppose that an argument could be made that full results charts are part of that industry, and that offering them for free could hurt the value of the databases. After all, I know that I certainly have the time to circumvent buying the Form by looking up all the individual race charts. Don't you?

But on the other hand, the results charts, like box scores, are merely a compilation of information and observations that are freely available to any interested parties. Don't know if I'd go as far as to say that they're public domain as Teresa does; but it certainly seems miserly, at the very least, to charge us money to see them once they're more than a week old. The Jockey Club, which owns Equibase, claims to be "dedicated to the improvement of Thoroughbred breeding and racing." And it just seems to me that attempts to accommodate the shrinking fan base is an integral part of that mission; especially in a fashion that I can't imagine would really sacrifice that much in revenue at 50 cents a pop.

- Joe Drape, writing for the NY Times' new Triple Crown blog entitled The Rail (and keep an eye out for posts there by yours truly), claims that Big Brown nodded in the affirmative when he personally asked him if he's the Kentucky Derby winner. So there you have it, literally from the horse's mouth head.

- I don't think he guaranteed a win, but Alexander Ovechkin pulled a mini-Messier by scoring twice in the third period to lead the Caps to a dramatic come-from-behind win, on the road in Game 6, to force a 7th and deciding game against the Flyers tonight at home in Washington. If the Caps win, the Rangers get the Montreal Canadians; if the Flyers manage to rebound, which I think would be quite a feat at this point, it's the Rangers and Pens. Pick your poison.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Chalk Players Eating Poly

- I wanted to do a simple calculation - to determine the winning percentage of favorites on main track races at Keeneland this spring. Shouldn't be too hard, right? Just check out the result charts for each day.

Unfortunately, it comes at a cost; free result charts are only available for around a week these days it seems. Otherwise, you can buy them at BRIS for 50 cents a shot (per day/per track). Seems a pretty restrictive stranglehold on information, as noted from time to time by other members of the TBA. By contrast, I can go on, and easily find a box score, complete play-by-play, and a game story for every single major league baseball game going back to 2002!

Anyway, back to the subject at hand - enterprising as I am, I managed to get all the charts for free using Formulator....except for opening day, which I just guessed from the win prices. Out of an even 100 races conducted on the Polytrack this spring, favorites have won 20, for a percentage of (obviously) 20%. So those who complain that there's no form on the Poly can point to a number which is far below the universal average of 33%.

I'm strongly in favor of 33% winning favorites; it's the accepted norm, whether at the flats or harness, big track or small, and I think it's just about right. Enough favorites for it all to make at least a little sense, and with which to go to the well when you need a single or just a little confidence. But also plenty of opportunities to take a stand and make it pay off. 20% is pretty low, though it's not that big of a sample in the long run. If the Keeneland meeting went on for two months, statistical probability would likely nudge the figure closer to the norm. I'd check out the stats for the three prior Polymeetings at Keeneland to get a bigger sample....but I figure it'd cost me around $22.50.

Too Secretive For Their Own Good

- Little in the way of additional reported news in the matter of trainer Gregg Matties, denied stall space by NYRA after, we're told, it was alerted by the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau (TRPB) to "irregular betting patterns" involving his family members. Jerry Bossert had written last week in the NY Daily News that some of the races involved horses Matties had runners in and some did not.

The TRPB is certainly quite vigilant in protecting us horseplayers, but not quite so when it comes to telling us exactly what it is they're protecting us from. What we do know is that Matties' brothers are big bettors, that they co-own the horses that Gregg trains, and that the barn won four races in 29 attempts at Aqueduct thus far in 2008.

Now, as far as unreported news, rumor, and speculation goes, an anonymous commenter on this site who claims to know the Matties brothers writes that the suspicions involve not Matties holding a horse back, but "for winning, I believe. Take a look at his last winner, I think you will understand." I suppose that was in response to my guessing here that any problem would be regarding his horses not winning. That was my initial reaction, because what would possibly be the problem with family members betting on a horse that they were told was doing well? Unless the TRPB has suddenly morphed into the SEC, I don't believe that would break any laws, and nor do I believe that it would constitute what most horseplayers would consider to be a breach of trust. Inside information has long been accepted as a part of the game, and something, as long as it doesn't involve drugs or other hanky-panky - neither of which has been cited in the Matties case - that I think we all accept. Besides, much - though certainly not all - parimutuel activity is totally transparent, and I've always believed that a good handicapper ignores unexpected action at the tote at his or her own risk, and, in fact, turns it to his/her advantage.

A little research (which could have been avoided if I'd merely checked out the Can Gamble blog, a member of our own TBA) reveals that Matties' last winner that the commenter refers to was Too Drunk To Call on March 27. On February 27, he stretched out to a route, dropped in class, and scored a seven length win at odds of 5-1. His Beyer of 88, a career best, was a vast improvement over recent efforts sprinting. A little over a week later, moving up to a state-bred optional claiming allowance, he was an even 5th at 7-2, beaten less than four lengths. Then, in his last race, on March 27, Too Drunk to Call, in the same class, loped to an easy lead in slow fractions, and bounded home the winner by five lengths, returning $17.60 to win, and once again topping his lifetime best Beyer, this time a 92.

However, despite the improved speed figures, I don't see anything here that seems overly suspicious, and if you drop me an email, I'll be happy to send you his career past performances. The fact is that the horse has always improved his form when switching to two-turn inner track races, and [some of his] prior best career races were run under those conditions. And it's perfectly reasonable to think that he bounced, running just eight days after the Feb 27 race, and then rebounded on March 27 in a race in which he was afforded a clear lead through a slow pace.

Whatsmore, the winning odds of 5-1 and 7.80 to 1 hardly indicate foul play...unless there was action in the multi-race wagers, bets on which us horseplayers sacrifice the transparency of the tote action and leave those matters to chance. Did Gregg Matties commit a violation worthy of being denied stall space if he told his brothers that his horse was doing very well in anticipation of his annual switch to race conditions under which he has historically improved? Or for that matter, if he told them that the horse was liable to bounce on March 8? Even if one theorizes that he was playing games with that race in order to fatten the price for his next effort, is that indeed against the rules? Or the kind of maneuvering that goes on every day at every track? Were the Matties' wagering more likely to come under the TRPB's radar just because they have the same last name as a trainer? Does the TRPB need to obtain a subpoena in order to gain access to what I would consider private records?

Given the organization's secrecy, I suppose we won't be learning the answers to these and other pertinent questions anytime soon. Meanwhile, Can Gamble reports a rumor that Matties has been given his stalls back after threatening to sue NYRA. Whether that's true or not is one thing I suppose we will soon find out.

[UPDATE: Thanks again to on below for legible version.]

War Pass Takes A Pass

- The defection of War Pass due to injury certainly changes the outlook for at least the first mile or so of the Derby, and I'm sure that the connections of Big Brown can't be unhappy. The juvenile champion was one horse who was certain to be winging out there early. Now, we have Bob Black Jack, trying dirt for the first time, Cowboy Cal, who appears to be a turf horse, Recapturetheglory, who I'm not sure is really that fast early, and Gayego, who is quick early, but is more of a pressing type. Am I leaving anyone out?

Meanwhile, Big Brown has had two flawless five furlong workouts, and his preparation appears to be going very smoothly. I surely intend to bet against him...assuming that he's the favorite, that is. Gimme 5-1, and that's different, because I must admit that I find him pretty scary. Besides his freaky talent, I not only like his pedigree, but it's one of my favorites in the entire field. I believe his downfall will be his getting hooked early in the usual Derby stampede, and suffering from both his early efforts and his lack of experience at crunch time. Unfortunately, now there's less speed with which to hook him. And if those of you who think, based on his second race, that he'll be able to rate are correct - a notion with which I respectfully and optimistically disagree - then, oh boy.

I don't really know that Zito would have run War Pass anyway; he never absolutely committed to the idea. He had recently started to talk up how draining the Wood was, calling it a "gut-wrenching" performance. If that's the case, then I submit that it was only slightly less so for Tale of Ekati. Third place finisher Court Vision may have had an easier time since he didn't run much early on, but he apparently did so in a workout at Churchill on Thursday morning. So much so, that Haskin, who didn't even see it, devoted 12 paragraphs of his latest Derby Trail column to it. This is when the roses began to burst, he wrote. I don't really know what that means.

Court Vision went a half in :46 1/5 breezing, galloping out five-eighths in about 1:00 3/5 under exercise rider Neil Poznanski.
That means he galloped out the last eighth in 14 2/5, even slower than he comes home in his races, so it sounds to me like he's right on schedule to close for 11th or 12th.

Then again, he won a Grade 2 at a one-turn mile over the Churchill track last year, so perhaps I shouldn't be so flippantly dismissive of his chances lest I feel silly later on!

- LATG Stable update: Foolish Bid runs today for Kasey K Racing Stable as the 8-5 morning line favorite in the 5th at Philly Park. You just have to look at the pp's to see why I think he's going to win. I'd like to tell you what's up with Just Zip It, but I don't know. She was reported to have just a slight bit of heat in the foot from which she threw a shoe in her last race. But there's been no more news forthcoming from Castle Village; and that's the frustration of participating in these public stables. So let's hope that she's OK.

On the ex-stable side, Highland Cat is entered in the 7th on opening day at Calder on Monday. He's become a real game performer since we cut him loose, especially since he was subsequently claimed by trainer Norman Pointer; a fruitful purchase to be sure. I think he has a real shot in this race despite drawing the outside ten post. He's most competitive on figs, and he finished in front of morning line favorite Fly With the Wind in his last race. In that contest, he was twice steadied - once on the turn, and another time midstretch, and he finished absolutely full of run for 4th. And each of the three horses that finished in front of him that day would be clear favorites in this field, in my opinion. So I'll be playing him on Monday, and I surely hope that he goes off in the vicinity of his 8-1 morning line.

Guest Blog

As John with his eagle eye and fanny pack saw I am on this blog doing a little window dressing. I hope you all like the new layout, everything is the same size, believe it or not, just making better use of the space that Blogger allows. It's a personal opinion of course, but for those of you who don't think it's better... you're wrong.

So, this is where everyone comes to read about horse racing; the inner workings of the NYRA, summers at the Spa, and the ever present hunch plays. I usually reside in the hovel known as Handride, and I'd love to see a couple of you check it out now and then, but I'll take this moment to talk about the Greater Good.

The Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance wants to change your perception of racing while not changing the sport. There are 30 different blogs from Japan to Toronto and Queens in between; there's an opinion for everyone. No, there's no way to check 30 blogs a day, but you can keep up to date by bookmarking this page, or grabbing our RSS which LATG is a part of. On top of our homepage being a great stop for all the latest news on the top horses in the country, there's the new News Gator page, why have someone pick and choose what's important & Polls page, where you can take a side or email in a question you want answered.

As for my Derby pick if he gets in it's Tomcito (60), I have a thing for South Americans with nice hind quarters. [ed note - this was written before the Lexington...]

Thanks to Alan for letting me post, again, thanks to you all for reading any of our blogs, and good luck with all your picks for the Derby.

Go Go Go Go......

.....NO NO NO NO!!!!!

That's perhaps the worst 'getting beat' scenario of all to me. When you think you have the win spot nailed, and you're yelling for another horse to get up into your exacta or triple. Hope turns to exultation as you see your horse moving up for that minor award. But then, it all comes crashing down around you, when you realize that the horse isn't going to settle for the second or third spot, and it goes on to nail your top horse at the wire. Ouch.

Even worse is when, as happened to me yesterday, your exotics horse isn't even in the picture until the final strides. I was perusing the horses for the 8th at Santa Anita, and the name Skellytown sounded familiar to me; as if he was on one of those comprehensive watch lists that I'd compiled, but never get email notices for due to some problem regarding Yahoo that nobody at the Form or BRIS has ever really been able to explain to me. But I went back through the LATG archives, and found this post from just about one year ago. Since that post, Skellytown ran twice more last year before going to the sidelines in May. On Sunday, he was reappearing, for Mandella, and with a $32,000 tag attached. Pretty suspicious for a well-bred horse who was once pretty highly regarded.

But I figured I had stumbled upon him for a reason (one other than being crushed), so I used him on top in the triples, using, among others, Sacred Light. Here's a horse who was far more highly regarded than Skellytown, and, in fact, ran 9th in the 2006 Belmont Stakes for trainer David Hofmans. I recall that some fancied him as a Derby horse at one time. He's been laboring in the claiming ranks of late, and showed only one win in the last two years. That, however, was at this same claiming level, in a race on the Cushion Track. He was trying turf here, but seemed an overlay at his 16-1 odds.

So, when Skellytown ranged up inside favored Mt. Orient inside the sixteenth pole, Super Harmony, who I did not have, started to hang, and Trevor Denman noted that Sacred Light was coming on, I got pretty excited. "Go Go Go Go!" And indeed, his white head emerged on the screen, and I figured he could even get second! "Go Go Go Go!" But it didn't take long from that point for me to cry "No No No No," as he went whizzing by them all, for a most generous $34.40 mutuel. Watching it again, it seems obvious from the moment he entered the picture that I was finished. But time can slow down to a crawl in those final yards, and, in that split-second, I was already trying to calculate the possible payoffs, both for Sacred Light running third and second, and starting to make lavish plans for a big Chinese takeout dinner. Ugh.

Well, at least Foolish Bid won his race at Philly Park earlier in the day. The restricted 25K claimer carried a purse of $27,000! His regular jockey, Eriluis Vaz, was under suspension for his prior ride on the same horse, and double apprentice Alex Cintron was aboard. Cintron had already ridden a couple of winners for trainer Keith Lebarron, and here we saw why the trainer entrusts him - because he follows instructions. Cintron was told to not be in the lead - he broke well, but pulled back to track leader Sunnywin - and to use a left-handed whip because the horse tends to bear in when struck right handed - and you can see the way Foolish Bid responded late to hold off the oncoming Lookmeintheeye. So Cintron was a 'good boy,' an old track expression that I suppose one shouldn't really use anymore these days...

Highland Cat goes in the 7th at Calder today, but I can't bet the races from there, either at OTB or on the NYRA site. I suppose it has something to do with this.