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Saturday, May 31, 2008

Belmont Stakes Top Ten

- This is the Left at the Gate Belmont Top Ten of horses, people, and things I think will be in the news on or around Belmont day:

1) After previously distancing himself from the comments of Michael Iavarone and Richard Dutrow, Big Brown resigns from I.E.A.H. following the latest controversy. Dutrow was quoted mocking Casino Drive, saying: "I really believe that he just always thought ‘This is mine. I’m Better Than Honour's son!' Then out of nowhere came Big Brown, and he said, ‘Oh damn! I’m entitled! There’s a big brown horse stealing my show’!”

2) Tale of Ekati has been way up and way down to this observer. I soured on this colt after his lethargic return return to the races at three, and his win in the awful Wood Memorial did nothing to change my mind about that. But now I'm coming back around. His 4th in the Derby wasn't bad at all, and you can make a case that he's rounding into top form....and he certainly hasn't left it on the racetrack in his morning workouts! The class and stamina in this one's pedigree could get him to break up those chalky exactas.

3. Denis of Cork gets Robby Albarado in place of Calvin Borel for the Belmont, not the first time that Calvin has been replaced in the irons on this horse. Albarado did so for his win in the Southwest, easily the most impressive race of this colt's career. In fact, it was so good, that it threw this horse right off course with the ill-fated attempt to use the Sheets to time his bounce and recovery. The time off since his rail-skimming third in the Derby seems to have served him well based on his workouts, which drew raves before the Derby as well. We don't generally see deep closers win the Belmont, but Denis of Cork seems primed for a minor share, and at a fair price too.

4. Michael Iavarone is ejected from the grounds and misses the race. He's slips on a penny and is apprehended while trying to run away from the Nathan's stand without paying for his hot dog.

5. The record crowd for the Belmont is the 120,139 who came to see Smarty Jones' hopes dashed by Birdstone in 2004. But this year, I think they'll be doing well if they crack the six figure mark at all. It's hard to say if the fact that Big Brown's story is the stuff of Chiller rather than Lifetime will have any effect. But I think that gas prices and the general bad times is going to persuade people who might otherwise have undertaken a long journey not to do so. The fact that you can't bring cheap six-packs into the track won't help either. (And remember, those rebate checks are for stimulating the economy, not the mutuel pools!)

6. Hillary Clinton attends the race, but is disappointed when she receives seating for only half of her delegation.

7. Ready's Echo is a go for Pletcher; this son of More Than Ready has been progressing ever so slowly, at least on the Beyer scale. He was no threat to Casino Drive in the Peter Pan. But if his past exploits are any indication, the big stretch out should only help his chances. His best effort was his only one around two turns, a sharp second closing into fast fractions at Keeneland. Continued improvement could have him in the hunt late for a share.

8. Macho Again looked like he was flying home to get second in the Preakness. The fact is that his closing three furlongs of 44 3/5 seconds was more than two seconds slower than he closed in the Derby Trial, and his 92 Beyer was seven points lower. However, he gets due credit for winning the race within the race. I still think this colt's potential is as a sprint/miler type; but he's an in-form closer with a chance to get a piece.

9. For Casino Drive, the mind and body gets the nod over the genes, and the colt finds the mile and a half journey to be too much. Win the Belmont Stakes off just two races and a workout regimen seemingly more appropriate for the National Horse Show, are you kidding me?


10. Ian McKinlay is summoned to the White House to patch up that ever-present quarter crack protruding up from Vice-President Dick Cheney's mouth. "It's a walk in the park," says the confident McKinlay. "He'll be talking out of both sides of his mouth again in no time."

Saturday Notes - May 31

- Preakness runner-up Macho Again is prepping for the Belmont at Churchill, and worked a half in 48 1/5. Dallas Stewart said: "We opened him up a little, and I liked the way he finished. He came home in 11 (seconds)." [NY Post] This is the horse that busted up my triples in the Preakness. I'd seen an online video before the race in which Stewart was extremely confident, raving that the horse was doing fantastic. But it was just basic KISS handicapping that dictated his elimination - two poor efforts in his only two two-turn tries.

Macho Again did finish well though he didn't beat too much in picking up the pieces as we know,. I'm still not convinced that we won't be seeing him in races like the King's Bishop rather than the Travers down the road. However, I suppose that I'm not going to let him beat me again, especially if the trainer remains satisfied.

- Kent Desormeaux throws out the first pitch at the nationally televised Mets-Dodgers game at Shea Stadium on Sunday night.

- Two more winners at Belmont on Friday for Barclay Tagg, including the appropriately named Steamroller. Tagg has 13 winners from 34 runners; that's 38%.

- Headline of the day, from today's print edition of the New York Times:

Arizona Group to Sue Paterson on Gay-Marriage Order.
An argument that the governor is stepping outside his purview.
No, you can't make that stuff up.

- They're calling for some strong storms here today, but it was a lovely evening out at the South Street Seaport last night.


The scene at the concert looking up.


The scene looking down. (Please indulge me as I play with my newly discovered IPhoto program.



video

New Zealand's Die! Die! Die! and one annoying head. There's always at least one head at all of these shows.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Governor Getting Wired

- Governor Paterson clarified the remarks from his radio interview with Fred Dicker in which he said that he'd change the NYRA franchise deal if he could. Though he asserted that he wouldn't have picked NYRA, he conceded "that deal is basically done." But he of course gave no clue as to when we can expect a final settlement. When does that latest temporary extension expire?

The governor also indicated that he expects to have a decision on the Aqueduct racino by the end of the legislative session on June 23. That's in contradiction to the report in the AP that specifically named the racino decision as one likely to be put off until after the November elections. I'd really like to believe Paterson on this, but considering that the racino has been put off for one reason or another for years, I can't say that I'm very confident.

What I found particularly discouraging was that, in criticizing NYRA, Paterson spouted the usual script about NYRA's history of corruption and failure, as if straight out of a Capital Play TV ad. Without absolving NYRA of their fair share of the blame, it seemed to me like the kind of talk which indicates that, like his predecessor, the current governor has not shown any interest whatsoever in exploring the underlying problems that have plagued the industry in the state. Meet the new boss....

Many Republicans are now expressing feelings of deja vu as well, that in reaction to Paterson's unilateral directive to state agencies to provide the same rights to gay couples legally married in other venues as they do for heterosexual married couples. And three cheers from this corner for the governor in this case. Opponents are comparing the order to ex-Governor Spitzer's move to issue driver's licenses to illegal aliens in the way in which Paterson bypassed the legislative branch. Senator Bruno, an opponent of gay marriage, displayed restraint in the recent spirit of cooperation in Albany; but still said that the Senate will review the implications of Paterson's order and "if necessary, we will test it" legally. [NY Daily News]

A lawyer for the anti-gay marriage Alliance Defense Fund told the Times: “He’s trampling on the democratic process.” Don't you just love when people invoke democracy in the course of telling others how to live their lives? I could go on, but.....

....It's Friday! And it's like summer in the city this evening, with clear skies, balmy temperatures, and the summer-long River to River Festival, the most prominent of the annual downtown cultural series that have sprung from the ashes of 9/11, swinging into full gear. Tonight, at the South Street Seaport, it's the venerable British band Wire, who have only been around, on and off, for around 30 years now. And, it's free! So I'm off to meet the Head Chef for some outdoor rock and roll. Have yourself a great night!

Big Brown's Beginnings



(Thanks to reader Alex, of The ThoroughMetrics Blog. And yeah, that's worth a link, thanks!)

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The False Behind the Favorite

- Matt Hagerty reports in the Form that at least some of the IEAH investors are willing to cut Michael Iavarone a break despite the embarrassing revelations about his past originally reported by Bloomberg. I wouldn't be concerned either over violations committed when he was a 22 year old kid working in a sleazy penny stock firm that would eventually be shut down. And as long as he paid down those debts to Keeneland and the IRS, we can maybe chalk it up to his being sloppy or lazy. But what's up with telling the Times that he worked for Goldman Sachs? And how about that bio on their website which refers to him as a one-time high-profile investment banker on Wall Street when he worked exclusively at penny stock houses? That's the kind of dishonesty that would make me more queasy than his other rather minor transgressions.

Learning of his true background actually makes what he's accomplished seem that much more impressive to me, if in a somewhat perverse way. He must be quite the operator to have built up from a penny stock dealer to a man in his present position, heading up a multi-million dollar partnership, on the verge of winning a Triple Crown with his $50 million prize, and starting a hedge fund. Whatever the rough edges along the way, he certainly deserves fair credit for not only his financial acumen, but his horsemanship as well. He did after all pick out Big Brown after a maiden race on grass (and I really wish someone would post that race on You Tube so I could put it up here).

However, Iavarone certainly gave himself far too much credit when he told Joe Drape: "I guess what I’m most disappointed about is that this whole Triple Crown run has been turned into me first and the horse second.” I can assure him that that's not the case. This is all about the horse and the history of the past 30 years standing before him. Nobody really cares about this guy. It's just something to do between races, a little amusement. Just another guy with a history of misrepresenting himself - whether peddling questionable stocks, failing to live up to financial obligations (if temporarily), or portraying himself as something he has never been - getting a little comeuppance.

We have certainly seen human participants in the sport that were stories on their own, and this guy is not one of them. When those horses are on the track for the Belmont and the 108,573 in attendance start to buzz, nobody will be paying Michael Iavarone a single thought. And, with all due respect, I think that anyone who is (other than his mother), should probably find a different way to pass the time.

Belmont Notes

- Tale of the West transferred the front running form from her winning Keeneland debut to the Belmont feature on Thursday for Pletcher, his 5th winner of the meeting out of 28 runners. This three-year old daughter of Tale of the Cat showed impressive early speed in repulsing the speedy Loving Vindication, and cruised home after putting that one away in her first try against winners. Tale of the West is a half-sister to White Socks, second to the late Lost in the Fog in the 2005 Bay Shore, out of a graded stakes placed (in sprints) Gone West mare who's a 3/4 sister to Wouldn't We All, who won the 1999 Toboggan at seven furlongs for Kimmel; and to the dam of Dream Run, winner of the 7f Perryville, and the G2 Gulfstream Sprint Championship. So certainly a lot of speed here, and she looks like a filly to watch.

A nightmare trip for El Bandido Rojo in the third. He stumbled badly at the start, and then was severely checked right out of the race when trying to make progress on the rail nearing the turn. Deserves another shot. Pletcher's colt was the 9-5 favorite in the race, but couldn't hold off Yes It's The Truth, for David Jacobson. This horse got beat this level at 8-5 in his last, and paid $15.60 today. Jacobson has six winners, six seconds and two thirds from 19 starters at Belmont thus far, following up a successful meeting at the Big A.

Two more winners for Dutrow, 39-10-8-3 on the meeting.

Belmont Thursday

- In the third, El Bandido Rojo (8-1) takes a drop in class for trainer Bruce Brown. This gelding improved to a career high 92 Beyer when switched to this barn two races back, just missing at this same level behind Acclimate, also in today's race. He was then moved way up in class, and may have bounced when he faded to 7th behind Starforaday, the latest Contessa miracle who subsequently won the G3 Maryland Sprint at Pimlico on Preakness day. Sharp workout for this race contrasts with the lethargic one before that last effort, and he picks up Prado, who won on Rap Tale for this trainer last week. Hesogoodwithmoney (5-2) is the logical choice off the layoff for Pletcher. What's up with the Toddster here these days? His Belmont record of 26-4-1-5 is the stuff of mere mortals. This colt returns to the same level at which he wired the field in his last effort, on the inner track in February, and gets Johnny V. He may have some speed to contend with early though, and his two efforts over this track have been disappointing ones. Tough to leave this one out entirely however if you're playing the Pick Four here.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Panty Raid

- Panty Raid was retired today with an injury described by owner John Greathouse as not career-ending.

“By the time we would have been able to get her back to the races it might have been this fall....She was already home.” [Bloodhorse]
Truth is that her last two races were disappointing (as the even money favorite each time), particularly her comeback effort, a lethargic 7th at Churchill last month. I'd guess that they'd have brought her back if they thought it was worthwhile. It's funny looking back at her past performances and realizing that her win in the G1 American Oaks, in which she defeated older horses as a three-year old last fall, was her only career race on the grass. She did run on the Keeneland Poly, where she picked up her second G1 win in the Spinster. But she regressed in her subsequent two starts leading up to her retirement.

Panty Raid is by Include (Broad Brush), out of a mare by Private Account (Damascus); she's totally free of Mr. Prospector, and has just one instance of Northern Dancer - that in the 6th generation. So her owners would certainly seem to have a lot of options (she will not be bred this year). I was fooling around with the Hypo Mating feature on Pedigree Query, which is part of their paid features, and I liked the combo with Any Given Saturday (Distorted Humor). The resulting foal would be inbred 4x4 to Seattle Slew, and have linebreeding to influential sires like Ribot, War Admiral, Princequillo, and the like. But when I went to the Stallion Register and generated the free True Nicks report (featured for many stallions; just plug in the mare and get a free pdf report), the combination got a D. I'm assuming that doesn't stand for Dandy.

Equine Insurers Yet To Adapt

- Thanks to reader onecalicocat for sending along this article regarding racehorse insurance from yesterday's Wall Street Journal. Horse insurance agent Ron Kirk, who is involved in still-ongoing negotiations to insure Big Brown for $50 million, discusses the concept of insurers increasing premiums for bloodlines deemed to be more fragile than others; an idea which has yet to take hold.

Mr. Kirk said his firm will, on occasion, charge owners an additional premium -- roughly about half a percentage point of the horse's value -- to guarantee a certain fertility rate for horses whose parents and grandparents have experienced breeding problems. But he said the industry hasn't reached any consensus on how coverage rates for active racehorses should be affected by injury problems in a particular equine family. Any policy written without considering a horse's pedigree is incomplete, he argued.
.....
Mr. Kirk said that until the entire insurance industry agrees that certain individual bloodlines are more likely to produce unsound horses, there probably won't be any change in premium rates.

For most horses, an insurer will write the coverage based on a veterinarian's certificate showing that the animal is healthy, according to Joe Nicholson, an insurance agent in Lexington. "We don't refer to pedigree to see any propensity for breakdown or anything like that," he said. [Wall St Journal]
Kirk added that the pending insurance deal for Big Brown is "being underwritten by nearly a dozen different carriers."

If there's a likely candidate for an "inherent fragility premium" (I just made that up), it might be Native Dancer, the focus of recent talk about the breed, as described today by Jeff Scott in the Saratogian.
If Native Dancer and his primary heirs were proven to be a source of unsoundness, it would be bad news for racing since “The Gray Ghost” is the most important pillar of the commercial breeding industry. The industry’s two main “brands” (Mr. Prospector and Northern Dancer) both descend from the 1953 dual-Classic winner. Mr. Prospector, himself not very sound, was a grandson of Native Dancer through the unsound Raise a Native. Northern Dancer’s dam, Natalma, was a daughter of Native Dancer.

Even worse news is the fact that Native Dancer’s genetic influence is only going to increase. Of the 82 young stallions (15 years and younger) with stud fees of $20,000 or more — a group virtually certain to play a major role in shaping the future of the breed — 80 have Native Dancer in their pedigree. Sixty-five have more than one strain, the vast majority through Mr. Prospector and Northern Dancer. In all, 26 percent of the great-grandparents of these 82 young stallions trace back to Native Dancer. [The Saratogian]
Big Brown himself is inbred 3x3 to Northern Dancer; in fact, both his sire, Boundary (Danzig), and his dam, Mien (Nureyev) are grandchildren of that sire. He has no Mr. Prospector. As I've mentioned many times, he also has inbreeding to two sires of sturdier makeups - Damascus and Round Table. Hopefully, that will be enough to help get him through the end of the year unscathed.

Casino Drive

- Casino Drive had a semi-workout this morning, and officially received the services of Edgar Prado. Some people have asked me why I'm rooting against him in the Belmont; to the person who suggested that it's 'nationalism,' I can assure you that's not the case. It's just the way I feel, probably stemming from a desire to hold on to the little orderliness that might be left on the Triple Crown Trail. I'd always held hard and fast to all of the "rules," but have seen them slip away one by one. Barbaro winning off five weeks rest; Street Sense with two preps; Big Brown with three career starts. In that sense, Giacomo is probably the most logical Derby winner I've seen since I started writing this blog! A win by Casino Drive would just blow apart any sense of systemization that might still remain, and I guess I just don't want to see it go.

Besides, I think he's going to run out of the exacta. This can be your Say No To Casino (Drive) headquarters right here.

UPDATE:

Casino Drive's first race. And so what if he won in ridiculously easy fashion! He wasn't even running in the right direction! :-/

New Gov No Fan of NYRA

- Capitol Confidential reports that Governor Paterson expressed quite a bit of displeasure at former Governor Spitzer's deal to renew NYRA's franchise for 25 years.

“I don’t see how the state won in this particular exchange,” he just said during an interview on Talk-1300 AM radio.

“If we made an agreement then we have to keep it,” he added.

“What are the parameters with which I could challenge this because if I could I would,” he said.
Those words must send shivers up the spines of NYRA executives who are still trying to finalize the deal. However, I don't see what Paterson could do at this point.....unless anything further comes of the unsubstantiated report by the Post's Fred Dicker that Spitzer may have been blackmailed into the choice by someone familiar with his appetite for prostitutes.

Whatsmore, if this article by Michael Gormley of the AP is any indication, the decision on who will operate the racino at Aqueduct may be put off until after the November election! If that's the case, then NYRA can likely forget about seeing any racino revenue until 2010 at the earliest. The bitter gridlocks of the past seem to have given way to self-satisfied camaraderie which has lawmakers congratulating themselves on their newfound spirit of cooperation rather than actually getting anything done.
"Right now, it's sort of like a soft float out of here," said a member of the Senate's Republican majority.
.....
"This is not a rhythm, it's a slow dance to nowhere," said Barbara Bartoletti of the League of Women Voters. "There has not been enough going on that I felt the necessity for me being here every day."
.....
"Getting along well without accomplishing anything is called hanging out," scoffed Sen. Eric Schneiderman, a Bronx Democrat. [AP]
Doesn't bode well for the chances of NYRA finally getting that final agreement either, especially now that the Governor is on the record in questioning the deal.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Hunch Bets for Wednesday, May 28

Checkyourattitude 1st at Charles Town
Seek the Truth 10th at Philly Park
Scoot 8th at Delaware Park
Beat The Chalk 6th at Suffolk Downs
I M Speedy 5th at Charles Town
Turn Of The Screw 9th at Charles Town
Take Your Chances 4th at Delaware Park
Ready Aim Fire 5th at River Down
Peace For All 9th at Suffolk Downs

Monday, May 26, 2008

Belmont Today

- In the 9th today, Solid Strike (7-2) stretches out in distance for Contessa. He dropped this state-bred stakes-placed (on the dirt) gelding in for 35k off an eight month layoff in April. After that front-running grass win, in which he finished strongly with a final quarter of 23 3/5, Contessa moved him up to today's class. At 20-1, he led all the way through testing early fractions, and battled on grimly in a narrow loss to Mor Chances, an improving Linda Rice turfer. He earned a career and field high Beyer of 84. Since that race, Solid Strike shipped up to Saratoga, where he drilled a bullet half mile (of 21) on the training track. Whether that was a workout with a demonstrative purpose, or one which prompted a change of plans, he's an intriguing entry here despite a stretch-out in distance which would not appear to help his cause. Extra Zip starts just inside and looms the main early threat moving up in class off a pace-aided win. Channing Hill jumps off however for Grasberg, also moving up after he overcame a bad post to win at 4-5.

In the 4th, Rice has Barbara'sluckystar, a first time starter. I don't like making "official" picks of debut runners, as they're always dependent on the tote board check and the physical inspection at least if I'm there, as I will be today. This barn got off to a fine start at Belmont with a record of 15-4-1-2, and does well with first-time starters in these dashes - four for 12 here last year. Three of those were NY-breds, and this is a local son of More Than Ready, 15% with first-timers on the turf. She also comes off a work upstate, and could have a ahot in a race in which two of the main contenders, Justinline and Fiona Freud, have had ample chances to graduate.

Don't know who I like in the Met Mile, though it's likely not Commentator. And I actually won't even still be there for the race, as we're celebrating my daughter's 16th with a Memorial Day BBQ in the backyard. Never a rest for the Head Chef. I'm gonna do a lot to help though before I leave. Hope all of you are having a nice - and safe - holiday, and best of luck if you make it to the windows.

Cracked

- Ian McKinlay is Richard Dutrow's hoof guru, and arguably the most important man in racing right now as he seeks to make Big Brown's quarter crack go away in time for him to be ready for the Belmont.

McKinlay said he has dealt with far more serious foot troubles, and on the eve of major races. He treated Touch Gold for a badly torn hoof before he won the 1997 Belmont and aided River Keen before he took the 1999 Jockey Club Gold Cup. "River Keen was dead lame the day before the race and I fixed it up," he said. [Newsday]
He told the Form: "Unless I make some boneheaded move this will be a walk in the park." Sounds as if these two guys get along just fine, doesn't it? McKinlay has a website on which you can learn everything you need to know about quarter cracks, including a video (scroll down, bottom right) with a graphic demonstration of the treatment (on the harness horse Mr. Feelgood).

Dutrow tried to assure the press that he's not concerned; and in fact said that the horse would "kick butt" even if the race was today. But an observer at the press conference told me that he seemed most definitely concerned. We of course have no way to know how the horse feels, nor how that foot will be faring in that last quarter mile in which we've seen so many Triple Crown aspirations melt away. I think that keeping a close eye on Dutrow's demeanor may be as good a way as any to gauge the horse's true condition.

In the meantime, I'm thinking that it's time to start taking a look at the other contenders in search of any possible Birdstones in the field. For me, that does not include Casino Drive, who I wouldn't bet here under any circumstances, if only out of the principle that virtually unraced horses can't come here and beat the best three-year olds we have, as little as that might be saying in this particular year. I think it would make a mockery of the sport here, and personally, I'd rather see Richard Dutrow on the cover of Sports Illustrated as its Sportsman of the Year than to see that horse in the winners circle on June 7.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Belmont Notes

- Pastel Gal did it again, running second on Friday at 1-2 after doing so at 2-5 last month. And Blitzen Too indeed got the win for Clement, creating an exacta payoff of $54. However, Barclay Tagg turned the tables in the feature, when West of Gibraltar gave him his meet leading 10th winner. Applauded was 4th at 8-5 for Clement, continuing his desultory record here with horses 2-1 or less; now 0-8!

After a brief respite following his good 5th at 40-1 in the Carter, Not for Money dominated the third race, getting the seven furlongs in 1:20.70 for Edgar Prado and trainer Richard Dutrow.

No racing for me today or Sunday, as we're off for a brief sojourn upstate. But I'm looking forward to what's supposed to be a beautiful summer-like day for the Met Mile card on Monday. So good luck at the races today and tomorrow, and have a fun and safe weekend.

No Exceptions at Elitlopp

- Straying over to the harness side for a moment, on Sunday, some of the world's best trotters will compete in the prestigious Elitlopp in Stockholm, Sweden. The lone North American invitee is Enough Talk, a five year old representing his native Canada, but who is stabled at the Meadowlands for trainer Peter Kleinhans, who purchased him privately for $250,000 in March. Subsequently, he set a world record of 1:52.2 for older trotters on a 5/8ths track. That makes him a World Champion in harness racing parlance, which I think is pretty cool.

Kleinhans has been posting on Andrew Cohen's First Over blog on Harnessracing.com, and I found this entry interesting for a couple of reasons:

The only thing I'm not happy about with him is his hind heels. He's got a bit of irritation there, which is not a problem right now but I'm trying to make sure it doesn't get worse, since I can't really treat it the way I normally would.

Horses sometimes have a tendency to develop cracks in their heels which often ooze or bleed slightly; sometimes this is a result of salts from the track, sometimes it is a result of minor, localized bacterial infections. They are not harmful to the horse in general, but they can become painful if not treated. My favorite treatment is an antibiotic salve called SSD; this combines silver nitrate, a great, soothing dryer-outer and calmer-downer, with an antibiotic.

Unfortunately, I am not allowed to use anything with any kind of antibiotic in it within 96 hours of the race, and I am now inside this window. I am working with my veterinarian, Brian MacNamara, and with local officials here to find a treatment that is both effective and that will not test positive or break any of the Elitlopp rules. I have to make 100% sure that even a seemingly-innocuous remedy is within the specific boundaries of pre-race treatment for this race. This is the kind of tightrope-walking that training often entails, and I want to make sure I handle it properly for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. As soon as the race is over, he'll be getting his SSD back and the problem will be resolved, but in the meantime the challenge is to keep his heels from flaring up and bothering him on Sunday. [First Over]
For one thing, I guess that's good to know if you're planning on wagering on the race, available as it is at outlets in New Jersey and Canada. More significantly, it's another example of the striking contrast between racing here and, it would seem, just about every other place in the world. Seems as if Kleinhans is in a tight spot over there, but the strict no-exceptions rules certainly levels the playing field and eliminates any misunderstandings over fine lines.

And also, I'd love to read more stuff like this from trainers of any breed. I know they're busy and work odd schedules, and most of them aren't lawyers as Kleinhans is. But certainly we can do better than that Rags to Riches blog, or the blabberings of Dutrow in the NY Post.

- The Elitlopp is a two-heat affair, and it's pretty funny to imagine any thoroughbreds running two races within hours of each other. I don't think Formulator carries any stats on that. Enought Talk will be driven by Luc Ouellette, and starts from the four post in his elimination heat. The first four finishers of each will run in the final.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Peace Breaks Out

- The NY Times reports today on the virtual love fest going on between Governor David Paterson and the Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno.

[Paterson] consults regularly with Mr. Bruno, whom Mr. Spitzer had stopped speaking to altogether, visiting his office to chat about legislation and talking on the telephone with him several times a week.

In doing so, Mr. Paterson has changed the tone in the capital from one of combat and animosity to one that is joshing and affectionate, a marked shift from Mr. Spitzer’s rough-and-tumble approach in trying to overhaul one of the nation’s most reform-resistant statehouses.

“We’re definitely at peace,” Mr. Paterson said in an interview, describing his warm relationship with Mr. Bruno.
Well shit, this is no fun. And though the truce may have contributed to a spate of Democratic-sponsored legislation making it through the Republican Senate, some Democrats are concerned that Paterson is taking his eye off the elections this fall (no pun intended). Whereas Spitzer participated aggressively in the Democrats' effort to take the Senate, one which has the GOP's advantage down to two seats, Paterson's involvement has been thus far restrained.
During a telephone interview, Mr. Paterson stressed that his priority is tackling the state’s problems. If the Republicans help him do that, he said, he could not in good conscience campaign for their ouster.

“I’m not going to antagonize the Republican majority by telling them we’re working together and then go out in the evenings and become so political that it becomes public and aggravates them,” he said. [NY Times]
This at a time when the sides are starting to line up in some of the swing districts that will be crucial to the outcome in November.

- Still no decision on the Aqueduct racino. We were talkin a couple of weeks ago about who's lobbying for who on the issue, and I found this note from a couple of weeks ago with more details:
A who’s who of communications people are representing the firms competing for the video lottery facility at Aqueduct, which will generate millions, possibly billions of dollars in future state revenue.

Darren Dopp, former Spitzer communications director, is representing Delaware North.

Bob Bellafiore, former Pataki press secretary, is doing communications for SL Green.

Communications consultant and political commentator Hank Sheinkopf is representing Capital Play. [Capitol Confidential]
Dopp works for Patricia Lynch, and I wonder what kind of reception he gets from Bruno considering that he was a point man in the Choppergate affair. Sheinkopf, a prominent Democrat consultant and former campaign adviser to President Clinton, worked for Capital Play during their franchise bid. Bellafiore was the PR guy for Empire when they turned nasty, issued their ridiculous press releases, and unleashed coordinated verbal attacks, including their labeling of Excelsior as "dog track operators." You remember how well that worked out. SL Green was part of that mess, yet they rewarded this guy with another gig. I must be in the wrong business.

Belmont Friday

- In the 5th today, Barclay Tagg has Pastel Gal, the 8-5 morning line favorite on the turf in the 5th. The Taggster is 23-9-5-2 for the meeting, some pretty impressive numbers. This filly, by Lemon Drop Kid out of a Theatrical mare, got beat at 2-5 in her last, running second and beating several others in this field. I'm not totally sold on her as the chalk here either; she's never actually won on the grass in her four tries on it. So I'll have a look at the exacta box with Blitzen Too(10-1), for Christophe Clement. The trainer broke out of an 0 for 16 start at Belmont which included seven at odds of 2-1 or less, ouch! Of course, when he finally won, it was with a 6-1 shot, March to Victory. You can't keep a good man down for too long, and Blitzen Too (Thunder Gulch) was a well-bet winner graduating on the grass in her last start, in November. Clement wins at a 22% rate with 180+ layoff horses.

In the 6th, Anxiety moves confidently up in class for trainer Frank Alexander, poised to break into the win column with a record of 8-0-2-3 at Belmont thus far. In her last, this daughter of Aptitude capped a winning rally from far back with a final quarter of 23 2/5; and that with Cornelio Velasquez wrapping her up in the final yards. Second place finisher House Quest won her next race by eight, and 4th place finisher Battingstar came back to win as well. Pace to set up her late run is a concern here however, and Sneaky Girl is an interesting entry from David Jacobson. He claimed her out of her last, a sharp six furlong sprint effort on the dirt, switches her to grass and engages Kent Desormeaux for the ride. She showed some good speed on this surface last year, and could get a big jump on this field.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Belmont Notes

- We're getting a steady diet of maiden claiming races on the grass at Belmont, both in open and state-bred company. In the last couple of days, I've seen a couple of horses with some pretty bad form in maiden specials drop and win, at odds that I'd expect to be higher. It seems to be quite a drastic drop in class. On Wednesday, the blazing hot Tom Bush took the finale with Imperial River, dropping from a state-bred maiden special in which he ran dead last virtually all the way around at 68-1. It was a virtually identical performance to his debut last winter, when he managed to beat one horse at 71-1. But here, he was 8-1 morning line, and paid $20. Bush is 17-6-1-2 at Belmont thus far.

Then, on Thursday, Baystreet Bully dropped into open maiden claimers for trainer Leroy Jolley. He had one third to show from eight career starts (two on grass), beaten a total of 76 lengths. This three-year old son of Red Bullet, purchased as a two-year old in training for $115,000, was now going first time for a tag, for 45K. He did show a little life his last grass try, so maybe that's why he was a modest 11-1 with Sameeen on the Greeen. Baystreet Bully was checked along the inside on the turn, swung wide for the drive, bore in when he switched back to his left lead midstretch, got bumped and pushed out pretty solidly by second place finisher Veritable - there could have been a DQ here - and then held that one off for the win. Pretty amazing performance for a horse who'd hadn't previously shown much life at all in the stretch.

Edgar Prado and Richard Dutrow combined to take the 6th, though I don't know if Prado has earned back the 'babe' designation. Sayitisn'tso Joe was making his debut in a 35K maiden claimer. It may be worth noting that Dutrow is doing pretty well with these; it's his third debut winner in a maiden claimer (and a 4th was DQ'd to 2nd) out of 12 such runners this year. He'd had only three in 27 starts over the past five years.

And trainer Bruce Brown added a second winner on the day in addition to Rap Tale, and it was also off a claim. He took the 8th when Sly ($21.80) dominated the field after moving way up in class from restricted claimers. Brown is a former assistant to Timothy Hills who is now 12 for 52 (23%) since starting out on his own this year, including three wins in six tries after the claim; so nice job there!

Odds and Ends

- I guess that Rap Tale can rate. The filly claimed by Kasey K - y'know, the one that I hinted that you shouldn't bet today - won the second at 9-1. Yeah, I didn't have her either... I never said that she can't win, just that the race was called to Bruce Brown's attention by the racing secretary trying to get a fill, and that two turns on the grass is the main objective, which it is. I was talking to Bob just this morning, and we agreed that we really had no idea how she would run. But she won easily, with the evil Edgar Prado wrapping her up in the final yards. There's a Virginia-bred stakes race on the turf at Colonial in July that is being pointed to down the road.

- Trouble for Penn National's deal to be purchased by two private equity firms. It certainly isn't the first highly leveraged buyout to run into problems given the credit crisis.

The buyers and their lenders, led by Deutsche Bank and Wachovia, are working to negotiate the final terms of the financing commitments, these people said. The banks appear to be balking at the originally agreed-upon lending terms at the same time that the buyers are considering ways to cut the deal’s price, these people said.
....
The Penn National deal had been identified by some analysts as a potential candidate for renegotiation. Since the deal was announced last June, Penn National’s stock price has remained consistently below the deal price of $67 a share. Shares in the company closed on Tuesday at $43.43. The deal includes a $200 million breakup fee if the buyers cannot get regulatory approval or financing. [NY Times]
In Illinois, the company's Hollywood Casino in Aurora has been fined a whopping $800,000 for sending promotional materials to "addicts."
The agency said the business failed to omit the names of gamblers who had asked to be banned from all state casinos when it sent promotional materials to nearly 16,000 people in January. It says 146 of those who received the mailing are enrolled in the gaming board’s self-exclusion program, which allows problem gamblers to cut off their access to all casinos in the state. [AP]
And if all this isn't bad enough, Carol Gordon left her ATM card in a machine at Penn National's Hollywood Casino at its flagship track in Pennsylvania!
Police said Gordon's card was used four times for various transactions at local businesses, totaling about $68.50.

As of Monday, no one had been arrested in connection with the theft, and the investigation continues, police said. [York Daily Record]
I'll be sure to keep you posted of any further developments.

Shut Up

- A big "shut up" to all those from the Big Brown camp - and from Riley Tucker's as well - who are complaining that Edgar Prado, riding the latter, went out of his way to box Big Brown in during the early stages of the Preakness.

"It looked like he was just trying to keep our horse [trapped] in a box," Dutrow said yesterday. "It didn't look like he was out to get the best finish out of his horse."

Big Brown owner Michael Iavarone made similar remarks to Newsday on Monday, saying, "I don't know what Edgar was doing. I think it was a suicide mission. And I don't think there's any place for that." [Newsday]
Prado took a peek inside after breaking from the ten post; perhaps seeing that there was not much going on (Tres Barrachos had stumbled coming out of the gate), he went for the lead. After yielding to Gayego, he did appear to hustle his mount when Big Brown inched up inside of him. I guess this is the point to which Dutrow and Iavarone are objecting. But I think it's a ridiculous accusation. Prado was riding to win, so why shouldn't he have tried to put the favorite in an unfavorable position? Besides, the field was pretty spread out at that point, and Desormeaux was merely briefly inconvenienced and in no danger at all.

Interestingly, Dutrow told Bloodhorse that he received a phone call from Riley Tucker’s owner, Ahmed Zayat, who told him he was upset by Prado’s ride. Zayat should shut up too. We already know that he's a crybaby. And he ran horses in the Derby and Preakness such as this one, Z Humor, and, arguably, Court Vision (not hindsight on my part; I always maintained that he was too slow), that were just not qualified. [Sorry, got my criticisms of Mott and Zayat confused. Z Fortune was the other Zayat horse] Besides, look at the past performances - Prado had ridden the horse three times prior, and did so aggressively each time.

And besides, does Dutrow really want to get into what is appropriate or not? Don't get me bellyaching here!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Living in the Past

- New post up at The Rail.

Pork For Horsemen, Peanuts for Bettors

- A couple of commenters referred to the $289 billion farm bill passed by Congress and awaiting a promised veto on the president's desk. It should be pointed out that the measure has broad bipartisan support, more than enough for an override in both Houses.

It also contains a provision favoring Thoroughbred racehorse owners; sarcastically labeled an "important project" by the liberal blog Think Progress. The provision is said to provide tax breaks worth $126 million over the next 10 years by providing that all racehorses are depreciated over three years for tax purposes, regardless of when the horses start training.

The current tax code doesn't reflect the entire length of a horse's racing life, according to a National Thoroughbred Racing Association analysis of Jockey Club racing data. [Lexington Herald Reader]
The clause was inserted at the behest of the Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republican from Kentucky, who said that horse racing's "economic impact extends well beyond the borders of the commonwealth." However, the provision is clearly intended to win favor back home and benefit the industry there. Earlier this year, Senator McConnell voted in favor, though reluctantly it seems, of a one year moratorium on pork barrel spending (he won $185 million in such projects for his state for 2008). The tax break may not technically fall under that category....but you know, if it smells like pork, it must be bacon....or something like that.

Both Senators Obama and Clinton are in favor of the bill, but Senator McCain supports the president's veto.

- Following up on the detailed Hong Kong race report in the previous post (definitely worth checking out), here's a couple of horses running at Belmont today on which the public could certainly use more information to make an informed decision. In the third, Wonforthegoodguys was vanned off the track on March 21, and then returned to the races on May 10. But why exactly was he pulled up and vanned off the track? Bettors had no idea, so they let him go off at 20-1, even though he was 7-2 in the aborted effort; and he ran second. I'm sure a lot of exacta bettors were cursing after that one. You gotta love, though, the move up in class today for trainer David Jacobson, who spots them where they can win, and is off to a fine start at Belmont with a record of 14-4-5-1. Red Hot Dawn is an IEAH horse who hasn't yet paid off like Big Brown. He drops in claiming price, though up in conditions, after winning at 4-5 last time out; your move. Civil Suit drops far more sharply for Contessa; your call again.

In the 7th, Go Michelle goes first off the claim for Contessa. She had won under similar circumstances for Dutrow, for a 35K tag two races back. But she then appeared for a tag of 25K, dropping sharply off the win, and proceeded to run 4th at odds of 1-2. Why did she take such a drop off an easy win with a career high Beyer? What was the explanation for such a poor performance as the prohibitive favorite? Your guess is as good as mine. Now, Contessa drops her further, in for 16K! WTF!? You can bet this horse as the favorite if you'd like and congrats if you win; but Wildbutable and Mt Langfuhr (Gomez with a rare ride for Joe Imperio) look like more legit dropdowns to me.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

More Information Please

- My pick on Sunday, Gift of Giving, faded to 4th at 6.90-to-1 after leading to the eighth pole. I have an excuse that even that guy who has been hassling me for handicapping can certainly understand - Mr. B and the other guy on TVG both picked her, OK? And, though I think you'll agree that this blog is relatively free of jockey-blaming, I don't like when the rider still has the horse wrapped up after leading to the three quarters in 1:16.99, thus allowing the main contenders to get close and gather momentum instead of trying to bottom them out.

Here's some LATG stable news (is it OK for me to write about that?): Bill Turner is looking for a spot for Just Zip It. She's out of state-bred allowance conditions now, so she'll have to try an open company entry level allowance, or a state-bred stakes. Her Beyers have just not progressed the way she has in terms of class and raw time; in fact, they've gone backwards. She only got a 72 for her last win despite lowering her six furlong career mark by a full second to 1:09 4/5.

Turner and managing partner Steve Zorn were looking at a state-bred turf stakes on June 5. However, Turner has decided that he doesn't want to run her on grass; that she doesn't have a "big, flat turf foot." But they may nominate her anyway and hope for rain, and a resulting soft field. Otherwise, they'll try the open allowance. Whatever she does, she'll have to improve on those figs. But she likes to run and win, so it will be interesting to see how she does moving up the class ladder.

On the Kasey K side, lost in the excitement of the Preakness and a busy family-oriented weekend was the win by Mr. W.B. at Philly Park on Sunday. Honestly, I didn't expect him to win; I was figuring instead that Foolish Bid, who also ran on the card, would be the one. However, as the even money favorite, Foolish Bid made a big four wide move on the turn and actually had a clear lead between calls before fading to 4th. Mr. W.B. was running for a 10K tag, and earned 60% of the $16,000 purse.

Rap Tale, the beautifully bred filly that Bob claimed from Pletcher after surviving a five way shake that included Steve Asmussen, is going to run in a seven furlong starter allowance on Thursday. The racing office approached trainer Bruce Brown, trying to round up horses for the race, which carries a $48,000 purse! It's for horses who have run for 50K or less and non-winners other than. It's not what they have in mind for the filly - turf at two turns is the goal. But they've entered her anyway. They figure that they have a shot to pick up at least a piece of the rich purse, and also see if she can rate, since she doesn't figure to be able to keep pace early in this field. So, this spot is not her ultimate goal. There's some info for you; don't say I didn't tell you so!

One could argue that it's apparent from reading between the past performance lines that Bob has other intentions for this filly. However, it's certainly true that handicappers in this country don't get nearly as much info as we should. You gotta check this out if you've never seen these - this is a Race Report posted on the website of the Hong Kong Jockey Club:

BROTHERS IN ARMS was withdrawn on 16.5.08 by order of the Stewards acting on veterinary advice (coughing) and was replaced by Standby Declared Starter REDHILL COMMANDER (Z Purton). Before being allowed to race again, BROTHERS IN ARMS will be subjected to an official veterinary examination. While being saddled, it was noted ALL FOR ONE had shifted its right front plate. This plate was reset. The horse was examined by the Veterinary Surgeon who said in his opinion it was suitable to race. On jumping, VIENTO blundered. LUCKY TYCOON, which was standing badly, began awkwardly and lost ground. JADE DANCER, which was standing with its head turned to the left, began awkwardly, shifted out and bumped CALIFORNIA HEART. As a consequence, both horses became unbalanced. MAGI JOY and WIKI WIKI were slow into stride. Shortly after the start, REDHILL COMMANDER, which was being taken back from a wide barrier, became unbalanced when crowded for room between ALL FOR ONE and JADE DANCER which shifted in. After the 600 Metres, GOOD TRIO was carried wider by MAGI JOY which shifted out. After this, GOOD TRIO raced without cover. At the 500 Metres, PRIMIATA, which was being ridden along to maintain its position, became unbalanced when awkwardly placed between VIENTO and FANTASTIC TIME. Throughout the race, FANTASTIC TIME travelled wide and without cover and in the Straight gave ground. When questioned regarding the poor performance of JADE DANCER, M Du Plessis said from a wide barrier he had to make some use of the horse in the early stages to obtain the lead. He said after obtaining the lead near the 900 Metres JADE DANCER then relaxed well and travelled comfortably, however, when placed under pressure in the Straight did not respond to his riding. He said he was not able to offer any explanation for the poor performance. JADE DANCER was sent for an official veterinary inspection. A veterinary inspection of JADE DANCER after the race did not show any significant findings. After the race, G Moss� expressed concern over the action of GOOD TRIO. GOOD TRIO was examined by the Veterinary Officer who said the horse was lame in the right front leg. Before being allowed to race again, GOOD TRIO will be subjected to an official veterinary examination. THATçݏ IT and LUCKY TYCOON were sent for sampling. Following the race, the Veterinary Officer reported PRIMIATA had lost its right front plate.
Can you believe that? That'll be the day for sure when we hear a rider's explanation (or lack thereof) for a poor performance before the horse is shipped off to the vet! More of the charts can be found here; they are really a revelation to see.

Bloggers Getting Blue in the Face

- Thanks for all the comments on the last post, especially since you mostly agreed with me. I believe it to be an LATG record. In a little less than two days, I accumulated as many comments as Atrios gets in about two minutes. But I guess it's progress nonetheless.

Governor Paterson is in the hospital today; he checked himself in with a severe migraine this morning. He later received a diagnosis of acute glaucoma in his left eye. As you may know, Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno is next in line of succession, and I'm not being macabre in bringing that up. Bruno technically becomes the governor if Paterson became temporarily incapacitated, or even if he merely leaves the state. An article in the NY Sun last week reported that that's not merely a technicality.

"Essentially he would have the powers of the governor," the deputy director of the Rockefeller Institute, Robert Ward, said of Mr. Bruno's status should Mr. Paterson leave town. His powers would include issuing executive orders, hiring and firing staff, approving expenditures that have been appropriated but not yet spent, issuing pardons, and calling in the National Guard, among others. Mr. Bruno could even sign legislation the governor had planned to veto, were it to reach his desk.

"He could try to appoint judges and have them confirmed by the Senate," a former parks commissioner and director of New York Civic, Henry Stern, said of Mr. Bruno. "Paterson should definitely not visit Australia or New Zealand, let's put it that way."

While most of these moves would be reversible, some — such as a judicial appointment or the spending of state funds — would not.
I wonder if awarding the Aqueduct racino would be reversible; or if reversing NYRA's franchise would be! Bruno wished Paterson the best, and added: “The smart thing to do is to get checked out." I'll say!! I can only imagine what Bruno would have wished upon Spitzer if the ex-Gov had checked in for a bruised penis or something like that.

As you probably know, Paterson is legally blind, and, if a court ruling issued today holds up, he won't have a problem distinguishing between various denominations of paper money for too much longer. The Treasury Department has fought the case, claiming that blind people have adapted, pointing out, for example, that some relied on store clerks to help them. I wonder how that would work out if he asked a ticket seller at Belmont to help him out....

- I read this article in the Times today about John McCain's effort to put his money where his mouth is, and clear his staff of lobbyists.
Mr. McCain’s political identity has long been defined by his calls for reducing the influence of special interests in Washington. But as he heads toward the general election as the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, he has increasingly confronted criticism that his campaign staff is stocked with people who have made their living as lobbyists or in similar jobs, leaving his credentials as a reformer open to attack.
And I can assure you with a fair amount of confidence that Senator McCain would not be undergoing this effort if not for the fuss raised by the liberal blogosphere, given the free pass that he regularly gets from the mainstream press.

Unfortunately, despite the proliferation of thoroughbred racing blogs, I can't say that us bloggers have nearly the same influence even in our relatively microscopic world. It still seems to me that the racing establishment, with exceptions of course, still just does not take bloggers seriously; and, in fact, still doesn't understand exactly what a blog is, as John so hilariously pointed out last week.

When I say "bloggers," I'm really talking about the independent ones that you'll find, say, in the TBA. Mainstream writers such as Moran have been whining for years and nobody has listened, so why should they now just because they're writing editorial columns disguised as blogs?

But they, the rest of us here, and you readers and commenters, have been ranting, raving, and bellyaching (sorry) for the last couple of weeks post-Eight Belles about what's wrong and what we think should be done. But do you really get a sense that there are serious steps being contemplated, and that all of our voices are being heard? A couple of roundtables on TV, a single blog post by Alex Waldrop, and some new task force doesn't quite do the job. I feel that we're still at least one more highly visible tragedy away from the industry going - 'Whoa' - calling a timeout, canceling all racing around the country for a couple of days to convene a serious meeting of the minds - seriously!! - and taking immediate steps, even if they're largely cosmetic like imposing strict rules on whipping, to show the public and its fans that it's really intent on change. Until then, there's far too much money involved for too many people to change their entrenched ways.

- One more note about the McCain article; it reports that one of McCain's lobbyist staff members helped set up a meeting in Switzerland in 2006 between the distinguished Senator from Arizona and a Russian businessman, who has been barred from entering this country, apparently because of accusations about past ties to organized crime in Russia. That businessman is none other than Oleg Deripaska, the 9th richest man in the world, and Frank Stronach's new dance partner in Magna International (the car company, the Magna that actually makes money.) What the hell was McCain doing meeting with this guy, I might ask? Maybe I should write Atrios about that; then the question could be posed by someone to whom people actually pay attention.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Bedbugs and Ballyhoo, Big Brown and Bellyaching

- Pursuant to the last post, and the discussion that follows (including what I believe to be the all-time longest comment in LATG history), I characterized any continued discussion of Dutrow's, and by extension, Big Brown's worthiness in the next three weeks leading up to the Belmont, as "bellyaching," which drew a couple of negative reviews. True, I could have used another word, but I stand by that one and here's why.

I think that we've had a more than thorough discussion of Dutrow's history of suspensions, both leading up to the Derby, and, partly in the context of the Eight Belles breakdown, between races too. I've blasted him here, and on The Rail too (#3), maybe even more for his frivolous attitude towards his suspensions, and the ban he got for brazenly violating the terms of one of them. He also cheerfully admitted to violating suspensions routinely in an interview before the Derby. I think he's a cheater, and it will take a few years of a clean record before I consider the possibility that he's reformed, as he said. Of course, I'd rather that a guy like Michael Matz was Big Brown's trainer.

But at this point, Dutrow's horse, Big Brown, is on the precipice of a historic achievement. He's a really good horse, maybe even a great one. Yes, the competition has been sketchy - I mean, if Big Brown only got a 100 Beyer given how little he really had to exert himself (Gary Stevens likened it to a quarter horse race) - imagine how slow the rest of them are. But I think his two Triple Crown wins have been breathtaking - the Derby for the sheer revelation of his being able to rate and run professionally down the stretch, the Preakness for its sheer ease, and both for the incredible acceleration he displayed when asked by Desormeaux to go (as highlighted by the overhead blimp shots on NBC).

So for me, the story going into the Belmont is the horse. And, I'm finding the continued growling about Dutrow, at this point in time, getting rather shrill. That's not to say that any such discussion that continues despite what I think isn't valid and constructive. But to me, it's just sounding like....well, bellyaching. The horse is the horse, and we have no evidence that he's running on illegal medication. In fact, given the extra scrutiny for these races, and Dutrow's two wins in Dubai where the horses are all closely monitored and tested (ask the owners of Brass Hat), I'm assuming he's not.

As far as the steroids go, in my opinion, that's not a valid discussion with regard to this particular situation, but rather one for the industry as a whole. If the medication is legal, than it's legal. On Friday, ESPN, on their crawl during their telecast, repeated the news of the NY Daily News report that Dutrow was giving Winstrol to his horses every month. But like a lot of stats we see on that network and others, it was presented without context, and is therefore without meaning to me. Was Big Brown the only horse in the Derby running on a steroid? Is he the only triple crown race winner that had been receiving it? I tend to doubt that. Allen Jerkens told Bill Finley last year: "Sure, I use them occasionally. It helps build up muscle and it helps when a horse hasn’t been eating well.” Whenever Jerkens has a horse in a big race, all we hear about (ad nauseum at this point) is why he's a giant killer, never about steroids.

So, I won't be writing about Dutrow's history between now and the Belmont. I'm sure there are some TBA bloggers who disagree - here's one, to start - and, with all the new mainstream media types that will be gravitated towards the Belmont, I'm sure we'll be hearing and reading plenty. So, if you're interested, they'll be plenty of that to read. But I'm done with the discussion, at least until otherwise warranted. We have a possible Triple Crown winner, coming just as many were starting to ponder that the nature of racing in the 21st century may preclude it from ever happening again. So I'm going to concentrate on the horse.

- Bedbugs and Ballyhoo

Sunday Morning Notes - May 18

- Well, it's the morning after and all good this time, unless you plan to spend the next three weeks bellyaching over the trainer and his various indiscretions rather than focusing on this phenomenal three-year old colt. I certainly had the right idea in trying to fill my tickets behind Big Brown with some longshot closers, but I just didn't like Macho Again at all. So I didn't have that particular longshot closer.

More on Big Brown's Preakness (or should we see, his Freakness) later, but have family obligations today, so here's a pick at Belmont today and then I gotta go. In the 5th, Gift of Giving (12-1) has shown some sneaky good form since getting onto the grass two starts ago. Last November in his turf debut, she made a fine middle move right up to the leaders before tiring behind repeat winner Queen of Protocol. It was nearly six months until her next start, at the Big A last month, first time Lasix. She was checked shortly after the start, was 2-3 wide on the first turn. After hanging back towards the back of the pack, she made a four wide move on the turn, bobbled slightly mid-stretch, but continued on with interest for 5th, beaten less than three lengths. She conceded ground and recency to a couple in this field who passed her late, but could fare better here at a fair price, with an advantageous post, and the race under her belt.

Stormy Catch was one of those who caught her, just getting up for 4th, but she benefited from a ground saving trip and finds herself on the far outside with the starting gate close to the turn. Her trainer, David Donk, took the Dixie at Pimlico yesterday with Pays to Dream ($40.40), and man, I had that one all over my tickets.....except in the top spot. Wouldn't have killed me to place a saver exacta since runner-up Stay Close was my key horse! Argh!!

Gary Contessa is another NY trainer with a rare out-of-town graded stakes win over the weekend when he took the Black Eyed Susans with Sweet Vendetta. For both Donk and Contessa, it was their first such wins out of the state in the five years covered by Formulator. In fact, it was just the second overall for Donk during that time; the other was Fishy Advice in the Knickerbocker last fall.

Two of my Kasey K horses in action at Philly Park today - Foolish Bid is the 2-1 morning line favorite in the 6th; Mr. W.B. an outsider in the 9th.

Gotta go, speak to you later.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

And Furthermore...

- Funny that they were talking on ESPN before about how Dutrow likes to give his horses more time between races. A check of Formulator shows that, over the last five years, he's run horses 145 times with a week's race or less, with 33 winners (23%). Of those, 51 were running on three days rest or less (11 winners), and you may recall when he ran Golden Man on consecutive days in 2005.

Here's one lesson that I guess didn't get learned from the Derby. Track announcer Dave Rodman noted how fast the track seemed as Starforaday came within 2/5ths of the track record for six furlongs in the third.

Oh great....Goldberg is touting Racecar Rhapsody for second...

After four races, Bailey and Randy Moss are commenting on how fair the track seems. Bailey said that every part of the racetrack seems equally good.

Preakness Morning Notes

- Great line by Hank Goldberg, who, after describing his $120 worth of bets for the Pimlico Special, said: "That's a buck twenty. I'm a little short, but so is Hillary, and she puts her own money in." He won me over with that line. (To him, not to Hillary.) He didn't have the winner though, as Student Council rallied from very far back turning for home to catch the speedy Gottcha Gold, who pretty much had things his own way. You let that horse go 1:11 and change on any kind of racetrack and he's gonna be hard to track down. So quite an effort by the winner.

- Reader jk directed us to this fascinating piece on breeding issues by Bill Nack, who did a great piece during the ESPN broadcast yesterday. I'm sure they'll repeat it today since they're on from 11 until 5 between the two networks. It was one of those 'the Preakness gets no respect' things, and he highlighted three editions which are truly classics. He called Secretariat's move on the first turn the "single greatest moment in Preakness history," noting that he went from last to first in 300 yards. Next was the gripping stretch duel between Sunday Silence and Easy Goer, which I'd have to say is my favorite. He made an interesting observation I'd never heard before, showing a closeup of Pat Day shaking up the reigns one last time, and wondering if he grabbed too much, thus causing the horse's head to turn in towards Sunday Silence and perhaps costing him the race.

And the final one was the stumble by Afleet Alex in 2005. We certainly don't want to see anything like that happen today.

The sun has been out here, and I see that's the case in Baltimore too, so I'm handicapping for fast tracks all around, and getting out to Belmont for awhile myself. Best of luck and have a great day!

- New post up at The Rail.

Preakness By The Post

1) Macho Again (20-1 morning line) comes off a win in the Derby Trial at Churchill at 7 1/2 furlongs. He beat a bunch of sprinters who set him up with a fast pace. Trainer Dallas Stewart says the horse is doing fantastic, and I'm sure he is. But his two races around two turns have been disappointing ones, and they're sandwiched between four excellent tries around one. Very nice horse, look for him in shorter races later in the year.

2) Tres Borrachos (30-1) is a $7,000 sale yearling who has earned around $160,000, mostly by picking up minor shares. In fact, he's only won once. He's one California synthetic runner who seems to have moved up a bit on the dirt. He set the pace in the Arkansas Derby, in which he was eventually overtaken by Gayego, who should be second choice here. Excellently placed in the two hole, he could very well find himself in the lead should Desormeaux on Big Brown be content to track as he did in the Derby. If that's the case, jockey Tyler Baze might want to wear a target on his back. I don't see this one resisting the favorite, and he may be hard pressed to last for a minor share this time.

3) Icabad Crane (30-1) is a pretty nice looking colt with three wins in four starts, two of those against NY-breds, for trainer Graham Motion. He last won over the Pimlico track in the Frederico Tesio, where he held off a stubborn Mint Lane by a head; that one went on to run a no-threat second to the already God-like Casino Drive in the Peter Pan. Other than that (and perhaps even including him), it was a weak field, and this would be a significant step up even without Big Brown. His good late foot though and his familiarity with the track could perhaps land him a minor share at large odds.

4) Yankee Bravo (15-1) is a dead closer who won his first three starts, then stepped up in class for an OK third to Pyro (which doesn't sound so impressive now) in the Louisiana Derby. He last ran in the Santa Anita Derby, where he hung late despite saving all the ground both turns before swinging out towards the outside, said to be the better part of the Cushion Track that day. Seems a stretch to ship him cross country for this, but he seems like the type who could pick up a minor share when the first tier crumbles from the might of Big Brown.

5) Behindatthebar (10-1) was eligible for the Derby after he came from far back under a great ride by David Flores to win the Lexington on the Polytrack at Keeneland. Flores was able to save ground on the final turn and smoothly find a clear path in the stretch. He then had to straighten out the son of Forest Wildcat when he ducked in mid-stretch; but once doing so, they motored home to win by a going away length. Trainer Todd Pletcher elected to pass Churchill and get his preferred four weeks rest. Question here as to track surface, as his only out-of-the-money finish came on natural dirt; and his Lexington win was helped by a fast early pace. Still, he seems on the upswing for a dangerous barn, and certainly merits a spot on my tickets.

6) Racecar Rhapsody (30-1) has a nice pedigree (Tale of the Cat, out of a stakes-winning A.P. Indy mare), always tries, has run well on dirt, and comes off a career high speed figure, running 4th to the above horse in the Lexington, for trainer Ken McPeek. He’s also still eligible for entry-level allowances races. His past performance lines have a little bit of Giacomo to them, in that he always puts in a run; one of these days, a race will fall apart enough for him to win. Not here. But perhaps a spot in the exotics at a big price.

7) Big Brown (1-2) - I'm not a Sheets guy, but I respect their opinions, and when both Ragozin and Thoro-graph proclaim that Big Brown's Derby was one of the fastest of all time, I think it's worth noting. His Beyer was 109, good but not exceptional; but remember that it doesn't take his substantial ground loss, nor the headwind in the stretch, into account. They're all subjective numbers to be sure, and you can quibble to a certain extent. But I think it's clear that Big Brown ran a Derby of historic proportions, an incredible feat for a horse making his fourth start. Rick Dutrow's early concern over running him back in two weeks has given way to the familiar bravado, and I think that means something. I don't think he's the kind of guy who hides his emotions. This field is weaker than that in the Derby. That may not be saying much, but I think it says Big Brown in a breeze.

8) Kentucky Bear (15-1) has been a buzz horse ever since he won his debut at Gulfstream by six lengths. In fact, there was so much buzz that he was nearly favored in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth, which was his next start. He ran up the track, but people still liked him in the Blue Grass, where he ran a close third. Trainer Reade Baker is brashly confident, saying "I’m positive I can win this race," and the drone remains incessant. Personally, I don't get it. I could be wrong of course, but he's a horse from the second betting tier that I'll leave out to try and create some value.

9) Stevil (30-1). True, he's improved since stretching out, and in graded stakes company too. And he didn't run too badly finishing 4th in the Blue Grass. But he's never even cracked the 90 mark with his Beyers, and seems unlikely to do so here.

10) Riley Tucker (30-1) - The owner/trainer team of Zayat Stables and Bill Mott have been a bit weird this Triple Crown season, pressing on to the Derby with the obviously unqualified Z Humor and the obviously unfast Court Vision. But actually, this colt's third place finish, just 1 1/2 lengths behind Behindatthebar, was not bad at all. He had to run fast early to stay within shouting distance of Baffert's speedy and game Samba Rooster, and still was able to hang in late to fall just short of that one for the place. However, Riley Tucker has not won in the six races since his debut victory. And since he likes to be close early, he's likely to encounter the favorite, which would not be to his advantage.

11) Giant Moon (30-1) is a NY-bred son of Giant's Causeway who won his first four races against mediocre company in New York. However, after a distant 9th in the sloppy track Gotham, he rebounded with a fairly close 4th in the Wood. This colt has some nice speed according to Randy Moss' pace figures in the Form; he ran particularly fast early in the Wood to keep within striking distance of War Pass. However, as I've said before, I won't on principle bet any of the horses coming out of that race as slow as they finished, even though Tale of Ekati ran decently in the Derby. I do expect him to challenge Tres Barrachos for the lead early, but I don't look for him to be around late.

12) Gayego (8-1) is the only horse from the Derby to come back to challenge Big Brown. This colt was coming off an excellent prep, using his fine tactical speed to win the Arkansas Derby with a 103 Beyer that put him in the very upper echelon in this middling-other-than-Big-Brown crop. But he got off to a sluggish start at Churchill, was caught in traffic early and did a steady fade after six furlongs. The excuses offered by the connections don't quite explain just how poor the effort was in my mind. This horse has done a lot of traveling, having gone back to California after the Derby and now back east. Good for his frequent flier miles, not so good for his chances. Neither is his outside post.

13) Hey Byrn (20-1) started his three-year old year off with a bang, with two lengthy allowance wins before being left in a Big Brown wake in the Florida Derby. He bounced back to win the Holy Bull, but that was a particularly weak stakes field - the second and third place horses were coming straight out of maiden wins. This horse likes to establish position a few lengths off the lead, so the 13 post will require that he be used early, and he's another who could find himself in the vicinity of the favorite early and, therefore, up the track late.

I'm going to use Big Brown over Racecar Rhapsody, Icabad Crane, Yankee Bravo; and perhaps sprinkle in a couple of others I'm scared of - Hey Byrn because Jerry Brown likes him, Giant Moon because Mister Ed does. But I'll leave out Gayego and Kentucky Bear, and try to get lucky with a decent price. Good luck!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Sloppy and Sealed

- The track is sloppy and the turf races are off at Pimlico today. It's supposed to be sunny tomorrow morning, and I'd guess that the track will be fast....certainly it should be for the Preakness. I'm listening out for any comments about the track by Jerry Bailey on ESPN. You may recall that he nailed it two Fridays ago, when he emphasized that the track would be very hard due to all the sealing taking place.

Like NBC, ESPN will have a "roundtable" discussion tomorrow; they're calling it a "frank discussion." They also said that Jerry Bailey will have some interesting things to say about use of the whip tomorrow, and I have no doubt that those remarks will be pretty fascinating. The roundtable participants will be Veterinarian Dr. Scott Palmer, NTRA President Alex Waldrop, Larry Jones, and Randy Moss. In an excerpt, Jones was asked if Eight Belles would still be with us if the track was synthetic. And though he pointed out that she stumbled and could have done so on either surface, he admitted that his experience is that horses are less likely to stumble on the synthetics while pulling up.

Bailey earlier said that all of the jockeys from the Preakness, "except Tyler Baze" will be contributing $7500 towards equine research. Sounds like Baze must have once tried to put Bailey over the railing.

They showed a replay of Big Brown's debut, his runaway on the grass at Saratoga in September. I went back into the archives, and this is what I wrote at the time:

If it looked like that 14-1 first-timer Big Brown was motoring down the stretch at Saratoga yesterday, that's because he was. After getting to the 3/4's in 1:11.84, he got the subsequent quarter in - get this - 22.62 seconds, and the final sixteenth, when Jeremy Rose finally stopped whipping him - in 5.87. As I mentioned yesterday, he has some interesting inbreeding for turf, and we'll certainly be interested in following him down the road.
(Funny, just as I'm writing this, Rose just got caught on MJ's Enchanteur by Termsofengagement in the Woodlawn.) I certainly wasn't thinking about him in terms of the Derby. I guess we'll never see him on the grass again, something they could have explored if he was a gelding and returned to race next year. The Arc could be fun, but I'm sure they won't do anything out of the ordinary with him. Do you think he'll race more than twice after the Belmont?

Notes - May 16

- Big Brown will once again run with front bandages.

[Dutrow] said he uses them to keep the horse from clipping himself on his right heel and causing what he says is a burn, or a blister.

"We should have used them in the Florida Derby," Dutrow said. "It's not a big deal." [Albany Times Union]
- Nick Kling boils Big Brown's now-delayed but still inevitable breeding deal down to the crude details:
I’d be willing to wager that when Big Brown’s lead shank is given over to his new handlers there will be no sentimentality in the trade-off, no tears of good-bye shed. I suspect it will be akin to what happens if you bought a tanker load of crude oil at $60 a barrel and were delivering it to a refinery at $120-plus. [Troy Record]
- Dr. Scot Waterman, the executive director of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, told the NY Daily News that Dutrow's monthly use of the steroid Winstrol would make Big Brown test positive in ten states in which the drug is allowed for therapeutic use only, in line with the RMTC's guidelines.
“If one of (Dutrow’s) horses were running in (those 10 states) with a dose on the 15th, he’d probably have a positive,” said Waterman. “That type of use is what moved us to begin the process we began a couple years ago. It’s not just (Dutrow). There was evidence that these products were being overused or abused.”
And by the way, don't ask Dutrow why he administers the drug to his horses on the 15th of each month. "You'd have to ask the vet what the purpose of that is....I don't know what it does. I just like using it." [Baltimore Sun] Sounds almost like he uses it himself.

- Another winner for trainer Randi Persaud at Belmont on Thursday when Wood Winner took the first; and the barn's Are We Dreamin was third in the third at 7-1. Persaud is an impressive 10-4-3-2 on the meet.

Kiaran McLaughlin took the first baby race of the NY season with Dream Play, a Hennessy filly who sold for $325,000 at Calder in February. She's a three-quarter sister to the Grade 1 winner Diplomat Lady. The Toddster had a 1-2 favorite in third place finisher Iberian Gate, who had run second on the Poly at Keeneland.

If the Breeders Cup Marathon is going to spur the carding of more mile and a half races like Thursday's 8th, then no thanks. It was 42 lengths back from winner Delosvientos to the last place horse in the five horse field.

Big Preakness [with update]

- - As I mentioned, I did a horse-by-horse analysis for another site, and will link over to that once it's up...unless they reject it! Basically, I picked Big Brown to win, Big Surprise there. It seems pretty clear to me that he ran a Derby of historic proportions, both in terms of overcoming his lack of seasoning (a phrase we may not hear much in Derbys to come), and, at least according to the Sheets guys, time as well. We can quibble over those numbers to a certain extent, and make our own mental adjustments to his Beyer to factor in the ground loss and wind. But any way you look at it, I think you'll likely agree that it was a phenomenal race.

I think that Dutrow's demeanor, which has progressed steadily from concern immediately following the Derby to brash confidence, is meaningful here, as he doesn't seem like the type of guy to keep his true emotions to himself. There's a lot of talk about Big Brown bouncing, or at least regressing, but, watching the Derby again, it doesn't present itself to me as a race that was all that taxing; he made it look rather easy. So maybe it was, for him. Against a field that's even weaker than that in the Derby, he may not regress much at all in my opinion, at least not visually. So I think he'll dominate as he should, and it would be quite a shocking development should he lose.

As far as betting the race, my thinking is that the first tier of horses on or near the lead - the ones that will be in direct contact with the favorite - are going to end up being far worse for the experience when they're coming home. So I'm looking for horses such as Behindatthebar (scratched, see below), Yankee Bravo, Racecar Rhapsody, and maybe even Icabad Crane, to show up late and pick up the pieces for the minor awards.

I don't get all the buzz about Kentucky Bear to be honest. Finishing behind Monba and Cowboy Cal doesn't seem so flattering now. And forget that 9 wide stuff from his running line - maybe he ended up there by the end, but he saved all ground on the first turn, and swung no more than 3-4 wide turning for home. He also had trouble switching leads in the stretch (as pointed out to me by Discreet Cat). I also don't really care for Gayego given all his cross country traveling, his bad post, and a very poor effort in the Derby that hasn't been explained away to my satisfaction. I figure that if I can successfully leave those two out (I think that they, along with Behindatthebar will be the 2nd to 4th choices), then maybe I can make a few bucks in the exotics, we'll see.

[UPDATE: Behindatthebar is out with a bruised foot. He was a tough one to handicap in this race in my opinion, since his only dirt race was his only disappointing one. He would have been far back early, so his being scratched won't change the way the race is run, except to give the outside horses some minor relief - they'll move in one stall.]

- I had to laugh at Bill Finley's column on ESPN.com yesterday (and not because the five horses he likes for the exotics - Macho Again, Tres Borrachos, Kentucky Bear, Riley Tucker, and Giant Moon - won't appear on my tickets). Finley has already moved on to the Belmont, which he says Big Brown will not win. And of course, he focuses on Casino Drive, writing: "Everything about him says that he will be ready to run the race of his life in the Belmont."

Race of his life?? He's only run twice! I'll have mixed feelings as to rooting for or against Big Brown should he have a chance at the Triple Crown three weeks hence. But I'll definitely be rooting against Casino Drive. His winning the Belmont would just make a mockery of this entire exercise! Even Big Brown's Derby win makes me wonder why we should spend time reading Haskin Derby columns in January anymore. What did the months of agonizing over every prep and quasi-prep end up doing for us? Not much of anything, I say. The Derby Trail was really more of a cul-de-sac this year. Whether that's just the product of a poor three-year old crop in this particular year, or the sign of things to come, I can't say. But why would any owner with a colt he or she thinks is supremely talented bother much with prep races after what we've seen this year, especially if Casino Drive wins?