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Sunday, June 29, 2008

Game Needs Some Snarl

- You might have read about, or saw snippets from, the snarly testimony by David Addington before a House subcommittee late last week. Addington, the current chief of staff and former legal counsel to Vice President Dick Cheney, practically growled and HISSSed at the Democrats who had the unmitigated gall to question him about his shadowy role in introducing and spreading the culture of the harsh treatment and torture of detainees from Guantanamo Bay to Iraq to Afghanistan, and beyond. Addington was thoroughly smug, arrogant, and disrespectful, not only to the Subcommittee members, but, in turn, to the people they represent, whose right to know about potential governmental violations of international law and human decency is part of the freedom that we're told our troops are fighting for over there.

The proceedings stood in stark contrast to the recent House subcommittee hearing, entitled “Breeding, Drugs, and Breakdowns: Killing Time Before the Elections.” Or something like that. For one thing, last week's hearings concerned a topic that we should all actually care about; as opposed to some convenient industry bashing prompted by a statistically rare fatality that happened to occur at the Derby.

And these latest hearings were, of course, completely lacking in the self-inspection, self-reflection and self-flagellation that we heard from some racing industry witnesses, and which we have been hearing and reading throughout the industry press and blogosphere for weeks now.

One thing we all seem to agree on is the need for a strong leader - a "commissioner of racing." And whaddya know, Addington figures to be out of work before long. (And I say that even acknowledging the unlikely [he says with a mixture of hope and desperation] possibility that Senator McCain will win in November. The senior Senator from Arizona isn't nearly as conservative as he's presently tryi ng to make himself out to be, and I have little doubt he'd quickly dispatch creeps like this guy.)

I think it might be good for the industry to display a little snarl instead of the current passivity. "Mind your own business; we're dealing with it," Unitary Commissioner David Addington might have scolded Rep. Whitfield. "Besides what are you going to do? Open the Interstate Horseracing Act? Ha! Do that, and you'll all be wondering where a lot of your special interest money went. And what are you going to tell your constituents back home who you'd be threatening to put out of business? And the parents whose school aid depends on revenue from racing and simulcasting? Yeah, go ahead. Interstate Horseracing Act my hairy ass! Do you have any other questions?"

To his credit, NTRA President Alex Waldrop issued a vigorous statement himself, though without the rude reference to his rear quarters. He decried the notion of governmental involvement, while "nearly shouting" according to Ray Paulick's surprisingly engaging live account.

Whether Waldrop is the guy to unify the industry remains to be seen. But for now, all this brooding and moping is just unbecoming for true degenerates like us. Horse racing is what it is. It's a game, one with millions at stake for everyone involved. As such, and, on this continent, true to its very American roots, it has its ample rough'n'tumble side along with measurable doses of seediness, sleaziness, and cheaters. Whatsmore, a great deal is asked of the horses, and a small number of them get hurt or killed. Didn't you know all that when you signed up? Is there any difference between this and the securities markets? Or the NBA or the NFL?

Surely, it hasn't been a great month for the sport. But I don't see anything so horrible going on here. A couple of drug positives for prominent trainers - yeah, what else is new? A jockey whipped his horse wrong and got immediately suspended; so, people don't screw up? The handicap division is weak because horses retire early? That sucks. Guess I'll have to bet on the 99,000 other races instead. And the sport therefore can't attract new fans? That's unfortunate; but it's mostly their loss (though I'd love to have their money in the pools).

If this attitude makes me guilty in your eyes of not taking this all seriously enough, then so be it. There's enough stress and heartache in the world, this is supposed to be fun. To be sure, part of that enjoyment is thinking about the issues the industry faces, forming opinions, debating them with friends and in chat rooms and blogs, doing what one can to be heard. But obsessing over them at the expense of appreciating every chance one gets to contest this irresistible game isn't fun at all. And it ain't fun reading and hearing about it over and over either. So please cut it out already. HISSSSS!

Belmont Notes

- Pletcher has been close to a total non-entity at Belmont thus far. He has two ungraded stakes among his seven winners (in 47 starts); three others came in restricted claiming races. The barn had a particularly awful weekend at Belmont, with three heavily bet runners finishing out of the money in stakes. On Saturday, AP Arrow was an unbelievable 6-5 in the Suburban, and couldn't have been less of a factor if he just stayed in the barn.

On Sunday, Mr. Mistoffeles was .35-to-1 in the Tremont Stakes off his un-Beyer rated 4 1/2 furlong maiden romp over the Poly at Keeneland....oh man. Who exactly are the "they" in "they bet him to 3-10? He even attracted some bridgejumper money judging from the show payoffs after he finished in last, some 20 lengths back. He took a pretty bad stumble at the start, though not in the Proud Spell category. Dagnabit, a NY-bred by Freud, gave Dutrow another stakes winner on the weekend.

The bettors got a bit wiser for the Astoria, in which Pletcher's Pride was the 7-5 morning line favorite; like Mr. Mistoffeles, she was coming off a maiden win at Keeneland. She ended up as the 1.95-to-1 second choice to 1.85-to-1 favorite, and runaway winner, Bold Union; and finished 4th. She stumbled too; twice in fact, or so it appeared from viewing the head on. A terrible trio for the Toddster indeed.

- There was a lot of talk about how weak the two Grade 1 stakes at Belmont on Satuday were. And they were. The Mother Goose fell victim to unfortunate circumstances, and we were quite possibly deprived of a ding-dong finish (if not an impressive win by Proud Spell). The fact that AP Arrow was 6-5 tells you all you need to know about the G1 Suburban; though it at least had an exciting finish.

And in fact, exciting finishes were the order of the day, and there were some really good betting races too. So it wasn't a bad day at all. Maybe Handride should have come after all; then maybe he really would have bet Frost Giant! (Sorry man...)

The first four races were won by three noses and I Lost My Choo's head; Hi Daddy could not possibly have lost the second by any less without it being a dead heat. The 10th was another nose job, and every race on the day, other than the Mother Goose, was decided by 3/4's of a length or less. The fields were generally full enough if not overflowing, and, though there was a run of odds-on favorites early in the day, four of the races had favorites who were 5-2 or more. So, all in all, a pretty interesting day at the races despite all the pregame gloom and doom.

- I'm not exaggerating at all when I say that it's been at least 20 years since I've won a race via DQ. At least that long, maybe a few years longer. I can't remember the last time. Considering all the races I've bet over that time, isn't that statistically bizarre? I've been taken down, that's for sure.

So I thought my time had finally come in the 4th on Saturday. I had a cold exacta bet on Frankel's Good Request over favored Les Antiques. Not the kind of bet I'd generally make - a $16 will pay with a major money burner on top. However, he was coming out of an extremely key race, and besides, I've seen a couple of these seconditis types win lately. Eventually, they just find a field they're faster than.

Good Request showed why he doesn't win, getting outgamed by the favorite at the wire after poking his head in front on the inside. However, the stewards flashed the inquiry sign immediately following the finish. I really thought this was it. I didn't watch the stewards replays, as I'd gotten involved in some other race somewhere; but I figured I had a big shot. However, had I watched the head-on shots, I would have known that it wasn't to be. The winner drifted in and Good Request didn't have much room; but he had a fair shot. He just don't like to win. Les Antiques was another winner for Clement, his 14th of the meeting.

Kiaran McLaughlin had two winners on the weekend to break out of his 0-24; might pay to follow in the short run. Cobblestone Way was 12-1 in her debut in the slop and lost by 25 lengths. In the 6th on Sunday, he was 4-1 morning line for his first grass race, but went off at 9-5 and won by five. Hello?

I'llthinkofsumthin was another winner for Bruce Brown, taking Sunday's fifth; this barn has seven winners with 26 starters, and has quickly become a factor in the local claiming game.

Highland Cat looked home free midstretch in the 6th at Monmouth, but was edged out by a rival to whom he conceded a lot of ground on the turn. This is definitely one that got away - he's developed into a consistent and sturdy money earner for trainer Norman Pointer with two wins, three seconds, two thirds and a 4th in nine starts since the claim on New Year's Day.

She Found Her Way

- I'm pretty positive that there's a new chartcaller in place at Belmont. The trip comments have been far more expressive and descriptive of late. Check out the call on I Lost My Choo in Saturday's third, the state-bred Elmont Stakes:

I LOST MY CHOO was patiently handled along the inside, continued to bide her time under a good hold approaching the far turn, was forced to steady when caught in traffic midway on the turn, managed to slip off the rail, positioning herself between rivals, waited briefly behind a wall of horses in upper stretch, chose to swing outward at the three-sixteenths, quickly got into stride when given her cue, then finished with good energy down the outside of the course to get up in the final jump.
Whew, got that? Talk about anthropomorphism, sounds like this filly is about ready to write a dissertation on how to negotiate urban traffic patterns during rush hour. Despite all the verbiage though, you still have to see the replay to appreciate just how good this daughter of Western Expression was; when she chose to swing outward at the three-sixteenths, she trailed the other six horses in the field. She came flying home and bested a stubborn Blitzen Too (another sharp runner for Clement) with a determined late surge in the final jumps for trainer Phil Serpe. Great race, and the most impressive performance on the day by a three-year old filly in my opinion, despite the fact that she outclassed these fillies on paper. She came home in 22.31 according to Formulator.

The other three-year old filly stakes was pretty much a joke, literally from the start, when three of the four starters stumbled, to after the finish, when Proud Spell was taken down, I think maybe as added punishment for getting herself beat at 1-2. Certainly couldn't have been for costing Never Retreat (the only one in the field away in good order) the place spot. Don't think there was any question that Proud Spell, who suffered by far the most severe of the stumbles the start, was clearly at least second best; she came home in the same 12.23 as Music Note. The winner had a perfect trip stalking the moderate pace, and a clear path to victory as Proud Spell was checked severely on the rail. To be honest, I thought it was a joke that Music Note would be as low as 8-5 off her maiden and entry level allowance wins against Larry Jones' classy three-time graded stakes winner. I for one would be most happy to back that opinion if the odds on the two are reversed next time they meet.

Friday, June 27, 2008

News and Notes and Pigeon Poop

- No reaction from PETA on the Jeremy Rose incident. Guess they're involved in more important things.

- Bruce Levine told Bloodhorse that he stopped giving his horses steroids on Jan 1 so that he could ship into Philly Park and Delaware, where the drugs are now limited to therapeutic uses. “And I have to tell you, basically there is no difference in the performance of the horses after taking them off steroids.”

However, it's interesting to read that along with this item from Tim Wilkin's blog in the Albany Times Union. In it, Levine says that his undefeated Bustin Stones hadn't been doing well following his win in the Carter, and missed three weeks of training as well as the Met Mile. "He stopped eating and he lost some color." Sounds like the horse could have used those steroids, since appetite and coat color are two of its benefits that I've read horsemen cite.

Bustin Stones worked a bullet half this week and is being pointed to the Win And You're In Vanderbilt at Saratoga on July 26.

Levine's entire Monmouth contingent was surprise-out-of-competition tested for EPO's; the trainer has won with 27 out of 56 starters there, for a percentage of 48%. Not quite Wayne Catalano material (27 of 48 at Arlington, or 56%), but pretty amazing nonetheless. The test comes as the World Anti-Doping Agency is questioning the effectiveness of EPO tests on humans after a study revealed serious flaws in existing urine tests.

“I have never seen such a drastic situation as the one reported in this article,” said Dr. Rabin, who questioned whether it reflected the true state of EPO testing.

The findings in the latest study should be no surprise, said Charles E. Yesalis, a professor of sports science at Pennsylvania State University. For decades, he said, anti-doping authorities have claimed they have tests that work and for decades athletes have been taking drugs without getting caught.

The anti-doping authorities, he said, “remind me of little boys whistling in the graveyard.” [NY Times]

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Belmont Friday

- Contessa has 14 winners out of an astounding 172 starters at Belmont thus far; that's well more than twice as many runners as Dutrow, who has the second most. That's only an 8% win percentage, which is below his overall 2008 rate of 15%, which is also his overall winning percentage at NYRA tracks over the last five years (13% at Belmont, 17% at Aqueduct). So I figure he has a few more winners in him before they go to Saratoga, where, unlike at Belmont nowadays, the competition really is tougher, and his percentage is 7%. He had a winner and a nosed out second on Thursday, so maybe he's warming up now.

In the fifth, Big Stick is the 7-5 morning line favorite for McLaughlin. This gelded son of Grand Slam caught a yielding course in his first race against winners, finishing nearly ten lengths behind Sailor's Cap, who's a neck shy of two Grade 3 wins since then. Big Stick drops for a tag here, and certainly figures given the previous Beyers he's earned on the grass. But as we've been noting, the barn is cold - 0 for 24 here (1 for 29 overall). That could also mean that McLaughlin is due; but still, it seems worth taking a shot against him with a strong favorite such as this.

Cross the Atlantic (5-2) moves up in class for Contessa, who claimed him for 35K three back. This horse comes in with a similar pattern to that of Jeux de Danse, who won Thursday's fifth for this barn. Cross the Atlantic has taken to the grass well in both tries on the surface. In fact, his grass debut was in this class; he took up sharply turning for home, yet closed for third from out of the picture, doing so totally against the pace grain. Choice for the mild upset in the return to grass for this half-brother to the popular NY-bred Spite the Devil.

In the 6th, Flahsbulb Breeze (3-1) looks like a routine selection, with Contessa once again. Well-bet when jumping in class and trying grass for the first time at Monmouth, this daughter of Peruvian (Conquistador Cielo) put in a solid rally to miss by 3/4's after taking a bump at the start. Wasn't a great field, but no great shakes here either.

The 8th is a wide open starter allowance. It's for horses who have started for 50K or less, AND are non-winners other than; it carries a purse of $49,000, nice. You can make a case for any number of these, including Contessa again, with Debbie's Fast Girl (6-1); or with Anxiety, who I picked when she won last out for Frank Alexander. But let's take a flyer with Fourth Chapter (12-1), moving up to face winners for trainer Richard Stoklosa (10-1-0-4 on the meeting). This daughter of Touch Gold has improved markedly since moving onto grass and, especially, getting Javier Castellano on board; and while climbing the claiming ladder too. Lots of trouble two back in a hard-charging close third; and on graduation day, she just blew by the field while wide on the turn to draw off to an easy win. That was a 40K maiden claimer, but not too horrible of a field, as it's produced two subsequent seconds and two thirds. Steady trend of improving Beyers could have her close if she continues to progress here. Good luck and have a great day!

Belmont Notes

- Lively affair in the first at Belmont on Thursday. Sonny Pajamas ($21.80) actually had the lead coming out of the gate, but, in a change of tactics for this 4 yo 20k claimer and earner of nearly $140K, dropped back to second to last as three horses engaged in a pace duel up front. With apprentice Sabastian Morales aboard, Sonny Pajamas swung very wide turning for home, easily ate up the stretch runners and opened up a lead. I mentioned yesterday that Morales applied what appeared to be a couple of needless whacks to Bribon. This time, other than a single reminder, Morales looked most confident heading for home. I don't know if he saw Debating flying home from nowhere to his inside, and he just held on for the win.

Cheap horses, but a wide open betting contest - the favorite was 2.35 -to-1 - that was action packed from start to finish. I think that us NY horseplayers need to come to appreciate these kinds of races. This card featured three maiden claimers - one of them for a 20K tag. You can be certain that we'll be seeing many cards just like this once we get into the third and fourth week of Saratoga. The better horses just don't run back that often, there's a sizeable population of NY-breds to acommodate, and the meet is at least a week too long. But hopefully, those cards will be like today's in that, of the 72 horses in the nine races, the lowest odds on any was 8-5; only four runners went off at less than 2-1.

- Mark Hennig is having a good meeting, getting his 7th winner, out of 36 starters, when Yankee Chief took the second. Hennig has as many wins as Pletcher, who has 7 more starters.

David Duggan is a former assistant to John Kimmel and Eoin Harty, and he's having a productive meeting as well. He won the 6th with Brendan's Warrior ($23), a first time starter in this, the aforementioned 20K maiden claimer; that's Duggan's 5th winner from 23 tries. He's now three for seven with debut maiden claimers, two of those at double digit odds. Finishing second was Open Fly, another beaten favorite for Kiaran McLaughlin. In his current 0-24 streak, seven of those have been 2-1 or less (far less in the case of 3-10 Winning Point).

A couple of other barns going well had winners. Enrique Arroyo won the 7th with Ambling Rose; he's 7 for 32, with all of the winners coming with claimers running for 20K or less. And Christophe Clement continued his torrid streak when Perfect Casting won the 8th, coming off a five month layoff. This barn's 13 wins have come with its last 37 starters (35%), after losing with its first 16 runners at the meet. We can be sure that McLaughlin will eventually start winning as well, and it should be worth following him once he does.

20 Minutes to Nowhere

- Paul Post reports in the Thoroughbred Times that the change of leadership in the NY Senate may slow down the process of selecting a gaming operator for the proposed Aqueduct racino.

Slow it down?!? If this process gets any slower, we'll be going backwards and have Empire bidding for the franchise again! We're also told that a decision might be coming in the next week or two, but how many times have we heard that in the last few months??

Delaware North President William Bissett, addressing the fact that his company's bid is the only one not including a hotel/entertainment center, said: “It’s not the way we’re going to build the model.”

Asked how Aqueduct would compete with large casino resorts in Connecticut and Atlantic City, Bissett said, “There are 12-million people within 20 minutes of Aqueduct. I’ll take that opportunity any day.”
Really? Is Bissett talking about 20 minutes driving? I don't think that would extend out very far - certainly to neither Manhattan nor Long Island - and would be comprised of mostly solid working class neighborhoods. If that's the people he's counting on to gamble away their hard-earned salaries, then I'm now entirely opposed to the entire racino idea there; sign me up with the nearest Christian conservative wackos!

And if he's talking about mass transit, well, that wouldn't encompass many people at all. 20 minutes will take you a few miles on the Q37 bus; and not very far on the A train (and shuttle bus to and from the track entrance) at all. Makes you wonder if this guy has even been to the Big A and the surrounding areas at all.

Hunch Bets for June 26

Call Security 7th at Presque Isle
Be A Leader 6th at Arlington Park
Outside Looking In 2nd at Hollywood
Mr. Antagonizer 8th at Arlington Park
Always On The Move 3rd at Belmont
Excitable Boy 5th at Arlington Park
Wild Series 3rd at Lone Star
Giveityourbestshot 8th at Monmouth
Want More 7th at Evangeline
Can'tstopthisstorm 8th at Evangeline

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Belmont Zone

- Three winners in a row for trainer Paulino O. Ortiz with Unique Citizen ($15.60) taking the first on Wednesday. I left the office for OTB with four minutes to post, and I think that Queenofalldiamonds was around 5-2 at that point. By the time I got to the parlor across the street (after the race; great elevators in this building), she was the 7-5 choice. Well intended, but Unique Citizen won easily.

The first timer from Robert Ribaudo was dead on the board at 35-1 and ran 5th; but the barn's Bribon absolutely romped in the 6th. He was going effortlessly as he drew away on the turn, and went on to win by ten; not sure what those late smacks of the whip by jockey Sabastian Morales were all about. This horse seems to really love Belmont; check out those figs, and I imagine he'll get a good one for this race (and whatever he does get, the race was really better). Favored No Reply was awful at 7-5; McLaughlin has been quiet of late. He's 0 for his last 23 here going back to his last winner, Golden Artemis on June 5. That was two days before the Belmont. It seems like ages since that day, and almost nothing good has happened since in our little world.

In the 4th, Ouchy Night (Cactus Ridge) was 10-1 morning line making her debut for trainer Tom Bush. She went off at 7-2 and won by four. It's a great game, ain't it? I find it reassuring to see that kind of stuff in these troubled times; it gives me belief that the racing universe is still basically in order.

- Saw a TV ad for the Empire City Racino at Yonkers Raceway. A man encounters a VLT upon his arrival in Manhattan; is startled by another in the mirror as he's getting a haircut; sees several more on the street, and then in increasing numbers until they start to stretch as far as the eye can see like at the end of Field of Dreams. OK, not quite that far, which would certainly extend straight from downtown to Yonkers. But we're told nonetheless that there are 5,300 machines right here at home. OK, not quite right here, but pretty darn close. The Jackpot Next Door is the slogan. Might have been clever and appropriate to have had a few machines come rolling down the street in a sulky but I guess they didn't think of that.

The ad reminded me of that Twilight Zone episode when that nice couple wins a trip to Las Vegas, and the guy, who didn't want to come, gets hooked to the slots; in fact to a particular machine that he knows just has going to pay off some time. "Franklin....Franklin," it drones as it appears in his hotel room and makes him fall out of the window.

Mr. Franklin Gibbs, visitor to Las Vegas, who lost his money, his reason, and finally his life to an inanimate metal machine variously described as a one-armed bandit, a slot machine or, in Mr. Franklin Gibbs's words, a monster with a will all its own. For our purposes we'll stick with the latter definition because we're in the Twilight Zone.
Seems almost like the episode serves as a metaphor for today's situation, with the states and tracks alike addicted to slots revenue. I know Rod Serling was a genius....but he couldn't have foreseen this, could he?

Or could he?


- Joe Bruno, now the former Senate Majority Leader, insists that the long-running federal investigation into his business affairs had nothing to do with his decision to not seek re-election in November. So I guess it's just coincidence that the announcement came shortly after the FBI seized what the NY Post reports to be a massive volume of his detailed records dating back to 1995. That actually coincides with Bruno's entire tenure as Majority Leader.

"They wanted every piece of paper that ever came across Sen. Bruno's desk, going way back," the official continued.
The Times reports that the investigation may be intensifying, which raises the question of what the hell they've been doing over the last 2-3 years. The Albany Times-Union states that sources believe [the probe] has been dogged by unnecessary delay.

In fact, the NY Daily News tells us that Bruno's lawyer contacted the investigators to see if his stepping down would end the probe.
"It was in the context of if he does this now, does it impact where you all are?" the source aid.

Bruno's team did not get a reaction, the source said.

"There was no deal," he said. [NYDN]
That claim will no doubt be treated with skepticism should no charges result.

In addition to Bruno's involvement with Wright Investors, the Times Union reports that his involvement with horse racing comprises much of the investigation.
The FBI probe outlasted a tumultuous period in New York's state-operated racing industry as it struggled to recover from allegations of mismanagement by its longtime operator, the New York Racing Association.

NYRA's contract to run the state's three thoroughbred tracks was renewed, but not before being imperiled by a heated takeover bid from several competing racing consortiums, including some whose investors have strong ties to Bruno and other elected officials.
An obvious guess of what the issue is would be Bruno's relationship with Jared Abbruzzese, a founding member of Empire Racing who was the target of investigations for acting as an unregistered lobbyist with respect to plane rides provided to the Senator; and, more importantly, the owner of Evident Technologies, to whom Bruno steered $500,000 of taxpayer funds generally reserved for non-profits. Another relevant matter may be a broodmare transaction with a prominent GOP donor.

Bruno's departure is being met with the kind of mixed emotions that we see in the comment section here; El Angelo calling him corrupt; Green Mtn Punter praising his leadership and his service to his constituency and the racing industry.

I have to say that I agree with an element of both arguments. I believe that Bruno abused his office and public monies in order to further his personal and political goals. However, I have to admit that, in following him closely over the last few years in writing this blog, I find it hard to maintain much animosity towards him. He might be the most honest corrupt politician I've ever seen. When he says that he hasn't done anything wrong, I think that he honestly believes that; and I think that you certainly can't say that about most politicians (or anyone for that matter) who say that in reaction to accusations of wrongdoing. Bruno is a product of Albany, set in his old-style ways, seeing nothing wrong about paying-to-play; it was just the way he was brought up in politics. I always recall the time when Bruno, when asked about the campaign finance reform bill that he and Spitzer butted heads over, replied: "I laugh when I read that people gain access by their contributions. So what? So what?" He just didn't get it. But I find that, for some reason, I think I'm gonna miss the old guy. (And, according to some reports, so will Governor Paterson.)

- By the way, the legislature has adjourned with no announcement regarding the Aqueduct racino being made.

- We were also supposed to believe that Richard Dutrow missed the sham Congressional hearings of last week because he was sick. So I guess his absence, and the fact that he had a horse come back positive at Churchill (which he knew about weeks ago, according to the Times) is just a coincidence too. Man, that could have been embarrassing.

Belmont Wednesday

- Interesting opener at Belmont on Wednesday - a lively seven furlong maiden affair on the grass. Barclay Tagg has the morning line favorite with Laffans Bridge (5-2), a close and well-bet third in each of her first two starts. Tagg is still smokin' here; four winners, a second and a third with his last six starters, wow! He's tied for the meet lead with the soon-to-be-suspended Dutrow with 18 winners, but with 20 less starters (54). He's batting .333.

So tough to take a stand against this trainer. But let's look at a couple of under-the-radar barns to find some value, and try to beat a filly who has had trouble at the start in each of her races. Unique Citizen (6-1) goes for Paulino Ortiz; this barn has won its last two races, breaking out after compiling two seconds and two thirds with its prior ten starters. This daughter of Proud Citizen was 58-1 in her turf debut last month, and finished third by 2 1/2, full of run after enduring a four wide trip the entire length of the turn for home. Second place finisher Its Not For Love was a strong second in her next start; and winner Receipt was a decent 4th against winners (edging out Rap Tale on Friday). Unique Citizen has some fascinating breeding, inbred 2x3 to Gone West and his full brother Secret Claim; and 4x4 to Northern Dancer and his full sister Arctic Dancer. May not have anything to do with her chances of winning this race, but pretty creative nonetheless; perhaps her Tomlinson of 325 is more relevant.

Qualquin (12-1) makes her debut for trainer Robert Ribaudo. This barn has just one winner out of nine starters; but his three seconds and two thirds make him the kind of trainer I like to follow. This is a daughter of Lemon Drop Kid with a Tomlinson of 340. She has a long workout tab, and has picked up the pace nicely in the A.M. in the last couple of weeks.

Queenofalldiamonds makes her second start for Frankel. This is a four-year old daughter of Kingmambo, out of champion and Distaff winner Escena, who sold for $2.7 million as a yearling in 2005. This is not what the buyers had in mind, I'm sure. She was 7-2 in her debut, and backed up badly to sixth. Figures to take money shortening up today.

[Please see the comments section for a free selection at Hollywood from]

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Withering Rose

- If you go to Cal Racing, you can watch the replay of Jeremy Rose's actions in Monday's third at Delaware, for which the jockey was swiftly slapped with a six month suspension. Appeal to the City had dead aim on 4-5 favorite Robin des Tunes but was beaten in deep stretch after having to steady behind that one. The head on angle is the best one to see the short left cross to the head of his horse with the whip which has led to a long summer vacation for Rose. The rider, who is appealing a ruling which will require him to cover any medical bills caused by the incident, is actually pretty fortunate. The obviously stunned Appeal to the City veered out sharply from the blow, and Rose is lucky he didn't get himself or somebody seriously injured.

Rose will be required to attend an anger management course, and that would seem to be a wise idea. Given the unwanted and unneeded attention that the sport has gotten over the last few weeks over safety issues, it would seem quite the self-indulgent flash of temper to physically abuse a horse in full view of the stewards and betting public. (I guess I'm trying to diplomatically say: What an idiot!) It's by far the most egregious, though not the first time Rose has shown questionable judgment with his whip. Some people, myself included, wonder whether Afleet Alex could have won the Derby had Rose saved something for the tank instead of whipping him the length of the stretch even as he opened up vast daylight in the Arkansas Derby. And Rose did the same in Big Brown's debut at Saratoga. I think it's fair to say that Rose wouldn't have eased Big Brown in the Belmont had he still had the mount.

- Santa Anita president Ron Charles, speaking of the decision to install Pro-Ride in time for the fall meeting, told DRF: “I’ve told them what we’re doing and they’re very supportive.”

Like they have any choice!? As you may be aware, I'm all in favor of the synthetic track experiment, and I myself don't have any problem with the Breeders' Cup being run on one of them. But we're just four months out, and we're talking about a brand new surface which has never been used as a standalone surface in this country, or this climate, and which won't even be completely installed until about one month before the start of the Oak Tree meet on Sept. 24. Am I the only one who thinks that's cutting it kinda close? We're talking about one month of racing days before the big day(s). I suppose everything should be fine, but I dunno, wouldn't you have a backup plan in mind if you were Greg Avioli?

Was There Anything Kent Could Do?

- OK, after piecing together all the evidence, we finally know exactly what happened to Big Brown in the Belmont. Cranky from missing his monthly injection, and a bit wobbly after waiting on those long bathroom lines, Big Brown was spooked at the break by the starter standing on the track, causing him to veer out, get stepped on by Guadalcanal, thus displacing his shoe. He was then restrained into submission by Kent Desormeaux, who mistakenly thought the horse was trying to move too soon, when he just wanted to get outta there and beat the traffic back to Aqueduct so he could pee in privacy. Glad we cleared all that up. We've now been offered more excuses than we heard from Hillary explaining why she voted for war.

- Here's a hint of what will happen in two years when that "temporary" 1% takeout increase is set to sunset.

The legislation actually would extend by one year—through Aug. 31, 2009—a 2% purse deduction. (A one-year increase from 1% to 2% was included in the legislation that awarded the New York Racing Association a franchise extension.) If the bill passes, it would mandate that up to one-half of 1% of the amount be used to fund the testing program for steroids. [Bloodhorse]
The legislation referred to is one passed by the NY State Senate to establish a fund for steroids testing; what exactly the other half percent will be used for we're not told. So all of us honest owners will have to pay for the transgressions of admitted users like Dutrow, and "no comment" ones like Zito.

- Drag racer Scott Kalitta was killed in an on-track accident over the weekend; the second straight year that a driver lost his life racing Funny Cars. No congressional hearings are planned as far as I know. Big surprise there.

- We had XM Radio in our rental car down in Florida, and had a lot of fun listening to Fred. No, not Fred Gwynne, Fred Shero, nor Fred Flinstone. But just Fred.....XM Channel 44. It's billed as the "History of Alternative Rock," and though I'd quibble with some of their selections, it serves as kind of a "Deep Tracks" for the new wave/alternative soundtrack of the 80's. We heard a lot of songs we hadn't in some time. When we got to the Sarasota Farmers Market on Saturday morning, we ended up sitting in the car to hear three of them, and please indulge me for sharing. In order, we have I Confess, by the English Beat; Kid, by the Pretenders (the real ones, including the late James Honeymoon-Scott and the likewise Pete Farndon); and last, and most assuredly not least, Was There Anything I Could Do? by Australia's fabulous Go-Betweens; performed here by songwriting genius Grant McLennan, RIP.

Tuesday Morning Notes - June 24

- Back home in Queens after a refreshing break; a make-up honeymoon of sorts for the Head Chef and I. I never wrote about how sick the two of us were during our real honeymoon in March; nor about the canceled flight, nor the first night spent in a Holiday Inn in Atlanta... So this little trip was partial compensation, as we were both healthy, other than the sore and swollen ankle I'm still nursing from my Belmont day injury. It was also basically our summer vacation, as, unfortunately, we won't be making it to Del Mar this summer, and don't have anything more than a long weekend or two planned for Saratoga. Hot town, summer in the city...

Following up from the last post, the only one I could manage from down south, Edgar Prado reported that Rap Tale handled the grass just fine, but that he had nowhere to go, trapped on the inside. She was out of the picture during the late stretch run, but I"m told that she finished well once clear. So she gets another shot on the grass. I got the live call from Bob while wading in the Gulf of Mexico (89 degree water temperature). His initial despair was soon followed by the usual optimism after seeing the replay and speaking with the rider. The comments in the chart take no note of any stretch trouble, so I'll look forward to her next start.

The big news here today is the announcement by Senator Joe Bruno that he will not seek re-election this fall. The Senate Majority Leader cited personal reasons, saying that it is time to move on. However, they'll be plenty of speculation that the continuing FBI investigation into his business dealings, and the apparent writing on the wall regarding his party's chances of retaining power in the Senate come November, were the real reasons for his stepping down. Given Bruno's knowledge of and affection for the racing industry, his departure will no doubt have consequences as we move forward into the "new era" of NYRA's fresh franchise start, the alleged VLT parlor at Aqueduct, and the surprising interest currently being shown in restructuring OTB. We'll be trying to figure out what those consequences will be as we follow the events leading up to November's election, and the new legislative landscape that is now absolutely certain to follow.

But for now, it's back to work. Ugh.

Friday, June 20, 2008


- Rap Tale is 8-1 in the 8th at Belmont this evening on the second twilight card of the year. This is her turf debut, and what trainer Bruce Brown (a winner in yesterday's 9th) has been looking forward to ever since Kasey K won a five way shake against Asmussen, amongst others, to claim her last month. She won a dirt sprint in her first off the claim. She sports a modest turf Tomlinson of 291. But if you go back to her third dam, you'll find that she's a half to Lyphard; and, underneath her, you'll find descendants such as Ashkal Way and Donatello.

So there's some grass blood in there somewhere, and trainer Brown feels that she has an extreme case of turf foot. She's also gained 100 pounds since the claim, perhaps, Bob and I were discussing yesterday, due to a kinder workout regime under Brown than under the Pletcher Program from which she was claimed. So we're cautiously optimistic, and hoping for the best today; especially because, if she does take to grass, there's a stakes for Virginia-breds down at Colonial that could be next. If we can get any kind of black type on this one, she could have some significant value as a broodmare with her fine pedigree. Bob will be giving me the live call on the phone, as we're down here in Florida.

Song of Love is the morning line favorite for Barclay Tagg; this will be the grass debut for this half-sister, by Changeintheweather (Gone West), to Nobiz Like Shobiz. Not too often we see a sibling to a major graded stakes winner by such an obscure sire. Amongst the runners who have run on the grass, Senor Rita Lady (3-1) closed strongly in her grass debut for Violette, and figures to love the stretch out, being by Fusaichi Pegasus out of a Pleasant Colony mare. Queens Full (4-1) has shown some late foot for the hot Clement barn. And Receipt steps up to face winners after graduating for Shug; she's a typically blue-blooded Phipps-bred by Dynaformer who sports a grass Tomlinson of 363. Good luck everyone, and have a great day!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Tackling the Takeout

- Charles Hayward sent along this breakdown of NYRA's handle in 2007; a detailed look at just who and where all that money is coming from. (Scroll to the right to see the breakdown by percentages.)

Hayward wanted to emphasize a couple of points. You might have noticed how evenly spread the wagering is between win/place/show, multiples (daily doubles, exactas, and quinellas), and exotics (everything else). Remarkably, they each account for around a third of the handle, with a slight edge to the multiples due to a distinct edge they have at OTB's. Funny how that is; I guess the good old doubles and exactas retain their appeal to the more hardcore amongst us.

If you scroll down, you'll see the current takeout rates for NYRA, Hollywood, and Churchill. Hayward points out that, given that one-third each split between wager types, the new rates (add a percentage point to each) will certainly ensure that NYRA's blended rate will exceed that of either of the other jurisdictions. So, any notion that NY will still retain a comparatively low takeout doesn't ring true; even the WPS rate will be greater or equal to those two rivals.

In addition, check out the percentages breaking down where the handle comes from - 12.2% at NYRA tracks, almost twice that at the OTB's, and a whopping 62.77% from out of state tracks. Hayward wrote: "Unless we can increase our price of the NYRA signal, the biggest short term beneficiary of the takeout increase will be out of state competitors (62+% of the handle)." He estimates that NYC OTB will pocket around $3 million more a year.

However, there's a potential complication regarding NYRA's ability to obtain those signal rate increases. Regarding the 1% surcharge on winnings from out-of-state tracks, Hayward feels that it's not nearly as simple as just skimming a point off the top. He believes that it may require the tracks and OTB's to enter net pool pricing agreements with other jurisdictions in order to have its own payouts. If that's the case, an entity like TrackNet would surely seek an increase of its own if a NY track wanted to enter into such an arrangement in order to impose a takeout increase. That wouldn't put NYRA into a very favorable bargaining position in what is an already challenging task.

Governor Paterson signed the OTB bill on Wednesday, and Bennett Liebman of Albany Law School wrote that the increase should go into effect on September 15. If that's the case, then aggrieved horseplayers like Ed, who is not Jessica but posting on Railbird nonetheless, can cancel his boycott of Saratoga. He and many others are particularly upset about the new 26% rate on exotics. I don't blame them. But the rate was already very high at 25%. So saying that you're boycotting at 26% seems to me like filling up the tank at $4.35 a gallon, but trading the car in for new shoes at $4.40! Well, hopefully the point will be moot at least for Saratoga this year anyway.

The original Railbird emailed to make fun of me for writing over the weekend that I had blog burnout; seems I was fairly productive this week, in quantity if nothing else. I guess it was really Belmont burnout, or Big Brown burnout. However, I find it's always good to take a break to recharge. The Head Chef and I are going down to my folks' house in Longboat Key, FL for a few days today; an easy and relatively cheap trip during the off season there. The rental car is less than $100; I might spend more on the gas. So, while I will have the laptop, posting will be light, and that's for sure this time. However, I do at some point want to write about Rap Tale, who will be making her debut on the turn in the feature on Friday; and since I won't be there, she will probably win.

Belmont Thursday

- In the 5th at Belmont on Thursday, as many of you are glued to Congressional hearings, Bluegrass Girl (4-1) starts from the rail for Allen Jerkens, who took over training duties this year. She seems to have found a home in these turf sprints. She won her last, second off the layoff, with a relentless late rally, finishing up with eighths of 11.3 and 11.2, and earning a lifetime best Beyer. Moves up to face limited winners now, and Castellano sticks around. Miss Annie M (9-2) also appears to like this route; showed signs of life two back, and rallied from far back for a close third in this class in her last. I can't believe that Royal Spaulding (3-1) is the morning line choice; she has to be in the money burner Hall of Shame. Bettors seemed to get wise and let her go off at all of - gasp - 3-1 last time in her first off the layoff. Could be closer and get a piece today.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Notes - June 18

- Seems as if Senator Bruno hasn't completely dropped the idea of a racino at Belmont. Speaking of his support for the concept of phasing out the state's property taxes, Bruno said in a press release:

The Governor and Assembly should join the Senate and make it a priority to invest $12 billion over five years so we can eliminate local property taxes. We have revenues from casinos, and VLTs and we need to get VLTs running at Belmont and Aqueduct, and we need to collect sales taxes at Indian reservations. [Capitol Confidential]
Governor Paterson, and some 74% of New Yorkers, favor a 4% cap on property tax increases. But neither the Senate nor the Assembly want to take the matter up with legislators of both parties quaking in their boots from strong opposition by the powerful New York State United Teachers union with the election just a few months away. Lawmakers generally covet endorsements from teachers unions, which last year spent $2.6 million on lobbying, according to data from the New York Public Interest Research Group. [NYDN]

In April, the union successfully opposed the idea of tying tenure for individual teachers to their students' test scores. Now, they want the state's already exorbitant property taxes to continue their unabated ascent, supposedly for their students' sakes. But excuse me for thinking that they're mainly concerned with their own salary bottom lines. Pretty nice deal here - no accountability for performance and the hell with beleaguered property owners. The union arrogantly proclaimed the cap as 'DOA' last week, and the Governor, armed with the public's support, is pissed off and taking the offensive, even threatening to call a special session.

But, as usual, I digress.... Bruno's no-tax plan was passed by the Senate, but is a non-starter, opposed by Governor Paterson due to the fact there are no definitive substitute revenue sources identified; only that old stand-by, gambling revenues, and the currently dead-in-the-water, courtesy of Speaker Sheldon Silver, Belmont racino. However, as the state continues to be squeezed for revenue, I imagine that the idea of VLT's in Elmont will come up again and eventually become a reality...if the slots bubble doesn't burst first.

- Blood tests revealed no illegal medications amongst the Belmont starters. But the findings regarding steroids were less definitive.
"There was nothing illegal in any of the horses and some of them did not have any anabolic steroids present....I do not know which horses those were because we receive numbered samples and no one would know which sample went with which horse unless there was something illegal found. [Baltimore Sun]
Since steroids are legal in NY, it makes sense that the steroid users did not have to be identified. But I'm still a little curious as to whether Da'Tara was on them, and much more so as to why virtually no one in the media seems to want to know. All that fuss they raised about the evil Dutrow's use of winstrol, but Mr. Good-Guy-He's-So-Classy Zito refuses to comment and gets a total pass? C'mon, is that a double standard or what?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Hearings: Looking Back to Look Ahead

- I consider today's Thursday's congressional hearings to be a nuisance and little more than some posturing politicians killing time wagging fingers while they await their re-election efforts this fall (and perhaps pick up some autographs as well). If you missed it, be sure to check out Matt Hegarty's superb overview and critique in the Form. The industry participants certainly need to at least appear earnest, regretful of past sins, nodding approvingly at the Representatives' suggestions, but expressing confidence about the steps already taken. But in terms of the feds actually getting involved, I think the industry has little to fear.

It may be instructive to take a look back to another House Subcommittee hearing, one which occurred over 2 1/2 years ago, in order to get an idea of what will - and will not - grow out of this one. At that time, in October, 2005, Rep. Ed Whitfield, who has called Thursday's hearing as the ranking minority member of the Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection, was the chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation. As opposed to this one, that panel was actually investigating something worth investigating - the circumstances under which jockey Gary Birzer was left with no catastrophic insurance coverage after being left paralyzed from a spill, and the suspected improprieties in the financial management of the Jockeys Guild by its then-president Wayne Gertmenian, including and especially his allowing the insurance policy to elapse. I wrote about the starkly emotional proceedings at the time.

In short, the subcommittee heard jockey after jockey testify angrily as to how Gertmenian betrayed the membership, lining his pockets and those of his family and friends through his phony consulting company Matrix Capital. They expressed shock at the callous manner in which he allowed the policy to expire without informing the riders. They pressed him on the questionable assertions on his resume. "We think it's a complete fabrication," Representative Joe Barton told Gertmenian, calling him an "absolute disgrace;" as reported on by Ray Paulick (before he started morphing into Drudge).

Tennessee Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn was stunned by the inconsistencies. "This is starting to sound like a Dr. Seuss novel," she said. "Events that never happened in a town that doesn't exist."

"This thing is really a hornet's nest and it's starting to unravel," said Michigan Democratic Rep. Bart Stupak.
Rep. Whitfield said that Gertmenian "has a tendency to exaggerate -- to embellish." And, a month later when Gertmenian was removed (prompting him to write himself checks on the way out), Whitfield said "we're still looking at" possibly pursuing perjury or other charges against Gertmenian.

But what has happened since? Absolutely nothing. All of that bluster turned out to be just that. Not only was Gertmenian not charged, but he still maintains his post at Pepperdine (though the resume appears to finally have been removed). A federal lawsuit against him filed by the Jockeys Guild was thrown out, and the last we heard, he had pending legal action against the Guild. Gertmenian incredibly became the head of the creditors committee in the Guilds' bankruptcy case, before a U.S. trustee with a brain finally booted him off, incredulous I'm sure that the man who contributed so greatly to the Guild's plight through his greed and sleaze would be in that position. I still can't get over that, nor the silence from the media that accompanied it.

Another thing that did not come to fruition was the subcommittee members' threats for Congress to mandate adequate catastrophic insurance policies for jockeys through legislation. Rep. Whitfield did actually twice introduce measures to amend the Interstate Horseracing Act to require the industry to do just that (and, by the way, to ban horses treated with anabolic steroids from racing). But the House had little appetite to get involved. Many tracks, even before the 2005 hearing, had already taken out policies, usually for coverage up to $1 million; and others, including Mountaineer, the track at which Birzer was hurt, soon followed suit. (Subsequent efforts to bring coverage further up to speed in light of soaring medical costs have not been successful.)

So, while I wouldn't take any specific threats that we might hear on Thursday too seriously, the industry will at least need to keep on its toes, follow through with the current efforts which seem nearly certain to ban the routine use of steroids, and continue to work towards safer racing surfaces. I really don't believe we'll see the United States Congress take time out of its far more pressing issues to pass any laws regarding these matters anytime soon. But it should sure be fun to hear what Dutrow has to say.

Tough to Market in a Vacuum

- Somebeachsomewhere won the $1.5 million Pepsi NA Cup at Mohawk Raceway on Saturday with another absolutely effortless mile in 1:49. Even if you're not a harness fan, I suggest that you go to 3:18 on this replay and check out the iso camera of his stretch run. With driver/trainer Paul MacDonell just lightly tapping his rear with his whip, the son of Mach Three strode out powerfully and with astonishing ease against what I understand to be a pretty talented field of three-year old pacers. "He's big...he's strong....and he's got it going on!" exclaimed track announcer Ken Middleton as Somebeachsomewhere came ambling home.

The track, located in Campbellville, Ontario, around 25 miles from Toronto, no longer keeps attendance figures, but it was said to be "wall-to-wall" with an estimated crowd of 11,000. This is an undefeated (in nine starts) horse who is evoking the kind of genuinely heartfelt reaction from the public that I felt was notably absent around Big Brown.

People came from everywhere. James Bragg, the blueberry, lumber and telecommunications king from Halifax, came by Lear jet. There were supposed to be busloads of people from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, but many drove on their own, and hang the gasoline prices [well over $5 per gallon in Canada - ed.].
Back home in Nova Scotia, there were "beach parties" with people crowding in front of large television screens to see the colt. [Toronto Globe and Mail]
“The crowd was so into it,” MacDonell said. “I let him walk up the rail. He puts his head down and looks at the crowd, and he’s so calm. The people love him and he loves the people; it’s a two-way street." Somebeachsomewhere is owned by six small time Nova Scotians who bought him as a yearling for $40,000 when other would-be bidders in Kentucky were scared away...because he was coughing during the sale. [Toronto Star]

That's certainly a far more endearing story than that of Big Brown. And I think that certainly matters in terms of what degree a horse is embraced by the public. I never got the feeling that there was anything more than a fascination with Big Brown's seemingly enormous talent and his chance to make history at play in the public reaction during his Triple Crown run; and that's just amongst those of us who looked past his connections and actually rooted for him to win. The horse received cheers at Belmont as the anticipation for an epic moment built; but I didn't sense any real affection for the horse himself in the joint (though maybe that was just me projecting how I felt on everyone else).

Of course, a huge difference between the trotters and the flats is that harness horses can run back far more frequently (even multiple heats in one day). This was Somebeachsomwhere's third race at Mohawk in three weeks, so he was quite familiar to the fans, and had clearly earned the accolades.

With thoroughbreds running more and more infrequently, it's obviously hard for any of them to gain any following outside devoted fans. There's been a lot of discussion this week about the lack of TV coverage of Curlin on Saturday, along with criticism of the NTRA for not making a marketing effort. But I think this was an extremely hard sell to anyone who's not a devoted fan of the sport. Curlin hadn't raced in this country in almost eight months, and his serious competitors from that time are all retired. He has no rivals; hell, he doesn't even have any competition, since any horse with anywhere near his ability is generally long retired at this stage (as long as he still retains all of his original packaging of course).

Certainly, there would be far more interest and, therefore, more demand for media coverage of Curlin's races if he raced more often, toting increasing imposts, taking on all comers at tracks around the country, and perhaps even attracting a fearless nemesis or two. But since that's hardly the case, why would there have been any demand in the mainstream media for coverage of the Foster? Whatsmore, we're told that he'll be shipped off to the Arc, which would almost certainly preclude his running in the Classic 20 days later. And then he'll be retired. So what was the hook or the context of the race?

As with his thoroughbred counterparts, Somebeachsomewhere will almost certainly be retired after his three-year old season. That part of the business is the same in both breeds. However, he's already attracted a lot of attention for a sport starving for it, and one of his owners remarked that he could race another dozen times this year, for a total of 15 in 2008. That may not be a lot in historic terms - the mighty Niatross, to whom this colt is already drawing comparisons, raced 26 times in his sophomore season. But it's still easily more than twice as many times that we could ever expect to see our thoroughbred stars in one year these days. It wasn't always that way, but it certainly is now, and there's no sign of the trend to less racing and early retirements reversing anytime soon. The NTRA can only market so much if there's nothing much to market.

- Somebeachsomewhere gets a break now, and I'm happy to report that his next scheduled appearance is right here! He's being pointed to the Meadowlands Pace eliminations on Saturday, July 12 (if there are enough horsemen brave enough to take him on and necessitate those heats), with the final scheduled for the following week.

Hunch Bets for June 17

Swear Allegiance 8th at Colonial Downs
Itsaffirmed 7th at Prairie Meadows
Thegamemustgoon 2nd at Fort Erie
We Did It My Way 5th at Mountaineer
Raging Tiger 2nd at River Downs
Tactical Solution 3rd at Fairmount
Is It Hot In Here 1st at Yavapai

Signed, Sealed, Delivered [Updated]

Showing that Albany really can get things done quickly if they want to (and if facing an immediate interruption of revenue flow), the OTB bill is already signed, sealed, delivered it's yours, courtesy of Albany Law School's Bennett Liebman, and thanks as always to Mr. Liebman for the info. The contentious takeout clause is right there on page one with the new rates, increased by one percent, in capital letters. If someone can find the part about these rates sunsetting in two years, please point it out to us.

Tom Precious reported on that there is also a one percent increase on all bets made in New York state on out-of-state tracks. While I haven't yet applied the fine tooth comb to the document, I'm not seeing that either, and I really hope that's not the case. That would smack more of a surcharge than takeout; nor does it really make much sense, as it would most certainly drive horseplayers to open accounts with out of state ADW's.

Matt Hegarty reports in the Form that Governor Paterson has instructed Senator John Sabini to take a "whole-cloth look" at offtrack betting operations over the next several months.

Sabini cautioned that overhauling OTB would be difficult politically based on the entrenched positions of the corporations and their historical resistance to change.

"You can't go into it and assume you are going to achieve a total state takeover without goring a few oxes," Sabini said. [DRF]
[Update: Ben Liebman writes in to point out that the sunset provision is in the final section of the bill (which is actually still awaiting the formal signature of the governor). In addition, there are indeed provisions to increase the takeout on bets placed on out of state tracks by one percent; those are in sections 22-24. Again, it seems to me that this is little more than a variation of the surcharge on winnings on bets placed at OTB parlors; and that it will encourage bettors to seek other available wagering outlets (as well as to encourage those outlets to seek out aggrieved NY bettors). Mr. Liebman suggests that, based on 2006 figures, the takeout increase "would serve as a $21 million hit on NYS bettors since it would be a takeout increase on more than 80% of the bets made in NY." More information to follow..]

Monday, June 16, 2008

Paterson Blasts Bloomberg......Maybe

- In the wake of the finalization of the deal by which the state will take over New York City OTB and keep it running, Governor Paterson absolutely blasts Mayor Bloomberg in a Fredric U. Dicker exclusive (which he now denies). In one fell swoop (and according to Dicker, who I have not recently noticed being forced to retract a story), Paterson not only portrayed the Mayor in some of the most unflattering terms possible, but he also issued what I believe would be his first public rebuke of his disgraced predecessor.

"Eliot Spitzer's tantrums were bizarre because you never knew when they were coming or why, whether it was contrived or whether he was a psycho," the governor said.

"With Bloomberg, you know why he's upset, but he has the same kind of anger that reminds you of Spitzer." [NY Post]
Dicker reports that Paterson, "furious" over the 1500 jobs that Bloomberg seemed so flippant about eliminating, referred to the Mayor as a nasty, untrustworthy, tantrum-prone liar who "has little use" for average New Yorkers.
The source quoted Paterson as saying of Bloomberg, "There's some kind of destabilization over there."

"His presidential thing didn't work out, term limits is looming to force him out, he's waiting and waiting to be asked to be vice president, congestion pricing didn't happen, he lost teacher tenure, the Jets stadium, and OTB isn't going the way he wants it."
If you don't mind me saying so, the theme of the Mayor's legislative defeats in Albany increasing his frustration level is something that I've mentioned on at least a couple of occasions here. Paterson accused Bloomberg of lying when he said that he was taken by surprise by the press conference announcing an agreement on Friday; and added that "it wasn't the first time he'd misrepresented the facts."
Paterson also told friends he was surprised at Bloomberg's seeming lack of political sense in the OTB battle.

"The mayor totally misplayed this," he said.
That's the impression that I've had, and I'd be interested to see just how the city will fare financially. It's been reported that Bloomberg was ignoring some $18 million worth of surcharges in claiming that OTB was a financial drain. Under this deal, it will receive only about $4.25 million (representing surcharges from bets actually made in the city), plus another $3.25 million for broadcast rights on local channel 71 (which I'd been previously told was being provided for free). What financial relief the city will receive from no longer running the operation is not clear to me.

Of course, the fact that the state will be running OTB rather than the city certainly doesn't guarantee that it will be run any more efficiently, or become any less of a patronage pool for politicians. However, we are hearing the kind of language that we could only previously dream of. According to several published reports in what I find to be a stunning development, Paterson is looking at eventually consolidating all of the other six OTBs as well.
"The governor has indicated he wants to take a holistic look at racing just as he has with property taxes and mass transit," said Sen. John Sabini, D-Queens, Paterson's nominee to take over the state Racing & Wagering Board. [Albany Times Union]
Already, the head of one of the regional OTB's is pushing back against the idea of its being folded into the state. But John Signor, who runs Capitol OTB, still mentioned common sense concepts that have not heretofore been part of the discussion.
"There should be a statewide Internet site for all the OTBs and NYRA and one centralized phone betting center that all the OTBs can share and a coordinated marketing campaign with OTBs and tracks," he said.
- The Times Union's Capitol Confidential reports that Capital Play may have the inside track on the Aqueduct racino. It also reports that the idea of moving NYCOTB's offices to Aqueduct is actually that of Capital Play; but that it has appealed to Paterson, as well as to Bruno and Silver.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Cash In Pocket

- Since Saturday's Fire Island trip was a Father's Day thing, I was able to beg out of any further festivities - and driving - on Sunday. Well, mostly no driving, as I did slip out to Belmont for just a few races. As usual on this particular day, there was a relatively large crowd, some 11,558 in this case. Most of those people seemed to be in the backyard, where large family groups abounded and a festive atmosphere reigned. There was also the usual Sunday kids stuff and live music too.

In fact, there were two bands going on simultaneously, and I unfortunately didn't discover the one playing way out in the back until it was almost done. From a distance, I heard them playing My City Was Gone, which was cool enough to go take a closer look. There, I noted the similarity in appearance and dress between the singer and a young Chrissie Hynde herself.

Pretend Chrissie

Real Chrissie. Hmmm....perhaps not the right photo for this particular blog...

That's better.

But it was only after they then broke into Brass In Pocket and Back On the Chain Gang that I realized that this was an honest to goodness Pretenders cover band!! And a really good one too!! (Or a pretend Pretenders, as the Head Chef retorted with her usual quick wit.) They're called Talk of the Town, and we'll forgive them for playing Cars songs too. I mean, how totally awesome was this? I've seen a lot of different bands play at Belmont over the years, and this had to be the highlight. (Along with Ernie's Jorma covers, of course.)

Catching up a bit, Friday's twilight card drew a decent crowd of 5,142 on a lovely evening. Unbridled's Heart was 4-5 in his second career start, but Mint Lane dominated wire to wire, and yes, his performance does make that of Casino Drive in the Peter Pan a bit more impressive. Two nice price winners for Phil Serpe on the day; his first two at the meeting after 13 unsuccessful tries. This barn had a rough Saratoga meeting last year, and will be looking to recapture its successes of past years there when that meet starts late next month.

Colors of Art, my pick in Friday's 7th, had nowhere to run in the lane and finished a tough luck 4th at 12-1. Don't know if he could have won, but he certainly could have been another long priced in-the-money finisher for trainer Randi Persaud. And the trainer took the 6th at Belmont on Sunday with first off the claim Hedge Fund, also at 12-1, thus heading a $94 exacta score for me. Yes, once in a while I do listen to myself and actually bet on the trainers I write about here. Definitely a barn to continue to follow closely as long as the bettors continue to overlook its entries.

In the 8th, my pick was Akebono, who stumbled at the start and then had no shot versus an unfavorable pace scenario, dead heating for third. I had actually singled 9th race winner Debbie Fast Girl ($15.80) in some unsuccessful late Pick 3's employing the above two selections, but went off her by the time the finale rolled around, partly because she wasn't getting bet. Nice going there by me.

Back to Sunday, I know this is me talking after the fact; but in the 7th, Coastal Flare had to be the worst even money favorite of recent memory. If, before I'm done writing this blog, I can convince a single horseplayer to not bet awful favorites like this, then I will have done my public service. I mean, you just can't bet horses at prohibitive odds that have lost its three career starts by 14, 7, and 10 lengths! I don't care what the class drop is, and in this case, it wasn't even that drastic. And coming off over nine months away from the races too!! There are so many wagering opportunities every single day; bettors just have to be more selective than this! Coastal Flare lost this one by 20 lengths for Frankel.

The trainer later took the G3 Jaipur Stakes with First Defence; the four-year old son of Unbridled's Song was also even money, and I gotta say, despite the fact that he won, that didn't make a helluva lot more sense than Coastal Flare. It was his first try ever on the grass in a field with some decently accomplished turf runners. Even though he's a half to a French stakes winner, and his second dam is the great broodmare Toussaud, that still seemed like very meager odds to take.

(Funny, I thought that Frankel's Lovely Isle, who won the race in between the above two, was a bargain at 6-5 and could have legitimately been half that price!)

I was gone by the Jaipur though and headed back home for an intimate Father's Day dinner. It was a good betting day for yours truly; in addition to the exacta mentioned above, upon getting home I threw out all the favorites in the 6th at Hollywood, fooled around with a dollar exacta box, and came up with a $147 payoff when the 7 horse came from out of the picture at the very end to get second. That stuff never happens to me. It was a happy Father's Day indeed! :-)

Hold Your Tickets

- I was figuring that I should burn up the big 16 bucks I have left in my OTB account tonight. I'd even seen where OTB was encouraging customers to cash their tickets by today. What does that mean, that the Mayor would have those debts and obligations go unhonored?

But the NY Daily News is now reporting that the state and city have reached a last minute deal to keep the opeartion going, with the state indeed taking it over.

The city will receive some compensation on an annual basis but far less than it was seeking.

Under the formula, the city will receive $4.25 million of the $19 million it was seeking. [NYDN]
The $19 million is the approximate amount of the surcharge on winnings that the city was not figuring in its calculations when it claimed that OTB was cash negative. While the city will be relieved of running the operation, seems to me that it could be a big loser on the bottom line versus living with the small overall shotfall projected for June, and working with NYRA and the state to reduce wasteful operations and look at ways to consolidate.

More on this as details emerge and the report is confirmed. Just wanted to mention that an extremely well-informed reader wrote to point out that State Senator John Sabini needs only the approval of Senator Bruno, and not that of Sheldon Silver, to become the new chairman of the State Racing and Wagering Board.

Sunday Notes - June 15

- Curlin's win in the G1 Stephen Foster wasn't quite as simple and routine as it may have looked. Conceding 10-15 pounds to a sufficiently accomplished field, trapped down on the inside courtesy of some race riding by Jamie Theriot on 90-1 Jonesboro (imagine the noive?) rather than being wide as he seems to prefer, and facing a steadily quickening pace scenario after Barcolo walked to the quarter in 25 flat, the defending HOY made short order of the field once getting clear at the quarter pole. "I actually snuck through on the fence today on the three-eighths pole," Albarado said. "He's never wanted to do that before. It's scary how good he's getting." [Courier-Journal]

So now the question is what's next; and the Arc D'Triomphe is still apparently in the picture. Asmussen mentioned the Man O'War or a race at Arlington as possible places to test the turf waters. He also indicated that, since Curlin seems to improve second time over a particular course, he would want to run him in a prep at Longchamps before the big race on October 5. And while this would all be quite cool, it would certainly preempt any chance of a meeting with Big Brown in the Classic. Besides the fact that the races are less than three weeks apart, it would mean no chance of a prep over whatever surface will be in place at Santa Anita this fall.

Other than that, the Foster day card turned out to be as uninspiring in practice as it looked to be on paper. The only interesting betting race of the six was the Jefferson Cup; odds on favorites dominated in four others, and the Northern Dancer produced an unspectacular, picture perfect trip win by 8-5 second choice Pyro over some of the dregs of this Triple Crown season. If you needed any reminder of just how mediocre this crop is, this race was an ample reminder; and a particular one of just how irrelevant the NY prep races were this year. More interesting to me is today's Affirmed at Hollywood, which at least features sophomores such as Two Step Salsa, Dixie Chatter, and Exuma who still seem to have some potential for short-term upside.

The six graded stakes produced six lopsided wins and consistently spread out fields. The only suspense was the photo for second in the Foster, which was won by second choice Einstein, thus completing a surprisingly generous exacta payoff of $12.80 with the 2-5 Curlin on top, wow!

- Two more winners at Belmont on Saturday for Christophe Clement. Since his 0-16 start to the meeting that I noted on May 23, the barn has won nine of its last 26 starts. Considering the lake at the nearby intersection of the Cross Island Parkway and the Southern State that I had to drive through on our way back from Fire Island last night, I'm quite surprised to see that NYRA has salvaged two grass races on today's Father's Day card. No picks today you may be happy to know; I guess the fact that 6-5 Bill Place ran second by a half length makes me suck again. So you're on your own; no automatic throwouts for you today! Happy Father's Day and good luck at the windows!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

In An OTB State of Mind

- A few thoughts on the New York City OTB deal-or-no-deal before I'm hauled off to Fire Island today (and amidst a serious case of blogging burnout which I fear is going to require some significant time away from the keyboard):

- Mayor Bloomberg, who conveniently ignored the city's revenues from the OTB surcharge in making his case that the operation was a financial drain, appears to have overplayed his hand. Now that the state wants to step in and take OTB over, Mayor Mike is crying about having the surcharge money taken away and threatening to close the shops anyway. It would not be the first time that Bloomberg has come out on the short end in Albany after being perceived as arrogant.

- I'd like to say here that the stalemate shows that the racing industry does indeed have some clout in Albany. The plan backed by the Mayor, which would have cut fees to NYRA and the horsemen, was strongly opposed by both groups; and the latter at least does have some friends in Albany like Joe Bruno and Gary Pretlow. However, I suspect that the problems regarding NYRA's bankruptcy plan that would have resulted, and the opposition from the politically connected OTB's outside of NYC, were probably bigger factors.

- I think it's rather amazing that we're now hearing the governor of New York seriously mention the concept of "overhauling" the OTB's, and talking about consolidation and efficiency. What is the world coming to? I guess we have Mayor Bloomberg to thank. Just the fact that the state would move NYCOTB's offices to Aqueduct under its takeover plan is something that was hard to imagine just a few months ago. If consolidation ever becomes a reality, then the one percent across the board increase in takeout which would accompany the state takeover (and which would sunset in two years, presumably when slots will be on line), might be a small price for horseplayers to ultimately pay.

- Paterson's appointment of State Senator John Sabini as the new head of the State Racing and Wagering Board goes deeper than merely finding an interested party to head that crucial commission. Democratic party officials in Queens county were backing another candidate to run for his seat. So the appointment, if approved by Bruno and Silver, would allow Sabini to gracefully walk away from the race, and avoid a contentious interparty squabble and primary, thus furthering the Democrats' goal of taking the State Senate in November.

Belmont Saturday

- In the first, Bill Place (3-1) drops in claiming price off a win, for trainer David Jacobson. There was a time I'd consider this an automatic throwout. But these days, with the economics of high purses and with limited opportunities in the condition book, I think you have to examine each situation on its own merits. Jacobson claimed this horse for 30K, freshened him, and moved him up confidently in class to unrestricted 35K claimers. In winning that race, Bill Place earned 60% of the outsized $45,000 purse, or $27,000; nearly paying for the claim in one try.

Jacobson has shown that he'll spot horses where they can win, and today's race, for a 25K tag, carries a purse of $39,000. So, another win here would be worth over $23,000, and if the horse is claimed, the connections will have earned a gross of $75,000. Even after two months expenses, jockey fees, etc., they would likely have doubled their investment. Cornelio Velasquez, whose only prior ride on Bill Place was in his Bay Shore win in '07, jumps back on board. Acclimate (7-2), just a half length back of Bill Place in that 35K affair, also drops down and the cut back to six would appear to help his chances. Holy Canyon (2-1) takes a drastic drop for Allen Jerkens; this one of the suspicious variety off some horrible form.

In the second, Pasketty (8-1) returns off a layoff, and drops to a suitable level for trainer Alan Goldberg; the barn won recently with two long layoff horses at Monmouth (Seeking an Angel $6.60, and Social Queen $16.40). Goldberg also missed by a half length here with Strike a Deal, later a close 4th in the Manhattan. Pasketty, making his eight-year old debut, has run well off layoffs himself, with a couple of strong closes at shorter distances in his last two efforts after respites. The seven furlong distance figures to help today. The win by Caesar Beware (5-2) over Nacascolo (7-2) in the most recent try for both was far more decisive than it appears on paper; Coa had this one eased up well before the wire. However, neither is likely to enjoy the ground saving trips they did that day with their outside posts today.

No pick in the 5th, but a couple of interesting first-timers to mention. Swanky (Swain) (6-1) is out of a mare by the late Derby winner Ferdinand, and we don't see that too often. His second dam is a half sister to the multiple G1 winner and successful sire Broad Brush. This three-year old debuts for Bobby Frankel. And Shug has a first timer in Olympus (6-1), the 17th horse with that name, at least in the Pedigree Query database. This barn finally got off the first-timer schneid when Tourism won last week; it was Shug's first debut winner since Pine Island in March 2006. Like this race, that contest was on the grass, and you know how percentages can even out sometimes. This Phipps-bred is by Kingmambo, out of a Storm Cat mare who's a half-sister to their Grade 1 winners Inside Information and Educated Risk, and he's inbred 5x4 to Graustark.

Speaking of Phipps, the 9th is the G1 Ogden Phipps. I'm not a big Ginger Punch fan, and she hasn't been at all impressive this year. But Spring Waltz, who I see as the main threat, is the champ's stablemate, so I'll pass.

And in the 10th, a reader wrote in to call our attention to a horse owned and trained by his brother; Cactus Cat (30-1) makes her debut, on the grass and at the age of four for David Cannizzo, who has a 14-1 winner and a couple of thirds out of eight starters at the meet thus far. Cactus Cat is by Freud, 9 for 68 with debut grass runners, out of Commadore's Gold (Commadore C). That makes her a half sister to the highly popular and successful NY-turfer Dave, as well as the 12-time winner Cabin Boy. I'm told she's worth a few bucks debuting on a surface that she's certainly bred to like. So good luck to her and her connections, and to the rest of you as well. Have a great day!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Belmont Friday

- Twilight racing starts at Belmont today, and it's about time!! One of the most popular features of the spring meeting, and we had to wait practically until summer.

In the third, Unbridled's Heart (8-5) makes his second career start, and first since he won by ten with a Beyer of 101 as one of the deadest-on-the-board debut runners winners one will ever see. The Darley boys obviously didn't know what they had, and the son of Unbridled's Song has been transferred to Godolphin. Now he pulls a Casino Drive and tries to win a modest stakes (albeit an ungraded one in this case) in his second start. And, like the now-departed Japanese wonder, he'll have to catch Mint Lane (5-2). Trained by the hot Jimmy Jerkens (10-30), this speedball continued on well after getting caught by Casino Drive in the Peter Pan, losing by 5 3/4. This is a sixteenth shorter, and do you think Unbridled's Heart is anywhere in the class of Casino Drive? If you do, then you'll probably single the Sheikh's runner; otherwise, you'll maintain some skepticism as I am.

In the 7th, Colors of Art (12-1) starts from the rail for trainer Randi Persaud. This barn is 30-6-6-7 here at Belmont, and has been in the money with live longshots on a consistent basis this meeting. Colors of Art got off to a bad start, but recovered to run an even 5th last month at 29-1 in his first race in over a year. He finished only a length behind Beneath the Crown, who could be a significantly shorter price here.

In the 8th, Akebono (3-1) drops in class and stretches back out after an even try sprinting in state-bred stakes company. This gelding has run in a fair amount of grassy sprints, but the fact is that his best races have been longer. He won at this very distance and class two back, beating Pennington, who has won twice since, including an open company win on Wednesday. Akebono is eligible here via his 30K optional claiming tag for trainer Mike Hushion.

Looking like some light posting for the next couple of days at least, as I'm off to the races today, and being forced by the Head Chef to go to Fire Island for the day tomorrow, yuck. Though I'm excited about the return of Curlin, I'm otherwise totally uninspired by the mediocre, if not downright crappy graded stakes on the Churchill Foster day card, so I'll be taking a pass on those. I don't get particularly excited about neither Hystericalady nor Dreaming of Anna, and how awful is that Northern Dancer stakes? I'm totally done with Pyro, and you can have him at 7-5, egads!

Anyway, good luck, and have a great day!!