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Sunday, August 31, 2008

Not Feeling the Love


- The crowds that lined the walking path in the backyard and the paddock which it leads to belied the disappointment of the crowd of 22,572 which showed up at Saratoga to see Curlin.

If Curlin is, as Tom Durkin stated after his hard-earned Woodward win, the "best horse in the world," then maybe, at least based on this performance, the world of racing really needs to stop and assess just where it stands. The presence of the defending Horse of the Year at Saratoga attracted no more than a relative handful of extra fans to the track. And 14 seconds to get the final eighth of a mile with some urging from Robby Albarado, are you kidding me?

Don't blame NYRA for the lackluster crowd. You can't market in a vacuum. Curlin has little buzz and panache beyond those who crowded the paddock or made the effort to view the race on one of the limited TV outlets. He hasn't raced nearly frequently enough - three times in this country in the last ten months - to establish anywhere near the kind of continuity that could generate press coverage and, more importantly, some rivals. He has no meaningful competition. But that said, the only times he's faced real adversity - a scrappy filly at a distance beyond his best capabilities, and a test on an unfamiliar surface - he's failed. He's never spotted 18 pounds to a speedy rival and had to run him down on a track he may not have liked. He's hardly an ambassador for the sport. And for all the notion of "that powerful strut of his" that Durkin promised as he rounded the turn, he hasn't really shown one since last fall, when he ran the two fastest races of his career in the Jockey Club Gold Cup and the BC Classic. Given these circumstances, how does anyone think that Curlin is going to generate any mainstream excitement at all? These are the things that make for a true champion racehorse, one that the public wants to see. And it's mostly not the horse's fault, but rather the symptoms of a broken sport.

Of course, one good way to get some attention would be for Curlin to, as one would expect, proceed to the Breeders' Cup Classic. Personally, I think he does have something to prove at this point. Don't get me wrong, he's unbeaten on dirt this year and has won three Grade 1's; that's no small thing to be sure. But in my opinion, he hasn't shown greatness. Maybe we saw yesterday just why Jess Jackson doesn't seem to want to face Big Brown.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Saratoga Saturday (Updated)

- In the first, Por Favor (4-1) drops in class and returns to a two-turn dirt race for trainer John Fahey III after a futile try in a grass stakes at Canterbury. This is a seven-year old with 64 lifetime starts, but it was only this past May that he started to be stretched out consistently. His two races around two turns at Churchill were quite good, earning solid Beyers in races that turned out to be productive ones. Not much speed inside of this one, so expect good position for Robby Albarado. Hawkinsville (5-1) goes first off the claim for trainer Bruce Brown, 3-3-2 with his last eight in that category.

Trainer Michael Trombetta is in town today with Eternal Star for the Forego (a race which I think has too much talent to simply defer to likely favorite Lucky Island); and he's also brought a couple of other horses along to drop in class in search of a) a win, b) to get rid off, c) both of the above? In the 4th, T.J's Posse (7-2) stretches out to seven furlongs after returning off a layoff with a wide, fast closing third at Del Park. The barn is 25% in the second off layoff category, and the horse has some back class with a second place finish in a Zia Park stakes last year. He's never failed to fire around one turn. Wesley Ward, a ridiculous 8 for 21 at the meet, starts Chief Talkeetna (5-2) after claiming him for himself from Ken Ramsey off an extremely long layoff and sharp drop in class off a maiden special at Gulfstream by 5 in Jan 07 which earned him a 92 Beyer and probably a mention in a Haskin Derby Watch column too. Has he started those for next year's Derby yet?

Just a note about the 5th - the two morning line favorites, Jamaludin (5-2) and Moore Miles (3-1), both come out of strong heats. Jamaludin, shipping in for the resurgent Toddster from Arlington, took an allowance there from which the second and 4th place finishers returned to run a close 1-2 in a subsequent race of the same class. Moore Miles, second at this level on this track to McLaughlin's Great Emperor, defeated Big Wig, a winner next out with a 90 Beyer, and Osceola Prince, who returned to win at this level as well.

Pletcher has the morning line favorite in the 6th with first-time two-year old French Action (2-1), by Action This Day out of a French Deputy mare. The barn got off to a flying start in this category, with four early winners. But it may be worth noting that he's 0 for 16 since High Cry won on 8/7 - eight of those at odds of 3-1 or less.

That's it for now - gonna get cracking on the rest of the card and I'll report back if anything strikes my fancy. No, I'm not betting against Curlin, but I'd take a shot against Lucky Island. I know, nothing too exciting here, but I'm finding it a tough card to sink my teeth into. DiscreetCat has some thoughts on the 8th, so I hope that helps.

Cashed one ticket on Thursday.....but it was a consolation daily double when Dressed to Win was a late scratch in the 7th. I'd successfully singled the Dale Romans entry of first-timers in the 6th. 8-1 morning line, they were a solid 3-1 on the board. This was strictly a tote play, with a little bit of 'good first-timer barn' mixed in. Is there anything sweeter when you bet a coupling and Durkin goes "the entry is 1-2" as they pass the eighth pole?

$100 even for Be Smart in that day's 9th for Lukas. This is a son of Smarty Jones, and this looks to be his 4th winner from this, his first crop. Be Smart is out of a Unbridled mare who's a 3/4 sister to the Wood winner Buddha.

How about the Toddster, battling back with two winners on Friday to cut McLaughlin's lead to one? And it's a funny game sometimes - John Kimmel, 1 for 20 on the day coming into Friday, scored with three winners, including two consecutive (and well-bet) first-timers. Close Encounter is the fifth winner for rookie sire Friends Lake. Timber Reserve, the 2007 PA Derby winner, rebounded from two hideous running lines for 2008 to win an awful feature in which I couldn't make a case for no one. But he sounded like an easy winner according to the race chart, as he coasted to the finish line while being struck thrice on the shoulder. That's surely the first time I've ever seen the word thrice in a race chart, and I hope it was merely the whip with which he was struck.

[UPDATE: A couple of points to add about the 8th. As DC mentioned, it's a tough heat. Besides Tagg's colt being a half to Nobiz Like Shobiz, you have Zito's Ruler's Vision, a half to War Pass, and Mott's Pious David, a troubled third in his debut, a half to Blue Grass winner Monba. Speed Limit looks like the best of the ones who have already run; he made a very wide move on the turn after a stumbling start, and can thus be forgiven for flattening out and settling for second to Asmussen first-timer Kensei.

Another which I won't ignore is Imperial Council (12-1), first time out for Shug. This barn has been very sharp with its two-year olds at this meeting. Consequence was a debut winner at 6-1 last week; two others, Persistently and Gone Astray, ran good thirds at long odds in their debuts and then each won their second time out. Imperial Council has some solid works, and outworked stablemate Consequence on 8/16 and 7/26. This colt is by Empire Maker (just 2 for 65 with debut runners thus far), out of a stakes winning Thunder Gulch mare.

Haven't come up with anything for the Forego. Lucky Island sure looks tough, but there are some tough seasoned sprinters in here. Eternal Star has come on strong, for Trombetta; likewise Bold Start, and we know how well McPeek has been going; First Defence loves this distance and has two seconds in graded stakes over the track; Forefathers is fast when he wants to be; and Premium Wine is capable of picking up the pieces if things get too complicated up front. I think I'm going to limit my late Pick Three single to Curlin. Best of luck and have a fantastic day!!]

Friday, August 29, 2008

Bigger Attraction Ain't Here

- I didn't make it to the track on Friday. I hope you don't think any less of me. But we all (sans teenagers) went hiking up at Tenant Creek Falls, and we made it all the way up to the third one; a round trip of 4.2 miles I'm told. If I hadn't forgotten my camera in the car I'd post some photos, but Eileen has some I can bore you with later on. I borrowed this one on the internet. Great day despite a persistent cloud cover and my and Eileen's suffering several painful stings from some angry wasps whose home I must have unwittingly disturbed. Ow. It was an accident, y'know! Fortunately, the Head Chef remained unscathed. (She swells up really bad, and may not have been able to cook tonight.)

By the time we got back, I could have run over for the late double. But when I saw that Sinners N Saints, who I liked in the 8th, was scratched, I stayed here, popped open the wine and the laptop.

It was a lazy day at the track on Wednesday. 14,210 doesn't quite fill the place anymore, and it had a definite "last week of the meeting" feel. It must have been a bit better with over 18,000 on hand on Friday. I know that NYRA is hoping for 30,000 for Curlin on Saturday. The weather forecast, though just a possibility of a few passing showers and nothing at all dire, doesn't help. But I don't know if it would matter anyway to be honest.

I just don't sense the kind of buzz about Curlin to think that there would be a crowd of that sort this weekend even if the forecast was fine. I hope I'm wrong, and NYRA, with some help from the town of Saratoga, is doing its best to hype it up.

The Head Chef's brother Claude, here along with wife Leah and daughter Eva, is an avid sports fan. He's not a racing fan, but he's aware of the Triple Crown events, and catches them on TV from time to time. He's excited about coming to the track on Saturday, as is the entire crew, who will be looking for yours truly to achieve pari-mutuel glory. Oh man.

When I told him that Curlin was racing tomorrow, his expression couldn't have been more blank than if I had said Sarah Palin. But when, in what could be considered push-polling, I asked if he'd be more excited if Big Brown was running, he said definitely. I think his reaction is the same as I would get if I posed the same questions to any of my non-addicted fans.

For one thing, it shows how the Kentucky Derby is really the singular horse racing event as far as most people go. The Breeders' Cup Classic? I don't think it registers in the public mind much at all, even, as in this case, combined with the Preakness, a nose loss in the Belmont, and the Dubai World Cup (ha).

The other point here in my mind is that it's Big Brown who is the horse of the moment. No matter what NYRA gets here tomorrow, there's no doubt in my mind that Big Brown would have drawn at least 5,000 more. Big Brown's appeal is a very fleeting thing in our sport, given the way the economics (and, as seems the case for Big Brown, physical problems) shorten horses' careers and the short attention span of the general public. Jess Jackson said he was bringing Curlin back for the good of the sport. The good of the sport demands that he put his pride and any notion that he deserves to call the shots against his more popular rival aside, and make a meeting with Big Brown happen.

Saratoga Evening

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Saratoga Notes

- Two more winners for McLaughlin on Wednesday, breaking the tie and vaulting him to the lead in the trainers standings over the Toddster. Majestic Blue was his second debut Darley two-year old winner in two racing days after Regal Ransom won on Monday. Nice price ($8.40) too, as the fans instead went for the Baffert first-timer Mayor Marv, third after a troubled trip at 9-5. Majestic Blue is by Forestry out of a Seeking the Gold mare, and descends from the illustrious distaff family of the blue hen mare No Class, her third dam. She's the dam of Canadian champions Classy N Smart, Grey Classic, and Smart Classic, and the granddam of Dance Smartly and Smart Strike.

McLaughlin also saddled Stream of Gold, who showed his class dropping into claimers and mowing down the field after a rough trip. But they didn't think they were going to sneak this one by Ken Ramsey, even with the 60K tag for this seven-year old gelding, did they? The barn seems likely to pick up another winner in today's first with Caesar Beware (6-5), perhaps owner Zabeel Racing's way of helping their trainer take the Saratoga title. He returns to the 35K claiming level at which he dominated in his last, and I'd expect he could be wearing Ramsey's colors for his next race.

I've mentioned trainer David Duggan a couple of times, but he's largely flown under the LATG radar, partly because of horses like Cagey Girl, who won the 8th at 22-1. Like some of his other winners, I just couldn't make this one, moving up to a state-bred stakes. Duggan, a former assistant to John Kimmel and Eoin Harty, now has six winners from just 15 starters, and an average win payoff of over $25. So maybe I should be paying closer attention.

I obviously liked Yield Bogey ($16.60) in the 9th since I picked him here (and thanks to those of you who recognized my effort in that regard). I mean, I thought he could outrun his odds, but this was ridiculous. This four-year old gelded son of Langfuhr was a total handful for Jean-Luc Samyn from the beginning as noted by Durkin, and methinks that the rider could have taken the wide route and gotten the job done. Instead, he tried to save some ground on the turn, and found himself in what seemed to be an impossible box in the stretch. You could see the horse's head turned sideways as he and Samyn struggled to get through. Don't know quite how he did it and there was quite a bit of contact along the way. But he managed to edge through, getting the final sixteenth in 5.72 after an eighth in 10.99.

Quite a sharp horse, and trainer Pat Kelly obviously bears watching. In the 7th today, he saddles Talbots Shopper (15-1), back to the grass and a sprint after an ambitious stakes placing. Prior to that, she graduated against bottom basement maiden claimers. She may still be in over her head here, and I hesitate to pick her on top; but I'll certainly be using her in some fashion. Kelly is also seeking a spot for Evening Attire, entered again today as a MTO, but he'll likely have to wait again.

Heading up to Saratoga shortly on this sunny morning. Not much red meat for advance handicapping on this card with four two-year old races with first-timers galore, the aforementioned opener with McLaughlin's favorite, a lackluster overnight stakes, and the annual dreaded steeplechase stakes in the body of the card (race 8, yuck). The 10th however is a wide open claimer on the grass. This race features several horses moving up in class off a win; tough heat. But how about a flyer on Fairytale Story (15-1) for trainer Phil Serpe? This is one barn which I touted before the meet, but which has not had a productive Saratoga, with two winners from 21 starters, and many losers at low odds. This mare comes off a lengthy layoff, but note that she's won twice under very similar circumstances before. Whatsmore, Edgar Prado was aboard both of those times, and he returns today.

That's it, time to hit the road, speak to you next from the Spa.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Back From The Dead

- Speaking of staycations, business continues to generally boom at the Yonkers Raceway racino. Business has leveled off a bit as the summer wanes....is it a coincidence that gas prices have eased over that time? But look at the numbers from last summer compared to this, and the improvement is quite evident.

As slots revenues rise, so do the purses for the races. The latest purse increase was 21.6%, after a 15% boost in July. This has boosted the fortune of the horsemen, and not only with respect to earnings. Business at the claim box is going through the roof. Seven horses were claimed just this past Saturday.

The highest claim for $50,000 was followed by three claims at $40,000; one at $30,000 and two at $20,000. The total spent at the claim box was $240,000. [LoHud.com]
The track is now considering claiming races with tags as high as $100,000. In a statement, the Standardbred Owners Association of NY said: "None of the present positive action at Yonkers Raceway was conceivable before the VLTs came on board."

This is all pretty amazing when you consider that, not too long ago, the track had been left for dead. Waiting for the End at Yonkers Raceway reads the headline of a virtual obituary published in the NY Times in 2000.
A year after celebrating its centennial, Yonkers Raceway is dying. What was once New York's greatest gambling venue has lost out to TV, casinos, and harness racing's failure to attract a new generation of fans.

''Our time at Yonkers has come to an end,'' Tim Rooney, the racetrack's owner, said in an interview in his office at the track. ''You can't have a 100-acre facility and just use a fraction of the property.'' After losing roughly $5 million for three years running, the track broke even in 1999, but the property is for sale, and the track will likely be gone in a year or two.

The only way to revive the track, said Mr. Rooney, would be to introduce slot machines, which have brought new life to a number of dying harness tracks in other states. Although casino gambling is illegal in New York State, slot machines -- or a near variant known as Video Lottery Terminals -- could become legal at Yonkers if a current effort to introduce casino gambling in the Catskills is successful.

However, that is viewed as a long shot, and is not likely to delay the track's sale, which could happen as early as this summer, said Joe Morningstar, the managing director of Rockwood Realty, the principal marketer of the property.

Meanwhile, the track is slowly being dismantled.
That all changed...except of course at Aqueduct....the following year when, faced with dire financial circumstances after the 9/11 attacks, the legislature approved VLT's at the state's racetracks.

- The MSG Network, which has absolutely nothing to do but show old Rangers and Knicks games during the summer, will televise the Woodward Stakes on Saturday.

- Free grandstand AND clubhouse admission at Saratoga on closing day. So it's a chance for you to wander into the clubhouse and check out where the better half bets. No profanity please. Maybe you'll run into Joe Bruno if you're lucky.

- Nice job by NYRA, creating a Curlin web page, complete with a "blog" by Robby Albarado, a workout tab, and links to past performances, some nice photos, and replays of all of his career races.

- Governor Paterson addressed the Democratic convention on Tuesday.

- Duck!

Hunch Bet For Wednesday, August 27

Mizzcan'tbewrong 6th at Arlington Park

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Saratoga Staycation

- Remember way back around five or six weeks ago when we were discussing the prospects for the Saratoga meeting? I thought that the effect of gas prices and the weak economy would be too much even for the Spa to overcome. Some of you disagreed, and argued that the town and the track would benefit from people taking 'staycations.'

Of course, the awful weather during the first two weeks makes it hard to draw any conclusions. Besides the disappointing attendance figures, everyone who I spoke to who was up there during that time said that the town was dead. But the weather has improved since then, and business during Travers week was good.

Attendance was up 3.3 percent comparing the fifth week of racing this year with the fifth week of racing in 2007, according to NYRA. On-track betting was also up 2.6 percent comparing this past week with the same week in 2007. [Schenectady Gazette]
The numbers remain down overall. But NYRA is hoping for a boost on Saturday, which has officially been proclaimed Curlin Day by Mayor Scott Johnson. Charles Hayward told Sherry Ross of the Daily News: "If we got less than 30,000, I'd be disappointed, as long as the weather holds up." I imagine that he's nervously tracking the progress of the remnants of the pesky Fay as it moves north, as am I.

Anyway, our trip to Saratoga for which we leave on Thursday morning is actually a perfect example of the staycation model. We'd been considering a trip to Europe this fall, but the airfare and exchange rate were just too much. Instead, we went in with a couple of others, took advantage of one of those last minute specials and rented a house in town, just a couple of blocks up the street from the main entrance to the track. The cost to us, including a couple of tanks of gas, is just a fraction of that of our scuttled plans. The Head Chef's brother and sister-in law, her good friend Eileen, and two teenage girls will be on hand. They're all curious enough about the track to devote one day to it, probably on Saturday. The pressure will be on me that day for sure, and I hope they don't have their hopes up.

Otherwise, I should be able to slip away and walk over to the track as I please.....make it to the harness track one night (at least) too.....and still be on hand for all of the delicious home cooking that's sure to ensue. So I suppose that it would be greedy of me to hope for a winner or two?

- Just Zip It is doing fine, and is slated for the Schenectady Stakes, another state-bred affair at six furlongs, at Belmont on September 7. Rap Tale earned an anemic Beyer of 62 for her allowance win at Philly Park. Yikes. She hated the track according to jockey Kendrick Carmouche, but dug in managed to get the job done. Trainer Bruce Brown has nominated her, at no cost, for the Twin Lights Stakes for three-year old fillies, at Monmouth on Saturday; it's a nine furlong grass race, and I'll let you know what he decides.

- Another franchise extension for NYRA, this one until Sept 28. However, Paul Post reports in the Thoroughbred Times that meetings were held with state officials earlier this week, and that Hayward expressed hope that the deal will be sealed within a couple of weeks.
“We need to get out of bankruptcy. It’s costing us $80,000 a day in interest fees and bankruptcy charges. We’re very close to a deal.” [Thoroughbred Times]
No word, of course, on the Aqueduct racino.


- In the 9th on Wednesday, I'll take a shot with Yield Bogey (10-1), for trainer Pat Kelly, and jockey Jean Luc Samyn (1 for 41). This barn is always good for some nice-price winners up there; Kelly's two winners, from 26 starters, at the meeting thus far were 10-1 and 8-1. It's been three weeks and ten races since then, but he's been in the money ten other times, and got close recently with first-timer Pynaformer, a close third at 17-1, and Upper Gulch, who missed by a nose at 11-1 on Sunday. Yield Bogey actually has very similar form to the latter, coming into this a few weeks and a solid string of works following a disappointing performance at Belmont. A return to the form of his June 14 effort, in which he closed for second in 11 flat and earned a competitive 78 Beyer, could put him in the mix here.

- Full day of work on Wednesday, tickets for the Yankee game at night, off to Saratoga Thursday morning, and uncertainty over the internet connection upstate.....so happy Labor Day (and Curlin Day) everyone if I don't speak to you until then! But I probably will.

Monday, August 25, 2008

No Medals For ESPN

- Here's an interesting article in the NY Times about NBC's smashing success with the Olympics, and the efforts of the network's sports chairman Dick Ebersol to make it so. Even eight years ago, Ebersol was already working on having these Games shifted from September back to August.

“If you’re into September, you’re going to lose a big percentage of your male viewers,” Mr. Ebersol said. “There’s N.F.L. coverage on Sundays and Mondays, and college football is now on four or five nights a week. All of that goes away if you start in mid-August.”
Ebersol wanted the swimming and gymnastics events to be available on live TV. Since that meant that the events would have to take place early in the morning (a 12 hour time difference between Beijing and Queens), he went directly to Michael Phelps, who assured him that it would not negatively impact his performance. Which I guess it didn't. (And by the way, his win in the 100 meter fly was the aquatic equivalent of Colonel John's Travers win!)

Ebersol said of Phelps: “He told me: ‘My only real goal is to leave the sport bigger and better than I found it,,,".

I can't help but wish that there was just a fraction of the efforts and dedication described above from the participants of the sport of horse racing, and the network which televises its showcase event. Regardless of who you think is ducking who between Curlin and Big Brown, if the participants' main goal really was to help the sport grow rather than to enrich themselves, they would get this done. And preferably in the match race format that's been discussed. It's high time to leave Ruffian in the past, and thank her for prompting the passage of time which would give such an event a true once-in-a-lifetime feel.

Regarding ESPN, I know that you can't compare the Breeders' Cup and the Olympics. Of course Ebersole had to hustle to make it work - NBC spent $894 million on the rights and had a lot more at stake. The Breeders' Cup is merely small fry by comparison. But, as you recall, ESPN pledged a major effort to make the Breeders' Cup a jewel of the network. Need I once again repeat the quote? OK...."We intend to bring our full arsenal of resources to present, to promote and distribute the storied property as no one else can."

Discussing the deal just prior to ESPN's first telecast in 2006, Breeders' Cup (then interim) CEO Greg Avioli said that rather than for ratings,
"It was designed for significantly more promotion over the months leading up to the Breeders' Cup to grow the property."

Well, I just don't see that kind of dedication from ESPN on at least two key fronts. For one thing, once September rolls around, as Mr. Ebersol noted, college and pro football starts. And horse racing on ESPN disappears. Poof. This past weekend's telecasts were the last time you'll see races on national TV until October 4. Given the fact that most of today's top thoroughbreds have their final preps scheduled for more than "only" three weeks before the Breeders' Cup, most of those horses, including Curlin and Big Brown, will not be in action when Randy Moss and Co. are next seen. Amongst the Breeders' Cup Challenge races that will not be on ESPN are the Jockey Club Gold Cup, Queen Elizabeth II, Lady's Secret, the Goodwood, Alcibiades, the Woodbine Mile and the EP Taylor, Grade 1 races all. (There's also the Flower Bowl, Turf Classic and Vosburgh, all not included on the BC's list of Challenge races, is that right??)

Now, it's partly the Breeders' Cup fault for expanding the Challenge series too much too quickly; can't expect ESPN to televise all of them (especially, and thankfully, races like the mile and a half Turfway Fall Championship. Did you notice that Delosvientos, who thrashed the Marathon-challenged qualified Evening Attire in the Brooklyn, was 9th at 21-1 in the Pac Classic?) But still, one broadcast in the nine weeks leading up the Breeders' Cup is pretty damn weak.

And the other thing that's been bugging me is Filly Friday. No, not the concept nor the hysterical debate about the Ladies' Classic name. But rather the fact that ESPN could, if it wanted to, present the races in prime time. Sunday's Pac Classic ran from 8 to 10 here, a little taste of what could be. I can't recall a similar prime time national broadcast of horse racing at all, can you? It can only really happen with the races on the west coast, since the sport shuns the nighttime for the most part, especially for the bigger stars. It would give the network and the sport a chance to market the event to a wider TV audience than it may usually have. Here's a rare opportunity to present, in prime time, the best horses in training, and races that could be more interesting than the male counterparts the next day.

Yet, not only will it instead be on from 4 until 7 PM in the east.....a time when I can almost guarantee you that nobody but the already-devoted will make at least an effort to tune in, but it's not even on the main ESPN network. It's on ESPN2. That's not prime time in any sense of the word, and it's not appropriate for our championship races. It's more appropriate for those Olympics leftovers such as badminton and archery, presented on the USA Network and CNBC in the late afternoon.

Saratoga Notes

- Flying finish in the 6th at Saratoga on Monday, worth checking out on Cal Racing, or wherever you do so. Three of them across the track! They came in waves, with first Princess Westly coming from nowhere, and then High Draw, content to lumber along for six furlongs, coming from even nowhere-er on the far outside. In fact, he looked like the winner, and it had to have been another unlikely head bob for him to get beat. Durkin called him first, so I think he thought he had it.

High Draw was claimed by owner Ken Ramsey and trainer Michael Maker for 35K. Ramsey has been rather quiet on the track of late, but he did take the state-bred Saratoga Dew stakes with even money Talking Treasure. And he continues to be active at the claim box. On Sunday, he claimed Lord Robyn for 50K on Sunday, and Cash McCool for the same tag on Saturday. Don't think you're gonna sneak your horse through an optional claimer with this guy around.

Bruce Levine took the early double by a combined 23 lengths.

McLaughlin won his 13th race of the meeting, tying the Toddster for the training lead. If I didn't mention before the meeting that I thought McLaughlin could win the trainer title, I meant to. Regal Ransom was a Darley first-timer, a 675K two-year old in training purchase, and the trainer's 4th two-year old debut winner of the meeting. He's by Elusive Quality, out of a Red Ransom half sister to Minister Eric, second in the Juvenile to Action This Day in 2003.

Mott got his third winner of the meet, and first since August 9. Pioneerof the Nile (Empire Maker) is a half-brother to the trainer's stakes horse Forefathers.

Two winners for former Frankel assistant Chad Brown, who now has six winners from just 15 starters.

Graham Motion took the finale on Sunday; been waiting for him to break out, but it was only his third winner in 27 starters. But looking back at the archives from last September, I noticed that I'd written that he only had two winners going into Travers weekend. He won two that weekend, and three more during the final week. So I'm not giving up on him yet.

- By popular demand (of one), Boston's Either/Orchestra with Ethiopia's Mahmoud Ahmed last week at Lincoln Center.

video

Odds and Ends

- Trainer Ken McPeek continued his incredible recent streak at Saratoga with Sandstorm Cat taking Sunday's 8th, and at 6-1! Some consolation for me after a mostly rough day on Saturday. McPeek was second on Travers day with Tizzy at 11-1 in the 5th, a race I missed betting because I was at Jones Beach and forgot that post time had been moved up to noon. So when I called into the phone account, I was startled to hear that the race was closed. I would have had at least the 5th-6th race double as a saver, and it's sure possible I could have had that 5th exacta with Weaver's Rogue Victory on top. Of course, I was in time to bet, and lose, the 6th. At least I got a solid run for third out of Schosberg's Hammock at fair odds of 8-1.

McPeek, currently on a run of 9-5-1-2, starts Bounissimo (15-1) on the grass in the 7th on Monday. This two-year old son of Cherokee Run showed nothing in his debut, on the dirt at 17-1. His Tomlinson is just 283; but his second dam, the late Chelsey Flower, was a G1 winner (Flower Bowl) on grass.

- I initially thought Visionaire an unlikely winner of the King's Bishop. However, looking back at the pp's after the race (when they so often seem to make perfect sense), you can see that all of his prior races around one turn had been good ones in which he closed strongly from far back. That includes his prior race, a second over the track, though in the slop. He equaled his career best Beyer of 98 in that race, a sign that he could perhaps be ready to move forward. I discounted it, figuring that it was due to the slop, as in the Gotham. However, he had two excellent wins on fast tracks in one-turn mile races at Laurel and Gulfstream. .

So it seems as if Michael Matz has found a niche for this horse. Perhaps the connections of Tale of Ekati may want to take a look and consider a similar strategy for theirs, who has not shown himself to be worthy of this level since his seven furlong Futurity. (And yes, I'm intentionally including his win in the Woeful Wood.) He's been making mid-race moves that suggest that a cutback in distance is in order.....and a drop to a NW3x allowance race wouldn't hurt either, to give the poor horse a little confidence at the least. Kodiak Kowboy was a dull 5th - good pre-race reporting by Jeannine Edwards on ESPN there, telling us how the horse was hard to handle while saddling, and noting that Larry Jones had specifically told her that this wouldn't be the case, as opposed to Hard Spun before last year's edition.

Jerry Bailey, on the ball as usual, immediately picked up on the way that the wide journey to victory by Shakis in the Bernard Baruch contrasted with the inside route taken by he and Alan Garcia when winning the race last year. This attempt at substance came as Joe Tessitore was making sure to loudly proclaim that he told us all that Garcia would be a star. Tessitore seemed particularly ramped up this weekend, putting extra emphasis into the hype, making Todd Schrupp seem like he's on quaaludes by comparison. He opened the Travers telecast by defending the prestige of the race even without Big Brown by comparing it to the Rose Bowl without the Heisman Trophy winner. Er, nice try there Joe. I wonder how he'll explain away the absence of division leaders such as Curlin, Ginger Punch, and Benny the Bull should they not show up at the Breeders' Cup.

ESPN shipped all three commentators cross country to Del Mar for the Pacific Classic telecast to join Randy Moss, who, for some reason, had been sent ahead. Perhaps they realize that he's the ace of the rotation and wanted to give him extra rest. The NFL Network apparently realizes that too. I thought that perhaps Moss' on-set presence combined with jet lag would have calmed Tessitore down. But it was not to be, and I was reaching for the mute button by the time he started talking about how Go Between's victory in the Pac Classic "clarified the Classic picture."

Huh? What exactly does it clarify? That Go Between is the best of the Polyhorses out west? That there's a clear divide in the handicap division between "dirt horses" and "synthetic horses?" Considering my past, and continuing support for the synthetics experiment, you may be surprised to hear me admit that I'm looking down condescendingly at this horse as a decent turf stakes horse who has merely found a new home on a new surface. I just can't get the least bit excited about him. And I think he's making it clearer than ever before that the Breeders' Cup has made a bad decision to conduct this year's event on synthetics (and then compounded it twice over). There, I said it, OK?

- What if Curlin wins the Jockey Club Gold Cup and calls it quits...and Go Between wins the Classic? Who, then, is Horse of the Year?

- After more subdued presentations of the races at Saratoga, ESPN returned to the multiple cuts out west that can make their telecasts so confusing. During the Pacific Classic, we went from closeup to pan to overhead and back again, and I didn't really know where they were until I saw the virtual yard marker in the stretch. Ugh.

However, at least Bailey got to do his immediate post-race jockey interviews this time. Sometimes, I wonder if the jockeys, Garrett Gomez in this case, are really affirming what Bailey has said beforehand, or if Bailey just puts his thoughts into their mouths. "Garrett, did you have Go Between closer than usual because you thought the pace wasn't as fast as you expected it to be?" "Uh, yeah, Jerry, I guess so." OK, I made those quotes up, but you get my point?

- Bailey criticized Solis for moving Daytona too soon in the Del Mar Mile.

- Best line of the weekend goes to Randy Moss, who commented that Zappa would have to be a "mother of invention" to get the lead.

- During a tribute to Genuine Risk during Saturday's telecast, a video of the late Derby winner with one of her foals was accompanied by the fact that she had not been successful as a broodmare. "NOT SUCCESSFUL?" cried the Head Chef. "LOOK, SHE HAD A CUTE BAAABY!!" We all have different standards to be sure.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Sunday Morning Notes - Aug 24

- The Travers crowd of just over 40,000 on a perfect day was around 1,000 more than last year, when the heat and humidity was stifling. The hottest day I've ever spent at a track. Considering everything, I'd say that's a pretty good crowd. Last year's race featured the Derby winner, but a field which was thought to have no competition for him. Looking back to the archives, I see I'd written that the race had created little buzz.

This year's race didn't generate much more, but it was at least competitive and ponderous on paper, and it turned out that way on the track as well. Fun betting race, and fun race to watch. But the final time of 2:03.20 (final quarter in nearly 26 seconds), the slowest time since Coronado's Quest in 1998, indicates that the race will have little impact on the eventual championships.

Big Brown was once again noticeable by his absence, as was Curlin last year. Jeannine Edwards, looking absolutely resplendent on ESPN, reported on the match race that I first made up here. I think I should be like Paulick and demand a little credit here, don't you? Like a game of telephone, the story changed a little, with the big showdown now scheduled for early December at Churchill or Gulfstream (the latter would be quite a feat considering that it doesn't open until January). However, she also reported that Jess Jackson was dismissive of the concept; that he wants to meet Big Brown in a normal race setting.

Well, what's up with that, Jess? Y'know, it seems to me that, on net, it's Curlin that is doing the most ducking around here. The only scenarios that Jackson has proposed are ones that would have favored his champ by rushing Big Brown into a race he obviously, given his light workout schedule since the Haskell, wouldn't be ready for. But on the other hand, he won't face Big Brown in the Breeders' Cup, his opportunity to face him in a "normal" race setting (other than the fact that the running surface could be like the La Brea Tar Pits for all the heck we know about it), and now has quickly put the kibosh on an event which could give this sport the biggest boost it's seen in a long time. I was glad that Jerry Bailey commented that the owners would both agree to it if they really wanted to help the game.

Ms. Edwards put the question directly to Steve Asmussen - you go girl! - who artfully ducked it. Asmussen also did not seem too hepped up about the chances of Pyro. No, his races have not been as good as those early in the year, and yes, he needs to improve, and no, the post position is bad. This prompted the Head Chef to inquire as to why everyone was betting on Pyro if the trainer thought he was no good? Probably a serious point in there somewhere. The Head Chef also said that she thinks that Edwards is "hilarious," but couldn't explain exactly why.

I don't think we'll see Robby Albarado celebrate after a race again until he knows the result. Tom Durkin wasn't fooled; he declined to make a call, noting a little skeptically that the jockey was pumping his fists. Randy Moss picked Mambo in Seattle literally seconds before they went into the gate, noting that they hadn't talked much about the third choice in the race. And no, they hadn't...

OK damn, I gotta go just when I was getting warmed up, be back with more later......

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Ow.

- That one really hurt. I'm usually pretty good natured about my losing, but I sat in stunned silence for several minutes after Colonel John's number was posted, and the Head Chef knew enough to leave me alone and get back to the kitchen (sorry, I'm a little cranky). I don't want to think about which nearby object would have flown, and where, back in the more tempestuous days of my youth.

As they approached the wire, I for some reason thought Mambo in Seattle had it, and figured I had at least the exacta nailed. So I was actually looking back at the race for third as the two leaders crossed the wire. Now, looking back at the replay, I see that I had no reason to divert my attention from the front. I knew I needed the white horse out of the money, and was wondering just who that was who came up the rail to get third. When I looked back, Robbie Albarado was pumping his fist. And though I must report that the Head Chef was uncertain all along, I figured the jockey knew better. No offense there, honey.

Then, Jerry Bailey was interviewing Albarado. Great job by ESPN here, forgoing the immediate post-race jockey interview in each of the prior two races, and then getting the wrong one in the other. Still no indication from ESPN as to who finished third. No respect for us triple bettors.

When they showed the replay, and then the slow motion replay, I knew it was trouble. At that point, I was hoping to salvage a dead heat. Randy Moss, reporting, awkwardly at times, from Del Mar, later wondered if there's a margin that's less than a nose. I remember years ago referring to it as a 'booger.'

I woulda had the exacta and the triple - ESPN finally revealed Pyro as the mystery show horse - and, even better yet, would have given out the cold triple on this blog. Based on the payouts of $86.50 and $351 for the exacta and trifecta with the 4-1 winner on top of the 5.50 to 1 Mambo in Seattle.....well, shoot.

- Tizbig pressed the pace and faded to 8th. Since I ridiculed his chances in my pre-race analysis which, if I say so myself, was pretty damn good, I feel entitled to say: I was.

Saratoga Notes

- I wrote about trainers Ken McPeek and Richard Schosberg in this post on Wednesday. "I'll be keeping an eye on both." All I can say is that I hope some of you made more money than did I on Friday. McPeek took the second with Ellis Park shipper Dream Empress ($6.80), who just won the bob from Dynaslew, a Mott debut runner who had burst to the lead after a very wide trip and appeared poised to break the trainer out of his first-timer slump. Won't be long now, and it will probably be a decent price as this one, at 5.70-to-1, would have been. Dynaslew is a two-year old daughter of Dynaformer, out of the stakes winning Seattle Slew mare Slew's Final Answer. Watch her win at 3-5 next time out.

And Schosberg took the 8th race with Sunshine For Life ($30.60); that two races after his 7-1 Western Sweep missed by a neck in the 6th, amazing. I find this notion of trainers going on hot streaks to be a fascinating and, sometimes, profitable aspect of the game. I don't know whether it's just a statistical phenomenon, or if a trainer can just hit upon an effective workout routine, a nutritious bunch of carrots, some music the horses like, or......well, you know. Let's say, a very potent batch of hay, or something like that. But we definitely see these guys get hot, and earlier on is the time you can catch some prices.

On Saturday, McPeek starts Tizzy (15-1) in the 5th, a real Saratoga kinda maiden special on a real Saratoga kinda Travers day card. No doubt this is a tough race, with Mott second timer Intercoastal, who I had in his debut at 9-2, and Rogue Victory (7-2), coming off a second from far back for late-stage hot trainer George Weaver. However, both of those start from outside posts. Tizzy has shown decent enough form on turf and the Keeneland Poly to make him live for at least a share for a barn that's been live itself of late.

Schosberg starts Hammock (12-1) in the sixth. Not so much that he's facing monsters, but he is trying open company for the first time after running out of state bred conditions. He ran evenly in a tough state-bred stakes won by repeater Banrock; that race also included Pennington, who then missed by a head in a higher open allowance level than this; and R Clear Victory, second in a stakes at Canterbury Park. Kent Desormeaux, who rode this four-year old gelded son of Intidab to a three length win in his only prior assignment, picks up the mount; he's 6-for-20 riding for this barn.

And Mott, who I now have at 0-for-80 with first time starters going back almost a year, debuts Benjamin Z (8-1) in the 10th at Monmouth. This son of Johannesburg brought $950,000 as a two-year old in training in March 2007, and is just getting to the races now for Zayat. Benjamin Z is out of a Well Decorated mare who's a half to the G1 Vosburgh winner Bonapaw.

- I'm not at the Travers as you might surmise. We'll be heading back up to the Spa on Thursday morning for the duration. I will be checking out ESPN's telecast of the races today at 4:30, or at some point soon thereafter. Don't know if I'll do a "live blog" type of thang, or just a commentary later on, but I'll likely have a couple of things to say about the day's races and broadcast. Until then, good luck and have a great day!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Hunch Bets for Friday, August 22

Glamour Shot 5th at Evangeline Downs (Hat tip to Josh Marshall)
Whatsthetruth 3rd at Monmouth
Mightytoolight 7th at Evangeline Downs
Nomoremrniceguy 8th at Finger Lakes
That's A Secret 5th at Evangeline Downs
Power Shift 5th at Del Mar
Lookwhatigot 1st at Mountaineer
Hope Thisis Theone 3rd at Evangeline Downs

Where Have I Seen That Before?

- Looks like Michael Iavarone has been reading this blog. His idea about a match race with Curlin looks awfully familiar, don't it?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Travers

1) Tale of Ekati (20-1) - Well, we've come a long ways to nowhere with this colt since his electrifying win at Belmont in the Futurity last fall. I was on the Derby bandwagon after he burst through to victory in a final furlong of 11 3/5. Unfortunately, such a win at seven furlongs guarantees nothing regarding longer distances. The fact is that this son of Tale of the Cat has run his two fastest races - though only a top Beyer of 95 - in sprints - the Futurity, and a second place finish to Ready's Image in the six furlong Sanford here at Saratoga. So, why not the seven furlong King's Bishop rather than stretching him out to a mile and a quarter?

2) Colonel John (8-1) - It's cool that WinStar and trainer Eoin Harty are shipping the SA Derby winner east for this race. It would be cooler if his return in the Swaps wasn't so disappointing, with no sign of the strong closing kick he'd shown before. And there is of course that nagging question of his handling natural dirt. Still, his Swaps was a career best Beyer, and he wouldn't have to move forward off that too much to be competitive here...if any of that means anything going synth to dirt. Whatsmore, it was a four horse field, which might have prompted Garrett Gomez to take his colt out of his game by being too close to what was a pretty good clip. That won't happen here, and this son of Tiznow, who's worked steadily since that last effort, would be an intriguing middle long shot at his morning line of 8-1 or more.

3) Da'Tara (8-1) - The Belmont winner will likely go for the lead from his inside post, but, by golly, Nick Zito may once again see another horse dare to send his horse too! The nerve! Tizbig has some strong Moss pace figures, and it's possible that Zito's horse will once again not have things his own way. He had a nice pattern of improvement going into the Jim Dandy, but I can't possibly support this son of Tiznow here after a 24 length Jim Dandy loss, even if he was lone speed.

4) Tizbig (30-1) - Hey, three Tiznow sons lined up in a row, like a little family reunion. All that friendly stuff ends once they go into the gate of course. As mentioned above, Tizbig has run fast early of late, most recently just this past Sunday when he was second to Numaany in a race I thought was awful. Despite the fact that Allen Jerkens' colt battled to a game second, he was essentially done after three quarters, slowing to a quarter of 26.15 and staggering home in 14 seconds. Six days later at a mile and a quarter, c'mon Chief, get real. Still, I'm thinking (and hoping) that he's an early factor

5) Macho Again (6-1) - I was positive that this was a one turn horse before the Preakness; he ended up busting up all my exactas and triples. But I wrote that off as a case of him merely passing those who tangled early with Big Brown. Then he rebounded from his Belmont by winning the Jim Dandy in a career best Beyer of 102. Still, at a mile and a quarter, I'll stick to my original instincts regarding the son of Macho Again Uno.

6) Cool Coal Man (15-1) - I'm trying to remember exactly why I liked this horse against Big Brown in the Haskell. Sure, I had this bad feeling about Big Brown which persisted until around the sixteenth pole. But was it because the son of Mineshaft won the five horse Spend A Buck, edging the mighty Atoned? Because he's never come home faster than 13 1/5? Because I'm a big Nick Zito fan? Not quite sure what I was thinking, but I won't make the same mistake again.

7) Amped (30-1) - Another Zito/La Penta horse? Seems like they have as many Travers entries as John McCain has houses. OK, well, they seem to have settled on eight. So I guess not that many. This one may seem outclassed, but that never stops Nick. No matter that he lost four lengths in the stretch to Mambo in Seattle at a mile and an eighth, taking a significant step backwards in his first and only dirt race around two turns. It's Nick Zito, so throwing darts and spotting horses where they don't belong has to be good for the game, right?

8) Harlem Rocker (4-1) - Really, 4-1? I hope so, because I'm leaving him out entirely. Stronach and Handride's son of Macho Uno caused a stir opening his career with three straight wins, including his smashing Withers win, beating subsequent dual stakes winner J Be K. His flop in the Plate Trial, his two turn debut, could be attributed to the Poly at Woodbine. His subsequent win in the Fort Erie, against questionable competition and a favorite trying dirt for the first time, earned only a 90 Beyer. And he's another son of Macho Uno with a miniscule Tomlinson number for this distance trying a mile and a quarter.

9) Mambo in Seattle (5-1) - Y'know how some races, you can just quickly scan the past performances and come up with a clear choice after just a cursory glance? That's what happened with me and Mambo in Seattle in the Travers. As opposed to all of the tired names in this race that we've seen fall by the Triple Crown wayside, this classically bred son of Kingmambo has steadily rounded into top class form. He famously ran faster in a restricted stakes on Jim Dandy day then the centerpiece race itself, earning a 104 Beyer which is the best fast track two-turn number in the field. He's certainly reminiscent of his trainer Neil Howard's Grasshopper, who came into this race last year with similar improving form. However, Mambo in Seattle has more experience than that one did, and he won't find the likes of Street Sense here. Out of the stakes placed Seattle Slew mare Weekend in Seattle, a daughter of Weekend Surprise and thus a half to AP Indy and Summer Squall, this colt should thrive at the distance. This is the only horse in the race I can say that with confidence.

10) Tres Borrachos (15-1) Beau Greeley's colt ships in after his Swaps performance which proved he can stalk and rally successfully. There's not much speed between he and Tizbig/Da'Tara, so that could earn him a nice spot behind those two. He's another distance question mark, and was just OK in his two dirt tries. But he seems to have improved since those races, and looks like value possibility for the minor slots.

11) Pyro (7-2) Funny to think back now to his Risen Star in which he closed from far back despite a crawling pace and a quick run home. Remember Randy Moss and his digital timer getting his last quarter in like eight seconds or something? And the debate over whether that meant more than the slow 90 Beyer? Can you believe how much we overanalyze everything before the Derby? I was amongst those who discounted his final figure, and, I dunno, who was right? If you throw out his Polytrack Blue Grass and his no-show Derby, he's progressed steadily Beyer-wise since then with his 101's in his last two. However, his win over a weak Northern Dancer field, and his dismal failure to run down Macho Again in the Jim Dandy are not the things of the greatness that some of us felt his Risen Star portended. Standing against him solidly for top honors here.

12) Court Vision (12-1) This IEAH runner has disappointed ever since his three-year old debut. Or maybe ever earlier if you consider his anemic 76 Beyer in the Remsen. His only rally of note on the Derby Trail was his third in the miserable Wood that was easily discounted. Nice second at this distance in the G2 Virginia Derby on the grass. But he's never run faster than a 90 on the dirt, and with Mott having an awful Saratoga, it's hard to picture much improvement here.

Picks: Mambo in Seattle, Colonel John, Pyro, Tres Borrachos

Crossover

- Another beautiful evening in NYC last night, and yet another great night of free music, this time at the Damrosch Park Bandshell at Lincoln Center. It was a night of international multi-cultural crossover, featuring renowned Ethiopian artists performing in collaboration with bands at least somewhat more familiar to this soil, in style if not in name. Boston's little big band Either/Orchestra, led by saxophonist Russ Gershon, performed with singers Mahmoud Ahmed and Alèmayèhu Eshèté, the latter sometimes referred to as the Ethiopian James Brown. Only in NYC (and I guess in Ethiopia too) would one hear people actually singing along to these guys.

And then, the Netherland's The Ex, for almost 30 years and over 40 records pounding out its singular brand of anarcho-aggro-world-punk....or something like that....played with the 73 year old saxophonist Gétatchèw Mèkurya, and man, that was something else!! I saw people who I'm pretty confident never saw The Ex at CBGB's rocking to the beat....and I wouldn't normally be checking out artists from Ethiopia either. But it's all music, and, in this case, music with a beat. Everybody was happy.

So, in an admitted stretch to make a concert that I'm way excited over relevant to this blog, it's this kind of crossover that some may have had in mind when the concept of adding slots parlors to racetracks was conceived. Of course, it was really merely a way to expedite and justify the existence of expanded gambling to help close state budget deficits, with the collateral and PC effect of bailing out failing tracks and the industries associated with them. Most tracks with racinos haven't even bothered to try and cross their customers patrons over, and they probably have the right idea. They're both gambling, but they couldn't be more different, kinda like Sonic Youth trying to mesh with the Schmenge Brothers. On one hand, you have handicapping horse racing, an intricate puzzle requiring (if one wishes) detailed quantitative and qualitative analyzes punctuated by frequent and agonizing head scratching; on the other, video slots, the preferred form of gambling for this 21st Century (and beyond?) - no thinking necessary (or even allowed). Just plug in the account card, sit and stare at the pretty lights and you don't even have to pull a handle. Just perfect for Wall-E world.

A far, far better means of crossing gamblers over, even a possible savior of our sport in my opinion, would be sports betting. Seems like an absolute natural, a beat that everyone could dance to. Unfortunately, that's a long, long ways away for most tracks, if it ever happens at all. Sports betting is plain illegal under the federal Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992, except in Nevada, Oregon, Montana, and Delaware. So it would take quite a gargantuan effort to have that law overturned, and the fierce opposition of the NFL and other professional sports certainly wouldn't help. It's something that I can't imagine we'll see anytime soon. But it sure would make for some harmonious notes.


- The Ex last night at Lincoln Center (without the Ethiopian dude, taking a break):

Not That Special

- The special session is over in Albany, and despite the long shadow cast by the state's budget problems that prompted it in the first place, there was of course no word on any progress on naming an operator for the Aqueduct racino. Nor on the final resolution of NYRA's franchise for that matter. The next deadline on the latter is August 28; what a joke.

Lawmakers managed to squeeze out some $427 million in cuts for this year out of the $600 million sought by Governor Paterson, who said that another $75 million in cuts is still under negotiation. While the three men are squabbling over that relative pittance (though not I'm sure to whichever entity becomes the target), perhaps they should keep in mind that the existing racinos netted some $828 million in 2007, up from $426 million the year before as three new establishments were opened. The state receives around 55-65% of that money depending on the racino. (The state's Indian casinos paid out only $126 million of over $1 billion earned.) Not advocating here that state budgets should rely on slots revenues anymore than racetracks should....just acknowledging the facts on the ground, and the inevitableness of additional gaming given governments' current addiction to its revenues. So why can't they get this done already?

Senate Minority Leader Malcolm Smith praised the governor for helping transform the Legislature into what he termed a lean and mean cutting machine. And no, Smith was not joking, despite the fact that the cuts amount to a mere .35% of the total state budget.

The governor also hinted that he could be more amenable to the "millionaire's tax" passed by the Assembly in opposition to the 4% property tax favored by he and the Senate.

"Everybody in this state has to share...Everyone in a family should share responsibilty, and the senior members of the family should take more responsibility." [NY Daily News]
- No Big Brown. But the Travers doesn't suck.

Saratoga Notes

- Impressive run by Relatively Ready in Wednesday's second. Dead last down the backstretch after being steadied repeatedly early as Get Stormy set a leisurely uncontested pace, this two-year old son of More Than Ready took off on the turn, circled the field a good 5-6 wide, and closed with a rush (6 seconds flat final eighth) for the win. Winning trainer David Donk just missed with the tough luck Dancing Tin Man on Sunday. This colt is out of an Argentinian mare by Parade Marshal (Caro) and has a couple of that country's champions in her distaff family. Umbra was second as the favorite for Pletcher, another strong effort by a debut runner for that barn.

Consequence was a first out winner for Shug in the 5th. Recall that he went over two years without a debut winner; but he now has had three since Tourism broke the streak in June. Consequence is by El Prado, out of the Phipps' G1 winner Educated Risk (a half to their G1 winner Inside Information.).

The bettors went for the two Triple Crown also-rans Big Truck and Icabad Crane in the state-bred Albany Handicap. That made the undefeated FL shipper Tin Cup Chalice third choice despite his win in th Mike Lee on his prior NYRA invasion. I had to double check to confirm this was a dirt race when I saw the fractions. The winner set a crawling pace of 25.66 and 50.88, before completing the mile and an eighth in splits of 24.45, 23.81, and 12.19 for the final eighth. Up to that last furlong, Tin Cup Chalice ran each quarter faster than the prior one. I don't notice that much at all when it comes to natural dirt racing. He's a three-year old gelded son of Crusader Sword, who stands in NY for $1,000.

I mentioned trainer Ken McPeek the other day, adding him to the unofficial trainer watch list. In the third, his Lady of Holiday rallied strongly for third at 27-1.

If I recall correctly, this is around the time of the year that the Richard Schosberg barn got red hot last summer. This barn won the 7th with Tomlinson Hill $12.40). Schosberg also had two seconds on Monday. Maybe if I'd noticed that before now, we could have made a little money on his winner today. Neither McPeek nor Schosberg have entries for Thursday, but I'll be keeping an eye on both.

Bruce Brown won the 10th with Bella Attrice ($15.20), nice price on a horse moving up in class off a solid win at 3-2). And the trainer claimed losing favorite Flibberjibit from Ken Ramsey in the first. Not a great day for that owner on Wednesday, out of the money with each of his three entries.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Photos and Food

- You may be happy to know that I didn't take too many photos in Saratoga. I mean, I did, but they mostly looked the same as prior years. There's the paddock photo, the backyard photo, the photo of the horses walking down the path to be saddled, the photo of the jockeys walking in, the photos of the backstretch in the mist and fog of the early morning. (Not that I bothered getting up nearly early enough for fog and mist.) Since I'm a creature of habit, and hang out in the same places every year, they all looked the same. So you get a break.

However, I did point the camera up to get a shot of the green trees...


55 - Photo Hosted at Buzznet

....and down to get a shot of the green grass that was long ago washed away.

56 - Photo Hosted at Buzznet

moreau - Photo Hosted at Buzznet

This is Lake Moreau, where we hung out on Monday morning. If you haven't been up there, it's right off Exit 17, and while it ain't no Solana Beach, it's a great place to handicap the day's races (though no wireless available).


44 - Photo Hosted at Buzznet

This is the riverfront around Troy, and the only reason I'm posting this is because it makes for a contrast with the photos of Manhattan I posted from the boat a couple of weeks ago. Rather incredible to contemplate that this is the same Hudson River that we were cruising on in the city.

OK, back to horses....I turned the camera over to the Head Chef before Just Zip It's race, and these two are the best she came up with (other than the ones of me that I'm not posting here...rare shots of me wearing anything other than a t-shirt and shorts at Saratoga.

 - Photo Hosted at Buzznet

Here, Just Zip It, ears pricked, seems to be communicating telepathically with the guy in the blue suit.


Bruiser.


So, how about a real photo of the race from a real professional photographer? (Deborah is a member of the Castle Village ownership group.) Just Zip It is on the inside.



- Tried to get the Head Chef to review the Beekman Street Bistro, where we ate on Sunday night. I see that Steve Crist has already done so, and as he pointed out, beer and wine only. The Head Chef said something about the restaurant lacking a "center" without a bar scene, but I think she just wanted to get sloshed.

More importantly, the food was mostly excellent, and we didn't find the bill to be outrageous at all. We shared a salad special, butter lettuce with sumptuous slices of duck, grilled peaches and hazelnuts with a raspberry vinaigrette. Nice job, though we thought there could have been more lettuce for the $12.99 price. For the main course, I had the quail, marinated in some dark sauce (saba?) with deliciously fresh fingerling potatoes which they probably got at the farmer's market (as did we). The Head Chef went for a red snapper special. The fish was cooked perfectly, a big relief for yours truly who always has to endure complaints that it is overdone. However, she felt that it could have used more salt and pepper, not available on the tables. I've always thought it presumptuous for a restaurant to not put salt and pepper shakers on the tables, kinda like "here it is, it's perfect whether you think so or not." But she really dug the tomato concoction that the fish was served over; so much, in fact, that she spent Tuesday attempting to re-create it so that she can serve it to her clients. Should the restaurant be getting a commission for that?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Not Jacques Who

- Reader Bank Check wrote: Highland Cat......the new Jacques Who????? As you may know, Jacques Who is a horse who raced in the early 70's and acquired a reputation for finishing second....to the point where his name has become a catch phrase for horses who display the same tendency. Actually, looking back at his career record of 117-6-24-18, maybe he should also be known for running out of the money a lot. However, in the fall of 1973, he had a winless streak of 30 races over two years, and had run second 13 times just that year.

So when he finally won, on September 27th of that year, a Thursday with 23,144 in attendance at Belmont, it merited the headline of the NY Times' At the Race Tracks column, by Michael Strauss. Angel Cordero was on board for the first time (probably not a coincidence), and said that the horse was of a "friendly nature....that he apparently didn't like to part company with other horses in a field.

"After we took the lead in the stretch," said Cordero, "Jacques Who seemed unhappy to stay up front."
Not as unhappy as those of us who bet on him. Indeed, the Jacques Who label generally implies that the horse "doesn't like to win;" that he/she's a "cheater," as a friend once called them. No heart.

I've always considered these horses to be prime targets to bet against - almost automatic - especially those who are tantalizingly close enough to get bet every time; Jacques Who paid just $6.60. However, I've noticed that I've been losing consistently to these types lately. A few who come to mind are Deputy Indy and Holiday Trip from the Stanley Hough barn; Good Request, from Frankel; and Joppa Flat's, who was 30-1 in winning graduating in his 20th start.

I've noticed this to the point that I've adjusted my attitude, and become more open-minded towards betting them on top. The fact is that even the least combative horse will, if he's around the top consistently, win on occasion. Sometimes it just can't but help find a race in which there simply aren't any others as fast. Or it may have genuinely improved.

Other horses with cases of 'seconditis' may be falling short simply because of circumstance, and not due to any inherent attitude problem or need for company. I think Highland Cat belongs in this category. It's not that he doesn't wanna win. However, as cute as he may be, he doesn't have much tactical speed, and often finds himself wide. He doesn't really rocket off the turn, but rather takes a little bit to get himself going. So he usually falls a bit short.

But if you have any doubt about his desire to win, try to check out his race on Sunday (unfortunately, not available on Cal Racing). This was truly a great finish - two thoroughbreds obviously straining with all their will to try to get to the finish first. (Don't know how fast they were coming home since the fractional times are unavailable; later grass races were switched to the main track....anyone know why?). As reader onecalicocat pointed out, Approved By Dylan is a horse with a fair amount of back class. So I think that, given the right circumstances, Highland Cat will be visiting the winner's circle some time soon.

- Really interesting little tidbit I ran across in the Times article referenced above. It was written for the Friday edition, the day before the 1973 Woodward, run at a mile and a half at that time. Trainer Lucien Laurin intended to start only one of Secretariat and Riva Ridge. Eddie Maple was hoping to pick up the mount should the latter start. Unfortunately for him, the weather wasn't cooperating.
"If the track comes up fast, we'll wait until the Man O'War a week from Monday [with Secretariat]. In any event, I'm only going to run one."

This decision came as bad news to Maple, who ordinarily has the leg up on Riva Ridge when the two Meadow stars compete in one race. Had not Maple been hoping to ride Riva Ridge, he probably could have had the mount on Hobeau's Prove Out. But now it appears that Jorge Velasquez will draw that assignment.
Indeed, it rained, Riva Ridge scratched, Secretariat ran, Prove Out upset him with Velasquez aboard. Here's one classic race that I can't find on You Tube....though you can watch the stretch run here.

And, oh yeah, Secretariat ran in the Man O'War nine days later anyway. And Maple got some consolation when he rode Big Red in his final race.

Saratoga Notes

- Owner Kenneth Ramsey continues to be active at the meeting. He, and trainer Michael Maker (17-6-2-1, 35%), took Monday's opener with Last Tram ($7.30); another one for the connections dropping in claiming price (and not claimed). Ramsey/Maker also claimed beaten favorite (2nd) Titans of Industry for 35K from the 5th; and 8th race winner Bishop's Back for the same price. In Wednesday's first, the connections send out Flibberjibit, showing an extremely similar pattern to Last Tram - dropping in class after moving up sharply off a maiden claiming win.

- Reader Glimmerglass asks: "..Did you think that Country Star's number should've been taken down in the 7th? On tv with the replay she looked like a drunken sailor on leave in the stretch." Well, I'm not objective since runner-up Marie Rossa (9-2) was my best bet of the day, and a single in a number of Pick Threes and Fours (all of which I would have lost anyway). I incorrectly thought that Frankel's filly was a solid bet-against off her two disappointing efforts this year. And I'm determined to make some money on Marie Rossa's trainer Graham Motion before the meet ends. I pointed out the other day that the barn broke an 0-16, and seemed poised to find the winner's circle. No such luck over the weekend, but he did have fine seconds with this filly and with Better Talk Now in the Sword Dancer. Motion starts Icabad Crane in the Albany Handicap on Wednesday; Big Truck also shows up for Barclay Tagg.

But no, I'm not surprised that Country Star didn't come down - though I was surprised that there was no steward's inquiry. Though she certainly didn't keep a straight path, I don't think that Motion's filly would have caught her in any event; she held her winning margin safe like the champ we once thought she could be.....and could be again. Frankel indicated that the Gazelle could be next....and she could meet Music Note there. Proud Spell is a possibility for the Cotillion at Philly Park.

- I loved Redefined in the 6th, the state-bred Mechanicville, and would have been right on had four Linda Rice horses not finished in front of her. Ooooo, so close!

- Pletcher got his 12th winner (from 52 starters, his usual 23% or so) of the meeting when Big Wig survived a wide trip from the ten hole to take the 5th.

- Nice effort by first timer Dr. Decter in the 10th, recovering from a slow start for a close third at 8-1 for Tagg. Making a delayed debut at the age of four, this NY-bred gelding has some interesting turf bloodlines: By the NY stallion Gold Fever (Forty Niner), he's a half to the dam of the Saranac and Singspiel winner Mission Approved; and his dam, by Spectacular Bid, is a half-sister to the multiple-multiple G1 turf winner El Senor. Keep an eye on this one stretching out far beyond the 5 1/2 furlongs he ran here.

Just Zip It Nipped in Stakes

- No doubt that By the Light was best in the Union Avenue stakes on Monday; her 1-5 odds seemed completely appropriate. But you still gotta open the gate and run the race, and when they opened the gate for this one, Dutrow's daughter of Malibu Moon took a stumble and was last. And when she turned for home, she was carried (drifted?) out a good six wide. Meanwhile, Just Zip It, at 18-1 the second longest shot in the field, despite dueling for the lead throughout and doing so a full three wide around the turn, not only had the lead, but had angled to the rail and opened up some daylight midstretch! Oh man, I thought we had it there for a second.

Unfortunately, Prado got By the Light straightened out and motoring down the center of the track. And while our game daughter of City Zip - a bruiser in her own right - dug in admirably and battled to the finish, she could not hold off the favorite, a half length winner. Additionally, she succumbed by a mere neck for the place spot to second choice Light Tactic. Getting beat narrowly there for second hurt, not only since it cost Just Zip It around $10,000 in purse money, but it cost me the $27 cold exacta too. Nonetheless, a thrilling race, a great effort, and some well-earned black type!

You can talk about class and speed figs, and Just Zip It was at a big disadvantage in both regards coming in. But, as my buddy Bob likes to say, horses don't know what the Beyers are or who they're running against....and some of them will just run their hearts out no matter what they're in against. By the Light was coming off a second place finish in a Grade 1 stakes, and Just Zip It, who didn't have the best of trips either, gave no quarter against that rival when faced down at the end.

At Philly Park, Rap Tale managed to get the job done at 4-5, but it sure wasn't easy. In fact, it was rather reminiscent in a way of Big Brown's Haskell. Jockey Kendrick Carmouche was in a full out drive, going to the whip as the filly was stalled in third on the turn. Not a good sign there. Turning for home, it looked like she was hung out to dry. But Carmouche persisted, and Rap Tale kept going and was able to reel in the faltering leaders, drawing away at the end for a 1 1/4 length win that was hard-earned for horse and rider alike. Wasn't pretty to be sure, but the $27,600 winners share sure is.

Yeah, we're back in NYC - already! - after what was really a whirlwind weekend. Not really sure when I thought I was going to be able to do much posting and prognosticating up there. Since the latter sucked (except for that Saturday late Pick Three), just as well as far as that went. We stayed in Albany this time, left the hotel early in the morning each day and came back late. So I'll have some photos, thoughts, and a restaurant review (which I'm trying to get the Head Chef to write) once I get settled back in here.....and we'll be back upstate, and staying right in town just down the road from the track, for a long Labor Day weekend as the meet comes to a close.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Bruisers

- The word came pretty early on - I'd say by the midway point of the card - that there were no more long sleeve T-shirts available. Shouldn't have been surprised considering the stashes we saw some people hoarding when we were coming in. T-shirts are far easier to transport in bulk than bobble heads I suppose. So, it's a crowd of over 65,000, which should help NYRA's figures. However, I don't know that there was a third of that many people remaining by the time the tenth race rolled around, and I didn't notice any long lines other than the ones to pick up the damn shirts.

In the first, Kiss the Cruiser ($13.40) went from "first to fourth to first" as described by Tom Durkin, who called the strategy "unorthodox." This gelding won his last three at Finger Lakes, the last two at 3-5 and 4-5.

Amanwalla was a hot number in the second for Graham Motion; 6-1 morning line, she went off as the 9-5 favorite in her first try on dirt. She looked like a winner before Persistently ($9.90) came from last to first and six wide for Shug. She's by Smoke Glacken, out of a half-sister to Good Reward and Pure Prize. First timer State Treasure, a half to stakes winners Secret Status and Alumni Hall, got bet down too for Neil Howard, three for 53 in the 2yo first time category.

I thought that Mucho Macho was a bad favorite in the third, having never traveled two turns. I liked the Ramsey horse Skills Coach at his 12-1 morning line, and was only mildly surprised, but still disappointed when he opened at 3-1. I have a talent for finding horses like that. Still, I used him in exactas with Numaany, who'd won his only try around two turns on dirt. That was the race that he bolted with Castellano hanging on for dear life; so, in retrospect, I'm surprised he paid $7.10 going back to dirt. Lousy race though; it fell apart after a quick opening half, and Numaany merely survived the last three furlongs in 39.78 seconds, yuck.

Good thing I sat out the 4th since I figured that Troy G was a bad favorite, getting bet to 7-5 on the basis of his sole career effort, a third on the Poly at Keeneland. Trainer Ken McPeek has now won with three of his last four starters at the meeting, take note; he had Tar Beach (5-1) and Loose Leaf (10-1) last week. Telemachus was dead on the board and the track for former Toddster assistant Seth Benzel, still looking for his first winner.

The fifth was a two-year old maiden race for state-bred fillies, and all of the nine starters were making their debut. So I sent the Head Chef over to take a look; she surveyed them on the walk over to the paddock, and jotted down some notes. The one horse was "strong," the seven horse was "confident;" the four, "introspective." But I did an extra double take when I read the comment on the six horse, and had to confirm that she had really written: "Bruiser." "Bruiser?" "Yeah, he looks like he'll like to mix it up." Bruiser was Anjorie, the morning line, and betting favorite, at 3-2 for Dutrow. He didn't have to mix it up too much, surging to the lead on the turn, and holding off Fabulous Florence, who ran well shipping in from Finger Lakes. Anjorie is by A.P. Jet, out of an Eastern Echo mare who has produced some nice NY-breds in What A Tale, Legend Has It, and Quatre Dix Neuf.

Ridge Royal took the 7th for owner Ken Ramsey and trainer Michael Maker; and though I mentioned these connections the other day and bet their horse in the second, I let this one float right by in his first try on grass.

I loved Stepaside in the 8th, but didn't come up with the longshots who filled the place and show spots. Neither the 11 post, nor a last place trip against slow fractions, nor a wide journey on the turn could stop this gelded son of Real Quiet, who won as easily as you can imagine given the above circumstances; he effortlessly cruised home in 23.22 while moving up in class and through his state-bred allowances conditions flawlessly for trainer Thomas Voss, three for 11 on the meeting. Stepaside is out of a stakes winning mare by Rahy who's a half-sister to the G3 winner Timely Broad. Solvent was out of the money for George Weaver.

I went to the paddock for the John's Call, and it was cool to see John Call himself leading the horses out to the track. However, I didn't pay a bit of attention to the race itself; can't deal with these marathons from a betting standpoint. Instead, I lost on the second at Del Mar. Jeff Mullins had two horses in the race. Newport Topper was dropping severely in class after a half length loss and was 3-2; La Mandolla was moving up in class off the claim, and was 9-2. Guess which one won? It was the 9-2 shot, and I didn't have him either.

I was pissed at myself for not landing on Frisky Rosie ($18.80) in the 10th, having considered her at one point before ultimately going with Milk Run. I've had some success with winning trainer Gary Sciacca up here in the past. Not today though, and no follow-up success after the late Pick Three on Saturday.

- I've written in the past about how the bell - the one that clangs with either 17 or 18 minutes to post - has bugged me ever since they decided to blast it through the PA system. But I've been laughing at it this week ever since early on Saturday when I heard a guy, upon hearing the racket, yelling: "Bring out your dead!.....Bring out your dead!"

- Highland Cat was second at Monmouth, just missing to an equally stubborn Approved By Dylan. The grey gelding has now finished second three times in a row, and in four of his last five. I think he likes the mile and three eighth distance he ran today.

Also at Monmouth, Spooky Mulder made his 82nd career start, but first since May when he was claimed by David Jacobson for 32K. Here, the ten year old showed up for half that claiming price. He proved that he's still a bruiser, surviving an early pace duel, battling back on the inside, and drawing clear at the end. He was claimed by Bruce Levine.

Sunday Morning Notes - Aug 17

- Well, we almost had the weather timed perfectly up here, but wouldn't you know it, there was around 10-15 minutes of intermittent rain from a stray dark cloud looking for his pals who had long moved east. Other than that, it was a gorgeous day, and a nice crowd of over 32,000 on hand. I love the summer in the city, especially for the relatively sparse crowds enjoying the plethora of free outdoor events (and we do thank Mayor Bloomberg for his considerable efforts in that regard). In fact, I was a little bummed about missing Battles play for free at Central Park yesterday. But I'm certainly not complaining. This is the first time I've been out of the city all summer, so, even with the brief metereological event, the air seemed particularly clear and fragrant.

Proud Spell clearly established herself as the top three-year old filly with her dramatic win over favored Music Note in the Alabama - a classic edition of that storied stakes to be sure! Looked like Godolphin's filly was going to blow right by the Oaks winner midstretch, but it was not to be. "This filly of ours has never been passed down the stretch the entire time we've had her," said Larry Jones. [NY Daily News]

Considering that I've been anti-Music Note and a defender of Proud Spell against her more physically imposing rival, I'd love to report that I brazenly tossed the favorite and singled the winner in all of my wagers. But I didn't - I was scared, OK? However, I was alive in the Pick Three after I was touted onto Grand Couturier in the Sword Dancer. Like to think I would have had him anyway, but Bob was so hepped up on the Thorograph pattern for this horse that I couldn't possibly resist. He carefully demonstrated how his sheets pattern for this race was nearly identical in terms of his figures and spacing as the last two years, when he ran tops in finishing third in 2006 and winning last year. Afterwards, Bob said that he'd like to take the horse's sheet and frame it as a testament to the power of the Thorograph. Didn't look that powerful midstretch when the horse encountered severe traffic problems; but there he was, re-emerging and bursting to the lead after I'd almost given him up for dead.

So when George Weaver took the 10th with Miss Challenge, a ridiculously easy winner, practically under wraps at 8-1, it was good for a winning Pick Three for me ($237.50). Weaver is one of the most ridiculously hot trainers I've seen in recent times, and I think you just have to ride this out. His record at the meet is 16-5-5-3, with many at nice odds like on Saturday. In the 8th on Sunday, the barn starts Solvent, moving up in class off a win (at 9-1) at Belmont last month. Nothing notable to report from that race in terms of next-outs....but I think I leave this horse off my tickets today at my own risk.

OK, gotta get to handicapping today's card. We've been pretty busy, so not much time to post; maybe later tonight. I'm sure that Saturday's card earned a lot of derision as to its "quality," at least in terms of class. One wouldn't expect two restricted claiming races to be the prelude to the two Grade 1's. But the races proved to be entertaining betting affairs, Durkin got to do his ARRRRR thing again, so no complaints from here. One more race I wanted to mention is the 5th race. Girolamo, 7-2 morning line for Kiaran McLaughlin off of just two published works, was steadily hammered down in price from the start, and finally settled at even money. The two-year old son of AP Indy, a full brother to graded stakes winners Daydreaming and Accelerator, was a bit sluggish at the start, circled four wide around the turn, and powered past the field, obviously much the best, to win by three. I just love shit like that. For all my talk about demanding value, that all goes out the window in cases like this, at least for some (ultimately losing) daily doubles.