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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Heck of a Job, Jess-ie

- Looks like we've been duped all along. Jess Jackson was merely being coy about his intentions to run Curlin in the Classic. It was all just marketing, or at least that's what we're told with smug self-assurance by Ray Paulick on Internet fan forums and bloggers have kept the "will he or won't he" flame alive, Paulick informs us with sufficient detachment from those groups. (Though he certainly seemed to buy into Jackson's brilliant ploy himself here.)

In the end, we all know that Curlin will be in the starting gate at Santa Anita Oct. 25 for the Breeders' Cup Classic. He's already shipped to California to test the new racetrack and Jackson has a large block of hotel rooms reserved for Breeders' Cup week.

But please, Jess, keep us in suspense for a couple more weeks. You're giving us something to talk about, and the industry might learn a thing or two from you about marketing. []
Indeed Jess, teach us a little more. After all, you've done such a great job of marketing your horse that all of 8,000 people showed up to see him run on Saturday. In the general public's mind, Curlin is clearly playing second fiddle to a three-year old who, other than winning the Derby, has not accomplished nearly as much as last year's HOY.

And blithely dismissing the Classic, the ultimate championship race of the racing year, as "been there, done that" is really a great way to build excitement for the race. How many people who may have heard that are now tuned into far more profound current events and forever tuned out of this year's races? As presidential campaign strategists well know, once a statement or a charge is out there, it's hard to take back. And the constant drumbeat of skepticism about the Santa Anita surface certainly hasn't helped either. Not that there isn't excellent reason for such doubt. But marketing means that you attempt to smooth the questions over, not drum them into peoples' consciousness over and over and over again.

Paulick argues that had Jackson merely declared his intent to run in the race, "there would have been little for fans to argue about or racing journalists to write about until the two horses stepped onto the same racetrack." Actually, I think that many of the arguments would have been just as intense, and exactly the same. Except they would have been framed in a positive manner, building up the anticipation for the showdown instead of casting a long shadow on the very integrity of racing's championship day that may be extremely difficult to undo, no matter who decides to show up, or not.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Looking for Clues

- The racing on the Pro-Ride surface has been pretty formful thus far it seems. However, that doesn't mean anything other than to further the notion that the Del Mar Polytrack and this new synthetic have at least something in common. I think what we all want to see is how horses that have been racing on dirt out east fare on the Santa Anita main track. So far, the vast majority of runners have been, as you would expect, California circuit horses. And with the major BC preps there now past, we probably won't get many clues at all before the big event.

However, we did have a couple of prominent shippers that ran over the weekend: Hystericalady is primarily an "eastern" horse, though she has proven able to handle the California synthetics in the past; though she's never actually won on one. She ran well again on Saturday, but just couldn't hold off the monstrous Zenyatta.

But Regal Ransom, who won first-out as an even money good thing at Saratoga, was 8th at 7-5 in the Norfolk on Sunday. Man, he was bet off the board again. The disappointing result probably raises the question of the wisdom of making a maiden graduate the odds-on favorite in a G1 stakes race when stretching out to two turns in its second start, rather than necessarily indicating that he didn't like the track.

I liked the win in the Norfolk by Street Hero, making his first route try (as was most of the field). Got a ground saving trip, but found himself in a box trying to get to the front around the turn. "I think I got stopped about 10 times," said Alex Solis. Here's another Grade 1 winner, the 7th in three crops racing, for the sire Street Cry. He's also the sire of Zenyatta, and he missed a G1 hat trick when Street Boss came up a tad short in the Ancient Title. Street Hero is out of a mare by Summer Squall.

Street Boss ran a great race as usual, but Cost of Freedom was better on this day; that despite engaging the leaders while extremely wide around the turn for home. This son of Cee's Tizzy exploded in his first start for John Sadler in his last, and was no less spectacular winning a Grade 1 in his first ever open stakes try.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Sunday Reading

- Here's a couple of articles from the Sunday Times for some extracurricular reading if you're so inclined. A lengthy front page report concerns the ties between the gambling industry, Indian gaming and Las Vegas in particular, and Sen. John McCain. As I've noted before, the senior Senator from Arizona is apparently quite the casino aficionado.

For much of his adult life, Mr. McCain has gambled as often as once a month, friends and associates said, traveling to Las Vegas for weekend betting marathons.
The article includes various implications that McCain, in his role as the Chairman of the Indian Affairs Committee, has at times acted in accordance with the wishes of lobbyists and advisers in his inner circle. It also suggests that it was lobbyists with a competitive interest in Jack Abramoff's downfall that helped to spur and shape McCain's role in the Senate investigation of the lobbyist. Even if you feel that this reporting is symptomatic of the Times' supposed liberal bias, I think the article still serves well as a review of the legislative history of $25 billion-a-year Indian gaming industry. (Doesn't seem like that much money these days, does it?)

Two comments on the piece; the first is nothing but pure partisan snark, so please feel free to skip to the next paragraph. McCain campaign spokesperson Tucker Bounds responds to a request for comment by accusing the paper of a continuing attempt to "insinuate impropriety....where none exists — and it reveals that your publication is desperately willing to gamble away what little credibility it still has.” Bounds has seemed particularly embittered ever since getting smacked down by Campbell Brown on CNN, and I find him to be thoroughly unprofessional. And as far as I'm concerned, there's more credibility in the Business Opportunity ads in the Times' classifieds alone than in the entire McCain-Tinfeylin campaign at this point.

Secondly, and in a more non-partisan spirit, the article is accompanied by this chart which shows those "connected" to McCain who have ties to the gambling industry. You'll note that the list includes people from Las Vegas casinos, Indian tribes, online gambling companies (aren't they supposed to be illegal?), and, quite noticeably, the Poker Players Alliance. Equally noticeable by its absence is anyone associated with racing.

Now that's certainly not to say that I think track owners should be bundling donations to John McCain....or for any candidate for that matter. However, the industry is going to face legislative and competitive threats in the years to come, as tribes and states seek further expansion of gambling, vote-seeking legislators use the simulcast provisions of the Interstate Horseracing Act to bully the industry on populist matters, and, eventually and inevitably, casino companies seek to jettison racing operations which are a financial burden to their thriving racinos. Though both presidential candidates promise administrations free from the influence of lobbyists and special interests, I think we know from experience that that's a bunch of crap. So I just hope the NTRA has their political house in order.

The other article concerns a certain former governor of New York State, who is now just starting to emerge from his self-imposed isolation. Eliot Spitzer provided Time Out New York with a brief interview this past week. In fact, that's actually a lot more than Times reporter Danny Hakim got directly from Spitzer. But he also paints a picture of a man who is still prone to the occasional tantrum. Hakim reports that Spitzer reacted to a perceived slight from Governor Paterson by phoning a senior aide to demand an apology, and issuing "threats, veiled and unveiled” against Mr. Paterson. Not sure what Spitzer could possibly be threatening him with; but heaven help the current governor if the former one has anything on him!

One associate is quoted as saying, of Spitzer and the scandal which brought him down: “One of his goals has to be to make this a footnote in his obituary, and not make it the lead.” In that case, Spitzer better not plan on getting hit by a bus anytime in the near future.

[UPDATE: The DNC releases a new ad highlighting McCain's connections to casino lobbyists.]

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Positive Returns for Curlin

- Those silly 'audience reaction' lines during Friday night's debate were still seared at the bottom of my TV screen on Saturday. Except that now, instead of DEM, REP, and IND, they were labeled CUR, BB, and OTH. The Curlin line went up, as Big Brown's went down, when Proudinksy was a weak fifth in the Turf Classic. It took a nosedive around halfway through the Jockey Club Gold Cup, when Curlin dropped back a slot to 6th, with Albarado seeming to invite traffic trouble by taking a seam between horses.

However, by race end, it had reached the highest point of the day. Nothing to nitpick about this one, as Curlin strutted his stuff despite a less than ideal pace scenario and a wide trip. Wanderin Boy, a legit speedball enjoying a resurgence for Zito this year, went a soft opening half of 48.79, and got to the three-quarters in 1:13.08. That's pretty slow going for this guy, and Alan Garcia opened up around the turn to try and get away. With Merchant Marine in pursuit, he rounded the turn to the quarter pole in 23.64.

It was into that quarter that Curlin, three wide or more for a good portion of the sweeping turn, moved effortlessly towards the leader. According to Formulator, he ran that quarter in 22.97, not too shabby especially considering that he was hung wide. I think this time I'm right in saying that Albarado never went to the whip as Curlin surged by and held his rival safe. Final quarter of 25.23 was not outstanding but certainly understandable. I think it's safe to say that it was his best U.S. effort since the Classic; also, coincidentally or not, run on a sloppy track.

And the champ is off to Santa Anita on Sunday, and Jess Jackson said they'll "consider" the Classic. Just do it, man.

Now, I know that Curlin broke the earnings record and all, and deserves the top billing of the day. But a couple of fillies at Santa Anita merit a lot of attention as well.

In the Lady's Secret, Zenyatta faced circumstances similar to Curlin; even more extreme perhaps, with Hystericalady the lone speed in a field of only four. Hystericalady also set a moderate pace, getting to the half in 48.32. After that, she really took off, with subsequent quarters of 23.13 and 22.94. It was into those fractions that Zenyatta had to close wide from 4th, and she did so, according to the chart, under a tap on the shoulder with the whip turned down and a moderate hand ride. She got the final sixteenth in 5.89 seconds and is now eight-for-eight. No talk of her trying the Classic, and she'll proceed to the Distaff instead.

I'd proposed some horses to try and beat Stardom Bound in the Oak Tree, based on it being her first two turn try. But I knew that was a mistake the moment I saw this filly on the track before the race. Oh man, are you kidding me? I mean, I'd watched her last race and was impressed; but seeing this gorgeous sculptured grey filly absolutely towering over the others was a whole other story. She was far back again, but just toyed with this field with another electrifying rally. The comparisons on TVG to Zenyatta are most definitely premature, especially considering that we know little of the true quality of those she beat. But the excitement is certainly understandable. Too bad that so few people will see either her or Zenyatta - nor Indian Blessing and Music Note for that matter - when their Breeders' Cup races take place on a Friday afternoon.

- Somebeachsomewhere won at The Red Mile in 1:46 4/5; fastest mile ever for a three-year old pacer, and tied for the fastest ever in a pari-mutuel race. It was 2/5ths short of the fastest mile of all time, achieved by Cambest in a time trial. The Beach will take a shot at that in Lexington next week.

"He had three weeks off and he was a little sick in his last start," [trainer Brent MacGrath] said. "I think we've got him close to 100 percent now. I think he's got another half-second in him." [AP]
Close to 100%?!?

Saturday Morning Notes - Sept 27

- It hasn't rained hard here since Friday morning, and, looking at the weather map, it seems unclear as to whether they'll be any sustained precipitation today. Just maybe NYRA and Curlin will luck out, and Johan Santana will start on three days rest at Shea. NYRA issued a press release yesterday detailing their promotion and publicity efforts for Curlin's appearance.

Print ads promoting the Sept. 27 races are running in a half-dozen publications, including the regional Spanish language newspaper “Hoy.” Audio ads are in rotation at the two most popular sports radio stations in New York . Online advertising is focused on a half-dozen racing-oriented websites. [ed. note - not this one]
NYRA also arranged for video of Curlin’s final Saratoga workout on Monday be put up on a satellite feed Monday afternoon along with an interview with assistant trainer Scott Blasi, enabling any TV station in the country to record and air it that day. Another 30 minute video package focusing on the Jockey Club Gold Cup went up on the satellite feed Thursday afternoon and the post-Jockey Club Gold Cup Interview Room session will be available to TV outlets live on satellite as well.
NYRA has to at least have a go at it in order to adhere to the performance standards which will be evaluated periodically by the Franchise Oversight Board under its new franchise agreement. I think it's a tough task as you know; and it certainly doesn't help that the race has been shunned by the industry's TV network partner. ESPN will be televising college football, Colorado vs Florida State; ESPN2 has NASCAR.

Despite the possibly improved weather outlook, I'm still not sure about the track conditions and turf races, so let's instead venture out to Santa Anita, and the certainty of Pro-Ride. I still say that if everything else, including injuries, maintenance costs, were equal, synthetic tracks would still be worthwhile if not invaluable if just for its staying 'fast' in the rain.

Here's a link to the win in the Del Mar Debutante by Stardom Bound, who was actually graduating from the maiden ranks with a stunning last to first move. She had to be 7-8 wide turning for home and Trevor Denman, as is his wont, picked up the move soon after they turned for home. In fact, he didn't make a single mention of another horse in the race for about the last 3/16th of a mile.

The question regarding Stardom Bound as the 5-2 morning line favorite in the G1 Oak Tree is that she'll be stretching out to two turns for the first time. She's a daughter of Tapit, the Wood winner who is number three on the rookie sire earnings list. She's out of a mare by Tarr Road (Grey Dawn). Not too much going on in the family; but she brought $375,000 as a two-year old earlier this year.

I'm always willing to take a shot against in a situation like this, especially on a new surface; problem here is that none of the other main contenders have gone two turns either. But here's some who look interesting. Empressive Lady (7-2) faded to 5th in the Debutante after stalking the pace wide throughout. I think this filly may really benefit from the stretch out here. She's by Empire Maker, out of a stakes placed mare by AP Indy. She's inbred 5x5 to Buckpasser, and in her first four generations has the likes of Damascus, Secretariat, Le Fabuleux, Seattle Slew, and Cox's Ridge. Will O Way (10-1) was third behind Stardom Bound in the Debutante in her second career start. By Broken Vow, she's a half-sister to Willow O Wisp, who won graded stakes races up to a mile and an eighth.

And Toro Bonito (5-1), who comes off a maiden win in her second start, for Baffert, has some interesting breeding herself. By El Corredor, out of an In Excess mare, she hails from the direct distaff family of Indian Charlie (also by In Excess). Soviet Sojourn, the dam of Indian Charlie, is the third dam of Toro Bonito.

The Goodwood is a great betting race, so perhaps I can delve into it further and let you know what I think.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Ranting A Bit

- No racing at Belmont today. ESPN News is picking up tomorrow's Jockey Club Gold Cup; according to this article in USA Today, you can tune in at 5:52 PM. Which is also the listed post time for the race. The race will be merely a blip on the screen, that's all. Pretty damn pitiful for the home of the Breeders' Cup. The network has just totally dropped the ball on the sport this year; racing might be better off on Versus. Certainly the biggest pre-Breeders' Cup weekend of the fall, and the network is nowhere to be found. Just shameful.

If you're in the NY area, check the race out instead on MSG, where Gary Stevens will join the NYRA simulcast crew. And if you're around, check me out for a live blog, as I will be watching the proceedings from home.

Mambo in Seattle, as the 7-2 second choice in the morning line, is the only horse rated lower than double digit odds in a field that features some quantity at least.

Gary West, writing in the Dallas-Ft Worth Star Telegram, feels that Curlin (3-5) should be guaranteed Horse of the Year should he win the Gold Cup and break Cigar's earnings record; that no matter what happens when and if he runs in the Classic.

When Affirmed displaced Kelso, he was named Horse of the Year. When John Henry, Alysheba and Cigar moved to the first chair, they all were rewarded with horse racing’s highest honor.

And that precedent should be infrangible, especially this year, when the Classic will be run over a synthetic surface that diminishes the championship importance of the Breeders’ Cup races.
I couldn't disagree, respectfully, more; even if I don't know what infrangible means. Horse of the Year means horse of the year, not horse with the most cumulative earnings over two years or more. The four horses mentioned above earned their awards on the merit of what they did in those respective years. Curlin's campaign shouldn't even be mentioned in the same breath in my opinion. Do I have to recount what the other four did in terms of the horses they beat, the frequency with which they raced, and/or the weight they spotted? Curlin's campaign has been little more than his owner passing some time against a bunch of relative bums while he clears up the ownership issues that have prevented him from going to stud. Big Brown certainly hasn't beaten much either, that's for damn sure. However, I believe that he's achieved plenty enough in 2008 to earn a legitimate shot at the title should he defeat the defending champ in the Classic, and I don't care if the race is run on AstroTurf.

Thursday, September 25, 2008


- I was watching this cringe worthy video of Sarah Palin's interview with Katie Couric......oh man! But that's not the subject here (it certainly speaks for itself). Since the video is from CBS, the network inserts ads for its programming before and after, and I happened upon one for a series called The Mentalist.

Patrick Jane, the mental main character of the show, seems to be able to read peoples' minds. However, he is not a psychic, or so we're told. Rather, he's just paying attention. "The truth is in the details." So, as we see in the ad, our hero cleverly discerns that the woman with a bruise on her face is a victim of marital abuse. The guy with lipstick on his shirt collar is cheating on his wife.

As for the guy who is carrying a copy of"Racing Journal?" He's a gambling addict. This brings up two points. First of all, here's an example of that common stereotype that any horse racing fan is an addicted gambler. Why didn't he instead conclude that the guy was, say, a keen racing blogger using the Journal to prepare his incisive analysis of the day's races?

And secondly, whoever is in charge of product placement at the Racing Form isn't doing a very good job.

On Board

- As a couple of readers noted, Bennett Liebman is amongst Governor Paterson's appointees to the new NYRA's Board of Directors. Nice to see that the Governor, or at least someone on his staff, is actually paying attention. I hope that Mr. Liebman, every reporter's go-to guy when it comes to getting the real lowdown on racing in New York, can continue to run the Racing and Gaming Today page, though I suppose we'll have to do without some of his commentary. Here's the complete list of Paterson's selections:

Chester F. Broman - NY - Thoroughbred Breeders’ Representative - Director of NYTB

Michael D. Hess - Off-Track Betting Representative-Vice Chairman, Giuliani Partners

Denis M. Hughes - AFL-CIO Representative - President, NYS AFL-CIO

Richard A. Violette - NY Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association Representative - President, NYTHA

Michael Dubb - Founder, Beechwood Organization

Bennett Liebman - Executive Director, Government Law Center–Albany Law School

Leonard Riggio - Chairman, Barnes & Noble, Inc.
Paterson was required by the franchise agreement to select representatives recommended by the two horsemen groups and the AFL-CIO, as well as "a current or former officer or director of a New York State off-track betting corporation." Thus it's due to the latter that we have Michael Hess, whose association with the repugnant former mayor of NYC is unfortunate. Regarding Riggio, the NY Sun reported over the summer that he and his wife have contributed $100,000 to Paterson's campaign fund. Just thought I'd point that out.

- I've wondered here on at least a couple of occasions why it's been difficult for us to get information on who exactly is lobbying our elected officials. Now, via the Albany Times Union's Capital Confidential blog, we have new websites from state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli and Senator McCain's favorite Democratic Attorney General. This site is way cool; you can search for lobbyists by specific companies and by specific bills. Punch in Delaware North, and you'll see names such as Patricia Lynch and Brian Meara who we've discussed in the past. Drill down further, and you can even see that the company is paying Ms. Lynch's company some $7500 a month for its services. So nice job there; and another site will allow you see the expenditures, including salaries, of various state agencies.

- Also on Capital Confidential is this excellent summary by Irene Jay Liu of the State Senate races which will determine if the Democrats are able to gain control after 40 years of GOP domination. Polls released by Siena College yesterday show that the fate of the chamber may come down to two races - currently rated as tossups - for seats currently held by Republicans: the 61st Senate District in and around upstate Erie County between former pro boxer "Baby Joe" Mesi (D) and Mike Ranzenhofer (R); and the 15th S.D. race here in Queens between 20 year incumbent Serph Maltese and Democrat Joseph Addabbo.

The Democrats, none of whose incumbents are thought to be in danger, need to pick up a net of two seats in order to gain a clear majority. A gain of just one would leave the chamber in a tie, and raise a lot of constitutional questions given the fact that there is no lieutenant governor to break ties.

Hunch Bets for Thursday, Sept 25

Aflareandaprayer - 6th at Belmont
Skipping Class - 5th at Belmont
Iambizzyrunning - 3rd at Louisiana Downs

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Weekend Washout

- The race I would have been the most excited for this weekend won't happen due to the bad luck of the draw. Somebeachsomewhere and Art Official will race in separate divisions of the Bluegrass Stakes at Lexington's Red Mile. Since Art Official will not race in the Tattersalls there next week, the two may not meet again until the Breeders Crown at the Meadowlands in November. Not that I would have seen Saturday's race anyway since it's HRTV which has that track's races....which tracks do they not have?

Well, Santa Anita for one, at least during the Oak Tree meeting. The first day of the Pro-Ride era went off without any apparent hitches. But I think that, at this point, we know to take the usual opening day favorable reviews with a grain of salt, and await further developments. There were no wire-to-wire winners of the six synthetic races, though a couple came from just behind the leader. And actually, the more incongruous results tote-wise came on the grass, with the winners paying odds of 8-1, 15-1, and 22-1.

The weather forecast for the next 72 hours here is grim, and Curlin faces the prospect of a sloppy track for the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont. Still haven't read any word of what his connections will do. But at least it's a built-in excuse for NYRA when another small crowd shows up to watch. Don't want to belabor the point, but there just ain't no buzz around this horse at all. NYRA has their website all Curlin-ed up, but it's not going to help. Even I don't know if I'm going to go.

Curlin could sure use a rival as Somebeachsomewhere has. I know that the rematch with Art Official hasn't yet come to fruition....but at least in harness racing, the horses do run with regularity. Unfortunately, it hasn't yet worked out. It's getting real tiresome to see these thoroughbreds - Big Brown included - be handled almost as carefully as Sarah Palin. Who knows, if Curlin is unimpressive - again - perhaps Jess Jackson will suspend his campaign, seek to postpone his showdown with Big Brown, and propose to send the horses to Washington to save the economy. They could probably do a better job.

- Perhaps the Fed can bail out this guy too.

Isn't Anything

- I saw My Bloody Valentine play at Roseland tonight; earplugs were given out at the door. The Head Chef, remaining at home, wondered why one would block out the music you pay to see. Well, because it's really loud. So much so that it became a physical as well as an aural assault. This guy sums it up pretty well. It's the first of a tinnitus doubleheader this week, with Dinosaur Jr. coming up on Thursday; but that will be nothing after this.

My ears aren't ringing too much, but I'm wide awake, so I wanted to mention a few more things. That piece by James Odato also contained a note about Jeff Gural performing the opening notes of an inevitable drumbeat which I'm sure will soon be spreading throughout New York and the mid-Atlantic states with slots.

"I'm constantly asked by my customers why I don't have table games....The state has to look at sources of income ... In light of the events of the last two weeks, everything should be on the table."
It's true, even after bailing out the financial system, the taxpayers will still be called upon to gamble what's left of their money away (though they probably stand to get a better return from the casino). However, the path to table games could be a long one in New York. Two separately elected Legislatures must pass the resolution before it can be put to voters. There's something I have to admit I did not know. What it means is if the legislature doesn't pass an amendment measure this year, then it would be a minimum of three years before it could be passed on to the voters for a vote.

Also wanted to congratulate my fellow bloggers who were on the NTRA Online Marketing Task Force. They presented their report on Monday in Las Vegas; and the story in Bloodhorse had top billing into today. Also was a story in the Thoroughbred Times. After getting dissed by Bloodhorse, Handride, the dictatorial but occasionally affable leader who somehow brought a lot of diverse views to (more or less) a consensus, gets a mention there. It also mentions my name, which is a little silly. I didn't do a damn thing. These guys (and girls) put an incredible amount of effort and passion into this, and deserve all the credit. Their entire report can be found here (pdf file and it erroneously lists me as one of the authors, for heaven's sake!!!)

Finally, I missed the developments in Florida late last week, and wanted to mention that. It's a pretty fascinating situation, with the state unable to supersede Federal law and compel the Seminoles to halt the table games which have been declared illegal by the courts (a decision upheld by the state Supreme Court earlier in the month).

So, Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum is appealing to the Feds to help stop the illegal gaming at the Hard Rock Cafe. McCollum sent a letter to Philip Hogen, the chairman of the National Indian Gaming Commission, requesting his help. In his letter (which you can read [pdf] here) McCollum lays out a methodical argument showing how the games are illegal, adroitly using the words of the Interior Department and the Seminoles from past court cases against them. But most notably, McCollum expresses his irritation with his inability to enforce the law.
“The State of Florida is in the untenable position of having a tribal gaming operation, which everyone acknowledges is unauthorized, ongoing without the jurisdiction to stop the illegal activities. As a former United States Attorney, I know you can understand the frustration of a law enforcement official forced to stand by and watch illegal activities go on with impunity. I would therefore request that you, as the regulatory official holding the power to enforce this law, take action immediately to see that the tribe ceases its illegal activity until a valid compact can be consummated with the State of Florida.”
[UPDATE: Big opening day at Santa Anita today, and, unlike certain cowering trainers, the fearless DiscreetCat is not afraid of the unknown surface. Click for his free play here.]

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Tuesday Night Notes - Sept 23

- Thanks to all the commenters to the last post. Here's the link to the item at the Times Union in which a reader noted that James Odato strikes a different tone than Fred Dicker regarding how imminent, or not, is the selection of an operator for the mythical Big A racino. No surprise of course that a buddy of Governor Paterson's has conveniently joined Delaware North's lobbying firm Patricia Lynch and Associates. Ms. Lynch herself is a former staffer for Sheldon Silver, so they now have two of the three men in the room in which this thing will unquestionably and irrevocably be decided covered. Not sure exactly what Don Peebles, indeed an Obama bundler (thanks to reader jk and another for that tip) brings to the table here.

I don't know if the announcement by Mohegan Sun that it's delaying expansion of its casino in eastern Connecticut for about one year due to worsening economic conditions necessarily has implications for its readiness to proceed in New York if selected. However, the company did say that the move "will help to strengthen its balance sheet." So I imagine they're reviewing any pending projects. jk, who on second thought will not be taking over this blog, mentioned Bank of America, and it's true, according to the article linked to above, that it is involved in the now-delayed expansion. But another reader assertively tells us that Connecticut hedge fund Plainfield Asset Management is funding the Aqueduct proposal, and that the money has been confirmed. Plainfield seems to be still active in the funding ring, but that was of course before the current Armageddon, and I don't think anything is for certain at this time.

- Seems like quite the wide-ranging interview that Jess Jackson conducted today. He said that Curlin is indeed possible for the Classic....and the Clark....and the Japan Cup; invited Big Brown to join him in any of those, said he's checked out the new surface at Santa Anita and that "it might be a "great surface," and that he might send Curlin there just to check it out. He again rejected a match race, said that he'd bring Curlin back at five if Big Brown came back at four, proposed a racing league for older horses; but speculated that IEAH is "more concerned about the money." (I'm so sure that Curlin would be racing this year if not for the ownership issues that complicate his sale for stud duty.) But I haven't seen where he addressed the question of whether Curlin would run here on Saturday if it rained, which it is predicted to do. Newsday got a response from Iavarone:

"He wants us to join him but he's not telling us where he's going? The simplest thing would be for him to run Curlin against Big Brown in the Classic."
Sounds pretty simple to me.

Monday, September 22, 2008

No Big Surprise

- Thanks to reader jk for bringing to our attention this little tidbit buried in a column by Fredric U. Dicker in the Post on Monday.

The Wall Street crisis has led Paterson administration officials to temporarily put off a long-awaited decision on choosing one of three potential builder-operators of the Aqueduct racetrack's massive entertainment and casino complex.

The officials want to take a second look at the financing behind each of the three would-be operators to make sure it's still solid. [NY Post]
Of course, we were all anticipating that last week. It's certainly no surprise. In fact, it would have been a surprise had business proceeded as usual. We were also wondering if any of the three parties had the cash on hand, particularly Capital Play, who only pledged $100 million up front, and which threw huge numbers around during the franchise process. But Dicker's language - "a second look at the financing behind each of the three.." - implies that they do not.

The clock is ticking on the 24 months that NYRA said it can survive without slots money; as far as a deadline for starting construction, it's actually 12 months given the expected one year it would take to build. It's certainly not clear at this time what exactly is going to change regarding credit and real estate in the next 12 months. We've seen this matter slide by for far more than 12 months during the peak of the real estate boom...and the slots boom for that matter. So it's certainly conceivable it could do so again. Amazing considering that it's a guaranteed money maker for the state starving for cash...though who knows if it still will be when (if?) they finally get around to it. I wouldn't be complacent about this if I were NYRA.

The other bit of non-news from Monday is this article from Bloodhorse: No Network TV Coverage for Weekend Races. Well yeah, we knew that too. As pointed out previously, ESPN's last telecast was the Pacific Classic on August 24, and their next won't be until Keeneland. That's one telecast in the nine weeks leading up to the Breeders Cup. There are 12 Grade 1 races on tap between Belmont and Santa Anita this weekend; a number of them are, I guess, Breeders' Cup Challenge races. And aren't the races at Santa Anita especially newsworthy with respect to the Breeders' Cup just in and of itself? Even if the Win And Yer In program hadn't been over-diluted this year to the point where it's hardly news at all, you still can't expect that much momentum could have been sustained with such a big gap in the telecasts.

Curlin worked a leisurely half in 51 4/5 up at Saratoga, his final work for Saturday's race. Jess Jackson will certainly be pressed during a teleconference scheduled for today to disclose his plans - or lack thereof - for the Breeders' Cup. I think we'd like to see him win easily and with a little flair, like Commentator did. He'll of course be facing a far tougher field than did Zito's horse - Mambo in Seattle, Wanderin Boy, AP Arrow, Frost Giant area amongst his possible opponents. But he's the champ, and it's not unreasonable that people expect him to win like one. That might silence the speculation that he hasn't been the same since two races in Dubai.

Don't know how much of a marketing effort NYRA is going to put into this race after the disappointing crowds at Curlin's last two appearances here. I'd missed this piece by Odato in the Times Union blog with word that those crowds were at least partly behind the departure of Gavin Landry. But without some significant rivals, Curlin is just not appealing enough himself to make much of a difference, and Landry had an unenviable task. I mean, even the presence of Pass the Point would have added a little pizazz to this race, where the hell is he?


- Thanks again to the folks at Suffolk Downs for making the Head Chef and I feel most welcome. That was the first time I've ever been there, and I dunno, I know some people used disparaging words to describe it, but I thought it was pretty nice. It was sparkling clean, and the track was well-prepared for the crowd of over 17,000. It reminded me somewhat of a combination of Monmouth and Aqueduct. That's a major compliment in my book.

We had a great weekend in the city; thanks to everyone who wrote in to suggest places to go and to eat. We'd been invited to a post-race party on Saturday, so we didn't make any dinner reservations. But the Head Chef had a cold, and so a nap was in order when we got back to our very much under-construction Holiday Inn near the airport. It was well after 9 by the time we got to the North End, and we saw several of the restaurants that were recommended....with people still waiting outside to get in for the most part. We had a very nice meal, and we're trying to remember what the restaurant on Salem Street was called, I'll have to let you know about that.

But we did follow someone's suggestion and checked out the area in and around Davis Square on Sunday, and had a great greasy breakfast at Rosebud Diner.

And, I'm sure you'll be happy to see that I have just a few photos.

A courtyard at the Museum of Fine Arts.

Glass towers and a construction crane (it's there). Well, that's awfully familiar. Newbury Street seemed familiar too, at least at first, when we were in the more gentrified part that reminded me of Soho with all the high end stores. We liked it better as we walked up towards Fenway.

And this was capped off by a visit to Newbury Comics. Since Tower Records went out of business, we just don't have indie-minded superduper record stores in NYC anymore. And this one actually has......


This photo is actually left over from Saratoga; the poster was hanging in the basement of our rental house. Don't really know what to say about this one.

I've turned the sound of the Jets game off, and it's not because of Kornheiser. We listened to the Pats lose to the Dolphins as we were driving back, and the Head Chef was very excited about Chad Pennington's performance. And now I'm getting a lot of grief tonight..

Monday Night Notes

- Last place for Rap Tale at 60-1; not very pretty there. Zee Zee was third at 7-5 for Mott, who also had the losing favorite in the fifth, on the grass, with first-time starter Courageous Cat, a full brother to After Market. This barn has not won with a debut runner in New York since last September. The Fed will not bail you out for sticking with overbet barns on cold streaks.

Go Smarty Go took that 5th race in his debut; 10-1 morning line, he returned $13.40 for trainer Frank Alexander. Out of a Holy Bull mare, he's a half to stakes winner Higher World. Yes, he's a son of Smarty Jones, still yet to make much of an impression for his $100,000 stud fee, with just four winners in only 12 starters according to Bloodhorse's Leading First Crop Sire list.

Miss Challenge took the Statuette Stakes in a blanket finish for George Weaver. You may recall how hot this trainer at the end of Belmont straight through mid-August. But the percentages do matter in the big picture, and Weaver was in a mini-slump of 0 for 16.

Computer problems today; some weird new firewall at work which is preventing me from accessing Blogger. During my lunch hour of course. Might take me some time to work this out, so could be light posting for awhile. Guess I'll also take the comment moderation off since I won't be able to put them up. Or delete them for that matter.

How long before Tony Kornheiser has me cranking up this Metallica CD?

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Sunday Morning Notes - Sept 21

- Rap Tale is listed at 30-1 in today's Statuette Stakes at Belmont; Bob called on Friday to inform me that trainer Bruce Brown decided to take a shot. The morning line seems appropriate to be sure. Not that it's the most accomplished field in the world, but bottom line is that Rap Tale has finished 5th and 7th in her two grass tries, while Julia Tuttle is a stakes winner, and a few others are stakes placed. On the other hand, she was less than six lengths behind Senior Rita Lady, 9-2 morning line here, in her grass debut, a race in which we think she could have been much closer; and we believe that her Colonial race is a complete throwout. The idea is to somehow get her some black type for her value as a broodmare, and time is running out on her being able to compete in restricted 3yo stakes (non-winners of a stakes) such as these. So, that's the rationale, at least the way I perceive it to be. I'll bet $2 on her to win, but I'm certainly not recommending her.

Zee Zee (3-1) is the morning line favorite for Mott/Zayat. We noted all summer the trainer's slump with first-time starters, a streak which ended on 9/14 when Hold Me Back, a $400,000 Giant's Causeway 2 yo, won at Arlington. But it's really been an overall slump for the trainer in NY; he's just eight for 102 (8%) over the last 90 days. And as you might expect, that includes many, many short priced losers. Put all the money lost on those horses together, and it's a lot, though not quite $700 billion. However, he has won a couple of races at Belmont, and you can't keep a good barn too long. (Though I don't particularly care for Zee Zee at 3-1 here.)

Indian Blessing showed her class again yesterday. I guess I was wrong about her not being able to rate. I was surprised to see Elope get bet down to 5-2 as she did. She was very good, and looked momentarily threatening, but Baffert's filly just left her in the dust. There's talk in this article of her possibly taking on the boys in the BC Sprint. Ha, that would be a laugh if some of the biggest "Ladies" stars like Indian Blessing and Zenyatta showed up on Saturday instead! Indian Blessing's road to a possible second Eclipse was helped when Proud Spell lost at Philly Park.

Zito still sounds skeptical about sending Commentator to the Classic, but left the door ajar.

"You have to think about the Breeders' Cup....It's a long way to go for a synthetic surface. As you know, I'm not crazy about anything artificial. There's nothing wrong with dirt." []
His presence would certainly change the complexion of the race, and add some zest as well. So let's hope that Nick won't let the synthetic thing stand in the way of having some fun with this horse, assuming he's physically able to make the trip.

- I've turned on the comment moderation function. Sorry about that; I hope that doesn't dissuade the vast majority of you whose comments enhance and help fuel the discussion and debate on this blog.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Here's Commentator

- It's Commentator, in an easy win, if a little unorthodox for him, sitting second behind 50-1 Riversrunrylee until late down the backstretch. Three winners for Zito, and for Johnny V. as well. Here's the paddock scene before the race.

MassCap Day

- It's just a perfect weather day here at Suffolk, and a large and lively crowd on hand. To say that the Head Chef and I have been greeted warmly here is to put it quite mildly. We're having an amazing time. Here's some photos.

Here's Chelsea's Havoc before he won the 4th race. Anyone who knows me might wonder why I didn't have this one as a hunch bet..

Here's Nick Zito before he saddled first time starter Palmer's Approach in the second. I'd written before that the horse might be an underlay....after he won by around 8, he seemed like an overlay!

TVG is here, and they're set up in the paddock. Bob Baedeker, Mike Joyce, and Jill Byrne (on the right) are on hand, and that's nice to see. I actually had a chance to chat with them at the cocktail party last night. This is why I can't be like a real reporter; I meet people, and they're so nice that I'll never say anything bad about TVG again.

4:08 - Hold On Smokey did hold on in the 7th; singled him, so I'm alive in the Pick Four. I lost the Pick Three leading into this race when Zito's Bobby Sands lost at 1-5! When you can't hit a 1-5 shot, it's time to really wonder if this is the right hobby. Zito has the big favorite in this 8th race with Thunders Dove, who I didn't use at all. I can see just where this is headed...

Suffolk Today

- A few observations on today's MassCap card at Suffolk. In the second, Palmer's Approach is the 5-2 morning line favorite for Zito. He's a first-time starter by Najran with a long gap in his works. He may take money largely based on his trainer with the big crowd on hand, and who knows, maybe he's legit. But Double Devilish (3-1) drops back to the maiden ranks after a solid second in a state-bred stakes to legit allowance horse in Sultans Prince; and third place finisher No More Goodbyes won his next by eight with a 90 Beyer (though on a muddy track he may have liked).

Evening Attire isn't running here today, but if you're looking for a ten-year old gelding to fancy, check out Sing Me Back Home (6-1) in the third. Elevated in class confidently in his last, this son of Homebuilder took advantage of an inside trip and came flying late to miss by a nose to Rubiano Lad, a competitive sort at this level (and when is the Web-based Formulator going to have the individual past performance lines on the result charts?) who is running in the 5th race today. Sing Me Back Home has little early speed, and I don't know if there will be enough pace here. But trainer Ralph Whitney is 1-2-1 with his last five starters, so I'll be using this one at least on the bottom portion of my tickets.

In the 7th, the first leg in that all-stakes Pick Four, Hold On Smokey (4-1) is first time on the turf for trainer Donald Kielty, 10 for 18, a nifty 56% here at Suffolk Downs. Now this is the kind of horse I'd usually oppose - a runner with a solid dirt record figuring to get overbet in its first try on the grass. But in this case, he looks like lone speed from the rail, and at about five furlongs, the race could be over before he decides whether or not he likes the surface. And he has a Tomlinson number that indicates that he just might like it anyway. Sly (3-1) goes back to grass for the red hot Anthony Dutrow (who has shipped over several horses for today), and looks quite scary even though the cutback in distance is a big question mark.

In the 8th, The Drumtop, Nijinsky Bullet (3-1) is on a career form spree for trainer Rafael Ramos, 27% on the meeting. She faced the boys and defeated the aforementiond Hold On Smokey in her last, so a further upgrade may be warranted here. Two back was an eight length win in a key race (two winners, two seconds and a third). She figures to get a good setup for her late kick here with, barring scratches, Labadeel and Thunders Dove figuring to battle up front. Intentional Fever (3-1) is a stakes winner on dirt and turf. She was a little dull in her first two races of the year in July, but has really picked up the pace in the AM with some dazzling half mile moves. Got a feeling she'll be better today.

That's all I got, time to get ready to head out to the races.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Special Race, Special Days

- A big shout out to the US Trotting Association for their internet coverage of the Little Brown Jug. They had a special site dedicated to the event, the highlight of which was a thoroughly entertaining live blog straight from the Delaware County Fair. Unfortunately, I guess it has to go partly into the "nice try" category due to the blog crashing for over an hour and a half, causing them to miss the three elimination heats. That's really a shame, and I could just feel how frustrated the three bloggers - Moira, Ken, and Tim - must have been. They did come back for the final heat though, and it's still worth a look.

The fact is that innovation always involves the risk of growing pains, and the USTA gets full marks for the effort. I know that many thoroughbred people look down their noses at the sulky sport; but perhaps they should be taking notes while doing so. The USTA utilized a program called Cover It Live, designed specifically for live blogging. In the regular Blogger world...and on the Breeders' Cup site last blogging is cumbersome for blogger and reader alike, and usually a few beats behind at least. But this format - billed as Live Blogging 2.0 - allowed instant updates from three different contributors who were able to deftly interact with readers submitting comments, conduct instant polls, and post photos. Like the USTA's Harnessphere site, it conveyed that sense of the global internet community of like-minded horseplayers that our side of the industry has yet to fully explore. It was all really quite excellent, other than the significant technical problem of course. Great job by the bloggers, and the contributing readers as well.

Art Official made a slight break on the first turn of his elimination and got parked to the half in 54:2. He continued first over to the stretch, but managed to gut out the win over Santanna Blue Chip at 1-9! However, the time, 1:52.3, was a full three seconds slower than the world record posted by Lonestar Legend in the second elimination. Shadow Play was 2/5ths slower than that winning the first elimination; but he was powerful striding around front-running Badlands Nitro, and was the solid 3-5 favorite for the second heat. Here, Art Official found himself first over again, and Pierce never seemed anxious to put his colt through that kind of grind again, especially with the favorite alone on the lead and setting a comfortable pace. He never really got involved, and saved third on his own courage. Shadow Play (The Panderosa) drew off to win the Jug in 1:50.1.

Haven't seen the attendance figure yet, but 50,000 is the usual estimate. The Little Brown Jug is one of the events that keeps me convinced that the sport of horse racing will never die. They'll always be an audience for horses racing around an oval - it's in our blood. What could seem more natural than horse races on a sunny Thursday afternoon at a county fair - no hotel/entertainment complex needed. I've had some disagreements with my friends and blogging colleagues on the marketing task force, which will make their contributions at the NTRA Marketing Summit this weekend in Las Vegas. It's been my contention that racing can't be marketed as a sport, only as an action game. But I guess it's events like the Jug that show that I'm not always right about that.

From what I've heard, last year's revival of the MassCap at Suffolk Downs had a similar festive atmosphere, with plenty of attendees who are hardly hardcore bettors. It drew over 19,000, and the track is hoping for another successful day with which to convince state lawmakers that the industry there is worth saving. Chip Tuttle, the track's COO, told Bloodhorse:

“If you go back to Cigar, both owner Allen Paulson and trainer Bill Mott said that they have never gone to anywhere in the world where more people came up to them and just thanked them for coming....Nick Zito and Tracy Farmer will find out the same thing with Commentator on Saturday. Conversely, when daily purses are only $110,000, fans tend to become simulcast bettors despite our best efforts." [Bloodhorse]
It's supposed to be absolutely gorgeous fall weather, and the fields look full and competitive. Man, there are going to be a lot of people rooting for Commentator, whether just for the sport, or with some Pick Fours at stake. We're heading up to Boston early tomorrow morning so we can spend the day in the city before the fancy cocktail party in the early evening. Hoping to check in tomorrow night or early Saturday morning to take a look at some of Saturday's races.

[UPDATE: Thanks to the reader who reminded me that Shadow Play is owned in part by the former Montreal Canadian and Hall of Famer Serge Savard.]

Hold Everything

- A humble NY horseman writes in about what I guess are rumors circulating through the backstretch about the "goal posts" being moved between Delaware North, reported the other day to be the front runner in the Aqueduct VLT sweepstakes, and Merrill Lynch, who the commenter tells us is the company's main financier. I don't have any insight into any of that as of now; and indeed, there's been no follow-up nor confirmation of James Odato's blog entry ID'ing Delaware North as the likely winner. And in any event, I cannot supply a better answer than the one from the reader who responds - if I may lift from his/her comment succinctly: in today's financing climate, all deals are being reevaluated. That pretty much sums it up.

If Delaware North, or any of the other bidders, were planning on borrowing for the deal, you can bet that the goal posts have indeed moved. Just type "credit crisis" into Google News and survey the fear of soaring borrowing costs - where credit is available at all - which is fueling the current turmoil on Wall Street. Or try getting yourself a mortgage. The reader also points out, reasonably I think, that it's in any event entirely possible that Delaware North could be having second thoughts about spending $370 million which would get it nothing other than the right to conduct a gaming operation in a heavily taxed environment. Though clearly, the problem is not limited to New York. I wouldn't expect to see much movement on this in the immediate future.

- Figured it was just a matter of time before Eliot Spitzer was blamed for the entire global crisis.

- Hunch bet for today (oh man, this is too easy):

Spaniard - 4th at Belmont

- Last year, NYRA announced the hiring of Gavin Landry as senior vice president of sales and market development with some fanfare. He was being counted on to help bolster the association's hospitality efforts. But now, Landry is out, and NYRA spokesperson John Lee isn't elaborating as to why. “We’re not commenting on personnel matters, but this was Gavin’s last day here today." [Thoroughbred Times]

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


- Commentator is the 3-5 favorite in a field of seven for the Mass Cap at Suffolk on Saturday. Surprising that Asmussen didn't enter one of the four he said he would. That's too bad, though I doubt that any of them would have changed the pace scenario that will favor Zito's horse. John Ward trains Dr. Pleasure (7-2) who he says is "training five-six lengths better than before" laser surgery for an entrapped epiglottis. Ward is hoping that "a few of the locals go with" Commentator. That would be Volcanic Force and Riversrunrylee. But if Randy Moss' pace figures are any indication, those two will be hard pressed to keep up. Commentator could be a welcome single in a tough all-stakes Pick Four; or the Pick Three if you prefer (or if you get knocked out of the Pick Four in the first leg). It looks like an excellent betting card with large fields and a good weather forecast to boot.

I know I've had some differences with Zito of late, but Suffolk can't do much better than he as far as having an effusive and quotable spokesperson for the sport saddling the favorite...and I'm sure he'll talk up the virtues of the track's natural dirt course! You can agree or disagree with the guy, but Zito is one Straight Talk Express who has not veered horribly off course. He expressed support for the track's anti-slaughter program, and cited it as one of the reasons for coming.

"The New York tracks, I don't think they believe in it....I'm sure other tracks will join forces. I'm sure other tracks will come up with something." [AP]
- There appears to be like 24 races on the Little Brown Jug card. That's just sick! It's a national holiday in Delaware, Ohio, and they could have 50,000 people in attendance. One colt that looks real sharp to me is Shadow Play, the 5-2 second choice in the first Jug heat, to be run at around 3:52. He's had bad posts, bad trips, and the misfortune to be facing Somebeachsomewhere, allowed to walk to the half mile, in his last two. Before those, he's shown some high speed, and it looks like should be able to get to the top here, and perhaps hold off favored Badlands Nitro in a mild upset.

Art Official looks tough to beat overall, and will go to the Red Mile for a possible rematch with Somebeachsomewhere.

Go Between

- As I've said, I can't resist writing about great concerts I see; and if you came here expecting to read about Go Between the horse, then sorry, I lured you under false pretenses. On Monday, I saw Robert Forster at Joe's Pub at the Public Theater. Forster was one half of the singer-songwriting team behind Australia's The Go Betweens, whose grand second coming after 12 years apart was shattered when Grant McLennan died tragically in 2006. (I'd posted a video from the original incarnation in this post, bottom.) Fortunately, Forster decided to carry on as a solo artist, and he has an excellent new album, The Evangelist, which is streamed in its entirety at his website.

Some, but certainly not all performers provide non-downloadable audio on their websites; and, as with racetracks and their live video, I wonder why others don't do so. I imagine there's some risk in both cases - gamblers not betting into the pari-mutuel pools can see the simulcast feed, utilize the information, and watch the races; and I suppose that one can simply listen to a stream on a computer until he/she is sick of the album, and never buy it. (Or the music can suck.) But these days, endeavoring to respect intellectual property (and not having the RIAA knocking at my door.....and don't even get me started on them!!!), and resisting Apple at 99 cents a song, I appreciate the artists who invite you to listen, and I'm far more likely to buy their records or see them live.

For example, you can go to the Metallica site, and find there ample evidence that their new album really does recall their material from the 80's, and that it doesn't at all suck.

Anyway, Joe's Pub is as intimate as one gets in NYC; I was sitting close enough so that it was almost like Robert Forster and his band were playing in my living room. Even better, it was only 7:30; they have two sets per night there, so one can actually see live music and get to bed on time. It was all quite special, and this being NYC, you never know who you might see. I was alone, and overheard a guy behind me go,"Ooo, I'm going to see what Bob is doing." He disappeared and came back all excited. "Christgau is going to sit with us!"

Robert Christgau. The so-called "Dean of American Rock Critics," is probably best known in New York, for his long stint at the Village Voice which ended in 2006 when he was fired, "for taste," by new ownership. His annual "Pazz and Jop" music poll in the paper was a highly anticipated event for me at one time, and he's certainly had an influence in shaping my collection. And there he was, with his little notepad, small entourage in tow. I heard them telling old Grant McLennan stories before the set started.

I was excited to tell the Head Chef, by far the top celebrity-spotter in the family. And, of course, she had a Christgau story of her own. It was 1981, and she was seeing The Clash in Manhattan. At the time, I was living in Philly, still emerging from an unfortunate and ill-timed jazz fusion stage. The Clash did a now-legendary series of 17 shows at Bond's Casino, a former clothing store in Times Square (not a casino). As she recalls, it was just non-stop greatness, song after song, without a pause, relentlessly amazing, with the balcony literally bouncing up and down. She thought it might collapse and that she might die, but didn't care. (I'm glad she survived.)

Afterwards however, her friend Henry, who was also there the night before, is strangely dissatisfied. They walk out onto the street, and he spots Christgau. Henry approaches him and asks: "You were here last night, weren't you?"


"It was better than tonight, wasn't it?"

And Christgau goes,"Yes! It WAS a little better!" And so, just like that, the Head Chef's once-in-a-lifetime, euphoric music experience was tempered, if just a bit; but enough so that I sense that she's never quite forgiven either of them.

As for the Robert Forster show, Christgau seemed quite pleased. But if I read him saying that the second set was better, I'm gonna be really pissed.

Here We Go Again

- Starting to see the name Casino Drive pop up in the comments again. And indeed, we're told that the Japanese mystery horse is set to return for the Classic. I was a bit surprised and, to be honest, a little bemused by the fascination with this horse leading up to the Belmont. However, there was no denying that winning the Peter Pan as he did in just his second career start was impressive. And the fact that he descends from Better Than Honour certainly made him an intriguing Belmont entrant. Still, I honestly thought it was a stretch that he'd win the Belmont, and was looking forward to opposing him at what would have been a big underlay, at least in my view.

Looking back, it's of course entirely possible he could have won that race considering what happened. However, if I'm reading the Bloodhorse piece correctly, Casino Drive has still not made his third career start; he's on the sidelines, like Carly Fiorina (a woman, by the way, who has ample experience in not being able to run a major corporation). And taking a look at exactly who he beat in the Peter Pan - Mint Lane, Readys Echo, Golden Spikes, Cosmic, Spark Candle, Tomcito, Deputyville, and Fast Talking - makes his feat seem a bit less accomplished in my mind. Who knows really what can happen on an unpredictable surface in this unpredictable year; and some readers seem no less infatuated with this horse than they did during the spring. But I think that, objectively, this three-year old really has little more qualification to be a serious contender for the Classic (or for the Goodwood, which they intend to use as a prep, for that matter) than little miss Governor Tinafeylin has to be President of the United States.

- Credit Crunge: Has anybody seen the bridge? Where's that confounded bridge....

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Tuesday Night Notes - Sept 16

- Blogger Pull the Pocket dropped by the other day to comment on the post about Big Brown's race, and it made me think that I probably should have at least qualified my "most impressive display..." comment by limiting it to thoroughbreds. That would be in deference to the Meadowlands Pace, in which not one, but two three-year olds each ran the races of the year....and in a way and for three-year olds, of all time given the world record mark of 1:47.

Pace winner Art Official drew the rail in the third elimination of Thursday's Little Brown Jug at the Delaware County Fair, which is actually in Ohio. "The colt has never been better. He is really, really sharp,” said his trainer Joe Seekman. Somebeachsomewhere will not race; it has not been on his schedule all along. I'd thought that they didn't want him to run multiple heats (a benign way of saying, run in more than one race). But not only did he do so, on a half mile track at Flamboro Downs, he set a world record of 1:49 2/5 in the second heat! Check it out here; they let him go a 29.1 quarter to the half, ha ha ha, are you kidding me??

But now trainer Brent MacGrath says that he doesn't want to race the Beach in the Jug just ten days before a date at The Red Mile, at which he seeks to break the all-time world record of 1:46.1, set by Cambest in a time trial at the same track. Whatsmore, the format of the Jug could require three, or even four heats. He may meet Art Official in Lexington; and/or locally at Yonkers, in the Messenger, or the Breeders Crown, at the Meadowlands. And how keyed up would we be for that?

It's not always the case that a well-hyped race meets expectations. The Meadwolands Pace and the Whatever It Was Called race that Big Brown won on Saturday are two that did. Of course, last year's Belmont was another one, when Curlin lost to a girl who never won again...

Aw c'mon guys, I'm just having some fun with you. Besides, have I ever written here that I think Big Brown would beat Curlin? Huh? Or that Big Brown is better? I guarantee that you won't find that anywhere. Where we disagree is as to which party has the right to accuse the other of doing the ducking. (And I think at least some people are starting to see it the same way as I.)

Now, there are a couple of qualifications. For one thing, I do think Big Brown could beat Curlin on the grass. I don't buy Steve Crist's G1/G2 argument, and I think Watchmaker is totally off base in his column entitled Big Brown's win not so hot in the paid DRF Plus section. The Watchman points out, as a reader did in correcting me, that Kent D. "in fact hit Big Brown underhanded with the whip on the right shoulder several times." And he speculates that Kent D. couldn't have gone to the windup anyway because Proudinsky was too close. All of that may be true. But the fact is that, for whatever reason, he didn't go to the roundhouse whip and he was practically wrapped up at the wire, at least the way I saw the race. He toyed with these my opinion, of course.

I do agree with Watchmaker, though just to a point, that the idea that the race "advanced Big Brown's position vis a vis Curlin is just plain silly." No reason to ridicule what I think is an opinion within the bounds of reasonableness. I think there would be a good argument for any horse who wins the Derby and Classic in the same year to be Horse of the Year. In that sense, his win at Monmouth doesn't change the fundamentals; but I do think it reinforces that notion in this case

The other qualification about Curlin is that I want to see more in the Jockey Club Gold Cup than we saw in the Woodward. I'm not really buying that 112 Beyer; not that it doesn't actually measure how fast his final time was. But you can't come home in 14 seconds and not at least have like a minus sign next to it, like on those Timeform numbers we used to see in the Form; or a sad face :-( or skull and crossbones.

Of course, regardless of what Curlin does in the JCGC, the question of how either of the two would fare if they meet in the Classic - and I do believe that Jackson will ultimately do the right thing - will remain unclear. Since I've admitted that an all-synthetic Go Between HOY award would not at all sit well with me, I can't say that such a synthetic showdown would necessarily be definitive in the argument of who's "better." But they would be meeting, straight up, and with the same uncertainty about the surface. So I think it would be a totally legitimate deciding championship race.

- The Mets, oh man....

Governor on the Larger Stage

- Mr. W.B. ($28.40) won for Kasey K at Philly Park yesterday. However, yours truly, engrossed as I am these days in the events playing out on a much larger stage, spaced out and missed it entirely. Well, at least I'll get credited for my share of the $12,600 in earnings the horse collected. And this was a 5K claiming event. Pretty easy to make your claiming investment back these days, just by running the horse back at the same level when permitted.

Governor Paterson is performing on that larger stage with his role in the attempted rescue of insurance giant AIG. Forget Lehman and Merrill; for reasons beyond my pay scale, it's AIG that seems to be causing the bulk of the distress on Wall Street, and I get the feeling that the Fed will not allow the company to fail. Maybe.

The Governor insists that the steps he took will not involve state taxpayer money. Nonetheless, the call is out for the state legislators to return to Albany once again in an attempt to make further budget cuts (or not); this in the homestretch of the election.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said that his chamber was "ready to assist in any way we can." Except of course to approve a racino at Belmont. Seems almost silly to even mention that since the state has long left a potential infusion of cash from the Aqueduct parlor on the table. Or in the Aqueduct parking lot, to be more accurate. You gotta think though at some point the matter of Belmont is going to come up again. And again, I don't think that depending on gambling revenue is a good thing, especially since the slots bubble will eventually burst just as the others have.

But check out some of these numbers to get an idea of how serious the situation is.

Paterson said the state treasury has already suffered a 97 percent drop this year from the largest banks' corporate taxes and he predicted as many as 30,000 Wall Street-related jobs could now be lost in a "worst-case scenario."

He also feared that state coffers could see up to $1 billion less in tax revenues over the next six to eight months.

Wall Street accounts for 20 percent of state revenue, or $12 billion, and 9 percent of the city's revenue, or $3.6 billion. [NY Post]
If you're in a state or city pension plan, don't worry, because they had only a "minuscule" portion of the funds invested in Lehman.
The state's $154 billion pension fund owns about 5 million shares of Lehman common stock....Jim Fuchs, a spokesman for State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, said losses from Lehman could total about $400 million.

Lehman shares held by the state were worth about $80.6 million at the start of September and were valued at $1.05 million yesterday.
As Atrios would say, WHHEEEEEEEE

- Another point I meant to mention about Capital Play in the last post was the objections raised to their bid by NYRA's Charles Hayward over the summer. He questioned Mohegan Sun's role in the group, suggesting a serious conflict of interest given their successful casino operation in nearby Connecticut.
“They’re going to make much more money for every dollar wagered in Connecticut than they would in New York. If they have a lot of New Yorkers who are going to Connecticut right now, do they really want those people to go to Aqueduct or do they want them to go to the woods of Connecticut?” [Throughbred Times]
Seems like a valid point. Of course, NYRA could very well harbor some bitterness towards Capital Play due to the deceptive negative advertising campaign they mounted against NYRA late in the franchise race; and I wouldn't blame them if they did.

- If you're interested, this column in the Times is, I think, an excellent overview of just how this week's mess on Wall Street came about.

Monday, September 15, 2008

VLT Talk

- Considering Governor Paterson's emphatic statements and urgency regarding the state budget, I guess it wouldn't be surprising if Odato's note on the Capitol Confidential blog that he's "leaning sharply" towards Delaware North is true. The company is offering the most up front, some $370 million for the licensing fee. SL Green/Hard Rock is offering $250 million, Capital Play just $100 million, short of the $250 million envisioned (and budgeted) by the state. As of this writing, I've seen no followup stories about this.

Thanks for the interesting comments. This is the post that Odato wrote in June which stated that Capital Play had the advantage. However, that was before the NYCOTB crisis was resolved, and at a time when Capital Play had floated the idea of taking over the operation and moving its office to Queens; an idea which appealed to Paterson....Bruno and.....Silver.

However, it is true that John Sabini, the head of the Racing and Wagering Board, has favored Capital Play as well. Their proposal is backloaded - what the state would be missing out on at the beginning, would be in theory made up for by ambitious plans to build a lavish hotel/retail/entertainment center, and their usual admirably ambitious but likely impractical ideas, in this case a direct link from the JFK waiting room to the racino entrance.

The company says it will give the state $23-billion over the life of the contract, more than twice the $10-billion Delaware North projects based on higher VLT win-per-day earnings. [Thoroughbred Times]
Capital Play's Karl O'Farrell, before he stepped aside to facilitate the state's screening process, said in a June interview with the local Queens Courier that Delaware North's proposal was effectively "slots in a box."
They “promised more money initially,” O’Farrell claimed, “but their plan for a ‘Racino’ only is not a great economic generator for the neighborhood.”
A couple of commenters wondered if former Governor Spitzer is somehow still involved; one reader pointed out that a key Spitzer aide - in fact, former communications director Darren Dopp - has been reported to be working for Delaware North. I'd like to see who else is lobbying for whom....perhaps that reader who got into the On-Line Lobbyist Registration System can give us a clue if he's still around. Why we need a password to see who's lobbying our elected officials, I don't really understand.

I don't personally have reason to suspect any grand conspiracy involving the ex-governor here. However, it may be worth pointing out that Dopp has refused to abide by the charges brought against him in the (original) Troopergate case by the Commission on Public Integrity; and that some feel that that committee, and its chairman Herbert Teitelbaum, in an effort to protect Spitzer, unfairly disregarded Dopp's testimony with respect to the ex-governor's involvement. Whatsmore, Dopp is the man responsible for some of the more inflammatory quotes and actions attributed to Spitzer, including the famous coffee spitting incident.

So, say the state does pick Delaware North, when it may have once favored Capital Play (which has a more ambitious plan if less money offered up front), and then, just say we see Dopp suddenly drop his fight and pay the $10,000 fine. Then yeah, I'd see where some people might get suspicious.

Another reader questions whether Delaware North will be able to come up with the promised $370 million given the present conditions. And of course, nothing would be surprising in this environment. As to whether they have the cash, we have no idea. Delaware North is a private company, so we have no access to their financial statements.

Beantown Bound

- The Head Chef and I are leaving early Friday morning for Boston, and we'll attend MassCap day at Suffolk Downs on Saturday. We've scored an invite for the official MassCap cocktail party the evening before. Proper attire is kindly requested, so it appears as if I'll have to bring some real clothes to wear on this trip. The party would be fun to liveblog I'm sure, but I'd feel stupid walking around with a laptop, so I'll have to restrict that to race day. The Head Chef is extremely excited, already plotting out dining possibilities and obsessing over transportation issues. Is it really that hard to get around the city in an automobile?

I haven't been to Beantown since September of 1978, when I attended the Yankees-Red Sox series that came to be known as the "Boston Massacre." I suppose those games will always bring back unpleasant memories for Red Sox fans no matter how many World Series they may win. I also vaguely recall spending a night at the old Foxboro harness track....but just vaguely. And not just because it was 30 years ago.

So, we'll spend some time here this week on MassCap news. Nick Zito is expected to start Commentator, who will hopefully make his first appearance since his dominant Whitney win. Suffolk's VP of racing Sam Elliot describes that as 'good news and bad news,' as horsemen don't seem particularly interested in facing him. The seven-year old gelding has been assigned "high weight" (yuk yuk) of 122 pounds. Other horses that are nominated and/or I've seen mentioned as possibilities are, from the Asmussen barn, Student Council, Pyro, Magna Graduate, and Zanjero (According to Elliott, Asmussen promised that at least one runner from his stable will run in Boston), as well as last year's third place finisher Dr. Pleasure, Fairbanks, AP Arrow, Sweetnorthernsaint, Angliana, Grasshopper, and Evening Attire (and you know I'd be real hepped up about him).

This will be the second year of the MassCap revival under track owner Richard Fields, who has devoted a portion of his personal fortunes towards the race's $500,000 purse. Whereas the MassCap was promoted heavily in the Boston area last year, this year's marketing will include a more national focus as well.

The national pitch is important, among other things, in that it will generate interest in betting on the race at simulcasting centers in cities across the country, said Chip Tuttle, Suffolk’s chief operating officer. Ads are being taken out in a number of industry publications read by racing fans.

“It’s important to us that . . . fans in California and New York and Chicago, that they watch and wager on the race,” Tuttle said. [Boston Herald]
The MassCap is a Win And You're In race; and there will be three other stakes races on the card. More on the races as the week progresses.