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Friday, November 28, 2008

Breeders Crown

- Eight Breeders Crown races worth a total of $4.9 million at the Meadowlands tonight - and yes, that's Breeders without the damn apostrophe! All of the participants will have been in the detention barn since no later than 11:30 Friday night.

In the two-year old filly trot, I'll try to get things off with a bang with Timelesswinner Two (10-1). No doubt that she benefited from a perfect trip behind the cover of Yursa Hanover (6-1) when she just missed to that one in their elimination heat. But this consistent filly, who has legit excuses in her only two out-of-the-money finishes in 12 career starts (and who held her own against Explosive Matter, who will vie for favoritism in the colt and gelding division), is live at the price and can take this with a little racing luck. Honorable Daughter (5-2) set a world record for a 5/8ths track at Dover two back; she just got caught in her elim by the overlaid pocket rocket Musical Mystery (9-2) after setting the pace into a stiff wind which may have skewed the results towards closers, at least earlier in the elimination card. The aforementioned Yursa Hanover was giant, holding on after finding herself first over into that wind, and I wonder if the effort may take something out of her tonight.

Front-runners held up later in the card last Friday. But that may be because of the quality of the horses that ran later on, such as Hawaiian Drink (2-1) in the two-year old filly pace, for trainer Tracy Brainard. This daughter of Breeders Crown winner I Am A Fool brushed to the lead into that wind in her elimination last week, and came home in 26 1/5 for her 4th win in a row, and 8th in 12 starts. Fox Valley Topaz (15-1) got up for 4th in that heat after backing up to last. That was actually her first out-of-the-money finish in 14 starts, and she'd be a bargain at her morning line.

The three-year old filly trot features the top three finishers in the Hambletonian Oaks, who also knocked heads in the recent Matron Stakes at Dover Downs. Imagine, horses actually racing often enough to establish rivalries! Stage Show (7-2), third in the Hambo Oaks and first in the Matron, gets the edge here, in my humble opinion of course. She took a break after going offstride in consecutive races at the Red Mile, and came back raging with an elimination win before taking the Matron final. She was first over in her Breeders Crown elimination and got beat by a couple who she really shouldn't have lost to. Of course, that was just to qualify, and I look for a better result with a better trip here. Hambo Oaks winner Creamy Mimi (5-1) similarly bounced back in the Matron after going off form, but had no excuse when she had dead aim on the top pick in the final. Lantern Kronos (5-2) was 5th in that race with a bad post, and has another one here. Just two pari-mutuel races for this filly since she was scratched from the same-day final of the Kentucky Futurity on Oct 3, and I get the vibe that she may have lost her edge.

The two-year old trot for the boys seems an excellent race to just watch. It's a matchup of two young colts who have been simply brilliant thus far. Muscle Hill (7-5) is seven for eight, and hasn't really been threatened of late, least of all in his facile elimination win. Explosive Matter (5-2) is unbeaten in just five races, the most recent of which was his elimination win, accomplished 3/5ths of a second faster than Muscle Hill.

Deweycheatumnhowe is the 6-5 morning line favorite for the three-year old trot. He's beaten all of these before (though he's been beaten by two of them in the two times he's been beaten) in compiling his lifetime record of 22 wins in 24 tries. However, there are obvious questions given the throat abscess that caused him to spend a few days under observation at Cornell. Trainer/driver Ray Schnittker said that "about 80 percent better than he was before, so that's a really good sign." I don't know how encouraging that sounds, really. Don't want to see him get beat in his final start...but just in case, how about a flyer on Holiday Credit (10-1). This colt always puts in an honest effort, has proved that he belongs in this company, and could benefit from a good trip from the two hole. Crazed (4-1) has beaten the favorite in both of his defeats, and seems clearly second best on form. But I'm queasy about backing him from the far outside ten post in an 11 horse field (11 horse starts on the rail behind the 1 horse). Cloud Casino (20-1) seems a rank outsider, but is a hunch bet for those of us who grew up at Roosevelt Raceway.

In the two-year old pace for colts and geldings, this time I'll go for the horse from the ten post. Art Colony (4-1) is a nose and a head short of being unbeaten in six career races. A late starter who moved quickly into stakes company, he got a brief break before getting nosed late in his elimination by Captain Sir (8-1). Son of Artsplace figures to get enough action up front to set up a late surge and make amends here. Major in Art (9-5) has speed, the rail, and will be the one to run down with Sears. Dial Or Nodial (5-1) and If I Can Dream (8-1) both hung on to qualify after tough first-over trips, and either is capable with better racing luck tonight.

In the three-year old filly pace, Tug River Princess (3-1) meets up with Native Bride (5-2). Each has been spectacular this year, and each particularly so in her respective elimination last week. Tug River Princess won despite a tough first-over journey, and Native Bride made two powerful moves to get her 7th straight win. The latter was the winner of their only meeting, when she took advantage of her post position advantage to get the jump and force her rival to go first over against her. Tonight, Tug River Princess gets the rail, and the roles are likely to be reversed. But Native Bride was so visually impressive last week that I don't doubt she could handle the adversity. I give her the slight edge....but I don't see either one going off nearly as high as their morning lines. Likely a race to watch.

And finally, we save the best (arguably, say the Dewey fans) for last. The great, already immortal Somebeachsomewhere (3-5) will make his farewell appearance in the three-year old pace. This indescribably awesome son of Mach Three returns to the scene of his only defeat, which also may have been one of his best performances - his loss to Art Official in the Meadowlands Pace. And though Art Official is out of action with an injury, in his stead is another worthy rival in Shadow Play (4-1). The Little Brown Jug winner gave the Beach all he could handle in the Messenger at Yonkers (as if the weather and track conditions weren't enough). Though trainer Brent MacGrath and drive Paul MacDonnell lucked out in the post draw with number three, Shadow Play still has an advantage breaking from the two hole. Assuming that MacDonnell doesn't wish to engage Shadow Play in a damaging early duel for the lead, he will likely face a decision early on as to when and whether to engage. And chances are that Somebeachsomewhere will once again have to cede position to his rival on the turn for home. On the other hand, I doubt that Shadow Play will be allowed a second quarter breather as he got at Yonkers. Won't be easy, but here's betting that the Beach goes out a winner.

More on the races from Pull the Pocket. Best of luck and have a great day....and night.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Aqueduct Notes

- In today's third race, Kewland (8-1) goes second time off the claim for trainer Dominic Galluscio, and that's been a good angle for this barn - 24% over the last two years, with four winners and two seconds from the last nine applicable starts. Galluscio nabbed this one when she was exposed for 45K at Saratoga. He brought her back earlier this month, when she staged a wide, late rally against many of these to get third. Extra half furlong here can only help. Flying Dixie (2-1) held second in that race for Shug, and figures to be overbet here. American Queen (4-1) figures to have the lead, but the extra distance can't help.

In the feature, Ididntmeantoo (5-2) looks like a solid favorite for Richard Dutrow. The trainer has worked his usual magic with this one - two wins in as many starts since taking over for Doug O'Neill. Three-year old daughter of Fusaichi Pegasus out of Bella Chiarra (Phone Trick), a stakes winning half sister to the graded turf stakes winner David Copperfield, outdueled Frankel's talented Loving Vindication to earn a field high Beyer of 94 in her last, as the pair pulled away from the field (including Just Zip It) in an outstanding final quarter of 23 2/5.

Speaking of Just Zip It, our daughter of City Zip indicated that she's holding her form with a half mile work in 48.88 last Saturday; she's a possibility for an entry level open allowance race on Sunday. Also that day, Rap Tale is slated to go in another NW2x allowance at Philly Park, the same race in which she had a poor start last week.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Jumbo News

- You know that things are quiet when the top headline on the Form site reads: Clark serves as Magna Graduate's finale. I got nuthin'......though you may already have noticed.

So I expanded my reach overseas, and here's a couple of notes:

Legalized wagering, of sorts, on legalized horse racing is coming to the People's Republic of China for the first time since the Communists took charge in 1949, and banned gambling because they believed it was an immoral capitalist pursuit. [USA Today] The track, presumably built with more care than the country's schoolhouses, is located in the city of Wuhan. It has seating for 30,000 people, and contains the largest video screen in China, at 480 square meters. [Shanghai Daily]

Wo! Man, now that is a Jumbotron!! That makes the one at Aqueduct look like this.

The betting is some kind of lottery, and it's reported here that any winnings are prizes other than cash. So it doesn't sound as if there will be any pick six carryovers of note. The track is dirt, and no word if they'll try some weather modification on big race days.

From the UK comes a story about a Flopping favourite. Shiwawa was, according to a race preview, poised to strike in the catchily-named Call 01636 814481 To Sponsor A Race Maiden Stakes at Southwell. That's almost as bad as the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands.

But unfortunately, things went awry for this Darley-bred son of Halling, out of a Seattle Slew half-sister to Arc winner Rainbow Quest.

His price drifted out beyond 2-1 before the off, however, as money arrived for several of Shiwawa's opponents, including West With The Wind, without a win in six previous starts, who started as the SP favourite.

Shiwawa was slowly away and immediately under pressure from his jockey, who eventually pulled up with over half a mile still to run. West With The Wind, meanwhile, was soon at the head of the field and drew further clear from two out to win by seven lengths.

"Our betting intelligence team alerted the stewards after the race as to patterns on the horse," said Owen Byrne, a spokesman for the British Horseracing Authority.
[Guardian UK]
Hmmm, I don't think we have any betting intelligence teams here. Maybe the TRPB, but they don't seem to display much of the way of intelligence, so I guess not. I'm picturing a staff of statisticians in their BIT jackets poring over betting data, ready to call the stewards on the red phone at the slightest deviance.

As for Shiwawa, he was found to have an irregular just maybe the conclusion to this story won't be that funny, though it would make for a good Dick Francis novel. The BHA expects to receive the results of Shiwawa's dope test within the next three weeks.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Penn Crap

- Penn National apparently has some serious designs on Atlantic City, with two casino projects on the drawing board.

One, said Penn National spokesman D. Eric Schippers, is along Route 30, where the zoning has been changed to allow gaming...He said Penn National has an option on a 23-acre site on Route 30, about a mile from the boardwalk.

In its preliminary plans, Penn National indicated it would like to build a 100,000-square-foot casino and 1,500-room hotel.
The second location is at Bader Field, a former airport.

Atlantic City is seeking proposals for developing that area, and Schippers said Penn National intends to bid on property there.

In fact, it already has: In January it reportedly offered $800 million for the land, which it planned to subdivide, building a casino on one parcel and selling the other parcels to other casino developers. []
I mention this because, as you may know, Penn National is one of the partners which owns Freehold, and which has refused to sign the NJ purse subsidy agreement. I've defended, on principle, their resistance to signing an agreement which would limit their ability to compete, in the form of a restriction on their right to pursue gaming outside of Atlantic City. But this story kinda shows how full of it they are. Flush with $1.5 billion of cash received thanks to the cancellation of the takeover of the company by two private equity firms, they obviously have no shortage of opportunities to pursue in the state within the current guidelines. Makes one see how hypothetical and hypocritical their stance is, given just how unlikely the prospect of gaming outside of Atlantic City is, and the substantial capital and resources they already have earmarked to potential gaming inside of the city. Also makes one realize how anxious they must be to dispose themselves of a small potato like Freehold that can't possibly make them much money, if any, at all.

- According to my unofficial stats, trainer Gary Contessa has a six day winning streak going on at the Big A. He would have had two on Sunday had 15-1 Brother of Gold not shied from the whip and got himself DQ'd in the third; he took the sixth with Kamboo Man ($5.20). Another winner for Pletcher, whose Blues Street dead-heated for the win in the finale. Steve Zorn has some comments on the Pick Six and Pick Four payoffs that resulted.

I of course was watching the Jets game on Sunday, but managed to lose a little anyway. I took a fancy to Scholastic, first-time, on the grass, for Christophe Clement in the 4th. This well-bred daughter of Johar, out of a Royal Academy mare and from the distaff family of Henrythenavigator, was 10-1; I've noticed that you will sometimes see this barn's horses debut at a nice price and run well. So I was on board, and thought I had a winner until Americas Dreaming came along. An obvious one to follow up on, but next time she'll be a short price for sure, damn.

I recently mentioned the stallion Flatter, and the sire got his first graded stakes winner when Jack O'Lantern upset the G3 Hollywood Prevue; he was, by far, the longest shot on the board at 19-1.

Hunch Bets for Monday, Nov 24

Time To Win 9th at Finger Lakes
Unexpectedblessing 7th at Calder
What's Your Gender 5th at Zia Park
Former Star 8th at Beulah Park
Me Big Boy 6th at Mountaineer
Tightwad 10th at Zia Park
Best Game In Town 2nd at Turf Paradise
Phoney Hero 7th at Zia Park
Brief Fame 7th at Zia Park

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Sunday Morning Notes - Nov 23

- I know that reader Steve in nc and others are waiting for me to blast NYRA about something, so as to demonstrate that my accepting their advertising hasn't made me soft. I would have done so had the silly rumor about them requesting a closure of the Big A this winter, with insufficient notice to the horsemen, had proven to be true. But it's not, so so much for that. And I don't know why the matter of an alternative Breeders' Cup would come up again since Charles Hayward explicitly shot that down last month.

But, here's something. After finally having gotten used to what was, at first, the wholly unnatural act of walking away from betting machines without a ticket in hand, having placed my bets using my NYRA Rewards account, now the machines are spitting wagering receipts back at me when I'm done. What the hell do I need those for? And most importantly, doesn't seem very green to me, now does it?!?

Harumph! What else? Oh yeah, there's the matter of the infield tote board at Aqueduct, which has more light bulbs missing than in all of these idiots' heads combined.


OK, happy now?

Well, I guess blinkers made a difference for Saturday's sixth race winner, Well Positioned. A no-threat sixth, some 12 lengths behind Saturday's race favorite Conservative in his debut, this two-year old Adena-bred son of Awesome Again whistled wire-to-wire by 14 lengths for trainer Patrick Reynolds at 31-1, yee-ha! You know that someguysomewhere is going "yeah, I told you that he'd kick butt with blinkers on!" This barn has two winners and a second with its last four runners here. Well Positioned is by Awesome Again, out of a Holy Bull mare. Paul Pompa paid $340,000 to purchase this one at the Adena sale earlier this year, and has a ways to go to get even still.

Listening to myself go on about trainer trends, I put a few bucks on Steel Drums, first time on the grass for Contessa, at 23-1 in the 4th. And I had a little excitement as he actually attained the lead with a wide move turning for home, before fading to 5th. This two-year old is by Fusaichi Pegasus, out of Kalypso Katie, a British stakes winning mare who's a half to EP Taylor winner Kool Kat Katie. So perhaps worth watching the next time she's on grass, whenever that turns out to be.

Of course I was gone by the time Contessa took the Discovery Handicap with Wishful Tomcat, so I didn't have that one. I just don't have the tolerance for much longer than two hours at that place these days. Lieutenant Ron, first time beyond seven furlongs, was one of several awful favorites on the card at 6-5. I did a good job of ID'ing those bad ones during the day - Conservative and Calimonco at even money, Drowning Bear at 2-1, Fidelio at 2-1 at Churchill. Unfortunately, that's only half the battle, but it's a key step, and I can usually take away at least some feeling of accomplishment from having correctly ID'd favorites to oppose.

Signs of life for the Toddster, who scored in the 4th with Swinging Bernie, and was a close second in the finale with Trevelyan; Pletcher is on a modest streak of 12-3-2-1, and has four winners from 30 runners for the meet. But two more winners for his former assistant Seth Benzel, now 19-7-3-0 for the meet. Benzel edged out his former mentor in that finale with first-timer Tiz True, 18-1 despite some nice grass breeding. This was an unbelievable rally, one of those races that you think you read the results wrong as you're watching the replay of the stretch run. Tiz True is by Tiznow, out of Amelia, a turf stakes winner by Dixieland Band, who is, in turn, out of Aquilegia, twice a turf graded winner; and that one is out of the great blue hen mare Courtly Dee.

- The gamble paid off in a big way for the connections of Somebeachsomewhere, as the pacer drew the three post for next Saturday's final of the Breeders' Crown Pace for three-year olds. So he gets a week off, and a fine position to boot. He may need it in order to defeat the way sharp Shadow Play, who toyed with his elimination heat last night, easing home in a final quarter of 26 flat.

Also a good set-up for the three-year old filly pacers with an impressive first-over win by Tug River Princess, and a dominant two-move tour de force by Native Bride, who now has a record of 20-16-3-0 this year; that's right, 20 starts, you gotta love that. Both of these fantastic fillies had to be supplemented to the Crown for $62,500 apiece. Native Bride defeated Tug River Princess in the Matron at Dover Downs, as the latter was forced to go first over against her rival. Should be a great night at the Meadowlands next Saturday, even if Deweycheatmunhowe doesn't make it back from his throat abscess. I'm definitely planning to go, and have already cleared this with the Head Chef. Handride is threatening to make his harness debut, so the pressure will be on since he thinks I know what I'm talking about.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Saturday Morning Notes

- Hambletonian winner Deweycheatumnhowe was noticed to have been "slobbering" this past week by his trainer/driver Ray Schnittker. A slobbering horse doesn't that sound unusual to me, but what do I know? Maybe he owns shares of Citigroup?

However, the colt is now at Cornell, where he's been found to be suffering from a throat abscess, and Schnittker says that "sucks;" Dewey is scheduled to race in next Saturday's Breeders' Crown Trot for three-year olds.

“In two years he has never had a thing wrong with him, so I guess it had to happen sometime. I’ll wait till Monday and see what I’m going to do. [US Trotting Association]
There was no elimination heat for the Trot, and Somebeachsomewhere gets the night off from the heat for the pacers tonight. Little Brown Jug winner Shadow Play, who battled the Beach to a neck loss at Yonkers, is listed as the 9-5 favorite. Though the top eight horses will make next week's final, the winner gets to select post position for next week, which, with Somebeachsomewhere subject to the luck of the draw, could be an equalizing factor. Keep an eye on Blueridge Western, coming off a game first-over placing against Shadow Play in the last race for both those colts. This gelded son of Allamerican Ingot has gotten really good late in the year, and qualified on a half mile track in 1:51.3 for this. Another horse on the improve is Bettor Sweet, coming off an upset win at Dover Downs in which he rallied extremely wide to catch a tiring Rudy Rednose, who'd set a torrid pace, and who figures to be prominent early again tonight.

Upsets early and favorites late in the eliminations for the two-year olds last night.

- This must sound like a broken record, but two more winners for Contessa at the Big A on Friday. He took the 6th, a 16K claiming affair, with Papi Chullo, and it seems not so long ago that I saw the trainer at the press conference in July 2007 which unveiled Win And You're In. Papi Chullo had won huge in his first two races for the barn, and Contessa was being asked about his upcoming showdown with Flashy Bull in the Whitney. Ah, those were the days, eh? Papi Chullo was claimed yesterday by trainer David Jacobson, so there's no limit to how cheaply we could conceivably see him run in the future.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Aqueduct Notes

- Reader Glimmerglass mentioned Toso, a six-year old mare who made her debut at the Big A on Wednesday, and won the 6th by three lengths at 6-1. Then, Steve in nc provided some buzz kill by pointing out the glacial time. Apprentice jockey Maylan Studart was on board. Jackie who?

Looks like trainer Edward Allard pulled one over in the second on Thursday. Barefoot Babe ($52.50) earned every bit of those 25-1 odds with a dismal sixth in a maiden claimer at Philly Park in her last. Here, she was moving up in class and making her first start on grass, and her first around two turns. However, if you don't mind a little pedigree-redboarding, her sire, Untuttable (Unbridled), wins at 14% with first time turfers, according to the Form. And she's out of a mare, by Sword Dance, who's a full sister to the multiple Grade 1 turf winner Marlin. So some nice turf blood there, and the trainer's first winner in NY in over two years.

Etched took the third at 2-5; here's one of those Darley horses who disappeared into Dubai oblivion after making a big impression as a two-year old last year. He won the G3 Nashua here last fall, and his only appearance since had been a 4th in a stakes race at Nad Al Sheba in February. A long ways from the Derby Trail for which he was no doubt intended. What the hell happens to these horses anyway? Etched is by Forestry out of the G1 winner Unbridled Elaine, whom the Sheikh purchased in foal to Etched for $4.4 million in 2004. According to Pedigree Query, she was subsequently bred to AP Indy, resulting in a colt named Broad Choice.

Another winner for Contessa, and two each for Enrique Arroyo and Dutrow. The latter took the feature with Into My Soul, as Relatively Ready, last seen in that allowance race disguised as a championship and known as the BC Juvenile Turf, lagged home in 7th. The winner is by Pleasantly Perfect, yet to make much of an impression with his first crop. Standing at Lane's End for $30,000 (down from $40,000 in his first two seasons), the 2003 Classic winner stands at number 21 on the rookie sire list; he got his first stakes winner earlier this month. This stallion didn't win his first race until he was four.

- Six racing dates and no purse subsidy for Atlantic City Race Course. 192 dates for Freehold, but the purse dispute between Pennwood and the horsemen goes on. SBOANJ president Tom Luchento said:

“Freehold’s fate is in its own hands. If they want to race 192 dates with an anemic purse structure and watch horsemen migrate to other racing jurisdictions, so be it." [Bloodhorse]
The horsemen will meet with the NJ Racing Commission on December 3.

- And finally, anyone worried about deflation can come and live around here.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Nothing Done

- Senate Majority-For-The-Time-Being Leader Dean Skelos chided Governor Paterson at the so-called leader's meeting in Albany on Tuesday over what he claimed was the failure of the governor to submit a Memorandum of Understanding needed to get the Delaware North slots project at Aqueduct under way.

"Earlier this year, when I made a request just to study what the economic development aspect of VLT's at Aqueduct were, I was criticized for costing the state $1 million a day. To this day, I have not received an MOU from you that's necessary for the legislative leaders and you to agree to, which is costing us $1 million a day! [editor's note: Touche!]

That's a substantial amount of money. Right now, it's 23 days since we announced the selection of Delaware North to operate VLT's at Aqueduct, and we should sign the MOU so we can begin to collect $370 million in licensing payments. That could go to cutting this year's deficit without cutting school aid."
Though Paterson confronted the Senator on most of his points throughout the session, he did not dispute this point. Skelos went on to appeal for slots at Belmont. "That could raise, perhaps, another $350 million, and spur economic growth in that area, in particular, Elmont. Elmont - a lower income minority community that's dying for this type of economic development, with VLT's, and growth in that area."

As you likely know by now, Governor Paterson and legislative leaders failed to agree on a single penny of budget cuts for the current fiscal year, the deficit for which is said to be $1.5 billion. They have thereby punted the problem to the new fiscal year starting April, 2009, for which the deficit is projected to be $12.5 billion, at the very least. Paterson was in Washington yesterday looking, unsuccessfully at least for now, for a handbailout.. The leader's meeting came about after Senator Skelos effectively called the governor's bluff (recommended link), agreeing to a floor vote on Paterson's budget cuts bill as written, without negotiations. Facing certain defeat, the governor canceled the special session and convened the public meeting.

If you have an hour to kill, you might want to watch the complete videos of the meeting, presented in four parts on the Capital Confidential blog at the Albany Times Union. "This is the way government works," said Paterson towards the end. If that's the case, then I think I'd prefer these meetings to remain private in the future. The Republicans, as the lame duck majority in the Senate, stonewalled the process, the Democrats accused the Republicans of playing politics even as they expertly did so themselves. The present Senate Minority Leader Malcolm Smith brought nothing to the table, Speaker Sheldon Silver had little to say as usual, and Assembly Minority Leader turned red in the face as he yelled and gesticulated forcefully towards Silver sitting a few feet away. (Skelos suggested that he was cranky because he'd canceled his honeymoon for this.)

So yes, we've heard the word dysfunction thrown around a lot the last couple of days, even from the governor. But more so, the whole situation smacks of the old upside-down Bizarro world to me. "Me Democrat. Me want to cut spending. Me opposed to tax increases on the rich." "Me Republican. Me beholden to unions and special interest groups. Me concerned about lower income minority communities."

And as such, it's not for me to judge any of the men involved, except perhaps for the testy Tedisco, whose bluster I found to be most undignified. I do always try to be honest here (even if some find me regularly demeaning), and I honestly have to admit that if, heaven forbid, Rudy Giuliani was the governor and Paterson was the minority leader in the Senate, then I'd likely be viewing this in a completely different way. Politics is politics after all, and politics are partisan; I imagine it's much of the same in all 50 states.

The governor has been on a roll in his approval ratings with his pre-emptive strikes against the deficit, so of course he would open the meeting with what amounted to a campaign speech highlighting his steady fiscal prudence, bragging of his foresight, and accusing the GOP of putting politics above necessity (though his prediction of a 6000 Dow seemed a bit dramatic......I hope). The Republicans probably have a valid point as to why they would need to consider cuts now when the governor has promised next year's budget in a month. I mean, why would anyone expect Senator Skelos to possibly take GOP ownership of painful budget cuts when the Democrats will be taking over in January? Why would Speaker Silver commit his conference to the cuts at this time without the Republicans being on board? (Though Silver's position seems the weakest of the group, I must say, considering that the Democrats will be doing all of the cutting next year anyway.) I'm pretty positive that this all would have played out the same exact way, even if the party roles were reversed.

So, the painful decisions are pushed back for now. When they finally get down to business, and with such a gargantuan deficit to tackle, you can mark my words on these two things - there will be a tax increase on those making over $1 million a year; and slots at Belmont are a cold stone lock.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Aqueduct Notes

- Another winner for Contessa, who, as I did point out a few days ago, has been doing well with grass runners, not usually the barn's strong suit. Tempest Storm won the second, and that's 11 grass winners in 47 starters over the last two months, some 23%. That for a barn with a 9% win rate on the surface over the last two years. That's three wins in four starts for this daughter of Malibu Moon since Contessa claimed her for Winning Move.

4th place for Joaquin Memphis at 6-1. Not a great week for Kasey K, with Mr. W.B. an absurdly wide 6th at Philly Park on Tuesday. Two in a row for the annoying Be Bullish.

The 7th scratched down to four horses, so only a $4.10 return on Sir Winston. Nice second for Yes It's The Truth, and he's definitely one to watch on the inner track for David Jacobson, who also took the 1st with End of an Era.

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Out With a Whimper

- Reader Saratoga Spa writes:

I have to say the Harness executives have done a good job marketing the sport of late. I dare say Somebeachsomewhere and Deweycheatumnhowe have more buzz out there than the Flat track stars of '08.
Don't know if that's exactly true, but it's probably not far off if it's not. And I'd also say that, speaking specifically of Somebeachsomewhere, who I've followed closer than his trotting counterpart, most of the buzz was generated by the horse itself. He's been absolutely spectacular and breathtaking, even in the race that he lost.

You can't say that about Curlin this year. I've seen a lot of speculation as to why nobody outside of the already converted care about his retirement, but I think the answer is extremely simple. Curlin was electrifying as a three-year old, dominant in his World Cup victory in Dubai. But since then, he beat ordinary fields in ordinary fashion, and lost rather decisively when asked to expand his repertoire, going out with a whimper in what was quite likely his final race. I'd guess that the Lawyer Ron who he edged out in last year's Jockey Club Gold Cup might very well have blown the doors off this year's version; Curlin never again equaled the 114 Beyer he did in that race. It takes a lot these days for a horse to break through the mainstream barrier, and Curlin, as a four-year old, didn't even come close.

- DiscreetCat checks in with a selection from Hollywood Park.
Hollywood - Race 4

#5 Royal Taat (5/2 ml)

Been on this Sadler/Doubledown filly in both starts thus far, and no reason to get off her now after her superlative performance last time, where she encountered heavy traffic in the stretch but finally found a seam and exploded late to win off comfortably. Small field and small morning line, but she's a bit light in the Beyer department and it APPEARS that Bejarano is jumping ship in order to ride the Frankel entrant Pretty Carina, who incidentally is the 2/1 ml favorite. Bit of a misnomer there as Gomez is Sadler's #1 guy anyway, and has been aboard the top Doubledown horses in the past. Should hopefully avoid traffic this time in this small field, and it looks as though she'll get some pace to run at. Onward and upward.
Speaking of Sadler, interesting article in the Form about his Cost of Freedom, who state veterinarians have unsound.

- Fight!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Aqueduct Notes

- I've written about these starter allowance and handicap races, and the opportunity they can sometimes present for cheaper horses to compete for nice purses. Of course, sometimes they can come up really tough, like in the 7th at the Big A on Wednesday, a six furlong sprint comparable to a high-level allowance race at the least.

Contessa had six winners last week. He also had 17 losers. This barn overpowers its way towards training titles on sheer volume. Still, he's running a few points ahead of his usual win percentage this meet at 18%. Contessa starts the entry of Hollywood Left and Wild Geese, the morning line favorite at 3-1. These are both recent 50K claims for Winning Move Stable. Hollywood Left appears a shade short on class and speed in my view; Wild Geese fares better on both accounts, and has won two in a row. But this is a far far tougher race than the Hcp 14000s he beat in his last. So I'm thinking that this entry would be an underlay at his morning line or below.

Yes It's the Truth (6-1) return off a layoff for trainer David Jacobson. I've been waiting for this guy to come back alive ever since they got back from Saratoga; but, aside from a brief hot streak at the end of Belmont, he's yet to really get on track. Still, he's at a respectable 15% over that time, and is 1-1-3 in his last five. This horse won under a confident ride by Mario Pino in his last, a nw3x allowance at Delaware on Aug 2. He's never been off quite this long in his 29 race career. It was on the inner track where he came alive with three wins in four tries last winter. So maybe Jacobson might have freshened him with that in mind, and is using this as a prep. But I'm thinking that he's worth a peek at the tote board at least.

The speedy Night Stand (5-1) and Lemons of Love (7-2) also ship north, off good efforts for sharp barns in this highly competitive race. But I'm going to go with Sir Winston (4-1), for Asmussen. You can do far worse I think than that price on this tough gelding, 11 wins in 25 tries, and five in a row (once via DQ) while moving up in class and Beyers. Sir Winston was undaunted after checking fairly hard at the 3/8ths pole in his last, and went on to hold off Digger, who'd really seemed to find his stride at this distance, and Jacobson's tough Southern Missile. May have to work out a trip breaking from the rail with a couple of speeds just to the outside; but he's tactically versatile, and Johnny V sticks around.

- If you've been watching college basketball on ESPN nearly non-stop starting at midnight on Mon night/Tues AM, you see what the network can do when it really devotes its full resources to a sport. I saw Jeannine Edwards at the U Mass - Memphis game last night, and am happy to report that she did not interview Michael Iavarone.

On Stride - In One Sport Anyhoo

- Here's a note about 12 track executives discussing ways to keep star horses racing beyond the age of three.

The tracks recently met to discuss amending the conditions of their marquee stakes to promote participation to horses that have been sired by stallions at least five years of age. The goal of the program is to offer fans thrilling match-ups as 3-year-old champions return to race against top older horses. The proposed changes would take effect in 2012 and impact foals born 2010 and later. Provisions would be made for stallions with limited or no starts at three due to injury.
That's an idea that we've seen floating around the press (Bill Finley gets particular credit), blogs, and chat rooms, and it's great to hear that it's something now being given consideration.

There's only one problem. The executives are from tracks such as Harrah's Chester, Dover Downs, Freehold, and Vernon Downs, and the article is on the US Trotting Association website. So, while thoroughbred racing execs bog themselves down meeting with self-anointed committees of bloggers with minuscule audiences (in some cases I'd surmise, even smaller than the relative, in the scheme of things, handful of people who visit this site) about issues, such as saddle cloth colors, race names, and championship races run on weekday afternoons, which were brought about by their own shortsightedness, harness people are actually discussing substantive matters with the potential of expanding the appeal of their sport. As I've said before, while thoroughbred folks are looking down their noses at the sulky set, perhaps they should be paying some attention.

And here's more:
Today, the U.S. Trotting Association unveiled, an Internet site at which users of all Web-enabled telephones and PDAs will be able to follow their favorite sport.

Users have the ability to view the past eight days of results and all entries for races conducted at pari-mutuel tracks and fairs in the United States.

In addition, users may search by horse name to see details of that horse’s most recent start, if within 90 days, and view the entire field of any upcoming race in which that horse has been entered if it is currently in-to-go in at the abovementioned tracks. [US Trotting Association]
Really, some of the USTA's web features put its flat racing counterpart to shame. We also saw that during the Breeders' Cup, with the antiquated Web 0.5 liveblogging which paled in comparison to what we saw on the USTA site during the Little Brown Jug and Hambletonian, technical problems and all.

- 12 state legislators in Monmouth County are calling for sanctions against Freehold, including withholding the track's 2009 race dates; this to pressure Penn National and Greenwood to sign the purse subsidy agreement. Pretty humorous that the representatives are all Republicans; imagine, the party of the past voting to impose competitive restrictions on a capitalist corporation.

- All of the upcoming Breeders' Crown races except for the three-year old trotters drew enough entries to require elimination heats this weekend. That means that Somebeachsomewhere will be racing at the Big M on Saturday. Only ten trotters signed up to face Hambo champ Deweycheatumnhowe in the sophomore test for the diagonal gait.

[UPDATE: Thanks to reader T.J. for the headsup. With 12 pacers entered, the two top money earners can elect to pass the elimination, which trainer Brent McGrath elected to do. The trade-off is that he'll lose the chance to select a post for the final and be placed in the open draw.
“I weighed that in my decision.....But the two weeks off will give me a fresher horse, so even the 10 hole won’t hurt him if he’s on his game.” [USTA]

Hunch Bets (Getting Off Easy Version)

Got Off Easy 4th at Mountaineer
Chat Truce 2nd at Beulah Park
Causin Confusion 4th at Beulah Park
Got Off Easy - 4th at Mountaineer
Nomoremrniceguy 7th at Mountaineer
Funatmidnight 9th at Turf Paradise
Got Off Easy - 4th at Mountaineer

- Mr. W.B. is 8-1 morning line in the 6th at Philly Park today; tough spot moving up in class off the claim. The race is for a 16K tag, for horses who have not won since May....but he's excluded from that condition since his wins have come for less than $12.5K. The purse is $24,000, wow.

- I know we're all sick of politicking right now (unless perhaps if you live in Minnesota, Alaska, or Georgia)....but if you go to the Meadowlands' site, you can vote for our favorite cute grey gelding, Highland Cat. His win in the spooky Grey Ghost Handicap is nominated for favorite race of the 2008 thoroughbred meet.

No Fixx Needed

- I'm sure hoping that NYRA doesn't take a page from Toyota. But I'm sure they want you to know that it's now official that zero horses suffered a fatal injury at the Saratoga meet this past summer. In fact, the safety record at NYRA tracks is pretty encouraging all around.

So far this year, NYRA’s tracks have had 1.21 such injuries per 1,000 starts, which is lower than the national average for both dirt (2.03) and artificial (1.47) tracks.

Saratoga did better than five tracks with artificial surfaces — Arlington, Del Mar, Keeneland, Turfway Park and Woodbine near Toronto, which had a combined 86 catastrophic breakdowns. [Troy Record]

Monday, November 17, 2008

Wasted Chance

- Disappointing Sunday for Kasey K. King Mobay's race on Saturday was one thing; an ambitious placing, a shot that the stable could afford to take given its recent successes. But Rap Tale's race at Philly Park was a real opportunity - a weak second level allowance race in which she appeared to fit, even given her recent lackluster Beyers. With just six opponents, and an unbelievable $48,000 purse - just can't get over the purses there, especially given the level of competition - it was the kind of race in which a stable like ours needs to make hay in order to stay ahead in this competitive business. Trainer Bruce Brown felt that the three-year old daughter of Tale of the Cat was doing well and was primed for the spot

So when the gate - a replacement wheeled in after the regular one failed, thus causing a long delay following the second race - finally opened, and Rap Tale took a hop and got uncharacteristically left at the gate (broke very poorly, according to the chart), it was an opportunity missed. Her 4th place finish was worth $2,880, enough to cover the van ride but not all that much else.

On Saturday at Aqueduct, Bob made his case to our trainer to nominate Joaquin Memphis for a state-bred stakes this weekend; there's no nomination fee, so it wouldn't hurt to take a peek at who else is entered. But the horse is now entered for a starters allowance on Wednesday, so I guess we know who had the last word in this case. The race is for NY-breds who have started for a claiming price - any price! So even a horse like Empire Classic winner / Stuyvesant runner-up Stud Muffin would be eligible here.

Stud Muffin won't run after his placing on Saturday of course, but the race has drawn R Clear Victory, who won the Kings Point here last spring. Also entered is Be Bullish, a horse who I just don't very much like at all. He knocked me out of a SHOWdown contest in March, and destroyed a Pick Three for me in his only win since then, on Nov 1. Here's another rich race - a $46,000 purse - and we've seen Bruce Brown move them up off the claim. Being realistic, perhaps second place and its $9200 share seems like a possibility here.

Tough Call

- Given my socialist leanings, you can of course generally find me sympathizing with the cause of working horsemen against evil corporate owners with only the bottom line in mind. But in the matter of the current dispute between New Jersey harness horsemen and the Penn National/Greenwood combo which owns Freehold, I must say that the corporate side has some valid points.

One horse owner actually spoke up in defense of Pennwood at the SBOANJ meeting last week; and explained on Andrew Cohen's First Over blog that he felt that actions of the group's leadership smacked of tortious interference, if not antitrust, against Freehold. Peter Gerry suggested that the SBOANJ, should it fail to prod a renegotiation of the subsidy agreement, seek relief from the NJ Sports and Exposition Authority, which negotiated the agreement on behalf of horsemen. "..the NJSEA is every bit as much to blame for the flaws in the PEA and its contractual requirements," he wrote.

Freehold's president/GM Don Codey Jr, in a letter to the Casino Association of New Jersey, wrote:

“Freehold is willing to be bound, and that will prevent future gaming to occur at Freehold Raceway during the next three years, which we believe was one of the goals of the (purse enhancement agreement).....Asking for restrictions beyond that is unreasonable, non-mutual, and unrelated to the benefits conferred. Most importantly, Freehold has no authority to bind its joint venture partners.
Codey suggested the document be modified to reflect location restrictions — racetracks — rather than entities that may own them. On Nov. 14, he told The Blood-Horse PNGI has obligations as a publicly traded company to avoid such restrictions on potential business activities.

“Who in their right mind would do it?” Codey said. “Any prudent businessman cannot do this.” [Bloodhorse]
Again, it's hard to really disagree. But having said that, it's also perfectly fair to question the companies' motives as the horsemen have. SBOANJ president Tom Luchento said that “Penn Gaming is more concerned about its casino investments and properties elsewhere in the United States than it is about harness racing at Freehold.” Indeed, a little harness track without slots, in a region surrounded on all sides by them, can't be more than a festering annoyance on the financial statements. The current situation gives the Pennwood partners an excuse, and an ethically defensible one in my view, to extricate themselves. It's bad for the sport, horrible for the horsemen, and threatening to a long tradition of harness racing in Freehold. But it's hard for me to see how any true capitalist could really criticize.

- A tour de force for Somebeachsomewhere in what is scheduled to be his final performance in Canada. On a sloppy track rated three seconds slow, and in the face of a driving wind and rain, he won by nearly a dozen lengths in an unbelievable, under the conditions, 1:50 3/5.
"I think it might have been his greatest race ever," said Reg Petitpas of Shediac Bridge, one of the six members of the Schooner Stable, who share ownership in the stallion, who went over the $3-million mark in career earnings with the victory, his 19th in 20 lifetime starts.

"I have never seen him as strong in the mile," said groom Jean-Louis Arsenault, a Moncton native, who said trainer Brent MacGrath had decided to use aluminum shoes on the horse for Saturday's race.
"I just let him ramble home, I never even popped his ear-plugs," said MacDonell. [Times & Transcript]
The Beach now travels towards these parts, for, if necessary, an elimination heat for the Breeders Crown at the Meadowlands on Saturday night; and for what will be his final career race on November 29.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Aqueduct Notes

- KING MOBAY tracked the leader for a half before fading from view. That's the chart comment on King Mobay's sixth place finish at the Big A on Saturday. Seems kinda like a harsh way of putting it. After the race, John Velazquez animatedly second-guessed himself, telling Bob and trainer Bruce Brown that perhaps he should have let the horse run on early instead of taking back off the lead. At that point, trapped down on the rail, Johnny V. said that the horse shied from the mud and dropped back. He actually finished OK, though he beat just one horse. Fact is this was too tough a spot; he belongs more in the 20-25 range I'd guess, and I think he prefers two turns. On the radar screen is a starters allowance written for early December for horses who have started for $10,000 or less; King Mobay did so in 2006, and it's pretty cool that he's therefore eligible for such a race, which carries a purse of $30,000.

Rap Tale is entered in the 4th at Philly Park today. She's listed at 3-1, and honestly I think that would be a bit of an underlay. Notacharlie'sangel looks pretty tough for Lake, and has a seven length win over the muddy main track two races back. Rap Tale's last was an OK third at the Big M, and she'll have to step it up here, perhaps on a drying out surface whose condition at post time is up in the air.

Two winners each for Jimmy Jerkens and McLaughlin. The latter took the 4th with first-timer Monk's Creek, a first-timer by Friends Lake with a Tomlinson mud number of 420. This colt sold for $270,000 at the Barrett's two-year old sale in March; far in excess of his stallion's $15,000 fee. The Florida Derby winner has 13 winners, and stands at #11 on the rookie sire list.

The barn took the 6th with Accredit. Some horses just don't care what kind of surface they run on. This three-year old colt from the first crop of E Dubai, standing at Darley for $15,000 and currently ninth on the second-year sire list, has also won on the Keeneland Poly, Saratoga slop, and has been right there on the inner track. He's now two-for-two on the Big A main, both of those on off tracks. Look for this Darley B team type in inner track stakes this winter.

Congrats to Just Zip It trainer Bill Turner, who got a graded stakes win with Dry Martini in the Stuyvesant; last to first with Channing Hill. The trainer also took Friday's feature with Cloud Nine.

- Rangers!

Out of what I consider to be the four major team sports, hockey is the one in which persistence and hard work are most often not necessarily rewarded. But the Broadway Blueshirts shrugged off an inept power play and a late 0-2 deficit, and kept coming at the stingy Bruins. The 3-2 shootout win puts them on top of the East at 13-5-2.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Familiar Names Behind Expanded Gaming Push

- A couple of upstate papers are reporting on a move afoot in Albany to allow electronic versions of table games such as blackjack and roulette. Whatsmore, Republican Senator John Bonacic told the Times Herald-Record that "this is a bill that could come together quickly, maybe in time for [the special session] next week." The pressure to cut spending can work small miracles I suppose, and the governor seems receptive to the idea, telling "We will consider them all if it will help us raise some revenue."

The proposal being discussed would, in addition to expanding the types of games offered, allow the racinos to stay open longer. Larger venues such as Saratoga and Yonkers would be allotted 140 hours a week, which would quite likely mean 24 hour operation on weekend.

The idea should make sense to a lot of people involved, but a passage in the Herald-Record story indicates where the real impetus may be coming from.

Lobbyists and some state lawmakers are pushing hard for the change. They believe that electronic table games could pour between $300 million and $600 million into the state's coffers by luring more customers to racinos like Monticello Gaming & Raceway, which is part of developer Louis Cappelli's billion-dollar redevelopment of the old Concord Hotel.

"We think this legislation would be good for all racinos, including the Concord," said Darren Dopp, spokesman for Patricia Lynch Associates Inc., which lobbies on Cappelli's behalf. "The bottom line is that it brings hundreds of millions of dollars to the state and doesn't cost the state a dime."
Ah yes, Darren Dopp, the erstwhile Spitzer aide whose employment prospects have not been at all dimmed by his involvement in the Troopergate mess. And Patricia Lynch, a familiar name to those of us following recent developments in the New York racino world; and fresh off her win for Delaware North in the Aqueduct sweepstakes. And what do you know - a look at the Project Sunlight website shows that Ms. Lynch has been employed by Concord Associates since at least since last May, collecting a cool $10,000 a month (plus $840 in reimbursable expenses). Ha, and we might have wondered just how Cappelli was able to obtain a 75% retention rate of slots revenue, almost twice as much as some of the other racinos get. Seems as if he's spending that ten grand a month quite well.

- As duly noted, Fair Grounds is open in New Orleans for its 2008-09 racing season, with a sparkling new slots parlor by its side. Purses there had already been helped by a booming business at the state's OTB's which, in Louisiana, actually goes to enhance prizes at the track; and the slots should only help. Purses are expected to average $375,000 per day including stakes, and $300,000 per day in overnight purses alone, up some 20 percent from last season. [DRF]

There's the usual speculation about whether the slots will help business at the track; and the usual answer of probably not. I love this line by trainer Tim Rice, via Angus Lind's blog in the Times Picayune:
"Sure, slots have helped purses but I doubt if a single slotaholic has been turned into a fan of the turf....If you showed porno movies at the New Orleans Public Library, what chance would you give that the film clientele would end up checking out Dickens and Faulkner?"

Friday, November 14, 2008

Aqueduct Notes

- Winners at the Big A on Thursday for Pletcher and his former assistant Seth Benzel. For the Toddster, it was his second winner of the meeting. Benzel took his fifth winner from 11 starters with claimer Why West in the 7th. He trails leading meet trainer Contessa by two, but has sent out 38 less runners!

Bruce Brown took the second race with Personal Good, and now has three winners from eight runners. Tomorrow, he will saddle King Mobay for Kasey K Racing Stable in the second race. He's in tough in an open 35K claimer, and gets Johnny V.

Tar Heel Mom won the restricted Meadow Star Stakes for trainer Stanley Hough with a handy four wide move from sixth and last. This very nice looking three-year old filly is by Flatter, a second-year AP Indy stallion standing at Claiborne for $5,000. Flatter is actually doing pretty well, especially for a horse who never won a stakes in six career starts. Got a shot at stud I suppose due to his pedigree; he's out of Praise, a daughter of Wild Applause, who I just mentioned yesterday. Flatter, a full brother to Congrats (himself standing for $12,500 in Florida - his first weanlings are selling now at Keeneland), is number 21 on the second year sire list with an impressive total of 43 winners. That's more winners than several more highly regarded stallions up higher on the sophomore list, including Empire Maker, Posse, and Macho Uno.

Tar Heel Mom is a half-sister to Scrappy T. The sire of her second dam is a horse named Ward McAllister, and gee, I remember that one for some reason. He dead heated for the win spot in the 1975 Bernard Baruch with Salt Marsh; Daryl Montoya was aboard for trainer John Russell and the Phipps stable. I can only guess that I cashed a ticket on one of his four career wins.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Discreet Notes - Nov 13

- You may have noticed that my buddy DiscreetCat got knocked down a notch over on the right sidebar, deferring to new sponsor NYRA. Sorry about that, Cat. But thanks much to the New York Racing Association for its support. As you may know if you live in New York state, NYRA's online/phone/mobile wagering platform has managed to stay above all the squabbling going on in the ADW world, and accepts wagers from Hollywood Park, as well as from all the Magna and Churchill tracks. You can fund your account electronically from your bank with no transaction fees. Whatsmore, wagers placed over the system are treated as on-track bets, and therefore is the way to go to best support racing and the horsemen in the state.

And here's a little equal time for our distinguished, and displaced, West Coast handicapper:

Hollywood - Race 7

#2 Lupita'sluckyangel (10/1 ml)

Comes off a sharp win over Mud Sweat N Tears, who flattered that effort by returning to win her next start. Throw out the sprint race where she got cooked early vs. the stakes horse Quisiana while turning back from slower route fractions, and this filly is coming off two straight wins. Also of note is that both those wins came while stalking a moderate pace from close-up, which should be the situation again today as she figures to be laying second behind frontrunner Spinning Yarns, who clearly holds a pace advantage, but has also had some trouble finishing (meaning she'll be looking to set some soft fractions). Going a bit further, the last time Lupita'sluckyangel ran over this course, she ran a pretty nice race vs. the stakes horse Ransom Captive despite breaking from the 11-hole in race that started right on the turn. No reason to think she won't run well again today, and position-wise i think she'll be sitting in the catbird seat. Lots to like.
A busy next few days coming up for the Kasey K Racing Stable. King Mobay is slated to go on Saturday, and the rainy forecast certainly doesn't hurt his chances. Joaquin Memphis is a possibility to make his Kasey K debut on Sunday; the racing secretary was trying to round him up for a race that didn't fill for Saturday, but it's being brought back for Sunday, so we'll see. Rap Tale is confirmed for that day in the 4th at Philly Park; a second level allowance with six opponents and a whopping $48,000 purse. And Kasey K returnee Mr. W.B., apparently no worse for the wear from a few weeks in the Scott Lake barn, will be entered at Philly Park on Tuesday.

- In brazen defiance of the court ruling which declared that its table games in Florida are illegal, the Seminole tribe has opened blackjack and other card games at its Hard Rock Cafe in Tampa.
By 10:30 a.m., all of the tables had players, despite the fact that the casino did not advertise the additions.
"We look forward to working with all involved parties to resolve this issue," said Jim Allen, chief executive of gaming operations for the Seminole Tribe. [Tampa Bay Online]
Doesn't seem as if the tribe's actions are as accommodating as this gentleman indicates, especially considering that the Tampa establishment has more card tables than at their Hard Rock Cafe in Hollywood.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Slash and Burn Slash

- Governor Paterson announced his ideas as to where to cut the budget, and it ain't pretty. Mid-year school cuts, Medicaid, five day furloughs for state workers, wage freezes, SUNY tuition hikes, it's not good. The Times Union's Capital Confidential blog has all the gory details.

The only item related to racing that I saw was a proposed 50% reduction, beginning in the 2009-10 fiscal year, in "VLT Impact Aid" for municipalities (other than, for some reason, Yonkers) which have racinos. That of course is not going down well in Saratoga, where former mayor Valerie Keehn fought hard for the aid, which totaled $3.7 million for 2007. The Saratogian estimates that the cut could mean that the city will lose 5 to 7 percent of its expected revenue for 2009. And though the city doesn't have Joe Bruno around to fight for it anymore, it doesn't intend to take this without a fight.

"As of right now, we’re going to keep it in the budget, and fight to keep this money because we have to cover the expenses of overseeing this property," [Commissioner of Finance Kenneth] Ivins said. "They pulled out the state police, so we have to maintain protection. We have to maintain roads, sewer, water and other infrastructure. A number of local expenses go into that facility, plus it drains our sales tax revenue that would ordinarily go to our local businesses, but go there instead.

"We feel that we deserve these funds," he said. [Saratogian]
Another potentially related point is that many Democrats, and their allies, are in favor of a so-called millionaire's tax; a 1% surtax on those making over $1 million a year. Paterson, quite un-Democratically, is staunchly opposed, on the grounds that it would drive wealthy individuals and some businesses out of the state. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is a big proponent of the idea; and though he's taken the issue off the table for the coming lame duck session next week, he's made it clear that it will be an option for next year, when the Democrats take control of the Senate. Senator Malcolm Smith, the Perhaps-Majority-Leader-To-Be, also opposes the idea....what kind of Democrats are these guys anyway? However, should Smith come around - because, after all, he will of course go along with the sentiments of his caucus - then that would set up the potential for the sort of horse trading scenario that this reader discusses here. A racino at Belmont, which we suspect Paterson supports, could be amongst the chips that Silver could play to help get the governor to come around on the tax.

Aqueduct Notes

- Contessa picked up a second winner on Wednesday when Hurrah won the fifth. He claimed this grandly bred five-year old gelded son of Pulpit, out of Wild Applause, a daughter of the great Glowing Tribute who also produced Eastern Echo, Yell, and Roar, for $10,000 two races back. Less than a year ago, these same connections claimed this horse for $50,000. That's an even bigger depreciation than the Dow. As of now.

It's been a humbling last couple of months for this horse, dropping to a basement tag as he had. But he ran second in a starters allowance in his first off the claim, and today won for 18K, earning over $22,000 in total and starting a slow climb back to respectability.

Trainer Frank Alexander is on a nice streak. He took the 4th with Just a Warning, his 4th winner from his last nine starters; with two thirds, too. Like Hurrah, here's another claimer with a cool pedigree. Just a Warning is a half-brother, by Silver Deputy, to the Two-Year Old Filly-Elect Stardom Bound. Speaking of whom, do you think she would have brought quite as much money at sale if the Breeders' Cup was at Belmont next year?

Chestoria won the restricted Fairy Garden on the grass with a 9th-to-first burst in the stretch which looked as easy as any such move you could see. What made it even more amazing was that her recent form was lousy, particularly in a disappointing sixth in a state-bred stakes in her last. 12-1 in the morning line, Chestoria paid $11.20. You gotta love this game. Jade Queen was a no-excuse second as the favorite for the Toddster, 1 for 19 at the meeting thus far.

Notes - Nov 12

- New Jersey harness horsemen met at Freehold yesterday, and issued an ultimatum to management: Sign the purse subsidy agreement which would bring the horsemen some $4.2 million in purse monies through the end of 2009, or sell the track.

“We, the horsemen, would be one of the bidders to buy the track,” said Standardbred Breeders & Owners Association of New Jersey at President Tom Luchento...

“Pennwood [the company jointly controlled by Penn National Gaming and Greenwood Racing that owns Freehold] only seems concerned with what they perceive to be a restriction on their rights to pursue gaming in New Jersey....If they want to be in the casino business, they should sell the track.” [Standardbred Canada]
The horsemen are threatening to shut down the track's simulcast signal, as is their right under the Interstate Horseracing Act. Pennwood is balking because of a clause in the agreement which would prohibit them from pursuing a casino in the almost unimaginable event that such gaming is ever permitted in the state outside of Atlantic City.
State Senator Jennifer Beck, who represents much of Monmouth County, has questioned Penn National Gaming’s concerns about the future of Freehold Raceway.
“In my opinion, Penn National Gaming is a Pennsylvania-based company that does not have the interests of New Jersey horsemen in mind. I certainly don’t want to see Freehold Raceway shut down, but I question if Penn National Gaming wants to avoid that result.”
A reader raised the excellent question of whether Pennwood would still be able to operate their OTB parlors if they lost their license to conduct live racing. Because if it can, why go through the troubles of running a racing operation if you don't have to? Why indeed? I'm endeavoring to get some more information on this question.

- Here's another great comment, this one on the matter of VLT's at Belmont. I would have to agree that this seems a very possible, if not likely, scenario. I've argued all along that Belmont is a far more appropriate location for the racino than is Aqueduct, and I'll briefly reiterate those arguments here. For one thing, there's far more room (as in, wasted space). As far as the surrounding communities go, I'd guess that the demographics, at least in terms of economics, are fairly similar - solid working class neighborhoods. And I'd say that, aside from job opportunities, both of them could live without the easy temptation of gambling next door.

However, just to the east and south of Belmont are some of the most affluent areas on the South Shore of Long Island. And the rest of the suburbs are an easy highway trip away. Whatsmore, even those in Manhattan would be far more likely in my opinion to hop on the Long Island Railroad (to what I presume would be a renovated facility at Belmont) then on the A train to Ozone Park.

Of course, I've never been down with the idea of closing Aqueduct, but I'd have to agree that the writing is likely on the wall. Winter racing at the present Belmont plant is unacceptable, but, as the reader suggests, a new, smaller oval (synthetic?) with a small grandstand which could accommodate the 1800-4000 or so degenerates who ever come these days during the winter, and built to face the sun, would certainly do the trick.

It's interesting that the theme of Excelsior reappearing to run such an operation is a constant theme in the comments. Of course, it all could be the same anonymous commenter for all I know....but still, it certainly makes a lot of sense. A Belmont racino was one of the centerpieces of their bid, and, towards the end of the process, they made it clear they were not interested in the franchise should there not be one. "Any bets?", this reader poses? I for one certainly wouldn't want to wager against.

- Flashbulb Breeze took today's second, on the turf, at the Big A for Contessa, his sixth winner of the meet. Interesting to see horses like this, who break their maiden after consistently knocking at the door but falling short; and then, gaining confidence perhaps, go on to defeat far better against winners in its next start. This barn isn't known for its proficiency on the grass, but has been quietly doing extremely well on the surface at the Meadowlands, where Flashbulb Breeze had graduated, making her one of three such winners from a limited sample for the trainer there. (I'd be more specific, but Formulator Web doesn't seem to consider the Meadowlands to be a valid thoroughbred track.) Could be worth following others from the barn who ship back over here in the waning days of grass racing at Aqueduct.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Addicted to Slots (Part 287 or so)

- The Associated Press reported yesterday that New York State has become increasingly dependent on revenue from the state's eight racinos as lottery sales level off. While total Lotto and scratch-off sales are still slightly up overall, the results from the VLT's are defying trends in the gambling industry.

More than half of all racino revenue came from Empire City at Yonkers Raceway, which opened in 2006 and is the only video gambling operation located in the lucrative New York City-area market. Revenues at Yonkers were up April-through-October compared to 2007, even as the economy sputtered. In fact, revenues were up at all racinos except for the one at Monticello Raceway.
Our friend Bennett Liebman is quoted here as saying that the coming racino at the Big A could cut into Yonkers' business; but a lottery spokesperson disagreed: "We think the total pie will get bigger at the expense of out-of-state facilities." Hmmm, can't imagine that an Aqueduct racino won't have at least some negative effect on the business at Yonkers.

Liebman also warns that gambling is not a recession-proof business and racino revenues could still falter. Indeed, though I've wrongly predicted gloom in the recent past, the figures at Yonkers for October and November have indeed leveled off; that despite the easing in the gas prices that were supposedly preventing gamblers from traveling to Atlantic City.

The Monticello racino will be moving along with the racetrack to the new Concord complex....or at least we hope so. The latest news is that developer Louis Cappelli, who has already gotten tax breaks way above and beyond the call of duty from both the state and Sullivan County, is asking for even more assistance in the face of the financial crisis.

And tomorrow, Governor Paterson will announce his ideas for $2 billion in spending cuts for the current fiscal year; cuts which are expected to include education and Medicaid. I guess if you want something done, you gotta do it yourself, especially when you're depending on New York State legislators, of either party, to actually cut spending. His call for the Senate and Assembly leaders to come up with $1.5 billion in cuts was met with stony silence. As the Daily News' Bill Hammond wrote: The only sound at the Capitol was crickets. Well, maybe that plus the sound of labor union leaders burning up their internet lines. And perhaps mayors warning against the dangers of cutting local aid.

Next week's special budget-cutting session, with a lame duck Republican majority in the Senate, promises to be interesting if not particularly productive. With the so-called Gang of Four down to Three, and with even the most ardent of the group, Senator Ruben Diaz Sr, not sounding inclined to switch parties at this point, the Democrats will, next year, have a majority of at least 32-30. That tally is pending the results of the recount in Queens SD-11, where incumbent GOP Senator Frank Padavan leads Jim Gennaro by less than 1,000 votes.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Subsidy With Stings Attached

- Trouble at Freehold Raceway, the daytime half-mile harness track in the New Jersey town of the same name. The track's owner, Pennwood Racing, a partnership consisting of, appropriately enough, Penn National and Greenwood (and there's some corporate ingenuity for you...I bet they'd be good at naming foals too), has refused to sign off on the Atlantic City casino subsidy agreement that would provide $1.6 million in badly-needed purse money. That's right, they won't take the dough.

Tom LaMarra reported on the situation for late last week; the piece is typical of that website's detailed reporting on some of the more tangential stories that may not be covered in the other trades. The thoroughbred tangent here is that Greenwood also owns Atlantic City Race Course, which was not included in the Purse Enhancement Agreement with the casinos, but would like to be.

But the main point is that Pennwood is declining to sign the agreement for Freehold because it would prohibit the companies from pursuing gaming opportunities in the unlikely event New Jersey were to expand gambling outside of Atlantic City. Not that the casinos would ever permit that. But just in case.

The Standardbred Owners Association of New Jersey [SBOANJ], in a release, said Joe Corbo of the New Jersey Casino Association indicated the casinos probably wouldn’t agree to give Freehold its cut of the subsidy unless PNGI and Greenwood signed the agreement. SBOANJ legal counsel Joel Sterns told Freehold officials the track could end up closing should purses not be supplemented.

“The SBOANJ is prepared to pull authorization for simulcasting signals at Freehold, and will be notifying Freehold that its deadline will now be Nov. 13,” SBOANJ president Tom Luchento said in a statement. [Bloodhorse]
The horsemen will be meeting on Tuesday at the track. As noted by Standardbred Canada, they are playing hardball.
“The refusal of Pennwood Racing to accept $1.6 million in casino supplement funds for Freehold’s purses is endangering the future of racing at Freehold and the infrastructure of farms, training centers and related industries that have flourished in the state." [SBOANJ]
Now I certainly don't want to see Freehold close. It has a place in my heart as one of the racetracks of my formative degenerate years. Unfortunately, that Freehold burned down in 1984, and the replacement building is like a mini-Meadowlands, lacking the character that the old building had. But it's still Freehold, and it's a venerable racetrack with a long history stretching back for over 150 years.

But having said that, I can't really blame Pennwood for balking at signing this agreement. LaMarra reports that they were not part of the negotiations which led to the agreement. Bad enough that the AC casino owners have the clout and the arrogance to prevent the tracks from competing with the surrounding states with slots. Being singled out for these further competitive restrictions has to be a bitter pill for Pennwood to swallow. So I think they have every right to bitch and moan. However, the notion that there will ever really be casinos outside of Atlantic City seems merely fanciful; and if it ever did happen, it would surely result from the kind of sea change in the casinos' political influence that could very well render the agreement null and void anyhow.

So hopefully, should fighting the good fight not bear fruit, Pennwood will do the right thing and let Freehold live. After all, we wouldn't want ol' Stanley Dancer to be looking down on no shopping mall.

Aqueduct Notes

- Another winner for trainer Seth Benzel, who took the second at the Big A on Sunday with Southern Charmer ($9.80). The former Pletcher assistant is on a run of 12-4-4-0. This two-year old daughter of Dixie Union out of the graded stakes winner Power Play (Fast Play) was coming out of the race which served as the debut win for Elusive Heat. Here, she survived a stout early duel with Slam the Cat, coming out of a major key race (three winners). Boca Belle, a West Point first-timer running on a weekend with, no doubt, a big group of partners on hand, was slammed to 9-5 in her first start and finished 7th despite a stalking trip behind the dueling leaders.

The Toddster himself has only one winner at the meeting thus far, from 18 starters. In fact, over the last 90 days on the NYRA circuit, Pletcher has just 11 winners from 134 starters, for a paltry percentage of 8%. Nonetheless, the fans sent his first-time starter Battle Plan off at 9-2 in the 9th. This three-year old is a son of Empire Maker, out of the champion filly Flanders, and thus a half to her champion daughter Surfside. However, Battle Plan got caught chasing an absurd pace for a mile contest - 45 flat to the half! No wonder why he did a steady fade around the turn. Turaath closed from well back for trainer Dan Pietz, giving the barn two straight wins here. This half-brother to the trainer's Steppenwolfer took full advantage of the blistering fractions; he was the only horse in the field who broke the 26 second mark for the final furlong quarter. Talk about a field staggering home, just awful. Tab to bet against next time out against winners.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Big Brown Has Big Possibilities

- Three Chimneys showed off Big Brown this week; his services are available for $65,000 a shot. The Form reported that those who inspected the Derby winner during an open house on Wednesday were impressed, in some cases, surprisingly so.

Controversy has followed Big Brown throughout his three-year old year, and his coming studly service is no different. Many have derided the idea of a horse with such fragile feet passing his genes along; and one wacko group actually suggested he be castrated. But even his more lucid detractors see him as a poster boy for what they see as the fragile nature of the current breed.

But personally, I'm excited about his prospects as a stallion. He proved able to handle both dirt and turf, and, as we've noted on numerous occasions, his pedigree goes far beyond his inbreeding to Northern Dancer, inbred to Round Table and Damascus, with a dab of the likes of Forli and Roberto, as he is. Pedigree Goddess and current Three Chimneys pedigree expert Anne Peters, from whom, along with Alan Porter, I've learned what little I know about breeding, delivers a long dissertation on the stallion on the Three Chimneys website here. (Their classic book Patterns of Greatness II is a must-read for anyone interested in the subject if you can find it.)

Since I'm not particularly intrigued by the concept of adding even more Northern Dancer to the mix, I focused more on the sections on the outcross possibilities - Big Brown is completely free of Mr. Prospector and Seattle Slew, to start. Ms. Peters discourages the addition of more Damascus ("he's not a premier source of soundness"), opting instead for supplementing the Round Table or Roberto blood there. Since Round Table is the sire of Poker, the broodmare sire of Seattle Slew, the possibilities of that line, most prominently through AP Indy, seem encouraging. Whatsmore, the latter's son Pulpit descends directly from Monarchy, a full sister to Round Table. I encourage you to check out Ms. Peters' piece if you're so inclined (keeping in mind that it's her job at Three Chimneys to play up the positives of as many angles as possible).

The Three Chimneys site has a hypomating feature, and it's fun to play around with some hypopossibilities, especially with respect to future broodmare prospects. For example: A mating between Big Brown and Zenyatta, a daughter of the Mr. Prospector stallion Street Cry, would create inbreeding to Roberto and Forli, and add another strain of Princequillo (the sire of Round Table). A mating with Music Note, a daughter of AP Indy, would create the Rasmussen Effect (inbred to State, the dam of Big Brown's broodmare sire Nureyev), and compliment the Round Table/Princequillo blood through her sire line and the presence of Secretariat (whose broodmare sire is Princequillo). For those "willing to roll the dice" in the words of Ms. Peters, Goldikova or Forever Together would create 3x3 inbreeding to Danzig, yikes. And IEAH might one day, hopefully not too soon, consider their own Stardom Bound, a daughter of the Pulpit sire Tapit as she is.

- Ray Kerrison made a quite coherent case for Big Brown as Horse of the Year in the NY Post on Saturday. I have to agree that either Curlin or Zenyatta would seem less than satisfying choices to me given the way things played out....especially Zenyatta, who beat up on a lackluster distaff division all year long and declined to try the boys. And, as Kerrison points out, Big Brown won as many Grade 1's as either, including the Derby, the biggest 1 of them all. I found Kerrison's questioning of Big Brown's less-than-spectacular Beyers to be most interesting. He points out that Thoro-graph's Jerry Brown rated his 20-post Derby win as "the greatest Derby since we began charting races in 1982." And of the Preakness, he writes:

Big Brown scraped bottom with a shocking 100 Beyer. That's 18 points below the all-time Beyer Preakness champ, Smarty Jones, who won in 2004 with a 118.

Now get this: Both horses ran their Preaknesses on fast tracks, Big Brown ran the trip more than one full second faster than Smarty Jones (while under wraps through the last furlong), yet he gets 18 fewer Beyer points than Smarty Jones. That is incomprehensible. [NY Post]

Friday, November 07, 2008

What's In A Name

- Magna has hired a company called Miller Buckfire & Co., and just from its name, you might figure that they're not there to brighten up the daisy beds at Gulfstream Park, nor to provide roving minstrels at Laurel. Sounds straight out of a Coen Brothers movie, actually. A gravel-faced John Goodman might play the president of this outfit, which, according to its website, provides "strategic advice to companies in need of creative solutions to complex problems." I'll say. A look at this page tells you just what kind of complexities they deal with. We could be seeing Frank's smiling face, energy drink in hand, smack dab in the middle of that one real soon.

With the company's efforts to sell its non-core assets "negatively affected by the weak real estate and credit markets," Magna will likely be taking a more aggressive tack.

"As a result, we are evaluating MEC's core operations with a view to possibly selling or joint venturing one or more of MEC's core racetracks in order to strengthen MEC's balance sheet and liquidity position." [Bloodhorse]
[UPDATE: Much more on Magna, with all of the grim numerical stuff that I didn't feel like writing about on Steve Zorn's blog here.)

[UPDATE: Reader RG asks: Does Canada have a bailout program?]