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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Eclipse This

(Photo credit: The Head Chef)

(I'm not entering this in the TBA Do-Over Photo contest, but you can submit your entry, and see what's been sent in thus far.)

Once again at the dawn of a new year, I want to express my most heartfelt thanks to all of you, my loyal readers, those of you who may have recently stumbled upon the site, and even to those who may have dropped out along the way due to certain political and philosophical differences (and particular gratitude to those who have stuck around despite them). Here's wishing everyone a safe, healthy, happy, and....well, just a better new year in many ways for people and equines alike.

Peace. See you in 2009.

After Christmas Sale

- Take a look at the David Jacobsen entry in the sixth on New Year's Eve at the Big A. Mr. Meso (5-2) was an $80,000 claim for the barn in June, 2007, at a time when the horse had won five in a row. Since then, he's run in only four races with only a third to show; three of those efforts were quite poor, and only one took place this year, for a 50K tag at Delaware. Here, he's marked down to 30K.

Also on sale is Trophy Road, who was a $75,000 claim for the barn last December. He then ran extremely well, with a win and a second in allowance company. That was in February though, and we haven't seen him since. We've seen that Jacobsen will run his horses where he thinks they can win, and doesn't hesitate to drop them in class. Still, I think a skeptical pose is warranted here with these two expensive purchases, especially if they both go and get overbet as we often see with coupled entries, and with the barn off to a sluggish 1 for 16 start on the IT.

Wish I could come with a stronger opinion as to who to bet instead, but it's a difficult heat on a really nice tough little weekday card; and with a pick six carryover to boot. Good luck with that. A tepid vote here for Wild Jam (8-1), for Ben Perkins, who had a nice second the other day with the well-meant first-timer Wildcat Brief. This seven-year old gelded son of Forest Wildcat sports a fine record on the inner track - including a third in the G3 Toboggan in 2007 - and comes off an even 5th at the Meadowlands in October. We've seen horses run well here coming off a race at that track. The winner of that Big M race came back to win by six with a nice fig for the hot Scott Volk barn; the third place finisher missed by a nose for that same trainer. Wild Jam had a couple of solid efforts against better at Monmouth prior to that, and has run well off his frequent layoffs, including a narrow loss in a stakes last year (meaning, still at this writing, 2007).

In the third, Wild Geese (7-2) is part of an entry for Contessa. This horse was a monster on the inner track last year; three for three, including a 106 Beyer. He's raced well elsewhere too, though not in his last race, off a brief freshening. But note that last year, he had the same pattern, running poorly off a short layoff before winning over this track (and being claimed by Contessa). Sir Winston (2-1) has won six in a row for the white-hot Asmussen barn (13-7-2-0); stands as the logical choice and most likely winner.

And in the first (as we work our way backwards, like Benjamin Button), Lights Off Annie (7-5) looks like an imposing favorite for Levine (just four for 32 on the IT), and I'm not going to go against. But with Myakka (7-2) a possibility to be overbet off some gaudy turf numbers, here's a couple horses of interest for minor shares: Baroness (8-1) ships in off the claim for Asmussen, enough said. And Aegean Breeze (15-1) changed tactics in her first effort for the hot Del Carroll (10-5-1-1) and hung around for an OK third with an improved number; her best figs, achieved on this track last winter, can put her in the money here. Best of luck and have a great day.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The More Things Change....

- Following up on the comments here - Green Mtn Punter was wondering just what was the attraction when Yonkers set its all-time handle record in the middle of December, 1969....on, as pointed out by reader Bank Check, a snowy Monday night no less!! Turns out that there were no special races or big horses that night at all; it was merely the final racing card of the year in the NYC area. Last chance to get the action in...legally anyway, with OTB not yet in existence. Aqueduct had concluded its season that afternoon, and would not resume until March 10!! (38,031 action-starved fans turned out for that opening day - a Tuesday! - to see Angel Cordero, Jr. take the first three races.)

Harness racing took a much shorter break, as racing would resume, at Roosevelt, on January 3. Still, a crowd of 24,176 (correcting the figure in my comment), with money obviously burning a hole in their pockets, wagered $3,220,686, a healthy average of over $133 per person (in 1969 dollars remember), breaking a seven-year old record. With the advent of OTB just a year or so away, the mark was never broken, and that's one record you can be damn sure will stand forever!

Carmine had two winners that night, but it was Del Insko, who took the night off, who won the driving title. No sign of Buddy Gilmour on the leading drivers list.

When racing did resume at Roosevelt less than three weeks later, it sounds from Steve Cady's account in the New York Times (Jan 4, 1970) as if the interval seemed like an eternity to the 28,042 in attendance on a Saturday night.

Swirling snow and hazardous highways early in the evening didn't keep the fans away. Cars peeled off the Meadowbrook Parkway into the raceway exit like lost sheep coming home in a storm.
The article also mentions a couple of things about that night which shows that, as they say, the more things change, the more they really don't, or something like that. One might think that issues that the industry has faced this past year or two are unique to these times, but they're most certainly not. For one thing, opening night at The Big Wheel in 1970 saw the debut of a new $1 million rubberized track which, on this night according to the Times' account, "proved to be faster, bouncier, softer, and more uniform than the old concrete-hard thermoplastic base built in 1966."
"It's a great improvement," said Del Insko..."It's not near as hard, and it's consistent. The footing seems to be the same everywhere.
Because of the thin cushion and the bouncy rubber synthetic underneath, horses were expected to "float" over the new surface. Early times in the 2:07 range bore out this expectation.
Other than the miles in 2:07, from which we've come a long way, that sounds rather familiar, doesn't it? Not sure what happened to the rubber track, but I did find a comment on one of the Roosevelt Raceway memorial sites to the effect that the surface ultimately proved to be tough physically on the horses and was eventually covered with clay. I know many thoroughbred fans who would like to see today's artificial surfaces meet a similar fate.

In addition, a new rule was instituted on that opening night.
Under the new regulation, advocated by various animal groups, drivers had to do their whipping with both hands on the reins. They could not hold the reins in one hand and reach back with the other to slash away at a tiring horse.
We recently saw that same rule instituted at Pompano Park - New to racing in North America, we were told. That's apparently not exactly the case, though the rule in 1970 doesn't seem to have gone very far.

So, while the times have certainly changed, and Roosevelt Raceway is sadly long gone, the industry is still being pressured by animal rights groups; still searching for ways to make the tracks safer and the sport more humane. I'd guess that, even in another 40 years, the industry will still be doing the same.

Oh, and here's something else that hasn't changed:
Annfrank, 8-1 five minutes before post time, dropped from 9-2 to 5-2 on the last flash and bounced home for a $7.80 payoff.
Some things indeed never change, and in at least some cases, we're certainly glad they don't!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Caroline Kennedy Calls An Audible

With her bid to win an appointment to the Senate floundering in the wake of her erratic performance in interviews over the weekend, Caroline Kennedy said today that she has contacted New York Jets owner Woody Johnson to express her interest in the now-vacant head coaching job.

When asked about her qualifications for the position, Ms. Kennedy noted that Uncle Ted played on the Harvard varsity squad in the 50's, and added that she watched the 1998 AFC Championship game and has read Joe Namath's autobiography. Regarding the Jets' collapse and what she would do to set things right, she said, "Well, you know, we’ve been watching the team that Mr. Johnson has put together and, you know, then there was a vacancy here, you know, just like everybody else, you know, who's going to fill it, isn't that interesting, there's a lot of great candidates, you know, I figure, why not try, I really think I have something to offer." When pressed for more specifics on how she would turn the team around, she added, "Well, you know, just, um, rah rah rah, move that ball, you know."

She declined to address her feelings on Brett Favre, but a spokesperson, in an email, wrote: "Caroline was fully supportive of the decision to sign Brett Favre. But now that he finished the season so poorly, she thinks it was a bad idea."

Ms. Kennedy embarked on a tour of sports bars around the city to introduce herself to the fans. She was outfitted in full pads and a helmet in order to ward off those annoying reporters.

Aqueduct Notes (Fantasy Version)

Last month, I noted that David Jacobsen had claimed Papi Chullo for 16K, and offered that there's no limit to how cheaply we could conceivably see him run in the future. Well, the answer is 10K, for which he ran, and not very well, as the 2-1 favorite in the 5th at the Big A on Sunday. I'm sure that trainer Joe Imperio is just thrilled after claiming Papi Chullo off his 9th place finish which earned the succinct and dreaded chart notation failed to menace. (Gary Contessa and Scott Lake also lost horses, and, based on their being placed at this level, I imagine they were just as happy to have done so.)

Northern Buster ($87.50), benefiting from a nice trip behind the two leaders, had enough to come back against Gift of Valor after that one looked home free after an incredible wide rally from far back. The winner was one of two bombshells on the day who had last raced at Finger Lakes; Undocumented ($66) took the 9th. This in addition to FL shipper Zip Of Fools ($16.80) on Saturday. Yet Again ($79) won here on Dec 10, also for Undocumented's trainer Karl Grusmark, though he'd had a prior race at Aqueduct. So I guess we need to give those FL guys some respect.

Two nice price winners from Asmussen, who now has a record of 13-7-2-0 on the inner track. That's right, 54%. In the third, Pu Dew ($21.20) had been claimed by the barn for owner Maggi Moss for 30K last May. That was his last appearance before Sunday. Excuse the redboarding, as I didn't look at the races beforehand - but you had to like the way he was moved up in class despite the time off. And Asmussen hits at 27% over the last five years with horses first off the claim.

The barn then took the state-bred Alex M. Robb Handicap with R Clear Victory ($23.80) (with South Fourth St., a former Finger Lakes horse in his second appearance here, second for Contessa at 14-1). The winner is one of eight stakes winners this year for the Belmont winner Victory Gallop, plying his trade in Turkey these days.

And West Point made its partners happy with a first-out romp by Mr. Fantasy, a two-year old NY-bred son of E Dubai on which the outfit spent $230,000 this past May. He's a half-brother to two other state-bred stakes winners, including the G2 Indiana Derby winner Tim Cup Chalice. I imagine that at least some of the partners are fantasizing about Derby glory, and that West Point does absolutely nothing to discourage that! This is all worth a little musical interlude.

22,780 A Day

- In reading this long article on The Journal News' site about crime statistics at the Yonkers racino and a not particularly scintillating controversy over the reporting of such, I was astounded to read:

An average of 22,780 people visit the raceway daily, according to the New York Lottery.
Don't think I've ever seen attendance figures for any of the racinos before (Saratoga's average was reported to be 5,838), and maybe I shouldn't be so surprised. After all, they're open all day and most of the night long, and it's not like you can play them from home. But still, as a fan of a gambling endeavor which, in New York City, can't even draw enough people to make collecting admission worthwhile at Aqueduct, seeing those numbers is rather humbling; especially for what is, to me and I'm sure to many of you, a comparatively vapid, depressing, and bordering-on-morbid pursuit.

I also recall the time when 22,780 really did come to Yonkers to do nothing but bet on the horses. I was checking out a little Yonkers history, and came upon the fact that On December 15, 1969, Yonkers racetrack achieved its highest ever single-night handle -- $3,220,686. No OTB then, so this was all on-track handle. I don't imagine they handle nearly that much on track in an entire month of racing these days.

Still, I at least do get a little encouragement from the mere fact that so many people would actually put forth such an effort as to make their way to Yonkers to gamble in any fashion. Just can't help but believe that, with some nice facilities and extra amenities, and with at least some weekday racing at night, horse racing could fare at least modestly better as a live sport than it does now.

As far as the crime stats go, the bulk of the 145 arrests reported in 2007 concerned expected matters such as disorderly conduct, trespassing, and petty larceny. However, there was one arrest each for criminal impersonation, domestic dispute, obscenities, person exposing self, sex offense, and - my favorite - gambling. I hope they threw the book at that guy!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Sunday Morning Notes - Dec 28

- Sunday Elegance took the big drop for Pletcher, winning for 15K in Saturday's first at the Big A in his first race for a tag; The Toddster is 16 for 33 (48%) with that sort over the last two years. Wasn't claimed either, but Weekwee, third at 14-1, was, from trainer Pat Kelly. Weekwee (American Chance) is a half-sister to two stakes winners, including Homerette. So she might be worth that 15K just from her value as a broodmare.

In the second, Tee With The Tiger ($14.20) was the fifth winner from the last nine starters for trainer Del Carroll II. The other winners paid $29.80, $29.60, $21.60, and $6.50. This four-year old gelded son of Defrere was graduating in his 30th career start, and his 17th this year, in which he's now ground out nearly $40,000 in earnings.

An end of year fire sale for IEAH in the 5th; Lincoln Road was dropped in, and claimed for a mere 10K by trainer Robert Barbara. Unfortunately, he managed to burn those who bet him at 3-5. Confirmondi ($10.40, and claimed by Dominic Galluscio) was the second winner in two racing days for trainer Bruce Brown, who did not have similar luck in the finale, more on that in a bit.

January Gent won like a nice horse in his first start since April, for owner Wesley Ward, who has left him here in the care of Richard Dutrow. He's a three-year old gelded son of Wiseman's Ferry, who will be standing in Pennsylvania for $3000 in 2009.

In the 9th, Joaquin Memphis ran dead last for Kasey K, eased up under the wire some 40 lengths behind the second to last runner. Horse seemed fine afterwards, and Bruce Brown feels that he's become a head case who thinks he has the game figured out, and who won't compete unless he's involved early. Of course, that's not possible if he also refuses to break. The trainer wants to drop him in class and run him back as soon as possible.

- Classy win for Indian Blessing in the La Brea at Santa Anita. Indyanne took a bad step on the Pro-Ride track and fractured the inside sesamoid in her left front leg.

- The Jets are three point favorites at home against the Dolphins today, and consider this: Miami has won eight of nine. The Jets have played four awful games in a row since being anointed as playoff locks, managing to win one of them when the defense came up with a big play. They haven't been able to defend the pass even when they were winning, especially against a dinky short passing game such as what they'll see from Chad Pennington. They have no sustained pass rush at all, and can no longer stop the run either. The offensive line doesn't protect Favre, who has been hinting this week of a bad shoulder that could explain his dismal performance over the last four games. The one thing that the Jets continue to do well is to run the ball; but offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer continues to inexplicably shun the smashmouth game at key moments, and barely uses team MVP Leon Washington from scrimmage at all. I'm not going to tell you who to bet, but, once again, there have to better propositions out there than laying points with this team! And as far as their playoff chances go? Good night, and good luck!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Aqueduct Notes

- Noble Storm took Friday's feature at the Big A, stepping up successfully from the maiden ranks in his second start for Darley, who purchased him for a $2.8 million drop in the bucket as a yearling back in 2006. This is not quite what they had in mind. However, I thought it was a very impressive win, as he was wide on the turn of, and carried very wide by, an extremely worthy opponent in M J's Enchanteur, and more on that one below.

The winner is by Vindication, who ranks #1 on the second year sires list, and has four stakes winners as he prepares to enter his first full year as a dead stallion. Noble Storm is out of Serena's Tune, one of the four stakes winners out of the great Serena's Song. Given his pedigree and price tag, I imagine that Darley retains high aspirations for him; perhaps a mid-year objective of something like the Met Mile. But whatever they have in mind, I highly doubt they're going to send him to Dubai [to prep for it], so why do they do that with their Derby prospects?

Back to M J's Enchanteur, he's a three-year old gelded son of the Seattle Slew stallion Metfield who has three wins and three seconds in out-of-town overnight stakes for Scott Lake this year. Lake had to expose him for a 75K tag to get him into this optional claiming allowance; I was a bit surprised that he did so, and even more so that he wasn't claimed by one of the big players like Winning Move. Maybe they were wary of a $300,000 earner being exposed like that. Or maybe he didn't look right to someone in the paddock. (I'd love to get reports on horses who were prospected for claims and rejected, and by which trainers. You can twitter me on that.) (Better yet, just give me a call so that the rest of the world doesn't have to find out too.) Anyway, he held for third, picked up $5400 for owner Ben Mondello, and maybe Lake pulled one over.

It would seem as if trainer Greg DiPrima definitely pulled one over in the fifth. Kamboo Man won by six for 10K two races back; and then ran a close second for 14K. Here, he was entered for a mere $7500....but nobody bit. And that includes the bettors who let him off at a price of 9-5 which has to seem generous in the wake of his 13 1/2 length win! Second place finisher Methodtomymadness was claimed for $7500 from trainer Patricia Farro, a solid 10% barn currently mired in an 0-34 slump. Ms. Farro had claimed this horse back two races ago, for 10K, after losing him for 5K the race before.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Xmas Eve Notes

Won't keep you too long; just a couple of things and I'll let you get back to your Xmas Eve activities, which I presume does not involve betting on Monticello, which I believe to be the only pari-mutuel action in the country today.

- You can watch Monday's Oversight Board meeting on NYRA's budget here (thanks to Bennett Liebman's Racing and Gaming Today page at the Albany Law School site...which, by the way, serves my racing news link needs just fine).

Of course, as usual, I've already done the dirty work for you, so no need to watch it if you have more important things to do. Besides, the key points were covered in the press.

A few additional observations I'll add:

NYRA's CFO Irene Posio said that the association has been "very successful" in negotiating rate increases over the past few months from out-of-state wagering outlets; enough, in fact, to offset a decline of 7% in co-mingled out-of-state handle.

Regarding the winter meet at the Big A, Ms. Posio said that some trainers who usually head to Florida have kept back 30-40 horses that they wouldn't have in the past (no doubt due to the lousy purses there), and that NYRA is confident that field sizes will be such that they will outperform their warm weather competitors.

Recall that Board member Steven Newman asked about cash flow - NYRA currently has $20 million on hand, but is projecting to have just $10 million at the end of 2009. Noting that NYRA is projecting a $2.5 million profit, Newman wanted to know what happens to the other $12.5 million. Ms. Posio replied that the money will be used for capital expenditures. She added that 2010 capital expenditures will depend on whether VLT's become operational. Unfortunately, there was no discussion of any progress on that front. If there's a big problem with Delaware North, it's the best kept secret in town. However, again I'll say that the fact that Governor Paterson proposed higher retention rates for a Belmont vendor, and then for Delaware North once and if Belmont gets slots, indicates to me that the company is trying to negotiate a better deal at the Big A, with or without Belmont.

And finally, regarding the free admission at Aqueduct, Ms. Posio explains that the size of the track, the number of parking lot entrances, and the requirements of union contracts combine to make it cheaper for NYRA to let people park and enter for free. "Obviously, attendance must not be too high," replied Newman. Obviously.

- Facing what is by New York standards a modest deficit of $2.3 billion, Florida governor Charlie Crist included in his budget $135 million from the invalidated compact with the Seminole tribe that he wants the legislature to negotiate and approve at a special session next month. However, the Palm Beach Post reports that both House Speaker Ray Sansom and Senate President Jeff Atwater say [it] is a no-go.

House and Senate leaders -- having beaten Crist in court on the issue -- are adamant that the Seminole compact needs a full vetting in the regular 2009 session, which starts in March. []
So, state Attorney General Bill McCollum shouldn't expect any legislative help anytime soon in his quest to have the table games shut down, and will instead have to rely on courts which don't seem to have any jurisdiction at all. This article discusses the merry-go-round that usually results when Indian issues go to court.

- And once again this year, I'd like to recommend SOMA-FM's delightful Christmas Lounge for what is definitely the coolest mix of holiday music around. You can find it amongst the I-Tunes radio streams (under 'Holiday'), or at the SomaFM website. Cheers, and have a great Christmas Eve!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Odds and Ends

- Quick!! - Who won the Breeders' Cup Marathon?

- Table games in Pennsylvania are just a matter of time.

- The rookie stud class of 2009. (Oh, and this guy too.) War Pass, at $30,000, has to be the joke of the group.

- Far too little, too late.

- A new Quinnipiac University poll shows that, by a margin of 48-25, New Yorkers think that Governor Paterson will select Caroline Kennedy to replace Hillary Clinton. Y'know, I admit that I was wavering there for awhile, but, after the events of the past week, I'm now convinced more than ever that those 48% are dead wrong. Since Ms. Kennedy's much-ballyhooed hire of Josh Isay to run her "campaign," we've had the upstate tour during which she held nary a press conference and generally declined to answer questions (except for a grand total of 11 according to the NY Times), refused to release any information regarding her finances, and, in the absolute height of audacity and arrogance, had a spokesperson respond to written inquiries via email. If I were the editor of the Times, Politico, or the Buffalo News, I would have told them to stick those responses where the sun don't shine.

I find it hard to believe that Ms. Kennedy's handlers really believe that the Palin strategy is the appropriate one here. Is she really paying this guy for this? Or perhaps he's being compensated from somewhere else? We've been told that Isay is close with Andrew Cuomo and Senator Schumer, and that he wouldn't have taken the gig if they were opposed. But his approach seems so ill-conceived, that I can't help but wonder if those two are paying Isay to sabotage her! He's certainly doing a good job of that if nothing else.

- Racing resumes at the Big A on Friday. If you'd like to get a head start, check out the Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance site for some free BRIS past performances. Click on free pp's in the left hand margin, choose Aqueduct, be patient, and viola! These pp's are magically compiled from all of the various trainers' and breeding farm sites who carry them for their runners or sires, and every race from Friday and Saturday is available except one. Get them now before it gets shut down!

- One of the many shocking aspects of the Jets collapse is that the team is totally healthy. How many other teams can say that? Certainly not the Seahawks! In my mind, injuries and schedule strength are two of the most, if not THE most important factors in an NFL team's success or lack thereof; and it's unlikely that the Jets will have things go their way in those respects again anytime soon.

Turns out that us Jets fans were being far too optimistic to think that we'd see Chad Pennington eliminate us on the last day of the season. Instead, it's quite likely that it will become apparent from looking at the out-of-town scoreboard around half-time that it will be the home team trying to play the spoilers' role. If that's the case, you can expect a lopsided final score, and the always obnoxious Dolphins fans who regularly help fill Giants Stadium taking over by game's end. Hopefully, they'll be some snow for Shaun Ellis to throw at them, because I'll be long gone by that point.

Yeah, they still have a shot, but I don't think it's premature to express astonishment at the turn of events. We'll be reading a lot of I-told-you-so's with respect to the Jets' decision to get Brett Favre, but personally, I will never regret it. With all due respect to Chad, this team had no upside with him at QB, and they surely would have endured another bland season of anonymity in a Giants' town. Instead, if even for a fleeting moment, the Jets electrified the city and, though in what seems very likely to be in an ultimately perverse way, provided a season which will be remembered for a long time.

And soon, it's back to the drawing board...

- My Christmas wish list? To not read anymore Christmas wish lists....

More Info Needed From NYRA

- The Racing Oversight Board wants more information on NYRA's personnel expenses before it will sign off on its 2009 budget. Citing the dormant economy, chairwoman Laura Anglin (also Governor Paterson's budget director, so excuse her if she's in a crappy mood these days) expressed concern "about the revenue and expenditure assumptions that are contained in the budget" Oh, that's all?

Board member Steve Diamond questioned a "sharp" increase in retirement costs, and referred to a reduction in cash flow for 2009; odd since the association is projecting its first profit since 2000.

But the most depressing note I saw was this:

NYRA officials also said they will continue not charging for parking or admission to Aqueduct, an effort begun last fall, because they found it is cheaper than having to provide staff to collect the money. []
That is really sad on a couple of accounts, though the thought of the poor folks who've lost their jobs obviously overshadows the fact that Aqueduct can't even attract enough people for NYRA to pay them.

Irene Posio, NYRA's CFO, claimed that Saratoga will improve over last summer's results, though not quite back to 2007 levels. She also expects the Aqueduct winter meet to improve because the horse fields are stronger. So I guess she's excited about Scott Lake and Michael Maker being here too.

Clean Sweep

New York's harness tracks, with support from the State Racing and Wagering Board, suceessfully defended three claims by the state's OTB's in the Court of Appeals last week. The decision, available here in PDF form, serves partly as a succinct history of the harness tracks' attempts to be compensated for the escalating competition from off-track betting - an effort which has been largely successful over the years - and shows how they continue to cling grimly to the concessions they've won.

As recounted by departing Chief Judge Judith Kaye in the unanimous decision, the legislature, in 1973, passed a law requiring the regional OTB's to make payments to its local harness tracks to compensate them for the decrease in handle that OTB brought. Quoting from that Racing Law § 518:

It is also the intention of this article to ensure that off-track betting is conducted in a manner compatible with the well-being of the horse racing and breeding industries in this state, which industries are and should continue to be major sources of revenue to state and local government and sources of residents.
One can certainly argue whether that has been the case! Continuing, in 1984, when out-of-state simulcasting was authorized, the legislature commanded that the OTBs pay the harness tracks commissions on those wagers.

For nearly the next 20 years, the harness tracks were able to prevent the simulcasting of thoroughbred racing after 7:30 PM. And I mean, it was strictly prohibited. Didn't even matter if a race was underway - at 7:30 PM sharp, the picture switched to Yonkers, even in the middle of a stretch drive. And a vestige of that antiquated law lives on in that NYRA still may not accept any simulcast wagers after that time. I would think that NYRA would seek to finally have that overturned once the Big A is open 24/7 for slots.

And when OTB was finally permitted to accept nighttime flat racing in 2003? You guessed it - more compensation for the harness tracks; this time in the form of "maintenance of efforts" payments "to guarantee to their regional harness tracks minimum payments based upon the commissions those tracks received before the nighttime thoroughbred simulcasts were permitted."

The suit filed by the OTB's against the tracks and the Racing and Wagering Board concerned three issues by which the OTB's were seeking relief from these payments. 1) The OTB's wanted to have revenue from daytime harness racing credited towards the maintenance of efforts payments. 2) They wanted to be able to make the payments on a regional basis, rather than by individual tracks. And 3) OTB wanted to be excused to making so-called "dark day" payments, on days on which NYRA is dark, and to harness tracks who are themselves closed for the day.

As mentioned, the OTB's whiffed - strike three called. The opinion was pretty interesting to me....but then again, not much going on in the racing world these days, so maybe I'm just bored. So I'll leave it to you to read for yourself if you're so inclined. The decisions turned mainly on the Court's interpretation of the sometimes confusing language in the racing statutes.

At one point, an exasperated-sounding Chief Judge Kaye expresses her frustration with the complexity of the laws.
As the foregoing discussion demonstrates, the Racing Law remains "an imbroglio, born out of the union of diverse racing industry interests and legislative compromise" (Finger Lakes Racing Assn. v New York State Racing & Wagering Bd., 45 NY2d 471, 476 [1978]). That observation is nowhere more evident than in Racing Law § 1017, which governs distribution of wagers placed on dark days at facilities that simulcast out-of-state races.

Section 1017 itself contains one subsection, two paragraphs, six subparagraphs, 22 clauses, six subdivisions, and six tables listing percentages due for State payments (with varying percentages depending on the type of bet, race and facility). Racing Law §§ 1017 (1) (b) (5) (E), (6) (F) provide in relevant part:
"On days when a non-profit racing association is not conducting a race meeting and when a
licensed harness track is neither accepting wagers nor displaying the signal from an in-state thoroughbred corporation or association or an out-of-state thoroughbred track:

"(i) Such licensed regional harness track shall receive in lieu of any other payments on wagers placed at off-track betting facilities outside the special betting district on races conducted by an in-state thoroughbred racing corporation, two and eight-tenths percent on regular and multiple bets during a regional meeting and one and nine-tenths percent of such bets if there is no regional meeting and four and eight-tenths percent on exotic bets on days on which there is a regional meeting and three and four-tenths percent of such bets if there is no regional meeting.
Got that?

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Sunday Morning Notes

- Caught the winning race by Rail Trip from Hollywood on TVG yesterday. This is a three-year old colt who was making his second start, at 2-5, for trainer Ron Ellis; he'd earned a 102 Beyer in his debut. The results chart notes that he dueled three deep and stalked on the turn, but to my eyes, the colt was just on cruise control. Vic Stauffer had it right when he noted that Rail Trip moved towards the leader "in hand for Valdivia," and that, after turning for home, he was "being ridden like he has to go around again." Just after that, Valdivia shook up the reins, and Rail Trip was quickly gone before being wrapped up again inside the sixteenth pole. Quite impressive; final time 1:13.92. Rail Trip is by the AP Indy stallion Jump Start out of a Carson City mare. High dosage index of 5.18 indicates he may tprefer shorter distances, but worth keeping an eye on for sure.

Macho Again was indeed the 2-1 favorite making his turf debut in the Woodchopper at Fair Grounds; and not surprised that he barely lifted a hoof finishing 6th. As I've said on many occasions, this is perhaps the most consistently reliable overbet situation - the horse with name recognition from Triple Crown or other prominent races switching to grass. Of course, you still have to pick the winner. Naturalyontherocks was a no-play at 5-1; Evade a good price at 6-1. But the latter settled for second, as Jimmy Simms (Lost Soldier) changed tactics nicely to rally for the win for Asmussen, who also took the Bonapaw on the FG card with Storm Treasure. That five-year old son of Storm Boot is another one of those horses who survived an ill-advised journey on the Derby Trail (11th, 20 lengths behind Barbaro at 51-1), and went on to success after sticking to its true calling; in this case as a fine turf sprint-to-middle distance runner.

Mentioned the other day that Empire Maker had had just one graded stakes winner this year (Acoma); so you can make that two with Cash Call Futurity winner Pioneerof the Nile, for Baffert. He was hard ridden from the turn and all out to hold off maiden graduate I Want Revenge. Pioneerof the Nile is a half-brother to Forefathers; he's out of Star of Goshen, a stakes winning Lord At War mare who's a half-sister to the graded stakes winner Powis Castle.

- Off topic again, but no politics here. Just a shout-out to a great little piece of software called Senuti. This quick-to-download program allows you to easily upload your MP3's from your IPod or I-Phone to I-Tunes on your Mac. As you may know, Apple does not provide that capability, in deference no doubt to the RIAA. But you can do so simply with this program; and for free with the trial version. I was so pleased, given that my old computer fatally crashed last year taking its I-Tunes library along with it, that I went ahead and purchased the license for $18 anyway. Windows users may find a program that works for you in this article.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Off Topic Saturday

- Off topic post if you don't mind:

Personally, I find myself to be highly offended by Caroline Kennedy's shamelessly high-profile power play to win Governor Paterson's appointment to Hillary Clinton's seat. I think it's nothing but the presumptuous play on the entitlement brought by her last name that her critics make it out to be. The woman has little qualification for the job, and I don't certainly don't blame others who may (or may not) be interested in the position - those who have already demonstrated that they know and have what it takes to win an elected position in this state, but who have conducted themselves with dignity throughout this process - for being resentful.

As Democratic consultant Hank Sheinkopf points out in an op-ed piece for, we have no idea where Ms. Kennedy stands on any of the important issues of the day; not even, and especially so, after her little tour of upstate, during which she arrogantly refused to answer any substantive questions (perhaps taking a lesson from Sarah Palin). She's a "Clinton-Democrat?" What does that mean - that she initially supported the war in Iraq? But as Sheinkopf sarcastically points out, none of this really seems to matter:

Her unique experience of writing a book or two, smiling well, appearing from time to time -- but not too often -- at city mayoral news conferences announcing help for those who attend New York City public schools -- and, well, just being a Kennedy -- should suffice.
What's even worse in my mind is the pressure being applied on Governor Paterson to pick her; in particular, that from US Senate Majority Leader Henry Reid, who was reported to have spoke[n] by phone with Paterson and urged Kennedy’s appointment. We've been reading quite a bit about the Blagojevich scandal, and using a Senate appointment to curry favor can work both ways. I don't know exactly what Senator Reid's stake in this is, perhaps merely a nod towards Uncle Ted. But Reid must be aware that Paterson will no doubt soon be coming before the Senate in desperate search of federal aid towards his bloated deficit, and I therefore find any lobbying of the governor on Ms. Kennedy's behalf to be completely inappropriate.

Having said that, let's of course not be naive. No doubt that Governor Paterson will make the pick with his own political fortunes in mind. But here's what I think is are fallacies in the argument that he would pick her to enhance his own election chances in 2010. For one thing, with Ms. Kennedy being the blank slate that she is, Paterson may be concerned about the potential pitfalls regarding her actual political skills, and the possibility of his being dragged down with her should her performance be lacking, or worse. In addition, remember that Senator Schumer will be running for re-election as well; so Paterson will already have a familiar and popular (enough) name on the ticket with him.

And finally, Paterson has to be thinking that a headlining ticket trio consisting of a Senator from Brooklyn, a governor from Harlem, and a denizen of the Upper East Side with a lot of powerful friends on the inside is not going to play well upstate. So I'm going to remain out on my very lonely limb and say that he goes with Rep. Gillibrand instead.

- While I'm already off topic, the Jets are five point favorites in Seattle tomorrow. Now that everyone here seems to be writing them off - after a win! - I actually feel better about their chances to cover that spread than I did last week. One thing I've found about football over the years (especially from rooting against the Giants) is that a win is a win, not only in the standings, but in terms of a team's confidence as well. It doesn't matter if it's "lucky," or against a bad team. You may call it luck, but as far as the Jets go, Abram Elam and Shaun Ellis made a play, and they won the game. I think it will carry over. And besides, as a loyal reader pointed out to me, the football Gods are setting us all up for the showdown with Chad next Sunday night. Oh man...

Where's The Action? (Updated)

- The email I got from communications director John Lee at NYRA this past week read:


There is no live racing at Aqueduct until Dec. 26.
I didn't need to be reminded. Instead, the missive had a mocking tone.
I will be in sporadically and will be available by email & cell phone.
Maybe I'll give him a call and ask him what the hell I should do this weekend.

Of course, given the wintry storm we had here today, no doubt racing would have been canceled at least for Friday anyway. And, truth be told, I actually have plenty to do between a family holiday event on Saturday, and Sunday's crucial Jets game at 4PM in Seattle. But I miss the racing in the days leading up Christmas, when, once upon a time, in an era when people received such a thing, the crowd would be swelled with b-b-bonus money to burn, and the atmosphere would be noticeably livelier. Being the sentimental sap that I am, I also think back fondly on roving carolers who once roamed the clubhouse, and even the cheap menorah in the lobby.

I have to laugh, thinking back to that Plonk column of a few weeks ago, with his pipe dream slimmed-down racing schedule. He was talking about months with no racing at the Big A. I'm having withdrawal pains because they're off for ten days. So the hell with that as far as I'm concerned. The more the merrier, I say. I suppose you could make a reasonable case that the sport might be better off, but the glut of action is a big part of the fun for me. Aqueduct is actually open this weekend for simulcasting, and I could see going there for awhile before the game on Sunday. Since the Big A is the, ahem, only track I know of which is closed this weekend!, there's plenty of action there. That's the fun of it to me; I sure as hell wouldn't be there if there were only two or three signals. That would be like watching TVG during the winter.

- Interesting turf stakes at Fair Grounds on Saturday; the Woodchopper for three-year olds. Macho Again (Macho Uno) makes his first start since his second to My Pal Charlie in the Super Derby in September. That winner went on to run a close 4th in the BC Dirt Mile, while 4th place finisher Golden Yank won the Ohio and Zia Park Derbies. The Jim Dandy winner is clearly the class of the field. However, as the 3-1 second choice in the morning line, this could be one of those classic situations when a horse with some name recognition is overbet trying grass for the first time. There's nothing obvious in his pedigree to suggest he'll take to the surface - he has a weak Tomlinson number of 247. And, in fact, his two Polytrack races, one at Keeneland, have been bad. So I would throw him out and look for value elsewhere if he is indeed first or second choice.

My head tells me not to pick a second time starter whose only race was a win in a six furlong sprint on the Woodbine Poly in this stakes with some formidable grass runners. But the pedigree is intriguing, the connections supremely confident, so what the hell (though I'd prefer odds closer to 12-1 than his 8-1 morning line). Naturalyontherocks is by Empire Maker, whose only graded stakes winner of 2008, Acoma, accomplished that on grass. He's out of Icy Warning, a Cavaet mare who, according to the Form's Closer Look, won eight grass races and has produced three turf winners including stakes winning Snow Cone. And Icy Warning is a full sister to the multiple graded turf winner Ops Smile.

Myboycharlie (5-2) wired an allowance field in his last, but doesn't figure to enjoy an easy lead here. Instead, there could be a lively battle between he and Jimmy Shimms (7-2), for Asmussen. Evade (8-1) changed tactics successfully in his last, rating slightly off the pace in an allowance on the Poly at Keeneland. That strategy could serve him well here, with Leparoux aboard.

- UPDATE: Pick at Hollywood today from DiscreetCat.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Seeking An Even Higher Authority

- The Seminole tribe has brazenly introduced table games to two more locations since Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum wrote to the National Indian Gaming Commission (pdf), appealing for help in shutting them down.

Shawn Pensoneau, spokesman for the National Indian Gaming Commission -- which has the power to regulate Indian gaming -- said on Thursday that the agency is still studying the Supreme Court decision that declared the compact agreement invalid.

Penny Coleman, the agency's general counsel, noted in an Oct. 3 letter to McCollum that the court "did not order any party to take specific action and did not specifically declare the previously executed tribal-state compact invalid." [Miami Herald]
So McCollum has now asked a federal prosecutor to initiate criminal proceedings to "put an end to the calculated illegal expansion of class III gaming by the tribe." As you may know, the tribes operate in a legal netherworld of their own, immune from state law and perhaps federal as well; recall that a judge, in rejecting a suit by the Pompano Park racino, noted that the tribe can't be sued for any reason in any court in the country!
"In my constitutional role as Florida's chief legal officer, I am deeply concerned that the Tribe continues to defiantly ignore the decision of the Florida Supreme Court. There can be no dispute that operating banked card games is contrary to Florida law" [Palm Beach Post]
The Seminole's attorney, Barry Richards, called the letter "pointless," which seems a sufficiently existential description considering the circumstances.

Meanwhile, the state needs the money to help close its budget deficit. The tribe has remitted some $71 million to the state thus far based on games which have been operating only since July, but the money is being held in escrow. Governor Crist wants the legislature to take up the matter of granting approval to what would likely be a renegotiated compact - a process which the governor previously bypassed, leading to the successful Supreme Court challenge - in a special session scheduled for Jan 5.
But there's a major stumbling block to any deal: the Florida House, a staunchly anti-gambling body for years. After the first meeting of its Select Committee on Seminole Indian Compact Review on Thursday, Rep. Bill Galvano, a ranking Republican, indicated House demands could be in keeping with its conservative reputation: shut down table games outside South Florida and increase the tribe's tax rate to bring it more in line with those paid by non-Indian racetracks. [Sun-Sentinal]
Separately, Gulfstream Park filed what seems likely to be a futile suit in the Florida Supreme Court. According to reporter Jim Freer on (in another fine piece of reporting on a peripheral news issue on that site), slots revenues are down 13% from July, when the games started in Hollywood Beach, through November....and you can see for yourself here (pdf document). (And to put those numbers into context, you can see that the revenue held steady over that period last year.) Of course, there's the bad economy this year to consider as well. But in any event, the pari-mutuels want some relief.

Religious conservative groups held a news conference in Tallahassee on Thursday; the coalition was led by the Florida Family Policy Council.
"Opposing gambling and it's [sic] expansion in Florida will be our number one legislative priority in 2009. Gambling can be an addictive force that is responsible for countless destroyed marriages, broken families and devastated lives who [sic] become ensnared in the allure of games of chance."
They're talking of course only about countless destroyed marriages between a man and a woman. You can find their position on same-sex marriage on their website:
Allowing so-called "gay marriages" would inflict a vast-untested social experiment on children. This threat must be understood and taken seriously. The ramifications to the culture, society, children and the church are serious and far reaching.
Perhaps President-elect Obama wants to invite these nuts to his inauguration too.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Hunch Bets for Thursday, Dec 18

Howdyamissthisone 4th at Calder
Come Home 1st at Golden Gate
Opportune Moment 7th at Calder
She's Got Bling 9th at Calder
Anger Rising 8th Golden Gate
Westcoasteastcoast 7th at Tampa Bay Downs
Uptothesky 5th at Turfway

- Rangers go to the mats for another OT win.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Missed It By That Much

- Michael Iavarone told that Big Brown not winning the Belmont cost IEAH some "$50 million to $60 million." (Thanks to reader jk for the link.) That may be true. But hey, it's not like he lost the race by a nose or something. So that's like saying that the Lions would be in the playoffs if they weren't 0-14. And seriously, who cares anyway?

On the other hand, there's Rap Tale, who missed out on black type by a head when beat out for third just at the wire in the Ladies Handicap. No, that didn't cost us $50 to $60 million. It did mean $4,105 less in purse money. More significantly, the black type, earned by finishing in the money in a stakes race (no matter how weak it may be), cost us much more in terms of the filly's value. One knowledgeable person put it in the area of $50,000.

It was a real opportunity to enhance the broodmare value of a filly who is clearly a cut below stakes material at this stage. What makes it even more frustrating is the way she lost the show spot. The pan shot shows that she had slowed to a virtual walk at the end, and the chart simply notes that she had nothing left to offer. But, while that may no doubt be true, if you look at the head on, you can see what really happened.

Rap Tale was clearly tired and fading inside the 1/8th pole. But it didn't help matters when Borrowing Base bore in, lightly bumping Nijinsky Bullet. In the chain reaction, Rap Tale was also crowded, and Ramon Dominguez checked her just slightly. Dominguez then straightened her out and she was apparently still on her way to hold third, until the jockey hit her right-handed, at which point she veered in a bit towards the rail. And then, Dominguez hit her right-handed yet again, causing her to slam into the rail and take a couple of awkward steps. Dominguez was pulling her up from that mishap at the wire; thus the appearance that she had completely stopped.

What the reasoning behind the late whipping was, I can't really say. Perhaps he was being earnest in trying to save the show spot, knowing that that was really the main goal. But it was unfortunate in any event. Would have been nice to get that business over and done with and move on with a filly who we believe can improve at age four. She came out of the race fine.

- Ex-stable horse Highland Cat keeps plugging away; he's down at Calder once again, where he ran his usual close second on Monday. (Thanks to reader onecalicocat for keeping us posted.) He ran in a Starters Allowance for horses who have run for a claiming tag of $12,500 or less in 2007 or 2008. The purse was all of $11,200; his share was $2,352. Last week, Kasey K ran King Mobay at the Big A in a Starters Allowance for horses who had run for a tag of 10K or less in 2006-08. The purse? $30,000. That gives you an idea of just how pitiful the purses are down in Florida right now, particularly as the still-slotless Calder. Wow.

- A couple of other notes on the Iavarone interview. He tells reporter Darren Rovell that, had Big Brown won the Triple Crown, they would have gotten $300,000 a pop for him!! Yeah, do you think so? Even if the economy was sound? Seems to me that it's overambitious stud fees like that that's partly responsible for the reductions we've seen for next year.

Iavarone also points out that Smarty Jones' fee has been made private after three years at $100K. The 2004 Derby/Preakness winner has had eight winners from only 28 starters with his first crop, and had his first stakes winner over the Puerto Rico. He ranks as #31 on the rookie sire list. Smarty better either shape up, or brush up on his Korean.

- Just to show you that I'm at least occasionally right about something, check out this, which I wrote on July 2:

Sean Avery in Texas for four years? Ha. I don't think he'll make it through half of that contract, and he may very well once again wear Broadway Blue, in time for the 2009-10 playoffs.
Well, don't know about the second part, but it sure didn't take long for me to be right about the first!

Belmont Slots Saga, Part GG

- Some discussion in the comments section as to what exactly the governor is proposing for Belmont VLT's. So the following is the exact language of the Memorandum In Support, Part GG, to "Authorize video lottery gaming at Belmont Park and modify commission rates at Aqueduct Racetrack"


This bill would authorize the operation of video lottery terminals (VLTs) at Belmont Park, increase the commission rates paid to the operator of VLTs at Aqueduct, set the commission rates paid to the operator of VLTs at Belmont Park, and make modifications to the NYRA racing support payment schedule.

Statement in Support, Summary of Provisions, Existing Law and Prior Legislative History:

Section one of this bill amends Racing, Pari-Mutuel Wagering and Breeding Law §212 to create a local advisory board at Belmont Park.

Section two amends Tax Law §1612(b)(1)(ii)(B) to provide a commission to the operator of VLTs at Belmont park of 36.5% of net machine income.

Section three amends Tax Law §1612(b)(1)(iii) to provide that the vendor's marketing allowance for any operator of a racetrack located in Nassau County shall not exceed 8%.

Section four amends Tax Law §1612(b)(1)(ii)(F) to disallow the operator of VLTs at Belmont Park from qualifying for a vendor's capital award.

Section five amends Tax Law §1612(b)(2) to exclude Belmont Park from the distribution to breeding and purse funds established in this paragraph.

Section six amends Tax Law §1612 to add three new subdivisions h, i, and j to establish a mechanism to select an operator of VLTs at Belmont, establish racing support payments from the VLTs at Belmont, and to modify the racing support payment and commission rate at Aqueduct when video lottery gaming commences at Belmont Park.

Section seven and eight amend Tax Law §1617-a to authorize video lottery gaming at Belmont Park.

Section nine provides for the effective dates.

The Video Lottery program was first authorized in 2001. At that time, Belmont Park was specifically prohibited from operating a video lottery facility. This bill would provide the Division of the Lottery with the authority to license the operation of VLTs at Belmont Park.

This bill would also make modifications to the commission rate and racing support payment schedule from Aqueduct to accommodate additional VLTs at Belmont Park.

Budget Implications:

Enactment of this bill is necessary to produce receipts necessary to support the Financial Plan over the forecast period and to generate a franchise payment of at least $370 million in 2010-11 for the right to operate VLTs at Belmont Park.

Effective Date:

This bill takes effect immediately.
I put Section five in bold, this being the clause that the reader took for meaning that a Belmont racino would not be contributing to purses and the breeding fund. However, if you look at the Tax Law 1612 referenced, you'll recall that that clause, which does indeed provide the percentage breakdowns for purse and breeding fund contributions, also carves out Aqueduct. NYRA's splits were part of the franchise bill, and they differ from the 8 3/4% specified in this law for the harness tracks - it's a formula which eventually settles at 7 1/2%.

You'll also notice that this proposal calls for the operator at Belmont to retain 36.5% of net machine income, and to "modify" the rate at the Big A when (and if) Belmont opens. The rate presently provided for Aqueduct starts at 32%. So here's wondering if Delaware North and its well-connected lobbyists have been holding out for a higher rate, if that has contributed to the delay in the MOU, and if these clauses are a result of that.

A spokesperson for Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver would not comment on the Belmont proposal, saying only that "we are currently reviewing the entire executive budget." But Assemblyman Gary Pretlow, who heads that chamber's racing committee, told Tom Precious of
"I don't see the fiscal reality in us doing Belmont to include VLTs.....If the idea is to do some economic development there, like a hotel or conference center, that could be doable."

"But, as far as having a full-fledged VLT facility with 4,000 to 5,000 machines? That's economically infeasible. It's just saturation. To have 10,000 VLTs within seven miles is a little bit ridiculous," said Pretlow, who like Paterson, is a Democrat.
That's exactly what Silver's position has been all along. So here we go again.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

$370 Million Becomes The Standard

- Looks like the $370 million upfront fee which was offered and accepted, above and beyond the $250 million originally requested, by Delaware North for Aqueduct VLT's, has become the new standard in the state. Governor Paterson's budget proposal includes that same number, to be raised from the establishment of VLT's at Belmont. So here we go again. As in the past, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver stands as the main impediment; though with the Senate picture unclear, one can't say for sure. However, with the so-called "millionaires tax" which Silver favors conspicuously absent from the proposal (as opposed to all of the regressive taxes and fees that are included), there should be a lot of negotiating room with the Speaker over a wide range of matters.

The only thing I've seen in the budget that I like thus far is the proposal to allow the sale of wine in supermarkets! Er, of course, he wants to raise the tax rate on beer and wine as well, so....

Check out the "Revenue Actions" page. The budget includes $1 million for 'Horse Entrance Fees,' which I presume is for entering your horse in a race, not for bringing your pet steed into a state park. Probably something else for that somewhere in here. The governor also proposes to eliminate any restrictions on the hours of operation of the state's VLT parlors and to allow for more interstate lottery games. There's also a one year delay in that onerous 1% hike in the pari-mutuel take on out-of-state simulcasts which I don't think will ever come to pass.

Other proposed taxes of interest are those proposed on sporting events (admission to tracks included?), movies, gym memberships, and digital music (rush to Itunes now). And a lot of others too, which we'll be reading and hearing about in the next few days/weeks/months. Not to mention the cuts, and more cuts. Not a pretty picture to be sure. But what else could we expect?

Bad Week For Gov

- Governor Paterson will shortly release his budget for the 2009-10 fiscal year which begins April 1, and the deficit is now projected to be some $15.4 billion. Interesting to see if Paterson includes any anticipated fees from a Belmont racino, as Eliot Spitzer did last year. Of course, last year's budget also included the $250 million that the state has not yet received for slots at Aqueduct, eventually determined to be from Delaware North (and it will actually be $370 million if it ever happens), as well as outlays to service the construction bonds which have not yet been issued.

The governor is not having a very good week, and it's only Tuesday. The spare outlines of his budget proposals which emerged over the weekend only scraped the surface of the unpopular hikes in taxes and fees, and the painful cuts he will propose. And the criticism which has already emerged, for the cuts, and for both taxes proposed and not (yet) proposed, is just a hint at what's to come. Paterson may find himself wishing that all of the attacks he's bound to face are as "good-humored" as the Saturday Night Live skit which mocked his disability. The angry reaction of the generally affable and self-deprecating Paterson may give us a hint of his current mood. (Though I'd say it's understandable from his standpoint. No comparison here in my mind between this skit and the Palin skits, which merely required Tina Fey to repeat or rephrase the Republican Vice-Presidential candidate's already embarrassing and ridiculous statements.)

In addition, Paterson still faces uncertainty as to the Democrats' prospects to control the State Senate, where a gang of three dissident Democratic senators who need to get over themselves are still preventing Democratic leader Malcolm Smith from formally assuming that role after a highly questionable deal fell apart last week. However, it does seem as if politicians on both sides of the aisle are tiring of the trio's hardball tactics, especially in light of the Blagojevich scandal.

Demands by the trio have appeared so over-the-top that aides to Paterson and the legislative leaders have begun using such terms as "Somali pirates" and "the three indictees" to describe them.

The latter reference reflected the widespread concern that Gang members could have crossed a legal line with their demands. [NY Post]
And, just to top things off, Caroline Kennedy has now officially thrown her hat into the ring for Hillary Clinton's Senate seat, which will certainly put more unwelcome pressure on the governor. In fact, Ms. Kennedy has apparently thrown her rings into the ring as well. She has been reported to have already contacted Senator Chuck Schumer, Sheldon Silver, Al Sharpton, Time Warner Chairman Richard Parsons, NYC school chancellor Joel Klein, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Buffalo mayor Byron Brown, Representatives Louise Slaughter and Steve Israel, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, Joe Crowley, the Democratic Party Chairman in Queens, as well as Queen Elizabeth, Queen (the band), Sean Avery, Sean Connery, Conor Oberst, Cedric the Entertainer, Joe the Plumber, Joe Torre, Tori Spelling, Steven Speilberg, Stephon Marbury, Mary Poppins, Mary (mother of Jesus), Simon Cowell, Colin Powell, Colin Firth, Brett Favre, Michael Moore, Thurston Moore, Les Nessman, Eliot Ness, Eliot Spitzer, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Seymour Hersh, Judd Hirsch, Ashley Judd, Ashley Simpson, Lisa Simpson, Lisa Lisa, Robin Roberts, Robin Trower, Tower Records, and the wait and kitchen staff at Tavern on the Green. Man, you think she wants this?

Still, I'll stick to my guns and say that she won't get the appointment, though I'll have to think of some new reasons why not and I'll get back to you, Katie (God, I miss her).

Monday, December 15, 2008

Biased Against the Bias

- Thanks to Andy Serling for stopping by. I really wasn't trying to pick an argument, but I guess it didn't help that I dissed his partner Jason Blewitt as "whoever the other guy was." On occasion, there are posts in which I write something which I'd soon like to take back, and I was honestly thinking that about that particular line on my way to the Jets game Sunday. It was an attempt at being glib and funny that came out reading as flip and demeaning as Andy noted, and I do sincerely apologize to both Jason and him for that.

I also freely admit that, in attempting to illustrate the fact that I heard a lot of buzz about a bias on Saturday, I took their comments regarding a bias which I heard prior to the 5th race completely out of any context of their discussions of the subject to date. The fact is that, as a DirectTV customer who therefore does not get the NYRA feed at home, and as a relatively infrequent track visitor of late, I haven't heard much of their analyses at all. And I must admit that, even when I am at the track, I don't necessarily go out of my way to listen. Now, oh man, I don't want these guys to take that the wrong way and make matters worse, so now, in an attempt to avoid further trouble, I'll explain why that's actually more of a compliment than yet another dis:

If I'm at the track handicapping on the fly, or at Siro's on a Saratoga morning, I'm happy and eager to listen to and consider other informed opinions in forming my own. But if I've already done my homework and reached a conclusion, as is the case more often than not when I'm at the Big A, then my personal preference is to avoid any outside influences with 12 minutes to post, especially from guys like Serling and Blewitt who I consider to be more knowledgeable than myself. Chances are that doing so will result in me coming to believe that my logic is somehow flawed, leading to second guessing myself. However, in handicapping horse races, being the perfectly imperfect art that it is, reasoning that may be somehow "wrong" can very often lead to a result which is very much right. I often believe that knowing too much has become the biggest weakness in my game.

I've written before about what I see as the "random" factor in my bets, affected as they are far too much by outside factors - my mood, a hangover from my last bet(s), whether I'm home or on track, standing or sitting, cold or warm, and, worst of all in my case, being unduly influenced by hearing other opinions, whether informed or not. I'm a guy who on many occasions has gotten off the betting line because I heard someone in front of me bet the horse I like. And though I actually don't ever recall that particular strategy backfiring on me, I do try to stick to, and live or die by, my own handicapping. Therefore, with the utmost of due respect, I often don't focus in on the in-house analysts, no matter who they are. At Belmont and Aqueduct, this is accomplished simply by standing in the 95% of the plants where you can't here the PA system anyway.

I would actually find it extremely helpful and educational if I could listen to these guys' pre-race comments after the race....and it's well worth the effort to check out the Trips and Traps segments on NYRA's You Tube page (which is actually Andy Serling and some other guy Eric Donovan).

Having gotten that out of the way (and hoping that I haven't in fact made matters worse), I'm happy to take up the argument of the supposed speed/inside track bias on Saturday. Looking at the first four races which led some to that conclusion: In the first race, Yo Karakorum set the pace towards the inside without facing any real competition according to the chart. This horse has in fact now led every step of the way in his three races save for a bare nose at the finish of his second one, so I wouldn't necessarily credit any bias for his victory. In the second, Intoxicatingbeauty swept to the lead four wide around the turn.

Andy mentioned the third, in which Pitched Perfectly survived a quick early pace and "still managed to draw off late for the victory." However, what one person may see as a horse drawing off, I view as one who slowed to a quarter of 25 and then again to a harness horse time of almost 27 seconds after that first half. So to me, this was a classic case of a horse bottoming out a weak inner track field being mistaken for a bias. In the 4th, She's Prime wired a field in which not a single contestant had ever run two turns on the dirt. I wouldn't put any credence whatsoever in a race like that.

Yes, as Andy pointed out, there were some horses who held for second better than you might expect after dueling for the lead - in particular, Charming Officer in the second, and Take The Bluff, who fought inside of the sharp Be Bullish in the 6th. But personally, I think there could be a range of reasons other than a bias to explain those - Take the Bluff showed an affinity for the IT last year; Charming Officer was making her IT debut and did, after all, finish eight lengths back. Given the fact, and I do believe it to be so, that racing in general is predisposed towards speed, a true and significant bias, in my view, is when horses such as these actually and consistently defy all logic and hang on to win. The results on Saturday, again in my opinion, merely served to prove that it's pace, and not bias, which explains the results the vast majority of the time. And I think if you also consider Sunday's results to form a larger sample of the nature of the track, which had recovered to fast for the two days after a major rain event late last week, then my opinion would be that the surface was largely fair. If we follow up with the horses who ran, then maybe we can see down the road if I'm right or wrong.

Miracles (Sometimes) Happen

- Here's one that did:

Meanwhile, at around the same time at Aqueduct, Rap Tale needed a miracle with a furlong to go to get home in the Ladies Handicap, but Bills' coach Dick Jauron was otherwise occupied. Maybe if she had Shaun Ellis to elbow the competition aside like he did to Langston Walker on his way to the end zone. However, exhausted from her effort in leading to that point and disposing of favored Sweet Goodbye along the way, Rap Tale was done. And no, she just couldn't hold on to that treasured show spot, getting nailed by Julie B as she staggered across the line (her final quarter in 29 seconds). The winner got home in 27.52, and if you want to know why they won't be running this mile and a quarter stakes race anymore, just take a look at that final quarter, both on paper and on tape. Final time of 2:07.30 aint pretty, though I'm sure it was spectacular to the connections of winning Borrowing Base. Just as the 31-27 final score is to Jets fans.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Sunday Morning Notes - Dec 14

- I got to the Big A after the second on Saturday, and already I heard some murmuring about the track favoring speed. By the end of the 4th, after two pure wire jobs, it had grown into a frenzy. Andy Serling and whoever the other guy was were talking about it, and that stuff can become a fait accompli pretty quickly on a cold day with an intimate crowd of 3,125 huddled inside like old friends in their familiar and very much weathered surroundings.

However, I was having none of this, ever the skeptic on the matter of track bias that I am. You just can't, except in the most extreme circumstances, make conclusions about a bias based on such a small sample - two races each at six furlongs and two turns to that point, in my opinion. There was nothing I saw in either the third or 4th race to indicate anything other than the fact that the winners, both favorites, were the best horses in a couple of very weak races, particularly the 4th.

Sure enough, the rest of the winners came from off the pace. You might read some analysis that says that the track favored speed early and closers late; I'd say don't believe the hype. Each of those races had its own circumstance - a contested pace, lack of quality speed horse, a nice-looking improving horse in Researcher - just as the earlier ones did.

So, big deal, I was right about that - didn't help me make any money. In fact, my best shot of the day blew up when 65-1 Golden Caesar came from out of the clouds to win the 7th. I had the exacta with second and third place finishers 5-1 Raffie's Dear over 6-1 Borrowing Limit darn near cold. Always nice to see those West Point horses like Drowning Bear run on Saturdays when they get bet off the board; 6-5 on that one, oh my.

Raffie's Dear is another live one from the Asmussen barn (though Sir Whimsey disappointed in the Queens County). Chief Export got the job done for Lake in the 5th, and didn't get claimed either; but the trainer claimed Bubba Gum back for 14 after losing him for 10K last time. Run With The Lark ($40.60) was the second winner in two days for trainer Richard Schosberg.

If it sounds like I'm in a rush, it's because I gotta get ready to go to the Jets game. But DiscreetCat has a pick for the Big A. Best of luck and have a great day.

Aqueduct - Race 7

#7 Access Fee (3/1 ml)

Just happened to catch the filly's Laurel debut by accident way back in February, and was EXTREMELY impressed with her. I began following her after that, with the hope that she would ship to New York for a stakes, and we could get a price on her. Unfortunately that didn't happen, as she resurfaced in an allowance @ Laurel where she scored another impressive win at miserly odds. Disappeared for a bit after that before turning up in a turf sprint @ Philly where she lost @ 4/5, then disappeared again, presumably injured. By the time she returned @ Laurel last month, i had put her on the back burner because i thought perhaps she was damaged goods, and i assumed (quite wrongly) that she would be odds-on again. To my dismay, she went off @ 3/1 and blitzed the field, looking very much like her former self. This filly is just a bundle of talent when right, and seeing that they've NOW chosen to send her to New York for a stakes, it's safe to assume she's in fine fettle. Also note that Ramon Dominguez (who has some ties to Laurel) is climbing aboard, and he's previously ridden a winner for this trainer. Like this one a lot.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Saturday Morning Notes - Dec 13

- Three winners for Contessa on Friday, giving him an inner track leading six. Of course, having started 54 horses thus far, he's had nearly three times as many runners as runner-up Bruce Levine. On the other hand, there's the Steve Asmussen barn, which, with yet another winner on Friday, has five winners in eight starters. Also well worth noting that two more winners, including 16-1 Half Metal Jacket in the 5th, came off main track races at the Meadowlands, so that pattern continues.

In the 3rd race today, here's Futuristic (5-2) for trainer Michael Maker and owner Ken Ramsey, shipping in from Churchill. The connections have run second and third with their prior two such runners over the IT this meeting. This two-year old son of Millennium Wind, who stands in Louisiana for $2,000 in 2009, stepped up to maiden specials and ran second in his last to Indygo Mountain, a nice looking $600,000 AP Indy colt. He stretches out to two turns here. Already proven at the route is Pitched Perfectly (2-1), for Contessa; son of Pleasantly Perfect just missed to Shadwell's Aswaaq here ten days ago.

In the 5th, well, here we go again - Scott Lake drops Chief Export (7-2) off the claim, from the 20K he took him off Contessa in November, to the 14K in this wild and woolly affair today. As we discovered in great detail last weekend, this horse is likely live despite the suspicious nature of the drop. He's easily the class of the field, having won for 45K at Penn National over the summer, and would seem to have a tactical edge in a race laden with speed, having shown the ability to win from off the pace. However, he seems a bit slower than some rivals based on his recent Beyers, so here's others to consider:

End of an Era (5-1) was claimed for 20K by David Jacobson last March after three fine efforts on the inner track. He didn't return until November, and romped by six second off the layoff in a restricted 10K claimer. It can't be great news that he drifted out in the stretch despite emphatic right handed encouragement. But I love the move up in class here to open 14's; and there's certainly something wrong somewhere with most every horse at this level. And he's also won from off the pace. Bubba Gum (9-2) also found his level, dropping for Lake and winning his last for 10K; moves back up in class after being taken by trainer Bruce Brown, 23% first off the claim. Methodtomymadness (20-1) ships in from the Meadowlands for Patricia Farro, who claimed this horse back for 10K a race after losing him for 5K. Mixed it up against Jersey-bred allowance company last; possible speed of the speed here?

And if you think today's Queens County Handicap is weak, check out Sunday's Ladies Handicap. NYRA was so desperate to fill this one that they actively recruited Rap Tale. And guess what, she's going. It's another installment in the continuing quest to get this filly some black type, and what an opportunity here. We also want to see her stretch out, so here's hoping she can pick up some pieces late and sneak into the third spot so we can run her in spots where she better belongs.

- Cold day today, but supposed to warm up to the low to mid 40's for the Jets game tomorrow; piece of cake for a veteran like myself. Some in the Jets blogosphere are excited about the anticipated activation of wide receiver David Clowney, a 5th round pick from Virginia Tech for the Packers last year. Clowney was the Jets' leading receiver in preseason, but has been out with a collarbone injury all season. The Jets' passing game has resembled that of Chad Pennington with its short range lately, and it's hoped that Clowney, one of the fastest players on the team, can get some separation and help Brett Favre stretch out the field.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Aqueduct Notes (sealed)

- Man, it is pouring and they're expecting two inches of rain overnight! So I certainly wouldn't be shocked if there's a cancellation, even though it's supposed to clear by post time.

Sloppy and sealed on Thursday of course. Horses who had last run at the Meadowlands ran 1-2-3 (3-1, 12-1, and 14-1 respectively) in the third. And in the fifth, two horses who had last raced at the Big M ran 1-2 (at identical odds of 3.45 to 1; I guess the bettors couldn't make up their mind). And those were the only five horses to that point on the card who had run there, so there's some domination for you. On Wednesday, two of the Contessa horses I mentioned, Tide Runner and West Coast Flyer, had last started there too. I

In my ongoing quest to present statistics in context, I'll also point out that three Meadowlands shippers ran poorly at low odds on Wednesday. But other such winners on the inner track include Bombilla, ($5.10), Big Emi ($12.00), and Bubba Gum ($5.20); and good seconds by Ballado Alert (7-1), Brockly Rob (4-1), and Judiths Wild Rush (7-1). It's not that big a sample, so I think it's fair to say that they're worth watching coming over from the Big M to the Big A.

Shannon H ($8.90) was the Meadowlands horse who won the abovementioned 5th, and she is trained by Scott Volk. Recall that I mentioned that trainer in this post, and I also mentioned the barn's Teddy Ballgame, who subsequently ran a game second on the grass. Volk has now been first or second in each of his last six races. No entries from the barn tomorrow or Saturday. Volk claimed this three-year old daughter of Hay Halo (Halo) for $7500 last out for owner James Riccio, who collected the winner's share of $11,400, and the $10,000 claiming tag for the filly, from trainer Randi Persaud; quick turnaournd for a decent little score there.

Steve Asmussen took the fifth.....perhaps I should rephrase.....La Concerto ($4) won the fifth for Asmussen. I'm sure the trainer himself is nowhere near Aqueduct, but he's having a helluva meet - four for seven on the inner track, and nine for 28 (32%).

Accredit ($5.50) won the Parlay Me Stakes for McLaughlin and Darley Stable. Look for this one in the early season handicap division at the Big A in 2009; he finished in the money in three stakes on the IT early this year. Four of his five wins have now come in the slop; the other on Polytrack. Accredit is by E Dubai, whose stud fee will hold steady at $15,000 next year. He's sixth on the third crop list, and has six stakes winners this year, including the G2 winner Buy the Barrell.

- I laughed out loud when I saw that the Jets were eight point favorites against the Bills on Sunday. It doesn't matter that Trent Edwards is out; Nick Zito could throw for 300 yards against the Jets. I'm telling you, the Jets have a history in these late season home games against the Bills - and it ain't a pretty one. I see the game coming down to a field goal. I don't bet on football so I'm not an expert, but I mean, there's got to be better propositions on the board than laying the points on this one!

Notes - Dec 11

- Two winners and a very close second for Contessa on Wednesday after a 1 for 29 start on the inner track (in addition to another second, and a third). All of those three had last raced in New Jersey, and two, 7th race winner West Coast Flyer and 3rd race runner-up Tide Runner, were moving up in class fresh off the claim, for Winning Move.

The stable of trainer Mike Hushion is in sharp form; he ran 1-2 in Wednesday's 6th race, and took today's opener with class dropper City Spirit; that's four winners from 12 starters on the inner track.

- Here's an interesting comment on the last post. The reader tells of speculation that some horsemen themselves, already used to the squalid backstretch conditions at Philly Park, are in cahoots with Greenwood in slowing the progress of barn renovations with an eye towards dissuading outsiders at crashing the big purse party there. Certainly some perverted logic there given the fact that the locals are already struggling to find spots for their horses.

- Developer Louis Cappelli says that he's still "on schedule" with the heart of his grand plan for the Concord. Though some aspects of the complex will be moved to a second phase, the new Monticello harness track, along with the racino, hotel, and retail shops are on target for summer 2010. Cappelli also scored an additional $200 million in bond proceeds.....if of course, given market conditions, the Sullivan County Industrial Development Agency can get the issue done.

"The only thing we are keeping our eyes on is the bond market because we are going to sell bonds for the project," Cappelli said.
Cappelli said the faltering economy has made it harder to lock down financing. He has been paying for the project out-of-pocket and with short-term bridge loans.

"I get sick every time I watch the financial news, but I am determined to move ahead and we are, quickly." [Times Herald-Record]
Unlike a certain other racino project we know of that's dependent on a bond issue.

Hunch Bets (And a Discreet Pick) For Dec 11

I Belong Gone 4th at Aqueduct
Naughty Behavior 5th at Fair Grounds
Nailed 3rd at Calder
Hard Climb 2nd at Charles Town
Ex Angel 5th at Golden Gate
Choose The Money 1st at Delta Downs
Uno Mas 6th at Fair Grounds
Hopes Are High 2nd at Charles Town
Amazing Trick 3rd at Charles Town
Look Of Success 10th at Delta Downs

- DiscreetCat shifts gears and heads to New Orleans today. [UPDATE: Racing at Fair Grounds has now been canceled due to snow.]

Fair Grounds - Race 6

#8 Indygo Mountain (5/2 ml)

Calhoun trainee ran a good race for second in his Keeneland debut behind next-out winner Kopitar, but really stepped it up in start #2 when switched to the dirt and stretched out to a mile @ Churchill Downs, moving powerfully late to run away from a good field that included Flying Warrior, a talented Mott runner that i gave out here. Looks set for another good stalking trip, and figures to improve even further on the stretchout to two turns. Calhoun has excelled at the Fair Grounds meet, is very strong in routes (and with young horses), and hits at @ 29% with rider Theriot. No reason not to expect another big effort here.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Overflow at Philly

- Take a look at the entries for Philadelphia Park on Saturday. There's 123 prospective runners stuffed into the nine race card; 18 each in the first, second, and 4th. What was that about larger purses bringing smaller fields? Not at Philly Park these days. Kasey K's Philly trainer Keith LeBarron reports that the competition to just get into races is incredibly intense these days, especially with the track running live races only four days a week. Also lively is the action at the claim box; LeBarron laments that he's lost three horses in that manner this past week.

One of those was Mr. W.B., a disappointing 4th for Kasey K in Tuesday's 4th race. So ends his second stint with the barn; claimed for the same $7500 that we claimed him back for two races back. So we're in the market for a replacement.

- Handride, on his way back from the Power of Blogs panel in Arizona, touts some new features on the TBA homepage. However, don't expect to see yours truly under the TBA Tweets tab. Twitter has been in the news a lot of late; and that should be no surprise. It fits in snugly with our society's current obsession with portability and immediacy. Unfortunately, in addition to looking like little more than public instant messaging to me, it does so at the expense of substance. Call me old-fashioned, but I can wait a few hours, or even [gasp] until the next morning, for my news and commentary, and I prefer it to be well-considered and macro rather than instant and micro. So, tweet tweet yerself.