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Saturday, February 28, 2009

Sourwine for TVG (Sorry, Susie)

On TVG not long before the Fountain of Youth, a fascinating betting contest if no longer, as a one turn mile, as significant in terms of implications for the spring classics, Todd Schrupp was interviewing Susie Sourwine, the marketing director of Emerald Downs, about the upcoming 2009 spring/summer meet. (Thus, the apology for the tacky wordplay on the woman's name, I'm sure she's very nice.) It doesn't even start until April 17. Oh man, talk about filling time. I'd like to see them just come clean at this point. We all know what's going on. Just have Schrupp look into the camera, with that pseudo-sincere look and tone he likes to employ, and go "Man, we suck. We got nuthing now." Yeah, I tease these guys sometimes, but they are (mostly) knowledgeable hosts, and it seems undignified for them to be pretending that they have anything more than B material this time of the year. It will change of course, over the summer....but man, this is a rough patch.

It's not like they'd lose any viewers either. Anyone with Dish Network who's watching either TVG or HRTV is doing so for a specific reason - HRTV to see the best winter racing; TVG if your Uncle Seymour has some nag running in the 6th at Turfway (#10 in the HANA rankings). And if you have DirecTV, you have no choice. Anyway, I didn't get to the Fountain of Youth here either, as I was too busy. I think I need one of those road to the triple crown guest blogger dudes - how do I get one of those?

TVG didn't really miss much in my opinion. Quality Road ($13) stalked This One's For Phil (slammed in the win pool late) pushing him to a fatal second quarter of 21.63 after a tepid opening split. Dutrow's colt spit the bit soon after turning for home, and Quality Road was never threatened as he came home in quarters of 23.76 and 25.61 [four lengths in front of Theregoesjojo]. And I dunno, I guess that's not considered to be too terrible for a dirt race, considering the early pace. Nicely bred colt - by Elusive Quality, out of a Strawberry Road full sister to the champion three-year old Ajina. His second dam is a half to a couple of Irish stakes winners, and to the dam of Group 1 Queen Elizabeth II Stakes winner Bahri. So some class and distance in this pedigree.

But this race featured a lot of disappointing performances - especially Capt. Candyman Can, well-positioned at his favorite distance - with the field pretty spread out despite the slow fractions at the end. It was another four back to Beethoven, and two more to 5th place This One's For Phil, who stopped to a near walk, yet was still eight ahead of the rest. Taqarub tired to 9th for McLaughlin, who had a miserable day in New York - dead last with 3-1 first-timer Hot to Trot in the 6th, and the same in the Stymie with 3-1 Brilliant Son. The way the race fell apart tempers my enthusiasm for the winner, so I'll wait to see him go a distance of ground before considering him to be a serious contender.

- The Rangers scored more goals - four - in the first 15 minutes than they had in the last three games combined, and crushed the Avs 6-1 in a rollicking Saturday night performance at the Garden. Now, that wasn't so hard, was it? And not a trap in sight.

Frank Fiddles As Magna Crumbles

Magna Entertainment announced that it defaulted on a PNC Bank loan tied to Pimlico and Laurel. Barring some kind of new arrangement or accommodation, the company will be unable to make a $275 million repayment to MI Developments on March 20; and it faces a Wednesday deadline for a $40 million repayment to a Canadian bank. The company is scrambling to save its slots prospects in Maryland (a point which may soon be moot anyway). As Steve Zorn reports on his Business of Racing blog, Magna has lost three directors, thus falling into non-compliance with the Toronto Stock Exchange, and is in similar straits on NASDAQ. Perhaps most ominously of all, parent company Magna International reported a loss of $148 million, prompting shareholders of that company to express concern over the prospect of its extending a lifeline to the Magna racing and real estate companies.

So, what is Frank Stronach up to amidst all this turmoil? Well, for one thing, he spent time composing a letter to the editor, published in today's edition of Thoroughbred Daily News, on the timely subject of THE ECLIPSE AWARDS: TIME FOR A NEW SYSTEM OF SELECTING WINNERS. (It's free, but PDF only and registration required.) Though not concerning the Eclipse Awards that people actually care about.

Since the announcement of the 2008 Eclipse Awards several weeks ago, there has been public controversy surrounding the selection of Outstanding Owner. A number of owners and sports writers have questioned the validity or fairness of the results--but few have stopped to question the actual process used to determine the annual winners of the Eclipse Award.
(Wait a minute. Didn't Frank win this award?)
I believe the Eclipse Awards need to be based on a points system with a clear-cut formula. Points would be awarded to owners for races won, with low-level races (e.g., a claiming race) receiving the fewest points, while stakes-graded races (e.g., Grade I races) would receive the highest number of points. Under such a system, owners that had smaller stables, but with a large number of high-quality, championship horses would end up with more points than owners that had larger stables and a lot of low-grade wins.
Leave it to Frank to devote his time to such a self-serving subject even as his empire comes crashing down around him. I mean, who, really, other than he, Michael Iavarone, and a handful of others could give a rat's ass about the Eclipse Award for owners? Funny thing is that Frank actually could have done the sport a service if he applied his points standings proposal to the horses....or even to jockeys, the most visible and marketable human faces in the game. I don't believe that even a publication with as elite a target audience as Thoroughbred Daily News would be interested in owners standings. Instead, it's all about Frank, no doubt a large part of the reason he's in the position he finds himself in today.

Saturday Morning Notes

Last Desire ($6.80) won the first on Friday at Aqueduct off five days rest for Contessa. That's a good move for this barn of late - 5-2-3 with his last 13 in the 1-7 day category.

Hatfield was all out at 1-4 to hold off Early Response in a final quarter in 27 seconds, yuck. Meetmeatthechapel set the pace, held gamely past the eighth pole, faded late to 4th (settling for a purse share of $2200), and was found to have bled.

Charming Officer ($7) won the 4th for Joe Imperio, on a pretty good streak these days with two in a row, and a record of 3-2-2 with his last eight.

Smooth ride by Rosie Napravnik on Awesome Ashley ($9.80), lagging behind a contested pace, saving ground on the rail, biding her time waiting for room before slipping out to the three path midstretch, and rallying home past uncoupled Pletcher stablemate Distorted Passion to win the Feel the Beat Stakes. 4-5 favorite A Rose For You was last.

- Eight claiming races out of nine on the card, three of the maiden variety, a 35K claiming affair in the feature race slot. Another February day at the Big A? No, Friday at Gulfstream Park. You might guess that they were saving the good stuff for Fountain of Youth day, but there are two maiden sellers smack dab in the middle of today's card too.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Shakeup Good For Gov, Bad For Horsemen

Governor Paterson has engaged in a major shakeup of his staff in an attempt to get his administration, and his re-election hopes, back on track. The Times reported that he has turned largely to veterans of the Clintons’ far-flung network to try to steady the situation.

“These people are battle-tested in national politics,” said George Arzt, a Democratic political consultant in New York. “It’s a team to be reckoned with, for the first time since David took over.”

They will add to an already growing Clintonian flavor in Mr. Paterson’s camp. Another Clinton veteran, Harold M. Ickes, the former White House deputy chief of staff, has also been advising Mr. Paterson in recent months.
We know that racing has not been a high priority for this administration in the first place, and, as Paul Post reports today in the Thoroughbred Times, this kind of shakeup is not going to help the industry get its attention.

Post also discusses the proposed changes in the VLT splits at Aqueduct in Paterson's plan for a racino at Belmont.
Under that plan.....horsemen’s and breeders’ revenues from Aqueduct would be cut in half.

Currently, horsemen and breeders are slated to get 1% and 7% of revenues, respectively, the first year and increasing to 1.5% and 7.5% in year three and beyond. [Actually the other way around.]

Paterson says the groups only need half that amount because a second racino at Belmont would result in twice as much money. Horsemen and breeders disagree, however, saying that competition from a Belmont racino, only eight miles from Aqueduct, might reduce overall gross income.

“These cuts, if enacted, would be devastating to Thoroughbred racing and breeding,” said Edward Bogdan III, managing partner of Albany-based Bogdan, Lasky, Kopley, LLC, a long-time lobbyist for New York Thoroughbred Breeders Inc. “While we would like to see more VLTs in the state, that proposal is no good for us.” [Thoroughbred Times]
Paterson's position is, first of all, overly simplistic in its assumption that two racinos necessarily equals twice the revenue. Worse for the industry, if I'm understanding him correctly, the governor is basically fixing the amount of revenue that horsemen "need" in his view. That would be a dangerous precedent, one which would no doubt be applied in the event that racino gaming ever expands to table games. Would he, or his successor, then claim that the percentages could be cut even further because the horsemen don't "need" the extra revenue that such games would presumably generate? And how about Delaware North....why do they "need" the extra money as opposed to the horsemen?

Aqueduct Notes

In the third at the Big A on Friday, Meetmeatthechapel makes his debut for Kasey K. We claimed this three-year old son of Chapel Royal from Asmussen for 20K on Feb 16, when he was a disappointing third at odds of 3-4 (still can't get used to those prices). He's 5-1 in this five horse Starters Allowance field with a generous $44,000 purse, but he's actually second choice since Hatfield is listed at 2-5. I bet that horse when he debuted on Feb 1, after some top-heavy tote action. Jorge Chavez was looking around for competition after putting away Geno Green (who dropped from 40K to 16K when he graduated on Saturday) as he turned for home, going on to win by 10 with an 89 Beyer which is in a class of its own in this field. Hatfield was also trained by Asmussen, and was also claimed, he by Contessa.

Here's two prototypical handicapping questions at work - a horse facing winners for the first time, and attempting to stretch out to two turns. To me, the second of those is the key question, and makes this horse one that, in my opinion, one can not possibly play at the expected odds. At 2-5, you won't see a more classic application of Harvey Pack's advice to not take a short price on a horse doing it's never done before.

Hatfield should like the route. He's by Proud Citizen, out of a Bates Motel mare, has a high Tomlinson, a low dosage index; he's a half brother to the dam of Liquor Cabinet, his second dam is a half-sister to the Irish champion Ministrella (a half to the granddam of Saint Liam). But we won't really know until he tries it. I wouldn't want to find out at those odds. In fact, I think he'd be a good candidate to bet against.

But I prefer to recuse myself when Kasey K is involved. You do understand that sometimes I'm not at liberty to comment one way or another, so I figure I just shouldn't comment in any case. For example, some of the boys may be looking to make a score at the windows....and that's not (necessarily) due to any hush hush inside info. More likely it's just something that a sharp horseplayer might notice anyway, like a trip more troubled than indicated by the race chart, or an anticipated change in tactics hinted at by a rider, equipment, or distance change. Something they're hoping you don't notice, and they don't need me to point out.

Honestly, in this case, I've been too busy working and watching the Rangers lose to have spent too much time on the phone with Bob, and I honestly don't know a thing other than the horse was fine upon arrival. But, you don't need me to tell you that trainer Bruce Brown has a fine record first off the claim - 9 for 29 (31%), two in a row and three out of the last five. Or that the only win for Meetmeatthechapel was at this two-turn one mile distance. Or that he was a solid second in this class three races back. So you might conclude that he has a shot if the favorite isn't what he's supposed to be.

Asmussen has a claim of his own in Early Response (6-1), and Dominguez sticks despite the trainer change. Weekend Action (6-1) is an interesting case, moving up to face winners despite losing his last two against maidens. He was retroactively declared the winner of his Jan 9 effort when Wild Conga tested positive for excess carbon dioxide. Pretty interesting little race for such a short field and short-priced favorite.

- The Rangers suffered a loss which was as demoralizing and damaging as one can imagine, at least at this stage with still 19 games to play. The Broadway Blueshirts, more energized and aggressive on the forecheck in two games under their new coach, still cannot score; just two goals on some 73 shots for the two games, not to mention all the glorious chances which didn't even result in a shot on goal. They outshot the Panthers 41-22. They've fallen to last in the league in goals per game. In their last 12 losses, coming in the last 14 games, they've scored all of 15 goals. It's just unbelievable. I just can't accept that any professional hockey team not named the Islanders could be this pitiful offensively.

Still, coach John Tortorella remains upbeat. “I think we did some really good things. Our pressure was outstanding.....I think our weakest moment was our 5 on 3. Other than that, I think we played a hell of a game.” And I remain on board.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Sticking with Sinking Ships

Whilst many others have long turned their backs and had nothing but harsh words, I've stubbornly stuck to my guns on two matters on this blog - Governor Paterson and the New York Rangers. Now, both ships have sunk fast after quick starts, and I'm stuck out on a very lonely limb. The Broadway Blueshirts have lost ten out of 12 and find their playoff position in dire jeopardy. The Governor's poll numbers have plummeted, to the point that some close observers of Albany are not persuaded that he will not even run for re-election next year.

* Paterson is now viewed favorably by 40 percent of voters and unfavorably by 47 percent, down from last month’s 54-30 percent favorable rating, and his high of 64-19 percent in November.
* His job performance rating is 28 percent positive, 69 percent negative down from 51-45 percent positive last month.
* Currently, only 19 percent of voters are prepared to elect Paterson as Governor in 2010, compared to 57 percent who prefer “someone else.” That’s down from 32-36 percent last month, and 42-32 percent in November.

The 2010 matchups are striking. Cuomo now beats Paterson in a Democratic primary nearly 2-1 - Cuomo gained 20 points in just one month. In a general election, Paterson trails Giuliani by 15 points, while Cuomo leads Giuliani by 13 points. [Capitol Confidential]
Ugh. As much as I still do like Paterson, despite his occasional stumbles and his, let's say, statements of dubious veracity on Delaware North and other matters, I'd dump him in a second if it meant that the despicable slimeball ex-mayor of NYC becomes governor, perish the thought.

I continue to insist that Paterson's decline is largely based on the unfair and largely false perception that he botched the Senate selection process. As I've asserted before, any "circus" atmosphere around the process was nearly all created by the press, and by the candidates who went public with their ambitions. Though it did reach a point at which he should have ended it, I have to agree with him here:
Paterson reiterated his initial goal had been to wait for Clinton to be confirmed as secretary of state before announcing his choice in case something happened to derail her nomination.

“I didn’t think that would happened to Senator Clinton, and it didn’t," he said. "But it would have been a very difficult thing because I would have had to stand here for months and you ask me: ‘Well why would you make the pick before the person left office, David, what were you doing?' And you know you would ask me that question.” [Daily Politics]
The governor was not going to win here either way.

Still, I will go on record as keeping the faith, on both accounts. In both cases, personnel changes have been made. The Rangers have a new coach in John Tortorella, a man with a personality and coaching philosophy so diametrically opposed to the passive Tom Renney (who did, for the most part, a great job in guiding the team to the playoffs three straight years after they missed them for nine), that it can't help but spark this group. The Blueshirts are still in the hunt, and they showed grit and determination during the early months of the campaign. I still believe they're a team with heart and significantly more offensive talent than they've shown of late.

Paterson has brought back tax-scandalized aide Charles O'Byrne as a political advisor for the 2010 campaign. And it sure sounds from this as if more changes are on the way. While I'm not as confident as I am regarding my hockey heroes, Paterson has plenty of time and material with which to turn things around, should he succeed in guiding the budget process to an acceptable conclusion. Of course, given the inherent unpopularity that goes with closing such a gaping budget gap, and the attacks that come with it, that won't be easy. But I won't abandon this ship either.....yet.

Aqueduct Notes

In the second at Aqueduct today, Bubba Gum (5-2) doubles in price off the claim for trainer Joe Imperio after wiring 10K company with ease. This barn is two for 47 (both courtesy of Holly Time) since the Big A opened last fall. He's been in the mix of late though with with a record of 10-2-2-3 (though one of those thirds was Charming Officer at 3-5). And he's been quite close moving them up off claims - One of the Best just missed at 10-1 going from 14K to 20K on Feb 7; Chief Export was a close second at 7-1 going from 20K to 30K on Feb 14. This horse won't be 7-1, that's for sure. He didn't face much in his last and I'd consider betting against him except that he looks like he could be long gone as lone speed.

When I wrote recently about picking losers, a reader noted:

There are many ways to play the game, and I do the opposite.

I look for legitimate favorites that are not underlays, and either bet them straight or try to find value by hooking up with another horse in straight EX or DD.
Nothing is absolute of course, and I will sometimes play a race the latter way myself. Don't know if Bubba Gum will be underlaid or not, but this could be one of those instances. El Chile Dog (8-1) cut back in distance when moved up confidently off the claim by Contessa despite getting trounced when he took him from Jacobson. Far back as usual, he closed very well for third despite a wide trip that became even wider when he was carried out further in deep stretch. Winner Chief Export raced well against better in his next as noted above; second place finisher Fleet Valid set the pace against 35K optional claimers and weakened for third. I'll look for El Chile Dog to pick up the pieces and complete the exacta.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Dubai Bailout (Part 1)

I'm reading about the $10 billion bailout extended to Dubai by fellow emirate Abu Dhabi, but not in the racing press. There's a story in the Times, another at CNN, and here at the Financial Times. There is coverage by John over at The Race Is Not Always to the Swift; but that's a blog, not the press as we know.

Of course, the story belongs in the financial news; it's just another fine mess. But I dunno, seems to me that any hint that the fortunes of the Sheikh may turn bad enough so as to curtail his participation, even just to an extent, as a buyer of Kentucky foals alone would be worth a mention on, wouldn't you think? And that's not to mention the fact that his various stables are a major force in the sport worldwide, his World Cup bonanza has become a singular goal for many horsemen internationally, and the phone calls of his representatives to lucky owners of impressive two-year olds have become part of the American racing dream.

Even the Paulick Report defers to the optimistic view: SURGING: DUBAI SHARES SHOW LARGEST INCREASE IN THREE MONTHS. Those guys over there are all hepped on their Paulick Derby Index, featured on, but, sadly, not quite as manly as before.

Of course, I'm sure there's probably nothing to worry about. And I imagine that the Sheikh has sufficient assets that are not directly tied to the fate of his emirate. But then again, I can't help but think that with real estate prices there reported to be down 25%, it would seem there's a lot of room for further decline. Work has stopped on the Meydan racecourse - John noted that the construction cam on the website is stuck on last October. The contractor was fired after completing 70%. John says that they were only paid 30%; I don't know how he knows that, maybe he's a real reporter after all. Bloomberg reports that the bailout "threatens to cost Dubai its autonomy and the free- wheeling economic system that helped establish it as the Middle East’s main business hub."

And, most ominously to me, bailouts seem to come in twos (or threes) these days. One is always followed by another. And another. And with each subsequent rescue, the rescued gives up more control.

So who can say with any confidence that the Sheikh will be a buyer this summer and fall? Maybe he'll even be a seller. Imagine, he could team up with Frank. That would be one doozy of a dispersal.

Nice Report - Don't Hold Your Breath

Here's a link, courtesy of the Albany Times-Union's Capitol Confidential, to the full final report of the Belmont Park Redevelopment Study. [WARNING: Large, slow-loading PDF file] The conclusion of the report, calling for slots, a hotel and retail, is no surprise of course.....though the senior housing thing caught me a bit off guard. It spells out, with a great amount of thought and detail, various options for the site - standalone racino, small or large hotel with racino, or a hotel with the racino in the grandstand. I don't see any reason why it wouldn't be the latter, what with all the empty and wasted space there.

It's a nice report with a lot of color pictures, charts and diagrams; but it pretty much ignores one pretty critical element. The final section, titled Next Steps, calls for an Economic Impact Analysis, a Gaming Analysis, and an Implementation Process, including the always-hilarious Request For Proposals (RFP). However, though it notes, almost in passing, that "The Governor has recently introduced a bill that would provide for VLT gaming at Belmont Park Racetrack," it glosses over the fact that the state's tax law specifically prohibits VLT's at racetracks of the non-profit racing association known as Belmont Park racetrack and the Saratoga thoroughbred racetrack...and that the sitting Assembly Speaker, Sheldon Silver, is adamantly opposed to allowing them there. There should be a whole section, if not an entire new report, devoted to how to get such a bill passed!

James Odato reiterated in his piece in the Times Union that the issue of Delaware North wanting a higher cut at their Aqueduct racino should Belmont come to fruition is a key sticking point in the negotiations with the state.

Legislation would have to be passed to alter the VLT rates to benefit Delaware North — and the company isn't planning to give the state its $370 million up-front payment for rights to operate at Aqueduct until such legislation is in place, according to company officials.

Because Paterson is planning to receive that $370 million by March 31, the legislation is critical in the next few weeks, Delaware North says.
Sounds like Delaware North is counting on that deadline to force the Governor's hand. But if some of the terms we've recently seen used to describe his administration - "bewildered," "confused," "frustrated," and "unable to provide simple, consistent answers" - are true, Delaware North shouldn't count on him even remembering that date.

Senate Minority Leader Dean Skelos expressed reservations that the report delivered only "very general recommendations'' about Belmont that could take another year to develop into specifics. [Bloodhorse] But actually, compared to what's been going on (or not) at Aqueduct, that would be quite a bit of progress. A racino at Belmont, as logical as it's always seemed to me, is in reality just theoretical at this point; the Aqueduct racino, or at least the concept of one, is theoretically a reality, and look how long that's taking! We could be into the second Obama administration before we see one at either.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Notes - Feb 23

Talk about a race being over on the backstretch, did you see what Edgar Prado pulled in the G3 The Very One Stakes at Gulfstream on Criticism ($6.00)? The five-year old daughter of Machiavellian hadn't run on the lead before, but in this race with no obvious speed, she was there by default - a second quarter of 26.30 to a half in 51.24 followed by 26.06 split, for a dawdling three-quarters in 1:17.30! “We got in good position and that was pretty much it,” Prado said. That's for sure!

From there, it was a sprint home - 23.73 to the mile, and the last three-eighths in 34.20 (22.69 and 11.51); Edgar, are you kidding me?? Harness drivers used to get fined for slowing the pace like that (do they still do that)?

Another debut winner there for Pletcher; this one, Albali ($6.60) running for a 30K tag. It was the 4th winning first-timer for the Toddster from his last five tries at the Gulf; but the first one in 20 starters (at all tracks) and exactly two years with a debut maiden claimer - not a common placement for this barn. This filly was claimed by trainer Bobby Dibona. She's by Aldebaran, out of a stakes-winning (France, non-graded) by Kendor. I imagine that, somewhere, she's worth 30K just as a broodmare. Of course, I wasn't around for that race, and didn't know about it when I bet Pletcher's first-timer Jane's Gal in the 10th (3rd at 5-1).

And another winner at Aqueduct for trainer Bruce Brown; Incalzando ($6.00), who stepped up to face winners and handled them easily. In the sixth, the barn's first-timer Won Great Classic, settle for second at 11-1 after battling for the lead in the stretch with Scorch the Torch (damn).

Bet the 4th at Santa Anita yesterday, and I didn't cash due to my own stupidity, so I'm not bragging or anything. Maybe redboarding a bit...though, of course, in order to make a point to help us all profit in the future. Scored ($14.40) was making his debut, at the age of four, for trainer Bruce Headley. On the Form, the trainer's record for the meet was 1 for 29, and his 1st Start stat read 0 for 15. However, if you've been following the races out there (I haven't) or have Formulator (I did), you'd know or see that the trainer had been knocking on the door of late - four seconds and two thirds in his last eight starts. Whatsmore, his debut runners have been live lately - just the day before, Off The Wall ran second at 11-1. Add in the fact that sire Came Home is a 13% first-time stallion and some top-heavy action in the win pool, and I thought he was worth using (though unfortunately not in an ultimately profitable way for me). Moral is that, as helpful as the raw Form stats are, there's sometimes more there than meets the eye if you're able to delve further.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Shoe Delay

Rap Tale caused quite a big commotion when she had to be reshod prior to the Rare Treat yesterday. (That besides giving her owners quite the scare when we saw her heading back to the paddock just a couple of minutes before scheduled post.) The other jockeys had to dismount as well, by rule I'm told so as not to give any horse the advantage of having the weight off, and it took several minutes and quite the persistent and game effort by the horseshoe guy to nail one back onto a highly agitated filly. (Out to dinner afterwards at Don Peppe's with the Head Chef, Bob, his wife Sue, Bruce Brown and his wife Jenny, partner Artie and his wife Deb, and friend of the stable Steve [edited so as not to insult anyone by leaving them out by name!], I was heartily mocked when I referred to the guy as a 'farrier.' Seems that term is reserved now only for ex-Jets linebackers finding their Super Bowl glory elsewhere.)

Shoe restored, Rap Tale finished 5th. Ramon Dominguez and trainer Brown decided that they would take the conservative route and pull back so as to avoid favored Weathered, with the aim of an in-the-money finish. But she found herself too far back of a moderate pace, and pinned in against the rail. This filly is too one-paced, and neither fast nor agile enough to succeed under those circumstances. She tried hard to hang on to 4th, but failed by a nose thus settling for 5th place prize money of $2,121.

Not really sure what's next. The ultimate goal is Virginia-bred stakes at Colonial Downs later this year. In the meantime, finding a spot in New York without exposing her to a tag will be next to impossible. Philly Park has NW4x allowances, so that's a possibility. I'd heartily agree with the notion that she needs some rest....but y'know what, I think I'm happy to leave that decision up to a trainer who has won nearly a quarter of his races since going out on his own just over a year ago.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Looking for a Silver Lining

Paul Morose, writing on his At The Races blog, explains why he hasn't been to the Big A, which, he opines, has the atmosphere of a third-world bus terminal (a description I find to be mildly xenophobic), since Thanksgiving weekend.

I find very little at Aqueduct that prompts speculation in the pari-mutuel pools and expect nothing to change after post-scratch re-evaluation of this position. While admittedly more conservative than most horseplayers, a typical week of racing this winter has failed to yield more than a handful of plays and it is not unusual for a card, like [Thursday] – which does not include a single open allowance race but two for maiden claimers and a special weight for state-breds -- to be completely empty.
Well, I certainly can't say he's entirely wrong (at least as far as the quality of racing goes; as you know, I adore the Big A). It's a tough go here at times. There have indeed been some days on which a perusal of the pp's hasn't produced a single race that inspires me to delve further (though Thursday was not one of them). And personally, I just can't abide by these bottom level state-bred maiden, and now, open claimers which NYRA has depended on to fill up the fields and cards. This is actually the first year in a while that I've paid close attention rather than divert nearly all of my handicapping efforts to warmer climes....and there have been times when I have wavered.

However, as is generally the case with this writer, I think he's overdoing it with the gloom and doom. More often than not, I find that there's at least a couple of races on the card that I find interesting enough, particularly the claiming races which require one to read into the trainer's minds to determine intent in addition to analyzing the numbers in the Form. The various conditions attached to claiming races, and the starters allowances and handicaps have helped to keep things reasonably lively, as has the infusion of live horses from the Lake, Ramsey, and Asmussen stables.

Having said that, Gulfstream this is certainly not. But I'm glad I've stuck with it, and I think it will prove to be beneficial for me down the road. For one thing, the seasons change, the heat and humidity turns to the chill of autumn and eventually to ice and snow, the green leaves come and go. So why not experience the ebb and flow of the racing season as well? Sure, one can follow the horses down to Florida, up through Lexington to Belmont and Saratoga and then back south again, and maintain a high level of intensity 12 months a year. But personally, I need a break every now and then. And I believe that enduring the winter racing season will no doubt help me better appreciate the sport as it starts to improve come spring, instead of taking it for granted and grumbling when the racing may not live up to its billing. Because, like it or not, racing that we might consider to be "cheap" is now a 12 month stable around here; just wait until the third week of Saratoga. I'm thinking and hoping that following the NYRA circuit through the hard times will, in addition to giving me a feeling of accomplishment just for sticking with it, help me to be more knowledgeable of the tendencies of the local year-round barns, thus enabling me to take advantage when others are moaning and groaning over all the claiming events you're sure to see in August, and throughout the spring and fall.

- In the 7th at Aqueduct today, Night in Tunisia (7-2) takes a steep drop in class for Pletcher, running for a tag for the first time....and a cheap one (10K) at that. The Toddster is quietly having a decent meeting here, 9 for 37 (24%), and four winners from his last nine starters. This horse has a similar pattern to that of Sunday Elegance, who the barn similarly dropped drastically in class and turned back from a route to a sprint when she romped in a conditional 15K event on Dec 27 (and then moved up to win for 30K earlier this month). Like that one, Night in Tunisia has shown some good early foot; and in fact graduated at this distance at Belmont with a 64 Beyer that certainly makes him competitive here. Gotta love the fact that Dominguez climbs aboard too. All the Way Home is the value play here at his 12-1 morning line. Dropped to this level and cut back to six furlongs in his last, David Duggan's gelding had a deeply troubled trip; squeezed back after the start, buried on the rail, and steadied several times throughout. When finally clear, he finished well for third. Clear path from the 12 post here with Rosie back in the saddle. Honour Above Self (6-1) is clearly the class of this field, but the long absence and return for a cheap price makes him suspicious indeed.

The Rare Treat is down to six, and thanks for the well-wishes for Rap Tale. Good luck to all and have a great day.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Watching Nothing

Thanks as always to the Watchful Horseman, keeping his watchful horseman's eye on the nothing happening with the still-mythical racino at the Big A.

And here's the link to Jerry Bossert's item in the NY Daily News today. As noted by Mr./Ms. Anonymous and by Steve Zorn, Senator Eric Adams, the newly appointed Chairman of the Senate Racing, Wagering and Gaming Committee, has no experience in racing that we know of, and his statement does indeed sound straight out of the governor's PR machine. And one could say that the senator reveals his ignorance of the subject when he cites the "partnership between NYRA and Delaware North" that he's so excited about. In fact, there is no actual partnership between the two other than the percentage of revenues that Delaware North will be statutorily obligated to turn over to NYRA when and if the facility is up and running. The company was selected by the governor, and any negotiations which may or may not be currently going on are between Delaware North and the state. Makes one wonder if the Chairman, who, as mentioned, has recently been in the news on other matters, has even a basic understanding of the proposed arrangement.

- New all-time lows today for the stock of Magna Entertainment in the wake of the collapse of the complicated spin-off plan that would have spared the company from having to repay its massive debt to controlling shareholder MI Developments next month. I tried to decipher the plan in this post last year. Matt Hegarty of the Form sums up the mountain of red ink.

Magna's most recent balance sheet lists $265 million in accounts payable, $71.9 million in short-term debt, $379.3 million in long-term debt, and $112 million in "other liabilities." It has lost $500 million over the past five years, and efforts by the company to raise money by selling tracks and structuring partnerships in its marquee tracks have failed.

Magna officials did not return phone calls Thursday.
Maybe their phones were turned off. The National Post of Canada ran the headline Magna Entertainment's race may be run.
That plan disintegrated this week after MID said new debt financing for the deal was "unlikely" to be found, given "current global economic conditions [and] the continued disruptions in the financial markets."

As a result, US$274-million in outstanding loans that MEC owes MID will be called in next month, potentially triggering a feeding frenzy among MEC's other creditors.

If it is unable to repay that sum alongside an outstanding balance on a US$40-million credit facility to an unnamed Canadian chartered bank, "substantially all of its other current and long-term debt will also become due on demand," the company said.
MEC, the largest owner of horse racetracks in North America including Santa Anita in California, said negotiations with MID are continuing, which may include an extension on the repayment date of Mar. 20. [National Post]
Maybe Frank should put a call in to John Malone of Liberty Media, who, having rescued Sirius XM from a looming deadline for debt repayment, could also throw a lifeline to Frank and finally put HRTV on his DirectTV so we can FINALLY WATCH SOME DECENT RACING AROUND HERE instead of watching NOTHING on TVG!!!

Rare Rap Treat

Rap Tale is 5-1 morning line, 4th choice in the Rare Treat Handicap on Saturday at the Big A (third race). I've been willing to listen to those who have criticized Kasey K for placing her unrealistically, even as she's earned more than $130,000 for the stable (despite failing to Beyer over 78). In fact, I've expressed a preference myself for the softer spots which trainer Bruce Brown has deftly found. But not this time. We'd have to be idiots to not run her in this spot. She's out of conditions, blossoming, and ready to roll, as evidenced by a bullet five furlong work that has Brown raving.

Whatsmore, Ramon is back up, she drew the rail and, with Successful Sarah instead opting for a starter allowance race today, the possible lone speed. Weathered (9-5) is a legit 1-2 favorite in my view. But she seems to prefer to stalk (unless Luzzi decides to get even for being taken off Rap Tale). So I'm hoping that it well be a similar scenario to the Ladies Handicap, in which Rap Tale led into the stretch and was unfortunate to get nipped out of the show spot and the elusive black type. This is an eighth mile shorter, and, while a couple of the others besides Weathered may be a bit faster on paper, Rap Tale is certainly not outclassed by any of those, and we still believe that her best is yet to come.

- A longtime reader is begging me to mention Rail Trip, so here we go. Trainer Ron Ellis is being patient with this undefeated (3 for 3) four-year old son of Jump Start, entered in the second at Santa Anita today, allowing him to climb through allowance conditions before moving on to stakes. He's won each of his prior three starts in ridiculously easy fashion, with Beyers of 102, 101, and 99. Ellis is not exactly babying him in terms of starts however; he last raced three weeks ago, and made his debut on November 7. He's out of a Carson City mare, which probably contributes to his speed-oriented dosage index of 5.18....though the stretch out to two turns was no impediment last time out.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


I've not yet seen Thursday's much anticipated allowance race at Gulfstream. Thanks to Magna for pulling their races from Cal Racing, nice job there. And though I have Bob's login and password at both Equibase and Race Replays (and see that he has plenty of races left for the month at each....shame to have them go to waste), there seems to be some kind of mysterious ailment or conspiracy preventing today's races from being streamed at both sites.

However, a couple of comments nonetheless. As you likely know by now unless you've either been away on Mars or watching ESPN, Dunkirk stretched out and moved up to face winners successfully in his second start, in a race which described as an important 3-year-old allowance race.

You may recall that I cautioned against getting too excited about this $3.7 million Coolmore purchase after he won his debut, pointing out the dawdling fractions that he closed into. "I'm not at all interested in any futures lines on this one," I wrote dismissively. Hmmm.

However, there was no denying the style with which he swept wide past the field (as a reader pointed out at the time), and the effort grew on me in the ensuing weeks despite the lackluster 78 Beyer.

No, I'm not just saying that now. And the proof is that, earlier this week, I was the only participant in the testosterone-fueled Paulick Derby Index to include the horse in my top ten. That's right. And an impressive collection of contributors it is; I'm humbled and a little embarrassed to have been included. If you missed it, the Paulick Derby Index is a survey of 22 writers and bloggers, mostly men, manly men, doing manly things like making lists of (mostly) manly horses. Even Ray Paulick himself, who runs the survey in a manly and masculine way, failed to mention Dunkirk, and will no doubt subject himself to punishment, perhaps by donning nipple rings and reading every last word of every Haskin Derby column going back to 1993.

Dunkirk will probably be all over those lists next week. But you heard it hear first, at least after I initially dissed him. Next week I'll have to move him up, probably to #1.

Having said that, I still wouldn't get too excited. Yes, he overcame trouble on the turn (or so I've heard) and a wide trip throughout; and got the last three furlongs in a very fine 37.09 seconds according to Formulator; final eighth in 13.09. And it certainly got my attention that Garrett Gomez came in from the west coast for the ride. But the term "Kentucky Derby hopefuls" has a wide connotation these days, and this field, supposedly filled with them, was largely inexperienced and untested.

I also don't much care for the fact that Pletcher, as manly and virile as he may be, has indicated that Dunkirk's next start won't be until the Florida Derby on March 28. That's over five weeks away, and no doubt the horse would go directly to the big race from there - with just one race in more than ten weeks, kinda like ESPN's coverage leading up to the Breeders' Cup. I just don't go for that, Big Brown or not (he raced on March 5, two weeks later than this race, before using the Florida Derby three+ weeks hence as the springboard to Derby glory). We know that the Toddster prefers longer rest, but we also know he hasn't done well in the Derby, so maybe a change of pace is in order. Let the horse race, he seems manly enough. I don't understand, when it comes to the Kentucky Derby, why people stick with strategies which have failed them in the past.

The other observation about the race regards American Prayer Dance, the third place finisher in last fall's Remsen (who also races for Pletcher). He finished 6th, more than 15 lengths behind. This continues the pattern of horses who ran in the Remsen and are not named Old Fashioned performing in an extremely unmanly fashion as three-year olds. Second place finisher Atomic Rain, though a close second in his three-year old debut, finished 7th by 16 lengths at 5-2 in the Sam F. Davis. 4th place finisher Idol Maker was 10th by 22 lengths in the Holy Bull. And last place finisher Awesome Mich hasn't beaten a horse in his two races this year either.

Not saying this necessarily means anything, but it's certainly fair game to mention. After all, if it were the other way around and those horses were performing lights out this year, we'd sure be hearing plenty.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Notes - Feb 18

Hunch bets for Wednesday, Feb 18:

It's Show Time 1st at Beulah
Wegottagetalong 6th at Turf Paradise
Ain't A Saint 9th at Beulah
Imisswhat'sisname 7th at Beulah
True Deception 1st at Turf Paradise
- Good point here, comparing Smarty Jones' Southwest effort with that of Old Fashioned. And as a couple of readers pointed out, like Smarty, his slow final quarter in the race can be attributed to the quick early fractions that he chased. And that's all true. However, I'm not looking for excuses this time of year, but rather, for things that make a horse stand out above the rest; like for example, the gritty, wide rally by Pioneerof The Nile. If Old Fashioned chased that pace and came home in 25 flat with Ramon doing a jig on top, then I could start to get excited.

Don't get me wrong, this is an impressive colt who, as pointed out by readers, did exactly what he had to do in his first start back. The 93 Beyer that he earned is just fine. And his running style will naturally make him less subject to adversity than others. But I'm leaning towards the skeptic side for the time being. For one thing, this is the horse most people have liked since last winter, and it's just my nature to be oppositional (or, as the Head Chef might point out, obnoxious). Secondly, I'm an old dosage guy, set in my ways despite the system's obvious flaws, and his 5.22 number sows doubts that he'll get the distance come May.

OK, it's our last day in Florida, so gotta soak up some rays. See ya later.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Not So Fast

I thought that Oaklawn track announcer Terry Wallace got rather carried away when he exlaimed"On to the Triple Crown" at the end of the Southwest Stakes. Sure, Old Fashioned is obviously a fast horse. But he's yet to demonstrate any of the qualities that horses like Pioneerof The Nile and Friesan Fire did in overcoming trouble and traffic to win their recent races, so hold your horses there.

Larry Jones' colt sat the trip behind Silver City, a horse who'd never traveled beyond 6 1/2 furlongs, and came home in 26.37 seconds after splits of 22.65, 23.69, and 24.79. Having pointed that out however, it was of course his first race of the year, and he did come home in racehorse time in the Remsen last year. Still, I'd say that "On to the Rebel Stakes," the next scheduled start for the son of Unbridled's Song, would have been a more appropriate call.

- Still down in Florida for a couple more days, so a light vacation posting mode continues. I see that Kasey K claimed Meetmeatthechapel from Asmussen, for 20K out of the second at the Big A yesterday; will have to find out if winning a shake was required for that one, exposed after a couple tries in starters allowances. And Rap Tale is nominated for the Rare Treat to be run on Saturday.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Aqueduct Notes

In the first at Aqueduct on Monday, Mickeless (12-1) had no shot last time out in a Starters Allowance that was far tougher than this restricted claimer. Prior to that was an excellent closing second in open claimers to Summus, winner of three in a row. Daughter of Cherokee Run closed in quarters of 12 1/5 and 12 2/5 that race, and even came home fastest of all in the aforementioned race in which she finished 5th. Looks like there's sufficient speed to set up her late run for trainer Bob Dunham. If you're a devotee of Moss Pace Figures, then you could be thinking that Captivating Cathy (4-1) will get the jump on the speed and be home free dropping steeply in class. Shannon H (8-1 poe) cuts back to six furlongs and would also benefit from some early pace.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Notes - Feb 15

Another debut winner for Pletcher at Gulfstream, as Starfish Bay ($8.20) took the 7th on Saturday. That's the 7th such winner out of 16 starters on the Calder/GP circuit since he shipped down in late December; and his third straight, and fifth overall at Frank's Folly this meet. Now that my friends is the Toddster we all know and love!

Starfish Bay started from the 12 post in this mile grass race with Prado, who gunned her towards the lead with the short run to the turn on this absurdly configured racetrack. She was carried even wider going into the turn and, after, stalking Ailbe throughout, bore out a bit turning for home. Still, she held that one off, getting the bob in a hugely impressive debut. This is a three-year old daughter of Elusive Quality, out of stakes winning Touch Love. That daughter of Not For Love was a winner on dirt. But second dam Smartenof is a half-sister to Crystal Moment, who won the G3 Fort Marcy on grass.

An inauspicious four-year old debut for Tale of Ekati in the G2 Richter Scale. A bit of an awkward start, but no excuse for not at least making some progress in the stretch as the leaders tired to a 13.79 final eighth after a quick opening half. Despite that half in 44.74, pretty shocking to see How's Your Halo ($96.20) ease by Ikigai after he lost to him by 12 last time out.

I mentioned the other day that Ken Ramsey had not claimed any horses during his current stint at Aqueduct, so, of course, on Saturday he took Temporary Saint from David Jacobson for 50K. The race was another disappointing effort for Icabad Crane as the 2-1 favorite, and he's now winless in five starts since his third in the Preakness; put him on your confirmed money burner list. Two wins in a row for Understatement ($9.60), for Pletcher.

Five races in a row at the Big A featured a favorite under even money on Saturday, and only one of them won. One of those beaten favorites was first-time starter May Day Now, one of those so-called fastest horses in the world, sent off at 3-4 for trainer Mike Hushion. Olympic Pegasus ($11.60) was also making his debut, for Ramon Dominguez and Bruce Levine, the latter just five for 81 with first-timers over the last two years coming in. This is a son of the faded stallion Fusaichi Pegasus. Wow, remember all the hype around him when he first went to stud? He got $150,000 a pop in 2005, and is available for a mere $30,000 this year. He's a Derby winner as you know, but still I'm surprised he hasn't been exiled to Turkey or Korea, or at least to Pennsylvania at this point. I can't even begin to guess when his last U.S. graded stakes winner was (though his Sumo was second, at 33-1, in the G3 Sam F. Davis yesterday).

Olympic Pegasus is a NY-bred out of a mare by Olympio, and descends from the direct distaff family of multiple graded turf winner Voodoo Dancer, and the likewise Singletary; so let's keep an eye out for this one on the green later this year.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Aqueduct Saturday

In the 7th at the Big A today, once again we're confronted with horses dropping steeply in class. Figuring these out has been one of the keys to success at this meeting, which, despite the best efforts of NYRA, is becoming more and more difficult to stick with. I had to double check to make sure I was looking at the right card today, considering that it's Saturday, and there's no stakes race.

Here's David Jacobson, dropping Morine's Victory (7-2) in for 30K after claiming him for 75K from his last December, 2007. This barn has got to have more expensive busts than any other I know, and by a wide margin. Sure, he has some flashy figs on his lines (one of them in a match race on a sloppy track at Delaware), but what does that mean now? The tote board might give a clue - if he's dead on the board, I'd forget about him; if he's bet, I'd probably stand against anyhoo, so why discuss further? Callmetony (3-1) drops from 60K to 30K for Levine, who is 15 for 48 (31%) dropping horses 50% in claiming price over the last two years. However, the median payoff for these winners is $4.40; and scanning over them on Formulator, the Daily Racing Form's amazing tool which provides all of these stats for us, they seem to predominately be far cheaper horses than Callmetony. This is an 8 year old gelded son of Runaway Groom who was stakes placed just last June, and who hasn't run since Oct 1. Pass.

The Asmussen barn is still smokin', and checks in here with a drop down of its own in First Degree (9-2). This one however looks like an honest placement of a horse who could use some class relief after an allowance win two back pushed him up to a NW3x level that appears over his head. Good form off layoff lines, a couple of nice drills, Ramon aboard, what else can we say? The Vin Man (12-1) has moved up the claiming ladder and the Beyer scale for trainer Randi Persaud since beating cheapies three back. This barn is still struggling, but I like when he places his horses confidently. The Vin Man comes off a career best fig, and has shown some nice late foot that can help him get a share today. Hollywood Left (5-1) appears realistically spotted here, dropping just a notch in claiming price off a win at Philly; and more so since Scott Lake and Mike Repole overpaid for him in December.

- We're a long ways from the Big A today, back down again at my parents' house in Longboat Key, Florida for a long weekend.....with kids in tow. Wow, what a flight last night, not a single cloud the entire way down, and a clear view of the Meadowlands sometime around the 6th race or so. Maybe I saw you there?

Friday, February 13, 2009

Aqueduct Notes

The winds that caused NYRA to cancel on Thursday are still howling as I write this approaching midnight. Three reported deaths and a blazing inferno right near by us. Supposed to let up somewhat but not completely tomorrow, so we'll see.

Just in case, in the 7th, Casino Kay (5-2) drops in for a 30K tag for Ken Ramsey and trainer Michael Maker. Ramsey has plainly been strictly a seller, and not a buyer during his stable's stay this winter; I don't recall him claiming a single horse, am I wrong? And though they've had a few winners of late, this stable continues to burn chalkplayers' money at an alarming rate. Ramsey claimed this one for 50K from Levine at Saratoga when he was in buying mode. She's since run some decent races against better than this, but she doesn't have much speed, and figures to get overbet, so let's take a stand against.

Ace of Hearts (12-1), out of action since April, returns for trainer Carlos Martin. This barn has been in the money its last five off a 180+ day layoff, the last two of those wins. Martin is also 22% first off a trainer switch. This one won off by six for Jimmy Jerkens off a shorter layoff two races back. A couple of very nice drills, and I like the fact that she's placed confidently here. Deep Mystery (5-1) has a field-high five career wins, racing out of town, and is eligible for this otherwise N3L because she's a four year old. Nice speed and always gives an honest effort. But does he perhaps prefer shorter? Huge Party (7-2) faded badly to last in December when 7-2 against far better in her first race since March. Could be lone speed if in the mood.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Closing Summation

An anonymous reader writes:

I just have to argue with the connection of "rash of breakdowns" and Santa Anita. Yes, Santa Anita had a bad opening week. But where is the press now? Santa Anita had zero racing fatalities for the entire month of January. Zero. How may at Aqueduct?
That crisis did seem to pass with a whimper, didn't it? The reader certainly makes a fair point about the press, and I was guilty too.....although, I forgot, I'm a blogger, not the press.....and in fact, that was what he/she was responding to.

And I guess it was stupid of me in the same post to wonder out loud if the new steroids rule may have something to do with some rashes of breakdowns we saw around the new year. We all make mistakes. I don't really have any idea how much or how little steroids have effected the sport. The signals from horsemen have been mixed, in large part no doubt because users and non-users have good incentives to strike opposite positions, as reader Amateurhandicapper alluded to here.

The way I see it, rashes of breakdowns are probably due mostly to statistical circumstance, the odds evening out over the long run. Drugs or no drugs, dirt or artificial, horses get hurt and occasionally die from their injuries. I know I said I wasn't going to write about this stuff anymore, so this can be like a closing summation. Opening argument was here. We breed these horses strictly for our own pleasure - to watch, to bet on, to scream for, to jump up and down over, to make a livelihood on (or a fortune if you're good or lucky). To break and train to run really fast on their spindly legs, and to sell and train and race and train some more, and to race some more even if it seems plain that they really don't want to, to breed, to get pregnant and bear a foal on an annual basis. All for our own pleasure, addictions and greed. To me, the moral judgment begins and ends there. Of course they're going to break down on occasion, what the heck do you expect is going to happen?

If you're a fan, you're willing to accept this, and you're signed up and on board, so don't start crying that you're going to hug your daughter because of some stakes horse that enjoyed a far better life than most of the poor slobs who get put down on a track like, say, Remington Park, the #3 track in the HANA ratings. (The Head Chef and I were talking about making Saratoga plans for this summer, but you know what, it was unranked, so we're going to save our money and go to fucking Remington Park instead. Please, gimme a break.)

Anyway, I know you hate to hear this, but breakdowns are just part of the game. And the self-flagellation over Eight Belles has gotten this industry derailed from all the things it wasn't doing anyway. OK, I'm done.

- How long you think before we read the article about the Sheikh reigning in the spending, or culling down the herd?

Notes - Feb 12

At Gulfstream on Wednesday, Rick Dutrow found a taker, in Leo-Sag Stable and trainer Robert DiBona, for Diamond Isle despite the obvious questions raised by his precipitous drop to a 16K tag following a perfectly OK third for 40 just three weeks ago. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is looking for some buyers for another sort of toxic asset, and may want to get in touch. Diamond Isle finished 5th at 4-5.

At the Big A, Labadeel was an awful last at .65-to-1 in the feature for brother Anthony, and was taken by Contessa for 50K. Earlier, Scooter Rat was last by some 20 lengths as the 2-1 favorite - his only other fast track effort was a similar debacle - and was claimed by Maggi Moss and Asmussen for 25K. A day of buyers not being beware.

Back at GP, BZ Warrior was a debut winner for the Toddster (as selected here by DiscreetCat). Having returned a generous mutuel of $14.40 considering that he's a half-brother to EZ Warrior and JZ Warrior, he was overlooked by a lot of bettors and I betcha that John was amongst them.

- A game and gritty streak-busting win for the Rangers as they return to the shootout formula that served them so well earlier in the year. This team is hardly perfect and lacks a lot of things, particularly an effective power play. But those who accuse them of not having heart have not been paying attention.

Cut the Crap

Paul Post, reporting for the Saratogian and for the Thoroughbred Times, reports that Senate Minority Leader Dean Skelos and Governor Paterson "traded barbs" over the stalled racino at Aqueduct. As you may recall, Skelos originally objected to the selection of Delaware North back when he, still the Majority Leader, had a chance to actually do something about it. You may recall that Democrats accused him of costing the state $1 million a day, and even posted a calculator. Skelos instead quickly gave in, allowing ex-State Senator Serph Maltese to take credit for getting a better deal for the community in a failed attempt to boost his campaign hopes.

Governor Paterson said of the failure thus far to finalize an MOU:

“We knew and pointed out that the MOU process would be about six months.....We’re right on time.” [The Saratogian]
OK, I happen to like the governor, and I want him to succeed. I think that a good deal of the criticism over his Senate selection process was unfair, and that he's acted responsibly and reasonably to close the deficit while in an impossible position politically. But that statement is a load of crap that smells enough to make the Big A backstretch seem like the fragrance aisle at Macy's. The opening paragraph of the press release issued by the governor's office announcing the deal asserted that Delaware North "will look to break ground on the new facility in Queens by early 2009." There was never even a mention of an MOU at that point; and if it was going to take six months to agree on one, then breaking ground wouldn't occur until the spring at the earliest. So we are not "right on time" Mr. Governor.
“This is the first we’re hearing of his expectation that this was going to take six months to finalize,” [Skelos] spokesman Scott Reif said. [Thoroughbred Times]
To whom is it exactly that Paterson "pointed out" the expected delay? Charles O'Byrne? Sadly, there have been a number of occasions on which Paterson's truthfulness has been questioned. So his credibility in this matter is shaky. By claiming that the project is "right on time," his respect for our intelligence is non-existent.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Notes - Feb 11

State-bred claimers for winners at the Big A on Wednesday; a reader wrote in to suggest that this is an all-time first for NYRA. I can't recall having seen them before. The two races, both restricted to three-year olds, each drew large fields, so you can be sure to see more of the same. NYRA has pulled out all the stops to keep the racing competitive, including the full dose of low-price state-bred maiden claimers, some of the cheapest runners we've ever seen around here.

Interesting matchup in the 7th, as Lights Off Annie (Freud) (7-5) stretches out to two turns for the first time; a reason in itself to consider a stance against, never mind a big step up in class to open company. Only one of the five horses she crushed in her last who've run back finished in the money (3rd), and that one followed that up with a distant 8th. And then you have Asbeautifulasyou (5-2), a Coolmore-owned daughter of AP Indy who added blinkers and ran off to graduate by 20 lengths at Laurel. But she faces winners for the first time here, and she weakened her only try around two turns. Can't however settle on any alternatives, so I'll just register some cynicism about both and move on.

In the 4th at Gulfstream, Dutrow drops Diamond Isle (8-5) down to a 16K tag three weeks after he ran third by less than two lengths, for 40K. Oh man. I'd identify this as a suspicious drop to bet against had the horse not run for 20K three races back, winning off by three after having run for a 75K optional tag in his prior. Sometimes you just have to go on a hunch in these poker games, and my feeling is that I'm hesitant to oppose. But I also do like second choice Mount Wilton (4-1). Trainer Greg Di Prima moved this one up off a claim, and he was clearly second best at this level, track, and distance, coming home in consecutive 24 3/5 quarters.

In the 9th, Shug tries Treasure Trail (6-1), the AP Indy Pulpit baby sister to Zenyatta, on grass. I imagine that, given her obvious worth as a broodmare, this filly doesn't have many more chances to prove she wants to run before she's sent off to auction and a life of annual pregnancy and childbirth. Doesn't sound like as much fun as the stallions, does it?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Industry Versus ESPN

It's the Sharks and Bruins on Versus tonight; a battle of the top two teams in the NHL. (Note that the Rangers are not currently one of the top two teams in the NHL.) Wow, what a third period by the visitors, with a surprisingly large contingent of San Jose fans in attendance.

Racing has gotta get itself on a network, if not Versus itself, as only half-kiddingly suggested here in the past, on which it can be treated as a priority instead of an afterthought. In fact, does it even qualify as that on ESPN? I sometimes get the feeling that it's more of a nuisance. The deal with The Worldwide Leader in Sports has to be amongst The Worldwide Leaders in Clusterfucks as far as I'm concerned. ESPN hasn't come close to its promise of an all-out marketing effort utilizing their various properties. Rather than build on some perfunctory efforts the first year, in 2008 the network, incredibly, went into hibernation mode for six crucial weeks of BC preps, and buried the Filly program on a Friday afternoon. Disgraceful.

On a network on which racing could be given the attention it needs (and deserves!), if not owns!, it would take just a little foresight and creativity to come up with, for example, a weekly racing show, preferably of course in prime time, from Del Mar or Hollywood, the Meadowlands, Penn National - it really doesn't matter from where. Get people involved by devising free web-based contests utilizing the social networking sites of the moment, mic up the jocks and trainers, add a reality component by following the fortunes of a couple of each, and let people bet on their favorite humans too. Maybe I'm just a dreamer, but I don't see why they couldn't, with just a little ingenuity, make a racing show into a bit of an event, considering all the crap out there that qualifies as such.

Hell, why am I wasting my breath? I've been saying this since I started writing this thing, and I'm just spitting into the headwind. The toughest thing for me as far as maintaining my enthusiasm for carrying on with this blog at this stage is that nothing ever changes. How many times and in how many different ways can you say or write - get rid of drugs, crack down on cheaters, keep the stars on the track, take care of your best customers, market the game, get people involved. And where are we with respect to any of these things, whether a result of the lack of unified leadership or a matter of economics beyond anyone's control? It's tiresome, man. I don't really want to write about it anymore, and will stick mostly to the sport, handicapping, and (not always) related political happenings with my blogging time more limited now anyway. You can always read HANA and Finley for that stuff.

I had to bring up the TV/contest idea though, again, because it ain't brain surgery folks. I do believe that this game can have another go-round in the public eye, but certainly not with its current fractured structure. But, as I said, I don't wanna write about it anymore. So let's gamble.

On the train heading back to Manhattan after the Rangers' desultory 3-0 loss at the Devils' impressive new arena in Newark on Monday night, there was one fan of the slumping Blueshirts who maintained a wide smile and cheery attitude. "I'd rather root for the Rangers and lose then be a Devils fan anyday. It's the choices you make in life, not whether you win or lose."

OK, maybe that was a bit too profound for the Blueshirt express funeral procession to Penn Station. And I don't know if that entirely applies to handicapping either. Sure, I can take satisfaction from a bold wager that falls just short. But I don't remember ever feeling particularly bad about cashing any ticket (other the one on Foolish Pleasure in the match race), even if it was the "wrong" horse in an entry, or an unwise investment, borne out of desperation, on an over bet horse. I'll always take the win (and the Rangers could sure use one now).

- Jeannine Edwards was just dissed by Kentucky coach Billy Gillispie. He made her repeat her first question, saying that he didn't hear it, and then sort of accused her of putting words in his mouth when she told him that one of his priorities was to "take away Nick Calathes' vision." "You know more about than I do, obviously. Some of these things I haven't heard of." That drew an awkward laugh, and I was thinking that she missed Iavarone a lot right about then.

Terrific Trio

What I particularly liked about the wins by Friesan Fire, Pioneerof the Nile, and Stardom Bound is that each one ran in a field which was, at the least, decently sized, and in one case downright overflowing; each got a little dirt, or whatever, kicked in the face, each had to overcome a moment around the turn for home in which he, or she, didn't have a clear path home; and each one stormed to victory with class and authority. We sometimes see horses come into the spring with some solid preps, but in races that did not present any of the challenges that these horses dealt with on Saturday.

Pioneerof the Nile has the worst name amongst the three, but I thought he was the most impressive, as wide as he was when he straightened away for home with Garrett Gomez in the Robert Lewis at Santa Anita. The chart says five wide and I'd say that's a conservative estimate. As we're wont to see on synthetic tracks, Baffert's son of Empire Maker saved his fastest burst for the end of the race, the way races should be run. You may have seen Steve Crist's entry on his Cristblog, in which he wrote:

Evaluating these efforts is part of the brave new world of synthetic-track racing, where races are run more like turf than dirt events, final times may be less important than come-home times, and the usual blend of speed and stamina may be changing.
If that's indeed the case regarding come-home times, than Pioneerof the Nile won the day with closing splits of 23.46 and 5.52 for the last two and a half furlongs. If it matters, his Beyer was 94.

Friesan Fire, the high Beyer of the trio at 96, was also very impressive, bulling his way out of traffic and charging home in 24.56 and 6.53 to take the Risen Star at Fair Grounds. While those splits aren't nearly as quick as Pioneerof the Nile, it's always been the case on traditional tracks that any prospective Classic horses closing in anywhere below 25 seconds this time of year would earn my attention. So this is another way in which it's difficult to make comparisons between races run on the different surfaces. But regardless, this was a very nice race, and one which again makes Michael Iavarone look very smart.

Speaking of which, Stardom Bound may have run the slowest in Beyer terms with a figure of 84, but she also found herself in a box, and that after a fairly leisurely pace up front which may call the relevance of the Beyer into question. Still she swung out and did her thing as usual, completing her last-to-first journey in 24.20 seconds. I see now that Frankel is hedging about her next race.

Monday, February 09, 2009

A-Roid Roils Debate

Good thing that there was no non-disciplinary and anonymous survey testing of horses for steroids in 2003. Who knows how many positives could be surfacing now. If it was ever reported that any of these horses were on steroids, would it diminish their accomplishments? Albany Times-Union blogger Mark McGuire wrote in his 2nd and Short blog:

With so many of the era’s stars now at least linked to steroid use, it’s going to be difficult to contextualize these guys among the all-time greats.
He's talking of course about baseball, but don't you think it could apply to racing if old samples were found?

The news on Alex Rodriguez was all over the front pages on Sunday; I'm ever-amazed by the obsession over the whole subject of steroids in baseball by the press and law enforcement alike. I wonder if fans and the public-at-large would care that much if not prodded to do so. Our buddy William C. Rhoden had a thoughtful column on the matter the other day.

The publicity, and I don't think it's a stretch to describe it instead as hysteria, about A-Rod, or A-Roid, as he will now forever be known, is further illustration of why racing had no choice but to move to ban the drugs, even as there are presumably more pressing drug problems. Steroids have been reported to benefit a horse in its training, helping to maintain a good appetite and coat color, rather than to juice a horse for a particular race. They're also easily tested for. This all as opposed to blood doping agents which directly enhance an athlete's stamina and which need to be tested out-of-competition. However, given the current atmosphere, steroids had to be the priority, and had to go right away.

It seems funny that Lasix, which might just be the most enhancing-performance drug of all, is such an accepted part of American racing culture at this point that we don't even hear much discussion of it at all. It's been that way, really, ever since New York leveled the playing field by legalizing its use. Imagine how many horses we'd have trouble contextualizing if Lasix ever became half as stigmatized as steroids are.

I read a very interesting comment in Dave Litfin's column in the Form on Saturday, in which he discussed what he perceives to be the death of the inner track speed bias (which I always considered to be overrated).
So, what's going on? There have been significant changes this winter: a) a new track superintendent; b) the elimination of mud calks; and c) more stringent guidelines for the use of steroids. Any or all of those factors might contribute to explaining the seismic shift in how the inner track has played; but whatever the synergy, this has not been the inner track speed handicappers have known and loved for the last three decades. [DRF Plus (sub. only)]
While a) and b) are expected explanations, I was surprised to read Litfin speculate about steroids in this particular context; that's not something I've read in the past. However, I subsequently found this quote from trainer Christophe Clement in the Saratogian last month.
“Many trainers would give their horses steroids as a matter of course and then build them up going into a big race. In a country where the racing programme is dominated by speed these training methods have had a great effect on the results and the type of horses who were winning. From next year in most states, racing is going to be different.”
Of course, it has to be far too early in the game to reach any conclusions about the new rules as of yet. Another thing we've been seeing a lot of recently is horses breaking down - rashes of fatalities at Santa Anita, Fair Grounds, and Turfway, and a few at Aqueduct too - on tracks synthetic and real. If we can speculate about a change in the game as profound as Clement and Litfin do, is it unfair or unreasonable to suggest that the same change may be contributing to the injuries too? Just thought I'd ask.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

XOXO Jockeys

I recorded Jockeys for the Head Chef, figuring that I'd let her write a review for the blog. I was too busy watching the Rangers get humiliated 10-2 to bother...and besides, I have this thing against watching anything that smacks of reality TV. Well, OK, I admit, she has me just a little bit hooked on Top Chef (and I'm rooting for the abrasive Stefan).

However, there will be no review. She liked Jockeys too much, and says she's embarrassed at the idea of being too effusive. "I wouldn't be able to be snarky," she explained. Just goes to illustrate my point that she's never happy unless she criticizing something. "I'm addicted," she's already declared. "Just as good as Gossip Girl." (Yes, that's considered to be a good thing around here. I give her a pass on that only because she's a good friend of the cinematographer.) "Gripping," she adds, though I'm not sure if that pertained to the show itself, or to her description of Chantal Sutherland's hands as "mitts."

The Head Chef couldn't see at first what Ms. Sutherland saw in Mike Smith, who's not as cute, she says, as Aaron Gryder, who she admitted to always having had a "little" crush on. Which got me thinking, how is it that she even knew who Aaron Gryder was? Is there a little history there? Hmmm. But Smith grew on her over the two episodes, she thinks he's a nice guy, so there you go.

The show raised her concerns about the jockeys' safety, which, of course, is obviously part of the marketing angle, a little violence along with the unseen sex. Win or Die Trying is the subtitle of the show, and the Head Chef reported explicit scenes of tumbling thoroughbreds. She was also taken aback at what she deemed to be the mere pittance of mount fees paid to the riders of unplaced horses, and wondered how the less successful riders eek out a living. "The next time I'm at the track, I want to go and give them all a big hug," she said. Hopefully, that won't be caught on film for the next season. XOXO.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

No Surprises Here

The revelations about the reasons for the latest delays in the Aqueduct racino are no revelations on this site. We knew it all along. And when I say 'we,' I mean to include everyone, all of the sharp readers who have been commenting throughout on the subject on this site. So nice going you guys, you had it all along.

Our chief suspects are high on the list of reasons articulated to Tom Precious by Delaware North president William Bissett; chief amongst them, the ability of the company to come up with the $370 million upfront fee which no doubt won them the deal in the first place.

Bissett confirmed the lending freeze in the financial markets has caused the company to “restructure’’ its financing package, including seeking new lenders. [Bloodhorse]
In addition, as we speculated, Delaware North is holding out for "market protection" with respect to the inevitable Belmont racino in the form of higher retention rates. And the company cited a lack of finalization of the $250 million bond issue to build the place (a contention that the state disputes).

If the two defeated bidders are still hanging around and paying attention, they must be either furious or delirious with laughter. Who knows if, given the current environment, they'd even be interested in re-entering the picture....or able to if they were? But surely, any indication that the state is renegotiating the terms of a deal which were ostensibly determined by virtue of a fair, competitive bidding process would raise their ire and have them exploring legal options if they were so inclined.

As this reader points out, there was supposedly an extensive review of each of the three bidders' financing prior to the announcement in October, prompted in large part by the financial crisis already well under way at the time. "I find it hard to believe that all of these analysts fumbled on the DelNorth financing commitment?" But maybe it was simply the case that the lure of the upfront jackpot made the various people involved see what they wanted to see, and to conveniently overlook what seemed plainly obvious to those of us who had no access whatsoever to any information, as shielded from the public as the entire process was.

When NYRA emerged from bankruptcy last September, Chairman C. Steven Duncker told the press conference call that, given the $30 million NYRA received for operations, he did not see a drop dead point on the VLT's at this point - and that they can go out 24 months. But it's been five months since then, and a Del North representative recently told the local Queens Community Board that they would need 14 months once documents are signed with the state and architectural work is completed. We've seen far longer periods than the five months that the above math indicates is remaining in that window fly by like a dream. So it's hardly unreasonable to wonder if we will once again reach the point when NYRA is on the brink, and coming back to the state and the taxpayers for help.

Picking Losers

John Hertler doesn't get to the winner's circle too often - an 8% win percentage over the last two years - but he's certainly a capable trainer, and one who makes a significant impact on the tote board when he does. Hertler had two winners at the Big A on Friday - See More Spirit ($19), in the third, and Goodbyeandgoodluck ($29.20) in the 7th. Each of the barn's past 14 winners on this circuit have paid at least 5-1, and three have scored at double digit odds. I actually thought that the longer priced of the two looked like a more likely winner, as he had at least shown some speed, and was in the money this class two out of his last three.

See Some Spirit had some nice back form, but looked outclassed in open company. However here he prevailed despite being solidly four wide for the entire final turn.

Back in second and 4th was the Ken Ramsey-owned entry of Targe and Almighty Silver, beaten favorites at 4-5. Mentioned yesterday that the stable was starting to get some wins, but it's still buyer beware for this owner and his main trainer Michael Maker (he also runs some horses for Charlton Baker). They've now had five horses go off at even money or less - and I'm being generous in counting this entry as only one - and four of them have lost.

Seems like I've been writing lately as much or more about losers as I have about winners. But to me, knowing how to pick losers is what beating this game is all about. You hear a lot of different opinions on what "the key" is in, for example baseball. It's starting pitching, or it's the bullpen, or it's not leaving runners on, or getting them to scoring position. Similarly, we all have our different takes on what "the key" is in handicapping. I think it's identifying the horses who are bet down to odds way lower than their realistic chance to win. My goal is to limit my wagering to races in which I can throw the favorite out, and choose amongst the others, whose odds are therefore skewed in my view. If the odds in a race are roughly in line with what they should be in my opinion, I pass. Well, not always, because I'm not sufficiently disciplined. But that's my goal.

I've certainly written before and in more detail about this, but it always bears repeating, I think. When I'm handicapping on the fly and/or trying to pick out races to bet from vast simulcast options, it just takes a look at the favorite. In only a few seconds, you can pick out a false favorite. You know the usual suspects - a horse doing something it's never been asked to do, as Harvey Pack always says, being chief amongst them. Others are habitual short-priced losers, suspicious drops, or horses from ice cold barns. Just takes a quick glance, and it's almost guaranteed that you'll find at least a couple any day that you're at the track or perusing the menu at home. If I'm limiting myself to these opportunities and tossing bad favorites, then I'm betting horses with value all day long.

Even if I'm wrong, I still know that I did the right thing. Bad favorites can still win, but they're still bad value, and, in the long run, concentrating on defeating them is the only way to maintain a consistent edge and hold one's own in this nutty game, at least in my view. And the cool things are that it doesn't take much work to pick them out....and that you never know when or where you'll find them. There are always surprises out there once the tote board opens, so it pays to not give up on a race just because the advance handicapping doesn't bear fruit.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Notes - Feb 6

I'm oppressively swamped with day work these days; it's the first time I really and truly feel as if I'm working full time and writing a blog. Thus, the decline in the pace (and perhaps the quality) of posting, and this could keep up for awhile. Not that I'm complaining about having work, mind you. Maybe I'll just post some music videos for awhile, like the old test patterns on TV (you older folks like me may remember that).

But as long as I have a little time, I'll ramble for a bit.

Jerry Bossert of the NY Daily News, is the first writer other than yours truly.....oh yeah, right, I'm not a writer, I'm a blogger......I've seen to wonder aloud just what the hell is going on with the Big A!?!?

Gov. Paterson announced on Oct. 23 that his administration selected Delaware North to operate the Video Lottery Terminals (slots) at Aqueduct.."

Yet, more than three months later, construction has yet to begin, and the New York budget gap continues to balloon.

What's holding this up?.....Attempts to reach the Governor's office for an recent update have been unsuccessful.
Well, Jerry, if the Pat Man gets back to you, please let us know. Chances are it's one or more items on this list.

[UPDATE - Tom Precious, reporting in the Buffalo News, beats Bossert to the punch (h/t to reader Watchful Horseman).
But Delaware North officials said Thursday that there are several issues still to be resolved with the state and that because of the nation’s financial crisis, the company has to “restructure” its $370 million financing deal for the project. [ed note - big surprise there.]
Delaware North officials said they are not prepared to sign a memorandum of understanding with the Paterson administration — a measure required before the $370 million can flow to Albany and ground can be broken on the project — until several issues are resolved.

“There’s 2z [sic] pages of outstanding items that need to be checked off,” Bissett said. “We’re working as fast as we can with the governor’s office and the agencies involved to get there.”]

Knew it was a slow day when the top headline on the Form's site on Thursday read Lieutenant Ron makes '09 bow. This horse didn't exactly end his 2008 campaign in the kind of blaze of glory that would have one contemplating his return. He finished 5th by ten lengths in the G3 Discovery, in which he was made the 6-5 favorite despite never having run around two turns. It has and will always amaze me how bettors will invest their money with so little to gain and so much in doubt....especially given all of the opportunities one has in today's global village of racing. But then again, without those bettors, we wouldn't have horses like that to bet against. So please just keep doing what you're doing, never mind.

I'm blabbering now I know. So now, Lieutenant Ron was cutting back to a sprint in the 8th at Gulfstream on Thursday. The chart notes that he broke through the gate, then was fractious while being reloaded. Maybe a few bettors ran back to cancel their bets at that point, figuring he wasn't worth 4-5. And he wasn't, checking in 7th by 11 lengths. Lieutenant Ron has now lost three out of four, at odds of 6-5, 4-5, and 7-10; a lot of West Point money down the drain there.

I can't believe they raced at Aqueduct Thursday - it was frigid cold. Scott Lake claimed Diva's Gold ($3.10) from Ken Ramsey for 50k in the first. This horse graduated for 30k just two races back, and had run second in a starters allowance last out, a race he'll still be eligible for after winning for a tag here. Winning trainer Michael Maker is getting going now after a slow start, with four winners from his last nine starters, but there's no value to be had. His Tis Cactus Nellie ran 4th as the 2-1 second choice in the 8th, a race won by Starship Cruiser ($6.30), for Rick Dutrow.

Say what you will about the little scamp, but he can sure train a racehorse. On Sunday, Kip Deville was coming off his wasted trip to Japan in December, and was in a bit of a slump with three losses in a row. He was conceding two to twelve pounds in the G1 GP Turf Handicap at a distance a solid furlong beyond his favorite mile distance. But Dutrow had the former BC Mile champ spot on. A series of weekly five and six furlong breezes, and he was razor sharp. The race was more exciting than it looked on the chart; Kip Deville was under pressure most of the way, the exception being the third quarter, when Cornelio Velazquez gave him a breather of 23.77 seconds. From there, Kip Deville stormed home in 34.49, and put Court Vision - a legitimate favorite at the distance in my view - in his place when that one loomed midstretch. A masterful job by trainer, jockey, and the little horsey alike.

OK, back to work, so time for the music video.