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Friday, July 31, 2009

It's The Weather, Stupid

There's this guy who loudly hawks what I thought was a tip sheet in the grandstand at Del Mar; for just 50 cents - "it's the cheapest thing you'll buy all day" - and that's for damn sure - "I got selections for all the races, just had the first two races, and how easy can it get?" Been listening to this spiel since we got here, so I figured I'd check it out. I figured for fifty cents, I couldn't be disappointed....but I was. What he's really selling is the local North County Times newspaper with the paper turned to the racing page with the selection box and the graded entries. There's some creative marketing that the newspaper industry needs these days. Maybe a guy from the NY Times could stand in Times Square promising all the inside dope on what to do in NYC for just two bucks (the cheapest thing you'll buy there all day) with the paper turned to the movie listings.

But I'm gonna get revenge by quoting from a story in the paper without a link (it's not online anyway). There was yet another fatality (different article) at Del Mar on Thursday morning, and that makes seven, six on Poly, four of those in the morning. However, Doug O'Neill, who has lost a horse here, was quoted in Thursday's article in the NC Times as saying that the track is "in great shape."

"The one thing I have learned from this experience is that I might get my horses down here earlier and get them used to the track. It's just a different surface than Hollywood Park. The horses dig into this track more. It's more demanding but it's safe."
This is all a learning experience for the industry to be sure, and perhaps we're learning that it wasn't such a great idea to have such different surfaces in play. According to Del Mar's VP Tom Robbins, the trainers are not complaining about the surface. "The trainers would be hanging on my door, but they haven't asked for a meeting."

Track president Joe Harper said:
"It ain't the track's fault....There's not much we can control in the mornings. We can control it a little bit in the afternoons, but there are a lot of sore horses." [NC Times]
That's the type of statement that could get the trainers to ask for that meeting after all. He's either blaming them for working out sore horses, or, perhaps, providing a commentary on the general state of the horse population in the third year of the synthetic mandate.

- I was going to pick Kiawah Cat in the Lake George at Saratoga today, but I see that it's all rainy and sloppy there. At this writing, it's the only grass race which hasn't been taken off, but that can change given a look at the weather map. We can debate the relative merits of Saratoga and Del Mar from here to next Derby day....but one might say "It's the weather, stupid." How many different ways can one say that it's just perfect out here every single day.....and I don't know if it's been at all so by local standards as there's been a fair amount of clouds around. It's damn near paradise as far as I'm concerned. And we still have today and tomorrow to go.

Your favorite lefty blogger has now had four winning days in four tries here on the left coast. On Thursday, a brief appearance in deference to the Head Chef's birthday, I managed to bail out on my last bet, cashing a saver exacta on the 7th which turned out to be pretty lucrative. I had Big Bad Leroybrown keyed on top, but the exacta returned a generous $61.80 when he fell short to class-dropping Paul's Hope ($8); and I had that enough times to get me easily in the positive column for the day.

- For those of you back in New York, some good music both upstate and down. On Saturday night, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs are at Northern Lights in Clifton Park, about halfway between Albany and Saratoga on the Northway as you probably know. The band will be fresh off an appearance at the All Points West festival this evening along with Vampire Weekend, Jay Z, The National, and Q-Tip, who I saw for free at Central Park a couple of weekends ago. And Polvo performs at the South Street Seaport in NYC tonight. Guess I need to add the weather permitting to that one.

Here, the Wailers will play after the card at Del Mar, which starts at 3 PM. They're all prepared with all the No Smoking signs, as they prohibit the lighting up of anything in an attempt to ban all the pot smoking that went on last year. I have to ask why, if there is a perceived problem with people smoking pot, they would possibly schedule no less than four reggae concerts for their Friday night series!? That's like announcing that you want to ban gambling, and then scheduling a horse racing meet.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Del Mar Notes

Novato ($41.80) got his nose down on the wire to take an exciting blanket four horse photo in the 7th on Wednesday; a big win for me. I'm having a decent run of luck, maybe I should spend the rest of the summer here? Nothing fancy in this case - just a plain old overlay on a horse with steadily improving figs, the last one of which put her right in the mix on least to me. This four-year old daughter of Bartok is out of a Crafty Prospector half-sister to the Grade 1 winner Degenerate Gal.

Novato was part of a series of longshots throughout the Pick Six sequence; but one bettor managed to hit five and collect over $44,000 - nice consolation there!

Wolf Tail ($37.40) got up late to take the state-bred Graduation Stakes for trainer Doug O'Neill. This is a juvenile son of Strive, a son of Deputy Minister who won four of 24 career races, and who must no longer be with us on this planet or in this country since he's not listed on the stallion directory sites.

Seemed like a nice midweek crowd, as the track gave free grandstand admission (normally six bucks) to anyone who filled out a form with their address and email address. In return, I got a Del Mar Diamond Club card which I'm told is good for life, so hopefully I'll get a lot of use out of it. And hopefully, Del Mar will get a lot of use out of the marketing information they gathered from a mostly young crowd. Seems an effective strategy, and it ain't rocket science.

But on the grim side is the news that six horses have already been fatally injured at the track, five of those on the Polytrack. That's not good, and if this surface is not safe, then it renders the whole debate moot. Del Mar officials are trying to rationalize this cluster as a natural occurrence related to the change of racing surface....but that seems like grasping at straws.

"I hate to be anthropomorphic, but think about if you were jogging on the side of the road and then you started jogging on the sand or the beach," Arthur said. "Apparently, you are putting different stresses on different structures when you change surfaces."
This story was the main headline in my daily Bloodhorse email today, and expect to see more about it in the racing press and blogosphere which wants the synthetic experiment to fail. I don't recall reading any headlines whatsoever about, for example, last year's Presque Isle meet which produced only four fatalities from some 5,677 starters.

- Jess Jackson said "maybe, maybe not" when asked if he would have raced Rachel Alexandra in the Haskell had they not, at his behest, raised the purse from $1 million to $1.25 million. And you wonder why I'd like to see his filly get her butt kicked? Maybe he'll change his mind about the Breeders Cup if they raise the purse of the Ladies Classic to $2.25 million?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Are Full Fields Full Of It?

Racing resumes here in Southern California on Wednesday after a two-day break; and Hank Wesch reported in the San Diego Union Tribune that it's the first time since 1946 that a Monday has been dark. Hollywood Park couldn't even sustain five days a week; so far at least, the field sizes here have been pretty good. While having breakfast out on Monday morning, I overheard a trainer noting that the extra day off certainly doesn't help him pay the bills; he can probably sympathize with the California state employees being furloughed three days a month as part of the budget finally signed off on by Governor Arnold on Tuesday.

From a vacationing horseplayer's standpoint, the two days are a welcome chance to explore the beautiful surroundings, thus helping to recharge oneself for a full five days of racing ahead. No shortage of things to do around here, even if only to hang at the ocean right here in Solana Beach. The water temperature here is absolutely perfect; bracing for just an instant beore giving way to delightful We also did some hiking and swimming at Torrey Pines State Park, checked out the scene at La Jolla Cove, and visited the Old Town and Gaslamp Quarter sections in San Diego.

Two days off would be no problem in Saratoga either. Maybe the subject for another post back east; there is plenty to do as well, especially if you're willing to devote at least a couple hours of scenic driving in order to reach some very worthwhile destinations.

However, maybe you don't have the time for any extracurricular activities because you're too busy handicapping 134 potential starters for ten races. NYRA did some self-back patting when the card was released back what seems like weeks ago, and it's well-deserved. Field size is reflective of the vitality and attractivness of a racing program, and tracks will trumpet their successes in that regard. It also means increased handle, especially I'd imagine in the multi-race sequences for which there are no free squares.

Accordingly, I've read a lot of people singing the praises of the oversized fields...but who besides NYRA, jockeys and their agents really actually like it? Trainers and owners know they have a better shot at purse money with short fields. Durkin has to hate it. The starting gate crew should sleep well Wednesday night. And how about public handicappers, especially those people who write the Closer Look blurbs in the Form!? They have to write up all 16 in the grass races with the main track only....hope they get paid by the horse.

Us horseplayers say we love full fields. But do you really like them this large race after race? Don't you multi-race wager guys especially need a break from time to time....One race, at minimum, which you can confidently single or double up at most? To be perfectly honest, eight to ten is full enough for me; start getting to 12 and 14 and my head starts to spin. People say you get better prices, but does any premium on a horse you like properly compensate for the increased dose of random element injected with each additional entry?

Monday, July 27, 2009

A Skimming Special

When we were here a couple of summers go, I posted this picture which showed the spectacular view we had from the bedroom. This year....well, suffice to say that we were not quite as fortunate in that regard. Oh well....but still, it's just a short walk over to the bluffs and the hypnotic sight of the Pacific Ocean and the relentless surfers down below.

We do have a lot more room this year though in a spacious unit which features an odd variety of art and photos on the wall. One of them is of a horse.

Skimming (Nureyev) .....not exactly a household name, though most appropriate for this area considering that he won the Grade 1 Pacific Classic two years in a row (as well as the San Diego Handicap) (as I was reminded when I looked it up). He started his stud career in California in 2003, and he seems to have had a modest career, with ten stakes horses as of last November before being shipped off to British Columbia where he stood this year for $4,000 Canadian. It's not too surprising then that Skimming is not a name which I've at all noticed from my handicapping and perusal of pedigrees.

So, I found it to be a curious coincidence when, while handicapping before Sunday's Cal-Bred California Dreamin' Stakes, I noticed that Dewey's Special, one of my top contenders coming off two solid wins following a long layoff for Ron Ellis, was sired by none other than the stallion featured in our condo. Better yet, when I mentioned this to the Head Chef (joining me, along with the two teens in a surprise appearance), she pointed out that Dewey's Special was the #7 horse, and that we are staying in unit #7.

OK, well, that's just weird. I'm not at all a hunch-bet guy; in fact, I probably never would have noticed without the Head Chef's help. She's good with stuff like that. But sometimes you just have to go with the flow, I mean, c'mon. Unfortunately, there seemed to be a lot of people there that were staying in a room #7 with a picture of Skimming on the wall, because Dewey's Special, 8-1 in the morning line, was the second choice at 3-1 behind Bold Chieftain, one of several favorites that seemed like total throwouts to me during the two days of racing I saw here over the weekend. When you're right and those horses are running out consistently, that's like the batter who's seeing grapefruits at the plate. Doesn't mean you're gonna win, but it does mean that you're taking some good rips and getting an inherent overlay on nearly any other horse in the field.

Times like these when I wish I was the type that could just throw $1000 bucks on a horse like this and have a great story to tell along with having paid for most of the trip. Of course, most of the time, it's a good thing that I'm not that kind of bettor. So, I had to depend on exotics to make some real money, and I got extremely lucky when 12-1 Nitro Active won the random back and forth head bob from longest-shot-in-the-field Bert's Law to complete an exacta worth $83.60. You gotta win some of those some of the time, right?

My daughter picked out Millennia ($46) in the paddock, so I guess she'll be back, right? She and the Head Chef's daughter do enjoy the action, and are possible for future degeneracy, though hopefully not too much. Misinjennuous, the fastest horse in the world at 4-5, ran big to be second. If I had read Brad Free's analysis before the race, I would have known that she was "touted as something special..." and all, for just $90.000 this past March. She's a daughter of Tapit, out of a Mt. Livermore mare, and a half-sister to the morbidly-named Fatal Bullet; and given that that fact was right there in black and white in the Closer Look column in the Form, I'm certainly surprised that she went off at that price.

This is the paddock at Del Mar. To me, it's the center of activity at this racetrack. Crowds gather early on both the grandstand and clubhouse sides; others gaze down from terrace restaurant/bars on either side, and more still from other vantage points from high above. The tiered viewing area surrounding the walking ring and its modest size help to make it probably the most intimate paddock I've ever seen.

I saw that Charlie Hayward mentioned the concept of a tiered viewing area at Saratoga, and one reader reacted with revulsion - Upstate Belmont. UGH !.

Seems to me that it would be quite an undertaking; at least assuming that they just would not just line the paddock with tiered stands - that would be just plain ugly given the large circumference you're dealing with here. If they did construct a concrete hill from which the viewing area can scale down like the one at Belmont, it would eliminate a lot of picnic space and change the entire character of the backyard and douse any remnants of memories of the days when the horses were saddled under trees amongst the backyard crowd.

Besides, the paddock is not the center of the Saratoga universe in my view. Most people don't go there, and, other than a few select races, there's plenty of room for those who make the effort....not to mention that you can get an unusually intimate and unique look at all of the horses on the path as they make their way over to be saddled. So, I'm going to stick with tradition on this one and vote no.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Sunday Morning Notes (Left Coast Version)

This is a cool place to watch the races at Del Mar - they let you stand right in the pathway which leads from the paddock to the track....can even dip your toe into the Polytrack if you'd like. Can't actually see most of the race live from there; but it's right on the finish line, and besides, there's that giant screen, and I mean giant in this case, wow. Also, just to the left on the infield tote are side by side Trakus representations; one, the standard chiclet format, and the other an animated recreation of the race itself.

I know that racing entities such as NYRA have cited the cost of Trakus as the main reason that they don't have it....but I have to think that it would create some value for them. You often see newbies at the track watching in the stands or on the apron, and they're like "where is he?" "Is that him?" "Go 7, go 7" (when the 7 is 15 lengths behind). They probably just shrug afterwards and go 'oh, that was nice.' I would think that they'd have a much fuller experience being able to see exactly how the race unfolds, and perhaps they'd be encouraged to play some more or come back? In any case, it's just unfortunate as well as surprising that Trakus has still yet to spread beyond the three tracks which rolled it out in the first place.

TVG is here of course....but, really, wouldn't you think they could have spent a little more money and gotten themselves a decent banner for their 10th anniversary? Peb was actually there on Saturday for a ceremony celebrating the unveiling of his new mural. They could have gotten him to do something like having Todd Schrupp and Ken Rudulph popping out of an anniversary cake or something.

The ceremony featured some of the trainers and jockeys, both current and retired, that are featured in the mural...and I look at these old riders that are still around and just have to marvel that they rode in all of those races and managed to stay in one piece. They probably deserve a spot in the Hall of Fame just for that.

I was quite surprised to see ESPN out in full force for the Eddie Read....guess the network had absolutely nothing else to do. Global Hunter ($30.20) showed that it's not just on the Poly that you get surprising results (though a post-race view at the past performances shows that he wasn't all that incongruous, as is often the case with the benefit of hindsight)....and also, for me, showed how you can be so right about so many things in this game and still come away with nothing to show for it. I was all in against favored Monterrey Jazz, and had runner-up Awesome Gem squarely on top, and in triples with the third and 4th finishers. Could have been a trip-making score right there on the first day....but, no. And, in the 9th, I had the winner Position A ($10) in the correct position A, but got split in the exotics by Bestdressed, from the red-hot John Sadler barn; two more winners on the day for him and 5-2-3 in 14 starts at the young meet thus far.

However, I did score a straight win bet on Victor's Cry ($16.40) in the 5th, so I ain't complaining.

First-time juvenile Tiny Woods ($5.20) was the proverbial fastest horse in the world; the 5-1 third choice in the morning line, he was sent to the post at 8-5 for Baffert. And this son of the trainer's Roman Ruler, out of an Aggressive Chief half to Toccet, showed both speed and grit, blazing out to the lead in an opening quarter of 21.91, and hanging on grimly while tiring down the lane. Just like a dirt race. That's the 8th winner for the rookie sire, currently number 2 on the first-year sire earnings list.

And now it's off to the beach, so see ya later, have a fantastic day.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

What's The Problem?

Brad Free wrote a voluminous preview piece - even longer than this post - [UPDATE: maybe] - on the Del Mar meet which started on Wednesday (subscription only). Opening day featured the usual perfect weather and a record crowd, though a lower handle than last year despite an extra race. And there was that unfortunate ugly breakdown and the resulting injury to jockey Rafael Bejarano. The ups and downs of the game.

I've printed out a copy of Free's article and it will certainly accompany me to Del Mar when I arrive there on Saturday. It's more of a family vacation (two teenagers and a Head Chef) to a condo in Solana Beach right on the bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean rather than a track trip per se. But I imagine that I just might make it over there a few times. I'm happy that the budget crisis in the state has, as far as I know, not doomed the free shuttle bus to the track from the nearby train station.

Unfortunately, Free's piece is from the Form's subscription section, so I don't feel at liberty to reprint large parts of it here. However, if you plan on wagering generously during the meet, it might be worth the price of the subscription just to check it out, filled with interesting and eclectic statistics and angles as it is....though the author himself concedes that, given the changes in the Polytrack from Year One to Year Two, we don't quite know what Year Three will bring. Free writes that the watering of the track will be somewhere between the first year, when there was none and the track was slow, and last year when the track sped up drastically. He gets into a detailed discussion of what to watch for in terms of track maintenance ("It's a lot to keep track of, even before analyzing horses"), and delves into specific distances and classes, dispensing some advice which certainly seems worth following (such as, watch out for the class droppers in those ubiquitous 25K maiden claiming sprints!).

One item from the article which I will reprint here has to do with those two dark days I mentioned, as the track has cut back from the traditional six to five days (Wed thru Sun) this year.

"I'm hoping it allows us to offer a better product," [Racing Secretary Tom] Robbins said. "With that day off, it allows better spacing between certain races, which we haven't had the luxury of doing. Instead of an allowance race being used on a Monday and bringing it back in 14 days, we can bring it back in 17 or 18 days. It allows more comfortable spacing."
I know this would be a non-starter in Saratoga, but as I've been saying, the meet is a week too long, at least in my estimation. Robbins' argument resonates strongly for Saratoga in light of the drastic dropoff in quality around the middle of the meet.

And the other thing about Del Mar that will never happen at Saratoga is....

Well, I dare not say it, though I'll be thinking it when I hopefully make it up there later in the meet and it's (hopefully not) sloppy and off-the-turf and I'm getting all the scratches from Durkin. " review, that's 1A, 2B, 4,5,6,8,10,11,12, and 15 (don't you just hate it when the main-track only horse scratches??? there oughta be a law!)

Now some people are going 'oh, now this idiot is suggesting a synthetic track at Sacred Saratoga?' Well, no, I do have certain standards of tradition myself. But, just say that some day soon, someone develops a synthetic surface on which horses perfectly replicate their dirt form, there's no sloppy tracks, no track bias, and, if not a significant reduction of injuries (hard to accomplish that after last year), there's at the very least no more than before. Would you still then be opposed to it at Saratoga merely due to tradition - to its being something, anything other than natural dirt?

That's where many of you and I will have to agree to disagree - personally, I could care less what they're running on. What difference does it make; why does it have to be dirt if it (kinda) looks and acts (in some cases and to a certain extent) like dirt, and supports viable and competitive horse racing meets, as synthetic tracks have, increasingly over time, been proving themselves capable of doing. When Nick Zito says stuff like "God made dirt and God made grass," that's just blabbering bullshit to me.

And while I really don't want to write about Jess Jackson, I think that his visceral dismissal of the surface as "plastic" (this from a man who last year said: “I think it's bad for racing to have trash talk,” when baited by Dutrow over Big Brown) brought the debate to a new low. He coined a cute and concise new buzzword which has been regularly repeated without regard to its meaning. Of which it really has absolutely none as far I'm concerned. If he had said "well, I won't run her because statistics show an increase in injuries;" or "well, she ran poorly when she ran on it before," that would be one thing. But if it's just because you can't grow anything out of it, then I find that argument to be a vacant one. Please, feel free to tell us why you don't like synthetic tracks, but I'd like to hear some real, substantive arguments.

Don't get me wrong, it's not like I have no misgivings whatsoever about the surfaces myself. Steven Crist wrote a few weeks ago in favor of a "more thoughtful debate about the place of synthetic tracks at the highest level of racing," and I have to agree. It's a big disappointment to me that the surfaces play so differently in many cases, and it definitely makes determining the true champions close to impossible.

That's unfortunate, and that is at least one compelling anti-synthetic argument in my mind. Having said that however, it's been my position that if this sport ever regains its past popularity as a spectator sport, it will be because of the gambling rather than a successful effort to market stars who race infrequently and disappear before the public really gets to know them. It's the everyday bread-and-butter races which are the heart of the sport, for horseplayers and, hopefully, horseplayers-to-be, as well as for the vsst majority of the human participants. So, as legitimate as the point about championships may be, I don't think it should be the deciding factor in the debate.

Meanwhile, I'm going to be at Del Mar (y'know, from time to time), where the races will be run on the dreaded "plastic." While I might see a few graded stakes run over the Polytrack, it's not likely I'll spend much time agonizing over the implication (or lack thereof) of the results. There will be plenty of 25K claiming affairs to conquer. And, the track will be fast - every single day - the fields will be full, the winners will come from on the lead, mid-pack, and from way out of it, they'll be favorites, 8-1 shots, and impossible longshots. Check out the results charts for the first two days And the CHRB reports that fatal injuries are down 11% from the old days when the track played to speed and the races were a boring parade of front-runners. Sounds pretty good to me (and the weather certainly doesn't hurt).

So what, exactly, is the problem?

The Noive (Or, If I Only Had A Brain)

Atrios has his Wanker of the Day feature, and if I did that, the hands-down winner this week would be repeat offender Donald Groth, the Capital Catskill OTB President, who, it seems, has been fighting against the idea of NYRA being involved in off-track betting for nearly 20 years at least. Groth was quoted by Paul Post in the Saratogian of saying, with respect to the creation of the Task Force on the Future of Off Track Betting:

“The very idea that OTB could be better run by the ‘bankrupt’ New York Racing Association or the failed harness raceways of New York state that only exist by remittances from OTBs ought to be immediately discarded by task force members." [The Saratogian]
It's not the fault of empty suits like this guy that it was the advent of OTB, structured as it is in this state as bloodsucker of the tracks, which precipitated the decline of horse racing in New York at the turnstiles and, in turn, financially. They were just fortunate enough to know and/or contribute to those who doled out the high-paying jobs. But certainly, even Groth has to be well aware of role that OTB played in NYRA's bankruptcy and the precipitous decline of New York's harness tracks. And for Groth to not only not acknowledge that, but to twist the story completely around so as to actually credit OTB for the very existence of what's left of the industry is the height of arrogance and hypocrisy, a particularly pernicious combination. "Remittances from OTB?" How about pittances from OTB?

- First-time starter Lateday Edition was a close and game second at a lively 6-1 in the 7th at Belmont on Wednesday for trainer George Weaver, who I'll certainly be continuing to follow (nothing Thursday and Friday). First-timer Screen Saviour ($19.80) was another winner for Tom Bush, now 15 for 53 (28.3%). He's a son of Hook and Ladder out of a daughter by Brunswick, the 1993 Whitney winner who stands in Canada for $2500 (CAN).

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Aug 1? Try Labor Day...

We've been getting on Paul Post's case lately for reporting some recycled news as new developments. Today he has a story in the Saratogian with what seems like some new revelations about the Aqueduct racino selection process.....though it's buried in an otherwise so-what story about an appointment to the Saratoga Race Course Local Advisory Board. Seems as if that Aug 1 target date for announcing the winner has unofficially gone by the boards (big surprise there).

The state has hired an outside gaming consultant to help evaluate each Aqueduct bidder’s proposal, and state officials are expected to meet one-on-one next week with every firm. Hayward said an operator might [emphasis mine - ed.] be named by Labor Day Weekend.

“I think they’re going to get this done by the end of the Saratoga meet,” he said.

Even so, the state and selected entity must still work out a series of detailed formal agreements, meaning construction might not begin until the end of this year or early 2010. [The Saratogian]
Add the 14 months which has been generally assumed as being the turnaround time until the facility is ready, and NYRA is out of least based on the cash outlook that has been provided in the past. After the collapse of the Delaware North deal, Hayward told the Form: "I think we'll be fine through the third quarter of next year."
Some firms have proposed opening the racino in phases, meaning the first machines could come on line next spring or early summer.
We've seen ad hoc temporary racinos go up before at tracks like Philly Park, and it could be a matter of necessity in this case.

Keep It To Ourselves

Two winners on Sunday for trainer Gary Gullo, now an outstanding 12 for 34 (35%) at the Belmont meeting, and 8-1-2 with his last 16. This barn has been sharp all year, batting .250 for 2009. I remember Gullo as a perennial single digit guy (he's 11% overall for the last five years), but he's really turned things around. Fuhrever Dancing ($8.20) was a bit of an overlay I thought; while Five Demon Bag returned $18.80 in the sixth. Gullo could be a guy with whom we can get some value at Saratoga, since his name isn't Pletcher, Mott, McLaughlin, Levine, or McGaughey (said by some smart guys I know to be the most overbet trainer of all). We all know how the bettors up there can get carried away when certain trainers have a hot horse, and it could be worth keeping an eye on guys like Gullo, and other live under-the-radar barns like Rodrigo Ubillo and, though a bit better known, our buddy George Weaver.

I was betting from our little slice of backyard paradise in Queens on Sunday, and noticed that Weaver had a horse running at Monmouth; Find the Wire in the 6th. There were around five minutes to post time, he was 4-1 with top-heavy action in the win pool. I've been following Weaver's recent success at Belmont, but he's also 11-4-2-1, 36%, down the shore. I was thinking that I could use my Twitter account to alert my thousands of followers.

Of course, I have neither, but perhaps someone did because the horse got pounded in the last two minutes and settled at 8-5 before settling for second! These days, even at a medium-size track like Monmouth, the win pool is small enough so that the win odds usually mean little until the last couple of minutes, if not seconds.

Anyway, as was discussed in this recent comment thread and a previous post, no self-respecting horseplayer is going to tweet a revelation for potential life-changing score. As Lou Barlow sings on Imagination Blind from the new Dinosaur Jr. album, We wanna hold the key and keep it to ourselves.

Monday, July 20, 2009

NYRA Promotion Panned

- I mentioned, with a tone of approval, NYRA's planned promotion for college students at Saratoga on September 4, the final Saturday of the meeting. But the editorial page of the Scheectady Gazette doesn't think it's such a good idea.

The promotion will feature raffles for prizes that include $1,000 in “tuition money” after every race. It’s a nice prize, but one we hope NYRA will award as a check made out directly to the school’s bursar, lest any of it get diverted to the $50 window on the way back to campus.

Sorry, but we think the idea of formally introducing college kids to the excitement and beauty of thoroughbred horse racing, as one NYRA official characterized the gambit, is a bad one. That is, unless you’re a race track desperate to fatten your bottom line. [Schenectady Gazette]
Here's a case of damned if you do or damned if don't for NYRA here. Along with most other racing jurisdictions, it's said that not enough is being done to attract a younger crowd. But here, after coming up with what seems to me is a creative and promising promotion, NYRA is getting criticized. Seems to me though that any editorial which has to use a purely fanciful scenario such as tuition winners pissing the money away at the windows to prove its point is stretching to make one.
It is inevitable that for some college kids, the day will be a financial disaster.

Even worse will be if others manage to get bitten by the gambling bug that day, and develop a lifelong problem as a result.
Oh please; this is like a Reefer Madness scenario. It's far more likely that they'll all have a great day and a handful might be enticed to learn more. Anyone subject to a lifelong problem is just, if not more, likely to succumb to the steady stream of lottery ads, or a wild night at the local racino.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Belmont Sunday

In the 7th, Hello Gold (5-1) returns to the grass for trainer Michael D'Amelio, and no, I don't really know who he is either. But this daughter of Gold Fever ran second after setting the pace on a soft course two races back, so here's a chance to test out the theory I mentioned yesterday based on the wins by Coronation Day and Our Golden Dream. Whatsmore, that grass race has come up extremely strong; the first, third, and fifth place finishers all dominated their next races, with the first two of those doing so while stepping up in class. Not a ton of other early speed in here, and her numbers at least (dosage and Tomlinson) indicate that the extra sixteenth won't be a problem. Hier Encore (7-2) was the 4th place finisher in that key race - curious announced trainer switch from Clement to an out-of-town barn. Prior was a graduation win against maiden claimers in a race which also came up strong. Ruby's Tune (3-1) seems a logical favorite dropping in class and getting a grass race after two off-the-turf efforts.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Notes, News, Music

Hot money in Friday's 6th on Platinum; 7-2 in the morning line off a debut second at Churchill, 6-5 at post time for trainer Jimmy Jerkens, and an easy winner by five. Feverish Flight, the morning line favorite, was third for owner Edward Evans. Perhaps this was one of the horses which that owner took away from Jerkens; in any event, I'm sure it must have felt good for him nonetheless. John Velazquez was up, and check it out; the rider is three-for-five at the meeting for the barn, and 14 for 28 overall for 2008-09. Platinum is by Mineshaft, and she's a 3/4 sister to the graded stakes placed A.P. Adventure.

Another winner for Christophe Clement (20 for 71, 28%), with Catoosa ($19) making a successful switch to grass to graduate in her third start.

South Fourth St. enjoyed his brief stay in the Scott Lake barn. Claimed for 25K from Contessa and Winning Move, he took the second race and was claimed right back by his former connections. One race, and a quick $27,000 in purse money for owner Mike Repole.

- Struggling to balance its budget, as is the case in most other states, some politicians in Pennsylvania have their eyes on the fortunes being generated by slots for purses at racetracks. Specifically, there's talk in the legislature of a move to "raid" the purse fund to the tune of $100 million, as reported by Glenye Cain Oakford in the Racing Form the other day, and picked up on by Bill Finley on, who notes: The logic: what's more important, horse race purses or having enough money for the state to function properly?

Pennsylvania isn't the first state to contemplate reducing racing's share of the profits from slot machines, but never before has such a mammoth cut been proposed. For now, it's merely an idea that has been tossed around by certain members of the state's Republican Party, but it's hard to imagine the proposal not picking up steam. The state needs money and horse racing is an easy target. Outside the very narrow world of the racetrack, who's going to care that the allowance race now going for $43,000 at Philly Park gets sliced down to $20,000? []
And, as Finley pointed out, there's been some support for the idea in the press as well.
We're not suggesting the industry's not important and doesn't deserve a piece of the gaming revenues. Though we can't help being struck by the irony - irony is the least-offensive word we can conjure to describe it - that the expansion of gambling in the state was designed to save another form of gambling: betting on horses.

Considering the community strife that slots parlors have brought to this city alone, and the social costs of gaming that many opponents decry, the idea that it's all designed to fatten the winnings of horse races - and not to benefit the greater good - is questionable in the extreme. [Philly Daily News editorial]
If you missed it, Tom Lamarra wrote an extremely thoughtful column on the subject the other day on his At Large blog on His point is that the one of the reasons that the money is such an easy target is that the industry has not used any of its windfall to help grow the sport, as evidenced by the sinking wagering figures in slots and non-slots states alike; but only to grow the revenues of horsemen. He feels that everyone needs to make a sacrifice for the greater good.
No one told horse racing groups they had to spend all their slots money on purses and breeding programs. But that's what has occurred, and now we have a competition over who has the highest purses rather than a thoughtful approach that looks at the big picture. Capital improvements and racing-related marketing have suffered.

Would you trade $2,000 of an inflated purse for $25,000 a day more in pari-mutuel handle? It wouldn't take a whole lot of cash to hire a few people to focus on that aspect of the business. And a track with slots really shouldn't cry poor given the privilege it has been awarded.

It's pretty sad. Many racino tracks, particularly those on the East Coast, are providing incomplete past-performance information in simulcast programs because it's "cheaper." You'd think tracks with gaming revenue would have the best PP program information for the most reasonable price. After all, they own the data.

Maybe the horsemen can cough up one-hundredth of 1% of slots revenue to provide quality simulcast programs that encourage wagering. []
Some food for thought indeed.

- I've been writing about all the free music in town as you know (and possibly resent); but the mother of all NYC free concerts are the annual performances on the Great Lawn at Central Park by the Metropolitan Opera and New York Philharmonic. And on Tuesday, we went to see the did, or so it seemed that night, most everyone else in the city. The police estimated the crowd as 80,000, which I'd say was conservative. Man, look at this, there were people as far as the eye can see! (That's the stage, the speck to the left of the tree.) It was a perfect storm I guess, most notably of a beautiful night in a summer which hadn't had many as of yet. The Times had a great article on a night which truly flirted with perfection.

And, after the music, I got to finally check out the 'fireworks' setting on my digital camera....and it works! (Kind of....)

On Thursday night, we saw another free show, this one at Castle Clinton, the remnants of a 19th century fort built in anticipation of the War of 1812 (Ah, the good old days when wars had succinct names and limited durations) preserved in Battery Park as a national landmark. First in a series of concerts dedicated to Woodstock, this was a tribute to Sly and the Family Stone with Steven Bernstein's Millennial Territory Orchestra, with very special guests such as Bernie Worrell on keyboards, the great Vernon Reid on guitar, and an array of vocalists, including a soulful Martha Wainwright and a petite yet incredibly full-throated woman named Shilpa Ray, who I became immediately fascinated with (infatuated with, the Head Chef might say with disdain). Anyway, a fun night in a cool setting.

And last night, not free, but a record release show in Brooklyn for my good buddy Steven Joerg's Aum Fidelity jazz label. I worked with Steven back in my music industry days, and he has since, for the last 12 years, been running this label out of his apartment. During that time as you probably know, labels with far more formidable resources have fallen by the wayside, but he has managed to forge on, truly a labor of dedication and love of music. His latest release is by guitarist/bassist Joe Morris; the trio and CD is entitled Wildlife, and you can check out some samples on the website linked to above (click on the album cover). One of the many amazing things about New York is how many amazingly talented jazz musicians there are that most people have never heard of. And three of them, Morris, saxophonist Petr Cancura, and drummer Luther Gray, performed last night is a space no bigger than my basement. Just unreal! From the New York Philharmonic on a stage about a mile away to an incredible jazz trio about ten feet away from my face...summer in the city, dig it.

Belmont Saturday

In the 6th, Titan of Industry (4-1) looks to make it three in a row for trainer Richard Violette Jr., showing signs of life here after a miserable start to the meet. He's 2-1-2 with his last seven starters, with that second being a narrow loss yesterday with the returning Credit Limit at 6-1. This four-year old gelded son of Giant's Causeway is an interesting case; highly thought of early in his career when plunged straight into stakes company, Violette claimed him back for Klaravich Stable for 60K one race after losing him for 35K at Saratoga last summer. He slipped him by for the latter price at Gulfstream in his successful four-year old debut, and then won a starters allowance here off a layoff with a career and field high 93 Beyer in his last. Showed good determination getting up in these last two, and may have finally figured this thing out (though Garcia, on board for both, is at Colonial today, replaced by Sameeeeen on the green). Yankee Empire (5-1) graduated two back; the second, third, and fourth place finishers all came back to win. Drops to allowance company after an even effort behind a trio of nice looking three-year olds in an overnight stakes for that age group. I think that this son of Empire Maker would be good value at his 5-1 morning line for Barclay Tagg, in a mini-slump at 0 for 9 but still hitting at 24% for the meet.

So yeah, George Weaver, who I'd been talking up, took Thursday's feature with Coronation Day at a dead-on-the-board 20-1. And no, I didn't have him. Don't usually wager on work days unless it's a special occasion, and, looking back with 20/20 hindsight at the pp's, not quite sure why this wasn't one of them. I mean, he'd run the same Beyer, in the same class, as the 4-5 favorite Hot Money! Man, this can be an easy game in hindsight. But hopefully, somebody out there cashed a ticket based on my blabbering, which, of course, would make it totally worthwhile for me!

Our Golden Dream ($26.20) took Friday's feature for trainer Tom Bush, having a solid meet at 14 for 52 (27%). This horse had a very similar pattern as Coronation Day, stepping up in class after a good front-running effort on a soft turf in which they both earned competitive Beyers. Perhaps the bettors dismissed both efforts because of the soft turf over which they had run.....they were both significantly lower in the morning line. Don't know if this means anything, but seems worth pointing out.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Revenge Indeed

Talk about a disproportionate response! IEAH came back at David Lanzman's popgun lawsuit over an unauthorized sale of a share of I Want Revenge with the heavy artillery. Talk about wanting revenge. IEAH's counter-lawsuit against Lanzman alleges a sustained effort of deceit as to the horse's health, claiming that the prospective Kentucky Derby favorite, scratched on the morning of the race, was lame as early as April 10. "I think he got hurt in the Wood," Michael Iavarone told Newsday.

Additional treatments for the filling took place from April 11-13 and on April 14 an ultrasound was conducted on the injury, the filing states. The colt was injected in the right front fetlock April 15 and was administered antibiotics for the next five days, according to the counterclaim, with IEAH not being informed of any of those actions. IEAH claims further that the colt was injected in both front fetlocks April 28. [Bloodhorse]
IEAH claims that Lanzman covered up the injury in order to not lose out on the chance to collect an additional $1 million in the case the colt won the Derby, and that he denied the horse would be scratched as late as the eve of the race. And it claims that I Want Revenge's "racing career is over at worst, and at best, he will never perform at the graded stakes level again."

Well, there's one thing in particular about this lawsuit that just don't make much common sense at all. Not to say it's not necessarily true, and, after all, what is common sense these days when it comes to business and business deals. But, if Iavarone invested over $3 million in this horse (plus a 25% share of Stardom Bound) as well as what was obviously his totally desperate hopes to find a Derby winner, how could he possibly allow himself to be so completely out-of-touch with the horse's day-to-day routine? And how could he be so totally clueless regarding such an intense regimen of treatment as the suit alleges? From the sound of this, it's like they let Lanzman take the horse home with him to play with. If the agreement allowed Lanzman to make all of the training decisions as the suit claims, maybe IEAH should be suing the person who drew it up instead.

And also, the idea that Lanzman would "sacrifice the colt’s health for his own potential financial gain" seems odd as well. After all, he had just scored a windfall - "I'm especially ecstatic to be where we're at because this is only the second horse I’ve ever bred out of my first broodmare," he marveled after the sale, and he had a lot more to gain down the road even if the Derby was a no-go (though we've certainly seen throughout the years how that race can warp one's thinking).

In any event, one thing seems certain - even if the horse does become physically able to perform again, we likely won't see him run again until this matter is settled one way or least if it's up to IEAH.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Hunch Bets for July 16

Itsacakewalk 6th at Monmouth
Going Ballistic 8th at Arlington
Awholenewballgame 8th at Woodbine
Don't Get Married 8th at Monmouth
Don'ttrythisathome 6th at Penn National
Forgiveandforget 4th at Presque Isle
Democrat Taxes 6th at Presque Isle
Goin On A Hunch 2nd at Presque Isle
Zip Your Lip 3rd at Charles Town
Hope For Us All 4th at Arlington

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Inside (Twitter) Post

Got an email from the NYRA marketing department today, subject line: ANDY SERLING TWITTER SITE LAUNCHES.

Well, it's a slow time for NYRA now as we've noted. They're pushing it pretty hard though; in fact, and even have a new web ad that they've sent out.

“Andy Serling is the perfect person to engage racing fans on Twitter,” said Dan Silver, NYRA director of communications and media relations. “His brash personality and sharp wit are well suited to keeping people informed and entertained throughout the day.”
Well, I dunno, I mean, you know how I feel about Twitter. And it just seems to me that qualities like brash personality and sharp wit are better suited to a format in which posts are not limited to 140 characters, and the writer actually has a chance to display those qualities. Not to say that he won't get some good snark off - though on Wednesday he said he was being nice because it was his first day. (He was kinda wrong about Lisa B, who got third at 9-1.)

Besides, as with every good public handicapper, the devil is in the details, and Serling is at his best in his current full-time gig on the in-house broadcast, and at the morning sessions at Siro's where he has a forum to explain and expand on his reasoning for liking a particular horse or offering to book any sucker stupid enough to bet it.
Want to bet Officer Flirt but hate taking the devalued odds on entries. Still, at the current 6:1 I am in.
Well, why? I don't care who it is, I don't bet horses solely on anyone's say-so, unless he/she is holding an AK-47 or a boombox playing Billy Joel's Greatest Hits.

Later in the day, I got a note about a new blog at the Racing Form called The Inside Post. It's a group live blog featuring the writers who cover the various tracks - Dave Litfin at Belmont, Marcus Hersh at Arlington, Kenny Peck at Monmouth, and it's still going tonight from Woodbine. Without the text restrictions, they can provide in-depth commentary on the races, and do a little handicapping too.

Now, I don't want to volunteer Andy Serling for any extra duties, but why wouldn't NYRA just have him do a live blog instead? I mean, I thought the whole thing about Twitter was that you could do it with your mobile device from anywhere, at anytime, like at the track or at a concert so you can tell everyone else what you're doing instead of paying attention to the event at hand? So unless NYRA can't afford to get the guy a laptop, I don't see why he would be limited to's not like I ever see him doing the paddock inspection thing. If they're trying to get to the Twitter crowd, they can do what the Form has done with its blog, and have a Twitter page with
opening blurbs and a tiny link to each post.

And here's another thing I think is stupid about Twitter. Take an active Twitter-er like this blogger. On her Twitter page, most of the entries are responses to things that other people tweeted, things like LOL, poor guy. And what did the package go for? Seriously, no offense, I just don't understand, why would anyone want to read that? You mean, I should go through all of the other inane Twitter pages to find the other part of the conversation? It's like listening to someone talk on a cellphone...a device which, by the way, still serves me very well.

- Got a second press release from NYRA, and I have to say that I'm more enthusiastic about this one, entitled COLLEGE STUDENTS MAKE THE GRADE AT SARATOGA RACE COURSE.
All students will receive free grandstand admission with a valid college ID. The first 1,000 students also receive a free commemorative Saratoga Race Course t-shirt.

Once in the gate, students will be invited to register to win a variety of great prizes such as iPods, iTunes gift cards, digital cameras, a $250 airline gift card and the grand prize, $1,000 toward college tuition awarded at the end of every race, courtesy of NYRA.

"We are excited to provide our college students with a reason to visit Saratoga before heading back to school," said NYRA Executive Vice President and COO Hal Handel. "We look forward to offering them the chance to win scholarship money as well as a number of other great prizes, and we'd like to wish all of them good luck with the new school year."
Well, the hell with the new school year, Handel really would like to wish that at least some of them have a great day and come back again next year. In fact, if any of them flunk out, maybe they'll even make their way to Aqueduct.

Much To Do

- Paul Post noted in The Saratogian that more information hs been requested from the Aqueduct bidders....but I believe that is, again, old news. But this comment by Senate Majority Leader President Pro-Tem Malcolm Smith's spokesperson Austin Shafran doesn't bode well for the August 1 target for a decision:

“Right now we’re focused on getting the legislative agenda in order....It’s (Aqueduct) a conversation we expect to come up soon. But it hasn’t as of yet.” [Saratogian]
Six bidders, a massive amount of information, both on the bids and on the bidders themselves, to both digest and compare....I think they'd be doing well to get it done before the horses come back to Belmont for the fall.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Horrible Truth About Belmont (and Rap Tale)

Didn't go to Belmont this past weekend. I'm sure it was absolutely gorgeous in the backyard there, at least on Friday and on Sunday, with the sky a brilliant blue and the temperature and humidity mild. But judging from the results charts, I don't think I missed out on any life-changing experiences, neither financially nor intellectually. July at Belmont is typically uneventful as everyone looks ahead to Saratoga.

Gio Ponti however was quite the impressive winner of the Man O'War. He was caught a good four wide on the first turn, but from there, Ramon Dominguez displayed his ample skills. Straightening out on the backstretch, he sat patiently and eased back towards the rear as front-running Musketier - who did extremely well hanging on for second at 26-1 - zipped through a hot third quarter pace of 23.51. Around the turn for home, Gio Ponti was again caught wide; but Dominguez was just cruising, following the cover of Marsh Side before swinging five wide turning for home. From there they just powered past the field, with what for this jockey was just three little love taps on the way; final three-eighths in 35.03, last eighth in 11.54. This son of Tale of the Cat was good at three last year, but is just dynamite now since switching back to turf from synth.

Gio Ponti got at Beyer of 105, which, of course, does not account for all of the lost ground, while the runner-up got a career best 102 and proved that his stakes win in Woodbine was no fluke.

Trainer George Weaver, who I mentioned the other day as a guy who caught fire after a slow start right at this time last year, ran four horses on Sunday. He had a winner, albeit with even money favorite Boots Ahead. He also had a second, albeit with 2-1 favorite Frivolous Buck. And his Liscarroll ran 6th at 7-2. But New Member ran third at 28-1, just a half length behind a Belmont Stakes winner. And besides, one out of four ain't bad in this business. He has four more entered on Thursday.

- As you may have noticed, I have not be writing about the horses that I have a (small) ownership interest in. Besides the fact that I haven't really felt like it, it became clear that there's a conflict of interest between writing a blog and being involved, if just tangentially, in a game in which there is often information that needs to be kept close to the vest, especially in the claiming ranks where the Kasey K Racing Stable plies its trade. That's right, insider info. Don't have to pretend to this audience that it doesn't exist. Just seemed to me that it would be better to not write about it at all rather than to do so (and not do so) selectively.

Whatsmore, I was getting sick of all the abuse I was getting, particularly over Rap Tale. "Oh, you're mishandling her, Oh, she should be running at Penn National, Oh, she's too slow."

Well, the fact is that she is pretty damn slow. But regardless, in case you missed it, on June 5, she was entered in the Candy Eclair stakes at Monmouth. It rained, the race came off the grass, and all but five scratched. With Channing Hill aboard, Rap Tale sat in 5th, but then picked up the pieces in the stretch to get second and the elusive black type. She earned a Beyer of 67.

And then, as was the case last year, she was sent to Colonial Downs for VA-bred stakes. Rap Tale took the lead from the rail in the grassy Brookmeade Stakes on July 4, and fought on to prevail by a head. She earned a Beyer of 68 for the effort.

So say what you will about her speed, or lack thereof. But trainer Bruce Brown and managing partner Bob have done an absolutely brilliant job of managing this filly, placing her in spots where she's had a chance to earn purse money (yes, even for running 4th) and enhance her value. Claimed for $25,000 last May (in a five-way shake), this daughter of the aforementioned Tale of the Cat has earned over $150,000 for the stable, is stakes placed on dirt, a stakes winner on grass, and has now attracted interest from some well-known Kentucky breeders. All without ever running faster than a 78 Beyer. I had a couple of words to say to all those naysayers who were so quick to come around here when things didn't work out; but Bob thought I should take the high road, so I'll just think them instead.

- Sunday was a fittingly climactic end to what was just an amazing week of free live music here in the city; and that's where I was rather than at the races that day. It took place in a picture-postcard setting on the East River, in Williamsburg, and featured the legendary Boston post-punk band Mission of Burma, whose third album of their glorious reformation after nearly 20 years apart will be out on Matador this fall.

One might figure that the guitar/bass/drums trio thing can only take so many forms; yet even as influential as Mission of Burma are considered to be, there's no group I know of that does it quite the same. Here they ripped through new songs and classics, including Einstein's Day, a personal favorite from their 1982 release Vs (re-released last year, along with The Horrible Truth About Burma and Signals, Calls, and Marches, by Matador).

Among the many bands that cite them as an influence is Toronto's Fucked Up, who preceded them with a raging set of their own. And here is where I was planning to embed what is a mind-blowing video of a portion of their performance that was filmed by Abbey Braden. But, alas, it's been removed from You Tube. Can't say that I would blame was far too good to be given away. So I'll have to settle for this one, which comes via Brooklyn Vegan. It at least aptly captures the picturesque least those behind singer Pink Eyes (and including a chick bassist).

Fucked Up's latest album, The Chemistry of Common Life, is also available on Matador.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Bound For NY

Never been on the turf nor beyond 6 1/2 furlongs? No problem for Client Eight ($8.40) in the first at Belmont on Saturday, confidently sent to the post at 3-1 despite his lack of experience for the task. Mike Hushion is another trainer enjoying a high-percentage meet here, now nine for 28 (32%); 68% in the money, four for his last ten. Client Eight, not to be confused with Client Nine, is a heavily inbred (Mr. Prospector 4x5x4, Seattle Slew 4x4, Secretariat 5x5, Northern Dancer 5x5) son of Tapit, out of a Mr. Greeley mare (his third dam is the champion older mare North Sider). Last year's leading rookie stallion, Tapit is currently ranked #5 on the sophomore list.

$1.8 million of the $4.7 million that his progeny has earned is attributed to Stardom Bound. Last year's juvenile filly champ has been out of action since her disappointing third in the Ashland. Gee, that hasn't yet worked out for Iavarone, has it? And to think, at one time I thought she was Derby material, making excuses for the lackluster speed figures she earned in the Las Virgenes and SA Oaks. Oh well. Nonetheless, the Churchill Downs barn notes noted her arrival on the 4th of July.

“She has been on vacation and yesterday was the first day she had tack on since she went on vacation,” said Michelle Nevin, assistant to trainer Rick Dutrow.

“Stardom Bound will go back to New York with Zee Zee on Monday,” Nevin said. “We are going to put her back in training and start all over again.”
So there's something to look forward to. You never know, with the Dutrow magic touch, even if he's missing for 30 days, she could come back strong. And with the Breeders Cup back on her home turf plastic, man, that would be personally satisfying if she came streaking down the stretch in front of the screaming crowd, and scores of people watching on ESPN2, and ran down you-know-who in the Ladies Classic....oh, right. You-know-who is not coming...

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Status Quo

As I mentioned by way of explanation in the comments section for those who may not be familiar, in normal times, the Senate Majority Leader and the President pro-tem are one and the same person. It's only because of the split of duties that resulted after the dust cleared after the end of the attempted Republican coup that there would be any question now as to who will decide on behalf of that body who will operate the racino at Aqueduct. Bennett Liebman says that it's the president pro-tem and that's good enough for me.

And since Senator Malcolm Smith, still somehow hanging on to power after being virtually written off in the wake of the coup, currently holds that title (reportedly for a limited time only, the length of which we don't exactly know), that's actually a rare bit of good news in the racino epic. At least Senator Smith is presumably tuned in to the process and won't have to start completely from scratch. Besides the fact that the involvement of the erratic and scandal-tinged Espada would have added an element of unpredictability to the proceedings that we certainly don't need.

It would be sad to conclude that the gridlock that crippled the legislature for more than four weeks was entirely due to Espada's quest to gain power, but it's hard to disregard that notion after his flip-flop-flip which has left him as Majority Leader. His calls for reform were never credible given his checkered background; and less so after a steady stream of assertions throughout the crisis which never came to pass, such as his various claims that anywhere from four or five to 20 Democrats were ready to flip. To be objective, the Democrats are no less hypocritical than the Republicans in taking this guy back and giving him the plum position, complete with extra compensation, that was his goal.

The Democrats have promised that they will tackle the matter of reform in the Senate when they reconvene on Wednesday; but will they really? Republicans already have accused them of reneging on a promise to institute the new rules on Thursday night. And Senator Smith came into his office speaking of reform, but didn't follow through. Tom Golisano, the billionaire said to be behind the coup claims that Espada will flip back to the GOP if there's no reform (oh, man..). But do you really think that Espada, having achieved his coveted goal of becoming the first Latino Majority Leader, is going to give up that post?

Jimmy Vielkind reported on that Minority Leader Dean Skelos' status in that post is secure. But shouldn't that judgment wait until after we see if reform is instituted or not? Skelos, whose party reached new levels of hypocrisy with its sudden interest in sharing resources with the minority party, had the Democrats over the barrel, and had power sharing deals on the table. But he stuck to the mantra of "June 8 counts," and as of right now, he has zip.

Belmont Notes - July 11

A nice crowd of almost 6,000 at Belmont for the twilight card on Friday. For NYRA to draw a crowd like that on a weekday is probably, at least in my mind, as significant an achievement as the 13,000+ that allegedly showed up for Rachel Alexandra (betcha it seemed almost as crowded in the backyard area). No stars on Friday; the only marketing hook in this case was for people to come and party in a beautiful park on, in this case, a gorgeous summer evening. That's not that complicated, is it?

Linda Rice took the feature with Karakorum Elektra. Second win against the boys in two tries off a layoff for the daughter of Freud; nice training job there. Ms. Rice is another one of those trainers that you want to keep an eye on going into Saratoga....but she's already enjoyed a fine Belmont meeting (10 for 43, 23%), and is red hot now, on a streak 3-1-1 with her last five.

In today's 8th, the state-bred Lottsa Talc stakes, Ms. Rice has three of the seven entrants, and figures to have the favorite with either Meriwether Jessica (7-2) or, most likely, Canadian Ballet (5-2). The latter comes off a nose loss to the solid Smart and Fancy in a stakes at Pimlico in her first start off a seven month layoff; and she'd won a Meadowlands stakes in her prior effort last fall. However, those races were at five furlongs, so today's race, at seven, is a significantly different scenario. The daughter of City Zip has faded in her two tries beyond six, and I think that makes her vulnerable as the favorite despite her sizable Beyer edge over the rest of the field. Meriwether Jessica has been solid at six furlongs and winless in seven tries beyond that distance. But she's been close, and her running style suggests she may be OK at seven furlongs, so I'd actually prefer this one of the two. Mohegan Sun (9-2) completes the trio and can surely take this off her back form. She seems a bit unenthusiastic since running third against the boys last year, but she does comes back on short rest and gets Ramon.

Let's take a price stab instead with Absolute Heaven (10-1) for Graham Motion, yet another barn I like to follow upstate. Daughter of Not For Love is two-for-two at the distance, with the two wins coming over the Woodbine Poly. She cuts back to that distance here after a fine second in the Sabellina to the tough Nehnatic Kat, and picks up Johnny V. This mare has been out of the money just once in nine starts since being claimed by this barn (from Linda Rice) for 45K two years ago. $115,000 in earnings since then, and seems poised for more with a fine start to her five-year old campaign; money prospects at square price here.

- Free music at the South Street Seaport last night - NYC's emerging The Pains of Being Pure at Heart; their fine debut album is available on Slumberland Records.

Also, an enthusiastic shout-out for Ribbons, a unique and intense guitar/drums duo from Brooklyn which opened the show.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Malcolm Remains in the Muddle Middle

The Senate stalemate has been resolved with Senator Pedro Espada switching back to the Democrats, thus giving them the 32-30 edge they held before the June 8 coup. But while Espada has been named majority leader, it's my understanding that it's the president of the Senate who gets the vote on the racino operator at Aqueduct. And that, at least for now, is Senator Malcolm Smith. So, in effect for our purposes, nothing has changed (and I imagine that makes at least one of the bidders happy). More on the settlement to follow..

Belmont Notes

Wayne Lukas took the third at Belmont on Thursday with Richland Creek ($14.20) off the ship-in from Oaklawn Park. It was the first win in 23 starts on the NYRA circuit for the Hall of Famer; and the second going back another 18 to Be Smart, a two-year old daughter of Smarty Jones winning her first start at 49-1 at Saratoga with Luzzi, remember? Just one of the amazing things about Formulator is that you get the past performances of every individual horse from any trainer (updated in real time, literally), and thus can see what became of them. In the case of Be Smart, she went directly to Grade 1 company and ran second to Dream Empress in the Alcibiades, came back three weeks later to get buried, fading to 12th by 18, in the Juvie Filly. She hasn't been heard from since and I have no idea what happened to her.

Dream Empress hasn't been so hot either; after running second in the BC to Stardom Bound, she's been nowhere in three starts, most recently a distant 7th in the Ashland. As a matter of fact, Stardom Bound hasn't been the same as you probably know. Third place finisher Sky Diva got beat at .35 to 1 in the Demoiselle and also hasn't been seen since. And Persistently, who finished 5th for Shug, got beat at 3-5 returning in April. Can a Breeders Cup race have its grade reduced?

Richland Creek was claimed for 35K by Chad Brown for Ken Ramsey.

In the second, General Maximus, 10-1 morning line in a two-year old race with all first-timers, went off at 6-5 for a 1-24 trainer who last won with a debut runner in December, 2005, and won off by four. The double, with the 6-5 shot in the first paid a generous $25.60 (a parley returned $11.20). The day I stop getting a kick out of shit like that is the day I hang up my Form.

Trainer George Weaver won the 6th with Three Bridge Road ($12.00), and I'll be watching out for this guy. Last year I mentioned him around this time of the year as one to keep an eye on as the summer progresses. He went 3-1-1 for the month at odds ranging from 7-1 to 21-1 and carried the momentum into Saratoga.

On Friday, Weaver starts Smart Selection (8-1) in the second. I think you could make a case for him....not like an official pick or anything, but just a heads-up for a streaky barn with a solid 16% hit rate over the last two years which is just four for 47 at this meet after Thursday's win. These things tend to even out as we usually see. Smart Selection ran a good third in his grass debut, though in a race which has not turned out to be at all productive. He faded on a soft course in his next turf try, in a race won by subsequent stakes winner Laureate Conductor. This is a son of Smart Strike out of a half sister to the graded stakes winners Lac Ouimet, Salem Drive, and L'Carriere; as well as to the champion St Jovite. Room for improvement to be sure.

Golden Weekend ($3.10) was another winner for Carlos Martin, now 15 for 55 (27%) for the meeting; four of his last eight.

And this is redboarding I know, but wasn't that an extremely fair price on Treat Gently ($5.30) considering that she was beaten less than three lengths by Zarkava when finishing third in the Group 1 Prix Vermeille last fall?

- Free music at beautiful Rockefeller Park on the Hudson River on a perfect Wednesday evening, if a bit chilly for July. This performance was inspired by a 1972 Miles Davis release entitled On The Corner, and included two members of the original ensemble.

On Tuesday night, we were at the World Financial Center's Winter Garden, an odd atrium whose usefulness as a performance space is limited by the bevy of huge palm trees throughout. (The present ones replaced the originals after the structure, just west of the World Trade Center, was badly damaged on 9/11.) The acoustics generally aren't great either, but that's not the case for purely electronic music, which echoes quite effectively throughout the building. So it turned out to be a great setting for the free show there on Tuesday by Scanner (except for the damn trees blocking the view of the artist also and otherwise known as Robin Rimbaud). He stuck around and sold some CD's afterwards, and it's always nice to see bands and performers do a brisk business after a show - it's one of the best ways to support your favorite bands, or ones which you might just stumble upon.

And on Thursday afternoon, a lunchtime performance on the plaza outside the World Financial Center by the Luminescent Orchestrii - Romanian gypsy melodies, punk frenzy, salty tangos, hard-rocking klezmer, haunting Balkan harmony, hip-hop beats and Appalachian fiddle - all, currently by way of Brooklyn!

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Paterson Speaks

Ah, ask and thee shall receive: thanks to these posters (sorry about the mole remark...) for chiming in with what they know about the highly secretive proceedings on deciding on the operator for the Aqueduct racino. And I certainly agree that a re-selection of Delaware North would be such an obvious case of lobbyist influence and favorite-playing as to spark outrage (and lawsuits) across the board.

Governor Paterson will address the state on the Senate stalemate at 5 PM today; you can watch it here (with the proper media software). The address comes amidst conflicting reports of progress in the negotiations (or not), threats from Senator Espada and his three amigos to impose their own solution by tomorrow, and acrimony along racial lines. This is nasty stuff.

There are rumors circulating that Paterson will either announce a selection of a lieutenant governor to break the stalemate or threaten to do so. As I mentioned the other day, it's constitutionally unclear if he can legally do so, and Attorney General Andrew Cuomo fired a shot across the governor's bow in that regard the other day.

Such an announcement would be the first partisan move on the governor's part since the turmoil began....assuming, as I will, that he will pick a Democrat. Senator Dean Skelos said that such a move would be a "desperate, and frankly sad, action." Skelos should know. The June 8 coup was, sadly, borne out of just such desperation to escape the minority status that the GOP was relegated to by the electorate last fall, and to avoid the treatment that his party subjected the Democrats to for the last 40 years.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009


As long as Governor Paterson is apparently going to be trapped in the state for the foreseeable future, perhaps he should contact his buddy Joe Bruno to score some prime boxes at Saratoga. Bruno will likely be too busy preparing for his upcoming trial anyway. Paterson could go and make hunch bets on the 3-1-3-1 pick four. With the Senate coup having thrown the matter of succession into doubt, Danny Hakim reports in the Times that Paterson has not left the state since the Senate dispute began on June 8, to avoid any confusion about who is running the government.

He has turned down an invitation to attend the National Governors Association’s annual meeting in Mississippi later this month and even scuttled plans in late June to attend a wedding just across the Connecticut line.
Lacking a lieutenant governor, the constitution designates the president of the Senate as next in line. And according to the GOP-led "coalition" of 30 Republicans and one Democrat who's been investigated more than Sarah Palin (well, maybe not that much), that person is the turncoat himself, Senator Pedro Espada, whose reputation is such that some have seriously suggested that he would take the opportunity to pre-pardon himself from any future prosecution.

Less than four weeks until August 1, the date on which we're told they'll be a decision on the Aqueduct racino. Of course, it will be hard for any agreement to be approved, as required, by the three men in a room if we don't know who one of those men are (women might as well not exist as far as leadership positions in Albany go, or so it seems). No sign of progress whatsoever in settling the leadership issue which is central to any power-sharing deal; the sides did not even meet on Monday. It was suggested that Paterson has the power to appoint a lieutenant governor to break the tie; how convenient! But the notion was quite vehemently disputed by Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, who called it "a political ploy that would wind through the courts for many months." Which is where this whole mess might eventually end up anyway

- Here's the scene at the construction site of Louis Cappelli's hotel/racetrack/racino project at the Concord. Not a helluva lot going on, is there? Last week, a Concord official told a Sullivan County legislative committee that they're in the "process of finalizing our financing" [Mid-Hudson News], and I'm sure we've heard that before.

- The sour economy may not be do much for business at Saratoga this year, but the track is proving to be popular in one depressing aspect.
New York Racing Association recruiter Julie Levine said, “We are seeing more — almost twice as many” people looking for jobs at the Saratoga Race Track this summer. Levine noticed an “increase across the board. More college students, retirees, high school students looking for their first job.”

NYRA always has large numbers of returners, resulting in fewer new positions becoming available. Therefore, an ideal college student applicant would work six days a week and most, if not all, of the meet — work on Travers Day, Aug. 29, is required. The most sought-after job for college students is betting clerk, Levine said. “They like the hours and the bonus at the end of the season. It’s fast-paced. And (there are) the tips at the window.” [The Saratogian]

Monday, July 06, 2009

Belmont Notes - July 5

Ugh, last place for Duke of Homberg after a perfect trip, sorry about that. However, the 4-1 odds at which he went off is quite different than his 10-1 morning line. We were out for the day, so I bet the horse early; but don't think he would have looked that enticing at that price if I'd been at the track. Maybe I should start setting minimum prices so I'm off the hook in those cases. (I hesitate to do so because there's also a theoretical maximum price over which I wouldn't bet a horse due to lack of tote action.)

Perhaps I would have had my second choice Ballast instead at a fair price of 5.60 to 1. Jacobson's horse led until the final jumps, battling gamely before succumbing to Radical Sabbatical ($12.60) in another tour de force for the irrepressible Ramon Dominguez. In a tight spot between horses after turning for home, the meet's leading rider spotted an opening on the rail, maneuvered over and got up to win by a neck with his usual powerful finish. The win capped a perfect two-for-two weekend for Barclay Tagg, the meet's leading trainer-other-than-Contessa at 18 for 67 (27%), which, considering that the latter has started well more than twice as many horses than any other trainer on the grounds, should be worth an award of its own. (And that's right....believe it or not, the preceding link is to an honest-to-goodness local newspaper article on Dry Martini's win in the Suburban, courtesy of Ed Fountaine in the New York Post!)

Dominguez had three winners on the day, including Ketubah ($7.70) for Christophe Clement, another trainer enjoying a fine meeting (16 for 61, 26%). This three-year old daughter of Broken Vow made her turf debut a successful (and well-bet) one. She's out of a mare by a Storm Cat sire named Catrail....gotta say I don't know that one. But she has some interesting inbreeding - 3x4 to Fappiano, 5x5 to Dr. Fager - and she descends from the same female family as the Grade 1 turf winner Colstar (2000 Flower Bowl.

Carlos Martin took the third with Multidude ($6.40), continuing this barn's nearly perfect record with 180+ day layoff horses at this meet. That's now three winners, and a second, by a head, from four such starters.

In a statistical quirk, the crowd on Sunday was 6,767. On Saturday, it was 7,667. (But no, playing the 6-7/7-6 combo on any two-horse exotic on either card would have yielded a big fat zero)

- Veering completely off-topic into music, any of you who might recall the band Polvo should be excited to hear of their reunion and upcoming album release, their first in 12 years, on the venerable indie label Merge, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary. Pitchfork has a preview track which is slammin'. Polvo is doing a free show at the South Street Seaport on July 31, just a couple of hours or so before the Head Chef and I will be checking out The Wailers at Del Mar (with or without the kids remains to be seen...)

And I wanted to mention a website - don't know if it's new, as I'm not necessarily up on the latest developments. But Lala is a site which allows you to legally stream, in their entirety, just about any song from any album you can imagine....once. After that, you're limited to 30 second samples, unless you add it to a permanent streaming library for ten cents each (I got 25 free songs upon registration). I find that Lala serves extremely well on a site like Pitchfork, which presents a widget of all the songs alongside its album reviews. So a great way to check the music out for yourself and see if you agree with the reviewer. Whatsmore, you can download complete albums (ITunes compatible MP3's) for cheaper than ITunes - for example, just $7.49 for the new Wilco album linked to above, not too shabby!