RSS Feed for this Blog

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Three's Company

Three bidders for the Big A, as you might already have seen. Familiar names Penn National and the persistent SL Green/Hard Rock (along with ex-AEG partner Clairvest) are joined by the Malaysian-based Genting, who bailed out Monticello/Empire Resorts last year. As Steve Zorn notes, the latter are a highly experienced casino operator in Asia and elsewhere, and they have tons of money. "We have about $1.8 billion of cash and no debt," a company official recently told the NY Post.

The Lottery is supposed to be making their decision objectively, scoring the bidders based on the standard procurement process. Whether or not that includes the consideration for a local component which seemed so paramount in past bidding rounds is not clear. If that is the case, SL Green would seem to have the advantage (though Genting does have their involvement upstate).

As far as the Shinnecocks go, I was surprised that their recent federal recognition would have an effect on this process. It was certainly not a surprise, and obstacles to their actually completing an off-site facility remain. However, I was told by someone familiar with the process that it's all moving faster than some of the bidders expected. Whereas the thinking had been that a casino would be five-seven years off, some now believe it could be as little as 18 months....and in multiple locations too.

Belmont, however, is beyond the 75 mile limit within which the tribe would be permitted to build a casino without further approvals.....and it's my understanding that those approvals would include federal legislation. I'm going to try and get some clarification on that...but this is from the NY Times last month:

Far more difficult for the tribe will be the federal legislation required to allow them to build an off-reservation casino, an issue that has been controversial nationally.
As an alternative to federal legislation, some tribes can put off-reservation land in trust, but a recent court decision has limited that option to tribes with more longstanding recognition.

“They’re going to need legislation,” said Bennett Liebman, executive director of the government law center at Albany Law School and a former member of the state’s racing and wagering board.

“This is a long, hard process,” he added. “They have significant leverage in dealing with the state; they don’t have leverage in dealing with the federal government.”
Of course, the tribe could in theory construct a casino within those 75 miles, perhaps at a location such as the Nassau Coliseum site in Uniondale, a straight shot of 68.5 miles along Route 27 according to Google Maps.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

One Down.....

Bids for the Big A racino are due today, but don't expect a blanket photo finish.

Based on interviews with representatives, several cannot commit to the formal bid because of fiduciary duties – they can’t guarantee they would get a $300 million down payment back even while they’re on the hook of paying NYRA’s debt to the state at $2 million monthly. [Capitol Confidential]
Delaware North has already confirmed that they are out, and they may not be the last to do so. I was told by someone who was working with the company that it "wasn't even a close call." In a statement, company President William Bissett explains:
The Lottery’s RFP requires that the prospective developer pay a minimum upfront licensing fee of $300 million while assuming a number of very substantial business risks. These risks include the unknown amount of time that will be taken by New York State to complete its SEQR review process and to obtain all other required approvals so that construction of the gaming facility can begin, the uncertainty surrounding the State’s ability to fund the $250 million Capital Construction Grant that is intended to finance construction of the new gaming facility, the indefinite amount of financial support that the developer will be required to provide to the New York Racing Association, and the uncertainty surrounding the future expansion of competitive gaming operations at Belmont Park or other locations.

More Or Less

Three more weeks at Belmont, but NYRA was in full Saratoga mode on Monday, with its annual pre-meeting press conference upstate. There, Charlie Hayward talked up the expanded 40-day meeting...but the press seemed most interested in the giveaway days.

I also received a Saratoga Press Kit, where I learned that this is not the first time the meet has run for so many days; there were 40 days of racing in 1882. That worked so well that it hasn't been tried for another 128 years! I also learned here about the shortest meet - the very first one.

In 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, Saratoga Race Course opened for the first time. The meet lasted just four days, but a tradition was born that continues today. [NYRA Press Release]
However, the New York Times reported at the time:
The visitors to Saratoga will have a rich treat, and, to the great credit of Mr. JOHN MORRISSEY, the proprietor, gambling will not be permitted inside the Course.
Oh. That's not a tradition that I'm aware of. And wait a minute, didn't they name a race after that guy?? Here's a report from the Aug 5, 1863 edition of the Times:
The third day's races went off as usual, although a tremendous shower came up after the first race began.
Well, some things never change it seems. I think back to NYRA's logic about the twilight racing ...the idea of putting all the marketing resources behind a single big event......and wonder how big they could make a four day meeting at Saratoga!

The contrast between Saratoga and Monmouth will be on stark display throughout the competing race meetings. Monmouth will remain on its three-day a week schedule, while NYRA goes to six, a number which is seemingly as anachronistic as big crowds at Belmont these days. I've been slow to warm to the Monmouth model, a concept which was more born out of desperation than some innovative new idea.

But, you look at the enthusiasm there thus far, as well as the Friday night programs at Churchill Downs; and a marriage of the two - a Friday night, Saturday and Sunday schedule - seems to make a lot of sense for a lot of circumstances (though probably never for a destination meeting like Saratoga) (and, as this reader pointed out previously). Just go to Belmont on any weekday, and you'll see what I mean.

- No budget as of yet, but no government (nor track) shutdown. Put on the defensive for weeks by Governor Paterson's tactic of including budget items in emergency appropriation bills and thus daring the lawmakers to shut the government down, the legislators dusted off the rulebook and came up with a response: They simply refused to physically accept the bills. Simply brilliant, and brilliantly simple enough for even these fools to think of it.
“Article VII section 3 of the New York State Constitution empowers the Governor to submit bills amending portions of the budget bills within 30 days after his budget is submitted. Thereafter, the Legislature is empowered to consent or not consent to the receipt of any bill from the Governor which would amend any portion of his budget submission in any manner. We have not acceded to the receipt of any such bills today.” [Capitol Confidential]
In the world of Albany, as long as the bills are not actually voted down, the government continues to operate. So, there you go. The Senate and Assembly actually agreed amongst themselves on an appropriations bill, one which restores cuts to education and healthcare. Of course, it doesn't answer the question of where the money will come from (though their elimination of a property tax cap might give you a clue). So, the governor whipped out his veto stamp and got started by nixing $419 million in restored education aid. He'll be busy on Tuesday - he's legally required to physically stamp and initial each of the 6,900 appropriations inserted by the legislature over his objection.
Paterson joked on the vetoes: “There about 6,900 of them so if I start now, I figure I should be finished before I leave office.” [Daily Politics]
C'mon, aren't you gonna miss this guy? I'm starting to tear up already over Cuomo, I just don't see him being any fun at all. Casey Seiler of Capitol Confidential figures he can do it in six hours without any bathroom breaks, but we'll see about that.

- Last summer, I saw, for the first time, Toronto's hardcore heroes Fucked Up, opening for Mission of Burma at the East River State Park in Williamsburg. I posted about it, included a video, and a reader wrote:
Fat slob singing incoherently.

I stopped listening to that crap in high school.

What's going on with you man!
I was so chastened by that remark that on Saturday night, I saw them for the 4th time, at a free show in a playground in Greenpoint, Brooklyn (with High Places and Liars). Fucked Up plays high-tempo, highly articulate punk rock with a lusciously layered three-guitar attack and a fabulous rhythm section (including a rocking chick bass player). And they put on a great live show (which actually sounded far better than on this amateurish video shot by yours truly). They rock, that's what's up with me man. So, what crap are you listening to these days?

(Official song video here.)

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Harping on Things

An announced crowd of 2,940 at Belmont on Friday for the normal 1 PM post time. The usual dreary weekday afternoon with the crowd simply dwarfed by the enormity of the place - if I read that the crowd was 940 I would have believed it - and dulled by the heat of the mid-day summer sun. I guess Munick didn't get the memo on no twilight racing, because I heard him playing in the tent on the way out. Forget about comparing the handle vs last year, when it rained and the 9th race was canceled. Besides, and on the other hand, with only 54 horses competing in the nine races, there wasn't much being offered with which to generate much pari-mutuel enthusiasm. I don't like to harp on things y'know, but those are some reasons why I believe that one has to sometimes look beyond the bottom line (and I know that's difficult for NYRA at this stage). Isn't it worth something to have a little buzz and excitement in the place?

I dunno, I find this all pretty depressing. The pre-Saratoga doldrums seem to already have started. Just look at today's $300,000 guaranteed late pick four - two maiden claimers, the five-filly Mother Goose, and a state-bred entry level allowance. Oh man, is there any soccer today? Speaking of which, at one point I was walking around the back looking for simulcast tracks, and all I could find was some damn soccer game between Chile and Spain....another exciting high-scoring affair. I don't like to harp on things y'know, but, despite the excitement over the US World Cup team, and, as pointed out by several readers, the popularity of the sport as a game that kids like to play, I stand by my assertion that horse racing is a sport which is ingrained into American culture, while soccer, despite this once every four years anomaly (similar to hockey, though I don't want to harp on that), is simply not. And it never will be.

Anyway, no twilight racing, short fields, and just three more weekends of racing after this. I don't like to harp on things y'know, but you move racing up to Saratoga for seven summer weekends - consider that the last day at Belmont will be July 18, and it won't resume down here until September 10th....nearly two full months - and people will get used to doing other things with their time. Red Bulls, anyone?

- Governor Paterson has prepared his ultimate budget extender, containing the remaining cuts and tax/fee increases necessary to finally close the $9.2 billion budget gap. No soda tax, but a repeal of the current law which exempts the first $110 of a clothing purchase from the state sales tax. I don't want to....well, y'know, but that makes zero sense to me.

- Welcome home, Norberto.

Arroyo was supposed to receive a sentence of 2-1/2 years in prison for felony criminal possession of a controlled substance. He was stopped by Saratoga Springs police on Aug. 16, 2009 for not wearing a seatbelt, and officers noticed the drugs. Arroyo pleaded guilty in March and admitted he had about 12 grams stuffed in his sock. [Saratogian]
Let's see....12 grams of coke, and they're gonna throw this man into prison for 2 1/2 years. And that's with the reformed drug laws...

- Free music in Central Park on Wednesday night - two jazz veterans surrounding themselves with some immensely talented young studs. First it was the venerable and brilliant pianist McCoy Tyner, with Ravi Coltrane (sax), Francisco Mela (drums), and 25-year old Esperanza Spalding on bass (and her 2008 eponymous CD is amongst the Head Chef's current favorites).

(A far, far better view from a more professional taper here.)

Then, it was Stanley Clarke, and holy moley, Stanley Clarke? Being the one-time bass player for Chick Corea's Return To Forever, he's a name from way back in my progressive jazz phase some 30-35 years ago. But there he was, still plucking away, and in fine form. And with a rabid following too, though that may have been more for his piano player, Hiromi. Talk about mad skillz, man, this 31- year old Japanese lady has got them, wow!

(And yeah, the more professional taper was still there.)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Gambling on Revenue Raisers

The budget stalemate goes on, headed towards what promises to be a theatrical conclusion on Monday, when, if no deal is reached beforehand, the legislature will vote on what would be (with sincere apologies to Casey Seiler of the Albany Times Union's Capitol Confidential blog), the Mother of All Extenders (MAE). It would contain, in an emergency appropriations bill to keep the government running, any remaining cuts or taxes/fees which are needed to close the $9.2 billion budget. As one might have expected, attention has been turned to raising revenue as opposing to further budget cuts; and though the soda tax was vehemently opposed by both parties, apparently the idea of a increase in the sales tax on clothing is acceptable. Don't ask me.

I'm told by a person with knowledge of the situation that there are three gambling-related revenue-raising proposals currently being considered:

- Make a "free play" promotion at racinos, in which nontaxable betting vouchers are given out in the hope of hooking and reeling customers in for future profit, permanently legal in all of the state's racinos. Apparently, the tactic works quite well; the program has proven successful at Monticello and Tioga Downs during a 12-month pilot program. And, according to a position paper advocating for the change that I've seen, a promotion at Finger Lakes in March resulted in a churn rate of 4.7 times the investment in free bets. Seems rather perverse in a way, doesn't it? Based on an assumption of a 3x churn rate, the measure is expected to raise $103 million.

(That might be a good context in which to present the idea of a lower takeout on certain exotic and multi-race wagers. I know, it's not gonna happen, but I'm just's the same concept.)

- Legalize electronic table games at racinos - $30 million

- Eliminate the restrictions on when, and where, Quick Draw lottery games may be conducted. It was projected in the governor's budget plan that the state could raise some $45 million from people playing Quick Draw wherever [they're] having fun (according to the Lottery site) between the added hours of midnight and 5:30 AM. Sounds like a ball. Overall, the measure is expected to net the state $70 million.

In total, that's $203 million, roughly 2/3rds (conservatively) of what the state could have been getting from a racino at Aqueduct every year.

- I'll leave it to the legal experts to determine what the Supreme Court's decision to restrict the use of "honest services" laws to prosecute white collar crimes means to former Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno. The Court, which in two fell swoops this year has made life easier for corrupt politicians, ruled that prosecutors could use the law only in cases of bribery and kickback schemes. William Dreyer, Bruno's attorney, told the Daily News' Glenn Blain:

"We’re still evaluating the decision but obviously the decision speaks for itself and tends to limit the honest services statue to bribery and kickbacks…..The allegations against the senator in the indictment concerned conflicts of interest." [Daily Politics]
To me, that's like saying that murder laws are limited to killing and my client is only accused of strangulation. You can call it whatever you want; Bruno made lots of money in questionable arrangements with people with business before the state. While I'd previously had no particular hankering to see an 80-year old man sentenced to a inordinately lengthy prison term, I certainly don't believe he should walk scot free.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Twilight Saga: Post Time

Sorry again for that misinformation about Friday's card at Belmont. Honestly, I had no idea that last Friday's Party in the Park was scheduled as the only 3 PM twilight post time of the year. In fact, I had planned this coming Friday around it, and was working on an elaborate scheme to take the afternoon off for the remaining Fridays of the meet. I'm not exaggerating in the least when I say that the twilight cards are the clear highlight of the Belmont spring meet for me (before racing moves to Saratoga for seven - count 'em - weekends).

A couple of readers suggested that budgetary concerns were at the root of the cutback, and I thought that made sense given the extra costs that must be involved in conducting racing until later in the day. In an email response to my query, NYRA's Director of Communications & Media Relations Dan Silver did cite bottom line considerations, but explained that the reasoning was more complex than a matter of increased expenses:

"Basically, we were not convinced that the Party at the Park later post time equated to larger total handle, and also felt that by allocating more resources (advertising, marketing, promotions, etc...) into making the one Party at the Park a big success, we could truly make it a special event. Once the meet is over, we will look back at the numbers and next year we will figure out whether we want to stay at just one 3 p.m. post at Belmont or expand the program again.

Last year we ran six Party at the Parks at Belmont (June 12, 19, 26, July 10, 17, 24), with varying levels of success. After looking closely at the numbers from those dates, we determined that it might be useful to pull back on the number of Party at the Parks and put more resources into making sure that the one we did was successful."
Indeed, the June 18 Party in the Park drew a crowd of 7,921, an increase of 73% from the corresponding twilight card last year; and significantly larger than any of the six twilight cards from 2009, none of which were greater than 6,000. However, Silver points out that last week, on June 11, with a 1 PM post time, NYRA achieved an increase in handle over last year's corresponding 3 PM card (despite a crowd that was 1,800 smaller), that was roughly comparable to the increase it saw on the June 18 Party in the Park vs last year. He also notes that NYRA would not be able to afford having a band with the stature of Big Shot if they ran the Party every week. "Obviously it is still early, and we don’t know how the handle for the next four Fridays at Belmont will compare to last year, but I hope you can see the basic premise behind pulling back on the number of Party at the Parks."

That's all well and good, and certainly understandable given NYRA's financial plight. But by focusing only on the hard and cold numbers, I think that NYRA is missing a far larger point. By simply moving post time back by two hours, NYRA was able to create a festive atmosphere that we rarely experience at its downstate racetracks; even a carnival ambience in years past when they brought in magicians and jugglers. I've previously described the crowd at the twilight cards as delirious; it's as happy a racetrack crowd that you'll ever see. I mean, there you are having escaped early from work, sitting in a setting as delightful as the Belmont backyard on a (hopefully) beautiful Friday afternoon, a full summer weekend still to come, it's 4 PM, and it's only the third race! What can be better, I ask you? The crowd builds as the cards go along as businessmen arrive with their ties undone and their clothes disheveled; the drinks are flowing, Munick is playing Hot Tuna covers...and with the fans concentrated in the back, the place seems crowded, the joint is alive! There's a genuine buzz in the air that you just don't get there on normal days, even, for the most part, on the weekends.

I can't quantify how much, or if, this all translates into new customers or repeat business. It certainly can't hurt though, and I'd guess it helps. And whatever the case, how about the massive goodwill created by providing its customers with an experience that they all supremely enjoy and appreciate? I know I'm speaking of my own personal impressions and experience, but, based on my twilight track outings and conversations with fellow horseplayers, I think that a substantial majority of racing fans around here would agree.

So sure, NYRA should check the numbers to see if re-instituting the expanded twilight program makes sense. The business is driven by handle after all; Dan Silver points out that, for one thing, the later post time causes NYRA to miss out on simulcast handle from eastern tracks that start at their normal times. (Hopefully, NYRA's financial outlook will improve to the point where it doesn't have to be quite so attuned to the facts and figures.) But I imagine that the feedback from its regular customers on the move will not be enthusiastic, starting, perhaps, with Charlie Hayward's live web chat on Friday night at 8 PM. Unfortunately, we'll all have plenty of time to be home from the track to let him know what we think.

Last Licks?

The long range weather forecast for the weekend is promising (particularly for Friday's twilight card - I stand corrected, sorry), and it might be good idea to get your fix in at Belmont while you can. With Governor Paterson apparently intent on inserting any unresolved aspects of his plan to close the $9.2 billion deficit into next week's emergency appropriations bill, who knows what post time next Wednesday will bring? Should there be no prior agreement, and the budget extender fails to pass, the state government would shut down, and racing in the state along with it.

It's been the threat of a government shutdown that would result from a rejection of the extenders that has enabled Paterson to push through specific deficit remedies; measures such as healthcare cuts (though ones that the legislature had already agreed to) and a new $1.60 per pack cigarette tax, not to mention the $25 million loan that kept NYRA going, at least up to now. The governor has made it clear he has no plans to spend Independence Day in Albany.

“Let me just say, that budget is going to get passed on Monday,” Paterson said. “I heard people talk about being here July 4th. If they’d like to be here July 4th, they can come by the mansion. We have a nice fireworks demonstration every year, they can come and watch it. But there will be no discussion of budget on July 4th because it will have already been addressed on June 28th.” [Daily Politics]
Paterson may insert his sugary soda tax that the legislature has, for some reason, remained steadfast in opposition; a tax on hospitals and wine in grocery stores are other possibilities; as is a compromise proposal on the property tax cap that the Senate Democrats desperately want to present to voters come November. "He can do whatever he wants," a Paterson source said. "He's got a menu of choices." [NY Daily News]

The governor has surely moved significantly up in class as far as his stature goes; his strategy of including budget measures in the emergency bills is an innovative and bold one which has given him the upper hand over the intransigent legislature. He has earned praise even from Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, who, as I've mentioned before, certainly has nothing to gain politically by expressing support for a governor still considered to be an unpopular one, despite a surge of positive editorials in papers that had previously skewered him unmercifully. We've read or heard nothing about the scandals that threatened to force the governor from office [UPDATE: well, until now....leave it to the Times]; and not just because the investigations are moving glacially.

I have to say here that I feel somewhat vindicated for (mostly) standing by Paterson all along. No, I was not right about him recovering in the polls. And while I could blame the economic circumstances and the SNL skits (and I'll always believe that the latter inflicted mortal damage that has been generally underestimated), the truth is that, in the end, he has nobody to blame but himself. For a smart guy, he's certainly displayed some horrible - possibly even criminal - judgment, made flawed decisions, seemed to have just a slight propensity to totally contradict himself, and I was surely ready to throw him overboard over has handling of the Aqueduct fiasco. But I did maintain that he was capable, and capable of being competent, and pointed out that he was the one sounding the alarm on the budget from the very beginning. Too bad he didn't step up and take charge sooner, but there was little to be done with his own party's fractious and slim Senate majority, and the refusal of the Republicans to govern. Those legislators don't seem quite so smug or powerful at this stage of the game, 85 days after the budget was due.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


Big weekend for NYRA was certainly cause for celebration with total attendance of 25,839 for the three days. That might have been a typical Saturday crowd in the past...and it was only 1600 more than Monmouth had on Father's Day alone. But it will more than do for now. Particularly impressive was the nearly 8,000 who turned out for the first twilight card of the season on Friday; that despite.....due in part to a Billy Joel cover band that played after the races. Just goes to show you....something...not quite sure exactly what. It wasn't about the racing itself this weekend as we enter the usual doldrums between the end of the Triple Crown and the beginning of Saratoga. But if you have a nice place for people to spend the day at the races, they do come, as we see at Saratoga and Del Mar (even though the racing itself is not the same as in the past either), and, sometimes, at Belmont and Monmouth too,

Even in the best of times, the racing at Belmont would start to wilt in July as the weather grows oppressive and the fields thin out as connections await upstate. Of course, July at Belmont has grown even shorter this year with the extra weekend tacked on to Saratoga. With the competition from slots-rich states, and four more days added to a meet which was already at least a week too long, this could be the year that even the most ardent Saratoga devotees concede that enough is enough. I mean, the meet starts on July 23, and they race six days a week; come September 1, there'll still be six days of racing left! When it begins, most NFL training camps will not even be open; by the time it ends, the regular season will be about to begin. That's a lot of state-bred maiden claiming races folks, and those races can be just as tedious downstate as up.

One sport that is probably actually even less popular in this country than horse racing is soccer. Yeah, I know, it's World Cup time, and we're reading the usual stuff we do every four years about how a successful run by the US team could help popularize the sport, but I don't buy that; take a look at hockey in the Olympics for example. Soccer is just not a game which I think will ever appeal on a long term basis to Americans - it's too technical, too slow, not enough scoring, and the clock never stops running. I believe it's far more likely that horse racing will enjoy a renaissance here than soccer ever will.

But if you're like me, and enjoy watching it and would be happy to watch the U.S. team play in the World Cup if the games weren't being played at 9 AM on weekdays, you might enjoy this column by George Vecsey in the NY Times on the team's controversial tie against Slovenia last week. In the space of this single piece, Vecsey not only convincingly backs his case as stated in the column title U.S. Shares the Blame for Feeling Cheated, but it gave me a bit of a feel for some of the dynamics and personalities on and of the team; nice work here.

- Speaking of celebrate, the Celebrate Brooklyn series of free music in Prospect Park is under way, and on an absolutely perfect Saturday night, we saw Bitches Brew Revisited, a tribute concert to Miles Davis' groundbreaking (so it's said....I never really got it) album released some 40 years ago. This was a similar concept to the On The Corner show we saw on the Hudson River last year. Lucky for you, I managed to shoot some crappy video.

Also underway at this time is the Vision Festival, an annual event which features so-called "free" or "avant-garde" jazz, and which is 100% artist-run, with no corporate sponsorship whatsoever. It's the 15th year of this festival, and I actually remember the first one pretty well. On Monday evening, there was a free show at a playground on the Lower East Side, and, getting into the spirit of the setting and the Make Music New York festival on the same day, a group of kids were invited to join in with William Parker's Little Huey Sextet. And as you can see from this video, they attacked their chore with varying levels of enthusiasm.

Then they kicked the little brats off the stage and got down to business with the Roy Campbell Trio.

We then headed west to Le Poisson Rouge where I had actually won a couple of tickets for a contemporary classical show. But when the featured performer, quoting the composer whose work he was about to play, noted that "if music isn't about drama, pathos, and death, then it's about nothing," I knew we were in trouble. Indeed, the spare and apocalyptic composition had me contemplating suicide more seriously then at any time since JP Parise's overtime goal against the Rangers in 1975. Hopefully I'll recover and someday post here again.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Sampson Nailed on Memo

The NY Post reported this morning that the Inspector General's investigators have learned that Senate Democratic leader John Sampson leaked confidential information on the Aqueduct racino bidders to the lobbyist for AEG.

The Senate staff memo -- now in the hands of the state Inspector General's Office, which is probing the entire matter -- provided a summary of the proposals of rival bidders, insiders said.

It gave AEG valuable inside info allowing the consortium to revise its first bid in the second round. AEG was the only firm to revise the amount of its bid, going from lowest to highest in the projected amount of revenue it would raise through video lottery terminals at Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens. [NY Post]
In a court filing, the IG's office termed AEG's ascension in the bidding "meteoric and inexplicable."

Senator Sampson now admits to Danny Hakim of the NY Times that he did indeed give the document to former Senator, and then AEG-lobbyist, Carl Andrews, but explains:
“The document was not confidential....It contained all the information, public information, that was constantly going back and forth.”
Well, excuse me, but does the distinguished Senator really think that we're that stupid? I mean, as stupid as he and his colleagues were, acting as brazenly as they did on AEG's behalf, holding out stubbornly for them despite the fact that their political connections to Malcolm Smith were all over the press from Day One? And with the Joe Bruno trial going on in the background; did that mean nothing to him? I'd certainly be keeping an eye on the Supreme Court's upcoming decisions on the honest services laws if I were Sampson.

In fact, as you probably know if you've been following this fiasco, there was no public information....only the bits and pieces that leaked out from the bidders themselves. The whole process was conducted behind closed doors. Sampson told the Times that he was merely trying to prove to Andrews that AEG's bid was, in fact, one of the lowest submitted. It wasn't for long, as we know, and now we know for sure why.

The Post article also notes that court papers filed by the IG's office noted the meeting between Governor Paterson and AEG partner Floyd Flake the next business morning after the selection was announced. It's interesting to take a look back at that whole affair. The meeting was reportedly set up by Paterson adviser Bill Lynch, who was also a paid lobbyist for bidder SL Green (only in Albany, folks). Lynch was then promptly fired by SL Green for "cozying up" to AEG. However and in fact, it was that meeting which really started the ball rolling on the media's intense scrutiny of the deal which helped lead to AEG's downfall. Now, SL Green is back in the ballgame. So Lynch actually couldn't have done more to help his former employer. Would I be out of line to suggest that Lynch actually knew what he was doing and...... Yeah, I guess I would be.

Bloodbuzz Belmont

I did mention the other day about Bill Mott being red hot at Belmont. And while Macedonian got left at the gate and settled for second, the barn had two winners (and a third) from three starters on Thursday. That's a pretty good day, certainly a better one than these clowns had. That puts Mott on a streak, by my rough calculation, of 8-4-0 from his last 15 starters.

Mott is on a roll off the track too; his win with Drosselmeyer in the Belmont earned him a spot on the mound at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday night throwing out the first pitch.

Not bad form, but Mott was later disqualified for not spending the requisite six hours of detention in Robinson Cano's locker. Silk Route ($9.70) won Thursday's 6th for the barn, graduating on her second try, both on grass. This is a three-year old daughter of Empire Maker, out of Jibe (Danzig), a stakes winner in England and a half sister to the Epsom Derby winner Commander in Chief, as well as to the multiple UK Group 1 winner Warning.

Mott seems poised for another winner in the first on Friday (3 PM post time, finally!) when he sends the impressive maiden winner Flawless (4-5) to face winners. This filly is by Mr. Greeley out of an unraced Wild Again mare; and this is the distaff family of the two-time G1 winner Seventh Street.

Flawless won her debut by 13 and earned an 87 Beyer while under a very confident ride after being extremely well-supported on the tote; the third choice in the morning line at 7-2, she was sent off as the even money favorite. Today, she's listed at 4-5; and here we have the usual question of a horse facing winners for the first time, as impressive as its maiden win may have been. Because what, really, did she beat that day? There were five others - two were also maidens (one of whom came back to get beat by 25 lengths), two were trying dirt for the first time, and the fifth is Lovely Lina, a hopeless four-year old who needs to find another profession. So while I'm not feeling compelled to make a point of trying to beat Flawless in this spot, I certainly wouldn't blame anyone who might be taking a look at a horse like Bahama Bound (4-1), who comes off a six length win in a Starters Allowance.

The third is an interesting little (as in a five horse field) allowance race, and Kid Kate (9-2) starts for Chad Brown. I singled him out as a cold trainer on Wednesday, and he promptly beat me with Cheyenne Nation, thus breaking out of an 0 for 24 slump. Since then, he won on Thursday with Tottie ($4.80), and now suddenly he's on a mini-streak of 2-2-0 with his last five starters. This daughter of Lemon Drop Kid won her first two races, on sloppy tracks, before even efforts in the G1 Alcibiad on the Keeneland Poly, and an off-the-layoff turf stakes at Monmouth last month. So this will be her first try on a fast dirt track, and I therefore offer her only as a possible price play off the trainer angle and the fact that Zaphyra (8-5), Persistently (5-2), and Ain't Love Grand (3-1) have all recently been disappointing at low odds.

- This (via Brooklyn Vegan) is Matt Berninger of The National making his way through the first row of the first mezzanine with the world's longest mic chord during the Brooklyn band's triumphant sold-out show at Radio City Music Hall on Wednesday. And though the Head Chef and I are not in this picture, we could have been, as we were sitting in that very row. I knew that those seats would be pretty cool when I got them, but who woulda thunk we'd have a close encounter of that kind sitting up there?? The National have worked their way up from years on the club circuit, and their recent and excellent album High Violet debuted at #3 on the Billboard charts, holy crap! They showed off their ample range on Wednesday, mixing their doleful orchestral numbers with raging rockers like Abel and Available, and their sound amply filled the grand hall throughout the set. This below is the video for Bloodbuzz Ohio from the new album...the line "I still owe the the money I owe" surely being an appropriate one for a horse racing blog.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Belmont Wednesday

The 6th is an interesting six horse maiden special on the grass at a mile and a quarter (weather permitting). Cheyenne Nation (9-5) is the morning line favorite for slumping trainer Chad Brown, 0 for his last 24 at Belmont, 1 for 35 overall. Many of those have come at short prices too; ten of them at Belmont went off at less than 3-1. This son of Gulch has closed OK at shorter distances, and there's some pedigree power for the distance, his dam being a half sister to the Man O' War winner Defensive Play. But he looks like enough of a plodder to stand against as the favorite especially given the recent travails of his trainer.

Antrim Shield (2-1) is the key here; you gotta figure that trainer Christophe Clement has some good reasons to pick this spot for this horse's debut. This is a three-year old son of Giant's Causeway, out of the G1 winner Voodoo Dancer, who sold for a million bucks at auction as a yearling in Sept 2008. The last time this barn started debuted a horse on the turf at ten furlongs was Armstrong Mill, who won that race, here at Belmont, last May; and the barn is a solid 19% over the last two years with all first-timers on the grass. The trainer recently emerged from an 0 for 23 slump at Belmont with a couple of winners including Winchester in the Manhattan.

With those two likely to take the bulk of the money (and I'd be wary of Antrim Shield if he doesn't), could be some good value on Macedonian (4-1), for the red hot Mott stable - 6-2-0 with his last ten starters! This son of Pulpit, out of the mile and a quarter Flower Bowl winner Northern Emerald, is actually cutting back from 11 furlongs. In that race, he dropped back out of the picture on the final turn after being squeezed a bit, and re-rallied quite nicely for 4th as the field came home quickly after a dawdling pace, getting his final furlong in a field-best 11.25 seconds. The winner, El Fuego, moved up to allowance company and won with a 91 Beyer for Clement. Switches to the stable's main man Desormeaux here.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Unbeaten Streak (and the Hard News) Is Precious

A lot of lively debate about Zenyatta here, and mostly respectful; I think that Dirty only used the f word twice thrice. In any event, I suspect that everyone would get along just fine over a few beers (and I'd like to be there for that)!

My take is this: I'd of course love to see Zenyatta hit the road in search of new challenges, particularly, in my biased view, to Saratoga. I think she'd draw a few more people than 12,000 there. What a day that would be, eh? Plus, I try to be consistent, and I have exhorted connections of certain other horses to be more sporting and fancy free, and not be so afraid to lose. So I can't say that I think that ballyfager and others who argue that her connections are being too conservative are wrong.

But there is one factor here that makes me inclined to give Jerry Moss an ambivalent pass - and that's the fact that Zenyatta remains undefeated. That's a legacy that I can't blame her owner for cherishing dearly. A loss would mean a lot more to him than it would to anyone else. And, to be fair, Moss put Zenyatta's streak squarely on the line last fall when she was entered in the Classic. Nobody would have whined too much if she went out on that note, Personal Ensign-style. Instead, as jp pointed out, they not only brought her back to race at six, but they showed up at Oaklawn and have plotted a course to Kentucky to face the best horses in the world in the Classic. Isn't that enough?

I can certainly understand the Zenyatta team's concern over sending her to stand for six hours in a strange detention barn in possibly stifling heat and humidity in Saratoga. So while it's disappointing to hear that she'll likely remain in California for now (and in an effort to play both sides of the debate so that no one calls me a dumb fuck), I think that Zenyatta has earned the right to be a prima donna. And besides, a mile and a sixteenth in the Clement Hirsch against St Trinians may not be a lock (though note that they would in this case both carry 123 pounds).

- Back here in NY, the long-expected federal recognition of the Shinnecock tribe is bound to revive talk of a full-blown casino in or around New York City, particularly at Belmont. However, remember that present federal law prohibits them from operating a casino more than 75 miles from its reservation in Southampton on Eastern Long Island, a location which is widely considered to be a logistical nightmare. That would take them only as far as Port Washington, which leaves them, alas, a frustrating 7.7 miles short of the finish line at Belmont. They would need federal legislation to make up that distance, and, from the sound of it, they might have more luck getting Belmont to move east towards them.

As an alternative to federal legislation, some tribes can put off-reservation land in trust, but a recent court decision has limited that option to tribes with more longstanding recognition.

“They’re going to need legislation,” said Bennett Liebman, executive director of the government law center at Albany Law School and a former member of the state’s racing and wagering board.

“This is a long, hard process,” he added. “They have significant leverage in dealing with the state; they don’t have leverage in dealing with the federal government.” [NY Times]
- The New York State Senate passed Governor Paterson's latest emergency budget extender, thus avoiding a government shutdown. It also apparently averted a shutdown of the tracks. When I got back from Florida, I saw that Tom Precious had reported on that Racing and Wagering Board officials told him that racing would have to be suspended because state workers who serve in such posts as racing stewards and equine drug testers would be furloughed. When I contacted a spokesperson for the Board late last week before I went away, I just got a "no comment." Just goes to show you where you should be going for the hard news.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Greetings From The Gulf

Sorry for the lack of posting, but we slipped down to my mom's house, with its balky internet connection serving four of us, on the Gulf Coast of Florida for a few days. Here in the Sarasota area, the waters of the Gulf are perfectly clear, the sands on the beach as pure and pristine as ever. The oil from the BP spill remains many miles away, and the locals don't seem that concerned (at least other than the fish guy at the farmer's market...he was bummed out and selling far less fish than usual), or at least they're not showing it if they are. A couple of people have told me of the mile and a half wide loop current which will whisk the stuff south, around the keys, and up the east coast. And while it's quite possible that it will reach our beaches in New York first, I wish I could share their confidence that it will never come. But besides, in this case, one area's fortune is another's misfortune anyway, so it all just sucks in any event.

Anyway, I'll be back in action here within a couple of days; in the meantime, it was a long weekend off from racing for me down here, even though the magic of online horse betting was fully available. Here we have the usual friendly and respectful banter concerning Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta, whose dramatic rally - final eighth in 11.61 under a 129 pound weight assignment that Rachel's owners would probably never accept - I did happen to catch a replay of.

Haven't watched Rachel's race, but I can pretty much picture it. Jess Jackson and Steve Asmussen shopped around for an easy spot, something uncompetitive like England against the U.S. ....the South Carolina Democratic Senate primary...well, y'know, something winnable. They found one against four hapless opponents on a track that we know she loves. Churchill is of course also the home of the Breeders Cup Classic, and wouldn't it be appropriate if Rachel's owner ultimately succeeds in whining his way to the home court advantage in a matchup against Zenyatta. Even so, unless Zenyatta shows a chink or two between now and then - and especially if that comes on a trip out earth - I think Jess Jackson will find some reason to avoid her. Again.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

No Picnic For Big A Bidders

The six aspiring racino operators who put up their $1 million to qualify for the latest round in the Big A sweepstakes convened in a conference at the site on Tuesday. There, they asked questions, and were filled in on the details they need to devise their final bids, due on June 29. The Lottery is to make its recommendation, binding to the governor, on Aug 3. If all of that goes smoothly, I would then expect final approval from the others to come quickly, as I've said before. I don't believe that Sheldon Silver will oppose any bidder properly vetted by the Lottery; and the Senate Democrats, under investigation for their role in the AEG mess, will meekly go along with just about anyone other than Faisal Shahzad or Dean Skelos at this point.

One might wonder however if any of the bidders will wish to continue after what they heard. Lottery director Gordon Medenica pointed out what the contestants probably already knew; that they are in the running for “The highest-ever payment for the highest-taxed gaming operation in the country." [Queens Courier]

And he also pointed out that "The prime beneficiary is the state not the operator." [Crain's New York] Indeed, while the $1 million entry fee is fully refundable, the $300 million license fee is not should issues arise with licensing or other contractual issues once the money is paid just ten calendar days after the final award is announced (with great fanfare at Saratoga I'm sure).

Lottery even noted that although Con Edison has said it will be able to bring more power to the area to run the video slot machines, the state is not providing guarantees. [Crain's]
At this point I imagine that Charlie Hayward would assign employees to sit inside the machines with calliopes and bells and whistles Flinstones-style if that what it takes. (And I'm sure that Lottery will guarantee that its scratch-off tickets will be available for sale.)
Bidders such as SL Green Realty Group, Delaware North and Penn National Gaming have already ponied up a lot of time and money into previously botched rounds to build and operate Aqueduct and it was unclear whether these groups would be willing to go at it again under these new conditions. [Crain's]
So, what if we had a selection process that finally made sense and nobody shows up for the dance?

Meanwhile, James Odato reports on Capitol Confidential that the board of the Empire State Development Corp unanimously approved the $25 million loan which will keep NYRA going until slots get going; in theory, anyway. The agreement still needs approvals by the offices of attorney general and state comptroller.. I got an email from a reader wondering if such approval is guaranteed!! But the attorney general wants no part of this mess once he becomes governor; and the state comptroller wants NYRA around so he can kick them around to help boost his re-election campaign when he announces the findings of his investigation of its finances . So I'm not at all concerned.

- This is the time of year when you have to endure my rantings and ravings about all of the great outdoor events in NYC...especially, of course, the concerts, of which there are many, most though not all of them free, at sites such as the South Street Seaport, Central Park, Prospect Park (not looking good weather-wise for tonight's opener featuring Norah Jones), the East River State Park in Williamsburg, Pier 54, and Governor's Island!! Woo!!

Last night was the Museum Mile Festival on Fifth Avenue, when the avenue uptown is closed to vehicles, and nine museums are generous enough to open their doors for free. Among the exhibits we saw was the Otto Dix show at the Neue Galerie, well worth the half hour wait to get in on a gorgeous NY evening. And among the street entertainers was the one and only Silly Billy! I imagine that he's trying to resurrect his career, like Eminem. I think the last time I saw him was at Belmont Park, back at a time when NYRA would bring in top talent to feature in its family days on effort which, like so many other facets of horse racing in New York, has long been abandoned. Hopefully, better times lie ahead.

Gag Me With A Drosselmeyer

With my sincerest apologies to Ernie Munick, I was ready to puke after the finish of the Belmont. Besides having Fly Down at 5-1, I ended up discarding the ludicrously overbet favorite altogether and ended up with a cold exacta with First Dude underneath. Now, it's not like I got nailed on the wire or came out on the wrong end of a head bob or anything like that. But Drosselmeyer? At 13-1, I thought he was one of the bigger underlays in the field...along with Ice Box, Uptowncharlybrown, Make Music For Me, Dave in Dixie.....OK, there were a lot of underlays as has become the norm in Triple Crown races of late.

It's not like his form was that awful. But Drosselmeyer is your typical corporate overhyped overbet type, who had thus far been a disappointment in three stakes tries. His highest Beyer was only 92 (and it's just two points higher than that now). Like the rest of the field, his pedigree was OK but featured nothing that gave one the confidence he would thrive at 12 furlongs. And to top it all off, he had physical issues with his feet that prompted Mott to train him in bar shoes during the week. Tenderfoot Drosselmeyer is Belmont bound read the headline on OK, he did fire off a bullet five furlong work. And now Mott is being hailed as a genius for the move.

Well, easy to say so afterwards. I thought he was easily one of the unlikeliest winners in the field, and I don't know who the hell even bet him to make him 13-1. None of the smart guys I know liked him, and not a single of the experts in the Form had him in the top three (and only one in the top four).

While I certainly didn't have a good day handicapping either on the blog or in real life, I was right about two things that I'll point out since I have nothing else to boast about. For one, I said from the beginning that the morning line, which made the Belmont a wide-open betting race with Ice Box as the 3-1 favorite, was way wrong. Probably just a rare misjudgment, but oddsmakers who work for the track sometimes do have an inherent conflict of interest to make a race seem more interesting than it really is, don't they? Ice Box went off at 9-5, and man.....was he awful, or what? "He didn't deal with the heat well today," Zito said. Oh yeah, the heat excuse. "When I asked him to run, he showed no interest," [John Lezcano] said. That about says it all.

I also insisted that none of these horses seemed particularly exciting in this spot from a breeding standpoint. I got some pushback from you guys on that, but the fact is that the answer to the question of "which horses handled the distance?" is emphatically none. I became additionally nauseous after the finish when I looked at the time and saw that final quarter run in an agonizing 26.50 seconds. Final time of 2:31.57 was the slowest since Thunder Gulch in 1995; you have to go back to 1970 - before Munick even started to go - to find another slower one.

When it comes to the synthetic track debate, I respect your arguments against regarding matters like tradition and the havoc it has caused in determining champions the last couple of years. But I don't want to hear anymore about how they will ruin everything because the breeding industry is based on speed. If this is the best of the 2007 crop, then that strategy doesn't seem to be going too well, is it? How could a shift towards stamina possibly be bad? Is there anything uglier than watching what are supposed to be well-bred "classy" animals laboring to the finish line in our biggest races? The combined final quarters of the Derby and Belmont this year was 53.40; I'd like to see the Elias Sports Bureau rank that number in history.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Thanks for the Memories

In his letter of resignation submitted to Governor Paterson, Myron "Sandy" Frucher asserted that he had "successfully completed all of the tasks assigned to me upon my appointment" as chairman of NYC OTB. Those tasks basically were confirming that OTB was insolvent and:

"2) development of a sound restructuring plan that would not require taxpayer funds, treat employees with dignity and respect, will benefit the racing industry and permit it to continue as an economic engine for the State.."
Of course, Frucher's idea of treating employees with dignity and respect included severance pay and raises which were unpalatable to lawmakers in the current environment. His attempt to alter, to the racetracks' and horsemen's detriment, OTB's statutory payment obligations met fierce resistance. And his ultimately empty threat to close in a desperate attempt to wrest concessions from the industry destroyed his credibility in Albany, which, I might add, is quite an accomplishment.

However, just maybe, his tenure will one day be looked back on as a turning point for the racing industry in New York. By lying to and deceiving lawmakers, Frucher succeeded in personifying - and if "the evil" is too strong a phrase in this case, let's say - the waste and utter illogicality of the current structure of the industry in this state. By doing so, perhaps he at least helped to finally educate them on the subject. With his flawed proposals now completely off the table, maybe sensible ideas that at least begin to cut to the very roots of the situation - such as the one by the Assembly Racing and Wagering Committee Chairman Gary Pretlow which included talk of statewide consolidation of tote operations - will finally take hold. That is just a start I know. But with the futility of reconciling OTB's survival with that of NYRA and the rest of the state's racetracks now fully exposed and, we can only hope, fully comprehended, maybe it's a start of something significant.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Belmont Day

In the second, Katlyn Ann (9-2) cuts back to six furlongs for the capable John Hertler. This barn is winless at this meeting in 24 tries, but has been getting close of late with a couple of seconds and a close third with his last five starters, and seems about due and poised for a winner. This daughter of Harlan's Holiday has been a bit of a money burner, but came alive two back at 13-1 with a close second when switched to this surface and distance. She could have been closer to the pace that day if not for some traffic on the backstretch, and last out, she showed very good speed (rated v. fast early by Moss) in a mile event. Cuts back here just eight days later, and could control what looks like a paceless race with Cornelio from the outside post. Soo's Purse (6-1) closed wide to finish just behind the top pick when also making her first Belmont start. Cuts back from seven furlongs and Coa returns. Tapaline (9-5) gets blinkers for Kimmel; looms one to beat but has disappointed before.

In the 4th, Top It (15-1) returns off a layoff for the sharp David Cannizzo barn; three winners and four solid seconds from 10 runners at this meet. This lightly-raced five-year old son of Pulpit closed well from far back after a slow start for second in his last start, at slightly shorter at Saratoga, against what seemed like a good field at the time. That has not been borne out by subsequent results of winner Mythical Pegasus and third place BZ Warrior. But this horse has run well fresh before, and lands in a race filled with speed. Seems worth a shot at generous odds. Zio Tony (4-1) was impressive graduating and gets blinkers for Hushion, who has won with that equipment change five times in a row. Tahitian Warrior (5-2) is back after a fruitless trip to Dubai; Trappe Shot (2-1) trounced Florida-breds at GP.

In the 12th, Bold Vindication (6-1) goes out for the suddenly hot Gary Sciacca. We've seen this before; a trainer breaks out of a winning streak and that win is promptly followed by more. This barn was 0 for its first 28 at the meeting, but broke out with Piazza Di Spagna ($36) on Thursday, and followed that up with Loyal Shadow ($24.60) yesterday. Hmmm, perhaps we're a race late to the party....but this four-year old gelded son of the late Vindication won at this same level and distance two back when moved up confidently to race out of conditions off the claim. His 4th place effort in his last was fine in a slow-paced sprint; stretches back out and Prado returns.

Well? You can go anywhere to get picks on the stakes races....what can I say, I prefer handicapping and betting on the "regular" races, OK? But in the 11th, the Belmont Stakes, Fly Down (9-2) just seems ready to explode here for Zito after his impressive runaway in the Dwyer. I love the way he came home in progressively faster splits of 24.97, 24.55, and a sharp 12.18 second final furlong. He's had only one bad effort, and he had good reason to bounce in the Louisiana Derby after a tough win over the talented First Dude coming off nearly three months off. Sharp works; trainer and jockey know the drill, and the fact that he's relatively lightly-raced should serve him well.

Ice Box (3-1) will, in my opinion, go off significantly lower than his morning line, and is therefore a logical bet-against for me considering that he failed to win a Kentucky Derby that I thought was absolutely putrid. That's my ultimate reason for betting against him, though I admit I got it from someone else. Yeah yeah, excuses, excuses, I know. But he had a horrifically slow pace to close in to, which made up for a lot of the bad luck he encountered. Pedigree is intimidating with his being out of a stakes winner at a mile and a half who is, in turn, by a Belmont winner. And his running style has actually been rather successful in recent Belmonts despite what we might hear. Strictly the one to beat, but I'll try to do so (unless, perhaps, if he's actually 3-1 and depending on the accumulated effects of bourbon so late in the long afternoon). Stay Put (20-1) always puts in a late run, and perhaps could pick up some pieces with a patient ride. Good luck everyone, and have a great day.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Belmont News and Notes

The weather forecast is hanging in there despite fading in the stretch. It's still supposed to basically be nice, but the chance of stray storms seems to be increasing. But assuming the day is OK (because NYRA is always just so lucky with stuff like that), I think they're going to do well. I'm upping my prior estimate of the upper 40's to a number more comparable to last year's 52,861. NYRA's media department is surely working it; my inbox is constantly filled with updates and alerts. The post position draw was televised on MSG+; jockeys visited the Ronald McDonald House, they did the event at the Empire State Building, which is bathed in green and white lights, really to mark the occasion of the Jets' training camp just eight weeks away, but we'll let NYRA believe that's they're the official colors of Belmont Park....or whatever exactly the significance is!

On Thursday, there's a trainers' press conference at Belmont, a transcript of which will be available within 60 minutes on ASAP; where, under Upcoming Events, it's noted:

142ND BELMONT STAKES (Equestrian)
OK, the point is that they're doing a good job and they're really trying. They, and everyone there, must feel the world off their shoulders since the loan was agreed to.

Zito's horses arrived on Wednesday. Not sure about that 3-1 morning line on Ice Box; hell, I might bet him at that price. I know it's a big field and that the odds curve tends to flatten for these races these days. But whatever one thinks of his chances, his past performance lines just scream BELMONT!, he was second in the Derby (which > Preakness), and he's trained by Zito. I don't see him any higher than 2-1 at most.

Dale Romans repeated the workout pattern he used for First Dude before the Preakness, with a sharp five furlongs exactly a week prior. "He’s a throwback kind of horse, a big rugged kind of horse, nothing bothers him, and I don’t think three weeks [between races] is going to bother him," Romans said (quote sheet provided by the NYRA press office, thanks). His second in the Preakness was so outstanding that it's being ignored or forgotten that he seems to have a propensity for settling for place money; four times in his seven starts with only a maiden win to show. I'll be standing against, at least in the top slot.

Game On Dude is ranked at 10-1; here's hoping that his celebrity trainer attracts more money than that.

I like Fly Down (9-2). Romans talked about "turning the tables on Ice Box," but maybe he should be worried about this horse instead given First Dude's two finishes just behind him. He had a little step back at Fair Grounds after a tough win over his abovementioned rival off a layoff, moved forward to a career best, though apparently non-taxing Dwyer, is working fantastic, seems fresh in this spot with just three starts this year, gets four weeks off and a track he seems to fancy. The one thing that makes me think twice is that he's not really bred for marathon distances....but who really is in this, or most other fields? He came home strong in the Dwyer, drawing off in an impressive final furlong of 12.18.

Interactif (12-1) is a total question mark on dirt and therefore way underlaid at his 12-1 morning line in my opinion. “We decided to call an audible and send him to the Belmont,” said Pletcher. Sounds like "the owner made me do it" to me. Some interesting breeding here though as his third dam is the legendary Personal Ensign. That makes him also from the distaff family of distance horses like Miners Mark, My Flag, and Storm Flag Flying.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Concert Strategy Is Long Past

This reader suggests that I help book some Brooklyn indie bands at Belmont to help bring a new, and decidedly younger, demographic out to the races. And I'd surely do that for free, and DJ too!

But NYRA gave up long ago on booking name bands, even after drawing some large crowds when they last did it in the late 70's and early 80's. I actually have distinct memories of only one of those shows, though I'm sure I must have attended several more; can't seem to slice through the chronic haze. But I do definitely recall the Dave Mason show in 1978, a photo from which is pictured here (if you scroll up ever so slowly) with the caption noting a crowd of 30,000 to 50,000. A little Google research shows that Charlie Daniels and Rick Derringer played there too, and I was probably at those. I even managed to find an MP3 file of the entire concert by the latter on a site which broadly facilitates the illegal downloading of copyrighted music and which shall thus remain name- and link-less even though many of you probably know of it and many other sites like it.

NYRA was once so enamored of the concert strategy that in 1976, it actually moved racing back to Aqueduct in July, built a new spacious backyard for the occasion, and staged concerts in the hope that people would take the A train from the city for a day of sun and fun. That experiment lasted one year (though the backyard came in handy when the track first opened for Saratoga simulcasting, which is where I was the infamous day in 1986 when the stewards disqualified the wrong horse [the aftermath of which was colorfully described and critiqued a week later by Steven Crist in the Times]).

I never got the feeling that the extra bodies translated into new customers. There was no real effort to do so, unlike at Gulfstream, where they would give concertgoers $2 betting vouchers, herd them into a corner and literally attempt to indoctrinate them with videos and lectures. Not sure how that approach fared, and from what I hear, there's no longer a backyard to stage such an event.

The only track I know of with a continuing concert series is Del Mar, whose continuing effort to crack down on pot smoking includes "only" two reggae concerts this year.

If I was booking Brooklyn bands at Belmont, I might start with Beach Fossils, whose excellent self-titled debut is out on Captured Tracks. With its lilting, richly harmonic staccato guitar and bass lines, reverb vocals, and spare but efficient drumbeats - think Joy Division as a beach blanket bingo band - its a perfect summer album.

As long as I'm on the subject, been meaning to mention Phantogram, the Saratoga Springs based duo who I saw at the Final Stretch festival there last year. Happy to report that they recently sold out Bowery Ballroom here in the city, are touring with The xx as we speak, and will be doing a free show on Governor's Island with Caribou, whose album Swim, available on Merge, is one of the best albums of the year.

And finally, and then on to the Belmont, one of the bands on that Del Mar schedule is The Lost Pack, a local San Diego outfit which changed its name from The Muslims, I wonder why. They'll be a cool band to see there I'm sure. This video below was filmed at Del Mar Pizza, which I didn't visit in my two trips there and don't know a thing about because I don't eat pizza. But I guess it's near the track.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Speed Over Quality

I was away and/or otherwise indisposed for the holiday weekend, so no track for me. Just caught a couple of races on TV late on Monday, including Quality Road winning the Met Mile. The Toddster's four-year old son of Elusive Quality earned a Beyer figure of 114.

If it looked like this horse was ripe for the catching in the stretch, it's because he was decelerating after an opening half mile in 45.19. Another 23.38 took him to six furlongs in 1:08.57, after which he was able to repel Musket Man despite tiring to 24.54 for his final quarter. Those are pretty good splits still as far as these races go, and the final time of 1:33.11 is excellent; one of the fastest times in the race's illustrious history. But he ran his first half in 45.19 and his second half in a shade under 48. I think there's something distinctly American about the appeal for horses courageously holding on at the end after burying its opposition with high early speed while conceding them weight, as Quality Road did. But it just seems counter-intuitive to me that the last part of a race is the slowest part; aesthetically unappealing too.

This is one of the ways that I personally feel that synthetic surfaces are to the distinct benefit of the everyday sport. I just don't get the fascination with raw speed when horses can't sustain it much past a half mile. Of course, I don't mean to detract from Quality Road; that's the game on dirt in America, and full credit to a horse who has won G2 and up stakes from 6 1/2 to nine furlongs. But I've seen his effort referred to as "other-worldly," and "masterful, breathtaking." To each their own, but I just don't get all that excited about a race that's run like that.

I also saw the 8th race, and man, you have my sincere condolences if you had Who Is Lady, at 6-1. Doesn't get much tougher than that as far as losing the head bob goes. Five-year old daughter of Freud was a winner a half stride before or after the wire; but Wild Awake had her nose down at the right time. Who Is Lady doesn't get to the winner's circle often, and this was her 4th second in her last five outings.

Nonetheless, another sharp runner for trainer Mike Miceli, four winners and two seconds from eight starters at the meet; 30% from 37 starters on the year. Two of those wins are accounted for by Minnie Punt, including his rousing win in the state-bred Kingston Stakes on Sunday. Dead last at the top of the stretch after encountering traffic, this effeminately-named gelded son of Gold Fever, out of a Rubiano half-sister to the crack sprinter Cherokee County, straightened out and ran by 'em all, doing his best running at the end, the way racing should be. Honestly, I get more of a thrill watching that race than the Met Mile, the fact that they are NY-breds notwithstanding.