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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Thursday News and Notes

A Daily News headline the other day read: Democrats may say no dice to New York casinos, Sheldon Silver warns. However, I think that's a case of a paper making up news in order to attract some readers/traffic. All the Speaker really said is that he can't guarantee how his conference will vote. The fact is that Silver supports it, as does the Governor and the Senate Majority Leader....and I for one don't sense any real organized opposition to the idea in the legislature. . And Silver acknowledged that the climate is far different from the last time it came up in the late 90's.

Not only is the deficit-plagued state desperately in need of new revenue and job creation, but casinos have sprouted up in surrounding states and even on Indian reservations within New York.

“There may be an attitude of ‘Let’s take some of the revenue and keep it home,’” Silver said.
A familiar argument to be sure. Even Mayor Mike, a one-time gambling opponent, trotted that one out to explain his recent reversal. The mayor may have once opposed expanded gambling on the basis of its being regressive, the inevitable saturation, and the fact that casinos are not the panacea for the surrounding neighborhoods that advocates make them out to be. But not anymore. There's sufficient cover at this point for politicians of most stripes to take this easy way out of having to make difficult fiscal decisions.

What the Speaker may really be getting at is buried in the last sentence of the article.
Silver said it is possible that his members will want the constitutional amendment to be more specifically defined than the one Cuomo has talked about.
Because the big question now regarding casinos is not 'if,' but 'where.' (At least in terms of getting the question posed to the voters in a referendum which could take place in Nov 2013.) So, this could set off a frenzy of activity by the New York Gaming Association (NYGA) representing the nine existing racinos, as well as the tribes and private investors such as Louis Cappelli who are looking for a piece of the pie. (Though their lobbyists would probably be happy to see the matter drag on for a couple of years.)

- With 5,000 machines now on line, the win per machine figure for the week ending 12/24 at Resorts World dropped to a relatively anemic $261. While the weeks leading up to Christmas are generally slow ones for the racinos, that's significantly below the $380 figure NYRA is using for their 2012 budget. Of course, I haven't seen an iota of marketing on the part of Genting to this point, have you?

- The purse increases, said to be in the order of 36%, took effect at the Big A on Wednesday. When Stud Muffin ($15) won the 5th race, owner Bruce Golden Racing collected a winner's share of $35,400 (60% of the $59,000 purse)....more than $10,000 more than his $25,000 optional claiming price. No wonder activity has been brisk at the claim box! When Stud Muffin last ran, in the same state-bred optional claiming level, the purse was $43,000. Seven-year old has now earned $44,000 with a win and a second since being claimed by David Jacobson for $20,000, nice.

In the 7th, Coosada ($7.10) shipped in from Churchill off the claim for trainer John Good. He last ran in a 16K claimer there which carried a purse of $21,000. Here, he dropped to 14K, but competed for a purse of $34,000. Owner Maggi Moss collected a winner's share of $20,400 - nearly as much as the Churchill race offered overall - plus the proceeds from a Linda Rice claim, for a total of $34,400. Not a bad return.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

So They Messed Up

The way I see it, the NYRA takeout fiasco is far more breathtaking in the sheer incompetence and ineptitude on display, by both the association and the bodies that regulate it, than its actual practical effect. "$8.6 million taken out of horseplayers' pockets" may sound draconian. However, over 15 months and thousands of affected wagers, it's really for the most part just relative dribs and drabs withheld from bettors who were probably overjoyed to have won and collected in the first place. Half of them will probably never even realize that anything untoward occurred.

And let's face it. This was not money that was going to go towards stimulating the economy or creating jobs. One could argue that the vast majority would have been churned right back into the pools. So NYRA was probably hurting mostly itself and its horsemen.

I mention this not in an attempt to diminish what happened. It's inexcusable. But with the fight over casinos starting to simmer, and just in the course of everyday politics and business with the rivalries and conflicts that accompany them, we're certain to hear that number used as a cudgel by those to whom NYRA is an obstacle to their business interests, or just the convenient foil they have been for quite some time. So I think it's important to keep things in perspective.

In any event, this whole affair is just so bizarre; there's no rational explanation for what occurred. I wrote in the last post about how the sunset provision was common knowledge when the law was passed, and how everyone seemed to have mysteriously forgotten about it (including myself). But, as it turns out, not everyone had. Pull the Pocket wrote of a poster on the Paceadvantage site who says that he actually contacted the Racing and Wagering Board in January of 2011 about the takeout being too high, and never received a response! How can that be? What were they thinking of?

The immediate reactions of the two main parties involved, NYRA and the Board, also left something to be desired as far as I'm concerned, as they tried to slip it by as if nothing major had happened. This is the audio of the meeting of the NY State Racing and Wagering Board at which the takeout overcharge was discussed and disclosed. The subject is brought up rather casually, second on the agenda after some routine matter involving Capitol OTB, and framed initially in the context of NYRA's request to lower the rate to a point under the maximum allowed. If you go to the 18 minute mark, you'll hear Chairman John Sabini praise his auditors for discovering the discrepancy. That doesn't jibe however with the subsequent reports that the error was found by Comptroller Tom DiNapoli. And Tom Precious reported in Bloodhorse that the Board and its Chairman may be on thin ice.

[Franchise Oversigh Board chairman Robert] Megna also said, interestingly, that he would be “remiss” if he did not also express his “deep disappointment in the failure of the racing and wagering board to adequately discharge its regulatory responsibilities” to catch the accounting error by NYRA.

The matter poses problems, state sources said, for NYRA and the racing board’s leadership, which was not appointed by the current Cuomo administration since it took office nearly a year ago. Given Megna’s unusual public rebuke, it remains uncertain whether NYSRWB chairman John Sabini can hold onto his post under the weight of the new NYRA controversy. [Bloodhorse]
As for NYRA, they tried to totally gloss the matter over with a press release entitled NYRA LOWERS TAKEOUT ON EXOTICS. And I think they may come to regret blaming the error on "the complexity of the takeout provisions in the Racing Law." The fact is that the sunset provision stands out in its clarity from the rest of the gobbledygook in the law. Sometimes contrition is the best course. Oops, we messed up, we're sorry. There's a great song on the Lemonheads' first album, the somewhat overlooked punk classic Hate Your Friends. I won't print the profane title here in deference to the blessed holiday that is now upon us. But the lyrics go:
So I f**ked up
I'm only human
So I f**ked up
I did the best I could do
And then I f**ked up
What do you want
I said I was sorry would it help if I said it again, and again, and again, and again?
Well, in this case....probably not. Have a great holiday everyone.

- And for a chill Xmas soundtrack, check out the awesome Christmas Lounge on SOMA FM.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Takeout Decrease is Leftout

§ 32. This act shall take effect immediately; provided that sections two, twenty-two, twenty-three and twenty-four of this act shall take effect on the ninetieth day after it shall have become a law and shall expire and be deemed repealed 2 years after such effective date.
That's the clause in SENATE BILL #S8549 SAME AS ASSEMBLY BILL #A11635, passed on June 17, 2008, that required that the 1% increase in the takeout rate for super exotics at NYRA tracks expire on Sept 15, 2010. NYRA's failure to revert to the lower rate has it in the hot seat again.
NYRA...will be required to pay back bettors about $8.6 million...if it can track them down through racing accounts. It will also have to help clear up IRS issues with those who won exotic bets during the period. Further, NYRA will be required to pay a $50,000 contribution to a racing-related charity. [Albany Times Union]
In a press release, NYRA cited "the complexity of the takeout provisions in the Racing Law" in explaining the oversight. Section 32 above actually isn't all that complex. In fact, it's relatively straightforward. [..deemed repealed 2 years after such effective date]. It's Section 2, which lays out the actual takeout rates, that's complex. I'm not going into it in detail because, to be quite honest, I don't understand at all how it translates into a 1% increase in the takeout rate on superexotics. NYRA did though.

Maybe obscure, though not entirely appropriate, is a better way to describe Section 32 in that the clause is tucked away at the very end of 17 pages that only a sadist would actually read through. Whatever the reason, NYRA was certainly not the only party who missed the boat, as Matt Hegarty reports in the Form.
And not even the racing board was aware of the error, since it signed off on documents throughout the past 15 months that described the superexotic rate at 26 percent. Under New York's laws, the board is required to review and approve NYRA's business plan every year, and the plan that was approved for 2012 listed the superexotic takeout rate at 26 percent rate. The board also approves NYRA's simulcast contracts, which list the takeout rates applied to all wagers. [DRF]
However, it was reported quite definitively at the time the bill was passed that the increase was indeed temporary. Hegarty wrote on June 17, 2008 that the provisions sunset after two years. Here's Paul Post's piece in Thoroughbred Times from June 18, 2008:
Scheduled to last two years, the takeout increase has the negative effect of reducing bettor winnings.

“Increasing the takeout at a time when racing is in distress is not a good idea,” said Bennett Liebman, head of Albany Law School’s Racing and Wagering Law Program. “In New York, no one can ever tell when something is temporary or not.”
That surely turned out to be a prescient comment. (I missed the clause myself, and needed Mr. Liebman to point it out to me.) And, in the same article, Charlie Hayward is quoted as saying (with respect to the state takeover of NYCOTB that the increase was related to): "The short-term pain will result in a much bigger reward, long term.” Don't know if, by 'short-term pain,' he was referring specifically to the increase being temporary and I won't put words in his mouth here. But I think one could fairly surmise that he was.

If he was however, he apparently forgot about it. As did Paul Post. And Matt Hegarty. And Bennett Liebman (who now works on racing and gaming matters for the governor). Those are all really sharp guys! The always takeout-vigilant HANA didn't seem to realize anything was amiss. It all smacks of a mass Vulcan Mind Meld.

Even no less of an authority on both the Pick Six and takeout as Steven Crist, who referred to the sunset provision (if rather skeptically) in his column of June 17, 2008, didn't seem to notice. If he missed it, then I suppose anyone could have. Still, the whole thing is really kinda weird.

[UPDATE: Pull the Pocket posts about one horseplayer who emailed the Racing and Wagering Board about the sunset provision in early 2011, several months after it should have taken effect.]

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Help Is On the wAy

Got some information from NYRA in response to my incessant whining about the lack of improvements thus far on the racing side at the Big A....and the good news is that help is on the way. Construction of the new simulcast center, a joint Genting-NYRA project that we've heard mentioned in the past, is slated to begin in late January. "We are aiming to have it open for the Saratoga meet at the latest," Dan Silver, NYRA's Director of Communications and Media Relations, told me. "It is a $5 million project that Genting is helping us fund. It will reside on the 2nd floor, all the way from where the Man O’ War deli and bar currently sits down to the Kelso room, including the area that used to house the Genting employees."

The Kelso room is the one I referred to the other day, wondering why it was still sitting idle, and there you go. That room will be reserved for NYRA Rewards players, divided into "Elite Players" (which I am certainly not, in any sense of the word) and "Regular Players" sections. "What is currently the Man O’ War room will have a brand new sports bar and a large seating area." That section will be open to all, and the total seating capacity will be around 600. Should be really cool.

Silver also told me that Genting has applied for a liquor license for the Manhattan Terrace on the third floor. "We are hoping to have it open in two weeks and will be making general improvements to the area."

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Nowhere to Go

Given my proximity to the place, I go to Aqueduct almost reflexively on any weekend day on which I have an opportunity to spend at least a couple of hours. But nowadays, I get there, look around at the options, and wonder why I bothered. All of my favorite haunting places from over the years are either gone or negatively altered. The first floor clubhouse is overcrowded and brimming with that old OTB parlor vibe. The room on the second floor in the back off the Man O'War room is now an office for Genting. Seriously, still? What's the deal with that? They can't find any room on their side? Couldn't NYRA extract some improvements in the surrounding areas in exchange? And the Manhattan Terrace on the third floor has been taken over by the dingy and depressing desk cubby things as pictured in this post.

I haven't found a comfortable place to settle, at least without paying $13.99 for a table in the Equestris restaurant, buffet meal included; not a terrible deal I suppose. But best I can find for free thus far is front side of the third floor outside the restaurant. That represents full circle, because it's where we used to hang out in the old days when it was just the third floor clubhouse, before Equestris was built (though with frequent trips to the staircases in the back).

The most frequent question I'm asked on the subject of the Big A these days is why couldn't somebody have done something, even a bare minimum, to try and make the racing side more inviting. And I can't really answer. NYRA has other priorities as we know, and presumably is still waiting for the cash spigot to open (don't know what the timetable of the required payments from slots money is). And Genting? Guess they don't really care despite professing to do so. The only improvements they've contributed thus far on the track side are the ones related to the concession stands that they now run. We're told that they'll be a lavish simulcast facility, but no sign of that yet. Might be better to just play from home until that time.

The second floor of the casino is now open, and there's a passageway open from the track. But you can't actually go in unless you've signed up for some kind of rewards program related to the slots, so not sure why they bothered.....except for the concession stand accessible before you get to the friendly security folks who tell you that you can't come in. It was pretty damn empty up there on the slots floor. So, as I mentioned recently, expect those win per machine numbers to adjust downward rather precipitously.

The local racing sucked again - virtually unplayable - so bet strictly out of town races on Saturday. Two more winners for the Toddster at Gulfstream, giving him four in a row and nine of 18 at the meet going into Sunday (with some solid contenders entered for that day). In the 5th, Unbridled's Ocean ($4) got up with a desperate late rally as Johnny V finally found room after an eventful trip on the inside. Three-year old son of Unbridled's Song is a half to the turf sprint stakes winner West Ocean, and is out of a Belong To Me mare who's a half-sister to Sun King, who's been virtually invisible as a freshman sire this year.

And in the 8th, Pletcher's first-timer Dan and Sheila ($8.40) took money and got the job done for owner Ahmed Zayat after a wide trip. Two-year old is by More Than Ready out of the stakes winning Sheila's Prospect (Not For Love). Thought I was gonna nail a nice exacta with Twin, but he hung after a similarly wide trip, so no luck there. That's the third first-time two-year old winner at the meet for the Toddster, from five starters.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Hunch Bets for Thursday, Dec 15

Money In Motion 2nd at Aqueduct
Upandgone 1st at Charles Town
American Excess 5th at Golden Gate
Matter Of Money 5th Laurel
Justleavemealone 1st at Aqueduct
Web Surfer 8th at Penn National
Implosion 3rd at Aqueduct
Tree Hugger 5th at Hawthorne
Best Laid Plans 5th at Golden Gate

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Wanna Bet?

Yeah I know, been awhile since the last post. But hey, it's a slow time in the racing calendar. And besides, it's the holidays, and we're all supposed to be depressed, right? I mean, that's what everyone tells me, especially for some reason my yoga instructors. Guess that must be their selling point this time of year. Anyway, guess I'm overdue for a post, so here goes.

The purses go up at the Big A on December 28, when NYRA comes back from its Christmas holiday break that begins after racing concludes this Sunday. Will the purses merely attract more bad horses, as this reader postulated? Or will quantity also mean quality? I spoke to someone with intimate knowledge of the NYRA circuit who said he has absolutely no idea what to expect...and if he doesn't, I don't know that anyone does.

It does seem likely that horsemen are holding back at this point, awaiting the more generous prize money. The racing here usually holds up fairly well in December, but that's surely not the case this year. I was there on Saturday, and the card was just dismal. The Xmas break can't come soon enough, and we can only hope for some light on the other side.

Resorts World of course will not be taking a break; their casino is open every day of the year. It should be quite the holly jolly scene there around 2AM on Christmas morning. In fact, the second and third floors of the casino is slated to open on Friday, adding another 2,514 VLT's to the gambling menu there; as well as two 250-seat restaurants. The third floor is billed as the largest event and catering space in the borough.

The new additions are opening four months ahead of schedule, Resorts World said.

“We have been truly humbled by the response of New Yorkers and tourists alike and we thank them for their ongoing support and patronage,” said Resorts World New York President Michael Speller. “Due to the hard work of our 1,500-person staff, we’re confident that we will be able to continue providing the highest level of service to our customers as we unveil the second stage of our facility.” []
Of course, it's highly unlikely that a doubling of the machines is going to mean a doubling of the patrons. Haven't seen any promotional efforts tied to the expansion...seems almost like a soft opening. And the Special Events tab of the website still reads Visit often for upcoming promotions at Resorts World Casino NYC. In any event, we should start to get an idea of how the win per machine figures are going to compare to NYRA's budgeted figure of $380. Considering that the figure dropped off to $478 for the week ending 12/10, that doesn't seem like such a lock now with all those machines set to come on line. Perhaps some people are discovering that VLT's are simply not all that much fun!

While NYRA may, or may not, be sweating this out, Genting itself has bigger fish to fry at the moment as the battle heats up in Florida over its bid to build a huge full-fledged casino and entertainment/convention center in downtown Miami. The company has hired a former congressman as a lobbyist, and he wrote an opinion piece in the Miami Herald this past weekend. That drew at least one heated response. As you might expect, Genting is using Aqueduct to herald their record of creating local jobs. It's always interesting to read views from afar, and this is what the casino opponent had to say about the 1,500 jobs created here:
Yet Diaz-Balart doesn't explain [that] the Queens racino is located in a depressed neighborhood, miles away from Manhattan, or that Genting agreed to pay the Empire State a $380 million upfront fee and a 66 percent tax rate to build a gambling facility that is significant smaller than the company's proposed Miami resort. [Miami New Times]
Though I find the casino itself to be quite depressing, I would hardly classify the working class neighborhood as 'depressed.' Besides, I don't understand the relevance of that argument anyway with employment scarce just about everywhere. And Queens can seem a lot further away from Manhattan than it really is when you're far away, But hey, that's their fight down there, and we'll just watch and see how it turns out.

- The New York Times continues its campaign against fighting in the National Hockey League with a barrage of articles on head injuries even after the three-part-series on the late Derek Boogard which even prompted the paper of record to break out a separate sports section last Tuesday. Funny how, as with horse racing, the Times is so eager to proselytize about the problems of a sport about which it's provided little positive coverage over the last few years. But just as Joe Drape's articles on illicit medication in racing has contributed to the sport's self-inspection, the Boogard articles are no doubt already having an effect.

It used to be you'd read that a player was out with a concussion, he'd be out for a few games perhaps, and then be back. So it's surely interesting to note the way the injury has become so magnified, not only in terms of the coverage of them but, more curiously, the seriousness, the amount of time missed, and the incidences of recurrence. Is it because players are bigger and stronger and thus more capable of causing profound damage? Or more due to a greater awareness of the issue of head injuries resulting in a far more cautious approach by player and team alike? In horse racing, we often blame an increase in physical problems on a deterioration of the breed. But since we're a superior race, it would surely be simply facetious of me to suggest that the human race is suffering from bad breeding as well, right?

And on that note, we turn, strictly by sheer coincidence of course, to the race for the Republican presidential nomination! Surely you've heard by now of the $10,000 bet proposed by Mitt Romney in last Saturday's debate in reaction to the continuing badgering he's taking, in this case specifically from Rick Perry, over his past support for health insurance mandates in Massachusetts. This was, to me, the most cringeworthy moment of the GOP debate season, and by a large margin, and including Perry's brain freeze over the three departments he wants to eliminate. It was a total breakdown of poise under pressure, borne of sheer frustration in reaction to criticism that he seems to be simply unable to handle, and which will surely become more relentless should he become the nominee. "Oh yeah, you wanna bet?" is the basest of schoolyard argument responses when a kid has run out of credible arguments to make.

To make matters worse for the beleaguered ex-governor, trailing badly in the polls to Newt Gingrich in several crucial early primary states, a series of embarrassing videos have emerged. One shows him badgering John Kerry for five agonizing minutes in 2004 for being a flip-flopper. Jon Huntsman rolled out an ad containing several clips in which he unequivocally expresses his support for mandates, not only for his state, but for the nation. And in another video that has surfaced from 2002, he says "my views are progressive."

I posted on Twitter recently that "$10,000 says that Romney is toast." Someone replied that he'd take me up on that. Unlike Romney, who I'm sure was totally serious, I wasn't. About the bet, anyway.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

No Limit On Hypocrisy

Gaming Agreement: The Leaders expressed support to work with the Governor and request support from their respective majorities to put a constitutional amendment up for a vote.
And so, in a mere paragraph contained within the announcement that the Three Men in a Room had agreed on the change in the tax brackets discussed in the prior post (and explained in more detail here), the road to expanded casino gambling in New York State officially begins. They also agreed on $50 million in grants to businesses affected by the summer flooding; and to provide relief to small companies and independent contractors from the MTA tax.

And the casino thing. Of course, as Tom Precious points out, the statement is light on detail, if not downright trite.
But the agreement is tentative, at best, since no one has yet agreed on where such casinos could operate, how many could open, who would operate them, or how much of their proceeds would go to the state. [Bloodhorse]
The announcement prompted statements from two entities with a direct interest in the development....even though each group also issued similar statements just on Monday, in reaction to Governor Cuomo's weekend comments which portended the agreement. Seneca Nation President Robert Odawi Porter spoke on Monday about the tribe's three existing casinos, which have "created thousands of jobs that have a significant economic multiplier effect.” (Of course, he didn't mention that the tribe has been withholding payments for over a year to protest the racinos in their "exclusivity zone.") He did threaten to protect what he sees as the tribe's rights.
“New Yorkers have every right to discuss expanded gaming outside our exclusivity zone. As a business partner with the state, we disagree over racino in our zone. But the issue of the state breaching Seneca exclusivity will be arbitrated and resolved. [Capitol Confidential]
And we heard from the New York Gaming Association (NYGA), which represents the existing racinos, with similar statements on both days. Got an email in my inbox on Tuesday afternoon from a Christina Levin (presumably no relation to Christine Lavin, who has been active with the Occupy movement), with a statement attributed to NYGA President James D. Featherstonhaugh.
“The New York Gaming Association and its members are pleased that Governor Cuomo and the Legislative leaders have announced an agreement to support enhanced gaming in New York State, which will create tens of thousands of much-needed jobs, generate hundreds of millions in additional state revenues and stimulate massive private economic investment in our state. We look forward to working with the Governor and Legislature to ensure that legalization of gaming is done in a limited and socially responsible manner.”
Huh, what's that? "...done in a limited and socially responsible manner." Limited? Personally, I don't see much "limited" about expanding nine slots parlors into full-fledged casinos. Perhaps Ms. Not-Christina-Lavin is specifically referring to the notion that NYGA is trying to propagate that a decision to deny them exclusive rights to new casinos would necessarily open the floodgates and "lift all restrictions on casino gaming and allow casinos anywhere in the state," as it was put to the public in their sanctioned push-poll on the topic. In either case, perhaps she'd like to rephrase that.

And please, don't give me this "socially responsible" crap. These guys are already operating substantial gambling halls for no less than 20 hours a day, seven days a week. Don't want to sound like one of those religious nuts, and I don't think one has to be in order to believe that there's no social responsibility, just profitability, involved in opening your doors to slots parlors at 8 AM every day. Y'know, sugar-coated statements like this one just drives me nuts; it's the kind of hypocrisy that can only be generated with the notion that those who will read it are a bunch of fucking idiots. We all know that "enhanced gaming" is a pleasant (and cynical) way of saying "expanded gambling." We're well aware that this is all far less about creating jobs and generating revenues than it is about politicians getting a free pass from making painful budget decisions that could threaten their political careers and all the perks that come with it (both legal and otherwise); and about a handful of corporations and their executives making tons of money. And nobody really seems to ever acknowledge the people of more common means who may get hurt in the process. Sound familiar? Maybe we should get Christina Lavin to perform for Occupy Aqueduct.

- One conservative who was not willing to go along with the governor's plan to make the tax code fairer was Conservative Party chairman Mike Long. He apparently couldn't stomach any increase in the tax rates for the wealthiest taxpayers, even if it's less than the expiring "millionaires" surcharge and accompanied by cuts for incomes up to $300,000. "Dean holds the key," he said of his hopes that the plan would not be adopted, and referring to Senate Majority Leader Skelos. [Capital Confidential]

Of course, "the key" ended up quickly going along with the governor, extracting only an easing in the MTA tax for some in return. Because Dean isn't really that interested in anything but retaining control for his Republican majority next November. He'll do anything for that as we've seen, even if it brings the government to a halt, involves alliances with unsavory characters, or makes him a liar. So, Skelos wouldn't dare cross Cuomo on a priority issue such as this (see same sex marriage), lest this extraordinarily popular Democratic governor pull out all the campaign stops to help oust the Republicans next fall. He could do it in a second, and Skelos knows that surely will should his caucus no longer suit the governor's needs.

Monday, December 05, 2011

Monday Musings

We've been down at my mom's house down in Longboat Key; in Florida, but a long ways from Gulfstream (though not from Tampa Bay Downs, where we haven't been either). Gulfstream is open a month earlier this year. Don't know why exactly, but I don't think it was to get a one month head start on the coming purse increases at the Big A. Just a smattering of NY trainers appearing in the entries for the first two days, and just one jockey (Castellano) that I noticed. (Is Alex Solis considered a NY jockey these days?) The Toddster is there, but not with NY-bssed horses and, besides, he's everywhere. (Had a winner on Saturday with an overbet first-timer; look for that trend to continue, as betting against them eventually proved to be a potentially profitable angle at Saratoga this past summer.) John Kimmel has some horses, but he hasn't one a race in two months so maybe he just wants a change in scenery. McLaughlin nnd Shug had winners on Sunday; Frank Alexander, Mott, and Jimmy Jerkens had horses tool

I imagine we'll see more as the winter moves along, but it sure will be interesting to see to what extent with the bigger prizes that will be offered in Queens; especially with the rank and file horses as opposed to the ones with larger ambitions. Purses these days aren't bad at Gulfstream, which of course has slots - though no backyard, nor none of its former charm (he says without having been there since the destruction of the old building). For example, a maiden special route there on Sunday went for $51,500. One of those at the Big A however will be offering $65,000 come January 1. Happy New Year.

Pletcher's winner on Saturday did so by ten lengths and set a new track record for the 5 1/2 furlong distance. Discreet Dancer (Discreet Cat) is a half-brother to the graded-stakes winner Travelin Man. He earned a Beyer figure of.....100??

- Back to NY and off-topic if you don't mind, talk in Albany of a deal to address the worsening budget deficit by changing the state income tax rates in a way which would raise taxes on the wealthiest taxpayers. This plan would allow the so-called millionaires surcharge tax to expire at the end of the year, and thus keep the governor's promise to do so. Yet it would raise the basic tax rate on the wealthiest earners, while providing some relief for those at the lower spectrum. Some Republican senators have expressed support for the plan - and, in fact, had previously seemed open to the possibility of extending the surcharge, though specifically on true million-dollar earners (it currently starts at $250,000).

Even in Washington, at least one Republican Senator - albeit the moderate Susan Collins (Maine) - has actually now said she would support higher taxes on the wealthiest taxpayers (she was the lone GOP vote in favor of a Democratic proposal to do so last week). And here's another one reconsidering, saying he senses a "change of mood" in his party.

You might have thought that the Occupy Wall Street movement was unfocused, unable to articulate any specific proposals or agendas beyond its beating drums and vague cries of unfairness. But if you think that it hasn't had a very real and profound effect on the political debate in this country, guess again. The debate has shifted, suddenly and momentously, to the Tea Party's 'too much government' mantra,' to one of 'income inequality.' And tha is, at least in my view, an argument with far more resonance and relevancy, both as to the current economic situation, and to the principles of freedom and fairness on which this country was built.

It has also handed the bumbling national Democratic party, which, despite controlling two-thirds of the federal government, had completely lost control of the debate, the strong upper hand. And it has left the House Republicans who rode to office on the Tea Party coattails, gyrating uncomfortably and rather pathetically to explain why they would now oppose an effective increase in the payroll tax for working Americans and make it seem as if it's not simply to simply oppose the president who they loathe. Of course, whether the Democrats will be able to ride this wave through next year's presidential election remains to be seen.

Friday, December 02, 2011

A Steady Stream

I didn't realize that it was an issue, but the NYS Racing and Wagering Board approved the continuation of online video streaming of thoroughbred and harness races in New York through 2012. Authorization for streaming would have expired on December 22. Of course, it took the closure of NYCOTB to finally bring it about. The law had stated that NYRA could stream only if all the OTB's could as well, and it took a look into the abyss to finally bring it about. Soon afterwards, NYRA obtained agreement with out-of-state tracks to stream their races, and in-state harness tracks followed shortly thereafter.

This story reminds me that the one year anniversary of the closing of NYCOTB passed without much fanfare or notice [updated - actually jumping the gun here, it closed last Dec 8]. I'd guess that streaming has a fair amount to do with how little it seems to be missed; even, as far as NYRA was concerned, before Resorts World opened.

NYRA alone saw a major boost in its account wagering program, known as NYRA Rewards. Its year-to-date figures show that the Internet handle is $79.6 million. That’s up 195% from the $26.9 million that was wagered via the internet during the same period in 2010. The total NYRA Rewards handle — which includes telephone-account wagering and at-track betting via accounts — is $206 million this year, as opposed to the $107 million for the same period last year. [Metropolis]
The purse increases that will result from the slots money will impact racing far beyond New York, as Jennie Rees noted the other day in the Louisville Courier Journal:
Stalls might not be as hard to get next year with no Breeders’ Cup here and a likely stream of horses heading to New York for slots-fattened purses that will dwarf Churchill’s.
..let’s see what purse Aqueduct provides in 2012 for its Remsen and Demoiselle for 2-year-olds; both were $200,000. It’s going to be increasingly tough for Churchill to compete for the best horses.
Interesting dueling op-ed pieces the other day in the Atlanta Journal Constitution for and against horse racing in Georgia. One, titled Horse racing a good bet for Ga., is by State Rep. Harry Geisinger, a Republican who introduced the bill. And he rather oversimplifies things, and twists the facts as well.
Let’s get the “gambling” issue out of the way. This amendment does not allow for casinos, dog racing, slot machines or Elvis wedding chapels. All of that can stay in Vegas. So what makes pari-mutuel wagering different from gambling?

In simple terms, when you gamble, you are betting against the “house,” and the odds are stacked against you. With pari-mutuel, you are betting against the other bettors in each race. If you bet $1 on a horse, the “track” will take 18 cents to operate the track, pay taxes, purses to the horses and other overhead, while you share 82 cents with each of the other bettors.
For one thing, a lot of horseplayers would be happy with an 18% takeout if it applied to all wagers. But, as you may know, the takeout by the casino "house" is actually far lower than those at the tracks.

The opposing opinion piece, Gambling Leads to Dire Results, was authored by the second vice president of the Georgia Baptist Convention. So you might guess what's coming next.
Gambling creates a climate with a concept that one can strike it rich based on luck, rather than work and personal responsibility. The providence of God and personal accountability are overlooked with an aggressive campaign to entice people to depend upon luck for their success.
I thought that luckiness was close to Godliness, or something like that? Guess not.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Odds and Ends

Bigger purses, more stakes for three-year olds this winter and spring, as reported by David Grening in the Form. The Withers, once a backdoor route to the Preakness and eliminated last year, is back as what they want me to call a 'Derby prep,' but really as an early-February prep for the Gotham and the Wood. Not sure really why a race would retain its graded status after taking a hiatus, but it's a Grade 3 and therefore a means to an end for Derby hopefuls.

The Withers will be a stepping-stone to the March 3 Gotham Stakes, which will have its purse increased to $400,000 from $250,000, according to Campo.

Those races lead to the Grade 1 Wood Memorial, which will be run April 7 at 1 1/8 miles over the main track. The Wood will retain its $1 million purse. Genting, the company that operates Aqueduct’s casino, supplemented the purse with $250,000 in 2011 and will do so again in 2012, according to Campo. [DRF]
I'm guessing that the supplement for the Wood is over and above whatever Genting will be turning over to NYRA for its share of the slots and virtual table games revenue.

That money continues to pour in, as anyone who was out at the Big A this past holiday weekend might surmise. I was there on Friday, and the outdoor parking lots that are designated for the casino were entirely full at around 1:30. So I shelled out the two bucks for the track lot, which is as ragged and unkempt as compared to the pristine casino lot as the track side of the building is to Resorts World. Faded parking lines lead to a free-for-all; beware of the potential to get boxed in by a third row. The whole logic for NYRA charging for parking was that Genting would be doing so for their patrons. So far, that hasn't happened, so the only people paying to park there are us.

Paul Moran wrote in his column on that, on Saturday, the seats at the table games were filled to capacity at 11 a.m. and people await vacancies.
Standard video-lottery terminals are being claimed by determined players who enter the building in a steady stream, pass beneath a three-story crystal chandelier and ride wide escalators into a glittering expanse that unlike other such enterprises has thoughtfully integrated electronic gaming and racing.
Eh, I think the jury is still out on the integration thing...maybe when I see just a single TV around the bar tuned in to the simulcast feed, we can discuss that.

The numbers surely reflect the anecdotal evidence of a busy weekend. After the win per machine figure dipped to $516 from the gaudy figures of the opening weeks, it jumped back up to $570 for the week ending Nov 26. Meanwhile however, there was little such bounce at Yonkers, where the numbers continue to sag. After sinking further to $259 for the week ending 11/19 (see this post again for background), the holiday week produced only a slight bounce to $261. That as opposed to $303 for the same week last year. Seems to be little doubt that Resorts World has hurt business at Yonkers....I'd say, back of the napkin calculation, to the tune of close to 20%. A crack in the veneer of what to this point has been a recession-and-justaboutanything-proof business. What happens if and when full fledged casinos open in the Catskills, or closer to home?

- Nice win by To Honor And Serve in the Cigar Mile, and quite a nice late summer and fall campaign over all after quite a disappointing spring. But an Eclipse for best three-year old for winning the PA Derby, and beating this mediocre field after running 7th in the Classic? I don't think so....still Caleb's Posse for me.

Pedestrian numbers in the Demoiselle and Remsen, with the winners earning Beyers of 71 and 80 respectively. Both winners did endure eventful trips however, with Remsen winner O'Prado Again caught wide both turns, and Disposablepleasure stumbling badly at the start and causing trouble for others during the race (and surviving a claim of foul). O'Prado Again, winning in his first try on a fast dirt track, is by El Prado out of a winless Pulpit mare who's a half-sister to the dams of stakes winners First Samurai and Audacious Chloe. Disposablepleasure is the first US graded stakes winner for Giacomo, standing now for a humbling $5,000 at Adena Springs; she's out of a winless With Approval mare who's a half-sister to the multiple graded-stakes placed Riley Tucker.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Churchill Friday [Updated - + Aqueduct]

I read someone write somewhere that a win by Ruler On Ice (4-1) in the Clark on Friday would put him in the running for 3 yo championship honors, and are you kidding me? That would be his third win of the year, and one of them was the Belmont, which shouldn't even count. Yeah, I know, the "Test of Champions" and yada yada; but a mile and a half is an abnormal distance that most thoroughbreds can't handle, and the result of the race, as we've seen increasingly in recent years, often has little or nothing to do with the relative abilities of the horses involved at the distances at which championships are (or at least should be) determined. (Didn't hurt him that the track was sloppy that day either.) I think Caleb's Posse is a pretty clear winner of the 3yo Eclipse.

The other thing is that this year's Clark is a pretty weak edition, so much so that Ruler on Ice could actually win (though I'll lose if he does). Not much to say about his form; he's not a bad horse, but he doesn't have what it takes to beat top competition at normal distances. Flat Out (5-2) is back after being the beaten favorite in the Classic, and I do not like him one bit as the favorite in the Clark. Never was a huge fan even when he was running well, and feel that his campaign is getting long in the tooth at this point. He's never won a graded stake around two turns on a fast track, and he hasn't been better than 5th in three tries at Churchill. He is, in my opinion, about as easy a throwout of a favorite as you'll see. Hope I don't regret saying that.

Unfortunately, it's slim pickens as far as finding an alternative. Wise Dan (4-1) would be a contender in the slop, over which he's two-for-two at Churchill. But he's 0 for three on fast tracks and the forecast is good. Prayer for Relief (5-1) is probably the logical choice by default with his string of Minor Derby wins followed by his defeat behind repeat winner Redeemed in the Ohio Derby; but hard to get too excited at that price given his poor post position.

The horse who interests me at a price is Mister Mardi Gras (12-1). Four-year old gelded son of Belong to Me has been handled more patiently this year after some ambitious placings last year in which he hardly disgraced himself. That strategy paid off with a win in the G3 Wash Park on the Poly at Arlington. Switched to the dirt after that, he closed stoutly after having to back up and circle the field from last while extremely wide, finishing 4th in the Hawthorne Gold Cup (behind Headache (12-1)). And he had what seems like a perfect prep over this (albeit muddy) surface in the Ack Ack. Saved ground until swinging wide entering the stretch and rallied to win rather handily in a not-too-taxing effort in a race which didn't have much pace, which may be the case in the Clark as well. Jumps in class and will probably have to put in a career-best effort; but seems poised to do so, and the price will be right.

In the 10th, Future Prospect (4-1) returns to this track after a poor effort on the Poly at Keeneland that I think we can excuse, as he doesn't seem to care for that surface. Prior was a G2 stakes win at Turfway. Seven-year old son of Freud failed on this track at this mile route against 50K claimers in May, but got good after that. A four race winning streak started with a win here at 6 1/2 furlongs in which he rallied from off the pace as opposed to his usual front-running style. His jockey that day was Manoel Cruz who, interestingly, returns to the saddle for the first time since then. If the rider can utilize his natural speed wisely from his outside post, he could control the proceedings and roll to a win in this spot. Agastache (8-1) comes off a win over the track at six furlongs. Been sprinting of late but has won here at this distance in the past. Dubious Miss (5-2) is a dubious favorite in this spot in my opinion.

Continuing to work backwards for no particular reason, in the 9th, Revelstoke (4-1) comes off a solid effort off a layoff and over this course in this class and should be ready to get the job done here. Had a pretty easy trip that day but couldn't quite pass the even money favorite Exclusive Love, earning a career high Beyer of 86. Do you downgrade the effort because of the ground saving trip and clear shot at the leader? Or figure that she's eligible to improve here since the race probably didn't take too much out of her? (Similar question regarding Mister Mardi Gras in the Clark.) Considering that trainer Jim Corrigan is hitting at 38% second off the layoff, I'm figuring that we'll see a solid effort on this day. Heavenly Landing (3-1) moves up in class after a handy win in her first try on turf.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone, best of luck and have a great day and holiday weekend. (Hope you don't have to go in to work on Friday like me.)

[UPDATE: In the 9th at the Big A, the G2 Go For Wand (sandwiched between two awful maiden claimers at the end of the card), I'm all in on the Magical Dutrow Tour. C C's Pal (6-1) was a different animal in her first start for the barn, gliding along under a confident Johnny V while perched three wide for the entirety of the sweeping turn for home at Belmont, and besting the promising Alseera. Dutrow had another winner on Thursday, and is now 14 for 27 at the meet. If you can't beat em, join em. From her outside post, this modestly-bred daughter of Alex's Pal can use her tactical speed to ride the old Ussery's Alley to the winner's circle. All Due Respect (3-1) comes off a layoff for Dutrow, has run well in that circumstance before, and could complete an all Hey Babe exacta. Arena Elvira (5-2) has won four in a row (albeit all around two turns) and is clearly the one to beat.]

Monday, November 21, 2011

Ten Years, Too Long

Two more starters and two more winners for one Richard E. Dutrow, Jr. on Sunday. That's five in a row, and an overall record at the Big A of 13 winners from 25 starters, an ungodly winning percentage of 52%. No start in 261 days for Groomedforvictory ($5.40) since he was claimed for $62,500 at Gulfstream? No problem. What's that you say, Head Heart Hoof ($7.30) weakened in this class his last two starts? Nothing a little Ramon magic couldn't cure.

Dutrow is surely making a mockery out of....well, something or somebody, I guess. Or maybe the mockery is the system itself, which has allowed trainers like he and a host of other multi-violators to escape with relative impunity over the years. But it's not like Dutrow is making any special effort to show anyone up, or to prove anything at this time as some have suggested, facetiously or otherwise: none of those five in a row were dropping in class, and only three of his 13 winners at the meet have done so (and all three were perfectly legitimate cases of overmatched horses seeking their levels).

I posted about Dutrow's suspension a few weeks ago, at which time I said that the suspension was so out of proportion that I couldn't even form an opinion about its ten-year length. But I'm coming around to the point of view that it's indeed so out of proportion that's it's just plain wrong.

I also wrote then that it seems fairly obvious to me that the New York board was under pressure by elements of the national industry to do its bidding for them. There seems to be this idea that dishonest trainers cause lack of confidence amongst bettors, which is contributing to the decline in handle. Personally, I think that's a very small factor in what ails the industry, if one at all. For whatever it's worth, maybe nothing in this case, horseplayers don't seem to be too bothered by Dutrow still being in the game. 5-2 has been the highest price on any of his winners during this streak, with two of them well under even money; $5.30 is the median payoff overall for the meet. So the betting public...yes, those very poor fools who have been so terribly wronged by the trainer over the years....has had no problem backing him.

Look, I've never really been one to consider the "betting public" as being so sacrosanct. Dutrow is a cheater, there's little doubt about that. Then again, so was Gaylord Perry, and he's in the Hall of Fame. But there's this idea that the "betting public" needs to be so coddled and protected, and - just my point of view as a recreational horseplayer - I've never felt that way. The game comes with all of the imperfections that go with an enterprise in which I am willfully gambling my hard-earned money on dumb animals owned and trained by human beings with methods and secrets of their own that, in the pursuit of a profit, they are not willing to disclose. To me, part of the handicapping equation is to discern the motives of the humans who send the horses out to race. I mean, anyone who is under any illusion that they should, could, or ever will be entitled to know everything that the connections do should probably be putting their money in a safe place, else.

That's just my take, you may disagree vociferously, and that's fine, let me have it. I don't take this nearly as seriously as many of you; certainly not those trying to make a living from it, that's for sure. Of course, if Dutrow has been indeed abusing his animals, then that's a whole other story. If you have evidence that that's the case, please let me know. However, I've never heard that as part of this discussion. Besides, the notion of "abuse" in this context, far short of a Paragallo situation (at least as far as I can see), is, in my opinion, an abstract one in a sport where, every single day, you can see low-level animals get beaten mercilessly by whips as they struggle, exhausted by their early efforts, just to make it to the wire. (That's your celebrated dirt racing, folks.)

And what exactly constitutes cheating the public in this game, anyway? We scream if a horse has a minute amount of some drug or other in its system, and blame the trainer even if he/she was 1,000 miles away. But it's OK for a trainer to go on national television before the Dirt Mile and be like "oh yeah, we knew he wouldn't win that two-turn race, we were just setting him up for this, so sorry about those bettors who made him 2-1 that day"?

So, yes, I think that the ten-year suspension for Dutrow was too harsh, at least considering the precedent, as well as the free-wheeling and, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the sometimes inhumane sport in which he plies his trade. Yes, he in large part brought it upon himself with his brash and dismissive attitude towards the attempts to punish him. But I disagree that he deserves to be made an example of in this way, for the sake of making certain points that I don't necessarily agree are valid ones. And besides, just maybe, considering the build-up to the Board's decision, had it not overreached and ruled a suspension more in line - a year, maybe two? - perhaps Dutrow would have breathed a sigh of relief, given us a wave and a final 'Hey babe,' taken off for a vacation, and we wouldn't be having this discussion at all.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Slots Fervor Never Ceases to Amaze

I was at the Big A on Saturday, entering through the grand entrance to the casino this time, standing there wild-eyed while sending a couple of twitters about how astounded I still am about the transformation of the grandstand to Resorts World. And then another one one later on expressing amazement at just how the crowd had grown at that point, around 4:30. It was absolutely packed, from end to end (and that covers a lot of ground, think approximately the entire length of the Big A stretch). There's a sign posted saying that the capacity on the first floor is around 9,000, and I wonder how close they were to that number, even at that point in the afternoon.

Got a response to that last tweet saying: people like slots. Are you seriously surprised by this? To which I replied that I'm not surprised, but still taken aback seeing it so close to home in a place (formerly) as familiar as Aqueduct. Thinking about that further however, I guess there is indeed a certain amount of incredulity - not specifically that Resorts World was crowded then, or at any specific point in time; but - still - just about the whole idea that people do indeed like slots! I don't know if I'll ever fully understand or accept that. Guess that's what the phrase never ceases to amaze is for.

Did spend a little quality time in there, enjoying an afternoon cocktail at the Bar 360. There's actually a very pleasant lounge area behind the bar and facing out onto the racetrack which would be perfect for a few betting windows if Genting wasn't so focused on keeping their customers focused on their tedious task at hand. Also must say that the food and drink prices are extremely reasonable....if not downright cheap in this day and age. Where else can one get a Stella draft for $6.50? Forget other sports venues - $11.75 at Met Life Stadium, $9.50 at the Garden (just for a can) - I don't know if you can find many bars anywhere in the city that would match that price. Even though Teresa insisted on a premium liquor brand, still got change back from a 20 after leaving a tip.

And then, there's the racing side.

This is the Manhattan Terrace room, where they've now taken out the round tables and chairs and replaced them with these desk cubby things. When I wrote recently that I'd hoped that NYRA would at least have, as part of some cursory improvements, replaced and updated some of the seating, these were specifically what I was talking about. I dunno, maybe patrons have expressed fondness for them, because they are prevalent throughout the track. I think they're absolutely hideous though. Besides being extremely space inefficient, the aesthetic is just awful, at least to me. And, as the day goes on, empty cups, discarded food wrappers and abandoned programs and papers accumulate, and it's just downright ugly and depressing. A long ways from the pristine facilities of the casino that's just next door, but seemingly a mile away.

- Dutrow is on fire these days. Three winners from three starters on the day, including Redeemed ($4.90), who took the Discovery, earning a Beyer of 96. That gives him 11 winners from 23 starters at the meeting, for a winning percentage of 48%. The kind that makes people suspicious. Of course, considering that he's fighting a ten-year suspension, from which he received an indefinite stay while he challenges the ban in the court system, one might think that, as one reader noted, he has some proving to do to the nyra by not using the needle anymore. Though how do we know, as the reader continues, that he's not using that "spiked up vaseline?" For all we know, maybe he's really trying to prove that he can still get away with whatever it is he gets away with!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Winners and Liu-sers

Matt Hegarty, no doubt having seen my post on the booming business at the Big A, reports on the subject in his usual comprehensive way, in the Form:

Genting is estimating that the casino will generate $1 billion in net revenue, which would nearly double the initial estimates for the annual amount of subsidies that will go to racing.
As you may recall, NYRA has already raised purses for the winter meet (starting Jan 1) by 36%, and numbers like these would surely bode well to support an increase of that least.

Of course, the per machine numbers will presumably decline once the additional 2,000 machines are added. NYRA is staying with their forecast of $380 per machine and $75 million in slots revenue for 2012, but, given these initial results, Charlie Hayward classifies those estimates as "conservative." If that indeed turns out to be the case - and even if the estimates prove to be merely prescient - all that dire talk we heard from Comptroller DiNapoli and his audits, and from Franchise Oversight Board chairman Robert Megna regarding $11 million deficits, executive raises, and reckless spending on van rides between Belmont and Aqueduct will be forgotten. And New York politicians will have lost their easiest whipping boy with which to score easy political points.

Hayward is also quoted as saying: “The casino has probably made it more interesting to come out to watch the races." Interesting is one way of putting it. It's been crowded but, as Hegarty opines, that's likely due to the OTB closure. The renovated grandstand and the new patio are nice places to watch the races. But there are no wagering facilities there; so unless you're wagering through your NYRA Rewards mobile app, it's not a place where you can pitch and tent and Occupy all day. Besides, it's getting cold, so soon we'll be stuck indoors, where it's not going to be anymore interesting than in the past, at least on the racing side . Hopefully, that will change soon, especially if business continues to boom.

- Let's go off topic here. Andrew Weiner's sexting scandal was such a sensational story that it even attracted commenters to this site to give me the business like I was the head of the Democratic National Committee or something. Weiner was a major mayoral hopeful for 2013, assuming Bloomberg agrees to abdicate the throne this time.

Another rising Democratic star with mayoral ambitions is the city Comptroller John Liu. But he too is now ensnared in a scandal, and though it's not nearly as sexy as Weiner' weiner (not sexy to me of course)(not that there'd be anything wrong with that), and you therefore won't read many snarky jokes about it on Twitter, in many ways, it's even worse. It started October 11, when the NY Times published an article about apparent irregularities in the records of Liu's campaign contributions. Supposed donors who said they never gave, donation forms for multiple donors all in the same handwriting, donations purporting to be from employees of companies who didn't actually work there, businesses with non-existent addresses. (These tactics would allow single donors to exceed the NYC maximum of $4.950 by using "straw donors;" and are particularly heinous in NYC due to a generous matching program.) The sloppiness and brazen nature of the violations exhibited here should be shocking, but it's all too commonplace in politics these days.

Things have really started to fall apart for Liu in the few short weeks since that article appeared. Just this past week, it was revealed that the feds were investigating; one of his top fund-raisers was arrested after arranging a straw donor fund-raiser for an FBI informant posting as an eager contributor; a respected former attorney general hired by Liu to investigate resigned angrily after being told to suspend his probe; and Liu has reneged on a promise to release the names of his campaign bundlers (which he's required by law to do anyway).

And, this guy says he's still running for mayor? The Comptroller, who is supposed to oversee the finances of the whole complex bureaucracy of the city of New York, wants us to believe that he was completely unaware of major improprieties in the most important funding engine of his own career aspirations? I don't know what's worse, if he did or didn't know! One makes him a crook, and the other incompetent. Either or both of those might make him eligible for some elected offices, but not that one. I'm thinking that he's not gonna keep his present job for too long either.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Business Brisk At Big A, Less So at Yonkers

You can always, if you have nothing better to do, see exactly how business is at Resorts World, or at any of the state's racinos, by checking the New York Lottery's Video Gaming Reports, located here.

Resorts World has been doing huge numbers in terms of the 'win VGM per day' figures, which show the average take of each of the 2,486 machines. They did $618 the first two days, which leveled off a bit to $585 and $576 the next two weeks. Yonkers, heretofore the most successful of the state's racinos, does generally in the low $300's. At least before Resorts World opened. Throw out that first weekend, when the surprise snowstorm shut down the Empire City casino. The last two weeks has seen the win per day at Yonkers down to $286 and $271, and the overall net win figures down accordingly. (Prior five weeks before the snowstorm weekend were $310, $339, $321, $343, and $315.) (Of course, Yonkers has more than twice as many machines, so the overall gross numbers between the two facilities are comparable.) Still early, and I'm sure that Resorts World is attracting the curious at this time. And I'm not familiar with casino economics, so I can't vouch for what will happen when the Big A gets its full complement of machines; surely they'll be some dropoff in the per machine numbers. But definitely worth keeping an eye on this; I for one would be surprised and impressed if Genting can do big numbers without affecting Empire City at Yonkers.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

First and Last Word on Horse of the Year

It was suggested to me over the weekend that the Indianapolis Colts' 0-10 record proves beyond a doubt that Peyton Manning is the MVP in the NFL; and that he should be given the award despite not playing a game!

By similar logic, I hereby propose that Zenyatta be Horse of the Year. After all, a year after her final race (which she lost), she was still a (if not the) main part of Breeders' Cup weekend discussion. [UPDATE: Some statistical evidence c/o Pull the Pocket and o_crunk.) And without her, the total Breeders' Cup handle dropped by 5% (despite there being an extra race). The centerpiece Classic was almost completely lacking in drama; the horse who was supposed to be its biggest star ended up going off as the 4th choice and finished up the track straight into retirement. And boy, was that ever reflected in the ratings, which were down quite precipitously from those for the epic Blame/Zenyatta showdown last year. We didn't need Matt Hegarty to note:

All together, the declines underscored the impact that Zenyatta had on last year’s event, when handle and television ratings soared to records despite negative trends buffeting the racing industry. [DRF]
So, there's my take, and that's just about all I have to say on the matter, which has already been discussed to death with still months to go. As I've stated here each year, awards ceremonies don't really interest me, be it horses, music, movies, or whatever. And especially so this year, when selecting Horse of the Year is akin to (at the risk of being extremely obvious, but here goes) picking out the GOP presidential candidate. There really is no legitimate Horse of the Year. I saw someone mention Acclamation, and I had to look it up on Google to remind me who he is. If you're going to give it to he or....(Googling again...)...oh yeah, Cape Blanco - American grass horses who beat other American grass horses, a group universally derided as being suck-y during Breeders' Cup week - you might as well just give it to me or Herman Cain. Though I guess neither of us need anything more twirling around in our heads.

- Saw ending tax breaks for...the horse-racing industry mentioned in an article about the deficit "super committee" which is racing quickly towards a stalemate and the automatic spending cuts that that would supposed to trigger. So I guess that those breaks - in the form of accelerated depreciation rules - are back on the table. They're only valued at around $125 million, of the $1.2 trillion in reductions the committee is supposed to come up with, and probably won't be able to due mostly (if not totally) to the Republicans' intransigence on tax increases. And when they try to blame Obama, keep in mind that, over the summer, the president attempted to negotiate a $4 trillion "grand bargain" with the Speaker of the House, ultimately scuttled by the House Republicans, that would have made both sides miserable, the truest sign of a fair compromise. But what do the Republicans know about 'fair?'

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Breeders' Cup Random Thoughts

I'll get the well-earned bragging out of the way first. Caleb's Posse ($15.60) was awesome, getting the "he looks like he just jumped in at the quarter pole" call from Denman as he crushed the field in the exact manner as I figured he would. The Sprint similarly went just about as I called it as Amazombie ($17.80) rallied to outgame Force Freeze, producing an exacta of $145.20. Additionally I showed excellent discipline - those two races plus the Classic were the only BC races I bet on Saturday....and, given the results, I don't regret that at all. And though I'm not bragging about the Classic result, I did assert that Uncle Mo would not be close to favoritism, and that "I would not be shocked if he's higher than So You Think." According to the result charts, So You Think was 5.30-1 while Uncle Mo was 5.40-to-1 as the 4th choice. So it was a good BC for me, and would have been even better if Perfect Shirl hadn't come around to beat my Nahrain - Misty For Me exacta.

So, there you go. Now, as it's already Wednesday and you're probably sick of reading about it - just some random thoughts on what turned out to be a Breeders' Cup with a lot of seemingly random results.

- Caleb's Posse earned a Beyer of 111, and has to be squarely in the mix for champion 3 year-old. In fact, I can't right now think of any other serious contenders. Animal Kingdom? Meh.

- Force Freeze put in what was in my opinion the best runner-up effort for the Breeders' Cup, Union Rags notwithstanding. As in his US return at Monmouth, he was completely unfazed while engaging the blazing early fractions, and he just effortlessly glided by the leaders while a full four wide on the turn, with Johnny V still motionless after turning for home with the lead. As Amazombie bore down on the leader, Trevor Denman said that the only question was how much he'd win by, but Force Field actually came back a bit and lost by just a neck. (This race was not Trevor's finest moment....Apriority is running a huge one?) Six-year old son of Forest Camp is a gelding, so hopefully we'll see him around these parts in the future. Can't imagine what he'll do if he catches some field in which he's lone speed.

- I watched mostly on TVG, which was doing the coverage I guess for the on-track feed. (They had to cut away for the actual races themselves.) Compared to ESPN, it was like horse racing for adults....that's not, in this particular case, a criticism of ESPN, which naturally strives to cater to people of all levels of racing knowledge. Great job by Simon Bray, Donna Barton, Tom Amoss, some chaps from the UK, Todd Schrrrmmmpppp, and even Paul LoDuca (though I suppose he'd like to take back his condescending comment that the money bet on Hansen represented "amateur hour"). For example, as ESPN was probably doing some cheesy feature on one horse or trainer or another, Ms. Barton was interviewing Donnie Von Hemel, who assured viewers that Caleb's Posse used the two-turn Indiana Derby merely to "get him here," - no assurance I guess to those who pissed away their money on him at 2-1 that day. (Though no sympathy for them, they should have read the past performances.)

So I can't really comment much on ESPN's coverage...except for these few things: First of all, STOP ALREADY WITH THE WEIRD CAMERA ANGLES!!!! Or, if you insist on using them, please provide a simple track diagram with a little dot to represent the position of the leader. Not that complicated. Whatsmore, while the TVG coverage of the races (which I saw later on You Tube) included Trakus, ESPN flashed totally meaningless MPH numbers. What was that about? Was the spirit of Howard Sartin directing the coverage? Additionally, please spare us from Joe Tessitore, who apparently feels obligated to come out of every finish with: CAN YOU BELIEVE IT? 18 YEAR OLD JOSEPH O'BRIEN...KEN RAMSEY TURNED DOWN AN OFFER FOR STEPHANIE'S KITTEN....MIKE SMITH BEATING CHANTAL SUTHERLAND (I wonder if he would have even realized that if Denman hadn't called it that way). IT'S JUST SHRILL AND...oh, sorry. It's just shrill and tiresome. (To his credit, I did see his name as a producer of a very well done special on the Alabama-Auburn rivalry I saw on ESPN last night.)

Also, I just could NOT believe it when, prior to the Classic, they went into the Eight Belles shtick - again! - in profiling Larry Jones. Give that a rest already, and give us all a f**king break.

And finally, Randy Moss gets the award for the most meaninglessly inane comment of the Breeders' Cup when he asserted after the Juvenile that Union Rags is "still the favorite for next year's Kentucky Derby." Please, I know he's catering to the national TV audience, but Moss is way above that kind of drivel. He knows as well as anyone that 2 yo races in November no longer mean diddly regarding those six months hence. Five years from now, the thing about Derby winners having to had raced at two will be as forgotten as the thing about them having to have raced no more than three weeks prior is now.

- Royal Delta was the horse I was probably the most wrong about; left her completely off my tickets. Guess I was still holding the Alabama against her, so it serves me right because after all she won that race, and it wasn't her fault that horses can't get a mile and a quarter anymore. Thought I was right at the top of the stretch, but she was quite impressive rolling home in 12.47 to get up for Lezcano, who executed a perfectly timed ride; earning a Beyer of 104. Still, don't think she's worth $8.5 million.

- Nahrain ran terrific and she's an extremely exciting three-year old filly, hope we see her on these shores again next year.

- Goldikova just had to be DQ'd for almost downing Courageous Cat and Valenzuela. It was a clear and blatant foul. Maybe the State Department intervened in the interest of maintaining good international relations.

- Yes, I did end up betting Uncle Mo, thought the 5-1 was fair value. Silly me, all of you who scoffed at the notion that he could get the distance were correct. No matter....with all due respect to those who had him (including the swifty John, a $40 win price kind of guy who excels beyond a mile and an eighth), they could have run this race 1,000 times and I never would have had Drosselmeyer. I saw Elliot Walden on TVG on Sunday trying to make it seem as if they were maybe reconsidering and keeping him in training, but you know he was just saying that. Oh, he'll be retiring alright; he's at the peak of his value now, and they know as well as we do that it's quite likely that he'd never win another top class race in his life.

Uncle Mo has already been retired as I'm sure you know by now. I still support the decision to run him in the Classic rather than the Dirt Mile, even though the latter has indeed proven me wrong and (presumably) produced a champion in Caleb's Posse. Given the result, don't know if I can still say it was the "right" thing to do. But I still do think it was the "appropriate" thing, given the lofty ambitions that the horse's still undeniable brilliance inspired. Was the decision inspired by "greed?" Maybe. By "ego?" Definitely, but what's wrong with that? Ego is the very root of this sport, the idea of 'my horse is better than yours.' It's just unfortunate that he goes out this way, and moreso that they had to give us the lame excuse that his liver enzymes were out of whack. Frankly, I don't know if I even believe that. And in any event, Uncle Mo couldn't get the distance. That's not really a disgrace in a day and age when probably 99% of thoroughbreds in training can't either.

- And finally, for now anyway, there was the Breeders' Cup Marathon, which I completely ignored. To my own detriment as it turned out. I was so completely tuned out in fact that I didn't even realize that Afleet Again is now owned by Kasey K and my old (in terms of how long I've known him, not age of course) buddy Bob. I mean, that would have been worth putting a buck or two on him at 41-1, don't you think? He purchased the horse privately from the Afleet Alex folks after he ran 4th at Saratoga this past summer. Won't tell you for how much, but let's just say that it's paid off. And not just for the money won. I spoke to Bob and the man is just over the moon as you might imagine. And so were the partners, as you can plainly see below in this video that one of them filmed during the race. The thrill of there any endeavor in which that phrase is more applicable than our sport of kings?

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

It's A Wonderful (Resorts) World

The transformation of the decrepit Aqueduct grandstand to Resorts World is nothing but astounding. Wandering around, looking at and around, outside and inside, I noticed others with the same wild-eyed look of disbelief. At one point, upon entering the actual gambling floor for the first time, I caught the eyes of a couple of guys nearby, obviously veteran horseplayers like myself, and they articulated exactly what I was thinking. Holy shit!

When I last visited the Big A last May, the building didn't look all that different to me than it did in December. Any progress was not evident to the naked eye. It was still a mess. No more.

Above is the main entrance, located at around the midpoint of the grandstand, as viewed from the balcony off the Manhattan Terrace on the third floor. This area pictured used to be the backyard, built in the late 70s in a failed attempt to turn Aqueduct into a summer concert destination, later put to excellent use in the early days of Aquetoga simulcasting, and recently lying in neglect and ruin, before becoming a construction zone. (The old grandstand entrance on the grandstand turn side near where the flea market used to be is now an indoor deck garage.)

The front of the grandstand is equally impressive; no more paint chips hanging off this roof (and no signs of any pigeons nor their droppings. They're not old enough for casinos.) The apron is still fully available for use to watch the racing; it's been cleaned up, and the elevated level up those stairs runs the length of the track. It's now actually a really nice place to watch the races.

And then, there's the racino itself (only the ground floor is open so far; two more to come, with the third floor serving as an events area, for now anyway). Again, the transformation of the old first floor, mostly unused for many years now, is truly amazing. However, for the most part, if you've been in Yonkers, Saratoga, or, I imagine, any of the other New York racinos (or those in other states), you've surely seen this before. Sure, the scale may be grander here. And you may not have ever seen a big screen TV with this big of a screen!

Got this photo in before I was admonished for taking it. That's against the rules, though I didn't see that on the sign that said that you can't bring firearms in. This TV is part of the Bar 360, and it had TV's going all around (none of which I saw tuned to horse racing, at least when I was there).

OK, snuck in one more photo of the inside looking out at the infield tote board, which you can't see here, but it looks as if everyone is checking out the odds, right?

As for the racing side, now strictly confined to the old clubhouse, there's a clear divide between the new and the old.

It was reported last week by David Grening in the Racing Form that nothing there has changed. That's actually not entirely true. Genting now runs the concessions for the whole plant, and they apparently did find the time and money to take out or shutter most of the concession stands on the racing side. There's a new food stand on the first floor on the grandstand side (with extremely reasonable, if not downright cheap, pricing....$5.50 for a can of Stella as opposed to $9.50 for the same at the renovated Garden)....and the concessions in the Man O War room on the second floor is also open. There were crude signs in the Man O'War and Manhattan Terrace rooms noting that "No Outside Food or Drink Allowed." Heard a lot of grumbling about the lines. Seems obvious that we're being very strongly encouraged to go over to the slots side for food. I mean, they even took out the vending machines! For heaven's sake!

And for the time being anyway, visiting the ample selection of casino food options requires going outside, either in the back, or out on the grandstand apron, and back in. There is a passageway on the first floor that looks ready to go, but it was closed on Saturday. There, on the track side, one does at least get the taste of the casino; something brand new. Carpeting, the aforementioned new Genting-run concession stand (sad to think about all the familiar faces from over the years that are now out of work), a bright sign in place to tell you where you go when you cross over to the other side, and new bathrooms with cheesy disco music (the kind of mindless soundtrack which presumably makes you completely lose yours and want to play slots). So, there was indeed some time and effort put into the racing side....but only intended to benefit Genting. Nothing here for us regulars...not even a little cursory cleanup.

Here I must also mention that the video feed for the Breeders' Cup races (which I'll get to in the next post) was fuzzy throughout the track, and unaccompanied by sound. They were using some official Breeders Cup feed which was particularly lame. That's just unacceptable. Could have been easily corrected by switching to ABC/ESPN if anyone was paying attention (and if there was no contractual reason why they couldn't do so).

One particular note of caution....parking in the track lot was a problem, at least when I arrived around 20 minutes before first post. I encountered no traffic whatsoever coming on Rockaway Boulevard from Woodhaven (a back way avoiding the highway). Cruised into the parking lot, drove past the casino entrance towards the clubhouse. But when I got there, where there is now a $2 charge for general parking, I encountered a backup. I kept driving just to check out the scene, and the line back towards the Belt Parkway side was really, really long, stretching almost all the way back to the entrance off North Conduit Ave.

I drove out and circled back around to the Rockaway Blvd entrance, and this time just parked in one of the casino lots (which is now free, but I don't believe that will be the case for long; that's the logic for reinstating the track parking charge). Couldn't find a spot at first, but then noticed people getting into a car. It was an older, sad looking couple. They did not look as if they'd had a good time. Resorts World, and other such gambling facilities, are portrayed as these glamorous new palaces, with fancy food, ample drink, high-end entertainment, the promise of high-end hotels; a place where attractive and hip young people go to have a great time.

But there's little attractive or glamorous about seeing a morose couple slinking into their modest car in a casino parking lot at noon. I figure that anyone sitting at a slot machine at that hour is just not there to be entertained. And this was on a Saturday....who exactly is playing slots at 8:30 AM on a Tuesday morning?

I dunno though....after all, I'm planning to be at the track by 11 AM on Thanksgiving morning, so who am I to talk? Gambling is gambling to a certain extent, and I'm sure there are plenty of people at the track or OTB's who are there out of compulsion. But I'm a horseplayer, and yeah, I've got a bit of a superiority complex in this case, no doubt. Despite the dark side inherent in any gambling endeavor, damn right I think our game is far above the zombie mindlessness of slot machines, and to most other casino games of chance as well, be they virtual or conducted by human beings. It's horrible to think that our sport is subsidized by this money; even worse that it's become a convenient way for state legislators to balance their budgets. And I'm as guilty as anyone for, as my yoga instructor encourages me to do in that setting, acknowledging those thoughts and then flicking them away. Racing has got to find a way to exist and thrive on its own. Not only because the casino bubble is bound to burst at some point. But because it's the right thing to do.