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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Tuesday News and Notes

Hope everyone had a great holiday weekend. Haven't posted in awhile....busy last week with a great show by Elvis Costello at the Beacon, watching hockey games, catching up on some sleep and stuff. And I dunno, what do you wanna talk about anyway (other than the results of the special election in NY's 26th CD?) Would have liked to have spent some time at Belmont on a gorgeous weekend, but only was able to do so on Monday; and only for the first six races at that. Had a big BBQ to go to last evening. Probably have mentioned before that I wish these holiday cards would start and end early to accommodate that stuff. 5:46 PM seems awfully late to run the feature race on a family and friends-oriented holiday, and I imagine I wasn't the only one of the 9,144 in attendance who wasn't around for the Met Mile.

Speaking of which, it was a fantastic race on paper. Not so much on the track though with a lot of spacing between the first four finishers, not exactly the ideal result of a handicap race with assigned weights intended to have them all, in theory, hit the wire together. Lukewarm favorite Tizway ($8.20), third place last year, has two smashing stakes wins over the track and distance since, and earned an explosive career high Beyer of 113. A little redboarding here on the 36-1 runner up Rodman, who was previously two-for-two, with competitive Beyers, at the one turn mile route. Great training job there by Mike Hushion, as this six-year old has affirmed the improvement he showed before going on the shelf for 14 months before returning in February. Another disappointing performance by Haynesfield; now out of the money twice this year, and on his favorite track too. I imagine there's some concern in that camp.

It was the last day of state operation at Monmouth, where Morris Bailey will take over operation when racing presumably resumes there on Friday. Horsemen still have to agree to a cutback in racing dates from 141 to 71, with purse levels around the same that they have been thus far this spring, around $400,000 per day (though we'll see how long that lasts).

In the 6th on Monday, Christmas For Liam was 1-9 in the Skip Away despite never having run around two turns. I was all in against him. Unfortunately not with Ponzi Scheme ($25.20), but that's not the point, which is that you just gotta jump in and take a shot when the favorite is being asked to do something it's never done before. See that all the time, especially here in the synthetic age, but wow, 1-9, not often to that extent!

There was a back page ad in the Form from Del Mar, trying to attract some out-of-town stables with the higher purses resulting from the controversial takeout increase instituted on some exotic wagers earlier this year. One of the main criticisms of the effort was that it would be difficult to lure horses west no matter how high the purses are due to the usual geographic barriers as well as the synthetic tracks that remain at most of the state's racetracks.

In addition to the purses, which do seem extremely enticing - $65,000 for entry-level allowance races; $63,000 for maiden specials, down to a minimum $24,000 for 20K maiden claiming races - any owner who starts a horse who last ran out of state gets a guaranteed $1000 for making the trip, "plus a bonus payment of 20% of whatever purse money that horse earns in its first start*" with *certain rules applying. The ad promises over $550,000 in average daily purses, a 20% increase in overnight purses, perfect weather, beautiful facilities, and the opportunity to "run your horses in front of an average of 18,000 people a day." What is not mentioned anywhere in the ad is the Polytrack. Guess it's still not a selling point even though Del Mar is surely one of the surface's relative success stories thus far.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Preakness in Brief (Mercifully)

I looked back at Saturday's Form, and out of the 23 experts who made Preakness selections, just one, Chuck Dybdal, had Shackleford on top. Frankly, I was surprised (and impressed) to see that anyone had him. The Preakness winner only got two other mentions - Mike Welsch had him 4th, and Illman 3rd. Beyer, who picked Shackleford to win the Derby, didn't mention him at all. (And I can't believe Crist fell for Dialed In, one of the bigger Triple Crown money-burning frauds we've seen this century.) Yet, he paid 'only' $27.20 to win. So I guess not everyone pays attention to what the experts think. Not that I can possibly blame the public handicappers in this case. Tough to make a case for a front-runner who was loose on a slow-paced lead in the Derby, yet faded to 4th (even if the Preakness is a 1/16th shorter).

As for the race itself, the very less said, the better....and not just because I'm being lazy, or embarrassed to write about a race in which the horse I picked finished a never-threatening 12th. (With my two Triple Crown picks thus far, I've selected one horse who broke a leg, and another who looked like he'd gone through a car wash before entering the starting gate. I think I just might pass on the Belmont, thus depriving you of an automatic throwout.) It was, quite simply, a horrible race that demonstrated just how lackluster these three-year olds are. The first half mile of this race was run in 46 4/5 seconds. The second half in 50 1/5, and the final 3/16ths in 19 1/5, which projects to a half in 51 1/5. The final running time of 1:56.47 is the slowest since Tabasco Cat ran the same time in 1994, and only the second over 1:56 since that time. Yet, the ugly picture of the stretch run (on a track which did not seem to favor front-runners) is 12 horses floundering, and only one, Animal Kingdom, staging a rally. The Derby winner made a workmanlike but ultimately fizzled run at the winner. Give Shackleford credit for keeping things together in the final sixteenth, enough so to get the job done. But my take is to keep it very much in perspective, and to throw that 104 Beyer out the window.

Animal Kingdom will probably be a big favorite should he run in the Belmont even if Shackleford does too....and when I see stuff like this, it makes me really really want to bet against him. He's a grass horse who benefited from ideal conditions at Churchill. So, maybe you'll get that Belmont selection from me after all.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

A Preakness Pick

Here are the past performances for the Preakness. I got a link to free pp's from the Form in my email, so I guess it's OK to post here. Of course, it serves the Form to give them out with the little BET NOW button, linking to their ADW, powered by Xpressbet, at the top.

Anyway, glancing over the 14 entries (the first full field since 2005), I must say that Animal Kingdom (2-1), has a pretty impressive set of running lines there. Three wins in just five starts on turf, Poly, and dirt; and a positive-trending set of Beyers culminating in his 103 in the Derby.

I find that the Preakness often is not that interesting of a betting race; we just saw many of these horses run against each other a couple of weeks earlier in a race that often leaves an indelible impression of their relative abilities. Maybe that's why nine out of the last ten Preakness winners have been the first (in seven cases) or second betting choice. All of those, other than Rachel Alexandra, had run in the Derby; and either ran really well or had a good excuse for not doing so.

Similarly, this year, Animal Kingdom won the Derby in a fashion that makes me hesitate to oppose him; and with, in my view as I've said before, what should be with plenty of reserve. I don't think he's gonna bounce. Where I could see playing against him...and maybe this is a the thought that just maybe he's a horse who in the end will really demonstrate that he prefers the turf and synth, as good as his Derby may have been. There's that breeding of course, the turf specialist Leroidisanimaux out of a strictly German distaff family. And I recall one reader here who observed that the pace of the Derby was more like a grass race than dirt. He could face a vastly different scenario on Saturday if the pace is quick and he finds himself further out of it than he's been since his debut (though, honestly, there isn't tons of speed here, with Dance City the most obvious candidate to keep Shackleford company).

Best reason of all perhaps to try and beat the Derby winner is that now everyone seems to like him. Plonk the Wonk, Joe Drape going back to the well, Beyer too. I'm sure that others will follow. Always makes me skeptical, being the skeptic that I am, and won't do much for his price either.

OK, it all does sound like a bit of a stretch. I'd concede that Animal Kingdom seems like the most likely winner of the race. But what the hell. We're probably looking at 2-1 tops, so why not take a shot?

Don't really like any of the (only) four other Derby horses to win. Dialed In (9-2) was simply way too far back in the slow-paced Derby. He should have a quicker pace in front of him here, and thus a better chance to make his late run. But I'm sticking to the notion that he just hasn't shown the same late kick in his two turn races. I was dead wrong about Mucho Macho Man (6-1) in the Derby; he ran quite well, earning a Beyer of 99, which matches his career high earned in the Remsen last year. And he reportedly looks none the worse for the wear after his 4th race of the year. So I've upgraded my opinion of him somewhat, and am willing to use him underneath. Shackleford (12-1) won't last the distance in my view, especially given expected pace pressure from at least Dance City this time; and perhaps Flashpoint.

The horse I'm taking a close look at here is Sway Away (15-1). This colt came back for his three-year old year the way I like to see, confirming and building upon his second last summer in the Best Pal, coming in just his second career start, with his rousing rally for second in the San Vicente between The Factor and Premier Pegasus, both of whom won their next races with aplomb...and earning a sparkling careerh high Beyer of 101. His two-turn debut in the Rebel, a distant sixth, was quite the disappointment however, particularly as the 9-5 second choice. In his defense though, he broke a step slowly after acting up a bit in the gate, and he never really recovered from that. Three wide into the turn, it looked to me like he was then steadied coming out of the first turn (the chart says he was steadied going into the first turn), falling back to last. Nobody was catching The Factor that day in any event, but especially from there. He did in fact register the second fastest closing fraction in the race, at 31.13 for the last 5/16ths.

He added blinkers for the Arkansas Derby, and he was far more keen from the start. In fact, the chart notes that he was rank; so much so that he carried himself and Patrick Venezuela a good three, if not four, wide on the first turn. Sway Away continued to pull down the backstretch, and finally his rider could wait no longer (I guess), and launched an extremely wide sweep (five wide according to the chart) to lead into the stretch. For a brief moment, it looked like he might go on and open up, but he could never shake Dance City as he weaved down toward the wire, and then succumbed, no doubt from his early and ongoing efforts, to that one as well as the now-retired Arch3 and Nehro, who came back to run quite well in the Derby.

I thought Sway Away showed a world of talent in that race. Trainer Jeff Bonde keeps the blinkers on. He's had three workouts since the race, with the blinkers at least the last time (and I'd therefore guess the other times too). I love the switch back to Gomez, who was aboard for the big late rally in the San Vicente. He's only raced five times, so perhaps, with a race and some workouts with the blinkers under his belt, he'll be able to better take advantage of tactical positioning, and save his rally until the end this time with Gomez. It's fair to wonder if he simply is not a two-turn horse with two out of the money finishes in routes; but he's by a Belmont winner (Afleet Alex) out of a dam by another Belmont winner (Seattle Slew), so I think that he deserves another chance.

So I think he's surely worth a stab at or around 15-1, and will box him with Animal Kingdom for sure. Gotta go now, but will try to find some others with which to expand the ticket.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Wednesday Notes

- The weather is horrible here, and I do abhor handicapping for sloppy tracks as you probably know by now if you've been hanging out here for awhile. As I've said before, if everything else was equal, I'd be in favor of synthetic tracks just for the main tracks always being fast. The weather has been bad in Baltimore too, though it's supposed to clear up by Saturday. And who knows....given the situation in Maryland, the Preakness might some day be run elsewhere, on a synthetic track; it's not out of the question. If more horses like Animal Kingdom win the Derby, then it wouldn't even seem all that radical.

Anyway, given the probability of slop at Belmont on Wednesday, I'll just briefly mention a couple of horses scheduled to run in the 8th. Precious Soul (3-1) became the first debut winner for Allen Jerkens in over three years when she won, at a well-bet 7-2, at Gulfstream in March. She's a half-sister, by Distorted Humor, to Society Selection (Coronado's Quest), who won three G1's for The Chief back in the early aughts. Always skeptical of horses facing winners for the first time, but this filly has four straight bullet works, and would surely be no surprise. A Story of Revenge (7-2) is a half-sister, by Tale of the Cat, to I Want Revenge (who may run in Thursday's feature should the race be moved to the main track). It's her first start since winning her debut last fall at Monmouth, against a field that has turned out to be pretty decent. Of all the great features of Formulator, perhaps my favorite is the one that allows you to see the complete past performance lines for all of the horses in a subject horse's last five races. In a case like this, when the horse's last race occurred some time ago, you can see how the competition has developed since then, and it's often quite interesting to see, especially in two-year old races where you can see the hopes and dreams for once-promising horses either attained or deflated. In A Story of Revenge's debut, third place finisher Hot Summer, who debuted at 2-1 that day, won the G3 Comely last month. But 6th place finisher Lemon Loaf, who debuted at 7-2 for Asmussen, has yet to win, and was claimed for 30K. And so it goes.

- Hunch bets for Wednesday, May 18:

Yeah Right 5th at Delaware
Visual Arrest 2nd at Indiana Downs
Straight Shooter 2nd at Evangeline Downs
The Amateur 2nd at Presque Isle Downs
Light Sleeper 5th at Arlington Park

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Kegasus Rules

One thing's for sure; nobody's gonna mistake this guy for Thor.

I know a lot of people hate this stuff, feel that it's way too tacky and bush league for our hallowed game. Joe Drape writes in the Times:

But for many, however, Kegasus is a vulgar attempt by a desperate Maryland Jockey Club that lost more than $25 million from 2007 to 2009, and needs as much revenue as it can squeeze from the Preakness after taking $5 million from the Maryland State Assembly this April merely to keep its doors open. [NYT]
Yeah, what exactly is the problem with that? Everyone knows what the financial situation at the track is. Fact is that this really has little, if anything, to do with racing, marketing it, attracting new fans, any of that. It's all about selling as many $50 infield admission tickets (they were $40 before this week) and $70 MUG club memberships (up from $60) as possible (bigger mugs than last year, and twice as many taps). Most of those people won't be paying any attention to any races other than, perhaps, the Preakness, at all. The racing is obviously not the idea considering that the final musical act, one Bruno Mars (who I won't bother ridiculing since I don't know what he sounds like, though I can pretty much surmise that he sucks), is scheduled to play until 5:30. And there's a full slate of wimpy pop bands throughout the day, a Jaegermeister cornhole tournament (you throw a bottle of Jaeger at the cornhole?), a bikini contest, and volleyball games with women in bikinis so the drunk guys can watch their breasts bob up and down rather than explore the endless possibilities and lucrative potential of the late pick four. No wonder ticket sales are up by 17% from last year.

And even if Kegasus was an attempt to market the sport itself, what's the big deal? Nothing else seems to work. As MJC president Tom Chuckas said: "“We have two aging racetrack facilities and declining revenues....We can’t operate like we have in the past."

And besides, look and listen to this guy, he's a riot, lighten up...

...though I do hope he's getting paid well.

- In actual Preakness news, Animal Kingdom is said by his connections to be doing fabulously, with extremely strong gallops, once over a sloppy track and the other on Tapeta Footing, at the Fair Hill training center. Of course, unlike before the Derby, we don't get the expert and objective workout observers for the Preakness. Where's Mike Welsch? At Calder. So I guess we'll have to take their word for it. Makes sense that he'd be sharp; as I've said, I don't think the Derby was that hard of a race for him; and he should be pretty fresh, having made only three starts this year, two in the eight weeks preceding the Preakness. (The Sheets guys think he's gonna bounce.)

No Nehro, he'll wait for the Belmont after finishing second for the third race in a row. He did however, build on his string of improving Beyers, with a 99. He's not a distance horse by the dosage numbers, with a DI of 4.33.

Midnight Interlude is in after a strong workout. I liked him in the Derby, but not at all here. Not like he was too far back from the slow pace; just 5-6 lengths through the first two calls, and faded steadily from there. On the other hand, the pace was so aberrantly slow, maybe you throw the whole race out and start all over again?

Monday, May 16, 2011

Saratoga - The TV Series

Wanted of course to mention the deal that NYRA reached with NBC and Versus to televise each of the seven Saturday cards from Saratoga (plus an 8th one on Sunday Aug 7, just for good measure). Three of those, including the Travers, will be on NBC itself, with the rest on Versus (which I've long touted as a potential TV partner for the sport). It's said to be the most extensive national television coverage from Saratoga....ever. (Though of course, for most of its history, Saratoga only ran for four weeks.)

NYRA thus has succeeded where the NTRA and the Breeders' Cup has failed, getting the sport on national TV, from where it's been steadily disappearing over the last few years. And particularly disappointing as you know has been the steady deterioration of ESPN's commitment to the sport. Not sure what that network's schedule is for this year's runup to the Breeders' Cup; but if last year is any indication, it won't be much....and surely far less than the eight programs to originate from Saratoga.

With all the criticism, including from this corner, of the overall quality of the too-long Saratoga meet (especially and in particular as compared to years past), it is still surely the only meeting in the country that could supply stakes races of sufficient quality and prestige to warrant a weekly program. And full credit to NYRA, which never gets an equal amount of praise for things that they do right as the criticism it gets when things go wrong. Just a fantastic job here. They developed and produced their own weekly show from the Spa and sold it to MSG Network; and no doubt used that as the basis and model for the new show on NBC. Bravo!

- Drosselmeyer ensured that he won't be another of those Belmont Stakes winners who never won another race with a minor stakes victory at the track on Sunday. He took the short route home and held off Birdrun, a Florida-bred who seems to really thrive over the Belmont main track. Drosselmeyer though earned a modest Beyer of 91, and is likely to be overbet if and when he moves up to face graded stakes company next time.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Belmont Thursday

[UPDATE: If I was as good as picking winners as I seem to be at picking horses that get scratched, I'd be a rich man. Krypton is scratched, never mind.]

In the 4th, the Island Sun stakes on the turf, Krypton (3-1) ships up from Gulfstream and makes his second start of the year for Kiaran McLaughlin, 30% in the second off a layoff category. Four-year old made big strides last summer, stepping up from entry-level allowance competition to three-year old graded stakes. He won the G3 Hill Prince over this course at Belmont in June, and missed by a head in the G2 Hall of Fame in Saratoga. In his return at GP last month, he raced amongst and between horses down the backstretch, and, to me, he appeared to have to wait for room on the turn for home (not noted in the race chart). One he got clear in the stretch, he closed stoutly, in 11 seconds for the final furlong, for third behind Hudson Steele, who missed by a neck in the G2 Fort Marcy here last weekend, and Guys Reward, who won his next start in allowance company at Churchill. Switches here to Eddie Castro, winning at a 37% clip for this barn. All systems go for this son of Rock Hard Ten, and from the distaff family of BC Turf winner Dangerous Midge and the G1 QEII Challenge Cup winner Alwajeeha (yes, Pedigree Query is back up!).

Zifzaf (7-2) has held his own against open Grade 1 company and should surely appreciate the class relief in this spot. French-bred Right One (5-2) won off the plane for Clement at Gulfstream with a big rally after a slow start, and steps up in allowance company here; figures to get bet off top last-out Beyer.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

NJ Horsemen Get Scolding

- Only 65 horses were originally entered for Friday's card at the Meadowlands, and the head of the SBOANJ (you can figure out what it stands for) fired off an angry letter to his membership.

Despite all the time, effort and money that has gone into the battle to keep the Meadowlands open, it would appear to be a mistake. Why did we give up so much of ourselves to make the track viable when you, our members, clearly are not prepared to support that effort?

We understand the pressure of following the money, but there is certainly nothing wrong with the purses at the Meadowlands. You need to step up and enter your horses. If you want, split your stables. But abandoning the entry box at the Meadowlands is to doom the track.
Perhaps the letter had its desired effect; this commenter on John Brennan's Meadowlands Matters blog at (also the home of the excellent Ranger Rants blog, where I get all my info and insight on my beloved Broadway Blueshirts from The Record's beat writer Andrew Gross), notes: "They had a full box for Saturday with 137 horses entered." I'm gonna take his word for it, don't feel like counting. [Confirmed.] (And Friday's card seems to be up to a still uninspiring 76.) The card does include two stakes races worth over $450,000 in total purse money, which both drew full fields of ten.

On Friday, the Meadowlands is offering ten races for a total of $153,000 for ten races, while Yonkers has 11 for $283,000. It's almost not fair. Plus, from what I've read, the competition is considered to be easier at Yonkers. So, you can use the rah-rah approach for awhile, but hey, people have to pay their bills and make a living. I think it's hard to blame and reproach people for doing what they need to do.

- Brennan also writes about the situation at Monmouth.
Meanwhile at Monmouth Park, the only clarity is that racing will continue through Memorial Day weekend. After that, horsemen Morris Bailey is supposed to take over operation, assuming responsibility for losses that figure to be in the millions unless purses are drastically reduced - thereby dimming fan enthusiasm for what would be lesser cards. Some more details here.[Meadowlands Matters]
Worth checking out that link for more info, but it seems as if a deal to keep the track open beyond May 31 is not at all certain.

Wednesday News and Notes

The crush of handicappers re-checking those pedigrees at the last minute for their Derby contenders must have been too much for the Pedigree Query site, which was completely down throughout the weekend. It was back up on Tuesday, and I wanted to write about Animal Kingdom's pedigree.....or actually I should say, see it for myself. Have to admit I really never took a close look, as I never considered betting on this horse. So I didn't bother looking past his sire, the grass horse Leroidesanimeaux. (And yes jp, I think about that Breeders' Cup every day his name comes up. Sorry to hear of your disappointment on Derby Day. :)

But now, tonight, the site is down for maintenance, so we'll have to talk about something else. The Derby winner has arrived in Baltimore, and was reported to be hungry. Graham Motion is sounding very confident.

"I think it will be a full field. I don't think anybody will be running away from him. He's an amazing horse, a brilliant horse." [Baltimore Sun]
High praise, though Motion is British, and they call everything "brilliant!." I speak to people in London on the phone at work, send them a copy of an invoice or something, and it's "brilliant!" So I'm not sure if Motion thinks his horse is really brilliant, or just brilliant!.

Speaking of our British friends; always like to check the Independent to see what Chris McGrath has to say. He wasn't at the Derby it turns out, but filed this report on 5th place finisher Master of Hounds.
A couple of lengths in third that day was his stablemate, Master Of Hounds, who ran a storming race to be fifth in the 137th Kentucky Derby on Saturday...Master Of Hounds was well behind early under Garrett Gomez, but vindicated O'Brien's suspicion that he would adapt to the dirt, staying on to be beaten five and a half lengths behind Animal Kingdom – himself a horse with turf antecedents. It is likely that Master Of Hounds will be kept back for the third leg of the Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes, where his stamina seems sure to make him competitive.

"It was a great run for his first time on dirt," Gomez said. "Down the backstretch they threw the brakes on, and it cost us. We were at the mercy of the pace, but he ran sensationally through the dirt. I'm really looking forward to the Belmont." [Independent]
Master of Hounds ran the final quarter in 24.13, the 4th fastest in the race (behind Dialed In (23.79), Animal Kingdom, and the absurdly overbet Twice the Appeal).

They 'threw the brakes on,' as Gomez said, for sure - a 25.2 second 2nd quarter after an opening in 23.1. That's really unbelievable. What happened to the expected speed duel? They quickened home from there - 24.4 and 24 flat to the quarter pole. One might say that Animal Kingdom closed against the grain of the pace; but the fact is, he was never that far back himself - not more than 6 1/4 lengths in his past performance line (which I can see via Formulator). So I think this is one of those cases like we discussed recently where a slow pace helps the closer; Animal Kingdom was able to stay well in contact despite being able to loaf through the first half mile in 49.68 seconds. So, sure he had a lot left, and not that many lengths to make up.

I'm not downgrading his performance; he was obviously better than say, Master of Hounds, who wasn't that far behind the winner early on. But we can't assume that a quicker pace in the Preakness will automatically make things easier for him. Might not show such a keen closing kick if he has to run 24 second splits just to keep up. Having said that, I don't think the Derby was that tough of a race for him. He had a clean trip and only had to run hard for a half mile. So I think he could still be pretty fresh for the Preakness - remember, he hadn't raced in six weeks, and has only started three times this year.

- jp brought up a good point about dead Derby money that didn't make it to the tote in New York. I had several people who used to make it to an OTB once a year ask me how they could get a bet down this year. I did get NYRA one new customer that I know of (do I get commission?), but others said they didn't want to bother signing up for a single race. (Though one of them sent a friend to Yonkers.)

Pedigree Query back up, will get to that pedigree one of these days.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

On Barry Irwin

Just a quick comment here on Barry Irwin's televised comments in the immediate aftermath of the Derby to the effect that he hired Graham Motion because he was tired of trainers lying to him; a comment that has drawn criticism from some in the press and blogosphere, and from trainers themselves. I wasn't particularly surprised to hear Irwin say that; in fact I was rather amused. He's long been a colorful guy who says exactly what's on his mind. And, as Bill Finley relates in his column today, he has no tolerance for those who dishonor the game by not playing by the rules. Whatsmore, he's a strong-willed and a strongly opinionated owner, and not the only one, I'm sure, in this highly subjective game, who might equivocate an honest difference of opinion with his trainer as a deliberate misrepresentation of the facts. Same as an investor who might have similar sentiments about his stock broker. And, as Pletcher said, sometimes people say things in the heat of a momentous occasion that they might not totally mean. (Not to say that he definitely didn't!)

So, I wouldn't be too harsh on the guy. The sport could do far worse than for him to be in the spotlight for the next five weeks. And as far as the trainers who, as reported by David Grening in the Form, were disgusted by Irwin’s nationally televised remarks, unfortunately, they, as a group (emphasized here because surely some among the complainers cited may have a clean record), don't really have much to say on the matter. After all, as Joe Drape has repeatedly pointed out, Graham Motion is one of only two trainers in the top 20 earnings list without a drug violation. And using banned medications is kinda like lying, isn't it?

Hunch Bets for Tuesday, May 10

Playboy At Home 2nd at Mountaineer
Good Ride 1st at Fairmount Park
Runninscared 6th at Fairmount
Reason To Drink 4th at Parx
She Said She Said 3rd at Penn National
Trojan Victory 4th at Prairie Meadows

Monday, May 09, 2011

Derby Boosts NYRA

Huge day for NYRA on Saturday, with over 14,000 in attendance at Belmont (11,051) and Aqueduct (3,007) (which, by the way, is open every day for simulcasting); that's as opposed to 9,405 at Belmont last year.

NYRA simulcast wagering on Saturday totaled $4,465,743, an increase of 115 percent over last year’s total of $2,077,461. The simulcast total includes $840,483 wagered via the NYRA Rewards internet platform (up 224 percent from $259,047 last year) and $446,773 from NYRA Rewards telephone wagering (up 91 percent from $233,657 last year).

The amount of telephone calls that NYRA handled this year on Derby Day was 10,818, a 139 percent increase from the 4,522 calls that were handled last year. [NYRA Press Release]
While NYRA wasn't saying in their press release, I wouldn't be surprised if someone there broke out those telephone call figures, into a separate paragraph, as a little jab back at Governor Cuomo and other politicians who have criticized their new arrangement with Twin Spires' telephone hub in Oregon. The Governor may not express any interest whatsoever in the sport, but he knew just where to find NYRA when he wanted a whipping post for some political grandstanding. Some cheap rhetoric designed perhaps to distract from the fact the He Himself chose tax cuts for millionaires over jobs.

Well, maybe he and Charlie Hayward can talk it over at the Belmont, if the Governor can find his way.

This is big business for NYRA across the board, as detailed in the press release; and all at the top retention rates for it, and the state (which some people seem to conveniently forget). 3,000 at Aqueduct - that's more than the had there on most racing days before OTB closed. Imagine what they might do there once the place is fixed up, and the sports bar opens at the racino. [Here is where I usually go off about how they should have nighttime harness races conducted by Yonkers on the mile inner track during the summer when the thoroughbreds are upstate, but I guess it makes far too much sense and seems too cool to ever come about.]

Meanwhile, across the river, the trotters are back in action at the Meadowlands; at least for now. After Jeff Gural and the unions came to an agreement, Governor Christie declared, in his usual humble way, that he would permit the track to open to race and take simulcast wagers in May. However, he and Gural have not worked out all the details, so nothing's guaranteed beyond that. Apparently, there was some outstanding and remaining "issues."

Close to 14,000 people reportedly turned out for the opening day on Saturday (that makes nearly 30,000 at racetracks around here; pretty cool!) But other than that, the numbers seem pretty grim. Three day a week racing, total purses on Sunday afternoon of $84,500 for the nine race card, compared to $111,000 through the first eight races at Yonkers as I write this on Monday night. I think it's going to take more than a smaller grandstand to turn things around there.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

King of the Kingdom

I'm out on a shopping mission with the Head Chef, who has two big catering jobs this week and will be spending at least part of her Mother's Day working. Sitting by the car outside Chelsea Market awaiting my next assignment, so have a few minutes for some brief initial thoughts on the Derby (which actually probably doesn't warrant that much discussion anyway. On my smartphone so the usual rules regarding typos and stuff apply.

Seems kinda funny that, after all those months of silly top ten lists, ridiculous ramblings by Haskin on 4th place finishers in one prep or another with various excuses, and all the overanalyses and obsessing, the the main tipoff to the winner was a stellar workout or two which indicated that Animal Kingdom might indeed like the dirt. That information becomes well-known here in the internet age; 20 years ago, nobody would have known and the horse might have been 40-1 (if he wasn't part of the mutuel field). Maybe next year we can all find better things to do with our time, as the traditional preps and preparation methods fade further into the oblivion of better times for the sport.

Of course, both Brilliant Speed and Twinspired got good workout reviews too. Where I went wrong in lumping the 3 of them together and summarily dismissing them as synth/turf horses is that, unlike the other 2, AK had not raced on dirt and therefore already indicated that he couldn't run on it. I had characterized Drape's selection of the winner as a 'desperate flailing stab' or something like that. I don't regret that at all, and wouldn't take it back even now. A bet on a horse who'd won a nondescript G3 on a synthetic surface, coming home in 39 seconds for the last 3/8ths, is nothing but that. However, a good handicapper knows when the time is appropriate for just such a shot in the dark. The hint for me should have been when Archarcharch drew the rail, I went back to the field and couldn't find a single other horse that I liked enough to replace him with. I dunno, I guess that I still take the race too seriously, and am afraid to make a "bad pick;" one i'd feel silly about if it ran up the track. So, great job by all of you who saw through the rest of this highly flawed field, and took a real shot at the right time.

Having said all of that, this was no fluke. AK earned a legit Beyer of 103, and closed in real racehorse time of 24 seconds flat. In the absence of any valid new faces, he'll be a solid and legitimate favorite at Pimlico two weeks hence.

Belmont Sunday

In the 9th, the Nany, Catch a Thief (3-1) returns to the track, and distance, where she ran her career high Beyer; a second-level allowance in which she prevailed after a lengthy duel with Five Grand Girl, who since then is a neck away from being five-for-five, including two stakes over the inner track this past winter. Four-year daughter of Flatter was stretched out to a mile for her last three, and with great success the first two times. Last out however, in the G3 Sabin at Gulfstream, she faded after finding herself head and head down the backstretch with eventual winner Awesome Maria, who subsequently won the G3 Rampart by eight lengths. Consistent and versatile filly (8 of 9 in the money) returns after a freshening, has won off similar layoffs before, and has shown the ability to run well from off the pace in sprints. Ravi Maragh, who was in the saddle for the abovementioned Belmont win last fall, returns today for trainer Timothy Hills. Tar Heel Mom (8-5), twice a graded stakes winner, is strictly the one to beat; no real knocks here other than the fact that her best races have come on surfaces other than this, over which she's 0-for-3 after graduating over it nearly three years ago. Worstcasescenario (5-1) made her four-year old debut a rousing success with a career high Beyer after a disappointing three-year old season; eligible to improve. Best of luck and have a great Mother's Day!

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Belmont Saturday

In the 6th, the G3 Beaugay (which now seems certain to be run on the turf on what is a spectacularly sunny day despite the dour forecasts), Gitchee Goomie (3-1) ships up from Gulfstream for trainer Richard Violette Jr. Last fall, this daughter of City Zip stepped up from entry-level state-bred company to the G1 Garden City for three-year old fillies on this course, and held for a close third at 21-1. She then confirmed that effort with a win in an open company overnight stakes. Love to see a filly like this return in the pink as this one did last month at GP; exploding through the stretch after a wide rally on the turn, and holding off Blue Angel, a sharp Euro import for Clement who had the benefit of a winning effort over the track a few weeks earlier. The result chart says that Gitchee Goomie was "all out" at the end, but what race was this guy watching? You really gotta see these races for yourself sometimes. Garcia had put the whip away, and just flashed it out to give his filly a look and a reminder as they approached the wire. Alex Solis rides today. Maram (8-5), the 2008 Juvie Fillies Turf winner, last ran in August at Saratoga, and seeks her first graded stakes win since the Miss Grillo in her two-year old year. Always fires fresh, and is the obvious horse to beat. But will be bet amply for Chad Brown (28% with 180+ returnees); no value here. Best of luck and have a great day.

Friday, May 06, 2011

If We Must, We Must....

This is the third year in a row that the Wood Memorial winner didn't make it to the Derby due to injury; and this year it was the hat trick, with the top three finishers, Toby's Corner, Arthur's Tale, and Uncle Schmo, all faltering due to various reasons. Grimmer still, it's the third consecutive year that the probable or, this year, possible Derby favorite ran in the Wood and then didn't make it to Churchill. Not a good thing for NY's big Derby prep, which hasn't produced a winner since Monarchos in 2001, and which has produced Derby disappointments such as Bob and John, Nobiz Like Shobiz, Bellamy Road, and Tapit.

Well, I guess I have to declare who I like. I suppose that it's required to go on the record, so then I can write about how my picks suck. (Drape is likely to extend his streak with his flailing stab of Animal Kingdom.)

I'd actually like to keep my options open, and be free to change my mind, inspired perhaps by an unexpected overlay, an incisive insight by Gary Stevens (or maybe even Mike Battaglia?), or simply a last-minute hunch.

However, if we must (though I reserve the right, in this specific case, to change my mind without sending any tweets).... Archarcharch (12-1) drew the dreaded rail, but I'm sticking with him as the top selection (albeit in large part because I simply don't like anyone else in the field [at least at the anticipated odds] enough to change my mind).

I read somewhere, and I don't feel like looking for it right now, that the one post has actually produced 12 winners, tied for the most in Derby history. However, here in the era of 20 horse fields, it hasn't produced a winner since Winning Colors...and she simply outbroke the field and wired the field. With Archarcharch likely to attempt to reproduce his deep close in the Arkansas Derby, jockey Jon Court might want to take a look at the way Ferdinand won from the rail in 1986.

Just love the way this colt has improved in his four starts this year, even, Beyer-wise, in the Rebel after he was kicked repeatedly by the horse in the adjoining stall. He's reportedly made great strides in his training at Churchill, and I can't help but feel that this colt is coming on, and coming up to a big effort. Excellent tactical speed could help him avoid trouble, but he showed the ability to close from a ways back in the Arkansas Derby, blowing by the leaders in the stretch after being just about widest of all while gaining ground on the far turn. He's a son of Arch, from the Roberto sire line, out of a mare by the Irish champion Woodman. Solid 1.73 dosage number, and a number of distance stakes winners on his distaff side. Will need some luck, but so does everyone else.

Midnight Interlude (10-1) really was quite impressive in the Santa Anita Derby, very wide on the first turn, and having to stop and shift out a path in the stretch. Don't know what he beat, but do know he ain't running against all that much here either. A couple of bullet works over the track; despite that, a mediocre assessment by the Form's Mike Welsch, but that could be too much information in this case. Seems to be getting ignored by the pundits, which I consider a good thing. Tactical speed and a good closing kick could put him in the mix.

Santiva (30-1) gets a pass for his disappointing Blue Grass, which came after he impressively built on his two-year old year with a bang-up, and very wide, second in the Risen Star. Son of Giant's Causeway has nice Tomlinson and dosage numbers which perhaps are more important than the sprint names we see on his distaff side. Another with the tactical speed to stay close and out of trouble.

I see that Beyer likes Shackleford (12-1) to win the whole thing. I dunno, I can't imagine him staying ten furlongs, even if he's trained well since the Florida Derby as reported. He did indeed show some real grit hanging on after being kept busy defending his lead throughout the race. Could see him hanging on for a share but would be pretty shocked if he takes the big prize given the way he tired at Gulfstream.

I discussed Soldat (12-1) in the last post, and El Angelo wrote in to report that he'd read where McLaughlin said that he hated getting dirt kicked in his face in the Florida Derby. That would explain why he's successfully rated on the grass, but has only been successful on the lead on dirt. That could definitely be a problem in this race. So, I've soured a bit on this colt. On the other hand, maybe the dirt in the face served as a learning experience, and El Angelo will have talked me off a live horse.

Nehro (6-1) has declined in stature for me, in part because of his draw in post 19, and additionally because everyone else seemed to like him. Now, with a final workout which was reportedly lackluster (and a lack of activity since, according to Welsch), he seems to have lost some buzz. Still, this one-time winner closed like gangbusters in his close second place finishes in the La. and Ark. Derbys. Worth taking a peek at the board to see if he's offered at significantly higher odds than his morning line. Otherwise, I'll pass.

Dialed In (9-2), as I've written before, is a nice young colt who is eligible to improve; but needs everything to fall his way, and is therefore an awful favorite here.

Brilliant Speed (30-1) is picking up some attention based on how good he's reportedly looked training over the dirt track. Has shown the kind of improvement we love to see; and, being a son of Dynaformer out of a Gone West mare, certainly has license to run well on dirt. And maybe his two dirt races were bad because they were sprints. Still, the history thus far of Poly horses in this race compels me to disregard him, as well as Animal Kingdom, and Twinspired.

Pants On Fire (20-1) is one of the speed horses who we're all just assuming (well, me, anyway) will race each other into submission and set it up for one of the closers, be it midpack or deep. But this horse perhaps deserves a closer look based on his game Louisiana Derby win over Nehro, who will be sent off at far lower odds.

I still don't like Mucho Macho Man (12-1) at all.

Derby Notes

Bob Baffert isn't buying the gastrointestinal infection story.

"Uncle Mo looks fantastic out there to me.....Everyone is talking about him being 50/50. I think [owner Mike Repole] is just trying to build a price for himself because it sounds like he likes to gamble. He's going to be dangerous. I don't think it's some [gastrointestinal issue], I think he just got tired at the Wood [Memorial]. From what I've seen visually, there is nothing there that tells me the horse isn't ready to run. I'm not buying that crap. He's just trying to steal this race." [LA Times]
I had written that if the connections said that Uncle Mo was fine and he ran poorly, then people would think that they, and the sport, was full of it. But it can work the other way around too. If he runs lights out, then no doubt people may suspect what Baffert does (though I figure he had his tongue at least partially implanted in his cheek); or, that Repole was simply trying to preserve the horse's reputation. I'd imagine that there would be some pretty bitter horseplayers come Saturday night should Uncle Mo win at healthy odds, and you know how suspicious they can be.

So there's likely to be a healthy dose of skepticism either no matter what happens. At least we'll find out on Friday morning if he's going to run at all. [UPDATE: Scratched. As he should have been three weeks ago, what a farce.] (In his final workout report, Mike Welsch said that while Uncle Mo looked pretty good on the track, he feels like the horse is "little bit less than 100%," and seems to think he won't run, perhaps taking the word of the owner and trainer who have pledged not to run unless he is 100%. His final comments on each of the entrants can be found here.)

A few more horses of some interest (or not):

Soldat is reported to be training extremely well, bouncing back from his disappointing Florida Derby. Remember, he was actually favored over Derby morning line favorite Dialed In that day. So if you can excuse his ten length defeat, then he might look pretty ok at his 12-1 morning line (preferably higher). His connections say he just had a bad day. “It was just the trip and the draw, a hot day and deep track,” said Kiaran McLaughlin. Soldat is considered to be one of the speed threats off his two front-running wins (the 103 Beyer he earned in his sloppy allowance win will surely attract money should the weather turn bad). However, he has rated successfully in his grass efforts. Maybe those dirt races just weren't that fast - his early Moss pace figures are not in the league with those of speedy types like Shackleford, Comma at the Top, Pants on Fire, and even Decisive Moment. So, I think he'll be tracking the pace, especially considering his outside post.

Soldat is a son of War Front (Danzig), a sprinting type himself, out of a mare by the Wood winner Coronado's Quest. Besides the usual inbreeding to Mr. Prospector, this one has Round Table 5x4. Not too often you see that this close up these days. Not much on the catalog page....a description that I seem to apply to more and more Derby horses over the last few years. I think that the dropoff in overall quality we've seen in Derby fields of late has been totally apparent from a pedigrees standpoint as well. But I digress. Go back to the colt's sixth dam, and you'll find distinguished distance horses such as Fort Marcy, Key to the Mint, Papineau, Silver Patriarch, and Key To Content. So there's some classic distance influence in there somewhere. This one wouldn't be a shocker if he wins.

Santiva (30-1) has a stakes win over the track, and a surface excuse for the poor effort over the Polytrack in the Blue Grass. His prior two to that race were good ones on the dirt. He ran second in the Risen Star to Mucho Macho Man by just a length and a half; yet he figures to be significantly higher than that one on the tote here. Didn't get a ringing endorsements from Welsch however. Son of Giant's Causeway is out of Smarten mare who's a half sister to a couple of crack sprinters in Partner's Hero and, especially, Safely Kept. Hmmm.

Midnight Interlude came out of a maiden race to win the G1 SA Derby, perhaps more a commentary on the strength of that field than a testament to his improvement. He did however earn a 97 Beyer, which makes him one of the fastest horses in this field; and that despite being extremely wide on both turns. Good tactical speed, a nice closing kick (12.3 for the final furlong of the SA Derby despite traffic issues midway), and the training mastery of Bob Baffert. He's a son of War Chant (a stout 7.7 furlong average winning distance) out of a Groom Dancer mare. Again, not much to see on the catalog page as far as notable names on his distaff side; but comes in at a solid 2.47 on the dosage scale. Definitely a possibility, but would demand significantly more than his 10-1 morning line.

Those interested in taking a shot on a horse who could perhaps steal the race up front might want to take a peek at Shackleford (though at his morning line of 12-1, again, seems very light). Big improvement in his near miss in the Florida Derby, earning some solid Moss numbers along the way. Yes, he tired badly as we've noted before - 39.1 for the last three furlongs. But he's reported to be training very well, as evidenced by that bullet five furlong work over the track. Being a son of Forestry, from the Storm Cat line, may not inspire confidence that he could hold on at the Derby distance; but he is a half-brother to Lady Joanne, who won the Alabama at a mile and a quarter.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Dull Derby

Got stuck in Florida for an extra day. When we got to the airport in Sarasota on Monday evening, the departure board read 'Early Departure' for our Jet Blue flight. Sure enough, we rolled out onto the runway about 15 minutes early. And then sat there for 15 minutes before the pilot says that there's hot air leaking from somewhere, "and that's not a good thing." Long story short, they canceled the flight, and we were lucky to get on the same flight the following night.

Well, could be worse things to be "stuck" by the Gulf on a cloudless day with the temperature in the upper 80's. But I was a bit stressed because I was thinking that I had to get home to blog about the Derby, since there's no place else for you to read about it. But then I checked out Wednesday's official Derby Barn Notes (dutifully delivered, along with that of the Oaks, daily to my inbox courtesy of Churchill Downs), and saw the following headlines:

Oh, man. Is this a sucky edition of the Derby, or what? Plus, there is no The Works on TVG, and it seems as if hardly anyone is working in this final week anyway. What is there even to say at this point? Handicapping the race is, in my opinion, ess a matter anymore of meticulously scrutinized and analying past performances, preparation, and historical trends than just trying to anticipate improvement, guess about the distance, insist on more than fair value, and get lucky.

I'm way bummed that Toby's Corner dropped out. I hated him here, and he would have taken a fair amount of money. (Though there is hope for the future. “I would say it is 50-50 right now,” Motion said, referring to the Preakness.) We've lost a bunch that I'd put in that category - Tha Factor, To Honor And Serve, Jaycito, to name a few. And of course there's the way that Uncle Mo the wonder horse suddenly developed acute indigestion upon seeing the sixteenth pole of the nine furlong Wood, and that one, who I always intended to bet against, ballooned in odds.

However, with Dialed In (4-1) and Uncle Mo (9-2) listed as the first and second choices, respectively, in the morning line, there will surely be good value to be found elsewhere. I hate Dialed In as the favorite. Hard to look past the way he struggled to edge Shackleford in the Florida Derby in a final furlong run in just under 14 seconds. Mike Welsch, in his video workout report on Wednesday, observed that Uncle Mo appeared to have "lightened" from last week. Always a good sign for a horse with an alleged stomach problem to have lost weight. If Welsch's observation is accurate, look for this one to, unfortunately, scratch. Mucho Macho Man (12-1) will be lower than that I think, and I don't like him either as I've said before (though he's also been positively reviewed by Welsch).

A couple of the horses that I actually do like did not fare at all well in the post position draw; Nehro (6-1, post 19) and Archarcharch (10-1, post 1). An especially emphatic ugh to the latter, who I like as much as anyone in this race. Improving form, nice pedigree, and love the way he changed tactics and closed from far back in the Arkansas Derby. Welsch has been raving about this one all week. Nehro, as mentioned before, as well as he's closed in his last two, remains eligible for entry-level allowance. Don't think that makes him a bargain at 6-1. But I think he has to be included on the tickets somewhere.

Brilliant Speed (30-1) is a little tempting to me based on his consistency and improvement. However, we have this situation every year it seems, where people get hooked on the turf/synthetic horse who wins the Blue Grass and inevitably lose their money. Both this horse and the Blue Grass runner-up Twinspired (another Welsch favorite) ran by far their worst races in their starts on dirt. I find that that usually means something. Two post isn't great for Brilliant Speed either.'

Some more observations tomorrow, and then maybe we can get to Belmont?

Sunday, May 01, 2011

A Smart Phone

Wow, I can actually post on this thing? I guess this is jus tone step away from setting up a twitter account!

Ok well another glorious day on the gulf coast of florida, too nice to sit inside, so here goes, excuse any typos or sloppy punctuation. I'd noted before uncle mo's 3yo debut that repole claimed Caixa electronica for 62.5k with some pocket change probably just to distract himself. But now the 6yo son of Arromanches has one more graded stakes win than his juvenile champ in 2011 after he won the westchester at belmont on sat. Haynesfield barely saw the lead, flopping at 4-5 in his 1st start sine the Cigar Mile. Not an auspicious start for a horse you figure could make some hay in the handicap division this year. Convocation, who'd. Also last run at Gulfstream, was secondk and this was one of six races won by gp shippers on the first 2 days of the meet (with a couple of others of runners-up). Only logical to figure that those horses will do well here considering the enormous disparity between the quality of racing there and at the big A.

Sent from my Samsung Intercept by the pool.