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Friday, September 30, 2011

Greetings From Paris.

It's around 11:30 PM Friday night in Paris, and I feel like it's the end of one long nearly continuous day that started Thursday when I got up for work. Our flight left NY at around 11:30PM on Thursday, and 2 Tylenol PM's bought me maybe an hour of doze time. I just can't sleep on planes. I hate it when I get up and see most others passed out cold ...including the Head Chef. Have to say also that Air France doesn't have the most leg room, which didn't help. But the French know how to fly anyway; dinner was served shortly after takeoff, including wine and champagne at no extra charge. And a modest breakfast greeted those who were wiping sleep from their eyes.

Rallied though and got in a nice afternoon on a brilliantly sunny day with highly unseasonable temperatures around 80...a trend forecast to continue through Arc day st least. After a scrumptious lunch (big surprise there), we went to the Jardin des Places botanical garden with a stop at the Museum of Natural History (D'Histoire Naturelle), and capped off the afternoon with a stroll along the Seine. Ho hum, just another day in Parisdise! Some photos follow below.

Can't seem to get any past performances for the program at Longchamps on Sunday, which includes six Group 1's in addition to the Arc. (And great to see that the three-time BC Mile winner Goldikova is slated to go in the Qatar Prix de la Foret, her final start in France before she's retired at the end of this season. Her three-year old half-sister Galikova is entered in the Arc.) The English-language Racing Post will be available outside the track on race day though. Don't know if it matters that much given the relative paucity of information in the Euro pp's anyway, so I'm reading the coverage on the Racing Post site, as well as in the other UK papers.

Now, the sunny and dry weather has already scared John Gosden's Nathaniel away, and there was concern about the defending Arc champion Workforce not liking a firmer than usual track too. But those fears have apparently subsided after his connections walked the course on Friday. The filly Sarafina, the pre-race favorite, drew poorly in post 13, and her odds have eased to 4-1. The Aga Khan-bred daughter of Refuse to Bend has come on in her four-year old season with three straight wins, including one over this course and distance in the Prix Foy.

So You Think also drew poorly, in post 14. We're told that only two winners in the past eight races have won from beyond post eight, but that doesn't really seem like a big enough sample to hang your hat on. So You Think has won four of five this year, and turned back the highly regarded filly Snow Fairy (who starts from post 11) in the Irish Champions...a race in which the latter had every chance to go by, and just couldn't. And it didn't look to me like she would have even stretching out to the mile and a half Arc.

Well, the lack of sleep is catching up to me, so that's it for now. For more on the Arc, check out the Racing Post link above, Marcus Hersh's article in the Form here...or just do what I'm doing - search 'Arc Longchamps' in Google news section to access all the press from the UK.

Grande Galerie De L'Evolution (@ Museum National D'Histoire Naturelle)

Jardin des Plante

Thursday, September 29, 2011


The Super Saturday card at Belmont is a little odd, leading off with three 2yo maiden races. The stakes portion produced some howls I saw regarding the short-ish fields in the six graded stakes (five grade 1's and the G2 Kelso with Uncle Mo). I've have seen worse, I'm sure. It's certainly not a new phenomenon for these types of programs in New York. But the stakes races are surely not without their storylines and, as one long-time local horseplayer said to me: 'we can figure something out.' Daily doubles and Pick 3's on every race; and the guaranteed $500,000 late Pick 4.

Anyway, it was Twitter where I saw the aforementioned grumbling about the fields and the thinness of the stakes and handicap ranks. I saw it on Twitter, and a couple of really smart and witty horseplayers expressed exasperation to the point where they said they hadn't been to the track lately. [I digress: The thing I do like about Twitter is that there are plenty of smart and funny people writing smart and funny things. You know who you are. What I don't need or really care for is the instant updates of press conferences and interviews, nor all of the play-by-play of sporting events. (I can see the need for play-by-play in certain situations, like waking up at 4 AM in a Paris hotel, logging on and getting live updates on a Jets' Sunday night game. But a single pool play-by-twitter would do.)]

And that made me sad to see people I know love the game as much as I be discouraged to the point of inactivity. To me, the game is the game, and there's plenty of it every day at plenty of tracks through plenty of outlets. These stakes days? Yeah, they're not great betting days, but they can be great sporting events, you can hang out with friends, share some bourbon (or not) and have a great time. But for betting, give me the 25K conditioned claiming races at a mile and a sixteenth on the main track (or the turf) any day. And it's available every day. I think we horseplayers are pretty lucky these days.

Speaking of lucky, the Head Chef and I are off on vacation again, and we're truly thankful that we are fortunate enough to be able to do so. And at this point in my life, if not now...when? :-/ So we're off to Paris. I'm lugging along the MacBook so feel free to check in for updates and photos! Unfortunately, my cell phone is inoperable, so I won't be able to Twitter from the track on Sunday, where I'm sitting with people who I expect to be intimately familiar with the European game. Good thing, because I have nary a clue. (Though getting some help from Discreet Picks, who has posted some stories and videos on the Horseracingtalk site.) Anyway, speak to you from there!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

View From Overseas

Sunday's Fr-G1 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe at Longchamps in Paris is the big race on the world stage this weekend, and is where the Head Chef and I will be on what is forecast to be a sunny and unseasonably warm day, close to 80. Sure works for us! And that would be welcome news for a big day of American racing. However, with nothing but sun and a drying breeze forecast for the days leading up to the race, the prospect of a firmer than usual course is causing some consternation, and has prompted at least one trainer to make other plans. "..A watering plan has been put in place....with the aim of producing good ground for the weekend." [BRIS]

But it seems as if the Super Saturday program at Belmont is not being totally overlooked. The UK's Racing Post has a detailed look at what ranks as international racing over there; definitely worth the read. I always find it interesting to see what their take on us Americans and our silly drug-infused game run on the wrong surface. I admit I've become extremely jaded over the years as the former Fall Championship meeting has devolved into the BC Preview meeting. So it's nice to see that somebody besides us cares.

Don't know where he's getting his information, but the writer, one Sam Walker, has his own idea about what will and should transpire on Breeders' Cup weekend.

I think Havre De Grace will switch to the Ladies' Classic, setting up a winner takes all (including the HOY) showdown with Blind Luck.

Those fillies have provided the main narrative to a season which has been sorely lacking a stand out performer (until The Factor came along, but he doesn't count because he's a sprinter), so whichever comes out on top when it matters will gain a lot of hearts - and votes.
You've got to imagine what the big advertising draw will be for Breeders' Cup night. Willit be Tizway versus Stay Thirsty or Blind Luck versus Havre De Grace? I think we all know - and that then becomes the most important race of the meeting.

If Havre De Grace goes for the Classic, and loses, it might scupper the HOY chances of both fillies. Together they are stronger. The Ladies' Classic therefore looks the obvious choice. The logical choice. [Racing Post]
Heh heh, 'scupper.' Gotta love those Brits. One problem with his theory of course is that the Ladies Classic is run in virtual obscurity on ESPN 2 on Friday. I don't know that it's possible for it to be the "most important race of the meeting." Do you? Even if the two fillies meet? I'm sure that the required spontaneity to switch the race to Saturday would be lacking. You could bet that other sports, with full support of their TV networks, would find a way to make it happen. But let's reserve that discussion in the seemingly unlikely event that, contrary to the connections' stated intentions, the two do meet in the LC.

Also wanted to note that, according to the Racing Post's rankings, The Factor is by far and away the best horse in the country....the only one even listed amongst the paper's top ten.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Last of a Dying Breed?

Saw this guy in the paddock at Belmont on Sunday, and I did a double take. On his clipboard, he had constructed a makeshift matrix and was charting the exacta prices. A "chartist" as we used to refer to those who would follow the exacta prices to determine the horses which, in their view, were taking the real smart money. Man, I hadn't seen one of these guys in years, if not decades. There was a whole crew of them, who I can still picture now with their trusty clipboards (some even eschewing the programs altogether) that I recall mostly from Roosevelt and Yonkers. But I'd see them at the flats too.

In fact, I have a fairly clear memory of the last time I spotted a couple of them, at the old 'Aquetoga' in the early days of simulcasting, hanging out in the Big A backyard which was built in the 70's in one of NYRA's most ridiculed moves. Thinking they could attract music fans on the subway, they actually moved racing back to the Aqueduct for a month in July prior to the Saratoga meet. Don't remember if they did it for one or two years before abandoning the experiment. But the backyard was actually a nice residual from the fiasco, and a place to lounge in the grass and bet races from Saratoga in August.

But I digress. I recall seeing the chartists there because I remember thinking at the time that it had been a long time since I'd last seen them even then! And that was quite some time ago.

Always presumed that the methodology didn't live on because it didn't really work. I did it for awhile, though more informally, scribbling the numbers on my program, and remember having the odd success. But over the years, I came to depend more on the good old win pool to ID my hot horses. And, in fact, the ones that I really like...the ones who get slammed squarely on the nose in relation to its percentage of wagers in the show pool....tend to not get bet in the exacta pools. So I think you can find some tremendous value with combinations involving extremely live horses that the chartists might actually consider to be dead on the board. Makes more sense from a value standpoint anyway, especially. But apparently there's still at least one guy who still sees it differently.

- Well Kept ($13) won the second on Sunday for trainer Leah Gyarmarti. Two-year old filly is a granddaughter of the great racemare (and just decent broodmare) Safely Kept. First-time starter Chippewa Charlie, the 7-2 second choice in the morning line, was bet off the board for trainer John Terranova. NYRA paddock analyst Maggie Wolfendale was unimpressed with that daughter of Indian Charlie, remarking that she was surprised that she didn't look more fit. Didn't stop the bettors from slamming that one back down to even money at the end, after she had drifted up in price just slightly. Filly was fractious before the start, got off a bit slow and faded to last after a wide middle move. The winner is by Henny Hughes, still yet to really distinguish himself as a sire; just a couple of G3 winners to his credit, one of those in Japan.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Here Comes the Money!

As expected with VLT's imminent, NYRA announced significant purse increases for the Big A, starting on Jan 1; average daily prizes will go up to $375,000 from $275,000.

A few more examples of the purse increases are as follows:

* Allowance n2x - $69,000 for routes, $64,000 for sprints, up from $47,000 and $46,000
* Allowance n2x (New York-breds) - $59,000 for routes, $54,000 for sprints, up from $43,000 and $42,000
* Allowance n1x - $67,000 for routes, $62,000 for sprints, up from $45,000 and $44,000
* Allowance n1x (New York-breds) - $57,000 for routes, $52,000 for sprints, up from $41,000 and $40,000
* Maiden Special Weight - $65,000 for routes, $60,000 for sprints, up from $43,000 and $42,000
* Maiden Special Weight (New York-breds) - $55,000 for routes, $50,000 for sprints, up from $39,000 and $38,000
* 10k Claiming - $31,000 for routes, $30,000 for sprints, up from $21,000 and $20,000 [NYRA Press Release]
Wow. Take that, Parx. Think we'll be seeing a few more horses around here during the winter seasons. At least until this starts to really take effect.

I've said this before, but, if a $10,000 claiming horse is running for an $18,000 winning share, then isn't it inherently worth more than $10,000 just based on that? It kind of blurs the line I think amongst claiming levels, and makes drops in class less significant in terms of viewing the trainer's motivation skeptically with respect to the horse's health or fitness. But we'll see.

- You knew that Saturday was a slow stakes day if the center of attention was that mediocre series of Kentucky Cup stakes races at Turfway capped off by the overgraded G2 Kentucky Cup itself, won by Future Prospect ($38.40), who was available for a 62K claiming tag over the summer.

It was kinda funny watching the Juvenile Fillies race on TVG. Tom Amoss was on the on-air team, and also had an entrant in the race; Charming Vixen was 6-1 morning line in her first try around two turns and on synthetic (though the latter also applied to most others). Amoss however was not shy about touting his filly's chances, and made her his 'checkmark' selection - talk about conflict of interest, and about getting a tip straight from the trainer!! Little surprise then she got bet down to 3-1. And keep that in mind for the next time you get a tip from Amoss, as she won the race handily!

In the juvenile colts race, a white streak named Hansen, who won his debut over the track by 12, won this one by 13, prompting a wave of hysterical Twitter tweets. Impressive pp lines to be sure but whoa, Nellie! Consider the competition (he earned a Beyer of just 80) and the surface before getting too excited about this son of Tapit, out of a Sir Cat mare, with nothing to show on his catalog page.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Aquecino Preview

In case you missed it, the press got a preview of the Aqueduct racino, which I think I'll start calling Aquecino for short. Resorts World just doesn't do it for me. It conjures images of places and things a world away from Ozone Park in Queens. There's some video here in this NY1 report (HT: @BklynBckstretch). It's a familiar looking scene for those of you that have been to the racinos at the Yonk and Saratoga; and I imagine to most others as well.

The racino will eventually consist of three floors in the old grandstand section of the track; two of those devoted to gaming and the third to events. They will each have a "New York" theme; the first floor will be the "Fifth Avenue Casino," the second the "Times Square Casino," and the third floor event space will be dubbed "Central Park Festival Commons." For extra authenticity, they may want to try touches such as a reservoir on the third floor, a city bus running up and down the first, and perhaps a Madame Tussauds on the second, with wax figures of relevant personalities such as Charlie Hayward, former Governor David Paterson (whose incompetence in the selection process we have to thank for Genting being here), Gary Contessa, or Uncle Mo.

The second floor, flush with some 2,280 video lottery terminals and 205 electronic table games including Baccarat, Roulette and Craps [Queens Tribune], is the one you see in the video and in the articles linked to here. It will be open in late October, prior to the Nov 4 opening of racing. Man it's gonna be a whole new world there, that's for damn sure. There will be a food court, and the centerpiece will be a two-story atrium housing Bar 360, featuring a 28-foot-wide-by-18-foot-high television screen that [Resorts World New York President Michael] Speller said may just be the “largest high-definition television in all of Queens.” [Queens Chronicle] And that, I'm sure, is saying a lot!

And Speller said: "We will be completely finished with this project by the middle of December.” [Queens Tribune] (Though the covered walkway direct from the revamped subway station direct into paradise will not be ready until next year.]

All told, the facility will feature 4,525 VLTs, 475 electronic table games, 18 food and beverage outlets, four VIP lounges, 200,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor event space and 6,400 total parking spaces. [Queens Courier]
That parking garage is already complete.
The casino will be accessible both from the Rockaway Boulevard main entrance and the entrance along North Conduit Avenue. There will be a total of 6,400 parking spaces in both the garage and in the adjacent lots.
And, of course, we're assured that Aquecino has plenty of space reserved for table games should it come to pass, in 2013 at the earliest, that a constitutional amendment permitting them is approved.

As far as hiring goes, the process is under way, with 200 management and administrative positions already filled. Certainly no surprise in this economy, the demand for jobs well outweighs the number available.
“We have had over 35,000 applications for 1,350 jobs....[Speller] added that 70 to 80 percent of those jobs will be given to Queens residents and hiring will occur “shortly.” [Queens Tribune]
Speller also spoke of plans to lure air passengers on layovers at nearby JFK.
Speller estimates that 50 million tourists a year fly into JFK, many with layovers that last for several hours.

These passengers normally sit idle in the terminals, he said, but a quick bus ride might entice them to place some wagers before boarding their connecting flights. [NY Daily News]
Seems like a constructive use of their time, yes?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Change of Mind

It was just a few weeks ago that Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was telling the NY Daily News that a casino in New York City would be the wrong bet.

"I don't want to see people going out for lunch during work and losing a week's pay or a month's pay."
Silver says there is a big difference in the clientele a city racino would attract versus a full-blown casino - "people who want real gaming, real action as they call it, don't go to racinos."

And he's accustomed to getting his way inside the Capitol. "He could be a serious impediment if he wants to be," said Democratic strategist [and pleader of the Fifth Amendment during the AEG investigation] Hank Sheinkopf. [NYDN]
Well, I guess he doesn't want to be, because now, according to Fred Dicker in the Post, the Speaker would be willing to have at least one casino in New York City -- at the Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens
“We have it all over, in New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, in Native American casinos in New York [not to mention Massachusetts], so we might as well take part in the revenues that come from casino gaming.."
He added that casinos should be permitted everywhere except in “the middle of inner-city” neighborhoods that have heavy populations of poor people.
I dunno, if we're talking about the lure of a new gambling palace on vulnerable residents of an urban neighborhood who can't afford to piss their money away, I'm not at all getting the distinction between what the Speaker terms "inner-city" and a working class neighborhood such as Ozone Park. Seems arbitrary and meaningless, not to mention rather callous.

The Speaker's original comments came a couple of weeks after Governor Cuomo made some carefully-worded comments that were nonetheless widely reported by the press to be signaling his unqualified support for casino gambling.
“It’s really not an issue anymore of ‘Well, if we don’t officially sanction it as a government, it’s not going to happen....It is happening.”

“So now you have to go to the second step....If there is going to be gaming, how should it be done? And that issue, that question, is an important question for the statee.” [NY Times]
But on Monday, the governor took an even more steadfastly noncommittal tone.
“I’m not encouraging, I’m not dissuading. I’m studying — I’m reviewing....It has tremendous ramifications on a number of levels, and we are working through that.” [Capitol Confidential]
Here, Cuomo is expertly straddling an issue which has never defined itself in a partisan way along political lines. With Silver and Senate Majority Leader Skelos on board at this point, he can stand back and let the matter run its own course without taking the lead in a process which would ultimately be decided by the voters. I don't think any politician with presidential aspirations would ever want to be caught on tape saying that he or she is in favor of casino gambling.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Oregon Trail

I was reading the Times on the subway this morning, and ran across this story.

The Bloomberg administration announced Wednesday it had selected a Portland, Ore., company to run an ambitious bike-share program in New York City, but don’t break out the spandex cycling shorts just yet...
Wait a minute, I thought. Something seems awfully familiar about that....Where? Oregon?....where have I seen that before? Umm...

Oh, yeah.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has blasted New York Racing Association for contracting with Churchill Downs’ in Oregon to handle its telephone wagering business.

Cuomo, in a Thursday letter to NYRA, asked that any activity under the contract be done by New York employees.

“NYRA's decision to locate these activities and the potential jobs out of state is extremely troubling given the extraordinary investment New York state has made to maintain NYRA's viability over the years." [Thoroughbred Times, 4/29/11]
Er....yeah, but....what about....I thought....

I know it's not quite the same situation; but one could surely argue that the state makes a far greater investment in aid to the city considering that a reasonable person might contend that the investment the state has actually made in NYRA is something around, say, $0.

Besides Alta Bicycle Share, the Oregon company, their bike supplier, Public Bike Service Company, is headquartered in Toronto.

The obvious point about hypocrisy in politicians needs not be pointed out. I rather doubt that Governor Cuomo will have anything critical to say....lest he trigger another round of contributions by the billionaire mayor to the NY Senate Republicans.

Of course, you can't really blame the city for seeking out a solution that is best for the situation (no more so than you could have blamed NYRA for seeking out the best solution for theirs). Replicating the vast experience of these two esteemed companies in this particular field from scratch is surely more complicated than training employees to take horse bets on the phone. I do imagine though that some sharp unemployed investment bankers could have figured something out. Renting bicycles....doesn't seem as complicated as running a racetrack.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

VLT Time Approaches

The Head Chef does some work in the NYC public school system for the Wellness In The Schools program. Based on the hostile tone of some of the comments and even private emailers (who at least have the courtesy and respect to make themselves known) I've gotten to razz me about the Republican winning in the 9th CD on Tuesday, I guess some of you are thinking that's a typical liberal to be so concerned with something like healthy eating, environmental awareness and fitness as a way of life for kids in New York City’s public schools. I mean, I know that all of us, of all political stripes, surely agree with the worthy goals of the program. You don't have to worry, they get no government financing. That money is free to go instead towards compensation for some of the corporate loopholes that Bob Turner, my Congressperson, has met and likes.

Anyway, the main point here is that the manager of school lunch at the school that the Head Chef was at on Wednesday announced that she had given her two weeks notice in order to take a job at a fancy restaurant at the Aqueduct racino. She starts there late this month. And though I imagine there's some kind of training program before the restaurant opens to the public, it surely means that the promised land is not far off. After all these years of false starts, it seems hard to believe that it's really going to happen, for worse and, for the New York Racing Association and, by extension we all expect for its horsemen and fans, the better. We know the racino will wow; we'll see what improvements if any are made on the racing side in time for next month's opening. We've been told that Genting will contribute some resources to that effort, but NYRA itself has identified other priorities for the initial inflows at this time.

- Contessa took the 4th, on the turf, at Belmont on Wednesday with Salsa Mambo ($35.20). This barn starts so many horses that it rarely has a high win percentage, so its five wins from its last 12 races is a pretty good run. In the Jazzy Stakes, his Battingstar led into the stretch at 20-1 and lost by only three lengths.

The 5th was the race I discussed in the last post, and morning line favorite Smokin Star ($9.80) ended up being the distant third choice. If I was there, I probably would've figured he was dead on the board and thrown him out. Maybe however he was just a legitimate overlay with all the money bet on the two horses coming off layoffs and running first time for a tag. Unprecedented was claimed by Chatterpaul Naipaul for $35,000. Must me a trustful man to take that horse from Dutrow dropping in for 35K off a 13 month layoff. The horse had trouble here and ran pretty well for 4th; be interesting to follow the progress of that one. Assuming he runs again.

In the 6th, well-bet first-timer Undaunted Ella ($6.20) won for Bruce Levine and owner/breeder Gus Schoenborn, who also bred and owned her half-brother, the successful NY-bred Metro Meteor. Two-year old is a daughter of the rookie sire Half Ours, the one-time $6.1 million purchase while in training, now standing in Louisiana for $4500.

- Have some time for Thursday's card, but I dunno, this reader Johnnie is making me feel bad about my picks. Haven't exactly been lighting them up lately. But hey, I've had my moments to be sure. Don't make that many picks on the blog, so it can be a long-time calendar-wise between successes. And I like to think that someone can get something out of many if not most of my handicapping posts even if they're losers - an alert to a hot trainer, a key race, a track bias (occasionally), a particular handicapping angle, or even just inspiration to use Formulator, so you can have all that too-much-information, get away from the basics and see your results decline. (Or not.)

I thought there was some really thoughtful and worthwhile discussion on the trials and tribulations of handicapping in this comment section last week. Figless talks about discipline, jp about handicapping as a science (and about discipline as well), and wmcorrow laments that he's "no better at picking winners today than fifty years ago." I've written about that before (and other than the fact that I feel that way myself most of the time) (though I'm not quite at the 50 year mark). The rate of growth over the last two decades in the amount of information available to us through more data and better technology is staggering. Yet there's no evidence that I've ever read that the proficiency of horseplayers as a whole has increased at anywhere near that pace, if at all. Sometimes makes me wonder if the investment of time is a waste. Or maybe it's really not and I'm just in a quarter century-long slump. In which case, I'm due.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Tuesday Notes and Special Elections

In the 7th at Belmont on Sunday, Somali Lemonade ($22.40) was the third first-time 2yo winner for trainer Michael Matz, and 4th juvenile over all (out of 10 such starters), since the beginning of the Saratoga meet. The other winning firsters paid 7-1 and 27-1. This is a daughter of Lemon Drop Kid out of a daughter of Nureyev; and in fact, Somali Lemonade is, unusually, inbred to that stallion 4x2. She's a half-sister to [the dam of] Baraan, a highly-regarded French three-year old colt who was recently declared out of the Arc, after being as short as 12-1. This is also the family of the turf specialist Al Khali, and a bunch of classy dirt horses including Queena, Too Chic, and Soaring Empire. [More on Matz in the comments section here, thanks RG.]

In the 5th on Wednesday, Matz is scheduled to saddle Hulako (6-1), returning to the grass and stretching out to ten furlongs. Son of Dynaformer has closed pretty well against better and may appreciate the stretch out and the drop in class (at least as far as grass races go) here. He has some distance, if not grass, in his pedigree, his second dam being a full-sister to the two-time Classic winner Tiznow. Could add some value to the tickets in a race in which the 2nd and 3rd morning line choices drop in for a tag first time off lengthy layoffs. Smokin Start, the morning line choice at 5-2, has the trip comment 'Awful trip, lost chance' on his pp line for his last race. I heard Serling talk about a horse with a similar comment on Sunday, which he kinda laughed off with the suggestion that such hyperbole can sometimes constitute an exaggeration. Similarly, in this case, sure, he had a tough trip, taken up sharply on two separate occasions. However, he was at the back of the pack, was dead on the board, and his prior form shows little indication that he could have done better than his usual sucking along for a minor share of the purse. Nonetheless looks dangerous here with the drop in class and switch to Johnny V, but worth a shot against should he be the betting favorite. Syros (4-1), one of the class droppers mentioned above, last raced in March, for Clement. Surely has the pedigree chops to take this very interesting maiden claiming affair - also by Dynaformer, his dam, Merdiana, won the mile and a half Orchid and produced Center Divider, second in the 11 furlong Bowling Green and in the 13 furlong John's Call.

- Tuesday is the special election to replace Anthony Weiner here in the 9th Congressional District, and it does not look good for the Democratic candidate David Weprin. The latest polls show the GOP candidate Bob Turner ahead by a half a dozen points. When you hear a candidate say things like “The only poll that counts is the one tomorrow,” you know he or she is in trouble, and knows it. Weprin was supposed to be a lock in a district in which registered D's outnumber registered R's by a 3-to-1 margin. However, he's proven to be an uninspiring and sometimes awkward campaigner.

Turner on the other hand picked up a highly-publicized endorsement from Ed Koch, who links Weprin to what Koch claims is an Israel-unfriendly Obama administration. The district worms its way from here in Queens to neighborhoods in Brooklyn with substantial Orthodox populations. (Weprin himself is an Orthodox Jew.) Turner was also endorsed by the NY Daily News after Weprin, in an appearance before the paper's Editorial Board, he proved clueless as to the size of the national debt. He pegged the amount at $4 trillion - a mere $10 trillion less than it actually is.

And, Weprin has lost support from the Orthodox community due to his vote in the state Assembly in favor of gay marriage. On Monday, a prominent rabbi agreed to do robocalls for Turner even though he confesses that he knows absolutely nothing about the candidate. Rabbi Zechariah Wallerstein, who began to wonder if the time had come to leave the country after the gay marriage law was passed in Albany, said that Weprin had "defied Jewish law" with his vote. The rabbi might once again want to leave the country if he does a little research on the GOP candidate he now supports. Turner was the creator of the Jerry Springer show, which I doubt comports with Jewish law nor the rabbi's sense of morality.

Interestingly, despite that large 3-to-1 advantage to registered Democrats, Nate Silver pointed out on his FiveThirtyEight blog that President Obama only received 55% of the vote (down from 67% for Gore), and that a slight majority of voters there have a negative impression of the president. So an upset on Tuesday may not be as much of an upset as it may seem. (Still, I'll be upset.)

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Belmont Notes

Went out to Belmont for opening day, and not much to report, really. Didn't do much betting at all. Not that there weren't some decently competitive races, but nothing much clicked. Maybe it was just the atmosphere of 8,000 people spread out in the vast facility after a diet of Saratoga and Del Mar. Generally crave action after getting back from a betting trip like Del Mar; but with only two bets made all day (with a crappy simulcast edition of the Form not helping), still have the needle in my arm as we used to say. Maybe today.

Noticed one capital improvement that was made in the nearly eight weeks since racing departed for upstate.

It's a little plaza of seating and TV's located out near the betting windows. Unfortunately, it's smack dab in one of my preferred grassy spots for planting my lawn chair (which you can see at the bottom left sitting on the outside forlornly looking in). So this doesn't quite work out for me.

Also got a view from way, way, WAY up above. Won't elaborate on that because I might get in trouble. Suffice to say that Belmont Park is an enormous facility, both lengthwise and heightwise, which could house a lot of VLT's an whatever without disturbing the racing.

In the 4th, Aubby K ($4.30) was bet down from 7-2 morning line in her first start and romped by 15. She earned a Beyer of 75 which, if you take those numbers as gospel, may make her romp more of a commentary on the rest of the field than reason to go out for a Ky Oaks futures quote. She's a daughter of Street Sense out of the graded stakes winning Lilly Capote.

Two winners for Contessa, four winners from 11 starters in September thus far.

Friday, September 09, 2011

Music Has the Power

- That Senate hearing on "enhancing the racing industry" scheduled for today has been canceled. The Public Hearing will be rescheduled for a date, time and location to be announced.

- We saw Patti Smith last night at Webster Hall. It was a free concert sponsored by France Inter, a public radio network which broadcast the show live back to its home country (where the Head Chef and I will once again be visiting this fall - in fact, in just a few weeks - and this time for the Arc as well!).

The show was billed as being in commemoration of the 10th anniversary of you-know-what. And as such, I went into it thinking that it might be a somewhat somber affair. And though Patti surely had her reflective moments (which is one way of putting them!), that impression was wrong. And why actually, should it have been any more somber than, say, the Concert for New York which took place a few weeks after the events. Or the Built to Spill show that the we attended at Irving Plaza on Sept 21, 2001 as the cloud of fear was still fully engulfing the city.

Because after all, music is life-affirming. All forms of it I suppose but, especially to me, the power and raw emotion of good rock music (as opposed to commercial wimpy pop and the fake generic so-called 'punk' so prevalent today) is enough to send me away to some other consciousness distinct from the tribulations of the real world, and to look ahead with optimism and confidence instead of fear. So, though songs like People Have the Power and Because the Night may have taken on added poignancy on this occasion, the music of Patti Smith, with her band in absolute top-notch rockin' form, was a perfect tribute and commemoration, not of the events of 9/11/2001 itself, but of the spirit of the city, and the city of the spirit and resiliency that has risen from the ashes of that day. And, thankfully, I'm now officially done with this anniversary. "I remember on September 12, 2001," Patti Smith said last night, "I was filled with hope about how we could help make the world a better place. We haven't done a very good job." Then she smiled broadly and added: "But, there's always tomorrow." Indeed.

Patti Smith au Webster Hall by franceinter

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Let the Hearings Begin

Casino gambling in New York State was the subject on Wednesday of a joint Senate hearing conducted by the Committee on Racing Gaming and Wagering, and the Senate Standing Committee on Judiciary. It was the first of two related hearings to be chaired this week by the Racing and Gaming Committee Chair John Bonacic.

On Friday, Bonacic will conduct a hearing with the stated purpose: To develop potential legislation to enhance the racing industry in New York State. And, with a witness list which includes Steven Crist, Charles Hayward, Rick Violette of NYTHA, and three OTB presidents, Friday's hearing should be one in which the industry gets its say on the matter. However, recall that Bonacic has promised to, among other things, determine whether the three-track franchise can be legally taken away from the New York Racing Association; perhaps, it's been speculated by some, to facilitate a casino at Belmont. And, with respect to said casino gambling, to determine, and I quote, what requirements, if any, should there be to benefit the horse racing industry? So we can expect additional hearings to come.

(It's also worth pointing out at this time that Bonacic, as we discovered a few weeks ago, has been the recipient of generous campaign contributions by one aspiring private casino developer. I might repeat that on multiple occasions as this story plays out over the next few months and beyond. It's particularly significant in this case in which the Senator is presiding over a Committee that will eventually make a recommendation to the Senate body as to whether or whom amongst private developers, Indian tribes, or existing racinos will be granted the right, perhaps in exclusivity, to develop casinos.)

At Wednesday's hearing, the Committee heard from the New York Gaming Association, the new group representing the state's racinos. Its president, James Featherstonhaugh, an owner of the Saratoga harness track, and a veteran and prominent Albany lobbyist, told the Committee that the Aqueduct racino will bring the total racino proceeds to the state up to $1.1 billion a year. In arguing for exclusive casino rights for his members, Featherstonhaugh tried to make things simple: "We're simply asking you let people play different games at the gaming facilities that already exist." [Buffalo News]

Representatives of the Indian tribes, on the other hand, argued that they already have casino exclusivity under a deal made with Governor George Pataki. Indeed, the Seneca Nation has withheld $310 million in state aid since August 2009 because it says that tracks have been violating their exclusivity in western New York, in part when they added electronic table games and started calling themselves casinos. [Politics on the Hudson]

And, never to be outdone, the indefatigable harness horsemen, fresh off their sweeping court victory which has effectively, for now, ended out-of-competition drug testing in the state, weighed in as well. SOANY president Joe Faraldo hailed the VLT program and the resulting gains made by the harness industry. But he said that his members are on "are on pins and needles about how the proposed constitutional amendment will play out." With respect to the possibility of competing full-scale casinos, Faraldo said:

It is, quite frankly, economically illogical to consider trading off tens of thousands of existing racing, agricultural and equine-related jobs in exchange for increased profits for casino owners and a limited number of new positions for blackjack dealers, croupiers and pit bosses.
Faraldo did not let the racinos go unscathed, charitably warning the Senators that they would seek lower tax rates on new games. "How will that impact revenue to the state and to education?" It was an impressive statement indeed, appealing to matters that even NY State Senators can understand, like revenue, jobs, and schools. You can read it in its entirety here.

Jet Lagged

Back from beautiful (if occasionally actually rainy!) southern California; still recovering from not being able to sleep on the redeye home. Don't know how you people sleep on planes without serious medication.

Sorry for not posting while we were there, but I tried something really novel instead: handicapping. Instead of coming back from the track and writing a post about how and why I lost, I spent the time doing some serious work on the next day's card. I've often pondered out loud here about the question of what is better - preparing in advance, which leads to greater insight and knowledge, but which, for me, can discourage spontaneity and concentration, and sometimes clutter the mind with too much information; or picking up the Form at the track and going with first impressions based on the time-honored basics of class, speed, and form (plus the tote board). When I'm away, I usually lean towards the latter, if nothing else due to time constraints. But this time, I made the time and did the work; probably the most I've done in advance in quite some time.

It didn't really help the bottom line, in this case. But I felt pretty good, and had several really live horses who ran quite well at very fair prices. I also achieved some small moral triumphs along the way - correctly opposed some favorites, had three out of the late pick four on Sunday, and occasionally sounded smart on my Twitter feed, stuff like that. And an actual profitable day on Monday with an actual live winner with City to City - $13.60 and a BIG $46 pick three in the Palomar Handicap. Even if they don't necessarily pay off, I figure that if your selections are live and the prices are fair, you're doing a lot right and will be rewarded (at some point) in the long run. One needs to take heart, not get discouraged, and forge on, knowing (hoping?) that the racing gods will take care of you for your strong efforts at some point in time.

Have to say also that I really, really enjoyed the racing at Del Mar. You can surely quibble about the quality of the racing compared to Saratoga. But the fields were full and the races were deep, competitive, and every bit as challenging and stimulating as those back east. And I just love the racetrack. A different scene from the backyard lounging at Saratoga to be sure. But the paddock area, which more than at any other track I know, serves as its pulse and center of its universe, is surely one of the most vibrant racetrack spots I know.

So, with all that in mind (and with a warning that you're not off the hook as far as seeing photos from the trip is concerned.....need something to amuse myself with during tonight's Republican debate) (as if that won't be amusing enough in itself), one more chance to get even on closing day. In the 7th, yet another superb betting affair, Anniversary Girl (7-2) makes her third start of the form cycle for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. This three-year old daughter of the Irish stallion Aragorn (Giant's Causeway) returned from a layoff in good spirits and improved form, with two sparkling efforts over this course thus far, including a seemless move up to the optional claiming allowance ranks in her last. Well, almost seemless - her late rally just failed to overtake Butterfly Beach, a nice looking Mike Puype filly who is three-for-three on the turf. Switches to Garrett Gomez (who rode the aforementioned City to City for this barn), and the extra sixteenth of a mile would seem to be helpful as she faces older horses here.

Ruffled Feathers (5-1) has been racing evenly in state-bred stakes company which I believe is uniformly stronger than this level (based on examining the past performances of her opponents thanks to the magic of Formulator). A duplication of her winning effort, against better, over this course last summer should be enough in this spot. Will use on top of the top selection to save. Hard to Resist (3-1) returns off a layoff after a couple of even efforts in three-year old graded stakes company in the spring; not sure just how strong those races were at that point in time, so will stand against as the favorite here. Best of luck and have a great day.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Lights Still Shining at One OTB

That's the old OTB parlor on Queens Blvd in Forest Hills. It was reported the other day in the Times that "very few" of the shuttered parlors have been rented to new tenants. This one is not one of them. And somebody forgot to turn the lights out.

The Times piece paints an appropriately bleak picture of the former clientele of the former parlors. One restaurant owner recalled:

They littered on the sidewalk, called out rudely to women, demanded free water and sometimes solicited money from his customers. [NY Times[
One time, I was standing outside the Forest Hills parlor, and a guy, having spotted me eating a Hersheys Dark Chocolate Bar from inside, came out to ask me for a bite. "Bitch!" he spat angrily when I refused. I think that's the most vivid memory I have of that place (other than perhaps cashing my $20 win ticket on Lil E. Tee, who paid, if I recall correctly, $98.60 to win in New York, only $16.80 at Churchill).

I saw where Jessica got quoted from one of her Railbird blog posts in the Times article:
On particularly unhappy days, I’d slip into a parlor downtown, and enjoy the anonymous companionship of others staring intently at programs and talking horses and hoping for that one big win. [Railbird]
But I dunno about the romantic angle in this case. It was just plain sleazy to me. Maybe Jessica found an outlier parlor that was actually decent, or maybe she cheated and really went to one of the nice restaurant ones, or to Nassau. Everyone has their own way of finding some peace and solace in a sometimes impossible and impossibly perilous world. But if I was depressed enough to hang out in OTB, at least the one on Queens Blvs in Forest Hills, they'd be fishing me out of the Hudson River somewhere with a bag containing all of my losing tickets for the last 18 months tied around my neck.

Speaking of being depressed, it's Labor Day weekend, which I think is up there for biggest holidays for suicides. But please don't despair - plenty of racing though to pass the time and, as I'm sure I've said many times before, Labor Day is one of my favorite weekends at Saratoga. Smaller crowds, more races, more horses as connections try to get in one last race. And the Final Stretch Music Festival on Saturday and Sunday night, which you just gotta check out if you're in town.

Having said that, we're off to Solana Beach, just north of Del Mar, CA. Will check in from there if I have the time during what will be a condensed schedule. And please check out my Twitter stream if you have the chance. I did some live-Twittering from Saratoga a couple of weekends ago; it was fun, and didn't contribute to me doing any worse than I usually do. It's not totally a track vacation, but I'm sure I'll have plenty of opportunities to make a fool of myself at the races, especially on Friday and Saturday. In any event, best of luck, be safe, and have a great weekend.

Saratoga Notes

- Hammock ($17) was actually the second longest shot in the tightly competitive first race field on Wednesday. The turf was labeled good, and it was like the riders came out wary, crawling to a 52-second first half; and then were like, "hey, it's fine," and sprinted home in just around 46 seconds flat from that point. Fifth winner for Rick Schosberg (26-5-4-1); his horses have been pretty consistently live of late. He has an interesting one in the 2nd on Thursday in Piscesbymoonlight (5-1). Bred and owned by Albert Fried Jr., who also bred and owned this colt's half-brother, the nice NY-bred Giant Moon, this son of Empire Maker just failed as the favorite at a mile in April, beaten by Bigger is Bettor, who won the Albany here last week. Adds blinkers and moves confidently up to open company off a solid series of drills.

Night Maneuver ($41) won the second for Carlos Martin. That's the second debut winner for Carlos Martin, a guy not known for winning first-time out.

Kid Kate ($5.80) took the third, and that's 20 winners on the meet for trainer Chad Brown. Still 13 winners behind Pletcher, but he's started 56 less runners, and his hitting at an even 30%, pretty remarkable.

Speaking of remarkable, Count Catamount ($6.40) couldn't get out of his own way at this level under previous handling, now has a win and a narrow second since moving to the barn of trainer Rudy Rodriguez. How does he do that?

Not a good day for the Toddster. Mr. Style, grossly overbet to .45 - 1 off an inflated Beyer in a suck-along-for-second performance in his debut (no redboarding here, pointed that out in the last post, even if the horse I mentioned was eased and walked off), ran well but was edged by Officer Prado ($9.40) after a race-long duel. First of two winners on the day for Asmussen, and that's 13 winners from just 40 starters for that barn. And Crazy Party was out of the money for Pletcher at 4-5 in the PG Johnson.

Asmussen's second winner, Yadira ($13.40), made a flawless transition to the ranks of winners one race after graduating earlier in the meet. Took a while to get this daughter of Pulpit to the races; debuted this year at age four, two years after bringing $575,000 as a two-year old in training. She's a half-sister to a couple of grass stakes winners in Dilemma and Capitano.

- So much for the "everyman" thing? According to this chat room site, Ken Rudulph will be leaving TVG following the Del Mar meet.

[Confirmed. You'd think they could have gotten the spelling of his name right in the headline?