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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Odds and Ends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 25, 2011

Churchill Friday [Updated - + Aqueduct]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 21, 2011

Ten Years, Too Long

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Slots Fervor Never Ceases to Amaze

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

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

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

And then, there's the racing side.

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

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

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Winners and Liu-sers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Business Brisk At Big A, Less So at Yonkers

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

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

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

First and Last Word on Horse of the Year

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Breeders' Cup Random Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

It's A Wonderful (Resorts) World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 04, 2011

Hope and Admiration for Uncle Mo

I'm almost tempted to pick Uncle Mo, just to be contrary. He has to be the most under-selected morning line favorite in history. None of the 'experts' in the Form who analyzed the card in detail - Watchmaker, Brad Free, Dave Litfin nor Byron King - select him in the top three. Beyer obviously doesn't like him. He's not in the top three on the Form's consensus selection box. No one I saw on Twitter likes him. Absolutely NOBODY....

Oh, Steve Crist picks him out of hope, loyalty, and admiration, but with absolutely no confidence that he’ll get the distance.

Well, not a ringing endorsement, but that's something I guess. I actually might pick him out of hope and admiration. Certainly not loyalty. We've had a lot of fun with this horse here, labeling him as Uncle Schmo, presenting the poop on his illness with a great deal of skepticism, blasting his connections for even considering the Derby afterwards. (And given how serious we're told his illness turned out to be, seems especially bizarre now that he was actually at Churchill preparing for the race).

Uncle Mo's comeback though has been undeniably impressive. I don't think 'brilliant' is an overstatement. Taken out of his front-running game in the seven furlong Kings Bishop, the son of Indian Charlie settled in, and circled the field on the turn like he's being doing it all his life. No disgrace for sure in his first race back to get nipped by the one-turn specialist Caleb's Posse. And I've heard people try to disparage his Kelso win by saying he was alone on the lead. While that was indeed the case, he actually accelerated, completely on his own volition, to a second quarter of 22 2/5 after an opening split of 23 2/5. And he shook off the big rally by the older Jackson Bend, who has undeniably come into his own this year (as he will prove when he rallies for second in the Sprint), with ridiculous ease, earning his outsized Beyer (118) and miniscule Rag number (0).

Can he really now, off those two 1-turn races, succeed at the classic mile and a quarter distance, 3/16ths of a mile longer than he ever has? Surely does seem like a tall order. One thing I believe is for sure: those chomping at the bit to bet against him as the Classic favorite are going to be disappointed. I'd be shocked if he actually went off as post-time favorite over Havre de Grace given the overwhelming negative sentiment against him. I more expect him to be more or less even as 2nd or 3rd choice with Flat Out. And I would not be shocked if he's higher than So You Think (already accepted a wager about that, so please don't bother). Remember, this isn't the Derby, when the pools are flooded with a lot of amateur dollars (like I'm a "professional," right?). The Breeders' Cup, with its oversized roster of races, and undersized promotion by the sport's broadcast partner of choice, is strictly an industry affair, especially with no Zenyattas to crossover to the mainstream media (sorry Goldikova fans). In this case, we are the "public" money. And we don't like Uncle Mo.

I'll speak for myself though. I would bet him if his odds indeed reflect the uncertainty about his stamina and preparation, balanced of course by his undeniable brilliance. I dunno, 6-1 sound fair? Since that's unlikely, I probably won't do much of anything with this race, especially since it's preceded by the Mile, a race I'm excited to watch but also uninterested in wagering on. The Classic pretty much sucks this year, other than the presence of the 2 yo champ and the filly; not a Flat Out fan, though he's definitely in good form (though note his two middling efforts over this surface). I expect Uncle Mo and Havre de Grace to have opened up some daylight over these bums after turning for home. The more likely result is that the filly draws off and wins the race as the favorite. But, there's always hope. And, if he pulls it off, admiration, in spades.

- This year's Turf is a great European race, so maybe they should be running it in Europe so we don't have to hear the connections complaining about the grass course here again.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Perfect Spot for Caleb's Posse

In the Dirt Mile, Caleb's Posse (5-1) cuts back to one turn in the race I think they've been aiming for since the summer, when, intentionally or not, trainer Donnie Von Hemel found what appears to be this horse's calling. Turning back from a series of mostly (though not completely) unsuccessful route tries, the three-year old son of Posse did benefit from a pace collapse when he stormed past the field from last in the 6 1/2 furlong Amsterdam at Saratoga. In the 7 furlong King's Bishop however, he ran down a resurgent and resistant Uncle Mo, getting the final furlong of the seven furlong affair in 11 4/5 seconds in a determined effort. The two-turn Indiana Derby seemed a strange choice after those two efforts, and I think that those who backed him at 2-1 that day weren't reading the past performance lines.

Now, again intentionally or not, Caleb's Posse cuts back to one turn five weeks after that 3rd place effort, exactly replicating the pattern leading up to the Amsterdam win. He faces a very nice field, but one in which the prospective front-runners, The Factor (7-2) and Shackleford (7-2) are, in my opinion, unsuited for this one-turn route, and likely to set up a pace scenario favorable for his late run.

No doubt he faces some talented rivals in addition to the two mentioned above. Wilburn (4-1) is undoubtedly sharp and on the improve, but has excelled at two-turn routes. Trappe Shot (3-1) is the fastest horse in the field based on Beyers and Sheets; but he seems a bit of an enigma to me. He was brought back this year as a six furlong specialist, and disappointed in his last two, whatever the track bias excuses may have been. Now he stretches out to a mile. May very well like that, as he has won at 1 1/16 miles, and he figures to get a nice stalking trip behind the front-runners. Will use on the tickets, but this seems like the wrong place for experimentation, and he's well worth standing against on top as the favorite here.

Caleb's Posse figures to be a very square price with a couple of familiar names in here. While I believe he's established that closing in a one-turn "sprint" is his best game (while acknowledging that he is stretching out from his two Saratoga wins; and betting that he'll, in fact, relish the extra ground...he has won, after all, as far as a mile and a sixteenth), I think that his rivals, as talented as they may be, are all attempting something unfamiliar. My best bet of the Breeders' Cup.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011


In the F&M Sprint, Turbulent Descent is the 6-5 morning line favorite. Three-year old daughter of Congrats makes her Churchill debut, faces older for the first time, and makes her first start in three months. (Though horses coming into big races off long layoffs like this just doesn't mean much anymore; in fact, I haven't heard any discussion about it at all.) Enough reason I suppose to take a stand against, but I'm just not inspired to do so in this field. She's three-for-three at the distance, and seems simply faster than these at the present time, at least based on her facile win in the Test (103 Beyer and a 2 on the Sheets), her last start.

Pomeroys Pistol (6-1) is a filly who really seemed to blossom in the summer of this, her three-year old season. Comes off a career-best Beyer, and has run very well in the second of the layoff angle. But looking back at the Test and seeing how easily the favorite handled her, hard to see her turning the tables here. And that last race was not as strong on the Sheets as her Beyer would indicate. Switch (3-1) continues to put in an honest effort in every start, but hasn't recently been able to seal the deal. Think she'll settle for minor rewards as she did in this race last year.

One longshot who I think could spice up the exotics is Golden Mystery (20-1). Five-year old daughter of Awesome Again has progressed big time since moving to the barn of 32% trainer Juan Carlos Guerrero, with two wins in as many tries, and pairing up career-best 6s on the Sheets. Dominant wins in her last two tries at this seven furlong distance too. I think she'll only have to improve a little bit to get a piece here.

In the Sprint, Amazombie (5-1) is a hard-hitting five-year old gelding making his 9th start of the year, but showing no sign of slowing down. In fact, he's been speeding up, progressing a point at a time Sheets-wise from a 5 down to a 2 in his most recent try, a win in the G1 Ancient Title at Santa Anita in which he glided around the field under confident handling while a good five wide turning for home. Gelded son of Northern Afleet got a nice pace to close into in that race, with The Factor pushed to a 43.80 second half. Could be a similar scenario here. Euroears will gun for the lead from the rail, at least according to Baffert. Big Drama has been sitting around practically all year waiting for this, and I imagine that Ramon will have instructions to be aggressive. Giant Ryan and Force Freeze also figure to be closely attending the situation.

While Amazonbie has run well on all kinds of surfaces, he's a head away from being four-for-four on dirt (all at SA). And though he possesses a nice turn of early speed, he seems to settle quite well on dirt surfaces, though with ample strategic speed to keep close and get a jump on others. With his regular jockey Mike Smith aboard, that strategy could surely serve him well here.

Big Drama (5-2) comes into this off of just one prep in September after being off since January; and that was little more than a public workout against three overmatched foes at Calder. What I said about layoffs with respect to Turbulent Descent notwithstanding, in this case, I'll surely stand against this horse as the favorite as he faces a pretty tough bunch off what seems like sparse preparation.

Force Freeze
(10-1) has the Sheets numbers to win this race with his two excellent efforts at this distance since returning from Dubai. The question with this son of Forest Camp, as alluded to above, is the possible hot early pace, which he figures to be either a part of, or an extremely close observer. Note however his win in the Teddy Drone at Monmouth, in which he survived a blistering pace duel which he attended three-wide before drawing off to win....and that on a day on which closers seemed to have an advantage. Last was a relentless second to a loose-on-the-lead Giant Ryan in the mud, on which the latter is three-for-three. Five weeks off should be enough time to recover from that effort - a 2 on the Sheets - and Johnny V picks up the mount. Would be rather enticing to use on top despite the pace scenario at double digit odds.

Jackson Bend (7-2) may very well have been my pick in the Dirt Mile, but Nick Zito knows better I guess. He muses correctly that his son of Hear No Evil, who has really flourished since the summer when turning back to one turn, can take the sprint championship with a win here. He's actually two-for-two at this distance, but those came a couple of years ago. Likely to find himself further back than usual with the cutback to six, and will have a lot to do. Definitely will use on the ticket, but will be betting that he runs out of ground.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Previewing the F&M Turf, Ladies Classic (With a New Toy)

I scored Sheets for the Breeders' Cup. And though it was specifically in response to me saying that the presence of European horses made many BC races a guess (I'm told that the Ragozin numbers for the European races are good, and it's the first direct figure comparison of our horses to theirs that I've ever seen), I'm gonna look at them for all the races (especially in cases when they reinforce my own opinion). Not that I'm thriving with my normal style these days anyway. I may not be familiar with the finer points. For example, while I might interpret the 5 by Havre De Grace after two 0's as a mere bounce from which she can and should completely recover, a couple of veteran Sheets guys I know say that it's more likely that she's done. However, I can surely look and determine which horses are simply faster than others (or better yet, which horses taking money are slower than others who are not).

So, with that partially in mind, let's start getting to the races that I like as betting contests (which presently excludes all the 2yo races, the Marathon [too long] and the Turf Sprint [too short]). In the F&M Turf, Nahrain (7-2) looks for her fifth career win in as many starts, and Frankie Dettori will ride (he's suspended starting on Saturday). I have to admit that this is in part a sentimental pick. Three-year old daughter of Selkirk got me out on my last bet on my recent visit to Longchamps on Arc day. Wasn't just that she won me money though, it was the way she did so that's won me over. Trapped down on the rail in the stretch, and foiled on several attempts to find running room, Nahrain showed ample persistence and determination when she finally burst through, surged to the lead, and somehow held off the older and more seasoned Announce (9-2) in her first ten furlong try (and first beyond a mile-70 yds). Still looks to me that the latter got the nod when I watch the race, but I guess it's those French camera angles. Announce actually earned a 4 on the Sheets, as opposed to the winner's 5 (lower numbers are better as you may know), with Nahrain saving ground throughout. But neither the Sheets nor the Beyers take heart into account, and Nahrain showed a lot of it, especially for such a young filly. Tries another furlong here, but don't see why it would be a big problem.

Darley homebred has improved every time, whether you look at Sheets or whatever it is those numbers are in the Form, and any further improvement would surely put her right there.

Announce is obviously tough too off that effort in the Prix de l'Opera, and has won from a mile and a quarter to a mile and a half (and even a mile and 9/16). So she can definitely get the mile and 3/8 distance, and has what (I think) is a nice pattern of improvement on the Sheets. Been a fairly busy year with six starts since May, but I think she could move forward too, and can easily win this race. Will surely be saving in the exacta with her on top.

Stacelita seems clearly the best of the US runners, and has been installed as the solid 2-1 morning line favorite. Don't really have anything bad to say about her either. She was a close second herself in the Prix de l'Opera, last year, so surely matches up on class. Her US form for trainer Chad Brown is obviously quite good. As far as the Sheets go, I think she can run a 4 here, which would likely put her right there should the two European fillies not improve. The one maybe possible chink for this German-bred five-year old mare is the fact that she did weaken a bit in the final furlong on firm turf at this distance in the United Nations at Monmouth, her US debut. Maybe that's a stretch....but in any event, I'd try to beat her on price and limit her to defensive use should she be bet to her morning line, as I don't think she at all stands out as those odds would indicate.

Misty For Me (10-1) is a four-time Group 1 winner in the UK and France; including a six length win over Midday, who's 4-1 in the Turf. Bad post here, but surely wouldn't be a shocker; good value at those odds. Dubawi Heights (8-1) has progressed extremely well in her four-year old year as she's climbed the class ladder and stretched out in distance. Her Beyers have steadily improved, and she paired up career best 6's on the Sheets. I think that's good, right? Either of these could add some spice to triples.

In the Ladies Classic, Ultra Blend (8-1) fires every time; she is as consistent and game as they come. This mare has really embraced the game at age five, stepping up seamlessly from state-bred stakes to Grade 1 company in California. Maybe I'm wrong, but I think it's a bit of a leap of faith to think that the East Coast three-year olds are such a cut above this horse, as indicated by the morning line. She goes second off a brief layoff for trainer Art Sherman. He's campaigned Ultra Blend in two race sequences in this way throughout the year, and she's yet to lose in the second race in four such tries (though once by DQ). First race at Churchill, but she's run well on a multitude of different tracks and surfaces. Would seem a bargain to me at that price.

Turning to those three-year olds, Plum Pretty (2-1) comes off her freakout at Parx, when she got loose on the lead and drew off to a monster win, with a 108 Beyer and a 0 on the Sheets. A really smart guy I know says that he's noticed significant bounces off big tops at the Philly track (Havre de Grace in last year's Ladies Classic for one); and that Plum Pretty is therefore a probable bet-against as the favorite here. Not to mention the fact that, if the Moss Pace numbers are any indication, she figures to have her hands full early with Ask the Moon (6-1). Royal Delta (5-2) I think has regressed since her win in the Black Eyed Susan - third in the CCA Oaks; her win by default when the Alabama completely fell apart worse than the Perry campaign (and as the Cain campaign is poised to do); and her distant second in the Beldame. If you throw out the numbers from that Alabama in which she walked home in 26 seconds, as I did (I just don't think figures mean that much when a race falls apart like that), she's just slower. It's Tricky (5-1) ran a big number on the Sheets sucking along behind Plum Pretty in the Cotillion; but she's run that number before. So, though she's been beaten in her last two by each of three-year olds mentioned directly above (after beating both of them in the CCA Oaks), at this distance, and with some pace help up front, I think she could surprise at a decent price.