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Monday, June 10, 2013

The Happy Recap (For Me At Least)

Never got around to putting up a final pre-Belmont picks post; partly because of time limitations, and partly because I didn't know exactly who to pick on top anyway.  Came up with my wagers as I was standing at the paddock pre-race.  However, I obviously wasn't letting Palace Malice get away at those odds without having a bet on him.  Wrote last week that there's some price out there that I'm absolutely locked in to him, after having him in his hopeless Louisiana Derby journey and his out-of-control Derby dash; and 13.80-to-1 surely qualified as such.  However, found it hard to make a rational handicapping case for him based on his having shown that he was good enough to win.  It was more a case that the circumstances of his defeats meant that he hadn't proven he was bad enough not to.  And, as I indicated in my last post, I was leaning towards using Oxbow and Unlimited Budget as well.  So, I used those three as keys, and Orb, who I'd said I had a feeling that he wouldn't win, underneath only, and had a really fabulous Belmont, nailing the winner, exacta, and triple.  Those picks are here somewhere if one stitched together the posts, so I hope this doesn't come across as after-the-fact bragging.  I crushed the race, and seems that I don't get to say that very often, so that was obviously a lot of fun.

Was listening to Maggie Wolfendale in the paddock before the race talking about Oxbow, and she answered her own question about his ability to stay the mile and a half distance with an emphatic "No!"  Something about his short hind quarters or something like that; have no idea about that stuff and let the experts fill me in.  However, can one really say that Maggie was wrong even though he ran second?  Don't know that coming home in 28.05 seconds - a 54.79 final half mile - qualifies as staying the distance.  Sure he appeared to be game in holding off Orb for second; but was he, or was that an illusion created by the Derby winner flattening out after his long attempt to rally?

Of course, it's not surprising that the race would be so slow at the end - Palace Malice took 27.58 seconds to get home; final half in 54.13 - considering that they went 23.11 and 46.66 for the first quarter and half (and thanks to the connections of the hopeless Frac Daddy for bringing him along and having him gunned from the rail - that was a really constructive contribution to the game).   (By comparison, last year, Paynter - so closely related to Oxbow, both by Awesome Again and out of full sisters - was able to rate to 49.1 and 1:14.3.)  Palace Malice wasn't far behind the scrum, and the fact that nobody was able to catch the top two - and that only the Derby winner made even a semi-serious effort - makes me really wonder about this whole Triple Crown exercise.  We've had slow closing fractions in this race over recent years to be sure.  But this was ridiculous, with most of the field floundering despite what should have been an ideal pace setup to at least make it competitive.

I read Joe Drape trying to compare this year's three Crown winners to the 2007 crop (Street Sense, Curlin, Hard Spun, Rags to Riches).  Personally, I don't see how one can be inspired to make that comparison after this race.  Curlin and Rags to Riches battled down the stretch in a final quarter of 23.83!!  That was a real horse race.  This approached farce territory, and it came after one of the slowest Preakness times (track variants aside) in history, and a Derby with a too-fast pace that makes it hard to really evaluate, especially in light of the failure of the top three finishers to subsequently replicate their performances.  Hopefully, we'll see these horses perform better at more normal distances and maybe we'll be able to make that comparison some day.  But surely not now.

I've always been a stout defender of maintaining the format as is when we periodically hear calls for change.  But if our top three-year olds are finishing our "test of champions" in quarter times that now barely even qualify as harness horse time, then maybe it really is time to step back and re-evaluate.  It can't be good for the horses, and it sure ain't pretty to watch.  It's a bit embarrassing too.  If these horses simply can't run a mile and a half, then maybe they shouldn't be asked to run a mile and a half; especially after some of them have run twice in the prior five weeks.

Crowd of 47,562 was surely a disappointment given that the Derby and Preakness winners were in attendance - only a couple thousand more than 2010, when they were both absent.  (And why exactly were there only 46,870 in 2007 for Rags to Riches?)  My over/under coming into the day was 55,000; but I lowered that by 10,000 when I was out in the back by the duck pond pretty late in the day and saw this.

Looked more like Father's Day than Belmont day.  Could have parked the ABR bus back there.  So I was leaning under even my revised number.  Thinking maybe they must have counted all the cops and security goons to get to 47,562.

I'm inclined to give NYRA a pass on the crowd number.  The security measures were a tough row to hoe to be sure; they had to have discouraged a significant number of people.  The coverage I heard on the news in the immediate days before the race were all about those measures, and NYRA had to expend time discussing them instead of a matchup of the Derby and Preakness winners and the large field which made it a compelling wagering challenge.  And they had an ethical, in addition to practical, obligation to do so, to get the word out.  Not sure myself if their marketing efforts were short of prior years - seemed comparable to me.  I saw a fair number of print ads, they did the Empire State Building press conference, and the event at Grand Central (which one person told me was really lame).  But I would think that the enhanced security was too much to overcome.  Given the fact that the weather had cleared early in the day, not sure how much that hurt; but I would guess that some people on the fence the day before were discouraged by the downpours.

However, there was no excuse whatsoever for the endless beer lines, and the reports I've heard from various people of concession stands completely running out of supplies well before the end of the day.  The food trucks helped to a point - though the Head Chef spent no less than 40 minutes standing on line and then waiting for a fish taco.  (Note to Mike 'N' Willies: Made to order is a noble effort, but not practical in a racetrack with thousands of starving patrons.)  (But she said it was really good, and that's no faint praise from the Head Chef).  She also, eschewing a homemade mint julep surreptitiously and brilliantly smuggled into the track, tried to get a drink on the 3rd floor before the Manhattan, but the bar was completely out of everything - drinks and cups alike.

How can that be?  The crowd was smaller than expected/hoped for I'm sure, and you would think that they would be sure to be well-stocked given all the prohibitions on what the fans could bring in!  I mean....who's running this place?

Oh.  That's right.  Nobody.  Oh yeah, there's the interim leadership team.  But they can't possibly be expected to know the nuances of preparing a racetrack for a big event day.  Perhaps if the New NYRA Board had done their job and named a CEO with experience in running a track instead of diddling around with search firms to give the appearance that they are being SO thorough and industrious, he/she would have known exactly what to do.  (And with respect to the crowd, maybe he would have made sure to have a new Communications Director in place to replace Dan Silver well before just one month before the race.)  As I've said, there's only a handful of qualified people that are available to be CEO, and we know who they are.  Don't understand what the hell they are doing.  As far as I'm concerned, the responsibility for the shortages and inconveniences that could very well convince some fans to never bother coming back, Triple Crown possibility or not, falls squarely on the board and its chairman David Skorton.  And, by extension, to Governor Cuomo himself.  Thanks Governor Cuomo yourself.

[UPDATE: And STILL no CEO in place after today's NYRA Bored meeting.  Unbelievable.]


Dan said...

I used to go to the Belmont stakes with my dad (almost 20 years in a row. He has trouble going now to due health issues. I enjoy watching the races in HD & using NYRA rewards online- no lines or wait to bet plus no hassles. I saw on DRF today that Belmont will be getting Tackus for the Belmont fall meet.

Figless said...

Despite the obvious acrimony between the government appointed Bored Members and the long term members, the interesting notes from the linked article regarding the Bored meeting;

1.) NYRA will request approval from the New YorkGaming Commission to offer a low takeout Pick 5.

2.) Trakus will be installed at Belmont Park and Aqueduct in time for the next meets at both racetracks, and

3)"Longshots," the simulcast facility at Aqueduct, is scheduled to open this fall.

Figless said...

And congrats on CRUSHING the Belmont!!

Wish I could make that statement just once...

Figless said...

Regarding the pending hire, I suspect compensation is the sticking point, any qualified candidate is going to want more than the Government Bored is willing to pay.

Figless said...

The New York Racing Association did not name a new CEO at Monday’s board meeting in Manhattan, but speculation is that Christopher Kay, a former executive with Toys R Us and a division of Universal Studios who most recently worked as CEO for a national land conservation organization, is the leading candidate to get the job.

Following a closed-door executive session of the NYRA board held following the regular open meeting, NYRA chairman David Skorton – who also chairs the CEO search committee – indicated a decision would be announced soon, but would not offer any specifics.

“We made further progress, we don’t have a CEO yet,” he said. “We expect one very, very, very, very soon. I hope that will be days and not weeks, but I use the word hope.”

If it is Kay, NYRA would be getting a CEO without any racing experience. Rather, someone who has a background in entertainment and land preservation and development. One of the primary issues facing whoever is the new NYRA CEO concerns the future of Aqueduct, one of three tracks operated by the association. Aqueduct is the home of the most successful racino on the East Coast and sits on some of the most valuable land in the New York City.

Some have suggested that Aqueduct be closed and downstate racing be moved to Belmont Park on a year-round basis except for the period during the summer when Saratoga is open.

Kay, a graduate of the University of Missouri and Duke law school, most recently was COO for The Trust for Public Land, a national nonprofit land conservation organization which conserves land for people to enjoy as parks, gardens and natural areas, according to its website. He left the company in February, according to a secretary at the organization.

From 2000-08, Kay was the COO and general counsel for Toys R Us. From 2008-10, Kay was the managing director, international business development, for Universal Parks and Resorts, integrating projects in China and Korea.

The rumored leading candidate is a lawyer with a background in doing deals. He structured the buyout of Toy R Us to Bain Capital and a few other real estate and equity companies and then he went into doing deals for land purchases. His experiences in consumer marketing were not successful at Toy R Us. There is no horseracing experience here. This is probably a good indication of what the governor has in mind for NY racing.

Figless said...

If this guy is indeed the hire appears they are positioning either AQU or less likely the entire NYRA for sale.

I have believed for quite some time that AQU as a racetrack is doomed, this would firm up my opinion.

Dan said...

Belmont is cold on a nice day- I can't think how it would be in January? Would they race on the training track?

The Long shots simo facility will be done for the fall? I hope they get to use it for a while. I'm still not 100% convinced AQU will stop racing in the next few years. This is NY nothing is quick.

Figless said...

There has been talk about installing an AWT inside the two turf courses. They would likely winterize the clubhouse, like they did at Big A way back when. And/or discontinue racing in the dead of winter as some prefer.

Don't think it would happen right away, more likely in 5 year when, under the current proposal, a Casino would be allowed in NYC.

A logical conclusion would be adding that Casino to the existing VLT facility at AQU while discontinuing racing. The excess land would be sold for development, likely to the Port Authority but possibly to private interests.

The State now has title to the most valuable developable property in NYC, its a good bet it will be developed, one way or another.

Dan said...

Would it be the end of the world if they stopped racing & AQU & fixed up Belmont? AQU is in bad shape & that is being nice. I went to Woodbine years ago- that is a nice track to bet & watch the races. Let them put $ into Belmont, fix the PA system & make it a nice place to bet & watch the races.

Figless said...

No it wouldn't be the end of the world as long as they can figure out a way, without ruining the place, to run year round at Belmont.

I personally like AQU's 9f track better than the HUGE 12f Belmont oval where horses literally start sometimes in another county, its nice to see two turn races, although agree the Big A venue is horrid.

Dan said...

It's fun to watch 2 turn races at AQU- NYRA needs to figure out what to do with the place. I remember rumors about the Big A closing since the early 90's. When I watch the races at the AQU Clubhouse outside I don't want to sit on those old dirty seats. They need to spend some money & fix it up.

Alan Mann said...

Year round at Belmont would suck in my opinion because of the monotony of the one turn races. Not to mention how freezing it would be there! No sun on the racing side come winter time. I've heard the idea floated around of building a winter track where the training (synthetic?) track is now with a small clubhouse to house what would be small crowds in attendance.

Dan said...

Alan, I'm not in favor of winter racing at Belmont. They should race on the "training track area" from Dec to the end of March. It would be nice if they can fix up AQU & leave things the same however look at Hollywood Park- they close shop this December.

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Willie Sager said...

Nice post with awesome points! Can’t wait for the next one.

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