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Saturday, March 30, 2013

Saturday Previews

Don't much care for the Florida Derby as a betting race.  It's a three horse race on paper (Pick of the Litter 6-1 ML coming off a maiden win against three weak opponents in an off-the-turfer, seriously?), and a two horse race in my view since I just don't much care for Shanghai Bobby (5-2) in the win spot stretching out to a mile and an eighth.  Think that one is facing a potential added complication in Merit Man, the Spectacular Bid winner stretching out for the first time and figuring to be on the front end early.  Itsmyluckyday (2-1) should be sitting the garden trip with his tactical speed.  And I take Shug McGaughey at his word when he says that Orb (3-1), comfortably in the Derby picture with 50 points picked up in the Fountain of Youth, doesn't have to win, just run well to go to Churchill.  So I guess I like Itsmyluckyday; but not much value to be found here.

Saw a quote from Shug saying that “Probably every morning I get up and do this, I’m dreaming of winning the Kentucky Derby." [Courier-Journal]  Yet he hasn't had a Derby runner since Saarland in 2002.  I'm sure he could have forced the issue like almost every other trainer does, so you gotta respect this horse down the road, if perhaps not in this race, though he surely wouldn't be a surprise.

Let's try instead the G3 Appleton at a mile on the grass, and take a shot with Cool Blue Red Hot (12-1).  Steps up to stakes company after his first career try on turf, in his 12th career start for trainer Angel Penna Jr, in which he rallied well to edge Pletcher's tough Finale, earning a top figure - at least the ones that I'm using these days.  Thinking that he can improve with a grass race under his belt, and in his third start of the form cycle after a lengthy layoff.  Cool Blue Red Hot is by Harlan's Holiday out of an Accelerator mare, and if you go back to his third dam, you'll find accomplished grass runners such as Turf Classic winner Cacoethes, Fiji, and Subordination.  Figures to get some pace to run at in this spot with Decisive Moment breaking from the inside,  El Commodore from the outside, and Silver Max in between.

In the Louisiana Derby, Palace Malice (5-1) ran a solid third in the Risen Star, which was his first try around two turns and beyond seven furlongs; and he goes third time in the form cycle for the Toddster.  He's never been out of the money, and I much prefer him on a value basis to stablemate and morning line favorite Revolutionary (3-1); at least at those odds.  Don't think the latter beat much in the Withers.  Honestly, I think those morning lines should be reversed, especially given that Palace Malice has the race over the track.  He's a son of Curlin out of a Royal Anthem mare; and this is the female family of the late bloomer Rail Trip.  Code West (9-2) survived a brutal pace duel in the Risen Star and came again to edge the top choice for third; figures to be busy early again with Proud Strike entered again and with the addition of the stretch-out sprinter Titletown Five; and the extra distance doesn't figure to help.

Back to Gulfstream, in the lucky 13th, Town Flirt (6-1) goes second off the layoff for trainer George Weaver, and this streaky barn is live now with two winners and a second from its last four starters here.  This five-year old daughter of Speightstown has shown a consistent affinity for this surface, and relished her return here on March 1 after a layoff.  Nearly checked out of contention entering the final turn, she bulled her way to an outside path and closed like gangbusters into quick closing fractions and missed by 3/4s to a hard-hitting Chad Brown mare in Scenario Analysis.  Paco Lopez replaces Castellano (off to Louisiana to ride Revolutionary); he's been on board for Weaver's two recent winners here.  Celestial Kitten (3-1) hasn't seen the winner's circle in awhile, but looks fastest on paper and should be included in exotics.  Best of luck and have a great day!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Derby Prep Series a Tough Sell

There's an open letter addressed to 'Thoroughbred racing fan' in Wednesday's edition of Thoroughbred Daily News (and probably other places) from The Jockey Club/America's Best Racing. It's signed by TJC President Jim Gagliano and VP-Business Development Jason Wilson and asks us to do our part in letting people, particularly prospective new fans, know about the upcoming Derby prep telecasts that The Jockey Club has paid to air on NBC and its cable sports network as part of their effort to fill in the gaps, now that races other than the Triple Crown have disappeared from network TV.

As our current fan, we have a simple request for you. Spread the word.

Tell your friends. Tell your neighbors. Tell your co-workers. Let them know about TV shows that lead up to “the greatest two minutes in sports.”

Saturday, March 30, 6-7 p.m. EDT: Florida Derby / Louisiana Derby (NBC Sports Network)

Saturday, April 6, 6-7:30 p.m. EDT: Wood Memorial / Santa Anita Derby (NBC Sports Network)

Saturday, April 13, 4:30-6 p.m. EDT: Blue Grass Stakes (NBC); 6-7 p.m. EDT: Arkansas Derby (NBC Sports Network)  
Well, the first thing I think upon seeing this (since I care mostly about myself) is: What the hell time is the Wood going to go off?  Assuming they're not carrying it on tape delay, it's gotta be like what, 6:30?  Am I really gonna want to be standing at Aqueduct until 6:30 to watch what I hope will be a romp by Verrazano so I can bet the house against him in the Derby?  Hell, by the time the race is over, I'd be fighting the incoming evening casino crowd, and might as well stay and head over to Resorts World to dine at RW Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar, spend some exhilarating  quality time dropping dimes in VLT's, and hang out for Final Four Basketball with DJ.

Such a late post time is not exactly a great selling point to get people out to see the race in person. However, as a colleague pointed out recently, if NYRA is interested in attracting people to come to their tracks on a regular basis, the LAST thing they should do is to run ads telling people to come to Aqueduct for the Wood.  One look at the remaining decrepit seating options and they'll be in the casino in no time and you'll never see them again.

And the other thing that immediately grabs me is that the one race that is actually on the proper NBC broadcast network, as opposed to the former Versus cable network, is the Blue Grass, which is by far the most irrelevant of the preps, being run on Polytrack as it is.  (And the race had actually begun its slide to Derby meaninglessness [Street Sense notwithstanding] back when it was a speed-favoring merry-go-round on your precious dirt).

But my own selfish concerns aside, this is where I fear that America's Best Racing's noble new fan initiative is going to fall flat.  Here, they're trying to promote horse racing as a sport rather than as a gambling game, which I've maintained of late is the wrong approach.  I'd prefer to see them focus on free contests (that they had been working on at one time), and the direct outreach that we're seeing from the ambassador folks.  Spread the word?  Sure, I'm always trying to do that, but I do so by trying to get friends to come to Belmont or to Saratoga where they can experience the action, listen to me explain the finer points, and infuriate me by picking winners at random while I, the "expert," slave over my past performances and piss money away.  But I can't imagine being very successful pitching these telecasts to anyone I know.  "Oh yeah?  Cool.  Who's running?"  Er, um...well, some horses that you never heard of, but...  Maybe I could see people checking it out if they're hanging out on a weekend afternoon or a weekday night.  But Saturday evening at 7PM?  At least on the east coast, that's a tough sell.  And judging from this open letter, I think The Jockey Club realizes that as well.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Sunday Morning Notes

In the Excelsior at the Big A on Saturday, morning line favorite Last Gunfigher ($8.30) was sent off as third choice, which seems like, in retrospect of course, a bit of a gift given that he had won four in a row coming in; the last two stakes.  Bettors went instead with Ruler On Ice, coming off his first win since the 2011 Belmont, and Pletcher's improving Mordi's Miracle.  Would have been a miracle indeed if the latter hung on after engaging in a punishing pace duel with Colizeo; and he did well to hold for second.  Last Gunfighter sat a handy trip behind the proceedings with Ravi Maragh waiting patiently; our favorite chartcaller, in vintage form here even for him, takes it from there:  ...was kept to a firm hold by the pilot caught briefly in traffic approaching the quarter pole, altered course towards the inside entering the stretch, but failed to have the opening materialize into optimal racing clearance, had intentions of being taken outward but cancelled those plans after MORDI'S MIRACLE swerved out a bit in midstretch, dove eagerly towards the newly-created rail passageway and drew alongside the second place finisher, went by soon afterwards, and kicked clear, getting geared down in the final seventy yards.  Got that?  Last Gunfighter is by First Samurai out of a Sir Cat mare; he's inbred 3x3 to Storm Cat.

Black Onyx was much best in the Spiral Stakes, rallying to win despite being wide on both turns. 

''He's proven he's a multi-talented horse,'' [trainer Kelly] Breen said. ''He's won on dirt, on turf, and now on Polytrack. The plan was - if he won - that we wouldn't run again until the Derby. His next start will be the Derby.'' [AP]
  Well, Breen is stating the truth that he's won on all three surfaces.  But his dirt win was an off-the-turf maiden race at Belmont in which he earned a Beyer of 71.  He was up the track in a two-turn dirt race at Gulfstream before winning there on the grass (in a race that also included Crop Report, who won the Rushaway yesterday).  So, to me, he's precisely the kind of horse I referred to in the prior post; getting into the Derby based on a Polytrack win and without proven dirt form despite that maiden win against a field that has produced two subsequent winners, one in a 10K maiden claiming race.  He's by Rock Hard Ten out of a Cape Town mare, and a half to Francois, a stakes winner on the Poly at Arlington; and hails from the distaff family of the BC Sprint winner Desert Stormer, and graded turf winners Better Lucky and Casino Host.

Going back to last Thursday, the The Compelling Word overnight stakes is a race worth mentioning if you missed it.  Saginaw looked like he was home free midstretch, but Awesome Vision launched an unlikely rally from last to get a piece of the top purse via dead heat.  The rally was especially impressive given what Andy Serling and Jason Blewitt were describing the next day as a distinct speed/rail bias.  I'm a big bias-skeptic as you may know, but the result charts seem to bear this one out.   Having said that however, the short fields at Aqueduct surely lend themselves to those kinds of days.  Speed horses are generally considered to have an advantage on most dirt tracks to start with, and the smaller the fields, the less chance that some horse will unexpectedly flash speed, and the less horses there are to come pick up the pieces.

In any event, Awesome Vision is developing into a nice NY-bred colt; now undefeated in three races around two turns.  Those have all been on the inner track, but he has a main track win as well.  He's a four-year old by Awesome Again out of Blind Canyon, a Valley Crossing mare who started 60 times, with six wins.  Could only find a crappy quality video on You Tube; you can watch the race here.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Thursday Notes

Andrew Caulfield wrote about Wayne Lukas' Rebel winner Will Take Charge in his Pedigree Insights column in Thoroughbred Daily News the other day......and you all read Thoroughbred Daily News, right?  I mean, it's free to subscribe, and contains about the most comprehensive coverage of racing, breeding, and sales news you can find anywhere, so why wouldn't you?  I imagine there was alarm there when the Racing Form announced they were starting a breeding section, but thinking now that they're not losing any sleep over that, at least as of yet.

Anyway, I mentioned Take Charge Lady, the dam of Will Take Charge and last year's Florida Derby winner Take Charge Indy, the other day, and Caulfield elaborates:

  Take Charge Lady originally cost $175,000 as a yearling, but she proved so successful that her price soared to $4.2 million as a 5-year-old in 2004, when she was sold in foal to Seeking The Gold. The Seeking The Gold filly she was carrying repaid $3.2 million towards her purchase price when sold as a yearling. Two years later, her yearling filly by Storm Cat made $800,000. Bearing in mind that the Seeking The Gold filly won only once and the daughter of Storm Cat failed to win, it is hardly surprising that buyers failed to maintain such enthusiasm for Take Charge Lady's yearlings. Her A.P. Indy colt [Take Charge Indy] RNA'd at $80,000 in 2010 and then her Unbridled's Song colt [Will Take Charge] made $425,000 in 2011, a year when two other Unbrdled's Song yearlings achieved seven-figure sums. [TDN]
  Take Charge Lady has a 2012 foal by Indian Charlie.

The Spiral Stakes at Turfway drew a full field of 12 horses in search of qualifying points for the Kentucky Derby (as well as a share of the rich $550,000 purse).  Though I don't really understand why a race on synthetic would earn points towards a stakes race run on dirt.  I thought the idea was to keep out horses that are just taking up space in the 20 horse field; so why would you allow some synth, or perhaps turf, specialist to sneak in and clutter the track?  Don't see any grass races on the qualifying race list, other than the very first one back in September, in England, which is ridiculous in itself.  Perhaps Churchill Downs is being kind to their in-state neighbors at Keeneland and Turfway, who wouldn't appreciate being excluded from the party.

Take, for example, Lukas' entry Channel Isle (15-1).  Graduated on grass, and though he does have a dirt win against an Oaklawn allowance field that has come back very weak so far, he's been trounced in two stakes tries on dirt.  This horse is so thoroughly bred for grass - English Channel out of an Irish female family that is just dripping with classy Euro grass winners, including Group 1 winner Darara (in turn, the dam of five Group 1 winners and four champions) - that it seems obvious that the connections are clutching at synthetic straws here, and looking for any way to grab enough points to guarantee them a vanity trip to Churchill Downs, where he'd most certainly be far up the track.  And you might say the same about Balance the Books (7-2), a two-time graded stakes winner on grass at two and third in the BC Juvie Turf.  Why would this horse possibly be making his three-year old debut on something other than turf, the only surface he's ever run over?  Don't see why horses like that should be guaranteed a spot in the Derby starting gate for winning a race like this.

Morning line favorite Uncaptured (3-1) on the other hand started his career on synth, but won two stakes on the Churchill track last year, so this would seem like a good opportunity in his 3yo debut.  (Though trainer Mark Casse is 0 for 13 in the 61 to 180 layoff to graded stakes category....though he just missed with Pool Play in the Hal's Hope in January).  Don't know about this race as a Derby prep, but sure looks like a great betting race.  And isn't that what this game is all about?

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Revelry or Refined (And Other Matters of Debate)

Odato reported in the Times Union on Monday that the one-house budgets passed in the NYS Senate and Assembly both include a provision for a portion of VLT money (2.5% of the purse fund) to be used to pay for health insurance for New York jockeys. Man, that's a fine piece of lobbying done by Brian Meara, whose firm is being paid $2,000 monthly to represent the [Jockeys Guild]. [Albany Times Union]  Meara is a familiar name in NY lobbying circles; former aide to Sheldon Silver who used to work for Patricia Lynch before establishing his own firm; and a name that turns up a bunch of results if you search him on this blog.

[Meara] said he figured the time was right to seek some help for health care costs of people in a dangerous and short-lived occupation since Gov. Andrew Cuomo was already seeking to get a cut of VLT funds to pay for horse safety programs.
I'm sure that Meara also figured that the current political climate in which the governor and his budget director has expressed their misgivings about the amount of VLT money that's directed towards the tracks; and the concern these days for the health of horses and jockeys, made it an opportune time to lobby for such a thing.  Slick move.

The problem with the safety angle in this case, as the NY horsemen have pointed out, is that owners are already paying for workers compensation which covers injuries suffered on the track.  The Guild is looking for private health insurance to cover the riders and their families away from work.  That is of course a problem which most contractors and freelancers also deal with.  Seems to me though that should purses be reduced should this provision take effect, the jockeys' portions, based on percentages of earnings, will go down proportionately.  And that they'll end up paying for their health insurance one way or another in the end.

 - Been writing about the success that the Meadowlands has been having in attracting increased nightly handle; and Standardbred Owners Association of New York president Joe Faraldo chimed in on the subject, and not in an admirable nor complimentary way.  Faraldo points out that the handle figures have been aided and abetted by a cartel which, in exchange for a pledge to wager at least $300,000 per card, gets the signal for one-third the price; 2% as compared to 6% for tracks and ADW's. 
  Simply, even if handle is tripled, since the price charged to those responsible for a large component of that handle is a third of what it "sells” to other bettors, both the track and horsemen are still in the same position economically. The addition of gross handle in this fashion produces a zero-sum effect, resulting in no additional revenue being generated to increase purses or add a race day.
It gets tiresome reading the daily pats on the back of growing handle because of all the smart things going on at the Meadowlands -- yet the truth is that there will be no additional race dates and no meaningful purse increases because, the truth be known, on-track handle is flat.
This prompted a scathing response from the View From the Racetrack Grandstand blog which you can read here.  He points out that track operator Jeff Gural has discussed the matter openly, that the increase is of such a magnitude that it very likely far exceeds the cartel's wagering, and that handle feeds upon itself with larger pools attracting eager bettors hungry for liquidity.  He also wonders why Faraldo is chiming in about slots-less New Jersey when he represents horsemen in slots-rich New York. 
I do understand it must be annoying hearing about all these handle improvements at the Meadowlands; especially when Balmoral Park, the Meadowlands, and even Cal-Expo at times handle more money than Yonkers on a nightly basis. After all, what would the horsemen at Yonkers be racing for if not for slots?
Faraldo makes a fair point I think about the possibility of pool manipulation when it comes to computer-aided syndicate betting of this type.  And it's true that the lucrative on-track handle that the Big M needs to really thrive has remained flat.  (It is hoped that the new smaller grandstand under construction on what is now the backstretch will attract players with a slick sports bar type atmosphere; but I'd be skeptical.)   But I also think it's clear that his piece is fueled by his personal enmity for Gural, with whom he's clashed for many years.  His bristling at the stream of good publicity for Gural's track is quite palpable here.

 - Revelry or Refined is the choice presented by America's Best Racing for its Kentucky Derby sweepstakes.  Revelry gets you into the infield at Churchill Downs along with a t-shirt and fanny pack, a motel, and "food."  Refined gets you onto Millionaire's Row, designer clothing, a limo ride from  your hotel, and "fine dining."  The catch is that you get a $5,000 betting voucher for the infield and only $1,000 for the fancy schmancy deal.  That would be a simple choice for me.  The Head Chef would likely disagree.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Bright Thought World Mark Passes Muster and Morality

Bright Thought has been officially credited with a world record for running the mile and a half G2 San Luis Rey Stakes in 2:22.72.  This according to the American Racing Manual, the "official record keeper for American racing."  Really?  Didn't know that they were in any position of authority (and they don't even have a website!).  Apparently they were consulted on the matter because the first 3/8ths of the race are run downhill.  However, explains Santa Anita oddsmaker Jon White:

  The difference between world records and American records, are that a world record is the fastest time under any conditions, on any surface." [Bloodhorse]
  So, there you go.  Hawkster was the prior world record holder; he ran the distance in 2:22 4/5 back in the day where that amount of precision in timing was acceptable (and to me, it still is), and was subsequently credited with 2:22.80 in the hundredths age.  The Handicapper's Edge on the website (which Churchill Downs treats as if it has been granted landmark status as a tribute to 20th century internet aesthetics) notes dryly of Little Mike, who blazed the same distance in 2:22.83 in last November's Breeders' Cup Turf:
His time stacked up morally, if not according to the record book, with Hawkster's.
  Bright Thought is the story of the year so far I guess given his rise from a 25K maiden claimer at Laurel just last November methodically up the class and distance latter to a Grade 2 win in his first stakes start.  Trainer Jorge Gutierrez said:
"Bright Thought came out of the race in good shape, but for now I think we're going to back off and give him a breather."
  A breather for this horse means the Woodford Reserve at Churchill on Derby Day.   That's seven weeks, not so long in this day and age as far as breathers go.  But it's long for this horse, whose last three starts came off breaks of only 23, 18, and 23 days.  And that's cool; an easier spot might be the 1 3/4 mile San Juan Capistrano at SA; to ship to Kentucky, cut back to nine furlongs and run in the spotlight of Derby day seems like a sporting endeavor on the part of the connections.  So we'll look forward to that, hopefully.

Bright Thought is a four-year old by the Japanese champion Hat Trick out of a Smart Strike mare.  Not much to see under his first two dams.  But go back to her third dam Right Word; she's the dam of Ascutney, who is, in turn, the dam of BC Classic winner Ravens Pass; and you'll also find G1 turf winners No Matter What, Just As Well, and Rainbow View in the family.

 - Good job by track announcer Frank Mirahmadi exclaiming; "LUKAS 1-2!" in deep stretch as Will Take Charge ($58) edged by stablemate Oxbow in an exciting edition of the Rebel.  D Wayne is enjoying a bit of a graded stakes revival; he has nine graded stakes wins in the last five years, and four of them in 2013.  The winner is by Unbridled's Song out of the $2.5 million earner and multiple multiple G1 winner Take Charge Lady; and after three nondescript foals to start her career as a broodmare, it's her second 3yo stakes winner in a row (Take Charge Indy won the Florida Derby last year).  Both Will Take Charge and Oxbow earned Beyers of 95.  No excuse at all for favored Super Ninety Nine.  Oh.  Check that.  “That track was too deep for him,” Baffert said.  Treasury Bill, who I picked here, turned out the be quite the popular wise guy choice and went off at an unappetizing 3-1.  Saw some people trying to make excuses for him on Twitter, but nothing that I could see.  His stablemate Title Contender played the rabbit role to perfection, but it was the Lukas duo that benefited instead.

 - Wait A While, another $2 million+ earner and multiple multiple G1 winner, got off to a faster start as a broodmare as Zaikov, her first foal, by Distorted Humor, made quite the smashing debut at Gulfstream on Friday, winning off by 14 lengths and earning a Beyer of 99.  Despite his mom's proclivity for grass, he'll stay on dirt for now.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Rebel Rebel. - - Rebel. Rebel?

Baffert goes for his 4th straight Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn, and he's done it in a variety of ways. Lookin at Lucky rallied from mid-pack in 2010; The Factor won in front-running fashion in 2011; and Secret Circle stalked and came on to win last year.  Based on his romp in the Southwest Stakes, if Super Ninety Nine (3-2) is to extend the trainer's streak, he'll be doing it in Factor fashion. However, he has indeed shown the ability to sit off the lead and win, as he did in his two-turn debut two races back.  He might very well have to do that here, breaking from the outside post as he is, and with ample of speed inside him; Oxbow (4-1) and Title Contender (5-1) immediately inside, and Delhomme (7-2) back for the Toddster first time out since tiring to 3rd in the Remsen.  Baffert's colt looks fastest on paper but will have a tougher time than he did on a speed-favoring sloppy track in the Southwest.

Horse I find interesting here is Treasury Bill (5-1) (coupled with Title Contender), shipping in from California for trainer Ron Ellis; a rare journey for him to Hot Springs, Arkansas.  Last time he had a horse at Oaklawn was Buzzards Bay in the Oaklawn Handicap in 2008.  Ha, Buzzards Bay, remember him?  I was looking at his past performances and recalled the big wide move he made on the turn in the Giacomo Derby in 2005 before sputtering to 5th.  Eight years ago!  Then I thought, holy crap, I was writing this blog then!  Wrote about Buzzards Bay here that spring, and, reading it now, had to laugh upon reading: With the sport trying to clean up its image, as highlighted on the front page of the Times today.....

.....And indeed, there it was, eight years ago, on the Monday before the Derby, Joe Drape on the front page. writing about '''juiced' thoroughbreds and ineffective attempts at regulation."  Eight years and many front page stories later, the big debate is over a silly symbolic ban on Lasix for Breeders' Cup day.  And, on a far more constructive note, finally an effort, albeit only a regional one, to standardize medication rules.

Well, anyway, enough of that.  This site is declared to be Lasix-free.  Back to Treasury Bill, (who, like the other nine Rebel entries, will be running on Lasix) is coming off an impressive second to another good Baffert runner in Shakin It Up in the seven furlong San Vincente, his first effort against winners.  Chart says four wide into the stretch, but I find that conservative; and he closed gamely despite having pulled jockey Joe Talamo to a 22.21 second quarter.  Ellis said after the race: "I didn't really think he could compete with these kind of horses going seven furlongs, so I'm very happy." (BRISnet) Now he stretches out to two turns, and the trainer (and I) think he should love it.  Son of Lemon Drop Kid is out of Wow Me Free, a stakes winner at a mile and a quarter by Haskell winner (and Derby runner-up) Menifee.  Third dam Triple Wow and her daughter Alywow were both multiple stakes winners at a distance.  Treasury Bill is inbred 4x5 to Buckpasser and checks in solidly in the dosage department.

In the preceding race, the G3 Azeri, My Miss Aurelia (6-5) makes her 2013 debut, but runs into a really sharp mare in Don't Tell Sophia (3-2), a perfect two-for-two since taking up residence at Oaklawn this year.  She hasn't faced anything like the caliber of the 2011 juvenile filly champ, but I watched those races, and man, she dusted those horses with striking ease.  Think she's gonna be tough to beat.

 - Guns in the news again in New York.  Another random shooting, and another step to try and control them.  This one can't be that controversial; I mean, who would oppose something as sensible and logical as background checks, as at retail stores, for gun buyers at gun shows?  Oh yeah, these guys.  Well, in any event, Saratoga hosts a gun show each year, and some Saratogians expressed their displeasure with this:

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Casino Siting Stalled

The question of casino siting (the now-standard nomenclature for the matter of where they are going to be) in New York State (should they be approved by referendum in November and assuming a measure ultimately passes in Albany) will apparently not be included in the budget which is due on April 1 (though negotiations continue).  As you may know, Governor Cuomo wants three casinos, all located upstate, to be selected by a commission that he controls, in a first phase, and a period of exclusivity before any would be built in New York City.  But the legislature wants more input and has other ideas about location.

There was a thought that Cuomo would use his executive power to ram his plan though via the budget extender, the maneuver pioneered by David Paterson - the legacy achievement of the accidental governor other than his accidental selection of Genting.  But Cuomo conceded that he could not do so, since it is not strictly a spending measure.

   “Casinos is complicated. Some issues are basically binary — no possibility of agreement, its not in,” Cuomo said.

He said the use of extenders would “suggest a hostile working relationship with the Legislature. “If you need to have a hostile relationship, I would suggest you don’t have a hostile relationship." [Capitol Confidential
One might also say, in similar classic Cuomo-speak, that if you need to have casinos to balance your budget, I would suggest you don't have casinos.  But that's a matter to be decided by the voters; and, specifically, as we mentioned recently, quite likely by the voters in NYC.  A bill will pass before the 2013 session is over; Cuomo concedes that that agreement may not come until June.  That will trigger a mad flurry of interested parties aligning on whatever side of the issue best suits them for the November vote.  The New York Gaming Association (NYGA) continues to issue press releases extolling their success (without acknowledging that Genting's Resorts World is largely responsible for the growth).  But I can't imagine that the nine NY state racinos that make up that organization will all be on the same side should, for example, a casino be sited for Genting but not for Yonkers nor the others.

 - Wasn't long ago that Belmont was a center of speculation as a casino site.  But now, the question is how big of a soccer stadium will be built, as part of a 28-acre retail and recreation center.  [Newsday, subscription only] The Cosmos are proposing a 25,000 stadium, while a competing group wants to build a 2-3,000 seat facility for high school and youth leagues.

 - In an open letter to harness horsemen at the Meadowlands (h/t View from the Racetrack Grandstand), track operator Jeff Gural extols his success there thus far (33% increase in handle; 13 $3M handle days as opposed to just two all of last year); and makes a naked appeal for support in the face of openings of meets at tracks with slots-fueled purses.

Since both these tracks, as well as Yonkers, derive the majority of their purse money from casino gambling they often have purses equal or better than ours and most people think it is easier to win at those tracks as long as you do not draw too many eight or nine holes.   I understand all that but the Meadowlands cannot survive without having full fields and competitive races. The last two months have shown that the product is extremely popular with the people who wager on standardbred racing.In fact, on a typical Saturday night 40% of all the money bet at US tracks is wagered on our product. 
To be blunt, I need the industry to step up and support the Meadowlands which may not be the best business decision for everyone in the short term but, in my opinion, the industry needs a healthy Meadowlands and we deserve the support of the industry. 
Gural has used a combination of bludgeon and begging to get to this point, appealing to horsemen's sense of duty to what has been the jewel track of the harness racing industry, and their competitive spirit to get drivers to be more aggressive; while hiring private investigators and summarily ejecting horsemen he deems to be of questionable integrity.  I get the feeling that if he was the operator of the NYRA tracks, we wouldn't see jockeys holding their horses back off the pace as Dominguez cruises to the half in 51 and 3.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Odds and Ends

 - Maleeh ($13.40) won the Caposella at Aqueduct on Saturday as he ran by the 3-4 favorite Clawback in his first try against winners and his second career start.  Why was this his first start since Jan 6?  He's “a little fragile.”  Join the club.  Maybe we'll see him for the King's Bishop.  Maleeh is by Indian Charlie out of the two-time Princess Rooney Stakes (at six furlongs) winner Gold Mover, by Gold Fever, also a sprint stakes winner.  So he's a sprinter; a fragile sprinter.  Not so trendy, but I'd take him.

 - Hear the Ghost rallied to win the San Felipe at Santa Anita, but he doesn't get the "ran by" description as Maleeh did; let's say he "got past" the leaders (and two favorites) when they just stopped running inside the 1/16th pole, exhausted as they were from the overheated early pace.  But credit where due; he won.  Can't criticize a horse for that; race set up for him but he did what had to do, and refused to let Tiz A Minister, who hardly ran early at all, get by him, in his first try beyond six furlongs.  Hear the Ghost is by Ghostzapper out of a Coronado's Quest mare, and a half-brother to Mani Bhavan, who won two of the 2yo fillies stakes at Saratoga in 2008 and then disappeared shortly thereafter.  This is the distaff family of the champion sprinter Speightstown - the 2nd dam of that one is the 3rd dam of Hear the Ghost.  But Alan Porter wrote of ample distance influence deep in the distaff family when writing about Mani Bhavan here.

 - So would I be going out on a limb by saying that Verrazano won't hit the board in the Derby?  If I said he'll finish behind Hear the Ghost (should both make it there.)  If I said he wouldn't make the Derby at all?

 - Good piece in Harness Racing Update by Dean Towers, who writes that "quality," in the sense of faster horses running for bigger purses, is overrated.  For one thing, there simply aren't enough good horses to support some 80,000 flat and harness races a year. 

Quality in harness racing, or racing in general, should be looked at in only one fashion, and that is how the end user consumes the product. A bettor bets when he or she has a good bet. A good bet comes in various forms, of course, but in general it's formed from three things: Field size, takeout and pool size.
  Well, Dean is one of those takeout guys.  I might substitute 'competitive races.'  But we're generally in agreement.  I also noted where he wrote that "probably three quarters of [races] are unbettable."  I dunno, I follow him on Twitter and he doesn't seem all that picky to me.

He also mentions that the Meadowlands is rockin and rollin with highly competitive races thanks in large part to the letter-number classification system that the track adapted this year; and I've heard that from other people as well.   This is the same system that New York Fan Advisory Council said that bettors did not want at Yonkers.  "Their handle has trended upwards and might end the year up 20% or more."

 - Fort Larned ran really fast on Saturday.  True, he didn't have a jockey and was therefore being spotted around 120 pounds by the rest of the field.  But Trakus timed him, his splits are here, and they include a furlong, following the half mile mark, of 4.98 seconds. 
  After countless hours reviewing data, we cannot recall a time where we saw a horse run a sub five-second sixteenth, as Fort Larned did just before hitting the far turn. Then again, no one had ever seen a Breeders’ Cup Classic winner run rider-less and care free, 25 lengths in front of an accomplished group. [America's Best Racing's Gambling blog]
  Glad that everyone involved seems OK and we can chuckle about it now, though those who bet him at 4-5 are probably still not amused.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Rock and ABRoll

America's Best Racing, the Jockey Club's initiative designed to increase the profile and visibility of North America’s best Thoroughbred racing events, is dispatching its team of six young "enthusiastic" brand ambassadors to next week's South by Southwest no-longer-just-a-music festival (just call it SXSW 2013).  It's part of a national bus tour (in a 45-foot vehicle, cleverly dubbed the 'ABRV') that will take the group mostly to major race events such as the Triple Crown.  But also to some cultural events that figure to attract young people, such as this.

Pull the Pocket observes that the current that "it's a stupid idea," but I don't see it that way at all.  Like anything other effort, it's surely not going to grow the game on its own.  But everyone agrees that we need some younger blood amongst the railbirds, and we obviously have a PR problem at this stage, in no small part thanks to the Times and, to be fair, reporting on problems that is actually fair and objective as well, because those issues are real.  So I don't see anything stupid about sending out a bunch of young (ages 21 through 27) knowledgeable and articulate people to talk passionately about the sport to their peers.  And to confront difficult questions regarding well-publicized issues head on.

“It’s a tough subject that the brand ambassadors can’t avoid,” acknowledged [NTRA VP-Comm Stephen] Panus, “but, just like any competitive sport, there are risks and negative stories involved. Brain injuries in the NFL and NHL, tragic fatality in the X Games, PED’s in MLB, to cite a few.

“Our athletes, both horse and rider who compete in the best events, only very, very rarely are injured in a catastrophic manner. We can tell any fans who become interested in racing that there are literally millions upon millions of dollars spent in both care and research to assure their health – in and out of competition – as the sport continues to innovate to make racing safer for all involved.” [Forbes]
I think we need more of that kind of sensible pushback against some of the more sensational stories we've read of late; and on a regular basis coming out of NTRA and Jockey Club, not just an occasional quote in an article like this.

SXSW is an inspired and out-of-the-box choice in my view.  Regular readers know that I myself am partial to the indie rock scene.  And I know a whole bunch of people whose tastes cross over from indie rock to horse racing; I like to think that's not a coincidence.  Makes sense to me that those who make the effort to go beyond Top 40 and the latest craze on You Tube to seek out music that may be challenging and boundary-stretching may also be discerning enough to look for some challenges in their entertainment choices.....and surely in their gambling choices.  You might say that, for example, a band like Sonic Youth is to Fall Out Boy as horse racing is to slots machine.   The former ones require a little effort and open-mindedness to really appreciate, while the latter ones tend to numb the brain; or mine at least.  (And accordingly, I don't have much hope for another scheduled ABRV stop, at the cultural blight known as the MTV Music Awards.)

So, the ambassadors will sponsor one of the music stages and throw a private function "for about 500 VIP's."  Additionally:
  ..visitors to the bus will be able to watch high-energy videos on racing’s biggest stars, explore our lifestyle-driven website, place “fantasy” wagers for prizes, register for incredible VIP experiences and receive free racing gifts from ABR and their home track. [America's Best Racing]
I particularly like the fantasy wagers for prizes, as I've always contended that contests that enable participants to have a stake in the outcome in a race is the best way to get them hooked interested.  Lure some SXSW folks into the big bus, find some tapes of exciting races with blanket finishes, get them to pick a horse and give away some CDs or some passes for a sold-out show to the winners.  Get them into the action.

And while they are there, the ambassadors might as well get into the action and check out some good music too.  Surely plenty to choose from; and perhaps, in exchange for some tips on handicapping, they can get some tips on some up and coming bands that nobody has heard of.

One of the bands that they'll surely be some buzz about there is Parquet Courts, who we saw at Bowery Ballroom here in NYC on Thursday night.  The Brooklyn-based quartet's debut album is Light Up Gold.  The Head Chef and others hear the influence of Television; I sense some early B-52's and The Feelies in the taught guitar riffs and driving rhythms.  And you gotta love a band who gives a shout-out to Ridgewood, Queens, as they do in the track Stoned and Starving (a state in which I attended the races many times back in the days of Television and the early B-52's).

Another band of the moment who will appearing at SXSW is Unknown Mortal Orchestra, who recently released their second album, II.  Their laid-back groove is more difficult to describe, but at times sounds to me as if the Rev. Al Green was reincarnated as an indie-rock nerd in Portlandia, how about that?  Missed their recent sold-out show here, but they'll be playing for free at the South Street Seaport this summer, and nice to see they'll be shows this summer there in an area that suffered a lot of damage from Sandy.

One more: METZ is a Canadian trio with an eponymous debut LP and a never-ending tour schedule; caught them at the Knitting Factory a few months ago.  They'll be playing no less than six shows at SXSW.  According to the Sub Pop website,  their sound is a frantic nod to Nation of Ulysses, Shellac, The Pixies, The Jesus Lizard, and Public Image Ltd. at their most vicious; and that works for me.  Some videos below.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Box Seats Scoop a Whole Lotta Nothing

Must have been a slow day in the world of Albany politics for Jim Odato and the Times Union when they filed a Freedom of Information request to find out who is paying what for box seats at Saratoga.  Or, maybe Odato was just endeavoring to dig up some more dirt on NYRA, as he is wont to do.

So, here's the list if you care, and it's clear that Odato came up with a whole lot of nothing in terms of anything scandalous; other than perhaps the fact that NYRA initially resisted the request, which probably had more to do with the fact that they find Odato annoying more than having anything to hide.  Not much news here, just a bunch of horse owners and breeders and organizations related to horse racing.  (And no, Joe Bruno is not on the list.)   Freebies are reserved for sponsors, local businesses, and horsemen.

At $9,044 for the prime locations, it's actually not a bad deal.  Five seats to a box, 40 racing days....comes to less around $45 per seat per day for a seat on the finish line.  Less than it costs me for my seats upstairs for the team in the sport that I'm not blogging about this season as part of my mini-boycott over the lockout nonsense.

And there's one seat in one box that will surely remain empty.

 NYRA also controls several boxes to offer to visiting owners and others, including one in case the governor attends a race.
Seriously....would it kill this guy to, just once, in an attempt to at least present the illusion that he cares, hop into his limo for a 30 minute drive?  I'm sure his duties as governor require him to perform tasks and to see people that are far more distasteful than what he would encounter there.  I mean, c'mon governor, would you rather be hanging out with David Cassidy or with this guy?

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

The "Truth" According to Joe Drape

Undefeated Gotham winner Vyjack showed some unusual versatility coming from far off the pace after being near or on it in his first three races; including his game front-running win in the Jerome (which I still can't accept being run at Aqueduct in January).  And it's not like he was taken back behind a lightning pace.  The pace was in fact on the slow side compared to other races on the day, going 24 and 48 3/5 to the half.  So it was a lively third quarter of 24 flat into which Vyjack commenced his move, and he sustained it well despite being five wide.  When he changed leads mid-stretch, he re-broke and closed with a nice rush.  Nice looking colt.

Pedigree-wise, Vyjack shows some mixed signals in his female family.  By Into Mischief (Harlan's Holiday), he's out of a Stravinsky mare who's a half-sister to the crack Maryland sprinter Disco Rico.  His third dam, Capp It Off, was also a stakes-winning sprinter; and a look further down the pedigree shows names like the sprint champ Smoke Glacken and BC Sprint runner-up Crown of Thorns (the horse, not this rock band, who followed me on Twitter after I posted this tidbit there.)  On the other hand, he's a half to route winner Prime Cut, and his second dam is a half to Miss Slewpy, who won the Ladies Handicap at 10 furlongs.

Now, here I was gonna go off on one of those 'the Derby ain't what it used to be' rants and argue that pedigree isn't really all that important anymore when it comes to picking the winner, and so on and so forth.  But I'm as sick of writing that stuff as I am of reading about the Derby months before the fact, so nevermind.   However, I was looking for past Derby results charts, so naturally visited Churchill Downs' official Kentucky Derby website, and went to the history section.

There, I was surprised (or not so much) by what I did (and didn't find).  For one thing, somebody there has apparently forgotten to post links to the results charts 'powered by brisnet' (the website that the company purchased and neglected) for the past two years.  And, if you search the years before 2009, all you get is a replay (which I can find on You Tube) and the chart comment.  That's it.  I's the vaunted Kentucky Derby and the official vaunted Kentucky Derby site.  One might think that they would put just a little effort into it.  Especially for some of the more storied winners from the past; even Secretariat gets the same lame treatment.  That's just weak.  But, then again, Churchill Downs, as a public company focused on its bottom line, has priorities other than racing nowadays.

That matter of how much Churchill cares about racing was a topic of debate and discussion on a Twitter conversation I stumbled upon yesterday between a Churchill employee and our buddy Joe Drape.  And I was surprised (or not so much) to read this tweet by our favorite Times reporter. 

  They are a gaming company now and no longer a racetrack company. Sport on last legs & CD knows it best of all.
  To which I couldn't help but reply:
  .@joedrape Right on re: CD and we all appreciate yours and the NYT's efforts to ensure the sport is on its last legs
  To which he replied, in his usual pithy manner: 
  the truth hurts
  And I'm thinking...the truth??  What truth is that, exactly?  That the Times is trying to kill the sport?  Because there's not a grain of truth in the statement that horse racing is on its last legs.  You can surely argue that the sport is not thriving; that it faces tremendous challenges, and that the industry is not doing enough to meet those challenges, nor to help it grow.  But on its last legs?  Dog racing is on its last legs.  Jai-alai is on its last legs.  Seth MacFarlane is on his last legs as an Oscar host.  Individual tracks may be on their last legs as a live spectator venue.  But horse racing as a whole?  I don't see how any objective person can say that it is on its last legs.  Handle is holding steady as race days decline.   And seriously, can you really spend a day at Saratoga or Del Mar or Keeneland or Oaklawn or Churchill....or even, yes, Aqueduct in the dead of winter with its ground floor packed with refugees from OTB....and tell me this game is on its death bed?

And I find it more than just a little disturbing that the lead racing writer for the New York Times would write that; especially in light of his role in the paper's efforts to drive the sport to the sorry state which he seems to crave.  (Don't really know why he does; seems to me that he'd be standing on the unemployment line with everyone else.)  To me, it's rather telling and casts a bright and unflattering light on the thinking going on at the Paper of Record when they publish those stories which so distort and twist the truth to fit that very agenda.  And I think that those people who defend the reporting should think about that the next time they see Death and Disarray at America's Racetracks on the NY Times' front page.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

NYC Voters May Determine Casinos' Fate

Interesting point raised in this Crain's New York article on a couple of recent polls on the casino referendum:

  While Mr. Cuomo is proposing building the first three casinos upstate, New York City voters will make up the bulk of the 2013 electorate in November because the mayor's race will drive up turnout. Some observers have speculated that would make passage of the amendment easier.
November will feature the first NYC mayor's race since 2001 not to include Michael Bloomberg.  And, other than the possible special election or two, there will be no state-wide legislative elections on either the state or federal level; so the referendum could be the only matter on the ballot in many places.  So indeed, the casino issue may well be decided in the city.....where Governor Cuomo has declared that there will be no casinos, at least at first.  Kind of an odd situation; though it would still be city voters' only chance to vote on the question of eventual casinos in New York City even if not in the first wave.

That would be interesting given the overwhelming Democratic registration advantage (a 6-to-1 margin over Republicans) in the five boroughs.  Then again, as we've long seen, the issue of gambling often transcends party lines.  And, remarkably, a Democrat hasn't been elected as mayor since David Dinkins in 1990.  Hard to imagine in my view that that streak won't be broken this year.  Gotta think that the real suspense will be in the Democratic primary, which will feature a uninspiring but potentially closely-matched field.  The Republicans do have a really interesting guy in Joe Lhota, who fits the profile of recent Republican/Independent (or whatever the heck Bloomberg is) mayors with his progressive-leaning views on social issues.  But his name recognition is low, and, despite his much-praised efforts to get the subway system back up and running after Sandy, I can't imagine that "former head of the MTA" could resonate positively amongst voters who utilize the transit system on a regular basis.

Anyway, getting back on topic, if you believe the poll released early last month by Global Strategy Group, the only plan that likely NYC mayoral primary and general election voters would approve is the one that would give Genting the only casino in the city with six built elsewhere.  Of course, that poll was underwritten by none other than Genting.  So, you can be sure that the wording of the questions favored the outcome that the folks who paid for the obvious push-poll wanted to see.  I've yet to see a non-partisan poll on the issue; if anyone has, please pass it along.

Speaking of Genting, seems that the gambling giant is suddenly and finally acknowledging commitments that had been made to the racing side at their Resorts World racino.  I've heard people at NYRA and those familiar with the situation speak of Genting only in the most acrimonious of terms; the relationship is said to be virtually non-existent.  But now, construction on the Longshots simulcast bar on the second floor of the Big A, which was supposed to be completed by now, is due to resume on Monday.  Additionally, Genting has resumed assigning its personnel to clean the racing side, as it is supposed to (NYRA had brought over custodial employees from Belmont).  And I've even heard, at least from some quarters, that races will actually be shown on TVs at bars in the casino.  Wow, imagine that!  One surely gets the feeling that Genting has either heard from Albany, or, with its eye squarely on the casino prize, has accordingly decided on its own to try and be the good neighbor and landlord that it pledged to be when it got the racino gig.