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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

In Pursuit of The Pursuit of the Crown

I'm really pissed at HRTV.  Set the DVR to record their Pursuit of the Crown show on Monday afternoon, and was looking forward all day to seeing the works and relaying some of the expert commentary to those of you who don't have access to the network.  But when I settled in to watch, I saw, much to my horror, a caption reading "aired on 4/28/13."  It was Sunday's episode.  They air two episodes in a row midday, and I only recorded the first one; I'm presuming that Monday's was the second.  Nonetheless, surely they must show it in prime time as TVG used to for The Works, right?

Wrong.  They were showing excerpts of NBC's 2000 Breeders Cup telecast instead.  And the 1999 Breeders Cup follows.  Huh, seriously?  Why wouldn't they try and showcase that show?  Don't see another showing of it until 3:30 AM.  So, instead of watching workouts, I'm watching Kalanisi win the Turf, which was a good race and pretty exciting to see since I had no recollection whatsoever of who won the race.  Kinda like Instant Racing.  NBC used that moving camera that rolled down the stretch with the horses; and that was really cool.  We see all the alternate camera angles that the networks have attempted over the years without success, and the one that actually worked, we don't see anymore.

So, what am I supposed to write about now?  The NYRA Bored meeting?

Well, of course there's Welsch's report on the workout by Orb (and others); and one might think from the reaction online that he made Saturday's race a mere formality.  Jay Privman tweeted that it was reminiscent of Barbaro, Street Sense before Derby.   Might as well just watch for yourself, if you haven't already.

By the way, the video comes by way of J.J. Hysell's In the Money blog, which had it up way before the workout page on the official Kentucky Derby site, which still doesn't have a working video of it as of this writing at 8:34 PM, which is pretty lame.  (And still, as of this posting on Tuesday morning.  That's more than pretty lame....this is the official Kentucky Derby site, get your act together, seriously!!!!) Welsch wrote of the gallop out:

  This was a true gallop-out, as compared with several others I’ve seen this past week, where the riders continued to offer some encouragement both into and on the bend.

Orb pulled up six furlongs in 1:14.83 in a move similar to, but even more impressive than, the one I witnessed at Payson Park five days prior to his winning effort in the Florida Derby. [DRF]
Look, there's nothing surprising here, at least to fans of the horse such as myself.  I think he's the best horse, and have every reason to believe that he would make an impressive appearance at this time (as should most if not all of the other Derby horses at this point, for that matter).  There's no doubt in my mind that he moved forward in the Florida Derby; think the 97 Beyer, the same as his prior race, while no doubt an accurate depiction of his final time, is bogus with respect to his performance in the race since it doesn't factor in the slow pace that helped lead to it.  (Same with Verrazano's Beyer in the Wood.)  Under the expert handling of his conservative trainer, I expect him to run a career best race on Saturday.  In most races, best horse + career best race equals a win.  But in this race, in which the slightest misstep can lead to disaster in the 20 horse field, the tote board will ultimately determine who I end up betting and how.

Oxbow and Will Take Charge didn't impress the Form's clocker so much; especially the latter, who was reported by Richard Migliore to have made a "raspy noise" after finishing a lethargic quarter of 25.62 to complete his five furlong race.  Later though, the horse told Ray Paulick that he was just doing his impersonation of Nick Zito.  (It's the second year in a row that Zito, who once dominated Derby week much like Pletcher does now, does not have a starter.)

Wanted to mention Itsmyluckyday, who The Mig singled out for his striking physical development on Sunday's episode of Pursuit of the Crown.  He was beaten fairly and squarely by Orb in the Florida Derby (though I of course feel that his Beyer isn't as bad as it looks), and naturally I don't think he's as good as Shug's colt.  However, this son of Lawyer Ron has made great strides in his 3yo season, and has excellent tactical speed which should allow him to sit close to a pace which nobody expects to be too hot.  His pedigree doesn't scream distance to me - out of a mare by Doneraile Court - family of the tough mare Viva Sec and the one-time Derby hopeful Vicar - but don't think he's impossible if things break his way.  And he should be a square price.

 - In the 7th 8th at Churchill on Tuesday, Seruni (4-1) returns to the Churchill main track; and despite the fact that he's spent most of his career racing on grass, some of his faster efforts have come on dirt.  Son of the ill-fated Saint Liam goes second off a 154 day layoff, and he's done well in that scenario,  as does his trainer Philip Oliver.  Note also that he's replicating a winning pattern; in the fall of 2011, he won over this course with a good speed figure 25 days after a race over the Keeneland Poly with a half mile work in between; and races here off those same exact circumstances.  Prior to his return at Keeneland, he ran a close 4th over this track in the Ack Ack, just a couple of lengths behind the multiple graded winner Neck 'n Neck (who we haven't seen since then), and just a head 'n neck behind the similarly accomplished Fort Loudon; earning a big speed figure in the process (at least with my numbers).  Barn hasn't had many starters thus far this year, but it's been way live of late, with a recent record of 6-2-1-1, including Last Full Measure ($37.60) in the G1 Madison.  Could work out a nice trip sitting off the speed.  Cool Street (7-2) was on a nice improving pattern until a dull effort in the New Orleans Handicap.  Drops in class and shows three drills since then, including a breeze just yesterday.  That used to be fairly common; remember we would have to look in the NYRA program to see the late work listings; but I rarely see that anymore.  In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the horse is scratched; if not, expect to see him running late.  Taptowne (3-1) surprised with his second place finish in the Oaklawn Handicap, finishing ahead of a dull Fort Larned, and seems the one to catch.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Pursuit of a Second Opinion

A bunch of Derby workouts on Saturday, including the five horses from Pletcher who are definitely slated to start.  And according to the Mike Welsch, Revolutionary continues to stand out. 

  Work of the day Revolutionary (four furlongs in 48.31 seconds) became one of the rare few to garner two “work of the day” honors in less than a week while continuing to really impress since shipping to Churchill Downs following his victory in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby. With...Calvin Borel aboard, Revolutionary breezed in company with fellow Derby contender Charming Kitten, who held a half-length advantage turning into the stretch after the pair posted a 24.61 opening quarter. But Revolutionary dominated the latter portion of the drill, coming home a final quarter in 23.50 while just cruising to the wire a length clear before readily pulling away, galloping out five-eighths in 1:00.58. The only glitch was the fact he again switched back briefly to his left lead near midstretch. He really seems to be handling the surface here extremely well. [DRF]
Welsch has the hots for this colt, for sure.  He didn't have anything bad to say about the other four, except for qualifying Verrazano's drill as "a very nice work, but not the standout performance perhaps many observers had been expecting to see."

I was interested in reading a few of the reader comments.   Here's Roger: 
Stop your love affair with Revolutionary and start reporting some facts on these workouts. Both Overanalyze and Palice Malice had better works than Revolutionary. Their workouts were faster than Revolutionary because both of these horses were traveling over the track much better....Revolutionary has a choppier stride than these two and may not even show up with mud in his face.
Now, I'm not saying that this guy Roger knows more than the esteemed clocker of the Daily Racing Form.  But the point is that, like most everything else one has to assess and consider when playing this great game, there is a certain amount of subjectivity in the evaluation of workouts, and knowledgeable people may disagree.  Welsch has surely earned much respect, but I don't see any oppositional views on the internet.  I'm sure there are private clockers issuing reports to paying clients or maybe on some private chat rooms, but it seems like Welsch has a virtual monopoly as far as free online content goes.  Please let me know if I'm missing something.

TVG's The Works used to be a great resource, with some expert commentary by trainer Tom Amoss amongst others, but we don't get that anymore.  HRTV covers the works on its Pursuit of the Crown series, but not that many people get that network (I'm getting it again, having recently switched to FIOS).  I did happen to catch Jeff Siegel listing his top five 3yo colts on some other show on HRTV while writing this;  he had Verrazano as #1.  He showed video of Saturday's workout, and explained (as if perhaps responding to Welsch's qualifier): 
"I know this may not have been the world's greatest work, but it was certainly good enough for me....turning into the stretch, he is gonna be in rhythm.  That's what I look at here; I'm not worried about a fast time - although it was a pretty good time, 59.3 - but to me, he's well in hand here, he's eager - it's a perfect work.  You don't want him to go too slow, but you don't want him to go too fast either.  You want him to go just about the way he did.......he had good energy every step of the way, he's in beautiful rhythm, he seems to be getting over the track just fine....It wasn't flashy, it wasn't brilliant, but you don't need that six or seven days before the race."
   Yeah, what do I know, but I think Verrazano looked fantastic, striding powerfully and smoothly, head down, all business. 

Pletcher himself singled out Overanalyze for praise (as did HRTV's Zoe Cadman).  "I thought this morning was the best I'd seen him breeze. Ever." []   Here it is, in company with Palace Malice (the one in front at first). 

I haven't really paid that much attention to Overanalyze since he disappointed in the Gotham, and even despite him winning the Arkansas Derby, as slow as the race came back (an 88 Beyer).  But I suppose he's eligible to improve based on the two-prep to glory pattern we've seen the last six years.  He's a son of Dixie Union out of an unraced mare by Unaccounted For (Private Account); he's a half-brother to the G1 Matron winner Meadow Breeze.

 - Orb out for a gallop this morning, saw the video on HRTV.  "Handles this track beautifully," according to Richard Migliore.  He playfully jumped the shadow of the finish line, which won't be a problem on Saturday if he gets there first.  Orb will work out on Monday morning.

Read more here:

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Saturday Morning Notes

At Belmont on opening day, another winner for trainer Randi Persaud, who won with Boldchildsrevenge ($9.10) in the 4th.  He then ran second in the 8th when Run a Dubb Dubb couldn't hang on (much to the chagrin of someone in the office); and also had a live runner in 4th place finisher Chics Palace at 71-1 in the 5th.  So, as mentioned the other day, this barn, which has struggled for quite some time, is definitely live at this time.

As cautiously selected in the last post, With Exultation ($8.90) made a successful debut in the 7th, taking advantage of a quick pace up front to run them all down from dead last.  So another 1st timer on the grass for Clement.  The Ramsey-bred colt beat the Ramsey-owned favorite, but don't worry, because the Ramsey's Ready to Taunt won the 9th for trainer Michael Maker.

Trainer Phil Serpe is enjoying the return to grass racing to the NYRA circuit.   Fly Ride ($10.60) won the 5th, giving the barn its 3rd winner, with one third, from six turf starters thus far.

 - Vyjack worked five furlongs in 1:00.36 at Churchill on Friday morning.  But from reading a couple of different accounts of the drill, one might think he worked out twice.   The Form's clocker Mike Welsch wrote

  After completing an opening three-eighths in 35.86, Vyjack appeared to struggle over the surface, with [trainer Rudy] Rodriguez taking out the stick and tapping him several times right-handed while also attempting to coax a little more run out of his horse both with the reins and with what can best be described as considerable verbal encouragement approaching the wire.

The Gotham and Jerome stakes winner continued to feel the stick from Rodriguez while galloping out six furlongs in 1:14.16 in a somewhat disappointing drill, considering the favorable impression he’d made galloping here earlier this week.
  But Claire Novak, reporting for Bloodhorse, wrote of the trainer's reaction
"If I'm not happy now, then I'm never gonna be happy," Rodriguez said of the effort of Pick Six Racing's Vyjack in preparation for the May 4 Derby. "He worked very, very good -- without company, did everything within himself. I really didn't get into him. He did everything very good and is very alert."
So, there you go.  Maybe somebody broke into the Form's servers and injected Welsch's review with poisonous words.  In any event, he's always impressed me as a nice horse but has never entered my short list as far as the Derby goes.  I wrote about the mixed signals in his pedigree for distance here.  His career high fast-track Beyer is 93.  And his Wood effort was a good one, but would have been better had he not gotten passed by Normandy Invasion at the end.

 - In the Derby Trial at Churchill tonight, Forty Tales (3-1) disappointed for Pletcher in the Swale Stakes at Gulfstream in his last.  He did swing quite wide turning for home, but I thought it was a rather dull effort with no other real excuse I can see for his 5th place finish at even money.  However, being the forgiving type that I am, I'm willing to look past.  It came 28 days after two similarly spaced efforts that were both quite fast, so he could have bounced a bit, and could benefit from the 56 day break coming into this race, with a steady series of drills leading up to it.  Thinking he should love the stretch out to a one-turn mile, and there should be ample early speed to set up a late charge.  Zee Bros (5-2) is another Baffert speedball shipping east; this one off a maiden win with a flashy speed figure in a race from which the 2nd and 3rd place horses went on to win their next heats.   This may not be the strongest Grade 3 stakes in the world, but this still represents a significant step up, and he figures to have some company from Lukas' Titletown Five (5-1) at the least.

Friday, April 26, 2013

The Rule Rather Than the Exception

When I mentioned the 1983 Derby winner Sunny's Halo in the last post, I seemed to recall, through the haze of the accumulated brain cell loss of the 30 years since, that he did something that year that hadn't been done in awhile.  That he'd broken one of the "rules" that used to dictate a good part of our Derby handicapping, and which have now mostly fallen by the wayside.  Couldn't recall exactly what it was though, so I went to the trusty New York Times search engine, and came up with this, from Steven Crist's report on the race. 

  This year, the colt won the Rebel Handicap and the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park in his only two starts. It was the lightest 3-year-old campaign of any Derby winner since Jet Pilot in 1947.
(He was also the first-ever Arkansas Derby winner to get the roses.)  I was curious, but too lazy to research recent Derby winners to see how many races they've had at three; so I was particularly interested when reader August Song pointed out this article by Jeff Scott in The Saratogian.
  It should be pointed out...that while many of this year’s Derby contenders have had relatively busy campaigns at three, this is not the kind of prep schedule that has been winning the race in recent years. In fact, as was mentioned here in a recent column, the last six Derbies have been won by horses who had made just two prior starts at three. 
  And full credit to Scott for going on to provide the kind of critical context that I find missing in most sports writing and broadcasting: 
  (Horses with two prior 3-year-old starts made up approximately one-third of all Derby starters during this six-year period.)
Thank you!  We all know that the Classics game has changed drastically in a relative blink of an eye.  But this serves still as a pretty stark reminder; what was once a rarity is now such a regularity that it's just second nature, and not something I really even think about much anymore.  Maybe I should be?  I dunno.  Here's the list for this year. 
  This year’s Derby field will likely include five horses who have raced just twice in 2013: Revolutionary, Java’s War, Overanalyze, Normandy Invasion and Mylute.....A sixth expected Derby starter, Lines of Battle, won the UAE Derby in his lone outing this year.
I do like Revolutionary.  Not so much the other ones at this point in time, but guess we should keep this in mind.

One of those, Normandy Invasion, continues to attract the attention of the DRF clocker. 
The Wood Memorial runner-up looked razor sharp as he cruised around while kept out near the center of the one-mile oval under exercise rider Javier Herrera, stretching out beautifully, changing leads on cue, and keeping up the high energy from start to finish.
Trainer Chad Brown indicated how he felt about the morning not in words but by flashing a big thumbs-up as he passed by in the midst of a telephone conversation just outside his barn a short while later. [DRF]
I watched his Wood again, and still think his second place finish is being a bit overrated.  Yes, the pace was slow and he closed against the grain.  But it's not like he was far off the pace; he was just a length behind Verrazano at the half mile pole.  So I think he benefited from the slow pace too, had a relatively easy trip, never looked like winning, and had a spurt at the end that is visually impressive but may have been a case of the top two tiring late.  Not like they were flying home at that point; final furlong in 12.55.  Sure, on the theory (not to mention, the last six years of results) that the modern-day Derby favors a horse like this who is eligible to improve in his third start of the year, one can envision him moving forward.  But think he's gonna be overbet for a horse who's never won around two turns (and is eligible for an entry-level allowance).

Normandy Invasion is another successful son of Tapit, out of an otherwise nondescript Boston Harbor mare.  Some interesting horses under the 3rd dam though; and a fair amount of turf horses, including Gulls Cry and Navesink, and some Euro stakes winners as well.  And there is also Chumming, another member of that 1983 three-year old crop who ran 12th, for Woody Stephens, behind Sunny's Halo in the Derby.  So we're being drawn towards the Derby of 30 years ago, might as well embed the race.  I'm sure you always wanted to know what it would sound like to have Mike Battaglia call the Derby  ("like it was the 3rd at Turfway in early February," according to a You Tube commenter.)

That was Cavaet flying home for third; he'd won the Derby Trial a week earlier.

 - Another day,  another three winners for owners Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey and their trainer Michael Maker at Keeneland, as they continue their ridiculous domination of the proceedings there, with 22 winners each.  (Ms. Ramsey was hospitalized earlier in the day so let's hope everything is OK.)

The combo turns up at Belmont for opening day here with a couple of entries, so be aware and afraid. In the 5th 7th, their A Better Tomorrow is listed as the 2-1 morning line favorite despite not having raced on grass, but who are we mere mortals to suggest betting against him?  He's a half to a turf winner, we're told by A Closer Look in the Form; and has some grass winners deeper in the distaff pedigree as well.  But I'll tepidly and timidly suggest a look at the first time starter With Exultation (5-1), trained by Christophe Clement and bred by none other than the Ramseys themselves (sold as a yearling for $155,000).  So maybe they can get a taste of their own medicine here?  While we mentioned yesterday that Clement was winless at Keeneland, he's been quite sharp here in NY since wading back onto the NYRA circuit, with a record of 8-2-3-1, including Maximova, a debut runner on the grass.  Not surprisingly considering his breeders, With Exultation is by Kitten's Joy; he's out of a Cozzene mare and he's a full brother to two turf stakes winners (Cozy Kitten, Sisterhood) and another who is graded turf stakes placed (Becky's Kitten).  So definitely worth a peek in the paddock (or let Maggie do it for you) and on the tote.  If you dare.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Thursday Morning Derby Notes And More

Through the magic of Twitter, the Mighty Forego himself pointed out that I haven't mentioned Goldencents here; and it's true.  I've kinda lost interest in the Cali horses since Hear the Ghost got hurt.  His past performances make a striking impression; a lot of 1s and 2s, nary a poor effort to be found, and the best last Beyer in the race.  But I have my doubts about the quality of what he's run against out there; and though his dosage checks out, the son of In Mischief out of the middle distance star Banker's Gold doesn't have much on the catalog page.  (Though if you go back to his 5th mare, she's the dam of Mostly Sunny, in turn the dam of the 1983 Derby winner Sunny's Halo).  Most importantly, he runs fast early, not so fast late.  And on top of that, he figures to be overbet, especially with the Rick Pitino connection.  Not the profile of a horse I'm interested in as far as the Derby goes, so if he wins, I'll lose.

Mike Welsch is on the scene for the Form if you haven't seen, and filing daily workout reports.  Not only do we get his in depth observations of the official timed workouts, but we also get the jogs, gallops, and anything that constitutes an appearance on the track. 

  Vyjack, a big, impressive-looking colt, looked very sharp Tuesday but was not quite as impressive Wednesday.
Well, here I think we're getting squarely into "too much information" territory.  Don't think we need quite that much day-to-day granularity.  But the general impressions of the DRF clocker are surely worth following as we move along to the big day.   Though most of the horses seem to be doing fine (as one might expect), so far he seems to be particularly impressed with Revolutionary; and the filly Close Hatches for those interested in the Oaks.

As reader August Song pointed out, the Toddster has been experimenting with blinkers on Palace Malice in the mornings (though Welsch reported that he didn't have them on Wednesday).  He seemed to get distracted when he passed Rydilluc in the Blue Grass, and briefly switched back to his left lead.  So I wasn't surprised to read the Pletcher is considering an equipment change.  Agree with jp that he could be the wise guy horse.  But even the 3rd and 4th choices figure  to be like 7- or 8-1, doncha think?

 - State Senator Malcolm Smith and his alleged co-conspirators naturally pleaded not-guilty to the charges that he tried to bribe his way onto the Republican ticket in the NYC mayoral race to be decided this year.  Marcia Kramer reported for WCBS-TV that Smith has additionally been indicted on a new and even more troubling accusation:
  — trying to obtain $100,000 from a government witness “to give to other state senators in an effort to win their support … for a state Senate leadership position,” according to court documents.
Sources told Kramer prosecutors are hoping to put extreme pressure on Smith so that he will rat out other politicians.
I'd guess that there are some of those other ratty politicians - maybe perhaps some connected to the AEG affair - that might be more than a little nervous about that.  Smith and the others have each been asked to provide a 150 GB storage device so that the prosecution can share the voluminous audio and video recordings, text messages, emails and more.  So this should be fun for sure.

 - People seem particularly excited for Belmont this year.  Maybe it was the extended cold weather around here this winter/spring.  Or perhaps the buzz is emanating from people who went to the dismal Aqueduct during the recently concluded meet.   But whatever the reason, I've heard a lot of enthusiasm over Friday's opener.  Of course, while the setting will improve, we'll probably have to wait a bit longer before the quality of the product picks up.   Of Friday's opening day card,  the Troy Record's Nick Kling tweeted: The 6 dirt races.....make it the worst card in my 25 yrs watching Belmont.  Eek!  But Nick is referring here to the Beyers of the horses in the allowance races, which he guesses "have Beyer figures 10-15 points below what they used to be."  So here again we get into the question of what constitutes "quality" at the races nowadays.  Haven't looked at these races yet; but I can surely live with lower Beyers as long as the races remain competitive.  (Though this observation from a long-time observer of the NYRA circuit is surely revealing and well-taken.)

 - In the 6th at Keeneland today (scheduled for the turf), North by Northlite (4-1) ships in from Fair Grounds for trainer Kellyn Gorder, who's been live with a couple of longshots here the last few days, including General Election, my Lexington pick who ran a bang-up second at 36-1.  Her last race was an odd one, as she was allowed to drift out to the seven path leading into the stretch before sprinting home in 23.82 seconds and getting nailed late by the graded stakes-placed Treasured Up.  Has a race over this course last fall which comes up as a fast one with my speed figures.   Will need to last another half-furlong today, but could control the pace here in a race which projects to be slow-paced.   Cry War Eagle (8-1) comes out of a couple of good allowance races at Gulfstream, and finished strongly in a slow-paced race in her last.  Could face a similar scenario here but could liven up the exotics.  Joel Rosario jumps off that one to ride Prissy (7-2) for the blistering Michael Maker/Ken and Sarah Ramsey combo.  Their success at this meet has surely been reflected on the tote board lately; I'm betting it will pay off to stand against this filly coming off a 328 day layoff and trying winners for the first time.  Morning line favorite Flower Mart (5-2) also advances from maiden company, goes for the Christophe Clement barn, winless at this meet, and comes up slower than the others on my numbers.  And I probably just set this race up for the favorite exacta box.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Derby Top Ten

This is the Left at the Gate Derby Top Ten of horses, people, and things I think will be in the headlines on or around Derby Day.

1) Orb worked five furlongs in 1:02 1/5 the other day, and galloped out six furlongs in 1:14 4/5 under regular exercise rider Jennifer Patterson

Working in company with Puzzling, a five-year-old mare ridden by Octavio Vergara, Orb ran the last quarter of a mile in :23 4/5.  [Brisnet]
   Shug's colt has won four in a row, and though he stalled at 97 on the Beyer scale in the Florida Derby, my figs have him moving forward, a more accurate representation I believe given the slow early pace of that race.  No doubt that the trainer has a lot to do with me liking this horse, given his usual practice of allowing his horses to develop gradually over time; he's only had six Derby starters as you may know.  When I hear this guy saying things like: "I've never had a horse show so much improvement over this short period of time at this time of the year," it makes me think he's going to run the best race of his short career thus far on Kentucky Derby day.

2)  Pick-a-Pletcher, any Pletcher.  OK, how about Revolutionary?  On performance and pedigree, anyway, figures to be the Toddster horse most likely to be running on late, doncha think?   This colt also worked on Sunday. 
  Working on the inside of recent first-level allowance winner Red Rifle, Revolutionary breezed four furlongs in :48 4/5 and recorded fractions of :12 3/5, :24 4/5 and :37 and galloped out five furlongs in 1:01 1/5 and six furlongs in 1:15 1/5. Their half-mile time tied for the 22nd fastest of 81 at the distance.

Calvin Borel was in the irons for the work, and will be aboard Revolutionary on the first Saturday in May. [Brisnet]
Oh, Calvin Borel is riding?   Isn't he still due to not win another Derby for like the next seven years or maybe ever?

3) The search for the Higgs boson particle leads scientists to an unexpected place - the barn of Vyjack's trainer Rudy Rodriguez, where another possible version of the particle is discovered in unusually high concentrations.  Astounded physicists hail the first discovery outside of a lab environment as a miracle.  But Rodriguez is cited by regulators for being over the allowable limit of God particles.  The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission summons the Almighty to a hearing to consider His license to practice in the state.

4)  The Wood Memorial victory by Verrazano seems to have elicited widely different reactions.  Some say he simply ran to slow to be taken seriously as a Derby winner; and that he had a perfect trip stalking a slow pace, yet couldn't dominate in the stretch.  Others say that the fact that he was able to sit behind that lethargic pace shows progress as a racehorse, and that he passed a critical test in repelling a challenge from a quality opponent in Vyjack.  Put me squarely in the latter category.  Still, have my doubts about his ability at the Derby distance, but I think he very well may not be favored; and, I dunno, guess there's a price at which I'd take a shot.

5)  Derby attendance hits an all-time low as thousands of fans spend the big day circling the skies overhead due to sequestration cuts of air traffic controllers.  Amongst the delayed is NBC's broadcast staff, forcing the network to desperately dispatch the team from the struggling Today show to host the telecast.  This leads viewers to bail in droves to other networks for tennis, movies, hunting shows, hair removal infomercials, or anything whatsoever that doesn't include Al Roker.  Ann Curry gets a good laugh out of it all.

6)  Weighing in on the urgent issue of medication in the game, National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre notes: "The only way to stop a bad guy with a syringe is a good guy with a syringe," and proposes that the Derby barns be patrolled by an appropriately-armed team of good guys led by the goody two-shoes trainers Christophe Clement and Graham Motion, as well as Joe Drape, Richard Dutrow (as part of his rehabilitation therapy), Mahmood Al Zarooni, Curlin, Atticus Finch, and select members of the Grace Church Choir of Men and Boys.  LaPierre adds that he is opposed to expanded drug testing, explaining: "Testing isn't working now anyway; expanded testing will only cause hassle and expenses to law-abiding trainers; cheaters will always find a way to beat the system; and blah blah blah blah blah blah blah.

7)  Well, if I like Orb so much,  feel like I should mention Itsmyluckyday as well.  Sure, he was beaten pretty decisively by Orb in the Florida Derby.  But he still ran well for second, has really blossomed as a three-year old, has nice tactical speed, and certainly rates some consideration should he draw well.

8)  Not to be outdone by the zealous owner who financed 24 hour surveillance cameras at the Santa Anita Derby, Churchill Downs officials up the ante and assign undercover investigators to shadow the Derby trainers on the grounds.  They err however by assigning one per horse and the cover is blown when Todd Pletcher notices a cloud of dust raised by the five (six?) shadowy figures following him around the backstrech.  He invites them in for tea and they become fast friends, going on in future years to form a popular barbershop sextet (septet?).

9)  I've said my piece on Palace Malice.....and if the Toddster is going to have 30% of the field, why shouldn't he have 30% of this top ten list?

10)   As post time approaches, public sentiment switches drastically to Orb.  But with polls showing that 90% of Americans support him to win, the U.S. Senate instead votes to back Revolutionary (at the suggestion of the Tea Party).   They then switch to Verrazano when that one is endorsed by the NRA.  Republicans then shift to Will Take Charge when they learn that President Obama likes Verrazano, which leads to a filibuster by Senator Rand Paul, who likes Java's War and mistakes the circling planes overhead for drones sent by the president to kill American citizens who gamble. 

From the archives:  Derby Top Ten, March 22, 2008

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Saturday Morning Notes

In the 9th at Keeneland, the Lexington Stakes, General Election (15-1) attempts to rebound from a dismal effort in the Spiral.  Prior to that, he won the John Battaglia with an extremely wide closing move, earning a solid speed figure in the process.  Giant Finish, who finished a half length behind, went on to run a solid 3rd in the Spiral.  General Election didn't fare nearly as well; quite possible he bounced off the big effort in a race just 21 days later.  Now, he comes off a 28 day break - similar to the 29 days before the Battaglia - and shows a snappy half mile workout over the Keeneland track, as opposed to the sluggish one that preceded the Spiral.  Son of Harlan's Holiday has some turf pedigree in his female family (and, as I've often said, I think the Keeneland Poly is virtually interchangeable with grass form-wise); he traces back directly to the French champion Madelia (4th dam).  A lot of potential speed inside of him, and if it plays out that way (and who knows, really, with so many surface variables in play), this horse could benefit and bounce back.  Cerro (5-1) chased the lightning pace in the Fountain of Youth, and tries Poly for the first time.  Third dam Sex Appeal is the dam of the champion and prodigious sire El Gran Senor.   G1 winner Pure Fun (7-2) has raced well on the Turfway Poly, Cushion Track, dirt, and grass; filly tries the boys today and ranks the horse to beat.

In the 7th, Queen of Mambo (7-2) couldn't quite seal the deal in close thirds in a couple of tough turf routes in her last two.  Daughter of Elusive Quality has been in the money all four starts; two each on dirt and grass.  Cuts back to seven furlongs for good route-to-sprint barn, should handle this Poly course fine, and Prado is four-for-nine for this barn.  Clear Danger (10-1) was clearly crappy in her last two, but ran a close second in a fast race at this distance over this surface last fall, beating some pretty good horses in Ire, Spun Cap, and Lady Diva Ga Ga.  Could rebound at a price.

 - In the 1st at Aqueduct on Thursday, Run a Dubb Dubb ($67) edged Talent N Passion, the 4-5 favorite from the Rudy Rodriguez barn.  The winner, not surprisingly, was originally owned by NYRA board member Michael Dubb before being claimed for 50K in his second start.  I'm mentioning this less because the horse's winning trainer, Randi Persaud, has been showing signs of emerging from a slump of several years' duration (and he had another winner on Friday), and more because of Dubb's testifying on Rodriguez' behalf at the show trial staged by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission earlier in the week.  Just seems rather odd to me that a member of the New NYRA board, charged as it is with restoring the integrity of racing in the state, would take such an active role in the defense of a trainer with multiple medication infractions, and one who may very well end up in a legal tussle with the Gaming Commission and/or NYRA over the latest accusation of such.  I'll leave it at "rather odd" for now.

Monday, April 15, 2013

A Happy Blue Grass Result

I'd mentioned on more than just a couple occasions how I thought that stakes run on synthetic are meaningless as Derby preps and shouldn't count as qualifying races.  So maybe I should eat those words before writing about how very pleased I am with the result of the Blue Grass, propelling Palace Malice and Java's War to the big race as it did.  Doesn't change my opinion in principle with respect to strictly synth/turf horses that qualify by winning those races.  However, in this case we have two horses that have shown ability on the dirt using a synth race to get in.  So, in this case, I was wrong in calling it meaningless as a prep, as both horses will likely be a factor for my approach to the race, though in completely opposite ways.

Palace Malice was my pick in the Louisiana Derby and was traveling quite well when he ran into the thicket of traffic that completely doomed his chances.  So, his second place finish in the Blue Grass not only earns him the points he needs, but gave him a useful race from which he should benefit....if, that is, three weeks isn't too short a turnaround for him.  He didn't run that fast according to Beyer, earning a figure of 89, if Beyer figures on the synth really mean anything in this context.  Have to say I'm highly impressed that he ran so well - wasn't around for the race, but never would have bet him at those odds.  Just don't think that turf/synth is going to be his best game.  And I'd love to see a horse with - gasp - four races this year including one three weeks out win this thing.  Maybe would serve to help change the current less is more mindset.  So, this is a horse I'll definitely be looking forward to seeing how his works shape up as we approach Derby day.

Also glad to see Java's War win as he did.  Just the kind of deep closer that the betting public usually loves.  Man, that 14th-to-1st running line is sure gonna look tempting as he stretches out to a mile and a quarter.  However, as opposed to Palace Malice, I'm not at all convinced that dirt will turn out to be his preferred surface as opposed to turf/synth.  Sure, he also closed impressively in the Tampa Bay when he came on for second to Verrazano.  However, that surface can be a quirky one, and my experience is that horses running well there seem to fare OK on the Keeneland Poly.  His other dirt race, at Churchill in last year's Kentucky Jockey Club, is inconclusive; an even 6th at a flat one-turn mile.  I think his pedigree leans towards grass.  He's a son of War Pass, out of a mare by Rainbow Quest, a daughter of the French and UK champ Blushing Groom (to whom he's inbred 4x3), who is a half to the grass champ Fiji and the French Group winner Capri.

This is not to say of course that Java's War can't win if he gets a clear path.  But the point is that he indeed will need a clear path, especially give his tendency to dawdle at the start; and will require everything to go his way in the 20 horse field to get one.  Definitely the type who I think will be overbet in relation to his chances, perhaps grossly so, and I will be excluding him from the top spot on my tickets.

Friday, April 12, 2013

CEO Search Drags Out

NYRA board chairman David Skorton said at Thursday's board meeting that the search for a new CEO is "rounding second," so I guess they've only copped a proverbial feel at this as of now. 

  “We’re looking at people very experienced in Thoroughbred racing, looking at people who have experience more in hospitality and setting up destinations; people with a very strong business background,” Skorton said. [DRF]
  Oh, man.  You guys aren't gonna screw this up, are you? 
  “We have heard through the blogosphere that people were concerned we already had one or two people lined up and this whole thing was for show, but it really isn’t." 
   The only "concern" I've heard through the blogosphere is that they haven't named anyone yet after all this time, and that they've forced out a woman who knows the ropes and seems to be doing a highly competent job.  Now, it seems as if they're going out of their way to show that the names that have been bandied around are not necessarily candidates, and I'm getting the feeling from the talk about looking at people not necessarily from the industry that we're gonna see a Cathleen Black type selection.  And we know how well that turned out.  I don't think this is really that complicated.  There's a limited pool of qualified experienced racetrack executives that would do well; and, unless they're trying to branch out and add some diversity to the white male culture (which seems doubtful considering the departure of Ellen McClain), we could all do without the theatrics.  Just do it.

Synthetic surfaces are still part of the discussion; including at Belmont as well.  Not, however, to replace any of the the three existing dirt and turf tracks; but as an additional one to have for when races come off the grass. 
  P.J. Campo, the NYRA director of racing, said that by reducing scratches, a synthetic surface at Belmont “would pay for itself in two to three years.”
  Well, there's some progressive thinking for you.  I've always maintained that the advantages of synthetics go far beyond its original intended purpose of preventing injuries and lowering maintenance costs.

By the way and speaking of synthetic tracks, with respect to this mysterious spate of sudden deaths of horses in California, apparently due to "acute severe respiratory distress," is anyone considering the possible long-term effects of breathing in the dust from the stuff?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Keeneland Wednesday

In the 7th (of only eight races) at Keeneland today, War Dancer (6-1) moves up to face winners off a handy maiden win at Gulfstream, for trainer Ken McPeek.  Don't know if he faced much - three single-digit contenders went down early in a spill - and he had a pretty perfect trip.  But he won pretty handily, responding promptly to a couple of smacks and gliding home in a snappy 11 4/5; final three-eighths in 35 flat.  (Does anyone really care about the hundredths of a second?  Most overrated "innovation" in the past performances industry as far as I'm concerned.)  His prior turf effort, coming in his career debut, was a good second to Jack Milton, who went on to win the G3 Transylvania on opening day; and that race has produced a couple of other next-out winners as well.  Draws the rail, and the speed figures I'm using these days give him a distinct advantage over these.  Expect a good effort and his morning line would represent good value here.  Beyond Compare (4-1) also comes in off a maiden win (at 2-5), at Tampa, where he got loose on the lead after setting slow fractions.  If his pedigree is any indication, he's eligible to improve; he's a Tapit half-brother to the graded turf stakes winner Dancing Solo; and his dam, by Kingmambo, is a half to the excellent turf mare Voodoo Dancer.  Fredericksburg (8-1) showed promise in NY at two, and ran evenly in a competitive allowance field in his first turf race this year; third try of the form cycle for trainer Michael Matz.  Standing against morning line favorite Positively (7-2) in his first try on turf, but worth mentioning that he hails from an excellent French distaff line.

- He's back. And some politicians who have done worse have never left.

He is quoted recounting what people say to him on the subway.

“It’s one of the following,” he said: “1) ‘Oh, you should run.’ 2) ‘Man, you got screwed.’ 3) ‘Aww, I’m so sorry what happened to you.’ 4) ‘Spitzer! You’re Governor Spitzer!’ ” [NY Times]

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Johnny V. Phone Home

Following up on yesterday's post, specifically the matter of a lawsuit filed against NYRA by Zayat Stables in 2008 over career-ending injuries suffered by its horse Phone Home after a starting gate accident, our buddy Steve Zorn, the esteemed proprietor of the incisive The Business of Racing blog, commented

Note that frequent NYRA antagonist Karen Murphy was the lawyer for Zayat in the case you cited. Now she's (a) representing Rudy Rodriguez on the latest Banamine positive while at the same time (b) serving as an adviser to NYRA Board Chairman John Skorton. Seems to me that NY Code of Professional Responsibility Sec. 1.7 (Conflicts of Interest) has something relevant to say there.

Also, since no further proceedings in the Zayat case are listed on the court docket, one presumes that NYRA settled after the Appellate Division reversed the trial court's dismissal of the Zayat complaint. NYRA, by the way, was using the legal equivalent of a seven-pound bug as its lawyer, but that may have been dictated by its insurer.
Let's take that one at a time.  Indeed, Ms. Murphy is the attorney behind Rudy Rodriguez' staunch insistence that a broken surveillance camera operated by NYRA allowed an intruder to go "up to the filly’s stall and put a tube down her throat,” thus resulting in a third positive, and one 20 times the allowable level, for the anti-inflammatory medication Banamine. 
  “It’s an enormous dose given within 24 hours of a race – somebody got to the horse,” Murphy said. “This is a tampering case; I’m 100 percent certain of this.” [DRF]
And the point about the conflict of interest here is surely well taken.  I mean, that's kinda like if, say, an aide to the governor of New York had financial interests in drilling companies with an interest in fracking!  Or if an adviser to another governor of New York was a paid lobbyist for a company seeking a racino license!  Unimaginable!!

Regarding the Zayat case however, Mr. Zorn surmises incorrectly that the case has been settled.  In fact, the Supreme Court of Queens County threw out NYRA's second motion for summary judgment just in January on March 18; on the grounds that there are "triable issues of fact, summary judgment is unwarranted and a trial is necessary."

The decision explains that NYRA produced two affadavits in an attempt to convince the Court that "the conduct of defendant's employees did not increase the usual risks that are inherent in the sport of horse racing."  The testimony was given by John Velazquez, the jockey aboard Phone Home...or rather, not aboard Phone Home......and an assistant starter by the name of Gustavo Rodriguez.  Besides his insistence that he never stated he was OK for the race to start, and said "over and over again" to Rodriguez (standing "a half a foot away") that he wasn't ready, Johnny V. also made some assertions that I find rather startling: 
Mr. Velasquez testified inter alia that: it is very common for a horse to be injured after the start is taken when its jockey has been dismounted....races are commenced despite the fact that a horse or jockey is not ready “all of the time”.........miscommunications between jockeys and starters are quite common because of the rapid speed with which the starting gate crew must release the horses from the starting gate, failed communications between the assistant starters, the head starter, and the jockeys “happens plenty,” and before Phone Home’s injury, he had previously made complaints to the stewards regarding the lack of communication at the starting gate.
Hmmm, you don't say?  I don't know whether or not Velazquez was coached for his testimony, or if the legal strategy was devised by the seven-pound bug lawyer referred to above.  And I understand NYRA is trying to defend itself in court, and sometimes defendants will find themselves saying awkward things in order to do so.  But I would think that NYRA would go out of its way to avoid public testimony on its behalf by a respected jockey to the effect that profound problems at the starting gate are endemic at its tracks.  And I would think that they would be hearing from horsemen and horseplayers with concerns about the same.

And this lawsuit will apparently proceed to the "necessary" trial.

 -  James Odato writes in the Times Union that "many in the capitol have observed" that the arrest of Senator Malcolm Smith could aid prosecutors investigating the AEG scandal.  And then he doesn't really elaborate on how, other than quoting Inspector General Joseph Fisch, who wrote the scathing report (and if you've never seen the 316 page report, you can do so here), to the effect that: "you want to see if [Smith] has information about people of similar status — or above his rank."  So we'll see, but I think it's one of those non-news news stories, mostly summarizing events in the past, perhaps for emphasis by the reporter as to how corrupt politics in New York are, as if we need to be reminded.  The most interesting tidbit is that the statue of limitations on prosecuting the case is five years, which would give the investigators until early 2015.  I can think of at least one person who is counting the days.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Monday Morning Notes

Spent some time at the Big A on Sunday; a couple of hours is about my limit, but harder to resist as the calendar turns to April and the action heats up (if mostly on the simulcast screens).  Leaving the track and heading west on Rockaway Blvd, saw this billboard.

Not unusual to see Parx ads around this area, as I often see them on NYC yellow taxis.  This one is particularly well-placed.  And, after initial skepticism, I checked on Google Maps, and indeed!  91.4 mi, 1 hour 40 mins.  More or less a straight shot down the Belt, across the Verrazano through Staten Island across the Goethals and down the NJ Turnpike to Exit 6.  Of course, that time estimate is assuming no at 4 AM, when Resorts World closes.  Parx may want to add that they are open 24 hours; perhaps they could get a burst of customers with NY license plates there at around 5:39 AM.  There are times of days during which it could take about that long just to get to Staten Island!  But at 99 minutes, that billboard could survive even the approval of casinos in New York; upstate locations preferred by Governor Cuomo could be much further away than that.  Essex County, one locality angling for a casino, would be at least a four hour drive.

And of course the ad features the usual photo of a group of young professionals having a great time.  I've yet to see that on any of my abbreviated visits and pass-throughs at a NY racino.  Maybe the table games are more fun.  Maybe not.

 - Even the hardcore crowd on the 1st floor of NYC-OTB at the Big A gasped upon seeing the replay of John Velazquez being thrown hard to the turf after Katie Malone clipped heals and fell in the 7th.  David Grening of the Form was on top of the situation on his Twitter feed, and reported that Johnny V fractured a rib on his right side and chipped a bone in his right wrist.  With an eye on the Kentucky Derby, Velazquez said:  “Hopefully, in a couple of weeks I can start doing something.”  Johnny V. was, or at least had been, in the position of being able to choose between the two presumed favorites at this stage.  Given his long relationship with the Toddster, I was a bit surprised to hear him say that he wanted to see how the horses were working before making a decision.  Now, as Grening points out
  Now, it might be a matter of whether those connections will wait for him to be declared healthy enough to ride.
 - Reader Chris wrote to point out that, had Verrazano been in the ten post for the Wood, "he would have been LATG!!"  Of course, one would presume that the starter would have been more attentive to the 4-5 favorite than he was to the plight of longshot Freedom Child, who was declared a non-starter, having been deemed not given a chance for a fair start.  Whatever you think that horse's chances to win or place in the Wood may have been (or not), the miscue did in theory cost his owners a chance to make the Derby.  And Chris pointed out that NYRA is not unaware of its possible liability for gate mishaps, and helpfully sent along a copy of the legal decision that reversed a summary dismissal of a lawsuit filed by Zayat Stables.  That was with respect to the career-ending injuries suffered by Phone Home when the gates opened before the same John Velazquez had securely re-mounted.  (And note that there was a similar incident at the Big A last Wednesday.)

 - Verrazano got a 95 Beyer for his win in the Wood; and like in Orb's Florida Derby, that number was no doubt compromised by the slow pace, which is not factored in to the Beyer figs.  He'll go into the Derby with his figs on a down trend of 105-101-95.   On the west coast, Goldencents got a career best 105 for his win in the Santa Anita Derby, a number which, if I'm not mistaken, could possibly make him the high last-out Beyer horse in the race.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Coming Around (a bit) on Verrazano

An interesting and perhaps enlightening performance by Verrazano in winning the Wood.  For one thing, he didn't seem to have any issue with sitting second behind what was an extremely slow pace.  Consider that in the Gazelle, the only other two-turn dirt race of the day at Aqueduct, the front-running winner Close Hatches zipped her second quarter in 23.24 en route to a half in 47.47 and six furlongs in 1:10.95.  Verrazano and Johnny V. got to the latter call in 1:13.74 after observing Chrisandthecapper walk to the half in 49.62.

So, yeah, he had to work hard to hold off Vyjack in the stretch; but that talented gelding benefited from the slow pace as well, so I hardly see that as a demerit for the winner.  Despite Durkin's call, I don't think Verrazano was really asked until entering the stretch - the most energy Velazquez exerted before that point was looking over his shoulder to size up the competition - and he came home in a pretty quick 12.55; final three-eighths in 36.53.  And, for the second time in two weeks on the NBCSN telecast, Randy Moss expressed skepticism based on final time (1:50.27) by comparing it unfavorably with that of a prior filly race, without considering the widely differing pace scenarios.  And this guy is Mr. Pace Figures, c'mon, man!  That's just sloppy broadcasting.  Now you have a whole bunch of those new fans that America's Best Racing hopes is watching these telecasts who think that Orb and Verrazano ran lesser efforts than they really did.  (Though whether those types on the east coast are really tuned in to NBC's cable network between 6 and 7:30 PM on a Saturday evening remains to me seen.)

But don't worry, I'm not getting too soft on the Toddster's colt; will still bet against him in the Derby.  However it will be more because of value and my general principle of betting against the favorite in a race in which chance and circumstance have more to do with the outcome than talent than a sense that he's not really capable of winning.  Credit where due; Verrazano answered a couple of critical questions by rating kindly and prevailing in a battle against a good horse; and this was a race he should surely benefit from far more than another walk in the park.

Normandy Invasion closed fastest of all with a final furlong of 12.17, and will no doubt get a lot of attention for supposedly closing against the grain.  But he was surely close enough to benefit from the slow pace as well, and he walked his first quarter in 25.91.  So I think he has the potential of being this year's most overbet bandwagon closer.  Which isn't to say he can't win, just to say that he'll be a bad bet.

 - Not long after winning the aforementioned Gazelle with the aforementioned Close Hatches, Mott won the G1 Ashland at Keeneland with Emollient, coming back just one week after reeling some 30 lengths behind in the Gulfstream Park Oaks.  Either she really preferred the Poly, or maybe Dreaming of Julia did run the fastest thoroughbred race of all time!

I think I'll opt for the former, at least for now.  I've always felt as if the Keeneland track is the synthetic surface that plays the most like a grass course; and Emollient has some rich turf heritage in her pedigree.  By Empire Maker out of a Touch Gold mare, her second dam was a listed stakes winner in France, and her third dam, Coup de Genie, was a champion in that country as a juvenile; and under the latter you'll find horses such as Demebola (also a French juvenile champ), and the two-time Euro champion Bago, a five-time Group 1 winner, including the 2004 Arc.  So a filly with a 30 length loss in her last dirt race gets a spot in the Oaks for winning a race on Poly.  Makes sense, right?

Friday, April 05, 2013

Derby Desperation

- Hear the Ghost is out of the Santa Anita Derby and off the Derby trail with "the tiniest little line, maybe the beginning of a chip," according to co-owner Ted Aroney. [Sacramento Bee]  That's too bad....I like the horse, and thought that some were devaluing his San Felipe win too much based on the pace scenario, as I explained in my top ten post the other day.

Another horse I really like, Palace Malice, my pick here in the Louisiana Derby, is indeed apparently being seriously considered for the Blue Grass after his nightmare trip in that race.  He was as hopelessly blocked as gun control legislation in the House of Republicans Representatives.  In fact, Paulick reported on Twitter as fact that he will run.  Let's see how that Twitter embed feature works.

Ah, nice to have Ray's smiling face brighten up the site.  Now this obviously qualifies squarely as 'Derby Desperation' as the connections try to get the points they need to get to Louisville.  We generally attribute these decisions to the trainer, as in "I can't believe Pletcher would do this." But running a horse back on only two weeks rest [egads!] is surely not the Toddster's style, and smacks squarely of owner interference by Dogwood Stable, a public partnership who obviously has much to gain in hype and prestige by just getting into the Derby starting gate and treating its partners to a memorable day.  The company president Cot Campbell explained on the syndicate's website:
He really did not have to exert great effort during the last part of the race, because there was nowhere to exert it.

We must look at the Blue Grass in Kentucky on April 13. The Blue Grass is a mile and an eighth on the Polytrack, and there would be a full field of 14. Our colt worked smoothly on that surface when I bought him last April.
Well, I'd love to see this horse in the Derby, and maybe a good performance there by a horse with four starts leading up to the race would serve to counter the unfortunate 'less is more' trend we've seen develop over the past few years.  But seems to me that the Preakness would be a more logical target, with a prep race in between.  Working smoothly on the surface and racing on it are two different things.  I consider the Keeneland Poly to be the synthetic surface which most closely mimics the turf in terms of horses' form, and handicap the races accordingly.  Palace Malice has a decent Tomlinson number for grass, and he is out of a dam by Royal Anthem, an accomplished grass runner by the turf champion Theatrical.  But his sire Curlin, who ran second in his only grass try, is unproven as a grass sire, and I don't see any progeny under the dam to get me excited about his chances.  We'll see.

 - Verrazano is the 4-5 morning line favorite for the Wood.  After agonizing over it for about three and a half minutes, I decided that I'll be watching this year's edition at home rather than dealing with Aqueduct until the 6:30 post time.  Nowadays we get dueling heightened security measures for these big races, and NYRA announced its plans for the Wood.  Blood samples were taken earlier this week, and there will be 24 hour surveillance of the horses, who will also have their smartphones confiscated and their barns and private parts searched for any sharp or electrical objects.  I mean, seriously, we're supposed to buy that tracks are serious about this stuff because they implement measures for one or two races - and the ones absolutely least likely to feature any hanky-panky - out of the thousands they run during the year.  Talk about appearance for appearance sake.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Mayor Malcolm Scheme Goes Awry

The NYC mayoral race, to be decided in November of this year, has actually been underway for some time now, with candidates from both parties having participated in an already seemingly endless series of debates and forums.  We haven't seen nor heard from State Senator Malcolm Smith in those events, despite rumblings over the last year about his interest in running as a Republican.  And we now perhaps we know why.  He apparently has been otherwise occupied.  Smith was arrested on Tuesday for allegedly trying to bribe his way onto the ballot.  Federal prosecutor Preet Bharara, referring to the plethora of corruption cases involving New York State politicians (of both parties, but predominately Democrats so it seems), compared what he referred to as “the public corruption crisis in New York” to the film “Groundhog Day.”

The complaint described envelopes of cash trading hands in Manhattan hotel rooms and restaurants, payments of thousands of dollars to persuade Republican leaders in New York to put Senator Smith, from Queens, on the Republican ballot in November. The bribes were to be paid to obtain certificates authorizing him to run for mayor as a Republican even though he was a registered Democrat. [New York Times]
Malcolm Smith's name may be familiar to those who followed the saga of the selection process for the operator of the Aqueduct racino.  He was one of the main subjects of the scathing report by the Inspector General which described how he and Senator John Sampson, amongst others, allegedly tried to steer the selection to AEG.  [Here's my post on the report for those who need a refresher.]  That scheme was also investigated by the feds, and though no indictments have (yet) resulted, Matt Hegarty pointed out on Twitter that "It's probable the AEG investigation yielded enough info for feds to subpoena/go undercover."  Oh, and that they did; the complaint against Smith and his alleged (have to keep using that word) co-conspirators and bribees is chock full of wiretaps and features an FBI agent posing as a wealthy real estate investor (and I can hear the entrapment defense strategy now).
Later, as an undercover FBI agent allegedly delivered a $25,000 cash bribe to Queens GOP Vice Chairman Vince Tabone: 
During the conversation, TABONE frisked the UC in an apparent effort to make sure that the UC was not recording their conversation. The UC was, in fact, recording the conversation. [Capitol Confidential]
These guys couldn't even get their frisking right.  And remember, AEG is hardly the only other time that Smith's name has popped up in reports of investigations.  So, should these latest allegations prove to be true, the breadth of the arrogance and stupidity of this man to be involved in such a scheme given the scrutiny he was already under would be stupefying, even for Albany.

Then we have Senator Jeff Klein, the leader of the Independent Democratic Conference, who accepted Smith into his five-member conference prior to this year's legislative session, blasting him and stripping him of committee assignments and leadership post.  Smith's defection to the IDC was nothing but a self-serving ploy for both; Smith got some committee leadership posts and a bigger budget for his staff, and Klein got an African-American to counter criticism over his aligning with the all-white GOP.  Considering that Klein's original rationale for forming the IDC was his discontent with the Democratic leadership, and that Smith was part of that leadership, the hypocrisy was quite plain for all to see.

"These are very serious allegations that, if true, constitute a clear betrayal of the public trust," Klein said.   Well, betraying the public trust is something that Klein is well-versed in.  We had elections last November as you may recall; and the public electorate decisively overturned the Republican Senate majority, electing 33 Democrats (including one in a new district created and gerrymandered by the GOP for the sole purpose of trying to preserve their majority) and 30 Republicans to serve them in the state Senate.  (Enough to maintain a majority even with the immediate defection of one Democrat to the GOP caucus.)

However, in the recently concluded closed-door budget negotiations, the leader of the Democratic caucus was not even represented!  Why?  Because Klein aligned his conference with the Republicans, claiming to create a coalition that would create a fairer and more efficient Senate.  But it seems obvious  that Klein is interested in nothing else than fulfilling his own political ambitions to eventually ascend to Majority Leader.  He has nothing in common politically with the GOP other than the desire to be in a position of power.  And as a result, whereas the electorate has spoken loud and clear about what kind of agenda it wants to see, we have progressive initiatives that are watered down or stalled in political horse trading as a result of the IDC allowing the minority party to retain a measure of control.   (And, by the way, Governor Cuomo, the presumptive leader of the Democratic Party in New York State, was quite content to sit back and let this happen.)

And, as far as the Republican leader Dean Skelos goes, he smiles and nods as the governor announces the latest budget as if he and his party remain a key player.  But they're really not; Skelos skirts along, getting whatever small concessions he can get while not daring to piss off Klein so that he'll take his members back to the Democrats next year if and when the party gives in and makes him their Majority Leader, as I believe they will.  However much I've disagreed with Skelos' politics in the past, he gave at least the appearance of sticking to conservative principles.  Now, he's sold out his own party in a pathetic attempt to maintain what's left of his own position of power.  Here's an excerpt from a blog post from a gentleman who's squarely on the opposite side of the political spectrum as yours truly; but we can at least agree on this:
Since becoming a Senate leader in 2008, Dean Skelos has demonstrated he is not a Conservative. For that matter, he’s not a Republican or a Democrat. He is, in fact, a member in good standing of Albany’s dominant party. He’s an incumbocrat, who will do whatever it takes to hold onto power and perks.

To keep his fancy office and government automobile and driver, Skelos has pandered to the governor and left-wing special interests. To get a few crumbs from Cuomo’s table, he has sold out his party and his Senate conference.

If Republicans and Conservatives want to stand up for their principles, they should tell Skelos it is time for him to call it quits and give him a one-way ticket to Florida. [Street Corner Conservative]
  - With perhaps coincidental timing, the Post published an editorial on Tuesday blasting the Senate Democrats for not following through on Senator John Sampson's pledge to investigate the AEG shenanigans (which basically meant investigating himself).
But more than two years later, no report has appeared; in fact, no one in top Senate circles will even confirm that an investigation was ever begun. [NY Post]

Monday, April 01, 2013

Derby Top Ten

This is the Left at the Gate Kentucky Derby Top Ten of horses, people, and things which I think will be in the news on or around the first Saturday in May.

1) Orb may have run two seconds slower in winning the Florida Derby than did Dreaming of Julia four races prior.  But Orb was sitting off a pace which was considerably slower than the filly race;  1:12.89 to the three quarters vs 1:11.16.  Orb was still a couple lengths off the lead at that point and was about to launch a four wide move to the lead and run the final 3/8ths in 37.71 seconds; last eighth in 12.89.  He would have had to run closing splits in speeds we don't see in dirt races to match Dreaming of Julia's time; his final time was compromised by the pace.  Since Beyer doesn't factor pace into the figures, you can probably upgrade his 97 by a few points.

2) Revolutionary showed a lot of really good traits in winning the Louisiana Derby.  He shipped to and raced over a new track in different surroundings, rated kindly, accelerated powerfully around the big field while five wide on the turn, and then showed grit and courage in coming back on the inside to nip My Lute, getting the last eighth in a sharp 12.52 seconds.  Since Beyer doesn't factor ground loss into the figures, you can probably upgrade his 93 by a few points.  Revolutionary is by War Pass out of the Alabama winner Runup the Colors, and has some unusual inbreeding to Hoist the Flag, 4x3; and this is the distaff family of the full brother/sister multiple G1 winners Mineshaft and Tomisues Delight (same second dam).  I actually might have rated him #1 but I don't want to be perceived as being a tool of the Toddster.

3)  An extremist anti-medication group calling itself the Legion Against Stupid Idiotic Chemical(S) (LASICS) and armed with hypodermic needles, hijacks the ABRV and holds the America's Best Racing ambassadors hostage, threatening to inject them with a milkshake concoction should their demands not be met.  But they abandon their scheme and flee when two of the hostages, after being administered the drugs, are able to escape by running a half mile in 44 1/5 seconds (in company).

4) Vyjack has been working extremely well since his impressive change-of-tactics Gotham win in which he came from far off the pace.  He earned particular accolades for his five furlong work on March 22; and most recently worked on Saturday.  He's gonna be second choice to Verrazano in the Wood, and I'd be tempted to bet him if the price is right, though I actually want Verrazano to win so he'll be a big favorite in the Derby. 

5)  North Korea maintains its recent threatening posture, and turns its wrath towards the great American tradition of the Derby.  A government spokesman says that long-range missiles would "pulverize Churchill Downs until it looks like Aqueduct."  Additionally, he calls Todd Pletcher "a nerd with bad taste in suits," refers to Wayne Lukas as a "shriveling shell of his former imperial self," and derides favored Verrazano as "an exploited tool of inhumane capitalist pigs (who is unlikely to overcome his pedigree and running style to be able to get the classic ten furlong distance)."

6)  CyberBunker continues to disrupt the internet, and ADW wagering sites go haywire on Derby Day.  Twin Spires bettors attempting to watch the races get episodes from the third season of the Andy Griffith show instead; NYRA Rewards customers are redirected to replays of NYRA board meetings; and TVG horseplayers thinking they are wagering on the Derby are instead making campaign contributions to disgraced former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford, now the likely GOP candidate for a congressional seat (and that I didn't make up).

7)  Hear the Ghost is prepping for the Santa Anita Derby, where he'll be second choice in the morning line to Flashback who he defeated in the San Pedro, according to oddsmaker Jon White.

"The reaction to Flashback's San Felipe performance, coupled with the belief expressed by many people that Hear the Ghost won partly because he was able to benefit from a pace meltdown, swayed me to think there is a strong probability Flashback is going to be the favorite when they exit the starting gate for the Santa Anita Derby. [Brisnet]
  Indeed, as I discussed in this post after that race, Hear the Ghost didn't exactly fly past the tired pacesetters.  But it's not like he was lollygagging far back of the fast pace while the front-runners did all the work.  He was only 2 1/2 back at the first call, 4 1/2 at the second, and ran that first half in 46 3/5 just to keep up.  He's not a deep closer, but more of a stalker, and I think one might argue that the lightning fast pace was, in fact, actually detrimental to his running style. 

8)  The Derby points system is the subject of conversation after Dreaming of Julia wins the Oaks so decisively that she was hosed, dressed, and back in her stall reading her congratulatory texts before the second place finisher crossed the wire.  The fans wonder why the points system excluded Pletcher's filly while allowing a second-rate colt to qualify by winning a race on the Tapeta track in Dubai. 

9)  Palace Malice is pretty much screwed points-wise after being totally screwed in the stretch of the Louisiana Derby.  I liked him going into the race, and he looked to be moving quite comfortably and handily as he ventured up on the inside around the turn.  As impressive as the winner was, Palace Malice was so completely and hopelessly boxed, that I can't conclude from this race that he's not actually the better horse.  Interviewed on NBC immediately after the race, the Toddster seemed as frustrated with that colt's plight as he was happy about Revolutionary, and said something about maybe running him in the Blue Grass.  Which would be a pretty desperate way to get his colt to the Derby.

10)  With a leadership vacuum at NYRA after Ellen McClain departs and a new CEO still not in place, Frank Stronach attempts a brazen hostile takeover, assembling an invasion squad made up of Austrian mercenaries, retired Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Ms. Racing Queen, members of LASICS (now, having learned their lesson, armed with semi-automatic machine guns), and Gilbert Gottfried.  But Stronach, forgetting that racing has moved to Belmont, sends his force to Aqueduct instead where they are quickly overwhelmed by Genting's security team, equipped with a fleet of Bradley Fighting Vehicles, several B-2 bombers, and deadly blackjack dealers armed with nuclear-tipped chips.

 - From the archives: Derby Top Ten, March 7, 2007