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Friday, May 31, 2013

Friday Morning Filly Notes

Female jockey set to ride filly in Belmont Stakes reads the headline for the AP story on Rosie Napravnik riding Unlimited Budget for Pletcher.  To me, the bigger if not the only real news there is about the horse.  I've been watching women ride at high levels of the game in New York and at tracks around the country all my life, so it's rather second nature to me, and I haven't really been paying much mind or attention to the stories about Ms. Napravnik throughout the Triple Crown season.  Like the others before her, Rosie has established herself as a trusted member of the jockey room in a world of good ol' boys; her record speaks for itself, and doesn't need to be validated in the overhyped Triple Crown series in my view.  Reading further though, I was surprised to read that Rosie is the first woman to ride in all three races in the same year; and that she was only the third woman to ever ride in the Preakness.  I would have guessed that it was less uncommon.  So, it's worth the mention, and makes for an appealing story line (though NBC already used their Michelle Beadle/Rosie card in the Preakness).  But it still just doesn't register as a big deal to me, to be honest.

Now, before I say anything to get me in (any further?) trouble with the females of the species that can read this, let's turn to the horse.  The prospect of the Toddster running a filly with such obvious talent is of course reminiscent of Rags to Riches in the 2007 Belmont, easily the most exciting and memorable edition of the race since Victory Gallop ran down Real Quiet in 1998.  (And one of my few successful Belmont Stakes wagers.)  Commenting on the two, Pletcher said:

  “Both have accomplished a lot and both are big, strong fillies, which is what you look for when planning to run against colts.....Unlimited Budget is a strong filly with a lot of conditioning. [NY Daily News]
Their running styles are actually pretty similar, both being of the stalker/mid-pack closer type.  While Rags to Riches had won three of four coming into the Belmont, Unlimited Budget has won four of five.  However, I don't think anyone can make the case that the two are comparable talent-wise at this stage.  Rags to Riches lost her first race before reeling off three Grade 1 wins in a row, winning the Kentucky Oaks with a Beyer of 104.  Unlimited Budget won her first four, including two Grade 2's, but fell short in the Oaks. 

However, I do find her a little interesting here.  She did run a 98 Beyer two back in her FG Oaks win, and that number definitely puts her in the range of these.  Surely has the running style to win (perhaps Pletcher should instruct Rosie to make the horse stumble out of the gate), and there's some pedigree there.  She's a daughter of the Derby winner Street Sense out of a mare by Valid Appeal (an old favorite who we don't see close-up much in pedigrees these days; associate him more with milers to be honest, but man, watch out if it rains) who's a half-sister to the Super Derby winner Outofthebox and to the dam of the versatile Tackleberry.  OK, maybe not crying out for distance, but I'm trying to not get too caught up in that this year and handicap the Belmont more like a regular race.  Yeah, we'll see how that turns out.

 - In the 8th at Belmont on Friday, Lead Singer (8-1) looks to bounce back after tiring to finish well back in his first try against winners, for trainer John Kimmel.  This barn got off to a slow start to the meet, but has definitely shown life of late with two winners and two seconds from its last seven starts.  Son of Unbridled's Song graduated two back with a nice figure on my numbers.  Moving up to allowance company in his last, he encountered yielding turf and a loose on the lead Stormy Len (7-2), who was cutting a steady Oxbow-like pace on his own.  When prompted, Lead Singer made a nice wide move into that pace, drawing even as they turned for home.  The problems noted in the long form trouble line comment - bump, squeeze, steadied - took place I think after he had started to tire, but surely contributed to his 15 3/4 length margin of defeat.  Two nice works since then; and note that his bullet half-mile three days ago replicates his workout pattern prior to his maiden win.  Perhaps he prefers the firm course he'll get today; and perhaps Stormy Len doesn't enjoy the same unchallenged lead?  Seems worth his 8-1 morning line to find out.  Mills (3-1) earned the top number in the race on my figs rallying to graduate at Keeneland in his last, and three horses from that race have subsequently come back to win.  Cuts back in distance here, and the Tagg barn has sent out a lot of well-bet losers of late; but seems the one to beat.  Odeon (4-1) ships in for west coast trainer John Sherriffs, who seems to have a contingent here; but his first two runners have raced poorly despite being well-bet; wait and see.   Best of luck and have a great day. 

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Saratoga Harness Track Stakes Its Claim

The Saratoga harness track will proceed with a $30 million upgrade; and, as opposed to a slightly richer plan offered last year with the contingency of being granted one of the coveted casino licenses, this one comes with no such strings attached.  Of course, the message and intent is quite obvious. 

But the operators also made it clear, without once mentioning the term "table games," that they believe the existing Saratoga Casino and Raceway is an ideal spot for a full gaming resort given Saratoga's history as a gambling town, its status as a horse racing landmark and the presence of attractions including the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, museums and spring-fed baths.

"Here in Saratoga we have the best of everything," said James Featherstonhaugh, the racino's chief spokesman and part owner, as he unveiled a $30 million expansion that includes a 120-room hotel and a 24,000-square-foot venue that could host mixed martial arts events if that sport is approved by lawmakers. [Times Union]
Featherstonhaugh might be feeling pretty good about his chances these days.  Besides his long-standing prominence amongst the ranks of Albany lobbyists with the "influential" label, he knows that the playing field of areas eligible for a casino has shrunk considerably with the deals that Governor Cuomo struck with two tribes, granting regional exclusivity (other than existing facilities) in exchange for a share of Indian gaming revenues.  That development is cheering other hopefuls around the state, such as the proposed project at the Nevele resort in Ellenville.  (Negotiations continue with the Seneca tribe.....the big prize for the governor, as that tribe has withheld some $500 million in payments over their claims that racinos violate the terms of their compact, which expires in 2016.)

However, I still think that Saratoga, or any other of the existing racinos, have to be considered longshots given the extremely strong language that the governor used in expressing opposition to siting casinos there last year.  And personally, I rather fear the prospect of charming little Saratoga becoming a gambling city.  Well, you know......that kind of gambling.

I believe I missed during the Derby rush the news that Cuomo intends to go ahead with the casino referendum this year despite some earlier misgivings over the fact that New York City voters figure to dominate the turnout with the mayoral election, and with no state-wide legislative elections on tap.  He still has to get the legislation through however, so expect a flurry of activity as the legislative session enters its final month and some lawmakers seek to expand upon his plan to limit the first round of casinos to three located upstate.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Wednesday News and Notes

After sitting out the Preakness, the Toddster plans to return to the Triple Crown series (do we still call it that even though there won't be a Triple Crown winner?) with up to five entrants, all of whom worked out on Monday. 

  “I thought everyone worked very well.....I think Palace Malice worked unbelievably well. To me, it was a monstrous gallop out." [NYRA Press Office]
Oh, man.  Here we go.  His prior work was a half mile breeze in 47 2/5, second fastest of 35 works.  It's hard to evaluate this colt off his last three starts.  In the Louisiana Derby, in which I loved him, he was hopelessly boxed, stymied 5/16 to 1/8 according to the chart.  Two weeks later, in the Blue Grass, he ran great, though on synth, but ran second after showing greenness in the stretch.  That led to the blinkers that sent him giddily to the lead in suicidal fractions in the Derby before fading to 12th (though only a length and a half plus three heads behind Oxbow, who chased him).  Now he's had two very impressive works.  I keep going back to that Blue Grass - I was really surprised by how well he ran on a new surface, one that I don't believe will ever be his best game.  I didn't bet him in the Blue Grass, and wouldn't have been that upset if he won at 9-2; thought he was way overbet first time synth off two weeks rest.  But I would surely be upset if he won the Belmont at 10-1 and I didn't have him.  There's some price out there that I'm absolutely locked in to him.

 - NYRA will conduct a Belmont Stakes fan festival at Grand Central Terminal on the Friday before the race, with some fun activities. 
  Stakes Stampede, where fans propel a horse displayed on a screen to the finish line by running in place.
  If only that would work in real life, we'd all be in fantastic shape. 
  Mini Belmont Races, complete with a bugler and professional race caller Larry Lederman, in which fans can jump on one of three mechanical ponies and head around the racetrack to the finish line.
Ah, Larry Lederman, great to hear his name, and hope he is doing OK these days.  We could surely use more guys like him to bring some color, character, and humor into the race calls.

 - Wanted to clarify a couple of things about the Belmont Stakes security rules (the ones for fans attending the races that day, that is).  First of all....and I've been meaning to write this.....I'd written previously that the measures go well beyond anything I've personally ever seen for a sporting event.  And, upon further reflection, that's not really true at all.  They are so unlike anything we've ever seen around here at a racetrack that I lost context.  Fans are wanded and/or patted down at NFL games, and the practice was instituted late in the hockey season at the Garden following the Boston attack.  (And I believe they've been in place at Knicks games for longer than that).  Can't bring items such as umbrellas or backpacks into football games either; nor bags of food - I have to take the items out of the bag and bring them in individually (though not in plastic bags of a certain size).  (I've always thought that binoculars could be used at least as easily as a weapon than umbrellas....but what do I know?)

Secondly, a reader downplays the potential snags, noting that "they had very similar security at Pimlico, where there are less, and smaller, entrance areas, and it was pretty easy getting in."  And I have no doubt that, should there be proper planning and sufficient personnel, then it could be fine.  It's relatively quick and easy to get into Jets games these days.....but it took time, experience, and, most crucially, a lot of personnel to make that happen.  NYRA doesn't have that experience, and I find it a little scary that their first go at this will be on this particular day.  The press release notes that the restrictions were developed "in concert and security officials in Kentucky and Maryland."  Hopefully, those officials will be able to successfully impart their experience to NYRA.

And just want to be clear too that I'm not suggesting that you don't go to the track that day (though I wouldn't mind the extra real estate!).  With a little weather luck, still promises to be a great day.  The Belmont Stakes is shaping up to be one of the more interesting ones we've have in awhile; and I know that most of you guys love the plethora of Grade 1 stakes (though I'd be thrilled with the Belmont Stakes + 11 or 12 full-field conditional claimers).  But one has to be smart - arrive early or late, read the rules, be respectful of the folks doing their difficult jobs, and don't be an asshole.  If you pull into the lots at 12:30, don't expect to get down on the race going off at 1PM.  If everybody - fans and NYRA - do their part, it could be smooth(ish) sailing.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

At Least One Security Casualty for Belmont Day

The Head Chef is an official defection from the Belmont Stakes due to the increased security.  "I don't want to stand on line for 45 minutes to get in," is her main reason, moreso than the actual restrictions on what can be brought in.  Not sure where she got the 45 minute figure; but seems like a reasonable over/under.  (She also knows that I would surely abandon her to enter via the press entrance [wherever that may be], though that promises to be slow as well with all the questionable characters granted press credentials these days! :)

11,664 on hand for Memorial Day, and I saw lines to get in which seemed, if not really long, really slow, and that didn't seem like a good sign for Belmont day in any event.  Looked like coolers were getting more scrutiny than usual.  On the other hand, coolers (including the mini-itsy-bitsy-coolers that NYRA gave out on Monday) won't be permitted on Belmont Day.  But between the individual wanding and searches of pocketbooks less than 12" and whatever else we're actually allowed to bring in; as well as all of the inevitable arguments over interpretations and applications of the draconian rules, man, it's not gonna be pretty.  I hope NYRA has a plan in mind, and that they're planning to hire a LOT of extra personnel to handle the crush.  Because there's a real limited number of admission booths in place at each entrance - especially the entrances in the grandstand that people with their see-through containers of food and drink need to pass through.  Thinking about it more, people might get off really easy at 45 minutes.

Sorry I missed the Met Mile; a thrilling finish indeed.  And also a typical American dirt race on a distinctively American holiday.  Cross Traffic, after breaking in at the start, quickly established the lead, blazed the first half mile in 44.88 seconds, and then got home the last half mile in 49.30. Yet, even after repelling the charge of Mark Valeski, he was still able to hold on grimly until the final bob, having bottomed out anyone else who was within shouting distance.  This created the illusion that Sahara Sky ($11.60), dead last down the backstretch, was flying home to catch him, whereas he was tiring too, finishing up in 24.19 after splits of 22.33 and 23.20.   No one else in the field closed faster than 24.88.  Sahara Sky is 3/4s of a length shy of having won four graded stakes in a row.  He's by Pleasant Tap out of a stakes-winning Storm Cat mare; he has a younger brother named Animal Style (Spanish Steps) who won a sprint stakes on the grass at Fair Grounds this year.

Time now, if you don't mind, for a little bragging and whining.....I mean, that's a great deal of what this game is all about, yes?  Bragging about the winner I picked here at Churchill on Sunday (Gentleman's Kitten, $13.80).  Whining about Noosh's Tale, who I picked here at Belmont on Monday, and who got necked out at the wire by a hopeless looking 36-1 shot.  Ouch.  Not only did I lose the win bet and cold exacta over favored With Exultation, turned out that I would have had the daily double and the pick three as well.  It was a beat that kept on beating.   A tough start to the day from which I never recovered.  My other pick on Monday, Rakin' Gold, put in a nice effort too in the 5th, at 20-1, getting caught for the place spot a couple of steps before the wire.  Of course, I had him win/place.  One can always take a certain amount of satisfaction from picking live horses at good prices no matter what the result, but moral victories will only take one so far in this game.  And in anything else for that matter.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Belmont Monday (Early)

As per the comments section in the last post, it's a beautiful Memorial Day, and the grills will be fired up in backyards around the country come the late afternoon.  Which means that I, and many others, will not be at the track or front of the TV come 5:45, post time for today's Met Mile.  I remember, back in the days when there were actually - gasp - regularly scheduled single admission doubleheaders in baseball, the Pirates used to start theirs at 10:30 AM so that fans could catch a couple of games and be home in a timely manner.  That time seems about right to me as the first race post time on a day like today.

However, that not being the case, let's have some fun and try a couple of longshots in the early races at Belmont today.

In the 1st at Belmont, Noosh's Tale (10-1) goes second off the layoff for trainer Pat Kelly, a low percentage but quite capable barn as we've mentioned in the past.  Sent off at 41-1, jockey Alex Solis had to work his way out to the widest path upon turning from home, and having lost any forward momentum from there, rallied nicely to finish less than a length behind Toy Cannon (5-2) and Gossip Column (5-1).  This son of Tale of the Cat earned an excellent figure with my numbers in a 2yo stakes race last year, and seems excellent relative value, with a smoother trip, to turn the tables on those two who figure to go off at significantly lower odds; value play.  In any case, With Exultation (9-5) was a well-bet winner in his debut for Christophe Clement and figures to be the one to beat.

In the 5th, Rakin Gold (12-1) returns off a 148 day layoff for trainer Dominick Schettino.  I'm looking at the trainer's record in the range of 110 to 185 days (25% around the length of today's layoff), and though I don't see any wins, he's 50% in the money over the last three years with a couple of very close I'm gonna say that his horses are generally well-prepared in this scenario.  Her last two efforts before the layoff, on dirt, are horrendous; but this horse has some nice turf efforts, especially the two that were not on a yielding course.  Her maiden win came in a key race at this distance on this course, and she was caught wide both turns in a subsequent mile allowance race, earning, in both races, figures, with my numbers, well fast enough to be competitive here at a big price.  Satin Sheeks (7-2) had some nice grass form last year and returns off a 345 day layoff for the proficient layoff barn of Mike Hushion.  Morning line favorite Omelia (5-2) had no apparent excuse as the favorite in her last, succumbing to the uninspiring and poor speller Mah Jong Maddnes; move outside to the 10 post here is no help.    Best of luck and have a great Memorial Day.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Sunday Morning Notes

 - The Derby runner-up Golden Soul was supposed to have his first official workout since then on Saturday, but it was delayed for at least one more day by trainer Dallas Stewart. 

  “I’m still working on his appetite. The work could be any day, when I feel that is 100 percent.” [DRF]
  Oh, well, that's really not good, right?  I'm hardly an expert on equine dining habits.  But we always read a trainer tell us about how a horse "ate up" after a race to show how well it recovered.  I don't know that I've ever, in all my long experience, read a statement like this....probably something that a trainer generally keeps to him/herself. 
  "He ran a great race in the Derby, but it was a hard race on him and his appetite is still coming back."  [Miami Herald]
And remember, Golden Soul took the absolute shortest route home, while Orb ran 80 feet more in the wide path.  So, perhaps, this should add a little perspective and make one more forgiving of Orb's lackluster performance two weeks later.  Sure, we've seen Derby winners come back and run big in the Preakness.  But not, according to my aforementioned really smart co-worker, horses who have closed from far back to do so, at least in the last 25 years.  These are the stats for their next races, with Barbaro and Grindstone excluded: 
Those positioned less than 5 lengths back: 8-6-1-1 (75% wins, 100% ITM) Avg win mutuel $7.70

Those positioned 5 to 10 lengths back: 6-3-1-0 (50% wins, 66.66% ITM) Avg win mutuel $7.30

Those positioned more than 10 lengths back: 9-0-4-1 (0% wins, 55.56% ITM)
Now, some of this may be attributed to the human factor, a determination on the part of trainers and jockeys to not reproduce a meltdown pace that may have caused a horse to win the Derby from far back.  And conversely, I don't think any of us expect Oxbow's rivals to allow him to skip away to an uncontested lead again; which would surely bode well for Orb and the other closers.  But whether due to physical or competitive factors, these are interesting stats worth keeping in mind.

 - I was watching HRTV early on yesterday, and Jeff Siegel was all giddy about the holiday weekend and the extra day of racing it produces.  The problem, as I see it, is that most tracks don't have the quality stock on hand to produce three weekend-worthy programs of racing.  If you don't believe that, just take a look at Belmont's card today, which is barely worthy of a Thursday.  And anecdotally based on my scanning the various cards yesterday, I don't think it's just a local problem here.  I was in a gambling mode....I was just dying to lose some hard-earned cash - PLEASE, TAKE MY MONEY! - yet it seemed that any upcoming race I turned to, if it wasn't on a sloppy track, was a maiden claiming race or a six or seven horse field with a lopsided tote board.  And then you get Memorial Day at Belmont, and we get the four graded stakes race card and, other than the Met Mile which looks dandy, the short fields and poor betting contests that that often denotes here in NY.  So, the weather situation has turned around and I'm excited for a gorgeous day at the big track tomorrow, but here's hoping that there are some attractive betting contests to play elsewhere on the simulcast menu.

 - Well, General Election indeed took to the turf and won the Arlington Classic.  When I wrote yesterday that I would play him underneath and curse my fate should he win, that was based on his 5-1 morning line.  When I looked at the tote around eight minutes to post, I was stunned to see that he was 17-1 at that time.  Just as he was a huge overlay in the Lexington, he was similarly overlooked here....and at least this time he was coming off a great effort as opposed to the clunker he'd thrown in before the Keeneland race.  Some horses often go off at overlays like that, hard to determine exactly why.  But at that price, I had to throw a few bucks on him to win.  He got bet down a bit to 13-1, but still not complaining about that.

 - In the 8th at Churchill today, Gentleman's Kitten (4-1)  returns off a 228 day layoff and tries winners for the first time.  Hmm, that doesn't really sound that appetizing at that price, and consider too that he goes for the Ken Ramsey stable, which likely won't help as far as value goes.  However, on the plus side, trainer Wayne Catalano is sharp with a couple of winners yesterday, including Oscar Party, who won off a layoff of 204 days.  True, that horse is a stakes winner, and Gentleman's Kitten beat an uninspiring maiden field when last seen last fall at Keeneland.  However, adding blinkers and stretching out to a mile after getting left at the gate in his debut, in which he was bet to 4-5 at five furlongs, this son of Kitten's Joy battled for the lead on the inside throughout, and looked like he would be swallowed up in the stretch before battling back gamely to get the win.  Here, he faces what appears to be a highly favorable pace scenario with the main contenders of the plodding variety; and he comes in off a series of sparkling works, including what appears to be a heads-up drill with the aforementioned Oscar Party on May 19 at Churchill (they both are listed as having gone 5 furlongs in 59 4/5).  So, gotta keep to one's principles as far as value goes, but think he's set to run a good one here, and Rapacious (5-2) has been burning a lot of money from rapacious chalk players and will hopefully do so here.  Greengrassofyoming (5-1) closed well for second in a similar situation in his last - off a layoff and facing winners for the first time - but lost to the money-burning Film Making despite a perfect pace set-up that he's unlikely to see here.  Best of luck and have a great day.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Saturday Morning Notes

Orb galloped at Belmont on Thursday, and trainer Shug McGaughey was "pleased."  We did not hear anything about 'breathtaking' or 'chills' and I think Shug now has a bit of a credibility problem in that respect anyway. 

  "If everything's right, he's doing right, puts his weight back on, his energy level's good, we would like to run in the Belmont," [DRF]
The debate over his Preakness performance - whether it was merely a disappointing effort explained by his journey on what many people feel was the worst part of the track, or as proof that Orb's Derby win was, in large part....I haven't heard anyone call it a fluke......but let's say, attributable to a significant degree to the feverish pace.  Personally, I feel he had a legitimate excuse.  Pull the Pocket made an interesting case that he wasn't that farther towards the rail than the winner.  Even so....and, in fact, even if there was nothing wrong with the inside, I think it's a legitimate excuse that he was boxed in there after always having a clear running lane on the outside in his prior races.  "Uncomfortable" is the way I've heard his trip described; might add awkward as well.  And, as I've mentioned, Oxbow was setting a steady jackhammer pace which discouraged the field behind him.  Stevens mentioned how he tried to open up lengths turning for home to do exactly that, and successful he was.

Now, having said all that however, I'd be lying if I said the bloom wasn't at least a little off the rose for me.  I mean, he was never really in it, just that minor spurt on the backstretch that fizzled out faster than the push for strengthened gun laws.  The Belmont is shaping up as a full field with a fair amount of depth; and should Orb be the betting favorite, I can see myself taking an aggressive stand against.

(And by the way, taking another look at Orb's past performance lines.....would you speculate that his advancement at three traces back to his stretching out to two turns?  Or to the administering of Lasix?)

Palace Malice is apparently in. Dogwood president Cot Campbell:
  "The blinkers that jazzed him up in the Kentucky Derby come off and we anticipate no problem with pace or distance. He always rated kindly in previous races, and he will be in good hands with Mike Smith." [Miami Herald]
  I kinda wish he wasn't running because I'm committed to betting on him after his excuses when I bet him in the Louisiana Derby and, as a saver, in the Derby.  I know, he's Curlin out of a Royal Anthem mare, but I'm not excited by the prospects of him going a mile and a half.  But, then again, I'm not particularly thrilled in general by the ability of the modern North American-bred thoroughbred to go that distance.  And if last year's winner (quick, can you name him?) can win this race, it just proves that I don't have a clue as to how to handicap it.

Weather is lousy around here; it feels more like Thanksgiving weekend than Memorial Day!  Track at Belmont  is muddy and they're off the turf except for the stakes (as of this writing), so let's try a race elsewhere.

In the 10th at Arlington, the G3 Arlington Classic for 3yo's on the grass, Procurement (4-1)  ships in from California for trainer Tom Proctor.  This barn doesn't have a winner from five starters at the meet, but they've certainly been live, with two 2nds, a third, and two 4ths.  Son of Milwaukee Brew (whose half-brother No Inflation ran second in this race in 2009) seems to have blossomed here in the spring since finding his niche going two turns, coming off two very sharp such efforts at Santa Anita.  He may have had an ideal trip positionally in his last, sitting in third behind two dueling leaders as he did; but that was a quick and steady pace that he tracked closely, and, when given his cue by Garrett Gomez, he circled them on the turn with authority and edged away for a clear win.  (Gomez was scheduled to fly in for the ride, but took the rest of the day off after getting dropped in the first at Hollywood yesterday, so keep an eye on that.)   My speed figures show him with a distinct edge on morning line favorite Admiral Kitten (3-1), who also ran well in closing for second in his last, a stakes at Churchill, and who comes in for the Maker-Ramsey juggernaut.  And here we also have General Election (5-1), who I picked here prior to his second, at 34-1, in the Lexington on the synth at Keeneland, and whose trainer Kellyn Gorder continues to be sharp.   Don't know that he'll get the pace setup he needs in this field as he tries grass for the first time, so I'll use him underneath and curse my fate should he win.  Best of luck and have a great day.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Belmont Stakes Rules and Regulations Cast a Pall

I'm sure that the NYRA press office, and new Director of Communications Eric Wing, would rather be spending their time differently than issuing the two press releases they have in the last couple of days.  On Tuesday, it was the announcement of the enhanced security protocols for the Belmont Stakes horses (in conjunction with the New York State Gaming Commission, on which there may actually be members other than Robert Williams sometime in the near future).

And on Wednesday, it was the "modified security policies" for fans attending the Belmont Stakes.  Nothing moderate about these modifications; they are shockingly draconian and go well beyond anything I've personally ever seen for a sporting event.  However many people NYRA lost in attendance when Orb lost the Preakness, you gotta figure they'll lose at least as many because of this.  It's a really long day there man, and to believe that the tens of thousands who party and picnic in the backyard and other green spaces will all be willing to come without coolers even with only soda and water (not to mention the creative concoctions including already-banned alcohol); and with a single portion of food and beverage per person in a clear plastic bag (Jessica tweets: The 2013 Belmont Stakes brought to you by the TSA) is a pipe dream I think (though don't get any idea about bringing any pipes or other illicit paraphernalia).

People are gonna reflexively blame NYRA as usual, but I would say they are doing what they have been advised to do in the wake of the Boston bombing.  The press release takes pains to point out that the policy was "developed in concert with federal, state, and local law enforcement officials, as well as racing and security officials in Kentucky and Maryland."   Indeed, just as it's a sad commentary on the game that tracks feel the need to implement, mostly for show in my opinion and as I've said before, such harsh controls for races at the highest echelon of the game, these security procedures for people are quite the sad commentary on the state of the world.  No doubt it's the equivalent of a signer for those who seek to disrupt our way of life.  Because it's disrupting our way of life.  (And, by the way, no truth to the rumor that the IRS is singling out Tea Party members for scrutiny of their racetrack winnings.)

Well, for those of you who don't like clicking on links, I thought I'd summarize the measures that are being taken both for horses on the backstretch and for people in the grandstand (including employees, vendors, and the insidious media).  However, my eyes are glazing over from all these relentless rules and restrictions, so I think I might have gotten a little mixed up.   And perhaps a bit carried away. Please let me know if you notice anything awry.

  - All horses will be subjected to an electronic wand search upon entering the paddock.  Trainers are advised to arrive early in order to remove the horses' shoes for inspection.

 - The Commission shall take out-of-degenerate-gambling blood samples of fans planning to attend the race on Wednesday, June 5 and send them to the Anthony Weiner campaign for testing.

 - As in years past, alcohol may not be brought onto the grounds; but beer will flow abundantly at refreshment stands, and any patron desiring an injection of Lasix can receive one with an appointment with Commission investigators and a note from their doctors (which must be carried by hand and not in a briefcase or a duffel bag, both banned).

 - Entry/exit logs will be maintained by additional security personnel from NYRA and the Commission.  All persons entering a stall in the restrooms (should they be operational) or engaging in any contact with porcelain objects or performing any services will be logged in with a reason for their visit.

 - Horses will be permitted a supply of hay and feed, to be contained in a clear see through plastic container no larger than 175"L x 87"W x 85"H (as long as they don't plan to grill, which is banned).

 - To comply with the ban on tripods, no races with claiming tags less than $15,000 will be carded.

 - Ice will be sold on the grounds at minimal prices for horses who need to be iced down (with the permission of, and supervision by, Commission investigators).

 -  A full daily doctor's record of all medications and treatments given to fans from noon on June 5 through race day will be provided to the Stewards.  Such records will be posted on the NYRA website and announced daily during the Talking Horses segment.  All prescription and over-the-counter drugs will be confiscated upon entrance, and no treatments for patrons will be permitted on raceday unless it is approved by Andy Serling.

 - No air horns or noise makers, and patrons are asked to keep cheering to a minimum (which shouldn't effect me at least).  Fans are prohibited from slapping rolled-up programs against their legs, snapping their fingers at the screens, or making any other sound that might indicate that they are having fun.

 - No saddles larger than 18" in diameter.

 - Patrons can't spray mace at the horses or jockeys.

 - Cell phones and tablets are permitted, but all Twitter accounts in horses' names are banned.  Forever.

 - No Weapons.  So jockeys will not be permitted to carry whips.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Another One Bites the Dust

Every post you can hitch your faith on,
Is a pie in the sky,
Chock full of lies,
A tool we devise,
To make sinking stones fly..

And so, once again, the quest ends, the stone sinks, this time buried down on a deep rail at Pimlico, where Orb labored home to a most unsatisfactory 4th place finish in the Preakness.  Pie in the sky?  That remains to be seen, but I don't think so; believe he will still prove to be the best of the crop, and that his best races lie ahead of him....perhaps maybe not until next year (and if anything good is to come out of this, maybe we'll see him stick around).  Surely the nature of the race did not suit him as it did at Churchill.  Would have taken a great horse to overcome the pace and apparent track bias favoring the outside runners.  I've never thought nor said that Orb was a great horse at this stage of his career; but surely felt that he's already better than the rest of these, liable to get better, and therefore able to beat them and any other takers two more times.

Maybe I'm just missing the point, and that it will take a truly great horse who can overcome any obstacle thrown at him/her to break the streak of futility, rather than just the best of an ordinary lot.  The kind of great horse that this industry no longer seems even remotely capable of breeding.  Don't think we've seen a male three-year old that even faintly approaches that description since Big Brown, and, given his trainer, it's surely fair to wonder by exactly what means he got to that point.

Been reading a lot about how the "slow pace" aided Oxbow's win; such as in this piece from The Rail ("very soft fractions") and the NY Post ("crawl the first half-mile in :48.60 and the six furlongs in 1:13.26"). But I disagree with that; don't think the pace was particularly slow at all.  Uncontested to be sure; but not at all slow.  Take a look at the two-turn dirt races at Pimlico and you'll see that the fractions are generally pretty lethargic.  I saw Watchmaker try to make the case by pointing to the first two races of the day - slower than what allowance/optional claimers went in the opener, on a par with what starter handicap horses posted in the second race.  But those were mile and a sixteenth races for older horses with a shorter run to the turn that both featured highly contested paces; so I don't think they're an appropriate comparison.  Perhaps a better one would be the Pimlico Special the day before at the same quirky distance, in which the speedy Eighttofasttocatch took almost 50 seconds to get to the half.

Sure, a hot pace like the Derby it was not, but I think he was galloping out there at a perfectly legitimate clip.  I can't imagine for a second that Kevin Krigger was under orders to rate Goldencents in second; he was there because Oxbow flat out outran him to the turn.  And he just kept going, and going, from there.  After the first quarter in 23.94, he grinded away the next two in 24.66 each, then only a miniscule reduction to 24.88 to the 3/16ths pole.  That's a pretty steadily relentless pace into which Orb had little chance of sustaining Rosario's attempted middle move even if he hadn't spun his wheels on the worst part of the track.  Oxbow came home from there in 19.40 for the last 3/16ths; that projects out to around 25.86 for a quarter, pretty par for the course these days.  But by that point, he had simply run the field off their feet.  He was a running fool and bottomed them all out, the way I see it.  Itsmyluckyday - again ridiculously overbet (and boy I can't wait to oppose him at 3-5 in the Haskell) - had an ideal tracking trip on the best part of the track but hung on the money late; Mylute passed tired horses rallying from far back, and Orb probably did fairly well to pick up the 60K consolation for 4th.

So I think that anyone who writes the effort off as the product of a crawling pace does so at his/her own risk.  If Oxbow manages to be able to similarly gallop along on the lead at Belmont, no telling how far this son of Awesome Again out of a Cees Tizzy full-sister to the two-time Classic winner Tiznow - and to the dam of last year's Belmont runner up Paynter - will be able to last.

 - Read a couple of interesting 'what-if's' regarding Orb.  Monmouth analyst Brad Thomas wrote on his Twitter account:

  If Orb was trained by me and owned by you, his level of acclaim would have been no higher than Animal Kingdom's after his Derby.
And a really smart kid who I work with suggested that, had Orb not run in the Derby, then Golden Soul would have won and we would have heard nothing but how fast the pace was.

Let's take one at a time.  First of all, I'm a big fan of Brad Thomas, think he does an excellent job, as I've said many times in the past.  But he seemed to have a real bug up his ass about Orb.  He hadn't tweeted since the Breeders' Cup, and all of a sudden here he was going off on Orb post-race, suggesting that the triple crown talk was "silly."  Now, I was informed on Twitter than he'd predicted on the Francesa show that the horse would not win the Triple Crown; and Brad pointed out that he was "on record in multiple places adamantly disagreeing that Orb was a legit TC candidate."  We'll take him at his word; but still, the only person that I know who's allowed now to call it "silly" is reader ballyfager, who was consistent in insisting, before and after the Derby, that the horse isn't that fast.  I think Brad made some fair points in his ranting, and we'll get to one of them in a minute; but this statement above is just nonsense.  Orb was the legitimate Derby favorite coming in off four wins in a row, and would have received ample acclaim no matter who his connections were.

The point about Golden Soul is more worthwhile to ponder.  I noted in response that, should he have won, there also would have been ample talk about his perfect ground-saving rail trip and how Robbie Albarado out-Calvined Calvin Borel.  But no question that we'd have heard more about the blistering pace than we did.  Having said that, longshot winners always beg for excuses and explanation.  A winning Derby favorite is passing the high bar of meeting expectations, and it's only natural that the focus would be more on the who than the how....even if he had benefited from a ground-saving trip.

The other point that Brad Thomas made that I wanted to mention is this: 
  As for Oxbow not demonstrating Gr1 quality previous to Sat-at least he demonstrated Gr1 heart repeatedly trying his guts out despite little time between stars all year long and many tough trips and set ups. That tough love and seasoning allowed him to rise to Gr1 status on the day. Conversely, Departing ducked a FG spot for a soft race at Sam Houston because of an outside post. Maybe some seasoning under adverse circumstances would have served him well when the going got "deep" near the inside in the Pimlico stretch.
That's an approach that has become all too counter-intuitive these days.  Not too long ago one might look for the seasoned horse with ample foundation that has a horse well-prepared for the grind; now we tend to shy away.  If this Preakness serves to change that thinking, it could only be a good thing, both from a sporting aspect and, who knows, maybe for the health of the animals who appear to have only become even more fragile despite (because of?) the cautious handling.

Oxbow doesn't have a layoff line on his DRF PP's since his very first race - and who woulda thought they'd be looking at a classic winner who was being vanned off the Saratoga track that day after taking choppy strides at 22-1.  He's been in training straight through since his next effort, at Keeneland in October, and will presumably make his 11th start since then at Belmont.  Seemed to be showing steady improvement with all the racing up to his disappointing 5th in the Arkansas Derby.  But one could surely make a red board case for his Preakness win considering the traffic he encountered that day and, of course, the nonsensical pace he was chasing in the Derby.   (And, by the way, I could turn that statement about Golden Soul around and say that had Palace Malice not run in the Derby, then perhaps we'd be looking at a Triple Crown bid!)

 - A brief word on the NBC telecast; which it all it really merits.  Spent last week checking out some of those old full telecasts that are posted on You Tube (one of which I posted here).  One of the things that stands out is that we've devolved from the likes of the great Jack Whitaker to that woman that NBC is using to appeal to casual fans.  Not surprising at all considering the general MTV-inspired dumbing down of American culture since then; a reflection of the times to be sure (not to mention the horrible bands that performed in the infield).  But another thing is that with so much too much information available via the internet for those of us who follow the sport closely, I find myself watching these telecasts and thinking "please, tell me something I don't know."  And they can't....or just won't, with the casual fans in mind.  So, I find I just have no use for these telecasts; simply find them boring, don't know how else to describe it.  Could be the best line of the whole show was when Ms. Beadle noted that the Black-Eyed Susan kicks the mint julep's butt.  (And I'd rather agree.  The use of mint should be restricted to toothpaste and mouthwash as far as I'm concerned.  The Head Chef brought back some dark chocolate from a recent gig of hers, and I was horrified when I bit into and discovered it was mint dark chocolate.  EWWWW!)

Friday, May 17, 2013

Hoping for an Easy Go for Orb


If Orb is going to win, I want like to see him deliver a truly great effort. He could do so. His Derby victory, though it was accomplished under favorable circumstances, was certainly no fluke. And he may continue to improve. His trainer, Shug McGaughey, takes his time developing horses. In 1989, his great colt Easy Goer improved sharply from the Derby to the Preakness (which he lost by a nose) and then improved even more to win the Belmont Stakes by eight lengths. If Orb is on a similar trajectory, the sport may have plenty of excitement in the coming weeks. [Washington Post]
Great point there about Easy Goer.  And, like Orb, that colt ran three times at three before the Derby - winning the Swale, Gotham, and Wood.  But the spacing was very different of course.  The Wood was only two weeks before the Derby, and the Gotham two weeks before that.  The two races in the four weeks before the Derby are two more than Orb, who'd last run in the Florida Derby five weeks prior, ran during that time.  Amazing....again, it's hard to get over how drastically things have changed in such a relative blink of an eye.  However, all things being relatively equal given the changes in the game, and assuming that there's no Sunday Silence lurking in the field, here's some hopeful historical precedent for Orb to soar into a Triple Crown bid at Belmont three weeks hence.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Preakness Prattle

I've never cashed a ticket on the Preakness.  That's not quite as bad as it sounds because I've sat it out fairly often.  Not always a great betting race but, more often than not, perfectly compelling enough just to watch.  Will probably pass on it again this year, partly because of that, and partly to keep my perfect record.  It's kinda like a badge of honor; I mean, how many of you can say that?

My earliest recollection of futility is the 1980 edition, when Angel Cordero Jr took Codex out several paths on the turn to stop the momentum of the oncoming Genuine Risk, who I had in the Derby and came back with in the second leg.  Saw that the entire ABC broadcast is posted on You Tube.  33 years ago, and a lot of advances in broadcasting since then, with all the different camera angles, replay technology, reporters on horseback, animated simulations, and the like.  But don't know what could have been added to the coverage then.  Helps when you have knowledgeable people like Jim McKay, Eddie Arcaro, and....yes....even Howard Cosell providing the commentary.  If you're interested, the race starts at the 31 minute mark with the great Dave Johnson calling the action; and the post-race coverage of the stewards inquiry is worth watching.  And check out the "gentleman from California," Wayne Lukas, celebrating with Cordero at the 41 minute mark.  After the stewards left the result unchanged, McKay says: "Boy, are they gonna be writing and talking about what you saw on the screen several times..." "For a long time, Jimmy," adds Cosell.  Indeed.  (And yes, he should have been taken down.)

Orb draws the rail and is made even money; I don't think he'll be a penny over 3-5.   I find it a bit breathtaking that Shug would label the colt's breeze on Monday "breathtaking."   And the trainer was pleased again as the horse galloped over the track at Pimlico on Wednesday.  As I said prior to the Derby, when this trainer talks, I listen. 

  "The one thing that really surprises me is how well he's come out of his races, not only mentally but physically," McGaughey said. "I was looking at him with the blanket off him and the sun shining and I saw a different horse than I saw a week ago. He's sure come a long way since the Florida Derby.  []
So yes, I believe Orb will continue to improve, and make short order of this field.  Just to be safe though, I will avoid even exotics with him on top so as not to jinx his chances.  Want to see madness and mayhem at Belmont on June 8. 

Departing (6-1) is the leader of the new-shooter contingent; 3rd choice in the Preakness morning line after winning the Illinois Derby.  It's easy for me to make cases against the horses that are running back from the Derby, despite the various excuses, which are indeed legitimate I believe in the cases of Goldencents, Oxbow, and Will Take Charge (in descending order of legitimacy).  Not quite so Departing; he has classy-looking running lines with his four wins in five starts; comes home well and hails from solid connections.  (And there's that sentimental crap too.)   But he came up a bit short in his one try against this type of company; and he comes up slower on my numbers, and on Beyer's too.

Lukas is saying that Titletown Five is not going to try for the lead.
"I'd like to see him relax about 3-4 lengths off (the pace). I don't think he'll be on the lead and I really don't want him on the lead, either. He's not as one-dimensional as his form is going to show him to be. []
That's good news for Goldencents (8-1), who I believe will therefore find himself alone on the lead.  Not buying Governor Charlie (12-1); shows some snappy fractions from the Sunland Derby, but seems to me that the track was souped up that day.  Nonetheless, still don't like O'Neill's colt for the top slot.  Can't take those front-running efforts on big-race days on that Santa Anita dirt track seriously after that speed bias fiasco in the Breeders' Cup last year.

Read more here:'s gotta be good news for Goldencents (8-1).  Governor Charlie (12-1) has some fancy splits in that Sunland Derby win, but looks to me like that track was souped up that day; I don't think he can run with Doug O'Neil's colt.  So I think Goldencents could be out there by himself for awhile.  Still don't like him though.  Hard for me to take too seriously his front-running efforts on big-race days on that Santa Anita dirt track after the Breeders' Cup fiasco last year. 
Itsmyluckyday (10-1) draws the outside.  Well, as I've said, everyone coming out of the Derby gets to use the "he didn't like the track" excuse; but this horse got beat decisively by Orb in the Florida Derby and ran 22 lengths behind him in the Derby and does anyone really believe that this horse is gonna compete with him this time?  On the other hand, he was reported to be doing well prior to the Derby, and was reported by his trainer to have worked well last Sunday.  He was the wiseguy horse in the bad sense in the Derby, overbet at 9-1; could maybe see him as a sneaky wiseguy play to hit the board here at double his morning odds (which he won't be).

 - In the 7th at Belmont today, Downtown Hollie (4-1) won off a layoff for trainer Anthony Dutrow at the Big A last month, closing determinedly in an even-paced affair.  In her first effort for jockey Cornelio Velasquez, back again today, she returned to the mid-pack closing style which had served her well in the past.  Moves back to state-bred company at a level in which she ran well here last summer, and prepared at Fair Hill with a half-mile breeze as she did before her prior.  Has raced well in the past off this 25 day spacing 2nd off the layoff and looking for another good effort here.  Inimitable Romanee (5-2) looks fastest of these, but comes off a layoff of 176 days.  If early last year is any indication, when she returned from a break of a shorter duration, she'll need a couple of races to get going.  Best of luck and have a great day.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Sunday Notes and Nostalgia

Been quite the miserable week for racing at Belmont.  Thus far, through Saturday's races, not a single fast track race to be found; and despite a gorgeous Mother's Day, looks like there won't be one on Sunday either.  Must say though that the field sizes have held up pretty well - a lot more horses running than we saw on many a fast track during the Aqueduct meeting past.  One guy who certainly hasn't seemed to mind is trainer David Jacobsen, who has compiled a record of 16-6-2-2 on the surfaces ranging from sloppy to good (coming into Sunday's races in which he had some good prospects, including Saginaw) ; so a Happy Mudder's Day to him!

Another one who loved the off going was Freedom Child, who romped in the Peter Pan in the easiest kind of win one will ever see.  12-1 in the morning line, someone must have known he'd like the slop.....or maybe it was just that West Point Thoroughbreds partnership money pouring in.  Despite a bit of a slow start, the son of Malibu Moon (also the sire of Orb), pranced to the lead and effortlessly blazed a half mile in 46.67.  From that point on, he decelerated steadily even as he continued to widen - subsequent quarters of 24.31, 24.97, and a final furlong in 13.14 while drifting out to the middle of the track, despite the efforts of jockey Luis Saez who, according to the race chart, was applying some strong right handed stick work as a corrective measure, particularly once past the eighth pole, to no avail.

Sounds like a true Belmont horse, eh?

Well, considering the historical precedent of the Peter Pan as a Belmont prep (though, according to Michael Veitch in the Saratogian, it's been since 1999 (Lemon Drop Kid) since a horse used the race as a stepping stone to Belmont glory), and the public partnership owning Freedom Child that is always looking for a marketing/publicity edge, we can surely expect to see this one lined up come June 9.  And he'll likely attract some attention too given that running line from 11/24/12 in which he finished two lengths behind Orb and a couple in front of 3-10 favorite Revolutionary.  Nevermind that that race, like the Peter Pan, was a one-turn route, and that his only two-turn win came in a maiden race at Gulfstream in which he came home in a pedestrian 39 1/5 for the last three-eighths and earned a Beyer of 83.  Who knows, maybe it will rain.  But in any event, color me highly skeptical of both the colt's ability and the motivation for wheeling him back at a mile and a half as opposed to what's really best for the horse.

One (mildly) interesting note on pedigree - Freedom Child, out of a Deputy Minister mare, is related to the one-time Pletcher Derby hopeful Shanghai Bobby; they have the same third dam, and their second dams are full sisters, both by Carson City.  (And note that the Toddster does not have a single horse listed amongst the Preakness eligibles at this point in time.)

The winning margin of a bit over 13 lengths is reminiscent of the Peter Pan win by Coastal in 1979, who won the race by the same margin, and went on the win the Belmont 13 days later (after being supplemented for $20,000).  And, of course, Coastal foiled the Triple Crown bid of Spectacular Bid that day, thus kicking off the current drought which many of us hope that Orb will finally break.  Always fun to go back in the NY Times archives to see what they had to say.   And Coastal was just an afterthought, as the big news was the defection of Czaravich, a Nijinsky colt who had created excitement since a belated debut earlier in the year, then running second to Instrument Landing in the Wood and winning the Withers (and who went on the following year to win the Met Mile and the Carter). 

  Czaravich's withdrawal dimmed the luster of the big Memorial Day weekend of racing and most of the 30,597 fans on hand were disappointed.  Some will be back to watch Alydar in today's $100,000-added Metropolitan Mile, the first leg of the handicap Triple Crown, after watching Davona Dale outrun the fillies on Saturday [in the Acorn]. 
  Ah, Davona Dale and Alydar, not a bad weekend of racing, eh?  Wonder how this year's Memorial Day weekend cards will stack up?  Alydar was back at four after he just failed to break up that last Triple Crown the year before, and ran 26 times in his career; ten of those as a juvenile, wow.  But he did not fare well in that Met Mile, struggling home in 6th after unexpectedly challenging early for the lead, as State Dinner splashed home on a sloppy track to return $61.40. 
  Said John Veitch, Alydar's trainer [of jockey Jorge Velazquez), "The boy rode the horse wrong." 
  No, we don't refer to jockey's as 'boy' anymore!  Gee, I wonder why!  Back then, a horse with no rider listed might be designated as 'no boy;' and one might sometimes see 'good boy' as a preview comment for a horse.  Also interesting to read about the holiday crowd of 50,504.  As Steve Cady reported:
  The Saturday-Sunday-Monday total was 113,081.  But neither Alydar nor State Dinner could take credit for yesterday's unusually heavy traffic.  The added gimmick was an after-the-races workout by Pablo Cruise and Pure Prairie League, the opening attraction in a Belmont Park series of 15 rock'n'roll concerts.
With yesterday's concert attracting thousands of young patrons, management didn't miss the opportunity for a little promotional propaganda.  At every entrance, hostesses distributed a variety of brochures that included such instructional literature as "How to Get to Saratoga" and "How to Read Daily Racing Form Past Performances."
Said Tom Leonard, a Fordham sophomore who came out to hear Pablo Cruise and Pure Prairie League: "It's true we're not helping the betting handle much.  But maybe in a few years, when we've got more money, we'll be coming here to play horses."
Yeah, thinking that probably didn't work out.  But the OTB era was underway, and NYRA was making the good effort to attract new fans on-track.  But Pure Prairie League?  Man, I was never a fan of that band.  (The Belmont show I recall most fondly was the one by Dave Mason.)   But I know there must be some PPL fans out there (Figless? Nick Kling?), and some Vince Gill fans as well, so I will leave you today with this.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Sampson (Finally) Takes the Fall. And This One is BAD.

In announcing the arrest of the one-time Democratic Senate Majority Leader John Sampson, Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch called it “one of the most extreme examples of hubris and arrogance we have ever seen.”[NY Daily News]

Hmm, seems to me that's not the first statement with that kind of superlative we're heard around here.  Oh yeah; commenting on the allegations against Democratic Assemblyman Eric Stevenson, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara called it “an especially breathtaking bit of corruption, even by Albany standards.”  That was just a few days after Bharara, commenting on the Malcolm Smith arrest, noted: "Not every state Legislature has this level of criminality exposed."

These allegations against Sampson are bad.  Really bad.  If you haven't read about them, you can do so here in the Post story, the headline of which says he's facing 120 years.  This old school pre-Power Point style chart presented at the press conference pretty much tells the story.

Basically, Sampson allegedly skimmed money from foreclosure escrow accounts for which he was court-appointed referee (to pay for an ultimately unsuccessful campaign for district attorney, imagine that, he could be arresting himself!), allegedly borrowed money to cover some of it, allegedly attempted to interfere in an investigation into the person who allegedly supplied the loan, allegedly threatened to "take out" witnesses, and, apparently, most definitely told FBI agents that (in a line destined to go down in the annals of Albany corruption history): “Not everything I told you was false.”  Seems like a good T-shirt slogan there.

Well, just how bad is it?  Instead of issuing the standard denial and 'my client will be exonerated' bravado, Sampson's lawyer was saying things like:
  “Senator Sampson has been fully cooperative with the government since we were contacted some months ago in connection with this investigation.” [NY Post]
  “The senator does not stand accused of any offenses of misuse of his office.....This is an ordinary case that has been given an official corruption coat of paint, and I think that’s unfair.” [NYDN
Wo.  I mean, if the attorney is not loudly proclaiming innocence, now that's bad.  Makes one think that his client is perhaps considering the plea bargain that could put him behind bars for a maximum of about four years.

This case has nothing to do with the AEG scandal.  But seeing these charges against Sampson and the ones against Smith in his alleged wacky mayoral scheme certainly puts the audacity of the effort to fix the highly scrutinized racino process into context.

 - Saw on Twitter this note from one Steve Haskin.

Ah, Haskin.  I didn't follow him at all this year, and don't on Twitter, but caught this via a retweet. Went back to his final entry before the Derby, and once again, the man suffers a total meltdown, just utterly incapable of specifying a horse as the one he likes.  Steve....please, pull yourself together.  Just make a pick, I know it's hard, and that your eyes must glaze over after all those weeks and months of obsessing over a single horse race; but we all do it.  Nobody except me will think any less of you if you're wrong.  (And you don't get credit for picking the winner if one of the six horses you mentioned as candidates had won.  Which they didn't.)

Anyway, I watched the overhead shot, and I think that's just nonsense.  Will Take Charge was at least a couple of paths inside of Orb as they rounded the turn, providing the illusion that he was keeping stride while Orb was covering more ground.  As they turned for home, and just before Will Take Charge ran up into a tiring Verrazano, Orb seems poised to edge away, and I'd be quite confident betting that he was getting ready to leave his rival in the dust.  Of course, we'll never know for sure, but I'd be more than happy to see people jump on that bandwagon come Preakness time.

The more interesting thing about watching the overhead shot is to see how relatively clean the race was; at least through the opening and closing stages that we see in the video, the times when bad trouble would be most likely to occur.  Seems almost like a regular horse race, albeit with more horses. The field broke cleanly from the gate, settled into the various tiers quite readily, and I really don't see any obvious excuses other than horses wide; and Orb took about the worst of that anyway.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Derby Notes

So, now that you've read everything you need to know about the Derby, we'll go for, in a stream of consciousness format as I'm in a bit of a daze this morning after last night's Rangers game, things that you don't.  And maybe/hopefully some stuff you haven't read anywhere else.

For one thing, something you don't need to know: I won; not much, but profitable.  Pretty much stuck to what I wrote here.  I abandoned Revolutionary when he was the favorite; bet Orb and Palace Malice to win and place.  Was surprised and a bit disappointed at Orb's ultimate win price, as he was 7-1 when I bet with probably not much more than 15 minutes to go; so he really got slammed late a la Sweetnorthernsaint in 2006 (actually the favorite over Barbaro that year).  But won't complain too much.  Other than a small exacta box with the two, didn't even bother with exotics (I tend to get overwhelmed and drunk on Derby day, which leads me to shut down rather than piss money away). That was a good thing given the second place finisher, but more on him below.

I won't bother to mention the name of the annoying woman who was on the NBC telecast (and who I've never seen nor heard of before), though we ended up listening to some good music instead.  So didn't hear that much of the telecast.

Did catch the segment though when Jerry Bailey took viewers through his computer animated prediction of how the race would go.  And with respect to the winner anyway, he was pretty much right on.  Had Orb closing through the stretch to win, "like a tremendous machine," he joked, alluding to the immortal call by Chic Anderson of Secretariat's Belmont win.  Also mentioned in that context was Dave Johnson's tag line "down the stretch they come," and I think it was Randy Moss who explained to viewers that the lines were a tribute to "the late Chic Anderson and Dave Johnson," which led yours truly to note on Twitter that the latter is still alive.

Well, visually, it may indeed have looked as if Orb was a "tremendous machine" as he blew by the field from his spot near the back of the pack.  But I don't know if his final quarter of 25.97 qualifies as such.  He was an 'very good machine' or an 'efficient machine' perhaps, surely good enough to get past this field, in which only he, Revolutionary (26.03), Golden Soul (26.13), and Mylute (26.24) cracked the 27 second mark. 

NBC's track announcer Larry Collmus, in reviewing the field as they rounded the final turn, noted that there was "nothing yet from Orb, he's still about 15th," but then added "he begins to move up on the far outside" before moving on, and I'd guess from a legacy standpoint that he's really glad he got that last bit in.  It provided context and continuity for his big "ORRRB" stretch call.  I read somewhere that Churchill's announcer Mark Johnson misidentified Mylute as being Java's War in the stretch call, which is too bad.  Maybe he had picked Java's War beforehand and got excited mistakenly.  It's just a small point I know, but still don't think that track announcers should be giving out picks before the race as Johnson normally does on the CD simulcast feed.  Track announcers are neutral reporters of the race play-by-play, and should keep their opinions to themselves; it's just not appropriate in my view.

Golden Soul broke up a lot of tickets I'm sure with his second place finish at 34-1.  Looking back to try and see where that came from, the horse had just one win coming in (and coming out); and that was a romp in a maiden race at Fair Grounds in December.  Now, that race earned a pedestrian Beyer figure of 79; but came up as a big number on the figures I'm using these days.  In fact, it had been the subject of some discussion in the office, and, even after being subsequently downgraded a bit, was referred to as an outlier.  So, after three subsequent races of closing mildly, it was interesting to see him run second in the Kentucky Derby.  Having said that however, it surely had far more to do with the ridiculously fast pace and the incredibly fortuitous inside trip than a maiden win last year against four horses who have combined for two maiden wins since. 

Speaking of that pace...that was something that nobody anticipated.  General wisdom was that we'd see a slower pace without any horses having earned their way in off two-year old races; 47, 1:11 was what I was hearing.  Guess those blinkers didn't quite work out for pace setting Palace Malice. 

  “The blinkers sharpened him too much,” Dogwood Stable president Cot Campbell said. “Mike couldn’t hold him. He said he did everything he could and he still could not apply any restraint.” [Augusta Chronicle]
  So, the Blue Grass got him in, but his antics in the stretch in that race got him blinkered, which caused him to run off in the Derby, virtually eliminating Goldencents and setting up the stretch run for the top four finishers.  So who says preps on synthetic are meaningless; it changed the entire complexion of the race.  Worth mentioning I think that Palace Malice actually hung around to finish 12th, ahead of the all the others that were close early.  He's taking 60 days off now and, after having him in his no-chance Louisiana Derby and in this race, I definitely see future wagering exploits with him down the road, for better or for worse.  Anyway, the moral of the story I think is that one should always lean towards anticipating high speed in a 20 horse field.

With all the talk about Normandy Invasion being the wise-guy horse, I'd say that Itsmyluckyday ended up with those honors, going off at 9.50-to-1 as he did.  I feel free to discuss this now, because I did tweet shortly before the race that: It'smyluckyday is the most overbet horse in the field; so no red boarding here.  You could feel the steam starting to rise on this one as the days ticked down to race day, as the workout reports were good and more and more people starting saying things like: "if you like Orb you gotta like Itsmyluckyday."  But don't really know where that came from, seemed like a really odd choice for a Derby bandwagon horse.

Verrazano had no apparent excuse for his 14th place finish.  Well, except for, of course: "I just don't think he liked the track."  The beauty of the ugly sloppy track is that everybody who needs one has a convenient excuse.  So all the losers will throw this one out and hopefully come back in the Preakness or some other race soon so we can all bet against them again.

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Derby Live Blog - Music I'm Listening to when Michelle Beadle is On

Derby Day

Guess I gotta do Derby picks, and always find it difficult, and a bit anti-climactic after all the build up.  It's just one race.  For one thing, we all spend far too much time over the race, as I've stated many times before; and that's just not good as far as handicapping goes, at least for mine.  Find I usually do best when I find a horse that stands out right off the bat, on the first scan, and derived from basic handicapping fundamentals - form, speed, class, pace, tote - that one doesn't need more than a paper or pdf to discern.  It's after that when I confirm, compound, or amend those first impressions via further research into trainers, results charts, and replays.

But for the Derby, I'm already way beyond that; and it becomes a game of changes of mind, second and third guesses, way way too much information and far too many persuasive opinions from people far smarter than myself (though no more likely nor qualified to pick the winner of this single particular race than any of us).

Anyway, here goes.  I've already discussed and dissected the top contenders in recent days and weeks, so not going to repeat myself and therefore will keep it brief.   If you haven't been following here and need a more comprehensive horse-by-horse, check out our buddy El Angelo's excellent analysis on the Gowanus Baseball blog.  (Or about a thousand other blogs or websites if you look around.)

Revolutionary (10-1) is probably best prepared for what he is going to encounter than any of the other horses here.  When he breaks from the 3 post (now with only one horse inside of him), it shouldn't look much different to him than the Louisiana Derby, when he also broke from the inside and found himself last (just a mere six more horses in the field).  He circled way wide in that one, so has that experience should he need to do so here.  Or, more likely given that he's breaking from an inside post and being ridden by Calvin Borel, should he need to find a path home on or near the rail, inside of or betweent horses, well he's already done that in his escape act in the Withers.  And, if he finds himself confronted, or even passed, by another in the stretch, he's already shown that he can dig down and fight back, as he did when Mylute edged in front in the stretch at Fair Grounds.

Now, it might be of concern that he was head and head with a 19-1 shot who will not be amongst my selections in the Derby.  But he was edging away at the end, and this is one horse who I am reasonably convinced will handle the extra distance.  While his sire, the BC Juvenile winner War Pass, is a dead second-year stallion with limited statistical evidence available, his female breeding is, I believe, amongst the best distance pedigree in the race.  He's out of the mile and a quarter Alabama winner Runup the Colors; and she's a half to Flagbird, a 10 furlong winner in Italy, and the granddam of Little Belle, second in the CCA Oaks (at 1 1/4); and to the multiple G1 winner Prospectors Delite, the dam of champion Mineshaft, Tomisue's Delight (winner the 10f Personal Ensign and second in the Oaks. 

The main concern in my view is that, as pointed out in the abovementioned blog post on GRBG , the presence of Calvin Borel will likely mean he's overbet.  I also had my own concern that the jockey has already had a lifetime of good fortune in this race.  However, I imagine there's not a better rider for a horse who will find himself in the situation Revolutionary likely will, breaking inside as he will.  I'd like to get 10-1; and should he be bet too far below that, there's a point at which I'll rethink my strategy.  But, in addition to his other attributes and experience, Revolutionary has shown an indomitable will to win.  He's earned accolades for his workout and appearances on the track this past week, and figures to improve in just his third start of the year, the winning pattern in the last six Derbies.  He's the top pick.

Orb (7-2) is the training star of Derby week, hands down.  In his final recap, Mike Welsch called his workout "far and away the most impressive....of the week."  As I've written before, I think he's the best horse, and believe that his last-out Beyer doesn't reflect the improvement I believe he showed.  I will use him as the winner in some way, shape, or fashion no matter what I end up doing.

I liked Palace Malice (20-1) over Revolutionary going into the Louisiana Derby, and what has happened since that would change that opinion?  He was so hopelessly boxed in that race, that I don't think one can draw conclusions about their relative abilities from it.  Then the Blue Grass was an unexpected success in my view, doubting his turf/synth breeding as I do.  With four races already at age three, he doesn't fit the recent profile for Derby winners as we've seen.  But he's "trained forwardly," according to Welsch, and adds blinkers to help address the way he got distracted and changed leads in the Blue Grass stretch.  Think he could be the best value in the race; could end up betting using him on top if he is.

Itsmyluckyday (15-1) seems to be coming back into favor after his stock fell after he was decisively defeated by Orb in the Florida Derby.  No excuses that day; but he's drawn unanimous raves for his training this week; and, as mentioned, has the tactical speed to be close.  Will use underneath.

Been going back and forth and back and forth again on Verrazano (4-1).  I'm not picking him to win partly because he's the horse I'd feel the most stupid about selecting if he runs really bad.  But I still think his Wood was a step forward in his becoming a race horse, and I personally loved his appearance this week.  Think he's gonna run well and will use him on my tickets.

I see that Steven Crist picked Overanalyze (15-1) despite fretting over the fact that the Arkansas Derby could have been timed with a sundial.  As Crist points out, it was a pretty slow pace and he didn't start his move until nearing the turn (the same reasons why I've been saying you should take the Beyers by Orb and Verrazano with a grain of salt).  He's another coming in off the now-fashionable two starts at three and surely is eligible to improve.  Still, that race was pretty slow (on my numbers too), so will use at the bottom only.

Aw jeez, have I mentioned every Pletcher horse now?  Well, not Charming Kitten (20-1).  I presume we'll have a break from the sight of Ken Ramsey's smiling mug at least after this race.

The horses that figure to take money that I will be standing against (for reasons previously stated) are: Goldencents (5-1), Normandy Invasion (12-1), and Java's War (15-1).  With the possible exception of the latter, who I might have to throw in to the very bottom slot, if these horses finish in the money, I'll lose.

 - The surprise Oaks winner Princess of Sylmar ($79.60) looks pretty good on paper when you look back at her pp's.  Goes to show just how good the race was.  Still, her 97 Beyer was 13 points higher than her prior best.  So she either improved markedly, or her prior Beyers underrated her ability.  In either event, the Toddster's daughter of Majestic Warrior, out of a Catienus mare, may have been done a favor by hitting traffic after the start and being much further back than she'd been in the past.  It was a quick pace up front and she surely benefited from being far behind it.  Princess of Sylmar is inbred 4x3 to Dixieland Band, and 5x5 to Secretariat.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Cuomo Considers Punting on Casino Vote

Governor Cuomo tossed a sweeping curveball into the casino debate when he floated the idea of postponing the referendum to November, 2014.  We've all been assuming that the vote would come this November, and there's been discussion about how that would skew the decision in favor of New York City voters, expected to vote en masse in the mayoral election (especially if you have a couple of charismatic candidates, think Andrew Weiner vs Joseph Lhota).  There are no statewide elections this year, so turnout upstate would be limited to those with particular interest in weighing in on the topic.

So, in a way, it seems like the fair thing to do.  After all, the governor has declared that the first three casinos will be sited upstate at locations to be ultimately determined by the Gaming Commission which he has yet to appoint, so it only seems right that they have a fair say.  Of course, in a more perfect world, everyone would come out to vote every year regardless of what's at stake just out of a sense of duty to our participatory democracy.  However, that not being the case, 2014 should be a turnout bonanza statewide with the governor himself up for re-election, along with the entire Assembly and Senate.  Cuomo would be campaigning side by side with the measure; we'll see which way the political winds for are blowing at that point in time and, accordingly, how closely the governor wants to be associated with the issue.

And of course, we all know that fairness has nothing to do with it.  I'd surmise that if Cuomo was convinced the referendum could be passed this year by NYC voters who know they're not getting a casino right away, he would go for it rather than having to discuss and debate it during his re-election campaign.  And that's not to mention a year delay in the money flowing to the state.

 - The New York Gaming Association issued their usual self-congratulatory press release, this one touting their results from 2012.  

"Our nine existing facilities are tremendous economic assets that should be nurtured and developed,” association President James D. Featherstonhaugh said in a statement. []
I've been writing for quite some time here about how the NYGA will turn against this thing on a dime if they don't get the casinos (which still seems unlikely to me considering the governor's past comments about them being a 'scandal'); and this is the first time I've seen them acknowledge that publicly. 
"We would reserve our right to oppose it in the event we thought it was going to be harmful."  [Capitol Confidential]
Still wondering what happens to this organization should some of them get casinos, and others not.  I could see Yonkers and Genting lending support to racinos upstate for the precedent of the facilities being granted them and with an eye towards the next round; but otherwise hard to imagine unity other than a blanket denial or approval.

Anyway, I was on the NYGA site and clicked my way through the links to the member tracks, and found a couple of fun things.  The home page of the Batavia Downs Casino features a commercial starring the former Buffalo Bills running back great Thurman Thomas. 

Love that racetrack scene; and as cheesy as it is, it's probably the most realistic one in the spot.  Videos like this, and all those photos you see on the racino sites of young professional-looking types having such a great time serve to perpetuate the lie that these places are some kind of glamorous entertainment center rather than a grim cold palace designed to get people in a chair in front of a machine and keep them right there.

Here's the Finger Lakes Casino and Racetrack


Look, this guy Daniel won $25,742.79 at Hamburg Casino at Buffalo Raceway and even he's not having fun.

Big event at Tioga Downs.

Oh, well, if that's not your cup of java, at Tioga you can at least look forward to some harness racing!

Um.....well, yeah but......nevermind.

Wednesday Morning Derby Notes

Got the DVR-ing correct this time, so got to watch Tuesday's edition of Pursuit of the Crown on HRTV.  Scott Hazelton looking natty with a fashionably cocked bow tie in the host role; and Richard Migliore with the expert commentary....and just great stuff from the Mig.  Definitely worth checking out if you're able.

Verrazano galloped and Migliore  pointed out how he was reaching his head down, looking for the bit, and said he looked "terrific." 

  "An imposing individual, atypical of the More Than Readys; he's got a little more substance to him, and I think that may see him get the extra distance." 
  "Won't get the distance" has become a meme with this horse, largely because of his sire, known more for middle distances; his top earners are milers from Australia and New Zealand.  His female side may add a little stamina to the equation.  By Giant's Causeway, the dam is inbred to Blushing Groom, and there are a few distance horses to be found in the family tree, including Al Khali, who won the 1 3/8 mile Bowling Green, and even a hurdle stakes winner (Brampour).  Still, even as my respect for the horse has progressed in the last few weeks from the ridicule I expressed earlier on, just don't see him quite getting this done.  I will use him underneath though, and I'd bet him to win at 10-1.

Goldencents seemed hard to handle, and Migliore noted how the rider was struggling to restrain him, and how he virtually leaped from left lead to right.  "He's very keen, he's on the muscle."  Welsch recalled: "He was somewhat reminiscent of I’ll Have Another in the final days leading up to his victory in the 2012 Derby."  I'm unmoved, and will not use him.  And hoping that Falling Sky, who Welsch noted "looks like he’ll be a handful to keep off the lead Saturday" makes life difficult for him.  (Though I wouldn't like him even if I know he'll be lone speed.)

By the way, if you missed it, Beyer is in fine form in Monday's Washington Post column in defense of Doug O'Neill, taking on Joe Drape and the Times directly for its characterization of the trainer's handling of his Derby winner last year.  I think it qualifies as 'brave' in the current environment.  And indeed, I think it's telling that, while the headline in the post read: Doug O'Neill doesn't deserve his bad reputation, the Daily Racing Form apparently couldn't stomach that and watered it down to:  O'Neill back under Kentucky Derby microscope.  

Migliore agrees with me that Normandy Invasion is a wise guy horse, and, as was the case with Will Take Charge, didn't like what he hears either.  The Mig has turned into a bit of a Dr. Doolittle here. "I still go back to sitting there and hearing him forging a little bit."  I have no idea what that means, but I assume it's not great. "I'm not sold that Normandy Invasion is really a mile and a quarter horse."

Walt McPeek's entries Java's War and Frac Daddy were "on their toes" according to the Form's clocker.  Haven't mentioned the latter here before, probably because he lost the Florida Derby and the Holy Bull by a combined 34 3/4 lengths.  He does have those two good races over the track though, and I guess his second in the Arkansas Derby was good (though I find it hard to evaluate races in which they go almost 27 seconds from 3/4s to a mile and then come home in 12 3/5).  He's a son of Scat Daddy out of a Skip Away mare; not much in the pedigree to get excited about this one.  So I won't be a happy horseplayer if he comes in the money.

I saw on Twitter where McPeek said, about Java's War: "Today was probably as good as I’ve ever seen him go over this surface.”  Not sure how much that means considering his 6th place finish in his own try over the course.  I wrote about why I don't like him here.  Think he's a grass horse; there's a guy in the office who feels that his distance pedigree trumps any surface concerns in this situation, in which most of the contestants simply won't get the distance, which I think is a fair point.  Will probably use him at the bottom of the tickets.

Video of Tuesday's activity here, courtesy of J.J. Hysell's In the Money blog.

 - In the 6th at Churchill, Clement Rock (6-1) is moving up in class, but maybe not as much as it may seem in an open 50K of questionable quality.  Ran some big numbers two and three back in races that have come back strong; Dark Cove, to whom he ran third by a length three races back, won the G2 Elkhorn at Keeneland, and two others came back to win their next races.  Was claimed before his prior by trainer Ingrid Mason, and ran back on 17 days rest, finishing second to another next-out winner (albeit in an off the turfer).  Chased the pace that day; think he'll do better by rallying here, and may (or may not) have the pace to do so; and has never seemed bothered by outside posts.  A bit more time off here (35 days), and a snappy half mile work at Arlington should have him well prepared today.  Derby Kitten (5-2) is the Maker/Ramsey favorite; been racing on synth and without much success of late.  Bell by the Ridge (3-1) also goes for Maker; beat restricted claimers at Fair Grounds in his last and comes up a bit slower on my numbers than the top choice.