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Sunday, June 30, 2013

Sunday Belmont

In the world of thoroughbred racing, these are the lazy hazy days of summer; that void of sorts between the Triple Crown season and the start of the boutique meetings at Saratoga and Del Mar, now less than three weeks away.  So, not much going on as far as meaningful stakes races (except for you Wise Dan fans); and here in New York, trainers maneuver with an eye towards upstate.

Or I should say....up there in New York, as the Head Chef and I have once again retreated to my mom's house down near Sarasota in Florida.  Where it's hot.  Though, not all that much hotter than it was up there when we left on Friday.  There were all kinds of dire weather forecasts for the NY area going into the weekend, so who woulda thunk they'd be fast and firm all weekend (thus far).

So, we're kinda kicking back.  But one pick today just to try and keep in shape.  In the 7th at Belmont, a NY-bred 3YO filly stakes named for Cupecoys Joy, a big money maker for me back in the early 80's,  Image of Noon (6-1) tries this modest stakes field for trainer James Ryerson.  Trainer is struggling at this meet, but he's better than this and hopefully ready to break out after three consecutive thirds.  This filly has returned running at three with new jockey John Lezcano, crushing a maiden field from an outside post in her return, and running a game second in her first try against winners.  In the latter effort, she had a nice trip behind the leader and seemed poised for the win; but that leader, the improved Rakin Gold, just kept going, closing out the six furlong affair in 23 flat.  Image of Noon matched that fraction but couldn't gain any ground.  Still, she ran a markedly improved speed figure (with my numbers), and the daughter of Disco Rico, a full sister to a grass winner and out of a half-sister to the graded turf stakes winner Discreet Marq, would seem to have room for further improvement third try of the current form cycle.  Should again be sitting within range of a pace projected as modest.  Adriatic Dream (7-2) shortens up off an allowance win two back and an even effort against older state-bred stakes horses in her last; think she's the one to beat here.  And yeah, then there's the morning line favorite Wellspring Legacy (5-2), first time Jacobson.  Obviously dangerous with early speed after faltering in a stakes at Monmouth; but I think the horse has done her best running at longer distances, and turf sprints are not a specialty of this barn, so we'll hold our breath and stand against.  Best of luck and have a great day.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

NYGA Climbs on Board

The legislation that will trigger a November referendum on the question of full-blown casinos in New York State was passed by the legislature early Saturday morning.  The New York Gaming Association (NYGA) was against it before they were for it.  When we last left our racino friends, they had come out against the measure, and were taking on the chin by a relentless Governor Cuomo, who threatened to open VLT parlors on Genting and Yonkers' doorsteps should the referendum fail.  

But the racinos found support in the legislature, where lawmakers of both parties spoke of all the revenue the facilities have contributed to education (a nod to the NYGA's publicists and their endless stream of triumphant press releases), and expressed concern that competition from casinos would harm them.  So the governor, as was the case in other matters as well, did not get everything he wanted.  But I can't imagine NYGA did either.  Yes, the casinos will have to pay higher tax rates when located near a racino, and no VLT parlors will be sited in NYC should the referendum fail.  But there will be VLT's at Nassau and Suffolk Downs OTB, restrictions on the abilities of the Western New York racinos to market themselves (a result of the deal with the Senecas), up to four additional VLT parlors, including one on Long Island, should the referendum fail, and there's no guarantee of its members getting casinos.

Still, they came out enthusiastically in favor of the bill

“The inclusion of competitive tax parity, a plan that keeps the three Western New York racetrack casinos as vital partners to state and localities, and the assurance that our two successful downstate partners can continue providing good paying jobs and generating significant funding for schools are significant improvements from earlier drafts of this bill and critical to our support,’’ Feathertonhaugh said. [Dailynewsonline]
OK....but still, wouldn't 'no casinos' still be a far better outcome for the NYGA, especially given the governor's outward hostility towards them?   Makes one think that there were some back room deals between two sides with a good deal of wariness of each other - NYGA of the governor and his threats to place VLT parlors wherever he pleased; the governor of NYGA's ability to spend enough to turn an election that is thought to be extremely close, and almost surely to be decided by voters in NYC.

So, despite Cuomo's professed belief that the racinos are unregulated scandals who never should have gotten VLT's in the first place, I'll be quite surprised if NYGA President James Feathertonhaugh doesn't get a casino for his expanded Saratoga Harness; and if Empire Resorts, in which Genting has an interest, doesn't get the nod for its long-discussed casino at the old Concord site in the Catskills. And, seven years before a casino in Yonkers and Aqueduct?  We'll see, things change.

 - Newsday noted on Monday that a clause to prohibit the acceptance of campaign contributions from casino companies was "quietly deleted" from the bill.  What a surprise. 
  In the past two years alone the gambling industry spent more than $2 million on campaign contributions in Albany and another $14 million on lobbying, Common Cause reported.

The campaign contributions included $242,000 to Cuomo; $404,000 to the state Republican Campaign Committee; $372,000 to the Democratic Assembly Campaign Committee; $76,000 to Senate Racing and Wagering Committee Chairman John Bonacic, a Republican representing the Catskills where one or two casinos are likely be sited; and $59,000 to Assembly Racing and Wagering Committee Chairman Gary Pretlow, a Democrat from Yonkers where a harness track with a large video slot machine center is located.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

New NYRA CEO Seems O Kay

When I first read, as first reported last week by David Grening in the Daily Racing Form, that the NYRA Reorganization Board was going to select Christopher Kay to be the new CEO, I reacted with the same measure of puzzlement and trepidation as most everyone else.  Puzzlement over the fact that they would hire somebody with no experience in racetrack management; fear over his experience in corporate privatization and land management, and how those elements could be applied here in a worst-case scenario of a governor hostile to the industry.

However, after reading the comments by members of the board, it makes a lot more sense.  Now, a highly suspicious person might be skeptical of what he/she might see as a press release of canned comments by members of a board that was appointed by Cuomo and legislative leaders.  But I think we've seen that this is a living, breathing board consisting mostly of people with racing experience and a highly vested interest in a successful racing industry in the state.  So, when I hear people like Charlie Wait and Stuart Janney III and even Bobby Flay, who may have said some wacky things but has the best interests of the game at heart, I believe we can take comfort that the appointment is well-intended.

It's an odd mixture of experience that Mr. Kay brings to his new job; from COO of a giant Fortune 200 company (Toys R Us) to Managing Director at Universal Parks and Resorts, to COO at a land conservation organization (Trust for Public Land) - and he definitely gets tree-hugging brownie points from this corner for the latter.  (If I ever get a chance to chat with him, I'd be as interested in his impressions of the proposed Queensway project, which Trust for Public Land studied under his watch, as anything else; as that High Line-style elevated rail line park project would be right around here in Queens and is near and dear to our hearts).  And I suppose it's that kind of diverse experience, along with the fact that he is an attorney, that made him attractive to the search firm that helped select him, and to the board which approved his hire without debate.  As Chairman David Skorton pointed out:

 "..Basically he is a very strong manager and leader from different types of organizations – for profit, not-for-profit, [he’s worked in] organizations that had to deal in the governmental sector. We wanted someone who is experienced in making that connection, in the public-private partnership as opposed to the public-private war, and I think we’re going to go in the right direction. [NY Daily News]
 As far as the possible conspiracy theories go, Kay helped take Toys R Us private during his time there, and I read the word "privatization" mentioned with skepticism in some Twitter reporting yesterday.  But NYRA is indeed set to privatize in two years in the sense that the three-year term of state control will expire; and I don't believe there's anything more insidious there than that.  One might be more concerned about his experience in land management and conservation.  But NYRA no longer owns the land the tracks sit on; the state does.

Then again, NYRA no longer owns the land the tracks sit on; the state does.  And who knows exactly what that would entitle the governor to do with the land if he really wanted.  So, if one believed that Kay is a plant from the governor's office (and it was the Cuomo administration that awarded Trust for Public Land a $467,000 grant to study Queensway, so there is a history of past contact there), then that person would surely be concerned.  But I don't think there's anything there to be concerned with, really, other than the possible, if not likely, demise of Aqueduct, which is not a new development.  The governor has quickly lost interest in the subject of racing, and I think he's quite content to let the industry generate revenue and keep a whole lot of people employed.

So, Christopher Kay will no doubt need to brush up on the subject, as running Saratoga is a long ways from visiting Cahokia Downs as a kid and representing horse owners as an attorney.  No doubt he will consider bringing in an experienced racetrack guy to help.  But he seems like a smart guy who will listen to the experienced voices in the team that he assembles and already has in place at NYRA, and sounds genuinely enthusiastic about the opportunity.  So, we will wait and see, and hope that he's the right guy.

 - Some details trickling out at this writing about the casino bill agreed to by the governor and legislative leaders behind closed doors late Tuesday night.  Here's the bill itself if you want to ascertain them yourselves.  Four casinos upstate, no VLT's in the outer boroughs should the referendum fail, some relief for upstate racinos impacted by the recent agreements with the Indian tribes.  And apparently, Dean Skelos has won a VLT parlor for the Nassau/Suffolk border (and we can thank the IDC for the sniveling Skelos even being in the room for the minority GOP).  More on this later as the details become clear (as in, after other people with more time on their hands read the bill and tell us exactly what it says).

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Cuomo Pours It On NYGA

Governor Cuomo confirmed on Susan Arbetter's Capitol Pressroom radio show that he wants new VLT parlors in the event that a casino referendum gets voted down.  When the subject turned to gaming in the wide-ranging interview, the governor went on the attack against the racinos. 

  "These racinos are very well-financed players; they work this system extraordinarily well." 
In fact, they work the system so well that they pay a tax rate of around 67% that is one of the highest in the country.  The governor then rambles on about how the racinos are expecting another gift, to be handed casinos and he's not going to let that happen. 
  "I think the way we did racinos in the first place was a mistake..."

"How so?" 
  Yes.  How so? 
  "Well because, um, we never came up with any regulated system.  A lot of these players are politically connected; a lot of these situations were one-off political deals."
Really governor?  Again, the system is regulated enough so that the racinos pay an exorbitant enough tax rate to generate amounts, for the state, that dwarf those in lower tax havens like Atlantic City and Connecticut.  And, please correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems to me that the law permitting racinos at racetracks was passed in the wake of the World Trade Center attacks in a desperate attempt to fend off a hit to the economy.  I don't believe there were any one-off political deals involved at all, other than the one for Aqueduct a decade or so later on.  So I don't think that Cuomo knows what he's talking about here.

When asked about his contentious new gambit to guarantee at least new VLT parlors, he stated the usual 'keep gambling revenues from going to other states' argument.  And then he turned on the racinos again. 
  "The current racinos come back and say 'no no no,' if it fails, that means the people don't want casinos, so the state should do nothing.  Well, by that logic Susan [smug snorting laughter], if it fails because the people don't want gaming, then we should close the current racinos.  Right?  [smug mocking laughter]  That's the only logical inference of what they're saying.  So their position is 'no no no,' if the referendum fails, don't build any new ones, give us a lifetime franchise with the existing ones.  That's not gonna happen." 
Well, actually, oh Mr. Powerful Governor, we'd be voting on an amendment to the state constitution that would permit Las Vegas-style casinos; not on the fate of the existing video lottery terminals.  By his same sarcastic logic, we should then also close the Indian casinos....the same ones which, while blasting racetrack racinos that pay out two-thirds of their revenue, he recently rewarded with territorial exclusivity despite their having illegally withheld payments to state and local governments for years.  And why not close the racetracks too, since he can't seem to accept the share of slots revenue they get?  Amazing how Cuomo can, in one breath, talk about how politicians should "step aside" in this process, and then, in the next, bring all of his political power to bear in an attempt to subvert the meaning and intent of the referendum and effectively override its result.

Look, I'm obviously no big fan of NYGA and racinos, and not in the habit of defending them in any way.   I've written often about the hypocrisy of the racinos' portrayals of their facilities as some hip hot spots where the young and attractive hang out for a howling good time rather than the grim money machines that they are; and their glowing press releases that ignore the detrimental effects of their gambling halls on vulnerable patrons and on the communities around them.  And we can be sure that, if they ever did get casinos, they would look to screw the racetracks as much as anyone else.  But Cuomo obviously has it in for them; and one can only wonder why.

Well, recall that the governor's "racinos are a scandal" speech last June came just a day prior to the NY Times revealing that NYGA had contributed $2 million to the Committee to Save New York, a pro-business group closely associated with the governor.  Given the ferocity and suddenness of Cuomo's remarks - "Showing a surprising hostility toward gaming interests," as Odato reported at the time - I speculated then that his people had gotten wind of the Times story and prompted the remarks as a pre-emptive defense against charges of lobbying influence.  (And the Times, to this day, has never reported on Cuomo's remarks that day, undermining the point of their big story as they did.)

So, this is pure speculation on my part and maybe I'm wrong, but perhaps the governor is persisting in his criticism of the racinos purely for his own personal political reasons.  Now, when Corey Booker raises the Times article in a Democratic primary debate, Cuomo can respond: "What, are you kidding?  I stuck it to the racinos where the sun don't shine."  (If not for the fact that I utilized crude profanity just in the last post, I surely would have phrased that last line differently.)

 - Some brief racing notes and then I'll let you go.  I posted this photo below on Belmont day, saying that it looked more like Father's Day.

So here's a shot from Father's Day from approximately the same spot.

Not much of a difference at all!

Maximova ($4.70) won a three-year old filly overnight stakes on the card; and man, I really like this filly, now three-for-three lifetime.  Don't usually get all ga-ga over young horses unless there's a good reason.  This daughter of Danehill Dancer was off slow in her prior race, waited in last with a patient John Lezcano, and showed a will to win when she bulled her way to a seam in midstretch and powered to the win.  On Sunday, she encountered a different kind of adversity, forced out of her game and into a stalking trip of an extremely slow pace.  Mariel N Kathy, a more experienced filly with an overnight stakes win on her resume, walked to three-quarters in 1:16.21 and proceeded to sprint home from there.  99 times out of 100, the horse in second fails to catch the leader when it comes home off a slow pace as Mariel N Kathy did, in 34.53; final 1/8th in 11.56.  But Maximova would not be denied, slinking up the rail and gaming out the win in a relentless display of grit.  Quite impressive.

And gotta mention the facile win by Verrazano in the Pegasus at Monmouth.  Sure, he glided to an extremely soft opening quarter of 24.82.  And of course his life was made easier when Itsmyluckyday was pulled up by Mike Smith.  But I always find it noteworthy when a dirt horse runs every split faster than the prior one, as Verrazano did.  (For the record, 24.82, 23.93, 23.92, 23.31, final 1/16th in 5.74.)  I liked his Wood a lot more than most, and though I soured on him for the Derby, he gets the automatic Derby/sloppy track pass for that effort, and I can definitely see myself getting suckered in on this one down the road.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Cuomo Adds Cruel Twist to Casino Bill

Reports over the weekend that Governor Cuomo is attempting to add a cruel twist to his casino legislation which needs to be agreed on by the legislature before it adjourns on Thursday in order to trigger a referendum this fall. 

  The new provisions state that if a casino expansion referendum fails with voters this fall, a new VLT-only casino may be located in New York City, except Manhattan; new VLT facilities could also be located upstate near existing track-based facilities.

The plan poses a direct threat to Genting New York, operator of the successful Aqueduct Racetrack. Genting has been seen in Albany as having some of the deepest financial pockets if it wanted to oppose a casino expansion referendum vote.

But the governor's newest plan appears aimed at Genting and some of the other VLT racino operators with a threat that any opposition of his casino plan that leads to the referendum's defeat will still result in damaging competition for the limited flow of gambling dollars. [Bloodhorse]
  Oh boy.  Can't think of much to say other than:  Motherfucker
Adding further fire, Cuomo is proposing any new VLT facilities have to pay a 40% tax rate, more than 20% below what racinos now pay the state. Moreover, the new facilities would be licensed for periods of five years, with renewal options. Any existing VLT facilitythere are nine racetrack casinos scattered around the state–would have to have its license renewed under a set of strict new conditions by June 30, 2014.

Cuomo added wording to his new draft bill that specifically states any of the new VLT facilities the New York Gaming Commission would select would not have to be affiliated in any way with existing Thoroughbred or Standardbred racing operations.
With respect to this governor's brand of hardball, maybe now I can better appreciate how the opposite side of my political spectrum feels.  Talk about arrogance!  Coming just a few days after the NYGA announced their opposition to the legislation, Cuomo is attempting not only to effectively take them, and any other potential racing industry opposition, completely out of the referendum ballgame, but to blunt the impact of any referendum vote, and turn it almost into a matter of semantics.  We'd get expanded gaming at facilities to be sited by commissions controlled by the governor either way.  Fact is that while VLT facilities may not have traditional casino table games, they are able to electronically simulate most of anything.  The restrictions to electronic games sure haven't dulled the results at Resorts World, that's for sure.

And this would mean that the racing industry is a loser, no matter what happens in a vote.

So, it would seem to me that it's not overly dramatic to say that the prospects of racing in New York State now rests on negotiations over the language in the bill that will take place over the next few days entirely behind closed doors, amongst our legislative leaders who have no real interest in much of anything other than their own political fortunes.  I would think there's hope that Cuomo's proposal will not survive.  Legislators, particularly the Senate Republicans who control the Senate in cohoots with the IDC, will surely try to resist the governor's latest attempt at a power grab, already unhappy as many are with Cuomo's original concept of three upstate casinos only (they have now gained a 4th casino as opposed to the governor's three, but still restricted from NYC).  But it puts us all in a precarious and helpless position wishing that so.

 - An article in the NY Times over the weekend discusses the effects of the Aqueduct racino on the local community.  And it's a far cry from the rosy predictions we heard from Genting and giddy politicians back when the plans were first announced. 
  Though it seemed as if it should be a busy place, full of pedestrian traffic and businesses servicing varied cultural interests, it has the bloodless feel of a Sun Belt village lost to misbegotten visions.
As Alberto Livecchi, a longtime resident of South Ozone Park and the owner of a store selling musical equipment, explained, the construction of the casino — a racino, in gambling parlance — came with promises that have not materialized. Having been sold as a boon to local commerce, it has instead affected businesses negatively, Mr. Livecchi argued. “People are just funneled into the casino and don’t leave,” he remarked. Whatever street life there was has been destroyed, residents said; pawnshops are ubiquitous. “Casinos are only interested in enriching themselves,” Mr. Modica said. 

Ample data on how gambling affects local businesses suggests that these men are not hallucinating. In the 1990s, researchers at Iowa State University examined the consequences of riverboat gambling for business owners in Clinton, Iowa, and found that while 12 percent reported an increase in business, 29 percent reported a decrease, and 60 percent reported no change at all. And racetrack casinos, as Clyde Barrow, a political economist who studies gambling, explained, draw most customers not from the far and wide but from a 30-minute radius. Rather than drawing new money to the area, it seems, they divert local dollars to gambling. [NY Times]

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Avenues of Accessibility

A good friend of mine, who is not a racing fan but tunes into watch the Triple Crown races if he's around, told me that he likes Michelle Beadle on the NBC coverage.  Trying to paraphrase his feelings here.....he said something to the effect that she "opens up an avenue of accessibility" for him into an otherwise alien and unfamiliar world.

I'd rather not report that because, frankly, she makes me want to throw up in my mouth.  But I must do my duty as an objective observer of the scene.  And I suppose that if Ms. Beadle, whose pointless Crossover show on NBC Sports Network I had the misfortune to stumble across the other day, shines a light on our game for even a handful of people such as my friend, then I guess her presence is worthwhile even if it sends us racing fans scrambling for the mute button at times when our energies could be more productively applied otherwise.  As I've said, the network coverage of these races no longer opens up avenues of much of anything for those of us who (think we) know everything there is to know from being online and on Twitter all day.  We're better off with TVG or HRTV.....or just the track feeds, where the coverage is geared towards us., and we might actually learn something.

 - Ramon Dominguez has announced that he will be unable to return to race riding after he fractured his skull in February.  To me, he was the Angel Cordero Jr of the present time; always seemed to have his horse in the position it needed to be in order to have its best chance to win.  Sad that he will be unable to continue riding, but glad that he's still in one piece.  I'm sure we'll be hearing from him in some capacity down the road.

 - At Belmont on Wednesday, trainer John Sherriffs got his first winner, in his 5th start, since shipping to New York from his usual base in California; that after some very well-bet and well-beaten losers.  Peace and Justice ($8.40) was making his first career start, on the grass.  He's a three-year old son of War Front out of a Smart Strike mare; and he's a half-brother to the graded turf winner Hudson Steele.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

NYGA (Finally) Turns Against Casino Legislation

The New York Gaming Association, representing New York State's racetrack racinos, announced their opposition to Governor Cuomo's proposed legislation to, in the initial phase, site three casinos upstate.  In a statement, NYGA President James Featherstonhaugh said:

After considerable study and analysis, the members of the New York Gaming Association (NYGA, which is comprised of the state’s racetrack casinos, known as “racinos”) believe that the proposed “Upstate New York Gaming Economic Development Act of 2013” will not have the result desired by the legislation’s supporters. The new casinos authorized by the legislation (and referendum) will instead simply cannibalize as much as 85% of the state’s current gaming market, shifting revenue and jobs from one facility to another but resulting in no real increase in new jobs and an annual loss of $1 billion of tax revenue for education.

The proposed legislation would permit the creation of new, Las Vegas style casinos in close proximity to the existing racinos. These new casinos will have new, high tech slot machines (which are much more attractive to customers than Video Lottery Terminals), table games, the ability to extend credit to customers, higher wager limits without withholding winnings, a tax rate as low as 25%, and fewer safeguards than exist under current law. Racinos currently pay an effective tax rate of 67% to the state, so when their current revenue shifts to the new casinos paying just 25% in taxes, the net result will be a major loss of tax revenue used for education.

As a consequence, it is not possible for NYGA to support the current proposed legislation. We believe that the only way to prevent the loss of major tax revenue and the stagnation of jobs is by permitting the five racinos not located near current Tribal zones to operate under the same rules proposed in the new legislation. This would prevent the loss of tax revenue for our schools, result in the immediate creation of tens of thousands of new jobs, and spark billions of dollars of new investment.
Well, only question is, what took them so long?  Anyone who's been reading this blog knows that I've repeatedly predicted that NYGA would eventually pivot and turn against this thing; and that hardly makes me a genius (despite the Head Chef's protestations to the contrary!).  This was virtually written in stone as far as I'm concerned going back almost exactly one year ago when the governor, when asked about the prospect of the racinos getting exclusive rights to the expanded gaming, replied "I 100% oppose that." 
  "The current racino situation in this state is a scandal, in my opinion.  You try to find the rhyme or reason on racinos, and why taxpayers get what they get, it defies logic."
The group went silent for awhile, but surfaced again, tentatively at first, with ads touting their success in generating jobs and education income.  But Cuomo has been quite clear about his casino plans, and it was just a matter of time before NYGA would oppose them.  Don't really know what they were waiting for.  Perhaps Featherstonhaugh is so used to getting his way as a prominent Albany lobbyist that he thought he could impose his will; and his recent announcement that his Saratoga racino would expand was perhaps his final last gasp attempt to do so.  (And I've never understood how this group would hold together if just one of its members managed to score a license.)  But now, with the legislation being shaped behind closed doors, and with Genting, its most successful racino operator and the one with the most resources, in a competition with other aspirants in the Catskills area for the one facility to be sited there (it holds a stake in Empire Resorts, which is proposing to relocate its Monticello track and racino to the old Concord site) and hardly guaranteed success, the group has finally conceded defeat.

Racetracks themselves are also paying close attention to the proceedings....or at least they should be.  According to the language in the bill released last week, in the case that a casino actually is awarded to a current racino, it shall:  Maintain payments made from video lottery gaming operations to the relevant horsemen and breeders organizations at the same dollar level realized in 2012, to be adjusted by the consumer price index for all urban consumers, as published annually by the United States department of labor bureau of labor statistics.

While that may provide a floor for the horsemen and breeders, it also appears to cut them out of any gains that the VLTs at the facility may provide, excludes revenue from the new gambling games that would be featured in full casino....and I don't see anything about payments to the racetracks themselves, only to horsemen and breeders.

It also states:  All racetracks locations awarded a casino gaming facility license shall maintain racing activity and race dates, as deemed appropriate by the commission.   That "as deemed appropriate by the commission" is a potential loophole big enough to fit Belmont Park itself through, and surely doesn't provide any comfort to horsemen who have fought so hard to maintain their racing dates.

New casinos that are not currently VLT operators would be required to donate five percent of its "net revenues from slot machines" as follows: 3% to the closest racetrack (thoroughbred or harness), 1.5% to the next closest racetrack and .5% equally divided between the Harness Fund and Thoroughbred Breeding Fund.  But that obviously would only benefit the nearby track; and what exactly would constitute "net revenues from slot machines" is hardly clear.

And that is all besides the obvious potential damage that competition for gambling dollars from casinos could do to the racing industry in the state.  Politics sometimes makes strange bedfellows.  The NYGA and the NYS Horse Racing and Agriculture Industry Alliance - the group formed late last year by thoroughbred AND harness horsemen along with the NY Farm Bureau - could become fast friends in this fight, and the latter should welcome any help it can get.  Anyone connected with the racing industry - and any of us who care deeply about its fate - need to see the casino referendum go down in flames this November.

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Happy Recap (For Me At Least)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Here Comes Andrea On the Outside...

As far as the weather forecast for the weekend goes, what can one say.


I knew this damn storm was going to be a problem when first read about a possible tropical depression in the Gulf a couple of days ago, and I hate when I'm right about stuff like that (as I usually am, wish I could handicap the horses as well as I do the weather).  So, I'm thinking of Harvey Pack, who used to start rainy days on the in-house feed at Saratoga by declaring "You're not going to have fun today!"  That's not necessarily true of course, but the reality is that the rain puts quite a damper on the proceedings, both in terms of the quality of the races and of the ambiance, so the point was surely well-taken.  (And, in this case, the security crap doesn't help either; no umbrellas allowed, among other things. )  Well, the "good" news is that this thing is supposed to clear out of here sometime during the day on Saturday, so the day may not be a total washout, though, with up to two to four inches of rain expected, the track is sure to be sloppy, and all of the non-stakes turf races (and maybe those too) will be off the grass.  And I kind of expect that Friday's races will be cancelled altogether.

Anyway and despite the dire forecast, it's Belmont week so even the mundane races on Wednesday took on a little bit of buzz.  Winners for both Kiaran McLaughlin and David Jacobson, both of whom we identified as HOT the other day.  McLaughlin and Darley dropped Rugged ($3.90) in for a tag; don't know if Darley bothers to try and pull anything over, but if they did then they didn't succeed here as he was taken for 60K by trainer William Badgett for owner Louis Roussel III.  Jacobson won the 4th with Nifty Shindig ($3.70); he'd claimed this horse for 35K two races back, picked up $30,600 winning his next out in a Starter Optional Claimer, dropped him to a conditional 15K race here (even after the 4th place finisher in his last race came back to win an open 25K), got the $18,000 purse money and got him claimed (by Maker/Ramsey).  So a nifty shindig indeed, a tidy gross profit of $28,600.  You can say what you want about Jacobson, and I know people have their suspicions, but he knows how and when to spot his horses, that's for sure.

In the 8th, Teen Pauline was .45-to-1 for the Toddster off a 276 day layoff (a loss at 3-5) and faded in the stretch to 4th, yikes.  At least the bridgejumpers exercised good judgment here and laid off.  Bliss ($17.40) won her 4th in a row; she'd been claimed three races back for 25K from Chad Brown by owner/trainer Danny Gargan out of a maiden claimer, took advantage of that placing to be eligible to win a couple of Starter Allowance affairs before taking this entry-level allowance.  Nice spotting there by the connections, who had been knocking at the door at the meet before getting its first win with this daughter of Flashy Bull out of a Thunder Gulch mare.

Post positions and morning line for the Belmont here.  The posts aren't generally considered a big deal given the distance; but it does mean that Freedom Child, whose connections must be thrilled about the prospect of a wet track, has the opportunity to get a jump on Oxbow on the inside if that's the way they intend to play it.  Assuming that Palace Malice is under control with the blinkers off, there really ain't much speed in here other than those two.  If Freedom Child has an awkward start as he did in the Peter Pan and can't quickly recover, or if jockey Luis Saez chooses not to challenge for the lead, or if he's just not up to the task, I don't know who else is gonna try and run with Oxbow. Giant Finish perhaps?  [UPDATE: Our buddy El Angelo points out in the comments that Ken McPeek says that Frac Daddy is gonna be sent from the rail.  I point out that I'm rather skeptical as to how much he will be factor regardless given the horse's lack of early speed, but we'll see.]

Orb is the morning line favorite at 3-1 (and remember, he seemed to like the slop just fine in the Derby), a price which would not excite me at all.  Revolutionary (9-2) is the second choice, and I'm not really getting that; besides, we're not supposed to bet dead closers in this race, right?  And especially on a wet track (though if it becomes a drying-out track by 6:36 post time, it could be a different story).

Pletcher was talking the other day about how Unlimited Budget prefers to run outside of horses, so he must be pleased with the 13 post that she drew.  And, as I mentioned the other day, her broodmare sire is Valid Appeal, who adored the off-going and has proven to be a major wet track influence at stud.  So I like her a bit more with that prospect; and, additionally, her Oaks effort produced a big speed figure with my numbers, as opposed to the five point backward move on the Beyers.  Not to mention that Midnight Lucky and Close Hatches, both of whom finished behind the Toddster's filly in the Oaks, came back to run 1-2 in the Acorn; 9th place finisher Seaneed Girl ran second in an allowance at Fair Grounds.  Unlimited Budget was however made the co-4th choice in the morning line at 8-1. Wondering if the oddsmaker is considering what he believes to be her true chances, or is accounting for the casual money she is likely to attract given the publicity about her and her jockey Rosie Napravnik.  Either way, that would be a disappointment to me in terms of her value.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Tuesday Notes and Ramblings

 - Took a few days off from writing, and I had a few things to say so it's a pretty long post covering a fair amount of ground.  But it does actually have a logical flow to it all, so here we go.

 - Orb was declared a 'go' for the Belmont on Sunday by trainer Shug McGaughey following the colt's half-mile work in :48.30 at Belmont Park and gallop-out of five furlongs in a sharp 1:00.48

  "I was looking for a strong gallop-out and we got what we were looking for. I want to have a good horse for the summer, but he's doing good right now, and you never know what can happen between now and then." [Bloodhorse]
But even as the trainer looks forward, did I hear a hint of new excuses for Orb's failure at Pimlico? 
"I’m sure when the other riders had him down inside they weren’t going to let him out especially as slow as they were going and I think the racetrack was different. It was very loose. It just wasn’t our day."  [NY Daily News]
Don't think I've heard the 'loose and different track' excuse before nor, at least from Shug, a notation (with a slightly whiney tone) that the riders race rode against him.  But of everything we've heard from anyone in the two + weeks since the Preakness, the most succinct, and most likely accurate, is: "It just wasn't our day."  If we all had just acknowledged and accepted that, we wouldn't still be taking about it.

(Then again, that wouldn't be any fun.  For a Triple Crown series with different Derby and Preakness winners, and neither race being particularly competitive, it sure has generated a lot of discussion.)

I'm a fan of the horse, and think he'll be a fair price in what is expected to be a big field.  Shug noted that: “My biggest concern is a 14- or 15-horse field because I don’t think a lot of them belong." [NYT]  The thing is though that horses that don't belong don't get bet that way in Triple Crown races these days, so each entry should inflate Orb's odds more than it should.  Still, I dunno, just have a gut feeling that he's gonna lose.  With all the stats and angles we horseplayers consume ourselves with, sometimes you just gotta go with that, right?

The filly Unlimited Budget had a nice half mile work on Monday and is in. 
  “She worked really well,” Pletcher said. “I thought she was full of run throughout, finished up strongly, galloped out well, seemed to cool out well. [DRF]
I'm excited that she's running, as explained in the prior post.  As a young filly, she gets a pass for throwing in a bad one - that wasn't really all that bad.  (It was better than Orb's Preakness in terms of finish position and Beyer, so if we're giving him a pass, why not her.)  Hopefully she won't attract too much casual money with the Rosie/filly angle, but regardless I can definitely see her on my tickets in some way on Saturday.

I was at Belmont for awhile on Sunday and ran into a friend who was with a group with an impressive two-table picnic display.  We were talking about the Belmont, and got the sense they didn't know the security rules.  'Y'know, you can't bring coolers next week.'   'WHAT??'   These guys all seemed like regulars and they had no idea.  Thinking about it, I've seen the press release, and it's posted on the NYRA website.  The rules were widely tweeted, and I suppose they got some mentions in the press and blogs.  (Though if I Google 'belmont stakes security measures,' all I get is stories about the security at the barns for the horses.)

But I think NYRA really needs to go the extra mile to get the word out on this.  I know they want to get the most out of their advertising dollars, but they really need to devote some ad space or time to advise people of, particularly, the no cooler policy.  Maybe I've missed it, but I haven't seen anything in the ads I've seen, most recently in my inbox via the Village Voice.  Nothing.  If people don't know that they can't bring coolers for their picnics, there could be a crush at the parking lot entrances as people try to arrive and leave at the same time.

At Belmont on Sunday, another winner for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, and two for David Jacobson, and these barns are most definitely HOT.  McLaughlin had won five in a row on May 30-31, and here he got back on the board with Which Market ($6.70) in the 3rd.  This horse was going first time for a tag, and that's a 33% winning move and $2.53 ROI for this barn over the past three years.  Jacobson now has 25 winners from 84 runners for a win percentage of 30%.  He didn't lose even when Big Business ($4.30) made every effort to do so by lugging in for the entire length of the stretch.

Rudy Rodriguez had a winner with Quiet Power ($14.40) in the 9th.  But he is definitely not hot.  In fact, he's decidedly COLD.  That win broke a winless streak of 31 at Belmont, according to my unofficial tabulation; he also had a futility streak of 24 in April.  Based on a quick scan through his races going back to his start as a trainer in Feb 2010, I'm gonna play Elias Sport Bureau here and guess that either of those would qualify as the longest winless streaks of his career.  He's 22% on his career, but 11% at this meeting.   I think that if you've followed along here over the years, you know that I'm quite careful about drawing conclusions and throwing accusations at trainers.   And I'm not gonna do that here (specifically).  However, coming on the heels of his suspension, and the subsequent positives, and the extra scrutiny by the racing commission in, there's no denying, this looks really, really bad.

Continuing to ramble on, the last I've read about the Federal Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act is via press release on Paulick's site last month in conjunction with the bill being introduced in the House of Representatives.  I think I'm on record somewhere in the 3,965 posts here as saying that such legislation would never pass.  That remains to be seen, but this bill has a long ways to go; it's merely been referred to a House committee.  The site gives it a prognosis of a 13% chance of getting past committee, 6% chance of being enacted.

Indeed, it seems quite hard to believe that it will get much attention in the House this year given the current environment there.  The majority party, instead of actually trying to pass laws, has been busy voting 37 times in a futile and petty attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act.  And they are currently consumed in a frantic investigation frenzy of so-called scandals, most ludicrously their attempt to elevate what was clearly, in my view anyway, poor judgment on the part of low level staff at an IRS office in Cincinnati as to the best way to seek out supposed "social welfare" groups that seek to abuse their tax-exempt status, into a grand plot to sabotage conservative groups directed personally by the president.  Absurd.

And besides, even if this bill ever made it to the floor, considering that Republicans are so against government regulation of business and markets - even if human lives and livelihoods are potentially at stake - and were so ardently opposed even to common sense background checks as a prerequisite to purchase guns in the wake of the gruesome massacres of recent times as an unacceptable intrusion by the government, I'm supposed to believe that a relative handful of horse racing trainers caught cheating with drugs raises to the level in their eyes of an acceptable encroachment of the evil government?

Was reading, for the first time, this article by Joe Drape from May 1 about how the racing industry is "eager" for such a bill that would allow the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) to establish national medication rules and penalties, and couldn't help but think about this piece about gun company executives that was on the front page of the Times a couple of weeks ago.  Opposing regulation at every turn, they testified in depositions a decade ago that they basically didn't really care who their guns are sold to.  And to leave them the hell alone.
The executives claimed not to know if their guns had ever been used in a crime. They eschewed voluntary measures to lessen the risk of them falling into the wrong hands. And they denied that common danger signs — like a single person buying many guns at once or numerous “crime guns” that are traced to the same dealer — necessarily meant anything at all.
I've written often about how the racing industry has been painted into a cowering defensive posture, and nowhere is it more apparent than here.  As despicable as these gun stooges are, refusing to even acknowledge, and expressing cold indifference to, the tragic consequences of unregulated distribution of their products, to see that kind of backbone from racing executives would surely be a sign of a healthier industry.  One would think that, in a more ideally structured racing world, industry officials would be standing up to say "Hey, we know what's good for our game, we're taking steps to address the problems, we don't need the government telling us how to run our business, and hey, we can't control bad guys who don't follow the rules.  So back off."  (And then going out and actually addressing those problems.)  Instead, they're like "Oh yes, please regulate us, oh mighty federal government agency with your expertise in baseball and Lance Armstrong."  Seriously, this is what it comes down to?  Is this industry really that helpless and pathetic that this is what it really wants?  To throw up their hands and cede significant authority and control of their business to the government? Did any "eager" racetrack officials even read the part of the bill that would make their interstate simulcast rights subject to "consent" by the USADA?

OK, I'm done...