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Thursday, August 29, 2013

Saratoga Thursday

Greetings from Saratoga, where the weather has mostly been wonderful, and where the time just flies by, as usual.  Man, Thursday already.  Headed up here with grand aspirations to post regularly.  But that obviously ain't happening, sorry.  It's between that and handicapping....and I want to make some money!!

I texted the Head Chef after a brutal beat in the 9th on Monday: Just got nailed on the wire for a big exacta score.   And she responded:  Is that good or bad?

Well, it was bad.  Had a nice exacta wager on Allen Jerkens' Go Unbridled over favored Mischief Maker in a second-choice-over-the-favorite combo that was returning a generous $30, and watched as the latter got nosed out in a head bob.

However, I'm doing pretty well up here, thanks to a couple of exacta scores featuring a favorite over a longshot: Plainview over 19-1 Twigazuri Strait in the 7th, also on Monday; and Granny Mc's Kitten (actually the second choice) over 15-1 Duff One in the 8th on Wednesday.  Add in the 4th race triple at Delaware on Monday, and it's been good over all.  Nonetheless, in this game, we take the bad with the good.  And in addition to getting beat in that exacta, also suffered (mostly silently) when 9-1 Sabouli was similarly nosed, in the 7th on Monday; and by the longest shot in the field too.  That one hurt.  The winner was Indian Starlight, who went wire-to-wire, and man, the speed has been tough on both grass courses here.

I've also had bets on three horses who didn't finish their races, which is never a good thing for anyone involved.  Kris Royal and Sarava's Dancer were both euthanized on the course after the 9th on Sunday; and I don't yet know the fate of Old Brownsboro, who was vanned off following the 10th on Monday. (Not a good last 24 hours for that horse's trainer, Ian Wilkes, who announced this morning that Fort Larned would be scratched from Saturday's Woodward.)  There is concern regarding the safety of the grass courses, which have been hard used to what I imagine are historical proportions given the dry weather here, which will likely prove to be an outlier as the years pass.

Big carryover for the Pick Six today, and I couldn't blame anyone planning on singling Roses for Romney (8-5) in the 9th, given the way speed is holding up on the grass.  I might be wary though of Pure Amour (5-1), who is two-for-two since transferring to the barn of the red-hot George Weaver.  Overcame significant trouble entering the final turn to win two back; and took matters into her own hands when the pace was slower last out, taking charge earlier on, and holding off the next-out winner Lawless Miss.  Really like the way those efforts look visually; and the TimeformUS Pace Projector indicates a couple of wild cards in Sus Annmaries Gold and Simplistic to possibly push the favorite to a fast pace.  So I'll be looking at the exacta prices with Weaver's mare over Roses for Romney.

OK, a few pictures then back to work and play.

That's Royal Delta before her race on Sunday, trailed by trainer Bill Mott in the bottom photo.  I'm not one to get all gushy about a horse, especially one who has cost me as much money as this one has.  But she was pretty magnificent, before and during the race.

Yeah, another picture of the swing band and the dancers.  Can't get enough of that.

It's pretty quiet here.  I like it!

You mean, you guys still aren't using your iPad at the track?  (Apparently not, from what I observe!)  I have yet to been to a betting window, and haven't once had to go in search of a TV on which to watch my favorite simulcasting tracks!

Hiked down and up the Indian Ladder Trail at Thacher State Park on Tuesday.  That park had originally been slated for closing a few years back due to budget considerations; it was saved, but only partially so, it would seem.  It's largely well maintained, but there are no services at all, and several of the trails seemed to be closed and not maintained.  A really sad sight for a grand natural resource.  But the Indian Ladder Trail lives on in all its glory.  Used to hike this back when I went to school at Union College....had been quite some time since I'd been there!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Lukas Takes Charge of Travers

Getting ready to head up to Saratoga - cleverly leaving the morning after the Travers - so a few thoughts on the race before we go.  It was an exciting finish, but, from a historical perspective, can't say I missed much.  Just another Travers that will go down in the annals of Saratoga as Graveyard of Favorites, rather than any kind of coronation.  Though I'll feel differently about it should Will Take Charge go on to win the Classic!

As often seems to be the case on big race days on tracks east and west, north and south, the main track appeared to heavily favor speed.  I don't know exactly what track crews do to prepare their tracks for big days.  But whatever it is, they should stop.  One would think that tracks would go out of their way to ensure that their main strip is not speed favoring.  If anything, you'd think they would want it slightly the opposite; fair, but generating finishes that potentially involve all of the contestants rather than tilted towards the ones on or near the lead.

Of course, one might argue that the successful closing rallies by Capo Bastone ($58.50) and Will Take Charge ($21.20) disproves the whole notion that the track favored speed; but I don't necessarily agree.  The pace of the King's Bishop was the kind that really should have, especially in a Grade 1 field, produced a cavalry charge in the final eighth instead of a sole horse coming to run the leader down.  Other than Pletcher's longshot, that stretch run looked a lot like the Grade 1 Test, in which the entire field seemed to hang in the stretch, a mass of floundering equine flesh as the winner staggered home in 13 2/5.

The Travers is different in that it was the only two-turn dirt race, and in that Moreno was able to set a sensible pace.  So it's harder, I think, to judge whether a bias came into play.  Moreno is a tough horse and, as opposed to the Jim Dandy, in which he was pressed to sub-24 second quarters after the initial one, here he loped along, going, uncontested, at a clip of 24 2/5, 24 2/5, 24 3/5.  That easy pace allowed him to accelerate to 24 flat to the mile and further discourage his opponents.  Still, to see him last as he did at a mile and a quarter was a surprise to me, and I'll be willing to back the opinion that he was aided by a bias in races down the road.

And he surely benefited from the fact that Palace Malice was at the back of the pack.  Wasn't apparent watching at first, but he did stumble a bit at the gate, and then had Transparent come in and squeeze him.  Thought he did extremely well under the circumstances to get as close as he did at the end; one can surely argue that he was best.  Once again, as has been the case more often than not this year, it's a race in which it's impossible to judge his true ability, and we can only project what might have been.

Orb had every chance to pass Moreno and, as was the case when he had dead aim in the Belmont, faltered near the end.  You look at those two races, and what can be described as his indifferent effort in the Preakness, and I wonder if the colt has lost his competitive spirit for now.  Don't know if hyperbaric chambers can do anything about that.  Makes me more convinced than ever that he left his best racing in the spring and that we won't see him in the winners circle again this year.

Hearing people say that the Travers proves that Verrazano is not a mile and a quarter horse.  But truth is he was done long before the eighth pole.

As for Will Take Charge, I suppose we and the sport could all do worse than to see Wayne Lukas' smiling face on TV after big races such as these.  The son of Unbridleds Song looked perfectly logical coming off, and stretching out from, his closing second to Palace Malice in the Jim Dandy.  I don't think anyone would ever have thought however that it would be the Belmont winner trying to catch Will Take Charge instead of the other way around.  But it's a goofy game, as we've noted lately.

Transparent had picked up some wise guy support especially with his trainer Kiaran McLaughlin so hot (another winner, with Celebrated Talent ($4.80) in the second); but both he and Romansh, the two to come out of the Curlin Stakes, were totally dead on the tote.  And they didn't do much better than that on the track.  Transparent showed absolutely nothing, finishing dead last and Romansh faded to 5th.  I had mentioned that the TimeformUS figures showed the Curlin as coming up faster than the Jim Dandy; so, in this particular case, the Beyers proved to be closer to the mark.  Still, by far the most accurate measure of all turned out to be the one that Figless players would pay most attention to - the teletimer.  The Jim Dandy was over two seconds faster than the Curlin, and the Travers certainly played out that way, both on the tote and on the track.

That's all I have time for now.  We'll be in Saratoga through the end of the meet, hope to speak to you from there.  You can also follow me on Twitter to get some bad horse picks in real time.  Best of luck and have a great day.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Red Hot Trainer Hopes Luck Carries Through to Travers

Wow, an amazing couple of days for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, who followed up his perfect two-for-two on Wednesday with another one on Thursday, and did so with flair and some bizarre similarities.  The two on Wednesday were running in the colors of Shadwell; the pair on Thursday for Darley.  In the 7th, McLaughlin once again prevailed with a two-year old filly making her debut in a turf sprint.  As with Almurra on Wednesday, she was 6-1 morning line.  Sky Painter ($18) was also dull on the tote (though surely not to the same extent as Almurra, who was 22-1). And both fillies are by Street Cry out of a graded stakes winning mare; in the case of Sky Painter, Skywalker (Sky Mesa), who won Grade 2's at Pimlico and Indiana Downs.

Then, in the 8th, it was With Sugar on Top ($24.20) storming from the back of the pack to stun the crowd (other than Andy Serling).  This is a three-year old daughter of the late Unbridled's Song who had run into some slow pace scenarios in her last couple of tries.  Got a hot pace here for sure; but they still came home pretty quickly - 36 2/5 seconds for the last three furlongs, and the winner closed quite a bit of ground in that time.  So can't say the race fell apart (though perhaps worth noting that the second place finisher was an 8-1 show who came from dead last).  With Sugar on Top is out of Fast Cookie (Deputy Minister), who won the De La Rose over the very same inner turf course in 2004.  Perhaps if I'd spent Wednesday night handicapping instead of writing this blog, I would have seen that little tidbit before the race.  It's occurred to me lately that every race one misses because he or she is doing something else is one that could have been an all-time memorable score.  Keep that in mind next time you're deciding whether to play the races or watch the third season of Breaking Bad on DVD.

Now, McLaughlin might be thinking that he'd prefer to bottle some of that magic for Saturday, when he will start Transparent (10-1)  in the Travers. (He has a couple of entries for Friday, including Villanesca [12-1] in the Grade 1 Ballerina.)  Coming off his DQ-d 'win' in the Curlin, Transparent is, to me, the most likely alternative to the big three, even without his trainer currently being on fire.  This son of Bernardini has come around after a slow start to his career.  McLaughlin told of excuses for those early efforts in this article by Teresa in the Saratogian.  

But all that doesn't matter now; he's been good for awhile and seems to be getting better. Transparent has won three of his last four, winning easily each time; and he was taken out of his mid-pack closer running style when he pressed the pace and encountered traffic problems when he finished 6th in the Gotham.  Given that running style, and considering that he's by a Travers winner our of a daughter of Unbridled's song, you'd think he won't have a problem with the extra furlong.  (Though there's not much on the catalog page - and his dam was a sprinter and he's a half to one in the G1 winner Street Boss.)

On the TimeformUS speed figures, Transparent actually gets a higher figure (106) for the Curlin than did Palace Malice (104) in the Jim Dandy. I don't think that matters much with respect to Palace Malice though.  I look at the narrative of his eventful journey to this point; the no-chance trip in the Louisiana Derby; the quick turnaround (no doubt overruling the trainer) to the Blue Grass two weeks later in a desperate attempt to get into the Derby (and the unexpected [to me] success there over an unfamiliar surface), the wild and wacky blinkers experiment gone awry in the Derby. Then, after a five week break, a Belmont win that I think can be described as appearing almost routine; he looked like a winner every step of the way. One would suppose that, with the Triple Crown pressure off, the Jim Dandy was merely a prep, for which he wasn't fully cranked, in which he closely tracked a pretty brisk pace and won with similar visual ease.  So I don't really care about the numbers in this case.  I believe that Palace Malice is the class of the race and will prove so rather decisively.  And I say that knowing how extra dumb I feel when I'm wrong about statements like that when the trainer is Pletcher.

Here's the TimeformUS Pace Projector for the Travers.

No, I don't think that Palace Malice and Verrazano will be quite as close to the expected pace-setter Moreno as shown here.  One has to keep in mind that this stuff is computer generated and doesn't take the human element into account, especially in a longer race such as this in which strategy will stump speed.  Pletcher's two colts will likely each be seeking similar stalking trips.  I expect separation between the two by mid-stretch. I'd like to try to beat Verrazano entirely and leave him off my tickets, especially as the favorite.  But when I watch the replay of the Haskell, I'm reminded of just how impressive that performance was visually.  I'm again struck by Johnny V ignoring the Preakness winner/Belmont runner-up in front of him and instead stealing glances behind, and by the way Verrazano was striding out smoothly and powerfully while leaving the field in his wake. I'm against him in the win spot, for sure, given my doubts about his ability to stay the distance.  But don't know if I can bring myself to leave him out entirely, as I will with Orb, assuming I'm right in that he'll be significantly lower than his 4-1 morning line.

So I'm basically thinking Palice Malice over Transparent, and I'm also quite interested, for minor awards, in Romansch, (12-1) who was placed first in the Curlin.  That was his first race against winners, and he ran huge, stumbling badly at the start and being caught very wide on both turns. Can't blame anyone who thinks that he wouldn't have needed a DQ to have beaten Transparent with a better trip.  He's another son of Bernardini, this one out of a mare by the Derby winner Go For Gin (though like Transparent, his dam was a sprinter).  And I suppose I'll also give some consideration at the very bottom of the tickets to Will Take Charge (10-1), whose good effort in the Jim Dandy perhaps heralds a return to form, but who looks to be a notch slower than these overall.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

By the Numbers, Verrazano Seems Worthy Favorite

 - Verrazano has been installed as the 2-1 favorite in a field of nine for the Travers, the 12th race on a 14 race marathon at Saratoga on Saturday that begins at 11:35 AM.  I'm going to go out on a limb without having done any research on the subject, and say that that's the most races ever on a NYRA card.  As if to rub it in to those who dislike oversized cards and the quality of the races that are used to fill them, the 13th and 14th races are a 20K claiming turf sprint for non-winners of two lifetime, and a NY-bred maiden race. I'm kind of excited for them.

It would certainly not be a surprise should the Wood winner indeed go off as the public choice.  He simply seems to be the fastest horse in the race, at least off his Haskell win.  He earned a Beyer of 116, which kinda overwhelms this field; Palace Malice's 107 in the Jim Dandy is the closest second.  [He also got a 116 on the TimeformUS figs; it's highly unusual for the two to be in line.  Ours is a higher scale, so Beyer rated the race pretty significantly faster than we do; a comparable TFUS number would be around 130.]  On BRIS, he got a 111, best last-out but tied for top career number with Orb's Derby.

So, if you're going by the figures, he's strictly the one to beat.  There is the question of distance though, as well as the thought that he'll be facing much better horses than he has in his two eye-catching Monmouth efforts since he faltered at this mile and a quarter distance in the slop of the Derby. And, as the Toddster told Joe Drape, in a typical Pletcher quote (and talking about Palace Malice as well):  “We’re concerned we’re trying to match lifetime-best performances in four weeks.” Yeah, we'll see, but I think Pletcher should stop worrying about that stuff and just send them out to run.

Orb drew the two post and was listed as the 4-1 third choice, behind Palace Malice (5-2). Somewhere, I read Shug expressing regret that he didn't draw further outside, perhaps thinking back to the Preakness, in which he was never able to escape the inside path - said to be a bad one at Pimlico that day - and never seemed comfortable regardless of any possible track bias. Now, I've been dissing Orb's chances to win on Saturday (and for the rest of the year).  But, were he really to go off at 4-1, I'd be remiss to not have him on my tickets in some way, maybe even on top.  I have to respectfully disagree here with NYRA's oddsmaker Eric Donovan; I do not at all believe he'll be 4-1. It's the Kentucky Derby winner on a big race day that draws a lot of casual betting money; he has a win and a good figure for that mile and a quarter race, and a lot of attention from the press, declaring him "back" after his respite at Fair Hill and his snappy work on Monday.  I would not at all be shocked if he goes off the second choice; and wouldn't faint dead away even should he be the favorite.

 - A very interesting day on the Saratoga toteboard on Wednesday.  The first was a two-year old race in which all the starters were making their debut.  Two of them who were each 6-1 in the morning line went off as the favorites, and second choice Court Dancer ($8.30) ran off for trainer George Weaver.  With nine winners from 29 starters (31%), this barn is tied with Chad Brown and Jack Fisher for the second-best winning percentage amongst trainers with ten starters or more.  Don't have to tell you who's first.

Court Dancer is by War Chant out of a mare by the Secretariat stallion D'accord; and this is the direct female family of the great sprinting mare Honorable Miss (the dam of the latter is the 3rd dam of Court Dancer). And I must admit that I well remember her beating the boys to win her second straight Fall Highweight Handicap with Willie Shoemaker aboard at Belmont Park.  What I didn't recall as clearly is that the race took place on opening day at Belmont....on August 31, 1976.  Seems so long ago now that Labor Day weekend was a major racing weekend downstate.  How long before we're saying that about the 4th of July too?  (Well, I suppose we can already say that, but how long before July 4 is opening day at Saratoga?)

Kiaran McLaughlin had two winners, and also has nine for the meet; albeit from 43 starters.  Sayaad ($6.80) was for some reason second choice to the Toddster's Winning Cause even though he was clearly faster according to the popular speed figures.  Reinforces how surprising those odds on Corfu were given how Pletcher's horses tend to get bet (understandable when you're winning at 36%). Sayaad is by Street Sense out of a mare by Time for a Change (Damascus); and this is the distaff family of the fun-loving and stakes-winning Warrior brothers (A Z, E Z, and J Z).

In the 8th (and in the goofy stuff happens in racing category), McLaughlin won with his first-timer Almurra, who was 6-1 morning line, but for some reason paid $47.80.  Talk about dead on the board; type of horse I would never, ever bet.  She's a Shadwell home-bred by Street Cry out of the Grade 1 winner Alwajeeha!  Seriously!  True, her works were mostly just breezes, and the barn may not be the best debut outfit; but it's hardly incompetent.  Really hard to figure that one.

In the 9th, the Albany Stakes for state-breds, 3-5 Amberjack went down to Escapefromreality ($8.50), for trainer Dominic Schettino.  I'd picked that barn's horse in the 10th, and as much as I like to follow hot trainers, I usually prefer that he/she doesn't win the race immediately preceding. Then, Schettino's horse in the finale, Cielo Soleggiato, was inexplicably bet down to 2-1 favoritism. I mean, I thought he looked intriguing at his 6-1 morning line, and honestly thought he'd go off higher than that. But he was an absolutely awful bet at 2-1, maybe the worst favorite of the meet, and he didn't run so good either.  Rosario was able to slow the pace to 49 4/5 after a 24 1/5 opening quarter, but really had nothing left (and seemed to get bumped pretty good too).  The goofily-named Horse Latitudes ($14.20) sat the perfect trip and won easily for trainer John Hertler, who's been dropping this one seeking his proper level.  Guess he found it.  It seems that every year, I'm sitting here writing about how Hertler is a low-percentage but highly capable trainer who always seems to put together a little streak up there.  In fact, this year, he's having a particularly rough time; but this was his second winner from his last three starters (giving him a total of three for the year).

 - In this Postcards from Saratoga column from Wednesday's edition of the Times, Drape shows what he can do when he is celebrating the sport instead of trying to tear it down.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Travers Showdown a Two-Horse Race

Post positions will be drawn on Wednesday morning for the.....

I see it as a two horse race, as you may have noticed.  Though I suppose I could have made that point in a more mature manner.  I'm already on record as saying that Orb will not win another race this year, and I'm sticking with that, hyperbaric chambers and spa treatments notwithstanding. The Derby champ worked a half in 47.66 seconds on Monday.  Gary West, writing for, noted:
 Beneath her [exercise rider Jennifer Patterson], the horse glided over the surface, contracting and then springing and reaching forward with each stride so that for an instant he would seem parallel to the earth, contoured like an horizon, and all the while, for the entire half-mile and beyond, he pointed his ears skyward, alert to the morning's birdsong or maybe to the cameras' shutters.
 Oh, jeez, for heaven's sake.
 He's back, alert and focused, his bright eyes shiny as marbles.
Yeah, I don't really go for that kind of literary flourish when it comes to workout reports, but I'll presume that the horse worked well.  That's fine; still, my gut tells me the horse won't bounce back from his Triple Crown journey even with his marble eyes, and won't win another race until/if he races at four.  But even if I'm wrong and he runs quite well on Saturday, doesn't mean he's gonna come close to beating Palace Malice, who my gut tells me is ready to move further forward and ultimately be a strong contender on Breeders Cup Saturday.
 “He seems to be thriving,” Pletcher said. “The more he does the better he gets.”  [DRF]
 Here's hoping he's not the favorite.  I'd like to see the odds on who will be.

 - In the 10th on Wednesday, Cielo Soleggiato (6-1) has a good name, goes second off a 149-day layoff, and stretches out to nine furlongs on the inner turf for trainer Dominic Schettino.  This barn has not been tearing it up at the meet (25-3-4-2), but did have a winner on Monday, and earns a perfect 100 TimeformUS trainer rating in the Second Since Layoff category.  (We define a layoff for these purposes as a minimum of 90 days.)

He had the rail at seven furlongs in his last, his turf debut, couldn't keep up with the speedy Gentle Jim, and faded to 6th.  Still, he finished less than five lengths behind the winner, Orino, who went on to be first under the wire in a state-bred stakes only to be questionably dq'd.  Stretching out here and breaking from a more strategic post, Pace Projector has him with a clear lead, and Cielo Soleggiato has a lot of turf-distance influence in his pedigree that suggests he can take them all the way around.  He's by Sky Mesa, out of a Dixie Union mare who's a half-sister to Moments of Magic, who won the mile and a half Dowager Stakes at Keeneland in 1999.  His second dam is a half to Fortnightly, who won the mile and a quarter Secretariat and was second in the 11 furlong Manhattan, and Ten Below, who won the mile and a half Lawrence Realization at Belmont in 1982 (as reported then by Steven Crist of the NY Times).  He also attracts the services of jockey Joel Rosario (second in the jockey standings, five behind Castellano), who doesn't often ride for this trainer.  Best of luck and have a great day.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Saratoga Notes

Another winner, on Monday, for Anthony Dutrow who, as noted yesterday, is making the most of limited opportunities at the meet.  Sheer Drama (2nd race, $11.00) gave him a record of 16-5-3-2.  By the way, the NYRA website has up to date trainer stats these days, with a little interactivity too. There you can see Dutrow's upcoming entries, which include a MTO horse on Wednesday, and a class dropping Native Wave who looks interesting in that spot on Thursday.  Will try and circle back to that.  Sheer Drama, making his first start on a fast track around two turns, is by Burning Roma, a Rubiano stallion currently standing in Florida for $1,000, out of quite a productive mare in Riveting Drama (Notebook). She's had at least eight previous winners, according to Pedigree Query, including the BC Sprint winner Big Drama, and the sprint-stakes winning Little Drama (also by Burning Roma).  Looking at a sampling of the races that her output has won, it seems as if Sheer Drama may have outrun his pedigree by winning at a mile and an eighth.

Another trainer whose horses seem quite sharp of late is Barclay Tagg.  Don't see as much of him as we did just a few years ago; just 80 starters coming on the year coming into Monday.  Only three winners from 19 starters this meet, but those have all come in his last ten starts, and include Caroline Thomas, who just missed in the Lake Placid on Sunday (and got put up via dq).  On Monday, Tagg won the 4th with Hot Tempo ($6); and in the 8th, his Judy G looked ready to pounce at 10-1 turning for home, but was hopelessly thwarted in an effort to find a seam and settled for 5th.  Horse and trainer well worth following.  He has nothing entered through Friday other than an AE in the finale that day.

Graham Motion (27-3-3-6) has had a rough meet, but took the 9th with She's Not Lazy ($39.20), one of the longshots that contributed to a Pick Six carryover coming up on Wednesday.   She's Not Lazy is a three-year old daughter of Tiznow, out of an winless Gone West mare who's a half to the dam of last year's Oaks winner Believe You Can; and this is also the distaff family of the multiple graded grass stakes winner Rush Bay.

The carryover was a foregone conclusion by Monday's 10th, but Lumineuse put the icing on a difficult day with an upset at 22-1.  It was the old Christophe Clement to Patrick Quick trainer move.  I saw Andy Serling and some guy named Attenberg going off on Twitter about how unlikely a winner this horse was.  But Lumineuse is a son of North Light (Danehill), "Canada's #1 Turf Sire in 2012," out of a Silver Deputy half-sister to the multiple (restricted/state-bred) grass stakes winner You Go West Girl; and her second dam is the multiple graded grass stakes winner Careless Heiress.  So, she had every right to improve on grass.

But no, I didn't have her either.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Sunday News and Notes

Amongst all the happy talk described in the last post, I did hear a little grumbling about the quality of the racing.  That's a familiar refrain the last few years, and generally with good reason.  My impression though - mostly from a distance - is that the racing has actually held up a bit better than it has the last 2-3 years.

And again, the discussion is based largely on what one considers to be quality racing these days.  For example, some may not have like seeing maiden claimers, cheap conditional claimers, and state-bred races on Alabama day on Saturday.  But, other than the prohibitive Alabama favorite Princess of Sylmar ($3), there was not a single horse that went off at odds of less than $1.60-to-1; and only four of the 12 races included a horse that was less than $1.95-to-1.  So that seems pretty competitive to me, and that's what I generally base my assessment of 'quality' these days.

Princess of Sylmar did get the job done in the Alabama.  I'd characterize it as dominant, especially the way she circled the field around the turn with no seeming effort at all.  Would have ultimately been more visually pleasing though had the race ended shortly thereafter.  As is usually the case in mile and a quarter races on the dirt in this country, I wouldn't exactly characterize her final eighth or so as "sizzling," or "bounding home."  But she got the job done, under urging, in a final quarter of 25.30 which qualifies as pretty good these days.  We may or may not see her again this year according to owner Ed Stanco; but I suspect we will should she come out in good order.

Ken Ramsey won the Sword Dancer with Big Blue Kitten ($7.90), part of a pretty good day hour that the owner enjoyed.  Shortly afterwards, he dispensed with a little pocket change to claim Tiu for $25,000 out of a maiden claiming race at Saratoga.  Gotta love that.  (And a bit overlooked was trainer Chad Brown, who trained two of those winners.)

Up and down day for Wayne Lukas.  Took the second with Strong Mandate ($34), a two-year old son of Tiznow who ran rather poorly in his debut, over the track, last month.  Maybe that nice five furlong workout on Aug 7 was a tip off.  Or maybe a son of a two-time Classic winner out of a three-time Grade 1 winner (Clear Mandate) deserves a second chance.  Later, the barn's Optimizer was eased, as the 7-1 4th betting choice - in the Sword Dancer.  Reported to have had a breathing issue, and to be OK.  Or maybe he's just really excited and distracted about the upcoming new MGMT album and tour.

Not to be too outdone, two more winners for Pletcher, who is now 27-for-74, for a whopping percentage of 37%.  Those investigators must be lurking around his barn, right?  In the 4th, Midnight Taboo ($8.70) got the money this time after bobbling at the break at even money in his first try after losing the Belmont by 49 lengths. 

Amongst mere mortal trainers, Dominic Galluscio continues his fine run, with Westside Corral $12.40) taking the 5th.  He has eight winners from 29 starters (28%).

Anthony Dutrow took the 12th and final race - and I wonder how many of the 34,951 on hand were still around for that one - with first timer and aptly-named Summer Place to Be ($9.80).  Haven't seen too much of this barn this summer; but he's made the most of it with four winners from 15 starters, two of them debut runners.  This one was plucked out of a two-year old in training sale last May for $100,000; so you know the owners didn't have an August, 2013 debut in mind.  Doubt that the $42,000 that the owners earned comes close to paying for the expenses since then!  Summer Place to Be is by Corinthian out of a winless Smart Strike mare.  Second dam is graded winner Ziggy's Act; third dam is the Grade 1 winner Comedy Act.

And back to the question of "quality."  Given the choice of watching a potential champion semi-labor home in a Grade 1 against four tiring rivals, and a flying finish in a $35,000 optional claiming contest, like yesterday's 8th, you know where I line up.  Best of luck on Sunday and have a great day!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Saratoga: Nice!!

Have to say that Saratoga really outdid itself on the short jaunt I took up there on Thursday and Friday.  Man, it was nice!!!  Always helps when the weather is spectacular, which surely is an apt description of what it's like this week.....and for most of the meet as far as I can surmise.  Everything seems so bright and stunningly clear when it's like that....and probably more so for me, being my first trip up there this summer.

It all made it really tough for me to get in the car and drive home after the last race on Friday.  I mean, it's the weekend, everybody was first getting there and I had to leave!  Hard to do,
and I found myself stopping and lingering at the state park before relenting and hitting the highway.  It was a little surreal at time; when I emerged from that narrow stretch of the Taconic where it opens up at the southern part, I was literally the only person on the road for long stretches.  Why would anyone be heading south at that time?  Fortunately it won't be too long before I'm heading back north, and with the Head Chef this time.  We'll be heading up the day after the Travers, and staying in town for the rest of the meet.  Until the bitter end.

Well, it was quite an interesting trip, both recreationally and business-wise.  It included an unexpected appearance by yours truly on the Capitol OTB cable TV show on Friday morning.  Which made for a nervous and restless stay at the hotel in Albany on Thursday night!  (Too cheap to spring for a more convenient location.)  Spoke to host Seth Morrow briefly about the blog, and then about TimeformUS, and I believe I made it through without making a fool of myself.  Many thanks to Seth for having me and to Teresa for setting it up.

It really struck me just how happy and nice everybody seems up there!  You'd think that everyone was making a lot of money, which I kinda doubt is really the case.  Got to spend some time with friends and acquaintances and they were all happy and nice.  Got to meet Princess of Sylmar's owner Ed Stanco, Chris Kay, Randy Moss, the Capitol OTB handicappers Jeanne Wood and Anthony Momino, and they all seemed really nice and happy.

No, I did not meet the Toddster, but I'm sure he would have been nice and happy too (though maybe not after the third on Friday before which he is pictured here).

Actually can't think of anyone I encountered in any capacity that would not fit that description. Imagine how much fun I would have had if I had actually won!

 - I'm not a big track bias guy as you know; but there's no doubt in my mind that the main track at Saratoga is speed favoring; no question.  (Just as the Polytrack at Del Mar was when I was there.)  I think that was apparent from a couple of the races in which the front-runners actually did not hang on.  I was hanging out with Bob from Kasey K on Friday, and we were looking at Souper Speedy before the 6th.  His dependable stretch runner Hello Lover (last year's Pennsylvania Horse of the Year, another big earner that he claimed for ridiculously little) had beaten that horse last time, yet he was pointing out just how great Souper Speedy had run despite being taken out of his usual running style.  He also towered over the field on the TFUS figures.  So, when he got his desired stalking trip this time, I expected him to blow by the field; yet he struggled mightily and needed every step of the stretch to finally vanquish 24-1 Say No More (who, in retrospect, I could actually make a good red-board case for, but still).   Then, in the 9th, favored Awesome Vision had a similarly ideal journey, looked poised to blow them away as they turned for home, yet was all out to prevail.  I believe the track has played that way ever since it dried out from the slop of a week ago Friday, and shows no sign of abating.

 - Doug Salvatore, our East Coast handicapper at TimeformUS, takes a look at the Arlington Million and the supporting stakes here.  I steadfastly opposed his pick on Friday, and it ended up splitting my get-out cold exacta, so shame on me!  (Some insight on the shippers from the TimeformUK team here.)  The Million is one of our free races of the day (along with the Alabama); and you can access them (after a short and free sign-up) here.  You might be interested in taking a look at the speed figures, as we are endeavoring to harmonize those for the foreign runners with the domestic ones.  Worked pretty will with Farhaan in the 10th at Saratoga on Thursday.  I'm a bit interested in Mull of Killough (12-1), a horse who seemed to really come into his own last in his six-year old season last year, and has carried that form over with a couple of solid UK performances this year.  Best of luck and have a great day!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Saratoga Thursday

Getting ready to head up to Saratoga for a couple of race days.  Hell, what good is it working in the industry if I don't take advantage and take a little excursion under the pretense of "business" at least once?  Will be attending Serling's radio show at Parting Glass this evening; TimeformUS is a sponsor, and our speed figure guy Craig Milkowski will be a guest.  So will Chris Kay.

A couple of horses at double digit morning line odds caught my attention on Thursday's card.  In the 8th, the West Point Stakes for state-breds, Mr. Vegas (10-1) goes second off a 413 day layoff.  Showed good form in his return at Arlington, tracking an honest and even pace set by the graded stakes winner Nates Mineshaft.  Had a clear shot at him in the stretch; no disgrace that he couldn't catch that one, who was had an uncontested lead and was showing his class in his first race on grass.  He earned as solid TimeformUS fig of 111, and has back numbers that would destroy this field.  Comes right back after just 19 days; something one can use an excuse in retrospect, but makes me feel as if his connections are confident shipping in for this NY-bred spot.  Truth be told, trainer Merrill Scherer is not having a great meet, but did have a little run here last year, so we can only hope.  Think Mr. Vegas has a shot here with a similar stalking trip behind the Pace Projected leaders Street Game and Mia Poppy.  Hangover Kid (6-1) comes off a nice third in the G1 United Nations for trainer Jason Servis; that was a mile and three eighths, and I think he's a bit slower than these at a more "normal" distance like todays 1 1/16 mile.

In the 9th, Roadhog (12-1) ships in for trainer Elizabeth Merryman, a 20% conditioner who rarely ventures to Saratoga; she brings the horse's regular jockey Horacio Karamanos along for the ride.  She's been very live of late out of town, with seven winners from her last 14 starters.  Six-year old gelded son of Bowman's Band returned from a 183 day layoff in April, and has raced OK since then.  Last grass try was a decent 5th in the G2 Colonial Turf Cup, in which Karamanos rode the 50-1 winner, and Roadhog appeared to move too soon.  Looking at this horse's pp's from last year, it took a few races for him to get going, but once he did, he was quite good, earning a big fig in a stakes win at Laurel.  He may have signaled his readiness to step forward again with a handy win on the synth at Presque Isle in his last.  Looks live at that price.  Teaks North (2-1) is clearly, in my opinion, the horse to beat.  Star Channel (8-1) wheels right back 15 days after an even try at 13 furlongs, with a sharp workout in between, and shows two good recent efforts at a mile and a quarter (today's race is 1 3/16ths); but caution, this barn is ice cold.  Best of luck and have a fantastic day!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Jockey Club Pushes Push-Poll at Round Table

Apparently I wasn't the only one getting a negative vibe from the Jockey Club Round Table conference.  Matt Hegarty reported in the Daily Racing Form that some racing officials reacted with frustration at the portrayal of the sport and its ongoing reform efforts.

“I thought it was inexplicably negative, in both tone and tenor,” said Alan Foreman, chairman of the Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, a Mid-Atlantic-based group that has led the effort to obtain pledges from states to pass the uniform rules by Jan. 1. “Frankly, I can’t understand it. It was as if nothing is happening. They refused to even acknowledge that progress has been made.”
And as Teresa reports in Bloodhorse, similar sentiments were expressed at Albany Law School's Racing and Gaming Institute conference in Saratoga on Tuesday.

Let's go back to Drape's article on the Round Table - we got no further than the headline in the last post.  The article quite prominently features the results of a poll that the Jockey Club presented in order to make the case that illicit medication and cheating was having a direct and material effect on the industry's bottom line.
The poll found that when handicapping races at certain racetracks or in certain states, nearly four in five bettors — 79 percent — considered the possibility of illegal drug use.

By a 9 to 1 margin, bettors said they bet less, not more, because they had to factor in the possibility of illegal drug use. In the study of 816 committed bettors and handicappers nationally, the strongest advocates for change were those who bet more than $10,000 per month: 89 percent “strongly support” national uniform medication rules; 93 percent want those rules sooner.   
“It is critically important that strict, uniform rules be adopted immediately because of the commercial consequences," said Robert Green of Penn Schoen Berland, which conducted the poll.. 
Paulick discussed the poll results as well, and added:
As Janney said after Green’s presentation, those who ignore the survey results are “numb, delusional, or possibly both.”
Well, I read this stuff with interest because I've always been highly skeptical of the notion that the issue was doing significant damage to the bottom line.  I can surely be wrong about that.  And I definitely don't want to be numb and delusional.  Or possibly both.

But I later found this interesting tidbit in another article by Hegarty.
Green said the poll respondents were directed to the survey by the Horseplayers Association of North America and the sheet-maker Thoro-Graph, whose founders administer Internet sites that often encourage spirited commentary about drugs in racing.
Oh.  Well, that's a bit different than just a "study of 816 committed bettors and handicappers nationally."  It's a study of 816 committed bettors and handicappers who frequent the HANA and Thoro-graph sites.  I only know what I'm told about the latter, but I think it's pretty clear that people who visit HANA would tend to be more opinionated on the topics addressed in the poll than the general degenerate gambler population, and likely lean toward a more militant anti-drug stance; and please correct me if you think I'm wrong. So I think that's pretty significant information.  If I was reading results of a poll showing overwhelming opposition to laws against assault weapons, wouldn't I want to know if the respondents were directed to the survey by the NRA?

Whats more, I also read, somewhere or other, comments from Round Table participants questioning the fairness of the poll, with the concern that it was a "push-poll," with questions framed to produce desired results.   I then found these comments underneath Paulick's piece:
I got a link to participate in the poll in the Horseplayers Assn of North America (HANA) newsletter, so I filled out the poll. Maybe HANA's membership was the whole sample. I think I could have filled out the survey multiples times if I wished. I didn't.

Even though I agree with the Jockey Club's stance, I thought the poll was a clumsy, obviously biased exercise that looked like one of the polls that come with advocacy groups' fundraising letters. Everyone knows they just want your check, not your answers to obviously leading questions. The poll was that bad.

The poll results do reflect my own opinions and I'd be shocked if a real poll of horseplayers would yield very different results. But this poll was nonsense and Penn & Schoen should be ashamed of itself for presenting it as a legitimate public opinion sampling.    
And this:
The survey asked if I thought drugs were bad. And I answered: "Yes". I do. Then it asked if I avoid tracks and races where drugs are prevalent. And I said: "Yes". This is partially true. Then it asked if I lower my play because of drugs. And I said: "Yes". That might have been a lie. My point is the survey was leading me in a direction........I felt I was not given a real opportunity to express what I thought was wrong with racing. Drugs are an issue; so I basically told them what was obvious. Do I think drug use is the most important issue that negatively affects horseracing? NO! To me, it's the quality of racing and the lack of focus on the customer.
Well, I guess it's good in a way that the Jockey Club is learning the tricks of manipulating the press, and public opinion.  It's a skill they could put to really good use some day.  Put out some results of a poll that was apparently skewed both in substance, and subjects.  And some newspaper out there which isn't necessarily interested in presenting a fair story on a topic on which it has made its agenda clear.....perhaps even the prestigious New York Times....will pick it up and report it as fact without bothering to dig any deeper (or to merely report the same quotes that Hegarty did).  (And yes, we're holding the Times to a higher standard than the Paulick Report, on which the proprietor writes opinion pieces and at least allows free-wheeling discussion which, in this case, served towards repudiating that particular portion of his commentary.)

To be sure, I still could be dead wrong, numb, and delusional, and the gentlemen who speculated that a "real poll" would produce the same results could be right on.  But the Jockey Club surely shouldn't have to resort to tacky polls to justify their efforts to clean up the sport.  And the Times should surely hold itself to a far higher standard of journalism.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Of Press Coverage Incomplete. And Misleading (What else is new).

Corfu ($15) won the Grade 2 Saratoga Special on Sunday for Pletcher and the only real surprise about a Toddster juvenile coming off a front-running maiden win to take a graded stakes at Saratoga was the generous win price.  I'd been out and watched the race on replay and did a double/triple take when I saw the odds during the running.  Thought maybe I had the odds mixed up with the saddle-cloth numbers or something.  Because how could that have been?  He was the 5-2 morning line favorite off a maiden win at 1-2; impeccably bred (Malibu Moon out of a Forest Wildcat half-sister to the classy router Peace Rules), hailing from the Spa's perennial leading trainer, currently winning at a 35% clip that could raise suspicions if it were somebody not quite as well-dressed and groomed.

So, what happened?  Well, looking back after the fact, perhaps it shouldn't have been quite as surprising.  Maybe horseplayers were paying attention to their past performances instead of being wowed by the connections.  Corfu had graduated at five furlongs, was stretching out to 6 1/2, and was meeting rivals like favored Candy Dandy (5th as the even money favorite) and Wired Bryan, who he nosed out in a desperate drive of exhausted rivals, both of whom had won at six furlongs.  His last-out Beyer ranked only third in the field, and he was not amongst the top three selections in the Form's consensus box (the way I always used to measure odds against expectations in the old days; not sure how effective that is anymore).  BRIS had him even lower in the speed figure department; only 4th best.  So, given the fact that most of the field had also flashed early speed, maybe it's not too out of line that the bettors would gravitate towards Asmussen's colt, who had stalked and won at six furlongs.

But to that extent?  Since I missed the race, I don't know how the toteboard progressed; but I'd imagine that there was some feeding frenzy going on when bettors concluded that Corfu was dead on the board.  Still, the Pletcher factor is a commanding one at Saratoga, and one would think that the horse's human connections would at least mitigate, if not overwhelm, any doubts the betting crowd may have had.  The skeptics that contributed to the overlay (we can surely call it that in retrospect) must have been feeling OK when they saw Corfu set fractions of 21 3/5 and 44 flat, even though the main track seems to be favoring speed ever since it recovered from the slop of Friday.  And surely those who opted for second choice Wired Bryan figured they were in good shape as that one loomed in the stretch.  But Pletcher's colt hung on grimly even while slowing down drastically - 24 3/5 to the sixteenth pole, and nearly seven more seconds to stagger home.  (Despite the mere nose victory, he earned a TimeformUS speed figure of 97 as opposed to a 94 for Wired Bryan, since these figures take pace into account.)

What I think is strange is that almost none of the media coverage of the race (at least that I've seen) mentions the surprising odds at all.  I mean, this is a betting game, right?  I know it's a graded stakes, and that some try to elevate such races above the spectre of gambling.  But wasn't that a key part of the story here?  Isn't that what bettors were buzzing about before and after the race?  I can understand why stories in the mainstream press that actually covered the race, like the Times and the Post, the Daily News, and even upstate papers that cover stakes in more detail, like the Saratogian, might skip that bit of nuance.  But the fact that the odds were surprising wasn't acknowledged even in Bloodhorse, or in the Form.  (The only acknowledgment I've seen was by Mike MacAdam in the Daily Gazette of Schenectady.)

We heard Mike Mulvihill of FOX Sports speak at the Jockey Club Round Table about turning "casual viewers into 'everyday fans' by focusing not on the pageantry of the sport.....but on the intricacies of horsemanship and gambling."  I've seen widespread praise for those remarks; but here we have those very intricacies being ignored even by the racing press in the coverage of this race.  Having said all that, I don't want to make a huge deal of it; probably a small point in the scheme of things.  But I just find it weird that even the industry press covering a gambling game would ignore the gambling aspect when it's noteworthy, as it surely was in this case.  In fact, should Corfu ultimately join the ranks of long-forgotten Pletcher juvenile burnouts, the fact that he went off at such long odds will end up being the most memorable part of the race!

 - Speaking of the aforementioned annual exercise in hand-wringing and self-flaggelation known as the Jockey Club Round Table, I had to chuckle -- actually, it was Monday morning, and being the Monday morning grump that I am, it elicited only a smirk and head shake - when I saw the headline over Joe Drape's article about it in the Times.

Well, hold it right there.  We can all have our opinions on medication in racing and what should or should not be done about which ones.  But I don't think anyone can objectively say that the concerns over drugs in racing are still in the 'mounting' stage.  That's like saying 'As Concerns Over PED's in Baseball Mount.'  Or  'As Concerns Over Terrorist Attacks Mount.'  Or 'As Concerns Over An Obstructionist Republican House of Representatives Mount.'

We're long past that stage.  Would have been fair to say 'As Concerns Remain,' or 'Amidst Continuing Concerns...'   But by depicting the situation the way that it did, the Times is perpetuating a sense that the situation is still spiraling out of control.  In fact - and as the article notes later on - there has been progress in the form a long-awaited move towards uniformity of medication rules, the lack of which has long been cited as a main obstacle in establishing effective rules and enforcement.  
Eight mid-Atlantic states, including New York, have agreed to operate their racetracks under one set of rules restricting medications to treat illness and injury in racehorses to just 24. Those medications will be subject to strict limitations, and the laboratories conducting drug tests must be accredited under standards created by the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, which conducts medication and drug-testing research for the industry.

California, Kentucky, Illinois and Arkansas are expected to adopt those measures by the first quarter of 2014, ensuring that 85 percent of the money bet in America is at racetracks operating under stricter, uniform rules.  But 17 other states have not agreed to the new measures.  [NY Times]
But 17 other states have not agreed to the new measures.    Yeah, but, the new rules will cover 85% of money bet!   You just said so yourself, Joe!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Saratoga Saturday

Hoping for a fast track, or a reasonable facsimile thereof, considering that the rain up in Saratoga stopped early in the evening and the forecast calls for glorious sunshine throughout the morning and afternoon.  In the second, Expression (3-1) drops into allowance company after a couple of fine tries in restricted stakes.  Consistent four-year old daughter of Invasor - in the money her last six tries - was a close second in her last, but was likely best while earning a career high TFUS figure of 100.  She was hung three wide under a confident Irad Ortiz Jr. for the entire length of the big sweeping turn at Belmont, looked home free midstretch before getting run down by favored Villanesca.  That one is a blue-blooded Darley filly who seems to be coming into her own as a sprinter this year, and who saved a lot of ground relative to Expression around that turn.  Trainer Charlton Baker is looking for his first winner of the meet in his 4th starter; but his prior runners have all run pretty well at generous prices.  One concern I have is her slow workout on Aug 3; not that I necessarily care if a horse works slow, but this filly had been working well of late.  We'll hope she just had a bad morning and insist on a price at or very close to her morning line.

Greed and Fear (5-2) whistled wire to wire (101 TFUS) in her first start with blinkers on and goes first off the claim for Michael Maker, always extremely dangerous in that situation.  However, don't know that she can replicate that trip here, as Pace Projector shows the four horse, Jan's Perfect Star (6-1), as the early leader.  So perhaps Expression (#5), who I think has better tactical speed than she's being given credit for below, can work out a nice trip.

In the 7th, here's our buddy George Weaver, five for 13 at the meet, with the 7-5 morning line favorite Soul House.  Type of horse who figures to get pounded at the windows, stretching out to seven furlongs after closing from 12th to finish second at 6 1/2.  This horse was really aided though by a pace that completely fell apart; a somnific quarter of 26.57 after they went to the half in 45.31.  Pace Projector predicts a tougher pace scenario for him here.  So let's try Ambassador Bridge (5-1), for trainer Leah Gyarmati, who got off the Saratoga schneid with a winner and a third with two first-timers on Friday.  Six-year old son of Best of Luck (Broad Brush) has learned to love the game this year, employing a strong closing kick to fashion a string of excellent efforts; two wins and two fine seconds from his last five starts - earning competitive speed figures along the way - including a game second to prohibitive favorite Escapefromreality in his last.  His one dull recent effort, a fifth place finish two races back, might well be explained by a mere 14 days off before the race. He gets 37 before this one, as well as the services of Joel Rosario, with a rare ride for this barn.  Like the probable favorite, he'll have to overcome a predicted slow pace, but the seven furlong distance figures to work in his favor against questionable speed horses like Do I Amuse You and Street Swagg.  Sharp gelding seems solid value at his morning line here.

Defending Horse of the Year Wise Dan is 3-5 to win the Grade 2 Fourstardave.  Doug Salvatore, our East Coast handicapper at TimeformUS, takes a shot against him.

 - Have to mention the DQ of my pick Orino on Wednesday.   Had gotten back from a grueling session of root canal not long before that, so it wasn't a particularly great afternoon!  Had him to win at 12-1, as well as the exacta with him on top of the declared winner, the 3-5 West Hills Giant.  Ugh.  The resulting exacta with the favorite on top was a small consolation.  I'm not going to get into bitching about the call; Serling said it was the right one and that's good enough for me.  Guess I just don't quite understand the rules though.  Kinda like in baseball - another sport that I've been watching all my life, yet I don't know for the life of me what constitutes a checked swing, or not.  Is it breaking the wrists?  Bat out over the plate?  Or just the judgment of the umpires?   Serling tweeted: "Orino clearly took West Hills Giant's path away and should come down."  That's fine.  But I thought that a dq-able incident is one that is supposed to have changed the order of finish?  Personally, I don't think there was any way that West Hills Giant was going to otherwise win.  And it seems our favorite overly verbose chart caller agreed, noting that the favorite appeared "to have been successfully shaken off."  But I guess the race was close enough to make the change, even if that's the case.  Of course, one always wonders if the stewards would have made the same decision if the odds were reversed.

Speaking of chart callers, you really must, if you have not already done so, read Ryan Goldberg's article about them in the Daily Racing Form.  Not going to quote from it here, because I'd want to just copy and paste the entire article.  Please just check it out, you won't be sorry; and you very well may be surprised, as I was at the methodology.  I didn't know that chart "calling" was still a literal term.   The only complaint I had was that the article, which focused on the pair that ply their trade at Monmouth, didn't mention our guy at the NYRA tracks who we've been quoting with delight here the last few years.  When I asked about that on Twitter, Ryan replied:  That was left on the cutting-room floor unfortunately; as one veteran chart caller described his work, War and Peace.  Apparently, the editors at the Form felt that the article was becoming War and Peace too and decided to cut it down.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Back to Court for Bruno

Joe Bruno's appeal to quash his re-trial on corruption charges was denied by a U.S. Circuit Court of fact, by the same court which overturned his original convictions.  Bruno will now be tried on honest services charges specifically related to money he received from the one-time racing franchise-hopeful Empire Racing investor Jared Abbruzzese, including $80,000 paid to Bruno for a worthless racehorse.

This is my post from December 2009 after Bruno was found guilty on two of the eight charges against him.  The convictions were overturned after the Supreme Court, in their always infinite wisdom, ruled that the honest services fraud statute has to relate to proven bribes and kickbacks, and not to mere conflicts of interest.  Bruno's lawyers argued that a re-trial would constitute double jeopardy because [the government] abandoned that theory at his first trial.  Seems like a specious argument because the government, at the time, did not have to prove a quid pro quo under the now-overturned portion of the law.  And indeed, the Court denied Bruno's motion unanimously.

Here, however, there was no "abandonment" to which Saylor could apply.  By Bruno's own admission, the original Indictment never charged him under a quid pro quo theory that could later have been abandoned.
So, the 84-year old former Majority Leader of the New York State Senate will stand trial again, and the government merely has to connect a bribe with a conflict of interest on which Bruno was already convicted. Apparently, they will focus on Bruno's relationship with Abbruzzese, $440,000 in payments supposedly for "consulting," and the above-mentioned money for the horse.  (While Bruno was convicted on the count involving the consulting payments, he was acquitted on the one involving the horse money.   Now....I'm not a lawyer, but doesn't that indeed constitute double jeopardy should he be charged with that again?)  No doubt the government will present evidence similar to that from the first trial that indicated that Bruno didn't actually do anything in return for the consulting fees.

Now here's what I find interesting, especially in the light of subsequent events:  The original focus of the prosecution with respect to the counts involving Abbruzzese was to show a connection between the payments and a $500,000 grant that Bruno secured for Evident Technologies, a non-profit in which Abbruzzese had a stake.  However, as I noted in the abovelinkedto Dec, 2009 post, the jury seemed interested in testimony regarding Abbruzzese's involvement with Friends of New York Racing, the precursor to Empire Racing, and I speculated that the conviction was based on suspicions that Abbruzzese was seeking to influence Bruno to favor Empire in the fight for the franchise that NYRA ultimately retained, rather than the award to Evident.

And now, I've been reading in the press that that is what will be the focus of the new case.  Here, from the Times Union:  
Bruno, 84, is accused of accepting kickbacks in exchange for using his Senate position to help a Loudonville businessman, Jared Abbruzzese, who was part of a group vying to control New York’s three thoroughbred race tracks. 

However, as I wrote in Dec, 2009:
That would be ironic, because, as I recall, Bruno remained rather aloof during the Ad Hoc Committee process and even afterwards; and I don't ever recall him expressing any favoritism towards any particular group, Empire included. I thought at the time that maybe he was chastened by the persistent press (and blog) reports of the connection between the two men (as you would think Malcolm Smith would be wary of endorsing AEG).
Well, as we know, neither Malcolm Smith nor John Sampson seemed to care about any appearances of connections in their attempt to steer the racino bidding towards AEG, which, as opposed to Bruno's low profile during the franchise bidding, was so brazen, so obvious, and so thoroughly well documented.  Yet, neither of those gentlemen have yet to be indicted. (For that, anyway.)  So, as ironic as I found the notion of the feds sending Bruno up the river over Empire back in Dec, 2009, I would find it many times more so now.

 - Here's an article from the Albany Times Union - ominously titled 'Race for Survival at Saratoga' - about concern by some in Saratoga regarding the negative effect that casino gambling may have on horse racing should the referendum be approved, and a casino be awarded to the local harness track (a mortal lock should the measure pass, in my opinion).
The November vote presents a dilemma for local elected officials. They say they want a full-fledged casino, considering the alternative of not getting one. But they, too, are worried about table games coming at the cost of the racetrack, which generates about $200 million annually for the local economy, according to a 2010 Saratoga County study. Racing and breeding contribute more than $2 billion a year to the state's economy, according to NYRA.

In an interview, city Supervisor Matthew Veitch said dice and poker would compete against horse racing for the public's gambling dollar.
Yeah?  You think?  Seems rather obvious, no?  Yet we have yet to see or hear any groundswell of opposition to the referendum from the racing industry. That of course is hardly surprising; most of the tracks are owned by the racino operators, so we're not going to hear Jeff Gural or Yonkers Raceway oppose the referendum as long as they think they can eventually get a casino.  There's the New York Horse Racing and Agriculture Industry Alliance which was formed last year, and which includes the horseman's groups for both breeds.  But we haven't heard anything from them lately (and who knows if they will have the financial resources to be much of a factor).

Of course, NYRA, by far the most prominent of the racetracks, is separate from Genting.  But it's controlled by a Board of Directors that's controlled by a governor who dearly wants the referendum to pass.  So we won't hear a peep from there.  Besides, the NYRA CEO, its supposed public face, is a novice in the industry, and rambled rather incoherently about the casino bill in response to an unrelated question in his interview with David Grening in the Form last month.

We haven't really heard anything substantive from Chris Kay since that interview published just before opening day at Saratoga.  I haven't been up there, so maybe I'm wrong; but based on press reports (or lack thereof), he sure doesn't seem to be ubiquitous.  They've trotted him out for ceremonial trifles like the unveiling of a new viewing stand at the training track.  And for Johnny V setting a record for most wins at the track.  And we'll see him in the winner's circle on Thursday.

But I dunno; one might think you'd see him getting a little down and dirty, trying to get a sense of some of the intricacies and nuances of the game.  I saw Liz O'Connell tweet the other day:
And yeah, why not?  He's a nature guy, right?  Better yet, I'd like to see him pick up a Daily Racing Form (or maybe click on TimeformUS?), huddle in some corner of the grandstand (in some area where he can actually hear the PA and learn from Serling and Eric Donovan and Maggie), dope out some races, and.....

Oh.  Yeah.  HE'S NOT ALLOWED TO BET.  Surely one of the dumbest-ass dumbass rules that one ever could see.  The new CEO who has promised to improve the customer experience is not allowed to experience the experience he wants to improve for his customers.  That's just brilliant.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Saratoga Wednesday

Well, sorry again for the lack of posting, but the California trip was quite the whirlwind with our kids around; and I never quite adjusted to the time change.  I find the time difference tough to adjust to - it's like I'm always three hours behind.  You wake up, have some breakfast, hang out on the beach, start to think about lunch and it's already like the 7th at Saratoga.  I don't know how people can live like that.

In the 5th on Wednesday, West Hills Giant (7-5) clearly seems the one to beat off a win two back in a similar NY Stallion Stakes in which he dominated several of these despite going 5-6 wide turning for home and then lugging in a few paths mid-stretch. One of those in his wake, some 3 3/4 lengths behind even while saving all ground, was Orino (12-1). Despite that result, I think he merits some attention.  I'm a bit tepid here because his trainer, H. James Bond, has gotten off to a dull start at the meet.  However, he has a good history at the track down the block from his home base, and figures to come around at some point.  Despite his beaten margin, Orino earned a TimeformUS speed figure only three points less than the favorite, due to his being up close to a hot pace while West Hills Giant - and runner up Captain Gaughen - took advantage by rallying from far behind.

Additionally, Orino was running against winners for the first time, and doing so only 15 days, and no workouts, after his maiden win.  Now, he gets 38 days off, and comes into this race with a workout a week before the race and two prior ones spaced six days apart - a very similar pattern to the drills leading up to his maiden win.  Stretch out to a mile at two turns shouldn't hurt either for this son of Raffie's Majesty out of an El Gran Senor mare, closely related to the Ky Oaks/CCA Oaks winner Princess of Sylmar (they have the same second dam).  Think he'll be far better prepared for this and seems worth a shot at that price.

In the 7th, Temper in Command (7-2) goes second off a 299 day layoff and returns to a track where he won twice on the grass last year (once on this inner turf course).  That comeback race, at seven furlongs, looked strictly like a prep; after breaking well, Rosario allowed him to settle at the back of the pack and didn't move a muscle until they turned for home, after which he rallied well late for second.  Stretches out now to a mile and a sixteenth route at which he's won.  Trainer Dale Romans has won two in a row after a 1-for-14 start for the meet, and has an 87 (out of 100) TimeformUS trainer rating for second-off-the-layoff.  He may need to get some help in softening up the Toddster's speedball Roses for Romney (3-1), who breaks from the rail.  Pace Projector has this as a 'Fast Pace' with Princess Mara (15-1) challenging early; I'm a bit skeptical to be honest, especially given the 1 hole for Pletcher's horse; but the top selection might be good enough to run him down anyway.

The 9th is a dandy turf sprint allowance, and let's try to beat Console (2-1). That one will surely be tough if he runs back to either of his first career races, but this field is too deep to take that price.  Ravalo (10-1) is a gelded multi-multi-stakes winning nine-year old son of Mutakddim who has campaigned only sporadically the last couple of years, and whose best days are surely behind him.  However, he showed a lot of life in his last, his second start after a 308 day layoff, making a huge middle move into a zippy second quarter (he ran it in 22 flat himself) and still finishing well for second.  Ravalo is well familiar with this track, showing two close seconds in stakes at this 5 1/2 furlong distance over this main turf course in 2010. He's also reunited with Johnny V, who has ridden him with much success in the past, including a win in the G3 Maryland Sprint in 2009. Looks live at that price for sure.  Love Those Boots (5-1) ships in for the veteran mid-Atlantic trainer Robert Bailes, who we don't see in these parts too often.  Four-year old son of Love of Money, out of a mare by the grass-loving Fred Astaire, seems to have learned to love the game and has found his niche in turf sprinting, with three excellent such efforts this year.  Last two were close seconds to the ultra-tough Hold on Smokey (who has finished in the money 15 times in a row); the last by a head-bobbing nose despite conceding ample ground on the turn.  May need some racing luck breaking from the rail, but he's in fine fettle to be sure.  Best of luck and have a great day.