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Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Left on a Break - March 29 - April 3

I started writing Left at the Gate on January 22, and I believe that I've posted at least once each day since then, usually more. I feel like I've written more words than the 9/11 Commission did. I'm off to Florida for a brief vacation, though I'll be nowhere near the tents of Gulfstream Park, and I'll be with the Head Chef and some friends, none of whom will agree to attend simulcasting at the nearby dog track. Whereas some trainers apparently think five weeks before the Derby is a good time to run, I think it's a good time to rest, so I'm leaving the laptop at home in order to take a much-needed break and refresh and re-charge for these final few weeks leading up to the Triple Crown series. I'm extremely gratified by the traffic on the site and truly touched by the kind comments I've received, and I hope you've enjoyed this as much as I have. Thanks so much for reading, and please don't forget to come back when I do on April 3.

Feel free to email me with links, comments, suggestions or questions.

Tiny Bits of Situations

- With only six expected entrants to start with, the Florida Derby picture became a bit muddier when High Fly and Closing Argument ran into some problems. High Fly had a bit of a fever the other day, and he and Zito’s Noble Causeway, also expected for the race, face training restrictions at Gulfstream since both were at Palm Meadows, where the strangles outbreak is centered. Zito is still expecting both to make the race, but of High Fly he said that if he’s forced to miss the race, “then we'll go to plan B - although I don't quite know what plan B is at the moment.” Closing Argument, who is not a serious Derby contender in my opinion, has “a tiny bit of a situation and I'm trying to get through it,” according to trainer Kiaran McLaughlin; neither he nor the horse would be more specific.

If all goes well for everyone, the three mentioned above will face Bandini, B.B. Best, and the maiden Papa Chiullo. And with five weeks to go after this race, they’ll all have time on their hands. With Zito’s five apparently down to four after the Lane’s End, one can see how you can never have too many. High Fly’s status is now just a slight bit shaky. Noble Causeway will be facing stakes horses for the first time, and then be asked to wait the five weeks, bucking historical trends, and go straight to the Derby; that's a big leap in a short time under any circumstances. Bellamy Road is unproven against stakes horses of this caliber, and Sun King created some doubts, to some, anyway, with his effort at Tampa Bay. In this game, five can become none in an instant.

- Possibly headed for a rematch off their exciting duel at Laurel, Offlee Wild and Coast Line are preparing for the G3 Excelsior at the Big A on Saturday.

- Governor Ehrlich of Maryland went to Laurel yesterday to play with Magna’s Horse Wizard machines and pressure the legislature, especially House Speaker Michael Busch, to compromise on slots. The Horse Wizards are not slot machines, but really just a 21st century self wagering machine, designed to appeal to those who are comfortable with ATMs and computers but might be intimidated by betting on horses. As far as the continuing deadlock on real slots goes

Ehrlich said yesterday that the House slots plan would be "better than nothing," but he said it wouldn't do as much for the horse racing industry or the state's coffers. The Senate version would give the state an estimated $915 million in revenue annually; the House version would offer the state about $330 million each year. [Newsday]

- Long article in the LA Times today that is definitely worth a read. It focuses on the problems of the country’s three biggest players in the industry, Magna, Churchill, and NYRA. One interesting quote by NYRA head Charles Hayward, on the off-shore rebate shops involved in the CAMS affair that they’ve shut off:
“..they accounted for 12% of our total business. Ten off-shores were doing $50 million worth of business at Saratoga alone last year. That's a lot of handle, but they took back $51 million. Their customers were using data ports and computers to plug into the system. They were betting with an unfair advantage." [LA Times]

- Via Albany Law School Racing and Wagering Page, comes this article by Dave Joseph of the Sun-Sentinal, which discusses child abuse in Dubai – specifically charges that thousands of children from south Asia -- some as young as 3 -- are being trafficked into the UAE and enslaved to ride in camel races. One activist claims that some children report being physically and sexually abused, electrically shocked and not allowed food, water and clothing. Accordingly, some are calling for a boycott of the rich sporting events there, which include tennis and golf in addition to last weekend's racing card.
The PGA Tour said it had no knowledge of the situation in Dubai. A request to speak to David Higdon, senior vice president of American Tennis Professionals, was not answered. D.G. Van Clief Jr., commissioner of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association and president of Breeders' Cup Ltd. -- Sheikh Mohammed is a board member -- said he had concerns. But in a prepared statement, Van Clief added, "The Maktoum family continues to be one of the most significant participants and contributors in the thoroughbred racing industry globally." [Sun-Sentinal]
So, that would make this kind of mistreatment OK?

Monday, March 28, 2005

Evangeline Breakdowns

- An article on tells of the positive numbers for the short quarter horse meet at the new Evangeline Downs facility, a prelude to the thoroughbred meet which opens on April 7. One thing that is striking is the impact of slots on purses there.

For instance, a $22,000 purse for a Louisiana-bred maiden special weight test includes $13,800 in slots revenue, according to the track condition book. An open maiden special weight event goes for $16,500, of which $10,200 will come from slots revenue. [Bloodhorse]
Louisiana has one of the lowest, if not the lowest tax rate on racetrack slots in the country.

One thing that’s not mentioned in this article about the 20-day meet, however, is this:
Four horses have suffered broken legs on the track and two others have been seriously injured since quarter horse racing began in February.
In just three weeks of racing (plus a day of trials in early February), the six injuries may seem like a lot considering Delta Downs has suffered 17 total horse injuries in its current thoroughbred season, which began back in October and ends in early April - a period of more than five months. The Fair Grounds' current season began in late November, and in a more than four-month span, there have been 20 injuries at the track. These numbers are from the state Racing Commission. [The Opelausus Daily World]
Track officials, while not pinpointing nor admitting to any particular problem, did call in experts and the track has been "leveled and re-leveled, and sand has been added.
"We didn't have one horse even pull up bad or break down or nothing," said B.B. Rayburn Jr., state steward for Evangeline Downs. [Daily Comet]

- Three of the SA Derby candidates worked out, and good thing nobody broke down or nothing. Sweet Catomine worked 5f in 59.60, and trainer Julio Canani was his usual restrained self. “She looked awesome.....She’s on target. We got more weight on her, and she just looked awesome. Also working were Giacomo and Don’t Get Mad, a horse quietly creeping higher on the Left at the Gate Derby list. He got a bullet half in :47 1/5 and trainer Ron Ellis got him galloping out "in 1:13 and change." And of his third in the San Felipe, Ellis said that “he just didn’t like the racetrack." [Thoroughbred Times] You know what...I am totally buying into this! I’ll tell you right now that he is my selection to run down the filly in the Santa Anita Derby. I know it’s one of the biggest mistakes one can make to assume that a horse that closes at 6 and 7 furlongs will automatically be that more dangerous when stretching out; but he did nothing in the San Felipe, on a "rock hard" track that Ellis says he won’t run Don’t Get Mad on if that's the case for the SA Derby, to give any indication that he’s not going to be one that will be closing strongly as the races get longer.

- Afleet Alex was scoped clean; his lung infection is gone, and so are any excuses for the Arkansas Derby. Or maybe not, since he’s obviously behind schedule in his preparation, and probably didn’t get much benefit from the Rebel. Trainer Tim Ritchey said he’ll have to work the colt harder to catch up:
"Say if he would have breezed six furlongs and tried to go in 1:13 or 1:14, now he'll probably breeze seven-eighths, and try to go in 1:22, 1:23, somewhere around there." [Daily Racing Form]
They're also nominating him for the Lexington and the Derby Trial just in case. As for Rocky, John Servis, says, for what seems like the hundredth time, that Rockport Harbor’s foot woes are now finally behind him now.
``Rocky had an opening in the hoof from the old injury,'' Servis said. ``It wasn't a quarter crack, but when the colt would step down, the hoof would shift. [Blacksmith] Ian [MacKinley] did his thing, and I think we've got it nipped in the bud.'' [Bloodhorse]
I hope so. The breakdowns at Evangeline are a reminder of how fragile these guys can be, and we're seeing a lot now about the pressure on these trainers to have their horses able to make important Derby preps. I can't imagine that rushing a horse that is just recovering from a lung infection and has been treated with antibiotics into a 7 furlong work in 1:22 could be the best thing for the colt; and Rockport Harbor is a horse who obviously suffered a significant injury when winning the Remsen, one which is taking far more time to fully heal than originally thought. Perhaps he just needs more time, but that is not an option at this point.

Monday Notes - March 28

- Tough break for the connections of Uncle Denny, who was so impressive winning the El Camino Real Derby a couple of weeks ago. He’s off the trail with a bone chip, and his trainer notes “In the long run it's probably [for] the best.” [Bloodhorse] The runner-up in that prep, Wannawinemall (Royal Anthem), is headed for the Santa Anita Derby, and his trainer Kristen Mulhall told the Thoroughbred Daily News that the colt bled “really bad” in that race.

- Sherry Ross of the Daily News has Ghostzapper’s tentative racing schedule for 2005, and it seems that we’ll have him mostly all to ourselves here in New York.

Frankel has tentatively mapped out a six-race campaign for returning Horse of the Year Ghostzapper, beginning with the $500,000 Oaklawn Handicap (Grade 2) on April 9 at Oaklawn Park. After that, Frankel said Ghostzapper, who has not raced since winning last year's Breeders' Cup Classic Oct. 30 at Lone Star Park, will have an all-New York schedule: Met Mile, Suburban, Whitney Handicap and Woodward, leading up to the $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic at Belmont Park on Oct. 29. [NY Daily News]
Makes perfect sense with the Breeders Cup being at Belmont, but it would be more sporting of them to give fans around the country a chance to see the reigning Horse of the Year, don’t you think? Of course it would be more sporting of owners to race their star colts beyond three….but that’s just not usually in the equation anymore.

- As Jessica notes on Railbird today, it looks like the Nick Zito Five is now the Nick Zito Four after Andromeda’s Hero’s disappointing effort in the Lane’s End. It also lends credibility to the low Beyer rating he earned at Tampa Bay, and makes me continue to wonder just how good Sun King’s last race there, in which he earned only a 91, really was. It will be interesting to see just how many of these end up in Louisville, and for the time being, I’m going to stay out on my limb with Noble Causeway as my top Zito horse.

- Handle and purses were up slightly at the concluded Fair Grounds meet, the first under Churchill Downs management, which took over just a few weeks before the meet started. Attendance was down slightly to only 2,104 a day – yuck! – but track president Randy Soth noted that "I made the decision not to charge children 12 and under." Can’t criticize him for that, in fact I can’t believe that they WERE charging admission to kids! Going forward, Churchill has political issues to work through in order to get a racino up and running there; for one thing, they’re trying to avoid having to go through a referendum, and they don’t expect to get the slots running until the second quarter of 2006…and that’s probably if everything goes well.

One person not happy with Churchill is the track’s leading trainer Steve Asmussen, who noted that track officials were nowhere to be found around the backstretch.
"Do they want to be Churchill Downs here, or do they want to be Delta Downs?" Asmussen said. "The only winter racetrack they had running, and this didn't seem to get much attention from them. How do you know (what's happening), unless you see for yourself?

"That's been horribly disappointing to me, horribly, the lack of contact with management here." [Times-Picayune]

- Even if Maryland legislators are able to come to an agreement that would allow slots there – which is looking increasingly unlikely – some counties that are designated to host the machines don’t even want them! Frederick County, chosen for 2500 machines in the House bill, is drawing up zoning laws that would make slots illegal there.
Should Frederick County succeed in keeping out gambling, other governments could follow suit, setting up a potential showdown with the General Assembly over who decides where slot machines go. Faced with new zoning regulations, the legislature could simply pass a law superceding local zoning to put slots wherever it wants - a power it already has used in situations such as the placement of utilities. [Newsday]

- Steve Crist, in his subscription-only column in the Form, points out that it would be New York's OTBs, not NYRA, that would reap most of the benefits from a proposed increase in the takeout since 85% of NYRA's handle are from OTB and out-of-state simlucast receivers.
One of the OTB presidents said privately that he has personally surveyed his customers and that he believes they don't care what the takeout rates are, not that he wants his name attached to such a statement. If he really believes that, how about an alternate proposal: Let OTB increase the takeout on bets made at its facilities and through its telephone-betting systems, and leave the rates alone for on-track and non-OTB telephone bettors and out-of-state customers. If the OTB's think that takeout increases are a good thing that customers won't mind, let them try it out on their own and see what happens to their business. [Daily Racing Form]

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Bank Audit

- Bank Audit (Wild Rush) took the Distaff Breeders Cup Handicap, a grade 3 race that sounds a lot more definitive than it really is. You may have noticed that I picked this horse Saturday morning. But I missed the race. I was out with my kids and simply screwed up; I thought that getting home at 4:30 would be early enough, now that post time has been moved to 1 PM and spring is (kinda) in the air. But the race went off at 4:22; I was thinking as if it was a ten race card. I was mainly planning to bet him as the first part of a parlay with my other selection, Wild Desert in the Lane’s End in what would have turned out to be a particularly agonizing loss. I probably would have used Cativa for the most part in the exacta but may have had a saver on the $37 payoff with second choice Sensibly Chic.

But I still wanted to bet Wild Desert. I loved him at 6-1, and wanted to bet some exactas too, so I called the automated number at my NYC OTB phone account. I didn’t know the number to input for Turfway, so I’m listening to the computer voice slowly run down the tracks, and it’s like “7....Gulfstream Park....... 21...Buffalo Raceway.........37...Turf Paradise.....49....Fair Grounds...” and on and on and then finally “Please make your selection.” What? No Turfway? I listened to the selections again to see if I was mistaken, but no. OTB must not take Turfway for some reason. I was helpless. There was no chance of me opening a TVG account in the two minutes left until post time. That's right...I don't have an online betting account, just this one for the phone. So the race went off, and now I’m hoping he doesn’t win; and he’s sitting there comfortably in last on what seemed to be one of those drying muddy tracks that favors closers, and I just knew he was gonna be coming. Sure enough he makes his move, looks like a winner midstretch, and I’m like’oh crap.’ But there was Flower Alley holding him off, and even Wild Desert’s jockey Robbie Alvarado said that he was surprised that he got beat. So in the end, I quite possibly ended up saving money over all by not getting that bet on the Lane's End in, though that doesn’t make up for my stupidity in not noting the post time of the first race (not to mention not having an online betting account at this point).

- Bank Audit’s sire Wild Rush (Wild Again) stands in Japan for 5.01 million yen. He’s out of a minor stakes winning mare by a major French stakes winner, Faraway Son, who descends from a French sire line that traces back to the influential French sire Tourbillon. So Bank Audit is one that has nary a trace of Northern Dancer nor Mr. Prospector blood, though he is from the closely related Icecapade branch of the same sire line as N.D. This was his first graded stakes win, and he’s a half length away from having won three stakes in a row. He had been trained by Gregory Martin, but Frank Labocetta took over when Martin was indicted for his role in the milkshaking incident in the CAMS affair.

- Feel free to email links, comments, questions.

Easter Sunday

- A maiden won the G3 Palm Beach at 9f on the turf yesterday. I don’t imagine that this race will be graded next year; out of the eight horses in the field, three had one or no wins, and only one, Killenaule, had any kind of stakes win on his resume, and that was on the dirt. Interpatation (Langfuhr), was making his 7th start, and had run second twice, and lit up the board at 39-1 when he nosed out the 4-5 favorite Tadreeb.

- Todd Pletcher on his up and down, or actually down and up afternoon at Turfway yesterday.

"You get beat with a 2-5 shot (in an earlier stakes), then you win the half-million (race) with a horse making his third start."
"He's a tremendous horse," said [jockey Jorge] Chavez. "He's still green. His next race will be better. I was shocked when he was dropping back. I said, 'I know the horse has more guts than that.' Then he started running again. I said, 'Oh, my gosh.'

"Down the backside, he was jumping, jumping. I knew I had plenty of horse, but he didn't want to pay attention. He was going sideways, was everywhere. Even with all that, he still won the race." [Louisville Courier-Journal]
A serious new face for the Derby? Doesn’t sound from this that he was one who benefitted from the track condition yesterday; Pletcher had also said that the kickback on the wet track was particularly distracting to the colt.

He’s a son of Distorted Humor, the sire of Funny Cide, out of a mare by Lycius, a son of Mr. Prospector, to whom he’s inbred 3x3, top and bottom - his sire and dam are his grandkids. He’s also inbred 4x4 to Northern Dancer. His dosage index is 1.73, and he comes from a line of mares that are very classy as far as their foal production goes, if not so much so on the racetrack. His fifth dam is Goofed, the dam of Lyphard, and he’s also from the family of millionaire Urbane, as well as multiple stakes winners No Review and Dance Colony.

Cat Shaker, the winner of the Rushaway yesterday, is by yet another sire son of Storm Cat, Catienus, who stands in New York for $3500 to approves mares, for the Ramseys. He is also inbred to both Northern Dancer (4x4) and Mr. Prospector (3x4), and also comes from a female family that has fared far better as broodmares than as racemares. His 4th dam, Home By Dark, is the dam of 1968 champion 3 yo filly Dark Mirage; and his 3rd dam, Grey Mirage, is the granddam of multiple graded stakes winners Missys Mirage and Classy Mirage.

- It’s Easter Sunday, and apparently a lot more racing going on around the country that I thought...but not for me. It’s a family day, so have a great holiday and arrive at your destinations safely.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Saturday Night Notes

- Roses in May got the mile and a quarter this time and took the Dubai World Cup.

- The Lane’s End seemed kind of shaky as a legitimate Derby prep to start with, but with the muddy track there, its meaning becomes even hazier. Spanish Chestnut, who was the favorite and set the pace, is headed to “another program,” according to trainer Patrick Biancone, and on the ESPN2 telecast, it was said that Biancone said the distance was just too much, and that the colt would not continue on the Derby trail. In a frank interview before the race, Gary Stevens conceded that the horse could possibly use another race.

The winner, Flower Alley (Distorted Humor), pulled kind of a Greater Good, as he was involved in the early pace before dropping back, rallying in the stretch, and holding off Wild Desert, who rallied nicely and will likely move on from here. It was consolation for his trainer, yes, that man again, Todd Pletcher, who saw his Proud Accolade go down at 2-5 in the Rushaway, finishing a distant 6th. His jockey Jerry Bailey wouldn’t definitively blame the loss on the off-track saying that he didn’t bobble on it, and, in fact, reminded ESPN viewers “it wasn’t my money that made him the favorite,” perhaps to remind bettors of the colt’s record around two turns.

As for Flower Alley, it was pointed out by Randy Moss before the race that he had given Ashado all she could handle in morning workouts, and Pletcher said afterwards

"Those maiden races at Gulfstream, at times, are some of the toughest 3-year-old races around.....He trained well since then, and I trained him with Bandini and Ashado and he finished right there with those two." [Bloodhorse]

Cat Shaker (Catienus) took the Rushaway and, like Flower Alley, was eligible for a NW1, having only won in maiden company. Kenny Mayne said on the telecast after the race that the owner said he would nominate the colt for the Derby, but I don’t know if he was kidding or not! He looked every bit his 38-1 odds, and perhaps his win can be explained by his 396 Tomlinson mud number.

- Rockport Harbor had another flare-up with his foot and missed training on Friday, but John Servis said "I feel we've got it nipped in the bud.” [Daily Racing Form] This horse obviously can afford no more setbacks at this point.

Saturday Morning Odds and Ends

- The Jockey Guild filed a countersuit against Churchill Downs in their dispute over the jockey insurance protests last fall.

"Churchill and the other racetracks have been engaged in collective bargaining with the Guild for years," Guild president Dr. Wayne Gertmenian said in a release. "Now that the Guild is aggressively attacking some of the overwhelming problems in this industry like the scale of weights and the lack of catastrophic injury coverage, and making strides for the jockeys, Churchill wants to shut us down with this lawsuit.” [Bloodhorse]
Dr. G of course didn’t mention that it was the Guild who cancelled the insurance they had maintained with payments from racetracks.

- Saratoga County (Valid Expectation) took the $2 million sprint race at Dubai, which is 6 furlongs down a straightaway. His last was that thrilling nose win over Don Six in the General George, and this was his 4th in a row.

This is really fascinating watching the stewards’ inquiry into the running of the race, with Alex Solis claiming foul against Javier Castellano, the rider of the winner. The jockeys are sitting in the room with the stewards, watching replays and answering questions. Now they are showing the stewards informing the riders of their decision to leave the winner up. While they acknowledged that Pico Central was indeed impeded and likely cost second place, the rules there do not call for a disqualification unless the stewards feel he could have won the race.

- Looking back at how it was a half-century ago, from 1948 to 1958, eight of the 11 Derby winners ran in the Derby Trial, four days before the Derby, and another ran seven days before the Derby. [Bloodhorse]

- Upcoming for Greater Good:
Holthus said Greater Good will breeze five-eighths of mile in about a week, then work three-quarters of a mile approximately a week before the race.
Unlike Rockport Harbor and Afleet Alex, Greater Good hasn’t had a training hiccup for months.

" So far, he hasn’t missed a beat, "Holthus said. [Arkansas Democrat Gazette]

- Valiant try by Whilly in the Dubai Duty-Free, but he couldn't quite catch the Australian winner Elvstroem (Danehill).

Dubai Derby Disappointments

- The possible Derby candidates amongst the starters in the UAE Derby disappointed in the race this morning. Godolphin’s previously unbeatedn Sharmadal was pushed early, and had nothing left in the stretch, finishing up the track -- he “emptied,” according to one of the commentators on the UK feed picked up by TVG. Becrux stopped and finished dead last. But Godolphin collected the winner’s share of the $2 million purse nonetheless. Their longshot runaway winner, Blues and Royals (Honour and Glory), is a Florida-bred, and a half brother to Todd Pletcher’s graded stakes winner, the 4 yo Limehouse.

- I like Wild Desert (Wild Rush) in the Lane’s End today. He finished third in his last start at 2 in the Kentucky Jockey Club, a big key race in which he made an 8 wide move and finished 2 1/4 lengths behind Greater Good. His next race was the Fountain of Youth, and he had little shot to start with from the 8 post; he was bumped at the start and knocked sideways, but still managed to finish a respectable 5th, with a lifetime high Beyer of 90, continuing a pattern of improving figs. He should get good position from the 3 post and a good pace to set up his late run. Spanish Chestnut looks like the best of the speed horses and should stay for a share. Andromeda’s Hero had trouble in his last, but was it enough to explain the slow 79 fig? He could better this rating; like the ‘+’ in the Timeform ratings, which means “The horse may be much better than Timeform has rated it.” I especially like their ‘d’ rating, which means “The horse appears to have deteriorated and might no longer be capable of running to the rating given.” I will try to avoid betting any deteriorating horses from now on.

I like Bank Audit, also a son of Japan-based Wild Rush, in the G2 Distaff Breeders’ Cup at Aqueduct. He was claimed out of a turf race for $65K last summner, but excelled when cut back to sprints at the big A last fall. He Beyered at 100 in winning the Interborough on New Year’s Day, and ran a close second in the Correction after that. He’s 1 for 1 at this distance, has tactical speed and always finishes strongly, and could upset the quite legitimate favorite Cativa, who has won 8 out of her last 10, most recently her first stakes try, suffering losses by a head and a neck. Sensibly Chic ran a couple of lengths behind Cativa in their last, the G2 Barbara Fritchie at Laurel.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Saratoga Stan

- Sunday is Easter and cold turkey for most of us around the country. As those of you who have been visiting here may know, I’m old enough to recall when there was no racing in New York nor in many other states on Sundays, and I’ve mentioned before my Sunday afternoon trips to Monticello Raceway to get my racing fix when simulcasting was just a pipe dream. It was a booming little harness track in those days, and the Sunday cards would feature top drivers from the Roosevelt/Yonkers circuit like Herve Filion and Ben (“Benny the Whip”) Webster, along with top horses and stakes races.

Monticello is one of the tracks in New York that already has slots, and I’ve posted before about how VLT money has revived the fortunes of the track, which was previously near extinction. For awhile they were racing with a 4PM post time in a desperate attempt to attract some in-between day and night simulcast money. Besides bigger purses and a spanking new paddock, interest in owning horses there has been revived, as evidenced by the fact that 48 horses have been claimed thus far during the current meeting, as compared to 67 for all of 2004. But this quote shows you how relative things are in the racing world, as well as just how much fortunes had fallen there.

“I’ll tell ya’”, noted [owner] Dick Crumley, “with the money they’re giving away now it’s hard to sit on the sidelines. A man can own a horse now at Monticello Raceway and make money (with it). Look here… Doc and I only had to plunk down $2500 for Ardick’s Buddy Boy and each week the horse races for at last a $2100 purse. If he keeps racing as well as he was we’ll be out in a month or two.”
For the record, Ardicks Buddy Boy is a 12 year old pacing gelding who has had eight starts with four wins, two seconds and two thirds and had earned $5754 prior to his race on March 24 [in which he ran second to earn another $525]. [US Trotting Association]
Yup, they’re just “giving away” those $2100 purses… someone who closely follows a circuit on which thoroughbred state-bred maidens race for over $40,000, it's just amazing to read something like that .

Another rarity back then was Sunday night racing, but you could find it at two Philadelphia area harness tracks, Liberty Bell and Brandywine. I lived in Philly in 1980-1, and frequented both of those long gone raceways, and had a particular fondness for Brandywine, which was just across the border in Delaware. It was a wonderful little track with a great country fair atmosphere, a 5/8th mile oval, and how many people recall that the maaarvelous Gene Hart, the late, legendary radio voice of the Philadelphia Flyers, called the races there, at least the years I attended. They would save their best cards for Sunday nights, highlighted by the Battle of the Brandywine, which attracted the top 3 yo pacers in the sport; I saw the great Niatross, who won 37 out of 39 races without ever being involved in a photo finish, win the race there in 1980.

I also had one of my biggest and most memorable scores there. There was a pacer named Saratoga Stan, who was a midlevel claiming type, and he would win with a late run from the very back of the pack. I’ve always loved horses like that, had cashed tickets on him at least a couple of times prior, and was most excited to see him in the entries on that night, especially with my brother, who had never been to a racetrack (and probably never has been since), in town visiting.

The thing about Saratoga Stan was that, unlike most other harness horses, he absolutely loved the very outside 8 post, from which he could hang back last and make his late run. When he drew inside, he’d be too close to the pace, inside of horses, and inevitably run up the track. Prior to that night at Brandywine, he had had a long string of races from inside posts, so his form looked awful. 99% of the time, if you see a pacer racing poorly from the inside and then move far outside, he’s an automatic throwout. Much to my delight, Saratoga Stan had his beloved 8 hole that night, anathema to most but a blessing for him. So while he was dismissed by most in the crowd, I excitedly informed my brother that the horse would be dead last all the way around until they approached the turn the final time, circle the field, and storm through the stretch to win. I watched as the odds drifted up to 15-1 or more as I recall, and we both got our bets down.

Sure enough, the race unfolded exactly as I knew it would, except that the gritty pacer seemed to wait even later than usual to start his move. But sure enough, he swept around the field 3 or 4 wide on the last turn, rallied down the lane and just got to the leader at the wire. After a long photo – no replays until after the races were official at tracks back then folks; imagine actually having to sweat those tight photos out for minutes that seemed like hours – they posted his number and I collected a big win bet as well as the exacta. More importantly, I looked like a total genius to my brother…because what good is hitting a big winner if you can’t impress somebody with it! (You may have noticed that you haven’t seen any such stories since I started writing this blog..)

I never saw Saratoga Stan race again. In fact, I never even saw his name in print. I would scan the entries week after week after week for months on end, at any harness track I could find entries for, but to this day I have no idea what his fate was; or if or where he ever raced again. But I’ll never forget him nor the Sunday nights spent at Brandywine. Ironically, the track met its doom in 1989 when the governor vetoed slot machines there. Today, Delaware racing is lush with slots money. Giving away $2100 purses at Monticello? Next Monday night at Dover Downs, they’ll be 15 harness races with total purses of over $275,000. But a short distance from the Pennsylvania border, a shopping mall sits where a little piece of racing heaven once stood.

Odds and Ends - March 25

- Those you who were hoping that Greater Good would extend the legacy of the Intidab sire line will be disappointed to learn that he is unable to breed because he’s a bilateral cryptorchid. In layman’s terms, he has two undescended testicles. So in addition to being what many would consider a freak because of the way he’s defied his pedigree with his running style, he’s a freak of nature as well.

"In my career, and I've been in Ocala (Florida) 20 years, I've only seen 15-20, and that covers all breeds of horses," surgeon John Peloso said. [Bloodhorse]

- A colt who has a much brighter future in the breeding shed, but a grim short-term racing future is Scipion, who unfortunately came out of his workout on the turf with a non-displaced leg fracture which will require surgery.

- Rockport Harbor was feeling none the worse for the wear after his return in the Rebel last weekend.
Rockport Harbor was so wound up immediately after finishing second in the Rebel that he kicked assistant trainer Bobby Velez, also the colt’s exercise rider, for the first time, and a vet had to be summoned Saturday night to make sure there was nothing physically wrong with the son of Unbridled’s Song. "He was a little pi **** off," Servis said.[Arkansas Democrat Gazette]

- The CHRB is unhappy with what they call lack of cooperation by the Jockey Guild in their audit of the organization to determine what Dr. G and his crew has been doing with the $1 million paid to them annually from uncashed tickets, presumably for jockey health insurance.
"There have been allegations that many jockeys have claims that have not been paid and bills that were sent to collection instead," [CHRB commish Richard] Shapiro said. "Until we get satisfaction that the money is being spent correctly, we will withhold the funds."

Jockey Ron Warren, speaking from a wheelchair due to career-threatening injuries he suffered in a recent fall, asked the board to redirect the funds to a group he helped to recently incorporate, the California Jockeys Guild Inc. According to Warren, the new group has the support of the majority of the state's riders.

Afterward, Warren said he had documented 17 cases where jockeys had been turned over to collection agencies for medical bills that were supposed to be covered by the Guild. [Bloodhorse]

- The proposal by the Florida House to limit slots to the so-called bingo-style machines faces strong opposition, even from some of the members of the committee that will vote on it next week.

Another facet of the proposal is a bid to require Broward County to make good on the $438 million windfall to public education that was promised by slots supporters prior to the vote, even though that county now would have to meet that obligation alone since Miami-Dade county voters rejected the referendum on slots. That prompted one slot supporter to quip:
"This is almost like telling Barry Bonds to hit 50 home runs while he's blindfolded and holding a plastic bat," complained former Florida Education Secretary Jim Horne…"On steroids or not, there is no way he could do that.” [St. Petersburg Times; link via Albany Law School]
Especially when Bonds is so tired. The Giants meanwhile continue to market their team around Bonds despite his announcement that he will possibly miss the entire season.

Thursday, March 24, 2005


- The entries are in for the Lane’s End at Turfway on Saturday, and Spanish Chestnut is the morning line fave at 5-2. I don’t know if any serious Derby contenders will emerge from this race, but it sure looks like a fun race to wager on. Magna Graduate is rated at 3-1, while Zito’s Andromeda’s Hero, who Lauren Stitch had me wanting to call Vegas and get down on him to win every race for the rest of his career (probably about 4 races the way things go these days), is the 5-1 third choice. As visually impressive as his last at Tampa may have been, it only earned a Beyer of 79. That must be a funny track, the Beyers seem to come in significantly lower than one might think, as it did with Sun King this past weekend. Nonetheless, the number doesn’t reflect all the trouble he had, and with Zito’s reputation, I’d wager that you won’t see 5-1 on him come post time. Rafael Bejarano will ride; he returns to the track where he won the riding title at Turfway last year with a record 150 wins. [Bloodhorse]

- Back in California, the rain continues to wreak havoc on workout schedules, so Scipion, extremely disappointing in the Louisiana Derby, worked 7f in 1:28.40 on the turf course, as he prepares for the SA Derby. Craig Dollase is still hoping to make the SA Derby with Wilko despite his quarter crack, according to today’s Thoroughbred Daily News. But Corey Nakatani is abandoning him for Sweet Catomine, no tough decision there.

- Speaking of the Thoroughbred Daily News, I’ve often sung its praises here, and lamented the fact that due to its subscription and PDF only format, I’m unable to share much of it with you here. I particularly look forward to the Wednesday issues, which generally feature columns by pedigree experts Alan Porter and Bill Oppenheimer. The latter is the creator of the APEX figures, in which he judges sires’ performances not on their progeny’s total earnings, but rather on the number of what he calls ‘A’ runners, which is the number of their offspring that have achieved a designated level of earnings. So whereas a horse that earned an oversized bonus like Smarty Jones distorts the rankings by giving a big boost to his sire, the APEX system gives a more accurate picture of just how many quality horses a stallion is producing over the course of his career. Oppenheimer’s columns are always a good read; yesterday he wrote about, and meticulously demonstrated with statistics and graphs, the fast growing percentage of ‘A’ runners that have what he calls “top and bottom” inbreeding to Northern Dancer; that is horses whose sire and broodmare sire are both out of that sire line.

I did want to relate one passage he wrote in that column that is not quite on that subject, but instead concerns the concept of ‘class.’

Of all the things that impact upon performance, this might be the one most important element. And it’s intangible. I’ve never yet met anyone who could measure it, much less bottle it. At best, we can maybe point to it, identify it: ‘there you are, that’s class.’ No wonder there’s no formula to manufacture top racehorses.
Nor to handicap them. Especially when you’re trying to predict which one of 20 talented young racehorses possess the genetic background and the class to run that one eighth of a mile further than they ever have before.

Florida Follies, Bush Style

- A bill that is set to come out of a key committee in the Florida House would limit the slot machines at Broward County racetracks to the “Class II” machines which are currently in use at Indian gaming facilities in the state, rather than the Las Vegas-style Class III slot machines that produce bigger payoffs. Though the specific type of machine was apparently never explicitly specified in the run-up to the referendum in which voters approved slots, it was generally presumed that the vote dealt with the real deal, and the idea that they could be the Class II machines, which are often referred to as “bingo-style” machines, wasn't floated by Governor Jeb Bush until shortly after the vote. The idea was also included in a list of “suggestions” he released this week, some of which, such as limiting operation to just 12 hours a day, are included in the House proposal.

But other suggestions by the Governor, who had hypocritically pledged that he would bow to the will of the people despite his staunch opposition to gambling, are clearly designed to severely limit the impact of slots, and some were not included in the House proposal.

For example, the House does not embrace the governor's proposal for taxing slots. Bush wants to impose a 40 percent tax rate on the first 500 slot machines at Broward's four parimutuel facilities, then increase the rate by 5 percent for every 500 machines -- up to a tax rate of 100 percent.

Bush also wants to ban the sale and consumption of alcohol and allow no ATMs within the slot halls. The House bill does not have those restrictions.

The House does include the governor's suggestion that gamblers be banned from using credit cards or debit cards in slot machines and also prohibits any cash advances to gamblers.

The governor also opposes the industry practice of offering free drinks, meals or gifts to gamblers. [Miami Herald]
His tax proposal is an obviously blatant attempt to put a ceiling on the number of slot machines that will be placed. Bush and the House are headed for a showdown with the Senate, whose proposal will include the Class III machines, a flat 30% tax rate, and oppose many of the other restrictions sought by the governor and House leaders.

- Yesterday, Bush cited the opinion of a Dr. Cheshire, a man he called a “renowned neurologist,” who opined, based purely on visual observation, that Terri Schiavo was not in a permanent vegetative state, but appeared to be “minimally conscious.” When the NY Times asked two noted neurologists/ethicists about this doctor and his opinion, their replies were “Who?” and, from a man who has examined her on behalf of the Florida courts,
"I have no idea who this Cheshire is…..He has to be bogus, a pro-life fanatic. You'll not find any credible neurologist or neurosurgeon to get involved at this point and say she's not vegetative." [NY Times]

- More on Shamardal, Godolphin’s latest Derby prospect, who they hope will springboard into Kentucky with a good performance in Dubai this weekend.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Odds Weren't Stacked Against This Senator

- The feds are looking into a Pennsylvania land deal in which a State Senator was involved with a company that benefited from an apparent sweetheart land deal voted on and approved by the State Senate. In January, 2004 Democratic Senator Michael Stack III failed to disclose his ownership interest in the land when the Senate voted on a bill to sell water rights that would allow commercial development there. Those rights had been appraised at $1.5 million just the previous August, but it was sold to Beach Street Corp, of which Stack owns 4%, for only $100,000, after persistent lobbying by Stack’s business partner. The explanation for the reduction was that

The land was contaminated with old paint and other shipyard chemicals and may need to be cleaned. [Philadelphia Inquirer]

Stack abstained from the vote without explanation, contrary to the state Constitution, which requires disclosure, and a PR rep said that the vote Stack missed came in "a flurry of activity" at the end of the session; in fact, Stack participated in the 46 other Senate votes that day. [Philadelphia Daily News] He later explained that he was following the advice of the party attorney.

The day after the Philly Daily News broke the story, Stack acknowledged that Ameristar Casino, Inc., apparently not that concerned about shipyard chemicals, had an option to purchase the land for $37,000,000, contingent on their winning a casino license. At 4% of Beach Street, which in turn owns 46% of the land, it would be a windfall of over $650,000 for Stack. Stack has four brothers who also each own 4% of the company, and Stack’s dad owns a 20% share. The senior Stack, who is actually named Michael Stack, Jr., is a Philadelphia ward leader who is under indictment for allegedly forging more than 200 names on candidate nominating petitions for a 2003 City Council race. [Philly Daily News]

And I think it should be pointed out that Stack III did participate in the vote authorizing slots in Pennsylvania. Guess how he voted?

Links and info via Rendell Watch (Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell (D), referred to by the proprietor of this blog as “Fast Eddie”, who signed both the land deal and the slots legislation into law, but denies knowing of Stack’s involvement and says the deal was perfectly legitimate) and Albany Law School Racing and Wagering Page.

- In time for the Florida Derby, Gulfstream finally caves to the mounting pressure and increases the run to the first turn to 400 feet, from 370, for their 1 1/8 mile races.
"The 400-foot run into the first turn is virtually identical to other nine-furlong ovals like Aqueduct and Arlington Park," said Gulfstream president and general manager Scott Savin. [Daily Racing Form]
Better late than never, this will hopefully even out the playing field in those races, which have been severely biased towards the inside posts.

Odds and Ends - March 23

- Lauren Stitch in the Form writes about all of Nick Zito’s Derby contenders today, but she loves Andromeda’s Hero, who, as she says, has been Under the radar so far. Actually I’m guilty of overlooking him as well, probably because I did not see his last effort in the Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay, in which he broke from the 12 post with the gate not far from the turn, was forced further wide on the turn, moved up between horses and pulled away in the stretch; and Ms. Stitch adds he was crying to run around the track again.

The Lane's End on Saturday could be Andromeda's Hero's coming-out party. He is from the first crop of Fusaichi Pegasus.... and there isn't a 3-year-old with a better pedigree for 1 1/4 miles. Andromeda's Hero descends from a remarkable King Ranch female family that traces in tail-female family to Masda, a full sister to Man o' War. [DRF]
Eight are expected to face Zito’s colt in the Lane’s End, including Magna Graduate, winner of the Battaglia at Turfway, who will get JD Bailey.
"He's come along at the right time," [trainer Pat] Byrne said...”He's put on weight since his last race. Yesterday (Monday) he galloped out five furlongs in 1:01...The horse, talent-wise, he's getting there. He's a late April foal. I like the way he's coming around." [Bloodhorse]
Magna Graduate is a son of Honor Grades, a deceased Danzig half brother to A.P. Indy and Summer Squall, and is out of a mare by Fast Play, the half brother to Seeking the Gold.

- Word comes from Dubai that the U.A.E. Derby could produce Kentucky Derby hopefuls. One of the possibilities is British stakes winner Shamardal (Giant’s Causeway).
"He certainly has a pedigree that would indicate he would handle the track, and he has the stamina to go a mile and a quarter," Godolphin Racing Manager Simon Crisford said. [Thoroughbred Times]
Also mentioned is Italian stakes winner Becrux, trained by Mike De Kock:
"It’s been the plan since last fall to bring him to the U.S. for the Kentucky Derby, but he’ll have to finish in the top three for us to continue to consider it." [Thoroughbred Times]
Well, that’s just great. The Derby picture isn’t difficult enough now, we need to have these horses coming over with those stupid running lines with no fractional times nor running positions and some timeform rating? How does anyone handicap races like that? Isn’t there some kind of immigration law about foreign horses coming here with incomplete running lines?

- Roses in May drew the 12 post for the Dubai World Cup, but there’s a long run to the first turn, and his connections did not seem concerned. He’s the favorite - quoted at 7-4 odds by the English betting firm Coral. [Bloodhorse]

- Ghostzapper is aiming to make his seasonal debut April 9 in the G1 Oaklawn Handicap, and he worked five furlongs handily in :59.60. [BH]

- Quiet second and final day at the OBS select 2 year old sale; high sale was only $325,000 for a Salt Lake colt, and the averages and medians were once again down from last year. Whatsmore, the buy back rate, which was an anemic 23% yesterday, was over 40% today.

Top Ten List

- Here’s this week’s Top Ten: the Left at the Gate top ten of who I think will be making headlines on and around the first Saturday in May.

1. High Limit – Too few preps, not enough foundation, likes to jump tire tracks, still has lots to prove, and one can argue he’s still untested. But somehow he comes out looking even better to me after the past weekend’s preps. If Sun King is rated so highly by so many off of his Tampa Bay Derby win, what does that say about this one’s Louisiana Derby effort, which was accomplished more easily, against far, far better, and with a much higher Beyer?

2. Consolidator – This is the one that Lukas has liked all along and he showed why with his big effort in the San Felipe, the supposed track bias notwithstanding (it was the only two turn dirt race on the card). While he’ll have to prove it wasn’t a one-shot deal, Lukas’ Charismatic came from lesser status and maintained his form through the Preakness before getting hurt in the Belmont. The man knows what he’s doing.

3. Teamsters President Jim Hoffa – With the Teamsters and the Jockey Guild growing ever closer, Hoffa, who had said that jockeys are “almost like slaves or servants,” decides that they really don’t have it so bad, and declares that he wants his Teamsters to get a piece of the action. To accommodate their new friends, the Guild announces that they will seek to have the minimum riding weight raised to 240 pounds.

4. Sun King High Fly Noble Causeway – Logic dictates that Sun King or High Fly should be high on this list, but I’m confused after Sun King’s Tampa Bay race, and not won over by High Fly’s post-aided Fountain of Youth. Noble Causeway’s allowance win in which he calmly swung off the rail and rallied past the field was, to me, the most visually impressive and professional two turn win of any of Zito’s contenders, and I think he has the most potential to improve.

5. Rockport Harbor – Still a lot of questions regarding his ability to rate and to last ten furlongs, not to mention his mere two preps, but deserves a spot here based on his gritty comeback race at far less than peak conditioning. He tried valiantly to fight off a much sharper Greater Good in a final sixteenth of :6 1/5.

6. Don’t Get Mad – His rally for third in the San Felipe was impressive enough to give hope to those who feel he’ll be one of the ones finishing strongly at ten furlongs.

7. Michael Jackson – Acquitted of all charges in his child molestation case, Jackson, now looking healthy and chipper, suddenly does a sprinting moonwalk out of the courtroom, covering a mile in 1:35 2/5. A week later, he appears in a new documentary in which he says he likes to share his bed with small animals, and is shown holding hands with a Great Horned Owl.

8. Greater Good – Hard to find much fault here, but will likely have to continue to improve to compete in Kentucky, and his pedigree will continue to sow seeds of doubt.

9. Bandini – His second in the Fountain of Youth continues to age favorably, especially as the stats continue to demonstrate how impossible his outside trip at the 9f Gulfstream route was.

10. Sweet Catomine – OK, I’m putting her on. She may very well be the best of all of these, but she’ll have to improve on her 2005 efforts in the Santa Anita Derby.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Of Horses and Fox

- Modest prices at the first day of the OBS select 2 yo sale today, with the average and median prices down a bit from last year; but the buyback rate, a concern at the Calder and Barretts sales, dropped significantly, to 23% from 32% last year. No fireworks; the top seller, a colt by current leading 2005 second year sire Yes It’s True, out of a Pentelicus mare - here’s the catalog page (pdf). Not much in the way of black type the first two dams, but he had impressive breezes of :10 2/5 and :21 1/5. You have to go all the way down to $360,000 for the second highest, a son of Silver Charm.

- Harsh penalties for drug positives are being considered in Kentucky, including suspensions for the horses involved. For example, this is the penalty being discussed for the highest offense:

For Class A drugs, which are known to impact performance, a first offense would bring loss of purse, a $15,000 fine and 1,095-day suspension for the trainer, and a 90-day suspension for the horse. A third offense would trigger loss of purse, a $50,000 fine and lifetime suspension for the trainer, and a 360-day suspension for the horse. [Bloodhorse].
Claiming that they have little control in such situations, some thoroughbreds expressed dismay over the proposals. “Equine athletes should not be subject to forfeiture of their sole means of livelihood due to transgressions committed by trainers,” read a statement released by some disgruntled maiden claimers at Turfway Park.

- John Servis has a nice 3 yo filly to go along with the resurgent Rockport Harbor. Round Pond (Awesome Again) won the Honeybee Stakes at Oaklawn on Sunday, in only her third start, and in her first try around two turns in her stakes debut, drawing away to win by almost 6 lengths. She's a possibility for the G2 Fantasy at Oaklawn on Arkansas Derby weekend. Her dam is a half to millionaire Nasr El Arab as well as to European stakes winner and current first year sire Black Minnaloushe (Storm Cat), standing in Kentucky for $7500, down from $10,000. His yearlings sold for an average of $32,000 last year.

Black Minnaloushe won three G1’s in England and Ireland in 2001, and you can see the stretch runs of two of them on this page here; you should check them out, they’re great races, and he was a runner with an exciting late burst, and I mean late! But also, listen to the calls, and in particular the cheesy dramatic music behind it that builds to a crescendo as the horses cross the wire. They don't play that stuff during the race over there, do they? It’s like when FOX a few years ago was ridiculed for playing dramatic music in the bottom of the 9th as Armando Benitez blew another one for the Mets, remember that?

Speaking of FOX, the people who made the documentary Outfoxed, which shows just how fair and balanced the network really is, posted the text of a column by Bill O’Reilly on their blog, though apparently not in a flattering context. As told by Stanford Law Professor and noted authority on cyberspace law Laurence Lessig in his blog,
The company syndicating O'Reilly's column wrote them a nasty letter, telling them to take the column down. They did, and replaced it with a link. The same company wrote again, insisting that the blog was guilty of "unauthorized linking."

Dear syndicators of Bill: Me thinks there's no such concept as illegal linking....Indeed, I think that I, like anyone else, am perfectly free to link to the column, as this link does. And indeed, I'd invite anyone else out there who thinks that we still live in a FREE LINKING world to link to the same. [Lessig Blog]


(You see, I've actually linked to a column by Bill O'Reilly! I'm fair and balanced, right?)

What's In a Name - Slot, Trot, and Idiot Edition

- New York State’s highest court is hearing arguments concerning the very existence of VLT’s at racetracks and Indian casinos. A law passed in 2001, in the wake of the terrorist attacks, permitted such expansion of gambling, which was otherwise prohibited by state law. Opponents are citing that prohibition, claiming that even the two casinos and the racetrack slot parlors already present require a constitutional amendment to change the state law. Proponents argue that a Federal law permitting states to negotiate casino construction with tribes if there is any other permissible gambling present supercedes the state law; and that VLT’s are not really slot machines anyway, which would be illegal under the law, but something akin to lotteries. According to the NY Times, some judges were expressing concern that Indian-run casinos could someday lead to roulette wheels, poker tables and craps in populous cities like Manhattan and Buffalo, while another stated that

"The people have already chosen, and by allowing gambling to some degree, no longer can we exclude it…..Had New York said there shall be no gambling, and really meant it, no gambling period, then there's no power in the world that can compel New York to go to the table." [NY Times]
This judge, Albert Rosenthal, added: " When casino opponents contended that federal laws don't compel New York to bargain with tribes…I tell you, you're in a lot of trouble with that position." [Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, link via Albany Law School Racing & Gaming]

On the other hand, the Kentucky Attorney General said that the Kentucky Constitution does not have to be amended to allow expanded gambling. [Bloodhorse]

- Jeff Mullins is in Dubai with Choctaw Nation and My Cousin Matt, preparing them for the World Cup and Golden Shaheen respectively. He needs to watch what he says in a region of the world where calling the wrong person an “idiot” could possibly lead to his public beheading. There are no bettors for him to call names, since gambling is not permitted in the United Arab Emirates, creating the always weird scene of people standing around watching horse racing with no action. I recall a bizarre opening day at Belmont one year when the clerks were on strike and there was no betting there. Nonetheless, the card went on, Forego was racing, and a few thousand race fans and degenerates who had made their bets at OTB (with me being in the latter category), were on hand for the action, probably more than show up on a typical race day now.

- The Jockey Guild is lobbying Kentucky for higher minimum riding weights. As always, the Guild didn’t mince words, as a spokesman said that in trying to make their assigned weights, "Across the country these jockeys are literally killing themselves." On the other hand,
Marty Maline, executive director of the Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, said horsemen worry about added weights.

"They're very concerned how this will affect the health and welfare of the horse," Maline said. [Louisville Courier-Journal]

- Ken Warkentin dominated the 2 year old trotting scene last year, but isn’t scaring off potential opponents for the Hambletonian. The horse is named after the Meadowlands’ track announcer, which would create a weird circumstance for the race caller should the colt make it to the big race there.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Weekend Beyers

- The Form has the Beyers from Saturday, and no surprise, it’s Consolidator with the best fig, a 104. His race is already being downgraded by some because of the strong speed bias at Santa Anita that day, but I think those who would disparage his effort should take a look at him dashing down the Santa Anita stretch after contesting a fast pace before downgrading it too much; it was a truly splendid effort. Nonetheless, give full credit to Don’t Get Mad for his rally against the grain; he deserves another shot, and apparently he and second place finisher Giacomo will get one in the SA Derby, which is looking more and more like it will see Sweet Catomine as the favorite. Wilko came out with another quarter crack but is still possible for the SA Derby or, more likely, the Blue Grass a week later. How about just giving him the time he needs to heal?

Greater Good got a 95, Survivalist a 90, and Sun King only a 91, and one that he had to do a little work for in the stretch, and that after his 104 at Gulfstream. A step back? Or a "useful" race that was part of Nick Zito’s plan? His performance wasn’t overly impressive visually to me, and I was surprised to find him on top of so many people’s top ten lists this morning; I wonder if they'll have second thoughts after seeing his Beyer. As far as Greater Good goes, I’ve heard a lot of people dismissing his race, noting that he caught a tiring Rockport Harbor in a slow race, a contention partly supported by the moderate Beyer. They may be right; as much as I’ve grown to like this horse, the Rebel doesn’t necessarily convince me that he’s top class enough. But out of every present Derby candidate - and I mean every single one including all five of Zito’ there anyone other than Greater Good that you can say with absolute assurance (or as much as is possible in this game) at this stage that he, or she, will be running strong at the finish of the Kentucky Derby? Really, who? Scipion? Sweet Catomine? What do you think?

Seeking the Gold

- A bit of a family affair on Saturday for Seeking the Gold, with stakes winners by he as well as by one of his sons and one of his brothers. I mentioned yesterday the 2nd straight stakes, and first graded win for 4-4 on the turf Cape Hope, by Seeking the Gold’s son Cape Town, about whom I've posted previously.

In the 500K Grade 2 Mervin H. Muniz Jr. at the Fair Grounds, Rapid Proof got to the finish first in a thrilling finish, holding off favored A to the Z and America Alive by a head and a nose at 31-1. And man, I was handicapping this race, and I noticed the price on him and thought to myself it was too high, but sometimes I get psyched out by the was like, there’s gotta be something wrong, how can this horse be 31-1?. He’s shown big time improvement since the summer, and was coming off two close thirds in stakes against several others in this race, last time at only 9-1, showing a steady pattern of improving Beyers. You have to be able to distinguish between “dead on the board,” which in my experience is one of the more reliable ways to throw horses out, and legitimate overlays, like this one in a full competitive field of stakes horses; and I did a really lousy job here. What the hell is wrong with me? It was the first stakes win for Rapid Proof, who is by Fast Play, a Seattle Slew half brother to Seeking the Gold; I’ve also posted about him before (scroll down).

Seeking the Gold’s winner was Gold Storm, who took the 6f Duncan F Kenner, also at Fair Grounds on Funny Stakes Name Day; it was his second stakes win in as many starts in 2005. His sire is seeking to bounce back this year after having missed the top 100 on the general sire list for 2004. In fact, his stud fee has been on a steady decline since it was $250,000 in 2001; it’s half that now. He’s off to a fast start, with 4 stakes wins by Gold Storm and two others, Wanderin Boy and Quest. He ranks 4th in the early going on the 2005 sire list, thanks also to his UAE winner Satin Kiss.

To show you how the game has changed in not that long of a time, Seeking the Gold was a 3 yo in 1988, and that year, he ran 12 times, 9 of them graded stakes races! Ask yourself how many of the 3 yo’s we’re watching for the Derby now will run in 12 races and/or 9 graded stakes in their entire careers, forget about this year! He won 6 of those races, and ran 2nd five times, losing heartbreaking nose decisions in the Haskell and Travers to Forty Niner. Nowadays, the Haskell and the Travers is mostly an either-or affair even though they’re at the opposite ends of August. His incredible complete race record is here, courtesy of Claiborne Farm. And by the way, the one race in his 15 race career that he didn’t finish in the money? A 7th place finish in the Kentucky Derby, won that year by the filly Winning Colors. [EDIT: That was actually the only time he finished worse than second!]


- Awesome win by Megahertz in the G2 Santa Ana yesterday. She swung out at the top of the stretch like a car making a six-lane move on the freeway and mowed them all down. The last three furlongs of the race went 35.3, with the final one in 12 seconds, so who knows how fast she was running. After the finish, Trevor Denman said of the diminutive mare that she looked like a greyhound dashing by the rest of the field. Her owner rightfully earned the kudos of the guys on HRTV for keeping her in training in this, her 6 yo year. Her sire Pivotal stands in England and has blossomed from a £6,000 stallion when he entered the breeding shed in 1997, to a sire of 31 stakes winners and the third leading sire on the 2004 UK list, and now commands a fee of £75,000 pounds, or over $140,000.

- Looking on the bright side, Afleet Alex’s trainer Tim Ritchey says that the lung infection is "the most curable and quickest to solve of the many things that could have gone wrong." [Philadelphia Inquirer] Nonetheless, he’ll miss a week of training while being treated with antibiotics. What to do about him will be a major dilemma for those handicapping his next start, the Arkansas Derby.

- Next big select sale of 2 yo’s tomorrow and Wednesday at Ocala.

Consignor Becky Thomas of Sequel Bloodstock said she expected to see a strong middle market. "If you look at the 2-year-old sales overall," she said, "there has not been a middle market that has been solid. Everyone here is very optimistic that this is going to bring a strong middle market.

"A lot of people I talked to at other 2-year-old sales all said they were coming in for this sale because they believe they can buy a good, solid horse for $100,000. Buyers have a chance at this sale." [Bloodhorse]

- The president would not be budged from his ranch in Texas in the weeks and months before 9/11 despite persistent threats of an impending attack by Al Qaeda. But he earned a Beyer rating of 109 for the way he dashed back to Washington in the middle of the night to sign legislation to have Terry Schiavo’s feeding tube reinserted, a position strongly advocated by religious conservatives as well as his brother Jeb.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Sunday Night Odds and Ends

- The stallion ad for Intidab in the 2005 Stallion Register proudly trumpets:

“Among North America’s Leading Freshman Sires:
Highest Percentage of Winners (60%)
Highest Percentage of Stakes Horses (60%)
Wow, all this for just $3500? Upon closer inspection however, one notices that Intidab’s first crop consisted of just 6 foals and 5 runners. Of those, 3 are winners, one of them being Greater Good, and the other two placed in stakes in England. According to, he only has 4 foals in this year’s 2 year-old crop, but I suppose business could pick up for him at Gallagher’s Stud in New York.

As a racehorze, Intidab (Phone Trick) won 7 of 36 starts in the US, UK, and UAE, for $531,000; including wins in the G2 True North and A Phenomenon Handicaps, beating Artax and Yes It’s True in the latter; they were both at 6 furlongs. He won as far as 1600 meters, which is nearly a mile, once, on the turf in the UAE. Greater Good is a Kentucky-bred, and if he were to win the Derby it may be a relief to Kentuckians dismayed by the sight of New York and Pennsylvania-breds winning the roses the past 2 years. But he’s certainly a far more obscurely bred horse than Funny Cide or Smarty Jones is.

- Roman Ruler is off the Derby trail.
"He needs three weeks off," Baffert said from Santa Anita Park. "We've got to remove that quarter and let it heal up and grow back. He's got that bad spot and you're taking a chance when you run him. I told Gary (Stevens) to see how he goes, and if he wasn't handling it to take care of him, and Gary was real good about it. Now, we'll just give him time and clear it all out." [Bloodhorse]
It bothers me to read stuff like this; that they would take any kind of a "chance," in Baffert's own words, with a horse that showed so much promise last year just to get to the Kentucky Derby. It’s just one race after all (and I say that even though I’ve probably devoted about 95% of the posts here to the subject)!

The Santa Anita Derby shapes up as basically yesterday’s San Felipe, minus Consolidator, assuming he does go to the Blue Grass, and Roman Ruler and whoever else drops out, and plus Sweet Catomine. With Declan’s Moon out, Going Wild headed to the Wood, and Spanish Chestnut to the Lane’s End, the cast from the Santa Catalina is gone from the cast.

- Besides Sun King, another impressive winner at Tampa Bay yesterday was the 3 yo filly R Lady Joy, who destroyed the field in the Florida Oaks in 1:44.2, a stakes record and just 3/5ths slower than Sun King; and she won for fun, under less urging than the colt. Trainer Kurt Ziadie said``This filly is unbelievable. She is a monster.'' [Tampa Bay Online] She’s the first stakes winner for her second crop sire Vicar (Wild Again), who is red hot this year with 9 winners, plus twice stakes-placed Vicarage, and 2005 earnings just behind second year crop sire leader Yes It’s True. And he’s also the sire of one of the 2 year-olds I own in partnership that we hope to sell at auction, this filly targeted for the Fasig-Tipton Timonium sale in May. Or maybe the new one added there for June due to unprecedented demand.

- Another stakes win for the 3 yo turf filly Cape Hope (Seeking the Gold), who I posted about last month.

- Next time you’re at the track or racino, perhaps you should take note of where the fire exits are. The Chicago Sun-Times reported today (link via Albany Law School) that Balmoral Park harness track has been charged with over 300 fire-code violations. The paper also reported that prior to the administration of current Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, the fire marshall may have been willing to overlook such problems.
"The word was don't make any moves at the racetracks and the [river]boats because those are the governor's pets," said one of the fire marshal sources, who requested anonymity, referring to Blagojevich's predecessors. "That's where his money comes from, and he wouldn't appreciate any additional costs to those people. Accommodate them any way you can. That's what was told to the guys who were doing them." [Chicago Sun-Times]
Recent inspections revealed a very different picture, so much so that the Fire Inspector assigned two firefighters to the grandstand each racing night (though only after the Sun-Times obtained Balmoral inspection reports from the fire marshal's office through a Freedom of Information Act request).
The problems noted included having an alarm and sprinkler system that did not appear to have been tested, sprinkler pipe joints secured by duct tape, barns and a worker residence building with doors that locked from the outside and inadequate sprinklers in the track's grandstand area. [Chicago Sun-Times]
And, at the Finger Lakes racino in upstate NY, officials say they are in compliance with fire code laws, even though a Farmington town official said firefighter access had been delayed to a kitchen during a fire there in February; and despite the fact that there have been so many false alarms there, that "when the alarm has gone off, they have not evacuated the building." [Rochester Democrat and Chronicle]

Stakes Recap

- You gotta love Greater Good (Intidab), whether or not you think his win in the Rebel in a slow 1:44 4/5 makes him a legitimate contender to win the Kentucky Derby. He just always fires, and is now 4 for 4 around two turns. It was a really strange race on many counts. For one thing, the eventual winner actually found himself on the lead shortly after the start, a position that prompted owner Lewis Lakin to say, "What’s happening?" [Arkansas Democrat Gazette] Rockport Harbor, who got off to a horrible stumbling start, rushed up three wide around the first turn and was taken in hand setting slow fractions of 47.25 and 1:12.54 to 6f, and it took him another nearly 26 seconds to get to the sixteenth pole, by which time Greater Good, who had dropped back to around no more than 6 lengths off the lead and swung 4 wide in the stretch, had engaged the leader. Rocky was game in his first start in almost 4 months and fought back, but to no avail. Nonetheless, trainer John Servis was understandably thrilled.

"I'm tickled to death....I've never been so happy about getting beat in my life. He ran a great race and will move forward." [Bloodhorse]
Meanwhile, Afleet Alex, who stalked the leader until the top of the stretch, then shockingly quit and faded to last, burning over $400,000 in show money. But he has an excuse.
J. J. Graci, a spokesman for the colt’s owner (Cash Is King LLC), said Afleet Alex was suffering from a lung infection, that on scale of 1 to 5, was a "3."

Graci said there was mucus coming out of Afleet Alex’s nose and even more was detected in his lungs by an endoscope, an instrument used for direct visual inspection of a hollow organ or body cavity.

Graci said Afleet Alex will be treated with antibiotics for five days and then resume training for his scheduled start in the $1 million Grade II Arkansas Derby on April 16. [Arkansas Democrat Gazette]
And Graci told the Form, "It's just a little bump in the road." Should all make for a fascinating rematch in the Arkansas Derby, where we’ll have to determine how Afleet Alex bounces back and if Rockport Harbor can move forward; and as for Greater Good, I get the feeling he’s the type who will have his doubters no matter what he does up until Derby day. But there seems little doubt that he will make it there barring any unforeseen troubles.

- Oh man, did you see the way Consolidator (Storm Cat) came barrelling down the stretch in the San Felipe like a quarter horse despite being involved in a grueling pace?? He stalked longshot Lucky J.H. on the outside through an opening half of 46.02 with a second quarter of 22.58, and 1:09.74 through 6f. Around the turn, Wilko and Giacomo looked like they might sweep by, but Consolidator swung into the lane, switched leads, put his head down and stormed down the lane like a man with a mission, getting the mile in 1:34.03, a quarter of 24.29 seconds, and smashing the 25 year old stakes recond by a full second (over an admittedly lightning fast track) finishing in 1:40.11. Wow!! Giacomo, Don’t Get Mad and Wilko ran 2-3-4, likely good enough for each to continue to the SA Derby. Roman Ruler ran last as the favorite.

Lukas repeated his assertions that he hadn’t had Consolidator ready for the Sham, and displayed some well-deserved bravado as well.
"I think maybe I overestimated his ability. I was a little bit light on him; I probably pampered him a little bit. But I know how to get there (Kentucky Derby). I've been there before (with 41 horses since 1981, winning four times). I know what to do. And he was a different horse.”
Lukas also indicated that he may send Consolidator to the Blue Grass rather than stay for the SA Derby. ("It gives us an extra week....and he has an affinity for that track." [DRF]) That could set up a confrontation with High Limit, which would be a showdown between the two horses which, in my opinion, are the two most impressive Derby prep winners thus far.

It would also present the real possibility that Sweet Catomine will indeed be favored in the Santa Anita Derby.

- Another who could be in the Blue Grass, which is quietly shaping up to be a mammoth race, is Sun King (Charismatic), who did not disappoint the bridgejumpers who pumped more than $800,000 into the show pool for the Tampa Bay Derby, though he gave them a bit of a fright when he let challengers draw along each side of him around the turn and into the stretch. He set slow fractions on the lead of :23.78, :48.65, and 1:13.54. When challenged, Edgar Prado went to the whip and Sun King responded got the next quarter in 24.24 and finished up in 1:43.98, a couple of ticks off the track record.
"I'm very happy with the way he ran," said winning trainer Nick Zito. "I was surprised he went to the lead. I think [Prado] wanted to school him and see how much horse he really had and he did a good job. Sometimes you have to do that. The horse is versatile." [Bloodhorse]
This is what Prado had to say:
``You have to prepare yourself for whatever comes in the future. He comes from behind, and he comes from the front. When he fell into company of the horse coming, he switched to another gear.'' [Tampa Bay Online]

- And in the wildest race and finish of the day, Survivalist (Danzig) rallied to prevail in a blanket finish and withstood a claim of foul to take the Gotham, in a race that saw Pavo’s rider Alan Garcia lose his irons and smack Naughty New Yorker in his snout with his whip. Still, trainer Shug McGaughey is unsure about the Derby.
“How far he wants to run, I don't know.....What I'm going to do with him, I don't know. I'll talk to Mr. Phipps when the time comes. I would think the Wood Memorial is a good possibility." [NY Times]
Galloping Grocer, moved to 2nd on Pavo’s DQ, did sit off the pace and only missed by a length; I imagine he moves on to the Wood.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Saturday Odds and Ends

- To anyone visiting this page, Saturday is likely a big day with the Kentucky Derby preps going on. However, as far as national TV goes, it might as well be just another day of exhibition baseball as none of the races were scheduled for broadcast. However, ESPN News this week arranged to pick up the live telecast of the Rebel. There will be three minutes of prerace analysis by Randy Moss and then they’ll pick up Oaklawn’s feed of the race.

- Michael Hammersly of the Form is not amongst those who are concerned by Sweet Catomine’s slower races thus far this year.

Her natural gallop and eagerness dragged rider Corey Nakatani to the lead on the far turn, and almost dragged him into trouble - she swooped by rivals so fast she veered in a bit and almost interfered with a horse. Her finish was demonstrable enough, but the most impressive part of the nine-furlong race may actually have been her 10th furlong. Her gallop-out was stunning; she won the race by three lengths, but by the time she hit the clubhouse turn on the gallop-out she was about 15 lengths in front. That type of display should send a warning shot to all the males - this isn't some fly-by-night fast filly. This is a truck. This is a beast. [Daily Racing Form, subscription only]
I guess we’ll have to wait until the SA Derby to find out for sure.

- Gary Stevens reacted to the meeting between the Jockey Guild and the Teamsters, and he was not happy.
"I'm sick of getting lambasted by trainers for things I don't know anything about," Stevens said. "The guild is not telling us anything. I didn't know anything about this meeting. I'm upset our membership is not being informed about goings on, like this meeting with the Teamsters.

"I don't know what to do," Stevens said. "I've been a guild supporter for 25 years."[DRF]
And some trainers reacted to Jim Hoffa’s remarks that jockeys are "almost like slaves or servants that work on these large plantations."
Several trainers found the comments laughable.

"I guess the jockeys want to drive the trucks, and the truck drivers want to ride the horses," Biancone said of the possibilities if the guild joins up with the Teamsters. [DRF]

- Paul Cellucci, who just yesterday officially left his post as U.S. Ambassador to Canada, has joined Magna as executive vice president of corporate development.
Cellucci, who will be based in Boston, will be point man for Magna Entertainment's battle against U.S. legislators to reform "antiquiated regulatory regimes," said Dennis Mills, a former Liberal MP and current vice-chairman of the horsetrack owner.

"He has knowledge of the horse racing industry and when you have knowledge and interest you have passion," Mills said. [CBC News]
He also has a friendly relationship with the president, whose brother Jeb is, of course, governor of Florida, and the man overseeing the process of deciding on crucial issues of importance to Magna’s Gulfstream Park regarding slot machines there. Some in Massachusetts, where Cellucci served as governor in the 90’s, are hoping that perhaps he will come to the rescue of troubled Suffolk Downs, which Magna considered buying a few years ago.

Cellucci is likely hoping he has an easier time than he did in Canada, where he failed in attempts to persuade our friends to the north to come around to the president's thinking on issues like pre-emptive war, anti-ballistic missile systems, and marijuana laws. No replacement for Cellucci has been named as of yet. But given the arrogance of the president’s recent appointments of John Bolton, a strident critic of the U.N. as U.N. ambassador, and of Paul Wolfowitz, one of the small group of men that led this country into a war over the staunch opposition of many world nations as president of the World Bank, it wouldn’t be surprising if he appointed National Hockey League commissioner Gary Bettman.

Friday, March 18, 2005

And Now For Something Completely Different...

The Grade 3 Gotham will be run at the BIG A at one mile tomorrow. Galloping Grocer (A.P Jet) will look to bounce back from his 4th place finish in the Whirlaway, in which he was challenged on the lead throughout in his first race in 2 1/2 months. He figures to have his work cut out for him here if he wants the lead too, with sprinting speedsters Maddy’s Lion and Distinctive Trick on either side of him. But according to this article on Fox Sports, trainer Dominick Schettino has something completely different in mind.

“We're going to have him rate," he noted. "He gets himself worked up — we had him gelded because he was so high-strung — and we've done a lot of gate work with him because he gets very nervous. As well as trying to relax him, we'd like him to rate because we don't want to be on the lead in the big races. I think he's versatile enough to lay four or five lengths off the pace." [FOX]
If that’s really the case, then it changes the way the race has been generally perceived. The two horses expected to go to the lead have never won beyond 6f; in fact they’ve barely run beyond 6f, and one would expect them to tire and set the race up for..well, maybe Galloping Grocer. He did make his run at Rockport Harbor from just off the pace. Nonetheless, I think there’s too much uncertainly about him here to accept a short price.

Byanosejoe (Cherokee Run) has shown some good late foot at 6f, comes off a lifetime best 92 Beyer, and stayed well in a 2 turn mile race on the inner track; he may really like this 1 turn route.

Naughty New Yorker (Quiet American) has been in training straight through since September, but has continued to improve; in fact he’s downright blossomed with his close seconds in the Count Fleet and Whirlaway Stakes. Was it the inner track, or the fact that trainer Pat Kelly started spacing his races a month apart? The cut back to the one turn mile likely doesn’t help, in fact Kelly said that “he can run all day and I almost consider him a Belmont horse.” [NY Daily News] He did romp at this route in the slop against NY-bred maidens, for whatever that’s worth. Nonetheless, his workouts for this race are pretty awesome, and I get the feeling that he’ll fire again.

Survivalist (Danzig) gets a break from Gulfstream rocks and clay flying in his face and makes his first start at the Big A. He comes off his second in to Sun King in NW1 allowance and shows promise for Shug McGaughey. Horses coming up from Gulfstream generally fare well here this time of year, and this seems to be a good distance for him.

Pavo (Marquetry) is another one who may really like this one turn route. He’s closed very well at 6 furlongs, and also finished second in the Battaglia Memorial at Turfway. But he’s been in training since October, and this is his third race in four weeks, seems a bit much.

I like Naughty New Yorker here despite the shorter distance; he seems to be improving with his one race a month regimen; I think he’ll be a decent price since Galloping Grocer will likely be favored and Survivalist overbet. Galloping Grocer should get enough done to move on to the Wood and I’ll use Byanosejoe on the ticket too.

- Here’s a hunch play for you Monty Python fans. Spamalot, the new Broadway musical based on Monty Python and the Holy Grail and written by Eric Idle, opened on Broadway this week to great reviews; and tomorrow, at Aqueduct, my friends at Castle Village send out Brave Sir Robin in the 3rd! I presume it will be a real horse running and not jockey Pablo Fragoso running around the track banging rocks to make galloping sounds.