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Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Talk of the Town

- In Maryland, it's the slots legislation of course, which looks like it's in the middle of the road to nowhere, as the state houses are at a stalemate, and it would be a mystery achievement if it's resolved. It's amazing to me sometimes, that in our democratic system, one man can, even against the public will, scuttle legislation he doesn't like, but this would be the third year in a row that House Speaker Michael Busch does just that.

Busch said Friday that he saw no indication that delegates are willing to consider other slots options. In fact, he said, it might be difficult to get a majority on the same bill a second time.

The speaker resisted the notion that he is to blame if slots don't pass this year, saying the House worked to craft a bill that provides the best deal for the state and keeps slots out of jurisdictions that don't want them. [Baltimore Sun/Newsday]
Busch's counterpart in the Senate, Thomas V. Mike Miller, like Busch, a Democrat..
..has said he objects to nearly every provision of the House bill. He said it wouldn't add any money to the state's coffers to pay for the Thornton education funding plan, would be difficult to implement because of the conflicts arising out of the selection commission, and wouldn't do enough to help the horse racing industry - the original impetus for bringing slots to Maryland.
Oh yeah. Helping the horse racing industry! I remember - that was how all this slots stuff started, wasn't it? But now the industry seems to be fast losing control of the issue, and it's spiraled out of their control as fast as the steroids scandal has to major league baseball. It's all about budgets and deficits, and somehow finding money to pay for schools or mass transit, and at the rate gambling is expanding people will no more have to go to a track to play slots than they do to bet on horse races.

Flush with slots cash, Monticello Raceway (check out the music if you click on. Do you think this band will make the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?) proudly unveiled a new $1.7 million paddock to go along with its increased purses. Don't get me wrong, I have a soft spot for Monti and I'm glad that things are looking up. But if and when five full fledged nearby casinos come to the Catskills as Governor Pataki wants, why would gamblers not interested in horses go there anymore? May not be long until the horsemen there are back on the chain gang.

- Action on racing in the New York legislature, which is up the neck in fiscal problems. Talks are on to provide a legislative solution that would bring the state's VLT law into compliance with the courts and allow new racinos to direct cash to the tracks.
Pataki recently said he wants negotiators to quicken the pace to get a VLT deal to ensure the state's two biggest future VLT operators--Aqueduct and Yonkers Raceway--get up and running in the current fiscal year. Senate Republicans have estimated the state is losing $1 billion a year in VLT revenue because those tracks, for different reasons, haven't begun VLT programs. [Bloodhorse]
Otherwise, good news and horrible news. The Assembly killed Pataki's plan to install 8 stand-alone VLT parlors, including 5 in NYC. But, hang on, bettors.
The Assembly said there would be a hike in the takeout rate on NYRA wagers. The takeout on win, place, and show bets would go from 14% to 15.5%, while the rate on exotics would rise from 17.5% to 19% on NYRA races. [Bloodhorse]
Of course, there's a lot to be resolved before this happens so you can stop your sobbing for now, but short fixes like this are the order of the day, so there's little doubt this is coming. Hello, Friends of New York, are you there?

- I didn't get a helluva lot right in my preview of the Louisiana Derby (hopefully you saw the pre-race comment left by reader "throwaway," which is what I did with my tickets), but I spelled all the names right, and correctly dismissed the chances of Sort it Out based on Baffert's comments that the horse needed a rest. He raced on the inside and finished a distant 8th. Just speculating here, but this reeks of interference by an owner who shelled out what I presume was a lot of money to buy the horse after his win in the Whirlaway at the Big A, and was determined to take a shot at the Derby no matter what. This is a really nice colt, but he had been in training non-stop since his debut in August, had run nine times since then, improving and progressing up to his tenacious win in the Whirlaway, and you didn't have to be Bob Baffert to look at the pp's and figure he could probably use some time off. Let's hope he's OK and that we see him down the line.

- Haskin on Zito's latest Derby hopeful:
Bellamy Road, a son of his owner George Steinbrenner's stallion Concerto, is pretty much in the same boat as High Limit. While he has one more career start, he'll have only one two-turn race this year. He also was brilliant last year, and does have a graded stakes, the Miller Genuine Draft Cradle Stakes (gr. III), to his credit.

In his allowance score, he destroyed his opposition, running the favorite, Dearest Mon, into the ground with fractions of :45 3/5 and 1:10 1/5 before drawing away under a hand ride by Javier Castellano to win as he pleased in 1:35 4/5 for the mile. [Bloodhorse]

- If you haven't figured it out by now, I was trying to pay tribute to the Pretenders, inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last night. Their seminal self-titled debut album was an exhilarating rush when it came out in 1980, and remains to this day one of the surest demonstrations that raw emotions are best expressed musically with electric guitars, bass and drums - and a singer like Chrissie Hynde didn't hurt either.