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Sunday, December 25, 2005

Notes: Xmas Morning

- Three more winners for the red-hot Nick Zito at Calder on Christmas Eve day. Coming out of five starters, it gives him eight winners from his last 13 to go to the post there. Of those, six are two year-olds, including a pair on Saturday. In the third, his Ice N Lemon (Acceptable) was 1-5 despite running 5th at 4-1 in a maiden special at Aqueduct in his last. It was more of an indication of the weakness of the field, really, but he had to work hard to win by less than a length.

In the 7th, a NW1x allowance, Great Point (Point Given) was spectacular getting placed first after losing a photo to Caspian Sea, who bore out steadily in the last sixteenth and carried Zito’s colt towards mid-track. Great Point seemed unprepared for the start, perhaps thinking about whether he got presents for all of his 182 siblings, and then stumbled shortly after the break and was dead last. I don’t imagine that anyone who bet him at 1-2 was thinking happy holiday thoughts at that point. But undaunted, Eddie Castro took him four wide into the first turn, and Great Point advanced steadily on the backstretch, was four wide the entire way around the final turn, and still battled tenaciously with Caspian Sea, losing by a head despite the late interference.

Now before you check out the futures odds on this one, remember that Great Point was up the track in two graded stakes tries, and he had a slow pace to catch up to against an unimpressive field. It was an impressive display of heart though, and he’s out of a Crafty Prospector half sister to Spain. He was also the winner of Highland Cat’s third-place debut, so I guess this kinda flatters our colt, right?

Zito’s third winner was the three-year old Electric Light, who was considered an outside Derby prospect for a few minutes this past spring when he ran a tough 4th in the Risen Star. That was his last race until this fall though, and this was his first time in the money in his third race back, generally considered to be an optimal race in a horse’s cycle. He was 4-5 after those two dull efforts, and I guess the stretch out to two turns helped as he romped home by seven.

- Point Given still has just two winners and just 16 starters from his first crop. We know about the couple of prospects that Baffert has, and the folks at his stud farm, Three Chimneys, have to be hoping for something, anything. They’re holding the line with his $50,000 stud fee, but he was only bred to 72 mares in 2005, and according to the Equiline report, he had a crop of just 32 weanlings this year.

- While most of us were skipping out of work early on Friday, according to the Albany Times-Union, officials at NYRA were preparing their bankruptcy filing this Wednesday. The plan to NYRA to sell land to the Port Authority for $5 million is coming before the oversight board that day, but NYRA has already rejected it, claiming that they need the land for the casino, or perhaps we should start saying the “alleged casino.” Meanwhile, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver claimed that it’s only a coincidence that his first of three long-awaited appointments to the Committee on the Future of Racing is a bankruptcy attorney.

By allowing NYRA to slip into bankruptcy, Governor Pataki, who was blamed by Silver and Senator Bruno for not pushing the state lottery to approve the casino license, is obviously banking on a bankruptcy court ruling in favor of the state on the contentious question of who owns the land that the tracks sit on. If a court ruled in favor of NYRA on the issue, their problems would be over, as they could sell any part of it to whomever they want and/or simply obtain a mortgage, not to mention the wrench that such a ruling would throw into the franchise renewal process. However, this scenario is unlikely, at least according to no less of an authority than Bennett Liebman, the proprietor of the Albany Law School Racing and Wagering program, and a former member of the State Racing and Wagering board. Reprinting an excerpt of an email I posted here last August:

In 1983, when NYRA's franchise was extended, the State legislature, in effect, made the State the owner of the land. They made the franchise and NYRA's existence co-terminous. In short, under the 1983 legislation, if NYRA lost the franchise it would go out of existence. It's fairly clear that NYRA management in 1983 understood the situation. Thus, under the law, the State controls the land.
It’s fairly clear that Pataki also understands the situation and is confident that Mr. Liebman’s analysis is correct, or certainly at least the conclusion of it.