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Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Gulfstream Tag Sale

- Wednesday’s card at Gulfstream consists of no less than nine claiming races, plus a first-level allowance. Man, there are a lot of claimers down there. I don’t recall that being the case in past years, even my most recent ones up until last year. My earliest recollection of being at Gulfstream was in 1975; I was at the Florida Derby, and saw Foolish Pleasure get upset by Prince Thou Art. I also recall being there in 1978 with my mentor, Jake. We met a couple that was living out of a Cadillac, and they gave us tips every morning. This all transpired at the beach in the back of the seedy old Hollywood Beach Motel, but they turned out to be live; I remember in particular a first-time starter on the grass with Jean Cruguet who romped at 5-1 and man, I wish I could recall the name. That was also the first time I saw (and won on) Waya, the magnificent turf mare who captured my heart with her last-to-first rallies (and she won the Beldame on the dirt too); later that year she defeated the boys in the G1 Man O’War.

Well, enough of that for now; I get depressed when I think of the fact that the track is no longer there in a form that anywhere resembles what it was like. I will go and check it out at some point, though probably not this year, but it won’t be what I know as Gulfstream. I’ll have to give it another name.

Anyway, the one allowance race on Wednesday is for three-year old fillies. Morning line favorite Coronado’s Vision (Coronado's Quest) could be considered a dark horse Oaks prospect if she wins as impressively as she did her last. In the futures pool for the Oaks, the all-others are 7-2, and then comes Folklore at 6-1 and Wild Fit at 7-1. I’ll go out on a limb right here and say with some certainty that neither Folklore nor Wild Fit will win the Oaks. Otherwise, I don’t really have a clue. Wild Fit is scheduled to return in the Las Virgenes on Feb 11, and have I mentioned before that we’re going to bet against her?

[UPDATE: Lukas announced that Folklore will skip the Las Virgenes and point to the SA Oaks a month later instead; which should leave Wild Fit as a big favorite; all the better.]

News and Notes - Jan 31

- El Camino winner Cause to Believe (selected here…..I was away and didn’t bet the race, so I might as well brag about the pick) was a $30,000 two-year old in training purchase for Canadian homebuilder Peter Redekop; besides the $280,000 in purse money he’s earned, he now has himself a Derby contender. One can only imagine how much he could get for this colt now if he wanted to. Jockey Russell Baze had to work on the colt to hold off runner-up Objective, but he noted, "When we made the lead…..he started goofing around because he's not used to being in front so early." [Sacramento Bee]

Hollendorfer picked the son of Maria’s Mon out of last year’s OBS March Selected Two-Year-Olds in Training Sale, and I for one would be fascinated to know what exactly it was that enabled him to get him so cheaply. He’s by a $25,000 sire and descends from an excellent female family as noted in this post (though I'd neglected to mention that his dam is by Storm Cat); his under tack show times of 10.4 and 10.4 (hip 226)(with the first one coming against a strong headwind) were solid, if not totally spectacular. Was that not fast enough? Does a few tenths of a second really make that much of a difference? Was there something in his action or conformation that turned bidders off but that Hollendorfer was able to overlook? Well, those are the kinds of questions I’d be asking if I’d been writing an article on the horse; perhaps if Jerry Hollendorfer is reading, he can fill us in.

- Mike Smith told the LA Times that Giacomo will indeed make his return in the Strub Stakes at Santa Anita on Saturday.

- Buzzard’s Bay was a very disappointing 4th in the Millions Classic on Saturday, and his trainer Ron Ellis told the Thoroughbred Daily News, “We just got outrun.…He was in a perfect position. No excuses.”

Scary Tales and Free Slices

- I noted with some amusement and much sarcasm the other day the comment by Bernadette Castro when she said of herself and the other members of the Committee on the Future of Racing: "I think every member of the committee learned something they did not know before” at the two days of hearings conducted in New York last week. Reading Jeff Scott’s piece in today’s The Saratogian, the comment becomes more harrowing than funny.

There were a couple of scary moments at the recent public hearing held by the Ad Hoc Committee on the Future of Racing. The first came when, following a brief history of New York racing by Bennett Liebman, committee members were asked if they had any questions.

As it turned out, they did. The first question was, 'What exactly is 'takeout'?' Another was, 'Could you define 'guest simulcasting'?'
Folks, these are the people deciding the future of racing in New York. And if you think that’s frightening, consider the sight of Frank Stronach touting these empty political appointee suits on his vision of Saratoga Race Course as a year-round entertainment destination. Especially since, as Scott notes, Stronach himself may be lacking somewhat in his understanding of the role of great racing, rather than great food and air conditioning, in the success of Saratoga.
Even Saratoga would not survive long as it is without a reputation for featuring the best the sport has to offer. It's not clear whether Frank Stronach understands this.

In fact, last week in Albany the Magna chairman appeared to question New York's pre-eminence when he said, 'I have great respect for (NYRA president) Charlie Hayward, but if New York racing is so great, how come there aren't more New York-breds running?'

Is Stronach, an Eclipse Award-winning owner and breeder, confused about the relationship between the state's racing and breeding programs? Would he figure it out if he were awarded the next franchise? [Saratogian]
Catching up from the past weekend, Matt Hegarty in the Form had an excellent wrap-up of the hearings. He had this observation on Magna’s proposal to entertain separate bids for the racing and racino operations. The officials framed the request in language suggesting that the company is not that interested in slot machines.
That claim belies the reality. In fact, Magna likely cannot afford to bid on the slot-machine business. The company has lost $350 million over the past four years and is heavily indebted, making any effort to go up against casino heavyweights difficult at best. So instead, Magna is asking the state to strip away the most expensive assets in the RFP so that it would at least have a chance at the racetracks. Since tracks will still get their subsidies from the slots regardless of who operates the casino - at least, under current law - why buy the whole pizza shop when you can get free slices? [Daily Racing Form]

Florida Follies

- Sun-Sentinal columnists Michael Mayo and Dave Joseph took aim over the weekend at the decision by the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering to halt the simulcasts of Gulfstream races at Calder. According to Joseph, The Division seems more intent on harming the sport and the people in it than protecting the interests of one of the state's largest industries.

Why the Division would spend time and money to uphold an antiquated statute is mind-boggling when you consider the agreement not only brought additional revenue to the state but employed 90 additional people at Calder and helped a majority of race fans while Gulfstream still undergoes construction on its new facility.

In less than three weeks, wagering at Calder on Gulfstream's live and simulcasted races raised nearly $200,000 in state revenue, $391,000 toward purses at Gulfstream and approximately $90,000 in breeders' awards.
Joseph notes a pattern in which the Division seems to discriminate against the thoroughbred industry, pointing out that jai-alai and greyhound facilities are free to exchange signals without limitations. Michael Mayo hones in on Governor Jeb Bush, who he labels as the Sore-Loser-in-Chief. When you think you win against this governor, you lose. And when he loses, he still tries to win.
Bush can't stand that voters approved slot machines in Broward County, so much that he keeps talking about a repeal even as the state drags its heels to get the machines, and the tax money they generate, in place.

Now, his bureaucrats are lashing out at tracks and frontons in other ways, banning popular poker tournaments and blocking a year-round simulcast agreement between Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach and Calder Race Course in north Miami-Dade County.
"There's been a lack of real communication," said Calder President Ken Dunn... "An outfit that's supposed to regulate and nurture the industry has done neither."
The ongoing construction at Gulfstream that necessitated making Calder an alternate for bettors had overshadowed the problems with the track’s Derby prep series that were caused by the new configuration of the main track. With a mile and an eighth the minimum two-turn distance, the Holy Bull, Fountain and Youth, and Florida Derby are all conducted at that distance. But now, two top trainers have expressed criticism, and the track is about to lose at least a couple of Derby hopefuls to cross-state rival Tampa Bay Downs. Nick Zito told the Daily Racing Form:
"There's just no succession to these races anymore…..I might run a couple in the Holy Bull, but if I do I'll be doing it reluctantly. I'd rather prepare my horses for the Fountain of Youth and beyond by starting them out at a mile and a sixteenth or in an allowance race a couple of days before or after the Holy Bull. But there haven't been any two-other-thans in the condition book. This is definitely not the way I'd like to go."
Thus, he is planning to send Hesanoldsalt, perhaps his top prospect at this point, to Tampa for the mile and a sixteenth Sam Davis on Feb 18. Great Point, Little Cliff, and Hemingway's Key are possible for the Holy Bull. Todd Pletcher is also considering the Sam Davis for his highly-regarded prospect Bluegrass Cat, and if he does go there, he said that the colt’s subsequent race would be the Tampa Derby and that he would not appear at Gulfstream at all. Pletcher also cited another concern about the nine furlong route there: “If you draw post position eight or beyond you have to take a hard look whether you even want to run at all……I just wish we had another option here."

Still, a large field is expected for the Holy Bull, including Barbaro, and Aventura winner and runner-up Doctor Dechard and Itsallboutthechase.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Millions Sun Shines on California

- California-breds beat Florida-breds five to three on Sunshine Millions day, and Santa Anita beat Gulfstream attendance-wise by a count of 32,116 to 8,440. Don’t know if the promised additions to available facilities were in place at Gulfstream, but I do know that there was no one at Calder for simulcasting.

Florida was also a loser in that none of the three FL-bred winners were even bred by sires who currently stand there. Filly and Mare Sprint winner Hot Storm is by Stormy Atlantic; Ocala Stud Oaks winner Joint Effort is by Runaway Groom. Both of those stallions reside in Kentucky. As for Miesque’s Approval, the Turf winner with no sense of sentimentality whatsoever in denying Jerry Bailey a winner on his final mount, he’s by Miesque’s Son, a full brother to Kingmambo. The most recent information I could find on him has him standing in France; though his most recent stateside duty was performed in, of all places, California.

Amongst the Cal-bred winners, Classic winner Lava Man (Slew City Slew), who is one winner who I can definitively say that I would not have had if I'd played the races that day, and Dash winner Da Stoops (Distorted Humor), also have sires standing in Kentucky, but the other three are “pure” Cal-breds with sires that actually reside there, or did. Distaff winner House of Fortune, is by the late Free House. Filly and Mare Turf winner Moscow Burning, is by Moscow Ballet, who stands at Harris Farms for $3000; and Sprint winner Bordonaro is by the Chilean-bred Memo, stands at Ridgeley Farm for $6,000.

So there you go. Big payday for the winners and runners-up, a nice big crowd at Santa Anita, and a chance for Frank Stronach to pat himself on the back and get hyped on national TV. Other than that, it’s not an event that does anything, really, in terms of promoting the sport. Like the Breeders’ Cup, there are too many big races in one day to generate any meaningful coverage in the press; if not for Bailey’s retirement, there would have been little written other than the stories on Lava Man. Even the LA Times gave just cursory coverage of the whole shebang. And considering that the lead-in on NBC was the National Hockey League, one of the few sports whose ratings are probably worse than horse racing (what does it say about me that these are my two favorite sports), I don’t even want to see what the Nielsens were.

- Before the Millions races at Gulfstream, Songster ($18.80) (Songandaprayer), a three-year old first time starter from Darley and trainer Tom Albertrani, won the 4th race and equaled the track record for seven furlongs (for whatever that’s worth in year two of the new track there), stopping the clock in 1:21.59 under Prado. The $200,000 yearling price tag on this one is, for Darley, like a purchase at Dollar General. This colt is from the family of Slewpy – his dam Rare Bouquet is the 4th dam of Songster. Also worth mentioning is runner-up Trippi Storm, the 2-1 favorite, who was just 1 3/4 lengths behind the winner and nearly eight in front of the rest of the field.

In other three-year old developments, Doc Cheney, one of Nick Zito’s hopefuls, could manage just third as the 3-2 favorite in the Pasco Stakes at Tampa, suffering his first loss in three races. The winner, R Loyal Man (More Than Ready), is a nice one, having run second in the G3 Bashford Manor last year; this was his third straight win. Another of Zito's prospects, Hemingway’s Key, worked five in 1:01.20 (15/30) on Sunday. But Hesanoldsalt is the Zito horse I'm most excited about.

Cause To Believe took the El Camino Real, and considering that Wanna Runner and A.P, Warrior, who were competitive against Stevie Wonderboy and Brother Derek, finished well behind the winner and two other Northern California-based colts (six lengths behind show horse Bold Chieftain), do you downgrade the Southern Cal contingent? Or is the north the place to be this year?

"That was very disappointing," said Alex Solis, who rode 11-to-10 favorite A.P. Warrior. "He didn't show up today. I was laying in good position, and we had some pace to run at. I got him outside at the five-sixteenths, and he didn't fire."

"I was right off them and had a good hold," said David Flores, who rode Wanna Runner. "When I tried to go, they went again and it was over. I had an empty wagon." [SF Chronicle]
- Music School was a scratch at sloppy Oaklawn on Saturday, but he worked a bullet (out of six) six furlongs in 1:17.40 there this morning.

Also this morning, Bob and John went a half in 47.60 (3/19), and Doctor Decherd got one in :48.80 (3/14). On Sunday, Bluegrass Cat worked a bullet (out of 56) five furlongs in a minute flat; Noonmark a half in 48.80 (5/26); Keyed Entry five in 1:02.80 (19/21).

First Samurai, at 7-1, is the favorite (other than the all-others) in the first Derby futures pool. He worked a half on Saturday in :48 2/5 (12/52). He’s expected to make his return in the 7 1/2 furlong Hutcheson this Saturday.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

A Cause to Believe

- Off to Vermont early tomorrow morning, and with competition from three teenagers for the laptop, I can’t say when my next post will be. I’m hoping to be settled into our room in time to catch the third period of the Rangers game on NBC, which will be followed immediately by the telecast of the Sunshine Millions, which I haven’t been able to take a look at, at all.

Some quick notes before a few hours sleep:

- As Teaman pointed out in the comments section, another winner for Ian Wilkes at Gulfstream on Friday, with the same pattern of the last start being in late November at Churchill.

- Bailey had a winner on his only mount on the second to last day of his career. Shakespeare’s half-sister Shakespearesister (Chester House) closed stoutly for the win at 7-10. She’s run very well in the three races in which she’s come off the pace, while she tired on the lead in her last. More significantly perhaps is just the fact that she was able to come back at all just over a month after her last race. Perhaps she’s ready to stay healthy and blossom at age four like her brother did.

- I don’t usually select favorites here, but Wild Jam (5-2 morning line fave) looks awfully good, I think, in Saturday’s Paumonok at the Big A. He was impressive winning the Brutally Frank last-to-first earlier this month, under Ramon Dominguez for the first time. He seemed to get a little mixed up changing leads, but once he got settled, he blew by the field in a final eighth of :11 4/5. He loves the inner track, and there seems to be sufficient pace to set up another late run. It’s a competitive race, so perhaps he’ll be a fair price. Pletcher has Bishop Court Hill, against whom I wouldn’t be afraid to take a stand if he takes a lot of money.

- I love Cause to Believe (Maria’s Mon) in the El Camino Real Derby on Sunday. A.P. Warrior figures to get overbet; I guess you can’t be too harsh on him for his 4th in the G1 Hollywood Futurity, but he looks like he could be overrated. His figs make him just another competitor here, really, though they do show an improving pattern. Cause to Believe stretches out after running second to Too Much Bling at six furlongs in the San Miguel. He has a nice pattern of improving figs and is one-for-one around two turns. Nice breeding; his second dam is G1 winner Cuddles, and she’s the dam of Northern Afleet and Tap To Music. I think he’ll love the stretchout and being trained by Jerry Hollendorfer doesn’t hurt either.

I’m a little afraid of Wanna Runner getting loose on the lead. He’s proven he likes two turns and faces lesser here. Bold Chieftain has shown speed in his two wet track tries, out of three career starts, and has a Tomlinson number of 397. There’s rain in the forecast for Saturday, so expect him to show speed if the track is wet. Otherwise, who knows? Acolyte (Victory Gallop) tries two turns for the first time, and could be worth following down the road.

Friday, January 27, 2006

News and Notes - Jan 27

- Highland Cat was back on the track this morning, getting a half in 49.14 (19/53). Our barn correspondent reported: Bill [Turner] was quite pleased with the breeze, as was Dominic Giglio [HC's exercise rider]. Dominic loves Highland Cat's real easy stride and thinks he has a lot of ability. We’re hoping that he’ll make his return in about a month or so. Christening has been schooling in the gate, and Turner feels she needs another time or two before she gets her gate card.

- John Sherriffs has been giving Giacomo with a series of seven furlong works, and the Derby winner cranked it up with a work in 1:25.40 this morning at Hollywood Park. I know everything this time of year is Derby, Derby, Derby, even 99 days before the event, but Giacomo’s return should be of great interest as well. He's one of the few (only?) older horses still in training whose name is recognizable to those beyond core fans, and a successful return is something we should all be rooting for. The last I read, Sherriffs said he wanted to find an allowance spot for his 4yo debut.

- With New York Governor Pataki a lame duck, State Senator Joseph Bruno may be the most powerful politician in the state at this time. Commenting on Magna’s proposal to make Saratoga Race Course a year-round entertainment center, Bruno told the Troy Record: “Really, these facilities (Saratoga Race Course) have to become family centers – destination centers. Magna's been extremely successful in expanding that concept.” I’d have a few things to say about that, but the Record’s fine racing correspondent Nick Kling put it perfectly:

Anyone who has read either racing's trade journals or South Florida newspapers since Gulfstream opened earlier this month may take issue with Bruno's second opinion. The new Gulfstream model has been roundly denounced by most racing fans. About the only thing Magna has successfully accomplished, according to a consensus of fans and the company's stockholders, is to lose a staggering $350 million over the past three years.

To put that in perspective, Magna has needed less than six months to lose more than the red ink accumulated by the tarnished New York Racing Association (NYRA) during those same three years. The most worrisome part of Bruno's remarks is the notion that Saratoga "(has) to become" some thing different. The current facility attracts the largest live audience of any extended race meet in the nation. A major reason is because it is already a family center. One walk through the track's backyard picnic area on any sunny afternoon is all the evidence the Senator should need.
- Jockey Victor Espinoza says we shouldn’t be too hard on Point of Impact for his less-than-ground saving 4th place finish on Friday.
"Going a mile, the turn is right there, plus he's so big, he needed a little more time to get around the turn. After that, it was great. He settled down the backside and finished good, but it was too much for him to overcome." [LA Daily News]
- A.P. Warrior was a disappointing 4th in the Hollywood Futurity, but trainer Eoin Harty is undaunted as he prepares the colt for the El Camino Real at Bay Meadows on Sunday. "The way he carries himself in the morning says he's Derby potential, and I'm going to treat him accordingly until he tells me differently." [Inside Bay Area] Or until owner Stan Fulton, who shelled out $1.3 million for the son of A.P. Indy, tells him differently.

Notes - Jan 26

- I have to be honest and say that I didn’t know who trainer Ian Wilkes was when I saw that he took three in a row at Gulfstream on Thursday. So I looked it up. He’s an Australian-born former assistant to Carl Nafzger who went out on his own on New Year’s Day, and now has five winners for the meeting. All three of his winners on Thursday were formerly trained by Nafzger, they were all coming off layoffs of approximately two months, and had all last started at Churchill. Same goes for his winner Ominous last weekend. He started his string of wins in the 7th with Atlas Valley, a four-year old Capote filly who had flashed potential at two and three, but has really improved since the addition of blinkers three races back.

In the 8th, it was Candy Ma’am (Lemon Drop Kid) graduating on the turf at 5-1 (10-1 on the morning line), holding off the late charge of 4-1 second choice Eden’s Causeway, the half-sister to grass champ Paradise Creek that we mentioned the other day. Javier Castellano was aboard, as he was for Atlas Valley, and this was actually his third win in a row. And in the 9th, it was Bucharest (Victory Gallop) taking the feature at 5-2. Talk about a bad favorite; Aristocrat was the slim betting choice, no doubt because he’s trained by Frankel and is a full brother to Ghostzapper (and maybe also because Castellano was on board). His two previous allowance tries, one each on dirt and grass, were pretty poor, and he didn’t fare much better here, pressing a hot pace and tiring to sixth.

Todd Pletcher has cooled off a bit and as noted a few days ago, some of his starters are really getting overbet. In the 6th, his Bella Signora (Giant’s Causeway), ran last as the 7-2 favorite in her first try on the grass. The winner, Aunt Henny (Hennessy), was a hot number, going off at 7-2 in what was her first grass try as well; she was 10-1 in the morning line, and hadn’t shown a hell of a lot on the dirt for trainer Michael Matz.

- Music School makes his much-anticipated three-year old debut as the 2-1 morning line favorite against seven allowance rivals at six furlongs on Saturday.

- I had to laugh when I saw this comment by Bernadette Castro after the hearings in New York this week: "I think every member of the committee learned something they did not know before.” [DRF] When you look at the backgrounds of the committee members other than Jack Knowlton, as well as that of Castro herself, you see that they would probably all have learned something even from Funny Cide, if he had testified.

Speaking of talking horses, there was a cute piece in the NY Times on Thursday, in which a father went to the experts for answers to questions that his six-year old son asked. Questions like "What would hurt more: getting run over by a car or getting stung by a jellyfish?" (jellyfish.) He also asked "What does 'from the horse's mouth' mean?" and the answer came from James Lipton, author of the book "An Exaltation of Larks" .... which traces the history and meaning of English expressions, and an experienced horseman.:

" 'From the horse's mouth' is a bettor's term. It has to do with horse racing, because people always want to know everything they can before they put their money on the horse. And 'from the horse's mouth' means, quite simply, that somebody has inside information, and as close as you can get to the source is the horse's mouth. In other words, the horse himself has confided in you. I don't think it's the least bit metaphorical, it's just a plain horseman's way of saying, 'I know this for a fact and this is the real McCoy.' There is one caveat: anybody who has spent a lot of time around horses knows they are singularly uncommunicative animals. They are not very talkative, unless they are Mr. Ed." [NY Times]

Thursday, January 26, 2006

NYRA, Hayward Charging Hard

- Charles Hayward and the New York Racing Association remind me of a golfer that is said to be ‘scrambling’ – succeeding in achieving par despite visiting any sand trap or other hazard in sight. Despite repeated setbacks including a brush with bankruptcy, the scrappy CEO charged into this week’s hearings by the Committee on the Future of Racing and showed that NYRA intends to be a key player in the franchise battle. Hayward has been playing his cards expertly, seeming to at times hold the upper hand in last month’s deadline negotiations on the bailout package, despite his coffers being nearly empty, and with NYRA at the mercy of the state in the matter of the casino construction. Even now, NYRA refuses to back down on what land is being sold and on the issue of an increase in the takeout, insisting that it must be tied to a players’ rewards program.

At Tuesday’s hearing in Albany, Hayward played what he hopes is his ace in the hole, insisting that NYRA indeed owns the land that its three tracks sit on, drawing a legal red line that the state will have to cross if it intends to award the franchise to someone else.

Charles Hayward…..told six members of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Future of Racing that NYRA's initial founders in 1955 had purchased the three tracks, plus a fourth that no longer exists, using money that they personally raised. Hayward said that a franchise extension approved by the legislature in 1983 - which included language asserting that the state owned the tracks - "violates some fundamental constitutional rights" that prohibit the state from seizing land. [Daily Racing Form]
The timing for that argument seems poor at this time, considering the Supreme Court’s ruling on eminent domain last year. However, despite Albany’s insistence that the land belongs to the state, they seemed to blink at the prospect of a bankruptcy court settling the issue.

During the second hearing on Wednesday, Hayward lashed back at Frank Stronach, who reportedly drew smiles from the committee on Tuesday with a presentation that included a plan to turn Saratoga Race Course into a year-round destination.
[Hayward] told members of the committee during his testimony that Magna and Churchill Downs had made decisions in the past three years that had failed to benefit the racing industries in the states where they owned racetracks, pointing to Churchill's decision last year to sell Hollywood Park in California and Magna's $350 million loss over the past four years. Hayward also was critical of Magna's redevelopment of Gulfsteam Park in Florida, which has drawn critical comments from many horseplayers. [Daily Racing Form]
Given what he did to Gulfstream, just the thought of Stronach being only the 25 miles between Albany and Saratoga is enough to strike fear into the hearts of anyone who treasures the historic track for what it is. Saratoga residents reacted with predictable fear. Saratoga Springs businessman Tom Roohan said, 'It [Gulfstream] doesn't look like a racetrack.
'Saratoga Race Course is the Yankee Stadium of racing,' said town of Saratoga Supervisor Tom Wood, chairman of the county's Racing Committee. 'It is a national treasure.' [Saratogian]
Er.…that could be another mis-timed argument, seeing that Yankee Stadium is slated to soon be replaced by a new one. But fortunately, the track is protected by being on the National Register of Historic Places, and committee member Bernadette Castro acknowledged, 'There are federal and state guidelines for the property and its structures.’

- If, after just a few months, the best the Daily Racing Form can do for its poker column is drivel like this, perhaps they should devote the space to something its readers really care about. Like maybe… racing? Personally, I’d rather read Brad and Sue debate what constitutes a real martini.

Be Careful Who You Google

[Please note: this post contains explicit language.]

- Somebody recently came onto this site via the following Google search: “free pics of a fucking 4yo girl.” How could that happen? Pretty easy, really. The searcher was returned a link to my June archives, and during that month I mentioned a horse named Athena Girl; referred to several horses as being 4yo; and commented glibly that there were times that I wanted to fucking shoot Frank Drucker, the host of Yonkers Raceway’s simulcast, when that half-mile harness track’s morose parade of wire-to-wire favorites would pre-empt races on the NYC OTB channel from tracks like Santa Anita at 7:30 PM sharp. So it doesn’t take much, even without the profanity. If, for example, in the course of the same month, I wrote that a trainer’s two-year olds acted like little kids, and elsewhere about a speed horse that liked to blow his leads, I’d end up on the results page of a lot of unsavory searches (and I guess now I will).

This is all particularly relevant in light of Google’s refusal to comply with a subpoena from the Justice Department that seeks to compel the search engine giant to turn over records of the text of millions of search queries in an attempt to defend the constitutionality of a law intended to curb child pornography on the Internet by showing that filtering techniques are inadequate. Yahoo and Microsoft have agreed to supply the information, but claim that they have supplied no information as to what the searchers’ IP addresses were; thus the queries are anonymous and presumably could not be traced back to the searcher. But, as columnist Robert Scheer of the SF Chronicle asks,

Does anybody think they won't cooperate if the government comes back and asks for IP addresses -- your computer's unique signature on the Web -- for everybody who dared type in questionable searches such as "growing marijuana" and "fertilizer bombs?''
But while the searchers may be anonymous, the results returned are not, and while this blog is freely available to all, the idea of someone from the Justice Department perusing it in the context of an investigation into child pornography is disturbing, even though they won’t find anything more offensive than bad horse picks and the occasional sentence (or 12) that runs-on longer than the State of the Union address. (Though I suppose that if Frank Drucker ever did get bumped off, I’d have the FBI knocking at the door.)

Also, I’ve at times harshly criticized the Bush Administration, and I carry links to lefty political sites that, though I selected them discriminatingly with good taste in mind and generally agree with their drift, sometimes espouse views more radical than my own. With a White House that makes no bones about its right to snoop on phone calls and emails, insists on provisions of the Patriot Act that are so intrusive that they haven’t even been able to get a permanent extension of them through the GOP-controlled Congress, and whose former press secretary once warned that Americans need to watch what they say, I start to wonder if I need to do exactly that.

But this post is not about my privacy; it’s about yours. Google and the other search engines claim that your IP address is kept confidential. Some have questioned their need to store that information at all (they claim it helps them improve and maintain the quality of their search results), and many people apparently aren’t even aware that Google stores their personal information for years. Ken Moss, the GM of MSN Web Search told Forbes Magazine: "Privacy of our customers is non-negotiable and something worth fighting to protect.”

However, despite these claims, that is not entirely true. There are some who can see some peoples’ searches, along with their IP addresses and other information. And who would that be?

Me. As well as any other of the many bloggers and website owners who utilize one of the widely available and free web counters that reveal a lot more than just how many hits a website has received. When I first started Left at the Gate, I used a simple counter, and proudly proclaimed on the site that the counter did not collect any personal information. However, I soon succumbed to temptation and switched to a more sophisticated tool. The fact is that it’s a real kick to see where my readers are clicking on from, and to see them come from all over the country and even the world. It’s cool to see people spending an hour or more on the site, and to see what sites and links people have used to come to me (and to see many that just come in on their own), sometimes finding favorable comments in a chat room or on another blog, and being able to reciprocate the favor if applicable.

I’ve never felt quite comfortable though, with being supplied (for the last 100 hits only, which I’m happy to say comes fairly quickly these days) with more detailed information as well, such as IP addresses, which are not always just numbers – they can contain the name of one’s place of work. That would allow me, if I wanted, to track specific readers and see if they’ve visited today, or gee, perhaps the guy who works at Citibank in Tampa is on vacation because I haven’t seen him in a week. There’s also trivial but personal information such as the kind of browser and operating system used for each visitor, and even the resolution of the computer used.

And for anyone who comes on via a Google, Yahoo, AOL, or MSN search, I can see the exact search terms used and a link to the results page, along with all the other information detailed above. I’ve justified all of this with the usual “well, everybody does it” and with the knowledge that I would never abuse this information, and certainly would never use it to single anyone out, as I saw one blogger do in response to a critical commenter:
Well anonymous (in Vancouver, B.C., on Shaw Cable who googled 'james mirtle' to find my site), as a frequent visitor to my site (27 times), you'll know I said in that other thread…
That was just downright creepy, and I don’t know about anonymous in Vancouver, but it made me not want to visit this guy’s site much anymore. I’m sure he could tell you that he hasn’t seen much of late from anonymous in Rego Park, NY on Earthlink Cable.

I was revolted when I first saw that someone came onto the blog with an apparent search for child pornography, and though that’s still the case, now I’m not really sure what’s worse: the search itself, or that fact that someone who conducted a search from what he/she thought was the privacy of their own computer can now see the exact text of it posted on the Web for all to see. Whatsmore, if I wanted to I could have also published the person’s IP address and place of residence - even their workplace if that had been available. After all, for all I know, the searcher could have been a law enforcement agent tracking down an offending website.

This is something to really think about – depending on what link you click on, your next Google search could conceivably end up on the Internet along with your computer's unique identifying information. Since I’ve already done the disclaimer thing, let me just say – That’s fucking whack!

One site that you will no longer have to worry about in that regard is this one. I’ve stripped out the detailed web counter – sigh – and replaced it with a simple one that returns only a hit count, which I’ll keep unless and until I can find one that gives me useful information like referring links and a geographical breakdown of readers without specific user identification. I think that any bloggers who are writing about their concern for privacy issues would be hypocritical if they don’t do the same.

- Please feel free to email me with questions, comments, suggestions, or links.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Wednesday Night Notes - Jan 25

- Point of Impact (Point Given) decided to check out the parking lot by the outer rail on the first turn today, taking himself out of the race and out of any realistic consideration for any classics this spring....I guess. He and his stablemate Overland Trail were 3-10 and ran 4th and 3rd. Nice win though by Really Indian, an A.P. Indy colt making his debut for Neil Drysdale. He won by five as he drew clear under a crack of the whip and a long hold late. And thanks to Walter for calling attention to the Santa Anita stable notes, which informs us that Drysdale’s Your Tent Or Mine, who has not had a recorded workout since finishing second to Brother Derek in the Hollywood Futurity on Dec. 18, is “in light training.

- Darley Stable isn’t known to skimp on their thoroughbred purchases, and at Gulfstream today, they rolled out Dubai Escapade for her four-year old and U.S. debut. Back in March of 2004, they paid a cool $2 million at Barrett's for this half-sister to Madcap Escapade, and they haven’t yet seen much of a return. She ran 5th in the UK in June of that year, next raced in March 2005 on the dirt in Dubai, graduating by five. But she went back to the sidelines until today, and at 7-10 with Aspen Tree a late scratch, she broke last, as track announcer Vic Stauffer noted with alarm. But by the time Stauffer was done noting that Quisett and Kelly’s K’s Pleasure were “fast into stride,” Dubai Escapade was already poised to take the lead, and lead she did, as easily as could be with John Velasquez, drawing off under a hand ride in 1:15.26. [EDIT - for 6 1/2 furlongs] Nice!

- Eden’s Causeway (Giant’s Causeway), who debuts on the grass for Christophe Clement in the 8th at Gulfstream on Thursday, is a half-sister to turf monster and champion Paradise Creek, who won over $3 million and had as great a year at five as any turf horse could, winning the Grade 1 Arlington Million, Manhattan, and DC International among nine stakes wins. Finishing third in the BC Turf didn’t cost him the Eclipse Award, nor did a second in the Japan Cup. Another half-brother is Wild Event, who won several grass stakes himself. So I’m thinking this one is going to take to the grass.

Workouts an Inexact Science

- Highland Cat had his first workout as a gelding on Sunday morning, and Bill Turner got him in 50 and change. That work will not appear on his workout tab, as the clockers missed it. Perhaps they were confused because he was missing some “equipment.” I was also reading Walter’s comments about the discrepancy in a recent workout for Point of Impact, who goes in the first at Santa Anita today, stretching out to a mile after his impressive public workout in his debut.

Having been in the workout clocker’s booth at Belmont, it’s certainly no surprise to me that Highland Cat’s work was missed, nor that Baffert caught his colt in a different time. If you ever have a chance to visit one, you’ll know why, and you’ll look at recorded workout times as a very inexact measure. I write this without any disrespect meant to the clockers (and especially not to Walter’s buddy), but it seems like a near-impossible task. Here’s three or four guys sitting in a booth, with scores of horses with no identification other than the stables’ saddlecloths on the track. They do get tipped off as to who to expect on the track…..if the trainer wants that, I suppose. But with all these horses around, some just jogging, and those not working from the gate galloping up to one pole or another before breaking off somewhere all the way on the other side of the track, I just can’t imagine how they do it.

It seems almost silly that something so seemingly haphazard is now measured in hundredths of a second. It’s as much as a contradiction to me as football, in which a little referee guy has to make an educated guess as to the exact position of the nose of the football at the very exact moment that the ball carrier’s knee hits the field, and then bring out the chains to do a precision measurement to a fraction of a millimeter to determine if he had a first down, thus possibly changing the course of NFL history (and Teaman's wallet) on that single play. But that can be the subject of another blog – The Fundamental Flaws of Football and One Man's Solution.

Bottom line is that if the Form publishes one time, and the trainer says he got another, I would go with the trainer, who was single-mindedly timing his own horse. Also, I look at gaps in recorded works with some skepticism, because I can’t imagine that a trainer couldn’t work his horse without it being recorded if he/she wants it that way. And again, no disrespect to the clockers; in fact, I’m amazed at the job that they do.

- John Ward’s under-the radar three-year old Strong Contender worked a bullet half in (approximately) :47.40 at Gulfstream this morning. But Cindago, an impressive maiden winner over subsequent winners Latent Heat and Point Determined, is off the Derby trail with a hairline fracture in his right knee and will be sidelined 90 days, according to trainer John Sadler…..Sadler said surgery was not required, and he expects a full recovery. [Daily Racing Form]

- Got the following report on our Vicar filly: We watched Christening pull Dominic Giglio, Christening's exercise rider, around the Belmont training track for a mile and a half. Bill told me that he had recently told [our half-partner, who's been looking to sell their share] that he hoped that he planned on keeping this filly cause he really has a good feeling about her ability. As for Highland Cat, Turner feels he can make his return to the races late next month.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Notes - Jan 23

- Frank Stronach’s Adena Springs breeding juggernaut took home the Eclipse for top breeder for the third time in five years, but Stronach wasn’t on hand. As called to my attention by blogger Jonathan on his Thoroughbred Blog site, Stronach instead appeared on an Ontario stage with his daughter, Belinda, who was celebrating her re-election to the Canadian parliament.

My first reaction was along the lines of ‘here’s a man who has his priorities straight,’ putting family ahead of business. And while I’m sure that was exactly the case, I later noticed that Stronach was scheduled to speak this morning at the hearing being conducted in Albany, NY by the Ad Hoc Committee on the Future of Racing. It’s surely an easier trip to Albany from Ontario than from California. The purpose of the hearing (another is scheduled for Manhattan on Wednesday) is to help determine the exact process by which the state will go about the bidding process on the NYRA franchise, so you can bet Stronach wouldn’t miss this for the world.

And in fact, Stronach reportedly livened up the proceedings, described by the’s Tom Precious as an otherwise predictable set of testimony, presenting color slides showing Magna’s successes as North America's largest racing company. He also proposed partnering with Magna's new buddies Churchill Downs (not at the hearing), and lashed out at NYRA as being "clubish'' and says he has no interest in partnering "with a club…..I want to be in partnership with business people...I don't want to be in partnership with club members."

The Albany Times-Union reports that the “club members” are once again squabbling with the state over the bailout package that was supposedly sealed weeks ago. The original reports on the deal did tie the proposed 1% increase in takeout on win-place-show bets to the institution of a rebate program, but now it seems that the state contends there is no link between the two. "We will not recommend or increase takeout without approval of the rewards program," [NYRA CEO Charles] Hayward said.

- A proposed wagering system discussed on yesterday could conceivably provide a huge boost to NYRA and other track operators. “Virtual Tote” would convert off-track internet wagering into on-track handle, thus guaranteeing the house the full pari-mutuel takeout instead of the few percentage points they currently get from such handle. Developer Todd Stinson explained:

"Our industry is the only industry I know of that voluntary gave away its content. It's a flawed system. Even advance deposit wagering companies are working on small margins. Tracks are selling their signals at ridiculously low prices."
"This is a conduit to start a paradigm shift that would let the tracks and horsemen control their own destiny. In theory, the product you just saw could eliminate rebate shops." [Bloodhorse]
There would certainly be legal and regulatory issues to be addressed, but a system of this type seems like a no-brainer for the tracks.

- First Samurai’s trainer Frank Brothers said that "He'll have one more work next weekend, perhaps out of the gate” [DRF] in preparation for the 7 1/2 furlong Hutcheson a week from Saturday at Gulfstream. Fabled is also pointing to that race, as is Todd Pletcher’s Keyed Entry, a colt that I’m keeping a particular eye on.

Pletcher seems to have another nice one (what else is new?) in the late developing four-year old filly Pool Land, who ran her record to three-for-three with a seven length win in her stakes debut, the Summer Colony at Aqueduct on Sunday. She’s by Silver Deputy out of a Slew City Slew mare who is a half sister to Very Subtle, a multiple Grade 1 winner who beat the boys, including Groovy, in the 1987 BC Sprint. She’s Silver Deputy’s second stakes winner of the year; he’s also the sire of Badge of Silver, the San Gabriel winner in his turf debut on New Year's Day.

Endless Eclipse

- I turned on TVG a little after 8 PM Eastern time, and holy crap, this had been going on for two hours already?? After the three hour Eclipse Awards Red Carpet came the hour-long Eclipse Awards Preshow, followed by the actual awards ceremony for two more hours, followed by a half hour wrap-up show. This programming brings out the worst side of TVG: the constant histrionics to make sure that we all know just how incredibly damn dramatic all of this is - and this on a night with about as much suspense as the Senate Judiciary Committee vote on Alito. Plus you get the endless, pointless interviews, and Jessica York. And I couldn’t even get the track condition for Mountaineer.

In the brief time that I was able to endure, it seemed more like an infomercial than anything else. An interview with Chris McCarron allowed him to hype his jockey school but no questions about Dr. G were posed. Ken Rudolph did everything in his power, cracking some lame joke in desperation, to keep Michael Gill from talking about the controversy surrounding him. (To their credit, Frank Lyons and Todd Schrrmpffhh touched on it afterwards – but no one mentioned his intention to leave the business.) And I’d be quite surprised if anyone told me that there was any mention whatsoever of the pending suspension of the Eclipse winning trainer and the one recently served by the trainer of the Horse of the Year.

And that’s about all I have to say about the Eclipse Awards – the list of winners is here. I just don’t get hepped up about awards and award shows, whether it be movies, music, or my favorite game. I know what I think was the best film, the best album, or the best sprinter, and I don't much care what some voters think. I know there are some who right now are livid over Lost in the Fog handily taking the sprint championship, and I think they make some valid points and it’s good to see some passions flare. But I can’t say that I really care that much one way or another.

I think we'd all agree that champions should be decided on the playing field. To me, the idea of voters determining the "winners" in each division is like a committee of writers voting on who wins the Stanley Cup. Unfortunately though, the length of the season and the injuries and retirements are such that more often than not, there isn’t a true climactic and definitive showdown, so this is the best we’ve got. It doesn’t mean I have to spend six and a half hours watching it. The TBA rankings that I carry on this blog, while something that needs some tweaking, could be, I believe, especially in association with a concept like the apparently dead Thoroughbred Championship Tour, a sound basis for a system that could bring some much needed incentives for owners to run their horses in the tough spots, as well as the kind of order and continuity which could keep people interested throughout the year. But I believe that there would still be a place for a subjective vote for a Horse of the Year and other awards, just like the MVP and Cy Young Award in baseball. They're something to debate and argue about, and that’s a good thing.

The Eclipse Awards is a nice showcase for the sport, and it’s good that it has a TV outlet, even if the show was three times too long. The problem is that nobody outside the core followers of the sport could possibly care less about them. That in itself is a good reason to look into some alternatives.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Seeking the Gold Still Sizzling

- The 21-year old sire Seeking the Gold had a resurgent year in 2005, finishing 10th on the overall sire list, thanks in part to 15 stakes wins by 11 different stakes winners, including Pleasant Home, who has an outside shot to win an Eclipse for older mare tonight. Now, he’s off to a hot start in 2006 after a big weekend which started with the impressive allowance win by Bob and John at Santa Anita on Friday.

Seeking the Gold added two more stakes winners over the weekend to a ledger that now totals 73 out of 776 foals, for a percentage of 9.4% which is just a smidgen away from being rounded up to the magic 10% level. As mentioned earlier, Happy Hunting took the G3 Aqueduct Handicap on Saturday, and on the same day, his three-year old filly Sweet Fervor took the non-graded Gasparilla Stakes at Tampa Bay in just her second start, and her first since graduating in September at Belmont. Taking advantage of a quick early pace and 9th after a quarter mile, Sweet Fervor circled the field five wide on the turn and drew off to win by seven on a very fast racing strip in a stakes-record 1:23.78. [DRF] The Florida Oaks on March 18 is a possible next start.

Trained by Bill Mott for Steinbrenner’s Kinsman Stable, Sweet Fervor is a half-sister to multiple stakes winner and current Kinsman sire Concerto, as well as stakes winner Illusioned, and Wondertross, who just missed to Vicar in the 1999 Florida Derby.

And speaking of Concerto, his three-year son Old Midleton, a full-brother to Bellamy Road, graduated in his second start at Laurel on Sunday, getting the seven furlongs in a sluggish 1:27. The nine race card drew only 56 entrants, as the track feels the effects of the total quarantine being imposed at Pimlico. Only eight races have been carded for the Wednesday program.

Nowhere to Park

- I got to Aqueduct at around 2:30 on Saturday; a great time to arrive during the winter. It’s enough time to catch the last three or four at the Big A, and you also have the best of the Gulfstream and Oaklawn cards, and the entire day at Santa Anita. The only problem was that there was no place to park – not only in the owners’ section, but anywhere that didn’t require a taxi to get to the entrance. A big crowd? Nope, just the usual 4,000 or so. I was told by a parking attendant that it’s “first come, first served,” and that if you arrive this time of day, you have to basically wait for someone to leave.

The ridiculous thing about this is that there is obviously tons of space in the parking lot – but most of it is now roped off. Is this perhaps the land that NYRA and the Port Authority are negotiating over for the long-awaited $5 million land sale/loan? A NYRA employee told me that, in fact, this land was sold to the state years ago – during the Cuomo administration – but that just this year, the state blocked it off and declared it off-limits, even though it is being used for absolutely nothing else other than for the seagulls to hang. Just pure petty politics if this employee is correct, and as usual, it’s the horseplayers that bear the brunt, just as they will from the increase in the takeout being imposed on NYRA in return for the bailout that is supposed to help keep the tracks operating until slots arrive. Of course, even that is now in doubt due to the fact that the construction on the casino still hasn’t started, and the loan is only intended to get them through to the end of 2006.

And if this isn’t the land that the Port Authority wants to take, where exactly would that be? Somewhere around the half-mile pole?

NYRA released the expected gloomy handle and attendance figures for 2005 – handle was down 4.2%, which can be blamed at least partly on the cutoff of rebate shops. While management painted the best face they could on that - "To once again average over $10 million in daily handle over a 254-day season is a remarkable achievement for our racing program.” [Daily Racing Form], there was no embellishment offered on the depressing 6.2% decline in daily average attendance.

NYRA isn’t the only entity suffering in New York. New York City OTB is also losing money, and is facing impending bankruptcy, according to state Comptroller Alan Hevesi. Rudy Giuliani once called OTB "The only money-losing bookmaker in town." [NY Daily News]

- Gary Contessa did not his graded stakes win in on Saturday, as Knox ran an outclassed, no-excuse 6th in the Aqueduct Handicap; just a bad pick by me. Gotta give credit to Mike Watchmaker, who, in picking the winner Happy Hunting, pointed out presciently that Shug McGaughey had shipped the horse all the way back to New York for the race after bringing him down with his Florida contingent. The money showed on this one, as the winner went off as the 5-2 choice while the expected favorites Colita and Mr. Whitestone were both, particularly the latter, dull on the board.

On Sunday, Contessa sent out Daytime Promise to win the ungraded Busanda for three-year old fillies, and the trainer has designs on the Grade 1 Ashland – that would be quite a way to break through to graded stakes territory. This filly is another stakes winner for sire Five Star Day – his Dance Daily took the Santa Ynez last week.

- Workouts – First Samurai, on whom Edgar Prado has been named to replace Bailey, got seven in 1:23.40. He's pointing to the Hutcheson on Feb 4. Nick Zito’s Fabled, who I figure will try two turns in his next start, zipped a bullet half (out of 18) in :47 flat at Gulfstream. Neil Howard’s Music School continued to prep for his anticipated three-year old debut with a six furlong work in 1:16.60 (2/7) in the mud at Oaklawn . And Barbaro, working out for his even more anticipated debut on the dirt, got a bullet half in :48.40 at Palm Meadows. He's a possibility for the Holy Bull, also at Gulfstream on Feb 4.

Notes - Jan 23

- I suppose at some point they want people to start to actually come to Gulfstream, right? Less than 10,000 turned out for the two weekend cards combined, less than what a single such card used to attract. More facilities are supposed to open for the Sunshine Millions program next weekend, and the crowds will presumably return. It was a pretty quiet weekend there, with only one stakes race, and that a Grade 3 sprint.

Bedford Falls, Darley’s $1.1 million ¾-brother to Harlan’s Holiday ran second as the 6-5 favorite on Saturday. He was wide on the turn and was no match for the second choice, Justa Streak, yet another winner from Todd Pletcher. This colt, adding yet another winner to the record of his sire More Than Ready, was another Pletcher horse winning his second time out of the gate. That’s a 34% category for the barn, and Justa Streak is the fifth such winner at this meet for the barn. (Another is Keyed Entry, a very impressive winner in his last; he worked a half in :47.80 at Palm Meadows. It was a bullet work out of 53 at the distance.)

On Sunday, Darley got into the winner’s circle with another expensive three-year old, this time a filly. Burmilla (Storm Cat) is a $850,000 yearling out of graded stakes winner Nannerl (Valid Appeal). She’s a full sister to graded winner Magicalmysterycat, and she was real impressive. She recovered after a bit of a shaky start, was 3-4 wide all around the turn, changed leads professionally and drew away in the stretch. The tote board told the story in this race; the winner was bet on the nose in the win pool. While watching the board on this race, I thought about what I wrote the other day about passing most races in which the odds don’t differ from what I would make them. That doesn’t always mean that I’m looking for horses higher than my projected odds. In a maiden race loaded with first-time starters, I’m actually often looking for horses bet below its morning line. Southern Stepper was 12-1 in the morning line, but was bet solidly from the start, finally drifting up a bit to 6-1. If she’d went off at 21-1, like Zito’s first timer Prism, 6-1 in the morning line, I’d never had paid any attention. But since she was bet down for a barn that in my experience has done well when the money shows, she became worthy of attention. Indeed, she ran third after hitting the gate and racing wide, and Prism ran tenth.

- As Walter mentioned, Frankel’s Latent Heat (Maria’s Mon) was extremely impressive crushing a maiden field at 3-10, and completing the seven furlongs in 1:23. He’s a half to a couple of stakes horses on the grass in France, and his dam True Flare won stakes on the turf as well. You figure he should love the grass, but he looked just fine on the dirt. Besides flattering Cindago, the winner of his second place debut, remember that the third horse was Point Determined, and that Point Given colt was quite impressive winning his subsequent start.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

One Year Later

- A year ago today, January 22, I posted my first blog entry, entitled Snow Day:

It's days like today that make me regret (somewhat) dumping Time Warner Cable in a fit of rage last year. NYRA has preemptively cancelled the weekend's racing in anticipation of the expected major snow. This allows the NYC OTB channel to televise out of town races from a multitude of tracks (though many are cancelled today), including those from Gulfstream and Santa Anita. However, Direct TV doesn’t get such local stations, and since TVG doesn’t carry the Magna tracks, the abovementioned tracks, the two most desirable ones, are not available to me. With Magna’s HRTV not carried on Direct TV, I’m out of luck. And since Dish Network now carries both TVG AND HRTV, it seems that I did a typically poor job of handicapping when it came to choosing a satellite provider.

But hell, it’s sunny and fast at Fair Grounds and Oaklawn, so what’s so bad?
Now that entry has gathered the blog equivalent of moss; the creepy spammers telling me how awesome my blog is and inviting me to come see their websites on anything from casino gambling to alternative energy electric chairs. Now, some 770 posts later, I’m a year older, but much, much wiser. One of the main things I wanted to get out of this was to learn as much as I could about anything and everything about the game and the industry and politics behind it, and thanks to the fine journalists and fellow bloggers whose work I now read on a regular basis, I have. Another was to meet and connect with others with whom I could share my passion for the game, and from whose wisdom I could enrich my own; and I’ve done that too, with all the wonderful and knowledgeable people I’ve heard from via email and the comments sections, as well as those I’ve met and gotten to hang out with.

Finally, I thought maybe I could do something about my handicapping as well. And I think I had a pretty good year (of course, if I kept records like I’m supposed to, I would know for sure). I think my picks here have been fairly respectable, doncha think? It sure would have been a nice way to end the first year if Danaslam had held on at 11-1....but I don’t feel quite as left at the gate as I did a year ago.

So I just wanted to thank everyone who’s out there reading. It seems I’ve picked up a few along the way, and your continued readership serves as an inspiration for me to continue. Thanks for visiting and please come again soon. Peace.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

A Danaslam Dunk?

- Sprint stakes for older horses dominate the action on Saturday, and since those races just vex me, I’ll be looking elsewhere for action. To me, picking and choosing spots is the only way to go, not only in terms of the class or surface, but also in terms of the kind of betting race. I look specifically for races in which I don’t like the favorite, or at least one or two of the top choices – anything that creates some kind of value by taking a stand against a horse that I feel is overbet. If the odds are right around where I would have made them, I usually end up passing the race.

So I’ll do a quick pick of the 8th at Gulfstream today, a NW3X allowance on the turf, that's more like it. Ecclesiastic goes for Allen Jerkins and has been established as the 7-2 morning line favorite in a wide open race based on his perceived class edge against these. He won the G3 Jaipur at seven furlongs on the Belmont grass last spring. But that was actually his only grass win in 14 attempts, and his only win overall in his last 18 starts. Plus, he starts from the 12 post with the starting gate set close to the turn at this mile distance.

Another with the potential to be overbet is Electric Light, who, for one thing, always gets overbet, and may be again after an easy win on the dirt in his last. He tries the turf for the first time.

So I’ll be looking at Danaslam. Yes, it’s Pletcher, and I noted the other day that his horses are starting to really get overbet (he added another winner yesterday in Rectory Hill, at 8-5.) But perhaps this one will be a bit overlooked. He’s moving up in class off his second win in a row, starts from the ten post, and instead of Velasquez gets Chris DeCarlo, who rode Danaslam’s half-brother Mercurial to a win for Pletcher at 14-1 on opening day. There doesn’t seem to be tons of early speed inside, so perhaps he can get decent position and be able to kick home quickly as he has in his last two wins. I’ll be on board if he’s anywhere close to his 6-1 morning line.

- Our three-year old filly Christening (Vicar) had her first timed workout yesterday, getting a half mile in :48.04, the 16th best of 80 at the distance, not bad! The report from the barn this morning said that Turner really likes her (we’ve heard that before), and mentioned something about him never having had a runner in the Alabama before. Oh boy. Just reporting what we were told. Perhaps we should wait until she actually makes it to the starting gate before talking about stuff like that. Highland Cat is back in the barn and is scheduled to breeze on Sunday morning. His 4 year-old half brother Jono (High Yield) ran third in a $16,000 maiden claimer at Laurel on Friday....let’s hope we don’t get to that point.

- Three of last year’s three-year old stars continued their preparations for 2006 on Friday. Giacomo worked another seven furlongs, this time in 1:27.80; Noble Causeway five furlongs in 1:01.40; and Bandini five furlongs in the exact same time. And one of this year’s top Derby prospects, Bluegrass Cat, worked five in 1:02.20.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Friday Night Notes - Jan 20

- I’m going to miss HRTV when I dump Dish Network. Dish the only provider that doesn’t carry the Yankees’ YES network nor the National Hockey League on OLN, so I’ll be switching sometime between the end of the prime winter season at Gulfstream and Santa Anita and springtime baseball and hockey playoffs.

Bob and John was solid winning his allowance race today at 3-5. I could buy into Baffert’s description of him as a horse that’s slowly but surely developing physically and mentally, on the kind of pace that would have him peak sometime around May 6. He has the kind of classic pedigree that I find myself drawn to (and that haven’t won many Derbys lately). Repeating from a previous post:

Bob and John is a blue-blooded Stonerside homebred, by Seeking the Gold out of graded stakes winner Minister’s Melody (Deputy Minister), and a half-brother to 2005 NY stakes winner Connie Belle. Bob and John’s third dam is Too Bald, the dam of Exceller, Capote, and Baldski.
It was a pretty easy race for him, as he got to stalk a slow pace and was hand ridden home. Baffert said that he was goofing around a bit in the stretch when he opened up. I like the foundation this horse is getting. I feel as if he's improving and I like the way Baffert is handling him, getting him races while starting him slowly this year. Hmm, am I getting the first little tinge of excitement about a possible Derby horse? I’ll check him out in next week’s future pool; perhaps he’s still a bit under the radar, having been beaten fairly soundly by Brother Derek and Your Tent Or Mine in the Futurity. (If you needed any further confirmation of the quality of Your Tent Or Mine, Bob and John’s win should suffice.)

- John Servis served notice that he’s ready for a big meet at Oaklawn on an opening day attended by 21,913. His Jolted and Jostled (Storm Cat – Jostle) graduated in his third try, overcoming an extremely wide trip in a slow 1:40 3/5 on a track that was definitely not glib. Then, in the feature, Fidrych, making his first start since October, broke slowly, was four wide on the turn, but managed to rally gamely for third in the Dixieland Stakes.

Phone-Free Zones Obsolete

- There’s rarely any good news about the New York City subway system, and the only worse news than the transit union rejecting the new contract proposal is the word that it’s full steam ahead on a plan to install cell phone service underground. The subway is one place that you can escape the annoyances of the most insidious technological advance of all time. The thought of being crammed on a train, as if that's not bad enough, with the additional irritant of being cruelly subjected to the inane (and always far too loud) chatter of people who become totally oblivious to the fact that nobody gives a shit about their personal lives and business seems too much to bear. This would also deprive us of one of the few remaining sanctuaries from the obligation one feels to keep the phone on and answer it – “Oh, sorry, I was on the subway.” No arguing with that.

Racetracks in New York once were a similar escape from telephones. It used to be illegal to use a pay phone at the track, and though most tracks did have a few as I recall, they would be padlocked during racing hours. The rule was put in place to prevent people from using the phone to relay betting odds to illegal gambling joints. It used to give me a real sense of sanctuary there, to be in a place where there could be no contact whatsoever with the outside world. It was like I might as well have been in Norway. The only drawback was that to respond to “Why didn’t you call me?” with “I was at the track” was, in 99% of the cases, not an acceptable answer, so you had to make something else up. “I had no change” or “I couldn’t find a payphone,” while obviously lame, were often the best I could come up with. People who knew me knew bettor better.

The advent of cell phones, as well as the proliferation of legal off-track betting locales, made the rule obsolete, and though I hesitate to speculate on how long ago that was because those types of guesses usually come up far too short and make me feel old, I’d say, what, 10-12 years? Probably more. Still, signs at the track warn of the fact that it’s illegal to transmit betting information over the telephone, a law that is as much of a joke as the one that outlawed hands-free cell phone use in cars. How you could ever be caught doing that, I can’t imagine; at least until the president decides to illegally wiretap calls from the track on the grounds that you could be relaying the Pick 4 will-pays to members of Al Qaeda.

Contessa Knox On Door

- Trainer Gary Contessa has been on a roll at the current Aqueduct meeting, and he’s the leading trainer there amongst those conditioners who weren’t handed suspensions for illegal medication in 2005 (though Pletcher has yet to serve his). Contessa, who has a past record of suspensions himself, toils largely in the claiming ranks, and in fact, according to Formulator he hasn’t won a graded stakes race in at least the last five years.

Perhaps that could change on Saturday when he sends out Knox in the Grade 3 Aqueduct Handicap. He claimed this five year old son of Menifee three races back for $45,000 from Christophe Clement, and he’s shown nice improvement in his two efforts since then in against optional claiming NW3x company. Two races back he was boxed in on the inside before rallying late to get third, just 2 ¼ lengths back of Happy Hunting, who starts from the rail here. In his last effort, he once again found himself boxed in during the stretch run, but once Ramon Dominguez extricated him from trouble, he exploded with a bold rush for an easy and impressive win. Colita and Mr. Whitestone, running for leading Big A trainers Pletcher and Dutrow respectively, are both coming out of a higher class race in which they ran one-two and earned triple digit Beyers; but that race was on a wet track that they both seem to prefer. Knox will need to step it up a notch or two, but if he continues his improvement for his new barn, he could get Contessa off the graded stakes schneid at a fair price.

- Wanderin Boy, who made a splash last winter with an allowance win at Gulfstream and another triumph in the G3 Mineshaft at Fair Grounds before going to the sidelines after an off-the-board finish in the New Orleans Handicap, made his return at the Gulf on Thursday and ran second at 6-5 to Istan, an intriguing French import making his second US start. Istan (Gone West) is inbred 4x5 to the 1958 Derby/Preakness winner Tim Tam, and was ridden by Jerry Bailey for Bill Mott in the soon-to-retire jockey's only mount of the day.

Jessica at Railbird posed this question about Bailey: Who will ride trainer Frank Brothers' talented Derby prospect First Samurai this spring? That question begs another: Would Bailey still have retired at this time if he really thought that First Samurai had a good shot on the first Saturday in May?

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Ladies Man

- I’m always interested to read about horse owners who are making out well while spending frugally and wisely. I’m having a lot of fun participating in a small way with Highland Cat and Christening with Castle Village (and a new one – a City Zip two-year old NY-bred; more on him later), but I do aspire to get involved in a bigger way. And since I don’t anticipate having the means to compete at the sales with Godolphin or Bob and Beverly Lewis anytime in the near future, I pay particular attention when I read about owners and partnerships such as the group that owns Itsallboutthechase about which I recently posted.

So it was with great interest that I read this article in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette about trainer Larry Jones, who trains for clients who prefer for him to purchase fillies at the yearling sales he attends, rather than colts.

In fact, other than Poverty Slew, who once ran second to eventual sprint champion Cherokee Run in 1993, fans might be hard pressed to name any other semiprominent male Jones has trained in his 24-year career.

“I don’t think there’s any question I have a better chance of winning the Kentucky Oaks than the Kentucky Derby,” said Jones, whose wife Cindy is his assistant. “When we’re sent to the sales, that’s not what I’ve been sent to try and find, a Derby horse.”
Jones said the few colts he trains are usually for a breeder. But the majority of his clients prefer fillies because, even if they bomb on the track, there can be value as a broodmare prospect.
That makes tons of sense to me. It’s mind boggling how much money people will spend in order to basically try and win one specific race, and just one bad step and you have yourself a million dollar pet. At least with a well-bred filly, even if she never makes it to the starting gate, you can still breed her and have a little fun (and spend a little more money.)

Jones has also spent his clients’ money shrewdly. Among the diamonds in the rough Jones unearthed there are Ruby’s Reception ($12,000), Josh’s Madelyn ($10,000) and Don’t Countess Out ($16,000). You don’t have to spend megabucks for a good horse; or even for a champion, as Jeff Scott pointed out in the Saratogian earlier this week.
Of the 100 flat-racing awards handed out over the past 10 years, -- approximately half of which have gone to commercially bred horses -- only six went to runners costing more than $250,000.

Far more awards over the past decade have gone to horses at the other end of the scale. In fact, nearly a quarter (24 of 100) of these recent championships were won by horses costing less than $50,000. Among the better-known were Skip Away ($30,000), Silver Charm ($16,500), Thunder Gulch ($40,000), Serena's Song ($42,000) and Kona Gold ($35,000). Xtra Heat went for the lowest price of all. The 2001 champion 3-year-old filly sold for $4,700 as a yearling. ($35,000). Xtra Heat went for the lowest price of all. The 2001 champion 3-year-old filly sold for $4,700 as a yearling.
- One of Larry Jones’ fillies at Oaklawn is the three-year old Hoochie Glide, and though she ran 6th in the Silverbulletday stakes at the Fair Grounds meet this past weekend, her pedigree is so unusual that she bears mentioning. She’s by High Yield, out of the mare Abrade, who, being by Mr. Prospector out of File, is a full-sister to Forty Niner. That stallion is the broodmare sire of High Yield, so you have here the rather incestuous inbreeding of 3x1 to a full brother-sister combo. Just thought I’d point that out to anyone who gets as turned on about that kind of stuff as I do. (Perhaps I need a vacation.)

- Tim Ritchey sends out his three-year old prospect Menacing (Lemon Drop Kid) in a one mile allowance at Oaklawn on Saturday. He won his debut at the distance at Delaware in September before finishing 4th in his last race, the sloppy track, one-turn mile Champagne.

- Bourbonette (Honour and Glory), who broke her maiden at Turfway on Wednesday night, is a full sister to graded stakes winning sprinter Battle Won.

- And speaking of potential million dollar pets, Bedford Falls (Forestry), a $1.1 million yearling purchase for Darley, will make his debut in a six furlong maiden special at Gulfstream on Saturday. He’s a three-quarter brother to Florida Derby, Blue Grass, and Donn winner Harlan's Holiday. I guess I should probably better mention that he won the Pennsylvania Derby too. He ran 7th as the 6-1 favorite in the 2002 Kentucky Derby. He stands at Airdrie for $17,500, and his first crop are yearlings this year; his weanlings averaged $91,947 at sale in 2005.

News and Notes - Jan 19

- Bob and John (Seeking the Gold), third in the Hollywood Futurity behind Brother Derek and Your Tent Or Mine, is entered in a mile and a sixteenth allowance race at Santa Anita on Friday. Baffert told the Form "He looks awesome right now. He's really changing." Among his opponents is Twisting Road, a $300,000 Giant’s Causeway yearling purchase with one win in four starts. His trainer Eoin Harty said "I really like this horse….If he runs bad, I'll be suicidal." Man, talk about putting a lot of pressure on a young horse!

- Oaklawn opens on Friday, and they’re anticipating a huge meet. Purses are up, thanks in part to the success of the electronic game of skill Instant Racing. Handle on the game was $150 million last year, and with more machines in place this year, the track is looking for $200-$250 million. It might be nice to see some other states try the game, since it’s actually related to horse racing and could conceivably inspire slots players to check out the live product. The problem is that the game actually requires them to use their brains, which could be a turnoff.

The feature on opening day is the Dixieland Stakes for three-year olds, and it's only 5 1/2 furlongs. John Servis sends out Fidrych, a 12 length winner of his last at the Meadowlands, albeit over an extremely weak field. He’s by Grand Slam out of a Storm Bird half-sister to multiple Grade 1 winner Judge Angelucci, as well as Blue Grass winner War. There are some fast colts in this race, including Asmussen’s Sugar Bowl Stakes winner Catonight (Katowice), Tim Ritchey’s Urban Guy (Marquetry), and Cole Norman’s Corredor de Plata (El Corredor).

- A couple of under-the-radar three year olds continue to work towards their returns. Noonmark is training in Florida for Steve Asmussen; he worked five furlongs in 1:01.60 yesterday. He won his second start by ten lengths at Belmont. Noonmark is by Unbridled’s Song out of a Storm Cat mare who is a half-sister to Woodward and Donn winner Formal Gold.

Strong Contender was an $800,000 two-year old in training purchase last year for the crafty John Ward, and he won his debut impressively at Arlington last summer. He’s also working out in Florida, and flew a half in :47.40 yesterday, the second fastest of 32 at the distance. He’s by Maria’s Mon, the sire of Ward’s Derby winner Monarchos, out of a Dynaformer mare, and is inbred 5x5x5 to Ribot. His female family is of Argentinian descent, thus there are few recognizable names in his distaff family's history, but he would seem to have the breeding to go long.

- Rockport Harbor is being pointed for the Grade 3, $100,000 Essex Handicap at Oaklawn on Feb. 11. [DRF]

- I checked out Merv’s website, and big surprise – no update on Stevie Wonderboy’s loss in the San Rafael, just a headline about how’s he expected to win the Eclipse next week. Doug O’Neill told the Form "Speed kills…..He was tired after the race, which we didn't see after his other races. He definitely got something out of that.” No doubt.…but I resist any efforts to paint the race as one in which Brother Derek loped along on a lazy lead. He was stalked by Baffert's speedy Wanna Runner through splits of :23.2, :23.2, :23.4, which ain't exactly a stroll in the park. You’d think that a presumptive Derby favorite could have made more headway into the final quarter of :25.3; but Gomez was working pretty hard on him just to keep up around the turn. We’ll know more after the March 4 rematch, which hopefully will attract a larger field.

- I like to see when racing terminology is utilized in other contexts – makes me believe that people really are aware that our game exists. Check out this passage from NY Newsday regarding the New York Jets’ hiring of their new coach.

Everyone knew the age question would come up at yesterday's introductory news conference for Eric Mangini, the Jets' new coach. But the way Jets general manager Terry Bradway and owner Woody Johnson responded by repeatedly mentioning the 34-year-old Mangini's coaching "pedigree," they sounded like a couple of dazzled horseracing moguls genially explaining their latest purchase at the Keeneland yearling sale: "Mangini, out of Parcells, by way of Belichick? We'll take him!"
Mangini actually turned 35 today, so he's not on the thoroughbred January 1 birthday schedule.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Boxed In

- Handle at Monticello Raceway is down a whopping 63% from $6.14 million to $2.22 million this year in the wake of the cutoff of out-of-state simulcasting, part of the dispute between the horsemen, who have withdrawn permission for the simulcasts, and management over VLT revenue percentages. With purses cut in half as a result, both sides, which share simulcast revenue 50/50, are getting hammered financially. Negotiations are apparently on hold at this time, and according to the local Times Herald-Record, any further discussion will have to wait until the horsemen's attorney, Joe Faraldo, returns from a three-week leave from work. Or at least that’s management’s take on it. Seems unbelievable that, with the track poised to become an afterthought in simulcast parlors nationwide especially given the fact that half-mile track harness racing is not the most scintillating option for bettors to start with, the talks would be suspended because one guy is on vacation.

In another example of slots not being the 100% guarantee of racetrack bliss that they’re sometimes portrayed to be, the Western Regional OTB Corp in upstate New York is losing money, in large part because the VLT’s at Batavia Downs harness track, which it owns, is bringing in only half of what was projected. Looking at the gambling landscape in the area, it's not hard to figure out why that is.

Western New York is already home to two casinos, with a third on the way. And to the east, Batavia Downs has had to compete with Finger Lakes Gaming and Racetrack in Ontario County and Turning Stone Resort and Casino east of Syracuse. [Rochester Democrat & Gazette, via Albany Law School Racing and Wagering]
Perhaps the number crunchers at NYRA should take another look at their projections for the Aqueduct casino in the light of Governor Pataki’s budget proposal, his final one before he leaves office and becomes a fringe player in the 2008 GOP presidential sweepstakes. It includes a proposal for three non-racetrack slots parlors, an idea rejected by the legislature last year when he called for eight of them. While his plan would prohibit a stand-alone VLT parlor within 15 miles of an existing racino, that geographic restriction… lifted for New York City, which means the casinos could be placed within 15 miles of both Aqueduct and Yonkers Raceway. [Bloodhorse, and great job by reporter Tom Precious for digging up these details.]

As legalized gambling spreads, the knee-jerk response to the competition is to just roll out more of it, and it’s hard to see where this will all end, except for the fact that it’s not going to be good for our game. The pending arrival of slots in Pennsylvania is causing predictable ripples in neighboring states despite the fact that they're at least a year off.
Delaware's governor has proposed more slot machines and extended hours at that state's racetrack casinos to cope with the competition, but some lawmakers are pressing for casinos in Wilmington and sports betting and table games such as blackjack, poker and craps. West Virginia's racetrack casino operators also are pushing for table games, and that state's legislature is expected to take up the issue this year. [Baltimore Sun]
And you have to feel for horsemen in Maryland, devoid of slots right smack in the geographic middle of all of this, hopelessly boxed in like a horse third on the inside at Monticello. Slots legislation is considered unlikely by many this year due to a budget surplus and election-year politics. As Governor Robert Ehrlich told the Baltimore Sun, "Pennsylvania's going to clean our clock."

News and Notes - Jan 18

- After Henny Hughes showed up in the entries for a seven furlong race on the opening day of the Dubai Festival, word comes that he will not run.

- Nick Zito tells the Daily Racing Form "It's January 16.....See me on April 16, and then we'll talk about where we stand." And who knows; by then he could once again have four contenders. He was pleased with the two-turn win of Hesanoldsalt this past weekend, and pointed out that “he has to be a good horse since he already has beaten [Count Fleet Stakes winner] Achilles of Troy." Fabled deserves another shot when he stretches out. Then he has two undefeated colts – Doc Cheney, headed for the Pasco Stakes at Tampa on Jan 28; and Hemingway’s Key, of whom he said is “one of my favorites.....I'm very high on him, but I need to get a two-other-than allowance race to go for him around two turns."

- Undefeated (on turf) Barbaro (Dynaformer) will try the dirt in the Holy Bull on Jan 28, but the Form’s Dick Jerardi is already sold.

I saw this horse win his maiden at Delaware Park on Oct. 4 and was dazzled. I saw him overwhelm the Nov. 19 Laurel Futurity and was amazed. I saw him crush the field in the Jan. 1 Tropical Park Derby and was sold.

Three races. Three wins by a combined 20 lengths with 33 horses strung out behind him.
I went back on the Cal Racing site and watched all three efforts, and they are every bit as devastating as Jerardi notes. In the Laurel race at a mile and a sixteenth, in which he earned a Beyer of 102, he got the 4th quarter in :23.51 and the final sixteenth in 5.85 seconds; and in the mile and an eighth Tropical Park Derby (97 Beyer), he got his last three furlongs in :34 2/5 seconds. But whether he can replicate that form on the dirt remains to be seen. He breezed five furlongs in 1:02 in preparation for the Holy Bull on Tuesday.

- Penn National is the latest track to raise its insurance coverage for jockeys to $1 million.

- Hollywood Starlet S. (G1) runner-up BALANCE (Thunder Gulch) will target the February 11 Las Virgenes S. (G1), according to trainer David Hofmans. [Brisnet]

- Neil Howard’s highly-regarded three-year old Music School continues to prep for his 2006 debut at Oaklawn, breezing six furlongs in 1:16 3/5 for Neil Howard. He won his debut at Churchill last June and then had surgery to remove a bone chip. He’s by A.P. Indy out of Delta Music, a half-sister to champion Mineshaft.

Racing Coverage Goes in the Garbage

- The Boston Globe and Washington Post – the home of Andy Beyer no less - recently dropped their horse racing news coverage, and contributor Travis Stone laments the loss in this column.

Horseplayers have long fought a generalization by society that they are degenerates, lacking the skills to function in what is called, “normal society.” Combating this mindset is where racing needs to start.
I don’t really agree that this is one of the major problems. For one thing, so-called “degenerates” are held in pretty high esteem these days; just check out the latest Nielsen ratings for Wife Swap.

Besides, while you and I, of course, don’t fall into the degenerate category (moi?), let’s face the facts: the racetrack crowd likely does contain a higher percentage of lowlifes than many other segments of the population. You want “normal society?" Try the opera. Besides people yelling the most unimaginable profanity at the jockeys who risk life and limb in every race, and those who spend races in the bathrooms with their hands over their ears because they can’t bear to watch or listen to the fate of their two bucks, the most damning evidence is the propensity of some people at the track to go through garbage cans.

Perhaps this is just a New York phenomenon, I don’t know. But next time you’re at any track in New York, including, and in fact, especially Saratoga, if you have the stomach for it, pull up a chair near a garbage can and watch. I absolutely guarantee that from mid-day on, when there’s enough material to go through, you will not go more than three minutes without someone at least checking it out. I'm serious. That is more of a lock than anything I’ve ever picked here. You have the people who kind of just nonchalantly peek in as they’re going by, and then circle back to take something off the top when no one’s looking. (Or when they think no one is looking.) But then there are those who just dive right on in without hesitation. Yuck!

What the hell are they looking for in there? Programs or Racing Forms? Discarded tickets? Tip sheets? I’m happy to report that I’ve never seen anyone pull a George Costanza and pick an ├ęclair out of there, but it’s still a rather disturbing and sickening phenomenon. What really would be something is to install some Garbage Can Cams and get a running video of the faces peering in; you could sell that to the local House of Horrors for big bucks.

So if track degenerates are causing newspapers to curtail coverage, then we have no shot. Look, there’s plenty of interest in the sport when there are things to be interested in. Stone’s scenario of the Kentucky Derby going from front cover, to inside page, and then to a minor statistic before being taken off the press completely is overblown and something that will never happen. But the day-to-day, or even just weekend coverage will continue to diminish as long as the sport’s stars retire after a handful of races, depriving the game of the type of long-term rivalries that people might be interested in reading about. And as long as the sport tries to market itself through celebrities asking Who Do You Like Today instead of coming up with the kind of marketing schemes, perhaps in the form of contests and giveaways linked up with more popular professional team sports, that would entice people to turn on televised stakes races with a rooting interest that causes them to scream ‘Go Baby Go.’ And then there’s the flip side of the epic that is Breeders Cup day – the fact that the event turns the rest of the year after the Triple Crown into one long and, for the most part, ultimately meaningless prep for a single day with far too many championship races for a daily newspaper to provide any meaningful coverage of. Without some kind of profound change in the way the sport is conducted and promoted, we’ll soon all be able to throw our sports sections into the garbage (and wait to see who picks it out).