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Monday, January 23, 2006

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.