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Monday, April 30, 2007

Merv May Be Out

- Doug O'Neill now says that Cobalt Blue may be out of the Derby (a "slight chance") pending his evaluation of a gallop the horse will have on Tuesday. Speaking of the Merv Griffin-owned colt's most recent workout: “He did not work that well,” O’Neill said of the six furlong work in 1:11 4/5 over Keeneland’s Polytrack. That was actually his second lackluster work in a row, which followed his disappointing seventh place finish in the Illinois Derby. Clocker-1 said of the latest work: "His gallop-out wasn't even fast enough to put a watch on. Anybody but Merv and I doubt this horse would be starting."

Here's what O'Neill said directly after the work, so we have an idea of what a trainer says when he thinks the work sucks, but doesn't want to say anything to offend the owner:

Although O'Neill thought the son of Golden Missile "lost interest" late in the work, he was clocked in a snappy 1:11.3. The robust Cobalt Blue, who carries a wide girth, clearly got something out of the work, as he was blowing hard coming off the track. "He needed a stiff work," said O'Neill. "The rider got into him a little bit." [Bloodhorse]
The next day, O'Neill said: "Legwise, they're all cold and tight and look beautiful.....Churchill, here we come." [Lexington Herald Reader] But apparently he's since summoned the courage to tell Merv what he doesn't want to hear.

Governor Seems Behind the Times

- Thanks much to the reader who called attention to Gov Spitzer's comments on the racing franchise in the Troy Record this past weekend; and no, I had not seen this before. The reader notes: Nice to see the "leadership" at the top. He apparently has no idea what the ad hoc committee or his own group have done..

"The first step is to figure out what we want and then open it up to the interested parties and ask 'what will you pay for it?' " [Spitzer] told The Record Editorial Board. "The right questions should be what the structure is - what is the relationship among not only the three tracks but among OTB, VLTs and entertainment. There are a couple issues that have to be thought through before we say 'send us an RFP.'" [Troy Record]
Send us an RFP? For one thing, isn't it the other way around? And besides, haven't we already gone through these steps? What is he talking about? Have I stumbled across another outdated interview and presented it as news? This could be a quote from George Pataki three years ago. Wouldn't you think that if the governor has an appointment with a reporter on his schedule, that his aides would brief him to an extent at which it would seem as if he has at least a basic grasp on the subject matter?
"Look at how they responded and you can say they responded to different models," he said. "What we need to do is figure out what we think the right model is and they say OK, now tell us what you are willing to do."

Spitzer also said there are people who "asked legitimate questions about the need for two downstate tracks." Who said that? Tom Suozzi? Certainly not any of the four bidders that have proposed to build racinos at Aqueduct, that's for sure. I was just the other day thinking gratefully about the fact that you don't hear talk of closing the Big A anymore. On the contrary; it is of course at Aqueduct where the damn racino is supposed to be built, and it's not even legal at this point for one to be located at Belmont. I wonder if the governor even knows that?

Spitzer also told the Record that the land issue is in bankruptcy court and while he could not say much about the case he did tell Attorney General Andrew Cuomo to "win the case." I imagine that there is much going on behind the scenes of the case. It's no wonder that NYRA's dates in court (and approval of the racino) keep getting postponed due to ongoing negotiations. It sounds from that comment that the state is looking to put the issue behind them once and for all. Why NYRA would give in at this point for anything less than a meaningful extension of the franchise, I can't really imagine. What does NYRA really care at this point in time about a racino for whose opening they might very well not be in existence for?

News and Notes

- Excelsior needs to gag Steve Wynn, and soon. He once again demonstrated his utter ignorance of the racing industry in New York in an interview with the NY Post. Speaking of the state's OTB's, Wynn said: "I would . . . probably get rid of most of them [and] have bigger, more beautiful places that were consistent with the new image of racing."

Of course, while that's a nice idea, it's not something that is up to him, at least without the approval of the state legislature, which has shown no indication that it is willing to tackle the issue this year....or any year, for that matter. So an Excelsior spokesperson had to chime in with a clarification.

"Mr. Wynn's comments were based on the potential that, during this process or at a point thereafter, the winning bidder will either work with a joint venture" or a direct acquisition of OTB, bidder John Johnston told The Post.
- Dale Romans is one of the trainers we caught heating up at Keeneland, and the switch to Churchill has done nothing to slow him down. Just in the first three races on opening day, he had a second, and then won the second and third! Ken McPeek also had a winner, but had two losing favorites, including Bold Start in the Derby Trial. A guy I've been noticing with a lot of in-the-money finishes is Dallas Stewart, so keep an eye out for him. After this, you're on your own down there in Kentucky. With Churchill having opted for HRTV where I and many others can't see the races, they can keep them (except for Saturday) and forego their takeout share of my betting as I turn my full attention to Belmont, which opens on Wednesday, along with NYRA's long-awaited internet wagering.

- A compromise slots bill has passed both houses in Indiana, where the House and Senate split their differences on the number of machines and the up-front fee to be paid by the two tracks. The law would allow 2,000 machines at Hoosier Downs and Indiana Downs, and require the two tracks to pay a $250 million fee. The bill now goes to Gov. Mitch Daniels.

Curlin Work Overshadowed

- Under the radar a bit in light of Hard Spun's spectacular work was the drill by possible favorite Curlin, who got a half in 48.2, a time matched by his overlooked stablemate Zanjero, who has been nothing but consistent with what I refer to as Giacomo-type pre-Derby form.

And speaking of Giacomo, his baby brother Tiago completed his preparation in similar fashion to that of the former, who progressed time-wise in a series of long works leading up to the race. Tiago got six furlongs in 1:11.40 at Hollywood on Sunday.

You can see all of the recent works by the Derby contenders at The Downey Profile.

And here's more from that phenomenal website on Any Given Saturday's on Sunday:

Any Given Saturday quickly picked up the bit and moved smartly through his five-panel exercise, which clockers tabbed at :24.60, :49 and 1:01.20, with an “out” time of 1:14. What made the move all the more interesting was the fact that the veteran Cordero, following his boss’ orders, never moved his hands on the colt, never asked him for full throttle.

“He (Cordero) nailed it,” Pletcher said after as he walked back to the barn. “I wanted 1:01 today with this horse and he got it. Just what I was after following that stiff work (:58.80) he had last week. He (Cordero) is amazing. He’s been doing it right with all these horses all winter. He was doing it for us at Palm Meadows (in Florida) and now

"He’s doing it here. He can still do it after all these years. That clock in his head is still working. And he’s no chick in the spring.”
Cordero was the best rider I've ever seen. That clock in his head allowed him to be exactly where one wanted him to be in many more races than not.

Hard Spun Flies At Churchill (Updated)

- Any questions about Hard Spun should now be focused on whether his work at Churchill this morning was too fast rather than on any lingering concerns about what was described as a lackluster work at Keeneland on a surface he apparently didn't like. The Lane's End winner worked five furlong is 57 3/5, wow!

Hard Spun went in fractions of :11, :22, :33 2/5, :45, and :57 3/5. He was caught galloping out six furlongs in 1:11 2/5.
“Apparently he really liked the track,” said [trainer Larry] Jones. “He just got over it really well. I don’t know how I could be much happier. Mr. Porter, are you happy?”

“I’m happy,” Porter responded.

“Then I’m happy,” Jones shot back quickly. [Bloodhorse]
I guess the horse is happy at Churchill too.

UPDATE: Larry Jones says of the work:
“That wasn’t what we were shooting for...We weren’t trying to see who was the fastest, but I told (jockey) Mario (Pino) I just hope we can throttle him down on Derby day. It may have put a little more zip in him that what we needed." [Bloodhorse]

Second Place Money Seems Like Windfall!

- Highland Cat earned $5,200 by finishing second in yesterday's race...and that's only $800 less than he made when he graduated! The winner's share of $15,600 in the $26,000 race was far more than the entire $10,000 purse of that bottom maiden claimer!

From the moment the gates opened, it's easy to see that this is a totally different animal on the grass. Whereas he's virtually a lock to be last on the dirt, here he broke with enthusiasm and alacrity, and jockey Eddie Martin Jr. easily established good position going into the first turn, despite breaking from the outside post in the field of eight. And he kicked home pretty well (in a final quarter of 24 4/5 in the slow-paced race) for second. Stay tuned for photos and video tomorrow, when I can finally juice up my laptop again. The next appropriate races for him in the condition book are on May 24 - there's an allowance race (eh) and a similar spot to yesterday (sounds good).

In other happy stable news, Just Zip It (who I also will be writing a cash call check for), so impressive in her debut last fall, has returned from a stint on the farm to soothe her sore shins - no real problem, just normal two-year old stuff - and is back at Belmont in the care of Bill Turner, who says it won't be too long, perhaps just a few weeks, before he envisions her back in the starting gate to make her three-year old debut.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Derby Notes - April 30

- Joe Drape reported in the NY Times on Sunday that Nobiz Like Shobiz' owner Elizabeth Valando turned down an offer of $17 million from you-know-who after he won his first race; I don't recall seeing that figure reported before. In addition, Ms. Valando has refused to insure Nobiz because she does not want to profit from any injury. I don't think anyone would think any less of her for having coverage on the horse, but you certainly have to respect her for that as well as for turning down the Royal Checkbook Horseman.

Also in the Sunday Times was an interesting column by Jim Squires, the newspaper editor turned breeder who bred Monarchos and wrote a really worthwhile book about the experience. He points out:

Of the 35 most expensive colts from this year’s 3-year-old crop purchased at public auction, only the $1.5 million Cowtown Cat is still on track for the quest. And his early odds are 20-1 in the Derby. This means the other $88.5 million spent on 34 others may be hard to recover.
Squires writes that the popularity of certain bloodlines in the commercial market has kept breeders from producing in substantial numbers horses physically capable of enduring the Triple Crown grind. He names Curlin, Nobiz Like Shobiz, Street Sense, Circular Quay and Tiago as examples of products of matings planned without market considerations.
And breeders are finally realizing that stamina attributed to three leading modern sires — Storm Cat, A. P. Indy and Gone West — was for the most part inherited from their Secretariat dams and is most often passed on through their daughters — not their Triple Crown-nominee sons.
- And here's just a couple of ways in which times on the Derby Trail have changed:
Dust Commander won the 1970 Derby with a foundation of 22 starts. Cannonade won the centenary 1974 Derby after 21 starts. Spectacular Bid had 14, Affirmed, Sunny's Halo and Bold Forbes had 13 each, Secretariat, Riva Ridge, Gato del Sol 12 apiece, Foolish Pleasure, Swale and Spend a Buck 11. [NY Post]
Once upon a time, colts raced in the Derby Trial on Tuesday, then came back four days later and ran for the roses. Five times they won both races; seven other Derby winners made the Trial their last prep. [Lexington Herald-Reader]

Technical Problems, Derby Works

- So, the technical problem with my laptop is basically that I can't turn it on. I need a new power cord, and apparently there's not a universal adapter in the universe that is compatible with my model. So I'm hoping to get Hewlett Packard to ship me a replacement tomorrow. In the meantime, I'm on either the Head Chef's Mac from 1997, and I'm not exaggerating, or a little Mac notebook that I can borrow from the kids if and when they fall asleep.

So it'll be a couple of days before I can put up the photos that the Head Chef took of Highland Cat, as well as a memorable video the race that she shot. I can't run Cal Racing on this computer, so I'll have to wait until the racing replay show later on tonight. In fact, I haven't even been able to view the charts because I can't get the Adobe Reader to work.

Nobiz Like Shobiz worked five furlongs in 59.98 seconds at Belmont on Sunday.

Mike Curry reported on the Pletcher works at Keeneland for Thoroughbred Times, and he notes of Scat Daddy:

He appears to have moved forward off the Florida Derby win, as he did not break a sweat during Sunday’s drill and was not even slightly winded exiting the track.
No, I can't watch the Keeneland works on this computer, so I'll have to get back to you on my impressions a bit later. But Angel Cordero, who rode each of the colts, said: “Scat Daddy was the most impressive.."

Any Given Saturday had an easier work. I recall that Pletcher had said that his last work was a bit faster than he wanted - that was the 58.20 work in company with Pleasant Strike (who ran third in the Keeneland finale). So the trainer said of today's work:
“We were looking for something a little lighter today, so we worked him by himself. He had a nice, easy work, the kind of work that should build him up and put him right on target for Saturday.”
Haskin also reports on the Pletcher colts, and you can just about imagine what it says without bothering to read it.

Some significant works are scheduled on Monday at Churchill, as reported at The Downey Profile. Asmussen will work Curlin and Zanjero, and Hard Spun will work out for trainer Larry Jones. I'll be paying particular attention to the latter, who I've been very interested in for the Derby. At least until I read the negative report we got regarding his work at Keeneland from Clocker-1. Note however, that the clocker is not eliminating the colt because of it:
Go back and look at ALL of HS's works, everywhere. See ANY that even remotely resemble this one? Besides, when Jones took him to CD for the "go, no go" work," he announced to the world that his horse did not like the Keene Poly. Really, really intriguing horse off this work. Could set him up for a monster race, or just as easily could have cooked his goose. Like I said, one to watch next week.
So I'll be watching. I still have hope that CD will come through with some workout video. By the way, Clocker-1 is 1 and done, and was not around for the weekend's works. He leaves us with some interesting observations on the O'Neill horses...and recommends Mike Welsch of the Form for our workout observations.

Barbaro Documentary Buffaloed

- Don't blame me Barbaro fans. Contact the National Hockey League and tell them that had the Rangers not had to battle their two referees and their replay center in Toronto in addition to the so-called 'cream of the crop' of the league, they might have beaten the Sabres in regulation. Then you wouldn't have to wait until next Friday at 9 PM to see the documentary, and the Rangers wouldn't have had to go through the better part of two nail-biting overtimes before earning an exhilirating win and a chance to tie their conference semifinal series on Tuesday night!

And Highland Cat ran second at the Big A; the Head Chef was on hand to report to me live. Her description went something like this: "OK, the race is off......he's 4th......OK now.....oh, he's second on the inside....yeah, he's second, and he's gonna stay there." She won't be replacing Durkin anytime soon. She also took some photos, which, if I can overcome some serious technical problems I'm having with my laptop, I'll post in a bit.

Sunday Morning Notes - April 29

- Reader Hawken reports that he saw the workouts by Pletcher's trio of Derby runners, plus Rags to Riches. They're not up as of this writing on the Keeneland site, so I can't comment on his observations at this time. But Scat Daddy was timed in 59.4; the other three in 1:00.20.

I picked Scat Daddy in the Juvenile, and went off him on price; and I'm liking him more and more in this spot, though I'm also thinking he has a small chance to be as low as third choice. In any event, I'm definitely going to have him on my exotics tickets.

One person who definitely does not agree with Hawken's impression of Circular Quay is his trainer.

"He looked awesome"....When asked if the colt was fully prepared for the Run for the Roses, he answered simply, "He's ready right now. This is the best he's been here so far--he's gotten progressively better (with each work)." [Bloodhorse]
I don't think we often hear the Toddster speak with such superlatives after a work, do we? He seemed pleased with the others as well - Any Given Saturday "looked perfect," and Scat Daddy "worked :59.2 so easily" - but he seemed quite enthused about Circular Quay. However, we've seen Pletcher get rather testy this year when his horses or methods have been questioned, and I think that he'd be particularly thrilled to see Circular Quay win and validate his strategy. So I'm not reading too much into his comments; they just might be his way of emphasizing that his decision to go into the Derby off such a long layoff is already paying off. (But having said that, I think he has a shot. His chances will rely more on the pace and racing luck than on him being 100% fit in my opinion.)

At Churchill Downs, Dominican worked out (though don't expect to see video of it on Churchill's website. One might think they'd be embarrassed by Keeneland into adding similar features. If you click on the 'Video' tab on Churchill's main page, you get an advertisement. For Churchill.) This is a colt that I am admittedly ignoring. It's entirely possible that he is a simply a colt improving at the right time rather than merely a Polytrack specialist. But hey, you have to make some difficult stands in a race like this, otherwise you'll end up like Haskin and pick a dozen winners. Dominican's supporters will be cheered by the news of his five furlong work in 59 3/5 over the dirt surface at Churchill.

- Brad Free, writing in the subscription DRF Plus section of the Form, points out that while these works at the two Kentucky tracks are being analyzed to death, others, specifically Tiago, are training in relative obscurity out West.
That was evident six days ago at Hollywood Park, when only one member of the racing print media watched Santa Anita Derby winner Tiago work out seven furlongs on Cushion Track. Though Tiago will start as a relative outsider in the Kentucky Derby, odds should not lessen the importance of a key workout. Or have people already forgotten about Giacomo? [DRF]
I haven't forgotten the way Giacomo's works, all at seven furlongs on the west coast, got progressively better after the first one after the SA Derby, which was too slow to be timed, and which caused him to be the subject of some derision - probably by me too. Free reports that Tiago is making similar progress.
In the three weeks since that April 7 win, Tiago has stepped forward.

"He's handling it very well," said the normally reticent [trainer John] Shirreffs.

With one more workout scheduled for Sunday, Tiago continues to improve.

In the team work last Sunday, Tiago and Smith broke off two lengths behind a maiden filly, ran past her at the three-eighths, and powered home even while playing around.
- And if you tune into NBC at 5PM today for the Barbaro documentary and you instead see the Rangers and Sabres skating in overtime, think of me, suffering in the blue seats high above, as his team, already down 2-0 in games, is literally fighting for their playoff lives. Think of Trotter, sweating out the photo of the last race in Let It Ride, thinking to himself "I've done nothing to deserve this anguish." After all, my team outplayed the Sabres for most of the first two games, only to see their few mistakes end up in their net. So say to yourself "Cmon, give the guy a break." After all, a quick Rangers goal and then you can watch your documentary in peace.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Curlin Looking Scary Good

- Keeneland may be over, but they've continued to keep their website features current, and the workout video page has Friday's works by Doug O'Neill's trio, as well as a work by Cowtown Cat and Octave in company this morning. So here it is, check it out.

Check those all out. And then, scroll down a bit and take a look at a portion of the highly-acclaimed work by Curlin on April 23. Unfortunately, they only caught the tail end of the timed portion, plus the gallop-out. But see if you get the same impression that I did. Is it just me, or does he physically just tower over the other horses? He looks massive to me; and I get the sense of his tremendous power even just watching him galloping out. Man!

But no, I'm not changing my position on him for the Derby, on principle and price if nothing else. With just three lifetime starts against inferior competition, all at age three, I'm willing to bet that he's just not quite ready to defy a solid historical trend and beat 19 others on Derby Day. But boy, he is one impressive and scary-looking looking colt.

[And no reference intended to the Buffalo Sabres in the title of the post.]

Lucky Me

- One of my favorite bands these days is The National, a Brooklyn-based band that records for Beggars Banquet; I'm anxiously looking forward to their upcoming release, Boxer, due on May 22. Particularly sublime is their 2003 release Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers, which is stuck on my Ipod playlist these days. I was listening to one of the songs while walking home from work yesterday, and the lyrics went:

You own me.
There's nothing you can do.
You own me.

Lucky you.
I felt as if it was Highland Cat singing to me, mockingly. Indeed, I'd just received the latest cash call to support my 5% share of the horse, and it ain't pretty. The $6,000 earned from the particularly paltry purse offered in the bottom basement maiden claimer he won on February 22 barely seemed to make a dent in the expenses that pile up day after day. And it's been a seemingly endless string of checks I've been required to write.

The cute grey gelding is now scheduled to return to action tomorrow, Sunday, in the same kind of perfect spot that was washed off the turf last week - a $35,000 claimer for non-winners of two lifetime on the grass. Of course, as luck would have it, he's stuck out in ten post in a mile race, which doesn't help his cause. Not a great field, but there are a couple of horses who look imposing, especially Taken Not Given, a Contessa entry who earned some nice Beyers on grass last year.

And also, as luck would have it, though he finally gets a weekend start, I have Game 3 of the Rangers-Sabres series, with my blue-shirted heroes looking to rebound from a devastating Game 2 loss last night, in which they blew a 2-1 lead after two of the most perfect defensive periods I've seen them play in 30+ years of Ranger watching. Hopefully, both they and Highland Cat will make for a lucky me on Sunday.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Notes - April 27

- Doug O'Neill's Derby trio was on the track at Keeneland this morning, and Clocker-1, who we're happy to hear will be moving on to Churchill where he'll have to be our eyes in the absence of The Works, promises to report on these later on. They should also be available to watch on the Keeneland website (which is down as of this writing). As far as the horses remaining at Keeneland go, I've read that you can watch this coming weekend's works live on streaming video starting at 6:30 each morning. Dick Downey reports over at his fabulous The Downey Profile site that on Sunday, Pletcher plans to send out Derby contenders Circular Quay, Scat Daddy and Any Given Saturday, and likely Oaks favorite Rags to Riches.

Mike Welsch of the Form was at Keeneland this morning, and provides this recap:

Cobalt Blue was the first to breeze at 7:15 a.m., covering the distance in 1:11.69 after an opening half-mile in 46.88. Great Hunter, equipped with blinkers, followed nearly two hours later and went six furlongs in 1:13.04. Liquidity rounded out O'Neill's Derby trio, going in 1:11.65 while under pressure through the late stages. His gallop-out time of 1:24.23 was the best of the three.
I think I'm pretty much done with O'Neill's horses. I never much cared for Cobalt Blue, and you readers correctly called me out on Liquidity when I picked him in the SA Derby. I did like Great Hunter a lot after the Bob Lewis, but I think that the two-prep strategy is going to backfire with him after the way the Blue Grass was run. I just can't imagine that he got enough out of that race. His workout time today doesn't seem so hot either, but we get more details from Lenny Shulman over at
Bowing his neck, the son of Aptitude broke off just before the six-furlong mark and cruised through fractions of :12.2, :25, :37, :48.3, and 1:00.2 before finishing up in 1:13 and galloping out in 1:26.3. His neck was still bowed after the work, and O'Neill commented that "he looks like a show horse" as he watched him on Keeneland's big screen after the work.

Great Hunter was hardly blowing at all as he stepped off the track. "He got into a good, comfortable stride, and when Tony changed grips on him near the 3/8s and asked for more, he picked it up and really responded," said O'Neill, who had predicted beforehand that the work would go in 1:13.1.
Yeah, whatever. Sounds a lot like the Workout Mad Libs we were treated to the other day.


- No, not the Rangers (he says hopefully). But Keeneland, which ends today, with racing moving on to Churchill on Saturday, and my handicapping gig for the Special. Final picks are up there now. Ken McPeek has four runners on Friday, and the guy is so hot that you almost have to consider anything he runs for at least a spot on your tickets. He had three horses run on Thursday, and had two close seconds. His horses are way live; and his entries on Friday include Ballymore Lady, my pick in the 4th, and who cares if the race comes off the grass.

Dale Romans is another hot guy - his Dinner Guest ran second at 4-1 in Thrusday's 6th, to Pauillac, a million dollar Mr. Greeley colt that snuck by at 7-1 making his debut for Biancone/Leparoux. Romans has a first timer running in the first who I picked, but we of course have to watch the tote on that one (though that strategy would have likely dissuaded me from that Biancone horse yesterday).

I think I did pretty well with the selections. I haven't kept a running total of my win percentage or ROI; having never claimed to be a great handicapper, I was mostly focused on making the columns an interesting and informative read. I was sometimes torn between picking an obvious winner or getting cute in order to emphasize an interesting pedigree or some nugget I discovered that wasn't apparent in the Racing Form; and usually leaned towards the latter. I figure that if I sacrificed a winner in order to turn someone on to a hot trainer or an angle that might be useful later on, than I did a good thing. After Pete stepped in and picked five winners on the one day I missed, I felt a bit embarrassed and perhaps got a little more conservative, which may have contributed to the four-bagger that wasn't published on Sunday. But in any case, I only took a goose-egg once during the entire meet, and I don't know that all of the more prominent public handicappers can say that.

Of course, public handicapping involves a lot of luck. For example, picking maiden races three days in advance is just a wild guess, really; and in any race, you never know what the tote board or the prevailing conditions will be like close to post time. Pete advised me to find horses that you can state a good reason for, write it down, and just hope for the best. Over time, you'll have your share of winners, assuming you're picking horses with at least a bit of logic to it.

Or maybe logic doesn't even matter. Tom Ainslie, in his seminal Complete Guide to Thoroughbred Racing, makes the case that just about anyone, betting horses strictly to win over time, can at least limit his or her losses to approximately the takeout rate.

Anybody who bets $1,000 on the races and emerges from the experience with less than $800 is doing something dreadfully wrong. A $2 bettor who selected horses with a hatpin, or by using numerology, or by consulting tea leaves, would seldom lose much more than $200 in a series of 500 bets..
It works like this. Of all money bet on any race, most tracks deduct approximately 18.5 percent for taxes and their own revenue. The remaining 81.5 is disbursed to the holders of winning mutuel tickets.

This means that, regardless of how the individual player fares with a bet, the crowd as a whole loses 18.5 percent of its wagered dollar on every race.. A random bettor, playing horses at random, should do no worse. A selection system employing daisy petals or playing cards or dice or something else entirely unrelated to handicapping should leave the bettor with close to 80 percent of the original capital after a series of 500 bets or more.
I find this concept to be alternately comforting and frightening. It seems soothing to think that I could devote a large sum of money to making a long series of win bets, and be virtually guaranteed to be left with at least 80% of it. On the other hand, I can't help but wonder if I've actually met that benchmark if I really totaled up all my lifetime bets! Of course, few of us really bet that way, making only win wagers in the same amount each time, and I suppose a trifecta player could theoretically go a whole year without hitting anything at all.

Ainslie goes on to respond to those who argue that casinos, with their smaller take, are a better bet, in an argument now largely outdated (though you can substitute "slots" for "roulette" here).
A roulette player...should lose only slightly more than a nickel of each dollar bet, assuming that the computation is made after a long, representative series of plays. The difference between roulette and racing is, however, a considerable one. The wheel spins every few seconds, all night. The roulette fanatic makes hundreds of bets in one session. The house "take" of 5 percent-plus nibbles away at his capital, and he finally has nothing left.

But the horseplayer encounters only nine races a day, a daily double, some exactas, a trifecta or two and perhaps a pic six. If he confines his wagering to the smallest possible fraction of betting capital, he might play for months or years before emptying his pocket.
Now, with simulcasting, and triples and pick-whatevers offered on virtually every race, the horseplayer can find his bankroll quickly evaporated. But Bill Finley, writing on, has a better idea. He takes a look at the outsized purses in relation to the relatively meager handle at Yonkers Raceway (as I did previously in this post), and concludes that the whole concept of high takeouts in racing should become obsolete due to the economics of racinos.
Imagine a game where there was no takeout or a very small one. The same exacta that is now paying $40 would pay $50. The winner that now returns $8 would pay $10. The result would be a true game of skill in which the best handicappers would defeat the weaker handicappers and make money. And even the poorer handicappers wouldn't get buried, which is what is happening to them now.
In racing, you can take a brutal game and instantly turn it into the best gambling product there is. With a realistic chance of making money, and maybe even a lot of money, people would flock to the racetrack. By taking little, if any, money out of the pools, the tracks would make next to nothing from the betting on the horses, but that's exactly what they're making now. The serious money would still come from the slots. []
Finley acknowledges that this could only be accomplished with on-track bettors, since tracks already receive only a small percentage of simulcast wagers. The whole idea very well could be wishful thinking. But it at least certainly shows far more vision than clueless state lawmakers who insist on keeping takeout levels well as and especially New York franchise bidders Empire Racing and Capital Play, both of whom are actually proposing takeout increases.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

And Out The Door He Goes!

- Veteran track announcer Dave Johnson has called the Derby either on TV - on ABC for many years - or, more recently, on the Westwood One radio network every year since 1977...up to this year. Churchill Downs transferred the race to ESPN Radio this year, and I guess ESPN likes to put their own announcing stamp on their new racing properties. Hopefully this decision will turn out better than the Breeders Cup did.

"I will be home in my living room, and happy that I will not have to battle the zoo at the track and the traffic back to my hotel." Or so Johnson told the Toronto Globe and Mail. (He also says of ESPN's decision to replace him: "I don't agree with it.")

Johnson called the races at NYRA in the 70's, and man, he was in his prime back then, and to this day, I think he was, during that time, the best I've ever heard. He was a young guy with the kind of youthful enthusiasm that I found to be infectious. As I related in a now nearly two-year old post, it was his race calls that I listened to on the album Secretariat - Horse of the Century that helped get me into thoroughbreds at a time when I was strictly a harness guy. (And I still need to find that record, I know it's here someplace.) The best calls were races that Secretariat lost - to Onion in the Whitney, and to Prove Out in the Woodward. "ALLEN JERKENS DOES IT AGAIN!" Johnson exclaimed as the latter headed to victory. Alas, I couldn't find that race on You Tube, but there is some video of Big Red there in addition to the Belmont. Since I wrote about the Poly-to-turf angle before, I thought I'd post the video of Secretariat winning the Man O'War at Belmont in his first turf start. Dave Johnson with the call.

Turf to Poly, Poly to Turf

- Graham Motion is one of those trainers that I've mentioned at Keeneland, and today he took the Grade 3 Ben Ali on the Polytrack with 26-1 Jade's Revenge, who just barely held off 14-1 Minister's Joy, who I had a big bet on the last time he ran (and ran second). The latter easily transferred his turf form to the Polytrack, unleashing his usual late burst to miss by a nose. Same goes for Mustanfar, another nose back in third completing a $6400 triple, who'd been running strictly on turf. The biggest impression I've gotten from my first experience of intense handicapping on a synthetic surface is the interchangeability of turf and Polytrack form. I've heard that that's the case, and I can say with no reservation that it's certainly true, at least at Keeneland.

I picked three winners in the Special today, two of them in off-the-turf races in which the winners won the way I expected them to, for a change. In fact, I didn't even know that they had come off the grass, and I wouldn't have cared anyway. I knew it was supposed to rain there today, but didn't bother doing an off-the-turf contingency pick, because I really don't think it matters. Of course, like everything else, there's nothing 100% certain, as those who lost on Wait A While would tell you. But at the end of the three week meeting, I make virtually no distinction between turf and Poly form. At Keeneland anyway.

First year sire Sky Mesa, undefeated at two including the Grade 1 Hopeful, had a winner in the baby race. Twenty Eight Hours, 15-1 morning line, went off at 3-1 and got up by a head over the Asmussen horse. Woo-hoo, don't you love this game? He's out of a Clever Trick mare who's a half-sister to the dam of Langfuhr.

Catching Up

- Now that I'm done with the Keeneland gig, and I'll post more about that experience a bit later on, I'll be catching up in the next few days on some stuff that I've missed or would like to further blab on about. For starters, I was wondering what happened to NYRA's latest court date in regard to getting the Aqueduct racino approved, and see that the hearing was once again adjourned due to ongoing negotiations between NYRA and the state.

NYRA's chief executive, Charles Hayward, said on Monday that the negotiations have "several issues" outstanding, but that he was hopeful that an agreement could be reached within the next month. [DRF]
That seems like a more cautious appraisal of the situation from the NYRA chief than we've heard in the recent past. Gov Spitzer is known for his tough negotiating stands, and I would guess that the state is trying to get the association to drop their land claim and/or their lawsuit against the past administration for their blatant stalling on approval. But I don't see what NYRA has to lose by holding firm at this point; and I don't see why that would change whether or not it is awarded the franchise in the decision that is allegedly going to be announced by Memorial Day. Seems to me that the state is only hurting itself and the horsemen here.

Meanwhile, the governor is now focusing on campaign reform, and on clarifying and strengthening the state's laws protecting womens' reproductive rights. And while those are both worthy causes in my opinion, especially the latter in light of a recent Supreme Court ruling that has emboldened abortion opponents, there's been no talk whatsoever - not one iota - of tackling the state's racing laws and OTB's. And that is leading me to increasingly believe that there will be a one-year extension of NYRA's franchise. Should the governor wish to award the franchise to one of the other entities, the changes in the law required for a for-profit to run the tracks will not be in place. Besides, passing a law hastily without taking this unique opportunity to do it correctly and correct years of inefficiencies would be a real tragedy.

Also dragging on interminably - especially for the riders involved - is the investigation believed to be tied to suspected race fixing at Great Lakes Downs that resulted in ten jockeys being banned from Tampa Bay Downs late last year. Terry Houghton was banned from Tampa, welcomed at Hawthorne, but now has been told to stay away from Arlington Park. However, Rene Douglas, the first jockey to be implicated and banned, will be allowed to ride at Arlington. But of course, nobody, even the riders involved, seems to know the reasoning behind any of these decisions.

- On the track, Nobiz Like Shobiz, who seems to me to be flying just a tad under the radar at this point, worked out on Monday, and will have one more drill at Belmont before Barclay Tagg ships him to Churchill next week. "The last plane out is Wednesday...That's about three days earlier than I'd like to go." [NYRA] I'd read a couple of people project him as the Derby favorite after the Wood, but that seems highly unlikely at this point. I think most would agree that Curlin and Street Sense will be the top two betting choices, and I wouldn't be shocked to see Scat Daddy as the third choice. And Circular Quay was actually lower odds than Nobiz in the last futures pool.

No one will be rooting for Nobiz Like Shobiz more than his sire, Albert the Great, who has been anything but thus far. Nobiz is his only U.S. stakes winner - he's had two in Puerto Rico - with his third crop hitting the track this year, so he's primed for a permanent vacation to someplace like Turkey if things don't pick for him soon.

Nice to see at least some common sense in the face of Derby fever: Slew's Tizzy's connections now say that they are leaning away from the race. However, with horses like Xchanger, Bwana Bull, and Teuflesberg still possibilities [Oh yeah, and Sedgefield too], Michael Matz faces the possibility of being shut out with his promising Chelokee.

- HRTV announced their pre-Derby coverage plans, and there's no separate show devoted to the workouts as on TVG. If there's anyone out there who gets this network, please let us know how it is.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Notes - April 25

- About to write the last of the Keeneland handicapping columns after watching the Rangers lose the first game of their series against Buffalo; and despite the 5-2 score, I'm strangely upbeat, for reasons that I won't go into here. Anyway, I have the whole card figured out so it shouldn't take too long. Be aware that Jazil will be running in a mile and a half turf stakes, and though we know he likes that distance, I think you gotta take a stand against.

High Cotton is also scheduled to run, off the bench for Pletcher in a six furlong allowance race. It's his first race since the Pegasus at the Meadowlands. He had the fastest five furlong work of all - 58 1/5 seconds - the other day when all the Derby horses were having their drills on the Poly. The clocker's comment on the Keeneland website notes that he "made the track seem even faster." He hasn't run at less than a mile since when he graduated on his second try. Bobby Frankel has First Word, who has been working exceptionally over the Polytrack. His recent bullet work of three furlongs in 34 flat earned the comment "just galloping at the wire."

Today my picks did get published, and I had one winner, Safari Queen at 2-5, yippee. I hesitantly direct you to Thursday's picks. I ran second in the second, second to a 7-1 shot in the 4th, third to a pair of bombshells in the 5th, second to a horse from a barn with a 1 for 78 record in the 6th, and 2nd to a 32-1 shot in the 7th. I didn't actually bet on any of these today, fortunately, but it's like I have action on every race!

[UPDATE - One more thing - Dale Romans is also a hot barn; today he had a dead heat for third with a 7-1 shot; he's now 11-4-2-2. He has an Orientate first-timer in Thursday's 6th race who's been working very well. 8-1 morning line; watch the board on this one. Asmussen has a first-timer in that race; Unbridled Trust has some exceptional works as well, most recently in company with the stakes-winning filly Richwoman, who we haven't seen since Saratoga. The workout comment noted that Unbridled Trust was "best at the wire."]

Keeneland Website Rules

- The Keeneland website is full of helpful information (including live race coverage and clocker's workout comments)....if you actually take the time to delve through it. So thanks much to reader Hawken for pointing out this page, which contains links to videos of some of the morning works we've been reading about. That includes Circular Quay and Rags to Riches working in company, the workout by Cobalt Blue that received mixed reviews at best, and the work by Any Given Saturday that Haskin raved about the other day. Personally, I wasn't as blown away by the latter as Haskin, but that's why it's good for everyone to see for themselves and make up their own minds.

While Haskin wasn't quite as impressed by Curlin as Clocker-1 (or as accounts by other witnesses that I've been informed of), he totally flipped out over the one by Street Sense. Summing up, he writes: This may sound like someone getting a bit carried away, but you had to be there. If you’re watching Derby works for two weeks, this is what you’re hoping to see. [Bloodhorse]

Of course, it's important for us to remember that the race will be run on the afternoon of May 5, not in the morning at Keeneland or Churchill. I distinctly recall that Bandini was the consensus training star in 2005, and he didn't run a lick in the Derby. Whatsmore, these are all nice horses, and most of them are going to look good in the morning. As reader PapaChach (who obviously hasn't read the LATG rules prohibiting any commenter from being funnier than me) hilariously points out, we won't be reading many negative reports on works over the next ten days.

- As Keeneland giveth, others taketh away. TrackNet Media is withholding Magna's video archive from certain outlets pending contract negotiations (though not Cal Racing, shhhh). And Churchill Downs, which is by far the stingiest major racing company when it comes to race replays, has now withdrawn the video archive from the Fair Grounds site, thank you very, very much.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Works

- Wednesday's Keeneland picks are up now at the Special, and yes, I really did have four winners on Sunday, when the column didn't get posted due to a mixup.

As Jeff pointed out in the comments section, Clocker-1 didn't care much for Hard Spun's work, speculating that perhaps he didn't like the Keeneland Poly (even though he certainly took to Turfway). But check out what he thought of Curlin. Oh man!

Haskin reported on the work too, and though he was impressed, he was not quite as ebullient. He noted that: He just glides over the ground, while generating a great deal of power."

Of course, these reports are just their opinions, and that's what was so cool about The Works. We could actually see for ourselves, hear a range of informed opinions and form our own. I had read that HRTV was going to do their own production; if that's true, it's apparently a secret to the webmaster of the HRTV website.

[UPDATE: Here's the comment on Curlin from the official Keeneland clocker: Was not under any pressure, galloped out well (3/4 in 114.0 and the 7/8 in 127.1).

Top Two Workout

- The probable first and second betting choices for the Derby have had workouts this week. And wow, a nice one for Street Sense this morning!

The Churchill clockers caught Street Sense in 59 seconds for the five-eighths of a mile, reflecting a final eighth-mile in a sparkling 11 1/5 seconds and the last quarter-mile in an eye-popping 22 3/5 seconds. His gallop-out time for six furlongs was 1:11 2/5. [Louisville Courier-Journal]
Hmmm, maybe he thinks he's still on Polytrack with those closing fractions! Carl Nafzger said: “We’re done....All we’ve got to do is stay sound.”

Curlin worked out on Monday at Keeneland, getting five furlongs in 1:00 4/5. Haskin reports from the scene:
A powerfully made chestnut, the son of Smart Strike did everything on his own, without the slightest bit of urging. The most impressive part of the work was the way the colt dropped his head and shoulder in the stretch and leveled off. He just glides over the ground, while generating a great deal of power. Once he got into that long, efficient stride, he came home his final eighth in :12 flat. [Bloodhorse]
Haskin also notes that Any Given Saturday looks as if he’s going to have different tactics in the Derby....which in one person’s opinion [ed.- mine?] is the way he’d be more effective, enabling him to use his turn of foot and closing kick.
In his five-furlong work on Sunday with Garrett Gomez aboard, Any Given Saturday broke about two lengths behind stablemate Pleasant Strike, who actually extended his advantage at the five-sixteenths pole and turned it on coming into the stretch. He came a bit wide turning for home, forcing Any Given Saturday to go three or four wide, which is nothing unusual for him. Although Pleasant Strike still was going strong in the stretch, Any Given Saturday pinned his ears, dug in, and seemed determined to catch him. He dropped his head nicely and cut into Pleasant Strike’s lead with every stride, finishing a head in front in :58 4/5, while shading :23 for the final quarter. This was a near-perfect work for this colt, and it’s always reassuring to see a horse bounce out of a disappointing race with a sharp work such as this.
I recall that previously, Haskin had noted that the colt ran with his head up, so this report of him dropping his head in going after Pleasant Strike reflects a change. The bad news here is that he writes that he put him on top in the Derby Dozen this week, and feel even more secure in the decision after seeing this work.

Can I change my mind now?

TrackNet Media Putting the Squeeze on ADW's

- The impasse between Youbet and the Churchill/Magna owned TrackNet Media has now spilled into public. Seems that TrackNet is insisting that Youbet give up its TVG exclusive tracks in order to be able to carry the Derby, and Churchill/Magna tracks going forward. American TAB has already agreed to those terms.

“We had to make a decision,” AmericaTAB general manager Mike Weiss said....“We had negotiations with TVG, but they weren’t successful. We also negotiated with TrackNet Media and had to decide which way to go.” [Bloodhorse]
But Youbet is refusing to go along, and issued a blistering statement.
"Instead of the broader, more inclusive distribution formula the industry has been promised, TrackNet presented us with an unreasonable either-or scenario,” said Champion. “To carry this year’s Kentucky Derby and its other content, TrackNet wants us to forego races from, among others, Aqueduct, Belmont, Saratoga, Del Mar, Keeneland, Oak Tree at Santa Anita, Saratoga Harness, Turfway Park, Turf Paradise, and Los Alamitos. It ought to be obvious to everyone with a major investment in horse racing that we should not have to choose one content group over another when we are prepared to pay fair prices for both.

“Under these circumstances, we think the industry needs to assess the ramifications of the two most dominant content providers in our business coming together to dictate content alignment and economics by forcing choices on us and others that are sure to limit competition, thwart innovation, frustrate customers and stifle growth.” [Bloodhorse]
Youbet is reacting to TrackNet's stated goal to facilitate the broad distribution of horse racing content through trusted and reliable distribution platforms that share TrackNet’s philosophy that non-exclusivity of wagering content is vital to the future growth of domestic account wagering. [Churchill Downs press release] TrackNet Media, responding in a statement to Youbet's, declared that the abovementioned goal is exactly what they are trying to achieve here. Noting that they are in discussions with TVG to facilitate cross-licensing of their signals, TrackNet stated:
Youbet is the only large national ADW provider with a sublicense agreement in place allowing it to accept wagers on the TVG exclusive content on a going-forward basis. Youbet now seeks the right to accept wagers on TrackNet Media content as well – leaving Youbet as the only national provider able to offer its customers all major U.S. racing content. Such an arrangement would put all of Youbet’s competitors, including TVG, AmericaTAB, XpressBet and the yet-to-launch TwinSpires account-wagering service at a disadvantage, and it would unfairly penalize customers of those ADW platforms who want access to a broad range of content.
Well gee, isn't it nice of TrackNet to be SO freaking concerned about what's fair for Youbet's competitors! Excuse me for the skepticism, but this old-line liberal is naturally inclined towards the belief that bottom-line oriented public companies such as Magna and Churchill are concerned with just that, first and foremost, and that any stated altruism is to be viewed with doubt. Perhaps I'm wrong in this case, and maybe in the end we will indeed have a wide choice of wagering platforms with no restrictions on content. But in any event, the two companies are obviously using their combined clout and the hammer of the Kentucky Derby to shape the ADW industry into what their idea of what the landscape should be. I find the idea of this single entity being able to exercise this kind of control to be disconcerting.

And that's now. What happens if Empire gets the New York franchise? Their proposal states that New York's racing signal will then be turned over to TrackNet Media, and they would then have Saratoga and the entire Triple Crown series under their control. This is why Assemblyman Gary Pretlow raised possible anti-trust issues regarding Empire in the franchise hearings. Perhaps it's not only those of us in New York who are concerned about Empire's takeout increases and their highly questionable integrity who should be worried about them being awarded the racing franchise.

- Please bear with me for a couple more days, as I finish up the Keeneland meet for the Special; and I'll then be back with my usual copious posting.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Derby Top Ten

- This is the LATG Derby Top Ten of horses and people I think will be making the news on or around Kentucky Derby day.

1) Any Given Saturday. Well, I guess I'm kinda locked in now, eh? I can't think of a result that would make me feel (and look) worse than him winning after I went off of him. I read Dan Illman speculate in his Form Blog last week that perhaps John Velazquez was merely trying to keep the colt out of any possible trouble, to avoid any possible mishap, when he went four deep into the first turn of the Wood. Maybe; I do think the race was merely a conditioning prep for the colt, and that there perhaps was a reason for the ride. I know he needed to get at least third to qualify on earnings, but I think the connections were confident that he had the sheer ability to do so against that field regardless of whether he was cranked or not. But whatever the intent, I still think the race will serve him well in terms of conditioning and experience, and his work in 58.80 on Sunday only affirms that belief. Pletcher said: “To me, this was a good one because it was fast on the end. I hate to see horses go off really fast and then finish tired. I had him in the last quarter in 22 and four, which is pretty good.” [Bloodhorse] Man, I'm in deep with this one. But I think he has to be at least 12-1 to be worthwhile.

2) Hard Spun - Having given a nod of approval to Churchill in the form of a five furlong work in 1:00.20, this son of Danzig will run off a six week layoff. [And this morning, he worked a mile in 1:42 2/5, running the last half in :50 and the final eighth in :12.] As I've said, I'm really starting to believe that the layoff angle in the Derby will soon become as irrelevant as it seems to be becoming in the sport in general. I think this is the biggest change I've seen in the game over the years; once a reliable bet-against, now you oppose returnees at your own peril. It's really hit home to me while following this Keeneland meet; it seems that every day brings at least one horse that wins off a lengthy layoff, several months, at least.

You may feel I'm being inconsistent by dismissing the layoff, while at the same time downgrading (below) other horses on the basis of preps I deem as being insufficient.....on the logic of - at least they had preps. But Hard Spun has had three preps, and I think they've all served him well. He's demonstrated speed and stamina, and has gotten a taste of adversity, shown the ability to react to different situations and still make a move. What's that different between this and Barbaro's campaign? One extra week layoff, that's all.

3) Republican presidential nominee John McCain comes to town, and raises controversy on Derby Eve when, in response to a question about Barbaro, he launches into an impromptu rendition of the Beach Boys' "Barbara Ann." "Bar- Bar- Bar-, Bar- Barbaro's dead....Bar- Bar- Bar-, Bar- Barbaro's dead," thus losing the endorsement of Dee Mirich.

The next day, McCain strolls through the infield escorted by half of the Louisville police force in full riot gear that clear out the betting windows and refreshment stands on his behalf, and later declares that you could indeed “walk freely” on Derby Day.

4) Scat Daddy has three preps, two of them graded stakes wins, and "only" five weeks off before the Derby; perhaps the most traditionally-correct preparation of anyone in the field. I like the way he's progressed with his Beyers this year and the versatility he showed surging to the lead earlier in the Florida Derby, and he seems ready to move forward to a big race, at least in my eyes. I really think that Pletcher has done a great job giving him racing experience in different situations. He worked five furlongs in 1:00 4/5 on Sunday, and galloped out six furlongs in an easy 1:15 under jockey Edgar Prado. Pletcher said: “He’s had a lot of education, a lot of experience in his races. I was just afraid to put him in company. He might go too fast.” [Bloodhorse]

5) Chaos ensues at the under tack show for the May Barretts two-year old sale when a colt by Forestry breaks the sound barrier while working two furlongs in 3/5ths of a second. The resulting sonic boom causes several valuable horses to run off, including the speedy colt himself who is found along with his shaken rider in downtown Chattanooga, Tennessee the next morning.

6) Street Sense - To me, the value of a Derby prep, particularly the final one (which will hopefully, in future years, not be the only one), is what the horse gets out of it in terms of preparing for the Derby. Street Sense loped along behind the glacial Blue Grass pace, and then sprinted for about 3/8ths of a mile; my thinking is that it was kinda like he broke off for a three furlong workout after an easy gallop. Though I still rate him at or near the top of the class in terms of talent, his already unconventional preparation was further compromised in my mind by this strangely run prep in which he also surprisingly displayed immaturity. Mix in the negative vibes of the Juvenile Jinx, and I'm thinking that he's one to stand against at a relatively short price; possibly the favorite.

7) Circular Quay also put in his final work on Sunday, and Todd Pletcher spoke about this colt and his eight weeks off before the Derby with Sean Clancy:

"With his style of dropping back and running the last half mile, it seems like good horses like that have a little more natural fitness than you give them credit for.”

“If this was any other race, any other grade one I was pointing for during the year, I wouldn’t run him back in four weeks so why would I change what works for me all the time, for this race. You should play to your strengths and that’s what I’m trying to do. This will be the longest layoff, we’ve had horses run well three weeks before and been like, 'I wish I had another week or two weeks,' but it’s hard to pass up.”

“I’d say, maturity, confidence, and just the fact of training long enough to build up some data and know what works for me. Sometimes you can’t explain why it works, but I know for sure, when I give my horses more time, I have a better feel of how they’re going to run. When I’m leading them over there two or three weeks, I’ve always got in the back of my mind whether they’re going to fire back. Bluegrass Cat didn’t run at all in the Blue Grass last year and ran well in the Derby. If you look at other people’s horses, the list of horses who have run huge races in the Blue Grass, good horses, Skip Away, Holy Bull, Hansel, Millennium Wind, Bandini, they’ve run their eyeballs out here and in three weeks, they’re not even close.” [ - The Inside Rail]
8) After hearing the news that he will be staying in Saudi Arabia, Premium Tap, citing the country's hideous record on human rights, applies for asylum at the U.S. Embassy. In addition to his complaints about rampant persecution and torture of political dissidents and the lack of fresh salad, he complains that he has been forced to read the Koran and assume uncomfortable kneeling positions in praying five times a day, and laments that the fillies are forced to wear burkhas.

9) Nobiz Like Shobiz still seems like the three-year old with the most potential to achieve greatness down the road. The blinkers (or perhaps the lack of crowd noise) may have helped him run straighter in the stretch of the Wood, but he still looked green fighting Cornelio Velasquez's attempts to rate him early. Having said that, he eventually settled and did his thing, but in a short field, in familiar surroundings, and with his main rival in the race taking himself out of contention with an absurdly wide trip. Doesn't figure to present proper value on Derby Day.

10) Given a chance to redeem himself with another workout after his poor Illinois Derby and horrible work, Cobalt Blue puts in an even worse performance, stumbling and bumbling and even seeming to forget how to run. Though even his staunchest supporters urge him to drop out of the Derby, President Bush says that the workout has increased his confidence in the colt's Derby prospects.

Not on the list:

- Curlin: undefeated, undeniably talented, but untested and overbet
- Great Hunter: Bad vibes abound for Doug O'Neill these days, and if I don't think that Street Sense's Blue Grass was a proper prep, that's emphatically so for a colt who desperately needed the conditioning in his only prep in the nine weeks before the race.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Sunday Night Notes - April 22

- Circular Quay and Rags to Riches hooked up again, working in company on Sunday morning, and CLOCKER-1 has the outcome, which was pretty similar to last time.

- The fractional times at Keeneland were all over the place in the routes on Sunday. Three-year old maiden fillies went to the half in 47.82, while older filly and mare allowance horses went 53.14 a few races later! And, despite that pace (or maybe because of it) Biancone's Flow Chart, never far back in last, was able to outsprint the field home in a final three-eighths of 35 3/5, to win her U.S. debut off a 6 1/2 month layoff, ho hum. Biancone also won with Lady in Venice, returning off an even longer layoff of eight months. She was raring to go when they broke from the gate, but Leparoux got her to settle before commencing an extremely wide move to a very easy win, getting the last eighth in 11.53. These were two of four winners I picked for the Special in Sunday's column, which didn't get posted for some reason. Oh man...

All in all, closers still fared quite well overall, and the kickback was definitely still there.

Two winners for Darley on Sunday. Say You Will graduated in the second with a powerful move to take over heading into the stretch. By AP Indy, she's out of a stakes winning daughter of Seeking the Gold who's a half-sister to Lammtarra. That Godolphin-owned son of Nijinsky won the Epsom Derby in his second start, and off a layoff of over 300 days; and then added the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth and the Arc. With breeding like that, you probably won't be surprised that she was another of my picks in her first try around two turns. I actually cashed an exacta ticket in real life too.

Pletcher Team Drills at Keeneland

- Five furlong workouts for three more members of the Toddster's Derby team on Sunday, this after Cowtown Cat's quick work (58.20) on Saturday. Scat Daddy completed his in 1:00.80 and Circular Quay got his in 1:00.20. The training star of the morning however (which included Rags To Riches [1:00.20]), was Any Given Saturday, who zipped the distance in 58.80 seconds, the second fastest of 32 at the distance. (The trainer's High Cotton got the bullet with his 58.20.)

So, you can already see the difference between the preparation for Any Given Saturday for the Derby, as opposed to the Wood, which was used strictly as a prep. He'd had only one work between Tampa Bay and the Wood, that a leisurely breeze in 1:02 1/5. I'd be interested to hear what the boys on The Works would have had to say...... but oh yeah, I don't get The Works anymore. Well, I guess they would have said that it was a nice work.

Keeneland Kickback

- I read the comments by John and Walter regarding increased kickback at Keeneland on Saturday. I'd only been able to watch a couple of yesterday's races live, and that on the live feed from the Keeneland site, whose quality leaves a bit to be desired; so I hadn't noticed. So today I set up side-by-side windows, opened them to Cal Racing and watched two races simultaneously - one from Saturday, and one from last Sunday. And I think there's no question that those observations about there being a cloud of Polydust were right on.

You can see it in the stretch runs, and it's especially apparent in the shot at the finish line when the camera becomes stationary and you see the field crossing the line (with my selection probably trailing the field). So, perhaps the ridicule directed at the Blue Grass has inspired some kind of change (though I recall that last year's wire-to-wire romp by Sinister Minister was similarly dismissed as an aberration due to an unfair playing surface).

It was actually on Wednesday that commenter Brett marveled at there actually being a wire to wire winner. And Steve Klein, writing in the Form, said of Thursday's races:

There was an honest-to-goodness old-school Keeneland early and tactical speed bias in place on Polytrack. Apparently it is possible to enjoy the safety of Polytrack without the bizarre slow pace scenarios we saw during the first half of this race meet.
Now, I think that Klein is a bit speed bias-crazy, and that he sometimes can see a bias like Bush sees progress in Iraq. But a look back at Thursday's races shows several front-running and close-to-the-pace winners, including The Cuban Hawk, who went wire-to-wire in a route race after going to the half in an uncontested 47.54 seconds.

Friday's and Saturday's results seem more of a mix of the familiar deep closers with some closer to the pace types. There were four routes other than the Lexington on Saturday, and they seemed to play logically. The first race went to the half in 51.42 and the two front-runners hung on. In the fifth, Great Point dueled for the lead in 48.74, and Barbican, who was a couple lengths back of the pace, was able to barely hold off two closers. The two other routes went to the half in 47 flat, and those were both won by deep closers. So it would appear that there's been some kind of adjustment, if not by the track maintenance crew, then by the riders. But the kickback, which really becomes noticeable on Saturday, would indicate that some kind of change has been made. When asked about it by Klein with respect to Thursday's card, track superintendent Mike Young said: "The cool weather makes it harder, so we might work it up a little more often, but I'm not sure if that has anything to do with it."

We've seen that kickback, and to a much larger degree, at Turfway and Woodbine, where there has been much less complaining in terms of track bias. Perhaps that cloud of dust is a price that must be paid to have the Polytrack play normally.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Lexington Pretty for Slew's Tizzy

- I don't know what the hell happened to Belgravia, who ran last in the Lexington - says that he apparently bled - hopefully he's OK. I have to say that I thought he was a lock. What was really remarkable about the race was not only that 40-1 Slew's Tizzy won, but that he went wire-to-wire after repelling a stiff challenge while going to the half in 48.17. 48.17!! Wow, that's like a real American horse race! Maybe the problem is that the jocks are outwitting themselves, so psyched out by the track that they are slowing down the races so much in the routes that they keep every horse in the field in contact and in contention. Perhaps we'll see others letting the reins out just a bit more in the next couple of racing days.

My picks sucked at Keeneland today; it was the first time that I felt even a little embarrassed about a couple of the picks. I guess it was the Bud Light. I even made a mistake in the 8th race, as I don't even remember seeing the 8-5 winner Travel Team before. She was the nine horse, and must have been alone on a page that I missed in all the mess. Ugh. So, sorry about that, and I hope to do better over the last four days.

But despite what I considered to be a poor performance, I still ran second three times; with American Dreamer, second to 7-1 Rated Fiesty (who I picked for third) in the second, and then with 22-1 (!) Haddie Be Good, second to Pletcher's Forest Code in the Giant's Causeway Stakes. I was home to see the 10th, and I really wanted that one, because the only winner I'd had on top was 4-5 Cosmonaut. My selection was 3-1 second choice Kettle Hill, and when he opened up four in the stretch I looked home free. But he started to labor and got caught in the last lunge by 13-1 Gentleman Chester! Jeez!

- Cowtown Cat worked five in 58 2/5 on the Polytrack. Any Given Saturday, Scat Daddy, and Circular Quay will all work on Sunday.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Comments on Comments


jeff said...

I took a look at the Bris No's for the Derby hopefuls and, lo and behold, the two that stood out to me were the aforementioned Hard Spun and Circular Quay.
What then to do with the layoffs? Ordinarily, I would have tossed both and looked instead for a horse with a strong recent effort. Unfortunately, I'm underwhelmed by the alternatives, and so I'll take a chance on extending the Barbaro trend. Of the two, I prefer Hard Spun because he'll be more forwardly placed, ran an impressive race from the outside in a 12 horse field, and has the slightly shorter layoff. I'll probably throw a few bucks on Circular Quay too, in case he finds the room to make his strong late run. Not thrilled about playing two horses off long layoffs, but that choice may just be a sign of the times.
I've been seeing so many horses winning off, not only six to eight week layoffs, but six to eight month layoffs of late, that I'm convinced that it's only a matter of time before a horse wins the Derby off the kind of gap that the abovementioned pair are attempting. A win by either wouldn't shock me, and I plan to have at least a saver on Hard Spun, and use him in exotics. I've taken a liking to this colt ever since his losing effort in the Rebel, and I was a willing buyer of the excuse that he didn't like the track. I picked him in the Lane's End, and I love his breeding.

Where I differ from the commenter is that I'm more concerned about Hard Spun's layoff than that of Circular Quay, even though the latter's is two weeks longer. That's Pletcher's game, and if the race falls apart up front and he gets a clean trip (both big ifs to be sure, especially given the possible moderate pace), he could win even if he's a just a tad bit short.

Talk of Circular Quay brings me to this comment by Valerie (who is, by the way, the proprietor of the Foolish Pleasure blog.
Valerie said...

Talking about Cobalt Blue, there is an interesting commentary in a blog being kept by the brother of the clocker at Keeneland, about his poor workout today at Keeneland, and conversely Liquidity's strong workout:
Thanks for this link. This is awesome, you gotta check this out this site. Besides providing further grist for us to vote Cobalt Blue out (Clearly a horse either who does not handle the surface at all, or has some other issue that requires attention), it has an account of a workout in the company of Circular Quay and the filly Rags to Riches, who both went six furlongs in 1:13.2 last weekend:
"We caught the last 5/8ths in :58.4, with the last quarter in :22.3, as easy a breeze as you'll see, until the end when Angel [Cordero] tried to "win" the set, and the filly just lengthened her stride and refused to be passed. They were still flying on the gallop-out, yet the filly refused to let him pass! I'll resist the urge, and temper my enthusiasm until I see her again, but her first impression was flat-out awesome." [CLOCKER-1]
Well, I've already written my lament of her not having been pointed to the Derby. But in fact, the Oaks could be a perfect "prep" for the Belmont five weeks later, as someone, I think it was Walter, mentioned it here. As you may know, she's a half-sister to last year's Belmont winner Jazil, who I picked up on early in the game, but had unfortunately soured on due to....well, the fact that he's too the time the Belmont rolled around.

So Pete did the Special picks on Friday and had five winners! I'm not sure how I feel about that! While for statistical purposes, it's good to get some help from someone who can actually pick winners, but he didn't have to show me up like that, did he? Oh man... But it was a great job, and the lowest payer was Pletcher's debut juvenile Ready's Image, who was pounded to even money in the first. Over the last five years, Pletcher has started 34 first-time two-year olds; he has 12 winners, and 24 in the money, 71%. Ready's Image was wide around the turn with Velazquez, and "hit another gear," as described by Kurt Becker, drawing away by three. This colt, by More Than Ready, sold for $410,000 at Keeneland last September; he's out of a Clever Trick mare, and is from the female family of Came Home (they have the same third dam).

Delaware Jocks Switch Gears

- Wanted to mention this item that appeared a couple of days ago. Jockeys at Delaware Park are now covered against on-track accidents more comprehensively than any others in the country - to the tune of $2 million. In addition, the policy will afford injured riders $500 per week in disability pay and $100,000 in accidental death and dismemberment benefits, both double what the original policy offers. [Bloodhorse]

The catch, if you want to call it that, is that the jockeys are kicking in a per mount fee of $4 to help pay for the cost. According to Robert Colton, the head of the Delaware Park Jockeys Association, it's the first time that riders have agreed to do so. Whatsmore, the jockeys there have acknowledged that they are, indeed, independent contractors.

“We took a philosophical change in our approach....In the past, the Jockeys’ Guild tried to take the position that we were employees. But we are not employees. We are independent contactors, and as riders, there is an inherent risk involved. The jockeys had to finally stand up and take part of the financial responsibility and stop pointing fingers. For the first time ever, we were willing to do that."
As Colton pointed out, this position is a change from the stance that the Guild has taken, and the disgraced (though for some reason not prosecuted) former management team would have been aghast. Albert Fiss probably would have gone to Delaware to toss some jocks around the room. No reaction that I've seen from Dwight Manley and the new leadership, and I'd be interested to see one.

In any event, it shows that the two sides can be accommodative and come to a solution that benefits everyone. Many, though not all of the tracks have been cooperative in providing $1 million in coverage, and this seems like a welcome step of this colony meeting the track halfway. We'll see if it starts a trend.

- Trainer Larry Jones felt that Hard Spun was "sitting on a big effort" after the colt won the Lane's End and, according to Gary West in the Dallas-Ft. Worth Star-Telegram, his attitude was Why use that big effort in the Blue Grass?
"The way it turned out, I'm glad we didn't go in the Blue Grass," Jones said about the strangely run race..."We're going into the Derby in great shape, and I like our chances.
I like this horse, but the question is, of course, will he still be sitting on a big effort six weeks later? If he is, or if Circular Quay is after eight weeks off.....well, you know what kind of Derby prep season will be seeing in the future. Sparse would be one way of putting it.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Everything Can Change

- I have no doubt that Belgravia will win the Lexington on Saturday, nor that Patrick Biancone and his ownership team of Zayat Stables, Tabor, Smith & Co. will run him in the Derby if he gives them reason to, which would have to include finishing at least second in order to qualify on graded earnings. Marty McGee wrote in the Form that he's far more likely to wait for the Preakness, but Biancone supplied the usual qualifier: "..owners and trainers, they change their minds. Everything can change with racing." Besides, that group didn't spend $2 million with the Preakness in mind, though it certainly wouldn't be a bad consolation.

Biancone said that the son of Mr. Greeley "is perfect now," and I think there's little reason to doubt that. It's his first race since running 4th, beaten less than two lengths, to Stormello and Liquidity in the Hollywood Futurity, a race in which he lost much ground on the first turn after breaking from the ten post. Biancone has been bringing his horses back extremely sharp off layoffs at Keeneland. On Thursday, he scored with Danzon, last seen running tenth, by just three lengths, in the G1 Martiarc in November. On Wednesday, Asi Siempre had that super-sharp and impressive return in her first try since the Breeders Cup. He's also won with Stream Cat, who'd last raced in July, and Quasicobra, last seen at Saratoga. Flawless Treasure lost by a nose in his first try since May; Her Majesty by a neck in her first appearance since the Juvenile Fillies. They all had quick five furlong works as part of their preparation, as does Belgravia.

If he is ready, he should handle this field. Pletcher has Soaring By, who bounced back from his poor Louisiana Derby in a weak allowance field at Gulfstream. Forty Grams, who vied for the lead in the Winstar Derby, and Lukas' Starbase, who did so in the Lane's End, are likely doomed after dueling to a half of 54 seconds. Joe Got Even, who has proven himself to be a reliable sort, has the preferred closing style and trainer Phil Sims, whose runners have been very sharp in limited starts at the meeting. I look for him to run well, and maybe create just a little value in the exacta if Pletcher's horse gets overbet. But the way Biancone has his returnees primed, I'd be surprised if Belgravia doesn't get home first.

- Dial 1-800-NODERBY and vote Doug O'Neill's Cobalt Blue and Liquidity out of the Derby. The connections of each are forging on to the Derby despite strong indications that they don't belong. Merv Griffin is showing the same good judgment with his colt as he did in politics when he donated $25,000 to the Republican National Committee before the 2004 election.

I was interested to see O'Neill quoted in USA Today as saying, of Great Hunter's Blue Grass, "I was shocked they didn't claim foul." Corey Nakatani had said that they were beaten anyway, and I guess he only would have moved up one place to 4th. But that would have meant a bit more purse money if nothing else. Remember, O'Neill didn't make it to the race, and I wonder if there would have been a claim had he been there.

- Thanks to reader Benjamin for mentioning the article in the Albany Times Union the other day in which Jerry Bailey revealed who he'd like to ride in the Derby.

"Any Given Saturday regressed a little bit in the Wood and the only other times he got beat he was hung out wide....I look for him to run a big race in the Derby. That would be my pick to ride."
Thanks Jerry, but I'd actually prefer those who share that opinion to keep it to themselves at this point!

- I outsmarted myself in the Forerunner Stakes at Keeneland on Thursday. I'd had Moudez (Xaar) on my watch list after his impressive rally in winning his last race. But when handicapping the race, I used Formulator to take a closer look at the competition in that race, and concluded that it was just a moderate field, and that others had faced better. So I picked him to be just third in the Special, though he moved up to the second choice when In Jest scratched. Too much information, in this case.

- Looks like it's going to be the first-ever Ugly Breeders Cup, when the World Championships move to Santa Anita in 2008. Everything can change, and the landscape of the sport is certainly doing just that.

Keeneland Picks All Wet

- I got Pete to help out and do Friday's Keeneland picks, and I'll be back Saturday; in fact, I'm already finished with the column. The deadline was noon today (Thursday), but since I had work, it was effectively whatever time I left for work this morning. For the most part, I've been writing them at night, after work, even managing to get a few posts in here, and there have been some late nights and early mornings spent writing to be sure. This week was tough with the Rangers home for their playoff games, and eventual sweep of their series, on Tuesday and Wednesday night at the Garden, where I've been attending their games as a season ticket holder since the 1978-79 season, and as the son of a season ticket holder for several years before that.

In short, missing either of the games was not an option, and I would have just somehow managed with the columns in any event. I could have written between each period of a quadruple overtime game if necessary. Fortunately, Pete was available to do Friday's card, and I formulated a plan to do Saturday's, and still go to work. There wasn't much time, because the past performances don't come out until Wednesday afternoon.

So I left my client early, and headed home. I'd already suffered a significant setback because the internet went down at the office, and I couldn't get the pp's to do the important preliminary work on the subway home. In that time, I could have identified the contenders, which, for the most part, only takes a couple of minutes for each race, right? I mean, at this point, I think that if I, and likely most anyone reading this blog, had just two minutes in which to identify, say, four contenders in a race, we'd have a decent percentage of those as winners, doncha think? Maybe not on the Keeneland Polytrack, but...

I still had two solid hours at home before I had to go back for the game, and I did my thing, using Formulator (which was suffering from a glitch that was annoying but fortunately not totally debilitating), opened the usual browser tabs on Cal Racing, the Fair Grounds, (no replays for Turfway, thank you very much) and Pedigree Query, and was able to get through all ten races, writing down the kind of notes and facts and figures about trips, possible key, or negative key races, and pedigree facts that I like to refer to in the selections. Then, during the subway ride to the game, I went back over the races, jotted down more notes, and formed opinions on who I liked. By the time I got to the game, I felt as if I had done enough preparation that I could sit down and write the whole thing in not much more than an hour.

I'd brought along the Times, partly in order to have something in which to secure the pp's printout so they didn't get too crumpled. I folded the paper around it and put it on the floor under my seat in Section 405. A little while later, my friend Ira gave me some media notes, and when I went to put those under the seat as well, I noticed that some asshole in back of me had knocked his beer over so that it spilled under my seat. The newspaper was completely soaked, and the pp's, with all of my precious work and notes, was just partially protected. A portion had been sticking out and was exposed, and that part of the pages were completely soaked with beer. It was about one third of each page top to bottom, on the right hand part of the pages. And not only that, it was fucking Bud Light. That's like not only getting stuck in an elevator, but getting stuck in an elevator with an Islander fan (sorry JT).

Ira had some dry ground under his seat, so I gently laid it down and hoped for the best. I suppose I could have recalled a good deal of what I'd jotted down, but I would have ended up double checking a lot of things to be sure, and taking a lot of time to do so. After the game (fortunately, no overtime), I carefully wrapped the soiled pages in the media notes. I cradled the package carefully as I made my way to the trains with the other jubilant fans, most of whom were not carrying past performances for Saturday's Keeneland races that were one third soaked with Bud Light.

I made it home, took out the staples and laid it on a clipboard. It had hardly dried at all, and the Bud Light was starting to smell like puke. But it didn't matter; it had everything I needed to do the column. I did only the first four races at night, because I ended up watching Rangers In 60, a compressed version of the same game I'd just been to (the Head Chef just can't understand that). When I got up at around 6 this morning to finish it, it was still mostly soaked, and it stunk worse than ever. At least it inspired me to not mess around and just get it done, and I was actually able to get back into bed (where I watched a replay of the post-game show). So if I don't do well with Saturday's picks, please know that I had an excuse. You try dipping your Racing Form into a pool of Bud Light and see how well you do!

Checkbook Broodmares

- reports that the Sheikh purchased the dams of Street Sense and Scat Daddy late last year in a new phase of their checkbook horsemanship. Maybe I'm wrong, but it seems to me that it shows a bit of unsophistication for him to go out and to overpay - which I'm just assuming he did but I'd bet I'm right - for a broodmare based on its foal winning a stakes or two as juveniles. I imagine that the sellers came out of the deal pretty happy. Neither broodmare has produced anything else of worth as of yet. And while both descend from productive distaff lines - Bedazzle, the dam of Street Sense, comes from a nice female family which includes the fashionable Mr. Greeley; Love Style, the dam of Scat Daddy, is out of the Las Virgenes winner Likeable Style and traces back to an influential broodmare in Nato - I wonder if the Sheikh even bothered to look that up?

Again, maybe I do underestimate the horsemanship part of His Royal Sheikhness'checkbook horsemanship, but I'd speculate that it was just a knee jerk reaction to buy the dams of what were arguably the top two juveniles at the time. It would be one thing if he intended to flip the foal and try to make money back that way, but we can assume that won't be the case.

- Jerry Bossert of the NY Daily News was home last week recovering from an automobile accident, and, after watching the races on TVG, came up with some familiar complaints:

Boy were we disappointed. TVG devoted most of its coverage to Keeneland with very little interest in Aqueduct. In some cases you had to wait 15 minutes for results of photos while listening to nonsense from talking heads who think they're comedians. I'd rather have the track feed, like Channel 71, because watching the races on TVG only made the pain worse. Thankfully the remote had a mute button.
I guess only a hardcore NYRA fan would complain about the coverage concentrating on Keeneland. But we've previously discussed the talking heads and the fact that the track feeds are usually preferable. Let's hope that the experience didn't cause a setback to Bossert's recovery, and that he's doing well.

- In the tooting my own horn section, I mentioned the other day that Ken McPeek seemed to be heating up at Keeneland, and he had two winners there on Wednesday. Also suggested to keep an eye on Dale Romans, and he just took the 3rd at Keeneland with 6-1 Acadia Breeze. Just thought I'd point that out.