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Saturday, June 30, 2007

Lava Man Is No Dead Wood

- "The original rags to riches!" exclaimed an excited Vic Stauffer as Lava Man, the 7-5 favorite, gutted out his third straight Hollywood Gold Cup win with a desperate late lunge. AP Excellent was a stubborn foe who would not go away. It appeared as if Lava Man had him put away when he ranged up and passed him on the turn. He did so easily enough that Stauffer announced that Lava Man "will have to deal with Molengao," the close second choice at 8-5, who was coming three wide. But no sooner than those words came out of his mouth, Molengao had already been left behind. The resilient AP Excellent was back in front, and, in receipt of eight pounds from Lava Man, and having set moderate fractions of 48.75 and 1:13.35, dug in stubbornly to the end.

"When a horse digs in like mine, usually that outside horse will fold a little," [Mike] Smith said of the runner-up finish. "That's what I needed him to do, but he didn't do it, he kept coming back at me. Both horses were really duking it out and throwing it down." [Bloodhorse]
Jerry Lambert, the regular rider of Native Diver, whose record of three Cups in a row Lava Man tied, was in the winner's circle.
"I think he would have had a little trouble catching Native Diver....Native Diver never got to go 24 and 48 [the first two fractions were 24.19 and 48.75 seconds] in any of his races. He never had it that easy." [LA Times]
The final time for the 1 1/4 miles was 2:03.21, which made it the slowest Gold Cup since Seabiscuit won in 2:03 4/5 in 1938. Nonetheless, as winning rider Corey Nakatani said, "He's gutsy and just wouldn't give up. All I can say is, Wow!"' [AP]

So let's second that emotion and say, Wow! Lava Man may not like to travel outside of California, but it's heroic performances like this that make that transgression one we can overlook. He may not win any Eclipse Awards like that, but he can win our admiration nonetheless.

The Suburban at Belmont was far less inspiring. Favored Corinthian tried to make a move on the turn, but had nothing and finished dead last.
"He laid his life down last time, but today he just wasn't up to it," jockey Kent Desormeaux said of Corinthian. "I banged on him a couple of times, but it was like spanking dead wood." [NY Post]
There's a nice visual image for you. While the 3-2 was floundering wide, Cornelio Velasquez worked out a great ground-saving trip on Political Force and was able to wear down a resistant Fairbanks. The latter, an original riches to rags story, was trying to justify his $1.85 million price tag with a Grade 1 win. He was bet strongly, going off as the 2-1 second choice off a huge Beyer earned in his Grade 3 win in the Tokyo City. Beyer figs carry much cachet with the bettors these days. Nonetheless, he was clearly second best, with 55-1 Malibu Moonshine checking in third.

The winner tired and drifted out during a final quarter of 25.60. "He was getting late," said winning trainer Allen Jerkens. The Chief won the Suburban for the 4th time, with the first one coming in 1962 with Beau Purple! He also won in 1993 and 1994 with Devil His Due. Political Force (Unbridled's Song) struggled to win in entry-level allowance company last summer, with four fruitless tries, all at odds of 4-1 or less, at Saratoga last summer. This was his first stakes win after three prior tries this year, including his second to Corinthian in the G1 Met Mile. No doubt he's improved, but also little doubt that the Grade 1 company he's been facing is below par. Jerkens said:
"At least he's got his Grade 1. We'll rest him up now, probably look for two more races and then the Breeders' Cup. You've got to think big."
If he's the best the older horse division has to offer come Breeders Cup day, maybe Lava Man can get that Eclipse while staying home after all.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Saturday Morning Notes - June 30

- Not a good day for Godolphin at Belmont on Friday, especially in the 6th, when the bin entry ran 2nd and 4th, at odds of 2-5 in a race taken off the grass. 2-5!!! Minefield was two-for-two for Pletcher last year, but I guess the Sheikh came a calling. This was his Godolphin debut, and his first race since November, not generally a problem for this outfit. But he was a nowhere 4th after a bobbling start and a wide trip. Leo was second, but I'm sure that he was not the horse that was the main object of the chalk players' affections. Out Of Gwedda, another ex-Pletcher runner, had looked like he'd never win again, especially at seven furlongs; but he was live on the board and a pretty easy winner.

That was it for my Pick Fours, which I proceeded with as planned despite the 6th race surface change and against my better judgment. Not that it would have mattered anyway; the only winner I had on the ticket was the 3-2 favorite Party Jones, who won the 9th. The only close call I had on the day was in the 8th at Arlington, when my top horse ran 4th, and my underneath horses first through third. That's kinda close, right? But it was another lively late Friday afternoon at Belmont, though the crowd of 5,531 was about 600 less than last week on a cloudy, but mostly dry day. Ernie Munick was thankfully back in the tent, where he posed for photos with Spiderman, and was accompanied on vocals during All the Young Dudes by a rabid female fan. I won a hat and two T-shirts answering trivia.

I didn't get there until the 5th, and missed the third, a baby race for fillies. They were all first-timers, and Frankel suffered his first of two losses with favorites on the day with Loving Vindication. As you may have surmised, she's by the first-year sire Vindication, who commands $60,000 based on his four-for-four championship campaign at two, after which he never raced again. I mean, why even bother bringing them back at all at three? (I shouldn't ask that too loudly.)

A buddy had emailed me earlier that he liked the eventual winner According to Plan. She'd worked a quick quarter of 21.2 at the April Ocala sale; that was tied with two others for the quickest of the session. A daughter of the $7,500 sire Out of Place, she sold for $80,000; and looking for first-time juveniles that sold at big multiples (even bigger than that, actually) of the stallion fee after the under tack breeze was a method that proved successful last year. So we'll be keeping an eye on such two-year olds in training graduates, especially as the good ones start to come out over the next few months.

Trained by Barclay Tagg, According to Plan was the second longest shot on the board at 8-1. She wired the field, and drew off by four, earning the chart comment: drew clear when shaken up and ran promptly to the man while being shown the whip from the left side. I must admit I've never heard that expression before, and don't really know what it means. But my buddy ran promptly to the man at the window to collect!

The Godolphin entry in the 8th was even worse than Leo/Minefield, running 6th and 7th at 9-5, so it seems as if the law of averages is catching up to the stable here. Frankel's Giant Basil was second at 3-2, as the horses in the race that I said I didn't like ran 1-2-3.

As I mentioned, I'll be taking off shortly for the rest of the weekend and won't be back home until Monday, but I'll have the laptop and will check in when possible. The retirement of Invasor has of course put a big damper on the Suburban today. People seemed to be really excited about Corinthian when he won his debut at Gulfstream. That faded when he was life and death to beat Hesanoldsalt, and then dwelt at the start of the Excelsior. His win in the Met Mile doesn't seem to have raised the excitement level too much. Looking back at that Met Mile field in retrospect, it doesn't seem as strong as it did prior, especially after Lawyer Ron got himself beat at 1-10! The only other horse in this field with a stakes win higher than a Grade 3 is Evening Attire, and you have to go back to 2004 to find that.

Not to much to say about the four horse Mother Goose, except that Octave seems a highly vulnerable favorite given her propensity to run second, as well as the presence here of Carl Nafzger and Calvin Borel. Their Lady Joanne comes up to this race off a very similar pattern to that of Street Sense, with this being her third start of the season after two useful preps. She looks like she could be sitting on a big effort here.

- NYRA announced big purse increases - an average of 13.6% - for the Saratoga meeting.

At Saratoga this summer, for example, the purse for an open allowance race at a mile and an eighth will increase $17,000 from current levels to $68,000, while a similar event for New York Breds will increase $11,000 to $62,000. The purse for an open maiden sprint will climb $15,000 to $62,000 while the same race restricted to New York Breds will rise $9,000 to $56,000. [NYRA Press Release]
Purses will also rise, to the order of 12%, over the last three weeks of the Belmont meeting. The approximately $2 million comes from money saved from purses this winter compared to last year. [NY Daily News]

Remember, Lava Man goes for his third straight Hollywood Gold Cup later today, and - egads - the race will actually be televised nationally, on ESPN2 beginning at 7PM Eastern time. They'll also show, on tape, the Suburban as well as the American Invitational, which features The Tin Man. Have a great day.

Friday Notes - June 29 [UPDATED]

- Check out this statement from Spitzer's spokesperson Paul Larabee:

"For the first time in 50 years, we have a chance to evaluate racing in New York, and that just doesn't include the racing that happens at the tracks, it's also the chance to look at the assets and think about other ways in which they could be used." [Daily Racing Form]
Oh, so that's the historic opportunity we have here!? Not one to update the laws, bring the OTB system into the 21st 20th century, and move forward with newfound vigor as the top racing program in the country...but a chance to think about other ways the assets could be used!!?? OH, I MUST HAVE MISUNDERSTOOD, EXCUSE ME!!

Let's move on before I start sending profanity the governor's way. I'm hoping to get out to Belmont today for at least the late pick four, and that's gonna be it for racing this weekend for me, as I'll be on the road Saturday through Monday, taking my daughter up to her college orientation in Oneonta. I don't think there are any tracks there. It's near Cooperstown though, so a trip to the Hall of Fame is a possibility. Here's a look at the last four at Belmont:

- In the sixth, we have the scary sight of not one, but two off the layoff entries from Godolphin, and our main man bin Suroor Saeed. The binster. The little b. Oh Saeed, can you see....him finishing one-two? Godolphin is five for ten at the meeting; four for six with layoff horses ranging from 201 to 622 days off! Leo makes his first start since running 9th in the 2005 BC Juvenile; that after taking a Grade 2 in England. I guess the Juvenile didn't really work out for Leo, but who's going to doubt him now? True Cause hasn't been out since last August. He doesn't have the graded stakes credentials of his stablemate, but he edged Leo out in a listed contest in Sept, 2005. He's by Storm Cat, out of a half sister to the fleet Balletto. Leave them out of the Pick Four opener at your own risk. Silver Timber is actually the 9-5 ML favorite for Linda Rice off of a close third in his seasonal debut a couple of weeks ago; but that was against a weak field, and Ms. Rice has gone a bit cold with an 0 for 18 streak. [UPDATE: This race has been taken off the grass (sorry Michael). No rain here today, but they must have gotten a deluge out at Belmont last night. But we still like the bin entry with True Cause out, and Minefield in. The latter returns off a layoff too, and is two-for-two on the dirt; he makes the switch from the Toddster to the binster.]

In the 7th, I'm not thrilled by either of the morning line choices; Cateleisha comes off a decent second for Contessa Laudati against an uninspiring field; and Montauk Daisy comes off a layoff. That's no big deal these days, but she fell short twice after graduating to entry level allowance company last fall and doesn't look inspiring here, particularly at her 9-5 morning line. Mt Langfuhr has improved in 2007, especially in her last, her first off the claim for the John Toscano barn. She wired the field against what is arguably better company than this, turning back the challenge of a Contessa dropper who was 3-5, and finishing up strongly in the 7th furlong, which could be key against these at that distance. Lady Elaine goes back to the dirt after a futile grass effort, and her experience at longer distances could help her stick around at the end, especially if she doesn't end up in a speed duel with Mt Langfuhr.

The 8th is a nice grass allowance race, and..... Oh fuck! Another Godolphin entry?? Mr. bSS again?? Oh man.... Well, Mathematician is one that didn't win off a long layoff, fading to 5th at 3-1 just 12 days ago in his first race since October, 2005. What to do with him I'm not quite sure. But Palace Episode, by Machiavellian out of a half-sister to Derby runner-up Tejano Run, is a freaking Grade 1 winner in the UK, having won the Racing Post Trophy in October of 2005! His next race was a disaster the following May, and this is his first outing since then. This entry isn't quite as inspiring as the one in the 6th, but I wouldn't dare leave it out. Giant Basil is the morning line fave for Frankel, coming off a nose win over a moderate allowance field at Hollywood; a string of solid workouts indicates that he's held his form. He figures to be overbet stepping up in class off a gaudy Beyer however. I'm also not that inspired by Rock Lobster, who has just never seemed to be the same since winning the Saranac last year; nor Woodlander, in for a tag after two poor efforts for Contessa following his win in the Fort Marcy.

So let's try 12-1 El Prado Rob. He has generally good grass form, albeit against a bit cheaper, at least in New York. He won in these allowance conditions at the Meadowlands last fall and gains entry courtesy of his $75,000 tag. This is his first start since a poor try on the Woodbine Poly last fall, but his last two starts off layoff lines have been excellent, and he gets Channing Hill, who rode him to victory last year.

In the 9th, Party Jones seems to have no excuses here, getting the rail in this nw2 claiming condition in which he missed by a nose to Exton last time out. The main concern is that he has tended to fall a bit short more often than not, with three close seconds (and a win) in his last four starts. Lets Get Going is equally logical to complete the exacta, with two recent seconds in this class; if the post positions were reversed (he starts from the eight hole with the start close to the turn), I'd consider the race more of a toss-up. As it is, I feel timid about singling the top choice.

So let's try this for the cheap man's Pick Four - add horses such as Silver Timber, Montauk Daisy, and Giant Basil as you wish...but to me, there just doesn't seem to be enough value in the series to spread around and make a big investment. So I'll try a smaller wager and leave them out.

Race 6 - bin entry
Race 7 - Mt Langfuhr, Lady Elaine
Race 8 - bin entry, El Prado Rob
Race 9 - Party Jones, Lets Get Going

Thursday, June 28, 2007

So Long Stevie, We Hardly Knew Ye

- We went what, two or three days without a retirement, so I guess we were due. But the retirement of Stevie Wonderboy is certainly no surprise. In fact, owner Merv Griffin and trainer Doug O'Neill tried to bring him back long after others would have packed it in and sent him off to stud on the merits of his BC Juvenile and two-year championship honors. He'll stand at Airdrie, and the marketing machine is already in full swing. "I really believe the juvenile field he beat, with Henny Hughes and First Samurai, was as strong as any in recent memory, and he was really getting away from them at the end." [Bloodhorse]

First Samurai...remember him? I have to say I was surprised to look and see that he's standing for $40,000.

Brilliant 2YO by Giant's Causeway
WON Hopeful-G1 & Champagne-G1
The ONLY 2yo MG1SW in His Crop
Henny Hughes also gets $40,000. Man, imagine if either of them had shown any attributes other than raw speed? As opposed to those two sons of sons of Storm Cat, Stevie is by Stephen Got Even, a son of AP Indy. He has very odd breeding in that his paternal and maternal grandsires are half-brothers, both being out of the prodigious producer Weekend Surprise. He's free of Mr. Prospector, and has just one instance of Northern Dancer, so expect breeders to have some fun with him.

- On the other hand, there's been no break from news of trainers under suspicion - or worse - of drug violations. Biancone remains under investigation, Gary Contessa gets a week for a Bute violation, five trainers in Kentucky, including Bobby Frankel, are fined for amounts of Lasix Salix far exceeding the allowed limit. So high, in fact, that it's called the testing methods into question.

And in New York, a father-son training team pleaded guilty to injecting a harness horse at Saratoga with cobra venom on one occasion, and Epogen on another. Oh man.
"This restores the integrity of harness racing to the betting public, who need to know the races they are betting on are fair and true contests," [District Attorney James A.] Murphy said. [Albany Times-Union]
Well, I wouldn't go that far!! In fact, it certainly makes one wonder how many people involved with either breed have gotten away, or are still getting away with the same. Indeed, the wiretaps in the case resulted in additional wiretaps at other racetracks and investigations that are still pending. The two pleaded guilty to felony interference with a domestic animal, and though they are not expected to serve jail time, the felony allows the state to permanently revoke their licenses.

Getting back to Biancone for a moment; again, we have no details of what's going on, and we don't even know if this is about medication, though that's certainly a fair guess. But he is listed as the trainer of Itsawonderfullife, the 2-1 morning line favorite in the 4th at Churchill today. Wouldn't it be in the betting public's best interest if the horse was ordered scratched? Bettors now may be wondering what's going on, and thinking, 'hey, if he's under investigation, he probably isn't using any drugs on the horse this time, so we should bet against him.' [UPDATE: He won by five at 3-5. I guess not many people were concerned.] I think that those are the kinds of issues best eliminated from the handicapping equation, and that the stewards should not accept entries from the barn until the matter is cleared up.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Ten Commandments

- As you might have seen, the Vatican last week issued its Ten Commandments of Driving, with exhortations ranging from the basic You shall not kill to more friendly-sounding suggestions such as Charitably convince the young and not so young not to drive when they are not in a fitting condition to do so.

Left at the Gate has obtained exclusively the Vatican's Ten Commandments of going to the track, and they read as follows:

1 -- You shall not kick.
2 -- Be supportive and kind to the families of those who are throwing a tantrum after being nosed out with a 28-1 shot in the final leg of the Pick Four.
3 -- You shall not gamble. Er, well....not too much.
4 -- Refrain from loud screaming and jumping up and down to celebrate winning show bets on horses going off at less than 8-5.
5 -- You may use the name of the Lord sparingly, and only in certain constructive situations...such as "Oh God, please let me get lucky just this one time," or "Please God, don't let them take him down." You may not use the name of the Lord to attack or disparage any of His divine creatures, or in any phrases such as "You Goddamn motherf-----."
6 -- Complete your handicapping and make your selections before you get to the windows. Please!
7 -- Charitably convince and counsel the young and inexperienced to never take less than 2-1 on a horse trying to do something that it's never done before.
8 -- Avoid striking others when whipping yourself with the Racing Form during the stretch run, and when hurling it away after you lose.
9 -- Restrict use of recreational drugs to designated areas, such as the grass apron on the clubhouse turn at Aqueduct.
10 -- Never, ever swear to God when you say "I'm never coming back here again!!!" Because you know you will.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Spitzer vs Bruno Gets Nasty and Personal

- The stormy relationship between Governor Spitzer and Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno has moved into the no-holds-barred stage as the two have made their dislike for each other quite public in the wake of the legislature's adjournment last week. Spitzer blasted Senate Republicans, and Bruno in particular, on Wednesday during a speech to a broadcasters group in Lake George, during which he chided the GOP for thwarting his initiatives, especially his campaign finance legislation (an issue on which the U.S. Supreme Court is going in the opposite direction.)

"We're going to play 'Where's Waldo' and ask, 'Where's your senator?' " Spitzer declared as he flayed Bruno - and displayed his picture on a large screen - in a speech to the media executives.

He accused Bruno and the Senate's Republican majority of leaving the Capitol last week with major work undone, although he said they still found enough time to make it "a priority to raise their own pay."

"What should New Yorkers do?" Spitzer continued. "Tell your senator to come back and finish the people's business," he said. [NY Post]
The governor singled out Bruno on the campaign finance reform issue, displaying a slide quoting the senator as saying: "I laugh when I read that people gain access by their contributions. So what? So what?" [NY Sun]
"He's worried that if we change the rules, he won't be able to hold onto his majority," Spitzer said. "Joe Bruno's statement to me is, 'We need that money.' That was when they walked out. That was a direct quote: 'We need that money.'" [NY Daily News]
As you might expect, the feisty Bruno fired back, echoing a complaint by his Senate Republican constituency that the governor has reneged on campaign promises to embark on an upstate restoration plan (a sentiment certainly shared by Jeff Perlee and Empire Racing).
“There was a rare sighting of Governor Spitzer in upstate New York,” adding that Mr. Spitzer had “delivered more empty political rhetoric” instead of “hope that he might actually deliver on his campaign promises to create jobs upstate.” [NY Times]
And oh yeah, it's getting personal too.
"He's too temperamental. He can be charming, he is extremely bright, he's very personable, he's very articulate, when he wants to be,” said....Bruno. “But just as soon as you're telling him things that are disagreeable to him well then you can see the change take place in his face. He flared up with me a couple of times on the phone and in person in a very unbecoming way. All I could think about was some little rich kid having a tantrum. I almost expected him to be wandering around stomping his feet." [NY1]
Of course, the instances when the governor is talking about horse racing and the franchise situation are not among those times Bruno referred to when Spitzer wants to be articulate. Once again, he babbled on almost incoherently to reporters on the subject he knows little about.
“There are three tracks. Saratoga is the gem of the racing establishment in the nation. Belmont is one that still draws a fair crowd. Aqueduct, I think, people have had meaningful conversations about whether having the track there is the best use." [Bloodhorse]
I'm not really sure who these "people" are who he keeps referring to as "having conversations" about closing Aqueduct. It sure ain't anyone in the racing industry. And it's certainly not Joe Bruno.
"I'll give you my own personal impression. Aqueduct is not for sale," Bruno said. "Aqueduct is going to be a race track and it is destined to have VLTs (video lottery terminals or video slot machines) there. And that's what the Assembly members want, and that's what my Senate members want ... I'm hearing that Aqueduct is critical to horse racing in this state." [Saratogian]
In the past, that would be it as far as this discussion goes; as one of the three men in a room, Bruno's opposition would be more than enough to kill this ridiculous plan. Who woulda thunk that we'd be counting on Bruno to save us from Spitzer? But Bruno is under the cloud of a federal investigation that could still result in his indictment; so we don't know just how long he'll be in that room.

And, if it's at all possible, the situation took an even more bizarre turn, as reported by Tom Precious on
Spitzer said his aides have been trying to sort out whether it makes sense to have three different entities – one for racing, one for casinos, and one for real estate development – involved in a future franchise.

“There is significant real estate development opportunities at Belmont, at Aqueduct, even at Saratoga. These are issues that have to be thought through. And those who know how to run a race course don’t necessarily know how to run a real estate company,’’ Spitzer said. He did not elaborate.
Huh? Did he really say that about Saratoga? As even the clueless Spitzer should know, Saratoga is hallowed ground. What politician in his right mind would suggest, even tangentially, tampering with the property in any way? Wait until this quote makes its way into the Saratogian; mayor Valerie Keehn may threaten to secede from the state!

Perhaps Spitzer is just trying to get under the skin of Bruno, a strong Saratoga defender who represents the area, and who will certainly be apoplectic when he hears of this statement. I can't possibly imagine that even Governor Steamroller would be stupid or arrogant enough to propose any kind of development at the upstate track. But if he's serious about adding yet another component to the deal, no need to split the franchise up into real estate, slots, and racing. He can make a single phone call to Mr. Frank Stronach. He should be sitting on a pile of cash now that he's not buying Chrysler, and he has plenty of experience fucking up all three.

- Spitzer's slide show attack on Bruno and the Republicans can be seen here (pdf document)

Uh Oh...

- Patrick Biancone keeps his horses at Keeneland during the Churchill meeting, and it was there where a search of his barn has led to an investigation by the KHRA. Neither head steward John Veitch nor Biancone would comment. Keeneland's head of security told Bloodhorse, who broke this story earlier today, that the track will not take any action in regard to the matter until the KHRA has completed its investigation. Now, regarding the current meeting at Churchill, if a track can ban a jockey over murky suspicions of hanky panky at a distant track, I suppose they certainly could do the same to Biancone under these circumstances. We don't have any details, and I'm certainly not presuming anything at all; but you could certainly make the argument that given the publicity this will certainly be getting in the next few days, it's in the betting public's interest to have his horses withdrawn.

- Valerie Nellie pointed out that there are already stud ads for Lawyer Ron, and you can see his Stallion Register page here. His blurb is already written, and it's entirely possible at this point that there won't be anything to add:

SIX Straight Wins * FIVE Stakes
by Some 34 Lengths
Arkansas Derby-G2, Rebel-G3, etc.
Enters Stud upon Retirement
Oh, I thought he would take a year off and travel around Europe!

- Steve Davidowitz, writing for the Form's paid DRF Plus section, discusses the problems with the Cushion Track at Hollywood. It needs more wax to tighten it up; but according to Davidowitz, it won't be installed until July 9 at the earliest, and perhaps not for the rest of the meeting. He also reports that several trainers have privately admitted that some of their stock sustained back injuries.
In recent weeks, clockings have gotten noticeably slower, and some horses have not handled the looser surface nearly as well as the tight, perfectly balanced surface of 2006. Many horses have not handled the synthetic track as well as they did during the first two months of the current Hollywood meet.

This suggests that horses who negatively reversed their synthetic form from April to June might have been affected by the changing racing surface.

It also suggests that horses who might have missed a start during the last few weeks may have been forced to the sidelines to deal with body soreness, or some other minor injury. It also suggests that horses with good April and early May form over the surface should not be given an automatic edge on the present racing surface. [Daily Racing Form]
Something to consider not only now, but, especially, when analyzing the past performances once the action moves to Del Mar....and you have to deal with a totally different synthetic surface. I don't think that those fears of racing becoming too homogenized in the synthetic era, with every surface playing the same, are going to come to pass. Or at least not in the near future.

Del Mar will be adding some wax too.
"We received some feedback from the horse show people (in May) that the surface got a little looser in the afternoon when it warmed up," Fravel said. "That's why we wanted to get the (Polytrack) on there early and watch the various conditions." [North County Times]

Notes - June 26

- Reader Bit Player feels I'm being too harsh on Scat Daddy's owners.

If Tabor et al thought that Scat Daddy was an early bloomer who didn't beat much in Florida, had been bypassed Beyerwise by the leaders of his generation, was never going to catch up, and would only decline in value with more racing, you couldn't really expect them to put that in a press release for broodmare owners everywhere to read. Add in that his issue was a tendon, which might flare up again when they put him back in training and the decision makes sense. Thoroughbred ownership is an expensive game (see Highland Cat) [OUCH! - ed.] and if you don't let the rare winners pay for all of the losers (see The Green Monkey), you'll be out of it in a hurry.
These points are all completely fair. As fans who so dearly love the sport and only want to see what's best for it (and not have to pay for mistakes like The Green Monkey), it's easy to get frustrated and angry, and forget that yes, this is a business. Those who put up their money at considerable risk are certainly entitled to make prudent business decisions; and the reader lays out rationale which seems perfectly logical, even if, as Lenny points out, four of the owners' current sires generate more money each year than some countries. Business is business, after all.

So perhaps the answer is indeed to change the business model that these decisions are based on so that they no longer are prudent ones. Lenny suggests a minimum age for stallions, Bill Finley proposed writing conditions for major races that would specify a minimum age of its runners' stallions. Increasing purses to provide a financial incentive to keep horses in training might help; and working towards making those tracks safe, whether real or synthetic, would reduce the risk of a catastrophic injury. These, and any other ideas, should be fully explored, because I believe that keeping horses on the track and thereby establishing some name recognition and rivalries that casual fans can relate to is crucial to growing the game's popularity.

Again, I think what really annoyed me about this one is the casual way it was announced. I was only half-kidding when I wrote that I'd prefer if they lied and said that Scat Daddy had an injury that would prevent him from racing. I used to sense more guilt on the part of owners who rushed their horses off to stud, usually in the form of the fake injury, or by issuing no elaboration on the reason at all. Just maybe, a sense that they'd be doing wrong by the sport has contributed to some horses staying in training even for the short time that they have. Perhaps that's at least partly why Discreet Cat is (allegedly) coming back, and why Street Sense is too - does Darley really have anything to gain at this point by permitting the latter to race this fall? Isn't the tag of Juvenile and Derby winner in itself far far more than sufficient to commence a lucrative stud career?

Winstar was the first outfit that I noticed being so completely shameless in this matter when they started running stud ads for Bluegrass Cat last summer before his retirement was even announced. Now, by being so damn honest, I fear that Smith/Tabor are contributing to a feeling that it's OK to retire your horse to stud at three; that it's no longer the least bit taboo, and y'know what, we're not even going to bother inventing an excuse for it.

- Here's an interesting article on the aforementioned The Green Monkey that ran recently on Ireland's Check out these comments by one of Pletcher's assistants:
Tristan Berry, an assistant trainer with Pletcher, said The Green Monkey's problems go beyond an aggravated glutteal muscle cited as the horse's most recent setback or any other physical ailments.

"For $16m, you'd expect a wow every time he'd breeze, and he never did it for me," Berry said recently. "And I don't know why that would be."
"The horse really didn't have any problems," Berry said. "He just didn't show to be fast enough to run in a maiden race where he was going to win. And if you were going to run him, that would have been the only result that would have been good enough." [Independent]
That's quite a bit of candor, probably a lot more than the horse's owners would like to see from one of their trainer's employees!

- A commenter at Pulling Hair suggests that the explanation of Scat Daddy's retirement was a lie: I think the 90 days is spin. From the reports I've received, the horse is crippled. Now, as opposed to a relatively harmless white lie, that, if true, would be a malicious lie, designed to deceive broodmare owners who think they are breeding to a sound colt.

Big A Closure May Be Closer to Reality

- The NY Daily News is reporting exclusively this morning on the first comments by Governor Spitzer directly acknowledging that he is seriously considering the closure of Aqueduct.

"Whether or not you have racing at Aqueduct, you have an enormous piece of land there that can and should be used for some other things," Spitzer told the Daily News Editorial Board. "That's a remarkably valuable piece of land from a public perspective."
"You may decide you want to make it a park. Okay, that's one option....You may decide it should be a convention center. You may decide it should be some combination of all sorts of obvious things. But some way, those options need to be confronted."
(For a guy who's supposed to be so smart, Spitzer sometimes comes off as not being that articulate, doesn't he? Especially when he's talking about things he knows nothing about. I don't think you "confront" options; rather you "consider" them.) An anonymous "expert" told the News that the land could fetch up to $1 billion due to its location, and that is obviously what the governor is thinking. Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer expressed her concern and that of the neighborhood.
"But it seems like no one is listening because they must have this preconceived plan to bring in developers to take it over. All we hear is that it's a valuable piece of real estate."
Spitzer also told the paper that he may seek a new set of bids for the franchise. Charles Hayward, however, says that he's hopeful that NYRA will retain at least the racing portion of the franchise.
"We are hoping to get with the Governor's people now that things have settled down with the legislative session ending. But I'm optimistic with the way things are headed." [Capital News 9]
Perhaps Hayward should tell the governor that there's no deal unless Aqueduct remains open. Why would he be in position to do so? Because I don't think the governor really has any desire nor intention of re-opening the bidding, and just wants to get VLT money rolling in as soon as possible - remember, his 2008 budget includes racino money from the Big A. Retaining NYRA and disposing of the land claim issue is the easiest way for him to do so. Since NYRA is a non-profit which doesn't stand to be enriched by slots, if Hayward's goal is really to do whatever is necessary for the good of the sport in New York, as stated, I think that, knowing how ludicrous the idea of year-round racing at Belmont is, he should go to the mat with the clueless governor on this issue.

Patrons at Saratoga can expect $1.2 million worth of improvements paid for by a loan from the state; they include a new floor on the first floor clubhouse and five renovated barns around the Oklahoma training track. In addition, the track will host early morning maniac wagering starting at 7 A.M for those interested in playing the ponies from the U.K.

- 30 days for Victor Molina for kicking a horse, and getting caught doing it on TVG. The latter part of that is likely the reason for the length of the suspension.
"There's not many guys who have been around 27 years and have not had a hearing with the stewards over anything of substance," said Molina's agent, Dave Yannuzzi. "I thought this was overkill. If you look at all the punishments doled out for this type of infraction, [a judge] might say, 'Why did you get this and everybody else got that?'"

A phone call to track officials was not returned. Stewards have been told by the Pennsylvania Racing Commission never to comment about anything. [Philadelphia Daily News]
Molina said he may volunteer with the SPCA during his time away.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Tale of Two Retirements

- In some ways, I'm far more upset about the retirement of Scat Daddy than that of Invasor. Of course, the loss of the champ is far more significant to the game, and potentially a cruel blow in the short run considering the disheveled state of the handicap division. But I feel mostly disappointment rather than anger. He was back racing at five after all, whatever the motive, and even though he perhaps could have come back, I don't think you can really question the decision give the nature of the injury, and the fact he'd had a similar one in the past.

I also don't really know what else he would, or could have proven in his last three scheduled races, the Suburban, Woodward, and Classic. He didn't figure to be remotely challenged unless and until one or more of the three-year olds were able to step up late in the season at Monmouth. In another era, all that would have been left was for him to carry 136 pounds and give away 12 to 20 pounds or so to talented thoroughbreds. We won't be seeing that again anytime soon.

Scat Daddy had become one of the forgotten three-year olds as Street Sense, Curlin, Rags to Riches, and, OK, Hard Spun took center stage in the Triple Crown races. Something obviously went wrong in the Derby, and indeed, Pletcher made a case that it was in that race that he originally sustained his current injury. If you throw out his two races at Churchill, his record was pretty damn good - seven races, two Grade 1 wins, two Grade 2 wins, and two in the money finishes in graded stakes. He showed versatility, and a helluva lot of heart, as he demonstrated in the Fountain of Youth.

So his retirement is frustrating on several accounts. For one thing, he's not badly hurt; 90 days rest is what Pletcher said he would need.

We also don't know how good he could have been; and given his record, he could have been pretty good. We've recently seen examples of three-year olds who failed badly on the Derby Trail go on to improve enough to be players in the handicap division; Flashy Bull and Hesanoldsalt come to mind. Most, and I say, most horses that are on the Derby Trail are there because they've shown some serious ability. Just because they're not really ready for the Triple Crown route doesn't mean they won't develop as they mature into four-year olds. Horses like the two mentioned above remind one that three-year olds in the spring are still very young horses. And since Scat Daddy did a lot more than just show potential, it's a pity that we won't see him as a mature racehorse.

But what angers me the most is way the retirement was announced.

"Our vets told us he would need 90 days rest, so we would have run out of time to get him back for the major races this year, and the decision was made to retire him to stud." [DRF]
Personally, I would have preferred that they just lied, and said he had a career ending injury; it certainly wouldn't be the first time. This way is just so straightforward and cold. 'There's nothing seriously wrong but we're just gonna go ahead cash in at stud...Thanks for stopping by,' is basically what the connections are saying. Better for them to just go through the motions, make something up, and at least make an attempt to make it seem like something other than the outright self-serving money grab that it is. It feels like a big screw you to the fans and the sport. This just a couple of weeks after part-owners Smith and Tabor gave us Rags to Riches in the Belmont out of their "sporting nature." Maybe they just wanted to remind us that it's all about the money after all.

Tabor Scats With Scat Daddy

- Scat Daddy has been retired due to a minor injury.

"Our vets told us he would need 90 days rest, so we would have run out of time to get him back for the major races this year, and the decision was made to retire him to stud," Pletcher said. [Daily Racing Form]
Reader Hawken, who gets a hat tip for alerting me to this story, asks incredulously: What on earth are they planning to get at stud for this horse!

Well, we recently took a look at Friends Lake, who commands $15,000. While Friends Lake has only the Grade 1 Florida Derby on his resume, Scat Daddy, in addition to winning that race, also won the Grade 1 Champagne, and the G2 Sanford and Fountain of Youth. Scat Daddy, as a son of Johannesburg, is not by an already proven sire of sires, as Friends Lake (by AP Indy) is; and the latter, being free of Northern Dancer and Mr. Prospector whilst Scat Daddy has close-up inbreeding to Mr. P, may be a better fit for more mares. But between the four graded stakes wins, and being by a son of a son of Storm Cat out of a Mr. Prospector daughter of Grade 1 winner Likeable Style, I imagine his stud fee will be at least as much as that of Friends Lake and probably more. It's fine to give Michael Tabor some credit for sportsmanship for running Rags to Riches in the Belmont; but this is a reminder that his racing decisions are generally determined by the bottom line.

- Patrick over at Pulling Hair and Betting Horses has helpfully compiled videos of all five of Invasor's U.S. races, plus his win in the Dubai World Cup earlier this year. I had a little fun clicking the 'play' button on all of them simultaneously and listening to the cacophany of race calls, which includes one in Spanish of one of his wins in Uruguay. If that proves to be overwhelming for you, just read this snoozefest by Haskin in Bloodhorse.
Because his craving for mints had gotten out of hand over the winter, Dianne was asked by assistant trainer Artie Magnuson, with whom we had become friendly, to refrain from giving him any, sticking to carrots only...


Oh sorry. New Jersey racetracks are getting ready to go back to Atlantic City with their palms opened wide when negotiations with the casinos on a new subsidy are expected to begin over the summer. In 2004, the casinos agreed to pay $86 million in subsidies to Monmouth, the Meadowlands, and Freehold over four years to compensate them for the fact that they won't let them have slots. That of course was before Pennsylvania, and before Yonkers; and the latter is absolutely killing the Meadowlands, which is racing only four days a week during what is normally their peak season right now.
“The Casino Association of New Jersey is unanimously opposed to VLTs,” said Joseph A. Corbo Jr., the president of the trade group that represents Atlantic City's gaming halls. [Press of Atlantic City]
The casinos claim that the 1976 referendum which permitted casinos in AC barred the institution of any other gambling. Except lotteries, I guess. The state promised a fair and stable tax rate and an operating environment that limited gaming solely to Atlantic City.

That, of course, has not prevented Harrah's from opening a racino at Chester Downs in Pennsylvania, which is far closer to Atlantic City than the Meadowlands, so the hypocrisy of the casinos' stance is clear. The tracks have proposed that Atlantic City interests could operate the VLT parlors and share in the proceeds, but their opposition remains firm thus far.

- Lava Man will carry 124 pounds on Saturday when he tries to win the Hollywood Gold Cup for the third year in a row.
Seven other older horses are considered probable for the Gold Cup, topped by Mervyn LeRoy winner Molengao. Second to Lava Man in the Santa Anita Handicap in March, Molengao will carry 120 pounds.

Among those also expected to enter Wednesday morning are My Creed (117), A.P. Arrow (116), A.P. Xcellent and Wilko (115), Big Booster (113) and Mr. Splash (112). [LA Times]

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Weekend Races and Music

- A couple of commenters wrote to praise the NYRA Internet Wagering system, and I'd have to agree that it's extremely fast and easy. Perhaps too much so! I got off to a bad start, getting shut out twice - once due to a bad internet connection, and the other I guess because I was trying to bet Hollywood on Friday and it was after midnight. But now I have no complaints at all, and I like the fact that it's the same account I use when I go to the track and use the betting card.

Big Wig, a two-year colt graduating first-time on the turf for Pletcher in the second at Belmont on Sunday, is a three-quarter brother to Rutherienne, the very nice grass stakes winning three-year old filly trained by Christophe Clement.

Michael Matz had his first Belmont winner of the year with his second runner at the meet. Glamour Star ($8.20) won in her 4th start after burning lots of money along the way. Remember that Matz was having a rough time back at Gulfstream, and started to come out of if in Keeneland. Over the last 90 days, he has a more characteristic record of 18 for 79, or 23%. The Ag, 6-5 in her debut for Pletcher, ran 6th at 4-5, ugh. She's a half-sister to the trainer's stakes winner J'Ray.

In the sixth, the awfully-named War Monger graduated on the grass at 12-1 for Mott. Why would anyone give a name like that to a horse, or any other kind of animal or thing for that matter? Another horribly named horse, Perfect Bullet was third, and I guess it's pretty fitting these days that Peace Mon lagged behind in 6th as the favorite.

- A dramatic renewal of the Salvatore Mile at Monmouth on Saturday, as 1-10 Lawyer Ron mounted an ultimately futile rally, trying to catch pacesetting Gottcha Gold. This wasn't a case of a horse stealing off to the lead in slow fractions. This four-year old son of Coronado's Quest zipped through fractions of 22.95, 45.43, and 1:09.39; he was still motoring to the quarter pole in 23.96 seconds. And though Gottcha Gold did slow down, a bit, to a final quarter of 24.86, he had enough to hold off the prohibitive favorite. In fact, he set a stakes record at 1:34.25. Chuck Lopez said: "I didn't hit him at all, because he doesn't like to get tagged. I didn't see Lawyer Ron coming and I wasn't looking -- I was just riding my horse all the way to the wire." [Newark Star Ledger] He may have heard the desperate chalk players as the favorite drew closer.

Also at Monmouth (and speaking of Coronado's Quest) a reader wanted me to mention Cable Boy, now an easy three-for-three after breezing by three lengths in the stakes named after that late Travers/Wood Memorial winner. It took the bettors awhile to catch on to this one; he won his debut at 12-1, and his second race at 5-1. But he was an easy winner at even money on Sunday. This three-year old is by the AP Indy sire Jump Start, out of a mare by Taylor's Falls, and is a half-brother to six figure earner Tricky Tyler. Trainer Pat McBurney will point him to the Long Branch, and perhaps the Haskell after that.

Sunday was Canada's big racing day, as the Queen's Plate was run at Woodbine. 15-1 Mike Fox (Giant's Causeway) staged an unlikely late rally to get up over another longshot in 16-1 Allezandro and win the Grade 1 (Can) race for jockey Emma-Jayne Wilson, the first woman rider to win the Canadian classic. Pletcher's Twilight Meteor didn't seem to like the Woodbine Polytrack anymore than he did the Turfway surface and finished 7th at 9-2 to complete an unproductive travel weekend for John Velazquez, who also rode Lawyer Ron on Saturday at Monmouth, as well as third place finisher Vicarage in the Sneakbox Stakes there. The fans went way overboard on Shadwell's Daaher, slamming the 15-1 morning line runner to 7-2 off of one maiden win at Belmont.

And speaking of our friends to the north, it was Canada Day in New York on Sunday. Or at least it was in Central Park, where the Head Chef and I were treated to a couple of excellent Canadian bands playing at Summerstage on another perfect early summer day in the city. Hard for me to describe The Duhks, a quintet from Winnipeg who won a Juno Award in Canada for best Roots and traditional album and group, and have also been nominated for a Grammy for Best Country Vocal Performance by a Group or Duo. But any band with a violinist and a banjo player are OK by me. Apostle of Hustle is an inventive, dual-percussion propelled guitar band featuring Andrew Whiteman of Broken Social Scene; like the latter, Apostle of Hustle record on the essential Toronto-based Arts and Crafts label. Originality is such a relatively rare commodity in today's pop music scene, and leave it to our northern neighbors to produce a couple of bands who produce it in abundance. I've posted videos from each band in the sidebar for your enjoyment.

Sunday Night News and Notes

- Slots at Gulfstream continue to falter; the win per machine per day for May is down to a mere $70, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinal.

In comparison, the April average for slots along the East Coast was $262 a day, according to Joe Weinert, editor of Gaming Industry Observer, an industry newsletter that puts out a monthly report on East Coast slots.

"[Gulfstream's number] is really anemic," Weinert said. "I didn't really think it was possible for a casino in such an attractive area like Broward County …When you get down to $100 a day per machine, you are profitably challenged." [Sun-Sentinal]
Gulfstream is the most extreme case of a general failure of the Broward County racinos to meet their projections. Pompano Park was projected to generate $300 per machine, but is only doing $202. The old Hollywood dog track is the top performer on the year, but is down 35% from February, to $173 in May. The state had projected an overall average of $219.

As in New York, the racino operators are complaining that they're taxed too much, and therefore cannot compete with Indian tribes, in this case the Seminoles, who have two casinos in the area that pay no taxes to the state. While the Seminoles do not make their financial records publicly available, analysts say they think the tribe's machines each could be generating as much as $500 per day.
Dan Adkins, Mardi Gras' [Hollywood] chief gaming executive, said the pari-mutuels are struggling to establish themselves as the Seminoles have been "marketing us to death."

"Every time I run a promotion, the Seminoles run three," he said. "If I run two television commercials, they run 20. If I buy a billboard, they buy six."
Several slots players the South Florida Sun-Sentinel interviewed at the Gulfstream Park casino's November opening said they are now back gambling at the Hard Rock.

"The Hard Rock has a lot more to offer — the shopping area, all those restaurants," said Doris Keeps, 68, of Davie. "It's similar to Vegas."
Another depressing article appeared in the Baltimore Sun, regarding the failure of slots in Delaware and other mid-Atlantic states to do anything to attract fans for racing.
There's no correlation," said George Sidiroplois, the West Virginia Racing Commission chairman. "It's inverse, in fact."

Figures from Delaware show that live betting on thoroughbred horse racing in the state has dropped by 40 percent since slots were legalized in 1996. Six months after slots came online at Philadelphia Park in Pennsylvania, betting is down by 20 percent. West Virginia's wagering handles increased sharply a few years ago when the state's tracks began broadcasting their races nationally, but betting has leveled off and begun to decline. [Baltimore Sun]
Slots were never really intended, in most cases anyway, to draw people to the races; all of the racinos I've been to are actually constructed to discourage it, which I suppose is pretty typical. The idea was that bigger purses would attract better horses, which would create bigger fields and more competitive racing, thus attracting more simulcast action. But that's not going well either.
In Delaware, simulcasting boosted betting revenue in the '90s, but it has declined at roughly the same pace as live wagering over the past five years. Since 2002, all horse betting has dropped by 20 percent in Delaware.

Since slots came to Philadelphia Park, simulcast betting also dropped, from $29 million in the first four months of 2006 to $25 million in the same period this year.
Maybe there just so many of those good horses and simulcast dollars to go around.

And some controversy of a different kind at the Saratoga Gaming and Raceway racino, where Vapor, the highly publicized new night club, recently opened. The Albany Times-Union's Steve Barnes, in a review, thought the club itself was really cool.
The staff is hot, the drinks are smart and interesting, and the prices aren't outrageous. If Vapor were in downtown Albany, it would be a club killer -- every other high-end place would close for lack of business because all their former patrons would switch to Vapor exclusively. In design, decor, food and drink, it's the best nightclub we've yet seen locally. [Albany Times-Union]
But Barnes was not particularly impressed by the patrons.
At Vapor last weekend, the crowd detracted from the club. Many looked like exactly what they were: racino folks checking out a nightclub. Perhaps a third of the patrons appeared to have made an effort to dress classily for a night out.

"It looks like the people at a bad wedding," said one of my companions as he eyed the dance floor.

Surveying the outfits, a second said, "Every time I look around, another part of me dies."
The best-dressed and best-dancing guy in the place last Friday looked like Daddy Warbucks or the Spider-Man villain called Kingpin: 65-ish, bald, bulky, chunky metal specs, black suit and tie, shiny silver-striped shirt with contrasting white collar, two-tone shoes. Otherwise, as one of my companions said, "All the guys have gold necklaces with medallions, and all the women look like elementary-school teachers."
Another Times-Union writer, Kristi Gustafson, likened the crowd to an "inbred wedding reception." This brought not only some angry letters from readers, but an emotional response from the racino's management:
This month, we opened Vapor in part for our existing customers, but also for new and future customers. Our customers come from a wide range of social and economic backgrounds. Our customers are doctors, lawyers, bus drivers, public servants and, yes, school teachers. They are friends, neighbors and family to all of us. They are loyal, good people and they are the sole reason behind all of the economic benefit being derived for the state, city and county from Saratoga Gaming and Raceway.
If, as he says, Mr. Barnes wanted to make a statement about how people dress and present themselves in general, he should do so in a way that does not demean or insult specific individuals. Instead, his statements detracted from the review of the facility and turned into a cruel and unnecessary tirade against the good people of the Capital Region. Our current and future customers deserve more, and we intend to continue to strive to provide them with more, with or without the support of Mr. Barnes and Ms. Gustafson.
However, the racino also pointed out that there is now a dress code in place after an introductory period without one. As much as I'd love to check the place out this summer, that's a price I may not be willing to pay.

Highland Cat No Closer to Win

- I had to go to the Forest Hills OTB to watch Highland Cat run at Colonial Downs yesterday. I could have watched it at Belmont had I gone, as you can find any track on some screen there somewhere nowadays. On Friday, one prominently placed TV in the grandstand had harness races from Mohawk. Non-betting qualifying races from Mohawk.

But I stayed home, and Colonial was not being shown on TVG. So it was off to this venerable OTB branch, which has been here forever. It's gotta be one of the original branches. I'm happy to say that I really haven't spent much time in it over the years; and the visits I've made have been quick and to the point. These days, I go there to make deposits into, and the occasional withdrawal from my OTB phone account. At least now, with smoking banned, it's inhabitable, if not inviting. On Saturday, it was surprisingly, and rather depressingly crowded; this on a picture perfect summer day, as nice of a weather day that will be seen around these parts all year.

And there was a lot of action, with every track imaginable offered for betting and viewing. There once was a time when OTB was only allowed to offer the NYRA track during the day. It seemed an archaic rule at the time but, now that I go in and see what's going on, one that seems sensible in retrospect. It's bad enough that OTB is taking away the business of people betting races at Belmont, from which NYRA receives a reduced percentage as opposed to on-track bets, but many people are betting other tracks from which they don't get a dime. Under a more typical OTB system of course, it would all be part of the track operation. Not long ago, we naively believed that this situation could be corrected as part of the franchise process, but it hasn't even been part of the discussion of a process that is currently not even processing.

Highland Cat ran third after a perfect, ground-saving trip as the 9-5 favorite. This was a $16,000 open claimer, and to me, he looked like he fit about the same as he did while running in the $35,000 NW2 category here. The partnership sent out an email declaring that he ran well, and saying that it justified their decision to ship him to Colonial. But I think he'll have to do better than that.

I wrote here that I was getting excited about Makderah in tne New York Stakes at Belmont on Saturday, especially with the stretch out to a mile and a quarter.

Her breeding is amazing - by Danehill, out of a Mr. Prospector half sister to Nashwan and Nayaf...and she's from the family of Deep Impact - they have the same third dams.
She was 8-1 morning line, which seemed, at the time, maybe a bit high, but not too out of line considering the jump from allowance company. But she opened at 5-2 and pretty much stayed there throughout. I've always had a talent for picking out the horse who gets slammed at the windows (though this time I hit the exacta by tossing Pletcher's 6-5 favorite Jade Queen).

The step up to U.S. stakes company - she's graded stakes placed in the UK - proved no trouble at all, with an easy last-to-first sweep to a four length win; final quarter in a hand-ridden 22.64 - can that be right?? "When I asked her, she was gone," [Alan] Garcia said. Take note of this four-year old; on a day that Shadwell lost one star in Invasor, perhaps they found another.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Adios Invasor

- On Saturday morning, I read on the NYRA website that Invasor was going to work out at around 8:45 for the lucky fans at Breakfast at Belmont. Later in the day, I read that he worked a bullet (of 29) five furlongs in 59.47 (hitting the wire simultaneously with Like Now) in preparation for the Suburban at Belmont next Saturday. Then, when I got home late Saturday night and put on TVG (which I guess is just reflexive for me - after all, what did I expect to see at midnight Saturday other than Los Alamitos), the news crawl across the bottom read: 2006 Breeders Cup Classic winner and 2006 Horse of the Year Invasor retired due to injury.

"He came back fine from the workout," [Kiaran] McLaughlin said. "But when we went to wash his feet, he took a couple of funny steps and we noticed some swelling in his right hind leg. We had him X-rayed shortly thereafter, and that is when the fracture was detected." [NY Daily News]
The injury is not life-threatening and will not require surgery - indeed, I think it's fair to speculate before I know all the facts that he could come back if they really wanted him to.

The release of the news on a Saturday night means minimal press exposure; just a photo with no accompanying story in the print edition of the Times this morning. I imagine that some casual fans will have no idea until they tune into the Breeders Cup telecast and wonder 'where's that EEN-VA-SORE' horse? It's not like anyone will deliver any eloquent eulogies to his career, detailing how he "captured America's heart." Horses just don't run often enough or long enough to do so anymore; at least unless there's some kind of tragedy involved, I'm sorry to say. Invasor ran only five times in this country, and his biggest victory, in the Classic, was one that most people were rooting against. His trainer is a great guy, but his jockey is still a virtual unknown, and his connections elicit no compassion whatsoever. Anyone who believes that his Dubai-based owners brought him back this year strictly out of a sporting nature need only look at his rather unfashionable bloodlines that may still be a tough sell.

I feel bad, though, not only for trainer McLaughlin and rider Jara, but for the folks at Monmouth, those at the Breeders Cup and NTRA who appear to be making a sincere effort this year to parlay ESPN and the Breeders Cup Challenge series into a publicity splash for the game, and all of us who care about the sport. I recall a column that Mike Watchmaker wrote a couple of months ago; at the time, I derided the fact that he questioned Invasor's ability to rebound from his World Cup victory. But his main point was to wonder what the heck would become of the handicap division should he fail. With Discreet Cat still without a timed workout following the throat abscess which led to his World Cup fiasco, the chances of his being a factor in the Classic, a questionable proposition at that mile and a quarter distance even if he was fine, seem more remote with each passing day.

A look at Watchmaker's rankings for older horse confirms just how shaky the division has now become. After Discreet Cat, you have Lava Man, who I don't expect to ever race outside of California again, followed by Flashy Bull, with the notation: You win a Gr. 1 here, you get a mention. He's followed by Surf Cat, out for more than a year, though training steadily for a return, Magna Graduate, Master Command.....need I even continue, other than perhaps Corinthian? Can you imagine a Classic with Flashy Bull as the favorite? Hopefully, Street Sense will not have been retired by then, and maybe he and Curlin can settle matters between them on the sport's (second) biggest day.

Or, maybe Invasor's retirement will be a blessing in disguise in that it opens the way for Rags to Riches to compete in the Classic and/or become Horse of the Year herself. That would be the kind of publicity that the sport could only dream of at this point.

Hanging Around

- 6,149 turned out at Belmont on a blustery late Friday afternoon; twilight racing is a big hit for NYRA. It shows that you can get people out to the racetrack if you make it worth their while. In this case, making it so are a beautiful setting for a sunny (thus far) Friday, music, happy hour, and horses. Q104, the local classic rock station was set up in the tent this time, and though it unfortunately relegated Ernie Munick to the outside rail, that's a good job by NYRA and an excellent way to draw an even bigger crowd next week.

I managed to skip out of work and get there for the 5th, with the Head Chef in tow. No luck; my best shot was a 2nd place finish with Ambassador at 7-1 in the 7th; would have been all over that triple, and was on the money leaving Pletcher's favored Blues Street out. Didn't cash, but moral victories can count in terms of establishing some confidence.

Today's an amazing, gorgeous day for Belmont, or anything else at all outdoors for that matter. We're going this evening to see the play Frost/Nixon and have an early dinner reservation. So I'm just gonna hang in our little Queens backyard sliver of paradise, and play some races on my still yet-to-be-used NYRA Rewards account. I actually tried to use it last night to be on a race at Hollywood, but there was a problem logging in, and I got shut out! I would have lost, so it was a rousing start to my internet wagering career.

So I'll be around, and if anyone has any thoughts on the races today, particularly at Belmont, please feel free to comment. I'm stuck on the second now, a wide open maiden race on the grass. Queens Full, besides being a hunch bet, is a really nicely bred filly from the hot Clement barn. She's a half-sister to Regal Engagement, and her dam, out of Too Chic, is a half to Queena and Chic Shrine. Shug has the probable favorite with Clifton Bay, who saved a ton of ground last time after being left at the gate; this trainer is warming up I think. And I'm looking at She's My Sunshine, 8-1 morning line, who ran a good third behind a couple of nice looking fillies in her first race with Lasix...

[Oh, and yeah, Highland Cat is the 2-1 favorite in the 5th at Colonial Downs today...almost forgot to mention that...]

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Thursday Night Notes - June 21

- Anonymous wrote:

I think concern about the whip is absurd. Most horsemen and jockeys love these horses and would never abuse them for the sake of abusing them. That said, they race for money, and if a crack of the whip is the difference between the winners check and second money, they're going to go to the whip (Mike Smith on Tiago in the SA Derby for instance). Whip use is abusive in the minds of humans, but the evidence shows that its not very often abusive to the horses. If it were, there'd be a lot more DQ's like in the Belmont race, where obviously, the horse was shying away from contact.
I've never been that bothered by whipping in the thoroughbred sport, probably because I came up through the harness ranks. Now those guys have whips, I mean, real whips like I saw on TV as a kid, long and mean, and loud, ouch! I never really thought about it back in the day, but now the whipping at the trotters kinda bothers me. Sometimes they're hitting the sulky, but other times man, they really wind up - they have much more leverage to deliver blows than jockeys do - and the thwack resounds in a small empty harness track like Saratoga. And I've seen frustrated drivers deliver an extra blow after the finish line on more than one occasion.

The Head Chef doesn't like to go to the trotters because of the whipping - she's very sensitive, you know. But I've actually never heard her remark about it at the flats. I don't know what the relative 'pain quotient' is between the two, but it just seems more benign with thoroughbreds for the most part. One notable exception is Ramon Dominguez winding up and hitting Scrappy T so hard that he almost killed Afleet Alex. I think he would have be DQ'd for that alone in the UK, according to the rules.

I'm ready to do some betting tonight, break in my NYRA Rewards account, and experience internet wagering for the first time. But all there is on TVG is the Meadowlands, Yonkers, and Evangeline. I can't bet the harness tracks because I only have 65 cents in my OTB account, and NYRA doesn't offer them. Evangeline is not a track I'm really comfortable with, especially with a 14 horse field, as in the 6th. But I could come back to it later.

The other tracks being offered by NYRA are Lone Star (a Manga track, on HRTV); Penn National and Charles Town (neither on TVG). None of their websites have live streaming; and Penn National's website is a joke. They have links to Equibase entries and results, and that's it as far as racing goes. If the private equity firms that are paying $6.1 billion to acquire the company (and acquiring another $2.8 billion in debt) see that the racing company doesn't care about the racing, how are they going to treat it when they take over?

I know, I could open accounts with an ADW to get the video online, but it's a hassle, and I don't really need or want to have more than one account; and I'd probably have to get two more accounts to get all the exclusives.

Another DQ at Belmont today, and a very similar occurrence to Wednesday, as Le Dauphin was taken down for bearing out and bumping Hunting in the feature. (One difference is that this time, the DQ'd horse was a longshot, at 14-1, and the official winner paid $8.10.) It looks like the worst of it again took place right as they approached the finish. This one, while a bit less flagrant than Wednesday's, also appears to be the right call, as there was definitely contact, and it looked like Hunting had a fighting chance to win. The difference is that Le Dauphin drifted out despite right-handed whipping by Kent Desormeaux, who will likely be held blameless for the foul. Hunting was just the 5th winner of the meeting for Shug, but his third from his last seven runners (plus a second with favored Dancing Forever in the 7th).

And another winner for Godolphin, now 10-5-1-1 on the meeting. Emirates to Dubai hadn't been out since his only race, in Dubai the UK on 10/7/2005. The chart comment says, with an uncharacteristic flourish, that he rambled clear after one left handed smack. And so he did. "Emirates to Dubai is striding away!" Durkin remarked, and he did so under a hand ride in a final furlong of 11.35 seconds, and a final time of 1:09.39. Emirates of Dubai is a four-year old son of Storm Cat, and his second dam is the great champion racemare Glorious Song, which makes his dam, by Blushing Groom, a half-sister to Singspeil, and a full to Rahy.

OK, time for Evangeline, if I haven't blogged the card away...

NY Legislature Whips Toward Finish Line

- The Times reported this morning on a flurry of last minute activity in the New York legislature as the session comes to a close today. There was no mention of any bills regarding the franchise; only of the one to lower the taxes on the state's racinos in favor of more money for marketing. That proposed law is apparently still stalled in the Assembly, and Assemblyman Gary Pretlow, who as you may know is the chairman of the Committee on Racing and Wagering, said: “Usually, businesses pay for their own marketing....I don’t think that’s a price worth paying to save someone who made a bad business deal."

My answer to that would be that usually, businesses don't get bailed out by slot machines and usually, businesses aren't taxed at rates over 60%. In short, this is not a usual business situation. While I understand that Mr. Pretlow is concerned about a loss of education revenue, and his point about bad business decisions is well-taken, the idea is that more revenue for marketing will enable the racinos to better compete, and in the long run produce even more money for the state, even at a lower rate. In any event, the racinos won't produce any revenue at all if they're out of business.

Tom Precious, reporting for, confirms today that efforts to resolve the NYRA franchise situation, as expected, will not happen before legislators leave town. There's talk of a special session in July, but far more time would be needed if they are going to do this the right way, i.e., addressing the matter of the OTB's that compete with the tracks.

- An anonymous commenter wrote about the use of the whip in this country, citing rules against excessive whipping in England. Indeed, just the other day, Michael over at Curb Your Enthusiasm was watching the races from Royal Ascot, and reported that there was an inquiry regarding Frankie Dettori's use of the whip on Ramonti, the winner of the Queen Anne Stakes (with George Washington rallying to finish a close 4th). The result stood, but there are very specific rules regarding the whip in the UK. You can find them here, on the Horseracing Regulatory Authority site.

The HRA has asked Stewards of Meetings to consider holding an enquiry into any case where a rider has used his whip in such a way as to cause them concern and publish the following examples of uses of the whip which may be regarded as improper riding:

Hitting horses:

* to the extent of causing injury;
* with the whip arm above shoulder height;
* rapidly without regard to their stride, i.e. twice or more in one stride;
* with excessive force;
* without giving the horse time to respond.

Hitting horses which are:

* showing no response;
* out of contention;
* clearly winning;
* past the winning post.

Hitting horses in any place except:

* on the quarters with the whip in either the backhand or forehand position;
* down the shoulder with the whip in the backhand position;
* unless very exceptional circumstances prevail.

Hitting horses:

* with excessive frequency.
It's worth reading the whole page for some other interesting rules; for example, a rider is supposed to show the whip to the horse and give it time to respond before using it. I wonder if there are any rules regarding whipping at all in this country, other than using it past the finish line?

And reader Mr. Ed brought up an interesting point about yesterday's DQ which threw some bettors (including he) for a loop:
The only question, and the reason I think it took so long to adjudicate, was whether the final and most severe contact occurred before or after the finish line.
True, the head-on angle I saw doesn't really address that. But I think that Corny V could, or at least should, be facing a suspension even if the stewards had decided that the contact happened after the wire.

Hunch Bets For 6/21

No Means Maybe - 4th at Hol
You Don't Listen - 4th at Woodbine
Enough Is Enough - 7th at Woodbine

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Pick Six DQ Justified

- Over $1.6 million was up for grabs amongst the three Pick Six carryover pools on Wednesday. All three of them were hit, but the most dramatic conclusion took place at Belmont Park. What looked on paper like a daunting task turned into a parade of favorites: 3-1, 4-5, 6-5, 4-5, 2-1. So when Our Top Cat, the 3-1 second choice in the 9th, held off 19-1 Karakorum Tornado in the 9th, a lot of people - around 225, based on my rough calculation - were set to collect a relatively easy $1,389 from the pool of $419,572.

But the inquiry sign went up. In a case like this, you'll sometimes hear people at the track say 'oh, they won't take down the favorite,' especially when there's a lot of money at stake in a case like this. But Our Top Cat was indeed DQ'd. Ed Fountaine, writing in the NY Post, called it "borderline" but I don't agree, and a look at the head-on shot (which you can see on Cal Racing) shows why. With Cornelio Velasquez aboard, the horse opened up a three length lead midstretch as the rider whipped him right handed. But then he switched to his left hand, and Our Top Cat immediately shied from the whip and drifted out sharply. Instead of switching back, Velasquez continued to hit him left handed, again and again, and each time the horse reacted and continued to drift to the middle of the track. Fountaine writes that Karakorum Thunder probably wasn't going to get by anyway. That may or may not be the case, but regardless, I thought that the stewards, who probably did indeed require a solid reason to disqualify the winner in this case, had no choice. The jockey persisted in whipping the horse even as he continued to bear out, and I think that he's looking at days in this case.

John Velazquez, in his chat session on, was questioned about the practice of whipping. He responded:

"The whip is needed and we use it when it is necessary. In the case of safety, we need whips to keep the horses in as straight a line as possible and to avoid injury to themselves and riders. For example, I rode a horse recently who bolted to the outside fence. The only thing that prevented him from jumping or hitting the outside fence was my whip." [Bloodhorse]
In this case, the rider did not use the whip to straighten his mount; and in fact exacerbated a bad situation by repeatedly using it in a way that caused crowding and a possible dangerous situation. So, sorry to anyone who was adversely affected, but I think the DQ was totally justified. The Pick Six with the 19-1 winner on top instead returned $14,026 to far fewer bettors than it would have had the order of finish not been reversed.

More Notes

- Rags to Riches is unlikely for the Travers according to owner Michael Tabor, but he's leaving it up to Todd Pletcher. But first things first. "I'll be nervous if she is 1-9 in the Coaching Club," Pletcher said. Then he should start to get nervous, because it's hard to see how she could be any higher than that. It should be quite a challenge for racing secretary PJ Campo to even round up any competition. If there's ever any chance of us seeing another walkover in New York, this could be it!

As for beyond that race:

"If we were to run in the Travers, it would be the sporting thing," Pletcher said. "From a practical standpoint, it would be the Alabama, and hopefully we would have another representative in the Travers who might be able to do the job." [Albany Times Union]
Scat Daddy and Any Given Saturday worked out last week, and Circular Quay has been training on the grass.

- Vernon Downs, the harness track located near Utica in upstate New York, may be the first casualty of the racino era, as owner Jeff Gural says he will close the track without some tax relief from the state. The bill that would do so has passed the Senate, but has encountered opposition in the Assembly.
Assemblyman J. Gary Pretlow, chairman of the Assembly Committee on Racing and Wagering, said the bill, currently stalled in the Assembly, would take away up to $50 million from education. He said he is working on a compromise that would include the track owners, horse owners and horse breeders. [AP]
The track is being licensed on a month to month basis due to short fields and poor financials (it's reportedly losing $700,000 a month), and got another extension through July 31.

Slots have also been sputtering at Gulfstream, and Governor Charlie Crist has a bill on his desk that would expand racino hours to 18 during the week and 24 on the weekend; increase the number of machines to 2,000 from 1,500 per facility; and allow ATM machines on the grounds, though not in the VLT rooms themselves. The Miami Herald reports that Crist is expected to allow the bill to become law by taking no action, which will occur after 15 days.

- Did you know that first-year sire Posse already has eight winners?? His closest competitor has just three. He got his first stakes winner over the weekend when Steve Asmussen's Kodiak Kowboy won a stakes at Woodbine. Posse stands for just $12,500 at Vinery. He wasn't overly precocious at two himself with a record of 7-2-1-1, though he did win the G3 Ky Breeders Cup, and ran second in the Bashford Manor. He was better at three, when he won four stakes, including the G2 Riva Ridge.

Posse is by Silver Deputy (Deputy Minister), out of a Rahy mare. Alan Porter, writing on the Vinery website, says:
POSSE is out of a mare by Rahy, who in turn is out of Halo’s Champion daughter, Glorious Song. It would be interesting to breed him to mares descending from Glorious Song’s brothers Devil’s Bag and Saint Ballado, or other sons of Halo.
It would be a nice way of tying up this post for me to tell you that some of his winners fit that pattern, but that's so far not the case. However, Porter also notes that: Two Mr. Prospector line strains which have already worked particularly well with Silver Deputy are Fappiano and Forty Niner;. Kodiak Kowboy is out of a mare by the Forty Niner stallion Coronado's Quest; and Possetothemax, another one of his winners, is out of the Forty Niner stallion Twining.

Notes - June 20

- I ran across an ad in Bloodhorse for Friends Lake, whose first crop of foals are yearlings this year. Here's a sire who had a moderate race record (pdf) of 7-3-0-1. But his upset win in the Grade 1 2004 Florida Derby, plus a stellar pedigree, were enough to propel him to a potentially lucrative career at stud. He stands for $15,000 at Airdale. He bred 101 mares last year, generating a gross return of $1,515,000 (less any foals not born live). Not bad for a horse who won a single graded stakes, and who was beaten a total of 52 lengths in his last two career efforts.

And it doesn't even matter that he earned a mere 92 Beyer against a weak field in that Florida Derby win, a race not even notable enough to have a video on You Tube. G1 FLORIDA DERBY WINNER, the ad reads, and that's all that matters. Belmont Park SW at Two. It doesn't tell you that it was a NY-bred race (as a matter of fact, it doesn't say anywhere that he's a NY-bred). Highest Beyer of any 2YO SW son of A.P. Indy. EVER! That must mean that at least one 2 YO non-stakes winning son of AP Indy must have run a faster race.

But he certainly seems like an intriguing stallion pedigree-wise. For one thing, he's totally free of both Northern Dancer and Mr. Prospector; not many sires can say that nowadays. As noted above, he's a son of AP Indy; and he's out of the multiple Grade 1 winning mare Antespend (Spend A Buck). The tail-female line beyond that is an Argentinian family. Friends Lake is inbred to Buckpasser, and to Secretariat and his half-brother Sir Gaylord. So it's an opportunity for a breeder to build on those strengths while adding a healthy dose of the two most popular stallion lines in the American game. Not surprising that he's proving to be popular thus far.

- Hunch bets for Wednesday, June 20:

Dare to Run - 5th at Evangeline Downs
Please Include Me - 9th at Churchill
Impaired Judgment - 4th at Delaware Park
Impetuous Leader - 6th at Evangeline Downs
Charisma Matters - 6th at Hollywood
- Frank Stronach made a personal appearance before the CHRB to refute earlier assertions by Magna Entertainment's CEO Michael Neuman that Magna did not intend to renovate the Santa Anita backstretch.
“Why I’m here is my reputation,” said Stronach. “(Neuman) has been very much reprimanded. We’re committed. We can’t forget the people on the backstretch.

“I always pride myself to keep my word,” he added. “I can always make more money, but it’s very hard to rebuild a reputation.” [Bloodhorse]
Installation of Cushion Track will be begin there on July 5, at which time the renovations will begin. The board also agreed in principle to give Bay Meadows a one-year extension on the synthetic surface mandate.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Philly Park Still Kicking Around Racino Plans

- There was a report last week that Philadelphia Park had backed off its plan to scrap the construction of a permanent slots facility and keep the machines where they are now - on the first four floors of the existing grandstand, thus causing the herding of the few remaining racing fans onto the 5th floor. But those reports were apparently mistaken. It seems as if Greenwood Racing, the owner of the track, merely requested a delay of the consideration of their petition to make the current facility the permanent one.

"This is just another example of why Greenwood Gaming is not to be trusted," said Michael P. Ballezzi, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association. "There has been a public backlash against Philadelphia Park's proposal. With increasing public scrutiny, I think Philadelphia Park realized it was in a very weak position to claim that construction of a new facility was no longer prudent or feasible."
"Horseracing at Philadelphia Park is slowly being killed off because of the conditions we are forced to operate under," said Ballezzi, citing a 26 percent drop in live horse-betting at the racetrack for the month of April. "Philadelphia Park committed to build a new facility that would have improved conditions for horseracing fans and slots patrons alike. It needs to be forced to keep that commitment." [Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association press release]
Greenwood is claiming that it needs more time, and issued a press release of its own:
"Before this matter is considered by the board, we are requesting a few extra months to further redefine the first phases of our proposed master plan for the whole of the Philadelphia Park property. As our petition makes absolutely clear, that plan will provide details of further expansion and phases of development beyond our existing facility. That preparation is an ongoing process which we will be pursuing aggressively over the next few months . . . There have been certain misconceptions and, in some cases, misrepresentation about the classification issue and our future intentions." [Philly Daily News]
Note how they dance around the issue with vague wording and never directly affirm that a separate facility for the slots will indeed be constructed. So the horsemen don't trust them, and are mad enough to....well, kick a horse in the stomach!

OK, well I guess that's not funny, and jockey Victor Molina, who was escorted off the grounds at Philly Park on Monday after being caught in the act on TVG, certainly isn't laughing. He deserves to be disciplined....but some people seem ready to string the guy up. From what I've read, he is quite well-respected after 27 years in the saddle, and was very contrite afterwards. We all lose our tempers some time. And though that doesn't excuse acts of violence such as this, he didn't inject the horse with EPO's or snake venom, and didn't try to put a fellow rider over the fence with a reckless riding maneuver. So fine and suspend him accordingly, and let's move on.

- Bill Finley has another great idea which will probably never see the light of day. Recently, he suggested that since revenue from racing is so insignificant compared to VLT revenue in slots states, reduce takeout to a bare minimum level that will encourage people to wager on the ponies. The chances of any state legislatures or racino owners becoming that enlightened seem very unlikely. Now, writing on, Finley suggests setting the conditions of certain stakes races, the Derby in particular, in a way that will discourage owners from retiring horses early.
Imagine what would happen if every Grade I race in the country, or even just the Triple Crown and Breeders' Cup races, were restricted to horses whose sires were 5-years-old or older at the time the horse was conceived.

Any horse retired prematurely and rushed off the racetrack after its 3-year-old campaign would be severely penalized as a stallion, at least for one year. Knowing that the progeny of a 4-year-old stallion would be ineligible for the sport's major races would scare people away from breeding to that stallion.

Breeders and owners would have no choice but to keep their horses in training at least through their 4-year-old years. In most cases, that would amount to delaying a stallion's career by one year; eminently fair when considering how much money could still be made breeding a horse and racing's desperate need to keep its stars performing in front of the public.
Nice idea in theory, and indeed, racetracks are free to set whatever conditions for races that they'd like. But breeders from Kentucky to Dubai would scream bloody murder, and the latter could conceivably threaten to boycott U.S. auctions in retaliation. And besides, owners would likely retire a horse anyway and let him just hang out on the farm for a year before breeding rather than risk a grievous injury on the racetrack anyway. Sacrificing one year's worth of racing income would be a small price to pay to get their stallion to stud in one piece.