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Sunday, September 30, 2007

Monday Morning Notes - Oct 1

- I don't believe that either of the two horses generally considered to be the leading Classic contenders lost too much appeal in getting beat this weekend. Street Sense, in particular, was taken out of his game on a track he may not care for. He finished well, and remember he used non-winning efforts on Polytrack to prepare for the two biggest wins of his career.

It looked like Lawyer Ron reverted to some of his old bad habits, as Johnny V seemed hard-pressed to back him off from the longshot leader Brother Bobby. That could have taken its toll when he failed to hold off Curlin....and man, he looked like a winner at the eighth pole, didn't he? Despite losing, I think he dispelled doubts for most about his ability to get the distance, and he may prefer the more conventional two turns of Saratoga and Monmouth.

Of course, while neither of the above horses enhanced their standing, Tiago and Curlin established some serious momentum....OK, and Hard Spun too. But I guess I gotta save some of this for the Breeders' Cup blog, so here's a couple of random thoughts on the weekend's races:

- Velazquez again did a great rating job on the grass when he stole the Pilgrim Stakes with The Leopard for Pletcher on Saturday. Made the 4-5 favorite making his first start on the grass, The Leopard got to the half in a lazy 49.17, and then went the next quarter in 24.72. But from there, he flew in 22.09 seconds to the sixteenth pole, and another 5.63 seconds home!

This $2.5 million son of Storm Cat, out of a Mr. Prospector mare, may be headed for the Breeders Cup Juvenile Turf. Pletcher said: "The Leopard had things his own way the first part of it, but I like the way he finished and galloped out." His second dam is a full sister to the French champion Caerleon, and to the Pilgrim and Secretariat winner Vision.

The Toddster just...and I mean just missed another stakes winner in the Kentucky Cup Sprint at Turfway. Base Commander came flying at the end but missed catching favored Piratesonthelake by a jump. Then, in the next race, Pletcher's Chitoz could not get past Texas Fever in the Kentucky Cup Juvenile, losing by a neck. The winner is by Victory Gallop out of Fortyniner Fever, a three-quarter sister to the Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus.

At Hawthorne, did they really make AP Arrow the 4-5 favorite in their Gold Cup? Student Council was the morning line favorite off his win in the much-derided G1 Pacific Classic. This time, he went 2:05 flat, some two seconds faster than at Del Mar, though still nothing to write home about. However, the track at Hawthorne has been slow, and he came home in a snappy 24 seconds off a slow pace. His owner Ro Parra said he will "wait a couple weeks" before deciding about the Classic.

Miss Grillo Stakes winner Namaste's Wish is a full-sister to Purge. Pletcher was again a runner-up in that race, but it's not like it was all bad for the Toddster. He had three winners at Belmont on Sunday, including his exacta sweep of the Beldame, and man, that division is wide open, isn't it?

Getnick Queried in Bruno Probe

- The New York Times reported on Sunday that Neil Getnick, he of the highly controversial $125,000-a-yearmonth consulting deal with NYRA, has been interviewed in connection with the federal investigation into Senator Joe Bruno.

Mr. Getnick said the prosecutors interviewed him this year seeking his knowledge on a variety of topics, including Mr. Bruno and Friends of New York Racing, a group with ties to the senator that was seeking to privatize the racing franchise.
Though Mr. Getnick declined to elaborate on the content of his discussion with federal investigators, he confirmed the inspector general report's characterization of his 2004 meeting with Tim Smith, asking: “How do you connect those dots?....Well, let me just say those are really big dots requiring an awfully small line.”

The Times has, from time to time, discussed the details of the suspicions about Friends, and here, the paper's Albany reporter Nicholas Confessore connects those big dots - Getnick's and the Thacher report's contention that Smith told Getnick of an organizational meeting of Friends at which investors such as Churchill Downs and Woodbine discussed their plans to ultimately operate the franchise after it was privatized.
Mr. Smith also suggested that such an arrangement could be beneficial to Mr. Getnick, saying that he had recently played golf with Mr. Bruno, and that he and Mr. Bruno believed Mr. Getnick should continue as the association’s monitor past 2005.
Confessore also notes the fact that several Friends investors indeed went on to form Empire and formulate a bid along the lines of what Friends' recommended in their final report.

And here we hear from Tim Smith, the first comments I've seen from him since the issuance of the inspector general's report. Smith characterized the meeting with Getnick as a "conceptual" discussion, and denied any ulterior motive with respect to his golf game with Bruno. “To say that from Day 1 that [Friends] was a stalking horse for Empire Racing — that’s just not true" (a statement that certainly leaves quite a lot of leeway for the truth).

Whatever Smith said, it apparently seemed suspicious enough to Getnick that he reported it to Steve Duncker, thus dooming Smiths' chances of becoming the head of NYRA. The Thacher report claims that, according to Charles Hayward, Smith said that he "underestimated the federal monitor." That's one of those uncorroborated statements from an Empire competitor that the report's critics have pointed to in declaring it biased.

Now, I'm not exactly objective as you know; I'm highly skeptical of Smith's and Friend's motives. And who knows, perhaps I'm wrong. But there's a couple of things that I find difficult to believe. For one thing, am I really to think that the presence of one Thacher investigator, out of a reported 30 who worked on this report, who worked for Getnick during their monitorship, really tainted the report in a significant way? And, should I believe that, back in 2004, Getnick was already plotting to clear NYRA in return for a future consulting deal (the fees for which, by the way, while seeming outrageous to us, are likely merely a fraction of the firm's total revenue?) And that he would thus make up his account of his meeting with Smith?

This isn't to say that I think the Getnick deal is free from stench. But, strictly my opinion, given the subsequent events, I find Getnick's version of the meeting to be far more believable than Smith's.

- The Times reported last week that Glenn T. Suddaby, the US Attorney who has been leading the Bruno investigation for more than a year now, is being considered for a federal judgeship. A spokesperson for Suddaby said that: “Any turnover in the U.S. attorney should not have any impact on any ongoing investigation.”

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Ramonti Rules

- Queen Elizabeth II Stakes winner Ramonti is unlikely to run in the Breeders' Cup. Godolphin's racing manager Simon Crisford told the UK's Sporting Life:

"He's had a tough six months and he has probably done enough. Sheikh Mohammed has the call, but Monmouth Park and the Breeders' Cup probably would not suit him.

"There is Hong Kong, but he will stay in training next year."
I was watching the coverage of the British racing on TVG this morning. But it didn't seem like many of the U.S. bettors were watching. All the talk from Ascot was that a soft course would detract from the chances of the filly Darjina. A bookmaker interviewed during the telecast said that, with the change in the course condition, Darjina had drifted up to 7-2/4-1. Yet in the U.S. pool, she went off as the 7-5 favorite!

The same gentleman said that Excellent Art was the horse they didn't want to win, because he was supposed to like the turf conditions. But Aiden O'Brien said that the horse does his best racing on a firmer turf.

I imagine that the bookies may have had an anxious moment when Excellent Art launched a big late rally, but there was no catching Frankie Dettori on Ramonti, a five-year old son of Martino Alonso (Marju), out of an El Gran Senor mare.

On this side of the pond, Darley unveiled an extremely impressive colt in Etched (Forestry), who I mentioned in an earlier post. He was pounded to 4-5, and made an extremely impressive paddock appearance; he looked physically imposing as compared to his fellow juveniles. He won going away in 1:09.72, and had a nice way of going with a fluid stride after easing around the leaders while four wide on the turn.

Saturday Morning Belmont Notes

- First-time starter Noble Fire breezed by almost seven lengths in the 4th at Belmont on Friday, a NY-bred juvenile affair. He's trained by Linda Rice and sired by Hook and Ladder, and we've been seeing those names a lot lately. Rice, who had that six race winning streak at Saratoga, has now won with seven out of her last 12 two-year old first-timers...nice. However, nobody is getting too rich following these, or maybe some are, but not the way I bet. The highest price amongst her winners was 9-2; but the second highest was only 8-5! Four of them, including Noble Fire (#3.60), paid even money or less. No secrets here.

Noble Fire is out of a stakes winning mare by Melodisk, a deceased son of Alydar who stood in West Virginia. Not much else on the catalog page. But he sold for $115,000 this year, which far exceeds his stallion's $6,000 fee. Hook and Ladder (Dixieland Band) is also the sire of Big Truck, a state-bred stakes winner last weekend for Barclay Tagg, who speaks quite highly of him indeed. He's also the sire of stakes placed I Promise and Spanky Fischbein, has six winners overall and stands 8th on the first-year sire list.

Nick Zito ran one-two with two first-timers in the sixth, at odds of 16-1. Yet another instance of both halves of a longshot entry running one-two. The winner, Anak Nakal, was ridden by Eibar Coa, one of five winners of the day for him. This was quite an improbable late rally; no way did he look like he had a shot at the sixteenth pole, but he rolled late, and even got up over a riderless horse at the wire.

Anak Nakal has some unusual breeding. He's by Victory Gallop, out of a Quiet American mare, which makes him inbred 3x3 to Fappiano. He also has a lot of Dr. Fager, 5x4x5. His second dam is a French stakes winner named Perlee...

Pletcher had a first-timer in the race; Storming Off was 8-1 morning line, but went off at 4-1 off some sharp works. However, he checked in 8th, stretching the Toddster's latest string of futility with first-time juveniles to 21, going back to August 3. But again, this is strictly a NY phenomenon. Out of town, he recently won four two-year old maiden races in a row, two each at the Meadowlands and Turfway.

- Darley has two well-bred first-timers starting in baby races at Belmont on Saturday. In the second, Tom Albertrani starts Splendid Bloom. She's a daughter of AP Indy, out of a Mr. Prospector mare. Her third dam is the prolific producer (and Grade 1 winner herself) Fall Aspen, the dam of the Grade 1 winners Timber Country, Hamas, Northern Aspen, and Fort Wood; and also of the dam of the late Dubai Millenium.

In the 5th, Kiaran McLaughlin starts Etched, a son of Forestry out of the Distaff winner Unbridled Elaine. Darley purchased the dam in foal to this colt for $4.4 million at the 2004 Keeneland November sale. Unbridled Elaine is also a half-sister to the Ashland winner Glitter Woman, who passed away last year; she was the dam of Political Force, who will be running in the Jockey Club Gold Cup tomorrow.

Friday, September 28, 2007

NYRA Selection Defended

- New post up over at

- Aides to Governor Spitzer vigorously defended the decision to award the franchise to NYRA in the second hearing conducted by the Senate's Racing, Gaming and Wagering committee.

Paul Francis, the director of the Division of the Budget, told the committee that the franchise extension and the administration's plan to contract out the license to operate a 4,500-slot machine casino at Aqueduct made the most fiscal sense to New York when compared to competing proposals put forward by other bidders.

"In the end, the choice was clear," Francis said.
Both Francis and [Downstate Empire State Development Corporation chairman Patrick] Foye said that NYRA's structure as a non-profit would create the most benefit to New York racing. Foye also said that the prospect of fighting NYRA in court over who owns the racetracks could have led to a "catastrophic" result for horse racing if the litigation resulted in a temporary shutdown of racing in the state. [Daily Racing Form]
NYRA's land claim was, of course, also cited as a reason.

The officials also discussed the shortcomings of the other bidders - the lack of U.S. racing experience of Capital Play - who, in reality, never really had a shot in my thinking - and the fact that Excelsior seemed more interested in slots. The latter's continued interest is now unclear, though it's been unclear to this observer for some time. An Excelsior spokesperson said that it did not intend to pursue the franchise further unless slot machines were legalized at [Belmont]. Slots at Belmont are opposed by Sheldon Silver, which, unless he changes his mind, is a death knell as Mayor Bloomberg well knows. Silver has not been clear as to his reasoning, but he doesn't have to be.

And as far as Empire goes:
[Foyt and Francis] raised questions about the financial projections of the VLT casino by Empire Racing, whose partners include Magna Entertainment Corp., Churchill Downs Inc., and Woodbine Entertainment Group. Foye said there were concerns about the financial health of MEC, which has been selling tracks, along with antitrust concerns about giving a franchise to a company so heavily involved in the simulcast business. [Bloodhorse]
Jeff Perlee responded:
“They criticized Empire because one of our partner’s stock price is down, and yet they went on to recommend an entity that itself is bankrupt.....So, I think there are a lot of holes in the logic.’’
I would think that Perlee might be tired of repeating the same old 'NYRA is bankrupt' rhetoric at this late stage. And besides, the biggest holes were in the logic that led Empire to take on Magna despite its shaky track record and the nearly unanimous sentiment against them having a role in NY racing. It serves them right if that decision is ultimately the one that doomed their bid.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Seeking the Gold

- Jay Cronley, writing on, has several hints on how to find that elusive 50-1 shot, assuring us that it doesn't have to be the person betting his middle daughter's birthday.

Lugging in.

Not a weakness, like drifting, which suggests fatigue. Horses that lug toward the rail are usually trying hard. They're most often toward the front and don't produce gigantic tickets next time out. But it's not always a warning sign as many assume.
Horses that are around 1 for 30 in non-winners of two.

The one thing you can usually say about a regular plodder is it is probably reasonably healthy.

Which is more than you can say about lightly raced and declining cheap mummies that seem to ache to the touch.
That second point is a different way of looking at things than I'm accustomed to; but I suppose that's what looking for such high odds entails. Ofttimes I won't even get past the career record at the top of the pp's for a horse like that. But I suppose it's somewhat similar to the notion that a pitcher has to be pretty good to lose 20 games in a season. That guy is at least sound enough physically to take the ball every five days, and the fact that he stays in the rotation long enough to accumulate so many losses means he can't be that terrible. I can think of one team that I'm sure wouldn't mind finding some 20 game loser to throw into a game right now!

On the other hand, Davidowitz, in his latest DRF Plus column on Avoiding costly mistakes, reminds us that it's "rarely, if ever" a good idea to bet a frequent bridesmaid to win. He's talking about a different situation, that in which the horse is habitually overbet due to his close finishes. But if we look at his suggested exceptions to his rule, and think in terms of Cronley's suggestion, perhaps we can come up with, if not 50-1 shots, at least some winners that are worthwhile.
When a frequent bridesmaid gets a positive trainer change, or is switching racing surfaces or distances to conform to a breeding strength or the statistical strength of a new trainer, such a horse may overcome his losing habit. At that moment however, it is wise to demand some value before you get on board for a minor reversal of fortune. No advantage can be gained anticipating major improvement when the rest of the betting public is jamming their money in the win pool as if the change is guaranteed to produce the elusive victory. [Daily Racing Form (subscription only)]
- Santa Anita ain't no Del Mar, at least based on the first day of racing on the new Cushion Track. In the third race, Johnny Eves went wire to wire in 1:08.05. It was a mix of speed and closers, though the latter dominated as the card wore on. Richard Migliore told the LA Times:
"I really like this track, it feels good. There's a lot of similarity to Hollywood Park. Even though those horses went legitimate fractions, nobody really melted down late. They're handling it fine.
Dancing Edie, making her first start since running second in the G1 Macbee at Del Mar on Aug 4, shortened up and took the feature on the downhill course. You had to go back to June, 2005 to find her last race under a mile. Dancing Edie set the early pace in the F&M Turf last year, but will instead point to either the $1 million E.P. Taylor at Woodbine or the Las Palmas at Oak Tree.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Belmont Notes

- Pletcher won with his only starter at Belmont on Wednesday. Now that I'm off Any Given Saturday, he'll probably start warming up now and gain momentum climaxing in him having 12 winners in the 11 Breeders' Cup races!

Cowboy Cal was the 5-2 third choice making his debut on the grass after a poor effort on the dirt at 5-1. With John Velazquez aboard, this son of Giant's Causeway went right to the lead in a first quarter of 22.91, and a half of 46.38 - second quarter of 23.47. At this point. Johnny V. gave his horse a breather as they rounded the turn. With the others working hard behind them, the gap was closed, as favored Manitowish Waters got to within a length. But Velazquez had slowed the third quarter to 24.64. That allowed Cowboy Cal to re-break at the top of the stretch, come home in 23.16 and win by four in a final time of 1:34.18. It was like Lucien Fontaine slowing the three quarters to 1:32 and zipping home in :28 flat!

Cowboy Cal is out of a Seeking the Gold half-sister to the $4.5 million earner Behrens.

That was Johnny V up again on the third race winner Pool Land. But the Toddster no longer trains; Tom Albertrani took over since this mare's last start, in the Distaff last year, in which she actually led on the turn before tiring to 9th. Velazquez got the job done with a similar ride, slowing the pace after a quick second quarter of 23.09, and, this time, just having enough left at the end.

And it was Johnny V with the natural hat trick in the 4th with Forza Bruta for James Bond.

- Cowboy Cal was the third winner in the last four racing days for the Toddster; plus that nice second place finish with Jade Queen. So, perhaps things are turning around. His slump has been exclusive to New York. Over the last 90 days on the NYRA circuit, Pletcher's winning percentage is 12%. But at all other tracks, it's the usual 24%.

The Stoned Zone

- Here's an item that just keeps popping up. I've started to write about it in the past, but decided not to complete it due to the lack of credibility of the key figure involved. However, it's turned out to add up in an interesting fashion, so here goes.

However, I'll preface this by pointing out that Roger Stone is a longtime Republican operative who has been suspected of being associated with a variety of dirty tricks. Most significant of those to current events is the street demonstration that shut down the Florida recount in Miami-Dade in 2000, which helped lead to Bush and his lies that have led us into the current mess in Iraq. Thanks a lot for that Rog.

Most recently though, Stone was apparently caught red-handed - or red-throated if you will - making that threatening phone call to Eliot Spitzer's father while he was in the employ of Joe Bruno and the Senate Republicans, a position from which he was subsequently dismissed.

Via Albany Law School's Racing and Gaming Today page, today I come across an entry from Stone's blog, The Stone Zone. Yes, despite his voice being caught on that tape from Mr. Spitzer's answering machine, Stone continues to carry on that special shameless Republican way. He refers to an item, which I have seen before, on a site called RADAR On-Line, originally published on April 24 of this year, which claimed that Stone was introduced by Donald Trump to Steve Wynn, who in turn hired him to lobby Senator Bruno on behalf of Excelsior. He brought this up with respect to an inquiry on the matter he recently received from the New York State Temporary Commission on Lobbying. Stone, as he has in the past, flatly denies the story.

I have never met Mr. Wynn nor spoken to him or anyone from his office and I have never lobbied Senator Bruno or any other State Official. I have received no compensation whatsoever from EXCELSIOR, and in fact, I have friends involved with both EMPIRE GAMING and CAPITAL PLAY. [The Stone Zone]
He goes on to point out that he had immediately contacted the Albany Times-Union and the NY Daily News, the latter of which promptly printed his denial in this blog entry.

But what I find most relevant for our purposes is this; Stone continues in his blog entry:
Interestingly, both reporters told me that staffers from super-lobbyist Pat Lynch's office called to push the story. Lynch represents EXCELSIOR'S competitor and arch rival, EMPIRE GAMING.
And indeed, I went back into my email inbox, and found a message from that very day that came from a representative of Empire; this when they were still speaking to me. And guess what? It contained a link to the RADAR On-Line piece, an unflattering article on Stone from the Village Voice, and an accompanying note that read: FYI - New player in the racing bid raises some eyebrows.

So, this all reveals an attempted smear, not directly of Stone, who has since done an effective job of doing that to himself, but of Excelsior and Steve Wynn by Empire. They attempted to tie Wynn to both an unsavory character in Stone, and to the same sort of questionable lobbying of Bruno that their own Jared
Abbruzzese was, and still is, being investigated for (by the same Temporary Lobbying Commission). This came at a time when Excelsior had just added Steve Wynn to replace the Steinbrenners. If we are to believe Stone in this particular case (and again, to be fair, consider the source), we see the kind of depths that Empire was willing to go to in order to sully its rival's reputation once its ridiculous name calling campaign only called attention to its own pettiness and distortions of the truth.

- We've mentioned the concept of a Commissioner of Racing in the past, one who could, in theory, get all the tracks on the same page on matters such as stakes schedules and coordinated post times. In his Wire to Wire column on, Andrew Cohen writes of a response he received from the U.S. Trotting Association (USTA) executive vice-president Eric Sharbaugh to his suggestion that the standardbred sport do the same. It reveals issues that I imagine would come into play for the NTRA as well.
Sharbaugh first cited anti-trust laws which “restrict the USTA differently than they do certain other sports entities” like Major League Baseball or NASCAR. “In contrary to those entities,” Sharbaugh wrote, “the USTA does not own the race tracks, does not enter into contracts with the drivers and owners to race at racetracks, and is not a harness racing league of club owners…. The USTA has no power to apportion racing dates, stakes races or determine who can and cannot participate in racing based upon arbitrary or subjective standards…”

Moreover, Sharbaugh wrote, “the sport of harness racing is subject to direct governmental regulation in ways that most other sports are not…. [Therefore], the USTA has no power or authority to establish a national Commissioner with nationwide powers similar to those of the various state regulatory authorities. In order for such a national racing Commissioner[‘s Office] to be created, all state agencies and legislative bodies that regulate racing would need to agree to create such an office and to transfer some of the powers currently exercised by the state agencies and legislative bodies to such a national racing Commissioner.” []
But while acknowledging that those problems are real, Cohen won't take no for an answer and responds that it's the USTA's responsibility to look into how to tackle them.
It shouldn’t stutter because its leaders believe the result is impossible to obtain; it should march on because its members believe the effort is worth making.
Wise words that the thoroughbred side should heed as well.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Return of the Cat

- Godolphin racing manager Simon Crisford spoke to the UK's Guardian about Discreet Cat:

"Discreet Cat had a throat abscess in the World Cup which has wiped out a lot of his season. We know it wasn't there 48 hours before the race, and there is a strong suspicion that it actually burst in the race.

"He's in a six-furlong race at Belmont Park on Sunday, and he's also in the Breeders' Cup Sprint. We've knocked the Classic [over 10 furlongs] on the head, it's a shame that he never got a fair crack of the whip over that trip, but bearing in mind what's been wrong with him, we're just pleased to see him back."
Yes, it will be nice to see him back; and Crisford sounds pretty definitive on his choice of Breeders' Cup races. On Monday, the mercurial son of Forestry completed his preparation for the Vosburgh, one of four "Win and You're In" races at Belmont on Sunday, with five furlongs in 1:00.84 (4/23). Godolphin Guy Rick Mettee told Bloodhorse: "We will be sending out a sound and pretty fit horse.” Though he also admitted that the Vosburgh was not his first choice.
"I really wanted to make the Forego," said Rick Mettee, the assistant trainer who oversees Godolphin Racing's New York string. "If I was going to take on good horses, I'd rather do it at seven [furlongs] than in a souped-up three-quarter race the way this is with all the pace in it." [DRF]
With First Defence and Fabulous Strike slated to go, it's certainly not an easy spot. I'd think that the 1:07 4/5 he ran to six furlongs in last year's Cigar would be enough to get him close!

The Guardian article referenced above mainly concerns Godolphin's Ramonti, who will run on Saturday in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes. He'll face George Washington and the filly Darjina, who beat them both at Longchamps over there in the alternate universe where the top horses actually run against each other on a regular basis regardless of sex or age. George Washington seems pretty sure to come over for the BC Mile. But Irish Oaks winner Peeping Fawn is now out of the F&M Turf.

I have a new post up at the Breeders' Cup blog, in which I officially jump off the Any Given Saturday bandwagon. For now, anyway. His race in the Brooklyn, by itself, wouldn't be so bad; I don't think he's necessarily supposed to give weight to older horses and win easily at this stage of his career. But when I watch the race in comparison to his Dwyer, over the same track, and not only off a longer layoff, but one precipitated by a foot injury, it really pales in comparison. Nobiz Like Shobiz came to run that day, and Any Given Saturday just powered away from him; as he did from Curlin and Hard Spun in the Haskell.

So I just don't see betting him at like 7-2 with that as his one race in the three months before the Classic. Plus, at this point, he doesn't pass the 'stupid' test I admittedly use for the Derby, Classic, and maybe a couple of other races throughout the year - as in, will I feel stupid if I bet him and he doesn't run well? Given that I bet him in the Derby (even knowing he had no shot once Beyer and the other wise guys all picked him), the answer to that question is a resounding 'yes!'

- The great synthetic surface experiment continues today with the Oak Tree meeting opening at Santa Anita. Already, there was a fatality when the good two-year colt Drill Down shattered his left front cannon bone in a workout Monday. [Orange County Register] And Brad Free reported in the Form that the track superintendent continued to tinker with the surface just days in front of its opening.

- Lawyer Ron had some unexpected and unwelcome company on the racetrack Monday during his final drill for Sunday's Jockey Club Gold Cup. The Toddster was not looking for a fast workout, so exercise rider Eddie King had to take a strong hold when EZ Warrior came rolling by in the stretch! "He's an eager horse. If you let him, he'll work very fast. That wasn't what we were trying to do." Lawyer Ron, who I expect to be a decisive favorite over Curlin, got his five furlongs in 1:01.24, while EZ Warrior was timed in 59.27 seconds.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Notes - Sept 24

- Reader Case had sent me a link to an article by Dick Jerardi from last week in which Moon Catcher's owner Chuck Zacney, of Afleet Alex fame, blasted Kent Desormeaux for taking his filly too far back in the Alabama. "He thought there was enough early pace for her to make one run. Notice he's not up this time." [Philly Daily News] Zacney was referring to Saturday's Cotillion, in which she was ridden by Carlos Marquez. Problem is that the filly wasn't too close to the pace in this race either; and, worse yet, came up completely empty in the stretch, ugh. No Kent D. to kick around this time, and it seems as if the daughter of Malibu Moon may merely be a horse for the Delaware Park course.

- Boyd Gaming, the owner of Dania Jai Alai, has been paying attention to the anemic business at the other Broward County pari-mutuels approved for slots, and to that court case challenging the validity of the referendum that approved them. Plans to construct a new racino (jai-cino?) are on hold indefinitely.

The earliest that slots could be ringing in Dania Beach will be 2009, at least four years after Broward County voters decided to allow the machines at four pari-mutuels.
Slot machines on the East Coast generated an average $269 in revenue per day in August, according to the Gaming Industry Observer, an industry newsletter that puts out a monthly report on East Coast slots. The August averages for all three Broward racetrack casinos were below the East Coast average. Gulfstream Park's machines generated only $68 in revenue per day last month — the worst-performing slots on the East Coast. [Sun-Sentinal]
Congratulations to Frank Stronach for holding that honor! Magna announced that it will purchase the balance of the Maryland Jockey Club, the name under which Pimlico and Laurel operate. This acquisition was "specifically contemplated" in the company's recently announced debt reduction strategy. In a press release, Frankie said:
"MJC is a core asset of MEC, and while thoroughbred racing in Maryland is currently facing many difficult obstacles, we remain optimistic that with the assistance of other stakeholders horse racing in the state can have a bright future." [Baltimore Sun]
"Bright future" = "slots" of course, though I imagine he has a figure in excess of $68 per machine per day in mind.

Suffolk Downs, seeking to build on the successful Mass Cap day on Saturday, announced lavish plans for their new casino. Of course, that's if slots are legalized in the state, and, if so, if Suffolk is able to successfully compete against deep-pocketed Indian tribes and others that will no doubt bid on three licenses proposed by Governor Deval Patrick.

One obstacle that the track faces is a practical one - it's proximity to Logan Airport means possible restrictions on the height of any new buildings, and the lights used to illuminate them.
"They will be limited in the height they will be able to build, and I doubt they would be able to justify any appeal on any economic grounds," said John Hansman, director of MIT's International Center for Air Transportation. "It doesn't make sense to reduce the capacity of an international airport to have gambling in close proximity to the city."
State and federal officials would also review the lighting, which most casinos use to illuminate their hotels and draw patrons to the facilities but could become a hindrance for pilots. []
- Speaking at a demonstration to protest the appearance by Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at Columbia University today, New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said "We're here today to send a message that there is never a reason to give a hatemonger an open stage." But Ahmadinejad ably demonstrated during his speech why I think that Ms. Quinn, and the others who decried Columbia's invitation to him, are wrong. His lies and absurd declarations clearly showed him to be the fool that he is. To deny someone like Ahmadinejad the opportunity to speak gives that person the legitimate claim that his/her right to free speech are being muzzled. And when allowed to speak, they usually expose themselves for what they are, and lose any legitimacy whatsoever. Seems like a good enough reason to me.

Minus Mules

- Kent Desormeaux has been handed a seven-day suspension for his rodeo riding aboard Be Bullish in the sixth at Belmont; and the rider has appealed. Ed Fountaine, writing in the NY Post, noted that the decision to not disqualify the horse was "consistent," given that at Saratoga, stewards set standard of leaving winner's number up despite obvious fouls.

But sooner or later, they'll have to draw line, before this turns into anything-goes rodeo.
However, leaving the horse up wasn't entirely consistent given the DQ of Victory for Sienna on Aug 20 at the Spa; another incident in which the fouled horse had no shot to win.

- In an odd note, the Boston Globe notes that some bridgejumping activity at Suffolk on Godolphin's Afrashad, in which some $154,000 was bet on him and entry Council Member into a total show pool of $163,630, was reportedly most active in Pennsylvania simulcast betting. Hmmm, maybe John was hanging around the 5th floor at Philly Park again....or maybe it was Valerie or The Last Filly at Presque Isle Downs?

In any event, that action was dwarfed by the bridgejumpers at Belmont....or maybe they were at Pocono Downs?....for Any Given Saturday in the Brooklyn. A total of $1,250,142 was wagered to show on Any Given Saturday out of the total pool of $1,295,523. [NY Daily News] That created a minus pool of over $240,000; just add it on to the state's bailout package.

And even those who bet on mule races can't resist a guaranteed five cent return on the dollar. Sunday's first at Fairplex not only created a minus place pool - show betting was barred - of some $19,607 on the two prohibitive favorites, Bar JF Hot Ticket (7-10) and Sarah Newlson (9-10); but there was a minus quinella pool of $1,199! That winning combo returned the requisite $2.10, tying the world record for the lowest quinella payoff ever, and that wasn't you Ms. QQ, was it??

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Belmont Notes

- Bold Hawk, who won the 4th at Belmont on Sunday, looks like a nice three-year old turf router for Jimmy Toner. With Jean Luc Samyn aboard, Bold Hawk stalked a super slow pace - nearly 26 seconds to run the second quarter. No wonder Samyn was having a hard time reigning him in early. But he settled down and, under very confident handling, cruised to the lead before being asked to run around midstretch. He then strode away powerfully to win by two - final quarter in 22.62!

That's the second win in four starts for this three year old son of the Roberto stallion Silver Hawk, out of Tribulation, a Grade 1 grass stakes winner (the Queen Elizabeth II) by Danzig. Tribulation is also a half-sister to Graceful Darby, who also won that stakes; and to the dam of the Japanese champion Grass Wonder, a G1 winner at a mile and a half, and of Wonder Again, who won the G1 Diana, the NY Handicap at a mile and a quarter, and other stakes for Toner himself.

In the featured Fairway Flyer Stakes, Johnny V. did his best to steal the race on Jade Queen for Pletcher. They set a pace of 24.15, 25.21, and 25.45 to the three-quarters. Then they started picking up the pace - 24.59 to the mile, and then the daughter of Giant's Causeway strode away nicely in the stretch, getting to the eighth pole in 23.28. She looked like a sure winner at this point. But Barancella, even money in his first start since April for Frankel, really took off at the end to get by and draw a length clear in a final furlong of 11.49.

Barancella (Acantenango) is a six-year old mare who has run very sporadically over the years, never having raced more than two races without a layoff line. But she has a lot of back class, having run second in the aforementioned QE II. So if Frankel can hold her together, she's capable of a big effort stepping up to graded stakes.

Sunday Morning Notes - Sept 23

- I'll have to reserve most of my comments for the Breeders' Cup blog, but suffice to say that Any Given Saturday's win in the Brooklyn was not particularly impressive from a visual standpoint; nor was it very fast. I never thought that the result was in doubt, but Garrett Gomez, despite working pretty hard, was able to elicit only a 13 second closing furlong out of Pletcher's Classic hopeful. Of course, it's just a prep, and he had some trouble at the start according to Gomez. And he'll stretch out to what I think is his preferred two turns when he returns to the scene of his Haskell win.

Street Sense, who, it was announced, will prep for the Classic at Turfway, was not overly flattered by Grasshopper's second place finish, at 2-5, in the Super Derby.

Despite getting the G2 stakes win with Any Given Saturday, it was a mixed day for the Toddster, with Fairbanks and Octave going down as prohibitive favorites. Each of those may have still run well enough to go wherever they were going to go in the first place, but it's hard to be enthusiastic about either. Pletcher also had Quiet Royal win a stakes at Kentucky Downs, where he had two winners and a close second on the day. Most trainers wouldn't complain about any day in which he or she had two stakes winners I suppose.

Nice win by Brass Hat in the Mass Cap, but if the horse hated the track at Saratoga as much as his connections apparently told the TVG crew he did, why did they run him there a second time? Perhaps to get a better price, a suspicious mind might think? He was 5-2 in the morning line, and went off at 4-1. However, the Bradleys told Christina Olivares afterwards that they didn't have the money to supplement him to the Classic. Looked like a festive day at Suffolk Downs with over 19,000 on hand, including Jessica, who has some great reporting and photos from the day over at Railbird.

- The chart comment for that sixth at Belmont reads: Be Bullish...came out under left handed whipping in the stretch, knocking Pygmalion out of his way, which is literally what happened. Again, I know that the incident had nothing to do with the result of the race (at least in terms of who was the best horse). So not everyone disagrees with the decision - I see that Steve Crist, at his Cristblog, called it an inconsequential bump, and noted that the stewards properly left the winner up. But there's gotta be a limit to what a rider can do even if he's dealing with an obstacle in the form of a tiring horse as in this case. If Desormeaux had pulled out an AK-47 and blown Pygmalion away, I think we'd all agree that he had to come down. So somewhere between that rather extreme notion and incidental contact, there's a line at which it has to be a DQ, and my opinion is that the jockey crossed it in this case.

I'd mentioned Hammock when he won for Richard Schosberg at Saratoga. He went off at 3-2 that day, despite being 6-1 in the morning line off one disappointing prior effort last April at the Big A. In the finale on Saturday, Hammock was live on the board again, albeit far more subtly. It was his grass debut, and he was again 6-1 in the morning line. This time he was sent off at 5-1, but the result was the same as he drew away impressively, thus continuing an incredible streak for his trainer. After his fine showing at Saratoga, Schosberg has won with five of his first seven runners at Belmont.

Hammock is a son of the Phone Trick stallion Intidab, out of a mare by the grass champion Cozzene. His third dam, Adorable Micol, was a stakes winner in France, and is also the third dam of this year's Del Mar Oaks winner Rutherienne.

Smoke'n Coal won his debut in the second. This son of the $25,000 sire Smoke Glacken was purchased by Darley for $550,000 at Ocala in February. He's a full brother to the multiple graded winner Smoke'n Frolic, who won the Cotillion in 2002.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Stewards Permit Bullish Move

- Pygmalion, 9-2 in the morning line making his debut in the sixth at Belmont for Kiaran McLaughlin, opened at 3-5, drifted up to 4-5, stubbornly inched up to even money and stayed there. He's a West Pointer, so I guess they had a lot of partners there. He's a son of Freud out of a Polish Numbers half-sister to the speedy Grade 1 winner Behaving Badly.

Pygmalion made a threatening move around the turn, but was hung three wide throughout the long turn. That surely took its toll, and he wasn't catching front-runner Rule Seventy Six. But he was hanging, thus trapping Kent Desormeaux on Be Bullish in on the rail behind the front-runner. So Desormeaux just decided to make his own room. He took Be Bullish out, bumping Pygmalion aside, and persisted doing so until he had a path, which he took on to victory. The head-on shot in particular shows the severity, as well as the totally deliberate nature of the contact.

I was watching at home on TVG; Matt Carothers was doing his 58 Flat program. As he pointed out, Be Bullish was clearly the best horse in the race; and Pygmalion was going nowhere anyway. But he felt, as did I, that it was just too aggressive of a move for the stewards to permit. So I was more than a little surprised when the steward left him up. Seems to me that it sends a signal that a rider doesn't necessarily have to wait for room, and that it's OK to intentionally cause contact in order to find running room. I'd think that could create some dangerous situations. It looked more like bumper cars than what we usually see in horse racing.

- Octave was 1-5 in the Cotillion, oh man. Well, I was right about her getting beat, but Moon Catcher was awful. The past performance lines of winner Bear Now clearly seemed to indicate that she was a Woodbine Polytrack specialist....but I guess not. I'm expecting Any Given Saturday to be 1-5 as well.. [UPDATE: Fairbanks gets beat at 3-5 at Suffolk..]

Saturday News and Notes - Sept 22

- Silver Tree had his three race win streak broken in the G3 Cliff Hanger at the Meadowlands last night, and at considerable expense to those who backed him at 2-5, as well as to those who piled it on in the show pool. Mott's son of Hennessy was off a bit slowly, and taken three wide around the first turn by Kent D. He got to the lead turning for home, and hung on gamely for awhile. But he got gobbled up in deep stretch, and faded to 5th, creating some nice show payoffs. Presious Passion (Royal Anthem) got the win for trainer Mary Hartmann and Alan Garcia.

Pletcher got a win in the finale at Belmont with Sibley, cutting back from route to sprint. I actually used him in the Pick Threes just by process of elimination, but didn't get past the middle leg anyhoo. Garrett Gomez rode, as Johnny V hopped off to ride 8th place finisher Queen of Protocol. Velazquez continues to scramble to pick up winning mounts as his main benefactor looks to get back on track, and rode 17-1 Cannonball to victory for Wesley Ward in the 4th, a result which went a long way to creating a carryover for Saturday's 11 race card.

A couple of Dubai-related runners ran their U.S. records to two-for-two. Zabeel Racing International, owned by the Sheikh's oldest son, took the second with National Captain, who surprised up at Saratoga at 8-1. Juror has to be a rarity as a Godolphin-owned NY bred. He's by Royal Academy, out of a Flying Paster half-sister to the graded stakes winners On Target and the ill-fated Sea Cadet. He's been quite impressive in both of his wins; on Friday, he overcame a poor start, a wide trip around the first turn, and some traffic on the backstretch, but easily glided to victory after going wide around the field. Nice colt.

- Turfway Park and Hawthorne have both added incentives to the purses of the races that Carl Nafzger is considering for Street Sense's final scripted appearance before the Classic. But the latter comes in higher at $700,000 for its Hawthorne Gold Cup, should a horse with multiple Grade 1 wins be entered.

The entire complexion of the Gold Cup hinges on Street Sense, according to stakes coordinator Debbie Lindsay. His presence would just about guarantee a short field; his absence could open the door to any number of possible starters. [DRF]
I know it's some added prestige should a Derby winner run at your track, but I wonder if it really pays off financially? It will cost them an extra $200,000 in purse money, and the possibility of big handle on a wide-open contentious field. With Street Sense there, they'll certainly sell a few more beers with, perhaps, some extra people in attendance. But they'll probably end up paying out on a minus show pool....if they permit the wager.

- Another fatal breakdown at Presque Isle Downs, the third one that I know of to occur during racing hours.

- Interesting that Barclay Tagg told the Form that his NY-bred juvenile Big Truck could be even better than Tale of Ekati. Speaking of the colt's debut at Saratoga, Tagg told the Form: "I thought he'd win easy, I really did...I'm not trying to be a smart-ass, but he does things too effortlessly" The trainer wasn't the only smart-ass, as the horse was punched down to .65-to-1. He's scheduled to go next in the state-bred Bertram Bongard on Sunday.

Big Truck is a son of the $6,000 sire Hook and Ladder, out of a Go For Gin mare, who sold for $90,000 at Timonium in May. Not a sale where one expects to find their big two-year old, but if he's comparing him favorably to Tale of Ekati, then he's a colt we need to keep an eye on.

- NYRA and the NY horsemen have agreed to a new procedure regarding the maintenance of the dirt tracks at all three venues. The horsemen felt that the tracks were too hard in the morning due to track superintendent John Passero's practice of sealing and rolling them each evening regardless of the weather forecast. The tracks will now not be rolled unless the forecast indicates a greater than 30% chance of rain. The horsemen seem satisfied; Richard Violette, the president of the NYTHA, told the NY Daily News: "Communication has been very good with the NYRA. They addressed the horsemen's concerns and they're taking that concern seriously." But Charles Hayward's statement had the duel-edged tone of a politician's.
"What we're doing now is putting a little more risk that if we get caught with rain we're going to be in a tougher spot on race day. But the benefit is, at least in the mind of trainers, the track is going to be better for horses training in the morning." [Daily Racing Form]
Three horses have suffered fatal breakdowns during racing at the meeting thus far, with a 4th victim being claimed as a result of one incident; and Tiz Wonderful suffered a critical injury as well. And those incidents were not merely in anybody's mind.

- Churchill Downs finally opened its first slots parlor when a temporary facility opened at the Fair Grounds on Friday.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Off to the races....

- I have a new post up at the Breeders' Cup site, and gee, I guess I should put a permanent link to it over on the sidebar, duh? With this gig, I can afford to occasionally take a day off from my usual per diem labor, as I have fact, sometimes I think I'll need to. However, now it's around 1 PM, I'm done, it's a beautiful day. So where do you think I'm going now? That may not work out on the financial side. Or....maybe it will!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Belmont Notes

- Those two Empire Maker fillies both ran pretty well in the second. Mushka was three wide on the turn, and may have moved too soon. She opened up at the top of the stretch but tired significantly to third. Country Star closed well for second. The winner, Backstreet Rhythm, was 10-1 morning line making her grass debut after two fair efforts on dirt. She was bet to 7-2, and came from dead last to win. Don't you love stuff like that?

Two horses that raced, and did so poorly, just this past Saturday won on Thursday! Speed of Sound, who ran a miserable last on Saturday, took the first, the first of two for Contessa. And Godolphin's Astronomia won the feature. Anyone who may have bet her on Saturday, when she ran 8th at 7-2 stretching out to a mile, can't be happy to see that she paid $12.20 cutting back to six furlongs. Unless they had her of course. Last to first with a final 1/8th of 11.55, pretty nice.

Linda Rice ran first and second with her even money entry of Sextant and Sweet Bama Breeze, two-first timers in a maiden turf sprint; that's the 4th such winner of the year for this barn, which has gotten a big boost out of all the grass sprints being run here.

And Johnny V. turned to trainers other than Pletcher to get a couple of winners. He rode Monster Drive for Mott, and On Fire for Shug.

Spitzer Soares on DA Ruling

- New York's Senate Republicans have hired a special counsel to help in their investigation of the Spitzer Administration, and the Governor in particular, in their Senate investigation of the Choppergate/Troopergate scandal. Joseph diGenova is a Republican D.C. insider, a former U.S. attorney in the Reagan Administration, and an outspoken critic of the Scooter Libby indictment. Oh man. He bills at $450/hour, and will be paid $500,000, including expenses, for his services through March, 2008. Are we really still going to be talking about this then? (And will the franchise issue be settled at that time?)

And, though a Bruno spokesperson told Newsday that diGenova will be paid from the Senate's maintenance and operations budget, he didn't specify that it's actually taxpayer money allocated to the Senate for outside consulting [NY Times]. A Democratic on the Committee contends that since his party was not consulted, the hiring constitutes a partisan undertaking that the state is constitutionally barred from paying. [Albany Times Union]

What is it with politicians, especially Republicans from my view (though I'm sure the other party is [occasionally] guilty as well), that they can't leave well enough alone? Here you had genuine sympathy for poor Joe Bruno, picked on so unfairly as he was by the bully Governor and his men. Even I was thinking 'Ol' Joe, he's not so bad, he has a nice smile, and he'll fight for the interests of our downtrodden industry.' Whatsmore, Spitzer was embarrassed and humbled, and the Republicans, if they were really interested in governing, were in position to take advantage of a chief executive who likely would not have been as brash and cocky as before.

Instead, they're taking this way too far, devoting virtually all of their time and energy into an endeavor which is destined to make them look just as petty and vindictive as they accuse the governor of being.

Bruno said that 70 percent of New Yorkers believe Spitzer should publicly testify under oath. [Rochester Democrat and Chronicle] And you know what? I don't disagree. However, as even Bruno's boy, the New York Post acknowledged in an editorial:

..while about 80 percent of voters believe the scandal is important, just 12 percent said getting to the bottom of it should eclipse other state business.
Like the racing franchise. The Republicans have accused the governor of paying scant attention to the issue, but instead of conducting meaningful business aimed at overhauling the structure of the industry in the state, they're spending taxpayer money to conduct a personal vendetta against the governor.

There were already two (supposedly) non-partisan investigations underway (now one, more in a minute), but the Republicans don't trust either. I don't blame them for being skeptical of the State Ethics Commission, since it's about to be folded into a new panel of which Spitzer will pick a majority.

Now, just this afternoon, Albany DA David Soares released the results of his investigation (for which Spitzer did submit to questioning, though not under oath), the only one that could have resulted in criminal charges. Not only did Soares declare that there was no illegal conduct, but he concluded:
“To the contrary, we found that the Governor, his staff, and the New York State Police were acting within their authority in compiling and releasing documents to the media concerning the use of state aircraft.” [NY Times]
His report seems to be at odds even with Andrew Cuomo's, which led to the suspension of two of Spitzer's aides. The GOP will no doubt point out that Soares is a Democrat, but he's the guy that brought down Alan Hevesi. Sen. Winner, the chairman of the investigating committee, told the Times that "clearly we disagree" and that the investigation will go on. The Republicans' insistence on pressing on now may begin to appear even more shrill.

"This is not anything to be taken lightly," said Bruno. "This is the abuse of power of the highest office of this state." But this whole affair was precipitated by Bruno's dubious use of state aircraft to fly to political fund-raisers. And though he made them legal by scheduling "at least one legislative meeting on each of the ten trips," it seems to me that he was abusing the power of the second highest office in the state. It's time to stop this nonsense and get back to work.

Toddster Taken Down An Octave (Or Two)

- You know it's a slow news day when the top headline in the Racing News section of reads Dreaming of Anna, 'Liz Work at Arlington. Oh man.

Well, at least we have Any Given Saturday set to make his final pre-Classic appearance in Saturday's Brooklyn Handicap against what promises to be a short and sluggish field. Since I expect him to win the Classic, I don't expect him to have any problems here at Belmont. But if Rags to Riches couldn't get the win for the ice cold Pletcher barn, I suppose that nothing is guaranteed.

He also has Octave running in the Grade 2 Cotillion....or should I say, the Fitz Dixon Cotillion Handicap at Philly Racino, also on Saturday. I am not a big Octave fan, so it wouldn't necessarily take a Toddster slump to get me to bet against her, especially when she's the 7-5 morning line favorite. Having said that, she's never been out of the money, and in seven Grade 1 races, she has two wins, four seconds, and a third.

But having said that, she's never won a race around two turns (a true two-turn race, not the turn and a half that is a mile and a quarter at Belmont.)

But having said THAT, there ain't no Grade 1 fillies in this field. Bear Now looks like a Polytrack specialist, and a Woodbine Polytrack specialist at that; and Talkin About Love rode the rail to take the G3 Monmouth BC Oaks in her last. Moon Catcher finished 4 1/2 lengths behind Octave in the Alabama, fading in that painfully slow final quarter of nearly 27 seconds.

But here, Moon Catcher, Tim Ritchey's daughter of Malibu Moon, cuts back to the mile and a sixteenth distance at which she won the G2 Delaware Oaks and the Susan's Girl, both at Del Park. The former was achieved with a 100 Beyer that exceeds anything Octave has ever run. So the way things are going for Pletcher, Moon Catcher doesn't seem an unreasonable pick at all. Whatsmore, perhaps Humble Janet, 10-1 morning line, could rally her way into the exotics to create some value. She was also beaten by 4 1/2 at a mile and a quarter by Octave, she in the CCA Oaks. But this Steve Asmussen trainee, by Humble Eleven, a $1,000 Lac Ouimet stallion, also turns back in distance, and has shown some nice late foot at this distance.

Making An Empire......Slowly

- The first crop of Empire Maker is proving to be slow to even get to the races, no less win them. According to, only four of his 93 foals have even started. One of those, Miss Red Delicious, has won; and that one is a stakes winner having taken the Anna M. Fisher Debutante at Ellis Park.

But that shouldn't be too surprising based on the stallion's career. He didn't get to the races until October 20 of his freshman year, scoring a 3 1/2 length win at odds of .45-to-1. He made one subsequent start that year; a third (behind Toccet and Bham) in the Remsen.

So they should be starting to come out soon, and indeed, here's no less than three making their debut at Belmont on Thursday, and they all do so on the grass. In the second, at a mile and a sixteenth, Mushka debuts for Bill Mott. She brought a winning bid of $1.6 million at Saratoga last August. She's out of Sluice, a stakes winning daughter of Seeking the Gold; her second dam is the four-time Grade 1 winner Lakeway. In the same race, Frankel presents Country Star, a Stonerside homebred out of Rings A Chime (Metfield), the 2000 Ashland winner.

In the sixth, a NY-bred grassy sprint affair, Tom Bush has Tulipmania, a homebred of the upstate Gallahger's Stud. This filly, inbred 3x4 to Fappiano, is out of Eventail, a NY-bred stakes winner by Lear Fan who's a half-sister to the excellent race mare Take Charge Lady, two-time winner of the G1 Spinster, and an earner of nearly $2.5 million.

And back to the second race, John Kimmel unveils Emotional, by the thus far effective first-out sire E Dubai. The trainer has won three of these baby turf races with first-timers this year out of six tries, two of them at Saratoga. She's out of a dam by the juvenile champion Favorite Trick; and her second dam is the juvenile filly champion Smart Angle, the dam of the speedy Houston.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Belmont Notes

- Barclay Tagg had another winner on Wednesday, his third straight, when his first-timer Anita Rosita (Tomorrow's Cat) held off the Contessa favorite in the second at Belmont. It was the trainer's sixth winner with his last eight starters in New York! And it was his sixth first-out two-year old winner of this year, out of ten such runners!

And yet another winner for Richard Schosberg, three for four at the meeting. He may have a nice one in Light Tactic, now two-for-two with an easy allowance win. While watching this gray son of Tactical Cat bound away from the rest of the field, I was imagining that it was Highland Cat. That's what he might have looked like if he was good.

Two winners each for Stan Hough and Richard Dutrow....and none for Pletcher. The Toddster had one horse, Christies Treasure, who finished 6th at 4-1 in the Wild Applause Stakes. Unspoken Word set a reasonable pace, and had a lot to offer when asked for run in the stretch; just enough to hold on Stormy West.

The runner-up was 14-1, and ran an absolutely huge race closing from absolutely dead last at the top of the stretch; and doing so through a final 1/8th of 12.05 seconds. This daughter of Gone West won her last for Mott/Desormeaux at 9-1, and the bettors certainly didn't take her anymore seriously here. Probably because Desormeaux opted for the trainer's Sweet Ransom instead. Alan Garcia was up instead, and I'd imagine that Kent D. wants his mount back; that was one serious rally.

I've posted about Unspoken Word before; this three-year old filly was claimed for 75K from her breeder Kenneth Ramsey in her debut. But she is a daughter of Ramsey's Storm Cat sire Catienus, so at least he can console himself in that it's another stakes winner for the sire.

And did you see that superfecta in the ninth? A nifty return of $192,625 for 7-1 Dance for Fashion on top of 31-1, 145-1, and 24-1! A mere $9,429 for the triple..


All four bidders - NYRA, Capital Play, Empire Racing and Excelsior, will be invited to present their proposals (AGAIN). [NY Daily News]
Scheduled for the second week in October, this latest circus will be the third of a series of announced hearings to be conducted by the Senate Racing and Wagering Committee, chaired by Republican Senator Bill Larkin. Its purpose is to "explore the selection of the most optimum business model for the state racing franchise." But if the Senator really wanted to achieve that objective, instead of wasting time with yet another round of presentations, he would be conducting a hearing to explore the folding of OTB into the track operation. Without that particular optimum business model, Bill Gates couldn't run the franchise successfully here.

I love this reporting in Newsday today: Another company manages the Kentucky Derby, America's premier horse race. The clueless reporter is referring to, of course, Empire Racing, of which Churchill Downs is a 6% partner. Well then, why doesn't he write, of Empire, that 'Another company is losing millions of dollars and is presently seeking to sell off several racetracks?' I think it was the inclusion of Magna that first turned me against Empire. It showed arrogance - NOT having Magna involved was the one thing that everyone connected to the game here, except for maybe Joe Bruno, seemed to agree upon when the process was in its formative stages - and stupidity, for not taking into account the bad PR that it inevitably caused, especially when it issued statements taking NYRA into account for its poor financial performance. Arrogance and stupidity are not qualities we want to see in the franchise operator....and, by the way, are traits that NYRA has not been totally void of either.

Friends of New York, Tim Smith, Jared Abbruzzese, its proposed greedy takeout increases, and the Thacher report (which, for any of its faults, has still not had a single substantive claim disputed) aside, the presence of Magna alone is a good enough reason to hope that Empire goes away empty handed. And while they may only have a 6% stake, they and Churchill stand to control the simulcast signal via TrackNet Media and eventually reap 50% of the revenue from it. Is that something that anyone would really like to see?

Meanwhile, Newsday also reports that: A spokeswoman for the other company bidding, Excelsior Racing Associates, said it had no comment. And when is the last time we've heard from them? Excelsior seemed to have lost all their drive after the Steinbrenners split, didn't they? Their website hasn't been updated since April, and their public statements have been sparse. When's the last time we heard from Jerry Bailey on their behalf? Perhaps Richard Fields is keeping a low profile with respect to his connections to Spitzer. But for whatever reason, I don't get any sense of enthusiasm from them, and get the feeling that somebody there is going "Oh shit, we have to do this crap again?"

- The story on about the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission conducting a study of whether synthetic-surface racing has an impact on horses’ bronchial systems is the first one I've heard of, and something that is long overdue. But how about one for the jockeys too? Michael Dickinson, the inventor of the Tapeta surface in use at Presque Isle Downs, produced a report on exposure of horses and riders to “respirable” fibers, which found no “potentially harmful exposures.” However, it's impossible to determine any possible long-term damage at this time.

Super Frolic suffered a fatal injury while running in the Presque Isle Mile Stakes over the weekend, and I believe that's the second such incident during the meeting thus far. The Bloodhorse article presents an interesting theory that some breakdowns on synthetic surfaces could be a result of trainers racing sore horses on them in the hope that they will be magically cured. Dickinson said:
“We’ve seen that. Horses have arrived sore, and trainers have remarked that after two weeks, the horses are moving much better. However, certain injuries can only be cured by surgery or rest.”

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Notes - Sept 18

- I have a new post up at the Breeders' Cup site here.

There, I wrote about Tale of Ekati, whose win in the Futurity I was quite impressed with, more so than the one in the Hopeful by Majestic Warrior which inspired Coolmore to purchase a half-interest from The Boss. Tale of Ekati got a 94 Beyer, as opposed to a 95 for Majestic Warrior. I know there was a stiff wind into which the horses were running on Saturday, and that Tale of Ekati was able to draft in behind horses, which must have helped. But I can't be but highly impressed with his closing fraction of 11.84, and the way he was virtually eased up before the wire by Eibar Coa. And recall that he got left at the gate as well. Majestic Warrior really benefited from the speed duel between Maimonides and Ready's Image. So if I had a zillion dollars, and pedigree and stud prospects aside, I personally would have bought a piece of Tale of Ekati instead.

- I got some feedback on the poor crowd at Belmont on Saturday, and the lack of marketing that preceded it. I don't at all disagree with those that feel that, despite all the competition here in the city, it would not be a wasted effort to have tried to advertise the day. Maybe if people knew about the buttons.... (Steve Crist reported on his Cristblog that NYRA had 12,000 prepared, which is pretty much what I thought the crowd would, or at least, should have been.) But I will say that racing is at a big disadvantage due to the lack of media coverage it gets. The sport gets zero....and I mean ZERO - coverage on the local TV newscasts (except for horrific spills); and relatively minimal coverage in the papers.....though it at least does get covered there (though not close to what it was in the past). That's a lot of free advertising that other sports get, and which ours doesn't; and that's tough to compete with.

Monday, September 17, 2007

I Liked Cam

- I mentioned the "Belle of Belmont" buttons in honor of Rags to Riches that were distributed to the sparse crowd at Belmont on Saturday. I was surprised to receive such a trinket - it seems so primitive here in the digital age. I was even more surprised when I saw a lot of people wearing it. If she never races again, the button will become a poignant reminder of a(nother) horse with superstar potential prevented by injury from fulfilling its mission to help save our sport.

I don't recall receiving many buttons at the track, except for one, which I still have. In 1983, the Meadowlands staged a showdown between the two top older pacers of the day. Cam Fella was the defending Horse of the Year; but It's Fritz had burst on the scene with a string of dominating wins. This was to be there first-ever meeting, and as I recall, there was quite a lot of anticipation for it...probably as much as for just about any thoroughbred race to be run around here at least since Smarty Jones' Triple Crown attempt. 1983 doesn't seem like that long ago, but harness racing still received its fair share of media coverage then.

Over time, the mind sometimes transforms events as they actually happened, and my recollection was that this was a match race. It wasn't. But it was enough of one in effect that patrons were offered a choice of two buttons as they walked in - 'I Like Cam' or 'I Like Fritz.'

I liked Cam. It didn't look good for the son of Most Happy Fella as Fritz swept by on the turn and opened a solid lead in the stretch. But the champion pacer and his driver Pat Crowe fought on, and unleashed an improbable final surge that carried him by the spent It's Fritz. It's Fritz would never get the better of his rival in two subsequent meetings. Cam Fella won an amazing 30 of 36 races at four that year(!), and enjoyed a successful career at stud as well until 1997, when he was castrated due to testicular cancer.

I found a video of the race on You Tube, which should be of interest at least for any of you harness guys out there. But perhaps of more interest to most readers here is to hear the young track announcer who called the race. The next year, he burst upon the national scene as the voice of the Breeders Cup. (That doesn't give it away, does it?)

Fat Jockeys Case Full Of Lard

- All of the charges in the absurd 'fat jockeys' case against Braulio Baeza and Mario Sclafani have been dismissed.

After five days of testimony, county Judge Jerry Scarano ruled that the state Attorney General's case against Mario Sclafani and Braulio Baeza was based on faulty evidence, including a scale at Saratoga Race Course that was old and not calibrated. [Albany Times Union]
The state insisted on pressing on with the sham charges not only once, but twice - even after a juror in the first case correctly called it out. I think that NYRA owes it to the exonerated defendants to reinstate them with back pay, and that the Governor, who initiated the case when he was Attorney General, owes them an apology. (Fat chance.)

- The Florida Supreme Court will hear arguments that falsified petition signatures that helped get the slots referendum on the ballot should nullify the results that have led to slots in Broward County. The case has long been festering under the surface, and, in theory, could cause those racinos to be shuttered. A lower court judge had ruled that the results of the vote made the question of invalid signatures moot; but an appeals court disagreed. The matter of whether there were invalid signatures - possibly a significant number of them - does not seem to be the main issue, at least at this point. Instead, the questions are:
Can the signatures be challenged even after election supervisors have certified them, and after the ballot has been printed and absentee voting has begun? And can an amendment to the state Constitution be invalidated post-election if a portion of the signatures on the petition that authorized the vote turn out to be fraudulent? [Miami Herald]
An attorney representing gambling interests told the paper: "In the long run, this is much ado about very little....We can rest assured that parimutuels will continue to operate." Given the fact that facilities have already been built and opened at much expense, I'd expect that, one way or another, he's right. But this must be a nervous time for those racinos now nonetheless.

Voters in Miami-Dade County will have a second chance to approve the machines in January for its pari-mutuels, including Calder.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Belmont Notes

- Blue Sky God, who ran second in the 3rd at Belmont on Saturday, was one of those Godolphin private purchases from earlier this year. This three-year old son of Stormy Atlantic was sent to Dubai after graduating in his second start, at Aqueduct last November for Barclay Tagg. This was his 4th race since then, including one appearance in Dubai, and this was actually his best finish. Later, in the Noble Damsel, the barn's Astronomia, bet down to 7-2 despite stretching out substantially, finished 8th. Since their hat trick at Saratoga on August 15, Godolphin has cooled down a bit, having won just once in their last 12 races. Dance Away Capote, who had "a lot to do" as noted by a skeptical Tom Durkin as they entered the turn, made a very wide move around the turn to give Tagg his first of two graded stakes win on the day. I'll post more about his Futurity winner Tale of Ekati over the Breeders' Cup blog.

New Chapter was 9-5 for Darley when making her debut in the second on Sunday. But Porte Bonheur won off easily, with Channing Hill just cruising along until he shook her up midstretch. This daughter of Hennessy tired to a distant 8th at 25-1 in her debut and was the longest odds horse in the morning line on Sunday at 15-1. However, she was sent off the 6-1 third choice and won for fun. Nice.

Hill was involved with another hottie a bit later on the card. Come Fly Away had run only on the Keeneland Poly or grass in her first six starts, and was 6th at 32-1 in her last effort. Here, she was 10-1 morning line for her dirt debut. But she went off at 7-2, split horses midstretch, and prevailed by a head over Stormy Winter. Great game.

Meanwhile, Tagg had two more winners on this day including the always-trying Dave, who managed to rally late in the Ashley T. Cole and get his first win since May of 2006. The trainer now has five winners and three seconds from 13 starters.

Sunday was yet another miserable day for Pletcher after Saturday's nightmare, capping off a horrid weekend. Three more losers, including two favorites who not only lost, but ran terribly...a familiar pattern for the Toddster over the last couple of months on this circuit. Featherbed, a heretofore promising three-year old filly, was dead last, and forget about the 'steadied' comment in the chart; she was already last at the time. And in the finale, Mr. Sam I Am, 8-1 morning line, was sent off as the 5-2 favorite; but no tote magic here as he checked in 7th, ugh. Pletcher is 16-1-3-1 at Belmont, as the move downstate has provided no relief whatsoever....if anything, it's getting worse!

And stop the presses....Richard Schosberg actually had a loser in the 9th, after celebrating his Saratoga success by taking his first three at Belmont.

Bummer at Belmont

There's The Green Monkey. Well, actually, I missed him there. But that's who everyone is looking at.

There's the Toddster, with Johnny V and guys in suits. Saturday was not a good day for these guys. It wasn't really a great day in general. Rags and Riches' loss, and the season-ending injury that apparently occurred during the running of the Gazelle, is another example of our stars being unable to remain on the racetrack. .

I found the way the whole thing unfolded to be pretty bizarre; it seemed as if the events were all foretold by some unexpected action on the tote. I fully expected Rags to Riches to be 1-9; not because I necessarily thought she should be under the circumstances of her training interruptions. But just because she won the Belmont and that's the way people bet. So when she opened at that price, I figured that the hot action would be in the tote board. Well, it was, and back to that in a bit.

I didn't give it much thought when Lear's Princess started drifting down from 5-1 to 9-2, 4-1... After all, she's a nice, improving filly coming off a career best effort. But I and my two companions, Handride and a loyal reader stopping over in the course of his world travels, looked at each other in surprise and even dismay as Lear's Princess not only went even lower, but did so with much enthusiasm. She seemed to take a hit on every flash, 3-1, 5-2, 2-1, and even 9-5. Meanwhile, Rags to Riches was going in the opposite direction. We saw her as high as 3-5 before some late money settled her at .45 to 1.

Meanwhile, the action on Rags to Riches in the show pool was hot and heavy as expected. It's almost like the track is agreeing to give money away in the form of a minus pool when it agrees to accept show wagering races like this. The money poured in over the last couple of minutes; the total went from $250,000 to around $550,000. But in the meantime, Lear's Princess attracted some bridgejumpers of her own; over $110,000. I've never before seen a race with two horses getting bet in the show pool like that!

So things just did not seem quite right when they went into the gate. And they certainly didn't seem right when Lear's Princess swept past Rags to Riches with relative ease (and that's not to disparage her considerable effort to the wire, especially if she was indeed hurt when changing leads as Pletcher suggested).

It was a bummer, I must say. Once again, a horse with the potential to become a media star and fan favorite is simply unable to stay on the track. I don't know how much of it is just plain bad luck as opposed to issues related to the state of the breed. Nice to hear that they intend to bring her back, but I get the feeling that it's no lock that she does so.

Whatsmore, it's a real bummer that the crowd was only 7,361. That's not really different from a normal Saturday without the "Belle of Belmont," as the buttons that NYRA distributed called Rags to Riches, as well as three other stakes, including a look at the potential future stars of the sport. Not to mention The Green Monkey. It shows how far that a "New NYRA," or anyone else has to go to try and bring people back to the track.

The Green Monkey was 2-5, and brought Pletcher's first-time streak to 1 for 35 when he settled for a no-threat third. He had a little bridgejumper action himself with over $60,000 in the pool. And if anyone ever deserved to lose a bet, it's those who made that happen.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Off to the Races

- Have to take the LIRR to Belmont today, as the Head Chef is working a party tonight. We're actually also guests, and the guy is a film cinematographer who had his mug in Time Out NY last week, so there could be some real celebrities there.

However, none of them will be as celebritorious as Rags To Riches. I'm bringing my camera and hope to have something worthy to post later on. In the meantime, I sent in a new post to the Breeders' Cup site. I'm not sure if anyone is working today - you don't think they let me put stuff up directly, do you? - so I don't know when it will appear, but you can check here please. Hopefully sooner than later, because I wrote a bit about the Woodbine Mile to be run tomorrow.

So, good luck at the races, and have a great day.

Friday, September 14, 2007

News and Notes - Sept 14

- Magna Entertainment held a conference call to discuss its new debt-reduction plan, and Frank Stronach actually showed up this time! Analysts were rather amazed last time when he dispensed a consultant instead. He told them that he's going to make MEC debt-free, and this time he really means it! In addition to the previously announced sales of Thistledown and Portland Meadows, he's selling off property near Laurel and Gulfstream, and will end horse racing at his racino in Austria.

MEC also intends to explore strategic transactions involving other racing, gaming and technology operations, including: partnerships or joint ventures in respect of the existing gaming facility at Gulfstream Park and potential alternative gaming operations at other MEC racetracks; the possible sale of Remington Park in Oklahoma City; partnerships or joint ventures relating to other racetracks, such as Santa Anita Park; and transactions involving MEC's technology operations, which may include one or more of the assets that comprise MEC's PariMax business. [PR Newswire]
In addition, the company will get another $80 million in loans from MI Developments, the Stronach-controlled real estate company which owns a majority of its shares, and $20 million from the man himself, though in the form of a stock purchase from a Stronach estate-planning vehicle.

- Jerry Klein, in his excellent weekly weekend preview at, quotes one jockey who's happy with the Cushion Track surface at Santa Anita as compared with the Del Mar Polytrack. Aaron Gryder reported, "With the heat we've got today, it had a chance to change and it didn't. It's 15 degrees hotter now than (this morning) and horses are not going into it any deeper." Of course, if you buy into the 'flat track' theory I posted about yesterday, then the comparison may not be that significant. I got a couple of contrasting opinions in the comments section about that. As I said, it's something that makes sense to me from a visual standpoint, because, without knowing anything about any incline or lack of one during the meeting, the horses making an outside move turning for home never looked quite comfortable to me.

- Capital Play and its franchise-bidding partner Mohegan Sun will submit a letter of interest to run the racino at Aqueduct. But this of course does not mean that the Australian firm is giving up on its hopes to run the racing too. The company's NY-based legal counsel Andrew Goodell told the Connecticut news site that having different owners for racing and gaming brings the risk of having facilities that are not comparable in quality.

If Goodell had ever been to tracks like Yonkers, Monticello, or Saratoga Harness, he'd know how ridiculous that assertion is, at least in my opinion. There couldn't possibly be a bigger difference in the quality of the racing and gaming facilities at those tracks. Since the slots are the profit center, all of the renovations have gone to that side of those operations, while the racing facilities are seemingly stuck in a time warp. A company which owned only the racing would have every incentive to make their facility as attractive as possible.

And thanks to the commenters who filled in some blanks from my post on Wednesday's hearings. It's not my purpose, nor do I generally have the time, to re-hash every detail of every story. I try to pick out aspects that I think warrant further comment or explanation, and I link to the stories so that you can read them in their entirety. Nonetheless, I do love to get comments and feedback, and by all means please feel free to highlight anything I skipped that you think is important.

One story that a commenter mentioned that I should too is this one from the Thoroughbred Times regarding the proposed percentage of VLT money for the horsemen. Paul Post writes that the 6.5% proposed is less than the 7.5% in the scuttled MGM deal. In actual dollars, horsemen would get about $22.5 million less under the Spitzer proposal.
Horsemen in Delaware and Pennsylvania get 11.1% and 12% of gaming revenues...

NYRA President Charles Hayward said that NYRA also gets a much lower share of VLT revenues under the Spitzer plan. NYRA would receive 7%, but 4% would have to go toward capital improvements, leaving 3% for operations.

“The VLT splits for the horsemen we negotiated as aggressively as we could,” Hayward said. “The government wanted them to be lower; we wanted them to be higher. The horsemen we’ve talked to, although they realize that it’s less, what’s more important is to get this process going and get this thing built, starting to get some money to purses. [Thoroughbred Times]
Hayward says that the lower percentage still translates into a purse increase of nearly 30%. I haven't heard the horsemen complain.....yet.

Friday Morning Notes

- A really bad spill in the 5th at Belmont on Thursday resulted in the on-track euthanization of two horses. I don't want to watch it, so I'll just link to this graphic account in the NY Post if you're interested. John Velazquez, who was thrown from several mounts at Saratoga, and Javier Castellano were taken to the hospital, but both are said to be basically OK by Ed Fountaine in this article; but we'll keep an eye on that.

Whatsmore, Fountaine reports that Tiz Wonderful suffered a life threatening injury during his second place finish on Wednesday after which he was vanned off. Add these to a fatality on opening day, and the meet is not off to a good start at all in that respect.

But life goes on. I'm afraid to pick any horses here given my dismal recent record, but I guess one has to get back on the horse so to speak. So here are some quick pix for today: Double Dinghy Day looks like a solid favorite in the first for Frank Alexander (Castellano named to ride). He won his last, defeating Going Day, who came back to run a close second for my man Graham Motion, and moves up in class off a steady string of improving figs.

Let's try him in the early double with three in the second other than the top two morning line choices. Contessa is hot; he had two winners on Thursday and five on the young meeting thus far. Tinted Moon drops in class after an even 4th behind two well-bet first-timers and a Mott; her prior was a nice close this claiming level in the slop at Calder. Whirling Agatha goes out first time off a solid string of works for Allen Jerkens, who won with first-timer Merchant Marine at 11-1 on Thursday. And Carl Domino is one of those guys who has been knock-knock-knocking at the door. In the last two days, and with his last two entries, he's been second and third - both first-time starters in maiden claimers like this, and at long odds. Chaysin' Alex was second at 59-1 yesterday. Here, Always Enchanting (12-1) also makes her debut and does so off a similar workout pattern to the others.

And I like Too Risky in the 7th. He takes a big class drop for the capable trainer Mike Miceli off what are all really solid efforts against far better. He had no shot whatsoever in a quickly run affair at Monmouth in his last, and always tries. I love drop downs like this. Good luck and have a great day!