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Friday, November 30, 2007

By The Numbers - Following Up..

- As the legislature apparently moves towards a compromise on the MOU that will grant NYRA its 30-year extension (thanks to Teresa for the link), I hope you had a chance to check out the comments here, particularly the extended version by an extremely knowledgeable, though still anonymous poster. Of the figures provided by NYRA's Disclosure Statement on the percentages of bets it receives from bets made on-track, and those made on NYRA tracks (said in the Statement to be 9.3%) and at NY OTB's (2.5%), he/she wrote:

If NYRA includes the out-of-state handle in the calculation of their wager retention - they're being misleading because NYRA's out-of-state signal sale is the product of negotiation between NYRA and the receiving racetrack. Did they utilize the whole off-track handle in an effort to inflame opinion against the inequity? Can't tell. They didn't address how they arrived at their figures. Given that we are not informed what method NYRA used to calculate their off-track wager retention rate, any discussion of how much money would be left relies on facts not yet in evidence, i.e., the trustworthiness of the 6.8 percentage spread. It could be much, much less. I'd love to read Bennett Liebman's take on this.
Well, Bennett Liebman emails:
Looking at the direct (defined as bets placed on NYRA) numbers from the Racing and Wagering Board's annual report, NYCOTB pays 9.3% to NYRA on handle

Nassau 7.73%
Suffolk 7.68%
Capital 5.1%

At least a half of these payments should go to horsemen, but the exact payments depend on the applicable statutes and the contracts between NYRA and the OTB's. It's fair to say that NYRA gets substantially more than 2.5% on bets placed on NYRA races from the metropolitan OTB's.
Mr. Liebman also refers us back to his Racing By The Numbers report. It contains a lot of facts and figures, but one obviously would have to inspect the statutes and contracts in order to get an exact idea of exactly what the spread between on- and off-track bets are. In any event, it would appear that our commenter had the right idea, and the second commenter correctly points out that I was ignoring the expenses that NYRA would take on should it take over OTB.

Even if the effective spread is just half of the 6.8% as stated in NYRA's document, using the actual figure of $625 million wagered on NYRA bets off-track, that would still be an extra $21.25 million to NYRA, which, in a non-bankruptcy year, would in theory put it within shouting distance of breaking even. But, whatever the exact numbers really are, it's just mind-boggling to me that an industry which generates over $2.5 billion in wagers in this state alone can't stand on its own without subsidies from slots. Something ain't right to be sure. For one thing, the rate at which NYRA, and every other track in the country for that matter, sells its simulcast signals out-of-state is something which needs to be examined right away.

- Michael responded to my post about Jose Bracetty and Patrick Biancone:
Regarding Biancone: had he ever been charged with anything I think race track officials in other jurisdictions could have taken action against him, but since he wasn't charged (and everything we knew about Cobra Venom was technically from leaked sourced reported in the DRF) it makes sense that nothing was done.
That's fair, but not the point in my opinion, which I know is in the minority. The State revoked Bracetty's license on the grounds that his "experience, character and general fitness were inconsistent with the public interest and best interests of racing." I think that, after the substance was found - and no matter what the source of the report, the fact is that the substance was present in his barn - Biancone's presence on the grounds was similarly inconsistent with the best interests of racing. Racetracks are free to ban persons on that basis and to protect the betting public. Several did so with the TRPB/Great Lakes Downs jockeys, who were never charged with anything either. Nobody has yet to explain to me the inconsistencies between those two situations.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

News, Notes, and Damn Shame

- The IRS has backed off on its absurd $1.6 billion claim against NYRA; that according to Paul Post, reporting for the Thoroughbred Times. The final settlement could be anywhere from $2-million to $15-million. Also, the bankruptcy court has approved the association's latest reorganization plan. That puts the ball squarely in the court of the creditors (likely to approve a plan which pays them 100 cents on the dollar) and the state legislature, specifically, Senate Republicans and their fearless leader Joe Bruno. The two sides are reportedly in negotiations, and Post reports that a Senate spokesman said a deal should be struck by mid-December.

Scott Reif, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno, said, “The Senate majority realizes that racing is at a critical juncture in New York state, and as part of our ongoing dialogue on this issue we will be reviewing NYRA’s latest filings. We continue to have discussions with the governor’s office to achieve a final resolution that ensures a quality product for racing fans and is in the best interests of taxpayers.”
That's a softer tone than previous statements coming out of the Senate Majority Leader's office, and further indication to this observer that the gates will open for the first race of the year at 12:30 PM on January 1. I wonder if NYRA has had those calendars printed up as of yet.

- Apprentice jockey Jose Bracetty has had his license revoked by the NY State Racing and Wagering Board
Bracetty was arrested Sunday in Nassau County after reported domestic dispute, charged with one felony count of assault "with intent to commit injury with a weapon." Bracetty, a native of Puerto Rico, was previously arrested Oct. 10 for third-degree criminal mischief. [NY Post]
And here we go again. Bracetty has been arrested and charged - twice. However, under the criminal justice system, that doesn't as of yet make him guilty of anything. However, the Board "determined that his experience, character and general fitness were inconsistent with the public interest and best interests of racing." But when Kentucky investigators found cobra venom in Patrick Biancone's barn, New York and every other racing jurisdiction did absolutely nothing and permitted him full access, that despite the man's damning prior record of suspensions and violations. Was his continued presence "consistent with the public interest and best interests of racing?" I continue to not understand how that situation was handled.

- While the common wisdom for racinos thus far has always been the more the merrier, Gulfstream's plan to revitalize its dormant slots revenue is to cut back the number of VLT's from 1200 to 516, and add about 300 video poker machines. Perhaps Frankie can sell off the rest of the VLT's to help cover MEC's debts.
The plan: Change the first-floor casino to a half-casino, half horse-racing lounge. Add a dozen new versions of video poker, and swap out other, less-popular machines for more penny and two-cent slots. Once all the changes are complete in mid-December, the casino will have about 825 slot machines and video poker games divided between the second-floor casino and the redone, first-floor lounge-casino.

''We're going to blow the socks off people in terms of video poker offerings,'' said Steve Calabro, corporate vice president of gaming for Magna Entertainment.... ``Instead of having 1,200 games on the floor, we're going to have 850 of the best ones out there. . . . We're going for quality versus quantity.''
Calabro said the casino changes will help ``marry horse racing fans with video poker slots players.'' [Miami Herald]
The paper reports that the track's latest daily take per machine figure, since July, is $81, as opposed to $167 for Mardi Gras Racetrack and Gaming Center and $213 for The Isle at Pompano Park. An amazing disparity, I must say. Always good to see an attempt to involve slots players in the racing, so where the heck are the Horse Wizard machines?

Gulfstream is also joining the lawsuit to invalidate Governor Crist's compact agreement with the Seminoles that would give the tribe exclusive rights to blackjack and baccarat.

- Having fabricated his resume, gained the trust of the Jockeys Guild only to betray them and fleece the organization for his own personal enrichment (and that of his friends and family), allowed the organization's insurance policy to lapse without informing the members, and brazenly stealing money on the day he was being fired, Wayne Gertmenian is heading the creditors' committee with respect to the Guild's bankruptcy. He is claiming that he and his Matrix Capital Associates are owed over $1 million. Man, it's a great country, ain't it? As Graeme Downs, the songwriter for the legendary (in indie-rock circles, anyway) and brilliant New Zealand band The Verlaines, sang at the end of the doleful dirge Damn Shame:
You're an embarrassment to be so sick in reputation
You should be quarantined and never let out
Your behavior's beyond belief
It does not fear the burning question:

Good morning... how you gonna live with yourself?

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Put a Little ROAD In Your Life

"Bellamy Road

will be the next

Seattle Slew."

- Nick Zito
So reads an ad for his stud services in Bloodhorse this week (Bellamy Road, not Nick). Seems an odd headline for a stallion ad. You wouldn't think they'd be going for laughter and mockery here.

Of course, maybe I shouldn't talk, considering that I was all in after his Wood, which I'd have to say is probably still the most exhilarating single performance from a racehorse I've seen in person in the nearly three years I've been doing this website.

In this Derby Top Ten, I had him winning the Derby by 21 lengths. He didn't, though he certainly didn't run too poorly, at least for a mile or so. And he raced only one more time after that, his second to Flower Alley in the Travers, another OK effort, his first race since the Derby, though another which indicated that he was not a mile and a quarter horse. Though how many really are these days?

Bellamy Road was syndicated, and stands at Hurricane Hall (he was their first sire, and will be joined by English Channel and Artie Schiller next year), and his stud fee is down to $10,000 for 2008, from $12,500 this year, when he was bred to 137 mares. That potentially, depending on how many live foals followed, could have generated over $1.7 million, twice as much as the horse earned on the racetrack. His in-foal mares did not attract much attention at sale this year, averaging a bit over $26,000.

Speaking of Flower Alley, he has a far more distinguished looking ad, a double pager, which reads: If his first season is any indication, this flower's a perennial. Very nicely done. He stands for $25,000 at Three Chimneys, and his book is limited to a mere 110 mares.

I've noticed that some farms are offering extra incentives for mare owners to come a-calling. Sun King will open his rookie season at Darby Dan for $10,000, and the outfit invites you to "put some SUN in your life."
First breeder of a graded stakes winner receives a Toyota Solara convertible!
And the proprietors of Northview Stallion Station in Maryland, where Deputy Storm, a one-time (non-graded) stakes winning son of Forestry, stands for $3,500, are offering cold cash, since there's little appeal in offering to put some STORM in your life.
A CASH PRIZE of $50,000 will be awarded to the BREEDER of the first foal from the SECOND earn $100,000 in race track earnings as calculated and published by the Daily Racing Form/Equibase.

By The Numbers

- One of the benefits of this blogging gig is that I occasionally open my email inbox to find a message from an unexpected source. Yesterday, it was Charles Hayward. No, not a personal invitation to sit in the NYRA box, but at least I've made it onto the big guy's press mailing list. Contained therein was the Disclosure Statement - the association's latest proposed reorganization plan to be presented to bankruptcy court, and to be accepted or declined by the approved creditors. In his introduction to the document, Hayward points out that all creditors will be paid in full - "100 cents on the dollar;" and that NYRA will fully fund its pension plans, and continue to do so in the future.

He also makes an emphatic point that the MOU which would grant NYRA the franchise for the next 30 years is not a bailout, a term that I and other observers have been using freely in reference to the financial obligations that the state would assume should the plan be approved by the legislature (as in: Spitzer, Silver, and Bruno).

The reorganization does not constitute a “bailout” of NYRA. Under the September 4, 2007 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between NYRA and the State of New York, the contemplated transaction resolves significant and contentious litigation that could have lasted several years, in exchange for the NYRA’s agreement to relinquish any present or future rights with respect to the ownership of Aqueduct Race Track, Belmont Park, and Saratoga Race Course, whose value has been recently appraised in excess of $1 billion. The reorganized NYRA shall receive, among other items, 1) a 30-year thoroughbred racing franchise, and 2) sufficient funds (not to exceed $75 million) to satisfy its creditor obligations. Moreover, if NYRA does not obtain the new franchise, and the State were successful in connection with the aforementioned litigation, by statute, the State of New York must assume all of NYRA’s liabilities which are in excess of $300 million.
That's certainly one way of putting it, and whether or not one accepts that spin depends I suppose on what one believes were NYRA's chances of prevailing had the matter gone to court. What Mr. Hayward does not mention here, but what is contained in the document, is that the deal also calls for the state to relinquish $132 million in claims against NYRA, and to provide sufficient operating funds until the time that slots money begins to flow; that could be as high as $30 million per year (and what the hell is going on with the naming of the racino operator anyway?). So, call it what you will, bailout or a settlement of pending litigation, but it's an expensive bill for the state.

The document (again, please contact me privately if you'd like to have a's a 62 page pdf file) is most interesting to me as a historical account of NYRA's descent into bankruptcy, with all the details of the various loan packages, the prohibited sales of land and artwork, the Pataki Administration's refusal to sign off on the MGM racino and NYRA's subsequent lawsuit against it (to be dropped as part of the MOU), and much more. It also contains an analysis of the OTB issue that we discussed the other day (and since day one of the franchise debate). So let's try to put some numbers together and try to make some sense out of them. From the Disclosure Statement:
One of the major challenges facing the Debtor [NYRA] was the migration of customers from the Racetracks, where, as described above, on average, the Debtor retains 9.3% of each wager, to off-track establishments where, on average, the Debtor retains only 2.5% of each wager. As a result of the migration and drastic difference in retention rates, over the ten-year period prior to the Petition Date, the Debtor's revenues were virtually flat despite a 65% increase in overall Handle. The competitive relationship between racetracks and OTB's is unique to New York. In other jurisdictions, OTBs are owned by racetracks, operate as joint ventures with racetracks, or otherwise have their interests aligned.
During the ten-year period prior to the Petition Date, the Debtor's expenses increased 20%. As a result, after earning almost $20 million in 1995, Debtor's profitability began to decline and, since 2001, the Debtor sustained losses every year, including a loss of almost $16 million in 2004 and approximately $15 million in 2005.
Of course, Ben Liebman's recent 12 Months of Bankruptcy report puts the losses at a staggering $30 million for the 12 months from last November through this past October. Perhaps that last paragraph from the Disclosure Statement above, plus all of the bankruptcy costs, partly answers the recent commenter's question as to why NYRA seems to have been bleeding so much money just in the last five years.

Let's take a closer look at some numbers with respect to the OTB's. I sense that some people are tired of hearing about 'changing the business model' and 'fixing the OTB's,' ignoring the issue and blaming everything on NYRA. The following is an unscientific look, but I think it provides a general idea of what has been going on. Another Albany Law School report entitled NY Racing By The Numbers in 2006 (pdf file) states that, in 2006: At the OTB's, the NYRA signal averaged $2.518 million in per diem handle. If you multiply that out by the approximately 250 racing days in the year, that comes to $629.5 million. Let's say, just to be conservative, that the figure is actually $500 million.

The percentage spread between NYRA's take of 9.3% from on-track bets compared to 2.5% of OTB bets is 6.8%. 6.8% of $500 million is $34 million. Had those bets been placed on-track or its equivalent, that's enough to cover all the losses, pay their bankruptcy lawyers ( and Getnick), do some work on the backstretch, and maybe even hand out some Xmas bonuses for their beleaguered employees. I certainly may be missing something here, and, as always, I welcome any corrections or criticism of what is, as I said, a simplistic analysis. But even give or take a few million bucks, it seems clear that no matter who is running the tracks - NYRA, Capital Play, Joe Bruno, or Bill Gates for that matter, the operation is not going to be successful financially on its own unless the OTB model is changed.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Batter Up

- Amongst the Head Chef's many talents is her ability to spot celebrities on the street. This comes from years....oh, many, many years....spent in the West Village, home to the stars. She's actually cooked for some of them too - Rikki Lake, Donna Karan, and a guy from Depeche Mode to name a few. But her main talent is spotting them on the street. Some relatively recent sightings include: Kyra Sedgwick (today), Philip Seymour Hoffman, Peter Dinklage, Christy Turlington, Gwyneth Paltrow, Sarah Jessica Parker, Calvin Klein, James Woods, John Krasinksi, Rachel Ray, Todd Oldham, Mark Wahlberg, Jimmy Fallon, Mary Louise-Parker, Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman...the list goes on. Or so she says. "Just the tip of the iceberg," she claims. I spotted Tom Verlaine on Spring Street a few months ago; that's the best I can offer (though that was pretty cool).

She aptly demonstrated her skills on Sunday. We were walking up West 11th Street from the river, we had just crossed a street, and she goes: "Shhh....Pay attention!" It had to be a good halfway up the block, when I saw Julianne Moore with a kid and a dog in tow. We had just seen her in I'm Not There the day before. "How did you know?" I demanded. "I just know." She claims to be able to spot the celebrity glow without having to see their faces. I think it's the same sense she gets when she picks out horses from the paddock. She looks in their eyes and she knows that they know that they are something special. I think she employs the Vulcan Mind Meld, or something along those lines. Maybe she could use that to help me forget all my recent bad bets, like when Spock erased Kirk's memory of that robot he had the hots for. (A great episode, in which Spock also expertly plays a waltz on the piano, and is greatly surprised (for a Vulcan, at least), when he recognizes the waltz as an unknown work of Johannes Brahms written in his own hand.)

The Head Chef is not so good, however, at getting many names right when it comes to racing, and sports in general. The other day, I for some reason brought up the name Edgar Prado. And just to see if she's been paying attention for the last six years, I asked her who he is. "Baseball player! He's a baseball player, right?" Well, he does have the name for it, don't you think? I can hear Bob Shepard at Yankee Stadium (you mean, the Red Sox have a PA announcer?) going: "Leading off......the shortstop.....number twenty-four.......Edgah......Pra-dough."

So I thought I'd compile an all-star team of jockeys with good baseball names (since I, of course, have absolutely nothing more productive in my life I could possibly be doing right now). So here it is, position by position:

1B - Garrett Gomez
2B - Eusebio Razo, Jr.
SS - Edgar Prado
3B - Dale Beckner
C - Joe Talamo
LF - Corey Lanerie
CF - Elvis Trujillo
RF - Michael Baze
Top Starting Pitcher - Martin Garcia
Righty Setup Man - Calvin Borel
Lefty Setup Man - Jamie Theriot
Closer - Ramon Dominguez

Daaher Not Done....Quite Yet

- Daaher got a 114 Beyer for his win in the Cigar Mile. No big surprise that Midnight Lute regressed a bit - the Thorograph sheets ranked his Sprint equal to his record-low Forego, and he'd had much more spacing between his recent races. But I thought he actually ran really well, conceding nine pounds, ample ground on the turn, and an uncontested lead. And Bob Baffert will tell you that Garrett Gomez should have let him run freely as he wanted to do on the backstretch.

Winning trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said: “It’s hard to believe. We won our first Grade 1 in this country just last May with Invasor (Pimlico Special) and we’ve got seven this year.” [NYRA] And he said of Daaher: "..I think he’s a great stallion prospect when his racing career’s over." That's nice, though I'm sure we can wait to see those little Daahers running around. Daaher will likely have one of those conservative retirement party type campaigns, carefully planned, with minimal starts. Midnight Lute is a Breeders' Cup winner and a probable champion, so, with a lucrative stud career assured, his connections can be more eclectic. Hopefully they'll stick to their plans of stretching him out and pointing to the Classic despite his failure thus far to win beyond seven furlongs.

Next for Daaher is the Donn and Dubai for either the group I Godolphin Mile or Dubai World Cup. [Bloodhorse] That's the same path taken by Invasor before his premature retirement last year. Some feel that he earned the Eclipse for older horse with those wins, a notion with which I respectfully disagree. I don't think the World Cup should be factored in, and his one North American race, though pretty spectacular, was not as much so, in my opinion, as Lawyer Ron's Whitney. So if you're going to go by one race, I think that effort by Lawyer Ron trumps the Donn, and, for that matter, probably any other race run in 2007, doncha think?

By the way, Shadwell was the buyer, for $4.5 million, of Daaher's full sister Spun Sugar, who is in foal to AP Indy. So it will be a family affair when Daaher is rushed off to stud sometime within the next 11 months or so.

Hunch Bets for 11/27/07

Always Take Cash - 9th at Beulah
Go Heart Go - 5th at Finger Lakes
David Is Mad - 6th at Finger Lakes
Zero Probability - 8th at Finger Lakes
Why Can't I - 4th at Philly Park

Monday, November 26, 2007

"The Franchise"

- The first real-world implication of the looming franchise deadline is the ritual ordering of seats for the next summer's Saratoga meeting. The web page with information for ordering the tickets still has last year's info. (Hat tip to the Albany Times-Union's Capital Confidential blog.) (Primary assist to Albany Law School's Racing and Gaming Today.) Last year, orders had to be postmarked by Nov 24 to be eligible for the lottery, and that date has obviously already passed.

A representative on NYRA's information line said reservations aren't being taken because of "the franchise." [Albany Times-Union]
Karen Johnson reports for on the franchise angst amongst NY trainers that is accompanying Wednesday's opening of the inner track. (It's not too often that grass racing persists this late into the year, but there's turf races carded for Wednesday and Thursday.)
“We’re at the 10th hour, with the holidays coming up, there isn’t a lot of time,” trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said Nov. 26. “This is a serious situation, a big worry, and a definite concern."
Mike Hushion, longtime trainer for Barry Schwartz, NYRA’s former chairman of the board of trustees and chief executive officer, said there is anxiety among horsemen.

“I think as (Dec. 31) gets closer, we realize it is a real possibility (that racing could shut down). It has become a game of chicken with NYRA and the state, and no one is so sure what will happen.” [Bloodhorse]
Actually, at this point, the chicken game is more between the state and the state, though NYRA, having already played their hand, certainly looms an imposing factor by virtue of their land claim.

But I would counsel the horsemen to relax. The starting gate will open as scheduled on January 1. It's in the bag. At the very worst, as Bruce Levine told Bloodhorse: "Maybe the track will be shut a few days, but it will get fixed. I don’t see racing in New York ceasing forever.”

- The latest exclusive from the NY Post's Frederick U. Dicker claims that Governor Spitzer is to be blamed for "siccing" the FBI on Joe Bruno. He's referring of course to the ongoing FBI investigation of the Senate Majority Leader's business dealings, which feels as if it's been playing longer than Les Miserables at this point.
Sources close to Bruno told The Post that Senate investigators probing the Dirty Tricks Scandal have turned up what one called "strong indications" that Spitzer tapped his powerful law-enforcement connections last year while still attorney general to push the FBI into investigating the Rensselaer County-based Bruno's private consulting business.

"Sure, we think Spitzer was behind it. He's been behind every other attempt to destroy Joe, and it's all tied in," said a source familiar with Bruno's thinking. [NY Post]
A spokesperson for the Governor said that the accusation "couldn't be more ridiculous." It actually seems quite plausible to me though, and so what if it's true? Bruno and his defenders always conveniently ignore the underlying behavior at the root of these controversies. In this case, it was his brazen steering of $500,000 of taxpayer-funded grants generally meant for non-profits to a for-profit company owned by his buddy and business partner Jared Abbruzzese. Spitzer was the Attorney General of the state, and had every right to do something about it, if he knew. Referring it to the FBI would be rather steamroller-ish and heavy-handed, but not out of character, and, again, not a Dirty Trick.

Monday Notes

- At Churchill on Saturday, it was the "other Zito," Anak Nakal, taking the G2 Kentucky Jockey Club, as the trainer's 6-5 favorite Cool Coal Man faded to last. It doesn't take much to generate a lot of Derby hype, and only one poor race to douse it. Cool Coal Man's allowance win at Churchill on Nov 3 earned him two paragraphs from Haskin in his initial Derby Trail article (slow time of year, as we've said), and Dick Powell was all hepped up about him too. But after this uninspiring stakes debut, Zito could only offer that the colt ran "worse than he is. I think he’s got a future, so don’t be surprised to see him come back here too in the spring.” [Bloodhorse] Truth is that Cool Coal Man was between horses contesting a pace that was two full seconds faster to the half than the Golden Rod for the fillies, so perhaps we can give him another shot. One of these days, Zito's War Pass will find himself in a similar situation, and we'll see how he does then, won't we now??

Meanwhile, Anak Nakal sat the perfect trip on the rail behind the leaders, swept to the lead authoritatively turning for home, and held off challenges to his inside and out to get the win. I was surprised to read Leparoux say: "I was kind of asking him (leaving the backside) because he does not have much of a kick," [Louisville Courier-Journal], because he staged an improbable late rally to win his debut that I guess the jockey hadn't seen. I wrote about that race in this post, and also wrote about the colt's unusual pedigree at that time. (I also mentioned Etched at that time, who beat Anak Nakal by six lengths in the Nashua.)

- Steve Crist blasted the NY Times for this editorial on NYC OTB, but I think he may have blamed the messenger rather than the messengee, or however that expression goes. After all, the editorial writer was merely relating that the Mayor "believes that the city should not be asked to sustain a system that encourages people to squander the rent money or, worse, their lives," something that I've read elsewhere. I would instead aim my accusations of hypocrisy at Bloomberg himself, whose fortune was built via a company that serves the giant casino that is Wall Street.

One commenter in the thread went off-topic and blasted the Form for including past performances of the Breeders Crown races instead of Fair Grounds, but I say that it's about time that racing's version of the Paper of Record did something useful with all that harness data they purchased from Sports Eye a couple of years ago. The three-year old trot ended in disappointment for Donato Hanover, who, unfortunately, goes off to stud after closing his career with two losses after his 19 consecutive wins. When Arch Madness beat him in the elimination, Donato's driver Ron Pierce offered the five week layoff as an excuse. This time, all he could come up with was:

"He must have a touch of a flu or a cold, otherwise he would have run off. He did what he could do, but it just wasn't good enough. He probably has something deep down that doesn't show up until he's stressed." [Harnesslink]
That's pretty weak. Arch Madness' owner was more gracious during post-race interviews, calling Donato Hanover the "best three-year old trotting colt I've ever seen." The bettors dismissed the elimination result, making Donato the 3-5 favorite despite starting from the ten hole. But even though he got caught wide on the turn and had to grind his way to the front down the backstretch, Arch Madness came at him without cover, again, and simply wore him down in the stretch as he did a week ago. No excuses for Donato Hanover at all. And Arch Madness is a gelding, so he'll hopefully have ample opportunity to prove that his wins were no fluke in years to come.

Mott Makes Mushka of Big A Stakes

- I wouldn't get too put off by the final time of 1:52.48 in Saturday's Remsen, which was .87 seconds slower than the fillies in the Demoiselle. The boys set a dawdling pace which was a good second slower than their filly counterparts at each of the first three quarter marks; and there's a lot to be excited about the performances of each of the first two finishers. Hard to say which was more impressive, but I'd have to say that Atoned, the runner-up, overcame more misfortune than did the winner Court Vision, for trainer Bill Mott. Atoned clipped heels and stumbled very badly on the backstretch; it's a wonder he didn't go down. The Pletcher-trainee was then three wide around the entire turn, and swept to the lead.

Meanwhile, Court Vision was saving ground, but was behind a wall of horses. Eibar Coa swung him out, bumping Big Truck and forcing him into a tight spot from which he had to take up. Then he bumped with Trust N Dustan, and continued to bear out in front of that one as he bore down on Atoned. According to Coa though, it was all in self defense.

“He fought back and pushed them out because they were trying to push him in. To overcome that, you saw the way he kicked. He was just much the best.” [Bloodhorse]
The two battled gamely to the finish, with Court Vision just getting up. And despite that slow final time, they came home in 12.63 seconds.

I mentioned Court Vision's impressive pedigree in this post. Atoned is from the first crop of Repent (Louis Quartorze), the Louisiana Derby winner who stands in Florida for $5,000. He's the only stakes winner for the stallion thus far, having won an overnight at Monmouth. But Repent is actually doing pretty well, with 14 winners overall, and a spot at #13 on the first-year sire list. Atoned is out of an Icecapade mare, and has the Rasmussen Factor, being inbred 5x3 to Shenanigans, the dam of Ruffian.

Mott swept the Saturday juvenile stakes, as Mushka came from dead last to sweep four wide around the field on the turn - literally, on the turn; she was in front by the time they turned for home - and go on to win the Demoiselle easily by 4 1/2. Here's another graded winner for Empire Maker, who has started to come on with his first crop as the year wears on. He still only has seven winners, from 22 starters; but Mushka joins Country Star to give him two graded winners, and he's up to number 10 on the first-year sire list (by earnings). Those two fillies debuted in the same race, which I had previewed in this post. At that time, just a couple of months ago, just four of Empire Maker's foals had even started, and only one had won.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Sunday Night Notes

- Barclay Tagg seemed pretty confident before the Hollywood Derby, telling Christina Olivares on TVG that Nobiz Like Shobiz had the best numbers in the BC Mile; I presume he was referring to one or the other of the sheets. His running line from the BC looks very good on paper, especially being accompanied by the 5 wide middle move comment; thus he was sent to the post as the solid even money favorite. The second choices were both 5.60 to 1. With Castellano back on board, Nobiz was caught three wide around the first turn. But that wasn't nearly enough of an excuse to explain his fade to 8th after attaining perfect striking position turning for home. "I was very surprised he didn't run better," trainer Barclay Tagg said. "I plan to take him to Florida and freshen him up." [AP] Well, at least there's one top three-year old who is coming back, and who's to say he still can't be a factor on dirt as he matures.

Mike Smith, on Daytona (Indian Ridge), set what was basically a steady 24 second per quarter pace, before holding off Medici Code through a final quarter of 23.64. He was one of those 5-1 shots, and you can make a pretty good redboard case for this one. Daytona showed an excellent pattern of improvement, moving up from allowance ranks to a G2 win in his last, and earning a career best 100 Beyer.

Four horses that competed in the BC Mile have now run back, and the results have been a mixed bag. Silent Name and Cosmonaut ran well in defeat, and Purim was strangely placed when finishing 8th in the Clark on the dirt.

The Filly and Mare Turf has fared somewhat better with Precious Kitten's win in the Matriarch (Argentina ran a fine second last week in the Cardinal). Frankel's four-year old daughter of Catienus was wiped out in the BC when Simply Perfect bore out on the second of three turns. This time, Rafael Bejarano allowed 42-1 (in a six horse field!) Live Life to take the lead, and Vic Stauffer noted with some alarm that "Precious Kitten will have to sit second early." She's rated before though, and Bejarano sat chilly until Naissance Royale ranged up around the turn. At that point, Precious Kitten took off and collared Live Life, and it's not that the frontrunner was particularly tired; the third quarter went in 23.45.

From there, Precious Kitten bounded home in 22.94, and every once in awhile, you'll see a top horse such as she hitting on all cylinders in the stretch, just loving the game and strutting its stuff for all to see. Wait A While, the 6-5 favorite for the Toddster, ran a great race for second, but no way she was catching this filly today. It's a race well worth checking out.

I'm Not (Quite) There

- I made a grievous error in my last post, forgetting that Pool Land is trained by Tom Albertrani, and not by Todd Pletcher. That's been the case ever since she returned from her long vacation in September. Well, once a Pletcher, always a Pletcher, I say. I must say I've had a hard time getting too excited about the stakes races this weekend; it's just that time of the year. There's never really too much of a downtime in this sport, unlike most others, and personally, I could use one. If there's anything that constitutes an offseason, maybe it's starting right now, the few weeks before Santa Anita opens on the day after Christmas, Gulfstream a week or so later, plunging us headlong into the run-up to the first Saturday in May, and here we go again.

I did go to the Big A on Thursday, and I had a great time, but found that once was more than enough for this holiday. So I was not there amongst the 4,712 who turned out for what is billed as the biggest day of the Aqueduct fall meeting, as we instead opted to see I'm Not There, Todd Haynes' dreamily beautiful tribute to Bob Dylan (and to, the Head Chef insists, Fellini). And Cate Blanchett is incredible, oh my!!!

This commenter presented a bleak picture of racing as a live spectator sport in this state.

The live product is dead, or at least dying. According to Bennett
Liebman of Albany Law School, since "legislation was passed in 2001 to decrease takeout at NYRA (and hopefully increase handle at NYRA), live handle on NYRA races is down by 22.7%. Taking into account cost of living increases, the "real" decrease in live NYRA handle since 2000 is 34%. Perhaps the decreased takeout reduced the losses of handle at NYRA; it certainly did not grow the handle. See, Liebman, New York
Racing By the Numbers in 2006.
He/she also discusses the numerous tax breaks given to NYRA, the low rates being received for its simulcast signal, and opines that "perhaps" the OTB's are paying too little.

It's true that NYRA should be getting more for its signal, but my understanding is that that's an industry-wide problem and not one specific to New York. But if the difference between what NYRA gets from bets placed at OTB's now and what it would if they were treated the same as bets placed on-track is not enough to put this business into the black, then I don't really know what to say. Otherwise, wouldn't racing jurisdictions all over the country be bleeding money as well? Why only here? If you look at the Fair Grounds, nobody goes to the live races there, though we no longer know the numbers since Churchill doesn't announce attendance; but as I recall, big race days there would draw no more than a few thousand, as in New York. Yet, purse levels are thriving in large part because of big business at the OTB's, which are part of the track operation. And a look at Churchill's financial statement shows that the company's 'Louisiana Operations' made a $230,000 profit in the quarter from January to March this year.

Now, this is admittedly a simplistic comparison; I'm not armed with the facts and figures that the commenter is. But it just doesn't make sense that this sport could be losing $30 million a year unless something is extremely askew. That's just the opinion of an informed fan. Very, very occasionally, I just might possibly maybe come off in a post as if I'm an expert on the economics and machinations of the subject, and I don't mean to, because I'm not. I'm searching for the answers like everyone else. I can't answer the question posed by the commenter as to why it seems as if it's only in the last five years that the losses have been so huge. That's a good question indeed; only a portion can be attributed to bankruptcy costs. Certainly the continued on-track handle decline is a contributing factor.

When I write that the OTB situation needs to change, to a certain extent it's simply because I don't know what else to say at this point. New York is the only state that has competing OTB's that are taking a majority of the handle, and it's the only state I know of in which the track operator is suffering losses anywhere near this magnitude. And besides, if that is not the reason for the situation, then all of us in New York need to find something else to do with ourselves. Like seeing good movies.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Toddster Trio

- It may seem as if Pletcher has been less dominant over the last few months. At least it has to me, and to the point where I've become confident in opposing runners like Panty Raid, Pool Land, and Magna Graduate in the last couple of days. But the Toddster has now already surpassed the North American record for earnings in a year that he set last year. And the three graded stakes winners he had on Friday - two of them of the "other Pletcher" variety who picked up their more popular stablemates (though not those who bet on them) - give him, according to my unofficial statistics on Formulator, 53 graded stakes wins on the year. That equals the mark that he broke last year on the way to 57. And remember that he was out for 45 days serving his suspension. He's arguably having a better year than last, and will probably win the Eclipse again.

In the First Flight, Pool Land, the 2-1 second choice, could not get by 8-1 Lady Marlboro, who I picked for second in the analysis of the race that I never got around to finishing and posting, even as the pace slowed to 25 flat rounding the turn after a half of 47. Pool Land was done early in the stretch run, but Mini Sermon, the "other" Pletcher at 6-1, was sitting a perfect trip on the rail behind the dueling leaders. It took a lot of effort for her to finally get by a tough Lady Marlboro, but she finally edged past in a respectable, under the circumstances, final quarter of 25.33. The final time of 1:37.29 was just .37 seconds faster than an entry-level state-bred allowance the race before. No excuse I can see for Pool Land, other than I still think she's a two-turn filly, nor for Darley's favored Golden Velvet.

Mini Sermon, as opposed to Pool Land, clearly loves the one turn mile! She's just a neck from being unbeaten in four such races at three different tracks. She may not have loved Polytrack, and I'm thinking she was overlooked in this spot. This cleverly-named three year old is by Pulpit out of Ministorm, by Storm Cat.

A far less likely winner in my opinion was AP Arrow in the Clark at Churchill. He was the "third Pletcher" in this one, behind Magna Graduate, distinctly dead on the board at 5-1, and Fairbanks, who, also at 5-1, was the apparent main speed, but couldn't get by the 72-1 Plug Me In. AP Arrow reliably plods along for pieces of the purse, but the only times he's managed to win in the past were when the race completely fell apart up front. Don't know if I can say that in this case, as he battled back gamely to best the hard-to-figure Brass Hat, and came home in a decent 12.55 to finish in 1:48.66. He's a five-year old son of AP Indy, and I hope that they now retire him because I'm getting depressed at the thought of him being one of the top handicap horses next year.

I thought that The Leopard was the most impressive of the Toddster's trio. He was confidently rated in fifth in a change of tactics by Garrett Gomez, and moved up nicely around the turn. However, he had to take the wide route, first three wide, and he then had to swing out a good 4-5 wide turning for home. Still, he easily moved to the lead, and responded nicely under right handed whipping to repel a late challenge by second choice Indian Sun, and reward the chalk exacta bettors with a solid $20 return on a $2 bet. Pletcher said that the Cash Call Futurity, on the Cushion Track, is a possibility for The Leopard's next start. "We won't rule it out....I'll be anxious to see how he trains on the Cushion Track." [DRF]

The Leopard is one of ten stakes winners this year for Storm Cat, who currently ranks at #27 on the general sires list.

12 Months of Bankruptcy

- Yesterday, I was standing at Aqueduct in shorts. Today, it's freezing, and I'm at work anyway. Yes, the life of a freelancer is no holiday on the holidays. Need to earn some money to churn through those windows.

Thursday's daily update from the Albany Law School's Racing and Gaming Today contained an attachment regarding NYRA; specifically, the gruesome financial details of the association's 12 Months of Bankruptcy. This ain't pretty. According to the report, over the period from November of last year through this past October, NYRA has lost $29,298,000.

During the six months that NYRA raced principally at Aqueduct, (November – April) NYRA lost approximately $32 million. When NYRA raced principally at Belmont (May – July and September – October), NYRA lost nearly $12 million.

Yet, during the month of August when NYRA raced at Saratoga, NYRA’s earnings were $14.659 million.....In short and oversimplifying somewhat, Saratoga makes $20 million, and the rest of the operation loses $50 million.
Now as bad as the financial picture looks, there should be little doubt that it has been made worse by the existing bankruptcy litigation. The costs of the bankruptcy litigation and the associated costs of reorganization have to be increasing NYRA’s loss by at least several million dollars. (This would likely mean that the Saratoga season makes in excess of $20 million.) This, of course, places the State of New York, in an especially awkward position. It is making up the costs of NYRA’s losses, it is NYRA’s largest creditor, and it is the defendant in NYRA’s litigation in bankruptcy against Governor Pataki. So the State is financing all sides in NYRA’s bankruptcy litigation.
(Please email me privately if you are interested in seeing the entire document.) No matter how you spin it, and whether you blame NYRA, OTB, Albany, or Dick Cheney, this is just grim. And the most depressing part of it, to me, is this: Even if tomorrow, Eliot Spitzer and Joe Bruno appear together (!) to make a triumphant announcement of a franchise deal, complete with smiles and back slaps, with Bruno going "Yeah, Eliot's not such a bad guy" and Spitzer declaring that he was just kidding about the f------ steamroller stuff and promising that he'll be on hand this Wednesday for a ceremonial ribbon-cutting for the inner track season, without any changes to the state's business model for racing, what is possibly going to change? Slots are still at least a year away - and, by the way, Spitzer hasn't even named a slots operator yet, as he was supposed to do a month ago - on-track attendance and wagering will still be dismal, and NYRA will probably lose another $30 million in 2008. Will the state's bailout be able to pay for that, in addition to covering all of the existing debts? The question of consolidating OTB with the track operator has still only been addressed peripherally, mostly due to Mayor Bloomberg's statements about NYCOTB last week.

If one of the other, for-profit bidders were to be awarded the franchise, then the state would be off the hook as far as covering losses - in theory anyway. However, the fact is that the operator would still be losing money on racing, and, for-profit companies focused strictly on the bottom line as they are, we'll end up paying for that eventually anyway, whether in the form of increased takeout, or appeals for regulatory relief in the form of less slots money being earmarked for purses, infrastructure, or taxes meant for education. The fact is that none of the bidders have ever really suggested any sensible ideas as to how to improve the racing business, Capital Play's silly concepts of giant signs, beautiful fences, and on-track singles bars notwithstanding. The only real help will come from Albany in the form of allowing the operator to retain more of the vast sums that are wagered in the state off track. Unfortunately, our elected officials, particularly the Republicans, are currently engaged in petty politics and retribution and too busy to attend to important issues, of which racing is of course only one.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Friday Morning Notes - Nov 23

- Going Wild proved stubborn to the end in the opening day feature at Fair Grounds according to the race chart, but couldn't hold off Stormin Baghdad, and gee, aren't we happy for those connections? But I'm getting closer to picking a winner, so let's forge on with today's Clark Handicap at Churchill.

I thought before the Breeders' Cup Classic that Diamond Stripes was the unlikeliest winner of the race, but he's back in his Grade 2 element here. Richard Dutrow actually chose the Classic because he thought the horse would like the slop, but he floundered badly in the muck and mire. He had seven triple digit Beyers in a row prior to that race, and ran a great third over this track in the Foster in June. Dutrow is on fire, at least in New York, where he's nine for 23 (39%) after saddling two more winners on Thursday. Going Ballistic is the only three-year old in the field. I know he didn't beat much in the Oklahoma Derby (at least compared to this race), but you should really check out his dead last to easy winner effort. It's not often, if ever, that you see a horse make that move so quickly, powerfully blowing by his opponents while widest of all, coming from over 20 lengths back. He got a career best 101 Beyer for the effort, has had four weeks to recover, and has worked up a storm at Remington. Another step forward and he could be right there. Fairbanks looks like the main speed and should be hard to run down with Prado. Istan, the 5-2 morning line favorite off his 111 Beyer romp in the Ack Ack, is one of three horses who are making their final starts. He stretches out and encounters better animals here.

Happy Thanksgiving Day!!

- Almost as amazing as the amount of money he was purchased for, is the amount of money that has been wagered on The Green Monkey in his three futile starts. Previously beaten at .45 to 1 and even money, the expensive son of Forestry was 6-5 on Wednesday despite nothing to indicate that he would improve much on the grass. He surrendered meekly after getting to the lead for about a nanosecond turning for home, but he did hang on for 4th, thus earning $2,460 for a career total of $10,260 in purse money, as Smith/Tabor & Co. try to scrap their way back to getting even. At this rate, it would only take another 4,678 races. If they had any sense of humor whatsoever, they'd put him in a 50K claimer and bask in the self-deprecating irony of the moment.

The horse sure does remain popular with the betting public at least. Hard to understand the logic strictly from a handicapping standpoint. But he's certainly a curiosity, and may even become a sympathetic figure - the world's most lovable $16 million horse. Why, people may even take up collections to ensure that he finds a nice retirement home. Or, maybe not.

- The Fair Grounds opens on Thanksgiving day, and there are 245 slot machines stationed in a temporary facility which has been open since September. The permanent facility is supposed to open next fall, and it will have 700 machines.

[Churchill VP Steve] Sexton said the company is pleased with the early performance of the Fair Grounds' slots, which through October were generating $155 of revenue per machine per day.

By law, 15 percent of slots revenue goes toward purses. Soth said he expects the Fair Grounds' operation to add about $200,000 per month to purses. [Times Picayune]
However, for this year at least, the purses will be around the same level as in 2006. A surplus of OTB revenue built up during the shortened meet conducted at Louisiana Downs after Katrina helped purses achieve a record average level of over $385,000 per day; this year, they will start at $350,000.

The Thanksgiving Handicap is the feature race, and I'll resume my attempt to break my losing ways with this race. I can't believe I'm actually going to pick Going Wild, making his second start off a long layoff. It's kinda amazing that he's still in training after the way Lukas tried to run him into the ground in the classics two years ago. He runs now for trainer William Bret Calhoun, and ran a nice second in his return, at Keeneland. The son of Golden Missile put in an excellent second, to Silver Wagon, at this distance at Saratoga last summer, and shows a bullet work over the track for this.

I was going to pick Wheaton Home. This five-year old son of Wheaton (Alydar) has really improved this year at six furlongs, with three close seconds in overnight stakes. Looking at the running lines, it appears that in his last, the rider moved too soon, getting to within a half length of the lead at the half mile pole before fading at seven furlongs. But watching the replay, that past performance line is just plain wrong. I don't know what the chart caller was looking at, though he got the comment right (saved ground, not a factor). This horse was nowhere near being second, and was never within several lengths of the front. It was just a plain dull effort, and though the cutback to six furlongs may help, I'm discouraged after watching that performance, and wondering if it's wise to always assume that the running lines in the Form are correct.

I was also going to pick Stormin Baghdad. This one has improved nicely after transferring to the care of Steve Asmussen, including an excellent third in the G3 Kentucky Cup Sprint two races back. His 15-1 morning line is a bad one, in my opinion. But I'm just not going to select a horse who is named in such poor taste. It may fit (Stormin Fever - Skip to Baghdad), but given the human suffering that has taken place in that city over the last 4 1/2 years, I find it extremely inappropriate, especially on this Thanksgiving day. Who would name a horse like that?

Oh. He's owned and bred by the jailbirds at Midnight Cry Stable, of Curlin fame. That explains that. I wonder if the phen-fen plaintiffs are getting a piece of this one too.

Have a safe and happy holiday everybody!!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


- Voters in Maryland will vote on slots next November. Of course, any relief for the racing industry there is still aways away...and that's if it passes. Trainer Ben Feliciano told the Baltimore Sun:

"Oh my, oh my, I'm not far from getting ready to move out of Maryland. I don't know how much longer I can take it...I'm hopeful this means we can get them [slots] and can compete with the other tracks. ... I'll try to hang on until the vote."
As if to emphasize that point, Laurel Park yesterday announced the deletion of two stakes races from its schedule. "We had to," [racing secretary Georganne] Hale said..."This way we have only one stake each Saturday." [Washington Post]

- I haven't been receiving any alerts from my virtual stables from either the Racing Form or Equibase in months. I was told by someone at DRF that it has something to do with Yahoo blocking the emails. That seems pretty unbelievable considering all the crap that gets through. If they're filtering out innocuous emails with workout or race information, then what the hell is so hard about blocking emails containing "LOTTERY WINNER!" "YOUR EMAIL HAS WON!!" "KINDEST REGARDS!" "YOUR URGENT ATTENTION NEEDED!" "WOMEN LIKE IT BIG!" It reminds me of the days - and perhaps you still see this in some places - when you'd walk into a store where the XXX porno mags were in full view to any man, woman, or child who walks in, but you had to ask for the Racing Form stashed behind the counter. Made me feel as if I needed a brown paper wrapper in order to carry it out.

- No Country For Old Men is the excruciatingly suspenseful, sadistically violent, but gorgeously photographed and ultimately meditative new film by the Coen brothers. I can't issue a general recommendation for a movie with the level of violence that this one contains, but I can for the non-squeamish who, for some reason, have nothing to do amidst all the racing around the country this weekend. If you see it, you may wonder, as did I, why other directors feel the need to amplify tension with music. There's not a note of a soundtrack to be found here, and I dare you to find anything comparable to what is surely the most pulse-raising scene of motel-room suspense since Marion Crane took her fateful shower. [Village Voice] For the Coens, it's a welcome return to form. Though I can't say that Raising Arizona was their best film, I think it will always be my favorite for some reason; but this one is certainly up there with more comparable efforts such as Miller's Crossing and Fargo. So see it if you dare, and call it, friend-o.

EVA Test, Ten Post Hampers Retiring Stars

- Dylan Thomas is out of the Japan Cup after Japanese officials were not satisfied with the results of testing for the equine viral arteritis (EVA). The non-negative test is apparently the result of his being vaccinated against the disease at the Breeders' Cup. Ireland's Independent reports that Aidan O'Brien was "mystified."

"Dylan Thomas was vaccinated for EVA at the Breeders' Cup in Monmouth, New Jersey...

"This is a standard procedure for all stallions going to stud as it is in the best interest of the stallion and mare owner.

"Many of our stallions in the past have entered Japan with the EVA vaccination before entering stud.
However, Ballydoyle seems determined to race the horse once more before his retirement, and the Dec 9 Vase at Sha Tin in Hong Kong is the likely spot. "We hope that the Japanese Racing Association (JRA) will release him in time to run."

Dylan Thomas has already received Horse of the Year honors at Europe's Cartier Awards, and his future at stud is assured. So why do they want to run him again? Could it be merely - gasp - the sporting aspect that they don't want him to go out on the sour note that was the Breeders' Cup Turf?

- Donato Hanover drew horribly for Saturday's final of the Breeders' Crown 3 yo trot final at the Meadowlands; he's stuck out in the ten hole, yuck. Arch Madness, who defeated the Hambo champ in the elimination, thus breaking his 19 race winning streak, had his choice by virtue of that win, and took the two hole (after the other elim winner nabbed the rail).
"It might be tougher from the 10 hole, but it's just a starting spot," trainer Steve Elliott said. "Hopefully, he'll get away mid-pack and get a trip. All his life the horse has loved chasing horses down." [Canadian Press]
The Breeders' Crown will be Donato Hanover's final race before he goes off to stud at Hanover Farm, where he'll stand for $20,000.
Donato Hanover...has been valued at more than $10 million with all 120 of his shares now sold for $85,000 according to co-owner David Scharf of New York. [Harness Edge]

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Notes - Nov 21

- A federal bankruptcy judge dismissed a motion by a creditors to vacate NYRA's reorganization plan.

In its motion, Plainfield [Special Situations Master Fund Limited] argued that NYRA's reorganization plan was "completely illusory" because of its reliance on legislative approval. The attorneys maintained that because the plan is opposed by Bruno, NYRA's franchise would not be renewed. [Daily Racing Form]
I imagine that's a novel point for bankruptcy court, if an honest assessment of politics in Albany. But one can be a lonely number when there are three men in the room, and I think ol' Joe is going to find himself in the position of potentially being "the man who stopped racing." So I still believe he'll back down.

James Odato reported in the Albany Times-Union earlier on Tuesday that Bruno and Spitzer aides....have discussed compromises that include allowing NYRA to continue running the tracks, citing "people briefed about the discussions."
The parties also have discussed more legislative appointees on the NYRA board, greater oversight and stricter performance reviews.
I believe that the eventual settlement will be along these lines, and that they'll be plenty of appointments for Joe. I don't think he's in any danger of losing his box seats at Saratoga either.

- Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio has asked the state Supreme Court to kill the gambling compact agreed to by Governor Crist and the Seminole tribe. Rubio claims that it was unconstitutional for Crist to cut the legislature out of the process.
Rubio's petition also noted the compact allows blackjack and baccarat games on Indian land, even though they are illegal everywhere else in the state. Under the agreement, if the state allows competing Broward County racetracks to host blackjack and baccarat, or, if it approves slot machines outside of South Florida, the Seminoles no longer have to pay.

"The Compact overrides existing laws, raises revenue, and comprehensively regulates gaming by the Seminole Tribe. It is unmistakably legislative in nature.." [Sun-Sentinal]
According to the Miami Herald, the House has some precedent on its side.
At least five other states have filed similar lawsuits against governors that entered into compacts with Indian tribes without legislative approval. In every case, the legislatures prevailed when the courts concluded that the expansion of gambling is a policymaking decision restricted to lawmakers, not governors.
The pari-mutuels in Broward County, and in Miami-Dade, where voters will decide on slots on Jan 29, are certainly watching with interest. There has been speculation that they will themselves sue to stop the compact. With some (as in, Gulfstream) already struggling mightily with their slots, the thought of the Seminoles having Class III machines and paying far lower taxes than the 50% rate applied to the tracks can not be encouraging. Whatsmore, the agreement would in effect bar the tracks from ever having blackjack or baccarat.
Under the agreement, if the state allows competing Broward County racetracks to host blackjack and baccarat, or, if it approves slot machines outside of South Florida, the Seminoles no longer have to pay.

Go All In

- I hadn't read anything about Dantrelle Light, the filly who broke down at Calder on Saturday, until Mike Welsch mentioned it in the Form today. Although he didn't specify in her case, he did write that tragedy struck again before and during the running of the race, so I can only assume the worst. (The 'before' was Post Invader, euthanized after flipping in the paddock; the 'again' was Wild Blonde, put down after a spill in which jockeys Chris DeCarlo and Roimes Chirinos suffered broken collarbones, man!)

It was silly of me to think that a vigorous racing press would take notice of the fact that there was no post parade, and ask why not, and whether one could have had something to do with the other. A couple of readers noted that this was not a unique occurrence, with one writing:

They do that all the time at northern racetracks in the winter. Directly to the gate with NO warm up. I hope u bring this up in the winter time.
I've certainly seen abbreviated warmups during extremely cold winter days, but directly into the gate as in this case, really? The question of horses warming up properly has never been part of the discussion I've heard about breakdowns, and that's a question I'd like to learn some more about.

- The Green Monkey is 8-5 morning line in a grass race at Hollywood on Wednesday. I'll happily give 4-1 to anyone who wants to bet him. Not really, but, like a fun bet. He has a decent Tomlinson of 320; but, though he has some good turf influence in his ancestry, I don't see anything in his family history that screams grass. And it's not a bad field either. Frankel has a pair: Berkeley Castle has been in and out, but could be close on an 'in' day; El Gitano is a first-timer by El Prado out of a half to Free House. Rather Be Lucky was a close second with a high Beyer at 25-1 in his first race since March. Go All In has shown some subtle improvement for Mandella, and his name could provide some good advice for this race. If they're really going to bet The Green Monkey down to 8-5, pick a horse, or two, or three, that you like at subsidized prices and go all in!

Show Your Twits!

- Did you notice that the New York Times report that became one of the big stories of the day contained a reference to the sport of kings.

Such fan behavior is not uncommon at other sporting events in the United States, like Nascar races and the infield at the Kentucky Derby.
This news of drunken Jets fans chanting for the money shot at halftime is not really news at all. It's been going on there for a few years now, and many people, including Meadowlands security, know about it. And Left at the Gate can report this to you exclusively: it happens at Gate A too. The main form of entertainment used to be tossing dollar bills down to the bottom of the cylinder formed by the circular ramps, and throwing beer at anyone who dared to try and pick them up. But once fences were constructed to deny entrance into the ring, people needed to find an alternative, and this is what they came up with. Classy crew.

I find it humorous when someone gets wind of an existing situation that is not at all a secret, and it becomes news. Back in my teen years on Long Island in the 70's, a job working for Nassau County, usually in one of the numerous parks, was a common summer job. But everyone knew that, if hired, you had to kickback 1% of your salary to the county Republican Party machine. It was just part of the gig, and common knowledge. It wasn't until the mid-80's that it became news. In 1985, the Times reported: The American Civil Liberties Union has charged that county and town workers were coerced into making contributions to the Republicans equal to 1 percent of their annual salaries. Er, hello. It turned into a major scandal for the county GOP.

The Times' report on the Jets games was a chance for politicians to display their moral values. [New Jersey Senate President] Codey says Gate D apparently stands for "drunk and disgusting." [AP] I wonder then what Gate A stands for. "Assholes and anarchy?" In any event, I think that the Senator should be more concerned with his own house.

It also gives writers a chance to get on their soapbox. On, the headline of the opinion column by Mike Celzic reads: Shame on Jets for allowing stadium strip club. Huh? What do the Jets have to do with it? They "allow" it? They play in Giants Stadium after all, and security is provided by the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority and the State Police. I don't think any of the team execs hang out on the ramps unless they're smoking pot to forget about the dismal action on the field.

So much for classy New York fans, this Celzic guy writes. Lemme clue him in. The average "classy" New York fan, whatever that really means with respect to fans in any city, has nothing to do with a relative handful of drunken assholes at halftime of a Jets game. It's the same group of twits every game. It's just unfair and simplistic to make a blanket statement like that, and I take offense.

No, I'm not condoning this behavior, and I'm not particularly proud to say that I've been going to Jets games since my father got season tickets back in 19.....65!? (Holy shit!) I actually did not attend this particular game in part because I know what it's like when the game starts so late (and partly because they were 1-8). It's idiotic, sophomoric, and downright crude, both on the part of the chanters and those who willingly comply. It's no place to bring the family to be sure, but you can say that about many sports events nowadays, except, of course, for the track. But harassment and intimidation? That seems a little hysterical. It's just what happens when people are permitted to drink unabated for hours in the parking lots before games that sometimes, for network TV, don't even start until 4 (if not 8:30), and beer is widely available inside. What do you expect? People act like jerks when they get drunk, whether at a football game or in the infield at Churchill Downs. Cut out the alcohol, and you cut out the problem.....and, unfortunately for our chances to ever seeing increased civility at sporting events, part of the profits too.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Odds and Ends

- It's taken Edgar Prado a while to get back into the groove returning from his injury; he won five of his first 45 rides at the Big A. But he had a natural hat trick on Sunday, winning three in a row.

If you played some of the real high percentage guys there, you may have fared well. Mike Hushion (5-15), Anthony Dutrow (5-11) and Richard Dutrow (5-14) all had winners; though in the latter's case, the stats don't include those runners saddled by assistant Jose Rodriguez while Dutrow was serving his latest suspension. I wish someone would do something about that.

Not amongst the high percentage guys is Pletcher. He'd won once out of 19 runners before the 20K claimer Hesogoodwithmoney won the first. Overall, at all tracks, the Toddster is 11 for 91 (12%) over the last 30 days. In stakes races over that period, he's three for 38, which includes the less than dominant win by 1-2 Spanky Fischbein at the Big A last weekend (as well as English Channel's BC Turf).

Colonel John passed the two-turns test with aplomb in the Real Quiet Stakes for two-year olds at Hollywood. He was ridden with extreme confidence by Corey Nakatani, who allowed him to drop back to sixth on the backstretch. There had to be some anxious moments to those who backed him at 7-10, as he seemed to be boxed along the rail with a lot of traffic in front of him. But Nakatani held the rail, and exploded to the lead after finding a seam in the two path turning for home. Overextended got second; he ran a distant 7th in the mud and muck of the Juvenile two weeks ago, and seemed none the worse for the wear back on familiar grounds.

Colonel John is trained by Eoin Harty for WinStar. He's by Tiznow, out of a mare by Turkoman (also the broodmare sire of Hard Spun). Tiznow is second on the third-crop sire list, and 30th overall, and this was his sixth stakes winner of the year.

Filly Breaks Down After Skipped Warm Up

- The horses were very late coming out to the track for the Stormy Frolic Stakes at Calder, and it seemed as if a delay was in order. Christina Olivares, hosting along with Bob Baedeker on TVG, was anticipating that the race would be at least a few minutes late; they were as surprised as I that the fillies went straight to the starting gate. And that's not an exaggeration. They literally stepped onto the track from the runway, paraded up the stretch, and loaded right into the gate; looking at the track diagram in the Form, it's positioned about halfway. "I'm surprised they didn't give these fillies more time to stretch their legs," commented Ms. Olivares. They speculated that, being the featured race, they wanted to get it off on time. I was thinking that the safety of the horses is more important.

So I hope that the lack of a proper warm up wasn't the reason that Dantrelle Light broke down while leading in the stretch. She took a bad step and sustained an injury to one of her front legs - I'm not going to go back and watch it again to determine which one, as it looked pretty bad and was difficult to watch. I didn't hear either of the TVG commentators connect the injury with the quickie post parade. But that's a question that I certainly expect to be raised.

Sunday Notes - Nov 18

- I knew it was a particularly slow week when I saw all these articles on Argentina leading up to the weekend. Bill Finley even had a dream about her. Confused, I sought professional help. I'll say. This mare hasn't won in 2 1/2 years, and was by far and away the biggest underlay of Breeders' Cup day. Yet, there she was, the 2-1 second choice in the Cardinal Handicap; and at least she managed to finish second.

Just as Barclay Tagg swept graded stakes in NY and Kentucky last weekend, Shug McGaughey did it on Saturday with Criminologist winning the Cardinal as the 3-2 choice, and Hunting taking the nondescript G3 Stuyvesant at the Big A. Things will pick up next weekend for sure. I'd picked Naughty New Yorker to win the Stuyvesant, but when I got to the track and saw Jessica and Teresa, they informed me that he was the wise guy horse that everyone had selected. I have a real knack for picking out horses like that. Still, with the two presumptive favorites, Awfully Smart and Barcola, dull on the board and bringing up the rear at the finish, I can't help but think that Naughty New Yorker would have won.

Hunting was coming off his second career win in which he actually crossed the wire first (he was put up via DQ last spring), and it was probably fair to surmise, based on his 414 Tomlinson, that it was due to the slop at Monmouth on BC weekend. Thus, he was by far the longest shot on the board at 9-1 in his first-ever stakes try. But he was there to pick up the pieces before a festive crowd of 3,743, including those who participated in the "gobbling" contest. No, not a test of how much turkey one could gobble, but one of who could gobble like a turkey.

- Matt Hegarty wrote of NYC OTB's finances, and how the 5% surcharge on winnings that are levied on bets made at the parlors adds up to revenue for NYC despite what the Mayor says. And Jerry Bossert explains in the NY Daily News how OTB's deal to carry nighttime thoroughbred races has contributed to its financial woes.

- Donato Hanover got beat in his Breeders' Crown elimination heat at the Meadowlands last night, snapping the three-year old trotting sensation's winning streak at 19. Arch Madness beat him fair and square after a long stretch duel; he was supplemented to the event at a cost of $62,500. The Hambo champ, however, will have a chance to avenge the defeat in the final next week.

"The five weeks off really hurt him," said driver Ron Pierce. "He didn't get much of a qualifier at Gaitway. He wasn't quite up to that fast of a mile. I kind of figured it would take me awhile to get to the lead. That's the way I've been racing him all year, floating him away from the gate. We had a soft middle half, but the other horse has been racing every week." [US Trotting Association]
- We saw a band called My Brightest Diamond last night. I had caught just the tail end of a set they played last year, and I knew that the Head Chef would like them...but didn't realize how far they'd come in the year and a half since I saw them last, wow! Whenever we go to shows, there's always the worry that we'll be the oldest ones in the crowd. But that concern was immediately relieved when we saw the actor John Lithgow there. Later, the bass player, half of a killer rhythm section, was introduced as Nathan Lithgow, so I suppose they may be related. The band is the brainchild of Shara Worden, who belts out her ethereal, classically trained vocals and hammers power chords on her guitar simultaneously. Last night she played with her rock trio and her string quartet, and it was really quite a show. The music ranges from heavy metal and prog-rock to unbearably gorgeous hymns, and I guess you really just have to hear them to get the full effect. So here's one of their videos. Good luck and have a great Sunday.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Saturday Morning Notes - Nov 17

- My pick at Churchill on Friday, Link to My Heart, got bet down late to 3-1, but finished 8th. I think that, for the duration of my present troubles, I'm going to avoid horses stepping up to allowance company after graduating from the maiden ranks. However, I did mention both the first and second place finishers, Creative Design and Seemingly, who combined for an exacta payoff of $318.80. So I'll take that as some progress.

The feature at the Big A today is the G3 Stuyvesant Handicap. Naughty New Yorker (6-1) was pinched back at the start of the Empire Classic, for which he was the 6-5 favorite after two easy wins. He seemed to be in a real groove, but was left with far too much to do on that day, especially when he encountered an impossible wall of horses rounding the turn. Still, he showed some class rallying for 4th, and has since trained very well for this encounter. His last two efforts on the Aqueduct main track were his second to Magna Graduate in the G3 Excelsior, and his win in the off-the-turf Red Smith. So I'll tab him for the mild upset. Awfully Smart has been awfully sharp in winning five of his last seven starts, recording triple digit Beyers in his last four. He does prefer the lead though, and didn't have it the last time he faced Barcola. The latter breaks from the outside post, and may also have to deal with Utopia, who broke poorly in the Meadowlands Cup. It also seems as if both he and Awfully Smart have done their best running at Delaware.

- The bill to put slots on the ballot in Maryland next November just barely survived the vote in the House of Delegates; the 86 to 52 vote was one more than was needed to pass by the required 3/5ths super-majority. House Speaker Michael Busch, who was credited with killing bills that would have authorized the machines without a referendum in past years, apparently worked hard to get this one over the hump.

Del. Roger Manno, a freshman Democrat from Montgomery County, said he agreed to vote for the bill at the behest of Busch aides who fanned out through the chamber when the vote count came up short and Busch held up the final tally....

"My heart was heavy from beginning to end," said Manno, who is "philosophically opposed" to slots but agreed to let voters decide. "I do think that democratically this is the way to go." [Baltimore Sun]
But before the House and Senate negotiate their differences on the bill, the House needs to pass a companion bill that would set the rules for slots, and that is not a sure bet.
House Speaker Michael E. Busch has said he does not know whether he has the simple majority of 71 votes to pass the companion bill, and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller has said passing one bill without the other would amount to "fraud."....
The companion bill is controversial because it sets aside up to $100 million for the struggling horse racing industry, and several legislators contend that the locations are defined so that only a select group of gambling interests are expected to benefit.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Ha Ha Ha

- The NY Times, reporting today on Mayor Bloomberg's intention to shut down NYC OTB, describes the parlors as dingy backdrops for decades of triumph and heartbreak. That's a rather elegant way of putting it. Nobody other than the relative handful of regulars would miss them if they were gone.

Since OTB parlors first started springing up in 1970, they have been a public space of sorts, often for under-employed, usually older men, to while away the hours.

"OTB parlors were the kind of places where -- how do you say it -- life's winners didn't exactly hang out there," said Luc Sante, author of "Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York."

Philip Lopate, a life-long New Yorker and author of "Waterfront: A Walk Around Manhattan," sees sociological forces at work.

"The city used to be working class," he said. "OTB parlors were just a kind of cultural expression of that working class. I never went into one, but I always kind of liked them. They seemed like a kind of home to certain people." [AM NY]
Not to me, I can assure you. Well, not too often. NYC OTB turned a profit of $125 million last year; but that was before it then had to send Albany $134 million - leaving it $9 million in the hole. [NY Post] It's reported that NYRA received $54 million, 5.4% of the estimated $1 billion handle. The corporation has, over the last few years, cut personnel and shuttered six money-losing parlors. But those efforts haven't resulted in any financial gains for the city.
Between 1997 and 2001, the city received an average of $11 million from OTB. That number fell to just $1 million in 2002, and the city got no money in 2003 and 2005, the report said. [AP]
So, the mayor is understandably set to pull the plug absent any financial and/or regulatory relief from Albany.
"Years of state legislative schemes that favored racing interests over NYCOTB, at the expense of essential city services, have forced the city into a financially untenable situation in which city taxpayers are, in effect, asked to subsidize the state racing industry," Bloomberg said. [Daily Racing Form]
Well, Mike, the "racing interests" supply the product that OTB earns its revenue on, so what's so unnatural about that? The mayor is said to dislike gambling, which is kinda funny considering that he built his empire on a company which serves the biggest legal gambling operation in the world - the stock market.

But I think this is probably a positive development, since, as a source of revenue, it should serve to catch Albany's notice. And the timing is good, because it's likely to force the state to consider the OTB issue as it's hammering out a new franchise deal behind closed doors. Senator Bruno made consolidation of the OTB's into the racing operator a part of his proposal, and perhaps now it will get more than just lip service.

Speaking of lip service, Jessica posted Capital Play's anti-NYRA ad over at Railbird. The less said about it, the better. Jessica, who likes to use big words, calls it 'mendacious,' which, if it means 'bullshit,' pretty much sums it up. Just like any good political smear ad (Sheinkopf Communications, which produced it, is a consultant for Democratic candidates), it rehashes obsolete charges (the long-ago dismissed indictment), utilizes unflattering photographs in a heavy-handed manner, and bends the truth to its breaking point. To suggest that the NYRA bailout money would instead be devoted to education (complete with a shot of little innocents in their classroom) is....well, mendacious. Especially considering the amount of extra money Capital Play would be taking away from those kids due to the insidious takeout increases contained in their proposal. All I can say to their ad is ho ho ho ha ha ha.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Getting It Out of My System

- The only time I get embarrassed about a horse that I pick on this blog is when it goes off way above its morning line and runs like it. If I select a 6-1 shot, and he goes off at 9-2, that in itself gives the pick some merit in my mind. But if it opens at 10-1, and goes off at 14-1, I often take it as a message that it was just a bad pick, and that I've been rebuffed by my fellow horseplayers.

The later was the scenario on Wednesday, when I picked Calagaitor in the 7th at Aqueduct. One reader immediately spotted the folly and attempted to save me from myself. Calagaitor ran a non-threatening seventh, and it was the latest in a long series of losing selections. Perhaps I should take a break.

Or I can follow the advice of my childhood friend Jake, who taught me most of what I know about betting races. When he would go cold, he would make as many bets as possible as soon as possible, under the theory that he could get all of his losing bets out of his system; after awhile, percentages dictate that things have to turn around, and the sooner the better.

That may indeed be absurd. But regardless, I'm going to forge on, and try to handicap one race here each day. In a perverted twist on NYRA's SHOWdown contest, I'll see how many races I can lose in a row. I won't pick any horse over 6-1 morning line so that you can't accuse me of trying to lose on purpose. But I'm not going to select any morning line favorites either. Looking for some nice 3- or 4-1 shot. That's not too much to ask, is it?

For Friday, I'll turn to Churchill, since who knows if the Big A will even be open? In the 8th - Link to My Heart (5-1) graduated at Hawthorne in her last, earning a field high Beyer of 81, after having shown improvement in her prior two on the grass. The second place finisher came back to win, albeit with a lower Beyer and against several other of the also-rans. It was more the way she won than who she beat, coming from dead last, and effortlessly cruising past the field to win by seven. Trainer Chris Block is a high percentage guy 23% this year) based on the Illinois circuit, but he's been shipping a few horses in for the fall meeting. Over this meet and last year's, he's had nine runners at CD, and although only one of them won, six ran third. Block has prepped this daughter of Starvinsky with similar slow half mile breezes as before that winning race at Hawthorne.

Love Buzz (3-1) is the morning line favorite for Dale Romans off a series of even 4th place finishes in stakes, and picks up Kent D., who rode her in her first two career races. Leparoux hops off and climbs on Creative Design for Tom Proctor. This filly made a nice wide run around the turn in her last, at this level, and led between calls. She was no match however for Pure Clan, an unbeaten filly who went on to win the G3 Pocahontas (on dirt) in her next race. Trainer Ian Wilkes has cooled off after his torrid start, but Seemingly woke up on the Keeneland Poly, and could take to the surface in her lawn debut with Calvin Borel aboard.

He's A Beaut Alright!

- Alex Rodriguez looks to be headed back to the Yanks. Hank Steinbrenner said of the situation: "It’s no different than bidding on a racehorse at an auction. ” [NY Times]

Well, I wouldn't go that far. There are no Sheikhs around, and no guy waiting to sweep up the manure. But it does inspire a funny visual, players with hip numbers on their uniforms being led into the ring, the Yanks' Brian Cashman huddled in the tunnel behind, and the Red Sox' Theo Epstein stationed surreptitiously towards the back of the pavilion. Seems as if the action would have been somewhat subdued if A-Rod was led out with the bidding starting at the $350 million that his agent Scott Boras was seeking for the next ten years. Even the Sheikh wouldn't pay that kind of money for a guy with his postseason stats. I imagine the bidding, or lack thereof, would have been interrupted by that guy who admonishes the crowd when the action is disappointing. C'mon people, have a look, he's a beaut! 54 homers, 156 RBI's, no steroids! And from a nice family too!

- Racing was canceled at the Big A today when the jocks refused to ride after two races on the sloppy track.

Three horses were eased in the stretch in the first race and Silver Paradise took a bad step in the second while rolling along on the lead.

"We were going nice and easy on the lead," jockey Javier Castellano said. "There was nothing wrong with the horse. She took a bad step in a hole. The track doesn't look even. I moved her out one more lane to keep her safe and she did it again. Then I took her way wide to the outside." [DRF]
I recall from last year that there are (expensive to fix) issues with the main track that cause problems like this when it gets very wet. Another reason why something needs to get done in Albany and soon.

Gee, it's a good thing that the Breeders' Cup wasn't scheduled for Aqueduct this year (as if). But seriously, what if the jockeys decided that a track on BC day was unsafe, and refused to ride? I've wondered if, somewhere in the files at Breeders' Cup Ltd and ESPN, there's a contingency plan for them being unable to conduct the races as scheduled. What if there was a power failure, or a storm severe enough to make racing downright impossible? Gotta be a plan, doncha think? And assuming there is, that brings me back to the question, posed by some in jest at first but more seriously as the big day approached, why couldn't the races have been postponed to Sunday, when, by all indications, the weather was supposed to clear, which it did, and in a big way. Yeah, I know it's totally impractical if not virtually impossible in many ways. Imagine all the people who bought expensive seats but would be unable to stay for the extra day. But assuming there is such a plan somewhere - and there has to be, I'm sure - what constitutes a sufficient emergency to implement it? I guess just a plain old sloppy track doesn't qualify. But, I dunno, maybe, under certain circumstances, it should, you think?

Back to NYRA, trainer Jimmy Toner wrote a letter to the editor in the Albany Times-Union pleading the Senate to put their partisan politics aside and get on with awarding the franchise to NYRA. I've seen horsemen urge the state to settle the matter, but this is the first such appeal I've read that specifically endorses the incumbent.
Since then, and after years of hearings, lawsuits, recommendations and cooperating with a federal court-appointed monitor, NYRA was given a clean bill of health. Whether someone in the Legislature believes it or not, this is a new NYRA.

Yet its progress has been constantly impeded by vindictive and personal agendas of those who are supposed to be leading the state of New York.
NYRA has been recommended by Gov. Eliot Spitzer and the state Assembly. Furthermore, biddings have gone by and still NYRA is the only organization willing to carry on with the best racing in the country. Most of the bidders were really interested in the gambling aspects of the franchise. [Albany Times-Union]