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Friday, February 29, 2008

Bloomberg On OTB Offensive

- Senator Bruno was in the city on Thursday, and met with Mayor Bloomberg. The Daily Politics reports that NYC OTB was on the agenda; and that Bloomberg also brought up the subject at a bipartisan dinner at Gracie Mansion last night. The fate of the state's OTB's, not just NYC's, is of course the other shoe lead boot yet to drop from the franchise debate. You gotta wonder if it would even still be a matter of discussion if not for the Mayor's threat to shut NYC OTB down, so we probably can thank the non-presidential candidate for that. The larger issue of consolidating the OTB's is, as you may recall, supposed to be considered by some committee by next spring....but will that still occur in the increasingly likely event that Bruno is no longer the Majority Leader by that time?

June 15 is the stated deadline for shutting down the 73 parlors; but remember that the budget deadline is March 31; so if the state is going to give up revenue, chances are it may have to be settled by then. Already we're starting to read romanticized eulogies to the sleazy shops; and indeed, here's one parlor in Queens that has already shut its doors. As you probably know, the Mayor and NYC-OTB are seeking relief from the payments and fees to the industry and state that they claim are eating up the $125 million or so of net profit from the more than $1 billion in wagers it handles.

- NYRA chairman C. Steven Duncker is profiled in the Public Lives column in today's NY Times. He takes the opportunity to remind us that the franchise deal is not a......

Mr. Duncker estimates the worth of the property at $1.5 billion. “So you can’t call the $105 million a bailout. If you’re the state, it looks like a pretty good deal for you. Let’s just say that if I was at Goldman Sachs and made that trade, they wouldn’t like it. But the bottom line is, if N.Y.R.A. hadn’t cleaned up its act, none of this would ever have happened,” he says.
Duncker also decries the stalling by the Pataki Administration that helped kill the MGM racino; I don't recall reading anything regarding NYRA dropping its lawsuit on that matter as part of the agreement. Perhaps that's one of the issues that still needs to be worked out in order to finalize the deal. He also says, of OTB: “It’s a broken business model; even Jack Welch couldn’t run OTB in New York and make it turn a profit.”

I wasn't aware that Duncker was a part owner of Bates Motel, who won the Santa Anita Handicap in 1983. That was a 17 horse field, and this Saturday's renewal, with 14 entrants, will match the largest field since then if all go to the post. It's a wonderfully wackily wide open field, as evidenced by the fact that the morning line favorite, Awesome Gem, is listed at 4-1. I'd venture a guess that I watched Bates Motel win that race, perhaps on ABC? But on the NTRA website, regarding tomorrow's race, it reads simply - TV: [blank]. As in, none. Some will see it if HRTV is still in business. I betcha that the NHL Network would carry it if it was the NTRA Network instead. But the idea of an industry-run network, something all of the major team sports now have (and yes, hockey is a major team sport, in my house at least) is one we'll save for another time. The pp's for the Big Cap are here.

- Just wait one second proclaims a couple of editorials in Pennsylvania in response to some talk by state legislators at the Pennsylvania Gaming Congress about bringing table games to the state. Both pieces cite, for one thing, the indictment of Mt. Airy Lodge owner Louis DeNaples for allegedly lying to state gambling regulators about past ties to organized crime.

But at least one state Senator feels that Pennsylvania already has a form of table games.
Sen. Patrick Browne, R-Lehigh, quizzed gaming regulators about virtual blackjack games that are allowed in Pennsylvania casinos.

The Gaming Control Board last year legalized video blackjack, which simulates the real game by allowing multiple players to sit before an electronic image of a dealer. Traditional table games with a human dealer are prohibited in Pennsylvania.
[Browne] said it’s an “obvious stretch” to say lawmakers intended the virtual games in slots halls. []
But gaming commission chairperson Mary DiGiacomo Colins said “It’s basically a video game."
The gaming board has said virtual games can be legal if the odds are random and one player’s decisions do not affect another’s odds.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

News and Notes and Curlin!

- Many thanks to reader Nate for posting this link to a replay of Curlin's tuneup in Dubai today; click on Race 5, the Jaguar Trophy. And as Nate pointed out, in case you can't access the video for some reason, Robby Albarado was absolutely still throughout in what was nothing but a jog. And remember that he was conceding ample weight to the others in the field. Next up is the World Cup on March 29.

- Here's a report from a local New Jersey paper regarding a threat by Republican State Senator Jennifer Beck, whose constituency includes Monmouth County, to "fast track" a bill to permit 10,000 (!!) VLT's at the Meadowlands should the Casino Association of New Jersey not agree to a new subsidy package by next week.

Beck said she recently spoke to Senate President Richard Codey, Deputy Majority Leader Sen. Paul Sarlo, both Democrats, and a CANJ representative. During the conference call, the CANJ alleged Gov. Jon Corzine's office is responsible for the delay, she said.

"I don't know where the truth lies," Beck said.

Beck said that Codey would allow her to post legislation for VLTs if the issue is not resolved soon.

"The absence of CANJ support, to me, means we shouldmove forward [with VLTs] immediately," she said. [Examiner]
If you've been following the budget travails of Governor Jon Corzine, who proposed drastic cuts in state spending and employment in a coolly-received address the other day, you know that the racing industry ain't getting a dime from the state; I'd read earlier reports that the casinos wanted the state to kick in part of the subsidy. Corzine, a Democrat, has also been trying to sell massive toll increases in a desperate attempt to raise revenue; yet he remains "adamantly against" VLTs at the tracks. Once again, the slots issue seems to vary in its party partisanship from state to state. Tom Luchento, the head of the state's standardbred horsemen's group, claims that VLT's would generate $2 billion annually; but Corzine seems to want no part of slot machine kool-aid.

But even should a bill pass (and it's always been my understanding that the casinos have the political clout to prevent that), Senator Beck points out that the tracks would still need short term support, to the tune of $30 million over the next three years. "In my opinion, the money should come out of the casinos' pockets." Good luck with that should slots get approved!!

A couple of readers (or perhaps the same one) have queried whether slots at the Meadowlands would activate the clause in the NY franchise/racino bill that would provide a higher slice of VLT revenues for a racino if "a gaming facility of any nature in a “contiguous state” is established “within a midpoint of 30 miles.” Well? It certainly would appear as if the literal answer is yes. I doubt, however, that a higher rate for Aqueduct and Yonkers is what the author of that clause had in mind.

- The Kentucky casino amendment moved successfully out of the reconstituted House committee; this is the version that would require the state's tracks to compete for up to five racino licenses, as opposed to another which would have guaranteed them.
Nick Nicholson, president of Keeneland, said last night that the industry believes it doesn't have enough protection in the bill that passed yesterday.

"We preferred the amendment that the committee preferred (Tuesday)," he said. "But we'll be meeting … and soul-searching for our next moves." [Louisville Courier-Journal]
But Michael at Curb Your Enthusiasm hears that fewer than 50 democrats can be counted on to support the Richards measure.
Apparently allies of Speaker Pro-Tem Larry Clark and House Whip Rob Wilkey, as well as members with racetracks in or near their districts, find themselves unable to support the new measure.
60 votes are required for the amendment to proceed to the Senate.

- Michael Veitch, in a somewhat self-fulfilling piece in the Saratogian, writes of the increasing comparisons of War Pass to Seattle Slew; and notes that, like the 1977 Triple Crown champ, Zito's colt has some pedigree on his side.
War Pass is also blessed with a powerful female family. His mother, Vue, has also produced Spinaway Stakes winner Oath in 1996. Her great-grandmother is champion Bayou, who finished second in the Coaching Club American Oaks. Bayou is the mother of Alluvial, who produced Belmont Stakes winner

Coastal and Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Slew o’ Gold. [Saratogian]
I'd read before last weekend that Zito spent some time watching some of Slew's races; don't know if he showed them to War Pass too! That would remind me of when Mike Keenan showed tapes of past ticker tape parades to the Rangers as one of his first acts as coach before the 1994 Stanley Cup season!

Zito may be doing more than just watching and fantasizing though. A look at Seattle Slew's preparation for the Derby shows that Nick is taking a similar approach; with certain differences dictated by the different eras. Slew ran three times prior to Churchill - a seven furlong allowance race at Hialeah on March 9; the G1 Flamingo at the same track on the 26th; and the Wood on April 23rd. The latter was just two weeks before the Derby, which we'll probably certainly never again see in our lifetimes. But Seattle Slew's preparation was not at all dissimilar, in relative terms, to War Pass' planned campaign of three preps, which will continue with the Tampa Bay Derby and the Wood.

Hunch Bets For Thursday, Feb 28

Yes It's Bull 9th at Oaklawn
Its A Whopper 6th at Aqueduct
He's So Feisty 1st at Charles Town

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Ladies Merit Equal Billing

- This is the greatest race I've ever seen.

There have been even closer finishes; and there was no Triple Crown at stake. But the drama of the great racemare (she was not an Eclipse champion until after her subsequent retirement) toiling on a wet racetrack she did not like, trying to go out undefeated in her 13th and final start, seemingly beaten with the Kentucky Derby winner Winning Colors winging it on an uncontested lead.... Did any of you think she had a shot in the world at the quarter pole? The eighth pole? The sixteenth pole? It was, given the epic drama of the situation, and as I said, the greatest race I've ever seen.

However, if the Distaff had been run on a Friday afternoon that year, or even early evening, as will now be the case in its new incarnation as the Ladies' Classic (I wonder if they'll have any copyright issues with that), its quite possible that I would have been stuck at work, or on the E train trying to get home, and not been able to watch that all-time classic live. Or, back then in 1988, perhaps I would have found a crowded, smoke-filled OTB, or somehow happened upon a bar that was willing to put on horse racing.

I'm reminded of a column that Steve Crist wrote in December in reaction to the three new races to be introduced this year:

Yet the dominant reaction seems to be that this sextet is a dark development for American racing that in some way dilutes or detracts from the "real" Breeders' Cup the next afternoon. That will be the case only if the Breeders' Cup makes one of two mistakes with these new races going forward: attempts to brand them as global championships, or lobbies for a raft of new Eclipse Awards to make actual champions out of the leaders of secondary divisions in the sport. [Daily Racing Form, sub. only]
I think that the Breeders' Cup is in danger of running afoul of the first of those conditions by intermixing consolation races such as the Dirt Mile or the Marathon with the real things. It of course remains to be seen how the Breeders' Cup and ESPN will present the day's races, and perhaps they'll be billed as preliminary affairs. But I'd guess that they won't be. [I'd be interested in getting some futures odds on the Marathon being won by a horse who'd won for a claiming tag of $40K or less in the prior 12 months, and is trained by Gary Contessa or Richard Dutrow]

Crist argued that the races should be kept separate, and that Friday's races should not be referred to as World Championship races.
The unwieldy and unjustified extended name should be quietly dropped in general, and certainly never raised in connection with the new races. They are interesting little events for specialists outside the mainstream, and no one would have the slightest objection to Friday's Turf Sprint or Marathon if they were named for landmarks or famous horses.
It's not out of the question that one of the new races will some day produce a truly memorable moment. But I'd agree that none of them (with the possible potential exception of the F&M Sprint) are championship caliber. And now, at least three races that truly are will be run on Friday. That could make them far less accessible, especially to those who won't be putting forth the effort to seek them out, and threatens to make the Ladies second class citizens.

Or, maybe not. At least for the next two years anyway. Because, even though I'd still prefer to have the true championship races segregated and run on Saturday, the fact that the races are on the West Coast gives the Breeders' Cup and ESPN the opportunity to present a prime time extravaganza. Since there are only five races on Friday, they could start as late as 4:30 local time. 7:30 for us; not so early for those of you out west, but I guess you guys are used to that, eh? (I never adjusted to the time zone when I was at Del Mar this past summer, because I'd get to the track and it would be the 9th from Saratoga on TV. I was stuck on Eastern Track Time.) But back here, the races could go on until 9:30 or 10.

I wrote last year that the Breeders' Cup would have been well served by a prime time lead-in, perhaps at half time of Monday Night Football, and here's a great opportunity to not only have a preview of the big races, but some of the real thing. Is there a grand plan for ESPN to give up a night of World Series talk or preseason NBA games in order to carry a night of championship racing? Hopefully with online contests to encourage non-fans to join the action for free? BC President Greg Avioli said: "The initial response from the Breeders' Cup family, including ESPN, our marketing partners, nominators, and Trustees has been extremely supportive and enthusiastic." But will ESPN be supportive and enthusiastic enough to promote the Friday card from ESPN2 to the main stage and make it the big deal that it should be? And in prime time as it could be?

News and Notes - Feb 27

- The Fasig Tipton sale at Calder suffered declines across the board.

This year's edition of the auction, held Tuesday, Feb. 26, at Calder Race Course, suffered downturns from 2007 of 17.7% and 19.5%, respectively, in the number of horses sold and gross revenue. The average price declined 2.2%, and the median price fell 8%. [Bloodhorse]
I know that my loyal reader Onecalicocat is really psyched about the Smarty Jones progeny making their debuts this year. However, the buyers at the Fasig Tipton sale weren't so enamored with the Smarty offerings; and the Derby-Preakness winner had a bad day. He had five entered, of which three were declared out, and the other two didn't meet their reserves with total bids of just $155K. Last year, 34 of his yearlings sold for an average of just over $200K, double his $100K stud fee.

The fortunes of Fusachi Pegasus may have waned of late in terms of stud fee (down from a high of $150K to the present $45K) and U.S. graded stakes winners (Ravel in 2007, and before that.....Bandini?). But he had quite a good day - four of his five foals to make it to the ring sold, bringing a total of $2.1 million; including a colt who sold for an even million. Hip 73 is out of Silver Tornado, a Maria's Mon half to Roman Ruler/El Corredor/Maimonides; not sure how well that bodes for this million dollar baby's feet. And where the hell is Maimonides anyway (other than now being with either Mott or Asmussen)?

First year sire Speightstown, who's been getting some good press, had four out of four in the ring sell (seven others were OUT). Those four brought a total of $3.005 million, including Hip 254, who went for $1.7 million to Coolmore. The colt is out of La Comete, a Holy Bull half sister, out of G1 winner La Gueriere, to Lasting Approval. Last year, 54 of the sire's yearlings averaged over $180K, not bad for his $40,000 stud fee.

- The Breeders' Cup, no doubt thanks to pressure from the TBA, has announced a major format change which will see all five of the filly and mare races shifted to Friday...and the name of the Distaff changed to the Ladies' Classic. It will officially be Ladies Day! Remember when baseball used to have ladies' days, with reduced admission for the distaff set? I don't think that women will get in for free. But the Breeders' Cup seems set to go all out to promote the concept, including cause-related programs focused on women’s health.

It all sounds quite noble. Except for one thing: Does it really serve the distaff divisions well to shift all of their championship races to a weekday on which virtually nobody will be watching?

Much Too Close To Call!!

Triple dead heat at Saratoga Harness last week. Makes for quite a crowded winner's circle! [Hat tip to Albany Law School's Racing and Gaming Today)

Aubertine Wins, Bruno Sweats

- Senator Joe Bruno remained defiant in the face of Darrel Aubertine's stunning win in the special State Senate election in the 48th District which draws the Democrats within one seat of the GOP.

"We remain the majority party in the State Senate. ... The November election is little more than eight months away and we intend to redouble our efforts to regain seats." [Newsday]
Bruno also accused Spitzer's team of employing "dirty tricks," an accusation that drew no response from the governor. [NY Daily News] If the Senate Majority Leader plans to initiate an investigation, he better do it soon before the Senate GOP no longer has the power to do so.

I heard on the radio that the district has been represented by a Republican for 100 years; Newsday stated simply that the district has always elected a Republican. In any event, it's been quite some time, and Aubertine's win is all the more remarkable given the GOP's registration edge of 78,454 to 46,824. That's an edge of 62% to 38%. And while I imagine that there were local campaign issues that us outside observers are unfamiliar with, and that the candidates have their own particular stands (Aubertine opposes abortion while Barclay is a pro-abortion Republican) those were daunting numbers to overcome. And I imagine (hope) that it bodes well for the Democrats in the national elections this fall.

The present count in the Senate is 32-30, and the common wisdom is that one more seat will create a tie which can be broken by the Democratic Lt Governor. However, this commenter cited a 2007 article by Bennett Liebman which disputes that assumption. Mr. Liebman cites a clause from the State Constitution which reads: "Nor shall any bill be passed or become a law, except by the assent of a majority of the members elected to each branch of the legislature." Since the Lt Governor is not an elected member of the Senate, Liebman argues, his tie-breaking power would only apply to matters such as confirmation of the Governor's appointees and legislative rules. And while that's not insignificant, "on legislation, [Lt. Gov] David Paterson is no Dick Cheney." Let's hope he's no Dick Cheney when it comes to anything.

And if you enjoyed this campaign, keep in mind that there could be an instant replay this fall. [Barclay] wouldn't rule out a possible re-match in November, when Aubertine will have to run in the general election to hold the seat he won last night. [Daily Politics]

- Bob Gorman, the managing editor of the local Watertown Daily Times, told the NY Times that the North Country is not an "icy backwoods backwater."
..The district, he said, has been home to three secretaries of state, the creator of the Dewey Decimal System, the founder of the Woolworth’s stores and the actors Kirk Douglas and Viggo Mortensen.....

“We have a higher degree of sophistication than the people in Albany and New York City have given us credit for,” Mr. Gorman said. He added that this election was hijacked by the Democratic and Republican machines in Albany and “Gotham,” and that the two parties have treated voters in the district “like rubes and country bumpkins rather than the geographic descendants of Remington, Dewey, Woolworth, Lansing, Dulles and Rogers,” whom he called “shapers of modern America.” [NY Times]

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Asserting Control

- Michael has more on the failure of a casino amendment to make it out of committee in the Kentucky House. As I'd mentioned, one of the two proposals did not absolutely guarantee that the tracks would get racinos, though they'd be able to bid for them, just as Suffolk Downs is trying to hit the green in Massachusetts. That is the approach supported by the House Speaker, Jody Richards, and after it failed by a single vote, he did a little house cleaning.

Richards kicked fellow Democrat Dottie Sims, who voted against his bill but for the Clark/Wilkey bill, off of the committee and replaced her with Democrats Tim Firkins and John Will Stacy, who will both likely vote for his version of the amendment and send it to the full House.
While not illegal, Richards actions are certainly not honorable... I doubt they will play well with voters, since moves like this are exactly what turn folks off of politics. [Curb Your Enthusiasm]
It reminds me of an incident a few years ago here involving Mayor Bloomberg. One of his prime initiatives was to end social promotion of third graders in favor of strictly academic benchmarks. When the Mayor realized that the committee that needed to approve his proposal was poised to vote it down, he replaced three of his appointees with more sympathetic replacements and won the vote 8-5.
''This is what mayoral control is all about.....Mayoral control means mayoral control, thank you very much. They are my representatives, and they are going to vote for things that I believe in.'' [NY Times]
So Speaker Richards is also exercising his control; he says that his version is the one most likely to get out of the House. The industry prefers the version which requires five racetrack casinos. And the fight seems sure to go on.

- Handride is bored with the Derby Trail thus far, and I can't disagree too much. Not that there aren't some interesting horses worth watching; but have there been any wow moments other than Pyro's rally?

War Pass maybe? Nick is an old-style kinda guy, and his plan for the juvenile champ - the allowance last Sunday, the Tampa Bay Derby three weeks later, the Wood Memorial in another three weeks, and then the Derby in four - is the old three prep approach - remember that?

A half brother to War Pass, by Monarchos, failed to reach its $1.5 million reserve, and it is possible he will go to straight to the races for War Pass's owner, Robert LaPenta. [DRF]

Thanks Joe

- There's snow in the North Country as voters trudge to the polls in the 48th District for today's crucial State Senate election. And it seems as if the NY Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association may have sent a little thank you note to Senator Bruno for his efforts in getting them a better deal on the VLT splits. A list of contributions on the state's Board of Elections Website shows that the NYTHA contributed $2,000 on Feb 19 to the NYS Senate Republican Campaign Committee. [Hat tip to Elizabeth Benjamin's Daily Politics blog for the website link.]

- Despite personal appeals by representatives of major farms including Lane's End, Winstar, and Coolmore, a constitutional amendment which would permit voters to decide on casino gambling in Kentucky failed to make it out of committee. The proposal would have guaranteed five racinos to racetracks in the state. Earlier, a second proposal which would have provded for nine casinos, but would not have assured a racino for any track, was not adopted. Three members of the committee passed on the issue, which allows them to bring up the issue at a later date. [Bloodhorse]

Tuesday Morning Notes - Feb 26

- Ross Morton, the only track announcer in the history of the Finger Lakes racetrack, passed away after suffering a massive stroke over the weekend. Morton called the races at Gulfstream for 23 years, and I didn't recall that he also announced them at Hialeah, for five. He called the races at GP when I first started going there in the 70's, when I saw Prince Thou Art win the '76 Florida Derby, and Sonkisser win the FOY the following year. Ross Morton was 74.

- Curlin's 800 meter workout in 50.50 was a little less than a half mile (.497 to be precise), so the champ was obviously just cantering in preparation for his race on Thursday. He's no doubt expected to win, though probably not as easily as say, War Pass, in a field with some fairly accomplished performers; Kandidate being the most recognizable of those. He must shoulder the massive top weight of 132 pounds, spotting his opponents from 19 to 29 pounds. [BRIS]

- I imagine that those who were enamored with Pyro's rally in the Risen Star were undeterred by War Pass' return; and Asmussen's colt prepped for the March 8 Louisiana Derby with a six furlong work, in company with Zanjero (aiming for the Razorback at Oaklawn on the same day), in 1:14.

The horses finished strongly, running the final quarter-mile in 23 1-5 seconds. Continuing past the finish line, they completed seven furlongs in 1:27 3-5 and a mile in 1:42.

"They just looked fast," trainer Steve Asmussen said. [Times Picayune]
Z Fortune also worked, five furlongs in 1:02, and is being pointed for the Rebel at Oaklawn on March 16.

- It was a late night for election workers in NY's 48th District after the state's highest court ruled that Darrel Aubertine could not keep Republican William Barclay off the Independence Party line in today's special election. Aubertine's campaign manager told the NY Daily News:
''It's unfortunate that Will Barclay's need to have his name on the ballot three times is going to cost the taxpayers thousands of dollars in overtime costs, but we're excited about tomorrow's election."

Monday, February 25, 2008

Gulfstream Timer Goes Wiki

- I Iooked up the list of Fountain of Youth winners on Wikipedia. And first of all, why do I have to go to sites like Wikipedia and You Tube to access statistical or video historical information? I can go to the NHL's site, link to any of the 30 teams, and access each of their all-time rosters, providing detailed statistics, like this. There's nothing comparable I can think of in racing, is there? It would be fun for beginners and vets alike to be able to access the all-time past performances and classic race videos in a single place.

Past FOY winners, at least from during my racing lifetime, include Spectacular Bid, Bet Twice, Sensitive Prince, Copelan, Forty Niner, Proud Truth, Dehere, and Thunder Gulch. But the most recent winners were Scat Daddy, First Samurai, High Fly, Read the Footnotes, Trust N Luck, and Booklet; and not that there aren't some talented racehorses in that bunch, the race certainly hasn't produced the type of horses that it did back then (which wasn't really that long ago). I think that as time goes on, if the current trend of less preps is more continues, we won't be seeing many meaningful confrontations of the top contenders until the final round of preps - the Wood, Blue Grass, Arkansas Derby and, maybe (and Barbaro notwithstanding), the Florida Derby. The earlier races, such as the Fountain of Youth and the upcoming Louisiana Derby, are being used to a large extent as seasonal debuts, and merely as preps for preps.

I certainly could be wrong, but I personally don't see Cool Coal Man as an obvious candidate to break the recent FOY trend, especially given this latest revision of the fractional and final times of the race. Now it seems that the final furlong went in a rather glacial 13.75; which really makes more sense. I didn't get the visual sense that Cool Coal Man was doing much running late. He sat a perfect trip behind an honest pace, made a nice wide move for the lead, but labored home late. This latest version certainly doesn't cast Court Vision in a great light either. Of course, the fractions could change again, so let's wait and see. Maybe we can get the definitive times on Wikipedia.

Democrats Fish For Senate Majority

- The franchise debacle may be over (maybe), but politics in Albany of course go on. And the attention this week is squarely on the upstate 48th District, otherwise known as the North Country, where a special election will take place on Tuesday between two Assemblymen, Democrat Darrell Aubertine and Republican William Barclay, to replace Republican State Senator James Wright, who is retiring after 15 years in office. With the Republicans holding a mere two seat edge in the Senate, a win for the Democrats would move them to within a single seat of gaining power in the chamber, and ending the Senate Majority reign of Senator Bruno. (And in fact, Fredric U. Dicker reports in the NY Post that Spitzer is planning to immediately court possible party-switchers to expedite Bruno's ouster should this election go the Democrats' way.)

Such a switch would make Senator Malcom A. Smith of Queens the Senate Majority Leader; and the Republicans are noting the fact that both he and Silver, as well as Manhattan-resident Spitzer, would put an inordinate amount of power in downstate hands who may not be sympathetic to upstate needs. It could also turn the three men in a room to the three men with a broom, as they sweep Democratic initiatives through the state capitol. So, any change this profound would certainly have an effect on our subject at hand, so it's certainly worth following here. Perhaps at some point, I'll start a sister blog to cover Albany politics - Left at the State.......House. Or something like that. But for now, I know you all love a hotly contested horse race, so....

One of the reasons why the race is causing so much angst for Republicans is because the district has heretofore been considered a safe one for the GOP, with a significant party registration edge of 78,454 to 46,824. Yet, the polls show that the race is a statistical dead heat. The GOP further fears that a win by the Democrat Aubertine could encourage other Republican Senators, many of whom are in their 60's or 70's, to decide not to run when all the seats come up for re-election in the fall. I guess that the prospect of being in the minority is no fun when one has been in the presiding party for 40 years.

So there's no wonder that interest is high, and that money is pouring in from around the state.

Of about $722,000 raised by Mr. Aubertine in the latest filing period, 3.5 percent came from within the district, according to the New York Public Interest Research Group, as did 1.4 percent of the $699,000 raised by Mr. Barclay. [NY Times]
In addition, according to the Times, the Senate GOP, under Bruno, has pledged some $2 million for Barclay, and the Democrats, under Spitzer, the same amount for Aubertine. Bruno traveled to Florida last week to raise money for this race and others at Donald Trump's mansion, the Albany Times-Union reported. [Syracuse Post-Standard] And that money and support is evident in slick campaign ads such as this:

And as one might expect, the campaign has gone negative; and despite a handshake promise during a televised debate to refrain from attack ads, they have continued unabated from both sides.

Aubertine is attacking the Republican Barclay over a $30 fishing fee that the latter's father imposed some 20 years ago on fishers plying their trade in a section of the Salmon River that the family owns. The fee was hotly contested; the elder Barclay sued fishermen who refused to pay, and his right to collect it was upheld in court in 1997. Still, emotions run high.
"I haven't paid Barclay, and I never will," said Robert Jordan, a part-time fishing guide who said he's been catching salmon and trout in the river on a McKenzie-style drift boat since the late 1970s.

"I don't believe I should have to pay what I have already paid for with my license dollars and tax dollars. The water doesn't belong to anybody yet he controls the water," Mr. Jordan, a registered Republican and a respondent in the lawsuit, said.

"It's like the Gestapo down there," a 62-year-old fishing guide outside Pulaski, Richard Redsicker, said. [NY Sun]
Barclay supporters claim that the area of the river in question was treated poorly before the fee was imposed, and that the money has helped to maintain the river. But Aubertine tapped into lingering resentment by running this ad:

It was subsequently revealed that the narrator of the ad, who claimed that he used to fish in the river with his grandfather, is actually Justin Winkle, a 25-year old fishing guide. The Aubertine campaign responded that the narration merely represented a "composite" of other fishermens' experiences. Winkle recanted his story and apologized to the Barclay family (the day after two Barclay supporters took him out for drinks, after which he was arrested for DUI).

Meanwhile, the Barclay campaign is accusing Aubertine of conflict of interest in connection with a June 2003 Assembly vote in which he voted in favor of legislation that would allow farmers to host wind turbines without having their property-tax assessments increased. [Valley News Online] Here's the ad:

According to the Valley News report linked to above, Aubertine had been approached two weeks earlier regarding installing wind generators on his farm. In 2006, Aubertine told a local paper that he had abstained from “several bills that may or may not have been construed as a benefit to me or my family.” And he repeated that assertion in a rather awkward denial on a local TV newscast.

However, the Valley News report claims that "the legislative record indicates Aubertine voted in favor of the bill." And the Syracuse Post-Standard reported that Aubertine collects two $700 payments a year from a company seeking to develop wind turbines. The Aubertine campaign responds that their candidate was one of many farmers to sell their wind rights, and that he did so a year after the vote in question. It told the NY Daily News' Daily Politics blog:
"Five years later, there are still no windmills on the Aubertine property. The company is only studying a potential project. Will Barclay, however, voted just last year to protect the $800,000 in Empire Zone tax credits that his law firm receives." [Aubertine campaign statement on the NY Daily News Daily Politics blog]
And so it goes. American politics at its worst. Add in a lawsuit by the Barclay campaign seeking a ballot spot on the Independent Party line, and some angry residents who fear having their property infringed by possible eminent domain claims related to a wind farm project, and we have a real barn burner going on. For the latest developments, I highly recommend the aforementioned Daily Politics blog; reporter Elizabeth Benjamin is the proprietor and she provides regular updates.

Monday Morning Notes - Feb 25

- If the morning line oddsmaker was off on Aegean Breeze, then the public was even worse, sending her off at 9-1! But it may have been the slow start of Just Zip It (6-1) than helped her prevail, returning an exacta of $106.50, that was light if you apply the win price times place price rule of thumb. Our City Zip filly was left at the gate, and given the torrid pace up front, that may have not been an awful thing. Less helpful was some tight quarters turning for home and through the stretch that she had to battle through. Just Zip It can run on the lead or off the pace; bottom line is that she just loves to run, and she picked up another $9200 in purse money in once again falling short to Aegean Breeze, who also beat her in her return race. Another solid effort, and the race was two seconds faster than the race she won earlier this month. It brings her overall record to 4-1-3-0, good for earnings of $52,000.

And the subsequent corrected time of the Fountain of Youth shows how hazardous instant analyses can be if you can't depend on the track teletimer. As it turned out, the pace was a fairly solid one of 23.56, 23.37, and 23.87 to the three quarters. They came home in 38.73, and the final furlong was not at all bad at 12.53. So I think this makes the efforts by the winner and runner-up better than we initially thought; and Court Vision....hmmm, I'm not sure. Still was his first race of the year, and he rallied fairly well. But the early pace was not nearly as slow as we thought; and note that he gained only 3/4's of a length from the stretch call to the finish.

It was a public workout for War Pass, as he ran under a firm hold and drew off without encouragement to win easily against an outmatched field. His fractions were a moderate 23.94, then 22.78, a breather at 25.18 (hmmm, do you think that fraction is right?), and then he cruised home in 24.48. So a second half of 49.66 after the opening one of 46.72. Sound ugly? Well, that's North American racing for you, and there's no denying that it was impressive display of harnessed speed. War Pass still has some questions to answer though, and he'll undoubtedly face some stiffer tests and soon.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Instant Analysis

- Well, I ended up betting on the Fountain of Youth anyway. I happened to be home and I checked out the odds. Since I hated Monba as the favorite in the race, and also noticed that two maiden graduates were getting ample support as well, I made a price play on Nick Zito's horse. Unfortunately though, it was the one that I think I saw getting eased up at the finish (Anak Nakal) rather than the winning Cool Coal Man. So nice job by me there.

It wasn't a particularly pretty race - it was slow early, quick in the middle, and not all that fast at the end. [UPDATE: SEE CORRECTED TIMES] The leaders walked to the quarter in 25.78, but then picked up the pace to 23.49 and 23.92 in the middle, effectively bottoming out most of the rest of the field. Cool Coal Man was tracking the leaders, and moved to the lead, but Elysium Fields, one of those recent maiden graduates, held on stubbornly. The final three eighths went in 38.66 38.73, and the final time of 1:51.85 was over a second slower than a maiden race earlier in the card. Court Vision rallied OK for third. I'm thinking that we didn't see any Classic horses. [UPDATE: LEAVING IN THE LAST SENTENCE DESPITE THE CORRECTED TIMES]

Two Weeks To Go

- Our wedding is two weeks from today, and things are getting pretty hectic. My laptop crash certainly hasn't helped, and I'm just not the type to make major purchase decisions without the proper due diligence. So the saga is stretching out longer than necessary. Anyway, between the big event and the honeymoon which will follow, please don't lose faith if I suddenly disappear until sometime around the baseball season opens!

I got nuthin' on the Fountain of Youth later on today. It's a fascinating, wide-open race to be sure, but I think I'll pass as far as betting on it; I can make a case for almost all of the 12 entrants. I know it's cool to cash on a horse in one of these preps, especially at a nice price. But, given the global village that betting on racing is these days, there's gotta be easier wagering opportunities throughout the nation's racetracks today. For me, finding time is amongst the most challenging aspects of handicapping, and I think I can invest it in better ways than trying to decipher that particular race. It's not like there won't be high interest in watching it without a bet. And besides, betting on the Derby preps can lead to emotional attachments that can cloud one's judgment as the Derby approaches. (How's that for an excuse?)

- Thanks to the reader who alerted me to Friday's 4th race at Fair Grounds in which Oh So Awesome, Team Valor's one-time Belmont hopeful, was entered for a $10,000 tag; the first time he had run for sale. Funny thing is that the bettors were wary enough to make him the second choice, even though he really did stand out on paper off the prodigious drop in class. He had no excuse against that field, and he got the job done, returning $5.80. And he was bravely claimed by Keith Bourgeois.

- Ferragamo won the six furlong Mountain Valley at Oaklawn in a snappy 1:09.90, and his running lines look pretty weird with his three wins sandwiched around one evil looking line from Philly Park in which he lost by 28. He beat a nice horse in Carson's Legacy. Ferragamo is trained by Larry Jones, who said we’re not going to try and get him ready for the [Kentucky ] Derby. [Arkansas Democrat Gazette] But he does want to stretch him out, and why not? He's by Vindication, out of a Conquistador Cielo mare who is a half-sister to the late Whitney/Cigar Mile winner Left Bank.

A Zippy Sunday

- Just Zip It is listed at 6-1 in the morning line for the 7th at the Big A on Sunday, her first try against winners. She actually regressed a couple of Beyer points when she won her last; but even that number certainly looks competitive for at least a piece of the $46,000 purse. In order to get into the winner's circle, she'll have to make up the three plus lengths she lost to Aegean Breeze in her comeback race, as that one shows up here. Aegean Breeze is listed at 8-1 in the morning line, which is just plain bad oddsmaking in my view; strictly on the figs, she should be the morning line favorite. That role instead goes to Abby Morgan, who has been close four times at this level.

Just Zip It hardly looks outclassed here, but will need to step it up against winners, despite the drop back to state-breds. Jockey Jose Espinoza also may want to think about a change of tactics back to her closing/stalking ways, as a repeat of her wire-to-wire win may be difficult in this field, especially with the aforementioned Aegean Breeze, who outclasses the rest on the Moss pace figures.

- From the sound of these comments, that was quite a nasty spill at Gulfstream yesterday, and if you don't mind, I"m going to take a pass on watching it. Sounds a bit similar to the Phillip X breakdown a couple of weeks ago in that it took place in deep stretch right in front of the stands; and to the George Washington disaster in the Classic in that the dreaded screen was quickly brought onto the track. Elvis Trujillo was knocked unconscious, and is thought to have fractured his wrist.

I have to admit that I totally overlooked Einstein in the GP Turf, mistakenly thinking that he was past his peak form. Wrong. But Shug's Dancing Forever showed that his stakes win at Calder late last year was no fluke, and this always-trying five-year old son of Rahy could very well be a factor in the turf division this year.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Saturday Notes - Feb 23

- Just quickly, if anyone's out there today, on the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Turf later today - I don't really get Shamdinan as the 4-1 second choice in the morning line. Sure, he won the G1 Secretariat in his first N.A. start. But that was against three-year olds, and he hasn't followed up that effort with a comparable one, including, in my opinion, his second place finish in the BC Turf. Given the circumstances of the turf condition and the pace, it could be better than it looks.

Stream of Gold, the morning line favorite, certainly looks tough on figs, class, and consistency. But I'm interested in Zann (6-1), stretching out, and coming off a layoff for McLaughlin. Zann stepped it up big time last fall, progressing to two excellent seconds, most recently a neck defeat in the G1 Citation at Hollywood. Those races, however, were much shorter; and his one try over a mile and a sixteenth was a wide an even fifth in the 2006 Hollywood Derby.

But Zann has some interesting distance pedigree. He's by Dynaformer, out of Moments of Magic, a Danzig mare who ran second in the mile and a half Long Island Handicap at the Big A. His second dam is a half sister to Ten Below, winner of the Lawrence Realization at Belmont, which, if I recall correctly, was run at a mile and five eighths. The race was eliminated in 2005 by the New York Racing Association (NYRA) in an effort to remain financially viable. [Wikipedia] At least a mile and a half anyway. And Ten Below is a half to Fortnightly, who won the Secretariat and ran second in the Manhattan. (Ten Below and Fortnightly are by Avatar and Dance Spell respectively; two of my all-time favorites.)

One more thing, Elvis Trujillo rides lights out for the barn; albeit in a modest sample of 26 races, he's won at 46%.

So I'll take a shot with Zann, use him with Stream of Gold and throw Notable Guest and Dancing Forever somewhere into the exotics mix too. Good luck everyone and have a great day.

Friday, February 22, 2008

News and Notes - Feb 22

- Here's an interesting thread from Dave Tuley's ViewFromVegas forum site. It's regarding a recent trend which has seen first-timers doing well at Santa Anita, and the poster proposes the theory that the rock hard, lightning-fast conditions of the pre-polymer'd Cushion Track has left horses who ran over it extremely sore. "Some horses had to wait up to 3 weeks before they could even begin training again," he writes.

I think we are seeing now, the affect of those hard tracks and the toll it took on the horses. 1st time starters, horses off a layoff, horses coming off turf, and horses shipping in have dominated. Of course there are exceptions, but I don’t think it’s any coincidence on what we are seeing right now. For example, here is what happened today [Thursday] in the main track races:

2nd Race- 1st time starters run 1st and 2nd [winner was 24-1]
4th Race- 1st time starters run 1st and 2nd [winner was 33-1]
5th Race- 1st place finisher wins off layoff, 2nd place finisher comes from the turf, and 3rd place finisher comes off a layoff
6th Race- 1st place favorite does win and ran at SA in last, 2nd place finisher comes from GG, 3rd place finisher is a 1ster
7th Race- 1st place winner comes from BM's, only runner who didn't run on SA surface in last
8th Race- 1st time starter runs 1st, 2nd place finisher comes in from GG
Just one day's results of course, but it sounds quite logical and may be worth checking out over the weekend.

- On the other hand, Just Zip It bounced out of her win at the Big A in fine fettle, and is entered to run back in the 7th race on Sunday. She'll drop back into state-bred company and go six furlongs in an entry level allowance.

- As pointed out in this comments thread, Z Humor runs back in the Fountain of Youth just eight days after his disappointing Sam F Davis. No, certainly not Mott's MO, and especially strange considering that the colt has all the graded earning he needs. So owner Ahmed Zayat obviously has his reasons, and perhaps we'll understand more come Sunday. (He also runs back Halo Najib 13 days after he won at Ocala, but this colt needs the graded stakes earnings.)

- Horsemen and racetracks in New Jersey are still waiting for the promised relief in the form of a new subsidy package from the state and Atlantic City casinos. The Meadowlands has decided to maintain their purse structure, believing that a new agreement is near. But at Freehold, where harness racing...dates back to 1853, long before the selfish casino companies came to AC, purses are down drastically - 40% today as compared to three weeks ago, according to the NY Daily News' Dave Little (27% is the official number). Tom Luchento, the president of NJ's Standardbred Breeders and Owners Association, says that "without a doubt, horsemen are leaving Freehold for Saratoga and Dover Downs."
"This has gone on much too long. We are at the point now where it's like pulling wings off flies. They're just torturing us and I get nothing from the state. No information from the casinos. They leave us out of the negotiations. We are never at the table." [NY Daily News]
The Asbury Park Press reports that frustration with the casinos has grown to the point where some legislators are pushing for slots at the tracks.
State Sen. Jennifer Beck, R-Monmouth, said momentum is growing among legislators to consider allowing VLTs at the racetracks. Beck said she and Sen. Paul Sarlo, D-Bergen, had a conference call with a casino industry representative last week, but it did not leave them encouraged that the stalemate would soon end, she said.

"VLTs at the racetracks were not implemented because of the subsidy agreement, and the casinos in turn were to support the racing industry," Beck said. "That support has stopped. Every state around us has VLTs or similar forms of added gambling at the racetracks." [Asbury Park Press]
And of course, this is not just a harness issue, as Monmouth re-opens in May.

- Hunch bets for Friday:
Rude 2nd at Delta Downs
Booty Man 6th at Beulah (Just innuendo from that "liberal rag" of course)
Watch Me Go Byebye 1st at Bay Meadows
Nick's Blitz 7th at Charles Town
Going Wild 8th at Delta Downs

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Un-Definitive and Taking Up Space

- I really didn't have too much to say, but I wanted to get the last post off the "front page" due to my embarrassing gaffe in completely mis-reading the Bloodhorse article on the Synth Summit (that was good at least, wasn't it?) in California. Hopefully, you'll all misremember that really soon.

But as long as I'm here, there was an Associated Press story the other day about some parcels of land that NYRA is seeking permission from the bankruptcy court to sell. I guess this is the land that reader theiman, whose favorite hockey team presently stands at the crossroads between fulfillment of its wondrous potential and the all-too-familiar descent into ignominy, was wondering about. And this sharp Anon commenter found the relevant clause. NYRA told the court that the $31 million it received from the state over the last year is "almost fully expended.".

In documents filed Tuesday with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Manhattan, NYRA said that selling the properties could help it maintain its operations, pay administrative expenses related to its bankruptcy case and continue negotiations with the state on a "definitive" settlement agreement.
Huh? You mean the agreement is un-definitive?
Brian Rosen, an attorney representing NYRA, said in an interview Wednesday that the definitive settlement agreement is aimed at resolving outstanding litigation and clearing up other issues, such as how the racing association will give up ownership of the racetracks.
I thought they were just going to hand over the deeds! Sounds like a chance for Brian Rosen to add some more hours to the bill. I wonder if the $15 to $20 million that NYRA hopes to gain from the sale will cover their legal expenses?

Also un-definitive is whether or not Belmont will ultimately get slots. A bill to permit them was introduced, in the State Assembly by Assemblyman Tom Alfano (R) and in the Senate by Republican Senator Dean Skelos, who many consider to be the heir apparent to the present Senate Majority Leader. (If they're still in the Majority after this year, that is.) A copy of the measure can be found here. Senator Bruno and Governor Spitzer both favor VLT's at Belmont; Sheldon Silver remains opposed; but with the issue now intertwined with the upcoming budget negotiations ( Spitzer's proposal includes $250 million from the sale of development rights to a Belmont racino), I wouldn't bet against the Speaker being open to some bargaining.

- Off topic, and to get that last post even further down on the page, I wanted to mention that we were really taken aback by all the 'For Sale' signs that we saw in Florida. I guess that we're somewhat isolated from the mortgage crisis here in New York City, where the outrageous property values are only slightly less so, if that. But down there, there was not a block we passed that didn't have at least one house for sale, and that was true in the more affluent areas as well as the more modest ones.

And while we were there, Spitzer was in DC testifying before Congress, and appearing on CNBC, where he basically blamed the entire mess on the Bush Administration.
Spitzer recalled that several years ago the U.S. Office of the Comptroller of the Currency went to court and blocked New York efforts to investigate the mortgage activities of national banks. Spitzer argued the OCC did not put a stop to questionable loan marketing practices or uphold higher underwriting standards.

"This could have been avoided if the OCC had done its job," Spitzer said in the interview. "The OCC did nothing. The Bush Administration let the housing bubble inflate and now that it's deflating we're dealing with the consequences." [Yahoo News]
Spitzer and his insurance Superintendent Eric Dinallo told Congress that, when considering rescue plans for bond insurers, the municipal bond markets should receive particular consideration as opposed to the Wall Street firms that they (also) blamed for the crisis. This drew two Op Ed articles on the same day in the Wall Street Journal that blasted the governor. The Journal has long loathed Spitzer from his AG days picking on poor victims like Richard Grasso; and that was before Rupert Murdoch bought the paper!

OK, that's long enough, I'm done.

Pain in the Gluteal

- Great catch by reader Glimmerglass, who recalled that Cowboy Cal's supposed gluteal muscle pull injury sounded rather familiar. Here's the story on the similar woes suffered by The Green Monkey during Saratoga 2006. Ah yes, remembering the good old days, way back when he was still a two-year old with 16 million reasons why a bright future still lay ahead. Team Pletcher may want to keep an eye on Cowboy Cal for any signs that he may just suck too. Seems that Jav Privman has already dismissed his chances given that he doesn't give the horse a single mention in his article in the Form on the Toddster's "sneaky" Derby prospects.

If the colt does make the Blue Grass on April 12, and does enough to qualify, he'd be going to Churchill off a schedule that might have been considered unconventional just a couple of years ago - preps on Jan 1, Feb 16, and then not for almost two months. And that's even forgetting the fact that he will have prepped only on grass and on the Keeneland Poly, which, to me, is the synthetic surface that plays most like a turf course. Monba, the only other Pletcher horse to be listed in Pool 1, is scheduled to make his three-year old debut this weekend in the Fountain of Youth. That's ten weeks before the Derby. So, given the trainer's preference for at least four weeks between races, I don't see where he would have more than one more prep. I think we'd all like to see this 'less-preps-is-more' approach be quickly and assertively discredited; but given Street Sense's win off of two preps, I guess that won't be happening anytime soon.

So, while Glimmerglass also questioned the wisdom of Mott sending Majestic Warrior directly to the Louisiana Derby for his three-year old bow, there's not really time for allowance preps anymore if you're going to limit the amount of preps AND be able to qualify on graded earnings. It's not surprising then that Tale of Ekati is also being slated to make his 2008 debut there; and it's obvious that each of these colts will be attempting the two prep step approach as well.

- What do you think is going through the minds of the Breeders' Cup folks given the announcement that Santa Anita will not only scrap their current hybrid surface for a new synthetic one; but won't even do so until after Hollywood's spring/summer meeting because some horses that run at the Inglewood track train at the Arcadia facility!!? [LA Times] Just three months before the sport's showcase day, Santa Anita will be ripping up the track and starting from scratch! Imagine if the site of the Super Bowl was a dirt pit around Halloween!! Well, actually, given what has occurred thus far, maybe the BC is getting ready to give Santa Anita a ten-year franchise (thought you wouldn't be seeing that word around here much anymore, eh?) on the event!

A couple of particularly interesting tidbits from's comprehensive and quite worthwhile article on yesterday's Synth Summit of the CHRB (meaning: please read it in its entirety):

John Shirreffs, who has been a constant voice of skepticism on the surfaces, noted that he's seen a lot of bleeders amongst young horses, and David Hofmans added that while he has had bleeders, he hasn’t seen the debris in the trachea that he saw from a dirt surface. That's the first possible real-life example I've read relating to the question, which we've often posed here, of what the hell is in that stuff, and what effect it might have on horses and humans who breathe it in. Can't say I'm surprised to read that there would be "debris" in the trachea (yuck). The further question, which we won't know for quite some time, is what, if any, are the long-term health effects.

And, amidst the dissonance of opinions and experiences that are apparent in the report, I think it's fair to say that horsemen generally agree that the surfaces are kinder to the animals. But Garrett Gomez told the board that it's also kinder on him. “My body has felt tremendously better.....They really help with the wear and tear on our bodies." As long as, that is, he's not getting rocks in the face and debris in his trachea.

- Excuses for the two dead heat winners of the Delta Jackpot for their disappointing follow-ups: Z Humor washed out in the paddock; Turf War was slightly hurt.

Thursday Morning Notes - Feb 21

- Back home in NY with my dead laptop in tow; merely a hulk of useless metal, plastic, and circuitry. But interestingly, I found online a whole community of aggrieved HP Pavilion users who had suffered the same exact problem - a computer that ran insanely hot before crashing altogether. They said that the heat burns out the video card. There were mixed signals on whether HP is acknowledging the problem, and if, and for how much, they can fix it; I'm waiting to hear from them.

But I suppose it's time to move on. Thanks to the reader who mentioned the Mac Book, which is actually what I'm on right now; I'd mistaken it for an IBook, what do I know? This is certainly a fast little machine, and the idea of running Windows on it concurrently is intriguing, even if it sounds rather unstable. Another reader emailed to say that he's found that Dells are very dependable from his experience of lugging laptops around on the road for many years . Problem there is that they currently come loaded with Vista, and Formulator doesn't run on that...

Anyway, the timing is particularly awful, as I'd been compiling a musical playlist on the HP for the I need to do something really soon. I guess you'll know when I do when the volume of posts picks back up.....

- Why Tonto will stick to the turf. But the Toddster has a handy excuse for Cowboy Cal, who will press on to the Derby.

Cowboy Cal...emerged from the race with a "sore gluteal muscle in his left rear," Pletcher said.

"That probably explains why he wasn't cornering so well on the turns....He'll probably jog for a week or 10 days. I think we're still in good shape to make the Blue Grass," the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby prep on April 12 at Keeneland. [Daily Racing Form]
- I'd written here about how Pompano Park was clearly the best performing of the Broward County racinos, but it seems that all is not rosy even there, even though its revenues continue to exceed both Gulfstream and the former Hollywood Dog Track combined [pdf]. Management says they will cut purses by 35% and slash the racing schedule by two days a week.
Pompano has a $2.7-million purse overpayment “that cannot go any higher,” and needs to hold purses to $12 million for its 2007-08 meet, Steven Wolf, the track’s senior director of racing operations, said in the e-mail.

The changes are “outrageous,” said Jeffery Schneider, an attorney who represents the FSBOA. They are part of what FSBOA considers Pompano’s effort to de-emphasize live racing and focus on the slot-machine casino it opened in April 2007, he said.

“Their card room is doing better than expected, their simulcast is doing better than expected, and their slots play is more than the other two combined,” said Schneider, an attorney with Miami law firm Tew Cardenas. [Bloodhorse]
The horsemen at Pompano have been operating without an agreement with the track regarding a specific percentage split of revenue; the track dedicated a flat $12 million to purses for last year, and is instituting the cut in order to maintain that amount. A civil suit filed by the horsemen requiring a percentage of revenues is pending in court. With a move afoot in the state legislature to cut the state's share of racino revenue from 50% to 35%, perhaps the track is making a Jeff Gural-type play for legislative relief. A meeting between the parties is supposed to take place within a few days.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Derby Top Ten

- Here's the LATG Derby Top Ten, of horses, people, and things that I think will be in the news on or around the first Saturday in May:

1) Well, I suppose that Country Star isn't really going to run in the Derby. However, I wanted to make the point that she was my favorite two-year old of 2007 based on her two scintillating rally-from-behind Grade 1 wins. She was sick and missed some training time, and now Frankel doesn't even sound certain about the SA Oaks on March 8. "If she misses the Santa Anita Oaks, she'll definitely be running in Kentucky," he said, referring to the Kentucky Oaks," [DRF] Not sure what he means by that. He's not going to train her up to the race, is he? But regardless of whether she preps in California or Kentucky, the Oaks (or Derby) would be her first race on natural dirt.

2) Tale of Ekati's win in the Futurity was my top juvenile race for the boys last year; and though he failed his two-turn test in the Juvenile, he gets the automatic track condition excuse that all the BC runners have available. Personally, I think he should love two turns; he's by Tale of the Cat out of a Sunday Silence mare who's a daughter of the Alabama winner Maplejinsky, and a half-sister to the versatile champion Sky Beauty. We're still waiting for this one to make his three-year old debut too. I noticed that a couple of weeks ago, Tagg said that the colt wasn't quite there yet. But more recently, he told the Form that he's "doing super", and will race at Fair Grounds.

3) Dr. Rodney Stewart, the former vet for Patrick Biancone, produces used vials, syringes, and gauze, and claims that tests will prove that he indeed injected Biancone in the butt with cobra venom at least 12 times between 2004 and 2007. The two are called to testify before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, along with the trainer's Juvenile Turf winner Whywhywhy, who will take a seat between them.

4) Having prevailed in New York, NYRA says that it owns the land beneath Churchill Downs, and asserts it has the right to move the Derby to Aqueduct unless it is paid fair value for its use. The association also claims to own The Concord, the North Pole, 337 Magna Drive in Aurora, Ontario, and several plots of farmland in Venezuela.

5) Having wallowed in despair while his close buddy and mentor Curlin was in Dubai, Pyro celebrates the champ's return by winning the Wood Memorial going away after spotting the field a lead half the length of the Belt Parkway, which NYRA earlier claimed to own.

6) Denis of Cork is a nice looking closer who is undefeated and progressing nicely; he improved to a 96 Beyer in his Southwest win. (The Form's Derby futures pool past performances are now updated with races from the last two weekends.)

7) The stock of Magna Entertainment (MECA) trades below zero, becoming the first public company ever to trade in negative territory. New shareholders receive a case of Frank's Energy Drink as compensation, and consolation, for owning the battered shares.

8) The well-bred Alaazo is my top yet-to-be-tested prospect off his very nice allowance win at Gulfstream which I posted about here.

9) The Polytrack at Del Mar takes on a life of its own and picks up and walks away, taking two assistant trainers and a terrified stable dog as hostages. Its demands include getting watered every day, an apology from the press for what it perceives as unfair treatment, a dialogue with Ahmad Zayat, and a repudiation of the claim that it is owned by NYRA.

10) I bet a few bucks on Z Fortune in the futures pool; I don't really know if 37-1 is really fair value, probably not. He had no real excuse for getting blown away by Pyro as decisively as he did; but it was a professional effort in which he was wide both turns. A wildcard on pedigree, but he's done little wrong thus far.

Tuesday Morning Notes - Feb 19

- Calvin Borel had ridden Denis of Cork in his first two starts, but opted for Turf War in the Southwest Stakes, allowing his buddy Robby Albarado to pick up the mount. "They felt like they had the [graded ] earnings to get into the [Kentucky ] Derby,” explained trainer David Carroll. {Arkansas Democrat Gazette] The Southwest Stakes winner will return to Fair Grounds, but the March 15 Rebel back at Oaklawn is his next objective.

-Laurel Park continued to serve as a proving ground for NY-based horses over the weekend; first it was Golden Dawn taking the Barbara Fritchie, and on Monday, NY-bred Bustin Stones (City Zip) remained undefeated with a win in the Grade 2 General George Handicap - his first race in open company. It was his second win after having surgery on both knees.

"He is a dream horse to ride because he is like a quarter horse coming out of the gate," [Ramon] Dominguez said. "By the second jump he is listening to you." [Baltimore Sun]
- Bob Baffert likes the Fair Grounds surface, and will send Indian Blessing back there to make her next start in the Fair Grounds Oaks on March 8. "She's doing great and looks awesome. She bounced out if really quick." [DRF]

Monday, February 18, 2008

Notes - Feb 18

- My laptop is as dead as can be, not a sign of life. So I'm using this little IBook that the girls have, and it's a pretty cool little laptop. Except that Formulator doesn't work on Macs. Otherwise I'd probably consider it. Well?

It's tough competing with this crew for computer time, so posting will be erratic at best for the next couple of days until we come home. Whatsmore, I don't have Formulator, and Cal Racing doesn't work on this thing. But while I have a few moments....

Turf War was 2-1 in the Southwest Stakes, as the bettors seemed to ignore the disappointing race by Z Humor on Saturday. With the former's listless 9th place finish at Oaklawn, indications are that the Delta Jackpot may prove to be noteworthy only by guaranteeing a Derby spot for horses that might not be up to the task. Personally, I wouldn't mind a little subjectivity injected into the process of weeding out the 20 horse Derby field. The controversy that a selection committee would generate would be a good thing, and they'd probably get it closer to right.

Denis of Cork certainly benefited from the fast pace set by Sacred Journey in rallying from some 18 lengths behind; the second half of the mile race was run in 52.64 seconds after the opening half of 45.25. But this colt is undefeated, overcame wide trips in his previous two wins, and handled his first stakes try with aplomb. He's a son of Harlan's Holiday, a grandson of Storm Cat who is off to a fine start at stud. He was second to Posse on the rookie sire list in 2007.

Harlan's Holiday is also the sire of Into Mischief, another Derby hopeful who's been no worse than second in his four starts and won the Cash Call in his only start around two turns. Somebody, either a commenter or a private emailer, I don't quit recall, recently wrote that perhaps this would be the Storm Cat-line stallion to break into the Derby winner's circle, and these are a couple of interesting prospects, though I particularly favor Denis of Cork.

- Control System was beaten at even money by Golden Dawn (Hennessy) in the Barbara Fritchie at Laurel, and really easily too. The winner has completely turned things around since switching to Mike Hushion, and recorded her second dominant stakes win in a row, proving she can win outside the Big A. Golden Dawn is an early prospect for the F&M Sprint, which is by far my favorite of the BC races that debuted at Monmouth last year. And this was the first graded stakes win for Channing Hill, who Hushion called "the best kept secret in the jocks' room." [DRF]

- A switch to turf did the trick for Vacation, who burned a lot of money on the dirt for Shug before graduating at Gulfstream on Sunday.

Harness Industry Gets Perfect Trip

- If you don't mind me patting myself on the back a bit, I'd like to point out that I studiously followed the plight of the NY harness tracks here on this site; specifically the negotiations over VLT splits and the plight of Jeff Gural and Vernon Downs. May have seemed a bit off our main topic, but it just seemed inevitable that the situations would somehow converge since they were both fast approaching the crisis stage. In fact, for the 300 employees at Vernon Downs, it had already reached that point. However, it seemed as if something was up when Joe Faraldo issued a muted statement in response to the closing, saying that “There are many people in the state legislature who are trying to work out a number of intricate problems within the harness racing industry involving other racetracks other than Tioga and Vernon." And that was for sure.

Vernon Downs re-opened immediately, and the track will now retain 42% of VLT revenues, up from 32%; that by virtue of a special carve-out for tracks within 15 miles of an Indian gaming facility (which also applies to Buffalo Raceway aka Fairgrounds Gaming and Raceway).

Yonkers, which had helped to kill Gary Pretlow's bill, gets 34%, up from 32% in that prior legislation, for two years, with the extra percentage points dedicated to paying off its debt; and its marketing allowance goes from 4% to 8% (as does the Big A). So they made out pretty well, and did so over the opposition of Representative Pretlow, who said he had had enough when his bill died in committee.

The other harness tracks will get percentages ranging from a flat 32% with no decreasing sliding scale (Saratoga), 36% of the first $50 million annually (Batavia) or 40% of the first $50 million (Tioga and Monticello). Those percentages drop off to 29% for the subsequent $100 million and 26% thereafter (except for Yonkers, which, like Saratoga, flatlines at 32%).

In addition, all of the racinos except for Yonkers and Aqueduct get a bump-up in its marketing allowance from 8% to 10% (for the first $100 million annually), and an additional 4% for capital improvements (which tracks with more than 1,100 machines have to match dollar-for-dollar).The Standardbred Owners Association of NY details how all the tracks fare under the new legislation on the US Trotting Association site. Bottom line is that the Albany pols have had to concede that their tax structure was simply too high in the multi-state competitive environment for the establishments to succeed.

There's one weird brand new clause in the bill that provides the 42% rate for a track if a gaming facility of any nature in a “contiguous state” is established “within a midpoint of 30 miles” from a racino.

This curious language would appear to potentially affect only Monticello and Tioga, as these tracks are within close proximity to the northern border of Pennsylvania. [SOA]
Bottom line is that the harness tracks and the horsemen have reason to be ebullient over the turn of events, and may have NYRA to thank. Who knows if they would have gotten the attention they did had the legislature not been so focused on racing. The horsemen also got their 8.75% of VLT money for purses, and 1.25% for breeders; as well as minimum racing dates, and a requirement that racino construction “encourage patronage of live horse racing events that are conducted at such track.” The horsemen conclude:
Rather than pass a haphazardly drawn bill meant to benefit only certain individuals from a selected segment of the state’s harness industry, the state’s legislators repeatedly encouraged the various stakeholders to agree on an all-inclusive package of video gaming and racing reform. The result of the Albany lawmakers’ patient cajoling is nothing short of the most significant and beneficial legislative passage harness racing has seen since the original promulgation of video lottery gaming in 2001.

It is hoped that with these new mandates, guideposts and economic incentives and opportunities that harness racing will continue to flourish as not only a significant and lucrative aspect of the state’s economy, but also as an extremely important player on the international harness scene. No stakeholder can say that we haven’t been given the tools to do it.

Sunday, February 17, 2008


- My laptop has died; it's an HP Pavilion ZD8000. It's not unexpected, as I've been nursing it along despite a host of problems since before the Breeders' Cup. It runs so hot that I have to prop it up with something so that it gets air and doesn't shut itself down. And it's only around 2 1/2 years old. Even though I've quite obviously used it a lot, shouldn't it last longer than that?
Perhaps I can use the software restore CD to start it up when I get home. In any event, I'm getting a new one, and if there are any computer experts with advice, please email me privately. But for now, I'm sharing a little Mac with two teenagers and the Head Chef, so what was an already lightened vacation schedule may get a bit lighter..

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Sunday Morning Notes - Feb 17

- I guess it wouldn't have killed me to have a few bucks on Highland Cat. But after awhile, the few dollars add up, and I passed, even though I stopped to make a deposit in my OTB account before we left just in case of occasions like that, and despite his going back to turf. I've always felt that he prefers the surface; yet his o-for-nine record made him hard to back with confidence.

However, the price was right at 28-1, and I know at least one person who had him.

Highland Cat won a relatively paltry $7500 in the $12,500 claimer for non winners of three. By comparison, a 15K for non-winners of two at Philly Park on Saturday carried a purse of $23,000. The purses are not so hot at Gulfstream, where the VLT's aren't doing their job. And the racing is just not of the quality that we saw just a few years (or even less) ago. In fact, I'd venture to say that the racing there kinda sucks. I don't think that horses the caliber of Highland Cat (no offense to the gray cutie) would have been running in the 6th race there on a Saturday five or ten years ago. And the 7th wasn't much better.

The 8th was the Hallandale Beach though, and that was quite a nice effort by Why Tonto in defeating his heavily favored stablemate Cowboy Cal as the classic "other Pletcher" winner. That gave the Toddster the 1-2 finishers, but I don't think it was in the order he'd preferred. In fact, he couldn't even bring himself to mention the winner's name.

"I was a little disappointed....The other horse has been training well, and I wasn't surprised he did as well as he did," he said. [Miami Herald]
Pletcher said that Cowboy Cal was rank and blew the turns. But Why Tonto was on his heels throughout and never let him settle, pushing him through fast fractions - quarter splits of 22.85, 23.27, and 23.54 as he went 1:09.66 to three-quarters - before surging by late for the upset win. Why Tonto had shown steady improvement since switching to grass, earning higher Beyers in each of his turf starts, and looks like a nice prospect. Cowboy Cal didn't do anything to disgrace himself, and I imagine he'll remain on the Derby trail, even though his one dirt race was poor.

Why Tonto is by Indian Charlie, out of a Northern Baby mare; and he descends from the distaff family of Rockhill Native, the popular 1979 champion juvenile (the dam of Rockhill Native is the 3rd dam of Why Tonto).

The Endeavor at Tampa was a fantastic finish, and I really thought that Lear's Princess got the nod watching it the first time. But even though Dreaming of Anna managed to somehow hang on, Lear's Princess clearly loves the grass, and I see the F&M Turf in her future. This must have been one of those hundreds of new BC Challenge races, right? Oh, not yet? Well, doesn't matter. Dreaming of Anna set a moderate pace, going 1:13.04 to the three-quarters, slower than the maiden race that followed the Sam F Davis. That allowed her to sprint home in splits of 23.32 and 6.02. Yet, West Point Thoroughbred's daughter of Lear Fan came flying home and fell just a jump short. (Meribel didn't do too badly either closing for third).

And speaking of the Sam F Davis, the Zito Derby buzz is in full effect after Fierce Wind held on in a wild affair, making him unbeaten in three tries since stretching out to two turns. He came four wide with Cornelio Velasquez, and held on over Barclay Tagg's Big Truck, who was even wider as he rebounded from two disappointing efforts; remember that Tagg has spoken very highly of his NY-bred prospect. Favored Z Humor stalked a pace which came up slower than the filly stakes, the only other two-turn race on the dirt, and didn't seem to have much of an excuse for fading as he did. I suppose that may not bode well for Turf War in the Southwest on Monday. Fierce Wind is by Dixie Union, out of an AP Indy mare; and he's a full brother to Rebel Yeller, last year's Woodlawn winner.

Greetings From FLA

This is the closest I'll get to to a live horse race down here.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Travel Day

- It's a work/travel day for me today, as the Head Chef and I, with two kids happily in tow, are heading down to my parents' place in Longboat Key, FL this evening for a long holiday weekend. So posting today will be light and I'll have to keep it brief, but I'll be checking in from sunny Florida starting on Saturday if you don't hear from me again today.

I guess that Street Sense and Any Given Saturday weren't enough to bring graded stakes status to the Sam F Davis at Tampa Bay. [Oops. That was the Tampa Bay Derby; thanks to reader John for the correction.] Saturday's edition doesn't have quite as compelling a matchup, with Mott's Z Humor as the clear 9-5 favorite in the morning line. It's his first race since his dead heat win in the Delta Downs Jackpot; he's the first of the three horses involved in the controversial finish to run back. Co-winner Turf War is scheduled to run in the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn on Monday. Third place finisher Golden Yank, the owners of whom filed a lawsuit regarding the stewards' lack of action, is also at Oaklawn, pointing to the Rebel next month. No word on the resolution of that suit.

But the highlight of the card as far as I'm concerned is the G3 Endeavor, on the grass for older fillies and mares. Dreaming of Anna is scheduled to make her four-year old debut; her first effort since falling just short in the G1 QEII Cup at Keeneland in October. However, she's not definite according to trainer Wayne Catalano:

"We entered her, and we're going to take a look at the race, at the field, and also who we're going to be able to get to ride her before we make a final decision." [DRF]
When he sees the entries, he may decide to stay at Gulfstream. Take the Ribbon, now in the care of Barclay Tagg, returns after an abbreviated four-year old campaign which included a graded win at Churchill; Christophe Clement's consistent purse-getter Meribel breaks from the outside.

But of most interest to me is Lear's Princess, making her first start since finishing far back as the favorite in the sloppy Distaff at Monmouth. Last year, I maintained that the then three-year old West Point filly was better on the grass even as she racked up a win and two very close seconds in Grade 1 dirt races. So, here's a chance to prove that I'm right (or wrong). She is the 5-2 morning line choice, so here's hoping that Dreaming of Anna stays in to keep the odds respectable.

- We've mentioned the fact that the benchmarks clause in the franchise agreement seems vague and toothless. So it's understandable that Nick Kling reports that Duncker seemed unconcerned.
"The benchmarks require our best effort to meet them," he said. [Troy Record]
Considering that "best efforts" clause, the fact that any shortfall would have to be deemed "material," and that NYRA would have the opportunity to cure, the whole benchmarks idea seems virtually meaningless to me. And, from the sound of it, to Duncker too.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Tough Job

- Bill A. 9998 in the Assembly, S. 6950 in the Senate, isn't really quite as daunting as its 190 pages sounds, or looks; at least regarding the franchise agreement. Most of the bill is a reiteration of existing racing law; pretty mundane stuff, including the definition of a quinella (though strangely, no sign of an exacta). The clauses relating to the new agreement are in capital letters. And really, there's nothing too much of significance in addition to what has been reported.

One thing that stands out for me is the tremendous amount of responsibility placed upon the Franchise Oversight Board. I joked the other day about them deserving to be paid well; but in fact, they will serve without compensation for their services as members, but shall be entitled to reimbursement for actual and necessary expenses incurred in the performance of their duties. They are specifically permitted to hold real jobs, so it sounds like essentially a volunteer part-time job, which is why Charlie Hayward merely scoffed at the notion that they would take over the racing operation if racing shut down. I don't imagine that NYRA was ever too worried about that.

As it is, they have enough to do; the list starts on page 15 of the bill. And it seems to me that their responsibilities involve much more than Oversight. For example, the Franchise Oversight Board, heretofore to be known as the, make that, the FrOB, is to: Represent the interests of the state in all real estate development proposed for Aqueduct racetrack or real estate development at Belmont park racetrack. That in itself sounds like a six figure full-time gig to me! Here's another one:

Facilitate discussions and voluntary agreements between the franchised corporation and off-track betting corporations to streamline operations, decrease operating costs and maximize opportunities pertaining to costs and revenues, and encourage an exchange of views and experiences [sic] from the franchised corporation and the off-track betting corporations to improve the racing product in New York and to realize efficiencies.
Almost sounds like they're being put in charge of fixing the whole screwed up system. Of course, there's also all the actual overseeing, which includes all contracts, purchasing, monitoring NYRA's compliance with the law, and with all of their obligations, including their audits by the comptroller, and those benchmarks which I guess they'll also have to also specify what they are.

Reviewing and making recommendations for the budget, reviewing collective bargaining agreements and their choice of vendors, acting as the lessor of the land, the intellectual property, and the simulcast signal, suing and getting sued, responsible for paying property taxes, reporting annually to the governor, overseeing, monitoring, and reviewing "all significant transactions and operations of the Franchised Corporation authorized by this chapter!" And, of course, operating the tracks if the franchise is somehow terminated.

Finally: Do all things necessary, convenient or desirable to carry out its purposes and for the exercise of the powers granted in this article. Like what, hiring a staff of 100? Five people are going to do this in their spare time and without pay? Oh man, you gotta be kidding me? Any volunteers?

Here's an interesting old clause that I stumbled upon:
Proposition Wagers.

Every racing association or corporation licensed or franchised in accordance with article two, three four of this chapter shall have the authority to offer proposition wagering on its own races. For the purposes of this section, a proposition wager shall mean pari-mutuel wagers, approved by the racing and wagering board, that are based on the results of a live horse race or a series of horse races. Proposition wagers may include pari-mutuel wagers on the leading trainers, drivers, or jockeys during an entire race meeting and pari-mutuel wagers on the leading trainers, drivers, and jockeys competing on a single program in one or more stakes races or in races that award purses of one hundred thousand dollars or more.
For one thing, I'm surprised to actually see something creative and original contained in New York State racing law. Might be interesting to have wagering on the leading jockey at Saratoga - that often seems to turn into a ding-dong affair, and I could see how that could be cool. Don't know about trainer - it would probably be strictly a two-horse affair. Who do you think would be favored in 2008 - Mott or Pletcher?

[UPDATE: A reader makes the morning line for Friday's jockey race at the Big A.]