RSS Feed for this Blog

Friday, October 31, 2008

Paterson Vents

- Governor Paterson, in an interview with the Albany Times Union, defended his efforts on behalf of his party's Senate candidates, and denied he had promised to not get involved in the campaign. In a long, sometimes rambling account, Paterson complained that he was "constantly being attacked" once Bruno retired and Senator Skelos become Majority Leader.

The governor still seemed particularly piqued by the events surrounding the Aqueduct racino selection process.

Now, in the leaders’ meeting, Sen. Skelos, on Oct. 3rd, criticized me for not bringing in a deal on Aqueduct. I was ready to do that in July. The state lost $90 million, a million dollars a day, because we couldn’t – because three people couldn’t agree on who had the best offer to start the VLTs and the destination projects at Aqueduct. Finally, since I’d been called out, I came up with a group I thought would be the best one. And two more weeks went by. Why? What were they doing for the two weeks? They said they didn’t understand the plan? After three months they didn’t understand it?

In the extra two weeks, they couldn’t have been negotiating with the companies because if they were, that violates the negotiating principle.

IJL: So were they posturing?

Paterson: I don’t know what they were doing! I just know that was another 15 million dollars until they finally arrived on the same group we did. [Capital Confidential]
That's not the first time that Paterson has made a point to refute any insinuation on the part of the Republicans that they extracted enhancments to Delaware North's original plan. "Delaware North's bid was not changed," a spokesman said last week.

Horse Race of a Different Color

- Some new polling results released by Siena College yesterday indicate that it's far from a lock that the Democrats will finally be able to wrest control of the NY State Senate from the GOP on Tuesday. Two Republican incumbents that the Democrats had hopes of unseating - Senator Joseph Robach in the 56th SD in and around Rochester, and Senator Dale Volker in SD-59 in and around Erie County in central Western NY - appear to be safe.

Remember that the Democrats need a net gain of two seats in order to gain clear control; a gain of only one would result in a tie and a potential constitutional crisis without an acting lieutenant governor to break ties. The Dems' task became more formidable when a poll (pdf) earlier this month revealed that one of their own incumbents is, unexpectedly, in serious trouble of his own. Senator William Stachowski, a 26 year incumbent in an overwhelmingly Democratic district which includes part of Buffalo, was trailing challenger Dennis Delano by 49-36%. Delano is a popular "cold case" detective in the region. Little surprise that Stachowski appeared with Governor Paterson last week at the press conference to announce the Delaware North deal for Aqueduct. Hillary Clinton stumped for Stachowski earlier this week, and the governor, continuing to piss off Senate Majority Leader Skelos with his active role in the campaign, will be in Buffalo on his behalf tomorrow.

If Stachowski goes down, the Democrats would need to gain three seats. Here are the three races to keep a close eye on; these appear to be the Democrats most realistic shots:

SD-61, also in and around Buffalo: This race will determine a successor to retiring Republican Senator Mary Jo Rath, and was rated dead even by Siena in early October. Democrat "Baby Joe" Mesi, a popular former heavyweight boxer, is running against Republican Michael Ranzenhofer. Hillary also spoke on Mesi's behalf this week, and Senator Schumer endorsed him yesterday.

SD-15. This is the Ozone Park district which includes Aqueduct, and, as you may recall, it was the incumbent Republican Serph Maltese who announced the Delaware North deal during a debate with Democratic challenger Joseph Addabbo Jr. This race was also rated as a dead heat in the early October Siena poll.

SD-3 in Nassau County. GOP incumbent Caesar Trunzo had a 46-40 lead over Democratic challenger Brian Foley in the Siena poll, and this one has been heating up lately, with several TV ads of varying production quality. Paterson will travel to Long Island to campaign for Foley on Sunday.

Also perhaps in play is SD-6, also on Long Island, where a surge of new voter registration spurred by Senator Obama has Democrats hopeful that Kristin McElroy can unseat GOP Senator Kemp Hannon. (Paterson will also make a stop in Hempstead to stump for her on Sunday.) And in SD-48 in upstate Oswego and Jefferson counties, one with a Republican registration advantage, Democrats seem a bit nervous about Senator Darrel Aubertine despite a 20 point lead in the Siena poll.

Keep an eye out for a new Siena poll to be released on Sunday, which will have their latest ratings on six of the Senate races, including the two abovementioned races on Long Island.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Notes - Oct 31

- 4th place for Just Zip It on Thursday, the first time she's been out of the money, in her 11th career start. Other than the fact that she had, as noted in the race chart, a wide journey, no excuse I can see other than she ran into some quick fillies. Ididntmeantoo and Loving Vindication sprinted away from the field in a quick final quarter of 23 2/5, and Just Zip It just could not keep up. She earned $2,350 for the effort. Great finish with Ididntmeantoo getting the bob. Now two for two for Dutrow since switching to his barn, thie is a three-year old daughter of Fusaichi Pegasus out of Bella Chiarra, a stakes winning Phone Trick mare who's a half to the grassy stakes winner David Copperfield.

[UPDATE: Here's the post-race report we got from Steve Zorn:

Bill Turner thought that Just Zip It may not have loved the track today, or that she may have been hampered more than some of the other fillies by the new rule against toe grabs on the front shoes; that rule just went into effect, and Just Zip It is a filly who does a lot with her front end, so other horses may not have been affected as much.]
At the Meadowlands, King Mobay dropped back to last down the backstretch, but rallied up the rail for a non-threatening second, five lengths behind winning At the Disco, the longest shot in the field. King Mobay was moving up from 20 to 32K. Nice thing about this horse is that he runs well on grass and dirt, fast and sloppy. So, after drawing the seven post in a race originally scheduled for the grass with 12 entries, he ended up breaking from the two hole when the field scratched down to six, and picked up a check for $8,200, bringing his earnings to nearly $30,000 since we claimed him at Saratoga three races back.

Not bad, but trainer Bruce Brown's best claim by far has to be Flibberjibit (for different owners). This four-year old daughter of Arch, winner of Thursday's 7th, has now won five in a row while steadily climbing in class after being claimed from Kenneth Ramsey by Brown for $20K.

- Two days at the Big A, two winners each for trainers Dale Romans, Greg DiPrima, and Jimmy Jerkens.

Seeking the Straight Up Answers on Surfaces

- As reader Steve in nc noted, NTRA President/CEO Alex Waldrop was nice enough to take the time to drop by and comment on the This Bud's For You? thread, so we thank him for that. I wanted to elevate it to the front page here since it's a few posts down on the page.

The debate over track surfaces is long on opinion and conjecture but lacking in critical scientific research and analysis. What we need before any conclusions can be reached is the development of a scientific system for the optimization of any and all racetrack surfaces for fairness, consistency and reduction of safety concerns. There is currently in development an apparatus that will provide the kinds of data necessary to determine not only the fairest and safest track but also the techniques necessary to properly maintain that track. The NTRA Safety and Integrity Alliance has committed to help fund research to develop such a system and to provide the missing data. That work is already underway. Once completed, then and only then will the Alliance be in a position to move the industry in a particular direction taking into consideration all relevant factors. My sense is that the Alliance will not mandate a single surface but instead will require minimum levels of consistency, fairness and safety.
The study that Mr. Waldrop describes is of course quite welcome. We currently get a lot of unofficial breakdown stats, as well as the kind of 'lack of breakdown' stories that we've read from this past summer's Saratoga meet; as well as those persistent, but never fully explored nor documented whispers about soft tissue and other below-the-radar non-lethal injuries resulting from synthetic surfaces. Some people feel that it's really the new bases constructed underneath the synthetic tracks that are mainly responsible for any improvements in injury stats, and that the same results could be replicated on dirt. Others are concerned about potential health issues related to the kickback and dust we've seen on some artificial surfaces. So hopefully the Alliance's study will be able to sort everything out and present a clear picture as to how the industry can and should move forward.

Woes For Slots Foes

- The pro-slots group Maryland For Our Future has raised some $4.4 million as opposed to $570,773 for Marylanders United to Stop Slots. Nonetheless, the opponents, scrappy as these anti-slots groups tend to be, have managed to get a TV commercial on the air.

Not bad, decent production values, good slick fast-talker type character. But the polls are grim for the opponents, the money disadvantage is daunting, and it's not a good sign when you read headlines like Anti-slots rally draws dozens.....oops, wrong link. Try here (scroll down, underneath Beer pong table stolen after game).

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Compared to What?

- I got a response from someone associated with the Breeders' Cup over this post. It was pointed out that the year-to-year handle comparison regarding the filly races that used to be run on Saturday were not really fair ones. Of course the handle would be down on a weekday. Also that my characterization of Greg Avioli's comments as spin was inaccurate, and that the figures honestly exceeded their expectations.

Of course that's a valid point about the handle comparisons - kinda like comparing apples to oranges I guess. And I have no reason whatsoever to doubt that what I was told about their expectations is true. The overall handle was up 5%, though I'm not really sure compared to what considering that there were three more races, the slop of last year vs. the synthetic of this, some of the more recognizable names this year running in relative obscurity on a Friday afternoon. Steve Crist, who hit the pick six, has what may be more relevant stats. I don't know that any comparison really means anything in this case. But I suppose that anything that contains the word up is good these days, especially in a struggling industry such as this.

Of course, the handle is not the main point in my mind. And neither in my opinion is the concept of a separate day for the fillies and mares. What upset me all along was the TV scheduling. With the races in California, there was an opportunity to run the races from 2:30 - 5:30 at the track, and thereby create a rare prime time opportunity for the sport. Instead, not only were the races scheduled early, thus making it essentially a weekday afternoon affair, but that extra half hour that the event was pushed back from what we were originally told was like twisting the knife. ESPN did not do right by the sport, and obviously cannot be relied on.

And regardless of the TV situation, Filly Friday was widely reviled by the press and fans,at least what I've seen. Let me say this, borrowing from Chris 'Mad Dog' Russo: I will be shocked...SHOCKED! if the Breeders' Cup does not go back to its traditional Saturday format, and stage the minor affairs on Friday, where they make for an exceptional lead-in to the main event. And if they don't restore the name of the Distaff. I think they're making a big mistake, at least from a PR standpoint, if they don't. People respect when organizations and companies admit that they're wrong; and take it as arrogance when they insist they're right.

Some Belated Beach

- With all the action in Albany and Santa Anita over the last week, didn't get to the win by Somebeachsomewhere in the Messenger at Yonkers. So I wanted to do so, especially since I am now, at their kind invitation, a full-fledged, dues-paying (as soon as I mail this check) member of the U.S. Harness Writers Association. Well, at least some people recognize talent when they see it!

The Messenger was a true test for a champion, starting from the outside six post on a sloppy track. Little Brown Jug winner Shadow Play was allowed to walk the second half in 29 seconds flat, and the Beach had to take him on first over in a driving windswept rain. Great finish in a final quarter of 27 4/5 in the tough conditions, check it out.

Zipping to Aqueduct

- Just Zip It goes in the feature at Bel..... nope, the Big A tomorrow!! Here's a confession, I hope you don't think less of me: I took the entire fall Belmont meeting off, with the exception of a drop-in to see Just Zip It run on the first Sunday of the meet, and just a handful of wagers online. This horseplayer just needs a break sometimes, and no better time in my mind than during the chill of autumn in Elmont. Only bet a couple of BC races too, so man, I am revved up and ready to go for the next seven months of the Big A! Aren't you psyched too?

We had some lively debate in the Castle Village group about the handling of Just Zip It. Managing partner Steve Zorn opened the floor for discussion as to whether we should go ahead and enter her in some more ambitious stakes spots than she's used to. I think I was the lone voice in support of the cautious approach we've been using, that in light of the success we've experienced that way, as well as her unspectacular speed figures. Most everyone else wanted to just let her run. So Steve allowed everyone to vent, and then declared that we'd do what they thought was best for the filly and continue down the same path anyway. I believe he refers to these partnerships as something like an anarcho-democratic collective, or maybe an autocracy, but definitely NOT socialism!

So Just Zip It is entered in an open company, NW2X allowance; and even money favorite Elope will be scratched, we're told. Excepting the muddy track freakout by Frankel's Loving Vindication, it certainly looks as if she can compete in here.

On the Kasey K side, a new addition to the family, as our trainer Bruce Brown survived a three-way shake to claim Joaquin Memphis for 30K at Belmont last Thursday. The NY-bred son of Chester House ran a game second in that open company race, and had three wins in eight starts for Richard Violette this year....and he loves the inner track.

And King Mobay, fresh off his recent win in NY, is entered at the Meadowlands tomorrow night, moving confidently up in class in a race originally scheduled to be run on the grass.

This Bud's For You?

- Major league baseball could have used some Polytrack to spread around the infield and pitcher's mound in Philadelphia on Monday night. Then perhaps they could have waded through the rest of Game 5 and avoided the ongoing festering delay. (But do you think that Jimmy Rollins would like the synth?)

On the other hand, thoroughbred racing could use a commissioner like Bud Selig. OK, well, maybe not Bud Selig himself! I'm certainly not defending the dunderhead move to start the game at all, nor the puzzling decision to keep his imperial rule change a secret, nor seeing the game through as long as it went despite his secret edict.

However, Selig understood that having the World Series potentially decided in a rain shortened game could cast a cloud upon the sport's championship, and was correct in my view in insisting on a complete nine innings (and thereby having only incompetent umpiring mar the proceedings).

Racing's Horse of the Year championship is under a cloud of its own, given Curlin's defeat on a synthetic surface. His disappointing 4th was made particularly so considering his exhilarating move to the front which commenced somewhere around the turn I think, I'm not exactly sure where. (Note to ESPN: A simple track diagram with a dot marking the leader's progress would be a simple yet highly effective tool with which to accompany your unnecessarily eclectic camera angles.) (And you know, the standard pan shot has always served us all pretty well.)

Of course, who knows, maybe it had nothing to do with the Pro-Ride. I've suspected for some time that Curlin has not been at his best since Dubai, and he lost to two of Europe's best, after all. And I don't know that you can really draw any definitive conclusions as to how horses from out east handled the track based on what was a relatively limited sample. Midnight Lute won after all, and horses like Cocoa Beach and Sky Diva ran well behind monsters. Regardless, I can't help but think that this year's Breeders' Cup has served to increase not only the perception, but also the reality of the division between synthetic tracks and natural dirt. As this reader noted: Wait until next year, when no horse based east of the MS ships west to the World Championships. Really, not that many did even this year. (And I love this idea to have a Dirt Championship day at Belmont the week before.)

So what would Bud Selig, as a true commissioner of racing with real powers, do to ensure that racing's championships have true integrity? He might order the site of the 2009 Breeders' Cup moved to a dirt track. But that wouldn't make the Euros or the California horsemen happy, and such an event would likely turn into as much of a regional affair as next year's BC will be.

Or, he could issue a decree that, say within three to five years, the industry has to make a decision one way or another. Dirt? Or synthetic tracks? I've been reading this notion that the two are destined to co-exist. But as long as that's the case, we'll always have this controversy and uncertainty over championships, and the Breeders' Cup will attract mostly horses already familiar with whichever surface is in place at the host track. So I don't believe that dual main track surfaces would serve this sport any better than having a designated hitter in one league has served baseball.

There are a lot of good reasons in my mind for the industry to switch to synthetic surfaces. They can virtually eliminate track bias, particularly the dreadful speed parades we used to see at Keeneland; the days of sloppy tracks would be past; they are, I think we can say, at least not any unsafer than dirt, and the races would make far more sense from a pace standpoint. Randy Moss explained at one point on ESPN that horses in dirt races start out fast, decelerate steadily, and stagger to the finish. That's thoroughbred racing's dirty little secret as far as I'm concerned. I've never thought that's the way races should be run.

But of course, there's the tradition of dirt tracks. I've kind of glazed over that and been critical of those who have little more than that to offer in defense. However, I'm not at all insensitive to tradition either. To me, interleague play is a nightmare from which I still hope to one day awake. This year's Breeders' Cup, with the sight of Curlin fading against horses he should have been able to crush (with my $20 cold double with Conduit going down the drain), has served to highlight the differences between the two surfaces; differences which, in the fervent hope of a better sport, I heretofore cast in a minimal light. There seems less doubt to me now that the divide is rather profound.

So racing has some tough decisions ahead, and I'm glad I don't have to make them. That's what people like Bud Selig are for. (Well, maybe not Bud Selig himself....)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Build It (sans slots), And They Won't Come

- Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver reiterated his opposition to the slots at Belmont that Governor Paterson did not actually propose the other day. Paterson spoke only of a "a range of possible development options" in a statement that came after Senate Majority Leader Skelos did once again voice his support for expanded gambling there.

I suppose that the Governor does not want to allow Skelos and the Republicans to be able to claim any idea as purely their own with a week until the elections, and therefore wants to be on board to a certain extent. But, at the same time, he's not about to cross fellow Democrat Silver at this time, knowing that his opposition is absolute, at least at this point with nothing obvious to offer Silver in return. It's the same kind of delicate balancing act he's been attempting ever since he took over the governor's mansion - making nice nice with the GOP, while quietly, at least at first, devoting full effort and resources into his party's efforts to take the Senate.

But on the issue of Belmont, I think you can bet that Paterson stands with the GOP. In this case, "development opportunities for Belmont" can really only mean one thing. Paul Post reports in the Saratogian that leaders from both parties are in general agreement that Belmont should have new amenities such as a hotel, retail and entertainment. Those can only be code words for a VLT parlor. I can virtually guarantee that nobody is going to build a lavish hotel with entertainment in Elmont, NY without one. Based on the on-track attendance at Belmont, a Motel 6 would be more than sufficient. And while Belmont does have a good location right off the highway and bordering affluent Nassau County, there's absolutely no connection between such a complex and the track without the gaming. What would be the possible attraction for people to spend the weekend in Elmont as opposed to the Hamptons, or in Manhattan for that matter?

Sure, I guess that if you build something attractive enough, people may come. But I see no reason on earth why Elmont would necessarily be the prime spot for such a project absent the obvious. I'm sure there are other empty parking lots on Long Island, and in locations that would make more sense.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

BC Non-Classic Notes

- Before I get to Curlin and what I see as the implications of his defeat in the Classic, here's some notes and observations about the other races from Saturday.

If the Dirt Mile was a graded race, Albertus Maximus, who I picked here, would be the 4th graded stakes winner for Albert the Great, standing in Pennsylvania for $4,000 (and, according to Karen Johnson on, listed for $2500 for 2009). The sire's son Nobiz Like Showbiz was retired to stud earlier this year. I don't know what the demand is for the stud services of a synthetic track specialist offspring of a $2,500 regional sire. But I'd guess that any such opportunity would have to be weighed against the prospect of his winning this race again next year on the same surface (unless it gets washed out by rains over the winter).

- That was an electrifying burst by Goldikova in the Mile; she got the last furlong in 11.03 seconds. If all goes well, here's one BC winner that we can expect to see again next year. When asked if Goldikova would race next season, Alain Wertheimer said: "Absolutely." [Press Association] The triple returned $95.20 on a $2 bet for the first three favorites in order. Kip Deville was clearly second best in an excellent effort for Dutrow. The trainer, who is now on record as being sexist in addition to everything else he's on record for, had said he was more confident going in than last year, and the horse would have repeated in most years.

- The Juvenile was a relatively dull affair, with the top three finishers running in that order from the half mile mark on. Baffert said of the winner: “I don’t know if Sheikh Mohammed will want to take him to Dubai....I hope he doesn’t.” Seems to me that the go-to-Dubai strategy hasn't worked very well for the Sheikh as far as the Derby goes. They seem to just disappear. His Royal Sheikhness seems like a smart guy, so you'd think he'd eventually realize that.

Midshipman has run only in California, and I believe I'm correct in saying that he and Stardom Bound will become the sport's first synthetic champions. As such, they'll be some resistance I imagine to Midshipman's Derby prospects. By Unbridled's Song, he's a half to the G2 Cotillion winner Fast Cookie, and out of G2 La Canada winner Fleet Lady. So there's dirt success in his blood. There's grass influence too - his second dam is a half to the French champion Salse, which could very well explain his liking Pro-Ride.

Munnings was prominent to the stretch and tired to 10th in his first try on synthetic.

- The two juvenile turf races were probably the most exciting stretch drives of the Breeders' Cup. And one of ESPN's best moments came after the win by Donativum in the Juvie Turf. Great camerawork here with the overhead shot (the close one, not the one from Sputnik), and Jerry Bailey highlighted the positioning duel between Frankie Dettori and John Murtagh in the stretch. They both wanted the same hole, and Dettori, though not quite able to deny his rival, did make him wait just long enough until he had his own path outside, and was able to run him down. Donativum is a half-brother to Worldly, who won the grassy G2 La Jolla via DQ last year. Coronet of a Baron transferred his Polyform to grass and hung on well for third.

- Sprint winner Midnight Lute is the only "dirt horse" to win one of the Pro-Ride BC races. Not that he's never won on synthetic - he took the Perryville at Keeneland last year. However, his best moments had undoubtedly been on dirt, and he had run his slowest races of the last two years in his three synthetic starts. On the other hand, I think we could surmise that Fabulous Strike did not care for the Pro-Ride in his first synthetic start. He always gets the lead on dirt, but could get no closer than third here. Kinda dead on the board at 6.80 to 1 too.

I'd picked Street Boss, who was moving on the turn with the winner for a bit. But Midnight Lute, a path outside that one, had left him in the dust by the time they turned for home. Another top effort on synthetic for runner-up Fatal Bullet. Midnight Lute is by Real Quiet, another Pennsylvania sire, so quite a good day for that state's breeding if they really need the help these days.

- Trevor Denman is the best in the business at picking up early on a winning move; but he was a bit late with Conduit in the Turf. If I have one criticism of Denman in general, it's that he sometimes becomes too fixated on a single horse. In this case, he was all about Eagle Mountain, who sat a perfect trip behind the leaders and loomed boldly on the turn for home. But Conduit, who I picked here, was winding up on the turn while wider and further back, and Denman didn't find him until midstretch, when he was already on his way to victory. If I have one criticism of Denman as the voice of the Breeder's Cup, it's that his voice lacks the depth of someone like Durkin, who can turn it up a notch for the big races. When a horse at Santa Anita just jumps in at the quarter pole, you might not know if it's a Grade 1 championship or a 15K claimer. Having said that, Denman had a pretty solid two days other than his misstep at the end of the F&M Turf.

Soldier of Fortune was way overbet at 8-5 and weakened to 4th. "He ran well but on reflection I think he needed a bit more time than the three weeks between this race and the Arc," said Dettori Aidan O'Brien.

Conduit was supplemented to the race, and it sounds like he's a possibility to return next year to race at age four. Again, the fact that the 2009 Breeders' Cup will again be run at Santa Anita could encourage some winning connections to keep a horse in training, and go for some big money on the track instead of on the breeding farm; for a year, anyway. Conduit is by the Irish champion Dalakhani out of a Sadlers Wells mare who's a half sister to the US graded winner Stream of Gold, and the 2000 Guineas winner Spectrum.

- Rangers off to an 8-2-1 start with two wins over the weekend. On Nikolai Zherdev's tying goal with eight seconds left on Saturday, besides the wicked shot, check out the beautiful pass by Markus Naslund (91) to set it up; lifting the puck over an opposing stick blade with a deft backhand flip, floating it directly onto Zherdev's stick. Great goal!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Breeders Cup Live (In Concert) Blog

- This is some of the music I'm listening to instead of the audio on ESPN.

Pavement - Shady Lane

Battles - Tonto

Hercules and Love Affair - You Belong

The National - Apartment Story

Derek and the Dominos - It's Too Late

Saturday Morning BC Notes

- Friday's BC races were inconclusive in my mind as to how the horses who were making the dirt-to-synth transition for the first time fared. I think that's the big question that needs to be answered in terms of how valid this, and next year's Breeders' Cup will prove to be in terms of their legitimacy to determine championships. However, three races is not enough of a sample, and Zenyatta and Stardom Bound are true monsters who nobody honestly expected to get beat, even if some of us may have taken a little shot against. (And that 8-5 on Stardom Bound looks pretty generous in retrospect.)

The win by Ventura was, to be honest, not a great start in this respect. She's a turf horse by trade, and one who is now three-for-three on synthetics as well. It's posible that Indian Blessing, by virtue of her three dominant sprint wins prior, has done enough to earn the filly sprint honors and avoid a synthetic controversy here. But this will present the voters with a classic example of what the sport wanted to avoid - should Ventura get the honors without ever having run on a conventional track?

Indian Blessing, who'd raced once before on synthetic, ran her usual fine race in defeat, and Zaftig, making her first synth start, ran on well for third.

In the Juvie Fillies, it was a synthetic exacta with Dream Express getting second to Stardom Bound; but Sky Diva was third in her first synthetic start (and her first around two turns). Two fillies who'd run only on dirt - Persistently and Doremifasollatido - were not considered prime contenders. And in the, er, feature, Cocoa Beach and Music Note, both first-time synth, each ran great behind Zenyatta in that order. So a mixed bag on the day I'd say. Ultimately, Curlin will be the barometer as to whether the dirt form held up.

- The New York Times' coverage of this so-called "championship day" consisted of a single box summary of no more than 350 words I'd approximate. A far cry from the days of their The Rail blog leading up to the Triple Crown.

- In the F&M Turf, Forever Together flew home the last quarter in 22.90 according to Formulator. Halfway to Heaven was a disappointing 7th as the 5-2 favorite (!), and Aidan O'Brien spoke about the mile and the quarter distance and added: "It's been a long season, too." Look for a similar quote from O'Brien after his two Classic entries get beat by Curlin today.

The incredible Zenyatta ran her last three furlongs in 34.48 seconds. Certainly don't disagree with the notion that she deserves the strongest consideration for Horse of the Year honors should Curlin get beat today.

- Juvie Fillies Turf winner Maram is by the sire Sahm, and I wrote more about her interesting pedigree in this post, down near the bottom. One might think I could have followed that up with a small wager at 11-1...

- I'm sure that ESPN will go racing off to its college football scoreboard show at 7 PM this evening. But check out TVG for the 10th at Santa Anita, in which multiple graded stakes winner Georgie Boy makes his first start since going off the Derby Trail after taking the San Felipe in March. Also scheduled to start in that race is Gayego, making his first start since getting thrashed in the Derby and Preakness.

- Not enthralled with the US entries in the Turf, and I like Conduit instead. This three-year old son of Dalakhani has seen his speed figures improve with every race, and that has to mean he's improving whether they're Beyers, Racing Post numbers, Obama's poll numbers or anything. Unlike some of his others, Soldier of Fortune has been campaigned lightly thus far this year by Aidan O'Brien. However, I just don't care for these horses running here less than three weeks after the Arc. Conduit last raced Sept 12, and has won at this distance and beyond. And as a three-year old, I could see him just exploding here. Eagle Mountain and Winchester are also sharp Euros, but are a combined 0 for 5 at the distance.

And I might have taken a shot with the improving Whatsthescript in the Mile had he not drawn so poorly in the outside 11 gate. Goldikova is an imposing favorite here, and the Euros' most likely winner in my view.

BC Spins the Numbers

- Thanks to this reader who points us to Steve Crist for the grim year-to-year handle comparisons from Friday in spreadsheet form. The F&M Sprint, the only race which was run on Friday last year, came in virtually dead-even with last year's race; and as Crist points out, considering the awful conditions last year, that has to rate as a big disappointment.

Not as much of course as the three races which were (properly) run on Saturday last year. Considering only the single-race pools (wps, ex, tri, super), the combined handle on those races were down 32% according to Crist's spreadsheet. And recall again that some people shied away from the races last year due to the slop. (In fairness, I suppose some may also have done so this year due to the Pro-Ride; but that was strictly the Breeders' Cup decision as opposed to uncontrollable forces of nature.)

Of course, one can spin numbers anyway they want, and the Breeders' Cup was quick to point out that this was the biggest North American handle ever for a Friday; a middling claim at best! "The horse racing fans of Southern California and sports fans around the world responded enthusiastically to the new format for Championship Friday," said Greg Avioli.

No Greg, sorry, but they did not. Instead of spouting pure unadulterated BS like that, a more fan-friendly and marketing-savvy statement might have been: "While the horse racing fans of Southern California and sports fans around the world responded enthusiastically, we have also heard your concerns. Therefore, in response to the fans who showed their loyal support today and throughout the year, we will revert to our traditional format next year, and restore the Breeders' Cup Distaff to its rightful place on our true championship day."

Dream on...

Friday, October 24, 2008

Filly Friday Live Blog

3:47 PM - Walked in just before the F&M Sprint, and here's my very first complaint of the day. Why would a race which, beforehand anyway, looked competitive and had some fillies with some relative name recognition, go off a mere 7 minutes after coming on the air? To spend more time on the Juvie Filly Turf? Maybe I shouldn't be doing this after all. I'm probably just going to go negative.

3:53 PM - Which Highness is this Juddmonte guy?

3:54 PM - Looks like they've relegated Hank Goldberg to stand up comedy. Oh, I guess not. "Listen to Hank, and send it in," says the, er, know, the smug ESPN guy who thinks he's really funny.... Well, that is really funny.

3:59 PM - ESPN1 has NFL Live on from 4 - 4:30.

4:01 - Kenny Mayne, that's right. Meanwhile, it sounded from his description that Jeremy Plonk might be using that cool live blog program that the USTA used for the Little Brown Jug. But it's just the same basic crap as I used there last time. There I was, in the pressbox, sitting at a table with Davidowitz....and Plonk pressbox food and drink, a dedicated seating section reserved right on the finish line. And now here I am a year later sitting in my basement. Life can be very cruel.

4:05 - I'll admit here that I didn't really even look at the Juvie Fillies Turf (JFT) until on the subway home just before. So it's like I handicapped like a regular race. And I have to say that I can't imagine how those who spent hours poring over these horses could possibly have any more of an idea than I have. This is a guess, pure and simple.

4:09 PM - Gary Player provides some product placement for Sentinent. Grass is very important in his life. I have no idea what that was all about.

4:10 PM - Oh yeah, Ventura won the F&M Sprint if you missed it. Got hammered down to 5-2 for Frankel. I've been hearing "Frankel loves his horse" a lot lately, but this one backed him up. Plonk called it one of the most visually impressive performances I've ever seen. Looked more to me like a race in which most of the horses just didn't run very well.

4:14 PM - Randy Moss and Jerry Bailey both like April Pride at 27-1. Here's Hank, and he has this Pacheco chick helping him out here. Who is she? Hank goes for favored Laragh, what else is new? I mean, what's the point of having your TV handicapper pick a horse like this in a race like this?

4:18 PM - Great finish. I thought it was Heart Shaped, but Denman called Maram. Where's Jeannine?

4:20 PM - Bailey called Heart Shaped too, but Denman knows best.

4:22 PM - Chad Brown, and what a debut year this guy is having.

4:23 PM - Maram ran for a 75K in her debut, and remember what Chad Brown said after her Miss Grillo win: "I ran her in a maiden claiming race at Saratoga because she's got a marginal pedigree and I thought I could get away with it." I can't imagine he had any clue he could have a Breeders' Cup winner (albeit in a minor event) when he took that shot.

4:27 PM - Hmmm, don't know about this BC live Plonk blog, it doesn't seem very live. Hey, I could have sworn that it said before the race that's Donald Harris liked the looks of Beyond Our Reach, who was out of the money!! And now it's gone! Oh man!! What is up with that???

4:33 PM - This guy Harris liked Tiz Elemental in the first, and she was out of the money too. I can't believe that. Somebody should tell him that at least one person is actually watching.

4:35 PM - Now Plonk says he had Maram at 11-1. Why the fuck should I believe that? Oh man, his credibility is out the door. Is Paulick live blogging this thing?

4:36 PM - Caton Bredar says that track is 145 degrees.

4:39 PM - Paulick and reader RG say there's no one there, which I would have noticed if I was paying attention.

4:42 PM - Donald Harris checks in to marvel at the raw physicality of east coast raider Sky Diva. Mark that down.

4:47 PM - Bailey asks Dominguez if Sky Diva is a little nervous, and he said yes. So maybe Donald Harris' comment isn't there anymore.

4:50 PM - AGAIN, they catch Moss talking off mic! "I kinda like her!" Is he talking about Jessica Pacheco?

4:57 PM - Denman said that Sky Diva looked great on the track. Plonk said she wasn't handling the surroundings. Huh?

4:59 PM - I have no idea where they are on the track with these camera angles.

4:59 PM - I think Smith moved a bit early with Stardom Bound, but she was much the best. Tessitore falling out of the booth.

5:00 PM - Actually, I don't really know exactly when in the race Smith moved, so I should take back that remark. Zenyatta Jr. indeed!

5:01 PM - I don't think that Jeannine Edwards was outfitted by Sarah Palin's shoppers.

5:03 PM - Nice second for Dream Empress, who'd run well on turf and Keeneland Poly before this. So it was a turf/synth horse exacta, with the turf horse Ventura taking the F&M Sprint.

5:08 PM - ESPN1 has Around the Horn. Sportswriters from around the country discuss sports issues.. It's the Bill Nack essay. That was it? More like multiple choice.

5:12 PM - Tessitore trying to justify the Filly Friday thing It's a celebration of women in the sport. Feature on Carla Gaines and Helen Pitts. No offense girls, but a good time to hit the bathroom.

5:14 PM - Belmont is stretching out their post times so that their races fall roughly in between the Breeders' Cup races. You see, it's not so hard if you try.

5:15 PM - Oh man. Dutrow says that he couldn't learn anything from a woman trainer. Is he on steroids or something?

5:17 PM - Tessitore on Dutrow: "What was he possibly thinking to say something like that?"

5:21 PM - OK, there could be a pause here, because I actually want to bet on the F&M Turf here. I don't like Wait A While. Just don't have that old time Toddster feeling here. Wait, here's Jeannine talking to Iavarone. He says his life is incomplete. And his suit fits kind of funny.

5:24 PM - Don't like Halfway to Heaven either. I dismissed Folk Opera's EP Taylor on the basis of the slow pace. But 35-1? {oops, was looking at the wrong race on the tote board. Could have just erased it like Plonk, but I have live blog integrity here.

5:27 PM - I like Forever Together, Mauralakana, and Pure Clan.

5:33 PM - Paulick asks Iavarone: Why do you have a bodyguard at the track all the time?

5:35 PM - ESPN1 now has the absolutely unwatchable Pardon the Interruption on now. They couldn't do these races because of this?

5:37 PM - Visit will stay in the US and race for Frankel next year as a four-year old. An odd little tidbit for us to be told about a 17-1 shot as the horses went into the gate. (OK, that's a bit nitpicky I guess.)

5:41 PM - Oh man, Denman got tongue-tied at the wire. "Forgethyer Together.....Forever Together has won a thriller!" I had him in my exacta box but not the others.

5:51 PM - Zenyatta is 1-5, as Tessitore, in full-throated form, compares her quest for perfection to that of Big Brown and the New England Patriots. Maybe Michael Phelps would have been a better choice.

5:56 PM - My buddy Steve in NC tries to talk me off Carriage Trail.

6:01 PM - If Tessitore says "perfection" one more time....

6:02 PM - Moss says that the Race Formerly Known as the Distaff "deserves a day of its own." How about Sunday?

6:06 PM - Bailey's been watching a lot of golf it seems.

6:10 PM - This feature on Zenyatta is talking about how victory is even sweeter when they are "comeback wins." Seems like an odd term. Come from behind maybe, but a comeback win? Am I nitpicking again?

6:16 PM - The "doorstep of perfection for Zenyatta." Oh man..

6:19 PM - "Undoubtedly now, a living legend!" Denman makes up for the last race.

6:23 PM - Zenyatta will race again next year. Great news and also why these comparisons to Personal Ensign's Distaff ring false.

Breeders' Cup Hunch Bets

Forever Together F&M Turf
Time To Get Even 9th on Friday
Signature Move 10th on Saturday
Consequence Juvenile Filly Turf
Wait A While F&M Turf
Be Smart - Juvenile Fillies
Dancing Forever Turf
Out Of Control Turf
Relatively Ready Juvenile Turf
War Monger Mile

- If you're coming here for some serious handicapping picks, you might have figured out by now that I ain't getting to them other than the few races I've already done, including my pitch a couple of weeks ago for Carriage Trail in today's F&M Pro-Ride Classic; as well as the Classic just below, the Sprint, and the Dirt Mile. Will try to do a couple of tomorrow's race by the morning. But you don't need my advice anyway; tons of more informed opinions out there.

I am planning to do some live blogging during today's telecast, though I could be late getting home early from work. Hope that some of you can make it too.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Must Win For Curlin

- I know that Patrick would like to see Curlin disappear. That seems like wishful thinking to me. I believe that Curlin will win the Classic. Actually, he has to win. Forget the Euro horses just for a moment....and this is a field that the champ should handle without too much of a problem in my opinion. I say that even though five of those runners are Grade 1 stakes winners, and despite my belief that the defending Horse of the Year is not quite as dominant as he was before he went to Dubai. (And I'm still a bit bugged out over how slow he finished in the Woodward.)

Nonetheless, if Curlin runs poorly against the US entries at least, it could only be because he doesn't handle the Pro-Ride. Go Between was a Grade 2 turf horse at best before discovering synthetics in California; and even there, he hasn't run that fast. Tiago closed very well in the Goodwood, but has a record of 4-0-0-0 at this distance. Besides, he's out because I picked him in the Classic last year and have a rule about losing with the same horse two years in a row. Student Council had his biggest win on the Poly at Del Mar, but I get the feeling he prefers the real stuff. Colonel John came home in 25 4/5 to win the Travers over Mambo in Seattle, who was outclassed by the champ in the JCGC. And Casino Drive? The thought of a horse with his lack of experience standing in the winner's circle for the Classic is kinda like....well, you know.

Nothing really good would come out of Curlin getting beat by these (though you may disagree if you're amongst those dead set against synthetic tracks). It could cast doubt upon the results of other races and would turn full attention to the decision to run at Santa Anita again next year, a potentially rancorous discussion that would go on for many months. And it would be an ugly mark on a set of past performance lines that currently read like a work of art.

Now, as far as those Euro invaders go, I believe that it would seem more acceptable should Curlin run well and lose to one of those, laden with class as they are. However, all three face what I see as big question marks even aside from the surface issue and the unfamiliar style and surroundings. I don't like Duke of Marmalade, who ran less than three weeks ago in the Arc, his sixth Grade 1 in less than five months, and his first loss this year. Raven's Pass (Elusive Quality) has had an extra week of rest, and actually seems to be thriving and improving with the steady work - seven races since April 17. He finally defeated Henrythenavigator in his last after failing to do so the prior three times they met. Neither of those have been more than a mile however. This is a major stretchout at any level, especially so here, and even for horses who are bred to go on. Based on their dosage and Tomlinson numbers at least, Henrythenavigator is more likely to stay. He's by Kingmambo, out of a stakes winning mare by Sadlers Wells. However, the dam got that stakes win in a sprint, and her full sisters Listen and Sequoyah did so up to a mile; and Henrythenavigator's full sister Queen Cleopatra was a stakes winner at a mile. So I don't think it's certain by any means that he'll negotiate the distance based on his breeding, though I consider him to be the most likely winner of the three.

And then there is, of course, the fact that the Euros will be racing on something other than turf for the first time. For Curlin, Pro-Ride is also a strange surface. But the champ has already shown the versatility to run second in a Grade 1 race in his first (and only) race on turf, a surface which he didn't seem to relish at all.

Picks: Curlin, Henrythenavigator, Tiago

- Well worth reading is a somewhat different, and far more close-up view of the European horses from Gary West in his West Points blog.

- DiscreetCat checks in on today's F&M Sprint:

#3 Intangaroo (9/2 ml)

Three-time Grade 1 winner at the distance gets a blistering early pace to run at here, and has proven herself capable of firing a big shot from off the pace vs. top company. Couldn't ask for a better set-up here, and should offer excellent value. I'd be remiss if i didn't also mention Tiz Elemental (20/1 ml), a very talented filly in her own right who figures to benefit from the pace set-up as well. Might key a big exacta or trifecta, for those of you playing exotics.

What Leadership?

- The Democrats want to get some political mileage out of the Aqueduct racino too. So Senate Minority Leader Malcolm Smith said in a statement:

Better late than never. Unfortunately, Senator Skelos’ foot-dragging has already cost the State $13 million in VLT revenue that will never be recaptured. But thanks to the leadership of Governor Paterson, Speaker Sheldon Silver, and members of my conference, especially Senator Bill Stachowski, who lead this fight on their behalf, New Yorkers from Upstate and Downstate can today celebrate a major economic boost just when we need it most. [Via Capital Confidential]
So, I see that $13 million is the Democrats' "official" tally of how much Senator Skelos cost the state. How much then did the Democratic governors Paterson and Spitzer cost it with their interminable delay in choosing an operator in the first place? It's like both of them suffered from non-selector syndrome. The "leadership" of Paterson and Silver on this matter? This has to be one of the most ridiculous statements we've heard in the entire process.

Senator Stachowski is the Democrats' own endangered incumbent, so no surprise that he got a shout-out here from Smith. But funny, I hadn't heard any substantive input on the matter from Stachowski, who represents Delaware North's hometown of Buffalo, whatsoever, no less "leadership". I think he's been too busy figuring out just how he's fallen behind Republican challenger Dennis Delano in a year in which none of the Dems' Senate seats were supposed to be in danger.

- A knowledgeable reader writes in to point out that long a fixture on Delaware North's lobbying team is Jim Crane at Crane and Sanders (f/k/a Crane, Vacco, and Sanders). Indeed, a look at the Project Sunlight website shows that Del North was paying them some $20,000 a month, at least through February of this year. The reader informs me that Crane and his wife Connie have "long been associated with the State Republican party and the Senate in particular." And former partner Dennis Vasco is a former GOP Attorney General of the state. So Delaware North's political connections have not been limited to the Democrats.

Shill Journalism

- I was reading this column by Jeremy Plonk on, and he goes on absolutely batshit about how awesome the Breeders' Cup is this year....and every year, for that matter. And yes, of course, the Breeders' Cup is pretty damn cool. But this seemed really over the top, and you'd never even know from this column about the synthetic track thing or the controversy over Friday. Even though he concludes with some solid advice ("no one should talk you off a Breeders' Cup price stab"), it was reading more like a press release or some marketing copy to me.

And then I read on, and I realized that that's essentially exactly what it was.

For those of you watching and playing the Breeders' Cup from home this Friday and Saturday, please join me online at for live, interactive analysis throughout both days. I'll be anchoring the coverage of all the trends, toteboard analysis and late-breaking wagering strategies. I'll also be taking your questions in real-time about anything that's on your mind, race-by-race. []
Well, who says that ESPN isn't using all of their resources to help market the event? Just didn't think it would be in the guise of journalism. I was tentatively planning on doing the live blog thing myself on Friday (though now that I know it starts at 3:30, I'll probably miss the first race). But man, I can't compete with a wonk like Plonk. So maybe I'll just live blog his live blog. Bet that hasn't done before.

- I'm not sure exactly what the nature of the transaction involving Pyro and Darley is. We're variously told that Darley will assume ownership (Thoroughbred Times), take possession (Bloodhorse), and that Pyro will become the property of the Sheikh's empire. It sounds more like a foreclosure than a sale.

Is That All There Is?

- Senate Republicans have capitulated on the Delaware North racino at the Big A. In the big picture, the additional week and a half of delay since Governor Paterson's selection of the company is not a big deal. What's another $10-11 million when the state is facing a deficit that Paterson has of late been variously tagging as anywhere from $2 - $2.5 billion for this year? However, it's certainly fair to ask what exactly did the Republican conference achieve here?

Well, we've read some vague statements by Delaware North that, yeah, we really did intend all along to (maybe) build a hotel and make Ozone Park an entertainment destination, and the community got some face time with the company that had ignored it before. If they extracted anything specific from Delaware North, it's as secret as the rest of this process has been. But it seems to me at this point that what the Republicans really wanted was this: a chance for embattled 28-year incumbent State Senator Serphin Maltese to announce his party's acceptance of the deal during a televised debate with Democrat Joseph Addabbo Jr on Wednesday night. "We were trying to protect the community," he told the Daily News.

"Delaware North responded to the concerns [voiced] by Queens community residents and has provided more detailed information and a commitment to develop the area surrounding the track to ensure that Aqueduct becomes a destination venue with quality retail, business, hotel, conference and entertainment facilities," Maltese said in a statement. "With this commitment in hand, the Senate will agree to the selection of Delaware North so this important project can go forward." [Bloodhorse]
And that's about it. Of course, Maltese's posturing could earn him a few hundred more votes on Election Day, which could be enough to turn the tight race in his favor, which, in turn, could in theory be enough for the Republicans to maintain control of the Senate. So it could be a very big deal for the party, and the state, in that respect.

But silly me for actually thinking that the GOP was going to righteously go to the mat over a proposal by a company represented by lobbyists tied to the governor and Speaker which, by all accounts anyway (since we've never seen the details of the bids), lacked the long term vision and potential of the others. And over a process conducted completely behind closed doors, the rules of which seemed to change as we went along, giving Delaware North a chance to amend their proposal - "in writing," according to Maltese. Perhaps Delaware North really has made a firm commitment to expand beyond the "slots in a box" concept that they've been accused of proposing, and maybe the Republicans' effort will turn out to be worthwhile in the long run. But for now, I can't help but suspect that it was all nothing more than trying to win an election, pure and simple.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Under the Wrong Impression

- For some reason I was under the impression that Friday's telecast of the Filly Friday races was from 4 until 7 PM in the east. Why did I think that?

Oh yeah, because of this:

[Breeders' Cup Chief Marketing Officer Peter] Land said having the Ladies' Classic on television at roughly 6:40 p.m. Eastern time is a “dream scenario. From a sports perspective on a Friday evening, we’re not really competing against much.” [Bloodhorse, March 2]
I thought that it was a stretch to categorize a race with a 6:40 PM post time as being on a Friday evening in the first place. But now, I see that the telecast is actually from 3:30 - 6:30 PM, and the F&M Pro-Ride Classic has a post time of 6:15. That qualifies more as late afternoon/early evening to me. And that's just on the east coast. Damn sure they ain't competing against much, I'll give him that much.

Well, there must be a good explanation for the switch. Hmmm, no reason in the world I can see why the Breeders' Cup or Santa Anita would be interested in the change. So, it must have been the network, doncha think? Let's see why ESPN2 might have requested an earlier telecast.

Oh yeah, it's a half hour of NASCAR Now, a lead in to an exciting night of NASCAR Sprint Cup Qualifying races. Is that like Win And Yer In?

Sprint Looks Like Inside Job

[ - I guess I had a senior moment the other day, so here's what Mike Welsch really said about Indian Blessing:

It was perhaps not as brilliant as her work over dirt, but it did not show enough to suggest the Pro-Ride might prove a major chink in her armor.
I gave totally the opposite impression and thanks to the reader who pointed that out. So that's pretty embarrassing, but besides, I think it's the 7th furlong, and not the surface, that will get her beat on Friday, as much of an admirer of this filly as I am.]

- The following post on the Sprint is also up on the TBA blog at

- At least the field sizes are fairly manageable on Saturday; just nine go in the Sprint. I'm not proud, I'll take any break I can get. In post position order, with the top contenders all lined up inside:

Cost of Freedom has run huge in two races since being claimed by trainer John Sadler. You could have doubted his allowance win off the claim against a mediocre field. But I guess not many did, because he was 5-1 in the G1 Ancient Title. This five-year old son of Cee's Tizzy was four wide throughout the final turn, and was moving pretty easily with Tyler Baze as he circled the field on his way to holding off the mighty Street Boss. He's working very well, and the Form's clocker Mike Welsch wrote that he seems to be maintaining his vastly improved form. He has plenty enough speed to avoid getting buried from the rail post.

Street Boss has developed into one of the sport's most consistent and exciting runners this year with his patented wide late rally, though he's toiled in the relative anonymity of the Southern California sprint division . He'd won five in a row before losing to Cost of Freedom, which probably would not have happened had he not blown the turn. While the relatively short field means that the pace may not be as frenzied as he'd prefer, it lessens the chance he'll have traffic trouble or have to go unmanageably wide. This son of Street Cry earned his career best Beyer in losing the Ancient Title; and note that he improved eight Beyer points in the Crosby, which was his second race off a two month freshening like the one he enjoyed before the Ancient Title.

Fabulous Strike caught a break when J Be K scratched and another when he drew inside of Black Seventeen. Speedy five year old son of Smart Strike has only raced twice this year, and has yet to achieve the astronomical Beyers he did the two years prior. He was pressed hard while on the rail in the slop of the Vosburgh, and tired to a final furlong in 13.23. He's had just one work since then, in which he also tired, at least according to Welsch. So I'm wondering if that race took something out of him. Still, he has the best Moss pace figures in the field, and they may have him to catch in his first effort on a synthetic track.

Midnight Lute is certainly a ponderous entry here. We all recall his amazing rally to win last year's Sprint in the slop at Monmouth; as well as the 124 Speed Figure he earned in the Forego. But physical problems have limited the son of Real Quiet to a single start, and that was more of a non-performance in which he was well back throughout. He suffered a quarter crack for which he was still being treated over the weekend. But I’m told by a reader that his 10/13 workout, five furlongs in 56 4/5, was touted by one veteran clocker as being in the all-time top five from his 25 years in the business. And Welsch reported on Monday that he looked none the worse for wear. Still, you gotta take a stand sometimes, and I'm taking one against him here.

I think the winner is likely to come from this group (actually, as it turns out, from the inside pair), so running down the rest: First Defence is a possibility I suppose off his win in the Forego. That race pretty much fell apart though, and it was at a seven furlong distance he prefers on a racetrack he relishes. First try on synthetic here too. Black Seventeen surprised at 23-1 in the Vosburgh, which I'm going to attribute to the slop that day. He does have good early speed according to his Moss numbers though, and I'm expecting (hoping...) that he'll give Fabulous Strike some trouble early; I don't know who else can, really. In Summation has not been quite the same since returning from a winter/spring vacation. He only finished a length behind Street Boss in the Crosby, so he's not impossible. But I think he'll need everything to go his way.

Sing Baby Sing is as consistent as they come, but seems a cut below on class and speed. Fatal Bullet has a horridly awful name - just dreadful. I hope he loses. He's been almost unbeatable on three different synthetic surfaces and comes off a career best Beyer of 108; but his Moss numbers don't match up with either of the two horses I’ve identified above as the speed. Figures to be caught wide if he’s trying to stalk, and here’s hoping he fades in the stretch.

Picks: Street Boss, Cost of Freedom, In Summation

No change in my thoughts on the Dirt Mile after the post position draw, nor due to the presence of Mast Track and Pyro. Mast Track will be running with what Frankel describes as a “tiny” quarter crack. Tell me, what again is the symbol in the program or Form for that? You know, to keep the betting public fully informed? QC? A little image of Big Brown? A picture of Frankel’s face with a Liberty Bell crack down the center? Surely there must be something, right?

A couple of horses of interest to me in other races drew poorly: Whatsthescript, yet another Cal-based horse which has moved way up off a trainer change (and, like Cost of Freedom, now with Sadler), drew the outside 11 post in the Mile. And Pure Clan, a three-year old IEAH filly with a world of upside in my opinion, will break from the ten hole in the F&M Turf.

Slots Foes Dissed By Obama Too

- Another poll in Maryland - this one by a presumably neutral party - shows strong support for the slots referendum, with 62% in favor and only 36% opposed.

Bridget Frey, a spokeswoman for Marylanders United to Stop Slots, attributed the poll's findings to heavy spending by pro-slots group For Maryland For Our Future.

"We're going to spend the next two weeks pressing our efforts," Frey said. "We're confident in our grass-roots efforts." [Associated Press]
That financial advantage enjoyed by the pro-slots side has allowed it to now release a second TV commercial. This one focuses on the gambling money that Marylanders are losing outside of the state, thus, according to the ad, helping to lower taxes in West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

Again with that cutesy animation with the little kids and their parents at the end. Nice touch I must say.

The grass-roots efforts by the opponents include a push by ministers at African-American churches to use their sermons to encourage their congregations to vote against the measure. Not sure what that does for their churches' tax-exempt status. But the hope is to take advantage of the large number of blacks who have registered to vote for Senator Obama.

Unfortunately for them however, a Rasmussen poll shows that, although those who regularly attend church are more likely to oppose, 71 percent of black voters support the referendum, compared with 50 percent of white voters. [Baltimore Sun] Worse yet, the Obama campaign asked Marylanders United to Stop Slots to withdraw the Senator's name from a radio ad which noted that he has decried the "moral and social cost" of gambling, so as to avoid the candidate being involved in a local issue. The slots foes face many obstacles to be sure.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Pick Six Puzzle

- Can you believe the very first race in the million dollar-carryover Pick Six sequence at Belmont on Wednesday? The 4th is a maiden special on the grass with 12 entries, including a well-bred first-timer from Mott, he of the 13 month 0 for 44 streak with first-timers on the NYRA circuit. Cross the Divide (5-1) is by Gone West, out of a Strawberry Road mare who's a half-sister to French group winner Ganges; and Cross the Divide is a half to graded grass winner Much Obliged.

But nope, I'm not going there, nor to the 5th, a high-tag maiden claimer on the grass at six furlongs, with another full field and several first-timers. While at least you'll have the tote to be your guide in the 4th, the daily double pools are the closest clue you'll get in the fifth.

So if you get past those, here's a few thoughts - for your careful consideration only please! - on the next three. In the sixth, Contessa has an entry rated at 4-1. Tempest Storm would seem like the stronger half based on her field high 86 Beyer earned in her only start on grass. However, with Tempest Storm perhaps facing an early tempest from Classic Love, I'm equally interested in Wonderwho'sbest, fresh off the claim. One of two entries to have won three races (and eligible because she's a three-year old), she attracts Castellano. The last and only time the jockey rode this daughter of Three Wonders, it resulted in her career best race, an 82 Beyer win at the Big A last fall. So, interesting that he jumps back aboard in the filly's first effort for this barn. Smartgabrielle (3-1) jumps in class off a perfect-trip win against a middling field in her first race in ten months. Levine is a bit below par here at 15%, though he's on a modest streak of 10-3-2-1. I'd be inclined to stand against her betting the race by itself, but would hesitate to leave her out if I was playing a pick six.

In the 7th, Leadwithyourchin (7-2) drops to a 20K tag for Mike Hushion. In his last effort, in 35K company, he truly did undergo the 4 wide journey noted in the comment line....and he did perfectly fine to finish 5th, just 4 lenghts back in a decent field. This seems to me like an honest drop, just seeking the horse's level. Whatsmore, Hushion goes to Channing Hill, who wins at 22% for the barn as opposed to 11% overall. Hill rode this horse last year, and was on board for his career high Beyer of 94. T Harry is the 2-1 favorite for Anthony Dutrow taking a huge drop from a second level allowance. This horse won a restricted 35K claimer and a starter allowance easily in the spring, added an entry level allowance at Delaware, and ran competitively in that last race, at Monmouth. This seems like a far more suspicious drop to me, and that's how I would play this race....though again, if I was playing the pick six, don't know if I'd have the nerve to leave him out. Hawkinsville (4-1) is 0-3 on the grass, but goes dirt to turf in his second race off the claim for trainer Bruce Brown. That pattern has produced winners King Mobay ($26) and Flibberjibit ($7.80) for the barn at this meet.

In the 8th, John's Jean (10-1) shortens up to seven furlongs on the grass for trainer Gary Sciacca, a bit live here at Belmont in October at 16-3-3-3. She flashed good speed for six furlongs before tiring to 4th at a mile. Could face some early pressure here from Doree Daze (3-1), but she showed some rating ability under Maragh when graduating in the spring. I guess that, in the past, I'd be more concerned that she's had two months off since that, her first race in 2 1/2. Two recent works indicate that she's ready, and Sciacca moves her up in class confidently. Maybe too confidently? Perhaps....but the aforemention Doree Daze faces winners for the first time, Mesa Girl (7-2) has been getting pieces but is 0-12 this year, and Who Is Lady (7-2) earned her field best Beyer of 80 when allowed to set a snail's pace two races back, and has a bad post. You pick six players will have to figure out what to do about those!

And then, you get to the 9th, an impossible state-bred 35K maiden claimer with 12 horses and several first-time starters. I think you'll have an easier time with the Turf Sprint than this one. I don't think the three races described above are that deep, and you'll have to be as selective as possible in order to be able to cover that last race, and perhaps the first two as well. Good luck, let us know if you hit it!

Big A Calculus

Senate Democrats want you to know how much they feel that Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos is costing the state by blocking the Delaware North deal to operate the racino at Aqueduct. The calculation, which will be updated daily, is based on the $370 million fee the company has offered, plus $1 million per day, starting on October 11. [Hat tip to Irene Jay Liu at Capital Confidential.]

NY Notes - Oct 21

- State Senator Bill Larkin, the Chairman of the Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee, weighs in on the Aqueduct racino imbroglio. If you're guessing that he basically says: GET THIS DONE ALREADY!!!, you're certainly on the right track.

“New York’s racing industry is in trouble.....The State of New York needs to quickly identify the most qualified bidder to operate VLTs at Aqueduct and seriously consider VLTs at Bemont Park. This bidder must have the capability to create a true regional tourist destination that can attract other ancillary retail and entertainment business, which would ultimately raise the revenue needed to help curtail future state and local tax increases.” [Thoroughbred Times]
According to reporter Paul Post, an organization called International Racing Management is calling for the public to be able to see the bids for themselves. I have absolutely no idea who or what this outfit is; and as far as I'm concerned, any entity that doesn't show up on a Google search doesn't really exist. (As opposed to, say, Left at the Gate.) But it truly is appalling how this entire process has played out behind closed doors. One can't help but think back to the days of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Future of Racing, which conducted open hearings on the franchise selection, and made public every last word of all of the bids, and the reasoning behind their decision. We may never again see anything like that in this state in our lifetimes.

- Steve Zorn notes on his Business of Racing blog that the State Racing and Wagering Board has now proposed a rule that would allow trainers to enter a maximum of two horses per race as uncoupled entries.
The rule, which was announced by the Board on October 10th, could be adopted any time after the public comment period ends on October 29th.
Uncoupled entries is one of the things that Charles Hayward had told me that NYRA was counting on to help increase revenues, not only by creating more betting interests, but by thereby also increasing the number of races eligible for superfecta wagering. Mr. Zorn informs us that we can send comments, until October 29, to the Board's John Googas at

Yes and No On Slots

- A pollster who favors the slots referendum in Maryland says that support for the measure is unchanged from August - 58% in favor, and 38% opposed.

Yang says that the intensity of support has picked up in the Baltimore area, where a pro-slots television ad has been airing. He notes that a "significant proportion" of support remains "soft," however, meaning people could still change their minds. [Washington Post]
The Baltimore Sun is getting flak for their editorial endorsement of slots over the weekend. The paper had opposed the games in the past, but now, citing "extraordinary times," it wrote:
Without new revenue, Marylanders face truly unacceptable choices. Public education and health care for the disadvantaged represent the majority of state spending and therefore cannot be held harmless in this cash-strapped environment. Both will soon suffer as budget cuts grow deeper and deeper. The prospect of higher taxes is just as ruinous an alternative if in raising taxes the government winds up dampening prospects for economic recovery.
Claiming that the Sun had written 75 anti-slots editorials in the past 10 years, a spokesperson for Marylanders United to Stop Slots said: "(I)t appears the editorial decisions are being made by corporate suits in Illinois, the Tribune Company, and not by the independent editorial board here in Maryland."

The Washington Post came out against the referendum.
One-sixth of slots revenue would sweeten race purses, an unnecessary subsidy that would mostly benefit out-of-state owners and Maryland's wealthiest breeders. Why should the state spend its dwindling dollars to bolster wealthy breeders rather than, say, Chesapeake Bay watermen?

Maryland had the good sense to rid itself of the machines 40 years ago, and voters should continue to resist the glow of slot machines and the false promise of pain-free revenue they represent.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Breeders' Cup Notes - Oct 21

- If you've missed Mike Welsch's clocker reports in the Form, you can find Monday's here, Sunday's here, Saturday's here, and Friday's report on Zenyatta here. As is usually the case when you're dealing with horses of this caliber, most of his observations are positive; Student Council, Cocoa Beach, Curlin, Well Armed in particular. I generally tend to ignore these unless it's a horse that I like, such as Albertus Maximus ("gives the impression he's peaking at just the right time," exactly my point), Cost of Freedom ("seems to be maintaining his vastly improved form"), and Carriage Trail ("could be a strong exacta threat under Zenyatta") (I have more ambitious wagering plans for her).

Of more interest to me in these reports are the horses that he gives negative reviews, especially with respect to how they're handling the Pro Ride. The stupidly named Fatal Bullet "got very weary while struggling home through a final furlong on a loose rein in 13" (too bad); Street Hero (Juvenile) "should have finished better than his 12.33-second final furlong;" Ginger Punch "perhaps...still somewhat of a question mark over the surface;" Indian Blessing - "Pro-Ride might prove a major chink in her armor." I'll list Welsch's reports over in the left sidebar. Also of interest over on that side are the Notes for each of the races, which you can find in the Breeders' Cup widget.

- Midnight Lute, who I don't like at all in the Sprint, worked out on Monday. Funny that neither this report, nor this one, make more than passing reference to the condition of his foot. Welsch has been reporting that he's recently had treatment on a quarter crack suffered at Del Mar, and that he's been working out with a bar shoe that may or may not be in place on race day.

- Ed Fountaine in the NY Post has the Insider's Insight on the Pro-Ride.

- Defections: Mast Track, Red Giant, Tropic Storm, Communique, Believe In Hope, and J Be K. I didn't like any of them, but some good hunch bet possibilities down the drain. Red Giant has been retired.

- Bobby Frankel commented on synthetic tracks:

"Like I told somebody, 'George Bush sold the war and these people sold this track.' No basis to what they're saying, just told you lies." [AP]
We like Bobby. Amazing though how different the view is from across the pond, where some apparently see this Breeders' Cup as the dawning of a great new age for the event, and for American racing in general. Greg Wood writes in the Guardian UK:
Bit by bit, the issues and conditions that have prevented the Cup from being a fair test for all are being stripped away and the inaugural event on a synthetic surface is an immense step forward.
This is also linked to the other obstacle to the event's global ambitions - medication. One reason that American racing got hooked on drugs is that it was the only way to keep horses sound when they were training and racing on dirt. Without the dirt, the urge to medicate should start to diminish.

The ultimate goal is to finally change the mindset among punters too. At the moment, when they consider the Juvenile form with a view to next year's Kentucky Derby, they are likely to think: "Shame it was on synthetic, when the Derby is on dirt." At some point, though, it needs to change: "Shame the Derby's on dirt when all the best form's on synthetic."
Oh man, I'd like to see him say that to Nick Zito's face!

Dirt on the Dirt Mile

[This post is also up on the TBA blog at]

- I figure that at this point, it's time to just concentrate on the races. We've discussed the many questions surrounding this year's Breeders' Cup to death. Yes, it's the first synthetic Breeders' Cup, but, as I've noted on before, it's certainly not the first one tinged with doubts that cut to the very legitimacy of its status as World Championship races. And though, in my opinion, the Breeders' Cup can't possibly be bashed enough over the pointless renaming of the Distaff and, especially, the absurd scheduling of championship races on a day and time when only the truly committed will even make an attempt to watch, I suppose it’s time to move on and do some gambling.

Lost in all of this however is the exacerbation of what I've always considered to be the biggest drawback of the whole concept of the Breeders' Cup - the fact that there's too much on one day for the mainstream press, and thus, the general public to digest. Other than the Classic and perhaps another race or two of particular import, the culmination of an entire year's worth of divisional races are inevitably reduced to a footnote at the bottom of a newspaper or web page. This year, we're up to nine races on Saturday; and add to that numerical dilution the fact that four of Saturday’s races are relatively minor events that should not be grouped with the main events.

14 races in all, and I gotta tell ya, it's too much for me too. Consider how long one can obsess over a single race - say, the Kentucky Derby - and that many Breeders' Cup races have significantly more angles and nuance to ponder. Perhaps if I was doing this full-time as a paid gig, I’d have the time, but….

So, I'm going to try to keep it as simple as possible. For one thing, when I printed out the past performances for Saturday's card, I started with Race 3. I don't particularly care for mile and a half marathons or turf sprints under any circumstances. Seriously man, drop me a note next week and let me know who won these two totally superfluous and unnecessary additions to the menu. Secondly, I intend to concentrate on the races which I can actually handicap with the usual basics of class, pace, and speed (and perhaps even tote), rather than to guess (other than to the extent we all will be regarding the Pro-Ride surface) about horses stretching out for the first time, going grass to "dirt” (or vice-versa), or Racing Post Ratings and the bereft European past performance lines that accompany them. So, to start at least for now, I'm also putting aside all four juvenile races as well as the Mile and the Turf. Come race day, the tote board will be my guide to finding value in those. But, as far as serious handicapping goes, I'm now down to a more manageable six, and there's potentially plenty to be made (or lost) in those. Of course, to each his/her own, but this is how I’m approaching the event.

The Dirt Mile may be the most eminently handicapable race on the program, so let's start there, and take a look at those that I consider to be the contenders. With Colonel John poised to represent WinStar and trainer Eoin Harty in the Classic, Well Armed is set for what serves for many horses as the Classic-for-the-Distance-Challenged event. Having lost by a mere neck to Go Between in the mile and a quarter Pacific Classic, we can't say that about this gelded five-year old son of Tiznow; but this two-turn mile event should suit him fine as well. He's refined his game of late, showing the ability to rate in his last two efforts, and comes off a workmanlike, though not dominant, win in the Goodwood. He has the speed figs, the tactical diversity, and the experience over the track to be the clear horse to beat. (And he worked a half in 46 1/5 on Monday.)

Lewis Michael has raced only twice this year due to an ankle problem, but seems to be coming up to the Dirt Mile in fine fettle for trainer Wayne (38%) Catalano. This son of Rahy seemed to really blossom at age four last year, at least until he ran into the Monmouth muck and mire which we definitely won't be seeing this year. He's shown the ability to handle various surfaces and distances. He stretches to two turns off his perfect-trip win in the seven furlong Pat O'Brien, a pattern which resulted in his dominant Washington Park Handicap win last year. You can watch his most recent workout here - seven furlong in 1:25.60 at Keeneland. Definitely a contender, though I am concerned about his light schedule, and believe he may be overbet.

Albertus Maximus is one of several California-based horses on the Breeders' Cup program that we've seen undergo a dramatic uptick in form after a change of barns - he switched to trainer Vladimir Cerin from Gary Mandella over the summer, and has put in two excellent efforts since. Most recent was a third, beaten less than two lengths, to Well Armed in the Goodwood, a race in which he conceded a good three paths to the winner turning for home. Other than Tiago, this four-year old son of Albert the Great closed fastest of all despite the lost ground, earned a career high Beyer, and looks like a live one at what could be a square price.

Slew's Tizzy is another one who has turned things around for a new barn; Doug O’Neill took over training duties over the winter, and the four-year old son of Tiznow responded with a sharp second in an excellent allowance race which also featured next out stakes winner Giant Gizmo, the consistent graded stakes runner Tropic Storm, and graded stakes winning Warning Zone. After seven months off, he returned with a front-running allowance win, at a mile, over the Pro-Ride last month. He set a slow pace that day, and is unlikely to be afforded that luxury here; and it concerns me that the Turf Sprint was his first choice. But his recent sharp form is worth mentioning. Full brother Slew’s Tiznow is also slated to start. O’Neill took over this one from Patrick Biancone, and gee, isn’t Biancone about to once again grace the game with his presence? Jeez, we get rid of steroids, and now pick up thisssssssss.

Two Step Salsa returns to synthetic land after an unsuccessful journey out east, and could find himself in front with a good post draw. He has superior Moss Pace numbers even to Well Armed when that one was running on the lead. However, he could find himself being hounded by My Pal Charlie, who is a bit interesting coming off his Super Derby win. Three-year old son of Indian Charlie earned a career best Beyer that day, but benefited from a perfect inside trip (despite having to wait momentarily for room), and he’s never been on synthetics. But he does have some of the best pace numbers in the field, and could also be a factor early should he handle the surface.

In conclusion (and I’ll revisit the race after the post draw): Albertus Maximus is on the improve and has an excellent race over the track. Well Armed has speed, stamina, and consistency, and looms strictly the one to beat. Slew’s Tizzy has improved dramatically and has won at the distance over the track. Lewis Michael could blow these away in the stretch if he runs back to peak form from last year.