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Saturday, January 31, 2009

Aqueduct Notes

Reptilian Smarts won the 3rd at the Big A on Friday; the 4th win in as many starts for this five-year old son of Include since he was claimed by Rick Dutrow for 15K last November. This one has moved up in class modestly since then, and has now found a home in the 16K Starter Handicaps and its winner's share of over $25,000. 123 pounds was no deterrent on this day, and he can run his little heart out at this level until the weight gets to be too much. This horse had some back class and some prior success on the inner track, so there are at least a couple of explanations for his improvement other than the usual suspicious ones. Each animal needs to be judged on its own circumstances.

Brother Chip Dutrow got into the act, with West Coast Flier ($9.50) taking the 7th, moving up a bit off the claim. This Dutrow is now two-for-two first off the claim, hello. And Anthony is 14 for his last 38 (37%). All in the family. Scott Lake took the winner for 30K, so a nice $26,000 profit for the owner between the purse and the profit from the claim. Bullara, dead last at 23-1, was claimed by Asmussen for owner Maggi Moss. This horse has some very nice grass form; in fact, he ran second in the Forerunner at Keeneland in 2007. So you gotta think that Asmussen has some greener pastures in mind for this one, and this could turn out to be an excellent claim.

Pick six carryover today, thanks in part to jockey Orlando Bocachica, who brought home bombshells Wyatt's Women ($51.50) and Amongooseamongus ($53.50).

Saturday Morning Notes - Jan 31

I bet and picked Break Water Edison in the Hutcheson, and he checked in dead last. Sometimes I feel stupid in retrospect for a bet gone bad; but other times, like this one, I figure the logic was sound and the horse just ran bad. So we just move on.

With West Side Bernie (3-1) and Beethoven (4-1) stuck on the outside, a couple of longshots drawn inside of them piqued my interest in Saturday's Holy Bull. El Crespo (12-1) had a sluggish debut, but turned things around with a narrow loss and a win after switching to turf. Or maybe it was because of adding blinkers; or stretching out in distance. Plenty of grass pedigree here for this half brother to grassy stakes winners Rey De Cafe and Tricky Causeway, out of a half-sister to the likewise King Cugat. But his third dam is Con Game, the dam of Seeking the Gold and Fast Play, and you'd expect a son of AP Indy out of a Private Account mare to handle dirt.

Stately Character (20-1) beat This Ones For Phil in winning the Foolish Pleasure in December, before that one became the fastest horse in the world. This son of Pleasant Tap came back off a subsequent freshening with a solid third over the track, not far behind Remsen runner up Atomic Rain and McPeek's impressive Free Country. I think he can outrun his odds here for trainer Gerald Procino.

Danger to Society (5-1) is another hyped McPeek horse, and I think he'll likely go off at lower odds than indicated. Son of Harlans Holiday out of a half-sister to Silver Charm handled winners and two turns just fine in winning his second race in as many tries. Looks like the logical choice inside of the favorites.

- I hate Einstein as the 5-2 ML favorite in the Donn. Hate him. I do get myself in trouble at times when pick against specific horses here, but don't bother writing to mock me if he wins this time. Not saying he can't do so. But I do think he would be a poor wagering proposition as the favorite breaking from the ten post. I'm still not convinced he's a top stakes horse on dirt; for one thing, he's benefited from a series of beneficial post draws. In fact, his weakest effort of the last year was the last time he drew poorly - the eight post in the Donn last year. Bad luck of the draw again here, and I think it's worth a stand against. Similarly, Albertus Maximus (4-1), who figures to take money on the strength of his BC Mile win, has been running strictly on synthetics (though he did break his maiden on dirt), and has to be considered a question mark as he preps for Dubai.

I'll go with Arson Squad (3-1), another example of a horse turning it around after switching to Rick Dutrow. Six-year old gelded son of Brahms really floundered for trainer Bruce Headley after winning the Strub in 2007. However, after switching to Dutrow, he improved his Beyer 13 points in winning the Meadowlands Cup - thus contributing to the astounding 34% of first-time Dutrow runners which have won over the last two years - and then ran a close 4th in the Cigar Mile last November, his most recent race to this point. Back to two turns and to the winners circle (he says brashly) here. Babe.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Warming Up For The Big Debut

Wow, Michael Matz did it again, scoring in the finale at Gulfstream with 17-1 Princess Haya....and completing the trifecta with 20-1 Dress Parade; that's three longshot winners for the barn since Saturday.

Matz will, as you might have heard by now, start Nicanor in the 8th at Gulfstream on Saturday; smack dab between the Holy Bull and the Donn. Barbaro's brother is listed at 4-1 in the morning line, and you gotta be kidding me. I was thinking he'd be more like 2-5, seriously. I was going to root against him just to be annoying to the weirdo FOB types. However, I of course only have the good of the sport in mind, and a successful debut would certainly generate some coverage and interest, as we've already seen.

So, I'll just root against him because he's a mandatory bet-against....assuming, that is, if he is far closer to 4-5 than 4-1, which I'd bet will be the case; especially in this less than inspiring field in which all but one of the horses who have started have hardly distinguished themselves. Dubinsky (7-2) threw in a clunker in his second start, but, reunited with Castellano, stretched out to a mile over the track successfully, with a much-the-second-best placing behind Alma D'Or. That one was graduating by five, going first-time for Dutrow, and earning him the #37 spot on Haskin's Derby list (good grief), but not a column by Beyer. Dubinsky is the morning line favorite with Castellano again aboard, and deservedly so. But I'd be shocked if he's favored come post time. Seems like fair value at his morning line for Patrick Reynolds and owner Paul Pompa.

In the Hutcheson on Friday (?), Break Water Edison (3-1) doesn't have the best post, starting from the rail at seven furlongs. But he's trained solidly for his first start since winning the Nashua in November, and gets Alan Garcia, for whom he's run well each time. He faltered in the Hopeful on short rest, and had little to offer in the Champagne. But, with Garcia back aboard, he showed class circling the Nashua field four wide on the turn, holding off Hello Broadway (5-2) while finishing up in race horse time of 23 4/5, and earning a field high Beyer of 99 (with LeComte winner Friesan Fire finishing 4th).

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Dutrow Fires Back

Rick Dutrow lashed out at Andy Beyer (h/t to reader Erin), and he and bloodstock agent Nick Sallusto, who recommended the purchase of This Ones for Phil for owner Paul Pompa, laid out detailed and perfectly reasonable explanations for the horse's improvement.

"He was wiped out in behind, as many horses tend to be after training for a prolonged period at Calder, and that was messing his heels up," Dutrow said. "So I changed shoes, training him in a shoe with a plate across the heel. We also wormed him, did his teeth, and put about 50 pounds on him. I also backed off on his training between works. [Daily Racing Form]
Dutrow is not the only trainer ticked off about the column, and personally, I think the others have more legitimate reasons to be upset. Beyer never actually accused Dutrow of doing anything wrong in this case. Noting his record of suspensions, he simply pointed out that turnarounds such as this one make bettors highly suspicious. He went out of his way to note that there was no evidence of wrongdoing with Big Brown under the Triple Crown spotlight, and added that Dutrow is "a skillful trainer who certainly has the ability to improve horses put in his care." The fact is that the trainer has brought this kind of distrust upon himself with his history of suspensions and his cavalier attitude towards them. My gut feeling is that the performance was legit; but I certainly don't blame the readers who wrote in to mock that notion. Dutrow needs to earn their trust, and good for him for detailing his training regimen despite no doubt revealing some trade secrets along the way.

Where I think Beyer was wrong in his column was to lump in a group of other trainers, mostly without the same kind of history, in with Dutrow. He labeled them, in a tone that came across as sarcastic to me, as "miracle workers." Marty Wolfson was one of them.
"Maybe Andy Beyer should take the time to come visit my barn one day and see our operation before making accusations," Wolfson said. "To see how many hours I spend here or some of the treatments we give, legally, that can improve a horse. I don't like what was inferred."

Trainer Peter Walder, a member of the Gulfstream backstretch committee that meets regularly to discuss horsemen's issues, said Beyer's article was upsetting to the committee, including such notable trainers as Dale Romans, Ken McPeek, Joe Orseno, and John Ward.

"Writing that type of stuff is a discredit to the game, especially when written without getting all the facts, and Andy Beyer is part of this game," Walder said.
And I consider that to be an eminently fair and legitimate point.

- Dick Powell also weighs in on This Ones For Phil in his Handicapping Insights column at BRIS.
The fact is, there's a lot of vet work, perfectly legal, that takes place between races. And, even if you knew what was being done it wouldn't help you as a handicapper. I can't tell you how many times I have heard about a horse receiving a throat operation and the horse runs poorly even though it allegedly has had its breathing problems fixed. Sometimes, you are better off not knowing as there is an element of sausage-making to the training of horses and if you really knew how many ailments they have you would never play them.

Aqueduct (and GP) Notes

Racing is set to resume at the Big A on Thursday, though you might think about having a backup plan in mind. Wednesday morning's snow turned into rain as the temperature warmed. But it's supposed to turn freezing overnight. In the past, when inner track cancellations have occurred, they've usually done so in the freeze-thaw scenario being forecast. So, on the odd chance that they do cancel, you heard it here first.

In the first, trainer Randi Persaud looks to break out of an 0-for-22 streak at the Big A with Fit Faze (7-2). I guess one can spin a trainer streak any way he or she wants - stick with the trend or play the percentages. In this case, Persaud hasn't really been close of late, so perhaps I should stay away. However, this is the kind of class dropper that I can't resist, so I'll say he's due to win. This seven-year old son of Honor Grades has competed well against far better while dropping the class ladder, and I think he's found his proper level here. Persaud switches to Jeffrey Sanchez, who rode The Vin Man, one of the trainer's three winners this meeting, after the horse broke poorly in his last two before finishing quite respectably behind two legit 16K runners in Gallant Again and Three in the Bag. 0 for 12 on off tracks, certainly a possibility here, but he's run some good races in slop, and, in this case, I view that more as something that could create some value.

In the third, Even Raise (5-2) is actually looking for a big raise; in fact he's seeking to triple his salary. In this economy? This five-year old son of Stephen Got Even, who appears to have been purchased privately by Winning Move and Contessa, dominated the 10K Starter Handicap races at Calder, winning eight of 11 races on the year. His total purse earnings? Not even $60,000. While today's race carries a purse of $30,000, the comparable ones at Calder were for just $9,545.

But no pick for me in this race. I'm recusing myself because King Mobay (5-1) is in for Kasey K. Just look at the Form, and you don't need me to tell you that he is fit, loves to compete, and has three wins in the slop. Stealth Missile (3-1) rocketed right by Mobay last time in his first race for Enrique Arroyo.

Down at Gulfstream, another high priced winner for Michael Matz, whose Spicy Dubai ($39.40) won the 5th. He also had that first timer Indy's Sonata ($49.80) on Saturday. I don't think that Nicanor will go off at odds like that on Saturday.

Mott, whose name I don't seem to have mentioned on this blog since October 21 (welcome back), took the 9th, on the grass, with first-timer Strike Again ($25.20). Though this barn's 0-for-first timer streak still stands, at 49, in New York, this was his third such winner on the Calder/GP circuit since he arrived in December (from ten starters, with three seconds and a third). Strike Again is a Pin Oak Stud homebred by Dixie Union, out of a stakes winning Smart Strike mare; and he's a half-brother to the stakes winning, on dirt and grass, Euphony. This is also the distaff family of Tap Day, and the graded grass winner Fairy Garden.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Notes - Jan 28

Rap Tale is entered in the 8th at Philly Park on Saturday, an allowance for winners of three other than.. Looks like a group that she can definitely compete with. A reader mentioned recently that the purses in PA had taken a turn south, and that's quite apparent from looking at the pp's of this race. The two NW2X races in which she ran there carried purses of over $52,000; but this one is for only $43K. That in fact is less than the $46,250 she ran for in entry level allowance company, so that's a pretty stiff drop.

- Thanks much to reader o_crunk for the link to the past performances of This One's For Phil over at Illman's blog. If you covered up the Beyer figs, there wouldn't be anything unusually out of the ordinary at all in my opinion; and this reader questions the fig itself. I usually get into trouble when I do so. I guess I still don't really understand when a Beyer "is what it is," which I presume was the case here, and when they get projected, which what this case would seem to call for. So I'll stay out of that argument until we see the top two finishers run back. (I'm told that This One's For Phil earned a Ragozin number of -1, which would back up the notion that the race was extremely fast.)

As for o_crunk's disagreement about my comment about the 'public at large,' that's a fair point, but I suppose we travel in different circles of friends. My non-racing fans are in la-la land when it comes to the sport; they're completely innocent and wide-eyed and would believe just about anything I tell them (except, they've learned, who's going to win a particular race). And I don't really know any of them who thought that Barbaro or Eight Belles got hurt because of drugs. Abuse, in the form of too much racing or racing a filly against colts, perhaps, but not drugs. And, regarding Jay Cronley's column, though I've never watched the show, I'd guess that horse racing is hardly the only industry that has been sullied by CSI: Miami and other aging TV dramas as they struggle to come up with new plots that become more and more ridiculously contrived as the episodes wear on.

This One's For Rick

This One's For Phil earned a Beyer of 379 in the Sunshine Dash, first-time out for Dutrow, prompting the trainer to quip: "Time to sell, babe." Trainers are mostly a pretty dull and unquotable group these days, but not this guy. Things would sure be dull around here without him. The accusations are already flying about the obvious suspicions given Dutrow's history. Beyer writes: The public at large is alienated when it suspects that drugs are tainting the sport's greatest events. Of course, the public at large would have no idea about that stuff if people like Beyer weren't writing that it suspects that drugs are tainting the sport's greatest events.

Personally, I find it difficult to believe that even Rick Dutrow would or could be stupid, brazen, or brilliant enough to be successfully cheating with the spotlight trained squarely upon him as it is. That of course doesn't mean that he's not. However, this horse went turf to dirt, cut back to the distance of his previous best Beyer, ran for the first time at Gulfstream, switched to Prado, and had his morning routine changed.

"I decided not to pound on him in the morning....See the chart. I just jogged him between breezes, then blew him out a little bit the morning of the race. He also just might like this track." [DRF]
So there are at least some reasonable explanations...including the fact that Dutrow is obviously quite good at what he does.

This One's For Phil is not quite as obscurely-bred as some might lead you to believe. Though he's by Unuttable, a Florida-based son of Unbridled with extremely unorthodox breeding (he's inbred 4x2 to In Reality, and 3x2 to Mr. Prospector and his full sister Gold Mine), he's out of a Septeime Ciel (Seattle Slew) half-sister to G2 winners Finality and Stolen Beauty; and descends from the same distaff family as the G1 winner Island Sand and Queen's Plate winner Niigon.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Long Train (Not) Runnin'

Steve Zorn posted about the MTA's proposed "elimination of non-Stakes Belmont service" (and they're presumably not talking about the New York Stallion Stakes) via the Long Island Railroad over on his Business of Racing blog. He and NYRA's John Lee led the game opposition at a public hearing in Garden City.

"The LIRR would eliminate train service in a manner that impacts the least number of riders," according to the MTA's proposal. I don't know what the figures are for Belmont ridership, but it certainly can't be much, and I'm afraid that bottom line will ultimately trump the worthy arguments against the service elimination, should the Ravitch plan to bail out the MTA with payroll taxes and tolls on the East River bridges not be adopted (and the latter component of that plan has no shot). The proposed fare hikes, cutbacks, and job cuts are extensive, and they more prominently involve the city subway system. Their effects would be far more profound to far more people than those involving service cuts to Belmont.

So I'd say that the outlook is grim, at least in the short-term. But don't despair. Ultimately, the LIRR connection from Manhattan to Belmont will prove to be a powerful argument to bring slots to the track and additional redevelopment to the facility. Not only will the rail link survive, but the Belmont station will be renovated and cleaned and the tracks maintained so that the trains don't have to go like .2 MPH around that final turn for home over the Cross Island Parkway. In a more perfect world of course, NYRA would shake this off and instead lure stranded railbirds to one of their lavish OTB facilities in various parts of Manhattan. But that not being the case, attendance at the track will no doubt take a slight hit for the time being.

- Governor Paterson is getting absolutely reamed by the press over the manner in which he conducted his Senate selection process, and some seem to be writing his political obituary. NY Times' columnist Maureen Dowd called him a "goof-ball," the Daily News' Mike Lupica, who doesn't seem to know much more about politics than he did about sports, labeled him as "phony," and says he'll be "one term and out." And the NY Post, who attacked Spitzer with a kind of venom that was extraordinary even for them, claims that: we miss Client 9 in one of the most hilarious editorials I've seen in a while,. Gimme a break.

One can certainly criticize the governor for taking too long, and for thinking out loud too much and too often. But c'mon, it was the press itself who turned this thing into a circus, with its obsession with Caroline Kennedy's bid, its focus on meaningless polls, and its unrelenting questioning and probing of the governor's intentions. I think we were just seeing Paterson's folksy and irreverent style in response, and I don't believe it will ultimately have any effect whatsoever on his reelection prospects. His electoral fate will ultimately be determined by his handling of the budget negotiations over the next few months, and this messy affair will become a distant memory.

Where Paterson really did go wrong was the critical remarks about Ms. Kennedy that "leaked" from his office after she withdrew. Although he's now attempting to deny his involvement, Elizabeth Benjamin had reported in the News that one of his paid consultants was behind it all; Fred Dicker calls him a liar. I think that this criticism is all completely valid, and that Paterson screwed up here. But, while not defending his actions, who can blame the governor for being pissed off? And for trying to make it clear that he wasn't going to pick her anyway? He would have been a goof-ball in my eyes if he had. Far too many people had far too many things to say about Ms. Kennedy, and statements by people like Bloomberg's aide Kevin Sheekey that he was nearly obligated to pick her if the state wanted a piece of the bailout pie, were way beyond the were implications to that effect like her endorsement by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. So I find his desire to push back to be completely understandable, if totally misguided. Paterson didn't at all need to condone leaks from his office to the effect that she wasn't qualified for the job - she clearly demonstrated that herself.

And by the way, Josh Isay, the consultant who did such a masterful job running Ms. Kennedy's "campaign" into the ground, was rewarded with a new gig. I'm telling you man, I'm in the wrong business...

Sunday, January 25, 2009

True Love in Queens

That's the Big A, as depicted in the amazing Panorama of the City of New York, originally constructed for the 1964 World's Fair (yeah, I was there), and now permanently housed at the Queens Museum of Art in Flushing Meadow Park. It's accurate down to the building level, and if your house or apartment was built before 1992, you can find it there, though you might have to bring your binoculars. And it's one place where the Twin Towers still stand tall.

I suppose that, in 1964, when Aqueduct was averaging crowds of 31,500......on Mondays!......people might have thought that the model of Aqueduct seemed vast and empty. Now, it just looks like Aqueduct. Who's to say at this point what that spot will look like if they update the Panorama in ten years?

It's not too often that you get an artsy Manhattan crowd more than a couple of subway stops into this vast borough, as the Head Chef is all too often eager to point out. We have a love-hate relationship with Queens - I love it, and she hates it. Must have been true love for her to abandon her beloved West Village to come out and live with me here. But the Queens Museum threw a big opening reception for its new Queens International exhibit on Saturday night, and man, the place was rockin'. A huge, hip crowd, DJ's, live music, and some "performance art" in the form of BMX trick ramp bicyclists. I've been in that Panorama many times, but never before when it was infused with throbbing hip-hop and metal, and it seemed an altogether befitting effect.

It was all free, though $5 donations were gently requested at the door. And that includes the wine and beer. That's right, free booze. One of the really cool things about NYC that flies a bit under the radar is the phenomenon of free wine at gallery openings. Don't usually see them at museums as in this case; but if you're on a gallery mailing list or, better yet, just happen to be cruising by one at the right time, you can come in from the cold and down a little extra warmth as well. I mean, where else around here does one get to drink for free?

We were surprised to see one particular exhibit, as we had recently seen and marveled over it at another gallery in Queens.

Flesh of My Flesh is constructed entirely out of second hand clothing, and the artist, Derick Melander, originally hails from our second favorite city in New York State.

There was also food (not free) available from winners of the 2008 Vendy Awards for best street food. Unfortunately they were outside, where the weather had turned bitterly cold, and, worse yet, the deep freeze was not dissuading people from waiting on line. So it must have been true love that, though this particular food was not for me, I stood on line out there for nearly a half hour for the Head Chef, who was digging the warmth and the music inside.

It was worth it though, because she loved the food. And the scenery was cool too.

Dishonest Services

The State of New York and its citizens paid defendant JOSEPH L. BRUNO a salary for his honest services, but, as a result of the scheme and artifice to defraud, to their detriment, were deprived of such honest services and instead received dishonest services.
So reads Section 20 of the eight count indictment (pdf via the Times Union with h/t to blogger Saratogaspa) handed down by a grand jury against the former Senate Majority Leader after an investigation which dragged on for three years.
Acting U.S. Attorney Andrew T. Baxter and FBI Special Agent-in-charge John Pikus said New York's ''byzantine'' legislative structure made the investigation difficult because so many political decisions, including bills and spending measures, are made behind closed doors. [Albany Times Union]
The document lays out, in clear and surprisingly readable terms, its allegations of Bruno's use of his political power for personal gain. It methodically recounts various entities depicted as shell companies designed to cover-up the payments, and specifies various failures to disclose his relationships and income to ethics panels, colleagues, and the SEC.

By tying the various alleged activities to specific instances of interstate emails, electronic bank deposits, and snail mailings, the grand jury indicted Bruno on charges of theft of honest services, a controversial prosecutorial tool which you can read more about here and here if you're interested. The best I can understand it, and any lawyers out there are invited to correct me if I'm wrong, it basically obviates the need for the prosecution to be at all specific as to motives and tangible damages caused.

There's not much here about Bruno's thoroughbred dealings; surprisingly, the broodmare transaction with Earle Mack which was just recently reported to be a continuing matter of the FBI's interest, is not part of the indictment. Instead, it alleges that Jared Abbruzzese compensated for the early termination of a consulting contract with one of his companies by paying Bruno $80,000 for a horse described as "virtually worthless." (And I certainly trust that Abbruzzese found a nice home for the animal, if it really changed hands.)

However, though racing is not a key part of the charges, it's been variously reported over the months years since the probe became known publicly that this all may have started when a lobbying investigation into Abbruzzese's jet flights, provided to Bruno around the time that the former was getting involved with Friends of New York/Empire Racing's franchise bid, drew the attention of the FBI.

Bruno of course lashed out against the charges and employed his usual boxing reference in his vow to fight them.
“I’ve been a fighter. And I don’t plan on changing now.”
“There is a frightening message to all elected officials who are not wealthy and who have to work to make a living....You, too, can become target practice with a statute that can infer, insinuate and imply because they can’t find the facts to make a criminal case.” [NY Times]
And indeed, many of the allegations in the document are vague ones that the prosecutors will need to make clear. There are references to companies and unions pursuing unspecified interests before the state and to Bruno taking similarly unnamed "discretionary official action" to the benefit of those companies, accusations that Bruno "did not provide consulting services commensurate with payments he received," and, in one case, an alleged "oral agreement" at the heart of one of the counts. These will all surely be subject to highly conflicting spins from each side and may be hard to prove. Perhaps more difficult for Bruno - and this is all, of course, merely this layman's point of view - will be the matters of non-disclosures and ethics violations involving specific statutes that are named.

In any event and in my view, United States Of America v. Joseph L. Bruno is as much an indictment of Albany politics as anything else. I believe that Bruno is more a product of the environment in which he operated than a truly evil man (discussed in more detail in this post). The real problem is spelled out in Section 2 of the indictment, in which Bruno's duties as the Senate Majority Leader are laid out as follows.
(a) controlling the Senate's agenda and deciding whether bills would be brought to the Senate floor for vote; (b) together with the Governor and the Speaker of the Assembly, deciding which proposed budget appropriations would be funded in the annual state budget and (c) deciding how funds allocated to the Senate Majority for, among other things, member and line items, would be disbursed.
That's far too much power in far too few hands for a representative democracy, and, sorry for the cliché, but power breeds corruption as we know all too well, so what do we expect?

- One other comment, on the speculation that Spitzer was behind the investigation, or that his being indicted now has something to do with the incoming Obama administration. It's entirely possible that Spitzer, vindictive as he was, could have spurred on the Justice Department early on. However, the investigation continued and intensified long after Spitzer resigned. And it was also conducted by a Justice Department under Bush which was highly politicized. So I don't buy any of that talk one bit.

Sunday Morning Notes - Jan 25

David Jacobson has had his share of high priced claims go sour, but he's apparently undeterred. He took Fujita from Pletcher for $75,000 from Saturday's third. The stakes placed son of Lion Hearted was a close second as the 2-1 favorite, behind the well-bet Shoptate ($9.90), a winner for trainer Steve Jerkens, two winners and a second in his mere four starters at the meeting. This lightly raced five-year old son of Orientate is out of a Dehere half-sister to Miss Shop, a multiple graded winner for the trainer's father Allen.

A couple of well-bet three-year old first-timers at Gulfstream for the Toddster with differing results. La Rocca was 7-2 in the 5th, but the daughter of Toccet broke poorly and flattened out to 5th after recovering to flash some early speed. The winner was another debut runner, Indy's Sonata ($49.80), the first such winner for trainer Michael Matz since La Menina won her debut at Saratoga in July, 2007, some 71 starters ago (and she's entered in the 9th today at GP). The breakthrough comes just about in time for him to start that Barbaro brother horse too. Indy's Sonata is by AP Indy out of the graded stakes winner Golden Sonata (Mr. Prospector).

In the 5th, Pletcher unveiled Dunkirk, a $3.7 million yearling purchase for the Coolmore folks. Sent off as the 8-5 favorite, the son of Unbridled's Song out of the G1 winner Secret Status (AP Indy) also broke poorly. But this one swung six wide after encountering traffic on the turn, blew by the field and drew off to win by almost six. Before you get too excited though, consider this: John Velazquez rode Kings Village for Albertrani instead, and it seems highly doubtful that would be the case if Pletcher thought he had a big horse. In addition, take a look at the extent to which this race fell apart; after three horses sparred on top in quarters of 22.35 and 23, the subsequent quarter took an imponderable 26.76. So the breadth of the horse's move may have looked far better than it really was. Though he finished up in a respectable 12.90, I'm not at all interested in any futures lines on this one.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Attention Shoppers

Open up any newspaper on any day, and there they are - desperate retailers, especially those of the luxury category, offering their wares at just a fraction of their original retail value. Designer Sale - Now Up to 75% off at Barney's, itself said to be up for sale by its Dubai-based owners. Save 75% on every single one-of-a-kind handmade oriental rug at Bloomies. Fur Consolidation Sale and Clearance 50%-70% off plus an extra 20% off (sounds almost free) at Macy's. All Stores, All Floors, up to 75% off original prices at ABC Carpet & Home. It's pretty grim out there. The only shopping bags I notice on the streets these days are from Century 21 (happily opening a new store right here in Rego Park, and check out that groovy music on their website).

While the flea market at the Big A is closed until spring, shoppers can certainly find deep discounts at the races there. We continue to see a plethora of claiming horses dropping drastically in price, as owners seek to make a quick score of the generous purse money and/or rid themselves of unwanted and, perhaps, damaged goods. That leaves us horseplayers in the dark as to the real motives behind the markdowns, and we're just guessing, really. One reader has been advocating mandatory examinations and X-rays for horses dropping at least two claiming levels, meant both as a deterrent toward cruelty and as a consumer confidence builder for punters.

The tote board on occasion will provide a clear clue. Take Friday's 4th - Larrys Revenge, the 2-1 favorite dropping to cheap claimers for Zito - was stone cold dead on the board at 4-1. Steve in nc wrote: "Looking at the tote, Larry's Revenge is suddenly playable," but man, I throw those horses out faster than the president is discarding the remnants of the prior administration. The horse showed little and ran 6th. However, at least one bargain shopper wasn't deterred, as Jacobson took him for 20K on a lively day at the claim box. Volos paid $4.30, another winner for Asmussen; I knew the 3-1 ML was too good to be true. But nothing doing for Baroness in the 6th, and the barn had "only" that one winner out of four starters.

In the first, owner Mike Repole dropped two horses recently claimed for 30K down to 14K. One of the Best ($7.10) proved best, for trainer Greg DiPrima, who has also scored with dropdowns Kamboo Bay and True Rebel at this meet. But Sea of Trees, claimed by Scott Lake from Contessa last month, took an immediate 53% drop in price and ran over 20 lengths behind. Both were claimed, the winner by Chip Dutrow, the other by Joe Imperio.

In the 5th, Incanzaldo ($7.50), claimed for 80K last January at Gulfstream by owner Paul Pompa (nostalgic perhaps for a horse who ran in the only race in which he ever owned Big Brown), was in for 25K here in his first race since March. Transferred to the care of Kasey K's trainer Bruce Brown, slumming it here I see, he won off by more than six. Similar scenario to Larrys Revenge, but this one was bet down to 5-2 from his 5-1 morning line; though while the bettors were trusting, Incanzaldo went unsold. I think we'll see him marked up next time.

And in the 9th, Kiaran McLaughlin completed a sweep of the late double with Eldaafer ($7.70). This Shadwell homebred son of AP Indy was fairly impressive in his maiden win at Belmont in September. But after floundering in two dead-on-the-board allowance races, he was put on sale here for a mere $20,000. John Toscano was happy to oblige, claiming him for himself. McLaughlin now has 13 winners out of 39 starters (33%) on the inner track.

Good Riddance

Joaquin Memphis ($13.40) was a winner off the drop in class for Kasey K in the 9th yesterday, quite a surprise after his non-performing 66 length loss in his last. I didn't write about the race beforehand, partly because I didn't really know what to say. Certainly didn't want anyone to think I was touting him (didn't have a penny on him myself); but on the other hand, didn't, and couldn't, write anything that may have dissuaded anyone who might want to take him off our hands, as unlikely as that seemed at the time.

As it turned out, he was indeed claimed, and we couldn't be more pleased. Not that there's a thing wrong with the horse physically. But he's an extremely difficult animal with a mind and will of his own, and Bruce Brown struggled mightily to try and figure him out. He couldn't even get him to complete a timed workout in the A.M. Richard Violette, who we claimed him from for 30K, claimed him back for 16K, and maybe he knows the key and was chuckling to himself while he floundered for us, awaiting the chance to take him back on the cheap. I'll be looking for Violette to move him back up in class, and perhaps he's worth following.

The feeling is that we can chalk up yesterday's win to jockey Ramon Dominguez, who had to ride and prod him every step of the way after a halting start which appeared to spell doom. Joaquin Memphis earned $12,000 for the win; add in the claim proceeds, and not a bad day for a horse which I feared might have to be written off.

Where I Get to Brag About Something

Haven't had much to do so as far as my race handicapping goes lately, and I'm off to a miserable start today. So you know I'm going to point out that I predicted that Governor Paterson would select Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand as Hillary Clinton's replacement in the Senate way back on December 2 (scroll down please). And I defended it against mocking criticism here, stood my ground at the height of Caroline-mania here and here, and started to smell the finish line when Ms. Kennedy was a late scratch here.

Of course, I don't mean to ride too high on the horse because, after all, politics in New York is all about self-interest, and I find that far easier to decipher than the Daily Racing Form. But I think I'm due a fair amount of props here, don't you?

Aqueduct Friday

In the second at the Big A on Friday, Supervision (3-1) drops in class for Levine, who missed sweeping the late double on Thursday by a head and nose. Not much to say here; just looks like a standout on class. Charming Mandate (2-1) beat several of these last out.

In the third, Gold for the Queen (6-1) moves up from the maiden ranks for trainer Charlton Baker. But she's faced winners before, in state-bred stakes races at the Finger Lakes. Those were her first two career starts, so her connections must have thought highly of this daughter of Gold Token, who brought only $2000 as a yearling. She's improved her Beyers in all three races since then, and defeated Rightly So, a very well-meant first-timer from Zayat and Anthony Dutrow who finished ten lengths ahead of the rest of the field. My Anguilla (8-5) was beaten at 2-5 in her first start against winners, as she ran into a bit of a buzzsaw in Yo Karakorum. Big fig when she graduated two back, so she'll a) be a short price again, and b) be tough if she gets loose. Here's hoping that the two inside horses can prevent the latter; Our Special Effort (8-1) needs a better start in her first start for trainer Randi Persaud, 11-3-2-2 off the claim.

In the 4th, Volos drops for Asmussen, 28-11-6-4 on the inner track. Just 3/4's back of the hard hitting Charging Hero in his last; and the 5th and 6th place horses came back to win. Looks too easy here at 3-1 morning line. Larrys Revenge (2-1) is a $250,000 Vindication colt who was third in the Gotham last spring. Been away since May, and drops drastically for Zito, sound familiar?

In the 6th, here's Asmussen again, this time with Baroness (4-1), stretching out after running second far behind the impressive Lights Off Annie. Excellent two turn form in her prior races, at Woodbine, with a mark of 9-4-0-2 in routes on the Poly there.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


That's the mood behind a couple of news items this evening. Irene Posio is out as the Chief Financial Officer of NYRA. When we last saw Ms. Posio, Governor Paterson's budget director Laura Anglin was telling her that she was a "little concerned" about the revenue and expenditure assumptions in NYRA's budget. And she was promising to get back to Ms. Anglin with more information, particularly with respect to personnel costs. Approval of the budget was deferred until that time.

NYRA's communications director John Lee, in a, yes, terse statement, said:

"Irene is no longer with the company....Yesterday was her final day. Other than that we won't have any further comment on personnel matters." [DRF]
So who knows what happened, I'm not even going to speculate. Except that Lee's comment is extremely similar to what he said when Gavin Landry left the company in September. “We’re not commenting on personnel matters, but this was Gavin’s last day here today." I think he needs a new repertoire for these situations. There was at least one report that performance issues were behind Landry's departure. OK, so maybe I'm speculating anyway.

The big news of the night is that Caroline Kennedy is out. [Or is she??] So, happily, I won't have to write that "I was wrong, I admit it" post. [Or will I?] Again in this case, no details have yet been offered. The reasons offered range from "personal reasons," to "concerns about the health of her uncle," to, my personal favorite, "Gov. David Paterson wasn't going to choose her." [NY Post]

The last explanation comes despite a growing tide of expectation that the governor was indeed going to pick her. Some of that was generated by a Fred Dicker column which really only said that some other aspirants to the seat were thinking that the fix was already in for Ms. Kennedy. "It's been a done deal from the start," said an anonymous contender. How writers such as the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza turned that bit of pre-emptive sour grapes into a report that Paterson had settled on Ms. Kennedy, I can't say. Still, some felt that the political pressure for Paterson to pick her, given her connections to the new president, would ultimately prevail.

If she really is out, Andrew Cuomo will be at the center of speculation, even though he's given mixed signals, and has privately expressed mixed feelings about seeking the Senate seat. I'd still be surprised - he seems to relish his present job, which provides him the kind of power, prestige, and pedestal which a junior Senate seat may not. And I don't know how it would fit in with his ambitions, which I think includes being Governor of New York in 2014 (if not sooner).

Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand has been getting increasing attention of late. The Times reports that "television news crews were staking out Ms. Gillibrand’s home in Washington on Wednesday night." Not all of the attention has been good however, as she's drawn fire from gun control groups over her 'A' rating from the NRA.
“We appreciate hunting rights in our family,” Gillibrand said, declaring herself “very pro Second Amendment.” [Capitol Confidential]
But that's part of the reason I've thought all along that she has a big shot. She would give the 2010 Democratic ballot the kind of geographical, gender, and ideological balance that I believe Paterson wants.

Cappelli Seeking Some (More) Stimulus

Louis Cappelli is quite the determined man as he forges ahead, against the economic tides tsunami, with his grand Concord project which will include the new Monticello Raceway, without doubt the biggest event the harness industry in this state will have seen in many a decade. (This assuming that the raceway is able to persuade creditors to hold their horses on $65 million in debt that is due in July.) Cappelli has managed to win a myriad of tax breaks, financing from unusual sources, and an unprecedented 75% share of VLT revenues.

Now, according to the Times Herald-Record, he's looking for a piece of the federal government stimulus package too!

The developer plans to bond up to $450 million through the Sullivan County Industrial Development Agency to build public portions of the project, including the parking garages, events center and theater.

But with the worldwide lending crisis, the bond market is extremely poor right now, says Cappelli's executive vice president, Joe Apicella. That's why the developer and his partners put in a request with their federal lawmakers to tap into economic stimulus money. They hope to use federal money to guarantee the bonds to make them marketable. Cappelli says he is looking to bond about $100 million in the first phase of the project and $300 million in the second phase.

"The entire municipal bond market has stalled in all states," Cappelli said.
The state of the muni market has implications for the Big A racino as well since the cost of construction is supposed to be covered by $250 million in bond issues. Maybe if Delaware North and lawmakers in Albany had just a fraction of the drive and creativity shown by this guy, the project wouldn't be stalled as it is.

Cappelli's project came up last week during the contentious hearings conducted by Assemblyman Richard Brodsky regarding the Yankees' request for more tax-free bonds to complete their new stadium. Team president Randy Levine came obviously well-prepared for Brodsky's scathing criticism of the scheme.
He called Brodsky a "hypocrite" for voting for a $105 million cash bailout for the New York Racing Association, tax incentives for Monticello Raceway, and video lottery terminals for Yonkers Raceway several months ago.

Records show that from 2003 to 2007, Brodsky collected $71,200 in campaign contributions from horse-racing interests, including Kylie Travis, wife of developer Louis Cappelli, the largest shareholder in Empire Resorts, which operates Monticello Raceway.

"Some deals are good deals and some deals are bad deals," Brodsky said of his votes, adding Cappelli is a longtime friend whose involvement with Monticello Raceway began two years after the contributions. [NY Post]
- As reported in the Times yesterday, the so-called 'millionaires tax' will no doubt be a key component of the negotiations in Albany over how to close the state's $15 billion budget deficit. I was interested to read in the article that "the richest 1 percent of New Yorkers paid more than 40 percent of the income tax in 2007, up from about 30 percent in 1996." That seemed quite familiar because it's always been my understanding that, similarly, a very small percentage of bettors comprise an outsize share of betting handle at the track. That got me thinking that if we raised the takeout on those biggest bettors, any short-term increase in the state's share would likely be offset by driving them away. And that, of course, is one of the arguments, rejected out of hand by us Democrats, against taxing the rich in the state. So it follows that I started thinking that maybe that's not such a good idea either, and that, my God, am I turning Republican?? :-0

Moving On

Rap Tale came out of the Affectionately better than she did after the Ladies Handicap; that according to trainer Bruce Brown (four for his last 12 at the Big A, with two of those coming off claims). What's next is unclear. Part of the problem is that she won out of her first two allowance conditions at Philly Park in relatively slow races and against moderate competition. As Bob asked me yesterday, do you think she'd really have a better chance in a NW3x allowance here than she did in these two stakes? I mean, Yet Again hadn't been running any faster than Rap Tale of late. And this race fell apart badly. The winner only had to come home in 25.64 and 6.94 in the last three sixteenths to draw away by three! Who's to say that Rap Tale couldn't have not only gotten third, but won the whole thing had it unfolded differently?

A starters allowance or handicap might be a good spot as a reader suggested, but she's not eligible for the starters allowances we've been seeing, which generally exclude winners of a race other than maiden or claimer. And the starter handicaps have been for horses who have started for 16k or less, which she's also not eligible for. Another option is an optional claiming race with the lower allowance conditions which she's already surpassed; but we don't want to risk her for a tag at this point in time. Bruce Brown has done a good job scoping out those races at Philly, and I imagine she may ship out of town again. Further down the road, we'd like to give her another shot on the grass, and Virginia-bred stakes at Colonial are a possibility for later in the year.

Wherever she runs, it's a fair bet she'll have a different rider. Mike Luzzi told Bob after the race that Rap Tale was feeling so good that he decided to let her run, contrary to instructions. I don't make a habit of criticizing these guys - we all know the dangers they face each time they hop aboard, and they are regularly faced with split second decisions involving strategy and safety that are easy to second guess. So I generally don't, and I think that the record (in the form of this blog's archives) would back that up, other than some incidents of excessive or reckless whipping. But this was really, really disappointing. And it's been pointed out to me that Luzzi had ridden Spritely in her last four races, and was bumped for Dominguez by Pletcher here....and I'll just leave that at that. The Toddster's filly slowed to such a dead walk at the end that Rap Tale actually came within a length of catching her, and she then took a scary bad step after the wire.

- Jerry Bossert reported in the Daily News this past weekend that Underground Hero, who broke down in the second race on Friday, was the third fatality of 2009 at the Big A. This was a cheap maiden claiming race, so I didn't notice any of those schmaltzy oh my god isn't it terrible columns or blog posts like we saw for Wanderin Boy or Indyanne.

The thing is that, while only fanatical loonies would accuse the connections and/or riders of top stakes horse of cruelty, as we saw with Eight Belles, the case of Underground Hero is the kind about which far more reasonable (as in, sane) people could certainly be asking questions. The $160,000 son of Mineshaft debuted for a 75K tag in November, and passed tired horses for 5th. Here, in his second start, he was in for 16K, and was sent off at 8-5, yuck. While I have every confidence that Nick Zito would not have started the horse if he felt he was in danger, the appearance is bad, and would probably draw an investigation and statement by the stewards as a matter of routine in some racing jurisdictions overseas.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Tuesday Morning Notes - Jan 20

Gallant Again ($3.40) took Monday's opener, and he is the third winner at the Big A for Michael Maker/Ken Ramsey; still no value to be found with these guys however. El Chile Dog was way dead on the board for Jacobson, and was claimed by Contessa for Winning Move after losing by 20 lengths.

In the second, Monastir took some late action on the nose, but was flat footed at the start and didn't show much after that. Inger Management ($11.40), shipping in from Philly Park, is the first winner in New York for trainer John Servis since Round Pond won the Acorn in June, 2005. He'd only, however, run 11 horses here since then, so he's a rare presence here indeed. Nice spot for this NY-bred three-year old gelded son of Kafwain; a half-brother to the state-bred stakes winner Gold Like U.

Around 25-30 years ago, at a point when I was still blissfully ignorant of the finer points of the game, I would have had this horse for sure, no question. His last race was much improved with blinkers on, and he had, by far, the highest last-out 'speed rating plus track variant' total. Basic stuff, easy game. I could have handicapped that in five minutes, and under ample influence. Why is it so damn complicated now?

Jimmy Winkfield winner Taqarub is now unbeaten in three, and I wrote about his pedigree and his exiled stallion in this post.

Contessa took the 5th with class dropper Indy's Forum ($4.70), who was taken by Randi Persaud for 10K. Persaud has had trouble making it to the winner's circle thus far at this meet, but he's shown the ability to move horses up. This filly has done better than this, and I'll be curious to see where her new barn places her next. One horse in the Persaud barn which I've been following with particular fascination is More Than A Reason, who he claimed out of a restricted 15K claimer on Nov 8. He turned around and won against open 50K claimers eight days later, and has since run two close seconds in 75K optional claimers, including in the 5th on Saturday, in what was already his third start of the year!

Mentioned Kafwain above, and he is also the sire of The Pamplemousse, the rather easy winner of the San Rafael on Saturday. The third year stallion is standing in Kentucky for $6500, down from $10,000 last year. The Pamplemousse is out of a Rubiano mare who's a half sister to the dam of 2007 Derby pretender Stormello (himself standing at Vinery for $7500.)

Another stakes winner for Speightstown, already his third of the year; Congor Bay won the San Pedro at Santa Anita on Sunday. Congor Bay is out of Pico Teneriffe, a stakes winning Red Ransom mare; and he's a half brother to the graded stakes (Can) winning Marchfield.

And quite a weekend for the third-year stallion Whywhywhy, standing at Gainsway for $7500, who scored with two graded stakes winners on Saturday. Nownownow upset the G2 San Fernando Stakes for his first win since he took the inaugural BC Juvenile Turf; and Ikigai won the G2 Mr. Prospector at Gulfstream. Since the BC race was not graded at the time, these are actually the first two graded stakes winners for the stallion son of Mr. Greeley.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Monday Morning Notes - Jan 19

A couple of knowledgeable readers wrote in to point out that I was sadly mistaken in this post when I stated that NYRA got a smaller cut of wagers placed on track (or via NYRA Rewards for that matter) on the simulcast signals it offers. In fact, the yield to NYRA is virtually the same for those wagers, as it pays just the relatively small signal fee - perhaps 3-4% - to the originating track. So while simulcasting may very well detract from handle on the live racing, it results in no negative financial impact for NYRA. So, so much for that snarky comparison. But, although I had the facts wrong, the point that the business model needs fixing remains valid, as it's widely accepted that those fees that the tracks get for their exported signals are too small.

I had to run out of the track shortly after the Affectionately yesterday to get home for our dinner party, so I haven't yet gotten the postmortems on that fiasco. When two horses scratched during the day, the field was reduced to four. That meant that Rap Tale needed to beat only one other horse to get her black type; and as cheap as that may have seemed, black type is black type so it seems. The steam started coming out of Bob's ears before the horses even reached the backstretch - running off the flank of the 3-5 favorite Spritely in two opening sub-24 second quarters was obviously not what we had in mind. I'm hoping that he'll calm down enough to discuss this sometime before President's Day. We were actually wishing for a trip along the lines of the winner Yet Again, hoping as we were that Are We Dreamin would be the one challenging the pace. Instead, it was pretty obvious she'd finish last before they hit the final turn. (But yes, the free food in Equestris was cool.)

So, Mr. or Ms. Anonymous, you're free to have your fun at my expense. I think I've been pretty clear all along that I think it's a totally fair point to question her campaign, and that I have mixed feelings on the matter, preferring as I would to run her where she can win. I've certainly criticized others in that regard when it comes to the Triple Crown.

However, having said that, I must point out again that Rap Tale has won three times for Kasey K since we claimed her for 25K in May, and has earned over $100,000 since that time. (And yes, that includes the $3,512 reward for running last yesterday.) And that, if not for the unfortunate mishap at the end of the Ladies Handicap, she would already have had her black type. If you saw her on the track before the race yesterday, I think you'd have to agree that she's happy and healthy, none the worse for the wear, and filling out impressively early in her four-year old year. This is a business after all, and here was a chance to significantly enhance the filly's value. So, I don't feel the necessity to be defensive.....even though that's exactly what I've just done!

Unfortunately, it hasn't quite worked out.....and, to be honest, we'll probably never get a better shot than we have here in the dead of winter at the Big A....especially yesterday, when we only had to beat one horse....for heaven's sake!! So perhaps a return to the allowance ranks will be next. She has at least shown some pretty nice speed in these last two efforts, effectively burying the favorite on the front end in each race.

- In today's second race, Monastir (6-1) debuts for trainer Mark Hennig off a string of nice workouts at the Payson Park training center in Florida. Hennig had a first-time winner named Primary Witness ($15.40) at Gulfstream last Wednesday, and it appears from the workout lines that these two may have been working together. At the least, they did so on the same days, and in comparable fashion. Monastir is by the good first-out sire Malibu Moon (12% according to the Form), out of a Tabasco Cat mare. Inbred thrice to Secretariat, this colt's second dam is a half to the G1 winner Fire the Groom (the dam of Stravinsky); and this is also the distaff family of the current sire Read the Footnotes.

Inauguration Party Game

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Big A Sunday

Winter racing at the Big A is certainly a mixed bag these days. Sometimes we get days filled with competitive races that make it well worth the effort to open the Racing Form. Others, like today, not so - slim pickins here. I imagine I'll be peeking at Gulfstream and Fair Grounds today. That's one of the several odd aspects of the current business model in racing these days. Tracks present competing signals of product far superior to their own. It's like walking into an Islanders game (or a Fall Out Boy concert) and having the option of watching the Rangers (or Sonic Youth) on TV instead - and the host team gets a far smaller cut of the concessions purchased by those watching the imported signals. Doesn't make much sense, does it?

Well, here's a couple of thoughts on today's card anyway. In the second, Jacobson drops the 11-year old gelding Tour of the Cat (7-2) off the claim - from the 16K he took him for at Calder to bottom basement 7500's today. The barn won with its last two off-the-claim droppers here - both on Jan 2. That Calder effort was a poor one, but this venerable son of Tour d'Or won twice against better just this past summer and fall, and can bounce back against a lackluster field here. Por Favor (8-5) dropped in class off a win for Contessa in his last, a negative sign for this son of the same stallion. Eight of his l4 career wins, including that one two back, have come on off tracks, and I don't expect one today despite the light snow falling here this morning.

In the 7th, Joe Corrigan (5-1) shows some OK form for trainer Rodrigo Ubillo if you take out the turf and sealed main track races. He encountered some traffic in his last, swung out and finished gamely in an all-out duel for the show spot against Borrowing Limit, a horse who would have a good shot for the win spot in this race. Switches apprentices to Maylan Studart, who piloted this barn's Beequeone to the winner's circle on Thursday. Leap Day (5-2) has twice been little threat at 8-5 since graduating to this class; and Urban Flight (3-1) has burned his share of money at this level as well. Best of luck and have a great day.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Affectionately Story: Searching For Black Type, Part IV

- Rap Tale starts from the three post in Sunday's Affectionately Handicap, and she's 12-1 in the morning line to finish third, and thus earn the black type that we've been advised would double her value as a broodmare.

Well, of course, that's 12-1 to actually win the race; but that seems like an underlay to me. I'd rate her fair chance for third at half to three-quarters that. Just six in the field, so she only has to beat three; problem is that there are three fillies in here who are clearly faster based on Beyers, and she has to somehow beat one of them. Ramon Dominguez, who may have cost Rap Tale third in the Ladies Handicap with his extraneous late whip which caused her to duck into the rail, hops off for favored Spritely, 9-5 for the Toddster, six for 27 (22%) at the winter meeting (as Mike Luzzi, bumped from that one, ends up on Rap Tale). She took a stumble at the start of the Restored Hope, though I don't know that that was the cause of her fading to second at 1-2. Her best race was in the slop, and I think she's questionable value at her morning line here.

I prefer Are We Dreamin (3-1), a winner, in her only two turn race, in the You B Surprised, by a nose over Weathered. The latter didn't exactly distinguish herself in that stakes last week against Awesome Ashley (5th in the You B Surprised). But Are We Dreamin already had her bounce race, a no-shot 4th in the six furlong Interborough against Zada Belle, and the stretch out should help in this spot.

But, whatever. It gets more interesting as far as we're concerned when you get to Successful Sarah (7-2). This four-year old daughter of Successful Appeal was claimed for a mere 8K by IEAH at Calder. Since then, in allowance company there, she's a nose short of being unbeaten in three; and she won her last two while climbing the class ladder by a combined 12 lengths. The 97 Beyer she earned two back is easily the best fast track number in the field. The question is how legit those numbers will be up here; she certainly beat nobody special down there.

So herein lies the key I think, and it could actually go a couple of different ways. If Successful Sarah isn't really that good, then maybe she will fade enough late that Rap Tale can overtake her. On the other hand, if she's legit, then maybe she can harass Spritely and they'll both weaken. I expect Are We Dreamin to run well in any event. If either of these scenarios does unfold, then I think Rap Tale probably has as good a chance as the other two to grab the show spot - and that includes Contessa's Point Me To It (7-2).

This of course is all under the assumption that Rap Tale is not going to find herself on the lead against these as she did in the longer Ladies. (Interestingly, her Moss pace numbers for that race match up against anyone's here.) Since Bruce Brown will be out of town, Bob will be giving instructions to Luzzi, and I just may get my three cents in too! We'll be up in Equestris, as I'm told there's free food for us stakes horse owners. I'll be the guy periodically checking out the Rangers game.

While this is going on, the Head Chef will be preparing a patriotic meal of baked ham and sausages for a pre-inauguration celebration we're hosting here tomorrow evening. President-Soon-To-Be Obama will be in search of some black type too - on the Fed's balance sheet! I highly suggest that we all wish him well. Have a great Saturday.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Same Meeting, Different Take

- With the Albany press corp focusing on the New Order in the New York Senate and the drama of Governor Paterson's selection of the new junior Senator from New York State (the climax of which is said to be coming "Very, very, very soon"), it's been left it to the local Queens papers to report on developments in the saga of the thus-far mythical Aqueduct racino; specifically last week's presentation by Delaware North officials to Community Board 10.

And it's certainly interesting, and possibly quite revealing, to see that, on Thursday, the Queens Chronicle presented the affair in a whole different light than the Queens Courier did the day before.

Much to the surprise of Community Board 10 members, Delaware North Companies announced at last week’s meeting in South Ozone Park they have not yet set a date to begin construction of the long-awaited video lottery terminals at Aqueduct Racetrack.

A Delaware North representative said once documents are signed with the state and architectural work is completed, construction of the facility would take 14 months. [Queens Chronicle]
It's almost like there were two different sessions. The Courier article, by contrast, said that Delaware North had "finalized a contract" to construct the place; and quoted Assemblywoman Audrey Pfeffer as saying, "I'm very excited!" (Exclamation point added by me for effect.) Which depiction of the tone of the meeting do you believe?

A lot of really worthy comments on the last post on the subject; the kind of intelligent discourse which keeps me going here after nearly four years of doing this thing. One anonymous poster pretty much sums it up when he or she asks, " maybe things are happening there that the public can't see?" Indeed, this entire process has been completely behind closed doors ever since the Ad Hoc Committee, which was, by contrast, one of the most transparent processes that I've seen.

Another reader notes the more competitive pricing in Pennsylvania, and wonders why New York farms are not being creative in their marketing efforts. One horsemen is shipping mares out to PA; and, in response to El Angelo's question, explains his reasoning.

And to the Watchful Horseman, whose kind words are much appreciated, you seem pretty knowledgeable yourself! I've actually been learning from you, as I do from all of my commenters....well, most of them anyway.. I would hope that I can assist you best by performing what I see as one of my functions as a opposed to that of a journalist (oh no, not that again). That is, to take all of the news reported by the real reporters, weed out the bullshit, find discrepancies as the one above, pose questions about both the news itself and the way it's being reported (or not), present what I see to be the real facts in a clear and objective manner, and then, when warranted in my own humble opinion, rip them to shreds.

For example, any ol' reporter could have read Paterson's Belmont proposal and given his editor 1000 words. But what did it mean? To me, the fact that a memo regarding slots at Belmont would contain a provision conditionally raising Delaware North's percentages at Aqueduct has to mean that the company is seeking to renegotiate their deal there. Add in the continuing delay since the deal was announced, and one might deduce that those negotiations are progressing slowly, if at all. I might turn out to be completely wrong, but that's my informed opinion, and it's my hope that I can be of some assistance in some way as you reach yours.

Paul Morose, whose post a week ago still has some sensitive bloggers up in arms, and whose own "blog" is wrapped in more ads than the sideboards at an NHL game, was off to Central America to spread his special brand of gloom beyond the borders. But I see that he checked in, reprinting some press releases in their entirety, and providing another one line tout to promote his paid handicapping site. There must be a name for that, but I know that it's neither blogging nor journalism.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Hunch Bets for Friday, Jan 16

Rescue Squad - 7th at Gulfstream
Hit the Target - 2nd at Charles Town
Flying Enough - 3rd at Tampa Bay Downs
Bliss Landing - 2nd at Turfway Park
Just Charmed - 3rd at Santa Anita

Notes - Jan 15

Wish I'd had some time to get into some of the races at the Big A today, as it actually seemed like a fairly interesting card with some lively claiming events, and even a nice maiden special event on tap. From a gambling perspective, I'll take these dead of winter days over those five Grade 1's with five horse fields and 3-5 favorites days any day.

Well, at least I got a play at Gulfstream from DiscreetCat for ya:

Gulfstream - Race 3

#6 Sartorius (8/1 ml)

Okay, let's try this again. As mentioned yesterday, Sartorius tied for the fastest quarter at the June OBS (21.1), and more recently worked heads-up three straight times with the older stakes winner Fierce Wind, who took the Sam Davis @ Tampa Bay Downs last year. Obviously, this horse was entered yesterday going 6 1/2 furlongs, but scratched in order to run in this one-mile race. I wasn't happy about that, but it's worth mentioning that Sartorius was actually entered last week going 1 1/16 miles on turf, but landed on the also-eligible list and didn't draw in. That, combined with the fact he scratched to run one mile today, indicates that trainer Phipps must feel strongly that Sartorius wants some more ground. So despite my reservations, the longer distance may well be to his benefit. Also of note is that the hot-riding Kent Desormeax takes the call today (rather than yesterday's listed rider Joe Bravo). Kent was actually aboard a different horse yesterday (Primary Witness), and that horse won. So it appears that Kent had some interest in riding Sartorius, but passed due to another commitment. Might even be another reason why Sartorius scratched in order to run today. In any case, i'm expecting a good showing from this horse.
And with all due respect to the other entrants (and to Bob and my fellow Kasey K partners), if Rap Tale got the second mention in the NYRA release on Sunday's Affectionately, then I'm figuring that there ain't no Zenyattas in here. I'm all for getting her some black type, but I'd also love to see her spotted where she can win. So here's to getting third place!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Wishful Thinking

A reader mentioned last week that Delaware North was to make a presentation before Community Board 10 in Ozone Park regarding their plans for the mythical Aqueduct racino. On Wednesday, the local Queens Courier reported on the meeting (h/t Albany Law School Racing and Gaming Today), at which representatives from the company said that they could possibly have the South Ozone Park entertainment destination opening its doors in mid-2010.

(If this place is open by mid-2010, say, July 1, I'll skip Belmont that day and instead go play slots for two one hours in an Islanders t-shirt [supplied by reader jk].)

The hybrid racetrack-casino - or racino - will feature a 185,000-square-foot-gaming floor, complete with 4,500 video lottery terminals.

Sultemeier also cited 7,600 parking spaces, including a 2,000-space parking garage, world-class restaurants and food amenities, including a 600-seat buffet, an Italian restaurant and a noodle bar, all ready for opening day.
The first phase of the project is expected to cost $250 million at the start of construction. Another $170 million dollars will be dedicated to maintaining the facility through Delaware North’s 30-year contract with the state.

Delaware North representatives also have plans to construct a 300-room resort hotel and spa, a retail mall, a 3,000-seat events center, and a 60,000-square-foot conference facility in the latter phases of the project. [Queens Courier]
The $250 million construction cost is to be raised via a bond issue; not a really great time for that, of course. And while the article also refers to the "$370 million racetrack project," we know that's just for the rights to build the place. Let's just say that they better already have the cash or financing in place.

Aqueduct Notes

Sorry for the light posting this week...and please bear with me for a few more days.

Trainer Michael Maker and owner Ken Ramsey got off the schneid with their 15th starter at the Big A; Rovic's Wealth ($6.60) recovered from a troubled start and some tight quarters on the turn to go last to first with a late burst to win going away. However, it was a mixed bag for the stable, with Diva's Gold going down at 3-4 in the third, ouch. Nine of their 15 unsuccessful starters have gone off at less than 3-1, so, despite the fact that the barn figures to come around (they have six seconds and four thirds), it's bettors beware.

Jack on the Rocks finished third for Lake, and was claimed by ex-Castle Villager Richie Munk's Funky Munky Stable.

Trainer Bruce Brown claimed Kiss and Fly ($13.20) for 20K out of her last, entered her in the 8th, a Starters Allowance for horses who graduated for 50K or less, AND had never won a race other than. The purse was a whopping $43,000, so the $25,800 winner's share more than covered that tag.

On Sunday, Brown will once again saddle Rap Tale in our continuing quest to get our filly some black type, as she'll go in the Affectionately.

Trainer Greg DiPrima ran Kamboo Man back for $7500 again despite his winning by 14 lengths in his last (in which he'd dropped off a close second for 14K). Only won by three this time.....and trainer Peter Chin, likely holding his breath, took a shot and claimed him, so good luck with that!

Painting a Bleak Picture

Yikes, the results at the Keeneland sale are pretty damn dismal.

But it ain't just the ponies.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Hunch Bets for Tuesday, Jan 13

Give It To Me Cold 8th at Tampa Bay
Unlimited Funds 3rd at Tampa Bay
Shouldntubdointhis 6th at Penn National
Fit For A Fight 5th Philly Park
It's Millers Time 11th at Sunland
Memorable Date 8th at Tampa Bay
Easy But Not Cheap 5th at Portland Meadows
Almost Charming 5th at Turf Paradise

Monday, January 12, 2009

First Dance A Doozy

After getting off to a slow start, Dance Tale ($3.80) just powered by the field in the stretch to win her debut going away. She ran the final two eights in 11.88 and 11.89. She would seem to have a lot of potential; and that makes us owners of her full sister pretty excited, having visions of grandeur as we are for a horse we don't even own. Her final time of 1:11.52 compares favorably with the rest of the day's sprints, especially considering the slow start and her being geared down at the end.

Not quite as favorably though as Karakorum Fugitive (Ten Most Wanted), a state-bred three-year old filly who also broke slow and drew away late, and also won in her third first start, with a final time of 1:11.21. This was another winner for jockey Anna Rose Napravnik, her third of the weekend....and for trainer Jimmy Jerkens, it was his third winner from nine starters on the inner track.

Nkosi Reigns ($5.80) was another class dropping winner for David Jacobson.

Cal Racing has changed the format of their replays, and I can't find the head-on shots, if they still have them. And NYRA's race replays, via Race, just don't work for me, no matter how many times I download Real Player, not on Firefox, Safari, or Explorer, Windows or Mac. So I haven't seen the head-on shot of what happened in deep stretch of Sunday's 9th race.

I did have a dog in the hunt, as I selected runner-up Indymine here, and had a rare straight win bet, away from the action as I was today. So while I may not be exactly impartial here, I must say that, even upon my initial viewing of the standard pan shot, it did seem that something happened to make jockey Orlando Bocachica and his mount suddenly lose the momentum that I thought was going to carry them, and me, to victory. So, lacking all of the necessary visual aids, I'll take the word of the three of the four commenters who say he should have come down, and say....he should have come down!

Pumpkin Shell ($26.80) was dead last down the backstretch in the Busanda on Saturday. She snuck up on the field between horses down towards the inside, evading the notice of track announcer John Imbriale until she was already well on her way to the win. This is a three-year old daughter of Lion Heart, who ended up as #2, behind Tapit, on the 2008 first-year sire earnings list. His 33 winners were the most of any rookie other than Chapel Royal, who had 37. Pumpkin Shell is the fifth stakes winner for Lion Heart. Out of Changing Ways, a graded stakes winning daughter of Time for a Change, she's a half-sister to the grassy stakes winner Pays To Dream (High Yield); and this is the distaff family of Tejano Run, Husband, Simply Majestic, The Deputy, and the Japanese champion King Kamehameha. Wouldn't be surprised to see her on grass at some point.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Oh Sister

Dance Tale, part of a three-horse entry for McLaughlin (8-5) in Sunday's 2nd at the Big A, is a three-year old filly by Tale of the Cat, out of Rap and Dance (Pleasant Tap). That makes her a full sister to Rap Tale. Another cool thing about owning fillies is that they can appreciate in value, and drastically so, based on the exploits of a sibling. Dance Tale debuts off a long steady string of works going back at least to September (and on the Saratoga training track through mid-November). Like As was the case with Rap Tale, she's owned and bred by Edward P. Evans.

Just suppose for a moment that Dance Tale turns out to be a good horse. And that she wins, just sayin', oh, let's see, the Kentucky Oaks, the CCA Oaks, the Alabama, the Gazelle, and the Distaff and comes back at four to be the greatest filly of all time....Then Rap Tale would be worth a lot of money. More then even if she ever gets that black type.

She'll get another shot in the Affectionately next Sunday.

In Sunday's 9th, Indymine (10-1) drops in class for trainer Bernardo Callejas; a similar move to what the trainer employed with Counting House, who I correctly selected as the winner of the 9th on Wedensday. Unlike Counting House, this four-year old son of Mineshaft does not have any sharp back form to reference. But he's shown improved speed of late and, like Counting House, encounters a slow field without much early zip whatsoever. Out of a Blushing John mare who's a half-sister to Preakness runner-up Midway Road, he might be able to outlast this bunch if he can open up a lead. [UPDATE: Better yet, Indymine finished 5th in his last race!]

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Aqueduct Notes

A bombshell for Pletcher in the featured Plankton Stakes on Friday; Awesome Ashley ($24.20) was the clear longest shot in the six horse field. She was 20 lengths behind favored Weathered in the last for both, so this one was pretty tough to make. Perhaps the board was a clue, as she could have been twice those odds or more and nobody would have thought twice.

In the 9th, the Toddster finished 4th with favored Footnote This, as Asmussen won another, with Dark Ops ($6.60), in another state-bred maiden 15K claimer. This barn has ten winners in 25 (40%) starters on the inner track. I mentioned yesterday that Parisella had won three in a row, and his first timer Bentbutnotbroken rallied for second at 6-1 after being pinched back to last after the start.

In Saturday's 1st, Parisella starts Ship's Piano (6-1), dropping him in class, as he did for each of those three winners mentioned above. His last was an even and wide fifth - the chart comment reads Overland, flattened He may prefer one turn, but I like that Ramon Dominguez picks up the mount. Hard Iron (6-1) ran well in his last for 20K; a wide third to two-time repeat winner Reptilian Smarts, who won the 1st for Richard Dutrow. Smooth Wind (7-5) won for 25K two back, then was up the track in the slop; and now appears for a 10K tag. No thanks, standing against.

Always On The Move, who finished 35 lengths behind Haynesfield in the Damon Runyan, took the third, a state-bred entry allowance, by 11 lengths; another winner for Contessa.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Dems Take Charge

- New Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith, the first Democrat to hold the position in 43 years, choked up a bit during his acceptance speech on Wednesday. Maybe it was because his party will now have to take sole ownership of the drastic spending cuts necessary to close the estimated $15 billion budget deficit. The noisy protests by union members opposed to the cuts were only the start of the flak the party will receive.

Nothing substantive really happened in the capital on Wednesday in Albany, for a change. Senator Smith's toned down deal with the three dissident senators which was completed the evening before merely and finally affirmed the majority that the Democrats won electorally in November. And Governor Paterson had little new to say in his memorized State of the State, having presented his budget last month.

No mention of Belmont slots nor, of course, the theoretical racino at the Big A. Here's an anonymous commenter who claims that sources tell him or her that Delaware North is holding out for either an agreement regarding Belmont which would raise their percentage split at the Big A, or for separate relief from the terms which they already agreed to. I wouldn't normally mention hearsay such as that from an Anonymous, but I think that's something that we all already suspect.

Elizabeth Benjamin reported in her Daily Politics blog that the Senate's Racing, Gaming, and Wagering Committee is one of two panels still without an announced chairperson; and that Senator Smith is perhaps reserving it for a Republican as a show of bipartisanship. I'm not sure what that means with respect to how high a priority the matter is to him. But, as a reader pointed out the other day, he seems to be on board with slots at Belmont in any event.

- Matt Hegarty had the story in the Form the other day about NYC OTB's cries of poverty with respect to the court ruling requiring them to pay disputed monies, determined to be in the amount of $15 million, to two harness tracks. OTB says they would have to go to the legislature to seek relief.

"We will be unable to operate effectively unless and until the legislature makes an adjustment to the statute, until we are not required to pay out more than is available from our operating funds," [General Counsel Ira] Block said.
As usual, Joe Faraldo, the hard-driving president of the Standardbred Owners Association of New York, refused to back down one bit.
"They have an obligation under the law to make those payments," Faraldo said. "Nothing can remove those obligations. Frankly, it's quite sad to me to see a state agency say, 'We're not going to pay you.' What, exactly, do we have statutes for?"

If the board does not issue an enforcement order, Faraldo said the horsemen are prepared to go to court to seek a declaratory judgment that would force New York City OTB into bankruptcy if it continues to contend that it cannot make the payments. [DRF]
- And finally, a lot of buzz this week about the chances of Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand to be appointed by Governor Paterson to replace Hillary Clinton in the Senate. She was my pick early on, so I just thought I'd point that out. Ms. Gillibrand is amongst six people known to have completed a detailed questionnaire for the governor (not known if Andrew Cuomo has done so.....I still think he's not interested, despite his dancing around the question).
The form, which was due Thursday, also went to [you know who] Kennedy, [Rep. Steve] Israel and [Rep. Carolyn] Maloney, as well as U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler and Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi. [Times Union]
There was a story earlier in the week that Ms. Gillibrand doesn't get along with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi; I don't really see what that has to do with the matter at hand. With Ms. Clinton scheduled to begin her confirmation hearings next week, it won't be long before we find out who the governor picks. More exciting than the winter stakes at the Big A these days to be sure!