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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Back on Track?

Aqueduct slots get back on track.

At least according to this report in the NY Daily News.

All bids should be received by today and vendors will be required to pay money upfront, said state Sen. Joseph Addabbo, whose district includes the underused racetrack.

“By March 31, we’ll see what kind of bids are out there,” Addabbo said Friday. “We can’t start the [request for proposals] process all over again. Hopefully, this year, we’ll see work and money.”
An ambitious goal indeed considering the years of delay. Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer noted the lack of support for slots at Belmont in the Assembly (meaning, by Sheldon Silver), and explained: "Aqueduct is the home of winter racing. It's centrally located. The train stops right there."

With all due respect, I think that's an argument that Assemblywoman Pheffer doesn't want to make. Belmont clearly has the advantage in that respect with the Long Island Railroad link from Penn Station in Manhattan. Ask the average Manhattanite if he or she would be willing to take the hour-plus ride on the A train to Aqueduct, and they might look at you as if you asked them if they wanted to spend some quality time in the local OTB.

With the budget least in the minds of the three Democratic leaders...perhaps we'll get some more definitive news on the Big A in the next few weeks. Attention is also turning to the plan to save NYC transit riders from the draconian fare hikes and service cuts - including the planned phase-out of that Belmont link - promised by the MTA if no bailout plan is reached in Albany. However, Governor Paterson said today that tolls on the East and Harlem River bridges, a key component of the Ravitch plan, are off the table. Back on January 27, I wrote on this site that the plan to toll those bridges has no shot. And that's just part of my continuing effort, given the rarity of recent successful racing picks, to point out that I am sometimes right about some things.

Fan of the Game

I guess you can't make out the nice tan..

Better yet, the Rangers crushed the Devils in a crucial 3-0 win, played before a raucous Monday night crowd warming up for what we hope will be the playoffs in two weeks. It was a spirited effort all around, and a thorough beating of their chippy and frustrated cross river rivals, losers of five in a row. With Henrik Lundqvist in the nets, the Rangers are 18-6-4 against the Devils record-setting crybaby goalie Martin Brodeur. The Broadway Blueshirts remain in a precarious spot however, with a small cushion over 9th place Florida, and a tough schedule ahead in their final five games. I remain upbeat, as I and just a relative handful of others has throughout the season; but they're not in yet.

Dunkirk Dazzles Too

I know everyone is ga-ga over Quality Road, and not to take anything away from his Florida Derby effort, but I thought Dunkirk really ran a hell of a race as well. I think it certainly would be a mistake to be dismissive of his chances in the Derby....other than of course the minor problem that he may not qualify on graded stakes earnings. It was just his third career start remember; his first against stakes company and his first in five weeks. Quality Road (passing the two-turns test with flying colors) stalked what I suppose was a quick pace. Hard to say for sure given the fast fractions all day and the fact that this was the only two turn dirt race (which makes the winner's 103 figure a bit of a Fake Beyer). But I think one can make the argument that he had a good trip, especially if you accept the notion that the track there was speed favoring.

I mean, you gotta love the way Dunkirk rallied up to the leader in a seemingly effortless manner while five wide; it was kind of comical seeing Johnny V look over his shoulder inside as the challenger was ranging up wide. That was one impressive brush, and from pretty far back too. According to Formulator (and I'm still hopelessly hooked on the software version, even though it requires me to run Windows on my Mac), Dunkirk got the final three eighths in a race-best 36.73, and while taking the circuitous route too. Once he got to the leader, he was confronted with a quality opponent for the very first time. Quality Road was certainly impressive in rebreaking, retaking and retaining his lead. But I didn't see anything that indicates that on another day, with another race under his belt, with a more contentious pace, some added distance, a shorter route home, and, perhaps, a better timed move, Dunkirk couldn't turn the tables. Whether that will happen in the Derby (if he even gets in), I'm not sure; I hate the way he's being campaigned. I love the Toddster as you know, but when it comes to the Derby, he's like a baseball manager who changes his style in the postseason, eschewing the hit and run, or using starters out of the bullpen. Nonetheless I'm putting Dunkirk at #1 in my Paulick list just for fun. I mean, it's supposed to be fun, right?

I also dropped Friesan Fire from second to ninth just because Larry Jones would even consider training this horse up to the Derby. Seven weeks off, and no prep beyond a mile and a sixteenth? Are you kidding me? I'll be betting and rooting in full throat against this one if Jones tries to pull this off, especially since he'll still get bet. Even without the bet, I'd still root against, because it certainly wouldn't be a promising precedent as far as our Derby season goes.

And how nice for the Sheikh of Dubai. He can spend millions to pick off promising two-year olds, bring them home, run them in stakes races which he himself funds with outlandish purses so that they can blow away the American competition on graded earnings and deprive spots to horses of more modest and, perhaps, heartwarming origins. Who's idea was it to count these races towards Derby earnings anyway? Just look at his Royal Sheikhness beaming in this photo; just warms the heart, doesn't it?

And why exactly should I care about Mafaaz?

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Silver in Charge

One of the nine budget bills on the desks of New York State legislators (only seven actually having been printed in time to be passed by the deadline of March 31) is the Education, Labor and Family Assistance Article VII Bill and Revenue Bill [large, and not very interesting, PDF file]. Like the other eight, it was negotiated entirely in secret amongst the three Democrats in a room. This is the section which contains the racing law, and unaltered is the section which prohibits slots at the "racetracks of the non-profit association known as Belmont Park racetrack and the Saratoga thoroughbred racetrack."

As you may recall, there was a time not long ago when it was thought that Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver would use slots at Belmont, which he staunchly opposes, as a bargaining chip to obtain something like the "millionaires" tax agreed to by the three leaders, and which the governor had opposed. Now however, it's been widely reported from Albany that Silver is the one calling the shots given Governor Paterson's continued slide in the polls, and Senate Majority Leader Malcom Smith's tenuous hold on his 32-30 majority which includes indicted Senator Hiram Monsaratte (whose explanation of how his girlfriend came to be accidentally slashed by a broken glass reminds me of this classic SNL skit, and boy I wish I could find that one on You Tube!)

So Silver got his tax (subject to approval on the Senate floor), making only minor concessions, and clearly sounding, at least from Nicholas Confessore's account in the Times, like a man comfortably in charge.

However, in a concession to Senate Democrats, Mr. Silver agreed to allow the new taxes to be phased out after three years, rather than the five years he had originally advocated — a time period that would have created enormous political pressure to maintain the increase indefinitely. In a concession to Mr. Paterson, who favored a simpler structure, the three-bracket rate favored by Mr. Silver was reduced to two. [NY Times]
So I don't know how much we'll be hearing about Belmont in the short-term, especially once the Aqueduct selection fiasco resumes after the budget is finalized.

- Certainly not surprised upon my return from vacation to see that Democrat Scott Murphy leads the Republican Assembly Minority Leader James Tedisco in the latest Siena poll regarding Tuesday's special House election in the 20th CD to replace Senator Gillibrand. Tedisco once led the then-unknown businessman by 12 points, but he has frittered that away with his tacky negative campaign ads and his ridiculous, and clearly failed, attempt to portray Murphy's stated support for the federal stimulus bill as an endorsement of the AIG bonuses. The Democrats are sending in the big guns - a fundraising appeal and a GOTV flyer went out in President Obama's name, and Senator Gillibrand, enormously popular in the region, accompanied Murphy on Sunday. Meanwhile, the Republicans are using Pat Boone.

The poll shows that voters have been turned off by the negative ads by both candidates, but particularly those by Tedisco. "Only 14 percent of those who have seen Tedisco’s commercials are more likely to support him, while 37 percent say the ads make them less likely to support Tedisco (12-28 percent two weeks ago)." Nonetheless, despite those findings, the National Republican Campaign Committee has elected to send in its old standby. That's right, Osama bin Laden himself. Seems that Murphy stated his opposition to the death penalty, even in the case of terrorists, so the obviously desperate GOP rolled out this ad. I think it's fair to say that mostly all of us, Democrats and Republicans not named Rush Limbaugh or Dick Cheney alike, are sick of this crap. Maybe, and hopefully, this ad will actually seal Tedisco's fate. As a commenter on the Times Union's Capital Confidential blog wrote: The NRCC has insisted on putting the nails in Tedisco’s political coffin. I’m expecting a last minute visit from Sarah Palin!

Monday, March 23, 2009

On Vacation

Left at the Gate is closed for vacation until around March 28th or 29th or so. Check out the Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance home page for the latest news and opinion, and a great deal on Formulator.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Thanks LATG

Alan is away, but his co-author (the guy that keeps his standings up to date and finds a Ranger picture every now and then) is still here. And, I thought it would be fun to have a little sign-in book for Left at the Gate so he can come back to so warm wishes. It's gonna be hard to come back and get reconnected to the world.

Alan is one of the original members of the Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance, and at one point he was writing two blogs (the other about the Rangers), but didn't have the words to keep both running I guess, plus the blue shirts haven't really helped his cause.

His first post was 1/6/2005 and since then he has written 3,558 more. Someone better at math than me can figure how many a day that was. He has made many in the industry worry with certain words and opinions, and he has made more in the industry happy w/ even handed treatment and opinion.

Drop a note, and I'll try and get around to approving them quick as I can.

Thanks Alan. Oh and sorry for changing your blog roll picture, figured I can't be all well wishes ;-P

Derby Top Ten

This is the LATG Derby Top Ten of horses, people, and things that I think will be in the news on or around Kentucky Derby day:

1) Pioneeerof the Nile received mixed reviews at best for his San Felipe, but I'm looking at the brighter side and really believe that the Beyer is irrelevant in this case. Baffert promises to have him cranked up for the Santa Anita Derby, which is shaping up as a battle for supremacy in the west and a definitive test for this son of Empire Maker.

2) If you rank horses strictly on the basis of their performance in preps, Friesan Fire has to be #1 hands down in my opinion. But it sounds as if Larry Jones might be contracting a case of Denis the Cork Syndrome, staring too much at the sheets. Jones' concern is if the colt improves too much in a prep race, he might regress for the Derby.

Jones will base his decision on a prep for Friesan Fire on whether it would help the colt's chances to win the Kentucky Derby. If Friesan Fire doesn't have another prep, he'll go into the Derby off a seven-week break. Three years ago, Barbaro became the first horse since Needles in 1956 to win the Kentucky Derby off a five-week layoff.

Jones knows he'll hear skeptics who'll bring up such tidbits. "We went six weeks with Hard Spun," Jones said. "They said we couldn't do that." [Times Picayune]
Yeah, but didn't Hard Spun lose?

3) Governor David Paterson signs a bill,
the only one to come out of the legislative session, increasing the takeout at NYRA tracks to 90% because Charlie Hayward looks too much like AIG CEO Edward Liddy. Separately, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, asserting that NYRA too was bailed out by taxpayer money, releases the names of 13 NYRA employees who received a 2009 calendar for Christmas.

4) Still think that Patena, and not Stardom Bound, is the horse that Michael Iavarone thinks is his best Derby hope? Does anyone doubt that it was he who made the offer to buy Rebel winner Win Willy?

5) Andy Beyer concedes that his traditional figures for synthetic surfaces are useless to compare to dirt races, and introduces his new Fake Beyers. Par times on synthetic tracks will be devised artificially using algorithms devised by HANA, mixed in with some mathematical calculations by the New York Senate Democrats, and shaken well by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.

6) It's not only U.S. bettors who favor Dunkirk in the futures pools.
European layers William Hill have reported strong interest in the Todd Pletcher trained Dunkirk for the Kentucky Derby. The bookmakers were offering odds of 14-1 about the unbeaten three year old winning the first leg of the triple crown, but the money they saw on Thursday has forced the firm to cut him to 11-1 clear favourite for the race. [Oddspreview]
I've read a lot of talk, and suppose I've said so myself, that this is a superior three-year old crop to last year. But if that's the case, how can a horse with two lifetime starts and zero stakes earnings be the favorite individual entry at 7-1 (US)!?

7) The Pamplemousse worked five furlongs in 59.80 on Wednesday. Trainer Julio Canani was very happy and very pleased. "I'm very happy. He was just breezing. I'm very pleased." Yeah, as I said. Those who like this horse really like this horse, and his 103 Fake Beyer is 11 points higher than the top pick ran last time.

8) Once considered a precocious up-and-comer, Bobby Jindal, still reeling from his widely-panned speech in response to President Obama's State of the Union address, resigns in humiliation as Governor of Louisiana. But when he finds that he's ineligible for unemployment because of the stimulus money he refused to accept as Governor, he travels to Alaska via magnetic levitation and takes a job monitoring volcanos. (I know, no racing content but I couldn't resist.)

9) I Want Revenge is sticking around for the Wood. Want to see a stiffer test than his easy trip stalking an unproven NY-bred on his way to a figure that seems inflated. But I'm not seeing the Wood definitely being on the schedule for anyone other than some Pletcher horse and Imperial Council, who could be the underlay of the year in that race. The Wood is considered a backup for Quality Road, which would at least create a matchup of the horses with the gaudy 113 figs.

10) While the rest of the racing world parties away on Kentucky Derby Eve, NTRA CEO Alex Waldrop is seen entering the Southeast Christian Church. Waldrop is overheard wailing: "Please Lord, PLEASE don't let anyone get hurt!" He shows up at the track the next day wearing a clove of garlics and bearing horseshoes, shark teeth, and a voodoo doll with a striking likeness to NY Times columnist William C. Rhoden.

11) Thanks as always for reading - the Head Chef and I are off on vacation and leaving the lappy, as I saw it referred to the other day, at home. Check out the home page of the Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance for handy links to bloggers big and small (as well as to a great deal on Formulator), and I'll see you in a week or so.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Aqueduct First

Nice effort by King Mobay, who gave it his all but couldn't hold off 1-2 Stealth Missile, one of three winners for Contessa at the Big A on Thursday. And that's about all I have say about the card. Racing on the inner track this winter has gotten as old as this. I thought the winter meeting was pretty OK, but enough is enough. Gimme a seven furlong race, please!

Of course, we'll likely see inner track racing throughout March every year until NYRA is able to fix the main track, which needs a new base. And that won't happen until and if the slots start running. No developments of course as the governor and the legislature Sheldon Silver and Malcolm Smith concentrate on not getting anything done about the budget behind closed doors.

The Queens Chronicle reports that some in the community around Aqueduct are getting nervous about the talk of slots at Belmont; area officials want to see the track in Queens upgraded first.

“I believe there could be gaming at both [racetracks] if both are vastly different,” said state Senator Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach). “But to some extent, revenue will be lost from either if they’re both gaming sites. One has to exist first before they can both coexist. ... Let Aqueduct thrive first.”
State Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer (D-Ozone Park), who has been pushing for the Aqueduct renovations, said there’s no need to get paranoid about the video lottery issue. In order for a racino to be opened at Belmont, the Assembly would have to pass a law allowing VLTs there, and Pheffer said that isn’t likely to happen. [Queens Chronicle]
I certainly agree that slots at Belmont [first] would doom our beloved track in Ozone Park. I've always argued that a racino location at Belmont makes more sense in a lot of ways. And in the event that, in what I agree with Ms. Pheffer is a highly unlikely scenario, Belmont would get built first, the Long Island Railroad would start ferrying patrons from Manhattan, and it would become plainly clear that there would be no need for a second racino, in Queens. And this reader would turn out to be right.

Back in Albany, the two Republican minority leaders walked out of the so-called leaders meeting on Thursday complaining that they're being left out of the talks amongst the three Democrats. However, Assembly Minority Leader Jim Tedisco has been quite busy with his faltering campaign to replace Kirsten Gillibrand in the 20th CD (and boy do I wish I had some time to write more about that). And the Senate Republicans have voted as a bloc, as Republicans seem to do these days, completely stymieing Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith, who doesn't really have the majority that the Democrats' 32-30 numerical edge indicates he does.

I find it hard to believe that there is not a single Republican Senator who could find it in his or her heart to repeal the Rockefeller drug laws or spare MTA commuters from the doomsday plan. Skelos remarked that his conference is unified in their opposition to the MTA plan. Yet Skelos himself represents constituents in Nassau County who would see their already expensive commuting costs soar by over 20% if nothing is done. And I'd think that relatively few of them would be affected by tolls on the East and Harlem River bridges. The Republican minority is in a position to extract significant concessions in return for their cooperation on issues favored by a majority of the electorate, and on which they came out on the wrong end on Election Day. Instead they're playing political games. And meanwhile, Governor Paterson and Smith show little in the way of leadership, unable to deliver the "majority" they worked so hard to achieve.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Tables Turned

Here's a case of the shoe on the other foot - NYRA is on the creditors committee for the Magna bankruptcy. Not too long ago, Magna was an investor in Empire Racing, and on track to control, along with Churchill Downs, the precious simulcasting rights to New York races had Empire won the franchise. Now Magna owes over $1 million to an entity which recently emerged from bankruptcy itself.

MI Developments said that it intends to bid for the Magna properties that it hasn't already agreed to buy.

Dennis Mills, a former chief executive of Magna and the current chief executive of MI Developments, said that MI Developments had its eye on Magna properties "with a huge real estate upside" if those properties go to auction. Magna, which filed for bankruptcy last Thursday, asked a bankruptcy court to approve a plan to offer Santa Anita Park, Laurel Park, Pimlico Racecourse, and other properties at auction in August through a motion filed on Tuesday. [Daily Racing Form]
Having already agreed to purchase Gulfstream, Golden Gate, Lone Star, Xpress Bet, and AmTote, Frank Stronach, the controlling shareholder of MI Developments, would effectively retain control of his crumbling empire. Other companies are free to bid for the properties as well. And while Mills also told the Form's Matt Hegarty that he didn't know if MI Developments "had assigned specific valuations to the properties within the bundle," (I thought he was the CEO!), Steve Zorn reports on his Business of Racing blog that Magna, in a filing with the SEC, wrote down the value of its properties by $136 million. So the bundle is worth even less than it was before.

Golden Gate is one track which is surely slated for closure and development should MID Developments take control.
"If MID acquires the Golden Gate Fields property, it intends to immediately commence seeking all required approvals to develop the property for commercial real estate uses," MI stated in regulatory documents it filed March 6.

"Racing at Golden Gate Fields would cease prior to commencement of construction on the rezoned property," MI stated in the government documents. [Mercury News]
Such a shutdown would likely take several years according to the article, and the track's GM Robert Hartman protests that the track is profitable and "very important to the city." But at least one local politician disagrees.
"Racing revenues used to be 25 percent of our general fund," Albany City Councilman Robert Lieber said. "Now it's about 2 percent."

Lieber said he'd like to see the 154-acre site transformed into at least 60 percent open space and no more than 40 percent commercial development.

"A racetrack is a poor use for one of the best pieces of land that exists in the Bay Area," Lieber said. "I don't see horse racing as being viable in Northern California at this point. But we would like to see racing continue there for a while."

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Aqueduct Notes

King Mobay is 2-1 for Kasey K in the second at Aqueduct on Thursday. It's the first race in seven weeks for the seven-year old gelded son of King of the Heart (Seattle Slew). His form before the layoff was OK, certainly not terrible, but his low odds are mainly due to the weakness of this field. You never know how these Starter Handicaps are going to come up, and this one, for a purse of $30,000, is a two horse race on paper; Stealth Missile (7-5) goes first off the claim for Contessa, and beat Mobay by four last time they met. Friendly Pocket (7-2) is the horse we tried to claim last time out, but lost the shake to trainer Ralph D'Alessandro. Looks a bit too slow in this spot.

This is the last time King Mobay can run in this class. After this, horses who ran for 10K as far back as 2006 will no longer be eligible.

Reptilian Smarts ($5.70) took the 3rd on Wednesday, a 25K Starter Handicap, and, having run for 15K last year, he can run in these races until early 2011. Or at least until the weight gets to be too much. Carrying 124 pounds here, he outdueled Prince of Iron, to whom he conceded seven pounds. This horse, an even 5th in the 2007 Wood, is now five for five since being claimed by Dutrow from that race, and has earned over $77,000 in his three wins this year, not bad.

Hale and Hearty, 5-1 morning line moving up off the claim for Contessa, paid $35.20, and, unless I'd used him in the middle or end of a multi-race wager sequence, there's a horse I wouldn't have had if they ran the race 1,000 times.

Rap Tale worked five furlongs in 1:01.17 (2/12) at Belmont on Wednesday morning, one week after she worked in 1:01.16 (3/9). She's doing fantastic, "jumping out of her skin" so I'm told. It will be awhile before we can find a spot for her, as she's out of conditions and done with NY stakes company. There are some possibilities out of town, with the ultimate goal being summertime Virginia-bred stakes at Colonial Downs.

Hunch Bets for Wednesday, March 18

Gimme My Dough 6th at Aqueduct
Clutch Hitter 3rd at Tampa Bay Downs
Showmesnow 9th at Laurel
Cleared By The Vet 6th at Charles Town
That Works For Me 9th at Tampa Bay Downs

Go To the Winners Circle

The Huffington Post reported on Tuesday that Citigroup, a recipient of some $45 billion taxpayer money, continues to pay dividends to common and preferred shareholders, despite their stated intention to stop doing so. A spokesperson for the bank said that it will continue to make the payments until the agreement with the government, which will take a 36% stake, is approved by shareholders.

However, according to the report, even after the agreement is finalized, the beleaguered bank will continue to make 11% interest payments on $7.5 billion of bonds to the government of Abu Dhabi, which "owns a hybrid stock-bond instrument that pays out a dividend until it converts, in phases, beginning in March 2010."

This 11% dividend totals "several hundreds of thousands of dollars" a quarter, according to Rachel Ziemba, a senior analyst at RGE Monitor. "Having to make these payouts underscore some of the challenges Citigroup will face moving forward, and why it is still likely to need additional capital," she said. [Huffington Post]
As you may recall, Abu Dhabi has provided a $10 billion bailout to the emirate of Dubai. Therefore, just perhaps and in some indirect fashion, you, the American taxpayers, are footing part of the bill for the Sheikh's racing operations. So the next time you see a Darley or Godolphin horse being led to the winner's circle, go down and demand to be in the photo. It's the least they can do.

- The Rangers moved into sixth with a gutsy 4-3 shootout win in Montreal. The team is unrecognizable from just a few weeks ago, transformed under coach John Tortorella from a dull defensive mindset to an aggressive attack-oriented offense that has been relentless in the last three games in which they've averaged 40 shots. Meanwhile, the Devils' Martin Brodeur was all smiles after breaking Patrick Roy's record for most career victories. It was a far cry from the surly whiner that we see after he loses in the playoffs to the Rangers, which he's done three out of the four times they've met in the postseason. Last year, he wouldn't even shake Sean Avery's hand, because Avery hurt the wittle baby's feelings. Personally, I judge professional athletes by their demeanor when things go bad, and I've never seen nor heard Brodeur be gracious in defeat. Whatsmore, for the certain hall of famer that he is, he sure gets easily rattled in the glare of Broadway. So that's one potential playoff matchup that this Ranger fan does not at all fear.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Not Just Magna

- Rounding the first bend in its path to auction (as described on the website; its a pay website, but they let what has to be the best line in the story go in the preview blurb), Magna got approval from bankruptcy court to borrow the first $13 million of a $62 million credit line from MID Developments. "Good cause has been shown for this order," wrote the judge, who disallowed a challenge by MID shareholder Greenlight Capital, which has been battling the real estate company over the racetrack company for years.

The Delaware court is next scheduled to hold a hearing on Magna's bankruptcy on April 3. At that time, the court will hear from any other parties who may be interested in bidding on the assets covered by the agreement between Magna and MI Developments. [Daily Racing Form]
While the Magna drama plays out on a larger stage, a smaller one is developing closer to home. Empire Resorts, the parent company of the Monticello harness track in upstate NY is issuing statements with an ominously familiar ring:
“We do not presently have a source of repayment for this credit facility or for these notes and our operations will not provide sufficient cash flow to repay these obligations...

“These factors, as well as continuing net losses and negative cash flows from operating activities as well as an uncertain economic environment, raise substantial doubt about our ability to continue as a going concern. [Times Herald Record]
Revenue is down across the board at the racetrack, which I last visited a couple of summers ago. Racino revenues are down 10% in 2008, a stark contrast to the remarkable trend of racino growth in the state; while racing revenues were down a depressing 22%.
Company officials said the decrease in video lottery machine revenues can be attributed primarily to more competition from similar facilities at Yonkers Raceway, which opened in November 2006, and new casinos opening in Pennsylvania in 2007. Economic conditions in the fourth quarter of 2008 also had an adverse effect on revenues, Empire Resorts said. And, patron visits decreased by almost 20 percent.

The decrease in racing revenue was primarily a result of reduced revenue allocations from OTB facilities, they said in their annual SEC report. [Mid-Hudson News]
Yeah, it's tough competition for the track at OTB. They tried 5 PM cards at one point to try and fill a gap between the NYRA races and the harness tracks at night. But there is no gap, really, with the OTB simulcasts from out-of-state. Now they race at 1:10, perhaps to save on electricity.

Of course, Monticello is supposed to move to, and be reborn at Louis Cappelli's new Concord complex. But that project has fallen victim to the times, with Cappelli unable to complete financing and construction therefore on hold. Meanwhile, Empire has an outstanding balance of about $7,150,000 from the Bank of Scotland on May 29, and $65 million of convertible notes callable come July 31. No wonder it's telling shareholders that it "might not survive the summer." And I doubt that this track company has any creditors willing to keep it in business.

- Slots revenue is also down at Mountaineer, and so, purses are going down too - 10% starting April 20.

Despite that, the purses sure beat those at Turfway Park in slot-less Kentucky. This is a rather sobering set of statistics I saw on the website.
England said a typical purse for a first-place finish in a $5,000 claiming race is $6,600 at Turfway Park, $14,100 at Mountaineer Casino Racetrack & Resort in West Virginia, and $15,000 at Philadelphia Park Casino & Racetrack.

The winning horse's owner gets 60 percent of the purse: $3,960 at Turfway, $8,460 at Mountaineer, and $9,000 at Philadelphia. The jockey and trainer each get 10 percent of that cut.

It costs about $24,000 annually to care for a racehorse. To break even, a horse owner would have to win 6.1 races per year at Turfway, 2.8 races at Mountaineer, or 2.6 races at Philadelphia.

"There's no horse anywhere that wins six races a year. So there's no way to make it," England said.
The speaker is Dave England, a formerly successful Turfway-based horse owner who got out of the business in January rather than move his operation elsewhere.

- If it's up to New Jersey citizens (the normal ones who don't play the horses), there won't be any racinos at that state's racetracks anytime soon. A Farleigh Dickinson poll shows that 70% think that casino gambling should be limited to Atlantic City. This report comes at a time when the casinos there are struggling, and thus only lends fresh ammunition to their already powerful political sway. The present subsidy agreement already bars racinos at the state's tracks through 2011. And Joe Carbo, the head of the Casino Association of NJ, took the opportunity to rub it in:
"Most New Jersey residents clearly understand that Atlantic City is an economic engine for our entire state, and are unwilling to jeopardize its future by unnecessarily expanding gaming." [AP]

Split Variants, Derby Outlooks

Handride notes the similar times earned by Friesan Fire and the filly Rachel Alexandra on Saturday. But it's not unusual for us to have this discussion this time of year, when, we're told, the fillies may be more physically mature than their male counterparts.

Besides, the Beyer boys have a handy explanation.

It may be worth remembering that both the Louisiana Derby and Rebel were run on drying-out tracks that may have been slowing down as the day went on. The Beyer figmakers split the variant at both tracks mid-day, moving up the later races a few points. That's why Rachel Alexandra received a 99 winning the Fair Ground Oaks three races before Friesan Fire got a 104 in the Louisiana Derby even though the filly ran only 0.09 seconds slower. [Cristblog]
Ah yes, the ol' split variant. All I'll say is that there is obviously a lot of subjectivity that goes into making the Beyer figs, for better or for worse. My feeling is that, though the Beyer figs have certainly proven to be an indispensable handicapping tool, one shouldn't really split hairs over a few points either way when it comes to making your decisions. Don't belittle your own intuition nor your opinion regarding factors such as class and conditioning.

Win Willy earned a 102 Beyer for his Rebel win; that according to Beyer Boy Dick Jerardi in the Philly Daily News. BRIS reports that his owner turned down a $3 million offer for the colt; probably Iavarone shopping around desperately after Patena flopped a bit earlier at the Fair Grounds.

Steve Crist also weighs in on Pioneerof the Nile's win in the San Felipe.
Pioneerof the Nile's fans will continue to believe he will prove faster than he looks when he heads east and hits dirt, but there's no way to make his San Felipe any better than the mediocre Beyer of 90 it received. Later on the card, Life is Sweet ran 9f in 1:48.71 winning the G1 Santa Margarita, 12 Beyer points higher than the San Felipe clocking of 1:43.35.
Well, I'll take a shot at making that fig look better. The race was merely a tune up for the SA Derby, and a training exercise in which he moved much earlier than usual. On the other hand, Life is Sweet is a blossoming four-year old filly making the third start of her form cycle, coming off consecutive career best numbers and primed for a Grade 1 stakes effort by a trainer who knows how to get them ready for a big race. Will Baffert's colt prove faster than he looks when he hits dirt? Who the hell knows? I just don't think his figures are the least bit relevant as far as his dirt chances go, as we saw with I Want Revenge last week.

Trainer Hal Wiggins now says that the Derby is a possibility for his filly Rachel Alexandra (Medaglia D'Oro). "We'll have to think about it." [DRF] You gotta love the way she's really dominated now in her three races around two turns, geared down and under wraps in her last two. That's not necessarily good preparation for the Derby however, unless you think she's going to speed pop 18 or 19 colts the way she did to the moderate, at best, field she did on Saturday. It might seem counter intuitive, but it seems to me that a more difficult effort such as the much-maligned one by Stardom Bound would leave that one better suited for a run for the roses. I think Rachel Alexandra needs a prep against colts now more than Stardom Bound does.

Monday Morning Notes - March 16

Kinsella ($14.20) won the 11th on Saturday at Gulfstream, on the grass, for Pletcher, his third straight winner at the track with a first-time starter, and 7th from his last ten. That's pretty remarkable, even for the Toddster.

However, in racing, as with everything else, things have a way of evening out over time, and bettors who tried to ride the wave on Sunday got wiped out on two debut runners for the barn. In the second, Ice Mint, at 4-1 the co-third ML choice, was sent off as the 2-1 second choice to Abundantia, an IEAH filly making her first start since running second at Saratoga to Obsequious, second in the Herecomesthebride. She's a Wertheimer homebred daughter of Awesome Again, out of an Unbridled mare, and a half sister to two French stakes winners. A lot of turf blood in this one's distaff pedigree, but racing on the dirt in this spot, Ice Mint ran 5th.

In the 4th, Flash the Silver (Trippi), 8-1 in the morning line, went off as the 2-1 favorite, and checked in dead last of 12, yuck.

But I guess getting a Grade 2 stakes win, with Game Face turning the tables on Any Limit in the Inside Information, made up for the earlier disappointment.

On Saturday, Pletcher just missed upsetting the Tampa Bay Derby with 35-1 Join In The Dance, who just failed to last over Musket Man ($13.80). Goodbye Louisville for Hello Broadway, 2-1 in his first two-turn start, and a never-in-it 7th with a wide trip. Musket Man is owned by Eric Fein, the same guy who owns last year's TB Derby winner Big Truck (referred to twice as Big Chuck in this article on a Tampa website). Musket Man, trained by Derek Ryan, is not nominated for the Derby.

"I will not have any influence at all after last year. Last year, that was totally Kentucky Derby fever and it probably was the wrong thing to do for Big Chuck's sake. Derek will make that decision ... but I'll have a little input." []
So, he won't have any influence at all, but he'll have a little input. OK. Musket Man is by Yonaguska out of a Fortunate Prospect mare, and thus seems iffy for the Derby distance based on pedigree.

Pletcher's colt, a son of Sky Mesa out of a Devil's Bag mare, is a bit interesting; he ran a good third to Imperial Council in his three-year old debut, and went well here in his first try beyond 6 1/2 furlongs.

Proudinsky won the Muniz at Fair Grounds on Saturday in what was definitely the most exciting finish of the weekend; a frantic three-horse head bob with the winner just getting his snout down between the other two. I think that Nownownow, who finished third behind El Caballo, would have won had the race been a step shorter. I was at a Louisiana Derby party with a bunch of really, really smart guys; and not a single one of them was alive with anything after this horse won. Proudinsky was an obvious bet-against as one of the favorites from the 14 post and in his first start of the year, and there were some hard feelings and bitterly harsh words for those who cashed despite being foolish enough to bet him. I hate when that happens.

I still think Macho Again is a POS and not a true two-turn horse. But he does like an off track and fast pace set-up, and he rallied smartly from far back to win the FG Handicap after a quick half mile of 46 3/5 up front. I'll bet against him again next time when he's lower odds.

I mentioned the Linda Rice first-timer in the second at Aqueduct, as well as the hazards of trying to select debut runners in advance. At 3-1 morning line for a good first-out barn, the fact that this one went off at 6-1 was a classic case of a horse being dead on the board. If I was at the track instead of at the Rangers game, I wouldn't have bet him.

The late pick three at Aqueduct, with Elusive Gift ($5), Mor Chances ($2.40), and Tiger D.R. ($3.80), paid $15 even. Exciting stuff there.

The Rangers beat the Flyers 4-1 to split their weekend home-and-home; and the way I saw it, with a little luck, the Blueshirts could have won both games. Of course, that's just the way I saw it.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Futures for Friesan Fire

I think that these Derby Futures bets would be a lot more fun if the pools closed just before a big weekend of Derby preps rather than the evening afterwards. For one thing, you'd have immediate action either rooting for your choices, or against the ones you think are overrated. And while you might feel smart today if you'd already bet Friesan Fire before the Louisiana Derby - and I can't for the life of me possibly fathom why anyone would have bet into the pool beforehand - but by the time the pools close this evening you'll likely be left with odds that hardly reflect proper value seven weeks before the race.

Larry Jones' colt was the easiest kind of winner, gliding to the lead under a motionless Gabriel Saez after stalking Papa Clem down the backstretch, just waiting to pounce. It wasn't a good start for the son of AP Indy, a step slow out of the gate on the sloppy track. But he quickly recovered and was already on the leader's flank going into the first turn. Unfortunately, there's no split for the mile due to a timer malfunction, but the final 5/16ths in 30.12, with the horse never asked for run as he drew away "with aplomb," as noted by track announcer John Dooley, is impressive indeed. I know some people might say, 'oh, well he just likes the Fair Grounds,' which should serve to remind us that the synthetic track debate is, to a certain extent, merely a variation of one which we've always had in this sport even before the fake stuff came into existence.

Pretty good second for Papa Clem after setting an even pace. Patena, the great IEAH Derby hope, was far back in 8th despite a Tomlinson number of 441, and as of now likely lacks the graded earnings to even see the Derby starting gate. Yeah, we'll see how long Stardom Bound is pointing to the Oaks, ha ha.

- I see that Joe Drape, writing in the NY Times, is making excuses for the defeat of Old Fashioned, who he's had ranked first in his top ten, in the Rebel.

He chased Silver City through a rapid half mile in 46.07 and three quarters of a mile in 1.11.67. It was little wonder that Old Fashioned, the son of Unbridled’s Song, staggered home in the stretch. [NY Times]
Well, the fact is that Old Fashioned ran nearly an identical race to his effort in the Southwest. That day, he chased Silver City through fractions of 22.63 and 23.67, and then drew away despite slowing down to 24.81 and 26.28. This time, he chased the speedball through splits of 22.81 and 23.53, again took the lead while decelerating, this time to 25.33 and 26.42. Unfortunately for him, this time he had to go an additional sixteenth and didn't make it to the wire. That extra distance is the only excuse I can see, and his failure to negotiate it makes it hard for me to see how anyone can maintain any enthusiasm for this colt at a mile and a quarter.

Win Willy ($115.60), making his first start around two turns, is a son of the Derby winner Monarchos, out of City Fair, a sprint stakes winning daughter of Carson City. He's inbred 4x4 to Northern Dancer and 5x5 to Hail to Reason. His dosage index comes in over the old, discredited "limit" at 5.0.

- Pioneerof the Nile wasn't very impressive visually, but, as I mentioned here, didn't need to be at all cranked up for this effort, merely a prep for the upcoming Santa Anita Derby. Without much competition in the field of the San Felipe, he found himself up on the lead earlier than usual, and Garrett Gomez was busy to keep him focused in the stretch. Baffert explains:
"He was a May foal, so he’s not even three yet. I like what I saw today. This will tighten the screws up for the Santa Anita Derby.

"It won’t be like this in the Santa Anita Derby, because he’ll have (The) Pamplemousse....He likes to run at horses, and he’ll get plenty to run at from here on out.” [Bloodhorse]
After running the first quarter in 24.78, it was basically even 24 second splits from that point on before a final sixteenth of 6.26. So he may have tired a bit in the stretch, but nothing wrong with that at this time of year - seemed like a useful training and conditioning exercise for the son of Empire Maker.

Aqueduct Sunday

In the first at Aqueduct on Sunday, Flash of Victory (6-1) is one half of an entry for trainer Joe Imperio, a live barn of late as I've noted. This five-year old gelded son of Victory Gallop had an extremely troubled trip at this conditional 7500 level two back, and finished with good interest for 4th. Moved up in class for his last with a jockey switch to Rafael Mojica, he rallied for a close third, surrendering the place spot after a game duel with Ballado Alert, a horse who had previously dominated that 10K level. Entrymate Stylish Tiger goes first off the claim, and Imperio has a winner and two close seconds with his last three of that sort. He's had bad starts his last two, but, with a better break, definitely has the speed to try and set things up for Flash of Victory should they both go (they're both owned by Michael Imperio). J J's Prophet (2-1) was the winner of the top choice's last; he drops in class off that win, never a great sign in my book, and may have to contend with Stylish Tiger and maybe Matthew TC early. Still, looks scary for the way live Linda Rice barn. Windication (5-2) takes a bigger drop than the others and comes off a field high last out Beyer.

In the second, Rice has first-timer Gentle Ride (3-1), by the 18% first-out sire Mutakddim. Three-year old filly is out of an unraced Pleasant Colony mare who has previously produced three foals, all winners. Her second dam is a 3/4 brother to stakes winner and successful sire Belong to Me; and this is the distaff family of the deceased Eight Belles (they both have the same third dam). Chasing Daylight (2-1) is a debut runner from the excellent first-out trainer Michael Trombetta. However, this one seems pretty light on pedigree - by Seeking Daylight, a Maryland-based Seeking the Gold stallion, out of a mare by Gallapiat. I must acknowledge that the dam has five winners from her five foals. Other than that though, not much to say about the breeding here; nothing on the catalog page as they say. Picking first-timers in advance is a crapshoot...or, should I say, even more of a crapshoot, and perhaps the board will provide some clues. But I'm predisposed to the Rice filly here.

- Two more winners for Asmussen on Saturday as this outfit continues its torrid run here. Heart Ashley took the G3 Cicada for the trainer, defeating 3-4 Dream Play, continuing a rough run of Saturdays in New York for her trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. The winner is a daughter of Lion Heart out of a Beau Genius mare who's a half sister to the marathon turf stakes winner Hostess.

- Charles Hayward issued a statement praising both the Governor’s and the legislature’s leadership in repealing the 1% increase in takeout on simulcast races. However, Hayward is probably giving them far too much credit. If the increase was as simple as the simple-minded legislatures who passed it thought it was, and didn't involve complicated renegotiations of existing agreements, you can bet that it would already have been done.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Saturday Morning Notes - March 14

Meetmeatthechapel looked like he was gonna hang after swinging out to the four path for the stretch run; but he "took off," if that phrase is ever applicable to a final quarter of 27.13 in a mile race run in 1:41.20, after changing leads around the eighth pole and went "zooooming by," as John Bothe used to say. The son of Chapel Royal earned $19,800 for Kasey K, and was claimed for $25,000 by trainer Greg DiPrima. So, we claimed this horse for 20K on Feb 19, earned a total of $22,000 in purse money (he made $2200 for finishing 4th on 2/27; and to those who had something to say about that, in the words of Tina Fey, bite me), and picked up another 5G on the claiming transactions. All in the space of less than a month; if it was always that easy, people could actually make a living doing this. Not too sad to see him claimed either; he "has a knee," and, if you were paying close attention to this site, you knew that he bled rather significantly after his first race after the claim.

- Scott Lake filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization and told Bloodhorse: “For you to print something in your magazine about this is a classless move.” But it's pretty significant news when the nation's second leading trainer in terms of wins can't pay his bills.

The petition claims the trainer on March 4 had between $500,001 and $1 million in assets, and between $1,000,001 and $10,000,000 in liabilities.
The largest 20 unsecured creditors filed with the petition are listed with a combined $1,177,479 in claims, including those with a feed company and veterinary groups, among others. [Bloodhorse]
Whether Lake is really the 'canary in the coalmine,' as a couple of readers speculated, or a guy who just let his business become too far flung and out of hand, remains to be seen.

- Churchill Downs VP John Asher, speaking of ESPN's decision to dump its Kentucky Oaks coverage, told the Thoroughbred Times: “As I understand it, they’ve just decided to pull back a bit on the racing coverage." A bit? Last year, according to the article, the network, who just flat out lied when it told of its commitment to the sport when it signed up for the Breeders' Cup, had "a total of 11 live hours during Derby week, including an hour for the post-position draw on Wednesday and three hours on Oaks day on Friday." Now they're down to five hours on Derby day.

A typical Friday afternoon of ESPN programming might consist of a couple hours of Sports Center, and half hours of Jim Rome is Burning, NFL Live (yes, even this time of year), and the hideous Pardon the Interruption. So you see just how much of a priority racing is.

Meanwhile, the race will be televised by Bravo, which already had an Oaks day program scheduled, likely something along the lines of the Real Housewives of Louisville meets a Top Chef to find a Top Model to eat out (with) and shop for a Derby Day hat. And you laugh at me when I say that racing should be on Versus?

Friday, March 13, 2009

Slots Vision in Question

Paul Morose is in vintage form, at his gloomily eloquent best on writing about the current woes in the industry; he's right at home in this grim territory. I can almost discern a smile in that little scowling picture. Turning to the travesty here in New York, he notes that Governor Paterson's "visionary capacity is in question." That got me annoyed, though I don't know whether it's because I think it's another cheap shot at the governor's handicap, or because I wish I'd thought of it first.

I think we can just forget about that quick action on finding a new operator promised by the governor and Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith. It's a dead issue as far as the budget for the next fiscal year goes; in fact, E.J. McMahon, director of the Empire Center for New York State Policy, writes in the NY Post that the state will need to use cash from the federal stimulus money to plug the $370 million gap. So I don't see why there would be any urgency at least until after the March 31 budget deadline....and that's assuming that the budget comes in on time.

Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer told the Queens Chronicle that “Delaware North was never our first choice."

“There were others that not only had a better working relationship with our community, but also had a more fiscally viable project. Delaware North was chosen for their promise to pay $370 million up front, and they have lost the deal because of their inability to live up to that commitment.” [Queens Chronicle]
Ms. Pheffer also said that she would like to see Paterson review the proposals of the losing bidders rather than stage a re-bidding process. I'd imagine however that those companies are going to want to review those proposals themselves in light of the present circumstances.

Jeffrey Hartmann, the COO of Mohegan Sun, reiterated his company's interest in re-bidding for the project. However, he told the Connecticut website that they have yet to decide whether they will again partner with Capital Play. So perhaps Karl O'Farrell was making assumpions, or speaking for himself when he said that his company was ready with the same offer as before.

Foxwoods president Gary Armentrout said that his company, which did not make the final cut first time around, would take a fresh look. But he issued a caution which is likely on any and all the bidders' minds:
Armentrout said it took New York officials nearly a year to consider bids the first time around, and noted that conditions in the credit markets and the overall financial climate have changed considerably since then. “Hopefully, the new RFP will take all of that into account,” he said. []
- "It's been a long time since I heard a speech like that," said the Rangers' Scott Gomez. "There were intense words," said Paul Mara. Both players were referring to an apparent tirade unleashed by coach John Tortorella after the team trailed Nashville 2-1 after the first period last night. Whatever he said, screamed, or threw, man, did it light a fire; I haven't seen the team skate with such ferocity and purpose in some time. The 4-2 win puts them back into a precarious playoff spot - for now - with 14 games to go.

Thursday, March 12, 2009


- Meetmeatthechapel (3-1) makes his second start for Kasey K at the Big A on Friday, a 25-20K claimer for three year olds for a generous purse of $33,000. Maybe he has a slight class edge in here. He did graduate in an open 40K claimer at the Meadowlands at this distance, and has run competitively in the Starters Allowance 50Ks class; more than one can say for the others in here. However, his fastest races have come at one turn sprint distances, so we'll see. Lexington Ave (5-2) added blinkers and wired a fucking weak 20K field at 3-5...and I can guarantee that you won't read that in Jerry Bossert's analysis. Boyfriendontheside (9-2) is a little intriguing stretching out for Anthony Dutrow; how many cheap claimers like this - or any horses for that matter - do you see with inbreeding to Ribot and Minnesota Mac?

In the 5th on Thursday, Gallant Again ($6.20) won off the drop for Greg DiPrima, and was claimed by Michael Maker for himself. DiPrima had claimed this one from Maker for 16K two back, except he was owned by Ken Ramsey at the time; so a little interesting I guess to see Maker take him back for himself. River Mountain Rd was second at 9-1 for Joe Imperio, one of the real live barns on the grounds right now. Chief Export ($7.50) won the 5th on Wednesday for Imperio, and his first-timer Amaysing Orphan was second in that day's 9th at 4-1. Imperio, who had won just one race this year prior, now has a record of 5-4-3 with his last 15 starters.

Now What?

All three of the original bidders for the Aqueduct racino expressed interest in the project in the wake of the collapse of the Delaware North deal. But chances are that they will be more restrained in their enthu$iasm at this point in time. Delware North tersely warned that the state had made a mistake.

"A prolonged re-bid of the project would ultimately cost the state even more in terms of added delays in construction and a missed opportunity to capitalize on a phased opening as contemplated by law without the assurance of a larger payment than Delaware North has offered." [Bloodhorse]
In a press release, SL Green, one of the losing bidders, said:
"We were fully capitalized and, if we had been given the go-ahead when originally scheduled, the VLT facility would already be up and running today and delivering revenue to the state."
That would mean that the racino would have been completed within five months; a highly dubious assertion which casts doubt on the veracity of the statement, including the 'we were fully capitalized' claim. Doesn't mean they would be now even if they were. Though the company said that their original proposal was "superior to the others," they plainly declined to commit to the same.
“We are still interested in developing the Aqueduct project and we look forward to seeing what the state has in mind if the project is to be re-bid." [Bloodhorse]
Mohegan Sun also expressed vague interest.
"We are confident that a Mohegan Sun managed facility will create much needed jobs and revenue for the Queens community, and we can develop Aqueduct as a world-class entertainment destination, generating millions of tax dollars for the State of New York." [DRF]
Karl O'Farrell of Mohegan Sun's partner Capital Play apparently didn't get the memo and was far more specific, saying that his group can meet its bid terms ­— $100 million up front and $400 million to build the facility. [Albany Times-Union]

Charles Hayward told David Grening of the Form that NYRA has $26 million of the $30 million it was given by the state as part of the new franchise agreement that went into effect last fall, and that "I think we'll be fine through the third quarter of next year."

Governor Paterson said that he wanted to make the decision last July, but political squabbles delayed that. But taking a look at my archives for that month, as late as July 21, Paterson said: "We now started to discuss a process by which we pick a winner." On July 24, a Paterson spokesman said "I wouldn't put a timetable on it." So this seems to me like another case of the governor not being forthcoming on this particular issue. At least Paterson didn't back down against the renegotiating demands of Delaware North, though fear of legal action by the losing bidders likely provided motivation for that.

I'm not even going to begin to try and guess what's going to happen now. Paterson and Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith promised a quick process, but how seriously are we possibly expected to take that?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Derby Top Ten

This is the LATG Derby Top Ten of horses and people who I think will be in the headlines on or around Derby Day:

1. Pioneerof the Nile got a big boost from the convincing win by I Want Revenge in the Gotham.

Or did he? In terms of class evaluation, definitely, but just because one synthetic horse liked the dirt doesn't mean that he will. Baffert's son of Empire Maker worked five furlongs in 58.2 preparing for the San Rafael Stakes on Saturday. “He went really nice — all systems are go," Baffert said. But Joe Drape, reporting in the NY Times, notes that Bob Baffert, warns, however, that Derby colts are best assessed after their final prep; that would presumably be the Santa Anita Derby on April 4. With his Derby slot ensured, no reason for this colt to be fully cranked on Saturday.

2. I have Friesan Fire highly ranked based on the determination and class he showed bulling his way out of tight quarters and home to an impressive Risen Star win...following up a solid Le Comte win in which he came home in 23 4/5. To me, this is a classic case of a horse who showed promise at two, but which has steadily matured at three.

However, this doesn't mean I think he's a lock in the Louisiana Derby on Saturday. Friesan Fire is just one of several horses who are solidly on the upswing - Papa Clem - also flattered by I Want Revenge - Uno Mas, Flying Pegasus, Patena (first time Dutrow), and even Soul Warrior and Free Country all come off lifetime best Beyers and are eligible to further improve.

3. Rush Limbaugh, the spiritual leader and spokesperson of the Republican Party, says that, as a conservative, he is opposed to NTRA regulation, and that he wants its Safety and Integrity Alliance to fail. "I hope this prolongs the cheating," he tells Steve Byk on his satellite show. "I hope this prolongs the fatal injuries."

4. Old Fashioned worked five furlongs in 59 seconds for Saturday's Rebel. I saw in the comments section of Paulick's top ten survey this week an exchange between LATG reader Glimmerglass, who noted that Alex Brown was the only participant to leave Old Fashioned off entirely, and another guy, who wrote, "I read somewhere that Alex Brown removed Old Fashioned from his Derby List because he didn’t like the way the colt was training at Oaklawn. No details." Here are the details from Alex's website:

However, I remain unimpressed with the way he goes. Two other horsemen were with me when we watched him in the final eighth of the work. They concurred. And I could only observe the final eighth as I was aboard another horse about to start his gallop. I am assuming reports of the work will be positive, based on the time alone!
Well, there's one...or rather...three men's opinion. I myself was unimpressed myself with his slow come home time in the Southwest, and can't help but notice how poorly the other Remsen horses have fared since then. Then why do I have him ranked so high? Must be peer pressure; and besides, otherwise, Erin would call me eclectic!

5. His Derby status in doubt, The Pamplemousse appeals his 30-day suspension for the positive alcohol test of his trainer Julio Canani. "It was not the fault of my client that Canani was inadvertently exposed to vodka tonics," explains his attorney, Lawyer Ron.

6. Considering that Dunkirk will have just one chance to earn his way into the Derby - and in a race at a distance subject to post position woes - makes me wonder just how serious Pletcher is about making the race. With just two lifetime starts, both this year, one might surmise that the midsummer stakes at Monmouth and/or Saratoga might be a more reasonable goal. Yes, he's following in Big Brown's path, and he (and Barbaro) overcame poor posts to win the Florida Derby on their way to Derby glory. However, this crop appears to be far stronger and deeper than last. Still, one of these days, a horse who hasn't raced at two will win the Derby - Big Brown's two year old race was really just a technicality - and a big win at Gulfstream would absolutely electrify an already intriguing Derby season.

7. Former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson, from whom we haven't heard the faintest peep since he was named to....well, do something regarding the abovementioned NTRA Safety and Integrity Alliance five months ago....not even when the group announced...well, something last month, shows up at the Derby and explains "I've been very sick. I was in the bathroom for a really long time," adding that at least it had given him the opportunity to read up on Native Dancer.

8. Man, talk about air out of the balloon, even her own connections have gone barreling off the Stardom Bound bandwagon after she won - yes, won- the Santa Anita Oaks on Saturday. I'm still not buying it. Iavarone actually disparaged those of us who think she proved herself worthy.
“Anybody that knows the game comes out of the Santa Anita Oaks saying, ‘Let’s just regroup and try to understand why she didn’t win the race as easily as we all expected her to. [Bloodhorse]
Well Mike, I might not know the game as well as you, but even I can understand that the horse was ten wide turning for home, got impeded at the sixteenth pole and showed championship class in managing to get up. And I saw the Gotham, and know how much those synth Beyers mean. So go ahead, send her to the Ashland, tell us that Patena is your main hope. But you'll be changing your tune dude, if your colt flops and the filly destroys whoever shows up at Keeneland. You'll see.

9. I was as impressed as anyone by I Want Revenge; but let's keep the race in perspective; 113 Beyer, fine closing fractions, and all. As I opined before the race, he was easily the class of this field which was filled with question marks. He stalked a moderate pace set by a horse moving up to a graded stakes from an entry level allowance, and it was little surprise to this observer to see him easily pull away. An exciting prospect to be sure, but want to see more against more seasoned competition before rating him higher.

10. After a fierce shotgun competition for the Aqueduct racino following the collapse of the Delaware North deal, Governor David Paterson awards the project to Caroline Kennedy. The governor, his approval ratings down to his immediate family and Joe Bruno, tells the press: "Told you there were no hard feelings." Asked about her plans for the site, Ms. Kennedy says: "Well, you know, slots."

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Hot and Cold

An up and down weekend at the Big A for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. He did have a stakes winner with Winning Point in the Am Capable on Sunday. Four-year filly beat just four modest rivals in an F&M restricted stakes for non-stakes winners, but it counts nonetheless as a stakes win for she and for her sire Point Given. Third place Shining Sea was coming off a NW2x allowance at Philly Park, where Rap Tale had won at a level above that..

McLaughlin also scored with Counter Move ($15.60) in the 6th on Saturday; and like I Want Revenge, this horse found the synthetic to inner-dirt move to be quite appealing.

But the barn also had four losing favorites on Saturday; at least a couple of them of the highly dubious variety. In the second, Flat Bold was 4-5, an incomprehensible price on a horse making its dirt and two-turn debut (as I did mention before the race on this particular occasion). I'm presuming there was the usual large West Point contingent on hand, as I was not at the track myself. Actually, he ran pretty well, and looked a likely winner when he drew alongside Go Swiftly ($7.10) in upper stretch, but was soundly beaten for second from that point on.

Scott's Choice did look like a legitimate favorite in the 4th, though I just can't see how anyone can take 4-5 on a horse who was 0 for 9, losing ground from the stretch call to finish in every race....even if he was dropping for a tag.

In the 7th, McLaughlin's first-timer Not Ja Mama, 7-2 in the morning line, was hammered down to 3-2. Not a West Point horse, but maybe the partners got the word and thought they were in on a good thing. Good speed, but not much to offer in the stretch, fading seven lengths back to third. Banker's Boy ($8.80) was bet herself for Shug in her debut; three-year old daughter of Distorted Humor shipped up from Payson with Imperial Council and was the barn's first entry here since December 5. Things must be looking up.

Mr. Fantasy was the 2-1 favorite in the Gotham, and that West Point money must have been pouring in there. First-time in stakes company off of two state-bred races of highly questionable quality; just can't see that, though I'm red-boarding here. He ran his race too, but I Want Revenge stormed by on the way to a sparkling Beyer of 113; coming home in an impressive 29.92 (23.75 and 6.19) after pressing the pace from the outside all the way. Though he will run back in the Wood, Jeff Mullins needs to ship him back to Hollywood due to licensing issues for his help.

If you feel that Mr. Fantasy, after providing some for his West Point investors, should now go back to his own kind, guess again...big surprise there. This stable will certainly not pass on any possibility to take advantage of the ultimate marketing tool - a horse in the Kentucky Derby. It's a basic conflict of interest between the best interests of the business and the best interests of the horse. So it's on to the Wood or Illinois Derby. Don't get me wrong, he ran a fine race in the third start of his career. But if Stardom Bound now requires a "reality check," don't you think this colt does too?

- Friendly Pocket ($14.60) won the 10th for trainer Carl Domino. This barn hasn't had too many entries of late, but has been clicking with the ones it has had. This was Domino's 4th winner from his last six starters, which takes us back to Jan 31. Friendly Pocket was claimed for $7500 by trainer Ralph D'Alessandro, who won a three-way shake over Greg DiPrima, and trainer Bruce Brown for Kasey K.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Magna Bankruptcy Cuts Wide Swath

A reader sent me the court documents from the Magna bankruptcy filing (all public information, available, at a price, at the Pacer Service Center), and the breadth of the company's debt is breathtaking. A spreadsheet with the complete list of creditors runs 510 pages of 66 lines each. And though it contains numerous duplicate names, I'd say that the true number lies well into the upper range of the 10,001 - 25,000 box checked on their voluntary petition. One thing's for sure - their assets are for certain well at the low end of the More than $1 billion box selected, at $1,049,387....a subjective figure in any case, especially so at this point in time.

Bank of New York has, by far, the largest claims - some $127 million at an interest rate of 8.55% that is nearly usurious by today's standards; as well as nearly $76.2 million at an only slightly more acceptable 7.25%. And you wonder why they're in Chapter 11?

The list of the 50 largest unsecured creditors runs the gamut of companies and individuals both in and out of the racing industry. NYRA appears on the list twice, with two claims, both denoted as 'settlements,' in the amounts of $830,175 and $288,285. Magna owes the Maryland horsemen $3.8 million, the most owed to any such group; the Florida horsemen are in for over $2.1 million. The company is deeply in debt to, amongst others, insurance companies Aon Reed Stenhouse and Zurich North America, the Northern and Southern California off-track wagering companies, the Las Vegas Dissemination Company, Royal River Racing OTB in South Dakota, the Oklahoma Tax Commission, racetracks Louisiana Downs, Churchill Downs, Fair Grounds, Tampa Bay Downs and Gulf Greyhound, Juddmonte Farms, marketing consultants The Leffler Group, Ranger Construction in Florida, video surveillance company Aware Digital, Florida Power and Light, horsemen Jerry Hollendorfer, Bob Baffert, B. Wayne Hughes, and Cecil Peacock, Max International, and the Southern Service Company, which appears to be a shady Florida-based hotel cleaning and maintenance company, a Google search of which yields no website and a litany of complaints regarding the use of undocumented workers. Nice going there, Frank.

Also listed as creditors and of local interest here (and thanks to the reader for taking the time for weeding these out) we have the Daily Racing Form, NYC and other regional OTB's, the New York Times, the NY Turf Writers, the National Museum of Racing, lobbyist Patricia Lynch, the New York State Child Support Processing Center, the State Racing and Wagering Board, Friends of New York Racing, the Monticello and Saratoga harness tracks, the NY State Commission on Public Integrity, NY Corporate and Sales Tax, Specialty World Food in Albany, the NY Senate Republican Campaign Committee, and Angel Cordero, Jr. Gee, I should check to see if I'm on that list. Magna has left few segments of the already reeling economy unscathed.

Andy Beyer wrote about the situation in the Washington Post, and one point he made bears repeating, as it's an important distinction I believe during the still developing economic crisis.

The bankruptcy of the Magna Entertainment Corp.....was not another case of a company ruined by executive greed. On the contrary.

Magna's all-powerful chairman, Frank Stronach, loves horses and racing. He has invested countless millions of his own dollars in his personal breeding and racing operation, and his passion for the game led him to buy racetracks from Gulfstream Park to Santa Anita. He wasn't motivated by the desire to install slot machines or any other hidden agenda. He genuinely thought he could make horse racing more enjoyable and more popular.
But I wonder if Frank was ever really fully focused on his vision for the future of racetracks. I don't recall him ever really articulating a coherent vision, mostly just sound bytes about shopping malls and movie theaters. He's never been a spokesperson for the industry. He had so many things going on, in particular Magna International, his auto parts company, the one in which he actually made money. Over the last few years, he was working on his ill-fated deal with the Russian businessman Oleg Deripaska, which came after a lengthy campaign to win shareholders over for the deal. And that's aside of course from overseeing the operations of several companies, running his breeding operation, developing his energy drinks, and trying to keep the executive spots at Magna Entertainment filled. How is a guy like that supposed to spend any quality time at the races?

It's too bad, really. I always thought that Frank meant well; I think he had only the best intentions when he completely ruined Gulfstream. That's the real tragedy here I believe, aside of course from the prospect of some Magna racetracks soon becoming shopping malls or condos and the resulting livelihoods lost. Here was a guy who really did have the passion AND the money to really help the sport. Yet it's now entirely possible, depending on the eventual disposition of the tracks that are involved, that he will leave the game in significantly worse shape than how he found it.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Derby Fever Proves Distraction

Expecting to read the praises of the gritty win by Stardom Bound in the SA Oaks, I was surprised, and rather disappointed, to instead see it being framed in disappointment. So obsessed with the Kentucky Derby are we, that a race which I found to be easily amongst the most exhilarating of the year, was rather dismissively referred to by Jay Privman in the Form as a desperate nose win over a moderate group that left her connections soberly realistic about what could come next.

Before the race, the Grade 1, $750,000 Santa Anita Derby on April 4, against males, was considered a strong possibility. Now...
In the LA Times, Bill Dwyre labeled Stardom Bound's victory as a "rocky win," and called it "dicey."

Dicey? This filly lagged behind a moderate pace, made her usual sweep around the final turn; this time conceding a tremendous amount of ground - four wide for a good portion of the turn, and a full seven wide turning for home. Whatsmore, she was carried two paths further outside by a drifting filly in deep stretch. Having lost her forward momentum if for just an instant, Stardom Bound appeared hopelessly beaten at that point. But she showed the class of a true champ, coming on again to surge to a courageous win, in a final sixteenth of 5.85 seconds.

Yes, Privman is factually correct to say that it was a "desperate nose win over a moderate group." Yet, if he didn't have the Derby in mind, I bet he would have framed it in a far more positive way. Personally, this performance will not cause me to move this filly down a single notch in my Derby rankings. But, forgetting that race for a moment if we may, it's truly sad and unfortunate if we are unable to fully appreciate an effort like this simply for what it was - a superb display of consistency, speed, courage and determination by a fantastic filly who, Derby or no Derby, deserves to rank as one of the sport's very few true stars.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Aqueduct Saturday

In the second at the Big A on Saturday, Cary Again (6-1) tries to bounce back from a troubled NY and two-turn debut for Pletcher. The Toddster is going great guns these days; four winners and two seconds from his nine here, and six out of his last ten at Gulfstream (with a winner at Santa Anita on Wednesday thrown in too)! This horse is a Stonerside-bred and thus Darley-owned half-brother, by the ubiquitous Unbridled's Song, to the multiple G1 winner Congaree, standing at Adena for $10,000. Cary Again stumbled just a bit at the start, but was in tight quarters all the way home from the 3/8ths. Winner Haitian Sensation subsequently ran a good second against winners; third place Weekend Action finished third, also against winners. There would seem to be room for tons of upside here...though I rather doubt we'll see 6-1. You might have noticed that I often land on the horses who end up getting bet if not having their picture taken. That means that not only do I pick losers, but overbet ones at that.

Buddy's Song (6-1) also encountered some trouble when making his first two turn try last time out; he steadied quite sharply on the first turn, and ran evenly afterwards for Levine, in a mini-slump at 1 for 14. Flat Bold is listed as the 2-1 morning line favorite, and I'm not getting that one. (And he's also the consensus best bet in the Form!) Perhaps the oddsmaker is just anticipating a large West Point contingent on a Saturday. This son of the AP Indy sire Flatter has run only in two sprints on the Cushion Track at Hollywood; and not much pedigree there either. He's a bet-against on principle should he be favored here.

I Want Revenge is another making his dirt debut, in the Gotham, but I quite like this one, as indicated in this post. I would, however, be more comfortable at 4-1 or higher than his 3-1 morning line. That's a possibility I think, as Mr. Fantasy (7-2) and Haynesfield (5-1)....and possibly even the buzz horse Imperial Council (5-2)....may be bet lower than their morning odds. The latter is a horse I could really get excited about. If the patient Shug is cranking him up early with an eye on the classics, then there must be a good reason. By Empire Maker, he's out of a minor stakes winning Thunder Gulch mare; and this is the family of The Pamplemousse (they have the same third dam) as well as the G1 winner Marlin. But he also is a bet-against on principle as the favorite here making his two-turn debut. I can always jump on the bandwagon later on.

A Matter of Taste

Jerry Bossert, writing in his The Day at the Races column in the Daily News, calls NYRA out for skipping Wednesday's spill on its replay show.

"It was a judgment call on a particularly scary-looking spill," said John Lee, spokesman for the New York Racing Association.

The NYRA is afraid of the video being used by groups such as PETA for their gain or for television stations that never show horse racing except for spills.

But in this day and age, the video is already out there. You can watch the spill at
Other racing jurisdictions practice this, but NYRA never did until Wednesday. It is wrong for the sport to try to cover this up as it unfortunately will always be part of the game.

What will the NYRA do next? Stop showing the races live until it gets a chance to edit them to its liking?
I have to say that I have mixed feelings about this; I think both sides have a point. The replay show is not a news program; it's a presentation of the days' races by NYRA, which owns and controls the content. So I think they certainly have a right to make a judgment call based on what they see as good taste and decency. (I'm assuming here that there was some kind of explanation of the omission.) I haven't watched it myself, and would have changed the channel if I knew it was coming up. Besides, as Bossert said, the video is already out there for people to see; I can't imagine that NYRA could be naive enough to think that their skipping it would possibly mitigate its spread. If anything, it probably encouraged some people to go and seek it out.

But on the other hand, I think Bossert makes a valid point regarding the question whether if it's OK to edit out a spill, then what else is OK? And that: "It is wrong for the sport to try to cover this up as it unfortunately will always be part of the game." So I'm going to take a pass on passing judgment here; feel free to weigh in.

- Construction of the new Concord and Monticello Raceway is on hold. Developer Louis Cappelli has been pretty upfront about the difficulties in raising money presented by the present financial environment....that as opposed to Delaware North and the state with respect to Delaware North. Despite that, Cappelli had been putting up a brave front. But he's issued conflicting statements of late, and now concedes that he doesn't have the money to proceed.
The developer said he's waiting before resuming construction on the Entertainment City hotel and racino resort until he locks down $1 billion. That means workers aren't likely to be back soon.

"I have $550 million dollars spoken for," Cappelli said in an e-mail Thursday. "Can't start yet because we don't meet the legislative hurdle of $1 billion dollars."

Cappelli and partners need to invest $1 billion to reap the benefits of a state tax deal that would pay tens of millions more from the video lottery terminals at a new racino.

Cappelli says he has partial financing, but the plan is to suspend construction while he climbs the considerable hurdle of selling $400 million in IDA municipal bonds during times when the bond market is horrible and gambling resorts are going bankrupt. []

Thursday Night Babbles

A bit under the weather this evening, but I'll babble for a bit until the Nyquil kicks in.

Fortunately, Steve Zorn posts about the Magna bankruptcy on his Business of Racing blog so I don't have to. As he points out, perhaps the best resource of information on the situation is on the Magna site itself. Zorn marvels at the audacity of Frank's ploy.

The effrontery of it all takes one’s breath away. Stronach runs his race track operations into the ground, props them up with money from the real estate company, MID, that he controls, then puts MID in a position to emerge with a bigger share of the debt than outside creditors and with a substantial chunk of the assets. If he succeeds, it’ll become part of bankruptcy lore that will be taught in the casebooks for years to come. [Business of Racing]
I just love when I write about a trainer who I think is getting hot, and then, for whatever reason, I look in the results charts and see that he or she scored at a big price. Seventeen Love ($36.40) took the 5th on Thursday for Joe Imperio, his third winner from his last five starters. It's even worse when you look at the pp's and think that he had a shot and that you might have had it. Although, they almost always look like they had a shot when you look after the fact.

- The Gotham on Saturday is quite the intriguing stakes race. But it's not a Derby prep. A prep for a specific stated goal is a race in which the horses are actually preparing for that goal. In the Gotham, they are merely trying to prove themselves worthy of being in a real prep; the Wood for many in this case. The race contains some real promising looking horses, but there's not a single one without far too many questions to be considered a lock to make the Derby starting gate.

I Want Revenge is, in my opinion and despite the surface question, the most legitimate classic candidate in the race. Very interesting ship-in here by Jeff Mullins. According to Formulator, Mullins has had a total of three starters in the last five years on the NYRA circuit; and those were all on Breeders' Cup day in 2005. One of those was Wild Fit, who rallied for second in the Juvie Fillies that day. Shortly afterwards, she sold for $3 million to Coolmore, failed to go on at three as we so often see with fillies, and then died of colic in 2007. (As I said, I'm babbling.)

This son of Stephen Got Even missed by a nose to Pioneerof the Nile, who I have ranked quite highly, and finished third, just 1 1/2 back of that one in the Lewis. He's never run, or trained as far as I can see, on real dirt. One might say that we can get a gauge on Baffert's colt from how I Want Revenge does here. On the other hand, given the surface question, it may not matter at all. But Mullins feels that the Cushion Track is relatively similar to dirt.
"The thing about the horse is he seems to be getting better with every start. He's bred to run on dirt; I don't think he was bred to run on synthetics." [DRF]
Now, if you think I'm babbling, Haskin checks in on the subject.
I Want Revenge could very well be one of those horses who actually is better on the dirt, in which case he will continue on the Derby trail possessing all the attributes you want in a Derby horse. [Bloodhorse]
That's a totally meaningless statement as far as I'm concerned. What is it based on; how does he know? I could write that about any synthetic horse. Oh, never mind.

He's easily the class of this field in my view, and, as a three-year old coming off a career best Beyer, is way eligible to improve. If of course he takes to the dirt.

- And yes, another fatality at the Big A, as Sigh You broke down in Thursday's 8th. This horse was beaten a combined 86 lengths in his last two starts; pretty ugly stuff. It was the 8th death at Aqueduct this year.

- Better Again ($14) took the 2nd for Mark Hennig, his second winner in two days after going three for 50 here. His Brad's My Hero was a good 4th after trouble in the 3rd at 20-1, so could be a barn worth watching.

- Well, that's about it for me, here on a night on which the Rangers won their second in a row, defeating a combative Islanders squad stacked with minor leaguers 4-2 (with some big help from Henrik Lundqvist). On this goal by Scott Gomez, check out the neat pass right between the defenseman's legs by Nikolai Zherdev.