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Thursday, April 30, 2009

I Want Some Juice!

I Want Revenge has to be the most unappealing Derby favorite in quite some time. Here's your Kentucky Derby favorite, off of two races at Aqueduct, one on the inner track, and against highly questionable competition. My God, are we so enslaved to Beyer figures that we can't come up with anything else? Or is this field just otherwise too filled with questions and uncertainties over track surfaces, layoffs and inexperience? I was at the Wood, and that was an impressive move indeed. But it certainly didn't cause my jaw to drop, like with Bellamy Road. Now that was a favorite with buzz and appeal; as were Big Brown, Street Sense, Barbaro (not the actual post-time favorite by virtue of the late punch on Sweetnorthernsaint, but considered the pre-race favorite if I recall correctly), Smarty Jones, Empire Maker, Point Given, and Fusaichi Pegasus (the only one since 2000 which I left out was Harlan's Holiday in 2002). Maybe I'm missing something? But it seems to me that there's no juice on this horse at all.

I mean that in two ways, both in favor of and against him. After all, he doesn't have the most lovable connections. But even that hasn't seemed to stir up the kind of visceral hatred we saw from some quarters regarding Big Brown, with his notorious trainer and investment banker (or so we were told) owner, both with past records of misdoings.

And worse than being unappealing, I think these connections are just plain dull. Dutrow is at least quotable, affable, and honest (in some ways) to a fault. One could make the 'lovable scamp' case for him. But Mullins is just a slug. He's surly and defensive and is on record calling horseplayers idiots. And last year, I thought Iavarone's story and his plans for IEAH were interesting if nothing else; and I thought he deserved full credit for picking Big Brown out of a maiden grass race. But I find that the IEAH thing has gotten very old very quickly. In this Derby, the culmination of Iavarone's desperate attempt to buy a very expensive bunch of roses just seems so contrived. I begrudged him nothing last year, but I find myself actively rooting against the sight of the IEAH entourage celebrating in the winner's circle as if they actually did anything to deserve it.

- Papa Clem had that little blowout today.

Two Derby horses blew out for the race, including Papa Clem (three furlongs in 34.47 seconds), who needed to do something serious and impressive following his very disappointing seven-furlong work here last week. And sure enough, that's exactly what he accomplished. With jockey Rafael Bejarano aboard, Papa Clem left the quarter pole in full stride and flew down the stretch, getting to the wire in 22.65 while reaching out nicely under some encouragement before finishing up at the seven-furlong pole and galloping out a half in 47.86. Only three furlongs but a definite improvement over his previous work. [Daily Racing Form]

Into The Mainstream

Forcibly liberated from Rangers hockey for the season and still uninspired by this year's Derby, I went out to see the Scottish band Mogwai last night at the Music Hall of Williamsburg, a fine and relatively new space in Brooklyn. Playing mostly instrumentals, this band pounds out down-tempo "post-rock" dirges; quite epic and melodramatic in nature, a natural progression I suppose for a kid who counted King Crimson and Procol Harum amongst his faves back in the day. Loud, tight, and intense with a wall of guitars and a rumbling bass. Great show; their latest album is available on Matador.

While awaiting the band's appearance, I overheard a conversation about the Kentucky Derby, surprise surprise. They were talking about mint juleps, and I think they were planning to go to the Bell House, also in Brooklyn, where the official Derby drink is free from 5 until 6!! Free!!! Yeah, they're probably in little shot glasses, but who's to complain for free!?

I knew they weren't real fans, because they referred to the favorite as He Wants Revenge. But it's always nice to see the sport drift, if ever so slightly, into the mainstream this time of year. Reader RG alerts us to a special on CNBC tonight. There's a long article on Larry Jones in this week's issue of The New Yorker (registration required to read the entire article). The first part is worth reading - it discusses how Rick Porter chose Jones and describes his unorthodox training methods. But then it moves into a detailed recounting of the Eight Belles disaster, so I didn't bother going through the rest. The Book Bench, a New Yorker blog, has a piece on Five Splendid Books for Derby Day (though the Racing Form will generally suffice for me).

And then we have on the front page of the New York Times, Joe Drape's article with the headline Despite Outcry, Derby Owners Fall Silent on Drugs for Horses, complete with a photo of a horse with notations of which drugs work their magic where. The Paper of Record continues its year-long assault on the racing industry.

Of the 20 owners or their trainers who as of Monday intended to run a horse in the Derby, only three shared their veterinary records with The New York Times.
The 17 owners unwilling to show the records offered a variety of reasons for their refusal. Some talked about competitive pressures, and one trainer cited his horse’s privacy.

David Lanzman, co-owner of the Derby favorite, I Want Revenge, referred the inquiry to his trainer, Jeff Mullins. “I’m a mortgage banker,” Lanzman said. “I don’t know what goes on back there.” Mullins declined to provide the records.

The owners’ responses make it impossible to tell what practices even racing’s most prominent and accomplished people follow when using chemistry to improve their horses’ performance. [NY Times]
Well, if I was a trainer administering legal medication to my horse, I wouldn't tell Drape about it either. Not a matter of hiding anything given the fact that we're talking about permissible medication. But why would I give away my trade secrets like that? (And I'd have to believe that the guy who said he was protecting his horse's privacy had to be putting him on.)

Here again is a case of the press commenting dispassionately on a controversy that it played a major role in creating, like the reports we read about the "circus" that Governor Paterson created over his Senate selection, when it was that press itself which mostly created it. The Times, with its William C. Rhoden columns and Drape's reporting on Rick Dutrow, played a major role in the "outcry" that Drape cites - and over what? I don't want to sound cold and unfeeling here, but let's be objective - one dead horse in 134 years of Kentucky Derbies is really hardly newsworthy at all, the obvious and understandable melancholy and tragic effects on its connections and lovers of the sport and breed aside. And the big fuss over Dutrow and Big Brown was over a drug which was perfectly legal at the time, and which had nothing to do with Eight Belles at all. Yes, it's certainly a concern that, as noted in the article, the death rate for racehorses in this country far exceeds those overseas. But that's way old news, and does it really warrant a front page story in the New York Times?

- Mogwai

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Odd Odds

This year is the easiest time I've had tossing the Derby favorite since Empire Maker in 2003. I kinda knew I would regret it when I bet against Street Sense and Big Brown. But in the case of I Want Revenge, if he's really 3-1 - and I have my doubts about the morning odds in general - I won't give it a second thought. That does not, of course, mean, at least in this particular case, that I think he's a bad horse, or that I'd be surprised if he won. But at that price - or even up to 4-1, 9-2 or so - given the generally lame quality of the horses he beat in New York (though I guess I must reluctantly admit that Mr. Fantasy gets some props), as well as the usual possibility of traffic troubles and general mayhem along the way in the big field, I'll just take my losses and move on to the 12th if he wins.

Likewise, though to a somewhat lesser extent, for Pioneerof the Nile at 4-1. As for Dunkirk, also, do you really think he'll be 4-1? I love this horse, I thought he was a monster in defeat at Gulfstream; but I can't bet him at odds like that, in his 4th career start and having run just once in the last ten weeks....though I will certainly be saving with him in exotics.

And maybe it's time for me to hang up the laptop, but....I just don't get Papa Clem being 20-1...and you guys got on me when I said that I wouldn't be shocked if he wasn't too far off Baffert's horse on the tote; OK, so, maybe I have a gaffe every once in a while. But forget Mike Welsch for a moment, I'm saying, it's right there in black and white! Here's a son of Smart Strike who has turned it around since stretching out to two turns, beat I Want Revenge, lost by a half length to Pioneerof the Nile, got spanked by Friesan Fire on a sloppy track at Fair Grounds, but held second and bounced back to win the Arkansas Derby with a career best Beyer of 101. My point here is more that he's going to get bet because of positives in his form which are plain for all to see than that I think he's the likeliest winner of the race. But if he's really 20-1, I'll have a nice bet on his nose.

Oh, and about that horrible workout, Haskin reports today:

Yesterday, I mentioned that after observing Papa Clem’s last work, I was of the firm belief the rider misjudged the finish line. I finally was able to speak to trainer Gary Stute, who confirmed that the rider did indeed misjudge the finish line. Stute will give the colt a good quarter-mile blowout, going out three-eighths on Thursday to help make up for that. []

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Taking a Stand

My buddy DiscreetPicks writes of Friesan Fire:

Personally, he's not my top pick, but i think it would be foolish to underestimate Friesan Fire. Don't forget, he was very much flattered when Papa Clem came back to win the Arkansas Derby. And of course Jones has saddled the second-place finisher each of the last two years, one of whom was coming off a similar layoff.
I'm not underestimating him, I'm just throwing him out. Yeah, maybe Larry Jones will pull it off after seven weeks off, but I'm betting against that; and I think, if he is around the 6-1 that Crist estimates here, that the odds will be in my favor. You gotta take a stand at some point, and I'm not betting this horse off seven weeks rest. I miss those old rules; they at least provided some order along with some automatic throwouts. Now you can't automatically eliminate anyone. Just a few years ago - even less! - I would never have believed that I would think that a colt who never started at two and hasn't raced in five weeks is amongst the most probable winners of the 2009 Kentucky Derby.

Pioneerof the Nile is another one that I've soured on....though only provisionally in this case. I loved his determined win in the Robert Lewis; it's up there with the Wood is my top prep performance. His two races since did not go according to plan however, with the son of Empire Maker, impatient with dawdling fractions, tugging to the front and put under a drive to hold on; in the SA Derby he held off Chocolate Candy, a horse I'm not in love with (I just decided that after sending in my Paulick list with him at like #6). I like that POTN got tired and got some good conditioning in those races, and he's in fine fettle from all accounts. But there's also that nagging synthetic track question, and that alone would make him a tough play at 6-1 or so.

However, I'm thinking that this might be a horse who goes off a bit higher than we think. One horse in particular that I believe is being way underestimated in terms of his probable odds is Papa Clem....especially in relation to Pioneerof the Nile. Papa Clem may have lost to POTN by a half length, but since then he won on dirt with a 101 Beyer that's five points better than anything Baffert's horse has ever run. I know, I've been repeating that the Beyers on synthetic tracks don't mean anything. But probably about 99.99% of the people who will betting the Derby don't read this blog, and the smarter ones amongst the remaining .01% don't care what I say anyway. So, I wouldn't be shocked if Papa Clem and POTN are sent off at comparable odds of, say 8, perhaps 9-1? (Damn that Quality Road scratch!) Around those odds, then I'm looking at Baffert's colt differently.

Win Willy is over the dosage limit, at 5.0. Well? As I said, I miss those old rules. His sire Monarchos won the Derby of course, but has done little at stud; and the broodmare sire Carson City does not inspire distance confidence. His dam won the six furlong Correction Handicap. Win Willy actually closed quite well in the Arkansas Derby, getting the last eighth in 11.93 in finishing 4th. But I dunno, he comes off to me as one of those horses who will close well for 8th or so after being far back early.

- Well, I guess the Rangers might as well not even show up for Game 7 tonight. They seem to have been completely written off, even by many of their own fans. And even I have to admit that it wouldn't be much of a surprise if they went down meekly. However, I've kept the faith all year, so why should this be any different? Personally, I think that the Caps looked beatable in both Games 5 and 6, despite the lopsided scores. I believe that the Rangers have been better defensively; - other than in goal - not perfect to be sure, but better. I also think that their D has been more assertive and aggressive against Ovechkin, who, despite his two goals, has not been as dominant as earlier in the series. I believe that they can beat Varlamov if positioned for rebounds, or if they shoot the freaking puck on net, or simply don't shoot right into his pads, which has been largely the case in my opinion. The Caps have been the better team for the most part for sure, and the Rangers will sorely miss Blair Betts, their top penalty killer (no coincidence that the Caps power play, largely held in check to that point, went two-for-two after Brahsear's unpenalized assault for which he was suspended for five games)(and hopefully Brandon Dubinsky won't develop rabies). But it's just one game folks. The Caps are the second seed in the East, and were expected to breeze in this round. They got this far after trailing 3-1 last year, and didn't get it done, at home. The pressure is squarely on them. If the Broadway Blueshirts can get an early lead and a big save or two from Lundqvist, the Caps may really start to feel the heat.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Friesan Fires Bullet; No Matter

- Friesan Fire burned up the track at Churchill, working five furlongs in 57 4/5 seconds, with splits of :11 1/5, :22 1/5, :33 3/5, and 45:1/5. Friesan Fire galloped out six furlongs in 1:14. Since I'm firmly committed to standing against him off seven weeks off on both principle and in hope of saving what's left of the Derby prep season as we know it, I don't really care if he worked faster than an Ovechkin wrist shot. We heard the usual defensive rationalization from the connections afterwards - he was "well within himself," the rider thought he went in a minute, it "didn’t look like he was working that hard," etc., etc. Whatever, if he wins, I lose, and so be it. And he'll of course be an even lower price now with Quality Road, another I was eagerly looking forward to leaving completely off my tickets, out of the race; too bad.

-, a Connecticut-based website, reported late last week that Mohegan Sun has yet to decide whether to resubmit a bid for the Aqueduct racino....or whether or not Capital Play will again be a partner if they do.

”We're running models of the competitive landscape and haven't decided whether to provide a bid,” Jeffrey Hartmann, chief operating officer of the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority, which manages Mohegan Sun, said Thursday. He added, however, “We believe we have the best understanding of the Northeast gaming market.” []
Hartmann added that the new RFP does not provide an option for bidders interested only in building and managing the casino as opposed to owning it; and that will apparently dissuade at least one other potential bidder.
”New York contemplates that the winner (of the bidding process) would own and operate the facility,” Armentrout said. “They're looking at a $3 million upfront payment just to be considered, as well as the upfront licensing fee and effectively a 78 percent tax rate. Based on that, it's not likely that we're going to participate this time around.”
Indeed, it does not sound like a very appealing proposition.

- I may certainly be missing something somewhere, but it appears as to me, as confirmed by the NY Post, that the MTA's cancellation of the Long Island Railroad's service to Belmont, is the very first doomsday-plan service cut. Considering that the MTA plans to completely eliminate two subway lines - the W and the Z - as well as dozens of bus routes, I'd also guess that it's the one that affects the least amount of people NYRA is reportedly spending $100,000 of its own money to provide the bus shuttle from the Queens Village station.

- Well, it comes down to Game 7 for the Rangers, now outscored by an embarrassing 14-5 in losing three of the last four games while blowing a 3-1 series lead; the Caps shot, skated, elbowed, and bit their way to a 5-3 win. After stopping 37 of 38 shots in providing one of the more spectacular goaltending displays that I've seen in winning Game 4, Henrik Lundqvist has surrendered nine goals on 34 shots. The first two goals yesterday were quite similar to the goals given up by Jose Theodore in Game 1 which caused him to be benched. The King has to be much better if the Broadway Blueshirts have any hope against hope tomorrow night.

They will also have to do without Blair Betts, their best penalty killer. 18,000 fans and millions thousands of fans watching on NBC saw the thug Donald Brashear take Betts out with a vicious and very late elbow to the face; but apparently, all four of the on-ice officials missed it. Betts suffered a broken orbital bone. Instead of getting a major power play at a time when the action had tilted in their favor, the Rangers soon had a cheap call go against them and fell behind for good. Given the goal disparity in the last four games, no doubt it is not because of the referees that the Rangers find themselves in this position. If this were a hockey blog, I could go on about what ails them for quite some time. However, I will say that the officiating in this series has been a fucking disgrace ever since the opening seconds of Game 1 when a bogus penalty to Dan Girardi was assessed. I hope the NHL will be very happy with their treasured Ovechkin-Crosby Eastern final that few outside of those relatively small viewing areas will watch.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Derby Notes

Mike Welsch, writing in the Form and referring to Papa Clem's Arkansas Derby, reports that the colt has certainly given little indication he will be capable of duplicating the effort on Derby Day.

Breaking off at the seven-furlong marker, Papa Clem began at a rapid but certainly not overtaxing pace, getting his opening three furlongs in 36.70 seconds. But by the time he settled into the stretch, it became readily apparent Papa Clem had already begun tossing in the towel. Had to be put under strong urging, with exercise rider Mundo Cedeno throwing several crosses with the reins for encouragement, to cover his second three-eighths in 38.55 seconds, then barely made it to the wire, with Cedeno standing up and patting his exhausted mount a couple of times on the neck as they approached the finish line. [Daily Racing Form]
But in Saturday's Kentucky Derby Notes release, trainer Gary Stute says: “The main goal was just to get him tired." Apparently he succeeded. Stute said that Papa Clem could blow out a quarter-mile in the final day or two before the Derby “if he’s biting and kicking.” I'll keep an eye on this one despite Welsch's take on the proceedings. (General Quarters, who'd also gotten the thumbs down from the Racing Form's Clockerman, was reported on Saturday to be striding out more smoothly and appearing much more comfortable.)

Papa Clem is a horse who has all of the qualities I look to see. He's on the improve, possesses tactical speed and has also shown the ability to win from off the pace, has a suitable pedigree, by Smart Strike, from the Derby-successful Raise A Native line, and has run in three races this year, the last one three weeks ago. I mean, that used to be a good thing, right? He's also shown versatility, having run well on Pro-Ride, the slop at Fair Grounds and the fast track in the Arkansas Derby. With all the attention on the synthetic/dirt question, remember that the Churchill surface has its own reputation as one that not every horse takes to, so I consider that to be a plus. Figures to be one of the value propositions I think, perhaps 12, 15-1 or so y'think?

(Also will point that of the three top finishers in the Arkansas Derby, Old Fashioned is retired with an injury, and both Papa Clem and Summer Bird have gotten seriously dissed by Welsch).

At Palm Meadows in Florida, one of the Magna properties which will now have to be sold off separately after last week's court decision blocking the plan to sell it to MI Developments as part of a bundle, Dunkirk worked five furlongs in 1:01.05. Pletcher told Ky Derby Notes:
“We couldn’t be more pleased with the way things have gone as he’s come up to this race,” Pletcher said. “Everything has fallen into place. Every one of his works has taken place when we wanted it to and they have all come off the way we hoped. He’s coming up to the race right and we’re feeling very good about him. We couldn’t be happier.”
I saw an article in the Saratogian earlier this week in which Pletcher said that Dunkirk is the furthest along and the most 10-furlong-ready animal he’s had at this time of year.
“I don’t see him as very green at all....He’s been in traffic and had dirt in his face. The horse is very well educated for a lightly raced horse.”
The Toddster seems particularly jacked about this one; don't recall him sounding this confident before the Derby. I love the horse myself, and loved his Florida Derby. I'd take him over Quality Road and his quarter cracks without a doubt at this point. But I dunno, I still hate the one race in the ten weeks leading up to the Derby, and his value prospects remain to be seen.

Friesan Fire galloped at Churchill for the first time, and jeez, I hope this horse doesn't win. If he does, off of seven weeks rest, besides the fact that I'll lose all of my Derby bets, we'll start to see tracks moving their preps back like states trying to have the early primaries. How long do you think it would be before a horse makes his three-year old debut on the first Saturday in May?

Saturday Morning Notes

Well, it's an absolutely gorgeous day here in the borough of Queens, a perfect day for racing at.....Aqueduct? I can't believe I actually complained a few weeks ago that Belmont was opening too early this year. As I'm sure you've noticed, I've been done with the Big A for some time now; ever since the main track opened, really. This horseplayer needs a clean break from time to time, and I'm looking forward to the opening of Belmont this week.

However, the relative handful of folks who depend on the Long Island Railroad to get to Belmont - just 100 hardcore fans per typical day according to the LIRR - will have to make other plans. Even before lawmakers in Albany give up on reaching agreement on a bailout plan for the MTA, it has terminated its service from Penn Station to the track. And objectively, who can really blame them? By cutting the service, the LIRR could save itself operating funds estimated to be $112,000 annually. [Franklin Square/Elmont/West Hempstead Herald]

NYRA will try to compensate by providing free bus shuttles from the nearby Queens Village station. And the MTA will run the trains on Belmont Stakes day. “Ridership can jump up to 20,000 to 30,000 people on that one day." Imagine what that $112,000 figure would be without that day.....which I'd guess is like imagining what NYRA's bottom line for the Belmont spring meeting would be without its signature race.

- Summer Bird gets the thumbs down from Mike Welsch in his workout report from Friday. But on the other end of the spectrum, the Form's clocker reports that I Want Revenge looks as good as any member of the field presently on the grounds.

- Rangers coach John Tortorella, who benched Sean Avery for his lack of discipline, faces possible disciplinary action from the NHL after throwing a water bottle at some unruly Caps fans in the third period of the Blueshirts' 4-0 loss last night. It's not clear whether his outburst was or was not prompted by getting doused by some beer. Tortorella also unleashed Colton Orr and Aaron Voros to run around with their sticks up high in the third period, and the Caps did a good job in remaining restrained. It's a weird series in what has been a strange season for the hometown heros, leading the series 3-2 despite being outscored 12-7 overall; seven goals in five games?!? They've been outshot by 170-119. But only by 21-20 last night. Call me nutty, but I thought they did some good things defensively on a night when Henrik Lundqvist surrendered four goals on only 14 shots (before being rested for the third), one a weak prayer from the side of the net that went through his pads. I anticipate him to bounce back with a strong effort, and, optimistically and with the hope that one or more of their top players will actually score a goal, for the Blueshirts to wrap this thing up tomorrow afternoon. They better....or else..

Friday, April 24, 2009

Better Than Big Brown??

Joe Drape writes on The Rail that Michael Iavarone told him, shortly after his IEAH purchased half of I Want Revenge, and in the context of having acknowledged that Big Brown might not have beaten a stellar bunch in the Derby and Preakness: “I think we have a better horse this year."

I'm pretty shocked that he would say such a thing. For one thing, at the time he did, after IEAH desperately bought into I Want Revenge (after the Gotham and before his impressive Wood), the colt was nothing more than a horse with two wins in seven starts, including his Big A freakout, which came after a perfect trip in an extremely weak Grade 3 field behind the perfect foil in Mr. Fantasy. Big Brown was a Derby and Preakness winner who was undefeated in races when actually ridden out to the wire. And, while his opponents may not have been all that much, I'd like to see any of the horses in this year's edition go five wide into the first turn and win easily with a 109 Beyer.

Besides, even if he does really believe that I Want Revenge is a better horse, why would he say anything at this stage to tarnish the reputation of Big Brown at a time when the horse is still very much in the process of being marketed as a stallion with a hefty first-year stud fee?

Perhaps this is going too far, but I also find it rather disrespectful to the sport. Big Brown wasn't just any Derby winner. His was a sensational victory of historic proportions, not only coming in only his 4th career start, but making him the first horse to win from the 20 post since the First Great Depression. Big Brown affirmed that accomplishment with his laughably easy Preakness win. And even if you don't believe that his two post-Belmont wins punctuated his spring campaign with a bold exclamation point, they at least showed class and style worthy of a Derby winner. He had charisma too, attracting crowds and attention. And, as we all know, if healthy, he would have kicked Whats-his-name's butt. I believe he was a great horse, and that he has fascinating potential at stud given his pedigree. I Want Revenge hasn't accomplished even a tiny fraction of what Big Brown did, and it just seems tacky and self-serving at the least to have made such a comparison at that point in time.

- This is the page where you'll find Mike Welsch's workout reports. As in the past, I'm really more interested in who he thinks is not working well than those he finds impressive since the latter generally pertains to most of the field. And Welsch did not at all like the work by General Quarters on Thursday.

Unfortunately, he never really leveled off through the final furlong, coming home his final eighth in a lackluster 13.13 seconds, especially considering the rapid nature of the course. He also shut down a bit quickly during the gallop-out, pulling up six furlongs in 1:16.09.
Also on Thursday, I got a photo of the colt's work from Churchill publicity with permission to use it as long as I credit Reed Palmer Photography/Churchill Downs. So....

Reed Palmer Photography/Churchill Downs

- A reader writes: No mention of those extremely dirty and stupid Avery penalties? Fair enough. Not that I don't have anything to say about that; but people don't come here to read about hockey so I try to keep those comments perfunctory. But as long as you brought it up, those were indeed extremely dirty and, especially, stupid penalties. Sean Avery is not a stupid guy, but he has some severe problems to say the least. While I'm really glad that this commenter watched and otherwise enjoyed the game on the recommendation of this site, I'm sorry he/she had to see that. It's embarrassing. But Avery is also a very talented hockey player; an excellent skater with a good shot, adept in traffic along the boards, and with surprisingly good vision of the ice.....and his return was one of the reasons that the team is in the playoffs at all. So I imagine that you'll see him on the ice again tonight for Game 5. One of these days, maybe he'll chill and learn to manage his anger before he gets his team eliminated or hurts someone and gets thrown out of the sport for a really legitimate reason other than crude comments between games.

I could also go on about the unrelated matter of the unprofessional manner that he's been singled out for penalties by the officials, but.....I know you're not here to read about hockey...

Thursday, April 23, 2009


Oh yeah, right. The Kentucky Derby. Anyone else out there suffering from some Derby overload bordering on indifference this year? Seems to me that the "Trail" has gotten longer in duration and far, far more wonk-y given all of the myriad websites, blogs, twits, lists, and purely speculative charts and spreadsheets out there...but, at the same time, far less interesting in terms of substance....that is, horses actually running in actual relevant preps. I Want Revenge and Papa Clem notwithstanding, I don't really know if any race run on a synthetic track can be considered a relevant prep for the Derby. We spend most of our time guessing whether that is or is not the case, whether a horse who's been off for five, six, seven weeks can crank it back up, whether a horse which has only run five, four, three times can possibly be ready. All instead of actual handicapping of a horse race. So I gotta admit I'm having a hard time, but I guess I'll have to try and crank it up. And soon!

But ah, not yet...

- Thanks so much to all of the thoughtful commenters who chimed in on the last post. As you might expect, Delaware North denied the charges alleged in SL Green's suit - and when, really, is the last time you heard of any defendant other than Bernie Madoff go "yeah, they're right, I did it?" Company president William Bissett called it “a desperate attempt by SL Green to try to enhance their standing in the re-bid process" and reaffirmed his intention to participate in the latest bidding round.

“The rebid allows the state and the bidders to address the issues of timing and the changing economic climate." [Biz Journals]
In other words, to adjust their bids downward. SL Green also confirmed that they're in, as did Mohegan Sun, apparently this time without Capital Play.
“Once Delaware North withdrew, we started handicapping what would come out of the Governor’s office,” [COO Jeff Harmann] quipped to The Queens Courier.

“We are reviewing the proposal,” Harmann continued, “We think that, as the premier casino operator in the northeast, a Mohegan Sun operated facility at Aqueduct will generate more jobs and more revenue for Queens.” [Queens Courier]
Governor Paterson's spokesperson Morgan Hook defended the delay in the announcement of the new bidding process.
“We put out the announcement as soon as there was a three-way agreement between the Governor, the Speaker and the Majority Leader.”
Huh? It took six weeks to merely agree to accept new bids?? What exactly did they have to agree on? And how long then will it take them to agree on a new winner? Unbelievable.

- On the day after Earth Day, here's a story (hat tip to the Albany Law School Racing and Wagering page) about Batavia Downs near Buffalo, which will be switching to solar energy next year.
The track and casino will install 144 solar panels later this spring to generate power for evening racing and casino gambling.
The state Energy Research and Development Authority has provided much of the funding for the $200,000 project, which is expected to generate more than $250,000 in energy savings. Solar Liberty of Williamsville will do the installation of panels. [Buffalo News]
President Obama pointed out yesterday that less than 3% of this country's energy consumption is generated from alternative sources, so hear hear to this project - a very small step in the right direction.

- And the Rangers took a 3-1 series lead with a thrilling 2-1 win over the Caps at an insane Madison Square Garden last night. In many if not most cases in best-of-seven series, you'll see the word "commanding" precede '3-1 series lead,' but I'm not going there, not in this case, not at all. The Broadway Blueshirts have won three one-goal games on the strength of spectacular...almost otherwordly...goaltending from The King, courageous penalty killing, the grit of foot soldiers such as Blair Betts, Fred Sjostrom, and Laurie Korpikoski, and the unbridled energy of their young forwards Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky (winner of 15 out of 17 faceoffs last night). During a regular season in which most of the team's high-priced veterans disappointed, these players named above were the heart and the soul of the team all year long. Hopefully, they can lift the team through one more win against the Caps' awesome offensive power and move on to the first Rangers-Bruins playoff series since.....whew, I'm thinking, 1973?? I'll have to go to the yearbook to confirm that!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Fooling SL Green

SL Green's lawsuit against Delaware North, conveniently timed as the latest round of bidding for the racino at Aqueduct begins, accuses the company of engaging in brazen lies and outright deception, and violating basic contractual agreements as it won the bidding to build and operate the VLT parlor. It also, in my mind, calls SL Green's own judgment into serious question; and reveals what is, at least to me, a surprising twist regarding its racino bid.

It's the dealings between the two companies when they were part of our old Friends at Empire Racing that's at the center of the complaint, which recounts, in sufficient detail, the confidentiality and non-compete covenants that were part of Delaware North's agreement to join the group in 2006.

The key point of the complaint as I see it is this (and you can read the document, in pdf form, here if you scroll down)(and you may notice that this article in the Observer was updated with a correction after yours truly left a comment pointed out a factual error...and they didn't even say thank you!):

As you may recall, Governor Spitzer, upon taking office in January 2007, discarded the work of the Ad Hoc Committee (quite possibly the most transparent process in the history of Albany), which selected Excelsior to run the franchise. He eventually decided, some nine months later, to split the franchise between NYRA and a racino operator to be determined. However, the Senate, led by Joe Bruno, opposed the plan and held new hearings of its own. So, with hope that it still had a shot at the entire franchise, Empire was at the crossroads. Should it abandon its racing bid and shoot for the racino? Or press on for the big prize?

This was a critical decision, as Empire would have to spend additional time and money to develop a stand-alone VLT bid (even though the Legislature appeared to be opposed to the Governor's proposed bidding process). Yet if the Governor did reach agreement with the Legislature on the revised bidding process, Empire wanted to remain in consideration for the award of the VLT Rights.
So, according to the Plaintiff, Empire "originally concluded" that it would participate in both of the bidding processes in order to protect its interests. However, Delaware North had something to say about that.
While various members of Empire initially favored participating in the Governor's bidding process, DNC argued against Empire submitting a stand-alone bid for the VLT Rights. Ultimately, DNC -- which was brought into Empire specifically for its VLT experience -- convinced Empire not to submit an expression of interest or to undertake any work to prepare a separate bid for the VLT Rights. On October, 3, 2007, for example, DNC argued to the Empire Executive Committee that Empire could not put together a credible bid for the VLT Rights in the short time permitted under the Governor's bidding process.....Had DNC not urged against it, Empire would have prepared a bid for the VLT Rights at that time.
It was just six days later than Delaware North resigned from the Empire board, and "attempted to tender back its ownership interest in Empire." And it was on October 15 that the company announced its new partnership with the Saratoga racino to bid for the racino itself. SL Green accuses Delaware North of having made "statements to the Empire Executive Committee...made solely to wrongfully deceive Empire into refraining from preparing and proceeding with a VLT bid."

Oh man. It's almost difficult to believe that a company could be so audaciously deceptive. But what's harder to believe is SL Green's claim that, even after being double-crossed in this fashion, it still attempted to partner with Delaware North; and not only that, it "gave DNC access to the confidential and proprietary information in support of the VLT bid that Empire and SL Green had continued to develop after DNC's purported withdrawal. That information included SL Green's design and development plans and economic proposals for its bid for the Aqueduct VLT Rights."

Of course, Delaware North went it alone, and "used its access to SL Green's confidential and proprietary information to make DNC's own bid more competitive with SL Green's, thus again breaching its duties to SL Green!" Exclamation point is mine....are you kidding me? If fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me is an accepted legal principle, this case will be thrown out on its face.

What came as a surprise to me is the fact that, according to the complaint, Empire Racing "appointed SL Green as the successor-in-interest to Empire for purposes of pursuing" the racino.
In return, among other things, SL Green agreed that should it win the bid for the VLT Rights at Aqueduct, it would make certain monetary payments to Empire.
I've never before read of Empire, whatever was left of it, being involved in the SL Green/Hard Rock Cafe bid. I don't recall Empire ever officially disbanding; it suffered some flesh wounds
as partners withdrew. So I wonder which Empire principals would have received what kind of payments (among other things) had SL Green prevailed. And whether this relationship was disclosed to officials in Albany. It's certainly obvious why SL Green wouldn't want to be associated with that brand name given its past relationships and missteps.

Seems as if the Empire That Won't Go Away never completely did. However, we also learn in the summons that "On or about April 17, 2009, Empire ceased operations and is entering dissolution." So the Empire is apparently dead. Maybe.

Owner Peeved Over Painting

Where better to find some news on Magna than the Bankruptcy Beat blog from the Wall Street Journal. An inside look at companies in trouble from Daily Bankruptcy Review. David Romanik, who owned the 1989 Budweiser International winner Caltech, wants an oil painting of his horse back from Laurel Park.

In keeping with the custom for winning owners, Romanik, a Florida lawyer, thoroughbred breeder and former president of Gulfstream Park, commissioned an oil painting of Caltech and loaned it to Laurel. In court papers, he said his requests for the return of the painting have been ignored or refused.

Magna, which also owns Pimlico Race Course, home of the Preakness Stakes, and Santa Anita Park, host of this year’s Breeders’ Cup, didn’t return calls seeking comment. The company has put Laurel Park up for auction, along a number of other tracks it owns, including as part of its bid to restructure under bankruptcy-court protection.

“I’m not sure Laurel is going to be there after this is all over,” Romanik said. []
According to the court papers [pdf file, ht to wsj], Plaintiff Romanik (at the time, the attorney for Gulfstream Park) explains that all of the paintings of International winners were removed from public display after those prior to 1984 were auctioned off. Between that and the discontinuance of the race (at various times known as the D.C. International and last run in 1994), Plaintiff has made demand upon the debtor-in-possession for return of his property, namely the Caltech portrait, and such demand has been ignored and/or refused. Who knows what Frank has done with it; Romanik better hope he hasn't sold it himself!

Below is the video of the win by the then-three year old Caltech (Explosive Bid), with Dave Johnson with the call in competition with the in-house announcer at Laurel.

Many of you recognzied the familiar voice of Harvey Pack there at the end explaining that the horse had run in 25K claimers at Calder before switching to the grass. Prior to this race, Caltech took the Lawrence Realization at Belmont, prompting NY Times reporter Steven Crist to quip:
It did not reflect well on the New York-based grass 3-year-olds that two claimers from Florida ran first and second yesterday.
Some typical NY elitism for you!....though I don't believe that one would be so sanguine these days.

Of course, there's Magna bankruptcy news in the racing press today as well, with the news that Breeders' Cup has Churchill Downs out on deck for this fall's event. Though they don't have a backup plan for adverse weather events, they do have one for its host tracks going bankrupt.
Oak Tree’s executive vice president Sherwood Chillingworth said today that Breeders’ Cup officials want an assurance from the U.S. Bankruptcy Court that the championship racing days will be allowed to take place at Santa Anita regardless of any potential sale of the track.

Breeders' Cup President Greg Avioli said he is confident that approval will be obtained in time. [Louisville Courier Journal]
Whatever. The Breeders' Cup decided in its ultimate wisdom that it would be a good idea to hold its event two years in a row at a track owned by a company who has been warning that its future as a going concern was in substantial doubt since 2006. So yeah, please drop me a note and lemme know how this turns out.

Monday, April 20, 2009

No Racing Overdose for Times

You might have noticed a photo of a thoroughbred race horse on page 1 of today's New York Times. Unfortunately, and as you might expect, it does not accompany a story which marks the run-up to the Kentucky Derby a week from this coming Saturday. Instead, it's a piece on a horse named Overdose, currently the rage in Hungary with a perfect 12-for-12 record. So, for horses, I guess you have to be either a hero in a depressed nation starving for one of any kind, or drop dead after the finish line of the Derby to get on the front page of the Paper of Record these days.

But the Overdose story illustrates one of my ongoing themes - that the love of horse racing is an inherent quality of us silly humans, no matter what the geography or politics may be. I do believe the time will come when a horse once again captures the imagination of the public at large in this country, and provides a major boost to the sport at large. It will be a certain animal with a certain story at a certain time. Don't know when that will be.....except that it apparently won't be around the classics this spring.

I also see that the Times is starting up its The Rail blog again....just around 12 days before the Derby, and certain to come to an end shortly after the Belmont as it did last year. The Times is even chintzy with its cyberspace when it comes to racing. Hockey, a sport which the paper has largely shunned in print since the lockout, has the year-round Slap Shot blog (excellent, by the way). But they can only spare less than two months for racing? For a blog to which I and many others donated their time and effort for absolutely no compensation last year?

- Excellent catch by this I've often said, this site is only as good as the feedback it generates from you guys. In this article from Black Enterprise dated March 19, R. Donohue Peebles, the CEO of Peebles Development Corp, which was to be Delaware North's construction partner on its scuttled Big A racino deal, discloses some information about the original $370 million down payment that I'd never read before.

"Delaware North was going to operate a casino there for slots and they were going to pay the state a licensing fee of $370 million. They were going to pay that licensing fee in four quarterly payments. And so in essence, it was an installment plan from day one and that was going to be about $92 million every quarter."
Peebles adds that Delaware North planned to borrow $270 million of that fee; but when the credit markets froze, it offered the state the $100 million up front, and to pay the balance off within three years.

So, a couple of points....As the reader pointed out, the quarterly payment plan which Peebles mentions is new to me, and seems contrary to the terms of the MOU, and to the notion that the money was going to be part of the fiscal year that ended on April 1. So, his/her suspicion of 'favoritism' towards Del North is certainly understandable. And secondly, at this point, how much better of a deal does the state think it's going to get than the $100 million up front and another $270 within three years that Del North offered, at least according to Peebles?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

A Little Advice

By the time Keeneland track announcer Kurt Becker finally picked up Advice, he was already practically past Square Eddie and on to victory, for Pletcher and Winstar, in the Lexington Stakes on Saturday. As far as last-to-first moves goes, this one seemed pretty effortless. Garrett Gomez was able to save ground behind the pack around the final turn and ease his colt out into a handy seam turning for home. According to Trakus, he ran 50 feet less than did favored Square Eddie, who no doubt expended precious energy sweeping a good five-six wide around the field.

Advice is a son of Chapel Royal, standing in Florida for a fee of $10,000. The perfect outcross for NORTHERN DANCER, MR. PROSPECTOR & SEATTLE SLEW-line mares, reads his Stallion Register page. Indeed, the son of Montbrook is completely devoid of all three, and Advice is out of a daughter of Hennessy (Storm Cat/Storm Bird/Northern Dancer). Inbred 4x5 to Damascus, Advice descends from a distaff family filled with turf winners; little surprise given his success on the Keeneland Polytrack (at least on Saturday; he was far back in 9th in the Breeders Futurity last year). His dam is a half to three grassy stakes winners, and his second dam is a half to Ascutney, a graded turf winner in her own right who is the dam of Raven's Pass, a multiple stakes winner in England before taking the BC Classic last fall. And this is also the distaff family of the Del Mar Oaks winner No Matter What, and the undefeated Rainbow View, the favorite for the 1,000 Guineas next month.

Advice was one of three winners for the Toddster on the day, including Readys Echo (More Than Ready), making a successful return to the races at the age of four. It was actually just the second career win for last year's third place finisher in the Belmont; and both have come at seven perhaps this one's late closing style is more suited for shorter distances.

On Sunday, Monba returns to the scene of his Blue Grass win as the Toddster starts him in the Ben Ali Stakes. As you may recall, this son of Maria's Mon subsequently ran 20th, by some 59 lengths, in the Derby. The Ben Ali also features Adriano, in his four-year old debut, who finished 9 lengths ahead of Monba in 19th; as well as Dominican, in his five-year old debut (yes of course he's a gelding), who finished 11th by 18 lengths in the 2007 Derby. So quite a happy reunion here!

- The Rangers come home to the Garden with a 2-0 series lead in the opening round of the playoffs after their gritty 1-0 win in which they blocked 29 Caps' shots. Who woulda thought they would win twice in Washington against the second-seeded Caps? I had searched online far and wide without success for a single professional prognosticator who picked New York to win the series....and I couldn't say that I blamed them one bit. Now it seems they have a legitimate chance....though still only that at this point. Ryan Callahan scored on what I thought was really their only glorious scoring chance of the entire game. So, without taking anything away from the Caps' rookie goalie Simeon Varlamov, I believe he remains untested. The Rangers have been an excellent home team of late, and I expect them to spend far more time in the offensive zone with their aggressive forecheck, spurred on by a delirious MSG crowd, and resplendent in their Broadway Blue home jerseys. They could deliver a staggering blow with a strong start and an early score on Monday night.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Here We Go Again....Again

On a day when NYRA announced a reduction of purses at the upcoming Belmont meeting, Governor Paterson finally announced the procedure for the latest round of bidding to build the racino at Aqueduct. The bids are due by 5PM on May 8. The Memorandum of Understanding can be read here (large and not very interesting PDF file); and the document is negotiable. Indeed, the clause pertaining to the franchise fee has a big blank space where the bidders can propose what they are willing to pay; and likewise in the clauses relating to maintenance and additional renovation or refurbishment of the VLT Project going forward. I would doubt that the franchise fee number will be $370 million....especially since, this time around, that money will be due just ten days after the bid is accepted. Any bidder will need to have that cash either on hand or at their immediate disposal.

As was the case previously, the state will issue $250 million in bonds to finance the construction of the facility, with the state responsible for debt service and the bidder responsible for any cost overruns. The term of the agreement will be 30 years. And, in what is always the kicker in Albany: The Vendor selected will be chosen by the unanimous agreement of the Governor, Senate Majority Leader and Speaker of the Assembly... And that, of course, gives us little comfort that the health and welfare of the racing industry will be of prime importance.

Paul Post, reporting for the Thoroughbred Times, opines that, given the short turnaround, it is doubtful that any new firms will join the bidding process. So we may very well see the original threesome of Delaware North, SL Green/Hard Rock Cafe, and Mohegan Sun (with or without Capital Play this may recall that its COO was noncommittal about that). What remains to be seen is whether even those three maintain their enthusiasm for the project given the liquidity requirements, the continuing satiation of gambling in the Northeast, and the high tax rates on racinos in New York. Given the passage of time, it seems like a good time to review the breakdown of revenues, which will leave the VLT operator with a mere 22% towards its bottom line in the third year and beyond:

Purses: 6.5%/7%/7.5% 1st/2nd/3rd year
Breeders: 1%/1.25%/1.5%
Capital Expenditures for Tracks: 4%
General Racing Operations: 3%
Vendor Retention: 23.5%/22.75%/22%
(Total Vendor Fee: 38%)

Vendor Marketing Allowance: 8%
Division of Lottery: 10%
State (Education Funding) 44% (plus any of the Marketing Allowance that is not expended for applicable purposes)
And in a sign of just how far behind the rest of the state's racino-eligible racetracks the Aqueduct project is, the MOU cites two of the existing parlors as the standard that the bidder is required to live up to:
Vendor shall, at Vendor’s sole cost and expense, operate the VLT Facility in a manner comparable to or exceeding operations located at Empire City Casino at Yonkers Raceway in Yonkers, New York (“Empire City”) and Saratoga Gaming and Raceway in Saratoga Springs, New York (“Saratoga”).
- Charles Hawyard told the Form that the Belmont purses will be cut back to 2007 levels. Handle is down 9% thus far this year.
[NYTHA President Richard] Violette said one solution to defer further purse cuts would be for the North American Graded Stakes Committee to rescind the requirement that all Grade 1 races in 2009 carry a $300,000 purse, a $50,000 increase from 2008. Violette said at NYRA tracks alone, that stipulation cost overnight races $600,000..."In this economy the way the handle has diminished that $600,000 could be better used in overnight purses..'' [Daily Racing Form]
- The Devils lost to the Hurricanes in overtime last night, and all-world goalie Martin Brodeur was his usual gracious self in defeat, attributing the loss to lucky bounces. He didn't note of course that the Devils' lone goal was a fortunate deflection that floated into the net. Brodeur has lost 19 of his last 32 playoff games. The Devils have lost six playoff games in a row in Carolina, where they head for the next two games, perhaps without their captain Jamie Langenbrunner, who left the game with a lower body injury.

Friday, April 17, 2009


The local Queens Chronicle reports on a community meeting scheduled for next week at which Aqueduct will be one of the main topics, and which Mayor Bloomberg's director for community affairs in Queens will attend.

For one thing, residents are said to be concerned that NYRA's upcoming (and, given conditions in the real estate market, hoped-for) sale of some parcels of land surrounding the track will add to the problem of vacant lots and empty and partially-constructed homes that currently dot the area.

"All you have are these brown parcels of fence, and people graffiti them and start dumping garbage there. People who live next to these lots start experiencing rats and mice coming in....People feel their homes are devalued. It impedes our quality of life.”
In addition, despite eager anticipation of the new jobs which a new racino would create, the community is concerned about the changes to the neighborhood which would result.
Residents are nervous about what will follow the state’s selection of one company to build a “racino” there with video lottery terminals because of increased traffic, and the kind of people who will be attracted to the new gambling center..
And that's only natural, and no different from any other area surrounding new gambling facilities.

However, if I lived there, I'd also be deeply concerned about the present state of affairs, the incessant delays, and the gnawing possibility that nothing will ever happen there. Because as much as I love the Big A, let's face it; the place is presently a blight, an eyesore, an embarrassment to all concerned, from the hideously ugly netting separating it from the Home Depot, to the empty parking lots and grossly decaying infrastructure. This is especially the case now, at a time when the city is celebrating two grand new baseball stadiums. And that's in addition to the new stadium to open at the Meadowlands in 2010 and the Devils' impressive arena in Newark. Even Yonkers Raceway has transformed into the enticing Empire City racino.

Aqueduct, where the nation's showcase city's thoroughbred racing resides for six months out of the year, is a sad and pathetic contrast. After navigating past two beastly-looking shuttered entrances, one passes through the similarly obsolete admission booths, through the rusting gates, and into the main lobby. There, as opposed to the grand Jackie Robinson Rotunda at the Mets' Citifield or the impressive lobby at the Rock, one is greeted by a small standing neon sign plugged into a wall socket which reads "Welcome to Aqueduct." Welcome indeed. If I were a resident at next week's meeting, I'd implore Jennifer Manley to have her boss Mayor Bloomberg take an hour out of his schedule to tour the grounds, to bring Governor Paterson with him for that matter - one doesn't need 20/20 vision to see that the place is a dump - and as many state legislators as he could round up. And maybe, with just one brief visit, our elected officials, with a close-up and personal look at what years/decades of their gross neglect has wrought, will actually go back to work and get something done. Enough already.

The Governor had a rare good day on Thursday, basking in the camera lights for once, and smiling amongst the likes of the mayor of NYC and others as he announced his support for a bill legalizing gay marriage. It's a worthy cause indeed in my opinion, and a timely one, and there's no question that civil rights for our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters is a cause for which Paterson has worked diligently over the years.

However, there's also no doubt that, in the face of the uncertain, at best, prospects for approval in the state Senate, Paterson's push is a political one; a crucial and highly calculated step towards his resurrection in the polls looking towards his re-election prospects. I believe that, with the budget process completed, the governor's horrendous poll numbers have bottomed out, and can only proceed upwards. True, he is the target of yet another round of negative and demeaning ads, this time over 8700 state union jobs he's proposed to eliminate. However, as unfortunate as any job eliminations are, unemployment is on the rise across all sectors of the economy, and I don't believe that this campaign, coming on top of all the other complaints about the budget, will gain much traction with the public. Between what he says will be his active involvement in wooing legislators on gay marriage, and his successful effort to overturn the Rockefeller drug laws, Paterson is starting to build a record which will be highly appealing to the Democratic base and which will start to nudge his numbers higher. Now, if he would only take the time to resolve the mess at NYRA, he could get a few hundred thousand(?) horseplayers on board as well.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Odds and Ends - April 16

Jeff Mullins has another week to make up a good reason for getting caught giving Air Power to his horse in the Aqueduct detention barn.

- Garrett Gomez replaces Mike Smith on Stardom Bound.

"This is by no means a firing of Mike Smith," IEAH's Mike Iavarone said. "Mike has obviously done a great job on the filly. This is related to the long-term picture in that Mike is committed to Zenyatta (Street Cry [Ire]). [BRIS]
Yeah, I'm so sure he would have been replaced had she won the Ashland. Gomez has yet to decide between Pioneerof the Nile and Dunkirk. "Well, it's either Garrett Gomez or somebody from Los Alamitos," Baffert said. [NY Daily News]

- Harness racing returns, and a new slots facility opens at the Meadows in Pennsylvania. The racino created 500 new jobs and contains nearly 2,000 additional slot machines, bringing the total to 3,700.
Officials of Cannery Casino Resorts, which owns The Meadows, yesterday repeated praise they have frequently offered for the local workforce's quality and attitude, deeming it a big factor in their success. And the number of employees will grow again -- to as many as 2,000, they said -- if Pennsylvania allows poker, blackjack, craps and other table games in the casinos. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette]
Lucky for all the new and prospective employees that Magna managed to sell the track a couple of years ago.

The Meadows is one facility which will at least attempt to expose all of its patrons to the live racing taking place.
There are eight restaurants, ranging from a deli to a high-end steakhouse, and seats in every one of them have a view of the racetrack. In addition, there are new outdoor seating and dining areas that should be at a premium when stakes such as the Adios, on Aug. 1, draw crowds. [US Trotting Association]
Speaking of which, those of you folks watching one of the sports cable networks here in the NY area might have noticed, at least during the few times when a Bloomberg campaign ad isn't on the air some seven months before the election, the new ad for the Yonkers casino which actually features a talking harness horse strolling through the slot machines.

- Old Fashioned is officially retired. Owner Rick Porter explained on his website: "Dr Bramlage told me that it would be almost impossible for him to return to anywhere near his level as a racehorse." Which really means: "I have no incentive to even attempt to bring him back because his value as a stallion is at its peak."

- Florida governor Charlie Crist is reported to be "quietly negotiating" a new compact agreement with the Seminole tribe; one which would involve more money being paid to the state in exchange for their being allowed to keep their table games...that according to the Palm Beach Post. The state Senate and House are advancing vastly differing proposals; the Senate would actually permit even further expansion, allowing craps and roulette, while the House would scale the tribe back to slots only, and grant some relief to the tracks.

- Republican Jim Tedisco was counting on Saratoga County to help push him ahead of Democrat Scott Murphy, but it was not to be. Murphy now leads the special election in the 20th CD by 167 votes. And we're coming down to the contested ballot portion, an exercise in which Republicans seem to specialize these days.

- The Rangers jumped to a 1-0 series lead over the heavily favored Capitals with their thrilling 4-3 victory last night. Seriously, you don't like hockey?? Caps goalie Jose Theodore lived down to his advance billing as he failed to stop a single serious shot that I recall. The Broadway Blueshirts played without their captain Chris Drury, suffering from the most undisclosed injury I've ever seen; we don't even get the "upper" or lower" body designation. Some feel that it's a leg injury. But there's tape of him being struck by a puck in the arm against the Flyers last week, so I think he has a broken arm. That's a relatively minor injury for a hockey player in April, so he should be back soon. I have lots more to say about my favorite hockey team, but perhaps I should wait until if and when we get three more wins. That's still a big if considering that Alexander Ovechkin is the most consistently dominant player I've ever seen; he's an absolute force every single time he steps on the ice.

- Just Zip It out of the money in her seasonal debut..

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

More Dully

Maryland governor Martin O'Malley signed over 150 bills into law on Tuesday, but the one dealing with the Preakness made it into all of the headlines. So who says nobody cares about racing?

- Empire Resorts, the struggling owner of the struggling Monticello racino, has announced the "immediate resignation" of its CEO and CFO and the relocation of their offices from Las Vegas to New York. It can't be a good sign that the company will now be headed by its Chief Restructuring Officer (CRO?) - Eric Reehl, who was recently hired to negotiate with its creditors. According to Empire's K-8 filing (thanks to reader Chris): Reehl will serve as Chief Restructuring Officer and will, on an expedited basis, address the issues facing the Company, including the recapitalization of the Company, as more dully described below. And it's true, doesn't get more dully than this stuff.

The company's financials read like a poor man's Magna. So to speak.

Securities and Exchange Commission filings show Empire lost $12.16 million in 2008 on revenue of $67.2 million vs. a 2007 loss of $26.2 million on revenue of $75.7 million. Its auditors last month expressed doubt about its ability to continue as a going concern because of a $7.15 million bank loan payment due May 29 and concerns that holders of notes totaling $65 million can demand payment in July. [Las Vegas Sun]
- Rap Tale is 8-1 in the Illiterate Stakes; the 8th on Wednesday. Reader Jason says she needs a Passover miracle, but she's not Jewish as far as I know.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Eminent Preakness

For well over ten years, the legislature in Maryland dithered over slots while the industry there went well aways down the tubes (not that Magna needed any help in that regard). However, it took less than a week for it to pass "emergency" legislation to retain its treasured Preakness - “a sporting event of historical and cultural importance to the State of Maryland.” [NYT] By exercising eminent domain powers over the middle jewel of the Triple Crown, the state would control the race no matter the fate of the Magna-owned tracks when they are auctioned off in July. I guess they could run the race at Rosecroft or at M&T Bank Stadium if they had to.

In 1984, the state attempted to seize the Baltimore Colts via eminent domain; but owner Robert Irsay got the jump and moved the team in the middle of the night. The courts later ruled that Colts had moved beyond Baltimore’s legal reach by the time the city had formally begun its seizure proceedings. Lawmakers are apparently determined to ensure that doesn't happen again, and to prevent Frank Stronach from overnighting the Woodlawn Vase to Canada.

However, the rush to pass the legislation, expected to be signed by Governor O'Malley on Tuesday, comes despite the fact that four potential buyers, including Orioles' owner Peter Angelos and the ubiquitous Halsey Minor, have expressed interest in continuing to operate the tracks. (Contrast that with the anemic bidding for Maryland slots licenses, as this blogger from the Baltimore Sun points out; and indeed, it's nice to read about people - dreamers perhaps - who still believe that this sport has a future....and who are willing to put their money behind it.)

Whatsmore, there's a question of whether a federal bankruptcy court would even recognize such a move by a state.

“It isn’t going to be as easy as they think,” said Alan Ackerman, a partner in Ackerman, Ackerman & Dynkowski, a law firm in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, that represents property owners in eminent domain cases. “States have a right to determine what constitutes public use, but the court would have to take a long look and ask whether this is really public use.” [Bloomberg]
Accordingly, some critics are skeptical of the bill's effectiveness and the motives behind it.
House Minority Leader Anthony J. O’Donnell, R-Calvert and St. Mary’s, said he was not sure the O’Malley’s plan would keep the Preakness in place.

“It’s not well-thought-out,” he said. “In fact, I suggest to you that this bill is political cover because the horse racing industry is on the ropes.” [Daily Record]
And then there were some arguments against that were not quite as well-thought-out.
"Let's not steal the Preakness," said Del. Michael D. Smigiel Sr., an Eastern Shore Republican. "Let's take it through a way that upholds capitalism." [Baltimore Sun]
Well, I know of at least one Republican who thinks that eminent domain is capitalism.

- The next court hearing on the Magna bankruptcy is scheduled for April 20.

- Paraneck's trainer John Campo Jr (recovering from surgery), is also wondering why nobody at Center Brook farm called the deteriorating situation to anyone's attention.
"The farm has never called our organization at Aqueduct Racetrack saying the horses needed help....They never said the horses are in trouble, they never said the horses aren't getting cared for, they never said the horses were getting neglected, they never said the horses weren't getting fed." [Daily Racing Form]

Monday, April 13, 2009

Try, Try Again

Rap Tale didn't even make it onto the van to Laurel on Saturday, and will run instead on Wednesday in the Illiterate, a restricted stakes for non-winners of a stakes in 2008-9. King Mobay did make the trip, but was rank early and weakened to 4th at 7-2. Still, he earned $1,920 in purse money, enough to cover the van ride and some box seats at Camden Yards.

Handride's favorite jockey rides Rap Tale against six opponents. She's had 7 1/2 weeks off, part of that due to the difficulty of finding a suitable spot. Out of conditions, lacking much speed (a career high Beyer of 78), and too valuable as a broodmare prospect to risk in claimers, the options are few. There was a NW4x allowance at Philly Park last weekend that drew the interest of only Rap Tale. The stakes at Laurel was far too tough, grass or slop, so this spot seems like the best option. You Asked, Successful Sarah, and the improving Say Toba Sandy look best here, but with the latter two having enjoyed their recent success around two turns, perhaps one will falter and give our filly a chance at that elusive black type.

- Paragallo says he's not been at his farm for nine months, and that may be the case (or not). (And, as I've said, that doesn't resolve him one whit of the ultimate responsibility.) But this (strong stomach warning) didn't happen overnight. And there had to be some people who either worked there or had seen the horses, right? Which raises the question of who knew what, and when, and why is this situation only coming to light now?

- Democrat Scott Murphy now leads Jim Tedisco by 25 votes with the counting of absentee ballots ongoing; which in technical political parlance is roughly half a whisker's difference. The court which is ruling on the various issues between the parties is on hold while the judge recovers from an illness.

One outstanding issue here is whether the campaign of GOP candidate Jim Tedisco can successfully challenge certain absentee voters who maintain two addresses -- voting in the district, but having driver's licenses in New York City or elsewhere. If Tedisco were to be turned down in all or most examples, that would likely result in a pickup of as many as 100 votes for Democrat Scott Murphy. [Talking Points Memo]
Seems pretty funny that Tedisco brings that up, since he doesn't live in the district himself.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Go To the Whip

You gotta like the way Papa Clem was able to change tactics in his Arkansas Derby win, and it wasn't at all pre-planned.

"I was supposed to be on the lead," Bejarano said. "Stuff happens."
[Gary] Stute said his heart skipped a beat early in the race when Papa Clem, after breaking from two, was not in front.

"When I saw Rafael riding him out of the gate, I said, 'Oh, God.' " Stute said. "Rafael kept telling me he wanted to rate, and he comes to the paddock and says, 'Gary, I think we'll be on the lead.' I was just hoping on the second turn that he wouldn't hang." [Arkansas Democrat Gazette]
I guess that people are going to downgrade his victory in light of the injury suffered by Old Fashioned, but that could be a mistake. After all, Larry Jones' colt could have gotten hurt in the gallop out for all we know. He sure didn't look like he was at all lame battling the winner gamely to the end, finishing better than I thought he would, especially after a quick opening half mile of 46.19 ("We figured if we could get the half in :47 1-5 we were in good shape.."), re-breaking as he did to finish up in 12.33 seconds after his prior quarter in 25.62. In fact, the highly suspicious amongst us might wonder about the timing of this announced injury, coming after an effort which, valiant as it was, confirmed, at least in my mind, that he's not destined to defeat top flight horses at classic distances. Does anyone out there believe that his value as a stallion will ever be more than it is at this moment even if he should return?

Papa Clem is by Smart Strike, last year's leading stallion having an ordinary year thus far; I believe it's "only" his second graded stakes winner of the year. Papa Clem's first two dams are Grade 1 winners - first dam Miss Houdini (Belong to Me) won the Del Mar Debutante; second dam Magical Maiden (Lord Avie) took the Las Virgnens and the Hollywood Starlet.

- The Tampa Bay Derby has now produced two subsequent winners with General Quarters (Sky Mesa) taking the Blue Grass....and Eibar Coa has ridden both of them. "I believe Musket Man is the best horse I've had so far, and he gives me my best chance of winning the race," he said after that colt took the Illinois Derby, but I wonder how he feels now?

So much for Mafaaz and the asinine idea of a qualifying race in the UK. Hopefully, his connections will have the grace to bow out of the Derby and cede his spot to someone more deserving....whatever that exactly means with this Derby crop, which has turned out to be not nearly as deep and talented as we thought it would be just a couple of months ago.

Similarly, we hope that owner W.K. Warren Jr. will have the good taste to declare Charitable Man out of the Derby. Still on the bubble despite his 7th place finish at an absurdly overbet 5-1 in his first race since September and first beyond seven furlongs, Charitable Man is a poster child for a revision of the graded earnings rule. A seven furlong stakes race in September of a horse's two-year old campaign should have ZERO to do with Derby eligibility, especially now when many juvenile stakes serve as nothing more than entry level allowance races.

And regarding Patena, who has now run 8th and 10th in the two races since IEAH purchased him after he ran second to Friesan Fire in the La Comte, all I have to say is, ha ha.

- The NY Daily News reports that Alex Rodriguez and Brittany Frankel, the daughter of trainer Bobby, have been "stepping out" in Miami this weekend.
...A friend said, "They could be a match. She's very athletic - she snowboards and surfs. She's an expert on nutrition. She's also a no-nonsense, straight-shooting lady. And we know Alex likes strong women."
And she has access to a wide variety of whips too.

- Happy Easter everyone, hope you have a pleasant and safe holiday.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Keeneland Notes

Forever Together (1-1) returns in the Jenny Wiley at Keeneland today. The F&M Turf winner will be just the third horse from that race to run again, including Visit (5-1). Halfway to Heaven, the favorite that day, Wait A While, Mauralakana, Dynaforce, Folk Opera, and Pure Clan are Grade 1 winners all who have not returned to the track, and while I don't feel like taking the time to do the research, I'd guess that many if not most of them are currently in foal.

Rutherienne (9-2) is also a Grade 1 winner, and she instead returns to the races for her first start at the age of five. This daughter of Pulpit won eight of her first 11 career starts, but has run third in her last six races in a row. Seems to have a shot at second here, but the favorite looks pretty imposing. The tough NY-bred I Lost My Choo (6-1) turns up with Prado back aboard following a breakout, in terms of her Beyers, win in the G3 Honey Fox at Gulfstream.

In the 10th, Pick Six (6-1) is, I believe, well-spotted at this level for Shug, 8-2-2-2 at the Keeneland meet. He tried the five-year old son of Dynaformer in stakes company with OK results, including a fine effort running a close sixth in the G1 GP Handicap. Back in allowance company last month at Gulfstream, he was three wide throughout the final turn, and battled his way to the lead turning for home (a classic case in the pp's of a horse leading between calls). He weakened only late, and only missed by a length. I think he'd be a huge overlay at that morning line in a field which includes a few of the horses from his last race; including Jamaludin (3-1), who rallied for second, but who saved ground relative to Pick Six, who he only beat by a half-length, and moves outside today.

Saturday Morning Notes - Apr 11

In the La Puente Stakes at Santa Anita on Saturday, Leedstheway (8-1) moves inside after a fine turf and two-turn debut for trainer Jeff Mullins (4-2-1 with his last 11 at SA). Three-year old son of Cape Canaveral, now standing in Canada for $5,000 (Can), out of a full sister to the Arlington Handicap winner Trail City, was well supported as the 7-2 second choice in that race, and proved a handful for Tyler Baze. Eager to run, he moved up wide into the first turn and hounded Wall Street Wonder (9-2) through a steady series of 23 3/5 second quarters, and battled bravely before fading slightly to 4th late. With Baze opting for the other Mullins in here, Battle of Hastings (5-2), from the outside 12 hole, Joe Talamo may be able to establish inside position from the three this time, and perhaps the race under his belt and a shot of Air Power will get him home this time.

Lesson in Deceit (12-1) is an interesting one; a NY-bred who has run all seven of his career races at Turf Paradise. He's shown a clear affinity for the grass, and his last was a win in a grassy stakes race, one which has produced two subsequent Turf Paradise stakes winners, with an 85 Beyer that puts him in the mix here. Outside post is a negative, but new trainer Sean McCarthy has won with three of his last six starters.

- In the Arkansas Derby, Win Willy is the 7-2 second choice, and I'd certainly be inclined to support him at that price with Old Fashioned listed at 9-5. I just don't like Larry Jones' colt at all here. Given the way he's finished in the Southwest and Rebel, I figure that the extra distance here can only be detrimental. Jones is looking for a "good stalking trip;" similar I suppose to his race in the Southwest. But I think Papa Clem will prove to be a far tougher foe in this route than Silver City was, and just maybe Old Fashioned never gets by. The only thing that causes me doubt about Win Willy's upset rally in the Rebel is the fact that it was on a track rated 'good,' combined with his 412 Tomlinson. However, it was also Win Willy's first two turn try, and perhaps that was the reason for the improvement. At 7-2, I'd bet that is the case.

I also like Flying Private (6-1), moving in the right direction coming off a career best 94 when, with jockey Israel Ocampo, he ran second at 24-1 to Hold Me Back (who will run earlier in the Blue Grass) in the Lanes End. Of course, that raises the usual synthetic track questions. But this son of Fusiachi Pegasus signaled improvement when he cut back in distance two races back and ran second in the Mountain View (in what also was Ocampo's first time aboard).

Friday, April 10, 2009

Bad Friday

Off from work today (Friday), and figured it was a good day for the Big A. Five maiden claiming races (including what has to be the first-ever all maiden claimer early Pick 4) kinda dulled my enthusiasm for that.

So just hanging at home for awhile. Just watched Hello Broadway hold off David's Rock at 2-5 in the third at Keeneland. Looked like the latter was going to blow by on the turn, but he never changed leads and hung a bit. Looked like Barclay Tagg's colt was ripe for the taking after fighting Garrett Gomez down the backstretch and around the turn. Nice job by owner Elizabeth Valando getting the half-brother to Nobiz Like Shobiz off the Derby trail.

- Two Kasey K horses entered at Laurel tomorrow. King Mobay is 7-2 in the 6th, an open 25K claiming event. Rap Tale is 20-1 in the Dahlia Stakes at a mile on the turf; however, the intention is to run her only if the race came off the grass and under the assumption that the top runners would scratch. That prospect seems less likely to me if I'm handicapping the weather correctly, especially on the last day of the meet. So I think she'll just be going for a ride.

- The Rangers and the Devils are the only teams in the East to have made the playoffs for four straight years. The Broadway Blueshirts clinched their spot with their intense 2-1 win over the Flyers last night. Under siege for much of the second half of the game (after missing numerous opportunities to get that third goal), they seemed to virtually will their way to the win, spurred on by a raucous crowd, clutch saves by Lundqvist (and Marc Staal), and a friendly crossbar too. I can't believe that so many sports fans don't like hockey. The win came despite not scoring a non-empty net goal in the third period for the 10th straight game. That could turn out to be a problem.

A Tale of Two Tales

Of the two news stories which have roiled the racing world this week, I think that, despite the rightful furor in the press over the outrageous conditions at Ernie Paragallo's farm, the incident involving Jeff Mullins in the Aqueduct detention barn is clearly the more significant in terms of the issues which are symptomatic of the woes presently dogging the industry.

I strongly disagree with those who seek to gloss over Mullins' "oversight" as no big deal, an innocent error involving a relatively harmless substance. If trainers are held responsible for medication incidents that take place in far off corners of their training empire where they were not even present (and rightfully so in my mind), then they are certainly responsible to familiarize themselves with the basic rules governing each and every track they visit, as distasteful as a jurisdiction which isolates horses for six hours before each race might be to Jeff Mullins. And, regarding the cough medicine that he sought to administer, why, I continue to ask, would he need to give it to a horse who wasn't coughing? As Joe Mahoney of the Racing and Wagering Board said, “If a horse needs Air Power to get to the finish line on race day, then we have a problem with that." And I think you can substitute nearly anything for 'Air Power' in that statement. Even more than an illustration of the continuing problem of medication, the incident is a further indication of the cavalier attitude that some horsemen continue to harbor toward the rules, even in the face of growing scrutiny in the blogosphere, press, political circles and, by extension, the general public.

The situation at Paragallo's Center Brook farm is nothing less than bizarre. It's a tragedy for the horses and humans involved alike; that's right, I find Paragallo to be a somewhat sympathetic figure here too, at least at this stage. Perhaps I'm being naive, but I can't imagine that this man willfully attempted to starve his horses to death. Instead, he comes across to me as simply pathetic; a man who, for whatever reason (we just don't know why as of yet), neglected his responsibilities, lost total control of his farm and animals, and now faces jail time for an offense which, while inexcusable given the vast number of living beings who depended on him for basic subsistence, involved, in my view, far less malicious intent than many who serve meaningless time or escape incarceration altogether. While most if not all of the horses involved will, in time, make a full recovery, Paragallo's life will likely never be the same. I just don't think we're yet in a position to reach a final judgment on him as of yet. Perhaps, in the end, I'll eat my words above.

I also believe that this matter, as opposed to the ongoing fight against illegal medications (and those presently legal as well), is an aberration. One of the reasons that the story seems so shocking is that we haven't heard of anything like it in this industry. In Bill Finley's kneejerk and unnecessary "ban the bum for life" column on, he had to go back some 26 years to find a case which even just slightly resembled what we're reading about today.

To me, this is less a story about horse racing than one simply about animal neglect and abuse, a topic we read about all of the time. It should probably be on page 11 of the news section rather than on page 1 of the sports section. However, racing reporters such as Joe Drape of the Times are just doing their jobs, and a fine one at that.

But by it being a horse racing story rather than one of many animal abuse stories, it invites commentaries by mainstream writers who know nothing about the sport, and who use it to jump on the bandwagon and add to the beating the industry has suffered in the last year. Take for example this ignorant blog posting on the US News and World Report site which states that the Jockey Club has "licensed breeders" and that it should "severely limit the number of horses breeders can bring into the world each year." Once we start to get people like that telling us how to run our business, then this industry has trouble even beyond what it's experiencing today.