RSS Feed for this Blog

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Emma is Eager, Rachel, Not

Eager Emma won the 6th at Belmont on Friday for Shug; the first win for this three-year old NY-bred daughter of Unbridled's Song, out of the graded stakes winning NY-bred Shawklit Mint. Shawklit Mint is by the Wood Memorial winner Air Forbes Won, a son of Bold Forbes, the 1976 Derby and Belmont winner.

And man, what a great Belmont Stakes that was. This year, given yesterday's developments, NYRA will be quite fortunate to a) have a crowd as large as the 57, 519 on hand that day; and b) to have such a memorable edition of its classic race in a year, as in 1976 when Preakness winner Elocutionist did not run, in which the only plot lines are the presence of the Derby winner and the tradition of the race itself. "I told him 'Just get me to the eighth pole,' and I'll take it from there," said Angel Cordero Jr. And with the Hall of Fame jockey driving furiously, an exhausted Bold Forbes held off Great Contractor and Mackenzie Bridge, gutting it out in a final time of 2:29 after the mile and a quarter in 2:01 4/5 (just a fifth slower than his Derby win). The victory by the Puerto-Rican-owned colt thrilled the Latino community. Hopefully, it won't come out that Sonia Sotomayor bet on the horse; the Republicans will then accuse her of allowing her ethnicity to influence her opinions.

As for the announcement that Rachel Alexandra will not run, I imagine you've seen the statement by Jess Jackson by now. "We will always put her long-term well-being first. And, of course, we want to run her when she is fresh." Some of us, including yours truly, felt that Jackson could, if not should, have said that before the Preakness. Of course, I was wrong that she wouldn't run well; the notion that Jackson was taking an undue risk is certainly easy to dismiss now.

To me, it still comes down to what that risk was in relation to the reward; and now we can start to quantify the latter. There's no question that the filly made a big impact with her dazzling Preakness win and, as evidenced by the TV ratings, with her sheer presence. However, I think it's perfectly legitimate to ask: Is the publicity that she generated better for the game then what would have resulted from a likely, in my opinion though by no means certain, Preakness win by Mine That Bird? (Charlie Hayward figures it cost NYRA some 30,000 fans on track) And, will her panache carry over beyond the Triple Crown once the sport goes into its self-imposed virtual media blackout that is its relationship with ESPN?

- The 1976 Belmont Stakes:

Friday, May 29, 2009

No News Is No News

As a reader noted, Paul Post reported in the Thoroughbred Times on Thursday of a "delay" in the selection of Aqueduct racino operator.

"Nothing’s going to happen before the end of the legislative session on June 22," said Gary Pretlow (D-Yonkers), chairman of the Assembly Racing, Wagering, and Gaming Committee.

Pretlow made the prediction based on "history; experience with the way things go around here."
I don't really consider that to be news. Nobody in his right mind could have thought it would be done by June 22. Especially since, as Paterson's spokesperson said a couple of weeks ago, the six or seven bidders will all be fully vetted; and that, besides, the three leaders "have a lot of things taking up their time – this is just one of them.”

Do you think this will get done by the time Saratoga opens? By the time it closes?

Post does the math, which, considering the anticipated build time of over a year, and the feeling that NYRA could run out of cash by late 2010, is rather fuzzy at this point.

Governor Paterson is likely far more consumed with raising his poll numbers. I'd said a few weeks ago that I thought they'd leveled out. I meant to say something more along the lines of 'bottomed out,' but I guess leveled is more appropriate, as in, finding a level and staying there. This guy is really in the tank; check this out - the latest Siena poll has Cuomo beating him by 50 points in a primary matchup! The press is starting to report on a prospective race to replace Cuomo as Attorney General as if his running is a foregone conclusion.

The poll also noted an improvement in the standing of former governor Eliot Spitzer. It was taken however before the release of what Capital Confidential's Casey Seiler properly referred to as his cranky testimony in the investigation of the Committee on Public Integrity which led to the resignation of chairman Herbert Teitelbaum, and spawned Paterson's current effort to replace and revamp the panel.

I wanted to mention Spitzer's tirade last week and never got around to it, so I'm glad to have the excuse to link to it here. The former governor of New York just went off on Inspector General Joseph Fisch, at one point calling him "one more little Pac-Man participating in this fishing expedition." It's a stunning performance in which he repeatedly cuts off Fisch - “My time is precious, Judge. What is your question?” - and dismissively refers to the Paterson Administration as “individuals within the chamber." No cutting and pasting can do Spitzer justice here, so just read for yourself if you're interested (full transcript in PDF here).

Spitzer has come a decent ways toward his rehabilitation, with his regular Slate column, appearances on TV and op ed pages, and even public appearances with his wife. There was even some semi-serious speculation that he could be in line to head the SEC! But this shows that the guy just can't control his anger. I actually don't blame him for being annoyed that he's still dealing with the repercussions of Troopergate. At this point, it's almost two years in the past, one of the key principals was forced to resign in utter disgrace, and the other is under federal indictment. Regardless you'd think he'd learn a lesson about something from his short reign, which was already crumbing under his inability to rein in his temper before his dick did him in. He's a bit of a lunatic I'd have to say. Bruno was certainly right about that.

Thursday, May 28, 2009


Not only did Extra Zip win the first, but it looks like Carlos Martin may have pulled one over, getting away with exposing him to the 30K optional tag that allowed him to run for allowance conditions that he'd already overcome. He took a little late money on the nose in the win pool, and won easily under a supremely confident Ramon Dominguez getting the final eighth in 11.86 seconds.

- I guess that if you're going to have a three horse race, it might as well be the first leg of a pick four. Sure wasn't much interest in the win pool, with a mere $106,780 wagered, most of that on the 2-5 favorite Moose Man, who completed a Ramon early double.

- I noted earlier that Contessa was slumping - three for his first 76 starters at the Belmont meeting - so of course he won twice, including Deb's Roof the dead-heat co-winner of the race who, according to the chart, finished full of run to get up in the final stride. Just a minor point here to the chartcaller: "get up" strongly implies, if not definitively states, that the horse "got up" to win the race outright. At least to me. I know you didn't ask, but Got up for a share is how I would have phrased it!

We all know that Contessa is not a high percentage guy; he overpowers his rivals in the trainer standings on sheer volume. But the fact is that he's a solid 12% guy at least (though he's slowly but steadily declined over the last five years from 15% to 12% over the last year). And though he thrives at the Big A, he's still 11% at Belmont over the last two years even including his recent woes. I'd suspect that he'll be much closer to that number than his present Mendoza Line figures by the time the meet ends.

Belmont Notes

A couple of trainers who have been sharp with their layoff horses have starters returning to action at Belmont today. In the first, a wide-open state-bred sprint scheduled for the turf, Carlos Martin starts Extra Zip (9-2) for the first time since Saratoga. The barn is six for 21 (29%) in the 180+ category over the last two years; and its last two such starters were Sax in the City (second by a head at 4-1) and Fairway Drive ($13.80). Extra Zip finished 2008 with two lackluster efforts, but returns, via his $30K optional claiming tag, to a level at which he won at Belmont the last time he tried it. Sharp works and Dominguez (43% in 21 rides for the barn in 2008-9) is aboard. Shorter distance is a question mark and, as I said, it's a fun, competitive heat assuming it stays on grass. Gold Vendetta (5-1) is a head away from being 2-for-2 on the turf, and goes second off the layoff for Alan Goldberg. The barn is 20% in that category, and the horse has improved each time off that pattern. Missinglisalewis (4-1) comes off a close third at this level.

Trainer Harold James Bond had two layoff winners this past weekend - Sezzana ($12.80) and Smart Engagement ($10.40). In the 8th, Gattinara (10-1) makes her first start since September. She's an in-and-out sort with some poor lines at Finger Lakes; but her last two races at this particular level on NYRA tracks have resulted in a win and a neck loss, both with Beyers that would put her in the mix here. Looks like there are others who may have a class edge - Point Me To It, from the slumping Contessa barn, and three-year olds Stormy's Smile, Karakorum Fugitive, and Olde Glamour - but this six-year daughter of Raffie's Majesty could spice up the exotics here.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


The Shinnecock Tribe reached an agreement with the Interior Department which it feels will earn it federal recognition by December 15.

Once federally recognized, they would immediately have the right to build a “Class II” casino on their 800-acre reservation, a designation that would mean they could have thousands of video slot machines, but no table games.....

“We’re surrounded by the wealthiest communities in the country, yet the state of affairs on the reservation is one of offhanded neglect,” said Frederick C. Bess, one of the Shinnecock Nation’s three trustees. [NY Times]
However, the notion of slots in the Hamptons has long been unpopular there; and besides, the tribe has bigger game in mind in the form of a full-blown casino.
Among sites that have been discussed as possible locations are the Aqueduct and Belmont raceways, and the defunct Shoreham nuclear power plant - though all discussions are considered extremely preliminary. [Newsday]
Well, we all know that by December 15, the construction of the Big A racino will be well under way! Right?? Of course, for all we know about the closed-door process, the Shinnecocks may already have a hand in one of the bids.

- You may have noticed on NYRA's homepage, wedged neatly between an ad for an upcoming handicapping contest and Andy Serling's mug, a banner ad regarding NYRA's auction of land plots surrounding the Big A, which is scheduled for June 10. Click on the photo for a closeup, and you'll see that most of the lots are vacant. And that is of concern to Ozone Park residents.
But people who have lived near the Aqueduct Racetrack are worried that the open space, which will go on the auction block June 10, will be replaced with rows of new housing - putting more stress on the local infrastructure in Ozone Park.
New homes could worsen flooding problems, he said. It's unclear whether there's enough power to supply new residences.

"We have real concerns about this quiet little area that is going to be changed forever," [Sen. Joseph] Addabbo said. [NY Daily News]
According to the piece, some residents were led to believe that they would get first crack at the lots; but a NYRA spokesperson said that they are not allowed to give preference to any buyers.

Met Musings

I couldn't even remember who Alan Garcia rode to win last year's Met Mile after it was said that his win on Bribon (almost had to look that up too) was his second Met Mile win in a row. Oh yeah, Divine Park; I remember that one, whisked away to stud after just nine career races. His next start after the Met Mile was his last; the Woodward confirmed that he was never going to win any real distance races, so now he stands at Airdrie Stud for $17,500. I looked back at the news articles regarding his retirement, and didn't see anything about an injury. If you go to his Stallion Register page, there's a promotional video from Airdrie. In it, the farm's Bret Jones says: "Obviously, he's a Met Mile winner, which we've always viewed, and so many people viewed as one of the stallion-making races."

And maybe that's part of what is wrong with today's breeding - when a distance-challenged horse like Divine Park can be touted as a hot stallion prospect, in large part by virtue of winning the Met Mile with a final quarter of 26 3/5, passing exhausted horses who ran much too fast early. Monday's Met Mile was a similar scenario, though Bribon was a bit better, earning a Beyer of 106. He's a solid miler to be sure, but still it was a pretty grim affair in the stretch, with the winner laboring home in 25.24 after middle splits of 22.35 and 22.84. His connections have no intentions of trying him at anything but one turn distances.

There have been recent Met Mile winners who were not one-dimensional to be sure - Corinthian and Ghostzapper were proven as routers and ran dynamic Met Miles; the former earned a 108 while coming home in 24 1/5; and Ghostzapper made his final race a memorable Met with his spectacular romp in 1:33 1/5 in 2005. But a look at other recent winners - Silver Train, Pico Central, Aldebaran, Swept Overboard, and Exciting Story were all strictly sprinters and/or one-turn specialists (and, of those, only Silver Train is standing in the US). A big contrast from a peek back to the [Met Mile winners of the] 60's and 70's with proven distance horses like Forego, Cox's Ridge, State Dinner, Nodouble, In Reality, Executioner, and Buckpasser; and in earlier times, Kelso, Sword Dancer, Tom Fool, Gallant Man and Native Dancer. My, that was a versatile bunch. And indeed, some of those are familiar names in the pedigree charts. But I think that today, the notion of Met Mile as stallion producer is one that needs to change.

- There was talk before the Met Mile that it was a wide-open betting race, but I think that was false. Sure, it was an interesting, if somewhat ragtag collection of various disappointments, but, looking back - and this is more self-criticism than redboarding since I was guilty myself of buying the 'wide-open' hype - man, we should have all nailed that exacta. Bribon - Smooth Air were clearly the most likely winner and second most likely winner, in that order for a cool $32.20. Not bad at all for an easy exacta. And what the hell was up with Mr. Sidney being 6-1?

= The crowd was 10,099, which I guess isn't too bad, considering. It seems to me though that the card runs too long and far too late for a holiday such as Memorial Day. I didn't go myself; we had a BBQ planned, and why would I instead want to be at Belmont at 6PM in the dying moments of the three-day weekend? NYRA should try an early post time and get people out by 4:30. Then, I might have gone and made it an even 10,100.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

More Chances

The 4th at Belmont on Monday, the state-bred Dedicated Rullah stakes, is a race in which the two morning line favorites look to me like horses to stand against at underlaid odds. Mor Chances (9-5) has been a brilliant claim indeed for Rick Dutrow (6-6-3 in 23 starts at Belmont thus far), with gaudy Beyers and gross earnings of nearly $180,000 off the 50K claim. Switches to the grass here though, where his two wins from six grass tries have come in routes. The Dutrow magic could move him up in these conditions for sure; bit scary to leave out, but I think he's worth a play against at his morning line. Rollers (5-2) has never run on grass, and hasn't been so hot on dirt either ever since a three-race winning streak last summer, losing five in a row, four of those as the favorite. Decent effort on Keeneland Poly for Tagg (31-8-7-4, 35%), good first-turf sire stats for Stormy Atlantic (14%); but a lot to ask at poor value of a horse who has never been over 4-1 in his 12 lifetime starts.

Redefined (5-1) switches to a preferred distance/surface combination - four wins and five seconds in nine six furlong grass tries - in his second off a layoff for Anthony Dutrow (1 for 17 to start the meet, 8 of those under 3-1;30% in that category). Return was a rare out-of-the-money finish for a horse usually sharp off the layoff. But instead of employing his usual stalking style, he found himself hooked on the inside with the speedy Cooper County. Jockey change here with Lezcano aboard (38% 2008-9 for this barn); return to rating tactics means possible good trip, perhaps behind the two faorites, for solid runner at decent odds. Meriweather Jessica (6-1) has won her last two off layoffs; but those were much shorter breaks, and she's in tough against the boys here. Still, worth a look at her morning line for trainer Linda Rice, highly-percentaged in all of the relavent categories.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Iffy Filly

Sounds to me as if the Belmont Stakes is going to be filly-less.

A source at Churchill told The Post, "It they do decide to go [in the Belmont], it'll be [Jackson's] decision. She came out of the Preakness pretty knocked out. Steve [Asmussen, her trainer] wants no part of the Belmont. She'd be a classic bet-against."[NY Post]

Thursday, May 21, 2009

All In A Day's Claims

Quite the spending spree for owner/trainer David Jacobson at Belmont on Wednesday. In the second, he claimed Half Metal Jacket for $60,000 from trainer Paulino Ortiz; and in the 8th, he nabbed One Step Ahead for $50,000 from Levine. Not like this guy is burning up the racetrack here, though he is hitting at a perfectly fine 16% thus far this year, and thus far at the Belmont meet. Still, he's spending money like the federal government, and has never been shy about digging deep into his pockets. Unfortunately, we sometimes see the same horses running for half of what he paid for them not too long afterwards.

Trainer Ortiz may not shedding many tears about losing Half Metal Jacket here; he claimed the 4yo gelded son of Yes It's True for 25K in March. Since then, the horse ran second and first in the rich starters allowance class, and won an entry level allowance. With his second place finish yesterday, plus the claim proceeds, Half Metal Jacket had gross earnings of $131,400 under Ortiz' care in 2 1/2 months. Not too shabby at all, eh? And if he was upset, perhaps his win in the 6th with Gamblin Fever helped to soften the blow. A pretty profitable day, I'd say (especially if he bet that horse at 10-1).

- Since Dan Silver took over as NYRA's director of communications, there's been a vast improvement in...well, communications. My inbox has been filled with daily barn notes, Belmont stakes news, and detailed previews of stakes races such as the Sheepshead Bay, scheduled for the turf on Saturday amidst another shaky weekend weather forecast.

Whatsmore, much to Silver's and NYRA's credit, we're getting the bad news along with the good; a release yesterday regarding the unfortunate death of City On Line prior to the 5th race. I haven't received such information in the past regarding even higher profile incidents. The Allen Jerkens trained horse "ran loose down the tunnel leading to the paddock" and "ran into a bronze statue located at the center of the paddock." Yikes. The horse was euthanized on the was, apparently, the statue of Secretariat.

The base, which weighs more than a thousand pounds, collapsed and caused the statue to fall.
The statue was a copy of the original, which was sculpted by John Skeaping in 1974 and stands now at the National Museum of Racing in Saratoga. It was moved there from Belmont in 1988. [NY Daily News]
- Chip Woolley wants a rider for Mine That Bird by Monday. Personally, I'd tell Borel to stick it and hire someone before he/she ends up on a pretender like Luv Gov or Brave Victory.

- And just a toot-my-own-horn moment here: I received an email the other day from the NY State Racing and Wagering Board announcing the resumption of LIRR service to Belmont (which apparently still has to be approved by the MTA board). There were four recipients of this particular message; in addition to yours truly, they were Ben Liebman, Bill Finley, and NY Times Albany political correspondent Danny Hakim. Little did I ever imagine when I started this thing that I would ever be included in a select group with three gentlemen as esteemed as them (though sometimes I need to put Finley in his place). So thanks again for your readership and comments; as I've always said, this site is only as good as the wisdom and knowledge that I've gained from you.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Train Not In Vain

Great news for jk and all the other rail-railbirds. The Belmont Special is back!!

Dream On

Reader RG is ready to rush Rachel Alexandra off to the breeding shed....already! Breed Rachel with Ravens Pass or Henrythenavigator? But it seems to me that Rachel is destined for a pre-arranged permanent courtship with Curlin, who of course ran behind those two in the Classic, and who is currently standing at Lane's End for $75,000. Ravens Pass is standing at Darley Ireland for €40,000, or about $54,000; while Henrythenavigator is here in the US at Ashford, for $65,000.

Another entry, along with Jess Jackson's plans to breed Superhorse, in the 'dream on' category, is Dogwood's purchase, for $485,000, of Mine That Bird's full half brother at the Timonium sale.

Campbell said the colt will be shipped to Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and will train under Todd Pletcher.

If all goes well, he could be a candidate for Triple Crown races in 2010. [Augusta Chronicle]
Right, and GM could be reopening plants, Guantanamo could be closed, and there could be slots at Aqueduct!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Tough Times

A spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith told the Saratogian:

“Senator Smith has been completely divested of any relationship to the Dorman Group for nearly a decade and as leader of the state Senate will continue to be fair and impartial throughout the bidding process."
Here, I must report that the company is actually called the Darman Group, a partner in the bid by Aqueduct Entertainment Group as you may know; the article uses the wrong name on several occasions. Seriously man, do I have to do these papers' editing for them? I'm certainly not one to talk when it comes to clean copy myself...but don't they have an editor on staff? Well, maybe not, the way things are going in the newspaper industry these days.

The spokesperson also said that the Senate Majority Leader's longtime friendship with the Rev Floyd Flake, also connected to the group, has never and will never influence any governmental decisions the senator makes. It wasn't reported as to whether this was said with a straight face.

Harbinger Capital Partners, the hedge fund which is a partner, along with MGM Mirage, in R. Donohue Peebles' bid, owns a 19% stake in the New York Times, making it the struggling paper's largest public shareholder. The fund started acquiring stock in late 2007 when the shares traded in a range between $15-20. The stock closed today at $6.63. A $500 million investment is now worth around $200 million. There were reports last week that David Geffen offered to buy the shares....or maybe it was the other way around. Like MGM, Harbinger Capital Partners does not seem to coming to the Big A table from a position of strength. The Seeking Alpha website ranks them at the top of their list of hedge fund losers, with a 60.8% depreciation of their assets over the last year.

- Finally made it to Belmont on Saturday, though I didn't stick around for the Preakness. The only big addition I saw (though I didn't case out the whole joint) was a big increase in the number of new wide screen TV monitors in the backyard, so that's a good thing.

One major change was that the music stage was moved from way in the backyard to the "Paddock Tent," right behind the grandstand. And that's a major change. The large grassy area there is prime space - sun and shade, close to the paddock and a short walk through the grandstand to the track. Whatsmore, it had always been a safe haven for those who prefer to handicap without music of greatly varying quality blaring in their ears. I would guess that not everyone is happy about this (including the Rasta guys who used the space as Spleef Central).

Personally, I don't mind having the further reaches of the backyard as a quiet space. But on Saturday, the band wasn't bad at all as far as those things go, so I was hanging out there for awhile. I sensed big trouble on the way though. Since the band included a keyboard player, I knew to expect the worst. And indeed, it came at around 3 PM, in the form of You May Be Right. In retrospect, instead of quickly seeking shelter. I should have jumped on stage, grabbed the mic, and sang that song to everyone who thought I was crazy regarding Rachel Alexandra. (Neither the band nor Billy Joel appeared that night at the No Fun Fest.)

No Fun

Went out to see some music, so to speak, on Saturday night; it was the second of three nights of No Fun Fest 2009, at the Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn. And that was rather appropriate, because it was no fun for me to watch Rachel Alexandra win the Preakness. At least I didn't drop a bundle on the race since I never came up with any strong opinion....other than she was gonna get beat. But it's not particularly fun to have to admit to being wrong, as assertive as I was with my opinion, not only about the race, but about what it might do for the sport in terms of publicity. I knew I was incorrect about the latter as soon as I saw the banner headline about the race on the front page of the Post on Saturday morning.

Having said that though, I would still argue that, with Mine That Bird having proven rather conclusively that his Derby win was no fluke, and the compelling nature of a rematch in the Belmont notwithstanding, there would be significantly more excitement about a potential Triple Crown winner than the silly 'battle of the sexes' angle that NYRA and NTRA will have to rely on. (And, in what is my own anecdotal test, whereas several workmates came up to me after the Derby, I haven't gotten a single 'how about that filly' today.)

This being New York City, all three nights of No Fun Fest 2009, dedicated to the musical genre of extreme noise, were sold out, including the two nights I did not attend, neither of which were headlined by NYC legends Sonic Youth, as was the case on Saturday. In keeping with the spirit of the affair, the band deferred to, well, noise, and did not preview any songs from their forthcoming new album (on Matador!), The Eternal, due to be released on the Tuesday after Mine That Bird gets his revenge at Belmont. Other highlights included another personal fave, Philadelphia's venerable Bardo Pond, who I hadn't had the pleasure of seeing live for the better part of the current decade, along with Yellow Tears and Pedestrian Deposit.

This stuff is not for everyone I know, and not all of it works; but even then, I for one can fully appreciate those who not only break the mold of the insipid pap which passes for popular music these days, but, quite literally in some cases, smashes it to bits. When done right, it can be entrancing and captivating, and beautifully intricate and precise in its own way. And, not to mention, a perfect soundtrack for the times (and for the daily subway slog to and from work).

So, if I'm so open minded about that kind of stuff, why is it that I wasn't at all regarding Rachel Alexandra being in the Preakness? After all, I've often written about how today's trainers have become far too formulaic, trapped as they are by the current fad of light racing schedules and, in some cases, bound by irrational fears. "Damn it Toddster, give that Dunkirk some races!" I'd advised. Jess Jackson's move to change course and start her on short rest broke the mold; it was bold and daring, especially coming so soon after the disaster which roiled the sport last year. (And, by the way, where the fuck is William C. Rhoden when things go right???)

So what the hell was my problem? I guess it was just the connections themselves. In my mind, Rachel Alexandra went from a charming and inspirational story of connections with modest backgrounds lucking into a once in a lifetime freak to a $10 million story of corporate sloth. Kinda like if some lame corporate-"punk" band like Fall Out Boy did an album of Stooges covers. Contrived, phony, and with only the bottom line in mind.

And I still tend to believe that was indeed the case. Of course, it matters no more, because now the story is the horse, who transcended my fears - and I was truly afraid for the filly and for the sport - and raced into history. Easy to say now that those fears were unfounded. And this post is not intended to signal that I've been won over and will be leading the cheers three weeks hence. In fact, a reader emailed to suggest that Mine That Bird's connections pick up a rabbit or two to run her into the ground, and that seems like a great idea! :-)

But in any event, I was certainly wrong. I put my opinions out there for better or for worse, and sometimes they don't work out. I'm not at all embarrassed. But it's no fun.

- Just to show that there are no not that many hard feelings, this track from Sonic Youth's seminal double LP (remember those?) Daydream Nation is hereby dedicated to the 2009 Preakness champ.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Preakness Eve Notes

I think I should have mentioned General Quarters as well. Recall that he broke through to his career best 102 fig in his first race around two turns in the Sam F Davis, and then had an excuse and perhaps also bounced in the Tampa Bay Derby. He forged back towards his Davis fig in the Blue Grass, and then didn't expend much energy in the slop at Churchill after early trouble with traffic and mud.

McCarthy said there was a quarter inch of mud caked onto General Quarters’ lower left eye lid. He also said the colt hacked up a mudball the size of a tennis ball. [Talking Horses, May 6]
This is a horse who I get the feeling may be sitting on an improved effort, as opposed to some of the others who I'm thinking may regress after battling hard in the Churchill slop; I'm liking him more as I write this, and he stood at 17-1 after Friday's wagering.

El Angelo thinks they'll be a hot pace, and mentions Terrain as a possibility should that be the case. I think he'd need a really hot one; his rallies have been late and have left him behind several of the others in here in the past. Nice pedigree; he's a son of Sky Mesa out of a stakes winning Forty Niner mare, and this is the direct female family of the Derby winner Unbridled (Gina Facil, the dam of the latter is the third dam of Terrain).

Reader Ann makes a fair point here:
I don't buy the "trained to peak in the Oaks" argument. It seems to me that the colts were trained to peak in the Derby. So if you discount her for that reason, you ought to discount the colts that ran in the Derby too.
I actually don't disagree; the horses from the Derby that I like the most are the ones that didn't run all that much (Friesan Fire and General Quarters) or all that hard (Mine That Bird). I prefer Musket Man and Papa Clem underneath, though I have to use the latter on top defensively at his overlaid odds, currently 14-1.

So, you might say, Rachel Alexandra won easily too, and that's true. (By the way, everyone was quick to criticize Durkin after the Derby, but I don't recall hearing anyone comment on how he nailed the margin of victory at 20 in the Oaks!) She did run fast though, and had the easiest kind of journey with a clear stalking trip in a short field behind a vulnerable pace setter. She's the one stepping way up in class. It was just a few weeks ago that everyone was talking about how deep this crop of colts was; now they're all a bunch of bums!? Some of these guys have run some tough races under adverse circumstances; unless she's just that superior and runs clear away from these, she has to prove that she can too. Personally, I don't think this is the right time or place for her to do so. But I guess we'll soon find out!

Peebles On The Big Ah

Thanks a million to this reader for calling to our attention an interview on CNBC with Aqueduct bidder R. Donohue Peebles, who is apparently a regular known affectionately as 'Don' on the network's Squawk Box program. And here it is (excuse the commercial, and please scroll down) [and thanks for reader theiman for sending the link]:

If host Carl Quintanilla, who twice referred to the racetrack as Ah-queduct (as opposed to the Head Chef's Ah-qweeduct) was more knowledgeable of the subject, perhaps he would have asked Peebles about the fact that he's listed by Delaware North as a partner in its bid too. Then again, he probably wouldn't have anyway. Seemed an obvious case of the network giving a regular guest a chance to hype his bid before a national audience, 99% of whom couldn't care less about Ahqueduct.

Peebles might have given up some new information when he spilled some details about his project, which he described as "world class....something you would see in Atlantic City or Las Vegas." He spoke about a 5,000 seat venue for live entertainment and a 350 room, 4-star hotel; the type of amenities by the way that were lacking from Delaware North's original front-loaded bid. He also confirmed, as reported the other day, the involvement of MGM Mirage in his bid.

Peebles' other partner was reported by Tom Precious to be Harbinger Capital Partners, a Manhattan-based investment firm. On its sparse website (here indeed is a "shadowy" outfit), the company identifies one of its specialties as the Distressed/Bankruptcy arena.

investments in companies that are already in default, in bankruptcy, or in some other stage of financial failure or distress
And that seems rather appropriate, don't it?

Preakness Thoughts

Before getting to the Preakness, those who are following the Aqueduct situation should check out this comment (and this) if you haven't already. It's anonymous, so I can't guarantee its veracity; but we've sure gotten some good information here of late, so it may be worth checking out.

So, just some thoughts on the Preakness for now, as my writing time is still limited these days, and, as with the Derby, I find myself without any really strong opinions...though I think this is certainly a more interesting race. I watched the video of the Derby last night, for the first time since probably the morning after the race. And even though I knew the outcome and how the race was run, I still didn't see the winner coming the first time I watched. Easy to criticize Durkin, but that horse really did come from nowhere. The striking thing about the stretch run to me is how Mine That Bird was just easily gliding along his golden path, while Pioneerof the Nile, Papa Clem, and Musket Man staged their grueling battle for the place spot. The winner's final half mile of 48.11 is nearly a full three seconds faster than anyone else in the race! You can certainly argue that he freaked in the slop while taking advantage of the best part of the track. But even so, the flip side is that it didn't take the kind of effort that you'd think would cause him to regress too much two weeks later.

Andy Beyer writes about the Derby winner today. But in attempting to explain his success, Beyer doesn't acknowledge the fact that, just maybe, it was his own defective speed figures for the Sunland Derby, which has now produced two triple digit stakes winners plus Advice with his Lexington 94, which made the result such a long odds surprise. I've changed my tune on this horse from just after his Derby win, when I derided his 4th place finish with a 40 second final three-eighths at Sunland. He ran his first half in a blistering 45.78 that day, and was hung four wide on the second turn; this in a race in which he had a right to regress a bit in his second effort after a tough seasonal debut. And, maybe there's something to his training at a high altitude after all. He has to have a tougher trip than the Derby this time - because it can't get much more golden than that - and the loss of Borel is a blow. But I think he's certainly live, particularly at anything over his 6-1 morning line.

It's hard for me to see any of the abovementioned three runner-ups moving forward two weeks after what had to be a draining effort for all, in finishing in what the Beyer guys would have us believe would have been the slowest Derby ever had MTB gotten himself taken up. I was skeptical of Pioneerof the Nile going into that race, and, though he once again showed himself to be a game competitor, he'll be the shortest price of the three, and the one I like the least. Papa Clem was an overlay at 12-1 - and that's not a second guess; you guys were all over me for liking him that day if you recall! He looked like a possible winner midstretch, and how many others could you say that about! This son of Smart Strike shows a positive trend in his figs if you throw out his sloppy track races, and if the track is fast, then his morning line of 12-1 is ridiculous again in my opinion. Having said that, he did labor home in 26.16 after being wide on the turn, and I wonder how much he'll have left in the tank off the quick turnaround.

Musket Man was even wider on the turn, yet only he and Summer Bird cracked the 26 second mark for the last quarter (other than MTB of course). He's never been worse than third. Again, I have the same concerns about his ability to bounce back off the short rest here, and I don't like his pedigree even for the slightly shorter Preakness; but I think you have to use him underneath at the least.

On the other hand, Friesan Fire couldn't have expended that much energy at all running 18th by 42 lengths, after grabbing a quarter shortly after the start. I thought he was the favorite on merit after the scratch of I Want Revenge on his form, and other than the seven week layoff, which I hated. Now, he has a race under his belt. Or, does he really? How much could he really have gotten out of that race? Still, I think he's certainly a live number here at 5-1 or higher on his back form.

10-15 years ago, I think there would have been more talk about Big Drama, but it seems as if the Pimlico-as-speed-favoring theory has been largely debunked here in the internet age. Still, he's got the rail and, with the other speeds drawn far outside, he might find himself with a healthy lead heading into the backstretch. Son of Montbrook is two-for-two around two turns, has the pedigree numbers to run on, and holds a freshness edge on the rest of the field. Take the Points, one of the other speed candidates, is a bit interesting based on the fact that his fastest race was on real dirt; but, on the other hand, he's o-for-2 around two turns.

Calvin Borel, on Rachel Alexandra, should be able to size up the situation given the speed of his filly, who has won wire-to-wire and with a stalking trip....but I'd certainly expect the latter strategy this time given his post and the speed of the rail horse. The improvement of her speed figures are striking since she stretched out to two turns. Given how easily she's won this year, perhaps she has plenty left in the tank. But she was trained to peak in the Oaks, and this is a last-minute change of pace by new connections. And how will she react running in a big field after three easy trips in short ones, and against some colts who are battle-tested and tough even if you don't think they're as fast? She's 0 for 2 on two weeks rest, and I don't expect that this will be any different. An obvious bet-against at ridiculously low odds.

So, seems as if I'm leaning towards Mine That Bird, with Friesan Fire and Papa Clem defensively on top, and underneath along with Musket Man, Big Drama, and perhaps Take the Points at the bottom. All depending on the odds as post time approaches of course. I think the filly staggers home to the wire, but I'll probably throw her in somewhere. Can't let emotions completely cloud one's judgment, y'know?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Rachel Risk/Reward Don't Add Up

I find it heartening in a way that there was such revulsion over the little brouhaha over Rachel Alexandra last weekend (though still puzzling over the spectacle of the nation's turf writers and bloggers falling all over themselves to come up with the most venomous depiction of an event that I thought was tacky at the very worst). There was some thought after Eight Belles last year that we wouldn't again see a filly in a triple crown race for quite some time; a notion enforced by the defensive shell into which the industry retreated. So I'm glad that's not the case, because there's no reason why it should be.

However, at the same time, for an industry which is largely based on the fundamentals of risk/reward, I feel as if this hasn't been fully thought out. Personally, if I were the Maryland Jockey Club, my call to Ahmed Zayat would have been to see how I could help keep the filly out.

Because what exactly is the potential reward here? I think it's relatively limited - maybe a few thousand extra ZZ Top fans in the infield, a point or two in the ratings? And unless you really believe that this filly, coming back in two weeks off a career top using any sheets or figs and starting from the 13 post, is going to run so fast and far ahead of these colts that she does so straight into the hearts and minds of unsuspecting civilians everywhere and helps to revive a moribund game, then that's really it, at least in my opinion. Hey, it's possible of course. But what are the odds that her winning will do any more for the game than did Rags to Riches' Belmont?

But the risk - and I don't need to be more specific - is literally limitless. I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say that this industry is toast if something goes wrong. Unlike in the matter of Eight Belles, in which accusations of greed, ego, and recklessness were unfounded, here they would be right on. Under the utmost care of trainer Hal Wiggins, this filly was trained and raced specifically to peak in the Kentucky Oaks, which she did to cap off a compact four-race sequence with a subsequent layoff in mind. Now instead, she switches to corporate ownership and a factory stable, and finds herself running against colts two weeks later, her fifth race in 13 weeks. I think this is madness; just completely unnecessary, impulsive, and short-sighted on the part of everyone involved. In the words of Paul Moran, somebody call PETA. With all due respect guys, I just don't get it. I mean, just one year after the disaster of Eight Belles and the paralysis that still grips the industry, why would you want us to be in this position with relatively so little to gain?

So we all better hope that she arrives home safe and sound. And I'll be more than fine if she runs so spectacularly that you're all writing in to call me an idiot on Sunday. But I won't be rooting for her to win. I'll be hoping - and wagering - that she gets her prissy butt whupped....and good.

Don't Hold Your Breath

As reported today by the Queens Courier, Governor Paterson's spokesperson Morgan Hook declined to set a date by which he expects the three men in a room to pick the winner of the Aqueduct racino sweepstakes. And he confirmed that each of the six (or seven) bidders will have to be vetted anew. Oh man.... “Vetting is part of the process and we’ve got to evaluate everyone based on today, as opposed to a year ago." Hook also confirmed for us what has become painfully clear over the last few years - this matter is not necessarily top priority.

“There are six or seven weeks until the end of the Legislative Session,” he observed. “The governor, majority leader and speaker have a lot of things taking up their time – this is just one of them.” [Queens Courier]
Thanks for pointing that out.

By now perhaps you've seen the press release issued by the no-longer-shadowy Aqueduct Entertainment Group. Therein lies the facts and details - at least as laid out by the parties themselves - on each of the seven participants. As reported previously by Tom Precious on, the consortium does include The Darman Group, a real estate development company originally incorporated as Smith Darman, as in Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith. As reported by the Daily News in 2006:
Smith took his name off the company and says he cut his ties with it in 2000, when he took office. He said he left it to his partner, Darryl Greene, a major player in the minority contracting world who pleaded guilty in 1999 to defrauding city agencies, including the School Construction Authority.
"I've got nothing to do with this company," he said.
According to the press release, The Darman Group will be working with an entity called Empowerment Development Corporation, which was founded by Senator Smith's longtime close advisor the Rev. Floyd Flake, who told the Courier that he was not familiar with the details of the rest of the proposal, and the other participants in the group. But we can kinda guess why he is there.

Another local real estate outfit that's in the group is Levine Builders. Jeffrey Levine is the president of that outfit, and there's a person by that name listed as a contributor of $2500 to Senator Smith's campaign in 2006 on a NYS Board of Elections Financial Disclosure Report [pdf]. But hey, I'm sure there are a lot of Jeffrey Levines that have contributed to the Senator's campaign, right? I've just started poking around, and we'll see what else comes up...

The Navegante Group is the company with the gaming expertise.
The Navegante Group currently operates five casinos in the United States and three casinos internationally.

The Navegante Group brings a wealth of experience to Aqueduct, having undertaken a similar project in Niagara Falls, Ontario resulting in an unmitigated success for the local area. The Casino Niagara consists of a total of 95,000 square feet of gaming space, including over 1,700 slot machines and 60 table games.
Navegante operates the Grand Sierra in Las Vegas, and a look at the consumer reviews on Yahoo are decidedly best....which is better than what this Las Vegas blogger has to say.

OK, OK, now I'm being an unprofessional snarky blogger just cherrypicking some negative stuff from Google. But why wouldn't this company mention their Las Vegas properties in the press release? Just sayin. I'll have some more fair-minded stuff to say once I have some time to do more research I'm sure..

Monday, May 11, 2009

Two Reporters Better Than One

As noted in the comments section, some more details on the Aqueduct racino bidders - if not the bids themselves - emerged this evening. Matt Hegarty reports in the Form that Charles Hayward and NYRA is "in the dark as anyone else." Hayward said NYRA is not involved in any group seeking the franchise.

Regarding the shadowy Aqueduct Entertainment Group, Hegarty writes that efforts to determine the principals have been unsuccessful. But in an article posted shortly afterwards on, Tom Precious comes up with some details on the group. Of course, we give Hegarty a pass here; Precious is the full-time Albany-based political correspondent for the Buffalo News, and thus would be expected to have the prime sources. In any event, they're both great reporters who do all the tough work so that bloggers like myself can sit at home, appropriate their work and then point out any little deficiencies they might find.

Anyway, you can read the names of the Aqueduct Entertainment Group partners in the Bloodhorse article; it's an odd conglomeration of casino and real estate interests, not very sexy at all. The interesting part though is that, according to the report, the group might include up to two players with ties to Majority Leader Malcolm Smith. Displaying some impressive blogger-level Google skills, Precious uncovered a 2006 Daily News article regarding past ties between Smith and The Darman Group, said to be in the group; and he reports the possible involvement of the Rev. Floyd Flake, Smith's longtime political mentor. The players may have changed - remember Richard Fields and Eliot Spitzer; Jared Abbruzese and Joe Bruno - but the game remains the same. It seems a good bet that there are acquaintances of Paterson and Silver sprinkled amongst all the other parties that we don't yet know about in the six (or seven) groups bidding for the prize. No wonder they want to keep it all behind closed doors.

Notes - May 11

There have been no new disclosures about the Aqueduct bids or the bidders themselves; indeed, as has been pointed out, some of the best info and accurate speculation I've seen has come right here in the comments sections of this blog! This reader speculates that, just perhaps, a NYRA/MGM bid is part of the Peebles bid.....or maybe they make up Aqueduct Entertainment....and who knows who's part of the Steve Wynn offer. Indeed, could some of the old names from Excelsior be involved? Just speculation, but that's all fair and expected when the process is as opaque as this. I can't really see any justification for such secrecy, especially since the general public will ultimately be asked to pony up the money for the construction through a $250 million bond offering. Perhaps some of you legal types can offer an opinion as to whether this information would be subject to a freedom of information request?

- The weather has finally cleared, and Belmont recovered to some extent over the weekend from the abyss of Friday's card, when a grand total of 44 betting entries graced the nine races. There was actually a grass race on Sunday, as well as a decent crowd of 7385 on hand on Mother's Day. The weather looks decent throughout the week with just a couple of chances of passing showers on tap, so perhaps I'll actually make my Belmont debut this weekend.

A shout out to Richie Munk's Funky Munky Stable, whose Jack on the Rocks, on Saturday, won his second race for the stable (in addition to two seconds) since being claimed for 30K in January.

- Despicable. of its biggest black eyes. Ever.

...a horror story.

Those are some samples from the press reaction to the now-aborted plot to exclude Rachel Alexandra from the Preakness. You'd think Mark Allen and Ahmed Zayat were plotting to have her relegated to a permanent stay on Ernie Paragallo's farm. Look, I do sincerely appreciate and even value the comments made disagreeing with my post; I think it's something about which reasonable people can certainly disagree, and I love the diversity of opinion; it's what makes the world go 'round. However, if you can't get at least get a laugh out of the rambling comments from the two abovementioned parties, then I respectfully submit that you're taking this all too seriously. And I also respectfully disagree with my buddy 30for60; the ratings for the Derby were actually pretty good, and I think it should carry over with the interest generated by the longshot Derby winner, filly or not. So I think the Preakness will be just fine either way. And, like a good Jane Austen novel, I think that delayed gratification would pay off in this case; let her first meet the boys later in the year when she's more mature, has more sufficient rest, the plot is presumably thicker, and at a time when the TV ratings are more in need of a boost.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Preakness and Filly Don't Need Each Other

The latest reports say that neither Mark Allen nor Ahmed Zayat (and certainly not Marylou Whitney) will enter horses in the Preakness with the express purpose of freezing Rachel Alexandra out. Personally, I had absolutely no problem with the concept of them doing so. Allen's notion of running an 0-for-9 maiden is rather extreme however, and poses a danger to the horse itself.

Still, I would only have criticized him for over the latter issue had the scheme come to fruition. People talk about the good of the game, but, for one thing, this is competition. And if an owner, particularly one striving for the Triple Crown, has a chance to exclude a horse which would likely beat his (not to mention deprive him of the services of the jockey who played such a huge role in the Derby success), and do so playing completely within the rules, why would he not do so? I couldn't believe reading Joe Drape equate the posturing with the public outrage after the fatal breakdown of the filly Eight Belles at last year’s Derby as well as Congressional scrutiny of its drug and safety policies. C'mon, this is nothing but competitive gamesmanship; I'd hardly make that comparison!

Besides, I don't see where the good of the game at all requires that Rachel Alexandra runs in this race. She's the most spectacular Kentucky Oaks winner of all time; what's the urgency to run her back so early in the season on two week's rest against this bunch of colts? What exactly would she be proving if she wins? She was being sensibly spotted to share the spotlight on Belmont day against her own kind, and they'll be potential for plenty of far more dramatic encounters with horses of either sex down the road. Assuming she goes on, I'd be more excited to see her face Zenyatta than any of these guys (and even the older ones).

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Six Is Enough

I'd love to write in more detail about the six bids which were received, apparently right at the 5PM deadline time, for the Aqueduct racino; and analyze the various offers to see who's come up with what. However, there's currently little more to say than to state the names of the bidders, as we've already seen in various reports. This process has now gone from the total transparency of the Ad Hoc Committee, to the opaque cloak of secrecy behind which Governor Paterson devised his budget, and where he has seemed to find his comfort zone. Not only has his office not released any details of the offers, but we don't even know who all of them are; the identities of exactly who comprises the Aqueduct Entertainment Group is unknown.

We did get some good information here. Indeed, Jeff Gural is part of the SL Green bid; and developer R. Donohue Peebles made on offer, though in a rather strange twist, he's a partner in the Delaware North team too. So we'll have to couple those in the wagering. As far as a NYRA/MGM/Ilitch partnership goes, that didn't come to fruition....unless they are Aqueduct Entertainment?

The surprise new faces - at least those who know at least a little about - are Penn National, which has never before to my memory expressed an interest in the New York gaming market and a group called Development Associates, said to be a subsidiary of Wynn Resorts. You may recall that Steve Wynn added a little comic relief to the proceedings a couple of years ago.

Mohegan Sun did not submit a formal offer, just one to manage and operate the facility in the case that the state built the facility itself. (Some publications referred to them as one of seven bidders.)

”After careful consideration, the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority and the MTGA Management Board have determined that an investment of capital and resources in this opportunity, at this time, does not align with our stated goals to continue to strengthen our balance sheet,” []
I'm a bit surprised that so many others did not feel that way, and that there are so many bidders. I recall how long it took the three men in the room to select Delaware North when there were just three, not to mention how they got it totally wrong. One can only imagine how and when they'll be able to choose from amongst six.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Sheikh Seeks Saratoga Savings

Try saying that ten times fast...

The Sheikh of Dubai (foiled again in his quest for a Derby win and ain't that a shame), is seeking a zoning change for his Greentree Training Center in Saratoga. An attorney for Darley USA told the City Council that they are requesting the change so he can upgrade existing on-site housing for staff. However, there's concern that the Sheikh could use such a switch to develop the site in other ways.

Such a change could allow Darley USA, the Lexington, Ky.-based racing operation that owns the horse farm, or future owners to apply for non-equine uses for the farm, including concerts, restaurants, dormitories, religious centers and more, Accounts Commissioner John Franck said Thursday.

"Once we change the zoning, the permitted uses are vast," said Franck, who led the effort to postpone the vote until May 19. [Albany Times Union]
Perhaps they're scared that he might be interested in building Meydan West? Given the fact that the Sheikh's real estate ventures back home ain't going so well, there is likely a different motive. It seems as if recent barn construction has more than doubled the city's assessment of the property's worth and, thus, its tax liability.
The property is now zoned rural-residential and Darley is seeking a change to institutional racetrack-related, the same as Oklahoma Training Track, Saratoga Race Course and Saratoga Gaming & Raceway. The proposed change would bring Darley’s farm more in line with surrounding properties.

By doing so, the owners also might apply for agricultural credits that could reduce the site’s assessment, and taxes, significantly.

"I’m not disagreeing that it should be changed," Accounts Commissioner and city Assessor John Franck said. "I want to know what the tax ramifications are first. That number is going to change dramatically if the zoning changes." [Saratogian]
Thus, the Sheikh could save some money to put towards purchasing some more horses that won't win the Derby as long as he sticks to his failed strategy to do so.

- This must be a statistical quirk. With the Preakness shaping up as a far more interesting race, perhaps NBC can really make some hay with that telecast. And how absurdly overbet is that filly going to be? Count me in as being all in against her, especially since she's gone from sentimental favorite type to a horse with connections I love to root against.

Deadline Day

Today is D-Day for the proposals for the Aqueduct racino. The bidders have until 5 PM to fill in the conspicuous blanks in Governor Paterson's Memorandum of Understanding (large pdf), most urgently regarding what they propose to pay up front. One would expect it will be materially less than the $370 million that Delaware North couldn't raise. I've revised my over/under to $200 million; I think $150 is too low, as I don't think the winning bid will come in under that.

Here's an anonymous poster who we'll soon see how well-informed he/she is, writing of speculation in Albany that NYRA will team up with MGM and, I'm presuming that the reference is to the Ilitch family which has partnered with the Shinnecock tribe in the past; that SL Green will team with Jeff Gural; that one-time Del North developer R. Donahue Peebles will submit a bid of his own; and that there's "'some "new unnamed' bidder that has everyone trying to ascertain who it might be." I've heard speculation before about NYRA getting involved; and the Shinnecocks have made proposals before. I can't imagine that Gural could be an asset politically, as he's proven to be a pain in the butt having threatened to shutter his racinos, thus spearheading the racinos' successful effort to squeeze higher retention rates out of Albany. And I'm very excited about the prospect of a mystery bidder....could it be that Excelsior is back in town?

What makes this all the more interesting is the matter of the lawsuit by SL Green charging its onetime partner and now racino rival Delaware North with breach of agreements and gross deception. There's also Attorney General Andrew Cuomo's investigation of contract won by Delaware North lobbyist Patricia Lynch; however, Delaware North is not one of the companies which has been subpoenaed. Still, it's an association which probably doesn't help at this point.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Strange Day

There was a strange occurrence here in NYC on Wednesday. I went out for lunch, and it wasn't raining. Not only that, the sky was an unfamiliar color, a pale shade of blue. Whatsmore, there was a bright round yellow circle shining through; I stared at it in wonderment for several minutes. I found it quite hypnotic; however, now I'm seeing slow-moving spots; like a field of 5K claimers plodding by.

Well, everything's back to normal now; it's grey and raining again, and man, did it pour last night. I'm told that if the bright yellow circle appears enough, the track at Belmont will dry out. So maybe we'll have a fast track and grass racing by Belmont day. And then perhaps we'll have some more horses too. Wednesday's card (with the track actually rated good), featured a grand total of 52 horses in the nine races - only 51 of which finished. Precious Kiss suffered a fractured sesamoid to her left foreleg. She was to undergo further evaluation. [DRF] The fact is though that the fields for dirt races weren't full to start with. Throw in all the off-the-turfers, and the scene at Belmont is quite bleak. I'll start getting with the program once the programs become more attractive. As I've always said, the prospect of no more sloppy tracks is reason in and of itself to make the synthetic track project worthwhile.

- The Yanks lost in ten innings to Tampa Bay last night, and I can't imagine a more dispiriting loss for a baseball team at this still-early stage of the season. Coming after being swept (again) by the Red Sox, they trailed 3-0, but tied the game on a clutch two-out, base clearing double by Mark Teixeira in the bottom of the 8th. Then, after a scoreless inning by Mariano Rivera, they had the winning run on second with one out in the 9th, and I'm thinking, they really need to score this run. They didn't. Sure enough in the 10th, Phil Coke, their only other effective reliever of late, is greeted, on his second pitch, by a long home run by Carlos Pena (his league-leading 12th). Then, they have the tying run on third with one out in the bottom of the inning, with Teixeira up again....and on a 2-0 count, he pops up a fastball down the middle. Are you kidding me? He was barely done slamming things around in the dugout before Matsui flied out to end the game. All this played out in a depressing setting; this entire homestand has been played in the rain and before vast sections of empty seats, and not only in the $1250 section. The Yanks could use that bright yellow circle to emerge as well.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

A Different Perspective

An anonymous commenter notes, with appropriate sarcasm:

Mine That Bird is certainly no Giacomo. Giacomo had one win at 2, a MSW. Mine That Bird won 3 stakes as a 2-year old and was 2-year old champ in Canada.
Well, now that you put it that way! An excellent point indeed. I wonder what odds this horse would have been before Beyer figures were published in the Form.

Still, it's just hard to look past his last race; his first beyond a mile and a sixteenth, 4th place at Sunland; final three-eighths in 40 seconds flat, yuck.

As this reader noted, you can't say enough or marvel sufficiently over Calvin Borel's ride. I think it's certainly fair to speculate that Mine That Bird wouldn't have won the race with any other rider.

But imagine if Join In the Dance held the rail, and Borel didn't get through and had to check instead? I might hear it from some of you over this because yeah, I know, the fig is the fig. But I just find it extremely difficult to believe that, had Pioneerof the Nile won the race, in 2:03.81, faster than the 2:04 that Smarty Jones ran on a sloppy track to earn a 107, the Beyer boys would have given him the same 95 he got as the runner-up, thus making him, by a wide margin (five points), the slowest Derby in Beyer history.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Missing the Train (or the Bus)

Some readers had a hard time believing NYRA's claim, as reported in the NY Times, that it would "lose" more than $5 million due to the termination of the Long Island Railroad service to Belmont. I'm told by a spokesperson for NYRA that the figure refers to business, not revenue. The math is simple: NYRA anticipates that it will lose five percent of its on-track attendance; based on last spring's total meet attendance of 384,000, that comes to around 20,000. Multiply that by the per capita of $260, and you get $5.2 million of handle. Presumably, some of that will be bet off-track, hopefully for NYRA through its own wagering platform rather than OTB so that it retains the same percentages...but in any case, that's how they came up with the number.

Of course, there will be LIRR service on Belmont day, but an anonymous reader notes: Unless there is a freak tstorm [for the Preakness], belmont will be half empty on the first saturday in june. I certainly would have to agree with the reader's assessment of the chances of their being a Triple Crown possibility. Perhaps the presence of Rachel Alexandra will help, but, unfortunately, she's being pointed for the Acorn rather than the Test of Champions.

- Governor Paterson announced some new rules which will facilitate union organization of employees at certain worksites....including Belmont Park.

The directive, which was signed on April 24 and issued on Friday, will require the operators of projects that receive assistance like loans, tax breaks or property leases from state agencies or public authorities to obtain “labor peace” agreements with unions seeking to organize their workers. [NY Times]
I suppose that NYRA qualifies under all three of those conditions of having received loans, tax breaks, and property leases, and that the order would apply to the other tracks as well.

The governor is still scraping bottom in the latest poll from Marist, which shows him getting trounced in matchups with Andrew Cuomo and the seedy ex-mayor of NYC whose name I can't even bring myself to type so early in the morning. It even shows him trailing Rick Lazio, and that has to be really depressing. But there are reports this morning that the governor has finally persuaded two holdout Democratic Senators to support his latest MTA bailout plan (which I tend to doubt would restore Belmont service); and yesterday he announced a proposal for a spending cap on the state budget as he attempts to rehabilitate his image. He has a long ways to go.

Friday is the deadline for new and/or revised bids for the racino at Aqueduct. Delaware North is expected to rebid for the project. In what was labeled a "candid" conversation with William Bissett - if it were really so, the interviewer may have asked him about the accusations in the SL Green lawsuit - Del North's president says:
"When you go to Aqueduct, and you walk through the facility, the people who work there can tell you the names of everyone sitting in those chairs. And if you walk by an empty chair, unfortunately, that player has either died or missed the bus. It's that critical. [Standardbred Canada]
I'd like to know when the last time Bissett was at the Big A on a racing day! If it was sometime during the last month of the meeting and he ran across my empty seat, he can be assured that I was neither dead nor late for the bus. Just bored.

Monday, May 04, 2009

The Incredible Invisible Horse?

This British art student made this car disappear; pretty cool, eh? However, there's nothing in the article about her using her magic on Mine That Bird; so Tom Durkin can't use that as an excuse for missing his move until the last second!

But I'm not going to be too hard on Durkin, who has nailed far far more than he's missed. And, as a poster in a Yahoo group that I'm in pointed out, it's the same track and the same move that Trevor Denman, the best I know of in picking up those moves early on, missed on Street Sense in the BC Juvenile in 2006. So maybe there's something about the visitor's announcer booth that helps to obliterate the view. Or maybe the in-house announcers, shunned for the national TV spotlight, put something in the bourbon.

Mark Johnson, the new regular Churchill announcer, did a bit better, but he too did not call the horse until he was already in front. I was going to link to the video with Johnson's call on You Tube, but it is no longer available due to a copyright claim by Churchill Downs. And you wonder why nobody cares about this sport anymore?

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Derby Notes

As shocking as the Derby result was, as DiscreetPicks points out: the horse ran great, and he's getting ZERO credit for it. Mine That Bird's winning time of 2:02.66 is a middle of the pack kind of time historically. His Beyer of 105, though, according to Crist, tied with Sea Hero's as the second lowest (to Giacomo's 100 in 2005) during the last decade (and three points slower than Rachel Alexandra), certainly seems respectable if not spectacular. Whereas Giacomo's rally took place into a final quarter of nearly 27 seconds, the final quarter here was 25.17. And, according to Formulator, Mine That Bird zipped home in final fractions of 24.11 and 24 seconds flat. Big Brown came home last year in 25.26. One can certainly explain the difference away given Big Brown's wide trip from the 20 post and Mine That Bird's dream journey on the best part of the track over a surface he obviously relished. But the point is that, as inexplicable as it may have been, this gelding's win certainly seems a legitimate one, at least in terms of time.

Of course, it also helped that the horses he inhaled late had had enough at that point. Pioneerof the Nile showed the determination he did in the Cash Call Futurity and the Lewis in fighting off Musket Man and Papa Clem (said to be going on to the Preakness) for the place. But he struggled home in 26.23 and earned a Beyer of only 95, as did the other two.

Todd Pletcher, winless now with 24 Derby starters, said that Dunkirk (11th) grabbed a quarter and suffered some nicks and cuts. Friesan Fire (18th) had an eventful trip.

He grabbed a quarter in the left front, had a cut on the tendon in the right front, and a cut on his right rear back foot. He also had some leg webbing, apparently from another horse, embedded in one of his hooves.

While she did not know what Jones or the owners would decide about the Preakness, Cindy Jones said all of the cuts were superficial and would heal quickly. [Bloodhorse]
- David Cotey, Mine That Bird's original trainer who sold him for $400,000, seemed to have no regrets as he and his partners were able to purchase 37 other horses as a result of the transaction.
"I never ever sold a horse and wished someone would do terrible with them," Cotey said. "Now people will buy a horse out of here for good money and not be afraid to go to the Breeders' Cup or the Derby or wherever. [Canadian Press]
- I don't usually go for that schmalzy sentimental stuff, but I thought the highlight of NBC's coverage (other than the fabulous blimp shot of the stretch run] was the interview during the walkover with Tom McCarthy. General Quarter's owner/trainer was obviously overwhelmed by the moment, not only proceeding to the paddock to saddle his horse for the Kentucky Derby, but being cheered on by railbirds along the way. It (almost) made me want to bet on the horse. And I bet he wouldn't have snapped at Kenny Rice no matter how many times he asked him the same questions he'd been asked all week. (If one can't be gracious when he wins, what do you expect he'll be like when he loses?)

A Chip Off The Old Dick

NBC, which spent the first half of the Derby telecast hyping its Bravo network (nice to see Stefan get a little revenge) and its Sunday Night Football telecasts (did you know that the Giants, with their QB Eli Manning, open up the Cowboys new stadium on NBC on September 20?) (and that there was a tornado at the Cowboys' practice facility?), caught lightning in a bottle by picking out winning trainer Bennie ("Chip") Woolley Jr. for one of its walkover interviews before the race. There, we got the story of Woolley's gruesome-sounding foot injury that had him on crutches, and his 21-hour journey by van from New least until Woolley had enough of that talk. So, after the initial shock of Mine That Bird's win, I thought, 'oh yeah, that grubby looking guy with the crutches! He won?!?'

During the post-race interview in the infield, when Kenny Rice brought up the marathon journey again for those who might have tuned in just for the race, Woolley snapped something along the lines of: "Maybe now people will ask me about something else!" and brusquely walked away. This guy, who previously had a grand total of one winner on the year, had just won the Kentucky Derby, and he still couldn't seem to help himself from being a dick. Get used to it, bub. (We'll give him partial redemption for later giving a shout-out to the horse's original trainer David Cotey.) Oh great, we have to look at this guy's mug for the next two, or five weeks, whenever they decide he's ready to run again and the horse finishes far up the track? "The farther he goes, the better this horse is going to be," Woolley said. My butt. If he runs in the Belmont, he'll be so far back in the stretch that he'll make Big Brown's effort look good.

I Knew Giacomo...

And Mine That Bird is no Giacomo. The 2005 Derby winner was an overlay at his odds of 50.30 to 1. True, he had only won one race prior to the Derby, but he had at least raced competitively with the top West Coast horses, and run a 98 Beyer which, if certainly not in the top league, was at least respectable and indicative of potential for more. The SA Derby contingent was not highly considered that year (winner Buzzards Bay went off at an unbelievable 46-1 from the 20 post); but that judgment turned out to be in error, as horses who ran in that race comprised 2/3rds of the top six Derby finishers.

Mine That Bird was an underlay, a gross one in my opinion. I mean, this horse could have been two....even three times his 50.60 to 1 odds, and I wouldn't have given it a second thought. Nor would I have even considered betting him; his is an incomprehensible upset. I think that part of the reason for the relatively paltry odds on a horse who'd never run faster than an 81 Beyer --- and among those who are perhaps no longer laughing at me are those who did so when I postulated that those figures are fast becoming obsolete for the specific purpose of handicapping the Kentucky Derby --- is ol' Giacomo himself. His highly popularized win seems to have really flattened out the upper spectrum of the tote board. In the four years since his Derby win, no horse has gone off even close to the 71-1 odds that runner up Closing Argument did - Z Humor, at 63-1, is one of only two to even crack the 60-1 level - and Closing Argument looked a hell of a lot better than many of the longest shots since. Including Mine That Bird.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Derby Morning Notes

I Want Revenge is out of the race.

- I had to laugh when I picked up the Times' sports section this morning, and saw a blurb for a Derby column by Harvey Araton on page 3 that reads: In Need Of Good Press. Seemed rather ironic considering that, in the two days leading up to the Derby, the Times print edition ran exactly two articles on the race (plus one on Rachel Alexandra, and wow, eh?): the front page story on drugs by Joe Drape that I discussed here, and yesterday's column by William C Rhoden, a piece on horse slaughter that he probably had sitting in his laptop for months. In it, he calls for the ban of the practice without, of course, proposing any alternative for this.

However, Araton's column is an interesting one that's well worth reading; it discusses the fact that today's generation of trainers does little to promote the sport (as you may well have noticed this week). And, in fact, even the guys who, not too long ago, helped to liven up the scene, are not doing so anymore. “I’m much more boring than I used to be," says Bob Baffert. Indeed, despite saddling one of the favorites, we haven't heard much from him this week, and that's the sport's loss. Wayne Lukas and Nick Zito are there too; perhaps they're embarrassed by their no-prayer entrants. Or maybe they and others are embarrassed by something else.

“The guard is changing, you’ve got a different breed of trainers and I think the press has intimidated a lot of them,” Baffert said. “They see what the press can do, how they can cause a lot of harm and so you get a little bit — ”

He didn’t finish the thought, which, sorry, would have to be: defensive and hopefully embarrassed about some of the misfortune — not all — that the industry has brought upon itself. [NYT]
Well, enough of the gloom and doom (as if I Want Revenge's scratch doesn't have you grinning already as I am). I'm on some mailing list that's "courtesy of Bodog" and got some proposition bet odds this week that I thought you'd get a chuckle from:
How many different horses will race caller Tom Durkin (NBC) call as the race leader?

Over/Under 5

Will NBC best its previous Kentucky Derby Nielsen rating high of 9.3 achieved in 2001 with its presentation of the 135th Kentucky Derby?

Yes +155
No -225

How long will it take Leann Rimes to sing the national anthem at the 135th Kentucky Derby?

Over/Under 1 minute and 54 seconds (1:54)
[DiscreetPicks found a video of her coming in well under.]

Who will NBC Horse Racing Analyst Gary Stevens pick to win the 135th Kentucky Derby?

I WANT REVENGE 7/5 (refunds on this??)
Any Other Horse 2/1

Will the winner of the 2009 Kentucky Derby win the 2009 Preakness Stakes?

Yes +225
No -350

What will be the time of the first quarter mile of the 135th Kentucky Derby?

Over/Under 0:23:00

How many lengths will the winner of the 135th Kentucky Derby win by?

More than 2 lengths 6/5
2 lengths 15/2
Less than 2 lengths 5/6

Which will be greater, the margin of victory between the Derby winner and second place finisher or the second place finisher and third place finisher?

Winner - 2nd Place -180
2nd Place - 3rd Place +140

Will 2009 Kentucky Derby all sources handle exceed the 2008 Kentucky Derby all sources handle of $114,557,364?

Yes +350
No -700

Will Todd Pletcher have a horse finish in the Top 3 of the 135th Kentucky Derby?

Yes -190
No +150

Will a horse win the 135th Kentucky Derby wire to wire?

Yes (Horse Wins 135th Kentucky Derby Wire to Wire) +550
No (Horse Wins 135th Kentucky Derby Wire to Wire) -1100

Derby Blahs

It's late at night on the Friday before the first Saturday in May, and I don't have a definitive Derby horse. Gun to my head, and without regard to odds, I'd pick Dunkirk. Though I still have serious qualms about him at this still early stage of his career and with no two-year old racing experience, I believe him to be the most talented horse in the field. I figure that's worth something. I don't care for any of the other horses considered to be the main contenders as win bet candidates for the reasons I've stated before (although, at the present early odds of 9-1 on Pioneerof the Nile and 8-1 on Dunkirk, I'd look at the race differently. Since General Quarters is 5-1, I expect the odds to change drastically.)

As I've mentioned, I think Papa Clem represents value at his morning line of 20-1. I've also written that I do not think he's the likeliest winner. Man, I'm getting crap from you guys over this horse.....I think I've made far lamer suggestions than he on this blog!

Anyway, I'll be watching the board and studying the Form as post time approaches, hoping that I get some kind of revelation if I just handicap as if it's just another race, the 11th at Churchill. Other horses of some interest are:

West Side Bernie - Everyone seems to like this horse for the bottom of the exotics, so don't expect any payoffs with him in the 3rd or 4th spot to be quite as lucrative as his win odds, currently 48-1, might suggest. West Side Bernie ceded much ground on the turn to I Want Revenge, and got his final three furlongs in a field-best 36 4/5; so if you like the latter as the favorite, isn't this son of Bernstein worth a deuce on the nose? I mean, just a couple of bucks at inflated odds?

Musket Man - Son of Yonaguska out of a Fortunate Prospect mare would give the Alan Porters of the world something to ponder if he gets the mile and a quarter distance with that pedigree. He's won two graded stakes in a row, five out of six overall, and comes off a career high Beyer in the Illinois Derby. But he was reported to have been uninspiring in his last work, in which, according to Welsch, he was under heavy pressure but could not get by his stablemate, a recent maiden winner who actually was stronger during the gallop-out. So actually this is not a horse of interest; I don't like him much at all.

Hold Me Back might get more consideration from me if his only dirt race wasn't bad, and if this race had more pace. But he has shown nice improvement at three, a solid closing kick - sub-12 second final eighths in each of his last two - on the synthetics, good reviews by Welsch, and Kent D on board. I'll likely use him underneath.

Chocolate Candy seems to be getting some love, but has never run on real dirt. Though his Beyers are low, they show a long-term pattern of improvement; and besides, what do synthetic figs have to do with dirt ability anyway. I could see him at his morning line of 20-1, but he seems to be picking up wise-guy support. (He currently stands at 9-1 in this very early wagering.)

I have no idea about Desert Party and Regal Ransom; not a fucking clue. General Quarters is a horse I'll use in exotics.

And that's really about it. I find it all quite uninspiring, and I'm not all that enthusiastic about any of the horse mentioned above. Each of the favorites has major questions marks in my mind, and the supporting cast is not deep. Not a good combination. Sorry to be a drag on the big day, but that's just the way I see it. Still, I plan to be enjoying the race, whether I end up betting much or not at all, with some straight bourbon and a ceremonial mint julep made with fresh mint grown in the backyard. At least the Head Chef is excited about something.