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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Mythical Jackpot in Queens

You may have noticed the link to the mythical Aqueduct racino in a prior post. It's not a goof, but rather the vision of developer R. Donahue Peebles (presumably representing his own bid with MGM Mirage rather than the one with Delaware North).

Oh, so this is what it's gonna look like, eh?

Wow, pretty swanky. (Maybe photographed at Yonkers?)

OOO, look, is that race?

Oh man, talk about hitting the jackpot.

I know it's going to be classy because it has a porte-cochere, and I had to look that up to see what it is. It looks like the slots would occupy the second floor of the plant, "thoughtfully configured based on denominations," with "an intuitive flow," and "ample parking opportunities."

Hmmm, parking opportunities sounds like he's going to sell PSL's for the prime spots; or perhaps for a personal valet.

This is all no joke to the breeders and owners in the state however....nor to those of us who maintain a fondness for the Big A. It's time man, I've written ad nauseum how much I dig the place, but at this point it's starting to lose its charm. We've been staring at the same faded decor for a lot of years, and it's getting really tired. A complete renovation of the plan is long overdue, and I have to admit that I get excited looking at cheesy pictures like these, just considering the possibilities. Yeah, bring in the damn slots, and get the joint a-jumpin'....and that means night racing. If the thoroughbred horsemen aren't into that, then bring in the harness guys, they can use the inner track as a mile oval and even race on the turf.

Of course, there likely won't be a decision on the winning bidder until the Senate stalemate is settled, and score one here for Governor David Paterson. The embattled governor has taken all kinds of abuse of late, but he's the one laughing now after a State Supreme Court judge ruled that he does, indeed, have the authority to call the Senate into extraordinary session even if the Assembly isn't around. The judge ordered a joint session this morning, though the Republicans immediately appealed and put that on hold. Regardless, the triumph led the governor to boast: “With today’s Supreme Court decision, we confirm that at least two branches of government are working in Albany."

Yeah, take that. It was very brave indeed of Democrat and Republican senators alike to attack a governor with an approval rating of around 8. He was labeled as 'incompetent' for forcing them into special sessions that they claimed, wrongly at this point, were illegal; and vilified for threatening to withhold their pay. But the Democrats' only proposed solution was to pack up and go home. Instead, they're at least in town and have been negotiating power-sharing with the Republicans, though those talks seem to be going nowhere fast. The sticking point is no doubt the issue of leadership, with the Republicans holding fast to the 32-30 vote that empowered the so-called coalition (30 Republicans plus two shady Democrats), even though the count now stands at 31-31. Would Senator Skelos still insist that the vote is the vote if five Republicans switched sides tomorrow?

- The parent company of Monticello Raceway has $65 million in debt due at the end of July, and it doesn't have the money. The largest creditor is Plainfield Asset Management, which co-owns Jeff Gural's Vernon and Tioga Downs, and is said to want to own the property. It's kinda hard to see why.

Its daily take per slot is the lowest of New York's eight racinos — the second-lowest of all 42 casinos and racinos in the Northeast, according to the most recent Gaming Industry Observer's East Coast Slot Report. Attendance continues to plummet, down 11 percent from last year. [Record Online]
Whatsmore, they'd soon, at least in theory, have competition from Cappelli's racetrack and racino at the Concord and its 75% retention rate. Could be that what Plainfield is really interested in is a piece of that action.

- I guess I'm much too old to talk about a rock concert in terms of life-changing experience. But everything's relative, and for me to see Dinosaur Jr last week, a band which I've revered for two decades and which is now in prime form two albums into their reunion, in an intimate (but not too crowded) space with an absolutely pitch-perfect sound system (hardly a given; in fact, I'd say a relative rarity in my concert-going career), is the equivalent of a Bruce fan seeing their Boss while sitting in the 10th row at Radio City Music Hall. The downside is that, with the summer concert season still young, I'm not likely to see a better show. Except perhaps Dinosaur Jr., when they play a free show at Central Park in August. Don't expect to see me at Saratoga that day.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Sunday Night Notes

Saturday's late Pick Four returned $764, with a pool of almost $485K easily exceeding the $350K guarantee, to those bettors who benefited from what seemed like a routine call on the DQ which made Separatist the winner. Seems like a good payoff to me, considering that, the way I saw it, the 8th was the only race which required going deep at all. Not redboarding - I mentioned Piazza di Spagna yesterday, and I did end up singling him. I used the two horses I mentioned in the 10th, of which the winner was one. And I of course took advantage of the free marker in the Mother Goose. I'm not that stupid. I was fully prepared to rescind my holy request that she somehow lose.

But it never got to that point because the half dozen horses I used in the 8th did not include Big Jerome ($40.20); and if the general silence which greeted the result was any indication, I was not nearly alone. My closest runner was Parc des Princes, third by a neck and a nose at 6.80 to 1. Never considered the winner; not that his past races at this level had been bad. And he had some nice back figs too. But he certainly wasn't inspiring, especially from the 13 post. Perhaps he paid off for some of you?

Rachel Alexandra got a Beyer of 111 for her 19 1/2 length win (with Durkin nailing it again) in stakes record time. There was some discussion about how fast the track was in the comments section here. Souped-up tracks on big race days is one of those things that nearly everybody says it's a bad thing, yet it happens every time, or so it seems. It's hard to understand - not like there's a public hankering out there for track records. And as one reader pointed out, besides being dangerous, it's boring.

With the other two horses setting a brisk pace just ahead, it was far more like a time trial in harness racing than your typical Grade 1 stakes race. Between that and the fast surface, it's little wonder she broke the stakes record. However, I imagine that the track has been fast for other Mother Goose cards; and the list of winners includes some of the legends of the sport. So it has to be considered an impressive accomplishment in any event.

Back to normal on Sunday with around 6,700 on hand. In the Grade 2 First Flight, Porte Bonheur had the classic pocket trip on the rail down the backstretch behind dueling leaders Carolyn's Cat and Sunday's Geisha. Ramon Dominguez had to swing her out to the four path for a running lane in the stretch, and it looked for all the world to me that she wasn't going to make it; even after she changed leads around midstretch. But the meet's leading rider - by a wide margin and not because he has all that many more mounts than the runners-up - kept driving on this four-year old daughter of the deceased Hennessy through a seventh furlong which she may want no part of. He managed to get her up by a nose through a fairly plodding final eighth of 13:07, earning a moderate Beyer of 87. Ramon certainly fits this filly, with three wins and a second in his four rides on her....but I'd look for her to stick to six in the future.

The barn of trainer Rodrigo Ubillo has been live all year. He'll need a new jockey or two these days; and Eibar Coa came through in the 10th with Vivi's Book. Ubillo has two winners, two seconds and a third with his last five runners here at Belmont.

No Paddock Show for Rachel Fans

NYRA got its extra 5-6,000 fans out to see Rachel least according to NYRA, which announced Saturday's crowd as being 13,352. That figure certainly did not manifest itself in the backyard in terms of any significant extra crowding or lines. But hey, this is one count not worth getting beat up or shot over.

I guess maybe they were all hiding until the Mother Goose, as the paddock was pretty much filled, if hardly packed, before the race. And here is where I have a major bone to pick. All week, NYRA pleaded with us to please come see Rachel Alexandra, could she be the one, pink bracelets, free admission for women, blah blah blah. But, with the purported big crowd waiting on the grandstand side to see her and her celebrity jockey parade triumphantly around the walking ring, she was walked once around by her handlers, and then, after Borel got aboard on the clubhouse side, headed straight into the track, skipping the ceremonial loop around. A smattering of boos resulted, and I can hardly blame them; that was really weak. And an excellent way to shatter any good will amongst any new fans that might have been on hand.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Belmont Saturday (Mostly Inessential)

When I first went through the 8th, I put a big circle around So It Goes. He obviously relishes these shorter distances (though I think he may prefer 1 1/16), and it's third off the layoff for Donk, just three for 36 for the meet, but two seconds on Friday, including Strike the Bell, who couldn't quite last, at 8-1, in the overnight stakes. But after watching the replay of his last race, I'm a little less enthusiastic. He never looked a winner, lagging far behind while saving ground on the turn before finding a handy seam and finishing well. Nothing wrong with the effort, just looked less inspiring than on paper.

We were at the Francis Bacon exhibit at the Met last week, and I noted a quote from the artist to the effect that nine-tenths of everything is inessential. And I've often wondered on this blog how much of all the incredible handicapping resources currently easily available online is really essential to the job. It's not that it's a bad idea to watch a replay of a race, or look up detailed trainer stats in Formulator. But this being such an inexact science - indeed, one with a high degree of randomness - that any bit of mind-changing information could, perhaps, be just as likely to lead one astray as not. Since the paper Racing Form has always served us well - and even more so now than 20 years ago to be sure - maybe it's the case that once you formulate a strong opinion based on what's in the Form, you're better off not probing any further? I mean, it's going to either reinforce your opinion, or talk you off the horse, and does anyone know how that turns out in the long run?

I digress, sorry. OK, I'm not completely off So It Goes, but now I'm going deeper. North Country (12-1) comes off a layoff first time for David Duggan; he has the best grass Beyers in the field. He's one of those state-breds looking for a level after running out of his restricted conditions; but he raced well at this level on a 'good' turf at Aqueduct last November. Duggan sports an 0 for 12 in the 180+ category; but has two good seconds in stakes races with returnees Porte Bonheur and Stud Muffin; capable barn attracts Ramon here. Parc des Princes (10-1) led in the stretch before fading to 4th in his return to Belmont. He's reunited with Castellano, who rode him in two good front-running, though non-winning, efforts here last year. I'd actually prefer to see him ridden the way he was by Flores at Santa Anita two back; in any event, seems an overlay at those odds. Big Top (6-1) is my preference amongst the five that met on May 20; three wide around the turn in his turf debut, could be closer second time on the surface and a better trip.

OK, it's after noon, so no on is gonna read this one time just quickly, in the 7th, Piazza di Spagna (4-1) goes second off the layoff for Sciacca. This barn is just 1 for 43 at the meeting. But the horse usually makes a run, as he did finishing second in his return. The winner, Straight Story, then ran second by a head in the G2 Colonial Turf Cup. So, do you play the trainer angle and throw him out? Or the key race angle and single him? I dunno, you tell me.

In the 10th, Separatist is the 2-1 morning line choice for the red-hot Tagg, five for his last 11, with two seconds. But this horse is been beat in his last three at 9-5, 2-5, and 4-5, so beware. Saratoga Steve (5-1) returns to seven furlongs on the grass; seems the distance is definitely for him based on his rally for a close third. However, this is another whose race wasn't as impressive to me visually, and his trainer is 0 for 24 here. Do you go with the fundamentals in the Form, or with the trainer stats and replay? Why are you asking me? I'm off to the track, have a great day.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Turf Luck

(With apologies to the Quinella Queen.)

NYRA couldn't leave the Mother Goose out of the Pick Six (it's on MSG at 5PM), but, in order to make the wager as difficult as possible, it scheduled the other Five for the grass. However, after the deluge this evening which wiped out Friday's 9th race, there's the matter of whether some or all of them will be washed off the grass. The courses were already labeled 'yielding.' and the possibility of more showers exists. Could be another tough break for NYRA.

The problem with this scheduling is that if the worst ensues and they all have to be taken off, then, after the first four races (all on the dirt), you're left with a card consisting entirely of off-the-turfers and a five horse race with a 1-5 favorite. That would be a deal breaker for me as far as going to Belmont on Saturday. I've been psyched to go, and not to get a fucking pink bracelet. I'm ready to gamble. Haven't been to the track much at all of late. Been a nice, and necessary break. Now, I need at least a couple of tuneups before my next big horseplaying event - a return trip to Del Mar late next month; and with the Head Chef happily and otherwise occupied, here's my chance. We'll get the scoop early tomorrow from NYRA's Turf Update on the status of the races, but it'd be nice to know the night before. Not that I'm complaining or anything.

In any event, I give NYRA credit for putting together, at least on paper and at this point (with the weather having cleared, a horseplayer is always optimistic), a card chock full of full fields that look highly competitive, at least on first glance and based on the morning lines. That's what NYRA should be promoting!!! At least in a more perfect world, perhaps sometime in the not-too-far off future, when, flush with cash from the Aqueduct Casino, it can offer first class racing along with first class facilities; and convenient transportation from Manhattan with a revived Long Island Railroad service, with roving musicians and Serling handicapping over the loudspeaker system. "We have great horse racing, big fields, tons of action, slots if you prefer, either way, come, drink, laugh, meet hot guys and chicks, woo-hoo!!!" Rachel's Sandbox? C'mon.

This is the crux of my disagreement with those like my buddy Handride who think that the industry shouldn't market the gambling. I think it's the only shot. Based at least on my interactions with family, friends and co-workers, nobody cares about Rachel Alexandra, at least in the world beyond thoroughbred websites and blogs. And even if they do manage to attract a few thousand extra people, so what? When's the next time you think she's gonna run here? You think she'll really race at four? Will NYRA endeavor to market the real action to any new fans who might stop by, so that they might come back if and, in any event inevitably and in relative short order, when she doesn't?

Except in the rarest of occasions, I don't believe you can't market the game on specific horses anymore because they don't race enough and don't stick around nearly long enough. I wrote in that comment on Handride's blog that people won't watch sports in which they don't have a rooting interest; but as I was watching the US Open last week, I realized I was wrong about that. The players become familiar, the top ones more so, and the stars have ample opportunity to shine. Even as an extremely casual golf fan, I can turn on almost any tournament and have a certain amount of familiarity and context. That wouldn't be the case if the best golfers retired to a life of limitless faceless sex after their second competitive season.

Harumf. In the second, Burley's Gold is 5-2 morning line favorite for IEAH and Dutrow in his first race since his debut last July at Calder. You can see on his pp line that he beat the multiple GSW Big Drama, and he lost by a head to Miles And Miles, who won his next time out, and has since thrice run third (ha1 say that one ten times fast!). In addition, 4th place finisher Stately Character went on to win the Foolish Pleasure Stakes, and earned a 94 Beyer running 4th in the Florida Derby. Sweetlandofliberty (5th) is a two-time winner who ran a respectable 4th in the G3 Palm Beach. Livingston Street (7th) has won four times including a minor stakes at Calder last month.

So I think we can expect that this horse is going to get pounded at the windows as if he'd run last week month. We'll see if the Zito entry (2-1) is really the favorite. In any event, a couple of other ones seem interesting to me. Winged Hero (7-2) was third, at 21-1, in his debut, finishing behind Cabaret Cowboy, subsequently an impressive winner moving up to face winners; and Ricoriatoa, second in his next to the impressive Convocation. This son of Fusaichi Pegasus goes from the barn of the always-live Frank Alexander, with a winner (also with Cornelio) and a close second (with a 5-1 shot) in his last three starts.

Cat in the Sky
(6-1) goes first time for Michael Trombetta. Most of you are probably aware that he's been a very good first-out guy over the years. But I believe in seeing what one has done for us lately, which is why I prefer to set my Formulator defaults to recent history. Checking this barn's stats.....oh. He's 11 for his last 30 (37&), and seven for his last 12! So, I guess he still pops them from time to time. This gelding is a three-year old son of Sky Mesa, a half-brother to stakes winning Cat Tour, and out of an Unreal Zeal half-sister to the venerable Tour of the Cat.

Hunch Bets for Friday, June 26

Startsomethingnew 9th at Woodbine
Frisk 6th at Lone Star
Guns Drawn 4th at Calder
Taxability 1st at Penn National
Eluding 8th at Presque Isle
Not So Timeless 6th at Canterbury
Unsung Song 8th at Calder

Thursday, June 25, 2009


We spent far too much time last year debating whether Jess Jackson would or would not / should or should not run his Horse of the Year candidate in the Breeders' Cup, so I'm not playing that game again, homey. Rachel Alexandra is his horse, run her, don't run her, I couldn't care less. But, of course, just a few comments before we move on from this permanently.

A friend made what I think is an excellent point: By so derisively shunning the Santa Anita racing surface ("plastic"), and framing his decision (at least as of today) in terms of Curlin's failure over it in the Classic, Jackson is protecting the value of his stallion by blaming his loss on the surface. Perhaps he feels that holding his filly out of the race could go a long way towards enhancing that perception.

Secondly, just maybe, a part of Breeders' Cup officials could actually feel relieved if she really doesn't run. If she were to go in the Classic, it would make a mockery of Filly Friday. If she were to run in the Distaff, they'd face pressure to move the race to Saturday, lest it be run on a late Friday afternoon/evening on ESPN2.

And finally, God I hope she gets beat on Saturday.

(I can just see the tweet now: Left at the Gate blog says he hopes that Jess Jackson chokes on plastic and that Rachel Alexandra is struck down by God.)

- Reader Mister Ed, seeing that I'm distracted by events upstate, sent along this link to Jerry Bossert's column in the Daily News.

All six OTBs regions in the state - Capital, Catskill, Nassau, NYC, Suffolk and Western, were supposed to answer a questionnaire given to them seven weeks ago by the Task Force [on the Future of OTB], and while the other five did comply, NYCOTB came up empty again.

"The task force members were rather disappointed that they did not receive any comment whatsoever from NYCOTB," New York State Racing and Wagering Board spokesman Joe Mahoney said. "They were the only OTB that didn't provide a comment."
Nice to see that they're taking the process seriously! Bossert quipped that NYCOTB's lobbyist Dan Wray used the "dog ate my homework" excuse, which would imply that they actually did their homework. So that might be giving them too much credit.

- And OH BABY, I scored a ticket on Craig's List for tonight's sold-out Dinosaur Jr show at the Music Hall of Williamsburg, which has quickly become my favorite music space in the city. Their new album, Farm, is now out on Jagjaguwar Records, and it's as astoundingly good as advertised. (You can help support cool labels by buying direct.) This and the new Sonic Youth album (on Matador!) are two of the best releases of the year thus far. Nothing revolutionary, just two great bands - both veterans from the 80's - doing the things that make them great. So score one for!!

However, in terms of longevity, neither of these bands have anything on Ian Hunter. I saw the former frontman of Mott the Hoople in a free concert down by the Hudson River last night...and this guy recently turned 70!! Oh man, are you kidding me?!? I remember unwrapping the first Mott the Hoople album like it was yesterday...

Six Lobbyists Are Better Than One

- The Lottery Division's decision to install electronic table games at the state's racinos comes in spite of the fact that the bill authorizing them, which had easily passed the Senate (ah, the good old days - dysfunctional sounds pretty good around now, don't it? at least it has the function part), was not taken up in the Assembly before it adjourned (for now). “We don’t think we need the legislation,” said New York Lottery Deputy Director Bill Murray.

"Electronic table games are considered predominantly games of chance," [Lottery spokesperson Jennifer] Givner said. That's why games such as 21, roulette and craps are among the games we're considering." Such games, she said, are "not predetermined" when it comes to winning. [Buffalo News]
Not everyone agrees.
[Senator Frank] Padavan (R) said a law is necessary for table games and said he will be writing a letter to the Lottery. Padavan was a party in a suit against the Pataki administration over casino games, which are not allowed under the state Constitution except at Indian casinos. The outcome of the case was a ruling that said VLTs are permitted “but not the other games,” Padavan said.

“They’re in violation of the decision,” he charged. [Capitol Confidential]
Whatever your take, you might wonder just how it is that, with the Senate in chaos, and amidst the interminable delays in the racino at Aqueduct, not one, but two racino-related matters have popped up in the last two days. Perhaps the explanation is evident. In this post regarding the presence of the bill approving Louis Cappelli's latest plan at the Concord on Governor Paterson's proclamation for the aborted special session, I noted the developer's expensive taste in lobbyists. I then received an email from a reader which included a complete list of the lobbyists utilized by the various Cappelli enterprises, and it wasn't limited to Patricia Lynch. It's an extensive list, which includes other prominent names such as Brian Meara and Crane, Vacco & Sanders. A quick check on the Project Sunlight site showed that the Cappelli companies had spent over $100,000 on lobbying in Jan-Feb alone. There's probably more, but, as worthy as that website is, I find it harder to navigate than the state's lobbying regulations themselves.

Now, the fact that the announcement about the electronic table games came the day after the Concord bill showed up may not be a coincidence at all. Looking back to last November, when the bill authorizing them was first introduced and endorsed by Governor Paterson, the two articles that I linked to in my post on the subject each singled out Cappelli's venture as benefiting from the move, and they both quoted the same person. Take a guess.
"We think this legislation would be good for all racinos, including the Concord," said Darren Dopp, spokesman for Patricia Lynch Associates Inc., which lobbies on Cappelli's behalf. "The bottom line is that it brings hundreds of millions of dollars to the state and doesn't cost the state a dime."
Well, there's a surprise for you. You might wonder why, if Ms. Lynch is so influential, the bill wasn't considered by the Assembly. But remember that Mr. Silver's chamber is one in which she is likely keeping an extremely low profile. Here we are with the Senate unable to even properly consider routine revenue measures considered essential by localities throughout the state, but this matter is being rammed through despite failing to pass. Amazing.

- The bill that wasn't would have expanded gaming hours in the state.
The expanded hours alone would have generated an additional $36-million statewide per year, Murray said. [Thoroughbred Times]
- A spokesperson for the State Racing and Wagering Board cited the prospect of a full-blown casino just over the Massachusetts border as an incentive for the expanded gaming.
"We just can’t ignore that," New York State Racing and Wagering Board spokesman Joseph Mahoney said. "They’ve opened an office. They’re serious about this. They’re building a consensus of support in that area." [Saratogian]
- The Senate Democrats threatened to take their great big gavel and go home, after the Republicans stayed away from Wednesday's session....pouting after they lost their latest bid in court. However, after Governor Paterson threatened to call the State Police and halt their pay, neither of which it was clear he has the power to do, there's a report this morning that both parties have actually agreed to meet in a full, and presumably, single session. Exactly who will wield the coveted gavel is not clear. Maybe Louis Cappelli?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Silly Senate

A big racino deal is actually on Governor Paterson's list of bills to be considered during Wednesday's extraordinary (to say the least, if Tuesday's was any indication) session of the New York State Senate. However, unfortunately for NYRA and its customers, it involves not Aqueduct, but Louis Cappelli's pared-down Concord hotel/racino/harness track deal. As with the original $1 billion plan, Cappelli would keep 75% of gaming revenues (the TU post is incorrect). Who the hell is this guy's lobbyist anyway??



Considering the events at Tuesday's special session, I think we've all run out of words to describe what's gone on in the Senate. Words like bizarre and surreal are no longer descriptive enough. And more judgmental descriptions such as disgraceful or farcical actually seems too weighty; I don't think it deserves anything more than silly.

The two sides, like feuding junior high schoolers refusing to acknowledge each other, began holding separate legislative sessions at the same time. Side by side, the parties, each asserting it rightfully controls the Senate, talked and sometimes shouted over one another, gaveling through votes that are certain to be disputed. There were two Senate presidents, two gavels, two sets of bills being voted on.
Democrats scored a tactical victory by seizing the official Senate gavel, which is large and made of black walnut, its whack echoing through the chamber with authority.

Senator George H. Winner Jr., who was presiding over the Republican session, was left to peck the table in front of him with a small gavel used by Republicans for their private conferences. “It’s better than the eyeglass case I was using before,” Mr. Winner said. [NY Times]
James T Madore has a running account on 99 bills passed, 85 in the GOP "session," all by a vote of 62-0, even though nobody actually voted. No one objected either, and since there was a quorum present, both sides claimed their session was the official one. Still, the validity of the votes is very much in question.

However, you can bet that the defiant acquiescence resulting in unanimous votes won't be the case on Wednesday, since #1 on Paterson's list is the question of gay marriage. Add that volatile issue to this mix, and who knows what the hell will happen, especially with Senator Ruben Diaz, a virulently anti-gay marriage Democrat who has flirted with the GOP before, threatening something big.
Sources say while Diaz may be flirting with Republicans, he is not likely to leave the Democratic conference because it would not only hurt his political career, but it could potentially damage his son's, who is the newly minted Borough president in the Bronx.

But if Diaz is anything, it’s unpredictable and angry, saying now is not the time to vote on gay marriage when more time sensitive legislation needs to be passed. [Capital News 9]
Paterson may be just rolling the dice, potentially throwing gasoline on a fire, but he seems to have little to lose at this point. And it should be fun if nothing else.


According to James Odato of the Albany Times Union, you can forget about that nonsense about slots at Nassau OTB. Of course, even if it was a good idea, it wouldn't stand much of a chance given the situation in the Senate, which has now officially degenerated into farce.....and that's before today's 3 PM special session.

- Sailor's Cap was determined, via a necropsy performed at New Bolton, to have perished from cardiac arrest caused by colitis-x.

The cause of colitis-X is unknown, although multiple causes have been proposed, including peracute salmonellosis, clostridial enterocolitis, and endotoxemia." [Bloodhorse]
If the matter of necropsies on dead horses was so crucially important that it pre-empted any coverage whatsoever of the Belmont Stakes in the New York Times on the Friday before the race, shouldn't Joe Drape take note of this report and explain to us just how that little bit of information will help keep horses safe going forward?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Random Rants

- I believe that crowds like the 28,000 at Churchill on Friday night and the 32,000 at Arlington Park for Father's Day are better indicators of the game surviving and, occasionally, even thriving, than any recent year-over-year increases in the TV ratings for the Triple Crown. Those races, particularly the Derby of course, are social events in themselves which will always attract casual viewers....and especially so now that the races are run at least an hour later than they used to be.

But crowds like the two this past weekend, as well as the throngs that routinely pack tracks like Saratoga, Oaklawn, and Del Mar, better demonstrate to me that a day at the races can still pack them in; and can do so without the help of big races or bobbleheads (though they may certainly help). And it can do so without any particular ingenuity. Didn't take a sage to give night racing at Churchill a try, and Father's Day is a natural. If you give people a nice, inviting facility, efficient service with a smile, make it attractive to families, and throw in some competitive horse racing, they will come.

NYRA is trying to market this Rachel Alexandra appearance, but they're not gonna get 32,000 or 28,000 or even half that. For whatever reason, NYRA has not been able to make the case for a day at the track. Maybe improved facilities if and when there are ever slots here would help. But I believe there needs to be a fundamental change of approach. Rachel Alexandra against three nameless fillies isn't going to do it, and it shouldn't have to. Belmont should be a place where people want to come regardless of whether there are any big races or not. And free admission for women on Saturday seems a little silly to be honest, if not rather sexist. I didn't get in for free when Curlin was here.

- One of the ideas of Win And Yer In was to frame things in terms the general public can understand; I remember BC President Greg Avioli comparing it to the automatic bids dispensed for the NCAA basketball tournament. "What we've done is given context in these 24 top races and connected them to the world championships in a relevant way." But now, the Breeders' Cup Challenge has morphed into an unwieldy 62 race mess, including 12 overseas. So you can forget about that context; and that goes for me, forget about the casual fans.

Despite the overall increase in the number of races, from 57 last year, the number of races in this country have decreased....and Saratoga took the brunt of the cuts, with six of its stakes dropped.

Jim Gluckson, a Breeders' Cup spokesman, said the organization had difficulty arranging television coverage during the bulk of the Saratoga meet in August, "so the decision was made to concentrate on the fall races closer to the championship." [Daily Racing Form]
That says to me that ESPN may be even chintzier with its air time than last year, when it televised races in August, and then disappeared for six weeks, during the heart of the prep season. What can they have planned for us this year?

- You'd think that Governor Paterson is too busy trying to get the Senate to convene to actually be considering idiotic ideas like this. But if any OTB, no less Nassau OTB, which NYRA accuses of illegally streaming its signal, were ever to get slots before Aqueduct or Belmont, then Charlie Hayward should lead NYRA up the Thruway to Albany in a fleet of track rollers, armed with buckets of manure and Richard Dutrow, and stage a coup of his own. He could install Bennett Liebman as governor, Johnny V as Senate Majority Leader, and Tom Durkin as the Speaker of the House. We'd have slots around here in no time.

Questionable At Best

It was with a good deal of skepticism that Tom Precious reported in Bloodhorse that a decision on the Aqueduct racino will be announced by August 1; calling it a questionable timetable given the Senate stalemate. Assemblyman Gary Pretlow spoke about a potential "indefinite delay." The article says that the facility would be open by October, 2011; but I'm wondering if that's a typo given the 12-14 months usually given as a lead time.

August 1 seems even more unrealistic given that the state also requested another massive new batch of information from the six bidding entities.

[The state] wants to know how many of the 4,500 authorized VLT machines will be running when the casino opens and the start-up dates for other facilities, such as hotel or entertainment space. It also wants bidders to supply financial projections on an annualized basis up until 2023 for a whole range of items – from food and beverage sales to how much money will go to NYRA for operating and capital expenses as part of its 7% take from the casino.
Sounds like a lot of work to do - both compiling and examining - in a very short period of time. Meanwhile, Governor Paterson announced that he will convene an Extraordinary Session of the Senate on Tuesday, with the chief judge of the State Court of Appeals presiding if necessary, to tackle an array of non-controversial and mostly fiscal bills that localities need to have passed.

- With two short-field stakes with big favorites on Sunday, NYRA could only leave one of them out of the Pick Six sequence. It was the wrong one for many players I'm sure, with Cocoa Beach running last of four at 15 cents to the dollar! Another disaster for the Sheikh, who saw his three horse entry run out of the Phipps last week. You might have thought that some of those bettors, especially the bridgejumpers (in the place pool), might have noticed how Music Note ran in her first start since the Breeders' Cup. The Phipps' homebred With Flying Colors ($13.20) is a half-sister, by AP Indy, to champion Storm Flag Flying.

Out at Hollywood Park, where the weather was dry and the turf firm, Joe Talamo tried to steal the Cinema Handicap on the front-running maiden Arcodoro, a son of the hot stallion Medaglia D'Oro. Trainer Eric Guillot was telling everyone who would listen that Elusive Bluff, entered to make his first start since winning the Pilgrim at the Big A last fall, couldn't win; but he ended up scratching him instead, leaving him with 17-1 Arcodoro, making his fifth career start. Talamo was able to give the pacesetter a bit of a breather with a third quarter of 24.48, which almost made the difference. But it was the late-running Oil Man who came wide and came home in 34.83 to get the Grade 3 win for John Sadler. This is a three-year old son of Pyrus (Mr. Prospector), who won the Fort Marcy here at Belmont in 2002, out of the Irish-bred Batshoof (Sadlers Wells). Oil Man is inbred 4x5 to the broodmare Special (Forli) through her son Nureyev and daughter Fairy Bridge; and he has an extra cross of Forli as well, so some interesting breeding there.

Oil Man is from the distaff family of Flying Continental, the 1990 Jockey Club Gold Cup winner, and what better way to start a Monday morning than with a trip down memory lane.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Plenty of Rain, But No Relief in Sight

Got an email from Chris Wittstruck to say that he was misquoted in an article this past week in Long Island Business News (entitled Lack of lottery terminals has horse breeders running for the hills)

He said it should take about 14 months for a new terminal operator to be identified at Aqueduct, but by that time, NYRA could be out of money.

“The concept of identification of a VLT operator in the foreseeable future is slim and none and slim is out to lunch,” Wittstruck said.
What he really said was that it would take 14 months to construct a racino once that operator is identified. Though at this point, with the State Senate deadlock set to enter its third week, six (or seven) bids, and the accompanying integrity checks, to be reviewed (and how much, if any, work do you think has been done on that to this point), and with the mere identity of one of the three men charged with making the decision in dispute, the statement as written may not be so absurd.

In March, NYRA was reported to be "calm" about the latest delay, that of the collapse of the Delaware North deal approved by the governor last fall, and that it won't affect its ability to conduct live racing for at least the next 18 months.
"I think we'll be fine through the third quarter of next year," Charles Hayward, NYRA's president and chief executive officer, said in a phone interview on Wednesday. [DRF]
But if you do the math of 14 months, the construction process would need to begin next month in order for the facility to be complete by the end of September, 2010. So, even in the seemingly remote chance of immediate action, it would seem that NYRA could at some point once again find itself on the verge.

The current Belmont meeting can't possibly be a good one for NYRA. No Triple Crown possibility for Belmont day cost it probably around 30,000 fans at a minimum $10 a pop plus parking, concessions, and lost on-track handle. And the incessant rain has caused, according to Cristblog, more than 60 grass races [to be] washed onto the main track in just over eight weeks....and that before four more on Saturday and, surely based on the steady rainfall today, whatever is scheduled for Sunday too. I wonder how long it would take for a synthetic track to pay for itself through the bigger fields it would create on rainy days? Probably not long this spring!

Look over to the NYRA ad to the right, and yes, there's Rachel Alexandra. No, I'm not a fan, but yes, I'll accept money to help promote her appearance. But if the results of NYRA's efforts to generate crowds for Curlin last year are any indication, it might be wise to save its money and put it to better use. Maybe a filly who held off the Derby winner to win the Preakness will be a slightly better draw than a defending Horse of the Year. But I still think it's a tough sell; as with Curlin, something's missing. As in, meaningful competition.

With no resolution in sight, and the sides headed back to court, an exasperated, and mostly impotent, Governor Paterson is reported to be planning a special session on Wednesday to tackle a lengthy list of essential matters. No, that does not include slots at Aqueduct. Though if it's up to one Senator, the issue of gay marriage will be added.

Of course, given Paterson's pathetic standing in the polls, how he's going to get the Democrats (or, the Republicans should the court ruling go against them) into the chamber (short of summoning the State Police) remains to be seen.

Nearly two weeks after it happened, the so-called coup pulled off by the GOP continues to seem surreal to me. I read a diarist at Daily Kos complain about the use of the word to describe what happened, contending that it should be reserved for more violent and profound occurrences. But to me, the will of the people as expressed at the ballot box was unexpectedly and summarily overturned. So I think that 'coup' is perfectly applicable here. But as time goes on and the implications become clear, the notion that the Senate could flip due to what was nothing more than a parliamentary 'gotcha' becomes increasingly infuriating. In a way, I think it would seem more legitimate if Senator Pedro Espada had come in with guns a-blazing, there to kick some ass.

The Daily News has an exclusive tour of Espada's co-op in the Bronx today, as he tries to demonstrate that he actually lives in the district he represents, as required by law, and not in toney Mamaroneck, where he's been caught red-handed. Apparently, some of his supposed neighbors in the borough are not convinced.
"I've never seen him in the building before....To my knowledge, this could be the first time he slept in the building." [NYDN]
The matter of his residency is just one of the investigations into his affairs currently underway. And each day, as he proclaims himself to be the president of the Senate, he continues to brazenly flout the laws requiring disclosure of his campaign contributions. Unbelievable. Can you imagine what Senator Skelos would have said if the Democrats had placed him in the position of power that the Republicans have??

This guy is a piece of work, man. I love the way he refers to himself in the third person; always suspicious of those guys. Given his claims that he has two votes in the Senate - one as a Senator, and the other as the President Pro-Tem (assuming the role of the non-existent Lieutenant Governor), one extremely witty commenter on the Capitol Confidential wondered if Espada could kick his own ass? Somebody should!

Thursday, June 18, 2009


I read in the print edition of Bloodhorse that Birdstone has "picked up about an extra 40 mares this year;" and that was just after the Derby. I found it interesting that Marylou Whitney kept the suddenly popular stallion's fee at $10,000; that as opposed to Medaglia D'Oro, the sire of Rachel Alexandra, whose fee was reportedly raised from $40,000 to $60,000 mid-year (and that was before he was sold to Darley). Birdstone's fee has been the same since he entered stud in.....2005 ('First Year at Stud' is just one of the helpful facts that one can easily find in the Thoroughbred Times' Stallion Directory, but not in the more widely-used Stallion Register). Birdstone will service 110 mares this year in total according to the Bloodhorse piece, by David I'd say that his business was relatively modest by today's standards before his impressive Triple Crown Double.

- Yuck, another rainy day here in New York, and thus, another day of miserable slop, no turf, and scratches galore at Poly-less Belmont. Contessa won the first with Apple ($10.40). Since I noted that he'd won just three of his first 76 races at Belmont and postulated that he'd likely be far closer to his 11% winning percentage over the last two years at that track by the time the meet was over, he's won nine out of 43, raising his meet percentage to 9%.

Still A Trifle At The Track

The role of Twitter in facilitating communication in Iran has been widely reported. As Matthew Shaer notes on the Christian Science Monitor's Horizons Blog: "These are heady days for Twitter, a social network once derided as trifling, banal, inconsequential."

You can count me amongst those who still think of Twitter just that way (while acknowledging its increasing prominence and occasional usefulness). I've felt that way ever since I first heard of it (which I'm pretty sure was from Jessica Chapel, who has been tweeting about racing as long as anyone @raceday360). Nonetheless, even though a backlash of sorts has arisen to claim that the service's importance in Iran is overrated, there seems little doubt that Twitter has served to mobilize and energize the protesters; enough so that the State Department saw fit to directly request that a maintenance shutdown be delayed.

But while acknowledging its profound role (and not only in Iran), I loved the quote in the The New York Times by Harvard professor Jonathan Zittrain, who, noting the ease with which tweets spread worldwide, said “The qualities that make Twitter seem inane and half-baked are what make it so powerful.”

OK, I won't go so far as to echo the inane part - I think that trifling, banal, inconsequential is more in line with how I feel about it, and more respectful towards those of you who dig it. It's just not my thing; I have no real need nor desire to experience the world, racing or otherwise, in real time. I don't think I've ever seen any racing-related tweets that couldn't wait (if not be done without altogether).

I also don't understand the idea, which I've seen suggested, that people could tweet from the paddock if they see something worthwhile. And now there's a Twitter group devoted to reporting bridgejumping pools. Now, us horseplayers are usually more than happy to freely share ideas and general strategies. But let's face it, as the minutes count down to post time, we're all involved in a cutthroat competition with each other for the money on the table. So, if I'm playing some obscure harness track and see the show money pouring in on a two-year old trotter with a penchant for going off-stride, why would I want to spread the word? As one poster on the bridgejumping forum wrote: If Barack Obama can twitter a stadium full of voters during an election campaign, this group can easily twitter a minus pool into just another bad show bet. I mean, I might call a couple of friends on an old-fashioned cellphone, but that's about it. And as much as I truly do love you guys, if I'm standing at the paddock and a 10-1 shot personally gives me the hi sign, I'm sure as fuck not going out of my way to clue the rest of the world in. No offense!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A Pretty Good Spot

I watched this interview, in which Senator Hiram Monseratte was grilled on the local FOX channel (nice job there by co-anchor Greg Kelly) about his flip back to the Democrats which has effectively paralyzed the body by throwing it into a 31-31 tie. Monserrate lost me early on at: "There was, previously, a lot of dysfunction here." Previously?? Hard to take this guy seriously after hearing that; and besides, the whole performance came off being as sincere as Iran's Interior Ministry.

As I mentioned the other day, it was John Sabini, the current chairman of the State Racing and Wagering Board, who was the incumbent Senator from the 13th district in Queens when borough party leaders pushed him out in favor of Monserrate. Sabini had copped a plea on a drunk driving charge, and had defeated Monserrate by only 250 votes in a 2006 primary. But still, writing in the New York Times, columnist Jim Dwyer appropriately labeled the move one of the biggest blunders in modern New York political history."

As for Mr. Sabini, his friends in Queens and Governor Paterson managed to outfit him with a good parachute. He is now the chairman of the state’s Racing and Wagering Board. “A pretty good spot,” he said. [NY Times]
I'll say, at $120,800 a year and no election campaigns every two years!

- In Tuesday's court ruling dismissing the Democrats' and Senator Malcolm Smith's challenge to last week's coup, Judge Thomas McNamara did nothing more than send the Senators back to work this out for themselves. The two parties disagree over the validity of the vote. The Republicans claim that the 32-30 vote was within Senate rules; the Democrats say it is not. Judge McNamara took no position on that matter whatsoever; and, in fact, used the term “purported” in relation to both the vote, and the Democrats' attempt to adjourn and cut it off. The judge ruled on nothing, and the GOP’s coup is no more legally valid (or invalid) then it was before.

However, the Republicans are, quite incorrectly in my humble view, portraying the decision as an affirmation of the 32-30 vote which installed Senator Espada as temporary president and Senator Skelos as Majority Leader. “I don’t believe in mulligans,” Skelos said....he sounds like a schoolkid arguing over a do-over. My political leanings are clear I know, but in New York, where dysfunction is bipartisan, and in the context of a blog about a topic which often cuts across party lines, I attempt to be more objective. However, having said that, I think that, at this point, the Republicans' wholly transparent and desperate attempt to regain the perks of power which was theirs for so long is simply pathetic. The Democrats, in offering what seems like a fair, if highly short-term, power sharing agreement, have acknowledged that they no longer control the agenda. If the GOP was really interested in reform and bipartisanship as they unconvincingly claim, they would at least be negotiating the points of the Dems' proposal with the hope of completing the session's important business rather than rejecting it outright. The New York Senate Republicans as the party of reform; what a joke.

At 31-31 and without 32 votes, there is not even a quorum to convene at all. So, the Democrats refuse to show up, and the Republicans make a show of being in the chamber where, unable to convene a real session, Skelos spent time on Tuesday naming Democrats who weren't there. The Democrats claim that only Malcolm Smith, now their "leader" in name only, has the authority to convene a session. With his court challenge turned away however, that line of reasoning may have been rendered impotent. Of course, if the Democrats did show up, they would immediately call for a leadership vote, just as the Republicans surely would have done had the court ruling gone the other way. However, Skelos would then doubt deny a vote on the grounds that the motion be subjected to the very same procedures that the Democrats claim the coup vote should have gone through, a notion that the GOP disputes. So the hypocrisy, and the stalemate, goes on.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Coming and Going

Jimmy Jerkens' reward for winning 24 races from 130 starters and purse money totaling $2.2 million for owner Edward Evans was to have the horses taken away. Tough business. Those were not the kind of stats that were crying out for Dan Bylsma or anything. But it's true that the new trainers, Kiaran McLaughlin, Anthony Dutrow, and Todd Pletcher, generally win at percentages higher than the nonetheless perfectly respectable 18% that Jerkens had for Evans (and are all doing so thus far this year).

However, it's been a slow Belmont thus far for the Toddster. Just five winners in 34 attempts; one in his last 18, two for his last 25. Four of the five winners won stakes - Munnings, Yes She's A Lady, Light Green [and Atoned]; and the other was the impressive American Dance (who he already trains for he did the now stakes-placed Rap Tale), now headed to the Dwyer. So it's certainly been a case of quality over quantity!

If you look at the stats, the fact is that Pletcher's winning percentage has been on the decline on the NYRA circuit as opposed to elsewhere. He's won at a 17% clip on here over the last two years - 16% for the past year, and that's three points below his overall 20-19% over those respective time frames. He was 20-21% at NYRA tracks over the last four and five years, so you can see the way he's dropped off in the last two. Remember he had won those five straight training titles at Saratoga, but then had a long cold streak there in 2007 when Mott broke his streak. Interesting...I don't think Pletcher has ever really recovered from that in terms of his winning percentage here; seems to be a real turning point.

Anyway, the Toddster now has Quality Road, who might very well be the best most talented three-year old colt this year; though, besides the obvious physical questions, I harbor doubts about his distance ability. He worked out last week, and they're aiming for the Haskell or Jim Dandy / Travers deal.

The article in the Form mentions that Quality Road is a temporary next-stall neighbor to Dunkirk. However, any friendship will be short-lived, as Dunkirk will be leaving shortly to recuperate from surgery to repair the condylar fracture discovered after the Belmont.

Pletcher said Dunkirk would be able to resume light training sometime in September.
Well, I really hope - he's the kind of dead closer (at least at normal distances) I can really get into. But do you really think so? Could be that somewhere, the Stallion Register blurb is already written.
$3.7 million son of top sire Unbridled's Song. Finished 2nd in Grade 1 Florida Derby and Belmont Stakes. Earned 108 Beyer in third lifetime start.
Sure would be a shame, especially since the colt got hurt running his heart out for a mile and a half in just his fifth career start, and his first real competitive race in ten weeks given his Derby disaster. I don't feel I'm second guessing here to wonder why he ran in that race, since I wrote all spring that I hated the way he was being prepped and campaigned up to the Derby and the Belmont. I didn't frame it though as being concerned for his physical well-being. Given the concern I expressed for Rachel Alexandra and the way I questioned the motives of her connections and accused them of being reckless, maybe I should have.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Wrong Again

I guess I have to finally give in about Macho Again. I've insisted all along that he's a one-turn horse, and was able to ascribe his two two-turn wins to wet tracks. So I was all against him in the Stephen Foster, though fortunately, I didn't particularly like anyone else, so I didn't get in trouble. Last to first with Robbie Albarado, I won't even quibble that the Beyer was a pretty moderate, for a Grade 1, 99 (no doubt an indication of just how weak the handicap division is).

The Foster also provided the West Point syndicate its first Grade I victory when [sic] Flashy Bull prevailed in 2007. [Louisville Courier Journal]
It's the second Grade 1 winner for stallion Macho Uno, the first for the third-year sire since Wicked Style's Breeders Futurity in 2007.

Florentino and jockey Alan Garcia got to the half in 50.25 in the G3 Jefferson Cup on Saturday; and Churchill track announcer Mark Johnson remarked that they were picking up the pace. But actually, they weren't. The third quarter went in a pokey 25.05 over the turf course labeled 'good.' He had enough to get home in front of surprise favorite El Crespo; but the slow pace and a modest 91 Beyer means I'll watch out for him to bet against in a race which promises more pace. Three-year old colt is a Japanese-bred by the End Sweep stallion Swept Overboard out of a Sunday Silence mare.

A little red-boarding here, but the Ogden Phipps showed how bettors sometimes get carried away pounding entries to prohibitive favoritism; and a very fair price on Seattle Smooth ($6.20). This blossoming four-year old daughter of the venerable Quiet American had won four in a row since shipping east to the care of Anthony Dutrow, including three Grade 2 stakes. She had already beaten one of the Darley/Godolphin trio in Sea Chatter....and Music Note was making her first start since the Breeders' Cup. Seventh Street was the most worthy in my mind, though her Apple Blossom win came via a lone speed trip in a five horse field. So, with all due respect, the .35-to-1 odds seemed a bit overdone. Can't say I was too upset to see the overrated Music Note bring up the rear of the three. Seattle Smooth remains the only graded stakes winner of the year thus far for her sire.

Nor are we too broken up to see Kip Deville run a no-excuse 4th at 3-4 after setting an uncontested pace for Dutrow and IEAH. Sailor's Cap ($13.40) was making his first start since November, and loves a soft turf. "..We’ll probably watch the Weather Channel first and see where it rains, and that’s where we’ll go,” said trainer Jimmy Toner.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Boys Will Be Boys

I know I'm always looking for an excuse to veer off into politics. But the current stalemate in Albany is certainly not off topic for this blog, nor for any matter pending approval in the New York State Senate. And that, of course, includes the decision on the operator at the Aqueduct racino.

Senator Pedro Espada, whose elevation to the position of the temporary president of the Senate has been met with universal derision from the press of all political leanings, said after the coup on Monday that at least four or five other Democrats told him they will join the "coalition;" but I imagine that nobody is the least bit surprised that that has not come to fruition. Instead, Senator Hiram Monserrate, in the face of intense pressure (and who knows what kind of incentives), is said to be strongly considering coming back to the Democratic fold. Chief among those inducements is what is seen as the imminent replacement of Senator Malcolm Smith as the caucus leader; but a report in Newsday cites an anonymous "confidant" who says that the Senator from Queens will not return to the elected majority, claiming that "there are more things than just that."

Senator Monserrate has a fascinating rough-and tumble background as a former NYC cop who left the force on a psychological disability; and a former NYC councilman who has raised eyebrows before. And now, this guy has potentially real and quite serious legal problems stemming from the incident with his girlfriend last December. The injuries were quite severe, and prosecutors, who claim that he attacked her in a jealous rage, obviously believe that his alibi is questionable. His companion, Karla Giraldo, originally claimed that she was indeed assaulted, but later changed her story to comport with Monserrate's claim that it was an accident. However, there exists a security video of the Senator violently dragging the stricken woman down the apartment hallway after she appears to ring a neighbor's doorbell for help. A judge who viewed it said it "causes the blood to boil."

Tom Golisano, the Buffalo billionaire said to be behind the coup, denied promising to help Monserrate with his legal bills. However, this blogger put together a timeline which intimates that his switch to a prominent $750 an hour lawyer corresponds to the time during which the coup was said to be planned.

Of course, even if Monserrate does return to the Democrats (and for whatever reason), that would leave the Senate in a 31-31 deadlock (assuming, as I think we can, that Espada stays put), with no lieutenant governor to break ties. And Tom Precious, reporting in the Buffalo News, explains the potential constitutional crisis that could result. Even if the coup were to hold, the coalition would have an urgent incentive to get things done. But in the case of a tie:

Without a power sharing deal, the Senate would be out of business because neither side could get the needed 32 votes for a quorum to even hold a session—ending any talk of dealing with issues like the state’s high property taxes or an assortment of bills localities are relying on Albany to approve. [Buffalo News]
So the mantra of "be careful what you wish for" may be applicable here.

Meanwhile, the Times is now reporting that the investigations into the affairs of Senator Espada are broader than previously reported.
Law enforcement officials are reviewing records of taxpayer-financed travel, campaign records and legislative earmarks, as well as Mr. Espada’s residency, people with knowledge of the investigations said Saturday.
Attorney General Andrew Cuomo is said to be involved; and the Daily News notes that he could face criminal charges for failing to file campaign financial forms. And this is the guy that Senator Dean Skelos and his Republican cohorts would place a heartbeat away from the governorship in their quest to regain power in the Senate.

I think that the situation was best summed up in a superb column by the Times' Susan Dominus on Saturday. Noting the scant role that women have played in this mess (indeed, as she notes, Karla Giraldo and Ashley Dupré have been the most influential women in New York politics of late), Ms. Dominus writes:
Has anyone else noticed that this whole affair has the feel of some all-boys clubhouse where they have all gone off their meds at the same time? It’s not just the boyishness of the behavior — it’s the boyishness of the players.

Click through page after page of news of the people involved in the affair — the behind-the-scenes string-pullers, the installed puppets, the hypocritical apologists, the coy waverers, the ineffectual leaders — and you won’t come across the names of any women at all. [NY Times]
One wonders if we'd be any worse off if Rachel Alexandra was in charge.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Saturday Stakes

Advice is listed as the 5-2 morning line favorite in the G2 Jefferson Cup at Churchill on Stephen Foster day today. Don't know if that's going to be the case; he's not even amongst the top three in the Form consensus box (which at least in the past used to be a better barometer of the ultimate public sentiment). But if he is favored based on his mere appearance in the Kentucky Derby and his success on synthetics, particularly in the Lexington, then he seems an obvious bet against in this spot. No Inflation (7-2) has been no worse than second in four turf tries, and has shown major improvement this spring for the sharp Tom Proctor barn (four winners in his last six at Churchill). He made a decisive move to the lead after tracking the pace setter in the Arlington Classic, only to be reeled in by the classy Giant Oak. Nobody of that ilk in this race, and the speedy Florentino (3-1) may play the role of the target here.

The G3 Northern Dancer has another morning line favorite who is questionable in my mind; Warrior's Reward is listed at 6-5 off his gaudy 113 Beyer earned on a sealed track at seven furlongs. This race is a different story at a mile and an eighth, and this horse is 0 for 2 around two turns. I mean, as far as opposing favorites go, it doesn't get more obvious than Advice and this guy. Doesn't mean that they'll lose, but, in my humble opinion, you're dropping the ball like Luis Castillo if you accept low odds on horses like this. Dicey heat here with second choice Successful Dan (7-2) trying a route for the first time; so let's take a shot with Parade Clown (8-1). Synthtetic stakes winning son of Distorted Humor found Grade 2 company to be a bit too much; but showed promise on this surface with a wide, fast-closing second in a one-turn mile after early troubles. Stretch out to two turns could help here. Omniscient (9-2) is two-for-two in two-turn dirt races for Asmussen.

In the G2 Fleur De Lis, Temple Street (8-1) has a bit of that Diamondrella vibe going on - no six race winning streak here, but here's another horse with a consistent late kick at sprints stretching out ....and with the breeding to do it. She's a five-year old mare by Street Cry out of a Pulpit mare; and if you go back to her third dam, underneath you'll see names such as the marathoner Marsh Side and Stage Colony; as well as the champion Pleasant Stage, and the ill-fated A Phenomenon (best known as a sprint/middle distance specialist, but also the winner of the Jim Dandy). This mare is already quite a story having been claimed from Ken Ramsey last fall for 15K and finishing a close second in the G1 Humana Distaff on Derby day. Julien Leparoux is up; he won his last two tries on Temple Street, and trainer Brad Cox is three for ten at the meet. Now, if you go way back in her pp's, she does have three dismal efforts around two turns. But she's a different animal now, so seems worth a shot to me at a fair price.

Good luck everyone and have a great day!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Polly Want A Government!

I opened my weekly email from the Village Voice with their lefty-biased and highly eclectic list of things to do, and was quite surprised to see this!

Don't be alarmed if the beautiful 104-year-old, 430-acre Belmont Park looks a little like something out of Pirates of the Caribbean today. Promising parrots and an inflatable Skull Island, Belmont is attracting a new crowd on Sunday afternoons with the wacky-themed Family Fun Days, featuring activities and games such as pony rides, a petting zoo, face painting, giant inflatables, and, apparently, swashbuckling. The activities are free, with a $1 charitable donation for the pony rides—practically horse feed. A day at the races was never like this. For information on other Family Fun themes and directions to Belmont (there is a shuttle service from the Queens Village LIRR station), check their website, Polly want a winner!
Belmont regulars know that NYRA has been hosting these family days for many years now....but presented in the Voice alongside events such as the Air Sex World Championships and an appearance this weekend by Bill Callahan of Smog, it takes on a whole different feeling. Presuming that the listing is a result of marketing efforts by NYRA, then excellent job there.

I don't know if there will be clowns at Belmont on Sunday, but presumably this guy won't be amongst them if they are. He was sent to Albany by the New York Post yesterday to, quite appropriately, symbolize what's going on in the state capitol. At one point, the Possible Senate President Pro-Tem Pedro Espada was reported to have snapped “get that clown away from me.” But he could have been referring to any number of people.

Even perhaps his Democratic coup colleague Senator Hiram Monserrate, who put the kibosh on the Republican plan to convene yesterday afternoon. The indicted girlfriend slasher spent the day in meetings with both sides, and is apparently under intense pressure from his constituents in the overwhelmingly Democratic district he purports to well as by the Rev Al Sharpton and Working Families come back into the fold (which would leave the chamber effectively in a 31-31 tie).
“Hiram is driving the train. God help us all,” said one lawmaker who asked not to be identified. [Buffalo News]
Newsday reports that Monserrate, having lost a committee chairmanship when the charges were filed against him, is seeking a plum post....and it's also reported that he wants Malcolm Smith out (and in that he's not alone). And then there are those pesky legal bills he faces...

The events are unfolding as I write this, too quickly for me to keep up (though not for those being paid to do so full-time....I'm jealous!). Smith is in court this morning seeking a temporary injunction to "prevent Senate Republicans from conducting illegitimate business under the pretense of the Senate majority." [Times Union] Elizabeth Benjamin reports that that could be tricky given the whole separation of powers thing that generally makes the courts leery of interfering in legislative power struggles.

And Eliot Spitzer sees all of this as a good thing. At least he's one clown who's not involved.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Big A Racino All Coup-ed Up

According to Bennett Liebman of the Government Law Center at Albany Law School, it is the Temporary President of the Senate who technically has the power to sign off on the racino deal at Aqueduct for the Senate. Generally, that's the same person as the Majority Leader, which, until quite recently, was Senator Malcolm Smith. Now, after the surreal coup - a bloodless one (thus far) - which has apparently returned control of the Senate to the Republicans, the jobs are split between Dean Skelos, back for a return engagement as Majority Leader, and the President Pro-Tem Pedro Espada. So, it's the latter who will, if he holds his position, make the call on behalf of the Senate. The shameless Skelos may have been more sympathetic to a Belmont project in the name of helping his constituents there (though he didn't care to spare them from draconian increases in their cost of commuting to work).

Espada and Senator Hiram Monserrate of Queens are the two Democrats who blindsided their colleagues by joining the 30 Republicans to elect this so-called "coalition" leadership. (Racing and Wagering Board Chairman John Sabini is no doubt chuckling at the expense of the Queens Democratic Party leadership who opted to dump him in favor of Monserrate.) The Republicans had to dive quite deep to snag the dregs of the Democratic Party in order to pull off their coup - Espada has a rap sheet going back to the beginning of the decade, and apparently doesn't even live in the district he represents....while Monserrate will face trial this July for allegedly slashing his girlfriend with a broken glass. The video evidence in that case is compelling enough so that prosecutors proceeded with bringing charges even though the victim retracted her story and claimed that she accidentally fell into the glass during an argument (the Claudine Longet defense).

With Espada in power.....and the Democrats, despite their blustering about having gaveled the session to a close before the vote and having locked the chamber shut (the Republicans threatened to convene elsewhere), don't seem to have a legal leg to stand on here.....don't be surprised if Tom Golisano (or one of Espada's staff members) suddenly throws his hat into the VLT ring! And it's Golisano's open involvement in the proceedings which is what I really can't get over. Imagine, a non-elected official with no connection to government other than his billions of dollars which he freely spreads around to candidates who he feels will serve his purposes (though he supposedly moved to Florida rather than paying higher taxes to the state), standing openly in the state capital with his new found friends and crowing about the change in power - one in stark opposition to what the people voted for last fall - and bitching that Malcolm Smith had the nerve to fiddle with his blackberry when they last met. I mean, who's running things around here??

Well, I could obviously go on....and, though my immediate outrage is reserved for the main players, there's plenty of blame for both sides here, as is usually the case in Albany. And the story is ongoing and absolutely fascinating - may I recommend my two favorite newspaper blogs, the Albany Times Union's Capital Confidential, and the amazingly prolific Elizabeth Benjamin's Daily Politics in the NY Daily News. (The latest development is that Espada has somehow obtained the keys to the chamber....and Governor Paterson, appearing helpless, is calling for a second leadership vote which will no doubt cement the results of the disputed one.)

What we want to know here of course is how this will effect the Aqueduct bidding, and the obvious answer is that it will delay the matter even longer than it already would be. It's been obvious for quite some time that racing isn't high on the Albany radar to start with. Now there's a major new distraction which is likely to extend the legislative session past the scheduled June 22 end that we've been told nothing will happen prior to, and a new player with his own special interests.Paul Post reports on the matter for The Saratogian:

Espada is not on the Senate Racing, Wagering and Gaming Committee and there’s no way of telling how he’d decide the Aqueduct issue. Until the political dust settles, an agreement of any kind might be impossible.

The other danger is that frustrated Aqueduct bidders might get fed up with New York’s turbulent situation and walk away from the project. “I would suspect that’s always been a problem for the out-of-state people who were already lukewarm to the situation in New York,” Liebman said. “This certainly isn’t going to make them any more enthusiastic about the prospect of doing business here.” [The Saratogian]
I wouldn't be surprised to see the Aqueduct Entertainment Group be the first one to go. Their bid was blatantly fashioned to appeal to Malcolm Smith; they seem to have miscalculated. The former Majority Leader is currently fighting to hold on to any kind of leadership position, and the prognosis is is the prognosis for NYRA seeing the light of slots revenue day before they run out of cash. Who will be in power when they come running back to Albany for money is anyone's guess.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Fit To a T

I left my camera in the car which, despite what by recent Belmont standards was a modest crowd of 52,861, was still parked several furlongs away since we got there relatively late. So I had to depend on the Head Chef, and, despite excellent positioning in the paddock, this photo above was the only usable pre-race shot she got of winning jockey Kent Desormeaux. "I blew the money shot," she explained.

Actually, it appears she was late pulling the trigger across the board...notice a pattern here?

I do like this one though of Mine That Bird and (most of) Calvin Borel.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable day in the backyard, crowded enough to provide more than enough buzz for the occasion, but plenty of space as you can see from this shot, taken at around 2:30. No lines to speak of for food, betting, or bathrooms (if you know where to go), and the generous addition of wide screen TV's throughout the park made viewing easy for those who didn't want to pay up for seating. Crowds of this size on big days fits Belmont to a T.

NYRA made sure that there was plenty to do.....or at least plenty to listen the backyard. It was a full-fledged aural assault of varying quality in the backyard, with a live band in one corner (missed the band Afterburner, who this reader said was worthwhile), Munick (I think) in the paddock tent, and another guitar picker at the ESPN radio remote, broadcasting live smack dab in the middle. Don't quite know why we had to hear talk of the Orlando Magic and the Mets' injury woes while at the track....and, in fact, even while a race was in progress. Because the one thing that you could not hear anywhere I was throughout the day - in the backyard, the paddock area, or even standing directly under the (inoperable) speakers over the doors to the apron in the first floor grandstand - was Tom Durkin. That's a problem that has never been successfully addressed in all the years I've been going to Belmont and Aqueduct.

Like the commenter, on these days I try to do my handicapping and my serious horseplaying early - in this case starting the day with a horse who ran dead last all the way around the track in the first - and just kick back and enjoy the sights and sounds later on. Not that I didn't throw away some money during the stakes sequence, but the focus was primarily on the good company, the Head Chef's feast, and a flask of bourbon. To be honest, when it comes to playing the races, I'll take those 35K claimers over these big days anytime.

As it turned out, Summer Bird truly did fit the Belmont Stakes to a T....or maybe it was the other way around? That's despite the fact that his form coming into the race was the kind we've been trained to not bet in this race, given his total lack of early speed, with just enough late pep to project him as dangerous at a mile and a half. I wonder if that needs to be reevaluated? Summer Bird was actually far closer to a pretty lively pace this time; but Kent Desormeaux, who, as we recall from last year, still has Real Quiet very much on his mind, saved his run for the end, while Borel made the mistake of moving too soon that we've seen many times in this race throughout the years. Summer Bird earned a moderate Beyer of 100, getting the last quarter in a respectable 25.20 while the others were gasping for breath - not to take away from game efforts by runner-up Dunkirk and the valiant Derby winner, who had the crowd temporarily delirious with his electrifying, if premature, move to the lead.

As is often usually the case, I don't believe that this year's Belmont tells us anything about the relative merits of these horses at the distances at which they'll be facing each other for the rest of the year (which, for the winner and the runner-up, likely means for the rest of their racing careers). Dunkirk figures to improve, Mine That Bird has proven his class and consistency. Charitable Man looked like a beast in the paddock, and those who liked him at 5-2 got their money's worth at 9-2 with a threatening move turning for home. These three could provide some good entertainment for the rest of the year. On this day, at this freak distance, with a perfectly timed ride and that Birdstone blood, Summer Bird was the best. But I'll be poised to oppose him if any of those other three are higher odds than he next time.

I thought that the most impressive three-year old I saw on Saturday was Pletcher's "other" multi-million dollar sale horse, Munnings. He hinted at a breakthrough with a sharp, triple-digit Beyer second place finish at seven furlongs at Churchill. Here, Johnny V waited patiently for room, and Munnings just exploded through, storming on to a five length win with a sparkling final eighth in 11.74. The son of the sprint champ Speightstown earned a Beyer of 110. Pletcher plans to keep him at one turn, with the Dwyer mentioned as a possible prep for the King's Bishop.

Munnings is the 5th stakes winner of the year for his sire, and the second in two days with Despite the Odds taking the off-the-turf Hill Prince on Friday.

I read somewhere where Angel Penna was incredulous over Diamondrella being 9-1 in the Just A Game considering she'd won five in a row, just a head short of six since he took over the training duties from Violette. I thought it about right considering that those wins came in sprints and she was o-for-1 at a route. The daughter of Rock of Gibraltar ran down champion Forever Together with relative ease with a final quarter of 23.70 in the soft going.