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Monday, August 31, 2009

Lousy Race on a Crummy Day

Thanks to NYRA and Hank Goldberg for saving me some money on Saturday. NYRA's internet wagering was down for at least the 10th and 11th races; an inopportune time for such a failure to be sure. For NYRA anyway, but not for me as it turned out in this case. I'd sure be singing a different tune though had I been deprived of a winner. I called the phone number on my NYRA Rewards card, but the operator told me that I needed a different password than what I use online and at the track. If I would have won, I might have suggested that some quick thinker should have come up with a temporary solution for this situation, as it was clear from the exasperated tone of the person I reached that mine was not the first such request....but I'll instead say no harm, no foul in this case.

When the system came back up for the Travers, I bet a few late doubles; but when Hank Goldberg picked Charitable Man, I snapped out of it and refrained from using him. So, thanks for that, Hank.

I was stunned by the stat that Randy Moss brought up shortly before post time - that 29 out of 58 Belmont Stakes winners who have run in the Travers ended up winning it (now 30 of 59). That runs directly counter to my usual notion that the Belmont, at its mile and a half distance, is an outlier which has little implication with respect to races at our standard distances. Have to rethink that, at least in terms of this race.

Summer Bird earned a career high Beyer of 110, continuing a solid pattern of improvement in that regard. Still, though he's moved forward in each of his races since the Belmont, he's raced twice on a sloppy track; that could be reason enough to try and beat him next time if the track is fast (or synthetic)...possibly in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. I dunno, I remain unenthusiastic about this horse for some reason. Though I did use him in the Travers, it was more by process of elimination in terms of who I figured would still be running if and when the race fell apart. Which it did. Summer Bird ran the final quarter in a pokey 26.22 seconds and still won for fun.

The Travers was a pretty bad race, at least besides the effort of the winner. Longshot Hold Me Back lagged behind early and picked up the pieces passing exhausted horses in the stretch; tab him to bet against at underlaid odds next time out. It was all fitting I suppose for a crummy weather day and the resulting lousy crowd - the smallest in 30 years, when General Assembly splashed home in 1979. Jeez, I was there that day, 30 years? I seem to remember a steady rain throughout that day which I don't think was the case on Saturday. Given NYRA's optimistic attendance forecast, I'm a bit surprised that the crowd was that small even given the weather. The good news is that the long range forecast is favorable straight through next weekend for the appearances of Rachel Alexandra and, far more importantly, the Head Chef and I.

Quality Road came out of the race "excellent" according to Pletcher. Kensei was stone cold dead on the board at 4-1 and finished 25 lengths behind, ugh.

Joe Tessitore was unbelievably annoying with his pre-race dramatics and shrill, contrived post-race exhilaration as he continues to morph into Todd Schrupp...or vice versa. Maybe ESPN should replace him with Steve Phillips - he seems to be on everything else on the network these days. And I was a bit surprised at all of the anti-Jess Jackson commentary going on during the broadcast. Jackson was getting bashed for not running Rachel Alexandra in the Travers, and instead taking the easier route next week instead. (Of course, this is when we still thought that Quality Road might be great....which he still might be, though certainly not in this race.) Personally, I have no problem with this particular decision by Jackson; it's the Breeders' Cup thing where I think he's selfish and dead wrong. The three-year old colts had two chances to dispatch the filly, and I don't see anything wrong with picking an easier spot (though I could do without the whining over the purse), especially with Kensei to consider as well.

Man, I was glad that Vineyard Haven came down. Besides the fact that he deserved it, I just find myself rooting against all of the Sheikh-connected horses. I just don't like them....the humans and even the horses themselves, faultless as they may be for their situation. Sometimes I allow that dislike to cloud my wagering judgment, as in the case of Music Note. In retrospect, if I was (successfully) opposing Indian Blessing as I did, I really had to use Music Note in addition to Informed Decision (whose ride I did not understand at all). Had I not already been eliminated from the Pick Four due to Rutherienne's bare defeat by Salve Germania (now in the care of the Toddster), I'd be bashing myself for that since I did have the last two legs correct.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Short and Sweet

I think it took me around 20 minutes on the subway to plan my strategy for that big late Pick Four at Saratoga today. I'm not bragging; just that the races aren't that complicated, and many of the horses are familiar. Besides, as I once read in a handicapping book, I can't remember which one, it should only take an experienced horseplayer, like us, a few minutes to identify the contenders in a race. (At least, I would add, in races in which the horses have form from which one can put them in context with each other. A race with a ton of first-time starters which may require, depending on your preferences, looking up stats pertaining to the trainer and sire (not to mention delving deeper into the pedigree via sites like Pedigree Query) is a different story.) And since I'm just looking for contenders for the win spot when I'm handicapping a pick four, it doesn't take that long if I find the pickens to be slim as in this case.

These four races, which have just 29 betting entities total, can be narrowed down sufficiently enough, in my opinion anyway, to make the wager affordable to low and moderately bankrolled players. I'd never call picking four winners in a row easy, but this one is at least easy to bet. So while it might not qualify as what we would generally consider to be an ideal pick four - one with wide open races and the potential for a lucrative score - I think this sequence is ideal for a day like this. Hopefully the rain will stop, but it should be a big crowd nonetheless, and no doubt many bettors will get be able to get sensibly involved in this pool. NYRA certainly hopes so with their $1 million guarantee.

So, here it is, and this is going to be short and sweet. In a sequence like this, I'll try and crush the bet with as few horses as possible since I don't find spreading to be necessary.

The weather is a problem of course, especially with four grass races scheduled in the first eight. (As of now however, only races 1,5, and 13 are off the grass.) It's a particular problem for my pick four because I like Rutherienne as a single in the Ballston Spa; however, her distaste for soft courses is well-known. I know she hasn't won much of late, but she always runs well, and this is her favorite distance. She comes off her troubled third in the Diana (yes, she'd saved ground to that point, but figures to do so again from the rail), and is, in my opinion, simply the fastest, classiest, and best horse in this field. If she scratches (or if the turf seems particularly boggy and she somehow stays is), I'm not really sure what to do, as I'm standing against Cocoa Beach here in any event. Her Matriarch win aside, I don't believe she's proven herself to be top quality on grass, especially with her narrow win over moderate competition in the restricted De La Rose. Perhaps I'd use Closeout, who has shown an affinity for soft going. But the rain has stopped, the radar indicates that the worst weather should remain east, so I'm hoping for the best.

In the 10th, the Ballerina, I'm against Indian Blessing. Just a feeling based on the way her speed figures have dropped off precipitously since her Test win here last year....not to mention her sluggish 4th in her first race since Dubai, an ominous sign indeed. Informed Decision may indeed prefer synthetics, but she's five-for-five at the distance, two-for-two at the distance on dirt, one of those in the slop. Another single here.

In the 11th, the Kings Bishop, Munnings returns to his best distance, and if he's not feeling too emasculated after getting his butt whipped by a girl, he should be the best in here. But with flexibility having nailed the first two with singles (he hopes) I'll also use Capt. Candyman Can, also expert at this route, Big Drama, who I'd love to leave out but can't, and Despite the Odds, who seems to love off going (a 471 Tomlinson and a career best effort in the slop around one turn at Belmont). I couldn't be anymore against the Darley entry if they were running on the GOP ticket for governor of New York. (I often get myself in trouble when I single out a horse for ridicule in this manner.)

And in the Travers, I'm against Quality Road. Too many questions for this colt as the favorite here. Unproven at the distance to start with and cursed with faulty feet, I just can't see him as the choice here coming off a single prep at such a shorter distance as he has; and I'm hoping he attracts mucho support off those gaudy Beyers. I'm a little queasy about Kensei's distance prospect as well, but I can't leave him out; and not that thrilled about Summer Bird either. But someone has to win, and the Belmont winner should at least be around at the wire if the race falls apart. I was disappointed that Kool-Aid horse Charitable Man didn't opt for the Pennsylvania Derby where we could have bet against him at 3-5. But in this spot, at his morning line of 6-1 or higher, it's a whole different story in my mind. He was three wide both turns in the Jim Dandy and got blindswitched wide and otherwise bothered by Convocation on the backstretch; but still came home fastest of all, in 12.31, and posted a career best Beyer which indicates improvement ahead. Two bullet works, and I love the switch to Ramon. So I'll use him, and I think he's worth a win bet....if he really is 6-1 or higher at post time.

So the ticket is 1 / 2 / 2-3-5-8 / 2-6-7 $12 for a buck.

- I mentioned Pat Kelly yesterday, and you know something's gotta be brewing if that POS Naughty New Yorker ran a close second on Friday. And don't give me that 'oh, how can you attack Naughty New Yorker stuff.' Nice to see he's now exceeded a million bucks in earnings. But he'd lost his last three races, in state-bred company, by a combined 55 lengths.

That's my problem with following trainers; as much as I got hepped up on Kelly's recent close calls, sometimes, as in this case, I just can't past the horse. (Kelly has a couple entered in the 13th, which has been taken off the grass.) Another example on Friday was Grasberg. I've been following Hushion, but this horse had never run on dirt nor less than a mile; so how could you make a case for him at seven furlongs on the main? Especially at 7-2?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Saratoga Notes

In the second at Saratoga on Friday, She's a Ketch (8-1) makes her debut, on the grass, for trainer Chad Brown. This barn sent out Zodiac Girl ($16) to win her debut on the lawn on Wednesday (a 75K maiden claimer). Brown has sent out two other debut runners on the grass at the Spa; War Hoot was third by two lengths after a troubled start at 12-1, and Eto'o was third by seven at 23-1. (And one of the trainer's other three winners at the meet was first timer Kid Kate [$11.20]).

She's a Ketch is a three-year old daughter of Silver Clipper, a Silver Deputy mare whose only win in 16 starts came on the grass and whose half-sister May Night (Gulch) won the PG Johnson Stakes on the grass here at two. Some awesome workouts and Lezcano wins at 30% for this outfit.

Upper Gulch (4-1) goes for trainer Pat Kelly, looking for his first winner of the meeting (from 16 starters). But the last three horses that he's sent out were Pynaformer, a troubled, wide third by 2 1/2 at 14-1; Lyrical Bobcat, a fast closing second by 1 1/4 at 9-1; and Joey's Chance, second by a neck at 11-1 to City Sneakers ($11.40) from the unconscious Linda Rice (14 for 36, 39%). Kelly always seems to pop a winner or two at the meet; he's never been shut out going back to at least 2004, and his median payoff is $18.20. So I'd look for him to maybe pop one or two before we're done here....but not with this one (an 0-for-14 maiden).

Ostensibly (15-1) makes her debut for Roy Lerman, two for four on the meet (three for 34 with first-timers over the last five years). She's by grass champion Cozzene, out of Supposedly (Polish Numbers), who earned over $100K on the turf (13-4-5-1). This is the direct distaff family of the two-time Arc winner Alleged (Princess Pout, the dam of Alleged is the third dam of Ostensibly).

Shine Softly (3-1) is, at least to me, an inexplicable morning line favorite making her first start since running third on the dirt at Saratoga last year.

- Another horrible well-bet juvenile first-timer for McLaughlin, as Cableknit, a $1.7 million daughter of Unbridled's Song, was a futile 5th on Thursday at 6-5! His debut babies are worse value than dinner at [fill in your favorite overpriced Saratoga restaurant]. J Z's Revenge ($17.40), a $6,000 daughter of Act of Duty (Mr. Prospector), won for Zayat and Steve Asmussen.

Another long-priced winner for Jimmy Ferraro with Straight Romance ($32.40); and his first-timer S.Z. Madison was giant to rally for second after a horrible start at odds of 18-1.

Your Weather

Weather will remain the same
- Your Weather - Dinosaur Jr.

Weather has always been a major bugaboo to conducting a race meeting amongst the mountains in upstate New York in August....and the forecast frankly sucks for the Travers on Saturday. Not too many years that you don't eventually pay the piper when the weather is good over a significant stretch up there. There's no one living beyond the hands of fate. And, if that forecast proves to be accurate, that would be a shame for NYRA, the horsemen, and all of the fans set to make the trip this weekend. I remember when Harvey Pack used to do his thing at the Spa before the races, and when it was a rainy day, he would open his show by informing his on-track audience in no uncertain terms: "You're not going to have a good time today." I imagine that NYRA didn't much care for that, but he was basically telling the truth.

Downstate here, we're sweating over Tropical Storm Danny, predicted to take a path up the east coast, though how close to land is not known at this time. The Head Chef (and I told you about her blog, yes?) is supposed to cater an outdoor party for 100 people out near the tip of Eastern Long Island on Saturday evening. That's not good! And, by virtue of that event, if it doesn't get canceled, I'm freed up to travel down to Monmouth for Travers day, where I can learn about handicapping (and setting the clock on the VCR) from Handride. So, a lot riding on the weather for all of us, though most importantly of course for those who could be really seriously affected by a big storm. So let's just hope for the best all around.

- Tom Precious reports for that there are no guarantees a decision will be made soon on the Aqueduct racino.

Though bidders were originally told to expect a decision by Aug. 1, it could be a couple more weeks before a developer is tapped, Gov. David Paterson told reporters.

But even that sketchy timetable is based entirely on the assumption that the Democratic leaders of the two legislative houses will agree with the Democratic governor on an operator to run the facility for the next few decades. Given the not-always-so-warm relations between Paterson and the two leaders -- Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate President Malcolm Smith -- such a timetable for action could end up being optimistic. [Bloodhorse]
Based on this, the new target for Labor Day seems unrealistic. Breeders Cup day perhaps?

An anonymous reader doubts that any of the bidders with interests in other states will really be in compliance with this clause from the MOU.
"Vendor shall not utilize the VLT Facility in any way to attract patrons to other gaming facilities, whether through transportation arrangements, discount programs, or other services or attractions. Without limiting the generality of the foregoing, Vendor shall enter into a comprehensive confidentiality agreement with State which prohibits use of the VLT facility gaming customer database for any purpose other than the advertisement, marketing and promotion of VLT gaming at Aqueduct, in order to prevent the diversion of VLT Facility patrons to other gaming venues. Furthermore, Vendor and its member companies and affiliates shall not advertise, market or promote competitive gaming in the New York City metropolitan area."
While one would be wary of Steve Wynn and the Don Peebles/MGM group with respect to this clause, the cross-marketing program proposed by Aqueduct Gaming for its new partner Harrah's would seem particularly dubious. So, is it just a coincidence that the MOU has become conspicuously absent from the governor's website? The original link leads to this; and a search of the site as a whole was fruitless. That's kinda odd, isn't it?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

No Lobbyist, No Problem (?)

As a reader pointed out, Jim Odato wrote on the Capitol Confidential blog of a fundraiser for Governor Paterson scheduled for Friday which will be hosted by the Albany lobbying/law firm of Featherstonhaugh, Wiley and Clyne.

Featherstonhaugh is an owner of Saratoga Racing and Gaming, the nearby harness track and video slots house once managed by Delaware North. He is a minor partner in Aqueduct Gaming LLC, which is a Delaware North-led partnership bidding for the rights to open a large video lottery terminal center at Aqueduct Race Track in Queens.

Paterson is expected to make a decision on the winning bidder among six competiting groups by the end of the Saratoga thoroughbred meet on Labor Day.
Of course, most of you know that last bit about Paterson's upcoming selection, but I left it in for effect. I guess it says something that the post drew little response; we just expect this kind of stuff in Albany I guess. But while this guy might just be a minor player, a fundraiser like this has gotta feel like a golden lifeline for this beleaguered governor right about now.

I feel bad for Paterson, and I was embarrassed for him after reading of his ill-advised remarks on race over the weekend. Now, he's trying to backtrack on the comments (after previously largely standing behind them) after being rebuked by, amongst others, a black former NYC mayor and a black current US president...and that's embarrassing too. I think he's a decent guy who was thrust into an impossible situation, but he's surely not helping himself now.

Maybe though he's just resigned to his fate; I've started to read reports that he's confided to friends that he won't run for re-election. He certainly sounded like someone who doesn't think very highly of his own political future.

Odato also reported that Penn National has hired a lobbyist; this after it increased its upfront offer by 5000%, from a token $5 million to a very serious $250 million.
The move leaves only the Don Peebles/MGM team not following the Albany model of using a lobbying firm in the procurement competition. Peebles is making use of his Peebles Corp. PR department however. He says he probably couldn’t find a lobbyist that isn’t already hired if he wanted one.

“I don’t see a need for a lobbyist,” he said. “This is a deal based on merit and overall community benefit.” [Capitol Confidential]
That's gotta be one of the funniest quotes I've read in almost five years of writing this thing. I think we can safely count this guy out.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

No Filly, No Problem

I'm hoping that, perhaps by the time you're reading this, Mine That Bird has been declared into the Travers after his five furlong work on Tuesday. [UPDATE: Damn.] I'm sure that NYRA officials are watching nervously, because it's a pretty big deal I think when the Derby winner runs in your signature race of the meet. Me, I just wanna bet against him. He worked well and scoped clean afterwards, so let's just hope for the best

My first reaction to the announcement that Rachel Alexandra will run in the Woodward was that the Travers could be overshadowed to an extent. But upon further review and thought, the Travers stands pretty well on its own with a talented and competitive field this year, and probably does so just on its tradition in any event. NYRA is expecting a crowd of 50,000; that would be a 25% increase over the 40,723 last year. With Mine That Bird in, it's an unusually definitive matchup of the best three-year old colts in the country, at any point in the season nowadays. And while it might not feature the best overall three-year might. Quality Road has shown freak potential with three 110+ Beyers in a row, and certainly could be any kind if his feet hold together.

Between the potential of Quality Road and the extra distance of the Travers (actually one of the reasons I'll be opposing him as well), there's no doubt in my mind that owner Jess Jackson has picked the easier spot. Looking at some of Rachel Alexandra's possible opponents - Bullsbay, Macho Again? Asiatic Boy and Cool Coal Man? DA'TARA?? She'll kill these horses, are you kidding me? And she gets weight too. I might not like her owner, but I'm not an idiot. She won for fun with a 116 Beyer after pressing a fast pace in the Travers Haskell...none of these guys have a performance even close to that. This promises to be a historic tour de force, so who at the NTRA is working on getting it televised?

Monday, August 24, 2009

All Wynn All Of The Time

Aqueduct Gaming, the Delaware North-led group bidding for the racino, announced the addition of Harrah's to its team. Besides adding an established name in the casino industry, it comes with a built-in marketing angle.

With the agreement, Harrah's Total Rewards(R) player loyalty program will be available to customers of the planned Aqueduct casino. Harrah's Total Rewards is the largest casino customer loyalty marketing program in the world and includes several million participants who live within 100 miles of Aqueduct.
[Delaware North president William] Bissett said Aqueduct Gaming estimates that adding the Harrah's brand and Total Rewards program will produce an additional 10 percent in tax revenue for New York State over the previous estimate. [Aqueduct Gaming press release]
Harrah's owns the Chester Downs racetrack/racino in Pennsylvania. It's also the owner of the World Series of Poker, which I suppose presents some interesting synergy potential.

Bissett made sure to dispel any notion however that the presence of Harrah's means his bid is going Las Vegas at a time when Aqueduct Entertainment is using the city as a buzzword against Steve Wynn.
"Queens residents clearly don't want overdone Las Vegas-style development that would clash with the neighborhoods around the venue....We will develop and operate a casino that fits perfectly in a New York community, has world-class amenities and an internationally renowned gaming brand, Harrah's, helping it thrive."
The press release reiterates the notion that any plans to build a hotel or entertainment center will be "based on community input."

As for Wynn, Jim Odato reported in the Times Union on Monday that he has engaged some high-profile lobbyists as he mounts a full court press.
Steve Wynn, the Las Vegas casino creator extraordinaire, has tapped the lobbying firm led by Jerry Weiss, a former aide to Gov. Mario M. Cuomo. The firm also includes Lou Tomson, a close ally of Gov. George Pataki, and former U.S. Rep. Michael McNulty. Wynn has personally called lawmakers, and his team was among three to set up booths at a Queens "Night Out Against Crime" event that won points from the host community. [Times Union]
Jerry Weiss is a frequent contributor to Democratic candidates, including $10,000 to the New York State Democratic Committee in 2007, and numerous contributions to Governor Paterson's Senate selectee Kirsten Gillibrand.

Wynn must have hired a press agent as well, because he's just all over the place these days. Last week I linked to this article in the Queens Tribune entitled Wynn Hopes To Win Aqueduct VLT Race. At the time, I overlooked this artist's rendition of Wynn's proposed building, which a reader hilariously referred to as Le Aqueduct en le Bay de Jamaica. I mean, seriously.

Over the weekend, I heard WCBS radio report on the imminence of the selection, and Wynn was the only bidder to be interviewed. And on Monday, he was featured in a piece by NY Post's gossip columnist Cindy Adams (who, I'm told, once wrote that Frank Stronach was New York racing's best hope). Wynn is a piece of work, and I don't know where to start as far picking a selection or two out of this column, as bizarre as much of it is. You just gotta read this thing yourself; here's the link again, it's worth repeating. "I wouldn't have taken that regressive Yonkers situation if they gave it to me." "My balance goes down by 'one,' New York's up by 'one.' My people will simply tell me, 'We're finished in New York. It's done.'" And he takes a couple of direct shots at his rivals.
The Hard Rock's bidding, but they're more known for pool parties. S.L. Green's another. We have photos of vagrants sleeping at their site in Coral Gables. You don't find that anywhere near my places."
I dunno, do you think stuff like this helps his chances? Perhaps he should make himself less visible; take off for Martha's Vineyard or something.

Nice Day for a Drive

In the weeks leading up to Saratoga, I warned on at least a couple of occasions that the quality of the cards would drop off precipitously come the third and 4th weeks. I think I've been pretty wrong about that, at least to this point. Sure, there's been a fair share of state-bred races and maiden claimers, but I think the cards have been pretty solid as a whole. And the races have certainly been competitive from a betting standpoint, even when the fields number "only" six and seven.

However, today's card is more like what I was talking about, especially with two races off the turf due to the weekend rain. (And Wednesday's card contains no less than four maiden claimers.) Two short-field state-bred stakes races, one of them consisting entirely of horses coming off maiden wins, ugh; three miserable state-bred maiden races, and an awful bottom level nw2 claimer. Looks like an advertisement for five day a week racing as far as I can tell. Weather seems nice up there (albeit with the usual PM storm advisory). Great day for a drive out to the Berkshires or Vermont, or a shorter trip up the Northway to Lake George or Lake Moreau; or, if driving's not your thing, check out the Tang Museum at Skidmore (never disappoints), and go and enjoy the beauty and tranquility of Saratoga Springs State Park. Why anyone would instead spend the day watching crummy races like these I can't really say. Seems plain unnecessary, and certainly not in line with the tradition of great racing at Saratoga. Just a way to fill the coffers I suppose.

- Trainer David Jacobsen comes off looking bad in the New York Times today in the latest entry in Joe Drape's continuing Happy Series on thoroughbred racing. Jacobsen is tweaked in the article for claiming Tour of the Cat last fall, and bringing him back to the races this past winter in bottom level claimers at the age of eleven.

Jacobson’s subsequent campaigning of the horse was noticed by horse rescue advocates. In a span of 36 days in January, Tour of the Cat raced three times in New York and once in Maryland. He won twice and finished second and fourth at the lowest level of the sport. [NYT]
Hmmm, two wins and a second; seems to me as if the old boy was enjoying himself. Of course, the subsequent matter of his being shipped to Presque Isle after failing to pass the vet at Finger Lakes seems to be pushing things. “I believed he was in good condition, and had some races left,” Jacobsen said. Maybe so, but certainly an admirable gesture by Maggi Moss to claim the horse and have him retired to the farm, where he's reported to be getting fat and lazy.

Still, my recollection from earlier in the year is that some people thought it was pretty cool to see an old warrior such as Tour of the Cat still competing as long as he seemed to be enjoying it as he had. In fact, NYRA thought it was cool enough to feature on its Facebook page. Now, NYRA's COO Hal Handel is quoted here as saying that “The bottom end of the rung can be hideous for a horse;" and coming in the context of this article as it does, it seems as if NYRA has played this story both ways, and in the manner which happened to suit it best at the time.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Saratoga Briefly

Three winners for trainer George Weaver at Saratoga on Thursday; I knew he had it in him! He's now on a Kimmel-ish streak of four in a row, and seven for 30 over all (and he has a first-time starter running for a 20K tag in today's second). One of the winners was first-timer Golly Day, dull on the board at 8-1, but an impressive winner with a wide rally after an awkward start. He's a two-year old son of Lion Heart, out of Wake Up Kiss, a state-bred stakes winner on the grass at the Spa herself; so a suitable heritage there. And Weaver had a stakes winner of his own with 4-5 Perfect Officer (Officer) in the Solomon Northup.

Selection Process Labors Along

A lobbyist for Steve Wynn told the local Queens Tribune that the decision on the Aqueduct racino is expected to come around Labor Day weekend. But don't expect an award ceremony between races on NYRA's Saturday telecast.

A spokeswoman for the Governor's office was unable to confirm or deny this day and explained that "releasing specific information on the bids impairs the State's integrity in the evaluation process and hampers the State's ability to [blah blah blah]." [Queens Tribune]
So the Vegas/Macau fellow Wynn thinks he's a winner, writes a reader after reading a second article in that paper on Thursday. It would seem as if the Aqueduct Entertainment Group agrees that Wynn is the front runner, having gone as far as to run newspaper and radio ads (on Bloomberg) targeting him with the tagline: "What happens in Las Vegas should stay in Las Vegas." If anyone has heard and/or has a link to the audio of that, please clue us in!

Another reader brings up Wynn's old buddies at Excelsior and the possibility of them finagling their way up the Belt to the Cross Island and Belmont. I certainly wouldn't discount the possibility of Richard Fields & Co re-emerging if and, in my mind, if when Belmont comes into play. It's been pointed out to me that an entity called Coastal Development Ltd, a company (of some sort) owned and controlled by Fields, donated $25,000 apiece to the Democratic and Republican NY Senate campaign committees last October (a fact you can look up for yourself on the website of the state's Campaign Financial Disclosure site).

But whether they would want to partner with Wynn I can't say, considering the way that he helped put the final gash in the already sinking Excelsior ship with his bizarre testimony to Spitzer's racino panel in April 2007.

As another reader points out, Elizabeth Benjamin writes on her Daily Politics blog that the law firm Manatt, Phelps, and Phillips, hired by the Paterson administration ( at a cost "up to" $600,000) to handle legal aspects of the bidding process, has represented Delaware North in unrelated matters out of state.
Paterson spokesman Peter Kauffmann said the administration knew Manatt represented Delaware North involving unrelated “hospitality projects” in California, adding: “Our counsel’s office thoroughly reviewed it and determined there was no conflict."

He said the firm won't play a role in the selection of bidders. It was retained to assist in the drafting and review of “transactional legal documents,” he added. [Daily Politics]

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Back in the Game

Several of the Aqueduct bidders have significantly raised the cash portion of their bids; that according to Jim Odato's article in the Times Union on Tuesday. As you may recall, the competition howled in protest when Steve Wynn was reported to have raised his offer during a meeting with Governor Paterson's staff. Odato had reported at the time that the proposals were supposed to be in a final state already. Aqueduct Entertainment Group's Larry Woolf said: "It was pretty clear: You had to identify what you could do."

But the state is hardly in a position to turn down money from willing suitors at this point, so the floodgates were reopened. Apparently. If that had been previously reported, I missed it, but, as you may know, the process is shrouded in secrecy.

Bidders had until last Friday to amend financial aspects of their proposals, and have until Wednesday to make nonfinancial adjustments. [Times Union]
AEG, which had offered $151 million, has added as much as $150 million if it gets 10,000 machines. Penn National, left at the gate with a piddling $5 million, rockets towards the leaders with an increase to $250 million - ha, and you thought we weren't serious. Steve Wynn has kicked in another $100 million at closing (I presume that the state is requiring suitcases of unmarked, or hell, any bills) and that amount again over the life of the contract.

Delaware North, heading a group called Aqueduct Gaming, held firm on its $100 million offer but, and again, this is all according to Odato's report, "promised another $200 million in ensuing years." Again as you may recall, the company was not amongst the three bidders reported to be the favorites by Crain's earlier this month. I speculated at the time that they seemed to be going through the motions. But I'm told by someone with connections to the group that they've made "real progress" of late with a more aggressive promotion effort.

And on Wedensday, Aqueduct Gaming issued a press release regarding their proposal. Don't expect however to read too much about the racino or the accompanying extras themselves. Only one paragraph of the three page release is dedicated to that, and there are no details regarding the "hotel, additional retail and restaurants, entertainment and other amenities based on community input." Most of the statement is instead devoted to the group's efforts to embrace and empower the surrounding community, working with it to create a facility that will both enrich and employ.
"The people of Queens expect and deserve a project that will enhance and respect their community, not detract from it," said William Bissett, a leader in the coalition of New York companies comprising Aqueduct Gaming...

"As a result of our research and interaction with community leaders, Aqueduct Gaming's approach represents the right size and character of development, with specific community initiatives designed to ensure maximum benefit to the community, the thoroughbred racing industry and the state."
And again as some of you may recall, Delaware North was excoriated by the community and by politicians running for office the first time around for their perceived snub of the community, having failed at the time even to meet with the Community Board. The company has certainly taken that lesson to heart. Their proposal includes "significant input and participation from the community and advisory groups," a guaranteed minimum percentage of Queens-based employees, an effort to buy from Queens vendors, a "highly visible" Employment and Small Business Center, a Neighborhood Foundation to be funded with a portion of profits, an hourly daycare center, and extreme care to environmental issues. Perhaps we'll see Bissett himself filling potholes on Rockaway Boulevard this winter.

A repeat selection of Delaware North would no doubt rankle some who may harbor a grudge from its pulling out of the first bid because it couldn't fund the oversized $370 million upfront payment....and to those who harbor suspicions of favoritism shown towards its influential lobbyists, Patricia Lynch Associates. However, their selection could easily be portrayed as merely going with the company that the leaders felt was best all along, back with an improved plan containing an undeniably appealing community aspect. And, as we've recently seen, Albany doesn't seem all that concerned about appearance these days. So a comeback win wouldn't surprise me much at all.

- Empire Resorts, the parent company of Monticello Raceway, is proving to be quite the scrapper. First, it staved off bankruptcy by pulling off a deal to pay off one creditor, and then maneuvered to delay for 90 days a threatened recall of $65 million.

On Wednesday, it announced a $55 million investment, in return for a tad less than half of the company, by a Malaysian investment company.
Kien Huat affiliates maintain substantial interests in a multinational group of companies collectively known as Genting, that is involved in gaming, leisure, hospitality, power generation, plantations, property development, biotechnology, and oil and gas. [Times Herald Record]
I'm sure that NYRA officials will be thrilled to hear that the company is keenly interested in building a casino and entertainment complex near Manhattan.
“We envision working together with the (St. Regis) Mohawks to create a regional gaming and entertainment center, which will serve the New York metro area.”

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Flawed System, Flawed Report

So I've finished reading State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli's audit report on New York City OTB. Old news, you might say, but....well? You can read the more timely articles in the trades which merely summarize what was written, or you can wait a few days and get my own unique, at times and to put it one way, spin. (Or, you could just read the damn thing yourself.)

What made the document somewhat interesting reading was its inclusion of OTB's sometimes testy responses to the criticisms in what was referred to as the 'final draft' of the report. The main point of contention was over the reasons behind NYC OTB's recent deficits. To the Comptroller, it was a failure to do enough to cut costs. OTB dismissed that notion, instead blaming "the State's 'flawed' mandatory distribution system that compels OTB to distribute significantly more money than is available after allowance for its necessary operating expenses." The phrase 'flawed mandatory distribution" is sprinkled throughout the response. The sides even argued over whether certain payments to NYRA were actually statutory or not.

To me, it's just semantics, really. NYC OTB isn't generating enough revenue to cover its expenses, whether they be statutory, fixed overhead, or whatever; period. The payouts to the tracks which so rankles OTB are necessary operating expenses! As a matter of fact, they are the main reason for OTB's existence! Not patronage opportunities for politicians or SUV's for highly compensated execs, but payouts, and suitably quite generous ones, at least in terms of its own revenues, to the tracks, horsemen, and breeders who stage the sport off which OTB exists.

I looked at the financial info, and it seems to me that OTB in NYC is suffering from the same kind of problems as everyone else. Its business is down, and its fringe benefits costs are up. Salaries have remained flat despite cutbacks, and given what we're finding out about Mayor Bloomberg's generosity to unions, that's probably not too bad (though we don't quite know how he treats unions at entities he intends to eliminate). When revenue is down, businesses cut back. OTB should stop whining about payouts to the industry, and do all those nasty things businesses do when their survival is in jeopardy.

The Comptroller mainly held the line on his argument in the actual report. While acknowledging OTB's cost-cutting efforts, he writes:

However, management has not performed a comprehensive assessment of the Corporation’s operating expenses as one would expect from an entity in its unsound financial situation. For example, its internal audit department has not systematically examined operating expenses to identify opportunities for cost savings, nor performed vulnerability assessments to identify areas of control risk.
The report suggests several areas where OTB can save, in particular the notion of changing from the bricks and mortar model to account wagering for which the costs are significantly less. (The problem there is that OTB doesn't want to give up the surcharge that it collects in the shops).

But in the cover letter to the report, DiNapoli seems to have fallen under the sway of OTB's argument, and takes a different tone, writing that "serious consideration must be given to changing the mandated state formulas." Then, under a section subtitled Distribution formula changes not enough, he writes:
The NYC OTB’s statutory distributions are a significant financial outlay. By far the most significant of these distributions are to the horse racing industry. Over a four-year period, distributions to the industry totaled $386 million and accounted for more than 72 percent of the NYC OTB’s total $533.5 million in statutory distributions.
Yeah? So? What exactly is the point of this passage, Mr. Comptroller? The distributions to the racing industry make up a large portion of their distributions; isn't that the way it's supposed to be? Who else exactly should be getting 72 percent of the distributions? Pedro Espada? In fact, why is it only 72%? Whatsmore, the Comptroller never discusses the larger and more fundamental picture of the efficiencies and savings that would be inherent in a consolidation of operations amongst all of the state's OTB corporations and the racing entities it could be serving instead of competing against.

It's kinda weird to me the way the cover letter takes such a different tone than the report which it's supposed to cover. It almost seems like somebody "got to" DiNapoli. Maybe someone should check his recent campaign contributions, or inspect his coffee cups for residue of brainwashing powder that makes him chant "flawed mandatory distribution" system every time he sees the queen of diamonds or a losing OTB ticket lying in the street.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Saratoga Notes

Since I posted this horror list of McLaughlin's recent two-year old first-time starters, he did score a winner on Saturday, for Darley, with Liston (Storm Cat), a Stonerside homebred who won by a length with a 77 Beyer. Little surprise given the connections and breeding (a half brother to the highly disappointing Country Star) that he was 9-5 (in a field consisting entirely of first-time starters).

However, the barn added three more losers to the list: Hatheer was second by a length as the 6-5 favorite last Thursday, and then two more ugly ones: Common Currency was 5th by 14 1/2 on Sunday....and on Monday, Ready for Change, another beautifully bred Stonerside/Darley homebred (AP Indy out of champion Ajina)was 6th by 47 lengths at odds of 3-1!! If you take the seven McLaughlin two-year old first-timers who have gone off at odds of 5-1 or less and lost at the Spa, they did so by an average of 15 lengths; and that's including the one who lost by just one. That's pretty bizarre. So I think that this barn is obviously being way overbet in this category at this particular meet, and I'll continue to beware.

- Nice return to the races for Gayego; in hand after an awkward beginning, and home in furlongs of 11.45 and 11.54. He earned a Beyer of 99 for six furlongs in 1:09.25. "He's probably a little better at seven furlongs or a mile than he is at six," said Godolphin Guy Rick Mettee [Schenectady Gazette], who said the horse will be pointed for one race or another in the Breeders Cup. Because that's what one is supposed to do with their top horses - send them to the year-end championships.

- Top Lass ($30.80) was the second longshot winner in a row for trainer James Ferraro, who scored with Heavenly Blaze ($51.50) on Saturday.

And another winner each for Linda Rice and George Weaver, coming in the late double.

- If Sunday was the final free summer concert of the season for me, as it appears it may be, it certainly came to a fittingly climactic conclusion with a fierce performance by Dinosaur Jr at Central Park. Don't know what else to say about this band - it's the 4th time I've seen them since their reunion - except that these guys are in prime form, performing at a level of virtuosity that I don't often see in a guitar/bass/drums rock trio (though Mission of Burma's show ranked in the same category). Murph's jackhammer drumming and the ingenious bass attack by Lou Barlow (releasing a solo album this fall and opening with his band for much of the next leg of Dinosaur Jr.'s tour, could make any guitarist sound good; throw in guitar God J Mascis and his infectious songs, and you have quite a special band. Moody, melodic cacophony, as described in the Times.

As I've mentioned, their excellent (there I go with the superlatives again) new album Farm is available on Jagjaguwar Records. And Dino Jr will perform at two venues in or near two of my favorite places on earth, both of which I've been lucky enough to be able to visit this summer - October 4 at Northern Lights in Clifton Park, 10-15 minutes or so south of Saratoga; and November 4 at Belly Up, in beautiful Solana Beach, right around the corner from Del Mar. And, better yet, they will return to New York on November 21, when they will play with Sonic Youth, former labelmates back in the 90's on both the classic Indie labels Homestead and SST.

Preceding Dinosaur Jr was an excellent set by The Walkmen. And Friday night was the final show of the season at the South Street Seaport. On record, Brooklyn's School of Seven Bells are about lush production and the Cocteau Twins-ish vocals of twin sisters Alejandra and Claudia Deheza. Live, they were all about the guitar played by Benjamin Curtis, formerly of Simple Machines; at least to me. Their latest album, Alpinisms, is available on Ghostly International.

Grapes and Greens

Grapes and Greens is the Head Chef's new blog, and here's a somewhat relevant excerpt:

This weekend was our family's annual trip to Saratoga Springs, NY [ed note. - how's that for putting a wholesome spin on things] and their farmers' market is undoubtedly the highlight of my summer. The variety of produce and the passion among farmers and shoppers for all things fresh and delicious is always palpable. I dream for weeks ahead about the elaborate meal I will make after my shopping. [ed note. - And I'm a nut because I'm getting excited for the hockey season?] This year, as always, I headed straight over to my favorite heirloom tomato grower. My heart sank as I looked over his beautiful knobby fingerling potatoes and his lush lettuces. Not a tomato in sight. I was informed that almost the entire crop had been wiped out by the raging tomato blight and there was little hope of salvaging even a tenth of the crop. So sad.

One or two farmers had small tomatoes available and I grabbed up a few precious fruits. My plan this year was to head straight to our picnic site after shopping [ed. note - after the Whitney], so food prep had to be simple.

The grapefruit sized mini cantaloupes could not be passed up and some pretty sweet white onions rounded out the salad I had in mind. I had already packed a vinaigrette that I made at home, so all was set. It is hard to accept that I won't be seeing much of the heirlooms this summer. I wait all year for one month of tomato bliss. The farmer told me that the organic and small farms are the ones being the hardest hit. I had been enjoying the relentless June rains for keeping my home garden moist but now I am realizing the bitter price.
Read the rest of the post for details on the Trifecta Salad!

- And this is the Head Chef's current favorite song.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Dead Heat

I think I'm gonna pack some heat the next time I go to the track. Or at least the first time after a obtain a license for a handgun. Too bad that, in New York, I can't sling some serious weaponry over my shoulder like this guy. Where's the NRA when you need them?

Because dammit, I'm pissed. I'm sick of this crap with the racino, and tired of subpar facilities at my racetracks. I'm against government meddling in racing, and sick of being parimutuelly overtaxed to death. I've had it with jockeys who move too soon or who get parked four wide from the two hole. I'm fed up with the drugs, and with those death panels behind which they put the horses down.

So, I'll bring a piece. That'll show 'em, right? Of course, I'm not going to actually use it..., then, why am I bringing one? Oh, that's right, I'll just be exercising my second amendment right to defend myself against aggressively aggrieved bettors.

Pretty wacky, isn't it? But though you readers trust me (right?), can you really trust that someone who's bonkers enough to bring a loaded assault weapon to a presidential event wouldn't really utilize it? If they're not going to use them, why then is this becoming such a popular fad?

I presume of course that if you can bring a gun to a place where the President of the United States is talking (though you couldn't even wear an anti-Bush t-shirt when he was around), I can certainly bring one to Saratoga, right? Now that the state owns the land, I don't see how NYRA can continue to assert their claim of private property. (And I wonder then, if that's indeed the case, if they can still summarily ban persons suspected of wrongdoing from the grounds?) Besides, I don't see anything on NYRA's website about not being allowed to bring firearms. No glass, no smoking or coolers in the building, it says. But nothing about 22-caliber semi-automatics.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The $64,000 Question

Saturday's late Pick Four at Saratoga paid over $64,000; and that with favored Cops Fever winning the finale. I can imagine that, on some day, under a certain circumstance, in a particular frame of mind (or state of consciousness), amongst a singular mix of horseplayers (or by myself), with a high degree of recklessness, emboldened perhaps by a recent score or some other financial blessing, with the planets aligned in a precisely defined manner and the weather invigorating the body, soul, and an especially creative nook somewhere in the folds of my brain, I might have had that. Just saying.

I'd started to handicap the sequence for a post and a wager, but abandoned the effort when it became obvious that the bet would be too expensive for my taste. I'd included Ninth Client ($18.40) off the big drop in class....and I'm a bit surprised that Eliot Spitzer didn't claim this horse and put it out to pasture. Telling ($68) was in my mix for the Sword Dancer; problem was that so were five others. This son of AP Indy had pace excuses when a close 5th in the Arlington Handicap, and had raced quite well at a mile and a half in the past. And I eventually came to settle on Cops Fever as my key in the 11th (though I came otherwise nowhere near cashing a ticket), so I can deduce that I could have ended up singling him had I pressed on.

The horse that would have beaten me was actually Expansion ($14). I tend to look at a horse like that and go 'no way,' coming off five consecutive losing efforts at short odds since graduating to this class as he had - the last four times as the favorite. However, that first impression is generally based on the assumption that the horse is going to be short odds again, and be worth a bet against on an established propensity to somehow come up just short. But the fact is that, at 6-1 (and, of course, with the benefit of hindsight), this son of Maria's Mon needed to be seen in a completely different light. He had competitive Beyers, legit excuses in his last three, and hailed from the sharp McLaughlin barn (which broke that little slump with first-time juveniles with Liston ($5.90) in the second. At 6-1, he goes from money burner to fair value, if not an overlay.

And that's one of my problems betting the multi-race wagers - lacking the crucial context which the tote board provides. With a horse like this, it's necessary to cast aside any assumptions or conclusions based on what odds a horse has gone off at in the past, or what it might be today, and judge it on a single, simple criteria - is it a contender? In the case of Expansion, the answer was clearly 'yes,' and it would have been a shame if I lost the bet basically by being a wise guy.

- Sean Avery ($14) won for fun for Hushion a little over a year after making his debut at Belmont (for Alan Iwinski). Tom Durkin is obviously either not a hockey guy, or one of those bitter Islander fans. My call would have been: "And here's Sean Avery, he's in all alone......HE SCORES!" For Hushion, that's three wins out of just eight starters, and at prices of 4-1, 5-1, and 6-1. (He has horses entered in the first and last race today.)

Friday, August 14, 2009

Too Important To Fail?

New York's Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli has released his audit of NYC OTB, the findings of which were leaked by the Post last month....and which you could probably figure out anyway. "The industry is too important to fail," DiNapoli writes in a press release. Sounds like it could be eligible for an injection of funds by the Fed.

“New York City OTB is on very shaky financial ground,” DiNapoli said. “Even if cost-savings measures are implemented, it’s unlikely that it will remain financially solvent for long. This is a serious problem that needs in-depth examination. If the goal is to keep OTB viable, serious consideration must be given to changing the mandated state formulas and restructuring operations to coordinate different aspects of the racing industry.
".....Something has to be done. Inaction will mean insolvency.”
Here's the complete audit report in a large pdf file. This is one of those documents that I prefer to delve into in detail before commenting further; so I have something to read in case I have trouble sleeping this weekend. So more on this to follow.

- Perhaps you've been following the matter of the hiring of Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada's son to a $120,000-a-year position (to which he didn't show up), the NY Post's 'gotcha' when he couldn't log on to the computer in his purported office; and his subsequent resignation after Andrew Cuomo launched a probe into the whole stinking affair. The point for those of us awaiting the decision on the Aqueduct racino is that there is no shame and no party lines when it comes to the sleaze and corruption in Albany, which, in this particular case, was carried out with brazen transparency. Approved by the Democratic conference leader Senator John Sampson, the quid pro quo factor in the appointment after the elder Espada's return to the Democratic fold is frighteningly obvious. So yes, be very afraid that the Aqueduct process is being held behind closed doors, and don't at all underestimate the ties of the Aqueduct Entertainment Group to Senate President (completing the three stooges of the Democratic leadership) Malcolm Smith.

- NYRA announced a contest which takes advantage of the fact that all three Triple Crown race winners are on the grounds at Saratoga. Three lucky winners will each get to meet one of them. I dunno, my experience with meeting horses has not been particularly enlightening. They don't seem to relish discussing their races, and are particularly mum about their human connections. But I guess it's good for a cool photo op.
At approximately 10:00 a.m. the Mine That Bird and Summer Bird winners along with their guests will depart for a meeting with their Classic winner. The Rachel Alexandra meeting is scheduled for 3:45 p.m.
Typical woman, always keeping their dates waiting.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Not So Hot

First-time starter Aspire ($8.90) won the second on Wednesday as favorite Grand Strategy (3-2) was seven lengths back making his debut for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. His is a solid first-out barn, especially with two-year olds - nine for 37 (24%) over the last year; 18 for 72 (an even 25%) over the last two.

But not lately. I'm a big believer in recency when it comes to trainer patterns, and I always set my Formulator stats in date order starting with the latest races. Stats over three or four years are useful in determining a trainer's overall tendencies; but there are always ups and downs along the way. For McLaughlin with first-time starters, it's definitely down at this particular time, at least on the NYRA circuit. From his last eight first-timers at Belmont and Saratoga, here are the results...and these are all two year-olds.

Genuine Charm - 7th by 11 at 4-1
Sweet Elgius - 5th by 15 at 8-1
Trappe Shot - 5th by 7 at 5-2
Salaam Alaykum - 10th by 17 at 10-1
Krypton - 11th by 30 at 10-1
Chimayo - 8th by 14 at 9-5
Middle of the Night - 10th by 15 at 5-1
Grand Strategy - 4th by 7 at 3-2
Looks like my betting ledger at Saratoga last weekend.

Does that mean that I'll bet against any of McLaughlin's first-time juveniles? No, but it does mean that I might be more aggressive opposing the next one that's 7-5 for West Point on a crowded Saturday afternoon at Saratoga. By the way, three of these starters got off to poor starts; so is it possible that the barn is not doing a good job preparing its babies for the gate? I dunno...but I imagine that there are sometimes rational explanations other than the laws of probability behind trainers going hot and cold.

Speaking of crowds, over 21,000 on Wednesday. Pretty impressive, and that bodes well for the coming weekend, which doesn't have a marquee race.

Back to Wednesday's 2nd, Aspire was the first winner, in 11 tries, for trainer Eddie Kenneally. This barn had been knocking at the door with three solid seconds, with horses that went off at 8-1 (Keep the Peace in the Honorable Miss), 10-1, and 38-1. If you look at his Formulator stats, you'll see that this barn is only 9% at Saratoga over the last three years. But a closer, more recent look reveals that all four of his winners (from 47 starters) came here last year (from 18 starters). This is a 17% barn overall, and his horses seem to be live here again this year.

On Thursday, Kenneally starts Newport Harbour (8-1) in the 8th. Interesting story here for this four-year old daughter of the AP Indy stallion Full Mandate - she was claimed by trainer Timothy Ritvo for owner Frank Bodell for 70K in February, 2008, one race after she changed hands for 50. Must have lost a shake the first time. She won her next two starts, but then disappeared for 13 months; and when she returned, in June at Churchill, she did so for a new trainer in Kenneally. In her return, she moved up in class while being exposed for the optional 80K price even though she was eligible on conditions; mixed signals there. But she won at 16-1 in what has turned out to be a pretty good race; third place Step Out Smartly won her next at the same level with a 91 Beyer; 4th place Valentine Fever was a troubled third with an 83; and 5th place Whirlie Bertie was second in a grass stakes at Ellis.

I think that Newport Harbour will certainly have to improve further to handle favored Turn Away, 2-1 in the morning line though her fair value and likely post time odds are likely to be less coming off her solid second in a short but talented First Flight field. Newport Harbour comes off a solid work on the training track last week, and could create some value in the exacta at least, as this barn has already done three times this meet as mentioned above.

The 4th shows why there shouldn't be everyday non-stakes races carded for over a mile and a less two miles?!? The margins were as ugly as you can get - 7 1/2, 1 3/4, 20 1/2, 22 1/2, DNF, DNF. I rest my case.

In the 5th, first-time starter Opus A, 8-1 morning line, was bet down to 3-1 for Violette. Daughter of Read the Footnotes dropped way back after being checked, came ridiculously wide around the turn, seemed to be floundering midstretch, but launched a late surge to win by a comfortable half length. Great game, ain't it? She's out of a Sea Hero half-sister to Z Fortune, who I think I had in my top three for the 2008 Derby at some point.

Weaver on the board with dropdown/returnee Belle's Home ($10.20) in the 6th; second win in 18 starts for this barn. In the 7th on Thursday, he starts first-timer Neennie's House (12-1). This barn is one for 54 with first-timers on the grass over the last four years.....not much way to spin that one with different time frames.....or is there? He's had three very close seconds - all within a length - with his last six such starters, at odds of 6-1, 7-1, and 9-1. Neenie's House is by the rookie sire Limehouse, 7th on the first-year sire list (six winners), out of an Eastern Echo dam; and she's a half to a turf stakes winner in Strait From Texas. Worth a ducat since I've been following the barn (though apparently not enough to have taken time out from a busy day to bet on Belle's Home).

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Deck Chairs on the Titanic

The Breeders' Cup has announced saddle cloths will now be the same color as the ones regular horse players are used to.

"We appreciate the input from so many passionate horseplayers on this topic, and believe the new saddle towels will provide a more fan friendly experience for our customers betting on the Championships.” [BC Press Release on]
After the debacle of what will be two straight years at Santa Anita and the controversial changes to the program, the BC needed some "Hey, look, we're changing, we're listening to our fans" news. But I find this to be a mere toss of the bone when issues many fans find more profound, such as the Distaff name change and the Filly Friday program, have been arrogantly ignored.

I mean, big deal, using the standard saddle cloth colors, that was just a no-brainer, like needing a new healthcare system. Why were they stubborn about this for so long? To now cite it as proof that they're listening to the fans is purely cynical and insincere in my view.

The bigger point here is that the Breeders Cup and all of horse racing is in relevancy trouble. It's not good when:
  • A bunch of horses no one has ever heard of comes across the pond and win your top races.
  • The connections of the one mainstream-newsworthy horse is putting out weekly press release saying they aren't going to the year end championships.
  • Even horse racing fans say they are overwhelmed by the amount of races over two days
  • Seriously, are any of you following the bloated Win And Yer In?
  • The tracks don't want to help because they don't make that much on the signal
  • Foal nominations are down

So, the saddle cloth change is nice, but, as my buddy Handride always says, it's just deck chairs really. I guess it's a start, but it's only that.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Saratoga Notes

Oh man, had to be an agonizing beat for anyone who had Zaskar on top in the Signature Stallion Stakes at Saratoga on Monday. The longest shot in the field of six at 10.60 to 1, this four-year old daughter of Anabaa (Danzig) took the lead from the start, and opened up as much as eight under Javier Castellano (off to a slow start, but victorious in the second on Proud Zoe for the Toddster...and check it out, look who's leading the training race as of this writing!) Castellano was able to moderate the pace of the mile and a half marathon, enough so that when the horse looked dead midstretch after being engaged by Queen of Hearts, Zaskar gave his backers hope, coming back on the inside with a late surge. Durkin thought he'd won it; he certainly seemed to have the momentum.

But the cameraman got it right on the gallop-out, and the replay clearly showed the misfortune of the head bob for some. Others were ecstatic with Queen of Hearts ($17.60), who took some money coming off a maiden win; daughter of Thunder Gulch was 15-1 in the morning line. It was the second win of the meeting, from seven starters, for trainer Jimmy Jerkens; and he's won with his two longest shots, this one and Sugar Trade ($22.60) on July 31.

In the first on Wednesday, Jerkens has the morning line favorite with Platinum (2-1), and this is a horse to take a stand against as the favorite on at least two fundamental principles - first time against winners, and first time at a route. In fact, she's stretching out from six furlongs to a mile and an eighth. I know the public goes for promising types like this with a field high Beyer of 85; but I certainly wouldn't be surprised if this three-year old daughter of Mineshaft is in fact not favored at post time.

But if she is, I'd take a shot on someone like Starship Angel (9-2) for McLaughlin, five for 23 (22%) plus two close seconds. She comes off two facile wins on mud against questionable fields around one turn at Belmont. But she's finished well around two turns on turf, comes into this off a brilliant series of works, and retains Ramon, who may have had another option in Dean Henry (5-1). That one had some good two-turn efforts on the inner track, albeit with slow figs. Last was much quicker at a mile at the Big A though, and this daughter of Empire Maker should appreciate the stretch-out to two turns, and could be on the improve for trainer Tom Albertrani.

Little Creatures

What's important
In this world?
A little boy
A little girl

- The Pretenders - Thumbelina

The yearling sales got under way at Saratoga last evening, and, with the Sheikh of Dubai in town, did you really think that it would be anything but successful? Probably didn't hurt that Fasig-Tipton was purchased last year by a close Dubai associate of his. Nor that, in prevailing in the bidding for the three top sellers of the night, he also took the opportunity to boost the fortunes of two of his own stallions. There were two colts by Bernardini (standing at Darley for $75,000) selling for $1.3 and $1.2 million, and the session topper, a filly by sire-of-the-moment Medaglia D'Oro, also at Darley, out of Cat Dancer, which fetched $1.5 million. (This filly descends from the same family of Hard Spun, another resident in the Sheikh's den; Luiana, the third dam of Hard Spun [and the dam of champion Little Current] is the 4th dam of this filly.)

The Sheikh apparently hadn't been in Saratoga for some time, though nobody seems to know exactly when his last visit was (except that there were no slots at the harness track at the time for sure). Bloodhorse reports that he "briefly" mingled with the crowd, but made it clear he wanted Ferguson to speak on his behalf concerning sale matters (Not me baby, I'm too precious....fuck off.) But in any event, his presence clearly helped to boost the figures for the session.

With 76 horses sold for $25,470,000 (up 40.3%), average rose to $335,132. While that remained well below the record average for the sale as a whole of $385,259 set in 2001, it was a 10.7% increase over the same session in 2008. The buy-back rate remained relatively low at 28.3%. [Thoroughbred Times]
- That was quite a crowd at Saratoga on Saturday - nearly 40,000 on hand. Haven't seen any official stats, but I imagine that for a non-Travers, non-giveaway day, it has to be up there amongst the best crowds ever. But the track can handle masses like this with aplomb; I remember the time when anything over 20-25,000 meant spending a lot of time on line. Saturday required a slight change in strategy - I found lines 3-4 deep at the betting machines. That's nothing at the manned windows, but you never know who or what can be in front of you at the machines. Fortunately, the manned windows on the second floor in the grandstand just beyond the clubhouse border were virtually empty as post time approached; something for you to keep in mind for big crowd days in the future.

It felt a little strange to have to call out my bets, as I'm strictly a machine guy. It also raises the risk that I'll hear someone in front of me bet the horses that I like, which is likely to drive me off the horse, and off the line entirely....a system which has never failed me. Call it the Jay Trotter system.

24,000 more on hand on Sunday; it seems as if the sport is alive and well in upstate New York. Can't say exactly why or how in this economy, and it doesn't seem to comport with all the last minute housing specials I'm still getting from Federlin. But someone here must be doing something right.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Stop Sobbing Now

Got back last night from a brief trip up to Saratoga for the weekend's races, and back at work But gotta stop sobbing now.... After all, it was a lot of Saratoga packed into two days. On Saturday alone, we went to the Farmers' Market in the morning, took a short stroll around town (though long enough for the Head Chef to spend around $60....stimulating the local economy), and hit the racetrack by noon. We split after the Whitney to head over to Saratoga Springs State Park, where we staked out our favorite spot, fired up a BBQ and dined by a babbling brook, ah... And then, we zipped over to SPAC for the Philly Orchestra, and managed to walk in just in time to hear guest soloist Joshua Bell. I may not be much of a classical music buff, but I certainly know enough to realize that this guy is truly a virtuoso....simply amazing!

Sunday was pretty chill by comparison, but still, of course, made it to the races despite the grey skies and shaky forecast (which I wasn't too worried about after handicapping the weather radar). Left after eight races (plus one at Del Mar) to head back to Queens, in time to see all of the scoring at the Stadium as the Yanks completed their thrashing of the Red Sox. Yeah, that's right, I missed the two desultory short-field, short-priced favorite stakes races. We can have this discussion another time, but, as a horseplayer, I'll take the full-field entry-level allowance, maiden special and claiming races over those shorties any day of the week.

Not much luck at the windows, save for Sunday's early double....just a saver bet which didn't really get me that far. Big blow of the weekend was when High Cry hung on for second at 34-1 in Saturday's sixth, thus splitting my exactas and triples (and no, not a penny to win on the 6-1 winner).

Anyway, it was all too busy for posting...and another busy day today. Right after work, it's off to Central Park. And talk about your fillies first! It's the legendary Chrissie Hynde, with the present incarnation of the Pretenders, plus opening acts Cat Power and Juliette Lewis. Not a free show....but rather a benefit so that we can enjoy other shows for free....such as Sunday's monstrous Dinosaur Jr. / The Walkmen bill. So I'll catch up with ya later, have a great day.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Kind of a Drag

Three horses did not finish their races at Saratoga on Thursday, though they are all OK. In the 4th, 5-2 favorite Pluto, a $1 million Tabor/Smith bust dropping in for a 35K tag for Pletcher, was pulled up on the backstretch and vanned off with a strained left front distal sesamoid ligament.

He will be retired to stud, according to NYRA. [Albany Times Union]
Retired to stud? Where, in Alaska? You knew what the connections thought of this expensive purchase when they debuted him at Calder in April. And even after taking that debut, the son of AP Indy out of G1 winner House Party was sent to Delaware instead of Kentucky or New York. A reader writes:
No takers at the claim box, not even Jacobson who takes this type all the time, so word was out, but the gamblers were not protected.
No, they weren't, were they? As we've seen, in Hong Kong, this incident would prompt an investigation and a thoroughly detailed report to the public. Here, we're just happy that the horse is alive.

Two winners in a row on Thursday for trainer Eoin Harty, both with the ol' synth-to-Saratoga angle. But while Past the Point ($3.80) had prior success over this main track (most notably his second to Curlin in the Woodward), African Diamond ($15.40) had only run on the fake stuff. He seems to prefer the dirt, earning a career high Beyer of 84. But the gelded son of Yonaguska will be preferring it for trainer Chad Brown, who claimed him for 35K.

Two winners a row for Dutrow as well. Jung Man Scott ($3.40) ran away by eight switching to the grass. Two year old son of Freud is out of a half-sister to the stakes winners Wishful Tomcat and Uncle T Steven. Adagio ($11.40) was in first time for a tag a bit suspiciously himself off a long layoff, but no problems here. Storm Caller was a close second at 30-1 for trainer George Weaver. This barn, which I looked to get off to a quick start, is instead one for 12. However, he was second by a length with 6-1 Liscarroll on Saturday, won with My Man Lars ($10.60) on Sunday, one of his three starters was second by a head with 8-1 Cleric. So I still say beware.

- Free music on Thursday night at Clinton Castle, as the summer schedule starts to wind down....though not of course before the mighty Dinosaur Jr. plays Summerstage for free on the 16th. On this night, we saw John Kelly evoke Joni Mitchell with uncanny preciseness, especially when he was decked out in a sleek green evening gown and a stunning platinum blond wig for the first half of the show. I found the performance, with the help of a sharp backing band, to be exhilarating, even though I wouldn't at all call myself a big fan of Ms. Mitchell.

In fact, so inspired am I, that when I saw this new Fillies First blog, I thought I might start a second site myself. Mine would be called Phallus First, and it would be dedicated to fighting those pernicious gender prejudices that create the preconception that men can't cover Joni Mitchell songs. See for yourself.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Saratoga Notes

Not a good start for chalk players at Saratoga on Wednesday as even money Madison Avenue was half the length of the stretch up the track in last for Steve Klesaris in the opener, yuck. Disco Diva ($53) went wire to wire for Galluscio and I'm sure there was at least one happy guy at the track going: "25-1, ARE YOU KIDDING ME, HORSE WINS BY FIVE LAST TIME AND HE'S 25-1?" Aren't you sorry sometimes that you know too much to bet a horse like this? Innocence can truly be bliss at the races.

Pletcher heating up a bit at the track where he once ruled the roost regularly, and say that ten times fast. The Toddster won his fourth race in the last three days when Paracaides outfinished 3-5 Film Chant in an extremely game performance. This daughter of War Chant, the only four-year old in the 3-and-up contest, was hounded by the favorite all the way and was pressured to a half of 45.14 in the seven furlong race. From there, she slowed considerably - 25.38 for the third quarter and nearly 14 seconds for the final furlong. But she managed to outlast the equally tired Film Chant.

I guess this is the type of race that some of the rabid anti-synthetic folks are referring to when they talk about the dirt game of speed and heart that they feel that artificial tracks muzzle. I have to admit that there's a certain appeal to seeing two exhausted combatants battle it out in deep stretch. I find it comparable to a football defense trying to mount a desperate goal line stand in the final seconds despite being tired and battered. I think it's a very American trait to find this sort of battle-to-the-death scenario of the reasons perhaps why we're in the minority of those who watch the brand of football played with an oblong ball and horse racing on dirt.

Personally, watching the stretch run of this race, I found it more agonizing to watch them stagger home than thrilling to see. Just my point of view.

Dean's Kitten ($5.40) is the 7th winner for rookie sire Kitten's Joy. The grass champ stands for Ken Ramsey for $20,000.

Marscaponi was outclassed by Too Amenable ($3.40) in the 6th; but Ubillo now has a second and two thirds with four starters; we're gonna make some money on this barn before the meet is over.

I watched the head on of the De La Rose Stakes, and it looked to me as if Cocoa Beach simply drifted in, despite left-handed whipping by Ramon, and impeded Grande Annee.

The stewards deduced that Lucky Copy, the tiring pacesetter drifted out several paths turning for home and may have started a chain reaction in which Cocoa Beach's hind end got turned around when bumped by another horse causing it to look as though Cocoa Beach was at fault. [Daily Racing Form]
I didn't see that at all.

Saratoga Wednesday

In the 6th, Too Amenable is 3-5 morning line for Clement, 5-0-2-2 thus far; this off his narrow loss to the Globemaster in a race which I wrote about here after picking him here. He certainly looks tough in this spot. However, I'm having a look at second choice Marscaponi (5-1), for trainer Rodrigo Ubillo. I've been mentioning this barn, which has been live all year, as one on which we might get some value at Saratoga where his name recognition lags far behind his more renowned competitors.

This horse is, alas, an 0 for 14 maiden. However, he's improved dramatically in his two efforts since switching to this barn from that of Tom Bush. After the first of those races, he came back just four days later, moved to this class, and ran a solid second to the consistent Strong Hope on July 19. A bit more rest now, and Prado sticks. Ubillo is 0-for-three thus far at the Spa, but he has two thirds, including a close one with Vivi's Book, who moved up to stakes company, on the turf, and earned a career best Beyer of 87 at odds of 10-1. Don't know if it means anything that Marscaponi outworked Vivi's Best by 2 1/2 seconds when they both drilled on July 9. But it sure sounds good in a handicapping column. As I said, the favorite looks tough, but I wouldn't be surprised by a mild upset here.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Last Call

Despite being away on vacation, I was certainly remiss in failing to find the time to mention the passing of Jack E. Lee, the soundtrack of my formative years at the track. Lee was the track announcer at Roosevelt Raceway back in the early 70's when I first started to make the trip on the Southern State Parkway, to the Meadowbrook, and on to Roosevelt, The Big Wheel, where his mellifluous baritone resonated throughout the festive grounds, as alive a racetrack as any I've been to since....and, in later years, echoed throughout the sad ruins of the golden age of harness racing in this state.

Track announcers at half-mile tracks can get locked into a formula. The races all unfold in similar fashion, and are run mostly all at the same distance, featuring a leader, the unfortunate first one over, the pocket trip, 4th with perfect cover on the outside, the dreaded third on the rail (especially in the days before the passing lane, ugh). Jack E. Lee avoided slipping into monotony with the sheer power and grace of his voice, and an unfailing accuracy which made the visuals virtually unnecessary.

Jack E. Lee called the races at Freehold in the 90's; and also served as the PA announcer during the early years of the Mets. He was retired when he died last week at the age of 73.

His is one of those distinct voices that I can always replay in my mind. Of course, it also helps that I can now see and hear lots of old races on You Tube. Here are three videos - the first, posted recently, is a great clip featuring Stan Bergstein in the booth while Lee prepares for a race. The second is one I think is appropriate at this time, featuring as it does the win by the champion filly Tarport Hap against the best male pacers in the sport in the 1976 U.S. Pacing Championship. (You happy now? See, I mentioned alluded to her, OK?). And the third is the great Ideal Du Gazeau winning his second straight Roosevelt International.

Thanks for the calls, Jack.

By the way, the race directly above is also one of the races which is pictured in the Big Wheel post linked to above and here. When I wrote that post, just a few short years ago in February 2005, You Tube barely even existed. Amazing, isn't it?

- Another voice from my youth is that of Pete Fornatale, who was my favorite DJ on WNEW-FM, back in the golden age of FM rock radio. As I recall, he was only a weekend and fill-in guy at first. But I was a regular, and I vividly recall his turning me on to Neil Young, this around the time of Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere; including and in particular, his mysterious first solo album, pre-Crazy Horse, with two different covers and two different mixes.

Fortunately, Pete Fornatale is alive and well, and still doing radio. He also has a new book out about Woodstock entitled Back to the Garden, which I expect to love once I get it in return for this plug (lol, just kidding). Whatsmore, you guys up in Saratoga, where the weather outlook is promising if not glorious for the next few days, can meet the author and reminisce about the times when radio really mattered; it was an art form in itself. He'll be at the Borders in town on Wednesday at 7 PM, to discuss, read from, and sign the book. While you're there, you can also discuss Thursday's races with my buddy Peter Thomas Fornatale, the junior Pete Fornatale, an author in his own right, and a sporadically prescient horseplayer and handicapper for the Saratoga Special. Check it out, tell him I said hi.

Three of Them Across The Track

Crain's New York reports that there are three leaders in the Aqueduct racino race.

Of the six bids, three have generated the most buzz thanks to their local connections and name recognition. Insiders say the leading contenders so far are bids by Manhattan’s largest landlord, SL Green; the Aqueduct Entertainment Group, which includes The Navegante Group and other New York area builders; and casino mogul Steven Wynn.
Can't say I'm surprised that Delaware North isn't on that list. Can't imagine that the state would take their $100 million offer after they couldn't raise the $370 million. Besides, reports indicate that they're back to the slots-in-a-box offer which they were pressured to improve upon the first time around. Seems like they're just going through the motions. And what exactly was Penn National thinking with their token offer of $5 million? Maybe they just wanted to be in it in case all of the rest of them self-destruct? (Hardly an impossible prospect given the years of mishaps.)

But it has to be a big disappointment to developer R. Donahue Peebles if it's true that his bid with MGM Mirage has not made the cut. His reported bid of $150 million is twice that of Wynn's (at least before Wynn tried to raise his bid), and he has that cool website with all the pretty people too. I'd be a little disappointed as well, at least from the standpoint of having good stuff and idiotic quotes to blog about. The Crain's New York article says that the group claimed to have "received positive feedback from local representatives." So I'm not sure what's happening there.

If you missed it, this post on Capital Confidential has the little that is known about the financial aspects of the bids. The three companies reported to be leading have all basically offered $100 million up front and guaranteed (AEG threw in an extra $1 million), if, that is, Steve Wynn is allowed to increase his bid from $75 million, which he offered to do when making his presentation to the state last week.

SL Green/Hard Rock (along now with a company owned and controlled by Robert L. Johnson, the owner of Black Entertainment Television) provided some details of their plans in this press release. CEO Mark Holliday feels that the Hard Rock brand name gives it an edge.
..Holliday estimated the Hard Rock brand name will bring out more customers to Aqueduct to generate $4 billion in additional revenues – with 70% of that going to the state and racing interests, such as purses -- over the next 30 years compared to a non-brand name casino. [Bloodhorse]
Wynn apparently has more grandiose plans.
Racinos are grandstands with slot machines that are awful. I'm talking about entertainment and a place that's fun -- not Yonkers." [Times Union]
Hear that, harness guys? As far as Aqueduct Entertainment Group goes, the only specific I've seen about their proposal is that they'll have "Corona Italian ice and hotdog vendors like a New York City neighborhood, but not a six-star facility like Wynn proposes." Some cheap eats in case you have a bad night. [UPDATE: More details on the AEG plan here.]

AEG is said to have impressed the Queens Chamber of Commerce by guaranteeing local and minority jobs
AEG’s partners on its plans include the Rev. Floyd Flake’s Empowerment Development Corp. and Queens developer Levine Builders. While Mr. Wynn did not outline specific plans to use local vendors, he said he would be open to working with the community. Mr. Wynn acknowledged that he has made little effort to play Albany politics.

Meanwhile, SL Green, along with Hard Rock International, has divulged its plans to Community Board 10, which expressed its approval, said Marc Holliday, SL Green’s chief executive. [Crain's]
So, it would seem that the race is on, and perhaps these contenders have truly separated themselves from the rest of the pack. Of course, we don't really know anything for sure; and on Monday, the Daily News editorialized that the process is shaping up as one of the worst closed-door deals of all time.
The secrecy is unacceptable. Opening New York City to legalized gambling would be a momentous step, one that must not be taken in the dark. The demand for openness is only heightened by the millions of dollars that will be at stake every year. [NY Daily News]
A spokesperson for Governor Paterson told Crain's: "“Releasing specific information on the bids will impair the integrity of the evaluation process and hamper the state's ability to reach a timely decision based on a bidder’s first and most sincere offer." I'd be most curious to know exactly how it would impair the integrity of the process, considering that there hasn't much integrity in this entire affair since the Ad Hoc Committee conducted their transparent selection process so, so long ago.