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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Belmont Notes

In the third at Belmont on Wednesday, the seven horses finished in the exact order of their odds (pdf), favorite to the longest shot in the field.

Two winners for Mott, including Changing Skies ($4.50), a group stakes-placed Irish import who was well-supported in her first North American start. This is a four-year old daughter of Sadlers Wells who's a full sister to the British juvie filly champ Playful Act, who, as you may recall, was purchased as a broodmare for a record $10.5 million by the Sheikh. The dam of Changing Skies, by Silver Hawk, is a half-sister to the Strub winner Siberian Summer.

Bruce Levine won the 9th with Private Battle ($4.90). Remember when he couldn't win a thing at for 48!? He has four winners (and another taken down) from his last eight starters (five-for 17 at the meet overall).

Go David Go

WOO-HOO. “I think I can beat Mayor Giuliani,” Governor Paterson said on Wednesday. That might seem like Rap Tale saying she could beat Rachel Alexandra (though Paterson actually "only" trailed the slimy former mayor of NYC by a margin of 52-35 in the latest Siena poll).

You gotta love this - the governor of New York has gone from seeming to try to put himself out of his own misery with his remarks on race a few weeks ago, to this new persona, aggressive and assertive, almost with a swagger if you will.

“If he thinks he could have done better [balancing the budget], he should tell us that now....Until he does, then I think that I should be running for governor and will be elected governor because he’s not bringing any new ideas.” [NY Times - City Room blog]
I'm sorry, I like this guy, I can't help it. He's done a competent job in my view, and he's a pisser. What's to dislike about that?

- Drama at the trial of State Senator Hiram Monserrate, as Karla Giraldo, the alleged slashing victim, continued to insist that she wasn't one. But when confronted with the surveillance tape of she and the senator leaving the building, Ms. Giraldo broke into tears....rushing from courtroom and throwing her boyfriend's assault trial into a temporary recess. [WNBC-TV]

Our criminal justice system is kinda funny I think. Peoples' entire lives are at stake in these trials, yet we analyze and debate them the same as if they were a football game, or a horse race. Sometimes I wonder if the random element is any less despite the stakes involved. And should talent, rather than logic, be the deciding factor? Monserrate's fate, in my view, comes down to the testimony of the emergency room doctor who recalled that Ms. Giraldo "was consistent that it was not an accident.” The surveillance tape seems incriminating to me, but I think it can be interpreted differently and is not a smoking gun. The prosecution chipped away at Ms. Giraldo's credibility by establishing that she changed her story as to her sobriety from what she told a grand jury months ago, to one which aids the defense's strategy. But she insisted that she doesn't remember telling the doctor that she was attacked. As with many trials, it's one person's word against the other's.

I believe that the defense's story - that Monserrate tripped in the dark while bringing her a glass of water, startling her, causing her to jerk her head upwards into the glass, thus shattering it and leaving 40 stitches worth of gashes around her eyes - is more suitable for a Rube Goldberg machine than an alibi for an attack. But personally, I think that the Senator is going to walk.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Yeah Yeah Yeah

The NY Post reported on the report that showed gambling revenues declining nationwide, as did Jim Odato the other day. They both missed the point though, at least the one for our purposes, that Paul Post made; in this case, the racing guy out-trumped the political guys.

Racino revenues continue to climb nationwide while other types of gambling — lottery, traditional casinos, racing — declined during the past year, a study says.

Of the four major types of gaming activity, only racinos, such as Saratoga Gaming and Raceway, saw increases from 2008 to 2009, while overall revenues fell 2.8 percent, the first decline in 30 years.
For the fiscal year ending March 31, seven of New York’s eight racinos realized wagering increases, including Saratoga, where net win — money left over after prizes — rose $3 million, from $132 million to

$135 million. However, revenues were down $600,000 during July and August at the local racino. [The Saratogian]
As the last line shows, this is not to say that racinos are immune from the economy. But to imply that this bodes ill for a racino at Aqueduct as the NY Post article does is deceiving in my opinion. Aqueduct will generate a shitload of money for NYRA, even if it's 2% less than it would have been last year. And the horsemen, breeders and loyal customers need and deserve it. I'm more concerned with table games in Pennsylvania than this gambling report.

Delaware North took out a full-page ad in today’s Buffalo News as Paterson and state Democratic Party leaders gather in Buffalo for their annual convention; as reported in an article on The reporter hasn't read the memo on who's still in the running; but who, really, knows what the hell is going on? As this reader pointed out, there is the matter of SL Green/Hard Rock's connections to the Seminoles; plus Wynn's problem with unions; would anyone be shocked if Delaware North pulled this out? (Yeah, well, I would.)

Haven't had time yet to discuss Paterson's endorsement of the recognition of the Shinnecock Tribe....and that will have to wait again. As I sometimes have the knack to do, I scored a last minute for a red-hot-ticket show at face value. One trade secret I will not be giving away. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs are playing at the relatively intimate Music Hall of Williamsburg, and, with the Head Chef working, I'm off. Though.....she took the car... Looks like the subway for me, so I'm outta here.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Two Have Inside Track

Tom Precious was the first to report, on, that the Aqueduct bidding has tightened, and that a final decision could "come as early as the week of Sept. 28." This came a day after Paul Post suggested in a piece on the Thoroughbred Times site that the process was still stagnant. The difference in the reporting is due to the fact that Post was taking his inference from the fact that Paterson did not mention the issue during a public meeting on Sept 24. However, Paterson did apparently discuss the matter during a closed door meeting held later in the day.

So, the two main points here are a) Tom Precious, as the full-time Albany correspondent for The Buffalo News, has inside sources that racing guys like Post and Hegarty don't; and b) here's a reminder of the secretive process; we still don't really know what the hell is happening nor, why.

Jim Odato of the Albany Times-Union is another political reporter with good sources, and he confirmed Precious' reporting in a column on Monday.

As for the more immediate question of which company will win the right to build and operate the Aqueduct racino, the smart money is on SL Green, which has the operators of the Hard Rock Casino as part of their team, and Steve Wynn.

Among the six bidding teams, those two outfits have reportedly risen high in the estimation of the Paterson administration. The governor may announce a decision as soon as this week. [Albany Times Union]
Precious had reported that Delaware North was also amongst the companies acceptable to the governor, but that it faces "an uphill challenge" due to its failure to come up with the cash the last time around. But while I was right about that (if it's indeed the case), Aqueduct Entertainment Group, my morning line favorite, is out based on these reports; it was reported to have been the subject of disapproval by state lottery officials. Of course, what exactly the problem may have been is amongst the many things we don't know.

I have to think then that SL Green is the likely winner. Wynn has those problems with the unions, and wouldn't have machines up and running until 2011 (unless those plans have changed in private). And besides, I still, for some reason, have enough faith left in the human race as to think that even Albany politicians wouldn't be lured by the preposterous grandiosity of his construction plans. It sure would be a hoot, if nothing else.

As far as the timetable for an announcement, I think that there actually is an excellent chance that it will happen within the next week, or two. And that's because, on the heels of his appearance on Meet the Press (in which he artfully dodged around every jab about the message from the White House that David Gregory threw, and managed, assertively speaking over the host at times, to effectively contrast his balanced budget with the woes of other states), it is now in Paterson's interest to do so.
The interview was the beginning of what Mr. Paterson’s advisers said would be a week of high visibility. He is scheduled to make a series of official appearances in the coming days, including delivering the keynote address at the fall meeting of the New York State Democratic Committee in Buffalo on Wednesday. Later in the week, he will travel to California for a global climate summit with Arnold Schwarzenegger and other governors.

Mr. Paterson is also likely to make more national television appearances in the days and weeks ahead. [NY Times]
Actually sounds like quite a busy week for the governor, so he may not have the time. But an appearance in Queens, with community leaders and (brave) local politicians, to make the Aqueduct announcement with its attendant local jobs and economic benefits (no mention of problem gambling here) is certainly the kind of event that his advisers have in mind.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Sunday Pre-Game Post

I don't even have to look at NYRA's Turf Update section to know that they're sloppy and off the turf today; man, it's been absolutely pouring here since the wee hours of the morning. But racing goes will the Jets-Titans game, though the latter will remain on the turf.

On Saturday, Linda Rice broke her 0-fer streak at 32 with Power Blast ($12.60) in a turf sprint. Those races are considered to be her specialty, though a look at Formulator shows that, over the last two years, she's actually remarkably consistent across the board, winning at the same 19% at any combination or permutation of dirt/grass/sprint/route. So I guess that's one of those statistical misconceptions.

Turf did the trick for Strong Commitment ($9.80) in the 4th after two money-burning losses on the dirt for Shug; this is a full brother to last year's Dwyer winner Mint Lane.

In the 5th, Buddy's Saint put the squeeze on Global Force ($4.60) throughout the stretch and got taken down, thus bailing out the chalk players. It was more the persistence of the bumping rather than any one blatant incident that precipitated the takedown in my view. This two-year old son of Giant's Causeway was a $1.2 million purchase for Winstar last September at Keeneland. Shadwell first-timer Mawaaqef was dead on the board at 11-1 and checked in a mere 25 lengths behind.....the second to last finisher! Another awful first-timer for the McLaughlin barn (though the owner/trainer combo got the money in a thriller with Rock in Bage ($18.20) in the following race).

Rapid Mon ($23.40) was another winner for Kimmel, now four for ten at the meeting after a slow Saratoga (and a mention on this blog).

And of course if you missed it, the Gallant Bloom was a great race with Indian Blessing holding on....but I gotta get ready to leave for the Jets game, and besides, I wanna save that for my Breeders Cup Sprint blog entry (even though they're fillies and neither of them will run in it. What the hell am I supposed to write about, the Kentucky Cup Sprint?) Good luck and have a great day.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


Following is the time-stamped sequence of events:

5:18:40 p.m. – Race 9 Post Time

5:22:13 p.m. – Incorrect Superfecta order (8-14-5-10) posted and made official

5:22:17 p.m. – Tote system enabled cashing of incorrect Superfecta

5:25:06 p.m. – Tote system suspended payment on all pools

5:49:44 p.m. – Correct Superfecta order (8-14-5-13) was enabled in the Tote system for cashing

There was a two minute and 49 second period where the incorrect Superfecta was being paid out. In addition to that period where the incorrect Superfecta was paid out, the correct Superfecta will be paid out to customers who properly selected it. [NYRA Press Release - kudos to them for putting it out ]

Gov, Big A Not Signed Up

“I did not sign up for this,” Governor Paterson said in an appearance in Syracuse on Wednesday.

“I wanted to be lieutenant governor. I had this grand plan that Hillary Clinton was going to become president. Maybe the governor would appoint me to the Senate.” [NY Times]
I don't agree with readers such as el angelo who contend that the governor is a moron. But he sure does say some moronic things. I think he's a decent man who's done an altogether decent job, and I find it sad to see him unravel in this way.

Nor did the governor sign up for selecting the Big A racino operator, and as he dithers, Pennsylvania seems to be moving full speed ahead towards table games; and with a familiar refrain.
Expanding casino gambling to include the table games is a major part of the $27.9 billion state budget agreement being finalized by state lawmakers. It's a key part of plugging a $3 billion revenue shortfall.
Three of the four legislative caucuses, plus Gov. Ed Rendell, favor legalizing table games. []
Table games would be permitted at all 12 slots parlors (nine of which are already in operation), and create some 10,000 jobs. But unlike the video slots, there's no provision for a cut from table games for the racing industry. And, with proposed tax rates ranging from 12% to 21%, the games are a better bet for operators than the slots, at 34%. So the industry is understandably concerned.
On Tuesday, the Pennsylvania Equine Coalition highlighted a decision by the Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem, in anticipation of table games, to scrap plans to install 2,000 additional slot machines.
"This case highlights how differing tax structures are driving casino operators to favor table games over slots machines," said Michael P. Ballezzi, executive director of the Pennsylvania Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, which represents horsemen at Philadelphia Park. [Penn Live]
And it also highlights how behind the curve we are at Aqueduct, as the gambling options continue to proliferate around it. The Big A, along with Yonkers and the already struggling Monticello, are the most likely sites to take a hit from an expanded gaming option within an easy drive....though you can be sure that table games will be on the agenda in Albany before too long. And I imagine we'll be hearing again about this.

- Got a press release today from The Marino Organization on behalf of the R. Donohue Peebles team with MGM Grand announcing an endorsement from NYS NAACP president Hazel Dukes, a former president of NYCOTB (which really qualifies her as an expert on the subject, especially considering her stellar record).

Then, I get another email, this one from someone in Macau who writes that a "very brave media outlet" is reporting that Macau casino magnate, and reputed organized crime figure, Stanley Ho is dead. As you may recall, MGM Grand has come under fire for its partnership in a Macau casino with Ho's daughter Pansy Ho. The writer went on to opine that a flurry of lawsuits from family members will result, and that "We'll then see, no doubt, the direct written agreements, Ho's have [sic] with, Hard Rock, Wynn and MGM." Hard Rock and Steve Wynn also have properties in Macau. Have no idea as to the veracity of this, but what the hell, it's interesting enough to meet the low journalistic standards of this site.

Besides, as I've said before, I think that Peebles' bid has as much of a shot as this:

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

News and Notes (Off topic)

Amidst a continuing downpour of gloomy news - down to an unbelievable 18%(!) approval rating in the latest Siena poll and more grim news on the budget deficit, it was a rare moment of triumph for Governor David Paterson when the state's highest court surprisingly upheld his appointment of Richard Ravitch as Lt. Governor.

Of course, given the situation, there was immediate speculation that, with a successor in place, the governor would not even serve out his term. However, no Sarah Palin he, Paterson affirmed his intention to ride this out until the very end.

Minority Leader Dean Skelos, the named plaintiff in the lawsuit to deny the appointment, said “The court’s decision to allow the state’s highest offices to be filled with no accountability whatsoever to the public or to their elected representatives in the Legislature, is dangerous to democracy." An interesting choice of words for one of the main players in the GOP's attempt to hijack the Senate on a parliamentary technicality in June.

The assault trial of one of the temporary party-flippers continued, and featured the long-awaited release of the surveillance tape of the defendant Sen. Hiram Monserrate and his girlfriend Karla Giraldo. You can watch it here. The prosecution contends that the tape clearly shows a stricken women desperately ringing the downstairs neighbor's doorbell (confirmed by that woman in her potentially damaging testimony) and trying to hang on to a banister and before being violently dragged away and out of the building by Monserrate. The defense, which says it will analyze every frame and pixel of the tape, will insist that the victim was drunk and therefore resisting going to the hospital, and that the Senator used "reasonable force, but not violence" to get her there. You can watch and decide for yourself. Personally, I think the defense has a lot of 'splaining to do.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Make Art, Not Tout

Reader McCarron recently wrote: I will never understand paid tout sites. Isn't the fun, skill, and ultimate aim of the game to pick your own winners/have your own opinion? Why pay someone else to tell you what to think?

I wholeheartedly agree with the notion that, at least at my modest level of play and though the money is always nice, a large part of the reward from winning is the mere satisfaction of getting it right. I replay in my mind the moments at which my brilliant deductions were first formed, to be later cultivated and assimilated into a winning ticket. Or two.

Having said that though, no one forces you to go to a tout site; and besides, guys like my buddy at Discreet Picks have attracted a loyal following of knowledgeable players with a spot play or two a day accompanied by smart analysis and insight which can be ultimately worthwhile even if that particular selection doesn't work out.

But where I personally have been starting to have a problem with touting is at the track itself; and, recently in particular, at Saratoga. It's not like at Belmont where you can't hear a damn thing. I'm hanging out in the backyard, the TV's are blasting and first, you have the former Siro's show before the races with some of the wisest handicappers in the game going through every race in a fair amount of detail. Serling, Crist, even Beyer was there for the Woodward. Guys who are not always modest with their opinions to be sure.

And then, the damned bell, reliably counting down the remaining seconds of my active life, rings 18 minutes before the first, and here we go again with the analysis. We don't even get Jan Rushton anymore, just more opinions. It gets oppressive to me after a while, I'm like, enough already.

I'm not begrudging or belittling those people who like this stuff, and it helps willing beginners, and others, to get involved (which of course is part of the point, and I don't recall the last time I heard any track handicapper say that a race sucks, I think you should sit this one out). But I do think I'm in the majority at the track - and I'm talking about the real horseplayers - who are fiercely independent and competitive, and who are just not particularly interested in having anyone - even (especially?) smart guys like the aforementioned - telling them who they should, or should not, bet.

Besides, handicapping is a purely subjective endeavor; everyone has their own theories, their own approaches. I consider it to be a form of art. The past performance lines are rows of data which can be interpreted in countless different ways, any way you'd like....none of which, in the long run, is likely to do you much good considering the high random element to the results of most races. There's rarely any right or wrong here, only after-the-fact. Your opinion is as good as anyone's.

At museums, some people like to follow tour guides, or they rent headphones with recorded explanations that tell you what a painting means or suggest how you should react to it emotionally. That's fine if that's your thing, but they don't blast it over loudspeakers at the Met. So I think that tracks should similarly rent out headphones, so those of you who wish to can listen to other people's opinions, and the rest of us can not only concentrate and think for ourselves, but we can also bask in the sounds of the rustling of the trees, the clomp-clomp of the horses walking down the path, the excited murmur of the crowd, the approaching thunder in the distance....or, at Aqueduct, the songs of the gulls, the roar of the jets, the anguished cries of "blood clot," the familiar happy cacophony of the video slots.....

Racino - and Governor - on By and Bye

Two weeks past Labor Day, and we're still waiting for the Aqueduct decision. Halloween would be a fitting next target date.

I imagine that the Governor Paterson no doubt has his mind elsewhere at this time anyway, given the astounding revelation that President Obama personally signed off on a White House request - conveyed twice to the governor - that he not run for a full term next November. Paterson, who, it has been reported, hired a campaign manager after the first time the request was conveyed, continued to be defiant on Sunday. "My plans have not changed." [NY Daily News]

All of this made for a particularly bizarre and awkward scene on Monday, when Paterson was amongst the state delegation greeting the president himself as he visited the Capital District. Aside from the Belichickian handshake pictured here, Obama's body language is being dissected in videos like this and, in a more blatant instance, this.

I wrote at the time that Paterson's remarks alleging a racial bias in the press amounted to political hari kari, and it certainly wouldn't surprise me if that was indeed the final straw for a White House which the governor bucked when he bypassed Caroline Kennedy for the Senate. Man, Paterson must rue the day that she announced her interest in the seat. He was riding high in the polls then back in December, and it's been 'watch out, below' ever since (even if, as I've contended, much of the criticism was unfair).

Even if the Obama Administration has nothing more to say on the matter, it has cleared the way for Andrew Cuomo to challenge Paterson in the primary....and, hopefully as far as I and any rational person is concerned, nudged the hate-mongering former mayor of NYC towards sitting it out (so he can continue making his fortune exploiting the fears of 9/11). Paterson's resistance aside...and the Times reported on Monday that, in private, he is being more realistic....the governor's lame duck period has officially begun.

I still find it absolutely shocking though that his approval ratings are as low as they are - most recently at 20%! I mean, really, that's child molester territory for a politician...especially for a Democrat in New York! Paterson is not the only governor hurt in the polls because of unpopular measures taken to deal with budget crises. Not as badly as Paterson though. Jon Corzine is at 34% or 40% in New Jersey, depending on which poll you believe. Ed Rendell is down to 29% in Pennsylvania, and it would probably be lower if more people knew about that $84K maiden race at Philly Park! That's pretty bad, but still almost 50% higher than the governor of New York.

I think there's something else at play, seriously. We're not issuing IOU's in this state; his administration has been basically scandal-free (well, there was that little brouhaha over the statements after Kennedy withdrew), he kept the damn bastards in Albany to straighten out their little parliamentary problem, tried to dock their pay, and is credited by some for spurring the settlement. Yet, still, there's been no bounce at all.

Of course, those remarks on race didn't help, and of everything, he probably deserves his fate for losing his cool in that case. Still, I think there's something else, besides any resentment based on race, which I'm sure must be at least somewhat of a factor (though he fails the approval test even with African-Americans).

Here's my theory; wacky perhaps, but here goes: I think that those Saturday Night Live skits in which he and his handicap were mercilessly lampooned, just had to have a devastating and lasting effect on his perception by the public. Most people just don't follow state politics, even (especially?) many of those who closely track the national scene. It's easy for those who don't know a person to have their perception of him/her shaped by comedy and satire; I imagine that the Tina Fey skits had an effect too. However, Ms. Fey merely repeated and rephrased the former governor of Alaska's own words; Paterson was cruelly mocked for being legally blind, period. And, unfortunately....and I want to word this carefully.....but, let's be honest, the governor does not make a good appearance in his public speaking, and probably does nothing to dispel the image of him as portrayed both on TV and, now for 392,000 views on NBC's website. (And that's just for the first of the two skits.) So I think there are those whose opinions of him will never change. And it seems as if the governor will not have the opportunity to make them do so.

- As long as we're already off-topic, I'll briefly mention that State Senator Hiram Monseratte's trial for slashing his girlfriend with a glass started on Monday. Monseratte's fate will be determined by the judge instead of a jury, at his own request....a strange one considering that it's the same judge who remarked early on that the video evidence makes the blood boil. The prosecution will introduce hospital workers who will testify that the victim initially told them that it was no accident before recanting her story. The Senator is invoking the Claudine Longet defense.

“He stumbled in the confines of a small and pitch-dark room....In that instant, water splashed on Ms. Giraldo, startling her, causing her to jerk with an upwards motion, colliding with Mr. Monserrate’s hand, causing him to fall backwards onto the floor.” [NY Times]
Now, that's worth a skit on Saturday Night Live!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Sunday Notes

In the 10th, Paniolo (12-1) makes his second start, for trainer Tom Bush, and I figure you could do much worse than have this horse at those odds. The streaky Bush has two winners and two very close seconds out of seven starters at Belmont, including Imperial River ($32.40), who kicked off that $33K super last week. This son of Invisible Ink (Thunder Gulch) never looked comfortable after being checked early, locked in on the rail and under what the chart describes as a firm hold throughout, then weaving greenly in the stretch. Becky's Kitchen, the race winner, was a fast closing second in the Summer Stakes at Woodbine on Saturday.

Paniolo has some highly unusual breeding, inbred as he is 3x3 to Conquistador Cielo. He's out of a Marquetry mare who's a half to the dam of the nice older stakes horse Wild Gams, and has some classic turf breeding further back in the pedigree; his sixth dam is Linaria, an Irish Oaks winner and two time Irish champ.

However, marring Paniolo's PP's is the 0-28 in the 2nd Start category for trainer Bush right there in black and white in the Form, and emphasized in the Closer Look comment.

First of all, that seems to be odd statistic, and I wonder if it's more of statistical anomaly than an indication that the barn is somehow lacking in this area. What's the logic....that a trainer may put too much emphasis on the debut and doesn't give them enough time to recover? Perhaps with some barns, but this one is just 11% with first timers over the last two years. So I'm not sure if the stat means much, or not.

And secondly, that stat is just plain wrong. Unless I'm misreading something, Formulator is showing me that So And So won the Lucy Scribner Stakes at Saratoga on August 24 for Bush in what was his second career start. So I'm not sure what's up with that stat, unless it means something else (horses that are still maidens making their second start)? In any event, someone at the Form should look into that; and I still think the horse is worth a few bucks at that price. Bwana Brave (9-2) finished well for second in his grass debut, for David Donk, who's had a couple of sharp maiden grass runners recently in Shrimp Dancer ($5.90) and runner-up Sachem Road.

Off to the Jets-Pats game, have a fantastic day!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Belmont Notes

- Linda Rice, this year's Saratoga training champion, is 0 for 10 at Belmont, and winless with her last 26 starters overall; all but three of those went off at odds of 8-1 or lower. And only three have finished as well as third.

- In the second on Saturday, McLaughlin starts the first-time starter Muhaaseb. I was following the follies of this barn's debut runners at Saratoga, but he did have a winner here at Belmont in Forty Moons...albeit in a four horse field of all first-timers. I'm still wary though, especially for this son of Ghostzapper, the first-year sire who hasn't yet had much success at all. In fact, he's hasn't even had many runners, only 12, with three winners; one of them, Golden Ghost, a minor stakes winner.

Of course, that's not a surprise given that the sire himself only raced twice at two, and didn't achieve greatness until he was four. So, we'll have to wait and see how his progeny develop....though, at $125,000 a pop, the 2009 average sales price of $101,000 isn't going to do.

West Point debuts Quiet All American (Forest Camp), a $225K purchase earlier this year. Nice looking horse, check it out.

The third race seems to have been written specifically for Chief Export (3-1). It's for horses who haven't won since March 12; and this one last visited the winner's circle on March 11. So, Contessa drops him in from open company after claiming him for the same 16K tag. The trainer may also have noticed that he finished just a length behind his Starforaday in the July 30 race at Saratoga, and that one has since stepped up and won two in a row. Band of Thunder (5-2) was a close second in this class last time out, and was claimed, for Ken Ramsey, by Michael Maker, 30% first time off the halter. Completes the cold exacta, EZ game (ha ha).

In the 10th, Double Domino (5-1) will look for some running room this time for the Toddster and Kent D. This son of Stormy Atlantic was stretched out second off a year layoff in his last, but was completely bottled up for the entirety of the stretch run. Still, finished just 1 1/2 lengths behind with a career high Beyer; looks like good value at his morning line in his third race of the form cycle.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Wonk Attack

I was on the NTRA site, checking out the Breeders Cup posts by fellow members of the Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance (I'm doing the Sprint, but can't yet think of anything to say), and I stumbled upon a post by Jeremy Plonk, who I seem be seeing more and more of lately. "Ever wondered how a well-known public handicapper attacks a race card?" he opens.

Hmmm...well, no, not really to be honest, but OK, that might be interesting, who is it? Andy Beyer? Hank Goldberg? Steve Davidowitz?

Beginning tonight and every Monday night through December, you'll get your chance to ride shotgun alongside me as I dissect the live racing action from Remington Park. It's part of an exciting new venture between Remington Park and the handicapping-based website, of which I founded and am managing partner.
Oh. I should have known; after all, we've seen that he's not shy about using his paid gigs to promote himself and his various other ventures.

As you might recall, Plonk earned himself a permanent spot in the LATG Hall of Shame last year when, while live blogging his live blogging of Filly Friday, I caught him taking down a favorable pre-race comment on a horse after it ran poorly, an egregious violation of blogging ethics which calls the veracity of the transcripts of his live blogs and chats into serious question.

Shortly after reading this post, I got an email from the Breeders Cup publicity folks about a new "Wagering Microsite." The Breeders’ Cup announced today the launch of BreedersCup360, a specialized website focused on all aspects related to wagering on the Breeders’ Cup, it announced rather clumsily. For a moment, and for whatever reason, I thought that this was going to be a site tailored to wagering novices, something to help make it understandable and engaging and get them involved.

But instead, it's another wonkfest, and a biggie. Or maybe I should say, Plonkfest, because there he was again!
In the weekly “Breeders’ Cup Lessons Learned” blog, I’ll be discussing the personal bull’s eyes and misfires that have gone with playing every Breeders’ Cup since the 1984 inaugural.
I'll be waiting with baited breath for that.


Yeah, well, I'm a FREAKING moron, I write a post to mention two trainers, both of them win the next day, and did I have either one of them? For heaven's sake. Granted, it takes a lot to get me to bet on a workday. But it surely wouldn't have killed me to at least throw a few bucks on Kimmel's first-timer Non-Compete ($33.60) in the 5th. This barn was five-for-20 with debut runners in maiden claimers, and you can make that he had another in the 9th which didn't win.

But that race was won by Dominic Galluscio, now a perfect three-for-three at Belmont; a natural hat trick in my book. Not beating myself up as much on that one, as I don't really look at bottom level maiden claimers like that. But still. Galluscio has two on Friday who I'll take a look at. But at this point, one starts to think 'how many can he win in a row?' This has been a solid barn all year at 22%, and after a two-for-32 Saratoga meeting, things figure to even out. And that should be the case for any local barn that was faced with the increased competition upstate.

Belmont Notes

Wins at Belmont on Wednesday for a couple of trainers who seem to be coming alive after enduring some rough stretches upstate. Khancord Kid ($10) graduated in the third, on the grass, for Kimmel. This barn was 1-for-32 at the Spa - with most of those at single digit odds - before winning on closing day with Billions Boy in another maiden turf event. Khancord Kid made it two out of the last three. He's by Lemon Drop Kid, out of a Storm Cat mare who's a full sister to the dam of Half Ours, now standing at Taylor Made for $12,500....where it will take 4,880 488 (thanks) successful matings to make back the $6.1 million that was paid for him.

Dominic Galluscio took the second with Only A Vision ($8.20), his second winner in as many starts at Belmont after enduring a 1 for 28 stretch at the Spa. I was really gonna pick this one here, I swear, but I didn't have time to I'm counting it based on intent. (After making fun of Teresa when she told me she was going to the Rangers' first preseason game, I ended up going myself.) The July 24th race from which this horse emerged was a super duper key race, producing four winners, a second (and that horse won its subsequent race), and a third from as many starters.

The 9th race chart is one of the most unusual you'll ever see. Gravitational was 3-5, Hard To Explain was 9-2; and the next shortest price in the full field of 12 was 12-1. Yet the two clear choices ran 11th and 12th, with the favorite fading after setting the pace, and Hard To Explain getting vanned off after pulling up early. The hard to explain superfecta, with Imperial River ($32.40) on top for Tom Bush, returned over $33,000.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

More Crap

Of course I'm not suggesting that there's any logical reason that ESPN should televise Breeders Cup prep races instead of college football. Why would they? But the thing is that the empty VP suit who I quoted in the last post is the same one who said when ESPN first entered into the BC deal:

"We can promote this with the horse racing we already have, across platforms, and promote it all year round and create a presence that it's never had as the Super Bowl of thoroughbred racing." [NY Times; Oct 25, 2005]
Clearly, after showing a reasonable amount of interest in the first year (though less than a maximum effort in my view at the time), ESPN has failed to live up to its word. So, I can understand why you'd say 'whatever,' but I think it's certainly fair to criticize the network even while acknowledging the business sense of its programming decisions.

And, with four more years left in the deal after this year, what's the over/under before/after year that the main event itself gets shifted to The Deuce? Does that really seem so incomprehensible? After all, the Friday program is already on ESPN2 even though there's no other meaningful sporting events to cover on that day.

Also, I think that the Breeders Cup itself is partly responsible for the downgrade in coverage (and totally so of course for the decision to team with ESPN in the first place). In the initial year of Win And Yer In, the schedule was totally manageable, the format understandable, and the races had an air of importance. It was something that fans could follow and get a grip on. But now, with like 40 some-odd races (?? - I don't even know, nor care, how many there are to be honest), and with supplemental fees a deterrent to automatic qualifiers going to the big show anyway, the series is totally devoid of meaning. So who can blame ESPN for not bothering?

In any event, the Breeders Cup has big problems above and beyond the fact that its network partner has not pulled its share of the load. With the handicap division in shambles (if not virtually non-existent), the sport's biggest star (in North America, anyway) not coming (and the remaining one a creature of synthetic tracks), and, for the second year in a row (thanks to the decision to run the races at Santa Anita in consecutive years), the dirt races' legitimacy as true championship tests in question, the Breeders' Cup is in danger of becoming irrelevant in 2009 even to its own committed fans.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Football Crap

On several occasions have I written in favor of the idea of having a major horse race televised in conjunction with a football game; in particular, when an idea was floated a few years ago to have one at halftime of Monday Night Football (or, as is the case tonight, maybe between games). So it might be expected that I'd be pumped about ESPN's intention to televise either the Lady's Secret (first choice, with Zenyatta if she's still unbeaten) or Goodwood (Mine That Bird, presumably even if he's still winless since the skies opened up for he and Calvin Borel at Churchill), between college football telecasts on Saturday evening, October 10.

And in a different situation, I might see this is as a nice step forward by the network (especially if it were accompanied by any creative efforts to involve fans in the outcome of the race, which surely will not be the case). After all, there's certainly a chance that some casual or even non-racing fans may stick around between games to check out the race (scheduled for 7:30 PM, prime time in the east) and perhaps be drawn to watch the Breeders Cup.

However, in the context of the rest of the announcement of ESPN's prep race TV schedule, excuse me if I'm highly skeptical of their true motives. This fall's schedule continues ESPN's diminution of the sport, with no races for six important weeks, ignoring the entire Belmont meeting, and with most of the races that finally will be televised not even shown on the main network. So to me, the between-games race seems more like a token gesture; a bone - and not a very big one at that - thrown at an industry and a sport which clearly has very low standing. After all, those Santa Anita races on October 10, plus two from Keeneland, were deemed not even worthy of ESPN2, and were instead dumped onto ESPN Classic (!). They'll try to appease us with a few minutes of coverage on the big network between games (the following game generally starts at 7:45, so don't expect much in-depth analysis after the race). Indeed, only a single hour of full racing coverage - the Spinster and that all-important Bourbon Turf for two-year olds- will actually be on ESPN prior to the Breeders Cup all fall (the big Woodbine races on October 17th will be on ESPN2).

ESPN vice president Len DeLuca said:

"With racing on ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPN Classic we feel we can engage sports fan [sic] of all varieties to generate the buzz and excitement we are looking for leading up to the Breeders' Cup in November."
Well, it seems as if Mr. Len DeLuca thinks that us horse racing fans are a bunch of fucking idiots. That's like Paramount Pictures saying that they plan to release the next Eddie Murphy movie direct to the Fox Business Network to try and diversify his following. Seriously man, give me a break. ESPN is sticking horse racing on their other networks because it's low priority amongst its properties. Period. So please, don't give us that crap.

Odds On the Big A

Even as Governor Paterson reportedly has his recommendation on the Aqueduct racino in hand (this reader says that he actually has two to consider), at least one of the bidders is still taking its case to the local community around the track. The Queens Chronicle reported last week that SL Green/Hard Rock made a presentation on Thursday.

“Hard Rock is the right balance,” [Pres/CEO Marc] Holliday said. “Its recognized brand and quality entertainment will attract younger and older players across the stratum. People flying in from JFK will say, ‘I hear there’s a Hard Rock, I want to see it.’”
One of this group's big pitches is that they'll be the first to generate a revenue stream (“shovel-ready, in the ground, the day after the award.”)

And thanks to the reader who alerted us to this article in Crain's which, more importantly than comprising yet another virtual press release for Steve Wynn, contains, towards the bottom, a handy pocket guide to the six bidders, the financial portion of their bids (or at least what is known about them), and the ups and downs of their proposals.

This is a tough call; handicapping without the Form as I said before. I can't say I have a favorite; neither a particular personal preference, nor a clue as to the most likely winner. But I'll give it a shot and take the Crain's piece one step further by coming up with a morning line.

Aqueduct Entertainment Group (3-1): Competitive bid of $251 million (contingent on 7,650 machines; $301 million with 10,000), a plethora of local connections on the real estate/construction side, and approval by local unions could compensate for the lack of brand name recognition of gaming partner The Navegante Group. Presence of Senator Malcolm Smith's longtime confidante Rev. Floyd Flake doesn't hurt either.

SL Green/Hard Rock (4-1) - Boosted its bid to $275 million, and has the Hard Rock brand name as mentioned above. Manhattan-based realtor SL Green has been endorsed by several local unions. But, as mentioned by Crain's, they were passed over in favor of Delaware North the first time around.

Aqueduct Gaming (6-1), Buffalo-based Delaware North's group, has rallied late with a stepped-up publicity effort and a major community initiative after appearing indifferent early on (though it's original $100 million upfront offer remains intact with an additional $200 million to follow). The addition of Harrah's adds an experienced operator and an interesting cross-marketing twist which is probably not allowed under the now-disappeared MOU. And, like the two bidders above, Aqueduct Gaming has been reported to have reached accommodations with the unions. So I listed them as the third choice on these merits. However, a part of me wants to list them as the rank outsider - I'd be pretty damn shocked if the state goes back to the company which dropped out after failing to raise the money last time. And, as I've mentioned several times, given the reports of an investigation by Attorney General Andrew Cuomo into lobbyist Patricia Lynch's dealings with the Assembly Speaker, I don't know if her involvement here is going to help or hurt.

Steve Wynn (8-1) has offered $300 million, but he was the only bidder of the six contenders to receive a bad grade from the hotel unions as reported by Jim Odato in the Times Union last week. Whatsmore, the scale of his building proposal is laughably ridiculous, and it wouldn't be ready until 2011. He'd be the favorite if the decision is based on the number of newspaper and online articles each bidder has been featured in. But, quite simply, he sometimes comes off as a nut.

Penn National (12-1) might be worth a ducat at long odds. No local connection here makes them a dark horse. But a $250 million bid (as reported elsewhere though not in the Crain's piece) puts them in the ballgame, and the company is an experienced gaming operator with a solid balance sheet which would probably do as competent a job as anyone else.

R. Donahue Peebles/MGM Mirage (20-1) didn't increase its $150 million bid, and doesn't have a lobbyist; good luck with that. Whatsmore, no local flavor and MGM Mirage has had some well-publicized financial woes (though things have been looking up of late). Would be a major surprise.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Sunday Morning Notes and Nuts

Oh yeah, they're back at Belmont, first two days in the books, two days of awful weather, sloppy tracks, off-the-turfers, and around 7,200 people in attendance, combined. Welcome to what NYRA still bills as the Fall Championship Meet ("you lie!"). At least the weather is beautiful here on Sunday morning; great day to sit inside and watch football.

Belmont is featured in the Own This City section of Time Out New York magazine; perhaps a result of the recent marketing and PR efforts of the revamped communications department at NYRA. The writer got most things right, but not everything. She says, misleadingly, that "you can wager as little as $1 on most races, and even ten cents on the day’s final race." And she asserts that jeans aren't permitted in the clubhouse, and that the races are "about a minute apiece." Makes it sound like a fancy-schmancy quarter horse track, maybe the distinctive Steve Wynn design.

Then the article degenerates into a discussion of lewd horse names of the past

Horse names are the new porn pseudonym! Try two of our fail-proof formulas.

The hook from your favorite song + your drink of choice = Heartless J├Ągerbomb.

Or your favorite candy + sex position = Starburst Cowgirl. You’re set, Sweet Child O’Wine.
Huh? Horse names are the new porn pseudonym? Well, any publicity is good publicity as they say. I guess.

- The Aqueduct racino saga goes on, with Labor Day being the latest missed deadline. If news reports are accurate, Governor Paterson was to have received the recommendation of his advisors by the holiday; but, with the process shrouded in secrecy, we're handicapping without a Form here. Two of the three leaders who will ultimately make the decision were in Albany when the New York Senate was in town for a special session on Thursday to try and pass some mostly non-controversial legislation (though not two bills related to the racing industry).

But it seemed pretty much business as usual. NY Senate G.O.P. Blocks Stronger Albany Ethics Rules read the headline in the Times. With a senator mourning the death of his father, the Democrats were one frustrating vote short of the required 32 votes to pass legislation. The Republicans objected to an amendment which would stack a key campaign finance committee with Democrats. And while perhaps the GOP had a valid point (though the fact is that the Democrats have earned their majorities and positions via the popular vote), you'd still think they'd strive to avoid headlines such as these which figure to haunt them in November 2010.

The Democrats withdrew the legislation altogether figuring they'll have the numbers next time. However, with Senator Hiram Monseratte's trial for assaulting his girlfriend set to begin Monday, who knows what the near-term future will bring? This trial definitely goes in the "highly anticipated" category given its significant political implications, the sensational nature of the charges, and the potentially incriminating video said to exist. Monseratte turned down a plea bargain deal under which he could have retained his Senate seat and, presumably, his committee chairmanship and stipend which were restored to him after he flipped back to the Democrats after the coup. So it's full steam ahead, and I'll be keeping an eye on this one here.

- The Rangers have opened their training camp, and a reader sent along a note about one-time Blueshirt Eddie Olczyk hitting a big Pick Six at Hollywood Park. "Every squirrel finds a nut every once in a while, so I just happened to get lucky." On a $166 bet, Olczyk collected, according to this article , some $500,000, a pretty jumbo nut indeed!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Final Stretch

Here's some sights and sounds from Saratoga on Saturday night, the first of two nights of the Final Stretch Music Festival; eight bands did their thing in various nooks and crannies around downtown. In the past, the music wrapped up by 9:30 or so, but it was moved back to 7 to 11 this year, making it a bit more festive than in the past. It's quickly become a staple of the final weekend, and thus far, it hasn't yet been diluted by excess expansion, like at some certain other annual event in town. However, though I do think that five weeks at the races would do, I'm no longer in favor of Labor Day coming back downstate. In fact, it's become perhaps my favorite weekend of the meet, and the Final Stretch festival is part of the reason.

These guys were kinda cute - the Two Bits String Band, playing in front of the Eddie Bauer on Broadway. The guy playing his tie is what did it for me.

Happy Balky and The Good Livin', in the parking lot of the Ben and Jerry's down on Putnam Street. The singer - the one with the really nice voice - is Brittny Kissinger. She was billed as a former star of the Broadway stage. I was naturally skeptical about that, but, in fact, she played Annie in 1997 and even appeared on Saturday Night Live.

And this homegrown duo, Phantogram, was definitely the buzz band of the night, with a large group hanging around even between sets. In fact, I see that Phantogram is doing a couple of shows here in the city this week. Not for free though, and I don't think that the Mercury Lounge will have quite the same ambiance as the driveway of the Adirondack Trust Company under a full moon in Saratoga Springs. Not even close.

- Well, I guess that's really it for this summer music season; and this year, I saw, absolutely free, and in no particular order - David Byrne, Black Moth Super Rainbow, Ian Hunter, these jazz dudes (and a dudette playing the part of Miles Davis), Dan Friel, Mountains, Scanner, Joni Mitchell John Kelly, Here We Go Magic, Bachelorette, The xx, Blank Dogs, The Pains of Being Pure At Heart, Steven Bernstein's Millennial Territory Orchestra (with Vernon Reid and Bernie Worrell), The Luminescent Orchestrii, Ribbons, Q-Tip, Fucked Up, The New York City Philharmonic, The Walkmen, School of Seven Bells, the legendary Mission of Burma, and the indefatigable Dinosaur Jr., on tour for the foreseeable future, and coming to a town (or country) near you. (And, not for free, The Pretenders, Cat Power, Juliette Lewis, Joe Morris, Hercules and Love Affair, future stars Screaming Females, and Dinosaur Jr., again.)

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Odds and Ends

I got a little beat up over comparing the fractions of the Woodward to the Haskell on the grounds that Monmouth is a faster track, and that's a fair point. Still, while we can quibble over a few tenths of a second, the Haskell was fast too; so was the Mother Goose for that matter - six furlongs in 1:09.29 is still quick, down a straightaway or not. So my point remains that she ran basically the same race in the Woodward as she has in her four races for Asmussen...and really, if you look at her pp's, all year long too if not quite as fast early on in the year.

Now, Team Rachel is hinting that Rachel Alexandra seemed tired before the race, and that her training regimen was interrupted by the bad weather. A reader reminded me that she threw Borel during the warm-up, (though reader o_crunk says she was just getting sick of his hotdogging).

But who knows if Macho Again really would have gotten by had the race been a bit longer. Sure looked that way, and that seems to be the common wisdom, especially now in light of the excuses we're hearing from the winning team. But you never know, and can't really make assumptions. Maybe Borel was thinking about how he was going to celebrate and took his foot off the pedal in those last couple of strides when the colt really seemed to surge. I dunno, given the determination that the winner showed, I think she would have taken a piece of his left ear off before she let him pass.

- I think I was pretty good with my over/under of 30,000 for the crowd, though a couple of thousand or so short with my actual crowd pick. I think NYRA did pretty well to draw some 9,000 more than last year; and it's remarkable how easily they handle a crowd of that size there. It was a bit strained at 39,000 on Whitney day, but the lower 30's are a cinch. They announced over 50,000 on the Spinner Sunday, which we know is malarkey. But I thought they had at least as many actual bodies in the house as they did on Saturday.

- Johnny V took the shorter route home on Pyro; that's the long and short of the Forego. I had runner-up Kodiak Kowboy, who took the overland route with Gabriel Saez, to start off pick three's and four's, and I'm really sick of losing to Sheikh horses. Pyro got a Beyer of 103.

Saranac winner Al Khali is the 4th graded stakes winner of the year (from eight overall) for Medaglia D'Oro. Easily the top second-year sire by earnings, he's 4th on the general list behind Giant's Causeway, Tiznow, and Distorted Humor. I loved Al Khali in this race, but fell a nose short of nailing a $48 double when 7-1 Chorus Music got nailed at the wire by Ketubah in the preceding race....that one hurt.

Dublin is the first stakes winner for rookie sire Afleet Alex; it had been a quiet year for the Preakness/Belmont winner with just seven winners, and a couple of minor stakes placings, from 35 runners to date. They pretty much walked home in the Hopeful; it took the winner 40.13 seconds to get home, final furlong 13.44, ugh. Dublin is out of the Grade 1 winner Classy Mirage, who is, in turn, a half sister to the Grade 1 winner Missy's Mirage.

- Linda Rice threw everything but the stable sink into winning the training title, as I'm sure you noticed from all of the coupled entries you saw from her over the last few days. The Toddster has the numbers, so Ms. Rice had to scrounge for runners.

"I'm looking at the horses standing in my barn and not sure if I can follow through, so I was concerned the last couple of days because I didn't have the right horses in." [NY Daily News]
I'm happy for her; a training title obviously means far more to her than to Pletcher, at least from a business standpoint. To get that close and fail would be particularly tough for a relatively small barn like hers; that as opposed to guys like Pletcher who have the sheer numbers to compete for the title every year. But if Richard Dutrow had said that he was concerned about not having the right horses, but that he was running them anyway because of some personal goal, he'd get slammed for putting his own self-interest ahead of his horses' welfare.

Feeling Macho

I've personally witnessed many dramatic finishes in stakes races in my day. However, those instances in which those final desperate lunges were of true historical significance are singular moments that are few and far between. The Belmont Stakes of 1978, 1998 and 2007 come to mind; Forego's championship-clinching rally to nip Honest Pleasure in the 1976 Marlboro Cup is another. Rachel Alexandra's desperate win in the Woodward is a worthy addition to that list.

But what I think I'll remember most about the race is the roar of the crowd of 31,717 as the filly strained to hold off her pursuer. We were standing behind the clubhouse seats around the eighth pole, managing to catch a glimpse of the action as they went by. From that point, attention turned to the TV screens, and the crescendo grew from there. Women and men, old and young alike all around us were shouting, screaming, absolutely pleading, begging, imploring her to make it home. It was as loud and urgent a cry as I've ever heard at a racetrack. I'm sure it got the attention of any spirits, be they human or equine, who make their home in the rafters of the historic track these days.

I was amongst those who wasn't expecting a least not in the sense of it being a competitive race. I was surely wrong when I said it wouldn't be worth the trip, as it turned out. So, what's the explanation for the close finish? Did she bounce? Has her arduous campaign finally caught up to her? Was it the result of a difficult trip (and if so, was it one which could have been avoided)? Or did people like myself simply underrate her opposition; putting more importance in Beyer figures than physiology?

The obvious question about Borel's ride is why he would get involved in a pace duel with a horse like Da'Tara. There was concern before the race that the boys could gang up on her with speed from the outside and force her to the front. But Da'Tara?? He broke from the rail, and was not expected to be an early factor. (He ended up being eased for the second race in a row....can Maggie Moss please buy this one for $5000 before someone gets hurt?) I'm really not much for second guessing these guys riding 1,000 pound animals, but why wouldn't he just let that horse go on; doesn't he read the Form? It seemed as if he had a chance on the turn to take back, tuck in, and let Pass the Point do the dirty business up front.

However, I think that Borel rides this horse the same way every time - with a cocky swagger that's gonna get them beat one of these days. Just as he was 3-4 wide pressing a quick pace in the Haskell, or head and head from the outside with Big Drama in the Preakness, he rode his filly as if she just can't lose, showing that he just doesn't need to care about trivialities like lost ground or fast pace.

And the fact is that she's run almost identical races in the three she's won against males, at least in my view. A big deal has been made of how fast she ran early on Saturday; but her opening fractions of 22.85 and 46.41 are not much quicker than those in the Haskell (22.99 and 46.43); and remember she was three wide on the first turn that day. Her three-quarter split of 1:10.54 was actually her slowest since the Preakness.

And once again, it was on the final turn for home where I believe she separates herself from the rest. For others, the drive for home has already begun by then; but Rachel Alexandra is always well within herself at that point. Once again, Borel was just cruising here; while Prado was full-out on the hapless Pass the Point. She disposed of him with a mere flick. The home stretch is the point at which thoroughbreds running on dirt start to slow up, this remarkable filly included. But for her, the earnest running has just begun, and when she re-breaks coming out of the turn, it's usually enough to open up an insurmountable lead.

This time though, she had less margin for error. Macho Again, a horse which I've admittedly totally disrespected to this point, trailed early, and had to run three sub-24 second quarters just to reach contention; including a third quarter split of 23 flat as the filly was loping along. However, helped in part by a ground-saving ride by Albarado, Macho Again was able to sustain his rally and give the crowd the yips in the closing yards, getting the last furlong in 12.49 (as opposed to 12.81 for the winner), and earning a Beyer figure of 109 that one should take with a grain of salt considering that it was the only two-turn dirt race of the day. Nice guess, Beyer boys....though that figure ain't worth the paper it's written on as far as I'm concerned.

In any event, I'm going to say that Rachel Alexandra ran her usual race, and give this colt full credit for the effort. I'm not going to make the same mistake of underestimating him again. In fact, given his record, another Grade 1 win for him, and he could crack that top 1,015 of all time! Whatsmore, given the subsequent achievements of some of the horses who have lost to the filly, I expect a huge effort from him next time, no matter where he runs.

- Here's a clip from the paddock before the race. You may recall that I criticized NYRA when Rachel Alexandra made a truncated trip around the walking ring at Belmont, thus disappointing many of the fans who had been lured to the track specifically to see her. This time, they made a complete extra loop, so as to give all of the many fans assembled around the paddock a chance to see the star of the day. So, nice to see that somebody listens to me!! (Now, if I can only get my wife to do so....)

Monday, September 07, 2009

The Late, Late, Late Pick Three

Drove back home after the races yesterday, though not before stopping at Saratoga Springs State Park for one last BBQ. Lots to say about the Woodward and the rest of the weekend, but there's just one last chance to get even, so let's get to it.

[Well, I spent all this time on these races and writing this post, and now my 9th race single and top selection in the 11th are both scratched. Damn, I'm pissed!!! Well, I'm letting this fly anyway, just because I wrote it, and will weigh in with a revised pick three suggestion at the bottom]

In the 9th, the Glens Falls, Winter View (5-1) looks to bounce back for trainer Jonathan Sheppard after finishing sixth, albeit by 1 1/2 lengths, in the Dick the Delaware. Five-year old daughter of Thunder Gulch was two wide first turn, three wide on the second, and widest of all while circling the field on the final turn for home. I think that the failed to menace comment in the Form understates the threat she seemed to pose rallying down the center of the track. However, it was a fast pace, a 12 second final furlong after a slow pace, into which she was trying to rally and she fell a bit short as mentioned behind winner Caprice (4-1), who saved ground every step of the way. Julien Leparoux, who was aboard for the mare's three prior race, all wins including two graded stakes, is back in the saddle here.

Bubbly Jane
(10-1) won an overnight stakes at Belmont in her last, and that race has come back strong - second place Borrowing Base was third by 3/4 in a restricted stakes; third place finisher Belle Allure was a big second here the other day in a similar affair; and 4th place finisher Nehantic Kat won the Yaddo; money prospects. Mushka (7-2) may have a slight class edge and is reunited with Kent; but she's never won in eight tries in turf stakes races and may very well be overbet in this spot.

The 10th is the Grade 1 Hopeful for two-year olds. A reader mentioned recently how it used to be that juveniles already had established form to decipher in stakes races this time of year. But like the once-significant two-year old stakes at Arlington and Monmouth over the weekend, this race mostly qualifies as an entry-level allowance.

But one exception here is Backtalk (5-1), winner of three in a row, including the Sanford here way back in July. Not only did he run by the competition after being extremely wide on the turn, he physically towered over his opponents. Son of Smarty Jones and half-brother to graded winner Bsharpsonata should have no problem with the added ground, and has the tactical speed and a long ways on the backstretch to get good position from the 13 post. Enumerate (6-1) overcame trouble to battle the top choice and finish within a neck; modestly-bred son of Proud Accolade tries to make it three out of four of the weekend's Grade 1 stakes for Asmussen (who used to train Pyro, the 4th one).

After that, it's just a guessing game really with horses coming out of maiden wins and stakes at lesser tracks. Prince Rooney (9-2) beat nothing in the stakes at Mountaineer, but sports a classy Beyer for Asmussen. Dublin (8-1) has the best Beyer of the maiden-breakers; 4th place finisher Discreetly Mine came back to win by six. Overlap (15-1) earned a more modest number in his graduation, but won in a classy manner cruising around the field four wide on the turn; runner-up Fayoum finished second by a neck in his next race. By Chapel Royal, Overlap is a half-brother to the Louisiana Derby winner Kimberlite Pipe.

In the 11th, Senegal (6-1) gets a firm turf course, and his best career effort has come under these conditions. Son of Will's Way got caught three wide in that effort two races back and finished determinedly to get the show spot over Todo K (7-2). The latter turned the tables on a soft course last time, though he failed by a nose after a grueling stretch drive and makes his fifth start in nine weeks. Western Connection (5-1) has been pretty consistent on grass, finishing just behind the aforementioned two in his last two. Johannesbull (3-1) rallied a bit after a slow start in his only try, at Gulfstream in January. That race has come back to be very weak; stand against.

Pick three -

Race 9 - 6
Race 10 - 13 (A)/6/8/10/12
Race 11 - 7 (A)/9

Well, this now goes from a big play to a little fooling around wager. I'm going to single Bubbly Jane in the Glens Falls - just think that the top contenders are all flawed, and that the field is uninspiring. She comes out of a good race and looks like she'll handle the added ground. I'll stick with my Race 10 selection, and go unenthusiastically for the 5 and 9 in the finale, sticking with my intention to oppose the morning line favorite. Good luck and have a great day.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Here I Come, Boys!

Rachel Alexandra, with her game face on, heading to the paddock yesterday with assistant trainer Scott Blasi.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Saratoga Notes

The weather is just Del Mar-spectacular up here....better even, as you don't get the morning cloud layer that you do out there. Blue skies, no humidity, and perfect temperature; NYRA couldn't ask for better. Now, if the people will only show up today. Honestly, it seems rather quiet around here - our hotel in Albany, which does fill up with racegoers on Travers weekends, is empty. And Chez Sophie, where we had a farewell dinner last night (it's closing at the end of the month), was only around three-quarter filled when we arrived for dinner after the races. So hopefully, the masses will descend upon the town this afternoon, but we shall see. A lively crowd of 16,325 for Friday's twilight card, after sparse crowds to start the final week of the meeting.

Took advantage of the late post time and drove up to Lake Moreau for some solid hiking and a swim in the lake. The state park has a myriad of hiking trails for every taste, and is always well worth the short trip to Exit 17 off the Northway.

Lots of action in the trainers race on Friday, as Pletcher jumped out to a two victory lead when his totally dead-on-the-board Interactif (6-1 morning line, $33.60) dominated the With Anticipation in his first try on turf and beyond six furlongs. He's by Broken Vow out of a Broad Brush mare, and has Personal Ensign as his third dam. But Ms. Rice roared back with two winners of her own, and you can forget about that thing about none of her winners paying less than 9-5. Us bettors can be slow sometimes, but we eventually figure things out (at which point the trend is usually about to end). Amazingly, her two first-timers ran 1-2 in the 6th (Gitchee Goomie, $5.40); and dropdown Thoroughly Holy ($4.90) was an easy winner in the 8th. That completed a solid $46.60 double for me after Leamington ($15.40) took the 7th for Graham Motion, finishing the meet strong with a run of 7-3-2-1. (He'll start Bullsbay in the Woodward today.)

Another winner for Mike Hushion, now nine for 24, and six of his last 11! I don't quite know why I didn't have first-timer Lovely Lil ($12.20), live on the board from his 10-1 morning line. Sometimes things just seem too obvious. This NY-bred two-year old daughter of Tiznow is one to keep an eye on after a very impressive win, bounding down the lane with aplomb to a winning time of 1:03 3/5, and a Beyer of 81.

Great stretch drive in the 9th, as Tobruk ($15.20) and Here Comes Art went at it nose to nose in a smashing 12 second final furlong at the end of the mile and three-eighths turf marathon. You just don't see them finish like that at this level on the dirt when they go that far....which is why they shouldn't bother even writing those races.

And after the 9th, I fell victim to one of the oldest and most anachronistic rules in the book. I liked the late double at Arlington, but right in the middle of making the bet, the self-service machine just cut off. Other would-be bettors around me suffered the same experience. I looked at the clock, saw it had just turned 7 PM; and then I remembered that, by state law, NYRA cannot accept any bets on-track after that time. Someone's gotta change that law for when the racino finally opens, don't they? No harm done, though just barely as the horses I wanted to bet ran 2nd and 1st; but another reminder of how the racing laws in the state have helped to hold NYRA back for decades.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Who's Number 768?

We were driving up the Taconic on Thursday, and happened upon WPDH, 101.5-FM in Poughkeepsie. And like many classic rock stations like to do on Labor Day weekend, they were counting down the greatest songs of all time; in this case starting at #1015 in honor of its frequency. I find it a rather silly ritual, always ending up as they do with the usual suspects in the top ten.

More interesting to me is to hear what they pick at the lower end of the spectrum. That's when you're likely to hear a somewhat forgotten gem which you may not have heard in years. It's kinda silly though; I mean, how do you decide which song is 768 or 767? And who exactly is making that call?

Nonetheless, things were going really well at first. At #768, I'd Love to Change the World, by Ten Years After, has some homophobic lyrics, but the usual great lead guitar work by Alvin Lee. Long Distance Runaround, by Yes, followed at #767, and they even let it run into Fish (Schindleria Praematurus); a nice bonus there. After that came Story In Your Eyes by the Moody Blues, which is a great song, though the album which it's from, Every Good Boy Deserves Favor, wasn't nearly as good as To Our Children's Children's Children. They're actually on tour to mark their 45th anniversary. They played in NY, but I just don't do the fossil rock thing. They were one of my favorite bands at one time, but I couldn't imagine going to see them now under most circumstances.

But the best-of list started to go downhill at this point, especially once we got into the 750's. Van Halen, Aerosmith, Pearl Jam. I just never, ever got into those bands, perhaps because of an extended progressive jazz phase commencing in the mid-70's. (Though I must say that I liked the Pearl Jam song, Alive, and would consider revisiting them if you can suggest an album.) There was an awful instrumental by Pink Floyd, another band which never caught my fancy - I've never even owned a single copy of Dark Side of the Moon - and that really bad Led Zeppelin song with the calypso break.

Then, it got outright sadistic - Scorpions segueing into Bob Seger, perhaps the most mediocre rocker of all time. Jeez, were they trying to kill me? Could My Love Does It Good or Billy Joel be far off? Welcome relief came with the Beatles' Helter Skelter, but then of course, in the vicinity of Defreetsville on Route 9, the station faded away, thanks for that.

Similarly, I know people like to propose top ten lists of the greatest horses of all time, an endeavor I find particularly fruitless considering that I wasn't around to see the best horses of the past. So who am I to rank the horses I've seen with Kelso or Native Dancer or even Secretariat (I was around, but too busy going to the trotters or listening to Moody Blues albums.) I'm just not a big list guy I guess; probably related to my aversion to award shows, some deep psychological scar perhaps.

I don't know if even Illman or Plonk are wonky enough to list their top 1,015 horses. But like with the music, it might be fun to consider the horses vying for, say, that coveted #768 spot. Has to be horses with some measure of accomplishment; but not too much. Maybe a horse like Any Given Saturday. Or Bandini. Roses In May, Flower Alley, Wonder Lady Anne L, or Henny Hughes.

It's a silly exercise, I know, just like with the songs. But, as I occasionally like to do here, it does has a semi-serious point. Other than Rachel Alexandra, none of the entrants for Saturday's Woodward would even be faintly considered for the top 1,015; not even close. Even Einstein, considered by some to be the best male handicap horse, and purchased yesterday by Frank Stronach, wouldn't crack that list in my opinion. I think that helps to put this race in perspective. The filly, clearly On The Threshold of a Dream, has probably already cracked the top 150 (even the champion Curlin is only at around #238 in my view), and, with people speculating that she could be the best filly ever, we're looking at possible Top Ten material. If she is just half of what we think she might be, this race should just be an easy walk in the park. Jess Jackson's claim that this race will help put her in historical perspective is empty and specious considering that, barring some dramatic improvement in form, these names will all be forgotten in just a few years and thereafter to Our Children's Children's Children, never to appear on any lists on Labor or any other Day. There may be only one horse currently in training, in this country anyway, high enough on the list to provide any historical context for Rachel Alexandra. Unfortunately, she's racing out in California; so Go Now, Mr. Jackson, and take thee to the Breeders' Cup after the filly takes care of business tomorrow.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Not As Easy As It Looked?

Pursuant to the last post, I just want to make clear that I hope I'm wrong about the crowd. NYRA's marketing department is doing everything they can, and deserve a break after a tough one with the weather last week. And, I'll put my money where my mouth is, and contribute to the attendance tally by paying the three bucks admission rather than using my owner's pass (if I'm still in a good mood)(and why wouldn't I be, walking into Saratoga on a beautiful Saturday afternoon!?).

But though you guys make some good points about the lack of buzz about Curlin and his not having beaten any horses to that point with the prestige of a Kentucky Derby winner (and, in fact, having run twice in Dubai. Do you think that Jackson will go after the bucks and send Rachel Alexandra out there too?), I agree with this commenter regarding the ways in which Labor Day weekend is not conducive to a big crowd at the upstate track. But I'd be happy to eat crow (and the three bucks) on this one.

I read some smart guys today seriously discuss betting against her, and Haskin proposes one of his typical mythical "I don't really mean it" cases against. And I have to say that, in retrospect after the running of the Travers, I'm no longer thinking so much about this being such an easier spot like I was before. There are a couple that I think could run well, though not, as I'll discuss below, the horses considered by the morning line-maker to be the top challengers.

But when I went back to watch the Haskell, I got the same impression of Borel and his filly simply toying with that field that I did watching the race live. Four wide on the first turn, they pressed Munnings through six furlongs in 1:09 4/5, a full second and a half faster than any other two turn race that day; and still, Borel was the picture of confidence, if not outright cockiness, cruising merrily along while a full three wide on the final turn before skipping away from Summer Bird, who saved ground all the way (on a rail which seemed to be fine towards the end of the card), and came back to dominate the Travers with a 110 Beyer. (That despite running the final half mile in 51.70; this was a race that fell apart pretty badly it seems, thus my change of heart about its quality relative to the Woodward.)

So, even though those three-year colts she's been beating just ain't that much, the way she dispatched them means that I just don't see her getting beat here. Getting back to the competition, Bullsbay is the 6-1 morning line second choice (Rachel Alexandra is 1-2 if you haven't seen). I think he's a horse that just caught lightning in a bottle with an absolutely dream trip in the Whitney; and I find it hard to believe that this five year old, who doesn't have a layoff line since a year ago today, would suddenly run a career best (by seven points) 107 Beyer. (Not that the fig wasn't the fig, but more that the horse just had a really good day.) I also don't care for third choice Macho Again (8=1), on the grounds that I don't think he's that good; and ditto Cool Coal Man (12-1).

More interesting to me would be Past the Point, at 15-1, surprisingly, to me, the longest shot in the field. This horse has never been close to the same, especially in the speed figure category, since his wrenching second to Curlin in this race last year. However, his comeback race at seven furlongs earlier in the meet was solid, and he certainly seems to love this track. (Note that though the Form shows trainer Eoin Harty as being 15% sprint to route, he's 1 for 25 in the category over the last 12 months.) And It's A Bird (10-1) has won his last three two turn races on fast tracks, all with 107 Beyers. He has the same running style as Rachel Alexandra, so we could see early on if he has what it takes. My feeling is that he won't, and neither will anyone else; maybe these two can spice up some exotics which will really need some spicing up! And I must admit that, though I still think her owner is being a jerk about the Breeders Cup, I'm not rooting against her anymore, OK? (At least in this race.)

- On Wednesday, Bonavento (Speightstown) ($13.40) was the 4th debut winner for the Toddster (from 28 starters), and 16th overall thus keeping pace with Linda Rice, who has started less than half as many starters. Pletcher's first-time winners have paid off well at odds of 5-2, 5-1, and 6-1; and he has three close second (within a length) at odds of 4-1, 6-1, and 11-1. Certainly wasn't like that here a few years ago.

For Linda Rice (Canadian Ballet, $7.20), it was her 16th winner from 48 starters, an even 33%. I've seen Andy Serling tweet tweet about how overbet her horses are, and indeed, she's had many starters in that category, especially some first timers in the last week. However, none of her winners have been less than 9-5, and she had enough price horses earlier in the meet to give her an impressive ROI of $3.61 and an average win payoff of $10.80 (coming into Wednesday).

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

I'll Take The Under

I'm told by a reliable source up in Saratoga that the over/under on the attendance for Rachel Alexandra's appearance in the Woodward on Saturday is 35,000. I think that's high; 30,000 seems more like it to me. Last year, NYRA was able to attract only 22,572 for Curlin's appearance in the same race despite an all-out publicity effort. Do you think they'll be able to draw some 13,000 more this time? (Of course, I'm talking about actual attendees, not the full-of-baloney crowd figure announced for the Mother Goose, inflated by at least 25% in my humble but highly experienced opinion.)

Granted, my source and I agreed that Rachel Alexandra is probably a bigger draw than Curlin was....a notion which, if true, is, in my opinion and with no disrespect intended to the filly and her followers, a pretty pitiful reflection on the efforts of this industry to promote its biggest event and showcase award...the one we debate and argue over throughout most of the year. After all, if that is indeed the case, it basically means that the Breeders Cup Classic and Horse of the Year award don't really add up to jack shit when it comes to the public consciousness. Preakness + Haskell trumps BC Classic + Horse of the Year? That shouldn't be, regardless of the spectacular nature of her victories, and despite the fact that she's a filly beating boys.

Still, the Saratoga meet as a vacation destination basically ends after the Travers in my view, as evidenced by past Labor Day weekend crowds, and reinforced in part by the sparse crowd under perfect weather conditions this past Monday. I believe that it would take a mammoth event to draw fans back up there on the last weekend. We already had plans to go because we've come to enjoy this time there - the crowds are thinner, I find that the fields are generally full, and the weather tends to be better (the forecast is glorious and probably even a bit unseasonably warm). And the Final Stretch Music Festival in town is awesome. Almost a reason in itself to come. (And note that its hours have been moved back to 7 - 11 PM this year.)

But no way I'd make the trip specifically to see this race. Are any of you? In a far, far more perfect world, perhaps she'd be facing opponents like Big Brown and/or Street Sense, Hard Spun, or Curlin himself. Then, I'd be up there in a would I'd guess some 50,000 other people. But to see her face this field? NYRA is certainly pulling out all the stops. But as I said last year, you can't market in a vacuum. And this is basically the main problem that dogs this industry - the early retirement of its stars, and the complete lack of any sustained rivalries.

So, NYRA can tout the historic nature of the filly's probable victory in this race; Jess Jackson can bluster about finding her place in history; Steve Asmussen can tell us with a straight face that she'll need to be at her best. Perhaps she is the greatest filly of all time as some are saying. Too bad she won't be able to prove it on the least not this week, or this year as long as Jess Jackson selfishly and vindictively gets his "revenge" on those of us who "forced" him to run Curlin in the synthetic Classic. And you never know how a filly will come back at four after some time off, so you can't take it for granted that she'll be the wonderfilly she is now in 2010.

Oh, and my attendance prediction? 28,743. (That's actual people through the turnstiles, not a tally by vote counters from Iran or Afghanistan.)