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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Odds and Ends

- So, doesn't the weak 9th place effort by Macho Again in the Clark serve to illustrate the mediocrity of the Woodward field that Rachel Alexandra beat, thus giving a boost to those who think that Zenyatta should be Horse of the Year?

- 4th in the Champagne, Super Saver dominated the Kentucky Jockey Club in his first try around two turns, earning a Beyer of 93 for the Toddster. He's a son of the late Maria's Mon, and what do you know? Despite having expired in 2007, he still has a Stallion Register page! Getting stats on dead stallions has been one of my pet peeves here throughout the years, so what do you know? An isolated case (as in, his stud farm is still paying the advertising bills)? Or a new trend? Super Saver is out of Supercharger, an AP Indy mare who's a half-sister to graded stakes winners Accelerator, Daydreaming, Girolamo, and to the dam of Pletcher's one-time Derby hopeful Bluegrass Cat, whose 2010 stud fee was cut from $40,000 to $25,000. His yearlings averaged a bit over $90,000 this year, not enough to sustain a fee which seemed oversized to me even in better times.

Super Saver combined with Sassy Image and Sheer Beauty, who won the Golden Rod and Caressing Handicap respectively, to complete an alliterative all-stakes Pick Three which returned $280. And you think you have to read Plonk for stuff you don't get anywhere else?

Aqueduct Notes

A double in the second at third at the Big A for the stallion Harlan's Holiday. First-time starter Launch N Relaunch ($12.80) won the second for Dutrow Juan Rodriguez, earning $26,400 towards his $350,000 price tag at auction as a yearling last fall. In the third, On Vacation ($18.40) made a successful switch to grass after five futile tries on dirt. Harlan's Holiday had seen his stud rise, from $17,500 in 2007 to $30,000 this year. He's had just an OK 2009, 6th on the third year sire list, and six stakes winners, two of them Grade 3's. And his yearling average has declines from around $92,000 to just under $69,000. So, little surprise that his stud fee was set to $25,000 for 2010.

That was a weak edition of the Demoiselle, won by Tizahit for trainer George Weaver. She's a daughter of Tiznow, the 10th stakes winner of the year for the sire. He's third on the overall sire list, which I guess was enough to hold the line on his stud fee at $75,000; that despite his yearling average dropping to just over $100,000, from over $170,000 in 2008 (14 of his two-year olds averaged a healthy $177,000).

Weaver has another horse who looks interesting in the 7th race on Sunday's card. Solvent (8-1) has shown some sharp improvement since Cornelio Velasquez jumped aboard three races back - a win in state-bred allowance followed by a close (though admittedly inside trip-aided) third to Banrock in the Mohawk Stakes. He made the switch to open company last time; but that was a mile and three-eighths. In the old days, when I was far more skeptical and suspicious, I probably would have thought that the trainer ran him in that race in order to produce an unimpressive pp line which would inflate his price for the next time, when the horse is really meant to win. Instead, I'll say that he's an improving horse who's found a jockey who fits and goes for a streaky kind of barn showing recent signs of life. (And it won't hurt his price that he ran 6th in his last.)

Buddy's Saint proved he could handle two turns.....or did he? He won the Remsen handily after taking over on the turn. His final time was nearly 1:53, and he came home in 25.98/13.49, earning a Beyer of 80, down from 101 in the Nashua.

Flashing ($8.50) took some late money before winning the Gazelle; no word if the Sheikh got in some late wagers with some borrowed funds. I took a long, hard look at this one before settling on second place finisher Unrivaled Belle, but didn't feel she had progressed (despite her win in the Test over a field which has not since distinguished itself). I know, she had a perfect synthetic excuse for her last two; indeed, that $33.20 exacta looks pretty generous in retrospect for someone who completely tossed the (slight) race favorite. Daughter of AP Indy progressed here to a career high 99 Beyer.

I was wrong about Kodiak Kowboy, a winner in his final race before going to stud. How much do you think this win, his third Grade 1 and first beyond seven furlongs, will cause his stud fee to increase?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Saturday Morning Notes

Something must be wrong. It's a big racing day for NYRA, and the weather is actually nice! I seem to remember reading a week or so ago about the possible starters for the Cigar Mile, and thinking it was going to be a full field and a wide open betting affair. Instead, just five wagering interests (and only 25 total in the four stakes)....though it is at least a fairly interesting race still. I don't like Kodiak Kowboy (2-1) at all. Still maintain he's a seven furlong horse (in spite of the Vosburgh), and I think he'll flatten out like he did in this race last year. I don't like Pyro either. Because....I just don't, OK? One doesn't have to have specific reasons to not like horses that one just doesn't like. Unfortunately, he's coupled with Vineyard Haven, who can't be dismissed in my opinion. But on the other hand, I'm still not completely sold since his two comeback wins have come in the slop. The entry is listed at 9-5, and will probably be less at post time.

Bribon (5-2) is reunited with Maragh, who piloted him to his close third in last year's Cigar Mile. Take a look at his one-turn mile form at Belmont and Aqueduct; it's a specialty distance for him, while the abovementioned all have some kind of question. Personally, I think he'd be fair value at 8-5; as the third choice, he'd be a major overlay.

Nice to see Stardom Bound back. I loved this filly with her stirring rallies from far, far back. Had her high on my Derby top ten, I'm proud to say. I hope she comes back strong, takes to the dirt, and kicks Whats-her-name's butt next year. That would be cool, wouldn't it?

However, as the 9-5 morning line favorite in the Gazelle, she demands a strong stance against in my opinion. Forget the layoff, and the fact that the co-owners hate each other. Even if she came into the race in fine form, she'd still be a total question mark in her first race on dirt after eight on various artificial surfaces. I will leave her out entirely, and use Mott's impressive Unrivaled Belle over Flashing, Milwaukee Appeal, and the improving Multipass instead.

By the same principle, you might want to take a look at Citrus Kid (6-1) in the Remsen. Neither Homeboykris (7-5) nor Buddy's Saint (4-5) have been around two turns while the appropriately-named Citrus Kid (Lemon Drop Kid - Orange Ice) won a mile and a sixteenth stakes at Delaware.

In the Demoiselle, Tizahit is rated at 4-1 for trainer George Weaver. I've followed this barn here from time to time as you may know, and we've seen him go on streaks both hot and cold. After his fine Saratoga meeting and an OK start at Belmont, he went stone cold, with just one win in 37 tries. However, recently, he's had a couple of wins from eight starters; in addition, My Man Lars was third by 3/4 at 6-1, and Molly Molly Molly was a tough luck 4th beaten only one length, at 10-1. He also had recent close calls with Monument Hill (3rd by 3/4 at 13-1) and Neversaywhen (2nd by a neck at 5-1). Tizahit has had two excellent tries around two turns, including a second in a Delaware stakes which has produced two subsequent (very) minor stakes winners. Forget the 4th in the one-turn Tempted, gets the money today in this entry-level allowance disguised as a Grade 2 stakes. Good luck and have a great day.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Death Valley (Compared To) '69

Hope that you all had a safe and happy Thanksgiving. I'm thankful that, as an unpaid blogger, I was under no obligation to write one of those "what I'm thankful for" posts. However, I can tell you that, in addition to a hearty meal and quality time with my family, I'm thankful that I was also able to experience a truly transcendent performance by Sonic Youth in Brooklyn on Wednesday night; and catch a few races on a sunny and unseasonably comfortable late Thanksgiving morning at the Big A.

A tad less than 3,000 people were on hand, with the first race going off at 11:25 A.M. I seem to recall the opener going off as early as 10:30 in the past. Forty years ago, post time was 11 A.M., and the crowd, "many of whom were attracted by the...early post," as reported then by the New York Times, numbered 35,665, a figure absolutely unimaginable at this point in time. According to the article, published on 11/28/1969, the early post was instituted in 1959 by NYRA's CEO John W. Hanes, and drew at least 30,000 each year up to that point. The largest such attendance was in 1964, with 38,284 on hand.

Two years later, in 1971, OTB began operations, and the crowd that year was 21,968, as bettors chose to spend their holiday mornings at the local parlor instead. A graph of the attendance since then would look roughly like that of Paterson's approval ratings.

In the first, the bettors fell hard for a Contessa entry; 5-1 in the morning line, they went off as the 2-1 favorite. This isn't the first time I'm mentioning that entries are liable to get overbet given the promise of two-for-one; especially perhaps on the day before Black Friday. Both Debbie's Fast Girl and Tempest Storm were dropping moderately in class after fair tries against better - and the latter was stretching out too. Clearly, neither was worthy of those odds alone, and I'm personally not of the belief that two horses who look like they should be 4-1/9-2 should be half that price just because there are two of them. Meanwhile, Elena's Princess, the 2-1 morning line favorite off a (top last-out Beyer) win in the same conditions, returned a generously overlaid $9.70 for Enrique Arroyo. There are situations in which I would have considered her to be dead on the board, but in this case, the overbet entry provided a reason to think otherwise. (So maybe if I had arrived early enough to thoughtfully analyze the race, I would have had her.)

Been noticing a lot of big dropdowns in the claiming ranks here lately; more than in the past, or am I just noticing them more? It might make sense for there to be more these days given a couple of factors - the larger purses provide sufficient rewards at lower levels; and, on the other hand, the poor economy, less racing opportunities, and the ever-increasing costs gone uncompensated due to the continued lack of slots money have owners desperately seeking the winner's circle, and willing to lose their horses to the claim box in order to get there.

But on the other hand, there are, as always, connections desperate to have a problem taken off their hands. To me, determining the motive behind the drop is the key in determining whether the race is playable. Unfortunately, it's often a guessing game.

With all of the various conditional claiming conditions, it can also sometimes be a challenge just determining whether a move is really a significant drop at all. How, for example, does a 25K NW2 lifetime compare to an open 15K claimer? This is one of the many ways that Formulator can help, as one can view the past performances of all of the horses your subject horse has competed against in its last five races.

In the second, A Zero Trap was 4-5 dropping to an open 7500 claimer off a second place finish in a 12,500 affair limited to horses who hadn't won in the last six months. Is that really a class drop? I didn't like that fact that he was dropped, by trainer Joe Imperio, to that prior 12.5K level two races after being taken for 25K in the first place. So I would have bet against him if I'd found anyone I liked. A Zero Trap finished sixth.

But in the third, there was no doubt that Formal King was dropping in class; drastically, in for 20K in his first race, for Richard Dutrow Juan Rodriguez, since running second in a NW3x allowance at Monmouth in June. I thought this one demanded a skeptical pose, for a variety of reasons but mostly out of fear as to his soundness. But Formal Gold sprinted to the lead and, though hardly dominant, was never seriously challenged (and he went unclaimed). I ran second and third, if you care.

The Fall Highweight Handicap, graded again, was taken by Cherokee Country ($26.20) - a son of Yonaguska, the leading sire in Louisiana; and it's his second stakes winner of the year, after Illinois Derby winner Musket Man.

Gary Sciacca took the 9th with Classofsixtythree ($12.20); this barn was also a close second with 56-1 Strummer on Wednesday.

- I've seen Sonic Youth a number of times over a number of fact, I'd just seen them Saturday night at Terminal 5. But seeing them at the far more intimate Music Hall of Williamsburg, with its crystal clear sound (the best system in the city that I've heard), was a whole other ballgame. Don't remember last time I'd seen them at such a small space; and in a way, I feel like I've now really seen them live. They performed all of their superb latest release, The Eternal, which came out on Matador earlier this year, threw in a few songs from Daydream Nation, and delighted their old-time fans by closing with Death Valley '69 from their album Bad Moon Rising, released on Homestead nearly 25 years ago.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

No Silver Rush

“We have five months to collect that $200 million,” says Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver in the NY Times article which appears in the print edition today (and which was leaked online yesterday). Not the first time I've heard Silver make the point that the decision as to who exactly the money comes from (and some bidders are offering more up front) is not his top priority at a time when legislative leaders and governor Paterson are locked in a battle over a Deficit Reduction Plan. And that matter is not going very well at all.

The hangup over how to close the budget gap is apparently midyear cuts in education that Senators of both parties oppose....but let me ask you this: If these guys can't agree on what is reported to be no more than around a half billion dollars of the $3.2 billion gap that Paterson is trying to close, how are they possibly going to deal with a budget gap of $10 billion or more in the next fiscal year which begins in April? That debate will start soon after this one, and I'd guess that the odds are pretty good that we'll hear the first serious discussion in the legislature of expanded gambling in the form of table games at racinos....and, eventually, a full-blown casino at Belmont.

Meanwhile, the Big A fiasco goes on; and while the Times calls it a "long-running drama," it long ago turned to farce. This article is one of those which mostly summarizes what we already know - the Senate favors Aqueduct Entertainment Group, while the Governor fancies SL Green, "or maybe Delaware North." But we're also told that Paterson's chief counsel Peter Kiernan is taking heat for the chaotic and chameleon-like nature of the process, in which bidders have not only been permitted, but encouraged, if not required, to make changes to its offers.

“There are no parameters,” said Assemblyman J. Gary Pretlow, a Westchester Democrat who is chairman of the Assembly’s Committee on Racing and Wagering. “The problem is that the process was flawed from its inception. Everyone should have been operating with common guidelines.”
Also interesting in this article is the implication that Malcolm Smith is indeed the driving force behind the Senate's preference for AEG; that despite his obvious connections to the group which were highlighted in the press from the very first day it stepped forward to express interest. And while Smith categorically denied any favoritism or personal interest in a racino job (at least in the online article yesterday....his quote to that effect is now curiously deleted in both the online and print versions), it just certainly seems quite the coincidence, and a brazen disregard for appearance, that he would just happen to land on the group as his top choice.
Senator Eric Adams, a Brooklyn Democrat who chairs the Senate’s Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee, said on Monday that Senator John L. Sampson, the Democrats’ leader, “is comfortable with A.E.G.,” but could “live with any of the others.”

“We don’t want to go in there and say, ‘Listen. This is the only person we’re going with and that’s it.’ We want to get this resolved, and we need the money in the budget.”
A slight softening in the Senate's position perhaps; still, a decision before New Year's is starting to seem unlikely.

- Deliberations in the Bruno trial begin today, and there's speculation that it may not take long. The summations took place yesterday; the prosecution couldn't do any better than comparing Joe to Tiny, the schoolyard bully. Seems a bit lame. Defense attorney Abbe Lowell turned that around by telling the jury: "..Tiny wasn’t alone. The principal was there. The teacher was there. The school superintendent was there…” This is a good summary of the key points that the jury will consider, and the arguments presented in court for and against them.

Capital At Risk

A couple of huge favorites in the middle of Sunday's card at the Big A. And though they were both easily victorious, to me they still beg the question of who exactly bets on horses like these at such prohibitive odds? And who exactly are "they" in these cases? Is it the whales? Or the cumulative effect of relatively unsophisticated small-timers piling onto a sure thing which may not look that sure to smart guys like us. Sure, Wild News ($2.90) had run very well in her debut. But that came on a sloppy track that her 388 Tomlinson suggested she may like; and there were several first time starters from capable first-out barns. I myself couldn't imagine betting $200 to win $90 on this one (though I wouldn't mind having the exacta, with 43-1 EZ Passer, at $70.50. Wild News is by Forest Wildcat, out of a winless Seattle Slew mare whose own dam is a half-sister to the Belmont winner Bet Twice.

Capitalism at Risk, the ultimate hunch bet for the tea party set, finished 7th; though Fox News showed the clip of when she ran second in her debut instead.

Idle Gossip ($2.70) was even more imponderable at an even cheaper price. Last seen running 4th at Saratoga, her fifth effort in state-bred maiden specials, here she was dropping into 16K maiden claimers in her first race in ten weeks, for trainer Carlos Martin. I know, she won for fun and might look easy in retrospect. But the drop in class has to raise questions; little surprise that she went unclaimed. (And how many times do you see a 1-4 shot head a $1,262 triple?)

- Empire Maker is down to $50,000 in 2010, from $75,000 this year. And this is a successful sire, at least on the track. He's the leading third crop sire, 15th on the overall sire list, with seven stakes winners. However, in the sales ring in this down market, his yearlings have gone from an average of $251,000 to $135,000. That didn't leave much of a profit margin for buyers. Empire Maker will now be available for half of the $100,000 he stood for in 2004.

- Mike Smith is coming to the Big A to ride Stardom Bound in her return to the races in the G1 Gazelle on Saturday.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Swift Defense, Bad Memories

The testimony phase of the Bruno trial fizzled to an anticlimax on Friday with the announcement that the former Senate Majority Leader will not take the stand in his own defense. “I’m satisfied that all that has been said, has been said."

“We did what we were supposed to and earned our pay. I’m a businessman who was in a part-time legislative position. I had a perfect right to do business based on my experience and background." [Troy Record]
The defense testimony consisted of seven witness, and was seemingly all over and done with before one could say Jared Abbruzzese.
Most of the defense witnesses, who took up only a single afternoon of what has been a nearly three-week trial, were business partners and friends of the former senator, who collectively painted Mr. Bruno as an honest public servant and hardworking business executive who was eager to help others. [NY Times]
You can read accounts of the defense testimony in the abovelinkedto articles in the Times and Troy Record among other places; but barely a word about it in the Albany Times Union; not even in their blog devoted entirely to the subject.

The paper has never been a friend of Bruno's as you may recall, and as the Senator was always quick to point out. You many remember its role in the Troopergate scandal. You can probably figure out where I stand on Bruno, but let's be honest here. The Times Union's coverage of the trial has, in my opinion, been blatantly one-sided; in one article, reporter Robert Gavin went so far as to debunk testimony favorable to the defense.

I don't know how favorable Abbruzzese's testimony, the most headline-worthy of which was regarding his beat-down at the hands of Donald Trump, will be for the prosecution. He testified that the reason why nobody knew what Bruno was doing to earn his money was because he wasn't hired to do anything in particular.
"I wanted him for his Rolodex," Abbruzzese said, though he rejected Bruno's initial request for $30,000 a month.

The senator guided him on improving his skills in dealing with people, had no fixed consulting schedule and didn't produce any written work, he said. [WCBS-TV]
The prosecution went to great lengths to establish that Bruno's duties were mysterious. But here, Abbruzzese gave the jury a simple reason to reasonably doubt that the arrangements were as sinister and improper as the prosecution suggested. He also pointed out that the grants to Evident were initiated three years before Bruno was hired (and he complained that the state did not fully meet its commitment to the firm).

Better for the prosecution perhaps is the testimony from Bruno's former secretary that the Senator blithely conducted his personal business on government time. The Daily News reported on Nov 11 the following regarding Judge Gary Sharpe.
He blasted prosecutors for repeatedly suggesting potential quid pro quos when the case is really about whether Bruno mixed private business interests with public matters - and whether he failed to disclose his business interests.
Ms. Stackrow would seem to have firmly established the former; and the prosecution did produce union officials who testified that Bruno did not disclose his ties to Wright. In fact, one witness testified that Bruno's employment status was changed from consultant to part-time employee so that he did not have to. One defense witness was reported to have testified that Bruno's employment with Wright was "common knowledge." Still, I don't see where the defense otherwise effectively countered these points, unless it did so in the cross-examinations and the Times Union didn't report it. Summations are Monday. As for a guess on the verdict, I really have no idea. Any legal eagles out there with an opinion?

- With Abbruzzese's appearance no doubt sparking (bad) memories of Empire Racing, on the same day (as duly noted by several commenters), Tom Precious reported that AEG, in an obvious attempt to sabotage its rival, has circulated emails showing that some former Empire officials, including its former CEO Jeff Perlee, stand to reap rewards should SL Green be awarded the racino prize at the Big A (Abbruzzese also amongst them according to a couple of readers). Such an arrangement was hinted at in the company's lawsuit filed against Delaware North earlier this year. As you very well may recall (especially if you've been hanging around this site for the past few years), Perlee directed Empire's cynically deceptive and negative campaign to win the racing franchise, conspiring to sell out New York's simulcast signal to Magna and Churchill, and, as this horseman pointed out, deceiving the New York horsemen (with help from duplicitous directors like West Point Thoroughbred president Terry Finley) into gaining its backing. If you were already queasy about the presence of the Seminole tribe on the SL Green team due to its brazen flouting of the law in Florida, the news that Perlee stands to make $100,000 if SL Green gets the nod should make you want to puke.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Nothing to Remember

I wrote the other day about the sharp memory that the prosecution witnesses in the Joe Bruno trial seem to have. And on Wednesday, Wayne Barr, a former NYRA board member and business partner of Jared Abbruzzese (and of Bruno in a breeding partnership), testified that he clearly remembered that he could not remember - and in fact, never really knew - exactly what it was that the former Senate Majority Leader actually did to earn those hundreds of thousands in consulting dollars from companies owned or controlled by Abbruzzese.

It was on Mr. Abbruzzese’s orders, according to testimony offered by witnesses on Wednesday, that Motient and TerreStar hired Mr. Bruno, granting him lucrative retainers worth thousands of dollars a month.

Mr. Abbruzzese also paid Mr. Bruno $100,000 through two other businesses he ran, Capital and Technology Advisors and Communication Technology Advisors, according to evidence and testimony.

Yet Mr. Abbruzzese’s partner, Wayne Barr Jr., could not describe what Mr. Bruno did for the companies. “I am not aware of it,” he testified.
His final contract, with TerreStar, began in July 2005. But officials there were unclear at the time about what Mr. Bruno’s duties would be.

“Do you know anything that Senator Bruno does?” Mr. Macklin wrote to Christopher W. Downie, a senior executive. Mr. Downie forwarded the e-mail message to Mr. Abbruzzese.

“Need some help here pls,” he wrote. [NY Times]
The prosecution is attempting to tie the lucrative consulting gigs to the grants totaling $500,000 that Bruno secured for Abbruzzese's Evident Technologies, payments considered to be highly unusual in the case of for-profit companies as I detailed here at the time.

I suppose the fact that Abbruzzese later sought the NY racing franchise for Empire Racing is not relevant to this particular case. However, a horse that Bruno sold to Abbruzzese is.
The horse deal came into focus Wednesday when prosecutors called witnesses who testified that a horse Abbruzzese purchased from Bruno for $80,000 was practically worthless. Prosecutors allege Abbruzzese paid an inflated price to make up for Bruno's being terminated from the payroll of Motient Corp. in August 2005, two months into a six-month contract that could have netted him an additional $80,000. [Albany Times-Union]
- The Queens Courier reports today that NYRA is apparently trying to bag the Aqueduct Flea Market....again. A couple of years ago, NYRA claimed that there was not enough parking to accommodate the market.
“There just won’t be room for it,” said Dan Silver, a NYRA spokesman. “It was a nice thing to have, but the importance of Video Lottery Terminals to New York racing and New York State as a whole dwarfs any money generated from the flea market.” [Queens Courier]
Of course, that's easy for him to say; he's not struggling to make a living wage by peddling goods in a parking lot. Seems as if the local Community Board is not sympathetic to the flea market either, citing a counterfeit goods raid in 2004 (well, it is a flea market after all), and the clutter.
“Anyone who goes past Rockaway Boulevard after the market shuts down can see the absolute mess left there at the end of the day."
Actually, the mess fits in rather well with the decrepit racing plant that sits behind it; not to mention the filthy netting that separates it from the adjacent Home Depot.

- Still no agreement on Governor Paterson's deficit reduction plan, and the governor today proposed that lawmakers are too scared to make the spending cuts necessary to address the fiscal crisis that threatens the state's ability to pay its bills next month. [Daily Politics] He singled out Senate Finance Committee Chairman Carl Kruger and his contention that the state could collect some $1.6 billion a year by collecting taxes on cigarettes sold on Indian reservations.

I'm going far beyond the normal scope of this blog here, but feel compelled to point out the following. The other day, Elizabeth Benjamin linked to Richard Lipsky's Neighborhood Retail Alliance blog, where it was claimed that Kruger's stance was backed up by testimony in 2005 by Deputy Commissioner William Comiskey of the State Department of Taxation and Finance that the Indian retail outlets bought 47 million cartons of untaxed cigarettes in that year alone. Based on that figure, Lipsky did some math to claim that Kruger is right, and he proceeded to ridicule the governor and members of the press who blithely dismissed his contentions out of hand. However, Lipsky conveniently ignored testimony by Comiskey just last month (pdf), in which he noted that the sales have declined every year since then, and that the "final sales for 2009 will reflect a continued decline." Comiskey went on to note that the state could have collected $825 million, half of Kruger's claim, if every pack had been stamped and taxed. However, he went on to explain (on page 4 of the abovelinkedto document if you're interested) why the actual amount would be far, far less; under $100 million annually in fact. Sorry for the tangent, but just wanted to set the record straight.

Aqueduct Notes

Mike Hushion has won six races in a row at the Big A - and seven overall when you add Saratoga Russell, who won at Penn National last week. And there he is, right on top of Thursday's card, with the one horse in the first. Bohemia Street (4-1) moves up in class and stays on dirt after winning an off-the-turf affair at Belmont. The italics on second place finisher Golden Guska tell you that that horse came back to win its subsequent race; what it doesn't tell you, and what you need Formulator (or a particularly acute memory) to know, is that he did so only after dropping into 15K state-bred claimers. Nor that the 3rd through 7th place finishers didn't fare so well in their subsequent efforts. Knowing that could be the key to success....or it could be the too-much-information that has you regretting that you read this post. Wild Conga (3-1) goes for another hot barn, that of Bill Badgett, four for nine and two seconds at the meet thus far.

Trainer Patrick Reynolds had won just four of 76 starters this year, and was winless in 20 starts dating back to July. So you're excused if you did not have the Reynolds early double for $137 at Aqueduct yesterday. Funny how we see that work out on a fairly regular basis.

Chad Brown took his sixth race from nine starters (plus two seconds) at the meet with Distant Strike ($4.90) in the 4th.

Pletcher took the Flitalong Stakes with his impressive three-year old filly West Ocean, stretching out and taking her third in a row, in her 4th career start. The Toddster is the Big A's leading trainer with nine wins from 27 starters. This filly is by Elusive Quality, out of Ocean Drive, a stakes winner on the turf herself and a half-sister to the popular graded stakes winner Sun King.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Trial and Tribulations

- Reader jk mentioned Monday's developments at Joe Bruno's trial, which is entering its third week. The Albany Times-Union has a dedicated site, a blog I suppose, set up to cover the trial, and it's an excellent resource with which to follow it if you are so inclined. Whether or not this will indeed prove to be a cautionary tale to lawmakers making decisions such as the one regarding Aqueduct as jk contends remains to be seen. The legal concept under which the prosecution is operating is considered to be a murky one, so the outcome, and the ultimate lesson, in certainly in doubt. The prosecution has presented a wide array of witnesses to bolster their accusation that the former Senate Majority Leader used his position and influence to earn some $3.2 million as a private consultant, thus depriving the public of his honest services. And some feel that testimony such as this and this, though it may not have impressed the judge, has already provided a window into the squalid doings in the state capitol, no matter what the verdict turns out to be.

I've been struck that many, though not all, of the witnesses called to testify against Bruno seem to have such lucid memories of events that date back as far as 10 years ago or more. You know how sometimes people conveniently just can't seem to recall things on the witness stand. Made me think that maybe some people don't seem to care for Joe....and then on Monday there was the story that jk linked to about Patricia Stackrow, his former secretary's, telling the court that she stole from Bruno in “retaliation for the way he treated me at the time,” calling it demeaning and degrading. As I mentioned in the comments section, I don't understand why the prosecution would want to introduce that; seems like fodder for the defense to impugn her testimony on the grounds that she bears a personal grudge. (I'm thinking that maybe she's not alone.) Her testimony of how she spent ample time on his consulting businesses would, I believe, be particularly damaging given that the judge has emphasized the matter of Bruno's alleged mixing of his private business with his senatorial duties as a key part of the case. And the precedent would seem ominous for Bruno as well.

With the legislature in special session as Governor Paterson prods them to agree on a deficit reduction plan (and with Albany dysfunction on full display), one might think that further developments on the Big A are unlikely at this time. On the other hand, perhaps the decision will come when we least expect it?

The governor's approval ratings actually inched up, to 33% from 27%, in the latest Siena poll; but, on the other hand, he now trails Andrew Cuomo in a hypothetical primary race by some 59 points, wow. The margin had been 50 points -- 70 percent to 20 percent -- between the two Democrats in the last Siena poll a month ago. [Buffalo News]

The Times reported on Monday that the Attorney General is already considering his options for a running mate. I was rather surprised to read that he would consider William Thompson as was reported. The City Comptroller may have run close to Mayor Bloomberg, but he brought absolutely nothing to the table in my opinion. I believe that the close margin was almost entirely due to anger over the Mayor's term limits ploy. Thompson ran a campaign that many considered to be, on second thought, maybe he'd fit right in.

Monday, November 16, 2009

A Decision By Horseplayers

Here's a great post on Pull the Pocket about Bill Belichick's ultimately ill-fated decision to go for it on a 4th down deep in the Pats' own territory last night, comparing it to a "horseplayer decision."

Fortunately, we can mess around and check the numbers, like a bettor does when making a value decision on a horse in the 4th. What would you have bet [on] the Patriots before the play? What would you have bet on Indy to win if they are stopped. What would you have bet on Indy if they receive the ball on a punt instead? What would you have bet [on] the Pats, if Indy scores quickly and they needed a field goal to win?

Speaking with a professional bettor who runs these numbers better than I can, said "He [Belichick] made the right call because the odds favored him. It was probably around 60-40 call - at the very least a coin flip - and nothing out of the ordinary if you run the numbers." In effect, Belichick made a value bet.
(My take is that is was a bold ploy by a team with not that much to lose considering the quality of the divisional foes chasing them. You play to win the game, as some guy once said, and Belichick was two yards away from winning this one. So, while I can't stand the guy, I don't at all disagree with the move.)

The choice between Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta may not be a "horseplayer decision" in the same sense since the deciders have nothing to win or lose themselves. However, it is a decision to be made by horseplayers; because, after all, I don't know of a single turf writer or voting employee of the Racing Form or NTRA who is not a horseplayer him or herself, do you? And this idea that there should be an option to vote for both of them is just plain unbecoming to our breed. Like betting a quinella, and what self-respecting player does that anymore? (Uh oh, just got myself in trouble.)

So, cut the crap and just decide on one or the other. Either of them will do the title of Horse of the Year proud, and neither's accomplishments will be diminished if they lose. Quit waffling, just be a man (Uh oh, probably just got myself in trouble again!), and vote for one of the distinguished ladies.

- Mike Watchmaker agrees with the above opinion, but adds: Rachel Alexandra should not be penalized for not competing in the Breeders' Cup. [DRF, subscription]
Sure, it would have been nice if Rachel Alexandra was there. And yes, the Breeders' Cup is always a fantastic event no matter who is or isn't there. But just because the Breeders' Cup markets itself as a "World Championship" event, that doesn't make it so. It has never been a requirement that you had to run in the Breeders' Cup in order to win a championship, and here's hoping that it never becomes one.
Here, I respectfully disagree with the esteemed Racing Form columnist. Is it a "requirement," as in a "prerequisite?" No, certainly not. However, once the Triple Crown has concluded, and even before so for the horses not involved, all we hear is owners and trainers plotting the interim period before the Breeders' Cup with that event in mind. And this has effectively ruined the summer and fall seasons during which championships used to be determined, turning it into a long series of prep races (the lame Win And Yer In concept notwithstanding). So as long as the Breeders' Cup exists and bills itself as a championship event, it better damn well be a crucial determinant of the year-end awards. I believe that some judicial activism on the part of the voters to encourage intransigent owners who hold out for no other reason than to serve their own interests and ego is not only appropriate, but demanded. Otherwise, we might as well scrap the whole idea of a World Championship event, and go back to the old way which, by the way, served us quite well during the glory days of the sport.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Aqueduct Notes

Been a good week for Pletcher with five winners at the Big A, including Irving Rules ($8.30) in the 7th on Saturday. I think I've mentioned that the Toddster fares pretty well with maiden claimers, a category one might not associate him with - he's 28% (28 for 100) over the last year.

Chad Brown is five for eight at the meet after Saginaw won the off-the-turf 8th. There were 11 scratches in this race leaving five runners, and this type of affair is Exhibit A in my argument in favor of synthetic tracks. While I accept all the arguments regarding the problems caused by the surfaces with respect to determining Eclipse Awards, the 99% of Saturday cards that are not Breeders' Cup days or Super Saturdays are the bread and butter of the sport, and I still don't see why they wouldn't be better off with fast tracks and without boring speed biases on a daily basis.

Mike Hushion had two more winners on Friday, and is now six for eight at the meet.

Two winners on Saturday for David Jacobson. This is definitely one of the more interesting barns to follow as we go through the winter months. Doesn't hesitate to drop them to a level where they can win; Midwatch ($13.60), a horse over whom he was suspended for a drug positive last month, was dropping from 16K to $7500, and won for the first time ever on dirt. Jacobson also is not at all gun shy when it comes to stepping up to pay the big bucks for claims, and we've seen more than just a few of those turn out to be expensive busts. African King ($8.90) is not one of those; taken for 32K at Calder last December, this three-year old gelded son of Black Mambo was winning his fifth race in six tries since (plus a second) (and the prior one in the name of Diane Balsamo while he was serving the aforementioned suspension), earning $101,000 in the process. African King has found a happy home in the lucrative 16K Starters Handicap class with its $42,000 purse; and would seem to have a ways to go there having carried just 116 pounds on Saturday.

Saturday, November 14, 2009


Just want to clarify pursuant to a comment on the last post, that I've never backed AEG's bid on this blog. In fact, I've never endorsed any particular bid, partly because of the lack of transparency which has denied us all the opportunity to fully evaluate them for ourselves; and partly because I don't really care anymore. I mean, for God's sake, just select someone and get on with it. I think that all of the groups are fully capable of running a racino at Aqueduct with at least an acceptable level of competence. It's not a particularly complicated business model, you or I could probably do it. And I honestly just don't know which model - slots in a box or a grander complex - is more appropriate for the locale. Besides, I believe that Belmont will eventually be the site of a casino which will make Aqueduct irrelevant and/or defunct (if it ever gets built).

But at this point, it seems obvious what's going on, and I would personally be outraged if the Senate Democratic leadership manages to prevail in what seems an all-too-obvious campaign to provide Malcolm Smith with a glorious send-off to easy street on Rockaway Boulevard. Perhaps AEG really has the best bid. Maybe they are truly the best choice for the racing industry, the horsemen, the fans, the community, and the state. But the state had better damn well be prepared to open up the books to demonstrate that if they are selected; show us all of the documents, and explain to us exactly why. Or else.......what? I dunno, I guess the usual consequences that the voters of New York dole out to their elected representatives for selling them out to their own self-interests. We'll re-elect them. That'll show them.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Two Down To Three? (Updated)

Governor Paterson is slated to meet in private with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader John Sampson in Manhattan at 2:30 today to discuss the Aqueduct bidding....and Tom Precious reports on that we're down to three - AEG, SL Green, and Delaware North. Or maybe I should say, up to three, since Crain's New York earlier in the week reported that it was down to two - Penn National and SL Green.

The governor is said to be favoring the bid by SL Green and Hard Rock, while Senate Democratic leaders have been pushing Aqueduct Entertainment Group, which is a consortium of Las Vegas casino company Navegante Group, construction companies, and a group tied to the Rev. Floyd Flake, a former Queens congressman who is close to Senate President Malcolm Smith. Silver, the Assembly leader, has not, as is often his negotiating style, made crystal clear his choice, but in the past he favored Delaware North. []
Each of these three latest presumed front-runners comes with its own baggage of course - AEG would be seen as a political favor for Senator Malcolm Smith, and SL Green includes the Seminole tribe which is under fire for defiantly operating table games in Florida despite their being illegal under state law. If Delaware North gets the nod, many will wonder if this trip was really necessary, and why the state simply could not have re-negotiated their prior deal once they couldn't come up with the inflated down payment.

Precious writes that "a decision could come later in the day." Maybe. Or perhaps Steve Wynn will call and say he was just kidding and he wants back in. It's just hard to take any of this seriously at this stage, so we'll just stay tuned.

[UPDATE: I was told at around 4:30 that the meeting broke off with no decision reached.]

- There are rumblings in the Florida legislature now to take on the intransigent Seminoles by simply opening the entire state to full-fledged casinos. The tribe has pissed off some formerly anti-gambling Republican lawmakers to the point where they could now be ready to authorize a full-fledged assault. (Nice to see the GOP sticking to their ideological guns. Considering the passionate resistance they have put up to gambling in Florida in the past, this seems comparable to the Party of No agreeing to a single payer system with Al Franken as Health Care Czar.)
“Florida is a gaming state, No. 6 in the nation,” said State Rep. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, chairman of the Select Committee on Seminole Indian Compact Review. “Right now we have all of the worst of gaming and none of the best.”
“As anti-gaming as I was, it’s here, and it’s not going away,” said Rep. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale. “You go to Plan B, which is free market.”

Rep. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, said “We can compete head on with the tribe. We need to say absolutely no to this compact — period.” [News-Press]

Coda (Adagio)

Rap Tale was sold at Fasig Tipton on Tuesday night for $135,000. Claimed for $25,000 from Edward P. Evans, Rap Tale earned some $200,000 on the racetrack for Kasey K Racing Stable. Not too shabby I'd say. Especially considering that she wasn't that fast. In fact, as several haters were quick to point out here (and as I readily agreed), she was rather slow. Her career high Beyer was 78. But she was brilliantly managed by my buddy Bob and trainer Bruce Brown. Even I had my doubts about her campaign at times; but the plan all along was to somehow earn some black type to go along with her sterling pedigree and sell her at auction, and it was executed to perfection. After a couple of frustrating near misses at the Big A, Rap Tale ran second in the Candy Eclair at Monmouth (with a 67 fig), and won a restricted stakes on the grass at Colonial (72). She won seven races in 29 career starts. All in all, not bad for a horse that some here suggested should be running in 4K claimers at Penn National (ha ha ha ha, imagine that).

Rap Tale was sold to an owner from Australia, where her sire, Tale of the Cat, is quite popular. With her breeding - she's out of a Pleasant Tap mare who's a half-sister to the graded stakes winners Another Review, Dance Colony, and No Review - she certainly has the potential to be a better broodmare than she was a race horse. Though that wasn't really too bad after all as it turned out.

- Excuse the shameless interintrafamily promotion, but just returning the favor. Please take a moment to check out the Head Chef's Grapes and Greens blog. The subject matter is vegetarian/flexitarian food and wine pairings, and there are recipes within that will appeal to all of you red meat eaters (even myself) as well. And, if your feel so inclined, please take a moment to leave a comment too, and tell her I said hi (since I'm not speaking to her for posting my picture).

- And a brief music note....Calling all R.E.M. fans: Make sure to check out Live At The Olympia: 39 Songs, recorded in 2007 during a five night working rehearsal in Dublin. I often find that veteran bands, when playing old material, merely go through the motions. But here, the band breathes new life into classic material going all the way back to their Chronic Town EP from 1982; as well as songs from my personal favorite R.E.M. album, Fables of the Reconstruction.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


- Zensational, appropriately out of the dam Joke, has been retired. At least Ahmed Zayat is being honest about it. "Having already won three Grade 1 races, we feel that he will be more valuable at stud." [DRF]

And there you go, in 17 brief words, just about everything that is wrong with this sport. Here's a horse who proved absolutely nothing, defeating weak Grade 1 fields on synthetic surfaces, and flopping miserably the only time he was really put to a test. Bob Baffert said: "He's incredible; he's a beast....He's one of the three best horses I've ever trained." [BRIS] What a bunch of fucking crap; I wouldn't say he was better than Midnight Lute, no less Point Given, Silver Charm, Real Quiet, Silverbulletday, Congaree, or even Captain Steve or War Emblem for that matter.

- The local Queens Courier has some quotes from sources with "intimate" knowledge of the Aqueduct bidding process who seem to think the whole thing is a joke.

“It seems like there’s something new every day,” said one source. “I’ve been involved in several deals involving a government, and I’ve never seen anything like this,” said another.

“People are laughing. It’s as if the State is saying, ‘Hey, we don’t want to give this guy the bid, so everybody match him,’” one of the sources explained.

“I’m not surprised Wynn pulled out,” said another. “He’s got bigger deals going on and a last-minute change like this complicates things.”
The Seeking Alpha blog explains how it's Wynn that's doing the laughing.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Aqueduct Notes

I don't know about that DQ in the second at the Big A on Wednesday. Sure, Run to Grand Ave., who had a nightmare trip from the start, lugged in and brushed Stormin Bud, but the contact didn't seen that severe; in fact, I didn't detect anything amiss watching the race from the pan shot the first time. The offended horse barely broke stride, and didn't appear to be nearly impeded enough to have made a difference in the result. I don't usually disagree with the NYRA stewards on these things, but this one seemed kinda weak. Tough break for trainer Bruce Levine, continuing his Belmont success with a couple of winners from his first eight starters at the Big A, including the impressive Nashua winner Buddy's Saint (who was taken down himself in his debut and was thus winning a Grade 2 stakes as a maiden).

Buddy's Saint earned a Beyer of 101, and is headed for the two-turn Remsen on the Cigar Mile card. He's from the only crop of the ill-fated Saint Liam, one of 98 foals. I thought it was his first stakes winner, but, as a dead stallion, he doesn't get a Stallion Register page.'s Maiden Watch wrote on Nov 2 that his 44 runners have made 100 total starts, recording 12 wins, 8 seconds, 16 thirds, and $468,211. And a peek at the rookie sire list shows that he ranks #11 on the rookie sire list (and that he has two stakes winners, so there you go).

"I bought him with two turns in mind," Levine told the Form; his next start will be the mile and an eighth Remsen on Cigar Mile day. Buddy's Saint is out of Tuzia, a stakes winning Blushing John mare who's a half sister to the 2003 Preakness runner-up Midway Road. And this is the distaff family of the multiple Grade 1 winning Island Fashion, who took the Alabama, also in 2003. Levine said the owner "won't sell," but we'll see if he romps in the Remsen. Personally, I think you gotta be nuts, or very very rich, to not cash out at this stage if you can.

- Just as it's usually easy to see good things in the past performances of horses after they win, so too can you sometimes look at a prohibitive favorite who ran awful and say "what were they thinking?" I believe you can say that about Sky's the Limit, an unbelievable .55-to-1 in his first race against winners in the 8th. Classic case here of the public going overboard on a well-bred horse coming off a maiden win with a gaudy Beyer. Except that this one's not that well-bred - the son of Sky Mesa sold for half his stallion's $30K stud fee at sale; and his Beyer, though solid at 94, hardly outclassed this field. Rodman ($12.60) had missed by just a nose at this level in his last with a 92; he is the third winner in four starts at the Big A for trainer Mike Hushion. This barn had a hot Saratoga and a chilly Belmont, but started heating up towards the end of the latter and is now 6-2-1 with his last 14, and both of those seconds were by a head.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The People First

Crain's New York Business reported on Monday that the Big A sweepstakes is now a 2-horse race between Penn National and SL Green; that according to a "source close to the process." Not sure how any such conclusions can be drawn at this particular time considering that the bidders were invited encouraged to submit revised financial proposals, with the deadline passing just last Friday. Especially since, according to Crain's, all five groups agreed to the governor's latest request for a $200 million up-front payment.

The article discusses reservations about each of those presumed frontrunners. Penn National is said to have "checkered dealings with organized labor."

State officials are likely to be concerned by Penn's cozy relationship with the Seafarers Entertainment and Allied Trades Union. Labor insiders charge that Penn and the Seafarers agree to substandard contracts in order to boost the company's reputation as a responsible employer and keep other unions at bay. Penn denies this.
And SL Green is said to be susceptible to a "continued deterioration in the commercial office market."
“There's a little bit of trepidation about why it makes sense for an office-focused landlord to get into a racino development deal,” says Michael Knott, a senior analyst at Green Street Advisors. “It's a little bit of a head-scratcher.”
Meanwhile, Governor Paterson addressed a rare joint session of the Legislature to implore lawmakers to make the necessary spending cuts to address a looming budget deficit of some $3-$4 billion, depending on who you believe. The governor told lawmakers that, without taking action the state will "have challenges to our State’s finances and to our cash flow in 4 1/2 weeks....Frankly, we are running out of money."
"I will mortgage my political career on this plan, but I will not mortgage the state of New York." [Capitol Confidential]
Good line. Not to minimize the severity of the crisis, but the governor was also no doubt continuing his determined drive to revive his political fortunes. Now, Paterson has hired veteran Clintonite Harold Ickes, who gives his campaign credibility and who, according to Ben Smith of Politico, has deep roots in labor and his role will be to keep them on board.

Not only does Paterson continue to raise campaign cash, but he's spending it too. Have you seen his campaign ads?

I'm telling you man, this guy is too much, I'm totally on board. This is one of two TV ads which are part of a “substantial, extended and statewide” ad run featuring the slogan “Governor Paterson: The People First.” The White House may have done better to let sleeping dogs lie.

Senate Democrats, feeling Republican footsteps in the wake of that party's showing in two county executive races last week, will be reluctant to agree during today's extraordinary legislative session to the education and healthcare cuts that the governor and his staff insist are necessary at this time. Senate Finance Committee chairman Carl Kruger, who recently suggested that the governor was exaggerating the deficit to benefit himself politically, is offering an alternative plan of one-shot type savings, plus a proposed expansion of hours at the state's racinos. Paterson's budget director Robert Megna met with legislative leaders on Monday and declared: “I didn’t think it was possible....but I’m more depressed than when I walked in.” He should check out those campaign ads, that should cheer him up.

Monday, November 09, 2009


Joe Drape's account of the Classic in the Times on Sunday was a delightful read. Seems a shame he's spent the last couple of years highlighting the negative aspect of the sport when he can be so breezy when writing about something good.....extraordinary in this case. He relates how Mike Smith "smooched in" on Zenyatta in the starting gate. I'm not sure that's exactly what he meant, as I can't find any definition of "smooched" that's not related to kissing. That, I think, we would have heard more about. But somehow it seemed perfectly descriptive of the pre-race shot on ESPN of the amazon filly packed into the claustrophobic confines of the starting gate. (The Head Chef particularly liked that.)

Once Zenyatta got clear in the stretch, Drape writes that she was "large and in charge.."

The Triple Crown winners got left first. Mine That Bird and Summer Bird, see you later. Rip Van Winkle and Twice Over, go back to Europe. The only horse left was Gio Ponti in the middle of the track. He is a salty colt who has won four Grade I races on the turf, and runs like a horse who loves what he does.

He was running another big race now, but his jockey, Ramon Dominguez, was working hard with his hands and whip to keep it that way.

Smith, on the other hand, was a passenger on Zenyatta. The only thing he was beating back was a smile. [New York Times]
I think Drape prefers this tone, because, on Monday, he was so totally giddy over the whole thing that he suggested that Santa Anita be the permanent home of the Breeders’ Cup.

Oh man, he's not gonna make a lot of friends with that attitude. (I'm just the messenger here guys and girls, I didn't say it.) I can't say that I know anyone who thinks that would be a good idea for the Breeders' Cup; and most people would suggest directly the opposite, that it be permanently consigned to dirt.

Having said that though, I think there would be a place for an annual event, perhaps alternating between a synthetic track here and a venue in Europe, for a competition between North American and European horses; more of a Ryder Cup format than something purporting to be a World Championship. Then the Breeders' Cup could be a dirt event and make (most) everyone happy. What time of year such an affair would be staged I'm not sure; perhaps in March, say in lieu of the World Cup, an event motivated completely by vanity and greed, and one which does ZIPPO ZILCH for the sport in this country (except to steal away many of our top runners and render some of them diminished, if not useless, for the rest of their career.)

"This is Unbelievable!"

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote that I had tired of the Zenyatta team's hesitation in committing to the Classic, as they seemed to be surveying the potential competition to make sure it did not come up too tough. I then opined that the waffling had diminished her rightful claim to Horse of the Year should she win the Classic, a concept which I had previously strongly defended. A reader responded:

Alan, so let me get this straight. Because Zenyatta's connections are uncertain whether they want to try the classic, she is no longer eligible for HOY, regardless of if she runs in the classic and wins by 10 lengths. Whereas, if her connections were more decisive about the classic, she'd still be in the discussion for HOY? That makes no sense, pal.
Well, it made sense at the time, at least to me. But now, after the fact, I'd have to say that the reader was right. In the aftermath of her incredible rally, it makes no sense at all. The race was what it was, and, in retrospect, it matters not what came before.

Nonetheless, I feel as if I've therefore dq'd myself from the debate, so I'll step away, at least for now. But I think it's clear that the keen anticipation for the race once Zenyatta was finally committed, the high drama of the race itself, and the delirious adulation of the fans at the track leaves Jess Jackson looking petty, and his filly's accomplishments at least partially diminished. Hanging on for dear life against Macho Again at a mile and an eighth just doesn't measure up to this, I don't care what they're running on. But I'll let you guys discuss the HOTY issue, and move on to a few other points.

The Classic was the first race of such epic historic proportion to be run on a synthetic track. I imagine that, further down the road, it will be remembered simply as a classic horse race, one just as epically dramatic and historic as any other such event, and not as a classic horse race run on an artificial surface. I'd like to ask those of you who say that you "hate" synthetic tracks to tell us what you hated about this race? Or about the day in general? What, because Summer Bird and Mine That Bird didn't take to the track? So? Progeny of Birdstone apparently don't take to the track - I'd think that's an angle you should be seeking ways to take advantage of instead of bitching about. Synthetics are another angle for your handicapping; a little more juice to spice up the game and make it interesting. That's always been a good thing as far as I'm concerned, another twist with the potential to lead to that magic key which leads you to a winner. Perhaps, instead of complaining, you should have been betting the top-synth figure horses at 24-1 or at 25-1. Dirt horses don't like the stuff? That's awesome to know when Summer Bird is 6-1, or the overrated Music Note 2-1.

- "Let's see," Trevor Denman noted at some point as they rounded the turn (don't know for sure exactly where they were due to the ridiculous camera angles that ESPN insists on employing), "Zenyatta has a lot...a lot of ground to make up. If she wins this, she'll be a super horse." He can say that again. By the time those words came out of Denman's mouth, Mike Smith and his super horse had already gained several lengths while taking the short way home on the bend. As far back as she was, Smith must have sensed he had no other choice but to stay inside. Don't know if she would have gotten there had she circled around horses. She surely saved more than her winning margin by doing so (though you can never say for sure that a champion racehorse such as she wouldn't have done what she had to in order to prevail anyway).

From there, it was a remarkably smooth journey outside towards her winning path home, testament to the skills of the rider and horse alike. She flew home the last quarter in 23.30, according to Formulator; and that came after three quarters she ran in under 24 seconds - 23.36, 23.32, and 23.89 - just to get into contention after her disastrous start. Zenyatta earned a Beyer of 112, a nice number, but surely as meaningless as the 97 and 99 she was given in the races prior.

And Denman nailed this race too. As track announcers' careers stretch on over the years, I find that what was once genuine youthful enthusiasm often turns into canned phrases that can make the euphoria sound forced. As a matter of fact, before the race, I saw this proposition bet offered:
Which call will Trevor Denman use to describe Zenyatta's move?
"Jumps in at the quarter pole" 5/2
"Moving like a winner" 11/4
"They'd have to sprout wings" 4/1
" Poetry in Motion" 3/2
(If none of these phrases are used then all wagers will be no action.)
No payoff here....Trevor Denman was as enthralled as the rest of us, and instead, in what could very well turn out to be the signature call of his career, exclaimed exactly what we were all thinking:
And what else was there to say?

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Rachel Who?

Saturday, November 07, 2009

You Go Girl!

I wrote before that I was standing against Zenyatta in the Classic - that was based on price and certainly nothing to do with sentiment. And since I just can't come up with any other particular horse that I like, how about I just root for her? After all, as opposed to a certain other owner, Jerry Moss is playing the game; and he's rolling the dice for no other real reason other than the sport of it. After all, Zenyatta has little to gain for the owner financially from a win given her gender; and then there's the presumed notion that Rachel Alexandra is already the Horse of the Year. On the other hand, she truly has a lot to lose with her undefeated record on the line. Little doubt she would have (again) crushed her stablemate Life Is Sweet in the Distaff on Friday.

But she's all in, and for that, she deserves some support. And it doesn't have to be at the betting windows. Go Baby Go.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Breeders Cup Picks

- OK, finally got to do some handicapping, and here's a few ideas for your consideration. In the Juvenile Turf, not much to dislike about Viscount Nelson (6-1), shipping in from the UK for Aidan O'Brian and the Coolmore team. Two wins in four starts, most recently a close second in a Group 2 stakes; and man, check out that breeding. He's a son of Giant's Causeway (and a half-brother to the ill-fated Horacio Nelson), out of Imagine, winner of the Group 1 Irish Oaks and 1000 Guineas, and herself a half-sister to the dual English/Irish Derby winner Generous. This is also the distaff family of the multiple Group 1 winner Triptych.

Pounced (9-2) looks good too...coming off a Group 1 win in France for trainer John Gosden. These races with the Euro shippers are a bit of a guessing game of course (as opposed to regular races). Interactif (4-1) has impressed with his two wins in two grass tries. But if you like him, don't you have to like Codoy at 15-1? Bridgetown (8-1) comes off a stakes win for the dangerous Ken McPeek; son of Speightstown is inbred 3x3 to Storm Cat, and descends from the direct female family of the Derby winner Strike the Gold (the dam of the latter is the third dam of Bridgetown. I know, that doesn't really mean a thing regarding his chances of winning this race, but you know I like that stuff.)

Pick: Viscount Nelson

- In the Sprint, I'm going to bet against Zensational (7-5), and I might have a good clue early on whether or not that's a mistake. Though Baffert was bummed about the post, and the general wisdom seems to be that it hinders his chances by making him susceptible to speed outside of him, there's not really a whole lot of early foot in here. Fatal Bullet (9-2) would seem to be the only one who could get a jump on the favorite. Tom Amoss was very down on that one on The Works this week, and I hope he's right, but only to a certain extent. I don't like him (or his name), but I need him to do his thing early. Otherwise, it could be a long minute, nine seconds.

Or maybe not. After all, my opposition to Zensational is based more on the notion that he's stepping way up in class here than from trying to predict exactly how the race will be run. The son of Unbridled's Song may have beaten older horses, but the quality of the competition was moderate at best (though that perception could change if Noble Court runs well in the Turf Sprint, which precedes this race).

On the other hand, Fleeting Spirit (8-1) has been running against some of the best (male) sprinters in Europe - I wrote more about her in this post. Trainer Jeremy Nosada will be looking for a more alert break this time, from Frankie Dettori, and this hard-hitting filly has the tactical speed to stay within striking distance even should the favorite establish a lead, and dust up her younger rival in the closing yards.

Gayego (5-2) is the obvious wise-guy selection here off his sharp come-from-behind win in the Ancient Title. He certainly seems to have found his niche at this distance for Godolphin. However, he still has some improving to do based on his Beyers, which are a tad light against several of these. He also may not have as hot of a pace as he'd like. And, he figures to be overbet; I wouldn't touch him at his morning line.

As far as the closers go, I'm far more intrigued by Capt. Candyman Can (15-1). For one thing, he's simply a tad bit faster, at least based on his Beyers. Better yet, he's been an improved gelding since a short break over the summer. Switching into a deep closing style, he's run the three fastest races of his life since then, and has done so on three vastly different surfaces - fast and sloppy at Saratoga, Polytrack at Keeneland. Can't say for sure how he'll like the Pro-Ride, but I like that kind of versatility, and anything close to his morning line makes him excellent value in my opinion.

Picks: 1) Fleeting Spirit 2) Capt. Candyman Can 3) Zensational

- Mastercraftman bypassed the Classic for the Dirt Mile, and seems worthy, on paper, of his 6-5 morning line against competition which completely belies the ridiculous notion that this is a championship race. Nonetheless, I'm of course looking for a reason to oppose the favorite.

So, how about this, from the Form's Closer Look:

Grp. 3 denouement over the left-hand polytrack at Dundalk nearly perfect; and it's hard to knock a champion 2yo and 4-time Grp. 1 winner, but the last three wins had to wait until out from under (now-retired) Sea The Stars long shadow; has the key recency Bullsbay lacks, but must note that in the Diamond, allowance types Augustusthestrong then Via Galilei were easily consumed by forcing a rapid clip; today 3yo cuts back 5/16ths and will likely have to bring that rally from mid-pack in first exposure to much faster opening fractions; O'Brien is one of the greats, but lately lacking in 'fresh-off-the-plane' strikes (0-for-11 '08-'09) in North America; value lies elsewhere.
Works for me, whaddya think? (Though that last bit doesn't bode well for Viscount Nelson.) (UPDATE: He won the Marathon yesterday.)

Ready's Echo (20-1) will probably break slowly as usual, and is likely to be last breaking from the outside. Pletcher's four-year old son of More Than Ready has run rather well in three synthetic tries, two of those around two turns. With Borel aboard, he'll likely just take him over to the rail and hope for some luck. He'll need a lot of it, because there doesn't seem to be much speed. So I'll be like Serling and say that it's my stupid pick so then I can say I didn't really mean it after he runs up the track. Midshipman (6-1) finds a good spot to repeat his front-running win in the Juvenile last year. But what's up with him having just one prep? Bullsbay (3-1) had some early synthetic success, but improved after switching to dirt. Were his two sparkling Saratoga tries an anomaly? Or a sign of further improvement to come? I don't really know, but I'm not going to try and find out at those odds.

Pick: Ready's Echo

- And then there's the Classic, a fantastic betting race, especially if you're standing against Zenyatta as I am. I will try to post about that sometime in the morning. If not, good luck and have a great BC day.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Credit Where Due (Or Not)

I've been quick to blast the New York Times for their lack of racing coverage and the highly negative perspective of Joe Drape in his continuing Happy Series on the sport. So, to be fair, I wanted to mention the fact that on Wednesday, right there on the front sports page, underneath the lead stories on the now-World Champion New York Yankees and that night's upcoming Game 6, was this story on Zenyatta. So I just wanted to mention that.

Of course, just in case you were having any thoughts that there is anything good about the sport and the upcoming event, Drape makes up for it today with this hard-hitting story on the scourge of trainers being permitted to compete after fully serving drug suspensions. So there. Not that he doesn't make some valid points, but there's no real news here, so why was it saved for this week? To cast his usual pall at one of the very few times his paper actually pays any attention to the sport?

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Wynn Loses

Steve Wynn is out of the Aqueduct sweepstakes.

Officials close to Wynn declined to say why the casino executive dropped out.

“We are confident that the state of New York will find a qualified operator to meet its needs at Aqueduct," a Wynn spokesman said. “We would like to thank our associates and community leaders for all their assistance in crafting our proposal." []
I don't believe it's because of the latest money grab by the state considering that they were bragging about all the extra cash they raised in a recent IPO in Macau. State officials were reported to be put off by a statement he recently made about the dire state of the casino industry; but the company later reiterated its belief in the Queens site. Perhaps they didn't really mean it.

The Breeders' Cup Post

If you've arrived here looking for some really detailed and perceptive Breeders Cup discussion or analysis, there ain't none here. I'm kinda torn between wanting to apologize or say "too bad," though I'm leaning towards the former since I do truly appreciate you dropping by. This is not to say I'm not looking forward to the least the ones on Saturday, as I'll be working or commuting for most or all of Friday's. (Hopefully, this will be the last time that I have to mention how much that idea sucked.) In fact, I've often written about looking at these races too much and for too long, and I'm psyched about coming in fairly fresh. But what can I say, it takes a lot of time and effort to write about the event sufficiently, and I'm just not into tackling the task this year for whatever reason. You can check out guys like this who obviously have a lot more time and energy.

And I'd guess he's not into the World Series. I feel as if this is the first Series I've really watched in the last five years, as busy as I've been blogging in the past this time of year (sometimes even for pay!). I wouldn't at all describe myself as a passionate Yankee fan, but I followed them with interest throughout the season and would be disappointed at this point should they not wrap this up. In any event it certainly makes for a tough go publicity-wise for the Breeders' Cup, especially if the Series goes the distance (Thursday night is the final game).

One reader has for the last couple of years at least now has written to suggest that the event be moved on a permanent basis to the first weekend of December, long after baseball and when the Army-Navy game is about the only game in town. I certainly like the concept of finding an otherwise quiet time slot, though it would stretch the season even longer and severely limit the possible venues (the reader suggested Fair Grounds as a permanent one). Because the way it is now is hopeless as far as getting any mainstream attention. Not only is there the Series, and college football coming down the stretch, but there's Election Day too (Bill Owens won the 23rd CD race, thus salvaging an otherwise forgettable night).

Now, as I said, none of this is to suggest that I'm not excited for Saturday. Reader McCarron wrote of Andy Serling's anti-synthetic rant on MSG101, and we've heard from some here who are disgusted enough to pass the races. And I have agreed all along that two consecutive years on the Pro-Ride was ill-conceived, resulting in defections and championship questions which will not be definitively answered.

Nonetheless, at this point, I mean, just forget all that stuff. There are still some pretty damn good races, and, in my mind, some attractive betting opportunities. In the Classic, take your pick at 12-1 among legit contenders, in my opinion, like Gio Ponti, Einstein, Richard's Kid, Quality Road, and Mine That Bird. (Also at 12-1 is Colonel John, who I don't think cares for the distance). Zensational drew poorly by getting the rail, and is a major underlay anywhere near his morning line of 7-5 in my view. (Tom Amoss was very down on Fatal Bullet on The Works tonight [and the show was also shown on MSG Minus/Plus]; said they compared the tape of his work last year to this year with unfavorable results.) With Gayego listed at a paltry 5-2, check out contenders like the improving Capt Candyman Can (15-1), or the Euro filly Fleeting Spirit (8-1). In the Juvenile, unbeaten Looking at Lucky (8-5) is stuck out in the 13 post; and second choice D Funnybone (5-2) is untested beyond seven furlongs. How about the improving Noble's Promise (8-1), or take a chance on one of the impressive looking Euros, like Radiohead (15-1) or Vale of York (20-1).

Look, synthetics are different than dirt, some horses surely like it better than others, but they're still perfectly viable surfaces as far as I'm concerned, and I too am a bit tired of the whining. It's a major factor one has to consider, but certainly no less so than the speed-favoring dirt surfaces that were in place in California in the past. And, as opposed to those who, like Serling, argue that "marginal" horses can win, the Europeans, as we've seen, have an entirely opposite view. Veteran British trainer John Gosden suggests that they actually provide a more reliable measure of what Europeans, at any rate, cherish as class in a thoroughbred.

"We like to see a horse like Sea The Stars, that can go any distance, any pace," he said. "A horse with tremendous cruising speed. And then bang! That last quarter, they just explode and go away. To me, that's what is exhilarating about the equine athlete. And these surfaces can bring that out. Zenyatta [the unbeaten American mare] is living proof of that. [Independent UK]
That's what I've always said. I get a much bigger kick from seeing them flying down the stretch than grimly hanging on after running fastest in the first part of the race, and I find the European-style of racing far more logical, exciting, and aesthetically pleasing than what we often see here on dirt.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Let's Try This Again (Again)

Governor Paterson has issued yet another request for "final" offers from the six bidders for the Aqueduct racino, with a deadline of Nov 6; this came to me from a person with knowledge of the deliberations, and was then confirmed in a report by Tom Precious on Here, Precious also confirms the information I reported here last week regarding the Senate Democrats' support of the Aqueduct Entertainment Group. I think I deserved one of those "as first reported by the blog Left at the Gate" credits on that one, doncha think?

The letter includes an important caveat: details on how the bidders would be able to pay the state $200 million within 30 days of signing a deal.

The new demand would, on the surface, knock some of the bidding groups out of contention because their offers do not include such quick payments to the state. But the letter from the governor’s counsel, Peter Kiernan, was being interpreted by bidders as a final chance to reconfigure their previous offers to ensure the big upfront payment can be made.

Moreover, the letter from Kiernan said bidders, by Nov. 6, must provide “conclusive evidence” how they can ensure payment of “$200 million or more” to the state within 30 days of signing a memorandum of understanding for the casino project. []
Seems almost like a partial do-over, some two months after the Labor Day weekend on which many of us anticipated a final decision.

Via reader jk comes this press release from Penn National regarding an agreement with the hotel union, alluded to in the Bloodhorse report last week; as well as a partnership with Russell Simmons’ Rush Communications of NYC.
The agreement with Russell Simmons’ Rush Communications of NYC brings together Penn National’s unparalleled financial stability and liquidity, role as one of the nation’s largest investors in the re-development of pari-mutuel facilities and operator of successful horse racing facilities, with Rush’s local resources, community advocacy and focus on corporate social responsibility. [Yahoo]
This is the first attempt I'm aware of by Penn National to involve a local and/or minority group in its bid. The group still appears to lack any local political entanglements though, which might help its chances as a safe, neutral choice, and one with ample experience, plenty of cash and a solid balance sheet.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Sunday Morning Notes

Made it to Aqueduct for a few races on Halloween. Absolutely nothing there has changed, not that I should be surprised given NYRA's financial situation and the endless deadlock over the slots parlor there. I've read some of the "Aqueduct ain't so bad" posts that popped up this week, and, as I've been a longtime advocate of the place as you may know, I heartily concur. But seriously, it's time for a change. A place can be a lovable dump for only so long, eventually it just becomes a dump. If the other couple of thousand of regulars would agree, I'd happily kick in 50 bucks to replace the carpeting in the Lexington Room, or the seating in the Manhattan Terrace.

As the racino saga wears on, I can't help but start to come around to the point of view that a group of readers has long been espousing here - that there will never be slots at the Big A, that a racino, and likely a full-fledged Indian casino, will rise at Belmont instead, and the Aqueduct property will soon become a mall and/or more parking for JFK.

- Got distracted by the tote board in the 6th, as I'm sometimes wont to do, and stupidly in this case. Brother Nick, 6-1 morning line and a rare starter for trainer Leon Blusiewicz, was getting pounded at a steady 5-2, and was getting bet on the nose with his show betting lagging far behind percentage-wise. Whatsmore, as post time approached, each time he would start to drift up, he'd get whacked right back down. What can I say, I'm just a sucker for stuff like that, and a sucker I was in this case, especially since I very much liked the eventual winner Groomedforvictory ($10.20). Cashed an exacta as a saver when I should have crushed that race, as Brother Nick did what he really figured to do - shot to the lead and faded, to second to last. I know, I should stop doing crap like that, but I just feel so damn clever when it works out, I can't help myself. Third place finisher Samhoon was haltered by David Jacobsen for the optional 50K claiming tag.

Trainer Dan Pietz did something that Kiaran McLaughlin hasn't been able to do lately on the NYRA circuit - he scored with a first-time starter for Shadwell, when Moojab ($17.80) ran away from the field in the 7th. The last such winner McLaughlin has had here was Taqarub nearly a year ago. Moojab's sire Smarty Jones may be a disappointment at stud thus far, but he is hitting at 19% with his debut runners according to the Form.

- Reader Steve D recommends the Horse Racing Nation site as a Breeders' Cup source, and it's definitely worth checking out. Here's the page for the Mile; even has video for some of the European races, and a lot of worthwhile nuggets if you click the links and delve in further.