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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A Mann Amongst Men

My dad, Norman Mann, passed away early Monday morning after an all-too-short and futile fight against lung cancer, an unsparing, undiscriminating, relentless and utterly merciless disease; truly a terrorist right here in our midst. My dad had been as healthy and robust as a 79 year old man could be, yet he was no match for this insipid sickness. Still on the golf course as recently as this past summer, he was reduced to utter helplessness and confusion in a matter of months. Seeing him relegated to that state over the last few weeks has been the most difficult experience of my life. Fortunately, we were able to console ourselves somewhat with our success in bringing him home from the hospital on Christmas Eve. There, he was far more comfortable and died in relative peace (content, we hope, in the knowledge that the fortunes of his beloved Jets have been miraculously and fortuitously revived, and mercifully spared from enduring the disappointment which is sure to come on Sunday).

The expected relief from the knowledge that he is tormented no more has yet to supplant the sadness of his passing. We grew apart during my stupid teenage years (which ran well into my 20's, a common affliction as I've learned of late). But though we grew closer over the ensuing years, I feel like we were still getting to know each other, and that I could only have grown wiser and kinder from having done so.

My dad leaves Honey, my mom and his wife of 57 years, his adoring family (including nine grandchildren), and a huge throng of friends. He was loved for his kindness, extraordinary generosity, perpetual good spirits, and his keen sense of humor. We already miss him greatly.

Thanks as always for dropping by the blog, and here's wishing all of you a happy, prosperous, and, above all, healthy New Year. Speak to you again soon.

Monday, December 28, 2009

NYRA Vs. The Comptroller

Personally, I don't recall NYRA ever claiming to be "financially stable," as Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli claims in demanding to see its books. I could have missed something of course, but why would it ever say that? And why would the mainstream press, both industry and otherwise, merely accept such a statement without making any effort whatsoever to confirm or dispute it (especially when it doesn't seem to make any sense)? I haven't seen a single reporter follow that claim by writing either something like: "In July, Charles Hayward issued a statement saying that NYRA was on solid financial footing;" or "DiNapoli's claim seems unsubstantiated based on NYRA's public pronouncements." That's just lazy reporting to me.

Regardless of what NYRA may or may not have said, you and I know of course that the state has been well aware that NYRA's solvency was on a timeline, and that it would not be financially stable until slots were up and running. Why else would the state have promised to provide funding to NYRA for its operational needs if a casino at Aqueduct was not up and running by the end March 2009. [DRF] In March, following the collapse of the Delaware North deal, Hayward said that NYRA would be fine though the third quarter of 2010. The latest warning comes a little earlier than that, but so has business continued to lag, not to mention the $14 million owed to it by NYCOTB.

To me, this reeks of an effort by the state to take the focus off of its pathetically shameful failure to name an operator at the Big A. And while Steve Zorn thinks that NYRA is mistaken to take on DiNapoli in his fine analysis of the situation, I don't blame the association for telling the Comptroller to take a hike. DiNapoli, remember, is just a politician who was strongarmed into the position over far more qualified candidates by an Assembly flexing its muscle against a crassly domineering new governor. And when a politician starts spewing recycled meaningless crap like "It's the same old NYRA in new sheep's clothing," then he or she is probably up to something. Financial records can be subject to misinterpretation by politicians who know nothing about the industry or how it operates, especially one with an agenda, which certainly seems to be the case here.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Day After

Hope everyone had a great holiday. Not so great of a day-after at the Big A; a gloomy grey and wet day with a lot of rain already having fallen last night. Sloppy and sealed seems a certainty.

So let's take a peek, and a shot, out west. In the Malibu at Santa Anita, Coronet of a Baron (20-1) looks like a live longshot to me in a wide-open race filled with horses with ample reason to stand against. This son of Pure Prize started his career with great promise in 2008. Plucked out of last year's Ocala sale for a healthy $550,000 (this for a horse by a $12,500 stallion), he won his debut handily before plunging directly into stakes competition. A second (by DQ) in the Best Pal was followed by his nose loss to the highly regarded Midshipman in the G1 Del Mar Futurity; and a third in the BC Juvenile Turf. Coronet of a Baron got off to a slow start in 2009 with two disappointing allowance efforts at Del Mar.

But trainer Eoin Harty took the blinkers off at that point, and improvement has ensued. Cutting back to a sprint and making his Pro-Ride debut at Santa Anita, he won an allowance, and then ran 4th in the 7 furlong Damascus stakes after a sluggish start from the rail post. Despite taking the long way around the field turning for home, he finished just 1 1/4 lengths behind the rail-skimming Smart Bid, who will go off at far shorter odds than he today. He's been off since that Nov 7 effort, but has not been idle, with six recorded workouts since that time as Harty points his colt towards this race. Further improvement will be needed, and this barn has hit a cold patch, not only 0 for its last 16, but no in-the-money finishes in that time. But the odds make him worth a wager in this spot.

13 horses but not a ton of obvious early speed; so the speedy M One Rifle (5-1) figures to have an uneventful trip to the top from the outside post. The aforementioned Smart Bid (6-1) won that race fresh off a seven month layoff for trainer Graham Motion, and also hasn't started since. Figures to need to cover more ground today from the 11 post. Misremembered (4-1) seems the class here for Baffert with two G2 wins and his narrow loss in the Clark last month. But it's his first-ever try at a one-turn sprint, and that makes him an automatic throwout as the favorite in my view. Similarly, the trainer's Mythical View (8-1) was a dominant winner of the Lone Star Derby in his last start, in May; but has never won around one turn. Ditto for the overrated Papa Clem (6-1). Supreme Summit (8-1) is an in-and-outer; he was "in" in his second in the Damascus, close today on his best try. Hunch (10-1) is unbeaten in two starts, the latest over a four-horse field of decidedly non-stakes quality; a lot to prove here. Square Eddie's (15-1) better days are behind him, or so it seems. I'm really not enthralled by any of the horses considered to be the top contenders in this race; will stick to a simple win-place wager on my top choice. Best of luck and have a great day.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Tuesday News and Notes

I was far too depressed after the Jets game on Sunday to bother watching races when I got home. And when a reader (and fellow Gang Green sufferer) alerted me to Blind Luck's win in the Hollywood Starlet, I merely babbled unenthusiastically about synthetics and her having an uninspiring pedigree. But seeing is believing as they say, so check it out if you haven't already. Vic Stauffer almost fell out of the booth as she quickly bolted away from the field in the stretch. She came home in 30.52 seconds for the final 2 1/2 furlongs (a pretty good time, but perhaps an indication that there was an illusory element to her dominance attributed to the others tiring after a quick pace), and earned a Beyer of 93; that as opposed to the 83 earned by Lookin At Lucky on Saturday. (Though I wouldn't jump to any conclusions given the drastically different paces in those races...and we've seen how meaningless these figs can be on the artificial stuff anyway.)

Blind Luck is the only graded stakes winner for the first crop sire Pollard's Vision, currently ranked #3 on the rookie stallion list (with this filly accounting for roughly half of his $1.4 million earned). Here's one stallion whose stud fee is actually holding steady for 2010, at $10,000. About that pedigree, a speed-favoring dosage of 5.22; and the only familiar name under the first three generations of her distaff side is Chas Conerly, a popular sprinter in the early 80's here who won the Fall Highweight when it was a Grade 2 stakes. You have to go back to her sixth dam to find classic names such as Honest Pleasure and his full brother For The Moment (plus that dam herself, the Irish Oaks winner Suntop). Still, we can certainly look forward to her next start, perhaps in the Las Virgenes in Feb.

Discreet Picks emailed me about Tiz Chrome, who won a 6 1/2 furlong two-year old stakes on the Cash Call Futurity undercard (and has now won on dirt and synthetic in two career starts). Baffert also trains this one, and he called him a "pretty serious horse." Tiz Chrome earned a Beyer of 97. He's by Tiznow out of a Woodman mare (in turn out of the Grade 1 winner Fantastic Look). who's a half-sister to the G1 (turf) winner Designed For Luck.

Baffert also unveiled Clutch Player on Saturday, an impressive winner in his debut, also earning a 97 Beyer. This is a two-year old son of Malibu Moon, out of an unraced Awesome Again mare. And the barn had a 4th juvenile winner on the day in Quiet Invader, who ran a virtually identical time to Clutch Player, but yet earned a Beyer of only 85. If someone can please explain that to me I would appreciate it.

- According to the New York Times, Steve Wynn was the anonymous buyer of a painting by Rembrandt for a record $33.2 million at a Christie's auction in London last week.

This time around Mr. Wynn has gone quiet. Reached by telephone on Thursday, he said only, “I’m not discussing it, I’m not acknowledging my paintings anymore.”

On Dec. 8, the day of the auction, though, Mr. Wynn called several old-master dealers and Rembrandt scholars to ask their opinion of the work, “Portrait of a Man, Half-Length, With His Arms Akimbo” (1658), experts said. [NYT]
Maybe the reason he withdrew from the Aqueduct bidding was so that he could invest his money more wisely in this way. And perhaps he'll be more careful with this one.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Charlie Changes His Tone

A couple of weeks ago, Charlie Hayward told Paul Post of the continuing delay over the Big A racino: "I don’t believe it’s a crisis." He was referring to the fact that NYRA is supposed to receive an upfront payment from the winning bidder to cover any gaps in its operating budget (though the exact nature of that payment is subject to negotiations).

However, the NYRA CEO's comments have been more dire (or at least have been portrayed that way by his interviewers) in subsequent articles, emphasizing the fact that the association may run out of money and have to close after the Aqueduct spring meeting. And in today's Daily News article, Hayward resorts to the most drastic threat in his arsenal.

"If we can't make payroll, we have to shut down. There is certainly a possibility that Belmont may not open and there will be no third leg of the Triple Crown."
That's the kind of headline-making assertion which I've already seen picked up in articles elsewhere. Hayward is, I'd surmise, being a bit dramatic here in an attempt to move things along; assuming, that is, that NYRA really is in line to receive a life line from the winning bidder as soon as it is chosen. However, given the state of the negotiations as portrayed in the DN piece - somewhere ranging between nowhere and nonexistent, to be precise - maybe he's not.
A legislative source said the "sails went flat" on Aqueduct talks after leaders agreed on a budget plan.

"The Assembly was amenable to more than one bidder, but the Senate was at loggerheads with the governor," the source said.

Spokesmen for Silver and Sampson say the ball is in Paterson's court. "It's really the governor's office that's running the whole process," Silver spokeswoman Melissa Mansfield said.
A source with knowledge of the deliberations (or lack thereof) informs me that Governor Paterson is "very upset" by the Daily News story; specifically, regarding the above criticism of his office's role in the stalemate. Some feel that his general counsel, Peter Kiernan, has favored SL Green all along and has "manipulated" the process. Paterson, I'm told, insists that he alone will make the decision, that he does not favor one bidder over another, and that he is merely trying to get all the parties to agree.

If that's the case, then the governor should consider my suggestion that he demonstrate the same kind of leadership and assertiveness that he has in his recent dealings with the legislature on the budget (not to mention in his recent and frequent appearances on local and national TV and radio in an attempt to bolster his re-election chances), and make that decision, announce it publicly, and put the pressure on the other two to agree, or to tell us all why they don't.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Snow Day

Hope everyone is having a nice and productive run-up to the holiday. Sorry for the lack of posting, but it's a busy time as you know. And besides, what is there really to write about? NYRA has been dark all week, and will continue to be so until the day after Xmas. (Yeah, I know, there was that big Derby prep yesterday (gimme a break).) Not that there would have been any racing today anyway given the snow. Amazingly, the Big A is open for simulcasting, even today with the snow piled pretty high - looks like some 8-10 inches where I am in Queens. Anyway, unfortunately, in addition to the holiday merriment, an ongoing family matter is cutting into my blogging time, and will continue to do so for the immediate future; so please excuse in advance what will likely be some light blogging for awhile.

Us Jets fans have learned to live with low expectations. Having a meaningful home game in December is always a reasonable goal to set when the season starts in the heat of the late summertime. At 3-0, that seemed more of a likelihood than a dream; at 4-6, more like a pipe dream. But what do you know, three consecutive wins later, and here we are, set to dig out the car and make our way to the Meadowlands for a big game against the Falcons. Who woulda thunk? So, whatever you're up to today, be it shopping, cooking, football watching, or the late double at the Fair Grounds, best of luck, be safe, and have a fantastic day.

Thursday, December 17, 2009


- With the news that the Shinnecock tribe has taken a huge step towards federal recognition, a reader emailed: "Who fronts $200 million for Aqueduct knowing that the tribe could put up a full casino in NYC area tomorrow?"

Good question, though it won't quite be tomorrow. While recognition is virtually assured, a public-comment period of up to six months must be held before the final order is issued. [NYT]

In addition, while federal recognition by itself entitles the tribe a build a Class II (slots only) casino on their reservation on eastern Long Island - a concept which has generated fierce opposition from the local communitythe tribe has now ruled out, additional negotiations with the feds and the state will be required for a full-blown casino located outside of the reservation; that due to a a Bush administration decision that Indian casinos must be within commuting distance of reservations - or 75 miles - so that Indians would be able to work there. [Newsday]

Nonetheless, one state senator already wants to start the process towards the inevitable casino at Belmont.

State Senator Craig Johnson, a Long Island Democrat whose district encompasses Belmont, said the state should immediately begin serious talks about the issue.

“The first topic I want to discuss is how Belmont fits into this,” he said. [NYT]
Newsday reported that Johnson wrote to Governor Paterson asking that discussions begin on the feasibility of adding a casino at Belmont Park.

A little Googling led me to The Verifiable Truth, the long-running blog which has followed, in quite fastidious and critical fashion, the exploits of the Detroit casino magnates Marian Ilitch and Michael Malik for some time. Their Gateway Casino Resorts is the financial backer of the tribe; and that's a whole other subject which I'm sure we'll be hearing, reading, and writing about should a project at Belmont move towards fruition. In a post dated Oct 12, verifiable links to a campaign filing [pdf] which shows that Malik contributed $2500 to the Friends of Craig Johnson last February. Pretty funny the way the Michigan address stands out like a sore thumb amongst the almost exclusively local contributors. Just thought I'd point that out.

Of course, the Shinnecock decision has been expected since the Obama Administration took over, and should come as no shock to the Aqueduct bidders. Still, it may very well change their perception and send the accounting staff back to their spreadsheets. Maybe they'll be the ones to request a change in the rules this time?

- A couple of polls released on Tuesday contained some mixed news for Governor Paterson. He showed improvement in his approval ratings - to varying degrees between the polls conducted by Siena and Quinnipiac University . Remarkably, according to the latter, his job approval rating is up to within nine points at 40-49 approve/disapprove; with his favorability rating up to 38-46 from 28-52. The governor continues to be highly visible; and in an appearance on CNBC on Monday, I found him to be assertive and in confident command of his facts. He has obviously worked hard along with his political team to rehabilitate his image, and, with help from the Senate, has made big strides in my view.

However, he remains well behind Andrew Cuomo (60-23) in a possible primary matchup.
“It’s strange,” said Bill Montfort, chairman of the Warren County Democratic Party. “It’s strange that he keeps pressing on. But hey, you know, Spitzer thinks that he can make a comeback, too. I don’t know. I have no idea. Nobody’s committing to anything, even Andrew isn’t saying anything. Nobody’s committing to anything because they’re waiting to see what this guy does, and he keeps going forward.”

“He thinks he can turn this around,” said Democratic consultant Hank Sheinkopf. “But look at Andrew Cuomo’s numbers. How does he even get close?” [New York Observer, interesting piece]
Paterson's best and only hope is Cuomo not running altogether. The Qunnipiac poll also showed that the governor now has a 41-40 lead over Cuomo amongst African-American Democrats. That compares [to] Cuomo’s 51-24 margin over Paterson in October’s Quinnipiac poll. And though a spokesperson from the school qualified those results as being based on a small sample, if the governor can establish a clear advantage in that category, and pick up some enthusiastic endorsement from black leaders (other than John Sampson), perhaps the AG, recalling the hard feelings generated by his primary run against Carl McCall in 2002, would have second thoughts.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Hunch Bets for Wednesday, Dec 16

Indian Joy 8th at Penn National
One Man To Beat 8th at Tampa Bay
I'm A Numbers Guy 5th at Penn National
Play The Market 9th at Beulah Park
Book Value 3rd at Penn National
The Lady Waffles 8th at Tampa Bay
Rejected 6th at Tampa Bay

Sunday, December 13, 2009

No Problem Mon

There is quite an interesting, if not possibly revelatory, assertion by Charlie Hayward in the story by Paul Post in The Saratogian (and actually originally in the Thoroughbred Times). While conceding that NYRA will run out of cash by the time racing shifts to Saratoga next summer, Hayward claims that NYRA is entitled to a share of the up front payment by the eventual winner of the Big A racino sweepstakes. "I don’t believe it’s a crisis," he said of the continuing delay. I've not heard that before.

That would lessen some of the drama surrounding the fiasco, because, certainly, the selection will be made in time for the payment to be made by June or July. Right? Huh? I mean, for sure, right? In fact, the money is included in the deficit reduction plan for the budget year which ends on March 31. [Senator Joseph Addabbo, the creep whose early 'no' vote help send the gay marriage bill down to its ignominious defeat, expressed doubt about the timing:

Once an operator is selected, it will take 60 days to work out a memorandum of understanding and another 30 days to transfer cash to the state, Addabbo said. “We risk not realizing the $200 million this fiscal year if a decision isn’t made soon,” he said. [Thoroughbred Times]
But where Hayward's optimism starts to fray is here:
A set amount hasn’t been determined and is subject to negotiation.
Good luck with that. You probably recall past standoffs between NYRA and the state when the former was on the brink. I imagine that, as then, NYRA would be presented with conditions at which it would balk, perhaps including another look at those benchmarks that a reader mentioned the other day.

Having said that though, the $30 million that NYRA got when it emerged from bankruptcy in September 2008 will have lasted 20+ months by summertime, so it shouldn't take too much cash to get it through to the time that slots go live. Assuming of course....

- The upstate Times Herald-Record reports that not only is the construction of Louis Cappelli's Concord project stalled, but his accounts payable department is too.
Some 19 contractors are owed $18.3 million for steel, architectural plans, engineering, environmental studies and demolition work for Cappelli's Entertainment City project, according to public records....."We have continually sent invoices and they are just not interested in paying.." []
As you may recall, Cappelli was relentless in his determination to press on despite the financial crisis. But it proved to be too much, and a brain aneurysm that Cappelli suffered in July certainly didn't help.

Interesting note in the abovelinkedto article about Cappelli claiming to be negotiating with Penn join him as a full partner. That company is of course one of the Big A bidders, and one which, for several reasons, makes sense to me. (Though not to Representative Audrey Pheffer, who finds their plans "a little too boxy, unimaginative and not too exciting.” [Queens Chronicle]) A deal with Cappelli might not be a bad consolation should they not get Aqueduct. They're certainly in position to negotiate favorable terms, and remember that Cappelli won a 75% cut of VLT revenues at the facility.

- I linked to an article in the Queens Chronicle a few weeks ago which contained a quote attributed to NYRA's marketing director Dan Silver for which I called him out for being insensitive to the vendors at the Big A Flea Market. He wrote to inform me that he was "heavily misquoted," and that he would never be that much of an asshole. And it's true, I've met and dealt with him, and he's a nice guy who's done a fantastic job since he took over. Should have checked with him first.

Aqueduct Sunday

Cody Autrey is at the Big A for the winter. The leading trainer at Delaware Park this year, Autrey is a regular at the Fairgrounds and on the Kentucky circuit. But, prior to this month, he had never started a horse at a NYRA track in the last five years, according to Formulator. He's a welcome addition to the claiming game here this winter, especially with Scott Lake apparently sitting it out this year. You've certainly noticed him if you've followed the racing the last two days - he has three winners in a row, and he's 4-1-1 from eight starters since racing switched to the IT.

In the first today, Autrey moves Regents Ridge (3-1, part of an entry) significantly up in class, from a conditional 25K claimer at Delaware to this open 35K affair. On Friday, the barn scored with Gentle Edwin ($14), moving him up from a 15K NW3 to one for 25K (that one first off a claim). This horse looks like possible lone speed here, both on style and Moss pace figures. He's been a bit faint-hearted in his last two, so I'd be wary at odds lower than his morning line, but I like the confident move up the ranks, and I think he could very well control matters should he break free. Desert Falcon (4-1) is another one taking a step up; this one, off a claim, for trainer Peter Kazamias shipping in from the Meadowlands. Nice form of late, and he was moved up to win his last by his prior barn; should be running at the end and could catch the top choice should he falter again.

In the third, Autrey takes the opposite tack, dropping Thenputitback (4-1) to the 10K ranks after claiming her for 14K at the Meadowlands. Some recent precedent here too - he won with Kid Freud ($4.70) off a similar maneuver on Friday. She's another one with some quick early foot, and though she may get some pressure here, I consider those possible challengers- Maggie's Miracle, She's Smokin' Hot, and even the ML favorite Iberian Gate based on her present form - to be a bit cheaper. And note how she battled gamely to the end in her races two and three back. Good luck, have a great day, and Go Jets!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Aqueduct Saturday

In the second, Wall Street Wonder (4-1) makes just his second career start on dirt, and his first for trainer John Terranova (44% in the turf to dirt category). His one dirt effort was a 12 length defeat; his next biggest margin of defeat in his ten race career was four. But he could hold a speed and class edge in an interesting entry-level open allowance. His one dirt race was in a Grade 2 stakes at Calder, where he flashed excellent speed with Moss pace figures that far outrank his competitors here; and that after a stumble at the start. He succumbed after dueling on the front end with Prince Joshua, who won the Select Stakes at Monmouth in his next start, and then, after two throwouts in the slop at Saratoga, ran a close second in a FL-bred stakes at Calder with a Beyer of 103.

Wall Street Wonder is by City Place, a Storm Cat sire (remember when they were all the rage?) standing in Florida. Though the stallion stands for just $5,000, this colt sold for $325,000 at the Barretts sale in March 2008. So I surmise that he must have been pretty impressive over the dirt surface at Fairplex Park. Looking for him to outbreak and outclass a field featuring three NY-breds out of state-bred conditions (one off a 21 month layoff) and a maiden graduate from Philly Park.

- The Toddster keeps rolling along; another winner on Friday - Every Little Thing ($5.20) in the finale - gives him a three in a row here; and he's been in the money with his last 12 (8-3-1)!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Dear Governor.......WTF??

Governor Paterson was in Queens on Wednesday, and when asked about the Aqueduct racino, he said:

“I am willing to take what ever choice that the other two can arrive at because we need the money and we need to start generating work and opportunity right here in southeast Queens." [Queens Chronicle]
Now, c'mon governor. As you no doubt know, I'm one of your biggest fans. I've praised you for consistently and loudly sounding the alarm on the deficit from the moment you took office, for showing leadership in your dealing with the Senate, and for properly taking matters into your own hands when appropriate. And, on top of all that, you're a fucking pisser too.

But what really is the story here? You've shown no hesitation in acting unilaterally when it was called for. You moved to withhold Senators' pay during the coup stalemate, and appointed a lieutenant governor even though everyone, including the state Attorney General (in extremely adamant terms), said that you didn't have the constitutional power to do so. You told the legislature that if they couldn't agree to the measures necessary to close the deficit, you would do it yourself. And now that they indeed fell short of your goal, you've declared that you're indeed going to withhold payments from localities, including schools.
"I will probably be sued for this, but I will not let New York state run out of money on my watch...." Paterson reiterated that he would unilaterally hold back the funds because the state is about to run out of cash and shouldn't borrow money from other accounts to make payments to counties, municipalities and school districts. [Times Union]
So I don't understand what exactly is going on here. Is there something we don't know? The state is so desperate you say, literally on the verge of issuing IOU's and having its credit rating destroyed, that you are resorting to measures you know may be unconstitutional. But when it comes to Aqueduct, you'll "take what ever choice that the other two can arrive at?" What the fuck is that? I know of at least one bidder that is willing to write the state a check for $300 million tomorrow. So why is it, in this case, that you haven't taken charge? Why don't you tell Shelly Silver and John Sampson who you want!? And then, tell the public too, explain your reasoning behind the choice, articulate once again the dire importance of the up front cash and continuing cash flow. Then (assuming, of course, that you pick the bidder who you honestly and objectively, free from politics and influence, feel will be of most benefit to the taxpayers), should they not go along (and why, really, if they truly have the state's best interests at heart, would they not?), let those bozos be the ones to tell the voters why they are costing the state a million dollars a day!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Top 20

Thanks to the reader who sent along this link [PDF] to a bankruptcy court filing by NYC OTB which lists its Top 20 unsecured creditors. And it's not NYRA, but rather Yonkers which leads the way with over $18 million in Shift Settlement, Host Fees, Commissions, Maintenance of Effort, & Contractual Fees.

NYRA is close behind at $14.7 million, a material sum which would no doubt come in handy with the association's cash dwindling as the slots fiasco drags on with no end in sight. There's been no news at all, and not a peep from the grapevine. You never know, but at this point, I'm not expecting anything to happen before the 2010 session of the legislature which commences in early January.

OTB's filing lists NYRA's contact as Charlie Haywood (no relation to Spencer). I mean, really, how about just a little professionalism here.

Monticello and Finger Lakes are also on the list; NYC OTB owes almost $40 million to the state's tracks and another $1.8 million to the breeders. It owes the state and city around $12 million in taxes/pension obligations/fees. Somehow, it comes as little surprise that despite the fact that the in-state tracks are owed far more money than the government (and not to mention that they supply the product which is the basis of OTB's business), it is they who OTB proposes to cut payments to going forward. There are some out-of-state tracks and a few pending lawsuits too. But I don't see this guy on the list.

- A rumor briefly swirled around this comment section regarding Joe Bruno being stripped of his box at Saratoga; but sources at NYRA said that's not the case (though it was added that final decisions on boxes for next summer will be made in the second quarter). Here's a wild guess that should the former Senate Majority Leader retain his box, he would not be the only convicted felon sitting in the area.

- I hope you hung on to those Save The Train to Belmont signs. Big trouble at the MTA with the commuter tax designed to bail it out coming up about 20% short of the mark, which was $1 billion. Whatsmore, another $143 million was cut in the recently passed deficit reduction package. With no fare hikes planned until 2011, service cuts, which Crain's New York says figure to be noticeable, could very well be next. And you gotta figure that Belmont would certainly be at or near the top of the list.

- Here's a story I find pretty weird - a House of Representatives subcommittee approved a bill which would force college football to adopt a playoff system to determine the national champion. Seriously! Of course, if there were some racing fans on that committee, they might vote to abolish Filly Friday; dump ESPN; mandate that the Breeders' Cup be run on natural dirt; force a single entity model on the industry (never happen....far too many competing interests at play); award Horse of the Year to Zenyatta; make the installation of lights for night racing mandatory; force NYC OTB to spell Charlie Hayward's name right. But I'm sure they have more important things to do!

- Kasey K has a first-time starter at the Big A on Thursday; Splitting Heirs, a $40,000 purchase at Timonium in May, debuts for trainer Bruce Brown, winless with his last 28 first-timers going back to July, 2008. This is a two-year old filly by Wildcat Heir, a highly impressive 15 for 54 (28%) with his debut runners according to the Form. He's fifth on the rookie sire list, but has by far the most winners on the list, with 37. Still not enough however to prevent his stud fee from falling from $8,000 to $6,500 (live foal, stands, nurses, and recites the pledge of allegiance by heart).

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Honestly (w/updates)

With Albany still absorbing and evaluating the effect of the verdict which made Joe Bruno a convicted felon, the constitutionality of the "honest services" law under which he was prosecuted was argued in the Supreme Court on Tuesday. And apparently, not very well for the federal government.

The 21-year-old statute, which makes is a crime to "deprive another of honest services," has recently been criticized by both the left and right as overly broad. Judging from their questions, justices from both ends of the ideological spectrum also appeared united in their skepticism of the law. Justice Stephen Breyer said the law's language could enable the indictment of tens of millions of people, while Justice Antonin Scalia mockingly said that the law has come to mean, "Nobody shall do bad things." [AmLaw Litigation Daily]
Y'know, for a guy who's supposed to be so charming and bright, Scalia has never struck me as being either. Just seems like your garden variety radical in robes as far as I'm concerned.
Most of the other justices sounded the same theme. Justices Stephen G. Breyer and Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. suggested several times that the law might be unconstitutional because it was so vague.

"A citizen is supposed to be able to understand the criminal law," Breyer said, yet it was unclear what the law in question branded as a crime. [LA Times]
I don't really understand what's so unclear here. An elected official compromises the interest of the public which elected him or her in the course of enriching himself personally.
The honest-services law, on the federal books since 1988, broadly requires that public and corporate officials act in the best interests of their constituents or employers.
Is that so complicated?

[UPDATE1: Justice Breyer added:
Complimenting the boss’s hat “so the boss will leave the room so that the worker can continue to read The Racing Form.....could amount to a federal crime. [NY Times]
Can't say I've ever thought of that one.]

Bruno was convicted on counts four and eight; the latter was regarding his "failure to disclose his participation through Mountain View Farm in a partnership with Abbruzzese involving thoroughbred race horses." But interestingly, and contrary to what was reported in some articles I've seen, this was not the count which dealt with the $80,000 (actually $40,000 cash and a $40,000 debt forgiveness) that Abbruzzese paid Bruno for a horse now generally accepted as being "broken down." That was count six, of which Bruno was acquitted. Recalling that the jury asked to hear a readback of testimony regarding Friends of New York Racing, I'm thinking that it just could be that Bruno's conviction, at least on that count (and perhaps the other as well), stemmed in large part from suspicions the jury may have harbored about efforts by Abbruzzese to influence Bruno during the battle for the racing franchise.

That would be ironic, because, as I recall, Bruno remained rather aloof during the Ad Hoc Committee process and even afterwards; and I don't ever recall him expressing any favoritism towards any particular group, Empire included. I thought at the time that maybe he was chastened by the persistent press (and blog) reports of the connection between the two men (as you would think Malcolm Smith would be wary of endorsing AEG).

And, if that's the case, it would also answer the question, which a few readers have recently posed, of just what the hell all of this has to do with racing. Not, of course, that I'm not allowed to write about it even if it doesn't relate at all. But it does.

Personally, I thought that the part of the case which involved Wright Investors (count one) was an even clearer case of Bruno depriving the public of his honest services than his dealings with Abbruzzese. Soliciting business (from which he earned commissions) from unions to whom he did not disclose that arrangement, and, as the prosecution alleged, favoring them in the course of their business before the state. Perhaps the jury didn't find the evidence of the latter to be persuasive. I certainly did.

- The verdict seems not to have damaged Bruno's reputation among his former constituents.

- Bruno resigned his position as the CEO of CMA Consulting. I'm not sure if he'll have to give up his box at Saratoga.

- Very bad weather headed this way; wouldn't be surprised if the Big A is washed out on Wednesday. [UPDATE2: The card is indeed canceled.]

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Service Interruption

We're down at my parents' place in Florida, but there's currently no internet access at the house; thus the lack of posting. Probably saving some money too, since the weather hasn't been so great, and I'd likely be sitting inside betting on races. Still here for a couple more days, so if you don't hear from me you'll know why.

Paul Post wrote in The Saratogian of the expanded racino hours that were not a part of the deficit reduction bill passed last week.

Plans called for keeping racinos open two more hours, from 2 a.m. to 4 a.m., a move that might have netted the state an extra $45 million.
Well, I support slots at tracks while holding my nose; more as an acceptance of a life line, and in the interest of leveling the playing field. But that support only goes so far, and not as far as the thought of the state relying on the folks who sit glued - in fact, literally tethered by their cash cards - at those machines at 3:30 A.M. They could make up that $45 million tomorrow if they would just choose the Aqueduct winner and collect the excess over the budgeted $200 million that they figure to be able to receive.

Nonetheless, once the governor and the legislature look at the even bigger deficits to come, there's little doubt in my mind that expanded gambling will be a key part of the equation. I mean, they agonized to enact a mere $600-700 million of real cuts; facing billions more, I think I can say that table games at New York's racetracks are a near certainty...and in the very near future too. I think you'll see blackjack at Yonkers before the first coin card is slipped into a machine at the Big A.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Chapter 9 (Updated)

This is the press release about this morning's announcement regarding NYC OTB's Chapter 9 bankruptcy filing. Here's a key portion regarding OTB's strategy for getting back on its feet. And notice that it's the racing industry, and not the state or the city, which figures to take it hit if their plan is approved.

The business plan will call for a dramatic overhaul of the NYC OTB business model. New technologies are expected to enhance customer service while increasing efficiency and cutting costs. A new bricks and mortar strategy is intended to reinvent old storefront locations while creating new, modern flagship attractions in select city locations.

Most importantly, the business plan will ask for changes to the racing laws, including a modification of the current legislative distribution scheme, which at present require NYC OTB to calculate and pay the State, the City and the horse racing industry a percentage of gross wagers placed with NYC OTB. The business plan will propose instead that NYC OTB make calculations and payments to the horse racing industry based on Wagering Commission revenue it actually receives after allowance for costs of NYC OTB's functions have been met. NYC OTB will not be asking for any changes to the legislation as it relates to payments to the City and State. Without this change, NYC OTB may be forced to cease operations, which would cause the City, the State and horse racing industry to lose all revenues that could be provided by NYC OTB.
UPDATE - NYRA responds that they have no response.
In response to today's announcement from the New York City Off-Track Betting Corporation (NYC OTB) that it intends to file a petition for adjustment of its debts under Chapter 9 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York, The New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) expects to be one of the largest creditors to the NYC OTB bankruptcy action and therefore it would not be prudent for NYRA to comment on the filing outside of the court proceedings.

Jurors On Track

No verdict yet, but the jury in the Bruno trial showed some interest in what is generally, but not exclusively (it does say Thoroughbred Racing and other opinions, after all), the main topic around here. They requested a readback of testimony by Jared Abbruzzese regarding the worthless horse for which he paid Bruno $80,000. You may recall that Abbruzzese told the court that he purchased the horse, named Christy's Night Out (pedigree not available on Pedigree Query), to fulfill a "moral obligation" to compensate for a consulting gig from which the former Senate Majority Leader was terminated.

Horse breeder Stuart Jamison Morris, who runs Dapple Stud Farm in Lexington, Ky., said he examined the horse and said there was nothing exceptional about it physically that would give it a high value as a race horse.

Morris said it was a small horse, the “bottom of the barrel in the world of thoroughbred” horses and worth less than $5,000. [Troy Record]
And the jury asked to hear Abbruzzese's testimony about our old friends at Friends of New York Racing, the predecessor entity to Empire Racing.
It included Abbruzzese being asked about an Aug, 26, 2004 golf outing he had with Bruno, then-future NYRA executives Tim Smith and Steve Duncker. [ed.-In fact, Smith was the future president of Empire and never worked at NYRA; Duncker was already on NYRA's board and became sole chairman the next year. Whatsmore, Duncker was considering Smith for CEO of NYRA until he learned that Smith was scheming for an Empire takeover all along..] At the time, Bruno was being paid $20,000-a-month to work at two Abbruzzese-backed companies.

Abbruzzese was also asked about an “off-campus” meeting in his Loudonville living room with Bruno he arranged in May 2005 while Friends of New York Racing was hoping to succeed NYRA overseeing the state’s racetracks. The meeting was highlighted in a memo Tim Smith, then head of Friends of New York Racing, sent to the group’s board members. [Times Union]
Old time readers recall that we talked a lot about these shenanigans at the time around here; a couple of background posts here and here.

- I found the gay marriage debate to be a rare bit of truly compelling, and even at times moving, drama to take place in a chamber where most outcomes are determined in advance. Here many of us have been bashing these guys, and, lately, the Democrats in particular, for being clowns; but now I was watching Senators such as Eric Schneiderman, Kevin Parker (all duded up for the occasion), Diane Savino, even Pedro Espada Jr., and the bill's sponsor Tom Duane (with my sister-in-law right there on TV behind him!) speak with passion and eloquence about Thomas Jefferson, the constitution, the long, uphill fights for civil rights over the years, and equality and justice for all.

On the other hand, only Senator Ruben Diaz Sr, amongst the 38 lawmakers who voted the measure down, had the balls to get up and explain to the voters why. If they did, and if they were being honest, many of them would explain that they had their own political fortunes in mind given the supposed anti-incumbent mood of the voters, and especially, for the Republicans (who, against many expectations, voted unanimously against) after the right-wing revolt against the GOP candidate Dede Scozzafava, who favors same-sex marriage.

Among the eight Democrats who abandoned the ideals of the party was the convicted girlfriend-dragger-down-the-apartment-hallway Hiram Monseratte; and Joseph Addabbo, who defeated Republican Serph Maltese in the district which includes Aqueduct. We no doubt will see Addabbo's smiling face at the press conference announcing which group will seek to attract degenerate slots gamblers to his district. Whenever that turns out to be.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Big A Up (Almost) Next?

Governor Paterson now says that he will reluctantly accept the $2.8 billion dollar deficit reduction plan that legislative leaders claim he agreed to on Monday. But don't call it a deal.

"I would not describe it as a deal, Ken. Because a deal means that all parties accept the agreement," Paterson told reporters during a Red Room ceremony. "This proposal for $2.8 billion of deficit reduction, includes $1.6 billion that I'm reducing myself and $400 million of stimulus dollars that we're actually supposed to use next year." [New York Observer]
The governor continues to insist that he will, and can, compensate for the deal's plan's deficiencies himself.

There was talk of an all-nighter at the Senate to craft and pass the necessary bills; but that will wait until Wednesday (as the Assembly burns the midnight oil).

And, of course, $200 million from the Big A sweepstakes winner is included in the plan arrangement; and once this is finally over, then we might finally learn who will be selected to....

Oh...yeah, first actually comes the long-awaited Senate vote on same-sex marriage, scheduled to, as promised, come to the floor following the passing of the DRP. The question of whether supporters can garner the 32 necessary votes seems to be an open one, with the possibility of a few Republicans voting in favor, thus compensating for the few Democrats who may vote against.

One of the latter who's for certain is Senator Ruben Diaz Sr., the most vocal opponent of gay marriage in the Senate. He's nervous enough that he retired to his Albany office to pray. You know, to that God who's in favor of inequality and discrimination.

Paterson meanwhile was in Brooklyn Tuesday night for a town meeting where, it was reported, he reiterated that he intends to run in an attempt to keep his job in 2010. There's no doubt that the governor is seeking to make political gains from his stubborn stand against the legislature, as Elizabeth Benjamin highlighted the other day. But why shouldn't he? It's not like he's a johnny-come-lately to the budget deficit - he's been urgently sounding the alarm practically since his first day in office (or at least after he dealt with the drug and adultery stuff). So I say humbug to his fellow Democrats in the Senate who have criticized him for playing politics; he's just playing the game just as you would (if you weren't too busy doing nothing), and you guys are the perfect foil. If he's ever gonna get back into the race, it'll be in large part on your backs.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Two Down, Six To Go

The early speculation that the jury would return a quick verdict on Joe Bruno has proven to be totally off base.

“After careful consideration, we have come to a consensus on two counts. We cannot come to a decisionn on the other six counts. Could you please provide us with some guidance as to how we are to proceed. We are not ready to give up, but we could use some assistance.” [Politics on the Hudson]
Judge Gary Sharpe, concerned by the use of the word "consensus," reminded the jury that unanimous consent is required for conviction. The jurors replied that, indeed, they had reached a verdict on two counts.

As far as what the verdict is on those two counts, really, your guess is as good as mine. Here are the eight counts against Bruno, as summarized in the New York Times this morning. The testimony of Mary Louise Mallick, which was read back to the jury on Monday, would seem to favor the defense.

But, on the other hand, the fact that the jury's request on Tuesday for a read back of Nov 6 testimony by businessman Leonard Fassler pertained to such a specific portion of that testimony - regarding a payment of just $15,000 of the $468,000 that Bruno was paid by him - indicates to me that the jury could be zeroing in on a specific instance in which they feel that Bruno did, indeed, deprive his constituency of his honest services.
Mr. Fassler appeared to have trouble describing what consulting work Mr. Bruno did for him, and said that an invoice he asked Mr. Bruno to send him was “more form over substance.” [NY Times]
Fassler had also told the court that, in 1995, he requested, through Bruno (who he had been paying $4000 a month since 1993), a meeting with Governor Pataki "to discuss the forging of a partnership between IBM, NYS and AmeriData.” Fassler ran the latter company. He also had been asked about his company's efforts to do business with OTB. And he told the court that a Bruno aide was “very good at getting tickets at Saratoga raceways.” No surprise there of course.

Deal or No Deal

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has been clear that he doesn't feel that the Aqueduct selection needs to be made until after the conclusion of the budget negotiations which have consumed Albany going on four weeks now. But now that the talks appear to have concluded without a conclusion, where does that leave the epic selection process?

The deficit reduction talks between Governor Paterson and the Legislature appear to have broken down completely (despite a report of a "deal" early Monday evening). The governor said that the Legislature's "last best offer," which included some $600-700 million worth of cuts, was insufficient. And despite legislative leaders still holding out hope for an eventual deal, Paterson said that the talks have now "concluded." “I have given the Legislature more than enough time to join with me to address this crisis." [Times Union]

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said that his side has gone as far as it is willing, or able, to go, and that even the governor's scaled-back education cuts were not acceptable.

“Clearly the Senate will not entertain any education cuts, minority or majority, and therefore there aren’t 32 votes in the Senate to do a broader deficit-reduction plan. So having said that (the governor was) presented something within the political realities that exist. And it’s up to the governor to accept or reject or modify.” [Politics on the Hudson]
In response, the governor, in his latest plan to take matters entirely into his own hands, announced that he will direct the Budget Division to withhold certain payments to local governments, a move that threatened to squeeze social service providers, schools and municipal governments. [NYT]

Previously, on Sunday, Paterson announced that he was ordering $1.6 billion in emergency cuts by executive fiat. But the Village Voice noted:
Some of the package involves dicey projected revenue, as with the presumed $200 million from the Aqueduct "racino" -- now envisioned as an up-front payment from whoever winds up taking the contract -- down from the $365 million expected in palmier days, but still (forgive us) a gamble.
- No verdict in the Bruno trial, and the jury (fresh from the long weekend during which they surely did not discuss the trial one bit with any members of their extended family with whom they ate (and drank) heartily) requested a readback of testimony that the former Senate Majority Leader feels is favorable to him. The Senate's chief finance officer, Mary Louise Mallick, testifying about the grants to Evident Technologies, stated that she would make recommendations as to the merits of such monies doled out by Bruno, and that "more often than not,” he would go along. She said that she visited Evident’s headquarters and ultimately decided that the company was a worthy investment. [NY Times]

And, as Robert Gavin notes on the Times Union's site, she had also told the court that the process became more "open" under Bruno, and that the grant recipients were made public on a website. Here, Gavin once again points out that it was only after the Times Union sued the Legislature, and by the resulting court order, that the names were released.
That, however, did not come out during the testimony. Judge Gary Sharpe rejected a later bid from federal prosecutors to allow the order from the Sullivan County judge into evidence. [Times Union]
When asked how he was spending the time as he awaits the verdict, Bruno said: “I’m taking a look at what you’re doing and saying.” In that case, I imagine he's surely getting a good laugh from the obvious frustration of the reporter from his old nemesis.