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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Big A Streams Back to Action

Action resumes at the Big A on Wednesday, and could it be that slots will be in operation there before racing moves to Belmont? After all, Genting's original plans called for 1,600 machines up and running within six months after contract approval. That approval came on September 14 when DiNapoli signed off on the deal. So, that would put slots at the track by Wood Memorial day! (Not that I'm holding my breath.)

Wednesday also marks the debut of live streaming of NYRA races on the NYRA Rewards site. Gee, that's a revolutionary least here in New York State it is! Whatsmore, they'll soon stream races from out-of-town tracks as well. I haven't had much experience with other ADW sites, so I can't say which is best. But NYRA's site is pretty great in my opinion. It's a user-friendly interface, they take every thoroughbred track that I know of, you can transfer money from your checking account in about 30 seconds, and they've really ramped up the efficiency - I was betting Breeders' Cup races this past November with mere minutes to post, and the site was lightning fast. So the addition of the live races really seals the deal. (Note: NYRA is a sponsor of this website.)

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Numbers Game

On its website, HANA plays a little footloose and fancy free with the numbers to make the California takeout increase seem more odious to horseplayers than it actually is.

On Jan 01, 2011 California Exacta Takeout will Increase by 9.7% to 22.68% - giving California one of the highest exacta takeout rates in North America.

On Jan 01, 2011 California Trifecta Takeout will Increase by 14.51% to 23.68%.
In fact, the rates are going up from 20.68%, an increase of 2% and 3% respectively. If we were talking about dollar amounts, you would correctly say that the price is going up 9.7% from $20.68 to $22.68, and 14.51% from $20.68 to $23.68. But percentage points are percentage points, and we generally express such changes in absolute terms, not by percentages of percentages. If the mortgage rates go up from 4% to 5%, we say that the rate has gone up by one percentage point, not by 25%.

That's despite the fact that a change in percentage can have different implications for the dollar amounts involved. Cangamble correctly points out that an increase from 3% to 4% on a line of credit means a 33% increase in payments. But that's a random example; the percentage dollar increase varies with the rate. If it increases from 9% to 10%, the payments would increase 11%. If you're borrowing from Cash Call and the rate goes from 99% to 100%, then the payments increase by only 1%.

Similarly, and in the pari-mutuel world, an increase in takeout percentage can mean different things for different people. On Monday, approximately $967,000 was bet at Santa Anita on exactas. Under the present takeout of 20.68%, the house takes out just around $200,000, and returns $767,000 to the players. When the new rate of 22.68% takes effect, the house would take some $219,315, and return the remaining $747,685. The increase to the state of $19,315 is HANA's 9.7% "takeout increase." But the decrease in the payout to players is only around 2.5%. So I think that HANA is using deceptive numbers to make their case. (And some in the racing press has bought right into it.) Whatsmore....and I'm sure I'll get flamed for saying this....I think that a reasonable person could make the case that increasing its take by 10 to 15 percent with the goal of increasing purses while costing players "only" a small percentage of winnings is not an unreasonable nor harshly unfair way to address the crisis faced by the industry in the state.

What exactly is my point here? Well, reader Indulto proposes that the boycott rubs me the wrong way, and I'd concede that point. HANA annoys me with, among other things, their silly track ratings, as is apparent if you've been following my posts on the group, and I'll admit that my perception of this matter is shaded by that. On the other hand though, it seems to me that there's a high level of animosity on the part of the boycott proponents towards the CHRB and TOC; I've read posts and comments in which the criticism of those groups has become highly personal. Maybe that's why, as some commenters on this site have noted, they don't project nearly the same animosity towards other racing jurisdictions with even higher takeouts on some bets than will be the case in California.

Having said that, I'll reiterate that I'm not in favor of higher takeouts, and I think that the increase in California is short-sighted and likely to fail in its quest to attract large high-quality fields through higher purses. But, as I've said (perhaps inelegantly and in a regrettable pique of anger), horseplayers have it pretty good these days. Sitting at their computers and with their HANA takeout charts as their guide if takeout is of primary importance to their goals, they can pick and choose from virtually any track in North America. So, boycott away if you wish. But, in my opinion, this is a local issue of relatively minor magnitude that is not worthy of investing a national movement. That should be saved, as steve in nc points out, for more profound causes. It's not like increasing takeout is a current fad spreading throughout the country that needs to be snuffed out. On the contrary, HANA has done an excellent job in pushing the issue of lower rates to the forefront of the industry's consciousness. California has a problem, and, like many businesses, they've decided to raise their prices. Don't play their tracks if you don't like it. But let the rest of us decide for ourselves.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Happy Xmas!

Another column about the California boycott that I'm not completely in sync with is the one by Steve Davidowitz. While in favor of the boycott in principle, Davidowitz argues that this is not the right time; that the movement should wait until wagering patterns are established to the point where the effect of a boycott could be clearly demonstrated. And, he says:

Because the handle may not be negatively impacted by anything anytime soon given that southern California players have wanted to handicap and play races on dirt for too long to suddenly abandon such plans.
That's the part I don't quite get; not saying that I at all disagree with him that this will happen. But I would question horseplayers who claim that they've been discerning enough to have avoided synthetic tracks on the grounds that the results are too undependable; but would now rush in at the beginning of this meet and pour in pent-up betting dollars on dirt races which feature horses whose only such races have come at Fairplex. It's not very discerning in my view to leap in with abandon at this point without letting some form develop. Then you're just betting on dirt just for the sake of it, and just to drive home the point that you hate synthetics without thinking more about your my opinion, anyway.

That's the kind of bumper sticker mentality that I sense from HANA on the takeout issue - either my way or the highway, brook no dissent, you're either with us or against us, and just shut up if the latter. HANA recommends that players refrain from even reading the past performances of California tracks. If those who commented on the last post actually took the time to actually read it and the past post I referred to, they'd know that I've never suggested that I'm in favor of higher takeout; only that its significance varies to different horseplayers depending upon what they're looking to get out of their racetrack experience. But there's no room for nuance of any kind, just like the Tea Party to whom I compared the group in that post from earlier in the year. California is in a bad spot right now with slots out of the question, and the CHRB sees higher takeout on exotics as a way to enhance purses, and thus attract and retain horses to fatten its fields and increase its handle. Is that a good idea? I'd say that it's not; rather, it's one borne out of the desperation of the situation. But one thing I don't see from HANA or in Finley's column is an alternative solution to the industry's immediate woes. Other than, of course, lowering the takeout, which may indeed bear fruit over a longer period of time. But unfortunately, it doesn't, in the short-term, suit an industry already reeling from declining handle in these difficult times.

HANA says they only have California racing's best interests in mind. But then, on their rambling Players Boycott site, they actually suggest that players wager on California races through offshore outlets that return nothing to the tracks, to the horsemen, to the backstretch workers, or to anyone. That's destructive and self-serving to the point that it suggests to me that they're really only interested in themselves.

- Brad Free reports that the main dirt track is fast (though the forecast calls for a 50% chance of showers tonight into tomorrow morning). No word on turf racing, which is too bad, as I'd like to focus on those races given the difficulties handicapping the dirt races that I described above. And I wouldn't mind taking a stab against Sidney's Candy (8-5) in the G2 Sir Beaufort given the soft conditions from a foot of recent rain, and the presence of the speedy Blue Panis breaking from the rail. Make Music For Me (8-1) showed much promise on the AWT at two, and in winning an overnight stakes over this course in his three-year old debut before an ill-fated journey on the Derby Trail (though he did rally for 4th in the big race). Always like to see a talented horse like this recover as he did with his win, with blinkers off, on the turf over entry-level allowance company that he was still amazingly eligible for. Interesting runner, but a big step up here; still, might be worth a shot here wheeling back two weeks later with Mike Smith, who rode him in that stakes win, returning to the saddle, though I'd want more than his 6-1 morning line. Bogie (8-1) returns from a six month layoff from a narrow loss in a G3 turf stakes; nice works, eligible to step up here. Sebastian Flyte (3-1) may prefer longer.

In the wide-open Malibu, Twirling Candy (3-1) cuts back to a sprint after faltering late as the favorite in his tough assignment against older horses in the G1 Goodwood. Surface aside, he looks like a solid choice here. However, as you may know, I'm a strong believer in the Harvey Pack mantra to never bet a favorite doing something it's never done before. Noble's Promise (5-1) is a colt who piqued my interest in the spring, and he gave a good account of himself in the Derby despite his own trainer's misgivings about his distance ability. Now he's apparently committed to the sprinting game, and comes off a solid win, on dirt and with a 102 Beyer, in a six furlong stakes at Churchill. Good tactical speed should put him in good position in this large field. Smiling Tiger (7-2) has never been out of the money, and ran quite well on dirt finishing third in the BC Sprint; obvious contender. Brad Free writes in the Form that there's a buzz for Setsuko (20-1). Although he has not raced since April, Setsuko has trained super for his race-8 comeback. This will be, however, his first sprint effort since his career debut Sept 2009.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Takeout

Well, it's almost that time. For Santa Anita, of course, and the much-anticipated - by a lot of people other than me - return to dirt racing there; and the grand opening day card featuring two gloriously full-fielded Grade 1 races to mark the occasion.

Hovering over the festivities however is the talk of a bettors' boycott over the rise in the takeout rates for exotic wagers. I discussed my feelings about the takeout issue in this post (one of my most popular in terms of response in 2010). And again, if you HANA guys want to spend Sunday betting on Turfway instead of Santa Anita because its cut on triples is 1.68% lower, that's up to you, and fine with me. Since you're such smart guys, your money going elsewhere should create enough value at SA to more than make up for the takeout anyway!

In a much blogged-about post encouraging the boycott, Bill Finley wrote:

There's nothing wrong with putting more money into the pockets of owners, trainers and jockeys but to do so at the expense of the downtrodden horseplayers is, frankly, sinister. No one is more deserving of a break than the people who bet on horses. They are what make everything in this sport go and they have had to put up with nothing but abuse, starting with takeout levels that make the game all but impossible to beat. Now they want to take even more money out of the Average Joe's pocket. This is criminal. []
Whoa, Bill Finley. I don't really buy the concept of the "downtrodden horseplayer." I certainly don't put myself in that category, do you? Quite the opposite; as I count my blessings during this joyous time of year, top amongst them is the fact that I'm lucky enough to have enough disposable income to participate in my favorite game, and the temperament to do so as a pastime rather than out of compulsion. I know a couple of people who have to stay away due to the latter. Anybody who truly falls into the downtrodden category probably needs to find something else to do, or seek appropriate counseling.

Finley seems a bit hysterical here overall. He makes it sound like people are herded into the track and forced to bet. In fact, nobody is taking any money out of Average Joe's pocket here. The Average Joe doesn't go to the track. Instead, he's downtrodden and abused by the MTA, cable and satellite TV providers, health insurance companies...and I could certainly get more morose than those. So, lighten up, man.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Busy Time

I'm not in a parallel universe, just really busy, y'know, it's a busy time of year. Not to mention that the finance department at my job just went from a three-man department to two, and the other one besides me doesn't do that much. He doesn't read this blog. And we're busy getting ready for the Head Chef's annual Xmas feast, with a total of 25 guests, mostly from her side of the family, descending upon our humble home in Queens. None of them read this blog either, so I could dish the dirt on them, but they're all pretty nice I guess, and it's the holiday season, after all.

So I haven't had time to blog - other than to post the triumphant Jets photo to the right (and believe me, I was tempted to post a photo of DeSean Jackson instead.) (And OK, I can't help myself.)

Oh man!

Anyway, as El Angelo mentioned, not too much going on in the racing world this time of year anyway. There were a couple of local stories that didn't inspire me to find the time. Gary Pretlow had his hearing on consolidating the OTB's, but as far I'm concerned, that's totally beside the point. Joe Faraldo testified that there should be a third entity....created made up of a consortium of track people, horsemen, and breeders; in fact, there should be just two entities - or one, if you will - with the current OTB system put out to pasture for good, and the show run by, and to the benefit of, those who provide the content.

With NYC OTB gone (for now), NYRA and Yonkers should of course be able to create their own off track betting facilities which would supplement their business instead of cannibalizing it. It's so obvious that it becomes unthinkable in the bizarro world of Albany. Both tracks could, perhaps in partnership, open appealing facilities and install smart people like me to run them. Mine would be the coolest in the world; racing, Stella on tap, hip indie rock, and political lectures spanning the entire ideological spectrum, from progressives, to left-leaning moderates, all the way to open-minded gay and lesbian Republicans who voted for Obama.

Then there was the little flap about NYRA executives getting raises. Another so what story in my view. These guys brought the association back from the stone-cold dead, playing its hand flawlessly in executing its unlikely rally against the odds to retain the franchise. In the difficult period since then, NYRA nursed their meager cash flow, withstood repeated and unfair and ignorant attacks by politicians and the press alike, and made exactly the right threats at exactly the right times, successfully placing the onus on a clueless and ultimately acquiescent legislature which was never willing to allow it to go beyond the brink. Damn fucking straight they deserve raises.

Actually, most of us will have a little extra money in our pockets to piss away at the track come January 1. That's when the tax package that the president agreed to with the Republicans takes effect. And that 2% reduction in the social security rate means that percentage of your gross salary added to your paycheck. That's stimulus for sure, and one which I think will be more apparent to many folks than the modest one-time tax rebates we've seen in the recent past. The GOP may have accommodated their financial base by maintaining their tax cuts (while at the same time hypocritically decrying the deficit). But let's see them defend those rates for the richest 2% two years hence with the White House on the line, when the economy will be on a better track but with the deficit barely dented. I think it will prove to be a popular initiative which will reflect better on the president than on the Republicans; and a brilliant political move which will give him a potent campaign weapon in 2012.

Having subsequently repealed Don't Ask, Don't Tell, and the Start treaty apparently headed towards ratification, the president is on a roll, and could bring a bit of a swagger into the more difficult political environment he'll face when the Republicans come to town in January.

Yeah, as I said, not too much going on in racing. Don't know if I'll be back before Xmas. Maybe I'll do my top ten albums of the year - I know you're really holding your breath for that. If not, then here's wishing you a safe, healthy, and joyously content holiday season. Peace.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Itchy Times Columnist Blasts Big A

NYRA issued a press release trumpeting "double digit" increases in on-track attendance and handle at Aqueduct on Saturday, when 5,444 showed up, as opposed to 3,378 last year. 164 of those customers arrived via the new free bus service, and there seemed to be steady business at the information booth on the first floor, which has been transformed into a sign-up center for NYRA Rewards.

Indeed, there seemed to be something happening there. The numbers may still be small from a historical standpoint. But so is the part of the track presently in use; so the place seemed full and - I'd go as far as to say - vibrant on Saturday. It had me thinking of The Simpsons episode in which the Itchy and Scratchy show goes off the air, and kids all over Springfield rediscover - albeit just temporarily as it turns out - the joys of the playgrounds and the great outdoors. Of course, NYC OTB has aptly played the role of Itchy to NYRA's Scratchy over the years, tying the sport's tongue with dynamite and blowing off its head. So, despite the dire warnings we've heard from some corners regarding the closing of NYC OTB, it feels to me like a time of opportunity for the beleaguered industry.

Of course, an outside observer may not be at all impressed. Clyde Haberman writes in the New York Times that, at the Big A, there may be More Bettors, But Little Sign of Life. Haberman writes the NYC column for the Paper of Record, and there he chronicles the various and sundry injustices and inequities afflicted upon the working class heroes of the city by politicians and others in positions of power. His points of view on matters political and ethical generally comport rather well with my own.

And indeed, even this hardcore Aqueduct veteran finds it difficult to argue with many of his points here. His observation that the view of the track from the A train "can make you think that you’re bound for a cement factory" actually might be kind. It's the sad truth that a typical weekday crowd is "barely enough people to fill two subway trains." The Champs Sports Bar he visited on the first floor is a worn and weary setting that hasn't been renovated in decades; and he missed the photo of the Rangers' 1940 Stanley Cup team in his observation of the sorely outdated mementos on the wall. (Though he might have taken the time to head upstairs to the more inviting Equestris level if he was interested in filing a fairer report.)

His recitation of off-track handle versus wagering on-track - "That ratio of about nine to one was not significantly different from that of a comparable Saturday last December" - as well as the sad decline of crowd figures over the years, are merely the facts. And his suggestion that the land might be put to better use - "perhaps for parks or for reasonably priced housing, which goodness knows the city sorely needs," is a fair point and in keeping with his usual long, that is, that he's not forgetting about the tens of thousands of people state-wide who make their living in the industry.

But where Haberman blows it entirely is in his snarky closing.

The place brings back memories of a visit two decades ago to Macao, then a rather seedy gambling haven administered by Portugal. While waiting for a cab to the main casino, we chatted with a South Korean businessman who was a regular visitor to the territory.

“The thing about Macao is that when you lose, you feel lousy,” he said in English, “but even when you win, you feel lousy.”

Aqueduct is kind of like that.
Here, the writer reveals without a doubt that he's simply not knowledgeable enough on the subject at hand to pass judgment on a sport which still attracts large and enthusiastic crowds in the appropriate settings, and, despite the declines, still generates over $10 billion annually in handle nationwide. After all, anybody with any experience whatsoever knows that when you win a bet on a horse race, you feel great. No matter where you might be, even in one of those repugnant - and increasingly defunct with each passing day - NYC OTB parlors. So this column thus becomes just another weak and gratuitous cheap shot by a know-nothing outsider on a convenient and manifestly easy target; fodder for a column on a slow news week with the state legislature out of session and the mayor in a mellow mood. He should have stuck with Cathie Black.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Friday News and Notes

I know you don't mind if I toot my own horn once in a blue moon. I mean, I haven't picked many winners of late, and I don't make much money doing this, so I get to indulge myself occasionally, right?

So, perhaps you've sometimes noticed that you read something here, and then you read it in the mainstream press later on. On Thursday morning, I postulated that NYRA only needs to capture about a third of wagers that were placed through NYC OTB to break even. Later on, Charlie Hayward was quoted putting the figure at 35%, in the first public statement I've seen attempting to quantify the situation in those terms, as I did. Also, I've been emphasizing the need for live streaming for NYRA Rewards and other in-state ADW's for days; posted an explanation as to what the problem is, and now that issue is all over the press. So, just sayin'.

Intra-state off-track wagering declined 39% on Thursday from last week; but NYRA made up some ground on track, where they drew 2704 (vs 2101 last Thursday) who wagered $536,000 (vs $475,000).

NYRA intensifies their efforts to attract the valuable on-track handle with the opening of Belmont as an OTB of their own, and an effort to renew live racing on Channel 71.

Yonkers conducted their first card since the shutdown, and attracted a total handle of $562,386; that as opposed to $802,386 last Thursday. That's a decline of nearly 30%. And Friday and Saturday night they'll be more harness competition, with the Meadowlands and Saratoga having been dark on Thursday. The harness guys, bitterly opposed to the Senate bill - no less the GOP bill - remain steadfastly upbeat.

"While the closure of New York City Off Track Betting will obviously generate short term challenges for New York’s harness racing industry, in the long term it also presents an opportunity to re-think off-track wagering in the state altogether. [Statement by Empire State Harness Horsemen's Alliance]
Indeed. But handle declines such as Thursday's, and the political realities of racing and wagering in New York, could have a sobering effect before too long.

- In the second at the Big A on Friday (which, with the OTB on Park Place closed and the NYRA Rewards site blocked by my employer's internet police, I have little chance of actually betting on), Deceptive late gain is the trouble line comment for the second place finish of Kinkora (5-2) in her last. That's a new one for me. Further examination of the race provides some context; winner Silver Horseshoe was said to have appeared choppy-gaited nearing the sixteenth pole, and was vanned off after the race. Still, Kinkora finished well, in 12.73 seconds, after laying closer to the pace with blinkers added. So I think it would be deceptive to read too much into that comment. Third place finisher Honest Gold missed by a nose in each of her next two starts.

Cautionary Tale (8-1) finished far behind Kinkora that day, but showed solid improvement at 41-1 in her last, closing for third in lively splits of 12 1/5 and 12 2/5 for trainer John Hertler, who won three in a row from 11/26 through 12/5 (two others since then). That last race has come back strong; besides the aforementioned Honest Gold, the first of her two aforementioned seconds, 5th place finisher Suroof won her next (on the turf) with an 85 Beyer; and the 6th place Alla Prima won off by 20 at Suffolk. Not much speed for Cautionary Tale, but seems worth a shot for at least a piece at that price. Arena Elvira (6-5) has burned money before, comes off a layoff with a big workout gap, and ran her fastest race on a wet track, rated good. I'm stretching here perhaps in an attempt to beat chalk who holds class, speed, and tactical edges, but she can beat me at that price, I won't mind too much. I can't bet the race anyway.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Day After

A crowd of 2,651 attended Aqueduct on Wednesday, the first day of no OTB in New York; as opposed to 2,061 on Nov 24, the prior Wednesday of racing (last week was rained out). Intra-state handle was down from $1.64 million to $862,361. That's 46.9%, above the 40% figure that's been thrown around as the percentage of the state's handle that NYC OTB handled. Add all the handle, including the inter-state wagering, together, and the total handle declined some 17%.

The trick for NYRA is to capture as much business on track as it can either on track or through NYRA Rewards. 61 of the Aqueduct attendees signed up for NYRA Rewards accounts, according to David Grening in the Form.

NYRA reported that 56 new NYRA One accounts had been opened from Friday through Monday.
That's good news for NYRA, which holds a huge advantage over the other state tracks with its NYRA Rewards ADW platform. Perhaps I'm oversimplifying things, but, given that NYRA collects its full on-track share of those wagers, it seems to me that NYRA would have to capture one-third of the wagers placed on its races at NYC OTB in order to break even on the deal. Perhaps that's why Charles Hayward told Grening that neither the possibility of purse cuts at the current Aqueduct meet nor a reduction of racing dates was discussed at a NYRA board meeting.

On the other hand:
Racing and Wagering Board Chairman John Sabini Sabini said Wednesday that some racetracks “made informal inquiries” regarding a reduction in racing dates, though he would not say which ones. [DRF]
The harness horsemen railed against the provision in the failed OTB bill that would have reduced racing dates, so I imagine that any such reductions due to the bill's failure would be a bitter pill.

The NYS Racing and Wagering Board met in a special session, and took some steps to help keep wagering dollars in state - easier and quicker registration, and double rewards points for new NYRA signups. What would really help NYRA of course is if it could provide live streaming of its races. And that's more complicated.

Thanks to Joseph Mahoney of the Board, who explained in an email that Section 1003 of the racing law - written before the internet age and originally intended to apply mainly to in-home simulcasting - provides that NYRA could only stream state-wide if it has reciprocal agreements to do so with each of the regional OTB's. "For example if NYRA had an agreement with Nassau OTB then NYRA and Nassau OTB could provide video streaming/in-home simulcasting in Nassau's region -- but only in Nassau's region, and nowhere else in New York State, unless they entered into other agreements with other OTBs. NYRA would have to have agreements with each of the states 6 regional OTBs to video stream in the entire state." That of course raises the question of what happens if there is no OTB in a particular region....presently the case in NYC.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

OTB Comes Up Short

The failure of the NYC OTB bill in the State Senate was, in one sense, simply a numbers game. Specifically, the number of Democrats who were not present for the special session. By my count, compiled from various reports, there were five; including Senate President Malcolm Smith, who was tarnished in the AEG report; Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada, tarnished in several scandals, and Senator Kevin Parker, who was being tarnished with a misdemeanor assault criminal mischief conviction (related to an assault) in a Brooklyn courthouse. Man, what a crew.

Senator Ruben Diaz Sr, an anti-gambling zealot, was also reported missing; as was Senator Liz Kruger, who said she had agreed to be a reluctant 32nd and deciding vote and thus didn't show when she learned that the 31st vote wasn't there.

On the other hand though, you had the Republicans, playing the obstructionist card that they play so well. I know I've been harsh on the Senate Democrats, and for excellent reason; but the prospect of the GOP returning to power in the chamber (even if the new governor approves), is surely no more comforting. Their nondescript Majority Leader-to-be Dean Skelos offers absolutely nothing other than scripted soundbites and regurgitated party lines. He was so desperate to regain power that he scraped the scummy bottom of the Democratic barrel in last summer's ridiculous and sophomoric coup which brought the government to a virtual halt. So much for his interest in "governing."

According, again, to various published reports I read, there were anywhere from five to ten Republicans willing to support the Assembly bill as is; but only two bucked their leadership's edict of 'no;' one of them the representative from Saratoga, the other the lame duck Frank Padavan from Queens. As usual Skelos tried to portray the Democrats as the obstructors, playing the old Long-Island-and-upstate vs NYC card.

“We’ve tried to open up negotiations for the last few days to come up with a global solution to help all the OTBs throughout the state, and all we’ve received is, no.” [Capitol Confidential]
The last time I looked though, NYC OTB was the only OTB in Chapter 9 bankruptcy facing closure within hours. Not to mention the only one which handles almost 40% of handle in the state. The GOP bill amounted to a handout to the regional OTB's which, unlike NYC, would not have had to make any concessions at all. (NYRA insisted that it would put them and, by extension, the rest of the state industry out of business.) Skelos can spin all he wants; it was his party which said no to jobs for the usual petty partisan reasons.

The Republicans don't believe that NYC OTB will actually close (and we can at least partially thank Sandy Frucher for that). It seems pretty clear though that the parlors will be shuttered on Wednesday. Tom Precious reports, on, on what could be next:
If the OTB shuts down, it could also spark a new round of talks involving the sides in the coming days or weeks. A whole range of possibilities emerge if the OTB does close – from new efforts to reorganize how OTB wagering is conducted in New York to the NYCOTB having its more lucrative parts picked over by gambling interests.
I certainly wouldn't be surprised if NYC OTB is resurrected at some point and in some form down the line. Maybe even in a format which actually benefits the industry instead of feeding off it.

As for the short-term consequences for the industry, we shall see. Nobody knows for sure how much of the business can be retained in-state. Officials such as the State Racing and Wagering Board Chairman John Sabini are sounding a dire alarm.
“A pebble hitting the water causes a ripple – but this is a boulder hitting the pond..
“Now, not only will NYC OTB workers lose their jobs, but every segment of the racing industry – from feed store owners to horsemen to those who board the equine athletes – will feel negative consequences. Every county in New York State will experience an adverse impact."
Personally, I think that once the politicians of both stripes realize the scope of those potential consequences, we'll see those new talks about which Precious speculates above. I'm not ready to write the epitaph quite yet. I'll believe it when I see a Starbucks go up on at 107-40 Queens Blvd. in Forest Hills (one of the parlors which will remain open for six days to cash tickets and refund account balances).

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Welcome to the Big A

Jerry Bossert reports in the News that around 50 people took advantage of the free bus service provided by NYRA to the Big A from several OTB locations around the city on Saturday. That of course is despite the fact that the parlors will remain open at least until the state legislature decides its fate this week. Makes you wonder why the idea of luring OTB customers to their tracks with free transportation and other incentives is just occurring to NYRA now. Given the fact that their business is worth three times on track than through OTB, it probably would have been a worthwhile endeavor before it reached the crisis stage. Maybe some OTB potatoes just need a little nudging to realize what they're missing....yes, even at the Big A, even in its current state.

In fact, the announced crowd of 6,532 seems squarely on the high side for a routine Saturday - only 200 less than that for the holiday fest card the week before, and far more than the 3,935 that made it out the week before that - so maybe some OTB customers had made anticipatory plans to make it out there all by themselves.

I was also told that NYRA had a better than usual day of signing up customers for its NYRA Rewards wagering platform, a crucial element for the industry to survive and thrive should NYC OTB shut down. The Racing Form included ads by out-of-state competitors trying to capitalize on the situation. Rumors About Your OTB Shutting Down? read one. Forced to switch where you play? read one by Xpress Bet (which stupidly failed to emphasize the fact that they have live streaming, way to go there, Frank).

The Senate could approve the bill passed by the Assembly on Tuesday, though many doubt that the necessary votes are there.

The Senate Democratic majority admits it is five to seven votes short of the 32 necessary to pass the bill and will need help from the Senate GOP, which has insisted on a more comprehensive solution. [NY Daily News]
That comprehensive solution comes in the form of a bill sponsored by Republican Senator Andrew Lanza that would, amongst other things, extend to the state's other OTB's the breaks in payment rates to the tracks and the state that the Assembly bill grants to NYC OTB. The GOP bill however does not require from the regionals the types of concessions faced by NYC OTB, which will cut its work force and give up its internet and phone wagering accounts.

Lanza's bill also contains a provision to prohibit the out-of-state ADW's from taking bets from New York state residents; as is the case in New Jersey. Such a law could actually prove to be a savior to the industry here should the OTB plan fail. However, long overdue and common sense action to allow NYRA to stream live races, take wagers on harness races, and end the restrictions on the hours it can operate, would go a long way towards helping them compete without such draconian action.

Obviously, NYRA and the other tracks would not be happy with the rest of the GOP bill and the further cuts in revenue it would bring. And nor would the Assembly, which would then be called upon to reconvene in order to consider that plan.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver this week made it clear he's not inclined to return to bring his members back to Albany to pass a different OTB rescue bill after his members passed one Tuesday. [NYDN]
- I also saw a timely ad from Empire City at Yonkers Raceway on the way to the track. A billboard overlooking Rockaway Blvd just a half mile away informed us that slots were "moments, not months away." An ad which will - presumably - have a relatively short life span indeed.

Friday, December 03, 2010

To OTB, Or Not OTB?

The State Senate is now planning to reconvene on Tuesday in order to conduct an up-or-down vote on the bill to reorganize NYC OTB that was approved by the Assembly. But OTB chairman Larry Schwartz says: "There's not [the needed] 32 votes in the Senate to pass the same bill that the Assembly passed, so the plan to close OTB [after Friday] remains." [NYDN] But you didn't really think they would go dark without some additional drama, did you?

Republican senators indicated that they might be amenable to a rescue.....if it includes relief for other OTB's around the state.

"The OTB system overall needs redesigning and rebuilding," said Senate GOP honcho Thomas Libous (R-Binghamton).
Oh great, you're first realizing that now??

Any variation on the Assembly bill would require that chamber to return to Albany as well; which, Casey Seiler of the Times Union's Capitol Confidential says, seems about as likely as a visit from St. Nicholas (sorry to our younger readers, but this means “unlikely”).

Meanwhile, NYRA is preparing for the post-OTB age by preparing free bus service to the Big A from five would-be shuttered parlors around the city. Any OTB patron who transfers his business (not being sexist girls, have you been to an OTB parlor lately?) on track is like the equivalent of three new customers given the difference between NYRA's retention rate on his on-track bets from what it gets through OTB. So you might see Charlie Hayward and Hal Handel roaming the aisles of the buses with NYRA Rewards applications in hand. In fact, it might not be a bad idea to make signing up a condition for the free ride.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Inner Track Time! [Almost]

jp mentioned No Such Word, who won the Gazelle on Saturday in highly impressive fashion. Despite being the outmost of a foursome spread across the track, she just cruised up to the lead on the turn without any urging from Terry Thompson. and reported home in 12.70 for the final furlong. Her final time of 1:51.05 was actually a full second slower than that of the two-year old colt To Honor and Serve; but I'd guess that the ground loss accounted for that. Gotta love her durability too; this was her tenth start of the year.

No Such Word is a daughter (out of an It's Freezing mare) of Canadian Frontier, a Gone West stallion who stands at Airdrie in Kentucky for $3500 and a menu of discounts.

✔ 10% discount on all stud fees paid by Nov 1.
✔ 10% discount for 2 mares to the same sire.
✔ 15% discount for 3 or more mares to the same sire.
Rough time for breeders as you know.

Dubai Dancer, the 2-1 second choice in the Gazelle, was just awful; never in it and finished 8th, some 20 lengths behind. Seems hard to explain given her stellar form, including a stakes win around two turns, since returning to action in August. They say that fillies sometimes throw in a bad one, and perhaps she was just having a bad day. Races like the Triple Crown and the Breeders' Cup become so magnified to the point where every aspect of the race is scrutinized in far more detail, as we saw in the incident involving Life At Ten in the Distaff. Could very well be that, if Jerry Bailey was there to interview Ramon Dominguez for ESPN before the race, he would have said that the filly wasn't warming up well. Probably happens all the time....if not to the extreme degree that we heard and saw on Breeders Cup Friday.

- Yes folks, it's that time again as the inner track opens for business at the Big A on Wednesday. [UPDATE: Oops, canceled today, will have to wait.] The turf course remains open however as December starts; no less than three scheduled on the card (though there's been a persistent light rain around most of Tuesday which is supposed to drag into the morning). All of you global warming skeptics might take a look at a chart showing how late the turf course at Aqueduct has been operational over the years. That should convince you.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The End To Come Swiftly

“It will be a real blow to the racing industry....I believe it’s important that we resolve this issue.” []
And with that, we hear the first words of any kind from Governor-elect Andrew Cuomo regarding our favorite game. Even in his detailed 252-page manifesto released in conjunction with his official entry into the race, the topic did not get a single mention, as I reported at the time. But the governor-to-be apparently does at least seem to know that the industry exists. Surely he's happy that he apparently won't have to deal with the situation one way or another.

Cuomo's comment comes of course in reaction to the Senate's failure to take up the bill (which was passed on Tuesday by the Assembly), and the subsequent announcement by NYC OTB that it will close after Friday.
"Without the passage of the bill we run out of cash very quickly and we will have no alternative but to cease all operations," said Greg Rayburn, CEO of New York City OTB, in a memo to workers.

Rayburn said he still hopes the Senate will pass the measure, "but at the same time we have to plan for the worst." [NY Post]
Senate Democratic spokesman Austin Shafran, whose protestations have become lamer and whinier as his party fades into the minority, tried to blame it on the governor, claiming that Paterson "did not provide lawmakers with enough information to act in a timely fashion." Of course, the fundamentals of the plan have been common knowledge for some time, and the Senate resisted Paterson's calls for a special session earlier in the month. So Shafran, who also blamed the outgoing governor for the inaction on the deficit, is full of it, again. (His comments regarding the Senate Democrats' financial woes are particularly amusing.)

Don't get me wrong; I shed no tears for NYC OTB, which cannibalized the local sport, and is responsible in a significant way for the state of the industry here, all while creating cushy patronage jobs for people who ran the operation into the ground. I have an extremely limited and tepid amount of nostalgia for nights spent in the Forest Hills OTB parlor on Queens Blvd. But the shame is that surely its well-deserved demise could have been orchestrated in a more thoughtful, deliberate, and constructive manner, and with the goal of consolidating the industry state-wide. Whatsmore, I just don't see anyone whatsoever who will be better off come Saturday if the closure comes to pass.

It will be fascinating to see exactly what happens if the parlors indeed go dark. An interesting social experiment if nothing else. With their familiar neighborhood parlors closed down, what will the regulars do? Hop on the A train to the Big A? Retreat to the comfort of their homes, watch and wager on TV or online? Volunteer at a nearby soup kitchen? Attend a matinee performance of La Cage?


The New York State Senate didn't address the OTB bill....nor the deficit.
The Senate declined to even consider the OTB plan; with no support expected from the Republicans and its own conference ambivalent, it had no chance. There's a report that the Assembly may take it up regardless, but, without the Senate, it would just be for show.

As usual, we heard the 'b' word bandied about. Crying bailout seems to be a convenient way to summarily dismiss complex matters regarding the horse racing industry that people either can't, or won't, take the time to try and comprehend. Clearly there were aspects of the bill that reeked of special interest or were unfair to certain segments of the industry. But it surely involved no money to bail out anyone. Once again whipping out my slightly outdated 2007 report by the Senate Racing, Gaming, and Wagering Committee, in 2006, NYC OTB paid nearly $15 million to the state in taxes and fees. We can presume those numbers are lower now. But however much less they may be, it's still that much more than zero, which is what the state will receive if Greg Rayburn is true to his word to shut down.

And, NYC OTB paid out over $100,000,000 to the "racing industry" that year. That number, already surely less, was to be slashed as part of the reorganization. Still, there's a lot of money that would cease to be. I guess that's why OTB is throwing around numbers like 40,000 to 70,000 in predicting how many jobs may be lost, despite the fact that they themselves would be laying off "only" around 1,000.

Sure, some of the lost business will be recovered through on-track wagering (if people can still find the tracks) and, NYRA sure hopes, the NYRA Rewards ADW platform. But NYRA will be competing for customers with out-of-state competitors, and is hamstrung in that endeavor by the state's archaic laws which prohibit it from streaming live racing signals online. The blame always comes back to Albany.

Still, NYRA will be in far better shape than Yonkers, which has no ADW of their own. The harness guys preferred to see NYCOTB defunct then see the plan pass as it was, and it remains to be seen if they let their emotions over the obvious inequities in the plan triumph over swallowing hard, eating the losses, and settling for less, as the thoroughbred horsemen (not facing a loss of racing dates) were willing to do. They figured they weren't getting paid now anyway, but they would have been paid something had OTB been permitted to reorganize. Whether business gained through alternate outlets and any wagering platform they are able to establish (not to mention from the possible demise of the sport in NJ) is enough to compensate remains to be seen.

- You'll be happy to know that the Senate Democrats did however manage to re-elect Senator John Sampson as their conference leader. I guess that the Inspector General's report on the AEG selection isn't on the reading lists of NY Senate Democrats. Maybe if he's indicted, someone will notice? And they wonder why they apparently lost their majority status in the election. Presumably, the Republican majority will see to it that appropriate hearings on the matter are convened.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Monday Morning Notes

Too bad I didn't have time to preview the Cigar Mile, which was a fascinating betting race. At least of course before many of the main contenders put in disappointing performances - particularly Musket Man, who received strong support at the betting windows - and Jersey Town upset the field at 35-1, earning a sparkling Beyer of 110. I must say though, that this horse wasn't that much of a surprise to me. No redboarding here, I'll show you my Pick Three ticket (which ended in disappointment when neither of my two horses in the 10th cracked the top three). Four-year old son of Speightstown was making his third start since returning to the care of Barclay Tagg, and was coming off a career best effort in the Bold Ruler, in which he was beaten less than two lengths by Bribon, who was sent off as the favorite. I thought that his true value was far closer to his 12-1 morning line, and was surprised at his odds. It surely wouldn't have killed me to back that opinion with a lousy two dollar win bet!

Jersey Town is out of the G1 (Mother Goose) winner Jersey Gal, and this is the distaff family of the 2005 Cigar Mile winner, Purge (whose third dam is the second dam of Jersey Town).

The Remsen and Demoiselle were each scratched down to five horse fields and uncompetitive wire-to-wire results. These races are surely not what they used to be - generally wide open stakes filled with juveniles already with ample two-turn experience against winners. Dixie City won easily despite barely seeming to make it to the wire herself; and To Honor And Serve was never threatened at 3-5, earning a Beyer of 102. This is a son of Bernardini, out of a stakes-winning Deputy Minister mare who is a half-sister to the multiple graded stakes winning India.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Black Monday

Hope everyone had a fun and safe holiday weekend!

On the top of the agenda for Monday's special session of the New York State Legislature is this:

enacting a plan to provide for adequate savings and implementation of other measures to allow for the continued operation of the New York City Off-Track Betting Corporation;
The apparent lame duck Senate Democratic Majority will need all of their 32 members present in order to pass any legislation without unlikely help from the Republicans, and it's unclear if that will be the case, or if some will instead brood over their impending descent into the minority. It's also unclear what legislation will be taken up at all. "I think anything we take up should have a sense of urgency to it," [Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb] said. [] So, in an attempt to make sure the lawmakers sense urgency on the matter, OTB president Greg Rayburn roused state capital reporters from their Sunday off with a teleconference to emphasize the fact that NYC OTB will close in December should the bill fail. And with dire consequences.
Rayburn warned that closure would put the state on the hook for roughly half a billion in employee medical benefits and pension costs. In addition to the job losses directly resulting from a shutdown, the ripple effects from the loss of business to the racing industry would have ripple effects around the state and elsewhere. Rayburn said the total number of lost jobs could range from 40,000 to 70,000. [Capitol Confidential]
I've detailed the harness horsemen's objections to the plan. Their argument seems to have caught the ear of at least one influential legislator.
Assembly Racing and Wagering Committee chairman Gary Pretlow said the latest threat to close OTB is likely more real than past claims--including only a year ago by the former NYCOTB chairman. He said he has a number of concerns about the bill and what he called its "extraneous items," such as reducing the number of race dates at Monticello racetrack.
“What happened is because Rayburn wanted unanimity on everything (from the creditors committee), people stuck their noses in to benefit themselves at the expense of other entities," said Pretlow, who believes some of the concerns can be addressed by amending the Paterson-proposed bill. []
That last statement may be a reference to Jeff Gural, the owner of Tioga and Vernon Downs who is on the creditors committee by virtue of being the landlord of several buildings that lease space to OTB. The harness horsemen filed a formal objection to the plan in Bankruptcy Court last week.
They are asking state lawmakers to hold off on approving the governor’s proposed OTB bailout, which he calls “bordering on scandalous.”

[Standardbred Owners Association of New York president Joe Faraldo] said OTB owes Yonkers Raceway $22 million, 52 percent of which belongs to the horsemen. At Monticello Casino and Raceway, he said OTB owes $7 million, half of which is owed to the horsemen. But, in both cases, he said the raceways traded off the entire debt with OTB for an interest in an advanced deposit wagering system.

He also said under the governor’s plan, Monticello’s racing dates would be cut by 30 percent, and that “stinks to high heaven,” said Faraldo. [Mid-Hudson News]
As I've noted, the thoroughbred horsemen, with slots revenue (presumably still) on the way, are willing to take the hit and support OTB's plan.

A lot is at stake here, and the racing industry in this state will not be quite the same, no matter the result. Should the bill not be passed, the fallout will being immediately. Unlike Sandy Frucher's ultimately empty closure threat, I don't think these guys are joking around.
Closure notices will start going out Nov. 30 to the nearly 1,000 OTB employees, Schwartz said, if the legislature does not approve the bailout plan during the Nov. 29 special session. []

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Apart is the 7-2 favorite in the Clark Handicap at Churchill on Friday. Being trained by Albert Stall as he is (and trying to replicate the success of Blame in winning this race as a three-year old as a springboard to stardom at four), one can get a peek at the past performance chart of Blame by using the trainer patterns tool in Formulator. We don't always see - at least without some effort - the past performance lines after a horse is retired. In the case of Blame, his Classic line comprises the final stroke of an impressive body of work. Eight wins and never out of the money in 12 career starts; triple-digit Beyers in his last nine, including a 111 in the Classic, which tied his career high. And four wins in five starts, at as many racetracks, in what should be his championship season. I was a Zenyatta supporter as you know, and it may very well be that she was the best horse on Breeders' Cup day. But Blame won the year's climactic showdown fair and square, and is Horse of the Year hands down in my opinion.

Apart has won three in a row, though he hasn't beaten much. The Super Derby has not come back strong; 4th place finisher Golden Moka was an awful favorite in the Discovery (not red-boarding, he wasn't among my top three picks). And he beat just four foes, including the sluggish Jackson Bend, in winning the Ack Ack.

However, this field ain't so hot either...and we seem to be saying that about more and more Grade 1's these days. This one at least has a couple of actual Grade 1 winners; though Stately Victor's was on Polytrack, Brass Hat's in the slop. Apart is improving for a hot trainer (6 for 10 at the meet going into Wednesday), has his main man Garrett Gomez aboard, and has handy tactical speed which could put him in good position behind prospective pace setters Redding Colliery and Regal Ransom. I think he'd surely be worth a bet as second choice to morning line favorite Successful Dan, who flashes some gaudy Beyers in his last two on the Keeneland Poly. (I know, he was two-for-two over this track in the spring of last year). Throw out the last for Giant Oak (15-1); son of Giant's Causeway shows two sharp efforts prior. And though he hasn't won in a while and his optimal distance is probably somewhere between this race and the BC Marathon, he could add some value at the bottom of exotic wagers here.

It's the usual early Thanksgiving post time at the Big A, and I'm hoping to make it out for a few races before heading to family dinner, and then ending up sitting in the rain at the Meadowlands for the Jets game. Here's wishing all of you a happy and safe holiday!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Compact Casino

Governor Paterson formally announced the compact with the Wisconsin-based Stockbridge-Munsee tribe, which will give up its claim on 23,000 acres in exchange for a 300-acre parcel in Sullivan County on which it plans to build a casino.

Tribe officials said once the casino and resort is built in Sullivan County, it would be the largest employer in the county, creating an estimated 4,600 jobs. It has an estimated economic impact of $715 million annually.

The construction of the casino is expected to create about 8,100 jobs. [Ithaca Journal]
Additionally, in an attempt to appease the nearby, and imperiled, Monticello racetrack and racino, he pledged $100 million to "help them with their expansion.”
He did not elaborate; the state is facing a $9 billion deficit, so it remains uncertain how – financially and politically – the state could provide funds to Monticello. []
Governor-elect Andrew Cuomo said that the current governor is "on firm legal ground in what he's doing."
"We don't anticipate any legal challenges." [Daily Politics]
I think that the governor-elect may be the only person in the state who actually believes that (if he really does). The Oneida Nation, which has competing land claims with the Stockbridge-Munsee tribe, promised to "be seriously involved in opposing this deal at all levels."

And environmental groups are certain to file suit. One of those is the National Resources Defense Council. I quoted that group's New York director yesterday saying that the project faced long odds. His opinion on the topic is obvious, but still, his more detailed explanation of the hurdles that the plan faces is interesting reading and worth stealing reproducing here.
First, the casino still requires a full environmental review under federal law to assess the heavy traffic, air and water pollution, as well as the destruction of the beautiful landscape, that this proposal would bring. Second, the federal Interior Department would have to agree to take the land into “federal trust” and approve gambling at this Catskills site – even though it rejected essentially the same proposal at the same Neversink River site three years ago, and there’s no indication that the Interior Department has changed its position. And third, because the deal settles outstanding land claims against New York State, it would need to get separate approval by Congress, federal officials and the New York State Legislature – hardly an easy task. [Switchboard - NRDC staff blog]
Genting continues to be apoplectic about the plan.
"We are extremely concerned about the massive loss in VLT [video lottery terminal] revenue to the state that would result from the proposed Stockbridge-Munsee project, and its negative effect on our ability to further invest to create more jobs," said Stefan Friedman, a spokesman for Genting's Resorts World. [NY Post]
I do wonder however if Genting's worry really is Aqueduct as much as Monticello, in which it holds a major share. They're not going to get nearly as much leverage complaining about that track as they would about their highly-publicized and long-awaited racino at the Big A. Tom Precious reported in his piece:
State officials insisted there is plenty of room for competition between the planned Catskills facility and New York racetrack-based casinos.
And, considering the resilience of slots-only business at Yonkers amidst recession and competition from already-existing full-blown casinos not all that much further away than Sullivan County, do you think that may be true?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Monday Morning News and Notes

Of course, not everyone is upset about the proposed Stockbridge-Munsee casino in Sullivan County in the Catskills region. Local officials and residents have been trying to get a casino to revive the region's fortunes for many years now.

State Senator John Bonacic said the project would be idea for Sullivan County. “This is the best way for job creation, private sector money, we don’t need any stimulus money to increase tourism and job creation if we do get the Stockbridge casino,” he said. Bonacic also said he would ask Schumer to use “all of his influence to push this project.” [Mid-Hudson News.]
Senator Schumer is said to have lobbied Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to change the federal policy requiring its approval for off-reservation casinos. Probably why Marian Ilitch and Michael Malik, the financial backers of the Shinnecock tribe, contributed to the Senator's re-election campaign this year (as well as that of Senator Gillibrand). But this is surely not what they had in mind.

Of course, the local support in Sullivan County surely does not include the horsemen at the already struggling Monticello Casino and Raceway. In a statement, the Monticello horsemen note:
Interestingly, while this operation would include not only slot machines but also table games, the tax rate would be quite small in relation to what the racinos and their horsemen presently pay to the State. Worse yet, the competition from such an undertaxed operation would stifle the growth of, and investment in, the gaming and entertainment industries created under the carefully crafted video lottery terminal program; a program that is as closely regulated by the State as it is heavily taxed.
In other words, Monticello is surely toast should this casino open in Bridgeville, just a few miles away.

- In the 5th at the Big A on Sunday, Chad Brown once again had the favorite with a first-time starter in a two-year old turf race. Unlike with Yankee Kitten on Saturday though, the rally by 2-1 Walker's Landing fell short; in part, because of his racing greenly, as he lugged in repeatedly throughout the stretch drive, with the rider engaging in a constant state of tug of war to maintain a truer course. Tag V Eye ($51), after bravely ignoring the lugging antics being displayed by Walker's Landing, held on to win in his first start, for trainer John Terranova. And there were some pedigree clues to suggest that this longshot son of the late Hennessy would like the grass. He's out of a Stravinsky mare who's a half-sister to the multiple graded turf stakes winner Mystic Lady; and he hails from the distaff family of the Saratoga favorite Fourstars Allstar (whose dam is the third dam of Tag V Eye).

Fourstars Allstar won 13 times in his 58 starts; but, as I've said, sometimes a horse amply demonstrates its greatness in defeat. Check out this race (no embedding unfortunately), the Caesars International at Atlantic City in 1994. And check out the post-race coverage on CBS; you might be surprised at who is interviewing Mike Smith, the rider of the great turf champion, and two-time BC Mile winner, Lure, in the winner's circle.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Coming Soon (Still, We Hope)

Well, it's still coming soon according to the signs, despite the unhappiness, and even hesitation, expressed by Genting in reaction to Governor Paterson's Catskills casino plans. The outgoing governor is scheduled to be in Monticello - along with Senator Chuck Schumer - for an official announcement of a deal with the Wisconsin-based Stockbridge-Munsee tribe.

And now we finally hear from the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association. Having acquiesced in the matter of the NYCOTB reorganization plan which could have adverse effects on their standardbred brethren, now they see their own interests threatened. So they've called on Paterson to postpone the announcement.

"I am writing to express our frustration and disbelief that your office has been in negotiations with the SMMN to establish a full-blown casino in Sullivan County, as the ink has barely dried on the Genting/Aqueduct racino project."
Even should the governor proceed however, the project still faces an uncertain future.
"If I were a betting man, I wouldn't booking any reservations at this casino anytime soon," said Mark Izeman, the director of the [National Resource Defense Council's] New York program. [Herald Record]
Besides the strong environmental challenges that will be put forth by that and other groups, the project faces court challenges from other tribes - particularly the Oneida tribe, which has a competing land claim - and still requires the approval of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

So, for now, (as far as we know!), the plans at the Big A proceed, as I discovered on Saturday, my first day at the meet.

No, no slots yet, but NYRA hosted a group of subcontractors on this day.

Well, when I walk into the Garden these days, I see signs about asbestos abatement, so what's a little dust and droppings?

There's surely some short-term pain for the long-term gain at this meeting. The seating area on the third floor grandstand - the best view in the house - is now blocked off.

And I was quite surprised to see the Lexington Room on the second floor closed off to all but Authorized Personnel. I'd spent less time there over the last few years after they changed the seating arrangement, but that was my main hangout for quite some time; many a winter evening after the live racing was done. I saw regulars whose faces have grown well familiar over that time scattered into the adjoining Man O War room and up on the Equestris level. Hopefully, it will one day be back, far better than before. (Unless Genting is turning it into their office?)

Still, despite the temporary inconveniences, it's nice to be back. 3,935 at Aqueduct seems a whole lot livelier than twice that much at the cavernous Belmont.

- In the 4th, first-time starter Yankee Kitten ($7) was a hot number on the grass for trainer Chad Brown, who has established a bit of a reputation for himself with this kind. This two-year old son of Kitten's Joy was stuck towards the back of the pack as they dawdled up front - a nearly 27-second second quarter as they went to the half in 51.3; three-quarters in 1:17. From there, they sprinted home in 24.5 and six seconds flat for the last sixteenth, during which Yankee Kitten blew by for the win; nice effort. He's out of a Southern Halo mare, and is inbred (4x5) to Hail to Reason, which seems to becoming more popular these days, and 5x5 to Prince John.

In the Discovery, Not Abroad made a menacing move four wide heading for home. But he hung in the stretch; as I feared, probably not his optimal distance. Still, a good run at 7-1, and I ran second and third in the exacta, oh well; a day of close-but-no cigar for me. NY-bred Stormy's Majesty ($9.10) led all the way for the win, his first in open company, for trainer Dominic Galluscio.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Lookin At Gone

Looking at Lucky was sold and retired, and I have nothing to add to Figless' comment here. That means that the top four betting choices in the Classic - the only four entrants that went off at less than 18-1 - are now out of the game. So, since El Angelo points out that the Discovery has produced some decent winners, keep an eye on the result today. It could produce the winter book favorite for next year's Classic. (If the winner is not sold and retired.)

I don't know if Zenyatta is the type to go for younger guys (if she does indeed like men at all), but she and Lookin At Lucky do seem compatible from a pedigree standpoint. The resulting foal would have the inbreeding to Mr. Prospector (3x4) that is so popular these days.

If you look at the Lanes End roster - and again, I don't know that the fact that she'll be residing there means that she'll be shacking up there - I guess that the obvious choice would be AP Indy. No pedigree impediments in that crossing - the foal would be an outcross for the first four generations, and have 5x5 inbreeding to Princequillo. Not a drop of Northern Dancer blood to be found in that mating.

Friday, November 19, 2010


In the Discovery Handicap at the Big A, Not Abroad (4-1) ships in from the mid-Atlantic region to make his first start in New York. This three-year old son of Not For Love has just one win in ten starts this year, and not a layoff line to be seen since he started his busy campaign in May. He's none the worse for wear though, and in fact comes off a career high (and best last-out in the race) Beyer while finishing a length behind Win Willy in an overnight stakes (worth a mere $131,000) at Delaware.

Now, I understand this is a race restricted to three-year olds, but if it wasn't, Win Willy could seriously be 2-5 in this field. Whatsmore, after putting away the pacesetter, Not Abroad gamely held off the Toddster-trained Alma d'Oro, who could very well be the favorite here himself, before succumbing to the winner. Not positive that this is his best distance. But I think he has a distinct class edge which would make him very good value at his morning line odds.

Teaks North (7-2) switched back to dirt and took the Big Brown at Monmouth in his last. Bullet half mile four days before this mimics winning workout pattern before last. Dominant Jeannes (8-1) impressed in his first try against winners and tries two turns.

Pleasantly Perfect is the sire of the last horse mentioned, and he'll be one of the studs that Zenyatta will be able to check out at Lanes End....though, with his fee reduced to $7500 for 2011, he's not likely to get a piece of the action. Who, if any of the stallions based there, will be the one that Zenyatta will be singing this about?

So Long

Zenyatta will be paraded on December 5 at Hollywood Park, where people will gather to clap for a horse. She'll then ship off to her new home at Lanes End Farm in Kentucky, so I guess she'll have to breed on natural dirt. Claire Novak writes on her NTRA blog: And this isn’t good-bye. But it surely is. That's just sappy sentimental shit. So long, see ya.

Maybe someday we will see an offspring of Zenyatta competing for glory, but history suggests that there's a strong chance that we won't. In the meantime, racing has a big void to fill. There are no obvious candidates (and don't tell me Uncle Mo) for the kind of stardom, spilling over into the real world, that this horse achieved.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Genting Caught Off Guard

Governor Paterson's surprise announcement of a deal with a Wisconsin-based tribe to construct and operate a casino (the real kind, with roulette wheels and table games) in the Catskills region has not gone over well with most anyone at least outside of that region, which has desperately been trying to land a casino or three for years.

Particularly so with a particular company which recently handed over $380 million for the rights to build a plain old slots parlor at Aqueduct a bit over 100 miles to the south. And as reader jk suggests, trouble in paradise?

“This decision, and the process that accompanied it,” Mr. Friedman said, “significantly impairs our ability to deliver tax revenue to the state, and it greatly reduces our ability to move forward with a planned $1.3 billion dollar investment to build a world class resort.” [NY Times]
This is the first note of discord or dissatisfaction of any kind we've heard from Genting since they burst onto the scene. But do they really literally mean what they said? I don't know that it really reduces their ability to move forward with investing an amount nearly as much as that to build the new Meadowlands stadium as much as their desire to do so given the potential new competition. And interesting, though hardly surprising, that they would cite the process with equal disdain as the decision.
“We went through a rigorous, comprehensive review and would expect that same level of scrutiny to apply to everyone across the board.” [Albany Times-Union]
Of course, we don't really know what kind of scrutiny the Stockbridge-Munsee tribe underwent because we didn't even know the process was going on.
Blair Horner, legislative director of the New York Public Interest Research Group, said the deal raised eyebrows, particularly coming on the heels of a scandal over bidding for the Aqueduct racino. “The negotiations were conducted in secret,” he said, adding, “The administration should have bent over backwards to have made this process as open as possible.” [NYT]
Albany is surely a place where one does not learn from their mistakes, as we know.

Meanwhile, the governor will try again to have his special session of the legislature, now calling for the chambers to convene on Nov 29. It's possible that the OTB reorganization plan will be considered at that time.

It's also possible, if not highly probable, that the Democratic majority in the Senate will be of the lame duck variety; that with the Republican candidates still leading in two out of the three undeclared election races. Governor-elect Cuomo is calling for the races to be decided, one way or another, by the time the legislature convenes under his purview on January 5. Sounds to me as if the governor-elect has not received the Senate Democrats' talking points, a copy of which I've managed to obtain.
• Our internal analysis shows that Senate Democrats have won the majority.

• We started this election in the majority, we remain in the majority, and we will do everything necessary to protect our victories.
• Once every vote has been tallied, Democrats will have retained the majority.

• We’re raising resources and going to spend whatever it takes to ensure every vote is counted.
Sounds to me as if the Senate Democrats are not going to let anything as trivial as a new governor persuade them to give up the fight. And that fight includes a bid, in the 60th Senate District in upstate Western NY, to have more than 50,000 votes hand counted in Erie County.
Such a route, if the courts ultimately agree, could delay for months a final decision in the contest between [Democrat] Sen. Antoine Thompson and [Democrat turned Republican] Mark Grisanti. [Buffalo News]
Of course, considering that Erie County amazingly voted for Paladino by a wide (57-39) margin, I can't imagine what the Democrats think they could possibly find there, other than a further delay to what may be the inevitable. Or, as the GOP claims:
“These unnecessary delays are designed to give Democrats more time to retire $2.1 million in campaign debt before they go into the minority."

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Nothing Special

Monday was the day that Governor Paterson had planned to convene a special session to deal with, for one thing, a $300 million shortfall in the budget and, perhaps, OTB's plan to reorganize and restructure itself and emerge from bankruptcy. The governor still hopes to convene the preoccupied legislature before the end of the year, which is the deadline Greg Rayburn has given for his OTB to run out of cash and go out of business.

If and when lawmakers do get back together, the proposal's fate seems uncertain, with Assembly Committee on Racing and Wagering Chairman Gary Pretlow skeptical of several provisions, including the one that would lower the minimum racing dates for the harness sport; and opposition from Mayor Bloomberg as well (though the Mayor hasn't had much luck swaying those in Albany).

I've posted before on the harness horsemen's fierce opposition to the measure, and some of us here were wondering where the thoroughbred horsemen stand. So, in playing catch-up after a few weeks of Breeders' Cup stuff, I was interested to read Matt Hegarty report late last month that the NYTHA supports the plan.

“Obviously, there are parts of it that we’re not happy with as horsemen,” Violette said. “There are some things to like and dislike. But the options aren’t nearly as clear-cut as some of the outsiders make it. When you dig really deep into it, you see that there are trade-offs, but OTB had dug such a deep hole, it was going to be painful for everyone to dig out of it.” [DRF]
Of course, they're not having their racing dates cut. One might think there would be a little solidarity amongst horsemen here, but I'm sure that the thoroughbred guys have long been watching the harness guys with slots envy, and are not looking much beyond their own new-found good fortune at this time.

It's the State Senate that is the preoccupied one of the two legislative chambers.
Gov. David Paterson had originally wanted lawmakers back today, but said with three Senate races still up in the air that appeared unlikely. [Politics on the Hudson]
Too busy with politics to bother governing I guess. The three races will determine which party has the majority in the Senate; and that will be the GOP if, amidst the court and ballot challenges, absentee vote counts and possible recounts, they hold on to the leads they currently have in two of the races.

I've read some say that Governor-Elect Andrew Cuomo might actually find it easier to execute his plan to cut spending and take on the unions with a Republican Senate (assuming of course that would-be Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos is not rewarding unions for investing with a company he works for). And that may very well be the case. However, in the video in which the governor-elect announced his candidacy, he articulated an unabashedly progressive agenda, including support for women's right to choose, marriage equality, abolition of the death penalty, "serious ongoing regulation" of Wall Street, global warming as a "real threat to our planet," a cry against discrimination, and the notion that "women still face a glass ceiling that must be shattered." The kind of stuff that could maybe start to get me a little excited about this guy.

Of course, you can forget about that stuff if the Republicans strut back into the Senate majority with their policy of 'no' that has been, temporarily I think and hope, vindicated by the recent national elections. Say what you will about the Senate Democrats, and I certainly have given the corruption, coups, and arrogance we've seen in their brief two year reign which seems likely to disintegrate to, at best, an unprecedented 31-31 tie whose consequences remain to be seen. But they did at least finally roll-back the Rockefeller drug laws, passed no-fault divorce, and at least managed to get gay marriage debated and voted on. You can forget about any progressive reforms under the GOP, who will be too busy redrawing voting districts to bother with anything resembling governance.

- Gotta mention the Jets' dramatic 26-20 OT victory in Cleveland which made them the first team in NFL history to win back-to-back overtime games on the road. So there, I mentioned it. In case you missed it...

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Last Call for Goulash

Took a few days off. Hope you don't mind, and that everyone is doing well.

Saturday's second race winner at the Big A was first-time starter Lauburu ($5.60), a half-brother, by Unbridled's Song, to the champion well as G1 winner Sunriver and the graded winner Saint Stephen. Quite a productive little miss was their dam Goulash, who died last September. So Lauburu will be the last little Goulash that we'll see running around the track.

As for Ashado, you may recall that she was purchased as a broodmare prospect for $9 million by the Sheikh of Dubai in 2005. So, if you think that he only pisses his money away on Derby prospects and failed real-estate projects, you're wrong. As far as I can tell from researching on Pedigree Query, she's yet to produce a winner. Her first foal, a Storm Cat colt named Star Cat, never made it to the races; though he made it to stud, good for him.

It was quite a debut for Lauburu, who took a bobble at the start. He then stalked the pace-setting Five Sigma Event, wore down that stubborn foe in a tough stretch drive, and dug in to just barely last over 22-1 Break Up the Game. The latter was also making his debut, for trainer Shug McGaughey. Break Up the Game also has some impeccable pedigree credentials. He's by Bernardini, currently ranking #3 on the rookie sire list; out of Pennant Champion, a daughter, by Mr. Prospector, out of Personal Ensign, who was far, far more successful in her second career than Ashado. Pennant Champion is of course a half to G1 winners My Flag, Miner's Mark, and Traditionally.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Tuesday Morning Notes

[This post was pulled and edited to correct a stupid error for which I actually had a reasonable explanation but which I won't go into now. So? Sue me!]

Bobby Flay ran Sunday's marathon in just a shade over four hours. That race was run on concrete, as opposed to the turf course on which his juvenile Todd Pletcher-trained daughter of More Than Ready won the BC Juvenile Fillies Turf. More Than Real ($29.20), one of the horses I kicked myself for not having considering that I tabbed Winter Memories as one of the favorites to bet against, is out of a stakes-winning Dehere mare. The Juvenile Turf winner, Pluck ($14.80), also trained by Pletcher and sired by More Than Ready, is out of a mare by Fort Wood, a Sadlers Wells half-brother to the Juvenile winner Timber Country.

This year's Juvenile winner, Uncle Mo, was Pletcher's third winner of the Breeders Cup weekend. The son of Indian Charlie earned a Beyer of 108 for his dominant win. Two turns, no problem; he looked like a winner every single step of the way. Once again, he bounded home with aplomb, getting the last five-sixteenths in 30.66 after a third quarter in 24.41. That seems like an even pace over the last half mile plus. Pletcher said after the race that Uncle Mo runs fast for the entire race....though Randy Moss and Jerry Bailey raised the question of if he can do so at a certain classic distance. But we'll get to that next spring.

Despite the wins, it was a decidedly mixed weekend for the Toddster. The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission is looking into the Life at Ten fiasco now, which is too late as far as the bettors are concerned.

“From the time Life at Ten was brought to the paddock, saddled, led to the track for the post parade, warmed up and loaded into the starting gate, neither trainer Todd Pletcher nor jockey Johnny Velasquez voiced any concerns they may have had regarding Life at Ten to any racing officials, veterinarians or the outriders prior to the running of the Ladies Classic,” the KHRC said in a statement. [Bloodhorse]
Maybe not, but both of them voiced concerns on ESPN before the race to thousands of viewers. One thing that should come out of an inquiry is that the stewards and racing officials keep the TV on.

Whatsmore, Quality Road would have been better off balking at the starting gate this time; he finished last, and I mean dead last. He went off at 6-1, though I don't know who bet him....I don't recall hearing or reading of anyone who liked him. Many of us doubted his ability at the distance, but you also gotta wonder about the two months off before the race. I know he's run well fresh, but the horse seemed in fine fettle this past summer, and hardly one in need of a freshening.

Well, no worries, Quality Road is on to bigger and better things.

Zenyatta and Blame received Beyers of 111.

I wrote about Big Drama a few times, so I guess I should have had a straight win bet in there somewhere! Had him on top in some exactas, and I actually thought I was home at one point. Trevor Denman seemed to single out Warrior's Reward as the horse making the big move, so for a while there, I thought Hamazing Destiny was he, and was yelling for him like a rank amateur. I used him and Supreme Summit, who closed fast and missed the place spot by a head and a neck. Elsewhere in the near miss category was when Gio Ponti, who I didn't like at all, came on to beat The Usual Q.T. out for second behind Goldikova. And of course, there was my cold Zenyatta-Blame exacta. That one was kinda close.