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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Winter Sport A Tough Sell

It can't be a good sign at all that the weekend cards at Aqueduct were so very desultory after that extended break during the week preceding. I've always been a fan of winter racing here, but I'm having a really hard time sticking with it at this time. And it didn't help to be at the track on Saturday, when a) the card particularly sucked; and b) the cancellation of live racing steered me toward warmer climes and the far higher quality of racing they attract. Turf racing, cool! Maybe I'm wrong about this, and, in fact, other regulars I've queried haven't expressed the same opinion (at least up until this weekend). But the racing here now seems particularly drab to me this year, even for the heart of the winter.

- Interesting comment on the last post by Steve Zorn.

It actually wasn't the cold, but the track condition that caused yesterday's cancellation. I was talking with Rosie Napravnik this morning, in the warmth of the Belmont training track clockers' stand, and she said that the track material was clumping up and making the surface hazardous. And here I thought we'd finally found track maintenance folks who had a handle on how to keep things going through the winter.
The original explanation was that the racing was canceled due to "extreme cold," but a subsequent press release said merely that racing "has been cancelled [sic] effective after Race 3 on January 30, 2010." Additionally, Jerry Bossert reported in the News: It must have been a close vote as no jockey wanted to comment on the cancellation, including [Ramon] Dominguez.

So it definitely seems as if something was going on that both sides didn't want us to know, so thanks to Steve for pointing that out. NYRA obviously would rather not have questions raised about the safety of its surfaces at this point in time. The problem that he described sounds like something we sometimes hear about on synthetic tracks in cold weather at tracks like Woodbine or Turfway.

Hal Handel did his live chat on Friday, and you can read the transcript here. It covers a wide range of issues and seems worth checking out, though I wouldn't call it a frank and open exchange He did however take a couple of questions about the environmental violations, and when asked about the amount of fines, responded "we do not believe that the reality is even remotely connected with some of the news accounts." And that's the only public statement I've yet seen from the association regarding the matter.

Pletcher won the third with Sharp Instinct ($5.20), and ran 1-2 in the Coyote Lake with Tiger's Rock ($5.30) and favored Nite Light, continuing his torrid pace at the Big A. The Toddster has 23 wins from 52 starters on the inner track (44%), and 36 for 92 (39%) overall since racing switched from Belmont.

At Gulfstream, Bickersons (Silver Deputy) romped in the Forward Gal at 9-1, earning a Beyer of 97. She Be Wild was 5th at 7-5; at least I had that part right, as Sister Resistor, bet heavily to 7-2, far below where you would have expected based on the prices on her as the second leg of daily doubles, was a never-in-it 8th. Joanie's Catch, second in the Old Hat at 48-1, was second here at 51-1. What a race in the tenth as Busca ($12) survived a four-way blanket photo finish after being forced wide turning for home.

Sunday Morning Notes

In the 9th at Gulfstream, the G2 Forward Gal for three-year old fillies, Sister Resistor (6-1) returned to the races last month with a professional-looking allowance win at this route. Daughter of the AP Indy sire Jump Start is two-for-two on dirt and at this mile distance (albeit one of those around two turns); and even her race on a synthetic surface she may not have preferred was an outstanding and absurdly wide third in a key race stakes at Arlington. Tons of class in this one's bloodlines - her third dam is Obeah, the broodmare of such graded winners as the ill-fated Go For Wand, personal favorite Dance Spell, and Discorama. Ailalea (4-1) returns to the races for Pletcher; the Toddster is hitting at 25% (12 for 48) at the Gulf; he had three winners on Friday. Daughter of Pulpit has also shown an affinity for this one-turn mile; two-for-two, including the G3 Tempted at the Big A last fall. (Oddly, she's the first of the six runners that day to run in 2010, though 4th place finisher Tizahit won the Demoiselle in her next start.) She Be Wild (3-1) lays over this field on class off her BC win in this, her 2010 debut. Working like the champ she is for her first race on natural dirt; but the surface change, in my opinion, makes her a routine and unquestioned bet-against as the favorite. Richiegirlgonewild (12-1), Joanie's Catch (20-1), and Criolla Bonita (30-1) ran 1-2-3 respectively in the sloppy track Old Hat at huge odds. All three had legitimate credentials going into that race, and you'd probably feel silly if any of them beat you at the bottom of the exotics.

In the 10th, Musca (6-1) returns to the grass and gets the rail. A change to stalking tactics resulted in him being first under the wire two back at Calder before a DQ for a late bump. May find himself in front early again here in a race without much speed; rates the edge on post position, price, recency and improving form. Sobhy (5-2) runs for a tag for the first time for the Toddster after keeping OK allowance company last fall. Also figures to benefit from a lack of pace in the race; and this barn hits at 27% over the last two years in the first time claiming category. Best of luck and have a great day.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

What Cancellation?

Nothing much changed at the Big A when racing was canceled after the third race (after a false alarm as the jockeys huddled and delayed that race) on Saturday. For one thing, half the people probably didn't even notice because you can't hear the PA system just about anywhere there. And besides, no one who did know seemed to care; they were too busy handicapping the third at Gulfstream. Not like in the past, when the announcement would be booming, dramatic, and life-altering, at least for that particular day, with thousands of bettors being abruptly driven out into the street with nothing else to do. A rush to the exits would ensue, lest one would have to stand on a lengthy line to obtain a pass for free admission and program on another day. Now there is no admission charge there anyway. I saw more people reaching for their coats after the 82-1 shot won that Florida race.

Can't say I blame the riders for the cancellation. It is bone-chilling here. I don't know what it is about this particular weather system, but, even acknowledging the winds, it just seems far colder than the 20 degrees it supposedly was today. In fact, I was surprised they raced on Friday, when it wasn't much, if any, warmer.

I didn't much mind; had my $7 Saturday simulcast Form in hand. And as long as people stick around and bet on the simulcast races, NYRA probably doesn't care either. They get the same cut of bets on out-of-town races, don't have to pay out the purses, and don't have to schedule a make-up day. They even got their stakes race in; the Correction was the third race, and congratulations to Richie Munk's Funky Munky Stable, as their Hold That Prospect ($3.80) won for fun. Quite a claim this was for 30K last March. The $39,000 earned in this race covered that; and the horse had won four times for the stable, and trainer Gary Gullo, prior.

When I go out to see live music, I'm often self-conscious about being the oldest person there. Last night at the Mission of Burma show, that wasn't as big of an issue as usual since they've been around for portions of 30 years now. Still, it was obviously still a big difference from the crowd at the Big A the next day. I was getting a bit depressed looking around; it's really not an exaggeration when people speak about how aged the crowds are there. I mean, if half the people there look older than me, you figure that many of them won't be there in 15-20 years....and who is going to replace them? We talk about the future of Aqueduct, and the possibility of it eventually closing in favor of year-round racing at the Shinnecock Casino and Gaming Center at Belmont Park. But it seems to me that winter racing may eventually become extinct as a live sport altogether as the hardcore fans fade away.

And that's something that I imagine will be a subject of the contract talks between the state and Aqueduct Entertainment Group. The latter is surely going to want some kind of assurance for its $300 million that there's not going to soon be a competing full-scale casino 11 miles away in Elmont. Or that they get a piece of the action if there is.

AEG is AOK With Speaker's Demands

The New York Times reports that Jeffrey E. Levine, a partner in the Aqueduct Entertainment Group, confirmed that his company had agreed to all of the conditions set by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. And thus, yes, it's true. We have a winner.

Well, probably. There's just the little matter of that contract between AEG and the state which the governor's office hopes to the next 30 days with AEG covering the obligations for the operation of the casino. [DRF] I'm sure that won't be a big deal.

Here's the list of what the Speaker extracted out of the group (those being made public anyway):

* The up-front licensing fee will be increased from $200 million to $300 million.
* The facility will occupy no more space that the previously-approved plans submitted by MGM – before they walked away from the project years ago.
* No approval shortcuts will be allowed.
* All investors and just about anyone else with any responsibilities will have to get a license from the State Division of the Lottery.
* Anyone who has been denied a gaming license in any jurisdiction anywhere in the world can’t have a license.
* Anyone convicted of a felony in the past 15 years – or tax evasion, fraud, “larceny of any sort, theft, misappropriation or conversion of funds” is likewise out.
[Queens Courier]
Tom Precious' story changed with the events throughout the day. He originally reported that sources informed him that Paterson was selecting AEG because he actually did not want them; hoping and believing that the Assembly would balk. But now Precious suggests a reason why AEG may have suddenly become appealing to the embattled governor.
[Rev. Floyd] Flake was most recently in the news suggesting he might support Attorney General Andrew Cuomo to run for governor against Paterson in what promises to be, if it happens, a divisive Democratic primary. Flake, however, did not close the door to supporting Paterson.

Paterson is the state's first African-American governor, and there are signs that a number of key black Democrats are getting set to ask Paterson to step aside for a Cuomo run, possibly as soon as the weekend of Jan. 30. Paterson's poll numbers have been improving, though they are still in the political basement, and Cuomo has five times as much money in the campaign bank as the governor.

A Flake endorsement of Paterson could be used by allies of the governor to slow down Cuomo’s inroads with black Democratic leaders. [Bloodhorse]
As you may know, it had been thought all along that Flake's presence in the group was meant to appeal to Senator Malcolm Smith, so that would be an odd twist. It will certainly be interesting to see what Flake does.

The Times surmises that the jilted bidders could pose a problem.
But the long awaited decision could still run into trouble from rival bidders, including Penn National, which said it was “shocked and dismayed” by the governor’s decision because it had submitted the highest offer for an upfront payment, $300 million. [NY Times]
However, if it's true that AEG has agreed to pay that much (still $70 million short of the Delaware North deal which fell apart), that argument would be partly negated. Still, I for one would like to know just why it is.... and what is so outstanding about AEG's bid.....that the Senate leadership was so adamant and stubborn in its support for a company with no experience operating racinos, a modest portfolio of gambling properties, and which was offering $101 million less than the highest bidder at a time when the state is in dire fiscal straits.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Shoe Gazing

NYRA's Chief Operating Officer Hal Handel (the CEO in waiting in the view of one reader), will be hosting a live web chat tonight; so here's the chance for all you anonymous NYRA-haters to have at him. Here's the link. This is your shot, no excuses (unless you're going to see the legendary Mission of Burma at Bowery Ballroom, as I am).

I'm rather surprised that racing resumed here today given the freezing temperatures and howling winds here in the city today. Things started with a bang as Shoe Babe ($37.60) edged 3-5 favorite Sunday In Malibu in the opener. The winner was shipping in from Philly Park, where she ran in the same 25K NW3L class in her last race, but for a $27,000 purse rather than the $22,000 purse today. What's wrong with that picture?

I'm apparently not the only one who's finding it hard to look past the governor's role in the Aqueduct/NYRA mess; at least according to the local Queens Chronicle.

Though the governor remains unpopular, his favorability ratings are edging up because of his newfound fiscal restraint and focus on ethics reform. But many Queens residents and officials including fellow Democrats such as state Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. of Howard Beach have had it up to here waiting for Paterson and legislative leaders to pick a vendor for the redevelopment of Aqueduct Race Track.

The ongoing delay saps any support Paterson has here and increases the once-remote possibility that Belmont could see lucrative video lottery terminals installed before Aqueduct. A scenario in which the eastern Long Island Shinnecock Indians could build a racino at Belmont, just over the border in Nassau, seems less the stuff of fiction than it had, as the tribe is racing to win the federal recognition it needs for gaming operations, while the Aqueduct plan remains stuck in the gate in Albany.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Purposively Postulating

Matt Hegarty reported a new spin on the reasons behind the Aqueduct fiasco in the Form the other day.

Several racing officials said that they believed the legislature's delay in selecting an operator for the Aqueduct casino could be influenced by elections scheduled for later this year, citing the campaign contributions that casino and real-estate developers frequently make during election cycles. By delaying a decision, politicians can milk contributors until the election is over.
That's a harsh accusation which apparently was purposively planted in racing's Paper of Record by someone from the racing side. It speculates that public officials would hold the fiscal health of the state and the livelihood of thousands subordinate to the interests of their own political careers. And it hints at conspiracy and collusion as well. Sounds rather illegal, actually.

However, as I've said, given the lack of any reasonable explanation whatsoever why this is still dragging on without any resolution in sight, any speculation within the broadest parameters of reasonableness are perfectly fair. And I think that this particular postulation definitely qualifies as such.

- In his letter to Governor Paterson, Penn National's CEO Peter Carlino offered a theory of his own.
Since we are the high bidder, and have more experience in successfully developing and operating these types of integrated racing and gaming facilities in high tax jurisdictions, it would almost appear that some might be trying to find ways to not award this contract to Penn. I am sure that is not the case, but as you know, we have very little to go on except what we read in the press, or pick up in the halls in Albany.
I am sure that is not the case, heh heh, I'm so sure.

This reader pointed out that the letter implied that it has been the highest bidder all along...and that the claim is not least according to the news reports that pegged the company's initial bid at $5 million upfront. In this post, I characterized it as a "token offer" to put them in the game in case the others self-destructed. And in a sense, that's kind of where the company is trying to position itself today, albeit with an additional $296 million in hand. Not that (all) of the others have self-destructed. But the two main contenders have connections that could make their selection problematic in appearance (at least). On the other hand, Penn National, in addition to touting its high bid and ample experience, is portraying itself as the "'safe choice' or compromise candidate," as an official of the company told me via email. "We have nothing in our closet regarding any NY connections."

As for the "slots in the box" argument, I guess I'm really not sure exactly what the phrase means. A reader brought up Finger Lakes in making the case against them. For one thing, a look at their weekly figures [PDF file] year over year doesn't seem to support the idea that its customers are going elsewhere. In addition, I looked at their website, and they have, in addition to slots, the usual dining and entertainment thing going on. So, if that's "slots in a box," isn't too the wildly successful facility at Yonkers, where, according to the OTB Task Force report, some $6 billion of the $11.5 billion wagered on VLT's in the state in 2009 was handled? My take is that the same format would certainly be successful at the Big A (many people assume that it will fare even better than Yonkers), and that it's of an appropriate scale for the neighborhood.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Fixing Broken Model Quite a Task

Got an email on Monday morning advising interested media types (like, I guess, myself) of the live webcast of that afternoon's meeting of the NYCOTB board of directors.

The New York City Off-Track Betting Corporation convenes its board of directors to provide an update of cash flow, headcount reduction and plans for shutdown by end of March if re-organization plan is not approved by Legislature.
Seems appropriate to me that the message came from Edelman, their public relations firm, because the ensuing announcement that the OTB will close its doors on March 30 if lawmakers don't approve its reorganization plan smacks more of PR than reality to me. Can't help but suspect that it's a ploy to get the legislature to focus on its plight, similar to the one engineered by Mayor Bloomberg which led to the state takeover of NYCOTB. Perhaps they are afraid that the bankruptcy court ruling on NYRA's motion to dismiss their bankruptcy filing will not go their way?

There's no word as to whether Edelman will be dispensed along with their employees. (OK, I know I just occasionally tend to harp on certain matters, but I find the fact that this bankrupt organization is employing a high-priced PR firm to be outrageous and disingenuous, at best. This is a legal and legislative matter of crucial importance to the state's racing industry, not a matter on which to trifle with public opinion. And besides, it's a waste of money they supposedly don't have. As bad a reputation as NYRA may have these days, I don't sense an ounce of sympathy for OTB from the media or horseplayers, and certainly not from the Task Force discussed below nor the legislators who grilled Sandy Frucher at the hearing in Lower Manhattan last week. Even the needy NYRA managed to scrounge up 5,000 bucks to send to Haiti; OTB's best PR move might be to send the money they're pissing away on a lost cause to that relief effort instead.)

As you may have read, shortly thereafter, the report of the Task Force on the Future of Off-Track Betting In New York State was released. It's not exactly sympathetic to NYCOTB, making clear its annoyance at the fact that it was the only OTB that declined to participate in its study, calling its abstinence "especially regrettable." Nor did it think much of the core of its reorganization proposal.
The Task Force does not support the OTBs recommendation that statutory amounts be paid only after payment of all OTB operating expenses. If this was adopted, there would be little incentive for the OTBs to reduce overhead. This would also result in the perverse outcome of out of State tracks receiving guaranteed payments while in State tracks would have to depend on the profitable operations of the OTBs. A distribution formula such as this seems to contradict Section 518 of the Racing Law that requires that off-track betting be conducted in a manner compatible with the well-being of the State’s horse racing and breeding industry.
You can see the report in its entirety here [gigundo PDF file]. I highly recommend that you read it if you are at all interested in the present, and what we hope is the future of horse racing in this state. Don't be put off by the 197 pages; the main body of the report runs around 36, and can easily be completed during the morning commute. Well, mine anyway. True, it could have used a little proofreading (by the way, I'm available, and yes, I proof others' work better than I do my own). But it's a comprehensive account of the situation which makes sensible recommendations with a nod towards the reality of the situation. Yes, everyone knows that the ideal goal is to consolidate the tracks with off-track betting. But this report acknowledges the sad truth that it's not going to happen.
If off-track betting was being created now, the present structure of six regional corporations, independently operated tracks, with racing regulated by one State agency and VLT’s by another, would not be the ideal plan. However, the political reality is that this will likely not change. Several commissions and task forces have recommended structural changes to the system without ever being acted on. Regional off-track betting is here to stay, so the question becomes how to optimize its operations.
And as with other reports of this sort, I particularly enjoy the historical accounts. I always find it instructive to review just how we got into the situation presently being assessed.

One of the many interesting items in the report may perhaps shed some light on OTB's threat of supposed impending insolvency. It concerns the accounting rules (GASB 45) which require the OTB's to record its future post-employment benefit programs as a current expense instead of deferring it until the time they are paid.
NYCOTBs reported accumulated deficit at the end of 2008 was $248.7 million, almost $200 million of that is caused from unfunded post-employment retirement benefits for its employees.
The reporting of the GASB 45 expenses by NYCOTB is technically the reason that it has been required to file for bankruptcy protection. If NYCOTB had continued to record the costs only when paid, it could have continued to appear financially distressed, not insolvent..
Of course, I'm speculating and could be wrong. Not that that would change the long-term fundamentals of the overall situation, but maybe they are truly running out of cash. In that case, perhaps Edelman can earn their money and set us straight.

As for the report's recommendations, Tom Precious has a good summary of the key points, so I'll let him do my job for me (or you can read them on pages 33-37 of the report. There's a lot more here to discuss than I can fit in one digestible post, so I hope to revisit the subject over the next few days.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Out Of Words

I really don't know what to say anymore about Aqueduct. I'm out of adjectives. At one time or another, I'm sure I've used words like stupid, ridiculous, ludicrous, absurd, idiotic, nonsensical, bizarre.... What else is there to say that's within the bounds of decency? Here we are, approaching the end of January, and there's just nothing going on at all. The grapevine is silent; we don't even see much in the way of those news stories which tell us that there's no news. The whole thing is just......well, you know. Dumb and dumber, how about that?

The only item I have seen in the press recently is James Odato's note the other day that Penn National wrote to the governor complaining that the unknown manner in which bids are being weighed fuels "rampant rumors and gossip;" any of which are totally fair game at this point. You wanna tell me that there's a conspiracy to shutter the place, sell it off to developers and move on to a casino at Belmont; or that gaming interests from neighboring states are making secret deals to forestall the project entirely; or that Obama wants the property to establish a sovereign socialist enclave from where he can carry out his evil government takeover of health care AND EVERYTHING YOU OWN with impunity...and who am I to argue?

And what about Penn National? No conflicts of interest (that we know of), a solid balance sheet, $301 million cash upfront, no busted real estate deals (read here about SL Green losing its entire $200 million investment in the collapsed Stuyvesant Town deal), a plan to open in 10 months. The community doesn't like its "slots in a box?" Does the community really know what it wants, or what is good for it? Would they rather have nothing? Or some grandiose complex totally inappropriate for a working class neighborhood which is impracticably located via mass transit for most of the city and its suburbs? I remain neutral and open-minded on this (mostly because we really have little idea about what exactly has been proposed in what has been a secretly fluid process); but doesn't Penn National provide an easy solution? If the governor and the legislative leaders aren't enthusiastic about them, isn't that a good thing?

As you may know, I've been a big supporter of the governor; but his floundering, lack of leadership, and broken promises on this matter are hard for me to look past. With all indications pointing to a primary challenge by Andrew Cuomo, Paterson better move quickly to clean up this mess if he wants an endorsement from this corner.

Back with the latest on NYC OTB soon.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Greek From Nowhere

I can't believe how far back Ron the Greek ($17.60) was at the top of the stretch in the Lecomte; did you see that? The race chart has him 15 lengths out after 3/4 of a mile; according to Formulator, he ran the subsequent quarter-mile-plus-40 yards faster (25.27 seconds) than he did the preceding quarter (25.28). Some serious late running there to earn a Beyer of 90, by far his career best.

This colt, by the AP Indy sire Full Mandate, is closely related to last year's Illinois/Tampa Bay Derby winner Musket Man, third in the Derby; their dams are full sisters, both by Fortunate Prospect out of Flambeau, an unraced Dixieland Band mare. Ron the Greek is judged, at least by his dosage index (3.0), to have more distance ability than Musket Man (by Yonaguska) (4.0).

Full Mandate stands for $5,000 at Hartley DeRenzo in Florida, also home to The Green Monkey. This is apparently a stud farm with a sense of humor. Note the blurb on The Green Monkey's Stallion Register page:

World Record Setter.
I wonder how many want him now.

Another winner for Pletcher at the Big A on Sunday. The Toddster now has 21 winners from 49 starters (43%) since racing switched to the inner track in December. Hour Glass ($5.50, 93 Beyer) was making her first start for the barn; nice looking four-year old now has three winners and two seconds from five starts. She's a daughter of Petionville out of a Tale of the Cat mare who's a half-sister to the graded winners Miss Indy Anna and Time Limit.

Got emails from a couple of people who were suspicious about the little break in racing at Aqueduct this week; no racing until Friday. But no, it's not an austerity budget. It's on my New Year Day calendar, and it makes up for the racing conducted on the Wednesdays after MLK Day and Presidents Day, when the track would normally be dark.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sunday Morning Notes

I'm still just getting back into the racing scene after a few months of distractions, but mostly regarding the local races. So it was with some surprise at the Big A on Saturday when I looked at the then-upcoming 7th at Fair Grounds and saw a couple of last year's Triple Crown participants running in the Louisiana Handicap. Considering Friesan Fire's disappointing return in December, and figuring that General Quarters was just a horse for a couple of courses, I immediately plotted my usual contrarian wise guy strategy. I liked Good and Lucky, and figured I'd slyly leave the two abovementioned horses out entirely and use Secret Getaway underneath.

But when I looked at the exacta pools, even though Secret Getaway was a distant 4th choice in the race at 4-1, the exacta with him under Good and Lucky was paying only $17, as opposed to $20-$21 with the other two, even though they were both hovering around 2-1 close to post time. The pools in exotics can sometimes tell a whole different story from the win pools. I remember those "chartist" guys who used to walk around the NYRA tracks and Roosevelt and Yonkers with clipboards, meticulously tracking the exacta payoffs to find some hidden trends. Don't know if they even bothered looking at the pp's. Don't see those guys anymore; probably home doing the same on their computers.

Anyway, due to those prices, I stayed away and was spared from both financial loss and humiliation, as Friesan Fire and General Quarters ran 1-2; so much for that! The winner earned a Beyer of 104, which equaled his career best, earned on a sloppy track in the Louisiana Derby; in fact, four of his five career wins have now come over the FG track. He had a pretty easy front-running journey against a moderate field; tab to bet against at underlaid odds when he steps back up to legitimate graded stakes company.

Rick Porter retains partial ownership of Friesan Fire (along with Vinery); and he had quite a day as his Winslow Homer took the Holy Bull at Gulfstream (and woo-hoo, let's hear it for that fat $31 exacta over favored Jackson Bend!). Porter seems to find the spotlight every year right about this time, doesn't he? Like his ill-fated Derby runner-up Eight Belles, this horse is by Unbridled's Song. He's out of a graded stakes-winning Summer Squall mare; and his second dam is a half to the Met Mile and Carter Handicap winner Wild Rush.

And by the way, a plug for my buddy DiscreetPicks, who gave out the well-bet Savemyspotimbeting on this site yesterday; he also, on his site, gave out the abovementioned Winslow Homer ($9.60), Annihilation ($12.80) at FG, and Art Currency ($5.20) at SA; four out of five on the day, not too shabby.

And that's it, four hours to kickoff, isn't it time for the pre-game show already?!?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Saturday Morning Notes

Kiaran McLaughlin is another guy winning at an alarming rate at the Big A; with his two winners on Friday, he's now won four in a row over the last three days, and has nine winners from 18 inner track starters, are you kidding me? And I mentioned Pletcher yesterday - with the win by Irving Rules (an overlaid $8.80), he now has 20 winners from 48 starters (42%). You'll note I wrote "alarming" above, which some may feel is an appropriate description given the fact that one of these guys recently returned from a suspension, and the other has just been slapped with one. I'm sure, of course, that there's nothing wrong going on; after all, they are two of the most respected trainers in the game. But you'd think maybe they'd tone it down a bit!

I was hoping to do a little handicapping for today's races, but the Head Chef made me watch The Hangover last night, so I never got around to it. Yeah, it was funny, and very well done. But it wasn't that funny, did you think? And that guy who played Stu kept reminding me of Todd Schrupp.

No, it's just me, right? Anyway, I kept expecting him to look to the camera, get all dramatic, and go, "And now, here it is! The 2009 Golden Globe Award winner for Best Musical or Comedy..."

Friday, January 22, 2010

Aqueduct Notes (Updated)

How about Frankie Martin, the one-time king of the New York claiming game who recently turned 84 (“Me? Retire?.....What for? I can’t play golf.”), is on a genuine hot streak! Royal Vessel ($18.60) took the 7th at the Big A on Wednesday to give the barn three winners in four racing days (and the lowest odds of the three) (and he took second with Dontquityourdayjob in Thursday's 2nd).

John Toscano is another low percentage barn on a real roll. Amazing how that works out sometimes; this barn had gone 23 races without a win, and now he has three (from seven runners) in the last week after Sinister Storm ($19.20) took the 4th on Thursday.

Steve Asmussen, a high percentage guy, has eight winners from just 23 starters; Saints Alive ($5.30) took the second race, and did you see this one? Ahmed Zayat paid $325,000 for this son of E Dubai in Feb 2008; he graduated here for a $10,000 tag (and went unclaimed).

And then there's the Toddster; 18 winners from 44 starters (41%). In the first on Friday, Irving Rules (2-1) drops in class after fading to 6th against better at Philadelphia; but I think this is the kind of horse you gotta stand against, assuming that he's as well-backed as he figures to be. His only win was a lone speed romp in the slop against state-bred maiden claimers on the main track here; throw that out and there's not much to see. And that win might very well be explained by his 402 Tomlinson. Sure, he could win at 3-2, but I've been opposing favorites like this from the beginning. Whether or not that's a good thing, I can't exactly say.

Missing Link (4-1) also won his only race in the slop, but a couple of differences. For one thing, I think he'd be a fair price at his morning line for the (not so hot) Linda Rice. He also showed some ability in his effort over a fast inner track, in a race that was better than it looks on paper. After a slow start (admittedly a concern here after two straight sluggish beginnings), this son of Northern Afleet was putting in a solid run along the inside when he was steadied around the half mile pole, losing all momentum before finishing with interest to get up for 5th. Drops in class here and should run better with a better start. Corcho (3-1) owns the best fast track Beyer in the field, and comes off a win in the slop for trainer Alan Seewald. Faces possible speed duel with the favorite and Fuzzy's Story.

[Oh man, that's just f$#%&*@g great. Not only did I single out the winner to lose, but it went off at an overlaid price. The hazards of handicapping in advance of the tote board...]

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Catching up a bit, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli says it could take up to a year to complete his audit of NYRA. Of course, if the election results in Massachusetts are any indication, by next January, DiNapoli, up for re-election in November, and his fellow Albany Democrats may have been driven clear out of the country, maybe to Canada or some other godforsaken place with - gasp - universal healthcare; and left affairs to the Republicans, who could very well award the Big A racino to Pfizer.

I dunno, and I don't mean to go off on a tangent or anything, but it just seems to me that when Democrats lose, they're like, oh, yeah, slow down, ooo, it's a wake-up call, we get the message. But when Republicans lose, they're like, oh yeah? Well, fuck you and the votes you rode in on, we're gonna try and obstruct the entire agenda on which you and your clear majorities in the House and Senate were elected, bipartisanship, are you kidding me? And whatsmore, we'll just stand idly by as loonies, morons, and racists succeed in framing the debate with their lies and distortions and slogans for an electorate not the least bit interested in a meaningful discussion of the issues! I've only seen such visceral hatred for a president in cases when he was sending young men off to wars of questionable necessity. This guy was only trying to do something about healthcare. For God's sake.

Oh, am I off the topic? Sorry! The topic is Crap, specifically the horse manure that NYRA is accused of dumping into Jamaica Bay, which, as pointed out by the Times Union's James Odato (who seems to have found a new whipping boy with Bruno out of the picture), is a wildlife refuge and recreation area with sensitive salt marshes and an array of wildlife and birds.

The notice also lists nine violations at Belmont, two at Saratoga Race Course and three at Aqueduct racetrack for compliance issues. Each violation carries a maximum fine of $37,500 per day.
That adds up to a lot of money which NYRA, which has a prior record with waste runoff, can hardly afford.

Worse yet, the accusations come at a time when NYRA is already under attack and can hardly afford anymore bad PR, as unfair as some of the prior criticisms may be. This one stinks, and the association hasn't helped the situation by remaining silent; NYRA declined another request for comment on Wednesday. Instead, I was told that they'll be issuing a "comprehensive statement" regarding all of the accusations. Let's hope that it provides a reasonable explanation, and that it comes soon. This situation is starting to fester.

Gambling Expansion Still Tabled.....For Now

Governor Paterson's budget proposal, which, yes, still actually represents an increase in spending despite the doomsday scenario we've been hearing for months, is light on gambling expansion. With respect to the state's existing racinos (and the big one yet to be built), it provides merely for an extension of hours.

The hour restrictions on the operation of VLT's would be eliminated. The elimination of these restrictions would allow the Division of the Lottery to set hours based on facility utilization. The VLT program is currently limited to operating no more than 16 hours a day, and prohibited from operating after 2:00 AM.
The proposal also lifts all restrictions as to who can sell Quick Draw lottery tickets, and for how long. The way I read it, your local street vendor could now set up a TV screen and sell tickets if they want.

Once you're stooping to counting on those who can't resist the lure of slots at 4:30 AM on a Tuesday morning, it's time to consider other ideas. Gambling revenues always involve a portion of the population who can't help themselves, a fact that many of us, including myself, conveniently overlook. But these new provisions seem designed to take advantage of the most vulnerable amongst us, and those least able to afford it. I personally find them shameful.

The budget document projects that the expanded racino hours will generate some $45 million a year in additional revenues....a sum that a racino at the Big A is projected to raise in around a month and a half, if it's ever approved and constructed.

So no, there's nothing here regarding table games at racinos. However, faced with the proposed cuts to education and healthcare, as well as unpopular tax increases (here's that sugary soda tax again!), I'd be quite surprised if that is not a topic of conversation between now and the budget deadline of April 1 (if the budget is actually finalized by then). And that's especially so given the fact that table games are coming to Pennsylvania and, in response, being considered anew in Delaware. Here's a typical comment from a Pennsylvania legislator, and how long before we hear the exact same words in Albany?
“This is a common sense, bipartisan piece of legislation that makes our gaming facilities more competitive, improves the public’s confidence in gaming, raises money we desperately need in these tough financial times, and – most importantly – helps put thousands of people to work in a brand-new industry." [Philadelphia Business Journal]
Whatsmore, have you guys heard those Mohegan Sun radio ads that taunt New Yorkers for only being able to play slots in their state? "Where's the blackjack tables?" Not in New York. But not for long in my view.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

News and Notes For Others Who Don't Care About Horse of the Year

What a race in the second at the Big A on Monday - a total of 55 lengths separated the seven horses who actually finished the race, with no less than 5 1/2 lengths separation between any of them. It's a pretty sad sight; looks like a Martha Coakley campaign rally. At least those all finished though; Freefourme broke down and fell in upper stretch.

Nice run by Stardom Bound at Santa Anita on Sunday, but Chantal Sutherland took the shorter route home and got the money with Pretty Unusual ($61.40). This one-time 40K maiden claimer was far back in her prior two graded stakes tries, but seems improved now at age four. Weird betting race with Justwhistledixie the 2-1 second choice in her first race out west; one of those synthetic subsidies that people should try to take advantage of instead of complaining about.

That's five wins in a row for Quiet Harbor ($39.40), your typical Shug horse who shows slow but steady improvement as a four-year old before blossoming into a graded stakes winner. She's a half-sister to the stakes winning Hunting and the stakes placed Minister's Joy.

Bettors at the Big A drank the Toddster Koolaid and made Citizen's Arrest the 3-5 favorite in the Jimmy Winkfield off a head victory in a maiden special. Not that there was anything else so great in the five horse field, but c'mon. He finished 17 lengths behind Deputy Daney ($16), a now three-for-three son of Officer.

I mentioned trainer Scott Volk on Saturday - and his Awesome Charlie ran a decent third at 11-1 that day. He subsequently had two winners on the weekend, including the handy maiden winner Itsagoodtendollars ($8.60) on Monday, and definitely bears watching at this meet. This colt earned a Beyer of 90. He's a four-year old son of Tale of the Cat out of a Sea Hero mare; and he's from the same distaff family as Tiz Wonderful, a one-time Derby hopeful a few years ago who suffered a career ending injury at Belmont; he stands at Spendthrift Farm in Kentucky. Seems an appropriate name in these days of dwindling stud fees....though I think that anyone who spends the $12,500 fee to breed to this unproven stallion isn't being one at all.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Green Mind

Excuse me if I have other things on my mind this morning. The Jets are going to the AFC Championship game! Say what???

Us experienced Jets fans know very well the feeing that Chargers fans must have had as the third quarter wore on. Having wasted their early field position dominance, and helped to allow their opponent stay in the game with critical mistakes and awful penalties, they must have had the same sickening feeling of impending doom that we all know full well!! Y'know, from back in the Same Old Jets era.

And if that wasn't enough to make my day, after the game I saw Dinosaur Jr, probably my favorite band in the world right about now, absolutely shred the Music Hall of Williamsburg in yet another triumphant appearance, this one with several stunned green-jerseyed fans in attendance. Oh man, doesn't get much better than that! Reminded me of a night in April, 1986....the Rangers, trailing the Flyers 2-1 at the Garden in the third period with their playoff series tied at one, exploded for three goals in 38 seconds to send the Saturday night crowd into an absolute frenzy on the way to a 5-2 win (and an eventual 3-2 series triumph). And after the game, we headed over to Irving Plaza to see the legendary Husker Du, my favorite band at the time (with Dwight Yoakam opening). A memorable sports/music doubleheader, unmatched.....until last night. Dig it!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Aqueduct Saturday

In the first, Awesome Charlie (10-1) moves way up in class for Scott Volk. This barn scores at 33% over the last two years with horses moving up at least 50% in claiming price. This one is moving up more than 150%, coming off a win for 7500 off a move up in class at the Meadowlands. He defeated favored Blazenbare, a Levine horse coming off a 12 length win, after a stretch-long battle. Son of Indian Charlie is two-for-two since switching to two-turn fast dirt races, and achieved a career high Beyer in his last. Comes off a series of half-mile breezes, nice post, set for further improvement for barn coming off a solid 2009 (24%). I think we can dismiss the latest effort by Blazing Taurus (12-1) in the slop against better. Prior to that was a pattern of improvement, and some nice two-turn lines against better at Monmouth last summer. Frazil (7-2) is four-for-four around two turns, at Finger Lakes and Tampa, and ships in for Linda Rice.

In the 7th, French Song (7-2) takes a drop in class for trainer Mitchell Friedman, looking to bust out of an 0 for 20 slump going back to closing day at Saratoga. This five-year old daughter of French sire Silic was on the improve when claimed for 16K by Friedman off a four length win. The trainer moved her up confidently, to 35K, where she missed by less than three lengths despite a horrible start and a sweeping six wide move turning for home. In her last, she ran 4th in a Starters Handicap behind three horses who could each be odds-on in this race in my opinion. This mare seems well-spotted here. Liza Lu (6-1) was running some fast races on fast dirt before encountering synthetics and slop in her last three; Cody Autrey barn has cooled off here after a fast start, but well-worth keeping an eye on coming off a 27% win rate in 2009.

Friday, January 15, 2010


Governor Paterson was on the FAN this morning, and revealed himself to be a Jets fan with a prodigious memory of some of the (many) low points in the team's history. His recollection of Bruce Harper fumbling the opening kickoff in a 1981 playoff game against the Bills transported me back in time to Shea Stadium, where the team was playing its first playoff game in 12 years. I'll never forget the dead silence that descended upon what was until then a deliriously raucous crowd when Harper simply dropped the ball along the Jets sideline, and the Bills picked it up and ran it into the endzone. Oh man. A furious Jets comeback from a 24-0 deficit ended when Richard Todd was picked off in the endzone in the closing seconds of the game.

When asked for a prediction of Sunday's game in San Diego, the governor reluctantly picked the home team by "something like 17-14." Perhaps he was simply trying to demonstrate his independence from his advisor Bill Lynch, whose lobbying firm was paid $10,000 for its services by the team this past summer; that according to the Project Sunlight website.

Meanwhile, the Governor faces a comeback of his own in his fundraising for his re-election campaign. As alluded to in the last post, Paterson fared quite poorly in the last six months, and has just $3 million on hand. Andrew Cuomo is said to have more than five times that amount (his totals will be announced later today). The Paterson campaign provided the usual bravado.

"With rising poll numbers, growing recognition of his strong leadership in tough times, and a clearly articulated plan to rebuild New York, I share the Governor’s confidence that our campaign will raise what we need to win.” [Daily Politics]
But clearly, this governor is backed up on his own five yard line late in the 4th quarter, at least as far as the money game goes. His only hope in my view is to build enough support among influential African-American officials so as to dissuade Cuomo from running, or otherwise find a way to take him completely out of the game without resorting to illegal chop blocks.

Change of Tone

Almost two weeks after Governor Paterson said that he would take the initiative and pick an operator for the Big A racino himself in a week or so if a consensus amongst the three deciders, his spokesperson Morgan Hook told the Queens Chronicle:

“We have no announcement for today and have not offered a specific time for when an announcement will be made.....The governor cannot ‘declare a winning bidder.’ The winning bidder must be a consensus decision, selected by the governor, speaker and leader of the Senate.” [Queens Chronicle]
Well, that's a completely different tone, isn't it? I might speculate that perhaps he was advised that the talks were going particularly poorly, but that would be presuming that there were talks. One gets the feeling that the governor may presently be more concerned about his own cash issues.

However, while any outrage over the situation should be aimed directly at the state capitol, politicians there continue to use NYRA as their favorite whipping boy, a facile target with which to score points. Now, two state Senators are piling on and demanding financial records for their own little dog and pony show, in the form of a hearing in Elmont on Feb 3.
The letter to NYRA President Charles Hayward notes the senators’ surprise that NYRA needs money, given that it received $105 million from the state two years ago. [Capitol Confidential]
I wonder if the Senators are simply ignorant of the fact that, of that sum, $75 million was to pay creditors and just $30 million was for operating expenses to get NYRA through to slots time, or if they're merely and conveniently ignoring that fact. Look, I have no desire to become an apologist for NYRA, and it's up to them to demonstrate to their various inquisitors that they're barking up the wrong tree. And, being that these two members of the world's most dysfunctional legislative body want to probe "the ways in which the performance of our racing industry compares to the performance of similar enterprises in other states," maybe they'll learn a thing or two about the way that OTB has ravaged the industry here as in no other jurisdiction. However, this all reeks of political grandstanding and waste of taxpayers' money to me.

- A reader points out that Paterson's political advisor Bill Lynch, who, as we noted, is also a paid lobbyist for SL Green, was recently fined $10,000 for failing to disclose that his client Columbia University had increased its compensation by almost $400,000 (from $180,000 to $570,000) in 2007. And that's not all.
While in negotiations with the PIC over this infraction, Lynch.....revealed other discrepancies of which the commission had not previously been aware.

This, in turn, led the PIC to mandate that Lynch hire an outside monitor. [Daily Politics]
I wonder if the monitor is monitoring the obvious conflict between Lynch's role in the Paterson administration and his employment by SL Green.

- Here's NYC OTB's response to NYRA's objection to its bankruptcy (pdf file, via the Paulick Report). There will be a hearing on the matter on Jan 20. I have no further comment at this time; let the bankrupt organization's high-priced PR firm speak for themselves.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Delayed Reaction

I kinda just glossed over that item in Odato's column about Bill Lynch being a paid lobbyist for SL Green, and I really shouldn't have. I try to be fair after all, and I've been going on for months about Aqueduct Entertainment Group's ties to Senate President Malcolm Smith. But isn't this just as bad, if not worse?

I mean, the governor's political advisor is a lobbyist for one of the bidders? And not only that - it's the one that Paterson is said to be favoring? Are you kidding me? A couple of readers picked up on it, but I'm surprised that I haven't seen anyone in the press do so regarding such an obvious potential conflict. And we're supposed to believe that Lynch "doesn't talk to the governor about Aqueduct?" Seems to me that his political team talks to him about everything - what he says, how and where he says it, even how to look. But his top political advisor doesn't talk to him about Aqueduct, really?

Well, actually, considering how long this fiasco has dragged on and how horribly the Governor has handled it, maybe he hasn't! Of course, that's not the (entire) point anyway. If you make ethics the centerpiece of the year's legislative agenda (other than the budget) as the governor has done, you just cannot permit even the appearance of a conflict of interest, especially one as glaring and potentially significant as this one. Seriously, it's just mind boggling what goes on up there in the capitol sometimes. What are these guys thinking about? Are they thinking at all?

(By the way, Bill Lynch Associates has also performed paid lobbying duties for the New York Jets, 7 1/2 point underdogs in San Diego on Sunday.)

- In the 4th at the Big A on Wednesday, Count Her In (10-1) goes turf to inner dirt in her second career start, for trainer George Weaver. This is really mostly a guess. The probable favorite, Freud's Notebook (9-5), seems vulnerable; so I figure I could do worse than the morning line on this horse from a barn I like to follow. Count Her In ran quite decently in her debut, and her breeding suggests that she may prefer the dirt, as well as the distance. This is a three-year old daughter of Include, out of a Saint Ballado mare; solid Tomlinson and dosage numbers for distance, and quite a bit of stamina in the pedigree if you go back to third dam Bartlett North, a half-brother to the great Temperence Hill, possibly my favorite horse of all time. This is also the distaff family of the Jockey Cup Gold Cup and DC International winner Vandlandingham, and the CCA Oaks winner Funny Moon.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Bigger Picture

- With nothing else worthwhile on their schedule during the winter months, TVG is all hepped up for its exclusive Eclipse Awards telecast on Monday night. Don't know how Todd Schrmmppff could possibly ramp up the drama anymore than he usually does; it might be a good idea to have some paramedics on hand in case he implodes. Of course, the rest of us might be fighting sleep after the nearly three hours (plus the hour pre-game show) of awards which nobody cares about which will precede the climactic Horse of the Year announcement at around 11 PM. I myself will be seeing Dinosaur Jr. at Brooklyn Bowl that night, but I'll be able to follow the action on Twitter (ha ha). There's been speculation that Zenyatta is not really retired, but I think she's just working out for her acceptance speech after she wins in a mild upset (and she probably has Peter Rotondo's phone number too).

The inimitable Chris McGrath of the UK's Independent hopes that, whatever the result, the sport of kings takes a wider view.

In refusing to run Rachel Alexandra on what they disparaged as "plastic" at the Breeders' Cup, her connections significantly retarded the American sport's painful journey towards a more humane racing surface. A year previously they had embraced the same gamble with Curlin - and done so pointedly, too, for the good of the sport. After his defeat, which may or may not have revealed him to be less formidable on a synthetic track, they got their retaliation in first with Rachel Alexandra. At the very moment when her story was beginning to intrigue a broader public, they vowed she would never set foot in Santa Anita and would instead reserve her Breeders' Cup debut for the dirt at Louisville in 2010.

In the no less regrettable absence of Sea The Stars, the great carnival faced a crisis - rejected by the champion three-year-olds of both Europe and America. And then along came Zenyatta, whose sensational performance turned everything on its head. Where the Breeders' Cup had seemed diminished by the absence of Rachel Alexandra and Sea The Stars, suddenly the reverse seemed true.

While it was undeniably a "home game" for Zenyatta, her connections had been just as bold as Rachel Alexandra's had claimed to be with Curlin. With a record unbeaten career on the line, she could have lapped her rivals in the Ladies' Classic. Instead, with the stakes at their highest, they took on all comers and showed the spirit of adventure required to overcome powerful vested interests in American bloodstock.

For now, the anguished schism between conservatives and pioneers will doubtless be replicated among Eclipse voters. Significantly, Jess Jackson, who campaigned both Curlin and Rachel Alexandra, has not even been nominated for Owner of the Year. But the big one will surely be close.

There will be an East Coast bloc, cherishing Rachel Alexandra as a modern great in the traditional theatre of dirt; and Californian voters will register their admiration for Zenyatta, a poster girl for the obligations they sense to the welfare of the breed, and the integration of its different cultures. Bystanders over here will be united in the hope that a majority bring themselves to see the bigger picture. [The Independent (UK)]

Tuesday Morning Notes

Churchill Downs' deal with NBC to televise six key Derby preps during the stretch run of the Derby Trail (with one of the programs to be on the USA Network) stands in stark contrast to the disappearing coverage of Breeders' Cup preps on ESPN, where horse racing vanishes into thin air once college football starts, with no telecasts during six definitive weeks of Cup preps from late August until October, at which point most of the participants have already been determined (and, increasingly, are already done racing until the big day). Recall that ESPN even stooped last year to sticking one race on its college football scoreboard show, and tried to make it seem like it was some kind of expanded coverage. While Churchill and NBC touts their successful "Big Event" strategy, the Breeders' Cup seems more like a nuisance to ESPN.

And, in fact, it was ESPN's reluctance to televise any Derby preps itself that led Churchill Downs to step in and take matters into its own hands.

Over the past decade, most television productions of major Derby prep races had been co-funded by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association's television production arm, and those broadcasts typically appeared on ESPN.

However, ESPN's commitment to racing in the spring has begun to wane as the network seeks out highly rated programming while seeking to shift lower-rated broadcasts to its Internet platform.
Keith Chamblin, a senior vice president for the NTRA, said the association had not planned to reach any production deals with ESPN on the prep races, citing Churchill's involvement this year. [Daily Racing Form]
- Er, Mr. Governor, it's been more than a week (or so) now, what's up?

- Frank gets to keep his favorite toys.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Nothing New Here

There's nothing really new in this note in Crain's New York on Sunday - neither the fact that Governor Paterson favors SL Green while the Senate wants Aqueduct Entertainment Group; nor the notion that the decision will come within a specified time frame (this week, as reported in this case).

And there's nothing new in the following, but I'll say it again: It seems hard to believe that, with the recent focus on ethics (especially in light of the Bruno conviction), and given all of the publicity surrounding the ties between elements of AEG and Senate president Malcolm Smith (plus the rumors, which he's denied, that he's interested in a post-Senate career at an AEG-run racino), that the Senate would persist in its insistence on that group. Perhaps it's all innocent, and they really feel that AEG is the best selection....but you would think they would want to avoid any hint of an appearance of improper influence unless the group is so outstanding that they are, say, promising to turn horse manure into cash.

However, on the other hand, James Odato reports today in the Albany Times-Union of a tie between Governor Paterson and his favored bidder.

SL Green hired Bill Lynch as a $7,500-per-month lobbyist in November; Lynch is Paterson's political adviser. Lynch said the Paterson campaign paid him $10,000 last year but he has been working for free for months. He said he doesn't talk to the governor about Aqueduct.
Yeah, right, I'm so sure! Plus, SL Green raises other questions/problems such as its connections to the Seminole tribe, and its exposure to the NYC commercial real estate market.

Odato also reports that NYRA requested and was granted an extension until January 19 to turn over its financial records to State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. And he writes that, whereas the association initially resisted what is an obviously politically motivated ploy to investigate a financial fiasco created by the state's shameful failure to name a VLT operator (not to mention the whole flawed OTB system), it will now be turning over salary information which it considers proprietary.
Among 2008 and 2009 materials demanded are all purchase orders, contracts, consultant agreements, invoices, vouchers, payroll registers and any and all documents supporting payroll expenses, including employee time and attendance records.

[Charles Hayward] said that money is so tight that he and other non-union employees will have their wages frozen this year. He would not provide details on executive salaries, which NYRA considers proprietary -- although other tracks, such as Churchill Downs, publicize salaries. [Editor's note to James Odato on this little bit of editorializing: Churchill Downs is a public company, and therefore obligated to disclose its officers' salaries.]

According to people familiar with NYRA's finances, Hayward, chief attorney Patrick Kehoe and Chief Operating Officer Hal Handel are paid more than $400,000. In 2006, when NYRA was required to reveal expenses as part of its bankruptcy filing, Hayward's salary was listed at $377,746 and Kehoe's at $376,923.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Sunday Morning Notes (Green Version)

Saturday, January 09, 2010

OTB Hearing

NYC OTB Chairman Sandy Frucher, appearing at Friday's public hearing conducted by members of the state Assembly and Senate in Lower Manhattan, didn't take long to get to the yuks when, early on in his testimony, he declared that OTB had "succeeded" at its objective "To operate in a manner compatible with the well-being of the New York horse racing industry.."

Oh, really? And just exactly how has it achieved that? Yonkers Raceway VP and GM Robert Galtiero helped to fill us in on that in his testimony when he noted:

"Giving OTB our product, decimating our attendance base, destroying our revenue stream, requiring the tracks to seek relief from our heavy tax burden and, in a short time, looking for ways to keep OTB afloat."
That seems to sum the matter up pretty succinctly. Charlie Hayward noted that while NYRA "puts on the best racing in the country year round and gets $7.4 million from NYC OTB on its races, NYC OTB turns on the lights, turns on the TV sets, opens the pari-mutuel windows," and receives $39.4 million. I'd like to hear Mr. Frucher elaborate on just how that is compatible with the well-being of the sport.

Funny that the abovementioned portion of Galterio's testimony did not stop NYC OTB's PR representative, David Vermillion of Edelman, from sending out an email entitled Yonkers Raceway Testimony Supports NYC OTB Plan. A couple of points here before I move on: How is it that an operation which has filed for bankruptcy and is threatening to lay off "over a thousand workers" in a few weeks can find the money to hire a fancy public relations outfit?? Seriously, there oughta be a law! And secondly (and rather hilariously in my view), Vermillion and Edelman also once handled PR for Empire Racing. This guy is obviously not very selective about the quality or ethics of his clients; at least as far as I'm concerned.

Indeed, Galtiero did state that Yonkers Raceway wants OTB's bankruptcy plan, which includes a new formula which would slash, by approximately 50 percent over the first two years, the already meager payments it would make to the industry, to succeed (this in contrast to Hayward, who labeled it "preposterous.") Of course, unlike NYRA, Yonkers has slots and can therefore afford to take a short-term hit in the hope of profiting down the road from a revitalized OTB. Recession be damned; business at the Empire City Casino at Yonkers Raceway incredibly continues to thrive; it's virtually a straight line upward since it opened its doors in October of 2006, check it out (pdf document). In fact, the week ended Jan 2 was easily the biggest week in its history, with a net win of nearly $12.5 million. Figure they retain roughly a third of that, and I'd imagine that any change in Yonkers' share of the OTB revenues from its harness racing operation is almost immaterial by comparison.

That's indeed not the case for NYRA, whose financial woes are well-documented, or the horsemen. NY Thoroughbred Breeders Association president Jeff Cannizzo noted:
““This accounting trick will dramatically reduce revenues to those who are at the heart and soul of Thoroughbred racing, remove OTB accountability, and create a death spiral for an industry that employs tens of thousands of New Yorkers,” [Thoroughbred Times]

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Aqueduct Friday

In the third at Aqueduct, Gentle Edwin (7-2) goes second off the claim for trainer Cody Autrey. This four-year old gelded son of Trust N Luck was moved smartly up in claiming price in his first race for Autrey, and won with a career high Beyer of 82 in what was his first dirt race around two turns. This barn is hitting at 34% (20 for 58) in the second-off-claim category, as compared to 21% first out over the same period, so perhaps further improvement is due, with David Cohen (30% for this trainer) aboard. This rich Starters Allowance is a chance for connections to make hay on this horse, claimed for 15K. African Diamond (3-1) is two-for-two in two turn dirt races, most recently in a short field at the Meadowlands for the live Bruce Brown barn. Looks like the likely winner should he run back to his win in open 35K claimers at Saratoga in August. I'll use him in exactas with the top choice with the morning line favorite El Tamberito (2-1) looking vulnerable in his first start around two turns; and the recent good form of Coach Gravy (7-2) having come over synthetic surfaces.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

NYRA To Court: Throw the Bums Out

NYRA's motion in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the Southern District of New York to throw out NYCOTB's bankruptcy petition is a two front assault - a highly technical and legal argument that OTB is not eligible to file for Chapter 9 protection; and a more subjective and skeptical view of its motivation to do so. And it would seem as if NYRA got its moneys worth (though the Comptroller will no doubt want to know where it came from); the citations of precedent-filled 23 page filing by the law firm Weil, Gotshal & Manges systematically and meticulously seeks to shred OTB's contentions to pieces on both counts.

I won't go too far into the Chapter 9 argument, which is far beyond my pay scale. Suffice to say that it lays out the criteria required to achieve such protection and, other than accepting the fact that NYCOTB qualifies as a "municipality," proceeds to explain why it fails to satisfy each of the other required precepts. A couple of key points: NYRA contends that legislative action is necessary for OTB to file for Chapter 9, and that Governor Paterson's Executive Order which specifically authorized it to do so is invalid.

Critically, however, there was and is no statute that empowered Governor Paterson to authorize — pursuant to Executive Order or otherwise — NYC OTB to file for bankruptcy protection under chapter 9. Therefore, the Executive Order could not provide the express written authority required for NYC OTB’s chapter 9 filing.
NYRA also claims that OTB did not, as required, negotiate with its creditors prior to the bankruptcy filing, disputing its claim that such negotiations were "impracticable" (impossible to do or carry out). NYRA argued that OTB's creditors were neither too difficult to identify (in fact, the entities that NYC OTB considers its principle creditors are statutory distributees, like NYRA..), and that such negotiations would have posed no risk of significant loss of NYC OTB's assets.

More interesting to me is NYRA's second line of attack; the notion that the filing was not made in good faith, and was rather "merely a tactic" to, among other things, delay further payments to creditors (payments which, as it notes, are statutorily mandated, and, as it does not note, are desperately needed by an entity fast running out of cash); and that OTB has no "reasonable prospects" for a reorganization.
First, NYC OTB’s business plan hinges on the State legislature’s “swift and decisive” action to modify the legislative distribution scheme..
That has to be by far the most self-explanatory statement in the entire filing; and perhaps a veiled swipe at Albany's failure to name an operator at the Big A. And here, in this section, lies the crux of the whole matter, and what was likely the main impetus behind this whole action - the fact that OTB is seeking to have its already low-by-comparison payments to the industry reduced even further.
Second, the most critical of the legislative changes NYC OTB seeks is modification of the legislative distribution scheme to allow NYC OTB to pay its operating expenses before it calculates its mandatory distribution to the State horse racing industry, as well as State and local governments (i.e., payment on the "net" rather than the "gross". However, it is likely that, if distributions are made on percentages of revenue after NYC OTB satisfies its hefty overhead costs, there will be insufficient funds to distribute to the State horse racing industry.

Ironically, this could put the State horse racing industry out of business, which would, in turn, put NYC OTB out of business. This result casts doubt on NYC OTB’s ability to “effect a speedy, efficient reorganization on a feasible basis.”
(Sarcasm here was not added by me.)

Finally, NYRA contends that OTB did not consider its alternatives to a bankruptcy filing, and saves one of its most effective points in my view for last.
For example, NYC OTB intends to incur $250 million of debt to finance its reorganization. However, it is unclear why, prior to coming into bankruptcy court, NYC OTB did not use its authority to issue bonds to raise revenue to pay its obligations, fund operations, and grow its business. NYC OTB's failure to make such an effort to raise revenue before filing points to its lack of good faith in this proceeding.
What would OTB chairman Sandy Frucher say about that? Perhaps he'll return Matt Hegarty's call and explain. And while he's at it, he can tell us what happened to his statements of this past September, when he spoke in far more profound terms then the simplistic survival plan of simply paying less to the industry which is OTB's lifeblood, actually questioning the dysfunctional structure of OTB in the state.
"There is no reason, candidly, to have seven totes, more than seven totes. Every track has its own tote. Every OTB has its’s done seven times and it has to be done identical."

"It really comes down to a bit of redundancy. I mean, how many presidents of OTBs do you want to pay for?"

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Grand Finale

It's funny how things work out in life sometimes. My mom decided that we would sit shiva for my dad through sundown on Sunday. So wouldn't you know that NBC would "flex" the starting time of today's climactic Jets game to 8:20 PM. So, early this evening, my brother, three of my nephews, my stepson, and I will make our way to the frozen Meadowlands for what should surely be the final game at Giants Stadium.

It all seems fitting, and brings far more than just this season, and this past sad week, to a conclusion. My dad became a season ticket holder in 1964, the team's first year at Shea Stadium; from Section 15 there, we were transferred to Section 216 at the Meadowlands, practically in the same exact spot relative to the field. And though we are retaining two seats at the new stadium, tonight will be the final time that the family will be able to attend en masse and all sit together. It will be a strange feeling for many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that the wind chill factor is forecast to be seven degrees. (The way I remember it, there once was an unwritten rule that night games - even 4 PM games - were not scheduled in cold weather cities late in the season. This little bit of civility and consideration went out the window when the Pats hosted the Raiders in a playoff game in a snowstorm on a Saturday night in 2002. We've all been fair game since then.)

A truly heartfelt thanks to all of you who wrote in to express condolences (and I will get around to responding individually to those of you who emailed). I'm planning to resume regular posting this week, a time during which we're told that Governor Paterson will step to the plate and name an operator for the Big A. Ha ha, we'll see.