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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Heat's Still On

Governor Paterson may be out of the race, but that's not enough as far as the press and critics across the political spectrum are concerned. The News and the Post want him out; big surprise there. The latter's editorial is a particularly sleazy piece; therein, the Post, the only paper to ignore the alleged abuse victim's plea for privacy, repeats a charge it reported the day before about a $40,000 Lexus that the woman purchased, for cash, a few weeks before she effectively dropped the abuse matter by not showing up in court. But this time, the paper doesn't even bother to mention the cash settlement she'd recently won from her landlord over an accident on the property.

And the Times, apparently not quite satisfied with the results of its efforts thus far, editorialized at the top of page A1 of Sunday's print edition with a headline reading: Paterson Faces A Big Question: Can He Govern? And inside is a column by Jim Dwyer in which he asserts that Paterson's transgressions - apparent abuses of power involving a victim of domestic violence - were "far worse" than those of former Governor Spitzer, and lamenting that Paterson hasn't followed his predecessor's lead and resigned.

I'm not sure about that, though I understand his point. Paterson is accused of interfering in a case involving his friend in which a woman was allegedly abused (I'll add that word even if Mr. Dwyer doesn't), while Spitzer's affairs were a private matter. But were they really private if they affected his public work, as it certainly did in one case, as we all know very well. Spitzer spent ample time plotting his ill-fated rendezvous in Washington as a crucial deadline involving NYRA was being reached. And besides, do you think that Spitzer showed any less lack of judgment and common sense than did Paterson, or any less disrespect for the various women in his life?

The question to me is as the Times posed - can he govern? Some argue that he has compromised himself too much, and told too many untruths. Others point to his familiarity with the budget issues and his liberation from the conflicts and distractions that an election race inevitably brings. But to me, the key is articulated at the very end of the Times piece.

Of course, some take the long view. Albany never really seems to function efficiently. The idea that Mr. Paterson’s problems in particular will throw it off kilter is laughable, they say.

“People are thinking abstractly that things would go back to normal if only the governor’s issues were resolved. Wake up!” said Senator Eric T. Schneiderman, a Democrat who represents Upper Manhattan and part of the Bronx. “If we had an amalgamated version of Al Smith and Franklin Roosevelt, this place would still be a mess.” [NY Times]
None of this is written to defend the governor's actions, either in this matter, or in his actions and statements leading up to and following his selection of AEG. However, I still find him to be more of a sympathetic figure placed in an impossible position than an evil soul. His biggest crime in my view was being in over his head. Commenters on this blog and elsewhere have repeatedly referred to his political naivete, and I wholeheartedly agree. But if that's his biggest fault, then that's not such a terrible fault in the scheme of the world at large. So I'm hoping that he gets the opportunity to bring the budget issues that he was the first to sound the alarm on to some kind of acceptable conclusion, leave office with a measure of contentment and with his reputation at least partly restored, and go off somewhere to a happy retirement.

Who knows, maybe AEG will have a nice spot for him at the Big A! (OK, Chris?)

Sunday Morning Notes

So, I know that you guys are sophisticated enough so that you know that when I write something like: I'd take 6-1 to find out in this field for sure, as I did about Cable yesterday in speculating about her ability to get the distance of The Very One Stakes, I don't have to subsequently explain that I didn't bet her as the 7-2 favorite, right? Having said that, her distance ability looks just fine in the wake of her rally from 13th for the show spot. The winner, Changing Skies, 15-1 in the morning line and coming off a layoff for Mott, was sent off at 4-1. EZ game. Daughter of Sadlers Wells becomes the latest middling Euro performer to become a graded stakes winner in the US.

Amen Hallelujah ($6) and Radiohead ($5.20) were both winners, for Dutrow and IEAH, at short odds in their first races on real dirt. Congrats if you had them....I'd still bet against these types every time, regardless of which jockeys ended up on whom. I can't cleverly quote any lyrics from the band of the same name as the latter; while I admire their enlightened attitude towards downloading, I find their music to be boring, sorry. However, they do have a song called Creep, don't they, and that seems to describe the horse's connections quite well!

As this reader pointed out, Miner's Reserve graduated in the following race in the same time as Radiohead; and no doubt given his connections of Zito/LaPenta, and as also pointed out, he "will undoubtedly be placed aggressively in his next start." This son of Mineshaft has some interesting inbreeding here; 3x3 to Mr. Prospector, 4x3 to Tom Rolfe, which you don't see every day, and 4x4 to Secretariat and his half-brother Sir Gaylord. He's out of a Forty Niner mare, and this is the direct distaff family of the Kentucky Oaks winner Dispute, and the Champagne winner Adjudicating.

Like my friend Teresa, my racing Sunday will end at 3 PM today for the US-Canada gold medal hockey game....but root for Canada because it means more to them??? I don't think so!! Harumph! The Canadians looked rather rattled in the frantic closing minutes against Slovakia, and they and their desperate fans could be a bit tight in the opening minutes. Roberto Luongo has not really been tested, and it might behoove the Americans to show him ample rubber early in the match. Would a 4-3 US win on a Ryan Callahan shorthanded goal be too much to ask?

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Gulfstream Notes

In the third, Homeboykris (4-1), last year's winner of the Champagne (run at the same one-turn mile route as this race), makes his second start of the year after running 5th in the Holy Bull. Son of Roman Ruler got involved up front early and was cooked after a second quarter run in 21.87. Dutrow switches here to Leparoux, looking perhaps for a stalk and rally trip as in the Champagne. That race has proven to be a pretty good one; 2nd place finisher Discreetly Mine won the Risen Star as you probably know, 4th place Super Saver subsequently won the G2 Kentucky Jockey Club (and is being pointed to make his three-year old debut in the Gotham or Rebel); and 5th place Dublin really improved last weekend in his two-turn debut. General Maximus (2-1) has nice figs in his two wins in two races, but steps up in class and goes beyond six furlongs for the first time. Radiohead (3-1) has never run on dirt.

In the 6th, Roman Tiger (6-1) had long layoffs prior to his last two races, but now returns promptly following his 7th in the Sunshine Millions, a tough spot for a return. Lightly raced 5-year old has kept some stellar company, and should appreciate the significant class relief here. Hariolus (8-1) has gone well in two turf tries since being claimed back by trainer Danny Miller. Could grab a share from far back moving up in class.

In the 8th, the G3 The Very One, Cable (6-1) stretches out for McLaughlin. Another lightly raced 5-year old, this daughter of Dynaformer showed she's worthy class-wise in a mediocre graded stakes, closing into a very slow early pace in the Suwannee River, flying home for second to hot horse Tottie in a final furlong of 11.18 (last 3/8ths in 34.29). That, and her breeding, suggest she may like this added distance, and I'd take 6-1 to find out in this field for sure.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Third Times A Charm (Extensively Updated)

My favorite quote in the NY Times on Wednesday came from one Paolo Romani, a deputy communications minister in Italy who has sponsored a bill which appears to be favorable to the private business interests of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who owns three TV networks.

“It has nothing to do with the fact that our prime minister also owns television stations,” he said. “It’s in Berlusconi’s interest not to be accused of conflict of interest.” [NY Times]
And there you have it - the universal defense for compromised politicians across the globe! A universal anti-motive, genius! Maybe Joe Bruno's attorneys should have thought of that.

Unfortunately though, I don't think that, or any tack would help Governor Paterson at this point. Three times appears to be the charm for the New York Times in its concerted and determined effort to deliver a fatal blow to Paterson's troubled administration. After two prior duds following the rumors of a pending blockbuster, the Times has rocked the capitol with the quite serious allegation that Paterson, along with the State Police, intervened in a domestic abuse case involving his trusted adviser David Johnson.

The governor is claiming that Johnson's one-time girlfriend, who has asked not to be named for fear of retaliation (tell that to the Post), called him, and not the other way around, as the woman's lawyer, Lawrence B. Saftler, insists.
He said, as he had on Wednesday, that the conversation lasted about a minute, that Mr. Paterson had asked if the woman was all right, and concluded by saying, “If you need me, I’m here for you.” [NYT]
The next day, the woman failed to show up for a court hearing, thus ending the case. If it's somehow proven that Paterson is lying about who called whom, then I don't think he'll last another 48 hours following such a revelation. As it is, the calls for him dropping out of the race, at the very least, are multiplying. Senator Liz Krueger thinks that Lt Gov Richard Ravitch should take over the budget negotiations.

The story has already caused one departure; that of Deputy Secretary for Public Safety Denise O'Donnell.
The fact that the Governor and members of the State Police have acknowledged direct contact with a woman who had filed for an order of protection against a senior member of the Governor’s staff is a very serious matter. These actions are unacceptable regardless of their intent. [Capitol Confidential]
As the one-time integrity czar for Empire Racing, Ms. O'Donnell is well-versed on the subject I'm sure. Ah yes, remember, back in those good old days of the franchise bidding and the Ad Hoc Committee, integrity was the buzzword of the day. A full 20% of the grading system was based on integrity; and to then Governor Spitzer (also well-versed on the subject), that requirement didn't go far enough.
Instead, he said, franchise suitors should be forced to meet the integrity standard before even having their bids considered.

"I would have said as a prerequisite that the bidding entities have an absolute clean bill of health when it comes to integrity,'' he said.
Funny, haven't noticed that word recently when it comes to the racino bidding, have you? Especially on the part of those doing the selecting! Three local politicians from the Ozone Park area - Assemblymember Audrey Pfeffer, State Senator Joseph Addabbo, and Community Board 10 chair Betty Braton - didn't like the process either, but feel that we should forge on, a sentiment with which I agree.
“We've roundly criticized the process; it’s not the best way to make this kind of a decision, but it's time for this project to move forward without any further delay,” Braton said. “The AEG selection meets our criteria and we can work with them,” she added. [Queens Courier]
UPDATE - As jk pointed out, the Daily News is reporting that the governor will drop his reelection bid, though he will not resign....for now. The latter may not be that far off. Hidden in the Times story this morning is the fact that the Paterson administration has not refuted the following account of the telephone conversation between the governor and the alleged victim of David Johnson's abuse:
The woman’s lawyer, Lawrence B. Saftler, said Thursday that she had been called by an intermediary for the governor, who told her to call Mr. Paterson, and that she then did so.
If that's the case, then it does, in my view, make the governor's contention that she initiated the call bogus at best, and effectively an outright lie.

- While I'm here updating, how about a couple of totally off-topic comments, OK, you mind?

I keep reading the word "extraordinary" used to describe yesterday's health care summit, and I think that's pretty sad. That's a word I might use to describe a meeting between, say, Israel and Hamas, or between Iran and the US....or the Iran leadership and the opposition there. But to see it in the context of American political leaders discussing an issue as important as health care is a sad commentary on the present partisan state of affairs. However, watching the proceedings, it's not hard to see why we have reached that point. The president invited Republican leaders to air their ideas, and has gone out of his way throughout this process to try to accommodate their ideas. It's clear that the GOP has no intention of participating, even in the numerous areas in which there is some common ground.

Tear up the present bills and start over again? I don't think so. The Democrats control the White House, and have historic majorities in both houses. Therefore, they control the agenda; that's the consequence of elections. The minority party has been invited to provide input and participate. If they decline, as they surely will, then it's on to reconciliation.

- The Olympic hockey tournament resumes today, and, as much as I love our Canadian friends, I think that their obsession with winning the gold medal has gotten out of hand. One gets the impression that a gold medal has become an absolute national prerogative which has going far beyond simple pride. Reading the near-suicidal fan reaction to the team's early struggles was rather comical; and I found the fact that the fans at the arena were rooting against the US team on Wednesday afternoon to be obnoxious and boorish. Sure, their team's chances for the gold would improve if the U.S. loses before the final. However, I thought that Canadians so cherish their sport....and, that being the case, would they really rather watch a decisive game against an outmanned Swiss team than a rematch with the US which could be a game for the ages? Seriously, winning is that important? I find that to be disrespectful and an affront to the game which they claim to love so dearly. So, let's go Slovakia, and here's hoping for a hat trick from Marian Gaborik!!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A Fisch Story

It could be weeks if not months for Inspector General Joseph Fisch to complete his investigation into....well, whatever it is that he's going to investigate. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who now says he won't sign off on AEG until Fisch has issued his conclusion on the matter, didn't add that the state will aid NYRA in the meantime as it is required to do by the franchise agreement. Silver had his own ideas as to what the probe should encompass, but Fisch isn't saying. Maybe he'll want to take a look at Silver's role as one of the three men who decided that they, alone, would decide.

Governor (and candidate) Paterson seems to relish the opportunity to tell the IG all about his interactions with the other leaders during the selection process. Back on Feb 12 when the idea of a probe was first raised by the Speaker, Paterson said:

"If the inspector general would like to come in and examine this, I would welcome that because I have not shared any of the conversations that I had with any of the other leaders in the process.."

"But when the inspector general comes in and asks, I will share that information and you may find it very interesting. [Daily Politics]
Yeah, it should be extremely interesting to hear what the governor has to say. Silver told the News:
"I think what's important is we know we're signing on to something that's appropriate, and if not, we're not going to."
Something that's appropriate, what does that even mean? That Fisch is going to investigate whether AEG can run a racino? Or just whether or not the selection process stunk? If it's just the latter, why shouldn't the project just proceed (if they come up with money really soon. I mean, why, really, should they have not already come forward with the cash in hand)?

If it's determined that AEG is perfectly qualified, but that there was indeed political influence involved in its selection, does that mean that we throw them out and start the process all over again? Unless one believes that another bidder would provide so much more benefits to the community and state, why would anyone be rooting for that? It almost seems as if the losers have become sympathetic victims to some. Does it make you all warm and fuzzy to hear William Bissett, the president of Delaware North, whose failure to see its winning bid to fruition triggered, or I guess I should say, compounded this whole mess, tell Reuters: "Without question, we still remain very interested in the Aqueduct project and committed to its success for the community and the State."

Jay Z has been in the news regarding his role at AEG, but Penn National had its own hip-hop mogul in Russell Simmons. And writing on this website, Simmons stated the case for Penn National, and asked: "Speaker Silver, Senator Abrams [who?] and Governor Patterson [sic], can any of my dear friends in NY government tell me where and when did it all go wrong?"

Maybe Joseph Fisch will fill us all in. Soon, I hope.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Odds and Ends

Eskendereya got a Beyer of 106 winning the Fountain of Youth. As you may know, for handicapping purposes I like to follow trainers on short-term hot and cold streaks; with Pletcher, the phenomenon seems to be playing out over a much longer period. We saw the Toddster become less dominant (if no less dapper) the last couple of years, with less high profile stakes wins, no longer a cinch for the Saratoga training title, and his win percentage slipping below 20%. But these days, it's like the Toddster of old, with his Big A win percentage still above 35%, and 23% at the far more competitive Gulfstream meet. Whatsmore, he seems to be headed to his usual Derby disappointment with a barn full of early prep winners, including the abovementioned son of Giant's Causeway. Eskendereya has certainly made no mistakes on dirt, but remains untested in my view, and is likely to remain so after he goes into the Derby with just one more prep - the Pletcher way, which has proven so very successful for him in Derbys over the years.

Of course, these days, that silly billy stuff like seasoning and foundation probably doesn't really mean too much. So maybe this will be his Derby year.

Eskendereya is out of a Seattle Slew mare, and he's a half-brother to Balmont, a G1 sprinter in the UK. His 4th dam is Queen Sucree, the dam of the 1974 Derby winner Cannonade.

- Sounds like Monday's court hearing didn't go too well for NYRA, at least according to Matt Hegarty in the Form, who reports that its arguments against OTB being allowed to file for Chapter 9 bankruptcy seemed to fall flat with the judge.

Perhaps the most damaging bit of testimony for NYRA came when Charles Hayward, the company's CEO and president, was on the stand, called as a witness by OTB. Hayward attended the Sept. 1 press conference along with Paterson and Frucher. Hayward said he had no recollection of saying anything that was in support of the Chapter 9 filing. Attorneys for OTB, however, played a 30-second audio clip in which Hayward did in fact "thank the governor for issuing the executive order" authorizing the offtrack betting company to file Chapter 9 bankruptcy. [DRF]
Uh oh, maybe he should give back some of that salary!

- Finally saw The Hurt Locker the other day. And this Best Picture nominee fully lives up to its billing - it's absolutely gripping from start to finish, and it really does put you smack dab in the middle of a war. It presents the conflict in Iraq without judgment or pretension; if it comes off as an anti-war film, it's only due to the nature of the beast. I mention the film on this site because, at the end (spoiler alert), it actually had me thinking of The Gambler. Like Axel Freed, James Caan's character in that 1974 film, this movie's Sgt. James finds that he needs to get his kicks by playing games of chance with consequences far more profound than dropping a few bucks on the Lakers when Jerry West has a bad day.

It's funny how nowadays, we see a movie we like and then go out and buy the DVD so that we can have it at our fingertips to watch over and over again. But there are films, like The Gambler, which I saw for the only time some 35 years ago, that leave an indelible impression after just a single viewing. Of course, now we can always turn to You Tube if we want a little taste. So here's a little sample scene - Axel being unsociable.

Monday, February 22, 2010

No Saving This Ship

I have this fantasy that one day, I'll pick up the Form on the morning of the first Saturday in May, turn to the 11th at Churchill Downs, and handicap the Kentucky Derby virtually from scratch, with horses mostly unfamiliar mixed in with some I may have run into in the past. Blissfully unaware of the hype, the whispers, the wise guys, not already having had a dozen different opinions, the past performance lines would all be fresh, a wondrous canvas of information real and deduced, open to interpretation...and then to a process of re-evaluation based on the changing prices offered on the tote as post time approaches.

In other words, just like any other race, be it a graded stakes, or a 15K claimer for non-winners of three lifetime. That's the miracle of the game for me; the fact that on virtually any day, you can open up the paper (or the website) and have a hundred different puzzles to play. Don't get me wrong; I certainly enjoy following the top stakes horses and races, and joining in the perpetual hunt for the superstar who will prove to be the sport's salvation. But it's standing in front of the TV's at the track, turning to some race at some track with 9 MTP, and striding confidently to the windows with an opinion by the time they've turned towards the starting gate which provides the biggest high for me.

As I see it, the Derby is heading in the direction of the Trail which precedes it not really meaning all that much. The horses run so infrequently, and on so many different surfaces that it seems useless venturing a guess without first seeing the tote.

However, this will not be the year that I handicap the Derby from scratch on race day. I guess that time won't come until I stop writing this blog, which staggered past the five year mark last month. It's not the same, I know, from the early days when I had the time and energy to post several times a day and cover a much wider range of topics. If you're still hanging around, I guess you must be interested in the NYRA mess (and the occasional bad horse picks).

I find it to be a paradox - I love the handicapping and horseplaying as much as ever, especially with the ample simulcasting and handicapping tools such as, and especially, Formulator. But I find the state of, and outlook for the horse racing industry to be grim and depressing; indeed, it's hard for this lifetime New Yorker to see beyond the turmoil and misery of the local industry these days. And, at this stage of the game, I guess I just want to write about what I want to. The national racing industry is a rudderless ship with too many competing interests to save itself, and I just don't enjoy discussing it anymore. The issues itself hardly change and are not that complex nor interesting; the problem lies in the dynamics and the lack of a single voice of leadership.

And all you have to know to realize the futility of it all is this: Since it is indeed time for this blogger to get with it and hop aboard the Derby trail, I went to the NTRA video page to watch the replay of the Florida Derby Fountain of Youth. Except for one problem. The race is not available there. That's right. I don't know (nor care) what the issue is, no doubt some corporate and/or court-related issue involving Magna (no races from Santa Anita either). But the fact is, even if the race was there on the NTRA site, I'd rather watch it in full screen mode on Cal Racing or You Tube instead of on the itsy-bitsy screen that one is limited to on the website of the organization we look to for leadership and inspiration. This is not complicated stuff. I mean, if they can't handle something as simple as providing state-of-the-art graphics on its website, then what are the chances of them taking the reins and saving the sport?

Salary Flap More of the Same

I personally think it's wrong that NYRA was pressured by politicians (egged on by the press) into releasing the salaries of its executives. Another obvious case of Albany attempting to divert the attention away from its own dysfunction and on to the usual whipping boy. Besides, NYRA is a private corporation which generates revenue for the state, and is not, in the normal course of normal operations, supported by taxpayers. The question of whether the monies which accompanied the franchise agreement was a taxpayer-supported bailout or a token compensation for land valued at far more is a matter of debate and perspective. But the looming state rescue which will no doubt be widely portrayed as a "bailout" is anything but. It's merely money which NYRA is due.

As far as the salaries themselves go, I'm no expert on corporate compensation, so the following are just my untrained personal impressions. Charlie Hayward is the chief executive officer of what many still consider to be the top racing operation in the country. What do those who are grumbling about his salary expect him to make? Especially with all the crap he's put up with, and compared to the other executives cited by NYRA, his pay seems totally reasonable.

I have no idea what the hell Hal Handel does, so I have no opinion on his pay. If his position is supposed to be comparable to that of Bill Nader, then Handel certainly keeps a lower profile than his predecessor. Then there are the lower level executives listed; and honestly, I'd have to say that they do seem be to quite fairly compensated.

However, even if you cut all of their pay in half, the difference just wouldn't be material in the larger scheme of things, considering the millions in racino money that is supposed to be flowing from a racino now, the absence of which is no fault of NYRA's at all. But still, we have Gary Pretlow, who, as the chairman of the Assembly's Racing and Wagering Committee, is (presumably) quite well aware of exactly why NYRA is in the situation it's in, offering this programmed political response: "They're running an unprofitable business making exorbitant salaries." Actually, they're attempting to keep the racing going despite a business model rendered unsustainable by years of government neglect; and the Chairman knows that very well.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Giving Up on the Big A

Yeah, not much posting lately, I know. Got back from Florida Tuesday night and been pretty busy since then, taking in a couple of movies, and checking out Toronto's Fucked Up in Brooklyn on Friday night; raging hardcore lives, an awesome show! And then there's the Olympics too! (Yes, I'll be watching the US - Canada hockey game rather than tapping at the keyboard tonight!)

Not that I haven't been looking at some races to discuss; but man, these Aqueduct races have been so depressing that I inevitably end up with no picks and nothing to say. I mean, I've tried to stay loyal and local, but I just can't take it anymore. If I'd concentrated on Gulfstream yesterday, I guarantee I would have given out that Eskendereya in the Fountain of Youth. And, sorry for the redboarding, how can Buddy's Saint be 9-5 in that race, seriously!

So let's try a couple of price plays down at the Gulf later this afternoon. In the 8th, Who Plays Brahms (8-1) gets some much-needed, and pretty significant class relief in a restricted claimer in which the main contenders have burned a lot of dough of late. This four-year old daughter of Brahms is winless in her last seven, and in five career races on turf; but she always tries and gives a decent account of herself. In her last, she ran evenly behind Absoulute Heaven, who stepped up in class and missed by a neck in open 50k company yesterday. Chris DeCarlo is back in the saddle, and he seemed to fit well two back when she missed the place spot by a head to Encanto Park, who would kill this field. She'll have to keep a bit closer to the front in a race which seems paceless on paper, but I think she should run well at a good price. Watch Smartly (4-1) came up short moving up to this class in her last, but was used early chasing a loose front-runner. Selene's Delight (3-1) gets up from time to time, but late-running style may be compromised by a slow pace.

In the 10th, Tap Dancing (8-1) figures to get a nice jump on this field from her inside post in a race in which the top contenders are closers stuck in the outside posts. A lot of layoff lines for this son of Pleasant Tap, but this time he's back in a month after his sharp front-running effort at this level over the track on Jan 24. Note the nearly exact replication of the workout pattern going into that race, with the five furlong move a week prior.

And another note from Saturday's card - in the third, Streaker ($13) was a well-bet and determined first-timer from Shug, first putting away the speedy Alivie (my bet), and then turning back a stretch challenge from the overbet (3-5!!) money burner Muhaawara. This filly is by Forest Wildcat out of Matlacha Pass (Seeking the Gold), which makes her a half-sister to Shug's ill-fated Pine Island. Different running style, but similarly resolute. Here's her win in the 2006 Alabama.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Reality Check

The Daily News is now reporting that federal investigators are indeed interested in the Aqueduct racino selection process; and not just in Senator Malcolm Smith's relationship to non-profit groups to whom he's directed member funds to.

But wait a minute....hold on there, Mr. Kenneth Lovett, Daily News Albany Bureau Chief. You're basing this supposed news article on an anonymous and quite self-serving quote from an unnamed losing bidder? Seriously? Why don't you get back to us with something a little more substantial and credible. Like a confirmed story about a subpoena delivered to the governor's mansion.

Not to say it's not true of course; I have no idea. [Fred Dicker, reporting in the Post, at least names the company that the anonymous source is associated with.] But I just would find it hard to believe that the Justice Department would be interested in this matter at this time, no matter how opaque and fishy it might seem. However, as we've said, there are some prominent and extremely powerful people in the nation's capitol who would love to see Governor Paterson go away into the night for once and for all.

The Daily News along with, and especially, the New York Post have been going absolutely ballistic over this from the moment the governor made his fateful selection. So, it was no surprise to see the story of the release of the bidders' documents plastered on the front pages.

OK, I think it's time to step back, take a deeeeeep breath, and have a reality check. These two papers would have found something to complain about somewhere in AEG's bid, no matter what. So let's take a look at exactly what is so horrible, how we've been Aque-duped, as the headline says. I'm going to play a little bit of devil's advocate here...but not that much, and to make a larger point later on.

The articles in each of the papers, here and here, make two main points. The first is that AEG's initial offer of upfront money was only $150 million, which was behind the other bidders. But, so what? This is old news, and we are well aware that all of the bidders were allowed to increase their offers. AEG then met the governor's demand to increase the offer to a minimum of $200 million. But, while it's pointed out that this still was behind Penn National's $301 million, nobody bothers to mention that the latter started out with a token offer of $5 million before getting into the game. The fact is that, however they got there, AEG is now committed to come up with the $300 million required by Sheldon Silver.

The other main argument is that AEG initially came in on the low end of the financial projections, and then raised them once the offers were revised.

James Featherstonhaugh, a lobbyist for rival Delaware North, said, "There's no reason why their numbers have changed. Nobody else's number did." [NY Post]
But, for their part, AEG said their initial numbers were ""very conservative," while "these new numbers more accurately reflect the market conditions and revenue potential that our group can bring to the state." [Daily News] Hmmm, seems a somewhat reasonable argument.

And besides, though less emphatically, I'm going to again say here, so what? Projections are just that; guesses, and they are often quite wrong once reality takes over.

We're also told, in another Post article, of an "expert" who tells us: "A consortium is only as strong as its weakest link, and all the links here, with the exception of Siemens [one of AEG's partners], lack financial firepower." But conveniently ignored is the fact that Deutsche Bank is said to be a non-equity financial backer of the project. And remember, once AEG comes up with the $300 million, its immediate financial needs are minimal; the state will issue bonds to pay up to $250 million in construction costs. Additionally, we're told by the News, that AEG, in its pre-emptive release of the documents, didn't disclose that Karl O'Farrell was originally part of the group before being dumped last year. Yeah, so?

How does any of the above impact on the ability of this company to construct a racino (with state funds)? Even the Post editorial quotes another "expert" who says: "Their construction résumé is solid. It appears AEG would get Aqueduct open and running." And isn't that the most important thing at this stage of the game?

I say this not because I think the process was clean - it stunk. And not because I think there was no political favoritism and shenanigans, not because I don't think there should be any investigations, and NOT because I think AEG was the most qualified bidder! I think it's clear that they were not! However, in all of this criticism and hand wringing, I have not read a single word about what is to become of the racing industry in this state if, as the Daily News advocates, we "Scratch Aqueduct Deal." Not one word about the fact that NYRA is mere months away from being insolvent; thoroughbred racing months away from being shut down. And nary a mere mention of the franchise agreement which requires the state to supply operating funds to NYRA at this point, with no racino in sight. If the deal is scuttled, what then? As NYRA runs out of money, will we then see front page headlines in the Post and the News that read: DEADBEAT DAVE: State reneges on its written obligation to fund NYRA tracks in absence of racino?

I didn't think so.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Take The Long View

Hope everyone had a nice holiday weekend. One more day in cool but abundantly sunny Florida (Gulf coast; no Gulfstream, too far from Tampa), and then I'll be home and back to my usual blabbering. I actually did get to look at Sunday and Monday's Aqueduct cards in a fair amount of detail. Just nothing stood out for me to give out any losers, not even close, really.

My initial thought when I learned that Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta would, if all goes well, indeed meet in the rescheduled Apple Blossom on April 9, was that it was typical of this industry that the long anticipated matchup would occur on a Friday afternoon. But, on second thought, it probably doesn't really matter; and with a little thought, ingenuity, and long-term thinking, perhaps the industry can use it to advantage.

For one thing of course, the next thing I read about a network actually picking the race up for telecast will be the first. If the race is limited to the racing channels and simulcast outlets, it obviously won't matter when it's run. But the sad fact is that, even if the race was to be run on Saturday, not a whole lot of people other than the usual suspects would tune in anyway. I'm afraid that, unlike us, the nation is not waiting with baited breath to see these two fillies meet. Most people don't even know who they are.

Marketing demands a longer term view, and I'm afraid that it seems a proven fact that beating people over the head, telling them how great the sport is and how fantastic a particular race is going to be just does not work for races not named the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, or Belmont. With that in mind, I hope that the NTRA and the industry does not do what I suspect they surely will (since thought, ingenuity, and the long-term view is not part of their package). (And I'm assuming, for this discussion, that the race is televised, probably on one of ESPN or NBC's minor outlets, like ESPN Classic or the hideous Bravo.)

What we'll probably see is Oaklawn run the race as late in the day as possible - the final race, when the card is not canceled, generally goes off at around 5:30 local time, which would put it in the faux prime-time of 6:30 back east. That will be accompanied by a full-out advertising effort for the "race for the ages," and some insufferable shill like Tessitore screaming about oh my, how fucking exciting this is.

I think that would be a mistake. There's a very good reason why politicians make announcements of things they don't want to be noticed on late Friday afternoons. (It doesn't always work.) I would instead go for the emphasis on the news cycle rather than the live event, which, seriously, nobody other than the already converted is really going to run home in time to watch anyway. Just forget about ratings and run the race early in the program and concentrate instead on having the race hit the evening news programs and the Saturday papers. Those of us who really want to see it will find a way. And, just maybe, seeing and hearing about this great matchup run on a Friday afternoon will give the matter a little aura and buzz, maybe even achieve viral status, and help build some anticipation for the races down the road.

Because this is not a "race for the ages." It's an early season matchup between two horses unlikely to be at their peak form and, in theory of course, the beginning of a series of races and a narrative leading up to the true climactic showdown at Churchill in November. It should be presented exactly that way. It's possible that a true rivalry between the two, complete with storylines, triumphs and setbacks, could help lift the sport out of the doldrums (or at least help it poke it's little snout above the waterline). But there is no rivalry as of yet; this race would only be the first step. If it's built up out of proportion, it may not achieve the desired results. Especially if Zenyatta kicks her butt. The public doesn't care about whiny excuses even if they're legitimate equine ones, and especially not from a whiny complainer like Jess Jackson. If this is the "race for the ages," how would you then promote the next one if this one doesn't live up to its billing?

- Governor Paterson is set to release the bid documents from the five Aqueduct bidders today (I guess Steve Wynn is off the hook), complete with redactions of items that the bidders consider confidential or proprietary. Who cares, I say; what I want to see is the Lottery Divison's evaluations of those bids, and where and how they ranked the winning bidder. Guess we'll have to wait for the Inspector General's report to see those.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Michael Make My Day

Let's try a couple of horses trained by Michael Maker today, at two different tracks. In the second at Aqueduct, Pressure Point (3-1) hasn't won since his career debut, 11 races ago, in November 2008. However, he's consistently run competitively against what is just plain far, far better company than he will meet today, dropping in for a tag for the first time. Don't really have anything more to say about this race, just a clear selection on class.

In the 8th at Gulfstream [Update: race off the grass,, we're not in that part of Florida], Cruisin'nthebridle (6-1) comes off a freshening for a barn which wins at 25% in the 61-180 day layoff category. Plus, she's reunited with Ramon Dominguez, with whom she had two solid efforts on the NYRA circuit over the summer. Solid closes and a nice progression of speed figures for this one if you take out the mile and a half race, and the Saratoga race at which she stumbled at the start; morning line looks like a bargain here. Toocleverforwords (7-2) and Salsa Star (6-1) both come out of the allowance race won by Tottie, who came back to win the Suwannee River as the unexpected favorite (and benefiting from a ridiculously slow pace).

Friday, February 12, 2010

View From Afar

We're down in Florida with kids, and the usual vacation posting rules apply. Truth is though it's not all that much warmer than it is in New York (though no snow, thankfully). So I have a few minutes to sit inside and try to make some sense of the Aqueduct mess.

Amazing, isn't it, the way that this has escalated from the usual muttering about Albany business as usual into a cascading disaster that will surely serve as the final death knell to the administration of David A. Paterson. The governor of New York is under siege from an eager press, a vindictive legislature, and, apparently at least according to one report I've read, federal prosecutors with an agenda as blatantly apparent as the one which Paterson himself is being accused of. It was his ill-timed meeting with Floyd Flake the morning after he picked AEG that set this all off; Danny Hakim may not have that blockbuster on the governor now, but it was his article on that encounter that seemed to set the events in motion.

And, try as he may, Paterson cannot explain that meeting away. Even if it was innocent as he says, it was still incredibly stupid, and showed a lack of political instinct and common sense that makes his fitness for an elected term questionable at best.

Everyone wants to investigate now, even Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. Notice that he's calling for a probe of how the Lottery Division conducted itself, and not, of course, his own role in establishing and willingly participating in the secretive process behind it all.

Meanwhile, Tom Precious reported that the federal investigation is not limited to New Direction Local Development Corp, a charity group headed by Senator Malcolm Smith, as Paterson had insisted.

But several sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, say the federal probe has expanded in recent days to go beyond just the Queens charity to include the Aqueduct matter. The U.S. Attorney’s office is not commenting. [Bloodhorse]
(The probe has also expanded to other affairs of Senator Smith.) And that makes sense, because there's not a lot of money involved, and the idea that the group is "indirectly tied to AEG" because Smith is an associate of Floyd Flake, a .6% investor, or because New Development's treasurer was a CFO of Flake's church, is just laughable.

Having said that though, the idea that the selection of AEG would be the subject of a federal probe at this stage doesn't ring true to me either. Maybe I'm wrong, but seems to me that the Justice Department takes a far more deliberate approach, and doesn't pay attention to sensational headlines in the New York Post. So I sense some politics and vindictiveness at play here. Some of us speculated here about the various reasons and motives that the White House would have to either spur on the Justice Department, or to see to it that nothing is said or done to discourage any of the reports about this supposed investigation that we're seeing now.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Not Yet

I figure it's not a great sign that they can't get Rachel Alexandra ready for a race on April 3, a full seven months after her last race. Steve Asmussen says she's on track for a prep on March 13. "And I don't think three weeks are sufficient after her first race in six months........ We don't want to run her if she's less than 100 percent." [Star Telegram]

Zenyatta is also aiming for a prep on that date, so the Apple Blossom would also be three weeks after her first race of the year.

Well, that sounds like a fair fight to me. I don't buy this notion that they both have to be "at the top of their game" for this race....assuming, of course, that it would be intended as a preliminary encounter rather than an ultimate showdown. Horses can't be at the peak of their form for the entire year. The Breeders' Cup Classic is the ultimate goal (and Saratoga would make for a wonderful middle match). The RA camp seems so afraid of losing, like doing so would permanently sully her reputation and devastate her value. Nonsense. Someone has to lose, and what's the shame of that. Jeez, it's just a game, after all. Indeed, there are horses throughout history whose reputations were actually enhanced and cemented by races that they lost. And this particular race would have been just be part of the narrative, setting up the story lines for the rematch(es).

Unfortunately, I think Oaklawn waited a week or two too long to announce the $5 million purse. With more warning, just maybe the Rachel team would have had the incentive to start the process of her comeback earlier, with making that race in mind. At this point, with just that one workout on her tab, it does seem like a stretch. On the other hand though, maybe she's had such a tough time bouncing back from last year's campaign that it wouldn't have been possible under any circumstance or for any amount of money.

Jackson says he wants the two to meet three times; "a racing series to rival the Triple Crown.”. But apparently, Jerry Moss didn't get cc'd on the memo.

"It's a shame they are not going to show up for that race," Moss said in a telephone interview with the AP. "In the meantime, there's some plan here, to run in three races, to which we're supposed to respond to, and we haven't even been consulted about it. So, I don't know what I'm supposed to say." [The Canadian Press]
Yeah, he doesn't sound too happy, does he?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Turning the Tables

Well, this seems to be working out pretty damn well for David Paterson, the current and still reigning Governor of the great state of New York. In fact, it couldn't have worked out better if those nasty rumors were orchestrated by the governor himself!! (Ha ha.) There is no blockbuster story, he gloated to the press after being interviewed by the Times' Danny Hakim, who, he says, questioned him about campaign expenditures, his choice of restaurants and various hiring decisions. [NY Post]

So, the governor gets to portray himself as a victim of the press, always good for ample sympathy from folks of all political stripes. And he gets the opportunity to turn the tables on a press corps which has been particularly harsh on him during his troubled tenure.

They gave me an answer such as: We’re not responsible....But I do think I was owed, as a human being, if not professional journalism, the right and the opportunity not to have the people of the state of New York thinking that their governor is about to resign when there hasn’t been on shred of evidence that any of these charges that had been made about me are even true." [Daily Politics]
The press comes off either as arrogant, as in the case of the Times, or as gossipy perpetrators of a rumor-fueled feeding frenzy, as with the rest of the press and bloggers like yours truly. And, at least for a day, we didn't even hear about Aqueduct. That much.
Tuesday evening, Joe Sexton, The Times’s Metropolitan Editor, said: “Obviously we are not responsible for what other news organizations are reporting. It’s not coming from The Times.” [City Room]
But it seems to me that it wouldn't have killed the Times to have put out the word that it had nothing up it sleeve. Not that they were under any obligation to do so; but I don't understand why they wouldn't once things got out totally out of hand. Were they somehow protecting their journalistic integrity? Otherwise, it just seems kinda pretentious to me; it was almost like they relished prolonging the suspense. Still, the question remains: Was it all a total fabrication as the governor claims? Or was the Times merely unable to substantiate to its standards and satisfaction?

Meanwhile, the Queens Courier reports that the local Ozone Park community supports the selection of AEG, also good news for the guv. “We’re not unhappy that AEG got the contract.“ Oh. Well. That's actually not all that enthusiastic. Though more so than Smelly Deal or Dave's Dying Deal. However, Community Board 10 chair Betty Braton did add: "It’s a solid proposal with more jobs and community benefits.” Check out the article, which has some interesting comments about the losing bidders....most interesting of which is the notion that the community was turned off by SL Green's drawings of the Hard Rock Cafe sign - "a giant guitar [logo at the entrance to the facility] was more suited to Times Square than the neighborhood."

Darryl Greene is out at AEG as previously reported; and James Odato reported in the Times Union yesterday that he held a .6 percent stake. Additionally, he wrote that the Rev. Floyd Flake holds the same stake. That caught my attention, because last week, in trying to trivialize Flake's stake, the governor said it was .06 percent, making him, in Paterson's view, not even a minority owner, but a minute owner. And that decimal point placement, confirmed via email by the reporter, makes a huge difference when you're talking about the kind of money that the Big A racino is expected to generate. The Daily News reported over the weekend that the expectations are higher than Yonkers, which paid out nearly $156 million for the casino operator during the last fiscal year. .6 percent of that comes to $936,000, as opposed to a tenth of that using Paterson's math. I'd say that's more than minute, even if that's a gross figure. And even for Flake.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Target Du Jour (Updated)

A source said by NY Magazine's Daily Intel blog to be "close to the Paterson camp" said that, while the (possibly) imminent NY Times story will contain new revelations of marital infidelity on the part of the governor, "the piece is PG-13, not XXX." And he added:

"Not to say it won't be problematic, but the Aqueduct situation? That's potentially criminal.
Whoa, those are pretty strong words. Whether or not the governor deprived the public of his honest services in this particular case is impossible to say, and just maybe inappropriate to ponder in print. Still, it seems to me that the reader, I think it was jk, who predicted that a guilty verdict in the Bruno trial would augur caution and discretion on the part of the Aqueduct deciders, was decidedly wrong!

In fact, I also saw today where Senator Malcolm Smith, who, just two months ago, told the NY Times "I have no interest in working in that business," (a quote which has apparently since been scrubbed from the article online), on Monday refused to rule out a job at the Big A with AEG.
“No one ever rules out anything. If someone were to say to me, ‘will you rule out running for president, Malcolm,’ I wouldn’t rule that out." [Capitol Confidential]
Nice going there Malcolm; smart move to attract even a small slice of the focus away from the embattled governor. Unless he was just trying to help his good buddy out. Does anyone want to take my bet that he ends up working there? I didn't think so. (One of his pals won't be there anymore though.)

[UPDATE: AEG partner Jeffrey Levine says: "We can unequivocally state that Sen. Smith nor any government official involved in this process will ever be employed by Aqueduct Entertainment Group or any of its partners, investors or affiliates," Levine said. [Albany Times Union]

The Times report is not yet in draft form according to the Daily Intel post; and the reporters are supposed to interview the governor on Tuesday (he met with the editorial board on Monday).

It's interesting, this whole thing all sounded rather familiar to me. So I did a search of the LATG archives, and sure enough, found a post that Elizabeth Benjamin wrote on March 27, 2008, just a couple of weeks after the Times broke the story that led to Paterson's ascension to governor, entitled Times Strikes Fear In Albany's Heart.
State lawmakers and competitive Capitol reporters alike have noted with some trepidation how unusually crowded The New York Times' Albany bureau is this week, and are all abuzz about what big story the Gray Lady might break next.
The assumption, of course, is that the target du jour is Spitzer's replacement, Gov. David Paterson, who has revealed much about his personal life since his swearing in on March 17, but nevertheless remains the subject of considerable speculation. [Daily Politics]
But I don't recall any such "big story" on the subject emerging afterwards. And sure enough, the same reporters that Ms. Benjamin mentioned then, Nicholas Confessore, Danny Hakim, and Serge F. Kovaleski, are also reportedly working on this one.

So, if the story is, again referring to the Daily Intel post, an "in-depth profile of the governor focused on his personal character," then it's altogether possible that it's just old news which wasn't fit to print then, but I guess is now that the governor is really the target du jour. While I defended the governor up and down against what I saw as an aggressive media during and after the Caroline Kennedy affair, in this case, he brought it upon himself. Still, the press seems to take a particular delight in going after this guy, doesn't it? Fred Dicker's piece in the Post on Monday was particularly vicious, though consider the source.
The Times's internal standards, it's worth noting, require the kind of tight sourcing that would make allegations like those in Dicker's piece, particularly anonymous ones, about personal behavior hard to get into print. "We do not inquire pointlessly into someone's personal life," the guidelines state. And in the wake of the flap over a story reporting that John McCain's staff suspected he was having an affair, the paper is likely to be wary of anything that could be interpreted as innuendo. [Politico]
So perhaps the rumored story will, again, not come to pass. Whatever happens, I still maintain that the governor is basically an honest and decent man who has done a credible job under impossible economic and political conditions, and who is on the right side, in my view, on issues such as the Rockefeller drug laws, gay marriage, and reproductive rights. Why he stumbled so horribly on what should have been a relatively straightforward decision is really hard to say.

Pummeling Paterson

As bad as things have been going for Governor David Paterson over Aqueduct, they are apparently about to get worse, and significantly so.

For about two weeks now, Albany has been buzzing that the New York Times was preparing a blockbuster scandal exposé about Governor Paterson, one that could seriously affect his chances for reelection. [NY Magazine]
The story is said to involve the governor's personal conduct and, according to Elizabeth Benjamin, the first to mention the buzz in the media, will be far worse than his acknowledged extramarital affair with a former state employee.

In fact, the buzz reached such a fevered pitch, that there are already rumors about his impending resignation. Those stories are being denied.
"This is a new low even by the standards of Planet Albany," said Paterson spokesman Peter Kauffmann late Sunday. "The circus of the past week entirely fabricated out of thin air and innuendo is an embarrassment for all who have played a role in fueling it."

"I've never seen the rumor of a story becoming the story as this one has," said Doug Muzzio, politics professor at New York City's Baruch College. [AP]
If the governor is indeed sliding towards political oblivion, it was the Aqueduct affair which supplied the initial push. Paterson, who made the front page of the Daily News on Friday, was again strafed by the press over the weekend in editorial and columns such as this, this, this, and this. And it's all pretty ironic, though entirely his fault, that the AEG selection has raised questions about his integrity in the matter. That cloud was instead supposed to be hanging over the head of Senator Malcolm Smith and the Senate Democrats; indeed, it was the governor who was supposedly holding out against them (in favor instead of the outfit which employed his political advisor as a lobbyist). Indeed, Paterson could very well have gotten through this unscathed if AEG meets Speaker Sheldon's conditions and begins construction in due time.

But his meeting with the Rev Floyd Flake, which the press is reporting as being three days after the selection, but in fact was the morning after Friday afternoon as far as business days goes, was an error of judgment so grievous as to qualify as bizarre. What was he thinking....or who could possibly have told him to do such a thing?

Well, actually, according to a report last week on the Post's Page Six, it was none other than the aforementioned Paterson political advisor/SL Green lobbyist (now ex-lobbyist) Bill Lynch while on an Acela train last Sunday. That would be pretty damn funny if it is indeed the case that the lobbyist for the group Paterson didn't select gave the governor advice which amounted to certain political suicide as far as any hopes of re-election goes.

According to Crains New York, AEG was set to meet with the community late last week and begin "pre-construction" of thee site on Friday. And it's a good thing if they hit the ground running. Of course, everyone wants to know if they can come up with the cash by March 31; and many people seem to believe that they cannot.
Sources raised questions about where AEG will find $300 million -- the up-front licensing fee it must pay to move ahead with the project.

The lead financial partner for AEG is a Canadian merchant bank, Clairvest, whose total assets come only to about $300 million, a Post review found.

AEG yesterday said that Deutsche Bank -- which is not a partner -- will provide additional financing. [NY Post]
I think at this point, AEG should be given a short leash on demonstrating that it has the cash. We can hardly afford to wait until March 31 to find out otherwise.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Tottie Tote-y

What a betting coup in the Suwannee at Gulfstream on Saturday. Tottie, 8-1 in the morning line, starting from the 11 post off a single entry-level allowance win in the US, and a 2 for 11 career record spanning two continents, was 2-1 on the tote from the beginning. I kept assuming that she was going to drift up; not only did that not happen, but, to my utter amazement, she took a late hit and went off as the 9-5 favorite. As I mentioned in my (losing) analysis on Saturday, it was a highly flawed field. But still, most of the fillies and mares had far more to offer on their resumes.

Whatsmore, while that allowance win was achieved with a late rally from dead last in a ten horse field, here she loped along a half length behind 45-1 In My Glory as that one was permitted to absolutely walk to the half in nearly 51 seconds on a course which produced far faster splits throughout the day (30 claimers went 46 flat in the second). She took over in the stretch and held off the helpless closers as she zipped home in 11 2/5 seconds. It was the kind of race which would have prompted fires in the garbage cans at Roosevelt back in the day. “The plan was to come from behind, but when she broke, she broke right on top and I didn’t want to take her back,” said jockey John Lezcano. Yeah, sure, the conspiracist railbirds must be muttering.

Of course, no hanky-panky here. There wasn't much speed on paper, and it's certainly not the first time we've seen Euros with moderate (at best) form dominate over here. Still, the strange wagering on the race was the big story as far as I'm concerned. So it always surprises me when there's no mention of it in the press accounts; which is the case in the stories I've read about the race thus far. And to me, that's one of the many things that's wrong with the way the industry tries to portray and market its sport. Yes, Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta is a sports story which transcends pari-mutual pools, but it's an extremely rare one which, given the economics of the sport, we may not see again for a decade or more. Horse racing is a gambling endeavor. It's an action game for bettors both respectable and degenerate. I think the industry needs to fully embrace and extol that fact if it has any hope of survival.

Tottie is a daughter of the turf champion Fantastic Light, standing for Darley in Japan, out of a mare by Komaite (Nureyev). Excellent efforts by runner-up Cable and 4th place finisher Sweet and Flawless closing against the grain.

Was that really Quality Road standing calmly in the gate before the Donn, not turning a hair as he waited for the rest of the field to assemble for the start? I noticed that they put him in first, which I guess was the strategy. The four-year old son of Elusive Quality earned a Beyer of 121 in crushing eight inferior rivals in track record time, and will now take some time off. His next race is scheduled to be the Met Mile, assuming Belmont is still operating by then. Do you think he'll get his own NYRA website like Rachel?

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Soldiering On To Gulfstream

In the 8th on Saturday, Soldier Field (4-1) makes his three-year old debut for Mott; and this is the kind of horse I can fall in love with instantly just upon seeing its past performance lines for the first time. Some people get turned on by horses that open up with high speed early and hang on late. But it's the ones who are coming at the end with dramatic late runs that get me excited; especially the young ones with seemingly unlimited promise rather than question marks as the distances start to stretch out.

This son of More Than Ready was four wide around the turn while rallying from 9th in his last, at Churchill in November; he ran greenly after turning for home, but changed leads and got down to business midstretch. He was on his way to victory when carried out by the unofficial winner, and finished just in front of Maximus Ruler, subsequently second in the Lecomte with an 87 Beyer. Mott has been sharp at this meet recently off similar layoffs, winning with Comic Marvel and Drosselmeyer last weekend, and a close second in the marathon turf feature the other day with Kiawah Cat. Soldier Field figures to love the extra distance of this mile race. Can't say that for sure about Overcommunication (3-1) or Wildcat Frankie (9-5), both stretching out from six furlongs.

In the 11th, the G3 Suwannee River, let's take a shot with Indigo River (12-1) in a very moderate field - the top four choices in the morning line are a combined 0 for 16 in graded stakes. This daughter of Grand Slam made her grass debut off a 2 1/2 month layoff on this track last month after an improving sequence of form on the Poly at Woodbine. Far back entering the turn, she took off and made a wide run to contention, a good six wide turning for home. She finished with good energy for third, beaten just 2 1/2 lengths by Sunshine Millions F&M Turf winner Tight Precision; and a length behind Cherokee Queen, a next-out allowance winner with a 93 Beyer. That number could very well win this race, and it wouldn't take too much for this filly to reach that level in her second off the layoff, and with a grass race under her belt. Lemonette (5-1) is the most consistent horse Beyer-wise, and retained sharp form off a freshening with a nice win at Tampa. Long Approach (7-2) hasn't won since Sept, 2007, and is 0 for 7 in graded stakes; looks vulnerable as the morning line favorite here.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Aqueduct Friday

In the first, Ricoriatoa (3-1) cuts back to a sprint for trainer Dominic Galluscio, who plucked down 60K for this one two races back. This gelded son of Smarty Jones is two for two going one turn on fast dirt, and has earned his two best speed figures in those races. His debut for this barn, coming off a two months freshening, was his first two-turn effort; he opened up on the final turn before fading to 4th, and the turnback should definitely help here. Galluscio recently had an 0 for 16 slump, but was in the money on nine occasions during that time. He was a 21% guy last year, and, as we've seen, these things even out over time. The barn broke through with Stratton's Girl ($12.40) on Saturday, and won with Ave of the Pines ($5.10) yesterday. He's 26% second off the layoff, and here he attempts to repeat a winning pattern off a very similar sequence under the prior connections last fall. I'm a bit concerned that he wants a bit more than six furlongs; but if he runs back to that 89 Beyer at seven second off that layoff in November, he should be tough here. Came East (5-2) goes for the unconscious Pletcher, also cuts back and is also unbeaten in shorter races (one on Poly). I think he's facing slightly better here, but biggest knock really is that he'll likely be overbet; one to beat.

- The Jets are not in the Superbowl as you might have noticed; but not every member of my household is broken up about that. The Head Chef has a culinary tip for the big game on her Grapes and Greens blog.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Yeah, so?

I'd heard for a couple of days now about the big announcement from Oaklawn Park about Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta, and I have to say I'm quite disappointed. I thought we were going to hear something far more dramatic and definitive, with the human connections present for a big photo op, playfully wrestling and giving each other noogies for the cameras. Instead, we have a lot of money and hoopla, some vague declarations about how the connections have indicated enthusiasm for the race, and a Horse of the Year who has one slow workout on her tab. So please let me know when this gets serious.

No Reason For Delay

Noticed some angry readers on this comment thread, accusing politicians and the press, including, I guess, myself, of trying to "delay" the racino at Aqueduct with skeptical comments and coverage, and threats of inquiries into the governor's selection of Aqueduct Entertainment Group.

Regarding the press, I guess that's the old story of blaming the messenger. Sure, there are cases when the media creates a story itself, is biased, or is not really a news organization at all. However, in this case, I just see the press doing their job, probing a process which was so totally opaque that, as the Daily News editorial put it, we're entitled to assume the worst...especially considering the outcome and its immediate aftermath. I think the fact that the Budget Director Robert Megna was compelled to state that AEG was a viable bidder says it all. Does anyone believe he would have had to say such a thing about any of the other bidders?

While the continued chaos admittedly makes for good blogging, I have absolutely no desire to see this deal fall through. As stated by Richard Violette, the president of the NYTHA (which, I'm told, was informed by a knowledgeable Albany insider at a recent meeting that the thinking in the capitol is that there's no more than a 10-15% chance of this being settled by Election Day), “This window of opportunity could shut very quickly....We’ll be out of business.” None of us who love New York racing want to see that, it goes without saying. However, as not only a horseplayer, but a taxpayer in this state who is directly affected by proposed cuts and fee increases deemed necessary to close the budget, damn right I have a right to know why the governor and the Senate leaders were willing to leave $101 million on the table! And to know just what about this second-rate casino operator was so compelling and important so as to bypass more experienced companies?? Indeed, the Times was certainly not the first to report that AEG received low grades from the Lottery!

As far as Sheldon Silver goes, I certainly may be wrong and naive here, but personally, I don't see where he has any personal stake or preference at this point. He took his shot last year for Delaware North, the client of his former close aide Patricia Lynch; and because they blew their shot (and due to other considerations), I personally don't believe he'd be willing to stick his neck out for them again now. In this case, I think that the Speaker merely wants the state to receive everything they would have from the highest bidder. I believe he's absolutely right to make the demands that he has, and to insist that they are not negotiable.

Now, on the other hand, I agree with the sentiments expressed about Senator Skelos' demand for hearings. He and his obstructionist conference have done absolutely nothing towards governance in any area since they were booted to minority status. If SL Green won, he'd call for hearings on the Seminoles' behavior in Florida, and the company's connections to Bill Lynch. If Penn National won, he'd call for hearings as to why an outsider company with no connections to New York was awarded the deal. So, please. That's just f--king retar.... stupid.

The fact is that, as shady as this deal may be, and as dumb as the governor was to rush off to meet Floyd Flake the very next business morning after it was announced, there's no reason at all for any delay. AEG said they would meet the Speaker's terms. So? Sign a deal based on the stated terms, throw out any shady characters (Karl O'Farrell???), crank up the bulldozers, and show us the goddamn money. Now.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Not Negotiable

Here's a link to a letter that Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has written to Governor Paterson regarding his insistence that the conditions for his approval of Aqueduct Entertainment Group's racino deal at the Big A be adhered to without conditions.

Referring perhaps to the article in the Las Vegas Review-Journal that I linked to the other day (or perhaps to this blog itself!), in which Navagante Group president Larry Woolf spoke of up to two months of negotiations which will include the matter of the "payment structure" of the $300 million fee, Silver writes:

Recently, however, I have read press reports quoting partners in AEG who assert that the aforementioned conditions will now be part of an MOU “negotiation.” Let me reiterate – in the event our conversation and my letter were not absolutely clear – the following four conditions are not negotiable.

One, that the up-front licensing fee must be $300 million and that said fee must be received by the State prior to March 31st.
The other conditions deal with licensing of all parties connected to the group, using the "footprint" of the original MGM plans, and that any changes be approved by the Lottery Division and all three leaders.

How Does It Look?

Danny Hakim reports in the Times this morning that Governor Paterson met with the Rev. Floyd Flake on Monday morning and sounded him out about his political support.

Despite the statement by the governor’s spokeswoman that an endorsement had not come up, Mr. Flake said that he and the governor agreed that because of the Aqueduct deal, “it would probably be more difficult to make the endorsement.” And, he added, “we did discuss how that might look to other people.”
As you may know, Flake is an investor in Aqueduct Entertainment Group.

How might that look? Let's see. According to Hakim, the meeting was the first between the two in the two years since Paterson became governor. It came on the very first business morning after the governor made the Big A announcement under the relative press shroud of a late Friday afternoon; which, in turn, came a week after Flake told the Times that Andrew Cuomo would "be a great governor.” And that was a sudden turnaround for Paterson after months of delay during which, according to many press reports, he held out steadfastly for SL Green.

Whatsmore, Hakim reports:
In fact, the Aqueduct Entertainment Group received poor ratings in a ranking of the bidders compiled by the state’s Lottery Division, according to several people with knowledge of the process. The Lottery Division refused to release the document or make its director, Gordon Medenica, available for comment.
That beside the fact that AEG was offering $100 million less that the top bidder.

So, how does it look?
Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause New York, a government watchdog group, said the meeting between Mr. Paterson and Mr. Flake “raises a red flag.”

“What’s amazing to me as an observer of what goes on is the blatancy of it,” she said.

Aqueduct Wednesday

I've been having a tough time finding races and horses I like at Aqueduct lately. For one thing, the menu is limited for me since I don't touch maiden claiming races; and I'm not crazy about those state-bred 15K claimers for winners either. That criteria sometimes leaves me with only six, perhaps even just five races to choose from.

I pored over the five eligible races (oh yeah, I can't get a handle on Starters Handicaps for grey horses either) for Wednesday, and nothing jumped off the page. I should probably leave well enough alone. But no.

The sixth is a wide-open 7500 claiming sprint, and a few horses quoted generously in the morning line have recently run well at this level and seem worth a mention. Baroness (15-1) takes a big drop after trailing throughout in 18K company. This mare improved markedly after adding blinkers and dropping in class for trainer Oscar Barrera Jr.; she won going away at this level over the main track on Nov 8....and progressed from there with a close second for 12.5. Two subsequent inner track tries have been disappointing, but significant class relief here, and she has run well over the surface in the past. OSB Jr has just one winner in 14 races at the Big A, but it came on Jan 24 with a horse with a very similar pattern to this one. Vinnie's Wild Tale had also been moved up to a level which seemed inappropriate and ran that way; but with his claiming tag sliced in half to 10K next time, he won by two. Hoping for some speed in here to help get Baroness into the picture late.

Only a Vision (6-1) had a three-race winning streak over the summer/fall, and won for as much as 12.5K. She then tailed off, and disappointed as the favorite when dropped to this level off a seven week freshening last month. Maybe she didn't like the sealed track; last year here, she followed a dismal performance over that kind of surface with an easy win at the same level. So I'll look for similar improvement here (assuming the track is not sealed; there is some light snow in the area early this morning). I liked Tiffany Rock (12-1) moving up off the claim for Toscano in her last, at a time when the barn was on a little streak. However, she was dead on the board, and on the track, trailing most of the way. Can't find an excuse for that effort, even though she was moving up in class. But gets reunited with apprentice rider Angel Serpa, with whom she showed far more pep out of the gate under prior connections, so perhaps can get better dropping back to this level, at which she ran a close second on Nov 29, earning a 70 Beyer which would likely put her right there today. Best of luck and have a great day.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Structuring An Agreement

Larry Woolf, the president of Navegante Group, the gaming component of the winning Aqueduct Entertainment Group bid, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that the next phase of the process is negotiating a memorandum of understanding with New York's state lottery authorities.

He expects talks will take up to two months with the casino opening coming about six months later.

Part of the negotiations, Woolf said, will be the payment structure of an upfront franchise fee of $300 million, a condition set by the speaker of New York's state Assembly.
Payment structure?? I thought it was same day fed funds, an upfront payment due by the end of the current fiscal year ending March 31? Y'know, like Penn National said they would do. That's the kind of language which makes one feel that they don't have the cash on hand. And the governor said that the talks would take 30 days, not two months. Hmmm, MOU's.....structuring payments....protracted negotiations......this is already starting to sound familiar.

The article also notes that "Several Wall Street analysts were surprised the Aqueduct contract wasn't awarded to a large casino operator." So it's not just us. And there's some speculation of some legal action by the losers, but I agree with this reader, who points out that the state gave fair warning that it would conduct the process by rules which were subject to change at its whim. They all willingly played the game when they thought they could win.

Woolf also says that the first 3,000 machines will be installed within the present plant.
The additional 1,500 games would be added in a new phase, along with additional entertainment amenities and a 300-room hotel.
So, no slots in a box here. We'll just have to agree to disagree on this one. I respect all of your opinions, but I just don't see this kind of complex thriving in Ozone Park. Hopefully, I'll be wrong, and people from around the country will fly into JFK and spend the weekend on Rockaway Boulevard. We'll see.