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Friday, April 30, 2010

The Rundown

OK, here's a relatively quick trip through the 20 horse field. I've already discussed some of these in detail over the last couple of weeks, and will assume that you've been along for the ride (feel free to scan the posts below if you wish). This year's Derby is largely devoid of depth in quality, star power, wider public appeal (haven't had anyone in the office come up and ask me who I like), and, one might argue (at least to a certain extent), talent. Hmmm, sounds like the Republican field for governor.

Well, actually those guys may have more characters than we have in this nondescript bunch.

Nonetheless, it's certainly wide open as a betting race, and looks like a lot of fun. Which is exactly what, and all, it should be as far as I'm concerned. Especially with the weather forecast really starting to suck. Quoting my buddy and fellow socialist steve in nc:

I think the best strategy is to try to remember one's dreams on Friday night, add in some longshots that could hit the board, and swing for the fences with a very small exotic wager and a very large mint julep. Anyone who can get really passionate or confident about one horse here is already dreaming.
The way I see it, with the possible exception of one horse, there's a small enough gap separating enough horses so that the race will likely be largely determined by chance. So I agree with steve, except that I take my bourbon straight.

Lookin At Lucky - This is the one horse who I think one could make a passionate case for given his consistency and very substantial edge in class; despite the bad post. Only knock in my mind is that he has just two races this year, and didn't get to run his best in the second one. Baffert was pissed at Gomez for getting himself in trouble down on the rail; but breaking from the 1 hole here, this colt is going to feel as boxed in as the Senate Republicans on financial reform. However, just the fact that he's dealt with the kind of traffic he'll face is a big plus in my book. Could be it will work to his advantage; actually it will have to if he's going to win. Don't think that 3-1 is fair odds on that proposition, but who knows; with all the bad dishing on the post, maybe he's closer to 5-1. And I certainly wouldn't argue with someone keying him on top with some price horses no matter what his odds, which could still yield some very lucrative results.

Ice Box - This horse might be the second choice given his trainer, last race Beyer, and the way in which he won that Florida Derby, coming from far back as he did. The bettors love stuff like that. And he may not be as far back as people think; he was actually fairly close in his first two route races before breaking poorly in the FOY, and having limited options breaking from an outside post with a short run-up to the turn in a speedy Florida Derby field. I just don't think he's very good though, and have my own doubts about that 99 speed fig, which, by the way, is also an anomaly on the form of Pleasant Prince, who he beat by a nose.

Noble's Promise - I've discussed the distance influence in what seems on the surface like a horse obviously not bred to stay this route. And he's reportedly worked quite well, enough obviously to prompt his sharp trainer Ken McPeek to run him here. I mean, even though it's the Derby, they wouldn't run him unless it in the best interests of the horse. Right? He seems to have been largely counted out, like Gordon Brown. I don't want to lose to him, and will definitely, no matter what I end up doing, have a couple of bucks on him at long odds to win. On Noble's Promise, not on Gordon Brown.

Super Saver - Discussed in the prior post. So you guys think he'll sell to Line of David and/or Conveyance and sit off the lead, eh? Well, taking another look at the Arkansas Derby, while he did break a bit awkwardly, Calvin Borel and his colt both seemed perfectly content sitting a comfortable second, and perhaps that was the intent all along. If that's the case, he should be able to get a pretty damn cozy trip going into the turn. Third race of the form cycle, rave reviews all week by Welsch, nice pedigree, loves the track and has a good effort in the slop. A lot of positives and I'd be all on board except for the way he hung on the money and couldn't get by Line of David. And he wouldn't have even if they'd gone another furlong. I'm back and forth on him, but money prospects at the very least.

Line of David - He ran those last three furlongs at Oaklawn in 38 1/5, and still didn't get caught. One real positive is that it was a nice move forward moving up to stakes company in his first race on dirt. Here's hoping that he won't bounce enough to not run very fast early so he can set the race up for others I like.

Stately Victor - Two wins came on turf and the Keeneland Poly, and I've always considered the latter to be the closest amongst the synthetics to grass. Sure, there's a price at which he's worth a stab, but I'm gonna take a stand on principle and toss.

American Lion - Another one like Line of David who'd shown some speed on the California synthetics, but then moved up in wire-to-wire stakes wins on dirt. (Good sign for Sidney's Candy.) And like the Ark Derby winner, he won despite slowing down considerably at the end, and that won't do here, at this distance, even in a field as compromised as this.

Dean's Kitten - 0 for 1 on dirt. Ken Ramsey had so much confidence in this horse that he desperately ran Pleasant Price back in the Derby Trial.

Make Music For Me - Oh. OK. And the name of the band is what I'll be saying if this horse wins.

Paddy O'Prado - O'Why?

Devil May Care - May be the most overbet horse with no shot in the field.

Conveyance - Baffert's other colt seems nearly guaranteed to be a part of the pace least we hope so! Haven't discussed this one too much because I'm figuring he's just a tool to set the race up for many of us bettors, and perhaps for the trainer as well. Some feel he'll make the lead; recent Moss pace figures suggest he'll be hard pressed to clear Line of David. I'm not really taking him seriously; I'm a loser if he's still around after a mile and a quarter; his dosage index (yeah, I still follow that stuff) suggests he won't.

Jackson Bend - One thing we can say for him is that he always gives an honest effort, but so does Governor Paterson. Not blind, but too slow and appears distance challenged with a 6.20 dosage index too.

Mission Impazible - No, not Sarah Palin's answer to the question: What is your favorite all-time TV series....well, maybe....but rather he of the slow but steadily improving numbers that have some Sheets guys all excited. Will be a different story here from his ground saving trip in Louisiana, as even Peter Graves wouldn't be able to find the wood here from post 14. Seems a bit questionable pedigree-wise too. But he was tractable in traffic and determined in the stretch of that last effort, eligible to improve and will be on my tickets somewhere. Hope they don't self-destruct five seconds after the start.

Discreetly Mine - One Pletcher too many.

Awesome Act - I get the feeling that this might be this year's wise guy horse; already see that Davidowitz picked him, and some other really smart guys I know like him too. I was skeptical going into the Gotham, but that race gets more impressive every time I watch, especially if I pretend he was actually beating anyone worthwhile. Everybody knows the excuses in the Wood, though forget the shoe I say; the pace was enough to doom him, and Leparoux won't have to strangle him back here. Tons of stamina in this pedigree (though mostly the grassy kind). Like his chances, but may be getting a little too crowded on the bandwagon for my taste.

Dublin - Improved numbers at three, which corresponds to his stretching out to two turns. Has fallen a bit short in all three preps this year, but there's a bit of Giacomo/Mine That Bird in these kind of past performance lines. Certainly doesn't seem impossible if the racing gods decide to shine Lukas' way.

Backtalk - Nothing to talk about.

Homeboykris - Has no shot, but at least a good thing for Ramon Dominguez that the race isn't in Arizona.

Sidney's Candy - Could be the key to the race depending on how he takes to the dirt. I know that Big Brown won from this post, but he's not Big Brown. Or maybe he is on dirt, we don't know. If he is, he can use his speed to get good position behind the leaders and go on from there. Problem is that his morning line is far too short to compensate for the questions presented by the surface switch, post position, and that nagging question of whether he can indeed stalk and rally. Obviously talented, fast, and improving, and would take a long look for the win spot at 10-1.

Who do I like? Awesome Act, Lookin at Lucky, Super Saver....and a bit of Dublin, Mission Impazible, Noble's Promise, Sidney's Candy. Still trying to sort it out, and honestly may not do so until I'm scrambling to get a bet in with 8 MTP. Good thing I'm not getting paid for this.

Thursday, April 29, 2010


Wow, what a game and what an upset in Washington with the Caps falling in the 7th game against the Canadians! Generally, I'd be rooting for the underdog in this situation, but in this case I found myself rooting for the Caps. I mean, I'm a hockey fan...I want to watch Alexander Ovechkin, not freaking Scott Gomez. I can only imagine how NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman must feel with arguably the league's top attraction on the sidelines. Whatsmore, given the way Sidney Crosby and the Penguins struggled to get past the Senators, perhaps we're looking at an Eastern Conference final of Montreal and the Bruins, who will handily dispatch the injury-ridden Flyers, who are only here because the Devils were terrible (and because they beat the Rangers in a skills competition on the last day of the season). Cool Original Six matchup....but that wouldn't be what the league had in mind for sure.

It's like if, say, the Kentucky Derby lost its marquee attraction shortly before the race.... Oh, I guess it did when Eskendereya was scratched. Problem is that he wasn't much of a marquee attraction to start with. Had he made it to the gate, I'd venture to say that he would have been the least publicly recognizable name to be a decisive Derby favorite in our lifetimes. New favorite Lookin at Lucky actually has better credentials than Pletcher's colt; but still, I'd be rather surprised if this Derby does not turn out to have amongst the lowest TV ratings of all time.

And it's a pretty sad commentary on the quality of the field when I read Mike Welsch assert that the "brilliant" workout by Endorsement, during which the colt broke his leg, was the best one he saw all week. Ugh.

The Derby field is an odd sight with the only two single digit morning line horses bookends on the rail and in the 20 post, and everyone in between at odds of 10-1 or higher. I suspect that the tote board may look a lot different by post time; you never quite know how the money is going to go, especially with the two favorites breaking from such bad posts....and with one of them never having raced on dirt. In fact, I would not be shocked if Sidney's Candy is not bet as heavily as anticipated, and if Ice Box is second choice instead. And I'll reiterate that I'm just not getting Devil May Care; personally, I think she should be closer to the longest shot in the field than the third choice.

There's been some speculation here that perhaps this is the year that a cat-and-mouse game amongst the riders of the speed horses in the field will lead to one of them getting away with the kind of lead in the kind of fractions that could lead to a rare wire-to-wire winner of the race. But I think that the post position draw makes that unlikely. Super Saver, having drawn the four post with Lookin At Lucky, Ice Box, and Noble's Promise drawn inside, seems likely to head straight for the rail and the lead with Calvin Borel aboard. I do really like the way this horse is coming up to this race. Nice foundation with four races as a two-year old, capped by his two-turn win in the Ky Jockey Club, with continued progression in his two races this year. I also like his pedigree; by Marias Mon, sire of Derby winner Monarchos, out of an AP Indy half-sister to graded stakes winners Daydreaming, Girolamo, Accelerator; and to She's A Winner, the dam of the Derby runner-up Bluegrass Cat; and also the distaff family of G1 winner Frost Giant, the successful sire Mutakddim, and the juvenile champion Rhythm. And Welsch has been raving about this horse all week along.

But though I've tried to believe that Super Saver can sit a bit back off the pace as he did in the Arkansas Derby, I think he's clearly a horse who wants the lead. He broke a step slow on the rail at Oaklawn and was outsprinted by Line of David (and it can't be a great sign that he couldn't catch that one as he tired in the stretch). With Line of David breaking just a stall outside of him this time, I'm thinking that, with a good break, Borel will be loathe to yield the rail and the lead this time. Whatsmore, with Sidney's Candy stuck on the outside, I think we can forget about Joe Talamo attempting to rate his horse, and that he will be gunning to clear as many horses and to save as much ground going into the turn as he can. Throw in Conveyance (and, perhaps, American Lion, Paddy O'Prado, and Discreetly Mine) in between, and I think that the assumption that we're going to have a pace meltdown in the race is a safe one upon which to make your wagering decisions.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Derby Notes

We had a lively discussion earlier in the month about Sidney's Candy and whether or not he could rate a bit behind the leaders and avoid what appears to be a potentially destructive pace. So it was interesting to watch the video of his workout of a few days ago (can't seem to post it here). In an obviously purposeful drill, Joe Talamo had Sidney's Candy looking pretty comfortable sitting about a length and a half behind stablemate Via Verde down the backstretch before gliding effortlessly up outside of him on the turn. Talamo encouraged him once he changed leads midstretch and got six furlongs in 11.60. At least according to the Kentucky Derby site.

Mike Welsch caught him in 11.44, but noted a somewhat soft final furlong of 13.28 and relatively non-existent gallop out.....while the Derby site says that his final furlong was in a somewhat livelier 12.80. Goes to show you that observations on workouts can differ both subjectively and substantively. But trainer John Sadler and Talamo were pleased, and this is an obviously talented horse who seems worth a look should the tote board reflect the fact that it's his first race on dirt (which I'm not at all sure will be the case).

- Awesome Act worked a half in 48.44.

This was definitely a much more polished and encouraging performance from Awesome Act, especially the way he galloped out willingly. That was something he failed to do prior to the Wood, according to colleague David Grening, and he galloped out only marginally at the tail end of a mediocre six-furlong drill here one week ago. [DRF]
I think that his Gotham was one of the more visually impressive preps, especially considering it was his first dirt race, and despite the face that he didn't beat anyone. If you can overlook his Wood, whether due to his lost shoe or the lethargic pace which prompted Leparoux to have him under a stranglehold, then one can certainly make a case for him.

- And ah yes, what would Derby week be without a front page story in the Times by Joe Drape, this time about the dire state of the breeding industry in Kentucky. Thanks again for the gloom and doom at the sport's finest hour, Joe.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Not Ruling Out Pletcher

Rule is out, and, according to Mike Welsch in the Form, Todd Pletcher continued to lean strongly against running Interactif in the Derby. The Toddster is down to a filly who I think has no shot, and two colts who I believe do. I know some Sheets guys who really love Mission Impazible, improving slowly but steadily as he has, and with lots of room for further progress. He was pretty tractable in the Louisiana Derby, flashing early speed which carried him to an early lead, dropping back into traffic a few lengths back before moving three wide and rallying resolutely to get up; final furlong in a solid 12.46 seconds. He's a son of Unbridled's Song out of a minor stakes winning Hold Your Peace mare. A bit light in the numbers department with a Tomlinson for the distance of 264 and a dosage index of 4.09, he's a half brother to Forest Camp, a sprint stakes winner and a stallion not particularly known for passing longevity to his progeny. I think Super Saver has better breeding for the distance, and will get to him later.

I mentioned Ice Box rather derogatorily in the last post, though he does figure to be amongst the top few choices off his three wins in his last four races, his 99 Beyer in the Florida Derby, and his popular trainer with a Derby pedigree. About that Beyer, and as I alluded to previously, there were three two-turn dirt races run at Gulfstream that day, all in graded stakes. Ice Box earned a figure that exceeded his prior best by ten points, as did runner-up Pleasant Prince, subsequently a disappointment in the Derby Trial; Devil May Care shattered her prior mark by 11; and Unrivaled Belle set a new lifetime mark as well, albeit just by three points and part of a clear upward pattern. Considering that the abovementioned were three three-year olds, plus Mott's lightly raced four-year old filly, it's certainly possible that all were eligible to move significantly forward. However, these days, the way bettors and pundits rely on the numbers, I think that one has to be willing to sometimes be skeptical of them in order to make some money. So color me skeptical on Zito's colt. Nice distance pedigree - Pulpit out of Spice Island (Tabasco Cat), a graded stakes winner up to a mile and a half. But the Florida Derby was a hot-paced race which fell apart badly, producing top two finishers at odds of 20-1 and 29-1. So I'm tabbing him for minor awards only.

Another sparkling work for Lookin' for Lucky, a legitimate favorite now for sure. But I dunno, can't really get enthused too much about him at 3-1 or 7-2. Nothing specific, just a feeling I guess. Not really jazzed to bet against him either though. Is Penn National running that night?

Interested though to see that Noble's Promise had another nice work. This horse that should have no shot on pedigree continues to intrigue.

This was an important test Noble's Promise had to pass to convince trainer Ken McPeek he was over the minor infirmities that have left his Derby status in doubt the last several weeks. From the looks of things, he passed the test with flying colors. [DRF]

Monday, April 26, 2010

Devil May What??

This post is in reaction to comments in the prior thread suggesting that Pletcher's filly, Devil May Care could be third or 4th choice and go off in the 6-1/8-1 well as to the suggestion made twice by Joe Drape in the last couple of days that this daughter of Malibu Moon could be the Toddster's best Derby hope.

With all due respect, I'm not getting that at all. This filly did rebound nicely from two up-the-track efforts in her first two races around two turns in winning the Bonnie Miss. However, that was a near perfect-trip, sitting 4th in the pocket after a smooth start from a good post behind a contested pace against just five other fillies. Her final furlong was run in a mediocre 13 2/5 while being fully ridden out to the wire (and including a brief duck-in after shying from the whip). Yes, she earned a Beyer of 100...on a day which included the Florida Derby, run at the same distance, whose Beyers are a bit suspiciously high in my opinion. I mean, do you really think that Ice Box is one of the very fastest horses in the Derby field?

To be quite frank, not only do I think she would be ridiculously undervalued at 8-1, I don't really believe she belongs in this field. Not that this Derby is anything to write home about, don't get me ranks as one of the most uninspiring in my experience. But do you really think this is a filly who has nothing else to prove against her own kind and is just crying out to run against the boys? Personally, I'd take either of two of Pletcher's other entries, Super Saver and Mission Impazible, in a head-to-head proposition against her any day.

Sunday, April 25, 2010


Oh well, so much for my grand Derby plans. Eskendereya is out, and there goes the generous subsidy his presence as a dubious heavy favorite would have generated for the rest of the field. Sure, there will still be value to be found, but it will take a lot more effort to find it now.

Todd Pletcher seemed to be calm in delivering the news, and owner Ahmed Zayat might be numb from all the bad news he's gotten this year.

"The left leg is filled from the ankle up to the knee," Pletcher said. "We've got to get the edema out of there to get a proper diagnosis. He's not uncomfortable. But when we took him out of his stall this morning and jogged him on the asphalt, he was what for me I would call 'slightly off.'" [DRF]
Can't help but think that along with the disappointment, deep down the Toddster may feel a sense of relief. After all, the pressure that any trainer would feel by virtue of having the Derby favorite must have been intensified some 24-fold given all of the media attention on his 0-fer Derby record. Really, it's not like he needs a Derby win to prove himself. So just maybe he won't be gripping the saddle quite as tightly when he's saddling up his other five or six runners, none of whom will be carrying nearly the expectations that Eskendereya would have......though, in my opinion, a couple of them will have an excellent chance of breaking his streak. I'll get to those later in the week.

By the way, the Form's clocker, Mike Welsch, was noticeably wishy-washy in his assessments of the horse all week long.

Besides turning the race into a wide-open betting affair (at least for those who didn't think it was one all along), the defection enhances the chance that we will have a filly in the race, as Pletcher told Joe Drape.
Devil May Care has posted three victories in five starts and has been working out superbly at Churchill Downs. She is owned by John Greathouse of Glencrest Farm and was among the favorites to win the Kentucky Oaks, which will be run on Friday.

“He was impressed with her just like we were,” said Pletcher on Saturday morning, after Devil May Care zipped through a five-furlong workout in 1.00.20. “He said he’d be coming back Monday and we’d talk then about whether she might go in the Oaks or the Derby.” [NY Times]

Friday, April 23, 2010

Two For the Trial

As this reader mentioned, those looking for some closers in the Derby will sure be rooting for Eightyfiveinafifty to win Saturday's Derby Trial. Fans of horses like Sidney's Candy who, I do still believe, will be on or near the lead, hope that he fades in the stretch like the NJ Devils. What can you say....seems like every year we see at least one horse who appears to at least some of us that they're being pushed beyond their limits to satisfy their connections' egos. This colt is very green, and didn't look to me like a horse who wanted to go much further as he was finishing up in the seven furlong Bay Shore. His dosage index is a sky-high 8.33, and there ain't much on the catalog page as they say.

Pleasant Prince will also use the Trial to try and qualify (it would seem that they would both need to earn the full winner's share), and owner Ken Ramsey explained:

“I’d like to be part of it.....I’m getting a little long in the tooth, I’ll be 75 this November, and who knows when I’ll get this chance again. If we get in, we’re going, and if not, we’ll lick our chops and wait for another day.” [Thoroughbred Times]
Well, I won't quibble in this case; Ramsey plays the game at all levels and puts in a lot of money, so he's entitled as long as the horse is up to it. And I'm actually a bit intrigued by this colt, trained by the red-hot Wesley Ward (six winners in his last seven starters, at Gulfstream and Keeneland). Let's forget the Keeneland race, which can of course be discarded due to the surface. Up to that point he had a nice improving pattern; in fact, he had improved his Beyer each race of his career, culminating in his game and narrow second in the Florida Derby, a race in which he got a hot pace to close into and earned a Beyer of 99 which actually would put him in the upper echelon if he made the Derby.

Pleasant Prince also has some intriguing bloodlines despite being by an obscure unraced son of AP Indy who stands in Indiana for $1000. With a loaded dosage index of 2.40, he's out of a Pleasant Tap mare, actually shares the same 4th dam with his grandsire; and this is (therefore) also the distaff family of the Preakness winner Summer Squall; as well as the Belmont winner Lemon Drop Kid, and the distance loving multiple graded winner Christiecat. Seems like the type who could be one of those big price horses who gets a race that falls apart and sneaks onto the bottom of the exotics like the ones El Angelo mentioned....maybe like Don't Get Mad, a closer who won the Derby Trial before rallying for a close 4th in the ultimate fallen apart Derby, won by Giacomo in 2005.

- It wasn't long after I mocked the NTRA website for its tiny replay screen that they got their act together and joined the modern age. The website of the National Hockey League is a good model for further improvement with its vast array of video options. I especially like the Top Moments page from which you can choose from a healthy menu of various highlights arranged by date. While I could do without the slow motion replay of the Flyers' Ian Laperriere blocking a slapshot with his face; I did especially appreciate that they presented the complete replay of a wild and wacky ten minute stretch without a whistle during the first OT of the thrilling Bruins-Sabres Game 4 on Wednesday night.

Thursday, April 22, 2010


Mike Welsch was pretty impressed over the workout by Lookin At Lucky on Wednesday. "A very good work; maybe not the blowaway Street Sense or Barbaro, but just what you'd like to see," he explained on his video report. The Daily Racing Form's clocker guy was particularly taken with a 11.63 split from the three-eighths to the quarter pole while breezing about four or five paths out from the rail. [DRF]

Strictly on class, Baffert's colt is the clear favorite here. He's won five graded stakes (three Grade 1's and two Grade 2's), and was clearly best when narrowly beaten in the Juvenile (some six lengths in front of Eskendereya). He also has the perfect running style for the Derby - won't be battling for the lead, but enough tactical speed to keep well in range and, perhaps, out of traffic. And, as we know, his trainer holds a distinct class edge himself over the least when it comes to this particular race.

So what's the deal here? Oh yeah, Pletcher's colt has those Beyer numbers on the page, y'know the ones from the perfect trips he had against middling competition at Gulfstream and Aqueduct.

OK, I acknowledge that he's dominated with the kind of ease which has some thinking greatness here. And he did easily overcome the only (slight) adversity he faced in those two races, quickly compensating for a slightly slow start from an unfavorable post in Florida. The thought does admittedly occur to me that, with a clean trip, he gallops off from the field the way he has before at a distance at which he figures to flourish on paper. Nonetheless, there's certainly no guarantee of an uneventful journey - in fact, the odds are against it - and I'm unwavering in my belief that this is a routine bet against a favorite who is likely to face hurdles and challenges that he hasn't yet before.

Looking At Lucky is a son of the great stallion Smart Strike; and I made some good money on his half-brother Kensei in the Dwyer and Jim Dandy last year. His dam, by Belong to Me, is a half-sister to the stakes winning Grand Charmer, who is a granddam of Pletcher's champion multiple graded stakes winner Wait A While. (The second dam of Lookin At Lucky is the third dam of Wait A While.)

- Noble's Promise worked on Tuesday, and despite the fact that it's hard to envision a son of Cuvee out of a Clever Trick mare winning the Kentucky Derby, I remain intrigued by this one after his excuse-filled fifth in the Arkansas Derby. I mentioned the distance influences in his pedigree in this post; and that final prep was a complete and total throwout in my opinion. He was basically done after a bad start which took him way out of his game, dead last passing the stands for the first time; and then steadied sharply trying to move up along the rail around the first turn. He also suffered those minor injuries, as well as a lung infection which trainer Ken McPeek attributed to allergies (and I know how he feels). So it was actually pretty impressive in my view that Noble's Promise actually got himself into purse contention by the time they entered the stretch.

McPeek now says the horse is 60/40 for the race after his bullet five furlongs in 59.84 seconds.

"That was a fantastic work he put in. That's a Grade I filly [Beautician] he was working against, and he whipped her," McPeek said. "He's just so talented, but we're still not fully committed to the race.

"We've still got another hoop or two to jump through. He needs to eat well tonight. He's been pounding the feed tub up till now. The hope is that he doesn't regress off the work he put in, but the way he worked we think he's moving forward." []
Welsch noted that the horse got tired late, finishing up in nearly 13 seconds; but that was after fractions of 11.72, 23:44, and 34.76 seconds for the opening three-eighths. And he noted that jockey Willie Martinez was sitting "pretty chilly" as he pulled away from his stablemate. So I still have an eye on this guy as a candidate to enhance the exotics.

- A note and a reference to the title of this post: I personally don't have much of a case of Derby Fever here as you've probably noticed from the infrequent posting on the subject. I suppose I could go off on the way the game has changed, with the horses starting less often and therefore not developing the kind of depth of form, character and rivalries of years past. Amazing how, just in the five + years I've been doing this blog, those "rules" we used to depend on have become virtually obsolete. There's no hand-wringing over the four or five weeks that will have passed since the last prep for many of the horses, including the favorite, before they get to the Derby gate; nor the mere two preps that Lookin At Lucky has had this year. It's the new way, and I don't particularly care for it.

But it's really just me. I've never really gotten back into the swing of things after what was a rough time for me personally around the holidays and into the new year. And racing was never a 12 month a year endeavor for me until I started this site, and I'm long overdue for a significant break. So, when I do have the chance to post (and I'm on the road for a couple of days with my daughter as she decides among the ten colleges she got accepted to....way to go, K!), I'll muddle through the Derby and the Triple Crown the best I can, but will be focused mostly on the off-track nonsense for the foreseeable future, with my usual forays off-topic especially with the NY gubernatorial and legislative elections coming up this fall. For your intensive wall-to-wall, minute-by-minute racing news and coverage, please check out the excellent Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance site at, where you can find the enthusiastic bloggers of the TBA. Even Handride is back (a little) for the occasion, misguided as he is thinking that Eskendereya is going to win.

- This is a way cool new video by The xx.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

OTB to State: Nevermind!

Not only is NYC OTB not shutting down, they are staying open for at least another year, setting forth on The Path Forward, as articulated in a press release...or, should I say, a "reference guide" released by its public relations outfit on Saturday. Under this Path, OTB will shut 2/3rds of its parlors, install betting terminals in bars, sell of much of its contentious fleet of vehicles, and "implement deep cuts in management." Whatsmore, whaddya know, forget about that cut in its statutory payments; instead it will "defer" payments based on its handle from out-of-state simulcasts.

“I can’t quantify at this point the amount of pain that we’ll be inflicting on the [racing] industry,” Frucher said. “There will be pain. You can’t pay what you don’t have.” [Thoroughbred Times]
OK, so they'll be some pain. Buit all of this will be accomplished with just a minor tweak from the dysfunctional state legislature.
NYC OTB’s Path Forward only requires one piece of immediate, interim legislation which is necessary to protect our hard-working employees. This legislation is needed to authorize early retirement incentives for NYC OTB employees, at no cost to the State or taxpayer, to facilitate headcount reduction while converting to a technology-based model.
But wait, I don't understand. How do you go, seemingly overnight, from 'Ohmygod, we're broke, we're desperate, we have to close, we need to cut our mandated payments otherwise 1300 people will lose their jobs, NYRA will be doomed, harness tracks will be devastated" to basically submitting to most of the long-stated demands and continuing on as if nothing happened? It's like a big nevermind. So what, that was all bullshit to try and save high-paying political patronage jobs and squeeze the horsemen and racetracks out of some dough? Or a big PR stunt?
"They cried poverty one week and the next week they say they can keep their doors open for another year?" said Austin Shafran, spokesman for the state Senate's Democratic majority. "This demonstrates an overwhelming need for an honest and clear accounting of OTB's finances and operations before any taxpayer dollars spent." [Associated Press]
Perhaps the Inspector General should have a look at this farce once he's done with the AEG fiasco.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Oh Too Big

I have some financial reports that I'd gotten from NYRA a couple of years ago; and it shows that, in 2007, NYC OTB handled just under $300 million on NYRA races, generating a 'Net to NYRA' of $7.9 million. That's a percentage of just 2.69%, as opposed to over 9% for on-track bets (which now include those placed via NYRA Rewards). However, there was an additional 'Net to NYRA' of some $14.75 million from non-NYRA races and contractual payments. The total of $22.7 million could keep NYRA going until the racino casino at Aqueduct Belmont is finally built, probably even if that's not until 2012. Easy to see why Charlie Hayward has said that all bets are off should OTB close.

And therein lies the dilemma here. I agree wholeheartedly [in principle] with those who say to slay the parasite; shutter the seedy parlors, and send Sandy Frucher back to Philadelphia. But another report I have shows that, in 2006, NYC OTB paid out over $100 million statewide to the "Racing Industry (Sum of payments to breeders' funds and racetracks). Even if those figures are down as much as, say, 15%, and as inefficient, corrupt, wasteful, and seedy as NYC OTB is, that's too big to fail kind of money.

So that's why I still expect, no matter what the OTB board announces this weekend regarding its closing, that something will get done in Albany. No doubt that this something, if it does indeed come to pass, will be a band-aid which will not address the fundamental issues that have led to the present dismal state of affairs. Seeing a reference in the memo of the failed bill to finally permitting OTB (and, consequently, NYRA) to stream the races online, and another to the concept of consolidations, mergers, acquisitions or consolidations does makes me think that maybe someone in the capitol is starting to get it. But if they all soon don't, we'll be in the same position this time next year.

- NYRA is looking past the current crisis with the apparent expectation that it shall survive. In a letter from Charlie Hayward and C. Steven Duncker to Breeders' Cup Chairman William Farish, NYRA seeks to "engage BCL in a discussion that will result in Belmont Park hosting the 2011 Breeders' Cup." The letter cites the four "memorable" events already run there, the sweeping turns and crisp fall weather, both of which appeal to the Europeans, the population of top stables based here, and New York as the media capital of the world.

In addition, Hayward and Duncker take aim at the idea to move the Breeders' Cup permanently to Santa Anita.

NYRA believes that moving the Breeders' Cup to a single location, particularly to Southern California and Santa Anita's artificial racing surface, imposes a severe hardship on horsemen and racing customers. Even before the introduction of artificial racing surfaces in California, thoroughbred horses shipping to California from the eastern part of the country were disadvantaged on the Santa Anita dirt surface.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Now What? (Updated)

The legislature is gone for the weekend - nice working hours, eh? - and the deal to save NYC OTB is dead for now. Whether or not OTB will decide to once again delay its threatened closure until the politicians return to work on Monday is not known.

Assembly Racing Committee Chairman Gary Pretlow said he expects NYCOTB to shut down April 18. “Monday is the slowest betting day, so maybe they do something to show they can do it,” Pretlow said. “But we’ll be back (April 19).”

Pretlow said he was surprised at the level of opposition by the racing industry. NYCOTB handle about $1 billion each year.

“(The industry) opposed saving OTB, which I don’t know why, since they are their lifeblood,” Pretlow said. “I think eventually, they will see the handwriting.” []
Indeed. The proposed plan was fought tooth and nail by racetracks and horsemen (save NYRA, which supported the plan once it included a lifeline in the form of a $17 million advance against Big A slots revenue, more than enough to cover some $4 million in reduced OTB payments that would have resulted from the proposal) because of the reduction in payments from OTB which it would have entailed. That figure was reported to be 15%. Now they are facing a cut of 100%. And that doesn't make much sense. Sure, it sucks and it's totally unfair to expect tracks already receiving an unfairly low percentage of OTB's handle to swallow a further reduction in order to save the parasitic bookie operation. And the right thing to do is to merge not only NYC OTB, but all of the OTB's with the racetracks, starting with a transfer of the former's phone and internet wagering to NYRA. But, given that we know that's not going to happen, is 0% of the existing payments better than 85%? While, in the event of a closure, NYRA could pick up valuable business for its online wagering platform for which it receives its full on-track takeout, the harness tracks would be left completely out in the cold.

And is it a better alternative for the union to have zero jobs instead of the reductions being proposed, whether or not it is to receive the severance and sweeteners that they apparently had been promised?

So, maybe I'm wrong, but I do still expect something to be done when the lawmakers return on Monday, at which time all of the sides will have had time to digest the ramifications of doing nothing; and that includes the lawmakers themselves, which will have to deal with a bankrupt NYRA as well as the other tracks banging on their doors for help.

- Here's an excerpt from the latest of the totally ignorant newspaper editorials on the subject that I've seen, from today's Daily News:
After draining OTB of millions to prop up racing, after throwing it into bankruptcy court, after being warned that closure was coming, after promising to come up with a rescue plan, the bums left town yesterday without doing a thing.
In fact, OTB exists to "prop up" racing, and it is in fact OTB which has drained the sport to which it owes its existence, not the other way around. But hell, I certainly don't have to tell you guys that. Why don't we all go to the News' editorial and leave comments telling them how totally clueless they are about the subject, and to leave the editorializing to Jerry Bossert instead.

UPDATE: Interesting, Capitol Confidential has a draft of the proposed bailout plan, and the 15% reduction on payments was to apply only to out-of-state simulcast revenue, and would only amount to $1 million in total for the year. The draft also contains a provision which would have - finally! - allowed the OTB's to stream live broadcasts of the races. That would have also - finally! - freed up NYRA to do the same, which no doubt would have been a boost to their bottom line. It also would have allowed - permanently - "joint ventures between all the OTB's, tracks and NYRA for the purpose of negotiation, consolidation, mergers, acquisitions or consolidations." And, of course, the $17 million loan against future slots monies that would have, according to Charlie Hayward, would have kept its cash flow positive until the first quarter of 2011. So, I'm looking at this and wondering what exactly was the problem....and thinking that it will eventually get done.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Albany Lurches Toward OTB Rescue

Tom Precious reports on on the situation in Albany as lawmakers attempt to devise a rescue, bailout, temporary fix, or whatever you want to call it, to keep NYC OTB going....for now, anyway.

Either way, the final agreement will not resolve the OTB’s longstanding problems—or those facing other OTBs or the larger questions of destructive competition between OTBs and tracks. Instead, it will merely punt those long-term issues until a year from now and after a new governor takes office in January. []
Hmmm, a new governor, eh? Can't imagine that the governor's mansion is going to be nearly as entertaining once Governor Paterson is gone. Well, unless this guy gets elected. Or...this one. (Sad commentary on the state of NY politics that Republicans actually have to recruit clowns like these from the Democrats.) Of course, barring some unforeseen event or prostitution scandal, the next governor is nearly certain to be Attorney General Andrew Cuomo....and who the hell knows what he thinks about racing and OTB's and casino gambling? In fact, who knows what the hell he thinks about anything? I'm sure he'll let us know once he's good and ready.

Precious reports that the situation is extremely fluid; seems it changed about a half dozen times even as he was writing his article.
In the past 48 hours, the terms of the deal has moved from cutting NYCOTB’s statutory payments to the industry from 15% to 48% and now back to 15%. Officials warned that number could change again in the coming hours.
The tracks and horsemen are naturally trying to resist any haircut. Seems absolutely incredible that OTB has successfully resisted the idea of a significant thinning of its bloated management ranks.

However, word is that NYRA would be compensated and sustained by a $17 million loan against the eventual slots money it will earn from the mythical racino at Aqueduct.
The $17 million is coming from $250 million the state would raise by issuing bonds for the Aqueduct project. The $250 million has been promised to the operator of the racino and is supposed to be used to build the VLT facility. [Capitol Confidential]
Well, duh! What took them so long? The state is obligated by the franchise agreement to keep NYRA afloat given its failure to name the racino operator. This would have been done long ago if not for the misdirected enmity towards NYRA, and the self-serving bashing that we've seen from politicians either too ignorant or stubborn to acknowledge the real reasons for its plight. (And yeah, the threat to shut down before the Belmont likely didn't help either.) I've maintained all along, with only occasional doubt and wavering, that Albany would not allow NYRA to fail, and a loan of this type is logical and inevitable in my view. A no-brainer, really, even for politicians without them.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Sunday Morning Notes

I guess that some might take the two upsets in Saturday's Derby preps as a sign that the crop is weak, and use them to bolster the case that Eskendereya is a likely winner as the solid favorite on May 1. But I'm going to use them to highlight the random nature of horse race results, especially in this era when we know far less about the Derby horses than in the past given the infrequency of their appearances, and the variety of racing surfaces which make interpretation of the results difficult, if not impossible. If anything, I'm more confident than before that the 20 horse field, the mile and a quarter distance, the commotion and distractions of an overflow crowd, and a Churchill main track which most of the horses have never raced over will all combine to produce a result which will make a value stab pay off for those lucky enough to stumble upon the winner. In my opinion, those factors alone almost always make the Kentucky Derby a race in which to take a contrarian view - and I say that with confidence despite the fact that four out of the last ten runnings have been won by the favorite. The prior 20 all failed; if anything, the long-term percentages point to Eskendereya doing so as well.

Blue Grass winner Stately Victor ($82.20), running on the Keeneland Poly for the first time since a hopelessly wide 6th in the Ky Breeders Futurity last year, couldn't get even close in four entry-level allowance races on dirt and grass since; and he earned a Beyer of 94 which is worthy of that level. You'd think that maybe his connections would spare us and allow a more qualified runner to run for the roses...but what do you think? This colt joins the parade of recent inconsequential winners of this race - General Quarters, Monba, Dominican, Sinister Minister....and when do you think it loses its Grade 1 status?

Stately Victor is not only the first Grade 1 winner for the second year stallion Ghostzapper....but it's his first graded winner period, and only his second stakes winner of any kind. Can you believe that this horse originally stood for a fee of $200,000? He presently fetches $30,000 standing for Frank Stronach at Adena. Stately Victor is out of the Grade 1 winner Collect The Cash (Dynaformer).

Arkansas Derby winner Line of David ($36.60) was also coming out of an entry-level allowance, but at least one could make a logical argument for him given his improvement for trainer John Sadler since blinkers were added; he's now unbeaten in three tries since that equipment change. This son of Lion Heart set some honest early fractions (22.65, 23.61), and no one could take advantage of his subsequent rapid deceleration (24.49, 25.77) enough to overtake him as he dug in for the final furlong, run in 12.85 seconds. I see him as yet another addition to what should be a contested pace in the Derby, but certainly no more than that.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Hunch Bets for Friday, April 9

Fast Approaching 8th at Penn National
Delusional 11th at Evangeline Downs
Inclined To Run 7th at Tampa Bay Downs
Meet Me Midway 1st at Lone Star
Holy Trouble 1st at Aqueduct
Lies And Affairs 9th at Mountaineer
Give No Ground 6th at Gulfsteam
Be Fair 10th at Oaklawn

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Candy For Thought

A lot of discussion about the SA Derby winner Sidney's Candy and his Derby prospects in this comments section. I was looking at his past performances, and realized that I saw his first race; I was actually at Del Mar that day and posted about it too, though without mentioning him by name. The winner was a hot first-timer for Baffert who went to the front and hung on over Sidney's Candy gamely; I do recall the race quite clearly.

It's one of the races that DiscreetPicks was referring to when he wrote that the horse has spent ample time sitting behind the leader, and doesn't necessarily have to be in front, a trait which would almost certainly doom him at Churchill (if the unfamiliar surface doesn't do so itself). I think that's a fair point, as well as the fact that the horse has rated quite kindly in his last two front-running wins and shown a nice burst turning for home. However I also think that going to the front is clearly his tendency and preference; as El Angelo pointed out, he was close to a hot pace in the two races in which he broke OK and didn't lead. So I do think he's going to have to do things he's never done before (besides adapting to dirt) if he's going to get the roses. 9-2 on this horse? I wouldn't touch that. But he's clearly talented enough to become enticing at higher odds. Sure wouldn't mind having him at the 22-1 that he closed at in the final futures pool, that's for sure.

Sidney's Candy does have some distance influence in his pedigree, at least on his distaff side. His sire, Candy's Ride, was a champion miler and the AWD of his progeny is only 6.91 furlongs according to Pedigree Query. But he's out of a Storm Cat mare who herself is out of Exchange. That mare, Sidney's Candy's second dam, won the Allez France at around a mile and a quarter, and the Santa Barbara at exactly the same. His third dam is a half to the Queen's Plate winner Steady Growth. Sidney's Candy checks in with a dosage index of 1.86 well under the now discredited 4.0 "limit" for the Derby, but still in my mind an indication that he should be able to get the route.

Miffed in Monticello

State Senator John Bonacic issued a press release regarding the proposal being discussed in the Assembly, which I reported here on Wednesday, to direct monies from racinos, including the Monticello track which is located in his district, to bail out NYC OTB.

A proposal currently being discussed in Albany will stop payments to Monticello in the amount of approximately $2 million a year. Monticello is already struggling. “If this plan were enacted, it would be a crystal clear example of New York City Democrats, who control State government, not caring about anyone but themselves. Attempting to take millions of dollars from the Catskills economy, to pay for their New York City based OTB operation, is something those of us who represent race tracks - particularly Yonkers and Monticello, must fight,” Bonacic said.
The partisan politics in the GOP Senator's statement aside, Monticello would certainly seem to be the unlikeliest and most ill-equipped of all the state's racinos to have its resources directed toward bailing out OTB. Representative Pretlow is well-aware of that, and acknowledged so in the plan he suggested last month when he singled the track out for more accelerated payments than the others. In addition, NYC OTB owes Monticello some $4.4 million according to the former's bankruptcy filing.

Yonkers, which would take a bigger hit under the plan being considered, is owed over $18 million.

- Charlie Hayward told the Albany Times Union's Tim Wilkin: "Listen, I love Monmouth Park, it's one of my favorite tracks....But it's not Saratoga."

No, it's not (though it does have a beach just a short drive away). Hayward said he's not concerned about Monmouth's purse-enhanced meet adversely effecting the Spa, but that it could effect Belmont, which opens on April 30. Monmouth will open on May 22, offering 12 race cards Friday through Sunday.

Governor Paterson, during an impromptu press conference to discuss the (poor) state of the budget negotiations, addressed the Aqueduct racino situation. "We're putting together a process which we think will be a lot faster." And he said that with a straight face. Of course, if it's any slower (or even the same speed), Paterson will already be an ex-governor by the time it's over (even if he makes it to the end of his term).
"We're using the general procurement rules that we would use for any type of bidding, except for the fact that the leaders are not bound by that procurement process. [ed note: Oh man!] Only the governor is. So what I will do....I will make my first proposal to the leaders, of whichever one of the companies meets the highest test of our procurement process."
That doesn't really sound all that different from the last round, does it? Maybe they should just let Yolanda Vega pick the winner out of the Powerball guy's hat. Or from his stomach. Or maybe they could take a share of those new millionaire's winnings to help bail out OTB.

I was really thrilled to see that going on at Aqueduct on Saturday....just great to see that photo of the lucky winners standing in front of the empty grandstand (even on Wood day with its announced crowd of over 8,000). If someone sees that picture along with the story, do you think they'd be more likely to buy a lottery ticket or go to the track?

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Slots Dough To The Rescue?

April 11 is D-Day for NYC OTB, and the Assembly is said to be working on a plan to save it, along with the jobs and the vital payments to NYRA that would go down with it. There was a report the other day about a proposal by Rep Gary Pretlow that would involve layoffs, including amongst the management ranks, and a 10% cut in OTB's statutory payments to the racing industry.

However, I've learned that the Assembly is, as an alternative, working on a plan which would skim racino dollars from the harness tracks in order to bail out OTB. Yonkers would be hit particularly hard, to the tune of some $23 million. "Racino guys upset," I'm told. Can't blame them, but racino profits are always a tempting target, as we've seen in other states. And recall that the racinos got an increase in their share for marketing a couple of years ago. One way or another, the racing industry is going to have to pay their share for any OTB bailout at this point.

Also told that Governor Paterson is close to an agreement with the legislative leaders regarding a new round of bidding for the Big A with well-defined criteria for which the bidders will be scored, perhaps, and hopefully, based on the fully transparent process conducted by the Ad Hoc committee for the racing franchise under the Pataki Administration many, many, many, many moons ago.

Monday, April 05, 2010

News and Notes

- Awesome Act (Awesome Again) is a horse who I'd view a whole lot differently at 15- or 20-1 in the Derby as opposed to my standing against him at low odds in his two races here. I dissed his Gotham win here, citing his pedigree to support my contention that his future was on the grass. However, as I conceded at the time, he gets props for winning first time dirt while getting it kicked in his snout, and overcame an eventful trip down amongst horses. His Wood is a total throwout given his thrown shoe and impossible pace scenario. He'll hang here in New York and train at Belmont.

He does have an interesting pedigree, and certainly seems suited to dirt. He's out of a Mr. Prospector mare, and he's inbred 4x2 to that stallion. Awesome Act also has the Rasmussen Factor, inbred as he is 5x4 to Natalma, his 4th dam, through Northern Dancer and Raise the Standard.

- Eskendereya is the second Derby favorite in the last three years, Big Brown being the other, to have made his first start on grass and then discover the dirt by "accident" in an off-the-turf race. Exactly what that means I can't say. As I'd mentioned in this post, his 4th dam is Queen Sucree, the dam of the Derby winner Cannonade. She's also the granddam of the Belmont winner Stephen's Odyssey, and the Acorn winner Lotka. And Queen Sucree is also a half-sister to Halo, the sire of two Derby winners and quite the accomplished distance runner himself. Gotta go back a bit in this colt's pedigree, but therein lies some class and stamina.

- Noble's Promise, the likely favorite in Saturday's Arkansas Derby, is an anomaly pedigree-wise. By the Carson City sire Cuvee, out of the speedy Clever Trick, one might dismiss his distance prospects. But his dosage checks in at an acceptable 3.36; and his dam is a half-sister to New Economy (Robert G. Dick Memorial, 1 3/8M). If you look under his third dam, you'll find distance runners such as Parade Ground (Lawrence Realization, 1 3/8M), Plenty of Grace (Diana, Yellow Ribbon 1 1/4M), and the BC F&M Turf winner Soaring Softly (all turf horses).

I could be interested in this one with a further move forward from his impressive dirt debut, a close second to Lookin At Lucky in the Rebel. He comes off a nice work under the handling of the clever Ken McPeek, who seems to have a master plan.

“We were not in the Rebel to be 100 percent....We did not want that race to be his best prep. But, he ran well there. Lookin At Lucky really had to fight to beat him.” [Albany Times Union]
The trainer also agrees with me about Eskendereya.
“The horse from New York is obviously very talented....But, has he been in any dogfights? Where was he in the Breeders’ Cup last year? We’ve been in dogfights. I have no doubt our horse will perform well.”
Oh yeah, Friday is the Apple Blossom at Oaklawn; forgot about that. Rachel Alexandra isn't around, so Zenyatta will be taking on Tiger Woods all by herself. Those who predicted that the "race for the ages" would be no match publicity-wise for this weekend's Masters probably would have been right based on what we've seen thus far.

Rachel herself is in Churchill, and apparently in no rush for a race, as Jess Jackson perpetuates the myth that she wouldn't have been "fit" to take on Zenyatta on Friday. Steve Asmussen told the Form:
"I'm going to keep working her every Monday....We're just going to worry about getting her back to where she was, and nothing else. I'm not going to concern myself about where and when she runs next."
By the time she finally runs again, maybe the rest of us won't be concerning ourselves with her either.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Wood Produces Vulnerable Fave

The weather wasn't nearly as hot, nor as sunny as it was supposed to be; a sea breeze phenomenon we're told by the weather folks, and the fog that obscured the view of the 11th race was evidence of that. But the (announced) crowd of 8,553, as paltry as that figure may seem to outsiders, certainly exceeded my expectations given the complete lack of marketing and media coverage, and the relentless skewering directed at NYRA by the press and politicians; particularly, and unfairly, amplified over the past year as it has been.

For Eskendereya, I couldn't help but be reminded of Bellamy Road's similarly facile Wood Memorial win; though minus the theatrics by the jockey (Johnny V was too busy looking behind him to be clowning around); and some 11 points lower on the Beyer scale (Eskendereya earned a fig of 109). And I believe the comparison is an instructive one, and one I will keep in mind when I am all...and I mean against him come Derby Day four weeks hence.

Joe Drape, reporting for the Times from Santa Anita (odd isn't it that the New York Times' top racing writer would be in on the left coast reporting on a race of dubious value as a prep for a race run on a different surface rather than at a local prep which has proven to be historically significant...perhaps he's busy working on some kind of toxic story to be published on Derby Day) wrote: Better yet, Eskendereya was hardly taxed.

However, considering that the Kentucky Derby is by far the most taxing race this colt will participate in to that point, I don't consider races like the certain post-time favorite's Wood to be an ideal prep. It's kind of a conundrum; kinda like I'm penalizing the horse for being too good. However, this son of Giant's Causeway gained nothing in the way of dealing with the kind of adversity he's likely to encounter at Churchill. Again. Because, as in the Fountain of Youth, he was able to stalk an easy pace - in this case, 24 1/5 and then a breather! - a second quarter in 25 flat (all after a clean break and uneventful aftermath), behind a hopelessly outclassed NY-bred and Zito's bridesmaid Jackson Bend. So, and again as in the FOY, while there's no denying the impressiveness of his bold move to the lead; nor of his closing splits of 24.11 and 12.24 while under restraint, it's easy to comprehend why he had that much left.

No doubt that this Derby favorite has earned the distinction on merit, and that he has displayed the most talent in the crop by a comfortable margin. If Johnny V can work out the kind of trip behind slow fractions, then all power to him and his horse, and he'll probably win for fun. But we all know that that's a scenario which is highly unlikely. Far better chance he takes a bump or two after the start and, unless he picks up his pace early, is around midpack going into the first turn. Then, he'll be asked to do several things that he's never done before. And that makes him a terrible bet as a decisive favorite in the race.

On the other hand (and coast), the reviews for Garrett Gomez' ride aboard Lookin at Lucky are about as good as those for the new MGMT album.

“His ride was horrendous,” Baffert said of Gomez. “He took him back, and he was fighting him.” [NYT]
The trainer didn't want to hear any excuses about how his horse cut shut off and shuffled out of the race when Victor Espinoza, riding 24-1 Who's Up, dropped in on him approaching the second turn.
“He’s using that as an excuse....It doesn’t matter. Whatever. Victor did what he did, but I mean, ‘cause I took him off of Misremembered. He gets like that. He pouts.

“But he (Gomez) shouldn’t have been in that spot. ... When I saw him on the rail, I said, ‘What is he doing?” He must not have seen Jerry Bailey’s (educational) tape. We’re going to buy him some DVD’s.” [SignOnSanDiego]
Our game would be a more popular one if there were more trainers as animated as Baffert, wouldn't it? Maybe Gomez was doing him a favor though. Hard to imagine that Lookin at Lucky could find much more trouble even in the big race. He recovered extremely well in rallying for third, and might just be better for the experience at a price which should be more generous than if he had run off like Pletcher's horse. Front-running winner Sidney's Candy earned a Beyer of 100 (for whatever that's worth); nice job by Joe Talamo slowing the half to 48 2/5 (3/5th slower than the maiden race which was the only other two-turn main track race on the day); but again, he ain't likely to replicate that at Churchill. Setsuko flew home against the pace grain in 11.75 seconds to get the place; money prospects for Derby day.

- I was off on Good Friday, and spent the day at MoMA (Museum of Modern Art for you non-New Yorkers). Yes, the Tim Burton exhibit was way cool; better, in fact, than I expected, a legitimate exhibit of intricate and creepy drawings and not just a show of set pieces from his films. But it was the wacky Marina Abramovic show which will certainly be the more memorable, whether or not it truly qualifies as art.

Let me be right up front here. 1) Yes, I chose, of my own free will and volition, to enter via the passageway that is blocked by two butt naked people facing each other not much more than a foot apart. 2) Yes, I was quite pleased that both of the "performers" when I was there were women. And 3) Yes, I turned to face the more buxom of the two as I squeezed between. Yeah, so? What of it?

I fully intend to return on a less crowded day - not to slide between naked women again....OK, maybe....but also and especially to participate in the ongoing performance in which museum goers can sit across a table from Ms. Abramovic and engage in a staring contest for a period of time of their choosing. She will be there every day, all day, each day the museum is open through the close of her exhibit on May 31; some 700 hours of staring in all. Bet you can't even look at the Derby pp's for that long. The odds are 6-5 I can last a half hour, wanna bet?

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Break in the Gloom

The past performances are out for Saturday's 11 race Wood Memorial card at the Big A on what is supposed to be a gorgeous day. Even a couple of grass races on the program. But who knows, could be the last time the historic Derby prep will be run there. Maybe it'll go to New Jersey like the Cane Pace did after the slots debate moves to Belmont and the wrecking balls move in. They could have a one day meet at the Meadowlands and raise the purse by a few million bucks. The April 11th deadline for NYC OTB to close is approaching, and the New York racing world is watching with dread.

Many industry leaders are concerned NYRA might not be able to stay open this spring and summer.

“It’s going to be close,” Rick Violette, a prominent trainer, NYRA board member, and New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association president, said on Wednesday. [Thoroughbred Times]
I'm sticking to my usual belief, confirmed up to this point in time, that, in the end, the politicians in Albany will not allow the industry to fail; especially in this case where the blame would be squarely on their shoulders. But today, on the E train home, I was listening to J Mascis sing, on Get Me from Dinosaur Jr.'s Where You Been LP: "You're not going to get me through this, are you?" And one sure couldn't blame NYRA and the horsemen if they're starting to think that way about their elected leaders who have put them in this position through their incompetence, arrogance, and unmitigated gall.

I mean, don't even get me started about these three stooges in the Senate who are fighting the Inspector General's subpoena into the all-too-blatant political favoritism they lavished on Aqueduct Entertainment Group. A state Supreme Court judge ruled against them on Wednesday, saying their objections were "without merit." However, they intend to appeal. Seriously, which is more blatantly obvious, the selection itself, or this clumsy attempt to cover it up? Man, I can't wait to see what they're trying to hide. And to hear what the governor has to say too, especially given his lame duck status and his continuing descent into paranoia and incoherency.

Anyway, back to the Wood, and, unfortunately, the race has no buzz or juice at all around here, despite the presence of the horse who I guess is considered the consensus Derby favorite at this time. Maybe they'll get 4500 people there. That's what happens when the headlining horse has only five career races at this point in time, and last raced in New York in an off-the-turf stakes race last October. I'm not intimidated by that 106 that Eskendereya earned some six weeks ago in the FOY.

Not to say he wasn't impressive of course. I particularly liked the way he calmly and effortlessly glided up into stalking position after breaking a bit sluggishly from a treacherous outside post. However, on the other hand, once he did so, he sat behind a moderate pace (slower to the half than the 10K claiming race which was the only other two-turn dirt race run that day) set by a horse making his first start on dirt, and with Buddy's Saint getting jostled down inside. He was set up well then to make the big move in the stretch that he did, finishing up in racehorse time of 12.33 seconds; final three-eighths in a solid 36.46. I'd be willing to take a shot against....

....though moreso in a deeper field than this where one might find some value. Just six entries (and only 23 betting interests in the four graded stakes); including a state-bred allowance runner with a standardbred name, and a recent maiden graduate. I was against Awesome Act on price in the Gotham, and suspect I'll be the same on Saturday in just his second start of the year, anticipating that he'll be a well-bet second choice.

Schoolyard Dreams is the kind of horse I like, and I'd take a look at decent odds. He's making his - gasp - 4th start of the season. It's been just three weeks since his grueling and improbable loss to the impressive Odysseus in the Tampa Bay Derby. These days, some might consider that to be too little for a horse to recover from such an effort, but I'm taking it as a positive in this case. He's improved solidly in his last two since adding blinkers, and should have the upper hand on the top two in terms of foundation and tough race experience. And you gotta love the bullet half mile on the 27th. In the money in all of his five career races, he somehow got beat at Tampa after changing tactics and making a bold sweeping move around the turn. Schoolyard Dreams has gone through jockeys like Governor Paterson goes through senior staff members; and here, for his sixth jockey in his sixth race, he lands Ramon (in fact, he's one of the reasons the horse is running here instead of in the Illinois Derby). Trainer Derek Ryan will be looking for a better timed move than the one supplied by Jeremy Rose in the TB Derby. "You can't hit the front too soon," Ryan said. [DRF]