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Saturday, May 29, 2010

Belmont Top Ten

This is the LATG Belmont Top Ten, of horses and people who I think will be in the news on or around Belmont Stakes day.

1) With past performance lines like these, Ice Box should be quite the decisive favorite, First Dude's Preakness notwithstanding. It's said that you're not supposed to bet deep closers in this race; but his past performances sure look a lot (and a lot better) than those of Summer Bird. Jazil too. And Afleet Alex was well behind early as well. So maybe that thinking needs to be updated. In my mind, these horses just aren't bred for a mile and a half anymore; I think a horse who truly is such wins the race on or close to the lead (like Rags to Riches). Now the winner is often simply the one who's the least tired at the end; it's only logical that it will be one of those who didn't run much at the beginning.

2) First Dude is eligible for an entry level allowance race; here's your second choice for this year's Test of Champions. Having said that, there's no denying his quality and class after his gritty performance in the Preakness confirmed the promise he'd shown to that point. The questions in my mind are whether he's really meant to go this far, and how he'll react to his grueling Preakness effort, his fifth race (and 4th against quality competition) in 3 1/2 months. I can be a big believer in bounces when it helps me throw out a horse that I want to bet against.

3) Riding the wave of popular discontent which carried Tea Party Senate candidate Rand Paul to his decisive primary victory in Kentucky, Republican voters there vote Super Saver out as the Derby champion. Devastated by the news, trainer Todd Pletcher retires in an uncharacteristic fit of rage and tears rather than face another round of questions about his now-revived Derby streak of futility. The Derby title is instead awarded to last-place finisher Backtalk, because his name (plus a Browning 12-gauge shotgun or two) reflects the spirit of the movement.

4) Game On Dude didn't show much in his two stakes efforts before being purchased privately and put in the care of Bob Baffert. The new trainer slapped on blinkers and got a win as the 9-5 second choice in a weak Lone Star Derby field which slowed dramatically after six furlongs. This horse came home the last 5/16ths in 33.24; that's like a 26-second quarter followed by a final sixteenth in 7 seconds plus. Son of the Breeders Cup Classic winner Awesome Again out of a mare by the Wood/Suburban/Brooklyn Handicap winner Devil His Due has little appeal beyond that on the catalog page. Figures to be overbet given his trainer, which will make him a prime candidate for total exclusion from my tickets.

5) Having failed to gain concessions from the state and with its out-of-state signals curtailed, a desperate Chairman Sandy Frucher announces that NYC OTB will perform a top kill operation in an attempt to stanch the gushing outflow of cash. OTB will attempt to plug the leakage with a combination of bricks and mortars from shuttered parlors, losing tickets, Polytrack, discarded Paterson 2010 campaign material, some heavy runoff from Belmont Park, and Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada.

6) Fly Down is Zito's other horse, but comes off an impressive win in the Dwyer, which kinda used to be the Peter Pan, which was eliminated this year. Big difference of course between a flat one-turn mile and this marathon. But if you're willing to dismiss the Louisiana Derby as a blip, this horse has a solid pattern of improvement as you might expect from a son of the late-developing Mineshaft. That race, his only disappointing effort, can be excused as a bounce following his win over First Dude in his 2010 debut. Another move forward off that career best effort four weeks ago could put this one in the winner's circle. Not thrilled about his pedigree (a borderline 4.0 dosage); but I can say that about almost every other horse in the race.

7) A crowd of 48,327 shows up for the big day, but that includes the promised "multitude of Ram Trucks", estimated at some 1,500 to 2,000. With space scarce, fans picnic in the truck beds, tellers man the cabs, and an uncomfortable Charles Hayward awards the imaginatively-named Belmont Stakes Trophy while standing on the hood of a Ram Heavy Duty.

8) Drosselmeyer was 3-5 in that Dwyer after showing decent, but not outstanding, progress as a three-year old, and finished six lengths behind. Yeah, he had excuses, but not six lengths worth; not even close in my opinion given how wide Fly Down was hung out on that sweeping turn for home. I consider him to be a bit of a disappointment thus far this year.

9) Make Music For Me, who may take some money off his pace-aided 4th in the Derby, makes news when he accompanies his trainer Alexis Barba to a photo opp on the 86th floor observatory at the Empire State Building. This delights reporters, but raises questions as to how he got past security.

10) Taking the lead from the NFL, the 2014 Breeders' Cup is awarded to the Amazon Rain Forest. BC President Greg Avioli explains: "Some of the greatest races of all time have taken place in the slop."

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Belmont Wednesday

Racing in New York may have been saved, but that does not change the present circumstance of the competitive purse imbalance with Monmouth, nor the attractive prizes offered in Pennsylvania. So quality, and quantity, may still suffer over the short-term....and perhaps until sometime next year when/if slots finally arrive. No less than five maiden claimers on today's Belmont card; with a cheap restricted state-bred claimer thrown in for good measure, yuck.

So it's slim pickens, but let's try the fifth, a nicely competitive restricted claimer on the grass, actually one of my favorite kind of races around here these days. Hangingonaprayer (5-1) steps up off a win off a layoff, and stretches out to a mile for the ridiculously hot Carlos Martin. With his last eight starters, this guy has four winners, and three close seconds at odds of 6-1, 8-1, and 14-1. Five-year old daughter of Grand Slam showed some improved form towards the end of last year after switching from the barn of Phil Serpe. A bounce is a concern here after a tough drive at six furlongs in her comeback win; and her last three wins have come at that distance. But she graduated at a mile and a sixteenth, had two pretty good efforts routing last fall after the trainer change; and finds a race with little pace in which she should have good position. So we'll go with the hot barn; but insist at odds at or close to her morning line. Higher Incentive (3-1) is a hard-trying seven-year old who drops to a level at which she should be right there for Gary Contessa and Ramon; but she also has done her best recent running at shorter. Interesting equipment change on morning line choice Double Dinghy Day (5-2); blinkers go on for Frank Alexander for the first time in her 29 race career despite coming off two bang-up efforts, the last at this level. Strictly one to beat. Good luck and have a great day.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Governor Ran End-Around Union

Jim Odato reports in the Albany Times-Union that it was opposition to the NYRA loan by the DC-37 union which represents OTB workers that prompted Governor Paterson to include the measure in the budget extender. The union complained that NYRA was getting a bailout but OTB was not, several government officials said. That made the bill's prospects in the Senate uncertain. You know, because, of course the Senate wouldn't want to pass a bill opposed by a union representing workers of an entity that tried to dupe them into screwing over the rest of the industry by pleading poverty when they really had money in the bank. Right?

NYRA is to repay the $25 million loan by March 31, 2011, or 30 days after the execution of a memorandum of understanding with the operator of a video lottery facility at Aqueduct racetrack.. Since the Lottery is supposed to recommend an operator to Governor Paterson by August 3 (and because, for reasons explained previously, the recommendation is likely to be quickly agreed to by the other two leaders), NYRA should be able to pay the loan back early, like Chase and Goldman Sachs, rather than go to the deadline. After that date, the Lottery would collect any remaining loan balance from the vendor fee that would other be due on or after that date to the New York Racing Association.

Of course, all of this presumes that there actually will be, if not actual VLT's in place by next March (only a realistic possibility with a temporary slots facility), at least an operator who will front NYRA the money within 30 days as a loan of its own against slots revenue.

And those excitable parks advocates can't be too happy at this point in time either, as the legislature failed to approve a measure to reopen the 41 shuttered parks by the holiday weekend. But at least they can go to the track.

Monday, May 24, 2010


The New York Senate has passed the latest emergency appropriations bill to keep the government going. This one will keep racing at Belmont, Saratoga and even Aqueduct going as well. I spoke to a Senate staffer who confirmed that the $25 million NYRA loan was included in this week's budget extender, and that the measure passed the Senate this evening. As of this writing, there was no word of the Assembly's approval, but that chamber was expected to approve the loan even on a standalone basis. [And reports now are that the deal is done.]

NYRA officials had failed in their attempt to have the measure included in the emergency legislation as of last Friday. But on Monday, the governor did include it, which made it odds-on for approval. Legislators even voted for the state worker furloughs that they bitterly opposed rather than shut down the government.

The New Boss

Now officially running for Governor of New York, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo released an exhaustive 252 page New NY Agenda: A Plan For Action. In it, the man considered to be the most likely next elected governor of the state, divulges his positions, in sometimes excruciating detail according to the NY Times, on issues such as ethics laws, campaign finance, "pay to play," jobs and workforce training, assistance for small businesses, corporate tax loopholes, redistricting, succession, the state pension fund, caps on state spending and property taxes, Medicaid, citizen empowerment, standardized elections, highway infrastructure, economic development, minority and women-owned businesses, high speed rail service, clean energy, farmers, marriage equality, reproductive rights, housing discrimination, hate crimes, immigrants, guns, and domestic violence.

But when I performed document searches for topics such as "aqueduct," "racino," "VLT," "gambling," "horse,", "OTB," "betting," "NYRA," "takeout," "handle," "lottery," "horsemen," "breeders," "Saratoga"....I got the same No matches were found. Oh yeah, I did actually find New York State Racing and Wagering a footnote, listing various boards and agencies, to a section regarding how there are too many of them.

We've never heard the Attorney General discuss any of the issues surrounding the industry....OK, up to now, we hadn't heard a thing from Cuomo about any of the issues he'll face in the likely event he takes office. But I certainly get the feeling that Cuomo doesn't have much more of an interest in the subject than his immediate predecessors did. And that he would very much prefer that all of the matters - NYRA, Aqueduct, OTB - that are very much on other peoples' minds and agendas nowadays as they all seem to converge towards an uncertain climax, have already been taken care of, one way or another, by January 1.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Sunday Morning Notes, Pt 2

There are two maiden special weight races on the Belmont card today; but the combined number of runners (11) is less than the 12 entered in the one to be run as the 5th at Monmouth. Bettors will presumably choose to participate in the Jersey race. But, if you're a horseman, would you rather run for a $30,000 winner's share against four or five others in New York, or against 11 others for around $37,500 at Monmouth (and a $1500 guarantee just for starting)?

In the Monmouth race, first time starter Capital Market seems worth a gander at his 10-1 morning line. Darley bought this son of the good first-out sire Indian Charlie for $500,000 as a yearling.....long road to this debut at age three. But trainer Tom Albertrani has been scoring with some first-timers recently - Belle of the Hall ($6) at GP on 4/8; Cinco de Mayo Mio ($6.40) at Tampa on 4/28; and Cocalero ($13.20) at Belmont on May 8. Steady breezes for this colt out of a Dehere half-sister to the G1 winner Virginia Rapids. Would like to do more but leaving to check out my seats for the Jets at the new stadium!! Good luck and have a great day!

Sunday Morning Notes

Big crowd of over 17,000 at Monmouth, and the combined handle from all sources was $9,357,444 [DRF]; a bit below the $10 million that Steve Crist figures it needs to do on a daily basis to support, on its own, the $1 million dollar a day purse structure ("only" $812,000 on Saturday, so there must be some really big days to come). Seems to me that this purse level is just an arbitrary and, in some cases, unnatural number; and if "success" or "failure" of the meet is based solely on it being "self-sustaining," as Governor Christie (who made an appearance, as I'm so sure Governor Paterson will be doing on Belmont Stakes day, perhaps with a check for NYRA in hand) would like it to be, then they may have set the bar too high. You can't have $30,000 purses for $5,000 claimers; if those horses can win $18,000....I stand corrected, hmmmm, not sure exactly what the winner's share is, but....still a lot! in a single race, then they're really worth far more than their tags. Those numbers don't make sense from a free market standpoint; Tea Partiers would be confounded if they were smart enough to understand horse racing. And New Jersey-breds are New Jersey-breds no matter how much the purse might be. Watching them running for $80,000 is like watching the Flyers and Canadians playing for a spot in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Less than half of the Monmouth crowd, 6,403, at Belmont for a card which was a pretty good one from a betting standpoint in its own right. I did bet one Monmouth race - the Decathlon Stakes run as the 5th - but otherwise passed on this particular day for reasons discussed in the prior post. Seemed kinda odd to see NYRA prominently hyping those races on its website and throughout the day on its simulcast feed considering the way Monmouth has been portrayed as such an existential threat! But again, NYRA collects its full on-track share for those bets (whether placed on-track or through its wagering platform), so it stands to gain from the excitement as well, especially with NYC OTB shut out. Didn't seem to be all that much more interest than usual though, at least based on the volume level of the crowd during those races.

There was a buzz over the (live) performance of Afleet Express with his dominant win, in 1:21.72, in the third, for trainer Jimmy Jerkens. This is a three-year old son of Afleet Alex (who seemed to like Belmont pretty much himself), out of a Distant View mare...and he's a half brother to the Illinois Derby winner Reporting for Duty. The dam is a half to the graded stakes winner Eye of the Tiger, and this is the distaff family of another Illinois Derby winner in Sweetnorthernsaint, as well as the G1 winner Snow Ridge. Afleet Express earned a gaudy Beyer of 115. Monmouth next?

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Sticking to Home Turf

I know everyone's hepped up about Monmouth. But those races - large fields of horses shipping in from a variety of racetracks (including a pretty fair number from New York) - are just too hard for me! Why expend the mental energy when I can handicap races which not only include horses and trainers with whom I'm familiar, but which also don't require nearly as much guesswork as trying to rate horses who've been running in different classes over different surfaces in different jurisdictions. Not that I don't enjoy handicapping a contentious race; but I find these enough of the races here challenging enough. And I also like to cash once in a while. So I'm sticking around close to home.

They'll be wagering on Belmont at NYC OTB too, but the bettors there will have little choice. The NY State Racing and Wagering Board cracked down on OTB's out-of-state simulcasting and ordered all of the out-of-state signals other than Golden Gate pulled after having "only just yesterday" discovered that the individual simulcast contracts with the tracks were not approved. Matt Hegarty reports:

In addition to accusations that New York City OTB did not receive approvals to offer the tracks, the board notified OTB three weeks ago that it would not approve any other simulcast contracts until OTB "assures us that they are able to meet their financial obligations," according to Joe Mahoney, a spokesman for the board. [Daily Racing Form]
The spokesman is referring to the fact that it's the statutory payments due to NYRA on these out-of-state simulcasts which are the ones being "deferred" by NYC OTB. So one might presume that those payments are also behind the Board's sudden discovery that the contracts were not approved.

Whatever its motive, and inadvertently or not, the Racing and Wagering Board, a neutral arbiter, is coming down on NYRA's side here. Presuming that bettors with money burning holes in their pockets are going to bet on Belmont instead, NYRA would at least get the money since they are currently getting paid by OTB for its own product. The percentage difference isn't that great though - NYRA gets 2.69% of bets on its races, as opposed to 1.96% for all non-NYRA races. Every little bit helps, though this surely won't stave off closure if Albany doesn't come through. (And bettors like reader Figless Anon who will go to Belmont to bet on races from Monmouth would further help, as NYRA collects its full on-track cut of over 9% on those wagers.)

- In the 8th at Belmont, Nobody Like Mike (6-1), first-time out for Greg DiPrima, has worked extremely well for his return to the grass, a surface over which he's run twice and done quite well - a third with excuses and a win. DiPrima, 20% off the claim, has had just one winner in 13 starts at the meet; but he's been live with a second and six thirds, and that one winner was also on the grass and with this jockey. Fit (5-2) goes for the sharp Alan Goldberg barn, but I think he doesn't want to go this far.

In the 10th, Mighty Tuff (6-1) - that one winner for DiPrima I mentioned above - had shown improved speed with blinkers added two races back, and then switched to turf, where he proceeded to drop back to 9th. The above-referenced Victor Santiago showed patience saving some ground behind a wall of horses turning for home before he rallied down the center of the track. The chart comment Caught battling pair may give the impression that he ran down tiring horses; but, according to Formulator, he got his last two furlongs in 11 2/5 each, and earned a solid Beyer for this level. Steps up to face winners, but gets Ramon and there's not much here. Eire's Run (3-1) cuts back a bit after a fair effort first off the claim for Linda Rice; note though that he graduated on dirt. Look for that one to be particularly overbet if the other half of the entry (first-time turf Abilio) goes. E.P. Bombay (7-2) ships in from the west coast; may be overbet off a win on synthetic against maiden claimers.

Thursday, May 20, 2010


With no tangible progress on getting the money they're due from Albany, NYRA has sent WARN letters to its employees, notifying them of a possible mass layoff in 60 days.

The notices, required under the Workers Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act, provide a two-month advance word to employees possibly affected by layoffs. [Bloodhorse]
That doesn't mean that racing will continue for 60 days; NYRA would suspend operations should its cash balance dip below $5 million. Nobody has denied the idea that that could come after Belmont Stakes day. (And it hasn't been a good week on that front either with the defection of a couple of live contenders.)

Tom Precious' report contains the usual about a deal being worked on, this time to be ready for legislators when they return from their well-earned long weekend on May 24.
“We’re going to have to do something for NYRA," a source involved in the talks said.
No shit, Jack. I wrote about the upstate Assemblyman who is upset about the parks yesterday, and today this in the Albany Business Review:
“I am outraged that the governor is singling out parks as a bargaining chit, while giving special consideration to NYRA’s financial troubles,” said Robin Dropkin, executive director of New York State Parks & Trails, an advocacy groups.
Well, look, Robin Dropkin and Assemblyman Frank Skartados (D-Milton). As I wrote yesterday, nobody wants to see these parks closed. The New York State park system is a treasure; it's a big part of what makes this state so cool. And everyone, including Governor David Paterson, knows it should be preserved and enhanced, not shrunk.

Let's look at the big picture and reality here, can we? The governor is doing everything he can to close a budget in conjuntion with a legislature that is more interested in their own political fates; it rejects totally reasonable proposals like this one, which could, in its original form, have netted the state some $1 billion a year. The parks, unfortunately, have become part of the game; but for the relatively minimal $6 million in cuts involved, he sure seems to have struck a nerve and gotten his moneys worth. He's doing his job (and when's the last time you read a thing about the domestic violence and Yankees tickets scandals?) I can guarantee you that for that amount of money, it's absolutely going to be restored when the budget is passed, which will probably be at a time when much of this coming summer still lies ahead (right?).

So don't get your underwear in a fucking bundle here. NYRA gets "special consideration," you say? If the parks got the kind of consideration NYRA gets, they'd all have been turned into fucking Costcos long ago.

Way Off Base

There's a short article on the website which shows one of the big obstacles to any solution to NYRA's cash needs which requires the approval of the state legislature.

Governor David Paterson has proposed spending $17 million to preserve New York Racing Association thoroughbred horse racing seasons at Saratoga and Belmont and that has the ire of Assemblyman Frank Skartados (D-Milton).

The governor’s latest plan comes at the same time as he shut down 41 state parks and 14 historic sites across New York, including in the Hudson Valley, to save money during the budget crisis.

Paterson’s priorities are “seriously misplaced,” said the freshman lawmaker. “The fact that he’s willing to spend $17 million for a few weeks of horse racing in two communities while working families are denied access to some of New York’s most treasured attractions is absolutely outrageous.” [Mid-Hudson News Network]
I don't blame the Assemblyman for being upset about the park sucks, and it affects people all over the state (including at John Boyd Thacher State Park, a personal favorite near Albany). But he's sadly and, given the present circumstances, frighteningly off base, for reasons which I don't have to spell out for many readers. Nobody is "spending $17 million for a few weeks of horse racing." They're trying to, with money to be loaned against a guaranteed revenue stream (and if NYRA never gets a racino and the state therefore never gets the money back it's their own damn fault), sustain an enterprise which employs thousands and which returns many times more in revenue to the state. And to prevent the irreparable damage which will result from a wholesale exodus should racing be suspended for any significant length of time. Somebody needs to educate guys like this, as you can be sure he has many colleagues who are thinking along similarly misinformed lines.

No news at all on Wednesday, and no news is assuredly not good news in this case. In fact, the silence feels rather ominous.

Already you may have read the story in the Saratogian about Gary Contessa shipping part of his stable down to Monmouth.
“I am committed to Monmouth because no one is committed to me.....Todd Pletcher is already taking his best horses to Monmouth. John Velasquez is going to Monmouth. There’s no instability in New Jersey right now."
Ha, no instability in New Jersey? The tracks there had been cowering in fear at the thought of slots at Aqueduct given their inability to overcome the political persuasion of the Atlantic City casinos. This year, with no slots in sight and Pennsylvania just to its west, they cut racing dates from 141 to 50. Yet now, it's stable, compared to New York. Hell, Magna seems stable compared to New York.

And have you seen the entries for opening day at Monmouth? Thirteen races for total purses of $812,000; 148 horses entered. As mentioned above, Johnny V is spending the day there, as is Garrett Gomez.

- In the 5th at Belmont on Thursday, Desert Falcon (12-1) races in a one-turn mile for the first time going back 11 races to March 26 [2009], on which date he won for the third straight time at that same route at Gulfstream Park. Since then, he's been up, down, and recently back up in class, and in performance as well, with a record of 4-0-2 in his last seven races. Cut back from two turns with two sprints in his latest, he affirmed his good form with a five wide rally for a close 4th in a Philly Park allowance, a half length behind Map of the World, a winner in his subsequent effort. Stretch out should serve him extremely well, as should his recent tactical speed in a race with a short field, though with a possibility of a contested pace. Bad Action (9-5) won the G3 Pegasus last November at the Meadowlands, and man, was he on a roll around here last fall. He was then taken out of his game though with a try in the Sunshine Millions on grass, and then a trip to Barbados. Now returns off a brief layoff and tries one turn. Senior's Pride (2-1) is sharp and has the best figs; but this one has also been running in two-turn routes.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

NYRA Forges On To The Belmont

Any publicity is good publicity, it is said, and if that's indeed the case, then NYRA, for all it's been in the news lately, might have to set up giant screens in the parking lot to accommodate an overflow crowd there on June 5.

More likely however is that, on a nice day for the Belmont Stakes, they'll have something in the neighborhood of 50,000 or so to see, with a little luck, a field of 10-12 horses and a lively betting race.....or, at least, one with several live contenders with which to try and beat probable favorite Ice Box.

NYRA's communications department is off and running with a press release on Tuesday about the Belmont Stakes festival to be held in nearby Floral Park and Garden City the day before. The Belmont Stakes website is up and active, with four - count 'em - bloggers, including two non-staff members who are being compensated with free admission to the race and coupons for 20% off all non-alcoholic beverages. There are updates on people still use that? And it looks like NYRA has managed to hire a PR firm for the occasion. I guess if NYC OTB could do it, then they can; hope they get better results for their money.

It must be an eerie atmosphere there as NYRA pulls out the stops to market the race amidst reports of its imminent closure. Governor Paterson gave a reflexive "we have a plan" response to a reporter's question on Tuesday; and while a couple of reporters turned that into a story, Matt Hegarty reported in the Form that, in fact, the talks have yet to produce any specific plan to loan NYRA the money. [DRF] Expressing what likely is wariness generated by the unsuccessful bluff by NYC OTB, Senate Democratic spokesperson Austin Shafran told the Saratogian: “Before any taxpayer money is used, we would like to know how much money NYRA actually has." By the time they get around to doing so, the answer might very well be 'none.'

Here are the past performances for the 2006 Belmont (pdf file), which was the last time that neither the Derby nor Preakness winner was present. That race drew over 61,000. You had the Derby runner-up Bluegrass Cat, as well as the third and fourth place finishers (Steppenwolfer and Jazil). But those runners finished far behind Barbaro and generated so little enthusiasm that the bettors somehow decided to make the 17th place finisher Bob and John the lukewarm 9-2 favorite. Euro shipper Oh So Awesome, Peter Pan winner Sunriver, and West Point's sacrificial lamb High Finance were some other horses of interest.

This year (and here are the pp's for the prospective contenders), Ice Box and First Dude, coming off their bang-up runner-up efforts in the first two legs, by themselves probably make this a more accomplished field. Throw in the Peter Pan Dwyer winner Fly Down (and the tough luck runner up Drosselmeyer), Baffert's Lone Star Derby winning Game On Dude (that's right, two dudes in the same race), the intriguing stretch-runner Setsuko, and the Derby 4th place finisher Make Music For Me, and you have the makings of a decently competitive race with a lot of different ways to go betting-wise. Not to say that they will equal the attendance of 2006. Things are different now with the economy still on shaky ground, and the parking and admission prices far higher. Last year's 52,861 who came to see Mine That Bird but no Rachel Alexandra is probably a better guide.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Shutdown Close to Reality

"NYRA's current cash position will not allow us to make it through the entire Belmont Park race meet." And so, in a press release issued late on Monday afternoon, Charles Hayward and NYRA made official what's been widely presumed ever since Tom Precious reported on the worst case scenario presented to the NYRA board on April 30. That scenario became reality when the proposed $17 million loan to NYRA went by the boards. Basically, NYRA wanted to use money raised by via bonds (from the $250 million issue for the construction of the Aqueduct racino), ostensibly to pay for past and present capital expenditures, for its operating expenses, and the plan therefore did not pass muster with tax and bond counsels.

I'm told of active efforts in the governor's office to come up with an alternate plan; but time is obviously of the essence. Hayward told Jerry Bossert: "This week will be critical.....We will have to put out formal notices and make plans." [NY Daily News]

Well? Here we are, around two and a half weeks before the Belmont Stakes, and now that day is being mentioned as being possibly the last day of racing. Oh, man. How exactly did we get here? A long, twisted story of course, but you could say it started the day in 1971 that the first OTB parlors opened in New York City. I had to laugh when I read NYC OTB Chairman Sandy Frucher saying: "NYRA's fate and our fate seem to be appropriately entwined. " I'm sure that he did not intend the irony and profundity that is obvious to those of us who have followed or in some fashion participated in the sport here over the last four decades.

I continue to maintain that Saratoga will open as scheduled on July 23. There's a lot of money at stake, and there are people involved in the process in Albany who have various political and personal motives to get this, as well as VLT's and OTB, done; maybe a couple of them actually care about racing. But I don't think that anyone can be confident at this very point in time that there will not be an interruption before then. NYRA continues to be a hot political potato, and, in this election year, no legislator wants to be on the wrong side of a negative ad concerning a bailout to a so-called "corrupt" entity, which, some would have us believe, ineptly squandered away the $105 million it received with its 2008 franchise award. I would imagine that by now, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli is sitting on some information that he's learned from his investigation of that matter which could enlighten some of his former colleagues in the legislature as to how financially fruitless NYRA's situation is. However, facing a tough election challenge in November, I'm sure he'll release his findings at a time and in a context which serves him best.

And then there's stuff like this, from Jim Odato of the Times Union:

A senior aide to the governor said it would be unpalatable to bail out NYRA, and asked how the administration can send money to a thoroughbred industry that caters to wealthy horse owners while closing parks and reducing aid to schools and hospitals.
Of course, you and I know that those "wealthy horse owners" can pick up and send their horses elsewhere, and that it's the thousands of less privileged folks who get up before dawn and work for a living who would be joining others on the unemployment lines. And that those owners who have the means to ship out don't have to go very far this spring and summer to find purses which are far richer than what they've been running for here. They might even get comfortable and not come back if and when racing resumes.

We all know how dire the budget situation is with the $9.2 billion deficit that lawmakers don't seem even close to solving with the legally-required balanced budget now seven weeks overdue. But the state does have certain obligations; and just as the governor is somehow and reluctantly finding the money to include contractual raises for union workers in his latest emergency budget extender, the state must find a way to meet its written obligations to fund NYRA in the wake of its shocking incompetence in naming a racino operator for Aqueduct. Of course, the courts had to step in to compel Paterson to not only include the raises but to cancel his threatened furloughs, and perhaps the racing industry will be forced to go that route as well.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Lookin At Preakness

We were talking here in the comments section about the last second observation by Donna Brothers-Barton Barton-Brothers on NBC that Super Saver had lost weight since the Derby (and not to mention that she also presaged Dublin's wayward journey towards the grandstand after the start)....and the fact that the telecast was filled with far less useful information such as the repeated references to the jockey change on Lookin At Lucky (and not to mention an unnecessary post-mortem to Pletcher's Derby streak that no longer was!). The horses are individually scrutinized so closely before the Derby that any slight misstep is widely reported; not so before the Preakness.

Of course, Ms. Barton-Brother's observation was just one person's opinion, and you'd think someone in the racing press would have put the question to Pletcher by now. In any event, the horse ran like crap. To me, the idea that he was worn out by some kind of grueling campaign and now needs to rest up for a summer campaign is ridiculous. He'd only run three times this year prior to Saturday, and, as far as grueling races go, Super Saver's Derby was as un-grueling as one could expect under the circumstances. He just wasn't very good, was he? I've read some criticism of Borel's ride, that he was pressing too close to a fast pace; and I guess that's a reasonable point. But the pace, while honest, was hardly suicidal, and I think the horse was pretty much where he should have been. And not that it really mattered anyway, he was bad, that's all.

For all of that talk about Baffert replacing Garrett Gomez with Martin Garcia, honestly at the time I thought he moved too soon and that Lookin At Lucky was gonna get caught. Not sure if his final three and half furlongs in 43.81 (the chart in Formulator only breaks down the final fractions as much as that) is good or bad; but I suspect he was lucky in this case that there just wasn't much behind him.

Except for First Dude of course. I saw the overhead replay on Sunday, and I thought it really highlighted just how amazingly well he ran and how game he was; how he dug in after setting those honest fractions against his far more experienced and accomplished rival, even appearing to fight back and put his nose in front after first being passed. Dale Romans was being interviewed about Paddy O'Prado before the race, but became animated when asked about First Dude, saying that he'd trained as well as any horse in his barn.

First Dude is a son of Stephen Got Even out of a Smart Strike mare, and is bit unusually bred for these times in that he's a complete outcross through five generations. He has a four-year old half-sister, Via Veneto, who currently campaigns for Baffert, and has earned over $80,000 on a record of 9-2-2-1, though in races only up to 6 1/2 furlongs. And yup, he's headed for the Belmont, along with Ice Box. And who knows who else. Not the Derby or Preakness winner. NYRA is going to have its work cut out for it this they have nothing else to worry about.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Super Enough

Sorry for the sparse posting this week, but I'm just not too hepped up over this Preakness. The Derby was lackluster to begin with, and its running left us with one underwhelming winner and a whole bunch of excuses, whether trip or track condition-related. The runner-up, who many feel was the best horse in the race (others might point to the favorable pace scenario which helped set up his late run), is waiting for the Belmont (and man, will he ever be overbet there). And the newcomers just do not impress. Caracortado, arguably the classiest of the group as the only graded stakes winner, has only raced once on dirt, and that in a 40K maiden claimer in his debut at Fairplex last year.

I devoted some energy here to disparaging the Derby winner's effort, noting his trouble-free trip and the very slow final half of the race. Pace fig impresario Randy Moss noted in his blog last week that Super Saver is tied with Alysheba for 5th for what he calls the "slowest stretch run" going back 24 Derbys to 1987. (Of course, Alysheba clipped heels and almost went down at the top of the stretch.)

And Andy Beyer cites Super Saver's perfect trip in once again leaving him out of his top three selections.

I feel obligated to take a position against him, and plenty of serious handicappers will surely think the same way, for it almost always is a good strategy to play against a favorite who benefited from a perfect trip in his previous start. [DRF]
Perhaps because I don't qualify as a "serious handicapper," I'm going to think a different way in this case. While I generally agree with the principle that Beyer states, I think this is a case where one can turn that logic completely around. For a colt who clearly seems to be on an upswing, the Derby was a relatively easy race which should leave him fresh, fit, and ready to continue to progress to another career best race despite the short two week turnaround. You don't need Trakus in this case to know that he took the shortest route of any of the 20 horse field, and experienced no traffic nor trauma that could effect him physically or mentally here. Whatsmore, you gotta love the versatility and tractability he showed with the way that he, and jockey Borel, have changed tactics over their last two races; from speedball, to stalker, to a horse who comfortably took back several lengths off the hot pace.

While the connections of some of these may be concerned about a slow pace, Pletcher's colt seems adaptable to any scenario, and it wouldn't be surprising in this case to see him closely pressing whoever default to the front. As far as his slow come-home time at Churchill, one could at least partially chalk that up to the conditions. Seems that some are assuming that the sloppy conditions helped his cause, but a look at his past performances reveals no particular preference either way. And while the mile and a quarter distance may very well have been the real culprit, remember that he won't quite have to run that far this time. I expect that he'll be in front turning for home, and who in this group is going to catch him?

Well, a lot of people apparently think that Lookin At Lucky will, which could make the Derby winner a decent value wager in the win pool. He still brings the most accomplished resume, and he certainly had valid excuses for his sixth place finish at Louisville. I agree that one can make a very strong case for him here with the assumption that things are due to fall his way with a better post and a smaller field. But personally, I'm just not feeling it. Call it a gut feeling or whatever, I just don't like him here. For a horse who was so accomplished as a juvenile, bottom line is that he just has not stepped up with the kind of improvement one would like to see at three. His one win came in a Rebel from which little good has emerged; none of the runners have seen the winner's circle since. And while one can attribute his two subsequent defeats to bad luck, another way of looking at it is that he just has not progressed to the point where he has the ability, agility or mental toughness to overcome his troubles. Maybe that's a stretch, but as undervalued as I think he will be, seems an easy and logical stance to take.

Looking at some of the others:

Aikenite and Pleasant Prince rallied from far back for the second and third spots in the Derby Trial, but what does that one turn mile race have to do with this? Besides, if you think the Derby fell apart, take a look at the splits for that race: first have in 45 1/5, second in 50 4/5. Pleasant Prince might take some money off that nose loss to Ice Box in the Florida Derby in his pp's, but, as I implied above, I think that colt's Derby is being overrated; and the Gulfstream race is another from which little good has emerged.

Schoolyard Dreams is a little interesting if you take the trainer's word that he was adversely effected by a virus in the Wood. (Why then did he run if he was ill in the first place?) He'd shown some decent improvement and beat Super Saver at Tampa. But as I've mentioned in the past, can't too excited considering he got beat in the Wood by Awesome Act, the latest in my own personal series of desultory Derby wagers. So I'm gonna pass on him. Jackson Bend and Dublin can both be excused for their Derbies (in fact, the sloppy track is a universal excuse); but tough to get excited over this duo given their combined 0-for-8 records at three, not to mention the poor post draw for the latter.

Paddy O'Prado was kind of a "good thing" horse in the Derby, bet down under his 20-1 morning line as he was, and backing it up with his third place finish. He may have relished the mud though given the excellent work he posted the week before. He stayed out of enough trouble to rally for third as the race fell least that's the way I look at it. As third choice in the morning line, little value to be had for a horse who has still never raced on a fast dirt surface.

Yawanna Twist is a horse who I think could spice up the exotics. He's making just his fifth career start.....which actually might be a good thing as, unlike many of the others, he has yet to fully establish mediocrity. He stepped up seamlessly from NY-breds to graded stakes company with pretty solid efforts in the Gotham and Illinois Derby, and has tactical speed and a good post from which to establish a favorable position. Not flashy pedigree wise as a son of Yonaguska, a sire whose progeny win at an average distance of 6 1/4 furlongs, out of a mare by Oliver's Twist, an obscure son of Horatius who stands in Colorado. He does have Dutrow in his corner though; and if that trainer has been quiet lately, it's because he reportedly donated his ego to be used as a giant containment dome in the latest effort to contain the oil spilling into the gulf. (I told you I'm not that serious.)

Picks: Super Saver, Yawanna Twist, Dublin

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

First 17 Million Things First

It was the Lottery Division which issued the latest Request For Proposals (RFP) for the Big A racino, and it's that agency which will recommend a bidder to Governor Paterson...and it plans to do so by August 3. It's the State's special "highly compressed" 12 week plan, no meals served (not even snack and beverage service).

Of course, even if you accept that they will actually hold to that timeline, VLT revenue which is, at a very minimum and only possible figuring on a temporary facility, some nine months away, seems rather insignificant at this point in time given that NYRA could be just a few weeks away from not having enough cash in the bank (considered to be $5 million) to continue operations. Paul Post reported in the Saratogian on Tuesday morning that the Senate Democrats blocked an attempt by Senator Roy McDonald (Republican from Saratoga) on Monday to attach a bill approving the $17 million loan to the latest budget extender. The Democrats claim that, as an appropriations amendment which has to "age" for three days, it would delay the budget extender and thus cause the shutdown of state government.

They're getting nervous in Saratoga; the city's Chamber of Commerce will join with a host of breeding farms in a lawsuit to force the state to do what it is agreed in writing to do. Who knows, maybe that's what it will come down to in the end; though I suspect that the legislature would step in at the last minute in any event with Saratoga involved. If NYRA is going to run out of money, at least the timing is right; I don't think too many people whose livelihoods aren't at stake would get too worked up about an interruption of racing at Aqueduct. Or even Belmont, after June 5 anyway. It will be after the Belmont Stakes that the countdown will really begin. I don't know if NYRA wants to announce a drop dead date lest it remind wary lawmakers of NYC OTB's ultimately empty threat.

Back to the RFP, this should give you an idea of just how quickly they are hoping to move:

RFP Issued May 11, 2010
First Vendors’ Questions Due – 4:00 pm May 18, 2010
Lottery Responses to First Questions May 25, 2010
Entry Fee Due June 1, 2010 [$1 million, to be refunded to the losers]
Mandatory Bidders Conference – 12 noon June 8, 2010
Second Vendors’ Questions Due - 4:00 pm June 15, 2010
Lottery Responses to Second Questions June 22, 2010
Vendor Proposals Due - 4:00 pm June 29, 2010
Apparent Winning Proposal Announced August 3, 2010
That's five weeks between the proposals are due on June 29 and the announcement of the "apparent" winner. Not much time, especially if Lottery employees are being furloughed one day a week. And then, of course, even if they're on time, the winning bidder has to be agreed to by Sheldon Silver and the Senate Democrats (the governor is committed to the Lottery's selection). However, that might not be as bad as it sounds this time around. Silver, after all, would have no reason to oppose a bidder chosen in this fashion given that the Lottery has adopted his requirements of $300 million minimum up front, as well as strict licensing requirements for principles and investors. And given the special attention that the Senate Democrats are getting from the Inspector General in his AEG probe, I'd expect them to be compliant in this particular case (which could be wishful thinking, I know).

And I guess that the accelerated timeline doesn't allow for sharing with the public during the process. The Lottery, in a statement, said: "All bids will be made public once a winner is selected." And here's an interesting little clause I found in the RFP (which you can read and download here):
A Vendor may not issue a news release pertaining to this RFP or the services, evaluation, or project to which it relates without prior written Lottery approval, and then only in accordance with express written instructions from the Lottery.
That kind of attempted control of information seems to be a step backward even from the secrecy of the last round. The only mention of a public hearing is one at which the bidders can make presentations to the local Community Board 10.

Speaking of "apparent winners," what the hell happened to Aqueduct Entertainment Group? After making some noise about a lawsuit, they seem to have made a hasty retreat. Their website is not even functioning. I suppose however that there's nothing preventing them from entering the race again. I'll be interested to see if Penn National is back after the way they stormed off in a huff last time. That company has moved on to bigger and better other things having bought into 50% of Pimlico and Laurel along with Frank and MI Developments. However, that only cost them a reported $50 million, which would not take them out of the game. According to the Wall St Journal:
Penn National's role is mainly to oversee an effort to bring slot machine gambling to Laurel Park
. Even if a move to overturn the state's prior award of a racino license to The Cordish Cos. (rather than Laurel) by referendum succeeds, the company would have to get around state law which prohibits it from operating more than one racino; it was awarded a license to build a racino in Cecil County.

And all of that brings us to the post...

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Lessons Not Learned

Seems somehow appropriate that Senators John Sampson and Malcolm Smith finally agreed to submit to the Inspector General's investigation of the selection of AEG to operate the Aqueduct racino on the same day that former Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno was sentenced to two years in prison for depriving the public of his honest services. As you may recall, the trial served as a backdrop for the impasse over the Big A selection, and there was talk here on this site that, given the potentially dire consequences looming for Bruno, it was just unimaginable that the Senate Democratic leadership would do anything with even a hint of appearance of a conflict of interest.

However, incredibly, not only was there a hint on conflict, they might as well have trumpeted it on the front page of the NY Post. From the very first days of AEG's emergence as a bidder right around this time last year, its connections to Malcolm Smith were clear and well-publicized. To me, the reports that the Senate leadership were steadfastly insisting upon this group, which was clearly not the most qualified and experienced for the job, despite the obvious influence, was nothing less than surreal. Even Bruno had some sense of when the line could not be crossed; I don't recall him ever advocating for Empire Racing despite its involvement with Abbruzzese.

So it's little wonder that the probe was reported by the Daily News to be focusing heavily on the state Senate, which is where the attention should have been all along had the governor not blundered his way into the headlines.

And of course, the beat goes on in the state capitol, where Senator Smith faces additional legal problems, and where the legal and ethical cloud surrounding present Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada is of the magnitude of Eyjafjallajokull.

As for Bruno, I find myself deriving little joy from the thought of him going to jail. Sure, no question that he was a crook who used his position to enrich himself; and, in fact, I think he beat more raps in the case than he probably should have. But I also believe that he was merely a product of the culture in Albany, and that he truly believed what he was saying in his 40 minute speech in the court before his sentencing, when he proclaimed: "In my heart, and in my mind, I did nothing wrong.” Besides, the prior White House administration raised the bar for me when it comes to defining pure evil in politicians; at least Bruno didn't manufacture reasons to start a war. (And do you think we'd be in this situation with NYRA and OTB if he was still one of the three men in a room?)

Whether he actually enters the federal prison system, where out of a total population of 210,159, only 47 are Mr. Bruno’s age or older [NYT] will be determined when the Supreme Court issues its rulings this summer on the constitutionality of the honest services law under which he was prosecuted. The accounts I've read of the arguments in the three cases involved seem to indicate skepticism on the part of the justices. Considering that this court recently opened the floodgates to corporate influence in politics, I guess it would be little surprise if it now takes away a key weapon that prosecutors use to fight and punish the kind of corruption that is bound to proliferate. So it remains to be seen whether or not we see Bruno working the crowds at Saratoga in summers to come.

- Moving further off topic: I've mentioned the website a couple of times here, recommending it as the best place to check out new music (you could stream any song in its entirety once) and to purchase albums in MP3 form significantly cheaper than on ITunes (usually $7.49 vs $9.99). I also noted warily that Apple had purchased the site. And now the other shoe has dropped with a thud; Apple is shuttering the site on May 31. Though there's some speculation that Apple will utilize Lala's streaming technology in a so-called "cloud-based" where one could store a music library to access via any computer device as you could do on Lala, some reports say that's far off. So, this sucks. And Apple isn't doing much these days to endear itself to anyone.

Fortunately, there are still cheaper alternatives to purchasing music on ITunes, such as the EMusic subscription service, where you can buy songs for as little as 40 cents (though the subscription model definitely has its own drawbacks). And websites such as are streaming new albums in their entirety, at least prior to their release.

Anyway, the beat goes on in the world of indie rock with new releases this past week from the Canadian collectives Broken Social Scene and New Pornographers, and from Brooklyn's The National next week. And we have the 28th album from the venerable The Fall, whose craggy leader Mark E. Smith looks to be aging like fine wine and Calvin Borel.


Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Preakness Top Ten

This is the LATG Preakness Top Ten of horses and people who I think will be in the news on or around Preakness Day:

1) Super Saver, not because I'm not going to look to beat him. But rather because the Derby winner automatically earns this slot in my mind, at least until something starts to go wrong, like bad weather which disrupts his/her workout routine, an unexpectedly sluggish drill, an unexpected challenge from an insurgent Tea Party entry, or, of course, some kind of physical problem. But, for now, Super Saver continues to bask in the glory of his Derby win, taking accolades with his hay, unable to make Letterman due to logistical issues, but reportedly working on a column for Slate. And he went out for a jog on Wednesday, pleasing Todd Pletcher.

"His energy level was very good. His appetite has been very good. He seems to have taken the race really well." [NY Daily News]
I guess he was keeping something in reserve as he ran the last quarter in 26.72.

2) Ice Box - Yeah, I know, he's not running, but I wouldn't be shocked if they change their mind. Nick Zito and Robert LaPenta passing up a chance at a Triple Crown race? And one they could win? In any event, after looking at the past performances of the horses being mentioned as the "new shooters," much of the talk might be about him even if he's not there. I guess Zito is looking at that pedigree, him being out of a dam, Spice Island, by the Belmont winner Tabasco Cat, who won two stakes (including the G2 Long Island Handicap) at a mile and a half, and another (Glens Falls) at 11 furlongs. As I mentioned before the Derby, this horse kind of fell into this deep closer thing in the Florida Derby, and he got the ideal pace setup again in the Derby. OK, maybe a had a wee bit of trouble this time. LaPenta said: "I don't think it had to with just the pace;" certainly he overcame trouble. But pace makes the race as they say, and the Belmont will be a far different one. But I guess I'm getting ahead of myself.

3) Governor Paterson signs legislation authorizing a loan to NYRA but, in a desperate ploy for much needed cash with the budget standoff entering its seventh week, directs it to conduct racing around the clock on Preakness weekend. When the jockeys and horses refuse to continue after the 23rd on Friday, Paterson orders state legislatures and furloughed workers to take their place. With federal agents conducting a pre-dawn raid in hot pursuit, Senate Majority Leader Pedro Espada sweeps Sunday's early early Pick Four.

4) Jess Jackson, who said before the La Troienne that Rachel Alexandra was "85 percent to 90, maybe 95" says that she was actually "only 83.7%. She was 77.3% for the Fair Grounds race, so she's getting better. But we absolutely won't race her again until she's at least 94.3%" When asked if there was even a 3.1% chance that she would eventually meet Zenyatta after all, he replied "only on dirt and only if we think Rachel is at least 11.6% fitter than her."

5) Noble's Promise moved up smoothly and turned for home with the lead in the Derby, so I got a little excitement for my four bucks at 25-1 before he staggered home in 27.82, and I'd be insulting a lot of harness horses by calling that harness horse time. And he still only lost by six lengths! I just don't see how one can get excited about any of these horses coming out of that race. Trainer Ken McPeek wrote in the NY Post:
We passed the 10 horse (Paddy O'Prado) and then he came back to pass us, so maybe we just need to admit Noble's Promise is a miler, but a darned good one. [NY Post]
They were going to send him instead to a mile race in the UK; an interesting prospect given McPeek's own admission of his probable distance limitations, and, as I've mentioned before, the many fine turf horses in his pedigree, including the F&M Turf winner Soaring Softly. But now McPeek says the horse is "possible" for the Preakness.
"..we're concerned about the expense of going over and back, plus the purse on that race was modest compared to the Preakness. We felt like it would be more prestigious to run in the [$1 million] Preakness." [Washington Post]
Yeah, but, uh, y'know, why, what about..., you said..., oh, nevermind.

6) Hurricane Ike looks like the most interesting of the "new shooters" in a race which could certainly use some. The Derby Trial winner has progressed very nicely this year after showing promise at two. The big question is the fact that his only two turn race, at Keeneland, was a disaster. However, he certainly seems to have improved since moving to real dirt. And his breeding - Graeme Hall (Dehere) out of a dam who's out of a mare by Future Storm (Storm Cat) - seems fine, if uninspiring. Looks like an intriguing possibility for a trainer having a big year.

7) Todd Pletcher finally loses his cool when NBC asks to interview him for a feature about his 0 for 4 career record in the Preakness. The Toddster was already having a difficult week having had to fend off reporters' questions about Super Saver's portrayal of him in his column for Slate, in which he called the trainer "priggish," and a "fastidious nerd."

8) Schoolyard Dreams was my bet in the Wood. He might have had a legitimate excuse with Ramon taking him back off the lethargic pace. But the fact that he finished behind Awesome Act sure don't seem too flattering now, does it?

9) Do you think we'll ever see Eskendereya on the racetrack again?

10) Andy Beyer acknowledges that he was the man originally considered a suspect in the attempted car bombing in Times Square on Saturday night after he was videotaped "furtively" looking back up W 45th Street. When Beyer, who failed to include Super Saver amongst his top four picks for the Derby, was asked why he was observed removing his shirt and stuffing it in a bag, he replied "Because I didn't want to lose it twice in one day."

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

D-Day Approaching

You may have noticed amidst all of the Derby hoopla this past weekend that Tom Precious posted a story on regarding the seriousness of NYRA's cash flow situation. In short, the doomsday scenario that was presented to the NYRA board last week is that the association will run out of cash (considered as such when it has less than $5 million on hand) by late June should the state legislature fail to pass a bill, introduced by Governor Paterson, which would provide NYRA with $17 million, to be provided from the $250 bond issue for the racino construction, and to be repaid to the eventual VLT operator. This scenario also assumes that NYC OTB will suspend or defer payments from non-NYRA races (which totaled some $8.8 million to NYRA in 2009) as Sandy Frucher said it would do when he announced OTB's sudden and miraculous recovery from the brink. OTB was to provide the State Racing and Wagering Board with its latest restructuring plan last Friday.

I got an update from Charles Hayward at Belmont on Derby morning, and he pointed out that NYC OTB pays the out-of-state tracks promptly in 30 days by contract. So it's the in-state tracks that OTB has sucked the life out of all these years which will bear the pain. That's a joke to be sure, but NYRA's current status is no joke at all. Hayward expressed confidence that the bill providing the $17 million loan will indeed pass. But it's certainly not very comforting to know that the fate of the state's thoroughbred racing industry is in the hands of the New York State Legislature.

The DC-37 union representing the rank-and-file workers at OTB, which helped kill the OTB bailout bill when the legislature would not approve severance and pay raises promised by management, has informed the legislature that they will oppose any NYRA bill which doesn't address those issues, even though the bill doesn't directly involve OTB. I guess they figure that any leverage they retain is helpful, though this union doesn't seem to consider the downside to their members in the case of their tactics leading only to stalemate. And while the measure was introduced in the Senate by Sen Eric Adams, it has yet to be taken up by the Assembly. "They are awaiting some tax opinions on exactly how the $17 million could be used by NYRA to be certain that the bill works for NYRA. I think that we will have clarification on that in the next few days," Hayward said.

As I've steadily maintained, I just don't believe that the legislature will allow NYRA to cease operations. In the NY State Racing and Wagering Board's 2008 Annual Report, it was estimated that, should NYRA close, close to $40 million paid annually in tax payments to the state directly from NYRA and from all of the OTBs' handle on its races would cease; that in addition to over $45 million in payments to thoroughbred and harness breeders, and to local governments. Add up the numbers; it just doesn't make sense, even in an institution which doesn't have much, and even if OTB wagering on other races would partially compensate, to allow that kind of money to stop. Plus, Saratoga is looming, and that is very much a bipartisan issue.

And besides, and once again because it bears repeating: the state has a written obligation to provide funding as per Section 2.8 of the Franchise Agreement:

New NYRA and the State agree that, in the event that VLT Operations are not scheduled to commence at Aqueduct on or prior to March 31, 2009, the State and New NYRA shall negotiate in good faith to provide New NYRA with payments necessary to support racing operations and satisfaction of New NYRA operating expenses, including, without limitation, the payment of New NYRA's pension plan obligations, until the commencement of VLT Operations at Aqueduct.
- Well, looks like I was wrong about the TV ratings for the Derby.
Attendance for the Derby was 155,804, according to Churchill, the fifth-largest crowd of all time, while the overnight television rating for a two-hour broadcast of the Derby on NBC rose 1 percent, to the highest figure since 1992, continuing five years of strong growth in the rating figure. [DRF]

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Morning After

First of all, I did not end up using Super Saver on top, for a variety of reasons and even though I did unenthusiastically include him in my top group in my final rundow. As greenmtnpunter noted, he had become the obvious bandwagon horse, and that was even before the guy bet $100,000 to win. If I hadn't already made my bets, that would have been the last straw! But no harm done, had a great day, great BBQ here in our backyard, and I didn't have Ice Box, Paddy O'Prado, nor Make Music For Me anywhere on any of my tickets, so it wouldn't have mattered anyhoo.

Now, let's take a look at some numbers, which I think bear out of a couple of assumptions that most of us made before the race - 1) that the race would fall apart after a fast pace and 2) the field was a mediocre one, at best. The final time of 2:04.45 was the slowest since 1989 (Sunday Silence, 2:05, on a drying-out track), and the second slowest since Tim Tam in 1958.

Nonetheless, Super Saver received a respectable Beyer figure of 104, but as far as I'm concerned, that number means ZERO. There were three other two-turn dirt races run on the day, enough under normal circumstances to provide a sufficient sample. However, the last one before the Derby was run at 12:40 PM, nearly six hours and who knows how many raindrops before Race 11. You might have heard Donna Brothers Barton explaining that the nature of the track was changing from race to race, so one can easily surmise that the track at 6:30 bore little resemblance to that of 12:40. So it seems to me that the Beyer boys did their usual projection magic to make all of the numbers fit neatly into the context of the runners' histories rather than relying on any hard numbers. Super Saver's 104 is a logical progression from his improvement over the year, Ice Box, at 100, makes sense after he (supposedly) improved to 99 in the Florida Derby, Paddy O'Prado, at 100, makes little sense at all, but neither did his odds nor his finishing third as far as I'm concerned. Noble's Promise (95) (and yes, that pedigree sure seemed to catch up to him in the final furlong), Looking At (un)Lucky (94) and Dublin (93) all fit in nicely.

In this race, relying on final times in order to create or project figures can't possibly tell the whole story of what actually occurred. For that, the internal fractions relate what really happened, and it ain't pretty at all. There might not have been the anticipated head-to-head battle on the front end, as Conveyance and Sidney's Candy were a clear and uncontested 1-2. But the leader was moving swiftly through fractions of 22.63, 46.16, and 1:10.58; splits of 22.63, 23.53, and 24.38. From that point on, this race suddenly slowed to a walk. It was another 27.07 seconds before Noble's Promise hit the front at the quarter pole, and a slightly more acceptable 26.80 before the finish; that's a final half of almost 54 seconds after the first one in 46.16. Can anyone tell me that a Derby on a "fast" Polytrack surface could have been any uglier? Even Giacomo's fall-apart Derby was a faster final half than that, at 53 1/5, and by a relatively wide margin.

So Super Saver earned the Toddster's first Derby and his 104 Beyer by running a ground-saving final half of 52.77 seconds, and I wonder how his final quarter (26.55) ranks in Derby history? Giacomo had to be going faster than that considering that he closed a lot of ground (final quarter that day was 26.87). And it's a further indictment of the field that Ice Box was the only one making up any serious ground at the end....and, as fast as it appeared he was going, his final quarter was 26.10. So, if you answer the question of "Which horses were able to get the distance?" with nobody, I don't think you're being inaccurate.

- Awesome Act, who I did use on top, finished 19th with no obvious excuse, yuck!

Trainer Jeremy Noseda said: "Julien said that he was happy round the first bend but that down the backstretch Awesome Act was never really firing.

"It was a very disappointing run," added the trainer. "We thought there was no issue with the sloppy track but perhaps there was." [Racing]
- Baffert on Lookin At Lucky's Preakness prospects: "I'm going to keep you all in suspense....I'm just going to wait and see how he looks on the track." [Baltimore Sun]
"I quit watching after the first bump," Baffert said. "He was done. I wish Garrett would have pulled him up. But that's horse racing. You have good luck and you have bad luck and I've been lucky to win this race (three times) when other guys had bad luck." [Albany Times-Union]

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Not A Live Blog

6:24 - The Head Chef thinks that Conveyance is the cutest horse in the field. And she writes off Backtalk. Homeboykriss has no ass, she observes.

6:20 - >> I'm not sure if the bourbon will cause me to do so more....or [less]. I guess it's less.

5:53 - I kind of hope that Pletcher wins, even though I would probably lose (I have a small win bet on MI). He handles the questions well, as he just did with Battaglia; and I'm really sick of seeing the same interviews every single year.

5:30 - No Mine That Birds or Giacomos today with the longest shot in the field only 35-1. The odds are reflecting this crapshoot for what it is. I think that the best values in the field are Dublin (12-1 ML, 18-1) and Conveyance is I mentioned before, though I don't like him anyway. Mission Impazible seems fair value at 18-1.

5:26 - Seriously, you would think that YUM! Brands would produce a new commercial instead of showing this same tacky crap.

5:19 - I love Jim Cantore, but these reports are kinda useless at this point. Not like the track is going to dry out even if the skies suddenly clear.

5:14 - Gary Stevens paints a bleak picture for Lookin At Lucky breaking from the rail. Hmmm. I'm watching a few minutes delayed on the DVR because the Head Chef came home bearing gifts from the supermarket which will be bearing fruit as the evening goes on. Someone please remind me to catch up on the recording so that I don't forget and get shut out trying to bet at the last minute. Rascal Flatts???

4:57 - I have to say that I haven't really given the track condition a second thought, and didn't change my mind on who I like at all. The fact is that we don't really know if any of these can handle this slop on this day on this to me, it just kind of blends in with all of the other substantial unknowns, including and particularly the question of the distance which none of these have ever run. The only horse who has run at CD in the slop was Paddy O'Prado, and he finished up the track in his debut. So why he's getting bet like this I really can't say.

- I'm home from Belmont here at 4:37, and this is not a live blog, but maybe I'll check in here with a comment or two from time to time. I'm not sure if the bourbon will cause me to do so more....or if this is the first and final entry. There's not anyone actually out there, is there? Hello?

I had a good day at the track, having hit the 4th race triple ($158.20) and exacta ($35.20) at Philadelphia Park (as anyone who I subsequently encountered at the track is well aware).

This Derby tote board is unlike anything I've ever seen; with Lookin at Lucky and Super Saver, each at 8-1, just maybe the biggest overlay and underlay in the race, respectively. Chances are that if you like one of the big morning line longshots, you're unhappy; but if you like one of the two top choices, or Conveyance (12-1 ML, 28-1) you're very excited. Good luck to all if I don't get back to you.

Derby Morning

The weather looks absolutely miserable in Louisville, and what a pity for everyone involved, including the poor horses who will have to run in that muck. As for us handicappers, what was already a crap shoot becomes even more incomprehensible.

Could end up regretting writing this....but I'm fairly shocked at all of the enthusiasm for Devil May Care in the Daily Racing Form. Watchmaker and Welsch have her on top; Brad Free second, Crist third. She's third in the consensus box. I just don't see of that one race with a perfect trip in a small field of fillies? Well, we'll see.

Speaking of fillies, oh, boy, too bad about Rachel Alexandra, eh? You never really know how a filly is going to come back a year older after some time off. However, instead of striking while the iron was hot last fall, Jess Jackson elected to ignore the sport which was imploring him to go to the Breeders Cup, instead electing to play his vindictive little game against the forces of evil who forced him to run Curlin on that horrible plastic the year before and send her to the farm for an extended break instead of running in the Classic.

Not that she's done, of course. Her 103 Beyer on Friday was a step forward, and her connections stressed that she will not be retired. Just maybe, she'll get her head fully back into the game and we'll have that big showdown once and for all. However, if you believe that last year's campaign against the boys was too much and took a lot out of her, then maybe I wasn't so dumb last year when I questioned the wisdom of running her back on two weeks rest in the Preakness. And just maybe, despite all of the hoopla at the time, (none of which seems to have had any lasting effect with respect to the sport's popularity today), the sport would have been better off today had Jess Jackson not purchased the filly, and if she had stayed the more conventional course that was planned by her original owners. Rachel Risk/Reward Don't Add Up I wrote before the Preakness. I looked pretty damn dumb afterwards. But maybe not so much now.