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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Slow Wednesday at the Spa

Just 10,889 at Saratoga on Wednesday despite good weather - the second straight racing day of sub-11,000 crowds. Since NYRA put forth the effort to issue nonsensical comparisons between the attendance and handle for the first four days - the ones added this year - and those figures at Belmont on the corresponding days last year, I think it's totally fair for me to point out that this crowd was down 14,555, or 57%, from the comparable day there last year (opening day 2009). And that the ontrack handle of $1,867,464 was down 40%. And that this doesn't portend well for the upcoming weekend.

However, I imagine that those who did attend enjoyed what looks from the results charts like an excellent betting card. In just three races was the favorite less than 2-1; and the cheapest of those of 1.55 to 1. It's early still - a lot of races still to fill. But I'd take cards like Wednesday's - and Thursday's for that matter - over the racing at Monmouth any day of the week. Hands down...I don't care what the purses are.

Another winner for trainer Chad Brown, his 4th from eight starters at the meeting. Much Fanfare ($9.90) was claimed by Galluscio, and the action at the claim box has been pretty lively.

If you boxed the three horses in the Lake George Stakes who last ran at Woodbine - I dunno, maybe you're Canadian or just a big hockey guy or you like Neil Young - you cashed a $6,103 triactor trifecta. It was an economic ride by Johnny V on Perfect Shirl ($20.60). This three-year old daughter of Perfect Soul is the 4th grassy stakes winner for her dam, the G1 turf winner Lady Shirl (the others being Shakespeare, Lady Shakespeare and Fantastic Shirl. So yeah, quite a nice mutuel price there. Favored Strike It Rich wilted, according to the race chart, and finished last.

In the 5th, Essex Ferry paid $30; he could have been 140-1 instead of 14-1 and nobody would have surprised.

Four races were won by stables that have shipped horses in for the meet despite the richer purses in NJ and a shorter trip to it for some. Ken McPeek, Albert Stall Jr., Dale Romans, and Thomas Proctor (now two-for-two) are all highly capable barns worth keeping a close eye on.

OK, instead of handicapping Thursday's card at this late hour, I'm in the middle of reading the REPORT OF INVESTIGATION INTO THE RESPONSE BY THE NEW YORK STATE POLICE AND OTHERS TO A DOMESTIC INCIDENT DAVID W. JOHNSON, AN AIDE TO THE GOVERNOR....whew, y'know, the one conducted by the former state Court of Appeals Chief Judge Judith Kaye in lieu of the attorney general who had a conflict because he was running at the time against the governor who is not running anymore in large part because of the DOMESTIC INCIDENT INVOLVING DAVID W...., well, y'know. The governor was resolved of any criminal wrongdoing, but not so of stupidity, tactfully labeled errors of judgment in the report. Of course, Paterson's attorney said that the report has "exonerated him of any wrongdoing in this matter.” But that's kinda like comparing crowd and handle figures at Saratoga with Belmont.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Saratoga Notes

Trainer Chad Brown has sent out three first-time starters at Saratoga and won with them all; two of them were part of Javier Castellano's five race winning streak (and one of them, Stand Proud ($27) was picked on top by my buddy Discreet Picks, one of three of his winning selections on the day).

OK, so maybe Devil May Care isn't quite as overrated as I thought. Another spectacularly easy-looking win in the CCA Oaks could make one understand why Pletcher thought highly enough of this filly to run her in the Derby. Johnny V may get a stiff neck from riding her if he keeps having to look over his shoulder for nonexistent competition. On the other hand, she again didn't beat any monsters; and a couple of horses that I thought would step up and improve did not do so, as evident from the moderate Beyer of 96 which did not show any progression on the part of the winner. So I'm figuring that I'll still make some money betting against her at some point down the road.

Desert Key ($8.80) took the 4th on Sunday, breaking a seven race losing streak going back two years and including five occasions when he was favored at odds less than 2-1. They could have run this race 1,000 times, and I would never have had the winner! Two of the three entered for the optional 50K tag were taken; David Jacobsen (surprise) nabbed the midwest shipper American Classic, a disappointing sixth, from the Toddster; and Chris Englehart took Be Bullish, who hasn't won in his last 11 tries; good luck with that.

I don't really see how they can continue to give Grade 2 status to summer juvenile races such as the Sanford which serve merely as entry level allowance races these days. Seven of the eight runners were coming directly off their graduation day; makes it more or less a complete tossup betting-wise too. Maybesomaybenot ($21.20) is by the Japanese sire Sunday Break out of an Olympio mare; not much on the catalog page to report. He earned a Beyer of 82, and seems no more likely to make any stakes noise than any number of Saratoga maiden winners we'll see this summer.

Rachel Alexandra is back at Saratoga after laboring to beat a highly mediocre field at Monmouth. Can't imagine the extra purse money that the money-losing racetrack doled out to attract her paid off with not even 13,000 fans in attendance on an oppressively hot day; and not much of an aesthetic triumph either. The Daily News makes up a story about a possible matchup with Zenyatta in the mile and a quarter Personal Ensign at Saratoga today; and though Charlie Hayward says he's contacted her connections, there's presently no reason to imagine that will happen.

"I have no idea," said Dottie Ingordo-Shirreffs, the wife of trainer John Shirreffs and the racing manager for Jerry and Ann Moss, who own the undefeated Zenyatta. "We're trying to decide that. We have not confirmed anything yet. We're looking at several options."
I like where Hayward emphasized that the distance would not be shortened for Rachel's spoiled connections, though he left open the possibility of raising the purse. If Jess Jackson needs that extra incentive to run his horse at the nation's (arguably) showcase track in the matchup that everyone wants to see, then he doesn't belong in this game. Period.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Saratoga Saturday

NYRA did its best to spin Friday's rainy opening day at Saratoga as a rousing success, even resorting to comparing it to the corresponding day last year, when racing was held at Belmont.

Today’s attendance of 23,178 dropped 8.9 percent from 25,444 at 2009’s opener but soared 307 percent over the 5,695 at Belmont Park Friday.
Talk about your meaningless statistics! C'mon man, that's like comparing last night's attendance at the Yankees game to last Friday when they were on the road!
“Our business today far surpassed last year’s at Belmont Park and we’re confident of an excellent Saratoga meet as soon as the weather cooperates.” [NYRA Press Release (the 10th of 11 to arrive in my inbox on Friday)]
Oh please.

However, I said I'm not going to be negative anymore, and the weather outlook happily looks pretty good for the next several days, so let's move on. Races 1 and 3 today are off the turf.

In the 8th, Persuading (5-1) cuts back to a sprint after a decent two-turn try at Churchill.....thank goodness for the shippers from that track, who always liven up the racing here (and they'll need it this year). Hard to say exactly which way this daughter of Broken Vow will go; she closed off a hot pace to graduate, and then set one herself in her first try against winners. She held well that day at this distance before succumbing late to Tiger's Song, who was on a form spree for Catalano and was favored next out in an overnight stakes at Churchill (before being pulled up and vanned off). I imagine she'll be forwardly placed here (and she'll benefit from the scratch of Happy Week). Solid five furlong work for this, and I'm looking for further progression here. Nice breeding; she's a half to the Hollywood Prevue winner Belgravia, and this is the distaff family of Afleet Alex (the second dam of Persuading is the third dam of Afleet Alex). Patience Drive (8-1) returns off a layoff for Seth Benzel; four-year old daughter of Pulpit improved nicely last fall, and has shown distance and surface versatility. Ash Zee (2-1) figures to be overbet first-out against winners off the inflated Beyer.

In the 9th, the Coaching Club American Oaks, Seeking the Title (8-1) has the looks of a two-turn specialist who will absolutely love this nine furlong route for trainer Dallas Stewart. She got the Calvin Bo-Rail treatment in the Iowa Oaks; and then, blocked in the stretch, calmly switched paths to the outside to get up over a field of seasoned, if not spectacular, fillies at Prairie Meadows in her sixth career start. Daughter of Seeking the Gold has a solid Phipps pedigree (though she's not a Phipps-bred) - her unraced dam, by Monarchos, is Personal Ensign - and figures to progress with time and distance. Bullet five furlong work over the training track; looks quite enticing at her morning line odds. Acting Happy (5-1) makes her first start since upsetting the Black Eyed Susan for Dutrow, when she finished four lengths in front of Harissa, the filly that the top choice got up late to defeat in her last. The trainer says that she's been pointing for this meet since that race, and she's had a solid regimen of distance works at the Big A to prepare. The overrated Devil May Care (6-5) sets up the tote board for the prior two, or whoever else you might like. Easy one-turn win with an in-the-clear trip off a hot pace in the short-field Mother Goose; different story today. Best of luck and have a great day.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Big Crowd Twirls at Del Mar

Twirling Candy is undefeated in three tries for trainer John Sadler after winning the Oceanside stakes before a record crowd of over 45,000 on opening day at Del Mar.

They came by cars, limos, trains and planes. Ladies wore hats so brash and colorful that strangers stopped to take photos. Men dressed in white suits and carrying drinks gawked and prowled. [LA Times]
If that doesn't set the scene for you, I don't know what will! A close observer of the SoCal racing scene tells me that Sidney's Candy is Sadler's second best three-year old after this one; and that he wouldn't be surprised if he's shipped east for the Travers. A private workout report I saw called him "one of the top two 3 year olds on the West Coast (Lookin At Lucky is the other one)."

The Travers would be his first race on dirt, but if he handles it like he did his first effort on grass yesterday, that'll be no problem at all. Pace setting Macias, graded stakes-placed on grass, was settled this time and set a very comfortable pace, as Twirling Candy sat third. But this son of Candy Ride, after swinging three wide on the turn, wore down Macias and pulled away in a powerful final quarter of 22.83 (no Beyer posted as of this morning). He's out of a winless mare by the late Chester House; his second dam is a half-sister to the stakes-winning Chocolate Candy.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

What's The Problem?

Nah, haven't been posting much I know, been busy with tons of music (which I'll have to catch up on here, maybe this weekend when we're on Fire Island where there's absolutely nothing to do) and other summer events in and around the city. Besides, it's the usual summer doldrums before Saratoga and Del Mar as far as racing goes.....even doldrum-ier this year given the possibly record-breaking heat.

So, catching up a bit on NYC OTB....James Odato wrote of outrage and investigations in the Assembly over the hire, at $125,000 a month, of Greg Rayburn to run NYC OTB. And the board of OTB is also steaming, particularly over what they perceive to be some conflict of interest involving NYRA.

Rayburn worked with Brian Rosen, NYRA's bankruptcy lawyer -- which is either a potential conflict or something that presents the appearance of one, Newman said.....NYRA has desires on some of the OTB's core assets -- including the highly valuable Internet and telephone betting units -- and Rayburn's plan for the OTB could include mergers or sell-offs.

Newman wonders if NYRA had a hand in Rayburn's candidacy. NYRA has refused to answer questions about Rayburn, although it has been publicly supportive of his hiring. [Times Union]
OK, first of all, I don't have a problem with the guy's long as he produces results of course. As I've said, the situation is a massive train wreck in need of expert help, as expensive as it might be. And if he stays for six months and helps to craft a solution acceptable and beneficial to all sides the racing industry, it will be a drop in the bucket, especially considering the waste that came before him. That probably wouldn't come to much more than they ended up paying their PR firm, which Rayburn finally got rid of, along with several highly paid execs. These are not things that should have required such a high-priced guy to do! I mean, c'mon, it really had to get to this point before someone would finally get rid of the damn fleet of cars??

I also don't particularly care if NYRA did indeed have some influence on his hiring. The industry which supplies the product has been screwed over so badly by OTB (and not just NYC OTB), that it seems fitting and altogether appropriate for it to be intimately involved in any restructuring. NYRA, said by Odato to have not commented on Rayburn, did so subsequently in the form of an interview with Charlie Hayward by Paul Post of the Saratogian.
“It appears that Mr. Rayburn is serious about attacking the significant operating and financial issues of New York City OTB that have been ignored for years.....New York City OTB is very important to the racing industry in New York and across the country. I assume that all industry participants will be willing to endure some pain to get this entity back on track. NYRA stands ready to assist Mr. Rayburn in any way that he deems appropriate.” [Saratogian]
That's the kind of stiff, scripted-sounding statement that might lead one to believe that the critics have a point. I imagine that the harness guys might be a little wary hearing him talk about enduring pain. They're going to want to get their two cents in too, and they're not going to give up easily on matters such as dark day and maintenance of effort payments, both of which will surely be targeted for elimination, without a fight.

- Big fields at Saratoga for opening day. I've had ample say about what I think about the extended meet, and that's it for the negativity; time for the racing. I know I must be cranky about the subject because Paul Morose echoed my sentiments completely. But races like this one can make one forget that the meet is too.....well, maybe a tad overextended!

- A reader commented on the last post: Hard to believe but rockaway has better fish tacos! And the Head Chef recently wrote about the subject of his/her affection on Grapes and Greens.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Surf. No Turf.

It was just a week or so short of a year ago that we were in Solana Beach, CA, just down the road from Del Mar; and when we (or just I) weren't at the track, we might very well have been watching the omnipresent surfers out in the Pacific.

Well, on Monday evening, we were watching surfers again.

No, we're unfortunately not at Del Mar, which opens on Wednesday (thus leaving just two short days for those people I know who used to be able to catch five or even six days there and be back in time for Saratoga). But rather, we were at Rockaway Beach in Queens. So instead of looking back from the ocean, and seeing this...

we were seeing this.

It's sometimes said about us New Yorkers that we can live here all our lives and be totally oblivious to anything even just slightly off the well-beaten paths. Who knew that just a short drive down to Woodhaven Blvd., a left turn, and a straight shot 20-25 minutes down the road lands one at the Atlantic Ocean! (I generally don't make it past Rockaway Boulevard, where one hangs a left to get to the Big A.)

And in a way, a beach is a beach no matter where you are; they each have some common elements of beauty.

(Though not all of them have nearly this much trash strewn about.)

Another big difference here from Solana Beach is that there's no racing nearby....not even close. 3 hours and 42 minutes to Saratoga, according to Google Maps. Not for the next seven weekends anyway. No thoroughbred racing in the New York Metropolitan area for eight weeks in the summer, hard to believe! And just one short weekend up there presently on the schedule for us at this time.

Del Mar is sticking with the shorter five-day-a week schedule that it cut back to last year....but the outlook for the meet is questionable at this point.

Available horse inventory in Southern California is down more than 25 percent, from 3,800 horses a year ago to 2,800.
Not long ago, most horsemen wanted to be at Del Mar. This year, [Racing director Tom] Robbins said the stables are "not as filled up as we have been in the past." Del Mar historically has 2,200 horses on the grounds. This year there will be an estimated 1,900.

Some horsemen are remaining at Hollywood Park and monitoring the Polytrack surface at Del Mar before committing to a start. "They are waiting to see," Robbins said. [Daily Racing Form]
It's the 4th year of Polytrack at Del Mar, and it's obviously not encouraging that horsemen still have this kind of doubt (though this article is deficient in that Brad Free doesn't go on to tell us what exactly they are waiting to see. Safety? Or whether the track suits their horses' running styles?)

In any event, I really do miss not going there this year. Saratoga is still Saratoga, but the quality of the racing there as compared to Del Mar, the horse population at the latter notwithstanding, no longer compensates for the far superior weather and the spectacular beaches as far as I'm concerned.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Stop! [UPDATE - and Start Again]

A State Supreme Court Justice has thrown a wrench into the Lottery's tightly structured timetable to recommend a racino operator to Governor Paterson by August 3; the first such disruption since the process started. (Of course, in its favor, Lottery now only has one company to investigate.) Judge Barry Kramer sided with Aqueduct Entertainment Company (AEC....not to be confused with AEG....or AIG) and temporarily restrained and/or rejoined the Lottery from continuing its vetting of one at least until a July 23 hearing in Schenectady.

"It’s a good thing when the court can recognize that administrative agencies are doing screwy things," said Latif Doman, a lawyer for Aqueduct Entertainment Company..." []
If the attorney's name sounds familiar, perhaps you were following the trial of Taylar Nuevelle, the Washington DC woman who was convicted of stalking her ex-girlfriend, a DC Supreme Court Judge. Not only did Doman lose that case, but his client received the maximum sentence, prompting him to quip:
“The lesson of this is don’t have a bad break up with a lesbian judge....It means you go to jail for five and a half years.” [Washington Post]
My feeling is that Mr. Doman will have to come up with some similarly pithy line when this suit is thrown out. I happen to agree with their fundamental complaint, that it was unfair for Sheldon Silver to impose new and what many feel were unreasonable licensing demands at that stage of the game. But AEC benefited from changes in the "rules" more than anyone else; if not for the Paterson Administration's moving of the goalposts and, perhaps, the information they received from Senator Sampson, AEC AEG would have been left in the dust. We know that they were amongst the lower rated contestants up to that point. So for AEG AEC to now complain that Silver changed the rules is incongruous, hypocritical, and fairly outrageous. Besides, Genting is far more qualified financially and experience-wise. So it's time for AEC to get lost and take their damn acronyms with them.

And if I'm wrong about this, you can be damn sure that they'll be subsequent lawsuits from the other bidders, and a protracted legal battle could be, for once and for all, the final act in this farce.

Judge Kramer may have stopped the process for now, but he can't stop Genting from presenting its plans to the local Community Board 10. They will do so at a public meeting scheduled for 6 PM on Thursday at the Big A.

[UPDATE: The judge lifted his order...Lottery may continue, but cannot submit its recommendation to the governor at least until the hearing on July 23.]


I went to Belmont on Sunday, where the crowd was announced as 5,488. I dunno, the place is so big, and it's so empty these days, it's hard for me to tell anymore. But I gotta think that they had to be counting the guests of the (loud) reception being held in the tents behind the clubhouse; as well as the two clowns from Ringling Bros who were performing for the kids. And for of them was an incredibly amazing juggler. Between the legs, arms crossed or even completely behind his back; nothing fazed this dude. Though I'd like to see him juggle the existing horse population into a representative weekend card!

Look, I know it's a tough time for NYRA, and I'm not judging or assigning any blame. It was hard enough even in better times to come up with full fields as Saratoga draws closer. Given the current situation now, with the competition from nearby slots states, and from Monmouth, the infrequency with which horses race, and with pressure I'm sure to present knockout cards on opening weekend upstate, it must be darn near impossible. But, once upon a time not too long ago, I could never have imagined in my most depressing dreams that I'd see the day when the penultimate race, the spot traditionally reserved for the feature, on a Sunday at Belmont would be a 10K maiden claimer. If that wasn't depressing enough, I bet a race at Woodbine which was delayed by nearly a half hour by a thunderstorm; and then, when it finally went off, the satellite reception promptly cut off, returning only near the end to reveal my horses far out of the picture. If that wasn't a sign that my spring/summer meeting at Belmont was over, I don't know what is.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Comptroller's Report Not Worth the Paper It's Written On

Charlie Hayward had reminded the Times Union's Jim Odato that it's "political season" when asked about the impending release of Comptroller Tom DiNapoli's audit of NYRA's finances (pdf file). And sure enough, there was DiNapoli, up for re-election this fall, in full campaign mode on Monday as he announced his shocking findings that NYRA Faces Insolvency Without VLT Revenues!

Oh boy...really?

Of course, since many media outlets reflexively portray NYRA as a hopeless and incompetent money sucking void, most omitted the "without VLT Revenues" part from their headlines... like this, or this, or this, or even in the three major racing dailies: the Thoroughbred Times, the Daily Racing Form, and Bloodhorse; all of whom should know better and should be ashamed of themselves. That's like running a headline which reads Yankees Pennant Hopes Tenuous if CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter, Nick Swisher, and Mariano Rivera suffer season-ending injuries

Indeed, it's common knowledge that VLT's are essential to the industry's survival in the state; we didn't need a third-rate politician to tell us that. DiNapoli was going to extract his pound of political flesh no matter what; and this farce of a report shows to what lengths he would go. (Not to mention his grandstanding announcement that auditors will be on site at Saratoga to provide a “real time” picture of NYRA’s finances. Seriously, gimme a break, what are they going to do, pat down the admission clerks and keep a watchful eye on the Chinese food deliveries?)

The report acknowledges that the lack of VLT's has cost NYRA $30 million since April 2009, and that the association is owed $17.1 million (now closer to $20 Million) by NYC OTB. (But it doesn't bother discussing the devastating effect on the industry of OTB which is singular to New York State....nor the arcane laws such as the one which prohibits NYRA from streaming its own races.) Yet, along with some unspecified notions regarding saving on personnel costs (and recycling the already-debunked idea that NYRA's officers are overpaid) and the 20/20 hindsight idea that NYRA should have acted as if it knew there would be no VLT's in the specified timeframe even immediately upon emerging from bankruptcy, the Comptroller, for all his efforts, could only actually identify some $1.2 million that he says NYRA could have saved on an annual basis. Even an untrained accountant like myself (well, and like DiNapoli for that matter) can tell you that that's not material to the question of NYRA's survival when we're talking about nearly $50 million in revenue going missing each year. And that's if even that relatively insignificant amount was valid.

Because it's not. DiNapoli states that NYRA spends $900,000 a year on transporting horses among its three tracks. However, as NYRA points out in its response, that's merely a normal cost of doing business, especially given the keen competition among jurisdictions, many if not most of them flush with slots revenues, for horses. That service is also provided in California, Maryland, between Churchill and Keeneland (competing tracks), Arlington and Churchill, and at Gulfstream Park (from Palm Meadows). The balance of the supposed waste is $320,000 in "potential savings" from its $125,000 per month contract with Getnick and Getnick for its services as its Integrity Monitor (as required and approved by the bankruptcy court). That idea is debunked point by point in a response by NYRA board member James Heffernan. It's just not enough money for me to spend the time going into the details here; you can read his letter if you're interested.

Besides, I wonder how much less than that $320,000 this whole idiotic political exercise has, and will (with the Saratoga Audit Squad turning in their Shake Shack receipts for reimbursement) cost taxpayers.

- One point on which I actually agree with DiNapoli is his observation on the latest round of the Aqueduct racino selection process.

“It looks like the selection of a VLT operator for Aqueduct is still an open question....When you start with six potential bidders and end up with only one, it begs the question of how the process was handled and whether the state can actually close the deal. [Troy Record]
Indeed. The former Aqueduct Entertainment Group (now known as Aqueduct Entertainment Company) is looking to further complicate that matter with its lawsuit against New York State and the individuals involved in that company's DQ after "winning" the previous bidding round.
The suit's central argument is that the Lottery Division, at Silver's request, changed the rules "in the middle of the process" by requiring "passive investors" to be subject to the same level of disclosure as AEG's managers. [Albany Times Union]
Of course, AEG didn't complain when Senator John Sampson changed the rules by giving them the details of their rivals' bids. The fact is that the rules were changing all the time. I don't think that this lawsuit will ultimately prove to be worth anything more than DiNapoli's report.

Friday, July 09, 2010

40 Days and 40 Nights

For anyone who might think that Saratoga is still some kind of cool little boutique meeting, consider this: At 40 racing days, it will run four more dates than the Belmont fall meet which will follow. For those of us who, for whatever reason, are unable to get up there for live racing for much more than a weekend - if that - by the time racing finally returns down here some eight full weeks after it packs up and leaves on July 18, it might very well be Belmont that will feel like something unique.

If there's anything that's good about the extended meet in my view is that it will end, once and for all, any talk of stretching Saratoga even further. I know that some people could watch donkeys run around that racetrack and still go "Oooo, wow, Saratoga." But just you wait; at a relentless six days a week, and with racing quality that, after dazzling I'm sure for the first few days, just ain't gonna be much different than the state-bred and maiden claiming-filled cards we're seeing downstate, y'all are gonna realize that this thing has already been extended way past the max. Even though it's been held at 36 days for awhile now, the meet has in fact been feeling longer and longer as the racing has grown more ordinary in the last few years. This season, by the time we're rolling into September and there's still six days to go, it will feel more overdone than the first 27 minutes of The Decision, and everyone will have had enough. That's right, even you!

Anyway, the whole question of the Monmouth-style shorter race weeks and whether that format is the salvation of racing is the Friday topic of the day for the Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance (TBA), and you can find the links to those, and other racing sites, at the TBA site at And it is the best such website around, and I'm not just saying that because Patrick told us to. Did you know that if go to the PP Search page there, you'll find a search engine to find all of the free past performances available on the internets on any given day?

Unfortunately, time is short and I don't have much to expound much further than I have in the past here on the subject at this time. But here's one thing I'll throw out there: It seems as if the success or failure of the Monmouth experiment is being based on attendance and handle, and that's fine for now. However, a longer term question is the effect of shorter meets on the horsemen. While reduced racing dates may mean reduced expenses for the tracks, the cost of owning horses will stay the same. However, the opportunities to generate revenues will be reduced. Yes, the purses may be higher, but not only will there be less races, but there will be, in theory, far more horses to compete against. It's not surprising to me to see horses trickling back from Monmouth to Belmont. Wouldn't you think that an owner might very well want to race against five horses than 12, even if the purse is somewhat lower?

So I wonder what reduced racing opportunities will do to the ranks of those willing to risk their money in horse ownership. Though, on the other hand and in the long run, perhaps breeding will become far more selective, an outcome which can only be beneficial to the sport. Only a contracted racing program far longer and widespread than what we're seeing at Monmouth will provide answers to these questions.

- Free music at the South Street Seaport last Friday evening, and this may very well be my favorite of all the great such venues in the city during the summer. Besides the laid-back ambiance and the great views, it's the only place I know of where the city's insidious open container laws don't apply. Not sure exactly why, but here one can walk into one of the bars, walk right out with your drink in a plastic cup, and drink to your heart's delight right there outside. Feels kinda weird, we're so conditioned here to that being illegal.

Anyway, another great night of music; two very cool bands on the evening - Woven Bones is a trio from Austin, TX which shrouds their rock in reverb a la early Jesus and Mary Chain and, my favorite current band name, A Place To Bury Strangers. They have a recent release on Hozac Records entitled In and Out and Back Again. Fellow Austinites YellowFever were supposed to complete the bill. But band member Jennifer Moore, who has a restaurant day job, forgot to leave her chef's knife at home before boarding the plane for New York. Er.....not a good idea. The moral here is....don't attempt to bring big knives onto airplanes. OK?

So instead, we got a chance to see Brooklyn's Beach Fossils, whose excellent debut album on Captured Tracks I wrote about here. They didn't disappoint, as perhaps you can tell below. (And note that both bands feature standup drummers....don't recall seeing that even once in the past.)

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Enter The Turnaround Pro (UPDATED)

A lot is being made of the $125,000 per month salary that NYC OTB will pay to Greg Rayburn, its new president. It's the natural reaction I suppose to be disgusted/outraged/shocked considering that OTB is a bankrupt organization which is delaying certain payments to the racing industry, and which just recently cried that it was too broke to continue operations (not to mention still employing a prominent PR agency, an investment I might add which has gone mainly for naught if OTB's public image and perception means anything).

[UPDATE - The Times reports today, in its expose of OTB's outlandish and wasted expenditures on consultants under Sandy Frucher, that Edelman, the abovementioned PR firm, billed OTB for a total of $472,625; and that's just since last November. That was based on a rate of $300 an hour, which, according to David Vermillion, who led the agency's effort, was below their normal rate....and well spent.

“I would say that we have been very successful in executing the strategy outlined by the client, communicating complex concepts to diverse audiences and helping generate influential editorial support,” Mr. Vermillion said. [NY Times]
If I hadn't already dropped the f-bomb in this post (coming right up), Vermillion would certainly get it for that masterful effort in bullshit (oh well). Indeed, I'd like to see some examples of some of that "influential editorial support" other than that contained in OTB company newsletters and press releases. Vermillion, who, as I've mentioned before, also worked on behalf of the utterly defrocked Empire Racing during the franchise bidding, is obviously little more than a highly-paid lackey who apparently delights in defending and spinning the lies of corrupt and immoral corporate crud.]

But let's face it, this is a big fucking mess which requires drastic action. And bankruptcy is a big business, so a "turnaround pro," as Rayburn is labeled in the Wall Street Journal blog, comes at a price. He's hardly new to taking the reins of distressed companies on an interim basis. Here's an excerpt from an April, 2008 article about him doing so at the Syntax-Brillian Corporation.
Mr. Rayburn has held the position of Interim CEO and COO a number of times for companies such as Sunterra Corporation, aaiPharma and Muzak Holdings LLC, where he facilitated new strategic directions, streamlined operating structures, and improved product line profitability.

"Greg’s extensive experience in enhancing value within companies and improving operations to realize growth potential will greatly benefit the company,” said James Li, President and Chief Executive Officer, Syntax-Brillian Corporation. []
Since that time, Rayburn became the interim CEO at Magna, where his idea of enhancing value and improving operations was apparently to help keep Frank Stronach in control. If that's any indication, we might end up with Hazel Dukes.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Uh Oh

With Penn National and SL Green DQ'd for submitting proposals that did not conform to requirements, one can now certainly picture the scenario in which this latest round of bidding for the Big A racino ends up like all the others which have preceded it - left at the gate. That's an outcome which at one time seemed to be out of the question, with the Lottery, and not the politicians, firmly in control, and a familiar and (mostly) dependable group of bidders back for another go. It was therefore assumed without a doubt that the $250 million loan to NYRA would soon be guaranteed by the designated operator.

Of course, it's entirely possible that Genting, the lone survivor, will sail through the full evaluation that it will be subjected to, prove to be 100% licensable and financially capable, and receive the Lottery's full endorsement when it makes it recommendation to Governor Paterson on August 3. After all, everything has always worked out for the best with this thing, right?

Even if it makes it through however, the legislative leaders who have to accede to the selection may feel more emboldened to challenge this particular company (though I still think that John Sampson and Malcolm Smith just want this whole thing to go away). This Malaysian conglomerate is a company with no local roots (at one time considered to be of paramount importance), and no relations with the local community nor unions that we know of. Will Community Board 10 approve? With Aqueduct located in a key swing district in the upcoming fall elections in the bitter battle for control of the State Senate, a local thumbs-down could have wide implications. What is Genting's commitment to minority and local hiring? Any questions of that nature could cause problems in the legislature. And wouldn't Genting's financial interest in Empire Resorts present a conflict should a racino at the Concord, the owner of which would retain more than twice the percentage of revenues as would the Big A, ever be built, a mere two hours from Ozone Park (at least when there's not construction on Route 17)?

Of course, all of this may just turn out to be fine...

The non-conforming aspects of the bids submitted by SL Green and Penn National contained some alterations which make perfect business sense; and others which give me a feeling that they really didn't have their hearts in it anymore.

Once believed to be a front-runner, SL Green, for example, wanted their minimum $300 million upfront fee to be held in escrow until their conditions were met by the state. The group also wanted the right to make ownership changes without the state’s consent, a cap on any increase in local property taxes at 3%, and a complete exemption of state and local sales taxes for the construction of the racino.

Penn National, meanwhile, wanted to be able to terminate its Aqueduct video lottery license any time it decides the casino has not been profitable for four straight quarters.

The group also wanted a guarantee that no other gaming facility would open within 50 miles of Aqeuduct, despite those who are eying Belmont in the future. [Daily Politics]

Friday, July 02, 2010


Charlie Hayward didn't mince words regarding Rachel Alexandra next racing in the Lady's Secret at Monmouth.

"We are puzzled and disappointed that Rachel Alexandra, who performed so well at Saratoga last year, is passing up the Grade 1 Ruffian to run in a non-graded race at Monmouth over the same distance." [Daily Racing Form]
Well, Charlie, I can give you some reasons....around 150,000 of them. That's the difference in the purse money between the Ruffian and the Lady's Secret, whose purse was sweetened, and date was changed in order to appease Her Majesty. Perhaps they'll send a private plane for Jackson and bring in Chris Christie to shine his shoes while they're at it.

Can't blame NYRA for being pissed. Rachel is currently stabled there at the expense of some other owner who can't get stall space, and she spent quite some time there during and after the meeting there last year too. Not that that obligates her to race there, but c'mon, the Ruffian is a Grade 1, it's perfect for her, and so is the stage, no offense to our friends in Jersey. How obvious that the purse is the main consideration? I would think they would be tempted to tell Jackson not to bother bringing her back.....if, that is, the Saratoga meet wasn't (too) long enough to make an appearance at the Woodward a possibility. In that way, NYRA will be playing the appeasing game too.

The matter of tracks offering extra incentive to pry a star such as Rachel away from another track or, in even more jaded terms, owners extracting those incentives as a condition for them going there, is the topic of the day at the TBA homepage (, the best place on the internet to link up with the latest racing news and opinion.

My take is that business is business, and Monmouth is certainly free to do whatever it wants, however bad a precedent it sets by appeasing greedy owners who will go strictly where the money is. The competition is keen in the present era for the very few horses who have any kind of star power, and these tracks are fierce competitors, not cooperators as we know. As far as whether it's a good idea, I wonder if it does pay off. Assuming other purses aren't cut to compensate, it will cost Monmouth an additional $250,000 in purse money. Let's say they'd have to handle an extra $1 million to make that up (of course, there's admissions and concessions too). That seems possible if you figure an extra 10,000 who may show up, not to mention a boost in the online horse betting with the card being featured on TVG. On the other hand though, many of those who show up may not be bettors at all, and a short field with Rachel 1-5 ain't gonna generate much. So we'll have to wait and see.

- In the 4th at Belmont on Friday, Rollofthetundra (12-1) returns to the one-turn mile distance after two unsuccessful tries on grass for trainer David Adel (unfamiliar to me). That last dirt race, in which this three-year old gelded son of Tomorrows Cat rallied quite well for a close second, was a maiden claimer, and a fairly cheap one, so he moves up significantly off that one here. It proved to be a pretty strong race though; not only did the winner, 3rd, and 4th place horses win their next races, but all three have now beaten winners. This is the only horse in the field with any success at this particular route (on a fast track) and he figures to be running well late. Winning Token (6-5) blows these away on the 75 Beyer he earned in a narrow loss in his last (and third place finisher Wise Stop dropped and popped by 7 in his next race), but tries an extra quarter mile here. Raffinator (7-2) ran well in the slop at this distance two back, finishing third behind two next-out winners (albeit on the grass).

In the 5th, Hello Gold (4-1), the one horse stable of trainer Michael D'Amelio, takes a drop in class off three solidly even efforts against better. Five-year old daughter of Gold Fever seems to have found a niche in these grass sprints and this could be a winning spot in a flawed field. Lorraine in Spain (3-1) also drops and ran pretty well at this distance two back; race produced two good seconds and a winner. Been rather disappointing considering her odds of late though. Come From Away (5-2) takes a steep class drop off a long layoff, no thanks, at least at those odds.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Belmont Thursday

- In the first, Chris Got Even (5-1) drops off a brief freshening for Zito, 23% (10 for 43) at the meet. This five-year old gelded son of Stephen Got Even had some excellent efforts at this one-turn mile distance last fall, including his career-best Beyer effort over this track and off a similar freshening last fall; that was also the last time Johnny V was in the saddle. His 5th place finish against better in his last was in a race that has since produced three winners, a second and a third. Looks nicely spotted here. It's Never To Late (10-1) similarly drops in class, and also fancies this one-turn distance, with three excellent tries at Gulfstream this past winter for the high percentage barn of Peter Walder. Samhoon (2-1) was one of those high-priced David Jacobsen claims that didn't work out; finally found his level in a restricted 20K claimer before romping first-time out for Chris Englehart with an outsized Beyer against four hapless foes at Finger Lakes; figures to be overbet in this spot, as does The Roundhouse (5-2), dropping off two weak efforts for Pletcher.

- Free music last night courtesy of the downtown River To River Festival; the British singer-songwriter Beth Orton performed overlooking the Hudson River on a picture and temperature perfect NYC evening.