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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

OTB D-Day (Again)

Greg Rayburn's plan to reorganize NYC OTB by turning over its internet wagering business to the tracks and concentrating on the parlors seems counter-intuitive these days; like a record company ditching their MP3 business and focusing on CD's. But what do I know; I don't make $125,000 a month. Rayburn says that their labor costs are too high to make that business profitable. And, if he can't reach an agreement with the union by today, he'll look to rip up the corporation's labor contracts and make that segment of the business profitable his way. "It's doable in bankruptcy.....It's a tool that's available." Bankruptcy is a wonderful thing, isn't it?

NYRA, along with Yonkers, is willing to take a hit on money owed and statutory payments in exchange for the business, which not only would eliminate a key competitor and yield it a healthy customer base, but allow it to collect its full on-track share of the handle, some three times what it gets from OTB wagers now.

Of course, the final alternative is to liquidate and shutter the operation. And, unlike his predecessor, this guy is probably not kidding.

New York City OTB is under a hard deadline to get the plan worked out by Tuesday so that it can opt into a state early retirement incentive program. Unions, however, are objecting to key points, such as elimination of Sunday double-time pay, while demanding that a set number of jobs be kept regardless of handle and revenue.
Rayburn said he does not believe NYRA or the state’s five other off-track betting companies would be able to recoup all of the lost income, much of which could head out of state. [Thoroughbred Times]

Monday, August 30, 2010

Irrelevant Rachel

When I wrote that nobody (well, almost nobody) would possibly travel to Saratoga specifically to see Rachel Alexandra, I figured, OK, at least some people would. Or, at the very least, that a fair amount of people who were already there for the Travers would stick around! But 23,347? Hell, I would have been writing I-told-ya-so at 30,000. While we'll no doubt see a NYRA press release touting the 30% attendance increase over the 18,014 who attended the day-after-Travers program last year (when a rainy Travers day held that day's crowd down to some 34,000 as opposed to the 45,000 on Saturday), don't believe the hype. On a perfect weather day as it was, Sunday's crowd was an unqualified failure.

I do feel bad for NYRA and their hard-working promotion department, who pulled out all the stops to promote the appearance. But as I've contended many times, you can't promote in a vacuum. There was no real compelling reason to come to Saratoga on Sunday - no rivalry renewed, no defense of her Woodward title, little perceived competition to face. Interest in the filly peaked and died between late last year and early this with two high-profile duckings of Zenyatta by owner Jess Jackson. She subsequently stuttered her way through a soulless campaign of four races against nondescript competition that she only dominated once (and only beat twice). Whatever drawing power she once might have had, she apparently no longer does.

As far as the race goes, Rachel apologists will try to tell us that she tired from her efforts to valiantly fight off Life At Ten. But, for one thing, who the hell is she, really? A nice mare who's learned the game at age five, but whose six race winning streak, which included two on the Big A inner track and two others against short fields, and in which she failed to Beyer over 101, was hardly the stuff of greatness. Besides, Rachel set a comfortable pace - 1:12 1/5 to the 3/4s....that as compared to the 1:10 2/5 in the Woodward last year. You can explain her final quarter of 27.12 and her stopping cold at the eighth pole - "We must have come home in 14," according to Borel - by saying that she simply can't get the mile and a quarter distance, or that, for whatever reason, she's not the same filly she was last year. But not because she was subjected to any kind of race conditions that a horse who was, not long ago, touted as the greatest filly of all time, shouldn't have easily been able to brush off.

And as to whether or not she will run again? Spare us the drama, please. If nobody really cared when she was running, nobody will certainly care whether she does or doesn't again. And Jess Jackson has nobody to blame but himself for her descent into irrelevancy.

- Afleet Express got a Beyer of 105 for his win in the Travers. LOL. Are you kidding me? It was the only two-turn dirt race of the day, and I'd love to hear an explanation of that. As far as I'm concerned, Beyer figures are meaningless anyway when horses come home as slow as they did....they should have gotten an N/A. By whatever logic was used to project that number, if Afleet Express had run merely an average Travers time by historical standards, he could be sitting with the high Beyer of the year!

- Sunday's crowd can't bode well for the remainder of the meet as far as attendance goes. Last year, NYRA had Rachel's appearance in the Woodward to promote, but there's not much about that race to get excited about this year. It is a great weekend to go up there though, with the track, and the town, usually less crowded. The fields are generally large as stables try to get one more race in, and the long-range weather forecast is favorable. Plus, there's the awesome Final Stretch Music Festival in town on Saturday and Sunday nights. So go, if you have the time and the means. I'd be there myself. If I wasn't instead going to be here.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

White Hot Finish

Over 45,000 on hand at Saratoga for the Travers, and they saw...... oh wait.

That's the wrong crowd.

There, that's better. Sorry, I got my photos of all-white crowds mixed up.

Anyway, the crowd - 45,746 to be exact - witnessed a thrilling finish, as embellished dramatically in articles like this one by Joe Drape, this one by Andy Beyer, this one by Jennie Rees.

Now, I honestly don't enjoy being a Negative Nelly all of the time, but part of a blogger's mission I believe is to point out things that, for whatever reason, the mainstream press does not. So, unlike the three abovementioned writers, surely amongst the most respected and knowledgeable in their profession, I feel compelled to note that the final time of 2:03.28 was the slowest Travers since Coronado's Quest in 1998; and one of six to clock in over 2:03 in the last 35 years....and, even worse, that the final quarter was run in harness horse time of 26 3/5. Afleet Express ($16) finished in 26.44, while runner-up Fly Down (a perverse $114.50 exacta for those who had boxed them as the two favorites in the Jim Dandy), finished in 26.37 after sweeping around the field on the turn in 24.17 (these fractions courtesy of Formulator).

Both Trappe Shot, the race favorite, and the Derby winner Super Saver, took over 30 seconds for those last two furlongs, meaning that they were virtually eased. So while there's no denying the intensity of those final yards, there were some ugly aspects to the result, and these horses did not comport themselves well in the historical context of the storied race. Funny, Drape is so quick to emphasize the negative aspects of the sport; but apparently not when he's in his tug-at-the-heartstring dramatic mode. Though he mentions the "honest mile of 1 minute 36.65 seconds," he doesn't say a word about the slow finish. That would have ruined the effect.

A lot is being made of Castellano's ground-saving ride on the winner as opposed to the wide move by Fly Down. However, Afleet Express was carried a good four wide on the first turn as Lezcano immediately took his colt over to the rail. So I don't know that, if there was Trakus at Saratoga, the ground loss figures would have been that different. Of course, even the slightest difference in Afleet Express' favor would have made the difference in the result. Man, tough beat for those of you who had Fly Down, who had really, for all intents and purposes except the most important one, passed his rival at that point.

Though I was wrong as it turned out in my strong stance against the runner-up, when a race falls apart that badly, I don't feel as if I was really wrong. Friend or Foe looked awful I thought in the post parade; it this was a 15K claiming race, I would have thought he was lame, as stiff as his back legs looked. Not that I really know anything about physical inspection....but the Head Chef, who picked out (but did not wager on) the winner along with third-place finisher First Dude in the warm-up, noticed it as well.

And hey, there's some diversity - Governor Paterson was his official capacity I assume. Still, I wonder if he paid for his seat.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Travers Day

1) Miner's Reserve (12-1) will run after all. Zito had expressed reservations earlier in the week, but it's not like he and owner Robert LaPenta to sit these races out. Even if those reservations, regarding the pace scenario and distance, seem valid. A lot of times you'll see a horse like this, rushed into the Florida Derby in his third career start and off his maiden win, never quite recover after getting trounced in stakes company, as Miner's Reserve did twice. But this son of Mineshaft has only improved as his campaign moves into its 8th month without a layoff line. And while the presence of First Dude is surely a pace concern, Randy Moss' pace figures indicate that this colt can get a jump on that rival breaking from the rail. While there's no reason in any event to think he would hang on here if he couldn't at nine furlongs against A Little Warm, just maybe a spot at the bottom of the ticket.

2) Trappe Shot (4-1), 4-1? I have him pegged to oppose in the top spot at that price. I'm thinking they should have gone for the King's Bishop. The son of Tapit was absolutely dominant sprinting, and crushed a good horse in Tahitian Warrior in his last such effort. His subsequent two-turn debut, in the Long Branch, may look better on paper than it really was. He had just three non-world beating opponents, a fine trip on the inside after a slight stumble at the start; and I think this is one of those spots in which one can be skeptical of the Beyer, a 105. I would think that a good deal of projection was done here, and that makes the number subjective. There was only one other two-turn dirt race that day, and what makes me really wonder is the fact that the 101 consequently earned by runner-up Nacho Friend is rather an anomaly in his nine race career; his prior high was 93, and he ran an 84 finishing a distant third in the subsequent W. Va Derby. His Haskell was OK (with a 95 Beyer), but he was never in the race before sucking up for second over Super Saver and First Dude, both tiring from their earlier efforts. Don't see why the mile and a quarter would move him up much, if at all.

3) Admiral Alex (12-1) looks to pull the ol' universally-tipped debut maiden win-to-Travers Stakes move. Andy Beyer's story on the horse and his trainer in the Washington Post was headlined Colorful veteran Blusiewicz could be right on the money with Admiral Alex; which means that the headline writer couldn't think of anything clever. It also means that he or she probably didn't read the whole piece, in which Beyer concludes near the end :

Unfortunately, this saga likely won't unfold as a happy rags-to-riches story. Based on that time of 1:49.76, Admiral Alex isn't fast enough to be a contender in the Travers. Moreover, thrusting young horses into competition too tough for them is one of the surest ways to compromise their futures. The experience can hurt them physically or, at the very least, undermine their self-confidence. [Washington Post]
Oh, not a feel good story I guess. Under other circumstances, I might share that dubious attitude; but this horse was so much of a good thing - bet like one, ridden like one, and winning like one after being wide around both turns - that maybe he's just...well, a good thing. Some distance pedigree here too, his being by a Belmont winner out of a Kingmambo mare who produced the ten furlong Lexington winner Woodlander, and hails from the family of the Belmont winner Go And Go and Melbourne Cup winner Media Puzzle. Hard to see him winning, even here with no superstars to defeat, but wouldn't be shocked about a minor share.

4) First Dude (8-1) is, as you probably know, named after Sarah Palin's husband, and as such, I freely admit that I'm biased against him and his owner (mostly the owner I guess, I suppose it's not the horse's fault [though they are, as I recently said, fooled easily]) and want him to lose. So maybe it's because of that that I called him faint-hearted, which drew this brief but pointed response from a reader: Alan, First Dude is not faint-hearted. Not in the least...and prompted the horse himself to write:
There is nothing "faint hearted" about me, I am still learning. Look for me in the winner's circle.
And we'd like to hear more directly from the equine participants themselves here. Anyway, I went back for a second look and OK, maybe I'm letting my personal feelings get in the way. So maybe I should refudiate those sentiments. After all, losing by 3/4s to Lookin At Lucky ain't too shabby; the Belmont distance is always an automatic excuse as far as I'm concerned; and he again succumbed to Baffert's absent colt in the Haskell. I mentioned above about Miner's Reserves chances to outrun First Dude early; but remember that Dale Romans adds blinkers here in an attempt to further sharpen his speed. Still not convinced he has what it takes to beat these, especially with the added distance. But I'm upgrading his chances to hang for a share.

5) A Little Warm (7-2) has been out of the money just once in his nine career starts. Consistency and versatility are no questions to this son of Stormin Fever, but class is. He's strictly a Grade 2 animal it seems, and got an excellent trip which helped him win the Jim Dandy. Also can't be too excited about his trainer Anthony Dutrow's remark that "he may have run as fast as he could run" in the Jim Dandy. And that "Good means good, it doesn't mean a winner. I hope he's a winner." Not that enthusiastic, is he? Never hear his brother talk like that. I dunno, the horse is real solid as I said, but just not that enthusiastic about him in this spot as the favorite.

6) Ice Box (10-1) has been nowhere in his two post-Derby starts; far more disappointing than the Belmont was his never-in-it 7th in the Haskell. Of course, I wasn't even that wild about his Derby given the 53 4/5 seconds it took him to cover the last half mile. Firmly opposed.

7) Afleet Express (6-1) is another, like A Little Warm, who has never run a bad race - he had a poor start in the only race out of his six career starts in which he finished out of the money. He moved forward markedly after a few months off earlier this year, and you always like to see development like that. Still, his Pegasus win at Monmouth came against the B C squad; and while he finished up well for third in the Jim Dandy, his gains came late after he saved ground most of the way. Another one who seems pretty solid but who just doesn't generate much enthusiasm in this corner. In fact, I think he'd be an underlay at his morning line.

8) Fly Down (8-1) was 9-5 in the Jim Dandy and was just never in it at all; forget about that trouble line; I don't believe he was finishing better than 5th anyway. In fact, he had cut the corner on Afleet Express and Friend or Foe and passed them for third in upper stretch before those two passed him back. You look back at his two two-turn wins, and they were slow races with lethargic come-home times in which he defeated the 1-for-9 First Dude. And I personally don't even consider his second place finish in the Belmont to be a plus, the way they were all staggering home at a distance far beyond their capabilities. Standing firmly against.

9) Friend or Foe (15-1) was taking quite a step up in the Jim Dandy; in only his 4th career start, he was stepping up from state-bred competition and trying two turns for the first time. Considering that, it was a remarkable effort. You could have written him off just for being as wide as he was on the first turn, and ripped up any tickets with his number on it when he was wide on the second after attending the honest pace on the backstretch. Still, he finished well, battling Afleet Express for the show spot until the end. Stuck on the outside again, but has tactical speed and a longer run to the first turn. Son of Friends Lake out of an Unbridled mare would surely have to step up again in order to get home first, and there's nothing in particular about his pedigree that makes one believe the extra distance will help. But surely seems worth a look at those long odds.

10) Afleet Again (30-1) seems a bit better than those hopeless odds. Son of Afleet Alex has shown the kind of improvement you like to see here in his three-year old season. I think he would benefit from a more patient ride as he switches to Cornelio Velasquez after a wide move on the turn for home in the Haskell. Wouldn't be shocked to see him hit the superfecta tickets late.

11) Super Saver (6-1) was the subject of an interesting article by Joe Drape in the Ties earlier this week.
Even Super Saver’s trainer, Todd Pletcher, and owner, Kentucky-based WinStar Farm, understand that their colt desperately needs to run a big race in the Travers. WinStar Farm executives consider themselves horse traders who adhere to a creed, articulated by the group’s president, Steve Cauthen: “Everybody is going to be sold, it is just a matter of when.”

Super Saver, however, remains in WinStar’s stable and seems destined for its commercial breeding shed, which is not a terrible thing because the colt’s impeccable bloodlines make him a solid stallion prospect. Still, the WinStar racing manager Elliott Walden conceded that the colt remains on the market, and the farm is looking for an offer it can’t refuse.

“Nobody really knows how to value him,” Walden said. “He needs to run a really big race here. He needs to back up the Kentucky Derby with a win here in the Travers.” [NY Times]
Just makes you realize just what this game is all about these days. The Derby winner hasn't done anything in his two starts since to make one believe that anyone will come knocking after this race; and while he returns to the winning distance of that race, he does not return to the Churchill Downs strip which he seems to favor. And besides, if he runs the final half in the same 52.77 seconds he did in the Derby, he won't be going anywhere fast, either in the stretch or to a new investor.

Still, he competed hard in the Haskell, pressing the pace throughout while three wide, and had the lead on the final turn for as long as a horse can without it showing up on its pp line; and who knows, perhaps he would have gone on better if not demolished by Lookin At Lucky the way he was. If you look at that race as a prep for this one, coming off a 2 1/2 month layoff as it did, you could make a case for improvement here. Almost makes me want to be contrarian here - if one can be described as such when it comes to a Derby winner - and change my mind about his chances, which I dismissed in the prior post.

Indeed, after taking the time to perform this analysis, it occurs to me that I don't really like anyone in this race....about as flawed and middling an edition of this great midsummer classic as one will (hopefully) ever see. I mean, oh well, gee golly, I'm almost ready to pick First Dude to beat this cackle!

Well, nah, maybe not. Let's take a flyer on Friend or Foe to win, and fool around in exotics with he and Super Saver on top over A Little Warm, First Dude, and Admiral Alex. Sorry I couldn't come up with something more enthusiastic or definitive, especially after you were nice enough to take the time to read through all this; but it's a great card and no reason to force anything. It's a gorgeous day, so good luck and have a fantastic day!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Travers Notes

- The Travers field is either wide open, or tepid, depending on your point of view. Sure is a great betting race, that's for sure; but that can be faint praise if the division lacks depth of quality, as the three-year old division seems to do quite often. Especially at this time of year, with the memory of the Triple Crown quickly fading. You look at the Travers over the last decade as the game has changed, and you don't see many stars. You probably have to go back to 2007 and Street Sense for the last one (arguable perhaps given that Summer Bird was coming off his second in the Haskell and his Belmont win....I didn't consider him a star, which is why I lost on the race last year, though I think history indicates I was right).....Benardini in 2006, I guess so. But you probably have to go back to Point Given in 2001 for the one before that. Some stars couldn't make it due to injuries, both temporary and permanent - Funny Cide, Empire Maker (not a star), Afleet Alex, Big Brown, Smarty Jones immediately come to mind.

The point is that this thing with racing horses so infrequently during their developmental stages, at two and in the winter and spring at age three, sure hasn't led to a betterment of the breed, has it? Perhaps horses should be doing what they were bred to do - run, not stand in the stall and watch Fox News (horses are fooled easily). Maybe one day it'll be like that scene in Sleeper, when Woody Allen wakes up in a future where cigarettes have been discovered to be healthy....and they'll race horses every other week, hell, 3-4 times a month! Because this sure isn't working.

The Travers, and all of Saturday's card - Monmouth-sized fields and not a horse for sale until the 13th race - is an example I think of what people mean when they say that, as a smaller bettor, the quality of a race or a betting card in terms of competitiveness and class is a more important consideration than takeout rates on a given individual day. I think it's fair to say that most people who hit that late pick four is not going to be disappointed about the payoff. No, please don't flame me, I am not saying that lower takeout is not crucial to the health of the industry. Just that anyone who will be playing elsewhere in search of lower rates on Saturday is a more serious player than I.

If there was exchange wagering in New York, I might want to check out the odds of none of Zito's three nor the Derby winner finishing in the money. Ice Box and Super Saver sure haven't flattered each other since the Derby, have they? I'd have drawn an large X through the both of them even if the Derby winner hadn't drawn the outside post. I just think they've both left their best form in the spring. I don't like Fly Down; his two-turn wins were slow races with slow final fractions over 1-for-9 First Dude. Formwise, I actually like Miner's Reserve the best of Zito's trio, even though he's the longest odds at 12-1. He's one horse who is on the upswing of his form, which one might expect from a son of Mineshaft as time goes on. Tough pace prospects though from the rail with the now-blinkered-though-already-speedy (though faint-hearted) First Dude three positions to the outside.

Well, I could find some more stuff to ramble on about, but I guess I should start handicapping. I intend to post a full analysis, but it might not come until Saturday morning since I'm working and then taking my mom out for her birthday. Happy Birthday, mom. (Unlike the Head Chef, she actually checks this out once in a while.)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A Little Tea In My HANA Please

I stumbled upon a very interesting segment on TVG on Sunday. I really turned it on for the 5th at Del Mar, but instead of pre-race coverage, Todd Schrupp was discussing Assembly Bill 2414, a measure introduced in the California Assembly which would raise the takeout on exotic wagers (2% for two-horse wagers, 3% for three or more), and allow exchange wagering, though only if the various parties could agree on how to split up the revenues. The bill is, as you might imagine, strongly backed by Betfair, the UK-based betting exchange which acquired TVG last year.

So, when Schrupp introduced company CEO Stephen Burn to discuss the proposed legislation, it seemed merely like self-serving propaganda in the guise of journalism. Burn explained how the takeout increase, the revenues from which are to go 100% towards purse enrichment, would help make California more competitive. Del Mar’s president, Craig Fravel, said the bill could lead to an additional $25 million to $30 million in purses annually. [DRF] And he advocated for exchange wagering [read here for a good explanation of it if you're not familiar] as a fresh, innovative new product which will provide better value for bettors by cutting out the middleman, and attract a younger crowd.

In the past, I've criticized TVG, and Schrupp in particular, for softball interviews, and what could be softer than questioning your boss on a bill which would allow his company to expand their successful business to the US market! But then, to my surprise and to TVG's great credit, they brought on, by telephone, MI Development (MID) COO Scott Daruty. As you may know, MID is the Magna entity which now owns its tracks (Santa Anita and Golden Gate in California), and they and TVG are fierce rivals and competitors in the account wagering and televised racing fields with a history of lawsuits and rancor between them. So full credit to Betfair for letting Daruty have his say. And his say was yes to the takeout increase but, citing concerns about tracks and horsemen being properly compensated and an influx of foreign and offshore companies swooping in, a firm no to the exchange wagering provision.

And Schrupp let him have his say. Stephen Burn replied that he understood Scott's concerns, but that the legislation sets no commercial terms and leaves that all up to the CHRB and the various parties to reach an agreement, the lack of which would simply mean that exchange wagering would not be introduced. Daruty then said that he understood Stephen's point about leaving the details for later, but that, given Magna's investment in the state, he felt that it's only fair to them and their employees that there be some kind of certainty that it would be worth pursuing before being approved legislatively.

Yes, it was a little bit of Faux News here; Schrupp tossed Daruty a high slider by confronting him with Frank Stronach's own words regarding the need for innovation. And TVG surely got in the last words on the matter after Daruty, who sounded genuinely grateful for the opportunity, signed off. But high marks to TVG for inviting him on.

My impressions were 1) Betfair's position on exchange wagering made sense and seemed to present no risk, while Magna was being adversarial on the matter just to be so, and 2) it was refreshing to hear two well-spoken people discuss their disagreements calmly and respectfully rather than being in a studio or on a split screen simultaneously so that they could yell over each other. Maybe the political shows should consider reverting to that format.

Then they brought on, also by telephone, HANA president Jeff Platt. This did not go particularly well. You could tell that the guy was nervous from the get go, and I found him to be alternately rambling and halting. He said that horseplayers like exchange wagering because, say, what if you have a five horse field and one horse is 4-5 and one is 7-5 and the others are 8-1, 9-1, and 11-1, then there's no possible reason to bet the race parimutuelly (huh? maybe you like the 9-1 shot?) and exchange betting presents better opportunities in those cases. To which I'd say, y'know you don't have to bet every single race and if you do, you should probably be logging on to GA instead of TVG. Then Platt was, obviously, opposed to the takeout increase because raising the takeout "never.... works.... for anyone!".......awkward silence here as Schrupp and his audience wait for him to elaborate just a little....never works for whom, for nobody? And why not? At that point, the producer probably whispered in Schrupp's ear to get rid of the guy, and that was that. It was an interview worthy of Sharron Angle.

In fact, HANA kinda reminds me a little of the Tea Party with their unwavering advocacy, and simplification, of a single issue (Small Government = Lower Takeout); as well as their ability, despite being somewhat ragged and rough around the edges, to gain mainstream exposure. I seem to see and read about HANA all over the place these days. Of course, and in my opinion, unlike the Tea Party, HANA is absolutely right in principle about their signature issue. But it's not always as simple as a bumper sticker slogan in my view. Lower takeout would not be a cure for all of racing's ills any more so than extending the Bush tax cuts for the rich will revive the economy. (Well, actually, that's wrong....let's say somewhat more so than the nonsensical idea of adding $36 billion to the deficit at this point in order to cut taxes for the wealthiest 2% of the population.) Casino games and horse racing are different animals with a completely different clientele and aesthetic; I just don't see where many slot zombies would be interested in handicapping horse races even if the takeout was lowered to 5%. Conversely, how many devoted horseplayers cross over to casino games because of the lower rates?

And, as a casual horseplayer who bets the races for fun rather than as a livelihood or obsession, I personally don't accept HANA's absolute position that lower takeout always trumps quality. I can well be willing to be price flexible if the product is worth the cost. No, I'm not interested in betting on Tioga Downs, thank you, and, though I'm aware that the takeout on certain bets in New York is certainly too high, I'll pay that price to play NYRA races over Evangeline Downs given the choice. It's a critical situation in California right now; the industry is desperate for ways to keep up with the states where the racing industries are subsidized by slots. The argument against a takeout increase is a solid one; but, in this situation, if not that, what are the alternatives?

Don't get me wrong; I surely understand that HANA represents large players to whom every percentage point makes a difference...and that, in turn, those players account for a disproportionate amount of handle. So HANA serves a crucial role in advocating for them, and are apparently doing it well. And, unlike the Tea Party, at least they don't have a lunatic fringe. I've never heard a HANA member accuse Alex Waldrop of being a Muslim or demanding to see Zenyatta's birth certificate.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Good Card, Bad Card?

Steve Crist wrote on his Cristblog prior to Saturday's card:

It's a great Alabama showdown, but the rest of the Saratoga card? Yeesh.
I might have said the same up until pretty recently; but these days, when I go to the track, I wanna gamble. A six horse field with two overwhelming favorites; if I was there or playing on Saturday, the Alabama might have been the race that I was least interested in. Blind Luck vs. Devil May Care? Yeah, whatever.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch where the Alabama Day card includes two statebred maiden races, a $20k maiden claimer, and three conditioned-claiming races.
Well, I love the conditioned-claiming races, they're some of the most bettable races on the cards these days. Ample form, class and distance moves, trainer angles; plenty of juice. On Saturday, the 4th race wasn't too great with six horses and a winning even money; but the 7th had a ten horse field with a (redboard alert) suspicious dropdown favorite from a cold barn who finished out of the money. (A race with a big field and a vulnerable favorite is just as good if not better than one with a 4-1 favorite, so we shouldn't reflexively complain when horses are odds-on. They often present opportunity, whether subsidizing the odds on others, or serving as a welcome "free" marker in the multi-race bets.) The 9th was also a solid ten horse field, with co-favorites at 5-2.

Additionally, to note nowadays that a card features maiden claiming races is no longer necessarily a terrible thing, at least to me. Though I've always railed against those races and avoided them religiously, I must say that I find that the ones for turf have become eminently playable and formful. The 11th on Saturday, which Crist summarily dismissed, was a highly competitive ten horse field which produced a (redboard alert) fair payoff on the second choice 2-1 Recharged, from Linda Rice. (I've always believed that you can generally get good prices on favorites in the final race because bettors are shopping for prices in an attempt to get out.) The two state-bred maiden races that Crist mentioned had fields of nine and 11, and not a horse under 5-2.

You might be thinking that I've lowered my standards and have become accepting of mediocrity. But I'd say that I'm merely adjusting to reality. The quality of the races at Saratoga when it comes to class will never be what it was; that's a fact. To mope about that is to do so about Sunday doubleheaders or civil political debate. But the racing can still be compelling to handicap and thrilling to watch even if the horses are for sale.

Or, I guess you might be thinking that I'm no longer a fan, just a gambler. And that might be true to a point. To be honest, I just don't find following the stakes divisions to be that interesting anymore given the nature of racing in the 21st century, as discussed here ad nauseum over the years, and the way that the Breeders' Cup has reduced the once climactic fall season to a series of preps.

And if that makes me a degenerate gambler rather than a true racing fan, that's fine with me. After all, it's a gambling game, and I think that's how the game should be marketing itself anyway. You could have an extra 5,000 people at Saratoga next Sunday going "Oooo, Rachel, she's so gorgeous, yeah, go Calvin, honey bet a dollar to win as a souvenir" and it ain't gonna do a thing for future business. I can almost guarantee you that virtually none of them will ever see her race in person again. Bring them in to a comfortable setting, present some good brew and food, provide some wholesome entertainment (or some scantily clothed chicks), turn them on to trifectas, 50-cent pick threes, and dime superfectas, and just maybe you have a shot.

Sunday, August 22, 2010


We Need V L Ts took Saturday's third for trainer Linda Rice, who purchased the daughter of Freud for herself at the Ocala April 2009 two-year old in training sale for $10,000. The horse was named Social Snafu at the time, so I guess Ms. Rice has some sort of an agenda with her, can't imagine what it is! Also rather surprised that she paid as much as $12.60 given the topical nature of the name, plus the fact that the trainer simply rules these turf sprints. She did it again in the 11th race with Recharged ($6.70), and had three winners on the day in all, with City Sneakers ($20) wiring the field in the 7th. The barn's winning percentage in these dashes at Saratoga over the last three years is now up to 27% with a 91 horse sample. And she's now won four of them in a row, and seven out of 20 (35%) on this year's meet; she's 14 for 48 overall, as she takes over the runner-up spot in the trainer standings from Chad Brown with 14, six behind Pletcher.

Speaking of those V L Ts that Ms. Rice wants, James Odato again reported in the Times Union about those two Genting officials accused of various misdeeds, and who have now been fined $1000 by the State Racing and Wagering board.

They pleaded "no contest" to charges they jumped the gun in running the operations of Empire Resorts before being licensed by Racing & Wagering.
I mentioned the other day that I think Odato has an agenda in this matter, and this is what I'm talking about:
Their fine is five times stiffer than the one levied to trainer Todd Pletcher for allowing unlicensed jockey Gary Stevens to ride in a training run last week at Saratoga.
Here, the writer is attempting to create context for us; but to me, the sample cited is arbitrary and purposeful. He just as easily, if he was trying to create a different impression of the significance of these fines, could have compared them to, say, the $96,000 fine that the Commission on Public Integrity feels that Governor Paterson should face for accepting those World Series tickets for free. Or, that it's the same amount that trainer Bruce Brown was fined by the Board for a drug violation in May. If Odato is trying to make the point that the fine is on the high end of SRWB actions, it seems a fair one after scanning through recent board actions. But c'mon, I think we all know that when a couple of corporate suits like these guys are fined $1,000, they probably laugh it off as a business expense....and that's if they don't put it on their next expense report. So again, I think that the reporter is trying to stir up controversy where, in my opinion, and as I discussed in a prior post and in the comments section here, there just isn't anything significant at this time.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Saturday News and Notes

A lively and interesting day at the claim box at Saratoga on Thursday. In the third, Amazing, the only one of the five horses who was entered for the $75,000 claiming tag, was taken by Gary Contessa for Farnsworth Stable. According to the Form, the graded stakes-placed five-year old mare had been purchased privately by Paul Pompa prior to her last, a distant 6th in the Bed O'Roses. Wonder if he got his money back....can't imagine he thought he would slip her by at this meet given all the horses we've seen changing hands.

In any event, Pompa didn't leave the money laying idle for very long. In the 5th, Mountain Town ($16.40) won in his first start, and Dutrow took him for Pompa for the same $75,000. Nice job scoping this one out; he was 10-1 in the morning line, and was the only horse claimed in the race. Mountain Town, whose win got Nick Zito off the schneid, is a son of Cape Town out of a Mt Livermore half-sister to Bird Town and Birdstone. As you might then expect, this horse was bred by, and was claimed from, Marylou Whitney.

And so, a brief comment on her husband's good friend Sarah Palin. There's no question in my mind that the half-term governor's rah-rah defense of Laura Schlessinger was nothing but a nakedly blatant and absolutely shameless ploy to appeal to the most ignorant and extreme racist element that makes up a large portion of her devotees. After all, anyone with any sense, and on either side of the political spectrum, is well aware that Ms. Palin is a hate-mongering fool who cares of nothing but her own personal ambitions, be they political or, more likely, financial. No friend of hers is a friend of mine, so Ms. Whitney can take the proceeds from the purse and the claim and stick it up her scrawny butt as far as I'm concerned. And if Ms. Palin thinks it's a good thing-y to berate a black caller - 11 times! - with the N-word, is it then ok for me to refer to her with the C-word?

So. Where were we? Oh yeah, the claim box. In Thursday's 9th, another extremely prescient claim, as trainer Gary Gullo took the 21-1 winner Mitigation for $35,000, for Richie Munk's Funky Munky Stable (who also had a winner on Friday with the unfortunately-named Funky Munky Mama). Great job there, though, in truth, a little red-boarding leads one to believe that he was way overlaid; his last turf sprint was a very wide third for 50K in a race won by the subsequent G3 Jaipur winner Stradivinsky.

There was another two-year old first-out winner on Thursday, and both he, Running Tap ($13), and Friday's second race juvenile debut winner Tap for Luck ($16.60), are both offspring of Tapit (and both were ridden by Javier Castellano). Tapit stands at Gainesway now for $50,000 and has bucked the trend in a big way; his stud fee his risen from $12,500 in 2008 and $35,000 in 2009. Running Tap, trained by George Weaver, is a Wild Again half-sister to G1 winner Diplomat Lady. Tap For Luck, trained by the meet-leading Todd Pletcher (his 6th juvenile debut winner of the meet) is out of a Crafty Friend mare; her second dam is a half to the 1981 Haskell winner Five Star Flight.

Friday's first race winner Sextant ($6.30) was another turf sprint winner for Linda Rice.

- NYRA is going all out for next weekend. They will hold a press conference on Monday to hype what they are calling the Double Day Spectacular - the Travers on Aug 28, and the return of horse of the year Rachel Alexandra on the 29th. Unfortunately, even with the Derby winner scheduled to run, the most interesting Travers entrant just might be a horse who just broke his maiden in his first start. And, as I've said, I don't think that many people care much about Rachel at this point. I don't think that anyone other than Jessica Chapel is coming specifically to see that filly. NYRA and all the tracks need to come up with more generalist approaches to promotion that do not depend on specific horses.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Saratoga Notes

A year from now, it figures to be a far different competitive environment around here. Money from the slots could start flowing to NYRA by next summer according to NYRA board member Charles Wait. I would think that, at some point, NYRA could start to raise purses in anticipation of that money; and that in any event we'll surely see such enhancements by the time Saratoga rolls around (hopefully not any earlier than it did this year).

On the other hand, the fate of Monmouth's inflated purse structure, if not the meet itself, is certainly in doubt given the recent commission report and the statements by Governor Christie.

Just less than three weeks left now at the Spa, yet I continue to get emails from Tom Federlin, the flaky czar of local real estate, regarding houses going begging for renters, even for the big Travers-Rachel Whatshername weekend of Aug 28-29. That can't be a great sign for how things are going.

Meanwhile, horses continue to trickle up from Monmouth despite the lower purses in New York, in search perhaps of the shorter fields that are anathema to the bettors. Some chalk players must be wishing they stayed where they were on Wednesday. Three races featured favorites from the Jersey shore who were beaten, including Silver Timber in the featured Troy Stakes, a race which had no balls - eight geldings and a mare made up the field of nine! This favorite was out of the money at .65-to-1 for trainer Chad Brown (and he'd been beaten at 3-10 in his prior). That barn, though still hitting at 36% (12 for 33), has lost its last six races, including Payout at 1-2, and two others at less than 2-1. The percentages generally catch up in this game, and when they do in the case of a barn that has been on a tear as has Brown's, it can create parimutuel opportunities for others. Awakino Cat, 4-1 in the morning line, paid $14.60 despite being trained by Linda Rice, known for her proficiency in these turf sprints. She's 22 for 89 (25%) in such races at Saratoga over the last three years.

Those Monmouth chalk-eating weasels may have been cursing after the finale, when Glacier Bay ($26.20) shipped up to get the money for trainer Alan Goldberg. This barn is an infrequent visitor upstate, but still a solid high percentage outfit at 24% this year.

Chart comment of the day:

EL REAL MADRID bumped lightly with DANTASTIC leaving the starting gate, proceeded to exchange a series of light bumps with the same foe, as the pair fought to establish early position, got the better part of that one, crossing over to the rail just before reaching the first turn [ed note - we have more description here than we do for most horses at other tracks and he's only at the first turn!], took the inside route before being taken back out to the two path for the run down the backstretch, was reserved from there well off the front runners, began to narrow in, along with a good portion of the competition, departing the half mile pole, angled out three wide commencing to rally in earnest, closed with good energy down the center of the course to make things a bit interesting [ed note - I'll say!] in the late stages, before settling for place honors.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Not So Serious

Teresa took the Head Chef and I up to the roof on Sunday, and it's a stunning view of the track indeed. While we were there, she mentioned to me something about a comment left here regarding an article by James Odato in the Times Union detailing some fresh accusations regarding the integrity of Genting. So I checked it out when I got back to Queens, but it didn't really register, as fatigued as I was after driving through steady, and at times torrential, rain all the way home.

So I read it again in the morning.....and again later on.....and I'm still not totally getting it regarding what is termed in the article as "serious questions about the honesty of key officials with a Malaysian conglomerate." The charges are being raised by Joseph Bernstein, a former CEO of Empire Resorts, the parent company of Monticello in which a company related to Genting invested last year. The essence of the accusations is that two Genting officials, G. Michael "Mickey" Brown and "Colin" Au Fook Yew, installed on the board of Empire, breached their fiduciary responsibility to that publicly traded company.

The biggest violation, Bernstein said, was when Brown and Au became part of the Genting team that developed the winning Aqueduct bid.

Aqueduct's 4,525-machine racino, Bernstein said, will injure Empire Resorts' modest racino by sending New York City residents away from Empire's Sullivan County operation.
Yeah, must be quite a large number of New York City residents that makes its way from New York City, skipping right past the Empire City Casino at Yonkers, shunning the table games at Mt. Airy Lodge, to travel up to Monticello to play the slots; I'm so sure. Personally, I think the most suspicious thing about these two guys is the fact that they each have part of their names in quotation marks. You can never trust guys like that. Not to mention that Bernstein, who was fired last December, owns a million shares of Empire stock; a fact buried in the article by the reporter, who has an ongoing and clear agenda against NYRA and anything that might threaten to lift it out of its current mess.

Not to say that Bernstein doesn't raise some points which may be legitimate from an aggrieved shareholder's view, particularly regarding the officers' efforts, or lack thereof they say, to maintain relations with the Mohawk tribe which recently announced that it would not proceed with a casino at Monticello. But the Aqueduct argument seems pretty weak. And besides, it involves the kind of conflict that an Albany lawmaker can fully relate to. I don't expect this to be any more of a threat to the racino than the lame AEG lawsuit (and what ever happened to the appeal?).

- Not a good Sunday and Monday for attendance at Saratoga, with just about 32,500 combined. That should really be the attendance for a Sunday alone. But NYRA spins and soldiers on, noting in a press release that while attendance is down more than 10%, all sources handle "remains steady" with a decline of 4.8% which is (just about) explained by a 3.3% decline in the number of races run over the same period.

Kantharos is undoubtedly the most exciting two-year old to this point after his dominant win in the short-field Saratoga Special....and aren't you really glad that Jess Jackson owns him? The owner paid $250,000 for this son of Lion Heart out of a Southern Halo mare who has dropped two other sprint stakes winners - Ikigai and Bonifacio. This colt, inbred to Mr. Prospector, Northern Dancer, and Hail to Reason, hails from the distaff family of the one-time hot two-year old First Samurai And gee, we wouldn't want to see Kantharos flame out at three like that one did, would we? And deprive ourselves of the spectacle of Jess Jackson owning a favorite for the Derby? First Samurai is standing at Claiborne for $30,000, down from $40,000 when he went to stud. He has four winners from his first crop, including the Schuylerville winner Le Mi Geaux.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Saratoga Notes

Just around 30,000 on a perfect summer day at Saratoga. OK, the paddock bar is very cool as advertised, but I hate hate hate the new infield tote!

OK, so the picking up the Form on the way in and winging it thing didn't work on this day, at least as far as making money goes. But horse racing is sometimes called an 'action sport,' and I have tons of action when I'm doping out the races as the minutes tick down towards post time. I feel more engaged and alert, whereas, when I've handicapped extensively in advance, there's a lot of waiting and idle time; and I find that those days can start to drag. I'm less attuned to the tote, and less willing to deviate and go with a feeling. Whether or not that outweighs the advantages of extra information is hard for me to say.

I found my simulcasting options limited on Saturday because the Form had a lousy selection of tracks....I just don't understand sometimes what goes into the decision of what tracks will be published on what days. There doesn't seem much rhyme or reason, and it sometimes leaves out tracks that you would think more people would be more interested in. On Saturday for example, besides the tracks available in the cheaper edition (Monmouth and Del Mar), it had Suffolk, Finger Lakes, and Arlington. Good luck even finding TV's carrying those tracks. But, for Sunday, it has Calder, Laurel, Woodbine, and Arlington; now you're talking, should be an action-packed day...but why not on Saturday too?

Enough maiden races for you? Four more on Saturday, including an all nonwinners Pick Three from races 6-8. And no less than five of them on Sunday!

In the second, the two favorites, Exley and D'Sauvage went 21.4 and 45.3, and they were toast, it was painful to watch them flounder home; final quarter of 26.75 seconds. Private Rules ($19.60) picked up the pieces; the Head Chef liked him on the walk over to the track but didn't bet him for some reason. I tried to comfort her by telling her that the race had fallen apart, and the horse wasn't really that good. I don't think it worked.

In the third, Bulldogger ($4.30) won for Baffert, first time fast dirt track, but two-for-two at Saratoga. Interesting three-year old colt is a son of Dixie Union out of a mare by Tricky Creek (Clever Trick).

The 4th was an absolute tote move. Maid to Win, the 4-1 third choice in the ML, was bet on the nose in the win pool; at one point with about six minutes to go, when she and two others were all 5-2, she had less than half in her show pool than those two, and less than at least a couple of the others. Then, after drifting up to 3-1, she got slammed at the end and went off at 2=1 (second choice). Straight to the front after a stumble at the start, and home free with Castellano for trainer Dominick Galluscio.

5th race, the chart comment of the day:

NO RHYME OR REASON ($8) was positioned within striking distance along the outside soon after the start, sat well reserved under a good hold during the run around the bend, remained on hold, awaiting options nearing the quarter pole, was maneuvered over to an available seam in the vicinity of the three sixteenths pole, went through it, without need of cncouragement, en route to grabbing command, had the rider take on quick peek at the competitors behind, then was allowed to coast the remainder of the way under a mild hand ride.
First timer More Than Real ($9.90) yet another first-out winner for the unconscious Chad Brown (his sixth), now 28-12-3-3 on the meeting. More Than Real is a two-year old son of More Than Ready out of a Dehere mare.

George Arnold is now three for ten at the meet; Hurricane Day ($21.40) was making his sixth start, at five different tracks.

And Telling ($22.60) got a brilliant, ground-saving trip from Garrett Gomez to win the Sword Dancer for the second year in a row. That's it, as you might be able to tell, I'm running out of time......time to get ready to head back to the races for Sunday. Best of luck and have a great day.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Spa Time

We're up in Saratoga for the weekend....though actually in Albany on this Friday night. But we'll be at the races on Saturday, at least after the farmer's market. And that nursery out on Route 29. And a stroll around Broadway. I think that's it, though I'll have to double check with the Head Chef (whose Grapes and Greens blog recently celebrated its first anniversary).

Been far too busy to do much work on Saturday's races.....OK, I haven't even looked, and will pick up the Form on the way in and wing it at the track. And I happen to like it that way, as you may know if you've been hanging around here for awhile. Sure, Formulator is awesome, but, on the other hand, I love handicapping and betting off fresh impressions and intuitions, fundamentals, and watching the tote; whereas the pp lines can become fuzzy and the races stale with too much introspection. Don't get me wrong; I do believe that knowledge is golden over the long run. But all that information can be too much information on any given day; so, on this short trip, my only appearance here of the summer, I'm just gonna go with my instincts and have a great time.

Since I last posted, Speaker Silver rounded out the Genting menage a trois and completed the required approval. And on Friday, James Odato reported in the Times Union that the MOU has already been signed. We've gone from the world's slowest process to a veritable track meet; at this rate, the slots will be rolling by Labor Day!

Four maiden claiming races on Friday....and two of them comprised the late daily double. I'm pretty confident in saying that I have never, ever seen that in all the years I've been coming up here......or at Aqueduct or Belmont for that matter! Nonetheless, a good crowd of over 22,000 portends well on what is quite arguably the least attractive weekend stakes lineup of the meet.

In the 6th on Friday, Air Support ($8.10) shied from the whip as he was about to take the lead and drifted out towards the middle of the the turf course. But Castellano got him back on track, and they gamely held off the oncoming Grigio to give Shug his second winner of the meet. The winner is a two-year old son of Smart Strike out of a Danzig half-sister to the Haskell/Travers winner Coronado's Quest. Of course, we won't be seeing a similar feat this year with Lookin at Lucky back in California recovering from his ill-timed fever.

- Just an amazing (though not free, and somewhat rainy) show on Governors Island on Thursday night, with two superb Brooklyn-based bands in The Walkmen (who have a new album entitled Lisbon set for release next month), and Grizzly Bear. It took me quite some time to warm to the latter on record; but live, they were captivating from the first note; tight, loud and totally in control of every note and vocal harmony. They were nothing less than transcendent.

On Wednesday night, another visit to Lincoln Center for its Out of Doors series. Peru's Susana Baca was a worthy headliner, but I particularly loved the cool paranda groove of Aurelio Martinez, from Honduras. He and his band joined Ms. Baca for the finale, and it looked and sounded like this.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

One To Go

The Senate Democratic leadership has quickly signed off on Genting, and that's no surprise to me, as you know if you've been following the action here.

“Nothing is more important than creating jobs. The acceptance of Genting puts New York on the fast track to rebuild our local and state economy through sound economic development and immediate and long-term job creation,” said Senate Majority Conference Leader John L. Sampson.
Of course, Sampson wasn't so concerned about jobs when he was holding out for AEG, which I think will be quite clear once the Inspector General's probe into the fiasco is completed. I am SO looking forward to that, and I expect that the Governor's testimony will be particularly candid and revealing.

So, the ball is in the court of the Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver....and what else is new? Silver drove the agenda with AEG, insisting that it raise its bid and subject itself to scrutiny and licensing requirements that ultimately led to its demise. Good thing too, or so it seems, given the fact that Genting is in another galaxy from AEG in terms of experience and finances. In fact, Governor Paterson's decision to once again rebid the project - subject to near-universal derision at the time - has netted the state an extra $80 million and a fresh proposal that had Lottery Director Gordon Medenica, appearing during Monday's presentation to the Senate, remark "Wow, finally a top notch, first class" operator. I'd think that maybe Penn National and Delaware North might take some offense from that remark.

Anyway, it seems unlikely that Silver would hold up the works at this point given the fact that the conditions he set for AEG have been met and surpassed. You never know with the Speaker, and he's certainly in a position to extract some kind of price. He might not sign off this week if just to spite the three Senators who called on him to do so during Monday's presentation. But it seems that the selection saga is finally coming to an end.

Genting spokesperson Jay Walker provided a little more detail on what the company has in mind. For one thing, that fountain in the front? Three stories high, woo hoo! All of the slots will be located on two floors, with the third reserved for "future use." Hmmm, can you guess what they have in mind? No, it's not an expansion of the racing section. Walker spoke about how table games would "enhance the location greatly;" particularly for the 47 million people a year who make their way through JFK, most on their way to somewhere else. What better way to spend a layover than at the blackjack tables a few miles away?

Saratoga Notes

I think that the cards at Saratoga have held up pretty well thus far; that in direct contradiction to the pre-meeting gloom and doom in this corner. The field sizes have been generally good (at least in non-stakes), and the tote has been pretty wide open. So, good job by racing secretary P J Campo, and here's hoping it keeps up through this weekend when the Head Chef and I will be in town.

Two more first-out two-year old winners for Pletcher on Sunday (and a close second, with the green Ginger Snapit on Monday); he has five from 13 such starters. Hysterical Cat ($5.40) was the 11th winner for the rookie sire Bluegrass Cat. The Winstar stallion received some unprecedented hype even before he was retired, and has thus far lived up to his billing. Though he ranks third on the first-year sire list by earnings, he's the leader in the number of winners; his closest pursuers, With Distinction and Pomeroy, have eight at this writing.

Linda Rice is at it again; seven winners from just 20 starters (35%). Her first time starter Higher Desire ($8.90) won Monday's finale; she's a two-year old daughter of the solid NY sire Hook and Ladder, and descends from the classy Canadian family of Classy N Smart/Dance Smartly - Smart Strike, et al.

Ken McPeek is arguably the livest of the trainers from the CD circuit who have shipped in, with a record of 29-5-4-7 (though Dale Romans has a better win percentage at 15-3-2-2). He took the 4th on Monday with Bigshot, a three-year old from the first crop of Limehouse, standing for $10,000, down from $17,500, at Vinery. Bigshot is from the distaff family of a horse from the 70's named Brian Boru; that ring a bell for anyone else? He won the Lexington Handicap, but won only four I must have made some kind of score on him since the name seems so familiar.

On the schneid: Nick Zito - 0 for 19

- Free music at the Lincoln Center Out of Doors series last Friday evening: Hallogallo 2010 is a project led by Michael Rother, a member of the highly influential 70's German bands Kraftwerk and Neu! (exclamation point theirs). Rother was behind a recent release of a Neu! box set; and for this live project, he's recruited bassist Aaron Mullen of Live Furs, and Steve Shelley, the drummer for Sonic Youth. If you're interested, there's more on their music - as well as a stream of the entire Lincoln Center set - at the WNYC website here. It was a pretty great show, and I would describe the music as being 'urgently hypnotic." Have a listen (of the stream especially) and see what you think.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Blame Game

The Whitney, and its aftermath, highlighted the best, and the worst, of thoroughbred racing here in the early 21st century.

First, the good part, which is, of course, the race, and the dramatic and, given the circumstances, unlikely winning rally by Blame to defeat 1-2 favorite Quality Road in the shadow of the wire. Much has already been written about the unusually slow pace set by Quality Road; at 48 flat to the half, he had Durkin noting with a hint of a giggle that it was "a walk in the park" thus far.

Durkin seemed rather complacent about the favorite after that point, and I think he kinda blew the call in that regard. He didn't seem to take the competition seriously, and was blandly matter-of-fact with his midstretch call of "here comes Blame with that stretch run of his on the outside." It was only after that, and after he switched leads, that the track announcer - and the rest of us - realized that Blame was mounting a most serious threat. Blame got the final furlong in 12.17 seconds; final 3/8ths in 36.52 seconds.

But, as Pletcher noted afterwards, it just might be the case that finding himself alone and not pushed on the lead in lazy fractions is actually detrimental to Quality Road.

“He was basically alone on the lead. He’s generally a little more focused when he has a target. There wasn’t anyone eager to take the lead yesterday, so we kind of inherited it. He’s one of those horses that does things so easily, he was kind of waiting on the competition.” [Bloodhorse]
You look at his best races, and he did have a target or was pushed along. He sat second behind lively paces in last year's FOY and Florida Derby, and in this year's Donn; and he was prompted to a 45 first half by Le Grand Cru in the Met Mile. A comparable effort to Saturday's might have been the Hal's Hope earlier this year, when he was merely workmanlike in defeating a very weak field after walking to the first quarter in 25 and change. Just maybe, though Musket Man's trainer Derek Ryan classlessly complained that Ramon Dominguez didn't gun Haynesfield - "Haynesfield was supposed to run with Quality Road. It was in all the papers." [NYDN] C'mon man, are you kidding me? - Ramon Dominguez was doing the rest of the field a favor!

It was also interesting to read Johnny V comment:
"I tried to put him into the bridle but he was just going through the motions, which is strange for him....He ran, but he didn't give me his best race." [Times Union]
Indeed, though Durkin, in deep stretch, was in his exclamatory mode, bellowing about Quality Road "digging in," take a look at the replay. He wasn't. Maybe at the very end when it was too late; but prior to that he was just going through the motions. If you want to see him digging in, take a look at the stretch run in the Met Mile when he was challenged by Musket Man; and that was when he really was tired, having run six furlongs in 1:08 2/5. The Beyer boys would have you believe that Blame jumped up and ran a career best 111; but the Whitney was the only two-turn dirt race of the day; so that's merely a guess. My guess is that Quality Road is likely to get the better of the two under just slightly more favorable (to him) circumstances and at equal weights.

Unfortunately - and here comes the worst of modern day thoroughbred racing - that won't come until the Breeders' Cup Classic...and that only if all goes close to flawlessly for both over the next three months; never a lock in this game in this era as you know. Each will race only once before that time and not against each other - Quality Road in the Woodward (followed by a two month break before the Classic), and Blame in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (a two month break after the Whitney). Folks, these two horses have run a total of seven times in 2010, yet they will both tippytoe into the Breeders' Cup. Afterwards they, and probably the two fillies as well, will likely all be retired from racing. Should the four of them finally meet in the Classic - and I believe that if Rachel Alexandra shows even the slightest indication that a mile and a quarter is beyond her best distance in the Personal Ensign, it won't happen - it will be a huge thrill for us racing fans, and four ships passing in the Kentucky twilight to everyone else. It's just plain depressing, isn't it?

Friday, August 06, 2010

Friday News and Notes

The document detailing the Lottery's recommendation of Genting shed just a little light on the proposals by the losing bidders, and why they were DQ'd.

Both Proposals included alternative versions of the required agreements that included numerous material deviations from the RFP requirements. SL Green’s Proposal contained more than 175 proposed changes, including a refusal to provide interim financing to NYRA as required to implement Chapter 90 of the Laws of 2010....On August 2, 2010, the sealed financial proposals submitted by Penn National and SL Green were opened; Penn National had offered $325 million and SL Green had offered $300 million.
The Laws of 2010 referred to is the one providing the $25 loan which saved NYRA back in May. Genting will now be responsible for making that loan (assuming it is approved by the legislative leaders, apparently in no rush to do so), as well as $2 million per month, as and if needed, up until the time that the racino opens. Both companies lodged protests, but the Lottery denied both protests and declined the protesters’ suggestion to begin a new competition. The Lottery was like its own little fiefdom in this process.

Genting commits to an effort of "integration of gaming and horseracing."
Genting’s proposal for the Festival Commons is an innovative, environmentally sensitive part of the facility design which will allow direct access from the first floor of the casino to the outdoors, thereby integrating the casino experience with horseracing. Genting’s VIP lounge has been designed to overlook the winner’s circle, which provides further integration between the casino and horseracing.
Well, in reality and based on experience thus far, I think we can forget about much in the way of such integration. It will take more than a view of the winner's circle to get the slot zombies to pay attention; and besides, there will be no racing at night when the crowds will be the largest (unless they institute nighttime, one-mile track harness racing once the Meadowlands closes), not to mention the six months they're racing elsewhere.

- Three winners from three starters for trainer Chad Brown on Wednesday; he now has nine winners from 20 starters after two unsuccessful attempts on Thursday. He'd lost his last five in a row prior, four of those at 5-2 or less. I like to follow hot trainers, but hot streaks eventually get to a point at which I start to go against, for reasons related to both percentages and value.

That obviously would not have worked on Wednesday. Amongst the winners was another first-timer, his 4th such winner of the meet. Silver Medallion, sent off at his 7-2 morning line from the nine post, was solidly four wide throughout most of the first turn. If I had bet him, I'd be thinking he was done, and waited for the inevitable fade, even if not until midstretch. But this one took off 4th going into the second turn and was four wide again turning for home and moving towards the lead. Then he held off favored (also at 7-2, bet down from 8-1 ML for Weaver) Forum, who was also wide both turns, but at least a path inside of the winner. Pretty remarkable effort, even though the Beyer came back as only a 64 on a course rated good.

Silver Medallion is from the first crop of Badge of Silver, standing at Airdrie for $10,000, a fee which might seem risky despite its modest level given the fact that the sire managed only 16 starts over five racing seasons. He does however have a healthy first crop of 102 horses, at least six of whom have won thus far; he's ranked 10th on the rookie sire list (by earnings). Silver Medallion is out of a winless mare by Stalwart (Hoist the Flag), and he's a half-brother to the G1 grassy stakes winner Sweet Talker.

But it's a more familiar name on top of the trainer standings; two first-out 2 yo winners for Pletcher on Thursday gives him ten winners, from 37 starters (also a meet-leading figure). Skylord ($5.20) is by Sky Mesa, out of a Marquetry mare, is a half-brother to the grassy stakes winner Najran; and this is also the distaff family of the good NY turf runner Certifiably Crazy. So watch for this one on the grass. And Maple Forest ($20, and one of three winners on the day for Discreet Picks) is by Forestry, out of a mare by American Chance (Cure the Blues).

- Free music at the Lincoln Center Out of Doors series on Wednesday night; and while I went mostly to see Q Tip perform with the Robert Glasper Experiment, it was the Asphalt Orchestra which stole the show for me. Borrowing from a quote on their website, they are "part parade spectacle, part halftime show and part cutting-edge contemporary music concert." You get the idea?

They performed original pieces by Yoko Ono, and by David Byrne.....who were both there to admire their own work!

It's a great time, and the Asphalt Orchestra will be doing free performances in and around Lincoln Center all weekend, this evening at 7, and Saturday and Sunday at 6. Definitely check them out if you're hanging around the city.

And the topic of Zenyatta's upcoming racing plans is the subject of the day for the Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance; check out the home site for links to the various posts. I discussed the subject in this post earlier in the week.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Genting Gets It

WOO HOO, a fountain! Now that's what I'm talking about! Can't you imagine pulling up on the A train and seeing that?

Hey, look, isn't that the Big A paddock!? What are they suspending that chandelier from? Durkin's booth? Are those guys actually standing on top of the bar and singing? Are they Hanson? And why are those two women looking back warily at the man in the lower right corner? Has he been sent here to tell them, and us, something?

It was a walkover for Genting, and we're only waiting for the three stewards up in the booth in the state capitol to make it official. The governor had already agreed to go along submissively with whoever the Lottery chose; Senator Sampson wouldn't dare say a word; and Genting's offer, with its whopping $380 million upfront, and the scrutiny of it and the company by the Lottery would appear to conform to Speaker Sheldon Silver's conditions, unless he's changed his mind since he established the rules that eventually sunk AEG.

So it's time for the Big A - the only racetrack in New York City proper - to get its long awaited facelift. Seriously, I don't think I can take another winter in that place in the condition it's in now. And if slots are only an artificial means of propping up a dying sport and the fatally flawed business model that is racing in New York State; and if the gambling bubble in the Northeast is already well on its way to its eventual bursting; and if some of the unfortunate weak-willed amongst us will succumb to the temptations and disease of compulsive be it (he says coldly). The fact is that we're way too far gone to turn back now, and only when the frenzy is past, and the states and the racing industry are picking up the oversaturated pieces and wondering where to turn next, will we all realize the sheer folly of balancing budgets and basing the survival of an industry on an endeavor as utterly vapid and dehumanizing as slot machines. But until then....

Genting claims that it can turn on the spigot in six months after final approval. But even the Lottery, as ebullient as it was in its recommendation, seemed to have doubts about that.

Although Genting has provided a very detailed timeline, the six month start-up proposed may be overly ambitious due to any number of unanticipated issues which could arise during construction. Genting has the resources, experience, and management teams to overcome many of these, and has already announced a cooperative labor understanding. Nevertheless, even with highly experienced and seasoned prime contractors, issues could arise during construction which may cause delays – such as regulatory issues, SEQRA or even weather.
Nonetheless, Genting promises than just six months following the first round of 1600 machines will come the full complement of 4,525 VLTs, a 2,100-space parking garage, and a new pedestrian bridge to the Aqueduct subway station, and a final phase with completion of abatement activities and construction of a new porte cochere.

What's a porte cochere? Is that the fountain?

Being Fair (Trying)

The stud plans for Eskendereya were announced; and it would seem as if Ahmed Zayat might have done quite well when he sold off a majority share to Jess Jackson. (Scroll to the bottom of this Bloodhorse article for an educated guess as to how much he got.) "Eskendereya was widely considered to be the best of his generation," Jackson said in a statement.

That's questionable on its face considering that a) he was beaten by Lookin At Lucky the only time they met; and b) the list of horses who he beat have turned out to be third stringers in a crop of highly dubious quality. Jackson Bend - Aikinite - Pleasant Price - Ice Box trailed him in the Fountain of Youth; Jackson Bend - Awesome Act - Schoolyard Dreams in the Wood. Aikinite won an entry level allowance at Belmont; have any of these others won a race? Based on that, I don't know that you could conclusively say he was much, if any, better than Trappe Shot, no less Lookin At Lucky. If I were Jackson, I'd be rounding up mares before he loses any more luster.

Even pedigree-wise, he doesn't look overly impressive on paper. Giant's Causeway out of a Seattle Slew mare sounds nice, but, aside from being a half brother to the grassy stakes winner Balmont, there ain't much on the catalog page, at least through the first three dams. On the other hand though, some interesting names deeper in the breeding as I wrote about here. And his inbreeding to Northern Dancer, Bold Ruler, and Hail to Reason, combined with a lack of Mr. Prospector, could make him attractive to a variety of mare owners for a variety of reasons. For one example, check out the hypo-mating with Zenyatta if you have the means.

- The hyperkinetic marketing department at NYRA continued their steady diet of press releases with ten on Monday. Just a so-so weekend of attendance (though a highly successful twilight card on Friday....a bigger crowd than on Sunday in fact); attendance was down 11% compared to the first full week last year. But the cards have held up well, as NYRA emphasized.

“The racing has been very exciting and competitive to date and we’ve already seen some sparkling two-year-old and stakes performances,” said NYRA President and CEO Charles Hayward . “These initial attendance and handle comparisons are skewed by various factors including the earlier July start, a rainy opening day, and last year’s huge first Saturday which was one of the largest crowds ever for a non-Travers/non-giveaway day.
NYRA claimed that the crowd figures are "consistent with preliminary predictions." We were also alerted to the fact that RACHEL ALEXANDRA BREEZES AT SPA FOR PERSONAL ENSIGN. And here we go again. We'll be hearing a lot about the filly leading up to the Personal Ensign I'm sure. If we're really lucky, Rachel's Sandbox will be reactivated.....oh man.

You'd think that NYRA would have learned from its wasted efforts with Curlin that there's no long term, and not much short term, benefit from putting forth such effort to promote the appearance of a single horse. Besides, Rachel is toast now anyway. There was a window of opportunity last year; she gained some mainstream recognition for winning the Preakness and, to a lesser extent, the Haskell and the Woodward, and there was enough buzz so that a matchup with Zenyatta in the Breeders' Cup could have attracted interest if ESPN really cared to do so. Forget about it now; even if they do finally meet in the Breeders' Cup, no one outside of our world is going to give a rat's ass given how nondescript and under the radar (as in, untelevised) as the campaign for each has been. You can't create a rivalry just by saying there is one; there has to be a history and a narrative, and right now we have neither.

As you may know if you've been here before, I've been all over Jess Jackson for his ducking of Zenyatta. But let's be fair here. For once. Jackson has declared where Rachel is going to be, and there's no obvious reason I see why Zenyatta couldn't be there too. I mean, they don't really even want to run at Del Mar from what I've read. I've given Zenyatta's connections the benefit of the doubt considering the importance to her legacy of her retiring undefeated, and their willingness to face Rachel at Oaklawn. And no doubt that Jerry Moss would have to swallow some pride in conforming to Rachel's schedule. But c'mon; the fact is that the race date doesn't conflict with any of Zenyatta's goals, and the distance is actually in her favor. So if he really had the best interests of the game in mind over his own ego and self-interest, he'd be at the Spa with his great mare on August 29.

Besides, if Zenyatta did come, Jackson would probably find a reason to duck her again anyway. (Well, I tried.)

Monday, August 02, 2010

Lookin at the Travers

Lookin at Lucky is clearly the top three-year old after the Haskell, in which he dominated despite being intentionally floated three wide on the first turn, and positioned similarly wide on the final turn as he unleashed a powerful sweep around Super Saver towards the lead. The Derby and Preakness winners hooked up briefly turning for home; but watch on the replay how Borel was in a full drive, as Garcia was just cruising on Baffert's colt. Once he switched leads, he rebroke and was gone in a final eighth of 12.55; and a preliminary Beyer of 105.

Baffert was noncommittal on the Travers; but interesting that he told the Racing Post:

"We'd been waiting for a coming out party....But when he gets on dirt he's a totally different horse. He was just floating over this stuff."
He also told Bloodhorse:
"Martin was still sitting, but when he pushed the button, the horse really took off. You can’t make that move on synthetic, but on dirt it was the winning move. That’s really what I like to see -- running fast horses on fast tracks.
Sure sounds like he'd prefer to keep this colt out east, doesn't it? The Pacific Classic, for three year olds and up, is scheduled for Del Mar on the same day as the Travers, four weeks hence. but I'd have to believe that we'll see him upstate.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Saratoga Notes

John Velazquez stole the state-bred William B Fasig Stakes with a first half in 48 2/5 on Exclusive Scheme ($52.50), more than two seconds quicker than the other, and far cheaper, races run on the inner turf course later in the day. After reaching the three quarters in 1:13 1/5, this four-year old daughter of the late Saarland, who died in disgrace shortly after being retired due to his shooting blanks at stud, sped home in splits of 22.90 and 5.87 and held off favored Chestoria. That's the way you win horse races, son! This may have been the first stakes winner for the sire, but without a Dead Stallion Register we can't be sure. The beaten favorite had a bit of traffic in the stretch, but the loquacious chart-caller currently on duty at the Spa noted that she lost little if any momentum. Just some great race riding by Johnny V.

Hot horse of the meet: First time starter Admiral Alex, 10-1 in the morning line, opened at 6-5, and drifted only slightly, going off as the 5-2 second choice in the nine furlong race. Three-year old son of Afleet Alex was restless in the gate and was caught 3-4 wide going into the first turn, 3 wide into the final one; but no problem. After taking over midstretch, Kent D at one point cocked the whip, but saw it was unneeded after taking a peek back. OK, he gave him a tap anyway, but hand rode him to the wire. The veteran Leon Blusiewicz was listed as the trainer, and it was his first and only starter of the year according to the Form. Some interesting bloodlines too; Admiral Alex is inbred 4x4 to Nureyev; he's a half to the good turf horse Woodlander, and this is the distaff family of the Belmont winner Go And Go, the Melbourne Cup winner Media Puzzle, 2000 Guineas winner Refuse to Bend, and the multiple graded stakes winner Twilight Agenda. So definitely some turf and distance pedigree here.

Caberneigh ($7.80) won the fifth for trainer Thomas Proctor, and this barn is now three-for-six at the meeting (he was also a close pace-compromised third with You Go West Girl in the first). The son of E Dubai was taken for the optional 50K claiming tag by owner/trainer Merrill Scherer

Sixth race winner Settle for Medal, 6-1 morning line after a bad start in his debut, paid a whopping $45.20! Not bad for a colt whose half-sister, Mani Bhavan, won the Spinaway and Adirondack over the same track in 2008.

Funny, after the Times published a column by Joe Drape on Saturday entitled 3-Year-Olds Can Inject Life Into a Dull Season, one might think they'd devote more than three short lines in an AP summary to the Jim Dandy on Sunday. I guess Drape must be at Monmouth along with the far stronger lineup for the Haskell. Who knows - A Little Warm ($10.20) shows the kind of improving form that could make him, along with Trappe Shot after he wins the Haskell today, one of those three-year olds referred to in the Times story referenced above. "To achieve a race like this is overwhelming, it's bigger than life," said trainer Anthony Dutrow. Jeez, what will he say if he goes on to win the Travers? This is a son of Stormin Fever, out of Minidar, a stakes winning Alydar mare whose a half to the graded stakes winning Colonial Minstrel; and this is the distaff family of the ill-fated champion Saint Liam (they have the same third dam).

- Free music at Prospect Park in Brooklyn last night, and wow, what a show by Sonic Youth. When I saw them earlier this year, they were touring in support of The Eternal, their latest album, and played songs nearly exclusively from that record. But on Saturday, they played all older stuff - practically all of their classic Daydream Nation, plus songs from Evol (Expressway to Yr Skull, Shadow of a Doubt), Sister (Catholic Block, Stereo Sanctity, White Cross) and even Shaking Hell from their very first album, Confusion is Sex - and they just ripped and roared through every one.

Lincoln Center's free Out of Doors series is underway, and on Wednesday, we saw the eclectic string quartet Ethel. They brought along some friends too, including Argentina's enchanting Juana Molina, as well as the immortal Tom Verlaine. With the latter, the ensemble performed a stunning version of the Television classic Prove It that nearly had me in tears, as unexpectedly sublime and ravishing as it was. Wow.

Also greatly enjoyed Canada's Chad Vangaalen at the Seaport (for free, of course) on Friday night. Was not previously too familiar with his music, but y'know, that's the beauty of these free shows. You don't have to be all that picky, and you never know what you'll find. This evening, as many of you will be preparing for the Haskell, which I'll have to watch on tape, we'll be back off to Lincoln Center for a totally bizarro bill of the multi-talented Melvin Van Peebles, New York Doll David Johansen (yes, Looney himself!), and Sandra Bernhard! Don't ask me. Time Out New York described the bill as "three New York loudmouths," and that's good enough for me! Best of luck no matter what you have planned, and have a great day!