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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The End To Come Swiftly

“It will be a real blow to the racing industry....I believe it’s important that we resolve this issue.” []
And with that, we hear the first words of any kind from Governor-elect Andrew Cuomo regarding our favorite game. Even in his detailed 252-page manifesto released in conjunction with his official entry into the race, the topic did not get a single mention, as I reported at the time. But the governor-to-be apparently does at least seem to know that the industry exists. Surely he's happy that he apparently won't have to deal with the situation one way or another.

Cuomo's comment comes of course in reaction to the Senate's failure to take up the bill (which was passed on Tuesday by the Assembly), and the subsequent announcement by NYC OTB that it will close after Friday.
"Without the passage of the bill we run out of cash very quickly and we will have no alternative but to cease all operations," said Greg Rayburn, CEO of New York City OTB, in a memo to workers.

Rayburn said he still hopes the Senate will pass the measure, "but at the same time we have to plan for the worst." [NY Post]
Senate Democratic spokesman Austin Shafran, whose protestations have become lamer and whinier as his party fades into the minority, tried to blame it on the governor, claiming that Paterson "did not provide lawmakers with enough information to act in a timely fashion." Of course, the fundamentals of the plan have been common knowledge for some time, and the Senate resisted Paterson's calls for a special session earlier in the month. So Shafran, who also blamed the outgoing governor for the inaction on the deficit, is full of it, again. (His comments regarding the Senate Democrats' financial woes are particularly amusing.)

Don't get me wrong; I shed no tears for NYC OTB, which cannibalized the local sport, and is responsible in a significant way for the state of the industry here, all while creating cushy patronage jobs for people who ran the operation into the ground. I have an extremely limited and tepid amount of nostalgia for nights spent in the Forest Hills OTB parlor on Queens Blvd. But the shame is that surely its well-deserved demise could have been orchestrated in a more thoughtful, deliberate, and constructive manner, and with the goal of consolidating the industry state-wide. Whatsmore, I just don't see anyone whatsoever who will be better off come Saturday if the closure comes to pass.

It will be fascinating to see exactly what happens if the parlors indeed go dark. An interesting social experiment if nothing else. With their familiar neighborhood parlors closed down, what will the regulars do? Hop on the A train to the Big A? Retreat to the comfort of their homes, watch and wager on TV or online? Volunteer at a nearby soup kitchen? Attend a matinee performance of La Cage?


The New York State Senate didn't address the OTB bill....nor the deficit.
The Senate declined to even consider the OTB plan; with no support expected from the Republicans and its own conference ambivalent, it had no chance. There's a report that the Assembly may take it up regardless, but, without the Senate, it would just be for show.

As usual, we heard the 'b' word bandied about. Crying bailout seems to be a convenient way to summarily dismiss complex matters regarding the horse racing industry that people either can't, or won't, take the time to try and comprehend. Clearly there were aspects of the bill that reeked of special interest or were unfair to certain segments of the industry. But it surely involved no money to bail out anyone. Once again whipping out my slightly outdated 2007 report by the Senate Racing, Gaming, and Wagering Committee, in 2006, NYC OTB paid nearly $15 million to the state in taxes and fees. We can presume those numbers are lower now. But however much less they may be, it's still that much more than zero, which is what the state will receive if Greg Rayburn is true to his word to shut down.

And, NYC OTB paid out over $100,000,000 to the "racing industry" that year. That number, already surely less, was to be slashed as part of the reorganization. Still, there's a lot of money that would cease to be. I guess that's why OTB is throwing around numbers like 40,000 to 70,000 in predicting how many jobs may be lost, despite the fact that they themselves would be laying off "only" around 1,000.

Sure, some of the lost business will be recovered through on-track wagering (if people can still find the tracks) and, NYRA sure hopes, the NYRA Rewards ADW platform. But NYRA will be competing for customers with out-of-state competitors, and is hamstrung in that endeavor by the state's archaic laws which prohibit it from streaming live racing signals online. The blame always comes back to Albany.

Still, NYRA will be in far better shape than Yonkers, which has no ADW of their own. The harness guys preferred to see NYCOTB defunct then see the plan pass as it was, and it remains to be seen if they let their emotions over the obvious inequities in the plan triumph over swallowing hard, eating the losses, and settling for less, as the thoroughbred horsemen (not facing a loss of racing dates) were willing to do. They figured they weren't getting paid now anyway, but they would have been paid something had OTB been permitted to reorganize. Whether business gained through alternate outlets and any wagering platform they are able to establish (not to mention from the possible demise of the sport in NJ) is enough to compensate remains to be seen.

- You'll be happy to know that the Senate Democrats did however manage to re-elect Senator John Sampson as their conference leader. I guess that the Inspector General's report on the AEG selection isn't on the reading lists of NY Senate Democrats. Maybe if he's indicted, someone will notice? And they wonder why they apparently lost their majority status in the election. Presumably, the Republican majority will see to it that appropriate hearings on the matter are convened.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Monday Morning Notes

Too bad I didn't have time to preview the Cigar Mile, which was a fascinating betting race. At least of course before many of the main contenders put in disappointing performances - particularly Musket Man, who received strong support at the betting windows - and Jersey Town upset the field at 35-1, earning a sparkling Beyer of 110. I must say though, that this horse wasn't that much of a surprise to me. No redboarding here, I'll show you my Pick Three ticket (which ended in disappointment when neither of my two horses in the 10th cracked the top three). Four-year old son of Speightstown was making his third start since returning to the care of Barclay Tagg, and was coming off a career best effort in the Bold Ruler, in which he was beaten less than two lengths by Bribon, who was sent off as the favorite. I thought that his true value was far closer to his 12-1 morning line, and was surprised at his odds. It surely wouldn't have killed me to back that opinion with a lousy two dollar win bet!

Jersey Town is out of the G1 (Mother Goose) winner Jersey Gal, and this is the distaff family of the 2005 Cigar Mile winner, Purge (whose third dam is the second dam of Jersey Town).

The Remsen and Demoiselle were each scratched down to five horse fields and uncompetitive wire-to-wire results. These races are surely not what they used to be - generally wide open stakes filled with juveniles already with ample two-turn experience against winners. Dixie City won easily despite barely seeming to make it to the wire herself; and To Honor And Serve was never threatened at 3-5, earning a Beyer of 102. This is a son of Bernardini, out of a stakes-winning Deputy Minister mare who is a half-sister to the multiple graded stakes winning India.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Black Monday

Hope everyone had a fun and safe holiday weekend!

On the top of the agenda for Monday's special session of the New York State Legislature is this:

enacting a plan to provide for adequate savings and implementation of other measures to allow for the continued operation of the New York City Off-Track Betting Corporation;
The apparent lame duck Senate Democratic Majority will need all of their 32 members present in order to pass any legislation without unlikely help from the Republicans, and it's unclear if that will be the case, or if some will instead brood over their impending descent into the minority. It's also unclear what legislation will be taken up at all. "I think anything we take up should have a sense of urgency to it," [Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb] said. [] So, in an attempt to make sure the lawmakers sense urgency on the matter, OTB president Greg Rayburn roused state capital reporters from their Sunday off with a teleconference to emphasize the fact that NYC OTB will close in December should the bill fail. And with dire consequences.
Rayburn warned that closure would put the state on the hook for roughly half a billion in employee medical benefits and pension costs. In addition to the job losses directly resulting from a shutdown, the ripple effects from the loss of business to the racing industry would have ripple effects around the state and elsewhere. Rayburn said the total number of lost jobs could range from 40,000 to 70,000. [Capitol Confidential]
I've detailed the harness horsemen's objections to the plan. Their argument seems to have caught the ear of at least one influential legislator.
Assembly Racing and Wagering Committee chairman Gary Pretlow said the latest threat to close OTB is likely more real than past claims--including only a year ago by the former NYCOTB chairman. He said he has a number of concerns about the bill and what he called its "extraneous items," such as reducing the number of race dates at Monticello racetrack.
“What happened is because Rayburn wanted unanimity on everything (from the creditors committee), people stuck their noses in to benefit themselves at the expense of other entities," said Pretlow, who believes some of the concerns can be addressed by amending the Paterson-proposed bill. []
That last statement may be a reference to Jeff Gural, the owner of Tioga and Vernon Downs who is on the creditors committee by virtue of being the landlord of several buildings that lease space to OTB. The harness horsemen filed a formal objection to the plan in Bankruptcy Court last week.
They are asking state lawmakers to hold off on approving the governor’s proposed OTB bailout, which he calls “bordering on scandalous.”

[Standardbred Owners Association of New York president Joe Faraldo] said OTB owes Yonkers Raceway $22 million, 52 percent of which belongs to the horsemen. At Monticello Casino and Raceway, he said OTB owes $7 million, half of which is owed to the horsemen. But, in both cases, he said the raceways traded off the entire debt with OTB for an interest in an advanced deposit wagering system.

He also said under the governor’s plan, Monticello’s racing dates would be cut by 30 percent, and that “stinks to high heaven,” said Faraldo. [Mid-Hudson News]
As I've noted, the thoroughbred horsemen, with slots revenue (presumably still) on the way, are willing to take the hit and support OTB's plan.

A lot is at stake here, and the racing industry in this state will not be quite the same, no matter the result. Should the bill not be passed, the fallout will being immediately. Unlike Sandy Frucher's ultimately empty closure threat, I don't think these guys are joking around.
Closure notices will start going out Nov. 30 to the nearly 1,000 OTB employees, Schwartz said, if the legislature does not approve the bailout plan during the Nov. 29 special session. []

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Apart is the 7-2 favorite in the Clark Handicap at Churchill on Friday. Being trained by Albert Stall as he is (and trying to replicate the success of Blame in winning this race as a three-year old as a springboard to stardom at four), one can get a peek at the past performance chart of Blame by using the trainer patterns tool in Formulator. We don't always see - at least without some effort - the past performance lines after a horse is retired. In the case of Blame, his Classic line comprises the final stroke of an impressive body of work. Eight wins and never out of the money in 12 career starts; triple-digit Beyers in his last nine, including a 111 in the Classic, which tied his career high. And four wins in five starts, at as many racetracks, in what should be his championship season. I was a Zenyatta supporter as you know, and it may very well be that she was the best horse on Breeders' Cup day. But Blame won the year's climactic showdown fair and square, and is Horse of the Year hands down in my opinion.

Apart has won three in a row, though he hasn't beaten much. The Super Derby has not come back strong; 4th place finisher Golden Moka was an awful favorite in the Discovery (not red-boarding, he wasn't among my top three picks). And he beat just four foes, including the sluggish Jackson Bend, in winning the Ack Ack.

However, this field ain't so hot either...and we seem to be saying that about more and more Grade 1's these days. This one at least has a couple of actual Grade 1 winners; though Stately Victor's was on Polytrack, Brass Hat's in the slop. Apart is improving for a hot trainer (6 for 10 at the meet going into Wednesday), has his main man Garrett Gomez aboard, and has handy tactical speed which could put him in good position behind prospective pace setters Redding Colliery and Regal Ransom. I think he'd surely be worth a bet as second choice to morning line favorite Successful Dan, who flashes some gaudy Beyers in his last two on the Keeneland Poly. (I know, he was two-for-two over this track in the spring of last year). Throw out the last for Giant Oak (15-1); son of Giant's Causeway shows two sharp efforts prior. And though he hasn't won in a while and his optimal distance is probably somewhere between this race and the BC Marathon, he could add some value at the bottom of exotic wagers here.

It's the usual early Thanksgiving post time at the Big A, and I'm hoping to make it out for a few races before heading to family dinner, and then ending up sitting in the rain at the Meadowlands for the Jets game. Here's wishing all of you a happy and safe holiday!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Compact Casino

Governor Paterson formally announced the compact with the Wisconsin-based Stockbridge-Munsee tribe, which will give up its claim on 23,000 acres in exchange for a 300-acre parcel in Sullivan County on which it plans to build a casino.

Tribe officials said once the casino and resort is built in Sullivan County, it would be the largest employer in the county, creating an estimated 4,600 jobs. It has an estimated economic impact of $715 million annually.

The construction of the casino is expected to create about 8,100 jobs. [Ithaca Journal]
Additionally, in an attempt to appease the nearby, and imperiled, Monticello racetrack and racino, he pledged $100 million to "help them with their expansion.”
He did not elaborate; the state is facing a $9 billion deficit, so it remains uncertain how – financially and politically – the state could provide funds to Monticello. []
Governor-elect Andrew Cuomo said that the current governor is "on firm legal ground in what he's doing."
"We don't anticipate any legal challenges." [Daily Politics]
I think that the governor-elect may be the only person in the state who actually believes that (if he really does). The Oneida Nation, which has competing land claims with the Stockbridge-Munsee tribe, promised to "be seriously involved in opposing this deal at all levels."

And environmental groups are certain to file suit. One of those is the National Resources Defense Council. I quoted that group's New York director yesterday saying that the project faced long odds. His opinion on the topic is obvious, but still, his more detailed explanation of the hurdles that the plan faces is interesting reading and worth stealing reproducing here.
First, the casino still requires a full environmental review under federal law to assess the heavy traffic, air and water pollution, as well as the destruction of the beautiful landscape, that this proposal would bring. Second, the federal Interior Department would have to agree to take the land into “federal trust” and approve gambling at this Catskills site – even though it rejected essentially the same proposal at the same Neversink River site three years ago, and there’s no indication that the Interior Department has changed its position. And third, because the deal settles outstanding land claims against New York State, it would need to get separate approval by Congress, federal officials and the New York State Legislature – hardly an easy task. [Switchboard - NRDC staff blog]
Genting continues to be apoplectic about the plan.
"We are extremely concerned about the massive loss in VLT [video lottery terminal] revenue to the state that would result from the proposed Stockbridge-Munsee project, and its negative effect on our ability to further invest to create more jobs," said Stefan Friedman, a spokesman for Genting's Resorts World. [NY Post]
I do wonder however if Genting's worry really is Aqueduct as much as Monticello, in which it holds a major share. They're not going to get nearly as much leverage complaining about that track as they would about their highly-publicized and long-awaited racino at the Big A. Tom Precious reported in his piece:
State officials insisted there is plenty of room for competition between the planned Catskills facility and New York racetrack-based casinos.
And, considering the resilience of slots-only business at Yonkers amidst recession and competition from already-existing full-blown casinos not all that much further away than Sullivan County, do you think that may be true?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Monday Morning News and Notes

Of course, not everyone is upset about the proposed Stockbridge-Munsee casino in Sullivan County in the Catskills region. Local officials and residents have been trying to get a casino to revive the region's fortunes for many years now.

State Senator John Bonacic said the project would be idea for Sullivan County. “This is the best way for job creation, private sector money, we don’t need any stimulus money to increase tourism and job creation if we do get the Stockbridge casino,” he said. Bonacic also said he would ask Schumer to use “all of his influence to push this project.” [Mid-Hudson News.]
Senator Schumer is said to have lobbied Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to change the federal policy requiring its approval for off-reservation casinos. Probably why Marian Ilitch and Michael Malik, the financial backers of the Shinnecock tribe, contributed to the Senator's re-election campaign this year (as well as that of Senator Gillibrand). But this is surely not what they had in mind.

Of course, the local support in Sullivan County surely does not include the horsemen at the already struggling Monticello Casino and Raceway. In a statement, the Monticello horsemen note:
Interestingly, while this operation would include not only slot machines but also table games, the tax rate would be quite small in relation to what the racinos and their horsemen presently pay to the State. Worse yet, the competition from such an undertaxed operation would stifle the growth of, and investment in, the gaming and entertainment industries created under the carefully crafted video lottery terminal program; a program that is as closely regulated by the State as it is heavily taxed.
In other words, Monticello is surely toast should this casino open in Bridgeville, just a few miles away.

- In the 5th at the Big A on Sunday, Chad Brown once again had the favorite with a first-time starter in a two-year old turf race. Unlike with Yankee Kitten on Saturday though, the rally by 2-1 Walker's Landing fell short; in part, because of his racing greenly, as he lugged in repeatedly throughout the stretch drive, with the rider engaging in a constant state of tug of war to maintain a truer course. Tag V Eye ($51), after bravely ignoring the lugging antics being displayed by Walker's Landing, held on to win in his first start, for trainer John Terranova. And there were some pedigree clues to suggest that this longshot son of the late Hennessy would like the grass. He's out of a Stravinsky mare who's a half-sister to the multiple graded turf stakes winner Mystic Lady; and he hails from the distaff family of the Saratoga favorite Fourstars Allstar (whose dam is the third dam of Tag V Eye).

Fourstars Allstar won 13 times in his 58 starts; but, as I've said, sometimes a horse amply demonstrates its greatness in defeat. Check out this race (no embedding unfortunately), the Caesars International at Atlantic City in 1994. And check out the post-race coverage on CBS; you might be surprised at who is interviewing Mike Smith, the rider of the great turf champion, and two-time BC Mile winner, Lure, in the winner's circle.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Coming Soon (Still, We Hope)

Well, it's still coming soon according to the signs, despite the unhappiness, and even hesitation, expressed by Genting in reaction to Governor Paterson's Catskills casino plans. The outgoing governor is scheduled to be in Monticello - along with Senator Chuck Schumer - for an official announcement of a deal with the Wisconsin-based Stockbridge-Munsee tribe.

And now we finally hear from the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association. Having acquiesced in the matter of the NYCOTB reorganization plan which could have adverse effects on their standardbred brethren, now they see their own interests threatened. So they've called on Paterson to postpone the announcement.

"I am writing to express our frustration and disbelief that your office has been in negotiations with the SMMN to establish a full-blown casino in Sullivan County, as the ink has barely dried on the Genting/Aqueduct racino project."
Even should the governor proceed however, the project still faces an uncertain future.
"If I were a betting man, I wouldn't booking any reservations at this casino anytime soon," said Mark Izeman, the director of the [National Resource Defense Council's] New York program. [Herald Record]
Besides the strong environmental challenges that will be put forth by that and other groups, the project faces court challenges from other tribes - particularly the Oneida tribe, which has a competing land claim - and still requires the approval of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

So, for now, (as far as we know!), the plans at the Big A proceed, as I discovered on Saturday, my first day at the meet.

No, no slots yet, but NYRA hosted a group of subcontractors on this day.

Well, when I walk into the Garden these days, I see signs about asbestos abatement, so what's a little dust and droppings?

There's surely some short-term pain for the long-term gain at this meeting. The seating area on the third floor grandstand - the best view in the house - is now blocked off.

And I was quite surprised to see the Lexington Room on the second floor closed off to all but Authorized Personnel. I'd spent less time there over the last few years after they changed the seating arrangement, but that was my main hangout for quite some time; many a winter evening after the live racing was done. I saw regulars whose faces have grown well familiar over that time scattered into the adjoining Man O War room and up on the Equestris level. Hopefully, it will one day be back, far better than before. (Unless Genting is turning it into their office?)

Still, despite the temporary inconveniences, it's nice to be back. 3,935 at Aqueduct seems a whole lot livelier than twice that much at the cavernous Belmont.

- In the 4th, first-time starter Yankee Kitten ($7) was a hot number on the grass for trainer Chad Brown, who has established a bit of a reputation for himself with this kind. This two-year old son of Kitten's Joy was stuck towards the back of the pack as they dawdled up front - a nearly 27-second second quarter as they went to the half in 51.3; three-quarters in 1:17. From there, they sprinted home in 24.5 and six seconds flat for the last sixteenth, during which Yankee Kitten blew by for the win; nice effort. He's out of a Southern Halo mare, and is inbred (4x5) to Hail to Reason, which seems to becoming more popular these days, and 5x5 to Prince John.

In the Discovery, Not Abroad made a menacing move four wide heading for home. But he hung in the stretch; as I feared, probably not his optimal distance. Still, a good run at 7-1, and I ran second and third in the exacta, oh well; a day of close-but-no cigar for me. NY-bred Stormy's Majesty ($9.10) led all the way for the win, his first in open company, for trainer Dominic Galluscio.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Lookin At Gone

Looking at Lucky was sold and retired, and I have nothing to add to Figless' comment here. That means that the top four betting choices in the Classic - the only four entrants that went off at less than 18-1 - are now out of the game. So, since El Angelo points out that the Discovery has produced some decent winners, keep an eye on the result today. It could produce the winter book favorite for next year's Classic. (If the winner is not sold and retired.)

I don't know if Zenyatta is the type to go for younger guys (if she does indeed like men at all), but she and Lookin At Lucky do seem compatible from a pedigree standpoint. The resulting foal would have the inbreeding to Mr. Prospector (3x4) that is so popular these days.

If you look at the Lanes End roster - and again, I don't know that the fact that she'll be residing there means that she'll be shacking up there - I guess that the obvious choice would be AP Indy. No pedigree impediments in that crossing - the foal would be an outcross for the first four generations, and have 5x5 inbreeding to Princequillo. Not a drop of Northern Dancer blood to be found in that mating.

Friday, November 19, 2010


In the Discovery Handicap at the Big A, Not Abroad (4-1) ships in from the mid-Atlantic region to make his first start in New York. This three-year old son of Not For Love has just one win in ten starts this year, and not a layoff line to be seen since he started his busy campaign in May. He's none the worse for wear though, and in fact comes off a career high (and best last-out in the race) Beyer while finishing a length behind Win Willy in an overnight stakes (worth a mere $131,000) at Delaware.

Now, I understand this is a race restricted to three-year olds, but if it wasn't, Win Willy could seriously be 2-5 in this field. Whatsmore, after putting away the pacesetter, Not Abroad gamely held off the Toddster-trained Alma d'Oro, who could very well be the favorite here himself, before succumbing to the winner. Not positive that this is his best distance. But I think he has a distinct class edge which would make him very good value at his morning line odds.

Teaks North (7-2) switched back to dirt and took the Big Brown at Monmouth in his last. Bullet half mile four days before this mimics winning workout pattern before last. Dominant Jeannes (8-1) impressed in his first try against winners and tries two turns.

Pleasantly Perfect is the sire of the last horse mentioned, and he'll be one of the studs that Zenyatta will be able to check out at Lanes End....though, with his fee reduced to $7500 for 2011, he's not likely to get a piece of the action. Who, if any of the stallions based there, will be the one that Zenyatta will be singing this about?

So Long

Zenyatta will be paraded on December 5 at Hollywood Park, where people will gather to clap for a horse. She'll then ship off to her new home at Lanes End Farm in Kentucky, so I guess she'll have to breed on natural dirt. Claire Novak writes on her NTRA blog: And this isn’t good-bye. But it surely is. That's just sappy sentimental shit. So long, see ya.

Maybe someday we will see an offspring of Zenyatta competing for glory, but history suggests that there's a strong chance that we won't. In the meantime, racing has a big void to fill. There are no obvious candidates (and don't tell me Uncle Mo) for the kind of stardom, spilling over into the real world, that this horse achieved.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Genting Caught Off Guard

Governor Paterson's surprise announcement of a deal with a Wisconsin-based tribe to construct and operate a casino (the real kind, with roulette wheels and table games) in the Catskills region has not gone over well with most anyone at least outside of that region, which has desperately been trying to land a casino or three for years.

Particularly so with a particular company which recently handed over $380 million for the rights to build a plain old slots parlor at Aqueduct a bit over 100 miles to the south. And as reader jk suggests, trouble in paradise?

“This decision, and the process that accompanied it,” Mr. Friedman said, “significantly impairs our ability to deliver tax revenue to the state, and it greatly reduces our ability to move forward with a planned $1.3 billion dollar investment to build a world class resort.” [NY Times]
This is the first note of discord or dissatisfaction of any kind we've heard from Genting since they burst onto the scene. But do they really literally mean what they said? I don't know that it really reduces their ability to move forward with investing an amount nearly as much as that to build the new Meadowlands stadium as much as their desire to do so given the potential new competition. And interesting, though hardly surprising, that they would cite the process with equal disdain as the decision.
“We went through a rigorous, comprehensive review and would expect that same level of scrutiny to apply to everyone across the board.” [Albany Times-Union]
Of course, we don't really know what kind of scrutiny the Stockbridge-Munsee tribe underwent because we didn't even know the process was going on.
Blair Horner, legislative director of the New York Public Interest Research Group, said the deal raised eyebrows, particularly coming on the heels of a scandal over bidding for the Aqueduct racino. “The negotiations were conducted in secret,” he said, adding, “The administration should have bent over backwards to have made this process as open as possible.” [NYT]
Albany is surely a place where one does not learn from their mistakes, as we know.

Meanwhile, the governor will try again to have his special session of the legislature, now calling for the chambers to convene on Nov 29. It's possible that the OTB reorganization plan will be considered at that time.

It's also possible, if not highly probable, that the Democratic majority in the Senate will be of the lame duck variety; that with the Republican candidates still leading in two out of the three undeclared election races. Governor-elect Cuomo is calling for the races to be decided, one way or another, by the time the legislature convenes under his purview on January 5. Sounds to me as if the governor-elect has not received the Senate Democrats' talking points, a copy of which I've managed to obtain.
• Our internal analysis shows that Senate Democrats have won the majority.

• We started this election in the majority, we remain in the majority, and we will do everything necessary to protect our victories.
• Once every vote has been tallied, Democrats will have retained the majority.

• We’re raising resources and going to spend whatever it takes to ensure every vote is counted.
Sounds to me as if the Senate Democrats are not going to let anything as trivial as a new governor persuade them to give up the fight. And that fight includes a bid, in the 60th Senate District in upstate Western NY, to have more than 50,000 votes hand counted in Erie County.
Such a route, if the courts ultimately agree, could delay for months a final decision in the contest between [Democrat] Sen. Antoine Thompson and [Democrat turned Republican] Mark Grisanti. [Buffalo News]
Of course, considering that Erie County amazingly voted for Paladino by a wide (57-39) margin, I can't imagine what the Democrats think they could possibly find there, other than a further delay to what may be the inevitable. Or, as the GOP claims:
“These unnecessary delays are designed to give Democrats more time to retire $2.1 million in campaign debt before they go into the minority."

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Nothing Special

Monday was the day that Governor Paterson had planned to convene a special session to deal with, for one thing, a $300 million shortfall in the budget and, perhaps, OTB's plan to reorganize and restructure itself and emerge from bankruptcy. The governor still hopes to convene the preoccupied legislature before the end of the year, which is the deadline Greg Rayburn has given for his OTB to run out of cash and go out of business.

If and when lawmakers do get back together, the proposal's fate seems uncertain, with Assembly Committee on Racing and Wagering Chairman Gary Pretlow skeptical of several provisions, including the one that would lower the minimum racing dates for the harness sport; and opposition from Mayor Bloomberg as well (though the Mayor hasn't had much luck swaying those in Albany).

I've posted before on the harness horsemen's fierce opposition to the measure, and some of us here were wondering where the thoroughbred horsemen stand. So, in playing catch-up after a few weeks of Breeders' Cup stuff, I was interested to read Matt Hegarty report late last month that the NYTHA supports the plan.

“Obviously, there are parts of it that we’re not happy with as horsemen,” Violette said. “There are some things to like and dislike. But the options aren’t nearly as clear-cut as some of the outsiders make it. When you dig really deep into it, you see that there are trade-offs, but OTB had dug such a deep hole, it was going to be painful for everyone to dig out of it.” [DRF]
Of course, they're not having their racing dates cut. One might think there would be a little solidarity amongst horsemen here, but I'm sure that the thoroughbred guys have long been watching the harness guys with slots envy, and are not looking much beyond their own new-found good fortune at this time.

It's the State Senate that is the preoccupied one of the two legislative chambers.
Gov. David Paterson had originally wanted lawmakers back today, but said with three Senate races still up in the air that appeared unlikely. [Politics on the Hudson]
Too busy with politics to bother governing I guess. The three races will determine which party has the majority in the Senate; and that will be the GOP if, amidst the court and ballot challenges, absentee vote counts and possible recounts, they hold on to the leads they currently have in two of the races.

I've read some say that Governor-Elect Andrew Cuomo might actually find it easier to execute his plan to cut spending and take on the unions with a Republican Senate (assuming of course that would-be Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos is not rewarding unions for investing with a company he works for). And that may very well be the case. However, in the video in which the governor-elect announced his candidacy, he articulated an unabashedly progressive agenda, including support for women's right to choose, marriage equality, abolition of the death penalty, "serious ongoing regulation" of Wall Street, global warming as a "real threat to our planet," a cry against discrimination, and the notion that "women still face a glass ceiling that must be shattered." The kind of stuff that could maybe start to get me a little excited about this guy.

Of course, you can forget about that stuff if the Republicans strut back into the Senate majority with their policy of 'no' that has been, temporarily I think and hope, vindicated by the recent national elections. Say what you will about the Senate Democrats, and I certainly have given the corruption, coups, and arrogance we've seen in their brief two year reign which seems likely to disintegrate to, at best, an unprecedented 31-31 tie whose consequences remain to be seen. But they did at least finally roll-back the Rockefeller drug laws, passed no-fault divorce, and at least managed to get gay marriage debated and voted on. You can forget about any progressive reforms under the GOP, who will be too busy redrawing voting districts to bother with anything resembling governance.

- Gotta mention the Jets' dramatic 26-20 OT victory in Cleveland which made them the first team in NFL history to win back-to-back overtime games on the road. So there, I mentioned it. In case you missed it...

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Last Call for Goulash

Took a few days off. Hope you don't mind, and that everyone is doing well.

Saturday's second race winner at the Big A was first-time starter Lauburu ($5.60), a half-brother, by Unbridled's Song, to the champion well as G1 winner Sunriver and the graded winner Saint Stephen. Quite a productive little miss was their dam Goulash, who died last September. So Lauburu will be the last little Goulash that we'll see running around the track.

As for Ashado, you may recall that she was purchased as a broodmare prospect for $9 million by the Sheikh of Dubai in 2005. So, if you think that he only pisses his money away on Derby prospects and failed real-estate projects, you're wrong. As far as I can tell from researching on Pedigree Query, she's yet to produce a winner. Her first foal, a Storm Cat colt named Star Cat, never made it to the races; though he made it to stud, good for him.

It was quite a debut for Lauburu, who took a bobble at the start. He then stalked the pace-setting Five Sigma Event, wore down that stubborn foe in a tough stretch drive, and dug in to just barely last over 22-1 Break Up the Game. The latter was also making his debut, for trainer Shug McGaughey. Break Up the Game also has some impeccable pedigree credentials. He's by Bernardini, currently ranking #3 on the rookie sire list; out of Pennant Champion, a daughter, by Mr. Prospector, out of Personal Ensign, who was far, far more successful in her second career than Ashado. Pennant Champion is of course a half to G1 winners My Flag, Miner's Mark, and Traditionally.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Tuesday Morning Notes

[This post was pulled and edited to correct a stupid error for which I actually had a reasonable explanation but which I won't go into now. So? Sue me!]

Bobby Flay ran Sunday's marathon in just a shade over four hours. That race was run on concrete, as opposed to the turf course on which his juvenile Todd Pletcher-trained daughter of More Than Ready won the BC Juvenile Fillies Turf. More Than Real ($29.20), one of the horses I kicked myself for not having considering that I tabbed Winter Memories as one of the favorites to bet against, is out of a stakes-winning Dehere mare. The Juvenile Turf winner, Pluck ($14.80), also trained by Pletcher and sired by More Than Ready, is out of a mare by Fort Wood, a Sadlers Wells half-brother to the Juvenile winner Timber Country.

This year's Juvenile winner, Uncle Mo, was Pletcher's third winner of the Breeders Cup weekend. The son of Indian Charlie earned a Beyer of 108 for his dominant win. Two turns, no problem; he looked like a winner every single step of the way. Once again, he bounded home with aplomb, getting the last five-sixteenths in 30.66 after a third quarter in 24.41. That seems like an even pace over the last half mile plus. Pletcher said after the race that Uncle Mo runs fast for the entire race....though Randy Moss and Jerry Bailey raised the question of if he can do so at a certain classic distance. But we'll get to that next spring.

Despite the wins, it was a decidedly mixed weekend for the Toddster. The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission is looking into the Life at Ten fiasco now, which is too late as far as the bettors are concerned.

“From the time Life at Ten was brought to the paddock, saddled, led to the track for the post parade, warmed up and loaded into the starting gate, neither trainer Todd Pletcher nor jockey Johnny Velasquez voiced any concerns they may have had regarding Life at Ten to any racing officials, veterinarians or the outriders prior to the running of the Ladies Classic,” the KHRC said in a statement. [Bloodhorse]
Maybe not, but both of them voiced concerns on ESPN before the race to thousands of viewers. One thing that should come out of an inquiry is that the stewards and racing officials keep the TV on.

Whatsmore, Quality Road would have been better off balking at the starting gate this time; he finished last, and I mean dead last. He went off at 6-1, though I don't know who bet him....I don't recall hearing or reading of anyone who liked him. Many of us doubted his ability at the distance, but you also gotta wonder about the two months off before the race. I know he's run well fresh, but the horse seemed in fine fettle this past summer, and hardly one in need of a freshening.

Well, no worries, Quality Road is on to bigger and better things.

Zenyatta and Blame received Beyers of 111.

I wrote about Big Drama a few times, so I guess I should have had a straight win bet in there somewhere! Had him on top in some exactas, and I actually thought I was home at one point. Trevor Denman seemed to single out Warrior's Reward as the horse making the big move, so for a while there, I thought Hamazing Destiny was he, and was yelling for him like a rank amateur. I used him and Supreme Summit, who closed fast and missed the place spot by a head and a neck. Elsewhere in the near miss category was when Gio Ponti, who I didn't like at all, came on to beat The Usual Q.T. out for second behind Goldikova. And of course, there was my cold Zenyatta-Blame exacta. That one was kinda close.

Sunday, November 07, 2010


We had guests over on Saturday evening. All non-racing fans, at least beyond the Kentucky Derby and an occasional day with us at Saratoga (and even one amongst that group expressed surprise that two of this year's Triple Crown races would be run at Churchill Downs). However, I didn't have to tell any of them who Zenyatta was, nor explain that much was at stake.

And, of course, I didn't have to explain the rules of the game, or how horse racing works or anything. It might seem complicated to us, with our Beyers and Moss figures and Sheets and bounces and trips and traps and pace and track bias and sires and dams and workouts and trainer patterns and class drops and so on, and so forth. But to the other 99% of the population, races, whether between horses, humans, dogs, turtles, or whom-or-whatever, are the simplest game in the world. They're off. And, as I've often argued in almost six years of blogging, watching races is nothing less than a human instinct. We stop and watch when kids race down a block, scream our heads off with nothing at stake at a silly animated race on a scoreboard at baseball games. And horse racing, specifically, is part of the American language, and is inexorably ingrained in our culture. (When's the last time that you saw a movie about video lottery terminals?) Enough so that I believe that whatever lies ahead in an assuredly uncertain future, horse racing will always attract enough participants to survive as a viable industry, if only as an occasionally newsworthy sports attraction.

So, other than assuring our guests not to worry when Zenyatta was so very far back at the beginning (and at the same time trying to convince myself of the same), nothing else needed to be said. When Mike Smith, after losing precious time and ground after finding the shortest paths home blocked off, finally set his mare down for her fateful drive towards history, the screaming and shouting and pleading and imploring began. It raised to a desperate crescendo, before crashing to a crestfallen "OH!" when she fell just short. I have no illusions that any of them will be calling me any time soon to ask me to take them to Aqueduct, or to explain how to bet a Pick Four. But I know that they will always vividly remember the dramatic race that we witnessed, recall the courageous mare with heartfelt adoration, and promptly forget the name of the horse who won.

They're lucky in that they won't concern themselves with pondering and debating over how to factor her loss into her legacy, and how she should, or shouldn't, rank with the great horses who have graced the sport in the past. Surely, there have been horses who actually enhanced their legends in defeat. In the case of Zenyatta, the localized nature of her campaign and the questions about the surfaces over which she raced left her with something to prove. So I don't know that her defeat to a very solid, but not great, racehorse in Blame can be said to not have damaged her legacy at all. However, as Randy Moss stated in his eloquent colloquy after the race, her place in history should be diminished 'just a little bit.' And, at least in the case of a dozen people watching the race in Rego Park, Queens, including myself, surely not at all.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

BC Friday: A Tale of Two Tales

The first day of the Breeders' Cup is in the books, and I'll get to the actual races at some point soon. But the two bizarre incidents that book-ended ESPN's coverage - the ones that everyone will be talking about - surely demand attention. One of them will probably have too much made of it; the other couldn't possibly cause enough ado about something.

I don't think you could blame Calvin Borel for being pissed after the Marathon. Javier Castellano might be known as a clean rider as he was described on the broadcast. But there seems little doubt that he was clearly at fault for the near-downing of Martin Garcia aboard Romp, and the resulting contact with A.U. Miner that no doubt cost he and Borel a piece of the purse, if not the whole shebang considering the way he recovered and rallied for 4th. Castellano was rightly disqualified from second to 10th for steering Prince Will I Am out into the path of A.U. Miner to cause the chain reaction.

The scuffle and its aftermath (except the reported continuation of hostilities in the locker room) was caught close up on camera, in large part thanks to Jeanine Edwards' quick reaction in calmly calling for the cameras, and an alert director on the job. In my view, the fisticuffs between the two riders reflect no more poorly on the sport of horse racing than similar physical confrontations in other highly competitive and emotional contact-prone athletic competitions do on theirs.

After the two were broken up, there was one moron who tried to block the closest camera's view; I'd like to know who that guy was and who he works for. Maybe he was Borel's publicist. The crazed ferocity of the jockey's reaction provides the type of image that can overwhelm one's achievements and ultimately define his career, especially in the You Tube age. One example that comes to mind is Juan Marichal, the Hall of Fame pitcher who compiled a remarkable record of 243-142 and struck out over 2,300 batters in his 15 year career. Yet one of the first things that comes to my mind upon his mention is the image of him clubbing John Roseboro over the head with his bat. And you can't even find the video on You Tube.

If Borel was a baseball player and went that mental, you can just guess what people would be thinking. Instead of Calvin Bo-Rail, he'd be referred to as Calvin Bo-Roid. It took several beefy regular-size guys to hold him back. Borel has accomplished plenty enough on the racetrack to be inducted into his sport's Hall of Fame. But I imagine that this incident will always be an integral part of his legacy.

I've watched a lot of horse races on TV in my time, but I surely cannot recall anything comparable to what we witnessed on ESPN prior to - and during - the Ladies Classic. In case you missed it, Jerry Bailey asked John Velazquez during the warm0up how Life at Ten was taking to the Churchill track, and the jockey replied: "Right now I'm not sure, to tell you the truth. She's not warming up the way that she normally does." ESPN may have lucked into that stunning bit of inside info, but credit them for some excellent journalism afterwards. Jay Privman promptly sought out Todd Pletcher, who told him that the mare was "very quiet in the paddock. She was acting a little unusual." (If you have a tape, go to 13 minutes to post and you'll see exactly what the Toddster was talking about. And if you watch for a few minutes beyond that, you'll see that Pletcher was not at all forthcoming about those observations during an interview with Privman as the horses headed to the track.)

Bailey then asked Johnny V again, just a few minutes before post, if there had been any improvement. "Not really," he responded. And sure enough, Life at Ten, sent off as the 7-2 second choice to Blind Luck, showed no interest from the start and quickly lost contact with the field. Amazing, astounding, and not a good thing for the sport, especially as ESPN was touting the virtues of the first major racing event televised in "almost" prime-time.

So, plenty of questions here, all revolving around the main one of why Life at Ten was not scratched. Pletcher told the persistent and professional Privman afterwards that he told his jockey to make sure that she warmed up well....and that Velazquez asked the vets to look at her. However, Larry Bramlage, the on-call vet for the American Association of Equine Practitioners, told the Form: "Velazquez didn't say anything to the vet before the race." [DRF] It's certainly fair to question why he did not....and also to ask why the trainer, if he thought his mare seemed "almost sedated-like," as he told Privman, wasn't more explicit in his instructions to his rider about her being able to warm up properly, and what he should do if she didn't.

However, Bailey pointed out that "the attending vet is supposed to come over and ask 'is this horse ok?'" And Randy Moss said: "That's what the vet is at the starting gate for - to protect the public, to protect the horses, to protect the riders." Apparently, that did not transpire either. Ms. Edwards reported shortly before post time that Bramlage, when asked about the jockey's comments, told her that "the vets on the ground have not been made aware of the situation." However, Bramlage apparently had been! Is there no means of communication between he and those vets out at the starting gate?

I also wonder sometimes about the whole idea of these random pre-race interviews which occasionally - though never in my experience to this extent - make the viewers privy to information that other bettors lack. Not that ESPN shouldn't do its job of reporting as much relevant news as possible, and not to suggest that there be any form of censorship. But this is the type of incident that might make bettors feel as if they're better off watching at home than going to the track!

It's certainly quite clear that somebody should have said something to someone; and even Pletcher conceded that she "clearly should have probably not run." Of course, that clearly comes as probably small consolation to all of those who saw their money go down the drain.

- Hearing the Europeans' complaints about the turf course being too firm, and seeing Shared Account ($94) hold off favored Midway in the F&M Turf, I feel more emboldened to try and beat Goldikova in the Mile today. As I've mentioned before, The Usual Q.T. (15-1) has excellent form at this distance and seems at peak form at this time. And Proviso (12-1), trained by Mott, who sent out Unrivaled Belle ($17) to win, by the way, that Ladies Classic, is similarly sharp and enamored of the route.

I like Supreme Summit (15-1) in the Sprint; sharp synthetic shipper seems well worth the shot here should be around those odds. I saw that jp likes him too, and thought he'd be upset that I do, fearing that I was jinxing him. However, after seeing his picks for Friday, maybe it should be the other way around! Welsch didn't care for his workouts, but, then again, Switch sure ran pretty well, didn't she? Big Drama (7-2) is, I think, clearly the horse to beat. Warrior's Reward (12-1) likes the track, has reportedly worked quite well, and is poised to pick up a piece with a late rally.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Yes You Can

Well, it must be Breeders' Cup time because Joe Drape and the NY Times rolled out their ritual front-page-of-the-sports section column on the dark side of the sport.

You cannot hold a Breeders’ Cup, a series of championship races for the world’s best horses, without the issue of medications and illegal drugs coming up. [NY Times]
Well, actually, you can.

OK, I'm not going to do a formal handicapping post. I've been thinking out loud here over the last couple of weeks, and you know which horses I'm interested in....if you could possibly care. What do you need me for when you have experts like Drape? Besides, I want to keep my options open in the relative handful of races I'm interested in betting, at least as of now. There are a few races, like the Turf Sprint, that I honestly have barely even glanced at...and I'm looking forward to handicapping them during the day just like I would a 25K claimer at the Big A.

I don't really care for the order of the races on Saturday....and not because the Dirt Mile is the 9th, third to last on the day. Sure, it breaks up the continuity of the whole World Championship thing.....kinda like Good Charlotte playing between Sonic Youth and Guided By Voices (something to look forward to on the day after BC Saturday). But it is an awesome betting race. Would be a great way to start a Pick Three, or continue a Pick Four starting with the Mile leading up to the Classic, and Zenyatta, who, as jp has pointed out, figures to present better value in the multi-race wagers than she will in the win pool. Problem is that the Turf kinda sucks as a betting race, and figures to suck, period, should Workforce scratch, as appears likely to be the case.

Honestly, I don't really care much about the race either way; the Arc winner and some other Euro who's second choice against a field of highly mediocre American horses, yawn. Yeah, I'm sure you can tell I haven't paid much attention to racing overseas of late. There's plenty enough - some would argue far too much - of the sport over here. to keep us all busy.

A reader mentioned Haynesfield, and, as I've said, I do believe that he's developed into a serious racehorse. Mike Welsch has been ga-ga about this one, and wrote that he's a major upset threat if allowed to relax on the lead once again in his present form. Problem is that I don't believe that he will be able to relax on the lead in this field; I think it shapes up tough tactically. I really do like Blame to complete the exacta, and to take it all if Zenyatta falters for any reason at all.

As suebroux pointed out, Welsch hated the last workout by Switch, who, he says, "really fell apart during the latter stages after a quick beginning, drifting out coming to the wire and shutting down completely during her gallop-out." Oh. Sadler said the workout was fine, noting that the track was a little heavy, and that she actually worked six furlongs (in 1:13 1/5), not the five she was credited with. I like to say that I pay attention to workout reports when they reinforce my opinion, and consider them to be "too much information" when they don't. In this case, it will depend upon the odds. In any event, plenty of horses to like at fair odds if you're committed to beating Rightly So, as I am.

Posters on this TVG Community board noted that Steve Crist picked the filly despite his paper's clocker's opinion....and I don't know which makes me more wary of her. (Not because I think Crist is a fool, just because I tend to go off longshot-types when public handicappers start to pick up on them.)

BC Notes

I said I wasn't going to bother this year writing about stuff like how much it sucks to have a Breeders' Cup program on Friday. It really does suck though. Less so I guess however since they don't start until 4:10...and that's the Marathon, which I could care less about (sorry Figless). But, since they have the lights at Churchill, why not have the program even later? (Oh, yeah, college football on ESPN2, excuse me for even suggesting the idea.)

I'd like to get home early in time for the F&M Sprint, which is the only race on the day that I'm really interested in betting on anyway. Switch has been listed at 20-1, and I gotta think she's worth a play at that price (discussed the race here). The flip side of throwing out synthetic horses getting overbet on real dirt, is getting a good price on a sharp one who is maybe getting overlooked for the same reason. I think that Rightly So (3-1) is a deserving favorite who should be able to lead into the turn despite breaking from the 13 post. But, again, I sure wouldn't be shocked to see her get run down in the long stretch; and Sadler's filly sure seems worth a flyer at even half of those morning odds. (I've soured somewhat on Champagne D'Oro due to her poor draw)

In the Juvie Turf Fillies, I don't really get why Winter Memories would be listed as such a dominant choice (2-1) against a field loaded with young fillies that look just as promising as she. I mean, these are all lightly raced two year-olds that have raced against other lightly raced two-year olds. This one is best because she raced in New York? Who's to say that she's that much better than others in here that have also impressed in stakes company, like Kathmanblu or New Normal or More Than Real or Together (though the last three drew outside posts)? Seems to me that any of those would be worth a shot at double digit odds (as all but the last one are listed at). Tough, if not an impossible race....but I think this is exactly the kind of BC race in which it often pays to be skeptical of the betting favorite.

How about a few bucks just for fun on Wyomia (12-1), and for no other reason but that I absolutely love her breeding for grass? She's by Vindication (Seattle Slew) out of Beyond the Sun, a Kingmambo mare who is also the dam of the world record holder, at a mile and a quarter on grass, and G1 winner Red Giant. Look under her third dam, and you'll see grass horses such as the Euro champion Bosra Sham, the Group 1 winners Ciro (who also won the Secretariat on these shores), Hector Protector, Shanghai, Act One; Proskona, an Italian champion, the Grade 1 winners Internallyflawless and Passinetti, and a host of other horses that were accomplished on the surface. Wyomia improved after her debut when switching from turf to the Woodbine Poly; but she was also stretching out to two turns. Based on her pedigree, could have been that which prompted the turnaround; deserves another shot on the lawn here. (OK, so maybe that's two Friday races that I'm interested in betting on.)

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Odds and Ends

That's Morning Line galloping at Churchill on Tuesday. He's the 7-2 favorite in the Dirt Mile. (And yes, you can actually find the complete fields and morning line odds on the Breeders' Cup site without having to get directions from Art Fern.)

Morning Line is one of the favorites, should he in fact be one, that I will definitely be betting against. Nice colt, this son of Tiznow, and he's shown the kind of improvement which suggests he could be peaking at the right time. But this will be a different game for Zito's colt, who has excelled in two-turn races, the last three at a mile and an eighth. This is a one-turn mile, the pace will be quicker, and the competition, which includes several who specialize at this route, will be far better than what he's faced before. I think he's a horse to leave off the tickets entirely should he be bet as oddsmaker Mike Battaglia expects. Here Comes Ben (6-1), Tizway (6-1), and Thiskyhasnolimit (10-1) (all of whom I discussed here), all seem like far better value to me.

Girolamo (3-1 in the Sprint) is another favorite I don't care for. This must be a really weak year for this division if this horse is favored. He excelled last year going a mile around one turn, though he surely didn't beat too much amongst the four he faced in the Jerome. He has just two races this year - 5th in his return in the Forego, and his win in the Vosburgh. That was his first six furlong race ever, and he was fairly impressive....but against what? As I've said before, you need to take the 1 and Grade 1 with a grain of salt these days. That Vosburgh field barely qualified as a Grade 3. The eight opponents accounted for a grand total of three graded stakes wins, a G2 and two G3's. I can't believe they, off that race, would make this horse the favorite over a horse like Big Drama (7-2), an established and consistent graded stakes horse over the last two years who has settled into a sharp groove since concentrating on sprints in 2010...and I discussed him in more detail here.

Harder for me than throwing Girolamo out is coming up with the right value horse to use on top. Atta Boy Roy (12-1) has impressive running lines, good speed and the ability to stalk, but has only a wasted turf effort to show over the last 2 1/2 months. Smiling Tiger (6-1) and Supreme Summit (15-1) ship in from California, and I'm interested in the latter at those odds. Unlike Smiling Tiger, Supreme Summit does have a couple of races over dirt, including a not-at-all bad 4th in a mile race at Gulfstream last March. Switched to the barn of Mike Puype, he's cut back to six furlongs for his two starts after a layoff, and comes off a career best effort, falling just short to Smiling Tiger in the Ancient Title. His late-running style may serve him quite well here, and owner Joseph Lacombe is putting up the big bucks to supplement him to the race. Warrior's Reward (12-1) likes the track and could also benefit from a contested pace.

Here's Goldikova (7-5), and whoever picked out this outfit must be colorblind. According to the morning line, this is strictly a three-way race between she, Paco's Boy (6-1), and Gio Ponti (4-1). Yes, the latter is in the Mile, and aren't I a jerk to think that the fact that her connections publicly indicated that she would run in the Classic and made it her first preference in the pre-entries meant anything.

The funny thing about Gio Ponti's past performance lines is that her Beyers are down a solid 6-10 points from last year. I don't really know if the Beyer figs mean any more on the turf than the seem to do on synthetic tracks. But if you think they are meaningful, the fact that Gio Ponti was nevertheless first or a close second in each of his four Grade 1 races this year can't bode very well for the North American turf division overall.

In any event, I'm not inclined to try and beat Goldikova, but I am surely willing to try and beat the second and third choices - Paco's Boy has to be considered a question mark in his North American debut despite his fine form overseas - to create some value in the exotics - and I've mentioned The Usual QT and Proviso as possibilities there.

And Zenyatta is ranked at 8-5, lower than I'd been seeing quoted overseas, but more sensible in my opinion. Lookin At Lucky (6-1) drew the far outside, and I'd have to consider that to be good news for the favorite's camp. Yeah, I know, I've been disparaging the three-year old crop, and him by extension. But his improvement and recent dominance is no doubt impressive, as his ability to handle different kinds of surfaces. His last eight races - five wins, and a tough luck second and third - have come over eight different tracks, with wins on synthetic, fast dirt, and slop. So he's growing on me; I'll definitely be working him into my tickets, and would take a flyer on top if Dirty wants to give me 15-1.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Here She Comes

Mike Smith awaits patiently, but anxiously, longing inside like a man awaiting his love after a brief separation, as Zenyatta arrives in Louisville. Well, not exactly (I hope), but something like that.

Zenyatta was then whisked away to Churchill like the queen that she is, with a police escort and hundreds lining the street to..... OK, I lied about that last bit. But, come race day, the fans will surely be crowding around her like she's the Mona Lisa or something.

(I've been waiting for a good excuse to post that photo.)

Zenyatta is a star, let's face it. She's officially spilled into the mainstream. Who's the last horse you remember getting an entire segment on 60 Minutes (followed by Andy Rooney talking wistfully about great horses of the past, about his days going to the races at Saratoga, and plugging the Secretariat movie). She was also profiled in W Magazine, and made it onto Oprah's Power List. (And I don't see no Rachel Alexandra on the 2009 list, that's right, girlfriend!)

It's too bad though that it took 19 races and three years for her to become this popular...and just before her final race too. No doubt part of the reason for that is because she rarely strayed east of California. But how could a horse break through to the mainstream press when the racing press has been so ambivalent about her itself? It's not the media's job to promote the sport. But I don't want to hear any of those naysayers complain that the sport lacks stars when it had one right under its snoot. It's not like I even totally disagreed with the main point that Beyer was making. I don't know if Zenyatta ranks among the all-time greats. I don't know that I could compare her campaign to those of horses like Forego, who conceded copious weight allowances to a legion of challengers, many of whom I feel could be champions if they raced today; or John Henry, who traveled all over the country and took on the best on any kind of surface. And the synthetic question is legitimate....though it will in my opinion become forever moot should she dominate on Saturday.

But why is there always this need in racing to place everything in historical context? Who cares? The game has changed. It will never be what it once was. There's very little, if anything, that stands the test of time nowadays. Zenyatta is a great horse of this time; should she win the Classic, quite arguably the best horse of the present century, the one in which we live. As time obscures the petty controversies around her, future generations will come to better appreciate her. It's too bad than some amongst us cannot (or will not) now.