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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Racing Versus NHL is No Contest

Been pretty sick for the last few days, so was stuck at home with nothing but TVG over the weekend, at least as far as racing goes. Don't want nor need to belabor the point of just how much that network totally sucks this time of year. But those were a couple of seriously fantastic cards at Gulfstream this weekend, not too shabby at Santa Anita either, and Fair Grounds and Oaklawn are in full swing. Turning on TVG and seeing Aqueduct, Tampa, and Turfway, and listening to the sleep-inducing commentary is like being stuck listening to John Boehner when the president is speaking next door. It's gotta be a statement on the popularity, of lack thereof, of the sport that it's been years since I've seen or heard even vague speculation that Direct TV would ever pick up HRTV. I've always considered this to be one of the most glorious portions of the racing season, and I guess nobody but our little peanut gallery really cares about it at all.

Meanwhile, the NHL had its All-Star weekend, and did so in grand style. The fantasy draft on Friday night, a red carpet show on Saturday afternoon, the skills competition on Saturday night, and a pre-game show leading up to the game itself, which might have been the least interesting part of the weekend (other than The Guardians Project bit after the second period, awesome, and an inspired marketing angle). True, parts of the draft, and some of those red carpet interviews, were cringe-worthy. But it shows you what a sport can do for itself when it has a network which truly makes it a priority rather than an afterthought, if not a downright nuisance, as racing is on ESPN. (To be fair, the NHL Network also contributed to the effort....but racing could have a network too if it was a unified operation.) Still laughing at the idea of the Breeders' Cup being on Versus?

Looking at these cards from Gulfstream almost makes me sorry that I'll never ever go there again after Frank destroyed the place. 22 races between the two days, just one horse below even money, and that was First Dude. I think this reader makes a fair point about the way that horse was ridden in the Millions Classic...but still, he was an absolutely horrible favorite at 4-5 in is first start since the Breeders' Cup, and his 9th consecutive losing one in a stakes despite still being eligible for an entry level allowance, Might not be a bad idea to enter him in one to bolster his confidence a bit. Might have been hard to make a case for Tackleberry ($56.60) if you figured First Dude would be winging it from the rail. But this gelded four-year old son of Montbrook is now a perfect three-for-three around two turns, earning a career-high Beyer of 100. He's out of a Concerto mare who's a half-sister to the Super Derby winner Outofthebox (also by Montbrook).

Julien Leparoux rode Dialed In, a good thing at 2.70-to-1 coming straight out of a debut maiden win last November, like he was Secretariat, dropping back some 15 lengths off the leader in the Holy Bull, according to track announcer Larry Collmus. It helped that he saved ground rallying on the turn, and surely didn't hurt that the mile distance proved beyond the capabilities of his competitors as they tired in the stretch. Still, quite an impressive burst of late speed once he changed leads midstretch. Odd fractions, according to Formulator, of 25.78, a blistering 21.58 to make up ground, 23.67, and 24.16; and he earned a Beyer of 96. This Nick Zito-trained son of Mineshaft is out of a Storm Cat (remember him?) mare; his second dam is the 1992 2-year old filly champion and Juvie Fillies winner Eliza.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Friday Notes

In the 4th at the Big A on Friday, Nacho Saint (8-5) is one of those potential favorites that I love to hate. The unanimous pick in the Form's consensus box, this three-year old son of Yes It's True makes his first start since September, and first around two turns (in fact, his first foray beyond six furlongs). True, he drops back into maiden company from competitive efforts in two graded stakes last year....but, as we've discussed before, what really does early season two-year old graded stakes company mean? Really nothing, in my view, but a glorified allowance race. In the G2 Sanford back in July, all of the other horses save one were coming out of maiden races....and none of them have come close to winning any kind of stakes race since. In fact, only one has won at all, and did so in a restricted claiming race at Parx. Trainer Kelly Breen may be hot at Gulfstream, where he'd won with four of his last nine starters as of Jan 22...but on the NYRA circuit, he's 0 for his last 17 with his last winner coming in September.

I know, I sometimes end up looking silly when making an expansive case against a specific horse. He could win of course, but I think you have to take stands against favorites such as this in order to be successful.

Associate (2-1) figures to take some money himself on the ol' Alvarado-to-Dominguez angle. Last was a pretty good second in his first try on dirt. But horses sometimes get overbet on a jockey change (even when the new rider is winning at 35%). Iscar (6-1) finished some five lengths behind Associate that day, but that difference can probably be more than explained given the difference in trips. While Associate saved ground close to the pace throughout, Iscar stumbled very badly at the start, trailed the field (albeit closely) down the backstretch, and looped five wide turning for home before rallying rather respectably and finishing with interest for 4th. Not an overwhelming effort despite the trouble, but this son of the popular playboy Bernardini surely showed enough ability in his second start to earn a look here at a fair price, and Kiaran McLaughlin goes to Eddie Castro, winning at a 31% clip for the barn.

- Well-bet Prize Catch ($9) won Thursday's feature, on the grass, at Gulfstream for trainer Angel Penna Jr. in his first race since September at Belmont. He was 11-1 in his first against winners that day, but bet down from 6-1 morning line from the ten post here. This is a son of AP Indy with a highly unusual pedigree; his grandsire and broodmare sire are the half brothers Seattle Slew and Seattle Dancer. He's also a half-brother to the graded turf winner Lead Story, and his dam is a half to the Grade 1 winners Unbridled Elaine and Glitter Woman.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

All in the Family

Zenyatta has a two-year old half-sister by Bernardini named Eblouissante; so his scheduled mating with Zenyatta will not be that stallion's first sexual and, it is hoped, paternal encounter with the family. Of course, he ends up with the younger babe, though he could of course find himself back with the mom too. The whole thing is kinda rude and gross if you ask me. The dam, Vertigineux, who recently turned 16, has a yearling daughter by Henrythenavigator.

Seems a conservative mating, at least from the standpoint of inbreeding; just a single and commonplace 4x5 cross of Mr. Prospector. The resulting foal will have the Triple Crown winners Secretariat and Seattle Slew - as well as the almost Triple Crown winner Spectacular Bid - in its first four generations.

Owner Jerry Moss told the NY Times that “We’re going to want to keep him or her." But, we'll just see about that, won't we?

UPDATE: Meant to mention that I heard from a couple of readers who have indeed seen For Rent signs up on shuttered OTB parlors; specifically those on 48th St. between 5th & 6th Aves, another on Jamaica Ave in Bellerose, Queens; and another near Port Authority (which an acquaintance of the reader was shown by an agent). Of course, some of the parlors would have closed under a restructuring. So I'm still waiting to hear Hazel Dukes sing "Turn out the lights, the party's over." (Not that she's fat or anything, just sayin.')

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Final Chapter (?)

Judge Martin Glenn of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York granted NYC OTB's request to terminate its Chapter 9 bankruptcy filing.

“OTB has ceased operations and has concluded all efforts to seek confirmation of [a reorganization plan].....The debtor argues that because no other party may propose a plan of debt adjustment in OTB’s case, continuation of a chapter 9 case serves no purpose. The court agrees.” [Daily Racing Form]
Well, that sounds pretty damn final, doesn't it?

Or is it?
The closure has also spawned talk, noted New York State Racing and Wagering Board chairman John Sabini, of everything from re-opening NYCOTB as a public entity to consolidation of other OTB corporations in the state. [Bloodhorse]
Come to think of it, haven't seen For Rent signs pop up on any of the parlors I've seen.

But, for now, the court ruled over the objections of Churchill Downs, and the DC 37 and Local 2021 unions representing OTB workers which claimed, as discussed in a recent post, that NYC OTB's payments to the racetracks were somehow "fraudulent" and subject for recall. I did get to read the text of the union's court filings. Unfortunately, and not surprisingly, it offered no real explanation nor rationale behind the vague suggestion that the product supplied to OTB somehow did not constitute fair value.

Look, as steve in nc pointed out, this union is representing working class types who could surely use a break. It's horrible and tragic that they are watching their pensions disappear before their eyes. Judge Glenn expressed sympathy for their plight too, noting more than 1,000 people have been left without health or pension benefits. However, I think that the idea that the monies paid for the product on which OTB based their business was somehow fraudulent to be perverse, especially considering the paltry rates paid out to them, and the way that OTB savaged the tracks' businesses. The judge rightly put that notion to rest.

- Yonkers Raceway is back in action after a holiday break, and business is down since OTB closed. Yonkers GM/VP Robert Galterio said the track’s total handle is presently down 10-15 percent. Based on some random handle figures I found from last year, my guess is that those percentages are on the low end. Galterio acknowledged the success that NYRA has had in attracting business from the shuttered parlors, and noted that “we really haven’t been able to do so at night." However, he expressed optimism about the future.
“NYRA has been able to secure time on a public access station and we are talking to them about the evening hours to see if we can broadcast then....We’re also going to start simulcasting to NYRA, and they have a pretty extensive ADW. If we can combine both of those things—the TV and the ADW—that should help.” []
Now, I've mentioned on several occasions here that NYRA was prohibited from accepting wagers on harness races. That was based on a conversation I'd had with Charlie Hayward. Some people believe that there is, in fact, no such law on the books. In any event though, Dan Silver of NYRA told me that they do indeed hope to offer wagering on Yonkers (as well as on other New York State harness tracks) on their NYRA Rewards platform soon.

That would be a big win for NYRA too. It's almost like found money; a totally new revenue stream, which would surely be enhanced should Yonkers races be televised on Channel 71 and/or streamed on the NYRA Rewards site itself. I for one would definitely check out some action from the Yonk under those conditions....especially once they "stretch the [short] stretch" by once again lengthening the races to a mile and a sixteenth.

Seems to me that NYRA and Yonkers could become fast friends, being that their racing does not compete directly against each other, at least in terms of time. Perhaps they could partner to build and run teletheaters. Once the Big A racino is up and running, and plush new (we can only hope) simulcast rooms are in place, Yonkers races could be featured there at night, when the thoroughbred menu is spare. Hell, Yonkers could conduct a summer meet there on the one mile inner track during those long weeks when the thoroughbreds are upstate. (Just fantasizing out loud here.) With the fate of the Meadowlands in the hands of the mercurial Jeff Gural, a lot of prestigious stakes races could be looking for a new home.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Gang Green is Glum

A fellow Jets/racing enthusiast wrote that Sunday's Jets game was kinda like Zenyatta's Breeders' Cup: Broke bad, slow to get into stride, checked badly at he half mile pole, then rallied strongly but fell short. If it was really like Zenyatta though, the Jets would have gotten voted into the Super Bowl on the basis of having beaten better teams, and because having a New York team in the big game would be better for the sport.

No such luck though; the season is over for Rex Ryan's crew. It was fantastic knocking off the Colts, awesome dominating the Pats. But the overall emotion for me is one of disappointment. A lot of things have to fall into place for a team in the NFL to make it as far as the final four, and I think you gotta take advantage of the opportunity. For two seasons, the Jets got their fair share of good fortune (particularly just to get into last year's playoffs) and stayed relatively healthy as far as that goes in professional football. They could have a great off-season (or two, depending on the labor situation), be a better team on both sides of the ball, and still hardly be guaranteed that they'll be in the same position next time there's a season. It's a nutty game, subject to random bounces and the whim of well-meaning but overmatched officials trying to officiate an un-officiatable game. In a single elimination playoff format, there's no assurance that the best team will win. If it has the things fall into place it needs to in order to get to the playoffs in the first place.

So, it was a blown opportunity and a bummer. But yeah, as least they beat the Pats. I hope that Tom Brady enjoyed whatever Broadway show he decided to check out this week.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Novel Argument

- David Grening reports in the Form that the DC 37 and Local 2021 unions representing former NYC OTB workers is launching a "longshot plan"....not to reopen the parlors, but rather to recover monies previously paid to the state’s racetracks that would be used toward paying health and welfare benefits, estimated, according to the Form, at more than $230 million.

Union attorney Curtis] Mechling argued that NYCOTB was making statutory payments to New York’s racetracks but that “OTB did not get back fair value in return” for those payments and that “OTB was insolvent at the time it made these payments.”
Well, I for one would surely like to read those court papers to see just how it was that the product provided by NYRA and the other racetracks in return for the minuscule percentages paid to them did not constitute fair value. That must be quite the novel argument.

In arguing to dismiss the bankruptcy case, lawyers for NYC OTB told the court that “There is nothing left of New York City OTB except a board of directors and a corporate shell." [DRF] Does that mean that Greg Rayburn is no longer collecting his $125,000 per month salary?

An editorial on Monday in the Saratogian, entitled 41 days since New York City OTB shutdown, says:
The immediate need, however, is for legislation to reopen NYC OTB to protect the interests of horse racing, which is critical to the Saratoga economy. We’re going to keep counting and hollering in this space every day until action is taken.
That makes one of you.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Odds and Ends

jp got on my case for calling the HOTY award a "joke" and a "farce;" he thought I went too far, and that it was not my finest moment. Maybe. That was my honest gut reaction though. And you do want me to be honest, right? It's not something I'd really given much thought to....partly perhaps because I'm not at all tuned in to every social network and media platform like Joe Drape is; partly because I don't really care, and otherwise because I thought Blame was a foregone conclusion after defeating Zenyatta in a race which, as close as it was, was not, by the way, quite as close as some make it out to be. I think one can make the case that they could have proverbially "gone around the track again," and the result wouldn't have been different. (OK, maybe halfway around the track..) I thought Blame saw her and held her off at the very end, and she did not gain any additional ground in the immediate aftermath of the finish.

Well, regardless, I'm certainly not here to dis Zenyatta, who's a worthy champion even if not a deserving one. I've been a big supporter over the years, and thought she should have won last year. But she lost to Blame in the Classic, period. Some people commented that the Classic is not the last word on Horse of the Year, and I guess that's (obviously) true. But, as far as I'm concerned, given the way that the Breeders Cup has so diminished the several months leading up to it - from my perspective, the once-glorious Belmont Fall meeting has been reduced to a series of prep races - it sure as hell better have some profound meaning and consequence other than the big purses for the owners and opportunities for Kentucky breeders.

- I thought I was a smart guy when I wrote the other day about the 1990 law which permits NYRA to run simulcast teletheaters, but Matt Hegarty had written about it last month. As to why NYRA hadn't taken advantage of the law before now, he explained:

NYRA was capable of applying for the licenses for the past 20 years, but getting the required approvals from the New York State Racing and Wagering Board, the mayor, and the city council was impractical with New York City OTB on the scene. With that barrier removed, those approvals would likely be forthcoming – as long as the state is not interested in bidding out the OTB operation to any private interests. [DRF]
- NY Senate Democratic Leader John Sampson says no pork-barrel spending. This coming from a guy who authorized $118,244 in spending to the law firm of Thompson, Wigdor & Gilly....related to an investigation....into bidding to develop slot machines at...Aqueduct. [Capital Confidential] (How's that for some ... editing?) That was campaign money and, as CapCon noted, legal defense payments are lawful and not uncommonly paid by campaigns. This "legal defense" however was an attempt to quash the due process of the investigation altogether....and furthermore contributed to some $3 million in debt incurred by the now-minority party.

I called my State Senator to ask how she can still support Sampson as party leader. Had a nice conversation with her chief of staff, who told me that the IG's report is just a report, and that the Senator would surely take a close look if any further investigations or efforts to indict should bear fruit, yeah, whatever. Still, some of the those accusations, such as Sampson giving details of rival bids to AEG's lobbyist, have been uncontested and accepted as fact....and not a single word of the report has been disputed by Sampson, at least as far as I know. Personally, I think he's a stooge and a clown, and I don't take seriously anything he says nor that of anyone who still lends their support. And that's my honest gut reaction to that.

- And finally - a little something for everyone here - how could I possibly pass up on a horse named Coach Ryan in Wednesday's 4th at Gulfstream; how's that for a hunch bet? But this six-year old gelded son of Broad Brush, stakes place twice in 2008, dropped in for a tag off a 22 month layoff, and lagged early before rallying for third into slow fractions on a sloppy track. Drops further off the claim for Ken Ramsey and trainer Michael Maker; looks shaky here as the 5-2 morning line favorite. Manny Who (5-1) woke up to win when stretched out, dropped in class and well supported at the tote two races back; then moved back up, wheeled back in a sprint a week later, rallied from last midway around the turn, bulled his way determinedly between horses and just missed in a spirited performance. Moves up here to open claimers (though down in tag), stretches back out and attracts Castellano.

In the 6th, R Vicarious Girl (4-1) ships in for Wesley Ward, 18-6-1-2 on the meeting. This daughter of Vicar was sharp in two tries, at this claiming level, since switching to this barn....and, in fact, has four wins and a second in five starts for Ward in intermittent stints for the barn over the last couple of years. Showed good speed in those last two, but is capable of rating with a couple of speedy times to the outside. Should be well-positioned for the stretch drive from the two hole with the class dropping favorite Entertaining (3-1) stuck on the far outside. Best of luck and have a great day.

Eclipse Voters to Blame

- Zenyatta is Horse of the Year, and what a joke and a farce. Eclipse voters had an easy job this time, because the title was clearly decided on the track for a change. We complain about how the top horses rarely race, and how the ultimate showdowns rarely occur. And then, when it not only does take place, but produces a clear result in a cleanly run race, the voters cast the result aside and go for the sappy sentimental choice instead. Don't get me wrong, I love Zenyatta as you know, and it's nice to see her get the title that she should have won last year. But this contest was cut and dried; they showed up, and Blame won fair and square. People in this sport can't get things right even when it's clearly spelled out for them. The Eclipse voters blew it, big time.

- I wrote dismissively recently of Henny Hughes' career at stud thus far, but he got his first stakes winner as Fort Hughes looked good winning the Jimmy Wakefield at the Big A in a sparkling 1:08.33; final furlong in 11.96 seconds. He's out of Forty Greeta, an Argentinian-bred Roar mare who was the 2yo filly of 2006 in that country before being exported to Dubai. Fort Hughes is a Darley homebred, now two-for-three and no doubt headed for distances that are quite likely beyond his capabilities.

- I really wish I could say 'I told ya so' and that I knew it all along. But the truth is that I'm as surprised as anyone about the Jets beating the Patriots. Yes, I plead guilty of not keeping the faith. I'm not the most confident guy in the world when it comes to my sports teams to start with (40+ years of frustration since their last and one Super Bowl appearance doesn't help)....and the recent 45-3 loss, and what I considered at the time to be ill-advised goading of the opposition (and not by Rex Ryan....his comments were rather innocuous and way overblown by the press IMO) were too much for me to overcome.

But Rex Ryan had his team convinced that could win, demonstrating that Brady was altogether mortal in recent postseason action. He brought in Dennis Byrd to give a motivational speech. He prepared a masterful defensive game plan that had Brady looking confused (and he has the talent on his defense to pull it off). Recent suggestions that he is somehow in over his head as an NFL coach are totally ridiculous now. The Jets are going to the AFC Championship game....again!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Sunday Notes

Tar Heel Mom shipped down to Florida from the cold up here and won a graded stakes race at Gulfstream on Saturday for trainer Stanley Hough. Which graded stakes? Who cares, just another Grade 3 stakes, there's so many of them and so many of them are so thoroughly mediocre and nondescript, that it doesn't really have much meaning anymore.

But anyway, this six year old daughter of Flatter last ran third in the ungraded Garland of Roses on the inner track in her first race since having a screw inserted to correct a small condylar fracture in her hind cannon bone suffered six month earlier. A skeptic of the sport might question why a five-year old horse would be sent back to the races after breaking a bone, but this mare obviously loves to race, so then wouldn't it in a way be cruel not to?

But anyway, the Garland of Roses has proven a productive race thus far, with winner Nicole H and runner-up Meese Rocks returning to run 1-2 in the Interborough on New Year's Day. Later today, McVictory, who ran 4th in the Garland of Roses, is the 2-1 second choice, for Pletcher, in the featured Lady on the Run stakes. She stretches out to a two turn mile here, and that might help this daughter of Victory Gallop, who has shown a distinct uptick in her Beyers and class level over the last year. She went two turns two races back, running a sharp second to Spacy Tracy, who came back to win the G2 Top Flight (graded status of course means something when I'm trying to make a case for a horse). And she finished fastest of all in the Garland of Roses, getting the final split in a spiffy 12.14 seconds. Here, she'll have to contend with stablemate Quiet Giant and her jockey Ramon Dominguez and his 36% winning percentage. She comes off an 8 length win in the slop, but has shown ability on fast tracks too and is clearly the horse to beat.

Friday, January 14, 2011

1990 Law Permits NYRA Teletheaters

Reader ljk wrote of an "obscure" 1990 law by which NYRA is authorized to run NYC teletheaters in the absence of NYCOTB.

The text of the relevant part of the law is here. It's a tough read, full of sections, subsections, notwithstandings, and pursuant to's. But it's not really all that obscure. In fact, as Steven Crist explained in the New York Times on July 3, 1990, it was actually the legislation which first permitted the simulcast its races to other outlets, both in-state (between Belmont and Aqueduct as envisioned at the time), and out-of-state at a time when betting pools were first starting to be co-mingled.

The law also permitted Yonkers to simulcast N.Y.R.A. (as the now period-less association was then referred to) races which, according to a piece in the Times on Aug, 4, 1991, kept the track alive.....providing a daily average handle of $330,000. (I know it's hard to compare dollar figures from 20 years ago to today, but that figure alone is nearly enough to compensate for the typical daily loss in intrastate off track handle since NYC OTB's demise in our simplified exercise the other day.)

And indeed, as ljk pointed out, the law permits N.Y.R.A. to get into the simulcast theater business...and, apparently, not only in the absence of OTB. As Crist reported at the time:

The N.Y.R.A. will also be allowed to build a teletheater in the New York City area, though not for at least 18 months and then only with the approval of local officials. Hazel Dukes, who became president of New York City OTB last Friday, said yesterday that she opposed a N.Y.R.A. teletheater and hoped to improve OTB enough in the next 18 months to make one unnecessary.
This prompted NYRA's then-president Gerald McKeon to remark: "For the first time since OTB, the shackles are starting to come off us." And just one year later, there was an effort to put that aspect of the law into effect; not in the city, but in Westchester County, where, as reported in the 1991 Times article, county officials are negotiating a contract with the New York Racing Association to build a $10 million teletheater in the central part of the county.
After review by a special bipartisan legislative committee set up to consider revenue sources for the county and changes in state law governing off-track betting in Westchester, a decision was made to negotiate with the New York State Racing Association rather than to join the regional Offtrack Betting Corporation.

The teletheater would be the first off-track betting system in the state controlled by the association under contract with a county, and not by a group of cities and counties that have chosen to join one of the state's six regional OTB corporations.
Although New York was the first state to permit off-track betting, it did so over the objections of track owners, and it is now the only state in which the off-track betting system is not supervised by the race track owners.

If Westchester reaches an agreement with the New York Racing Association, it would break the monopoly that municipalities have held over off-track receipts, said John M. Dailey, director of racing and OTB for the New York State Racing and Wagering Board.

"The tracks will muscle in and take over," he said. "They want to market their own product." [NYT, Aug 4, 1991]
Of course, 20 years later, the status quo remains, and the shackles that McKeon spoke of are just now being shed, and only due to NYC OTB's closure. Why the Westchester effort (bitterly opposed by Yonkers) failed, and why this particular provision of the law faded into obscurity, is to be further researched and reported on. But it seems as if there is no legal obstacle to NYRA establishing its own off-track facilities that would permanently relegate NYC OTB to the dustbin of failed business models and bad ideas.

- Crist's article is surely worth a read in its entirety, as it shows how drastically things have changed - "Ontrack bettors in New York now will be allowed to bet on 12 rather than 3 out-of-state races a year" - and how they've stubbornly remained the same:
"The bill is 60 percent good and 40 percent not so good," McKeon said. "That 40 percent, unfortunately, includes things the fans are most concerned about, takeout and withholding."

Every study of the parimutuel takeout shows that handle rises and longterm revenue increases when the take is lowered, but legislators refuse to accept short-term losses. So horseplayers will continue to fight a 17 to 25 percent takeout, as opposed to 5 percent from their friendly neighborhood sports bookmaker or the Atlantic City roulette wheels.
And the beat goes on..

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Snow Day for the Big A - Updated

I knew the snow was going to be significant when NYRA announced on Tuesday afternoon that Wednesday's races were canceled. The crack meteorological staff there has been right on with their weather calls of late. They scoffed at the forecast for snow last Friday, and the card went on without a hitch as the storm fizzled out. But this time, it's no joke, though hardly the magnitude of the recent blizzard. It is supposed to stop this morning though, and NYRA has kept open the possibility of simulcasting at Aqueduct and Belmont Cafe. A decision is supposed to be made this morning....and if it was up to Mayor Bloomberg, they both will be open.

Thinking way back to the real early days of NYC OTB, there was no out-of-state simulcasting there, just NYRA, Roosevelt and Yonkers, and Monticello; at least as I recall. Feel free to jump in if I'm misremembering anything. But when Aqueduct canceled due to weather in those days, OTB was permitted to take Gulfstream....or Hialeah....and we considered that to be a real treat, especially on big race weekend days. Big stakes races from those tracks were actually on national television on a regular basis as you might recall, so one would often get to see the races; if not live on ABC's Wide World of Sports or CBS's Sports Spectacular, then on a replay show which replaced the one from the Big A.

[UPDATE: Simulcasting is on at both Aqueduct and Belmont. That's a potential bonanza for NYRA....full on-track retention rates, with no expenses incurred for actually running races! Would be even nicer for them (and bettors) if they had the simulcast track signals available for live streaming on NYRA Rewards....don't know what the holdup is there. Nice way for people who stayed home from work to spend the day, and especially with the races from Gulfstream unavailable on TVG, getting those signals going should be a priority.)

- Pull the Pocket (who writes expansively on this and other subjects on his excellent blog), writes:

Hey Left [nobody's ever called me that before],

That day reported by SA on their website was a Saturday to Friday comparison (it was immediately caught on chat boards by people, because this is not proper, and was "tweeted" in that universe).
I'm still not part of that universe, so I guess I missed that. Nonetheless, I would respectfully disagree. I don't see much of a difference between a New Year's Day on a Friday, and one on a Saturday. It's the holiday season, a lot of people aren't working or schooling that week anyway, and I would say that the days are more or less equivalent in terms of peoples' availability and willingness to spend the day at, or betting on, the races. Of course, there were (supposedly) some 16,000 people at the Big A on New Year's Day Saturday. So maybe I'm wrong.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

In the Ballgame

Let's look at some of the hard dollar numbers coming out of Aqueduct rather than percentage increases and decreases which don't tell the whole story. After all, a 50% drop in intrastate wagering which used to total close to $2 million day means a lot more than a 42% increase in internet wagering which was averaging around $75,000 in a year ago.

However, another percentage strongly favors NYRA...that is, the percentage of its take of on-track handle as compared to what it was getting through OTB. Intrastate off-track wagering is indeed down roughly $1 million a day. Let's say, for argument and simplicity sake, that virtually all of that is due to NYC OTB's closure. Now, recall Charlie Hayward's assertion that NYRA needed to capture about 35% of OTB handle in order to break even. In December, after NYC OTB's closure, the increase in handle from telephone, internet, on-track, mobile, and Belmont Cafe wagering over a year earlier averaged around $235,000 a day. Let's also make an assumption that virtually all of that increase is business captured from OTB. I don't think that's at all outlandish; can't imagine that Aqueduct attracts much in the way of new business this time of year.

That $235,000 falls short of the $350,000 (35% of $1 million) that NYRA would need to break even (under this highly simplified scenario). However, in the early part of January (only through the 6th, and not counting the 4th, when NYRA says it experienced technical difficulties), that increase-in-business number is almost $440,000, as the intrastate loss remains around the $1 million mark. Of course it's far too early to draw any firm conclusions. But it seems to me as if NYRA is squarely in the ballgame here, with a chance to make further gains with Channel 71 back, live streaming on its website, Saratoga this summer, and what I imagine will eventually be a grand simulcast facility somewhere in ResortsWorld at the Big A.

- We read a lot about the handle decline in the opening days of Santa Anita; not much lately, so I'm not sure if that trend has continued. Here's one note though that I found on the track's website which was not widely reported:

Betting was up significantly through nine races at Santa Anita on Jan. 1, 2011, compared to Jan. 1, 2010, when a total of 10 races were run. On-track handle on the nine-race card Saturday showed an increase of 7.53 percent; satellite wagering 12.55 percent; out-of-state handle 8.62 percent; and all sources handle was up 9.20 percent
As we know, the racing press tends to report what they want you to hear; can you imagine the headlines if a new synthetic track had one breakdown and six other horses pulled up and vanned off in the first week of its meet? Seems to me that New Year's Day might be a better apples-to-apples comparison day than others which were weekends vs weekdays or adversely affected by weather on both coasts.

Nonetheless, that isolated example is no more proof that the boycott is not working than the prior down days proved that it is, at least in my opinion. That was Davidowitz's point about putting off any organized action until later in the year, when trends in handle have been established, and its effect could be better specified. California is a state with a 12.4% unemployment rate, and a bleak short-term financial future in the face of a deficit of some $27 billion. Those are numbers which could certainly contribute to a decline in local business on their own.

Comparing the year-to-year numbers won't get any easier; as my friends at HANA pointed out last week, racing moved to a four-day a week schedule through the end of February; as opposed to five days last week. That will make comparisons difficult on a day-to-day basis.

On the other coast, unlike at Santa Anita, the results at Gulfstream thus far are not at all ambiguous - up over 17% thus far.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Post-OTB World By the Numbers

Went to the Big A on Saturday, and the place seemed fairly packed with an announced crowd of 5,201. And I definitely got the feeling there was something different about the place, and not just in the number of horseplayers in attendance.

It wasn't just me with that feeling, either. Wandering around the populous first floor, I overheard an aggrieved patron complain to a couple of security personnel that he was being harassed by another horseplayer. "I feel like I'm in an OTB! I feel like I'm in an OTB!" he repeated. Indeed, it seems rather obvious that NYRA is succeeding in their goal of luring a fair number of OTB regulars to the racetrack, aided by its free bus service from former parlors throughout the five boroughs. There was surely, let's just say, a harder-edge to the crowd. I sought refuge in some far corners up on the third floor.

According to figures released by NYRA, live attendance was up nearly 40% in December over the prior year, with average on-track handle from Dec 8 through Jan 6 up 16%. NYRA is making its most impressive gains however in its NYRA Rewards business, from which, remember, it receives its full on-track share of approximately 10%. That business is up 42% and 44% over the prior year for its internet and telephone betting components respectively in December; and the gains are substantially better than that thus far this month (114% and 80%). (Internet wagering, at an average of $110,000 a day in Dec, outpaces telephone wagering by around 41%.)

The new NYRA Rewards business is proving to be quite robust, with 2,434 new customers signed up since Dec 8. Those new bettors accounted for 34% of total phone bets and 23% of total online wagers....and those percentages are up to 44% and 36% in January. And the Belmont Cafe averaged just under $45,000 a day in December. According to NYRA: "This location is trending towards a $30 million annual handle number which would make it one of the largest simulcasting facilities in NY."

Overall though, total average handle was down 8% daily for all of December (including those days before OTB closed). If you consider the period starting Dec 8, when OTB did shut down, through Jan 6, the decline is 14% according to my calculations based on figures provided by NYRA. So the gains that have been made have not been nearly enough to compensate for the precipitous 50% decline in total intra-state off track handle that is the expected and most pronounced effect of the shutdown of NYC OTB. (Interestingly, interstate wagering is also down - around 8% - which indicates that a feared exodus of business to out-of-state ADW's has not materialized to this point.) Still, if you presume that most of this new on-track handle (at 10% for NYRA) is old OTB handle (at less than 3% to NYRA), the bottom line should be holding up reasonably well considering the circumstances. In addition, the return of the live signal to Channel 71, and the live streaming of NYRA races (now) and simulcast races (soon) should surely give the numbers a boost. As NYRA emphasized, the month of January should provide a more complete picture of the trends in handle.

With each passing day, the memory of the squalid OTB parlors becomes more of a distant memory (though do by all means check out the first floor on a Saturday if you're a real nostalgia buff). I would imagine that NYRA is looking forward to the opportunities of an OTB-less future rather than maintaining any of its own nostalgia for the past. It could very well be that we'll see Republicans in Albany propose a revival of NYC OTB in the context of providing relief to the upstate and Long Island regionals. That effort would surely attract staunch opposition by NYRA as it did late last year before the effort failed.

- Sharp-eyed reader Figless noticed that the 2011 NYRA calendars indicate that Belmont will adapt a Monmouth-style Friday through Sunday schedule for the month of July. But a highly reliable source tells me that this was a mistake. No word if gremlins from Governor Chris Christie's office was behind the error.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

What Report?

I gotta go back and re-read the Inspector General's report on the AEG selection (pdf), because I guess that Senator John Sampson didn't do anything so terrible. After all, he's still the conference leader of the now-minority Senate Democrats. Out of the 30 Democrats in the chamber, only four have broken from Sampson and formed their own conference.

"We cannot be supportive of leadership that is more interested in power and perks than policy," said Sen. Diane Savino (D-S.I., Brooklyn), who joined with [Sen. Jeff] Klein at a news conference revealing their defection. [NY Daily News]
But four newly elected members affirmed their support for Sampson, including Sen. Tony Avilia.
“At the end of the day, right now it’s still just a report....There’s a difference between poor judgment and criminal acts. [Capitol Confidential]
Actually, I disagree. Sure, poor judgment - such as the conference's continued support for Sampson - may not necessarily be criminal. But poor judgment is surely an integral component of many, if not most, criminal acts, at least the way I see it. Whether Sampson's poor judgment spilled over into criminality is up to the US Attorney for the Southern District of NY, and the NY County D.A. to whom the matter has been referred.


To accommodate construction of the racino, training hours at the Big A will be "shifted," according to a NYRA press release. That's an interesting choice of words for what is really a slight curtailment of training time.

Starting on Monday, January 10, the following changes will go into effect through Monday, February 28:

* There will be no Monday training at Aqueduct
* Tuesday through Sunday, training hours at Aqueduct will shift to 5:30 – 9:00 a.m. (they had previously been 5:30 – 9:45 a.m.)
Don't know why they felt the need to try and spin that. I doubt that anyone could be too upset about a relatively minor cutback for a limited amount of time in order to facilitate the slots that they've all been waiting for so long.

Resorts World's general contractor announced the awarding of contracts to nine New York contractors, in keeping with Genting's promise to hire local outfits. They're also getting ready to hire. The Resorts World website includes a page for job postings, as well as tantalizing images of what lies ahead, but they gotta come up with a better slogan than The Place To Have Fun.

Chris Englehart's winning streak was shifted at seven when Who's the Cowboy fell short to the Philly Park invader Super Espresso.

Kerfuffle graduated in the second for Darley and trainer Tom Albertrani. She's a just-turned three-year old daughter of Henny Hughes, and it sure was a quiet freshman year for that sire. 19th on the first-year sire list, just a couple of stakes placers, and a high earner making just $49,000. Went to stud with some fanfare at $40,000, but his fee has since shifted to $12,500 (OK, I'll stop now). Kerfuffle is out of the G1 winner Stormy Blues

I swear, I was gonna pick Green Bananas ($10) in the 7th on Wednesday, and say that Indian Blossom was a bad favorite in the 8th. Unfortunately, my time continues to be extremely limited right now; wish I had more of it. I will eventually, and I do appreciate you coming around.

Monday, January 03, 2011

New Year Notes

Happy New Year everyone! We were down at my mom's house in Florida, where the wireless wasn't working and the cable from the modem didn't quite reach out to the pool patio. So, sorry for the lack of posting. It was in the mid-70's down there, and what a relief from the snow still effecting services up here in the city.

No news lately on NYC OTB (other than Greg Rayburn continuing to collect his paycheck), and with each passing day, the world without it seems more the norm than an anomaly. NYRA forges on with the live streaming of its races, and an expansion of the capacity their own OTB facility in the Belmont Cafe.

“We have had very positive customer response since opening the Belmont CafĂ© on December 12,” said NYRA President and CEO Charles Hayward. “With the typically strong racing expected from Santa Anita and Gulfstream this winter, we’re pleased to offer an expansion and a number of improvements to our new simulcast area.”
Those tracks, along with the other attractive winter meets such as Fair Grounds and Oaklawn, are a real potential area of growth for NYRA. As little as NYRA got from NYC OTB on their own races, on simulcast tracks they got even less - 1.96% vs 2.69% according to figures I have from 2009. Remember, NYRA retains about the same percentage of on-track wagers - including through NYRA Rewards - made on simulcast tracks as on their own races. If they only need to retain 35% of NYC OTB's NYRA handle to break even, then they would only have to keep 25% on the simulcasts. If and when they start to stream those top winter meetings, that could be a huge attraction for people like myself who don't get HRTV and want to keep our betting dollars in-state. This handle on out-of-state tracks is not included in the betting figures you see at the bottom of the charts, the ones you've seen used for comparisons. It could be a bit of a hidden bonus for NYRA, and another reason to look forward to the future rather than try to resurrect the broken past. As I imagine we still may hear about early in this new year.

I did a double take when I saw the crowd figure of over 16,000 at the Big A on Saturday, before I remembered that it was the annual calendar giveaway. There had to be some kind of spinning going on, right? Would be interested in hearing from someone who was there.

Yonkers has been closed for a winter break and will reopen later this month.

Crossbow ($2.50) took the second at Aqueduct on Sunday, graduating in his second start and earning a Beyer of 86. Darley homebred is by Bernardini out of the multiple graded stakes winner Forest Heiress, a half-sister herself to the speedy Wildcat Heir, the sire of Breathoffreshheir, who took the Ruthless the race after (in a slightly slower time).

Monzon won the Count Fleet in classy come-from-behind style, earning a 90 Beyer in his two-turn dirt debut and immediately jumped to the top of the LATG Derby list. In fact, he's the only one on it. Son of Thunder Gulch may be headed to Tampa Bay next.