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Friday, February 18, 2011

On Vacation

I know I've been an infrequent blogger of late, and now we're going away for a week; our annual island paradise trip, and the one on which we don't bring laptops. Of course, I do have my new smartphone, on which I made my first mobile internet bet this past week. So I could check in if inspired if there's some wireless around. I guess now I could have a Twitter account too....maybe to organize mass protests against the New York State Senate. We could occupy Empire Plaza and demand that the National Guard takes over.

I am hoping that things at my income-producing job will ease up and allow me to have more time to write for nothing. (Well, almost nothing other than my one paying sponsor.) I actually did have time the last two nights to look at the Aqueduct cards. But, after liking four races on Wednesday (including Private Rules ($16), I came up blank. I wonder if it depends more my state of mind at the time, rather than the races themselves. Hopefully I'll have the time to explore that and other utterly fascinating matters - and maybe even get to that Derby thing - upon our return in a week or so. Now I have to pack. Feel free to use the comments section as an open thread, but please be nice!. And have a great week.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Aqueduct Wednesday

In the second at the Big A, Patent Pending Tom (10-1) ran well for third two back when dropping to this level and adding blinkers, sweeping wide into the turn and hanging a bit late after threatening throughout the stretch drive. Way up the track on a sealed good track in his last, gets a fast track here; value play.

In the 4th, All Quiet (8-1) stepped up impressively in her first against winners for trainer Rick Schosberg. Daughter of Henny Hughes finished well for third against a hopeless pace scenario and an impressive favorite in the Toddster's Midnight Visit. This barn is 0 for its last 13, but knocking on the door of late with a close second and three competitive thirds in its last six starts. May not get a contested pace in here either, but looks eligible to pick up a piece at least. Those Lion Eyes (4-1) improved second off the layoff two back in her first start for trainer Carlos Martin. Similar spacing here after a second impressive win for the barn, and could find herself alone on the lead. Ava K. (3-5) dominated at 4-5 in her debut.

In the 6th, Take A Vow (7-2) drops in search of a winning level for trainer Bruce Levine. May have found it in a flawed field here.

In the 7th, Private Rules (6-1) dropped to this state-bred allowance level in his last after facing stakes company after graduating last year. May have run into a stakes horse in the impressive Dr. Disco (7-5 second choice against open company in the feature), but bested the rest of the field. Figures to be a square price against Highest Regards (6-5), another, like Ava K., facing winners for the first time after earning a field-high Beyer trouncing maidens at odds-on in his debut (in June against four rivals at Belmont).

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Sunday News and Notes

Yonkers is now available for wagering and watching on the NYRA Rewards site (also on Channel 71 for those of you with Time Warner Cable). (The Churchill Downs tracks have been added to the live streaming menu as well.) In addition, the Big A and the Belmont Cafe will remain open until 11 PM on Fridays and Saturdays.

To accommodate customers at Aqueduct that stay for the evening simulcasts, the MTA’s Aqueduct subway stop will remain open until 11:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights.
That's a scary thought. Won't be once the racino is open, and I'd expect the service there could be around the clock at that point. But wouldn't want to be a part of the crowd waiting there for the A train at 11 PM these days!

On Saturday evening, I was awaiting the Head Chef's latest feast, had a little time, so I downloaded the Yonkers PP's from Brisnet, and made my very first harness wager through NYRA Rewards a winning one! Either a great omen, or I'm suckered in for life, and we all know which one it probably is....especially since the horse is named The Awful Truth ($9.20). This six-year old gelding, making his 102nd lifetime start (gotta love these harness horses), went first over against the favorite, and somehow prevailed after going nose to nose with that rival for the length of the stretched-out stretch. Thought I lost for sure, but the track announcer and camera guys know the angle better then me, and had it all the way.

Immediately apparent from looking at the past performances is that the purses at Yonkers were recently cut, no doubt due to the drop in handle after the closure of NYC OTB. The race that I bet, for non-winners of 12K in their last six starts, was for $19,500 a few weeks ago, but for just $16,000 now. A steep reduction, and now the horsemen are facing the possibility of Governor Cuomo's surcharge as well. Also looked like there was a pretty significant dip in VLT revenues around the Xmas holidays, wonder if that came into play as well. In any event, hopefully this new exposure on NYRA outlets will help boost handle to the point where the purses can recover.

- Nice trip down to Tampa for Ramon Dominguez, who swept the three stakes races there on Saturday's card, displaying different aspects of his mastery in each race. In the Florida Oaks, on the grass for three-year old fillies, Ramon kept cool on Dynamic Holiday ($8) in and amongst horses, and found an opening on the rail turning for home. It was such a sneaky move that the track announcer totally missed him (and then mis-called him as Dynamite Holiday when he finally picked him up). Second stakes win in a row for this Graham Motion-trained daughter of Harlan's Holiday, out of a Dynaformer mare.

In the G3 Sam F Davis, Brethren ($3.80) broke a bit awkwardly from the treacherous outside post, but Ramon had him in perfect stalking position on the rail, behind a 53-1 shot, by the time they came out of the first turn. Easy win from there, and Ramon had him shut down inside the 16th pole. It was the first stakes effort, first try around two turns, and first race since November for this three-year old Distorted Humor half-brother to Super Saver (though against a modest graded stakes field to be sure); he earned a Beyer of 83.

And in the G3 Endeavor Stakes, New York's top jockey grabbed the lead shortly after the break on Silver Reunion ($6), slowed the pace down from 24.08 to 24.56 to 25.26 before burying the field with final splits of 23.94 and 6.14 seconds. Another offspring of Harlan's Holiday from the Motion barn, this five-year old mare was making her first start since just failing to last in the Ballston Spa at Saratoga.

- I caught TVG's hilariously self-deprecating Gate Crashers coverage of the Santa Maria stakes from Santa Anita. Apparently they've been doing this for awhile, but I don't generally have much reason to be watching TVG at that time of the evening this time of the year, so I hadn't seen it before. It culminated a shot of Frank Mirahmadi calling the race while watching it on TV. Funny stuff. Whatsmore, while doing the call from a monitor, this guy is probably better than 95% of what's out there in what is a weak crop of track announcers, at least in my view. As someone who was lured into the game in part by listening to race calls from guys like Dave Johnson, Ray Haight, and Chic Anderson, I find it disappointing that there's a dearth of promising young voices out there that excite me these days. Would love to hear of some suggestions if you think I'm missing anyone.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Odds and Ends, Clowns and Idiots

Looks like the Stockbridge-Munsee casino is the latest failed attempt to open a casino in the Catskills. And though a spokesperson for the Stockbridge-Munsee tribe said that the Interior Department did “an about-face,” the Times Herald Record reported that the idea was dead almost immediately after landing on federal authorities' desks.

[Tribe attorney Don] Miller writes that Interior and Department of Justice officials informed the tribe by conference call on Jan. 12 that "such a settlement is not viable."
The feds were involved in extensive negotiations from April to August when [Professor] Paterson was ready to sign the agreement but cut off communications for two months. By the time Paterson inked the deal on Nov. 22 and held a high-profile signing ceremony in Monticello with Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-Hurley, federal authorities weren't communicating. [Times Herald Record]
In an article entitled "Casino not dead yet, say local officials," on the Mid-Hudson News site, a local town supervisor said: “I’m sure the coffin is closed, but the nail’s not in it yet.” Well, that doesn't sound too hopeful. The folks at Genting, Yonkers, and, especially, Monticello would be happy to hammer those nails in for good.

- Here's a laugh from earlier in the week.
Senate Minority Leader John Sampson tracked me down at the NYSAC conference to offer this jab at Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, who seems to be moving a bit more slowly toward ethics reform than other state leaders.

“I’ll give you the quote Mayor Koch would say: he’s an enemy of reform, and I guess he must have signed the pledge with invisible ink,” Sampson said. “If we expect people to follow us, they have to trust us. And they knew the issues of the past, and I think the best thing they we can do and the right foot to get on with the people of the state of New York is to pass the reform that is necessary to get the faith, trust and confidence back in the government of the state of New York.” [Capitol Confidential]
I don't even know what to say. Does this guy have absolutely no shame at all? This guy lecturing anyone - even the squirrely Senate Majority Leader, who stooped to colluding with the absolute lowest and scummiest elements in order to engineer his ridiculous coup last year - on ethics, is like.....oh man, that's easy, where do I start? How's like Chris Lee giving a lecture on judicious use of the internet.

Had to get that in somehow. I mean, don't think for a second when I express astonishment that Sampson can still carry on as conference leader after his role in the AEG fiasco that I think the Senate Republicans are any better. It's a sad, sad institution that accounts for a third of the power in our state capital.

In case you need some refreshment on the Inspector General's report on AEG and Sampson, here's just a little sample.
Evidence obtained by the Inspector General strongly suggests that Senator Sampson importuned AEG to support favored groups and alter its composition to ensure that members of his constituency were financially rewarded upon its selection. The evidence further supports the finding that Sampson “insisted” that AEG, a bidder for a multi-billion award under consideration by him in his official capacity, include a specific developer of his choosing......Sampson’s inability or unwillingness to categorically deny these actions further casts doubt on his reasons for supporting AEG.
The Inspector General further finds that the Senate, under the leadership of Senator Sampson, took efforts to impede the Inspector General’s investigation which were inconsistent with the public’s right to know the manner in which its properties and funds are being dispensed and inimical to transparency in government. Unlike the officials from the executive branch and Assembly who voluntarily cooperated with the Inspector General’s investigation, the Senate quickly reneged on its pledge to cooperate and, after the Inspector General was forced to serve a subpoena, filed a lawsuit in State Supreme Court to prevent its activities from becoming public. The Senate and Senator Sampson exacerbated their conduct by even attempting to keep the fact of their lawsuit secret from their constituents by seeking an inappropriate sealing order from the court.
OK, maybe that's more than "just a little sample." But there's so much. I'll whip some out every time I hear this clown open his mouth about how others should behave.

- Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther, representing the district where the struggling Monticello Raceway resides, writes to Governor Cuomo about his proposed surcharge on purses. Such appeals from those representing horsemen of modest means at struggling racetracks, particularly from upstate, likely carry a better chance of carrying weight than those from downstate thoroughbred horsemen who stand to benefit from slots at the Big A. That's not to minimize the effect that the surcharge that's not a tax could have at NYRA tracks given the keen competition from surrounding states. But the thoroughbred guys might do well to rally around their less fortunate colleagues.

What an idiot. However, on the other hand, I find the current environment in which everyone and anyone's private affairs are subject, at the slightest slip, to this kind of viral hysteria to be chilling and disturbing. A site like Gawker could just have easily told the woman who sent the photo and emails, thanks, but no thanks, it's really none of anyone's business. And it's not news. Because it's really not. Neither is this. It's just cheap titillation for a society with seemingly nothing better to do but spend mindless hours sitting in front of computers and smartphones texting and twittering about absolutely nothing. They should try going to the track.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011


Here's some excellent news from NYRA - a host of tracks added to the live streaming menu on its NYRA Rewards site. Those tracks currently in action will be added by tomorrow, Thursday. This should certainly boost their numbers, and not a moment too soon in this window of opportunity with TVG in their dark period.

* California Fair Circuit
* Delta Downs Racetrack
* Golden Gate Fields
* Gulfstream Park
* Hollywood Park
* Laurel Park
* Lone Star Park
* Mountaineer Racetrack
* Parx Racing
* Pimlico Race Course
* Portland Meadows
* Sam Houston Park
* Santa Anita Park
* Sunland Park
* Tampa Bay Downs
* Turf Paradise
* Turfway Park
* Woodbine Racetrack

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Simo Wagering Keeps NYRA in Game

NYRA released their January numbers along with comparisons to the same month last year, when NYC OTB handled some $15.8 million. The total off track handle was down $28.8 million. The total "on-track" handle on NYRA races, which includes wagering at Aqueduct (where daily average attendance was up 44% to 4,510), Belmont Cafe, phone, and internet wagering, was up $3.6 million, just a small slice of the off-track loss.

However, if you include the on-track wagering on simulcast signals (on which NYRA retains a comparable share as on its own races), then things get pretty interesting. According to numbers I got from NYRA, that figure was up to $33.47 million in January, from $21.4 million in 2010, a gain of just over $12 million. That's around 41% of the $28.8 million in off-track handle lost, exceeding the 35% that NYRA had indicated it needed to break even. These are back of the envelope calculations on my part....may be missing something, but it would seem as if NYRA is at least in the ballpark here. And an impressive gain of 113% in total internet plus phone wagering (NYRA + Simulcast), from $3.5 million to $7.48 million, comes despite the fact that NYRA has still not secured agreements to live stream races from many major tracks (Tampa and Sunland were up this past weekend), nor yet commenced wagering from Yonkers. So I think there's certainly potential for more growth there. I mean, I'm just chomping at the bit for some live Gulfstream, Fair Grounds, Oaklawn, and Santa Anita racing on their NYRA Rewards site. This is certainly the right time of year, with a virtual blackout on TVG in effect.

- Catching up a bit, if you missed it late last week, the Oneida tribe introduced this ad below in opposition to the Stockbridge-Munsee tribe casino proposed by former Governor Paterson. (Click here if the embed below is not working for you.)

The new governor is said to have not taken a definitive stance on the casino. Of course, his opinion may not matter, as the casino would have to ultimately pass muster with the feds.

The U.S. Department of the Interior must give final approval, which as of this past week, appears to be on shaky ground. State Sen. John Bonacic, R- Mount Hope, met with Interior Department officials in Washington and came away from the session with “negative vibrations.” [Daily Freemen]

Monday, February 07, 2011

Monday Morning Notes

That's two Grade 1 wins in a row for Donn winner Giant Oak; that comes after 14 losing efforts in a row (15 since he actually crossed the wire first) of mostly reliable rallies that nonetheless fell short on various different surfaces. He earned a career high Beyer of 105 in the Donn, benefiting from a contested pace to storm down the center of the track past some weary rivals. I didn't think it was a very good race call by track announcer Larry Collmus; he completely ignored the valiant effort of Morning Line, who staved off race-long challenges to lead at the sixteenth pole. And I personally wouldn't have characterized the effort by the winner as "HUGE!" He was very good, but had everything go his way.

Giant Oak had the owners of Square Eddie to thank for the pace scenario. Don't really know what they were thinking, shipping their horse across the country to face top competition off his return after a one year layoff. How much more meaningful than synthetic form do you think races over the dirt surface at Santa Anita, one which routinely produces 44 second half miles in maiden claiming races, will turn out to be? Square Eddie backed up to last, and will hopefully go back to where he came from and stay there.

Saturday, February 05, 2011


In the Donn Handicap, Morning Line (3-1) stretches out to a mile and an eighth, perhaps his best distance, for the red-hot Nick Zito barn. Pressed to a 22.1 second quarter in the one turn, one mile Hal's Hope, this four-year old son of Tiznow weakened late for third, but should be better for the effort in his second start off a layoff, especially if his two quick half mile works at Palm Meadows since then are any indication. This is the distance at which he won the Pennsylvania Derby last summer, and one would think that a son of Tiznow, out of an AP Indy mare, would appreciate the longer route. That's what Sheikh son Sheikh Rashid was thinking when he purchased a share of the colt this past week.

"We're looking for a World Cup horse," said Trevino. "Morning Line was very good at the end of his three-year-old campaign, and from looking at his pedigree, we don't think he's a miler." [Racing Post]
A good inside draw makes him a candidate to control the pace from the outset here. (Not getting intimidated in that respect by Square Eddie's front-running return over the freaky-fast Santa Anita strip.) Price could be a square one too, as the overrated Fly Down and the one-time Derby hopeful I Want Revenge figure to take some action on the tote.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Tough Spot for Horsemen

Here's the section from Governor Cuomo's Budget Briefing Book on the "surcharge" - not a tax - on all horse racing purses in New York:

Racing Purse Surcharge. Currently, the Racing and Wagering Board’s Regulation of Racing Account operates at a deficit, necessitating loans from the State’s taxpayer financed General Fund in order to maintain the Board’s regulatory activities that are directly related to the conduct of horse racing. The Executive Budget includes legislation to establish a two and three quarters percent surcharge on purses for all horse races conducted within the State. Moneys from this surcharge will be directly deposited in the Regulation of Racing account, which, when combined with cost containment actions undertaken by the Racing Board, will eliminate the account’s deficit and will ensure that the cost for the Board’s regulatory activities are fully borne by the Racing Industry rather than by taxpayers.
The surcharge is expected to raise some $7.6 million in the fiscal year which starts in April, and $8.4 million a year down the line, when the NYRA purses are presumably fattened by Resorts World money. The argument is framed so as to put the burden of argument on those trying to convince lawmakers that the "Industry," and not the taxpayers, should bear the burden. That of course is despite the sums that the industry contributes annually to the entire state economy, not just for track degenerates and backstretch Medicine Eds.
The New York Racing Association, which operates the Aqueduct, Saratoga and Belmont race tracks....says it contributes more than $2 billion annually in the state’s economy. Horse racing is estimated to account for some 35,000 jobs across the state. [NY Times]
That's NYRA alone, so, I dunno, seems like it may be worth a few million dollars to help out.

The brief section devoted to 'Revenue Actions' also contains a provision for free play credits at racinos. The last time we saw that proposal, it had somehow been slipped into the last NYC OTB reorganization plan. Now it pops up in the governor's budget. Damn! These racino guys are good! Who are their lobbyists? Good to see that the governor is not subject to any special interests as he says.

Look, one can make convincing arguments against the surcharge; NYTHA president Richard Violette and Assemblyman James Tedisco talk about the potential impact on jobs here; Steve Zorn puts forth an eloquent argument on fairness here.

But the truth is, in this budget year, it's a losing argument, one hardly worth making. Cuomo is proposing massive cuts in healthcare - effectively nearly $6 billion - education cuts which would have profound implications for poorer school districts; possibly up to 10,000 layoffs in state agencies, 10% cuts at public colleges, and significant cuts in the areas of human services (including those to the disabled and to family services), public safety, criminal justice services, the parks, environment and energy, and the arts. Among other things. The relatively small percentage and sums being levied on the horsemen is surely not going to make for a resonant argument. Horse racing is an easy and convenient target as we know.

The horsemen are in a tough spot, and total avoidance of the surcharge would appear unlikely. Best shot might be an appeal for some partial relief. The harness horsemen, usually more extreme in their stances, discuss with what seems like a realistic approach given the situation.
"This money to cover drug testing needs to be taken from the horsemen and the tracks equally," said [SOA president Joe] Faraldo. "It seems that when it comes to costs, we have evolved to the meaning that costs are only the horsemen's costs. I guess the surcharge would even apply to stakes when the horsemen are racing for mostly their own money. We're hopeful that we can get this changed." []