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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Lord of Misery

Teresa has a nice piece on Brooklyn Backstretch about an appearance earlier this week in that borough by Jaimy Gordon, the author of the acclaimed and award-winning novel Lord of Misrule.

I wasn't at all surprised to hear Ms. Gordon quoted as saying: “Racing is tragic and painful...and I love it.” Because while her devotion to, and knowledge of the inner workings of the game, is quite evident, her book is totally devoid of humor. Yes, like most everything else, horse racing surely has its fair share of heartbreak, and its sleazy side. However, Lord of Misrule, after coming out of the gate merely grim, descends into madness, mayhem, and murder more appropriate for a daytime soap opera than for a work about what is, after all, just a game. And one that this blogger has always tried to take none too seriously.

So, while I did derive a certain amount of pleasure and satisfaction from reading the book (though I did not at all like the way that certain passages were written in the perceived dialect of the characters, an approach I found to be stereotyped, condescending, and, worst of all, distracting from the storytelling), when I got home from the vacation I read it on, I found I had no real desire to get through the closing pages; didn't really care enough about the characters to reach the finish line. So I don't know how it ended, though from the way things were going, I wouldn't be surprised if Tommy Hansel strapped a thermonuclear device underneath his coat and put himself and the whole stinking place out of its misery.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Purse Surcharge Cut

I've learned from an informed source that the 2.75% surcharge on all horse racing purse earnings in New York State was cut from the budget agreed to by Governor Cuomo and legislative leaders on Sunday. Horsemen will greet this as good news; however no funding alternative for the New York State Racing and Wagering Board was inserted to replace the $7 million in revenue that the surcharge was expected to raise. So, while we're all glad to know that our hard working horsemen will not have their income taxed any further, it does leave the sport's regulator without funding. One way or another, that will have to be addressed.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Pushback and Giveback

Got some pushback over the last post for just mentioning Andrew Cohen advocating in his First Over column (at - free sub req) for horsemen at the Meadowlands to willingly giveback 5% of purse monies towards marketing efforts...if, that is, Gural gets the concessions from the unions that he says he needs to keep the track alive. (And I actually just touched on Cohen's point - he additionally suggests that, in addition to owners, that trainers, drivers, veterinarians, breeders and consignors, and even horsemen from other states lend financial support!)

I got - twice - a press release from the Standardbred Owners Association of New York regarding the New York horsemen's effots and financial contribution (said by Joe Faraldo to be in excess of $2 million) towards the effort to restore Yonkers' live signal to Channel 71, and permit live streaming on its website, in a joint effort with track effort which contributed to the first $1 million+ handle night at the Yonk since the NYC OTB shutdown (and on an bad betting night too, with eight of the 13 races featuring favorites of 7-10 or leas, far less on several occasions). "The SOA is for marketing through HARD WORK and money in a COOPERATIVE EFFORT, not simply forking over money to a track operator who then does what he or it feels should be done," I was told.

And that's an important distinction, because otherwise I think there's a lot of similarity between what happened at Yonkers, and what has been discussed for the Meadowlands. Under normal circumstances, of course it's the tracks' responsibility to pay for marketing, not the horsemen who supply the product. After all, as it was suggested to me, the Rangers don't chip in part of their salaries to help market the Garden, and that is naturally true.

However, if attendance at Ranger games had dropped by 80-90% over the last 15 years, Governor Cuomo decided that they had to go, and I came along to lease the team for $1 per month (assuming responsibility of course for all personnel decisions), then maybe they would, seeing their livelihoods threatened. (Or maybe they'd take up curling.) Similarly, horsemen at both Yonkers and the Meadowlands faced, or are facing, existential threats. Maybe not quite as literally so at Yonkers, but handle did drop rather drastically after the parlors were shut down. Enough so that the horsemen, who vehemently opposed the OTB bailout bills, were spurred to take action. Though they didn't have part of their purse money automatically deferred, they spent their own money nonetheless.

So I can understand Cohen's principle. Surely not to simply turn money over to Gural to do what he wants. Cohen suggests that the money go to "a smaller group of harness industry insiders who have new ideas about how to aggressively bring bettors and fans back to harness racing at the Big M." Which sounds nice. Unfortunately, I don't know if that's anything more than a fanciful notion at this point in time. And I'm not singling out the harness sport either, it's a conundrum in both breeds that has yet to be deciphered. If anything, harness racing, being conducted mostly at night, with a standardized racing distance and thus simpler past performances, could be said to have an easier task. If, as Gural said, you can't get 18-year olds to read a harness program anymore, I don't see much hope for the Form or the Sheets.

- Speaking of the Rangers, their dramatic 1-0 win in Boston on Saturday moved them seven points ahead of 9th place Carolina, who have played one less game. The Blueshirts are actually closer to 5th than to playoff oblivion, trailing the Lightning by four points, and tied in points (though on the short end of the tiebreaker) with the struggling 6th place Canadians. The Boston Herald noted that the Rangers looked like a team neither the Bruins nor any other team wants to meet in the playoffs. As I've mentioned previously, I wholeheartedly agree. They do however have to get there, first.

One Last Hurdle for Meadowlands

Jeff Gural says that he's raised the $100 million he needs to transform the Meadowlands into a scaled-down, economically-feasible facility and build an OTW outlet in Bayonne, thus saving the track from oblivion. However, he still needs agreement from the unions.

“I thought we were going to be able to make a deal with the unions — especially the teller’s union — fairly quickly,” Gural said in the interview with race caller Sam McKee [on Saturday night]. “But it seems to be that they’ve had a change of heart. My lawyer told me a little while ago that he can’t get them on the phone.”

It looks like the real crux is going to be dealing with the unions, and if we work things out, we’re in good shape. But that’s a big if, obviously.” []
The crux of Gural's plan is to raze the present grandstand, a once-thriving and vibrant building which comfortably handled the routine 20,000 plus weekend crowds but whose size now makes it obsolete, with a smaller structure on what is now the backstretch. Until then, he figures that he and his partners will lose some $10-$12 million. However, referring to a potential standoff with the unions, he said "but I’m not willing to lose $20 [million]."

Gural talks about the need to "change this game upside down," including the need to introduce new kinds of wagering.
"In this day and age, we're not going to get people to read a program the way I started to read a program when I was 18. Maybe we should get people to approach it like they approach roulette or something like that. Red or black. Odd or even." [ (Free subscription req.)]
Sounds pretty dull, but the idea that it's hard to interest people in studying a past performance program of any kind is probably and unfortunately right on these days. However, Gural's partner Cantor Gaming (a division of the Cantor Fitzgerald financial services firm) is known for innovative forms and means of wagering, including "in-running" betting on games and races (thus far for Triple Crown events) that are already underway, advance wagers at fixed odds and lower commissions, and a hand-held device which allows its casino patrons to play table games while they're sitting on the toilet.

I can't say that I've ever had much of a desire to bet on a race once they're off. I suppose you could switch gears if your horse gets left at the gate, but the expression 'good money after bad' comes to mind.

Gural has also floated the idea of the horsemen kicking in a percentage of their purse winnings to pay for marketing and drug enforcement; an idea that Joe Faraldo has expressed opposition to (and in fact Gural had threatened to pull out of the project had Faraldo won election as USTA chairman), but about which at least one owner agrees. Andrew Cohen writes in his First Over column on Harness Racing Update:
As an owner, for starters, I would be willing to take only 85 percent of purse money received from races at the Big M and Freehold, with the additional five percent reduction being used to better market and police the sport in the Garden State. That additional pool of money should not go to SBOANJ, which has enough on its plate, but rather to a smaller group of harness industry insiders who have new ideas about how to aggressively bring bettors and fans back to harness racing at the Big M.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Trying to Discharge the Surcharge

Efforts are underway in the budget negotiations in Albany to lower or eliminate Governor Cuomo's proposed 2.75% surcharge on purses in the state. However, Tom Precious reports on that the Assembly and the Senate can’t resolve how they want to make up the difference in revenues the plan needs to bring to the budget. That would be $7 million, the amount that the surcharge is expected to generate, ostensibly to fund the Racing and Wagering Board.

The Assembly Democrats, meanwhile, want to lower Cuomo’s proposed purse surcharge [to 0.75%] and replace the lost revenue by imposing a fee on racino operators. The Senate has instead offered what Bonacic called a “general assessment” on all racetracks in the state.
And in the 'beating a dead horse' category, Senate Republicans want to revive their plan to revive NYCOTB as a private corporation, albeit one which would still be overseen by the states; fail to satisfy the creditors, and pay less in statutory fees to harness tracks. The scheme mercifully died in committee on March 8, but has reappeared in the budget talks. However, Gary Pretlow, chairman of the Assembly Racing and Wagering Committee, says "We're not doing that." And, as much as many in the industry, tracks and horsemen alike (other than some amongst the harness horsemen) feared an OTB shutdown, I haven't heard any interest whatsoever for it to come back to life in any form.

Precious also writes of a Senate plan to to beef up fan interest in attending races; I don't know any specifics of that. Maybe it's a plan to provide free transportation to the tracks for the folks making over $1 million a year for whom the Senate Republicans insist on lowering income taxes from 2010 rates as teachers and other public employees lose their job.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Gulfstream Wednesday

- In the 5th at Gulfstream on Wednesday, By Land Or By Sea (6-1) drops in class and stretches back out for trainer Richard Dutrow, who, after all, has not had his license revoked yet, and is winning at a 25% clip down in South Florida. Like his trainer, this four-year old daughter of Mr. Greeley is no doubt content to be away from New York, coming off a freshening to score a handy maiden win there under a confident ride by John Lezcano at a mile and a sixteenth, earning what was easily a career high Beyer. Good try at five furlongs first try against winners from the 11 post in her last, and draws the rail here after a solid series of works. Redfoxey Dorothy (4-1) returns to the grass, on which he ran a close second this class and distance, off the claim by Peter Walder, and Johnny V sticks around. Lakeside Chapel (12-1) takes a big drop after breaking poorly in her last two.

Hockey Folly Only Slightly Familiar

The National Hockey League threw the book and a few bags of pucks down on Matt Cooke, the Pittsburgh Penguin's lowlife forward who delivered a blatant and vicious elbow to the jaw of the Rangers' Ryan McDonough even as the issue of such head shots in the sport is the current subject of intense and highly publicized discussion. It was just last week that the subject was the major topic of discussion at the general managers' meeting (even as they stopped short of a total ban on hits to the head. For now, anyway.)

Citing Cooke's record as a frequent attendee at these disciplinary hearings, the league suspended him for the remaining ten games of the season, plus the first round of the playoffs (anywhere from four to seven additional games). The hit was so egregious that even the Penguins came out strongly in support of the ban. (They were also no doubt annoyed that the incident shifted the momentum of the game and helped propel the surging Broadway Blueshirts to their 4th straight win as they aspire to the postseason.)

It's just unimaginable that even an idiot like Cooke could be so careless and callous at a time when there is such attention on the issue, especially in light of a recent damaging front page article in the New York Times, and a particularly ugly (though apparently accidental) incident involving the Bruins' Zdeno Chara a couple of weeks ago which resulted in a significant spinal injury to the Canadians' Max Pacioretty (though, controversially, no suspension for Chara).

Similarly, in racing, it takes a real buffoon to repeatedly get caught with illegal medication and paraphernalia during a time when the subject of illegal medication, if not exactly at the level of a clamor, has at least been somewhat in focus, though not nearly as much as one might expect. Enter serial offender Richard Dutrow, who was again caught cheating, this time right around Breeders' Cup time last fall, just when the sport was getting some national attention, and as Joe Drape was once again shining his usual spotlight of the negative aspects of the sport at the most appropriate time. Hypodermic needles were found during a search of Dutrow's barn on Nov 3, while he was at Churchill for the Cup races; and a horse of his tested positive for an illegal substance on Nov 20. Dutrow was handed a total suspension of 90 days for the two infractions by the New York State Racing and Wagering Board.

However, the comparison between the two situations more or less ends somewhere in the two abovementioned men's empty heads. For one thing, and as has been painfully obvious for quite some time, racing has no central league office to which Dutrow can be summoned for discipline. There are no meetings of the tracks' general managers to debate and discuss what regulations can be implemented unilaterally. Despite the efforts of the well-meaning Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, an excerpt from their FAQ page reads as follows:

Question: How many states have adopted your model rule on uniform penalties?

Dr. Waterman: Actually, it is inaccurate to say “adopted” since that implies by rule. Approximately 20 states are using our penalty language, the majority as simply a policy guideline.
The only recent quasi-national effort on drugs I can recall was the one a couple of years ago to ban steroids, which seemed at the time like a cosmetic and PC step intended to give the impression something was being done. Looking back and considering the continuing parade of prominent trainer suspensions since then, it seems even more irrelevant now.

Indeed, the New York board now finds itself under pressure to do the national industry's bidding for it and ban him permanently.

Perhaps even more significantly, while there may be a more heightened awareness of the issue of illegal medication due to the proliferation of dedicated racing bloggers and the efforts of writers like Drape, I don't exactly sense much urgency about the issue. The NTRA seems to have been focused on other things with their task forces - a Google search turned up one on this issue only as recently as 2001.

And really, illegal medication doesn't really seem to be something that racing fans seem to much care about anyway, so maybe the industry is correct to focus on other matters. The only sustained outcry I've heard lately from horseplayers is the one that led to the silly and self-serving boycott of races at Santa Anita over a relatively innocuous increase in the takeout in certain exotic bets. I don't see any recent posts on the subject on the HANA blog, where they (and their ringleader Bill Finley) seem far more invigorated about takeout reductions at Hastings Park than the prospect of a meaningful ban of Dutrow (about which I don't see a single post).

The best the industry seems to be able to do at this point is a statement from the COO of The Jockey Club to "encourage all state racing commissions to evaluate the continued licensing of any individual who has been adjudicated to have violated the established drug rules of their jurisdictions on multiple occasions,” and the abovelinkedto appeal by another well-meaning but toothless organization - Racing Commissioners International - for New York to take drastic action. Those hearings, at which time Dutrow will appeal his suspension altogether, will take place in ten days time. No opinion here as to whether he should indeed have his license revoked. However, it would surely seem appropriate if he receives more than just the usual routine trip to the penalty box this time.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Genting Gives NYRA a Woodie

NYRA announced that the purse of the Wood Memorial.....or, make that the Resorts World New York Casino Wood Memorial......has been increased to $1 million, presented by Genting. (Of course, in a way, the entire racing season is presented by Genting. NYRA was threatening to close before the deal was finally done last spring, and now, according to Charles Hayward in Saratoga the other night, the association has $20 million in the bank, much of that via loans from the casino company.)

"Through this partnership with NYRA, we have taken a significant step in that direction. This year’s Resorts World New York Casino Wood Memorial is sure to be a spectacular event that will bring out racing enthusiasts and make all of New York proud.”
Of course, as discussed in the comments section here, where exactly all those racing enthusiasts are gonna hang out with the grandstand closed remains to be seen. It could be quite a scene.

NYRA's press release listed the prospective starters for the race.
Mentioned as a probable contender for the Resorts World New York Casino Wood Memorial is Queens native Mike Repole’s undefeated Uncle Mo.
Oh. Seriously, that's all they got at this point? Well, the larger purse should help NYRA attract a few opponents hoping to pick up some fat pieces of the purse....assuming of course, that Uncle Mo does come north instead of staying for the Florida Derby. If the Toddster doesn't ship his champ up north, I imagine they'll be an overflow field, albeit of dubious quality, for sure.

We also learned some more details about Genting's construction plans, now planned for two stages, with, as we mentioned the other day, the first supposedly due by late summer.
In addition to being able to operate 2,500 machines, the first phase of the project will include the completion of a new main entry, the porte cochere, an international buffet, and a parking garage. Also expected to be completed in phase 1 is the building of a skybridge connecting the subway station to the casino entrance. Other elements to be completed in phase 1 include a seven-outlet food court, a new bar and entertainment space, and a grab-and-go food outlet.

Phase 2 of the project, which is slated to be completed in spring 2012, will include the other 2,000 slots, two fine dining restaurants, an additional grab-and-go food outlet, a new lounge, and the VIP Crockfords Casino. [Daily Racing Form]
So, there you go, but....wait a minute. WHAT ABOUT THE FOUNTAIN???

I should also mention....and I was actually deficient in not doing so two posts ago, that Genting is supposed to be making "renovations to the existing racetrack facilities," as affirmed in today's press release. That had been reported a few months ago. Hopefully, that will truly be the case, and if that's a reason why NYRA will work on Saratoga first, that's fine. Though I'm figuring that those renovations won't include, for example, an overhaul of the main track, which I've been told has been sorely needed for quite some time.

Crash Puts Focus on Lure of Casinos

Those of you living in the NYC area may have read about the gruesome bus crash that killed 15 people returning from an overnight trip to the Mohegan Sun casino in the wee hours of Saturday morning. It has raised questions about the regulation of discount buses, the fitness and physical condition of the drivers who work long and odd hours for little pay, and the standards employed in hiring them.

It has also, thanks in part to a fascinating series of articles in the New York Times, highlighted the apparently irresistible lure of casino gambling, the dedication (though some may more accurately say depravity) of those who partake, and the steps that casinos will take to help and encourage them to do so. From our racing standpoint, it shows what racetracks are up against in competing for gambling dollars against an enterprise that provides easy and cheap access on literally a 24/7 basis.

An all-night excursion — for gamblers and bus drivers alike — is almost always part of the casino package offered by bus operators in the region. Academy Bus, based in Hoboken, N.J., advertises a round trip that leaves the Bronx at 8:45 p.m. and arrives at the Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut by 11:15 p.m.

Six hours later, passengers reboard as late as 5:15 a.m. The fare: $24, including a $15 food voucher and $15 of slots play. [NY Times]
Some prefer the nighttime because the casinos are emptier. Some believe the wee morning hours bring more luck. Others, not wanting to waste a moment, return in the early morning and go straight to work. The buses are their vital, cheap gateways. [NYT]
Another Times piece explored the direct marketing efforts directed at an Asian-American clientele that accounts for as much as 25 percent of casino revenues. Some call it predatory marketing directed towards an ethnic group for which gambling is a part of their culture.
These days, virtually every casino has an Asian marketing department, ensuring that cultural sensitivities are accommodated.

The Mount Airy casino, in the Poconos, enlisted several designers versed in feng shui. Some casinos assiduously avoid using the numbers 4 and 10, which sound like the Chinese word for death. Mohegan Sun has a Chinese-language Web site featuring the fortuitous number eight three times. [NYT]
And a description offered of the bus clientele is just downright depressing.
In the front are the regulars, people who go to the casinos several times a week and are easily recognized by bus operators. These often include grandmothers who have a couple of hundred dollars, thanks to their own savings and money from the children. Behind them are the waiters who have just been paid, and are likely to carry a lot of cash, and the newcomers. And in the back, near the bathroom, are the non-Chinese and people who want only to pick up a free meal and to sell their vouchers at a discount.
Well, sure, horse racing certainly has its dark side, as any gambling-related activity does, but I like to think that, for the most part, it stands far above the crudity of sheer addiction and the shameless exploitation of human weakness. Sure, NYRA may provide free bus service to displaced OTB patrons, but that's a far cry from the round the clock service described here. However, Genting is a separate entity. The location of Resorts World and the access to it via public transportation is supposed to attract patrons on its own, but it remains to be seen to what extent the company will go in order to compete with nearby establishments that offer the full range of casino games. In any event, one would hope that Genting, the good community neighbor it professes to be, would be willing to contribute to the efforts of one local legislator to raise money to address addiction problems its racino may exacerbate. Unlike the casinos.
A few years ago, Mr. Yee called on regional casinos to help pay for a treatment program for compulsive gamblers. He said only Mohegan Sun agreed, making a one-time grant of $25,000 that has long run out. The center’s clinic now serves fewer than 20 patients a year. [NYT]

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Don't Forget Us!

Charles Hayward told a rapt audience in Saratoga on Tuesday that the opening of the Big A racino, originally hoped for in May, won't happen until late summer. That's hardly a surprise to anyone who's been at the track lately. I could be wrong, but from the look of the place, unless they've made substantial progress in the couple of weeks since I've been there, I think they'll be doing quite well to have it open by the time the place reopens for racing in the fall.

"It’s a complicated construction....There’s been a lot more lead paint remediation than they expected. It’s an old building. They didn’t get started until almost the end of last year." [Saratogian]
Hayward said that Saratoga will be first priority as far as capital projects go, for which NYRA "conservatively expects to get $22 million to $25 million per year," according to Saratogian reporter Paul Post.
Saratoga will get the most attention because it’s the oldest facility with the most needs, and also because it’s NYRA’s most high-profile and lucrative meet.
Well, of course I understand that the backstretch there desperately needs immediate attention, and that the plant requires work on infrastructure items such as plumbing and electrical. However, and as I have written before, from a selfish point of view from a guy who figures to be happy to be able to spend a week's worth of racing there for the year (though I could do more if the Head Chef and I weren't currently addicted to Del Mar and the natural beauties of the surrounding area), I'd point out that the meet has been the most high-profile and lucrative one for quite a long time in its current condition. And that it's a pretty fantastic place that is easily able to accommodate the large crowds as it is right now. I'm not really sure what they could do to improve the place other than to construct a retractable dome to keep the rain out.

So I hope that us degenerates who brave the weather and willingly tolerate the dilapidated condition of the downstate plants to support the sport year-round get a break soon too. I'll be pretty disappointed if the racing side at Aqueduct is in the same worn and weary state at this time next year.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Gulfstream Wednesday

Rain expected here in the Big Apple, so let's venture down to the sunny climes of South Florida. In the 8th at Gulfstream on Wednesday, Lago Mar Lady (6-1) stretches out to a mile on the grass for trainer Eddie Kenneally, heating up after a cold spell with a record of 1-2-1 with his last five starters. Three-year old daughter of Medaglia D'Oro made her first grass start a winning one two races back. She was the 2-1 favorite, at the same five furlong distance, in her first start against winners and disappointed her backers with a 4th place finish here last month. However, she chased a very speedy filly in Rosa Salvaje; winner Holiday for Kitten is graded stakes-placed on turf for the seemingly always red-hot Wesley Ward, and third place finisher Caribbean Lady won her next race out in the same class.

Based on pedigree, the stretch out in distance could absolutely be just what Lago Mar Lady wants. A half-sister to Prince Eddington, stakes placed on turf at this distance, this filly is out of a Seattle Slew mare who's a half-sister to the multiple graded stakes winner Behrens and to the dam of Cowboy Cal, a graded stakes winner routing on turf and dirt. This is also the distaff family of Lemonette, a grassy stakes winner at a mile and a half, and the popular two-time Whitney winner Commentator. Superb Tomlinson and dosage numbers for the distance and a nice draw inside; I do really like this filly's chances at the distance here.

Subpoena (12-1) returns off a layoff for Michael Matz. Daughter of Afleet Alex, also a maiden winner in her grass debut, was last seen subsequently rallying from far back for 4th in an overnight stakes at Belmont last fall behind Excited, third the other day in the G3 Herecomesthebride, and Ruthenia, two-for-two lifetime for Clement and not seen since that day. Good value at her morning line. House horse Smart Sting (3-1) was a well-bet winner debuting on the lawn at Woodbine last October and thus figures to take money here for Roger Attfield, 28% with 180+ layoff horses over the last two years. Best of luck and have a great day.

A Jersey Tale

I started working on this post over a week ago and never got around to finishing it until now, so it's old news that New Jersey governor Chris Christie vetoed a bill, passed overwhelmingly by both legislative houses, that would have legalized internet wagering in the state.

But this is an ongoing story, not only in New Jersey, where efforts to legalize online gambling, perhaps by referendum, will continue, but also, quite significantly, around the country. Some states are attempting to circumvent the federal law, tucked into a port security measure in 2006, that effectively banned internet gambling by prohibiting financial companies from processing gambling transactions across state lines.

The state efforts, proponents say, would steer clear of the federal ban by limiting access to the sites to people using them from inside the state, which proponents say is technologically possible. [Wall St Journal]
Indeed, a bill to legalize online poker has been introduced in Nevada; and similar moves are underway in Iowa, Florida and California.

Back to New Jersey, in an attempt to conform to the state Constitution, which permits casino gambling only in Atlantic City, the proposal called for the computer servers to be located in that city. But Christie would have none of that.
“In my view, the creation of a legal fiction deeming all wagers to have ‘originated’ in Atlantic City cannot overcome the clear and unambiguous language of the State Constitution,” he said in the veto. [Metropolis]
The governor thereby declared that the matter would have to be put to the voters via referendum.

However, there was more than constitutional concerns at play here.
[Christie] also said the provision of the bill which would use funds generated from online gambling to subsidize horse racing conflicts with his goal to make horse racing a self-sustaining industry. [Star Ledger]
Christie has surely been consistent on his goal of getting the state out of the racing business. Last week, eight entities submitted proposals to lease Monmouth, which lost $6.1 million last year. April 1 is the target date for Jeff Gural to raise enough money to implement his plans at the Meadowlands. The governor had previously vetoed the tracks' request for full season racing dates. And though he signed a bill which would grant the tracks a far smaller subsidy from the casino industry than they've received in years past, Matt Hegarty explained last month that he could still veto the actual distribution of funds.

On the other hand, and also consistent with his stated goal, he agreed to permit the building new off track wagering facilities, (no doubt a key factor in attracting any interest in Monmouth and the Meadolwands), and to allow exchange wagering (perhaps a reason why BetFair/TVG was one of the bidders for the thoroughbred track).

I do think it's perfectly fair for Christie to insist that the tracks stand on their own; and his approval of the OTB's, as well as exchange and single-pool wagering at least shows that he's put some effort into familiarizing himself with the industry (as opposed to governors past and present in a certain state just to the north). However, by siding with the casinos on the issues of slots and subsidies (which are not after all taxpayer monies), he denies the tracks their best shot at competing with surrounding states with VLT's. And his support for a bailout for Atlantic City (not to mention for the trainwreck Xanadu project) strikes me as more than a little hypocritical.

As you might have read, Christie has achieved "rock star" status thanks in part to the You Tube videos of his slamdowns of those who dare to question or oppose his policies. There are those who are urging him to seek national office, and he recently smugly declared that he could win the presidency if he chose to run; but that he's not ready. And, of course, he's not. Regardless, he's the type of candidate who would scare me. He's a smart guy, charismatic, well-spoken, and makes a pleasing appearance even if he's a little plump. But what really makes him scary is what he's not - an adulterer, a religious radical, a panderer, a flip-flopper, a liar (OK, scratch that), a hate-mongering sleaze who exploited 9-11 for his own personal gain, a moron, nor....well, a moron. I may not agree with everything he's doing in the Garden State, but I hope he sticks around, at least until the next state election.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Saturday Stakes

It was interesting to hear the Toddster on TVG before the Tampa Bay Derby explain that he planned a third prep before the Derby for Brethren because his Sam F. Davis effort was too easy. I suspect that the same logic will not apply to Uncle Mo despite the juvenile champ's ridiculously easy victory at Gulfstream on Saturday. Sure, he came home in 22.87 seconds with only the slightest of urging, and how often do you ever see a final fraction like that in a mile race under any circumstance? But he did after all lope through the first quarter in an effortless 25.53, and earned a pedestrian Beyer of 89.

Matt Carrothers tried to make a case that the race was useful because Uncle Mo got some pressure from Rattlesnake Bridge. But Vic Stauffer countered, correctly in my view, that it was more akin to a staged workout with a hapless stablemate applying token pressure before the subject worker sprints away. Pletcher's colt doesn't figure to get too much more of a test in the Wood either. But I guess he and owner Mike Repole don't feel that their colt needs to face a more sizeable field (as they might have had they elected to run at Tampa), get some dirt in the face, or, if it's even possible given his apparent talent level, find himself in a position of adversity he'd need to overcome. They just want to keep him sound and fit.

That could be just fine. Or, if he finds himself breaking from post 18, slammed into by some unworthy contestant at the start, wide on the turn trying to catch up, needing to thread through some tight spots down the backside, and having to run down a determined opponent benefiting from a Borel trip in the final sixteenth, then his preparation could prove to have been meaningless and he could find himself up the track, no matter how much more talented he may be. Up to you if you want to take even money on that proposition.

Brethren found himself wide into the first turn, and Ramon Dominguez chose to forge on instead of seeking to conserve some energy for later on. I thought the rider seemed a bit cocky looking behind him to the inside even as Crimson Knight hounded him relentlessly. So sure, he tired at the end, but the race likely served him well. Watch Me Go ($89.40) was only five lengths back of Brethren in the Davis in his first two-turn effort, so a red-boarder could say he was way overlaid here. But 86-1 Crimson Knight completing the $2200 exacta off a 16K claim, are you kidding me?

Suncoast Stakes winner Wyomia ($15.20) is a pedigree paradox; half sister to G1 turf winner Red Giant, and from a distaff family teeming with Grade or Group 1 grass winners (Ciro, Bosra Sham, Hector Protector, Internallyflawless, California Memory, Passinetti, Shanghai, Act One), this daughter of Vindication is out of the money in two turf tries, and now three-for-three on synth and dirt.

Another big upset took place at Santa Anita in the G1 Santa Margarita, which was marred by the career-ending (though thankfully not fatal) injury to Always A Princess. Kinda hard to make even a retrospective case for Miss Match ($92.40); best I can say is that she had won her last two races around two turns, both allowance races, one at Saratoga (also with Garrett Gomez), and most recently over the Tapeta at Golden Gate. Regarding this most recent mishap on the new dirt track, Jeff Scott noted last week in The Saratogian that the death toll has not received the same scrutiny as did the problems with the synthetic surface.

A rare story in Daily Racing Form on March 2 reported that there had been 11 fatalities (five during racing, six during training) on the new surface since the current meet began on Dec. 26.
By way of comparison, there were only two racing fatalities during the entire 2009-10 season at Santa Anita (December to April), the last meet run on a synthetic surface.
So there. I was able to find only Scott's story with an extensive Google search. (Here's the Form's story.)

If the fractions set by Always A Princess (23.38, 46.39, 1:09.53) were rapid, as reported by Bloodhorse, then what term would you use to describe the fractions in the San Felipe, at a mile and a sixteenth, just a half furlong shorter? The two overbet maiden graduates, Albergatti and Runflatout (the latter sent off at an absurd 5-2) blazed their way to a half in 44.58, and predictably ran 9-10 in the field of ten. Jockey Alonso Quinonez moved with Premier Pegasus ($16.60) at the right time to take over and draw away to win easily (I did give him a good mention in my San Felipe post).

And finally, back to Gulfstream, Tackleberry did it again, his third big stakes win in a row, and again somewhat ignored by the bettors ($11 as the 4th choice...what the fascination with Rule is, I can't really say). The gelded son of Montbrook hung on tenaciously after being pressed throughout; second and third quarters of 23 and 23.2.
"They let him go 24 and change and think he's going to stop," said [owner-trainer Luis] Olivares. "I knew I had them at the top of the stretch. They were never going to go by him. He's a fighter. Not an easy horse to beat."

Olivares said the $1 million Charles Town Classic on April 16 might be next for Tackleberry, who Olivares called the best horse in the east. [DRF]
Great story here; too bad it's largely ignored due to the silly single-minded obsession on a race still eight weeks away.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

San Felipe

As Dirty has mentioned, the G2 San Felipe at Santa Anita is a wild and wooly betting affair. I think that an open-minded handicapper could make some kind of case for each and every one of the ten horses entered. On the other hand, questions abound about most of them. You have horses coming straight out of maiden wins (Albergatti and Runflatout), horses trying dirt for the first time (Comma to the Top, Jakesam), horses trying two turns (on dirt) for the first time (Premier Pegasus, Bench Points), and morning line favorite Jaycito coming off a layoff and needing to prove he can handle this surface. The two horses that have shown that they can handle the route and the dirt are amongst the longest shots on the morning line (Awesome Patriot and Quail Hill), and are both certainly eligible to improve here.

Not entirely clear that Jaycito will indeed be the post time favorite, but I think he has to be considered an automatic bet-against if he is. He won the Grade 1 Norfolk on the synthetic track at Hollywood, and even though second and third place finishers JP Gusto and Riveting Reason have run well on dirt since, that's surely no guarantee he will as well. Had trouble in the Juvenile, so no clue there as to whether he can make the switch from synthetic. Figures to take money in his first start for Baffert with the fast works that we usually see from that barn.

I'm going to go with Bench Points (8-1); not entirely an objective selection, but nothing wrong with playing a personal favorite at a fair price in a race such as this. My affinity for this son of Benchmark stems from the fact that he got me out on my final bet during my visit to Del Mar last summer, as well as his late running style which will hopefully serve him well stretching waaaay out from six furlongs to a mile and an eighth. I had him singled to complete the Pick Three on Labor Day, and wrote at the time:

Man, I love closers like this guy - final furlong in 11.99, yeah, now that's what I'm talking about!! Bench Points is out of a mare by Free House; so a real Left Coast-bred here. His 4th dam is Alma North, a durable multi-stakes winning campaigner from the early 70's, the kind we don't see anymore. On any surface.
He handled his first race on dirt with class and style in his return race last month, overcoming a shaky start to run down 3-10 Baffert favorite Da Ruler on the lightning fast track. Excellent Tomlinson and dosage numbers for the route, and surely figures to get some early pace to run late at here.

Premier Pegasus was three-for-three on synthetic last year before a more than respectable third off the layoff behind The Factor in the San Vicente, and would seem well-suited for the distance on pedigree. He's a son of Fusaichi Pegasus out of a Summer Squall mare, and he's a half-brother to the Norfolk winner Street Hero; his second dam is a half to Trojan Bronze, who won the mile and a half San Luis Rey in 1974. However, his 4-1 morning line seems rather short and I'd want more value there. Jakesam (20-1) has shown the kind of improvement at three that you love to see; comes off a bang-up second in the El Camino Real at Golden Gate to the similarly-improving Silver Medallion. Nice blowout on this surface for his dirt debut, for Jerry Hollendorfer. Grade 1 winner Comma to the Top ran 4th behind those two, so you might want more than 4-1 in his dirt debut despite the ample foundation he figures to have attained from his ten starts as a juvenile. Runflatout did just that in his debut, but similarly seems underlaid at his 4-1 morning line in his first start against winners; figures to take some of that West Point money too.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Not Ranting and Raving

Uncle Mo is slated to face five rivals in a one-turn mile race at Gulfstream, and, oh man, talk about a tepid test. His 3-5 morning line seems like a bargain. Two of the horses come straight from their graduation day, and only one of them has won more than their maiden breaker; and that horse, Madman Diaries, was way up the track in the Hutcheson a couple of weeks ago. We read the other day about the likelihood of a short field in the Wood, and it's in fact likely that the juvenile champion will face twice as many horses at Churchill Downs than he will in his two preps combined. Will that matter? I dunno.

Here, I was gonna rant and rave about how dull this whole Derby trail thing has become compared to not that long ago when races like the Wood and the Blue Grass and the Florida Derby and the Santa Anita Derby were themselves major goals to be pointed to....but I'm practicing yoga, remember? so I don't really care. It is what it is; big business, no laughing matter, no time for spontaneity or the sport for sporting sake. Two preps is now the way to go, and if that takes the fun out of it, then that's the way it goes. Hey, it's an amazing game which presents endless challenges, hair-raising thrills and disappointments each week, so why obsess for weeks and months over a single race which has produced more disappointment and mediocrity than satisfaction over the past few years (since, by the way, all the "rules" changed for the worse). But hey, no ranting and raving here...

You know how much things have changed in just a short time when you read something like this:

Winning the Holy Bull so impressively with Dialed In solved one problem and created another for Zito and owner Robert LaPenta. It gave Dialed In enough graded earnings to almost assure him of a spot in this year's Derby field but was too good to wheel him right back in another tough race like the Fountain of Youth just four weeks later. [DRF]
Emphasis mine of course; I mean, just a few years or so ago when I started writing this blog, four weeks was more akin to a layoff than too short of a turnaround! Well, Nick Zito being the traditional guy he is, Dialed In at least will have run three times if all goes according to plan, and his second place effort on Sunday seemed like a fine prep with his closing furlong in 12.35 seconds.

At least there's some hope that owner Mike Repole will be true to his word and do what's best for the sport should his colt live up to expectations. If Uncle Mo was owned by Winstar, it would be 2-5 that he'd be retired before the Breeders Cup, no matter what happens this spring.

Feeling restless as Saturday approaches, Repole spent some pocket change to claim six-year old Caixa Electronica for $62,500 out of the third at Gulfstream on Wednesday. Nice to have money and time on one's hands, eh? And maybe he watched on TV as his NY bred Silver Over Gold won the 6th at Aqueduct on Thursday.

The 8th at the Big A might have produced some kind of record for a non-marathon distance race. It's the kind of race chart you look at and figure there was a spill. But no - three out of the eight runners were simply unable finish up the mile and 70 yard distance and were eased, thus earning DNF's. Yuck!

Speaking of which, Yuck is a young band from the UK whose dense guitar sound recalls bands from a couple of decades ago such as Swervedriver and Ride (who recently released a deluxe 20th anniversary (!) edition of their awesome classic Nowhere LP). Yuck's impressive self-titled debut album is available on Fat Possum Records.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Odds and Ends

I saw Figless' comment about the objection in the Gotham, and that was the first I'd heard of it. I actually didn't stick around for that race, the 10th on Saturday. 2 1/2 hours is about my shelf life at the Big A this time of year, especially in the new crowded version. Of course, when the weather's nice, twice, even three times that time period just flies by at favorite tracks like Belmont, Del Mar, and Saratoga (strictly in alphabetical order). But I'm done after a limited time at the Big A; good thing it's close enough to warrant the trip for an abbreviated stay.

Not much controversy as far as the Gotham though in my opinion; some light mutual bumping before Stay Thirsty crossed over in front of longshot Norman Asbjornson while drawing clear late. On the pan shot, it looked like a bit of acting on the part of jockey Julian Pimentel. Pretty nice return for the winner, who earned a Beyer of 89, in his first start since the Breeders' Cup; and of course, the Mike Repole - Todd Pletcher team will try to replicate that on Saturday with Uncle Mo. Reading this article by David Grening in the Form, an overpowering return by the two-year old champ could produce something akin to a walkover in the Wood.

I have to agree with Figless' comment about Sunday's third, and the total non-explanation provided in NYRA's Stewards' Corner. serves solely as a list of inquiries and objections without providing any enlightenment in which case it is useless.
Can't put it any better than that.

Back for a moment to the Big Cap; I mentioned Baffert's quote dismissing the hecklers after the race as harmless compared to those at Belmont. Some readers not familiar with the tracks might have thought he would cite Aqueduct instead. But trainers there never have to come in close contact with the crowd, which is either indoors behind glass or kept at a safe distance overlooking the sunken paddock. They can walk in and out through restricted areas in the building. But at Belmont, there's only one route from the paddock to the track, and at one point the path bottlenecks at a point where the grandstand paddock viewing area hangs directly above. It can be way too close for comfort for trainers and jockeys alike. Wait until we have some of the colorful OTB characters added to the mix.

- Harness horsemen are touting the "stretched stretch," - the 1 and a 1/16th mile races at Yonkers that were instituted last month. Standardbred Owners Association of NY president Joe Faraldo noted that there were a "possibly unprecedented" four winners from the dreaded eight post on Saturday night.
Clearly, the word is out: outside post horses at Yonkers are no longer to be discounted as outsiders at the mutuel windows. This new competitive racing phenomenon has assuredly helped Yonkers once again approach 7-figure handle numbers unseen since the recent closure of NYC's Off Track Betting Corporation. [$934,000 on Saturday night.]
I would think that the addition of Yonkers (and it's live stream) to NYRA's wagering menu has helped as well.

- A couple of follow-ups to my post from Sunday morning. I mentioned there that our friend DiscreetPicks had an excellent day on Saturday; he followed that up with a one-for-one Sunday when Hard to Resist ($12.80) rallied from far back to take the 6th at Santa Anita.

And the Rangers, wearing their road white uniforms, crushed the Flyers 7-0. jk wrote that I had some splaining to do; but this is a very young team that competes hard every night, and has lost a lot of close games. The main splanation for their recent woes is that they don't score many goals, particularly with Marian Gaborik having an off season even when he's not injured. Still, they are very good defensively - second in the conference in goals against despite having played the most games - have solid goaltending and have shown grit and character throughout the season (I believe they still lead the league in points earned when trailing after two periods). I think they could make for a very dangerous first round opponent should they get in, which I believe they will.

Game On in Big Cap

I watched the head-on of the Big Cap, and my first impression was that Trevor Denman had it right when he observed that "Game On Dude shifted out." And that Setsuko's jockey Victor Espinoza was correct in saying that "the stewards are blind."

"Obviously, those three stewards, they don’t know what they’re looking at.

"I don’t mind running a legitimate second, but when you knock the air out of my horse and you get beat by a head, it’s just insane.” [Bloodhorse]
But upon further review, I think there's enough reasonable doubt as to which horse started the chain reaction to justify the decision to leave the result unchanged.
"The whole chain reaction series of events was caused by the middle horse (Twirling Candy)," said steward Scott Chaney.
That was the opinion of two of the three stewards in a split decision. Watching it frame by frame, it's hard to say who is right, in my opinion. The most incriminating thing against Game On Dude in my view is that the incident occurred immediately after the first time Chantal Sutherland hit him with a left-handed whip. But I think a reasonable observer could make the case that Twirling Candy was leaning inward at the time, and was at least equally to blame. The person I think has the least to complain about is Espinoza on Setsuko. He looked to have the race won despite the bumping, but was beaten fair and square at the wire by an ultra-game and resilient Game On Dude, who additionally probably took the worst of the bumping of the two.

It was distressing to read of how Baffert was cursed at by some fans (though news reports at sporting events often make the actions of a few idiots seem more widespread than they actually were).
"I've been to Belmont," Baffert said later. "This was nothing." [LA Times]
Oooo, ouch. Well, maybe the hecklers were just a bunch of Tea Partiers who mistook the white-haired trainer as the intrusive Uncle Sam (with a shave). Game On Dude earned a career-high Beyer of 99, and is now two-for-two in 2011 after being away since finishing 4th in last year's Belmont.

Sunday, March 06, 2011


I've taken up yoga at my advanced age, and I absolutely love it. Tried it for the first time at our resort in beautiful Grenada, where we practiced in a pristine outdoor setting amongst the sounds of nature in the early morning hours. Wasn't quite sure that it would have a similar effect on me in a studio in Queens. But even here, I find myself completely relaxed afterwards, both physically and mentally. I've long sought a (non-drug induced) means of alleviating tension and stress (not that you'd ever noticed me being uptight by reading this blog), and this seems to be the ticket. On Saturday morning, I even refrained from passive-aggressively muttering obscenities under my breath at the guy in the gym who regularly wears an Obama-Worst President Ever t-shirt; instead, I forgave him for being a moron. (How can one even make such a statement only two years into his eventual eight years in office?) (Well? Which one of the losers being mentioned as a GOP hopeful is going to beat him?)

So, it was in this state of euphoria that I arrived at the Big A on Saturday afternoon (even after dropping a check off to my ex-wife)! I was literally floating around the first floor (aided by the hypnotic sounds of Fever Ray on my Ipod); a nonchalant observer of the mass of various and sundry characters surrounding me in a sea of not-entirely hygienic humanity. Quite an accomplishment because, let's face it - the Big A, in this post-OTB and pre-Resorts World era, is a fucking zoo on Saturdays. I don't say that entirely in a bad way of course; it's great to see a NYRA track other than Saratoga alive and vibrant these days. But those of you nostalgic for the good ol' days of seedy OTB parlors can recapture all of their glory with a trip to Ozone Park.

That was quite clear just bemusedly observing the crowd jammed in a mass in front of the overhead monitors watching the third race from Gulfstream on the overhead monitors. Might as well have been at the now forgotten parlor on Queens Blvd; just about 100 times bigger.

But really, the fact is that Aqueduct really is nothing but a giant OTB parlor at this time of the year. The live racing there is merely one of a plethora of tracks available....and, out of the 7,114 in attendance there on Saturday, how many do you think actually took the time and effort to see a single live animal (of the four-legged variety) during the day? I'd guess no more than a few hundred; what do you think? I admit that I didn't, at least after a brief visit outdoors upon arrival (and that mostly to view the debris of the old grandstand lying in rubble on the apron).

And though I can't attribute any ingenious handicapping success to my yoga on this day, I was an active and happy horseplayer. My concentration level was very high, and that's really 90% of the game, don't you think? My good days and bad days at the track (with good and bad being measured by my enjoyment level and not my ultimate financial success) depend enormously if not exclusively on how well I can shut out the everyday distractions of life, and instead elevate predicting the outcome of a horse race to be the supreme challenge of the day. I don't know about you, but I found that to be far easier when I was far younger. Guess I had less things on my mind (unless it was just the quaaludes).

I did have some success on Saturday though, thanks to one of my other new distractions - my smartphone. This allowed me to look up the day's selections by our good buddy DiscreetPicks. It was shortly before the 5th at Gulfstream, and he had a pick for that race. Wish I still had the text here to reproduce, as it was a brilliant piece of handicapping. First-time starter Ninety Schllings was 10-1 in the morning line, and he wrote that he might go off higher. I'll say. He was 35-1 when I put down a few bucks with a few minutes to go; and I couldn't believe that he was 60-1 when his number flashed on the screen. He was in excellent position close behind under a confident hold by Emma-Jayne Wilson. You know how when you bet a 60-1 shot, even if it's looking good, you don't really think it has a chance, instead you wait for the inevitable fade. But this horse swung three wide into the stretch, and came a-running, wow! I think he might have briefly gained the lead in deep stretch before Shug's favored Break Up the Game ran by to win by 3/4's. Still, the $28 place price (a rare WP wager for me) was enough to pay for the day....and what a rush!

DisceetPicks had three winners, albeit modestly priced ones, on the day, including the Race 7-8 DD at GP, good for $15.50. He also gave a good mention to Big Cap winner Game On Dude ($31.60); though he liked Twirling Candy, he wrote that he'd run well and create good exacta value. The latter was correct.....if, that is, you liked 25-1 Setsuko for second. The day was marred by two fatal injuries - bringing the total on the new dirt track to 12, a fact we of course don't hear trumpeted by the mainstream racing press as it would if it was a new synthetic track - and controversy in the race itself. I'll have to try to get to that in more detail, but for now, getting ready to take off for today's Rangers-Flyers game. The Blueshirts are in their usual position of scrambling for the final playoff spot after a 4-10-2 downturn. They are one of the best teams in the league on the road, and one of the worst at home, go figure. However, the Rangers will make the playoffs this year, you heard it hear first. No prediction yet on how far they will or will not go.

One technical note - a few readers have complained to me recently that their comments weren't getting posted. I was tooling around the LATG back office, and found a spam section for comments, and voila, mystery solved. Gee, I wonder why Dirty's comments would be deemed as spam? :) So, I will make it a point to check that list regularly, but please email me if you're having problems.