RSS Feed for this Blog

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Back to Belmont

We're down at my mom's house in Florida for a long weekend....and with my mom. And two of the kids. Not one of those romantic vacations, but sure is nice and sunny and hot here. And the wireless modem is zapped, so don't know how much I'll be posting for the next few days....but will be back in time to try and decipher next weekend's Derby.

Friday was the first day of the post-NYC OTB era at Belmont Park, and NYRA issued a press release to trumpet an opening day crowd of just under 6,000, helped no doubt by the return of Long Island Railroad service with the financial assistance of NYRA.

The LIRR eliminated Belmont stops last year to contend with budget shortfalls. It cost $112,000 to operate the service in 2009. An NYRA spokesman declined to say how much it is paying the LIRR for the service, which runs to July 17. [Wall St Journal]
A prudent move no doubt by the association as it continues to nimbly adapt to the new era. They've also revamped the third floor food court, adding booze, new TVs, and betting machines.

As much as I'm excited about Belmont, and the (hopefully) imminent return of the big stables, I'm kinda sorry to see Keeneland end. Part of that is of course that I had a great meet there (another winner picked on the blog yesterday - Looks Purrfect [$12.60]). But in any event, I find the races there to be fascinating betting contests, with all kinds of different angles to explore, and with easily targeted favorites to beat; specifically those who take money off of performances on different surfaces. So, a fond farewell until the fall.

- So it took the hot-button issue of jobs and outsourcing to prompt Governor Guomo to finally have a word about NYRA. He probably had to ask his aides just how to address his letter to. But when he got the name Charlie Hayward, he fired off a curt and direct missive regarding NYRA's plans to outsource telephone wagering operators to a company in Oregon (this despite the fact that NYRA made it clear in their original announcement that no local jobs would be lost).
It is my understanding that the New York Racing Association (NYRA) has entered into a contract to conduct NYRA's telephone wagering from a facility located in Oregon. NYRA's decision to locate these activities and the potential jobs out of State is extremely troubling given the extraordinary investment New York State has made to maintain NYRA's viability over the years.

My top priority as Governor is to create jobs in New York State. As such, I expect you to do everything possible to ensure that these telephone wagering activities are conducted within New York State by New York State taxpayers. The Empire State Development Corporation stands ready to help you to identify options for keeping these jobs within the State.

I would ask your full cooperation in this effort and look forward to a prompt response.
Of course, the governor doesn't acknowledge the fact that any money that the State made to assist NYRA in its troubles over the last few years has helped to save thousands of jobs, and comprises a mere pittance compared to the money NYRA's races contribute, both directly and indirectly, to the state. Typical ignorant political bluster at an always easy target. I'll link to Hayward's response here without any further comment at this time, as we're off to the beach. Best of luck in all of your wagering endeavors and have a great day.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Keeneland Friday

- In the 5th, Looks Purrfect (5-1) ships in from Fair Grounds for Steve Asmussen, 0 for 16 now on the meeting, with 3-2 Macias finishing 3rd in Thursday's 4th, discussed in the last post. Agastache went off 2-1 and was a tough luck loser to Pointing North.

Looks Purrfect would seem to have a significant class edge over the rest of these non-winners of two lifetime, with a decent resume of picking up some minor shares in allowance company; and even a close 4th in an overnight stakes. Four-year old son of Kitten's Joy always gives an honest effort no matter where he finishes. He got some needed class relief after a freshening, and responded with two competitive thirds at FG. In his last, on turf and therefore more relevant I believe with this race on the Poly, he was solidly 3-4 wide throughout the first turn, and hampered by a pace which was languid until the final quarter, when they sprinted home in 23.4. Despite that, Looks Purrfect rallied well through the stretch, and seemed to have second locked up, before he was passed late by the ground-saving Mustang Powder. Winning Crown of Aragorn stepped up to open 50K company and ran second (albeit with a moderate 63 Beyer. Good post here, and Asmussen steps this one up a bit with confidence. Main concern is the poor effort in his lone try on this surface; hopefully, explained by it being his first against winners, and the significant traffic problems which had him pinned on the rail towards the rear of the pack. Been working slowly but steadily over the Poly, and I think his class edge, even with the jump in class, is clear enough to make him worth a bet at or near his morning line.

Iwannaiwannaiwanna (4-1) moves up from a maiden win, but that was a dominating effort in his first try on Poly. Horse to beat for the red hot Ken McPeek. Ghostwalking (4-1) drops in class for Mott, and raced well against maiden special company at Woodbine last year.

Keeneland Thursday

The 4th at Keeneland on Thursday is the kind of race that I instantly know I want to bet. Just takes a quick glance at the 8-5 morning line favorite to determine that I want to bet against it.....if it really is an 8-5 favorite, that is....and that there will therefore be value on the others. Not at all that Macias is a bad horse. Quite the contrary; two overnight stakes wins amongst a record of 12-4-2-2 achieved entirely against stakes company after his two starts in maiden races. However, he hasn't been out since August, when he was far back in the G2 LaHolla, ending the year with six straight losing tries. He returns here for new trainer Asmussen, whose 180+ record (13%) lags behind his usual 20% overall win average. Whatsmore, and perhaps most damningly, he's never raced over the Keeneland Poly.

Having said that though, the horse has worked in sparkling fashion over the surface, and I might like him in this spot at 7-2. But if he gets bet like the morning oddsmaker thinks he will (which most assuredly doesn't mean that he will...especially, it seems to me, at this meeting [just plain bad lines or particularly sharp players he's not giving proper due to?]), then I think it's definitely worth looking into an alternative. I mean, to me, the only way to make money in this game is to pounce when you think that the public is just dead wrong.

Agastache (3-1) ships in from Oaklawn for trainer Rick Niles, 0-for-20 overall for the year, but a 10% guy who has been getting close of late. Son of Mutakddim raced pretty well at Hot Springs. Yeah, I'd rather not see that his Beyers have declined in each of his four races this year. But he's run into pretty tough company in his last two, fruitlessly chasing a couple of fast horses in Chief of Affairs; and Inktado (who has returned in extremely fine form off a long layoff for new trainer Anthony Dutrow and could bear watching down the road). In his last, he was forced to go four wide on the turn, and couldn't run down Delong Road, an up-the-ladder four-year old who's come on strong for Wayne Lukas, who has come on strong himself! Best of all are the two excellent tries over this track last fall with Beyers that would put him right there even if Macias is ready to roll. Those races plus the good recent form should make him the favorite in my view, and I think he's a good play if he's not (at least to an extent somewhre in the neighborhood indicated by the morning line).

- Larry Collmus gets the call to call the Derby. Personally, I don't really have a strong opinion on the selection either way. I think he's fine, I'm sure he'll deliver a workmanlike and highly accurate call; but I don't know that he'll deliver a memorable one. Maybe I've simply heard too many race calls in my day, but I just don't get the thrills I used to when I was just learning the game, and listening to the likes of Dave Johnson, Chic Anderson, Jack E Lee, Ed Gorman, and, a bit later on, a young Tom Durkin just coming upon the scene calling the trotters at the Meadowlands, and bursting upon the scene with his classic Classic call in the first Breeders Cup. Just don't make 'em like they used to, at least to my ears.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Horse Works, Owner Rambles

Uncle Mo had his workout, and Mike Welsch, the Form's crack clocker, said that it "couldn't have been more impressive and gave every indication Uncle Mo has completely recovered from whatever problem led to his disappointing performance in the Wood."

Oh, so you mean everything is back to normal? He's a lock again?

The colt's owner, Mike Repole, took the opportunity to chide the press for spreading rumors, and scoffed at the notion that he should actually let people know exactly what's up with the horse.....even declining to confirm or deny the rumors that the horse had some kind of procedure to treat a bad leg last year.

"I never disclosed that on any of my horses. If all the other owners in the Derby disclosed the health of their horses, I'd be first in line. [NY Daily News]
“I own 82 racehorses and everybody has been talking about full disclosure. I don’t think this is something the industry really wants to get into or address. Eighty-five percent of racing is claiming races. How would you disclose what’s going on (with those horses)? These are professional athletes that run 45 miles an hour and in all honesty, if you went in anyone’s barn it’s very hard to figure out who is 100% sound.
“I hope this doesn’t sound rude, but if Todd Pletcher or one of my vets talk about the physical issues of any of my horses they would probably leave the barn, whether it’s Todd Pletcher, Bruce Brown or Dominick Galluscio. To me there is a confidentiality between a vet, a trainer, and an owner, and I will promise you I will never put a horse out there that is not safe, sound, and healthy.[Bloodhorse]
Whoa, touchy, touchy, Mike Repole. For one thing, with all his talk about not disclosing, that's exactly what he did when it was convenient for him! When he was trying to concoct an excuse for the colt's shockingly poor performance in the Wood. Now, with Uncle Mo seemingly on the road to recovery, Repole doesn't want to disclose any details about the horse's gastronomical condition that he brought up in the first place! Whatsmore, he's getting all indignant over the suggestion that people should know. So, maybe at this point, he should just shut up.

Repole actually makes some fair points about the claiming game, points that he's absolutely right in that the industry doesn't - and shouldn't - want the discussion. Indeed, the claiming game is to a significant degree about secrecy, gamesmanship, and, not only non-disclosure, but outright deception. That's part of what keeps the claiming game fluid, and, quite frankly, it's a large part of what makes it so much fun and challenging as a wagering puzzle as far as I'm concerned (if not so much fun and too challenging for any horses running when it shouldn't be).

But we're not talking about a claiming race here. So Repole has nothing to gain from deceiving rival owners and trainers (at least not on this particular day). No rival trainer is going to halter his horse nor alter his strategy because of something he/she may or may not know about Uncle Mo's condition. Uncle Mo is the juvenile champion off a spectacular (if brief) two-year old campaign, and has thus been the subject of intense scrutiny and anticipation in the weeks and months leading up to the Derby. He has been the presumptive betting favorite throughout the winter and spring, and may still very well be so at post time. Whether he is or not, millions of dollars will be riding on his fortunes. It might be nice if we had an idea what we were betting on, or against....and a little public disclosure wouldn't compromise his chances at all. But of course, in all of Repole's ramblings, I don't see where the subject of the public interest came up at all. Just his interest. I guess he's more concerned about preserving Uncle Mo's value as a racehorse and beyond than serving the fans and the betting public. Pretty typical. And we thought maybe this guy was different.

- The Factor is out. Before we got sidetracked on this other crap, Baffert's colt was seen as one who would make life difficult for Uncle Mo with his early speed. (It does however open the Derby door to Shackleford, who set some brisk fractions in the Florida Derby before getting caught by Dialed In.) Baffert disclosed - gasp! - that The Factor had throat surgery to address a propensity to displace his palette. Owner George Bolton said: "He’s basically miler pedigree that is good enough to go further." Well, then why would he have in any event considered running the horse in the Derby three weeks after his disappointing Arky Derby? "The right thing for The Factor is to wait and go either to Preakness, Met Mile, Woody Stephens or something like that.” Which it had become obvious would have been the right thing for the horse all along.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Close Enough

- Those who are following the NHL playoffs on Versus have surely seen the ad for the Triple Crown races that have aired frequently. "It's been 33 years since four miles turned into a miracle." We won't quibble that the races actually add up to only 3 15/16 miles in total; it's a cool, classy ad. In my view, NBC, now country cousins with Versus after its acquisition by Comcast, has always treated its racing properties with the reverence and attention that they deserve. That includes their stint with the Breeders' Cup, and the dropoff in that respect since the unfortunate switch to ESPN has been quite apparent, more glaringly with every passing year.

So, NBC will use Versus to supplement its Triple Crown coverage. It will carry the Kentucky Oaks and the Black-Eyed Susan (Friday at Belmont is just a regular day), as well as undercard races on all three days. 25 hours in all. Am I out of bounds to suggest that that's more than ESPN's entire Breeders' Cup coverage, including the Friday program and the preps, on all of its networks combined? (Or you think that adds up to more than 24 15/16 hours?)

- Hunch bets for Tuesday, April 26:

Idontgetoutmuch 9th at Charles Town
Straight Out 8th at Charles Town
Amazing Score 5th at Fairmount Park
No Such Thing 5th at Charles Town
Ended 1st at Turf Paradise
Dontflateryourself 3rd at Fairmount Park

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Odds and Ends

No Derby on the horizon for Lexington winner Derby Kitten; the $120,000 winner's share leaves him well short of what would be needed to crack the top 20. One might argue that a stakes win on Polytrack for a horse whose only other win came in a maiden claimer on turf doesn't deserve to be in the race anyway, just as you might argue that a guy who didn't see fit to vote in primaries for 21 years shouldn't be running for president (he was no doubt too busy bankrupting his casinos). But I'm sure that Ken Ramsey would run the horse if he could, and why the hell not this year, really. The horse is improving and Beyered over 90; hell, that should make him a contender this year, even if he's been racing over Donald Trump's hair.

The Jerome, back, though at the Big A, after a year's hiatus, is still a Grade 2, but that's surely based on its illustrious history. For many years, it was the Labor Day feature at Belmont, run in front of 40-50,000 people, and won by the likes of....well, the list of notable names is too long to go into here. Time will tell if Adios Charlie, who earned a Beyer of 98 in his third career start, and his first against winners, will add or detract from the race's legacy. But maybe if NYRA takes some of that slots money and pumps up the purse, it can supplant the Lexington as the main last-chance shot for the Derby, since it is run on natural dirt (though only at a one turn mile for now).

- Pletcher said that Uncle Mo's appetite is "the best it's been since the Wood." But what does that mean? How bad has his appetite been, exactly? "Normally, I maybe would have worked him today, but I decided to give him a couple of more days just to continue to let the medication kick in." What kind of medication, precisely? With what possible side effects? This is really ridiculous. There's enough public money at stake here so that the stewards or the track vet should be the ones issuing medical reports, not the trainer, even if it was one with a totally clean record. But who cares about the public's money anyway?

- In the 5th at Keeneland on Saturday, Jealousofmyboogie ($6.60) was a hot number in his debut start since June, a distant 5th place finish at 11-1 at Monmouth (in a race which has now produced five subsequent winners). Son of the champion sprinter Speightstown is a half brother to the crack sprinter Diabolical, who's a son of the champion sprinter Artax.

10th race first-out winner Et Al ($25.20) is by the fine debut sire Tale of the Cat. This three-year old colt is inbred 5x5 to What A Pleasure through his sons Foolish Pleasure and Honest Pleasure; can't say I've ever seen that in a pedigree before. He's a half-brother to the grassy stakes winner New Edition; and his second dam is a half to Halory Hunter, who won the Blue Grass at the same track, though on a very, very different surface.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Keeneland Saturday

- In the 2nd at Keeneland on Saturday, Math Class (6-1) comes out of a career best effort, coming in her first two-turn try, at Turfway (following a race in which she stumbled very badly at the start and finished far back). She rallied that day to get up by a head over 1-5 favorite Sarah's Kitten. That one ran a decent third, beaten three lengths, in 40K company here; so I'm figuring that Math Class fits perfectly well at least on class in this 20K race, her first try over this course. Daughter of Eddington has gone well with today's jockey John McKee; and trainer William Connelly has been sharp in Kentucky with six straight in-the-money finishes (three wins) at Turfway and Keeneland. Proud House (6-1) was outrun in graded stakes company in her last, but prior two were front-running wins following the addition of blinkers. Without much speed in here, she could be tough to run down.

In the 6th, Senor Dehere (4-1) makes his second start off a layoff for trainer Graham Motion, struggling at this meet, but 22% in that category. Lightly raced five-year old, whose only poor effort in his four career starts came around two turns, closed well from far back for third in a five furlong turf dash at Tampa last month, and stretches out to seven furlongs here. Also gets reunited with Leparoux, who piloted him to victory in his debut, in a 5 1/2 furlong turf sprint at Saratoga last fall. Subsequent try at Keeneland at this level and distance was a curious one; sent close to the lead early, he dropped back and re-rallied for third behind two subsequent winners. Expect Senor Dehere to be running late if he sticks to his closing style here after a very sharp five furlong work over the track last week. Remember Unbridled's Heart (10-1)? Still hasn't won, in 11 tries now, since earning a 101 Beyer winning by ten at Belmont back in May, 2008; including the next four in NY at less than even money. No, don't really like him here either despite a good effort at Fair Grounds in his last, but seemed worth a mention off his ignominious past.

- Sam's Bliss, picked here on Thursday, rallied to win and paid $18.80. That was the 4th consecutive winner selected on this blog, so beware.... Best of luck and have a great day.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Thursday News and Notes

Bob Baffert seems to be a bit delirious with Derby fever too. He won't run Jaycito in the Lexington on Saturday, but still intends to start him in the Derby. This colt has a lifetime best Beyer of 88, which came in his lone win, in the Norfolk on the Cushion track at Hollywood last fall. He was, for some reason, made the favorite off that effort in his lone start as a three-year old, a distant second at Santa Anita in the San Felipe (in which he admittedly ran better than I thought he would). It would be unprecedented for a horse to win the Derby off a single start at three, and would obviously do nothing constructive towards the future of the so-called Road to the Triple Crown.

Baffert also has not ruled out starting The Factor despite his disappointing performance at Oaklawn, and said he will just let the horse wing it on the lead. We can all guess how well that is likely to work out. Perhaps Midnight Interlude is his best hope, coming off his Santa Anita Derby win with a 98 Beyer which actually makes him one of the fastest horses in the Derby field. Sure, he never raced as a two-year old, but how long do you think that "rule" is going to last?

- In the 7th at Keeneland on Thursday, Sam's Bliss (5-1) makes her local debut with a win on turf and a 444 Tomlinson number which indicates that maybe she'll like the Poly. Daughter of War Front disappointed as the favorite off a freshening in an off-the-turf affair at Fair Grounds, but lagged behind in what was a slow paced 5 1/2 furlong dash. Prior was a fine second in her first against winners close behind Wicked Deed, who then won a four horse overnight stakes; and ahead of Lovenotlost, who has since won three in a row including two restricted FG stakes. (4th place finisher Sotogenic also won a stakes in her next race, albeit a restricted one at Evangeline in a 56 Beyer [albeit against males]). Sam's Bliss also switches back to jockey Miguel Mena, who rode her in that good second as well as in her maiden win on grass. Erma Lee (8-1) graduated in a seven furlong turf race at Belmont last fall and has some nice local works for her Poly debut. Salty Strike (2-1) was a close third in a G3 stakes last year, but we know just much graded stakes status means in two-year old races in June these days. Seems a likely underlay in her first try on a non-dirt surface.

The G3 Appalachian (8th race), on grass for three-year old fillies, marks the return of Winter Memories (9-5), second in the BC Juvie Fillies Turf at even money. She's likely to get bet down in that vicinity here. Never know how a filly will return at age three, and with a couple of other impressive juveniles, New Normal (8-1) and Ruthenia (6-1), also making their sophomore debuts and, in the case of the latter, getting stuck on the outside, let's take a shot with a couple of fillies with recent form. Gotta love the way Diva Ash (12-1) handled both facing winners and stretching out to a route for the first time in her second career effort, at Gulfstream, last month. She was forced to swing a good 4-5 wide around the turn for home, and rallied strongly to miss by just a length to Naples Bay, a two-for-two $350K daughter of Giant's Causeway who would likely be second choice here. Daughter of Tapit, out of a Boundary mare, has a bunch of grassy stakes winners in her distaff family, including Bakharoff, a European juvenile champion. Desormeaux wins at a 23% clip for trainer Dale Romans. Smart Sting (5-1) rallied smartly at Gulfstream last month to win in her first try against winners, off a layoff for Roger Attfield (no surprise there). Daughter of Smart Strike is out of the champion grass mare Perfect Sting.

- And yes, it's late....or rather early Thursday morning, having gotten home late after watching the Rangers blow a 3-0 third period lead and succumb to the Caps in double OT. (So please excuse any typos in this post.) Don't really understand, nor ever want to know, exactly how that puck went in. Sure looked like it got a lot of help from the home team. The Blueshirts now trail 3 games to 1 with their second OT loss of the series. Hopefully, this resilient young team can bounce back better than I, as they have done all year.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

No Mo Appetite

Uncle Mo is at Churchill, and Pletcher said "I think he’s in the same position every horse in this race is in.” That would mean that there are a lot of horses that are sick to their stomachs.

"Obviously when you have a gastrointestinal tract infection, you’re appetite is not going to be as good as you’d like for it to be." [Courier Journal (or any other of like 100 other outlets who dutifully regurgitate the same quotes as everyone else]]
Am I missing something here? After a horse comes out of a race, how many times do you hear the trainer comment on how it "ate up" right afterward, a signal that the horse came out of the race good and is ready to proceed to its next target. This horse came out of his last race sick, and more than a week later, and just 19 days before the Derby (or 17 days if you're reading the Times Union), the trainer is telling us that his appetite isn't so good. Seriously, this horse is still under consideration for a grueling mile and a quarter race against 19 others who are presumably feeling, and eating, their oats? I just don't get it.

- The Associated Press composite Derby Top Ten has a top three of Dialed In, Mucho Macho Man, and Toby's Corner. Personally, if the odds were fair, I'd be more than willing to bet that none of those finishes in the money; and, in return for just a little sweetening, additionally that neither Mucho Macho Man nor Toby's Corner finish in the top ten. Though, other than the top two finishers in the Arkansas Derby, I might be hard pressed to tell you who I like instead. But I do have 17 or 19 days to decide.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Hunch Bets for Tuesday, April 19

Flat Out Rich 4th at Indiana Downs
Afterfurtherreview 1st at Mountaineer
Coming Of Age 3rd at Parx
Lesson In Deceit 6th at Turf Paradise
Yes I Am American 2nd at Penn National
Seeking Bud 2nd at Will Rogers Downs
She Wears It Well 7th at Penn National

Meadowlands Hangs by a Thread

Jeff Gural says that it's "even money" that the Meadowlands survives, even after the tellers' union refused to even vote on whether to accept the 20% pay cut that he's insisted upon; and which two other unions have already accepted.

"Common sense says that they will change their minds," he said.
Gural also wondered if the clerks were not fully aware of what their decision meant. It is possible, he said, that some felt they would still be able to work at the Meadowlands taking bets on simulcast races only. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie shot down that notion when announcing that the track would close for all forms of wagering May 12. [Harness Racing Update]
The governor doesn't mess around, as we know. But it seems as if he's gotten a bit carried away with his trademark tough talk lately. He drew fire for calling the leaders of the teachers unions "political thugs" (takes one to know one I suppose). And he told reporters that they should "take a bat out on" a widowed 76-year old lawmaker who has started collecting her pension even as she still holds her job.
Democratic state Sen. Loretta Weinberg, a widow, said she was forced to begin collecting her pension after her financial advisor invested all her savings in Bernie Madoff's ponzi scheme. [Crooks and Liars]
Of course, it's clear that the governor did not intend to be taken literally; but he can't be surprised that his opponents would seize on any opportunity to pounce as his belligerence and cockiness starts to get out of hand. Perhaps the results of this poll will cause him to be a bit more humble. Or, maybe not.

- Since the closing of NYC OTB, the NY State Racing and Wagering Board has managed to quickly do away with some archaic laws that have hindered NYRA for years - the prohibitions on their ability to livestream their races and accept wagers after 7:30 PM for example. But the Palm Sunday dark day lives on. Bad enough there's no live racing; but the NYRA Rewards site was completely shut down too. And with an otherwise full day of racing around the country, who knows how much virtually free money went by the boards, for NYRA, the horsemen, and the state.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Another Derby Favorite Gets Trumped

After Saturday's Arkansas Derby demise of The Factor, The Donald has now been tabbed as the "preliminary" morning line favorite for the Derby by Churchill Downs' oddsmaker Mike Battaglia. Donald Trump immediately demanded to see the birth certificates of the other contenders to confirm that they are all three-years old. Like him.

Yeah, that's silly, I know, but why not....can anyone possibly guess who will be the favorite at Churchill in three weeks time? Uncle Mo and his questionable gastrointestinal tract? Dialed In off his desperate Florida Derby win over a 68-1 longshot? Either of those would be tentative choices at best in my view. Why not at this point the sure-to-be wise guy horse Nehro, who closed fastest of all and, given the buzz he'd already earned with his second in the Louisiana Derby, was quite possibly the biggest winner of the weekend even though he didn't win (nor get a call until the race was over)?

Like Uncle Mo, The Factor in fact also apparently has a medical excuse. For heaven's sake, here we go again....

“When they sent hard and then they squeezed him down on the rail [Martin] had to grab him,” Baffert said. “I think he displaced [his palate]. They’ll displace if you grab them too hard. So he came back, and all the sudden you could hear him, the breathing, gurgling up.” [Daily Racing Form]
But watching the race again, I'm really not sure exactly where The Factor had the kind of incident that the trainer refers to. He was cleanly outsprinted by 33-1 J P's Gusto before 29-1 Dance City ranged up and edged ahead of him approaching the first turn. And while that one did appear to force the favorite toward the rail, I don't see him taken up in any manner in the way Baffert describes. Besides, does anyone believe that the horse had any shot once it was clear he was being taken out of his game? Shows the hazard of betting on any pure speed horse in the Derby, when you know that it's not going to be alone winging out there early. Methinks that we won't be seeing The Factor in the Derby anyhow.

Archarcharch ($52.40) had an excuse of his own for his third place finish in the Rebel, when he was kicked in the legs by a horse in the adjoining stall. Whatsmore, he also was said to have been injured when he ran 4th in the Smarty Jones. If you buy that, then this horse has never run a poor race. What was most impressive to me on Saturday is that he showed a new dimension, closing from far back for the first time after breaking from an outside post. We certainly like a horse that demonstrates that kind of tractability going into the big race. Archarcharch ia a son of Arch (sire of Blame), out of a Woodman mare, with inbreeding to Northern Dancer, Raise A Native, and Nashua. Nice dosage (1.73), and a bunch of Euro stakes winners in the female family. If this horse goes off at higher odds than Nehro, then I think he would have to be the bet between those two on value, if nothing else.

Nehro comes in over the mythical 4.0 dosage standard for the Derby; though there seems nothing wrong stamina-wise for a son of Mineshaft out of an Afleet mare. His half brother and sister Saint Marden and Sweet Lips both won modest two turn stakes races.

The Blue Grass once again proved inconsequential as far as the Derby goes, but we more or less knew that going into the race, didn't we? That doesn't necessarily make it a "bad" race. It's a graded stakes for three-year olds on Polytrack and the centerpiece of the prestigious Keeneland spring meet that still attracts a large and lively field. It is what it is, and it was a lot of fun to handicap and to watch...especially if you had, in any denomination, the superfecta which paid at the rate of over $129,000 per $2 bet.....and produced a thrilling flying finish in a final furlong of 11.69 for Brilliant Speed ($40.20). That was a way overlaid win price for a 6-1 morning line who really had as much of a right to win the race as anyone.

Brilliant Speed is a son of Dynaformer, the sire of course of the Derby winner Barbaro, out of a Gone West mare who's a half-sister to the graded stakes (on dirt) winner Serenading. His second dam is a half to the Belmont winner Touch Gold, and to With Approval, whose surface versatility Brilliant Speed will try to replicate. Go back a little further on his distaff side, and you'll find accomplished dirt horses such as Haynesfield, Healthy Addiction, and Izvestia (another turf and dirt star). He may have only gotten an 87 Beyer for his Blue Grass win, but he's legitimately earned his way in, and breeding-wise at least, he has as much of a shot as anyone in this fractured Derby year.

- Interesting tote scenario in the finale at Keeneland yesterday. Off-the-layoff ace Roger Attfield had two returnees, and Perfect Shirl seemed to have an edge on No Explaining based on the former's defeat of the latter in the Lake George last summer and her subsequent third in the G1 Del Mar Oaks. Thus, Perfect Shirl was rated at 7-2 in the morning line while No Explaining was third choice in the race at 4-1. Yet it was No Explaining who went off as the 5-2 favorite, and she justified that faith with a neck win in her first race since last October.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Poop On Uncle Mo

Here's an artist's rendition I just happen to have of Uncle Mo's gastrointestinal tract when it was pink and perfect, just before he won the Juvenile last year.

Now, with the news that the juvenile champ is (was? is and was?) suffering from a gastrointestinal infection, I imagine it must be a miserable twisted mess. Kinda like this.

This reader is absolutely right. I think I'm pretty agile with the Racing Form; but I don't know sh-- (oh, my mom's reading)...the first thing about equine gastrointestinal tract infections, how they might affect a horse's performance, whether they can be treated with a little Tums or require powerful antibiotics that can sap a horse's energy and spirit, or how long it would take to recover. And, in any event, we don't really know if he had one, or has one, or at what stage it is, or was, whether it's just a little tummy ache or a full-blown case of colic, whatever exactly that is, I really don't know. I mean, I just bet on these animals, and I assume that they're in a reasonable state of good health when I do so, otherwise they wouldn't be running. Right?

So, when Mike Repole, a respected businessman turned horseman, tells us quite definitively that this indeed explains why the horse ran like crap (no pun intended) in the Wood; and a five-time Eclipse Award winning trainer says that "The vets also concluded that Uncle Mo is perfectly capable of returning to full training while the treatment continues," who am I to question it, even if that sounds like it was written by Uncle Mo's publicist.

Of course and unfortunately, Pletcher has a bit of a credibility problem these days after expressing no qualms to Jay Privman about Life At Ten's readiness for the Breeders Cup with around ten minutes to post, until the reporter later hunted him down after his jockey told a national TV audience otherwise. I like the Toddster, but it only takes one such incident to forever tarnish a reputation, whether it's Colin Powell's photos of mobile chemical weapon labs in Iraq, Mark McGwire taking the Fifth (a more applicable example in this case than Barry Bonds, who has been living a lie for the better part of a decade), or Bill Clinton not having sexual relations with that woman (well, I guess some people can recover).

So I did a little research on the internet about the equine gastrointestinal tract, but didn't really find much written that was understandable to the layman, or that I had the patience to digest (sorry). But I did find this, which made me think about renouncing the game altogether and joining PETA.

In the wild, horses have little to do but eat, stay out of the way of predators, and procreate. This means they range across the countryside, selecting immature forages that are easy to digest. They graze as they roam, consuming small amounts of food throughout the day and even at night. Under this scenario, there are few digestive problems.

However, man has altered Nature's scheme. First, he often adds workloads that require more than just grass to provide the necessary nutrition. Second, in many cases, all choices have been taken from the horse. He no longer roams at will, picking out choice spots for grazing. Instead, he is confined to pastures or paddocks where there might be little to choose from in the way of food. He eats what is there or is provided by his caretakers.

Because his owners or caretakers often have busy schedules, the horse no longer is able to eat small amounts frequently. Instead, he usually is fed a large quantity of food, and that sometimes occurs only once each day.

What all this adds up to is an assault on the horse's digestive system that it typically can't handle, and problems such as colic and founder can be the result. [Riverside Recreational Trails (which I hope doesn't depend on financing from the state of California)]
No wonder his stomach is all f--- (damn!)...messed up.

While the headline in the original story in the Form that was posted here earlier said that Uncle Mo was still headed to Kentucky Derby, later reports frame the matter in a far more questionable light.

Personally, I have a little mixed feelings here. On one hand, man, I'm still dying to bet against this horse in the Derby, especially if the public is going to buy this story, whether it has any real validity or not. However, I think that Mike Repole would be doing the sport, and probably the horse (as little as I might know about exactly what's ailing him), a big favor by putting his understandable Derby aspirations aside and putting an end to this fiasco right now. Tell us that the horse is being pointed for the Preakness, please. We don't need to spend the next three weeks having this kind of uncertainty dominating the Derby news. Heaven forbid anything would happen to him in the course of training for, or running in the race, the industry, still not quite recovered from Eight Belles, would be sent reeling.

And of course, it's just not fair to the betting public. We're not going to be privy to the details of the vet reports (not that many of us would understand it anyway), we won't see pictures of his colonoscopy; we'll only be told "the horse is doing fine" by the trainer with the credibility problem, and we'll be left merely guessing about the biggest race of the year. And, if we are told he's OK and he runs poorly for whatever reason, we, and the many thousands of people who make this race their once-a-year racing and betting event, will think that this sport and everyone in it is just plain full of shit. (Sorry mom.)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Uncle Schmo

I don't have a problem with a horse tiring in its last prep for a big race, especially a guy like Uncle Mo, who would figure to greatly benefit from the race conditioning given that he hadn't done a whole helluva lot for the last several months. I'm disappointed that he lost, though only because I wanted to bet against him as a big favorite in the Derby; but, being the contrarian that I aspire to be, maybe I'd turn around and bet on him if goes off at 6-1 or something like that. (He's 7-1 at Wynn. I can't even venture a guess as to how he'll be treated on the tote, which has offered up some big surprises on Derby day the last few years.)

But it's the way he gave up the lead so feebly, without any resistance at all, that made the race so astounding. I mean, it's not like he ran fast and then tired. He set a very moderate pace to the 3/4's, and actually slowed down from there - nearly 25 seconds to the mile. You'd think that a champion colt would at least be able to re-break and show some fight. The thing is, his championship was built on brilliance and dominance, and he never had to pass a real test until now. Oh man, did he fail. Pletcher feebly offered the fact that he grabbed a quarter at the start, but even he didn't sound the least bit convinced that that had much to do with the result, calling it "very minor and insignificant." He told reporters that the colt would have the standard blood work "when we have a horse that doesn't perform to our expectations." Would you blame the more cynical amongst us if they told you to expect the announcement of some relatively benign but career-ending injury (one which of course wouldn't prevent him from rearing up from behind a mare).

Tom Durkin immediately compared the outcome to Secretariat's defeat to Angle Light in 1973. The main difference there was that Secretariat was making his - get this - 12th career start in the Wood, nine of those as a two-year old. Maybe if Uncle Mo had nearly that kind of foundation, he would have handled this ordinary field even on a bad day. And the two (at least....Baffert says he'll carry on with Jaycito) injury-caused defections from the Derby trail this past weekend continues to highlight that whatever breeders and trainers are doing in this era of far less racing at two, just ain't working.

But it was a real shocker - far more so even than the turn of events that put the Rangers into the playoffs. Though you wouldn't have known that from reading Joe Drape's account of the race in the Times the next day. Surprise Contender for Kentucky Derby Bursts Out of Pack to Win Wood Memorial, read the headline, and there were just two short paragraphs devoted to the juvenile champ (who, if you didn't know, you'd never have guessed from reading the piece that he was a beaten 1-9 shot). Just seemed like really odd reporting (though Drape focused on Uncle Mo in an article the next day). I know that it's natural to write about the winner; but the winner clearly wasn't the story here.

Toby's Corner ran a nice race, earning an easily career-best, though still moderate, Beyer of 94 in his first race with blinkers. But it was a slowly run race - oddly-so in that 4th quarter - which allowed him and Arthur's Tale, an even more middling horse, to stay well within striking distance without running that hard at any point. Neither of them came close to cracking the 24 second mark for any quarter in the race, and they even slowed markedly down from 3/4s to a mile. (Makes one wonder if that clocking was even correct.) That surely helped the winner and runner-up close in around 12 seconds flat. Toby's Corner will have to do a lot more running to stay in touch at Churchill, and I don't consider him to be a legitimate Derby contender at all.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Big A Saturday

The G3 Comely, the 7th at the Big A at a mile on the main track, is a ponderous one. Only one of the seven fillies have experience at a one-turn route distance; and that one ran poorly in her only such try. Morning line favorite Ava K (5-2) is undefeated in three dominant efforts at minuscule odds against state-bred company. She's been plenty good, has run fast enough for this race, and she's beaten some decent horses, including Midnight Visit, who went on to win another state-bred stakes. The Comely may be a graded stakes race in name only; but the jump to open company against a few fillies who have shown enough to indicate improvement potential seems like a good enough reason to take a shot against.

Hot Summer (5-1) is the filly who faltered at this one-turn mile, but she surely had excuses. In her first race in three months, for trainer David Fawkes, she found herself on the lead and intently pursued by Pomeroys Pistol, a Grade 2 winner making her third start [of the year] who would surely be favored here. She faded badly to 5th (15 lengths behind subsequent GP Oaks winner R Heat Lightning), and it's fair I think if you deduce that the stretch out to a mile was beyond her ability. But I'd give her another shot, in the hope that she's ridden more patiently as she was last year; and because of a highly unusual pedigree with plenty of distance influence. By Malibu Moon, out of a Quiet American mare, Hot Summer is very closely inbred, 2x3, to the half-brothers AP Indy and Summer Squall; and she's also inbred 5x5 to Buckpasser. She also traces directly back to the influential broodmare Toll Booth, her 4th dam and the dam of Plugged Nickel, a personal favorite back in the day. Luiz Saez is in for the ride; and to ride Apriority in the Carter for the barn, for which he hits at 27%.

Her Smile (3-1) is a highly consistent daughter of Include who has steadily improved; her close third in the Suncoast Stakes at Tampa Bay was behind two good fillies in Wyomia and Devilish Lady. Royal Sighting (5-1) buried a weak maiden field; prior was a neck loss to R Holiday Mood, a subsequent overnight stakes winner who's 7-2 morning line here. Daughter of Rahy has moved up sharply since trainer Pat Kelly added blinkers three starts back.

In the Bay Shore, the 8th race, J J's Lucky Train (3-1) has trained brilliantly since a grueling effort at this 7f distance in a career high 97 Beyer that you might figure would have taken something out of him. He went head and head around the turn and down the stretch from the outside with Bandbox, who furthermore floated him four wide on the turn. That colt is a neck away from being unbeaten in his five sprinting efforts, and came back to win the Private Terms. Two bullet five furlong breezes indicate that J J's Lucky Train is none the worse for the wear. May have found his real comfort zone sprinting, and just a repeat of his last effort should get him home here. Vengeful Wildcat (4-1) may have been a short horse tiring late in the Capossella, and will have to contend with added distance here. Smoke It Right (6-1) ships in from unbeaten in four races at Oaklawn, Delta, and Evangeline, with moderate Beyers. Test for class in this spot.

- I was at a yoga class the other day, and the teacher recited excerpts of a lovely and wise poem called Desiderata, by Max Ehrmann and written in 1952; a portion of which reads as follows:

Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.
Actually, as much as I might try to see virtue in all of my fellow man, I might have to disagree with the poet in this case; at least as pertains to some of the dull and ignorant who have been polluting the comments section here with juvenile trash. Accordingly, I've turned on the moderation function for now. Seems kinda unfair because now I'm the only one who will have to see this crap, but I'll spare you for now. Best of luck, and have a great day.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Lots of Support for Wood

A dismal 3-0 loss at home to the out-of-it Atlanta Thrashers has left the Rangers' playoff hopes in ruins, dependent now on events out of their control. And even if they get the help that they need to regain control of their own fate, the chances of them beating a fired-up Devils squad surely seems questionable after this performance. They look like a team that may have run out of gas after being all out to hang on for much of the season. All those blocked shots and hits (both of which means that they don't have the puck) surely has to take its toll at some point.

Still, I'll be at the Garden for the finale on Saturday afternoon, and therefore not at the Big (But Not Big Enough) A for the Wood. Wrote last week that I wouldn't go anyway given what promises to be claustrophobic conditions there. However, between the admission charge for the Equestris level which could provide a safe haven, and what looks like a fine supporting card, might have changed my mind.

A couple of readers complained about the fact that the big day of the spring meeting includes three $7500 claimers. But, compared to what we've been seeing around here lately as the winter drags on and on and on like the budget talks, those three claiming events actually seem pretty damn good - full fields and extremely competitive (at least according to the morning line, haven't scoped them out yet).

Also, I tend to cringe when I hear NYRA advertise four graded stakes!, because that often means a parade of short fields and short odds. But on Saturday, the three supporting stakes races - the Comely, Bay Shore, and Carter - all look like extremely lively wagering propositions. I should be home by 4, definitely looking forward to checking those out.

As far as the Wood goes, looks like another public workout for Uncle Mo (1-5) after the Timely Writer, in which he earned a Beyer of 89 which is surely good enough to win this race as well. One might think that they would want to actually try and seek out some better competition to give him a stiff race for his conditioning, and to gain some hard racing experience. Of course, it's not the connection's fault if the horse is so great they can't find any competition even if they wanted some. Maybe if they had declared for in the Florida Derby instead, all those horses would have come up here to avoid him. (Besides, that race didn't turn out to be so great anyway.)

But still, this just seems fucking crazy, the idea that you can prepare a horse for the Kentucky Derby like this. Maybe it's just the case that he's so totally superior in talent that he will indeed be able to just waltz in and dominate 19 horses at a distance he's never run, in what will likely be his first race against meaningful competition since the Breeders Cup last fall. Unless everything falls his way - never a guarantee in the Derby - I think he'll have to be that much better to win. I'll be betting that he's not.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Not Quite A Locomotive, But...

Joe Drape reported in the Times that Nick Zito was in tears as [Dialed In] got a head in front of the long shot Shackleford at the wire of the Florida Derby. At first, I thought maybe he was crying because his colt needed nearly every step of the homestretch to just inch by an exhausted 68-1 shot who took nearly 14 seconds to get the final furlong.

But no.

He was thinking of Strike the Gold, a colt with a similar from-the-clouds style who gave Zito his first Kentucky Derby victory 20 years ago. “Horses just don’t do what he’s done,” Zito said in his signature raspy-voiced fuhgeddaboudit tone. [NYT]
Sounds like kind of a Mrs. Genter moment, though of course there were no national TV cameras anywhere within sight. Can't blame Nick for being excited, and Strike the Gold seems a fair comparison, in terms of running style at the very least. (Strike the Gold ran second, to Fly So Free (and ahead of 3rd place Hansel) in the Florida Derby, and then won the Blue Grass on his way to the Derby, his 5th race of that year.)

I don't know however if I would quite say, as Drape wrote, that Dialed In powered down the stretch like a locomotive. 13.09 seconds for the last furlong is pretty OK, but not in the locomotive category; last 3/8ths in 38.24 is maybe more like the R train on the local track in Queens during the evening rush.

There's rarely much nuance in mainstream reporting of horse racing. From reading Drape's piece, one might think this was a Secretariat-type performance against an all-star field. In fact, he struggled to get by a spent front-runner in a race which, more than falling apart, never really came together. There were highly disappointing efforts by favored Soldat, Stay Thirsty, and even in my opinion, To Honor and Serve, ponderously ridden by Gomez, and a horse who to me is one that has not at all followed through on his two-year old form; never a good sign, no matter what Mott says about being happy with the race. Dialed In earned a Beyer of 93, a good 6-8 points lower than one might like to see from him at this point.

Having said all that though, I do really like the horse, picked him here, and consider him to be a legitimate contender at Churchill. He ran some quick middle fractions (23.31 and 23.63) to keep close, which could explain the mediocre come-home time (and suggest that Leparoux could have been even more patient). And, most importantly, remember that this was only his 4th career race, so he presumably has plenty of room for further improvement under the care of a trainer who has surely shown that he knows how to get them ready for a particular, and particularly, big race.

- Oh baby!

The Rangers' incredible comeback win against a solid Bruins' squad, their second victory in two days over two of the top teams in the East, reduced their magic number to clinch a playoff spot to three points - either earned by New York in their last two games, or not by Carolina in their last three. All of us Blueshirt fans fervently hope that a playoff spot is in hand before the terrifying matchup with the Devils in the final game of the season on Saturday afternoon.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Sunday Morning Notes

In the 7th at Gulfstream on Sunday, Devon Rock (8-1) returns to the grass after running up the track as the favorite in a race taken off the turf. Four-year old son of Rock Hard Ten showed promise on grass last year before tailing off in the fall. Brought back to the races by trainer Jimmy Jerkens, Devon Rock has seen two of his three races rained off the grass. The one that stayed on, two races back, was a fairly phenomenal rally to miss by a nose after being taken up sharply turning for home. Garrett Gomez, in town to ride To Honor and Serve in the Florida Derby, picks up the mount from Garcia. Ocean Seven (3-1) makes his US debut for the Toddster after disappointing in three non-stakes events in France last year. He will, I imagine, attract some tote action just for being a half-brother to Goldikova. Sometimes you just have to close your eyes, throw a horse out and let the fates dictate as they may.

- I like to say that I have enough fingers to count the times I've had a bad time in my 30+ years of attending NYRA tracks; but I have one less available after Saturday. 6,317 packed into the clubhouse, and the Manhattan Terrace was closed on this day. I could see new tables and chairs inside, along with a buffet setup, so who knows what they have in mind for Wood Memorial day next weekend (and beyond). (There were signs announcing a $3 admission charge to the Equestris level for the Wood. Honestly, I wish they had done that all meeting; I'd be happy to pay a few bucks for some separation from the crowds on the first two floors.) Regardless, that was one less place to hang yesterday, and it was pretty oppressive inside. NYRA put some extra seating out on the clubhouse apron, and that was fine out in the sunshine for awhile until a chilly afternoon breeze moved in, and then I was outta there in after about 90 minutes, without even having made a donation.

Belmont opens on April 29, and I really don't see myself returning to Aqueduct again this spring. That includes next Saturday, and not just because the Rangers play their final game of the regular season at the Garden at 12:30 - a game which I once hoped would be meaningless because they'd have already clinched a playoff spot, and which I'm now hoping is meaningful because they still have a shot! (Though heaven forbid they would have to beat the Devils that day to get in...) It's just not that pleasant there under the current setup. So I guess this was kind of an end of an era for me, because when the track reopens in the fall, we're all hoping that the racing side of what will (presumably) then be Resorts World will be virtually unrecognizable from its present state. I really don't know however if they'll much, if any, more space for the horseplayers. A couple of weeks ago, a reader commented that he/she was hoping that the grandstand would be reopened for the Wood. From the look of the construction, I don't know that they'll ever be grandstand space there for the bettors again. At least, we hope, they'll be some sparkling new and comfortably accommodating facilities within the current confines.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Dialing Up For Derby

I like Dialed In (2-1) in Sunday's Florida Derby. He was beaten by his stablemate Equestrio at the ungodly price of 1-5 in the Fountain of Youth allowance race written for him last month (thanks John, feeling better now after a good night's sleep!); and while the Closer Look comment in the Form calls it "a disappointing loss," I'd think that Nick Zito was pretty happy with what he saw. It was just a prep after all with no graded earnings at stake (Dialed In currently stands at #17 on the Derby list). He was closer to the pace than he had been in his first two career efforts, as Reprized Hero set sluggish fractions of nearly 25 seconds to the first quarter; 49.4 to the half. Dialed In picked it up around the final turn, but Equestrio, who had stalked the pace early, got the jump and was skipping away, maintaining what was a solid 24 and change pace throughout.

I thought this was a perfect prep for this son of the champion Mineshaft, out of a Storm Bird mare. Even with just five horses in the field, Dialed In found himself in and amongst a couple of others down the backstretch, never looking totally comfortable, but no doubt gaining experience with traffic for larger fields down the road. He changed leads smoothly after turning for home, and strode out strongly under only a couple of taps from Leparoux, who hand-rode him home through the final sixteenth. It was just his third career race, and first around two turns (as it was for Equestrio, who had the benefit of a couple of more races under his belt, and a tactical advantage in a slowly-run race).

Here, he figures to benefit from a contested pace. Soldat (9-5) has won his last two in game front-running fashion; To Honor And Serve (4-1) figures to be more aggressive against him early this time; Stay Thirsty (8-1) could be closer with blinkers on. But Flashpoint (6-1) is the real X factor. Breaking from the outside post in his first try beyond seven furlongs, this speedy son of Pomeroy could be out there and winging it to the first turn. Dialed In and Zito should mean business here; figures to move forward and could blow them away in the stretch.