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Sunday, July 31, 2011

Stay Skeptical

If I'd had time to post in advance of Saturday's races, I would have written that Stay Thirsty was a horrible morning line favorite in the Jim Dandy. And even though he went off second choice, I wouldn't have felt any different. My attitude was the exactly the same as that of Randy Moss, as he told a national TV audience on the Versus telecast. "Ehhhh...I'm not a fan. Not a big fan of Stay Thirsty. He's the most interesting horse in the world yada yada yada. But I think his last race [his second in the Belmont] had more to do with the sloppy racetrack than any improvement. I would be surprised if he won, but I wouldn't be surprised if he doesn't hit the board."

Well, he, and I, were wrong in this case. But, while the horse ran well, leading Moss to concede that he ran big and was right back in 3 yo championship hunt yada yada yada, I'm still not much of a fan. Got a nice trip behind the speed (as precisely predicted by Mike Battaglia) against a highly suspect field. Dominus turned out to be the horrible post-time favorite; 9-5 despite never having been around two turns. Brilliant Speed and Alternation, both 7-2, have not proven themselves in two turn graded stakes races on the dirt. So I could very well be looking to beat him again should he be bet down in the Travers. If the field proves to be any stronger that this one anyway.

Stay Thirsty, who earned a Beyer of 99 106, was the 4th winner on the day for Pletcher, his first multi-win day in his streak of appearing in the winner's circle every day of the meeting, which now stands at eight. Two of those winners were 2 year-old first-time starters (which have now accounted for four of his 11 winners at the meet). Second race winner Giant Surprise ($7.80) is by Giant's Causeway, out of an AP Indy mare (and I've been typing that name a lot this past week); he's inbred 4x4 to Secretariat. His second dam is Twist Afleet, who won the Test here in 1995. Captain Webb ($5.10), who took the sixth at a mile and sixteenth on the grass, is bred and owned by James Scatuorchio, who owned his sire, the turf champion English Channel.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

One-A-Day Toddster

Turbo Compressor ($15.20) won the 7th on Friday, the Curlin Stakes, thus stretching Pletcher's streak of one (and only one) winner per day at Saratoga to seven (from 31 starters). Javier Castellano gunned the son of Halo's Image to the front, adroitly slowed things down to a 25 second pace for the second and third quarters, and left his opponents flailing futilely as he held at bay a pair of more energetically urged rivals through a subsequent quarter of 23 3/5; that's the way it's done. Turbo Compressor is out of an unraced Wild Event mare who's a half-sister to the three-time G1 winner Southern Image.

- Disappointment for trainer Tom Bush, who had to scratch his Grade 1 winner Get Stormy from Sunday's Fourstardave. The trainer also had some disappointment on Friday, if a little less profound, when his Structural Change lost an agonizing nose decision in the 5th. I know I was disappointed, and I know of at least one other horseplayer who I suspect was as well. Still, this is a hot barn, with two winners and two close seconds from seven starters thus far; definitely pays to follow

- Bill Mott has just two winners from his 15 starters thus far, but they were both doozies...and both came in maiden specials on the turf. I wrote about Star Torina ($25.80) in this post. And on Friday, he took the second with Reach a Decision ($26.20). Unlike Star Torina, this was not a first-timer, but it was its first try on turf. By the AP Indy sire Aptitude out of an Unbridled's Song mare, Reach a Decision hails from the distaff family of the Euro juvenile champion and Two Thousand Guineas winner Zafonic.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Friday Morning Notes

David Jacobson got his second training winner of the meet with Malibu Artiste ($3.80) in the third on Thursday. He claimed this mare out of a winning effort in a 25K claimer. Off for nearly three months, Jacobson brought her back for 14K. The bettors didn't seem too wary (though she could have gone off lower); but rival trainers stayed away and she went unclaimed. Malibu Artiste was ridden by David Cohen for owner Bruce Golden Racing. Jacobson, Cohen, and Golden....sounds like a law firm that Archie Bunker might like to hire. There were two claims however, including a rather curious one - Much Fanfare, who went to the post at 57-1 and ran dead last, was claimed by Gary Contessa, for his wife Jennifer. My first impression upon seeing that in the charts is that it was perhaps an expensive rescue mission. But no, she's actually a competitive horse who won on the grass for 20K in May, and who likely needs to get back to similar conditions.

In the 4th, there's that man, George Weaver, who I mentioned here the other day. Boots Ahead ($17) took this high class allowance race that easily could have passed for a G3 stakes.

In the 5th, Pletcher continued his streak of one winner a day with first-time starter Crazy Party ($7.90), as the two-year olds stretch out to a route on the turf. On Wednesday, the Toddster waited until his last at-bat to continue his streak in the 9th race, but no such drama here. Crazy Party is by AP Indy out of a Miswaki mare, and has all kinds of inbreeding - 3x3 to Secretariat; 4x4 to Buckpasser, and 5x5 to Princequillo - profound turf influence all. She's a half-sister to three French stakes winners; and her dam is a half to the G1 winners Dare and Go and Grand Deputy.

Chad Brown starting to roll now with two winners and a narrow loss with his last three starters, as Best Act ($9.80) won the 6th off the layoff on the grass.

Kinda Spicy ($4.50) looks like a real nice three-year old homebred filly for Darley and trainer Tom Albertrani. No problema facing winners and stretching out to a mile and an eighth after her debut win at Belmont, earning an 85 Beyer and winning easily despite being three wide on both turns. She's by AP Indy out of the Chliean champ (and US graded winner) Isola Piu Bella (Rich Man's Gold/Forty Niner). Kinda impressive.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Saratoga Wednesday

The first race is a conditioned 25K claimer for fillies and mares, 3 yo and up, who have never won three races, OR three-year olds, OR which have not won a race since January 25. Of the nine horses entered, eight are eligible because they haven't won three races. Pyramist (9-2) is eligible because she's been away from the races since October, and thus qualifies on the final condition. Nine-year old daughter of Pyramid Peak has won 21 career races, five more than the rest of the field combined. She's also run faster and, arguably, against clearly better horses than any of the others; and she goes for trainer Peter Walder, hitting at 40% (4 for 10) with 180+ day layoff horses.

The way I see it, the main question is whether she's sharp enough off a layoff of this length, her longest since 2006. (Incredibly, she hasn't been off from the races for more than two months at any time since then.) There's also a matter of the nine furlong distance, as she's never been over a mile and a sixteenth. However, only one of the other horses has ever been that far, so I'm not as concerned about that. Not saying she's a lock; besides the questions raised above, there are a couple of sharp fillies in Celebrity Sighting (3-1) and Rose's Turn (7-2). But I do think that one could do far worse in this game than take that 9-2 morning line on a horse with this kind of a class edge on its opponents. (Though I do suspect that we will not see that price at post time.)

In the third, strictly an informational mention of Hard Nosed (6-1), making his debut for Zito. He's from the first crop of Hard Spun, from that fabulous three-year old class of 2007, standing at Darley for $30,000. Hard Spun already has six winners, from 20 starters, and stands #3 on the rookie sire earnings list, thanks in part to Red Duke, a stakes winner in the UK. Not surprising to see him off to a good start, as dominant he himself was at age two. Compare his quick start with that of his one-time rival, and now studmate, Street Sense, who stands at Darley for 40k. The Derby winner, who wasn't bad at age two himself, has had only three horses even make it to the starting gate, and is looking for his first winner.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Saratoga News and Notes

I was thinking early yesterday that I'd write that, despite the horrific heat, NYRA at least lucked out during opening weekend as far as rain and sloppy track/off-the-turf races go. And they did, for the most part, and throughout the crucial weekend cards. But sometime before the start of Monday's third race, after the first was run on a fast track and the second on the turf labeled firm (despite the weather being showery according to the race charts), it must have been a typical Saratoga cloudburst that promptly turned the track to sloppy and washed out the grass races. NYRA moved up the post times and shaved about 40 minutes from the entire race day. [Saratogian] I imagine that might not have thrilled anyone who was planning his/her afternoon break around betting the 5-14-5-7 late Pick Four and missed out on the opportunity.

The attendance was a Belmont-like 7,838.

The track condition led trainer John Kimmel to scratch Friend or Foe, who I was planning to bet against in the Evan Shipman. He'll now run in the Whitney instead. We'll be there that weekend, so I'll have the chance to bet against him in person. “I guess it was meant to be. My horse is ready.” [Saratogian] We'll see....I suspect he'll be in a bit over his head, and besides, he hasn't finished in the money in either of his two two-turn tries, both graded stakes races at Saratoga.

In the first, Joonbi ($7.90) held on to get trainer Seth Benzel on the board. He's a three-year old son of Pollard's Vision, who's stud fee is up to $12,500 from the $10,000 for which this colt was bred; and hails from the direct distaff line of the popular New York-based sprinter Kelly Kip (who now stands in California for $4,000).

Select Cat ($4.70) won the third, thus keeping the Toddster's hitting streak alive at four days with one winner each. This two-year old daughter of Tale of the Cat was never threatened and drew off by five (though good only for a 70 Beyer). Out of a mare by the deceased Secret Hello, this colt's third dam is Bepopper, the dam of Hatchet Man and Stop the Music. This is also the female family of the multiple G1 winner Yanks Music, and the Belmont/Travers runner-up Vision and Verse.

On Sunday, Bretton Woods ($22.20) won for trainer George Weaver. And in the 7th, the Irish Linnet Stakes, his Frivolous Buck rallied wide and sharply for 3rd at 11-1. Regular readers of this blog know that this is a guy that I like to follow at this meet. Too bad I wasn't doing so on Sunday. But he's prone to hot streaks and well worth keeping an eye on from this point on.

2nd race winner Dehere of the Cat ($6.50) is the 5th winner for the first-year sire and one-time phenom Discreet Cat, who stands at Darley for $17,500. Winning trainer Michael Trombetta used to have a ridiculous winning percentage for first-time starters, but I see that it's now down to a more normal 16% on the pp line, which I think covers a year and a half or so. Interestingly-pedigreed NY-bred is inbred 5x4 to Secretariat, and 4x5 to Damascus, a name we don't see much that close up in pedigrees these days. He's out of a Dehere mare who's a half-sister to the stakes winning Ballymore Lady.

In the 4th, Happy Bull ($4.10) and Que Posse completed an all Delaware Park exacta, and no surprise to see David Jacobson snare the winner for the 50k optional claiming tag. Son of Yonaguska made a tempting target with his record of (now) 14 in-the-money finishes in 15 career starts, and Jacobson is not shy about pulling the trigger whatever the price as we know.

Chorus Music ($8.10) won the aforementioned Irish Linnet Stakes for trainer John Terranova. She also won the Irish Linnet Stakes which was run at Belmont in April, which has to represent some kind of record. This daughter of Strategic Mission seems to have come to learn and love the game at the age of six.

Star Torina ($25.80) took the 8th on the turf in her debut, for Mott. She's a full sister to one-time Derby pretender Adriano, a graded winner on the grass. Her third dam is the dam of the Haskell/Belmont winner Bet Twice.

Sanford winner Overdriven ($2.60), who scored a 100 Beyer in his debut for Pletcher, got a 93 in defeating four other maiden graduates in this entry-level allowance masquerading as a Grade 2 stakes. Another hot one for Mike Repole, who paid $350,000 for this son of Tale of the Cat as a yearling at Keeneland last fall. He's a half-brother to the one-time Derby pretender Smooth Air.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Saturday at Saratoga in Song

Race 10 - Coaching Club American Oaks - It's Tricky ($10.60)

I'm sure there were some winning bettors boasting about how easy this one was. "Best Beyer in the field, and she's 4-1, are you kidding me?" Of course, us really smart guys knew that that number came in the one-turn Acorn on a muddy track, and discounted it. Godolphin's filly is now four-for-five lifetime, making the leap from the inner track in the dead of winter to the division lead.

Race 7 - R King of the Road ($11.40)

The Toddster off to a good start with two winners in the first two days. This three-year old gelded son of Trippi disappointed as part of an even money entry of first-timers at Gulfstream in January, added blinkers in his return here, and was long gone after a blazing opening half-mile. R King of the Road hails from the direct female family of Raise A Native; his 5th dam is Raise You, the dam of that ubiquitous presence in American pedigrees.

Race 4 - Wishingonastar ($24.60)

Winner here for David Jacobson, who does not exactly thrive up at Saratoga, with a winning percentage of only 8%, as opposed to 18% overall over the last five years. Still, he's having a great year (21%) and it would be foolish to count him out as the bettors did here, especially in the claiming game in which he makes his living. He took this one for 16K in his debut, tried him unsuccessfully in a state-bred stakes, but gets the money here dropping him in for 15K. Favored Houston Harbor was awful at 7-5 on the big dropdown for Asmussen, and Linda Rice helpfully took him off his hands; good luck with that one.

Race 2 - Laurie's Rocket ($16.20)

This $300,000 yearling purchase was 47-1 in his debut at Churchill; that's usually enough to get me to discount a horse's chances next time, unless he was particularly extraordinary. Was a wide second that day; gets the job done here for Dallas Stewart. This barn is a rare presence at the downstate NYRA tracks, but a regular at Saratoga, even though it has only won at 8% over the last five years. Guess he must just like it here. Laurie's Rocket is a son of Bluegrass Cat out of an American Chance mare, and a half-brother to the stakes-winner (on grass) Greeley's Rocket. The dam is a half to the G1 winner Adieu, who won the Spinaway over this track. First-timer How Do I Win (Corinthian) was bet down to 4-5 in his debut for Pletcher, and is still asking that question (as is his stallion, still looking for his first win).

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Saratoga Saturday

Just a fantastic betting card at Saratoga today. Some short-ish fields but even those seem quite competitive.

In the 3rd, Glickman (5-1) cuts back to the distance at which he graduated, in his debut at the Big A. (4th place Swinging Tune won next out, and has since run competitively at this level.) Stretched out just a bit to seven furlongs for his first try against winners, Glickman set a very fast pace before succumbing to Arch Traveler, but dug in gamely to hold off Rocking Out for the place spot. Both of those horses have won at the conditions of today's race, and either could very well be favored here. Son of Trippi then stretched out to a mile without success, finishing 5th. But that race, run in the mud, has come back extremely strong, producing three winners - including Long Branch winner Rattlesnake Bridge, two strong seconds, and two very close thirds; that out of 8 runners who have returned. As mentioned, today's distance should help, and he's run well both leading and stalking, the kind of versatility which could come in handy in a race which could feature some ample early foot. Saddleranch (7-5) looks real impressive and all shipping in from the west coast for Baffert, but this is his first race on dirt.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Money Trail Leads to Concord

Excellent job by reader Chris, tracking down the campaign contributions to Senator John Bonacic, so thanks Chris. I did modify his link, posted in the comment section in the last post on the subject, to include all of 2010 as well.

Not surprising to see a variety of modest donation by tracks, such as Monticello and Yonkers (though not NYRA), and horsemen associations. But as Chris pointed out, the biggest donor by far ($9,500) in 2011 is Concord Associates/Sullivan Resorts. Concord Associates LP is the company owned by Louis Cappelli that is still trying to make his dream of a racetrack/racino at the old Concord site come true (and he is surely interested in turning the racino into a full-fledged casino). While I don't know that Cappelli has any direct interest in a facility at Belmont or in the fate of NYRA, he definitely has relevant business before the state and, specifically, before the Senate Racing, Gaming and Wagering Committee that Senator Bonacic chairs. He's now competing with his former partner, Empire Resorts, the owner of Monticello, for the right to build at the Concord; and with two other applicants for what is currently the final available harness license in the state. And he surely qualifies as one of those "private casino developers" that Senator Bonacic seems so fond of.

Whatsmore, Cappelli's contributions to the Senator hardly stop at $9,500. There's a donation in that amount in 2011 listed from each of Concord Associates LP and Sullivan Resorts, with which Cappelli is also associated (and the companies share the same post office box). In addition, there's a $9500 donation from Louis Ceruzzi. If you Google him, the top result is for The Lofts at City Center; and if you click on that link, you'll see that Ceruzzi is teamed in that project with one Louis R. Cappelli.

Going back to 2010, you'll find donations of $5,000 each again from Concord Associates, LP and Sullivan Resorts; as well as contributions in the same amount from Peter Palazzo, who, in 2006, was named president of a Cappelli subsidiary; and from Paul Slaney, appointed COO and general counsel to the same subsidiary in the same year.

So that's a fair chunk of change right there - nearly $50,000 coming from Cappelli and people with close associations to him - and that's only what I found by researching the largest donations. I could be like a real reporter and call Bonacic's office for comment, but I'd just get the usual rote response - that the Senator bases his decisions on what is best for his constituents and for the state, and he is not influenced by such donations. So I don't think I'll bother.

Saratoga Friday

The first on Opening Day typifies the duality at Saratoga these days. Yes, it's a state-bred race, and traditionalists may be offended to see such horses open the meet. However, what a state-bred race it is from a betting standpoint; a wide-open head scratcher to get things off to a lively start. From there, it's a pretty typical Saratoga card - three two-year old races -including the G3 Schuylerville for fillies; and an overnight stakes that could be a Grade 1.

In the 6th, Pervis (7-2) takes a big drop in class for the high-percentage trainer Chad Brown. Two races back, he graduated for a 65K tag at Belmont, rallying three wide on the turn, surviving a bumping incident after turning for home, and closing determinedly into steadily quickening fractions to nail loose-on-the-lead East Indies, who came home strongly after being allowed to walk in nearly 25 seconds to the half mile mark; and who earned an 84 Beyer in a game second next time out. After a freshening, Pervis returned in a Monmouth allowance against a far better field than he'll face here - the winner earned a Beyer of 91 that would blow away this restricted claiming event. Not only does Pervis drop, but he has a clear pattern of sharp improvement in his second race off the layoff line. Castellano, who rode Pervis to that maiden win, returns to the saddle here; he won 30% of his starts for this barn at the Spa last year. Short Shrift (10-1) returns to the flat from some dismal steeplechase efforts, and surely fits on past class and Beyers. Best of luck and have a great opening day!

- Always nice to start a meeting off on a winning note. Burns, mentioned prominently here, ran second at 11-1 to favored Mr. Commons in the Oceanside at Del Mar. The exacta returned $27.80.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Piling On

The hits keep coming for NYRA....the latest being yet another audit by the State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli. As you may recall, the last one turned up nothing more insidious than the free van service that NYRA provides amongst and between its three racetracks. NYRA says that it has "significantly reduced" the $900,000 annual cost by bringing the service in-house.

But the Comptroller says he wants to see how NYRA has complied with his cost-cutting recommendations from prior audits. So you can be sure that he will once again draw attention to the executive raises that recently caused so much fuss from the Budget Director, and head of the Franchise Oversight Board, Robert Megna; as well as the ensuing dust-up over the release of their 2011 budget documents.

The Comptroller's announcement comes a day after Senator John Bonacic's release of a hearing agenda which, as detailed in the prior post, includes the question of "Can the racing franchise at State owned tracks be legally taken from NYRA?" And I can't help but think that this flurry, coming just a couple of days before the opening of NYRA's signature meet, was designed to blunt the positive karma the association has been trying, with notable success as we've discussed, to generate. (NYRA also released some very good attendance and handle figures for Belmont, including explosive gains in their telephone and internet business.)

One might certainly suspect that somebody has an agenda here....and not one at all favorable to the future prospects of the New York Racing Association. In his reporting for the Daily Racing Form, Matt Hegarty once again provides a possible motive.

Under a law passed in 2001, casinos were legalized at all of the state’s racetracks except Belmont and Saratoga. Gambling companies have been lobbying the state for approval to operate private casinos, and Belmont Park is considered an attractive site for a casino location. Under the current lease with the state, it is unlikely that a private casino operator could develop a casino at Belmont unless the lease with NYRA was revoked. [DRF]
Clearly, one way to have that lease revoked is to make NYRA go away. And since the notion of "private casino development" is a prominent one in Bonacic's press release, one can surely speculate that one or more private casino developers - and you can speculate as to who they are - could be behind a move to have the franchise revoked. And that's not as far-fetched an idea as one might think. NYRA is required to meet certain benchmarks as specified in its franchise agreement; as Megna reminded Charlie Hayward in no uncertain terms in his letter last month.
"I remind you that under Section 212.8.a(ii) of the Racing Law, the Board has the authority to recommend termination of the franchise agreement upon a finding of a material breach, or repeated non-material breach of performance standards under the franchise. There is little doubt that continued failure to comply with Board requests would amount to such a breach."
Now comes Senator Bonacic's agenda item, which you'll notice doesn't read 'Should the racing franchise at State owned tracks be legally taken from NYRA'...but, rather, 'can' it be taken away, as if somebody has already decided that it should.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

National Spotlight, Local Scorn for NYRA

Three of the eight nationally televised programs from Saratoga will actually be on NBC, with the other five on Versus. The series will kick off on the big network on Saturday, with coverage of the G1 Coaching Club American Oaks, as well as the prior race.

Storylines will include a feature on John Velazquez who won the Kentucky Derby aboard Animal Kingdom, and last year, won the Coaching Club American Oaks aboard Devil May Care, the only filly to enter last year’s Kentucky Derby. There will also be a feature on the long, storied history of horse racing at Saratoga. [NYRA Press Release]
NBC will have its A team of Tom Hammond, Gary Stevens, Mike Battaglia, and Kenny Rice on hand.

This is so cool that it's almost surreal - a regular weekly television series! Just an incredible coup, like a national TV version of the old local coverage; I almost expect to see Frank Wright and Charlsie Canty on hand. NYRA deserves all the credit in the world for scoring the deal.

Of course, you won't hear any praise for NYRA in Albany, where the latest Senate hearing scheduled by Senate Racing, Wagering, and Gaming Committee chairman Sen. John Bonacic is to include the topic of whether the three-track franchise can be legally taken away from the New York Racing Association. [Bloodhorse]

I mean, seriously. In a more objective setting, these hearing could pertain to, in addition to the television coup, NYRA's aggressive, and apparently successful, efforts to attract on-track and online business in the wake of NYC OTB's demise; its excellent full service ADW platform including live streaming of a multitude of tracks; its cross-breed deal to include Yonkers on that platform; and its creative marketing and sponsorship deals for the Saratoga meeting...and hold them up as models for other tracks in the state! Instead, the Senator wants to discuss how to make NYRA go away. And, as Matt Hegarty reports, there could be other motives than the usual convenient political bashing:
The state is currently restricted from developing all but small parcels of the Belmont property. If NYRA’s lease were revoked, that would free the state to seek private casino operators at the property. [DRF]
Bonacic issued a release detailing the points on his agenda.
“Whether we agree with every action taken or not, under the leadership of Governor Cuomo and the Senate Majority Leader Skelos, New York has changed for the better. I want to build on that energy during the off-session to develop proposals which are capable of passing both the Assembly and Senate relating to both private casino gaming development and improvements to New York’s horse racing industry,” Senator Bonacic said.

Among the dozen issues Bonacic indicated he was initially contemplating include:

1. Where is casino gaming desired across New York State?
2. Who has an interest in developing private sector casino gaming in New York?
3. Should we end efforts to attract Native American casinos and focus instead on private sector casino development?
4. What would be the impact of private sector casino development in Western New York with respect to State’s existing agreement with the Seneca Nation?
5. Where should an expansion of casino gaming be permitted?
6. What requirements, if any, should there be to benefit the horse racing industry?
7. Can the racing franchise at State owned tracks be legally taken from NYRA?
8. Should New York State require out of State Advanced Deposit Wagering (ADW) systems to pay the same statutory Commissions as in-state ADWs?
9. Should OTBs be able to accumulate millions in cash on hand without returning it to their regions?
10. Which OTBs are innovating?
11. Why should all OTBs not be forced into a statutory merger?
12. How can New York help the agricultural aspects of horse breeding and training in New York State?
There are some worthy topics here, particularly the ones pertaining to OTB. But besides NYRA, I would think that the Indian tribes aspiring to build casinos also can't be too happy about this, with the emphasis clearly and squarely on the notion of private sector casino gaming (which also fits in with Hegarty's observation about Belmont).

And that "if any" in #6 should give pause to all of the racetracks in the state...and around the country for that matter. I've always feared that it's just a matter of time before politicians take a look at casino revenues and start to question why portions of it are being used to prop up racetracks instead of closing deficits or funding their pet projects.

Also feel compelled to comment on that introductory statement about the "leadership of Governor Cuomo and the Senate Majority Leader Skelos." The only thing that Senator Skelos is able to lead is his chin into Andrew Cuomo's butt. Don't want to get too much into this here, but suffice to say that it was the governor who, in these difficult times, took the lead on GOP-friendly issues regarding budget cuts, pension reform, preserving tax cuts for the wealthy, and property tax caps. And Skelos knows very well that this extraordinarily popular governor can easily turn the tables on the GOP in 2012 and re-relegate them to minority status should he get involved in the campaign. So no surprise that he fell into line on permitting a vote on gay marriage (an issue on which he could not even keep his own conference in line), came off the Senate's position on no changes in the rent control laws, and will have to eventually give way on redistricting as well given Cuomo's promise to veto anything that smacks of partisanship. Still, I imagine he'll probably manage, at some point, to get his smug smiley face on NBC or Versus at some point during the summer if he's hanging around the area. (I wonder what ever happened to Joe Bruno's box?)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Coast to Other Coast

While Saratoga gears up for its six day a week schedule - which makes it very much an outlier these days - Del Mar is tentatively and optimistically hoping for five.

“I was pretty panicked a couple months ago,” the track’s director of racing, Tom Robbins, admitted. “We’re trying to stretch to five days instead of four. That is the challenging part.”

Del Mar is the first Southern California track to regularly schedule five days a week since last fall. Robbins, therefore, was relieved at the increased number of arrivals. He expects 2,000 horses to be stabled on track, an increase of 200 from last year.[Daily Racing Form]
In addition to an impressive purse hike fueled by that notorious takeout increase, the track is offering a guaranteed $1000 and a 20% purse bonus for horses that made their last start out-of-state. Good thinking there, and the effort has shown some early success.
As many as 100 horses have been added to the inventory for the 37-day meeting. Six “shippers” will run opening day. [SignOnSanDiego]
Still, the last three Fridays are slated to have just seven races; Thursdays could be shortened to seven races, too.

Well, all is well on opening day at least, with ten races, with no less than eight horses (in three of them) scheduled to start. The first feature of the meet is the Oceanside, a restricted stakes race on the grass for three-year olds. Mr. Commons is the morning line favorite at 5-2 in his first race since a not-that-terrible 8th in the Preakness. The second jewel of the Triple Crown has turned out to be a funny race in that the only horses who have subsequently won (out of ten who have since started) are the ones that finished in the last three spots, 12th (Sway Away, my Preakness selection, thank you), 13th (Midnight Interlude, who finished 2 1/2 lengths in front of Mr. Commons in winning the SA Derby), and 14th (Flashpoint, who won the Jersey Derby). Both Sway Away and Midnight Interlude won in California, the latter in stakes company on the grass.

Mr. Commons is returning to that surface, over which he graduated easily on the downhill course in his only grass start. He's a son of the BC Mile winner Artie Schiller, out of a mare by the Round Table stallion Apalachee; so you might figure he'll like this mile route. Not totally sold on him if he's a heavy favorite though, so I'll give a mention to Burns (12-1). This gelded son of Unusual Heat made his first start in December, and has nary a layoff line in sight amongst his ten starts. Seems to be really thriving on the work, improving since shedding blinkers, moving up from state-bred company to an open allowance win in his last, and seeming to have found a home on the grass. In his first race for Valenzuela, Burns broke a bit better than in the past, circled the field effortlessly on the turn and outgamed Cloud Man, a nice-looking Moss-homebred Thunder Gulch colt. His turf route Beyers match up with anyone in the field. Think he can outrun those odds here.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Hot Hot Hot!

Figures to be a hot time at Saratoga for opening day....hopefully for the racing and the wagering too. But I was talking about the weather, forecast to be hot all week, and with the temperature on Friday predicted to be 95 ( or 97 (Accuweather), along with the usual attendant humidity and chance of those passing storms which will hopefully do so to the north or south. I dunno, at 97 and high humidity, NYRA may have a tough decision on its hand with a big opening day crowd surely on tap. Don't recall exactly what the temperature was a few years ago when racing was canceled one day; but I can't imagine it could have been too much hotter than 97.

- Interesting to read these comments by Charlie Hayward the other day.

"I think it's hard to believe, but I think you're going to have people who haven't been to Saratoga in a while that are here in the city because there is no OTB, even though it's 200 miles away. I think we're going to have an increase in on-track attendance." [NY Daily News]
That's a pretty steep jump in class from the OTB parlor on Queens Blvd straight to Saratoga itself. Will be interesting to see. But it seems a more achievable goal to get the former parlor-dwellers out to Belmont or Aqueduct instead. The Belmont Cafe will be equipped with temporary air conditioning; and they'll presumably roll out the giant fans on the first floor at the Big A. Both will be open on Tuesdays for simulcasting as well, and will remain open until 11PM Thurs - Sat. Seems to me that NYRA could really make some hay at these locations. And remember, as we've mentioned here before, NYRA estimates that it needs to recover just around 35% of former NYC-OTB handle through its own outlets - whether Saratoga, Aqueduct, Belmont, or its phone/internet wagering platform - to break even on the deal.

Hayward's optimism for on-track business is supported by anecdotal evidence as reported in this article. As for all-sources handle, he said: "I'd be happy with a 2-3% decline in all-source handle given what's going on in the industry." I'm thinking that the numbers could very well surprise on the positive side this year, and that the all-sources handle should be helped by the weekly nationally televised races on Versus and NBC.

- Those who do make it to the track will find that the beer is actually cheaper. That's right...cheaper!
Fans this year will pay $3 for a 12-ounce Coors Light draft beer and $4 for a Heineken draft. That’s down from $5 and $6 last year, according to a NYRA official. [Saratoga Seen]
I'm thinking that any beer revenue that's not recovered due to a higher volume of sales may very well end up in the pari-mutuel pools anyway.

Monday Morning Notes

Coulda/woulda/shoulda mentioned (or picked) Aprilmayjune ($7.40), the winner of the final race of the Belmont spring/summer meet. For one thing, it was kind of a hunch bet since it will be Julyaugustseptember before another race is run there. And for another, you had to figure that if trainer Seth Benzel shipped the daughter of Offlee Wild downstate from Saratoga, where she's been training going back at least to May, for the last race of the Belmont meet, he must have thought it was a pretty opportune spot.

Well, what can you do....had to make a train to meet the Head Chef out at Jones Beach (long story), and I don't generally bother picking morning line favorites anyway. However, that seems a fair price in retrospect, considering the way the horse fit on class. Always used to believe that you get overlays on the favorites in the last race because everyone's shopping for longshots trying to get even. Don't know however if that's as meaningful anymore here in the simulcasting age, when the last race for many, no matter where they are wagering, means the last race at Penn National or Evangeline or maybe even Australia.

Zito got his second winner of the meet with Banker's Buy ($11) in the state-bred Reno Stakes. Hard to come up with this one based on his form to that point. Like Zito's other winner, Tuvia's Force, this one shipped down from Saratoga. After his 2-for-31 meet (though 2 for his last 3), one might think that Zito will do better upstate based on the law of percentages alone, no less his usual success there.

Linda Rice won the 8th with returnee Sextant ($5.90) and thus tied Pletcher for the training title at the meet. That's not the first time that they have been involved in a dramatic duel for a training title - a regular Alydar and Affirmed, those two. It was also the 1000th training win (with an asterisk) for Ms. Rice, so accomplishing it in that fashion was a little like Derek Jeter. A little.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Third Time A Charm

Finally everything came together for NYRA on the third and final Friday twilight card - great weather and a featured band that actually showed up. Drew a crowd of 8,204 which seemed much larger than that in the festive backyard area. Long betting lines there, but post times were properly delayed and I didn't notice anyone getting shut out; so good job there. Why leave any money on the table, and besides, nothing angers horseplayers more than being denied the chance to piss their money away.

Attendance would have been 8,205, except that the Head Chef bailed on me in order to go to....a pottery class! Seriously!? It's 5-to-4 that she won't be hearing the end of that for awhile!

Pretty tough racing day for the bettors (as in, me), though a couple of chalk results were thrown in to hopefully make more people happy. Finale ($5.20) took the 6th for Pletcher, bet down to favoritism in his first try on the grass (and like to see these grass sprints for two-year olds). This colt is from the first crop by Scat Daddy, who, as you may recall, won the Champagne, Fountain of Youth, and Florida Derby for the Toddster before being retired due to a "slight tendon injury" suffered in the Derby. So we all sure hope he's paying off for his owners at stud now, right? He stands for $10,000 at Ashford, and has four winners, good enough to place him second on the rookie sire earnings list at this very early stage. (And his late surge to beat Teufelsberg in the Sanford still sticks in my craw, some five years (!!) later. Always good for a horseplayer to let things linger like that.)

It was a great day indeed, even as I came away with nothing as far as wagering goes. That was despite the fact that I did very much like the overlaid winner of the 8th, Coax Liberty ($11.80). I managed to come away with nothing due to a series of poor decisions on pick threes and late doubles. Nice three-year old daughter of Successful Appeal, out of Chelsie's House, a stakes winning daughter of Housebuster (no mystery why this filly likes seven furlongs), wore down favored Savvy Supreme under a perfectly timed ride by Ramon.

I was alive in the late double anyway, and Big Shot had already started to perform as the final race went off. I am not at all a Billy Joel fan, a fact which I think I've mentioned here before. I'm also, admittedly and regretfully, a total snob when it comes to musical tastes. Earlier in the day, I was talking to a couple of people, and when they asked me if I was sticking around for the band, I was like "Er, I..don'" in a rather catty tone and then felt bad when I realized that they were excited for the band. I really need to get better with that! Having said that though (here it comes), it was a rather bleak end to the day watching my late doubles go down the drain while having to listen to the morbid strains of New York State of Mind. But I guess it served me right.

- Well, I know a lot of people who laugh at my taste in music ("and at your age??"), especially this time of year when I'm running around to all the free music going on around the city. The last couple of weeks have been particularly busy, with the emphasis on women performers....and four extremely talented (and extremely variously so), and wild and/or wacky ones in the last week or so to be sure. (That doesn't even include Laurie Anderson, who I don't think quite qualifies as either wild or wacky, but who I saw play with Bill Laswell at historic Castle Clinton in Battery Park a few weeks ago.)

A week ago Thursday, Shara Worden, who performs as My Brightest Diamond, played at the same Castle Clinton. My Brightest Diamond has morphed into various incarnations over the years; currently, Shara is performing with Y Music, a delightful string and brass sextet, and they have an album due out this fall. Here's a sample from the show (recorded unprofessionally and against house rules by yours truly).

Last Saturday, New Brunswick, New Jersey's Screaming Females played at the South Street Seaport, my favorite venue for free outdoor music around here. (Unfortunately, the schedule there is an abbreviated one this year, no doubt due to various financial shortcomings during these uncertain times. If it was up to Republicans, there would be absolutely no public money allotted for such cultural events that are the heartbeat of many cities and communities.) There is actually only one screaming female in the trio; and that would be Marissa Paternoster. From her diminutive stature, a reader of this blog might find her more likely to be riding horses than shredding guitar solos, but that is surely not the case.

Screaming Females' album, Castle Talk, was amongst my favorites of 2010; it's available on Don Giovanni Records.

This past Thursday, back to Castle Clinton, and singer/songwriter, poet, award-winning author, and, now, actor Patti Smith needs no introduction to be sure. She played with her band before an overflow crowd....literally. (And, like all of these shows, for free.) Those who couldn't get in listened from outside, and it was funny to hear the roar emanate from around the circular venue when Patti acknowledged them during the show. It was a real treat to be sure, so much so that I could only bother to record about 25 seconds of it.

And from there, we hopped a cab and zipped up the west side to Pier 54, on the Hudson River around 14th Street, and caught the last few songs by Merrill Garbus, who performs as tUnE-yArDs. Her recently released whokill (4ad) is surely one of the best albums of this year, and a lock for a slot in my year-end top ten list. Hard to describe her music, which is full of African polyrhythms, frenetic ukulele riffs, and vocals with a range and passion that you have to hear to believe. This is the video for Bizness, the first single from the album.

(By the way, the pier was packed for this show; reportedly over 4500 in attendance; not much compared to McCartney at Yankee Stadium of course, but a big number for an independent artist of her stature. I think it was Figless who once jokingly suggested that I book indie bands for the Belmont Party in the Park, and it would certainly draw a different crowd, and a young one to be sure. Not to mention one that actually plays good - and original - music [ARGH, there I go again!!!])

The night was capped off literally with a bang - a totally unexpected (to us, anyway) and awesomely glorious fireworks display over the river, that started during tUnE-yArDs' final song and ran on for a good 25 minutes afterwards. A Bastille Day celebration perhaps? Whatever the reason, it was a fitting and climactic end to one of those magical nights that one can only experience in New York City.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Two Cents from the Head Chef

What a perfect day at the track last Saturday! A breeze, lots of sunshine and a happy crowd made this the place to be. We were invited to celebrate a couple of birthdays in a private picnic area facing the racetrack at Belmont Park. A private picnic area reserved just for a party! I like! And it gave me ideas. I have been dreaming of throwing a party at the track for Mr. Left at the Gate and this set-up seems perfect. The reserved picnic area comes with shaded picnic tables, charcoal grills and the all important garbage cans. Now try to get info on this service by searching the Belmont Website. Go ahead and try, 'cause I found nothing.  I'm not giving up yet and will resort to making a few phone calls.

From lt to rt: Mr. Left at the Gate, Brooklyn Backstretch blogger Teresa Genaro, Hello Race Fans! founders Adam Weiner and Dana Byerly, NYRA's Andy Serling.
As you can see from the photo, a lot of bloggers were present, including myself, but fortunately I don't write about horses so I did not have to give my opinion on handicapping any of the races that day.

My attention was mostly on the food, which was great. We had burgers and salads and fresh fruit and cupcakes. I brought a tomato-peach salsa and a black eye pea salsa to contribute to the feast. 

But then the fifth race came up and Mr. Left at the Gate suggested he and I check out the paddock because I enjoy sizing up young two-year olds (horses. I like babies too).

These two year-olds were all first time starters which is pretty adorable and irresistible to me. They get so nervous and confused! I was giving them all the once over when the Toddster-trained Stat appeared.  Sometimes a horse just dazzles and Stat did that for me. I could not take my eyes off him.

Impossible to get a good photo! I was as jumpy as a school girl at a Justin Beiber concert.
GORGEOUS!!! This horse just shimmers with beauty. I could not even say if I thought he would win. I just fell in love and didn't give any of the other horse a second glance. Did I bet him? No, Mr. Left at the Gate frowns on meaningless betting and at 5 to 4 odds [LOL - Mr. Left at the Gate], Stat was not going to get me very far. Did he win? Hell yes!!! A fantastic finish that left the other horses in the dust. Oooohhh I love that horse!
I am now a Stat fan and can't wait to see him race again. Maybe at Saratoga this summer?

The Head Chef's blog: Grapes and Greens

Also on Edible Queens.

Belmont Thursday

In the first, a highly competitive seven furlong conditional claimer on the grass, Wascally Rabbit (10-1) moves up and stretches out a bit for trainer Gary Contessa. Now, this is a tough race, with Raging Wit (7-2) dropping in for a tag for the first time for Mott after keeping significantly better company to this point; and Fiscal Stimulus (5-2) dropping purposefully, it would seem, second off the claim for Galluscio, 24% at the meet. So I think I'm going to make this a "mention." Y'know, that's what some handicappers do when they like a horse but are not confident enough that it's going to win. That way, if it does, I can go "well, I gave it a mention," and if it loses, I can say it wasn't a pick. Notice that I put his name in italics rather than the usual bold.

The only three-year old in the field, this colt, from the first crop by Imperialism, seemed to need his first grass start two races back, rallying late after getting off to a sluggish start. With that race under his belt, he was off alertly against slightly lesser next out, and rallied to win, improving to a 76 Beyer which makes him competitive here. One might watch that race and dismiss it as the result of a perfect trip, sitting third on the rail behind the two dueling favorites as he did. Still, those two four-year olds were not stopping at all, and it took a determined effort and final splits of 11.2 and 11.3 to get the job done. Now, third time on the lawn and confidently moved up in class, he could be sitting on a big effort should the extra furlong suit. Seems worth using underneath the two mentioned above, and on top too at or around his morning line.

In the third, Capossela winner Sensational Slam (9-5) is back to the six furlongs of that inner track stakes after two ill-fated efforts around two turns on Poly; and he's two-for-two at this route. (That was strictly an informational mention, with no endorsement of his chances implied.)

In the 4th (also for information only), Queen of England (6-1) is a daughter of the rookie sire and 2007 grass champ English Channel (that's right, it's been four years); out of the multiple graded turf winner Babae. English Channel has a winner (on the Arlington Poly) from five starters thus far.

I see trainer Nick Canani is in town; his two recent starters at Belmont (a first and a third) are his first two on record at NYRA tracks, according to Formulator (at least going back five years). Perhaps we'll be seeing more of him upstate? If so, get used to horses like his entry in the 5th, Kuggerand (5-2), dropping in claiming price from 25K to 12,500. That's the M.O. for this barn, which hits at an incredible 46% (30 for 65) with horses dropping 50% or more in claiming price.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Loopholes, No-Brainers, and Various Deficiencies of Horse Sense

One of the ideas that has been proposed by Democrats as a means to raise revenues, as part of the ongoing negotiations over raising the federal debt limit, is to eliminate favorable tax treatment, in the form of accelerated depreciation, for racehorses. Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia put the potential savings at $20 million for three years; I've elsewhere seen the overall pricetag for the tax break put at $126 million. Either way, it's a ludicrously small amount in the context of the $2-$4 trillion numbers in savings + new revenues that we've seen bandied about; and probably little more than a dig at the Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who took credit for passage of the measure in a 2008 farming bill.

The idea is being framed as closing a tax loophole for the wealthy. Senator Jeff Merkely, Democrat from Oregon:

“It’s a sport for the best-off. And why should we, in this difficult time, be subsidizing this activity for the best-off, while people are on the floor talking about cutting fundamental support for those who are hungry in America?”
Well, as you might expect, I'm all in favor of the concept that wealthy individuals and corporations should pay a fair share in order to maintain, if not enrich, the safety net for those who are less fortunate amongst us. The thing is though that none of the owners or breeders that I know are particularly rich. And most, if not all, of the prominent owners that have been in the news over the last decade or so made their fortunes in other pursuits....and I think it would be a fair guess that they all benefited in one way or another from one of the tax loopholes (at least for sure from the Bush tax cuts) that the Republicans are fighting to protect. You'd think that Congress would focus on some business in which the vast majority of participants don't lose money.

However, the Republicans, particularly though not exclusively those in the House, will now apparently not agree to any means of raising revenues at this time. Speaker of the House John Boehner backed away from his having indicated that he'd be amenable to a historic package that would include such measures; even reportedly being amenable to allowing the Bush tax cuts for those making over $250,000 a year to expire. The Speaker, who seemed to be getting along with the president after their round of golf of couple of weeks ago, instead succumbed to the wishes of the radical elements of hi caucus. Funny, those Republicans came into office pledging historic change to their fanatical Tea Party supporters; but, even with the president showing willingness to buck his own party by backing significant cuts in treasured benefits programs, instead are sticking to their meme of protecting loopholes and tax rates for the rich and powerful.

Well, I could go on, and you probably didn't come hear to read this stuff. So I'll refer you to last week's must-read Op-Ed column entitled The Mother of All No-Brainers by the Times' David Brooks, who is surely no liberal, having once been an op-ed editor at the Wall Street Journal.
If the Republican Party were a normal party, it would take advantage of this amazing moment. It is being offered the deal of the century: trillions of dollars in spending cuts in exchange for a few hundred billion dollars of revenue increases.

A normal Republican Party would seize the opportunity to put a long-term limit on the growth of government. It would seize the opportunity to put the country on a sound fiscal footing. It would seize the opportunity to do these things without putting any real crimp in economic growth.

The party is not being asked to raise marginal tax rates in a way that might pervert incentives. On the contrary, Republicans are merely being asked to close loopholes and eliminate tax expenditures that are themselves distortionary. [NY Times]
Closer to home, I could only laugh last week when I saw that Larry Schwartz was named secretary to Governor Cuomo. Schwartz held the same post for Governor Paterson, and was also interim chairman of NYC OTB in the weeks leading up to its timely demise. Schwartz was singled out in the Inspector General's report on AEG for a stunning lack of recall, and testimony which was termed as "confounding." In four pages of a transcript of his interview with the IG, Schwartz said "I do not recall" or something similar 12 times. The IG seemed to find his testimony to not be credible.
Schwartz’s testimony reveals that, although Secretary to the Governor and self-proclaimed Chief Operating Officer of the State, he was completely uninformed of the salient facts of the bidders’ proposals, most notably financial information, and failed to provide any assistance to the Governor in processing information collected and analyzed by agencies under his control, much less expedite the process or attempt to avoid the errors of the prior round, his stated goals. While having apparently abdicated all executive responsibility, Schwartz appears to have actively participated in the process, albeit to no discernable end.
However, life goes on as usual for Mr. Schwartz, as it apparently does for Senator John Sampson, still the leader of the Democratic caucus, Sens. Malcolm Smith and Eric Adams, returned to their offices by the voters, AEG lobbyinst and 5th Amendment pleader Hank Sheinkopf, to whom the press continues to run for quotes, and others. It's almost like nothing ever happened.

Nothing happening at Belmont on Wednesday, as NYRA goes to four days for the last week of the meeting. The time before Saratoga has always been a tough one to fill fields, so I guess the move makes sense. Sunday will be the final day of racing, and the gates will not open for thoroughbred racing downstate for nearly eight weeks until the fall meeting opens on September 10.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Belmont Saturday

Sometimes....or actually I should say....on a rare occasion, everything just happens to work out. In the third on Friday, 1-2 Understatement got left at the gate, and the rest of the field went out and set a suicidal pace, making it an EZ game for Tuvia's Force ($11.80). Nice to get lucky sometimes.

Tough break for NYRA with the horrible weather for the second twilight card. Besides the ruined aesthetics, five turf races was washed away, leaving two three-horse fields, and two with four. So, this is when I go into my usual ranting about how if all other things were merely equal, synthetic tracks would be worthwhile for the sole reason that they don't get sloppy. And I can't think of a track that could benefit more from that than....almost afraid to say it and offend the racing gods and purists....S-S-S-Saratoga!

- In the 6th today, a wildly competitive state-bred seven furlong affair on the grass (labeled good), Karakorum Legend (6-1) returns from a lengthy layoff for the hot Linda Rice barn. Can't give you exact recent numbers because the Form's site is struggling this morning and the trainer stats are not available, but she's 21% on the meet, and 22% with 180+ day layoffs. Five-year old son of Mutakddim returned from a similar layoff to score in similar company over this course last year. When last seen in the fall, he was holding his own very nicely in open optional claiming allowance company, and I think that gives him a clear class edge over the rest of these state-breds. For example, the morning line favorite Compliance Officer, who is coming off a win at this same class level in his first start for Bruce Brown, and is thus the horse to beat, was way up the track when he last tried that company. Karakorum Legend does look like he may prefer the turf firm, but the sun is shining brilliantly, so let's still take a shot at or around that morning line. Westside Corral (7-2) is 2-2-0 in four starts in state-bred grass races for Clement; shortens up a bit here, which might not help. Strong Impact (9-2) closed sharply off a hot pace to miss by a nose to Compliance Office at six furlongs in their last efforts, but, still, looks as if may prefer that shorter route. Best of luck and have a great day.

Friday, July 08, 2011

Belmont Friday

Heavy rain turned the track to slop late Thursday, and the forecast is shaky for today's twilight card, but what the hell. In the third, Tuvia's Force (4-1) goes for a tag for the first time for Nick Zito, an unseemly 0 for 28 at the meeting thus far. Well, he's been hot at Delaware anyway. The barn wins at a 27% rate first time in claiming races. This son of Mineshaft raced well at this one-turn mile route at Gulfstream last year, running third behind a couple of nice ones in the graded stakes placed Wildcat Frankie and Bank the Eight, who won his next two, including the Tesio. He returned after a year layoff with a wide second, at six furlongs on the inner track, behind a sharp Pletcher heavy favorite in Overcommunication. Subsequent effort, on May 1, was a disappointing one. Colt has worked well being freshened since then, and interesting to note that he was shipped upstate for two works over the Saratoga training track. Class relief and stretchout could help here, and David Cohen, who rode him in that second two races back, returns to the saddle (22% for Zito). Understatement (6-5) was 5-2 in finishing a distant third in the G3 Excelsior two races back. Obvious class of the field, having earned a 115 Beyer winning the Evening Attire on the IT last year, drops precipitously after fading badly at 4-5 at Delaware in his first race for a tag. Six year old has done his best running around two turns; seems a vulnerable favorite here. Best of luck and have a great Friday.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011


Nice handicapping job by Pletcher in determining that Her Smile should shorten up from her recent route efforts and run in the G1 Prioress on Monday, a race otherwise loaded with early speed.

"Sometimes you analyze a race over and over again and you think it's supposed to set up exactly a certain way, and this one actually unfolded the way we hoped it would....We were talking 21 and 44 and change, we wanted to be back off the pace and make one run. We were able to save ground and come up the fence. It couldn't have worked out any better."[Daily Racing Form]
Even with the ideal pace and position, this filly needed to overcome some daunting traffic problems to get through. As our verbose local chart caller notes, the filly was blocked by a loosely formed wall of three horses directly up ahead - as opposed I suppose to a more organized and premeditated obstruction effort - and with another parked in the five path preventing a potential maneuver outward for freedom (on the 4th of July no less!).

Truth is though that she never was severely impeded at any point as Castellano deftly steered her to the rail for room. Her Smile earned what was easily a career best Beyer of 96 in her first sprint effort since last fall and in her 7th start of the year. It was also her first competitive effort in three tries since Bobby Flay moved her to the care of the Toddster.

Her Smile has an extremely unusual pedigree; by Include out of a mare by Capote, she's inbred 5x4 to the Kentucky Oaks winner Hidden Talent through her daughters Turn-to Talent and the 1986 Broodmare of the Year Too Bald, the dam of Exceller, Baldski, and the aforementioned Capote. Whatsmore, Her Smile has an additional instance of Too Bald, making her inbred 3x5 to that dam as well. One might think she'd excel at route racing with those bloodlines, but her three career wins have come at 6 1/2 furlongs or less. She's being pointed to the seven furlong Test, and absent a similar potential pace setup, she could prove to be an underlay in that spot.

The Prioress might be the oddest Grade 1 race in the country, as a six furlong race for three-year old fillies. Since Indian Blessing won the race in 2008, Cat Moves won in 2009 in what was her final career start (not sure what effect that has on the annual evaluation of grade designations), and the awfully named Franny Freud was retired after three subsequent losing efforts. So all you big Prioress fans might want to root for Her Smile to have some success down the road in order to maintain the race's Grade 1 status.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Getting Worse

Things actually got a whole lot worse after I posted from the airport in Tampa on Tuesday. They rushed us onto the plane because, we were told, the weather was "deteriorating" in New York and we had to leave at 8:30. I think the Jet Blue pilot just wanted to get home, as that turned out to be BS, as you'll see. Already over an hour late, we zipped out to the runway, #1 for takeoff......and proceeded to sit on the runway for almost two hours. A vague explanation about JFK not accepting anymore incoming traffic. Meanwhile, the Head Chef was feeling queasy, and I soon noticed that she had quietly removed her air sickness bag. I'll spare you the details, but my poor honey went through all three bags in our row, and two plastic garbage bags to boot. (A plate of ceviche consumed some 30 hours earlier was the main suspect.)

Finally took off, but initially flew 300 miles due east for a clear path up the coast, adding another 30-40 minutes to an already nightmare travel experience. It was 1 AM when we finally got off the plane. The final indignity was that we had to carry the Head Chef's mess off the plane ourselves since the stewardess wouldn't take it (in fact, she flat out lied to us, said she'd come back with a separate container for it, and then we never saw her again!).

And yet ahead was the scariest part of the whole ordeal - the taxi ride home in a driving rainstorm on the Van Wyck Expressway, egads!

- Another thing that has gotten worse since I last posted on the subject is the state of health of this year's three-year old crop. Since that time, Dialed In went to the sidelines with a knee chip and, worst of all, the great Animal Kingdom himself was declared out for the year due to the injury which was previously said to be a minor one. He'll possibly be pointed to the Dubai World Cup, which always does a lot for the interest level in American racing.

These latest additions to the injury list from the decimated crop brings me back yet again to Joe Drape's article in the June 9 edition of the NY Times, in which he theorized, with the scant evidence of the results of this year's Derby and Preakness, that these horses were slower and, thus, sounder due to the absence of steroids. I hate to harp on things....OK, maybe that's not true. But this article was, in my view, a landmark in shoddy journalism and therefore fair game for continued criticism as real world events serve to dispute the novel theories that it espoused. I think it was more its placement on the front page of the paper than the article itself which makes it so heinous. Would have been fine as an opinion column or a post on a blog like this one that hardly anyone reads.

But a front page story in the Paper of Record gives an article credibility that warrants more than sheer speculation lacking a solid base of factual support. And, at this point, given what has happened to the top horses in this three-year old crop, I believe I'd be on equally sound footing to theorize that the banning of steroids is causing thoroughbreds to be less sound.

Not to mention slow. In fact, the whole idea of 'slower and sounder' is rather counter-intuitive to me. I've always figured that slow horses are less sound. I mean, that's why they are slow, no? They're bred to be fast, so if they are bred from fast horses - as most thoroughbreds are - and they are slow, then isn't something wrong? It's not like horses have always been on steroids, and history is filled with many horses who were very fast and very sound before that era. Of course, it's entirely possible that they were juiced up on something else - given the history of human behavior over the centuries, there's little reason to believe that the trainers of the 40s or 50s were any more or less honest or ethical than they are today. However, that was also before the era that seemingly nearly every horse around became inbred to Northern Dancer or Mr. Prospector or both - two horses who managed only 32 starts between them - or descended from some other unsound offspring of those two. So it seems to me that the state of the breed today is rooted in the very basics of breeding, and can hardly be explained as succinctly - or as in accordance with the agenda of the writer - as purported on the front page of the NY Times a few weeks ago.

- The first of three Friday twilight cards at Belmont drew a crowd of 6,205. That's gotta be a bit of a disappointment I would think, coming on a beautiful Friday before a holiday weekend. Then again, it being the holiday may not have helped - seems pretty empty in and around the city this weekend. Not to mention the last minute cancellation by the Lou Gramm Band. I'm sure that must have left a lot of people, well.....

- Maybe we'll have better luck with the second wave of three-year olds we see emerge around this time. Dominus was pretty impressive dominating the Dwyer on Saturday, earning a Beyer of 98 which immediately vaults him to amongst the top of the entire class - active, disabled, or retired. He's a son of Smart Strike out of Cuando, a stakes-winning Lord at War mare who excelled on grass and who is a half-sister to the excellent turf mare Honey Ryder; making Dominus another candidate for cross-surfacing.

- OK, sorry about that Foreigner video, feel as if I should compensate for that. Before going to Florida, I saw Dinosaur Jr perform their classic Bug LP in its entirety at Terminal 5, preceded by Off! (featuring ex-Black Flag/Circle Jerks Keith Morris) and Fucked Up; an amazing show all around, yeah! Great to hear the 'deep tracks' from Bug that I've never heard them play live before. Like 'They Always Come.'