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Monday, December 31, 2012

Horse Racing - Still Classic

The Head Chef and I recently saw an exceptional performance by Max Richter, a German-born neo-classical composer who has crossed over into the indie-rock/ambient-techno spaces in the past.  His latest release came on the classic classical Deutsche Grammophon label.  Recomposed by Max Richter - Vivaldi-The Four Seasons is pretty much what it says - a re-worked, re-imagined version of that seminal composition, with some modern syncopathic touches and a generally more urgent and, at times, dour take.  He performed the work in its entirety at the eclectic club Le Poisson Rouge, one of my favorite spaces in the city; where else could one see both the Emerson String Quartet and F**ked Up within a 12 month period!?

Mr. Richter was accompanied by Daniel Hope on violin, and a new in-house symphony which goes by the name of Ensemble LPR, an elite assemblage of the finest NewYork-based concert musicians, according to their website.  It doesn't specify is that they are the finest "young" New York-based musicians; but that's what they are, and they performed the piece with youthful gusto and flair, hitting every note perfectly.  (As somebody who is "blessed" with perfect pitch, I'm quite sensitive to the slightest mis-step, and would know.  Don't take me to a high school orchestra recital, to me that's the musical equivalent of fingernails on the blackboard.)

A flier distributed at the venue by Ensemble LPR muses that "a newcomer to classical music might be forgiven for wondering:

    Why, in the year 2012, is the work of classical music so little a part of the larger cultural dialogue?

    Why, in a city like New York, is the work of orchestras and composers of so little relevance to the lives of people who follow the arts, and to people who do not?

    Why, among its peer art forms, is classical music the least nimble and most conservative in its patterns of thinking?

    When did a genre dominated by genius and virtuosi become sclerotic, rigid, unresponsive?"

Hmmm.  Well, that sure seems familiar to us horse racing enthusiasts, don't it?  ‘Genius' surely wouldn't apply to our sport in the same sense it would to Vivaldi or Beethoven or Haydn.  But I suppose there's something virtuosic about, say, training five Belmont Stakes winners in a row, isn't there?

But a sclerotic (I had to look it up too), unresponsive, non-nimble, industry which has become largely irrelevant to the cultural dialogue?  Yeah, that sure fits.

Ensemble LPR laments that classical music is seen as being anachronistic; but it is to me.  There’s very little in the way of “modern classical” that interests me.  And even that which does hardly compares to the mastery of the Baroque era.  However, while one can surely argue that the best horses of today don’t compare to the best horses of the past, the essence of the game of horse racing itself lives on.  Sure, the product is diluted, the grandstands are often deserted, the purses artificially propped up by a revenue stream that is already being pecked away at, and which will continue to come under attack.  But the buzz as the horses head towards the post and horseplayers scramble to get their money down is as electric as ever at tracks like Saratoga and Del Mar and Keeneland and Churchill.  Because the game is the game.

As I reach the end of my 8th year writing – or, occasionally writing, as the case may be – this blog, my views on how the game should be marketed have evolved.  Horse racing is a gambling game.  Period.  It is not at all a sport in the sense that many would like it to be.  Forget about the notion that we need stars and rivalries.  We put too much emphasis on stakes horses, and on these "big" days with short-field Grade 1’s.  Nobody cares about divisions and standings and Eclipse Awards.  The Breeders’ Cup is an unwieldy mess.   We spend months obsessing over the Kentucky Derby, which is a terrible race with which to attract new fans who can’t even pick out their selection amongst the 20 horse melee; and often just a terrible race, period.  This game will live or die by its ability to attract people who want to wager money on horses running around a track, and it doesn’t matter if they are Grade 1 – whatever that even means nowadays – or $10,000 claimers who have never won three races lifetime.  (And personally, I much prefer to bet on the latter.)

And the irony is that, as a gambling game, horse racing is better than ever, a thousand times more so than just a quarter century ago.   One has an endless choice of betting options on every race, and races from all the country to choose from that you can bet and watch from your living room, or even on the go on your tablet or cellphone.  So why isn’t horse racing thriving at a time when seemingly every other form of gambling is?   

In large part because the industry is…well, sclerotic.  The lack of a national organizational structure means that it lacks the nimbleness to move past the hand-wringing and criticism over breakdowns and drugs that it has been distracted with for the last several years.  You can say what you want about what you think about Joe Drape and the NY Times’ sensational and decidedly one-sided front page coverage….and I’ve said plenty.  But the fact is there wouldn’t be a Breakdowns – Death and Destruction and Chaos and Whatever-The-Hell-They-Call-It series if the industry was able to police itself in a common sense manner.

Unfortunately, despite incremental steps taken in jurisdictions such as New York over the past year – and only when forced to do so by clueless politicians and influential newspapers with an agenda - this seems unlikely to change anytime soon.  Surely not by the time the next Four Seasons pass in 2013.  

Perhaps there’s an Ensemble Horse Racing out there with an infusion of young blood ready to attack the matter with gusto and flair.  Myself, I’m now long past that stage, and just enjoying the game and all of its modern conveniences while I can.  The thrill lives on for me as much as it ever has.  And despite all its problems and challenges, I’m sure that the game will far outlive me.

 - And now, while we're partially on the subject, I turn back to my other favorite pastime - music - and present my favorite records of 2012.  They’re in alphabetical order, but with the ones that were particularly special to me highlighted in CAPS.  (And a hat tip to whoever it was I’m stealing that format from).

Animal Collective – Centipede Hz (Domino)
Bob Mould – Silver Age (Merge)
Dinosaur Jr – I Bet on Sky (Jagwarwar)
Dirty Projectors – Swing Lo Magellan (Domino)
El-P – Cancer For Cure (Fat Possum)
Hauschka / Hilary Hahn – Silfra (Deutsche Grammophon) 
Metz – Self-Titled (Sub Pop) 
The Shins – Port of Morrow (Columbia)
SWANS – THE SEER (Young God)
Pete Swanson – Man With Potential (Type)
The Walkmen – Heaven (Fat Possum)

Honorably Mentioned

Titus Andronicus – Local Business (XL)
Killer Mike - R.A.P. Music (Williams Street)
Japandroids – Celebration Rock (Polyvinyl)
Disappears - Pre-Language (Kranky)
PS I Love You - Death Dreams (Paper Bag)


Crystal Castles - III  (Fiction)
Andy Stott - Luxury Problems (Modern Love)
Kevin Drumm - Relief (Editions Mego)

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Casino Referendum to be a Guessing Game

Governor Cuomo made it exceedingly clear that the locations of casinos will not be determined before the expected referendum on the subject next fall. 

  “I would like to see a competition where we have the ability and opportunity to attract the most exciting, aggressive proposals from the best operators in the world. And then we get to pick among the best options and my druthers would be a more flexible, open process to get the best applications, the best plans that we can."  [Buffalo News]
That's classic Cuomo-ese.  Rather redundant, often rambling, and clumsily verbose without ever approaching elegance.  Druthers, lol. 
  “They could know regions or parts of the state, but I wouldn’t limit it by picking a location because that assumes you’re picking the best location from a market point of view. I would leave it to the operators, the experts, to say you tell me within these regions of the state where you think the best market is, where would you site it to maximize economic opportunities, maximize job growth, etc,’’ 
  Huh?  What the fuck is he even talking about?

The cynic in me immediately directs me to think of all the casino-related campaign contributions that will be flowing into the coffers of legislators of both parties and to the governor himself.  Of course, that would never be on the mind of this governor.  But his decision will certainly give plenty of time to allow the special interest influence game to be fully played out, and probably create a few lobbying jobs as well.  I'm sure the good government groups will be thrilled.

That's all well and good for the lobbyists and politicians, but the voters will be left in the dark.  I would think that people in the Catskills region, teased for years by the prospect of casinos that would presumably revive its long-dormant tourist industry, have a vested interest in knowing whether they are voting for gambling there or to merely be disappointed again.  Similarly, a voter with mixed feelings about the benefits of gambling revenues to the state and the effects of casinos located near populations that may be vulnerable to the addiction of gambling would want to know where they are.  Might keep a fair amount of people away from the polls, which could very well favor proponents.  And maybe that's the idea.

 - Senator John Sampson is finally out as the leader of the Democratic conference, and the new Leader of the Majority Conference That's Still in the Minority is Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins.  Sampson has nobody to blame but himself (and, should Republican George Amedore ultimately prevail in the still-undecided contest upstate, turncoat Senator Simcha Felder), for his party's plight in the Senate.  Democrats won at least 32 of the 63 seats at the ballot box, yet still find themselves on the outside looking in, with the breakaway Independent Democratic Conference (IDC) teaming up in coalition with the slimy Republican Leader Dean Skelos.  It was Sampson's leadership - or lack thereof - that initially prompted four Democrats to break away from the conference not long after the release of the Inspector General's report that skewered him for his role in the AEG/Aqueduct scandal.  And that was in addition to the coup and the debt that resulted from his stint as Majority Leader in 2009-10.

The Democrats no doubt have their eye on eventually luring the IDC back to the fold with the change, though its Leader, Senator Jeff Klein, asserted that his coalition with the GOP remains intact for now.  Klein has assured nervous Democrats that he favors a progressive agenda, so we will see what happens down the road should Skelos attempt to prevent matters such as the minimum wage, stop-and-frisk restrictions with respect to marijuana, and campaign finance reform from coming to the floor for a vote.  (Where the result of the Amedore-Tkaczyk (no relation to this guy) race will go a long ways towards determining their ultimate fate.)  Klein has always had leadership aspirations of his own, and now that he has turned the three men in a room into a quartet, he may not be so quick to give that up no matter what happens.  He's an Albany politician like the rest of them after all, so he's full of it too, as clearly evidenced by his welcoming of Senator Malcolm Smith into the IDC.  Smith was very much a part of the corruption and dysfunction that prompted the formation of the IDC, but I guess Klein is willing to overlook that in order to add some racial diversity into his conference.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The New NYRA Bored

These are the aging white guys that make up the New York State Senate Republicans ....Mayor Bloomberg's inner circle of advisors....the new NYRA Board of Directors. (I think there's actually a (white) woman on the Board, but she must have been busy in the kitchen.)

So, lemme ask you....if word does finally come down from up high to depose Ellen McClain, these are the guys who will inform a black woman that she's fired? That would make for a pretty picture....and some nice fodder for a Hillary or Al Sharpton ad for the primaries.

The Governor Cuomo-controlled Board had their first meeting last week, and if you didn't read any news about it, it's because there wasn't really any.  Sure, there was symbolic stuff demonstrating new transparency, like the meeting being open to the public (via a faulty streaming feed), and financial statements now being posted quarterly instead of annually.  (And to those who declared that the latter helped to usher in some kind of new openness, maybe they were unaware that a link to NYRA's annual financial statements has been on the homepage of their website for several years now, and does anyone really care if they're updated quarterly?)  Also, approval of a new mission statement:  “Meeting the highest standards in thoroughbred racing and equine safety.” Yippee.

Then there was symbolic stuff that is just idiotic....most prominently, the banning of political donations by NYRA and NYRA officials.  I mean, NYRA has always been overwhelmed in terms of donations by those who oppose and compete, and by those who sought to win its franchise, so I hardly think that any donations have ever been very persuasive.   Besides, I don't ever recall seeing names of NYRA officials - aside perhaps from modest donations from board members - as contributors to politicians.  And it seems blatantly unfair to me that NYRA would be prohibited from such donations while those with conflicting interests such as NYGA and companies seeking casinos lavish money upon politicians who will help determine the future of the sport in the state.  (Note however that the ban does not apply to party organizations or PACs.)

Additionally, NYRA corporate officials are now prohibited from betting.  Ha, are you kidding me?  Wagering is the business of horse racing; isn't that like banning the CEO of General Motors from driving?  That sure would have been a good way to get Hayward out if he was still hanging around.

Having said that however, there were some positive signs, specifically the talk about updating technology and, most urgently to this one-time winter railbird, the decrepit condition of Aqueduct. 
  Len Riggio, a horse owner and holdover from the previous board, said succinctly, "I won't go to Aqueduct" because it's so dirty and unkempt.

Added trainer Rick Violette, a non-voting member of the board, representing the horsemen: "Aqueduct has never been in worse condition at the beginning of a meet." [Daily Racing Form]

  Ms. McClain informed the board that Genting has failed to live up to promises to keep the racing side clean, and has delayed groundbreaking for the promised sports/simulcast facility on the 2nd floor.  None of which should be a surprise despite Genting's lofty promises to be a good partner.  Remember this?
“Moving forward, Genting is eager to work closely with NYRA to transform the current facility into a casino and racetrack that will be the envy of the country.”  [the late, not-so-lamented Thoroughbred Times, Oct, 2010]
By meeting more frequently and out in the open, and presumably having the governor's ear (if he's still about 'Dear Genting, Live up to your commitments at Aqueduct or no casinos for you, Love, Governor Cuomo'), perhaps the Board can spur some meaningful physical and spiritual changes around here.  That would be good.  However, the profound issues affecting the industry will instead be determined at the ballot box next fall when voters will presumably decide about full-blown casinos, and in the legislature, where any measures affecting racetracks' shares of VLT revenue would be decided.  On those matters, the Board can merely wait and watch just like the rest of us.

 - Obviously haven't posted here lately....taking an end-of-year break to refresh and to deal with all the busy matters of life that pop up around this time.  And, taking a pause from the game as well.  I've always written here that racing is not a 12 month sport for me....I mean, you gotta take some breaks to clear your head, don't you?  Still don't know how the professionals in the industry can keep it up year round.  It's "relentless," as Ellen McClain described the task of running the tracks virtually without interruption other than the current week break for the holiday.  So, I'm freshening up, hope to get back to it and turn my attention to racing in warmer climes after the New Year.  Hope everyone is having a good run-up to the holidays, and I'll speak to you soon.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Eblouissante - Hold Your Horses!

That was pretty cool watching the winning debut of Eblouissante last Friday....along with the rest of the free world - or maybe it just seemed that way from the small sampling of the world that is my Twitter timeline.  (And I can honestly say that every person in my office at work was tuned in too!)

Of course,  leading up to the race, I wasn't exactly gushing about it as some other people were, as jaded as I tend to be.  But I was certainly interested to see how Zenyatta's little sister would run in her first start.  I was also convinced though that the right bet was one against her, and nodded in agreement when Paulick tweeted, shortly before post time:  Wouldn't the 1/2 sis debut be a great race to bet on the Betfair exchange? I'd give 3-1.   Well, perhaps I wouldn't have been quite as generous, but I thought the thinking was sound.

Well, that wouldn't have worked out, and it was definitely a 'wow' moment as it turned out.  Though not as much wow I don't think for how she won than just the fact that she won at all.  Siblings and half-siblings often turn out to be disappointments, and watching Eblouissante near the back of the pack as they went down the backstretch, I wasn't expecting much, to be honest.  So, it was something to see as she shifted off the rail and started her run; and, after a brief moment of doubt as she engaged leading Saturday Nite Ride, drew away to win by four, earning a Beyer of 85.

That's two points less than her famous half-sister earned in her debut, which also came in November of her three-year old year.  Her running style was similar (though surely not identical), as are her looks, and the way she towered physically over her opponents.  However, she's not Zenyatta; at least not yet.   Looking back at Zenyatta's own debut is a reminder of that.  (Race starts about a minute in, but the pre-race chatter is interesting too.)

Now, THAT was a true wow race, in every sense of the word!  Wow!  Horses like Zenyatta only come along once in awhile, and she certainly gave us all a hint back on that day.  Eblouissante, on the other hand, was efficient and professional; and impressive, no doubt.  However, not to the extent that, her bloodlines aside, smart people on Twitter would be writing, as I saw yesterday, that she is 2-5 to be a Grade I stakes winner, and penciling her in as the favorite for the Apple Blossom in April.  Whoa, nellie!  Eblouissante showed the potential to be a very, very nice racehorse.  Beyond that, let's wait and see.  And hope for the best.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Placeholder Post

Well?  Whaddya wanna talk about now?  I dunno.  Didn't have much to say in this space in the way of a wrap up of the Breeders Cup, which I really didn't enjoy much at all (as you might be able to tell from the prior post)....and not only because my wagering highlight was hitting the 10th at Woodbine on BC Friday.  But I'm sure you got all of the analysis you needed elsewhere anyway.

And I see that the silly Eclipse Award debates have started...and I'm not calling it that with any particular malice towards those awards; feel that way in general about award ceremonies even in other fields that I love like movies and music.  So, my first and absolute final word on Horse of the Year is Wise Dan.

Moving onto the elections, we still have a little unfinished business around here.  While I'm naturally thrilled with the triumphs of the Democrats in the U.S. Senate and the White House (and note the Democrats have now won the popular presidential vote in four out of the last five elections), my enthusiasm is a bit dulled when it comes to the possibility that the Democrats have re-taken the New York State Senate.

Sure, it would bring me tremendous joy to see the smirk wiped off the face of the smarmy Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos.  From the very moment the GOP took power two years ago, their agenda was focused on nothing else but retaining and enhancing their majority.  Their very first legislative action was to vote to strip the Democratic lieutenant governor of his ability to break a tie in a leadership vote.  Later, Skelos and his members reneged on their written Ed Koch redistricting pledge and pushed through their obscene gerrymandering schemes to protect their majority.  And then there was all that sucking up to the popular Governor Cuomo.  One might have thought that some of their candidates were actually the governor's running mates.

However, as it currently stands, Skelos' efforts may have gone for naught.  Even after Simcha Felder defected to the GOP just a week after duping the voters into thinking he was a Democrat (this guy should fit right into the Republican sleaze), the Democrats hold a 32-31 edge.  That lead is pending the ultimate outcome of two contested races.  One of them looks pretty snug for the Dems at this time with Terry Gipson leading Senator Steve Saland (one of the 4 Republicans who supported gay marriage, thus earning an apparently unsuccessful endorsement from the governor) by some 1600 votes. 

The other close one is a lot closer, and, ironically - or actually quite hilariously in my biased view - it takes place in a brand new district added by the Republicans as part of their redistricting ploy.  It was supposed to be a safe win for them to pad their edge.  However, their candidate George Amedore, trails the Democrat Cecilia Tkaczyk by 139 votes!  Ha ha, man, that would be sweet.  So the numerical count will come down to the absentee and affidavit ballots there.  Even if the Dems prevail though, the balance of power will come down to the four-person Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), four rebellious Democrats who broke over leadership in 2010 and have worked with Republicans since.

Of course, the last Democratic majority did not reflect well, given the corruption, chaos, and the despicable role of then-Majority Leader John Sampson in the AEG scandal, for which he amazingly thus far remains unpunished either by his colleagues or the law; thus my slightly tempered joy.  Sampson remains Minority Leader as of now, but it's unlikely (and unimaginable) that he will become Majority Leader no matter what, as the IDC will surely make his removal a condition of their sticking to the Dems.  And many Democratic Senators will have no objection whatsoever.  And then there's the matter of the one-time Majority Leader Malcolm Smith, rumored in some quarters to be flirting with the GOP in preparation for a NYC mayoral run on their party line.  These guys just have no shame, do they?  We'll keep an eye on the developments, as Democratic control would flip the chairmanship of the Senate Committee on Racing and Wagering from Senator John Bonacic to a member of the Democratic caucus.  Which may or may not mean anything, but it gives us something to write about.  Will also attempt to get my mind back on racing shortly.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012


This is usually the last place you'll read about track bias...unless I'm arguing to people that one didn't exist.  I generally think such claims are exaggerated, or that the supposed bias simply didn't exist.  Seems to me that race results can, far more often than not, be explained by circumstance and pace.

So, having only seen the last two Breeders Cup races on Friday, when I started to read a drumbeat of comments on Twitter about the main track being speed favoring, I shrugged and thought 'here we go again.'  I missed the first race of Saturday's card, in which the horses basically ran 1-2-3-4-5 all the way around the track, thus producing similar Twitter comments affirming what they'd seen the day before.  But then I did see the third race, the Damascus Stakes.  And it was an eye-opener.  In a seven furlong race, Private Zone and Mile High Magic dueled for the lead; and after a 22 second opening quarter, the half-mile was posted as 43 4/5 seconds!  In a seven furlong race.  My first impression was that the fraction had to be wrong....and that feeling was affirmed in watching the stretch run.  Because, surely if that fraction was correct, the speed would be folding up and the closers enveloping the field.

But that's not what happened.  Sure, Politicallycorrect came off the pace to win the race, but the speed never really came back.  Private Zone ran on and the winner was all out to get by; and even Mile High Magic weakened only inside the 1/8th pole and lost by less than 3 1/2 lengths.  Private Zone, in three prior US races, faded in the stretch each time, so it's not like we're talking about a monster here.  I was still convinced at that point that the fraction had to be wrong, but as it became apparent that it wasn't, it became apparent that there was something wrong with the track.

That's pretty much how it went the rest of the day.  Groupie Doll was able to overcome in the F&M Sprint, but she dominated her field on paper, and she also benefited from an extraordinarily quick first half in a seven furlong race.  The Juvenile featured a brief moment when it looked as if the field would swallow up Shanghai Bobby in the stretch, but that was only because the winner loafed on the lead until engaged.  The Dirt Mile, the Sprint, and the Classic not only all produced winners that were either on the lead (Fort Larned), or the only one in close attendance (Tapizar, Trinninberg), but nobody else in any of those races, with the exception of the late bid by Mucho Macho Man, second all the way around, even made a meaningful move!

It's not that any of the results were inexplicable - the fact that Fort Larned and Trinninberg paid the prices they did indicate to me that handicappers either failed to adjust, or were understandably set in their ways after spending weeks anticipating these races.  (I adjusted to the extent that I didn't bet Capital Account in the Sprint, but I kinda just checked out of the proceedings and passed, not really putting much further thought into it.)   But the main point to me was that the races were just dreadful.  If you have what's supposed to be the best horses in the country, and none of them other than the first two down the backstretch are ever even remotely engaged in the outcome, then something has to be terribly wrong.

And again, this is all coming from a major track bias-skeptic.  There was no doubt about this one....and, if Randy Moss and Jerry Bailey claimed that the track was fair as I read they did, then they must have just been saying it in an attempt to protect the integrity of the event; I don't believe for a milli-second that those two guys actually believe that.  Because it's surely not the case.  I don't often play Santa Anita, so I don't know if the main track always plays like that.  But that wasn't your garden variety track bias in my was like Frankenbias.

I have to laugh thinking back to the people who were so horrified when the Breeders Cup was run on the synthetic surfaces at Santa Anita.  I'd love to hear them try and tell me that those races were any more "meaningless" to the notion of determining the Eclipse winners than these races were.  One thing for sure is that they couldn't possibly say that those races weren't ten times more exciting than these.  Here's a couple from 2009 run on the dreaded "plastic," in case you forgot what competitive championship racing should be like.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Saturday BC Picks

As Sandy approached and arrived, and even into early Tuesday, handicapping the Breeders' Cup races seemed like a productive use of my time.  But as the week wore on and the implications of the storm became chillingly clear, the din of the local news reporting became too overwhelming and too bleak for me to care all that much.   To me, the Breeders' Cup takes a back seat every four years to the presidential election that occurs just a few days later anyway.  Now, the election itself seems trite compared to what we've seen (as it was already becoming from the base level of the political discourse and the bold-faced dishonesty of the Republican candidate).  Now, the Breeders' Cup is hanging on for the show spot.  I'd be surprised if this doesn't show up as at least a noticeable blip in the handle figures.  Gotta be that some people who usually bet the races just don't have the wherewithal to wager electronically even if they're not otherwise distracted and could actually get a Racing Form. 

I hope that all of you able to read this are safe and that any property damage is minimal, as here in this particular section of Queens, about ten miles north as the crow files from the neighborhood in Breezy Point that burned down in its entirety.  But mostly that you're safe.

Life goes on is one of life's truest truisms, and the Breeders' Cup will feature some great racing in some great weather.  For those of us who are fortunate enough to be able to play, it should prove to be a good distraction from the images we've seen.  But that's really about all it is as far as I'm concerned.  Eclipse Awards?  Horse of the Year?  Who cares.  (Though this is coming from someone who says that every year.)   So the following is presented without the usual enthusiasm (though maintaining the usual hope), and in humble deference to the forces of Mother Nature which unleashed the events we've witnessed this week.

 - The Dirt Mile is one of my favorite BC races, easily the best of the expansion races in my view.  Maybe that's because I've fared well personally, most recently with Caleb's Posse last year.  That was one of my most confident picks and bets ever.  But there are no Caleb's Posses in this year's edition.  My opinions on it lean more strongly towards who I don't like.

I don't like Shackleford (2-1), at all.  I just don't like him.  His last two races sucked and I hate the stretch out to two turns.  I'm all in against him, will not use him anywhere on my tickets.  I don't like Jersey Town (4-1).  I had him in the Kelso, but that was a certain circumstance in a flawed race that completely fell apart, allowing Jersey Town to widen as he walked home in 25 4/5.  The figs I'm looking at and the Sheets don't score that race particularly high as Beyer does; I'm discounting that number and standing firmly against.  Emcee (5-2) is a nice looking horse and I'd like him at 9-2 in his first try beyond seven furlongs and around two turns.  I might like Tapizar (12-1) off the stretch out from a one turn mile to two turns, repeating a winning pattern from last fall; but can't envision the strategics of him winning with all the other speed in this field.  I don't like Rail Trip (10-1), 0 for 5 on dirt.

Who does that leave?  I mentioned Fed Biz (6-1) in my first impressions post.  But he just doesn't measure up on my figs or the Sheets, so I'm changing my mind and throwing him out.  Forget Second City (30-1).  Delegation (12-1) is interesting; I could see taking a shot at a price in the hope he can translate his turf/synth form to dirt in his first try on that surface; not to mention handle a big jump in class.  That's just a guess though.

That leaves John Scott (12-1).  I can't help but chuckle when I see this horse's name, picturing the hulking hockey enforcer who I'd become familiar with before he briefly joined the Rangers last season through his exploits on  The equine John Scott is tough as well; three wins a second and third in his six starts after a 930 day layoff (hopefully substantially more than the layoff that the hockey John Scott is facing).  Problem is that his two dirt efforts stick out like thumbs sore from dropping the gloves too often.  Taking a closer look though, his first dirt race was the first one off the long layoff.  The second was his last race, in which he was the favorite in the state-bred Cal Cup.  He got off a step and a half slow in that race, and never really recovered, forced to go three wide both turns in pursuit of a relentless pace set by Got Even, 40-1 despite a stellar record over the Santa Anita strip.  Looking at his figs, one might think that he bounced.  But he actually moved forward to a 2 on the Sheets, and I guess the question is whether, 21 days later, he'll bounce in this race.  I think 12-1 is a fair price to say that he can stalk the pace and be in good position should all the horses I don't like do what I think they're gonna do.  Or what they're not gonna do.  Just a fun play in a pretty inscrutable race.

 - I had Amazombie (4-1) in the Sprint last year, in large part due to his highly impressive prep, in which he most effortlessly swept by five wide on the turn to go on for the win; an effort he basically repeated in the Sprint.  This year, the six-year old son of Northern Afleet has raced pretty well, but disappointed with his 4th place finish at 4-5 in his last, the SA Sprint Championship, trailing three others running back here.  I dunno, perhaps he was a bit too close to a quick pace, thus dulling his closing kick.  But he seemed really to have a perfect trip in the pocket a few lengths behind a couple of longer shots; and one can't expect him to be in much better position in this bigger and deeper field.  So I'm having a hard time looking past that and getting enthusiastic about his chances; especially should he be favored as indicated by the morning line.  He's certainly fast enough to win if he fires his best shot, but I'll take a shot against.

Capital Account (8-1) has been a model of consistency, firing his late best shot every time as he's graduated into graded stakes company this year.  He was ahead of Amazombie, and a fading head behind Coil in the aforementioned SA Sprint despite taking much the worst of it on the turn.  He was carried wide by Coil out into the 7 or 8 path, and lost momentum and at least a couple of lengths in the process.  Almost like he had to resume from a cold start at that point, and it didn't look promising mid-stretch; but he came with a furious late burst to just miss.   In this spot, the pace figures to be honest if not blazing, and he may surely find himself wide turning for home again.  But hopefully he'll at least have a smoother transition into the stretch, and he's shown an affinity for this track.  He's consistently run Sheet 2's on this surface, and that could be good enough to take this at a fair price.

The Lumber Guy (6-1) jumped up to run a huge race in the Vosburgh, hung out wide on the sweeping Belmont turn, and also earning a 2 on the Sheets.  Wasn't exactly flattered by Caixa Electronica's disappointing Bold Ruler, but surely can be close if he doesn't bounce here.  Coil (5-1) has shown consistency, versatility, and improvement.  Think he was really second best to the top pick in his last as mentioned, but certainly warrants use underneath.

 - In the Mile, Moonlight Cloud (6-1) is a four-year old filly who has raced almost exclusively against the boys overseas, and now ships over for trainer Freddie Head, who took this race thrice with his superstar Goldikova.  She's won three Group 1's, and missed by a head to Black Caviar at Ascot.  Two races back at Deauville in France, she endured a nightmare trip before extricating herself late and rallying to miss by a length and a half behind Excelebration, who may be favored here.  Last was a measured head win over Farhh (2nd in four consecutive Group 1's) at Longchamp; a useful prep after an awkward start and being caught in a "spot of bother," boxed in approaching the stretch.  She's consistently earned 3's and 2's on the Sheets, most recently the latter, which should put her close here....

....though maybe not close enough to Excelebration, who earned 1's in his last two, freed from the pursuit of Frankel as he was.  In his last 13 races, he's either won (eight time) or unsuccessfully chased the now-retired superstar.  His last effort, his win in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot, is really something to see; the ease with which he breezed to the front after some minor traffic issues is nothing short of breathtaking.  So, it's with the utmost respect and only in search of some value that I look to beat him here.  The only thing I'd say - and perhaps this is a stretch - is that it appears as if his most dominant performances came on turf courses with some give, which won't be the case at Santa Anita in his North American debut.

Wise Dan (9-5) is an impressive horse himself, but against competition presumably significantly weaker than that of his European counterparts.  Interesting though that while he's overwhelmed his competition, he doesn't overwhelm this field strictly by the numbers.  He'd have to better at least his Sheets numbers (4s in his last two) in order to beat the top two.  Still, would be foolish to ignore if you're trying some Pick Whatevers.  Obviously (6-1) shows a nice pattern of improvement and could be tough if he gets loose on the lead here.  Why is Animal Kingdom (8-1) running here?

And that's about it.  Don't really have much of an opinion on the Classic, and I'll be out at the movies or something during the race anyway.  Spent far too much time sitting indoors this week to spend a Saturday night at home for a race as ordinary as this one - would make a nice edition of the Discovery Handicap - and we have enough gas to get us anywhere we want to go (within reason, not to Florida).  I was a little enthusiastic about Fort Larned (5-1) earlier in the week, willing to give him a pass on his disappointing third in the Jockey Club Gold Cup as I am.   But repeated looks at that race are just not that flattering, especially considering it was his first try at the distance.   I'd surely bet him if he drifts up from his morning line, as I think he will....but I'll be out so I won't be monitoring the prices.  I'll mention Ron the Greek (6-1), who won at this distance in the Santa Anita Handicap, and is one horse who figures to be still running at the end I think, despite his non-performance at Belmont in the Gold Cup.  But having said that, Game on Dude (9-5) seems strictly the horse to beat.  Best of luck and have a great Breeders' Cup.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

BC Friday Picks

In the wide open Filly and Mare Turf, Lady of Shamrock (12-1) is a blossoming three-year old daughter of Scat Daddy who's a nose away from being undefeated on the grass, in six races, for trainer John Sadler, who purchased her privately for Hronis Racing after she graduated about a year ago.  Nice pick there.  She climbed the grade ladder and won two Grade 1's, most recently the Del Mar Oaks, which followed her American Oaks win at this mile and a quarter distance.  This was all against three-year olds; this will be her first try against older horses, no small ascent in class at this level.  Whatsmore, her Beyers, though steadily increasing, don't quite match up with the other top North American contenders here.

However, the figs I've been looking at, and her Sheets numbers, do.  That tells me two things: that her final time was compromised by the pace scenario and ground loss.  The last 3/8ths of the Del Mar Oaks were run in 35 1/5; and Lady of Shamrock was way wide on the turn heading into the stretch; six wide according to the chart while Trevor Denman had her out there in the eight path!  Yet she rallied past the field to win, with Mike Smith wrapping her up in the closing strides.  The Beyer speed figures don't take pace or ground loss into account; so one can see why she was rated higher by the Project Ultra performance figures, which factor pace into account; and by the Sheets (on which she earned a 4), which consider ground loss.  In any event, it was a highly impressive performance which built on all the ones that preceded it.  She's had 76 days to recover from that effort, and has worked steadily, increasing the distance of her drills from a half mile to seven furlongs along the way.  A concern is the lack of pace on paper in this race.  But all of the top contenders in this race face the same problem, so at her 12-1 morning line - and even at a more likely, in my opinion, 8-1 - I'm willing to roll the dice on this filly showing further improvement and scoring an upset here.

Nahrain (6-1) disappointed overseas at age four after her second place finish to Perfect FREAKING Shirl in last year's edition of this race.  Man, what a glorious day I would have had...still can't believe I lost to that dog.  Anyway, reunited with Lasix, Nahrain returned to win the G1 Flower Bowl at Belmont last month.  It was a somewhat odd performance visually I thought - looked like she didn't have it after they turned for home, but she managed to get home over Zagora with a late surge under a persistent Johnny V.  I think maybe she didn't love the yielding ground, and surely won't have that problem - if that was the case - here.  She ran back to her career best 5 on the Sheets which she earned in this race last year.  I think she'll have to do a little better to take the top honors here.

The Fugue (7-2) and Ridasiyna (4-1) are the two top European shippers, and both come in with highly impressive credentials.  Three-year old Ridasiyna is taking the same route as Nahrain did last year, having won the Prix d'Opera at Longchamps on Arc day.  Tried a different running style, waiting confidently towards the rear of the pack before exploding home for an impressive win at 6-1.  Might be better served being closer to the front in this field as she'd been in the past, though it is sure impressive to see a young horse have the ability to smoothly change tactics like that.  The Fugue, also a 3yo, comes off a couple of excellent Group 1 efforts, and cuts back from a mile and a half to what I think is a preferred distance.  Obviously, either of these fillies can win this race.  The Fugue is rated a point higher by Timeform, while the Racing Post rated Ridasiyna's last race as faster; whatever the hell those numbers mean with respect to ours.  The Sheets, which attempts to rate them on the same scale, has each of the fillies' last efforts as a 4, the same as Lady of Shamrock.  So, at these expected mutuels, I'll use these two underneath.

I'm A Dreamer (8-1) was off a step slow in the Flower Bowl, which had to compromise her chances in that lethargically-paced affair; but she nonetheless rallied for a close 4th.   That followed her Beverly D win, in which she seemed uncomfortable in tight quarters before shifting out to a clear path.  11 post won't help, but can't count her out.  Marketing Mix (9-2) looked like she would have passed I'm A Dreamer in the Beverly D had it been a sixteenth of a mile longer at this distance.  But my numbers rate her slower than the above runners.  Zagora (8-1) is one tough mare, but I think she prefers shorter than this.

I'll use Lady of Shamrock to win, and on top in various combinations and permutations with some or all of the others mentioned.  How's that for being specific?

 - I'm not quite as pumped for the Ladies Classic.  But since I'm not betting any of the 2yo races nor the stupid Marathon, might as well give it a shot.  Wish Royal Delta (9-5) would have run in the Classic, where I may have considered betting her at generous odds against a flawed field.  Now, I'm gonna try and beat her as I did last year, and that didn't turn out that well.  I thought her visually impressive Beldame was made so to a large extent by the competition not showing up, and her figures across the board indicate that it was not a step forward.  Same effort could win here, and I really don't want to get beat by this horse again.   So I'll save with her in some doubles and stuff.  But otherwise will use underneath.

The public workout by Awesome Feather (3-1) in her return to the races at Belmont last month was quite a display.  And, as effortless as it was, she earned some nice numbers, including a career low 5 on the Sheets, just one point higher than the best numbers in the field.  One concern might be that she's not battle tested enough in light of the long layoff (236 days) and the facile race against a weak field.  But I guess that's five-years-ago type thinking.  I think she only needs to move forward a little off that return.  And in the hands of the masterful Chad Brown (a typical, for him, 30% second off the layoff), and with her tractability and strategic speed, that seems a pretty good bet.

Love and Pride (8-1) defeated Royal Delta with a stalking trip in the Personal Ensign two back, and wired the field off a rated pace over this track in a good prep in her last.  With Questing in the field, she'll have to use the former tactics to win here.  Four-year old daughter of AP Indy has been improving steadily this year for the Toddster, and also would have to continue to improve her numbers just a bit to be competitive here.

Questing (4-1) won the Alabama by bottoming out the field with a display of raw field; and was edged out in the Cotillion after being nursed along to a slow pace.  Don't see her getting away with either tactic here.  Cotillion winner My Miss Aurelia (4-1) is undefeated, and if she remains so after this race, I will tip my cap and count my losses.  Just don't think these two are fast enough for this spot.

Include Me Out (12-1) is a little interesting based on a pattern of improvement on the Sheets.  Grace Hall (10-1) has a couple of impressive running lines, but those were against short fields and against lesser competition.

So I'll use Awesome Feather and Love and Pride in exactas with Royal Delta underneath.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Morning Line First Impressions

Some quick first impressions of horses I think would be fair value at their morning least for the races I'm considering playing, which are those other than any of the 2yo races, the Marathon, or the Turf.

Nahrain (6-1) - Filly and Mare Turf.  Last year's runner-up had a disappointing Euro campaign this year, but showed vast improvement when reunited with the evil Lasix in her game Flower Bowl win.

Love and Pride (8-1) - The Race FKA The Distaff.  Followed up her upset win over Royal Delta with a win over the track.  Bettors will be all over the latter after her overrated Beldame can you not like this one if she's 8-1?  Presence of Questing means she'll have to stalk, but she's done so and won before.

Fed Biz (6-1) - Dirt Mile.  Two-for-two over the track and distance, and has shown the ability to stalk and win, which will surely help in this race filled with question marks.  I'm all in against Shackleford in any event; and John Scott (12-1), though it may be that he's simply a synth horse, would be worth a shot at that price too.

Jimmy Creed (6-1) - Sprint.  Actually was hoping he'd run in the Dirt Mile, so just a quick mention here.

Mile - Moonlight Cloud (6-1).  Endured nightmare trip against Excelebration in August, and only lost by a length and a half.  Always-trying filly has really come to hand at age four.

Classic - As stated previously, not worth staying home for on a Saturday night.  Another commentary on how I feel about this field is that I'm actually tempted here to mention Mucho Macho Man (8-1).   Note that Pool Play (30-1) is two-for-two on dirt surfaces.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Not Ready for Prime Time

We're told that the Classic will be run for the first time in "prime time;" Saturday night from 8 until 9 PM in the east on NBC.  (This will actually be the only hour of the event to be shown on the parent network over the two days, with the rest being on NBCSN.  When we first heard the happy news that the Breeders Cup was returning to NBC from its moribund run at the apathetic ESPN, I thought that meant NBC.  Not the network formerly known as Versus.  But what do I know?)

Not entirely sure exactly who this would be considered "prime time" for.  For new or prospective fans?  Not sure if Saturday night really works for that.....better on the west coast in the late afternoon I would think.  Of course, I think that even the most optimistic and hardcore amongst us would acknowledge at this point that the Breeders Cup, with its too many championship (and otherwise) races in too short a time even for many of us experienced players (and the resulting lack of coverage by mainstream outlets far too overwhelmed to deal), is an industry party, and not one likely to attract a new audience.

But also, this experienced hardcore (though not that optimistic) player says: seriously?  You mean, I'm expected to sit at home on a perfectly good Saturday night in New York City to watch this race?  Surely one of the most uninspiring Classics ever?   The Head Chef is gonna love that.  (Actually, she wouldn't even be thrilled if it was Zenyatta vs Rachel Whatwashername.)  Don't get me wrong, it's a very good betting race; at least if you're willing to bet against Game On Dude.  But, I'm really going to plan my night around watching a race that features Game On Dude?  Not to mention supporting slugs such as Flat Out, Ron the Greek,  Dullahan (on dirt), Mucho Macho Man (I just don't like him), Brilliant Speed, Nonios, and we can also put Alpha in that category with his PA Derby trouncing and his career high 100 Beyer.   Those horses have burned enough money of late to fund something like .00003% of the national debt.

I don't know about this, dude.  Might just bet Fort Larned and watch the race later on DVR.  Seriously.  

Well, at least the Friday card doesn't present much of a problem this year.  I'd already cut down on two-year old BC races from my betting menu over the last few years as those races became more of a guessing game.  Now, I'm out for sure given the Lasix ban brought to you by the New York Times.  So, since the first four races on Friday are three two-year old races and the Marathon, I'll be home in plenty of time for the only two races I'm interested in betting that day, the F&M Turf and the Distaff.

 - Noticed that the Form is trying to lure people into buying their entire Breeders' Cup package for $29.95 if you try and buy the advance pp's from their Formulator menu.  But you can purchase just the $9 advance program online at this link here.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Handicapping Post

In the 8th at Keeneland, Marlin Mission (5-1) returns off a layoff off another layoff for trainer Dale Romans, just 2 for 24 at this meet.  One of those winners was Tapitsfly taking the G1 Just a Game, and Marlin Mission is a 3 yo half-sister, by Strategic Mission, to that multiple G1 turf (and BC Juvie Turf) winner.  She's shown promise in her five career starts; but, as mentioned, hasn't been on the track much lately.  It was off a four month layoff that she graduated at Churchill in her last, and that was 116 days ago.  It was a classy performance in that win off a layoff similar to this one; three wide on the first turn, she sat patiently and professionally before bursting through a seam midstretch and winning well under her own power and earning a career high figure.  And she returns for her debut against winners with a series of works spaced about a week apart, the same pattern Romans used to train her up to the Churchill race.  Tight call on expected price in a really tough heat.  A Time to Love (9-2) blazed her way to the lead in very quick fractions this level in her last, and lasted over all of them but one, the improving Mott trainee Lily the Pink.  Not much else in the way of speed; she doesn't really even need better rating to hold on shortening up to a mile in this spot.  Warm Glow (7-2) trounced a weak state-bred maiden field at Parx after just missing against maiden claimers at the Spa.  Faces much better here, but owns the best figures in the field (at least the numbers that I'm looking at).

In the 1st at Belmont, Colossal Gift (4-1) seemed to find a suitable level and distance in his last, his first for trainer Rick Dutrow, sharp of late on the track, not so much in the courthouse.  The state's high court threw out his latest challenge to the 10 year ban which is 40 times harsher than the harshest penalties we usually see around here.  If that doesn't qualify as 'arbitrary,' I'm not sure what does.  Look, the guy had this coming, no doubt, as much for his flippant attitude towards his repeated suspensions as for those suspensions themselves.  But, as I've posted before, (and I refer you also to the article that post was based on), Dutrow's legal team's point that Racing and Wagering Board Chairman John Sabini had a conflict of interest due to his membership in Racing Commissioners International, whose chairman was loudly calling for the trainer's permanent ban, seems a valid one worthy of discussion in a court of law.  The New York court felt otherwise dismissing it outright, at least on constitutional grounds, and Dutrow's team will try again with a broader appeal.

Back to this race, Colossal Gift rallied solidly for third behind King David, who only won the G1 Jamaica in his subsequent try, in that last race against a strong pace grain after the prior connections seemed to struggle to find the horse's niche; seems set for further improvement here.  Adirondack Dancer (5-1) drops in class and returns from a freshening for Linda Rice; won off a similar layoff in April.  Never On Time (3-1), a $225,000 yearling purchase for Repole, drops in for this 35K tag for the Toddster, probably the horse to beat here.  Best of luck and have a great day. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

United Industry Fights Back

This press release below is from a group called the New York State Horse Racing and Agriculture Industry Alliance (NYHR & AIA).  OK, maybe that's not the smoothest acronym.  But hey man, this is what I'm talkin about!!

New York State Horse Racing & Agriculture Industry Alliance Press Release                                                            

Here's a group representing owners and breeders of NY - thoroughbreds AND standardbreds (Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association of NY / New York Thoroughbred Breeders AND Standardbred Owners Association of NY / NY Harness Horse Breeders) - along with the New York Farm Bureau.  It is apparently no mean feat to have gotten the two breeds together, but I'm told by someone close to the situation that they are fully united in this matter.  And the matter is to sing the praises of our industry in New York State, which has taken such a severe beating over the past few months and years.
The New York State Equine Industry Economic Impact Study determined that the equine industry has a $4.2 billion effect on the state’s economy and generates 33,000 full-time jobs. Equine commerce also results in $187 million in state and local taxes for New York. The thousands of horse farms, training centers and riding stables doing business across the state preserve 1.3 million acres of open space. There are 157,500 horses in New York.

"When you look at the numbers, it's eye-opening," said Rick Violette Jr., president of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association. "The Study shows, in black and white, that every horse in New York is a potent job creator. The horse should be our state animal. But it comes as no surprise that the equine industry creates tens of thousands of jobs. There is so much that goes into the raising and training of a horse. It is a very labor-intensive business." 

New York's racing industry engenders a particularly strong work force. The Study demonstrates that there are 80 jobs for every 100 racehorses in New York. In addition, each individual racehorse has an economic impact of $92,100 on the state's bottom line.
 That's right.  Please read the release yourself (and I've embedded the entire report that it is based on, as well as a ten minute video produced by the Alliance, at the bottom of the post....I'm just a wealth of information here today).....and sing it loud, sing it proud.  The release also notes how handle at each of the three NYRA tracks has indeed increased since the introduction of VLT's at the Big A, in direct contrast to claims by Comptroller Tom DiNapoli.  This is exactly the kind of coordinated response to the attacks by the governor, and the hints by members of his administration that slots revenue should be reduced, that has been needed.  And it came on the same day that the Times reported on the problem that the state's rising unemployment rate presents to Cuomo's national ambitions.  So....yeah baby, right on.

State legislators, of both parties, got involved at a press event to release the report on Tuesday, with Senate Committee on Racing, Gaming and Wagering Chairman John Bonacic (R) and the Assembly Racing Committee Chairman Gary Pretlow (D) on hand.  Pretlow even took the opportunity to call out the Times on its ongoing hatchet job. 
  “Recently there was an attack on the racing industry, I guess first perpetrated, by the old gray lady, they call it the New York Times.....That caused a lot of people to look into racing, and I think that what had happened was extremely unfair. Because of so many people who have absolutely no knowledge of the industry, they have been trying now to take away from that industry.” [Politics on the Hudson]
  Also yesterday, I received copies of the new "emergency" rules on voiding claims of horses that are vanned of the track, and on longer lead times for medications that were recommended by the task force report on the Big A breakdowns.  Those are also embedded below. NYS Racing and Wagering Board Emergency Rules on Voiding Claims                                                           

NYS Racing and Wagering Board Emergency Rule on Medications 10-11-12

A couple of comments here.  For one thing, for what is supposed to be an "emergency," they sure seem to be taking their sweet time about this.  The task force report was released on September 28.  So it was two weeks before these rules were issued.....and the rules don't take effect until December 12.  Some emergency.  How many horses will perish in the interim?  One might have thought that, just for appearance sake if nothing else, they would have made sure the rules were firmly in place in time for the opening of the inner track, the site of the breakdowns, which usually takes place around Dec 1.

And secondly, I'd like you to please take note of exactly who is issuing these rules.  Check it out.  It's the New York State Racing and Wagering Board.  These rules are not from the New York Racing Association.  They are not signed by Ellen McClain and they are not illustrated by Peb.   It is the New York State Racing and Wagering Board that establishes the rules for medicating horses in this state.  Perhaps that is something that all of the ignorant editorial writers who focused their ire at NYRA in the wake of the task force report for "failing to protect horses," were not aware of.  Trainers and owners, playing, with very few exceptions, within the rules established by the New York State Racing and Wagering Board, medicated their horses to the point where, according to the task force report, an accurate assessment of their fitness to race could not be made by NYRA veterinarians.

I initially praised the task force report for staying above the fray of politics, in part by refusing to, for the most part,  name names, including those of the trainers, owners, and jockeys involved.  Upon further reflection though, I think that the report actually played into the hands of the Cuomo administration and newspaper editorial boards' anti-NYRA agenda by failing to do so.  There were two cases cited in which the jockeys testified that they knew on the track that there was a problem; yet they went out and rode the horses hard nonetheless.  Why exactly aren't those jockeys named?  I hate to say it because I love those guys - you can go back over seven years of posts on this blog and count the number of times I've criticized a rider for something even as relatively harmless as poor riding judgment on the fingers of one hand - but what those riders did (and you can look up who they are with a minimum of effort) were arguably more directly responsible for the death of those horses than anyone else involved.  Yet, we see nor hear hardly any criticism of them at all.....just as the criticism of the owners and trainers responsible for medication and racing decisions is muted and considered only peripherally.  If those horsemen had been named, then maybe we'd have seen editorials blasting them; calling for the suspension of their licenses.  But instead, the report remains vague, and thereby allowed the administration and the editorial boards to heap blame nebulously onto "NYRA."

In any event, the fact is that the Racing and Wagering Board establishes the rules, and it is a state agency.  Its chairman is appointed by the governor of New York State.  So, wouldn't it be equally fair (or unfair) to say that it is Governor Andrew Cuomo who has failed to protect horses?

Equine Study

Sunday, October 07, 2012

The Global Pari-Mutuel Village

We're traveling abroad for a few days, and will be back in NYC this week, at which time I'll endevor to resume a more regular posting schedule.  Or, at least I'll do so after Wednesday night's highly anticipated and well sold-out show by Swans at Bowery Ballroom in support of their superb (though not for everyone) and epic new album The Seer.  (And a belated shout-out to Spin Records in Carlsbad, CA, one of the dying breed of independent record stores, who was playing the album when we dropped in during our trip there over Labor Day weekend.)

But as far as racing goes, it doesn't much matter where I am.  It was with much fanfare over the last year or so that Amazon and Apple rolled out their cloud platforms for music.  But wagering on horse racing has been in the cloud for quite some time.  As long as I have an internet connection, doesn't matter if we're down at my mom's house in Florida, out in California, or, say, in Gay Paree.  All I have to do is click on my NYRA Rewards account.....and voila!  Just like home.  Can bet, watch, and add money to my account, just like I was home in Queens.  (And, conversely, those of you back in the city were able to watch and wager on the Arc today.)  That's at least one way in which horse racing has been out on the least technologically.

And it's also why, as I was discussing over lunch with a couple of other know-it-alls last week, the matter of on-track attendance is really irrelevant nowadays.  Sure, we all love to see a vibrant scene at the races....and we do at the boutique tracks like Saratoga and Del Mar.   And we'll continue to do so there.   But the bottom line is the bottom line, and, truth be told, the proof is in the handle figures, and it really doesn't matter to NYRA whether there are 800 or 8,000 people at Belmont, as long as people are betting, especially through their Rewards advance deposit wagering platform.

Speaking of which, saw another newspaper piece, this time by Ed Fountaine in the NY Post, bashing NYRA and its "apologists," of which I guess I'd be considered to be one (though I'm not "apologizing" for any of its shortcomings, only pointing out that they are hardly the only ones to blame....I mean, where the hell is the invective towards the trainers who, and I quote directly from the task force report, "consistently indicated that they [not Charlie Hayward - ed.] determine the pre-race medication program for the horses in their stable"?), over the said report on horse safety.  He writes of the "shameful crowd of just 8,639" at Super Saturday....and does so in the same article in which he's bashing NYRA!  I mean, don't you think that this steady and relentless drumbeat of NYRA Sucks, NYRA robbed horseplayers of millions of dollars because the takeout on certain wagers was 1% too high, NYRA kills horses because it cares more about filing races than dead horses, can have an effect on how many people go to the track?  Made me laugh to see Fountaine write that in the same piece in which he contributed to the misleading hysteria.

But anyway, enough of that, I'm on vacation 3600 miles away.  So I guess I'll finish up and bet on the 2nd at Keeneland.  Best of luck and have a great day.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Task Force Report Brings A Welcome Breath of Objectivity

Perhaps by now you've read through the task force report on the Big A breakdowns that was released last's a link to the large PDF file if you're interested.  I highly recommend it - at least the first 99 pages or so, before the Appendix.   It serves not only as a meticulous, fair-minded investigation of what transpired and why the task force believed that 11 of the 21 deaths (or "more than half," in the more sensationalized world of the New York Times) that were probed might have been prevented.  It also serves as a primer on the common factors found in catastrophic equine injuries and, especially, on the medications that horsemen use to try and keep their horses earning money on the track.  And also as a disturbing portrayal of a disorganized and inexperienced NYRA veterinary staff that sounds dysfunctional enough to work in the state capitol.

The report goes out of its way to distance itself from the incendiary language we've heard from the Cuomo Administration and by the Times.  It notes the "intense scrutiny...on the use of medications and drugs;" and that it was "mindful of the numerous suggestions that illicit drugs or inappropriate medication must have have been a contributing factor."  It even rebukes the Times directly, both in the report and, as reported by Steve Crist, in the Q and A afterwards; disputing the notion that prescription NSAIDs qualify as "powerful painkillers," a catch phrase use frequently for effect by the Paper of Record in its series of articles.  And it appealed for calm and objectivity. 

  However, the Task Force does not intend for this Report to be used to find fault, assign blame, or otherwise result in disciplinary action for events that have occurred.  This Report is intended to be a constructive analysis, identifying actions with the potential to prevent or mitigate injury to horses and riders, and our overall conclusions regarding the fatally injured horses as a group sets the stage for our recommendations. 
That didn't stop the Times from planting their story on the front page with the headline Inquiry Faults Racing Officials in Horse Fatalities at Aqueduct.  Of course, the Times didn't actually read the report before reporting on it.  Instead, probably so that it could place the story on Friday rather than the less-widely read Saturday paper, based its story, prior to its release, on accounts by "people with direct knowledge of the investigation’s report."  Instead, you could go with people like the Form's Matt Hegarty or Tom LaMarra of Bloodhorse who actually based their stories on the report itself and the press event at which it was released.  LaMarra's story was more accurately titled: Report: Deficiencies Had Role in Horse Deaths.  Yes, the hierarchy at NYRA, specifically with respect to the veterinary department, is indeed flawed, so blame that on "racing officials" if you will.  But trainers, owners, jockeys, the Racing and Wagering Board, and the drug culture ingrained in the sport in this country all share responsibility.

As far as I can see, the Times did not even follow up with a story on the actual report the next day; please correct me if I missed it.  I find that a little weird.   At least perhaps, if Joe Drape wasn't busy on Friday taking a victory lap on Twitter, he might have corrected some mis-characterizations that the story made.  Or, then again, probably not.

The Times article reports:
  The investigation found that veterinarians and officials of the New York Racing Association often cared more about filling races that generate revenue for trainers, owners and the racetracks than about whether horses were fit to compete.
The report in fact stated no such conclusion.  It reported on what it termed a "critical conflict of interest" in that the veterinary department was reporting to a racing secretary's office whose job is to fill the races to the brim.  "The racetrack-employed veterinarian's advocacy for the horse can become conditional and based upon the needs of the employer, rather than the needs of the horse."  Obviously, the potential for the kind of behavior the Times reported as fact is present.  But the report alludes only to some unspecified instances of scratch recommendations being overturned by the Racing Office.  It's an unacceptable, if not libelous, stretch in my view to make the inference that the Times does.

Additionally, the Times writes of "numerous instances of corticosteroids being injected in horses in the days leading to their fatal races."  That is true only if you consider four out of 21 to be considered as "numerous."  And, while we're at it, why hasn't the Times ever reported, as noted in the report, that 7,106 drug tests taken during the winter meeting resulted in not a single positive for an illegal or performance enhancing substance (or at least what the task force considers as such)?  And only five overages of permitted medications, none in the injured animals?  I'm sure those are statistics they could have come up with (and perhaps knew), if they wanted to present a fair and balanced report instead of trying to portray a hypodermic free-for-all.

Having said that though, the report paints a picture of rampant and, under current regulations, legal use of various medications that are endemic in the sport, not only at NYRA tracks, but nationwide.  18 of the 21 horses investigated were administered medication of some kind in the 48 hours prior to their final race.  And it was made clear that the fatally injured group was medicated no more or no less than the rest of the population.  Should the recommendations on reducing such medication becomes the law in New York and elsewhere, the 21 horses shall not have died in vain.

This report presents the facts merely as the facts.  It speculates infrequently and with caution when it does.  The section which explains, in exhaustive detail, the circumstances leading up to each of the fatalities, is a disturbing account of young horses pushed to their limit even, in two cases, when its jockey (like most of the subjects, unnamed) knew that something seemed terribly wrong.  Facts, on their own and unembellished,  can be powerful things.  I found this section to be more poignant than the amplified hyperbole used by the Times to create a desired impression rather than to report on the news.  In fact, parts of the report outdid the Times even on strictly a reporting basis; I don't recall the paper reporting on the conflict of interest between the vets and the racing office that is one of the key points made by the task force, even in its recent article on the vets' own financial conflicts.  Maybe they would have gotten to that if they weren't busy wasting our time on quarter horses in New Mexico.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Bizarre Week for NYRA (About to get Worse?)

This has been a bizarre week in NYRAville, even for them.  (And, if this morning's story in the NY Times proves to be an accurate portrayal of the task force report on the Big A breakdowns, it's about to end even worse.)  Following the events earlier in the week (and detailed in the prior post), NYRA, during yesterday's card, quite suddenly announced the cancellation of Friday's. 

  Due to anticipated heavy rain, Friday’s live racing card at Belmont Park has been cancelled to ensure the track surfaces are in optimal condition for Saturday’s card, which features six graded stakes, all part of the Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” Challenge Series. The winners of those races qualify for an automatic starting position in the corresponding Breeders’ Cup Championship race with pre-entry and entry fees paid.
  Well, initially I though this was quite unusual until the Form's David Grening pointed out via Twitter that "wet weather prompted Belmont to cancel day before Jockey Club Gold Cup card in 2008 and 2010."  So, there you go. This one still seems surprising though given that the chance of it even raining was only listed at 70%.  (It rained heavily here in Queens overnight, but the forecast calls only for intermittent rain the rest of the day.)  I'm not an expert on track maintenance by any, you tell me....I'm assuming that, by keeping the track sealed all day, they have a better chance to dry it out?

It's a big handle day, if not a big attendance day, with a $500K guaranteed pick four, so of course they want to keep as many horses on the track as possible; and they figure to lose some of the grass horses if the course becomes a quagmire.

I can't imagine that would give two hoots about the Breeders' Cup Challenge given the way the Breeders' Cup has shunned NYRA.  It's a big day there for TVG, the sponsor of the Jockey Club Gold Cup (though you'd have to consider Paul LoDuca and Christina, who will be on hand, more of a B or B+ team with the big guys no doubt getting prepared for Keeneland) (Simon Bray and Schrupp will be there too).  Maybe, with the long-awaited event on horse safety scheduled for Friday, they are overly sensitive about track safety and conditions with a larger audience than usual tuned in.  Or perhaps, in addition to a more pessimistic forecast from their crack meteorological team, Serling advised them that a Pick Six carryover would be likely.  Quite convenient it turned out that way.  (Would have been quite a prediction considering that the announcement was made between the 6th and 7th races with a 2-1 second choice and a 7-10 favorite having won the first two legs.)

Shortly after that news, I saw this article by James Odato in the Times Union
  Two years ago, the New York Racing Association's leaders commissioned a $250,000 mural that would immortalize them on the wall of the state's biggest thoroughbred track.  It's ready to be unveiled — even though it includes the image of a top NYRA official fired for alleged mismanagement of the racing franchise.
  Oh boy.  Well, it's true that here, Odato is doing what Odato does - trying to make NYRA look as bad as possible in the story lede.   Makes a painting that includes Charlie Hayward sound like the moral equivalent of the Joe Paterno statue.   When you read further though, we learn that, in fact, the mural includes 100 various racing figures including Hayward and Steven Duncker, who were included at the artist's behest.

Still, can't think of much to say in defense.  As I've mentioned before, and if you're new to the site, I don't profess to be completely objective about NYRA, nor do I feel obligated to do so.  I'm not a reporter, just a guy who has spent over 30 mostly happy years (no need to be more specific than that) going to their tracks on a regular basis.   But man, you really gotta wonder what they were thinking here.  I understand the context - if you've been to Belmont, you've probably seen the giant 100 foot mural representing the past century of New York thoroughbred racing.  This was to be a companion piece, representing the first ten years of the century (which really should have made it 10 feet, not 30).  Hayward and Duncker probably figured that NYRA was close to being awash in slot cash, so maybe nobody would notice and why not invest in an asset which figures to appreciate and therefore add to the value of the property.

However, under the intense scrutiny that NYRA has been under, cranked up to 11 since the current governor took office, you just gotta use your head and think things out!   How would this appear if - as in, when - it becomes public?  The commissioning of this mural was in direct violation to the Left at the Gate prime directive - Never do anything with the potential to end up being portrayed in a negative light by James Odato.  And besides, that's a material amount of money that maybe could have made Aqueduct just a bit more bearable this past winter.

 - In the 9th on Thursday, Shootdeworx ($14.20) got up in a four-horse blanket finish for trainer Ian Wilkes; his second winner in a row, and 4th from 9 starters for the meet.  This is the second of those winners to have last raced at Ellis Park (one on dirt, this one on grass); and the third winner from that track that I recall, out of not that many at all I'd imagine.  Gonna keep an eye out for that.  Wilkes next starter here is scheduled to be Fort Larned, the 7-2 second morning line choice in the Jockey Club Gold Cup on Saturday.  If Ron the Greek, who he beat by a length and a quarter in the Whitney, is ultimately favored, as indicated by his 5-2 morning line, because of the extra furlong, I think that would be a mistake.