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Wednesday, February 29, 2012


OK, yes, still alive, back from vacation, and the Head Chef has some culinary comments on our trip to Grenada here. Sorry for the lack of posting, pressed for time, but a couple of quick observations here:

Got in my inbox the latest press release from the New York Gaming Association (NYGA), as they continue to advise New Yorkers of how the economy would benefit from casinos at their already existing racetrack racinos.

The analysis, conducted by Appleseed, a New York City firm that specializes in providing economic and social research analysis, also estimates that in its first full year of operation, enhanced gaming would generate an additional $317 million in State revenues, including approximately $300 million in annual payments to New York’s public education which is equivalent to the salaries of more than 4,300 teachers. In addition, the projected private investment by NYGA of $1.8 billion in construction would generate nearly $81 million in New York State income, sales and business taxes and more than $36.4 million in local income, sales and business taxes.
And blah blah blah. I think that NYGA has already given the economy a big boost just from all the damn studies and analyses they've commissioned for their own benefit. Of course, what these studies do not tell us is if they factor in the money sucked out of the pockets of those people of modest means who are drawn to casinos against their best interests. I mean, the construction and casino jobs are fine, but the gambling money doesn't just come from nowhere. What are the costs of compulsive gambling; don't see that quantified in any of these analyses.

In a rare nod to the racing industry, this latest press release speaks of "subsidies provided to the racing and breeding industries [increasing] by approximately $26.3 million annually." However, that is presumably based on a presumed increase in slots play, since NYGA has no intention whatsoever of volunteering any percentage of the new table games to go to the tracks. So I think this projection is even more strictly theoretical than the rest of the nonsense.

- Union Rags won the Fountain of Youth in impressive fashion on Sunday, and boy, is everyone excited about that. In the not-so-distant past though, I think we would have heard a lot more of "but who did he beat?" Because truth is, not much. The Toddster-worshippers laughingly made Discreet Dancer the favorite despite his never having gone around two-turns and a pedigree (Discreet Cat out of Gone West mare) that makes his distance ability highly questionable. Used to be that skepticism was the natural pose for horseplayers surveying the three-year old crop....but that was when there were more three-year olds to be excited about. Now, we're starving for any kind of excitement with the talent thin and the races infrequent, so we'll take what we can get. Union Rags is a tough-luck head from being undefeated, and his return on Sunday was thoroughly professional and altogether decent (earning a Beyer of 95). But it wasn't much in the way of a prep for a grueling mile and a quarter race against 19 others. And is there any reason to think that his next (and only) race before the Derby will be any more challenging? Maybe he's that good and he'll just waltz through the remaining half dozen or so races in his career before he retires to stud. Or maybe it's a setup for another healthy Derby win price on another blossoming horse with good workout reports leading up to the race. We'll see.

Friday, February 17, 2012

A Day at the Oversight Board

We're going away and therefore scrambling around to get ready, but I gotta take time out to squeeze in a last post to get that really crappy horse pick in the last one off the top spot on the page. So I'll mention the session of the Franchise Oversight Board that was held on Wednesday. The most widely-reported news from the session was NYRA President Charlie Hayward's proposal to install self-service betting machines at selected restaurants; 10 at first, eventually growing to as many as 40 by the third year. That effectively would put NYRA in the OTB business.

“It’s a big deal,” NYRA president Charles Hayward said of the new effort....In year one, officials project the sites will generate $45 million in handle. By year three, the 40 sites would handle $165 million in bets. For the state, NYRA is dangling the prospects of more money in the form of revenue-sharing: nearly $5 million over the three years in state taxes and about $19 million for purses. []
That doesn't seem like all that much money for the state compared to what it reaps from VLT's, and even to the purse money mentioned along with it. Probably what prompted this response from Oversight Board Chairman Robert Megna:
“Is it too much,” he said of projected purse increases. Megna did not elaborate, but told Hayward, “We are always going to be asking you about it because it’s a lot of money.”
Actually sounded more like a statement than a question. And that could really be the big storyline buried in the coverage of the meeting: Cuomo's budget director discussing, with a fair amount of skepticism, the allocation of slots revenue, which fits with this whole scenario of questioning the cut of slots money directed to purses - subsidies, if you will - that is currently being played out in Ontario and Pennsylvania (again).

In any event, NYRA's idea would have to win approval in Albany.
“NYRA will be discussing the plan with the administration [of Gov. Andrew Cuomo] and the legislature in Albany with the hope of gaining their support to implement this strategy in the very near future,” [Dan] Silver said. [Daily Racing Form]
We know how that goes, and we've recently seen a hostile attitude towards NYRA and racing in general from the governor.

According to the Bloodhorse piece, Megna urged NYRA to devise a strategy for the types of bettors it is trying to attract at the facilities. Huh? Really? This state is making plans to further expand degenerate casino gambling, and this guy is questioning the "types of bettors" at OTB's? That's a hoot.

Additionally, NYRA revealed that it's traced around $500,000 of $1.2 million owed to bettors due to the incorrect takeout charged on some exotics, defended the $92,000 it spends on transporting horses back and forth between downstate tracks ("This is an expense that actually generates revenue....The comptroller doesn’t share that view.” [Saratogian], and derided the comptroller's suggestion that it conduct a study comparing its business practices with the industry nationwide.
“That report would probably cost us $5 million,” he said. “Guess what? We got an ‘F’ on that one, which, frankly, I don’t think is a fair grade.” [Saratogian]
That does seem like a really expensive study. Maybe they're pricing it out with Getnick and Getnick. Also discussed was NYRA's ballooning pension costs and efforts to rein them in. And Hayward had to defend the bidding procedure for its hiring of a PR firm from accusations that NYRA had written a "directed contract" for the incumbent public relations and marketing firm in Saratoga Springs, Ed Lewi & Associates. [Schenectady Gazette] All in all, sounds like he had a really fun day.

Anyway, the Head Chef and I are off to have a really fun week, and it's questionable at best whether I'll be posting during that time. If not, best of luck, have a great week and I'll speak to you soon.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Ry Bread and Sleaze

- In the 6th at the Big A on Wednesday, Ry Bread (8-1) ran quite well two back when adding blinkers and dropping to this restricted 15K claiming level, leading to the sixteenth pole after surviving an early challenge to his speed. It was a tough effort which perhaps explains why he tired coming back three weeks later. Led early that race too, but succumbed to the runaway Jacobson claim I've Got The Fever, and faded badly after that. Claimed out of that race by Galluscio, the four-year old son of Wildcat Heir got a little freshening and returns off a couple of sharp works for a 22% 1st time claim barn. Jockey Junior Alvarado stays in the saddle for the new connections, for which he's winning at a 24% clip. Seems good value at that morning line. War Colony (3-1) raced OK vs. better. Papa's Nice Cat (5-2) always gives a good effort and fits here on class, but been over two years since he's visited the winner's circle.

- Here's a report from the City & State website:

A source notes that tucked deep into an obscure campaign finance report for Senate Minority Leader John Sampson is a $5,000 expense for a top white shoe law firm, which is representing Sampson in the ongoing Aqueduct Entertainment Group probe.

The Manhattan law firm Thompson, Wigdor & Gilly received the payment in July 2011. It was the first time that an individual member of the Democratic conference has used campaign cash to retain the firm’s services, amidst a federal investigation into the AEG deal, campaign finance records show.
And for those of us wondering if that whole nasty scandal was just going to disappear, and if Sampson was just going to walk scot-free, there you go. Still boggles my mind that Sampson has carried on as the Senate Minority Leader as if nothing happened - and that the Democratic caucus have allowed him to. But apparently, at least according to this report, the feds are probing indeed. Last week, the NY Post reported that Carl Andrews, the AEG lobbyist who, according to the Inspector General's report on the affair, was given by Sampson an internal Senate memorandum with details of rival bids shortly before AEG changed its own, has failed in his bid to walk away from the investigation.
The [NY] Court of Appeals upheld lower-court rulings that Andrews — who has deep ties to the state Senate Democratic leadership — must comply with a subpoena.

Andrews, a former Brooklyn senator, spent two years in court in a failed effort to quash the subpoena.....Andrews declined to comment yesterday. [NY Post]
But I guess he'll be commenting soon, presumably to investigators or, perhaps, a grand jury. Gee, wonder why he was so desperate not to?

- The Rangers won again, in Boston, and now lead the second place Bruins by nine points in the Eastern Conference of the NHL. I'm speechless.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Donn, and Other Stuff

The Donn Handicap may not be what it used to be, and it's certainly debatable whether it remains a legitimate Grade 1. But it sure was a great betting race...and isn't that, in fact, the most important thing? I'd take this race over those five horse true Grade 1s we see all too often any day. Eight horses between 3-1 and 9-1 (and three horses designated correctly by the bettors [other than me] as rank outsiders which brought up the rear); including overrated horses like Ruler On Ice and Shackleford who never win, as well as Flat Out, the Breeders' Cup Classic favorite who hasn't been close then or since. If there's ever a horse who needs a lengthy vacation, this is it. This horse has been in training virtually non-stop since last spring.

It was also an exciting finish, and a pretty fast race too. The 106 Beyer earned by the top two finishers was a career high for both. Watching them turn for home, one might never have thought that Hymn Song ($15) would have won this race. Mission Impazible was creeping up on the inside with Castellano motionless on top; while Hymn Song was under a drive with Johnny V while a full five wide, at least. He covered 68 feet more ground according to Trakus - he was also caught five wide around the first turn - so it was pretty impressive the way he stormed down the stretch, especially since he was impeded midstretch by the drifting Redeemed. He didn't quite "go right by" Mission Impazible as Larry Collmus mis-called, but he closed the last furlong in a compromised 12.79 seconds and hung on for the win, in what was his first effort going two turns on a fast main track.

Though this six-year old son of Arch (out of Vespers, a minor stakes-winning Known Fact mare) made his early reputation as a modest turf allowance winner, he's really come into his own on the dirt. Two wins and two seconds in his prior dirt races, all one-turn efforts, including seconds in the Suburban and the Cigar Mile; and this latest effort stretching out to two turns. Your usual late developer for Shug, could be an interesting player in the handicap division going forward; the Oaklawn Handicap is a possible next race.

In the prior race, the Suwannee River, Shug came up just short with Hit It Rich, and I mention that because I would have had the Pick Three to Hymn Book and Get Stormy ($7.20) had he won. Some useless whining there. Tom Bush's now-six year old turf specialist took his third Grade 1 race in winning the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap in his first race since the Breeders' Cup. And interesting to note that all four of the horses who ran that day that have run back since have all won (Mr. Commons, Jeranimo, and Compliance Officer being the others). The Maker's Mark in April is slated to be the next start for Get Stormy.

- Union Rags was tabbed at 7-1 in the Derby Futures Pool, by far the lowest odds of any of the specific horses (the "all other 3 yos" field was 3-2). Son of Dixie Union will make his 3 yo debut a week from Sunday in the Fountain of Youth, and Javier Castellano interestingly has opted to ride Algorithms instead. I would have gone the other way, but I couldn't make the weight anyway. I figure at this point, with all the uncertainty inherent in this sport and with the colt not even having started this year, that 7-1 is probably closer to fair odds on Union Rags making the starting gate than him actually winning the race.

- A new poll now shows that voters do in fact favor the construction of a convention center at the Big A. This time, respondents were told that Genting will pay for the project in full. So Governor Cuomo can say that he told you so.

The convention center....has the support of every segment of the population polled by Siena except Jews. [Times Ledger]
Don't quite know what to say about that, except maybe oy gevalt.

Crain's New York reports that Resorts World is attracting an average of 20,000 locals every day. Oy gevalt!
“I come here now one to three times a week,” said Regina Recchio, who lives in nearby Valley Stream, L.I. “On New Year's Eve, my husband and I were here for 12 hours.”

Its closest rival, Empire City Casino at Yonkers Raceway, knows only too well about people like Ms. Recchio. Since the racino opened in South Ozone Park, Empire City has watched its growth disappear.

“Our numbers are flat,” said Tim Rooney Jr., whose family owns the racino in Yonkers. “I'm envious of how quickly they built up a customer base.”
Doesn't take much to build up a customer base in this industry...and, in fact, I'm sure Yonkers helped Genting build one for them. Business has picked up at Resorts World in the last couple of weeks; after a few weeks of win per machine figures around $315, the numbers have picked up to $354 and $355 the last two. NYRA is budgeted for $385 as we've mentioned before, but NYRA officials are confident that those numbers will be achieved once marketing efforts, seasonal trends and the casino's rewards programs take effect.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

The Governor Speaks....Ominously

As mentioned in the last post, I ran into NYRA's Communications Director Dan Silver at Aqueduct on Saturday, and he was one guy there who wasn't particularly happy. "Did you see Cuomo's statement?" No, I hadn't. The governor spoke to the editorial board at Newsday, and had some thoughts on NYRA, and the New York racing industry in general. You can see the video here. If you don't feel like watching, it goes something like this:

"We need a strategy on gaming. We don't know....we just have a hodgepodge. We're in a terrible situation with NYRA that we haven't figured out for years, where we subsidize on an ad hoc basis. This goes all the way back to Spitzer and his investigation of NYRA. We have OTB's that are in treacherous financial situations, all across the state. Where do they fit in? Then tribal casinos, then ruh-cinos, then failing tracks.
There are no bandages here. This is fifteen years of decay! [italics mine, to denote inflections of alarm and consternation] Everywhere you look....there are massive, massive problems!
I think we need a comprehensive, overall gaming strategy. We need to figure out horses and NYRA. What is it worth to this state to have this industry? And how much do we subsidize them? And do we want to?"
We've only speculated about Cuomo's take on horse racing, because he hadn't had much to say on the topic. We figured it was probably indifferent, at best; hostile, at worst. Sounds like it leans towards the latter. But surely, it is ignorant.

Here we have the usual attack on NYRA - one loaded with the same untruths, hyperbole, and campaign-type soundbytes that we've heard from lesser politicians than the wildly-popular governor. As we know, the state is not directly providing any subsidies, ad hoc or otherwise, to NYRA, and financial support in the past has been in the form of loans or compensation for land. I'm not aware of any "terrible situation" at NYRA (nor the proliferation of "massive, massive problems" amongst the state's other racetracks) at the present time. In fact, thanks to slots revenues, things seem to be pretty good. And that investigation and settlement with then-Attorney General Eliot Spitzer is completely irrelevant at this point in time, which I'm sure Cuomo knows perfectly well. That's just Super-PAC negative advertising-type crap.

But this statement goes much further than just NYRA. It's an existential broadside directed at the industry as a whole in New York State. It comes from a governor who the industry certainly does not want to count amongst its enemies. The problem though is that it's just a sad fact that, while the state may not be directly subsidizing NYRA or the other tracks, one could certainly take the view of the sympathetic Newsday editorial which accompanied the video of the governor.
The horse racing industry has been propped up by funds from video lottery terminals, money that would be much better spent on public education.
Indeed, the VLT money certainly could be spun as a subsidy in the sense that it's money that could be going to the state. Chris Christie eliminated subsidies in New Jersey that revert not to education, but to private casino companies; so Cuomo could make an even more potent argument here. Whatsmore, we've seen how the entities that would benefit from a reduction or elimination of slots money paid to tracks are lavishing cash on influential lobbyists and campaign contributions, and there's no underestimating the effect of such largesse on policy.

But maybe Cuomo was just blowing off steam. Oh, not about NYRA of course; we know that the administration has a bug up its ass for the association, for whatever reason. Cuomo can't snap his fingers and make NYRA go away, but his budget director Robert Megna chairs the Franchise Oversight Board that can recommend the revocation of the franchise under certain rather non-specific conditions.

But is a larger fight against the industry something that Cuomo really wants to take on? One might think that the governor has matters pending that are not only higher priority, but more logical and feasible politically as well. The industry may have declined in the state. But it still employs tens of thousands of people - 40,000 is the figure touted by the harness horsemen for the 'horse racing/agriculture' industry. Threatening even a fraction of those jobs isn't the way to go these days, especially from a governor trying to build a resume as a job creator even as he attacks budget deficits. And the industry does have supporters in both legislative well as inside Cuomo's administration - Bennett Liebman is the deputy secretary for Gaming and Racing. You would think that any threat to racing in Saratoga would be would be a non-starter in a legislature a half hour away. Do you think NBC Sports Network would have a weekly series featuring the Saratoga Farmers' Market? (Though that would be fine for the Head Chef.) And this is all besides the revenue generated for the state, both directly to the government, and in the form of peripheral economic activity.

In fact, if thoroughbred racing in New York would cease to be, it would have unpleasant repercussions nationwide. A guy with presidential ambitions might want to think about that. Still, it's hard to say what Cuomo is really up to. We all might be holding our breaths until we find out for sure.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

A (Happy) Day at the Track

I've been complaining that I can no longer find a comfortable place to hang out at Aqueduct, but I found one on Saturday - the pressbox. Of course, this is only possible because NYRA has the good sense to grant blogging types such as myself full media access, even if some of us may not be full media types (and has been doing so long before many others did). It's kinda quiet up there - it's enclosed, the volume of the TV's is turned down low, and, even though there's a manned betting window and a betting machine, the 'no cheering in the pressbox' rule is strictly observed. So the atmosphere may be lacking, but the people are really nice - regulars David Grening from the Form, Jerry Bossert from the Daily News, and semi-regular Teresa were joined on this stakes day by several others (had the pleasure of meeting the great equine photographer Barbara Livingston) - the view is great, I can plug in my laptop, and even change the channel on the TV to catch the Bruins' latest loss. So, this will do.

Also get a chance to go down to the paddock, and even right out to the outer rail of the inner track to catch a real railbird's view. One thing that really struck me about the day was just how everyone seemed to be having a great time. (Except maybe NYRA's Dan Silver, which I'll get to in an upcoming post.) This was my first trip to the track since watching the desultory Luck, and it reinforced for me just how unrealistically gloomy it was. Sure, I wasn't amongst the masses on this day, but rather the press, and trainers and owners and NYRA employees and officials (happy horses too!). Even so, those types were represented as slugs on the show too, and here, everyone seemed to have a smile. And this was just a chilly winter day at Aqueduct. I understand that it's TV and, as the Troy Record's Nick Kling, who loved the show, pointed out during a debate on its merits on Twitter, happy people at the track don't really make for compelling TV. But I hope those with marginal or potential interest in the sport who watch the show can keep in mind that it's only a movie (so to speak). Because I can't imagine it would inspire anybody to give the game a try.

Here's some photos from the day.

The Toddster, Mike Repole and his family pose for the photogs after their Calibrachoa won the Toboggan.

The view of the clubhouse from the track.

Withers winner Alpha (background) returning after winning the Withers and.... the winner's circle afterwards

Here, I got lucky with a decent shot of 44-1 shot Speightscity grabbing the place spot in the Withers.

Later on, we went to the opening reception of the Queens International 2012 exhibit at the Queens Museum of Art. The museum is still under construction for its grand renovation, so is only partly open at this time. But it was a grand party, and an excellent exhibit featuring artists who live in the borough; the Head Chef and I highly recommend! Also a superb exhibit of black and white photographs of New York City street life from the 50s by the photographer Frank Oscar Larson. There was food and performance outside the museum too.

Rachel Mason - Dear Unisphere performance. How Queens can you get?!?!?

Friday, February 03, 2012

The Other Shoe

I saw this article from Crain's New York posted the other day on Twitter by Teresa, so a hat tip to Ms. Brooklyn Backstretch. Some of this had been reported previously in dribs and drabs, so I don't know that it's news per se, but I think it is rather significant. Kind of the 'other shoe,' so to speak, as Genting here lays out clearly the rewards they wish to extract in return for building the convention center that even they admit will lose money. After all, they're not a charity; they still want something in return for providing the jobs that a convention center would create.

“We have to have a project here, and with a $4 billion private investment and no tax payer money there have to be business conditions, obviously, that are going to allow us to make this project feasible,” [spokesperson Stefan] Friedman said. []
So, naturally, Genting wants a bigger slice of the VLT pie. That share is currently approximately 30%.
While specific details on the agreement were unavailable, an example of the sort of situation Genting could be pushing for was given: Pennsylvania. According to a spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, similar gaming operations about 55 percent. [WNYC}
Genting, however, may want to point to an example closer to home. Recall that the legislature granted Louis Cappelli an unprecedented 75% share for his casino project at the Concord. That project has not, and may never, come to fruition. But that special rate was carved out for Cappelli for a project in which he would have invested only a quarter of what Genting is talking about for its $4 billion loss leader, and which would likely have created far less jobs.

Genting also and understandably wants assurances that a competing casino will not pop up in the area.
Christian Goode, Genting's senior vice president for development, said the company would have difficulty raising capital to finance the $4 billion project if its business model could be upended “with the stroke of a pen,” by a rival winning permission to open a gambling establishment in the immediate vicinity. [Crain's NY]
Raise capital? These guys? They have more money than God Mitt Romney, and I wouldn't be surprised if they pay an even lower effective tax rate. But I guess there's limits to everything. Remember, they're also talking about investing $3 billion in their Miami project.

The Crains article also mentions this:
Genting will pay for upgrades to the Aqueduct subway station and for direct A-train service to take passengers from Fulton Street in Manhattan to the site—with a stop in downtown Brooklyn—in half the 35 minutes it takes now.
Huh? A private corporation funding an MTA project largely for their own economic benefit? The cost aside, doesn't the MTA have far more pressing needs in providing decent service to the residents and taxpayers of NYC and its environs than to devote personnel and resources to a privately-owned casino?

- Good excuse to stick in this video of a song with the same title as this post, from my favorite album of last year.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Aqueduct Wednesday

In the 5th at the Big A, Max's First (5-1) goes second off the layoff for trainer Ben Perkins, who scored with Well Spelled last week, and has been in the money with four of his last six starters. This seven-year old son of Max's Pal (Marquetry) was stepping up in class fairly significantly when he shipped in last month, and responded with a solid second, rallying sharply from way off the pace in a race dominated by lone speed Fight For VLT's. Max's First swept 3-4 wide around the turn rather effortlessly before going into a drive once straightening away; final furlongs in 11.4 and 12.1. It was a solid move with no pace help. And that's the concern here; not tons of speed. Fight For VLT's (6-1) returns (and how did he pay $40 after missing by a neck in the same company two races prior?), but I would hope and expect he'll find some company at some point in the class-dropping stalker Perfect Drive (2-1). This is a favorite you might have regarded with suspicion in the past, dropping off two wins as he is. But the $29,000 purse for this 7500 claimer compares favorably to the $22,000 purse in the 10K claimer in which he ran off the claim two back. With over $31,000 already in the bank in two races after being taken for $7500 by trainer John Campo Jr, he can win another $17,000 today, plus the claim proceeds if anyone is so inclined. Not too shabby. I'll cover in the exacta with he on top. Best of luck and have a great day.